“For God’s sake, Madelon, don’t!” said Burr, not fairly comprehending what she said. He sat down again upon the stone, and leaned his head upon his hands. In truth he felt dazed and helpless, as if he had reached suddenly the mouth of many roads and knew not which to take. The intricacy of the situation was fairly paralyzing to an order of mind like his, which was wont to grasp, though shrewdly enough, only the straight course of cause and effect. He revolved dizzily in his mind the fact that he could not tell Madelon the reason which Dorothy had given for her rejection of him, and the conviction was fast gaining upon him that it was not the true and only reason. He held fiercely to his loyalty to Madelon, and his shammed loyalty to Dorothy, and his slipping clutch of loyalty to himself, and knew not what to say nor what course to take.
Madelon, as he settled back upon the stone and bowed his head, made towards him one of those motions which the body has kept intact from the primitive order of things, when it was free to obey Love; then she stood back and looked at him a moment, while indignation and that compassion which is the very holiness of love swelled high within her. Then suddenly she leaned forward against him in her white robes, with the soft impetus of a white flowering tree driven by the wind, and put her arms around him, and drew his unhappy head against her bosom, and stroked his hair, and poured out in broken words her wrath against Dorothy Fair, and her pity for him. And all this she did in utter self-despite and forgetfulness, not caring if he should discover how great her love for him still was, believing fully that his whole heart had belonged to the other girl, and was breaking for her, and arguing thence no good for herself.
“She shall never marry him, that I swear to you, Burr,” she cried, passionately, “and in time she may turn to you again; there is no faith in her.”
Burr listened a while bewildered, not fully knowing nor asking what she meant, letting his head rest against her bosom, as if he were a child whom she comforted.
“Burr, you shall have her, you shall have her yet!” she said, over and over, as if Dorothy were a sweetmeat for which he longed, until at last a great shame and resolution seemed to go over him like a wave, and he put her away and rose up.
“Madelon,” he said, “you don’t know. Listen. You will scorn me after this—you will never look at me again, but listen: Dorothy must never know, for all the slight of this last must come from her and not from me, since she is a woman and I a man; but you shall know the whole truth. I never loved Dorothy Fair, Madelon, not as I love you, as God is my witness. She was pretty to look at, and I liked—but you cannot understand the weakness of a man that makes him ashamed of himself. I left you, and—I went—courting her because she was Parson Fair’s only daughter, and I was poor, and that was not all the reason. I liked her pretty face and her pretty ways well enough, but all the time it was you and you alone in my heart; and, knowing that, I left you, though I was a man. I turned Judas to my own self, and denied and would have sold the best that was in me. Now you know the truth, Madelon Hautville.”