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Chapter 21
At the breakfast the professor was irritably anxious. "I wish I knew of some way of getting at Montague this morning; he ought to have a telephone put in!"

"You know why he doesn't," said Frances gently.

"I couldn't sleep last night, thinking of him."

The cup Frances held clattered in her trembling hands. Sleep! She remembered the big fire, the bright light she had kept all the night; she remembered how she had walked her room, had undressed, gone to bed, gotten up, dressed again, and sat by the fire shaking like the trees outside before the heavy blasts; remembered how she had resented the blue of the sky, and the rose of the sunrise flushing the east, while far off the fringe of heavy clouds fled away, when she flung open the shutters to the morning;[Pg 266] and how every moment since she had held herself tense, listening, straining, for the tragedy she felt the night held.

"That old woman might attend to the 'phone," said her father, going back to his grievance. Montague had said long ago that with his all morning and all afternoon absences from the house while his work took him from field to vineyard, from vineyard to mountain-top, a telephone was useless.

"I think I'll call up Frazier," he said at last, as he pushed back his chair, "he's near and might know."

"Father, you must not; he would never understand his trying to reach home last night."

"Neither do I!"

"You'll hear soon enough, if there's anything to hear."

"I shall be uneasy until I do."

Uneasy! Frances worked that morning as she had never done in her life, swept, dusted, cleaned from one room to another. Susan would not have allowed the labor for an[Pg 267] hour; Roxie was glad enough to get it done for her. Frances worked, piling up the moments, worked, and yet heard every footstep in the corridor outside; at each fresh footfall her heart beat to suffocation, then as they died away she drew long breaths and turned to her tasks. At last, beyond the noon, the telephone rang. Frances had the receiver at her ear, before the ringing stopped.

"Hello!" she called, "who is it?"

"Frazier!" The receiver almost fell from her hand.

"Well!" and over the long distance wire faintly was coming, "that old woman, Susan, sent a boy over here just now, and said to 'phone you to come out there right away and bring the doctor!"

"Bill," said the girl to herself, with a sobbing sigh of relief.

"All right!" she called, "I'll come at once!"

"Bill is worse," she told herself, as with trembling hands she rang up first the stables, and then the doctor.

[Pg 268]

The doctor would go; she would call for him at once.

Before she turned away, her father opened the door.

On his face she saw the tragedy she awaited.

"Montague is drowned!" he cried. "My God!" for Frances had gone down in a heap on the hall floor, the receiver swinging from side to side where she wrenched it as she fell. "Susan! Roxie! bring me some water!"

"No!" Frances was struggling upright, "let me go, father! I don't want anything!" to Roxie; "go on!" she waved her back to the kitchen impatiently. "How did you hear?" she whispered as the scared darkey shut the door behind her.

"His horse was found this morning, dripping, spent, riderless." The professor was white as his daughter. "I—I must telegraph his father!"

"Don't!" pleaded Frances, "don't; he might be safe yet somewhere!"

The professor cut her short with a motion of his hand. "If he were, don't you suppose[Pg 269] we'd know! And he left my house!" he said bitterly.

Frances' head drooped.

"What will his father think of me?" he added.

It was not of others' words she was thinking; it was what her own heart was telling her in great heavy throbs. "You have killed him! You killed him!"

She put her hands up dully to her ears, but the sound was only the louder.

"Frances!" Something in her face, her heavy drooping as she started up the stair frightened her father, "What are you going to do?"

"I am going out to Susan's; she sent for me to bring the doctor out."

"You'd better let him go alone."

"I'm sure Susan wants me, or she would never have given such a message. If there is anything I can do for her I ought to do it!" Her broken sentences were spoken from the stair as she went up.

When she came down the trap was waiting. Her father went out with her, put her[Pg 270] into the vehicle and tucked the robes about her. The world was flooded with sunshine, the grass down in the folds of the hills was vividly green, the tree-tops, gray and brown, were tossing softly; the professor thrust a bill in his daughter's hand. "Tell the doctor to get whatever he thinks Susan might need."

Frances had one last word. "Don't telegraph yet!" she begged.

It seemed a senseless thing, but he did as she pleaded. The afternoon was full of duties for him. He went through them mechanically and before he was done had a sharp message from the doctor, "Come out at once!"

Frances had driven around for the doctor, told him briefly what she feared for Susan, gave her father's message, and then, white and dumb, had no other word to say through their drive. The doctor, glad of an hour's quiet, lounged in his seat, as they made what speed they could through heavy mud and mire and great pools of water; the dull sodden fields and green patches of winter[Pg 271] wheat and far-off hazy mountains claimed scarce a glance, but once or twice he looked curiously at the face of the girl by his side. He had held her, a new-born babe, known every phase of her childhood and girlhood, and it cut him to the heart to see that stricken look. He had his own dread of the cause likewise; for the tragedy the professor told was one which had stirred the town.

Soon as they glimpsed the cabin, they saw Susan's spare figure standing on the step, the door closed behind her, while she strained her anxious eyes for help.

