GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL
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GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL
April Gold Happiness Hill The Beloved Stranger The Honor Girl Bright Arrows Kerry Christmas Bride Marigold Crimson Roses Miranda Duskin The Mystery of Mary Found Treasure Partners A Girl to Come Home To Rainbow Cottage The Red Signal White Orchids Silver Wings The Tryst The Strange Proposal Through These Fires The Street of the City All Through the Night The Gold Shoe Astra Homing Blue Ruin Job's Niece Challengers The Man of the Desert Coming Through the Rye More Than Conqueror Daphne Deane A New Name The Enchanted Barn The Patch of Blue Girl from Montana The Ransom Rose Galbraith The Witness Sound of the Trumpet Sunrise Tomorrow About This Time Amorelle Head of the House Ariel Custer In Tune with Wedding Bells Chance of a Lifetime Maris Crimson Mountain Out of the Storm Exit Betty Mystery Flowers The Prodigal Girl Girl of the Woods Re-Creations The White Flower Matched Pearls Time of the Singing of Birds Ladybird The Substitute Guest Beauty for Ashes Stranger Within the Gates The Best Man Spice Box By Way of the Silverthorns The Seventh Hour Dawn of the Morning The Search Brentwood Cloudy Jewel The Voice in the Wilderness
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GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL
Author of Marcia Schuyler, The Search, Dawn of the Morning, Etc.
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1919, by The Christian Herald
Copyright, 1920, by J. B. Lippincott Company
THE crowd gave way and the car glided smoothly up to the curb at the canopied entrance to the church. The blackness of the wet November night was upon the street. It had rained at intervals all day.
The pavements shone wetly like new paint in the glimmer of the street lights, and rude shadows gloomed in every cranny of the great stone building.
Betty, alone in the midst of her bridal finery, shrank back from the gaze of the curious onlookers, seeming very small like a thing of the air caught in a mesh of the earth.
She had longed all day for this brief respite from everyone, but it had passed before she could concentrate her thoughts. She started forward, a flame of rose for an instant in her white cheeks, but gone as quickly. Her eyes reminded one of the stars among the far-away clouds on a night of fitful storm with only glimpses of their beauty in breaks of the overcast sky. Her small hands gripped one another excitedly, and the sweet lips were quivering.
A white-gloved hand reached out to open the car door, and other hands caught and cared for the billow of satin and costly lace with which she was surrounded, as if it, and not she, were the important one.
They led her up the curtained way, where envious eyes peeped through a furtive rip in the canvas, or craned around an opening to catch a better glimpse of her loveliness, one little dark-eyed foreigner even reached out a grimy, wondering finger to the silver whiteness of her train; but she, all unknowing, trod the carpeted path as in a dream.
The wedding march was just beginning. She caught the distant notes, felt the hush as she approached the audience, and wondered why the ordeal seemed so much greater now that she was actually come to the moment. If she had known it would be like this—! Oh, why had she given in!
The guests had risen and were stretching their necks for the first vision of her. The chaplet of costly blossoms sat upon her brow and bound her wedding veil floating mistily behind, but the lovely head was bowed, not lifted proudly as a bride's should be, and the little white glove that rested on the arm of the large florid cousin trembled visibly. The cousin was almost unknown until a few hours before. His importance overpowered her. She drooped her eyes and tried not to wish for the quiet, gray-haired cousin of her own mother. It was so strange for him to have failed her at the last moment, when he had promised long ago to let nothing hinder him from giving her away if she should ever be married. His telegram, "Unavoidably detained," had been received but an hour before. He seemed the only one of her kind, and now she was all alone. All the rest were like enemies, although they professed deep concern for her welfare; for they were leagued together against all her dearest wishes, until she had grown weary in the combat.
She gave a frightened glance behind as if some intangible thing were following her. Was it a hounding dread that after all she would not be free after marriage?
With measured tread she passed the long white-ribboned way, under arches that she never noticed, through a sea of faces that she never saw, to the altar smothered in flowers and tropical ferns. It seemed interminable. Would it never end? They paused at last, and she lifted frightened eyes to the florid cousin, and then to the face of her bridegroom!
It was a breathless moment, and but for the deep tones of the organ now hushing for the ceremony, one of almost audible silence. No lovelier bride had trod those aisles in many a long year; so exquisite, so small, so young—and so exceeding rich! The guests were entranced, and every eye was greedily upon her as the white-robed minister advanced with his open book.
"Beloved, we are met together to-night to join this man——!"
At that word they saw the bride suddenly, softly sink before them, a little white heap at the altar, with the white face turned upward, the white eyelids closed, the long dark lashes sweeping the pretty cheek, the wedding veil trailing mistily about her down the aisle, and her big bouquet of white roses and maiden-hair ferns clasped listlessly in the white-gloved hands.
For a moment no one stirred, so sudden, so unexpected it was. It all seemed an astonishing part of the charming spectacle. The gaping throng with startled faces stood and stared. Above the huddled little bride stood the bridegroom, tall and dark and frowning, an angry red surging through his handsome face. The white-haired minister, with two red spots on his fine scholarly cheeks, stood grave with troubled dignity, as though somehow he meant to hold the little still bride responsible for this unseemly break in his beautiful service. The organ died away with a soft crash of the keys and pedals as if they too leaped up to see; the scent of the lilies swept sickeningly up in a great wave on the top of the silence.
In a moment all was confusion. The minister stooped, the best man sprang into the aisle and lifted the flower-like head. Some one produced a fan, and one of the ushers hurried for a glass of water. A physician struggled from his pew across the sittings of three stout dowagers, and knelt, with practiced finger on the little fluttering pulse. The bride's stepmother roused to solicitous and anxious attention. The organ came smartly up again in a hopeless tangle of chords and modulations, trying to get its poise once more. People climbed upon their seats to see, or crowded out in the aisle curiously and unwisely kind, and in the way. Then the minister asked the congregation to be seated; and amid the rustle of wedding finery into seats suddenly grown too narrow and too low, the ushers gathered up the little inert bride and carried her behind the palms across a hall and into the vestry room. The stepmother and a group of friends hurried after, and the minister requested the people to remain quietly seated for a few minutes. The organ by this time had recovered its poise and was playing soft tender melodies, but the excited audience was not listening:
"I thought she looked ghastly when she came in," declared the mother of three frowsy daughters. "It's strange she didn't put on some rouge."
"Um-mm! What a pity! I suppose she isn't strong! What did her own mother die of?" murmured another speculatively, preparing to put forth a theory before any one else got ahead of her.
"Oh! The poor child!" sympathized a romantic friend. "They've been letting her do too much! Didn't they make a handsome couple? I'm crazy to see them come marching down the aisle. They surely wouldn't put off the wedding just for a faint, would they?"
And all over the church some woman began to tell how her sister's child, or her brother's niece, or her nephew's aunt had fainted just before her wedding or during it, till it began to seem quite a common performance, and one furnishing a unique and interesting part of the program for a wedding ceremony.
Meanwhile on a couch in the big gloomy vestry room lay Betty with a group of attendants about her. Her eyes were closed, and she made no move. She swallowed the aromatic ammonia that some one produced, and she drew her breath a little less feebly, but she did not open her eyes, nor respond when they spoke to her.
Her stepmother stooped over finally and spoke in her ear:
"Elizabeth Stanhope! sit up and control yourself!" she said sharply in a low tone. "You are making a spectacle of yourself that you can never get over. Your father would be ashamed of you if he were here!"
It was the one argument that had been held a successful lash over her poor little quivering heart for the last five years, and Betty flashed open her sorrowful eyes and looked around on them with a troubled concentration as if she were just taking in what had happened:
"I'm so tired!" she said in a little weary voice. "Won't you just let me get my breath a minute?"
The physician nodded emphatically toward the door and motioned them out:
"She'll be all right in just a minute. Step outside and give her a chance to get calm. She's only worn out with excitement."
She opened her eyes and looked furtively about the room. There was no one there, and the door was closed. She could hear them murmuring in low tones just beyond it. She looked wildly about her with a frantic thought of escape. The two windows were deeply curtained, giving a narrow glimpse of blank wall. She sprang softly to her feet and looked out. There was a stone pavement far below. She turned silently and tried a door. It opened into a closet overflowing with musty hymn-books. She closed it quickly and slipped back to her couch just in time as the door opened and the doctor came back. She could catch a glimpse of the others through the half open door, anxiously peering in. She gathered all her self-control and spoke:
"I'm all right now, Doctor," she said quite calmly. "Would you just ask them to send Bessemer here a minute?"
"Certainly." The doctor turned courteously and went back to the door, half closing it and making her request in a low tone. Then her stepmother's excited sibilant whisper:
"Bessemer! Why, he isn't here! He went down to the shore last night."
"Sh-h-h!" came another voice, and the door was shut smartly.
Betty's eyes grew wide with horror as she lay staring at the closed door, and a cold numbness seemed to envelop her, clutching at her throat, her heart and threatening to overwhelm her.
Bessemer not here! What could it mean? Her mind seemed unable to grasp and analyze the nameless fear that awaited her outside that door. In a moment more they would all swarm in and surround her, and begin to clamor for her to go back into that awful church—and she could not—EVER! She would far rather die!
