Part 3 out of 5
chair,--and you will just explain the serious business proposition
to me with careful attention to details. I must tell you that
'detailing' is one of my strong points, so don't spare me. I
really should have my notebook, shouldn't I?"
Again, in spite of himself, Brian smiled; also, before he was
aware, they were both seated as Betty Jo had directed.
"But this is not a business matter, Miss Williams," he managed to
Betty Jo was looking at her watch in a most matter-of-fact manner,
and she answered in a most matter-of-fact voice: "Everything is
more or less a business matter, isn't it, Mr. Burns?"
And Brian, if he had answered, would have agreed.
Betty Jo slipped her watch back into her pocket, and continued:
"You will have plenty of time before that man with my trunk and
things can get away 'round over Schoolhouse Hill and down again to
Auntie Sue's. He will be obliged to stop at neighbor Tom's, and
tell them all about me, of course. We mustn't let him beat us to
the house, though; so, perhaps, you better begin, don't you think?"
That "don't-you-think?" so characteristic of Betty Jo, did its
work, as usual; and so, almost before Brian Kent realized what he
was doing, it had been decided for him that to follow Judy's advice
was the best possible thing he could do, and he was relating his
whole wretched experience to this young woman, about whom he knew
nothing except that she was a niece of an old pupil of Auntie
Sue's, and that she had just finished a course in a business
college in Cincinnati.
At several points in his story Betty Jo asked straightforward
questions, or made short, matter-of-fact comments; but, always with
her businesslike air of competent interest. Indeed, she managed to
treat the situation as being wholly impersonal; while at the same
time the man was never for a moment made to feel that she was
lacking in sincere and genuine sympathy. Only when he told her
that his name was Brian Kent, and mentioned the Empire Consolidated
Savings Bank, did she for the moment betray excited surprise. When
she saw that he had noticed, she said quickly: "I read of the
affair in the papers, of course."
Auntie Sue had indeed taken a big chance when she decided for Betty
Jo to come to help Brian with his book. But Auntie Sue had taken
no chance on Betty Jo herself. Perhaps it was, in fact, the dear
old teacher's certainty about Betty Jo herself that had led her to
accept the risk of sending for the niece of her friend and pupil
under such a peculiar combination of circumstances.
When Brian had finished his story with the account of his discovery
of the distressing fact that he had robbed Auntie Sue and that she
knew he had robbed her, Betty Jo said: "It is really a sad story,
isn't it, Mr. Burns? But, oh, isn't Auntie Sue wonderful! Was
there ever such another woman in the world! Don't you love her?
And couldn't you do anything--anything that would make her happy?
After all, when you think of Auntie Sue, and how wonderful she has
been, this whole thing isn't so bad, is it?"
"Why, I--I--don't think I see what you mean," Brian replied,
puzzled by the unexpected turn she had given to the situation, yet
convinced by that little question with which she finished that she
was somehow right.
"Well, I mean wouldn't YOU love to do for some one what Auntie Sue
has done for you? I should if I were only big enough and good
enough. It seems to me it would make one the happiest and
contentedest and peacefulest person in the world, wouldn't it?"
Brian did not answer. While he felt himself agreeing with Betty
Jo's view, he was wondering at himself that he could discuss the
matter so calmly. It was not that he no longer felt deeply the
shame of this terrible thing that he had done; it was not that he
had ceased to suffer the torment that had caused his emotional
madness, which had found expression in his attempt to destroy his
manuscript; it was only that this young woman somehow made it
possible for him to retain his self-control, and instead of venting
his emotions in violent and wholly useless expressions of regret,
and self-condemnation, and in irrational, temperamental action, to
consider coolly and sanely what he must do. He was strangely
possessed, too, of an instinctive certainty that Betty Jo knew
exactly how he felt and exactly what she was doing.
While he was thinking these things, or, rather, feeling them, Betty
Jo went to see how the manuscript was drying. She returned to her
seat on the rock presently, saying: "It is doing very nicely,--
almost dry. I think it will be done pretty soon. In the meantime,
what are we going to do about everything? You have thought of
something for you to do, of course!"
"I fear I have felt rather more than I have thought," returned
She nodded. "Yes, I know; but feeling alone never arrives
anywhere. An excess of thoughtless feeling is sheer emotional
extravagance. I sound like a book, don't I?" she laughed. "It is
so just the same, Mr. Burns. And now that you have--ah--been
properly--not to say gloriously--extravagant at poor Judy's
expense, we had better do a little thinking, don't you think?"
The man's cheeks reddened at her words; but the straightforward,
downright sincerity of those gray eyes, that looked so frankly into
his, held him steady; while the interrogation at the end of her
remark carried its usual conviction.
"There is only one possible thing left for me to do, Miss
Williams," he said earnestly.
"And what is that?" A smile that sent a glow of courage to Brian
Kent's troubled heart accompanied the flat question.
"I can't face Auntie Sue again, knowing what I know now." He spoke
"Of course you would expect to feel that way, wouldn't you?" came
the matter-of-fact answer.
"The only thing I can do," he continued, "is to give myself up, and
go to the penitentiary; arranging, somehow, to do it in such a way
that the reward will go to Auntie Sue. God knows she deserves it!
Sheriff Knox would help me fix that part, I am sure."
For a moment there was a suspicious moisture in Betty Jo's gray
eyes. Then she said, "And you would really go to prison for Auntie
"It is the least I can do for her now," he returned.
And Betty Jo must have felt the sincerity of his purpose, for she
said, softly: "I am sure that it would make Auntie Sue very happy
to know that you would do that; and"--she added--"I know that you
could not possibly make her more unhappy and miserable than by
doing it, could you?"
Again she had given an unexpected turn to the subject with the
usual convincing question-mark.
"But what can I do?" he demanded, letting himself go a little.
Betty Jo steadied him with: "Well, suppose you listen while I
consider? Did I tell you that 'considering' was another of my
strong points, Mr. Burns? Well, it is. You may consider me while
I consider, if you please.
"The first thing is, that you must make Auntie Sue happy,--as happy
as you possibly can do at any cost. The second thing is, that you
must pay her back that money, every penny of it. Now, it wouldn't
make her happy for you to go to prison, and the reward wouldn't pay
back all the money; and if you were in prison, you never could pay
the rest; besides, if you were wasting your time in prison, she
would just die of miserableness, and she wouldn't touch a penny of
that reward-money--not if she was to die for want of it. So that
settles that, doesn't it?"
And Brian was forced to admit that, as Betty Jo put it, it did.
"Very well, let us consider some more: Dear Auntie Sue has been
wonderfully, gloriously happy in doing what she has for you this
past winter,--meaning your book and all. I can see that she must
have been. No one could help being happy doing such a thing as
that. So you just simply can't spoil it all, now, by letting her
know that you know what you know."
Brian started to speak, but she checked him with: "Please, Mr.
Burns, I must not be interrupted when I am considering. Next to
the prison,--which we have agreed won't do at all,--you could do
nothing that would make Auntie Sue more unhappy than to spoil the
happiness she has in your not knowing what you have done to her.
That is very clear, isn't it? And think of her miserableness if,
after all these weeks of happy anticipation, your book should never
be published. No, no, no; you can't rob Auntie Sue of her
happiness in you just because you stole her money, can you?"
And Brian knew in his heart that she was right.
"So, you see," Betty Jo continued, "the only possible way to do is
to go right along just as if nothing had happened. And there is
this final consideration,--which must be a dark secret between you
and me,--when the book is finished, you must see to it that every
penny that comes from it goes to Auntie Sue until she is paid back
all that she lost through you. Now, isn't that pretty fine
'considering,' Mr. Burns?"
And Brian was convinced that it was. "But," he suggested, "the
book may not earn anything. Nothing that I ever wrote before did."
"You never wrote one before just like this, did you?" came the very
matter-of-fact answer. "And, besides, if your book never earns a
cent, it will do Auntie Sue a world more good than your going to
prison for her. That would be rather silly, now that you think of
it, wouldn't it? And now that we have our conspiracy all nicely
conspired, we must hurry to the house before that man arrives with
She went for the manuscript as she spoke. "See," she cried, "it is
quite dry, and not a bit the worse for its temperamental experience!"
She laughed gleefully.
"But, Miss Williams," exclaimed Brian, "I--I--can't understand you!
You don't seem to mind. What I have told you about myself doesn't
seem to--to--make any difference to you--I mean in your attitude
"Oh, yes, it does," she returned. "It makes me very interested in
you, Mr. Burns."
"But, how can you have any confidence-- How can you help me with
my book now that you know what I am?" he persisted, for he was
sincerely puzzled by her apparent indifference to the revelation he
had made of his character.
"Auntie Sue,"--she answered,--"just Auntie Sue. Come,--we must
"How in the world can I ever face her!" groaned Brian.
"You won't get the chance at her, for awhile, with me around;--she
will be so busy with me that she won't notice anything wrong with
you. So you will get accustomed to the conspiracy feeling before
you are even suspected of conspiring. You know, when one has once
arrived at the state of not feeling like a liar, one can lie with
astonishing success. Haven't you found it so?"
They laughed together over this as they went toward the house.
As they reached the porch, Betty Jo whispered a last word of
instruction: "You better find Judy, and fix her the first thing;--
fix her good and hard. Here is Auntie Sue now. Don't worry about
her noticing anything strange about you. I'll attend to her."
And the next minute, Betty Jo had the dear old lady in her arms.
A MATTER OF BUSINESS.
The weeks that followed the coming of Betty Jo to the little log
house by the river passed quickly for Brian Kent. Perhaps it was
the peculiar circumstances of their first meeting that made the man
feel so strongly that he had known her for many years, instead of
for only those few short weeks. That could easily have been the
reason, because the young woman had stepped so suddenly into his
life at a very critical time;--when his mental faculties were so
confused by the turmoil and suffering of his emotional self that
the past was to him, at the moment, far more real than the present.
And Betty Jo had not merely come into his life casually, as a
disinterested spectator; but, by the peculiar appeal of herself,
she had led Brian to take her so into his confidence that she had
become immediately a very real part of the experience through which
he was then passing, and thus was identified with his past
experience out of which the crisis of the moment had come.
