A great wave of red crept over Dorothy’s face, but she replied, with cold dignity: “I throw my arms around no man unbidden!”
“Unbidden!” repeated Madelon, and scorn seemed to sound in her voice like the lash of a whip. She flung out the reins over the horse’s back, and they slipped along swiftly over the icy crust, and not another word did she speak to Dorothy Fair all the way home.
When they entered Parson Fair’s south yard there was a swift disappearance of a dark face from a window, and the door was flung open, and the grimly faithful servant-woman came forth and lifted Dorothy out of the sleigh, crooning the while in tender and angry gutturals. Poor Dorothy Fair shook like a white flower in a wind, for beside the rigor of the cold, which seemed to pierce her very soul, the chill of fever was still upon her. She chattered helplessly when she tried to speak, and there were sobs in her throat. The black woman half carried her into the house, and up-stairs to her own chamber, where the hearth-fire was blazing bright. She covered her up warm in bed, with a hot brick at her feet, and dosed her with warm herb drinks, and coddled her, until, after some piteous weeping, she fell asleep.
But for Madelon Hautville there was no rest and no sleep. She felt not the cold, and if she had fever in her veins the fierce disregard of her straining spirit was beyond it. No knowledge of her body at all had Madelon Hautville, no knowledge of anything on earth except her one aim—to save her lover’s life. She was nothing but a purpose concentrated upon one end; there was in her that great impetus of the human will which is above all the swift forces of the world when once it is aroused.
She unharnessed the horse quickly from the parson’s sleigh, and led him, restive again at the near prospect of his stall and feed, back to the tavern stable, paid for him, and struck out on the homeward road, straight and swift as one of her Indian ancestors. A group of men in the stable door stood aside with curious alacrity to let her pass; they stared after her, then at each other.
“I swan!” said one.
“Wouldn’t like to be in the way when that gal was headed anywheres,” said another.
“If that gal belonged to me I’d get her some stronger bits,” said the man who had been cleaning the bay horse when Madelon came for the white.
“I believe she’s lost her mind,” said the tavern-keeper. “It’s the last time I’ll ever let her have a horse, and I told her so.” There came a blast of northwest wind which buffeted them about their faces and chests like an icy flail, and they scattered before it, some to their duties in the stable, some into the warm tavern for a mug of something hot to do away with the chill. It was too cold a day to gossip in a doorway. It was not long past noon, but the cold had seemed to strengthen as the sun rode higher.