She sprang to her feet again and glided noiselessly to the only remaining uninvestigated door in the room. If this was another closet she would shut herself inside and stay till she died. She had read tales of people dying in a small space from lack of air. At least, if she did not die she could stay here till she had time to think. There was a key in the lock. Her fingers closed around it and drew it stealthily from the keyhole, as she slid through the door, drawing her rich draperies ruthlessly after. Her fingers were trembling so that she scarcely could fit the key in the lock again and turn it, and every click of the metal, every creak of the door, sounded like a gong in her ears. Her heart was fluttering wildly and the blood seemed to be pouring in torrents behind her ear-drums. She could not be sure whether there were noises in the room she had just left or not. She put her hand over her heart, turned with a sickening dread to look about her prison, and behold, it was not a closet at all, but a dark landing to a narrow flight of stone steps that wound down out of sight into the shadows. With a shudder she gathered her white impediment about her and crept down the murky way, frightened, yet glad to creep within the friendly darkness.
There were unmistakable sounds of footsteps overhead now, and sharp exclamations. A hand tried the door above and rattled it violently. For an instant her heart beat frightfully in her throat at the thought that perhaps after all she had not succeeded in quite locking it, but the door held, and she flew on blindly down the stairs, caring little where they led only so that she might hide quickly before they found the janitor and pried that door open.
The stairs ended in a little hall and a glass door. She fumbled wildly with the knob. It was locked, but there was a key! It was a large one and stuck, and gave a great deal of trouble in turning. Her fingers seemed so weak!
Above the noises grew louder. She fancied the door was open and the whole churchful of people were after her. She threw her full weight with fear in the balance, and the key turned. She wrenched it out of the rusty keyhole, slid out shutting the door after her, and stooping, fitted in the key again. With one more Herculean effort she locked it and stood up, trembling so that she could scarcely keep her balance. At least she was safe for a moment and could get her breath. But where could she go? She looked about her. High walls arose on either hand, with a murky sky above. A stone walk filled the space between and ran down the length of the church to a big iron gate. The lights of the street glistened fitfully on the puddles of wet in the depressions of the paving-stones. The street looked quiet, and only one or two people were passing. Was that gate locked also, and if so could she ever climb it, or break through? Somehow she must! She shuddered at the thought of what would happen if she did not get away at once. She strained at the buttons on her soft white gloves and pulled the fingers off, slipping her hands out and letting the glove hands hang limp at her wrists. Then with a quick glance backward at a flicker of light that appeared wavering beyond the glass door, she gathered her draperies again and fled down the long stone walk. Silently, lightly as a ghost she passed, and crouched at the gate as she heard footsteps, her heart beating so loudly it seemed like a bell calling attention to her. An old man was shuffling past, and she shrank against the wall, yet mindful of the awful glass door back at the end of the narrow passage. If they should come now she could not hope to elude them!
She stooped and studied the gate latch. Yes, it was a spring lock, and had no key in it. Stealthily she tried it and found to her relief that it swung open. She stepped around it and peered out. The gateway was not more than a hundred feet from the brightly lighted corner of the main avenue where rows of automobiles were lined up waiting for the wedding ceremony to be over. She could see the chauffeurs walking back and forth and chatting together. She could hear the desultory wandering of the organ, too, from the partly open window near by. A faint sickening waft of lily sweetness swept out, mingled with a dash of drops from the maple tree on the sidewalk. In a panic she stepped forth and drew back again, suddenly realizing for the first time what it would be to go forth into the streets clad in her wedding garments? How could she do it and get away? It could not be done!
Down the street, with a backward, wistful glance at the church, hurried a large woman with a market basket. Her curious eyes shone in the evening light and darkness of the street. There was something about her face that made Betty know instantly that this woman would love to tell how she had seen her, would gather a crowd in no time and pursue her. She shrank farther back, and then waited in awful fear and tried to listen again. Was that a rattling at the glass door? She must get away no matter what happened! Where? Was there an alleyway or anything across the block? Could she hope to cross the street between the shadows unnoticed?
She looked out fearfully once more. A girl of her own age was approaching around the corner, paddling along in rubbers, and a long coat. She was chewing gum. Betty could see the outline of a strong good-natured jaw working contentedly as she was silhouetted against the light. She had her hands in her pockets, and a little dark hat worn boyishly on the back of her head, and she was humming a popular song. Betty had slipped behind the half open gate again and was watching her approach, her desperation driving her to thoughts that never would have entered her mind at another time. Suddenly, as the girl passed directly in front of the gate, Betty leaned forward and plucked at her sleeve:
"Wait!" she said sharply; and then, with a pitiful pleading in her voice, "Won't you help me just a minute, please?"
THE girl came to a standstill abruptly and faced about, drawing away just a hair's-breadth from the detaining hand, and surveying her steadily, the boyish expression in her eyes changing to an amused calculation such as one would fancy a cowboy held up on his native plains by a stray lamb might have worn.
"What's the little old idea!" asked the girl coldly, her eyes narrowing as she studied the other girl in detail and attempted to classify her into the known and unknown quantities of her world. Her face was absolutely expressionless as far as any sign of interest or sympathy was concerned. It was like a house with the door still closed and a well-trained butler in attendance.
"I've got to get away from here at once before anybody sees me," whispered Betty excitedly, with a fearful glance behind her.
"Do you want me to call a cab for you?" sneered the girl on the sidewalk, with an envious glance at the white satin slippers.
"Oh, no! Never!" cried Betty, wringing her hands in desperation. "I want you to show me somewhere to go out of sight, and if you will I'd like you to walk a block or so with me so I won't be so—so conspicuous! I'm so frightened I don't know which way to go."
"What do you want to go at all for?" asked the girl bluntly, with the look of an inquisitor, and the intolerance of the young for its contemporary of another social class.
"Because I must!" said Betty with terror in her voice. "They're coming! Listen! Oh, help me quick! I can't wait to explain!"
Betty dashed out of the gate and would have started up the street but that a strong young arm came out like a flash and a firm young fist gripped her arm like a vise. The girl's keen ears had caught a sound of turning key and excited voices, and her quick eyes pierced the darkness of the narrow court and measured the distance back.
"Here! You can't go togged out like that!" she ordered in quite a different tone. She flung off her own long coat and threw it around the shrinking little white figure, then knelt and deftly turned up the long satin draperies out of sight and fixed them firmly with a pin extracted from somewhere about her person. Quickly she stood up and pulled off her rubbers, her eye on the long dark passageway whence came now the decided sound of a forcibly opened door and footsteps.
"Put these on, quick!" she whispered, lifting first one slippered foot and then the other and supporting the trembling Betty in her strong young arms, while she snapped on the rubbers.
Lastly, she jerked the rakish hat from her own head, crammed it down hard over the orange-wreathed brow and gave her strange protegee a hasty shove.
"Now beat it around that corner and wait till I come!" she whispered, and turning planted herself in an idle attitude just under the church window, craning her neck and apparently listening to the music. A second later an excited usher, preceded by the janitor, came clattering down the passageway.
"Have you seen any one go out of this gate recently?" asked the usher.
The girl, hatless and coatless in the chill November night, turned nonchalantly at the question, surveyed the usher coolly from the point of his patent leather shoes to the white gardenia in his buttonhole, gave his features a cursory glance, and then shook her head.
"There might have been an old woman come out a while back. Dressed in black, was she? I wasn't paying much attention. I think she went down the avenoo," she said, and stretched her neck again, standing on her tiptoes to view the wedding guests. Her interest suddenly became real, for she spied a young man standing in the church, in full view of the window, back against the wall with his arms folded, a fine handsome young man with pleasant eyes and a head like that of a young nobleman, and she wanted to make sure of his identity. He looked very much like the young lawyer whose office boy was her "gentleman friend." Just to make sure she gave a little spring from the sidewalk that brought her eyes almost on a level with the window and gave her a brief glimpse, enough to see his face quite clearly; then she turned with satisfaction to see that the janitor and the usher had gone back up the passageway, having slammed the gate shut. Without more ado the girl wheeled and hurried down the street toward the corner where Betty crouched behind a tree trunk, watching fearfully for her coming.
"Aw! You don't need to be that scared!" said the girl, coming up. "They've gone back. I threw 'em off the scent. Come on! We'll go to my room and see what to do. Don't talk! Somebody might recognize your voice. Here, we'll cut through this alley and get to the next block. It's further away and not so many folks passing."
Silently they hurried through the dark alley and down the next street, Betty holding the long cloak close that no gleam of her white satin might shine out and give away her secret, her heart beating like a trip hammer in her breast, her eyes filled with unshed tears, the last words of her stepmother ringing in her ears. Was she making her father ashamed? Her dear dead father! Was she doing the wrong thing? So long that thought had held her! But she could not go back now. She had taken an irrevocable step.
Her guide turned another corner abruptly and led her up some stone steps to the door of a tall, dingy brick house, to which she applied a latchkey.
The air of the gloomy hall was not pleasant. The red wall-paper was soiled and torn, and weird shadows flickered from the small gas taper that blinked from the ceiling. There were suggestions of old dinners, stale fried potatoes and pork in all the corners, and one moving toward the stairs seemed to stir them up and set them going again like old memories.
The stairs were bare and worn by many feet, and not particularly clean. Betty paused in dismay then hurried on after her hostess, who was mounting up, one, two, three flights, to a tiny hall bedroom at the back. A fleeting fear that perhaps the place was not respectable shot through her heart, but her other troubles were so great that it found no lodgment. Panting and trembling she arrived at the top and stood looking about her in the dark, while the other girl found a match and lighted another wicked little flickering gas-burner.
Then her hostess drew her into the room and closed and locked the door. As a further precaution she climbed upon a chair and pushed the transom shut.
"Now," she said with a sigh of evident relief, "we're safe! No one can hear you here, and you can say what you please. But first we'll get this coat and hat off and see what's the damage."
