"Well, that's the answer. White man! What's the matter of that? I said it and I meant it. He's white if there ever was one!"
"Oh, that!" said Miss Carson in scorn. "Of course I know he's a peach. If he wasn't you wouldn't be workin' for him. What I mean, is he a snob?"
"Well, I saw him with 'em last night. I was passin' that big church up Spruce Street and I saw him standin' with his arms folded so——" she paused on the sidewalk and indicated his pose. "It was a swell weddin' and the place was full up. He had a big white front an' a clawhammer coat. I know it was him 'cause I took a good look at him that time you pointed him out at church that evenin'. I wondered was he in with them swells?"
Her tone expressed scorn and not a little anxiety, as if she had asked whether he frequented places of low reputation.
"Oh, if you mean, could he be, why that's a diffrunt thing!" said James the wise. "Sure, he could be if he wanted, I guess. He's got a good family. His uncle's some high muckymuck, and you often see his aunts' and cousins' names in the paper giving teas and receptions and going places. But he don't seem to go much. I often hear folks ask him why he wasn't some place last night, or 'phone to know if he won't come, and he always says he can't spare the time, or he can't afford it, or something like that."
"Ain't he rich, Jimmie?"
"Well, no, not exactly. He may have some money put away, or left him by some one. If he don't have I can't fer the life of me see how he lives. But he certainly don't get it in fees. I often wonder where my salary comes from, but it always does, regular as the clock."
"Jimmie, doesn't he have any business at all?"
"Oh, yes he has business, but it ain't the paying kind. Fer instance, there was a man in to-day trying to get his house back that another man took away from him, and my boss took the case! He took it right off the bat without waiting to see whether the man could pay him anything or not! He can't! He's only a poor laboring man, and a rich man stole his house. Just out an' out stole it, you know. It's how he got rich. Like as not we'll lose it, too, those rich men have so many ways of crawling out of a thing and making it look nice to the world. Oh, he'll get a fee, of course—twenty-five dollars, perhaps—but what's twenty-five dollars, and like as not never get even the whole of that, or have to wait for it? Why, it wouldn't keep me in his office long! Then there was a girl trying to get hold of the money her own father left her, and her uncle frittered away and pertends it cost him all that, and he's been supporting her! Well, we took that, too, and we won't get much out of that even if we do win. Then there come along one of these here rich guys with a pocket full of money and a nice slick tongue wanting to be protected from the law in some devilment, and him we turned down flat! That's how it goes in our office. I can't just figger out how it's coming out! But he's a good guy, a white man if there ever was one!"
"I should say!" responded Jane with shining eyes. "Say, Jimmie, what's the matter of us throwin' a little business in his way—real, payin' business, I mean?"
"Fat chance!" said Jimmie dryly.
"You never can tell!" answered Jane dreamily. "I'm goin' to think about it. Our fact'ry has lawyers sometimes. I might speak to the boss."
"Do!" said Jimmie sarcastically! "And have yer labor for yer pains! We'll prob'ly turn them down. Fact'ries are always doing things they hadn't ought to."
But Jane was silent and thoughtful, and they were presently lost in the charms of Mary Pickford.
The evening papers came out with pictures of Elizabeth Stanhope and her bridegroom that was to have been. Jane cut away the bridegroom and pasted the bride's picture in the flyleaf of her Bible, then hid it away in the bottom of her trunk.
WHEN Betty found herself seated on the day coach of a way train, jogging along toward a town she had never seen and away from the scenes and people of her childhood, she found herself trembling violently. It was as if she had suddenly been placed in an airplane all by herself and started off to the moon without any knowledge of her motor power or destination. It both frightened and exhilarated her. She wanted to cry and she wanted to laugh, but she did neither. Instead she sat demurely for the first hour and a half looking out of the window like any traveler, scarcely turning her head nor looking at anything in the car. It seemed to her that there might be a detective in every seat just waiting for her to lift her eyes that he might recognize her. But gradually as the time dragged by and the landscape grew monotonous she began to feel a little more at her ease. Furtively she studied her neighbors. She had seldom traveled in a common car, and it was new to her to study all types as she could see them here. She smiled at a dirty baby and wished she had something to give it. She studied the careworn man and the woman in black who wept behind her veil and would not smile no matter how hard the man tried to make her. It was a revelation to her that any man would try as hard as that to make a woman smile. She watched the Italian family with five children and nine bundles, and counted the colors on a smart young woman who got in at a way station. Every minute of the day was interesting. Every mile of dreary November landscape that whirled by gave her more freedom.
She opened the little shabby handbag that Jane had given her and got out the bit of mirror one inch by an inch and a half backed with pasteboard on which lingered particles of the original green taffeta lining and studied her own strange face, trying to get used to her new self and her new name. Jane had written it, Lizzie Hope, on the back of the envelope containing the address of Mrs. Carson. It seemed somehow an identification card. She studied it curiously and wondered if Lizzie Hope was going to be any happier than Betty Stanhope had been. And then she fell to thinking over the strange experiences of the last twenty-four hours and wondering whether she had done right or not, and whether her father would have been disappointed in her, "ashamed of her," as her stepmother had said. Somehow Jane had made her feel that he would not, and she was more light-hearted than she had been for many a day.
Late in the afternoon she began to wonder what Tinsdale would be like. In the shabby handbag was her ticket to Tinsdale and eight dollars and a half in change. It made her feel richer than she had ever felt in her life, although she had never been stinted as to pocket money. But this was her very own, for her needs, and nobody but herself to say how she should spend either it or her time.
Little towns came in sight and passed, each one with one or two churches, a schoolhouse, a lot of tiny houses. Would Tinsdale look this way? How safe these places seemed, yet lonely, too! Still, no one would ever think of looking for her in a lonely little village.
They passed a big brick institution, and she made out the words, "State Asylum," and shuddered inwardly as she thought of what Jane had told her about the morning paper. Suppose they should hunt her up and put her in an insane asylum, just to show the world that it had not been their fault that she had run away from her wedding! The thought was appalling. She dropped her head on her hand with her face toward the window and tried to pretend she was asleep and hide the tears that would come, but presently a boy came in at the station with a big basket and she bought a ham sandwich and an apple. It tasted good. She had not expected that it would. She decided that she must have been pretty hungry and then fell to counting her money, aghast that the meager supper had made such a hole in her capital. She must be very careful. This might be all the money she would have for a very long time, and there was no telling what kind of an impossible place she was going to. She might have to get away as eagerly as she had come. Jane was all right, but that was not saying that her mother and sisters would be.
It was growing dark, and the lights were lit in the car. All the little Italian babies had been given drinks of water, and strange things to eat, and tumbled to sleep across laps and on seats, anywhere they would stick. They looked so funny and dirty and pitiful with their faces all streaked with soot and molasses candy that somebody had given them. The mother looked tired and greasy and the father was fat and dark, with unpleasant black eyes that seemed to roll a great deal. Yet he was kind to the babies and his wife seemed to like him. She wondered what kind of a home they had, and what relation the young fellow with the shiny dark curls bore to them. He seemed to take as much care of the babies as did their father and mother.
The lights were flickering out in the villages now and gave a friendly inhabited look to the houses. Sometimes when the train paused at stations Betty could see people moving back and forth at what seemed to be kitchen tables and little children bringing dishes out, all working together. It looked pleasant and she wondered if it would be like that where she was going. A big lump of loneliness was growing in her throat. It was one thing to run away from something that you hated, but it was another to jump into a new life where one neither knew nor was known. Betty began to shrink inexpressibly from it all. Not that she wanted to go back! Oh, no; far from it! But once when they passed a little white cemetery with tall dark fir trees waving guardingly above the white stones she looked out almost wistfully. If she were lying in one of those beside her father and mother how safe and rested she would be. She wouldn't have to worry any more. What was it like where father and mother had gone? Was it a real place? Or was that just the end when one died? Well, if she were sure it was all she would not care. She would be willing to just go out and not be. But somehow that didn't seem to be the commonly accepted belief. There was always a beyond in most people's minds, and a fear of just what Betty didn't know. She was a good deal of a heathen, though she did not know that either.
Then, just as she was floundering into a lot of theological mysteries of her own discovery the nasal voice of the conductor called out: "Tinsdale! Tinsdale!" and she hurried to her feet in something of a panic, conscious of her short hair and queer clothes.
Down on the platform she stood a minute trying to get used to her feet, they felt so numb and empty from long sitting. Her head swam just a little, too, and the lights on the station and in the houses near by seemed to dance around her weirdly. She had a feeling that she would rather wait until the train was gone before she began to search for her new home, and then when the wheels ground and began to turn and the conductor shouted "All aboard!" and swung himself up the step as she had seen him do a hundred times that afternoon, a queer sinking feeling of loneliness possessed her, and she almost wanted to catch the rail and swing back on again as the next pair of car steps flung by her.
Then a voice that sounded a little like Jane's said pleasantly in her ear: "Is this Lizzie Hope?" and Betty turned with a thrill of actual fright to face Nellie Carson and her little sister Emily.
"Bobbie'll be here in a minute to carry your suitcase," said Nellie efficiently; "he just went over to see if he could borrow Jake Peter's wheelbarrow in case you had a trunk. You didn't bring your trunk? O, but you're going to stay, aren't you? I'm goin' up to the city to take a p'sition, and Mother'd be awful lonesome. Sometime of course we'll send fer them to come, but now the children's little an' the country's better fer them. They gotta go to school awhile. You'll stay, won't you?"
"How do you know you'll want me?" laughed Betty, at her ease in this unexpected air of welcome.
"Why, of course we'd want you. Jane sent you. Jane wouldn't of sent you if you hadn't been a good scout. Jane knows. Besides, I've got two eyes, haven't I? I guess I can tell right off."
Emily's shy little hand stole into Betty's and the little girl looked up:
"I'm awful glad you come! I think you're awful pretty!"
"Thank you!" said Betty, warmly squeezing the little confiding hand. It was the first time in her life that a little child had come close to her in this confiding way. Her life had not been among children.
