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Title: A Girl of Virginia
Author: Grunwald, Charles, Thruston, Lucy M.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Girl of Virginia" ***

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A Girl of Virginia

[Illustration: "He had stepped from his own room far up the corridor."]



A Girl of Virginia

BY

LUCY M. THRUSTON

Author of "Mistress Brent"

_With a Frontispiece by Ch. Grunwald_

Boston
Little, Brown, and Company


_Copyright, 1902_,
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

_All rights reserved_

Printers
S. J. PARKHILL & CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.


_To_

GOVERNOR MONTAGUE, OF VIRGINIA

_A former Student of the University_



A Girl of Virginia



I


"Good morning!" The voice was cheery, insistent. It brought the young
girl on the porch above to the white wooden rail about its edge.

"Good morning!" she called back lightly.

"Beautiful day!" persisted the young man saying inanely the first words
he could think of for the sole purpose of keeping her there in sight.

"Lovely!" cried the girl enthusiastically, leaning a little further over
the rail. A vine, which had climbed the round pillar and twined its
tendrils about the porch's edge, set waving by the slight motion, sent a
shower of scarlet leaves about the young man below; one fluttered upon
his breast, he caught it and held it over his heart as if it were a
message from her to him; and then he fastened it in his button-hole.

The young woman laughed carelessly as he did so; she was too used to
students to exaggerate the meaning of their words or deeds, and there
was no answering flash in her gray eyes as she looked down on him.

"Don't you think it too fine to stay indoors?"

"I'm not in," answered the girl turning her head to look up at the blue
arch of the sky overhead.

"Oh, well"--the young fellow bit his lip, and flushed hotly,--"you know
it's--Come, take a walk across the quadrangle," he added boldly.
"There's no one around."

Frances leaned further for a survey of campus and corridor. "All right!"
she cried, and he could hear her footsteps as she ran down the polished
stair in the big old house. When she opened the great hall door she was
charmingly demure. "Glad to see you Mr. Lawson!" she exclaimed
mischievously to the young man, who stood hat in hand by the wide step.

"Delighted, I'm sure!" he flashed back, holding the hand she extended as
long as he dared,--so long that the young woman had drawn herself up
quite straight and was looking gravely along the corridor when he
released it.

"You haven't mailed your letter!" she said looking at the missive he
still held.

"Oh! and I came--"

"There's the box, don't forget it!"

"Which way are you going?"

"Up to the Rotunda, of course."

"See how it commands everything else," said Frances, pausing at the
sunken, well-worn steps in the terraced corridor to look about her. The
morning shadows of the maples on the quadrangle stretched to the brick
pavement at their feet, scarlet and yellow leaves, blown across the
green grass, rustled about them; the picturesque buildings on the other
side the campus loomed in deep shadowings, for the sun was yet behind
them. A late student slammed his door and went hurrying down the
corridor, his footsteps echoing along the way.

"It is beautiful!" said Frances softly, as she went up the few steps.

"Beautiful, yes, and you don't appreciate it half as much--"

"Appreciate it!"

"Don't you hear the men raving over it everywhere? Those from a good
long distance especially--Oregon, for instance, that's my state you
know; but you Virginians--"

"Are not given to boasting!" said the girl proudly.

"There you are! You are"--"a queer lot," he was about to say, but
remembered himself in time. "You are--" he blundered; "one scarce knows
how to take you."

"Don't take us!" said the girl quietly.

"Now, Miss Holloway," deprecated the young man, "you see, the things
other people think you would be proudest of, you don't care for at all,
and the things other people don't care for--"

"Perhaps there are some people who don't talk about the things they care
for most. Perhaps," she went on, her flushing cheek and darkening eye
belying her light tone, "that's a secret you haven't found out, and it
may be the reason you don't know how to take us," she repeated.

"I'm not going to quarrel about it a morning like this," declared the
young man as they went up the wide steps to the Rotunda and along the
marble floor of the east wing which roofed over the rooms devoted to the
learning of law.

"No, nothing is worth it," answered the girl as she leaned against the
balustrade at the edge and looked off towards the mountains, and they
both were silent.

It was a scene the young man had not yet gotten used to, nor the girl
either, though she was born in its sight. Beyond the stretch of the
outer grounds of the University, beyond the far-reaching roofs and
spires of Charlottesville and the narrow valley of the Rapidan, rose,
high and bold, the last spur of the Ragged Mountains. The blue haze
veiled it even at this early hour; the frost clothing much of it showed
all colors save those of sombre hue; and, set on its crown, just where
it began to dip downwards, shone the whiteness of Monticello.

"He was a great man!" said the young man presently.

The girl nodded. No one ever sat thus, the buildings of the University
stretching at their feet, Monticello gleaming on its mountain crest and
asked the name of the man they lauded.

By and by she asked a question. "For what is Jefferson noted?"

"For being the founder of the democratic--"

"I thought so!" indignantly.

"Indeed! Oh! for founding the University of Virginia."

"You know your lesson quite well," with a little tinge of sarcasm; "if
you stay here long enough you'll find he did a great many other things.
Ah! he knew the beautiful. Look! were there ever any buildings more in
harmony, more exquisite in design, more fitted for living--Pshaw!" she
broke off petulantly at the young man's laugh, "you've made me boast!
You've seen Monticello?" she asked a little haughtily, as she
straightened from her leaning position.

"Of course."

The girl's eyes darkened as she stood looking down the campus from her
point of vantage, and though she was too proud to speak again of its
beauty--for it was her home--the young man's glances followed hers and
he noted it all; the inner quadrangle framed in its buildings of quaint
architecture, the velvet green of the campus, set with maples, and
dipping thrice and then deeply toward the gleaming buildings at the end;
the long stretch of corridors and white pillars, the professors' houses
rising two-storied above the students' homes: and about these, outside,
the wide grounds, the embowering trees, yellow and russet and red; rows
of cottages showing their tops here and there; and far off, rimming it
all, the misty, hazy mountain tops.

"I'm going into the library," announced Frances, all the banter gone
from her voice.

"Have you been to breakfast?" in astonishment.

"Haven't you? Oh! you are lazy! You must go at once. Mrs. Lancey won't
save it for you."

"Yes she will!" He followed her into the fairy white interior of the
Rotunda, with its great pillars bearing above their Corinthian pilasters
the carved circle on which were written the names of the giants of the
book world.

He had some faint desire to see before which of the cases she would
pause. He was proud of his knowledge of his fellow beings, but this
young woman puzzled him. It was a pleasure to his beauty-loving eyes to
gaze on her--tall, slender, but well set up, frank-eyed, clear-skinned
with an air of utter independence; the things he had heard her say and
seen her do kept her from any place in his category.

The long serge gown rustling softly on the marble pavement, she went
straight to the books she wanted. It was late, and she wished to avoid
the stream of students that would soon be setting roomwards and
hallwards.

She took down the volumes instantly--Fiske's "Old Virginia and her
Neighbors," and Byrd's "History of the Dividing Line." If Lawson was
astonished she gave him no chance to express it.

"You must hurry to breakfast," she insisted as they went out.

The young man looked down at the sunlit quadrangle. "Won't you go for a
drive about ten?" he asked abruptly.

"I'm going."

He caught his breath, but before he could answer--

"Susan wants some chickens. I promised her I'd get them. You are not
going out?" severely.

"It's such a temptation!"

"Young men who come all the way from Oregon come to study."

He strove for answer, but the young woman's nod was positive. It sent
him to the mess hall, while she hurried along the corridor, hurried to
avoid the crowd that would soon be abroad. So she had been trained, and
such was second nature. She was not afraid of any student or of all of
them. She had had delightful friends among them. But she was not a
students' belle; her dear father's abhorrence of such had kept her
unscathed.

She lived among them, but the traditions of her household kept her
apart. She was motherless, but her mother's influence had set her feet
in the path of freedom and her father saw to it that they kept their
way. In all the gay students' life that surged about her she was somehow
untouched. She was keenly alive to its phases, to all the life as a
whole, but not to any unit forming it. She saw the belles of the season
come and go at Christmas, at Easter, or the Finals, without the least
desire to outshine them, or shine with them; yet it would have been easy
enough had she wished it. Had she social aspirations she would find many
matrons in the professors' homes to chaperon her; had she been
sentimental she could have made many a bosom friend in the young girls
of the town; had she been trained otherwise, her record from her first
long skirt might have been one of reckless flirtations--for there is no
limit to a student's daring--but as it was, she lived among them quite
simply.

She ordered her father's house; she read, few knew how deeply; she rode,
she drove, and went her own way happily.

One lesson she had at heart. She took the young men about her without an
atom of seriousness. It was this which nettled Frank Lawson.

His attentions had been taken quite seriously usually, too seriously
once, he might have remembered. It aroused his insistence; it sent him
loitering by the gate to the grounds when Frances came driving down the
ribbony road winding outwards.

"I think you might take me," he declared, as she drove slowly by.

"Jump in!" Frances pulled the horse around and left the wheels towards
him hospitably opened.

Lawson thought of the beauty he had driven the afternoon before, of the
roses on her breast for which she had thanked him so graciously, of the
shining skins of his horses and the glittering wheels of his carriage,
and he set his teeth; but he climbed up into the trap and sat down by
Frances' side.

She did not offer him the reins, and he hated being driven by a woman.

"You know most of the roads about here?"

The young man assented.

"Out towards Monticello and down beyond the University and Park Street;
but you don't know this."

Frances had turned towards town, and was driving smartly past
Chancellor's and Anderson's, bookstore and drug store and loitering
grounds of the students, though the porches were empty now, along the
long street, across the high bridge spanning the narrow valley through
which the Southern railroad swept into the town, on down a steep hill;
and then she pulled sharply to the left, down a rough road past negro
cabins, another sharp hill, across a clear mountain stream, and they
were in the country.

"You've never been this way before," repeated Frances as she began to
point out the features of the country. She spoke of house and cabin and
mill; but Lawson's eyes were turned towards the misty mountains. The
keen air blew in his face, the frosty touch sent his pulses tingling:
the smell of green grass and falling leaves and fresh earth was abroad,
and over there, to right to left, swam the mountain-tops in purple
mists. Each hill they topped showed vistas of hill and valley and
far-reaching crest.

The horse went at a good pace; his driver was the most companionable of
drivers; Lawson was absurdly happy.

"What's that little blue flower?" he asked, pointing to a starry bloom,
daisy-shaped, blossoming on a weed-like stem.

"That's another of the beauties for which we thank Jefferson, that and
the Scotch broom in the woods; you saw it?"

"But where does this come from?"

"Don't ask me! Scotland, also, perhaps; here we are!" She pulled up
sharply before a cabin by the road, and, before he could take the reins
she threw down, sprang out.

Lawson sat feeling like a chagrined schoolboy. It was one of the small
accomplishments of which he was proud, to lift a woman from carriage or
saddle. He had strong muscles well trained, and he had a fashion of
putting his hands at the woman's waist and giving her a lift, quick,
light, and sure, and setting her on her feet with a look of pleased
astonishment in her eyes; now he sat holding the reins like any good boy
and watching the flutter of a blue skirt around the clusters of zinnias
and marigolds by the cabin corner. And then he heard voices and laughter
and the squawks of terrified chickens.

Frances was coming back,--a colored woman, with a bunch of chickens in
either hand, walking by her side. He listened to the woman with intense
amusement.

"Why don't you say thanky?" she was demanding.

Frances only laughed.

"I done tole yuh how pretty yuh is; now why don't yuh say thanky?"

"She ought to, that she ought," called Lawson from the trap.

"Hi, honey!" cried the delighted darkey, "is dat him? La, chile, now he
suttenly is a nice beau!"

"Aunt Roxie," said Frances haughtily, "put the chickens in the back of
the trap. You're sure you've got them tied all right?"

"'Co'se I is!"

Lawson, delighted with Frances' discomfiture, was fussing about, helping
the colored woman.

"Jes lissen at her, jes as mighty as you please," she muttered to him,
and then quite loudly, "some folks suttenly is hard to please; yuh
praises dem, dey got nutten to say; yuh praises de beau an' dey looks
mad!"

"Never mind!" cried Frances, "never mind! I'm not going to bring you any
tobacco next time I come!"

"La! Miss Frances, what mattah long yuh now--yuh know--hyar, chile,
lemme pull yuh some dese hyar flowers; de fros' done totch dem anyhow!"

But Frances was not listening; she was off fast as her horse would
trot, the chickens squawking indignantly, and Roxie by her zinnias and
marigolds gazing in open-mouthed astonishment. Lawson was shaking with
laughter. He was even with her he felt, and perhaps a little ahead. He
was sure he was ahead when, just outside the University gate, one of the
chickens, freed after much straining, fluttered under the edge of
Frances' skirt and shrieked a loud and triumphant squawk. Frances sprang
to her feet; but for Lawson she would have been out and under the wheel.
There was no laughter about that young man for one swift instant, when
he threw his arm out, pulled her back into the seat and snatched the
falling reins. The danger past, he caught the offending fowl, fluttering
now in the dash-board, handed it gravely to Frances and then, without a
word of excuse, leaned back and laughed until the tears were in his
eyes.

As for Frances, she was white, she was cold. She had been frightened for
the first time in her life into a silly deed. She was mad through and
through, but it was useless. Under that ringing laugh all else gave
way; she must join in it.

"Never mind," she declared, when Lawson drew rein outside the quadrangle
and lifted her out impressively. "I shall have that chicken for supper."

"I'm coming to help eat him!"

"Come on!" she called gayly, as she disappeared along the walk to the
campus.



II


Frances lingered in the dining-room after dinner was done. She pretended
to be rearranging the flowers on the table; in reality she was thinking
what to say to the little, spare, bent colored woman who was busily
clearing away the dishes.

"Susan," she began, "I think I'll make a cake this afternoon."

"Dyar's half a one hyar now," grumbled Susan with a flash out of her
dark eyes that were like live coals in the wrinkled face.

"And--ah--I thought I'd make some floating island."

"La! chile, what yah gwine pester roun' de kitchen for ter-day?"

Susan had taught Frances the mysteries of cooking and was inordinately
proud of her pupil's skill, but she wanted it practised when it suited
her; and that afternoon had a vision of rest and mending.

"And," went on Frances, to finish now that the subject was broached, "I
got those chickens right out the coop. Roxie says they are nice and fat.
That Dominico now, how would it do to have it smothered?"

Susan wheeled on her. "You's gwine hab company to suppah?"

"Y--e--s!"

"An' yuh wants to hab smothered chicken an' floating island an' cake an'
eberything else I'll ben' my po' back to cook?"

"Your smothered chicken is always so good!" wheedled Frances, who had
managed Susan ever since she could talk.

"Why don' yuh say so den, jes say yuh's gwine hab company to suppah an'
be done wid it."

"Well, we are," laughed Frances, "and I want everything good, like you
always have it."

"Hm!"

But Frances was contented and was gone.

"Wondah who 'tis now?" Susan's eyes, black and still as ink pools in
her yellow, wrinkled face, looked dreamy as they often did when she
thought of Frances. As long as she was blithe and content so was her
faithful care-taker, who had nursed her father when Susan was a child of
ten, and he was a bad infant. She had married and had her own cabin and
her own children when fortune freed her. She had seen her "old man" and
her children die, all of them, there in the cabin in the mountain-side,
except one boy, Bill, and he had gone off to Baltimore; and she had been
glad in her heart when "Marse Robert" and his bright-faced young wife
had driven out to her home back there and asked if she would not come
and live with them. Susan locked her cabin door and looked up and down
the view of misty valley and purple mountains she had looked on for so
many years, and then went with them gladly.

But the cabin she kept. She would rent it to no one, she would not sell
it. It grew weather-beaten and rotten; the sage and mint and bergamot
were choked with weeds. But whatever Susan had lived of her own life
had been lived there. She had been happy, she had been miserable; she
had worked in gladness, she had worked in despair. She had borne
children, she had seen them die, in those four log walls.

The joy, the sorrow of that cabin were hers, and she would keep its
memories. No rude touch of alien life should spoil them. She put the big
key of the door in her pocket and went to be part and parcel of "Marse
Robert's" life; the flame of her devotion to him burned but brighter as
she stood by him when his daughter was laid in his arms,--as she stood
by him, ten years after, when his wife closed her eyes on life and
closed his heart on life's keenest joys.

She had watched his daughter with a delight that knew no limit. Over
most of the negro race beauty holds a potent sway; and had Frances been
less fair, her saucy independence would have been Susan's pride.

"Nebbah see her hangin' 'roun' wid dem stujints," said Susan to herself,
as she finished her work in the dining-room, "Yuh sees 'em dribin'
through hyar sometimes, de young men an' de ladies, and de ladies dey's
fair sickenin' er hangin' on to ebery word; an' long 'bout closin'-up
time"--which was Susan's expression for "Finals"--"den 'tis fair
scanderlous. But Miss Frances--hm--she gib em jes as good as dey sends,
an' she r'ar her haid up in de air, an' I tell yuh now she's got one
pretty haid to r'ar up, sho's yuh born!"

"I's gwine see who's comin' hyar dis ebenin'," she ruminated. "Miss
Frances she don' nebbah 'vite much company nohow; 'tis Marse Robert mos'
always. I's gwine see who dis is, I's gwine watch 'em, sho."

And so she stood in jealous guard over the supper of the professor and
his daughter and their guest. Perhaps it was her watchfulness, her
half-jealous disapproval of Frank Lawson which made things go so badly,
or perhaps the jar began before that when Frances in the professor's
study announced there would be company and she would bring them in there
to spend the evening.

"Why don't you take them in the parlor?" protested the professor.

"It's cold!"

"You can have a fire."

"Yes, but 't would be cold anyhow; the air would feel as if it had been
on storage."

"Daughter!"

"And it would look so proper and prim, there would be no papers lying
around, and I--I should have to talk so hard," she wound up by tucking
her bare arm under the professor's; and he, looking on her winsome face
and soft white neck and shoulders, forgot there was a question and only
smiled at her.

"You, know, father, you needn't talk; you can read--"

"Read!"

"Well," she confided, cuddling close to him, "they do talk such
nonsense, you know, if you've got them off to yourself. I can't stand
it--you needn't laugh!" She rubbed her cheek along the worn broadcloth
of his coat--the professor gave little heed to his clothes-- "You
wouldn't like it either."

The professor's laugh rang through the house, but there was a heartache
under the laughter; his little comrade daughter was a woman grown, and
these questions of womanhood, slight as they were, puzzled him. And so
it was the guest was ushered into the room on the left, instead of the
one on the right, which was properly given over to the gods of company.

The guest gave a start when he saw the shimmer of Frances' white gown
and the gleam of her bare neck and shoulders, and he looked quickly at
her father, but the professor was in ordinary attire. The young stranger
had to learn later that it was merely a local custom, and to wonder
while he learned why the women did not freeze going so clad on a
winter's evening in the wide, high ceilinged, and cold brick houses.

He recovered himself quickly and came forward with jaunty assurance, but
the professor's careless hospitality and the demeanor of his hostess
left little of it when the evening was over. He felt his vaunted ease
ebbing from him and he was amazed that he should so feel it. Even at
the table he was angrily critical. Had it been his mother's board, the
damask and lace had been strewn with flowers, and its tinted shades of
candles shone here and there, and soft shod waiters come and gone, were
a guest bidden to a meal; here the electric light from the single shaded
bulb swinging overhead shone on spotless damask, where it shone at all
between the multitudinous dishes--chicken and ham, rolls and biscuit and
"batter-bread," pickles and preserves, cake, and, with its tremulous
crest of white, floating island shining with a yellow gleam in its glass
dish all before him at one serving.

Still, the young man being healthy and blessed with hunger, and seeing
that his hosts were hungry folk likewise, forgot all comparisons in the
urging of their hospitality, and not only followed their example, but
set the pace. Susan was fairly mollified.

"Knows good vittels when he sees 'em," she muttered in the recess of the
pantry as she eyed his ruddy cheeks and broad shoulders through the
half-opened door.

But, the easy hospitality of the supper over, Lawson's discomfiture
began again. In the morning he would have sworn it was happiness to sit
before the glowing fire which the chill evenings of the mountains
demanded, and to have Frances Holloway so near that one could watch the
color flicker in her clear cheek and catch each tone of her round low
voice and note the curve of white shoulders and dimpled arm.

Instead he felt himself growing steadily angry. Made conversation and an
effort which showed itself at being entertaining and faintly expressed
regrets at an early departure, were not in his line. What he opened his
room door on, was more so.

"Hello, Lawson, waiting for you!"

Three young men had the light oak table drawn up before them. The books
from it were flung on the foot of the narrow white-iron bed: the
table-cover hung on the brass foot-rod.

One of the men leaned back in Lawson's Morris chair, another was seated
a-straddle the only other chair the room contained, his chin resting on
the high back. A third was on the trunk pulled close to the table.

"Room!" he cried, pointing to the vacant half.

"Throw some coal on, Frank, it's chilly. By George, you look cold
yourself."

"Cold! I'm frozen!" Lawson's laugh was not the most pleasant thing to
hear.

"Where have you been? Land alive, look at him!"

"Shut up!" Lawson flung his Prince Albert over the books, crushing the
chrysanthemum he had fastened in his button-hole so carefully earlier in
the evening.

"Game?" he queried.

"I should say so, trot 'em out!" There was a box of cigars on the
mantel. He lit one, the rest were already smoking.

"Helped ourselves, you see!"

"Anything else?"

"Listen to him!"

"That's the stuff, set it here!" The cards were shuffled away for the
bottle and glasses. The window curtains were drawn tightly, the door was
closed and the portière hung in stiff folds across it; the coal snapped
in the grate and the young men settled down for the evening.

But Frances was not winding up her own affairs so nearly to her mind.
The professor had lain down his book as soon as the guest departed.
"Daughter," he began uneasily, "I didn't know you knew Mr. Lawson."

Frances looked at him in astonishment. "Why--how--" she stammered.

"Somehow, he's different from most of the students here," her father
went on, putting his half-framed opinion into words; "he's older and he
looks a man of the world, and he's not over studious," he added a little
sarcastically.

Frances after her first start was listening quietly to his broken
speech.

"These older men," the professor went on, "if they don't come for good
hard work, they--they are the most troublesome kind we have to deal
with. The young fellows, now, they have their faults, but they are the
faults of youth. When these older men graft their knowledge of the world
to their students' folly--well--well--" he was silent for a moment.

Frances, without the slightest wish to defend the absent, sat silent
likewise.

"He's rich too; his father owns immense lumber tracts in Oregon, and his
people live in great style, and--I scarcely know--He's in none of my
classes. But, somehow, he doesn't seem-- I wonder you invited him."

"I didn't."

"Didn't! Why--"

"Oh, daddy, it sort of happened. I'm not anxious to have it happen any
more."

"Well, neither am I, now that I think of it. Going to bed?"

"I'm sleepy as a cat--no! as the Sleeping Beauty!" saucily.

"I believe you always are!" The professor never knew at what hour he
crept to bed, but his daughter's sleepy-headedness was a constant jest.
He never failed to pause at the threshold of her door and listen to the
deep, long breaths of her slumber and to feel warmed to his heart's core
to know she was there, his own daughter, the joy of his life.

"Good night!" She leaned over him, rumpling his dark hair. "Why, there's
the telephone! What can it be so late?" She was hurrying along the hall.

"Hello!"

The father turned to watch with lazy interest the lithe figure and
bright face and bent head, as she stood, red lips pressed together, the
receiver at her ear.

"Ah!" she breathed ecstatically into the 'phone.

"Where did you catch him?"

"To-day!"

"To-morrow!"

"Eight o'clock?"

"Yes, indeed!"

"If father will let me," with one imploring glance fatherward.

"Yes, in a moment, wait!"

"Father, they are going to have a fox-hunt to-morrow--Orange Grove, you
know--meet at eight o'clock. Mr. Payne bought the fox from a colored boy
to-day, he has it out at his house. They are going to turn it loose on
the hill. It's a big red fox, he says." She slipped down on the side of
his chair.

"Great Heavens! You don't want to go?"

Frances never answered, she only held on to him a little tighter.

"Frances, you know, since--"

"Starlight did behave dreadfully that time," she assented.

"Starlight!"

"Suppose I ask Mr. Payne to let me have a mount?"

"Daughter," the father was speaking quite sternly, "you know I told you
I never wanted you to ride behind the hounds again."

There was dead silence. Frances got to her feet and went over to the
mantelpiece, eyes downcast, red mouth down-curved.

"You might drive out to the meet," began her father.

A flash of her eyes answered him.

"I'll order the trap right now!" she said quickly.

"Now, it's late!" began the professor, not liking to be taken so
literally at his word. "I don't think there is any one at the stables."

"Mr. Payne telephoned from there; I told him to wait a moment. I'll try
again."

The professor listened anxiously to the whir and then to the monologue
in the hall.

"Is Mr. Carver there? Yes! So glad!" and then, after a minute's wait,
"Can you send Starlight and the trap up by seven? _Seven?_ Yes! And Mr.
Carver, please see that he is hitched up strongly, will you?"

She hung up the receiver. At the foot of the stairs she paused. "You
don't mind if I drive along the road and follow them a little if I can,
do you?" she asked laughingly.

The professor ran his hand over his perplexed face and picked up his
book; he had no answer. At any rate he felt he had had his say about
young Lawson and so he must not be too severe about this. He little knew
he had given that young man the very clue he needed: for some hour of
that night when the stars grew pale and the gay party in Lawson's room
was breaking up, one of the men vowed he must have an hour's sleep to
steady his nerves for the fox-hunt to-morrow; it was Saturday, and--

"Fox-hunt," cried Lawson.

"Yes; want to go? Meet me at the stables!" and it was arranged then and
there.

The fox-hunt was sufficient, but Lawson's last waking thoughts were the
professor's words, spoken carelessly that evening, "Frances hasn't
missed a fox-hunt for years."



III


At seven o'clock Frances was warming her cold fingers over Susan's
red-hot stove and making some show of drinking the coffee and eating the
toasted roll the old darkey, with much grumbling, had gotten ready.

"Don't see what yuh wants to go trapsin' off for dis time o' day, nohow,
ridin' arter dem hounds. Dey's low down dogs, anyhow; always did 'spise
er houn' ebin ef 'tis chasin' er fox."

"Pshaw, Susan, you know you don't know anything about it!" bantered
Frances.

"Don't, don't I? Well, I 'spec I knows sumpin' 'bout de time dey brought
you home las' wintah laid out in a drag wid de blood all ober yo does
an' dat cut right up dyar, right on de forehead; little more to de lef,
an' yuh wou'dn't be standin' hyar; an' yo' hyar jes does hide de scar
now. Tell yuh, honey," she went on solicitously, coming up close to
Frances, "young gals cyarnt tek no chances wid de looks nohow, dat's a
fac'! Don't go smash yo'self up!"

"There's the trap!" cried Frances, delighted to put an end to such
forebodings. "Good-by; give father a nice breakfast!" and she went
running out into the hall.

She opened the heavy outer door softly. The frosty air struck her like a
blow. She looked over her shoulder. Susan was not watching her off. She
ran back and swooped down on the black skin rug at the foot of the
polished stair and flung it over her arm.

"Just like them to put a linen robe in the trap this morning! I would
freeze."

She closed the big door quietly. Her father was asleep. Outside, the
long corridor stretched deserted and dusky; the quadrangle was in heavy
shadow; the white frost glittered on the grass, on the edge of the brick
pavement to the corridor, and on the balcony rails running from house to
house overhead; the scarlet and yellow leaves drifted from the maples;
the young girl caught a whirl of them in her long skirt and carried
them rustling in her train as she hurried along. Starlight was tied to
the rail outside the quadrangle and she laughed as she saw the linen
robe.

"I'm ahead of them this time!" she said to herself as she stood up and
folded the great rug about her and turned up the fur collar of her coat
and snapped the heavy driving-gloves on her wrists. The mountain air was
cold at that hour, the tingle of it was in Starlight's blood as well as
in his driver's. He gave a few friskings of balancing on his hind legs
and pawing with the others wildly in air before he settled down to
business. Frances, turning her head for fear Susan would see, had one
swift gleam of the old darkey's wrinkled, anxious face at an upstairs
window, watching her off, after all. She had only a glimpse, Starlight,
his head tucked down far as his rein allowed, was tearing down the
drive.

She took the short cut this time; down the steep hill beneath the lower
quadrangle where the buildings towered straight overhead like a sheer
precipice crowned with white, and flecked with scarlet where the ivy
crept; out by the curving road from whence she glimpsed the far-off
crests of the Ragged Mountains showing the morning light upon their
tawny sides; through the town, for a short distance, and then sharply
off to a country road.

The trap bumped and jostled. Sparks flew from Starlight's heels when
they pounded the rough rocks; sparks flew from the wheels as they rolled
over rock and hard red clay. Down in the valley, where the mist still
clung like a veil above the clear brown stream, the little plank bridge
rattled loudly as they flew over; and now, as they breasted the long
high hill beyond, the frosty air echoed with the clear mellow music of a
horn wound lustily and with the deep impatient bayings of the hounds.
Frances leaned over the dashboard and shook the reins impatiently.

"Get up, Starlight!" she cried.

Again the horn wound its call--clear, shrill, the soul note of the
frosty morning. Frances turned her head; behind her were horsemen
clattering down the way; on the road which met hers at the hill-top she
could hear the sharp sounds of beating hoofs. The sun was rolling up the
gray clouds on the horizon's edge, and the blue vault overhead, with
slow reluctance, was throwing off the soft veil of fleecy clouds; the
gray of the early autumn morning was changing to opalescent hues above
the mountain tops.

