Part 2 out of 5
"I think it was because I couldn't do anything else," she answered,
with her little chuckling laugh. Then she added, seriously: "How
could I let them take you away? Are you not mine? Did not the
river bring you to me?"
"I must tell you," he answered, sadly, "that what the detective
told you about me is true."
"Yes?" she answered, smiling.
"I was a clerk in the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank," he
continued, "and I stole money,--for nearly a year I stole,--not
large sums, but a little at a time. Then, when I knew that it was
going to be discovered, I took quite a lot, and ran away."
"Yes?" said Auntie Sue.
"Do you not care that I am a thief?" he questioned, wonderingly.
"Oh, yes; I care very much," she returned. "But, you see, after
all, your stealing is a little thing that can be made all right.
Your being a thief is so small in comparison with other things
which you might have been, but which you are not, and of so little
importance in comparison with what you really ARE, that I can't
feel so very bad about it."
"But--but--my drinking,--my condition when--" He could not go on.
"Why, you see," she answered, "I can't think of THAT man as being
YOU at all. THAT was something that the accident of your being a
thief did to you,--like catching cold, and being sick, after
accidentally falling in the river."
After a little silence, the man spoke, slowly: "I suppose every
thief, when he is caught, says the same thing; but I really never
wanted to do it. Circumstances--" he paused, biting his lip, and
"What was she like?" asked Auntie Sue, gently.
"She?" and his face reddened.
"Yes, I have observed that, to a man, 'circumstances' nearly always
mean a woman. To a woman, of course, it is a man."
"I cannot tell you about her, now," he said. "Some day, perhaps,
when I am further away from it. But she is not at all like you."
And this answer, for some strange reason, brought a flush of
pleasure to the face of the old schoolteacher.
"I did not mean for you to tell me now," she returned. "I only
wanted you to know that, even though I am an old maid, I can
She left him then, and went to attend to her simple household
It was not until quite late in the evening that Auntie Sue took up
the newspaper which Sheriff Knox had given her. Judy had retired
to her room, and Brian Burns--as they had agreed he should be
called--was fast asleep.
To-morrow, Brian was going to sit up. His clothing had been washed
and ironed and pressed, and Auntie Sue was making some little
repairs in the way of darning and buttons. She had finished, and
was putting her needle and scissors in the sewing-basket on the
table beside her, when she noticed the paper, which she had
The article headed "BANK CLERK DISAPPEARS" was not long. It told,
in a matter-of-fact, newspaper way, how Brian Kent had, at
different times, covering a period of several months, taken various
sums from the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, and gave, so far as
was then known, the accumulated amount which he had taken. The
dishonest clerk had employed several methods in his operations; but
the particular incident--read Auntie Sue--which had led to the
exposure of Kent's stealings was the theft of a small sum of money
in bank-notes, which had been sent to the bank in a letter by one
of the bank's smaller depositors.
The newspaper fell from Auntie Sue's hand. Mechanically, she
fingered the garment lying in her lap.
She, too, had sent a sum of money in a letter for deposit to her
small account in this bank from which Brian Kent had stolen. She
would not have sent the familiar paper currency of the United
States that way; but, this money was in Argentine notes. Her
brother from far-away Buenos Aires had sent it to her, saying that
it would help to keep her during the closing years of her life; and
she had added it to her small savings with a feeling of deepest
gratitude that her last days were now fully provided for. And she
had received from the bank no acknowledgment of her letter with its
Taking up the paper with hands that trembled so she scarce could
distinguish the words, she read the paragraph again.
Suddenly, she recalled the man's puzzled expression when she had
told him her name, and she seemed to hear him say, again,
"Wakefield? Wakefield? Where have I seen that name?"
She looked at the date of the paper. Beyond all doubt, the man
sleeping there in the other room;--the man whom she had saved from
a suicide's end in the river;--whom she had nursed through the hell
of delirium tremens;--whom she had yearned over as over her own
son, and for whom, to save from the just penalty of his crime, she
had lied--beyond all doubt that man had robbed her of the money
that was to have insured to her peace and comfort in the closing
years of her life.
Carefully, Auntie Sue laid the garment she had just mended with
such loving care, with the rest of Brian Kent's clothing, on the
near-by chair. Rising, she went with slow, troubled step to the
There was no moon, that night, to turn the waters of The Bend into
a stream of silvery light. But the stars were shining bright and
clear, and she could see the river where it made its dark,
mysterious way between the walls of shadowy hills; and borne to her
ears on the gentle night wind came the deep, thundering roar of the
angry waters at Elbow Rock.
For a long time she stood there on the porch looking into the
night, with the light from the open door of her little house behind
her; and she felt very lonely, very tired, and very old. With her
beautiful old face upturned to the infinite sky, where shining
worlds are scattered in such lavish profusion, she listened,
listened to the river that, with its countless and complex
currents, swept so irresistibly onward along the way that was set
for it by Him who swung those star-worlds in the limitless space of
that mighty arch above. And something of the spirit that broods
ever over the river must have entered into the soul of Auntie Sue.
When she turned back into the house, there was a smile on her face,
though her eyes were wet with tears.
Going to the chair that held Brian Kent's clothing, she took the
garments in her arms and pressed them to her lips. Then she
carried them to his room.
For some time she remained in that darkened chamber beside the
When she returned to the living-room, she again took up the
newspaper. Very carefully, that her sleeping companions in the
house might not hear her, she went to the kitchen, the paper in her
hand. Very carefully, that no sound should betray her act, she
burned the paper in the kitchen stove.
AUNTIE SUE'S PROPOSITION.
During the next few days, Brian Kent rapidly regained his strength.
No one seeing the tall, self-possessed gentleman who sat with
Auntie Sue on the porch overlooking the river, or strolled about
the place, could have imagined him the wretchedly repulsive
creature that Judy had dragged from the eddy so short a time
before. And no one,--exempting, perhaps, detective Ross,--would
have identified this bearded guest of Auntie Sue's as the
absconding bank clerk for whose arrest a substantial reward was
But Mr. Ross had departed from the Ozarks, to report to the Empire
Consolidated Savings Bank that, to the best of his knowledge and
belief, Brian Kent had been drowned. Homer T. Ward, himself, wrote
Auntie Sue about the case, for the detective had told the bank
president about his visit to the little log house by the river,
and the banker knew that his old teacher would wish to hear the
conclusion of the affair.
The facts upon which the detective based his conclusion that Brian
Kent was dead, were, first of all, the man's general character,
temperament, habits, and ambitions,--aside from his thefts from the
bank,--prior to the time of his exposure and flight, and his known
mental and physical condition at the time he disappeared from the
hotel in the little river town of Borden.
The detective reasoned (and there are thousands of cases that could
be cited to support his contention) that by such a man as Brian
Kent,--knowing, as he must have known, the comparative certainty of
his ultimate arrest and conviction, and being in a mental and
nervous condition bordering on insanity, as a result of his
constant brooding over his crime and the excessive drinking to
which he had resorted for relief,--by such a man, death would
almost inevitably be chosen rather than a life of humiliation and
disgrace and imprisonment.
Acting upon the supposition, however, that the man had gone down
the river in that missing boat, and that the appearance of suicide
was planned by the fugitive to trick his pursuers, the detectives
ascertained that he had provided no supplies for a trip down the
river. The man would be compelled to seek food. The mountain
country through which he must pass was sparsely settled, and for a
distance that would have taken a boat many days to cover, the
officers visited every house and cabin and camp on either side of
the river without finding a trace of the hunted man. The river had
been watched night and day. The net set by the Burns operatives
touched every settlement and village for many miles around. And,
finally, the battered and broken wreck of the lost boat had been
found some two miles below Elbow Rock.
". . . And so, my dear Auntie Sue," Banker Ward wrote, in
conclusion, "you may rest in peace, secure in the certainty that my
thieving bank clerk is not lurking anywhere in your beautiful Ozarks
to pounce down upon you unawares in your little house beside the
river. The man is safely dead. There is no doubt about it. I
regret, more than I can express, that you have been in any way
disturbed by the affair. Please think no more about it.
"By the way, you made a great impression upon detective Ross. He
was more than enthusiastic over your graciousness and your beauty.
I never heard him talk so much before in all the years I have known
him. Needless to say, I indorsed everything he said about the
dearest old lady in the world, and then we celebrated by dining
together and drinking a toast to Auntie Sue. . . ."
Auntie Sue went with the letter to Brian, and acquainted him with
that part of the banker's communication which related to the
absconding clerk; but, about her relation to the president of the
Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, she said nothing.
"Isn't it splendid!" she finished, her face glowing with delight.
"Splendid?" he echoed, looking at her with grave, questioning eyes.
"Why, yes, of course!" she returned. "Aren't you glad to be so
dead, under the circumstances? Think what it means! You are free,
now. No horrid old detectives dogging your steps, or waiting
behind every bush and tree to pounce upon you. There is nothing,
now, to prevent your being the kind of man that you always meant to
be,--and really ARE, too,--except for your--your accidental tumble
in the river," she finished with her low chuckling laugh. "And,
some day," she went on, with conviction, "when you have established
yourself,--when you have asserted your REAL self, I mean,--and have
paid back every penny of the money, Homer T. Ward and Mr. Ross and
everybody will be glad that they didn't catch you before you had a
chance to save yourself."
"And you, Auntie Sue?" Brian's voice was deep with feeling: "And
"Me? Oh, I am as glad, now, as I can ever be, because, you see, to
me it is already done."
For a long minute he looked at her without speaking, then turned
his face away to gaze out over the river and the hills; but his
eyes were the eyes of one who looks without seeing.
Slowly, he said: "I wish I could be sure. There was a time when I
was--when I believed in myself. It seems to me, now, that it was
years and years ago. I thought, then, that nothing could shake me
in my purpose; that nothing could check me in my ambition. I saw
myself going straight on to the goal I had set for myself as
certainly as--well, as your river ever there goes on to the sea.