Again Betty Jo, in the naturalness of her manner toward him, and by
her matter-of-fact, impersonal consideration of his perplexing
situation, had brought to his unsettled and chaotic mind a sense of
stability and order; and by subtly insinuating her own practical
decisions as to the course he should follow, had made herself a
very literal part of his inner life. In fact, Betty Jo knew Brian
Kent more intimately at the close of their first meeting than she
could have known him after years of acquaintanceship under the
ordinary course of development.
Brian's consciousness of this would naturally cause him to feel
toward the young woman as though she had long been a part of his
life. Still other causes might have contributed to the intimate
companionship that so quickly became to them both an established
and taken-for-granted fact; but, the circumstances of their first
meeting, given, of course, their peculiar individualities, were,
really, quite enough. The fact that it was springtime might also
have had something to do with it.
The morning after her arrival, Betty Jo set to work typing the
manuscript. Brian went to his work on the timbered hillside. In
the evenings, Brian worked over the typewitten pages,--revising,
correcting, perfecting,--and then, as Betty Jo made the final copy
for the printers, they went critically over the work together.
So the hours flew past on busy wings, and the days of the
springtime drew toward summer. The tender green of the new-born
leaves and grasses changed to a stronger, deeper tone. The air,
which had been so filled with the freshness and newness of bursting
buds and rain-blessed soil, and all the quickening life of tree
and bush and plant, now carried the perfume of strongly growing
things,--the feel of maturing life.
To Brian, the voices of the river brought a fuller, deeper message,
with a subtle undertone of steady and enduring purpose.
From the beginning, Betty Jo established for herself the habit of
leaving her work at the typewriter in the afternoons, and going for
a walk over the hills. Quite incidentally, at first, her walks
occasionally led her by way of the clearing where Brian was at work
with his ax, and it followed, naturally, that as the end of the day
drew near, the two would go together down the mountain-side to the
evening meal. But long before the book was finished, the little
afternoon visit and the walk together at the day's close had become
so established as a custom that they both accepted it as a part of
their day's life; and to Brian, at least, it was an hour to which
he looked forward as the most delightful hour of the twenty-four.
As for Betty Jo,--well, it was really Betty Jo who established the
custom and developed it to that point where it was of such
Auntie Sue was too experienced from her life-long study of boys and
girls not to observe the deepening of the friendship between the
man and the woman whom she had brought together. But if the dear
old lady felt any twinges of an apprehensive conscience, when she
saw the pair day after day coming down the mountain-side through
the long shadows of the late afternoon, she very promptly banished
them, and, quite consistently, with what Brian called her "River
philosophy," made no attempt to separate these two life currents,
which, for the time at least, seemed to be merging into one.
And often, as the three sat together on the porch after supper to
watch the sunsets, or later in the evening as Auntie Sue sat with
her sewing while they were busy with their work and unobserving,
the dear old lady would look at them with a little smile of tender
meaning, and into the gentle eyes would come that far-away look
that was born of the memories that had so sweetened the long years
of her life, and of the hope and dream of a joy unspeakable that
awaited her beyond the sunset of her day.
In her long letter to Betty Jo, asking the girl to come, Auntie Sue
had told the young woman the main facts of Brian's history as she
knew them, omitting only the man's true name and the name of the
bank. She had even mentioned her conviction that there had been a
woman in his trouble. But Auntie Sue had not mentioned in her
letter the money she had lost; nor did she now know that Brian had
himself told Betty Jo at the time of their first meeting.
On the day that Betty Jo typed the last page, and the book was
ready for the printers, the young woman went earlier than usual to
the clearing where Brian was at work. The sound of his ax reached
her while she was yet some distance away, and guided her to the
spot where he was chopping a big white oak.
Brian, with his eyes fixed on the widening cut at the base of the
tree, did not notice the girl, who stood watching him. She was
smiling to herself at his ignorance of her presence and in
anticipation of the moment when he should discover her, and there
was in her eyes a look of wholesome womanly admiration for the man
who swung his ax with such easy strength. In truth, Brian Kent at
his woodman's labor made a picture not at all unattractive.
Swiftly, the cut in the tree-trunk widened as the ax bit deeply at
every skilful stroke, and the chips flew about the chopper's feet.
The acrid odor of the freshly cut oak mingled with the woodland
perfume. The sun warmly flooded the clearing with its golden
light, and, splashing through the openings in the forest foliage,
formed pools of yellow beauty amid the dark, rich green of the
shadowy undergrowth. The air was filled with the sense of life,
vital and real, and strong and beautiful.
And the young woman, as she stood smiling there, was keenly
conscious of it all. Most of all, perhaps, Betty Jo was conscious
of the man, who worked with such vigor at his manly task.
Slowly, accurately, the bright ax sank deeper and deeper into the
heart of the tree. The chips increased in scattered profusion.
And then, as Betty Jo watched, the swinging ax cut through the last
fibre of the tree's strength, and the leafy top swayed gently
toward its fall. Almost imperceptibly, at first, it moved while
Betty Jo watched breathlessly. Brian swung his ax with increasing
vigor, now, while the wood, still remaining, cracked and snapped as
the weight of the tree completed the work of the chopper. Faster
and faster the towering mass of foliage swung in a wide graceful
arc toward the ground. The man with the ax stepped back, his eyes
fixed on the falling tree as, with swiftly increasing momentum, its
great weight swept swiftly downward to its crashing end.
Betty Jo clapped her hands in triumph; and Brian, turning, saw
her standing there. His face was flushed and glistening with
perspiration; his broad chest heaved with the deep breathing gained
by his exertion, and his eyes shone with the gladness of her
"You are early, to-day!" he cried. "Have you finished? Is it
"All finished," she returned; and, going to the fallen tree, she
put her hands curiously on the trunk, which lay a little higher
than her waist. "Help me up," she commanded.
Brian set his ax against the stump, and, laughingly, lifted her to
the seat she desired. Then he stood watching her face as she
surveyed the tangled mass of branches.
"It looks so strange from here, doesn't it?" she said.
"Yes; and I confess I don't like to see it that way;" he returned.
"I wish they didn't have to be cut. I feel like a murderer,--every
one I fall."
She looked down into his eyes, as she returned: "I know you must.
YOU would, of course. But, after all, it has to be, and I don't
suppose the tree minds so much, do you?"
"No; I don't suppose it feels it much." He laughed, and, throwing
aside his hat, he ran his fingers through his tumbled hair for all
the world like a schoolboy confused by being caught in some
sentimental situation which he finds not only embarrassing, but
puzzling as well.
"I like you for feeling that way about it, though," Betty Jo
confessed with characteristic frankness. "And I am sure it must be
a very good thing for the world that every one is not so intensely
practical that they can chop down trees without a pang. And that
reminds me: Speaking of the practical, now that the book is
finished, what are we going to do with it?"
"Send it to some publisher, I suppose," answered Brian, soberly;
"and then, when they have returned it, send it to some other
"Have you any particular publisher to whom you will send it first?"
"They are all alike, so far as my experience goes," he returned.
"I suppose it would be best if you could take your book East, and
interview the publishers personally, don't you think?"
Brian shook his head: "I am not sure that it would make any
difference, and, in any case, I couldn't do it."
"I know," said Betty Jo, "and that is what I wanted to get at. Why
don't you appoint me your agent, and let me take your book East,
and make the publishing arrangements for you?"
Brian looked at her with such delighted surprise that Betty Jo
smiled back at him well pleased.
"Would you really do it?" he demanded, as though he feared she was
"You are sure that you don't mean 'COULD I do it'?"--she returned,--
"sure you could trust me?"
To which Brian answered enthusiastically: "You could do anything!
If you undertake the job of landing a publisher for my stuff, it is
as good as done."
"Thank you," she said, jumping down from the tree-trunk. "Now that
we have settled it, let us go to the house and tell Auntie Sue, and
I will start in the morning."
As they went down the hill, they discussed the matter further, and,
later, at the house, Brian took a moment, when Auntie Sue was in
her room, to hand an envelope to his assistant. "Your salary," he
said, hurriedly, "and expense money for the trip."
"Oh!" Betty Jo's exclamation was one of surprise. Then she said,
in her most matter-of-fact, businesslike tone: "Thank you. I will
render a statement of my account, but--" For once, Betty Jo seemed
at a loss for words. "You don't mind if I ask--is--is this money--?"
Brian's face was a study. "Yes," he said, "it is really Auntie
Sue's money; but it is all I have, and I can't return it to her--
without her knowing--so I--"
Betty Jo interrupted: "I understand. It is all we can do,--
Brian Kent did not know that Betty Jo, a few minutes later, buried
the envelope he had given her deep in the bottom of her trunk
without even opening it.
The next day, Brian drove to Thompsonville with Betty Jo, who took
the noon train for the East.
The two were rather quiet as "Old Prince" jogged soberly along the
beautiful river road. Only now and then did they exchange a few
words of the most commonplace observation.
They were within sight of the little Ozark settlement when Brian
said, earnestly: "I wish I could tell you, Miss Williams, just
what your coming to help me with this work has meant to me."
"It has meant a great deal to me, too, Mr. Burns," she returned.
Then she added quickly: "I suppose the first real work one does
after finishing school always means more than any position
following could possibly mean, don't you think? Just like your
book. No matter how many you may write in the future, this will
always mean more to you than any one of them."
"Yes," he said slowly. "This book will always mean more to me than
all the others I may write."
For a moment their eyes met with unwavering frankness. Then Betty
Jo turned her face away, and Brian stiffened his shoulders, and sat
a little straighter in the seat beside her. That was all.
Very brave they were at the depot purchasing Betty Jo's ticket and
checking her trunk. With brave commonplaces they said good-bye
when the train pulled in. Bravely she waved at him from the open
window of the coach. And bravely Brian stood there watching until
the train rounded the curve and disappeared from sight between the
The world through which Brian Kent drove that afternoon on his way
back to Auntie Sue and Judy in the little log house by the river
was a very dull and uninteresting world indeed. All its brightness
and its beauty seemed suddenly to have vanished. And as "Old
Prince" jogged patiently on his way, sleepily content with thoughts
of his evening meal of hay and grain, the man's mind was disturbed
with thoughts which he dared not own even to his innermost self.
"Circumstances to a man," Auntie Sue had said, "always meant a
woman." And Brian Kent, while he never under any pressure would
have admitted it, knew within his deepest self that it was a woman
who had set him adrift on the dark river that dreadful night when
he had cursed the world which he thought he was leaving forever.