The horsemen behind were closer, were abreast of her; she turned to see
Lawson on one side, his fellow-student on the other.

"Going to ride?" Lawson called, with a mischievous glance at the heavy
trap.

Frances shook her head, outwardly she was gay enough, inwardly she was
fuming.

Lawson's mount was irreproachable, so were his clothes.

"Heard we went fox-hunting up here before he came," accused Frances
mentally; "got them all ready for the occasion."

But in truth Lawson was not conscious at all. He had lost his head, as
every one else was doing, at the clattering hoof-beats and the insistent
clarion-callings of the horn and the wild, impatient bayings of the
hounds.

On the plateau cresting the hill-top, the whole scene burst upon his
view; roads from many directions met and intersected beneath the oaks,
on all of them hunters were hurrying--women, men, dogs. Beyond showed
the white façade of Orange Grove, the fence before the lawn lined with
carriages.

Frances was earlier than she thought. She turned in the road behind the
master of the hounds, who, grown too stout for riding, had a nag and a
buggy could race on any mountain-road. He leaned out and called back to
her.

"What are you driving for?"

"Father wouldn't let me ride!"

"Well, you can trot behind me," he laughed.

As they drove past the front of the house, the big gate beyond the
stable-yard was flung open and the whole train, horsemen, carriages,
dogs, swept out on the open rolling hillside beyond.

The master of the hounds drew off to the left.

"Leave a space there! Clear the way there! That's where the fox will be
started!"

The crowd followed them to the field side.

Lawson rode up to the trap. "What are they going to do?" he asked in
bewilderment.

Frances looked at him uncomprehendingly. She had been calling gay
badinage to one and another of those about her.

"Where are they going to start the fox? Don't you let the dogs--"

"Oh!" with a long intonation of comprehension, "why, we've got the fox
with us; first catch your fox, you know--"

"Who--where?"

"Why, Mr. Payne has him. Every boy in the county knows he will pay a big
price for a fox. They have their traps out and when they catch one they
bring it in to him, and then--" a comprehensive wave of her hand
finished the sentence.

"The dogs--" began Lawson, still unenlightened.

"Oh they put the dogs up in the stables, don't you see? Watch them!"
she turned in the trap seat and Lawson wheeled his horse.

A boy stood guard at the stable door. One by one their masters were
coaxing and coercing the dogs inside. Their calls echoed all over the
field. "Here, Dixie!" "Here, Duke!" and now and then an impatient master
wound his horn to call his dogs to his feet, whereat every dog inside
the big echoing stable went fairly mad with barking.

"H-e-r-e, M-u-s-i-c!" "H-e-r-e, S-a-l!" Two frisky dogs were careering
down the hillside, their masters in wild pursuit.

"There they go, the two worst dogs in the county!" cried Frances
impatiently.

"And the two best hunters, once they are started!" declared Mr. Payne.

Lawson, tired of the dogs' antics, turned his attention to the scene
about him. The hill rolled from where they waited down to a wide stream
at its foot. It was waste land, and the long grasses were deeply green
or purple with seed-pods or browned with sering weeds; down by the
stream was a tangle, scarlet and yellow leaved, and gray and
purple-stemmed, a tangle of sumach and blackberry and bramble; and
beyond, on the climbing land, was the great forest where the pine showed
vivid green and the chestnut flared like gold in the sunshine gilding
the hillside and pricking out all its colorings--the oaks' persistent
russet, the changing hues of the tangled undergrowth.

About him were riders of every description; smart vehicles filled with
bright-faced women, the farmer in top-boots astride his nag, the
Englishman from his fancy stock farm in the country hard by on his
bobtailed horse and wearing the toggery of his irreproachable hunting
outfit, women in jackets or long skirts on skittish-looking steeds, and
women in tailor-made habits exact in set and fit, with stiff derbies on
their smooth hair and heavy crops in their hands.

The hounds were all prisoned at last. The men who had dismounted hurried
to their horses. Those who had not, settled themselves in their saddles.
In the tense silence all the sounds of the morning could be heard, the
deep breathings of the horses, the creakings of the saddles, even the
wind stealing through the grasses and singing in the trees of the forest
across the way and the gurgling of the stream about the rocks in its
bed.

Mr. Payne got nimbly out of his buggy, holding a big bag of burlap, with
a squirming something inside. He walked to the middle of the cleared
space and laid the tied bag down carefully, the mouth turned to the
hillside. He bent over the cords. There was a sharp, triumphant bark.

"Good Lord!" he groaned as he snatched up the bag, tossed it over his
shoulders and ran for his buggy.

Music and Sal had nosed wildly around in the stable until they had found
a loose board, had broken cover, and were baying their triumph to the
countryside, a dozen venturers at their heels. The boy who guarded the
door was pressing the board against the other prisoners and calling
loudly for help.

"Oh!" groaned Frances, "they've got it all to go over again!" and she
settled back in the trap in comic despair.

Lawson by this time was growing impatient. He was used to seeing things
differently managed. He was concluding secretly that this boasted
Virginia fox-hunting was somewhat overrated. Music and Sal still bayed
upon the hillside.

Mr. Payne, bag in hand came up to the trap. "Want to see him," he
whispered.

Frances nodded delightedly.

"He's a beauty!" He unfastened the bag carefully and peering down into
it she saw first a red fluffy curl and then two big jewel-bright eyes,
looking pathetically scared.

"Ah!" she said, pityingly.

"A red fox!" cried Mr. Payne enthusiastically, "a genuine red fox!"

But Frances had no bright answer ready; she was seeing just two dark
scared eyes and that big fluff of a tail curled about the pointed face.
The hunt did not seem as joyous as a moment ago. She did not notice that
the baying had ceased, that Mr. Payne had gotten again from his buggy
with his burden, and then her startled eyes saw a flash of reddish
yellow straight down the hillside, a flying leap across the stream and a
swift taking to cover.

She heard Mr. Payne's "Quick, pull in behind me!" as he drove out to the
middle of the field. She saw the riders range to left to right, she saw
the fringe of carriages by the fence corner where the sober ones waited
to see the start; but she, in the trap, was close behind the toughest
rider in the country. She heard the snapping of the watches in the tense
silence and the low "How many minutes?"

"Seven!" cried Mr. Payne, thrusting his watch in his pocket and standing
up in his buggy. He waved his arm.

"Turn out the hounds!"

And then Frances forgot everything. She was driving down the roadless
hillside swift as the wind. The trap lurched to right to left. The wind
cut her cheek. Horsemen dashed past. The hounds were almost underfoot,
running straight; the chorus of their voices filled all the echoing
valley. The stream was crossed with a swift splash. The nag ahead was
running straight up-hill and Starlight was following. The wheels struck
a rock and jolted her to her knees; she slid back on the seat again. The
riders were in the woods now, but their course lay straight as the road
ran. Fences and woods and fields of stacked corn and wayside cabins slid
past, but they kept the pace.

Then Starlight went more slowly, the heavy trap was telling on him; the
gray nag and her driver were nearly out of sight, the driver waving an
impatient hand at the loiterer as he sped around the last turning. Worse
too, the baying was growing less and less distinct; she urged Starlight
on. He gave a burst of speed, the wheels went rolling over a rock, and
in a breath the trap was going down--down--and Frances rolled quite
easily into the dry ditch.

For a moment she lay still, dazed. She watched the deep, intense, blue
of the sky overhead and the screen of oak branches against it and the
buzzards floating lazily high up in ether. She stretched her limbs and
found them unhurt, and then she turned her head on her arm. "Father will
never let me go again!" she moaned. She got to her feet. "I wonder what
is the matter, anyway!" she muttered; but the trouble was easy enough to
see. The violent wrench had turned the wheel inside out and broken every
spoke off short at the hub.

Starlight, head turned, was looking behind him reproachfully.

"Turn your head, you old goose; it isn't my fault either!" she vowed to
the woods and the fallen leaves and the empty road. "That man at the
stables hasn't been washing the wheels as he should; he's let them get
too dry!"

But it was useless to patch up any such excuse as this even to herself;
she knew quite well it was her own reckless driving that did it and she
knew there was a scene with her father ahead; but she set her lips
firmly and turned to the work in hand. She got the trap as best she
could out of the road, she unharnessed Starlight and flung the black rug
upon his back. "I suppose I will have to ride you home so-- My soul!"
She jumped a foot. A little creature running swiftly down the fence
rails, sprang to the ground just ahead of her and flashed into the
woods.

It was a full second before she knew what it meant. Then she heard the
baying of the dogs.

The fox, close cornered, had taken to the fence rails to throw the dogs
off its scent and then, seeing her, he had leaped across the road. She
sprang to the fence; far over in the field beyond the dogs were running
aimlessly about. She climbed up, standing sharply silhouetted on the
high fence of chestnut rails, and waved her hand frantically. Some one
saw her, understood, came pounding that way, others at his heels,
calling the dogs sharply.

Frances sprang on Starlight's back and went crashing through the woods.
A dog sped by her, another. She heard a rider close behind, but she was
still ahead; and then she and the dogs pulled up short before a narrow
stream and a wall of tangled vine-clad rocks on the other side. They
had run the fox to earth, but he was safe. Even then she was glad.

The dogs were baying like mad about her, Starlight was in a lather of
foam and breathing heavily, the loosened tendrils of her hair whipped
against her scarlet cheek, her eyes were gleams of fire.

"First, _first_!" she cried, as the rider she had heard broke through
the woods.

It was Lawson.



IV


Lawson rode with Frances home. The whole field followed. Never had he
seen a madder frolic. For many a beast and many a rider crowding the
country road, the noon sun shining down on them hotly, he had learned a
wholesome respect. Some stiff jumping and hot riding he had seen on
those rough mountain fields, and he was inordinately proud of himself
for so holding his own and proud of the spirit of the girl by whose side
he rode.

They went straight to the stables. Mr. Carver stood speechless at the
remnant of the turnout he had sent to the professor's home early in the
morning.

"Mr. Carver," announced Frances coolly, as she slipped from Starlight's
back, "the trap is up the road, just this side of the fork. I wish you
would send for it."

"What's the matter?"

"One wheel missing, that's all," as if that were a slight affair. "And
Mr. Carver," coaxingly, "just have it fixed as soon as you can, and
don't say too much about it. It's not a bad break, just one wheel!"

"Bless my soul!" Mr. Carver, with an innate love of beauty, gazed
admiringly at flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, "Of course, of course!
Come into the office; let me brush your dress for you, it will never do
to go home that way." The cloth skirt was covered with long black hairs
from the rug.

"Starlight run away?" he asked, as they stood in the little office,
while he was busily whisking her skirt.

"Oh, no!" Frances was looking through the open door at Lawson as he went
down the stable aisle, his horse's bridle across his arm. He was walking
with quick, confident step, shoulders well back, head carried high. She
watched him out of sight.

"How did it happen?" asked Mr. Carver.

Frances told it as briefly as she could, winding up with her triumphant
boast, "But I was first at the finish."

"Good Lord!" laughed her delighted listener. "What will your father
say?"

Frances looked around at the open littered desk, the ink-crusted pen and
splashed blotter and loose papers, at the thin oak partition of the
walls covered with calendars and sporting prints. She was sobered. "I
don't know," she said suddenly; "I am going to see. Good-by, thank you!"

She hurried out, she had just missed her car. She waited at the corner
impatiently. It was long past the noon, the long string of carriages
which had filled the street at an earlier hour was gone, the shops up
and down looked deserted, some belated driver drove briskly past, an
empty buggy or two waited here and there; the autumn sun blazed on
houses and pavement.

"Were you going to leave me?" The tone was distinctly resentful.

"Why--" It nearly slipped her lips that, having started alone, she
expected to return alone; and though she caught the words before their
utterance, the look of her thought showed so plainly on her face that
the young man read it easily enough.

"We are at least going the same way," he said stiffly.

"Yes," said Frances weakly, making for the car which was at last in
sight.

He assisted her in and seated himself by her side; and though the car
was deserted save for motorman and conductor, he found he had nothing to
say, nor had she either.

They rode silently up the street, over the high bridge spanning the
railroad, between the twin guardians of the University's
approach--Chancellor's and Anderson's--out to the University gates. But
it was not in Lawson to be silent, a winsome young woman by his side,
along any such road as the white, winding way under the scarlet maples
and russet oaks, through the grounds to her father's door.

"What do you do on Sunday?" he began tentatively.

"Sunday! That's the busiest day in the week. We go to Sunday school,
church--that's in the morning; school again in the afternoon at the
mission; then we go for a walk, father and I."

"You never go driving Sunday?"

"Driving! that's one thing father is emphatic about; he will never allow
Starlight out of the stables on Sunday."

Lawson set his teeth. He had no thought of Starlight when he spoke of
driving next day, and was half angered that she was so unconscious of
his meaning.

"And in the evening?" he asked, for the sake of saying something.

"We go to church again."

He saw plainly there was not a moment for him unless it was made, and
that the young woman had no thought of making it.

"Then I shall not see you for a day or two." Glimpses about quadrangle
or doorway he counted as nothing. "Good-by!" He held out his hand with
elaborate courtesy.

Frances laid her own, heavily gloved in his for an instant and looked
him frankly in the eyes. "Good-by!" she said. "What a ride it was,
but--" a little sigh was on her lips as she opened the heavy door.

Susan, watching for the young woman's approach, keeping her dinner warm
and warming her own wrath as well, saw the leave-taking.

"Hm! hm!" grunted the old negress, "what Miss Frances doing comin' home
dis way, dat man 'long her too?"

The Faculty might be cosmopolitan; Susan was Virginian to the backbone.
"An' he a fur-away-er," which was Susan's term for people from anywhere
except her own State. "An' he a fur-away-er," she muttered, as she
betook herself to the kitchen.

Frances marched straight to the study, where the professor always
lingered a short space after his dinner, and told her tale briefly. She
expected many words. The professor, like many another man in an
emergency, had none. His daughter was worse scared than if he had
stormed. When he did speak she felt she had no idea what he would say.
Would he forbid her riding altogether?

She went to her dinner, but he laid down his book and looked long at the
glowing coals, then got up and went his way. She was his motherless
daughter, sweet, true, beloved. A girl must have some fad, he supposed.
Sweethearts, or horses? He chose the latter. He never dreamed of both.



V


But there was a possibility of both. There was vein of sentiment through
the bed-rock of Lawson's worldliness which had shown brightly once or
twice, had been broken off suddenly, and which, had it been worked by
skilful hands, would have yielded rich returns. When he had come east,
along with the powerful reasons for his doing so had flickered now and
then the glimmer of his traditions of a Virginia girl. He thought in a
nebulous fashion that she should be slight, dark-eyed, dark-haired,
fascinating as a woman only can be, and flirtatious as a kitten. He had
met one or two of the pictured type. But from the moment when he had
stepped from his own room far up the corridor one day and seen a tall,
supple, well-built young woman with clear cheek and ruffled hair and
serene gray eyes, holding her long white gown from the worn brick-way
and walking with careless grace towards him, he had decided instantly
that this was the woman of whom he had thought, and had begun to cluster
his traditions about her. None would fit. If there was a grain of
coquetry about Frances it slumbered; so did some other deeper feelings.
He had watched, striven, for a flash of her eyes or a flush on her
cheek; he had seen it, but it had been careless companionship which
evoked it. And his thoughts, striving to fit her to a place she would
not fill, clung about her more and more. There would be no hour for him
on Sunday; it only irked him. He remembered the women he had met who
were nearer the ideal of his illusions. He sought them.

Frances finding at last, and most unexpectedly, a free hour, and scarce
knowing what to do with it, wandered aimlessly about the house. It was
so much her custom to be abroad with her father and watching the sunset
over the mountain tops, that now, when he was kept by an old friend, she
could not content herself. She would have her walk alone.

The pageantry of the autumn days was veiled. The wind was whistling
about the chimney-tops and bending the half bared branches of maple and
oak; far away the soft gray clouds closed about the high mountain
crests, shutting the vision in narrow horizons. Many of the students
were loitering about corridor or cottage as she sped away from all along
the road winding to the mountain top crowned by the observatory. Here,
beyond the immediate environments of the many buildings, a short road
across the fields led to the football grounds, where the high fence and
higher stand of seats loomed weather-beaten, deserted; there, on the
other side of the wide highway, rolled the golf links over the hillside,
the winds moaning above them fitfully and rustling the dead vines on
fence and roadside, and the scarlet fronds of sumac, and whirling the
dead leaves about her feet and tossing the oak-branches overhead.

She was at the edge of the wood which ran to the mountain top. A double
arch of oaks met overhead. Beyond these, where the grove was cleared
for a space, was the resting place of the University's dead. Her father
went often through the gates, but it always smote her like a blow, the
sight of those grass-grown swells and gleaming marbles and white sweet
roses; and in the midst the great shaft, with many names about its base
of those who, when there was need, had marched from the bright dreams of
their college life to the grim deeds of war--had marched, many of them,
to rest in some obscure corner of their state or of others, but to be
remembered each one in that list of those who had dared and done and
paid the one and everlasting price of their beliefs.

Where the path under the arching oaks ended, and in sight of the white
palings and clustering shafts, Frances paused. Just here she and her
father had stood on many an afternoon while the sun, crimsoning the sky
above the mountains, hung scarlet banners over the valley dipping sheer
between them and the Ragged Mountains, dyeing in crimson and purple and
clear green the heavens, against which were sharply silhouetted the
crests, red and rocky, or clothed to the top with the verdure of the
pine or showing the gorgeous hues of autumn. Now the heavens shut them
in closely, even the far brilliant forest showed cold against their dull
leaden grays; on the other hand, beyond the links where the land rolled
and dipped and climbed again upward, showed the chimney-tops of houses,
the smoke-wreaths close about them telling of warmth and cheer. It was
the day and hour for fireside comfort. Frances turned homeward.

So loud had been the moaning of the wind in leaf and tree that she had
heard no other sound. Now as she turned she saw a smart buggy driving
rapidly towards her, almost abreast of her.

The top was thrown back. A girl whom she had known as one knows some
neighbors all the years of her life was in it. Her slim figure showed
exquisitely against the linings of the carriage, her rich furs framed a
face delicate and spirited as a miniature, her wide hat and long black
plumes brought out every shifting hue of her golden hair and rosy
cheeks. She was known in Richmond and New York as a beauty; she was
known in Charlottesville as a "students' belle." A man like her
attendant was a godsend to her, already wearied, as she was, of too
easily pleasing. She leaned toward him impressively. It was Lawson. His
face was ruddy and his eyes alight. His bays were trotting gloriously.
The girl he was driving was more than interesting, she was daring. He
looked deep into her eyes. The girl's bow to some one startled him. He
turned to give Frances an astonished glance as she came around the
slight curve into sight. But Frances had seen the picture and its
atmosphere. It was not love, and that she did not know, but it wore its
guise charmingly.

Frances heard the moaning of the winds across the links and it held a
deeper note, a note of desolation, fading glories, and swift-coming
night.

The library looked doubly cheerful when she was within doors. The coals
in the grate were glowing red, the heavy curtains of the windows were
partly drawn showing but a breadth of white lace between and through
its film a glimpse of the darkening quadrangle. There was a savory smell
of coffee kitchenward, as Susan came in.

"Yo' pa done sont a message," she said, "he done 'phoned up he gwine
stay to de hotel for suppah." Susan had been induced to overcome her
deadly fear of the telephone more by her shame at seeing "Marse Robert
and Miss Frances" exposed at any time to a danger she dared not touch
than by any other feeling, and had learned the mastery of the machine.
"Yuh'll hab to hab yo' suppah by yo'sef. I'se fryin' yuh some ham now."

Frances pulled her chair closer to the fire. "All right, Susan."

Susan lingered. There was a look on Frances' face she did not like to
see. "Yuh ain't lonesome, honey?"

The sunshine of the girl's nature flashed at once to the surface. "Not a
bit! This fire is just glorious; it's cold out-of-doors, cold as
Christmas, and the coffee smells delicious, and the ham--hurry up! I'm
so hungry, I'll be back in the kitchen if you don't!"

Susan, satisfied, hurried off.

Frances loosened her jacket and slipped the hat-pins out of her hat and
put the hat on her knee; the firelight shone on the brown velvet of it
and on her trim brown gown, and her slender foot stretched out towards
the hearth, and lighted up the warm tints of her scarlet waist and the
rose of her cheeks reddened by wind and fireshine.

A litter of papers and magazines was on the table behind her and an
electric globe overhead, but the firelight and her thoughts were best
company. There was a sting back there in her memory somehow she was
vaguely conscious of and resentful of; she was feeling for it with
senses unused to such searching, and by and by, being unsuccessful, she
wandered to other thoughts, which was the surest cure for the sting, had
she but known it. She slipped her arms from her jacket and that slid to
the floor, her attitude relaxed more and more, she was half dreaming
when the sharp ringing of the bell and Susan's footsteps echoing along
the polished floor of the hall brought her suddenly to her feet. Before
she was quite wide awake a visitor stood in the library.

"I saw you had an idle moment," he began in a tone of intense amusement.

Frances looked at him uncomprehendingly.

Lawson pointed mischievously to the half drawn curtain. Frances walked
swiftly to it and sent the rings clashing along the pole.

"Good!" he cried, "if I may stay."

"Shut out the wind, shut out the weather," his heart was saying to him;
he had forgotten the rest of it, but he knew the last word was
perilously dear sometimes--"together."

"Together!" It was the first time he had ever really felt the
significance of the word with her. Even if there were none others near
she had made him feel as if there were a crowd always. Now, the dusky
firelit room, the startled look on her face, the half-hesitancy of her
speech, he would not miss a tithe of. He stooped and picked up her
gloves and hat-pins, and as he handed them to her his hand shook a
trifle, awkwardly, and he pricked her.

"Oh dear!" she cried, pathetically as a child, "it's bleeding!"

"Let me see!" There was a round red drop of blood at the finger's tip.
"I would not have hurt you for worlds! How stupid! Let me--there!" He
was wrapping her hand in his handkerchief and stanching the slight flow
at the dainty pink point of her fingers, and blessing the pin, even if
it did hurt. How small her hand had seemed, how white, how warm; he
unwrapped the swathings and held it palm upwards, looking solicitously
and wondering inanely which finger was hurt. The pink palm was unlined
as a child's. Lawson eyed it swiftly; he had some idea of palmistry.

"Shall I read your future?" he asked gayly after one quick glance at the
marriage cross on the soft flesh under her forefinger.

"Why, can you?" cried Frances, flushing a little at the question and a
little that he should still be holding her hand.

"Oh yes, here--"

"Suppah is raidy!" Susan, coming quietly to the door to beckon her
mistress and ask advice about the serving of the meal, had come upon the
tableau. She broke it up.

Lawson moved toward the door and Frances stood, uncertainty on her face.
"You have just come--" she began.

"I didn't think it was so late."

"You drove too long!" she flashed.

"Oh no, not long after I saw you!" he was quick to retort. "What were
you doing without your father?"

"He met an old friend--"

"Is he still away?"

"Yes, he's going to stay."

Lawson put his hand on the door-knob. He saw he must go, but Susan,
impatient at even this delay and so furious at what her eyes had seen
that she scarce heeded what she was doing clanged out the supper bell
and then poked her turbaned head through the portière. "Ef yuh don't
come on, eberyting will be col'!" she declared.

Frances, angered through and through at the old woman's interference,
tilted her chin high. "Come out and have supper with me, Mr. Lawson,"
she said, "it's lonesome by myself!"

"Fo' Gawd!" muttered Susan, knowing she had overreached herself and
brought about worse than she had tried to avert, "fo' Gawd!"

"Susan, put a plate for Mr. Lawson!"

Susan, plate in hand, came slowly to the table where they waited. "I
ain't gwine put it at de foot, Gawd knows," she told herself, "I'se
gwine put it at de side, de lef' side too, an' I hopes to de Lawd he'll
burn hisself agains' de coffee-pot; it's good and hot, I knows!"

Lawson was duly satisfied where he was; he could watch her hands, shaky
a little at first, hovering over the queer-shaped silver pot of coffee
and the low wide cream-jug and open sugar-bowl, and he listened
delightedly to her questions as to his tastes; he could enjoy too,
seeing the example of his hostess, the good food Susan had unwittingly
prepared him.

There was no criticism now of house or table. The great high-ceilinged
room with its heavy furniture of dark mahogany, its dusky corners, and
its single light shining above his hostess' head and lighting every tint
of her loveliness, seemed the perfection of home atmosphere.

When they went into the hall and heard the rain beating on the corridor
roof, and Frances opened the outer door for one instant to glance out on
the storm-swept quadrangle, the gleaming lights pricking the darkness
here and there, and to speak uneasily of her father, before she closed
the door upon the storm and came back to her seat by the library fire,
he felt all the happiness he had dreamed of that other evening which had
turned out so differently.

The difference was to affect other things, also, for as he rose to go he
said laughingly, "You know I am asked to go on the eleven?"

"No!" Football was the only one of the University sports for which
Frances had any enthusiasm.

"Yes, Marsden's hurt is more serious than they thought; they want me to
take his place, for the time at least."

"Yes," assented Frances as he paused.

"I used to play at home on the old college team."

"You will accept?"

"I think so; it means hard training and," with a short laugh,
"abstemious living, but I think I will."

"I am glad!" cried Frances impulsively. At the warmth of her
friendliness the young man's eyes spoke a warmer language yet. The
girl's glances fell.

Lawson made an impulsive step forward, drew a long hard breath, his
hands clenched, though he did not know it; then, "Good night!" he said
quietly, "and thank you for a very pleasant evening."



VI


"Frances," the professor had said every Court-day since she was old
enough to be out on her own affairs, "Frances, this is Court-day," and
that warning was sufficient.

It meant that his daughter must not be far afield on the country roads
in the morning when men from farm and mountain-cabin and homes near by
and nooks far away would be riding by twos and threes--a led horse,
perhaps, by one, a cow driven before another, to be traded in town--or
driving a wagon-load of farm produce, a calf in the rear bleating
prophecies of his fate; and that she should avoid the roads when these
same men were going home, some of them the worse from their visits to
the saloons dotted plentifully through the town, and disposed to be
quarrelsome, and none too ready to give a woman the right of way. But
most of all it meant that she must avoid the congested streets about
the Court-house. This was an unwritten law of the town.

This morning he forgot. His mind was still filled with thoughts of his
visit and his friend, a man whose ways, unlike the professor's, had led
him into many highways and byways of the world and taught him strange
things. Their lives had not touched for many years and now the point of
contact had sparkled with helpful brilliancy for both.

Frances, used to being reminded, took no thought for herself. She
ordered up Starlight for a morning's ride with some gay badinage over
the 'phone as to his condition.

"He's a little nervous this morning," Mr. Carver called back. "Hasn't
gotten over his run-away."

"Run-away!" repeated Frances indignantly, at her end of the 'phone.

"Well, I'll tell the boy to rub him down well and bring him up. Don't
ride him too hard."

"Good-by!" called Frances shortly, as she rang him off.

The town was quiet enough as she rode through and turned out Park
street. The wide way was drifted with wet leaves; under the carpet of
them on lawn and yard the grass showed vivid green; chrysanthemums
flaunted their colors in every door-yard; at window or porch the rider
glimpsed many a friendly face and bowed cheerily. As the houses grew
more scattered the land fell away from the ridge over which the road
wound showing sunlit vistas of valley and mountain to left and to right,
crest upon crest towering away to the sky line. The coloring everywhere
was brilliant after the storm of the night; the clay of the road, where
it climbed the mountain-side far away, showed deeply red; the ruffled
pools underfoot mirrored the blue sky; crows were calling jubilantly
overhead; the wind blew softly against Frances' cheek. Starlight and his
rider went on fast and fleet, and farther than his rider had intended.

They were crossing a ravine on the high bridge which spanned it, and
Frances had drawn rein to look with delight up and down at the clear
stream curving on its way through a narrow valley of rich meadow-land,
where the corn was stacked in sere wigwams across the field, and to gaze
down at the wild gorge below, tree-clad, with the stream foaming at its
base; or just across, where the land dipped suddenly and a ruined
cottage, moss-grown, tree-hidden, clung to the hillside. She was
wondering whether she should try the steep hill beyond, slippery from
the rain, when she saw a man riding slowly down it, another followed
him, and another. Their splashed top-boots and loose-fitting coats and
wide soft hats bespoke the mountaineer. But Frances, remembering the
level stretch of road beyond, where Starlight could take the top of his
speed, rode on. Before she breasted the hill she met a farmer driving
his wagon, full to the brim with yellow ears of corn, and a man on his
sure-footed mule riding carelessly by his side, talking the topics of
the county. Then she remembered the day.

She looked at her watch,--it was after ten; when she got back the hubbub
would be at its height, and her way, of necessity, lay by the
Court-house. She turned her horse's head.

All the way homeward she thought of her adventure gleefully; it was no
fault of her own she was abroad, and as she must go through the throng,
she was going to see it _all_. She had always wished it because it was
forbidden, now she would have her wish.

About the Court-house the streets were thronged for a square on either
side--horses, carriages, men. The autumn court was an important one.
Farmers were not so pressed, there was leisure to look outside of their
own fields; men of the town, of distant towns, of farms far and near, of
mountain cabins, thronged the steps and the bit of green about the house
and the street, back to the small houses and narrow pavements built
about it like a court when the town was a village a century and more
ago.

