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Chapter 7
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[Pg 91] 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 [Pg 92]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."

[Pg 93]

"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[Pg 94] 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.[Pg 95] 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[Pg 96] "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[Pg 97] 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[Pg 98] 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[Pg 99] 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[Pg 100] 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 [Pg 101]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[Pg 102] 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.

[Pg 103]

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[Pg 104] 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.


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