As gently as if she were undressing a baby the girl removed the hat and coat from her guest, and shook out the wonderful shining folds of satin. It would have been a study for an artist to have watched her face as she worked, smoothing out wrinkles, shaking the lace down and uncrushing it, straightening a bruised orange-blossom, and putting everything in place. It was as if she herself were an artist restoring a great masterpiece, so silently and absorbedly she worked, her eyes full of a glad wonder that it had come to her once to be near and handle anything so rare and costly. The very touch of the lace and satin evidently thrilled her; the breath of the exotic blossoms was nectar as she drew it in.
Betty was still panting from her climb, still trembling from her flight, and she stood obedient and meek while the other girl pulled and shook and brushed and patted her into shape again. When all was orderly and adjusted about the crumpled bride, the girl stood back as far as the limits of the tiny room allowed and surveyed the finished picture.
"There now! You certainly do look great! That there band of flowers round your forehead makes you look like some queen. 'Coronet'—ain't that what they call it? I read that once in a story at the Public Library. Say! Just to think I should pick that up in the street! Good night! I'm glad I came along just then instead o' somebody else! This certainly is some picnic! Well, now, give us your dope. It must've been pretty stiff to make you cut and run from a show like the one they got up for you! Come, tune up and let's hear the tale. I rather guess I'm entitled to know before the curtain goes up again on this little old stage!"
The two tears that had been struggling with Betty for a long time suddenly appeared in her eyes and drowned them out, and in dismay she brought out a faint little sorry giggle of apology and amusement and dropped on the tiny bed, which filled up a good two-thirds of the room.
"Good night!" exclaimed the hostess in alarm, springing to catch her. "Don't drop down that way in those glad rags! You'll finish 'em! Come, stand up and we'll get 'em off. You look all in. I'd oughta known you would be!" She lifted Betty tenderly and began to remove her veil and unfasten the wonderful gown. It seemed to her much like helping an angel remove her wings for a nap. Her eyes shone with genuine pleasure as she handled the hooks deftly.
"But I've nothing else to put on!" gurgled Betty helplessly.
"I have!" said the other girl.
"Oh!" said Betty with a sudden thought. "I wonder! Would you be willing to exchange clothes? Have you perhaps got some things you don't need that I could have, and I'll give you mine for them? I don't suppose perhaps a wedding dress would be very useful unless you're thinking of getting married soon, but you could make it over and use it for the foundation of an evening dress——"
The other girl was carefully folding the white satin skirt at the moment, but she stopped with it in her arms and sat down weakly on the foot of the bed with it all spread out in her lap and looked at her guest in wonder:
"You don't mean you wantta give it up!" she said in an awed tone. "You don't mean you would be willing to take some of my old togs for it?"
"I certainly would!" cried Betty eagerly. "I never want to see these things again! I hate them! And besides, I want to get away somewhere. I can't go in white satin! You know that! But I don't like to take anything of yours that you might need. Do you think these things would be worth anything to you? You weren't thinking of getting married yourself some time soon, were you?"
"Well, I might," said the other girl, looking self-conscious. "I got a gentleman friend. But I wasn't expectin' to get in on any trooso like this!" She let her finger move softly over the satin hem as if she had been offered a plume of the angel's wing. "Sure, I'll take it off you if I've got anything you're satisfied to have in exchange. I wouldn't mind havin' it to keep jest to look at now and then and know it's mine. It'd be somethin' to live for, jest to know you had that dress in the house!"
Suddenly Betty, without any warning even to herself, dropped upon her knees beside the diminutive bed and began to weep. It seemed somehow so touching that a thing like a mere dress could make a girl glad like that. All the troubles of the days that were past went over her in a great wave of agony, and overwhelmed her soul. In soft silk and lace petticoat and camisole with her pretty white arms and shoulders shaking with great sobs she buried her face in the old patchwork quilt that her hostess had brought from her village home, and gave way to a grief that had been long in growing. The other girl now thoroughly alarmed, laid the satin on a chair and went over to the little stranger, gathering her up in a strong embrace, and gradually lifting her to the bed.
"You poor little Kid, you! I oughtta known better! You're just all in! You ben gettin' ready to be married, and something big's been troubling you, and I bet they never gave you any lunch—er else you wouldn't eat it,—and you're jest natcheraly all in. Now you lie right here an' I'll make you some supper. My name's Jane Carson, and I've got a good mother out to Ohio, and a nice home if I'd had sense enough to stay in it; only I got a chance to make big money in a fact'ry. But I know what 'tis to be lonesome, an' I ain't hard-hearted, if I do know how to take care of misself. There! There!"
She smoothed back the lovely hair that curled in golden tendrils where the tears had wet it.
"Say, now, you needn't be afraid! Nobody'll getcha here! I know how to bluff 'em. Even if a policeman should come after yeh, I'd get around him somehow, and I don't care what you've done or ain't done, I'll stand by yeh. I'm not one to turn against anybody in distress. My mother always taught me that. After you've et a bite and had a cup of my nice tea with cream and sugar in it you'll feel better, and we'll have a real chin-fest and hear all about it. Now, you just shut your eyes and wait till I make that tea."
Jane Carson thumped up the pillow scientifically to make as many of the feathers as possible and shifted the little flower-head upon it. Then she hurried to her small washstand and took a little iron contrivance from the drawer, fastening it on the sickly gas-jet. She filled a tiny kettle with water from a faucet in the hall and set it to boil. From behind a curtain in a little box nailed to the wall she drew a loaf of bread, a paper of tea and a sugar-bowl. A cup and saucer and other dishes appeared from a pasteboard box under the washstand. A small shelf outside the tiny window yielded a plate of butter, a pint bottle of milk, and two eggs. She drew a chair up to the bed, put a clean handkerchief on it, and spread forth her table. In a few minutes the fragrance of tea and toast pervaded the room, and water was bubbling happily for the eggs. As cosily as if she had a chum to dine with her she sat down on the edge of the bed and invited her guest to supper. As she poured the tea she wondered what her co-laborers at the factory would think if they knew she had a real society lady visiting her. It wasn't every working girl that had a white satin bride thrust upon her suddenly this way. It was like a fairy story, having a strange bride lying on her bed, and everything a perfect mystery about her. She eyed the white silk ankles and dainty slippers with satisfaction. Think of wearing underclothes made of silk and real lace!
It seemed to Betty as if never before in all her life had she tasted anything so delicious as that tea and toast and soft boiled egg cooked by this wonderful girl on a gaslight and served on a chair. She wanted to cry again over her gladness at being here. It didn't seem real after all the trouble she had been through. It couldn't last! Oh, of course it couldn't last!
This thought came as she swallowed the last bite of toast, and she sat up suddenly!
"I ought to be doing something quick!" she said in sudden panic. "It is getting late and I must get away. They'll be watching the trains, perhaps. I ought to have gone at once. But I don't know where I can go. Give me some old things, please. I must get dressed at once."
"Lie down first and tell me who you are and what it's all about. I can't do a thing for you till I know. I've got to go into this with my eyes open or I won't stir one step," she declared stubbornly.
Betty looked at her with wide eyes of trouble and doubt. Then the doubt suddenly cleared away, and trust broke through.
"I can trust you, I'm sure! You've been so good to me! But it seems dreadful to tell things about my family, even to one who has been so kind. My father would be so hurt——"
"Your father? Where is your father? Why didn't he take care of you and keep you from getting into such big trouble, I'd like to know?"
The blue eyes clouded with tears again.
"My father died five years ago," she said, "but I've always tried to do as he would want to have me do. Only—this—I couldn't."
"H'm!" said Jane Carson. "Then he prob'ly wouldn't of wanted you to. Suppose you take the rest of those togs off. I'll find you a warm nightgown and we'll get to bed. It's turning cold here. They take the heat off somewhere about six o'clock in the evening, and it gets like ice up here sometimes."
Jane shivered and went to her small trunk, from which she produced a coarse but clean flanellete nightgown, and Betty, who had never worn anything but a dainty lingerie one before in all her life, crept into it thankfully and cuddled down with a warm feeling that she had found a real friend. It was curious why she did not shrink from this poor girl, but she did not, and everything looked clean and nice. Besides, this was a wonderful haven of refuge in her dire necessity.
MEANWHILE, in the stately mansion that Betty had called home, a small regiment of servants hastened with the last tasks in preparation for the guests that were soon expected to arrive. The great rooms had become a dream of paradise, with silver rain and white lilies in a mist of soft green depending from the high ceilings. In the midst of all, a fairy bower of roses and tropical ferns created a nook of retirement where everyone might catch a glimpse of the bride and groom from any angle in any room. The spacious vistas stretched away from an equally spacious hallway, where a wide and graceful staircase curved up to a low gallery, smothered in flowers and palms and vines; and even so early the musicians were taking their places and tuning their instruments. On the floor above, where room after room shone in beauty, with costly furnishings, and perfect harmonies, white-capped maids flitted about, putting last touches to dressing tables and pausing to gossip as they passed one another:
"Well, 'twill all be over soon," sighed one, a wan-faced girl with discontented eyes. "Ain't it kind of a pity, all this fuss just for a few minutes?"
"Yes, an' glad I'll be!" declared another, a fresh young Irish girl with a faint, pretty brogue. "I don't like the look of my Lady Betty. A pretty fuss Candace her old nurse would be makin' if she was here the night! I guess the madam knew what she was about when she give her her walkin' ticket! Candace never could bear them two bys, and him was the worse of the two, she always said."
"Well, a sight of good it would do for old Candace to make a fuss!" said the discontented one. "And anyhow, he's as handsome as the devil, and she's got money enough, so she oughtn't complain."
