Lot showed Madelon all the wealth of his house before they returned to the sitting-room. Much had been there from his father’s day, but much had been added to please this bride, who looked at it more coldly and with less part in it than she would have looked at the treasures in a merchant’s windows. She saw, unmoved by any pride of possession, great canopied bedsteads, and chests of drawers whose carven tops reached the ceiling, and mirrors in gilded frames. She saw marvellous stores of linen damask napery in such delicate and graceful designs, from foreign looms, as she had never dreamed. She saw an India shawl, and lengths of silk and satin and velvet, and turned away from it all to the obstinate contemplation and endurance of her own misery.
At last Lot led the way back to the sitting-room. He set the candle on the shelf, and gave a strange, beseeching glance around the room at his books. It was as if he besought, with the irrationality of grief, those only friends he fairly knew for help and sympathy.
Then he turned to Madelon and laid a hand on each of her shoulders, and looked at her. “No, there is no need now,” he said, when she would have shrunk away from him; and something in his voice hushed her, and she stood still.
“Madelon,” said Lot Gordon, “tell me true, as before God. You are a woman, and always, I have heard, a woman takes comfort and pleasure in life with such gear as I have shown you, alone, even if she has little else. Would not all this give you some little happiness, even as my wife, Madelon?”
Madelon looked at Lot and hesitated. She had a feeling that her word of reply would stab him more cruelly than her knife had done.
“Madelon, tell me!”
“Will you have the truth?”
“Madelon, I can buy you more than all this. Are you sure?”
Lot gave a great sigh. “Dearly bought possessions are worse than poverty, you hold,” said he. “Then, Madelon, there is no sweetening in all this for your bondage?”
She shook her head. “I shall do my duty, as I have promised,” she said. “All this is useless. Let me go, Lot.”
She looked up in his face, and a strange awe came over her at the look in it. A more secret lurking-place than any of the little wild things that he loved to discover had the self in Lot Gordon, and Madelon saw it for the first time, and perhaps he, also.
“True love exists not unless it can do away with the desire of possession. I love you, Madelon,” said Lot; and then he let go of her shoulders and went over to the mantel-shelf, and leaned against it, with his head bent.
Madelon, all bewildered and trembling, stared at him.
“I—don’t think I know what you mean,” she gasped out, finally.
“You are—free,” said Lot.