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Chapter 5
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[Pg 58] 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.

[Pg 59]

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[Pg 60] 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[Pg 61] 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[Pg 62] 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[Pg 63] 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[Pg 64] 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 [Pg 65]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[Pg 66] 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.

[Pg 67]

"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[Pg 68] 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[Pg 69] 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[Pg 70] 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."


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