“What can I say to help you, Tom? God knows I would do anything that a true friend may do!”
He freed himself of the touch of her hands, but very gently.
“There might have been a thing; but you have made it impossible. No, don’t freeze me again—it’s the last time. If I could have won your love ... but what is the use of trying to put it in words; you know—you have always known. And now it is too late.”
For a single instant Vincent Farley’s chance of marrying the Deer Trace coal lands trembled in the balance. Ardea forgot him, forgot Nan, thought of nothing but the passionate yearning that was drawing her like gripping hands toward the man who had bared his inmost heart to her. Again she leaned on him with a touch so light that he scarcely felt it, and her lips brushed his forehead.
“It is not too late for you to be a man, noble, upright, honorable. Let the world find that for which it is looking, my friend—my brother: the strong man armed who can stand where others faint and fall. Oh, I wish I knew how to say the word that would make you the man you were meant to be!”
When it was said, she was gone and the sound of the closing door was in his ears when he turned and went slowly down the driveway and out on the white pike, lying like a snowy ribbon under the December stars. On the highway he hung undecided for a moment; but an hour later, William Layne, driving homeward from South Tredegar, overtook him plodding slowly southward far beyond the head of Paradise; and it was nearing midnight when he won back, pacing steadily past the Deer Trace and Woodlawn gates and holding his way down the pike to Gordonia.
The railway station was his goal; and when he had aroused the sleepy night operator and gained admittance, he sat at the telegraph table to write a message. It was to Norman, addressed to intercept the salesman at the breakfast stop.
“Cancel Pennsylvania date and come in at once to take managership of plant,” was the wording of it; and at the breakfast-table the following morning Tom announced his intention of leaving the industrial plow in the furrow while he should go to Boston to complete his course in the technical school.
AS WITH A MANTLE
The month of March in the great, southward-reaching bight of the Tennessee River is the pattern and form of fickleness climatic. Normally it is the time of starting sap and swelling buds and steaming leaf beds odorous of spring; the month when the migratory crows wing their flight northward, and Nature, lightest of winter sleepers in the azurine latitudes, stirs to her vernal awakening. None the less, in the Tennessee March the orchardist, watching the high-blown clouds in skies of the softest blue, is glad if the peach buds are slow in responding to the touch of the wooing airs, or, chewing a black birch twig as