“Good-evening,” Madelon returned, quite clearly.
She found Lot sitting up, but she could see that he looked worse than usual. He was paler, and there was an odd, nervous contraction about his whole face, as if a frown of anxiety and perplexity had extended.
He held out his hand, but she took no notice of it.
“I have come,” said she; “what is it?”
“Won’t you shake hands, Madelon?”
Madelon held out her hand, with her face averted, but Lot did not take it, after all.
“My hand is too cold,” he muttered; “never mind—” He continued to look at her, and the anxious lines on his face deepened.
“Are you feeling worse than usual?” Madelon asked; and a little kindness came into her voice, for Lot Gordon looked again like a sick child who had lost his way in the world.
Lot shook his head, with his wistful eyes still upon her face. A little light-stand, with his medicines and a candle, stood on his left. Presently he reached out and took a little box from off it, and extended it to Madelon. She shrank back.
“Take it, Madelon.”
“No, I don’t want it.”
“Oh, Madelon, take it and open it at least, and let me see you.”
Madelon took the box, with an impatient gesture, and opened it, and a ring set with a great pearl gleamed on its red velvet cushion. She closed the box and held it out towards Lot. “I want no presents, Lot,” she said, but almost gently.
“Oh, Madelon, keep it!”
She reached across him, and laid the little box back on the table.
“There’s another ring I’ve got for you you’ll have to wear, Madelon.”
“I will wear what I must, for the sake of my promise, when the time comes, but that is all I will do,” returned Madelon; and she seemed to feel, as she spoke, the wedding-ring close around her finger like a snake.
“Can nothing I can give you please you, Madelon?”
“No, Lot,” she said, but not ungently. She began to move away.
“Madelon,” said Lot.
“Well?” Madelon waited, but Lot said not another word. She went on towards the door.
“Madelon,” he whispered, and she stopped again; but this time also there was a long silence, which he did not break.
Madelon opened the door, and his piteous cry came for the third time, and she waited on the threshold; but again he said nothing more.
“Good-night,” said she, shortly, and was out, and the door shut. Then she heard a cry from him, as if he were dying. “Madelon, Madelon!”
She opened the door with a jerk, and went back. “Lot,” said she, sternly, “this is the last time I will come back. Once for all, what is it you want of me?”
Lot looked up at her, his face working. He strove to speak and could not. He strove again, and his voice was weak and gasping as if the breath of life had almost left him. “We—had better not be married—to-morrow,” he said, with his piteous eyes upon Madelon’s face.