But now--" He shook his head sadly.
Auntie Sue laughed. "You foolish boy. My river out there doesn't
go straight at all. It meets all sorts of obstacles, and is beset
by all sorts of conflicting influences, and so is forced to wind
and twist and work its way along; but, the big, splendid thing
about the river is that it keeps going on. It never stops to turn
back. No matter what happens to it, it never stops. It goes on
and on and on unto the very end, until it finally loses itself in
the triumph of its own achievement,--the sea."
"And you think that I can go on?" he asked, doubtingly.
"I know you can go on," she answered with conviction.
"But, why are you so sure?"
"Perhaps," she returned, smiling, "seventy years makes one sure of
Ho exclaimed passionately: "But you do not know--you cannot know--
how my life, my dreams, my plans, my hopes, my--everything--has
been broken into bits!"
She answered calmly, pointing to Elbow Rock: "Look there, Brian.
See how the river is broken into bits. See how its smoothly
flowing, onward sweep is suddenly changed to wild, chaotic turmoil;
how it rages and fumes and frets and smashes itself against the
rocks. But it goes on just the same. Life cannot be always calm
and smoothly flowing like the peaceful Bend. But life can always
go on. Life must always go on. And you will find, my dear boy,
that a little way below Elbow Rock there is another quiet stretch."
When he spoke again there was a note of almost reverence in his
"Auntie Sue, was there ever a break in your life? Were your dreams
and plans ever smashed into bits?"
For a little, she did not answer; then she said, bravely: "Yes,
Brian; several times. Once,--years and years ago,--I do not know
how I managed to go on. I felt, then, as you feel now; but,
somehow, I managed, and so found the calm places. The last hard
spot came quite recently." She paused, wondering what he would do
if she were to tell him how he himself had made the hard spot.
"But, now," she continued, "I am hoping that the rest of the way
will be calm and untroubled."
"I wish I could help to make it so!" he cried impulsively.
"Why, you can," she returned quickly. "Of course you can. Perhaps
that is why the current landed your boat at my garden, instead of
carrying you on down the rapids to Elbow Rock. Who can say?"
A new light kindled in the man's eyes as his sensitive nature took
fire at Auntie Sue's words. "I could do anything for a woman like
you, Auntie Sue," he said quietly, but with a conviction that left
no room for doubt. "But you must tell me what I am to do."
She answered: "You are simply to go on with your life--just as if
no Elbow Rock had ever disturbed you; just as the river goes on--to
She left him, then, to think out his problem alone; for the teacher
of so many years' experience was too wise not to know when a lesson
But when the end of the day was come, they again sat together on
the porch and watched the miracle of the sunset hour. And no word
was spoken by them, now, of life and its problems and its meanings.
As one listens to the song of a bird without thought of musical
notes or terms; as one senses the fragrance of a flower without
thought of the chemistry of perfume; as one feels the presence of
spring in the air without thought of the day of the week, so they
were conscious of the beauty, the glory, and the peace of the
Only when the soft darkness of the night lay over the land, and
river and mountain and starry sky were veiled in dreamy mystery,
did Auntie Sue speak: "Oh, it is so good to have some one to share
it with,--some one who understands. I am very lonely, sometimes,
Brian. I wonder if you know?"
"Yes, Auntie Sue, I know, for I have been lonely, too."
And so the old gentlewoman, whose lifework was so nearly finished,
and the man in the flush of his manhood years, whose life had been
so nearly wrecked, were drawn very close by a something that came
to them out of the beauty and the mystery of that hour.
The next day, Brian told Auntie Sue that he would leave on the
"Leave?" she echoed in dismay. "Why, Brian, where are you going?"
"I don't exactly know," he returned; "but, of course, I must go
somewhere, out into the world again."
"And why must you 'go somewhere, out into the world again'?" she
"To work," he answered, smiling. "If I am to go on, as you say, I
must go where I can find something to do."
"If that isn't just like you--you child!" cried the old teacher.
"You are all alike,--you boys and girls. You all must have
something to do; always, it is 'something to do'."
"Well," he returned, "and must we not have something to do?"
"You will do something, certainly," she answered; "but, before you
can DO anything that is worth doing, you must BE something. Life
isn't DOING;--it is BEING."
"I wonder if that was not the real reason for my wretched failures,"
said Brian, thoughtfully.
"It is the real reason for most of our failures," she returned.
"And so you are not going to fail again. You are not going away
somewhere, you don't know where, to do something you don't know
what. You are going to stay right here, and just BE something.
Then, when the time comes, you will do whatever is yours to do as
naturally and as inevitably as the birds sing, as the blossoms come
in the spring, or as the river finds its way to the sea."
And more than ever Brian Kent felt in the presence of Auntie Sue as
a little boy to whom the world had grown suddenly very big and very
But, after a while, he shook his head, smiling wistfully. "No, no,
Auntie Sue, that sounds all true and right enough, but it can't be.
I must go just the same."
"Why can't it be, Brian?"
"For one thing," he returned, "I cannot risk the danger to you.
After all, as long as I am living, there is a chance that my
identity will be discovered, and you--no, no; I must not!"
"As for that," she answered quickly, "the chances of your being
identified are a thousand times greater if you go into the world
again too soon. Some day, of course, you must go; but you are
safer now right here. And"--she added quickly--"it would be no
easier for me, dear boy, to--to--have it happen somewhere away from
me. You are mine, you know, no matter where you go."
"But, Auntie Sue," he protested, "I am not a gentleman of means
that I can do nothing indefinitely; neither am I capable of living
upon your hospitality for an extended period. I must earn my bread
The final sentence came with such a lifting of his head, such a
look of stern decision, and such an air of pride, that the gentle
old school-teacher laughed until her eyes were filled with tears;
and Judy, at the crack in the kitchen door, wondered if the
mistress of the little log house by the river were losing her mind.
"Oh, Brian! Brian!" cried Auntie Sue, wiping her eyes. "I knew you
would come to the 'bread and butter' at last. That is where all
our philosophies and reasonings and arguments come at last, don't
they? Just 'bread and butter,' that is all. And I love you for
it. Of course you can't live upon my hospitality,--and I couldn't
let you if you would. And if you WOULD, I wouldn't let you if I
could. I am no more a lady of means, my haughty sir, than you are
a gentleman of independent fortune. The fact is, Brian, dear, I
suspect that you and I are about the two poorest people in the
world,--to be anything like as pretentiously respectable and
properly proud as we are."
When the man could make no reply, but only looked at her with a
much-puzzled and still-proud expression, she continued, half-
laughingly, but well pleased with him: "Please, Brian, don't look
so haughtily injured. I had no intention of insulting you by
offering charity. Far from it."
Instantly, the man's face changed. He put out his hands
protestingly, and his blue eyes filled, as he said, impulsively.
"Auntie Sue, after what you have done for me, I--"
She answered quickly: "We are considering the future. What has
been, is past. Our river is already far beyond that point in its
journey. Don't let us try to turn the waters back. I promise you
I am going to be very, very practical, and make you pay for
Smiling, now, he waited for her to explain.
"I must tell you, first," she began, "that, except for a very small
amount in the--in a savings bank, I have nothing to provide for my
last days except this little farm."
"What a shame," Brian Kent exclaimed, "that a woman like you can
give her life to the public schools for barely enough salary to
keep her alive during her active years, and then left in her old
age with no means of support. It is a national disgrace."
Auntie Sue chuckled with appreciation of the rather grim humor of
the situation. What would Brian Kent, indignant at the public
neglect of the school-teacher, say of the man who had robbed her of
the money that was to provide for her closing years? "After all,
most public sins are only individual sins at the last," she said,
"I beg your pardon," said Brian, not in the least seeing the
relevancy of her words.
Auntie Sue came quickly back to her subject: "Only thirty acres of
my little farm is under cultivation. The remaining fifty acres is
wild timberland. If I could have that fifty acres also in
cultivation, with the money that the timber would bring,--which
would not be a great deal,--I would be fairly safe for the--for the
rest of my evening," she finished with a smile. "Do you see?"
"You mean that I--that you want me to stay here and work for you?"
"I mean," she answered, "that, if you choose to stay for awhile,
you need not feel that you would be accepting my hospitality as
charity," she returned gently. "I am not exactly offering you a
job: I am only showing you how you could, without sacrificing your
pride, remain in this quiet retreat for awhile before returning to
"It would be heaven, Auntie Sue," he returned earnestly. "I want
to stay so bad that I fear myself. Let me think it over until to-
morrow. Let me be sure that I am doing the right thing, and not
merely the thing I want to do."
She liked his answer, and did not mention the subject again until
Brian himself was ready. And, strangely enough, it was poor,
twisted Judy who helped him to set matters straight.
BRIAN KENT DECIDES.
Brian had walked along the river-bank below the house to a spot
just above the point where the high bluff jutting out into the
river-channel forms Elbow Rock.
The bank here is not so high above the roaring waters of the
rapids, for the spur of the mountain which forms the cliff lies at
a right angle to the river, and the greater part of the cliff is
thus on the shore, with its height growing less and less as it
merges into the main slope of the mountain-side. From the turn in
the road, in front of the house, a footpath leads down the bank of
the river to the cliff, and, climbing stairlike up the face of the
steep bluff, zigzags down the easier slope of the down-river side,
to come again into the road below. The road itself, below Elbow
Rock, is forced by the steep side of the mountain-spur and the
precipitous bluff to turn inland from the river, and so, climbing
by an easier grade up past Tom Warden's place, crosses the ridge
above the schoolhouse, and comes back down the mountain again in
front of Auntie Sue's place, to its general course along the
stream. The little path forms thus a convenient short cut for any
one following the river road on foot.
