Her father and brothers down below heard her, and looked at each other.
“There was that Emmeline Littlefield that went mad, and fell to walking all the time,” said Abner.
The others listened to the footsteps overhead with a gloomy assent of silence.
“They had to keep her in a room with an iron grate on the window,” said Abner, further, with a pale scowl.
Then David Hautville took down his leather jacket from its peg with a jerk, and thrust his arm into it. “I tell ye, she’s a woman,” he said, in a shout, as if to drown out those hurrying steps; and then he went out of the room and the house, and disappeared with axe on shoulder across the snowy reach of fields; and presently all his sons except Eugene followed him. Eugene remained to keep watch over his sister.
After his father and brothers were gone, Eugene got Louis’s fiddle out of the chimney-cupboard and fell to playing with an imperfect touch, picking out a tune slowly, with halts between the strains, as if he spelled a word with stammering syllables. Eugene’s musical expression was in his throat alone; his fingers were almost powerless to bring out the meaning of sweet sounds. A drunken crew on a rolling vessel might have danced to the tune that Eugene Hautville fingered on his brother’s fiddle that morning while his sister walked back and forth overhead, running the gantlet, as it were, of an agony which his masculine imagination could not compass, well tutored as it was by the lessons of his Shakespeare book.
When Margaret Bean came to the door the second time she heard the squeak of the fiddle, and clanged the knocker loud to overcome it. Madelon and Eugene reached the door at the same time, and Margaret Bean extended another letter. “Here’s another,” said she, shortly, to Madelon. She tucked the hand which had held the letter under her shawl and hugged herself with a shiver, ostentatiously. “I’m most froze, traipsin’ back and forth, I know that much,” she muttered.
Eugene stood aside with a flourish and a graceful, beckoning wave of his hand. “Won’t you come in and warm yourself?” he said, and he smiled in her face as if she and no other were the love of his heart.
But Margaret Bean had a shrewd understanding which no grace of flattery could dazzle, and felt truly that nowadays her principal claim to masculine admiration lay in her fine starching specialty of housewifery; and of that she gave no show, bundled up against the cold in her shapeless wools. So she put aside the young man’s smiling courtesy scornfully, as not belonging to her, and spoke in a voice as sharp as an edge of her own well-stiffened linens. “No, sir,” said Margaret Bean; “I’ve got bread in the oven and I can’t stop, and I ain’t coming in for two or three minutes and set with my things on, and get all chilled through when I go out. I’ll stand here while your sister reads that letter. He said the answer would be just ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and I shouldn’t have to wait long. ’She ain’t one to teeter long on a decision,’ says he; ‘she finds her footin’ one side or the other.’ He talks queer, queerer’n ever sence he was hurt. I pity anybody that gets him.”