Recreation of Brian Kent
by H. B. Wright
DEAR AUNTIE SUE:
CHAPTER I. A
CHAPTER II. THE
MAN IN THE DARK.
CHAPTER III. A
CHAPTER IV. THE
WILL OF THE
CHAPTER VI. IN
THE LOG HOUSE BY
OFFICERS OF THE
THAT WHICH IS
GREATER THAN THE
CHAPTER X. BRIAN
AUNTIE SUE TAKES
JUDY TO THE
CHAPTER XV. A
CHAPTER XVI. THE
SECRET OF AUNTIE
CHAPTER XVII. AN
BETTY JO FACES
BRIAN AND BETTY
JO KEEP HOUSE.
CHAPTER XXI. THE
WOMAN AT THE
CHAPTER XXII. AT
IN THE ELBOW
CHAPTER XXV. THE
I have wondered many times, while writing this simple story of life
and love, if you would ever forgive me for putting you in a book. I
hope you will, because if you do not, I shall be heartbroken, and you
wouldn't want me that way, would you, Auntie Sue?
I fancy I can hear you say: "But, Harold, how COULD you! You know
I never did the things you have made me do in your story. You know I
never lived in a little log house by the river in the Ozark Mountains!
What in the world will people think!"
Well, to tell the truth, dear, I don't care so very much what
people think if only they will love you; and that they are sure to
do, because,--well, just because-- You must remember, too, that you
will be eighty-seven years old the eighteenth of next November, and it
is therefore quite time that someone put you in a book.
And, after all, Auntie Sue, are you very sure that you have never
lived in a little log house by the river,--are you very sure, Auntie
Forgive my impertinence, as you have always forgiven me everything;
and love me just the same, because I have written only in love of the
dearest Auntie Sue in the world!
The Glenwood Mission Inn,
April 30, 1919.
"And see the rivers, how they run
Through woods and meads, in shade and sun,
Sometimes swift, sometimes slow,--
Wave succeeding wave, they go
A various journey to the deep
Like human life to endless sleep!"
John Dyer--"Grongar Hill."
CHAPTER I. A REMARKABLE WOMAN.
I remember as well as though it were yesterday the first time I met
It happened during my first roaming visit to the Ozarks, when I had
wandered by chance, one day, into the Elbow Rock neighborhood. Twenty
years it was, at least, before the time of this story. She was
standing in the door of her little schoolhouse, the ruins of which you
may still see, halfway up the long hill from the log house by the
river, where the most of this story was lived.
It was that season of the year when the gold and brown of our Ozark
Hills is overlaid with a filmy veil of delicate blue haze and the
world is hushed with the solemn sweetness of the passing of the
summer. And as the old gentlewoman stood there in the open door of
that rustic temple of learning, with the deep-shadowed, wooded
hillside in the background, and, in front, the rude clearing with its
crooked rail fence along which the scarlet sumac flamed, I
thought,--as I still think, after all these years,--that I had never
before seen such a woman.
Fifty years had gone into the making of that sterling character
which was builded upon a foundation of many generations of noble
ancestors. Without home or children of her own, the life strength of
her splendid womanhood had been given to the teaching of boys and
girls. An old-maid schoolteacher? Yes,--if you will. But, as I saw
her standing there that day,--tall and slender, dressed in a simple
gown that was fitting to her work,--there was a queenly dignity, a
stately sweetness, in her bearing that made me feel, somehow, as if I
had come unexpectedly into the presence of royalty. Not the royalty
of caste and court and station with their glittering pretenses of
superiority and their superficial claims to distinction,--I do not
mean that; I mean that true royalty which needs no caste or court or
station but makes itself felt because it IS.
She did not notice me at first, for the noise of the children at
play in the yard covered the sound of my approach, and she was
looking far, far away, over the river which lay below at the foot of
the hill; over the forest-clad mountains in the glory of their brown
and gold; over the vast sweep of the tree-crowned Ozark ridges that
receded wave after wave into the blue haze until, in the vastness of
the distant sky, they were lost. And something made me know that, in
the moment's respite from her task, the woman was looking even beyond
the sky itself.
Her profile, clean-chiselled, but daintily formed, was beautiful in
its gentle strength. Her hair was soft and silvery like the gray
mist of the river in the morning. Then she turned to greet me, and I
saw her eyes. Boy that I was then, and not given overmuch to serious
thought, I knew that the high, unwavering purpose, the loving
sympathy, and tender understanding that shone in the calm depth of
those eyes could belong only to one who habitually looks unafraid
beyond all earthly scenes. Only those who have learned thus to look
beyond the material horizon of our little day have that beautiful
inner light which shone in the eyes of Auntie Sue-- the teacher of a
Auntie Sue had come to the Elbow Rock neighborhood the summer
preceding that fall when I first met her. She had grown too old, she
said, with her delightful little laugh, to be of much use in the
larger schools of the more thickly populated sections of the country.
But she was still far too young, she stoutly maintained, to be
Tom Warden, who lived just over the ridge from the schoolhouse, and
who was blessed with the largest wife, the largest family, and the
most pretentious farm in the county, had kinsfolk somewhere in
Illinois. Through these relatives of the Ozark farmer Miss Susan
Wakefield had learned of the needs of the Elbow Rock school, and so,
finally, had come into the hills. It was the influential Tom who
secured for her the modest position. It was the motherly Mrs. Tom who
made her at home in the Warden household. It was the Warden boys and
girls who first called her "Auntie Sue." But it was Auntie Sue
herself who won so large a place in the hearts of the simple mountain
folk of the district that she held her position year after year, until
she finally gave up teaching altogether.
Not one of her Ozark friends ever came to know in detail the
history of this remarkable woman's life. It was known in a general
way that she was born in Connecticut; that she had a brother
somewhere in some South-American country; that two other brothers had
been killed in the Civil War; that she had taught in the lower and
intermediate grades of public schools in various places all the years
of her womanhood. Also, it was known that she had never married.
"And that," said Uncle Lige Potter, voicing the unanimous opinion,
of the countryside, "is a doggone funny thing and plumb unnatural,
considerin' the kind of woman she is."
To which Lem Jordan,--who was then living with his fourth wife, and
might therefore be held to speak with a degree of authority,-- added:
"Hit sure is a dad burned shame, an' a plumb disgrace to the men of
this here country, when you come to look at the sort of wimmen most of
'em are a marryin' most of the time."
Another matter of universal and never-failing interest to the
mountain folk was the unprecedented number of letters that Auntie Sue
received and wrote. That some of these letters written by their
backwoods teacher were addressed to men and women of such prominence
in the world that their names were known even to that remote Ozark
district was a source of no little pride to Auntie Sue's immediate
neighbors, and served to mark her in their eyes with no small
It was during the fourth year of her life amid the scenes of this
story,--as I recall time,--that Auntie Sue invested the small savings
of her working years in the little log house by the river and the
eighty acres of land known as the "Old Bill Wilson place."
The house was a substantial building of three rooms, a lean-to
kitchen, and a porch overlooking the river. The log barn, with
"Prince," a gentle old horse, and "Bess," a mild-mannered, brindle
cow, completed the modest establishment. About thirty acres of the
land were cleared and under cultivation of a sort. The remaining
acreage was in timber. The price, under the kindly and expert
supervision of Tom Warden, was fifteen dollars an acre. But Auntie
Sue always laughingly insisted that she really paid fifty cents an
acre for the land and fourteen dollars and a half an acre for the
The tillable land, except for the garden, she "let out on shares,"
always under the friendly guardianship of neighbor Tom; while Tom's
boys cared for the little garden in season, and saw to it that the
woodpile was always ample and ready for the stove. And, in addition
to these fixed and regular homely services, there were many offerings
of helpful hands whenever other needs arose; for, as time passed,
there came to be in all the Elbow Rock district scarce a man, young or
old, who did not now and then honor himself by doing some little job
for Auntie Sue; while the women and girls, in the same neighborly
spirit, brought from their own humble households many tokens of their
loving thoughtfulness. And never did one visit that little log house
by the river without the consciousness of something received from the
silvery-haired old teacher--a something intangible, perhaps, which
they could not have expressed in words, but which, nevertheless,
enriched the lives of those simple mountain people with a very real
joy and a very tangible happiness.
For six years, Auntie Sue continued teaching the Elbow Rock
school;--climbing the hill in the morning from her log house by the
river to the cabin schoolhouse in the clearing on the mountain-side
above; returning in the late afternoon, when her day's work was over,
down the winding road to her little home, there to watch, from the
porch that overlooked the river, the sunset in the evening. And every
year the daily climb grew a little harder; the days of work grew a
little longer; she went down the hill in the afternoon a little
slower. And every year the sunsets were to her eyes more beautiful;
the evening skies to her understanding glowed with richer meaning; the
twilight hours filled her heart with a deeper peace.
And so, at last, her teaching days were over; that is, she taught
no more in the log schoolhouse in the clearing on the mountain- side.
But in her little home beside the river she continued her work; not
from text-books, indeed, but as all such souls must continue to teach,
until the sun sets for the last time upon their mortal days.
Work-worn, toil-hardened mountaineer mothers, whose narrow world
denied them so many of the finer thoughts and things, came to counsel
with this childless woman, and to learn from her a little of the art
of contentment and happiness. Strong men, of rude dress and speech,
whose lives were as rough as the hills in which they were reared, and
whose thoughts were often as crude as their half- savage and sometimes
lawless customs, came to sit at the feet of this gentle one, who
received them all with such kindly interest and instinctive
understanding. And young men and girls came, drawn by the magic that
was hers, to confide in this woman who listened with such rare tact
and loving sympathy to their troubles and their dreams, and who, in
the deepest things of their young lives, was mother to them all.
Nor were the mountain folk her only disciples. Always there were
the letters she continued to write, addressed to almost every corner
of the land. And every year there would come, for a week or a month,
at different times during the summer, men and women from the great
world of larger affairs who had need of the strength and courage and
patience and hope they never failed to find in that little log house
by the river. And so, in time, it came to be known that those letters
written by Auntie Sue went to men and women who, in their childhood
school days, had received from her their first lessons in writing; and
that her visitors, many of them distinguished in the world of
railroads and cities, were of that large circle of busy souls who had
never ceased to be her pupils.
Thus it came that the garden was made a little larger, and two
rooms were added to the house, with other modest improvements, to
accommodate Auntie Sue's grown-up boys and girls when they came to
visit her. But never was there a hired servant, so that her guests
must do their own household tasks, because, Auntie Sue said, that was
good for them and mostly what they needed.
It should also be said here that among her many pupils who lived
beyond the sky-line of the far, blue hills, not one knew more of the
real secret of Auntie Sue's life and character than did the Ozark
mountaineers of the Elbow Rock district, among whom she had chosen to
pass the evening of her day.
Then came one who learned the secret. He learned--but that is my
story. I must not tell the secret here.
CHAPTER II. THE MAN IN THE DARK.
A man stood at a window, looking out into the night. There was no
light in the room. The stars were hidden behind a thick curtain of
The house was a wretchedly constructed, long-neglected building of
a type common to those old river towns that in their many years of
uselessness have lost all civic pride, and in their own resultant
squalor and filth have buried their self-respect. A dingy, scarcely
legible sign over the treacherous board walk, in front, by the sickly
light of a smoke-grimed kerosene lantern, announced that the place was
Dark as it was, the man at the window could see the river. The
trees that lined the bank opposite the town were mere ghostly shadows
against the gloomy masses of the low hills that rose from the water's
edge, indistinct, mysterious, and unreal, into the threatening sky.
The higher mountains that reared their crests beyond the hills were
invisible. The stream itself swept sullenly through the night,--a
resistless flood of dismal power, as if, turbid with wrecked souls,
with the lost hopes and ruined dreams of men, it was fit only to bear
vessels freighted with sorrow, misfortune, and despair.
The manner of the man at the window was as if some woeful spirit of
the melancholy scene were calling him. With head bowed, and face
turned a little to one side, he listened intently as one listens to
voices that are muffled and indistinct. He pressed his face close to
the glass, and with straining eyes tried to see more clearly the
ghostly trees, the sombre hills, and the gloomy river. Three times
he turned from the window to pace to and fro in the darkened room,
and every time his steps brought him again to the casement, as if in
obedience to some insistent voice that summoned him. The fourth time,
he turned from the window more quickly, with a gesture of assenting
The crackling snap of a match broke the dead stillness. The sudden
flare of light stabbed the darkness. As he applied the tiny,
wavering flame to the wick of a lamp that stood on the cheap, old-
fashioned bureau, the man's hand shook until the chimney rattled
against the wire standards of the burner. Turning quickly from the
lighted lamp, the man sprang again to the window to jerk down the
tattered, old shade. Facing about, he stood with his back to the
wall, searching the room with wide, fearful eyes. His fists were
clenched. His chest rose and fell heavily with his labored
breathing. His face worked with emotion. With trembling limbs and
twitching muscles, he crouched like some desperate creature at bay.
But, save for the wretched man himself, there was in that shabby,
dingy-papered, dirty-carpeted, poorly furnished apartment no living
Suddenly, the man laughed;--and it was the reckless, despairing
laughter of a soul that feels itself slipping over the brink of an
With hurried step and outstretched hands, he crossed the room to
snatch a bottle of whisky from its place beside the lamp on the
bureau. With trembling eagerness, he poured a water tumbler half-
full of the red liquor. As one dying of thirst, he drank. Drawing a
deep breath, and shaking his head with a wry smile, he spoke in hoarse
confidence to the image of himself in the dingy mirror: "They nearly
had me, that time." Again, he poured, and drank.
The whisky steadied him for the moment, and with bottle and glass
still in hand, he regarded himself in the mirror with critical
Had he stood erect, with the vigor that should have been his by
right of his years, the man would have measured just short of six
feet; but his shoulders--naturally well set--sagged with the
weariness of excessive physical indulgence; while the sunken chest,
the emaciated limbs, and the dejected posture of his misused body
made him in appearance, at least, a wretched weakling. His
clothing--of good material and well tailored--was disgustingly soiled
and neglected;--the shoes thickly coated with dried mud, and the
once-white shirt, slovenly unfastened at the throat, without collar or
tie. The face which looked back from the mirror to the man was,
without question, the countenance of a gentleman; but the broad
forehead under the unkempt red-brown hair was furrowed with anxiety;
the unshaven cheeks were lined and sunken; the finely shaped,
sensitive mouth drooped with nervous weakness; and the blue,
well-placed eyes were bloodshot and glittering with the light of
The poor creature looked at the hideous image of his ruined self as
if fascinated with the horror of that which had been somehow wrought.
Slowly, as one in a trance, he went closer, and, without moving his
gaze from the mirror, placed the bottle and tumbler upon the bureau.
As if compelled by those burning eyes that stared so fixedly at him,
he leaned forward still closer to the glass. Then, as he looked, the
distorted features twitched and worked grotesquely with uncontrollable
emotions, while the quivering lips formed words that were not even
whispered. With trembling fingers he felt the unshaven cheeks and
touched the unkempt hair questioningly. Suddenly, as if to shut out
the horror of that which he saw in the mirror, the man hid his face in
his hands, and with a sobbing, inarticulate cry sank to the floor.
Silently, with pitiless force, the river swept onward through the
night, following its ordained way to the mighty sea.
As if summoned again by some dark spirit that brooded over the
sombre, rushing flood, the man rose heavily to his feet. His face
turned once more toward the window. A moment he stood there,
listening, listening; then wheeling back to the whisky bottle and the
glass on the bureau, he quickly poured, and drank again.
Nodding his head in the manner of one reaching a conclusion, he
looked slowly about the room, while a frightful grin of hopeless,
despairing triumph twisted his features, and his lips moved as if he
breathed reckless defiance to an invisible ghostly company.
Moving, now, with a decision and purpose that suggested a native
strength of character, the man quickly packed a suit-case with
various articles of clothing from the bureau drawers and the closet.
He was in the act of closing the suit-case when he stopped suddenly,
and, with a shrug of his shoulders, turned away. Then, as if struck
by another thought, he stooped again over his baggage, and drew forth
a fresh, untouched bottle of whisky.
"I guess you are the only baggage I'll need where I am going," he
said, whimsically; and, leaving the open suit-case where it lay, he
crossed the room, and extinguished the light. Cautiously, he
unlocked and opened the door. For a moment, he stood listening.
Then, with the bottle hidden under his coat, he stole softly from the
A few minutes later, the man stood out there in the night, on the
bank of the river. Behind him the outlines of the scattered houses
that made the little town were lost against the dusk of the hillside.
From the ghostly tree-shadows that marked the opposite bank, the
solemn hills rose out of the deeper darkness of the lowlands that
edged the stream in sombre mystery. There was no break in the heavy
clouds to permit the gleam of a friendly star. There was no sound save
the soft swish of the water against the bank where he stood, the
chirping of a bird in the near-by willows, and the occasional splash
of a leaping fish or water animal. But to the man there was a feeling
of sound. To the lonely human wreck standing there in the darkness,
the river called--called with fearful, insistent power.
From under the black wall of the night the dreadful flood swept out
of the Somewhere of its beginning. Past the man the river poured its
mighty strength with resistless, smoothly flowing, terrible force.
Into the darkness it swept on its awful way to the Nowhere of its
ending. For uncounted ages, the river had poured itself thus between
those walls of hills. For untold ages to come, until the end of time
itself, the stream would continue to pour its strength past that spot
where the man stood.
Out of the night, the voice of the river had called to the man, as
he stood at the window of his darkened room. And the man had come,
now, to answer the call. Cautiously, he went down the bank toward
the edge of the dark, swirling water. His purpose was unmistakable.
Nor was there any hint of faltering, now, in his manner. He had
reached his decision. He knew what he had come to do.
The man's feet were feeling the mud at the margin of the stream
when his legs touched something, and a low, rattling sound startled
him. Then he remembered. A skiff was moored there, and he had
brushed against the chain that led from the bow of the boat to the
stump of a willow higher up on the bank. The man had seen the
skiff,--a rude, flat-bottomed little craft, known to the Ozark
natives as a John-boat,--just before sunset that evening. But there
had been no boat in his thoughts when he had come to answer the call
of the river, and in the preoccupation of his mind, as he stood there
in the night beside the stream, he had not noticed it, as it lay so
nearly invisible in the darkness. Mechanically, he stooped to feel
the chain with his free hand. A moment later, he had placed his
bottle of whisky carefully in the boat, and was loosing the chain
painter from the willow stump.
"Why not?" he said to himself. "It will be easier in midstream,--
and more certain."
Carefully, so that no sound should break the stillness, he stowed
the chain in the bow, and then worked the skiff around until it
pointed out into the stream. Then, with his hands grasping the sides
of the little craft, and the weight of his body on one knee in the
stern, he pushed vigorously with his free foot against the bank and so
was carried well out from the shore. As the boat lost its momentum,
the strong current caught it and whirled it away down the river.
Groping in the darkness, the man found his bottle of whisky, and
working the cork out with his pocketknife, drank long and deep.
Already, save for a single light, the town was lost in the night.
As the man watched that red spot on the black wall, the stream swung
his drifting boat around a bend, and the light vanished. The dreadful
mystery of the river drew close. The world of men was far, very far
away. Centuries ago, the man had faced himself in the mirror, and had
obeyed the voice that summoned him into the darkness. In fancy, now,
he saw his empty boat swept on and on. Through what varied scenes
would it drift? To what port would the mysterious will of the river
carry it? To what end would it at last come in its helplessness?
And the man himself,--the human soul-craft,--what of him? As he
had pushed his material boat out into the stream to drift, unguided
and helpless, so, presently, he would push himself out from the shore
of all that men call life. Through what scenes would he drift? To
what port would the will of an awful invisible stream carry him? To
what end would he finally come, in his helplessness?
Again the man drank--and again.
And then, with face upturned to the leaden clouds, he laughed
aloud--laughed until the ghostly shores gave back his laughter, and
the voices of the night were hushed and still.
The laughter ended with a wild, reckless, defiant yell.
Springing to his feet in the drifting boat, the man shook his
clenched fist at the darkness, and with insane fury cursed the life
he had left behind.
The current whirled the boat around, and the man faced down the
stream. He laughed again; and, lifting his bottle high, uttered a
reckless, profane toast to the unknown toward which he was being
carried by the river in the night.
CHAPTER III. A MISSING LETTER.
Auntie Sue's little log house by the river was placed some five
hundred yards back from the stream, on a bench of land at the foot of
Schoolhouse Hill. From this bench, the ground slopes gently to the
river-bank, which, at this point, is sheer and high enough to be well
above the water at flood periods. The road, winding down the hill,
turns to the right at the foot of the steep grade, and leads away up
the river; and between the road and the river, on the up-stream side
of the house, was the garden.
At the lower corner of the garden, farthest from the house, the
strong current had cut a deep inward curve in the high shore-line,
forming thus an eddy, which was margined on one side, at a normal
stage of water, by a narrow shelf of land between the water's edge
and the foot of the main bank. A flight of rude steps led down from
the garden above to this natural landing, which, for three miles up
and down the river, was the only point, on Auntie Sue's side of the
stream, where one could go ashore from a skiff.
From the porch of the house, one, facing up the river, looked over
the gently sloping garden, over the eddy lying under the high bank,
and away over a beautiful reach of water known as The Bend,--a wide,
sweeping curve which, a mile distant, is lost behind a wooded bluff
where, at times, during the vacation or hunting season, one might see
the smoke from the stone chimney of a clubhouse which was built and
used by people who lived in the big, noisy city many miles from the
peaceful Ozark scene. From the shore of The Bend, opposite and above
Auntie Sue's place, beyond the willows that fringe the water's edge,
the low bottom-lands extend back three- quarters of a mile to the foot
of a heavily timbered ridge, beyond which rise the higher hills. But
directly across from Auntie Sue's house, this ridge curves sharply
toward the stream; while less than a quarter of a mile below, a mighty
mountain-arm is thrust out from a shoulder of Schoolhouse Hill, as if
to bar the river's way. The high bluff thus formed is known to the
natives throughout all that region as Elbow Rock.
The quiet waters of The Bend move so gently on their broad course
that from the porch, looking up the stream, the eye could scarcely
mark the current. But in front of the little log house, where the
restraining banks of the river draw closer together, the lazy current
awakens to quickening movement. Looking down the stream, one could
see the waters leaving the broad and quiet reaches of The Bend above
and rushing away with fast increasing speed between the narrowing
banks until, in all their vicious might, they dashed full against the
Elbow Rock cliff, where, boiling and tossing in mad fury, they roared
away at a right angle and so around the point and on to another quiet
stretch below. And many were the tales of stirring adventure and
tragic accident at this dangerous point of the river's journey to the
far-away sea. Skilled rivermen, by holding their John-boats and
canoes close to the far shore, might run the rapids with safety. But
no boat, once caught in the vicious grip of the main current between
the comparatively still waters of The Bend and that wild, roaring
tumult at Elbow Rock, had ever survived.
It was nearing the close of a late summer day, and Auntie Sue, as
was her custom, stood on the porch watching the sunset. In the vast
field of sky that arched above the softly rounded hills there was not
a cloud. No wind stirred the leaves of the far-reaching forests, or
marred the bright waters of the quiet Bend that mirrored back the
green, tree-fringed banks and blue-shadowed mountains. Faintly,
through the hush, from beyond the bottom-lands on the other side of
the stream, came the long-drawn "Wh-o-e-e! Wh-o-e-e!" of farmer
Jackson calling his hogs. From the hillside, back of the house,
sounded the deep, mellow tones of a cowbell, telling Auntie Sue that
neighbor Tom's cattle were going home from their woodland pastures. A
company of crows crossed the river on leisure wing, toward some
evening rendezvous. A waterfowl flapped slowly up the stream. And
here and there the swallows wheeled in graceful circles above the
gleaming Bend, or dipped, flashlike, to break the silvery surface. As
the blue of the mountains deepened to purple, and the rosy light from
below the western hills flushed the sky, the silver sheen of the quiet
water changed with the changing tints above, and the shadows of the
trees along the bank deepened until the shore-line was lost in the
dusk of the coming night.
And even as the river gave back the light of the sky and the color
of the mountains, so the gentle face of the gray-haired woman, who
watched with such loving reverence, reflected the beauty of the
scene. The peace and quiet of the evening of her life was as the
still loveliness of that twilight hour.
And, yet, there was a suggestion of pathos in the loneliness of the
slender figure standing there. Now and again, she clasped her
delicate hands to her breast as if moved by emotions of a too-
poignant sweetness, while in her eyes shone the soft light of fondest
memories and dearest dreams. Several times she turned her head to
look about, as if wishing for some one to share with her the beauty
that moved her so. At last, she called; and her voice, low and
pure-toned, had in it the quality that was in the light of her eyes.
"Judy! Judy, dear! Do come and see this wonderful, wonderful sky!"
From within the house, a shrill, querulous, drawling voice, so
characteristic of the Southern "poor-white" mountaineer, answered:
A quick little smile deepened the crows'-feet at the corners of
Auntie Sue's eyes, as she called again with gentle patience: "Do
come and see the sunset, Judy, dear! It is so beautiful!" And, this
time, in answer, Judy appeared in the doorway.
From appearances, the poor creature's age might have been anywhere
from fifteen to thirty-five; for the twisted and misshapen body,
angular and hard; the scrawny, wry neck; the old-young face, thin and
sallow, with furtive, beady-black eyes, gave no hint of her years. As
a matter of fact, I happened to know that Judith Taylor, daughter of
the notorious Ozark moonshiner, Jap Taylor, was just past twenty the
year she went to live with Auntie Sue.
Looking obliquely at the old gentlewoman, with a curious expression
of mingled defiance, suspicion, and affection on her almost vicious
face, Judy drawled, "Was you-all a-yellin' for me?"
"Yes, Judy; I want you to help me watch the sunset," Auntie Sue
answered, with bright animation; and, turning, she pointed toward the
Judy's sly, evasive eyes did not cease to regard the illumined face
of her old companion as she returned, in her dry, high-pitched
monotone: "I don't reckon as how you-all are a-needin' much help,
seein' as how you are allus a-watchin' hit. A body'd think you-all
was mighty nigh old 'nough, by now, ter look at hit alone."
Auntie Sue laughed, a low, musical, chuckling laugh, and, with a
hint of loving impatience in her gentle voice, replied to Judy's
observation: "But, don't you understand, child? It adds so to one's
happiness to share lovely scenes like this. It makes it all so
much--so much--well,--BIGGER, to have some one enjoy it with you.
Come, dear!" And she held out her hand with a gesture of entreaty,
and a look of yearning upon her dear old face that no human being
could have withstood.
Judy, still slyly watchful, went cautiously nearer; and Auntie Sue,
putting an arm lovingly about the crooked shoulders of the mountain
girl, pointed again toward the west as she said, in a low voice that
vibrated with emotion, "Look, Judy! Look!"
The black eyes shifted, and the old-young, expressionless face
turned toward the landscape, which lay before them in all its
wondrous beauty of glowing sky and tinted mountain and gleaming
river. And there might have been a faint touch of softness, now, in
the querulous monotone as Judy said: "I can't see as how hit could be
ary bigger. Hain't ary reason, as I kin see, why hit should be ary
bigger if hit could. Lord knows there's 'nough of hit as 't is; rough
'nough, too, as you-all 'd sure know if you-all had ter trapse over
them there hills all yer life like I've had ter."
"But, isn't it wonderful to-night, Judy? It seems to me I have
never seen it so perfect."
"Hit's just like hit's allus been, so far as I kin see, 'ceptin'
that the river's higher in the spring an' more muddier," returned the
mountain girl. "I was borned over there on yon side that there
flat-topped mountain, nigh the mouth of Red Creek. I growed up on
the river, mostly;--learned ter swim an' paddle er John-boat 'fore I
kin remember. Red Creek, hit heads over there behind that there long
ridge, in Injin Holler. There's a still--"
She checked herself suddenly, and shot a fearful sidewise look at
Auntie Sue; then turned and pointed in the opposite direction with a
pretense of excited interest. "Look down there, ma'm! See how black
the old river is where she smashes inter Elbow Rock, an' how white
them waves be where the water biles an' throws hitself. Hit'd sure git
you if you was ter git ketched in there with er John-boat, wouldn't
hit? Listen, ma'm! You kin hear hit a-roarin' like hit was mad,
But the older woman turned to face, again, the quiet reaches of The
"I think I like The Bend best, though, Judy. See how perfectly
those trees and hills are mirrored in the river; and how the water
holds the color of the sky. Don't you think God is good to make the
world so beautiful for us, child?"
"'Beautiful'!" cried poor, deformed Judy, in a voice that shrilled
in vicious protest. "If there is a God, like you-all are allus a-
talkin' 'bout, an' if He sure 'nough made them things, like you-all
sees 'em, He sure hain't toted fair with me."
"Hush, Judy!" pleaded Auntie Sue. "Please don't, child!"
But the mountain girl rebelliously continued: "Look at me! Just
look at me! If that there God of your'n is so all-fired good, what
did He go an' let my pap git drunk for, an' beat me like he done when
I was a baby, an' make me grow up all crooked like what I be? 'Good'?
Hell! A dad burned ornery kind of a God I call Him!"
For some time, Auntie Sue did not speak, but stood with her face
upturned to the sky. Then the low, gentle voice again broke the
silence: "See, Judy, dear; the light is almost gone now, and there
is not a cloud anywhere. Yesterday evening, you remember, we could
not see the sunset at all, the clouds were so heavy and solid. The
moon will be lovely to-night. I think I shall wait for it."
"You-all best set down then," said Judy, speaking again in her
querulous, drawling monotone. "I'll fetch a chair." She brought a
comfortable rustic rocking-chair from the farther end of the porch;
then disappeared into the house, to return a moment later with a
heavy shawl. "Hit'll be a-turnin' cold directly, now the sun's plumb
down," she said, "an' you-all mustn't get to chillin', nohow."
Auntie Sue thanked her with gentle courtesy, and, reaching up,
caught the girl's hand as Judy was awkwardly arranging the wrap about
the thin old shoulders. "Won't you bring a chair for yourself, and
sit with me awhile, dear?" As she spoke, Auntie Sue patted the hard,
bony hand caressingly.
But Judy pulled her hand away roughly, saying: "You-all ain't got
no call ter do sich as that ter me. I'll set awhile with you but I
ain't a-needin' no chair." And with that, she seated herself on the
floor, her back against the wall of the house.
The last of the evening was gone from the sky, now. The soft
darkness of a clear, star-light night lay over the land. A gentle
breeze stole over the mountains, rustled softly through the forest,
and, drifting across the river, touched Auntie Sue's silvery hair.
Judy was first to break the silence: "I took notice neighbor Tom
brung you-all a right smart bunch of letter mail this evenin'," she
There was a troubled note in Auntie Sue's gentle voice as she
returned, "The letter from the bank did not come, Judy."
"No; and, Judy, it is nearly four weeks, now, since I sent them
that money. I can't understand it."
"I was plumb scared at the time, you oughten ter sent hit just in
er letter that a-way. Hit sure looked like a heap of money ter be
a-trustin' them there ornery post-office fellers with, even if hit
was funny, new-fangled money like that there was. Why, ma'm, you
take old Tod Stimson, down at the Ferry, now, an' that old devil'd
steal anythin' what warn't too much trouble for him ter lift."
"Argentine notes the money was, Judy. I felt sure that it would be
all right because, you know, Brother John sent it just in a letter
all the way from Buenos Aires. And, you remember, I folded it up in
extra heavy paper, and put it in two envelopes, one over the other,
and mailed it at Thompsonville with my own hands."
"Hit sure looks like hit ought ter be safe er nough, so long as hit
warn't mailed at the Ferry where old Stimson could git his hands on
hit," agreed Judy.
Then, after a silence of several minutes, she added, in a more
reassuring voice: "I reckon as how hit'll be all right, ma'm. I
wouldn't worry myself, if I was you. That there bank-place, like as
not, gits er right smart lot of letters, an' hit stands ter reason the
feller just naturally can't write back ter ev'rybody at once."
"Of course," agreed Auntie Sue. "It is just some delay in their
acknowledgment, that is all. Perhaps they are waiting to find out if
the notes are genuine; or it may be that their letter to me went
astray, and will have to be returned to them, and then remailed all
over again. I feel sure I shall hear from them in a few days."
So they talked until the moon appeared from behind the dark
mountains that, against her light, were silhouetted on the sky. And,
as the old gentlewoman watched the queen of the night rising higher
and higher on her royal course, and saw the dusky landscape
transformed to a fairy-scene of ethereal loveliness, Auntie Sue
forgot the letter that had not come.
With the enthusiasm that never failed her, the silvery-haired
teacher tried to give the backwoods girl a little of her wealth of
vision. But though they looked at the same landscape, the eyes of
twenty could not see that which was so clear to the eyes of seventy.
Poor Judy! The river, sweeping on its winding way through the hills,
from the springs of its far-away beginnings to the ocean of its final
endeavor,--in all its varied moods and changes,--in all its beauty and
its irresistible power,--the river could never mean to Judy what it
meant to Auntie Sue.
"Hit sure is er fine night for to go 'possum huntin'," said the
girl, at last, getting to her feet and standing in her twisted
attitude, with her wry neck holding her head to one side. "Them
there Jackson boys'll sure be out."
