Lot had indeed told her so, and had made her believe it, doing away with much of the force of his giving her up for the sake of his love. It is difficult in any case for one to understand fully the love to which he cannot respond, for involuntarily the heart averts itself from it like an ear or an eye, and misses it like the highest notes of music and colors of the spectrum.
Madelon had stared dumbly at Lot when he told her she was free, and for a moment indeed had struggled with a consciousness which would have stirred her at least into pity and gratitude and remorse, which she had never known, had not Lot recovered himself and spoken again in his old manner. He tapped himself on his hollow chest. “After all,” he said, “’tis best you are not seduced like most of your sex into making the accessories of life supply the lack of the primal needs of it, into taking sugar instead of bread, and weakening your stomach and your understanding. ’Tis best for you and best for me, and best for those that might come after us. Treasure of house and land and fine apparel and furnishings may be a goodly inheritance, but our heirs would thank us more for power to draw the breath of life freely, and you would do better without a gown to your back, or a shoe to your foot, and a mate that was not half a dead man; and I should do better alone in my anteroom of the tomb than with another life to disturb the peace of it, and rouse me to efforts which will send me farther on.”
Madelon had stared at him, not knowing what to say, with compassion, and yet with growing conviction of his selfish ends, which disturbed it.
Lot tapped his chest again. “My lungs are gone,” he said, shortly; “I need no doctor to tell me. I know enough of physics myself to send the whole village stumbling, instead of racing, into their graves, if I choose to use it. My lungs are gone, and you are well quit of me, and I of a foolish undertaking, though of a charming bride. Now, go your way, child, and take up your maiden dreams again, for all me.”
Madelon looked at him proudly, although she was half dazed by what she heard. “I care nothing for all the fine things you have shown me,” said she, “and I have told you truly always that I do not care for you, but I will keep my promise to marry you unless you yourself bid me to break it.”
“I bid you to break it,” said Lot, steadily, and his eyes met hers, and his old mocking smile played over his white face. Then suddenly he bent over with his racking cough, and Madelon made a step towards him, but he motioned her away. “Good-night—child,” he gasped out.