Then Bob whirled up, bareheaded, freckled, whistling, efficient, and about twelve years old. He grabbed the suitcase, eyed the stranger with a pleasant grin, and stamped off into the darkness ahead of them.
It was a new experience to Betty to be walking down a village street with little houses on each side and lights and warmth and heads bobbing through the windows. It stirred some memory of long ago, before she could scarcely remember. She wondered, had her own mother ever lived in a small village?
"That's our church," confided Emily, as they passed a large frame building with pointed steeple and belfry. "They're goin' to have a entertainment t'morra night, an' we're all goin' and Ma said you cud go too."
"Isn't that lovely!" said Betty, feeling a sudden lump like tears in her throat. It was just like living out a fairy story. She hadn't expected to be taken right in to family life this way.
"But how did you know I was coming on that train?" she asked the older girl suddenly. "Jane said she was going to telegraph, but I expected to have to hunt around to find the house."
"Oh, we just came down to every train after the telegram came. This is the last train to-night, and we were awful scared for fear you wouldn't come till morning, an' have to stay on the train all night. Ma says it isn't nice for a girl to have to travel alone at night. Ma always makes Jane and me go daytimes."
"It was just lovely of you," said Betty, wondering if she was talking "natural" enough to please Jane.
"Did you bob you hair 'cause you had a fever?" asked Nellie enviously.
"No," said Betty, "that is, I haven't been very well, and I thought it might be good for me," she finished, wondering how many questions like that it was going to be hard for her to answer without telling a lie. A lie was something that her father had made her feel would hurt him more deeply than anything else she could do.
"I just love it," said Nellie enthusiastically. "I wanted to cut mine, an' so did Jane, but Ma wouldn't let us. She says God gave us our hair, an' we oughtta take care of it."
"That's true, too," said Betty. "I never thought about that. But I guess mine will grow again after a while. I think it will be less trouble this way. But it's very dirty with traveling. I think I'll have to wash it before I put it on a pillow."
That had troubled Betty greatly. She didn't know how to get rid of that hair dye before Jane's family got used to having it dark.
"Sure, you can wash it, if you ain't 'fraid of takin' cold. There's lots of hot water. Ma thought you'd maybe want to take a bath. We've got a big tin bath-tub out in the back shed. Ma bought it off the Joneses when they got their porcelain one put into their house. We don't have no runnin' water but we have an awful good well. Here's our house. I guess Bob's got there first. See, Ma's out on the steps waitin' fer us."
The house was a square wooden affair, long wanting paint, and trimmed with little scrollwork around the diminutive front porch. The color was indescribable, blending well into the surroundings either day or night. It had a cheerful, decent look, but very tiny. There was a small yard about it with a picket fence, and a leafless lilac bush. A cheerful barberry bush flanked the gate on either side. The front door was open into a tiny hall and beyond the light streamed forth from a glass lamp set on a pleasant dining-room table covered with a red cloth. Betty stepped inside the gate and found herself enveloped in two motherly arms, and then led into the light and warmth of the family dining-room.
THERE was a kettle of stew on the stove in the kitchen, kept hot from supper for Betty, with fresh dumplings just mixed before the train came in, and bread and butter with apple sauce and cookies. They made her sit right down and eat, before she even took her hat off, and they all sat around her and talked while she ate. It made her feel very much at home as if somehow she was a real relative.
It came over her once how different all this was from the house which she had called home all her life. The fine napery, the cut glass and silver, the stately butler! And here was she eating off a stone china plate thick enough for a table top, with a steel knife and fork and a spoon with the silver worn off the bowl. She could not help wondering what her stepmother would have said to the red and white tablecloth, and the green shades at the windows. There was an old sofa covered with carpet in the room, with a flannel patchwork pillow, and a cat cuddled up cosily beside it purring away like a tea-kettle boiling. Somehow, poor as it was, it seemed infinitely more attractive than any room she had ever seen before, and she was charmed with the whole family. Bobbie sat at the other end of the table with his elbows on the table and his round eyes on her. When she smiled at him he winked one eye and grinned and then wriggled down under the table out of sight.
The mother had tired kind eyes and a firm cheerful mouth like Jane's. She took Betty right in as if she had been her sister's child.
"Come, now, get back there, Emily. Don't hang on Lizzie. She'll be tired to death of you right at the start. Give her a little peace while she eats her supper. How long have you and Jane been friends, Lizzie?" she asked, eager for news of her own daughter.
Betty's cheeks flushed and her eyes grew troubled. She was very much afraid that being Lizzie was going to be hard work:
"Why, not so very long," she said hesitatingly.
"Are you one of the girls in her factory?"
"Oh, no!" said Betty wildly, wondering what would come next. "We—just met—that is—why—out one evening!" she finished desperately.
"Oh, I see!" said the mother. "Yes, she wrote about going out sometimes, mostly to the movies. And to church. My children always make it a point to go to church wherever they are. I brought 'em up that way. I hope you go to church."
"I shall love to," said Betty eagerly.
"Is your mother living?" was the next question.
"No," answered Betty. "Mother and father are both dead and I've been having rather a hard time. Jane was kind to me when I was in trouble."
"I'll warrant you! That's Jane!" beamed her mother happily. "Jane always was a good girl, if I do say so. I knew Jane was at her tricks again when she sent me that telegram."
"Ma's got you a place already!" burst out Nellie eagerly.
"Now, Nellie, you said you'd let Ma tell that!" reproached Bob. "You never can keep your mouth shut."
"There! There! Bob, don't spoil the evening with anything unkind," warned the mother. "Yes, Lizzie, I got you a position. It just happened I had the chance, and I took it, though I don't really b'lieve that anythin' in this world just happens, of course. But it did seem providential. Mrs. Hathaway wanted somebody to look after her little girl. She's only three years old and she is possessed to run away every chance she gets. Course I s'pose she's spoiled. Most rich children are. Now, my children wouldn't have run away. They always thought too much of what I said to make me trouble. But that's neither here nor there. She does it, and besides her Ma is an invalid. She had an operation, so she has to lie still a good bit, and can't be bothered. She wants somebody just to take the little girl out walking and keep her happy in the house, an' all."
"How lovely!" exclaimed Betty. "I shall enjoy it, I know."
"She's awful pretty!" declared Emily eagerly. "Got gold curls and blue eyes just like you, and she has ever an' ever so many little dresses, and wears pink shoes and blue shoes, an' rides a tricycle."
"How interesting!" said Betty.
"You'll get good wages," said the mother. "She said she'd give you six dollars a week, an' mebbe more, an' you'd get some of your meals."
"Then I can pay my board to you," cried Betty.
"Don't worry about that, child. We'll fix that up somehow. We're awful glad to have you come, and I guess we shall like each other real well. Now, children, it's awful late. Get to bed. Scat! Lizzie can have her bath an' get to bed, too. Come, mornin's half way here already!"
The children said good night and Betty was introduced to the tin bath tub and improvised bathroom—a neat little addition to the kitchen evidently intended originally for a laundry. She wanted to laugh when she saw the primitive makeshifts, but instead the tears came into her eyes to think how many luxuries she had taken all her life as a matter of course and never realized how hard it was for people who had none. In fact it had never really entered her head before that there were people who had no bathrooms.
Betty was not exactly accustomed to washing her own hair, and with the added problem of the dye it was quite a task; but she managed it at last, using all the hot water, to get it so that the rinsing water was clear, and her hair felt soft. Then, attired in the same warm nightgown she had worn the night before, which Jane had thoughtfully put in the suitcase—otherwise filled with old garments she wished to send home—Betty pattered upstairs to the little room with the sloping roof and the dormer window and crept into bed with Nellie. That young woman had purposely stayed awake, and kept Betty as long as she could talk, telling all the wonderful things she wanted to know about city life, and Betty found herself in deep water sometimes because the city life she knew about was so very different from the city life that Jane would know. But at last sleep won, and Nellie had to give up because her last question was answered with silence. The guest was deep in slumber.
The next morning the children took her over the house, out in the yard, showing her everything. Then they had to take her down to the village and explain all about the little town and its people. They were crazy about Betty's beautiful hair and much disappointed when she would insist on wearing her hat. It was a bright sunny morning, not very cold, and they told her that nobody wore a hat except to church or to go on the train, but Betty had a feeling that her hair might attract attention, and in her first waking hours a great shadow of horror had settled upon her when she realized that her people would leave no stone unturned to find her. It was most important that she should do or be nothing whereby she might be recognized. She even thought of getting a cap and apron to wear when attending her small charge, but Nellie told her they didn't do that in the country and she would be thought stuck up, so she desisted. But she drew the blue serge skirt up as high above her waistband as possible when she dressed in the morning so that she might look like a little girl and no one would suspect her of being a runaway bride. Also she had a consultation with herself in the small hours of the morning while Nellie was still fast asleep, and settled with her conscience just what she would tell about her past and what she would keep to herself. There was a certain reserve that any one might have, and if she was frank about a few facts no one would be likely to question further.
So next morning she told Mrs. Carson that since her parents' death she had lived with a woman who knew her father well, but lately things had been growing very unpleasant and she found she had to leave. She had left under such conditions that she could not bring away anything that belonged to her, so she would have to work and earn some more clothes.
Mrs. Carson looked into her sweet eyes and agreed that it was the best thing she could do; they might follow her up and make all sorts of trouble for her in her new home if she wrote for her things; and so the matter dropped. They were simple folks, who took things at their face value and were not over inquisitive.
On the third day there arrived a long letter from Jane in which she gave certain suggestions concerning the new member of the family, and ended: "Ma, she's got a story, but don't make her tell any more of it than she wants. She's awful sensitive about it, and trust me, she's all right! She's been through a lot. Just make her feel she's got some folks that loves and trusts her."
Ma, wise beyond her generation and experience, said no more, and took the little new daughter into her heart. She took the opportunity to inform the village gossips that a friend of Jane's had come to rest up and get a year's country air, boarding with them; and so the amalgamation of Betty Stanhope into the life of the little town began.