Auntie Sue laughed her low chuckling laugh.
From the edge of the timber that borders the fields of the bottom-
lands across the river, came the baying of hounds. "There they be
now," said Judy. "Hear 'em? The Billingses, 'cross from the
clubhouse, 'll be out, too, I reckon. When hit's moonlight, they're
allus a-huntin' 'possum an' 'coon. When hit's dark, they're out on
the river a-giggin' for fish. Well, I reckon I'll be a-goin' in, now,
ma'm," she concluded, with a yawn. "Ain't no use in a body stayin' up
when there ain't nothin' ter do but ter sleep, as I kin see."
With an awkward return to Auntie Sue's "Goodnight and sweet dreams,
dear," the mountain girl went into the house.
For an hour longer, the old gentlewoman sat on the porch of her
little log house by the river, looking out over the moonlit scene.
Nor did she now, as when she had watched the sunset, crave human
companionship. In spirit, she was far from all earthly needs or
cares,--where no troubled thoughts could disturb her serene peace and
her dearest dreams were real.
The missing letter was forgotten.
CHAPTER IV. THE WILL OF THE RIVER.
Had Auntie Sue remained a few minutes longer on the porch, that
evening, she might have seen an object drifting down the river, in
the gentle current of The Bend.
Swinging easily around the curve above the clubhouse, it would not
have been visible at first, because of the deep shadows of the
reflected trees and mountains. But, presently, as it drifted on into
the broader waters of The Bend, it emerged from the shadows into the
open moonlit space, and then, to any one watching from the porch, the
dark object, drawing nearer and nearer in the bright moonlight, would
have soon shaped itself into a boat--an empty boat, the watcher would
have said, that had broken from its moorings somewhere up the
river;--and the watcher would have heard, through the still, night
air, the dull, heavy roar of the mad waters at Elbow Rock.
Drifting thus, helpless in the grip of the main current, the little
craft apparently was doomed to certain destruction. Gently, it would
float on the easy surface of the quiet, moonlit Bend. In front of the
house, it would move faster and faster. Where the river narrows, it
would be caught as if by mighty hands hidden beneath the rushing
flood, and dragged onward still faster and faster. About it, the
racing waters would leap and boil in their furious, headlong career,
shaking and tossing the helpless victim of their might with a vicious
strength from which there would be no escape, until, in the climax of
the river's madness, the object of its angry sport would be dashed
against the cliff, and torn, and crushed, and hammered by the terrific
weight of the rushing flood against that rocky anvil, into a battered
and shapeless wreck.
The drifting boat drew nearer and nearer. It reached the point
where the curve of the opposite bank draws in to form the narrow
raceway of the rapids. It began to feel the stronger pull of those
hidden hands that had carried it so easily down The Bend. And
then--and then--the unguided, helpless craft responded to the gentle
pressure of some swirl or crosscurrent in the main flow of the stream,
and swung a little to one side. A few feet farther, and the new
impulse became stronger. Yielding easily to the current that drew it
so gently across the invisible dividing-line between safety and
destruction, the boat swung in toward the shore. A minute more, and it
had drifted into that encircling curve of the bank where the current
of the eddy carried it around and around.
The boat seemed undecided. Would it hold to the harbor of safety
into which it had been drawn by the friendly current? Would it swing
out, again, into the main stream, and so to its own destruction?
Three times the bow, pointing out from the eddy, crossed the
danger-line, and, for a moment, hung on the very edge. Three times,
the invisible hands which held it drew it gently back to safety. And
so, finally, the little craft, so helpless, so alone, amid the many
currents of the great river, came to rest against the narrow shelf of
land at the foot of the bank below Auntie Sue's garden.
The light in the window of Auntie Sue's room went out. The soft
moonlight flooded mountain and valley and stream. The mad waters at
Elbow Rock roared in their wild fury. Always, always,-- irresistibly,
inevitably, unceasingly,--the river poured its strength toward the
CHAPTER V. AUNTIE SUE RECOGNIZES A GENTLEMAN.
Before the sun was high enough to look over Schoolhouse Hill, the
next morning, Judy went into the garden to dig some potatoes.
Tom Warden's boys would come, some day before long, and dig them
all, and put them away in the cellar for the winter. But there was
no need to hurry the gathering of the full crop, so the boys would
come when it was most convenient; and, in the meantime, Judy would
continue to dig from day to day all that were needed for the kitchen
in the little log house by the river. In spite of her poor crooked
body, the mountain girl was strong and well used to hard work, so the
light task was, for her, no hardship at all.
As one will when first coming out of doors in the morning, Judy
paused a moment to look about. The sky, so clear and bright the
evening before, was now a luminous gray. The mountains were lost in
a ghostly world of fog, through which the river moved in stealthy
silence,--a dull thing of mystery, with only here and there a touch of
silvery light upon its clouded surface. The cottonwoods and willows,
on the opposite shore, were mere dreams of trees,--gray, formless, and
weird. The air was filled with the dank earth-smell. The heavy
thundering roar of the never-ending war of the waters at Elbow Rock
came louder and more menacing, but strangely unreal, as if the mist
itself were filled with threatening sound.
But to Judy, the morning was only the beginning of another day;--
she looked, but did not see. To her, the many ever-changing moods of
Nature were without meaning. With her basket in hand, she went down
to the lower end of the garden, where she had dug potatoes the time
before, and where she had left the fork sticking upright in the
A few minutes served to fill the basket; but, before starting back
to the house, the mountain girl paused again to look out over the
river. Perhaps it was some vague memory of Auntie Sue's talk, the
night before, that prompted her; perhaps it was some instinct,
indefinite and obscure;--whatever it was that influenced her, Judy
left her basket, and went to the brink of the high bank above the
eddy for a closer view of the water.
The next instant, with the quick movement of an untamed creature of
her native mountain forests, the girl sprang back, and crouched close
to the ground to hide from something she had seen at the foot of the
bank. Every movement of her twisted body expressed amazement and
fear. Her eyes were wild and excited. She looked carefully about, as
if for dangers that might be hidden in the fog. Once, she opened her
mouth as if to call. Half-rising, she started as if to run to the
house. But, presently, curiosity apparently overruled her fear, and,
throwing herself flat on the ground she wormed her way back to the
brink of the river-bank. Cautiously, without making a sound, she
peered through the tall grass and weeds that fringed the rim above the
The boat, which some kindly impulse of the river had drawn so
gently aside from the stronger current that would have carried it
down the rapids to the certain destruction waiting at Elbow Rock,
still rested with its bow grounded on the shore, against which the
eddying water had pushed it. But the thing that had so startled Judy
was a man who was lying, apparently unconscious, on the wet and muddy
bottom-boards of the little craft.
Breathlessly, the girl, looking down from the top of the bank,
watched for some movement; but the dirty huddled heap of wretched
humanity was so still that she could not guess whether it was living
or dead. Fearfully, she noted that there were no oars in the boat,
nor gun, nor fishing-tackle of any sort. The man's hat was missing.
His clothing was muddy and disarranged. His position was such that
she could not see the face.
Drawing back, Judy looked cautiously about; then, picking up a
heavy clod of dirt from the ploughed edge of the garden, and
crouching again at the brink of the bank, ready for instant flight,
she threw the clod into the water near the boat. The still form in
the boat made no movement following the splash. Selecting a smaller
clod, the girl threw the bit of dirt into the stern of the boat
itself, where it broke in fragments. And, at this, the figure moved
"Hit's alive, all right," commented Judy to herself, with a grin of
satisfaction, at the result of her investigation. "But hit's sure
time he was a-gittin' up."
Carefully selecting a still smaller bit of dirt, she deliberately
tossed it at the figure itself. Her aim was true, and the clod
struck the man on the shoulder, with the result that he stirred
uneasily, and, muttering something which Judy could not hear, half-
turned on his back so that the girl saw the haggard, unshaven face.
She saw, too, that, in one hand, the man clutched an empty whisky
At sight of the bottle, the mountain girl rose to her feet with an
understanding laugh. "Hell!" she said aloud; "drunk,--that's all--
dead drunk. I'll sure fetch him out of hit." And then, grinning
with malicious delight, she proceeded to pelt the man in the boat
with clods of dirt until he scrambled to a sitting posture, and
looked up in bewildered confusion.
"If you please," he said, in a hoarse voice, to the sallow, old-
young face that grinned down at him from the top of the bank, "which
one of the Devil's imps are you?"
As she looked into that upturned face, Judy's grin vanished. "I
sure 'lowed as how you-all was dead," she explained.
"Well," returned the man in the boat, wearily, "I can assure you
that it's not in the least my fault if I disappoint you. I feel as
bad about it as you do. However, I don't think I am so much alive
that it makes any material difference." He lifted the whisky bottle,
and studied it thoughtfully.
"You-all come dad burned near not bein' ary bit alive," returned
"Yes?" said the man, inquiringly.
"Yep; you sure did come mighty nigh hit. If your old John-boat had
a-carried you-all on down ter Elbow Rock, 'stead of bein' ketched in
the eddy here, you-all would sure 'nough been a-talkin' to the Devil
The man, looking out over the river into the fog, muttered to
himself, "I can't even make a success of dying, it seems."
Again, he regarded the empty bottle in his hand with studied
interest. Then, tossing the bottle into the river, he looked up,
once more, to the girl on the bank above.
"Listen, sister!" he said, nervously. "Is there any place around
here where I can buy a drink? I need something rather badly. Where
am I, anyway?"
"You-all are at Auntie Sue's place," said Judy; "an' there sure
ain't no chance for you-all ter git ary licker here. Where'd you-
all come from, anyhow? How'd you-all git here 'thout no oars ner
paddle ner nothin'? Where was you-all aimin' ter go?"
"Your questions, my good girl, are immaterial and irrelevant,"
returned the man in the boat. "The all-important matter before us
for consideration is,--how can I get a drink? I MUST have a drink, I
tell you!" He held up his hands, and they were shaking as if with
palsy. "And I must have it damned quick!"
"You-all sure do talk some powerful big words," said Judy, with
critical interest. "You-all sure must be some eddecated. Auntie
Sue, now, she talks--"
The man interrupted her: "Who is 'Auntie Sue'?"
"I don't know," Judy returned; "she's just Auntie Sue--that's all I
know. She sure is--"
Again the man interrupted: "I think it would be well for me to
interview this worthy aunt of yours." And then, while he raised
himself, unsteadily, to his feet, he continued, in a muttering
undertone: "You don't seem to appreciate the situation. If I don't
get some sort of liquor soon, things are bound to happen."
He attempted to step from the boat to the shore; but the
instability of the light, flat-bottomed skiff, together with his own
unsteady weakness, combined to land him half in the water and half on
the muddy bank where he struggled helplessly, and, in his weakened
condition, would have slipped wholly into the river had not Judy
rushed down the rude steps to his assistance.
With a strength surprising in one of her apparent weakness, the
mountain girl caught the stranger under his shoulders and literally
dragged him from the water. When she had further helped him to his
feet, Judy surveyed the wretched object of her beneficence with
amused and curious interest.
The man, with his unkempt hair, unshaven, haggard face, bloodshot
eyes, and slovenly dishevelled dress, had appeared repulsive enough
while in the boat; but, now, as he stood dripping with water and
covered with mud, there was a touch of the ridiculous in his
appearance that brought a grin to the unlovely face of his rescuer,
and caused her to exclaim with unnecessary frankness: "I'll be dad
burned if you-all ain't a thing ter look at, mister!"
As the poor creature, who was shaking as if with the ague, regarded
the twisted form, the wry neck, and the sallow, old-young face of the
girl, who was laughing at him, a gleam of sardonic humor flashed in
his bloodshot eyes. "Thanks," he said, huskily; "you are something of
a vision yourself, aren't you?"
The laughter went from Judy's face as she caught the meaning of the
cruel words. "I ain't never laid no claim ter bein' a beauty," she
retorted in her shrill, drawling monotone. "But, I kin tell you- all
one thing, mister: Hit was God-A'mighty Hisself an' my drunken pap
what made me ter look like I do. While you,--damn you!--you- all just
naturally made yourself what you be."
At the mountain girl's illiterate words, so pregnant with meaning,
a remarkable change came over the face and manner of the man. His
voice, even, for the moment, lost its huskiness, and vibrated with
sincere feeling as he steadied himself; and, bowing with courteous
deference, said: "I beg your pardon, miss. That was unkind. You
really should have left me to the river."
"You-all would a-drownded, sure, if I had," she retorted, somewhat
mollified by the effect of her observation.
"Which," he returned, "would have been so beautifully right and
fitting that it evidently could not be." And with this cynical
remark, his momentary bearing of self-respect was gone.
"Are you-all a-meanin' ter say that you-all was a-wantin' ter
"Something like that," he returned. And then, with a hint of
ugliness in his voice and eyes, he rasped: "But, look here, girl! do
you think I'm going to stand like this all day indulging in idle
conversation with you? Where is this aunt of yours? Can't you see
that I've got to have a drink?"
He started uncertainly toward the steps that led to the top of the
bank, and Judy, holding him by his arm, helped him to climb the steep
way. A part of the ascent he made on hands and knees. Several times
he would have fallen except for the girl's support. But, at last, they
gained the top, and stood in the garden.
"That there is the house," said Judy, pointing. "But I don't
reckon as how you-all kin git ary licker there."
The wretched man made no reply; but, with Judy still supporting
him, stumbled forward across the rows of vegetables.
The two had nearly reached the steps at the end of the porch when
Auntie Sue came from the house to see why Judy did not return with
the potatoes. The dear old lady paused a moment, startled at the
presence of the unprepossessing stranger in her garden. Then, with
an exclamation of pity, she hurried to meet them.
The man, whose gaze as he shambled along was fixed on the ground,
did not notice Auntie Sue until, feeling Judy stop, he also paused,
and raising his head looked full at the beautiful old lady.
"Why, Judy!" cried Auntie Sue, her low, sweet voice filled with
gentle concern. "What in the world has happened?"
With an expression of questioning bewilderment and rebuke on his
haggard face, the man also turned to the mountain girl beside him.
"I found him in er John-boat what done come ashore last night, down
there in the eddy," Judy explained to Auntie Sue. To the man, she
said: "This here is Auntie Sue, mister; but, I don't reckon as how
she's got ary licker for you."
"'Liquor'?" questioned Auntie Sue. "What in the world do you mean,
child?" Then quickly to the stranger;--"My dear man, you are
wringing wet. You must have been in the river. Come, come right in,
and let us do something for you." As she spoke, she went toward him
with outstretched hands.
But the wretched creature shrank back from her, as if in fear;--his
whole body shaking with emotion; his fluttering hands raised in a
gesture of imploring protest;--while the eyes that looked up at the
saintly countenance of the old gentlewoman were the eyes of a soul
sunken in the deepest hell of shame and humiliation.
Shocked with pitying horror, Auntie Sue paused.
The man's haggard, unshaven face twitched and worked with the pain
of his suffering. He bit his lips and fingered his quivering chin in
a vain effort at self-control; and then, as he looked up at her, the
sunken, bloodshot eyes filled with tears that the tormented spirit had
no power to check.
And Auntie Sue turned her face away.
For a little, they stood so. Then, as Auntie Sue faced him again,
the stranger, with a supreme effort of his will, gained a momentary
control of his shattered nerves. Drawing himself erect and standing
steady and tall before her, he raised a hand to his uncovered head as
if to remove his hat. When his hand found no hat to remove, he smiled
as if at some jest at his own expense.
"I am so sorry, madam," he said,--and his voice was musically clear
and cultured. "Please pardon me for disturbing you? I did not know.
This young woman should have explained. You see, when she spoke of
'Auntie Sue,' I assumed, of course,--I mean,--I expected to find a
native woman who would--" He paused, smiling again, as if to assure
her that he fully appreciated the humor of his ridiculous predicament.
"But, my dear sir," cried Auntie Sue, eagerly, "there is nothing to
pardon. Please do come into the house and let us help you."
But the stranger drew back, shaking his head sadly. "You do not
understand, madam. It is not that my clothes are unpresentable,-- it
is I, myself, who am unfit to stand in your presence, much less to
enter your house. I thank you, but I must go."
He was turning away, when Auntie Sue reached his side and placed
her gentle old hand lightly on his arm.
"Please, won't you come in, sir? I shall never forgive myself if I
let you go like this."
The man's voice was hoarse and shaking, now, as he answered: "For
God's sake, madam, don't touch me! Let me go! You must! I--I--am
not myself! You might not be safe with me! Ask her--she knows!" He
turned to Judy.
"He's done said hit, ma'm," said Judy, in answer to Auntie Sue's
questioning look. "My pap, he was that way when he done smashed me
up agin the wall, when I was nothin' but a baby, an' hit made me grow
up all crooked an' ugly like what I be now."
With one shamed glance at Auntie Sue, the wretched fellow looked
down at the ground. His head drooped forward. His shoulders sagged.
His whole body seemed to shrink. Turning sadly away, he again
started back toward the river.
"Stop!" Auntie Sue's voice rang out imperiously.
The man halted.
"Look at me," she commanded.
Slowly, he raised his eyes. The gentle old teacher spoke with fine
spirit, now, but kindly still: "This is sheer nonsense, my boy. You
wouldn't hurt me. Why, you couldn't! Of course, you are not
yourself; but, do you think that I do not know a gentleman when I
meet one? Come--" She held out her hand.
A moment he stood, gazing at her in wondering awe. Then his far-
overtaxed strength failed;--his abused nerves refused to bear
more,--and he sank,--a pitiful, cowering heap at her feet. Hiding
his face in his shaking hands, he sobbed like a child.
CHAPTER VI. IN THE LOG HOUSE BY THE RIVER.
Those two women managed, somehow, to get the almost helpless
stranger into the house, where Auntie Sue, after providing him with
nightclothes, left by one of her guests, by tactful entreaty and
judicial commands, persuaded him to go to bed.
Then followed several days and nights of weary watching. There
were times when the man lay with closed eyes, so weak and exhausted
that he seemed to be drifting out from these earthly shores on the
deep waters of that wide and unknown sea into which all the streams
of life finally flow. But, always, Auntie Sue miraculously held him
back. There were other times when, by all the rules of the game, he
should have worn a strait-jacket;--when his delirium filled the room
with all manner of horrid creatures from the pit; when leering devils
and loathsome serpents and gibbering apes tormented him until his
unnatural strength was the strength of a fiend, and his tortured
nerves shrieked in agony. But Auntie Sue perversely ignored the rules
of the game. And never did the man, even in his most terrible
moments, fail to recognize in the midst of the hellish crew of his
diseased imagination the silvery-haired old teacher as the angel of
his salvation. Her gentle voice had always power to soothe and calm
him. He obeyed her implicitly, and, like a frightened child, holding
fast to her hand would beg piteously for her to protect and save him.
But no word of the man's low-muttered, broken sentences, nor of his
wildest ravings, ever gave Auntie Sue a clue to his identity. She
searched his clothes, but there was not a thing to give her even his
And, yet, that first day, when Judy would have gone to neighbor
Tom's for help, Auntie Sue said "No." She even positively forbade
the girl to mention the stranger's presence in the house, should she
chance to talk with passing neighbors. "The river brought him to us,
Judy, dear," she said. "We must save him. No one shall know his
shame, to humiliate and wound his pride and drag him down after he is
himself again. Until he has recovered and is once more the man I
believe him to be, no one must see him or know that he is here; and no
one must ever know how he came to us."
And late, one evening, when Judy was fast asleep, and the man was
lying very still after a period of feverish tossing and muttering,
the dear old gentlewoman crept quietly out of the house into the
night. She was gone some time, and when she returned again to the
stranger's bedside she was breathless and trembling as from some
unusual exertion. And the following afternoon, when Judy came to her
with the announcement that the boat which had brought the man to them
was no longer in the eddy below the garden, Auntie Sue said, simply,
that she was glad it was gone, and cautioned the girl, again, that the
stranger's presence in the house must not be made known to any one.
When the mountain girl protested, saying, "You-all ain't got no
call ter be a-wearin' yourself ter the bone a-takin' care of such as
him," Auntie Sue answered, "Hush, Judy! How do you know what the poor
boy really is?"
To which Judy retorted: "He's just triflin' an' ornery an' no
'count, that's what he is, or he sure wouldn't been a-floatin' 'round
in that there old John-boat 'thout ary gun, or fishin' lines, or hat
even, ter say nothin' of that there whisky bottle bein' plumb empty."
Auntie Sue made no reply to the mountain girl's harsh summing-up of
the damning evidence against the stranger, but left her and went
softly to the bedside of their guest.
It was perhaps an hour later that Judy, quietly entering the room,
happened upon a scene that caused her to stand as if rooted to the
spot in open-mouthed amazement.
The man was sleeping, and the silvery-haired old maiden-lady,
seated on the side of the bed, was bending over the unconscious
stranger and gently stroking his tumbled, red-brown hair, even as a
mother might lovingly caress her sleeping child. And then, as Judy
watched, breathless with wonder, the proud old gentlewoman, bending
closer over that still form on the bed, touched her lips--soft as a
rose-petal--to the stranger's brow.
When she arose and saw Judy standing there, Auntie Sue's delicate
old cheeks flushed with color, and her eyes were shining. With a
gesture, she commanded the girl to silence, and the two tiptoed from
the room. When they were outside, and Auntie Sue had cautiously
closed the door, she faced the speechless Judy with a deliciously
defiant air that could not wholly hide her lovely confusion.
"I--I--was thinking, Judy, how he--how he--might have been--my
"Your 'son'!" ejaculated the girl. "Why, ma'm, you-all ain't never
even been married, as I've ever hearn tell, have you?"
Auntie Sue drew her thin shoulders proudly erect, and, lifting her
fine old face, answered the challenging question with splendid
spirit: "No, I have never been married; but I might have been; and
if I had, I suppose I could have had a son, couldn't I?"
The vanquished Judy retreated to the kitchen, where, in safety, she
sank into a chair, convulsed with laughter, which she instinctively
muffled in her apron.
Then came the day when the man, weak and worn with his struggle,
looked up at his gentle old nurse with the light of sanity in his
deep blue eyes. Very tired eyes they were, and filled with painful
memories,--filled, too, with worshipping gratitude and wonder.
She smiled down at him with delighted triumph, and drawing a chair
close beside the bed, seated herself and placed her soft hand on his
where it lay on the coverlid.
"You are much better, this morning," she said cheerily. "You will
soon be all right, now." And as she looked into the eyes that
regarded hers so questioningly, there was in her face and manner no
hint of doubt, or pretense, or reproach;--only confidence and love.
He spoke slowly, as if feeling for words: "I have been in Hell;
and you--you have brought me out. Why did you do it?"
"Because you are mine," she answered, with her low chuckling laugh.
It was so good to have him able to talk to her rationally after those
long hours of fighting.
"Because I am yours?" he repeated, puzzling over her words.
"Yes," she returned, with a hint of determined proprietorship in
her voice; "because you belong to me. You see, that eddy where your
boat landed is my property, and so anything that drifts down the river
and lodges there belongs to me. Whatever the river brings to me, is
mine. The river brought you, and so--" She finished with another
laugh,--a laugh that was filled with tender mother-yearning.
The blue eyes smiled back at her for a moment; then she saw them
darken with painful memories.
"Oh, yes; the river," he said. "I wanted the river to do something
for me, and--and it did something quite different from what I
"Of course," she returned, eagerly, "the river is always like that.
It always does the thing you don't expect it to do. Just like life
itself. Don't you see? It begins somewhere away off at some little
spring, and just keeps going and going and going; and thousands and
thousands of other springs, scattered all over the country, start
streams and creeks and branches that run into it, and make it bigger
and bigger, as it winds and curves and twists along, until it finally
reaches the great sea, where its waters are united with all the waters
from all the rivers in all the world. And in all of its many, many
miles, from that first tiny spring to the sea, there are not two feet
of it exactly alike. In all the centuries of its being, there are
never two hours alike. An infinite variety of days and nights--an
infinite variety of skies and light and clouds and daybreaks and
sunsets--an infinite number and variety of currents and shoals and
deep places and quiet spots and dangerous rapids and eddies--and,
along its banks, an endless change of hills and mountains and flats
and forests and meadows and farms and cities--and--" She paused,
breathless. And then, when he did not speak, but only watched her,
she continued: "Don't you see? Of course, the river never could be
what you expect, any more than life could be exactly what you want and
dream it will be."
"Who in the world are you?" he asked, wonderingly. "And what in
the world are you doing here in the backwoods?"
Smiling at his puzzled expression, she answered: "I am Auntie Sue.
I am LIVING here in the backwoods."
"But, your real name? Won't you tell me your name? I must know
how to address you."
"Oh, my name is Susan E. Wakefield--MISS Wakefield, if you please.
I shall be seventy-one years old the eighteenth day of next November.
And you must call me 'Auntie Sue,'--just as every one else does."
"Wakefield--Wakefield--where have I seen that name?" He wrinkled
his brow in an effort to remember. "Wakefield--I feel sure that I
have heard it, somewhere."
"It is not unlikely," she returned, lightly. "It is not at all an
uncommon name. And now that I am properly introduced, don't you
He hesitated a moment, then said, deliberately, "My name is Brian
"That is an Irish name," she said quickly; "and that is why your
hair is so nearly red and your eyes so blue."
"Yes," he returned, "from my mother. And please don't ask me more
now, for I can't lie to you, and I won't tell you the truth." And
she saw, again, the dark shadows of painful memories come into the
Bending over the bed, she laid her soft hand on his brow, and
pushed back his heavy hair; and her sweet old voice was very low and
gentle as she said: "My dear boy, I shall never ask you more. The
river brought you to me, and you are mine. You must not even think of
anything else, just now. When you are stronger, and are ready, we
will talk of your future; but of your past, you--"
A loud knock sounded at the door of the living room.
"There is someone at the door," she said hastily. "I must go. Lie
still, and go to sleep like a good boy; won't you?"
Swiftly, she leaned over, and, before he realized, he felt her lips
touch his forehead. Then she was gone, and Brian Kent's Irish eyes
were filled with tears. Turning to the wall, he hid his face in the
CHAPTER VII. OFFICERS OF THE LAW.
As Auntie Sue was closing the door of her guest's room carefully
behind her, Judy came from the kitchen in great excitement, and the
knocking at the front door of the house was repeated.
"Hit's the Sheriff, ma'm," whispered Judy. "I was just a-comin'
ter tell you. I seed 'em from the kitchen-winder. He's got two
other men with him. Their hosses is tied ter the fence in front.
What in hell will we do, now? They are after him in there, sure 's
Auntie Sue's face was white, and her lips trembled,--but only for a
"Go back into the kitchen, Judy, and stay there," she commanded, in
a whisper; and went to open the front door as calmly as if nothing
unusual had happened.
Sheriff Knox was a big man, with a bluff, kindly manner, and a
voice that made nothing of closed doors. He returned Auntie Sue's
greeting heartily, and, with one of his companions,--a quiet,
business-looking gentleman,--accepted her cordial invitation to come
in. The third man of the party remained near the saddle- horses at
"Well, Auntie Sue," said the Sheriff, settling his ponderous bulk
in one of the old lady's rocking-chairs, which certainly was not
built to carry such a weight, "how are you? I haven't seen you in a
coon's age. I'll swear, though, you ain't a minute older than you was
when you first begun teachin' the little Elbow Rock school up there on
the hill, are you?"
"I don't know, Sheriff," Auntie Sue returned, with a nervous little
laugh. "I sometimes think that I am a few days older. I have
watched a good many sunsets since then, you know."
The big officer's laughter almost shook the log walls of the house.
To his quiet companion, who had taken a chair near the window, he
said: "I'll have to tell you, Ross, that Auntie Sue owns every
sunset in these Ozark Mountains. What was it you paid for them?" He
turned again to their smiling hostess. "Oh, yes; fifty cents an acre
for the land and fourteen dollars and a half for the sunsets. You'll
have to be blamed careful not to trespass on the sunsets in this
neighborhood, Ross." Again, his hearty laugh roared out, while his
chair threatened to collapse with the quaking of his massive body.
The gentleman seated at the window laughed quietly, in sympathy.
"You'll be all right, though, Ross," the Sheriff continued, "as
long as you're with me. Auntie Sue and me have been friends for
about twenty year, now. I always stop to see her whenever I'm
passing through the Elbow Rock neighborhood, if I ain't in too big a
hurry. Stayed with her a week, once, five years ago, when we was
after that Lewis gang. She knows I'd jail any man on earth that
would even touch one of her sunsets."
Then, as if the jesting allusion to his office reminded him of his
professional duties, he added: "I plumb forgot, Auntie Sue, this
gentleman is Mr. Ross. He is one of William J. Burns's crack
detectives. Don't be scared, though, he ain't after you."
Auntie Sue, while joining in the laughter, and acknowledging the
introduction, regarded the business-looking gentleman by the window
with intense interest.
"I think," she said, slowly,--and the sweetness of her low,
cultured voice was very marked in contrast to the Sheriff's thundering
tones,--"I think, sir, that this is the first time in my life that I
ever saw a real detective. I have read about them, of course."
Mr. Ross was captivated by the charm of this beautiful old
gentlewoman, who regarded him with such child-like interest, and who
spoke with such sweet frankness and dignity. Smilingly, he returned:
"I fear, madam, that you would find me very disappointing. No one
that I ever knew in my profession could hope to live up to the
reputation given us by the story-books. No secret service man living
can remotely approximate the deeds performed by the detectives of
fiction. We are very, very human, I can assure you."
"I am sure that you, at least, must be very kind," returned Auntie
Sue, gently. And the cheeks of the experienced officer flushed like
the cheeks of a schoolboy.
"Mr. Ross, Auntie Sue," said the Sheriff, "is, as I was telling
you, one of William J. Burns's big men."
Auntie Sue gave her attention to her big friend: "Yes?"
The Sheriff continued: "Now, the Burns people, you see, protect
the banks all over the country."
"Yes?" came, again, in a tone so low and gentle that the
monosyllable was scarcely heard.
The officer's loud voice went on: "And Mr. Ross, here, works most
of his time on these bank cases. Just now, he is trailing a fellow
that got away with a lot of money from the Empire Consolidated
Savings Bank, of Chicago, about a month ago;--that is, the man
disappeared about a month ago. He had been stealing along from the
bank for about a year,--worked, for them, you see."
"The Empire Consolidated Savings Bank!" Auntie Sue spoke the words
in a voice that was little more than a whisper. It was to the Empire
Consolidated Savings Bank that she had sent the money which she had
received from her brother in Buenos Aires; and Homer T. Ward, the
president of that bank, was one of her old pupils. Why, her stranger
guest, in the other room there, was that very moment wearing one of
the bank president's nightshirts.
"And do you"--Auntie Sue addressed the detective--"do you know the
man's name, Mr. Ross?"
"Oh, yes," returned the officer, "his name is Brian Kent."
Some source of strength, deep-hidden in her gentle nature, enabled
Auntie Sue to control her emotions, though her voice broke a little
as she slowly repeated the man's name, "Brian Kent. And do I
understand, sir, that you have traced the man to this--neighborhood?"
The detective was too skilled not to notice Auntie Sue's manner and
the break in her voice; but he never dreamed that this old
gentlewoman's agitation was caused by a deeper interest than a quite
natural fear that a dangerous criminal might be lurking in the
"Not exactly, Mrs.--ah--"
"Miss Wakefield,"--she supplied her name with a smile.
With a courteous bow, the detective continued: "We do not know for
sure that the man is in this neighborhood, Miss Wakefield. There is
really no cause for you to be alarmed. Even if he should call at your
house, here, you need not be frightened, for I assure you the man is
not at all a dangerous character."
"I am glad," said Auntie Sue; and she laughed a little with a
relief more genuine than her callers knew.
Detective Ross continued as if anxious to finish his unpleasant
duty: "It is too bad for us to be disturbing you with this business,
Miss Wakefield, and I hope you will forgive us; but, the case is like
this: We traced our man to the little town of Borden, some forty
miles up the river from here. He disappeared from the hotel one
night, leaving his suit-case and, apparently, everything he had with
him, and not a soul that we can find has seen him since. Of course,
everybody says 'suicide.' He had been drinking heavily and acting
rather queer the two or three days he was at the hotel,--it seems.
But I am not willing, yet, to accept the suicide idea as final,
because it would be too easy for him to give things that appearance in
order to throw us off; and I can't get away from the fact that a
John-boat that was tied to the bank near the hotel managed to break
loose and drift off down the river that same night. Working on my
theory, we are following down the river, trying to get trace of either
the boat or the man. So far, we haven't heard of either, which rather
strengthens me in my belief that the boat and the man went away
together. He is probably traveling nights, and lying up under the
willows in daylight. But he will be compelled to show himself
somewhere, soon, in order to get something to eat, for he couldn't
have taken much with him, trying, as he was, to create the impression
that he had committed suicide. You have a wonderful view of the river
here, Miss Wakefield."
"Yes, sir; it is beautiful from the porch."
"You spend a good deal of time on the porch, do you?"
"And you would be quite likely to notice any boat passing, wouldn't
"Could you see a boat at night,--in the moonlight, I mean?"
