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Chapter 19
There were many other locked doors on the corridors and on East Range and West Range. The quadrangle looked deserted. Edward Montague had gone home. The friendly women in the other houses about the campus were too busied in household doings to have time for visiting. Frances was left to herself and to her house.

The Christmas-tide had always been a joyful holiday for her father and for herself, a time of genuine merry-making and of real rest, when Susan's cooking provided all good things, and the professor allowed himself the luxury of lighter reading, and the two of them were free to come and go as they chose. Frances was brave enough and proud enough to leave no part of any preparation neglected; but her close-shut lips and dark-circled eyes and white cheeks smote her father as nothing else could have done.

[Pg 237]

After a few brief words that bitter night there was nothing more he could say to her, and to watch her silent fight was agony.

Christmas day dragged miserably. The professor, watching his daughter furtively, felt he could bear it no longer. He laid down the book Edward Montague had sent him as a holiday gift and which he had been making some pretence of reading. "Frances," he said suddenly, "how would you like to go to Washington?"

Frances looked up astonished. "To Washington?" she repeated.

"I have been wanting to go for a long time," her father went on hurriedly. "There are some books in the Congressional library I want, and I can get them nowhere else, some manuscripts, too. I never seem to find the opportunity to go. Suppose"—with boyish impatience, now that the topic was once broached—"suppose we go to-morrow?"

There were tears in Frances' eyes she did not wish her father to see. She got up and went to the back of his chair and slipped[Pg 238] her arms about his neck, and by and by she laid her cheek on his thick black hair where the gray showed in the waves. Neither spoke.

Then the professor cleared his throat. "Suppose you run up and see about my things and yours; we can take an early train and have part of to-morrow there."

He had much to say of rare books on the journey next day, but when he came back and met his friends and talked of his holiday, it was of picture galleries and concerts and fine new buildings he spoke. The listener would have guessed few hours with rare tomes, and would have guessed correctly. The professor had spent one day in the library he had been longing to visit for two years, and that he spent there because Frances declared she would go nowhere else.

When Edward Montague came from his home visit and brought an offering of a fine old ham from his father, over which Susan gloated in the kitchen, and a box of delicious cake from his mother, and another of geraniums and violets from the cherished plants[Pg 239] in her flower-pit, the professor had so much to say that the young man, lost in the brilliant flow of criticism and description, had no time to notice Frances' quiet, and thought her unwonted pallor no more than the result of the dissipation her father so gayly talked of. Montague found himself in his old position in the household. There was something in Frances he could not understand, but her manner was most kind. There was a new friendliness, too, in her intercourse with others. Her simple content no longer made a shield about her; instead, the careless happiness gone, the fight with sorrow bred no selfishness in her generous nature, but brought a thoughtfulness for others, a gratitude for the human touch and the little unnamable kindnesses that link friendly folk to their kind. She found, too, a pleasure she had not dreamed in the simple neighborliness of other households.

Lawson, back at the University, was an alien, who, failing to find his place amongst them, was again one of the student world. But he was one of the students of whom the[Pg 240] professors were beginning to talk. He resigned from the eleven, doing no practice work now, and settled to grim, hard study that in a month showed good results and promised the brilliancy the Faculty had half suspected and half despaired of. The men who found the way to his room expecting something of the old cheer, found the way out again, and kept it. There was nothing in the reticent, haughty fellow, who had cut athletics and cut the women, too, and settled down to a steady grind, to attract them.

His room lay up the corridor; he changed his dining-hall, there was no duty to take him down the quadrangle, and he kept to his own way.

He avoided Frances, but he saw her oftener than she knew. When he saw what he read rightly as the heart-ache that showed upon her face, the baser part of him cried out with a great temptation. When he saw, later on, the flicker of color in her cheek, the spring in her walk, he thanked God that he had not yielded to that cry. He had never spoken more than a word of greeting. He[Pg 241] had met her father somewhere on the grounds, and, though he had doffed his cap readily, his bow was as cold as the professor's was.

