“You—think he—could?” whispered Elvira Gordon.
“’Tain’t for me to say,” replied Margaret Bean. “He lays there—looks most as if he was dead.” She wiped her eyes hard, with a handkerchief so stiff that it looked on that cold morning frozen as with old tears. Margaret Bean was famous for her fine starching in the village; it was her chief domestic talent, and she was faithful in its application in all possible directions.
“I wish he would speak if he could,” said Mrs. Gordon.
“I do, if it’s for the best,” returned Margaret Bean. She hesitated; there were red rings around her tearful eyes, like a bird’s. “I can’t believe your son did it, nohow, Mis’ Gordon,” said she.
“I hope if my son is innocent he will be proved so,” returned Elvira Gordon. She was too proudly just herself not to use the word if, and yet she could have slain the other woman for the sly doubt and pity in her tone.
“It’s harder for you than ‘tis for him, layin’ there,” said Margaret Bean, nodding towards the house. There was an odd gratulation of pity in her tone. She rubbed her eyes again.
“We all have our own burdens,” replied Elvira, with a dignified motion, as if she straightened herself under hers. “I hope he will be able to speak—soon.”
“I hope so, if it’s for the best,” said Margaret Bean.
Elvira Gordon had gone home hoping that Lot might yet speak. She had heard his rattling cough as she picked her way out of the icy yard, and Madelon also heard it when she entered it. She knocked at the side door, and Margaret Bean opened it. She had a gruel cup in her hand.
“I want to see him,” said Madelon.
Margaret Bean looked at her. Her starched calico apron flared out widely over her lank knees across the doorway.
“I’m afraid he ain’t able to see nobody this morning,” said she, and the asperity in her tone was less veiled than usual. Her voice was not so hoarse. She was mindful of this girl’s former conduct at her master’s bedside, and herself half believed her mad or guilty. A suspicious imagination had Margaret Bean, and Madelon would have found in her a much readier belief than in others.
“I’ve got to see him, whether he’s able or not,” said Madelon.
“The doctor said—”
“I’m going to see him!”
Madelon pushed roughly in past the smooth apron and ran through the entry to Lot’s room, with the housekeeper staring after her in a helpless ruffle of indignation.
“She’s gone in there,” she told her husband, who appeared in the kitchen door, dish-towel in hand. Margaret Bean’s husband always washed the dishes and performed all the irresponsible domestic duties of the establishment. He was commonly adjudged not as smart as his wife, and little store was set by his counsels. Indeed, at times the only dignity of his man’s estate which seemed left to this obediently pottering old body was the masculine pronoun which necessarily expressed him still. However, even in that the undisturbed use was not allowed. “Margaret Bean’s husband” was usually substituted for “He,” and nothing left of him but the superior feminine element feebly qualified by masculinity.