"I could if it were well out in the middle of the stream, away from
the shadow of the trees, along the bank."
"Have you seen any boats pass lately, Miss Wakefield?"
"No, sir; I haven't seen a boat on the river for a month, at
"Dead certain about it, are you, Auntie Sue?" asked the Sheriff.
"Yes, sir; I am very sure," she returned. "Judy and I were talking
about it yesterday."
"Who is Judy?" asked the detective.
The Sheriff answered, "Just a girl that lives with Auntie Sue."
And Auntie Sue added: "I know Judy has seen no boats passing,
because, as I say, we were talking about it."
"I see," said the detective. "And may I ask, Miss Wakefield, if
any one--any stranger, I mean--has called at the house lately, or if
you have seen any one in the vicinity?"
The gentle old lady hesitated.
The officers thought she was searching her memory to be sure before
Then Auntie Sue said, deliberately: "No, sir; we have not seen a
stranger in this vicinity for several weeks. The last one was a
mule-buyer, who stopped to ask if he was on the right road to Tom
Warden's; and that must have been fully six weeks ago."
The detective looked at Sheriff Knox.
"Well," said the big officer, "I reckon we might as well push
The two men arose.
"Oh, but surely you will stay for dinner," said Auntie Sue, while
her dear heart was faint with fear lest they accept, and thus bring
about who could say what disastrous consequences through their
meeting with Judy.
"Not this time, Auntie Sue," returned the Sheriff. "Mr. Ross is
anxious to get on down the river as fast as he can. He's got men on
watch at White's Crossing, and if our man ain't passed there, or if we
don't strike his trail somewhere before we get there, we will jump
back on the railroad, and get some boy to bring the horses through
"I see," returned Auntie Sue. And to the detective she added,
smiling: "I am sure it must be very difficult for any one to escape
you, Mr. Ross. I have read such wonderful things about Mr. Burns and
the work of his organization; and now that I have met you,--a real
live detective,--I shall be very careful, indeed, about what I do in
the future. I shouldn't want to have you on my track, I assure you."
The two men laughed heartily, and the detective, as he extended his
hand in farewell, returned: "I count it a great privilege to have
met you, Miss Wakefield; and if you will promise to do one thing for
me, I'll agree to be very lenient with you if I am ever assigned to a
case in which you are to be brought to justice."
"I promise," returned the old lady, quickly. "I really wouldn't
dare to refuse under the circumstances, would I? What do you want me
to do, Mr. Ross?"
"If this man Brian Kent should happen to appear in this vicinity,
will you get a message as quickly as possible, at any cost, to
"Why, of course," agreed Auntie Sue. "But you have not yet told me
what the man looks like, Mr. Ross."
"He is really a fine looking chap," the detective answered.
"Thirty years old--fully six feet tall--rather slender, but well
built--weighs about one hundred fifty--a splendid head--smooth
shaven--reddish hair--dark blue eyes--and a high, broad forehead. He
is of Irish extraction--is cultured--very courteous in his manner and
speech--dresses well--and knows a lot about books and authors and such
"I would surely know him from that description," said Auntie Sue,
thinking of the wretched creature who had fallen, sobbing, at her
feet so short a time before. "But, you do not make him seem like a
criminal at all. It is strange that a man such as you describe
should be a fugitive from the law, is it not?"
"We come in contact with many strange things in our business, Miss
Wakefield," the Burns operative answered--a little sadly, Auntie Sue
thought. "Life itself is so strange and complex, though you in your
quiet retreat, here, can scarcely find it so."
"Indeed, I find life very wonderful, Mr. Ross, even here in my
little house by the river," she answered, slowly.
Sheriff Knox held out a newspaper to Auntie Sue: "Just happened to
remember that I had it in my pocket," he said. "It gives a pretty
full account of this fellow Kent's case. You will notice there is a
big reward offered for his capture. If you can catch him for us,
you'll make enough money to keep you mighty nigh all the rest of your
life." And the officer's great laugh boomed out at the thought of the
old school-teacher as a thief-catcher.
"By the way, Sheriff," said Auntie Sue, as they were finally saying
good-bye at the door, "you didn't happen to ask at Thompsonville for
my mail, did you, as you came through?" Her voice was trembling, now,
with eagerness and anxiety.
"I'm plumb sorry, Auntie Sue, but I didn't. You see, we were so
busy on this job, I clean forgot about stopping here; and, besides,
we might have caught our man before we got this far, you see."
"Of course," returned Auntie Sue, "I should have thought of that;
but I have been rather anxious about an important letter that seems
to have been delayed. Some of the neighbors will probably be going
to the office to-day, though. Good-bye! You know you are always
welcome, Sheriff; and you, too, Mr. Ross, if you should ever happen
to be in this part of the country again."
"A wonderful old woman, Ross," commented Sheriff Knox as they were
riding away. And the quiet, business-looking detective, whose life
had been spent in combating crime and deception, answered, as he
waved farewell to Auntie Sue, who watched them from the door of the
little log house by the river, "A very wonderful woman, indeed,-- the
loveliest old lady I have ever met,--and the most remarkable."
CHAPTER VIII. THAT WHICH IS GREATER THAN THE LAW.
When she had watched Sheriff Knox and his two companions ride out
of sight, Auntie Sue turned slowly back into the house to face Judy,
who stood accusingly in the kitchen doorway.
For what seemed a long time, the old gentlewoman and the deformed
mountain girl stood silently looking at each other. Then Auntie Sue
nervously crossed the room to lay the newspaper, which the Sheriff had
given her, on the table beside her basket of sewing.
Without speaking, Judy followed her, watching every movement
Turning to face her companion again, Auntie Sue stood, still
speechless, clasping and unclasping her thin old hands.
Judy spoke in her shrill, drawling monotone: "You-all have sure
fixed hit this here time, hain't you? Can't you-all see what a hell
of a hole you've done got us inter?"
When Auntie Sue apparently could not reply, Judy continued: "Just
as if hit wasn't more 'n enough for you-all ter go an' wear yourself
plumb out a-takin' keer of that there ornery, no-'count feller, what I
never ought ter dragged out of the river nohow. An', now, you-all got
ter go an' just naturally lie like you did ter the Sheriff an' that
there deteckertive man. I was plumb scared to death a-listenin' ter
you through the crack in the kitchen door. I 'lowed every minute
they'd ketch you, sure. My Lord-A'mighty! ma'm, can't you-all figger
what'll happen ter weuns if they ever finds out that weuns done had
him hid right here in this here house all the time? I never heard
tell of such dad burned, fool doin's in all my born days! I sure wish
ter God that there old John-boat had a-tuck him off down the river an'
smashed him up agin Elbow Rock, like hit ort, an' not a-fetched him
ter our door ter git weuns in jail for savin' his worthless, no-'count
hide,--I sure do!"
"But, Judy, I never in all my life did such a thing before," said
Auntie Sue in a tremulous whisper, too overwrought to speak aloud.
"You-all ain't a-needin' ter do hit but onct, neither. Onct is
sure a heap plenty for that there big Sheriff man. Just look what he
did ter my pap! He's jailed pap seven times, that I kin rec'lect.
God-A'mighty knows how many times he ketched him 'fore I was borned.
An' pap, he didn't do so mighty much ary time, neither."
"I just had to do it, Judy, dear," protested Auntie Sue. "It
seemed as if I simply could not tell the truth: something wouldn't
Judy, unheeding her companion's agitation, continued reviewing the
situation: "An' just look at all the money you-all done lost!"
"Money?" questioned Auntie Sue.
"Yep, 'money:'--that there reward what they'd a-paid you-all if
you-all hadn't a-lied like you did. I reckon as how there'd a-been
as much, maybe, as what was in that there letter you-all done sent
ter the bank an' ain't never heard tell of since. Hit's most likely
clean gone by now, an' here you done gone an' throw'd this other
away,--plumb throw'd hit away!"
At this, Auntie Sue's spirit suddenly flashed into fiery
"Judith Taylor," she said sharply, "how can you suggest such a
wicked thing? Why, I would--I would--DIE before I would accept a
penny for doing such a thing!"
And it was Judy, now, who stood silent and abashed before the
aroused Auntie Sue.
"Don't ever speak of such a thing again!" continued the old lady.
"And remember, we must be more careful than ever, now, not to let any
one--not a soul--know that Mr.--Mr.--Burns is in the house, or that we
ever saw him!"
"That there deteckertive man said as how the feller's name was
Brian Kent, didn't be?" muttered the sullen Judy.
"I don't care what the detective man said!" retorted Auntie Sue.
"I am telling you that his name is Brian Burns, and you had better
remember it! You had better remember, too, that if anybody ever
finds out the truth about him, you and I will go right along to jail
"Yes, ma'm; I sure ain't aimin' ter forgit that," replied the
humbled Judy; and she slouched away to the kitchen.
Auntie Sue went to the door of Brian Kent's room. But, with her
hand outstretched toward the latch, she hesitated. Had he heard? The
Sheriff's voice had been so loud. She feared to enter, yet she knew
that she must. At last, she knocked timidly, and, when there was no
answer, knocked again, louder. Cautiously, she opened the door.
The man lay with his face to the wall,--to all appearances fast
She tiptoed to the bed, and stood looking down upon the stranger
for whom, without a shadow of reason,--one would have said,--she had
violated one of the most deeply rooted principles of her seventy
To Auntie Sue, daughter of New England Puritanism, and religious to
the deeps of her being, a lie was abhorrent,--and she had lied,--
deliberately, carefully, and with painstaking skill she had lied. She
had not merely evaded the truth; she had lied,--and that to save a man
of whom she knew nothing except that he was a fugitive from the law.
And the strangest thing about it was this, that she was glad. She
could not feel one twinge of regret for her sin. She could not even
feel that she had, indeed, sinned. She had even a feeling of pride
and triumph that she had lied so successfully. She was troubled,
though, about this new and wholly unexpected development in her life.
It had been so easy for her. She had lied so naturally, so
She remembered how she had spoken to Brian Kent of the river and of
life. She saw, now, that the river symbolized not only life as a
whole, with its many ever-changing conditions and currents, amid
which the individual must live;--the river symbolized, as truly, the
individual life, with its ever-changing moods and motives,--its
ever-varying and often-conflicting currents of instinct and
training,--its infinite variety of intellectual deeps and
shallows,--its gentle places of spiritual calm,--and its wild and
turbulent rapids of dangerous passion.
"What hitherto unsuspected currents in her life-river," she asked
herself, "had carried her so easily into falsehood? What strange
forces were these," she wondered, "that had set her so suddenly
against honesty and truthfulness and law and justice? And this
stranger,--this wretched, haggard-faced, drunken creature, who had
been brought by the mysterious currents of life to her door,--what
was there in him that so compelled her protecting interest? What was
it within him, deeply hidden under the repellent exterior of his
being, that had so awakened in her that strange feeling of
It was not strange that, in her mental and spiritual extremity, the
dear old gentlewoman's life-long habit should lead her to kneel
beside the stranger's bed and pray for understanding and guidance. It
was significant that she did not ask her God to forgive the lie.
And, presently, as she prayed, she felt the man on the bed move.
Then a hand lightly touched her hair. She remained very still for a
little,--her head still bowed. The hand that touched so reverently
the silvery gray hair trembled a little. Slowly, the old teacher
raised her face to look at him; and the Irish blue eyes of Brian Kent
were wide with wondering awe and glowing with a light that warmed her
heart and strengthened her.
"Why did you do it?" he asked. "You wonderful, wonderful woman!
Why did you do it?"
Slowly, she rose from her knees to sit beside him on the bed. "You
He nodded his head, not trusting himself to speak.
"I was afraid the Sheriff talked too loud," she said.
"But, why did you do it?" he persisted.
"I think it was because I couldn't do anything else," she answered,
with her little chuckling laugh. Then she added, seriously: "How
could I let them take you away? Are you not mine? Did not the river
bring you to me?"
"I must tell you," he answered, sadly, "that what the detective
told you about me is true."
"Yes?" she answered, smiling.
"I was a clerk in the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank," he
continued, "and I stole money,--for nearly a year I stole,--not large
sums, but a little at a time. Then, when I knew that it was going to
be discovered, I took quite a lot, and ran away."
"Yes?" said Auntie Sue.
"Do you not care that I am a thief?" he questioned, wonderingly.
"Oh, yes; I care very much," she returned. "But, you see, after
all, your stealing is a little thing that can be made all right. Your
being a thief is so small in comparison with other things which you
might have been, but which you are not, and of so little importance in
comparison with what you really ARE, that I can't feel so very bad
"But--but--my drinking,--my condition when--" He could not go on.
"Why, you see," she answered, "I can't think of THAT man as being
YOU at all. THAT was something that the accident of your being a
thief did to you,--like catching cold, and being sick, after
accidentally falling in the river."
After a little silence, the man spoke, slowly: "I suppose every
thief, when he is caught, says the same thing; but I really never
wanted to do it. Circumstances--" he paused, biting his lip, and
"What was she like?" asked Auntie Sue, gently.
"She?" and his face reddened.
"Yes, I have observed that, to a man, 'circumstances' nearly always
mean a woman. To a woman, of course, it is a man."
"I cannot tell you about her, now," he said. "Some day, perhaps,
when I am further away from it. But she is not at all like you."
And this answer, for some strange reason, brought a flush of
pleasure to the face of the old schoolteacher.
"I did not mean for you to tell me now," she returned. "I only
wanted you to know that, even though I am an old maid, I can
She left him then, and went to attend to her simple household
It was not until quite late in the evening that Auntie Sue took up
the newspaper which Sheriff Knox had given her. Judy had retired to
her room, and Brian Burns--as they had agreed he should be called--was
To-morrow, Brian was going to sit up. His clothing had been washed
and ironed and pressed, and Auntie Sue was making some little repairs
in the way of darning and buttons. She had finished, and was putting
her needle and scissors in the sewing-basket on the table beside her,
when she noticed the paper, which she had forgotten.
The article headed "BANK CLERK DISAPPEARS" was not long. It told,
in a matter-of-fact, newspaper way, how Brian Kent had, at different
times, covering a period of several months, taken various sums from
the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, and gave, so far as was then
known, the accumulated amount which he had taken. The dishonest clerk
had employed several methods in his operations; but the particular
incident--read Auntie Sue--which had led to the exposure of Kent's
stealings was the theft of a small sum of money in bank-notes, which
had been sent to the bank in a letter by one of the bank's smaller
The newspaper fell from Auntie Sue's hand. Mechanically, she
fingered the garment lying in her lap.
She, too, had sent a sum of money in a letter for deposit to her
small account in this bank from which Brian Kent had stolen. She
would not have sent the familiar paper currency of the United States
that way; but, this money was in Argentine notes. Her brother from
far-away Buenos Aires had sent it to her, saying that it would help to
keep her during the closing years of her life; and she had added it to
her small savings with a feeling of deepest gratitude that her last
days were now fully provided for. And she had received from the bank
no acknowledgment of her letter with its enclosures.
Taking up the paper with hands that trembled so she scarce could
distinguish the words, she read the paragraph again.
Suddenly, she recalled the man's puzzled expression when she had
told him her name, and she seemed to hear him say, again, "Wakefield?
Wakefield? Where have I seen that name?"
She looked at the date of the paper. Beyond all doubt, the man
sleeping there in the other room;--the man whom she had saved from a
suicide's end in the river;--whom she had nursed through the hell of
delirium tremens;--whom she had yearned over as over her own son, and
for whom, to save from the just penalty of his crime, she had
lied--beyond all doubt that man had robbed her of the money that was
to have insured to her peace and comfort in the closing years of her
Carefully, Auntie Sue laid the garment she had just mended with
such loving care, with the rest of Brian Kent's clothing, on the
near-by chair. Rising, she went with slow, troubled step to the
There was no moon, that night, to turn the waters of The Bend into
a stream of silvery light. But the stars were shining bright and
clear, and she could see the river where it made its dark, mysterious
way between the walls of shadowy hills; and borne to her ears on the
gentle night wind came the deep, thundering roar of the angry waters
at Elbow Rock.
For a long time she stood there on the porch looking into the
night, with the light from the open door of her little house behind
her; and she felt very lonely, very tired, and very old. With her
beautiful old face upturned to the infinite sky, where shining worlds
are scattered in such lavish profusion, she listened, listened to the
river that, with its countless and complex currents, swept so
irresistibly onward along the way that was set for it by Him who swung
those star-worlds in the limitless space of that mighty arch above.
And something of the spirit that broods ever over the river must have
entered into the soul of Auntie Sue. When she turned back into the
house, there was a smile on her face, though her eyes were wet with
Going to the chair that held Brian Kent's clothing, she took the
garments in her arms and pressed them to her lips. Then she carried
them to his room.
For some time she remained in that darkened chamber beside the
When she returned to the living-room, she again took up the
newspaper. Very carefully, that her sleeping companions in the house
might not hear her, she went to the kitchen, the paper in her hand.
Very carefully, that no sound should betray her act, she burned the
paper in the kitchen stove.
CHAPTER IX. AUNTIE SUE'S PROPOSITION.
During the next few days, Brian Kent rapidly regained his strength.
No one seeing the tall, self-possessed gentleman who sat with Auntie
Sue on the porch overlooking the river, or strolled about the place,
could have imagined him the wretchedly repulsive creature that Judy
had dragged from the eddy so short a time before. And no
one,--exempting, perhaps, detective Ross,--would have identified this
bearded guest of Auntie Sue's as the absconding bank clerk for whose
arrest a substantial reward was offered.
But Mr. Ross had departed from the Ozarks, to report to the Empire
Consolidated Savings Bank that, to the best of his knowledge and
belief, Brian Kent had been drowned. Homer T. Ward, himself, wrote
Auntie Sue about the case, for the detective had told the bank
president about his visit to the little log house by the river, and
the banker knew that his old teacher would wish to hear the conclusion
of the affair.
The facts upon which the detective based his conclusion that Brian
Kent was dead, were, first of all, the man's general character,
temperament, habits, and ambitions,--aside from his thefts from the
bank,--prior to the time of his exposure and flight, and his known
mental and physical condition at the time he disappeared from the
hotel in the little river town of Borden.
The detective reasoned (and there are thousands of cases that could
be cited to support his contention) that by such a man as Brian
Kent,--knowing, as he must have known, the comparative certainty of
his ultimate arrest and conviction, and being in a mental and nervous
condition bordering on insanity, as a result of his constant brooding
over his crime and the excessive drinking to which he had resorted for
relief,--by such a man, death would almost inevitably be chosen rather
than a life of humiliation and disgrace and imprisonment.
Acting upon the supposition, however, that the man had gone down
the river in that missing boat, and that the appearance of suicide
was planned by the fugitive to trick his pursuers, the detectives
ascertained that he had provided no supplies for a trip down the
river. The man would be compelled to seek food. The mountain
country through which he must pass was sparsely settled, and for a
distance that would have taken a boat many days to cover, the
officers visited every house and cabin and camp on either side of the
river without finding a trace of the hunted man. The river had been
watched night and day. The net set by the Burns operatives touched
every settlement and village for many miles around. And, finally, the
battered and broken wreck of the lost boat had been found some two
miles below Elbow Rock.
". . . And so, my dear Auntie Sue," Banker Ward wrote, in
conclusion, "you may rest in peace, secure in the certainty that my
thieving bank clerk is not lurking anywhere in your beautiful Ozarks
to pounce down upon you unawares in your little house beside the
river. The man is safely dead. There is no doubt about it. I
regret, more than I can express, that you have been in any way
disturbed by the affair. Please think no more about it.
"By the way, you made a great impression upon detective Ross. He
was more than enthusiastic over your graciousness and your beauty. I
never heard him talk so much before in all the years I have known him.
Needless to say, I indorsed everything he said about the dearest old
lady in the world, and then we celebrated by dining together and
drinking a toast to Auntie Sue. . . ."
Auntie Sue went with the letter to Brian, and acquainted him with
that part of the banker's communication which related to the
absconding clerk; but, about her relation to the president of the
Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, she said nothing.
"Isn't it splendid!" she finished, her face glowing with delight.
"Splendid?" he echoed, looking at her with grave, questioning eyes.
"Why, yes, of course!" she returned. "Aren't you glad to be so
dead, under the circumstances? Think what it means! You are free,
now. No horrid old detectives dogging your steps, or waiting behind
every bush and tree to pounce upon you. There is nothing, now, to
prevent your being the kind of man that you always meant to be,--and
really ARE, too,--except for your--your accidental tumble in the
river," she finished with her low chuckling laugh. "And, some day,"
she went on, with conviction, "when you have established
yourself,--when you have asserted your REAL self, I mean,--and have
paid back every penny of the money, Homer T. Ward and Mr. Ross and
everybody will be glad that they didn't catch you before you had a
chance to save yourself."
"And you, Auntie Sue?" Brian's voice was deep with feeling: "And
"Me? Oh, I am as glad, now, as I can ever be, because, you see, to
me it is already done."
For a long minute he looked at her without speaking, then turned
his face away to gaze out over the river and the hills; but his eyes
were the eyes of one who looks without seeing.
Slowly, he said: "I wish I could be sure. There was a time when I
was--when I believed in myself. It seems to me, now, that it was
years and years ago. I thought, then, that nothing could shake me in
my purpose; that nothing could check me in my ambition. I saw myself
going straight on to the goal I had set for myself as certainly
as--well, as your river ever there goes on to the sea. But now--" He
shook his head sadly.
Auntie Sue laughed. "You foolish boy. My river out there doesn't
go straight at all. It meets all sorts of obstacles, and is beset by
all sorts of conflicting influences, and so is forced to wind and
twist and work its way along; but, the big, splendid thing about the
river is that it keeps going on. It never stops to turn back. No
matter what happens to it, it never stops. It goes on and on and on
unto the very end, until it finally loses itself in the triumph of its
own achievement,--the sea."
"And you think that I can go on?" he asked, doubtingly.
"I know you can go on," she answered with conviction.
"But, why are you so sure?"
"Perhaps," she returned, smiling, "seventy years makes one sure of
Ho exclaimed passionately: "But you do not know--you cannot know--
how my life, my dreams, my plans, my hopes, my--everything--has been
broken into bits!"
She answered calmly, pointing to Elbow Rock: "Look there, Brian.
See how the river is broken into bits. See how its smoothly flowing,
onward sweep is suddenly changed to wild, chaotic turmoil; how it
rages and fumes and frets and smashes itself against the rocks. But
it goes on just the same. Life cannot be always calm and smoothly
flowing like the peaceful Bend. But life can always go on. Life must
always go on. And you will find, my dear boy, that a little way below
Elbow Rock there is another quiet stretch."
When he spoke again there was a note of almost reverence in his
"Auntie Sue, was there ever a break in your life? Were your dreams
and plans ever smashed into bits?"
For a little, she did not answer; then she said, bravely: "Yes,
Brian; several times. Once,--years and years ago,--I do not know how
I managed to go on. I felt, then, as you feel now; but, somehow, I
managed, and so found the calm places. The last hard spot came quite
recently." She paused, wondering what he would do if she were to tell
him how he himself had made the hard spot. "But, now," she continued,
"I am hoping that the rest of the way will be calm and untroubled."
"I wish I could help to make it so!" he cried impulsively.
"Why, you can," she returned quickly. "Of course you can. Perhaps
that is why the current landed your boat at my garden, instead of
carrying you on down the rapids to Elbow Rock. Who can say?"
A new light kindled in the man's eyes as his sensitive nature took
fire at Auntie Sue's words. "I could do anything for a woman like
you, Auntie Sue," he said quietly, but with a conviction that left no
room for doubt. "But you must tell me what I am to do."
She answered: "You are simply to go on with your life--just as if
no Elbow Rock had ever disturbed you; just as the river goes on--to
She left him, then, to think out his problem alone; for the teacher
of so many years' experience was too wise not to know when a lesson
But when the end of the day was come, they again sat together on
the porch and watched the miracle of the sunset hour. And no word
was spoken by them, now, of life and its problems and its meanings.
As one listens to the song of a bird without thought of musical notes
or terms; as one senses the fragrance of a flower without thought of
the chemistry of perfume; as one feels the presence of spring in the
air without thought of the day of the week, so they were conscious of
the beauty, the glory, and the peace of the evening.
Only when the soft darkness of the night lay over the land, and
river and mountain and starry sky were veiled in dreamy mystery, did
Auntie Sue speak: "Oh, it is so good to have some one to share it
with,--some one who understands. I am very lonely, sometimes, Brian.
I wonder if you know?"
"Yes, Auntie Sue, I know, for I have been lonely, too."
And so the old gentlewoman, whose lifework was so nearly finished,
and the man in the flush of his manhood years, whose life had been so
nearly wrecked, were drawn very close by a something that came to them
out of the beauty and the mystery of that hour.
The next day, Brian told Auntie Sue that he would leave on the
"Leave?" she echoed in dismay. "Why, Brian, where are you going?"
"I don't exactly know," he returned; "but, of course, I must go
somewhere, out into the world again."
"And why must you 'go somewhere, out into the world again'?" she
"To work," he answered, smiling. "If I am to go on, as you say, I
must go where I can find something to do."
"If that isn't just like you--you child!" cried the old teacher.
"You are all alike,--you boys and girls. You all must have something
to do; always, it is 'something to do'."
"Well," he returned, "and must we not have something to do?"
"You will do something, certainly," she answered; "but, before you
can DO anything that is worth doing, you must BE something. Life
isn't DOING;--it is BEING."
"I wonder if that was not the real reason for my wretched
failures," said Brian, thoughtfully.
"It is the real reason for most of our failures," she returned.
"And so you are not going to fail again. You are not going away
somewhere, you don't know where, to do something you don't know what.
You are going to stay right here, and just BE something. Then, when
the time comes, you will do whatever is yours to do as naturally and
as inevitably as the birds sing, as the blossoms come in the spring,
or as the river finds its way to the sea."
And more than ever Brian Kent felt in the presence of Auntie Sue as
a little boy to whom the world had grown suddenly very big and very
But, after a while, he shook his head, smiling wistfully. "No, no,
Auntie Sue, that sounds all true and right enough, but it can't be. I
must go just the same."
"Why can't it be, Brian?"
"For one thing," he returned, "I cannot risk the danger to you.
After all, as long as I am living, there is a chance that my identity
will be discovered, and you--no, no; I must not!"
"As for that," she answered quickly, "the chances of your being
identified are a thousand times greater if you go into the world
again too soon. Some day, of course, you must go; but you are safer
now right here. And"--she added quickly--"it would be no easier for
me, dear boy, to--to--have it happen somewhere away from me. You are
mine, you know, no matter where you go."
"But, Auntie Sue," he protested, "I am not a gentleman of means
that I can do nothing indefinitely; neither am I capable of living
upon your hospitality for an extended period. I must earn my bread
The final sentence came with such a lifting of his head, such a
look of stern decision, and such an air of pride, that the gentle old
school-teacher laughed until her eyes were filled with tears; and
Judy, at the crack in the kitchen door, wondered if the mistress of
the little log house by the river were losing her mind.
"Oh, Brian! Brian!" cried Auntie Sue, wiping her eyes. "I knew you
would come to the 'bread and butter' at last. That is where all our
philosophies and reasonings and arguments come at last, don't they?
Just 'bread and butter,' that is all. And I love you for it. Of
course you can't live upon my hospitality,--and I couldn't let you if
you would. And if you WOULD, I wouldn't let you if I could. I am no
more a lady of means, my haughty sir, than you are a gentleman of
independent fortune. The fact is, Brian, dear, I suspect that you and
I are about the two poorest people in the world,--to be anything like
as pretentiously respectable and properly proud as we are."
When the man could make no reply, but only looked at her with a
much-puzzled and still-proud expression, she continued, half-
laughingly, but well pleased with him: "Please, Brian, don't look so
haughtily injured. I had no intention of insulting you by offering
charity. Far from it."
Instantly, the man's face changed. He put out his hands
protestingly, and his blue eyes filled, as he said, impulsively.
"Auntie Sue, after what you have done for me, I--"
She answered quickly: "We are considering the future. What has
been, is past. Our river is already far beyond that point in its
journey. Don't let us try to turn the waters back. I promise you I
am going to be very, very practical, and make you pay for EVERYTHING."
Smiling, now, he waited for her to explain.
"I must tell you, first," she began, "that, except for a very small
amount in the--in a savings bank, I have nothing to provide for my
last days except this little farm."
"What a shame," Brian Kent exclaimed, "that a woman like you can
give her life to the public schools for barely enough salary to keep
her alive during her active years, and then left in her old age with
no means of support. It is a national disgrace."
Auntie Sue chuckled with appreciation of the rather grim humor of
the situation. What would Brian Kent, indignant at the public
neglect of the school-teacher, say of the man who had robbed her of
the money that was to provide for her closing years? "After all,
most public sins are only individual sins at the last," she said,
"I beg your pardon," said Brian, not in the least seeing the
relevancy of her words.
Auntie Sue came quickly back to her subject: "Only thirty acres of
my little farm is under cultivation. The remaining fifty acres is
wild timberland. If I could have that fifty acres also in
cultivation, with the money that the timber would bring,--which would
not be a great deal,--I would be fairly safe for the--for the rest of
my evening," she finished with a smile. "Do you see?"
"You mean that I--that you want me to stay here and work for you?"
"I mean," she answered, "that, if you choose to stay for awhile,
you need not feel that you would be accepting my hospitality as
charity," she returned gently. "I am not exactly offering you a job:
I am only showing you how you could, without sacrificing your pride,
remain in this quiet retreat for awhile before returning to the
"It would be heaven, Auntie Sue," he returned earnestly. "I want
to stay so bad that I fear myself. Let me think it over until to-
morrow. Let me be sure that I am doing the right thing, and not
merely the thing I want to do."
She liked his answer, and did not mention the subject again until
Brian himself was ready. And, strangely enough, it was poor, twisted
Judy who helped him to set matters straight.
CHAPTER X. BRIAN KENT DECIDES.
Brian had walked along the river-bank below the house to a spot
just above the point where the high bluff jutting out into the
river-channel forms Elbow Rock.
The bank here is not so high above the roaring waters of the
rapids, for the spur of the mountain which forms the cliff lies at a
right angle to the river, and the greater part of the cliff is thus on
the shore, with its height growing less and less as it merges into the
main slope of the mountain-side. From the turn in the road, in front
of the house, a footpath leads down the bank of the river to the
cliff, and, climbing stairlike up the face of the steep bluff, zigzags
down the easier slope of the down-river side, to come again into the
road below. The road itself, below Elbow Rock, is forced by the steep
side of the mountain-spur and the precipitous bluff to turn inland
from the river, and so, climbing by an easier grade up past Tom
Warden's place, crosses the ridge above the schoolhouse, and comes
back down the mountain again in front of Auntie Sue's place, to its
general course along the stream. The little path forms thus a
convenient short cut for any one following the river road on foot.
Brian, seated on the river-bank a little way from the path where it
starts up the bluff, was trying to decide whether it would be better
for him to follow his desire and stay with Auntie Sue for a few weeks
or months, or whether he should not, in spite of the land he might
clear for her, return to the world where he could more quickly earn
the money to pay back that which he had stolen.
And as he sat there, the man was conscious that he had reached one
of those turning-points that are found in every life where results,
momentous and far-reaching, are dependent upon comparatively
unimportant and temporary issues. He could not have told why, and
yet he felt a certainty that, for him, two widely separated futures
were dependent upon his choice. Nor could he, by thinking, discover
what those futures held for him, nor which he should choose. Even as
his boat that night had hung on the edge of the eddy,--hesitating on
the dividing-line between the two currents,-- so the man himself now
felt the pull of his life-currents, and hesitated,--undecided.
Looking toward the house, he thought how like the life offered by
Auntie Sue was to the quiet waters of The Bend, and--his mind
finished the simile--how like the life to which he would go was to
the rapids at Elbow Rock; and, yet, he reflected, the waters could
never reach the sea without enduring the turmoil of the rapids. And,
again, the thought came, "The Bend is just as much the river as the
troubled passage around the rock."
When he had given up life, and, to all intent and purpose, had left
life behind him, the river, without his will or knowledge, had
mysteriously elected to save him from the death he had chosen as his
only refuge from the utter ruin that had seemed so inevitable. As the
currents of the river had carried his boat to the eddy at the foot of
Auntie Sue's garden, the currents of life had mysteriously brought him
to the saving influence of Auntie Sue herself. Should he push out
again into the stream to face the danger he knew beset such a course?
or should he wait for a season in the secure calm of the harbor she
offered until he were stronger? Brian Kent knew, instinctively, that
there was in the wisdom and love of Auntie Sue's philosophy and faith
a strength that would, if he could make it his, insure his safe
passage through every danger of life, and yet--
The man's meditations were interrupted by a chance look toward the
bluff which towered above him.
Judy was climbing the steep trail.
Curiously, Brian watched the deformed mountain girl as she made her
way up the narrow, stairlike path, and her cutting words came back to
him: "God-A'mighty and my drunken pap made me like I am. But
you,--damn you!--you made yourself what you be." And Auntie Sue had
said that the all-important thing in life was not to DO something, but
to BE something.
