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Chapter 13
About five o'clock the next day, Lawson, from sheer restlessness, was one of a crowd of University men waiting on the platform of the station in the ravine for the trains from the west and south already due; chaffing, singing, laughing, guying, cheering, they were waiting, according to the daily custom of a holiday hour, for whatever fun the arriving coaches might furnish.

The electric arcs swung white light up and down the station, the smoke of a sidetracked freight hung low and heavy in the valley, the teams of the afternoon drivers were rattling across the high bridge, their occupants looking with laughing interest on the scene below. Suddenly with shriek and roar the Southern train was in.



[Pg 174]


The men gave a great yell. A young girl in one of the coaches flung up a window and looked out.


The young girl snapped down the window. Another face, curious and likewise pretty, showed at the pane. The young men were wildly enthusiastic.


"Vir—gin—i—a—" The yell drowned all other sounds, and Lawson was astonished to see, as it ended, Frances springing from her trap a few yards away and hastening forward. The conductor waited gallantly at the steps of one of the coaches, the porter came down another flight, laden with bundles, and at the door, their cheeks showing red with suppressed fun and excitement behind their veils, appeared the two pretty young women.

"Vir—gin—i—a—." The yell died away as the men saw the professor's daughter greeting the arrivals with laughing welcome. They fell to guying each other mercilessly.[Pg 175] But Lawson, standing not far away, came at once to Frances' assistance.

"Let me help you!" He reached for some of the bundles.

"Oh, thank you! Mr. Lawson, these are my Richmond friends, Miss Rowan, Mr. Lawson! Miss Martin!"

The young women held out their gloved hands and Lawson welcomed them impressively. He assisted them into the trap with careful gallantry, the strangers, both of them, in the back seat, the packages stored at their feet. Frances was subduing the antics of Starlight, who after standing quietly when there was need, took occasion to seem shocked at the engine now that his driver was in place and he felt the touch of the reins on his bit, and to stand protestingly on his hind feet and paw the air.

The strangers were frightened. "Can you manage him, Frances?" cried one.

"Oh, let me get out!" the other pleaded.

"We'll come up on the street car!" Miss Rowan declared, white with fear.

"Sit still!" commanded Frances, shortly.[Pg 176] "Come down, Starlight! behave yourself!" she reached for the whip.

"Don't strike him! There's no telling what he would do!" begged the visitors. Lawson, near, stalwart and interested, seemed a godsend.

"Do come with us!" pleaded Elizabeth Martin, who in all emergencies turned to the nearest man.

"There's no need," he began. Starlight had all fours on solid earth once more.

"Jump in!" laughed Frances, nodding to the empty seat; she pulled Starlight around, waited a second for Lawson to get in, and then came down sharply on Starlight's flank with the whip. The horse made a plunge, straight for the platform, the men scattered right and left, and Starlight went snorting up the winding road to the street above.

"Let Mr. Lawson drive!" besought Miss Martin.

Frances looked laughingly at the young man beside her. That other opportunity and this were all she could have wished to put them on a commonplace footing. The[Pg 177] old position and power and knowledge to hold her own, were all she wished for. Lawson looking into the clear, gray eyes felt a thrill of gratitude for the fortune which had befriended him.

Still, her answer may have held some hidden meaning for him, for he flushed a little when he heard it. "I prefer to hold my own reins myself," she said carelessly; "you know I never would stand much managing."

Lawson turned to talk to the young women behind him; so, he could watch furtively Frances' face and her cheek where the rose hue flickered, the white in the midst of it.

The streets were filled with the afternoon crowd, students in groups or alone, young women, older women, children; fancy turnouts and farmers' wagons, high carts, and heavy low ones filled with cordwood, young women in short skirts and heavy boots, young women in all the finery of new fall clothes and furs, loitering by the houses set flush upon the street, or by box-hedged gardens, the houses far back, or by smooth lawns.

[Pg 178]

The crowd was dense, but through it Frances glimpsed Edward Montague. He had seen her a minute earlier and was watching her wistfully, with a keen pang at his heart that now when he had seen her first for so long a time, she should be one of a gay party with that handsome young fellow at her side. She drew rein, soon as she saw him, and Edward hurried out to her.

"So glad to see you, Mr. Montague!" She leaned and gave him her hand. "Let me introduce you!" She named the young women. "You know Mr. Lawson?"

"Happy to have that pleasure!" said Lawson stiffly, remembering Susan's words.

"You must come and see us!" with a backward glance to her guests.

"I shall. I have just been out to your house."

"You have?"

"I met your father at the post-office; he told me you were home!"

"And forgot I was going to the station?"

"He did not mention it, but," quickly as if[Pg 179] in defence of his absent friend, "I left him waiting for you at home."

"We will hurry then; good-by!"

"Good-by!" He did not add that the professor had insisted on his return, and that he had accepted, but he carried with him a happy consciousness of the fact.

Frances had the same cordial invitation for Lawson, when they parted. She knew well that the young city women visiting the University in the middle of the term expected a good time, and a good time chiefly along one line. So while the professor was welcoming them in the hall, she lingered on the doorstep.

"You must help me make them enjoy their visit," she said, knowing she could not ask a better aide.

"I will, I shall be delighted!" answered Lawson fervidly.

"And bring your friends!"

"I shall bring them this evening."

"I wonder—Elizabeth, Mary, are you very tired?" she called through the open door.

[Pg 180]

"Not a bit!" they chorussed.

"Very well—this evening!" She gave him her hand. He stood a little to the side of the step and they were out of sight through the half-opened door. He held her hand closely and looked straight in her eyes, questioningly, compellingly, but Frances looked back calmly and carelessly, and wrenched herself free. "Good-by!" she called from the door.

Lawson went on to his room and threw himself moodily into the chair before the fire. It was smouldering. He punched it viciously and banged the blower over it.

"Beastliest way of heating a fellow's room I ever saw!" he grumbled, "I vow I'll freeze before mid-winter!"

He slipped into his smoking-jacket, turned on the glare of the light, pulled table and Morris chair before the fire, and sat down, book in hand, to some pretence of study, but other cases than legal thronged his mind. He flung the note-book on the table, wrenched off the blower, and then, with a half sigh of content at the blazing coals in[Pg 181] the grate, he sank back in his chair. He watched the flicker of the flames in the chimney's mouth; yellow and white and red and violet, the tongues of burning gas flared up the rough, black chimney's mouth, and the coals below glowed red and redder. But Lawson, looking at them dreamingly, was seeing the way he must go, and was growing stronger in his determination.

He would win her, yes! He had begun merely as a diversion from the study he sometimes liked and sometimes disliked, sometimes dreamed to win fame through and sometimes was intolerantly impatient of, counting, in a bitter moment, nothing worth effort.

He had begun, too, by draping traditions about Frances, every one of which, she had freed herself from; and he had ended by unquestioning acceptance of the fact that this woman, puzzling beyond his ken, was the one thing of the hour he desired.

The memory of Susan's words only strengthened his obstinacy. The shield Frances kept about her, thin as gauze, [Pg 182]impenetrable as steel, which he had fended aside once and once again, but made his fight the more interesting. He had no fault to find at any point of the situation,—only a wild impatience that he should have been thrust back when he felt attainment within his grasp.


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