They made way for her as she came riding slowly through the press and
eyed her curiously, but Frances, when she should have hurried, took her
time. She was exhilarated. Here the men had cleared a space and a negro
was trotting a horse up and down, the onlookers noting his points
sagely; there, drawn close to the curb, were the small wagons of the
negroes who were vending things to eat and to drink, queer and curious.
And there standing straight in her wagon and looking out eagerly for
chances of trade was Roxie. She spied Frances through the crowd.

"Chile, what yuh doin' hyar?" she asked, soon as Frances was abreast of
her.

"Forgot! I got caught!" said Frances, just loud enough for her to hear.
Starlight was close to the wagon's wheel and for the moment they were
held in the crowd.

"Better go 'long home!" warned the old darkey.

"I'm going. Roxie, what have you got there?"

"La! Miss Frances, you don't want none. Dyar's a watermilyun dat's been
down in de bottom o' de spring eber since Augus'! It's red as a rose an'
I'se gwine sell it fur five cents a slice; 'twill fairly fly at dat. An'
dyar's some 'simmon beer--"

"Roxie," said Frances, her eyes shining with amusement, "you know I
want some persimmon beer."

"Miss Frances," replied the old darkey, impressively, "I'se gwine sabe
yuh some and bring it up to yo' house, if yuh'll jes' buy me some
'baccer. Dyar's dead loads of it hyar to-day; yuh know whar dey sells
it, right on de street below dis; 'taint no such crowd dyar as dyar is
hyar. Ole Ike, he driv right befo' me terday, an' he had de prettiest
lot, an' I tried ter swop him fur some all de way in. 'Lowed he didn't
love watermilyun, de ole liar, and he nebber drank 'simmon beer--'cause
he's honin' fur sumpin' stronger--an' de smell o' dat 'baccer blowin'
back to me de whole way 'long! Go 'long, chile, de way is open clear to
de end o' de square. Ole Ike, he's right 'round de corner dyar."

Frances, tingling with fun, rode on slowly. Around the corner, as Roxie
said, the way cleared and around the corner from that was a scene at
which Frances drew rein. Running the length of the square, wagons of
all sorts were drawn close to the curb. They were stored with brown
tobacco leaves, well-cut, well-dried, and now to be sold. Men were going
from wagon to wagon, pricing, sorting; the buying had hardly begun. One
old negro, shabbily clad, hobbled by, his face shining with happiness,
his arm rounded over a big sheaf which meant comfort and cheer on many a
winter's morning and night by his cabin hearth. On the square beyond
were horses and cows for sale before the cattle sheds.

But Frances' eyes were diligently searching the square below for old
Ike. He was not there. Ike, venturing on a little original business, had
driven first to one or two houses of "de quality," where he hoped to
make some sales. The venture had prospered. He came driving back
gleefully, his best wares sold, the money in the pocket of his patched
vest. The morning air was chill to his old bones and he had wrapped
himself up well in his wife's best quilt when he climbed into his shaky
"jersey" before his cabin door back on the mountain side; but the
sunshine and his success had warmed him. He had loosened the wrappings
of the quilt about his limbs, though it still flopped about his
shoulders, pinned with his wife's bonnet-pin under his lean and bristly
chin.

As he drove with a showy spurt of speed close by Frances the wind caught
the quilt end and slipped it squarely in Starlight's face. With a snort
Starlight was off. He plunged the length of the "jersey" and darted past
the other vehicles too swiftly for any of the men to act. Frances
sitting carelessly was taken unawares and slid half way from the saddle;
for a blinding moment she saw nothing but a fall which might be fatal
before her, then by a superhuman effort she regained her seat; but her
hands were fairly nerveless. Starlight, head down, was racing along the
street which crossed the railroad; in one bewildering flash she saw the
running people, the opened doors and windows, the long white guards
across the street and the heavy freight train on the far track drawn off
to make way for the western express.

Fear nerved her. She tugged at the bridle. Starlight gave no heed. She
was close upon the guards. She felt a strong grasp, she was pulled from
her seat; for one dizzy moment she knew nothing. When she was again
conscious she looked up into an anxious face above her, and looked on.
In fear, excitement, anxiety, all thought of environment had burned
away. It was a second's space she looked, a breath's space, when the
soul, oblivious of the body, sees and seizes the great things of life.
The face bending over her was fair, frank, and young, strong and
serious, the eyes blue.--Then she came back to the everyday knowledge
that she was leaning on his shoulder, his arm holding her close against
him, his face bent above her; that she was on his horse before him, that
he must have snatched her from the saddle at the last moment. She
struggled to sit upright.

"You are not hurt?" he questioned anxiously.

"Starlight?"

"I don't know." He smiled as he looked at her, a little flash of
consciousness showing in his own face. They were riding up a narrow side
street.

"You see I had to race after you and I couldn't pull up at once though I
managed to turn off up here. Wait!"

In some fashion, awkward enough with her there on the horse before him,
he dismounted and held up his hands to lift her down. Frances allowed
herself to be taken down meekly. Her eyes were dim with tears of
mortification. She stood on the sidewalk, which was black with cinders
from the ever passing trains, and saw the curious faces at the doors and
windows of the small, sooty houses, saw the crowd running up from the
station, and hated the whole adventure to its smallest detail. But
before the crowd ran a man with Starlight tugging at the bridle rein he
held.

"Bring him here!" Frances begged the stranger.

The young man flung the rein of his own horse across a paling's point,
knotted it hastily and ran forward.

"So! so!" he cried, smoothing Starlight down the face and talking to
him softly as he brought him to his rider.

"Give me your hand!" she demanded quickly.

"Surely--"

"Before they are all here! I'm not afraid! Don't you see?" Her hands
were on the pommel; she was in mad haste to escape the crowd almost upon
her.

The stranger knelt, held out his hand, tossed her in the saddle and she
was off, Starlight trotting decently and quietly, the quivering of his
flesh and an indignant snort alone betraying his rashness.

But close behind her and then abreast of her rode her rescuer.

"I must see how he goes at first," he apologized, and the mastery of his
tone added to Frances' discomfiture.

She rode with crimson cheeks and downcast eyes, a square--two; she could
stand it no longer; she drew rein at the corner.

"I thank you very much," she said as courteously as she could; "I am
going this way," and she turned off.

She took the quietest way home in bitterness of spirit. Never could
there have been a worse moment for such adventure. The affair would be
known from town to farm, from farm to mountain top, by sunset. There was
the spice of danger in it that would insure its telling, and the talk
would lose nothing by its many recitals. It would be told to the young
man's advantage, too. None of the glory would redound to her. There was
no excuse for her being where she had been, no pardon for such an
escapade. It would be made the point even for a parent's caution. The
thought was maddening.

She crept to her room, glad to close the home doors about her. Susan
found her there.

"Yo' pa done 'phoned up dis bery minute he's gwine bring company home
ter dinnah."

"Very well!" said Frances spiritlessly.

"Wants ter hab anything 'ticular?"

"Oh, whatever you want, Susan; you know as well as I do."

"Hm!" said Susan going down the stairway, "ain't no talk of floating
islan' an' cake now, but I'se gwine hab sumpin' good all de same. Marse
Robert he laks good things ter eat, ef he doesn't mek any fuss. I'se
gwine see dey's dyar on de table as long as de meal holds out in de
barrel."

Frances sat down in her room. There was no fire there and she was
chilled and miserable. The physical discomfiture chimed with her mood
and she was resentful of the bright sunshine that came streaming to her
feet. When she got up and took off her riding habit, she dressed without
a thought of the guest her father was bringing to dine with him. She
heard the opening of the heavy front door, footsteps in the hall, and
her father's voice in pleased tones of cordial hospitality. She went
down to the library. The door was opened, but the portière hung in heavy
folds across the inner side; when she pulled it away she looked full
into the face of her hero of the morning, who stood in the middle of
the room, looking back at her with the amazement on his face which must
have shown on hers.

"Frances," the professor was saying, so full of his own pleasure he was
not noting their embarrassment, "this is Edward Montague. You've heard
me talk of Tom Montague, went to school here when I did, settled out in
Rappahannock; this is his son." He laid his hand affectionately on the
young man's arm. "He has bought the old Northrup place, you know; I hope
he'll make a good neighbor. He has made a fine beginning. Some girl's
horse was running away with her in town and he raced up behind and
snatched her out of the saddle just before she got to the railroad
guards; funny he doesn't know the girl's name."

"I rode on to the post-office," said the young man, looking at neither.

"And some one there knew of the adventure. He was glad enough to get
away. Came up to me as soon as he saw my mail,--the names on the
envelopes I mean."

"I had intended visiting you to-day," but, strangely enough, the young
man's voice was past courtesy, it was fairly pleading.

"Well, well, I wonder--" the professor's gaze, comprehensive at last,
fell on Frances, shrinking back against the portière.

"Frances!"

There was dead, unbroken silence. In the tense awkwardness of the moment
the young man, not knowing what to say, was noting shyly the curl of the
girl's dark lashes against her scarlet cheek and the droop of her red
mouth.

"_Was it you?_"

The girl raised her eyes and gave the visitor one swift look, indignant,
imploring; her impulse was to run from the room back to her own, but she
could not; she walked quickly to the window and half turned from them
instead.

"It was the strangest thing you ever saw," began the young man so
hurriedly, his words tripped over one another. "I was just behind her. I
saw her riding down the street. It was a curious sight--the farmers,
the negroes with their tobacco for sale, you know. Just as she
stopped"--another break he felt; she would think he had been watching
her all the time--as he had from the moment he caught sight of her
across the crowd at Roxie's wheel. "Just as she stopped, an old darkey
rattled close by her; he was a sight!" the young fellow laughed
nervously; "he had a quilt flopping all around him and as he passed the
wind flapped it squarely in her horse's face and he was off, I after
him. Pluckiest thing I ever saw, I thought she was gone down on those
cobbles there." The professor made a little smothered exclamation. "She
was half out of the saddle but she got back somehow, got control of the
reins, too. But the horse was headed for the railway. I got up to her
just in time."

Frances was facing him, gratitude in her eyes, not for the rescue but
for the telling.

"Frances--Edward--" began the professor brokenly. He covered his face
with his hand for a moment and then he went up close to the young man
and spoke his gratitude in such warm words as brought a flush to his
guest's face and to his daughter's.

"Frances, you have thanked him?"

Frances glanced at the young man shyly. He smiled back at her
reassuringly.

"Of course!" he said quickly, and for the first time she felt a feeling
of warm kindliness to him. She had been on the verge of quite the
opposite feeling before.

It was some time after this that the professor, who had been quiet and
thoughtful, and limited his conversation largely to table affairs, said
suddenly, as if he had at last arrived at a conclusion of his thoughts,
"Frances, this is the third accident you have had in less than a year."

"So it is sure to be the last, father," said Frances gayly from the head
of the table. She had been growing steadily more cheerful as he went on
talking with young Montague, "Ask Susan!"

Susan was hurrying with delight about the table. She had known Edward's
father and his mother. He was one of "her folks."

"If a thing that never happened before happens once, it's bound to
happen three times. It's all over; I'm safe!"

The professor began some remonstrance. He had intended then and there to
lay down a severely strict law. Instead, "I think I'll look you up a
safe horse," he said lamely.

"Perhaps Miss Frances will let me ride with her sometimes," ventured
young Montague.

"Not to take care of me," said that young woman wilfully.

"For the pleasure!"

"In that case, I shall be glad to go," sedately, "but I shall not wait
for you."

"There will be no waiting!" They were going into the library and he was
holding the curtain to let her pass. Frances looked up at him
laughingly, and in that instant she forgave him for playing the hero's
part.



VII


The professor was deeply interested in Edward Montague's plans; well as
he had known his father, there was much of that father's later life of
which he had no tidings. He had to learn what a house full of children
was back there in the valley home, had to learn how Edward was compelled
to give up his hope of college training--and this he learned between the
lines--and how he had resolved instead to strike out for his own
fortunes.

"I should have gone back to farming anyhow," the young man answered to
some expression of the professor's, "it is my bent, you know, but it
needs brains and training as well as any other profession," a little
proudly, for he thought the professor would challenge it.

But it was the professor's own deep rooted belief. He listened
delightedly as his young guest went on to speak of the farm he had
bought and what he hoped to make of it. The old Northrup estate, some
three miles out from Charlottesville, was a well known one throughout
all Albemarle. A big brick house on the sunny slope of a mountain whose
crest towered to the sky-line behind it, it had held many people, loved
and known in the state, and had been the centre of a gay full life. But
the old life had drifted away from it; some of those who had lived in
the brick walls slept in the graves under the thick oaks not far away
from the house; the rest were scattered, north, south, and west. The
place had gotten into the hands of speculators. A northern farmer,
thinking to make his fortune on cheap lands in a sunny climate, had
bought it, but to face labor conditions of which he was ignorant and to
find the only hopes of the fortune he sought were in a country store. He
had nearly lost his life fording one of the mountain streams, between
store and farm, after a freshet, and was desperately afraid of a second
adventure. He sold it for nearly half its cost. Montague's investment
had a good beginning and a better promise.

The professor kept him talking of it to the last moment he dared keep
away from the lecture hall. "Come and see us," he urged when he was at
last compelled to go. "It's going to be lonesome out there"--the estate
was away from the beaten track--"come and take dinner with us, Sunday?"

Edward, glancing at Frances' bright face, thanked him as warmly as he
had spoken. "I will walk down as far as the hall with you," he said. "I
have some business in town I must attend to;" and he added shyly, "I
shall be glad if you and Miss Frances will come and see me when I am
established. Dr. Randall's wife will come with you, I think."

"That we will," assured the professor heartily.

"Bachelor's hall isn't very attractive," the young man went on
deprecatingly; "the house is very bare."

"Pshaw! we'll come and help brighten it up, won't we Frances?"

"'A house's best ornament is the presence of a friend,'" quoted Edward,
a glint of mischief in his eyes as he went to say good-by.

The professor had not been so pleased in many a day. The young man, the
son of his old friend, fulfilled all his traditions; well-born,
well-bred, well-read, with the advantage of a pleasing personality, and,
a woman would have added, a face none the less handsome for the look of
grave determination upon it. Then, too, the professor, being a student
of the classics, was interested in agriculture by way of contrast, and
was filled with theories concerning the farming possibilities of his own
state, and most particularly those of his own county. There was not an
experiment which had been tried there in the last twenty years that he
had not at his fingers' ends: the Englishman with his fancy breed of
sheep or cows, the stock farmer with his registered horses, the man who
had turned his fields into apple orchards, the man who had planted his
hillsides with vineyards,--he could talk of all far more fluently than
the workers.

There was a vineyard on the Northrup place famed as being of the best.
The professor went across the quadrangle talking eagerly of it and of
the merits of Concords and Catawbas and Isabellas; and he parted with an
assurance of an early visit.

He went, and came back more enthusiastic than ever; went again and
carried Susan for a stay at her log cabin a half mile down the valley
from the main road.

Three or four times a year Susan went "home." She would make her way
through the rotting gate and weed-worn pathway, open the battered door
and window to flood the cabin with air and sunshine, fling feather-bed
and pillows and quilts to the sweetening winds; would war with dust
within and weeds without; and then, when all was in order again, would
sit in the worn doorway, her hands folded, looking down the narrow
valley threaded by the mountain stream and up to the purple tops closing
in the horizon. Long thoughts went through her mind, too narrow to be
forgetful, bitter-sweet memories of the childish feet that had pattered
about the doorway, of her strife, and her happiness. When the team to
take her back was in sight she would lock her door and go down the
pathway to the road, her hand on the key in her pocket. The feeling of
its possession gave her strength to lose her own life in the life of
others.

But always when she clambered into the trap it was with one question on
her lips. "I wonder whar Bill is?" Sometimes she added, "I spec he's
dead, I'se mightily feared he is!" and sometimes "He mus' be libin'
somewhars; if he was dead I spec I'd aheard it somehow."

As for Frances, her father found it hard to interest her in the old
Northrup estate. She had another enthusiasm. The football team was in
hard training. They played every afternoon on a little plateau between
the rolling hills opposite the terraces of the Rotunda. The roadway
winding some twenty feet above the grounds between it and the "Gym" was
crowded on practice hour with carriages and interested watchers.

It was then near the close of the short afternoon. The sunset lights,
were the day fair, would be shining westward; trailing, scarlet, fleecy
clouds would be floating overhead, clamorous crows flocking homeward.
One by one the carriages of many drivers, going one way or another, but
all returning in time to watch the team work, would pull in on the road
overlooking the grounds till it was filled with champing horses and
grinding wheels.

Frances was there always until the men went for a last run around the
grounds, sprang up the steps, darted across the roadway and up to the
"Gym." Then Starlight went spinning away for a drive in the fast closing
afternoon. It was an old habit, too, of driving the horse to the stables
and walking home. The tingling air made it delightful exercise. The
streets were filled at the late afternoon hour with all the town, it
seemed, a long procession out and in,--young girls and older women and
men strolling out Universitywards; students in pairs and groups, and
crowds lounging down toward the centre of the town, and many a student
promenading with a young woman beside him. It was the holiday hour of
the town.

Somehow, somewhere in that procession of men and maids would be one man
walking alone and searching the crowd eagerly, for all his air of
careless assurance, for a young woman who walked briskly with shoulders
well back and head in air, whose eyes were shining with health and
content and whose lips were curving with happy thoughts, and though his
life held bright days in spite of an old sorrow long past, and though
there were bright days to come, there would never be any again with the
intangible charm of the chilly afternoons faded well-nigh to dark, the
evening star shining clearly in the pale green west, the tops of the
tall trees rocking against the "primrose sky," and those two walking
gayly along the paths of the University homewards.

Sometimes there was a moment's pause in the library, sometimes an
evening visit; but strangely enough, Lawson with his hard training had
settled down to hard study likewise, and was giving an unexpected turn
to the Faculty's thoughts of him; for those with whom he had first come
in touch feared the results of his wealth and good-natured easy
comradeship and not altogether admirable ways of living, upon the
younger men.

Through all his intercourse with Frances there was the most delightful
comradeship, the girl yielding unconsciously to a friendliness from
which she had always steadily held herself.

True, Lawson was fairly irresistible. The strength of his nature which
had much savagery under its gloss, the beauty of his physique, showing
better each day of regular hours and cleanly living, the indomitableness
of his resolve which set itself on winning always the want of the hour,
were a power could scarce be turned aside.

Fresh from the keen exercise and the shower-bath, smart, immaculate,
strong with the impulses of an untrained nature, the crowd faded into
insignificance when Frances would glimpse him swinging down the street.

He had ceased to ask permission to turn back with her; it was a matter
of course. Their talk usually was of the lightest.

"Had a nice drive?" he might ask.

Frances would plunge into account of Starlight's misdemeanors.

"It's lovely walking," he might say inanely when she had finished,
looking down at the girl's cheek, red like a rose with a clear spot of
white in the centre of the red--"the rose's heart," he told himself,
watching the flicker of it.

"Mr. Saunders played well to-day!" Frances would say enthusiastically,
and they would plunge at once into a keen discussion of every point of
the play, of the game, of the teams, and of the match games and of the
first big one soon to be played on their own grounds.

Lawson began to have a feeling he was playing for more than the victory
of the team game. He grew more and more anxious about it each day, and
more and more set in his resolve to win. Once only had he played a
losing part in life and the thought of that when it touched him, filled
him with sickening revolt.

"We'll win!" he declared one afternoon, after a discussion of the other
players.

"You are sure?"

"Quite!"

They were standing at her door. The quadrangle was deep in twilight, the
lights pricking the dusk here and there; some students were chaffing
each other gayly far up the corridor, a negro lad was hurrying with a
hod of coal for a belated fire he should have started an hour ago.

Frances was leaning back against the door, her hand behind her on the
door-knob. "It's well to feel confident!" she said lightly, fighting
against something she heard in the tones of his voice.

"Is it? Should one always be confident?" he asked eagerly.

"It's not a safe rule always," she fended. She heard the little
exclamation he made under his breath. "But it is a help generally," she
added, foolishly striving to undo the hurt she scarcely comprehended.

"And there's no rule for it, like everything else, but a blind
follow-your-leader," he said bitterly.

"If the leader be wise," laughing nervously.

There was a second's silence, and in it they heard footsteps hurrying
along the corridor. The quadrangle was not a secluded spot even at its
quietest. Frances fumbled at the door-knob.

"Let me open it for you!"

His hand came upon hers in the dusk, held it closely, tightly. The shock
of the joy of its touch, the sound of her hurried breath went to his
head. He followed her into the hall and shut the door behind him leaning
against it, looming masterfully against its darkness. The light from the
globe overhead cast a white circle on the polished floor; they were
outside it. Beyond the half-drawn portière they glimpsed the professor,
back towards them.

Lawson dared say no word, he only stood a second, a minute, caressing
her with a long look from head to foot, and with the look of loving,
was mixed joyous delighted triumph; then he opened the door softly and
was gone out into the darkness.

Frances drew a shivering sigh, as she went slowly into the library. A
vague uneasiness possessed her. She dreaded even the thought of seeing
him again. Next afternoon she was off for a hard ride the other way from
the practice grounds. Lawson, wandering aimlessly about the quadrangle
at twilight, saw her hurrying up the corridor holding her habit tightly
about her. He hastened across to find a closed door and blank windows.
Inside, Frances was telephoning for a boy to take Starlight to the
stables and then making a gay pretence of weariness and hunger to Susan.
So for a day or two.

When they met again Lawson was icy with anger. Frances had avoided the
practice grounds, but the fascination of the game overcame her. She
drove up at last, and sat looking down on the players below.

Lawson, for some reason, was not one of them. Frances did not see him
at first, but he, sitting on the last of the steps sunken in the
terrace, was chaffing the players and talking lightly to the men about
him. He turned at the sound of wheels, and saw her, as she pulled up,
sharply silhouetted against the hill-slope beyond. He was elaborately
unconscious of her. By and by the Beauty drove in behind Frances. Lawson
was at her side in an instant, doffing his cap to Frances as he passed
her. She sat quite still, disdaining to turn her head at the sound of
the gay voices and laughter behind her, and watched the practice below
without seeing a point.

Other carriages had passed in before her and on the side; she was held
prisoner to the end of the hour. Then Lawson, going by as she held
Starlight's rein taut and looked to left and right for chance of escape,
stopped suddenly at the wheel. He had not intended it. It was the look
on her face impelled him. Had it been either sorrowful or scornful he
would have read her mood and passed her by; she was neither, and, being
puzzled, he paused.

"Good play!" he began, feeling for an opening to the conversation.

"Yes!" she assented, turning her head impatiently--a carriage had just
pulled across the road, blocking her in.

"I didn't see much of it," he blundered. There was not a flicker of
expression on her face to show she saw it, only polite interest.

The carriage pulled out of the way. Frances leaned for her whip.

The young man's haughtiness broke in an instant, "Take me in with you!"
he pleaded, though his pleading startled himself as much as her. "It's
delightful for a drive; I've been shut in all day."

Frances turned laughing eyes towards him. "Jump in!" she cried.

And though there were moments enough, as they spun along, for either
protest or pleading, the young man dared neither.



VIII


Frances had her enthusiasms; so had Edward Montague, with the saving
difference that hers were for her amusement and his were concerning his
life-work. Still he found time for other things also. He accepted the
invitation to dinner promptly. The University was by no means a byway
homeward, but he found many an odd moment to spend there when he rode in
for his mail or for other affairs. He came the following Sunday and the
next, and made the round of Sabbath-school and church and mission and
late walk with the professor and his daughter.

Lawson, who had not seen Frances since the short drive she permitted
him, was loitering that last Sabbath afternoon before the doorway of a
student in the West Range--a monkish row of rooms fashioned as those on
the inner quadrangle are, but unbroken by the professors' houses and
facing westward; he was thinking nothing of what he was saying, and was
noting vaguely the fading lights of sunset on the far-away mountains,
and the bared branches of the trees tossing softly against the
opalescent sky; but he was conscious through and through of the missed
comradeship of the hour. He wondered if he dared go and ring the bell
and pay a call quite boldly, setting aside the fact that the day had
been debarred him. The more he dwelt on the bare chance of finding
Frances alone, on the thought of the joy it would be to strive skilfully
to slip again into the grooves of their delightful friendship, to fence
against the cold reserve she had once more placed as a barrier between
them, to see it melt, perhaps, against the strong personality he had
come to know as one of his factors in any fight, the more he wished to
try and see her; the very thought of it, the very remembrance that there
was a test of skill, too, in it, was urging him irresistibly.

"Good-by, old fellow!" he called shortly, turning suddenly away.

"Hold on!" called the student, who had some thought of accompanying
him. But when he had gotten his hat and coat, Lawson was striding far
down the corridor. At the end of it the road from the mountain of the
observatory curved into the wide drive through the grounds. Lawson
looking upward was angered unreasonably, violently, unbelievingly. He
left such moods to others, mostly. He turned instantly into the short
cut across the campus. He could not hurry enough even when outside the
grounds, but he must swing himself on the car clanging townward.

He left behind a gay, unconscious trio. The professor and Frances and
Edward Montague were walking briskly homeward, when they glimpsed him.
The professor's face, when interested, was strangely frank and boyish;
Lawson was used to seeing him look a trifle bored and a trifle more
absorbed. To see him, as he had done that one swift instant, alert,
wide-awake, to see a tall, fair, young man talking to him with careless
ease--the University men were always in awe of him--to see Frances
between them, laughing, rosy, her coat collar turned high about her
head, framing her bright face distractingly--the trio shut him out. They
were quite sufficient to themselves, or seemed so.

"You will come in, Edward," the professor said at the door.

The young man looked at the fading sunset lights of the sky and
hesitated. He thought of the ride before him and he thought of the empty
house awaiting him; he looked in at the cheer of the house showing
through the open door and at the young woman standing in the hall
listening for his answer. Her face neither invited nor forbade; he
followed the professor.

But the contrast he had drawn for a minute haunted him. He cared not a
whit for fine furnishings, scarce knowing them when he saw them, except
for the air of comfort and the atmosphere of home they might give; but
those two were requirements. He was too busied all the days and too
tired all the nights to think how they were now denied him, but while
he had no time to bemoan a loss, he had time for dreamings. The vision
of a sweet, frank face beset him oftener than he knew; he was building
castles taller than he thought and frailer than the castled clouds of
sunset beyond the mountains. This reality was charming.

"What's the use of going home, now?" the professor reassured him as they
went in to the fireside; "it would be dark when you got there. You
couldn't do anything; just have an evening all to yourself."

"And father wants to talk grapes to you," Frances added gayly; "he's
just gotten some pamphlets--"

The professor looked guilty. "Well, I chanced on an advertisement--"

"And he hasn't had a chance to bring them out all day--"

"Frances!"

"Here they are," teased his daughter, "with your report on agriculture,"
she held up dramatically the big book she had dragged from beneath the
papers on the table. "I have been listening to hear him begin talking
of it every moment. He's just been waiting the right time,--you know you
have," to her father.

The professor fingered the pamphlet nervously. "You know, here--the
secretary says--"

"There, he has begun; I am going to see about supper."

Edward listened. There was much to awaken his keenest interest. He was
devoted to his pursuit, theory and practice. But he was listening too,
with all his inner consciousness, for a light footstep, and when Frances
came quietly back with an amused look at the two, his eyes flashed her
amusement back at her, as with much show of not disturbing them, she
slipped into a chair before the fire. The professor was unconscious; he
was in full swing and went on glibly.

The young man's face was turned attentively towards him; the father did
not know that just so Frances' face was in the line of vision, but
Edward knew. It needed but the flicker of an eyelid for him to watch
the supple figure in its careless lounging; the fluff of the dark hair
above her forehead, the curve of the long black lashes as she gazed
thoughtfully into the fire. A cosy fireside, an easy chair and this same
occupant for it flashed for a moment on the horizon of his dreamings. It
was but a dream he dared not name even to himself,--a vision that
dazzled him. He put his hand over his eyes.

The professor broke the thread of his argument. "You are tired?"

"I! no--ah--" the young man stammered.

"Well, here, take this home with you when you go! Read it for yourself,
and see what you think of it; I expect some others," he added
shamefacedly.

"Father!" cried Frances mischievously, "Mr. Montague, he's started," she
added comically, "there's no stopping him. He'll go with no particular
interest for ever so long, then something attracts him," she spread out
her hands as if in dismay, "we are flooded with papers and pamphlets;
he won't let me touch them. When it is all over I gather them up and--"
she made a gesture as if flinging an armful of trash into the fire. "You
have touched him on his most vulnerable point now. I don't know when he
will stop."

"You had better stop, yourself," said the professor chafing a little
under her teasing.

"I warn you, he will try--"

"Now, daughter!" he knew what she was going to say, "you know I never
interfere with other people."

"It's true, every word of it!" but Frances saw that her father was hurt
a trifle. She came behind his chair and put her arms about his
shoulders, laughing over his head at Edward who was watching her with
half envious amusement.

"Professors should be bald," she said lightly, "now look at this!" She
ran her fingers through his thick, dark hair, wavy about the temples
where the gray showed in the black. Her father looked up at her
adoringly, his eyes--which were often stern--dark and loving.

"If they were, they would have no young woman to bother them, rumpling
it up."

"You are lucky, sir, to have one; isn't he?"

Young Montague was silent, but Frances, looking up, saw his eyes. She
slipped back to her chair.

When he took his leave, later in the evening, he had his own special
plea.

"You've promised to come and see the old place," he began.

"Father is going to bring me some day."

"I'm going to make some day a near day," he said persistently. "Mr.
Holloway, I'm going hunting Tuesday. I've a good deal of game about my
woods. Come out Wednesday; I'll see you have some for dinner."