The girl, who had gained a point halfway to the top of the bluff,
paused to look searchingly about, and Brian, who was half-hidden by
the bushes, started to call to her, thinking she might be looking for
him; but some impulse checked him and he remained silently watching
her. Climbing hurriedly a little higher up the path Judy again
stopped to look carefully around, as if searching the vicinity for
some one. Then, once more, she went on until she stood on top of the
cliff; and now, as she looked about over the surrounding country, she
called: "Mr. Burns! Oh, Mr. Burns! Who-o-e-e! Mr. Burns!"
Brian's lips were parted to answer the call when something happened
on top of the bluff which held him for the moment speechless.
From beyond where Judy stood on the brink of the cliff, a man's
head and shoulders appeared. Brian saw the girl start and turn to
face the newcomer as if in sudden fear. Then she whirled about to
run. Before she could gain the point where the path starts down from
the top, the man caught her and dragged her roughly back, so that the
two disappeared from Brian's sight. Brian was halfway up the bluff
when he heard the girl's shrill scream.
There was no sign of weakness, now, in the man that Judy had
dragged from the river. He covered the remaining distance to the top
in a breath. From among the bushes, a little way down the
mountainside, came the sound of an angry voice mingled with Judy's
An instant more, and Brian reached the spot where poor Judy was
crouching on the ground, begging the brute, who stood over her with
menacing fists, not to hit her again.
The man was a vicious-looking creature, dressed in the rough garb
of the mountaineer; dirty and unkempt, with evil, close-set eyes, and
a scraggly beard that could not hide the wicked, snarling mouth.
He stood for a second looking at Brian, as if too surprised by the
latter's sudden appearance to move; then he went down, felled by as
clean a knockout as was ever delivered by an Irish fist.
"Are you hurt, Judy?" demanded Brian, as he lifted the girl to her
feet. "Did he strike you?"
"He was sure a-fixin' ter lick me somethin' awful when you-all put
in," returned the poor girl, trembling with fear. "I know, 'cause
he's done hit to me heaps er times before. He's my pap."
"Your father!" exclaimed Brian.
Judy nodded;--then screamed: "Look out! He'll git you, sure!"
Judy's rescuer whirled, to see the man on the ground drawing a gun.
A vigorous, well-directed kick, delivered in the nick of time, sent
the gun whirling away into the bushes and rendered the native's right
"Get up!" commanded Brian.
The man rose to his feet, and stood nursing his damaged wrist and
scowling at Judy's companion.
"Are you this girl's father?"
"I reckon I am," came the sullen reply. "I'm Jap Taylor, an' you-
all are sure goin' to find that you can't come between a man an' his
lawful child in these here mountains, mister,--if you-all be from the
"And you will find that you can't strike a crippled girl in my
presence, even if she is your daughtcr,--in these mountains or
anywhere else," retorted Brian. "What are you trying to do with her,
"I aim ter take her back home with me, where she belongs."
"Well, why didn't you go to the house for her like a man, instead
of jumping on her out here in the woods!"
"Hit ain't none of your dad burned business as I can see," came the
"I am making it my business, just the same," returned Brian.
He turned to the girl, who had drawn back a little behind him.
"Judy," he said, kindly, "I think perhaps you better tell me about
"Pap, he was a-layin' for me in the bresh 'cause he dassn't come to
the house ter git me," said the girl, fearfully.
"But, why does he fear to come to the house?" persisted Brian.
"'Cause he done give me ter Auntie Sue."
"Gave you to Auntie Sue?" repeated the puzzled Brian.
Jap Taylor interrupted with, "I didn't sign ary paper, an'--"
"Shut up, you!" snapped Brian. "Go on, Judy."
"Hit was a year last corn-plantin'," explained the girl. "My maw,
she died. He used ter whip her, too. An' Auntie Sue was there
helpin' weuns; an' Tom Warden an' some other folks they was there,
too; an' they done fixed hit so that I was ter go an' live with
Auntie Sue; an' pap, he give me ter her. He sure did, Mr. Burns, an'
I ain't a-wantin' ter go with him, no more."
The poor girl's shrill monotone broke, and her twisted body shook
with her sobs.
"I didn't sign ary paper," repeated Judy's father, with sullen
stubbornness. "An' what's more, I sure ain't a-goin' ter. I 'lows
as how she'll just go home an' work for me, like she ort, 'stead of
livin' with that there old-maid schoolma'am. I'm her paw, I am, an'
I reckon I got rights."
He started toward the girl, who drew closer to Brian, and begged
piteously: "Don't let him tech me! 'Fore God, Mr. Burns, he'll kill
Brian drew the girl behind him as he faced the father with a brief,
The mountaineer hesitated.
Brian went one step toward him: "Do you hear? Get out! And if
you ever show your dirty face in this vicinity again, I'll not leave
a whole bone in your worthless carcass!"
And Jap Taylor saw something in those Irish blue eyes that caused
him to start off down the mountain toward the river below Elbow Rock.
When he had placed a safe distance between himself and the man who
appeared so willing and able to make good his threat, Judy's father
turned, and, shaking his uninjured fist at Brian, delivered a volley
of curses, with: "I'll sure git you-all for this! Jap Taylor ain't
a-lettin' no man come between him an' his'n. I'll fix you, an' I'll
fix that there schoolma'am, too! She's nothin' but a damned old--"
But Brian started toward him, and Jap Taylor beat a hasty retreat.
"Never mind, Judy," said Brian, when the native had disappeared in
the brush and timber that covered the steep mountain-side. "I'll not
let him touch you. Come, let us sit down and talk a little until you
are yourself again. Auntie Sue must not see you like this. We don't
want to let her know anything about it. You won't tell her, will
"I ain't aimin' ter tell nobody," said Judy, between sobs. "I sure
ain't a-wantin' ter make no trouble,--not for Auntie Sue, nohow.
She's been powerful good ter me."
When they were seated on convenient rocks at the brink of the cliff
overlooking the river, Judy gradually ceased crying, and presently
said, in her normal, querulous monotone: "Did you-all mind what pap
'lowed he'd do ter Auntie Sue, Mr. Burns?"
"Yes, Judy; but don't worry, child. He is not going to harm any
one while I am around."
"You-all are aimin' ter stay then, be you? I'm sure powerful
glad," said Judy, simply.
Brian started. A new factor had suddenly been injected into his
"I was powerful scared you-all was aimin' ter go away," continued
Judy. "Hit was that I was a-huntin' you-all to tell you 'bout, when
pap he ketched me."
"What were you going to tell me, Judy?"
"I 'lowed ter tell you-all 'bout Auntie Sue. She'd sure be
powerful mad if she know'd I'd said anythin' ter you, but she's
a-needin' somebody like you ter help her, mighty bad. She--she's
done lost a heap of money, lately: hit was some she sent--"
Brian interrupted: "Wait a minute, Judy. You must not tell me
anything about Auntie Sue's private affairs; you must not tell any
one. Anything she wants me to know, she will tell me. Do you
understand?" he finished with a reassuring smile.
"Yes, sir; I reckon you-all are 'bout right, an' I won't tell
nobody nothin'. But 'tain't a-goin' ter hurt none ter say as how
you-all ort ter stay, I reckon."
"And why do you think I ought to stay, Judy?"
"'Cause of what Auntie Sue's done for you-all,--a-nursin' you when
you was plumb crazy an' plumb dangerous from licker, an' a lyin' like
she did ter the Sheriff an' that there deteckertive man," returned
Judy stoutly; "an' 'cause she's so old an' is a-needin' you-all ter
help her; an' 'cause she is a-lovin' you like she does, an' is
a-wantin' you-all ter stay so bad hit's mighty nigh a-makin' her plumb
Brian Kent did not answer. The mountain girl's words had revealed
to him the selfishness of his own consideration of his problem so
clearly that he was stunned. Why had he not, in his thinking,
remembered the dear old gentlewoman who had saved him from a shameful
Judy went on: "Hit looks ter me like somebody just naturally's got
ter take care of Auntie Sue, Mr. Burns. All her whole life she's
a-been takin' care of everybody just like she tuck me, an' just like
she tuck you-all, besides a heap of other ways; an' now she's so old
and mighty nigh plumb wore out, hit sure looks like hit was time
somebody was a-fixin' ter do somethin' for her. That was what I was
a-huntin' you-all ter tell you when pap ketched me, Mr. Burns."
"I am glad you told me, Judy;--very glad. You see, I was not
thinking of things in just that way."
"I 'lowed maybe you mightn't. Seems like folks mostly don't."
"But it's all right, now!" Brian cried heartily. "You have settled
it. I'll stay. We'll take care of Auntie Sue,--you and I, Judy.
Come on, now; let's go to the house, and tell her. But we won't say
anything about your father, Judy;--that would only make her unhappy;
and we must never make Auntie Sue unhappy--never." He was as eager
and enthusiastic, now, as a schoolboy.
"'Course," said Judy, solemnly; "'course you just naturally got ter
stay an' take care of her now, after what pap's done said he'd do."
"Yes, Judy; I've just naturally got to stay," returned Brian.
Together they went down the steep cliff trail and to the little log
house by the river to announce Brian's decision to Auntie Sue. They
found the dear old lady in her favorite spot on the porch overlooking
"Why, of course you will stay," she returned, when Brian had told
her. "The river brought you to me, and you know, my dear boy, the
river is never wrong. Oh, yes, I know there are cross-currents and
crooked spots and sand-bars and rocks and lots of places where it
SEEMS to us to be wrong. But, just the same, it all goes on, all the
time, toward the sea for which it starts when it first begins at some
little spring away over there somewhere in the mountains. Of course
you will stay with me, Brian,--until the river carries you on again."
CHAPTER XI. RE-CREATION.
From the very day of his decision, to which he had been so
unexpectedly helped by Judy, Brian Kent was another man. The gloomy,
despondent, undecided spirit that was the successor of the wretched
creature that Judy had helped to Auntie Sue's that morning was now
succeeded by a cheerful, hopeful, contented man, who went to his daily
task with a song, did his work with a smile and a merry jest, and
returned, when the day was done, with peace in his heart and laughter
on his lips.
As the days of the glorious Ozark autumn passed, Brian's healthful,
outdoor work on the timbered mountain-side brought to the man of the
cities a physical grace and beauty he had lacked,--the grace of
physical strength and the beauty of clean and rugged health. The
bright autumn sun and the winds that swept over the many miles of
tree-clad hills browned his skin; while his work with the ax
developed his muscles and enforced deep breathing of the bracing
mountain air, thus bringing a more generous supply of richer blood,
which touched his now firmly rounded cheeks with color.
The gift of humor and the faculty of quaint and witty
conversational twists, with the genius of storytelling that was his
from his Irish mother, made quick friends for him of the mountain
neighbors who welcomed this new pupil of their old school-teacher with
whole- hearted pleasure, and quoted his jests and sayings throughout
the country with never-failing delight. And Judy,--it is not too much
to say that Judy became his most ardent admirer and devoted slave.
But the dear old mistress of the little log house by the river
alone recognized that these outward changes in the human wreck that
the river had brought to her were but manifestations of a more potent
transformation that was taking place in the man's inner life; and it
was this inner change that filled the teacher's loving heart with joy,
and which she watched with keen and delighted interest.
It was not, after all, a new life that was coming to this man,
Auntie Sue told herself; it was his own old and more real life that
was reassuring itself. It was the real Brian Kent that had been
sojourning in a far country that was now coming home to his own. It
was the wealth of his heart and mind and soul which had been
deep-buried under an accumulation of circumstances and environment
that was now being brought to the surface.
Might it not be that Auntie Sue's genius for absorbing beauty and
making truth her own had, in her many years of searching for truth
and beauty in whatever humanity she encountered, developed in her a
peculiar sensitiveness? And was it not this that had made her feel
instinctively the real nature of the man in whom a less discerning
observer would have recognized nothing worthy of admiration or
regard? Without question, it was the true,--the essential,--the
underlying,--elements in the character of the absconding bank clerk
that had aroused in this remarkable old gentlewoman the peculiar
sense of kinship--of possession--that had determined her attitude
toward the stranger. The law that like calls to like is not less
applicable to things spiritual than to things material. The birds of
a feather that always flock together are not of necessity material
birds of material feathers.
Nor was Brian Kent himself unconscious of his Re-Creation. The man
knew what he was, as every man knows deep within himself the real
self that is. And that was the horror of the situation which had set
him adrift on the river that night when, in his last drunken
despairing frenzy, he had left the world with a curse in his heart
and had faced the black unknown with reckless laughter and a profane
toast. It is to be doubted if there can be a hell of greater torment
than that experienced by one who, endowed by nature with a capacity
for great living, is betrayed by the very strength of his genius into
a situation that is intolerable of his real self, and is forced, thus,
to a continuous self-crucifixion and death.
In his new environment the man felt the awakening of this self
which he had mourned as dead. Thoughts, emotions, dreams,
aspirations, which had, as he believed, been killed, he found were
not dead, but only sleeping; and in the quickening of their vitality
and strength he knew a joy as great as had been his despair.
The beauty of nature, that had lost its power of appeal to his
sodden soul, now stirred him to the very depth of his being. The
crisp, sun-sweet air of the autumn mornings, when he went forth with
his ax to the day's clean labor, was a draught of potent magic that
set every nerve of him tingling with delight. The woodland hillside,
where he worked, was a wonderland of beautiful creations that inspired
a thousand glowing fancies. Sometimes, at his heavy task, he would
pause for a moment's rest, and so would look out and away over the
vast expanse of country that from his feet stretched in all its charm
of winding river and wooded slopes, and tree- fringed ridges to the
far, blue sky-line; and the very soul of him would answer to the call
as he had thought he never could answer again. The very clouds that
drifted past on their courses to unseen ports beyond the hills were
freighted with meaning for him now. The winds that came laden with
the subtly blended perfume of ten thousand varieties of trees and
grasses and shrubs and flowers whispered words of life which he now
could hear. The loveliness of the glowing morning skies, as he saw
them when he rose for the day's work, and the glories of the sunsets,
as he watched them with Auntie Sue from the porch when the day's task
was accomplished, filled him with an exquisite gladness which he had
never hoped to know again.
Most of all, did the river speak to him; not, indeed, as it had
spoken that dreadful night, when, from the window of his darkened
room, he had listened to its call: the river spoke, now, in the full
day as his eye followed its winding length through the hills in all
its varied beauty of sunshine and shadow;--of gleaming silver and
living green and russet-brown. It talked to him in the evening when
the waters gave back the glories of the sky and the deepening twilight
wrapped the world in its dusky veil of mystery. It spoke to him in the
soft darkness of the night, as it swept on its way under the stars, or
in the light of the golden moon. And, in time, some of these things
which the river said to him, he, in turn, told to Auntie Sue.
And Auntie Sue, delighted with the man's awakening self, and
charmed with his power of thought and his gift of expression, led him
on. With artful suggestion and skilful question and subtle argument,
she stimulated his mind and fancy to lay hold of the truths and
beauties that life and nature offered. But ever the rare old
gentlewoman was his teacher, revealing himself to himself; guiding him
to a fuller discovery and knowledge of his own life and its meaning,
which, indeed, is the true aim and end of all right teaching.
So the days of the autumn passed. The hills changed their robes of
varied green for costumes of brown and gold, with touches here and
there of flaming scarlet and brilliant yellow. And then winter was
at hand, and that momentous evening came when Auntie Sue said to her
pupil, after an hour of most interesting talk, "Brian, why in the
world don't you write a book?"
"'A book'!" exclaimed Brian, in a startled tone.
Judy laughed. "He sure ought ter. Lord knows he talks like one."
"I am in earnest, Brian," said Auntie Sue, her lovely old eyes
shining with enthusiasm and her gentle voice trembling with
excitement. "I have been thinking about it for a long time, now,
and, to-night, I just can't keep it to myself any longer. Why don't
you give to the world some of the thoughts you have been wasting on
Judy and me?"
"Hit's sure been a-wastin' of 'em on me," agreed Judy. "'Fore God,
I don't sense what he's a-talkin' 'bout, more'n half the time."
Brian laughed. "Judy is prophetic, Auntie Sue. She voices
perfectly the sentiment of the world toward any book I might write."
Auntie Sue detected a note of bitterness underlying the laughing
comment, and wondered.
Judy spoke again as she arose to retire to her room for the night:
"I reckon as how there's a right smart of things youuns talk that'd
be mighty fine if a body only had the learnin' ter sense 'em. An'
there must be heaps of folks where youuns come from what would know
Mr. Burns's meaning if he was to write hit all out plain. Everybody
ain't like me. Hit's sure a God's-blessin' they ain't, too."
"And there, Brian, dear, is your answer," said Auntie Sue, as Judy
left the room. "Any book has meaning only for those who have the
peculiar sympathy and understanding needed to interpret it. A book
that means nothing to one may be rich in meaning for another. Every
writer writes for his own peculiar readers, just as every individual
has his own peculiar friends."
"Or enemies," said Brian.
"Or enemies," agreed Auntie Sue.
Brian went to the window, and stood for some time, looking out into
the night. Then turning, with a nervous gesture, he paced uneasily
up and down the room; while Auntie Sue watched him in silence with an
expression of loving concern on her dear old face.
At last, she spoke: "Why, Brian, what is the matter? What have I
said? I did not mean to upset you like this. Come, sit down here,
and tell me about it. What is it troubles you so?"
With a short laugh, Brian came and stood before her. "I suppose it
had to come sooner or later, Auntie Sue. I have been trying for days
to muster up courage enough to tell you about it. You have touched
the one biggest thing in my life."
"Why, what do you mean, Brian?"
"I mean just what we have been talking about,--writing," answered
"Oh!" she cried, with quick and delighted triumph. "Then I AM
right. You have been thinking about it, too."
"Thinking about it!" he echoed, and in his voice she felt the
nervous intensity of his mood. "I have thought of nothing else. All
day long when I am at work, I am writing, writing, writing. It is the
last thing on my mind when I go to sleep. I dream about it all night.
And, it is the first thing I think about in the morning."
Auntie Sue clasped her hands to her heart with an exclamation of
Brian, with a quiet smile at her enthusiasm, went on: "I know
exactly what I want to say, and why I want to say it. There is a
world of people, Auntie Sue, whose lives have been broken and spoiled
by one thing or another, and who have more or less cut themselves
loose from everything, and are just drifting, they don't care a hang
where, because they think they have failed so completely that there is
nothing more in life for them. People like me,--I don't mean thieves
and criminals necessarily,--who have had that which they know to be
the best and biggest and truest part of themselves tortured and warped
and twisted and denied and smashed and beaten and betrayed and killed;
and who, because they feel that their real selves are dead within
them, don't care what happens to that part which is left."
He was walking the floor again now, and speaking with a depth of
feeling which he had never before revealed to his gentle companion.
"It is not so much the love of wrong-doing that makes people turn
bad,"--he continued,--"it is having their real selves misunderstood
and doubted and smothered and their realest loves and dreams and
aspirations never recognized, or else distorted and twisted and made
to appear as something they hate. I want to make the people-- and
there are many thousands of them--who are suffering in the living hell
that tormented me, feel that I know and understand. And then, Auntie
Sue, then I want to tell them about you and your river.
"I would teach them the things you have taught me. I would say to
every one that I could persuade to listen: 'It doesn't in the least
matter what your experience is, the old river is still going on to the
sea. No matter if every woman you ever knew has proved untrue,
virtuous womanhood still IS. No matter if every man you ever knew has
proved false, true manhood still IS. If every friend you ever had has
betrayed your friendship, loyal friendship still IS. If you have
found nothing in your experience but dishonesty and falsehood and
infidelity and hypocrisy, it is only because you have been unfortunate
in your experience; because honesty and fidelity and sincerity are
existing FACTS. They are the very foundation facts of life, and can
no more fail life than the river can fail to reach the sea.
"'Your little individual experience, my little individual
experience,--what are they? They are nothing more than the tiny
bubbles, swirls, ripples, and breaks on the surface of the great
volume of water that flows so inevitably onward. The bit of foam,
the tiny wave caused by twig or branch or blade of water-grass, or
the great rocks and cliffs that make the roaring whirlpools and
rapids,--do they stay the waters, or turn the river back on its
course, or in any way prevent its onward flow? No more can the twigs
of circumstances, or the boughs of environment, or the grasses of
accident that make the tiny waves of our individual experiences,--or
even the great rocks and cliffs of national or racial import,--such as
wars, and pestilence, and famine,--finally check or stay the river of
life in its onward flow toward the sea of its final and infinite
He went again to the window, and stood looking out into the night
as though listening to the voices.
"Why, Auntie Sue," he said, turning back to the old gentlewoman,--
and his face was radiant with the earnestness of this thought,--
"Auntie Sue, there are as many currents in our river out there as
there are human lives. A comparatively few great main or dominant
currents in the river flow--a comparatively few great dominant
currents in the river flow of life. But if you look closer, you will
see that in each one of those established principal currents there are
countless thousands--millions--of tiny currents all turning and
twisting across, and back, and up, and down in every
direction,--weaving themselves together,--pulling themselves
apart,--criss-crossing, clashing,--interlacing,--tangled and
confused,--and these are the individual lives. And no matter what
the conflict or confusion; no matter what direction they take for the
moment, they all, ALL, go to make up the river;--they, all together,
ARE the river,--and they all together move onward,-- ceaselessly,
He paused to stand smiling down at her, as she sat there in her low
chair beside the table with the lamplight on her silvery hair,--
there in the little log house by the river.
"That is what you have made your river mean to me, Auntie Sue; and
that is what I would give to the world."
With trembling hands, the gentle old teacher reached for her
handkerchief, which lay in the sewing-basket on the table beside her.
Smilingly, she wiped away the tears that filled her eyes. Lovingly,
she looked up at him,--standing so tall and strong before her, with
his reddish hair tumbled and tossed, and his Irish blue eyes lighted
with the fire of his inspiration.
"Well," she said, at last, "why don't you do it, Brian?"
As a breath of air puts out the light of a candle, so the light
went from Brian Kent's face. Dropping into his chair, he answered
hopelessly, "Because I am afraid."
"Afraid?" echoed Auntie Sue, troubled and amazed. "What in the
world are you afraid of, Brian?"
And the bitter, bitter answer came, "I am afraid of another
Auntie Sue's quick mind caught the significance of his words.
"ANOTHER failure, Brian? Then you,--then you have written before?"
"Yes," he returned. And not since his decision to remain with her
had she seen him so despondent. "To write was the dream and the
passion of my life. I tried and tried. God, how I worked and slaved
at it! The only result from my efforts was the hell from which you
Alter a little silence, Auntie Sue said gently: "I don't think I
understand, Brian. You have never told me about your trouble, you
"It is an old, old story," he returned. "I am only one of
thousands. My wretched experience is not at all uncommon."
"I know," she answered. "But don't you think that perhaps you had
better tell me? Perhaps, in the mere telling of it to me, now that
it is all over, you may find the real reason for--for what happened
Wise Auntie Sue!--wise in that rarest of all wisdom,--the
sympathetic understanding of human hearts and souls.
"You know about my earlier life," he began; "how, in my boyhood,
after mother's death, I worked at anything I could do to keep myself
alive, and how I managed to gain a little schooling. I was always
dreaming of writing, even then. I took the business course in a
night-school, not because I liked it, but because I thought it would
help me to earn a living in a way that would give me more time for
what I really wanted to do. And after I finished school, and had
finally worked up to a good position in that bank, I did have more
time for my writing. But,"--he hesitated--"I--well,-- other interests
had come into my life,--and--"
Auntie Sue said, softly, "She did not understand, Brian."
"No, she did not understand," he continued, accepting Auntie Sue's
interpretation without comment. "And when my writing brought no
money, because no publisher would accept my stuff, and the conditions
under which I wrote became intolerable because of misunderstanding and
opposition and disbelief in my ability and charges of neglect,
I--I--stole money from my employers to gain temporary relief until my
writing should amount to something. You see, I could not help
believing that I would succeed, in time. I suppose all dreamers have
more or less confidence in their dreams: they must, you know, or their
dreams would never be realized. I always expected to pay back the
money I took with the money I would earn by my pen. But I failed to
earn anything, you see; and then-- then the inevitable happened, and
the river brought me to you."
"But, my dear boy!" cried Auntie Sue, "all this that you have told
me is no reason why you should fear to write now. Indeed, it is a
very good reason why you should not fear."
He looked at her questioningly, and she continued: "You have given
every reason in the world why you failed. Your whole life was out of
tune. How could you expect to produce anything worthy from such a
jangling discord? You should have been afraid, indeed, to write THEN.
But, NOW,--now, Brian, you are ready. You are a long, long way down
the river from the place of your failures. The disturbing,
distracting things are past,--just as in the quiet reach of the river
below Elbow Rock the turmoil of the rapids is past. You say that you
know exactly what you want to write, and why you want to write it--and
you do know--and because you know,-- because you have
suffered,--because you have learned,--because you can do this thing
for others,--it is yours to do, and so you must do it. What you
really mean when you say you are 'afraid to write' is, that you are
AFRAID NOT TO," she finished with a little laugh of satisfaction.
And Brian Kent, as he watched her glowing face and felt the
sincerity and confidence that vibrated in her voice, was thrilled
with a new courage. The fires of his inspiration shone again in his
eyes, as he answered, with deep conviction, "Auntie Sue, I believe you
are right. What a woman you are!"
CHAPTER XII. AUNTIE SUE TAKES A CHANCE.
So Brian wrote his book that winter.
When the days were fair, he worked with his ax on the mountain-
side. But his notebook was ever at hand, and many a thought that
went down on the pages of his manuscript was born while he wrought
with his hands in the wholesome labor which gave strength to his body
and clearness to his brain. In the evenings, he wrote in the little
log house by the river, with Auntie Sue sitting in her chair beside
the table,--the lamp-light on her silvery hair, and her sewing-basket
within reach of her hand,--engaged with some bit of needlework, a
book, or perhaps with one of her famous letters to some other pupil,
far away. The stormy days gave him many hours with his pen, and so
the book grew.
And always as the man endeavored to shape his thoughts for the
printed pages that would carry his message to the doubting,
disconsolate, and fearful world that he knew so well, he heard in his
heart the voices of the river. From the hillside where he worked in
the timber he could see the stream winding through the snowy hills
like a dark line carelessly drawn with many a crook and curve and
break on the sheet of white. From the porch he saw the quiet Bend a
belt of shining ice and snow, save for a narrow line in the centre,
which marked the course of the strongest currents; while the waters of
the rapids crashed black and dreadful against the Elbow Rock cliff,
which stood gaunt and grim amid the surrounding whiteness; and in the
deathlike hush of the winter twilight, the roar of the turmoil sounded
with persistent menace. And all that the river said to him he put
down,--so far as it was given him to do.
And that which Brian Kent wrote was good. He knew it--in his
deepest, truest self he knew. And Auntie Sue knew it; for, of
course, he read to her from his manuscript as the book grew under his
hand. Even Judy caught much of his story's meaning, and marvelled at
herself because she, too, could understand.
So the spring came, and the first writing of the book was nearly
And now the question arose: What would they do about the final
preparation of the manuscript for the printers? Brian explained that
he should have a typewritten copy of his script, which he would work
over, correct, and revise, and from which perfected copy the final
manuscript would be typewritten. But neither Auntie Sue nor Brian
would consider his finishing the book anywhere but in the little log
house by the river; even if there had been no other reason why Brian
should not go to the city, if it could be avoided.
"There is only one thing to do,"--said Auntie Sue, at last, when
the matter had been discussed several times,--"we must send for Betty
Jo. She has been studying stenography in a business college in
Cincinnati, and, in her latest letter to me, she wrote that she would
finish in April. I'll just write her to come right here, and bring
her typewriter along. She will need a vacation, and she can have it
and do your work at the same time. Besides, I need to see Betty Jo.
She hasn't been to visit me since before Judy came."
Brian thought that Auntie Sue seemed a little nervous and excited
as she spoke, but he attributed it to her combined interest in the
book and in the proposed typist. The man could not know the real
cause of his gentle old companion's agitation, nor with what anxiety
she had considered the matter for many days before she announced her
plan. The fact was that Auntie Sue was taking a big chance, and she
realized it fully. But she could find no other way to secure the
services of a competent stenographer for Brian, and, as Brian must
have a competent stenographer in order to finish his book properly,
she had decided to accept the risk.
"That sounds all right, Auntie Sue," returned Brian. "But who,
pray tell, is Betty Jo?"
"Betty Jo is,"--Auntie Sue paused and laughed with a suggestion of
embarrassed confusion,--"Betty Jo is--just Betty Jo, Brian," she
Brian laughed now. "Fine, Auntie Sue! That describes her
exactly,--tells me her life's history and gives me a detailed account
of her family,--ancestors and all."
"It describes her with more accuracy than you think," retorted
Auntie Sue, smiling in return at his teasing manner.
"I reckon as how she's got more of er name than that, ain't she?"
said Judy, who was a silent, but intensely interested, listener.
"I've allus took notice that folks with funny names'll stand a right
smart of watchin'."
Brian and Auntie Sue laughed together at this, but the old lady
said, with a show of spirit: "Judy! You know nothing about it! You
never even saw Betty Jo! You shouldn't say such things, child."
"Might as well say 'em as ter think 'em, I reckon," Judy returned,
her beady-black eyes stealthily watching Brian.
"What is your Betty Jo's real name, Auntie Sue?" asked Brian,
Again Auntie Sue seemed to hesitate; then--"Her name is Miss Betty
Jo Williams," and as she spoke the old teacher looked straight at
"A perfectly good name," Brian returned; "but I never heard of her
Judy's black eyes, with their stealthy, oblique look, were now
watchfully fixed on Auntie Sue.
"She is the orphan-niece of one of my old pupils," Auntie Sue
continued. "I have known her since she was a baby. When she
finished her education in the seminary, and had travelled abroad for
a few months, she decided all at once that she wanted a course in a
business college, which was just what any one knowing her would expect
her to do."
"Sounds steady and reliable," commented Brian. "But will she
"Yes, indeed, she will, and be tickled to death over the job,"
returned Auntie Sue. "I'll write her at once."
While Auntie Sue was preparing to write her letter, Judy muttered,
in a tone which only Brian heard: "Just the same, 'tain't no name
for a common gal ter have; hit sure ain't. There's somethin' dad
burned queer 'bout hit somewhere."
"Nonsense! Judy," said Brian in a low voice; "don't worry Auntie
"I ain't aimin' ter worry her none," returned the mountain girl;
"but I'll bet you-all a pretty that this here gal'll worry both of
youuns 'fore you are through with her;--me, too, I reckon."
For some reason, Auntie Sue's letter to Betty Jo seemed to be
rather long. In fact, she spent the entire evening at it; which led
Judy to remark that "hit sure looked like Auntie Sue was aimin' ter
write a book herself."
A neighbor who went to Thompsonville the following day with a load
of hogs for shipment, posted the letter. And, in due time, another
neighbor brought the answer. Betty Jo would come.
It was the day following the evening when Brian wrote the last page
of his book that another letter came to Auntie Sue,--a letter which,
for the second time, very nearly wrecked Brian Kent's world.
CHAPTER XIII. JUDY TO THE RESCUE.
Brian was working in the garden. It was early in the afternoon,
and the man, as he worked in the freshly ploughed ground, was
rejoicing at the completion of his book.
Straightening up from his labor, he drew a deep breath of the
fragrant air. About him on every side, and far away into the blue
distance, the world was dressed in the gala dress of the season. The
river, which at the breaking of the winter had been a yellow flood
that washed the top of the bank in front of the house and covered the
bottom-lands on the opposite side, was again its normal self, and its
voice to him, now, was a singing voice of triumphal gladness.
For Brian, too, the world was new, and fresh, and beautiful. The
world of his winter was gone. He had found himself in his work, and
in the glorious consciousness of the fact he felt like shouting with
sheer joy of living.
"And Auntie Sue, dear Auntie Sue," he thought, looking with love in
his eyes toward the house, how wonderful she had been in her helpful
understanding and never-failing faith in him. After all, it was
Auntie Sue's triumph more than it was his.
His happy musing was interrupted by a neighbor who, on his way home
from Thompsonville, stopped at the garden fence with the letter for
Brian took the letter with a jest which brought a roar of laughter
from the mountaineer, and, when the latter had gone on his way up the
hill, started toward the house to find Auntie Sue.
Glancing at the envelope in his hand, Brian noticed the postmark
"Buenos Aires." He stopped suddenly, staring dumbly at the words in
the circular mark and at the name written on the envelope. Over and
over, he read "Buenos Aires,--Miss Susan Wakefield; Buenos
Aires,--Miss Susan Wakefield." Something-- His brain seemed to be
numb. His hands trembled. He looked about at the familiar
surroundings, and everything seemed suddenly strange and unreal to
him. He looked again at the letter in his hand, turning it
curiously. A strange feeling of oppression and ominous foreboding
possessed him as though the bright spring sky were all at once
overcast with heavy and menacing storm-clouds. What was it? "Buenos
Aires,--Susan Wakefield?" Where had he seen that combination before?
What was it that made the name of the Argentine city in connection
with Auntie Sue's name seem so familiar? Slowly, he went on to the
house, and, finding Auntie Sue, gave her the letter.
"Oh!" cried the old lady, as she saw the postmark on the envelope.
