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Chapter 23
Lawson's hard study was bringing its own reward. There were high opinions forming of him on quadrangle and in hall. But he gave no heed to them. He was holding to a grim determination, and the interest he felt growing stronger and stronger in his work was an incentive he had not expected. It was not often his mind went back to idle memories, or forward to visionary hopes; he lived as he swore he would do when he came back to the University, and he kept to his purpose with the self-will he had used in every other pursuit. As the days lengthened and the grass greened on the quadrangle and the maple blossoms drifted on the thick sward, the contest with himself grew harder. He had followed the bent of his humor always, and, with spring-tide abroad, the old desire for wandering came upon him. He had tramped, driven, roamed, lived [Pg 285]out-of-doors; had known a camp life in the Rockies, and the long lazy days by the ocean's swell at Santa Barbara, and the lazy loungings in foreign cities. Now when soft winds brought through his opened window a breath of fresh fields and opening leaf-buds, and the languorous odor of violets and hyacinths, and the hum of bees and the songs of mocking-birds, his room, with its worn floor and ashy hearth and dusty hangings, seemed stifling. The outside world called him.

He pushed his books from him, and his thoughts ran idly into a channel forbidden. He got to his feet and picked up his cap. He would have a long tramp up the sides of Mount Jefferson. As he opened the door the postman, going his afternoon rounds, called to him, "Mail for you," and held up a bunch of cards and papers and a letter.

Lawson glanced at them, stepped back into his room and closed the door. The letter was from his father, in his own handwriting. He wrote seldom. There was little he would say to his son through his secretary; and[Pg 286] what he said in his own style was ill-spelt, and his son was college-bred.

His son tore the letter open, devoured it with quick eyes. "My God! My God!" he half sobbed, as he leaned against the mantel, his face hidden on his arms. But it was not anguish which drew the cry, nor joy; for sorrow he would have set his lips and gone his way; and joy he dared not yet name this feeling which surged in his heart. He was suffocating. He opened his door, looked quickly up and down—he would see no one—almost ran down to the Serpentine walk and so out beyond West Range to the road, mountainward. Now he knew that the sun shone, that flowers were in bloom and birds a-wing, that winds were soft and skies were blue.

He pushed his cap back from his forehead so that the wind might blow across it, and he felt as if bands of torture and bitterness were melting at its touch.

Overhead, the buzzards floated in lazy luxury of flying, the crows called loudly; beyond the football grounds the farmer was[Pg 287] planting the red, fresh-ploughed field in corn; the golf links were green with new growth. He leaned his arms on the fence and watched some distant players, the opening buds of the wayside bushes making a screen about him. Then his gaze strayed to the oaks beyond, their red buds tossing softly. Farther on, the chestnuts showed pale leaves no bigger than a squirrel's ear, and up the mountain-side the forest ran in delicate waves of color, green upon green, and gray and red.

As he walked and breathed the pure air in an ecstasy of appreciation, he saw coming down the path under the red-tinted oaks one who might have been the spring expressed in physical form. Frances, her hands filled with dainty blossomings and leaf-buds, was walking blithely toward him, her face bright as the sky, and the peace that brooded upon it sweet as the sunshine on mountain and field. He could not have moved if he would, and he would not if he could. Hidden by the tangle of cedar and vine and bramble, in the fence corner, he could watch her through half closed eyes whose glance was a caress.[Pg 288] Turning his elbow on the old chestnut rail fence he watched her, scarcely breathing till she was abreast of him. Then he spoke, but only her name.

"Miss Holloway!

"I startled you! You must pardon me: you see I have been watching the players." He motioned towards the golf links. "Will you not wait a while," he begged; "I was thinking of you the moment I saw you. It was a dream come true," he added softly, "Thank God our dreams do come true, sometimes!

"There is something I must tell you," he said, after a moment's silence, while he strove to find speech for the thoughts he could not frame to words, but which were choking him for utterance. "You will wait?" for Frances had been too astonished to say anything beyond her murmured greeting, and stood startled, as if for instant flight, the red and white coming and going on her clear cheek.

"Last winter when I came to you," he blundered, and then the anger in her face gave him sudden cool courage, "I was not[Pg 289] free to do so—so you thought, I thought otherwise; you will do me the honor to believe it," coldly; "for fear of some misadventure I told you—"

"I have not forgotten," said Frances gently, as if to save him the pain of putting the thought into speech.

"Now, now—I have not said it yet, scarcely told it myself!—do not let me frighten you—I am free!"

The delicate flowers slipped from Frances' nerveless hands down to the ground and lay there in the path between them.

"Frances, I am free. Do you know what it means? That woman who bore my name is dead;" if he never spoke her name in reverence before he did so now, "she is dead. Did you think I went away for pleasure, Christmas?" he hurried on, almost breathlessly. "She wrote to me. I had not heard from her for five years. My lawyer was told never to mention her name to me. But she wrote that very day, no, the next,"—he put his hand to his head confusedly, he could not tell her all the pain, the bitterness, he had[Pg 290] felt,—"she wrote begging me to come. She was dying, she said. I went; I telegraphed my father to meet me there. She saw us both; she had not been so bad, perhaps, as we thought; it was the devil of show and selfishness and restlessness which possessed her, and I must have seemed to her at the first, long ago, to be a very fool, to be wheedled, to be—I don't think she ever dreamed it was in me to leave her. She had taken her divorce in half-angry, half-amused carelessness; so long as she got what she wanted, what did it matter, and that was wealth! I must tell you this, Frances, once for all, then it shall be dead between us, as she is. The doctor said she would live a week. I came back, knowing this. I saw you! You will never know how I was tempted, but there was a vileness I could not sink to! I could not build dreams of happiness upon the shortness of her life!

