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Chapter 10
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[Pg 140] 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[Pg 141] 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.

[Pg 142]

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?"

[Pg 143]

"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."

[Pg 144]

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!"

[Pg 145]

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 [Pg 146]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.[Pg 147] 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,[Pg 148] 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[Pg 149] 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!"

[Pg 150]

"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."

[Pg 151]

"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[Pg 152] 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?"

[Pg 153]

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[Pg 154] 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.


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