"It must be from brother John. It is not John's writing, though,"
she added, as she opened the envelope.
And at her words the feeling of impending disaster so oppressed
Brian Kent that only by an effort could he control himself. He was
possessed of the strange sensation of having at some time in the past
lived the identical experience through which he was at that moment
passing. "Susan Wakefield;--a brother John in Buenos Aires,
Argentine;--the letter!" It was all so familiar that the allusion
was startling in its force. But that ominous cloud,--that sense of
some great trouble near that filled him with such unaccountable
dread--what could it mean?
An exclamation from Auntie Sue drew his attention. She looked at
him with tear-filled eyes, and her sweet voice broke as she said:
"Brian! Brian! John is dead! This--this letter is from the doctor
who attended him."
Tenderly, as he would have helped his own mother, Brian assisted
Auntie Sue to her room. For a little while he sat with her, trying
to comfort her with such poor words as he could find.
Briefly, she told him of the brother who had lived in Argentine for
many years. He had married a South-American woman whom Auntie Sue
had never seen, and while not wealthy had been moderately prosperous.
But he had never forgotten his sister who was so alone in the world.
"Several times, when he could, he sent me money for my savings-bank
account," she finished simply, her sweet old voice low and tender with
the memories of the years that were gone. "John and I were always very
fond of each other. He was a good man, Brian."
Brian Kent sat like a man stricken dumb. Auntie Sue's words, "he
sent me money for my savings-bank account," had made the connection
between the names "Buenos Aires, Argentine; John Wakefield; Susan
Wakefield," and the thing for which his mind had been groping with
such a sense of impending disaster.
In her grief over the death of her brother, and in her memories of
their home years so long past, dear old Auntie Sue had forgotten the
peculiar meaning her words might have for the former clerk of the
Empire Consolidated Savings Bank who sat beside her, and to whom she
turned in her sorrow as a mother to a dearly beloved son.
"But it is all right, Brian, dear," she said with brave
cheerfulness. "When one has watched the sunsets for seventy years, one
ceases to fear the coming of the night, for always there is the
morning. Just let me rest here alone for a little while, and I will
be myself again."
She looked up at him with a smile, and Brian Kent, kneeling beside
the bed, bowed his head and caught the dear old hands to his lips.
Without trusting himself to speak again, the man left the room,--
closing the door.
He moved about the apartment as one in a dream. With a vividness
that was torture, he lived again that hour in the bank when, opening
the afternoon mail, he had found the letter from Susan Wakefield with
the Argentine notes, which her letter said she had received from her
brother John in Buenos Aires, and which she was sending to the bank
for deposit to her little account. It had been a very unbusinesslike
letter and a very unbusinesslike way to transmit money. It was,
indeed, this nature of the transaction that had tempted the
Mechanically, Brian stopped at his writing-table to finger the
manuscript which he had finished the evening before. Was it only the
evening before? Taking up the volume of closely written sheets which
were bound together by a shoestring that Auntie Sue had laughingly
found for him, when he had so joyously announced the completion of the
last page of his book, he turned the leaves idly,--reading here and
there a sentence with curious interest. The terrific mental strain of
his situation completely divorced him, as it were, from the life which
he had lived during those happy months just past, and which was so
fully represented by his work.
Again the river, swinging around a sudden turn in its course, had
come upon a passage where its peaceful flow was broken by the wild
turmoil of the troubled waters.
"And Auntie Sue,"--something within the man's self was saying,--
"dear Auntie Sue, who had saved him, not only from death, but from
the hell of the life that he had formerly lived, as well; and whose
loving companionship and sympathetic understanding had so inspired
and strengthened him in the work which had been the passionate desire
of his heart;--the gentle old teacher whose life had been so
completely given to others, and who, in the helplessness of her last
years, was so alone,--Auntie Sue was depending upon that money which
her brother had sent her as the only support of the closing days of
her life. Auntie Sue believed that her money was safe in the bank.
That belief was to her a daily comfort. Auntie Sue did not know that
she was almost penniless;--that the man whom she had saved with such a
wondrous salvation had robbed her, and left her so shamefully without
means for the necessities of life. Auntie Sue did not know. But she
would know,"--that inner voice went on. "The time would come when she
would learn the truth. It was certain to come. It might come any
As one moving without conscious purpose, Brian Kent went from the
house,--the manuscript in his hand.
Judy was sitting idly on the porch steps. At sight of the mountain
girl the man knew all at once that there was one thing he must do. He
must make sure that there was no mistake. He was already sure, of
course; but still, as a condemned man at the scaffold hopes against
hope for a stay of sentence, so he caught at the shadowy suggestion of
"Come with me, Judy," he said, forcing himself to speak coolly; "I
want to talk with you."
Judy arose, and, looking at him in her stealthy, oblique way, said,
in her drawling monotone: "What's happened ter Auntie Sue? Was
there somethin' in that there letter Bud Jackson give you-all for her
what's upset her?"
"Auntie Sue's brother is dead, Judy," Brian answered. "She wishes
to be alone, and we must not disturb her. She will be all right in a
little while. Come, let us walk down toward the bluff."
When they had reached a spot on the river-bank a short distance
above the Elbow Rock cliff, Brian said to his companion: "Judy, I
want you to tell me something. Did Auntie Sue ever send money in a
letter to the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, in Chicago?"
"The black, beady eyes shifted evasively, and the mountain girl
turned her sallow, old-young face away from Brian's direct gaze.
"Look at me, Judy."
She sent a stealthy, oblique glance in his direction.
"You must tell me."
"I done started ter tell you-all onct,--that time pap ketched me,--
an' you-all 'lowed as how I oughten ter tell nothin' 'bout Auntie Sue
"But it is different now, Judy," returned Brian. "Something has
happened that makes it necessary for me to know."
"Meanin' that there letter 'bout her brother bein' dead?" asked
"What you-all got ter know for?"
"Because--" Brian could not finish.
Judy's beady eyes were watching him intently, now. "Hit looks like
you-all ain't a-needin' me ter tell you-all anythin'," she observed
"Then Auntie Sue did send money?"
"She sure did. I seed her fix hit in the letter, myself," came the
"What kind of money?"
"I dunno,--some funny kind hit was,--what her brother done sent her
from some funny place, I dunno just where."
"When did she send it?"
"'Bout a month 'fore you come."
"And--and did any letter ever come from the bank to tell her that
the money was received by them all right?"
The mountain girl did not answer, but again turned her face away.
"Tell me," Brian insisted. "I--I--must know, Judy," and his voice
was harsh and broken with emotion.
The answer came reluctantly: "I reckon you-all knows where that
there money went ter."
The girl's answer sent a new thought like a hot iron into Brian
Kent's tortured brain. He caught Judy's arm in quick and fearful
excitement. "Judy!" he gasped, imploringly, "Judy, do you--? does
Auntie Sue know--? does she know that I--?"
"How could she help knowin'? She ain't no fool. An' I done heard
that there Sheriff an' the deteckertive man tellin' her 'bout you an'
the bank. An' the Sheriff, he done give her a paper what he said told
all 'bout what you-all done, an' she must er burned the paper, or done
somethin' with hit, 'cause I couldn't never find hit after that night.
An' what would she do that for? And what for did she make me promise
not ter ever say nothin' ter you-all 'bout that there money letter?
An' why ain't she said nothin' to you 'bout the letter from the bank
not comin', if she didn't know hit was you 'stead of them what done
got the money?"
The girl paused for a moment, and then went on in a tone of
reverent wonder: "An' to think that all the time she could a- turned
you-all over to that there Sheriff an' got the money-reward to pay her
back what you-all done tuck."
Brian Kent was as one who had received a mortal hurt. His features
were distorted with suffering. With eyes that could not see, he
looked down at the manuscript to which he still unconsciously clung;
and, again, he fingered the pages of his work as though some blind
instinct were sending his tormented soul to seek relief in the message
which, during the happy months just past, he had written for others.
And the deformed mountain girl, who stood before him with twisted
body and old-young face, grew fearful as she watched the suffering of
this man whom she had come to look upon as a superior being from some
world which she, in her ignorance, could never know.
"Mr. Burns," she said at last, putting out her hand and plucking at
his sleeve, "Mr. Burns, you-all ain't got no call ter be like this.
You-all ain't plumb bad. I knows you ain't, 'count of the way you-
all have been ter me an' 'cause you kept pap from hurtin' me, an'
'cause you are takin' care of Auntie Sue like you're doin'. Hit
ain't no matter 'bout the money, now, 'cause you-all kin take care of
Brian looked up from the manuscript in his hand, and stared dumbly
at the girl, as if he failed to hear her clearly.
"An' just think 'bout your book," Judy continued pleadingly.
"Think 'bout all them fine things you-all have done wrote down for
everybody ter read,--'bout the river allus a-goin' on just the same,
no matter what happens, an' 'bout Auntie Sue an'--"
She stopped, and drew away from him, frightened at the look that
came into the man's face.
"Don't, Mr. Burns! Don't!" she half-screamed. "'Fore God, you-all
oughten ter look like that!"
The man threw up his head, and laughed,--laughed as the wild,
reckless and lost Brian Kent had laughed that black night when, in
the drifting boat, he had cursed the life he was leaving and had
drunk his profane toast to the darkness into which he was being
Raising the manuscript, which represented all that the past months
of his re-created life had meant to him, and grasping it in both
hands, he shook it contemptuously, as he said, with indescribable
bitterness and the reckless surrendering of every hope: "'All them
fine things that I have wrote down for everybody ter read.'" He
mimicked her voice with a sneer, and laughed again. Then: "It's all
a lie, Judy, dear;--a damned lie. Auntie Sue is a saint, and believes
it. She made me believe it for a little while,--her beautiful,
impossible dream-philosophy of the river. The river,-- hell!--the
river is as treacherous and cruel and false and tricky and crooked as
life itself! And I am as warped and twisted in mind and soul as you
are in body, Judy, dear. Neither of us can help it. We were made
that way by the river. To hell with the whole impossible mess of
things!" With a gesture of violent rage, he turned toward the river,
and, taking a step forward, lifted the manuscript high above his head.
Judy screamed, "Mr. Burns, don't!"
He paused an instant, and, turning his head, looked at her with
"'Fore God, you dassn't do that!" she implored.
And then, as the man turned his face from her, and his arms went
back above his head for the swing that would send the manuscript far
out into the tumbling waters of the rapids, she leaped toward him,
and, catching his arm, hampered his movement so that the book fell a
few feet from the shore, where the water, checked a little in its
onward rush to the cliff by the irregular bank, boiled and eddied
among the rocky ledges and huge boulders that retarded its force.
Another leap carried the mountain girl to the edge of the bank, where
she crouched like a runner ready for the report of the starter's
pistol, her black, beady eyes searching the stream for the volume of
manuscript, which had disappeared from sight, drawn down by the
troubled swirling currents.
The man, watching her, laughed in derision; but, while his mocking
laughter was still on his lips, the boiling currents brought the
book, again, to the surface, and Brian saw the girl leave the bank as
if thrown by a powerful spring. Straight and true she dived for the
book, and even as she disappeared beneath the surface her hands
clutched the manuscript.
For a second, Brian Kent held his place as if paralyzed with
horror. Then, as Judy's head appeared farther down the stream, he
ran with all his strength along the bank to gain a point a little
ahead of the swimming girl before he should leap to her rescue.
But Judy, trained from her birth on that mountain river, knew
better than Brian what to do. A short distance below the point where
she had plunged into the stream, a huge boulder, some two or three
feet from the shore, caused a split in the current, one fork of which
set in toward the bank. Swimming desperately, the girl gained the
advantage of this current, and, just as Brian reached the spot, she
was swept against the bank, where, with her free hand, she caught and
held fast to a projecting root. Had she been carried past that point,
nothing could have saved her from being swept on into the wild turmoil
of the waters at Elbow Rock.
It was the work of a moment for Brian to throw himself flat on the
ground at the edge of the bank and, reaching down, to grasp the
girl's wrist. Another moment, and she was safe beside him, his
manuscript still tightly held under one arm.
Not realizing, in his excitement, what he was doing, Brian shook
the girl, saying angrily: "What in the world do you mean, taking
such a crazy-fool chance as that!"
She broke away from him with: "Well, what'd you-all go an' do such
a dad burned fool thing for? Hit's you-all what's crazy yourself--
Brian held out his hand: "Give me that manuscript!"
Judy clutched the book tighter, and drew back defiantly. "I won't.
You-all done throwed hit away onct. 'Tain't your'n no more, nohow."
"Well, what do you purpose to do with it?" said the puzzled man, in
a gentler tone.
"I aims ter give hit ter Auntie Sue," came the startling reply. "I
reckon she'll know what ter do. Hit allus was more her'n than
your'n, anyhow. You done said so yourself. I heard you only last
night when you-all was so dad burned tickled at gittin' hit done.
You-all ain't got no right ter sling hit inter the river, an',
anyway, I ain't a-goin' ter let you."
"Which sounds very sensible to me," came a clear voice from a few
Judy and Brian turned quickly, to face a young woman who stood
regarding them thoughtfully, with a suggestion of a smile on her very
CHAPTER XIV. BETTY JO CONSIDERS.
The most careless eye would have seen instantly that the newcomer
was not a native of that backwoods district. She was not a large
woman, but there was, nevertheless, a full, rounded strength, which
saved her trim and rather slender body from appearing small. Neither
would a discriminating observer describe her by that too- common term
"pretty." She was more than that. In her large, gray eyes, there was
a look of frank, straightforward interest that suggested an almost
boyish good-fellowship, while at the same time there was about her a
general air of good breeding; with a calm, self-possessed and
businesslike alertness which, combined with a wholesome dignity,
commanded a feeling of respect and confidence. Her voice was clear and
musical, with an undertone of sympathetic humor. One felt when she
spoke that while she lacked nothing of intelligent understanding and
sympathetic interest, she was quite ready to laugh at you just the
When the two stood speechless, she said, looking straight at Brian:
"It seems to me, sir, that the young lady has all the best of the
argument. But I really think she should have some dry clothes as
She turned to the dripping and dishevelled Judy: "You poor child.
Aren't you cold! It is rather early in the season for a dip in the
river, I should think. Let me take whatever you have there, and you
make for the house as fast as you can go,--the run will warm you."
As she spoke, she went to the mountain girl, holding out her hand
to take the manuscript, and smiling encouragingly.
But Judy backed away, her stealthy, oblique gaze fixed with
watchful surprise on the fair stranger.
"This here ain't none of your put-in," and her shrill drawling
monotone contrasted strangely with the other's pleasing voice.
"Where'd you-all happen from, anyhow? How'd you-all git here?"
"I came over the bluff by the path," answered the other. "You see,
I left the train from the south at White's Crossing because I knew I
could drive up from there by the river road quicker than I could go by
rail away around through the hills to Thompsonville, and then make the
drive down the river from there. When I reached Elbow Rock, I was in
such a hurry, I took the short cut, while the man with my trunk and
things went by the road over Schoolhouse Hill, you know. I arrived
here just as this gentleman was pulling you from the water."
Before Brian could speak, Judy returned with excitement: "I know
who you-all be now. I ought ter knowed the minute I set eyes on you.
You-all are the gal with that there no-'count name, an' you've come
ter work for him, there,"--she pointed to Brian,--"a- helpin' him ter
write his book, what ain't his'n no more, nohow, 'cause he done
throwed hit away,--plumb inter the river."
"I am Miss Williams," returned the other. "My 'no-'count name,' I
suppose, is Betty Jo." She laughed kindly. "Perhaps it won't seem
so 'no'count' when we are better acquainted, Judy. Won't you run
along to the house, and change to some dry clothes? You will catch
your death of cold if you stand here like this."
"How'd you-all know I was Judy?"
"Why, Auntie Sue wrote me about you, of course."
"An' you knowed me 'cause I'm so all crooked an' ugly, I reckon,"
came the uncompromising return.
Betty Jo turned to Brian: "You are Mr. Burns, are you not, for
whom I am to work?"
Brian made no reply,--he really could not speak. "And this,"--
Betty Jo included Judy, the manuscript, and the river in a graceful
gesture,--"this, I suppose, is the result of what is called 'the
Still the man could find no words. The young woman's presence and
her reference to his work brought to him, with overwhelming
vividness, the memory of all to which he had so short a time before
looked forward, and which was now so hopelessly lost to him. He
felt, too, a sense of rebellion that she should have come at such a
moment,--that she could stand there with such calm self-possession
and with such an air of competency. Her confidence and poise in such
contrast to the chaotic turmoil of his own thoughts, and his utter
helplessness in the situation which had so suddenly burst upon him,
filled him with unreasoning resentment.
Betty Jo must have read in Brian Kent's face something of the
suffering that held him there dumb and motionless before her, and so
sensed a deeper tragedy than appeared on the surface of the incident;
and her own face and voice revealed her understanding as she said,
with quiet, but decisive, force: "Mr. Burns, Judy must go to the
house. Won't you persuade her?"
Brian started as one aroused from deep abstraction, and went to
Judy; while Betty Jo drew a little way apart, and stood looking out
over the river.
"Give me the manuscript, Judy," said Brian gently, "and go on to
"You-all ain't a-goin' ter sling hit inter the river again?" The
words were half-question and half-assertion.
"No," said Brian. "I promise not to throw it into the river
As Judy gave him the manuscript, she turned her beady eyes in a
stealthy, oblique look toward Betty Jo, and whispered: "You-all best
tell her 'bout hit. I sure hate her poison-bad; but hit's easy ter
see she'd sure know what ter do."
"Be careful that Auntie Sue doesn't see you like this, Judy," was
Brian's only answer; and Judy started off for her much-needed change
to dry clothing.
When the mountain girl was gone, Brian stood looking at the water-
stained volume of manuscript in his hand. He had no feeling, now, of
more than a curious idle interest in this work to which, during the
months just past, he had given so without reserve the best of himself.
It was, he thought, strange how he could regard with such
indifference a thing for which a few hours before he would have given
his life. Dumbly, he was conscious of the truth of Judy's
words,--that the book was no longer his. Judy was right--this book
which he had called his had always been, in reality, Auntie Sue's. So
the matter of his work, at least so far as he had to do with it, was
settled--definitely and finally settled.
But what of himself? What was to become of him? Of one thing only
he was certain about himself;--he never could face Auntie Sue again.
Knowing, now, what he had done, and knowing that she knew;-- that all
the time she was nursing him back to health, all the time she had been
giving him the inspiration and strength and peace of her gentle,
loving companionship, in the safe and quiet harbor of her little house
by the river, she had known that it was he who had--
A clear, matter-of-fact, but gentle, voice interrupted his bitter
thoughts: "Is it so very badly damaged, Mr. Burns?"
He had forgotten Betty Jo, who now stood close beside him.
"Let me see?" She held out her hand as he turned slowly to face
Without a word, he gave her the manuscript.
Very businesslike and practical, but with an underlying feeling of
tenderness that was her most compelling charm, Betty Jo examined the
"Why, no," she announced cheerfully; "it isn't really hurt much.
You see, the sheets being tied together so tightly, the water didn't
get all the way through. The covers and the first and last pages are
pretty wet, and the edges of the rest are rather damp. It'll be
smudged somewhat, but I don't believe there is a single word that
can't be made out. It is lucky it didn't prolong its bath, though,
isn't it? All we need to do, now, is to put it in the sun to dry for
a few minutes."
Selecting a sunny spot near by, she arranged the volume against a
stone and deftly separated the pages so that the air could circulate
more freely between them; and one would have said, from her manner of
ready assurance, that she had learned from long experience exactly how
to dry a manuscript that had been thrown in the river and rescued just
in the nick of time. That was Betty Jo's way. She always did
everything without hesitation,--just as though she had spent the
twenty-three years of her life doing exactly that particular thing.
Kneeling over the manuscript, and gently moving the wet sheets, she
said, without looking up: "Do you always bath your manuscripts like
this before you turn them over to your stenographer to type, Mr.
In spite of his troubled state of mind, Brian smiled.
The clear, matter-of-fact voice went on, while the competent hands
moved the drying pages. "You see, I never worked for an author
before. I suspect I have a lot to learn."
She looked up at him with a Betty Jo smile that went straight to
his heart, as Betty Jo's smiles had a curious way of doing.
"I hope you will be very patient with me, Mr. Burns. You will,
won't you? There is no real danger of your throwing ME in the river
when the 'artistic temperament' possesses you, is there?"
It was no use. When Betty Jo set out to make a man talk, that man
talked. Brian yielded not ungracefully: "I owe you an apology, Miss
Williams," he said.
"Indeed, no," Betty Jo returned, giving her attention to the
manuscript again. "It is easy to see that you are terribly upset
about something; and everybody is so accustomed to being upset in one
way or another that apologies for upsetments are quite an unnecessary
bother, aren't they?"
That was another interestingly curious thing about Betty Jo,--the
way she could finish off a characteristic, matter-of-fact statement
with a question which had the effect of making one agree instantly
whether one agreed or not.
Brian felt himself quite unexpectedly feeling that "upsetments"
were quite common, ordinary, and to be expected events in one's life.
"But I am really in very serious trouble, Miss Williams," he said in
a way that sounded oddly to Brian himself, as though he were trying to
convince himself that his trouble really was serious.
Betty Jo rose to her feet, and looked straight at him, and there
was no mistaking the genuineness of the interest expressed in those
big gray eyes.
"Oh, are you? Is it really so serious? I am so sorry. But don't
you think you better tell me about it, Mr. Burns? If I am to work
for you, I may just as well begin right here, don't you think?"
There it was again,--that trick-question. Brian felt himself
agreeing in spite of himself, though how he was to explain his
painful situation to this young woman whom, until a few minutes
before, he had never even seen, he did not know. He answered
cautiously, speaking half to himself: "That is what Judy said."
Betty Jo did not understand, and made no pretense,--she never made
a pretense of anything. "What did Judy say?" she asked.
"That I had better tell you about it," he answered.
And the matter-of-fact Betty Jo returned: "Judy seems to be a very
particular and common-sensing sort of Judy, doesn't she?"
And Brian realized all at once that Judy was exactly what Betty Jo
"But,--I--I--don't see how I CAN tell you, Miss Williams."
"Why?" laughed Betty Jo. "It is perfectly simple, Mr. Burns.
here, now, I'll show you: You are to sit down there on that nice
comfortable rock,--that is your big office-chair, you know,--and I'll
sit right here on this rock,--which is my little stenography-
chair,--and you will just explain the serious business proposition to
me with careful attention to details. I must tell you that
'detailing' is one of my strong points, so don't spare me. I really
should have my notebook, shouldn't I?"
Again, in spite of himself, Brian smiled; also, before he was
aware, they were both seated as Betty Jo had directed.
"But this is not a business matter, Miss Williams," he managed to
Betty Jo was looking at her watch in a most matter-of-fact manner,
and she answered in a most matter-of-fact voice: "Everything is more
or less a business matter, isn't it, Mr. Burns?"
And Brian, if he had answered, would have agreed.
Betty Jo slipped her watch back into her pocket, and continued:
"You will have plenty of time before that man with my trunk and
things can get away 'round over Schoolhouse Hill and down again to
Auntie Sue's. He will be obliged to stop at neighbor Tom's, and tell
them all about me, of course. We mustn't let him beat us to the
house, though; so, perhaps, you better begin, don't you think?"
That "don't-you-think?" so characteristic of Betty Jo, did its
work, as usual; and so, almost before Brian Kent realized what he was
doing, it had been decided for him that to follow Judy's advice was
the best possible thing he could do, and he was relating his whole
wretched experience to this young woman, about whom he knew nothing
except that she was a niece of an old pupil of Auntie Sue's, and that
she had just finished a course in a business college in Cincinnati.
At several points in his story Betty Jo asked straightforward
questions, or made short, matter-of-fact comments; but, always with
her businesslike air of competent interest. Indeed, she managed to
treat the situation as being wholly impersonal; while at the same
time the man was never for a moment made to feel that she was lacking
in sincere and genuine sympathy. Only when he told her that his name
was Brian Kent, and mentioned the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank,
did she for the moment betray excited surprise. When she saw that he
had noticed, she said quickly: "I read of the affair in the papers,
Auntie Sue had indeed taken a big chance when she decided for Betty
Jo to come to help Brian with his book. But Auntie Sue had taken no
chance on Betty Jo herself. Perhaps it was, in fact, the dear old
teacher's certainty about Betty Jo herself that had led her to accept
the risk of sending for the niece of her friend and pupil under such a
peculiar combination of circumstances.
When Brian had finished his story with the account of his discovery
of the distressing fact that he had robbed Auntie Sue and that she
knew he had robbed her, Betty Jo said: "It is really a sad story,
isn't it, Mr. Burns? But, oh, isn't Auntie Sue wonderful! Was there
ever such another woman in the world! Don't you love her? And
couldn't you do anything--anything that would make her happy? After
all, when you think of Auntie Sue, and how wonderful she has been,
this whole thing isn't so bad, is it?"
"Why, I--I--don't think I see what you mean," Brian replied,
puzzled by the unexpected turn she had given to the situation, yet
convinced by that little question with which she finished that she
was somehow right.
"Well, I mean wouldn't YOU love to do for some one what Auntie Sue
has done for you? I should if I were only big enough and good
enough. It seems to me it would make one the happiest and
contentedest and peacefulest person in the world, wouldn't it?"
Brian did not answer. While he felt himself agreeing with Betty
Jo's view, he was wondering at himself that he could discuss the
matter so calmly. It was not that he no longer felt deeply the shame
of this terrible thing that he had done; it was not that he had ceased
to suffer the torment that had caused his emotional madness, which had
found expression in his attempt to destroy his manuscript; it was only
that this young woman somehow made it possible for him to retain his
self-control, and instead of venting his emotions in violent and
wholly useless expressions of regret, and self-condemnation, and in
irrational, temperamental action, to consider coolly and sanely what
he must do. He was strangely possessed, too, of an instinctive
certainty that Betty Jo knew exactly how he felt and exactly what she
While he was thinking these things, or, rather, feeling them, Betty
Jo went to see how the manuscript was drying. She returned to her
seat on the rock presently, saying: "It is doing very nicely,--
almost dry. I think it will be done pretty soon. In the meantime,
what are we going to do about everything? You have thought of
something for you to do, of course!"
"I fear I have felt rather more than I have thought," returned
She nodded. "Yes, I know; but feeling alone never arrives
anywhere. An excess of thoughtless feeling is sheer emotional
extravagance. I sound like a book, don't I?" she laughed. "It is so
just the same, Mr. Burns. And now that you have--ah--been
properly--not to say gloriously--extravagant at poor Judy's expense,
we had better do a little thinking, don't you think?"
The man's cheeks reddened at her words; but the straightforward,
downright sincerity of those gray eyes, that looked so frankly into
his, held him steady; while the interrogation at the end of her
remark carried its usual conviction.
"There is only one possible thing left for me to do, Miss
Williams," he said earnestly.
"And what is that?" A smile that sent a glow of courage to Brian
Kent's troubled heart accompanied the flat question.
"I can't face Auntie Sue again, knowing what I know now." He spoke
"Of course you would expect to feel that way, wouldn't you?" came
the matter-of-fact answer.
"The only thing I can do," he continued, "is to give myself up, and
go to the penitentiary; arranging, somehow, to do it in such a way
that the reward will go to Auntie Sue. God knows she deserves it!
Sheriff Knox would help me fix that part, I am sure."
For a moment there was a suspicious moisture in Betty Jo's gray
eyes. Then she said, "And you would really go to prison for Auntie
"It is the least I can do for her now," he returned.
And Betty Jo must have felt the sincerity of his purpose, for she
said, softly: "I am sure that it would make Auntie Sue very happy to
know that you would do that; and"--she added--"I know that you could
not possibly make her more unhappy and miserable than by doing it,
Again she had given an unexpected turn to the subject with the
usual convincing question-mark.
"But what can I do?" he demanded, letting himself go a little.
Betty Jo steadied him with: "Well, suppose you listen while I
consider? Did I tell you that 'considering' was another of my strong
points, Mr. Burns? Well, it is. You may consider me while I
consider, if you please.
"The first thing is, that you must make Auntie Sue happy,--as happy
as you possibly can do at any cost. The second thing is, that you
must pay her back that money, every penny of it. Now, it wouldn't
make her happy for you to go to prison, and the reward wouldn't pay
back all the money; and if you were in prison, you never could pay
the rest; besides, if you were wasting your time in prison, she would
just die of miserableness, and she wouldn't touch a penny of that
reward-money--not if she was to die for want of it. So that settles
that, doesn't it?"
And Brian was forced to admit that, as Betty Jo put it, it did.
"Very well, let us consider some more: Dear Auntie Sue has been
wonderfully, gloriously happy in doing what she has for you this past
winter,--meaning your book and all. I can see that she must have
been. No one could help being happy doing such a thing as that. So
you just simply can't spoil it all, now, by letting her know that you
know what you know."
Brian started to speak, but she checked him with: "Please, Mr.
Burns, I must not be interrupted when I am considering. Next to the
prison,--which we have agreed won't do at all,--you could do nothing
that would make Auntie Sue more unhappy than to spoil the happiness
she has in your not knowing what you have done to her. That is very
clear, isn't it? And think of her miserableness if, after all these
weeks of happy anticipation, your book should never be published. No,
no, no; you can't rob Auntie Sue of her happiness in you just because
you stole her money, can you?"
And Brian knew in his heart that she was right.
"So, you see," Betty Jo continued, "the only possible way to do is
to go right along just as if nothing had happened. And there is this
final consideration,--which must be a dark secret between you and
me,--when the book is finished, you must see to it that every penny
that comes from it goes to Auntie Sue until she is paid back all that
she lost through you. Now, isn't that pretty fine 'considering,' Mr.
And Brian was convinced that it was. "But," he suggested, "the
book may not earn anything. Nothing that I ever wrote before did."
"You never wrote one before just like this, did you?" came the very
matter-of-fact answer. "And, besides, if your book never earns a
cent, it will do Auntie Sue a world more good than your going to
prison for her. That would be rather silly, now that you think of
it, wouldn't it? And now that we have our conspiracy all nicely
conspired, we must hurry to the house before that man arrives with my
She went for the manuscript as she spoke. "See," she cried, "it is
quite dry, and not a bit the worse for its temperamental experience!"
She laughed gleefully.
"But, Miss Williams," exclaimed Brian, "I--I--can't understand you!
You don't seem to mind. What I have told you about myself doesn't
seem to--to--make any difference to you--I mean in your attitude
"Oh, yes, it does," she returned. "It makes me very interested in
you, Mr. Burns."
"But, how can you have any confidence-- How can you help me with
my book now that you know what I am?" he persisted, for he was
sincerely puzzled by her apparent indifference to the revelation he
had made of his character.
"Auntie Sue,"--she answered,--"just Auntie Sue. Come,--we must
"How in the world can I ever face her!" groaned Brian.
"You won't get the chance at her, for awhile, with me around;--she
will be so busy with me that she won't notice anything wrong with
you. So you will get accustomed to the conspiracy feeling before you
are even suspected of conspiring. You know, when one has once arrived
at the state of not feeling like a liar, one can lie with astonishing
success. Haven't you found it so?"
They laughed together over this as they went toward the house.
As they reached the porch, Betty Jo whispered a last word of
instruction: "You better find Judy, and fix her the first thing;--
fix her good and hard. Here is Auntie Sue now. Don't worry about
her noticing anything strange about you. I'll attend to her."
And the next minute, Betty Jo had the dear old lady in her arms.
CHAPTER XV. A MATTER OF BUSINESS.
The weeks that followed the coming of Betty Jo to the little log
house by the river passed quickly for Brian Kent. Perhaps it was the
peculiar circumstances of their first meeting that made the man feel
so strongly that he had known her for many years, instead of for only
those few short weeks. That could easily have been the reason,
because the young woman had stepped so suddenly into his life at a
very critical time;--when his mental faculties were so confused by the
turmoil and suffering of his emotional self that the past was to him,
at the moment, far more real than the present.
And Betty Jo had not merely come into his life casually, as a
disinterested spectator; but, by the peculiar appeal of herself, she
had led Brian to take her so into his confidence that she had become
immediately a very real part of the experience through which he was
then passing, and thus was identified with his past experience out of
which the crisis of the moment had come.
Again Betty Jo, in the naturalness of her manner toward him, and by
her matter-of-fact, impersonal consideration of his perplexing
situation, had brought to his unsettled and chaotic mind a sense of
stability and order; and by subtly insinuating her own practical
decisions as to the course he should follow, had made herself a very
literal part of his inner life. In fact, Betty Jo knew Brian Kent
more intimately at the close of their first meeting than she could
have known him after years of acquaintanceship under the ordinary
course of development.
Brian's consciousness of this would naturally cause him to feel
toward the young woman as though she had long been a part of his
life. Still other causes might have contributed to the intimate
companionship that so quickly became to them both an established and
taken-for-granted fact; but, the circumstances of their first meeting,
given, of course, their peculiar individualities, were, really, quite
enough. The fact that it was springtime might also have had something
to do with it.
The morning after her arrival, Betty Jo set to work typing the
manuscript. Brian went to his work on the timbered hillside. In the
evenings, Brian worked over the typewitten pages,--revising,
correcting, perfecting,--and then, as Betty Jo made the final copy
for the printers, they went critically over the work together.
