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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMadelon: A Novel - Chapter 7
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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 7 Post by :brettjohn Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1537

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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

The next morning Madelon came down-stairs as usual and prepared breakfast. When it was ready the family sat up to the table and ate silently and swiftly. No one addressed a word to Madelon. After breakfast David and his son Abner put on their leather jackets and their fur caps, and set forth for the woods with their axes, but Eugene lounged gracefully over to the hearth and sat down on the settle, and began reading his Shakespeare book. Eugene was the only one of the Hautvilles who ever read books. He studied faithfully the few in the house--the Shakespeare, the _Pilgrim's Progress_, Milton, and _Gulliver's Travels_. The others wondered at him. They could not understand how any one who could handle a gun or a musical instrument could lay finger on a book. "Made-up things," said Abner once, with a scornful motion towards Shakespeare.

"No more made-up than fugue," retorted Eugene, hotly; but they all cried out on him.

This morning Madelon cast one quick glance at him as he sauntered over to the settle with his book. Then she did not look his way again. She worked quietly, setting the kitchen to rights.

The day was very cold; the light in the room was dim and white, the windows were coated so thickly with the hoar-frost. Eugene kept stirring the fire and adding sticks as he read.

Finally, Madelon had finished her work in the kitchen, and went up-stairs. Then Eugene arose reluctantly, went out into the cold entry, and stood by the door with his book in hand. Madelon, passing across the landing above, looked down and saw him standing there, and knew that what she suspected was true--that her brother was mounting guard over her lest she leave the house.

She finished her work in the chamber, and came down-stairs with some knitting-work in hand. She seated herself quietly in her own cushioned rocking-chair, and fell to work with yarn and clicking needles, like any peaceful housewife. She knitted and Eugene read, bending his handsome dark face, smiling with pleasure, over his Shakespeare book. This fierce winter day he was reading "A Midsummer-Night's Dream," and letting his fancy revel with Shakespeare's fairies in an enchanted summer wood. He was, however, alert as a watch-dog. He could at an instant's warning leave that delicate and dainty crew and those flowery shores, and intercept his sister, should she attempt to pass him and escape from the house.

Still, his alertness all came to naught, for Madelon, like some fleeing fox, took a sudden turn which no canny hunter could have anticipated. She sat somewhat away from the hearth and well at Eugene's back. He would have asked her why she did not draw nearer the fire and if she were not cold had he not feared to encounter a sulky humor. He could not see the lengths of linen cloth, which she herself had spun and woven, lying in a great heap on the floor, half at her back, half under her petticoats. However, could he have seen it he would have thought of it merely as some mysterious domestic and feminine proceeding about which he neither knew nor cared to know anything.

Madelon, as she knitted, ever measured the distance between her brother and herself with her great black eyes, training her nerves and muscles for what she had to do as she would have trained a bow and arrow.

Eugene turned a leaf in his Shakespeare book. Madelon made a leap, so soft and swift that it seemed like an onslaught of Silence itself, and he was smothered and wound about and entangled in folds of linen as if it had been in truth his winding-sheet. He struggled as best he might against his linen bands, and cried out as angrily as he could for the linen that bound his mouth and his eyes, but he could not release himself. Eugene was strong and lithe, but Madelon was nearly as strong as he at any time; and now the great tension of her nerves seemed to inform all her muscles with the strength of steel wire.

Eugene sat bound hard and fast to the settle, with his face swathed like a mummy's, with only enough space clear for breath. "Let me go, or I'll--" he threatened, in his smothered tone.

Madelon made no reply. She watched him struggle to be sure that he could not free himself. Then she went out of the room. Eugene called after her in a choke of fury, but she spoke not a word.