The "job" proved to be for only part of the day, so that Betty was free most of the mornings to help around the house and take almost a daughter's place. That she was a rare girl is proved by the way she entered into her new life. It was almost as if she had been born again, and entered into a new universe, so widely was her path diverging from everything which had been familiar in the old life. So deep had been her distress before she came into it that this new existence, despite its hard and unaccustomed work, seemed almost like heaven.
It is true there was much bad grammar and slang, but that did not trouble Betty. She had been brought up to speak correctly, and it was second nature to her, but no one had ever drummed it into her what a crime against culture an illiterate way of speaking could be. She never got into the way of speaking that way herself, but it seemed a part of these people she had come to know and admire so thoroughly, as much as for a rose to have thorns, and so she did not mind it. Her other world had been so all-wrong for years that the hardships of this one were nothing. She watched them patch and sacrifice cheerfully to buy their few little plain coarse new things. She marveled at their sweetness and content, where those of her world would have thought they could not exist under the circumstances.
She learned to make that good stew with carrots and celery and parsley and potatoes and the smallest possible amount of meat, that had tasted so delicious the night she arrived. She learned the charms of the common little bean, and was proud indeed the day she set upon the table a luscious pan of her own baking, rich and sweet and brown with their coating of molasses well baked through them. She even learned to make bread and never let any one guess that she had always supposed it something mysterious.
During the week that Nellie was preparing to go to the city, Betty had lessons in sewing. Nellie would bring down an old garment, so faded and worn that it would seem only fit for the rag-bag. She would rip and wash, dye with a mysterious little package of stuff, press, and behold, there would come forth pretty breadths of cloth, blue or brown or green, or whatever color was desired. It seemed like magic. And then a box of paper-patterns would be brought out, and the whole evening would be spent in contriving how to get out a dress, with the help of trimmings or sleeves of another material. Betty would watch and gradually try to help, but she found there were so many strange things to be considered. There, for instance, was the up and down of a thing and the right and wrong of it. It was exactly like life. And one had to plan not to have both sleeves for one arm, and to have the nap of the goods running down always. It was as complicated as learning a new language. But at the end of the week there came forth two pretty dresses and a blouse. Betty, as she sat sewing plain seams and trying to help all she could, kept thinking of the many beautiful frocks she had thrown aside in the years gone by, and of the rich store of pretty things that she had left when she fled. If only Nellie and Jane and little Emily could have them! Ah, and if only she herself might have them now! How she needed them! For a girl who had always had all she wanted it was a great change to get along with this one coarse serge and aprons.
But the sewing and other work had not occupied them so fully that they had not had time to introduce Betty into their little world. The very next evening after she arrived she had been taken to that wonderful church entertainment that the girls had told her about on the way from the station, and there she had met the minister's wife and been invited to her Sabbath school class.
Betty would not have thought of going if Nellie and her mother had not insisted. In fact, she shrank unspeakably from going out into the little village world. But it was plain that this was expected of her, and if she remained here she must do as they wanted her to do. It was the least return she could make to these kind people.
The question of whether or not she should remain began to come to her insistently now. The children clamored every day for her to bind herself for the winter, and Jane's mother had made her most welcome. She saw that they really wanted her; why should she not stay? And yet it did seem queer to arrange deliberately to spend a whole year in a poor uncultured family. Still, where could she go and hope to remain unknown if she attempted to get back into her own class? It was impossible. Her mother had just the one elderly cousin whom she had always secretly looked to to help her in any time of need, but his failing her and sending that telegram without even a good wish in it, just at the last minute, too, made her feel it was of no use to appeal to him. Besides, that was the first place her stepmother would seek for her. She had many good society friends, but none who would stand by her in trouble. No one with whom she had ever been intimate enough to confide in. She had been kept strangely alone in her little world after all, hedged in by servants everywhere. And now that she was suddenly on her own responsibility, she felt a great timidity in taking any step alone. Sometimes at night when she thought what she had done she was so frightened that her heart would beat wildly as if she were running away from them all yet. It was like a nightmare that pursued her.
Mrs. Hathaway had sent for her and made arrangements for her to begin her work with the little Elise the following week when the present governess should leave, and Betty felt that this might prove a very pleasant way to earn her living. The Hathaways lived in a great brick house away back from the street in grounds that occupied what in the city would have been a whole block. There was a high hedge about the place so that one could not see the road, and there were flower-beds, a great fountain, and a rustic summerhouse. Betty did not see why days passed in such a pleasant place would not be delightful in summertime. She was not altogether sure whether she would like to have to be a sort of servant in the house—and of course these cold fall days she would have to be much in the house—but the nursery had a big fireplace in it, a long chest under the window where toys were kept, and many comfortable chairs. That ought to be pleasant, too. Besides, she was not just out looking for pleasant things on this trip. She was trying to get away from unbearable ones, and she ought to be very thankful indeed to have fallen on such comfort as she had.
There was another element in the Carson home that drew her strongly, although she was shy about even thinking of it, and that was the frank, outspoken Christianity. "Ma" tempered all her talk with it, adjusted all her life to God and what He would think about her actions, spoke constantly of what was right and wrong. Betty had never lived in an atmosphere where right and wrong mattered. Something sweet and pure like an instinct in her own soul had held her always from many of the ways of those about her, perhaps the spirit of her sweet mother allowed to be one of those who "bear them up, lest at any time they dash their feet against a stone." Or it might have been some memory of the teachings of her father, whom she adored, and who in his last days often talked with her alone about how he and her own mother would want her to live. But now, safe and quiet in this shelter of a real home, poor though it was, the God-instinct stirred within her, caused her to wonder what He was, why she was alive, and if He cared? One could not live with Mrs. Carson without thinking something about her God, for He was an ever-present help in all her times of need, and she never hesitated to give God the glory for all she had achieved, and for all the blessings she had received.
The very first Sabbath in the little white church stirred still deeper her awakening interest in spiritual things. The minister's wife was a sweet-faced woman who called her "my dear" and invited her to come and see her, and when she began to teach the lesson Betty found to her amazement that it was interesting. She spoke of God in much the same familiar way that "Ma" had done, only with a gentler refinement, and made the girls very sure that whatever anybody else believed, Mrs. Thornley was a very intimate friend of Jesus Christ. Betty loved her at once, but so shy was she that the minister's wife never dreamed it, and remarked to her husband Sunday night after church, when they were having their little, quiet Sabbath talk together, that she was afraid she was going to have a hard time winning that little new girl that had come to live with Mrs. Carson.
"Somehow I can't get away from the thought that she comes from aristocracy somewhere," she added. "It's the way she turns her head, or lifts her eyes or the quiet assurance with which she answers. And she smiles, Charles, never grins like the rest. She is delicious, but somehow I find myself wondering if I have remembered to black my shoes and whether my hat is on straight, when she looks at me."
"Well, maybe she's the daughter of some black sheep who has gone down a peg, and our Father has sent her here for you to help her back again," said her husband with an adorable look at his helper. "If anyone can do it you can."
"I'm not so sure," she said, shaking her head. "She maybe doesn't need me. She has Mrs. Carson, remember, and she is a host in herself. If anybody can lead her to Christ she can, plain as she is."
"Undoubtedly you were meant to help, too, dear, or she would not have been sent to you."
His wife smiled brilliantly a look of thorough understanding: "Oh, I know. I'm not going to shirk any but I wish I knew more about her. She is so sad and quiet, I can't seem to get at her."
Even at that moment Betty lay in her little cot bed under the roof thinking about the minister's wife and what she had said about Christ being always near, ready to show what to do, if one had the listening heart and the ready spirit. Would Christ tell her what to do, she wondered, now right here, if she were to ask him? Would He show her whether to stay in this place or seek further to hide herself from the world? Would He show her how to earn her living and make her life right and sweet as it ought to be.
Then she closed her eyes and whispered softly under the sheltering bedclothes, "O Christ, if you are here, please show me somehow and teach me to understand."
WHEN Betty had been in Tinsdale about a month it was discovered that she could play the piano. It happened on a rainy Sunday in Sunday school, and the regular pianist was late. The superintendent looked about helplessly and asked if there was anybody present who could play, although he knew the musical ability of everybody in the village. The minister's wife had already pleaded a cut finger which was well wrapped up in a bandage, and he was about to ask some one to start the tune without the piano when Mrs. Thornton leaned over with a sudden inspiration to Betty and asked:
"My dear, you couldn't play for us, could you?"
Betty smiled assent, and without any ado went to the instrument, not realizing until after she had done so that it would have been better policy for her to have remained as much in the background as possible, and not to have shown any accomplishments lest people should suspect her position. However, she was too new at acting a part to always think of these little things, and she played the hymns so well that they gathered about her after the hour was over and openly rejoiced that there was another pianist in town. The leader of Christian Endeavor asked her to play in their meeting sometimes, and Betty found herself quite popular. The tallest girl in their class, who had not noticed her before, smiled at her and patronized her after she came back from playing the first hymn, and asked her where she learned to play so well.
"Oh, I used to take lessons before my father died," she said, realizing that she must be careful.
Emily and Bob came home in high feather and told their mother, who had not been able to get out that morning, and she beamed on Betty with as warm a smile as if she had been her own daughter:
"Now, ain't that great!" she said, and her voice sounded boyish just like Jane's. "Why, we'll have to get a pianna. I heard you could get 'em cheap in the cities sometimes—old-fashioned ones, you know. I heard they have so many old-fashioned ones that they have to burn 'em to get rid of 'em, and they even give 'em away sometimes. I wonder, could we find out and get hold of one?"
"I guess 'twould cost too much to get it here," said Bob practically. "My! I wisht we had one. Say, Lizzie, 'f we had a pianna would you show me how to read notes?"
"Of course," said Betty.
"Well, we'll get one somehow! We always do when we need anything awfully. Look at the bathtub! Good-night! I'm goin' to earn one myself!" declared Bob.