Brian, seated on the river-bank a little way from the path where it
starts up the bluff, was trying to decide whether it would be
better for him to follow his desire and stay with Auntie Sue for a
few weeks or months, or whether he should not, in spite of the land
he might clear for her, return to the world where he could more
quickly earn the money to pay back that which he had stolen.
And as he sat there, the man was conscious that he had reached one
of those turning-points that are found in every life where results,
momentous and far-reaching, are dependent upon comparatively
unimportant and temporary issues. He could not have told why, and
yet he felt a certainty that, for him, two widely separated futures
were dependent upon his choice. Nor could he, by thinking,
discover what those futures held for him, nor which he should
choose. Even as his boat that night had hung on the edge of the
eddy,--hesitating on the dividing-line between the two currents,--
so the man himself now felt the pull of his life-currents, and
Looking toward the house, he thought how like the life offered by
Auntie Sue was to the quiet waters of The Bend, and--his mind
finished the simile--how like the life to which he would go was to
the rapids at Elbow Rock; and, yet, he reflected, the waters could
never reach the sea without enduring the turmoil of the rapids.
And, again, the thought came, "The Bend is just as much the river
as the troubled passage around the rock."
When he had given up life, and, to all intent and purpose, had left
life behind him, the river, without his will or knowledge, had
mysteriously elected to save him from the death he had chosen as
his only refuge from the utter ruin that had seemed so inevitable.
As the currents of the river had carried his boat to the eddy at
the foot of Auntie Sue's garden, the currents of life had
mysteriously brought him to the saving influence of Auntie Sue
herself. Should he push out again into the stream to face the
danger he knew beset such a course? or should he wait for a season
in the secure calm of the harbor she offered until he were
stronger? Brian Kent knew, instinctively, that there was in the
wisdom and love of Auntie Sue's philosophy and faith a strength
that would, if he could make it his, insure his safe passage
through every danger of life, and yet--
The man's meditations were interrupted by a chance look toward the
bluff which towered above him.
Judy was climbing the steep trail.
Curiously, Brian watched the deformed mountain girl as she made her
way up the narrow, stairlike path, and her cutting words came back
to him: "God-A'mighty and my drunken pap made me like I am. But
you,--damn you!--you made yourself what you be." And Auntie Sue
had said that the all-important thing in life was not to DO
something, but to BE something.
The girl, who had gained a point halfway to the top of the bluff,
paused to look searchingly about, and Brian, who was half-hidden by
the bushes, started to call to her, thinking she might be looking
for him; but some impulse checked him and he remained silently
watching her. Climbing hurriedly a little higher up the path Judy
again stopped to look carefully around, as if searching the
vicinity for some one. Then, once more, she went on until she
stood on top of the cliff; and now, as she looked about over the
surrounding country, she called: "Mr. Burns! Oh, Mr. Burns!
Who-o-e-e! Mr. Burns!"
Brian's lips were parted to answer the call when something happened
on top of the bluff which held him for the moment speechless.
From beyond where Judy stood on the brink of the cliff, a man's
head and shoulders appeared. Brian saw the girl start and turn to
face the newcomer as if in sudden fear. Then she whirled about to
run. Before she could gain the point where the path starts down
from the top, the man caught her and dragged her roughly back, so
that the two disappeared from Brian's sight. Brian was halfway up
the bluff when he heard the girl's shrill scream.
There was no sign of weakness, now, in the man that Judy had
dragged from the river. He covered the remaining distance to the
top in a breath. From among the bushes, a little way down the
mountainside, came the sound of an angry voice mingled with Judy's
An instant more, and Brian reached the spot where poor Judy was
crouching on the ground, begging the brute, who stood over her with
menacing fists, not to hit her again.
The man was a vicious-looking creature, dressed in the rough garb
of the mountaineer; dirty and unkempt, with evil, close-set eyes,
and a scraggly beard that could not hide the wicked, snarling
He stood for a second looking at Brian, as if too surprised by the
latter's sudden appearance to move; then he went down, felled by as
clean a knockout as was ever delivered by an Irish fist.
"Are you hurt, Judy?" demanded Brian, as he lifted the girl to her
feet. "Did he strike you?"
"He was sure a-fixin' ter lick me somethin' awful when you-all put
in," returned the poor girl, trembling with fear. "I know, 'cause
he's done hit to me heaps er times before. He's my pap."
"Your father!" exclaimed Brian.
Judy nodded;--then screamed: "Look out! He'll git you, sure!"
Judy's rescuer whirled, to see the man on the ground drawing a gun.
A vigorous, well-directed kick, delivered in the nick of time, sent
the gun whirling away into the bushes and rendered the native's
right arm useless.
"Get up!" commanded Brian.
The man rose to his feet, and stood nursing his damaged wrist and
scowling at Judy's companion.
"Are you this girl's father?"
"I reckon I am," came the sullen reply. "I'm Jap Taylor, an' you-
all are sure goin' to find that you can't come between a man an'
his lawful child in these here mountains, mister,--if you-all be
from the city."
"And you will find that you can't strike a crippled girl in my
presence, even if she is your daughtcr,--in these mountains or
anywhere else," retorted Brian. "What are you trying to do with
"I aim ter take her back home with me, where she belongs."
"Well, why didn't you go to the house for her like a man, instead
of jumping on her out here in the woods!"
"Hit ain't none of your dad burned business as I can see," came the
"I am making it my business, just the same," returned Brian.
He turned to the girl, who had drawn back a little behind him.
"Judy," he said, kindly, "I think perhaps you better tell me about
"Pap, he was a-layin' for me in the bresh 'cause he dassn't come to
the house ter git me," said the girl, fearfully.
"But, why does he fear to come to the house?" persisted Brian.
"'Cause he done give me ter Auntie Sue."
"Gave you to Auntie Sue?" repeated the puzzled Brian.
Jap Taylor interrupted with, "I didn't sign ary paper, an'--"
"Shut up, you!" snapped Brian. "Go on, Judy."
"Hit was a year last corn-plantin'," explained the girl. "My maw,
she died. He used ter whip her, too. An' Auntie Sue was there
helpin' weuns; an' Tom Warden an' some other folks they was there,
too; an' they done fixed hit so that I was ter go an' live with
Auntie Sue; an' pap, he give me ter her. He sure did, Mr. Burns,
an' I ain't a-wantin' ter go with him, no more."
The poor girl's shrill monotone broke, and her twisted body shook
with her sobs.
"I didn't sign ary paper," repeated Judy's father, with sullen
stubbornness. "An' what's more, I sure ain't a-goin' ter. I 'lows
as how she'll just go home an' work for me, like she ort, 'stead of
livin' with that there old-maid schoolma'am. I'm her paw, I am,
an' I reckon I got rights."
He started toward the girl, who drew closer to Brian, and begged
piteously: "Don't let him tech me! 'Fore God, Mr. Burns, he'll
kill me, sure!"
Brian drew the girl behind him as he faced the father with a brief,
The mountaineer hesitated.
Brian went one step toward him: "Do you hear? Get out! And if
you ever show your dirty face in this vicinity again, I'll not
leave a whole bone in your worthless carcass!"
And Jap Taylor saw something in those Irish blue eyes that caused
him to start off down the mountain toward the river below Elbow
When he had placed a safe distance between himself and the man who
appeared so willing and able to make good his threat, Judy's father
turned, and, shaking his uninjured fist at Brian, delivered a
volley of curses, with: "I'll sure git you-all for this! Jap
Taylor ain't a-lettin' no man come between him an' his'n. I'll fix
you, an' I'll fix that there schoolma'am, too! She's nothin' but a
But Brian started toward him, and Jap Taylor beat a hasty retreat.
"Never mind, Judy," said Brian, when the native had disappeared in
the brush and timber that covered the steep mountain-side. "I'll
not let him touch you. Come, let us sit down and talk a little
until you are yourself again. Auntie Sue must not see you like
this. We don't want to let her know anything about it. You won't
tell her, will you?"
"I ain't aimin' ter tell nobody," said Judy, between sobs. "I sure
ain't a-wantin' ter make no trouble,--not for Auntie Sue, nohow.
She's been powerful good ter me."
When they were seated on convenient rocks at the brink of the cliff
overlooking the river, Judy gradually ceased crying, and presently
said, in her normal, querulous monotone: "Did you-all mind what
pap 'lowed he'd do ter Auntie Sue, Mr. Burns?"
"Yes, Judy; but don't worry, child. He is not going to harm any
one while I am around."
"You-all are aimin' ter stay then, be you? I'm sure powerful
glad," said Judy, simply.
Brian started. A new factor had suddenly been injected into his
"I was powerful scared you-all was aimin' ter go away," continued
Judy. "Hit was that I was a-huntin' you-all to tell you 'bout,
when pap he ketched me."
"What were you going to tell me, Judy?"
"I 'lowed ter tell you-all 'bout Auntie Sue. She'd sure be
powerful mad if she know'd I'd said anythin' ter you, but she's
a-needin' somebody like you ter help her, mighty bad. She--she's
done lost a heap of money, lately: hit was some she sent--"
Brian interrupted: "Wait a minute, Judy. You must not tell me
anything about Auntie Sue's private affairs; you must not tell any
one. Anything she wants me to know, she will tell me. Do you
understand?" he finished with a reassuring smile.
"Yes, sir; I reckon you-all are 'bout right, an' I won't tell
nobody nothin'. But 'tain't a-goin' ter hurt none ter say as how
you-all ort ter stay, I reckon."
"And why do you think I ought to stay, Judy?"
"'Cause of what Auntie Sue's done for you-all,--a-nursin' you when
you was plumb crazy an' plumb dangerous from licker, an' a lyin'
like she did ter the Sheriff an' that there deteckertive man,"
returned Judy stoutly; "an' 'cause she's so old an' is a-needin'
you-all ter help her; an' 'cause she is a-lovin' you like she does,
an' is a-wantin' you-all ter stay so bad hit's mighty nigh a-makin'
her plumb sick."