Up-stairs she hastened to her own chamber, and put on her red cloak and hood, and was down the stairs again, out the door, and hurrying up the road to the village. From time to time she glanced behind her to be sure that her brother had not freed himself, and was not in pursuit; then she sped on faster. The road was glare with ice, but she did not slow her pace for that. She was as sure-footed as a hare. She kept her arms close to her sides under her red cloak, and did not pause until she came out on the village street where the houses were thick. Then she went at a rapid walk, still glancing sharply behind her to see if she were followed, until she came to Parson Fair's house. She went up the front walk, between the rows of ice-coated box, and up the stone steps under the stately columned porch, and raised the knocker and let it fall with sharp impetus. The door opened speedily a little way, and Parson Fair himself stood there, his pale, stern old face framed in the dark aperture. He bowed with gentle courtesy and bade her good-morning, and Madelon courtesied hurriedly and spoke out her errand with no preface.

"Can I see your daughter, sir?" said she.

Parson Fair looked at Madelon's white face, touched on the cheeks and lips with feverish red, at her set mouth and desperate eyes. The story of her connection with the Gordon tragedy had not penetrated to his study, neither did he know how Burr had forsaken her for his Dorothy; but he saw something was amiss with her, although he was not well versed in the signs of a woman's face. Parson Fair, moreover, felt somewhat of interest in this Madelon Hautville, for he had a decorously restrained passion for sweet sounds which she had often gratified. Many a Sabbath day had he sat in his beetling pulpit and striven to keep his mind fixed upon the spirit of the hymn alone, in spite of his leaping pulses, when Madelon's great voice filled the meeting-house. It was probable that he also, notwithstanding his Christian grace, shared somewhat the popular sentiments towards these musical and Bohemian Hautvilles; yet he looked with a dignified kindness at the girl.

"I trust you are not ill," he said, without answering her question as to whether she might see Dorothy.

Madelon did not act as if she heard what he said. "Can I see your daughter, sir?" she repeated. She cast an anxious glance over her shoulder for fear Eugene might appear in the road.

Parson Fair still eyed her with perplexity. "I believe Dorothy is ill in her chamber," he said, hesitatingly. "I do not know--"

Madelon gave a dry sob. "I beg you to let me see her for a minute, sir," she gasped out, "for the love of God. It is life and death!"

Parson Fair looked shocked and half alarmed. He had not had to do with women like this, who spoke with such fervor of passion. His womankind had swathed all their fiercer human emotions with shy decorum and stern modesty, as Turkish women swathe their faces with veils.

Madelon, still under the fear of Eugene, pressed inside the door as she spoke, and he stood aside half involuntarily. "I beg you to let me see her," she repeated. She looked at the stately wind of the stairs up to the second floor, as if she were minded to ascend without bidding to Dorothy's chamber.

"She is ill in her chamber," the Parson said again, with a kind of forbidding helplessness.

"I would see her only for a minute. I beg you to let me, sir. It is life and death, I tell you--it is life and death!"

Whether Parson Fair motioned her to ascend, or whether he simply stood aside to allow her to pass, he never knew, but Madelon was up the winding stairs with a swirl of her cloak, as if the wind had caught it. Parson Fair followed her, and motioned her to the south front chamber, and was about to rap on the door when it was flung open violently, and the great black princess stood there, scowling at them.

"I have a guest here for your mistress," said Parson Fair; but the black woman blocked his way, speaking fast in her wrathful gibberish.

However, at a stately gesture from her master she stood aside, and he held the door open, and Madelon entered. "You had better not remain long, to tire her," said the parson, and closed the door. Immediately the uncouth savage voice was raised high again, and quelled by the parson's calm tone. Then there was a great settling of a heavy body close to the threshold. The black woman had thrown herself at the sill of her darling's door, to keep watch, like a faithful dog.

Madelon Hautville, when she entered Dorothy Fair's room, had her mind not been fixed upon its one end, which was above all such petty details of existence, might well have looked about her. No such dainty maiden bower was there in the whole village as this. Madelon's own chamber, carpetless and freezing cold, with its sparse furniture and scanty sweep of white curtains across the furred windows which filled the room with the blue-white light of frost, was desolation to it.