"Mrs. Crosby's gotta get a new one. P'raps she'll sell us her old one cheap."
That was the way the music idea started, and nothing else was talked of at the table for days but how to get a piano. Then one day Emily came rushing home from school all out of breath, her eyes as bright as stars, and her cheeks like roses. "Mrs. Barlow came to our school to-day and talked to the teacher, and I heard her say she was going away for the winter. She's going to store her goods in the Service Company barn, but she wants to get somebody to take care of her piano. I stepped right up and told her my mother was looking for a piano, and we'd be real careful of it, and she's just delighted; and—it's coming to-morrow morning at nine o'clock! The man's going to bring it!"
She gasped it out so incoherently that they had to make her tell it over twice to get any sense out of it; but when Bob finally understood he caught his little sister in his arms and hugged her with a big smacking kiss:
"You sure are a little peach, Em'ly!" he shouted. "You're a pippin of the pippins! I didn't know you had that much nerve, you kid, you! I sure am proud of you! My! Think of havin' a pianna! Say, Betty, I can play the base of chopsticks now!"
The next evening when Betty got home from the Hathaways there was the piano standing in the big space opposite the windows in the dining-room. Ma had elected to have it there rather than in the front room, because it might often be too cold in the front room for the children to practice, and besides it wouldn't be good for the piano. So the piano became a beloved member of the family, and Betty began to give instructions in music, wondering at herself that she knew how, for her own music had been most desultory, and nobody had ever cared whether she practiced or not. She had been allowed to ramble among the great masters for the most part unconducted, with the meagerest technique, and her own interpretation. She could read well and her sense of time and rhythm were natural, else she would have made worse work of it than she did. But she forthwith set herself to practicing, realizing that it might yet stand her in good stead since she had to earn her living.
Little Emily and Bob stood one on either side and watched her as she played, with wondering admiration, and when Betty went to help their mother Bob would sit down and try to imitate what she had done. Failing, he would fall headlong into the inevitable chopsticks, beating it out with the air of a master.
It was the piano that brought to Betty's realization the first real meaning of the Sabbath day. Bob came down early and went at the piano as usual banging out chopsticks, and a one-fingered arrangement of "The Long, Long Trail," while his mother was getting breakfast. Betty was making the coffee, proud of the fact that she had learned how. But Bob had accomplished only a brief hint of his regular program when the music stopped suddenly and Betty glanced through the kitchen door to see Ma standing with her hand on her son's shoulder and a look on her face she had not seen before: It was quite gentle, but it was decided:
"No, Bob! We won't have that kinda music on Sunday," she said. "This is God's day, an' we'll have all we can rightly do to keep it holy without luggin' in week-day music to make us forget it. You just get t' work an' learn 'Safely Through Another Week,' an' if you can't play it right you get Lizzie to teach you."
"There ain't nothin' wrong with chopsticks, Ma. 'Tain't got words to it."
"Don't make any diffrence. It b'longs to weekdays an' fun, an' anyhow it makes you think of other things, an' you can't keep your mind on God. That's what Sunday was made fer, to kinda tone us up to God, so's we won't get so far away in the week that we won't be any kind of ready for heaven some time. An' anyhow, 'tisn't seemly. You better go learn your Golden Text, Bob. The minister'll be disappointed if you don't have it fine."
Betty stood by the window thoughtfully looking out. Was that what Sunday was made for, or was it only a quaint idea of this original woman? She wished she knew. Perhaps some time she would know the minister's wife well enough to ask. She would have liked to ask Ma more about it, but somehow felt shy. But Ma herself was started now, and when she came back to the kitchen, as if she felt some explanation was due the new inmate of the family, she said:
"I don't know how you feel about it. I know city folks don't always hold to the old ways. But it always seemed to me God meant us to stick to Sunday, and make it diff'rent from other days. I never would let my children go visitin', nor play ball an' we always tried to have something good for supper fixed the night before. I heard somebody say a long time ago that it says somewhere in the Bible that Sunday was meant to be a sign forever between God and folks. The ones that keeps it are his'n, an' them as don't aren't. Anyhow, that's the only day we have got to kinda find out what's wanted of us. You wouldn't mind just playin' hymns and Sunday things t'day, would you?"
"Oh, no," said Betty, interested. "I like it. It sounds so kind of safe, and as if God cared. I never thought much about it before. You think God really thinks about us and knows what we're doing then, don't you?"
"Why, sure, child. I don't just think, I know He does. Hadn't you never got onto that? Why, you poor little ducky, you! O' course He does."
"I'd like to feel sure that He was looking out for me," breathed Betty wistfully.
"Well, you can!" said Ma, hurrying back to see that her bacon didn't burn. "It's easy as rollin' off a log."
"What would I have to do?"
"Why, just b'lieve."
"Believe?" asked Betty utterly puzzled. "Believe what?"
"Why, believe that He'll do it. He said 'Come unto me, an' I will give you rest,' an' He said, 'Cast your burden on the Lord,' an' He said 'Castin' all yer care 'pon Him, fer He careth fer you,' an' a whole lot more such things, an' you just got to take it fer straight, an' act on it."
"But how could I?" asked Betty.
"Just run right up to your room now, while you're feelin' that way, an' kneel down by your bed an' tell Him what you just told me," said Mrs. Carson, stirring the fried potatoes with her knife to keep them from burning. "It won't take you long, an' I'll tend the coffee. Just you tell Him you want Him to take care of you, an' you'll believe what I told you He said. It's all in the Bible, an' you can read it for yourself, but I wouldn't take the time now. Just run along an' speak it out with Him, and, then come down to breakfast."
Betty was standing by the kitchen door, her hand on her heart, as if about to do some great wonderful thing that frightened her:
"But, Mrs. Carson, suppose, maybe, He might not be pleased with me. Suppose I've done something that He doesn't like, something that makes Him ashamed of me."
"Oh, why, didn't you know He fixed for all that when He sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world? We all do wrong things, an' everybody has sinned. But ef we're rightly sorry, He'll fergive us, and make us His children."
Betty suddenly sat down in a chair near the door:
"But, Mrs. Carson, I'm not sure I am sorry—at least I know I'm not. I'm afraid I'd do it all over again if I got in the same situation."
Mrs. Carson stood back from the stove and surveyed her thoughtfully a moment:
"Well, then, like's not it wasn't wrong at all, and if it wasn't He ain't displeased. You can bank on that. You better go talk it out to Him. Just get it off your mind. I'll hold up breakfast a minute while you roll it on Him and depend on it he'll show you in plenty of time for the next move."
Betty with her cheeks very red and her eyes shining went up to her little cot, and with locked door knelt and tried to talk to God for the first time in her life. It seemed queer to her, but when she arose and hurried back to her duties she had a sense of having a real Friend who knew all about her and could look after things a great deal better than she could.
That night she went with Bob and Emily to the young people's meeting and heard them talk about Christ familiarly as if they knew Him. It was all strange and new and wonderful to Betty, and she sat listening and wondering. The old question of whether she was pleasing her earthly father was merging itself into the desire to please her Heavenly Father.
There were of course many hard and unpleasant things about her new life. There were so many things to learn, and she was so awkward at work of all kinds! Her hands seemed so small and inadequate when she tried to wring clothes or scrub a dirty step. Then, too, her young charge, Elise Hathaway, was spoiled and hard to please, and she was daily tried by the necessity of inventing ways of discipline for the poor little neglected girl which yet would not bring down a protest from her even more undisciplined mother. If she had been independent she would not have remained with Mrs. Hathaway, for sometimes the child was unbearable in her naughty tantrums, and it took all her nerve and strength to control her. She would come back to the little gray house too weary even to smile, and the keen eye of Ma would look at her wisely and wonder if something ought not to be done about it.
Betty felt that she must keep this place, of course, because it was necessary for her to be able to pay some board. She could not be beholden to the Carsons. And they had been so kind, and were teaching her so many things, that it seemed the best and safest place she could be in. So the days settled down into weeks, and a pleasant life grew up about her, so different from the old one that more and more the hallucination was with her that she had become another creature, and the old life had gone out forever.
Of course as striking-looking a girl as Betty could not enter into the life of a little town even as humbly as through the Carson home, without causing some comment and speculation. People began to notice her. The church ladies looked after her and remarked on her hair, her complexion, and her graceful carriage, and some shook their heads and said they should think Mrs. Hathaway would want to know a little more about her before she put her only child in her entire charge; and they told weird stories about girls they had known or heard of.
Down at the fire-house, which was the real clearing-house of Tinsdale for all the gossip that came along and went the rounds, they took up the matter in full session several evenings in succession. Some of the younger members made crude remarks about Betty's looks, and some of the older ones allowed that she was entirely too pretty to be without a history. They took great liberties with their surmises. The only two, the youngest of them all, who might have defended her, had been unconsciously snubbed by her when they tried to be what Bobbie called "fresh" with her, and so she was at their mercy. But if she had known it she probably would have been little disturbed. They seemed so far removed from her two worlds, so utterly apart from herself. It would not have occurred to her that they could do her any harm.
One night the fire-house gang had all assembled save one, a little shrimp of a good-for-nothing, nearly hairless, toothless, cunning-eyed, and given to drink when he could lay lips on any. He had a wide loose mouth with a tendency to droop crookedly, and his hands were always clammy and limp. He ordinarily sat tilted back against the wall to the right of the engine, sucking an old clay pipe. He had a way of often turning the conversation to imply some deep mystery known only to himself behind the life of almost any one discussed. He often added choice embellishments to whatever tale went forth as authentic to go the rounds of the village, and he acted the part of a collector of themes and details for the evening conversations.
His name was Abijah Gage.
"Bi not come yet?" asked the fire chief settling a straw comfortably between his teeth and looking around on the group. "Must be somepin' doin'. Don't know when Bi's been away."
"He went up to town this mornin' early," volunteered Dunc Withers. "Reckon he was thirsty. Guess he'll be back on the evenin' train. That's her comin' in now."
"Bars all closed in the city," chuckled the chief. "Won't get much comfort there."