But when he saw Frances going about with something of her old cheerful air he ceased to avoid her. It was not necessary, he told himself, with bitter self-disdain. And when he glimpsed her one day walking in from town through the gates and along the way they had come in the autumn days, he walked straight on, bowed, and passed her. He saw her startled eyes, for she had been looking down and walking slowly, and despite his pride he turned and watched, half longing he might walk by her side along the ribbony path under the arching trees. He knew, with sudden swift memory, that so the skies had looked, primrose on the horizon and in the west clear green and far above the blue, and so the bare branches had rocked against the sky as they walked home together. But Frances' footsteps were quickened. So! he would go his way. And Frances, hurrying faster and faster, fleeing[Pg 242] the very memories he was recalling, and yet carrying them with her, felt her hard-won control gone at a breath. As one who strives and strives, and believes he has at last attained, faces, at some unthought-of trifle, failure,—it is not always failure; it is often fear which shakes him, and which, when it is conquered, leaves the bulwark higher and firmer.

But Frances ran past Susan at the door and up the stair. Her heavy furs were stifling her; she flung them off. What should she do? she was asking herself wildly. Own herself defeated, say to herself there was a voice in her heart stronger than all else? She threw herself face downwards on her bed, and shook with her sobbing; and though her cries were stifled, Susan, in the hall where she had stolen, startled, scared at what she had seen in Frances' face, Susan heard.

Susan went softly back down the stairway. "Lord," she moaned as she wrung her skinny hands, "Lord, what we gwine do now? Dyar's Marse Robert away, an' a good[Pg 243] thing too; dyar's no mother, nuthin' but me, Lord, what is I gwine do?"

She picked up an armful of wood and went upstairs.

"Honey," she declared briskly as she opened the door, "Ise gwine mek yo' fiah, it's gittin' col', fer shuah!" She fussed about the hearth, clattering tongs and shovel, and though there were no sobs from the bed, there was no word. Susan was fairly beside herself. She swept the hearth, the fire was aglow. She walked slowly to the footboard and folded her thin arms on it and looked down at the face beneath her. The eyes were closed, the lids red with weeping, the lashes wet, and the mouth trembling pitifully. Susan looked long and searchingly. There was suffering she saw there, suffering that she knew the hall-mark of, but there was not the dumb white look of heartbreak. Frances had been nearer that a month ago.

The old woman drew a long breath of relief. She pulled Frances' own low chair to the bedside and sat down in it.

[Pg 244]

"Honey," she said, "yuh mustn't do so, 'twill brek Marse Robert's heart." But her only answer was a fresh sobbing. "I don't min' seein' yuh cry, no; 'twill do yuh good, but folks dat don't cry much, cries hard; an' when yuh's done, yuh mus' stay done!

"'Tain't meant," she went on, "fer young folks to go wid long faces, no; not till dey knows what sorrow is."

"Sorrow!" sobbed the girl.

"Sorrow, real downright sorrow; does yuh know what't is, honey? No! an' I hopes to Gawd yuh nebber will. 'Tis to see de chile on yo' lap a-dyin', a-dyin' day by day, an' yuh sittin' dyar, an' knowin' dat all yuh can do is to watch de life flutterin', 'til by an' by it's gone! an' den to know dat nobody cares but yuh; 'tis to see de man yuh done married to wo'thless, lazy; to see yo' chillun hungry, an' to feel yo' bones achin' as yuh wuks an' wuks to buy 'em vittils, an' den fer dat man what ought ter be wukkin, too, to tek dat money an' spen' it, maybe on some fool 'oman; to see him die jis' as he libed, no bettah, no wus; to see yo' chile[Pg 245] yuh's raised go off an' sen' no word back." The old woman was rocking to and fro. She was telling the tale of sorrows which wrung her heart when she lived them and wrung it now to recall; and she was doing it purposely, with keen watchful glance, to rouse that other sorrower to thoughts beyond herself.