A great fire blazed on Dorothy Fair's chamber hearth. The red glow of it was over the whole room, and the frost on the windows was melting. Curtains of a soft blue-and-white stuff, said to have been brought from overseas, hung at Dorothy's windows and between the high posts of her bed. She had also her little rocking-chair and footstool frilled and cushioned with it. There was a fine white matting on her floor, and a thick rug with a basket of flowers wrought on it beside her bed. The high white panel-work around Dorothy's mantel was carved with curving garlands and festoons of ribbon and flowers, and on the shelf stood tall china vases and bright candlesticks. Dorothy's dressing-table had a petticoat of finest dimity, trimmed with tiny tassels. Above it hung her fine oval mirror, in a carved gilt frame. Upon the table were scattered silver and ivory things and glass bottles, the like of which Madelon had never seen. The room was full of that mingled perfume of roses and lavender which was always about Dorothy herself.

The counterpane on Dorothy's bed was all white and blue, and quilted in a curious fashion, and her pillows were edged with lace. In the midst of this white-and-blue nest, her slender little body half buried in her great feather-bed, her lovely yellow locks spreading over her pillow, lay Dorothy Fair when Madelon entered. She half raised herself, and stared at her with blue, dilated eyes, and shrank back with a little whimper of terror when she came impetuously to her bedside.

"You don't believe it," Madelon said, with no preface.

Dorothy stared at her, trembling. "You mean--"

"I mean you don't believe he killed him! You don't believe Burr Gordon killed his cousin Lot!"

Dorothy sank weakly back on her pillows. Great tears welled up in her blue eyes and rolled down her soft cheeks. "They _saw him there," she sobbed out, "and they found his knife. Oh, I didn't think he was so wicked!"

Madelon caught her by one slender arm hard, as if she would have shaken her. "_You believe it!" she cried out. "You believe that Burr did it--_you!_"

"They--saw--him--there," moaned Dorothy, with a terrified roll of her tearful eyes at Madelon's face.

"_Saw him there! What if they did see him there? What if the whole town saw him? What if you saw him? What if you saw him strike the blow with your own eyes? Wouldn't you tear them out of your own head before you believed it? Wouldn't you cut your own tongue out before you'd bear witness against him?"

Dorothy sobbed convulsively.

"I would," said Madelon.

Dorothy hid her face away from her in the pillow.

Madelon laid her hand on her fair head, and turned it with no gentle hand. "Listen to me now," she said. "You've got to listen. You've got to hear what I say. You ought to believe without being told, without knowing anything about it, that he's innocent, if you're a woman and love him; but I'm going to tell you. Burr Gordon didn't kill his cousin Lot. I did!"

Dorothy gave a faint scream and shrank away from her.

"I did!" repeated Madelon. "Now do you believe he's innocent, when somebody else has told you?"

Dorothy's face was white as her pillows, her eyes big with terror. There was a soft thud against her door. The black woman was keeping arduous watch.

"You couldn't!" Dorothy gasped out.

"I could! Look at my hands; they are as strong as a man's."

"You--couldn't!"

"I could, and I did."

Dorothy shook her head in hysterical doubt.

"Listen," said Madelon--"listen. I'll tell you why I did it, Dorothy Fair. Burr Gordon had been with me a little before he went with you. Perhaps you knew it. If you did, I am not blaming you--he's got taking ways, you couldn't help it; and I am not blaming him--he's a man, and you're fairer complexioned than I am. But I was fool enough to be mad without any good reason--you understand I am not saying anything against him, Dorothy Fair--when I saw him with you at the ball. He had a right to take anybody to the ball that he chose. It was naught to me, but I was mad. I have a quick temper. And I started home when that young man from Kingston offered to fiddle for the dancing after you and Burr went out; and my brother Richard made me take his knife for fear I might meet stragglers, and I had it open under my cloak. And when I got to that lonely part of the road, after the turn, I saw somebody coming, and I thought it was Burr. He walked like him. And I looked away--I did not want to see his face; and when I came up to him the first thing I knew he threw his arm around me and kissed me, and--something seemed to leap up in me and I struck with Richard's knife. And--then he fell down, and I looked and it was not Burr--it was his cousin Lot. And--then Burr came, and we heard whistling, and others were coming, and he made me run, and the others came up and found him; and now they say he did it and not I. It was I who stabbed Lot Gordon, Dorothy Fair!"