Brian Kent did not answer. The mountain girl's words had revealed
to him the selfishness of his own consideration of his problem so
clearly that he was stunned. Why had he not, in his thinking,
remembered the dear old gentlewoman who had saved him from a
Judy went on: "Hit looks ter me like somebody just naturally's got
ter take care of Auntie Sue, Mr. Burns. All her whole life she's
a-been takin' care of everybody just like she tuck me, an' just
like she tuck you-all, besides a heap of other ways; an' now she's
so old and mighty nigh plumb wore out, hit sure looks like hit was
time somebody was a-fixin' ter do somethin' for her. That was what
I was a-huntin' you-all ter tell you when pap ketched me, Mr.
"I am glad you told me, Judy;--very glad. You see, I was not
thinking of things in just that way."
"I 'lowed maybe you mightn't. Seems like folks mostly don't."
"But it's all right, now!" Brian cried heartily. "You have settled
it. I'll stay. We'll take care of Auntie Sue,--you and I, Judy.
Come on, now; let's go to the house, and tell her. But we won't
say anything about your father, Judy;--that would only make her
unhappy; and we must never make Auntie Sue unhappy--never." He was
as eager and enthusiastic, now, as a schoolboy.
"'Course," said Judy, solemnly; "'course you just naturally got ter
stay an' take care of her now, after what pap's done said he'd do."
"Yes, Judy; I've just naturally got to stay," returned Brian.
Together they went down the steep cliff trail and to the little log
house by the river to announce Brian's decision to Auntie Sue.
They found the dear old lady in her favorite spot on the porch
overlooking the river.
"Why, of course you will stay," she returned, when Brian had told
her. "The river brought you to me, and you know, my dear boy, the
river is never wrong. Oh, yes, I know there are cross-currents and
crooked spots and sand-bars and rocks and lots of places where it
SEEMS to us to be wrong. But, just the same, it all goes on, all
the time, toward the sea for which it starts when it first begins
at some little spring away over there somewhere in the mountains.
Of course you will stay with me, Brian,--until the river carries
you on again."
From the very day of his decision, to which he had been so
unexpectedly helped by Judy, Brian Kent was another man. The
gloomy, despondent, undecided spirit that was the successor of the
wretched creature that Judy had helped to Auntie Sue's that morning
was now succeeded by a cheerful, hopeful, contented man, who went
to his daily task with a song, did his work with a smile and a
merry jest, and returned, when the day was done, with peace in his
heart and laughter on his lips.
As the days of the glorious Ozark autumn passed, Brian's healthful,
outdoor work on the timbered mountain-side brought to the man of
the cities a physical grace and beauty he had lacked,--the grace of
physical strength and the beauty of clean and rugged health. The
bright autumn sun and the winds that swept over the many miles of
tree-clad hills browned his skin; while his work with the ax
developed his muscles and enforced deep breathing of the bracing
mountain air, thus bringing a more generous supply of richer blood,
which touched his now firmly rounded cheeks with color.
The gift of humor and the faculty of quaint and witty conversational
twists, with the genius of storytelling that was his from his Irish
mother, made quick friends for him of the mountain neighbors who
welcomed this new pupil of their old school-teacher with whole-
hearted pleasure, and quoted his jests and sayings throughout the
country with never-failing delight. And Judy,--it is not too much
to say that Judy became his most ardent admirer and devoted slave.
But the dear old mistress of the little log house by the river
alone recognized that these outward changes in the human wreck that
the river had brought to her were but manifestations of a more
potent transformation that was taking place in the man's inner
life; and it was this inner change that filled the teacher's loving
heart with joy, and which she watched with keen and delighted
It was not, after all, a new life that was coming to this man,
Auntie Sue told herself; it was his own old and more real life that
was reassuring itself. It was the real Brian Kent that had been
sojourning in a far country that was now coming home to his own.
It was the wealth of his heart and mind and soul which had been
deep-buried under an accumulation of circumstances and environment
that was now being brought to the surface.
Might it not be that Auntie Sue's genius for absorbing beauty and
making truth her own had, in her many years of searching for truth
and beauty in whatever humanity she encountered, developed in her a
peculiar sensitiveness? And was it not this that had made her feel
instinctively the real nature of the man in whom a less discerning
observer would have recognized nothing worthy of admiration or
regard? Without question, it was the true,--the essential,--the
underlying,--elements in the character of the absconding bank clerk
that had aroused in this remarkable old gentlewoman the peculiar
sense of kinship--of possession--that had determined her attitude
toward the stranger. The law that like calls to like is not less
applicable to things spiritual than to things material. The birds
of a feather that always flock together are not of necessity
material birds of material feathers.
Nor was Brian Kent himself unconscious of his Re-Creation. The man
knew what he was, as every man knows deep within himself the real
self that is. And that was the horror of the situation which had
set him adrift on the river that night when, in his last drunken
despairing frenzy, he had left the world with a curse in his heart
and had faced the black unknown with reckless laughter and a
profane toast. It is to be doubted if there can be a hell of
greater torment than that experienced by one who, endowed by nature
with a capacity for great living, is betrayed by the very strength
of his genius into a situation that is intolerable of his real
self, and is forced, thus, to a continuous self-crucifixion and
In his new environment the man felt the awakening of this self
which he had mourned as dead. Thoughts, emotions, dreams,
aspirations, which had, as he believed, been killed, he found were
not dead, but only sleeping; and in the quickening of their
vitality and strength he knew a joy as great as had been his
The beauty of nature, that had lost its power of appeal to his
sodden soul, now stirred him to the very depth of his being. The
crisp, sun-sweet air of the autumn mornings, when he went forth
with his ax to the day's clean labor, was a draught of potent magic
that set every nerve of him tingling with delight. The woodland
hillside, where he worked, was a wonderland of beautiful creations
that inspired a thousand glowing fancies. Sometimes, at his heavy
task, he would pause for a moment's rest, and so would look out and
away over the vast expanse of country that from his feet stretched
in all its charm of winding river and wooded slopes, and tree-
fringed ridges to the far, blue sky-line; and the very soul of him
would answer to the call as he had thought he never could answer
again. The very clouds that drifted past on their courses to
unseen ports beyond the hills were freighted with meaning for him
now. The winds that came laden with the subtly blended perfume of
ten thousand varieties of trees and grasses and shrubs and flowers
whispered words of life which he now could hear. The loveliness of
the glowing morning skies, as he saw them when he rose for the
day's work, and the glories of the sunsets, as he watched them with
Auntie Sue from the porch when the day's task was accomplished,
filled him with an exquisite gladness which he had never hoped to
Most of all, did the river speak to him; not, indeed, as it had
spoken that dreadful night, when, from the window of his darkened
room, he had listened to its call: the river spoke, now, in the
full day as his eye followed its winding length through the hills
in all its varied beauty of sunshine and shadow;--of gleaming
silver and living green and russet-brown. It talked to him in the
evening when the waters gave back the glories of the sky and the
deepening twilight wrapped the world in its dusky veil of mystery.
It spoke to him in the soft darkness of the night, as it swept on
its way under the stars, or in the light of the golden moon. And,
in time, some of these things which the river said to him, he, in
turn, told to Auntie Sue.
And Auntie Sue, delighted with the man's awakening self, and
charmed with his power of thought and his gift of expression, led
him on. With artful suggestion and skilful question and subtle
argument, she stimulated his mind and fancy to lay hold of the
truths and beauties that life and nature offered. But ever the
rare old gentlewoman was his teacher, revealing himself to himself;
guiding him to a fuller discovery and knowledge of his own life and
its meaning, which, indeed, is the true aim and end of all right
So the days of the autumn passed. The hills changed their robes of
varied green for costumes of brown and gold, with touches here and
there of flaming scarlet and brilliant yellow. And then winter was
at hand, and that momentous evening came when Auntie Sue said to
her pupil, after an hour of most interesting talk, "Brian, why in
the world don't you write a book?"
"'A book'!" exclaimed Brian, in a startled tone.
Judy laughed. "He sure ought ter. Lord knows he talks like one."
"I am in earnest, Brian," said Auntie Sue, her lovely old eyes
shining with enthusiasm and her gentle voice trembling with
excitement. "I have been thinking about it for a long time, now,
and, to-night, I just can't keep it to myself any longer. Why
don't you give to the world some of the thoughts you have been
wasting on Judy and me?"
"Hit's sure been a-wastin' of 'em on me," agreed Judy. "'Fore God,
I don't sense what he's a-talkin' 'bout, more'n half the time."
Brian laughed. "Judy is prophetic, Auntie Sue. She voices
perfectly the sentiment of the world toward any book I might
Auntie Sue detected a note of bitterness underlying the laughing
comment, and wondered.
Judy spoke again as she arose to retire to her room for the night:
"I reckon as how there's a right smart of things youuns talk that'd
be mighty fine if a body only had the learnin' ter sense 'em. An'
there must be heaps of folks where youuns come from what would know
Mr. Burns's meaning if he was to write hit all out plain.
Everybody ain't like me. Hit's sure a God's-blessin' they ain't,
"And there, Brian, dear, is your answer," said Auntie Sue, as Judy
left the room. "Any book has meaning only for those who have the
peculiar sympathy and understanding needed to interpret it. A book
that means nothing to one may be rich in meaning for another.
Every writer writes for his own peculiar readers, just as every
individual has his own peculiar friends."
"Or enemies," said Brian.
"Or enemies," agreed Auntie Sue.
Brian went to the window, and stood for some time, looking out into
the night. Then turning, with a nervous gesture, he paced uneasily
up and down the room; while Auntie Sue watched him in silence with
an expression of loving concern on her dear old face.