"You bet Bi knows some place to get it. He won't come home thirsty, that's sure."
"I donno, they say the lid's down pretty tight."
"Aw, shucks!" sneered Dunc. "Bet I could get all I wanted."
Just then the door opened and Abijah Gage walked in, with a toothless grin all around.
"Hello, Bi, get tanked up, did yeh?" greeted the chief.
"Well, naow, an' ef I did, what's that to you?" responded Bi, slapping the chief's broad shoulder with a folded newspaper he carried. "You don't 'spose I'm goin' to tell, an' get my frien's in trouble?"
"Le's see yer paper, Bi," said Dunc, snatching at it as Bi passed to his regular seat.
Bi surrendered his paper with the air of one granting a high favor and sank to his chair and his pipe.
"How's crops in the city?" asked Hank Fielder, and Bi's tale was set a-going. Bi could talk; that was one thing that always made him welcome.
Dunc was deep in the paper. Presently he turned it over:
"Whew!" he said speculatively. "If that don't look like that little lollypop over to Carson's I'll eat my hat! What's her name?"
They all drew around the paper and leaned over Dunc's shoulder squinting at the picture, all but Bi, who was lighting his pipe:
"They're as like as two peas!" said one.
"It sure must be her sister!" declared another.
"Don't see no resemblance 'tall," declared the chief, flinging back to his comfortable chair. "She's got short hair, an she's only a kid. This one's growed up!"
"She might a cut her hair," suggested one.
Bi pricked up his ears, narrowed his cunning eyes, and slouched over to the paper, looking at the picture keenly:
"Read it out, Dunc!" he commanded.
"Five thousand dollars reward for information concerning Elizabeth Stanhope!"
There followed a description in detail of her size, height, coloring, etc.
An inscrutable look overspread Bi's face and hid the cunning in his eyes. He slouched to his seat during the reading and tilted back comfortably smoking, but he narrowed his eyes to a slit and spoke little during the remainder of the evening. They discussed the picture and the possibility of the girl in the paper being a relative of the girl at Carson's, but as Bi did not come forward with information the subject languished. Some one said he had heard the Carson kid call her Lizzie, he thought, but he wasn't sure. Ordinarily Bi would have known the full name, but Bi seemed to be dozing, and so the matter was finally dropped. But the hounds were out and on the scent, and it was well for Betty sleeping quietly in her little cot beneath the roof of the humble Carson home, that she had committed her all to her heavenly Father before she slept.
"WELL, he gave me notice t'day," said James Ryan sadly as Jane and he rounded the corner from her boarding-house and turned toward their favorite movie theater. "I been expectin' it, an' now it's come!"
Jane stopped short on the sidewalk appalled:
"He gave you notice!" she exclaimed, as if she could not believe it was true. "Now, Jimmie! You don't mean it? Did he find any fault? He'd better not! B'leeve me, if he did he gets a piece of my mind, even if I am a poor workin' girl!"
"Oh, no, he didn't find any fault," said Jimmie cheerfully. "He was awful nice! He said he'd recommend me away up high. He's gonta give me time every day to hunt a new place, an' he's gonta recommend me to some of his rich friends."
"But what's the matter of him keepin' you? Did you ast him that?"
"Oh, he told me right out that things wasn't working the way he hoped when he started; the war and all had upset his prospects, and he couldn't afford to keep me. He's gonta take an office way down town and do his own letters. He says if he ever succeeds in business and I'm free to come to him he'll take me back. Oh, he's pleased with me all right! He's a peach! He certainly is."
"Jimmie, what d'you tell him?"
"Tell him? There wasn't much for me to tell him, only I was sorry, and I thanked him, and I told him I was gonta stick by him as long as I didn't have a place. Of course I can't live on air, but seeing he's willing I should go out and hunt a place every day, why I ain't that mean that I can't write a few letters for him now and then. He don't have that many, and it keeps me in practice. I s'pose I've got to get another place but I haven't tried yet. I can't somehow bring myself to give him up. I kind of wanted to stick in my first place a long time. It doesn't look well to be changing."
"Well, if it ain't your fault, you know, when you can't help it," advised Jane.
They were seated in the theater by this time, and the screen claimed their attention. It was just at the end of the funny reel, and both forgot more serious matters in following the adventures of a dog and a bear who were chasing each other through endless halls and rooms, to say nothing of bathtubs, and wash boilers, and dining tables, and anything that came in their way, with a shock to the people who happened to be around when they passed. But suddenly the film ended and the announcements for the next week began to flash on the screen.
"We must go to that, sure!" said Jimmie, nudging Jane, as the Mary Pickford announcement was put on.
Then immediately afterward came the photograph of a beautiful girl, and underneath in great letters:
FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS' REWARD FOR ACCURATE INFORMATION AS TO THE PRESENT WHEREABOUTS OF ELIZABETH STANHOPE
There followed further particulars and an address and the showing stayed on the screen for a full minute.
Jane sat gripping the arms of the seat and trying to still the wild excitement that possessed her, while her eyes looked straight into the eyes of the little bride whom she had helped to escape on the night of her wedding.
Jimmie took out his pencil and wrote down the address in shorthand, but Jane did not notice. She was busy thinking what she ought to do.
"What do you s'pose they want her for?" she asked in a breathless whisper, as a new feature film began to dawn on the screen.
"Oh, she's mebbe eloped," said the wise young man, "or there might be some trouble about property. There mostly is."
Jane said no more, and the pictures began again, but her mind was not following them. She was very quiet on the way home, and when Jimmie asked her if she had a grouch on she shivered and said, no, she guessed she was tired. Then she suddenly asked him what time he was going out to hunt for another job. He told her he couldn't be sure. He would call her up about noon and let her know. Could she manage to get out a while and meet him? She wasn't sure either, but would see when he called her up. And so they parted for the night.
The next morning when Reyburn entered his office Jimmie was already seated at his typewriter. On Reyburn's desk lay a neatly typed copy of the announcement that had been put on the screen the night before.
"What's this, Ryan?" he questioned as he took his seat and drew the paper toward him.
"Something I saw last night on the screen at the movies, sir. I thought it might be of interest."
"Were you thinking of trying for the reward?" asked Reyburn with a comical smile. "What is it, anyway?" And he began to read.
"Oh, no sir!" said Jimmie. "I couldn't, of course; but I thought mebbe you'd be able to find out something about her and get all that money. That would help you through until you got started in your own business."
"H'm! That's kind of you, Ryan," said the young lawyer, reading the paper with a troubled frown. "I'm afraid it's hardly in my line, however. I'm not a detective, you know." He laid the paper down and looked thoughtfully out of the window.
"Oh, of course not, sir!" Jimmie hastened to apologize. "Only you know a lot of society folks in the city, and I thought you might think of some way of finding out where she is. I know it isn't up to what you ought to be doing, sir, but it wouldn't do any harm. You could work it through me, you know, and nobody need ever know 'twas you got the reward. I'd be glad to help you out doing all I could, but of course it would take your brains to get the information, sir. You see, it would be to my interest, because then you could afford to keep me, and—I like you, Mr. Reyburn, I certainly do. I would hate to leave you."
"Well, now, I appreciate that, Ryan. It's very thoughtful of you. I scarcely think there would be any possibility of my finding out anything about this girl, but I certainly appreciate your thoughtfulness. I'll make a note of it, and if anything turns up I'll let you know. I don't believe, however, that I would care to go after a reward even through someone else. You know, I was at that wedding, Ryan!" His eyes were dreamily watching the smoke from a distant funnel over the roof-tops in line with his desk.
"You were!" said Jimmie, watching his employer with rapt admiration. He had no higher ambition than to look like Warren Reyburn and have an office of his own.
"Yes, I was there," said Reyburn again, but his tone was so far off that Jimmie dared approach no nearer, and resumed the letter he was typing.
About noon Jimmie called up the factory while Reyburn was out to lunch and told Jane that he expected to go out at two o'clock. Could she meet him and walk a little way with him? Jane said no, she couldn't, but she would try and see him the next day, then he could tell her how he had "made out."
At exactly five minutes after two, Jane, having watched from a telephone booth in a drug store until Jimmie went by, hurried up to Reyburn's office and tapped on the door, her heart in her mouth lest he should be occupied with some one else and not be able to see her before her few minutes of leave which she had obtained from the factory should have expired.
Reyburn himself opened the door to her, and treated her as if she had been a lady every inch, handing her a chair and speaking quite as if she were attired in sealskin and diamonds.
She looked him over with bright eyes of approval. Jane was a born sentimentalist, fed on the movies. Not for anything would she have had a knight rescue her lady fair who did not look the part. She was entirely satisfied with this one. In fact, she was almost tongue-tied with admiration for the moment.
Then she rallied to the speech she had prepared:
"Mr. Reyburn," she said, "I came to see you about a matter of very great importance. I heard you was a great lawyer, and I've got a friend that's in trouble. I thought mebbe you could do something about it. But first, I want to ast you a question, an' I want you to consider it perfectly confidential!"
Jane took great credit to herself that she had assembled all these words and memorized them so perfectly.
"Certainly!" said Reyburn gravely, wondering what kind of a customer he had now.
"I don't want you to think I can't pay for it," said Jane, laying down a five-dollar bill grandly. "I know you can't afford to waste your valuable time even to answer a question."
"Oh, that's all right," said Reyburn heartily. "Let me hear what the question is first. There may be no charge."
"No," said Jane hastily, laying the bill firmly on the desk before him. "I shan't feel right astin' unless I know it's to be paid for."
"Oh, very well," said Reyburn, taking the bill and laying it to one side. "Now, what is the question?"
"Well, Mr. Reyburn, will you please tell me what would anybody want to offer a reward, a big reward, like a thousand dollars—or several of them,—for information about any one? Could you think of any reason?"
Reyburn started. Reward again! This was uncanny. Probably this girl had been to the movies and seen the same picture that Ryan had told him about. But he smiled gravely and answered, watching her quizzically the while:
"Well, they might love the person that had disappeared," he suggested at random.