"Circumstances" in the person of Auntie Sue had saved him from
destruction, and, in the little log house by the river, had brought
about his Re-Creation.
And then, when that revelation of his crime toward Auntie Sue had
come, and the labor of months, with all that it implied of the
enduring salvation of himself and the happiness of Auntie Sue, hung
wavering in the balance, it was the "Circumstances" of Betty Jo's
coming that had set him in the right current of action again.
What waited for him around the next bend in the river, Brian
wondered,--calm and peaceful waters, with gently flowing currents,
or the wild tumult of dangerous rapids wherein he would be forced
to fight for his very existence? Would Betty Jo succeed as his
agent to the publishers? If she did succeed in finding a publisher
to accept his book, would the reading public receive his message?
And if that followed, what then? When Betty Jo's mission in the
East was accomplished, she was to return to Auntie Sue for the
"Old Prince," of his own accord, was turning in at the gate, and
Brian awoke from his abstraction to see Auntie Sue and Judy waiting
All during the evening meal and while he sat with Auntie Sue on
the porch overlooking the river, as their custom was, Brian was
preoccupied and silent; while his companion, with the wisdom of her
seventy years, did not force the conversation.
It was the time of the full moon, and when Auntie Sue at last bade
him good-night, Brian, saying that the evening was too lovely to
waste in sleep, remained on the porch. For an hour, perhaps, he
sat there alone; but his thoughts were not on the beauties of the
scene that lay before him in all its dreamy charm of shadowy hills
and moonlit river. He had no ear for the soft voices of the night.
The gentle breeze carried to him the low, deep-toned roar of the
crashing waters at Elbow Rock; but he did not hear. Moved at last
by a feeling of restless longing, and the certainty that only a
sleepless bed awaited him in the house, he left the porch to stroll
along the bank of the river.
THE SECRET OF AUNTIE SUE'S LIFE.
Brian Kent, strolling along the bank of the river in the moonlight,
and preoccupied with thoughts that were, at the last, more dreams
than thoughts, was not far from the house when a sound from behind
some near-by bushes broke in upon his reveries. A moment, he
listened. Then telling himself that it was some prowling animal,
or perhaps, a bird that his presence had disturbed, he went on.
But he had gone only a few feet farther when he was conscious of
something stealthily following him. Stepping behind the trunk of a
tree, he waited, watching. Then he saw a form moving toward him
through the shadows of the bushes. Another moment, and the form
left the concealing shadow, and, in the bright moonlight, he
At first, the man's feeling was that of annoyance. He did not wish
to be disturbed at such a time by the presence of the mountain
girl. But his habitual gentleness toward poor Judy, together with
a very natural curiosity as to why she was following him at that
time of the night, when he had supposed her in bed and asleep, led
him to greet her kindly as he came from behind the tree: "Well,
Judy, are you, too, out enjoying the moonlight?"
The girl stopped suddenly and half-turned as if to run; but, at his
words, stood still.
"What is it, Judy?" he asked, going to her. "What is the matter?"
"There's a heap the matter!" she answered, regarding him with that
sly oblique look; while Brian noticed a feeling of intense
excitement in her voice. "I don't know what you-all are a-goin'
ter think of me, but I'm bound ter tell you just the same,--seems
like I got ter,--even if you-all was ter lick me for hit like pap
"Why, Judy, dear," the puzzled man returned, soothingly, "you know
I would never strike you, no matter what you did. Come, sit down
here on this log, and tell me about whatever it is that troubles
you; then you can go back to sleep again."
"I ain't a-wantin' ter set down. I ain't been asleep. Hit seems
like I can't never sleep no more." She wrung her hands and turned
her poor twisted body about nervously; then demanded with startling
abruptness: "When do you-all 'low she'll git back?"
The wondering Brian did not at first catch her meaning, and she
continued, with an impatient jerk of her head: "Hit's that there
gal with the no-'count name, Betty Jo, I'm a-talkin' 'bout."
"Oh, you mean Miss Williams," Brian returned. "Why, I suppose she
will be back in two or three weeks, or a month, perhaps; I don't
know exactly, Judy. Why?"
"'Cause I'm a-tellin' you-all not ter let her come back here ever,"
came the startling answer, in a voice that was filled with menacing
anger. Then, before Brian could find a word to reply, the mountain
girl continued, with increasing excitement: "You-all dassn't let
her come back here, nohow, 'cause, if you do, I'll hurt her, sure.
You-all have been a-thinkin' as how I was plumb blind, I reckon;
but I seen you,--every evenin', when she'd pretend ter just go for
a walk an' then'd make straight for the clearin' where you was a-
choppin', an' then you'd quit, an' set with her up there on the
hill. Youuns never knowed I was a-watchin' from the bresh all the
time, did you? Well, I was; an' when youuns'd walk down ter the
house, so slow like an' close together, I'd sneak ahead, an' beat
you home; but all the time I was a-seein' you, an' youuns never
knowed, 'cause youuns just naturally couldn't see nor hear nothin'
but each other. Don't you-all 'low as how I'd know by the way you
looked at her, while youuns was a-fixin' that there book, every
night, what you-all was a-thinkin' 'bout her? My God-A'mighty! hit
was just as plain ter me as if you was a-sayin' hit right out loud
all the time,--a heap plainer hit was than if you'd done writ' hit
down in your book. I can't make out ter read print much, nohow,
like youuns kin; but I sure kin see what I see. I--"
"Judy! Judy!" Brian broke the stream of the excited girl's talk.
"What in the world are you saying? What do you mean, child?"
"You-all knows dad burned well what I'm a-meanin'!" she retorted,
with increasing anger. "I'm a-meanin' that you-all are plumb
lovin' that there Betty Jo gal,--that's what I'm a-meanin'!--an'
you-all sure ain't got ary right for ter go an' do sich a thing,
Brian tried to check her, but she silenced him with: "I won't
neither hush! I can't! I tell you I'm a-goin' ter say my say if
you-all kills me! I've just naturally got ter! Seems like I was
all afire inside an' would burn plumb up if I didn't! I've got
rights, I reckon, if I be all crooked an' twisted out er shape, an'
ugly-faced an' no learnin', ner nothin'."
A dry sob choked the torrent of words for an instant; but, with a
savage effort she went on: "I know I ain't nothin' alongside of
her, but you-all ain't a-goin' ter have her just the same,--not if
I have ter kill her first! You ain't got no right ter have her,
nohow, 'cause hit's like's not you-all done got a woman already
somewheres, wherever 'twas you-all come from; an' even if you ain't
got no woman already, I sure ain't a-goin' ter let you have her!
What'd she ever do for you? Hit was me what dragged you-all from
the river when you was mighty nigh dead from licker an' too plumb
sick ter save yourself! Hit's me that's kept from tellin' the
Sheriff who you be an' a-takin' that there reward-money! Hit was
me what jumped inter the river above Elbow Rock just ter git your
dad burned old book, when you'd done throwed hit plumb away!
"I knowed first time I heard Auntie Sue name her what she'd do ter
you! Any fool would a-knowed what a woman with a half-gal, half-
boy name like her'n would do, an' she's done hit,--she sure has!
But she ain't a-goin' ter do no more! You-all belongs ter me a
heap more'n you do ter her,--if hit comes ter that,--though, I
ain't a-foolin' myself none a-thinkin' that sich as you could ever
take up with sich as me,--me bein' what I am. No, sir; I ain't
never fooled myself ary bit like that, Mr. Burns. But hit ain't a-
makin' no difference how ugly an' crooked an' no 'count I be
outside; the inside of me is a-lovin' you like she never could, ner
nobody else, I reckon. An' I'll just go on a-lovin' you, no matter
what happens; an' I ain't a-carin' whether you got a woman already
er not, er whether you-all have robbed er killed, er what you done.
An'--an'--so I'm a-tellin' you, you'd best not let her come back
here no more, 'cause--'cause I just naturally can't stand hit ter
see youuns tergether! 'Fore God, I'm a-tellin' you true,--I'll
sure hurt her!"
The girl's voice raised to a pitch of frenzied excitement, and,
whirling, she pointed to the river, as she cried: "Look out there!
What do you-all reckon your fine Betty Jo lady would do if I was
ter git her ketched in them there rapids? What do you-all reckon
the Elbow Rock water would do ter her? I'll tell you what hit'd
do: Hit would smash an' grind an' tear an' hammer that there fine,
straight body of hers 'til hit was all broken an' twisted an'
crooked a heap worse'n what I be,--that's what hit would do; an'
hit would scratch an' cut an' beat up that pretty face an' mess up
her pretty hair an' choke her an' smother her 'til she was all
blue-black an' muddy, an' her eyes was red an' starin', an' she was
nothin' but just an ugly lump of dirt; an' hit wouldn't even leave
her her fine clothes neither,--the Elbow Rock water wouldn't,--
hit'd just naturally tear 'em off her, an' leave her 'thout ary
thing what's makin' you love her like you're a-doin'! An' where
would all her fine schoolin' an' smart talk an' pretty ways be
then? Eh? She wouldn't be no better, nor half as good as me, I'm
a-tellin' you, onct Elbow Rock got done with her!"
The poor creature finished in wild triumph; then suddenly, as
though spent with the very fury of her passion, she turned from the
river, and said dully: "You'd sure best not let her come back,
sir! 'Fore God, I ain't a-wantin' ter do hit, but hit seems like I
can't help myself; I can't sleep for wantin' ter fix hit so,--so's
you just couldn't want ter have her no more'n you're a-wantin' me.
I--I--sure ain't a-foolin' myself none, not ary bit, a-thinkin'
you-all could ever git ter likin' sich as me; but, I can't help
sort of dreamin' 'bout hit an' a-pretendin', an'--an' all the while
I'm a-knowin', inside er me like, that there ain't nobody,--not
Auntie Sue, nor this here Betty Jo, nor that there other woman, nor
anybody,--what kin care for you like I'm a-carin',--they just
naturally couldn't care like me; 'cause--'cause, you see, sir, I
ain't got nobody else,--ain't no man but you ever even been decent
ter me. I sure ain't got nobody else--"
The distraught creature's sobs prevented further speech, and she
dropped down on the ground, weak and exhausted; her poor twisted
body shaking and writhing with the emotion she could not voice.