"Money ain't everything!" sniffed Aileen. "I wouldn't marry a king if I wasn't crazy about him!"
"Oh, you're young!" sneered Marie with disdain. "Wait till your looks go! You don't know what you'd take up with!"
"Well I'd never take up with the likes of him!" returned the Irish girl grandly, "and what's more he knows it!" She tossed her head meaningfully and was about to sail away on her own business when a stir below stairs attracted their attention. A stout, elderly woman, dressed in a stiff new black silk and an apoplectic hat, came panting up the stairs looking furtively from side to side, as if she wished to escape before anyone recognized her:
"It's Candace!" exclaimed Aileen. "As I live! Now what d'ye wantta know about that! Poor soul! Poor soul! Candy! Oh!—Candy! What iver brought ye here the night? This is no place for the loikes of you. You better beat it while the beatin' is good if ye know which side yer bread's buthered!"
But the old nurse came puffing on, her face red and excited:
"Is she here? Has she come, yet, my poor wee Betty?" she besought them eagerly.
"Miss Betty's at the church now gettin' married!" announced Marie uppishly, "and you'd best be gettin' out of here right away, for the wedding party's due to arrive any minute now and madam'll be very angry to have a servant as doesn't belong snoopin' round at such a time!"
"Be still, Marie! For shame!" cried Aileen. "You've no need to talk like that to a self-respectin' woman as has been in this house more years than you have been weeks! Come along, Candace, and I'll slip you in my room and tell you all about it when I can get away long enough. You see, Miss Betty's being married——"
"But she's not!" cried Candace wildly. "I was at the church myself. Miss Betty sent me the word to be sure and come, and where to sit and all, so she'd see me; and I went, and she come up the aisle as white as a lily and dropped right there before the poolpit, just like a little white lamb that couldn't move another step, all of a heap in her pretty things! And they stopped the ceremony and everybody got up, and they took her away, and we waited till bime-by the minister said the bride wasn't well enough to proceed with the ceremony and would they all go home, and I just slipped out before the folks got their wraps on and took a side street with wings to my feet and got up here! Haven't they brought her home yet, the poor wee thing? I been thinkin' they might need me yet, for many's the time I've brought her round by my nursin'."
The two maids looked wildly at one another, their glances growing into incredulity, the eyebrows of Marie moving toward her well-dressed hair with a lofty disapproval.
"Well, you'd better come with me, Candy," said Aileen drawing the excited old servant along the hall to the back corridor gently. "I guess there's some mistake somewheres; anyway, you better stay in my room till you see what happens. We haven't heard anything yet, and they'd likely send word pretty soon if there's to be any change in the program. You say she fell——?"
But just then sounds of excitement came distantly up to them and Aileen hastened back to the gallery to listen. It was the voice of Madam Stanhope angrily speaking to her youngest son:
"You must get Bessemer on the 'phone at once and order him home! I told you it was a great mistake sending him away. If he had been standing there, where she could see him, everything would have gone through just as we planned it——"
"Aw! Rot! Mother. Can't you shut up? I know what I'm about and I'm going to call up another detective. Bessemer may go to the devil for all I care! How do you know but he has, and taken her with him? The first thing to do is to get that girl back! You ought to have had more sense than to show your whole hand to my brother. You might have known he'd take advantage——"
Herbert Hutton slammed into the telephone booth under the stairs and Madam Stanhope was almost immediately aware of the staring servants who were trying not to seem to have listened.
Mrs. Stanhope stood in the midst of the beautiful empty rooms and suddenly realized her position. Her face froze into the haughty lines with which her menage was familiar, and she was as coldly beautiful in her exquisite heliotrope gown of brocaded velvet and chiffon with the glitter of jewels about her smooth plump neck, and in her carefully marcelled black hair as if she were quietly awaiting the bridal party instead of facing defeat and mortification:
"Aileen, you may get Miss Betty's room ready to receive her. She has been taken ill and will be brought home as soon as she is able to be moved," she announced, without turning an eyelash. "Put away her things, and get the bed ready!" One could see that she was thinking rapidly. She was a woman who had all her life been equal to an emergency, but never had quite such a tragic emergency been thrust upon her to camouflage before.
"James!" catching the eye of the butler, "there will be no reception to-night, of course, and you will see that the hired people take their things away as soon as possible, and say that I will agree to whatever arrangements they see fit to make, within reason, of course. Just use your judgment, James, and by the way, there will be telephone calls, of course, from our friends. Say that Miss Betty is somewhat better, and the doctor hopes to avert a serious nervous breakdown, but that she needs entire rest and absolute quiet for a few days. Say that and nothing more, do you understand, James?"
The butler bowed his thorough understanding and Madam Stanhope sailed nobly up the flower-garlanded staircase, past the huddled musicians, to her own apartment. Aileen, with a frightened glance, scuttled past the door as she was closing it:
"Aileen, ask Mr. Herbert to come to my room at once when he has finished telephoning, and when Mr. Bessemer arrives send him to me at once!" Then the door closed and the woman was alone with her defeat, and the placid enameled features melted into an angry snarl like an animal at bay. In a moment more Herbert stormed in.
"It's all your fault, mother!" he began, with an oath. "If you hadn't dragged Bessemer into this thing I'd have had her fixed. I had her just about where I wanted her, and another day would have broken her in. She's scared to death of insane asylums, and I told her long ago that it would be dead easy to put a woman in one for life. If I had just hinted at such a thing she'd have married me as meek as a lamb!"
"Now look here, Bertie," flared his mother excitedly, "you've got to stop blaming me! Haven't I given in to you all your life, and now you say it's all my fault the least little thing that happens! It was for your sake that I stopped you; you know it was. You couldn't carry out any such crazy scheme. Betty's almost of age, and if those trustees should find out what you had threatened, you would be in jail for life, and goodness knows what would become of me."
"Trustees! How would the trustees find it out?"
"Betty might tell them."
"Betty might not tell them, not if she was my wife!" He bawled out the words in a way that boded no blissful future to the one who should have the misfortune to become his wife. "I think I'd have her better trained than that. As for you, Mother, you're all off, as usual! What do you think could possibly happen to you? You're always saying you do everything for me, but when it comes right down to brass tacks I notice you're pretty much of a selfish coward on your own account."
For a moment the baffled woman faced her angry uncontrolled son in speechless rage, then gathered command of the situation once more, an inscrutable expression on her hard-lined face. Her voice took on an almost pitiful reproach as she spoke in a low, even tone that could hardly fail to bring the instant attention of her spoiled son:
"Bertie, you don't know what you're talking about!" she said, and there was a strained white look of fear about her mouth and eyes as she spoke. "I'm going to tell you, in this great crisis, what I did for you, what I risked that you might enjoy the luxury which you have had for the last five years. Listen! The day before Mr. Stanhope died he wrote a letter to the trustees of Betty's fortune giving very explicit directions about her money and her guardianship, tying things up so that not one cent belonging to her should pass through my hands, which would have left us with just my income as the will provided, and would have meant comparative poverty for us all except as Betty chose to be benevolent. I kept a strict watch on all his movements those last few days, of course, and when I found he had given Candace a letter to mail, I told her I would look after it, and I brought it up to my room and read it, for I suspected just some such thing as he had done. He was very fussy about Betty and her rights, you remember, and he had always insisted that this was Betty's house, her mother's wedding present from the grandfather, and therefore not ours at all, except through Betty's bounty. I was determined that we should not be turned out of here, and that you should not have to go without the things you wanted while that child had everything and far more than she needed. So I burned the letter! Now, do you see what the mother you have been blaming has done for you?"
But the son looked back with hard glittering eyes and a sneer on his handsome lustful lips:
"I guess you did it about as much for your own sake as mine, didn't you?" he snarled. "And I don't see what that's got to do with it, anyway. Those trustees don't know what they missed if they never got the letter, and you've always kept in with them, you say, and made them think you were crazy about the girl. They pay you Betty's allowance till she's of age, don't they? They can't lay a finger on you. You're a fool to waste my time talking about a little thing like that when we ought to be planning a way to get hold of that girl before the trustees find out about it. If we don't get her fixed before she's of age we shall be in the soup as far as the property is concerned. Isn't that so? Well, then, we've got to get her good and married——"
"If you only had let her marry Bessemer quietly," whimpered his mother, "and not have brought in all this deception. It will look so terrible if it ever comes out. I shall never be able to hold up my head in society again——!"
"There you are again! Thinking of yourself——!" sneered the dutiful son, getting up and stamping about her room like a wild man. "I tell you, Mother, that girl is mine, and I won't have Bessemer or anybody else putting in a finger. She's mine! I told her so a long time ago, and she knows it! She can't get away from me, and it's going to go the harder with her because she's tried. I'm never going to forgive her making a fool out of me before all those people! I'll get her yet! Little fool!"
Herbert was well on his way into one of those fits of uncontrollable fury that had always held his mother in obedience to his slightest whim since the days when he used to lie on the floor and scream himself black in the face and hold his breath till she gave in; and the poor woman, wrought to the highest pitch of excitement already by the tragic events of the evening, which were only the climax of long weeks of agitation, anxiety and plotting, dropped suddenly into her boudoir chair and began to weep.
But this new manifestation on the part of his usually pliable mother only seemed to infuriate the young man. He walked up to her, and seizing her by the shoulder, shook her roughly:
"Cut that out!" he said hoarsely. "This is no time to cry. We've got to make some kind of a plan. Don't you see we'll have the hounds of the press at our heels in a few hours? Don't you see we've got to make a plan and stick to it?"