"Oh, no!" said Jane decidedly. "They didn't! I know that fer a fac'! What else could it be?"
"Well, they might have a responsibility!" he said thoughtfully.
"No chance!" said Jane scornfully.
"Couldn't they be anxious, don't you think?"
"Not so's you'd notice it."
"Well, there might be some property to be divided, perhaps."
"I'd thought of that," said Jane, her face growing practical. "It would have to be a good deal of property to make them offer a big reward, wouldn't it?"
"I should think so," answered Reyburn politely, watching her plain eager face amusedly. He could not quite get at her idea in coming to him.
"Would her coming of age have anything to do with it?" put Jane, referring to a much folded paper she carried in her hand, as if she had a written catechism which she must go through.
"It might." Reyburn was growing interested. This queer visitor evidently had thought something out, and was being very cautious.
"I really can't answer very definitely without knowing more of the circumstances," he said with sudden alarm lest the girl might take some random answer and let serious matters hinge on his word.
"Well, there's just one more," she said, looking down at her paper. "If a man was trying to make a girl marry him when she just hated him, could anybody make her do it, and would anybody have a right to put her in an insane 'sylum or anythin' ef she wouldn't?"
"Why, no, of course not! Where did you ever get such a ridiculous idea?" He sat up suddenly, annoyed beyond expression over disturbing suggestions that seemed to rise like a bevy of black bats all around the borders of his mind.
"See here," he said, sitting up very straight. "I really can't answer any more blind questions. I've got to know what I'm talking about. Why, I may be saying the most impossible things without knowing it."
"I know," said Jane, looking at him gravely. "I've thought of that, but you've said just the things I thought you would. Well, say, if I tell you about it can you promise on yer honor you won't ever breathe a word of it? Not to nobody? Whether you take the case or not?"
"Why, certainly, you can trust me to look out for any confidence you may put in me. If you can't I should prefer that you say nothing more."
"Oh, I c'n trust you all right," said Jane smiling. "I just mean, would you be 'lowed to keep it under yer hat?"
"Would I be allowed? What do you mean?"
"I mean would the law let you? You wouldn't have to go an' tell where she was or nothin' an' give her away? You'd be 'lowed to keep it on the q. t. an' take care of her?"
"You mean would it be right and honorable for me to protect my client? Why, certainly."
"Well, I mean you wouldn't get into no trouble if you did."
"Of course not."
"Well, then I'll tell you."
JANE opened a small shabby handbag, and took out a folded newspaper, opening it up and spreading it on the desk before him. "There!" she said, and then watched his face critically.
Reyburn looked, and found himself looking into Betty's eyes. Only a newspaper cut, and poor at that, but wonderfully real and mournful, as they had struck him when she lifted them for that swift glance before she sank in the church aisle.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, his voice suddenly husky.
"Out o' the mornin' paper." Her tone was low and excited. "Were you wanting to try for the reward?" Reyburn asked.
There was a covert sneer in the question from which the girl shrank perceptibly. She sprang to her feet, her eyes flashing:
"If that's what you take me for, I better be goin'!" she snapped and reached out her hand for the paper. But Reyburn's hand covered the paper, and his tone was respectful and apologetic as he said:
"Excuse me, I didn't quite understand, I see. Sit down, please. You and I must understand each other or there is no use in our talking. You can trust me to keep this conversation entirely to myself, whatever the outcome. Will you tell me what it is you want of me?"
Jane subsided into a chair, tears of excitement springing into her eyes.
"Well, you see, it's pretty serious business," she said, making a dab at the corner of one eye. "I thought I could trust you, or I wouldn't a come. But you gotta take me on trust, too."
"Of course," said Reyburn. "Now, what have you to do with this girl? Do you know where she is?"
"I certainly do!" said Jane, "but I ain't a-goin' ta tell until you say if there's anything you can do fer her. 'Cause you see, if you can't find a way to help her, I've gotta do it myself, an' it might get you into trouble somehow fer you to know what you ain't supposed to know."
"I see," said Reyburn, meekly. "Well, what are you going to tell me? Am I allowed to ask that?"
"Say, you're kiddin' me! I guess you are all right. Well, I'll just tell you all about it. One night last November,—you can see the date there in the paper, I was goin' home to my boardin' house in Camac Street, an' I was passin' the side of that church on 18th an' Spruce, where the weddin' was—you know, fer you was there!"
Reyburn looked at her astonished.
"How did you know I was there?"
"I saw you through the window, over against the wall to the street side of the altar," said Jane calmly.
"How did you know me?"
"Oh, somebody I know pointed you out once an' said you was goin' to be one of the risin' lawyers of the day," she answered nonchalantly, her face quite serious.
A flicker of amusement passed like a ray of light through his eyes, but his face was entirely grave as he ignored the compliment.
"I saw there was a weddin' an' I stopped to watch a minute, 'cause I expect to get married myself some day, an' I wanted to see how they did things. But I couldn't get near the door, an' the windows were all high up. I could only see folks who were standing up like you were. So I thought I'd go on. I turned the corner and went long-side the church listenin' to the music, an' just as I passed a big iron gate at the back end of the church somebody grabbed me an' begged me to help 'em. I looked round, an' there was the bride, all in her white togs, with the prettiest white satin slippers, in the wet an' mud! I tried to get her line, but she cried out somebody was comin' back in the passageway, so I slipped off my coat an' hat and whisked her into 'em an' clapped my rubbers over her satin shoes, and we beat it round the corner. I took her to my room, an' gave her some supper. She was all in. Then I put her to bed, an' she told me a little bit about it. She didn't tell me much. Only that they had been tryin' fer a long time back to make her marry a man she hated, an' now they'd almost tricked her into it, an' she'd die if she had to do it. She wanted to exchange clothes with me, cause, of course, she couldn't get anywhere togged out that way, so we changed things, an' I fixed her up. In the mornin' I ran out an' got a paper, an' found they was sayin' she was temporary insane, an' stuff like that, an' so I saw their game was tryin' to get her in a 'sylum till they could make her do what they wanted. I fixed her up an' got her off to a place I know where she'd be safe. An' she's got a job an' doin' real well. But now they've got this here reward business out everywhere in the papers an' the movies, she ain't safe nowhere. An' I want somebody that's wiser'n me to take a holt an' do somethin'. I can't pay much, but I'll pay a little every month as long's I live ef it takes that long to pay yer bill, an' I have a notion she may have some money herself, though she didn't say nothin' about it. But there's a ring she left with me to sell, to pay fer what I gave her. It oughtta be worth somethin'. It looks real. I ain't sold it. I couldn't. I thought she might want it sometime——"
But Reyburn interrupted her excitedly.
"Do you mean to say that Miss Stanhope is in the city and you know where she is?"
"Now, don't get excited," warned Jane coolly. "I didn't say she was in this city, did I? I didn't say where she was, did I? I said she was safe."
"But are you aware that you have told me a very strange story? What proof can you give me that it is true?"
Jane looked at him indignantly.
"Say, I thought you was goin' to trust me? I have to trust you, don't I? Course you don't know who I am, an' I haven't told you, but I've got a good p'sition myself, an' I don't go round tellin' privarications! An' there's the weddin' dress, an' veil and fixin's! I got them. You can see 'em if you like,—that is pervided I know what you're up to! I ain't taking any chances till I see what you mean to do."
"I beg your pardon," said Reyburn, trying to smile assurance once more. "You certainly must own this whole thing is enough to make anybody doubt."
"Yes, it is," said Jane. "I was some upset myself, havin' a thing like that happen to me, a real millionairess bride drop herself down on my hands just like that, an' I 'spose it is hard to b'lieve. But I can't waste much more time now. I gotta get back to my job. Is there anything can be done to keep 'em from gettin' her again?"
"I should most certainly think so," said Reyburn, "but I would have to know her side of the story, the whole of it, before I could say just what!"
"Well, s'pose you found there wasn't anythin' you could do to help her, would you go an' tell on her?"
Reyburn leaned back in his chair and smiled at his unique client:
"I shall have to quote your own language. 'What do you take me for?'"
"A white man!" said Jane suddenly, and showed all her fine teeth in an engaging smile. "Say, you're all right. Now, I gotta go. When will you tell me what you can do?" She glanced anxiously at her little leather-bound wrist watch. It was almost time for Jimmie to return. Jimmie mustn't find her here. He wouldn't understand, and what Jimmie didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
"Well, this ought to be attended to, at once, if anything is to be done," he said eagerly. "Let me see. I have an engagement at five. How would seven o'clock do? Could I call at your boarding-house? Would there be any place where we could talk uninterrupted?"
"Sure," said Jane, rising. "I'll get my landlady to let me have her settin' room fer an hour."
"Meantime, I'll think it over and try to plan something."
Jane started down the long flights of stairs, not daring to trust to the elevator, lest she should come face to face with Jimmie and have to explain.
Reyburn stood with his back to the room, his hands in his pockets, frowning and looking out the window, when Jimmie entered a moment later.
"I hope I'm not late, sir?" he said anxiously, as he hung up his hat and sat down at his typewriter. "I had to wait. The man was out."
"Oh, that's all right, Ryan," said his employer, obviously not listening to his explanation. "I'm going out now, Ryan. I may not be back this afternoon. Just see that everything is all right."
"Very well, sir."
Reyburn went out, then opened the door and put his head back in the room.
"I may have to go out of town to-night, Ryan. I'm not sure. Something has come up. If I'm not in to-morrow, could you—would you mind just staying here all day and looking after things? I may need you. Of course you'll lock up and leave the card out when you go to lunch."
"Very well, sir."
"I'll keep in touch with you in case I'm delayed," and Reyburn was off again. When the elevator had clanked down to the next floor Jimmie went to the window and looked dreamily out over the roofs of the city:
"Aw!" he breathed joyously. "Now I'll bet he's going to do something about that reward!"