She hurried to the trap. While the doctor fumbled with his medicine case, Frances sprang out on the other side. She hastened at once to the door; she did not even hear Susan's anxious "Honey, maybe yuh'd bettah not go in dyar!"

She pushed it open. There sat Bill by the fire. There, on Susan's bed—

Frances gave a great cry and sank on her knees beside it.

"Great God!" cried the doctor as he pushed her roughly aside, for there, on Susan's bed,[Pg 272] with closed eyes and no signs of life showing in his face, lay Edward Montague. The doctor ran his hand under the covers over the man's heart.

"He's libin'!" declared Susan, "he's been moanin' once or twice!"

"He's in a swoon. Bring me my medicine case! Give me a spoon! Chafe his hands and wrists!" The doctor worked anxiously; there was a faint flicker in the pulse, a slow beating of the heart. "Come away!" he commanded as they went over to the window. "Where did you find him?" asked the doctor.

"Down dyar!" Susan pointed down the valley with shaking fingers, "ebery day o' my life Ise used to comin' out an' lookin' up an' down an' ober to the hills, an' thinkin' 'bout de Bible an' de hills dat gib strength. Dis mornin'—" Frances made an impatient movement, but the doctor quieted her. He knew Susan must tell her story her own way.

"It sho' was a sight! Dis mornin' de meader was jes' as wet, an' de grass was all flat where de watah done run off it, an' de[Pg 273] crows was flyin' an' callin' up in de sky. I kep' goin' to de do' an' lookin' an' lookin', an' by an' by I sees sumpin' down by dat little fringe o' trees, an' I knows, jes' lak dat, dat 'twas a man. I says to Bill—he 's been hobblin' roun' right smart lately—'Bill, yuh come 'long, dyar's a man down dyar.' An' when we got dyar we seed 'twas Marse Edward, an' dat's all."

"How did you get him here?"

"Oh, we got him up, eben if he is right sizable." Susan had little to say of her own feat, and of Bill's.

"I pulls off his clothes and gets him into bed wid a hot brick to his feet, an' den I runs out to de road an' de firs' pusson I sees I sends to Mr. Frazier's."

The doctor had been holding the whispered talk near the little window. He had done all he could, and while he waited he made Susan tell the tale, for the sake of the girl who leaned against the cabin side, that stricken look yet in her face.

"Why did you send for her?" he asked sternly.

[Pg 274]

"La! Who I gwine git to help me if 'tain't Miss Frances?"

"Why didn't you send for her father?"

"Ain't I been libin' in his house all dese years," whispered Susan back indignantly, "an' don't I know he's nebber to be 'sturbed when he's at his work. He's down at de hall now!"

The doctor went back to the bedside. He motioned Susan and bent to his work again.

By and by the inert figure stirred; there was a faint flush of color in the white face; the doctor put a spoon to his lips, again and again. The young man opened his eyes, looked at him without a glimpse of recognition, turned a little on his side, and fell asleep.

"He's dry—quite?" the doctor whispered to Susan.

"I stripped off ebery rag he had. He's got on Bill's shut now."

A smile twitched the doctor's mouth, but he went on gravely enough. "Is the brick hot?"

[Pg 275]

"'Tis de third one I done put in dyar!"

"Keep the fire going all you can!" to Bill. Bill before the fire piled log after log with utmost quiet. The doctor pushed a flag chair noiselessly towards Frances; Susan, used to long waiting, drooped by the footboard; the doctor walked to and fro with noiseless footsteps from bed to window. Out there, the narrow valley was flooded with sunshine, the stream running full and red with the clay of the fields it had ravaged; in here lay the victim of the flood. He took out his watch, slipped it back again, looked long out of the little window towards the distant purple peaks, went back to the bedside, looked, leaned over,—turned, his face beaming.

"Perspiration!" he whispered, as he touched the edges of the young man's forehead.

"You mean—" gasped Frances.

"He's all right, for the present, if he doesn't have pneumonia. My dear child!" for Frances went white to the lips.

[Pg 276]

"No!" she steadied herself, "I'm not going to faint! Thank God!"

The doctor laid his hand on her shoulder gently, "I shall send for your father at once, and when he comes you must go."

"Why should I?" she flashed. "He needs—"

"Nothing that we cannot do!" And he listened to no argument. He scarcely allowed the professor to stay long enough to let slip from his lips the joy that brimmed his heart, but with significant look at his daughter sent them homewards at once.

It was dusk then, and they went quietly both with joy in their hearts, and both with memory, likewise. The father, all the deep waters of his life stirred by the despair and the gratitude held so closely together, saw, as in a vision, the love of his life who had driven along this way so often by his side, and sent his whole heart out to the memory of her. His daughter saw first a pleading, earnest face, and then the white unconscious one; listened to earnest words, that pleaded more strongly now the speaker's lips were closed, remembered all the thoughtfulness and kindliness in which she had read only friendliness, and in which she read now deep, strong love, a love that placed her own happiness above all else. To each their vision, sweet and bitter, bitter and sweet.


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