The Sunday after Burr Gordon’s disastrous wedding-day the faces of all the people on their way to meeting wore the same expression, in different degrees of intensity. One emotion of strained curiosity and wonder made one family of the whole village. The people thought and spoke of only one subject; they asked each other one question—“Will any of them be at meeting?” The Unitarian church was nearly deserted that Sunday, for Parson Fair’s former parishioners returned to their old gathering place, under stronger pressure, for the time, than religious tenets.
It was a burning day for May—as hot as midsummer. The flowers were blossoming visibly under the eyes of the people, but they did not notice. They flocked into the meeting-house and looked about them, all with the same expression in their eyes.
When Burr Gordon and his mother entered, a thrill seemed to pass through the whole congregation. Nobody had thought they would come. Mrs. Gordon, gliding with even pace, softly murmurous in her Sunday silk, followed her son, who walked with brave front, although he was undeniably pale, up the aisle to their pew. He stood about to let his mother enter, meeting the eyes of the people as he did so; then sat down himself, and a long glance and a long nudge of shoulders passed over the meeting-house. Burr and his mother both knew it, but she sat in undisturbed serenity of pallor, and he stirred not a muscle, though a red spot blazed out on each cheek.
Madelon Hautville sat in the singing seats, but he never looked at her nor she at him. There were curious eyes upon her also, for people wondered if Burr would turn to her now Dorothy Fair had jilted him; but she did not know it. She heeded nobody but Burr, though she did not look at him, and when she stood up in the midst of her brothers and sang, she sang neither to the Lord nor to the people, but to this one weak and humiliated man whom she loved. The people thought that she had never sung so before, recognizing, though ignorantly, that she struck that great chord of the heart whose capability of sound was in them also. For the time she stood before and led all the actors in that small drama of human life which was on the village stage, and in which she took involuntary part; and the audience saw and heard nobody but her.
Burr, stiff as a soldier, at the end of his pew, felt his heart leap to hope and resolve through the sound of this woman’s voice in the old orthodox hymns, and laid hold unknowingly, by means of it, of the love and force which are at the roots of things for the strengthening of the world. With weak and false starts and tardy retrogrades he had woven around his feet a labyrinth of crossing paths of life, but now, of a sudden, he saw clearly his way out. He trampled down the scruples which hampered and blinded him like thorns and had their roots in a false pride of honor, and recognized that divine call of love to worship which simplifies all perplexities. He would take that girl singing yonder for is wife, if she were indeed so generous-minded after all, not now, but later, when there could be no possibility of slight to Dorothy Fair. His honest work in the world he would do, were it in the ploughshares or the wayside ditches, with no striving for aggrandizement through untoward ways, and so would he humbly attain the full dignity of his being.