His mother looked up, regardless for once of the devastation those few tears had made of her carefully groomed face, a new terror growing in her eyes:
"I've told James to answer all telephone calls and say that Betty is doing as well as could be expected, but that the doctor says she must have perfect quiet to save her from a nervous breakdown——" she answered him coldly. "I'm not quite a fool if you do think so——"
"Well, that's all right for to-night, but what'll we say to-morrow if we don't find her——"
"Oh! She'll come back," said the stepmother confidently. "She can't help it. Why, where would she go? She hasn't a place on earth since she's lost confidence in that cousin of her mother's because he didn't come to her wedding. She hasn't an idea that he never got her note asking him to give her away. Thank heaven I got hold of that before it reached the postman! If that old granny had been here we should have had trouble indeed. I had an experience with him once just before I married Betty's father, and I never want to repeat it. But we must look out what gets in the papers!"
"It's rather late for that, I suspect. The bloodhounds 'ill be around before many minutes and you better think up what you want said. But I'm not so sure she wouldn't go there, and we better tell the detectives that. What's the old guy's address? I'll call him up long distance and say she was on a motoring trip and intended to stop there if she had time. I'll ask if she's reached there yet."
"That's a good idea, although I'm sure she was too hurt about it to go to him. She cried all the afternoon. It's a wonder she didn't look frightful! But that's Betty! Cry all day and come out looking like a star without any paint either. It's a pity somebody that would have appreciated it couldn't have had her complexion."
"That's you all over, Mother, talking about frivolous things when everything's happening at once. You're the limit! I say, you'd better be getting down to business! I've thought of another thing. How about that old nurse, Candace? Betty used to be crazy about her? What became of her?"
Mrs. Stanhope's face hardened, and anxiety grew in her eyes.
"She might have gone to her, although I don't believe she knows where she is. I'm sure I don't. I sent her away just before we began to get ready for the wedding. I didn't dare have her here. She knows too much and takes too much upon herself. I wouldn't have kept her so long, only she knew I took the trustee's letter, and she was very impudent about it once or twice, so that I didn't really dare to let her go until just a few days ago. I thought things would all be over here before she could do any harm, and Betty would be of age and have her money in her own right, and being your wife, of course there wouldn't be any more trouble about it."
"Well, you better find out what's become of her!" said the young man with darkening face. "She ought to be locked up somewhere! She's liable to make no end of trouble! You can't tell what she's stirred up already! Ring for a servant and find out if they know where she is. Ten to one that's where Betty is."
Mrs. Stanhope, with startled face, stepped to the bell and summoned Aileen:
"Aileen, have you any idea where we could find Miss Betty's old nurse, Candace?" she asked in a soothing tone, studying the maid's countenance. "I think it might be well to send for her in case Miss Betty needs her. She was so much attached to her!"
Aileen lifted startled eyes to her mistress' face. There was reserve and suspicion in her glance:
"Why, she was here a few minutes ago," she said guardedly. "It seems Miss Betty sent her an invitation, and when Miss Betty took sick she was that scared she ran out of the church and come here to find out how she was. She might not have gone yet. I could go see."
"Here! Was she here?" Mrs. Stanhope turned her head to her son and her eyes said: "That's strange!" but she kept her face well under control.
"Yes, you might go and see if you can find her, Aileen, and if you do, tell her I would like to see her a moment."
Aileen went away on her errand and Mrs. Stanhope turned to her son:
"Betty can't have gone to her unless there was some collusion. But in any case I think we had better keep her here until we know something."
Quick trotting steps were heard hurrying along the hall and a little jerky knock announced unmistakably the presence of Candace.
Mrs. Stanhope surveyed the little red-faced creature coolly and sharply:
"Candace, you have broken one of my express commands in returning here without permission from me, but seeing it was done in kindness I will overlook it this time and let you stay. You may be useful if they bring my daughter home to-night and I presume she will be very glad to see you. Just now she is—umm——" she glanced furtively at her son, and lifting her voice a trifle, as if to make her statement more emphatic—"she is at a private hospital near the church where they took her till she should be able to come home. It will depend on her condition whether they bring her to-night or to-morrow or in a few days. Meantime, if you like you may go up to your old room and wait until I send for you. I shall have news soon and will let you know. Don't go down to the servant's quarters, I wish to have you where I can call you at a moment's notice."
Candace gave her ex-mistress a long, keen suspicious stare, pinned her with a glance as steely as her own for an instant, in search of a possible ulterior motive, and then turning on her little fat heel, vanished like a small fast racer in the direction of her old room.
"Now," said Mrs. Stanhope, turning with a sigh of relief, "she's safe! I'll set Marie to watch her and if there's anything going on between those two Marie will find it out."
But Herbert Hutton was already sitting at his mother's desk with the telephone book and calling up Long Distance.
All the long hours when he had expected to have been standing under the rose bower downstairs in triumph with his bride, Herbert Hutton sat at that telephone in his mother's boudoir alternately raging at his mother and shouting futile messages over the 'phone. The ancient cousin of Betty's mother was discovered to be seriously ill in a hospital and unable to converse even through the medium of his nurse, so there was nothing to be gained there. Messages to the public functionaries in his town developed no news. Late into the night, or rather far toward the morning, Bessemer was discovered at a cabaret where his persistent mother and brother had traced him, too much befuddled with his evening's carouse to talk connectedly. He declared Betty was a good old girl, but she might go to thunder for all he cared; he knew a girl "worth twice of her."
His mother turned with disgust from his babbling voice, convinced that he knew nothing of Betty's whereabouts. Nevertheless, by means of a financial system of threats and rewards which she had used on him successfully for a number of years, she succeeded in impressing upon him the necessity of coming home at once, and just as the pink was beginning to dawn in the gray of the morning, Bessemer drove up in a hired car, and stumbled noisily into the house, demanding to know where the wedding was. He wanted to kiss the bride.
Candace, still in her stiff black silk, stood in the shadowy hall, as near as she dared venture, and listened, with her head thoughtfully on one side. Betty in her note about the wedding had said she was going to be married to Bessemer. But Bessemer didn't sound like a bridegroom. Had Bessemer run away then, or what? But some things looked queer. She remembered that Aileen had spoken as if Herbert was the bridegroom, but she had taken it for a mere slip of the tongue and thought nothing of it. When Aileen next came that way, she asked her if she happened to have got hold of one of the invitations, and Aileen, with her finger on her lips, nodded, and presently returned with something under her apron:
"I slipped it from the waste-basket," she said, "and Miss Betty got a holt of it, and there was a tremenjus fuss about something, I couldn't make out what; but I heard the missus say it was all a mistake as she gave the order over the 'phone, and she must have misspoke herself, but anyhow she thought she'd destroyed them all and given a rush order and they would be all right and sent out in plenty of time. So she sticks this back in the waste-basket and orders me to take the basket down and burn it, but I keeps this out and hides it well. I couldn't see nothin' the matter with it, can you?"
"There's all the matter with it!" declared the angry nurse as she glared at the name of Herbert Hutton thoughtfully, and read between the lines more than she cared to tell.
NOT two miles away, Betty lay safe and warm in the flanellette nightgown, and watched Jane Carson turn out the light and open the window. A light leaped up from the street and made a friendly spot of brightness on the opposite wall, and Betty had a sense of cosiness that she had not felt since she was in boarding school with a roommate.
"Now," said Jane, climbing into bed and pulling up the covers carefully lest she should let the cold in on her guest, "let's hear!—You warm enough?"
There was a curious tenderness in her voice as if she had brought home a young princess and must guard her carefully.
"Oh, perfectly!" said Betty, giving a little nervous shiver. "And I'm so glad to be here safe away from them all! Oh, I've needed some one to advise with so much! I haven't had a soul since they sent my old nurse away because she dared to take my part sometimes."
Suddenly Betty buried her face in the pillow and began to sob and Jane reached out quick gentle arms and gathered her in a close comforting embrace. In a moment more Betty had gained control of herself and began to explain:
"You see," she said, catching her breath bravely, "they were determined I should marry a man I can't endure, and when I wouldn't they tried to trick me into it anyway. I never suspected until I got into the church and looked around and couldn't see Bessemer anywhere; only the other one with his evil eyes gloating over me, and then I knew! They thought they would get me there before all that church full of people and I wouldn't dare do anything. But when I realized it, I just dropped right down in the aisle. I couldn't stand up, I was so frightened."
"But I don't understand," said Jane. "Were there two men?"
"Oh, yes," sighed Betty, "there were two."
"Well, where was the other one, the one you wanted to marry?"
"I don't know——" said Betty with a half sob in her voice. "That's just what frightened me. You see they were my stepmother's two sons, and it was my father's dying wish that I should marry one of them. I didn't really want to marry Bessemer, but I simply loathed Herbert, the younger one, who was so determined to marry me. I was terribly afraid of him. He had been frightfully cruel to me when I was a child and when he grew up he was always tormenting me; and then when he tried to make love to me he was so repulsive that I couldn't bear to look at him. It really made me sick to think of ever marrying him. Oh—I couldn't—no matter who asked me. So Bessemer and I decided to get married to stop the trouble. They were always nagging him, too, and I was kind of sorry for him."
"But why should you marry anybody you didn't want to, I'd like to know!" exclaimed Jane in horror. "This is a free country and nobody ever makes people marry anybody they don't like any more. Why didn't you just beat it?"
"I thought about that a good many times," said Betty, pressing her tired eyes with her cold little fingers, "but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. In the first place, I didn't know where to go, nor what to do. They never would let me learn to do anything useful, so I couldn't have got any work; and anyhow I had a feeling that it wouldn't be possible to get away where Herbert couldn't find me if he wanted to. He's that way. He always gets what he wants, no matter whom it hurts. He's awful—Jane—really!"
