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Chapter 2
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[Pg 19] 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,[Pg 20] 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.[Pg 21] 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[Pg 22] 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.

[Pg 23]

"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."

[Pg 24]

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[Pg 25] 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.

[Pg 26]

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[Pg 27] 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[Pg 28] 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'[Pg 29] 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[Pg 30] 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[Pg 31] 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[Pg 32] 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[Pg 33] 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."


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