So the hours flew past on busy wings, and the days of the
springtime drew toward summer. The tender green of the new-born
leaves and grasses changed to a stronger, deeper tone. The air,
which had been so filled with the freshness and newness of bursting
buds and rain-blessed soil, and all the quickening life of tree and
bush and plant, now carried the perfume of strongly growing
things,--the feel of maturing life.
To Brian, the voices of the river brought a fuller, deeper message,
with a subtle undertone of steady and enduring purpose.
From the beginning, Betty Jo established for herself the habit of
leaving her work at the typewriter in the afternoons, and going for a
walk over the hills. Quite incidentally, at first, her walks
occasionally led her by way of the clearing where Brian was at work
with his ax, and it followed, naturally, that as the end of the day
drew near, the two would go together down the mountain-side to the
evening meal. But long before the book was finished, the little
afternoon visit and the walk together at the day's close had become
so established as a custom that they both accepted it as a part of
their day's life; and to Brian, at least, it was an hour to which he
looked forward as the most delightful hour of the twenty-four. As for
Betty Jo,--well, it was really Betty Jo who established the custom and
developed it to that point where it was of such importance.
Auntie Sue was too experienced from her life-long study of boys and
girls not to observe the deepening of the friendship between the man
and the woman whom she had brought together. But if the dear old lady
felt any twinges of an apprehensive conscience, when she saw the pair
day after day coming down the mountain-side through the long shadows
of the late afternoon, she very promptly banished them, and, quite
consistently, with what Brian called her "River philosophy," made no
attempt to separate these two life currents, which, for the time at
least, seemed to be merging into one.
And often, as the three sat together on the porch after supper to
watch the sunsets, or later in the evening as Auntie Sue sat with her
sewing while they were busy with their work and unobserving, the dear
old lady would look at them with a little smile of tender meaning, and
into the gentle eyes would come that far-away look that was born of
the memories that had so sweetened the long years of her life, and of
the hope and dream of a joy unspeakable that awaited her beyond the
sunset of her day.
In her long letter to Betty Jo, asking the girl to come, Auntie Sue
had told the young woman the main facts of Brian's history as she
knew them, omitting only the man's true name and the name of the
bank. She had even mentioned her conviction that there had been a
woman in his trouble. But Auntie Sue had not mentioned in her letter
the money she had lost; nor did she now know that Brian had himself
told Betty Jo at the time of their first meeting.
On the day that Betty Jo typed the last page, and the book was
ready for the printers, the young woman went earlier than usual to
the clearing where Brian was at work. The sound of his ax reached
her while she was yet some distance away, and guided her to the spot
where he was chopping a big white oak.
Brian, with his eyes fixed on the widening cut at the base of the
tree, did not notice the girl, who stood watching him. She was
smiling to herself at his ignorance of her presence and in
anticipation of the moment when he should discover her, and there was
in her eyes a look of wholesome womanly admiration for the man who
swung his ax with such easy strength. In truth, Brian Kent at his
woodman's labor made a picture not at all unattractive.
Swiftly, the cut in the tree-trunk widened as the ax bit deeply at
every skilful stroke, and the chips flew about the chopper's feet.
The acrid odor of the freshly cut oak mingled with the woodland
perfume. The sun warmly flooded the clearing with its golden light,
and, splashing through the openings in the forest foliage, formed
pools of yellow beauty amid the dark, rich green of the shadowy
undergrowth. The air was filled with the sense of life, vital and
real, and strong and beautiful.
And the young woman, as she stood smiling there, was keenly
conscious of it all. Most of all, perhaps, Betty Jo was conscious of
the man, who worked with such vigor at his manly task.
Slowly, accurately, the bright ax sank deeper and deeper into the
heart of the tree. The chips increased in scattered profusion. And
then, as Betty Jo watched, the swinging ax cut through the last fibre
of the tree's strength, and the leafy top swayed gently toward its
fall. Almost imperceptibly, at first, it moved while Betty Jo watched
breathlessly. Brian swung his ax with increasing vigor, now, while
the wood, still remaining, cracked and snapped as the weight of the
tree completed the work of the chopper. Faster and faster the
towering mass of foliage swung in a wide graceful arc toward the
ground. The man with the ax stepped back, his eyes fixed on the
falling tree as, with swiftly increasing momentum, its great weight
swept swiftly downward to its crashing end.
Betty Jo clapped her hands in triumph; and Brian, turning, saw her
standing there. His face was flushed and glistening with
perspiration; his broad chest heaved with the deep breathing gained
by his exertion, and his eyes shone with the gladness of her
"You are early, to-day!" he cried. "Have you finished? Is it
"All finished," she returned; and, going to the fallen tree, she
put her hands curiously on the trunk, which lay a little higher than
her waist. "Help me up," she commanded.
Brian set his ax against the stump, and, laughingly, lifted her to
the seat she desired. Then he stood watching her face as she
surveyed the tangled mass of branches.
"It looks so strange from here, doesn't it?" she said.
"Yes; and I confess I don't like to see it that way;" he returned.
"I wish they didn't have to be cut. I feel like a murderer,--every
one I fall."
She looked down into his eyes, as she returned: "I know you must.
YOU would, of course. But, after all, it has to be, and I don't
suppose the tree minds so much, do you?"
"No; I don't suppose it feels it much." He laughed, and, throwing
aside his hat, he ran his fingers through his tumbled hair for all
the world like a schoolboy confused by being caught in some
sentimental situation which he finds not only embarrassing, but
puzzling as well.
"I like you for feeling that way about it, though," Betty Jo
confessed with characteristic frankness. "And I am sure it must be a
very good thing for the world that every one is not so intensely
practical that they can chop down trees without a pang. And that
reminds me: Speaking of the practical, now that the book is
finished, what are we going to do with it?"
"Send it to some publisher, I suppose," answered Brian, soberly;
"and then, when they have returned it, send it to some other
"Have you any particular publisher to whom you will send it first?"
"They are all alike, so far as my experience goes," he returned.
"I suppose it would be best if you could take your book East, and
interview the publishers personally, don't you think?"
Brian shook his head: "I am not sure that it would make any
difference, and, in any case, I couldn't do it."
"I know," said Betty Jo, "and that is what I wanted to get at. Why
don't you appoint me your agent, and let me take your book East, and
make the publishing arrangements for you?"
Brian looked at her with such delighted surprise that Betty Jo
smiled back at him well pleased.
"Would you really do it?" he demanded, as though he feared she was
"You are sure that you don't mean 'COULD I do it'?"--she
returned,-- "sure you could trust me?"
To which Brian answered enthusiastically: "You could do anything!
If you undertake the job of landing a publisher for my stuff, it is
as good as done."
"Thank you," she said, jumping down from the tree-trunk. "Now that
we have settled it, let us go to the house and tell Auntie Sue, and I
will start in the morning."
As they went down the hill, they discussed the matter further, and,
later, at the house, Brian took a moment, when Auntie Sue was in her
room, to hand an envelope to his assistant. "Your salary," he said,
hurriedly, "and expense money for the trip."
"Oh!" Betty Jo's exclamation was one of surprise. Then she said,
in her most matter-of-fact, businesslike tone: "Thank you. I will
render a statement of my account, but--" For once, Betty Jo seemed
at a loss for words. "You don't mind if I ask--is--is this money--?"
Brian's face was a study. "Yes," he said, "it is really Auntie
Sue's money; but it is all I have, and I can't return it to her--
without her knowing--so I--"
Betty Jo interrupted: "I understand. It is all we can do,--
Brian Kent did not know that Betty Jo, a few minutes later, buried
the envelope he had given her deep in the bottom of her trunk without
even opening it.
The next day, Brian drove to Thompsonville with Betty Jo, who took
the noon train for the East.
The two were rather quiet as "Old Prince" jogged soberly along the
beautiful river road. Only now and then did they exchange a few
words of the most commonplace observation.
They were within sight of the little Ozark settlement when Brian
said, earnestly: "I wish I could tell you, Miss Williams, just what
your coming to help me with this work has meant to me."
"It has meant a great deal to me, too, Mr. Burns," she returned.
Then she added quickly: "I suppose the first real work one does
after finishing school always means more than any position following
could possibly mean, don't you think? Just like your book. No matter
how many you may write in the future, this will always mean more to
you than any one of them."
"Yes," he said slowly. "This book will always mean more to me than
all the others I may write."
For a moment their eyes met with unwavering frankness. Then Betty
Jo turned her face away, and Brian stiffened his shoulders, and sat a
little straighter in the seat beside her. That was all.
Very brave they were at the depot purchasing Betty Jo's ticket and
checking her trunk. With brave commonplaces they said good-bye when
the train pulled in. Bravely she waved at him from the open window of
the coach. And bravely Brian stood there watching until the train
rounded the curve and disappeared from sight between the hills.
The world through which Brian Kent drove that afternoon on his way
back to Auntie Sue and Judy in the little log house by the river was
a very dull and uninteresting world indeed. All its brightness and
its beauty seemed suddenly to have vanished. And as "Old Prince"
jogged patiently on his way, sleepily content with thoughts of his
evening meal of hay and grain, the man's mind was disturbed with
thoughts which he dared not own even to his innermost self.
"Circumstances to a man," Auntie Sue had said, "always meant a
woman." And Brian Kent, while he never under any pressure would have
admitted it, knew within his deepest self that it was a woman who had
set him adrift on the dark river that dreadful night when he had
cursed the world which he thought he was leaving forever.
"Circumstances" in the person of Auntie Sue had saved him from
destruction, and, in the little log house by the river, had brought
about his Re-Creation.
And then, when that revelation of his crime toward Auntie Sue had
come, and the labor of months, with all that it implied of the
enduring salvation of himself and the happiness of Auntie Sue, hung
wavering in the balance, it was the "Circumstances" of Betty Jo's
coming that had set him in the right current of action again.
What waited for him around the next bend in the river, Brian
wondered,--calm and peaceful waters, with gently flowing currents, or
the wild tumult of dangerous rapids wherein he would be forced to
fight for his very existence? Would Betty Jo succeed as his agent to
the publishers? If she did succeed in finding a publisher to accept
his book, would the reading public receive his message? And if that
followed, what then? When Betty Jo's mission in the East was
accomplished, she was to return to Auntie Sue for the summer. Then--?
"Old Prince," of his own accord, was turning in at the gate, and
Brian awoke from his abstraction to see Auntie Sue and Judy waiting
All during the evening meal and while he sat with Auntie Sue on
the porch overlooking the river, as their custom was, Brian was
preoccupied and silent; while his companion, with the wisdom of her
seventy years, did not force the conversation.
It was the time of the full moon, and when Auntie Sue at last bade
him good-night, Brian, saying that the evening was too lovely to
waste in sleep, remained on the porch. For an hour, perhaps, he sat
there alone; but his thoughts were not on the beauties of the scene
that lay before him in all its dreamy charm of shadowy hills and
moonlit river. He had no ear for the soft voices of the night. The
gentle breeze carried to him the low, deep-toned roar of the crashing
waters at Elbow Rock; but he did not hear. Moved at last by a feeling
of restless longing, and the certainty that only a sleepless bed
awaited him in the house, he left the porch to stroll along the bank
of the river.
CHAPTER XVI. THE SECRET OF AUNTIE SUE'S LIFE.
Brian Kent, strolling along the bank of the river in the moonlight,
and preoccupied with thoughts that were, at the last, more dreams
than thoughts, was not far from the house when a sound from behind
some near-by bushes broke in upon his reveries. A moment, he
listened. Then telling himself that it was some prowling animal, or
perhaps, a bird that his presence had disturbed, he went on. But he
had gone only a few feet farther when he was conscious of something
stealthily following him. Stepping behind the trunk of a tree, he
waited, watching. Then he saw a form moving toward him through the
shadows of the bushes. Another moment, and the form left the
concealing shadow, and, in the bright moonlight, he recognized Judy.
At first, the man's feeling was that of annoyance. He did not wish
to be disturbed at such a time by the presence of the mountain girl.
But his habitual gentleness toward poor Judy, together with a very
natural curiosity as to why she was following him at that time of the
night, when he had supposed her in bed and asleep, led him to greet
her kindly as he came from behind the tree: "Well, Judy, are you,
too, out enjoying the moonlight?"
The girl stopped suddenly and half-turned as if to run; but, at his
words, stood still.
"What is it, Judy?" he asked, going to her. "What is the matter?"
"There's a heap the matter!" she answered, regarding him with that
sly oblique look; while Brian noticed a feeling of intense excitement
in her voice. "I don't know what you-all are a-goin' ter think of me,
but I'm bound ter tell you just the same,--seems like I got ter,--even
if you-all was ter lick me for hit like pap used ter."
"Why, Judy, dear," the puzzled man returned, soothingly, "you know
I would never strike you, no matter what you did. Come, sit down
here on this log, and tell me about whatever it is that troubles you;
then you can go back to sleep again."
"I ain't a-wantin' ter set down. I ain't been asleep. Hit seems
like I can't never sleep no more." She wrung her hands and turned
her poor twisted body about nervously; then demanded with startling
abruptness: "When do you-all 'low she'll git back?"
The wondering Brian did not at first catch her meaning, and she
continued, with an impatient jerk of her head: "Hit's that there gal
with the no-'count name, Betty Jo, I'm a-talkin' 'bout."
"Oh, you mean Miss Williams," Brian returned. "Why, I suppose she
will be back in two or three weeks, or a month, perhaps; I don't know
exactly, Judy. Why?"
"'Cause I'm a-tellin' you-all not ter let her come back here ever,"
came the startling answer, in a voice that was filled with menacing
anger. Then, before Brian could find a word to reply, the mountain
girl continued, with increasing excitement: "You-all dassn't let her
come back here, nohow, 'cause, if you do, I'll hurt her, sure. You-all
have been a-thinkin' as how I was plumb blind, I reckon; but I seen
you,--every evenin', when she'd pretend ter just go for a walk an'
then'd make straight for the clearin' where you was a- choppin', an'
then you'd quit, an' set with her up there on the hill. Youuns never
knowed I was a-watchin' from the bresh all the time, did you? Well, I
was; an' when youuns'd walk down ter the house, so slow like an' close
together, I'd sneak ahead, an' beat you home; but all the time I was
a-seein' you, an' youuns never knowed, 'cause youuns just naturally
couldn't see nor hear nothin' but each other. Don't you-all 'low as
how I'd know by the way you looked at her, while youuns was a-fixin'
that there book, every night, what you-all was a-thinkin' 'bout her?
My God-A'mighty! hit was just as plain ter me as if you was a-sayin'
hit right out loud all the time,--a heap plainer hit was than if you'd
done writ' hit down in your book. I can't make out ter read print
much, nohow, like youuns kin; but I sure kin see what I see. I--"
"Judy! Judy!" Brian broke the stream of the excited girl's talk.
"What in the world are you saying? What do you mean, child?"
"You-all knows dad burned well what I'm a-meanin'!" she retorted,
with increasing anger. "I'm a-meanin' that you-all are plumb lovin'
that there Betty Jo gal,--that's what I'm a-meanin'!--an' you-all sure
ain't got ary right for ter go an' do sich a thing, nohow!"
Brian tried to check her, but she silenced him with: "I won't
neither hush! I can't! I tell you I'm a-goin' ter say my say if
you-all kills me! I've just naturally got ter! Seems like I was all
afire inside an' would burn plumb up if I didn't! I've got rights, I
reckon, if I be all crooked an' twisted out er shape, an' ugly-faced
an' no learnin', ner nothin'."
A dry sob choked the torrent of words for an instant; but, with a
savage effort she went on: "I know I ain't nothin' alongside of her,
but you-all ain't a-goin' ter have her just the same,--not if I have
ter kill her first! You ain't got no right ter have her, nohow,
'cause hit's like's not you-all done got a woman already somewheres,
wherever 'twas you-all come from; an' even if you ain't got no woman
already, I sure ain't a-goin' ter let you have her! What'd she ever do
for you? Hit was me what dragged you-all from the river when you was
mighty nigh dead from licker an' too plumb sick ter save yourself!
Hit's me that's kept from tellin' the Sheriff who you be an' a-takin'
that there reward-money! Hit was me what jumped inter the river above
Elbow Rock just ter git your dad burned old book, when you'd done
throwed hit plumb away!
"I knowed first time I heard Auntie Sue name her what she'd do ter
you! Any fool would a-knowed what a woman with a half-gal, half- boy
name like her'n would do, an' she's done hit,--she sure has! But she
ain't a-goin' ter do no more! You-all belongs ter me a heap more'n
you do ter her,--if hit comes ter that,--though, I ain't a-foolin'
myself none a-thinkin' that sich as you could ever take up with sich
as me,--me bein' what I am. No, sir; I ain't never fooled myself ary
bit like that, Mr. Burns. But hit ain't a- makin' no difference how
ugly an' crooked an' no 'count I be outside; the inside of me is
a-lovin' you like she never could, ner nobody else, I reckon. An'
I'll just go on a-lovin' you, no matter what happens; an' I ain't
a-carin' whether you got a woman already er not, er whether you-all
have robbed er killed, er what you done. An'--an'--so I'm a-tellin'
you, you'd best not let her come back here no more, 'cause--'cause I
just naturally can't stand hit ter see youuns tergether! 'Fore God,
I'm a-tellin' you true,--I'll sure hurt her!"
The girl's voice raised to a pitch of frenzied excitement, and,
whirling, she pointed to the river, as she cried: "Look out there!
What do you-all reckon your fine Betty Jo lady would do if I was ter
git her ketched in them there rapids? What do you-all reckon the
Elbow Rock water would do ter her? I'll tell you what hit'd do: Hit
would smash an' grind an' tear an' hammer that there fine, straight
body of hers 'til hit was all broken an' twisted an' crooked a heap
worse'n what I be,--that's what hit would do; an' hit would scratch
an' cut an' beat up that pretty face an' mess up her pretty hair an'
choke her an' smother her 'til she was all blue-black an' muddy, an'
her eyes was red an' starin', an' she was nothin' but just an ugly
lump of dirt; an' hit wouldn't even leave her her fine clothes
neither,--the Elbow Rock water wouldn't,-- hit'd just naturally tear
'em off her, an' leave her 'thout ary thing what's makin' you love her
like you're a-doin'! An' where would all her fine schoolin' an' smart
talk an' pretty ways be then? Eh? She wouldn't be no better, nor
half as good as me, I'm a-tellin' you, onct Elbow Rock got done with
The poor creature finished in wild triumph; then suddenly, as
though spent with the very fury of her passion, she turned from the
river, and said dully: "You'd sure best not let her come back, sir!
'Fore God, I ain't a-wantin' ter do hit, but hit seems like I can't
help myself; I can't sleep for wantin' ter fix hit so,--so's you just
couldn't want ter have her no more'n you're a-wantin' me. I--I--sure
ain't a-foolin' myself none, not ary bit, a-thinkin' you-all could
ever git ter likin' sich as me; but, I can't help sort of dreamin'
'bout hit an' a-pretendin', an'--an' all the while I'm a-knowin',
inside er me like, that there ain't nobody,--not Auntie Sue, nor this
here Betty Jo, nor that there other woman, nor anybody,--what kin care
for you like I'm a-carin',--they just naturally couldn't care like me;
'cause--'cause, you see, sir, I ain't got nobody else,--ain't no man
but you ever even been decent ter me. I sure ain't got nobody else--"
The distraught creature's sobs prevented further speech, and she
dropped down on the ground, weak and exhausted; her poor twisted body
shaking and writhing with the emotion she could not voice.
For a little while, Brian Kent himself was as helpless as Judy. He
could only stand dumbly, staring at her as she crouched at his feet.
Then, very gently, he lifted her from the ground, and tried as best
he could to comfort her. But he felt his words to be very shallow and
inadequate, even though his own voice was trembling with emotion.
"Come, Judy, dear," he said, at last, when she seemed to have in a
measure regained her self-control. "Come. You must go back to the
Drawing away from his supporting arm, she answered, quietly: "I
ain't no child, no more, Mr. Burns: I'm sure a woman, now. I'm just
as much a woman as--as--she is, if I be like what I am. I'm plumb
sorry I had ter do this; but I just naturally couldn't help hit. You
ain't got no call ter be scared I'll do hit again."
When they were nearing the house, Judy stopped again, and, for a
long minute, looked silently out over the moonlit river, while Brian
stood watching her.
"Hit is pretty, ain't hit, Mr. Burns?" she said at last. "With the
hills all so soft an'--an' dreamy-like, an' them clouds a-floatin'
'way up there over the top of Table Mountain; with the moon makin'
'em all silvery an' shiny 'round the edges, an' them trees on yon
side the river lookin' like they was made er smoke er fog er
somethin' like that; an' the old river hitself a-layin' there in The
Bend like--like a long strip of shinin' gold,--hit sure is pretty!
Funny, I couldn't never see hit that a-way before,--ain't hit?"
"Yes, Judy; it is beautiful to-night," he said.
But Judy, apparently without hearing him, continued: "'Seems like
I can sense a little ter-night what Auntie Sue an' youuns are allus
a-talkin' 'bout the river,--'bout hit's bein' like life an' sich as
that. An' hit 'pears like I kin kind of git a little er what you
done wrote 'bout hit in your book,--'bout the currents an' the still
places an' the rough water an' all. I reckon as how I'm a part of
your river, too, ain't I, Mr. Burns?"
"Yes, Judy," he answered, wonderingly; "we are all parts of the
"I reckon you're right," she continued. "Hit sure 'pears ter be
that a-way. But I kin tell you-all somethin' else 'bout the river
what you didn't put down in your book, Mr. Burns: There's heaps an'
heaps er snags an' quicksands an' sunk rocks an' shaller places where
hit looks deep an' deep holes where hit looks shaller, an' currents
what's hid 'way down under that'll ketch an' drag you in when you
ain't a-thinkin', an' drown you sure. 'Tain't all of the river what
Auntie Sue an' youuns kin see from the porch. You see, I knows 'bout
hit,--'bout them other things I mean,--'cause I was borned and growed
up a-knowin' 'bout 'em; an'--an'--the next time you-all writes er
book, Mr. Burns, I 'low you-all ought ter put in 'bout them there
snags an' things, 'cause folks sure got ter know 'bout 'em, if they
ain't a-wantin' ter git drowned."
When Judy had gone into the house, Brian again sat alone on the
An hour, perhaps, had passed when a voice behind him said: "Why,
Brian, are you still up? I supposed you were in bed long ago."
He turned to see Auntie Sue, standing in the doorway.
"And what in the world are you prowling about for, this time of the
night?" Brian retorted, bringing a chair for her.
"I am prowling because I couldn't sleep,--thinking about you,
Brian," she answered.
"I fear that is the thing that is keeping me up, too," he returned
"I know," she said gently. "Sometimes, one's self does keep one
awake. Is it--is it anything you care to tell me? Would it help for
me to know?"
For some time, he did not answer; while the old teacher waited
silently. At last, he spoke, slowly: "Auntie Sue, what is the
greatest wrong that a woman can do?"
"The greatest wrong a woman can do, Brian, is the greatest wrong
that a man can do."
"But, what is it, Auntie Sue?" he persisted.
"I think," she answered,--"indeed I am quite sure,--that the
greatest wrong is for a woman to kill a man's faith in woman; and for
a man to kill a woman's faith in man."
Brian Kent buried his face in his hands.
"Am I right, dear?" asked the old gentlewoman, after a little.
And Brian Kent answered: "Yes, Auntie Sue, you are right--that is
the greatest wrong."
Again they were silent. It was as though few words were needed
between the woman of seventy years and this man who, out of some
great trouble, had been so strangely brought to her by the river.
Then the silvery-haired old teacher spoke again: "Brian, have you
ever wondered that I am so alone in the world? Have you ever asked
yourself why I never married?"
"Yes, Auntie Sue," he answered. "I have wondered."
"Many people have," she said, with simple frankness. Then--"I am
going to tell you something, dear boy, that only two people in the
world beside myself ever knew, and they are both dead, many years
now. I am going to tell you, because I feel--because I think-- that,
perhaps, it may help you a little. I, too, Brian, had my dreams when
I was a girl,--my dreams of happiness,--such as every true woman hopes
for;--of a home with all that home means;--of a lover-husband;--of
little ones who would call me 'mother';--and my dreams ended, Brian,
on a battlefield of the Civil War. He went from me the very day we
were promised. He never returned. I have always felt that we were as
truly one as though the church had solemnized and the law had
legalized our union. I promised that I would wait for him."
"And you--you have kept that promise? You have been true to that
memory?" Brian Kent asked, wonderingly.
"I have been true to him, Brian;--all the years of my life I have
been true to him."
Brian Kent bowed his head, reverently.
Rising, the old gentlewoman went close to him, and put her hands on
his shoulders. "Brian, dear, I have told you my secret because I
thought it might help you to know. Oh, my boy--my boy,--don't--
don't let anything--don't let anyone--kill your faith in womanhood!
No matter how bitter your experience, you can believe, now, that
there are women who can be faithful and true. Surely, you can
believe it now, Brian,--you must!"
And as he caught her hands in his, and raised his face to whisper,
"I do believe, Auntie Sue," she stooped and kissed him.
Then, again, Brian Kent was alone in the night with his thoughts.
And the river swept steadily on its shining way through the moonlit
world to the distant sea.
CHAPTER XVII. AN AWKWARD SITUATION.
Frequent letters from Betty Jo informed Brian and Auntie Sue of
that practical and businesslike young woman's negotiations with
various Eastern publishers, until, at last, the matter was finally
settled to Betty Jo's satisfaction.
She had contracted with a well-known firm for the publication of
the book. The details were all arranged. The work was to begin
immediately. Betty Jo was returning to the little log house by the
Brian drove to Thompsonville the morning she was to arrive, and it
seemed to him that "Old Prince" had never jogged so leisurely along
the winding river road, yet he was at the little mountain station
nearly an hour before the train was due.
Those weeks had been very anxious weeks to Brian, in spite of
Auntie Sue's oft-repeated assurances that no publisher could fail to
recognize the value of his work. And, to be entirely truthful, Brian
himself, deep down in his heart, felt a certainty that his work would
receive recognition. But, still, he would argue with himself, his
feeling of confidence might very well be due to the dear old
gentlewoman's enthusiastic faith in him rather than in any merit in
the book itself; and it was a well-established fact--to all
unpublished writers at least--that publishers are a heartless folk,
and exceedingly loth to extend a helpful hand to unrecognized genius,
however great the worth of its offering. He could scarcely believe
the letters which announced the good news. It did not seem possible
that this all-important first step toward the success which Auntie Sue
so confidently predicted for his book was now an accomplished fact.
And now that Betty Jo's mission was completed, it seemed months ago
that he had said good-bye to her and had watched the train disappear
between the hills. But when at last the long whistle echoing and
reechoing from the timbered mountain-sides announced the coming of the
train that was bringing her back, and the train itself a moment later
burst into view and, with a rushing roar of steam and wheels and
brakes, came to a stop at the depot platform, and there was Betty Jo
herself, it seemed that it was only yesterday that she had gone away.
Very calm and self-possessed and well poised was Betty Jo when she
stepped from the train to meet him. She was very capable and
businesslike as she claimed her baggage and saw it safely in the
spring wagon. But still there was a something in her manner--a light
in the gray eyes, perhaps, or a quality in the clear voice-- that
meant worlds more to the man than her simple statement, that she was
glad to see him again. Laughingly, she refused to tell him about her
trip as they rode home, saying that Auntie Sue must hear it all with
him. And so conscious was the man of her presence there beside him
that, somehow, the prospective success or failure of his book did not
so much matter, after all.
In the excitement of the joyous meeting between Auntie Sue and
Betty Jo, Judy's stoical self-repression was unnoticed. The mountain
girl went about her part of the household work silently with apparent
indifference to the young woman's presence. But when, after the late
dinner was over, Auntie Sue and Brian listened to Betty Jo's story,
Judy, unobserved, was nearby, so that no word of the conversation
Three times that night, when all was still in the little log house
by the river, the door of Judy's room opened cautiously, and the
twisted form of the mountain girl appeared. Each time, for a few
minutes, she stood there in the moonlight that shone through the open
window into the quiet room, listening, listening; then went stealthily
to the door of the room where Betty Jo was sleeping, and each time she
paused before that closed door to look fearfully about the dimly
lighted living room. Once she crept to Brian's door, and then to
Auntie Sue's, and once she silently put her hand on the latch of that
door between her and Betty Jo; but, each time, she went stealthily
back to her own room.
Betty Jo awoke early that morning. Outside her open window the
birds were singing, and the sun, which was just above the higher
mountain-tops, was flooding the world with its wealth of morning
beauty. The music of the feathery chorus and the golden beauty of
the light that streamed through the window into her room, with the
fresh enticing perfume of the balmy air, were very alluring to the
young woman just returned from the cities' stale and dingy
Betty Jo decided instantly that she must go for a before-breakfast
walk. From the window, as she dressed, she saw Brian going to the
barn with the milk-pail, and heard him greet the waiting "Bess" and
exchange a cheery good-morning with "Old Prince," who hailed his
coming with a low whinny.
Quietly, so as not to disturb Auntie Sue, Betty Jo slipped from the
house and went down the gentle slope to the river-bank, and strolled
along the margin of the stream toward Elbow Rock,--pausing sometimes
to look out over the water as her attention was drawn to some movement
of the river life, or turning aside to pluck a wild flower that caught
her eye. She had made her way thus leisurely two-thirds of the
distance perhaps from the house to Elbow Rock bluff when Judy suddenly
confronted her. The mountain girl came so unexpectedly from among the
bushes that Betty Jo, who was stooping over a flower, was startled.
"Judy!" she exclaimed. "Goodness! child, how you frightened me!"
she finished with a good-natured laugh. But as she noticed the
mountain girl's appearance, the laugh died on her lips, and her face
was grave with puzzled concern.
Poor Judy's black hair was uncombed and dishevelled. The sallow,
old-young face was distorted with passion, and the beady eyes
glittered with the light of an insane purpose.
"What is it, Judy?" asked Betty Jo. "What in the world is the
"What'd you-all come back for?" demanded Judy with sullen menace in
every word. "I done told him not ter let you. Hit 'pears ter me
youuns ought ter have more sense."
Alarmed at the girl's manner, Betty Jo thought to calm her by
saying, gently: "Why, Judy, dear, you are all excited and not a bit
like yourself. Tell me what troubles you. I came back because I love
to be here with Auntie Sue, of course. Why shouldn't I some if Auntie
Sue likes to have me?"
"You-all are a-lyin'," returned Judy viciously. "But you-all sure
can't fool me. You-all come back 'cause he's here."
A warm blush colored Betty Jo's face.
Judy's voice raised shrilly as she saw the effect of her words.
"You-all knows dad burned well that's what you come back for. But
hit ain't a-goin' ter do you no good; hit sure ain't. I done told
him. I sure warned him what'd happen if he let you come back. I
heard you-all a-talkin' yesterday evenin' all 'bout his book an' what
a great man that there publisher-feller back East 'lows he's goin' ter
be. An' I kin see, now, that you-all has knowed hit from the start,
an' that's why you-all been a-fixin' ter git him away from me. I done
studied hit all out last night; but I sure ain't a-goin' ter let you
As she finished, the mountain girl, who had worked herself into a
frenzy of rage, moved stealthily toward Betty Jo, and her face, with
those blazing black eyes, and its frame of black unkempt hair, and its
expression of insane fury, was the face of a fiend.
Betty Jo drew back, frightened at the poor creature's wild and
"Judy!" she said sharply. "Judy! What do you mean!"
With a snarling grin of malicious triumph, Judy cried: "Scared,
ain't you! You sure got reason ter be, 'cause there ain't nothin'
kin stop me now. Know what I'm a-goin' ter do? I'm a-goin' ter put
you-all in the river, just like I told him, an' old Elbow Rock is
a-goin' ter make you-all broken an' twisted an' ugly like what my pap
made me. Oh, hit'll sure fix that there fine slim body of your'n, an'
that there pretty face what he likes ter look at so, an' them fine
clothes'll be all wet an' mussed an' torn off you. You-all sure will
be a-lookin' worse'n what I ever looked the next time he sees
you,--you with your no-'count, half-gal and half-boy name!"
As the mountain girl, with the quickness of a wild thing, leaped
upon her, Betty Jo screamed--one piercing cry, that ended in a
choking gasp as Judy's hands found her throat.
Brian, who was still at the barn, busy with the morning chores,
heard. With all his might, he ran toward the spot from which the
Betty Jo fought desperately; but, strong as she was, she could
never have endured against the vicious strength of the frenzied
mountain-bred Judy, who was slowly and surely forcing her toward the
brink of the river-bank, against which the swift waters of the rapids
swept with terrific force.
A moment more and Brian would have been too late. Throwing Judy
aside, he caught the exhausted Betty Jo in his arms, and, carrying
her a little back from the edge of the stream, placed her gently on
Betty Jo did not faint; but she was too spent with her exertions to
speak, though she managed to smile at him reassuringly, and shook her
head when he asked if she was hurt.
When Brian was assured that the girl was really unharmed, he turned
angrily to face Judy. But Judy had disappeared in the brush.