There was a pitiful note in her voice that appealed to the mother in Jane, and she stooped over her guest and patted her comfortingly on the shoulder:
"You poor little kid," she said tenderly, "you must have been worried something awful, but still I don't get you; what was the idea in sticking around and thinking you had to marry somebody you didn't like? You coulda gone to some one and claimed pertection. You could uv appealed to the p'lice if worst came to worst——!"
"Oh! But Jane I couldn't! That would have brought our family into disgrace, and father would have felt so dreadfully about it if he had been alive! I couldn't quite bring myself, either, to go against his dying request. We had always been so much to each other, Daddy and I. Besides, I didn't mind Bessemer so much—he was always kind—though we never had much to do with each other——"
"Well, I don't think I'd have stopped around long to please a father that didn't care any more for me than to want me to marry somebody I felt that way about!" said Jane, indignantly. "I haven't much use for a father like that!"
"Oh, but he wasn't like that!" said Betty, rising up in her eagerness and looking at Jane through her shining curls that were falling all about her eager, troubled young face, "and he did love me, Jane, he loved me better than anything else in the whole world! That was why I was willing to sacrifice almost anything to please him."
"Well, I'll be darned!" said Jane Carson, sitting up squarely in bed and staring at the spot of light on the wall. "That gets my goat! How could a man love you and yet want to torment you?"
"Well, you see, Jane, he hadn't been very fond of them when they were boys"—she spoke it with dignity and a little gasp as if she were committing a breach of loyalty to explain, but realized that it was necessary—"and he felt when he was dying that he wanted to make reparation, so he thought if I should marry one of them it would show them that he had forgiven them——"
"It—may—be—so," drawled Jane slowly, nodding her head deliberately with each word, "but—I don't see it that way! What kind of a man was this father of yours, anyway?"
"Oh, a wonderful man, Jane!" Betty eagerly hastened to explain. "He was all the world to me, and he used to come up to school week-ends and take me on beautiful trips and we had the best times together, and he would tell me about my own dear mother——"
Betty's hand grasped Jane's convulsively and her voice died out, in a sudden sob. Jane's hand went quickly to the bright head on the pillow:
"There! there!" she whispered tenderly, "don't take on so, I didn't mean anything. I was just trying to dope it out; get it through my bean what in thunder——! Say! Did he TELL you he wanted you to marry those guys?"
"Oh, no, he left word—it was his dying request."
"Who'd he request it to?"
"H'm! I thought so! How'd you know he did? How'd you know but she was lyin'?"
"No," said Betty sorrowfully, "she wasn't lying, she showed me the paper it was written on. There couldn't be any mistake. And his name was signed to it, his dear hand-writing, just as he always wrote it with the little quirl to the S that wasn't like anybody else. It went through me just like a knife when I saw it, that my dear father should have asked me to do what was so very very hard for me to think of. It was so much harder to have it come that way. If he had only asked me himself and we could have talked it over, perhaps he would have helped me to be strong enough to do it, but to have her have to tell me! She felt that herself. She tried to be kind, I think. She said she wanted to have him wake me up and tell me himself, but she saw his strength was going and he was so anxious to have her write it down quick and let him sign it that she did as he asked——"
"Well, you may depend on it he never wrote it at all—or anyhow, never knew what he was signing. Like as not she dragged it out of him some way while he was out of his mind or so near dying he didn't know what he was about. Besides, they mightta some of 'em forged his name. It's easy to copy signatures. Lotsa people do it real good. If I was you I wouldn't think another mite about it. If he was a man like you say he is, he couldn'ta done a thing like that to his own little girl, not on his life! It ain't like real fathers and mothers to. I know, fer I've got a mother that's a peach and no mistake! No, you may depend on it, he never knew a thing about that, and marrying a guy like that is the last thing on earth he'd want you to do."
"Oh, do you really think so? Oh, are you sure?" cried Betty, clinging to Jane eagerly, the tears raining down her white cheeks. "I've thought so a thousand times, but I didn't dare trust myself to decide."
"Yes, I'm sure!" said Jane, gathering her in her arms and hugging her tight, just as she would have done with a little sister who had waked up in the night with a bad dream. "Now, look here, you stop crying and don't you worry another bit. Just tell me the rest if there's any rest, so I'll know what to bank on. Who is the other guy, the one you didn't mind marryin'? What became of him?"
"Why, that's the queer part," said Betty, troubled again. "He didn't seem to be anywhere, and when they carried me into the room back of the church and fanned me and got water to bathe my face, a doctor came and gave me some medicine and sent them all out, and I asked him to send Bessemer to me. I wanted to find out why he hadn't been standing up there by the minister the way I expected. I heard the doctor go out and ask for Bessemer and I heard my stepmother's voice say, 'Why Bessemer isn't here! He's gone down to the shore!' and then somebody said, 'Hush,' and they shut the door, and I was so frightened that I got up and tried all the doors till I found one that led down some stairs, and I locked it behind me and ran and found you!"
"You poor little kid!" cried Jane, cuddling her again. "I sure am glad I was on the job! But now, tell me, what's your idea? Will they make a big noise and come huntin' you?"
"Oh, yes!" said Betty wearily. "I suppose they will. I know they will, in fact. Herbert won't be balked in anything he wants——Bessemer won't count. He never counts. I'm sort of sorry for him, though I don't like him much. You see they had been making an awful fuss with him, too, about some actress down at the shore that he was sending flowers to, and I knew he didn't have a very easy time. So when he came in one day and asked me why I didn't marry him and settle the whole thing that way, I was horrified at first, but I finally thought perhaps that would be the best thing to do. He said he wouldn't bother me any, if I wouldn't bother him; and we thought perhaps the others would let us alone then. But I might have known Herbert wouldn't give in! Bessemer is easily led—Herbert could have hired him to go away to-night—or they may have made him ask me to marry him. He's like that," sadly. "You can't depend on him. I don't know. You see, it was kind of queer about the invitations. They came with Herbert's name in them first, and my stepmother tried to keep me from seeing them. She said they were late and she had them all sent off; but I found one, and when I went to my stepmother with it she said it was a mistake. She hadn't meant me to be annoyed by seeing it; and she didn't know how it happened; she must have misspoken herself—but it had been corrected and they would rush it through and send them right from the store this time so there wouldn't be any delay. I tried to think it was all right, but it troubled me, for I saw that Herbert hadn't given up at all—though he pretended to go away, and I hoped I wouldn't have any more trouble—but I might have known! Herbert never gave up anything in his life, not even when father was living. He always managed to get his way, somehow——"
"Did he love you so much?" Jane asked awesomely.
"Oh, I don't know whether it was love or hate! It was all the same. I hate to think about him—he is—unbearable, Jane! Why, Jane, once he told me if he ever got me in his power he'd break my will or kill me in the attempt!"
"Well, now, there, Kid! Don't you think another bit about him, the old brute! You just lie down and sleep as easy as if you was miles away. They won't any of 'em ever find you here with me, and I've pulled the washstand in front of the door, so you needn't be dreaming of anybody coming in and finding you. Now go to sleep, and to-morrow I'll sneak you away to a place where they can't ever find you. Good night, Kid!" and Jane leaned down and kissed the soft hair on the pillow beside her. Betty flung her arms about her new-found friend and kissed her tenderly:
"Oh, you've been so good to me! What should I ever have done if I hadn't found you. You were like an angel. I think surely God must have sent you to help me."
"I shouldn't wonder if he did!" said Jane thoughtfully. "An angel in a mackintosh! Some angel!"
Jane Carson with her eyes wide open lay staring into the darkness and thinking it all over. She did not waste much time marvelling over the wonder that it had all happened to her. That would do for afterward when there was nothing else to be done about it. Now there must be some plans made and she was the one to make them. It was quite plain that the wonderful and beautiful Elizabeth Stanhope, the plans for whose wedding had been blazoned in the papers for days beforehand, was not at present capable of making or carrying out anything effective. Jane was. She knew it. She was a born leader and promoter. She liked nothing better than to work out a difficult situation. But this was the most difficult proposition that she had ever come up against. When her father died and her mother was left with the little house and the three younger children to support in a small country village, and only plain sewing and now and then a boarder to eke out a living for them all, she had sought and found, through a summer visitor who had taught her Sunday school class for a few weeks, a good position in this big Eastern city. She had made good and been promoted until her wages not only kept herself with strict economy, but justified her in looking forward to the time when she might send for her next younger sister. Her deft fingers kept her meagre wardrobe in neatness—and a tolerable deference to fashion, so that she had been able to annex the "gentleman friend" and take a little outing with him now and then at a moving picture theatre or a Sunday evening service. She had met and vanquished the devil on more than one battlefield in the course of her experience with different department heads; and she was wise beyond her years in the ways of the world. But this situation was different. Here was a girl who had been brought up "by hand," as she would have said with a sneer a few hours before, and she would have despised her for it. She raised up on one elbow and leaned over once more to watch the delicate profile of this gentle maiden, in the dim fitful light of the city night that came through the one little window. There had been something appealing in the beauty and frankness of the girl bride, something appalling in the situation she had found herself in. Jane Carson didn't know whether she was doing right or not to help this stray bride. It made her catch her breath to think how she might be bringing all the power of the law and of money upon her reckless young head, but she meant to do it, just the same.
Elizabeth Stanhope! What a beautiful name! It fitted right in with all the romance Jane had ever dreamed. If she only could write scenarios, what a thriller this would make!
Then she lay down and fell to planning.