For a little while, Brian Kent himself was as helpless as Judy. He
could only stand dumbly, staring at her as she crouched at his
feet. Then, very gently, he lifted her from the ground, and tried
as best he could to comfort her. But he felt his words to be very
shallow and inadequate, even though his own voice was trembling
"Come, Judy, dear," he said, at last, when she seemed to have in a
measure regained her self-control. "Come. You must go back to the
Drawing away from his supporting arm, she answered, quietly: "I
ain't no child, no more, Mr. Burns: I'm sure a woman, now. I'm
just as much a woman as--as--she is, if I be like what I am. I'm
plumb sorry I had ter do this; but I just naturally couldn't help
hit. You ain't got no call ter be scared I'll do hit again."
When they were nearing the house, Judy stopped again, and, for a
long minute, looked silently out over the moonlit river, while
Brian stood watching her.
"Hit is pretty, ain't hit, Mr. Burns?" she said at last. "With the
hills all so soft an'--an' dreamy-like, an' them clouds a-floatin'
'way up there over the top of Table Mountain; with the moon makin'
'em all silvery an' shiny 'round the edges, an' them trees on yon
side the river lookin' like they was made er smoke er fog er
somethin' like that; an' the old river hitself a-layin' there in
The Bend like--like a long strip of shinin' gold,--hit sure is
pretty! Funny, I couldn't never see hit that a-way before,--ain't
"Yes, Judy; it is beautiful to-night," he said.
But Judy, apparently without hearing him, continued: "'Seems like
I can sense a little ter-night what Auntie Sue an' youuns are allus
a-talkin' 'bout the river,--'bout hit's bein' like life an' sich as
that. An' hit 'pears like I kin kind of git a little er what you
done wrote 'bout hit in your book,--'bout the currents an' the
still places an' the rough water an' all. I reckon as how I'm a
part of your river, too, ain't I, Mr. Burns?"
"Yes, Judy," he answered, wonderingly; "we are all parts of the
"I reckon you're right," she continued. "Hit sure 'pears ter be
that a-way. But I kin tell you-all somethin' else 'bout the river
what you didn't put down in your book, Mr. Burns: There's heaps
an' heaps er snags an' quicksands an' sunk rocks an' shaller places
where hit looks deep an' deep holes where hit looks shaller, an'
currents what's hid 'way down under that'll ketch an' drag you in
when you ain't a-thinkin', an' drown you sure. 'Tain't all of the
river what Auntie Sue an' youuns kin see from the porch. You see,
I knows 'bout hit,--'bout them other things I mean,--'cause I was
borned and growed up a-knowin' 'bout 'em; an'--an'--the next time
you-all writes er book, Mr. Burns, I 'low you-all ought ter put in
'bout them there snags an' things, 'cause folks sure got ter know
'bout 'em, if they ain't a-wantin' ter git drowned."
When Judy had gone into the house, Brian again sat alone on the
An hour, perhaps, had passed when a voice behind him said: "Why,
Brian, are you still up? I supposed you were in bed long ago."
He turned to see Auntie Sue, standing in the doorway.
"And what in the world are you prowling about for, this time of the
night?" Brian retorted, bringing a chair for her.
"I am prowling because I couldn't sleep,--thinking about you,
Brian," she answered.
"I fear that is the thing that is keeping me up, too," he returned
"I know," she said gently. "Sometimes, one's self does keep one
awake. Is it--is it anything you care to tell me? Would it help
for me to know?"
For some time, he did not answer; while the old teacher waited
silently. At last, he spoke, slowly: "Auntie Sue, what is the
greatest wrong that a woman can do?"
"The greatest wrong a woman can do, Brian, is the greatest wrong
that a man can do."
"But, what is it, Auntie Sue?" he persisted.
"I think," she answered,--"indeed I am quite sure,--that the
greatest wrong is for a woman to kill a man's faith in woman; and
for a man to kill a woman's faith in man."
Brian Kent buried his face in his hands.
"Am I right, dear?" asked the old gentlewoman, after a little.
And Brian Kent answered: "Yes, Auntie Sue, you are right--that is
the greatest wrong."
Again they were silent. It was as though few words were needed
between the woman of seventy years and this man who, out of some
great trouble, had been so strangely brought to her by the river.
Then the silvery-haired old teacher spoke again: "Brian, have you
ever wondered that I am so alone in the world? Have you ever asked
yourself why I never married?"
"Yes, Auntie Sue," he answered. "I have wondered."
"Many people have," she said, with simple frankness. Then--"I am
going to tell you something, dear boy, that only two people in the
world beside myself ever knew, and they are both dead, many years
now. I am going to tell you, because I feel--because I think--
that, perhaps, it may help you a little. I, too, Brian, had my
dreams when I was a girl,--my dreams of happiness,--such as every
true woman hopes for;--of a home with all that home means;--of a
lover-husband;--of little ones who would call me 'mother';--and my
dreams ended, Brian, on a battlefield of the Civil War. He went
from me the very day we were promised. He never returned. I have
always felt that we were as truly one as though the church had
solemnized and the law had legalized our union. I promised that I
would wait for him."
"And you--you have kept that promise? You have been true to that
memory?" Brian Kent asked, wonderingly.
"I have been true to him, Brian;--all the years of my life I have
been true to him."
Brian Kent bowed his head, reverently.
Rising, the old gentlewoman went close to him, and put her hands on
his shoulders. "Brian, dear, I have told you my secret because I
thought it might help you to know. Oh, my boy--my boy,--don't--
don't let anything--don't let anyone--kill your faith in womanhood!
No matter how bitter your experience, you can believe, now, that
there are women who can be faithful and true. Surely, you can
believe it now, Brian,--you must!"
And as he caught her hands in his, and raised his face to whisper,
"I do believe, Auntie Sue," she stooped and kissed him.
Then, again, Brian Kent was alone in the night with his thoughts.
And the river swept steadily on its shining way through the moonlit
world to the distant sea.
AN AWKWARD SITUATION.
Frequent letters from Betty Jo informed Brian and Auntie Sue of
that practical and businesslike young woman's negotiations with
various Eastern publishers, until, at last, the matter was finally
settled to Betty Jo's satisfaction.
She had contracted with a well-known firm for the publication of
the book. The details were all arranged. The work was to begin
immediately. Betty Jo was returning to the little log house by the
Brian drove to Thompsonville the morning she was to arrive, and it
seemed to him that "Old Prince" had never jogged so leisurely along
the winding river road, yet he was at the little mountain station
nearly an hour before the train was due.
Those weeks had been very anxious weeks to Brian, in spite of
Auntie Sue's oft-repeated assurances that no publisher could fail
to recognize the value of his work. And, to be entirely truthful,
Brian himself, deep down in his heart, felt a certainty that his
work would receive recognition. But, still, he would argue with
himself, his feeling of confidence might very well be due to the
dear old gentlewoman's enthusiastic faith in him rather than in any
merit in the book itself; and it was a well-established fact--to
all unpublished writers at least--that publishers are a heartless
folk, and exceedingly loth to extend a helpful hand to unrecognized
genius, however great the worth of its offering. He could scarcely
believe the letters which announced the good news. It did not seem
possible that this all-important first step toward the success
which Auntie Sue so confidently predicted for his book was now an
And now that Betty Jo's mission was completed, it seemed months ago
that he had said good-bye to her and had watched the train
disappear between the hills. But when at last the long whistle
echoing and reechoing from the timbered mountain-sides announced
the coming of the train that was bringing her back, and the train
itself a moment later burst into view and, with a rushing roar of
steam and wheels and brakes, came to a stop at the depot platform,
and there was Betty Jo herself, it seemed that it was only
yesterday that she had gone away.
Very calm and self-possessed and well poised was Betty Jo when she
stepped from the train to meet him. She was very capable and
businesslike as she claimed her baggage and saw it safely in the
spring wagon. But still there was a something in her manner--a
light in the gray eyes, perhaps, or a quality in the clear voice--
that meant worlds more to the man than her simple statement, that
she was glad to see him again. Laughingly, she refused to tell him
about her trip as they rode home, saying that Auntie Sue must hear
it all with him. And so conscious was the man of her presence
there beside him that, somehow, the prospective success or failure
of his book did not so much matter, after all.
In the excitement of the joyous meeting between Auntie Sue and
Betty Jo, Judy's stoical self-repression was unnoticed. The
mountain girl went about her part of the household work silently
with apparent indifference to the young woman's presence. But
when, after the late dinner was over, Auntie Sue and Brian listened
to Betty Jo's story, Judy, unobserved, was nearby, so that no word
of the conversation escaped her.
Three times that night, when all was still in the little log house
by the river, the door of Judy's room opened cautiously, and the
twisted form of the mountain girl appeared. Each time, for a few
minutes, she stood there in the moonlight that shone through the
open window into the quiet room, listening, listening; then went
stealthily to the door of the room where Betty Jo was sleeping, and
each time she paused before that closed door to look fearfully
about the dimly lighted living room. Once she crept to Brian's
door, and then to Auntie Sue's, and once she silently put her hand
on the latch of that door between her and Betty Jo; but, each time,
she went stealthily back to her own room.
Betty Jo awoke early that morning. Outside her open window the
birds were singing, and the sun, which was just above the higher
mountain-tops, was flooding the world with its wealth of morning
beauty. The music of the feathery chorus and the golden beauty of
the light that streamed through the window into her room, with the
fresh enticing perfume of the balmy air, were very alluring to the
young woman just returned from the cities' stale and dingy
Betty Jo decided instantly that she must go for a before-breakfast
walk. From the window, as she dressed, she saw Brian going to the
barn with the milk-pail, and heard him greet the waiting "Bess" and
exchange a cheery good-morning with "Old Prince," who hailed his
coming with a low whinny.
Quietly, so as not to disturb Auntie Sue, Betty Jo slipped from the
house and went down the gentle slope to the river-bank, and
strolled along the margin of the stream toward Elbow Rock,--pausing
sometimes to look out over the water as her attention was drawn to
some movement of the river life, or turning aside to pluck a wild
flower that caught her eye. She had made her way thus leisurely
two-thirds of the distance perhaps from the house to Elbow Rock
bluff when Judy suddenly confronted her. The mountain girl came so
unexpectedly from among the bushes that Betty Jo, who was stooping
over a flower, was startled.