Reyburn hurried down the street to the office of an old friend where he had a bit of business as an excuse, and asked a few casual questions when he was done. Then he went on to a telephone booth and called up a friend of his mother's, with whom he had a brief gossip, ostensibly to give a message from his mother, contained in her last letter to him. None of the questions that he asked were noticeable. He merely led the conversation into certain grooves. The lady was an old resident and well known in the higher social circles. She knew all there was to know about everybody and she loved to tell it. She never dreamed that he had any motive in leading her on.
He dropped into a bank and asked a few questions, called up an address they gave him and made another inquiry, then dropped around to his cousin's home for a few minutes, where he allowed her to tell all she knew about the Stanhope wedding they had attended together, and the different theories concerning the escaped bride. Quite casually he asked if she knew whether the bride had property of her own, if so who were her guardians. His cousin thought she knew a lot, but, sifting it down, he discovered that it was nearly all hearsay or surmise.
When he reached Jane Carson's boarding house he found that young woman ensconced in a tiny room, nine by twelve, a faded ingrain carpet on the floor, a depressed looking bed lounge against the bleary wall-paper, beneath crayon portraits of the landlady's dead husband and sons. There was a rocking-chair, a trunk, a cane-seat chair, and an oil stove turned up to smoking point in honor of the caller, but there was little room left for the caller. On the top of the trunk reposed a large pasteboard box securely tied.
Jane, after a shy greeting, untied the strings and opened the cover, having first carefully slipped the bolt of the door.
"You can't be too careful," she said. "You never can tell."
Reyburn stood beside her and looked in a kind of awe at the glistening white, recognized the thick texture of the satin, the rare quality of the rose-point lace with which it was adorned, caught the faint fragrance of faded orange blossoms wafting from the filmy mist of the veil as Jane lifted it tenderly; then leaned over and touched a finger to the pile of whiteness, reverently, as though he were paying a tribute at a lovely shrine.
Jane even unwrapped the little slippers, one at a time, and folded them away again, and they said no word until it was all tied back in its papers, Reyburn assisting with the strings.
"Now, ef you don't mind waitin' a minute I guess it would be safer to put it away now," she said as she slipped the bolt and ran upstairs.
She was back in a minute and sat down opposite to him, drawing out from the neck of her blouse a ribbon with a heavy glittering circlet at its end.
"Here's the ring." She laid it in his palm. He took it, wondering, a kind of awe still upon him that he should be thus handling the intimate belongings of that little unknown bride whom he had seen lying unconscious in a strange church a few short months before. How strange that all this should have come to him when many wiser, more nearly related, were trying their best to get some clue to the mystery!
He lifted the ring toward the insufficient gas jet to make out the initials inside, and copied them down in his note-book.
"Take good care of that. It is valuable," he said as he handed it back to her.
"Mebbe I better give it to you," she half hesitated.
"You've taken pretty good care of it so far," he said. "I guess you've a better right to it than I. Only don't let anybody know you've got it. Now, I've been making inquiries, and I've found out a few things, but I've about come to the conclusion that I can't do much without seeing the lady. Do you suppose she would see me? Is she very far away?"
"When do you want to go?" asked Jane.
"At once," he answered decidedly. "There's no time to waste if she is really in danger, as you think."
Jane's eyes glittered with satisfaction.
"There's a train at ten-thirty. You'll get there in the morning. I've written it all down here on a paper so you can't make any mistakes. I've written her a letter so she'll understand and tell you everythin'. I'll wire Ma, too, so she'll let you see her. Ma might not size you up right."
Reyburn wondered at the way he accepted his orders from this coolly impudent girl, but he liked her in spite of himself.
In a few minutes more he was out in the street again, hurrying to his own apartment, where he put together a few necessities in a bag and went to the train.
IT was one of those little ironies of fate that are spoken about so much, that when Warren Reyburn alighted from the train in Tinsdale Abijah Gage should be supporting one corner of the station, and contributing a quid now and then to the accumulations of the week scattered all about his feet.
He spotted the stranger at once and turned his cunning little eyes upon him, making it obvious that he was bulging with information. It was, therefore, quite natural, when Reyburn paused to take his bearings, that Bi should speak up and inquire if he was looking for some one. Reyburn shook his head and passed on, but Bi was not to be headed off so easily as that. He shuffled after him:
"Say!" he said, pointing to a shackley horse and buckboard that stood near, belonging to a pal over at the freight house. "Ef you want a lift I'll take you along."
"Thank you, no," said Reyburn, smiling; "I'm not going far."
"Say!" said Bi again as he saw his quarry about to disappear. "You name ain't Bains, is it?"
"No!" said Reyburn, quite annoyed by the persistent old fellow.
"From New York?" he hazarded cheerfully.
"No," answered Reyburn, turning to go. "You must excuse me. I'm in a hurry."
"That's all right," said Bi contentedly. "I'll walk a piece with you. I was lookin' fer a doctor to take down to see a sick child. A doctor from New York. You ain't by any chance a doctor, are you?" Bi eyed the big leather bag inquiringly.
"No," said Reyburn, laughing in spite of his annoyance. "I'm only a lawyer." And with a bound he cleared the curb and hurried off down the street, having now recognized the direction described in Jane's diagram of Tinsdale.
Abijah Gage looked after him with twinkling eyes of dry mirth, and slowly sauntered after him, watching him until he entered the little unpainted gate of the Carson house and tapped at the old gray door. Then Bi lunged across the street and entered a path that ran along the railroad track for a few rods, curving suddenly into a stretch of vacant lots. On a convenient fence rail with a good outlook toward the west end of the village he ensconced himself and set about whittling a whistle from some willow stalks. He waited until he saw Bobbie Carson hurry off toward Hathaway's house and return with Lizzie Hope; waited hopefully until the stranger finally came out of the house again, touching his hat gracefully to the girl as she stood at the open door. Then he hurried back to the station again, and was comfortably settled on a tub of butter just arrived by freight, when Reyburn reached there. He was much occupied with his whistle, and never seemed to notice, but not a movement of the stranger escaped him, and when the Philadelphia express came by, and the stranger got aboard the parlor car, old Bi Gage swung his lumbering length up on the back platform of the last car. The hounds were hot on the trail now.
It was several years since Bi Gage had been on so long a journey, but he managed to enjoy the trip, and kept in pretty good touch with the parlor car, although he was never in evidence. If anybody had told Warren Reyburn as he let himself into his apartment late that night that he was being followed, he would have laughed and told them it was an impossibility. When he came out to the street the next morning and swung himself into a car that would land him at his office, he did not see the lank flabby figure of the toothless Bi standing just across the block, and keeping tab on him from the back platform, nor notice that he slid into the office building behind him and took the same elevator up, crowding in behind two fat men and effacing himself against the wall of the cage. Reyburn was reading his paper, and did not look up. The figure slid out of the elevator after him and slithered into a shadow, watching him, slipping softly after, until sure which door he took, then waited silently until sure that the door was shut. No one heard the slouching footsteps come down the marble hall. Bi Gage always wore rubbers when he went anywhere in particular. He had them on that morning. He took careful note of the name on the door: "Warren Reyburn, Attorney-at-Law," and the number. Then he slid down the stairs as unobserved as he had come, and made his way to a name and number on a bit of paper from his pocket which he consulted in the shelter of a doorway.
When Warren Reyburn started on his first trip to Tinsdale his mind was filled with varying emotions. He had never been able to quite get away from the impression made upon him by that little white bride lying so still amid her bridal finery, and the glowering bridegroom above her. It epitomized for him all the unhappy marriages of the world, and he felt like starting out somehow in hot pursuit of that bridegroom and making him answer for the sadness of his bride. Whenever the matter had been brought to his memory he had always been conscious of the first gladness he had felt when he knew she had escaped. It could not seem to him anything but a happy escape, little as he knew about any of the people who played the principal parts in the little tragedy he had witnessed.
Hour after hour as he sat in the train and tried to sleep or tried to think he kept wondering at himself that he was going on this "wild goose chase," as he called it in his innermost thoughts. Yet he knew he had to go. In fact, he had known it from the moment James Ryan had shown him the advertisement. Not that he had ever had any idea of trying for that horrible reward. Simply that his soul had been stirred to its most knightly depths to try somehow to protect her in her hiding. Of course, it had been a mere crazy thought then, with no way of fulfilment, but when the chance had offered of really finding her and asking if there was anything she would like done, he knew from the instant it was suggested that he was going to do it, even if he lost every other business chance he ever had or expected to have, even if it took all his time and every cent he could borrow. He knew he had to try to find that girl! The thought that the only shelter between her and the great awful world lay in the word of an untaught girl like Jane Carson filled him with terror for her. If that was true, the sooner some one of responsibility and sense got to her the better. The questions he had asked of various people that afternoon had revealed more than he had already guessed of the character of the bridegroom to whom he had taken such a strong dislike on first sight.
Thus he argued the long night through between the fitful naps he caught when he was not wondering if he should find her, and whether he would know her from that one brief sight of her in church. How did he know but this was some game put up on him to get him into a mix-up? He must go cautiously, and on no account do anything rash or make any promises until he had first found out all about her.
When morning dawned he was in a state of perturbation quite unusual for the son and grandson of renowned lawyers noted for their calmness and poise under all circumstances. This perhaps was why the little incident with Abijah Gage at the station annoyed him so extremely. He felt he was doing a questionable thing in taking this journey at all. He certainly did not intend to reveal his identity or business to this curious old man.
The little gray house looked exactly as Jane had described it, and as he opened the gate and heard the rusty chain that held it clank he had a sense of having been there before.
He was pleasantly surprised, however, when the door was opened by Emily, who smiled at him out of shy blue eyes, and stood waiting to see what he wanted. It was like expecting a viper and finding a flower. Somehow he had not anticipated anything flower-like in Jane's family. The mother, too, was a surprise when she came from her ironing, and, pushing her wavy gray hair back from a furrowed brow lifted intelligent eyes that reminded him of Jane, to search his face. Ma did not appear flustered. She seemed to be taking account of him and deciding whether or not she would be cordial to him.