THE morning dawned, and still no word from the missing bride. But the brief guarded sentences which Herbert Hutton had telephoned to the newspapers had been somehow sidetracked, and in their place a ghastly story had leaked out which some poor, hard-pressed reporter had gleaned from the gossip in the church and hurried off to put into type before there was time for it to be denied. Hot foot the story had run, and great headlines proclaimed the escape of Betty even while the family were carefully paving the way for the report of a protracted illness and absence, if need be, till they could find trace of her. The sun rose brightly and made weird gleaming of the silver wire on which the dying roses hung. The air was heavy with their breath, and the rooms in the early garish light looked out of place as if some fairy wand had failed to break the incantation at the right hour and left a piece of Magicland behind. The parlor maid went about uncertainly, scarcely knowing what to do and what to leave undone, and the milk cars, and newsboys, and early laborers began to make a clatter of every day on the streets. The morning paper, flung across the steps with Betty's picture, where Betty's reluctant feet had gone a few hours before, seemed to mock at life, and upstairs the man that Betty thought she went out to marry, lay in a heavy stupor of sleep. Happy Betty, to be resting beneath the coarse sheet of the kindly working girl, sleeping the sleep of exhaustion and youth in safety, two miles from the rose-bowered rooms!
Long before day had really started in the great city Jane Carson was up and at work. She dressed swiftly and silently, then went to her little trunk, and from it selected a simple wardrobe of coarse clean garments. One needed mending and two buttons were off. She sat by the dingy window and strained her eyes in the dawn to make the necessary repairs. She hesitated long over the pasteboard suit-box that she drew from under the bed. It contained a new dark blue serge dress for which she had saved a long time and in which she had intended to appear at church next Sabbath. She was divided between her desire to robe the exquisite little guest in its pristine folds and her longing to wear it herself. There was a sense of justice also which entered into the matter. If that elegant wedding dress was to be hers, and all those wonderful silk underclothes, which very likely she would never allow herself to wear, for they would be out of place on a poor working girl, it was not fair to repay their donor in old clothes. She decided to give the runaway bride her new blue serge. With just a regretful bit of a sigh she laid it out on the foot of the bed, and carefully spread out the tissue papers and folded the white satin garments away out of sight, finishing the bundle with a thick wrapping of old newspapers from a pile behind the door and tying it securely. She added a few pins to make the matter more sure, and got out a stub of a pencil and labeled it in large letters, "My summer dresses," then shoved it far back under the bed. If any seeking detective came he would not be likely to bother with that, and he might search her trunk in vain for white satin slippers and wedding veils.
Breakfast was next, and she put on her cloak and hurried out for supplies for the larder had been heavily depleted the night before to provide for her guest. With a tender glance toward the sleeper she slipped the key from the lock and placed it in the outside of the door, silently locking her guest within. Now there would be no danger of any one spiriting her away while she was gone, and no danger that the girl might wake up and depart in her absence.
She stopped a newsboy on his way to the subway and bought a paper, thrilling at the thought that there might be something in it about the girl who lay asleep in her little hall bedroom.
While she waited for her bundles she stole a glance at her paper, and there on the front page in big letters ran the heading:
STANHOPE WEDDING HELD UP AT ALTAR BY UNCONSCIOUS BRIDE
Relatives Seek Runaway Girl Who is Thought to be Insane
She caught her breath and rolled the paper in a little wad, stuffing it carelessly into her pocket. She could not read any more of that in public. She hastened back to her room.
Betty was still sleeping. Jane stood watching her for a full minute with awe in her face. She could not but recognize the difference between herself and this fine sweet product of civilization and wealth. With the gold curls tossed back like a ripple of sunshine, and a pathetic little droop at the corners of her sweet mouth, nothing lovelier could be. Jane hurried to the window and turned her back on the bed while she perused the paper, her rage rising at the theories put forth. It was even hinted that her mother had been insane. Jane turned again and looked hard at the young sleeper, and the idea crossed her mind that even she might be deceived. Still, she was willing to trust her judgment that this girl was entirely sane, and anyhow she meant to help her! She stuffed the paper down behind the trunk and began to get breakfast. When it was almost ready she gently awoke the sleeper.
Betty started at the light touch on her shoulder and looked wildly around at the strange room and stranger face of the other girl. In the dim light of the evening she had scarcely got to know Jane's face. But in a moment all the happenings of the day before came back, and she sat up excitedly.
"I ought to have got away before it was light," she said gripping her hands together. "I wonder where I could go, Jane?" It was pleasant to call this girl by her first name. Betty felt that she was a tower of strength, and so kind.
"I have this ring," she said, slipping off an exquisite diamond and holding it out. "Do you suppose there would be any way I could get money enough to travel somewhere with this? If I can't I'll have to walk, and I can't get far in a day that way."
Betty was almost light-hearted, and smiling. The night had passed and no one had come. Perhaps after all she was going to get away without being stopped.
Jane's face set grimly.
"I guess there won't be any walking for you. You'll have to travel regular. It wouldn't be safe. And you don't want no rich jewelry along either. Was that your wedding ring?"
"Oh, no; father gave it to me. It was mother's, but I guess they'd want me to use it now. I haven't anything else."
"Of course," said Jane shortly to hide the emotion in her voice. "Now eat this while I talk," thrusting a plate of buttered toast and a glass of orange marmalade at her, and hastening to pour an inviting cup of coffee.
"Now, I been thinking," she said sitting down on the edge of the bed and eating bits of the piece of toast she had burned—Betty's was toasted beautifully—"I got a plan. I think you better go to Ma. She's got room enough for you for a while, and I want my sister to come over and take a place I can get fer her. If you was there she could leave. Mebbe you could help Ma with the kids. Of course we're poor and you ain't used to common things like we have them, but I guess you ain't got much choice in your fix. I got a paper this morning. They're huntin' fer you hot foot. They say you was temperary insane, an' 'f I was you I'd keep out o' their way a while. You lay low an' I'll keep my eye out and let you know, I've got a little money under the mattrass I can let you have till that ring gets sold. You can leave it with me an' I'll do the best I can if you think you can trust me. Of course I'm a stranger, but then, land! So are you! We just gotta trust each other. And I'm sending you to my mother if you'll go!"
"Oh!" said Betty, springing up and hugging her impulsively, "you're so good! To think I should find somebody just like that right in the street when I needed you so. I almost think God did it!"
"Well, mebbe!" said Jane, in her embarrassment turning to hang up a skirt that had fallen from its hook. "That's what they say sometimes in Chrishun Deavor meetin'. Ever go to Chrishun Deavor? Better go when you get out home. They have awful good socials an' ice cream, and you'll meet some real nice folks. We've got a peach of a minister, and his wife is perfec'ly dandy. I tell you I missed 'em when I came to the city! They was always doing something nice fer the young folks."
"How interesting!" said Betty, wondering if she might really be going to live like other girls. Then the shadow of her danger fell over her once more, and her cheek paled.
"If I can only get there safely," she shuddered. "Oh, Jane! You can't understand what it would be to have to go back!"
"Well, you're not going back. You're going to Tinsdale, and nobody's going to find you ever, unless you want 'em to! See? Now, listen! We haven't any time to waste. You oughtta get off on the ten o'clock train. I put out some clothes there for yeh. They ain't like yours, but it won't do fer you to go dressed like a millionairess. Folks out to Tinsdale would suspect yeh right off the bat. You gotta go plain like me, and it's this way: You're a friend I picked up in the city whose mother is dead and you need country air a while, see? So I sent you home to stay with Ma till you got strong again. I'm wirin' Ma. She'll understand. She always does. I kinda run Ma anyhow. She thinks the sun rises an' sets in me, so she'll do just what I say."
"I'm afraid I oughtn't to intrude," said Betty soberly, taking up the coarse, elaborately trimmed lingerie with a curious look, and trying not to seem to notice that it was different from any she had ever worn before.
"Say! Looka here!" said Jane Carson, facing round from her coffee cup on the washstand. "I'm sorry to criticize, but if you could just talk a little slang or something. Folks'll never think you belong to me. 'Intrude!' Now, that sounds stuck up! You oughtta say 'be in the way,' or something natural like that. See?"
"I'm afraid I don't," said Betty dubiously, "but I'll try."
"You're all right, Kid," said Jane with compunction in her voice. "Just let yourself down a little like I do, and remember you don't wear silk onderclothes now. I'm afraid those stockings won't feel very good after yours, but you gotta be careful. An' 'f I was you I'd cut my hair off, I really would. It's an awful pity, it's so pretty, but it'll grow again. How old are you?"
"Almost twenty-one," said Betty thoughtfully. "Just three months more and I'll be twenty-one."
"H'm! Of age!" said Jane with a sharp significant look at her, as if a new thought had occurred. "Well, you don't look it! You could pass for fifteen, especially if you had your hair bobbed. I can do it for you if you say so."
"All right," said Betty promptly without a qualm. "I always wanted it short. It's an awful nuisance to comb."
"That's the talk!" said Jane. "Say 'awful' a lot, and you'll kinda get into the hang of it. It sounds more—well, natural, you know; not like society talk. Here, sit down and I'll do it quick before you get cold feet. I sure do hate to drop them curls, but I guess it's best."
The scissors snipped, snipped, and the lovely strands of bright hair fell on the paper Jane had spread for them. Betty sat cropped like a sweet young boy. Jane stood back and surveyed the effect through her lashes approvingly. She knew the exact angle at which the hair should splash out on the cheek to be stylish. She had often contemplated cutting her own, only that her mother had begged her not to, and she realized that her hair was straight as a die and would never submit to being tortured into that alluring wave over the ear and out toward the cheekbone. But this sweet young thing was a darling! She felt that the daring deed had been a success.