"Judy!" she exclaimed. "Goodness! child, how you frightened me!"
she finished with a good-natured laugh. But as she noticed the
mountain girl's appearance, the laugh died on her lips, and her
face was grave with puzzled concern.
Poor Judy's black hair was uncombed and dishevelled. The sallow,
old-young face was distorted with passion, and the beady eyes
glittered with the light of an insane purpose.
"What is it, Judy?" asked Betty Jo. "What in the world is the
"What'd you-all come back for?" demanded Judy with sullen menace in
every word. "I done told him not ter let you. Hit 'pears ter me
youuns ought ter have more sense."
Alarmed at the girl's manner, Betty Jo thought to calm her by
saying, gently: "Why, Judy, dear, you are all excited and not a
bit like yourself. Tell me what troubles you. I came back because
I love to be here with Auntie Sue, of course. Why shouldn't I some
if Auntie Sue likes to have me?"
"You-all are a-lyin'," returned Judy viciously. "But you-all sure
can't fool me. You-all come back 'cause he's here."
A warm blush colored Betty Jo's face.
Judy's voice raised shrilly as she saw the effect of her words.
"You-all knows dad burned well that's what you come back for. But
hit ain't a-goin' ter do you no good; hit sure ain't. I done told
him. I sure warned him what'd happen if he let you come back. I
heard you-all a-talkin' yesterday evenin' all 'bout his book an'
what a great man that there publisher-feller back East 'lows he's
goin' ter be. An' I kin see, now, that you-all has knowed hit from
the start, an' that's why you-all been a-fixin' ter git him away
from me. I done studied hit all out last night; but I sure ain't
a-goin' ter let you do hit."
As she finished, the mountain girl, who had worked herself into a
frenzy of rage, moved stealthily toward Betty Jo, and her face,
with those blazing black eyes, and its frame of black unkempt hair,
and its expression of insane fury, was the face of a fiend.
Betty Jo drew back, frightened at the poor creature's wild and
"Judy!" she said sharply. "Judy! What do you mean!"
With a snarling grin of malicious triumph, Judy cried: "Scared,
ain't you! You sure got reason ter be, 'cause there ain't nothin'
kin stop me now. Know what I'm a-goin' ter do? I'm a-goin' ter
put you-all in the river, just like I told him, an' old Elbow Rock
is a-goin' ter make you-all broken an' twisted an' ugly like what
my pap made me. Oh, hit'll sure fix that there fine slim body of
your'n, an' that there pretty face what he likes ter look at so,
an' them fine clothes'll be all wet an' mussed an' torn off you.
You-all sure will be a-lookin' worse'n what I ever looked the next
time he sees you,--you with your no-'count, half-gal and half-boy
As the mountain girl, with the quickness of a wild thing, leaped
upon her, Betty Jo screamed--one piercing cry, that ended in a
choking gasp as Judy's hands found her throat.
Brian, who was still at the barn, busy with the morning chores,
heard. With all his might, he ran toward the spot from which the
Betty Jo fought desperately; but, strong as she was, she could
never have endured against the vicious strength of the frenzied
mountain-bred Judy, who was slowly and surely forcing her toward
the brink of the river-bank, against which the swift waters of the
rapids swept with terrific force.
A moment more and Brian would have been too late. Throwing Judy
aside, he caught the exhausted Betty Jo in his arms, and, carrying
her a little back from the edge of the stream, placed her gently on
Betty Jo did not faint; but she was too spent with her exertions to
speak, though she managed to smile at him reassuringly, and shook
her head when he asked if she was hurt.
When Brian was assured that the girl was really unharmed, he turned
angrily to face Judy. But Judy had disappeared in the brush.
Presently, as Betty Jo's breathing became normal, she arranged her
disordered hair and dress, and told Brian what the mountain girl
had said; and this, of course, forced the man to relate his
experience with Judy that night when she had told him that Betty Jo
must not come back.
"I suppose I should have warned you, Miss Williams," he finished;
"but the whole thing seemed to me so impossible, I could not
believe there was any danger of the crazy creature actually
attempting to carry out her wild threat; and, besides,--well, you
can see that it was rather difficult for me to speak of it to you.
I am sorry," he ended, with embarrassment.
For a long moment, the two looked at each other silently; then
Betty Jo's practical common sense came to the rescue: "It would
have been awkward for you to try to tell me, wouldn't it, Mr.
Burns? And now that it is all over, and no harm done, we must just
forget it as quickly as we can. We won't ever mention it again,
"Certainly not," he agreed heartily. "But I shall keep an eye on
Miss Judy, in the future, I can promise you."
"I doubt if we ever see her again," returned Betty Jo, thoughtfully.
"I don't see how she would dare go back to the house after this.
I expect she will return to her father. Poor thing! But we must be
careful not to let Auntie Sue know." Then smiling up at him, she
added: "It seems like Auntie Sue is getting us into all sorts of
conspiracies, doesn't it? What DO you suppose we will be called
upon to hide from her next?"
At Brian's suggestion, they went first to the barn, where he
quickly finished his work. Then, carrying the full milk-pail
between them, they proceeded, laughing and chatting, to the house,
where Auntie Sue stood in the doorway.
The dear old lady smiled when she saw them coming so, and,
returning their cheery greeting happily, added: "Have you children
seen Judy anywhere? The child is not in her room, and the fire is
not even made in the kitchen-stove yet."
BETTY JO FACES HERSELF.
All that day Auntie Sue wondered about Judy, while Brian and Betty
Jo exhausted their inventive faculties in efforts to satisfy the
dear old lady with plausible reasons for the mountain girl's
During the forenoon, Brian canvassed the immediate neighborhood,
and returned with the true information that Judy had stopped at the
first house below Elbow Rock for breakfast, where she had told the
people that she was going back to her father, because she was
"doggone tired of working for them there city folks what was a-
livin' at Auntie Sue's."
This was, in a way, satisfactory to Auntie Sue, because it assured
her that the girl had met with no serious accident and because she
knew very well the mountain-bred girl's ability to take care of
herself in the hills. But, still, the gentle mistress of the log
house by the river was troubled to think that Judy would leave her
so without a word.
Betty Jo was so occupied during the day by her efforts to relieve
Auntie Sue that she had but little time left for thought of herself
or for reflecting on the situation revealed in her encounter with
Judy. But many times during the day the mountain girl's passionate
accusation came back to her, "You-all are a-lyin'! You-all come
back 'cause HE is here." Nor could she banish from her memory the
look that was on Brian Kent's face that morning when he was
carrying her in his arms back from the brink of the river-bank,
over which the frenzied Judy had so nearly sent her to her death.
And so, when the day at last was over, and she was alone in her
room, it was not strange that Betty Jo should face herself squarely
with several definite and pointed and exceedingly personal
It was like Betty Jo to be honest with herself and to demand of
herself that her problems be met squarely.
"First of all, Betty Jo," she demanded, in her downright,
straightforward way of going most directly to the heart of a
matter, "are you in love with Brian Kent?"
Without hesitation, the answer came, "I have not permitted myself
to love him."
"You have not permitted yourself to love him? That means that you
would be in love with him if you dared, doesn't it?"
And Betty Jo, in the safe seclusion of her room, felt her cheeks
burn as she acknowledged the truth of the deduction.
The next question was inevitable: "Is Brian Kent in love with you,
And Betty Jo, recalling many, many things, was compelled to answer,
from the triumphant gladness of her heart: "He is trying not to be,
but he can't help himself. And"--the downright and straightforward
young woman continued--"because I know that Brian Kent is trying so
hard not to love me is the real reason why I have not permitted
myself to love him."
But the clear-thinking, practical Betty Jo protested quickly: "You
must remember that you are wholly ignorant of Brian Kent's history,
except for the things he has chosen to tell you. And those things
in his life which he has confessed to you are certainly not the
things that could win the love of a girl like you, even though they
might arouse your interest in the man. Interest is not love, Betty
Jo. Are you quite sure that you are not making the mistake that is
most commonly made by young women?"
Betty Jo was compelled to answer that she was not mistaking interest
for love, because had such been the case, she would not be able to
so analyze the situation. Betty Jo's quite womanly prejudice is
admitted, because the prejudice was so womanly, and because Betty Jo
herself was so womanly.
"Very well, Miss Betty Jo," the young woman continued inexorably,
"you are not permitting yourself to love Brian Kent because Brian
Kent is trying not to love you. But, why is the man trying so hard
not to love you?"
Betty Jo thought very hard over this question, and felt her way
carefully to the answer. "It might be, of course, that it is
because he is a fugitive from the law. A man under such
circumstances could easily convince himself that no good woman
would permit herself to love him, and he would therefore, in
reasonable self-defense, prevent himself from loving her if he
But surely Brian Kent had every reason to know that Betty Jo did
not at all regard him as a criminal. Betty Jo, as Auntie Sue,
recognized only the re-created Brian Kent. If that were all, they
need only wait for the restitution which was so sure to come
through his book. And Brian Kent himself, through Auntie Sue's
teaching and through his work, had come to recognize only his real
self, and not the creature of circumstances which the river had
brought to the little log house. Betty Jo felt sure that there was
more than this that was forcing the man to defend himself against
his love for her. Thus she was driven to the conclusion that there
was something in Brian Kent's history that he had not made known to
her,--a something that denied him the right to love her, and that,--
reasoned poor Betty Jo in the darkness of her room,--could only be
a woman,--a woman to whom he was bound, not by love indeed,--Betty
Jo could not believe that,--but by ties of honor and of the law.
And very clearly Betty Jo reasoned, too, that Brian's attitude
toward her evidenced unmistakably his high sense of honor. The
very fact that he had so persistently--in all their companionship,
in their most intimate moments together even--held this invisible
and, to her, unknown barrier between them, convinced her beyond a
doubt of the essential integrity of his character, and compelled
her admiration and confidence.
"That is exactly it, Betty Jo," she told herself sadly; "you love
him because he tries so hard to keep himself from loving you."
And thus Betty Jo proved the correctness of Auntie Sue's loving
estimate of her character and justified the dear old teacher's
faith in the sterling quality of her womanhood.
Face to face with herself, fairly and squarely, the girl accepted
the truth of the situation for Brian and for herself, and
determined her course. She must go away,--she must go at once.