At last, she spoke: "Why, Brian, what is the matter? What have I
said? I did not mean to upset you like this. Come, sit down here,
and tell me about it. What is it troubles you so?"
With a short laugh, Brian came and stood before her. "I suppose it
had to come sooner or later, Auntie Sue. I have been trying for
days to muster up courage enough to tell you about it. You have
touched the one biggest thing in my life."
"Why, what do you mean, Brian?"
"I mean just what we have been talking about,--writing," answered
"Oh!" she cried, with quick and delighted triumph. "Then I AM
right. You have been thinking about it, too."
"Thinking about it!" he echoed, and in his voice she felt the
nervous intensity of his mood. "I have thought of nothing else.
All day long when I am at work, I am writing, writing, writing. It
is the last thing on my mind when I go to sleep. I dream about it
all night. And, it is the first thing I think about in the
Auntie Sue clasped her hands to her heart with an exclamation of
Brian, with a quiet smile at her enthusiasm, went on: "I know
exactly what I want to say, and why I want to say it. There is a
world of people, Auntie Sue, whose lives have been broken and
spoiled by one thing or another, and who have more or less cut
themselves loose from everything, and are just drifting, they don't
care a hang where, because they think they have failed so
completely that there is nothing more in life for them. People
like me,--I don't mean thieves and criminals necessarily,--who have
had that which they know to be the best and biggest and truest part
of themselves tortured and warped and twisted and denied and
smashed and beaten and betrayed and killed; and who, because they
feel that their real selves are dead within them, don't care what
happens to that part which is left."
He was walking the floor again now, and speaking with a depth of
feeling which he had never before revealed to his gentle companion.
"It is not so much the love of wrong-doing that makes people turn
bad,"--he continued,--"it is having their real selves misunderstood
and doubted and smothered and their realest loves and dreams and
aspirations never recognized, or else distorted and twisted and
made to appear as something they hate. I want to make the people--
and there are many thousands of them--who are suffering in the
living hell that tormented me, feel that I know and understand.
And then, Auntie Sue, then I want to tell them about you and your
"I would teach them the things you have taught me. I would say to
every one that I could persuade to listen: 'It doesn't in the
least matter what your experience is, the old river is still going
on to the sea. No matter if every woman you ever knew has proved
untrue, virtuous womanhood still IS. No matter if every man you
ever knew has proved false, true manhood still IS. If every friend
you ever had has betrayed your friendship, loyal friendship still
IS. If you have found nothing in your experience but dishonesty
and falsehood and infidelity and hypocrisy, it is only because you
have been unfortunate in your experience; because honesty and
fidelity and sincerity are existing FACTS. They are the very
foundation facts of life, and can no more fail life than the river
can fail to reach the sea.
"'Your little individual experience, my little individual
experience,--what are they? They are nothing more than the tiny
bubbles, swirls, ripples, and breaks on the surface of the great
volume of water that flows so inevitably onward. The bit of foam,
the tiny wave caused by twig or branch or blade of water-grass, or
the great rocks and cliffs that make the roaring whirlpools and
rapids,--do they stay the waters, or turn the river back on its
course, or in any way prevent its onward flow? No more can the
twigs of circumstances, or the boughs of environment, or the
grasses of accident that make the tiny waves of our individual
experiences,--or even the great rocks and cliffs of national or
racial import,--such as wars, and pestilence, and famine,--finally
check or stay the river of life in its onward flow toward the sea
of its final and infinite meaning.'"
He went again to the window, and stood looking out into the night
as though listening to the voices.
"Why, Auntie Sue," he said, turning back to the old gentlewoman,--
and his face was radiant with the earnestness of this thought,--
"Auntie Sue, there are as many currents in our river out there as
there are human lives. A comparatively few great main or dominant
currents in the river flow--a comparatively few great dominant
currents in the river flow of life. But if you look closer, you
will see that in each one of those established principal currents
there are countless thousands--millions--of tiny currents all
turning and twisting across, and back, and up, and down in every
direction,--weaving themselves together,--pulling themselves
apart,--criss-crossing, clashing,--interlacing,--tangled and
confused,--and these are the individual lives. And no matter what
the conflict or confusion; no matter what direction they take for
the moment, they all, ALL, go to make up the river;--they, all
together, ARE the river,--and they all together move onward,--
ceaselessly, inevitably, irresistibly."
He paused to stand smiling down at her, as she sat there in her low
chair beside the table with the lamplight on her silvery hair,--
there in the little log house by the river.
"That is what you have made your river mean to me, Auntie Sue; and
that is what I would give to the world."
With trembling hands, the gentle old teacher reached for her
handkerchief, which lay in the sewing-basket on the table beside
her. Smilingly, she wiped away the tears that filled her eyes.
Lovingly, she looked up at him,--standing so tall and strong before
her, with his reddish hair tumbled and tossed, and his Irish blue
eyes lighted with the fire of his inspiration.
"Well," she said, at last, "why don't you do it, Brian?"
As a breath of air puts out the light of a candle, so the light
went from Brian Kent's face. Dropping into his chair, he answered
hopelessly, "Because I am afraid."
"Afraid?" echoed Auntie Sue, troubled and amazed. "What in the
world are you afraid of, Brian?"
And the bitter, bitter answer came, "I am afraid of another
Auntie Sue's quick mind caught the significance of his words.
"ANOTHER failure, Brian? Then you,--then you have written before?"
"Yes," he returned. And not since his decision to remain with her
had she seen him so despondent. "To write was the dream and the
passion of my life. I tried and tried. God, how I worked and
slaved at it! The only result from my efforts was the hell from
which you dragged me."
Alter a little silence, Auntie Sue said gently: "I don't think I
understand, Brian. You have never told me about your trouble, you
"It is an old, old story," he returned. "I am only one of
thousands. My wretched experience is not at all uncommon."
"I know," she answered. "But don't you think that perhaps you had
better tell me? Perhaps, in the mere telling of it to me, now that
it is all over, you may find the real reason for--for what happened
Wise Auntie Sue!--wise in that rarest of all wisdom,--the
sympathetic understanding of human hearts and souls.
"You know about my earlier life," he began; "how, in my boyhood,
after mother's death, I worked at anything I could do to keep
myself alive, and how I managed to gain a little schooling. I was
always dreaming of writing, even then. I took the business course
in a night-school, not because I liked it, but because I thought it
would help me to earn a living in a way that would give me more
time for what I really wanted to do. And after I finished school,
and had finally worked up to a good position in that bank, I did
have more time for my writing. But,"--he hesitated--"I--well,--
other interests had come into my life,--and--"
Auntie Sue said, softly, "She did not understand, Brian."
"No, she did not understand," he continued, accepting Auntie Sue's
interpretation without comment. "And when my writing brought no
money, because no publisher would accept my stuff, and the
conditions under which I wrote became intolerable because of
misunderstanding and opposition and disbelief in my ability and
charges of neglect, I--I--stole money from my employers to gain
temporary relief until my writing should amount to something. You
see, I could not help believing that I would succeed, in time. I
suppose all dreamers have more or less confidence in their dreams:
they must, you know, or their dreams would never be realized. I
always expected to pay back the money I took with the money I would
earn by my pen. But I failed to earn anything, you see; and then--
then the inevitable happened, and the river brought me to you."
"But, my dear boy!" cried Auntie Sue, "all this that you have told
me is no reason why you should fear to write now. Indeed, it is a
very good reason why you should not fear."
He looked at her questioningly, and she continued: "You have given
every reason in the world why you failed. Your whole life was out
of tune. How could you expect to produce anything worthy from such
a jangling discord? You should have been afraid, indeed, to write
THEN. But, NOW,--now, Brian, you are ready. You are a long, long
way down the river from the place of your failures. The disturbing,
distracting things are past,--just as in the quiet reach of the
river below Elbow Rock the turmoil of the rapids is past. You say
that you know exactly what you want to write, and why you want to
write it--and you do know--and because you know,-- because you have
suffered,--because you have learned,--because you can do this thing
for others,--it is yours to do, and so you must do it. What you
really mean when you say you are 'afraid to write' is, that you are
AFRAID NOT TO," she finished with a little laugh of satisfaction.
And Brian Kent, as he watched her glowing face and felt the
sincerity and confidence that vibrated in her voice, was thrilled
with a new courage. The fires of his inspiration shone again in
his eyes, as he answered, with deep conviction, "Auntie Sue, I
believe you are right. What a woman you are!"
AUNTIE SUE TAKES A CHANCE.
So Brian wrote his book that winter.
When the days were fair, he worked with his ax on the mountain-
side. But his notebook was ever at hand, and many a thought that
went down on the pages of his manuscript was born while he wrought
with his hands in the wholesome labor which gave strength to his
body and clearness to his brain. In the evenings, he wrote in the
little log house by the river, with Auntie Sue sitting in her chair
beside the table,--the lamp-light on her silvery hair, and her
sewing-basket within reach of her hand,--engaged with some bit of
needlework, a book, or perhaps with one of her famous letters to
some other pupil, far away. The stormy days gave him many hours
with his pen, and so the book grew.
And always as the man endeavored to shape his thoughts for the
printed pages that would carry his message to the doubting,
disconsolate, and fearful world that he knew so well, he heard in
his heart the voices of the river. From the hillside where he
worked in the timber he could see the stream winding through the
snowy hills like a dark line carelessly drawn with many a crook and
curve and break on the sheet of white. From the porch he saw the
quiet Bend a belt of shining ice and snow, save for a narrow line
in the centre, which marked the course of the strongest currents;
while the waters of the rapids crashed black and dreadful against
the Elbow Rock cliff, which stood gaunt and grim amid the
surrounding whiteness; and in the deathlike hush of the winter
twilight, the roar of the turmoil sounded with persistent menace.
And all that the river said to him he put down,--so far as it was
given him to do.