"Yes, I had a telegram from Jane this morning," she was scanning his eyes once more to see whether there was a shadow of what she called "shiftiness" in them. "Come in," she added grudgingly.
He was not led into the dining-room, but seated on one of the best varnished chairs in the "parlor," as they called the little unused front room. He felt strangely ill at ease and began to be convinced that he was on the very wildest of wild goose chases. To think of expecting to find Elizabeth Stanhope in a place like this! If she ever had been here she certainly must have flown faster than she had from the church on her wedding night.
So, instead of beginning as he had planned, to put a list of logically prepared keen questions to a floundering and suspecting victim, he found the clear eyes of Ma looking into his unwaveringly and the wise tongue of Ma putting him through a regular orgy of catechism before she would so much as admit that she had ever heard of a girl named Lizzie Hope. Then he bethought him of her daughter's letter and handed it over for her to read.
"Well," she admitted at last, half satisfied, "she isn't here at present. I sent her away when I found you was comin'. I wasn't sure I'd let you see her at all if I didn't like your looks."
"That's right, Mrs. Carson," he said heartily, with real admiration in his voice. "I'm glad she has some one so careful to look out for her. Your daughter said she was in a good safe place, and I begin to see she knew what she was talking about."
Then the strong look around Ma's lips settled into the sweeter one, and she sent Bob after the girl.
"Are you a friend of hers?" she asked, watching him keenly.
"No," said Reyburn. "I've never seen her but once. She doesn't know me at all."
"Are you a friend of her—family?"
"Or any of her friends or relations?" Ma meant to be comprehensive.
"No. I'm sorry I am not. I am a rather recent comer to the city where she made her home, I understand."
Ma looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. It wouldn't have been called a stare, it was too kindly for that, but Reyburn thought to himself that he would not have liked to have borne her scrutiny if he had anything to conceal, for he felt as if she might read the truth in his eyes.
"Are you—please excuse me for askin'—but are you a member of any church?"
Reyburn flushed, and wanted to laugh, but was embarrassed in spite of himself:
"Why, yes—I'm a member," he said slowly, then with a frank lifting of his eyes to her troubled gaze, "I united with the church when I was a mere kid, but I'm afraid I'm not much of a member. I really am not what you'd call 'working' at it much nowadays. I go to morning service sometimes, but that's about all. I don't want to be a hypocrite."
He wondered as he spoke why he took the trouble to answer the woman so fully. Her question was in a way impertinent, much like the way her daughter talked. Yet she seemed wholly unconscious of it.
"I know," she assented sorrowfully. "There's lots of them in the church. We have 'em, too, even in our little village. But still, after all, you can't help havin' confidence more in them that has 'named the name' than in them that has not."
Reyburn looked at her curiously and felt a sudden infusion of respect for her. She was putting the test of her faith to him, and he knew by the little stifled sigh that he had been found wanting.
"I s'pose lawyers don't have much time to think about being Christians," she apologized for him.
He felt impelled to be frank with her:
"I'm afraid I can't urge that excuse. Unfortunately I have a good deal of time on my hands now. I've just opened my office and I'm waiting for clients."
"Where were you before that? You did not just get through studying?"
He saw she was wondering whether he was wise enough to help her protege.
"No, I spent the last three years in France."
"Up at the front?" The pupils of her eyes dilated eagerly.
"Yes, in every drive," he answered, wondering that a woman of this sort should be so interested now that the war was over.
"And you came back safe!" she said slowly, looking at him with a kind of wistful sorrow in her eyes. "My boy was shot the first day he went over the top."
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Reyburn gently, a sudden tightness in his throat.
"But it was all right." She flashed a dazzling smile at him through the tears that came into her eyes. "It wasn't as if he wasn't ready. Johnny was always a good boy, an' he joined church when he was fourteen, an' always kep' his promises. He used to pray every night just as faithful, an' read his Bible. I've got the little Testament he carried all through. His chaplain sent it to me. It's got a bullet hole through it, and blood-marks, but it's good to me to look at, 'cause I know Johnny's with his Saviour. He wasn't afraid to die. He said to me before he left, he says: 'Ma, if anythin' happens to me it's all right. You know, Ma, I ain't forgettin' what you taught me, an' I ain't forgettin' Christ is with me.'"
Mrs. Carson wiped her eyes furtively, and tried to look cheerful. Reyburn wished he knew how to comfort her.
"It makes a man feel mean," he said at last, trying to fit his toe into the pattern of the ingrain carpet, "to come home alive and whole when so many poor fellows had to give their lives. I've often wondered how I happened to get through."
She looked at him tenderly:
"Perhaps your Heavenly Father brought you back to give you more chance to do things for Him, an' get ready to die when your time comes."
There was something startling to this self-composed city chap in hearing a thing like this from the lips of the mother whose beloved son was gone forever beyond her teaching but had "been ready." Reyburn looked at her steadily, soberly, and then with a queer constriction in his throat he looked down at the floor thoughtfully and said:
"Perhaps He did."
"Well, I can't help bein' glad you're a church member, anyhow," said Mrs. Carson, rising to look out of the window. "She needs a Christian to help her, an' I'd sooner trust a Christian. If you really meant it when you joined church you've got somethin' to fall back on anyhow. Here she comes. I'll just go an' tell her you're in here."
BETTY, her eyes wide with fear, her face white as a lily, appeared like a wraith at the parlor door and looked at him. It gave Reyburn a queer sensation, as if a picture one had been looking at in a story book should suddenly become alive and move and stare at one. As he rose and came forward he still seemed to see like a dissolving view between them the little huddled bride on the floor of the church. Then he suddenly realized that she was trembling.
"Please don't be afraid of me, Miss Stanhope," he said gently. "I have only come to help you, and if after you have talked with me you feel that you would rather I should have nothing to do with your affairs I will go away and no one in the world shall be the wiser for it. I give you my word of honor."
"Oh!" said Betty, toppling into a chair near by. "I—guess—I'm not afraid of you. I just didn't know who you might be——!" She stopped, caught her breath and tried to laugh, but it ended sorrily, almost in a sob.
"Well, I don't wonder," said Reyburn, trying to find something reassuring to say. "The truth is, I was rather upset about you. I didn't quite know who you might turn out to be, you see!"
"Oh!" Betty's hand slipped up to her throat, and her lips quivered as she tried to smile.
"Please don't feel that way," he said, "or I'll go away at once." He was summoning all his courage and hoping she wasn't going to break down and cry. How little she was, and sweet! Her eyes pleaded, just as they did in that one look in the church. How could anybody be unkind to her?
"I'm quite all right," said Betty with a forced smile, siting up very straight.
"Perhaps I'd better introduce myself," he said, trying to speak in a very commonplace tone. "I'm just a lawyer that your friend Miss Jane Carson sent out to see if I could be of any service to you. It may possibly make things a little easier for you if I explain that while I never had heard of you before, and have no possible connection with your family or friends, I happened to be at your wedding!"
"Oh!" said Betty with a little agonized breath.
"Do you know Mrs. Bryce Cochrane?" he asked.
Betty could not have got any whiter, but her eyes seemed to blanch a trifle.
"A little," she said in a very small voice.
"Well, she is my cousin."
"Oh!" said Betty again.
"Her husband was unable to accompany her to the wedding, and so I went in his place to escort Isabel. I knew nothing of your affairs either before or after the wedding, until this announcement was brought to my notice, and Miss Carson called on me."
Betty took the paper in her trembling fingers, and looked into her own pictured eyes. Then everything seemed to swim before her for a moment. She pressed her hand against her throat and set her white lips firmly, looking up at the stranger with a sudden terror and comprehension.
"You want to get that five thousand dollars!" she said, speaking the words in a daze of trouble. "Oh, I haven't got five thousand dollars! Not now! But perhaps I could manage to get it if you would be good enough to wait just a little, till I can find a way. Oh, if you knew what it means to me!"
Warren Reyburn sprang to his feet in horror, a flame of anger leaping into his eyes.
"Five thousand dollars be hanged!" he said fiercely. "Do I look like that kind of a fellow? It may seem awfully queer to you for an utter stranger to be butting into your affairs like this unless I did have some ulterior motive, but I swear to you that I have none. I came out here solely because I saw that you were in great likelihood of being found by the people from whom you had evidently run away. Miss Stanhope, I stood where I could watch your face when you came up the aisle at your wedding, and something in your eyes just before you dropped made me wish I could knock that bridegroom down and take care of you somehow until you got that hurt look out of your face. I know it was rather ridiculous for an utter stranger to presume so far, but when I saw that the sleuths were out after you, and when the knowledge of your whereabouts was put into my hands without the seeking, I wouldn't have been a man if I hadn't come and offered my services. I'm not a very great lawyer, nor even a very rising one, as your Miss Carson seems to think, but I'm a man with a soul to protect a woman who is in danger, and if that's you, I'm at your service. If not, you've only to say so and I'll take the next train home and keep my mouth shut!"
He took his watch out and looked at it hastily, although he had not the slightest idea what it registered, nor what time the next train for home left. He looked very tall and strong and commanding as he stood in his dignity waiting for her answer, and Betty looked up like a little child and trusted him.
"Oh! Please forgive me!" she cried. "I've been so frightened ever since Bob came after me. I couldn't think you had come for any good, because I didn't know any one in the world who would want to help me."
"Certainly!" said Warren Reyburn with a lump in his throat, sitting down quickly to hide his emotion. "Please consider me a friend, and command me."
"Thank you," said Betty taking a deep breath and trying to crowd back the tears. "I'm afraid there isn't any way to help me, but I'm glad to have a friend, and I'm sorry I was so rude."
"You weren't rude, and that was a perfectly natural conclusion from my blundering beginning," he protested, looking at the adorable waves of hair that framed her soft cheeks. "But there is always a way to help people when they are in trouble, and I'm here to find out what it is. Do you think you could trust me enough to tell me what it's all about? Miss Carson didn't seem to know much or else she didn't feel free to say."