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Chapter 11
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'!"

[Pg 156]

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.

[Pg 157]

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[Pg 158] 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[Pg 159] 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.

[Pg 160]

"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."

[Pg 161]

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[Pg 162] 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[Pg 163] 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.

[Pg 164]

"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—"

[Pg 165]

"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.'"


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