Mrs. Otis, standing there on the door-step in the freezing moonlight, turned quickly upon the man in the sleigh, and all the soft conciliation was gone from her voice. “You ain’t plannin’ to take that girl way home to Ware Centre to-night?” said she.
“Father sent me for her,” replied Eugene Hautville.
“Well, she ain’t goin’ a step!”
“Her father will expect me to bring her,” said Eugene, with his unfailing courtesy. “He has been very anxious. I had hard work to find where she was. My father won’t be satisfied if I come home without her.”
“That girl ain’t going out of this house to-night!”
“I’ve got a bearskin here to wrap her up in. She is used to being out in all weathers,” persisted Eugene, gently.
“She can’t go. Pull her out of a warm bed such a night as this! If you try to take that poor child out to-night I’ll stand in my spare-chamber door, and you’ll have to walk over me to do it—and my son won’t see his mother hurt, I guess!”
Jim Otis stepped closer to the sleigh and spoke to Eugene Hautville in a low voice.
“Well,” said Eugene, slowly, “maybe you’re right, Otis. I don’t know what father will say, but if she was as used up as you tell for, I don’t know as ’tis safe. It is an awful night.”
“I guess it ain’t safe, and she ain’t going,” maintained Mrs. Otis from the door-step.
Then Eugene Hautville bent well out of his sleigh and asked a question in the other man’s ear.
“Yes, she did,” replied Jim Otis.
“The poor girl is crazy over it,” said Eugene. He and Jim talked for a few moments, but Mrs. Otis, straining her ears on the door-step, could not hear.
Suddenly Jim said, quite distinctly, “She wanted to know if I saw him give her the knife.”
There was a pause; then Eugene Hautville asked, in a voice with which he might have addressed a judge of his life and death, “Did you?”
“No,” said Jim Otis.
The next morning there took place in a few hours a great change in the temperature. It moderated rapidly. The frost on the windows and the ice-ridges in the roads did not soften yet, since the sun was overcast by heavy clouds, but the terrible rigor and tension of the cold was relaxed, and men could breathe without constraint. At eight o’clock, when Jim Otis and Madelon started for Ware Centre, there was a white film of fallen snow over the distant hills and scattering flakes drove in advance of the storm.
A mile out of Kingston it snowed hard. “Hadn’t you better have that extra shawl mother put in over your shoulders?” Jim Otis suggested.
But Madelon shook her head. “The snow won’t hurt me,” she said. She sat up straight in the sleigh, and there was a look in her eyes, fixed ahead on the white drive of the storm, as if her spirit were out-speeding her body. She had her strength again that morning. She had slept and eaten. She had submitted to the exigencies of life that she might gain power to resist them again.