The professor reluctantly pleaded his engagements.

"It's moonlight; you don't mind driving home at night?"

"Oh, the road is familiar enough," assented the professor.

"Mrs. Randall will come."

"We'll drive by for her."

"I asked her to-day after church; she said any time this week. I shall
look for you in the afternoon, as early as you can make it."

So it was they arranged. Edward watched the peaks apprehensively; but
the fine weather held. His hunting was successful. There were a score of
partridges and a brace of rabbits in the big basement kitchen and he was
cautioning his cook fussily, when he heard the roll of wheels.

"I 'clar' I's glad dey's come!" muttered the cook, as at last she was
free to go about her work.

Edward had been nervously anxious all day. The bare house was swept and
scrubbed to the last point of cleanliness. He hesitated long over the
propriety of entertaining them in "the chamber," over across the hall
from the parlor, but it was the only furnished room of the house except
the basement dining room. He got all of his belongings out of sight and
locked the closet door on the disorder. He wondered if he should leave
his pipe upon the mantelpiece and at the last moment forgot it. He
wondered, while he raged, why the curtains looked so awry and if the rug
were the color he should have chosen. But the walls were white with
whitewash, the hearth was newly reddened, and on the andirons in the
huge fireplace a fire roared hot enough for Christmas; in the kitchen
below was a scared cook who knew she would hear some hot language did
anything go wrong in her domains.

Edward was as glad as she was to hear the wheels. He hurried out on the
porch and down the long flight of steps. He had hoped to help Frances
from the trap and say some pretty words of greeting, but she had already
sprung out and met him at the steps. The professor was assisting Mrs.
Randall.

"Father says you are going to take us all over the place," called
Frances at once. "Let's go now; Mrs. Randall wants to, also!"

"Of course!" chimed that pleased matron; "we want to see all the
establishment. When we come back, I'm going down in the kitchen."

"I wish you would," pleaded the host fervently.

Mrs. Randall, who had no children of her own, had a mother's heart for
all: she had been longing to get out to this bachelor's establishment
ever since it was set up, but the doctor was always too busy. She was
going to make the best of the opportunity, and if this "boy" had any
need her bright eyes could see, she was resolved to help him fill it.

"Go get your hat, Edward; we'll all come in afterwards."

And the young man ran back up the steps, all his pretty speeches unsaid.

"We'll go out to the vineyard first," suggested the professor, hurrying
ahead, with Mrs. Randall close behind him, in the narrow path beaten
along the tangle of yellow Jerusalem apples and prickly Spanish needles
and wild grasses.

The farm was still in sorry order. The ground of the orchard close to
the house was covered with tangled, browning weeds, in some of the trees
the late winesaps shone red and ruddy. Frances stopped to fill her
hands with them.

"Don't eat those; I have some splendid ones in the house for you."

"These are fine!" She set her white teeth in the red fruit. "I like
these best, I like to pull them."

"Eve!" he bantered.

"Are they forbidden?"

"Nothing is, here; it's all yours--" he began eagerly.

"Oh, thanks! Had you a Spanish ancestor?"

"English on each side," he declared stoutly.

"You look it," she assented, with one quick look at his fair face and a
swift noting of his sturdiness.

"The Saxons are truth-tellers," he urged.

But the professor had paused at the pig-pen near the orchard's edge.
"Fine hogs!" he called back to his host, "Cheshire?"

Edward joined him reluctantly. "That one is," he said, pointing to the
pinkish-white sides of a lazy, fat wallower.

"He'll weigh two hundred."

"I expect he will."

"Seems a pity to kill him."

"I have the mother."

"Who's going to make your sausage and dry your lard?" asked Mrs. Randall
quickly.

"Lizzie."

"What, trust that darkey with it?"

"There's nothing else to do."

"Come on, Frances," called her father, for that young woman was still
loitering under the apple-trees.

Mr. Holloway took the lead towards the vineyard. The Northrup estate
numbered many acres, but not many valuable ones. They were too high up
the mountains, which ran steeply to their crests a bare five hundred
yards behind the house. This narrow valley at its base sheltered from
the north was fertile, and wound straight at the foot of the peaks for
nearly a mile. Close to the house was the vineyard; beyond the vines,
the cornfields, above there on the mountain side, the woodland.

Frances followed, but her words of praise were for the autumn woods, the
towering peaks, or, far down below them, the misty valley. About the
house was more the women could praise.

There was the pipe bringing its clear mountain water from a far off
spring to the kitchen door, there was the great ground floor room of the
wing stored with apples shining redly against the white of the walls.
Here Mrs. Randall paused.

"I am going into the kitchen," she announced. But the professor and
Frances and Edward went up the stairway to the covered porch joining the
wing to the main building, and by the rear door of "the chamber" into
the house.

"You must go through the house," insisted Edward.

The professor begged off. "No, I'll sit here; it isn't often I see such
a fire as this. I've been over it before, and many times, years ago."

The professor was lost in the memory of the happy days he had spent in
the old house when his years were less than young Montague's, of the
lives which had drifted far away, of the strange fate that had brought
the deserted homestead into the hands of a schoolfellow's son, of the
odd feeling which beset him when he was being made to feel at home where
he had happily been at ease so many days of his young manhood; for the
professor was a dreamer, and his dreams showed him often the realities
of existence, true and strange. He lived and he saw life. He knew that
the strangeness of its fortunes were matched in no tale written or to be
written, because at the vital truths humanity stops fear-stricken at the
unveiling of the God of the innermost Holies. Still it is the God and
still it is the Holy and still the veil hangs there. The Divine hand
alone is strong enough to touch it, the Divine eye alone is pure enough
to see within, pitying enough, merciful enough. Talk of life's shadows,
its sunlights, its surface play; leave the Holiest to Him!

The man saw bright faces there in the flames which went roaring up the
great chimney, read old tales in the gleaming embers on the hearth,
lived old days, while the echo of gay laughter floated down to him.

Frances and her host were walking through the empty rooms upstairs, the
young man pointing eagerly to views of towering peaks silhouetted
against the reddening sky, their sides tawny with the russet leaves of
oaks or vivid with the evergreens, or gray with bare tossing branches.

From the windows opposite those framing such vistas, she looked into a
wide deep valley of clustering hill-tops, low, soft, round, green,
crowding close together, running water between,--though this she could
not see.

"The grass is green down between those hills the whole year through," he
was telling her, "and the water never freezes; that's why it is such a
splendid stock-farm. Mr. Payne is very successful. I have been wondering
if I should try some stock here."

Frances was scarce heeding, she was looking down on the circle of the
lawn before the door, tangled, weed-grown; noting that the long arms of
the spirea needed trimming, that the clump of jonquils should be freed
from weeds, the waxberry trained, and the roses freed from their long
dead branches; it was pitiful to see all this plenty of beauty run to
waste.

"Shall we go down?" he asked, seeing she was only half attentive.

"You have not seen the parlor," he paused at the foot of the stairway to
say.

He led the way across the hall. "It's a splendid room!"

It was. But it was empty and cold and dusky. Frances went over to the
high, black-painted mantel and leaned against it looking down on the
fireless hearth. She was thinking how desolate it was. He, for one
flashing second, saw again his vision. For an instant it shone--the
fire, the furnishings, the happy woman.

He stepped forward impulsively. "It lacks one thing," he blurted,
without a moment's thought of what she would think of his speech.

"Two!" she said lightly.

"Furnishings as well," he said in his mind, "furnishings and a
mistress," he repeated in his heart, but before he could open his lips,
she was saying, "Two!"

"What?" he asked breathlessly.

"Steam heat and an electric plant!"



IX


Frances stood astounded at the sudden anger in his face as he turned on
his heel and strode away, leaving her in the cold, dusky room alone.

When she went across the hall and into "the chamber" he was gone by the
other way; Mrs. Randall and her father were deep in a discussion of his
affairs, farm and household. Frances was left to her own reflections;
they held a vague feeling of having stumbled somewhere and failed to
measure to a greatness. She was quiet for the rest of their visit,
beyond the custom of that cheerful young woman. As there was more time
for thought she became conscience-stricken; she felt she knew where she
had offended, she had derided the home of which young Montague was so
proud and that while a guest within it; she strove to make her peace,
but he gave her no chance, until they waited on the steps in the
moonlight for the trap.

Mrs. Randall was down on the walk, the professor was looking anxiously
to Starlight's harness; Frances had lingered purposely.

The road home was rough, ruts and steep hills darkened by thick woods.
Mr. Holloway was looking carefully to the fastenings of Starlight's
harness, unwilling to trust too much to the hands of the boy who had
brought him to the door. Mrs. Randall waited near him, Frances lingered
purposely on the broad high steps of the porch.

The moonlight flooded the world; its white light gleamed on the drive
about the circle where the tangled shrubbery cast weird shadowings; the
dusk under the trees on the further lawn lay heavy and black; far-off
loomed the oaks above the graves of those who had lived and died in the
old house on whose steps they stood. The air of the autumn night was
chill and still, save for the restless movements of Starlight. With the
shadowed, unreal face of the night a feeling of awe touched Frances. She
made a step nearer to the young man standing by her, his tall figure
towering above her, his fair face shadowed by his big soft hat.

"We have had a lovely visit," she said softly.

"I am glad."

"And it's such a beautiful old place--beautiful; you must trim up your
roses and--"

"I know nothing of flowers," coldly.

"But I do; I will show you when we come again."

There was no answer, and the young woman began to realize this was not a
case for cajolery, but for open candid speech.

"You must think me very, very--" she could not bring herself to say
"flippant" no matter what self-accusation said. "You know I was only
jesting, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our visit. I want to come again
if you wish us," plainly throwing herself on his mercy and bidding for
kind speech.

"If I wish you--" began the young man hurriedly.

"We will come and show you about the flowers in the spring," briskly.

"The spring!"

"Frances," called her father.

"You are not angry?" she questioned quickly and softly, as they went
down the steps.

"No!" was all he said, yet Frances was quite satisfied with his
friendliness as he put them in the trap and tucked the robes about them.

"Mind the old hill," he cautioned her father; "there's a new road
through the wood to the left now--"

"I remember."

"And a tree is cut down across the old way; but it's dark in there and
you might get into it."

"No danger!" assured the professor; "but Edward," as if in sudden
remembrance, "there's another danger in the road to town--the freshet."

"Freshet?"

"Has no one cautioned you? The streams flood the country after a heavy
rain. The one below the big hill is especially dangerous. Don't forget
it when the heavy rains set in, and don't be venturesome; there have
been some dreadful accidents there."

"I had not heard," said Edward carelessly.

"Then you had better heed," declared the professor sententiously, as he
stepped into the vehicle, "and when the water is out over the bridge,
stay on the side you happen to be caught on."

"I'll remember, thank you."

"All right! Good night! When are you coming in?"

"Not for a day or two," owned the young man reluctantly, as he stood,
his hand still on the wheel; "there's the ploughing for spring wheat."

"It's time that was done!"

"But I have had so much else."

"Yes, yes." Starlight was twisting restlessly across the drive from one
side to the other. "Good night, we've enjoyed it immensely."

"Good night!" called the women, and they left him there in the circling
drive, the great empty house looming behind him, a light in one
window--the window of his own room. He went up the wide, high steps
slowly. The evening had not been all he dreamed it might be, nor had it
been a failure; and they were coming again. She had said she wished it.

He threw himself into the chair the professor had lounged in and began
to live over again the hours of her visit, leaving out the bitter and
hugging to his memory the sweet. He recalled her supple figure, her gay
words as they wandered about the old place; he remembered their tour of
the house and reddened at the thought of his rudeness. It was only a
careless speech, she could not have known how it jarred upon other
deeper feelings. He recalled with a wave of tenderness, the subdued
young woman of the evening, and smiled at the memory; it was a mood he
had never seen before, and it won upon his heart; and dwelling on the
thought of it, he began once more to dream what the old house would be
were it full of life, to plan what could be done here and there,
without and within, for cheer and comfort and beautiful living.

It would be several days he had said, before he could come to town
again; it was ten. The Sabbath had been promised to a neighbor back in
the country. The ploughing took longer than he thought. A field which
had been allowed to run to waste must be burned over; and while the
weather held fair and windless, the undergrowth encroaching from the
woodland must be cut and burned. The fodder was not yet stacked, and all
the work was pressing upon him. Good hard work in the clear, pure air,
sound sleep, and contented thoughts made the days speed by.

When the Sabbath, his holiday, came again, he was abroad in the red
frosty dawn, hurrying from stable to breakfast and away. When he rode
into town he still had time to go up to the University before the
service. He left his horse at the stable and hastened up Main street.
The town was yet quiet. On the bridge above the railroad he paused a
second looking down at the station below. A train was pulling out. The
shriek of the locomotive echoed shrilly among the hills, the smoke hung
in billowy clouds close about the smoke-stack, and the tops of the
coaches gliding away were white and glistering with frost. Edward had a
comfortable feeling of home and cheer as, standing there, he looked down
and beyond on spires and housetops and chimney-tops smoke-wreathed; but
as he turned to hasten on, he saw, coming slowly along the platform, the
professor. Edward hurried back to the flight of steps sunk in the
hillside.

The very look of Mr. Holloway gave him a feeling of dismay. His coat
collar was turned high about his face, and the pallor of his clear white
skin, bitten into purple and red by the chill of the morning, showed
clearly framed against it and by his thick black hair streaked with
gray. His dark eyes looked solemnly thoughtful. He had an air altogether
desolate and distraught. Edward called to him. He started, looked up,
and brightened wonderfully.

"Ah! I am glad to see you." He had reached the head of the stairway.
"Frances," he added dolefully, "has gone away; I have just been to see
her off."

Fool! While he had been standing there happy with dreaming of seeing
her, she had been slipping away from him in the glistening coaches he
had watched so idly.

He had not a word to say.

"Don't know what possessed her. It was a sudden fancy. Last night she
took it into her head all at once. It isn't like Frances to do such
things! She was going this morning, she said, and she had us up by
daybreak; she was bent on making this early train."

"Where has she gone?" asked Edward, dully.

"Keswick! Her cousin, you know; she can telephone to the store near his
farm and have them send out for her. But," he repeated, "I can't think
what possessed her."

Had the professor been able to think, to know what sent his daughter
running away from him, his wrath had been hard for some one that day.

The day before had been the match game. Frances, though some vague,
half-delicious instinct of fear and distrust had made her keep from the
old friendly footing with Lawson, had grown wildly enthusiastic at each
day's practice. At three o'clock of that afternoon she had been driving
out towards the ground. An orange and blue rosette was pinned in the
breast of her smart brown jacket, and an orange and blue pennant lay at
her feet in the trap.

Carriage after carriage was winding up the road already in the
enclosure. The wind was soft, the sunshine of Indian Summer brooding
over the land; the blue haze of the mountains, intensified, hung about
their slopes and peaks. Here and there the late leaves still clung,
blackberry and sumach flaunted their scarlet in the fence corners, and
on the bit of rock-fence bordering a field the poison oak and ivy
flecked the dull hue with red and bronze. Far below, where the land
dipped to the valley, the country shimmered in the sunlight.

Inside the grounds, Frances pulled up close beside the ropes. The grand
stand had scarce an occupant, but all the enclosure outside the ropes
about the arena was filled with carriages, the young women calling from
one to the other. The University men were crowded close on the other
sides of the ropes, calling, hurrahing, yelling, or, more sociably
inclined, lounging around the barriers and talking to the young women in
the carriages.

One of them came up to Frances and imperturbably possessed himself of
the seat by her side. It was far more fun in his code, to be sitting by
a pretty young woman, than to be crowded with the fellows over there.
They were envying him he knew, and he leaned back in enjoyment of his
unlooked-for position.

Frances was giving him scant heed.

The reins were thrown across the dash-board, trusting Starlight's scant
sagacity. In the whip-stand was thrust the stick of her pennant. It
fluttered in the soft air, the first unfurled, and the boys beyond the
barriers cheered it lustily. It was not destined to stay there. Before
the game was half over, Frances, standing on her feet, was waving it
wildly above her head.

The home team was playing magnificently. The visiting eleven had beaten
them the year before: they were not doing so now. The field was wild.
Call after call, college yell, keen irony, a cheer for this play, a jeer
for that, urged on the University men. The visitors held stolidly to
their work. The boys beyond the barriers were doing everything to rattle
them, but the game went close. The home team made one score, the
visitors had nothing, the field went wild with cheering; the visitors
scored, there was silence. Once more the home team made a point; the
umpire snapped his watch, called time; there was a pandemonium of yells.

Frances, standing, the pennant in her hand, watched the team jump the
ropes, spent, worn, but happy with victory. Lawson was still in the
arena, easing the defeat of the visitors by skilful flattery of their
play, when she drove out. She watched the men, as she drove down the
road, running along the field path through the sere grasses, their arms
close to their sides, their sweaters up to their chins, the hair on
their foreheads heavy with sweat. Lawson overtook them just where the
path came out into the road. He was the last. His play had gone far to
winning the day. Frances with quick fingers unfastened the rosette on
her breast and flung it to him as she went spinning by.

Lawson crushed it in his hand and ran on; his bath, his clothes, they
cost him short time. He slipped from his room, down the quadrangle
before the crowd was well back.

As it chanced, Frances, when he rang the bell of the professor's house,
was half-way up the stair. An open door and drawn portière showed an
empty room beyond, the firelight shining in the library darkened by the
coming twilight. The hall was dusky. Frances' supple figure leaned over
the banister.

"Bravo!" she called gayly down to him.

Susan banged the door as she went through. She was not yet won to
"fur-awayers."

"It was splendid, splendid!" cried Frances, coming slowly down, her hand
slipping along the banister.

He stood at the foot, silent, looking up at her, his hair damp and
tossed into heavy locks on his forehead, his face ruddy with work and
haste--strong, alert, nerved to forgetfulness of everything save one
feeling. His eyes, masterful, drew her to him, slowly, steadfastly, step
by step; on the last stair she paused, her hand trembling about the
carving on the newel post, she could not look in his eyes, she saw
instead her rosette in his button-hole.

For him, the cap he held in his hand fluttered to his feet; he held out
both hands.

"Frances!" he whispered.

His eyes met hers. Her breast rose in a long breath. The dusky hall, his
face shining there, the world empty save for themselves; it was the
setting of fate. In one whirling thought the pages of all the old
romances she had dreamed over held and impelled her, she was one of
them. She was throbbing, sentient with the spirit they rhymed. It was
this that beat to suffocation in heart and pulse, and held her helpless.
She leaned heavily against the banister. And just below, his face on a
level with hers, his eyes, with neither laughter nor triumph, but
passionate pleading, searching her face, he stood. He put his arms about
her gently, closed them around her passionately, and kissed her,--a joy
he had not dreamed he or any man could feel, surging through him; and
then she had wrenched herself from him and sped upward.



X


Frances sped upward to her room. Susan had lighted a fire in the grate.
She flung herself into the chair before it and covered her face with her
hands.

It was unbelievable! Without the excuse of one word of love-making she
had allowed what even the Beauty would have fenced gayly against and
held off, for a time, at least. All her training, the traditions of her
childhood and maidenhood, beat against her fiercely. She slid from the
chair to the rug, pressed her face into it, her arms close flung about
her head, shutting out the accusations the dusky room was pulsing with;
but she shut them the more closely in her heart and they rang there.
They were wordless, but she knew them, was conscious of them from head
to foot.

All her sweet dignity and gay ease--though she thought not of herself in
such manner, only in hot, resentful scorn--were set at naught, and she
had played to its full the part she had strenuously held herself from,
the love of an hour of a University man.

She was suffocated with shame, hot with anger. There was no memory of a
swift sudden joy, such as swept over Lawson that moment, standing in his
room alone; remembrance was burnt out by angry resentment at herself and
him. She hated him for the agony she felt. It was against such an hour
as this her first instincts had warned her and she had not heeded. She
would heed now. She would never see him again, were it possible; and,
that being impossible, she would find ways of putting days before the
evil moment.

When she heard her father in the hall she stumbled to her feet, she
bathed her hot face and straightened her stock and smoothed her rumpled
hair; but when she flashed the electric light into the bulb above her
mirror, she shrank back affrighted from the face pictured there. She
could never go down with such a tale written on it as she herself could
read. She began slowly walking up and down her long, high-ceilinged
room, pressing back her tormented thoughts behind the doors of resolve.
Had she been given to headaches or sudden small illnesses, how gladly
would she have pleaded them, but such would have been so abnormal as to
demand a physician. She smiled as she thought of her father's and
Susan's dismay and Dr. Randall's swift summons; and, thinking of others,
she won self-control.

She went down the stair, slowly at first, and then, near the foot, with
swift step and eyes averted from the spot there beneath the circle of
white light.

Her father looked up with dreamy eyes. He was absorbed in his books.
Frances drew a little sobbing breath of relief. She would not be called
upon to make any effort. She picked up a well-thumbed and well-loved
copy of Burroughs and slipped into her chair. The book lay open on her
knees; she knew her father was heedless of the unturned leaves.

But at the supper table, a cup clattered against a saucer as she handed
them, Susan saw; the food on her plate was untouched, jealous black eyes
from the half-opened pantry door watched--she was white, her gray eyes
were dark and troubled--jealous eyes of an old bent darkey who would
have shut every trouble from her, heeded, and keenly enough contrasted
them with the brilliant laughing face she had looked into when she
opened the door in the dusk of the afternoon. There had been one visitor
since then; she knew at whose door to lay the blame.

When Frances came into the kitchen an hour later with a great pretence
of gayety the old woman read her through and through.

"Susan, just think," she cried, "I'm going away on an early train
to-morrow!"

"'Fore Gawd!" said Susan to herself, "it's wuss than I thought."

"You'll give me an early breakfast?" coaxingly.

"Think I'm gwine let yuh go widout anything ter eat," snapped Susan,
cross in her anxiety. "Whar yuh gwine?"

"Down to Cousin Tom's; he says he wants me to come; he wrote to father
to-day." Frances was making powerful use of a casual invitation at the
end of a business note. "Father has just told me. I'm going to-morrow.
It's the very time, the weather is lovely. We'll gather walnuts and--and
persimmons."

The constrained manner had no effect in fooling Susan. "Plenty walnuts
up de road," she grumbled, "and as for 'simmons, '_simmons_! I don't see
nuthin' else in de fence corners anywhars, myself."

"Oh, Susan, it isn't that," half tearfully. "I want to go."

"Em--hm! So I thought, wants to go!" Susan opened the stove door and
flung in a piece of wood--she could never be persuaded to cook with
coal--and banged the door wrathfully. "What yo' pa gwine do widout you?
How's I gwine get erlong?"

"You will get along all right. You know a lot more about housekeeping
than I do. What I know you taught me."

This was one of Susan's prides--her own skill and her ready pupil's.

"How's dat young man foreber trapsin' aroun' hyar gwine git erlong?"

"Who?" asked the girl faintly.

"Who? Who dat I open de do' for dis ebenin', I wants ter know?"

Frances drooped. A tide of red swept her face from chin to forehead.

"Dat's it, dog-gone him!" said Susan, in her jealous old heart.

The young girl straightened herself proudly and looked her tormentor
straight in the eye.

"He's never been 'trapsing,' as you call it," she said with cold
haughtiness, "and there'll be neither getting along with or without him
as far as I am concerned." She turned and walked out of the room, head
high, shoulders straight; and she banged the door a trifle behind her.

"Hi--yi!" chuckled Susan, delighted, "dat's de stuff! Aint gwine git
erlong wid or widout him! Aint no dy-away-ed-ness 'bout dat!"

She showed her favor by the hot delicious breakfast she had ready early
next morning, and she went cheerily about coaxing Frances to eat and
taking no notice of her pale languor except to say, "it was suttenly
hard to start abroad befo' sun-up dese mornin's," and altogether
bolstering and buoying up Frances.

"Don't stay too long, honey, don't stay too long; I's gwine take good
care o' Marse Robert, but don't stay too long," she urged at last, as
Frances stood on the low step leading down to the corridor, looking
furtively up and down. It was deserted. Susan's one swift glance had
told her that, and the quadrangle looked cold and bare: frost glistened
on the grass and on the naked branches of the maples, the vine rustled
its dry tendrils about the pillar.

"Hurry erlong, chile, or yuh'll miss de train," warned Susan, watching
them hastening across the campus before she went back to her work.

The professor, with discomfiture besetting him, had hurried on with
Frances. It was altogether too cold and uncomfortable for talk. They
caught a car, just made the train; he had scarce had time to think when
he came slowly up the stair in the hillside to meet young Montague at
the top.

"What are you going to do?" Edward asked after a second's silence.

"I suppose we'll get along somehow. Susan--"

"I meant now," said the young man with a short laugh; "there's scarce
time to get out home," he added briskly. "Come, walk down town and we'll
go to church after a while."

"Well!" the professor turned townward with a strange and unwonted
distaste for the empty house back there facing the quadrangle. "You will
come back out with me," he insisted, thinking of the loneliness.

The young man nodded his assent. Once there, however, if the loneliness
did not so much oppress the professor it was like a weight to his guest.

The theories of agriculture and stock-raising had lost the flavor of
their charm. They needed the bright face across the hearth sometimes
listening in amusement, sometimes lost in dreamings, but always with the
happy curve of the lip, the kindliness of her innocent eyes. He found
himself listening for the sound of light footsteps in the hall or the
tones of a low, musical voice. The place was haunted with memories. It
was insupportable. As soon after dinner as he dared, he rose to go.

His host was plainly dismayed. "You are not going?"

The guest pleaded some excuse. Then as he saw the other's aimless
distress, "Why don't you come out with me?"

"My mission class."

"Cut it for once," advised the other calmly.

"Since the class was formed, I've never--"

"But the more reason now. We'll drop in on our way down and get some one
to take it."

"Starlight--" the professor began protestingly.

"He'll need exercise _now_."

That little word, and the emphasis on it, the thought of what it meant,
decided him. "I'll just tell Susan," he declared briskly, as he went
down the hall.

"Tell her you'll spend the night!"

The professor paused, his hand on the knob of the kitchen door. "I
will," he declared, "I will." And he went off as gayly as a boy. He too
was a runaway.

But there was a stay-at-home who, as the day wore on and he passed the
empty house and repassed it, and went across the quadrangle for a long
look at the windows and found them blank, was strangely perturbed. He
saw the professor and the young man he had seen with him once or twice
before come home from church, no bright young woman jealously guarded
between them. He saw them go out alone. But for some tingling memories
and some vague fears, he would have gone boldly across and asked for
Frances then. But the house looked prim and silent. The curtains of her
windows were drawn with exactness, and no white hand stirred them. At
evening, going that way purposely, he saw no gleam through the library
window or through the transom of the wide hall door. The house was
utterly given over to the silence and the dark. This, when he was fierce
with heart-hunger to see her, to say a hundred wild things, to touch
perhaps the height of the joy of yesterday. By the afternoon of the next
day it had grown an impossibility not to know the meaning of this
silence.

He got up from his Morris chair, in his room where he had been vainly
trying to study, when he came at last to this moment of decision, picked
up his cap and went with firm ringing step down the corridor to the
professor's house.

A scant five minutes before Susan in the kitchen had been startled by
the ringing of the telephone. She climbed up on the stool, placed there
for her short, spare self, and put the receiver to her ear.

"Susan?" came over the wire, interrogatively.

"Miss Frances," delightedly, "dat you?"

"Yes, how's everything getting along?"

"So--so!"

"How is father?"

"Ain't seen him but a minute, he went out to Marse Edward Montague's."

Frances, far off in the rear of a store on the mountain-side, made a
little exclamation that carried to Susan as she stood with pendant lip
and wrinkled forehead, the receiver at her ear.

"What did he do that for?" Susan could catch the impatient note.

"Dunno! Marse Edward come to dinnah an' he 'low as how he's gwine back
wid him."

"How did you get along by yourself?"

"All right!"

"All right! Susan," with sudden brisk energy, "my small trunk is packed,
I want you to send it to me."

"Fo' de Lawd," groaned Susan, but her lips were away from the tube.

"I need the dresses; I thought I might, and put them in there, so that
if I did--and Susan, wrap my riding-habit up, fold it carefully, and
slip the bundle under the trunk-straps."

"Lawd a'mighty!"

"Send it down this evening."

"Miss Frances, you ain't gwine ride none o' Marse Tom's horses?" Tom had
a stock-farm, some beauties, some beasts, all of them fiery.

"There's the prettiest colt here, just broken!"

"I's gwine to tell yo' pa!"

"Don't you dare; send my things. You hear?"

"Yes."

"And Susan," after a little wait, "has anybody been to see me?"

"Not a soul!" emphatically.

"Don't you tell anybody where I am, _anybody_, you hear. Good-by!"
suddenly.

"Dat I won't."

Susan hung up the receiver. As she stepped off the stool the door-bell
rang. She went to answer it nimbly, though she was bent with rheumatism.
A young man stood on the single broad step above the pavement of the
corridor.

He doffed his cap, but Susan stood stiffly in the middle of the
doorway. "Marse Robert is not at home," she said coldly.

The young man flushed, looked half embarrassed and started to pass her.
"I would like to see Miss Frances!"

Susan dodged before him. "She's not at home."

"When will she be back?" asked the young man, angered at the old
darkey's manner.

"I dunno!"

"Tell her that I will call and see her a few moments this evening." He
unbuttoned his coat and fumbled for his card-case.

Susan waited until the bit of cardboard was in her hand. "She won't be
hyar!" she said in a perfectly expressionless tone, as she turned the
card over in her yellow palm and eyed it curiously.

"When will she be?"