And that which Brian Kent wrote was good. He knew it--in his
deepest, truest self he knew. And Auntie Sue knew it; for, of
course, he read to her from his manuscript as the book grew under
his hand. Even Judy caught much of his story's meaning, and
marvelled at herself because she, too, could understand.
So the spring came, and the first writing of the book was nearly
And now the question arose: What would they do about the final
preparation of the manuscript for the printers? Brian explained
that he should have a typewritten copy of his script, which he
would work over, correct, and revise, and from which perfected copy
the final manuscript would be typewritten. But neither Auntie Sue
nor Brian would consider his finishing the book anywhere but in the
little log house by the river; even if there had been no other
reason why Brian should not go to the city, if it could be avoided.
"There is only one thing to do,"--said Auntie Sue, at last, when
the matter had been discussed several times,--"we must send for
Betty Jo. She has been studying stenography in a business college
in Cincinnati, and, in her latest letter to me, she wrote that she
would finish in April. I'll just write her to come right here, and
bring her typewriter along. She will need a vacation, and she can
have it and do your work at the same time. Besides, I need to see
Betty Jo. She hasn't been to visit me since before Judy came."
Brian thought that Auntie Sue seemed a little nervous and excited
as she spoke, but he attributed it to her combined interest in the
book and in the proposed typist. The man could not know the real
cause of his gentle old companion's agitation, nor with what
anxiety she had considered the matter for many days before she
announced her plan. The fact was that Auntie Sue was taking a big
chance, and she realized it fully. But she could find no other way
to secure the services of a competent stenographer for Brian, and,
as Brian must have a competent stenographer in order to finish his
book properly, she had decided to accept the risk.
"That sounds all right, Auntie Sue," returned Brian. "But who,
pray tell, is Betty Jo?"
"Betty Jo is,"--Auntie Sue paused and laughed with a suggestion of
embarrassed confusion,--"Betty Jo is--just Betty Jo, Brian," she
Brian laughed now. "Fine, Auntie Sue! That describes her
exactly,--tells me her life's history and gives me a detailed
account of her family,--ancestors and all."
"It describes her with more accuracy than you think," retorted
Auntie Sue, smiling in return at his teasing manner.
"I reckon as how she's got more of er name than that, ain't she?"
said Judy, who was a silent, but intensely interested, listener.
"I've allus took notice that folks with funny names'll stand a
right smart of watchin'."
Brian and Auntie Sue laughed together at this, but the old lady
said, with a show of spirit: "Judy! You know nothing about it!
You never even saw Betty Jo! You shouldn't say such things,
"Might as well say 'em as ter think 'em, I reckon," Judy returned,
her beady-black eyes stealthily watching Brian.
"What is your Betty Jo's real name, Auntie Sue?" asked Brian,
Again Auntie Sue seemed to hesitate; then--"Her name is Miss Betty
Jo Williams," and as she spoke the old teacher looked straight at
"A perfectly good name," Brian returned; "but I never heard of her
Judy's black eyes, with their stealthy, oblique look, were now
watchfully fixed on Auntie Sue.
"She is the orphan-niece of one of my old pupils," Auntie Sue
continued. "I have known her since she was a baby. When she
finished her education in the seminary, and had travelled abroad
for a few months, she decided all at once that she wanted a course
in a business college, which was just what any one knowing her
would expect her to do."
"Sounds steady and reliable," commented Brian. "But will she
"Yes, indeed, she will, and be tickled to death over the job,"
returned Auntie Sue. "I'll write her at once."
While Auntie Sue was preparing to write her letter, Judy muttered,
in a tone which only Brian heard: "Just the same, 'tain't no name
for a common gal ter have; hit sure ain't. There's somethin' dad
burned queer 'bout hit somewhere."
"Nonsense! Judy," said Brian in a low voice; "don't worry Auntie
"I ain't aimin' ter worry her none," returned the mountain girl;
"but I'll bet you-all a pretty that this here gal'll worry both of
youuns 'fore you are through with her;--me, too, I reckon."
For some reason, Auntie Sue's letter to Betty Jo seemed to be
rather long. In fact, she spent the entire evening at it; which
led Judy to remark that "hit sure looked like Auntie Sue was aimin'
ter write a book herself."
A neighbor who went to Thompsonville the following day with a load
of hogs for shipment, posted the letter. And, in due time, another
neighbor brought the answer. Betty Jo would come.
It was the day following the evening when Brian wrote the last page
of his book that another letter came to Auntie Sue,--a letter
which, for the second time, very nearly wrecked Brian Kent's world.
JUDY TO THE RESCUE.
Brian was working in the garden. It was early in the afternoon,
and the man, as he worked in the freshly ploughed ground, was
rejoicing at the completion of his book.
Straightening up from his labor, he drew a deep breath of the
fragrant air. About him on every side, and far away into the blue
distance, the world was dressed in the gala dress of the season.
The river, which at the breaking of the winter had been a yellow
flood that washed the top of the bank in front of the house and
covered the bottom-lands on the opposite side, was again its normal
self, and its voice to him, now, was a singing voice of triumphal
For Brian, too, the world was new, and fresh, and beautiful. The
world of his winter was gone. He had found himself in his work,
and in the glorious consciousness of the fact he felt like shouting
with sheer joy of living.
"And Auntie Sue, dear Auntie Sue," he thought, looking with love in
his eyes toward the house, how wonderful she had been in her
helpful understanding and never-failing faith in him. After all,
it was Auntie Sue's triumph more than it was his.
His happy musing was interrupted by a neighbor who, on his way home
from Thompsonville, stopped at the garden fence with the letter for
Brian took the letter with a jest which brought a roar of laughter
from the mountaineer, and, when the latter had gone on his way up
the hill, started toward the house to find Auntie Sue.
Glancing at the envelope in his hand, Brian noticed the postmark
"Buenos Aires." He stopped suddenly, staring dumbly at the words
in the circular mark and at the name written on the envelope. Over
and over, he read "Buenos Aires,--Miss Susan Wakefield; Buenos
Aires,--Miss Susan Wakefield." Something-- His brain seemed to be
numb. His hands trembled. He looked about at the familiar
surroundings, and everything seemed suddenly strange and unreal to
him. He looked again at the letter in his hand, turning it
curiously. A strange feeling of oppression and ominous foreboding
possessed him as though the bright spring sky were all at once
overcast with heavy and menacing storm-clouds. What was it?
"Buenos Aires,--Susan Wakefield?" Where had he seen that
combination before? What was it that made the name of the Argentine
city in connection with Auntie Sue's name seem so familiar? Slowly,
he went on to the house, and, finding Auntie Sue, gave her the
"Oh!" cried the old lady, as she saw the postmark on the envelope.
"It must be from brother John. It is not John's writing, though,"
she added, as she opened the envelope.
And at her words the feeling of impending disaster so oppressed
Brian Kent that only by an effort could he control himself. He was
possessed of the strange sensation of having at some time in the
past lived the identical experience through which he was at that
moment passing. "Susan Wakefield;--a brother John in Buenos Aires,
Argentine;--the letter!" It was all so familiar that the allusion
was startling in its force. But that ominous cloud,--that sense of
some great trouble near that filled him with such unaccountable
dread--what could it mean?
An exclamation from Auntie Sue drew his attention. She looked at
him with tear-filled eyes, and her sweet voice broke as she said:
"Brian! Brian! John is dead! This--this letter is from the
doctor who attended him."
Tenderly, as he would have helped his own mother, Brian assisted
Auntie Sue to her room. For a little while he sat with her, trying
to comfort her with such poor words as he could find.
Briefly, she told him of the brother who had lived in Argentine for
many years. He had married a South-American woman whom Auntie Sue
had never seen, and while not wealthy had been moderately
prosperous. But he had never forgotten his sister who was so alone
in the world. "Several times, when he could, he sent me money for
my savings-bank account," she finished simply, her sweet old voice
low and tender with the memories of the years that were gone. "John
and I were always very fond of each other. He was a good man,
Brian Kent sat like a man stricken dumb. Auntie Sue's words, "he
sent me money for my savings-bank account," had made the connection
between the names "Buenos Aires, Argentine; John Wakefield; Susan
Wakefield," and the thing for which his mind had been groping with
such a sense of impending disaster.
In her grief over the death of her brother, and in her memories of
their home years so long past, dear old Auntie Sue had forgotten
the peculiar meaning her words might have for the former clerk of
the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank who sat beside her, and to
whom she turned in her sorrow as a mother to a dearly beloved son.
"But it is all right, Brian, dear," she said with brave cheerfulness.
"When one has watched the sunsets for seventy years, one ceases to
fear the coming of the night, for always there is the morning. Just
let me rest here alone for a little while, and I will be myself
She looked up at him with a smile, and Brian Kent, kneeling beside
the bed, bowed his head and caught the dear old hands to his lips.
Without trusting himself to speak again, the man left the room,--
closing the door.
He moved about the apartment as one in a dream. With a vividness
that was torture, he lived again that hour in the bank when,
opening the afternoon mail, he had found the letter from Susan
Wakefield with the Argentine notes, which her letter said she had
received from her brother John in Buenos Aires, and which she was
sending to the bank for deposit to her little account. It had been
a very unbusinesslike letter and a very unbusinesslike way to
transmit money. It was, indeed, this nature of the transaction
that had tempted the hard-pressed clerk.
Mechanically, Brian stopped at his writing-table to finger the
manuscript which he had finished the evening before. Was it only
the evening before? Taking up the volume of closely written sheets
which were bound together by a shoestring that Auntie Sue had
laughingly found for him, when he had so joyously announced the
completion of the last page of his book, he turned the leaves
idly,--reading here and there a sentence with curious interest.
