After the vacation Claude again settled down to his reading in the University Library. He worked at a table next the alcove where the books on painting and sculpture were kept. The art students, all of whom were girls, read and whispered together in this enclosure, and he could enjoy their company without having to talk to them. They were lively and friendly; they often asked him to lift heavy books and portfolios from the shelves, and greeted him gaily when he met them in the street or on the campus, and talked to him with the easy cordiality usual between boys and girls in a co-educational school. One of these girls, Miss Peachy Millmore, was different from the others,--different from any girl Claude had ever known. She came from Georgia, and was spending the winter with her aunt on B street.
Although she was short and plump, Miss Millmore moved with what might be called a "carriage," and she had altogether more manner and more reserve than the Western girls. Her hair was yellow and curly,--the short ringlets about her ears were just the colour of a new chicken. Her vivid blue eyes were a trifle too prominent, and a generous blush of colour mantled her cheeks. It seemed to pulsate there,-one had a desire to touch her cheeks to see if they were hot. The Erlich brothers and their friends called her "the Georgia peach." She was considered very pretty, and the University boys had rushed her when she first came to town. Since then her vogue had somewhat declined.
Miss Millmore often lingered about the campus to walk down town with Claude. However he tried to adapt his long stride to her tripping gait, she was sure to get out of breath. She was always dropping her gloves or her sketchbook or her purse, and he liked to pick them up for her, and to pull on her rubbers, which kept slipping off at the heel. She was very kind to single him out and be so gracious to him, he thought. She even coaxed him to pose in his track clothes for the life class on Saturday morning, telling him that he had "a magnificent physique," a compliment which covered him with confusion. But he posed, of course.
Claude looked forward to seeing Peachy Millmore, missed her if she were not in the alcove, found it quite natural that she should explain her absences to him,--tell him how often she washed her hair and how long it was when she uncoiled it.
One Friday in February Julius Erlich overtook Claude on the campus and proposed that they should try the skating tomorrow.
"Yes, I'm going out," Claude replied. "I've promised to teach Miss Millmore to skate. Won't you come along and help me?"
Julius laughed indulgently. "Oh, no! Some other time. I don't want to break in on that."
"Nonsense! You could teach her better than I"
"Oh, I haven't the courage!"
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"No, I don't. Why do you always laugh about that girl, anyhow?"
Julius made a little grimace. "She wrote some awfully slushy letters to Phil Bowen, and he read them aloud at the frat house one night." "Didn't you slap him?" Claude demanded, turning red.
"Well, I would have thought I would," said Julius smiling, "but I didn't. They were too silly to make a fuss about. I've been wary of the Georgia peach ever since. If you touched that sort of peach ever so lightly, it might remain in your hand."
"I don't think so," replied Claude haughtily. "She's only kind-hearted."
"Perhaps you're right. But I'm terribly afraid of girls who are too kindhearted," Julius confessed. He had wanted to drop Claude a word of warning for some time.
Claude kept his engagement with Miss Millmore. He took her out to the skating pond several times, indeed, though in the beginning he told her he feared her ankles were too weak. Their last excursion was made by moonlight, and after that evening Claude avoided Miss Millmore when he could do so without being rude. She was attractive to him no more. It was her way to subdue by clinging contact. One could scarcely call it design; it was a degree less subtle than that. She had already thus subdued a pale cousin in Atlanta, and it was on this account that she had been sent North. She had, Claude angrily admitted, no reserve,--though when one first met her she seemed to have so much. Her eager susceptibility presented not the slightest temptation to him. He was a boy with strong impulses, and he detested the idea of trifling with them. The talk of the disreputable men his father kept about the place at home, instead of corrupting him, had given him a sharp disgust for sensuality. He had an almost Hippolytean pride in candour.