"Lord only knows!"

"She's at home?" asked the young fellow in a sudden sharp anxiety.

"Dat she ain't!"

"What! Where is she?"

Susan looked at him, her black eyes in her wrinkled face still as pools
of ink and as fathomless.

"I dunno," she lied.

"When did she go?"

"Yestiddy."

Light was breaking in on the young man, light and darkness; light as to
the deserted air of the house, darkness as to Frances and her motives.

"And you don't know where she went?" He stood for a few moments, his
eyes on the worn pavement at his feet. Presently his hand slipped again
into his pocket. "If you can, tell me where she is," he said suavely;
"save me an envelope of a letter, you know."

Susan nodded, comprehension all over her face. He slid a bill into her
hand. One quick glance out of the tail of her eye showed Susan the V in
the corner. Tremulous with delight she clasped her hands over her
treasure under her apron.

"You'll keep me posted?"

Susan nodded a seemingly joyful assent.

The young man stepped down on the pavement; as if in sudden thought he
turned back. "Who was that young fellow I saw with Mr. Holloway
yesterday?"

Susan grinned with affability. Having lied once with ease, she did it
now with grace. "Dat? Dat's Marse Edward Montague, sah!"

"And who is he?"

"De--laws--a--me! Don't you know? Dat's Miss Frances' beau."

Susan, when she saw the look which flashed into his eyes, knew she had
scored for many things; she had scored for Miss Frances' white cheeks
and dark, troubled eyes; she had scored for her own loneliness without
her.



XI


It was ten days later that, as Lawson hurried down the corridor past the
professor's house, the curtains of the library window were stirred
slightly and a skinny finger beckoned him.

He was still scornfully angry, but he was anxious; he stopped. The door
was set ajar and Susan's face peered through the crack. She was grinning
joyously.

"Come inside!" she whispered.

He frowned, but he obeyed her. With one lightning glance about him and
one swift memory of the last moment he stood there, he shut the door
behind him and waited to hear what the bent and shrivelled old woman had
to say.

She drew a paper from the folds of her dress. "Hyar 'tis!" she
exclaimed, handling the envelope lovingly. "I cyarnt read, but I'd know
dis writin', anywhars; 'tis straight up an' down, an' clear an' hones'!"

Lawson seized it quickly. The envelope was directed to Mr. Robert
Holloway. He gave a smothered exclamation. The writing was clear and
decided, the postmark, "Keswick." The glance he flashed Susan was
scathing, but she stood innocently attentive; her manner might have
deceived a man of her own State; it did deceive Lawson with his western
ignorance of her race.

"She don't write much, Miss Frances don't." Susan had no word to say of
the daily message over the telephone, and Lawson himself never thought
of that way of communication.

"She allus was mighty kerles 'bout writin'."

"And she's there, as near as that?"

Susan nodded. "Dat's whar she was when she writ, but she 's visitin'
'roun', an' we nebber did know jes' whar she was; but dat's all right."

Lawson hurried into the library. The daily paper of the town lay on the
table; he turned the pages to the railroad schedule, Susan eyeing him
watchfully from the door.

His morning lecture was important, he could not cut it. There were no
trains he could make down and back in the afternoon; he would drive. His
mind full of the determination he came out in the hall. He did not even
notice Susan, eagerly expectant, as she stood there, of another bill to
add to her hoard. His eyes were fixed on the carved newel post where
Frances' trembling hand had lain when last he had seen her. Could the
distrustful old darkey have read his heart she might have forgiven him
and befriended him, for at that moment it held nothing but strong,
intense love for the girl she herself idolized, and the resolve to see
her, to make his peace with her, to overcome whatever barrier, ghostly
or real, had risen between them. He was not a whit afraid of any rival.
The only effect such declaration had had was to crystallize his dreaming
to decision for action, and to fairly madden his impatient nature that
was held in leash, action being impossible.

He was the first in the dining-hall that noon. While the sun was still
overhead, he was driving behind his bays out of town, over the dusky
bridge where the rafters were draped with cobwebs, fold upon fold and
dusty and gray,--and where the Rapidan ran deep and yellow far
underneath, up the long winding hill from whose top he might see the
rolling hills, the house-tops and spires of the far-stretching town, and
circling peaks, and, there to the right, the crest of Monticello. But he
never turned his head. He saw his horses and the hard red clay road,
perfect in this season as a stretch of asphalt; hills closed about him,
as he sped on, or opened showing valley and mountain, bare washed
hillsides vividly red, or fresh-plowed fields, or pale green shoots of
wheat over fields of brick-dust hue, or sere pasture lands, or stubble
fields. Beyond the care for his driving he saw nothing but a vision of a
drooping face, the rose-red of confusion flushing it, downcast eyes and
tremulous mouth. He dreamed of it, but it was something more than
dreaming, it was dreaming translated to resolve. He saw nothing ever
that he wanted, without reaching out strong hands for its possession.
He was doubly resolved, doubly strong for this, according to the
intensity of his desire.

At the village of Keswick, where the road crossed the railway, he
stopped for information, and, having gotten it, rode on. Soon he was off
the main road and driving along a way which led through thick woods with
many branching roads right and left. His directions were confused. Far
down in the forest he paused before one of the branchings, wondering if
this were the way, and in the silence he heard wheels and waited. The
tread of the team was slow. He could hear the creaking of the wheels,
the joltings of a farm wagon and a boy's voice, fresh and clear, urging
on the horses. Over and above it all was the low resonant song of the
pines and of the bare branches of the forest trees, and the sound of
dead leaves rustling in the wind; and for a moment the young man's mood
was in sympathy with the mood of nature, sad and solemn, there in the
heart of the woods in the hush of a November day. Then the wagon came in
sight.

"Hello!" he called out cheerily, "is this the way to Mr. Carroll's?"

"Yes!" cried the boy, "drive straight ahead until you get to the big
pine tree; there are right many turns and wood roads in there; you'd
better let me go first."

"Going this way?"

The boy nodded. Lawson pulled out of the road and the boy drove abreast
of him. He had a wagon-load of dead branches he had been gathering up
through the woods. He reined in to say, "Mr. Carroll is my father."

Lawson looked his friendly interest.

"I've been getting wood for the kitchen stove; it burns better than the
green wood," the boy volunteered by way of conversation as he drove
ahead.

Suddenly Lawson called to him, "Your cousin is staying with you?"

The boy standing on the board in front of the wagon, the reins in his
hands, looked back, "Who?" he called.

"Miss Holloway!" shouted Lawson.

"She was; she's gone; went this morning."

For one moment Lawson sat speechless. He saw the dark vistas of the
wood, the desolate road, the bare trees and whirling leaves and thin
undergrowth. Then he felt he must speak, "When, did you say?" dully.

"This morning!"

"Did she expect to go?"

"Oh, yes! Whoa! whoa!" the horses hurrying for stable and supper, now
that they were set on the homeward way, were starting off. "Come on!"

"I don't believe I will," called Lawson after him, striving to collect
himself and not to seem the fool he felt himself to be. "I was going
down the country," he called, "and I thought I would stop and see her.
I'll go on," he bawled after the fast disappearing wagon, "as she's not
there."

It was a half hour later that, drawing rein in the deserted road--he had
been too proud and too stingingly hurt to turn short on his way--the
dusk of night settling over the country, an indescribable air of
dreariness with it, he suddenly remembered he had not asked where she
was gone.

She was not at home, he was sure of that, when he began to reason it
out, and he would not ask that wretched old negro again, he was sure of
that, also; though Susan, when he glimpsed her, was innocently friendly.
He would find out and he would wait. Meanwhile he settled down to grim
work at law and at football; practice was heavy again and the
Thanksgiving game was booked for Richmond. The University men would play
against the North Carolina boys from Wake-Forest.

He heard nothing but the games talked of everywhere. A special train was
to take the team and their friends down. The Beauty was going and many
other young women of the neighborhood. He learned it was one of the
events, social as well as athletic, of the year. Theatre parties were
being formed by those who would stay a day or two of the holidays there;
plans for sightseeing and drives and visits were being made; and Lawson,
in the current whether he wished it or not, heard yet no word of
Frances. Still the house looked blank and empty, still he saw the
professor coming and going with little company save the tall, fair young
fellow Susan had named to him.

Finally, coming along the corridor one day as he passed the professor's
house, Mr. Holloway hurried out.

The impulse was irresistible. Lawson doffed his cap, held out his hand.
The professor paused on his doorstep.

Lawson talked hurriedly of the weather, of college affairs; finally for
very desperate fear that the professor would go and his chance be lost,
he blurted "Miss Frances is away?"

"Yes!"

"You must miss her very much."

Her father smiled a little sadly, "I am not used to doing without her,"
he said whimsically.

"Where is she?" Lawson could hear the heavy throb of his heart when the
question had been put.

"In Richmond," the professor answered, as if it were quite a question
without special interest to any one. "Good-day!" he added as he looked
at his watch, "I'm due! Come and see me, some time!"

The professor had been touched by the anxious air of the man and set it
down to diffidence. He wished the students would not show that awe of
him. None of them knew how friendly he would like to be; but he was
studying, working, reading, dreaming, all the while. He dwelt in a world
of abstractions and carried the atmosphere with him. It was an alien
atmosphere and kept him apart.

"Richmond!" said the young man to himself. "Richmond!" he could have
shouted. His boot heels rang it in the pavement, his pulses throbbed it.
"Richmond," and they were going there to-morrow. He rushed to his room,
threw down his books, and began singing:--


     "Gayly the Troubadour touched his guitar
     As he was hastening home from the war,
     Singing in search of thee fain would I roam,
     Lady love, lady love--"


"Hello! What's the matter with you?" called some one through the door
he had forgotten to close tightly, "it's time for practice."

"I'm getting ready; come in and wait."

The man entered. They had not been receiving many invitations to
Lawson's rooms lately.

"What's the matter with you?" he repeated as he leaned against the
mantel. "Good news?"

"Sure!" cried Lawson, slipping his sweater over his head.

The young fellow leaning against the mantel, though he was clad in full
toggery of padded trousers and sweater and socks showing the University
colors gaudily, was yet no comparison for Lawson, and they both knew it.
Lawson was far and away the best-looking man on the eleven. The very
garb served to show his fine physique and animal beauty, and with this
look of flushed pleasure and full life--

"Come on," growled the visitor; "you've primped enough!"

"Primped! You saw me, didn't you?"

"Well, you've got your clothes on; come on!"

Lawson ran his arm through his visitor's arm and they went singing
across the quadrangle--


     "Hark 'twas the Troubadour, breathing her name:
     Under the battlement softly he came;
     Singing 'from Palestine, hither I come;
     Lady love, lady love, welcome me home.'"



XII


As the train rocked down the mountain-side next day, past tobacco-fields
stripped bare, and orchards where no red fruit shone, and fields now
brown and sere, and as it sped over the low country, Lawson had one
thought. He would see, when the train pulled into Richmond, somewhere in
the throng about the station Frances' bright face and serene shining
eyes. She would be there with those of the city who came to welcome
them. The travellers laughed and jested, sang and cheered and yelled,
Lawson with them, his heart light as a boy's; but all of this outward
atmosphere was like a dream to him,--the reality was the vision he saw
of a girl's face. He was first out of the coach. His eager eyes searched
the crowd. In all the press was not one face he knew. He was half
resentful when he was hurried away, and glum and silent in the midst of
the joyful hubbub around him.

Then he pulled himself together; she was out on the grounds, of course.
When the game began, his inattention and wretched play fairly lost the
day, until the wrath of the captain called and kept him to the work in
hand. He stayed the night in Richmond, went to the play, loitered about
the shopping streets next day, and saw only strangers or those who had
come down from the mountains with them.

Late that afternoon, tired, disgusted, self-scornful, he took a train
for home. When he passed the professor's house he saw a beam of light
shine out on the quadrangle on a spot where no gleam had shone for many
a night.

He walked deliberately out on the sward and looked up. He cared not who
saw him or who chaffed him, and a University man has to order his life
with care if he wishes it not to become a burden to him. Fortunately it
was late, and there were no men about corridor or campus. He stood
watching; it might be the old negress there for all he knew.

The curtains were pulled aside, the casement opening on the balcony was
flung open, and a tall supple figure stood outlined sharply against the
flood of light behind her. His heart seemed pulsing in his throat and
choking him. Then Frances stepped lightly out on the porch and began to
unfasten the heavy shutters from the clasps holding them back to the
brick wall.

He walked quickly across till he stood under the balcony's edge; the
vine climbing the pillar was bare, its dry branches rustling in the
night wind.

"Frances!" he called softly.

There was no answer, and he heard a light footstep across the porch and
a rattling at the other shutter.

"Miss Holloway!" he called distinctly.

"Who is there? Where--"

The voice called again; she leaned over the railing and saw a tall
figure below looming in the star-lit dusk. "Who is it?" she asked, a
quick catch in her breath.

"Do you not know me?" reproachfully.

"Mr. Lawson?" the voice was low and full, and the intonation gracefully
easy, with the old ring of cheer in it. Hard riding, hard thinking, hot
scorning, and firm resolving had made many changes in Frances; best of
all it had restored her old manner of gay ease.

"Where have you been?" questioned the voice below.

"Ever so many places."

"When did you come back?" If there was any tender reproach in the voice,
the young woman up there did not heed it.

"Yesterday."

Yesterday! when he was searching for her, longing for her,--and she was
here. "Why didn't you stay for the game?"

"I couldn't; I am expecting some friends from Richmond. I had to come
home and see that Susan had the house in order."

There was a second's silence. The young man below stood motionless: "I
want to see you," he said firmly.

"Can't you? What a pity it's so dark!"

"To-morrow?"

"I shall not have a minute's time."

"Soon?" he insisted.

"Of course!" as if it were a matter of no consequence whatever.

"I shall expect to," and then there was silence again.

"I am glad you won!" called the girl. "Good night!"

"Oh, yes, we won!" he said, a trifle bitterly, as he strode away.

Frances leaned faintly against the rail. It was over, the moment she had
dreaded unspeakably, and she was in her rightful place again. She knew
it; she blessed the night whose darkness had given her assurance. She
blessed the unexpected meeting when there was no time for awkward
confusion. She tapped her finger-tips on the rail and smiled to herself
as she stood there, but the icy touch of the frost already forming
roused her to a sense of the cold and chill. She hurried in, locked the
shutters and then went running down the stairs.

"Father," she said with a happy laugh, "father, I am so glad to be at
home." She leaned over his chair and put her arms about his neck.

"Are you?" there was a sparkle of joy in the professor's dark eyes; "so
am I!" He slipped his arm about her and pulled her down on the arm of
the chair. "You mustn't run away again; I don't know what to do without
you; you must never run away again, too far!"

Lawson, though he was not given to poetical comparisons, was remembering
with keen pain the first hour when he stood beneath the balcony and
Frances had talked with him. It was morning then, it was night now; the
sunlight was in the sky, only the cold stars now; she had come down to
him blithely that warm, bright day when the world was a flood of
sunshine and color; he had gone alone now, and it was cold and dark, and
the color had drifted from the outside world and the joy from his heart.



XIII


About five o'clock the next day, Lawson, from sheer restlessness, was
one of a crowd of University men waiting on the platform of the station
in the ravine for the trains from the west and south already due;
chaffing, singing, laughing, guying, cheering, they were waiting,
according to the daily custom of a holiday hour, for whatever fun the
arriving coaches might furnish.

The electric arcs swung white light up and down the station, the smoke
of a sidetracked freight hung low and heavy in the valley, the teams of
the afternoon drivers were rattling across the high bridge, their
occupants looking with laughing interest on the scene below. Suddenly
with shriek and roar the Southern train was in.

"Vir--gin--i--a."

"Vir--gin--i--a."

"Rah--rah--rah!"

The men gave a great yell. A young girl in one of the coaches flung up a
window and looked out.

"Rah--rah--rah!"

The young girl snapped down the window. Another face, curious and
likewise pretty, showed at the pane. The young men were wildly
enthusiastic.

"Vir--gin--i--a."

"Vir--gin--i--a--" The yell drowned all other sounds, and Lawson was
astonished to see, as it ended, Frances springing from her trap a few
yards away and hastening forward. The conductor waited gallantly at the
steps of one of the coaches, the porter came down another flight, laden
with bundles, and at the door, their cheeks showing red with suppressed
fun and excitement behind their veils, appeared the two pretty young
women.

"Vir--gin--i--a--." The yell died away as the men saw the professor's
daughter greeting the arrivals with laughing welcome. They fell to
guying each other mercilessly. But Lawson, standing not far away, came
at once to Frances' assistance.

"Let me help you!" He reached for some of the bundles.

"Oh, thank you! Mr. Lawson, these are my Richmond friends, Miss Rowan,
Mr. Lawson! Miss Martin!"

The young women held out their gloved hands and Lawson welcomed them
impressively. He assisted them into the trap with careful gallantry, the
strangers, both of them, in the back seat, the packages stored at their
feet. Frances was subduing the antics of Starlight, who after standing
quietly when there was need, took occasion to seem shocked at the engine
now that his driver was in place and he felt the touch of the reins on
his bit, and to stand protestingly on his hind feet and paw the air.

The strangers were frightened. "Can you manage him, Frances?" cried one.

"Oh, let me get out!" the other pleaded.

"We'll come up on the street car!" Miss Rowan declared, white with fear.

"Sit still!" commanded Frances, shortly. "Come down, Starlight! behave
yourself!" she reached for the whip.

"Don't strike him! There's no telling what he would do!" begged the
visitors. Lawson, near, stalwart and interested, seemed a godsend.

"Do come with us!" pleaded Elizabeth Martin, who in all emergencies
turned to the nearest man.

"There's no need," he began. Starlight had all fours on solid earth once
more.

"Jump in!" laughed Frances, nodding to the empty seat; she pulled
Starlight around, waited a second for Lawson to get in, and then came
down sharply on Starlight's flank with the whip. The horse made a
plunge, straight for the platform, the men scattered right and left, and
Starlight went snorting up the winding road to the street above.

"Let Mr. Lawson drive!" besought Miss Martin.

Frances looked laughingly at the young man beside her. That other
opportunity and this were all she could have wished to put them on a
commonplace footing. The old position and power and knowledge to hold
her own, were all she wished for. Lawson looking into the clear, gray
eyes felt a thrill of gratitude for the fortune which had befriended
him.

Still, her answer may have held some hidden meaning for him, for he
flushed a little when he heard it. "I prefer to hold my own reins
myself," she said carelessly; "you know I never would stand much
managing."

Lawson turned to talk to the young women behind him; so, he could watch
furtively Frances' face and her cheek where the rose hue flickered, the
white in the midst of it.

The streets were filled with the afternoon crowd, students in groups or
alone, young women, older women, children; fancy turnouts and farmers'
wagons, high carts, and heavy low ones filled with cordwood, young women
in short skirts and heavy boots, young women in all the finery of new
fall clothes and furs, loitering by the houses set flush upon the
street, or by box-hedged gardens, the houses far back, or by smooth
lawns.

The crowd was dense, but through it Frances glimpsed Edward Montague.
He had seen her a minute earlier and was watching her wistfully, with a
keen pang at his heart that now when he had seen her first for so long a
time, she should be one of a gay party with that handsome young fellow
at her side. She drew rein, soon as she saw him, and Edward hurried out
to her.

"So glad to see you, Mr. Montague!" She leaned and gave him her hand.
"Let me introduce you!" She named the young women. "You know Mr.
Lawson?"

"Happy to have that pleasure!" said Lawson stiffly, remembering Susan's
words.

"You must come and see us!" with a backward glance to her guests.

"I shall. I have just been out to your house."

"You have?"

"I met your father at the post-office; he told me you were home!"

"And forgot I was going to the station?"

"He did not mention it, but," quickly as if in defence of his absent
friend, "I left him waiting for you at home."

"We will hurry then; good-by!"

"Good-by!" He did not add that the professor had insisted on his return,
and that he had accepted, but he carried with him a happy consciousness
of the fact.

Frances had the same cordial invitation for Lawson, when they parted.
She knew well that the young city women visiting the University in the
middle of the term expected a good time, and a good time chiefly along
one line. So while the professor was welcoming them in the hall, she
lingered on the doorstep.

"You must help me make them enjoy their visit," she said, knowing she
could not ask a better aide.

"I will, I shall be delighted!" answered Lawson fervidly.

"And bring your friends!"

"I shall bring them this evening."

"I wonder--Elizabeth, Mary, are you very tired?" she called through the
open door.

"Not a bit!" they chorussed.

"Very well--this evening!" She gave him her hand. He stood a little to
the side of the step and they were out of sight through the half-opened
door. He held her hand closely and looked straight in her eyes,
questioningly, compellingly, but Frances looked back calmly and
carelessly, and wrenched herself free. "Good-by!" she called from the
door.

Lawson went on to his room and threw himself moodily into the chair
before the fire. It was smouldering. He punched it viciously and banged
the blower over it.

"Beastliest way of heating a fellow's room I ever saw!" he grumbled, "I
vow I'll freeze before mid-winter!"

He slipped into his smoking-jacket, turned on the glare of the light,
pulled table and Morris chair before the fire, and sat down, book in
hand, to some pretence of study, but other cases than legal thronged his
mind. He flung the note-book on the table, wrenched off the blower, and
then, with a half sigh of content at the blazing coals in the grate, he
sank back in his chair. He watched the flicker of the flames in the
chimney's mouth; yellow and white and red and violet, the tongues of
burning gas flared up the rough, black chimney's mouth, and the coals
below glowed red and redder. But Lawson, looking at them dreamingly, was
seeing the way he must go, and was growing stronger in his
determination.

He would win her, yes! He had begun merely as a diversion from the study
he sometimes liked and sometimes disliked, sometimes dreamed to win fame
through and sometimes was intolerantly impatient of, counting, in a
bitter moment, nothing worth effort.

He had begun, too, by draping traditions about Frances, every one of
which, she had freed herself from; and he had ended by unquestioning
acceptance of the fact that this woman, puzzling beyond his ken, was the
one thing of the hour he desired.

The memory of Susan's words only strengthened his obstinacy. The shield
Frances kept about her, thin as gauze, impenetrable as steel, which he
had fended aside once and once again, but made his fight the more
interesting. He had no fault to find at any point of the
situation,--only a wild impatience that he should have been thrust back
when he felt attainment within his grasp.



XIV


With the advent of visitors the professor's house became the centre of
gayety in the quadrangle. The women of the other households were glad to
show friendliness to the young girl, in whom they felt a warm interest,
but who had seemed in her content to need no one. Visits and
invitations, drives and supper parties transformed the quiet household.

The professor made one stand for himself. Susan had asked for a scullion
and named a boy, who was promptly engaged. "And, Susan," the professor
had commanded, "see that he keeps a good fire in the parlor; show every
one who calls in there. Leave the library undisturbed."

"I must have some peace!" added the professor to himself, who found this
whirl a trial, but endured it for Frances' sake. For Frances seemed to
thoroughly enjoy this dispensing of hospitality; she planned gayeties
far ahead. She accepted and returned the invitations from their
neighbors. She spent hours in the kitchen while her guests were
dispatched on pleasures, and fought Susan's wrath for each of those
hours. There was no idle moment when accusing thoughts might sting, or
when some seeker for such opportunity would find her alone.

Lawson, he scarcely knew how, was made the special attendant of the
visitors; and though he was restless and chafing, and keenly watchful
for his chances, he yet enjoyed the gay expeditions and the presence of
the pretty, fun-loving young women.

Montague, when he came, was warmly welcomed and made one of them; but it
was a busy season on the farm; he was kept away enough to have something
of the feeling of an outsider and to see the things one from the outside
sees. He was vaguely conscious of a troubled atmosphere, and he saw,
too, what no one else did, that there was a feverish restlessness about
Frances and a constant guarded effort at control. His instinctive
thought of her warned him that in spite of her apparent blitheness she
needed befriending. He was constantly alert for her, constantly
watchful. Whenever he was with them Frances felt, somehow, helped and
more at peace with herself. So for the allotted time of the visit. The
days had nearly sped by when Frances found the professor one morning
gathering up his books and papers for the day's lectures.

The contrast between the quiet room, lined with bookshelves, the grave,
scholarly man standing there by the paper-littered table, and the room
across the hall, from which floated the sound of chatter and laughter,
smote the professor's daughter keenly.

"Does all this visiting and calling and confusion bother you?" she
asked, as she slipped her hand through his arm and ran her soft palm
childishly up and down the heavy wool of his sleeve.

"Not at all!" The professor looked lovingly into the eyes of his
daughter, who was as tall as he was.

"Because," she went on whimsically, "they are going to stay longer!"
She made a pretence of holding her breath.

The professor thought of the loved quiet of his home and the still more
loved comradeship of his daughter, and was silent.

"I don't think it's altogether on my account," added Frances demurely.

The professor chuckled. "I don't think it is!" he replied.

"They _are_ enjoying their visit."

"So it seems!" And then, after a short silence, "Are you enjoying it
also?"

"I? Of course!"

"Then it's all right!" He slipped a rubber band about his papers and
laid them on his books. "I drove out to young Montague's yesterday," he
said to his daughter, standing idly before the fire. Frances had found
so few moments alone with her father lately that she was making the most
of these.

"It's dreary out there," the professor complained; "these winter days
are going to be hard for him."

"Don't worry! I've never seen a man less inclined to be doleful!"

"Do you think so," said the professor eagerly, "now, lately he hasn't
seemed so--so bright as he used to be. I thought perhaps he was finding
it lonely. He is an excellent farmer, do you know," he said with sudden
enthusiasm, "he has sold enough wood off the place to pay half of the
cost of it."

"Oh! what a pity!"

"Pity!"

"The hills will look so bare; I shall always remember the beautiful
forest sweeping up to the mountain tops."

"Oh! the wood will be cut far up the range and there is enough about
there for the country not to suffer for the want of it. We went over it
together."

"Then I know it is all right!" teased Frances.

"He's working too hard," the professor went on, keeping to the topic in
which he was so keenly interested.

"You know this is a busy season; after a while he can rest. You know
what you often say, winter is the farmer's holiday."

"Yes, but shut up out there! I must send him some books." Frances
watched in amusement as her father went to the shelves where his light
literature was kept. "Pope's Iliad," he said thoughtfully, "read it in
the original of course; Herodotus, I wonder how much Greek he knows;
Carlyle, hm! Drummond, that will make him think at least--What?" for
Frances was leaning against his shoulder and was laughing.

"What do you like yourself when you are idle or half sick, when there's
a good hot fire to read and dream before?"

The professor reddened with conscience-stricken remembrance of a pile of
paper-bound novels in the attic. "Get him something yourself, then!"

"I will!"

"I dare say he will like it better," retorted her father, who, blind to
Lawson's attentions, had begun to suspicion Montague's, and to think
with a half-pleased apprehension that it might be a desirable thing for
some far-off day.

Frances was about to answer when the bell rang insistently.

"Good Lord!" groaned the professor.

"I don't think it is a visitor," soothed Frances. "What is it, Susan?"

The old woman came briskly into the room. "I dunno! Some sassy niggah
jes' poked dis box at me an' run off." Susan was always ready to find
fault with the manners of the rising generation; she put the box down
gingerly just on the professor's papers.

"Here!" he snatched it up and set it forcibly on the hearth. "Flowers!
And the thing is wet!"

Frances, delighted, knelt by the box. "Miss Frances Holloway," she read;
"give me your knife! Oh!" for the top wrenched off disclosed a sheaf of
chrysanthemums, white and yellow, and a card, "Mr. Frank Lawson."

"They are for all, of course!" she filled her arms with them and got to
her feet. "Take this box in the kitchen, Susan."

"Wait!" her father called, "what are you going to do to-day?"

"We are going shopping in the morning, and there is a tally-ho party to
Monticello this afternoon."

"You are going?"

"This morning."

"And this afternoon?"

"I scarcely think I shall go. I have been up to Monticello so often, and
I think I'll stay at home and make a cake."

"Why don't you go, Frances?" her father protested.

"It will be a chocolate cake," she was laughing at him over the sheaf of
chrysanthemums, "and you shall have all you want!" And the professor was
disarmed.

Some one else had noticed this same tendency of housekeeping. When
Frances was busily beating eggs in the kitchen, the bell rang. She went
on with her work without a thought of visitors, for the tally-ho party
was large and included all their friends, the younger ones at least.
Susan had gone on an errand, and the boy, hurrying carelessly through
kitchen and dining-room and library, left each door open as he went
through.

"T'aint no one home but Miss Frances," he said to the young man on the
door-step, "and she's busy in the kitchen."

The young man went past him into the library; through the doors he
glimpsed Frances, back towards him. He stepped out of the line of
vision, "Very well!" he said in a low tone to the boy gaping in the
doorway, "you need not tell her; I'll announce myself!"

The boy, green, untrained, as Lawson knew him to be, hastened on through
the back door of the hall to his work at the woodpile. Lawson trod
softly across the rooms. The swift beater in Frances' hands deafened her
ears to other sounds. He came close behind her, and spoke her name
before she knew the warm sunny kitchen held any but herself.

She went white to the lips with fright. "How dare you?" she cried.

Lawson had thought of some flattering speech to appease her; instead
his anger flared as hot as hers. "Did you not know I would dare
anything?"

The piteous red flushing over the pallor of cheek and forehead told him
the shot had told brutally.

"Did you not know I would dare anything to see you?" He pleaded
conscience stricken at his blunder. "I asked you, I told you, the night
you came home, to give me an opportunity to--to see you."

"You have!" she flashed, anger once more coming to her aid.