"If I had not studied until there was no thought day by day, week by week—work! They think I love it. God! I have been[Pg 291] buried, dead, have been buried, and now am alive!"

He put his hand on hers, clenched before her. "You are thinking how unlike I am to anything you ever dreamed of me. I am! I do not know myself! Think if you can—five years of shame, and now freedom and the world—and you! You are not shocked, Frances, that I am glad?"

There was no answer, except the breath of the wind over the fields, and the rustling in the wayside bushes about them.

"Is it a dreadful thing to you that I should be glad?" he pleaded.

"No! Oh no!" Her trembling lips scarcely framed the words.

"Frances! Look at me!" he put his hand on her shoulder and felt the convulsive sob that shook her. "Sweetheart, my darling," he began, with broken words of love.

"No, no," cried the girl wildly, "you must not speak such words to me! Wait! wait a moment."

By and by she lifted her head, looked long over the fields which lay, the shimmer of[Pg 292] heat pulsing over their greenness, and then she turned, courage and decision in her dark eyes, though the tears still clung to her long lashes.

"You have shown me your heart, and I—I am not the one to look into its secrets. It's spring-tide there," she hastened on with poetic simile—did she not keep to some such fashion she could not speak—"and there are blue skies, and bird songs and flowers—"

"The rose of love," said Lawson softly.

Frances drew her breath sobbingly, "'Tis not the time of roses," she said. "It is youth, and life, and ambition—"

"And love!"

"No!"

"And love, and you!"

"Not me! I am as much out of your life as she who is dead."

"You are not; you are here; you are mine, Frances!" with his old masterful manner.

"I am not!"

"No one shall claim you!"

"Because," she said gently, "I am already claimed!"

[Pg 293]

"It is impossible!" he cried, never willing to own any other victor where he fought.

"Why?"

"I will not believe it!"

"You must! It is true!" she put out a shielding hand, "and I think, I know, it is best! I did not know it then, I do not know how I know it now, but sorrow teaches much."

"Sorrow and you, Frances! But you shall never know it again." He owned no defeat; it was his to make her happy.

"Did you think you alone had suffered?" she asked, a little bitterly. "I learned many things in those long days. I learned the meaning of much that had been but empty words. I learned," she went on lower, so low he could scarcely catch the words, "much of myself. We would not be happy, you and I together. No! I listened to you. Listen now! It must be truth!" her sentences were broken. "I am selfish; it may be the fault of one who has known so little divided affection."

[Pg 294]

"Divided! You know I should—" began Lawson passionately.

"And yours will always be so, on the surface; in your heart you may be true. There is many a woman might trust you so, always; but I must see that I have all a man's heart or none. I told you my weakness once before." Even as she spoke, simply baring truths she had learned, as she said, from sorrow, she was wonder-struck that she could find words for them, deep as she had hidden them always in her heart.

"I remember!" said Lawson, as he bared his head.

"I would never have all of yours—ah! I know! Never!"

"I would always love you, always! Can you not see," indignantly, "how a man can adore one woman and yet not be blind to all others?"

"No!" with hot energy, "I would not share my love with every pretty face and every new ambition."

Lawson was too angry at the moment for speech, but Frances did not heed it.

[Pg 295]

"No! By and by when your life would be full and happy, and you would hail each new phase with eagerness, I, if I were by your side, would be growing colder and less attractive in my iciness, and we should be—Oh no!" with a dramatic gesture, "it is better so!"

Again there was a dreamy silence, the winds sighing softly over the fields and singing in the trees.

"You have all your life before you once more," said Frances, after many moments, "youth and wealth and freedom!"

"But you?" cried the young man.

"I!" she smiled softly, "think of me as the unattainable, and so," and she showed how keen her knowledge of the man was, as she said it, and how true her words of knowledge gained through sorrow, "and so you will never forget! Good-by!"

"That other man," he insisted, without a notice of the finality of her speech, "he loves you as you demand?"

The rose-red flush of her face answered him.

[Pg 296]

"And you love him?" he asked brutally, while he watched her breathlessly, watched and saw, at the sudden question and the thought it brought, the divine light stealing into her eyes; he had seen it before, and for him!

He strode close to her, passionate words of pleading on his lips, and he stepped on the delicate blossoms scattered at her feet.

She looked down at them, and his glance followed hers and then went back to her face; he read her thoughts. So he had crushed with blundering footsteps other blossoms more delicate.

He was silent. He stood aside to let her pass, and pass out of his life.

But he, wrestling with the passionate thoughts surging through him, strode up the mountain-side farther and deeper into the solemn woods, away from any man's track, alone, for his fight. He threw himself down on the carpet of last year's leaves, far up on the crest, and lived again her words. He had lost, and lost what he had come most to desire; but back of it, like a strong sweet[Pg 297] song vibrating through him as the evening wind did in the tree-tops, were words she had used and his father had written, and his heart now repeated. They set themselves to one chorus "Free, free, free!" He could feel no bitterness, only a mighty attunement to the vital influences of the spring-tide world and a virile pulsing of might and ambition. He took out his father's letter and read it again. There were sentences in it he could never forget.

"I have blamed myself for much of what looked like your failures." "I should not have put so much wealth in the hands of a boy." "Fortune is fickle; I wished to secure yours while I had the chance, so that you might never know the poverty I had suffered."

He thought of the stalwart old man and how his heart must have been wrung before he could write with such humility.

"I sent you on your way—to ruin, I feared, for many a day." "When at last you pulled up and determined to take up your old studies far from every memory, I hoped much; now I hope everything."
 
"When you have taken your degree, I need you." "I have claims enough to keep you busy." "I want somebody with brains; I have thought you had them, once or twice." "And remember you are your mother's only son."

Please God, he would remember!


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