Eugene left the road after he had cleared the village, and struck off across the fields for a long tramp through snowy solitudes as well known to him as, and better suited to him for perplexed thoughts than, any place in his home. In a way, out-doors was the truest home of all these Hautvilles, with the strain of wild nomadic blood in their veins.
The sight of the little fireless dwellings of woodland things, the empty nests revealed on the naked trees, the scattered berries on leafless bushes, the winter larders of birds, the tiny track of a wild hare or a partridge in the snow, disturbed less the current of their inmost life, as being more the wonted surroundings of their existence, than all the sounds and sights and savors within four domestic walls.
Eugene tramped on for miles over paths well known to him, which were hidden now beneath the snow, pondering upon himself and Dorothy Fair, and never gave his sister, whose guardian he had been, another thought.
Madelon, half an hour after Eugene had left, put on her cloak and hood, and went down the road to Lot Gordon’s. “I want to see him a minute,” she said to Margaret Bean when the woman answered her knock, and went in with no more ado. Her face was white and stern in the shadow of her hood.
Margaret Bean recoiled a little when she looked at her. “He’s up,” said she, backing before her, half as if she were afraid. “I guess you can walk right in.”
Madelon went into the sitting-room, and Lot’s face confronted her at once, white and peaked, with hollow blue eyes lit, as of old, with a mocking intelligence of life.
He was sunken amid multifold wrappings in a great chair before the fire, with a great leathern-bound book on his knees. Beside him was a little stand with writing-paper thereon, and sealing-wax and a candle, a quill pen and an inkstand. All the room was lined with books, and was full of the musty smell of them.
Madelon went straight up to Lot and spoke out with no word of greeting. “I have sent your answer,” said she. “I will keep my promise, but have you thought well of what you do, Lot Gordon?”
Lot looked up at her and smiled, and the smile gave a curiously gentle look to his face, in spite of the sharp light in his eyes.
“The thought has been my meat and my drink, my medicine and my breath of life,” said he.
“If I were a man I would rather—take a snake to my breast than a woman who held me as one—”
“Two parallel lines can sooner meet than a woman know the heart of a man. What do I care so I hold you to mine?”
Madelon stood farther away from him, but her eyes did not fall before his.
“Why did you lie” said she. “You knew I stabbed you, and not yourself. You are a liar, Lot Gordon.”
But Lot still smiled as he answered her. “However it may be with other men, no happening has come to me since I set foot upon this earth that I brought not upon myself by my own deeds. The hand that set the knife in my side was my own, and I have not lied.”