Madelon looked at him. Her lips parted, as if her breath came hard.
Burr made as if to pass on without another word, but she held out her hand to stop him, though she did not touch him.
“Stop, Burr,” she said, with a strange, almost oratorical manner, that he had never seen in her before. It was almost as if she mounted before his eyes a platform of her own love and higher purposes. “Listen to me,” she said. “That night when I was in such terrible anger with you that for a second I would have killed you, I put it out of your power forever to do anything that could turn me against you again. I broke my own spirit that night, Burr. The wrong I would have done you outweighs all you ever have done or ever can do me. There is no wrong in this world that you can do me, if I will not take it so; and as for the wrong you may have done yourself—that only makes me more faithful to you, Burr.”
Burr stood looking at her, speechless. It was to him as if he saw the true inner self of the girl, which he had dimly known by half-revealings but had never truly seen before. For a minute it was not Madelon Hautville in flesh and blood who stood before him, but the ghost of her, made evident by her love for him; and his very heart seemed to melt within him with shame and wonder and worship. “Oh, Madelon!” he gasped out, at length.
But Madelon turned away then. “You must go home now,” said she, “and I must. Good-night, Burr.”
“Good-night,” said Burr, as if he repeated it at her bidding.
Then they passed without touching each other. Madelon went home down the lane, across the fields, and Burr went out in the silent street, whence all the wedding-guests had departed, and homeward also.
In this little Vermont village, lying among peacefully sloping hills, away from boisterous river-courses, there was small chance of those physical convulsions which sometimes disturb the quiet of generations. The roar of a spring freshet never smote the ears of the dwellers therein, and the winters passed with no danger of avalanches. From its sheltered situation destructive storms seldom launched themselves upon it; the oldest inhabitant could remember little injury from lightning or hail or wind.
However, there is no village in this world so sheltered in situation that it is not exposed to the full brunt of the great forces of human passion, when they lash themselves at times into the fury of storm. It was here in this little village of Ware Centre, which could never know flood or volcanic fire, as if a sort of spiritual whirlpool had appeared suddenly in its midst. The thoughts of all the people, lying down upon their pillows, or rising for their daily tasks, centred upon it, and it was as if the minds of all were prone upon the edge of it, gazing curiously into the vortex.