Presently, as Betty Jo's breathing became normal, she arranged her
disordered hair and dress, and told Brian what the mountain girl had
said; and this, of course, forced the man to relate his experience
with Judy that night when she had told him that Betty Jo must not come
"I suppose I should have warned you, Miss Williams," he finished;
"but the whole thing seemed to me so impossible, I could not believe
there was any danger of the crazy creature actually attempting to
carry out her wild threat; and, besides,--well, you can see that it
was rather difficult for me to speak of it to you. I am sorry," he
ended, with embarrassment.
For a long moment, the two looked at each other silently; then
Betty Jo's practical common sense came to the rescue: "It would have
been awkward for you to try to tell me, wouldn't it, Mr. Burns? And
now that it is all over, and no harm done, we must just forget it as
quickly as we can. We won't ever mention it again, will we?"
"Certainly not," he agreed heartily. "But I shall keep an eye on
Miss Judy, in the future, I can promise you."
"I doubt if we ever see her again," returned Betty Jo,
thoughtfully. "I don't see how she would dare go back to the house
after this. I expect she will return to her father. Poor thing! But
we must be careful not to let Auntie Sue know." Then smiling up at
him, she added: "It seems like Auntie Sue is getting us into all
sorts of conspiracies, doesn't it? What DO you suppose we will be
called upon to hide from her next?"
At Brian's suggestion, they went first to the barn, where he
quickly finished his work. Then, carrying the full milk-pail between
them, they proceeded, laughing and chatting, to the house, where
Auntie Sue stood in the doorway.
The dear old lady smiled when she saw them coming so, and,
returning their cheery greeting happily, added: "Have you children
seen Judy anywhere? The child is not in her room, and the fire is
not even made in the kitchen-stove yet."
CHAPTER XVIII. BETTY JO FACES HERSELF.
All that day Auntie Sue wondered about Judy, while Brian and Betty
Jo exhausted their inventive faculties in efforts to satisfy the dear
old lady with plausible reasons for the mountain girl's disappearance.
During the forenoon, Brian canvassed the immediate neighborhood,
and returned with the true information that Judy had stopped at the
first house below Elbow Rock for breakfast, where she had told the
people that she was going back to her father, because she was
"doggone tired of working for them there city folks what was a-
livin' at Auntie Sue's."
This was, in a way, satisfactory to Auntie Sue, because it assured
her that the girl had met with no serious accident and because she
knew very well the mountain-bred girl's ability to take care of
herself in the hills. But, still, the gentle mistress of the log
house by the river was troubled to think that Judy would leave her so
without a word.
Betty Jo was so occupied during the day by her efforts to relieve
Auntie Sue that she had but little time left for thought of herself
or for reflecting on the situation revealed in her encounter with
Judy. But many times during the day the mountain girl's passionate
accusation came back to her, "You-all are a-lyin'! You-all come back
'cause HE is here." Nor could she banish from her memory the look
that was on Brian Kent's face that morning when he was carrying her in
his arms back from the brink of the river-bank, over which the
frenzied Judy had so nearly sent her to her death. And so, when the
day at last was over, and she was alone in her room, it was not
strange that Betty Jo should face herself squarely with several
definite and pointed and exceedingly personal questions.
It was like Betty Jo to be honest with herself and to demand of
herself that her problems be met squarely.
"First of all, Betty Jo," she demanded, in her downright,
straightforward way of going most directly to the heart of a matter,
"are you in love with Brian Kent?"
Without hesitation, the answer came, "I have not permitted myself
to love him."
"You have not permitted yourself to love him? That means that you
would be in love with him if you dared, doesn't it?"
And Betty Jo, in the safe seclusion of her room, felt her cheeks
burn as she acknowledged the truth of the deduction.
The next question was inevitable: "Is Brian Kent in love with you,
And Betty Jo, recalling many, many things, was compelled to answer,
from the triumphant gladness of her heart: "He is trying not to be,
but he can't help himself. And"--the downright and straightforward
young woman continued--"because I know that Brian Kent is trying so
hard not to love me is the real reason why I have not permitted
myself to love him."
But the clear-thinking, practical Betty Jo protested quickly: "You
must remember that you are wholly ignorant of Brian Kent's history,
except for the things he has chosen to tell you. And those things in
his life which he has confessed to you are certainly not the things
that could win the love of a girl like you, even though they might
arouse your interest in the man. Interest is not love, Betty Jo. Are
you quite sure that you are not making the mistake that is most
commonly made by young women?"
Betty Jo was compelled to answer that she was not mistaking
interest for love, because had such been the case, she would not be
able to so analyze the situation. Betty Jo's quite womanly prejudice
is admitted, because the prejudice was so womanly, and because Betty
Jo herself was so womanly.
"Very well, Miss Betty Jo," the young woman continued inexorably,
"you are not permitting yourself to love Brian Kent because Brian
Kent is trying not to love you. But, why is the man trying so hard
not to love you?"
Betty Jo thought very hard over this question, and felt her way
carefully to the answer. "It might be, of course, that it is because
he is a fugitive from the law. A man under such circumstances could
easily convince himself that no good woman would permit herself to
love him, and he would therefore, in reasonable self-defense, prevent
himself from loving her if he could."
But surely Brian Kent had every reason to know that Betty Jo did
not at all regard him as a criminal. Betty Jo, as Auntie Sue,
recognized only the re-created Brian Kent. If that were all, they
need only wait for the restitution which was so sure to come through
his book. And Brian Kent himself, through Auntie Sue's teaching and
through his work, had come to recognize only his real self, and not
the creature of circumstances which the river had brought to the
little log house. Betty Jo felt sure that there was more than this
that was forcing the man to defend himself against his love for her.
Thus she was driven to the conclusion that there was something in
Brian Kent's history that he had not made known to her,--a something
that denied him the right to love her, and that,-- reasoned poor Betty
Jo in the darkness of her room,--could only be a woman,--a woman to
whom he was bound, not by love indeed,--Betty Jo could not believe
that,--but by ties of honor and of the law.
And very clearly Betty Jo reasoned, too, that Brian's attitude
toward her evidenced unmistakably his high sense of honor. The very
fact that he had so persistently--in all their companionship, in their
most intimate moments together even--held this invisible and, to her,
unknown barrier between them, convinced her beyond a doubt of the
essential integrity of his character, and compelled her admiration and
"That is exactly it, Betty Jo," she told herself sadly; "you love
him because he tries so hard to keep himself from loving you."
And thus Betty Jo proved the correctness of Auntie Sue's loving
estimate of her character and justified the dear old teacher's faith
in the sterling quality of her womanhood.
Face to face with herself, fairly and squarely, the girl accepted
the truth of the situation for Brian and for herself, and determined
her course. She must go away,--she must go at once.
She wished that she had not returned to the log house by the river.
She had never fully admitted to herself the truth of her feeling
toward Brian until Judy had so unexpectedly precipitated the crisis;
but, she knew, now, that Judy was right, and that the real reason for
her return was her love for him. She knew, as well, that her very
love,--which, once fully admitted and recognized by her, demanded with
all the strength of her young womanhood the nearness and companionship
of the mate her heart had chosen,-- demanded, also, that she help him
to keep that fine sense of honor and true nobility of character which
had won her.
She understood instinctively that,--now that she had confessed her
love to herself,--she would, in spite of herself, tempt him in a
thousand ways to throw aside that barrier which he had so honorably
maintained between them. Her heart would plead with him to disregard
his better self, and come to her. Her very craving for the open
assurance of his love would tempt him, perhaps beyond his strength.
And, yet, she knew as truly that, if he should yield; if he should
cast aside the barrier of his honor; if he should deny his best self,
and answer her call, it would be disastrous beyond measure to them
To save the fineness of their love, Betty Jo must go. If it should
be that they never met again, still she must go.
But there were other currents moving in the river that night. In
the steady onward flow of the whole, Betty Jo's life-currents seemed
to be setting away from the man she loved. But other currents,
unknown to the girl, who faced herself so honestly, and who so bravely
accepted the truth she found, were moving in ways beyond her
knowledge. Directed and influenced by innumerable and unseen forces
and obstacles, the currents which, combined, made the stream of life
in its entirety, were weaving themselves together,-- interlacing and
separating,--drawing close and pulling apart,--only to mingle as one
Betty Jo saw only Brian Kent and herself, and their love which she
now acknowledged, and she had, as it were, only a momentary glimpse
of those small parts of the stream.
Betty Jo could not know of those other currents that were moving
so mysteriously about her as the river poured itself onward so
unceasingly to the sea.
CHAPTER XIX. JUDY'S CONFESSION.
In spite of all their care, Brian and Betty Jo did not wholly
convince Auntie Sue that there was no more in Judy's disappearance
than the report from the neighbors indicated. The dear old lady felt
that there was something known to the young people that they were
keeping from her; and, while she did not question their motives, and
certainly did not worry,--for Auntie Sue never worried,--she was not
satisfied with the situation. When she retired to her room for the
night, she told herself, with some spirit, that she would surely go to
the bottom of the affair the next morning.
It happened that Auntie Sue went to the bottom of the affair much
sooner than she expected.
It must have been about that same hour of the night when Betty Jo,
after reaching her decision to go away, retired to her bed, that
Auntie Sue was aroused by a low knocking at the open window of her
The old teacher listened without moving, her first thought being
that her fancy was tricking her. The sound came again, and, this
time, there could be no mistake. Sitting up in her bed, Auntie Sue
looked toward the window, and, at the sound of her movement, a low
whisper came from without.
"Don't be scared, Auntie Sue. Hit ain't nobody but just me."
As she recognized Judy's voice, she saw the mountain girl's head
and twisted shoulders outlined above the window-sill. A moment more,
and Auntie Sue was at the window.
"Sh-h-h!" cautioned Judy. "Don't wake 'em up. I just naturally
got ter tell you-all somethin', Auntie Sue; but, I ain't a-wantin'
Mr. Burns an' that there Betty Jo woman ter hear. I reckon I best
come through the winder."
Acting upon the word, she climbed carefully into the room.
"Judy, child! What--?"
The mountain girl interrupted Auntie Sue's tremulous whisper with:
"I'll tell hit ter you, ma'm, in a little bit, if you'll just wait. I
got ter see if they are sure 'nough a-sleepin' first, though."
She stole silently from the room, to return a few minutes later.
"They are plumb asleep, both of 'em," she said in a low tone, when
she had cautiously closed the door. "I done opened the doors ter
their rooms, an' listened, an' shet 'em again 'thout ary one of 'em
a-movin' even. I'll fix the winder, now, an' then we kin make a
Carefully, she closed the window and drew down the shade. Then she
lit the lamp.
Auntie Sue, who was sitting on the bed, looked at the girl in
With a nervous laugh, Judy fingered her torn dress and dishevelled
hair. "I sure am a sight, ain't I, ma'm? I done hit a-comin'
through the bresh in the dark. But, don't--don't--look so kinder
lost like; you-all ain't got no call ter be scared of me."
"Why, Judy, dear, I'm not afraid of you. Come, child; tell me what
is the trouble."
At the kindly manner and voice of the old gentlewoman, those black
eyes filled with tears, which, for the moment, the mountain girl
stoically permitted to roll down her thin sallow cheeks unheeded.
Then, with a quick resolute jerk of her twisted body, she drew her
dress sleeve across her face, and said: "I--I--reckon I couldn't
hate myself no worse'n I'm a-doin'. Hit seems like I been mighty
nigh plumb crazy; but, I just naturally had ter come back an' tell
you-all, 'cause you-all been so good ter me."
She placed a chair for Auntie Sue, and added: "You-all best make
yourself comfertable, though, ma'm. I'm mighty nigh tuckered out
myself. Hit's a right smart way from where pap's a-livin' ter here,
an' I done come in a hurry."
She dropped down on the floor, her back against the bed, and
clasped her knees in her hands, as Auntie Sue seated herself.
"Begin at the beginning, Judy, and tell me exactly what has
happened," said Auntie Sue.
"Yes, ma'm, I will,--that's what I was aimin' ter do when I made up
ter come back."
And she did. Starting with her observation of Brian and Betty Jo,
and her conviction of their love, she told of her interview with
Brian the night she warned him not to let Betty Jo return, and
finished with the account of her attack on Betty Jo that morning.
Auntie Sue listened with amazement and pity. Here, indeed, was a
wayward and troubled life-current.
"But, Judy, Judy!" exclaimed the gentle old teacher, "you would not
really have pushed Betty Jo into the river. She would have been
drowned, child. Surely, you did not mean to kill her, Judy."
The girl wrung her hands, and her deformed body swayed to and fro
in the nervous intensity of her emotions. But she answered,
stubbornly: "That there was just what I was aimin' ter do. I'd a-
killed her, sure, if Mr. Burns hadn't a-come just when he did. I
can't rightly tell how hit was, but hit seemed like there was
somethin' inside of me what was a-makin' me do hit, an' I couldn't,
somehow, help myself. An'--an'--that ain't all, ma'm; I done worse'n
that," she continued in a low, moaning wail. "Oh, my God- A'mighty!
Why didn't Mr. Burns sling me inter the river an' let me be smashed
an' drowned at Elbow Rock while he had me, 'stead of lettin' me git
away ter do what I've gone an' done!"
Auntie Sue's wonderful native strength enabled her to speak calmly:
"What is it you have done, Judy? You must tell me, child."
The older woman's voice and manner steadied the girl, and she
answered more in her usual colorless monotone, but still guarded so
as not to awaken the other members of the household: "Hit seemed
like Mr. Burns ketchin' me, like he did, an' me a-seein' him with her
in his arms, made me plumb crazy-mad, an' I 'lowed I'd fix hit so's he
couldn't never have her nohow, so I--I--done told pap 'bout him bein'
Brian Kent what had robbed that there bank, an' how there was er lot
of reward-money a-waitin' for anybody that'd tell on him."
Auntie Sue was too shocked to speak. Was it possible that, now,
when the real Brian Kent was so far removed from the wretched bank
clerk; when his fine natural character and genius had become so
established, and his book was-- No, no! It could not be! God could
not let men be so cruel as to send Auntie Sue's Brian Kent to prison
because that other Brian Kent, tormented by wrong environment, and
driven by an evil combination of circumstances, had taken a few
dollars of the bank's money! And Betty Jo-- No, no! Auntie Sue's
heart cried out in protest. There must be some way. She would find
some way. The banker--Homer Ward! Auntie Sue's mind, alert and
vigorous as the mind of a woman of half her years, caught at the
thought of her old friend and pupil. She leaned forward in her chair
over the girl who sat on the floor at her feet, and her voice was
strong and clear with the strength of the spirit which dominated her
"Judy, did you tell any one else besides your father?"
"There wasn't nobody else ter tell," came the answer. "An' pap, he
'lowed he'd kill me if I said anythin' ter anybody 'fore he'd got the
money. He aims ter git hit all for hisself."
"What will he do? Will he go to Sheriff Knox?"
"No, ma'm; pap, he 'lowed if he done that a-way, the Sheriff he'd
take most of the money. Pap's a-goin' right ter that there bank
"Yes, yes! Go on, Judy!"
"You see, ma'm, I done remembered the name of the bank an' where
hit was an' Mr. Ward's name an' all, on 'count of that there money
letter what you done sent 'em an' us bein' so worried 'bout hit never
gittin' there an' all that. An' pap, he knows er man over in Gardner
what's on the railroad, you see, what'll let him have money enough for
the trip,--a licker-man, he is,--an' pap's aimin' ter make hit over
ter Gardner ter git the money in time ter ketch that there early
mornin' train. Hit's a right smart way over the mountains, but I
reckon's how pap'll make hit. Soon's pap left, I got ter thinkin'
what I'd done, an' the more I studied 'bout hit,-- 'bout Mr. Burns
a-havin' ter go ter prison, an' 'bout you-all a- carin' for him the
way you does, an' 'bout how happy you was over his book, an'--an'--how
good you'd been ter me,--the sorrier I got, 'til I just couldn't stand
a-thinkin' 'bout hit no longer; an'-- an'--so I come fast as I could
ter tell you. I 'lowed you'd make out ter fix hit some way so--Mr.
Burns won't have ter go ter prison. Couldn't you-all send--send a
telegraph ter the bank man, er somethin'? I'd git it inter
Thompsonville for you, ma'm; an' Mr. Burns, he needn't never know
nothin' 'bout hit."
Auntie Sue was dressing when Judy finished speaking. With a
physical strength that had its source in her indomitable spirit, she
moved about the room making the preparations necessary to her plan,
and as she worked she talked to the girl.
"No, Judy, a telegram won't do. I must go to Homer Ward myself.
That morning train leaves Thompsonville at six o'clock. You must
slip out of the house, and harness 'Old Prince' to the buggy as fast
as you can. You will drive with me to Thompsonville, and bring
'Prince' back. You can turn him loose when you get near home, and he
will come the rest of the way alone. You must not let Mr. Burns nor
Betty Jo see you, because they mustn't know anything about what you
have done. Do you understand, child?"
"Yes, ma'm," said Judy, eagerly. She was on her feet now.
"You can go to the neighbors and find some place to stay until I
return," continued Auntie Sue.
"You don't need ter worry none 'bout me," said Judy. "I kin take
care of myself, I reckon. But ain't you plumb seared ter go 'way on
the cars alone an' you so old?"
"Old!" retorted Auntie Sue. "I have not felt so strong for twenty
years. There is nothing for me to fear. I will be in St. Louis
to-morrow night, and in Chicago the next forenoon. I guess I am not
so helpless that I can't make a little journey like this. Homer Ward
shall never send my boy to prison,--never,--bank or no bank! Go on,
now, and get 'Prince' and the buggy ready. We must not miss that
train." She pushed Judy from the room, and again cautioned her not to
awaken Brian or Betty Jo.
When she had completed her preparations for the trip, Auntie Sue
wrote a short note to Betty Jo, telling her that she had been called
away suddenly, and that she would return in a few days, and that she
was obliged to borrow Betty Jo's pocket-book. Grave as she felt the
situation to be, Auntie Sue laughed to herself as she pictured the
consternation of Betty Jo and Brian in the morning.
Silently, the old lady stole into the girl's room to secure the
money she needed and to leave her letter. Then, as silently, she
left the house, and found Judy, who was waiting with "Old Prince" and
the buggy, ready to start.
The station agent at Thompsonville was not a little astonished when
Auntie Sue and Judy appeared, and, with the easy familiarity of an
old acquaintance greeted her with, "Howdy, Auntie Sue! What in
thunder are you doin' out this time of the day? No bad news, I
"Oh, no, Mr. Jackson," Auntie Sue answered easily. "I'm just going
to Chicago for a little visit with an old friend."
"Sort of a vacation, eh?" returned the man behind the window, as he
made out her ticket. "Well, you sure have earned one, Auntie Sue.
It's gittin' to be vacation time now, too. Bunch of folks come in
yesterday to stay at the clubhouse for a spell. Pretty wild lot, I'd
say,--wimmen as well as the men. I reckon them clubhouse parties
don't disturb you much, though, if you be their nearest neighbor,--do
"They never have yet, Mr. Jackson," she returned. "Their place is
on the other side of the river, and a mile above my house, you know.
I see them in their boats on The Bend, though, and once in a while
they call on me. But the Elbow Rock rapids begin in front of my
place, and the clubhouse people don't usually come that far down the
She turned to Judy, and, with the girl, went out of the waiting
room to the platform, where she whispered: "You must start back
right away, Judy. If your father is on the train, he might see you."
"What if pap ketches sight of you-all?" Judy returned nervously.
"He will not be so apt to notice me as he would you," she returned,
"even if he does catch a glimpse of me. And it can't be helped if he
does. I'll be in Chicago as quick as he will, and I know I will see
Mr. Ward first. Go on now, dear, and don't let Mr. Burns or Betty Jo
see you, and be a good girl. I feel sure that everything will be all
With a sudden awkward movement, poor Judy caught the old
gentlewoman's hand and pressed it to her lips; then, turning, ran
toward the buggy.
When the train arrived, the station agent came to help Auntie Sue
with her handbag aboard, and she managed to keep her friend between
herself and the coaches, in case Jap Taylor should be looking from a
window. As the conductor and the agent assisted her up the steps, the
agent said: "Mind you take good care of her, Bill. Finest old lady
God-Almighty ever made! If you was to let anything happen to her, you
best never show yourself in this neighborhood again; we'd lynch you,
The conductor found a good seat for his lovely old passenger, and
made her as comfortable as possible. As he punched her ticket, he
said, with a genial smile, which was the voluntary tribute paid to
Auntie Sue by all men: "You are not much like the passengers I
usually carry in this part of the country, ma'm. They are mostly a
rather rough-lookin' lot."
She smiled back at him, understanding perfectly his intended
compliment. "They are good people, though, sir,--most of them. Of
course, there are some who are a little wild, sometimes, I expect."
The railroad man laughed again, shaking his head. "I should say
so. You ought to see the specimen I've got in the smoker. I picked
him up back there at Gardner. Perhaps you have heard of him--Jap
Taylor. He is about the worst in the whole country, I reckon."
"I have heard of him," she returned. "I do hope he won't come into
"Oh, he won't start anything on my train," laughed the man in blue
reassuringly. "He would never come in here, anyhow. Them kind
always stay in the smoker. Seems like they know where they belong.
He is half-scared to death himself, anyway; he is going to Chicago,
too, and I'll bet it's the first time in his life he has ever been
farther from these hills than Springfield."
CHAPTER XX. BRIAN AND BETTY JO KEEP HOUSE.
When Brian went to the barn the next morning he found "Old Prince"
standing at the gate. While he was still trying to find some
plausible explanation of the strange incident, after unharnessing the
horse and giving him his morning feed, an excited call from Betty Jo
drew his attention. With an answering shout, he started for the
house. The excited girl met him halfway, and gave him Auntie Sue's
When Brian had read the brief and wholly inadequate message, they
stood looking at each other, too mystified for speech. Brian read
the note, again, aloud, speaking every word with slow distinctness.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he ejaculated, at the close of the remarkable
communication, staring at Betty Jo.
"It wouldn't in the least surprise me if we were both hanged before
night," returned Betty Jo. "After this from Auntie Sue, I am
prepared for anything. What on earth DO you suppose has happened?"
Brian shook his head: "It is too much for me!"
Together they went to the house, and the place seemed strangely
deserted. Every possible explanation that suggested itself, they
discussed and rejected.
"One thing we can depend upon," said Brian, at last, when they had
exhausted the resources of their combined imaginations: "Auntie Sue
knows exactly what she is doing, and she is doing exactly the right
thing. I suppose we will know all about it when she returns."
Betty Jo looked again at the note: "'I will be back in a few
days,'" she read slowly. "'Be good children, and take care of
Again, they regarded each other wonderingly.
Then Betty Jo broke the silence with an odd little laugh: "I feel
like we were cast away on some desert island, don't you?"
"Something like that," Brian returned. Then, to relieve the strain
of the situation, he added: "I suppose 'Bess' will have to be milked
and the chores finished just the same."
"And I'll get breakfast for us," agreed Betty Jo, as he started
back to the barn.
In the safe seclusion of the stable, with no one but "Old Prince"
and "Bess" to witness his agitation, Brian endeavored to bring his
confused and unruly thoughts under some sort of control.
"Several days; several days." The words repeated themselves with
annoying persistency. And they--Betty Jo and he, Brian Kent--were to
"take care of things";--they were to keep house together;--they were
to live together, alone,--in the log house by the river,-- alone. She
was even then preparing their breakfast. They would sit down at the
table alone. And there would be dinner and supper; and the
evening,--just for them. He would work about the place. She would
attend to her household duties. He would go to his meals, and she
would be there expecting him,--waiting for him. And when the tasks of
the day were finished, they would sit on the porch to watch the coming
of the night,--Betty Jo and he, Brian Kent--"What in God's name," the
man demanded of the indifferent "Bess," did Auntie Sue mean by placing
him in such a situation? Did she think him more than human?
It had not been easy for Brian to maintain that barrier between
himself and Betty Jo, even with the constant help of Auntie Sue's
presence. Many, many times he had barely saved himself from
declaring his love; and, now, he was asked to live with her in the
most intimate companionship possible.
For the only time in his life Brian Kent was almost angry at Auntie
Sue. "By all that was consistent, and reasonable, and merciful, and
safe," he told himself, "if it was absolutely necessary for the dear
old lady to disappear so mysteriously, why had she not taken Betty Jo
In the meantime, while Brian was confiding his grievances to his
four-footed companions in the barn, Betty Jo was expressing herself
in the kitchen.
"Betty Jo," she began, as she raked the ashes from the stove
preparatory to building the fire, "it appears to me that you have
some serious considering to do, and"--with a glance toward the barn,
as she went out to empty the ash-pan--"you must do it quickly before
that man comes for his breakfast. You were very right, last night, in
your decision, to go away. It is exactly what you should have done.
I am more than ever convinced of that, this morning. But you can't go
now. Even if Auntie Sue had not taken your pocket-book and every
penny in it, you couldn't run away with Auntie Sue herself gone. If
she hadn't wanted you to stay right here for some very serious reason,
Betty Jo, she would have taken you with her last night. Auntie Sue
very pointedly and definitely expects you to be here when she returns.
And she will be away several days,--several days, Betty Jo." She
repeated the words in a whisper. "And during those several days, you
are to keep house for the man you love;--the man who loves you;--the
man whom you must keep from telling you his love,--no matter how your
heart pleads for him to tell you, you must not permit him to speak.
He will be coming in to breakfast in a few minutes, and you will sit
down at the table with him,--across the table from him,--facing
him,--Betty Jo,--just like--"
She looked in the little mirror that hung beside the kitchen
window, and, with dismay, saw her face flushed with color that was
not caused by the heat of the stove. "And you will be forced to look
at him across the table, and he will look at you,--and--and you must
not,--" she stamped her foot,--"you dare not look like THAT, Betty Jo.
"And then there will be the dinner that you will cook for him, and
the supper; and the evenings on the porch. O Lord! Betty Jo, what
ever will you do? How will you ever save the fineness of your love?
If you were afraid to trust yourself with the help of Auntie Sue's
presence, what in the world can you do without her--and you actually
keeping house with him? Oh, Auntie Sue! Auntie Sue!" she groaned,
"you are the dearest woman in the world and the best and wisest, but
you have blundered terribly this time! Why DID you do such a thing!
It is not fair to him! It is not fair to me! It is not fair to our
"All of which,"--the practical Betty Jo declared a moment later,
wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron, and going into the other
room to set the table for breakfast,--"all of which, Betty Jo, does
not in the least help matters, and only makes you more nervous and
upset than you are.
"One thing is certain sure," she continued, while her hands were
busy with the dishes and the table preparations: "If we can endure
this test, we need never, never, never fear that anything nor anybody
can ever, ever make us doubt the genuineness of our love. Auntie Sue
has certainly arranged it most beautifully for Brian Kent and Betty Jo
Williams to become thoroughly acquainted."
Betty Jo suddenly paused in her work, and stood very still: "I
wonder," she said slowly,--"can it be,--is it possible,--what if
Auntie Sue has brought about this situation for that very reason?"
"Breakfast ready?" cried Brian at the kitchen-door, and his voice
was so hearty and natural that the girl answered as naturally: "It
will be as soon as you are ready for it. I forget, do you like your
eggs three minutes or four?"
They really managed that breakfast very well, even if they did sit
opposite each other so that each was forced to look straight across
the table into the face of the other. Or, perhaps, it was because
they looked at each other so straight and square and frankly honest
that the breakfast went so well.
And because the breakfast went so well, they managed the dinner and
the supper also.
"I have been thinking," said Brian at the close of their evening
meal, looking straight into the gray eyes over the table, "perhaps it
might be better for you to stay at neighbor Tom's until Auntie Sue
returns. I'll hitch up 'Old Prince' and drive you over, if you say.
Or, we might find some neighbor woman to come here to live with us,
if you prefer."
"You don't like my housekeeping, then?" asked Betty Jo.
"Like it!" exclaimed Brian; and the tone of his voice approached
Betty Jo said quickly: "I'll tell you exactly what I think, Mr.
Burns: Auntie Sue said we were to be good children, and take care of
things until she returned. She did not say for me to shirk my part by
going to neighbor Tom's or by having any one come here. Don't you
think we can do exactly what Auntie Sue said?"
"Yes," returned Brian, heartily; "I am sure we can. And do you
know,--come to think about it,--I believe the dear old lady would be
disappointed in us both if we dodged our--well,--" he finished with
And after that, somehow, the evening on the porch went as well as
the breakfast and dinner and supper had gone.
It was the second day of their housekeeping that Betty Jo noticed
smoke coming from the stone chimney of the clubhouse up the river.
She reported her observation to Brian when he came in from his work
for dinner. During the afternoon, they both saw boats on the quiet
waters of The Bend, and at supper told each other what they had seen.
And in the evening they together watched the twinkling lights of the
clubhouse windows, and once they heard voices and laughter from
somewhere on the river as though a boating party were making merry.
Two days later, Brian and Betty Jo were just finishing dinner when
a step sounded on the porch, and a man appeared in the open doorway.
The stranger was dressed in the weird and flashy costume considered
by his class to be the proper thing for an outing in the country, and
his face betrayed the sad fact that, while he was mentally,
spiritually, and physically greatly in need of a change from the
unclean atmosphere that had made him what he was, he was incapable of
benefiting by more wholesome conditions of living. He was, in fact, a
perfect specimen of that type of clubman who, in order to enjoy fully
the beautiful life of God's unspoiled world, must needs take with him
all of the sordid and vicious life of that world wherein he is most at
With no word of greeting, he said, with that superior air which so
many city folk assume when addressing those who live in the country:
"Have you people any fresh vegetables or eggs to sell?"
Brian and Betty Jo arose, and Brian, stepping forward, said, with
a smile: "No, we have nothing to sell here; but I think our
neighbor, Mr. Warden, just over the hill, would be glad to supply
you. Won't you come in?"
The man stared at Brian, turned an appraising eye on Betty Jo; then
looked curiously about the room.
"I beg your pardon," he said, removing his cap, "I thought, when I
spoke, that you were natives. My name is Green,--Harry Green. There
is a party of us stopping at the clubhouse, up the river, there;--just
out for a bit of a good time, you know. We are from St. Louis,--first
time any of us were ever in the Ozarks,--friends of mine own the
"My name is Burns," returned Brian. "We noticed your boats on the
river. You are enjoying your outing, are you?"
Again the man looked curiously from Brian to Betty Jo. "Oh, yes;
we can stand it for awhile," he answered. "We're a pretty jolly
bunch, you see;--know how to keep things going. It would kill me if
I had to live here in this lonesome hole very long, though. Don't you
find it rather slow, Mrs. Burns?"
Poor Betty Jo's face turned fairly crimson. She could neither
answer the stranger nor meet his gaze, but stood with downcast
eyes;--then looked at Brian appealingly.
But Brian was as embarrassed as Betty Jo; while the stranger, as he
regarded them, smiled with an expression of insolent understanding.
"I guess I have made another mistake," he said, with a meaning
"You have," returned Brian, sharply, stepping forward as he spoke;
for the man's manner was unmistakable. "Be careful, sir, that you do
not make another."
Mr. Green spoke quickly, with an airy wave of his hand: "No
offense; no offense, I assure you." Then as he moved toward the
door, he added, still with thinly veiled insolence: "I beg your
pardon for intruding. I understand, perfectly. Good-afternoon, Mr.
Burns! Good-afternoon, miss!"
Brian followed him out to the porch; and the caller, as he went
down the steps, turned back with another understanding laugh: "I
say, Burns, you are a lucky devil. Don't worry about me, old man. I
envy you, by Jove! Charming little nest. Come over to the club some
evening. Bring the little girl along, and help us to have a good
Mr. Harry Green probably never knew how narrowly he escaped being
manhandled by the enraged but helpless Brian.
Brian remained on the porch until he saw the man, in his boat,
leave the eddy at the foot of the garden and row away up the river.
In the house, again, the two faced each other in dismay.
Betty Jo was first to recover: "I am sure that it is quite time
for Auntie Sue to come home and take charge of her own household
again. Don't you think so, Mr. Burns?"
And Brian Kent most heartily agreed.
CHAPTER XXI. THE WOMAN AT THE WINDOW.
The members of the clubhouse party were amusing themselves that
afternoon in the various ways peculiar to their kind.
At one end of the wide veranda overlooking the river a group sat at
a card table. At the other end of the roomy lounging place, men and
women, lying at careless ease in steamer-chairs and hammocks, were
smoking and chatting about such things as are of interest only to that
strange class who are educated to make idleness the chief aim and end
of their existence. On the broad steps leading down to the
tree-shaded lawn, which sloped gently to the boat landing at the
river's edge, still other members of the company were scattered in
characteristic attitudes. Across the river, in the shade of the
cottonwoods that overhang the bank, a man and a woman in a boat were
ostensibly fishing. In a hammock strung between two trees, a little
way from the veranda, lay a woman, reading.
