She started, and stared at him as if she feared she did not hear rightly.
“I—have been—thinking it over,” Lot went on, panting; “I am not as well—we had better wait—until—May. My cough—the doctor—we will wait—Madelon!” Lot’s broken speech ended in a pitiful cry of her name.
“Why do you do this?” she asked, looking at him with her white, stern face, through which an expression of joy, which she tried to keep back, was struggling.
“I am not as well, Madelon,” Lot answered, with sudden readiness and sad dignity. “If you do not object to the change of time we had best defer it.”
Madelon looked away. “There is no need of any pretence between us,” she said; “I am sorry you are not as well.”
“But not sorry that our wedded bliss must be deferred?”
“No,” said she. Then she went away, and that time Lot did not call her back. She heard him coughing hard as she went through the entry.
When she came out of the house into the tumultuous darkness of the spring night, and went down the road with the south wind smiting her with broadsides of soft air, and the living sounds of water ahead and on either hand of her, she was happy—in spite of Burr, in spite of everything—with the happiness of one to whom is granted a respite from death.
When the mind has been strained up and held to the furthering of some painful end and then suddenly released, it sinks back for a time, alive to nothing but the consciousness of freedom and rest. Even the thought for the future, which is its one weapon against fate, is laid down. Madelon, for a few days after the postponement of her marriage, went about in a kind of negative happiness. There are few who have so much to bear that there is not left to them at least the joy of escape from another trial. Madelon had lost her lover indeed, but she was let loose for a while from a worse trouble than that.
When Madelon entered the house that Sunday night her face was so changed that it held her father’s and her brothers’ casual glances. Her cheeks were brilliant with the damp wind, her eyes gleaming, her mouth half smiling as she looked around. For the first time for weeks it seemed to Madelon that she had really come home, and the old familiar place did not look strange to her with the threatening light of her own future over it. She tossed off her hood and her red cloak, and proposed with her old manner that they have some music.
The men looked at her and each other. “She’s a woman,” old David muttered under his mustache, and got his viol.
Soon the grand chorus began, and Madelon sang and sang, with all her old fervor. The brothers kept glancing at her, half uneasily, but David wooed his viol as if it were his one love in the world, and paid no attention to aught besides.
The concert lasted late that night. It was midnight before they stopped singing and put their stringed instruments away.