When he reached the lane which led across-lots to the old place, he plunged into it by a sudden impulse. He went half-way down its leafy tunnel; then he stopped and sat down on a great stone which had fallen off the bordering wall.
Great spiritual as well as great physical catastrophes stun for a while, and there is after both a coming to one’s self and an examining one’s faculties, as well as one’s bones, to see if they be still in working order. Burr Gordon, sitting there on his stone of meditation, in the moonlit dapple of the lane, came slowly to a full realization of himself in his change of state, and strove to make sure what power of action he had left under these new conditions.
His first thought was a cowardly one—that he would sell out, or rather give up his estate to his cousin, take his mother, and turn his back upon the village altogether. He knew what he had to expect. He tasted well in advance the miserable and half ludicrous shame of a man who has been openly jilted by a woman. He tasted, too, the covertly whispered suspicion which had perhaps never quite departed, and which now was surely raised to new life by Dorothy’s loud cries of accusation. He knew that he was utterly defenceless under both shame and suspicion, being fettered fast by his own tardy but stern sense of duty and loyalty. It seemed to him at first that he would be crippled beyond cure in his whole life if he should stay where he was; and then he felt the spring of the fighting instinct within him, and said proudly to himself that he would turn his back upon nothing. He would brave it all.
There was a light wind, and now and then the young trees in the lane were driven into a soft tumult of whispering leaves. Burr did not notice when into this voice of the wind and this noise as of a crowd of softly scurrying ghosts there came a crisp rustle of muslin and a quick footstep up the lane. He only looked up when Madelon Hautville stopped before him and looked at him with incredulous alarm, as if she could not believe the evidence of her own eyes.
Dressed like a bride herself was Madelon Hautville, in a sheer white gown, which she had fashioned for herself out of an old crape shawl which had belonged to her mother, and cunningly wrought with great garlands of red flowers. She was going to Burr Gordon’s wedding, not knowing the lateness of the hour; for her brother Richard had played a trick upon her, and set back the clock two hours, when to his great wrath she would not stay at home. The others were half in favor of her going, thinking that it showed her pride; but Richard was sorely set against it, and watched his chance, and slipped back the hands of the clock that she should be too late to see the wedding of the man who had forsaken her.
Madelon looked at Burr, and he at her, and neither spoke. Then, when she saw surely who it was, she cried out half in wonder and half chidingly, as if she had been his mother reproaching him for his tardiness: “What are you doing here, Burr Gordon? Do you know ’tis nearly eight o’clock, and time for your wedding?”