The man turned and stared at her with sharp blue eyes under red brows frost-white between his cap and twice-wound red tippet. “Hey?” he said, in a muffled voice.
“Can you tell me where Mr. Otis lives?”
“Which Otis d’ye mean? There’s two Otises. D’ye mean Calvin Otis or Jim Otis?”
“He has a son that plays the fiddle,” answered Madelon, faintly.
“Then it’s Jim ye mean. He died last year. He had a son Jim that plays the fiddle. Lives down the road on the left-hand side, five houses below the meeting-house. House with three popple-trees in front—sets close to the road.”
Madelon started, but the man’s voice arrested her. “You look most froze,” said he. “Hadn’t ye better go in there an’ warm up?” He pointed towards the store-windows with a rosy glow of light and warmth transfusing their thick layers of frost. “It’s pipin’ hot in there—warm ye all through in a minute. It’s a terrible cold night. Old man in there, lived ‘round these parts risin’ eighty years, says he never knew sech a night. Better just step in there.”
Madelon shook her head and started on.
“Where did ye come from?” called the man.
“Ware Centre,” Madelon gasped out, as the freezing wind struck her.
“Good Lord! you don’t mean to say you’ve walked risin’ ten mile from Ware Centre a day like this!”
Madelon was gone, bending before the wind, without another word.
“Good Lord!” said the man, “a woman walkin’ from Ware Centre this weather!” He stood staring after the girls’ retreating figure; then he started to unblanket his horse. But he stopped and stared again, and finally went into the store to tell the news.
Madelon kept on as fast as she was able, but she was nearly spent. Her exultation of spirit might indeed survive fleshly exhaustion and perhaps in a measure overcome it, but it could not prevent it altogether. When she reached the fifth house below the white meeting-house, the house set close to the road, with three poplar-trees in front, she had just strength enough to stagger to the door and raise the knocker. Then she leaned against the door-post, and it was only with a fierce effort that she kept her grasp upon her consciousness. She did not seem to feel her body at all.
Presently a bolt was shot and the door pushed open with an effort. It was little used, and there was ice against it. Then a man’s face peered out irresolutely into the dusk. A knock upon the front door, upon a night like this, seemed so unlikely that he doubted if he had heard rightly.
“Anybody here?” he said. Then he saw the woman’s figure propped stiffly against the door-post. “Who is it?” he asked, in a startled voice. “Is it you, Mrs. Lane?”
Madelon aroused herself. “I want to see Mr. Otis’s son a minute if I can,” she said, with a great effort. Then she raised her piteous eyes to the face before her, and realized dimly that it was the face of the young man who had taken her place at the ball, and sent her homeward to work all this misery on that dreadful night.