The terrific mental strain of his situation completely divorced
him, as it were, from the life which he had lived during those
happy months just past, and which was so fully represented by his
Again the river, swinging around a sudden turn in its course, had
come upon a passage where its peaceful flow was broken by the wild
turmoil of the troubled waters.
"And Auntie Sue,"--something within the man's self was saying,--
"dear Auntie Sue, who had saved him, not only from death, but from
the hell of the life that he had formerly lived, as well; and whose
loving companionship and sympathetic understanding had so inspired
and strengthened him in the work which had been the passionate
desire of his heart;--the gentle old teacher whose life had been so
completely given to others, and who, in the helplessness of her
last years, was so alone,--Auntie Sue was depending upon that money
which her brother had sent her as the only support of the closing
days of her life. Auntie Sue believed that her money was safe in
the bank. That belief was to her a daily comfort. Auntie Sue did
not know that she was almost penniless;--that the man whom she had
saved with such a wondrous salvation had robbed her, and left her
so shamefully without means for the necessities of life. Auntie
Sue did not know. But she would know,"--that inner voice went on.
"The time would come when she would learn the truth. It was
certain to come. It might come any day. Then--then--"
As one moving without conscious purpose, Brian Kent went from the
house,--the manuscript in his hand.
Judy was sitting idly on the porch steps. At sight of the mountain
girl the man knew all at once that there was one thing he must do.
He must make sure that there was no mistake. He was already sure,
of course; but still, as a condemned man at the scaffold hopes
against hope for a stay of sentence, so he caught at the shadowy
suggestion of a possibility.
"Come with me, Judy," he said, forcing himself to speak coolly; "I
want to talk with you."
Judy arose, and, looking at him in her stealthy, oblique way, said,
in her drawling monotone: "What's happened ter Auntie Sue? Was
there somethin' in that there letter Bud Jackson give you-all for
her what's upset her?"
"Auntie Sue's brother is dead, Judy," Brian answered. "She wishes
to be alone, and we must not disturb her. She will be all right in
a little while. Come, let us walk down toward the bluff."
When they had reached a spot on the river-bank a short distance
above the Elbow Rock cliff, Brian said to his companion: "Judy, I
want you to tell me something. Did Auntie Sue ever send money in a
letter to the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, in Chicago?"
"The black, beady eyes shifted evasively, and the mountain girl
turned her sallow, old-young face away from Brian's direct gaze.
"Look at me, Judy."
She sent a stealthy, oblique glance in his direction.
"You must tell me."
"I done started ter tell you-all onct,--that time pap ketched me,--
an' you-all 'lowed as how I oughten ter tell nothin' 'bout Auntie
Sue to nobody."
"But it is different now, Judy," returned Brian. "Something has
happened that makes it necessary for me to know."
"Meanin' that there letter 'bout her brother bein' dead?" asked
"What you-all got ter know for?"
"Because--" Brian could not finish.
Judy's beady eyes were watching him intently, now. "Hit looks like
you-all ain't a-needin' me ter tell you-all anythin'," she observed
"Then Auntie Sue did send money?"
"She sure did. I seed her fix hit in the letter, myself," came the
"What kind of money?"
"I dunno,--some funny kind hit was,--what her brother done sent her
from some funny place, I dunno just where."
"When did she send it?"
"'Bout a month 'fore you come."
"And--and did any letter ever come from the bank to tell her that
the money was received by them all right?"
The mountain girl did not answer, but again turned her face away.
"Tell me," Brian insisted. "I--I--must know, Judy," and his voice
was harsh and broken with emotion.
The answer came reluctantly: "I reckon you-all knows where that
there money went ter."
The girl's answer sent a new thought like a hot iron into Brian
Kent's tortured brain. He caught Judy's arm in quick and fearful
excitement. "Judy!" he gasped, imploringly, "Judy, do you--? does
Auntie Sue know--? does she know that I--?"
"How could she help knowin'? She ain't no fool. An' I done heard
that there Sheriff an' the deteckertive man tellin' her 'bout you
an' the bank. An' the Sheriff, he done give her a paper what he
said told all 'bout what you-all done, an' she must er burned the
paper, or done somethin' with hit, 'cause I couldn't never find hit
after that night. An' what would she do that for? And what for
did she make me promise not ter ever say nothin' ter you-all 'bout
that there money letter? An' why ain't she said nothin' to you
'bout the letter from the bank not comin', if she didn't know hit
was you 'stead of them what done got the money?"
The girl paused for a moment, and then went on in a tone of
reverent wonder: "An' to think that all the time she could a-
turned you-all over to that there Sheriff an' got the money-reward
to pay her back what you-all done tuck."
Brian Kent was as one who had received a mortal hurt. His features
were distorted with suffering. With eyes that could not see, he
looked down at the manuscript to which he still unconsciously
clung; and, again, he fingered the pages of his work as though some
blind instinct were sending his tormented soul to seek relief in
the message which, during the happy months just past, he had
written for others.
And the deformed mountain girl, who stood before him with twisted
body and old-young face, grew fearful as she watched the suffering
of this man whom she had come to look upon as a superior being from
some world which she, in her ignorance, could never know.
"Mr. Burns," she said at last, putting out her hand and plucking at
his sleeve, "Mr. Burns, you-all ain't got no call ter be like this.
You-all ain't plumb bad. I knows you ain't, 'count of the way you-
all have been ter me an' 'cause you kept pap from hurtin' me, an'
'cause you are takin' care of Auntie Sue like you're doin'. Hit
ain't no matter 'bout the money, now, 'cause you-all kin take care
of her allus."
Brian looked up from the manuscript in his hand, and stared dumbly
at the girl, as if he failed to hear her clearly.
"An' just think 'bout your book," Judy continued pleadingly.
"Think 'bout all them fine things you-all have done wrote down for
everybody ter read,--'bout the river allus a-goin' on just the
same, no matter what happens, an' 'bout Auntie Sue an'--"
She stopped, and drew away from him, frightened at the look that
came into the man's face.
"Don't, Mr. Burns! Don't!" she half-screamed. "'Fore God, you-all
oughten ter look like that!"
The man threw up his head, and laughed,--laughed as the wild,
reckless and lost Brian Kent had laughed that black night when, in
the drifting boat, he had cursed the life he was leaving and had
drunk his profane toast to the darkness into which he was being
Raising the manuscript, which represented all that the past months
of his re-created life had meant to him, and grasping it in both
hands, he shook it contemptuously, as he said, with indescribable
bitterness and the reckless surrendering of every hope: "'All them
fine things that I have wrote down for everybody ter read.'" He
mimicked her voice with a sneer, and laughed again. Then: "It's
all a lie, Judy, dear;--a damned lie. Auntie Sue is a saint, and
believes it. She made me believe it for a little while,--her
beautiful, impossible dream-philosophy of the river. The river,--
hell!--the river is as treacherous and cruel and false and tricky
and crooked as life itself! And I am as warped and twisted in mind
and soul as you are in body, Judy, dear. Neither of us can help
it. We were made that way by the river. To hell with the whole
impossible mess of things!" With a gesture of violent rage, he
turned toward the river, and, taking a step forward, lifted the
manuscript high above his head.
Judy screamed, "Mr. Burns, don't!"
He paused an instant, and, turning his head, looked at her with
"'Fore God, you dassn't do that!" she implored.
And then, as the man turned his face from her, and his arms went
back above his head for the swing that would send the manuscript
far out into the tumbling waters of the rapids, she leaped toward
him, and, catching his arm, hampered his movement so that the book
fell a few feet from the shore, where the water, checked a little
in its onward rush to the cliff by the irregular bank, boiled and
eddied among the rocky ledges and huge boulders that retarded its
force. Another leap carried the mountain girl to the edge of the
bank, where she crouched like a runner ready for the report of the
starter's pistol, her black, beady eyes searching the stream for
the volume of manuscript, which had disappeared from sight, drawn
down by the troubled swirling currents.
The man, watching her, laughed in derision; but, while his mocking
laughter was still on his lips, the boiling currents brought the
book, again, to the surface, and Brian saw the girl leave the bank
as if thrown by a powerful spring. Straight and true she dived for
the book, and even as she disappeared beneath the surface her hands
clutched the manuscript.
For a second, Brian Kent held his place as if paralyzed with
horror. Then, as Judy's head appeared farther down the stream, he
ran with all his strength along the bank to gain a point a little
ahead of the swimming girl before he should leap to her rescue.
But Judy, trained from her birth on that mountain river, knew
better than Brian what to do. A short distance below the point
where she had plunged into the stream, a huge boulder, some two or
three feet from the shore, caused a split in the current, one fork
of which set in toward the bank. Swimming desperately, the girl
gained the advantage of this current, and, just as Brian reached
the spot, she was swept against the bank, where, with her free
hand, she caught and held fast to a projecting root. Had she been
carried past that point, nothing could have saved her from being
swept on into the wild turmoil of the waters at Elbow Rock.
It was the work of a moment for Brian to throw himself flat on the
ground at the edge of the bank and, reaching down, to grasp the
girl's wrist. Another moment, and she was safe beside him, his
manuscript still tightly held under one arm.
Not realizing, in his excitement, what he was doing, Brian shook
the girl, saying angrily: "What in the world do you mean, taking
such a crazy-fool chance as that!"
She broke away from him with: "Well, what'd you-all go an' do such
a dad burned fool thing for? Hit's you-all what's crazy yourself--
Brian held out his hand: "Give me that manuscript!"
Judy clutched the book tighter, and drew back defiantly. "I won't.
You-all done throwed hit away onct. 'Tain't your'n no more,
"Well, what do you purpose to do with it?" said the puzzled man, in
a gentler tone.
"I aims ter give hit ter Auntie Sue," came the startling reply. "I
reckon she'll know what ter do. Hit allus was more her'n than
your'n, anyhow. You done said so yourself. I heard you only last
night when you-all was so dad burned tickled at gittin' hit done.