"You know what I meant, not with a crowd about you, but when I--I--you
have made a hedge of your visitors," he accused. It was exactly what she
had done, and done wilfully. "You knew I longed to see you."

Frances rolled down her shirt-sleeves and buttoned them coolly. "Will
you walk into the library?" she asked icily.

"No!"

"I did not know you were fond of the kitchen. Have this chair," pulling
Susan's low flag chair beside the window.

Lawson took it from her. His eyes were red with wrath, but Frances took
no heed.

"Does it remind you of home?" went on the young woman sarcastically.

"God forbid!" he blurted, with a flashing memory of the chef presiding
there in the kitchen.

The calm was coming back to Frances' manner; she felt herself yet
mistress. "Sit down; I will show you what a Virginia kitchen is like.
I'll bake you a cake," she added, with a saucy air, for all the fear
that was tugging at her heart, "if you are a good boy."

"I was never good!" he blazed.

"No," thoughtfully; "well, it's good to be truthful. I'll give you a
cake for that."

"I want none of your cakes!"

Frances opened wide her innocent-seeming eyes, though her lip trembled.

"I want you!"

She leaned back against the table's edge as he came close to her. She
clenched her hands, striving for the hot words she wanted, which would
not come.

"I love you; you know it--"

Her eyes flashed blazing denial.

"Will you marry me?"

For one instant heart and pulse stopped. "Marry him--marry him--" All
her fancies and conclusions were whirling in her brain; flirtations, of
which she had accused him, were not apt to go so far.

"You know how I love you, long for you. Why have you kept this distance
between us, Frances?" He put his hands on her shoulders and looked down
into her drooping face. "You will be my wife?" but at that word a sudden
swift memory smote him icy cold and speechless. Frances looking shyly up
thought it anxiety for her answer. Into the gray eyes came stealing,
flashing, the look he had dreamed of, had resolved to kindle there and
read, himself glorified as he read. With a sob in his breath he caught
her to him. "Frances," he began hurriedly, soon as speech would come,
"there is something I must tell you now, you must know--" but Frances,
covered with confusion, was pulling away from him. She had heard
Susan's step outside, "Susan is coming," she panted.

Lawson gave her one passionate look, that hardened into triumphant love
as he gazed deep into her eyes. "So be it," he said within himself; "I
accept!"

He slipped through the doors, closing them as he went. When Susan came
into the kitchen he was softly shutting the outer one. He went
triumphant. For one instant the joy of possession had fought with a
deeper and higher love, but desire had won.



XV


Through the hours of that night Frances heard the strong north wind
about the house, singing the song of vibrant trees on the mountain-tops
or the low tones of the rolling hills and narrow valleys. All night she
knew the world outside grew cold and colder, while the mist clouds which
had condensed into rain in the early evening were swept from the sky. As
the fire in her grate burned low and the insistent wind rattled at
window and door and blew in gusty breaths down the chimney's mouth, the
furniture contracting and snapping, made weird noises which mingled with
the clashings of the maples on the quadrangle.

Whether she slept or whether she waked, it was the same mood of restless
excited happiness. It seemed but a reflection of it from the world
outside when she flung open her heavy shutters in the morning and saw
the sky clear as crystal, bluish green at its zenith and, over above the
houses opposite, flushed red as a rose. The maples rocked in the wind,
along the corridor across the way the shallow rain pools in the worn
pavement had turned to ice, making shimmer and shine but perilous
footing. The wind and the rocking and the singing were her own restless
mood, which made her vibrant to a song which she knew not for joy or for
some feeling yet unnamable.

It was not wholly joy, for her first thought of others struck her with
dismay. Susan, before she had dressed, came into the room, a great box
in her hands.

"Dat boy done said p'intidly dis time 'twas for yuh. He 'low dat Mr.
Lawson call Mr. Cook up to de 'phone las' night an' said as how dey was
to be hyar befor' sun up dis mornin'."

"Oh!" cried Frances with a long ecstatic sigh, as she uncovered the
sweet red roses and buried her blushing face in their fragrant hearts,
"how beautiful, how sweet, how--"--"thoughtful" she was about to add,
when she remembered Susan and her secret.

But Susan could read the tale of that shy, sweet delight in Frances'
face and her own grew more anxious and wrinkled.

"Yuh'd bettah hurry up an' dress," she said, grumpily. "'Tis nigh upon
eight o'clock and yo' pa won't eben think his breakfast taste good if
yuh isn't there." It was the first shot she could think of, but it told.

Frances laid down the great handful of beauties she had been holding
ecstatically close to her face. "I will be down in a moment," she said
soberly, and, then, as Susan still lingered, "you had better hurry
yourself and see that everything is ready."

As she brushed the rebellious dark hair into the waves above her
forehead she saw her reflected face through a mist of tears; once,
twice, in the happy evening before, the thought of her father had come
like a stab through the joy still only half believed in and shyly
dreamed of. She had not dared follow that thought to the end. It would
show her the deep sorrow of her own heart were she to leave him to live
her life many hundred miles away amongst people and surroundings not of
his kind and beyond his ken; it would show her, what was harder still,
the desolation of his loneliness without her. She could not face it yet,
but must put it away from her with all the tremulous uncertainties
quivering into life in her heart, and must live in the moment.

She fastened a great red rose in her dainty waist and then picked up a
smaller bud. "This is for you," she declared, as she hastened into the
library before the breakfast bell had rung, and found her father waiting
a trifle impatiently before the fire.

So it was that a young man, hurrying across the campus in gay mood, gave
a start of astonishment when he met the professor, and guessed the rose
in his coat to be one of those he had dedicated to this first happy day
of a love striven for against long odds and won.

It was not the better part of him that had triumphed the day before, and
it may have been the fight within which made him so readily resentful
and so quick to show it, when he paused at the window of the professor's
house to greet the gay trio there. And it was some baser part of him
which, when he read Frances' tell-tale face, the faint flush, the droop
of the lids, while he talked gayly with Elizabeth Martin, urged him to
see how far he might torment her. Having played the daring game once, he
must play it again and again in the few short stormy days which
followed. Prompted by some unknown devil within him, bred of the fight
which he lacked the courage to face and to decide, he must watch her
tell-tale face to see how he had aroused feelings Frances had never
dreamed of and hated while she suffered them--must laugh and talk with
Elizabeth Martin with admiration in his eyes and flattery on his lips,
and to see, meanwhile, the wonder in Frances' eyes, and the pride which
in the end concealed it--must seek, at last, some hour alone with her,
manoeuvre for that hour, and watch the resentment she disdained to
name, die away beneath the magnetism of his love-making.

Even then a fierce joy ruled him, prompting him to a lavish generosity
in which the whole household shared.

"Ise done sick o' seein' dat flower boy," declared Susan, savagely, to
Frances, in a kitchen interview. "Sho' as de brekkus bell rings, he
rings de nex', an' he's gettin' sassy as if he run de whole business an'
brung 'em heself."

Frances only laughed.

"An' if yuh eats much mo' dat candy layin' erroun', I'll be plumb scared
o' yuh eatin' yo' vittles."

"You shall have a box for yourself," teased Frances.

"Me! De Lawd knows I don't want none! I'd ruther hab one o' dem plump
partridges Marse Edward brought yestiddy dan all de choclits yuh can
rake and scrape."

"You shall have that, too; broil them for supper."

"Who's gwine be hyar?"

"No one but us."

"Humph! dyar'll be jes' ernuff." Susan was not going to serve the game
one young man had taken a long tramp to shoot, for another who did not
stand so high in her graces. Young Montague had been in the day before.

With some intuitive understanding of Frances, her excited mood and
Lawson's manner, when he saw them together, left him desperately anxious
and heart-sick. It was a story he could not read, nor the actors
themselves. But he divined that, in spite of the brilliancy he had never
seen so great in her before, Frances was unhappy. He saw enough, also,
to fear the drift of her life was to a love which would not bring her
peace, and which would leave him desolate. He saw that the professor was
just beginning to wake to a vague uneasiness, and his resolve to
befriend her, no matter at what cost to himself, was strengthened.

The next day he came in for the observatory party, which was to be the
last gayety of the visitors, who were going on the early train of the
morning following. Lawson had arranged the expedition, and had ordered
the big drag from the stables for the ride up the mountain in the
moonlight just beginning to tinge the highest peaks. A whispered word
placed Elizabeth Martin on the driver's seat beside him; Montague was
quick to seize the opportunity of seating himself by Frances' side, and
was thankful for the chance. Frances, herself, was wrapt in the
beautiful moonlit world through which they rode. Her dreamy eyes saw the
rolling hills and the distant lights bespeaking home; her fine listening
heard the song of the night winds in the oaks, as they wound up the
mountain side, and the music of the rustling leaves under wheel and
hoof-beats. As the road mounted higher she turned to watch the lights in
the valley, the clustering sparkle of them in the town, and, above the
crests of the Ragged Mountains, the moon, swinging over all and flooding
the world with mystic light.

On the mountain crest the world seemed strangely hushed. The observatory
gleamed ghostly in the shadowings of the oaks; the red light shining
from the window of the work-room and the young man it shone on inside
were a human touch distinctly needed. His welcome, the glowing stove in
the room, the bright lamp-light shining on book-shelves and easy chairs
and tables, were a cheer for which the chilled visitors were grateful.

"You had better keep your wraps on," he cautioned them, as the women
began to unfasten furs and coats, "I think it is a little colder in the
observatory than outside."

An icy blast through the door he opened confirmed him. The metallic
sides of the great telescope gleamed in the cold white light as they
entered. Frances waited as her visitors mounted the frail-looking stairs
and peered through the great instrument at the moon they had seen rising
over the mountain, so small, so far away, now, through this medium,
swinging in space a great globe of light.

She herself was never tired of the marvel, nor of the long look through
the huge telescope at the circling rim of the luminary, broken with
deep craters and wrapped in luminous mists.

The student, seeing her enthusiasm, dropped his alphabetic talk, and
began telling of some juxtaposition of the stars they were watching.

"Would you care to see it?" he asked, as he commenced to swing the top
of the great dome about and the telescope with it.

"You are not going to stay long?" questioned one of the young women.

"It's so cold, Frances, we'll wait in the other room by the fire."

Frances, deeply interested, scarcely knew when they were gone or how
long she lingered; for there were other things to be shown eager eyes,
writ in such entrancing language on the heavens, that the young man
whose duty it was to keep watch of them was glad to show the manner of
their writing.

When, half frozen, they hurried back to the working-room, they found a
comfortable group waiting them. Mary Rowan and Edward Montague and one
other man were huddled together about the stove. Further away, apart,
by one of the tables were Elizabeth Martin and Lawson. The lamp-light
shone full on her face. She was looking up at him. It might have been
coquetry that brought the expression Frances saw as she opened the door,
but at least it was in response to something of language or look in the
man who leaned over her. So much Frances told herself instantly. The
thought sent a sickening feeling from head to foot. She reeled slightly;
Montague, watching her, sprang to her assistance.

"How cold you are! You can hardly walk! Sit here!" as he pulled forward
an easy chair. "Take off your wraps as soon as you are warm," he
cautioned, "or you will not feel them when you go out."

Lawson, hearing the solicitous speech, frowned and turned so as he could
see them; but he saw only a supple figure cuddled in the depths of a
chair, the face turned from him. He came up to the fire. "It's beastly
cold," he declared, "I don't see how you stood it so long."

Frances never lifted her lids. She was absorbed in warming her icy,
trembling fingers. Once and again he strove for a word with her, but she
was coldly indifferent. At the side of the drag he took matters in his
own hands. "You are going to drive down with me," he declared.

"No!" said Frances, coldly.

"But there is something I want to say to you; Miss Martin, Miss Frances
is going to drive back on the seat with me." He was frightened, and
anxious to make his peace; there was something he had just settled with
Elizabeth, and she was frightened too.

"Of course," she assented quickly; "Mr. Montague, I am going back with
you." She gave Frances no time for remonstrance, as she claimed
Montague's help at once and sprang into the drag. The others were
already seated. Frances must go as Lawson demanded, perforce. She was
angered at the scene she had come upon and angered at being so managed.

The young man beside her found her simply and icily civil, and that the
words he must say to her were most difficult to frame; but well down
the mountain-side, the rest talking gayly, he felt he must seize his
chance. With his free hand he felt for hers under the buffalo robe, and
found it. Frances did not withdraw it, nor was there a thrill of life or
love in its touch.

He was manly enough to be quite open as to what he had to say. "I am
going to Richmond to-morrow." The fingers quivered slightly; from the
lips came no sound.

"Do you know how near Christmas it is?" he questioned.

Montague, behind him, caught the tone and clenched his fists, even while
he was answering Elizabeth Martin's raillery.

"I am going to search the shops."

There was still no answer.

"I am going to see what the jewellers have--"

He left her to find out for herself what she had already divined. When
she drove with her guests to the station next morning she found him
waiting.

He took the same train.



XVI


When Frances drove from the station, for the first time in all her
healthy young life she found herself dreading the day which stretched
before her. She tied Starlight outside the quadrangle and walked up the
corridor slowly. Every window of her house was opened wide. Susan,
beturbanned, met her at the door.

"Honey," she said, "don't yuh want to go in yo' room dis damp day an'
res' yo'self?"

Frances gave a little shiver at the idea of being shut in her room all
the morning. Her expression was answer sufficient.

"Den yuh bettah dribe in town an' git sumpin' to eat; we's cleaned clar
out."

"What do you want?" asked Frances, glad of the errand.

"Want! Yuh jes' step in hyar one minute." The old woman pointed with
dramatic hand towards the empty shelves, and began a list of all the
eatables she could think of.

"We needs 'em fur shuah!" she ended. "Ise gwine begin my Christmas cake
termorrer; Ise jes' been waiting to git de place clar, an' I tell yuh
fer a fac' I wants dis house all to myself dis one mornin'. Ise tiahed
o' dried-up flowers an' empty boxes an'--an'--sich! Honey," she
wheedled, "if yuh gits through early, yuh might go visitin'."

Frances was laughing at Susan's earnestness, when she went out again.
There was nothing in the day, though the mist dripped from shrub and
tree and bespangled the grass and veiled the mountains, to foster
heartache. The streets were filled with carriages, mud-splashed and
encrusted, the horses red with clay above their fetlocks. The stores
were bright with holly and cedar. Before the grocers' shops were coops
of turkeys and strings of hams and barrels of oysters. The
confectioners' windows were piled high with oranges and dates and nuts
and raisins and candies. The dry-goods windows showed alluring furs and
coats and breadths of cloth. Waiting at the curb was a string of
carriages, their occupants calling gay greetings from one to another.
Frances pulling close into the press felt herself one of the Christmas
crowd. A shopper stopped at her wheel for a word or two; the busy clerk,
when he at last found time for her order, had a ready jest: there was
store after store to be visited. Frances felt the cheer of the blessed
commonplaces. She was as bright as any of the crowd. Her cheeks were
reddened with the soft damp air, her hair curled rebelliously about her
forehead under the brim of her big hat.

It was long past noon when she turned homeward. She went slowly. The
crush of carriage and cart, of farm wagons loaded with cedar and holly,
and ox-carts piled with cord-wood, demanded careful driving. She was
nearly out of the shopping district when she heard her father call her.

"I thought you were at home," she called back.

"And I thought you were there."

"You can drive up with me." She pulled as close to the curb as she
could.

"I don't know; Edward is in here," pointing to the store before which he
stood.

"What have you been doing?" The professor flushed with a guilty
knowledge of the Greek cameo in his pocket.

"Oh, I have been helping him select some Christmas presents. He's going
home, you know, for the holidays. Here he is now. Can't you go out with
us?" asked the professor, soon as the young man had greeted Frances.

"I am afraid I ought not."

"I'll drive you up by the stables," suggested Frances.

"I wish you would. Have you time to see my new horse?" he asked, as
Frances drove slowly and skilfully along the crowded street.

"I didn't know you had a new horse."

"No? I have been intending to ride her in when you could see her, but
you have had so little time--"

"But I have time now," said the young woman, enthusiastically, as she
stopped before the stables. "Can't we go in and see her?" to her
father.

"Certainly."

The young man put his mare through her paces up and down the stable
aisle. "I want you to ride her some time," he declared, as Frances waxed
eloquent over the horse's slender head and liquid eyes and shapely legs.

"When can you bring her in? She's a beauty! I'd like to ride her now."

"Shall I put your saddle on?" questioned Mr. Carver, who stood with the
group admiring the animal.

"I am afraid Mr. Montague has not time," faltered Frances.

Edward had one fleeting vision of the work awaiting him, then he put it
out of his mind. "Certainly," he said, "if you will allow me to
reconsider. I will go out with you, and Mr. Carver can send the horse to
the house."

"Oh!" said Frances, softly.

"You had better go with her," declared the professor, who was never
quite sure of his daughter when it was a question of horses. "Can't you
ride Starlight?"

Montague's eyes were questioning Frances' face; he saw the quick look
of pleasure, as she cried, "I shall be delighted."

They went up the long street together. As they crossed the high bridge
above the railroad, there was to each of the young people a quick
unwelcome memory. Frances recalled a young man's debonair manner as he
made his adieux that morning, and Edward had a swift remembrance of the
still, frosty morning when he stood there, unconscious, and watched the
glittering coaches slipping away, Frances in one of them; and he thought
of all the tangle since.

Frances had wondered with secret amusement what Susan would say to the
guest. The old darkey was the soul of affability. The house was in its
regular, quiet order, and was spotless. She waited on the table, brisk
good humor in every movement. The boy was out of sight.

Soon as the dinner was over she asked "Marse Robert" to step into the
kitchen. "I done discharged dat boy," she announced briefly.

"Why, Susan, what was the matter?" the professor asked carelessly.

"I got no need o' him nohow, an' Ise tiahed o' his sass, an' Ise tiahed
o' seeing so many folks aroun'."

The professor secretly agreed with her.

"He wants his money," went on the old darkey, shamefacedly. "He 'low as
how he's comin' back dis ebenin'."

"All right. How much is it?"

Susan named a sum, and the professor handed it to her, and hurried on
into the library. He had had no such opportunity for days for a talk
with Montague, but he found that young man so inattentive a listener
that he was not sorry when Frances pulled aside the portière and called
that she was ready and the horse was there.

Frosts and rains had made the roads rough, but here and there by wayside
path or sandy stretch, the mare showed her gait, swift and smooth. It
was a beautiful world through which they rode, the mists closing about
them shutting in the distant peaks and clinging to the bare fields'
breast and condensing in jewelled drops on fence and bush and dried
brown grasses; and the exhilaration of movement, the comfort of
thoughtful, watchful companionship which roused no hateful mood, cheered
the young girl to forgetfulness of all else.

But there was the next day for remembrance, when the rain shut her in,
and the storm lashed along the mountains and beat across the quadrangle;
and the next, when the clouds held sullen guard over the hill-tops.
Three days had gone by, and Lawson had not returned. It was the evening
of that third day that, sitting in her old chair before the library
fire, while her father was reading absorbedly not far away, Frances
heard the bell ring sharply. She did not know that every nerve in her
was tense as she heard the voice in the hall when Susan opened the door.

"Mr. Lawson," said Susan, coming into the room; "he walked straight on
into the parlor."

Frances kept her face turned away; she felt the hot flush there, as she
got to her feet and pulled her fleecy scarf about her bare neck. There
was a strange feeling of suffocation in her throat, but she set her lips
firmly and held her head high as she walked across the hall, her gown
rustling about her.

"Frances!" Lawson sprang to meet her as the portière dropped behind her.

What she saw in his face and what she felt in her own heart held her
speechless, but to Lawson it looked adorable confusion,--the warm flush
and lowered lids, and red, proud mouth.

"Frances!" He strode across to her and would have put his arms about
her, but that she shrank back.

His eyes showed quick amusement. He loved her a hundred times better so,
with all her changeableness; he was never quite sure of her or of her
mood.

"You do not know how I have longed to see you," he whispered. Her
eyelids fluttered up, he had one searching look from darkened eyes, and
then he knew he must make his peace.

"In Richmond," he began--"but you are not going to stand here?" He
stood aside as she went past him, her scarlet skirt swishing against his
feet, and he watched her with a delight he would not let her know for
worlds. So she was angry!

He followed her and leaned against the mantel. She, too, was standing,
as if to intimate that what he had to say were best said quickly.

"In Richmond," he began again, and hastened on, "I didn't see--you don't
know what I wished for you,"--he would act as if there were no possible
shadow between them,--"I searched the stores and searched. I went to
Washington--" Surely this were explanation enough, though he had a swift
and guilty remembrance of the one brief day in Washington, of the
theatre party and the supper at the Jefferson when he came back to
Richmond that night, which Elizabeth Martin had been so quick to arrange
at his invitation and to promise not to write of, and then of the german
next night. They had trusted to Frances not hearing, and she had not,
nor ever did.

He drew from a pocket of the overcoat he still had on, a satin case and
laid it on the table, watching Frances with keen delighted eyes. The
mouth was drooping a little now, the cheek paling, there was even a
suspicion of tears about the lowered lids.

"Are you not going to look?" he asked softly as he touched the spring
and threw back the lid.

Frances scarcely turned her head, though the sparkle under the electric
light was magnetic. The young man made a step closer to her, put his
hand upon her shoulder as if to turn her face toward the table; but
Frances shrank back into the chair close by and hid her face against the
cushions.

All her anger, her jealousy, were but a part of her own wretched self,
and he was innocent, her generous heart accused; she was shamed to the
quick.

But Lawson had no key to this. He was genuinely frightened, and quick as
the fear was the old ungovernable will to win. He knelt by her, striving
to pull her hands from her face, whispering all the endearing words he
could muster.

He cursed his folly and the insanity that had beset him. He knew, why
had he ever thought of it lightly, that she was the one thing the world
held for him desirable. He was wild with fear. He would try one other
way.

"Frances," he pleaded finally, as he got to his feet, "if you do not
look at me, speak to me, I shall--I shall know you do not wish to at
all," his voice was as firm as he could command it.

And Frances stumbling to her feet with face averted, held out her hands.

It was many minutes later that he began to talk to her of the jewels.
They were magnificent. Frances' simplicity was affrighted. It was a part
of his composite nature to remember her with passionate devotion while
he was outwardly forgetful and to search for the finest gems he could
find.

"I can never wear them," faltered Frances.

"But you will, and many others," he assured, as he went on ardently to
tell her of all he should do for her, not obtruding his wealth, yet not
losing sight of it; but when he was done he was astonished at Frances'
answer. She was looking at something in her own heart and striving to
show it to him.

"Do you know," she began falteringly, "there is something I must tell
you. You must be quite sure--you may think you do, but you must be sure
you--you"--the voice sank very low--"you love me!"

"Love you," pleaded Lawson, "there are no words to tell you how I do!"
and there were none for the depth and height of the love he felt then as
he looked into her wistful eyes.

"But I am afraid I am unreasonable--or--or-- Let me tell you," her voice
was distinct and decided now. "I cannot stand a half-hearted devotion, a
devotion to be shared with--"--"every pretty face" her heart said, but
her lips--"with any one. Better nothing at all. Don't offer it to me!"
She was speaking wildly, perhaps, remembering some things. "A man's
whole love I should demand, pure, sincere, unshared, or nothing. I--"
she faltered, seeing Lawson had grown white to the lips.

"I love you!" he said hoarsely.

"Yes, now," the girl insisted; "but a year from now--ten?"

Lawson turned away, strode back to her and looked questioningly,
sternly, into her eyes. Even in her excitement she knew he was white as
his shirt, that his eyes glowed strangely and his hand as he grasped her
arm was cold as ice. She felt herself trembling as she leaned against
the mantel, awaiting his words breathlessly. As she had appealed from
the depths of her being, so she expected the truth from his. Were he
given to wavering it were better, it were the only manly thing to do, to
tell her even now and free her. She could live through that. The other
were impossible.

But he made no answer. She saw his chest heave as a woman's might in
anguish, she saw the set of his face, strong, determined, though the
pallor lingered. Then he spoke suddenly.

"Your father is in there?" he questioned, motioning across the hall.

"Yes," she said, her eyes wide with wonder.

"I am going to speak to him, Frances." He took her hands gently, "I am
going to ask him to give you to me."

This, then, was his answer. Her lips trembled. Lawson looked long and
searchingly, saying no other word. He bent, kissed her, almost as if in
consecration, and walked with quick step across the room.

Frances leaned, shaken with tremulous happiness; she saw the glitter of
jewels on the table and smiled happily, she took from its case the hoop
of diamonds and ran it on her finger, her eyes too dim to watch its
sparkle aright. The others she left untouched. She heard the voices
across the hall, and she remembered again, with a shock of sorrow, what
this would mean to her father. How could she leave him; how could he let
her go? She walked across the room restlessly, she heard a chair pushed
back--Lawson's footstep. A sudden shyness possessed her.

Down at the end of the room was another door, opening on the hall behind
the stairway, she closed it softly, and stood there hidden as Lawson's
quick step rang across the hall; then she slipped into the dining-room,
and pulled aside the portière.

Her father's head was sunken on the table, his arm flung above it. She
ran up to him. "Father," she pleaded as she bent over him.

But he never moved.

"Father, don't think I love you less," she whispered.

He pushed back his chair and faced her. "Did you know," he demanded,
"did you know Lawson was a divorced man?"



XVII


"Divorced!" She felt herself reeling, hands outstretched before her,
feeling for something tangible. "Divorced!"

"My God, I might have known you did not know."

"It's not true!" she whispered hoarsely.

"True!" repeated the professor with bitter emphasis.

"Then--why--" Frances put her hands up to her throat. Her father swept
his arm about her and half lifted her into the dining-room and into the
kitchen beyond. They would have no scene which that rascal there could
look upon--the professor never varied his term again--say no wild words
he could hear. The kitchen was deserted, Susan abed. The father put his
daughter down in the darkey's old flag chair beside the stove where the
fire yet gleamed.

"God only knows," he groaned, "how it was we never knew it."

"Did he tell you?" whispered Frances.

"Yes, he told me," grimly, "he asked me--he said he had your consent,
Frances."

The girl, white, wide-eyed, nodded her answer.

"It would have been hard--but you know--you know--"

She felt for his hand on her shoulder and clasped it, she knew he would
do anything he felt would make for her happiness.

"I had not thought much; I had not even--I had thought--" he blundered,
daring no word of what he had borne dimly in mind. "How blind I have
been! I should have known!"

There was dead silence between them, only the crackling of the dying
fire in the stove. The dark was insupportable. The professor felt for
the electric bulb and flashed up the light; it gave him courage.

"When he first spoke, I was dumbfounded. I asked him if"--he came back
to his daughter's side. "He told me"-- Again the silence. "Then he
began to speak of settlements, _settlements_! He hesitated along time,
and then he said, 'You know, I suppose, I am a divorced man!' I felt--"
He clenched his hands, the veins stood out in his forehead. No need to
put the emotion into words.

Frances got to her feet and pushed back her chair.

"Where are you going?"

"To speak to him!"

"You shall not!"

"I shall!" She walked past him, drew a glass of water from the spigot
above the kitchen sink and drank it.

"I must!" she said more gently, "and, father, you must trust me. No!" as
he made some motion to follow her, "I shall need no help!" proudly.

She went in by the door through which she had left, went softly, and
Lawson did not hear her. He stood before the fire waiting, all his soul
burned and scorched with the agony he had felt when first he faced what,
spite of his brave words and courage, would ever be to his inmost self
a stigma--waiting!

For one instant all her heart cried out for him, as she saw the
attitude, the droop of his face, unlike the bravado she had sometimes
thought too gay. Then she went across to him.

He had not dared to turn. That first look, he knew, would tell him all.
He had not dared. She stood near. "Mr. Lawson." Ah, that tone told the
tale! He held himself upright and turned to look at her calmly.

"My father has just told me," she began; then, one look into his eyes at
the suffering she saw there, "Why, oh why did you do it?" she cried, as
she flung herself into a chair.

Lawson never touched her, never spoke, though she was sobbing bitterly;
but when the sobs quieted, "Do what?" he asked coldly.

"Live this lie!" she accused hotly, from the shelter of her arms.

"Lie!" he strode a step closer.

"You knew--"

"I knew every paper reeked with it five years ago--that I could not
pick up a sheet without seeing the shameful words. Every man I met home
or abroad showed his knowledge of it. It's been branded on every hour of
my life since that cursed day."

"You knew we did not know."

"How should I? Why shouldn't you?"

"You should have told--"

"Is it a pleasant tale to tell? No!" with slow bitterness, "I should
_not_ have told. Then you would have married me, and I--oh God!"

"Married _you_--_you_, with another wife!"

"Wife!"

"A woman bearing your name."

"She does!" sullenly.

"And I!" she cried. "And I?"

"You speak as-- You! You would have been my legal, loved, idolized wife.
Listen, for you shall know! My God, it's hard enough! I was a fool,
young! I had to send for my father to sign my license, and he, he was
taken in too. She was beautiful. Her family, her position-- Well, all
she wanted was money, and she got it. I paid her enough for my freedom,
God knows. She fooled us both."

"Paid her! And she is bearing your name, living on your money!"

"It was what she wanted! She got both!"

"And you, you loved her!"

Lawson shrank as if struck. "It was the passion of a crude idiot!" he
cried.

"And you tired of her?"

"Put it truthfully--she of me, if ever she wanted me!"

"You loved her, and you have forgotten her! How do I know," blazed
Frances, "that you might not forget me?"

"Frances!" the young man raised his hand, as though to ward off a blow.

"Forget me--_me_!"