She wished that she had not returned to the log house by the river.
She had never fully admitted to herself the truth of her feeling
toward Brian until Judy had so unexpectedly precipitated the
crisis; but, she knew, now, that Judy was right, and that the real
reason for her return was her love for him. She knew, as well,
that her very love,--which, once fully admitted and recognized by
her, demanded with all the strength of her young womanhood the
nearness and companionship of the mate her heart had chosen,--
demanded, also, that she help him to keep that fine sense of honor
and true nobility of character which had won her.
She understood instinctively that,--now that she had confessed her
love to herself,--she would, in spite of herself, tempt him in a
thousand ways to throw aside that barrier which he had so honorably
maintained between them. Her heart would plead with him to
disregard his better self, and come to her. Her very craving for
the open assurance of his love would tempt him, perhaps beyond his
strength. And, yet, she knew as truly that, if he should yield; if
he should cast aside the barrier of his honor; if he should deny
his best self, and answer her call, it would be disastrous beyond
measure to them both.
To save the fineness of their love, Betty Jo must go. If it should
be that they never met again, still she must go.
But there were other currents moving in the river that night. In
the steady onward flow of the whole, Betty Jo's life-currents
seemed to be setting away from the man she loved. But other
currents, unknown to the girl, who faced herself so honestly, and
who so bravely accepted the truth she found, were moving in ways
beyond her knowledge. Directed and influenced by innumerable and
unseen forces and obstacles, the currents which, combined, made the
stream of life in its entirety, were weaving themselves together,--
interlacing and separating,--drawing close and pulling apart,--only
to mingle as one again.
Betty Jo saw only Brian Kent and herself, and their love which she
now acknowledged, and she had, as it were, only a momentary glimpse
of those small parts of the stream.
Betty Jo could not know of those other currents that were moving
so mysteriously about her as the river poured itself onward so
unceasingly to the sea.
In spite of all their care, Brian and Betty Jo did not wholly
convince Auntie Sue that there was no more in Judy's disappearance
than the report from the neighbors indicated. The dear old lady
felt that there was something known to the young people that they
were keeping from her; and, while she did not question their
motives, and certainly did not worry,--for Auntie Sue never
worried,--she was not satisfied with the situation. When she
retired to her room for the night, she told herself, with some
spirit, that she would surely go to the bottom of the affair the
It happened that Auntie Sue went to the bottom of the affair much
sooner than she expected.
It must have been about that same hour of the night when Betty Jo,
after reaching her decision to go away, retired to her bed, that
Auntie Sue was aroused by a low knocking at the open window of her
The old teacher listened without moving, her first thought being
that her fancy was tricking her. The sound came again, and, this
time, there could be no mistake. Sitting up in her bed, Auntie Sue
looked toward the window, and, at the sound of her movement, a low
whisper came from without.
"Don't be scared, Auntie Sue. Hit ain't nobody but just me."
As she recognized Judy's voice, she saw the mountain girl's head
and twisted shoulders outlined above the window-sill. A moment
more, and Auntie Sue was at the window.
"Sh-h-h!" cautioned Judy. "Don't wake 'em up. I just naturally
got ter tell you-all somethin', Auntie Sue; but, I ain't a-wantin'
Mr. Burns an' that there Betty Jo woman ter hear. I reckon I best
come through the winder."
Acting upon the word, she climbed carefully into the room.
"Judy, child! What--?"
The mountain girl interrupted Auntie Sue's tremulous whisper with:
"I'll tell hit ter you, ma'm, in a little bit, if you'll just wait.
I got ter see if they are sure 'nough a-sleepin' first, though."
She stole silently from the room, to return a few minutes later.
"They are plumb asleep, both of 'em," she said in a low tone, when
she had cautiously closed the door. "I done opened the doors ter
their rooms, an' listened, an' shet 'em again 'thout ary one of 'em
a-movin' even. I'll fix the winder, now, an' then we kin make a
Carefully, she closed the window and drew down the shade. Then she
lit the lamp.
Auntie Sue, who was sitting on the bed, looked at the girl in
With a nervous laugh, Judy fingered her torn dress and dishevelled
hair. "I sure am a sight, ain't I, ma'm? I done hit a-comin'
through the bresh in the dark. But, don't--don't--look so kinder
lost like; you-all ain't got no call ter be scared of me."
"Why, Judy, dear, I'm not afraid of you. Come, child; tell me what
is the trouble."
At the kindly manner and voice of the old gentlewoman, those black
eyes filled with tears, which, for the moment, the mountain girl
stoically permitted to roll down her thin sallow cheeks unheeded.
Then, with a quick resolute jerk of her twisted body, she drew her
dress sleeve across her face, and said: "I--I--reckon I couldn't
hate myself no worse'n I'm a-doin'. Hit seems like I been mighty
nigh plumb crazy; but, I just naturally had ter come back an' tell
you-all, 'cause you-all been so good ter me."
She placed a chair for Auntie Sue, and added: "You-all best make
yourself comfertable, though, ma'm. I'm mighty nigh tuckered out
myself. Hit's a right smart way from where pap's a-livin' ter
here, an' I done come in a hurry."
She dropped down on the floor, her back against the bed, and
clasped her knees in her hands, as Auntie Sue seated herself.
"Begin at the beginning, Judy, and tell me exactly what has
happened," said Auntie Sue.
"Yes, ma'm, I will,--that's what I was aimin' ter do when I made up
ter come back."
And she did. Starting with her observation of Brian and Betty Jo,
and her conviction of their love, she told of her interview with
Brian the night she warned him not to let Betty Jo return, and
finished with the account of her attack on Betty Jo that morning.
Auntie Sue listened with amazement and pity. Here, indeed, was a
wayward and troubled life-current.
"But, Judy, Judy!" exclaimed the gentle old teacher, "you would not
really have pushed Betty Jo into the river. She would have been
drowned, child. Surely, you did not mean to kill her, Judy."
The girl wrung her hands, and her deformed body swayed to and fro
in the nervous intensity of her emotions. But she answered,
stubbornly: "That there was just what I was aimin' ter do. I'd a-
killed her, sure, if Mr. Burns hadn't a-come just when he did. I
can't rightly tell how hit was, but hit seemed like there was
somethin' inside of me what was a-makin' me do hit, an' I couldn't,
somehow, help myself. An'--an'--that ain't all, ma'm; I done
worse'n that," she continued in a low, moaning wail. "Oh, my God-
A'mighty! Why didn't Mr. Burns sling me inter the river an' let me
be smashed an' drowned at Elbow Rock while he had me, 'stead of
lettin' me git away ter do what I've gone an' done!"
Auntie Sue's wonderful native strength enabled her to speak calmly:
"What is it you have done, Judy? You must tell me, child."
The older woman's voice and manner steadied the girl, and she
answered more in her usual colorless monotone, but still guarded so
as not to awaken the other members of the household: "Hit seemed
like Mr. Burns ketchin' me, like he did, an' me a-seein' him with
her in his arms, made me plumb crazy-mad, an' I 'lowed I'd fix hit
so's he couldn't never have her nohow, so I--I--done told pap 'bout
him bein' Brian Kent what had robbed that there bank, an' how there
was er lot of reward-money a-waitin' for anybody that'd tell on
Auntie Sue was too shocked to speak. Was it possible that, now,
when the real Brian Kent was so far removed from the wretched bank
clerk; when his fine natural character and genius had become so
established, and his book was-- No, no! It could not be! God
could not let men be so cruel as to send Auntie Sue's Brian Kent to
prison because that other Brian Kent, tormented by wrong environment,
and driven by an evil combination of circumstances, had taken a few
dollars of the bank's money! And Betty Jo-- No, no! Auntie Sue's
heart cried out in protest. There must be some way. She would find
some way. The banker--Homer Ward! Auntie Sue's mind, alert and
vigorous as the mind of a woman of half her years, caught at the
thought of her old friend and pupil. She leaned forward in her
chair over the girl who sat on the floor at her feet, and her voice
was strong and clear with the strength of the spirit which dominated
her frail body.
"Judy, did you tell any one else besides your father?"
"There wasn't nobody else ter tell," came the answer. "An' pap, he
'lowed he'd kill me if I said anythin' ter anybody 'fore he'd got
the money. He aims ter git hit all for hisself."
"What will he do? Will he go to Sheriff Knox?"
"No, ma'm; pap, he 'lowed if he done that a-way, the Sheriff he'd
take most of the money. Pap's a-goin' right ter that there bank
"Yes, yes! Go on, Judy!"
"You see, ma'm, I done remembered the name of the bank an' where
hit was an' Mr. Ward's name an' all, on 'count of that there money
letter what you done sent 'em an' us bein' so worried 'bout hit
never gittin' there an' all that. An' pap, he knows er man over in
Gardner what's on the railroad, you see, what'll let him have money
enough for the trip,--a licker-man, he is,--an' pap's aimin' ter
make hit over ter Gardner ter git the money in time ter ketch that
there early mornin' train. Hit's a right smart way over the
mountains, but I reckon's how pap'll make hit. Soon's pap left, I
got ter thinkin' what I'd done, an' the more I studied 'bout hit,--
'bout Mr. Burns a-havin' ter go ter prison, an' 'bout you-all a-
carin' for him the way you does, an' 'bout how happy you was over
his book, an'--an'--how good you'd been ter me,--the sorrier I got,
'til I just couldn't stand a-thinkin' 'bout hit no longer; an'--
an'--so I come fast as I could ter tell you. I 'lowed you'd make
out ter fix hit some way so--Mr. Burns won't have ter go ter
prison. Couldn't you-all send--send a telegraph ter the bank man,
er somethin'? I'd git it inter Thompsonville for you, ma'm; an'
Mr. Burns, he needn't never know nothin' 'bout hit."
Auntie Sue was dressing when Judy finished speaking. With a
physical strength that had its source in her indomitable spirit,
she moved about the room making the preparations necessary to her
plan, and as she worked she talked to the girl.
"No, Judy, a telegram won't do. I must go to Homer Ward myself.
That morning train leaves Thompsonville at six o'clock. You must
slip out of the house, and harness 'Old Prince' to the buggy as
fast as you can. You will drive with me to Thompsonville, and
bring 'Prince' back. You can turn him loose when you get near
home, and he will come the rest of the way alone. You must not let
Mr. Burns nor Betty Jo see you, because they mustn't know anything
about what you have done. Do you understand, child?"
