Burr, white and rigid, looked at her, and made no reply. “Tell me,” she cried, in her sweet, shrill voice, “tell me now that you did not stab your cousin Lot, and Madelon Hautville spoke the truth, and I will keep my promise to you, even if my heart is not yours.”
Parson Fair grasped his daughter’s arm again. “No man whom you have promised to wed should reply to such distrust as this,” he said. “Dorothy, I command you to go down-stairs and be married to this man.”
Then Dorothy broke away from him with a wild shriek. “No, I will not marry this man with his cousin’s blood on his soul! I will not, father; you shall not make me! I will not! Night and day I shall see that knife in his hand. I will not marry him, because he tried to kill his cousin Lot. I will not, I will not!” The black woman pushed between them with a savage murmur of love and wrath, and caught her mistress in her arms, and crooned over her, like a wild thing over her young.
“There is no use in prolonging this, sir,” Burr said to Parson Fair.
The elder man looked at him with a strange mixture of helpless dignity and sympathy and wrath. “You know that I have no share in this,” he said, and he glanced almost piteously from Burr to his mother. “I could never have believed that my daughter—”
“We will say no more about it, sir,” responded Burr. “I hold neither you nor your daughter in any blame.” Then he offered his arm to his mother, and the three went out and down-stairs, and the black woman clapped to the chamber door with a great jar upon her mistress, whose calm of obstinacy had broken into wailing hysterics which betokened no less stanchness. Parson Fair, Burr Gordon, and his mother, at the foot of the stairs among the curious wedding-guests, looked for a second at one another.
The parson’s fine state seemed to have deserted him. There were red spots on his pale cheeks. His long hands twitched nervously. “I will—inform them,” he said, huskily, at length, but Burr moved before him. “No, sir; I will do it,” he said.
Then he strode into the great north parlor, where the more important guests were assembled, and where he and Dorothy were to have been married. He stood alone in the clear space between the windows, and knew, as the eyes of the people met his, that they had heard Dorothy’s last wild cry, and knew why she would not marry him. He stood for a second facing them all before he spoke, and in spite of the shame of rejection which he felt heaped upon him by them all, and a subtler shame arising from his own heart, in spite of the fact that he could not offer any defense, or do aught but bend his back to the full weight of his humiliation, he had a certain majesty of demeanor. Revolt at humiliation alone precipitates the full measure of it, and the strength which survives defeat, even of one’s own convictions, is of a good quality. Silence under wrongful accusation gives the bearing of a hero.