"Frances, you cannot dream, I cannot tell you. She--she wanted only a
man to shield herself behind"--the girl he spoke to could not know what
he meant, and he could not dare to make her understand, even to excuse
himself--"and the money for jewels and clothes and fine living and
show." He could not tell her of the life that woman led, which might be
fast and might be worse. "I'm no saint, but I could not stand it. She
took scant time to show me what she thought. Once--once--

"I tell you with truth I thought at first that you knew it. I thought
every one, wherever I should go, would know. It was a spicy enough
scandal for the paper's headlines; I thought it blazoned everywhere,
even if it were five years ago."

"We never read such things," said Frances in indignant defence.

"So I find; but even then, there is always some one ready to speak."

"There was none here."

"So I find," he repeated wearily, "and so all this blunder."

"As to you knowing, Frances," he said gently, "I knew you did not. I
tried to tell you once, and then, the opportunity gone, let myself stray
in this fool's paradise." It was paradise to him, now the gates were
closed. "I feared your crude views; you will never know the temptation I
fought to be silent."

She started to speak, but he raised his hand deprecatingly. "Leave me
no bitterer words to remember," he begged. "I shall say good-by!" He
spoke with steady dignity.

She held out one hand unsteadily. He took both, and, looking down, they
saw the sparkle of his ring on her finger. Without a word she slipped it
off and gave it to him. He thrust it into his pocket.

"The others," she whispered.

He snapped the lid and thrust the case after the ring.

"Good-by!" he said once more. "I shall not say I will not see you again.
I am not given to heroics. I," he spoke bitterly, "am commonplace,
quite. It is likely I shall stay here as if nothing had happened, but
this is good-by!" He raised her hand, kissed it where his ring had been,
and was gone.



XVIII


It was five years since he had had any word from her, that woman who
bore his name out there in the West, and whom he remembered with fierce
shame, or put away from his thoughts with cold bitterness.

He sat all night in the chair in which he flung himself when he came
back from the professor's house to his room. The fire died in his grate,
he did not heed it; he was cold as ice, he did not know it. The stars
paled and faded as he sat there. He was making no plan of life, raking
no old memories; he was stunned, dazed.

The negro whose duty it was to kindle his fire, hurrying in at his
unlocked door, found him there asleep, his face white and ghastly under
the glare of the full light. The coal scuttle the boy held fell with a
clatter to the floor. Lawson stirred and opened his eyes.

"Boss," the negro chattered, "'fo' Gawd, I thought yuh was daid!"

Lawson looked at him dully.

"I'se late, monstrous late dis mornin'," he blurted, still scared at
Lawson's look. "I'll mek yo' fiah in no time!" He knelt before the grate
and began cleaning it out with trembling hands.

Lawson still sat, the light shining full on him, his evening clothes,
the wilted rose in his button-hole, his heavy coat enwrapping him.

"Pos'man done been long," said the darkey as he slapped on the blower
and squatted on his heels to wait the fire's catching, "lef' yuh a
lettah." He pointed to a white envelope just under Lawson's fingers. The
postman had given it a shove through the slit in the door-panel made for
such uses, and it had slidden almost to Lawson's fingers.

He took it listlessly, turned it over, and dropped it as if it had
scorched him. Then he picked it up again, looked at it uncertainly; as
he read it, all the ghastliness fled from his face.

He sprang to his feet, searched for his suit-case and wrenched open his
closet door. He thrust some few clothes in the case.

"John," he commanded, "let that fire go out, lock up, and keep
everything straight! Straight, now, you hear!" He felt for a bill and
flung it to him.

John's fear fled at the sight of the money. "Dat I will, Marse Lawson,
dat I will. I'll tend to ever'ting. Is yuh gwine erway fur Christmas?"

Lawson was locking his suit-case; he stopped and looked at the negro a
moment, strangely. "Yes," he said, slowly, "yes, I'm going away for
Christmas."

The professor only knew there was another locked door on the corridor.



XIX


There were many other locked doors on the corridors and on East Range
and West Range. The quadrangle looked deserted. Edward Montague had gone
home. The friendly women in the other houses about the campus were too
busied in household doings to have time for visiting. Frances was left
to herself and to her house.

The Christmas-tide had always been a joyful holiday for her father and
for herself, a time of genuine merry-making and of real rest, when
Susan's cooking provided all good things, and the professor allowed
himself the luxury of lighter reading, and the two of them were free to
come and go as they chose. Frances was brave enough and proud enough to
leave no part of any preparation neglected; but her close-shut lips and
dark-circled eyes and white cheeks smote her father as nothing else
could have done.

After a few brief words that bitter night there was nothing more he
could say to her, and to watch her silent fight was agony.

Christmas day dragged miserably. The professor, watching his daughter
furtively, felt he could bear it no longer. He laid down the book Edward
Montague had sent him as a holiday gift and which he had been making
some pretence of reading. "Frances," he said suddenly, "how would you
like to go to Washington?"

Frances looked up astonished. "To Washington?" she repeated.

"I have been wanting to go for a long time," her father went on
hurriedly. "There are some books in the Congressional library I want,
and I can get them nowhere else, some manuscripts, too. I never seem to
find the opportunity to go. Suppose"--with boyish impatience, now that
the topic was once broached--"suppose we go to-morrow?"

There were tears in Frances' eyes she did not wish her father to see.
She got up and went to the back of his chair and slipped her arms about
his neck, and by and by she laid her cheek on his thick black hair where
the gray showed in the waves. Neither spoke.

Then the professor cleared his throat. "Suppose you run up and see about
my things and yours; we can take an early train and have part of
to-morrow there."

He had much to say of rare books on the journey next day, but when he
came back and met his friends and talked of his holiday, it was of
picture galleries and concerts and fine new buildings he spoke. The
listener would have guessed few hours with rare tomes, and would have
guessed correctly. The professor had spent one day in the library he had
been longing to visit for two years, and that he spent there because
Frances declared she would go nowhere else.

When Edward Montague came from his home visit and brought an offering of
a fine old ham from his father, over which Susan gloated in the kitchen,
and a box of delicious cake from his mother, and another of geraniums
and violets from the cherished plants in her flower-pit, the professor
had so much to say that the young man, lost in the brilliant flow of
criticism and description, had no time to notice Frances' quiet, and
thought her unwonted pallor no more than the result of the dissipation
her father so gayly talked of. Montague found himself in his old
position in the household. There was something in Frances he could not
understand, but her manner was most kind. There was a new friendliness,
too, in her intercourse with others. Her simple content no longer made a
shield about her; instead, the careless happiness gone, the fight with
sorrow bred no selfishness in her generous nature, but brought a
thoughtfulness for others, a gratitude for the human touch and the
little unnamable kindnesses that link friendly folk to their kind. She
found, too, a pleasure she had not dreamed in the simple neighborliness
of other households.

Lawson, back at the University, was an alien, who, failing to find his
place amongst them, was again one of the student world. But he was one
of the students of whom the professors were beginning to talk. He
resigned from the eleven, doing no practice work now, and settled to
grim, hard study that in a month showed good results and promised the
brilliancy the Faculty had half suspected and half despaired of. The men
who found the way to his room expecting something of the old cheer,
found the way out again, and kept it. There was nothing in the reticent,
haughty fellow, who had cut athletics and cut the women, too, and
settled down to a steady grind, to attract them.

His room lay up the corridor; he changed his dining-hall, there was no
duty to take him down the quadrangle, and he kept to his own way.

He avoided Frances, but he saw her oftener than she knew. When he saw
what he read rightly as the heart-ache that showed upon her face, the
baser part of him cried out with a great temptation. When he saw, later
on, the flicker of color in her cheek, the spring in her walk, he
thanked God that he had not yielded to that cry. He had never spoken
more than a word of greeting. He had met her father somewhere on the
grounds, and, though he had doffed his cap readily, his bow was as cold
as the professor's was.

But when he saw Frances going about with something of her old cheerful
air he ceased to avoid her. It was not necessary, he told himself, with
bitter self-disdain. And when he glimpsed her one day walking in from
town through the gates and along the way they had come in the autumn
days, he walked straight on, bowed, and passed her. He saw her startled
eyes, for she had been looking down and walking slowly, and despite his
pride he turned and watched, half longing he might walk by her side
along the ribbony path under the arching trees. He knew, with sudden
swift memory, that so the skies had looked, primrose on the horizon and
in the west clear green and far above the blue, and so the bare branches
had rocked against the sky as they walked home together. But Frances'
footsteps were quickened. So! he would go his way. And Frances, hurrying
faster and faster, fleeing the very memories he was recalling, and yet
carrying them with her, felt her hard-won control gone at a breath. As
one who strives and strives, and believes he has at last attained,
faces, at some unthought-of trifle, failure,--it is not always failure;
it is often fear which shakes him, and which, when it is conquered,
leaves the bulwark higher and firmer.

But Frances ran past Susan at the door and up the stair. Her heavy furs
were stifling her; she flung them off. What should she do? she was
asking herself wildly. Own herself defeated, say to herself there was a
voice in her heart stronger than all else? She threw herself face
downwards on her bed, and shook with her sobbing; and though her cries
were stifled, Susan, in the hall where she had stolen, startled, scared
at what she had seen in Frances' face, Susan heard.

Susan went softly back down the stairway. "Lord," she moaned as she
wrung her skinny hands, "Lord, what we gwine do now? Dyar's Marse Robert
away, an' a good thing too; dyar's no mother, nuthin' but me, Lord,
what _is_ I gwine do?"

She picked up an armful of wood and went upstairs.

"Honey," she declared briskly as she opened the door, "Ise gwine mek yo'
fiah, it's gittin' col', fer shuah!" She fussed about the hearth,
clattering tongs and shovel, and though there were no sobs from the bed,
there was no word. Susan was fairly beside herself. She swept the
hearth, the fire was aglow. She walked slowly to the footboard and
folded her thin arms on it and looked down at the face beneath her. The
eyes were closed, the lids red with weeping, the lashes wet, and the
mouth trembling pitifully. Susan looked long and searchingly. There was
suffering she saw there, suffering that she knew the hall-mark of, but
there was not the dumb white look of heartbreak. Frances had been nearer
that a month ago.

The old woman drew a long breath of relief. She pulled Frances' own low
chair to the bedside and sat down in it.

"Honey," she said, "yuh mustn't do so, 'twill brek Marse Robert's
heart." But her only answer was a fresh sobbing. "I don't min' seein'
yuh cry, no; 'twill do yuh good, but folks dat don't cry much, cries
hard; an' when yuh's done, yuh mus' stay done!

"'Tain't meant," she went on, "fer young folks to go wid long faces, no;
not till dey knows what sorrow is."

"Sorrow!" sobbed the girl.

"Sorrow, real downright sorrow; does yuh know what't is, honey? No! an'
I hopes to Gawd yuh nebber will. 'Tis to see de chile on yo' lap
a-dyin', a-dyin' day by day, an' yuh sittin' dyar, an' knowin' dat all
yuh can do is to watch de life flutterin', 'til by an' by it's gone! an'
den to know dat nobody cares but yuh; 'tis to see de man yuh done
married to wo'thless, lazy; to see yo' chillun hungry, an' to feel yo'
bones achin' as yuh wuks an' wuks to buy 'em vittils, an' den fer dat
man what ought ter be wukkin, too, to tek dat money an' spen' it, maybe
on some fool 'oman; to see him die jis' as he libed, no bettah, no wus;
to see yo' chile yuh's raised go off an' sen' no word back." The old
woman was rocking to and fro. She was telling the tale of sorrows which
wrung her heart when she lived them and wrung it now to recall; and she
was doing it purposely, with keen watchful glance, to rouse that other
sorrower to thoughts beyond herself.

She could see nothing gained. She sobered herself and looked down on the
knotted hands in her lap. She made up her mind.

"Miss Frances," she said, so suddenly and so decidedly that the girl
there on the bed started and opened her eyes, "Miss Frances, is yuh
moanin' fer yo'self or is yuh moanin' fur somebody else? If yuh's
moanin' fur yo'sef, hab it out an' be done wid it!" There was a touch of
asperity in Susan's voice; it had hurt her that Frances seemed so
untouched.

"But if yuh's moanin' fur some man, he ain't wuth it, dat he ain't!"
looking straight into Frances' startled eyes; "dyar ain't no man in dis
worl' wuth breakin' yo' heart about."

"I shall not break my heart," said Frances proudly.

"I guess Ise got sense ernuff to know dat! but if yuh's a-pinin 'cause
yuh's feard yuh hurt someone else, 'tain't wuth nary tear. Dyar ain't a
man a-libin', spite o' all his swearin' an' tearin' aroun', dat's gwine
to moan all his days, as he's eberlastin' 'clarin' he's gwine to do,
ober any 'oman; an' no 'oman ain't got no bizness to, neider."

"You must think, Susan, I-- I am not so conceited as to think anybody
will go 'moanin'' for me," angrily.

"Ise jes' talkin'," said Susan, unshaken.

"There's father," declared Frances with sudden energy, "he never--you
know he never loved any one but my mother," she said the last words very
tenderly.

"He's had his books," sagely, "an' he's had his chile, an' he's had me
to look after de house.

"'Long when I was a gal," went on the old darkey, as if in pure
reminiscence, "an 'oman if she didn't hab 'er fambly to look after, an'
was too ole to go cavortin' 'roun', didn't hab nuthin' to do but sit
erroun' an' stay in de pa's house or de brother's an' be tookin' cyar
of; an' dey'd be wishin' all de time dey'd took dis one or dat one or
any one, so's not to come to dis. But laws-a-me! if yuh don't git
married nowadays, dyar's a plenty to be a-doin'! Dyar's Miss Robin--
Honey, does yuh ebber specs to be married?"

She saw the indignant flash of Frances' eyes, and chuckled inwardly. She
wouldn't be crying there long at that rate. The tears were gone now, and
soon the marks of them would be.

"Does yuh think yuh'd like to git married?" protested the old woman
remorselessly, "'cause, if yuh do 'tis time yuh was lookin' aroun'!"

"Dyar, ef dat don't fotch her," declared Susan to herself, "nuttin'
will!" But it did.

Frances sat upright. She had a wholesome respect for matrimony, and the
speech had told. "What do you mean?"

"Jes' what I says!" calmly. "Dyar's two or three young men Ise got my
eye on; some o' dem is mighty nice!"

Susan knew, perfectly well, the only matrimonial danger she had ever
feared for her darling had passed, but she shouldn't pine for that one,
not as long as the old darkey had breath in her body.

"I tell yuh, Miss Frances," she said, "I suttenly is sorry fur young
gals; dey goes erlong so bright an' so easy, eberything their way, an'
when dey runs up all a-sudden on a big wall dat's got 'trouble' writ all
ercross it, dey don't know how to get erroun' it nohow. Den, too, it
suttenly does seem to me dey has some mighty hard questions to settle
when dey know a mighty little, a mighty little."

Frances slipped to the side of the bed and put her hand lovingly on the
old darkey's knee.

"Susan," she said, with a look that told the old darkey how thoroughly
understood she was, "you have wasted enough time on me."

Susan was instantly conscious and embarrassed. "La, Miss Frances!"

"But I sha'n't forget it, nor all the other things--all the other
things, you know, since I was so high!" spreading out her hands in a
line with the height of the bed.

"I 'clar', Miss Frances--"

"And now, even if I don't want to get married--"

"La! listen to her!"

Frances got to her feet briskly, "Bring me some hot water, Susan," she
said in her everyday cheerful manner, "and I know you are dying to get
to the kitchen."

The breach was rebuilt. The bulwark was higher.



XX


Susan, as she told her troubles for another's healing, thought of them
as past and gone. There was a fresh sorrow at her door. She asked for an
afternoon's holiday, got it, and went away. She came back, ashy and
shaken.

"Marse Robert," she told him, soon as he and Frances came in the hall
door, "Ise gwine leab yuh."

They stood too astonished for speech.

"Ise gwine leab yuh!" The old woman steadied herself against the frame
of the library door. "Bill--he's come back!"

"He has!" said the professor testily.

"An' he's sick, an' he's got no home."

"And you feel yourself called on to take care of him?"

"Who else gwine do it? Ise gwine tek him home!"

"Out there!" exclaimed Frances, in dismay, and then she asked
practically. "What's the matter with him?"

"De Lawd only knows! He's jes' all crippled up, an' his-- Lawd! Lawd!"
The old woman broke into loud sobbing.

"Now, Susan!" comforted Frances, "don't worry; of course you want to go,
and you shall."

"I done sont word to Roxie to come hyar an' cook fur you."

"I'm glad of that!" said the professor. He had little sympathy with the
prodigal who only came back to be a care.

"I'll carry you both out to-morrow," declared Frances, "but don't you
think you ought to go and warm the place up and get everything
comfortable?"

"He ain't so bad as he was," said Susan meekly, "he been in de
horsepittle a month, he said."

"And now they have discharged him, he's come down here on you!"

"Marse Robert, he said--" She stopped, knowing the flimsiness of Bill's
excuses, "He's de onliest chile Ise got," she added sullenly.

"All right! all right." The professor took off his hat and coat and hung
them up carefully.

"I specs yuh thinks ernough o' yours!" blazed the old woman.

"There, father!" Frances laughed as she slipped her hand through his
arm, "you haven't a word to say!"

The professor was cornered. "That's so!" he acknowledged, as he looked
proudly at Frances' bright cheeks and eyes--not so careless as he had
seen their glances, but with a sweeter thoughtfulness looking out of
their dark, gray depths.

"Well, Susan, you'll come back some day, I suppose?"

"Soon as he gits well!"

"Then, if there's anything you need--"

Frances looked back over her shoulder and laughed. She had already begun
to say, "Susan, you must take sheets and blankets--"

"I got plenty dyar."

"But they must be damp and musty."

"Bill says 'twas de rhumatiz," put in his mother.

"And take what you need right away out of the pantry."

"Miss Frances, if yuh'll jes' go into town an' buy me some things, Ise
got plenty o' money, Marse Robert so good to me, an' he pays me my wages
steady; Ise jis' been savin' 'em up. Here's ten dollars now." She felt
in the folds of her turban and brought out the bill.

Frances' hands were full for many days; she had to take the old woman
and Bill out to the cabin, to help straighten it, and air it, and stock
it with provisions, to go out day by day at first, and then whenever she
could; and to straighten out household affairs with Roxie at the helm.

"How dat Roxie doing?" asked Susan anxiously on one of Frances' visits.

Frances hesitated. "Fairly well!" she answered doubtfully.

"H'm! Ise glad I taught yuh to cook."

"So am I!" declared Frances devoutly, remembering some of her late
experiences.

"Don't yuh let her gib Marse Robert sech po' vittels he'll git sick!"

"One pet at a time, Susan, is enough," teased Frances with a glance
through the opened cabin door at Bill warming his "rhumatiz" limbs
before a glowing fire and looking the picture of lazy comfort.

Susan turned away discomfited, but only for an instant. "Hi-yi!" she
cried, "who's dat comin' down de lane? 'Fore de Lawd if 'tain't Marse
Edward. I 'clar'," she went on, watching Frances' reddening cheek with
satisfaction, "he suttinly has been good to us. We's been hyar nigh 'pon
fo' weeks, an' ebery now an' den-- Mornin', Marse Edward."

Frances walked quickly down the narrow pathway to where Starlight was
fastened to the fence.

"Yuh needn't be in sech a hurry!" grumbled Susan.

"Wait!" called young Montague, who had seen the manoeuvre. "I'm going
into town for my mail!" he declared, soon as he flung himself from the
horse; "don't you want to ride Lady? Here, Susan, I shot this, this
morning; you can make Bill his rabbit stew now!"

"La, Marse Edward, Bill suttinly will be glad."

"How is he? You will wait a moment?" he hurried into the cabin and out
again. The valley below lay bathed in misty sunshine, the green of the
grass by the stream and the red tips of the branches on bordering willow
and shrub showed where the February sun shone longest and strongest. To
young Montague, valley and hazy mountain peaks and the hillside cabin
were a fair winter's scene, and the girl waiting there by the gray
weather-worn fence was the heart of it.

"I will be ready in a moment," he declared, as with deft fingers he
unbuckled the saddle-girth from his horse.

"Is there anything else Bill would like?" he questioned, as he fastened
Starlight's saddle on his own horse.

Susan hesitated for a moment.

"Any game?"

"Bill, he did say," the old woman answered hesitatingly, "as how he was
honing for a 'possum. Dey ain't good much now."

"But a 'possum he shall have. Are you ready?" to Frances.

He held his hand and tossed her into the saddle. "Good-by!" Frances
called. "I'll be out again soon. Good-by!"

The old darkey stood watching them. "Lawd, if eber two folks was made
fer one 'nother," she said to herself, "dyar dey is; Miss Frances she's
jis' naturally born to rule some man in dat sassy, sweet way she got,
an' Marse Edward he look lak he suttinly would lak to be dat man; but
Miss Frances," the old darkey shook her head, "I don't know 'bout her,
dat I don't."

Miss Frances was putting Lady through her paces, despite red clay and
mire and shallow pools where the water yet stood. Heavy black clouds
were shouldering above the mountain peaks; the wind was from the east
and stung sharply against their faces.

"It's going to rain," declared Frances, anxiously.

"Oh, not to-day." Montague was seeing nothing of brown sodden fields or
long stretch of red road; he was wondering, wondering if he dared
translate to speech the wild beatings of his heart.

But the swift ride and Frances' gay speeches gave him little chance; the
cloud, forming long out of sight and coming up with ominous swiftness,
made fast riding imperative; the red clay splashed them from head to
foot; the wind, strong and damp and chill, whipped the loosened tendrils
of Frances' hair about her face and billowed her short riding-skirt.
Before they reached town the first drops were falling.

"We had better ride straight to the stables," Frances suggested.

"No, I'll send up for Lady at once. I'm going for my mail."

"Then you'd better go that way; I'll take this road." Frances bent above
the saddle; the rain was lashing her face.

When Montague reached the University the rain had become a steady
downpour. Frances had to leave him to entertain himself while she
straightened the household affairs, which Roxie had tangled in her
absence. The professor, coming in, was delighted to find him in the
library.

"I declare," he said, "I was just wishing you were here. There are some
things I want to ask you about, and I have a leisure afternoon. We can
go down town after dinner."

"In this storm?" protested Frances, who had just come in through the
dining-room door.

"Pooh! What does that matter? Edward is too good a countryman for that."

Truth was, the professor was intent on investing money in a new stock
company forming in town for putting up an ice plant; and as he had been
bitten once or twice, and as he had a good opinion of Montague's shrewd
business judgment and enjoyed also the companionship with him, he had
been hoping for some such chance. They were off soon as the meal was
over. From office to bank, from investor to stock floater they went.
Once in town the weather did not matter; but coming back on the long
walk from the cars across the grounds, the storm struck them squarely,
lashed and drenched them. At his door the professor drew a long breath.
"Pretty severe," he declared. "Edward, you'd better stay in to-night.
Telephone to the stables about your horse, and stay. We'll take care of
you gladly enough."

The wind and rain lashing along the corridor and across the quadrangle
argued with him.

"I scarcely know," said Montague slowly, as they thankfully closed the
door behind them.

Frances, coming down the stairway, heard. There was a line of anxiety on
her forehead. "I have been thinking of Susan," she began, as she reached
the last stair.

"She's safe enough."

"But it's so dreary, and the wind and rain are beating so furiously."

"Just look at us! Edward, I'd offer you a suit, only--" The older man
measured the younger's height with a laughing glance.

"No matter," Montague assured him, "and as for Susan," to Frances, "you
need not be uneasy. The cabin looked comfortable enough to-day, and it
has weathered many storms."

Frances' real fear was of the stream at the foot of the hill that must
be a raging torrent now, of the narrow bridge, and the tale her father
had told her that moonlit night as she drove across.

"This is one of the most dangerous places in the country," he had said;
"Mason was drowned here; he rode into town one day, and a heavy storm
came up. When he rode back at dusk he saw the water out and ventured on.
He was swept away. Miss Marion too; she would have gotten over safely,
but she mistook the bridge;" and Frances, shivering at his side, had
begged him to hush. Now she seemed to hear it over and over again,
through the howling of the wind and the lashing of the rain.

"You will not venture home to-night?" she asked young Montague
anxiously.

Edward, looking into her eyes, dark and grave and troubled as they
were, lost his head. "Not if you say so," he began unsteadily. Frances,
startled at his tone, and the sudden flashing light of his blue eyes,
shrank back.

"If you say--" he began again.

"Come into the fire, man; don't stay out there in the cold, wet as you
are." The professor's knees were already smoking before the hot coals.

He had lost his opportunity; but slow to decide and swift to act, once
the decision was made, he resolved to find it once more--to make it if
necessary. He made it. In the evening Frances pushed back her chair. "I
must go and see Roxie about breakfast," she said reluctantly. The group
about the fireside, the fire, the bright lights, while the storm beat
without, were very attractive.

Edward rose too. "I wanted to ask you," he began as he walked across the
room and held aside the portière, letting it fall behind them, and
closing the door likewise, "I wanted to ask you," as if it were an
everyday matter at first, but then his tone suddenly changed, "to
_marry me_!"

A ripple of laughter, half hysterical, broke from Frances' lips. She had
expected a question of his domestic affairs. It was, but not of the kind
she thought. She steadied herself against the dining-table. "I thought
you wanted--"

"I want your--self," he insisted.

The crucial winter days had taught Frances a bitter humility and
distrust of herself. Her lip trembled. "I am not worth giving."

"You will trust me to decide," coming a step nearer, a light of hope in
his face, and then, seeing that her own nervous fear was greater than
his, he took his reticence in both hands.

"I love you," he said very low, for remembrance of that other who might
be auditor. "You know it!" She shook her head. "You should! I think I
have loved you from that moment when I held you." Unconscious of the
gesture, he held out his arms and looked down upon his breast. Frances,
remembering how she had been sheltered, saved there, felt the hot tears
stinging under her drooping lids.

"Don't think of me," she pleaded, none the less wildly for her
whispering, "don't think of it. I--I will be--"

"Don't talk of friendship! Don't dare! I'll never be your friend!"

Frances shrank back, hurt, affrighted.

He came closer to her, leaned over, his eyes searching her face.
"Because I shall always love you, always, and I'll never give you up
either. Never! I shall always hope, strive for you, unless," he added
brokenly, "the day comes when you marry some other man. But," he
pleaded, "you will not, you will not." He slipped his hand over hers
where it rested on the table, "And I love you, will love you always!" He
waited a second in silence, straightened himself, and, though he was
deathly white, smiled at her. Then he turned on his heel and went softly
out of the room.

Before Frances could waken Roxie, asleep before the kitchen fire, she
heard the outer door slam. She ran out into the hall. Her father stood
there, anxious perplexity in his face.

"Edward has gone!" he cried in dismay.

"Gone! Father, why did you let him? Why didn't you _make_ him stay?"

"He didn't give me a chance"--the professor was thoroughly
provoked--"just said he was going! Listen!" as door and window rattled
in a great gust and they could hear the rain lashing across the
quadrangle and beating on corridor and house-top.

Frances could find no word to say of the horror and fear which possessed
her, remembering all the way he would go through the storm homewards,
the desolate road and wind-whipped, bleak fields and woods, and, down
there between the hills, the narrow valley, torrent-riven.



XXI


At the breakfast the professor was irritably anxious. "I wish I knew of
some way of getting at Montague this morning; he ought to have a
telephone put in!"

"You know why he doesn't," said Frances gently.

"I couldn't sleep last night, thinking of him."

The cup Frances held clattered in her trembling hands. Sleep! She
remembered the big fire, the bright light she had kept all the night;
she remembered how she had walked her room, had undressed, gone to bed,
gotten up, dressed again, and sat by the fire shaking like the trees
outside before the heavy blasts; remembered how she had resented the
blue of the sky, and the rose of the sunrise flushing the east, while
far off the fringe of heavy clouds fled away, when she flung open the
shutters to the morning; and how every moment since she had held
herself tense, listening, straining, for the tragedy she felt the night
held.

"That old woman might attend to the 'phone," said her father, going back
to his grievance. Montague had said long ago that with his all morning
and all afternoon absences from the house while his work took him from
field to vineyard, from vineyard to mountain-top, a telephone was
useless.

"I think I'll call up Frazier," he said at last, as he pushed back his
chair, "he's near and might know."

"Father, you must not; he would never understand his trying to reach
home last night."

"Neither do I!"

"You'll hear soon enough, if there's anything to hear."

"I shall be uneasy until I do."

Uneasy! Frances worked that morning as she had never done in her life,
swept, dusted, cleaned from one room to another. Susan would not have
allowed the labor for an hour; Roxie was glad enough to get it done for
her. Frances worked, piling up the moments, worked, and yet heard every
footstep in the corridor outside; at each fresh footfall her heart beat
to suffocation, then as they died away she drew long breaths and turned
to her tasks. At last, beyond the noon, the telephone rang. Frances had
the receiver at her ear, before the ringing stopped.

"Hello!" she called, "who is it?"

"Frazier!" The receiver almost fell from her hand.

"Well!" and over the long distance wire faintly was coming, "that old
woman, Susan, sent a boy over here just now, and said to 'phone you to
come out there right away and bring the doctor!"

"Bill," said the girl to herself, with a sobbing sigh of relief.

"All right!" she called, "I'll come at once!"

"Bill is worse," she told herself, as with trembling hands she rang up
first the stables, and then the doctor.

The doctor would go; she would call for him at once.

Before she turned away, her father opened the door.

On his face she saw the tragedy she awaited.