"Yes, ma'm," said Judy, eagerly. She was on her feet now.
"You can go to the neighbors and find some place to stay until I
return," continued Auntie Sue.
"You don't need ter worry none 'bout me," said Judy. "I kin take
care of myself, I reckon. But ain't you plumb seared ter go 'way
on the cars alone an' you so old?"
"Old!" retorted Auntie Sue. "I have not felt so strong for twenty
years. There is nothing for me to fear. I will be in St. Louis
to-morrow night, and in Chicago the next forenoon. I guess I am
not so helpless that I can't make a little journey like this.
Homer Ward shall never send my boy to prison,--never,--bank or no
bank! Go on, now, and get 'Prince' and the buggy ready. We must
not miss that train." She pushed Judy from the room, and again
cautioned her not to awaken Brian or Betty Jo.
When she had completed her preparations for the trip, Auntie Sue
wrote a short note to Betty Jo, telling her that she had been
called away suddenly, and that she would return in a few days, and
that she was obliged to borrow Betty Jo's pocket-book. Grave as
she felt the situation to be, Auntie Sue laughed to herself as she
pictured the consternation of Betty Jo and Brian in the morning.
Silently, the old lady stole into the girl's room to secure the
money she needed and to leave her letter. Then, as silently, she
left the house, and found Judy, who was waiting with "Old Prince"
and the buggy, ready to start.
The station agent at Thompsonville was not a little astonished when
Auntie Sue and Judy appeared, and, with the easy familiarity of an
old acquaintance greeted her with, "Howdy, Auntie Sue! What in
thunder are you doin' out this time of the day? No bad news, I
"Oh, no, Mr. Jackson," Auntie Sue answered easily. "I'm just going
to Chicago for a little visit with an old friend."
"Sort of a vacation, eh?" returned the man behind the window, as he
made out her ticket. "Well, you sure have earned one, Auntie Sue.
It's gittin' to be vacation time now, too. Bunch of folks come in
yesterday to stay at the clubhouse for a spell. Pretty wild lot,
I'd say,--wimmen as well as the men. I reckon them clubhouse
parties don't disturb you much, though, if you be their nearest
"They never have yet, Mr. Jackson," she returned. "Their place is
on the other side of the river, and a mile above my house, you
know. I see them in their boats on The Bend, though, and once in a
while they call on me. But the Elbow Rock rapids begin in front of
my place, and the clubhouse people don't usually come that far down
She turned to Judy, and, with the girl, went out of the waiting
room to the platform, where she whispered: "You must start back
right away, Judy. If your father is on the train, he might see
"What if pap ketches sight of you-all?" Judy returned nervously.
"He will not be so apt to notice me as he would you," she returned,
"even if he does catch a glimpse of me. And it can't be helped if
he does. I'll be in Chicago as quick as he will, and I know I will
see Mr. Ward first. Go on now, dear, and don't let Mr. Burns or
Betty Jo see you, and be a good girl. I feel sure that everything
will be all right."
With a sudden awkward movement, poor Judy caught the old
gentlewoman's hand and pressed it to her lips; then, turning, ran
toward the buggy.
When the train arrived, the station agent came to help Auntie Sue
with her handbag aboard, and she managed to keep her friend between
herself and the coaches, in case Jap Taylor should be looking from
a window. As the conductor and the agent assisted her up the
steps, the agent said: "Mind you take good care of her, Bill.
Finest old lady God-Almighty ever made! If you was to let anything
happen to her, you best never show yourself in this neighborhood
again; we'd lynch you, sure!"
The conductor found a good seat for his lovely old passenger, and
made her as comfortable as possible. As he punched her ticket, he
said, with a genial smile, which was the voluntary tribute paid to
Auntie Sue by all men: "You are not much like the passengers I
usually carry in this part of the country, ma'm. They are mostly a
rather rough-lookin' lot."
She smiled back at him, understanding perfectly his intended
compliment. "They are good people, though, sir,--most of them. Of
course, there are some who are a little wild, sometimes, I expect."
The railroad man laughed again, shaking his head. "I should say
so. You ought to see the specimen I've got in the smoker. I
picked him up back there at Gardner. Perhaps you have heard of
him--Jap Taylor. He is about the worst in the whole country, I
"I have heard of him," she returned. "I do hope he won't come into
"Oh, he won't start anything on my train," laughed the man in blue
reassuringly. "He would never come in here, anyhow. Them kind
always stay in the smoker. Seems like they know where they belong.
He is half-scared to death himself, anyway; he is going to Chicago,
too, and I'll bet it's the first time in his life he has ever been
farther from these hills than Springfield."
BRIAN AND BETTY JO KEEP HOUSE.
When Brian went to the barn the next morning he found "Old Prince"
standing at the gate. While he was still trying to find some
plausible explanation of the strange incident, after unharnessing
the horse and giving him his morning feed, an excited call from
Betty Jo drew his attention. With an answering shout, he started
for the house. The excited girl met him halfway, and gave him
Auntie Sue's note.
When Brian had read the brief and wholly inadequate message, they
stood looking at each other, too mystified for speech. Brian read
the note, again, aloud, speaking every word with slow distinctness.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he ejaculated, at the close of the
remarkable communication, staring at Betty Jo.
"It wouldn't in the least surprise me if we were both hanged before
night," returned Betty Jo. "After this from Auntie Sue, I am
prepared for anything. What on earth DO you suppose has happened?"
Brian shook his head: "It is too much for me!"
Together they went to the house, and the place seemed strangely
deserted. Every possible explanation that suggested itself, they
discussed and rejected.
"One thing we can depend upon," said Brian, at last, when they had
exhausted the resources of their combined imaginations: "Auntie
Sue knows exactly what she is doing, and she is doing exactly the
right thing. I suppose we will know all about it when she
Betty Jo looked again at the note: "'I will be back in a few
days,'" she read slowly. "'Be good children, and take care of
Again, they regarded each other wonderingly.
Then Betty Jo broke the silence with an odd little laugh: "I feel
like we were cast away on some desert island, don't you?"
"Something like that," Brian returned. Then, to relieve the strain
of the situation, he added: "I suppose 'Bess' will have to be
milked and the chores finished just the same."
"And I'll get breakfast for us," agreed Betty Jo, as he started
back to the barn.
In the safe seclusion of the stable, with no one but "Old Prince"
and "Bess" to witness his agitation, Brian endeavored to bring his
confused and unruly thoughts under some sort of control.
"Several days; several days." The words repeated themselves with
annoying persistency. And they--Betty Jo and he, Brian Kent--were
to "take care of things";--they were to keep house together;--they
were to live together, alone,--in the log house by the river,--
alone. She was even then preparing their breakfast. They would
sit down at the table alone. And there would be dinner and supper;
and the evening,--just for them. He would work about the place.
She would attend to her household duties. He would go to his
meals, and she would be there expecting him,--waiting for him.
And when the tasks of the day were finished, they would sit on the
porch to watch the coming of the night,--Betty Jo and he, Brian
Kent--"What in God's name," the man demanded of the indifferent
"Bess," did Auntie Sue mean by placing him in such a situation?
Did she think him more than human?
It had not been easy for Brian to maintain that barrier between
himself and Betty Jo, even with the constant help of Auntie Sue's
presence. Many, many times he had barely saved himself from
declaring his love; and, now, he was asked to live with her in the
most intimate companionship possible.
For the only time in his life Brian Kent was almost angry at Auntie
Sue. "By all that was consistent, and reasonable, and merciful,
and safe," he told himself, "if it was absolutely necessary for the
dear old lady to disappear so mysteriously, why had she not taken
Betty Jo along?"
In the meantime, while Brian was confiding his grievances to his
four-footed companions in the barn, Betty Jo was expressing herself
in the kitchen.
"Betty Jo," she began, as she raked the ashes from the stove
preparatory to building the fire, "it appears to me that you have
some serious considering to do, and"--with a glance toward the
barn, as she went out to empty the ash-pan--"you must do it quickly
before that man comes for his breakfast. You were very right, last
night, in your decision, to go away. It is exactly what you should
have done. I am more than ever convinced of that, this morning.
But you can't go now. Even if Auntie Sue had not taken your
pocket-book and every penny in it, you couldn't run away with
Auntie Sue herself gone. If she hadn't wanted you to stay right
here for some very serious reason, Betty Jo, she would have taken
you with her last night. Auntie Sue very pointedly and definitely
expects you to be here when she returns. And she will be away
several days,--several days, Betty Jo." She repeated the words in
a whisper. "And during those several days, you are to keep house
for the man you love;--the man who loves you;--the man whom you
must keep from telling you his love,--no matter how your heart
pleads for him to tell you, you must not permit him to speak. He
will be coming in to breakfast in a few minutes, and you will sit
down at the table with him,--across the table from him,--facing
him,--Betty Jo,--just like--"
She looked in the little mirror that hung beside the kitchen
window, and, with dismay, saw her face flushed with color that was
not caused by the heat of the stove. "And you will be forced to
look at him across the table, and he will look at you,--and--and
you must not,--" she stamped her foot,--"you dare not look like
THAT, Betty Jo.
"And then there will be the dinner that you will cook for him, and
the supper; and the evenings on the porch. O Lord! Betty Jo, what
ever will you do? How will you ever save the fineness of your
love? If you were afraid to trust yourself with the help of Auntie
Sue's presence, what in the world can you do without her--and you
actually keeping house with him? Oh, Auntie Sue! Auntie Sue!" she
groaned, "you are the dearest woman in the world and the best and
wisest, but you have blundered terribly this time! Why DID you do
such a thing! It is not fair to him! It is not fair to me! It is
not fair to our love!
"All of which,"--the practical Betty Jo declared a moment later,
wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron, and going into the
other room to set the table for breakfast,--"all of which, Betty
Jo, does not in the least help matters, and only makes you more
nervous and upset than you are.
"One thing is certain sure," she continued, while her hands were
busy with the dishes and the table preparations: "If we can endure
this test, we need never, never, never fear that anything nor
anybody can ever, ever make us doubt the genuineness of our love.
Auntie Sue has certainly arranged it most beautifully for Brian
Kent and Betty Jo Williams to become thoroughly acquainted."