"It was Burr's knife, with his initials cut in the handle, that they found," said Dorothy, with a kind of piteous doggedness. There was in this fair little maiden the same power of adherence to a mental attitude which her father had shown in his religious tenets. Wherever the men and women of this family stood they were fixed beyond their own capability of motion.

Madelon gave a bewildered sigh. "I know not how that was," said she, "unless--" a red flush mounted over her whole face. "No, he would not have done that for me," she said, as if to herself.

A red flush on Dorothy's face seemed to respond to that on Madelon's. "You think he put his knife there to take suspicion from you?" she cried out, quickly.

Madelon shook her head. "I don't know about the knife," she said, "but I know I stabbed Lot Gordon."

"He would not have done that," said Dorothy, with troubled, angry blue eyes on her face. "He would have thought of--others. He never changed the knife, Madelon Hautville!"

"I know nothing about the knife," repeated Madelon, "but Burr Gordon did not kill his cousin."

"He was there, and it was his knife," said Dorothy. There was now a curious indignation in her manner. It was almost as if she preferred to believe her lover guilty of murder rather than unduly solicitous for her rival.

Madelon Hautville turned upon her with a kind of fierce solemnity. "Dorothy Fair," said she, "look at me!" and the soft, blue-eyed face, full of that gentle unyielding which is the firmest of all, looked up at her from the pillows--"Dorothy Fair, did that man, who's locked up over there in jail in New Salem, for a crime he's innocent of, ever kiss you?"

Madelon's face seemed to wax stiff and white. She looked like one who bared her breast for a mortal hurt as she spoke. Dorothy went pink to the roots of her yellow hair and the frill on her nightgown. She made an angry shamed motion of her head, which might have signified anything.

"And you can believe this thing of him after that!" said Madelon, with a look of despairing scorn. "He has kissed you, Dorothy Fair, and you can think he has committed a murder!"

Dorothy gasped. "They said--" she began again.

"_They said! Are you a woman, Dorothy Fair, and don't you know that the man you love enough to let him kiss you should do no wrong in your eyes, or else it's a shame to you, and you should kill him to wipe it out?" Dorothy shrank away from her in the bed, her frightened blue eyes staring at her over her shoulder. "My God! don't you know," said Madelon, "the man you love is yourself? When you believe in his guilt you believe in your own; when you strike him for it you strike yourself. Don't you know that, Dorothy Fair?"

Dorothy looked at her, all white and trembling. She gave a half-sob. Suddenly Madelon's tone changed. "Don't be afraid," said she. "I'm different from you. I don't wonder he liked you better. It's no blame to him. I know you care about him. You don't believe he did it."

"I don't know," sobbed Dorothy. The door opened a crack, and the black woman's watchful eyes appeared.

"Oh, you do know, you do know! I tell you, I did it--I! Can't you believe me? I'm a wicked woman, and I love anybody I love in a different way from any that a woman as good as you are can. I did it, Dorothy, and not Burr! He mustn't suffer for it. We must see him, you and I together! Don't you believe me?"

"I don't--know," sobbed Dorothy. The dark face appeared quite fully in the door. Madelon cast a quick glance about the room. Dorothy's pretty Bible, with a blue-silk-ribbon marker hanging from it, lay on her dimity dressing-table. Madelon sprang across and got it. The black woman stood in the doorway, muttering to herself. She looked all ready to spring to Dorothy's defence. Madelon did not notice her at all. She went close to Dorothy, put the Bible on the bed, and laid her right hand upon it.

"I swear upon this Holy Book," said she, "that this hand of mine is the one that stabbed Lot Gordon. I swear, and I call God to witness, and may I be struck dead as I speak if what I say is not true. Now do you believe what I say, Dorothy Fair?"

Dorothy looked at her and the Bible in bewildered terror. She nodded.

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Chapter VIWhen Madelon, returning from New Salem, came in sight of her home the first thing which she noticed was her father in the yard in front of the house.David Hautville's great figure stood out in the dusk of the snowy landscape like a giant's. He was motionless. The roan mare's gallop had evidently struck his ear some time before, and he knew that Madelon was returning. He did not even look her way as she drew nearer, but when she rode into the yard he made a swift movement forward and seized the mare by the bridle. She reared, but
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