You-all ain't got no right ter sling hit inter the river, an',
anyway, I ain't a-goin' ter let you."
"Which sounds very sensible to me," came a clear voice from a few
Judy and Brian turned quickly, to face a young woman who stood
regarding them thoughtfully, with a suggestion of a smile on her
very attractive face.
BETTY JO CONSIDERS.
The most careless eye would have seen instantly that the newcomer
was not a native of that backwoods district. She was not a large
woman, but there was, nevertheless, a full, rounded strength, which
saved her trim and rather slender body from appearing small.
Neither would a discriminating observer describe her by that too-
common term "pretty." She was more than that. In her large, gray
eyes, there was a look of frank, straightforward interest that
suggested an almost boyish good-fellowship, while at the same time
there was about her a general air of good breeding; with a calm,
self-possessed and businesslike alertness which, combined with a
wholesome dignity, commanded a feeling of respect and confidence.
Her voice was clear and musical, with an undertone of sympathetic
humor. One felt when she spoke that while she lacked nothing of
intelligent understanding and sympathetic interest, she was quite
ready to laugh at you just the same.
When the two stood speechless, she said, looking straight at Brian:
"It seems to me, sir, that the young lady has all the best of the
argument. But I really think she should have some dry clothes as
She turned to the dripping and dishevelled Judy: "You poor child.
Aren't you cold! It is rather early in the season for a dip in the
river, I should think. Let me take whatever you have there, and
you make for the house as fast as you can go,--the run will warm
As she spoke, she went to the mountain girl, holding out her hand
to take the manuscript, and smiling encouragingly.
But Judy backed away, her stealthy, oblique gaze fixed with
watchful surprise on the fair stranger.
"This here ain't none of your put-in," and her shrill drawling
monotone contrasted strangely with the other's pleasing voice.
"Where'd you-all happen from, anyhow? How'd you-all git here?"
"I came over the bluff by the path," answered the other. "You see,
I left the train from the south at White's Crossing because I knew
I could drive up from there by the river road quicker than I could
go by rail away around through the hills to Thompsonville, and then
make the drive down the river from there. When I reached Elbow
Rock, I was in such a hurry, I took the short cut, while the man
with my trunk and things went by the road over Schoolhouse Hill,
you know. I arrived here just as this gentleman was pulling you
from the water."
Before Brian could speak, Judy returned with excitement: "I know
who you-all be now. I ought ter knowed the minute I set eyes on
you. You-all are the gal with that there no-'count name, an'
you've come ter work for him, there,"--she pointed to Brian,--"a-
helpin' him ter write his book, what ain't his'n no more, nohow,
'cause he done throwed hit away,--plumb inter the river."
"I am Miss Williams," returned the other. "My 'no-'count name,' I
suppose, is Betty Jo." She laughed kindly. "Perhaps it won't seem
so 'no'count' when we are better acquainted, Judy. Won't you run
along to the house, and change to some dry clothes? You will catch
your death of cold if you stand here like this."
"How'd you-all know I was Judy?"
"Why, Auntie Sue wrote me about you, of course."
"An' you knowed me 'cause I'm so all crooked an' ugly, I reckon,"
came the uncompromising return.
Betty Jo turned to Brian: "You are Mr. Burns, are you not, for
whom I am to work?"
Brian made no reply,--he really could not speak. "And this,"--
Betty Jo included Judy, the manuscript, and the river in a graceful
gesture,--"this, I suppose, is the result of what is called 'the
Still the man could find no words. The young woman's presence and
her reference to his work brought to him, with overwhelming
vividness, the memory of all to which he had so short a time before
looked forward, and which was now so hopelessly lost to him. He
felt, too, a sense of rebellion that she should have come at such a
moment,--that she could stand there with such calm self-possession
and with such an air of competency. Her confidence and poise in
such contrast to the chaotic turmoil of his own thoughts, and his
utter helplessness in the situation which had so suddenly burst
upon him, filled him with unreasoning resentment.
Betty Jo must have read in Brian Kent's face something of the
suffering that held him there dumb and motionless before her, and
so sensed a deeper tragedy than appeared on the surface of the
incident; and her own face and voice revealed her understanding as
she said, with quiet, but decisive, force: "Mr. Burns, Judy must
go to the house. Won't you persuade her?"
Brian started as one aroused from deep abstraction, and went to
Judy; while Betty Jo drew a little way apart, and stood looking out
over the river.
"Give me the manuscript, Judy," said Brian gently, "and go on to
"You-all ain't a-goin' ter sling hit inter the river again?" The
words were half-question and half-assertion.
"No," said Brian. "I promise not to throw it into the river
As Judy gave him the manuscript, she turned her beady eyes in a
stealthy, oblique look toward Betty Jo, and whispered: "You-all
best tell her 'bout hit. I sure hate her poison-bad; but hit's
easy ter see she'd sure know what ter do."
"Be careful that Auntie Sue doesn't see you like this, Judy," was
Brian's only answer; and Judy started off for her much-needed
change to dry clothing.
When the mountain girl was gone, Brian stood looking at the water-
stained volume of manuscript in his hand. He had no feeling, now,
of more than a curious idle interest in this work to which, during
the months just past, he had given so without reserve the best of
himself. It was, he thought, strange how he could regard with such
indifference a thing for which a few hours before he would have
given his life. Dumbly, he was conscious of the truth of Judy's
words,--that the book was no longer his. Judy was right--this book
which he had called his had always been, in reality, Auntie Sue's.
So the matter of his work, at least so far as he had to do with it,
was settled--definitely and finally settled.
But what of himself? What was to become of him? Of one thing only
he was certain about himself;--he never could face Auntie Sue
again. Knowing, now, what he had done, and knowing that she knew;--
that all the time she was nursing him back to health, all the time
she had been giving him the inspiration and strength and peace of
her gentle, loving companionship, in the safe and quiet harbor of
her little house by the river, she had known that it was he who
A clear, matter-of-fact, but gentle, voice interrupted his bitter
thoughts: "Is it so very badly damaged, Mr. Burns?"
He had forgotten Betty Jo, who now stood close beside him.
"Let me see?" She held out her hand as he turned slowly to face
Without a word, he gave her the manuscript.
Very businesslike and practical, but with an underlying feeling of
tenderness that was her most compelling charm, Betty Jo examined
the water-stained volume.
"Why, no," she announced cheerfully; "it isn't really hurt much.
You see, the sheets being tied together so tightly, the water
didn't get all the way through. The covers and the first and last
pages are pretty wet, and the edges of the rest are rather damp.
It'll be smudged somewhat, but I don't believe there is a single
word that can't be made out. It is lucky it didn't prolong its
bath, though, isn't it? All we need to do, now, is to put it in
the sun to dry for a few minutes."
Selecting a sunny spot near by, she arranged the volume against a
stone and deftly separated the pages so that the air could
circulate more freely between them; and one would have said, from
her manner of ready assurance, that she had learned from long
experience exactly how to dry a manuscript that had been thrown in
the river and rescued just in the nick of time. That was Betty
Jo's way. She always did everything without hesitation,--just as
though she had spent the twenty-three years of her life doing
exactly that particular thing.
Kneeling over the manuscript, and gently moving the wet sheets, she
said, without looking up: "Do you always bath your manuscripts
like this before you turn them over to your stenographer to type,
In spite of his troubled state of mind, Brian smiled.
The clear, matter-of-fact voice went on, while the competent hands
moved the drying pages. "You see, I never worked for an author
before. I suspect I have a lot to learn."
She looked up at him with a Betty Jo smile that went straight to
his heart, as Betty Jo's smiles had a curious way of doing.
"I hope you will be very patient with me, Mr. Burns. You will,
won't you? There is no real danger of your throwing ME in the
river when the 'artistic temperament' possesses you, is there?"
It was no use. When Betty Jo set out to make a man talk, that man
talked. Brian yielded not ungracefully: "I owe you an apology,
Miss Williams," he said.
"Indeed, no," Betty Jo returned, giving her attention to the
manuscript again. "It is easy to see that you are terribly upset
about something; and everybody is so accustomed to being upset in
one way or another that apologies for upsetments are quite an
unnecessary bother, aren't they?"
That was another interestingly curious thing about Betty Jo,--the
way she could finish off a characteristic, matter-of-fact statement
with a question which had the effect of making one agree instantly
whether one agreed or not.
Brian felt himself quite unexpectedly feeling that "upsetments"
were quite common, ordinary, and to be expected events in one's
life. "But I am really in very serious trouble, Miss Williams," he
said in a way that sounded oddly to Brian himself, as though he
were trying to convince himself that his trouble really was
Betty Jo rose to her feet, and looked straight at him, and there
was no mistaking the genuineness of the interest expressed in those
big gray eyes.
"Oh, are you? Is it really so serious? I am so sorry. But don't
you think you better tell me about it, Mr. Burns? If I am to work
for you, I may just as well begin right here, don't you think?"
There it was again,--that trick-question. Brian felt himself
agreeing in spite of himself, though how he was to explain his
painful situation to this young woman whom, until a few minutes
before, he had never even seen, he did not know. He answered
cautiously, speaking half to himself: "That is what Judy said."
Betty Jo did not understand, and made no pretense,--she never made
a pretense of anything. "What did Judy say?" she asked.
"That I had better tell you about it," he answered.
And the matter-of-fact Betty Jo returned: "Judy seems to be a very
particular and common-sensing sort of Judy, doesn't she?"
And Brian realized all at once that Judy was exactly what Betty Jo
"But,--I--I--don't see how I CAN tell you, Miss Williams."
"Why?" laughed Betty Jo. "It is perfectly simple, Mr. Burns.
here, now, I'll show you: You are to sit down there on that nice
comfortable rock,--that is your big office-chair, you know,--and
I'll sit right here on this rock,--which is my little stenography-