She could see nothing gained. She sobered herself and looked down on the knotted hands in her lap. She made up her mind.

"Miss Frances," she said, so suddenly and so decidedly that the girl there on the bed started and opened her eyes, "Miss Frances, is yuh moanin' fer yo'self or is yuh moanin' fur somebody else? If yuh's moanin' fur yo'sef, hab it out an' be done wid it!" There was a touch of asperity in Susan's voice; it had hurt her that Frances seemed so untouched.

"But if yuh's moanin' fur some man, he ain't wuth it, dat he ain't!" looking straight into Frances' startled eyes; "dyar ain't no man in dis worl' wuth breakin' yo' heart about."

[Pg 246]

"I shall not break my heart," said Frances proudly.

"I guess Ise got sense ernuff to know dat! but if yuh's a-pinin 'cause yuh's feard yuh hurt someone else, 'tain't wuth nary tear. Dyar ain't a man a-libin', spite o' all his swearin' an' tearin' aroun', dat's gwine to moan all his days, as he's eberlastin' 'clarin' he's gwine to do, ober any 'oman; an' no 'oman ain't got no bizness to, neider."

"You must think, Susan, I— I am not so conceited as to think anybody will go 'moanin'' for me," angrily.

"Ise jes' talkin'," said Susan, unshaken.

"There's father," declared Frances with sudden energy, "he never—you know he never loved any one but my mother," she said the last words very tenderly.

"He's had his books," sagely, "an' he's had his chile, an' he's had me to look after de house.

"'Long when I was a gal," went on the old darkey, as if in pure reminiscence, "an 'oman if she didn't hab 'er fambly to look after, an' was too ole to go cavortin' 'roun',[Pg 247] didn't hab nuthin' to do but sit erroun' an' stay in de pa's house or de brother's an' be tookin' cyar of; an' dey'd be wishin' all de time dey'd took dis one or dat one or any one, so's not to come to dis. But laws-a-me! if yuh don't git married nowadays, dyar's a plenty to be a-doin'! Dyar's Miss Robin— Honey, does yuh ebber specs to be married?"

She saw the indignant flash of Frances' eyes, and chuckled inwardly. She wouldn't be crying there long at that rate. The tears were gone now, and soon the marks of them would be.

"Does yuh think yuh'd like to git married?" protested the old woman remorselessly, "'cause, if yuh do 'tis time yuh was lookin' aroun'!"

"Dyar, ef dat don't fotch her," declared Susan to herself, "nuttin' will!" But it did.

Frances sat upright. She had a wholesome respect for matrimony, and the speech had told. "What do you mean?"

"Jes' what I says!" calmly. "Dyar's two[Pg 248] or three young men Ise got my eye on; some o' dem is mighty nice!"

Susan knew, perfectly well, the only matrimonial danger she had ever feared for her darling had passed, but she shouldn't pine for that one, not as long as the old darkey had breath in her body.

"I tell yuh, Miss Frances," she said, "I suttenly is sorry fur young gals; dey goes erlong so bright an' so easy, eberything their way, an' when dey runs up all a-sudden on a big wall dat's got 'trouble' writ all ercross it, dey don't know how to get erroun' it nohow. Den, too, it suttenly does seem to me dey has some mighty hard questions to settle when dey know a mighty little, a mighty little."

Frances slipped to the side of the bed and put her hand lovingly on the old darkey's knee.

"Susan," she said, with a look that told the old darkey how thoroughly understood she was, "you have wasted enough time on me."

Susan was instantly conscious and embarrassed. "La, Miss Frances!"

[Pg 249]

"But I sha'n't forget it, nor all the other things—all the other things, you know, since I was so high!" spreading out her hands in a line with the height of the bed.

"I 'clar', Miss Frances—"

"And now, even if I don't want to get married—"

"La! listen to her!"

Frances got to her feet briskly, "Bring me some hot water, Susan," she said in her everyday cheerful manner, "and I know you are dying to get to the kitchen."

The breach was rebuilt. The bulwark was higher.



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