"I got a bottle of stuff to make your hair dark," she remarked. "I guess we better put it on. That hair of yours is kinda conspicuous, you know, even when it's cut off. It won't do you any harm. It washes off soon." And she dashed something on the yellow hair. Betty sat with closed eyes and submitted. Then her mentor burnt a cork and put a touch to the eyebrows that made a different Betty out of her. A soft smudge of dark under her eyes and a touch of talcum powder gave her a sickly complexion and when Betty stood up and looked in the glass she did not know herself. Jane finished the toilet by a smart though somewhat shabby black hat pulled well down over Betty's eyes, and a pair of gray cotton gloves, somewhat worn at the fingers. The high-laced boots she put upon the girl's feet were two sizes too large, and wobbled frightfully, but they did well enough, and there seemed nothing more to be desired.
"Now," said Jane as she pinned on her own hat, "you've gotta have a name to go by. I guess you better be Lizzie Hope. It kinda belongs to yeh, and yet nobody'd recognize it. You don't need to tell Ma anything you don't want to, and you can tell her I'll write a letter to-night all about it. Now come on! We gotta go on the trolley a piece. I don't see havin' you leave from the General Station. We'll go up to the Junction and get the train there."
With an odd feeling that she was bidding good-by to herself forever and was about to become somebody else, Betty gave one more glance at the slim boylike creature in the little mirror over the washstand and followed Jane out of the room, shuffling along in the big high-heeled boots, quite unlike the Betty that she was.
WARREN REYBURN laid down his pen and shoved back his office chair impatiently, stretching out his long muscular limbs nervously and rubbing his hands over his eyes as if to clear them from annoying visions.
James Ryan, his office boy and stenographer, watched him furtively from one corner of his eye, while his fingers whirled the typewriter on through the letter he was typing. James wanted to take his girl to the movies that evening and he hadn't had a chance to see her the day before. He was wondering if Mr. Reyburn would go out in time for him to call her up at her noon hour. He was a very temperamental stenographer and understood the moods and tenses of his most temperamental employer fully. It was all in knowing how to manage him. James was most deferential, and knew when to keep still and not ask questions. This was one of the mornings when he went to the dictionary himself when he wasn't sure of a word rather than break the ominous silence. Not that Mr. Reyburn was a hard master, quite the contrary, but this was James's first place straight from his brief course at business school, and he was making a big bluff of being an old experienced hand.
There was not much business to be done. This was Warren Reyburn's "first place" also in the world of business since finishing his law course, and he was making a big bluff at being very busy, to cover up a sore heart and an anxious mind. It was being borne in upon him gradually that he was not a shouting success in business so far. The rosy dreams that had floated near all through his days of hard study had one by one left him, until his path was now leading through a murky gray way with little hope ahead. Nothing but sheer grit kept him at it, and he began to wonder how long he could stick it out if nothing turned up.
True, he might have accepted an offer that even now lay open on his desk; a tempting offer, too, from a big corporation who recognized the influence of his old family upon their particular line of business; but it was a line that his father and his grandfather had scorned to touch, and he had grown up with an honest contempt for it. He just could not bring himself to wrest the living from the poor and needy, and plunder the unsuspecting, and he knew that was what it would be if he closed with this offer. Not yet had he been reduced to such depths, he told himself, shutting his fine lips in a firm curve. "No, not if he starved!"
That was the legitimate worry that ruffled his handsome brow as he sat before his desk frowning at that letter. He meant to begin dictation on its answer in another five minutes or so, but meantime he was forcing himself to go over every point and make it strong and clear to himself, so that he should say, "No!" strongly and clearly to the corporation. It might do harm to make his reason for declining so plain, but he owed it to his self-respect to give it nevertheless, and he meant to do so. After all, he had no business so far to harm, so what did it matter? If nothing turned up pretty soon to give him a start he would have to change his whole plan of life and take up something else where one did not have to wait for a reputation before he could have a chance to show what was in him.
But underneath the legitimate reason for his annoyance this morning there ran a most foolish little fretting, a haunting discomfort.
He had taken his cousin to a wedding the night before because her husband had been called away on business, and she had no one to escort her. They had been late and the church was crowded. He had had to stand, and as he idly looked over the audience he suddenly looked full into the great sad eyes of the sweetest little bride he had ever seen. He had not been a young man to spend his time over pretty faces, although there were one or two nice girls in whom he was mildly interested. He had even gone so far as to wonder now and then which of them he would be willing to see sitting at his table day after day the rest of his life, and he had not yet come to a satisfactory conclusion. His cousin often rallied him about getting married, but he always told her it would be time enough to think about that when he had an income to offer her.
But when he saw that flower-face, his attention was held at once. Somehow he felt as if he had not known there was a face like that in all the world, so like a child's, with frank yet modest droop to the head, and the simplicity of an angel, yet the sadness of a sacrificial offering. Unbidden, a great desire sprang up to lift for her whatever burden she was bearing, and bring light into those sad eyes. Of course it was a passing sensation, but his eyes had traveled involuntarily to the front of the church to inspect the handsome forbidding face of the bridegroom, and with instant dissatisfaction he looked back to the girl once more and watched her come up to the altar, speculating as those who love to study humanity are wont to do when they find an interesting subject. How had those two types ever happened to come together? The man's part in it was plain. He was the kind who go about seeking whom they may devour, thought Warren Reyburn. But the woman! How could a wise-eyed child like that have been deceived by a handsome face? Well, it was all speculation of course, and he had nothing to do with any of them. They were strangers to him and probably always would be. But he had no conception at that time what a small world he lived in, nor how near the big experiences of life lie all about us.
He watched the lovely bride as all the audience watched her until he saw her fall, and then he started forward without in the least realizing what he was doing. He found himself half way up the side aisle to the altar before he came to himself and forced his feet back to where his cousin was sitting. Of course he had no right up there, and what could he do when there were so many of her friends and relatives about her?
His position near the side door through which they carried her made it quite possible for him to look down into her still face as they took her to the vestry room, and he found a great satisfaction in seeing that she was even more beautiful at close hand than at a distance. He wondered afterward why his mind had laid so much stress upon the fact that her skin was lovely like a baby's without any sign of cosmetics. He told himself that it was merely his delight to learn that there was such a type, and that it ran true.
He was therefore not a little disappointed that the minister, after the congregation had waited an unconscionable time for the return of the bride, came out and announced that owing to her continued collapse the ceremony would have to be postponed. The clatter of polite wonder and gossip annoyed him beyond measure, and he was actually cross with his cousin on the way home when she ranted on about the way girls nowadays were brought up, coddled, so that a breath would blow them away. Somehow she had not looked like that kind of a girl.
But when the morning papers came out with sensational headlines proclaiming that the bride had run away, and suggesting all sorts of unpleasant things about her, he felt a secret exultation that she had been brave enough to do so. It was as if he had found that her spirit was as wise and beautiful as her face had been. His interest in the matter exceeded all common sense and he was annoyed and impatient with himself more than he cared to own. Never before had a face lured his thoughts like this one. He told himself that his business was getting on his nerves, and that as soon as he could be sure about one or two little matters that he hoped would fall into his hands to transact, he would take a few days off and run down to the shore.
Again and again the little white bride came across his vision and thoughts, and hindered the courteous but stinging phrases with which he had intended to illumine his letter. At last he gave it up and taking his hat went out in the keen November air for a walk to clear his brain.
This was James Ryan's opportunity. It was almost twelve o'clock and no harm in calling the "forelady" in the cotton blouse department of the big factory. He swung to the telephone with alacrity.
"I want to speak with Miss Carson, please. Yes, Miss J. Carson. Is that Miss Carson? Oh, hello, Jane, is that you?"
"Yes, it is Mister Ryan," answered Jane sweetly.
"Well, didn't you 'Miss Carson' me?"
"Give it up, Jane. You win. Say, Jane!"
"That's my girl, say how about that wedding veil? Been thinking any more about it?"
There was silence for a moment, then a conscious giggle, the full significance of which James Ryan was not in a position to figure out.
"Say, Jimmie, quit your kiddin'! You mustn't say things like that over the 'phone."
"'Cause. Folks might listen."
"I should worry! Well, since you say so. How about seein' a show together to-night?"
"Fine an' dandy, Jimmie! I'll be ready at the usual time. I gotta go now, the boss is comin'. So long, Jimmie!"
"So long, darling!"
But the receiver at the other end hung up with a click, while Jane with a smile on her lips thought of the pasteboard box under her bed and wondered what Jimmie would say if he could know. For Jane had fully made up her mind that Jimmie was not to know. Not at present, anyhow. Some time she might tell him if things turned out all right, but she knew just what lordly masculine advice and criticism would lie upon James Ryan's lips if she attempted to tell him about her strange and wonderful guest of the night before. Maybe she was a fool to have trusted a stranger that way. Maybe the girl would turn out to be insane or wrong somehow, and trouble come, but she didn't believe it; and anyhow, she was going to wait, until she saw what happened next before she got Jimmie mixed up in it. Besides, the secret wasn't hers to tell. She had promised Betty, and she always kept her promises. That was one reason why she was so slow in promising to think about a wedding veil in response to James Ryan's oft repeated question.
That evening on the way to the movies Jane instituted an investigation.
"Jimmie, what kind of a man is your boss?"
"White man!" said Jimmie promptly.
"Aw! Cut it out, James Ryan! I don't mean how'd s'e look, or what color is he; I mean what kind of a man is he?"