Betty Jo suddenly paused in her work, and stood very still: "I
wonder," she said slowly,--"can it be,--is it possible,--what if
Auntie Sue has brought about this situation for that very reason?"
"Breakfast ready?" cried Brian at the kitchen-door, and his voice
was so hearty and natural that the girl answered as naturally: "It
will be as soon as you are ready for it. I forget, do you like
your eggs three minutes or four?"
They really managed that breakfast very well, even if they did sit
opposite each other so that each was forced to look straight across
the table into the face of the other. Or, perhaps, it was because
they looked at each other so straight and square and frankly honest
that the breakfast went so well.
And because the breakfast went so well, they managed the dinner and
the supper also.
"I have been thinking," said Brian at the close of their evening
meal, looking straight into the gray eyes over the table, "perhaps
it might be better for you to stay at neighbor Tom's until Auntie
Sue returns. I'll hitch up 'Old Prince' and drive you over, if you
say. Or, we might find some neighbor woman to come here to live
with us, if you prefer."
"You don't like my housekeeping, then?" asked Betty Jo.
"Like it!" exclaimed Brian; and the tone of his voice approached
Betty Jo said quickly: "I'll tell you exactly what I think, Mr.
Burns: Auntie Sue said we were to be good children, and take care
of things until she returned. She did not say for me to shirk my
part by going to neighbor Tom's or by having any one come here.
Don't you think we can do exactly what Auntie Sue said?"
"Yes," returned Brian, heartily; "I am sure we can. And do you
know,--come to think about it,--I believe the dear old lady would
be disappointed in us both if we dodged our--well,--" he finished
with emphasis,--"our responsibilities."
And after that, somehow, the evening on the porch went as well as
the breakfast and dinner and supper had gone.
It was the second day of their housekeeping that Betty Jo noticed
smoke coming from the stone chimney of the clubhouse up the river.
She reported her observation to Brian when he came in from his work
for dinner. During the afternoon, they both saw boats on the quiet
waters of The Bend, and at supper told each other what they had
seen. And in the evening they together watched the twinkling
lights of the clubhouse windows, and once they heard voices and
laughter from somewhere on the river as though a boating party were
Two days later, Brian and Betty Jo were just finishing dinner when
a step sounded on the porch, and a man appeared in the open
The stranger was dressed in the weird and flashy costume considered
by his class to be the proper thing for an outing in the country,
and his face betrayed the sad fact that, while he was mentally,
spiritually, and physically greatly in need of a change from the
unclean atmosphere that had made him what he was, he was incapable
of benefiting by more wholesome conditions of living. He was, in
fact, a perfect specimen of that type of clubman who, in order to
enjoy fully the beautiful life of God's unspoiled world, must needs
take with him all of the sordid and vicious life of that world
wherein he is most at home.
With no word of greeting, he said, with that superior air which so
many city folk assume when addressing those who live in the
country: "Have you people any fresh vegetables or eggs to sell?"
Brian and Betty Jo arose, and Brian, stepping forward, said, with
a smile: "No, we have nothing to sell here; but I think our
neighbor, Mr. Warden, just over the hill, would be glad to supply
you. Won't you come in?"
The man stared at Brian, turned an appraising eye on Betty Jo; then
looked curiously about the room.
"I beg your pardon," he said, removing his cap, "I thought, when I
spoke, that you were natives. My name is Green,--Harry Green.
There is a party of us stopping at the clubhouse, up the river,
there;--just out for a bit of a good time, you know. We are from
St. Louis,--first time any of us were ever in the Ozarks,--friends
of mine own the clubhouse."
"My name is Burns," returned Brian. "We noticed your boats on the
river. You are enjoying your outing, are you?"
Again the man looked curiously from Brian to Betty Jo. "Oh, yes;
we can stand it for awhile," he answered. "We're a pretty jolly
bunch, you see;--know how to keep things going. It would kill me
if I had to live here in this lonesome hole very long, though.
Don't you find it rather slow, Mrs. Burns?"
Poor Betty Jo's face turned fairly crimson. She could neither
answer the stranger nor meet his gaze, but stood with downcast
eyes;--then looked at Brian appealingly.
But Brian was as embarrassed as Betty Jo; while the stranger, as he
regarded them, smiled with an expression of insolent understanding.
"I guess I have made another mistake," he said, with a meaning
"You have," returned Brian, sharply, stepping forward as he spoke;
for the man's manner was unmistakable. "Be careful, sir, that you
do not make another."
Mr. Green spoke quickly, with an airy wave of his hand: "No
offense; no offense, I assure you." Then as he moved toward the
door, he added, still with thinly veiled insolence: "I beg your
pardon for intruding. I understand, perfectly. Good-afternoon,
Mr. Burns! Good-afternoon, miss!"
Brian followed him out to the porch; and the caller, as he went
down the steps, turned back with another understanding laugh: "I
say, Burns, you are a lucky devil. Don't worry about me, old man.
I envy you, by Jove! Charming little nest. Come over to the club
some evening. Bring the little girl along, and help us to have a
good time. So-long!"
Mr. Harry Green probably never knew how narrowly he escaped being
manhandled by the enraged but helpless Brian.
Brian remained on the porch until he saw the man, in his boat,
leave the eddy at the foot of the garden and row away up the river.
In the house, again, the two faced each other in dismay.
Betty Jo was first to recover: "I am sure that it is quite time
for Auntie Sue to come home and take charge of her own household
again. Don't you think so, Mr. Burns?"
And Brian Kent most heartily agreed.
THE WOMAN AT THE WINDOW.
The members of the clubhouse party were amusing themselves that
afternoon in the various ways peculiar to their kind.
At one end of the wide veranda overlooking the river a group sat at
a card table. At the other end of the roomy lounging place, men
and women, lying at careless ease in steamer-chairs and hammocks,
were smoking and chatting about such things as are of interest only
to that strange class who are educated to make idleness the chief
aim and end of their existence. On the broad steps leading down to
the tree-shaded lawn, which sloped gently to the boat landing at
the river's edge, still other members of the company were scattered
in characteristic attitudes. Across the river, in the shade of the
cottonwoods that overhang the bank, a man and a woman in a boat
were ostensibly fishing. In a hammock strung between two trees, a
little way from the veranda, lay a woman, reading.
Now and then a burst of shrill laughter broke the quiet of the
surrounding forest. A man on the steps called a loud suggestive
jest to the pair in the boat, and the woman waved her handkerchief
in answer. The card-players argued and laughed over a point in
their game. Some one shouted into the house for Jim, and a negro
man in white jacket appeared. When the people on the veranda had
expressed their individual tastes, the one who had summoned the
servant called to the woman in the hammock under the tree, "What is
Without looking up from her book, the woman waved her hand, and
answered, "I am not drinking this time. Thanks."
A chorus of derisive shouts and laughter came from the veranda.
But the woman went on reading. "Oh, let her alone!" protested some
one, good-naturedly. "She was going a little strong, last night.
She'll be all right by and by, when she gets started again."
The negro, Jim, had returned with his loaded tray, and was passing
among the members of the company with his assortment of glasses,
when some one called attention to Harry Green, who was just pulling
his boat up to the landing after his visit to the little log house
down the river.
A boisterous chorus greeted the boatman: "Hello, Harry! Did you
find anything? You're just in time. What'll you have?"
With a wave of greeting, the man fastened his boat to the landing,
and started up the slope.
"He'll have a Scotch, of course!" said some one. "Did anybody ever
know him to take anything else? Go and get it, Jim. He'll be
nearly dead for a drink after rowing all that distance."
The woman in the hammock lowered her book, and lay watching the man
as he came up the path toward the steps.
Harry Green, who, apparently, was a person of importance among
them, seated himself in an easy chair on the veranda, and accepted
the glass proffered by Jim.
"Did you find any eggs, Harry?" demanded one. The man first
refreshed himself with a long drink; then looked around with a grin
of amused appreciation: "I didn't get any eggs," he said; "but I
found the nest all right."
A shout of laughter greeted the reply.
"What sort of nest, Harry? Duck? Turkey? Hen? Dove? Or
rooster?" came from different members of the chorus.
Raising his glass as though offering a toast, he answered: "Love!
my children; love!"
A yell of delight came from the company, accompanied by a volley
of: "A love-nest! Well, what do you know about that! Good boy,
Harry! Takes Harry to find a love-nest! He's the boy to send for
eggs! I should say, yes! Martha will like that! Oh, won't she!"
This last remark turned their attention toward the woman in the
hammock, and they called to her: "Martha! Oh, Martha! Come here!
You better look after Harry! Harry has found a love-nest! Told
you something would happen if you let him go away alone!"
Putting aside her book, the woman came to join the company on the
She was rather a handsome woman, but with a suggestion of coarseness
in form and features, though her face, in spite of its too-evident
signs of dissipation, was not a bad face.
Seating herself on the top step, with her back against the post in
an attitude of careless abandonment, she looked up at the negro who
stood grinning in the doorway. "Bring me a highball, Jim: you know
my kind." Then to the company: "Somebody give me a cigarette."
Harry tossed a silver case in her lap. Another man, who sat near,
leaned over her with a lighted match.
Expelling a generous cloud of smoke from her shapely lips, she
demanded: "What is this you are all shouting about Harry having
During the answering chorus of boisterous laughter and jesting
remarks, she drank the liquor which the negro brought.
Then Harry, pointing out Auntie Sue's house, which was easily
visible from where they sat, related his experience. And among the
many conjectures, and questions, and comments offered, no one
suggested even that the man and the woman living in that little log
house by the river might be entirely innocent of the implied
charge. For those who are themselves guilty, to assume the guilt
of others is very natural and altogether human.
In the moment's quiet which followed the arrival of a fresh supply
of drinks, the woman called Martha said: "But what is the man
like, Harry? You have enthused quite enough about the girl.
Suppose you tell us about the man in the case."
Harry gave a very good description of Brian Kent.
"Oh, damn!" suddenly cried Martha, shaking her skirt vigorously.
She had spilled some of the liquor from her glass.
A woman on the outer edge of the circle whispered to her nearest
neighbor, and a hush fell over the group.
"Well," said Martha, drinking the liquor remaining in her glass,
"why the devil don't we find out who they are, if we are so
"Find out! How? We'll find out a lot! What would you do,--ask
them their names and where they are from?" came from the company.