"Montague is drowned!" he cried. "My God!" for Frances had gone down in
a heap on the hall floor, the receiver swinging from side to side where
she wrenched it as she fell. "Susan! Roxie! bring me some water!"

"No!" Frances was struggling upright, "let me go, father! I don't want
anything!" to Roxie; "go on!" she waved her back to the kitchen
impatiently. "How did you hear?" she whispered as the scared darkey shut
the door behind her.

"His horse was found this morning, dripping, spent, riderless." The
professor was white as his daughter. "I--I must telegraph his father!"

"Don't!" pleaded Frances, "don't; he might be safe yet somewhere!"

The professor cut her short with a motion of his hand. "If he were,
don't you suppose we'd know! And he left my house!" he said bitterly.

Frances' head drooped.

"What will his father think of me?" he added.

It was not of others' words she was thinking; it was what her own heart
was telling her in great heavy throbs. "You have killed him! You killed
him!"

She put her hands up dully to her ears, but the sound was only the
louder.

"Frances!" Something in her face, her heavy drooping as she started up
the stair frightened her father, "What are you going to do?"

"I am going out to Susan's; she sent for me to bring the doctor out."

"You'd better let him go alone."

"I'm sure Susan wants me, or she would never have given such a message.
If there is anything I can do for her I ought to do it!" Her broken
sentences were spoken from the stair as she went up.

When she came down the trap was waiting. Her father went out with her,
put her into the vehicle and tucked the robes about her. The world was
flooded with sunshine, the grass down in the folds of the hills was
vividly green, the tree-tops, gray and brown, were tossing softly; the
professor thrust a bill in his daughter's hand. "Tell the doctor to get
whatever he thinks Susan might need."

Frances had one last word. "Don't telegraph yet!" she begged.

It seemed a senseless thing, but he did as she pleaded. The afternoon
was full of duties for him. He went through them mechanically and before
he was done had a sharp message from the doctor, "Come out at once!"

Frances had driven around for the doctor, told him briefly what she
feared for Susan, gave her father's message, and then, white and dumb,
had no other word to say through their drive. The doctor, glad of an
hour's quiet, lounged in his seat, as they made what speed they could
through heavy mud and mire and great pools of water; the dull sodden
fields and green patches of winter wheat and far-off hazy mountains
claimed scarce a glance, but once or twice he looked curiously at the
face of the girl by his side. He had held her, a new-born babe, known
every phase of her childhood and girlhood, and it cut him to the heart
to see that stricken look. He had his own dread of the cause likewise;
for the tragedy the professor told was one which had stirred the town.

Soon as they glimpsed the cabin, they saw Susan's spare figure standing
on the step, the door closed behind her, while she strained her anxious
eyes for help.

She hurried to the trap. While the doctor fumbled with his medicine
case, Frances sprang out on the other side. She hastened at once to the
door; she did not even hear Susan's anxious "Honey, maybe yuh'd bettah
not go in dyar!"

She pushed it open. There sat Bill by the fire. There, on Susan's bed--

Frances gave a great cry and sank on her knees beside it.

"Great God!" cried the doctor as he pushed her roughly aside, for there,
on Susan's bed, with closed eyes and no signs of life showing in his
face, lay Edward Montague. The doctor ran his hand under the covers over
the man's heart.

"He's libin'!" declared Susan, "he's been moanin' once or twice!"

"He's in a swoon. Bring me my medicine case! Give me a spoon! Chafe his
hands and wrists!" The doctor worked anxiously; there was a faint
flicker in the pulse, a slow beating of the heart. "Come away!" he
commanded as they went over to the window. "Where did you find him?"
asked the doctor.

"Down dyar!" Susan pointed down the valley with shaking fingers, "ebery
day o' my life Ise used to comin' out an' lookin' up an' down an' ober
to the hills, an' thinkin' 'bout de Bible an' de hills dat gib strength.
Dis mornin'--" Frances made an impatient movement, but the doctor
quieted her. He knew Susan must tell her story her own way.

"It sho' was a sight! Dis mornin' de meader was jes' as wet, an' de
grass was all flat where de watah done run off it, an' de crows was
flyin' an' callin' up in de sky. I kep' goin' to de do' an' lookin' an'
lookin', an' by an' by I sees sumpin' down by dat little fringe o'
trees, an' I knows, jes' lak dat, dat 'twas a man. I says to Bill--he 's
been hobblin' roun' right smart lately--'Bill, yuh come 'long, dyar's a
man down dyar.' An' when we got dyar we seed 'twas Marse Edward, an'
dat's all."

"How did you get him here?"

"Oh, we got him up, eben if he is right sizable." Susan had little to
say of her own feat, and of Bill's.

"I pulls off his clothes and gets him into bed wid a hot brick to his
feet, an' den I runs out to de road an' de firs' pusson I sees I sends
to Mr. Frazier's."

The doctor had been holding the whispered talk near the little window.
He had done all he could, and while he waited he made Susan tell the
tale, for the sake of the girl who leaned against the cabin side, that
stricken look yet in her face.

"Why did you send for her?" he asked sternly.

"La! Who I gwine git to help me if 'tain't Miss Frances?"

"Why didn't you send for her father?"

"Ain't I been libin' in his house all dese years," whispered Susan back
indignantly, "an' don't I know he's nebber to be 'sturbed when he's at
his work. He's down at de hall now!"

The doctor went back to the bedside. He motioned Susan and bent to his
work again.

By and by the inert figure stirred; there was a faint flush of color in
the white face; the doctor put a spoon to his lips, again and again. The
young man opened his eyes, looked at him without a glimpse of
recognition, turned a little on his side, and fell asleep.

"He's dry--quite?" the doctor whispered to Susan.

"I stripped off ebery rag he had. He's got on Bill's shut now."

A smile twitched the doctor's mouth, but he went on gravely enough. "Is
the brick hot?"

"'Tis de third one I done put in dyar!"

"Keep the fire going all you can!" to Bill. Bill before the fire piled
log after log with utmost quiet. The doctor pushed a flag chair
noiselessly towards Frances; Susan, used to long waiting, drooped by the
footboard; the doctor walked to and fro with noiseless footsteps from
bed to window. Out there, the narrow valley was flooded with sunshine,
the stream running full and red with the clay of the fields it had
ravaged; in here lay the victim of the flood. He took out his watch,
slipped it back again, looked long out of the little window towards the
distant purple peaks, went back to the bedside, looked, leaned
over,--turned, his face beaming.

"Perspiration!" he whispered, as he touched the edges of the young man's
forehead.

"You mean--" gasped Frances.

"He's all right, for the present, if he doesn't have pneumonia. My dear
child!" for Frances went white to the lips.

"No!" she steadied herself, "I'm not going to faint! Thank God!"

The doctor laid his hand on her shoulder gently, "I shall send for your
father at once, and when he comes you must go."

"Why should I?" she flashed. "He needs--"

"Nothing that we cannot do!" And he listened to no argument. He scarcely
allowed the professor to stay long enough to let slip from his lips the
joy that brimmed his heart, but with significant look at his daughter
sent them homewards at once.

It was dusk then, and they went quietly both with joy in their hearts,
and both with memory, likewise. The father, all the deep waters of his
life stirred by the despair and the gratitude held so closely together,
saw, as in a vision, the love of his life who had driven along this way
so often by his side, and sent his whole heart out to the memory of her.
His daughter saw first a pleading, earnest face, and then the white
unconscious one; listened to earnest words, that pleaded more strongly
now the speaker's lips were closed, remembered all the thoughtfulness
and kindliness in which she had read only friendliness, and in which she
read now deep, strong love, a love that placed her own happiness above
all else. To each their vision, sweet and bitter, bitter and sweet.



XXII


Montague escaped the dreaded pneumonia. He rallied, at first it seemed
rapidly. He begged a letter should be written home making light of all
exaggerated rumors, and that he should be moved to his own home; but
heavy cold and wrenched nerves and bitter memories were poor aids to
health in his big empty house, where Susan stood guard over him and Bill
kept watch in the kitchen.

The doctor went to see him and the professor. Two weeks went by, and the
doctor was first surprised and then discouraged. Driving in from one of
his visits he saw the professor on the sidewalk. He drew rein.

"How is Edward?" asked the professor quickly.

The doctor shifted the reins he held carelessly. "So, so," he said
lightly, "not so well as I thought he would be by this time; it's dull
out there."

The professor was listening, an anxious furrow down his forehead. "I
will take him out some magazines."

"Hm!"

"And--what do you think he needs?"

"Company, I guess. Helen"--Mrs. Randall--"wants to go out. Every time I
go I have so many other visits to make I cannot manage it."

"I'll take her!" eagerly interrupted the professor.

"Suppose you do. Beautiful weather," the doctor wandered on aimlessly;
"feels like spring."

The professor listened impatiently; he was hurried, and had no time for
weather comments.

"There's a honeysuckle in bloom out there!" he pulled a great sprig of
it carelessly out of his button-hole, "it's sweet, smell it!" The
professor sniffed at it disdainfully and handed it back. He felt it a
travesty that two of the busiest men in the neighborhood should be
standing on the busiest street of the town, its life surging about
them, talking of spring weather and honeysuckle.

"Give it to Frances!" and then, as if in afterthought, "take her out
too!" He had made some curious prescriptions in his practice; "It will
cheer him up!" And he was off at once, driving rapidly down the street,
chuckling to himself as he looked back at the professor still standing
there, honeysuckle in hand.

Take the doctor's wife out, and Frances? Why not? The doctor's wife was
anxiously willing; the professor was half angered that Frances was not;
only he gave scant heed to her indecision. "We are going this
afternoon," he said; "if you have anything you think he would like to
eat, fix it up for him," and Frances was forced to hide her reluctance
in active preparation.

The professor was worried, too, to notice, once they were there--and the
joy of their host was pathetic to see in his white, worn face--how few
words Frances had to say of their thankfulness at his recovery. He had
been looking after the affairs of the farm on each visit he made. When
he got up to go out to a distant field Susan saw him. She had been
talking to Mrs. Randall, who was busied in the storeroom putting away
the custards and jellies she had brought.

"Marse Robert," Susan called, soon as she had nearly caught up with his
rapid steps half way across the orchard. "Marse Robert, Ise comin' back
soon as Marse Edward is well. He is well 'nuff now!" she sniffed,
remembering some of his crossness.

The professor stood looking down on the ground. "Susan," he said, when
she had finished, "I'll come for you when you are ready. As long as I
have a home, there's a place for you; but I tell you now, _I will not_
have Bill hanging around!"

"Bill!" the old woman's big black eyes flashed. "He's gwine git
married."

"In the name of sense who will have him?"

"She!" Susan pointed with dramatic forefinger to the narrow high window
of the basement kitchen.

"She-- Why--"

"She's ten years older dan he is if she's a day, but Bill say she can
cook to beat de ban'!" The slang slipped glibly from the old woman's
tongue.

"What's he going to do?" asked the professor, after a moment's
astonished silence.

"First, he 'lowed as how he wanted me to give him de cabin, but, Marse
Robert, I suttenly didn't want to, an' while I was projictin' roun' in
my min' 'bout it, Marse Edward he want to know if Bill won't come hyar
to work. His rhumatiz is most gone. An' den when he heard dey wanted to
git married, he jis' laff an' say 't will suit him jis' as well; dey can
lib in de out-do' kitchen.

"Marse Edward seemed mightily tickled," went on the old woman, slyly.
"Seem lak he got some notions o' his own."

The blow told. The professor flushed, turned as if to go back, but
turned fieldward again. Doubtless Mrs. Randall would be there even now.
"Go on, Susan, into the house," he commanded.

Susan went into the kitchen. If that young man up there wanted to say
anything and ease his mind, she swore she would give him a chance;
maybe he would be more peaceable if she did. She sat down by the kitchen
fire quite unmindful of the fact she was spoiling the love-making Bill
was clumsily striving at, while he smelled the chicken steaming and the
hot rolls baking for the early supper, which Montague had ordered soon
as he had caught sight of his guests.

When she heard Mrs. Randall's slow footstep up the stair and hurried up
the other way, she found her charm had worked; her patient was peaceable
as a lamb.

On Frances' face was a look it warmed the heart of the old woman to
see,--the flushed, faint flickerings of the beginnings of a great
happiness.



XXIII


Lawson's hard study was bringing its own reward. There were high
opinions forming of him on quadrangle and in hall. But he gave no heed
to them. He was holding to a grim determination, and the interest he
felt growing stronger and stronger in his work was an incentive he had
not expected. It was not often his mind went back to idle memories, or
forward to visionary hopes; he lived as he swore he would do when he
came back to the University, and he kept to his purpose with the
self-will he had used in every other pursuit. As the days lengthened and
the grass greened on the quadrangle and the maple blossoms drifted on
the thick sward, the contest with himself grew harder. He had followed
the bent of his humor always, and, with spring-tide abroad, the old
desire for wandering came upon him. He had tramped, driven, roamed,
lived out-of-doors; had known a camp life in the Rockies, and the long
lazy days by the ocean's swell at Santa Barbara, and the lazy loungings
in foreign cities. Now when soft winds brought through his opened window
a breath of fresh fields and opening leaf-buds, and the languorous odor
of violets and hyacinths, and the hum of bees and the songs of
mocking-birds, his room, with its worn floor and ashy hearth and dusty
hangings, seemed stifling. The outside world called him.

He pushed his books from him, and his thoughts ran idly into a channel
forbidden. He got to his feet and picked up his cap. He would have a
long tramp up the sides of Mount Jefferson. As he opened the door the
postman, going his afternoon rounds, called to him, "Mail for you," and
held up a bunch of cards and papers and a letter.

Lawson glanced at them, stepped back into his room and closed the door.
The letter was from his father, in his own handwriting. He wrote seldom.
There was little he would say to his son through his secretary; and
what he said in his own style was ill-spelt, and his son was
college-bred.

His son tore the letter open, devoured it with quick eyes. "My God! My
God!" he half sobbed, as he leaned against the mantel, his face hidden
on his arms. But it was not anguish which drew the cry, nor joy; for
sorrow he would have set his lips and gone his way; and joy he dared not
yet name this feeling which surged in his heart. He was suffocating. He
opened his door, looked quickly up and down--he would see no one--almost
ran down to the Serpentine walk and so out beyond West Range to the
road, mountainward. Now he knew that the sun shone, that flowers were in
bloom and birds a-wing, that winds were soft and skies were blue.

He pushed his cap back from his forehead so that the wind might blow
across it, and he felt as if bands of torture and bitterness were
melting at its touch.

Overhead, the buzzards floated in lazy luxury of flying, the crows
called loudly; beyond the football grounds the farmer was planting the
red, fresh-ploughed field in corn; the golf links were green with new
growth. He leaned his arms on the fence and watched some distant
players, the opening buds of the wayside bushes making a screen about
him. Then his gaze strayed to the oaks beyond, their red buds tossing
softly. Farther on, the chestnuts showed pale leaves no bigger than a
squirrel's ear, and up the mountain-side the forest ran in delicate
waves of color, green upon green, and gray and red.

As he walked and breathed the pure air in an ecstasy of appreciation, he
saw coming down the path under the red-tinted oaks one who might have
been the spring expressed in physical form. Frances, her hands filled
with dainty blossomings and leaf-buds, was walking blithely toward him,
her face bright as the sky, and the peace that brooded upon it sweet as
the sunshine on mountain and field. He could not have moved if he would,
and he would not if he could. Hidden by the tangle of cedar and vine and
bramble, in the fence corner, he could watch her through half closed
eyes whose glance was a caress. Turning his elbow on the old chestnut
rail fence he watched her, scarcely breathing till she was abreast of
him. Then he spoke, but only her name.

"Miss Holloway!

"I startled you! You must pardon me: you see I have been watching the
players." He motioned towards the golf links. "Will you not wait a
while," he begged; "I was thinking of you the moment I saw you. It was a
dream come true," he added softly, "Thank God our dreams do come true,
sometimes!

"There is something I must tell you," he said, after a moment's silence,
while he strove to find speech for the thoughts he could not frame to
words, but which were choking him for utterance. "You will wait?" for
Frances had been too astonished to say anything beyond her murmured
greeting, and stood startled, as if for instant flight, the red and
white coming and going on her clear cheek.

"Last winter when I came to you," he blundered, and then the anger in
her face gave him sudden cool courage, "I was not free to do so--so you
thought, I thought otherwise; you will do me the honor to believe it,"
coldly; "for fear of some misadventure I told you--"

"I have not forgotten," said Frances gently, as if to save him the pain
of putting the thought into speech.

"Now, now--I have not said it yet, scarcely told it myself!--do not let
me frighten you--_I am free!_"

The delicate flowers slipped from Frances' nerveless hands down to the
ground and lay there in the path between them.

"Frances, I am free. Do you know what it means? That woman who bore my
name is dead;" if he never spoke her name in reverence before he did so
now, "she is dead. Did you think I went away for pleasure, Christmas?"
he hurried on, almost breathlessly. "She wrote to me. I had not heard
from her for five years. My lawyer was told never to mention her name to
me. But she wrote that very day, no, the next,"--he put his hand to his
head confusedly, he could not tell her all the pain, the bitterness, he
had felt,--"she wrote begging me to come. She was dying, she said. I
went; I telegraphed my father to meet me there. She saw us both; she had
not been so bad, perhaps, as we thought; it was the devil of show and
selfishness and restlessness which possessed her, and I must have seemed
to her at the first, long ago, to be a very fool, to be wheedled, to
be--I don't think she ever dreamed it was in me to leave her. She had
taken her divorce in half-angry, half-amused carelessness; so long as
she got what she wanted, what did it matter, and that was wealth! I must
tell you this, Frances, once for all, then it shall be dead between us,
as she is. The doctor said she would live a week. I came back, knowing
this. I saw you! You will never know how I was tempted, but there was a
vileness I could not sink to! I could not build dreams of happiness upon
the shortness of her life!

"If I had not studied until there was no thought day by day, week by
week--work! They think I love it. God! I have been buried, dead, have
been buried, and now am alive!"

He put his hand on hers, clenched before her. "You are thinking how
unlike I am to anything you ever dreamed of me. I am! I do not know
myself! Think if you can--five years of shame, and now freedom and the
world--and _you_! You are not shocked, Frances, that I am glad?"

There was no answer, except the breath of the wind over the fields, and
the rustling in the wayside bushes about them.

"Is it a dreadful thing to you that I should be glad?" he pleaded.

"No! Oh no!" Her trembling lips scarcely framed the words.

"Frances! Look at me!" he put his hand on her shoulder and felt the
convulsive sob that shook her. "Sweetheart, my darling," he began, with
broken words of love.

"No, no," cried the girl wildly, "you must not speak such words to me!
Wait! wait a moment."

By and by she lifted her head, looked long over the fields which lay,
the shimmer of heat pulsing over their greenness, and then she turned,
courage and decision in her dark eyes, though the tears still clung to
her long lashes.

"You have shown me your heart, and I--I am not the one to look into its
secrets. It's spring-tide there," she hastened on with poetic
simile--did she not keep to some such fashion she could not speak--"and
there are blue skies, and bird songs and flowers--"

"The rose of love," said Lawson softly.

Frances drew her breath sobbingly, "'Tis not the time of roses," she
said. "It is youth, and life, and ambition--"

"And love!"

"No!"

"And love, _and you_!"

"Not me! I am as much out of your life as she who is dead."

"You are not; you are here; you are mine, Frances!" with his old
masterful manner.

"I am not!"

"No one shall claim you!"

"Because," she said gently, "I am already claimed!"

"It is impossible!" he cried, never willing to own any other victor
where he fought.

"Why?"

"I will not believe it!"

"You must! It is true!" she put out a shielding hand, "and I think, _I
know_, it is best! I did not know it then, I do not know how I know it
now, but sorrow teaches much."

"Sorrow and you, Frances! But you shall never know it again." He owned
no defeat; it was his to make her happy.

"Did you think you alone had suffered?" she asked, a little bitterly. "I
learned many things in those long days. I learned the meaning of much
that had been but empty words. I learned," she went on lower, so low he
could scarcely catch the words, "much of myself. We would not be happy,
you and I together. No! I listened to you. Listen now! It must be
truth!" her sentences were broken. "I am selfish; it may be the fault of
one who has known so little divided affection."

"Divided! You know I should--" began Lawson passionately.

"And yours will always be so, on the surface; in your heart you may be
true. There is many a woman might trust you so, always; but I must see
that I have all a man's heart or none. I told you my weakness once
before." Even as she spoke, simply baring truths she had learned, as she
said, from sorrow, she was wonder-struck that she could find words for
them, deep as she had hidden them always in her heart.

"I remember!" said Lawson, as he bared his head.

"I would never have all of yours--ah! I know! Never!"

"I would always love you, always! Can you not see," indignantly, "how a
man can adore one woman and yet not be blind to all others?"

"No!" with hot energy, "I would not share my love with every pretty face
and every new ambition."

Lawson was too angry at the moment for speech, but Frances did not heed
it.

"No! By and by when your life would be full and happy, and you would
hail each new phase with eagerness, I, if I were by your side, would be
growing colder and less attractive in my iciness, and we should be--Oh
no!" with a dramatic gesture, "it is better so!"

Again there was a dreamy silence, the winds sighing softly over the
fields and singing in the trees.

"You have all your life before you once more," said Frances, after many
moments, "youth and wealth and freedom!"

"But you?" cried the young man.

"I!" she smiled softly, "think of me as the unattainable, and so," and
she showed how keen her knowledge of the man was, as she said it, and
how true her words of knowledge gained through sorrow, "and so you will
never forget! Good-by!"

"That other man," he insisted, without a notice of the finality of her
speech, "he loves you as you demand?"

The rose-red flush of her face answered him.

"And you love him?" he asked brutally, while he watched her
breathlessly, watched and saw, at the sudden question and the thought it
brought, the divine light stealing into her eyes; he had seen it before,
and for him!

He strode close to her, passionate words of pleading on his lips, and he
stepped on the delicate blossoms scattered at her feet.

She looked down at them, and his glance followed hers and then went back
to her face; he read her thoughts. So he had crushed with blundering
footsteps other blossoms more delicate.

He was silent. He stood aside to let her pass, and pass out of his life.

But he, wrestling with the passionate thoughts surging through him,
strode up the mountain-side farther and deeper into the solemn woods,
away from any man's track, alone, for his fight. He threw himself down
on the carpet of last year's leaves, far up on the crest, and lived
again her words. He had lost, and lost what he had come most to desire;
but back of it, like a strong sweet song vibrating through him as the
evening wind did in the tree-tops, were words she had used and his
father had written, and his heart now repeated. They set themselves to
one chorus "Free, free, free!" He could feel no bitterness, only a
mighty attunement to the vital influences of the spring-tide world and a
virile pulsing of might and ambition. He took out his father's letter
and read it again. There were sentences in it he could never forget.

"I have blamed myself for much of what looked like your failures." "I
should not have put so much wealth in the hands of a boy." "Fortune is
fickle; I wished to secure yours while I had the chance, so that you
might never know the poverty I had suffered."

He thought of the stalwart old man and how his heart must have been
wrung before he could write with such humility.

"I sent you on your way--to ruin, I feared, for many a day." "When at
last you pulled up and determined to take up your old studies far from
every memory, I hoped much; now I hope everything."

"When you have taken your degree, I need you." "I have claims enough to
keep you busy." "I want somebody with brains; I have thought you had
them, once or twice." "And remember you are your mother's only son."

Please God, he would remember!



XXIV


The professor had the faults of an absent-minded man, and the
peculiarities of a reticent one! Once his confidence was gained, there
was little he withheld, and he never quite remembered what he had told
or not told, and so, sometimes, blurted out a secret unwittingly.

It was with no thought of mischief that he said to Montague, "The
fellow's wife is dead!"

"Whose?" asked that young man in astonishment.

"Why, Lawson's!"

"Lawson's!" in incredulous horror; "he was not married?"

"Divorced, you know!"

Montague stopped short, the hazy, misty, spring-tide world reeled about
him.

"He met me on the quadrangle this morning and told me." The professor
did not add that his haughty manner of doing so had been a most
unpleasant and rankling memory all the day; nor did he know that his
uneasiness was the cause of his confidence.

"Said that, as I had known the other, he wished me to know this; as if
it mattered," testily.

"How long have you known?"

"Since--since Christmas." The professor was hot and cold, and saw with
lightning glance his blunder.

But Montague's manner assured him quickly. His instant return to the
subject in hand, his quick and voluble speaking on the affairs they had
come out to discuss, blinded him. He had been a fool, he told himself,
but it made no difference. It did.

They had been sauntering about the farm and out to the edge of the
corn-field. Bill at the farther end was replanting. The crows overhead
called raucously, the mountain at their side ran sheer to the sky-line
with its waves of color, gray, green, and vivid green. The valley far
below shimmered in the heat, and the far-off mountains beyond it lifted
slumberous peaks into the veiling blue haze. Montague had felt all its
beauty to the full; with his soft hat pulled over his eyes, and his
hands thrust in his pockets, he had been loitering happily about showing
the professor his spring work.

It had been a season of unnamable happiness to him; joy after joy
undreamed, because it was unknown, had blossomed in his heart, like the
sweet spring flowers in the circle of the flower-plot, unseen,
unthought-of, until they lifted their heads into the sunny atmosphere,
and all the world was more beautiful for their coming; hopes and plans
were unfolding about his life like the leaves on the old oaks, slowly,
sturdily, of beautiful growth, and steady persistence; the sunny
atmosphere of love enwrapped him and brought into his life--restrained
and chary of giving its best gifts, though steadfast, true, and
deep--thoughts beautiful as the butterflies unfolding their wings, and
sweet as the apple-blossoms flushing the orchard behind the great
house, which was no longer empty and lonely, but was filled with a
visionary presence.

Now its sunshine was blotted out at a word. He shivered a little as they
turned back. "Bring the mare around to the front!" he called as they
passed the stable. "I think I will ride back with you!" he added to Mr.
Holloway.

He left the professor to attend to some affairs in town, and when he got
out to the University he found that Frances was lazily asleep. He sent
to ask if she would take a ride, and waited with no show of impatience
until she came running down the stair, habited and gloved.

"A ride!" she called. "How delightful! If I had had Starlight, I should
not have been so lazy, but father was out with you. Has he any new
suggestions?"

"Not one!" Montague smiled, and in the darkened room, Frances did not
notice how white he was.

"We had better hurry!" she said, "or we will lose the sunset."

Montague opened the door as she spoke. The shadows of the maples
stretched long across the quadrangle, and the corridor and houses across
the way shimmered in the low and golden sunlight. The vine about the
pillar stretched brave new tendrils upward, and proudly waved its glossy
leaves.

Frances, with quick sight for each beauty of the outside world and ready
speech of field and flower and wayside growth and bloom, kept her own
blithe atmosphere about her, as they rode.

Far out where the road climbed high, she drew rein. They were in time
for the sunset glory. It flooded the valley below them with mystic
light, kindled the skies beyond the hill-tops with scarlet fires,
against which the peaks loomed dark, and sent banners of trailing clouds
far over the zenith.

With hands clasped upon the pommel, she watched the scene with delighted
eyes. Montague pulled his horse close to hers, and leaned over, his hand
on Starlight's mane. So, with the golden light of the sun streaming
around her, he could see every line of her face.

What he had to say to her he had determined to say shortly, bravely,
with no embroidery of verbiage.

"Frances," he said as he watched her intently, "I heard to-day that
Lawson's wife was dead; did you know it?"

Frances straightened in her saddle as if she had been struck. Her eyes,
which had been dark and dreamy, flashed. "Yes," she said shortly, "I
knew it!"

"Does it make any difference with you?"

"How dare you?"

"It's not a question of daring," he said simply, "but of truth. You
remember last winter--" he went on mercilessly.

Frances pulled up her loosened reins. "We had better turn here," she
said coldly.

But Montague never moved his hand. "'Turn here'?" He spoke of the way of
their love and she read his hidden meaning aright. "_Perhaps_, but not
now. You know, I know that you know, that I value your own happiness
beyond my own. I have thought--but maybe your happiness does not lie
with me, Frances?"

She was silent, a curve on her lips he had never seen and did not like
to see.

"Are you sure?" he persisted.

"No!" she flashed, "I am sure of nothing, certainly of nothing a man
will say or do!"

"It is no time for such words," said Montague; "you know I love you, I
could never tell you how much! Day by day I might show you, prove to
you--

"I believe," he flushed a little as he spoke, "I could make you happy.
But I must give you this opportunity; if there has been any mistake
you--you can turn back.

"Only if you wish." He had begun with renunciation; manlike he was
ending with pleading. "We have been so happy," he pleaded. He saw the
tremble of her lip, "I believe, I believe I could make you happy," he
pleaded the old words again.

The reins hung loosened on Starlight's neck, Montague's hand slipped
along the horse's mane until it rested on hers.

"Knows so little, knows so little!" rang a voice in Frances' ears. She
stole a glance at him as he waited. She knew, looking through veiled
lids, the lithe figure, the strong, earnest face and grave, serious
eyes; knew his sunny nature, his strength, his clean, honest love for
her. She remembered the agony of the day she thought him dead; she
remembered the joy of finding him alive; she remembered the happiness of
the days afterward--for they had been happy.

"Frances!" he pleaded, "I am waiting."

She straightened herself in her saddle, and picked up the reins. There
was a demure smile on her red lips, and a flash of amusement in the dark
eyes the young man could not see for the drooping lashes.

"Suppose we take the road ahead and ride around the other way
home--then," with a careless look along the road behind her, "then we
need not turn back."


THE END

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