Now and then a burst of shrill laughter broke the quiet of the
surrounding forest. A man on the steps called a loud suggestive jest
to the pair in the boat, and the woman waved her handkerchief in
answer. The card-players argued and laughed over a point in their
game. Some one shouted into the house for Jim, and a negro man in
white jacket appeared. When the people on the veranda had expressed
their individual tastes, the one who had summoned the servant called
to the woman in the hammock under the tree, "What is yours, Martha?"
Without looking up from her book, the woman waved her hand, and
answered, "I am not drinking this time. Thanks."
A chorus of derisive shouts and laughter came from the veranda.
But the woman went on reading. "Oh, let her alone!" protested some
one, good-naturedly. "She was going a little strong, last night.
She'll be all right by and by, when she gets started again."
The negro, Jim, had returned with his loaded tray, and was passing
among the members of the company with his assortment of glasses, when
some one called attention to Harry Green, who was just pulling his
boat up to the landing after his visit to the little log house down
A boisterous chorus greeted the boatman: "Hello, Harry! Did you
find anything? You're just in time. What'll you have?"
With a wave of greeting, the man fastened his boat to the landing,
and started up the slope.
"He'll have a Scotch, of course!" said some one. "Did anybody ever
know him to take anything else? Go and get it, Jim. He'll be nearly
dead for a drink after rowing all that distance."
The woman in the hammock lowered her book, and lay watching the man
as he came up the path toward the steps.
Harry Green, who, apparently, was a person of importance among
them, seated himself in an easy chair on the veranda, and accepted
the glass proffered by Jim.
"Did you find any eggs, Harry?" demanded one. The man first
refreshed himself with a long drink; then looked around with a grin
of amused appreciation: "I didn't get any eggs," he said; "but I
found the nest all right."
A shout of laughter greeted the reply.
"What sort of nest, Harry? Duck? Turkey? Hen? Dove? Or
rooster?" came from different members of the chorus.
Raising his glass as though offering a toast, he answered: "Love!
my children; love!"
A yell of delight came from the company, accompanied by a volley
of: "A love-nest! Well, what do you know about that! Good boy,
Harry! Takes Harry to find a love-nest! He's the boy to send for
eggs! I should say, yes! Martha will like that! Oh, won't she!"
This last remark turned their attention toward the woman in the
hammock, and they called to her: "Martha! Oh, Martha! Come here!
You better look after Harry! Harry has found a love-nest! Told you
something would happen if you let him go away alone!"
Putting aside her book, the woman came to join the company on the
She was rather a handsome woman, but with a suggestion of
coarseness in form and features, though her face, in spite of its
too-evident signs of dissipation, was not a bad face.
Seating herself on the top step, with her back against the post in
an attitude of careless abandonment, she looked up at the negro who
stood grinning in the doorway. "Bring me a highball, Jim: you know
my kind." Then to the company: "Somebody give me a cigarette."
Harry tossed a silver case in her lap. Another man, who sat near,
leaned over her with a lighted match.
Expelling a generous cloud of smoke from her shapely lips, she
demanded: "What is this you are all shouting about Harry having
During the answering chorus of boisterous laughter and jesting
remarks, she drank the liquor which the negro brought.
Then Harry, pointing out Auntie Sue's house, which was easily
visible from where they sat, related his experience. And among the
many conjectures, and questions, and comments offered, no one
suggested even that the man and the woman living in that little log
house by the river might be entirely innocent of the implied charge.
For those who are themselves guilty, to assume the guilt of others is
very natural and altogether human.
In the moment's quiet which followed the arrival of a fresh supply
of drinks, the woman called Martha said: "But what is the man like,
Harry? You have enthused quite enough about the girl. Suppose you
tell us about the man in the case."
Harry gave a very good description of Brian Kent.
"Oh, damn!" suddenly cried Martha, shaking her skirt vigorously.
She had spilled some of the liquor from her glass.
A woman on the outer edge of the circle whispered to her nearest
neighbor, and a hush fell over the group.
"Well," said Martha, drinking the liquor remaining in her glass,
"why the devil don't we find out who they are, if we are so curious?"
"Find out! How? We'll find out a lot! What would you do,--ask
them their names and where they are from?" came from the company.
"It is easy enough," retorted Martha. "There is that native girl
that Molly picked up the day we landed here to help her in the
kitchen. She must belong in this neighborhood somewhere. I'll bet
she can tell us something. What is her name?"
"Judy,--Judy Taylor. Great idea! Good! Send her out here, Jim,"
responded the others.
When the deformed mountain girl appeared before them, she looked
from face to face with such a frightened and excited expression on
her sallow, old-young features, and such a wild light in her black
beady eyes, that they regarded her with silent interest.
Judy spoke first, and her shrill monotone emphasized her excited
state of mind: "That there nigger said as how Missus Kent was a-
wantin' ter see me. Be ary one of youuns sure 'nough Missus Kent?"
The group drew apart a little, and every face was turned from Judy
to the woman sitting on the top step of the veranda with her back
against the post.
Judy went slowly toward the woman, her beady eyes fixed and staring
as though at some ghostly vision. The woman rose to her feet as Judy
paused before her.
"Be you-all Brian Kent's woman?" demanded Judy.
The excited exclamation from the company and the manner of the
woman suddenly aroused the mountain girl to a realization of what she
had done in speaking Brian Kent's name. With an expression of
frightened dismay, she turned to escape; but the group of intensely
interested spectators drew closer. Every one waited for Martha to
"Yes," she said, slowly, watching the mountain girl; "I am Mrs.
Brian Kent. Do you know my husband?"
Judy's black beady eyes shifted slyly from one face to another, and
her twisted body moved uneasily.
"No, ma'm; I ain't a-sayin' I knows him exactly. I done heard tell
'bout him nigh 'bout a year ago, when there was some men from the
city come through here a-huntin' him. Everybody 'lows as how he was
drowned at Elbow Rock."
"The body was never found, though," murmured one of the men in the
"Who lives in that little log house over there, Judy?" Harry Green
asked suddenly, pointing.
"There? Oh, that there's Auntie Sue's place. I 'lowed everybody
knowed that," returned the girl.
"Who is Auntie Sue?" came the next question.
One of the women answered, before Judy could speak: "Auntie Sue
is that old-maid school-teacher they told us about. Don't you
"Is Auntie Sue at home now, girl?" asked Mrs. Kent.
Judy's gaze was fixed on the ground as she replied: "I don't know,
ma'm. I ain't got no truck with anybody on yon side the river."
"Is there any one living with Auntie Sue?" asked some one; and in
the same breath from another came the question, "Who is Mr. Burns?"
Judy jerked her twisted shoulders and threw up her head with an
impatient defiance, as she returned shrilly: "I'm a-tellin' youuns I
don't know nothin' 'bout nobody. Hit ain't no sort er use for youuns
ter pester me. I don't know nothin' 'bout hit, an' I wouldn't tell
youuns nothin' if I did."
And with this, the mountain girl escaped into the house.
While her friends on the veranda were looking at each other in
questioning silence, Mrs. Kent, without a word, turned and walked
away into the woods.
As she disappeared among the trees, one of the men said, in a low
tone: "You better go after her, Harry. She is on, all right, that
it's Brian Kent. She never did believe that story about his death,
you know. There is no knowing what she'll do when she gets to
thinking it all over."
"It is a darned shame," exclaimed one of the women, "to have our
party spoiled like this!"
"Spoiled nothing," answered another. "Martha is too good a sport
to spoil anything. Go on, Harry. Cheer her up. Bring her back
here. We'll all help get her good and drunk to-night, and she'll be
There was a laugh at this, and some one said: "A little something
wouldn't hurt any of us just now, I'm thinking. Here, Jim!"
Harry Green found Mrs. Kent sitting on the riverbank some distance
above the boat landing.
She looked up at the sound of his approach, but did not speak.
Dropping down beside her, the man said: "I'm damned sorry about
this, Martha. I never dreamed I was starting anything, or I would
have kept my mouth shut."
"It is Brian, all right, Harry," she answered, slowly. "It is
funny, but he has been on my mind all day. I never dreamed that it
was this part of the country where he was supposed to have been
drowned, or I wouldn't have come here."
"Well, what does it matter, anyway?" returned the man. "I don't
see that it can make any difference. We don't need to go down there
where he is, and it is damned certain that they won't call on us."
Looking out over the river, the woman spoke as if thinking aloud:
"This is just the sort of place he would love, Harry--the river and
hills and woods. He never cared for the city--always wanted to get
away into the country somewhere. Tell me, what is she really like?
Does she look like--like--well,--like any of our crowd?"
One by one, the man picked a number of pebbles from among the dead
leaves and the short grass within reach of his hand, as he answered:
"Oh, I was just kidding when I raved about her to the bunch." One by
one, he flipped the bits of stone into the water. "She really doesn't
amount to much. Honestly, I hardly noticed her."
The woman continued speaking as though thinking her thoughts aloud:
"Brian was a good man, Harry. That bank affair was really my fault.
He never would have done such a thing if I hadn't devilled him all
the time for more money, and made such a fuss about his wasting so
much time in his everlasting writing. I'd hate to have him caught and
sent to the 'pen' now."
"You're a good sport, Martha," he returned heartily. "I know just
how you feel about it. And I can promise you that there is not one
of our crowd that will ever whisper a thing. They are not that kind,
and you know how they all like you. Come, dear. Don't bother your
head about it any more. I don't like to see you like this. Let us go
up to the house, and show them how game you are,-- shall we?"
He put his arm about her, but the woman gently pushed him away.
"Don't do that, now, Harry. Let me think."
"That is just what you must not do," he retorted, with a laugh.
"Thinking can't help matters. Come, let us go get a drink. That is
what you need."
She looked at him some time before she answered; then, with a quick
movement, she sprang to her feet:
"All right! You're on!" she cried, with a reckless laugh. "But
you'll go some if you keep up with me to-night."
And so, that evening, while Brian Kent and Betty Jo from the porch
of the little log house by the river watched the twinkling lights of
the clubhouse windows, the party with mad merriment tried to help a
woman to forget.
But save for the unnatural brightness of her eyes and the
heightened color in her face, drink seemed to have little effect on
Martha Kent that night. When at a late hour the other members of the
wild company, in various flushed and dishevelled stages of
intoxication, finally retired to their rooms, Martha, in her
apartment, seated herself at the window to look away over the calm
waters of The Bend to a single light that showed against the dark
mountainside. The woman did not know that the light she saw was in
Brian Kent's room.
Long after Betty Jo had said good-night, Brian walked the floor in
uneasy wakefulness. The meeting with the man Green and his too-
evident thoughts as to the relations of the man and woman who were
living together in the log house by the river filled Brian with
alarm; while the very presence of the man from the city awoke old
apprehensions that in his months of undisturbed quiet in Auntie Sue's
backwoods home had almost ceased to be. Through Auntie Sue's teaching
and influence; his work on his book; the growing companionship of
Betty Jo and their love, Brian had almost ceased to think of that
absconding bank clerk who had so recklessly launched himself on a
voyage to the unknown in the darkness of that dreadful night. But,
now, it all came back to him with menacing strength.
The man, Green, would talk to his companions of his visit to the
log house that afternoon. He would tell what he had discovered.
Curiosity would lead others of the clubhouse party to call. Some one
might remember the story of the bank clerk, who was supposed to have
lost his life in that neighborhood, but whose body was never found.
There might even be one in the party who knew the former clerk.
Through them the story would go back to the outside world. There
would be investigations by those whose business it was never to forget
a criminal who had escaped the law.
Brian felt his Re-Creation to be fully established; but what if his
identity should be discovered before the restitution he would make
should be also accomplished? And always, as he paced to and fro in
his little room in the log house, there was, like a deep undercurrent
in the flow of his troubled thought, his love for Betty Jo.
It is little wonder that, to Brian Kent, that night, the voices of
the river were filled with fearful doubt and sullen, dreadful
And what of the woman who watched the tiny spot of light that
marked the window of the room where the re-created Brian Kent kept
his lonely vigil? Did she, too, hear the voices of the river? Did
she feel the presence of that stream which poured its dark flood so
mysteriously through the night between herself and the man yonder?
Away back, somewhere in the past, the currents of their lives in
the onward flow of the river had drawn together. For a period of
time, their life-currents had mingled, and, with the stream, had
swept onward as one. Other influences--swirls and eddies and
counter-currents of other lives--had touched and intermingled until
the current that was the man and the current that was the woman had
drawn apart. For months, they had not touched; and, now, they were
drawing nearer to each other again. Would they touch? Would they
again mingle and become one? What was this mysterious, unseen,
unknown, but always-felt, power of the river that sets the ways of
its countless currents as it sweeps ever onward in its unceasing
The door of her room opened. Harry Green entered as one assured of
a welcome. The woman at the window turned her head, but did not
move. Going to her, the man, with an endearing word, offered a
caress; but she put him aside. "Please, Harry,--please let me be
"Why, Martha, dear! What is wrong?" he protested, again attempting
to draw her to him.
Resisting more vigorously, she answered: "Everything is wrong!
You are wrong! I am wrong! All life is wrong! Can't you
understand? Please leave me."
The man drew back, and spoke roughly in a tone of disgust: "Hell!
I believe you love that bank clerk as much as you ever did!"
"Well, and suppose that were true, Harry?" she answered, wearily.
"Suppose it were true,--that I did still love my husband? Could that
make any difference now? Can anything ever make any difference now?
You will tire of me before long, just as you have grown tired of the
others who were before me. Don't you suppose I know? You and our
friends have taught me many things, Harry. I know, now, that Brian's
dreams were right. That his dreams could never be realized, does not
make them foolish nor wrong. His dreams that seemed so foolish--such
impossible ideals--were more real, after all, than this life that we
think so real. WE are the dreamers,--we and our kind,--and our
awakening is as sure to come as that river out there is sure of
reaching the sea."
The man laughed harshly: "You are quite poetical, to-night. I
believe I like you better, though, when you talk sense."
"I am sorry, Harry," she returned. "Please don't be cross with me!
Go now,--please go!"
And something forced the man to silence. Slowly, he left the room.
The woman locked the door. Returning to the window, she fell on her
knees, and stretched her hands imploringly toward the tiny spot of
light that still shone against the dark shadow of the mountain- side.
Between the mighty walls of tree-clad hills that lifted their
solemn crests into the midnight sky, the dark river poured the sombre
strength of its innumerable currents,--terrible in its awful power;
dreadful, in its mysterious and unseen forces; irresistible in its
ceaseless, onward rush to the sea of its final and infinite purpose!
And here and there on the restless, ever-moving surface of the
shadowy, never-ending flood twinkled the reflection of a star.
CHAPTER XXII. AT THE EMPIRE CONSOLIDATED SAVINGS BANK.
The President of the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank looked up
from the papers on his desk as his secretary entered from the
adjoining room and stood before him.
The secretary smiled as he spoke: "Mr. Ward, there is an old lady
out here who insists that you will see her. The boys passed her on
to me, because,--well, she is not the kind of woman that can be
refused. She has no card, but her name is Wakefield. She--"
The dignified President of the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank
electrified his secretary by springing from his chair like a
schoolboy from his seat at the tap of the teacher's dismissing bell.
"Auntie Sue! I should say she couldn't be refused! Where is she?"
And before the secretary could collect his startled thoughts to
answer, Homer T. Ward was out of the room.
When the smiling secretary, the stenographers, and other attending
employees had witnessed a meeting between their dignified chief and
the lovely old lady, which strengthened their conviction that the
great financier was genuinely human, President Ward and Auntie Sue
disappeared into the private office.
"George," said Mr. Ward, as he closed the door of that sacred inner
sanctuary of the Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, "remember I am not
in to any one;--from the Secretary of the Treasury to the Sheriff, I
am not in."
"I understand, sir," returned the still smiling George. And from
that moment until Homer T. Ward should open the door, nothing short
of a regiment could have interrupted the interview between Auntie Sue
and her old pupil.
Placing the dear old lady tenderly in a deep, leather-upholstered
chair, Mr. Ward stood before her as though trying to convince himself
that she was real; while his teacher of those long-ago, boyhood days
gazed smilingly up at him.
"What in the name of all that is unexpected are you doing here,
Auntie Sue?" he demanded; "and why is not Betty Jo with you? Isn't
the girl ever coming home? There is nothing the matter with her, is
there? Of course not, or you would have wired me."
It was not at all like the bank president to ask so many questions
all at once.
Auntie Sue looked around the private office curiously, then
smilingly back to the face of the financier.
"Do you know, Homer," she said with her chuckling little laugh,
"I--I--am almost afraid of you in here. Everything is so grand and
rich-looking; and there were so many men out there who tried to tell
me you would not see me. I--I am glad I didn't know it would be like
this, or I fear I never could have found the courage to come."
Homer T. Ward laughed, and then--rather full-waisted as he was--
went down on one knee at the arm of her chair so as to bring his face
level with her eyes.
"Look at me, Auntie Sue," he said; "look straight through me, just
as you used to do years and years ago, and tell me what you see."
And the dear old lady, with one thin soft hand on his heavy
shoulder, answered, as she looked: "Why, I see a rather naughty boy,
whom I ought to spank for throwing spitballs at the old schoolroom
ceiling," she retorted. "And I am not a bit afraid to do it either.
So sit right over there, sir, and listen to me."
They laughed together then; and if Auntie Sue wiped her eyes as the
schoolboy obediently took his seat in the big chair at the banker's
desk, Homer T. Ward's eyes were not without a suspicious moisture.
"Tell me about Betty Jo first," the man insisted. "You know,
Auntie Sue, the girl grows dearer to me every year."
"Betty Jo is that kind of a girl, Homer," Auntie Sue answered.
"I suppose it is because she is all I have to love," he said, "but,
you know, ever since Sister Grace died and left the fatherless little
kid to me, it seems like all my plans have centered around her; and
now that she has finished her school; has travelled abroad, and gone
through with that business-college course, I am beginning to feel like
we should sort of settle down together. I am glad for her to be with
you this summer, though, for the finishing touches; and when she comes
home to stay, you are coming with her."
Auntie Sue shook her head, smiling: "Now, Homer, you know that is
settled: I will never leave my little log house by the river until I
have watched the last sunset. You know, my dear boy, that I would be
miserable in the city."
It was an old point often argued by them, and the man dismissed it,
now, with a brief: "We'll see about that when the time comes. But,
why didn't you bring Betty Jo with you?"
"Because," Auntie Sue answered, "I came away hurriedly, on a very
important trip, for only a day, and it is necessary for her to stay
and keep house while I am gone. The child must learn to cook, Homer,
even if she is to inherit all your money."
"I know," answered the banker;--"the same as you make me work when
I visit you. But your coming to me sounds rather serious, Auntie
Sue. What is your trouble?"
The dear old lady laughed, nervously; for, to tell the truth, she
did not quite know how she was going to manage to present Brian
Kent's case to Homer T. Ward without presenting more than she was at
this time ready to reveal.
"Why, you see, Homer," she began, "it is not really my trouble as
much as it is yours, and it is not yours as much as it is--"
"Betty Jo's?" he asked quickly, when she hesitated.
"No! no!" she cried. "The child doesn't even know why I am here.
Just try to forget her for a few minutes, Homer."
"All right," he said; "but you had me worried for a minute."
Auntie Sue might have answered that she was somewhat worried
herself; but, instead, she plunged with desperate courage: "I came
to see you about Brian Kent, Homer."
It is not enough to say that the President of the Empire
Consolidated Savings Bank was astonished. "Brian Kent?" he said at
last. "Why, Auntie Sue, I wrote you nearly a year ago that Brian Kent
"Yes, I know; but he was not--that is, he is not. But the Brian
Kent your detectives were hunting was--I mean--is."
Homer T. Ward looked at his old teacher as though he feared she had
suddenly lost her mind.
"It is like this, Homer," Auntie Sue explained: "A few days after
your detective, Mr. Ross, called on me, this stranger appeared in the
neighborhood. No one dreamed that he was Brian Kent, because, you
see, he was not a bit like the description."
"Full beard, I suppose?" commented the banker, grimly.
"Yes: and every other way," continued Auntie Sue. "And he has been
working so hard all winter; and everybody in the country respects and
loves him so; and he is one of the best and truest men I ever knew;
and he is planning and working to pay back every cent he took; and I
cannot--I will not--let you send him to prison now."
The lovely old eyes were fixed on the banker's face with sweet
Homer T. Ward was puzzled. Strange human problems are often
presented to men in his position; but, certainly, this was the
strangest;--his old teacher pleading for his absconding clerk who was
supposed to be dead.
At last he said, with gentle kindness: "But, why did you come to
tell me about him, Auntie Sue? He is safe enough if no one knows who
"That is it!" she cried. "Some one found out about him, and is
coming here to tell you, for the reward."
The banker whistled softly. "And you--you--grabbed a train, and
beat 'em to it!" he exclaimed. "Well, if that doesn't--"
Auntie Sue clasped her thin hands to her breast, and her sweet
voice trembled with anxious fear: "You won't send that poor boy to
prison, now, will you, Homer? It--it--would kill me if such a
terrible thing were to happen now. Won't you let him go free, so
that he can do his work,--won't you, Homer? I--I--" The strain of
her anxiety was almost too much for the dear old gentlewoman's
physical strength, and as her voice failed, the tears streamed down
the soft cheeks unheeded.
In an instant the bank president was again on his knees beside her
"Don't, Auntie Sue: don't, dear! Why, you know I would do anything
in the world you asked, even if I wanted to send the fellow up; but I
don't. I wouldn't touch him for the world. It is a thousand times
better to let him go if he is proving himself an honest man. Please,
dear, don't feel so. Why, I will be glad to let him off. I'll help
him, Auntie Sue. I--I--am as glad as you are that we didn't get him.
Please don't feel so about it. There, there,--it is all right, now."
So he comforted and reassured her until she was able to smile
through her tears. "I knew I could depend on you, Homer."
A few minutes later, she said: "And what about that man who is
coming to claim the reward, Homer?"
"Never you mind him!" cried the banker; "I'll fix that. But, tell
me, Auntie Sue, where is young Kent now?"
"He is working in the neighborhood," she returned.
He looked at her shrewdly. "You have seen a lot of him, have you?"
"I have seen him occasionally," she answered. Homer T. Ward nodded
his head, as if well pleased with himself. "You don't need to tell
me any more. I understand, now, exactly. It is very clear what has
reformed Brian Kent; you have been up to your old tricks. It is a
wonder you haven't taken him into your house to live with you,--to
save him from associating with bad people."
He laughed, and when Auntie Sue only smiled, as though humoring him
in his little joke, he added: "By the way, has Betty Jo seen this
latest patient of yours? What does she think of his chances for
"Yes," Auntie Sue returned, calmly; "Betty Jo has seen him. But,
really, Homer, I have never asked her what she thought of him."
"Do you know, Auntie Sue," said the banker, reflectively, "I never
did believe that Brian Kent was a criminal at heart."
"I know he is not," she returned stoutly. "But, tell me, Homer,
how did it ever happen?"
"Well, you see," he answered, "young Kent had a wife who couldn't
somehow seem to fit into his life. Ross never went into the details
with me, fully, because that, of course, had no real bearing on the
fact that he stole the money from the bank. But it seems that the
youngster was rather ambitious,--studied a lot outside of business
hours and that sort of thing. I know he made his own way through
business college before he came to us. The wife didn't receive the
attention she thought she should have, I suppose. Perhaps she was
right at that. Anyway, she wanted a good time;--wanted him to take
her out more, instead of spending his spare time digging away at his
books. And so it went the usual way,--she found other company.
Rather a gay set, I fancy; at least it led to her needing more money
than he was earning, and so he helped out his salary, thinking to pay
it back before he was caught, I suppose. Then the crash came,--some
other man, you know,--and Brian skipped, which, of course, put us next
to his stealing. I don't know what has become of the woman. The last
Ross knew of her she was living in St. Louis, and running with a
pretty wild bunch,--glad to get rid of Brian, I expect. She couldn't
have really cared so very much for him.
"Do you know, Auntie Sue, I have seen so many cases like this one.
I have been glad, many times, that I never married. And then, again,
sometimes, I have seen homes that have made me sorry I never took the
chance. I am glad you saved the boy, Auntie Sue: I am mighty glad."
"You have made me very happy, Homer," Auntie Sue returned. "But
are you sure you can fix it about that reward? The man who is coming
to claim it will make trouble, won't he, if he is not paid, somehow?"
"Yes, I expect he would," returned the president, thoughtfully.
"And my directors might have something to say. And there are the
Burns people and the Bankers' Association and all. Hum-m-m!"
Homer T. Ward considered the matter a few moments, then he laughed.
"I'll tell you what we will do, Auntie Sue; we will let Brian Kent
pay the reward himself. That would be fair, wouldn't it?"
Auntie Sue was sure that Brian would agree that it was a fair
enough arrangement; but she did not see how it was to be managed.
Then her old pupil explained that he would pay the reward-money to
the man who was coming to claim it, and thus satisfy him, and that
the bank would hold the amount as a part of the debt which Brian was
expected to pay.
Auntie Sue never knew that President Ward himself paid to the bank
the full amount of the money stolen by Brian Kent in addition to the
reward-money which he personally paid to Jap Taylor, in order to quiet
him, and thus saved Brian from the publicity that surely would have
followed any other course.
It should also be said here that Judy's father never again appeared
in the Ozarks; at least, not in the Elbow Rock neighborhood. It
might be that Jap Taylor was shrewd enough to know that his
reputation would not permit him to show any considerable sum of
money, where he was known, without starting an investigation; and for
men of his type investigations are never to be desired.
Or it is not unlikely that the combination of money and the city
proved the undoing of the moonshiner, and that he came to his
legitimate and logical end among the dives and haunts of his kind, to
which he would surely gravitate.
CHAPTER XXIII. IN THE ELBOW ROCK RAPIDS.
The day following that night of Brian Kent's uneasy wakefulness was
a hard day for the man and the woman in the little log house by the
For Brian, the morning dawned with a sense of impending disaster.
He left his room while the sky was still gray behind the eastern
mountains, and the mist that veiled the brightness of the hills
seemed to hide in its ghostly depths legions of shadowy spirits that
from his past had assembled to haunt him. The sombre aisles and
caverns of the dimly lighted forest were peopled with shadowy memories
of that life which he had hoped would never again for him awake. And
the river swept through its gray world to the crashing turmoil at
Elbow Rock like a thing doomed to seek forever in its own irresistible
might the destruction of its ever-living self.
As one moving in a world of dreams, he went about his morning's
work. "Old Prince" whinnied his usual greeting, but received no
answer. "Bess" met him at the barnyard gate, but he did not speak.
The sun leaped above the mountain-tops, and the world was filled with
the beauty of its golden glory. From tree and bush and swaying weed,
from forest and pasture, and garden and willow- fringed river-bank,
the birds voiced their happy greetings to the new day. But the man
neither saw nor heard.
When he went to the house with his full milk-pail, and Betty Jo met
him at the kitchen-door with her cheery "Good-morning!" he tried
resolutely to free himself from the mood which possessed him, but
only partially succeeded. Several times, as the two faced each other
across the breakfast table, Brian saw the gray eyes filled with
questioning anxiety, as though Betty Jo, also, felt the presence of
some forbidding spectre at the meal.
After several vain attempts to find something they could talk
about, Betty Jo boldly acknowledged the situation by saying: "What
in the world is the matter with us, this morning, Mr. Burns? I am
possessed with the feeling that there is some one or something behind
me. I want to look over my shoulder every minute."
At her words, Brian involuntarily turned his head for a quick
"There!" cried Betty Jo, with a nervous laugh, not at all like her
normal, well-poised self. "You feel it, too!"
Brian forced a laugh in return: "It is the weather, I guess." He
tried to speak with casual ease. "The atmosphere is full of
electricity this morning. We'll have a thunder-storm before night,
"And was it the electricity in the air that kept you tramping up
and down your room last night until almost morning?" she demanded
abruptly, with her characteristic opposition to any evasion of the
question at issue.
Brian retorted with a smile: "And how do you know that I tramped
up and down my room last night?"
The color in Betty Jo's cheeks deepened as she answered, "I did not
sleep very well either."
"But, I surely did not make noise enough for you to hear in your
room?" persisted Brian.
The color deepened still more in Betty Jo's checks, as she answered
honestly: "I was not in my room when I heard you." She paused, and
when he only looked at her expectantly, but did not speak, continued,
in a hesitating manner quite unlike her matter-of-fact self: "When I
could not sleep, and felt so as though there were somebody or
something in the house that had no business here, I became afraid, and
opened my door so I would not feel so much alone; and then I saw the
light under the door of your room, and,--" she hesitated, but finished
with a little air of defiance,--"and I went and listened outside your
door to see if you were up."
"Yes?" said Brian Kent, gently.
"And when I heard you walking up and down, I wanted to call to you;
but I thought I better not. It made me feel better, though, just to
know that you were there; and so, pretty soon, I went back to my room
"And then?" said Brian.
"And then," confessed Betty Jo, "whatever it was that was keeping
me awake came back, and went on keeping me awake until I was simply
forced to go to you for help again."
Poor Betty Jo! She knew very well that she ought not to be saying
those things to the man who, while he listened, could not hide the
love that shone in his eyes.
And Brian Kent, as he thought of this woman, whom he loved with all
the strength of his best self, creeping to the door of his room for
comfort in the lonely night, scarcely dared trust himself to speak.
At last, when their silence was becoming unbearable, he said, gently:
"You poor child! Why didn't you call to me?"
And Betty Jo, hearing in his voice that which told her how near he
was to the surrender that would bring disaster to them both, was
aroused to the defense. The gray eyes never wavered as she answered,
bravely: "I was afraid of that, too."
And so Betty Jo confessed her love that answered so to his need;
but, in her very confession, saved their love from themselves. If
she had lowered her eyes--
Brian Kent, in reverent acknowledgment, bowed his head before her.
Then, rising, he walked to the window, where he stood for some time
looking out, but seeing nothing.
"It was that horrid man coming yesterday that has so upset us,"
said Betty Jo, at last. "We were getting on so beautifully, too. I
wish he had gone somewhere else for his vegetables and eggs and
Brian was able to smile at this as he turned to face her again, and
they both knew that,--for that time, at least,--the danger-point was
"I wish so, too," he agreed; "but never mind; Auntie Sue will be
home in a day or two, and then everything will be all right again."
But when he had taken his hat and was starting out for the day's
work, Betty Jo asked, "What are you doing to-day?"
"I was going to work on the fence around the clearing," he
"I--I--wish you could find something to do nearer the house," came
the slow answer. "Couldn't you work in the garden, perhaps?"
"I should say I could!" he returned heartily.
All that forenoon, as Betty Jo went about her household duties she
felt the presence of the thing that filled her so with fear and
dread. With vigorous determination she scolded herself for being so
foolish, and argued with herself that it was all a nervous fancy born
of her restless night. But, the next moment, she would start with a
sudden fear and turn quickly as if to face some one whose presence she
felt behind her. And Brian, too, as he worked in the garden, caught
himself often in the act of pausing to look about with nervous
During the noonday meal they made a determined effort to laugh at
themselves, and by the time dinner was over had almost succeeded. But
when Brian, as he pushed back his chair, said, jestingly, "Well, am I
to work in the garden again this afternoon?" Betty Jo answered,
emphatically, "Indeed you are! I will not stay another minute in this
house alone. Goodness knows what I will do to- night!"
There was no jest in the man's voice as he answered: "I'll tell
you what you will do to-night,--you will go to bed and you will go to
sleep. You will leave the door to your room wide-open, and I shall
lie right there on that couch, so near that a whisper from you will
reach me. We will have no more of this midnight prowling, I promise
you. If any ghost dares appear, we--"
The reassuring words died on Brian Kent's lips. His eyes, looking
over Betty Jo's shoulders, were fixed and staring, and the look on
his face sent a chill of horror to the girl's heart. She dared not
move nor look around as he sat like a man turned to stone.
A woman's laugh broke the dead silence.
With a scream, Betty Jo sprung to her feet and whirled about.
As one in a trance, Brian Kent arose and stood beside her.
The woman, who stood in the open doorway, laughed again.
Martha Kent's heavy drinking the night before, when her clubhouse
friends in a wild debauch had tried to help her to forget, was the
climax of many months of like excesses. The mood in which she had
sent the man Green from her room was the last despairing flicker of
her better instincts. Moved by her memories of better things,--of a
better love and dreams and ideals,--she had spent a little hour or two
in sentimental regret for that which she had so recklessly cast aside.
And then, because there was within her no foundation of abiding
principle for her sentiment, she had again put on the character which
had so separated her from the life of the man to whom she was married,
indeed, but with whom she was never one. With the burning
consciousness of what she might have been and of what she was ever
tormenting her, she sank, as the hours passed, deeper and deeper into
the quicksands of physical indulgence until, in her mad determination
to destroy utterly her ability to feel remorse, she lost all mental
control of herself, and responded to every insane whim of her
As she stood there, now, in the doorway of that little log house by
the river,--face to face with the man and the woman who, though they
were united in their love, were yet separated by the very fact of her
existence,--she was, in all her hideous, but pitiful, repulsiveness,
the legitimate creation of those life-forces which she so fitly
Betty Jo instinctively drew closer to Brian's side.
"Hello, Brian, dear!" said the woman, with a drunken leer.
"Thought I'd call to see you in your charming love-nest that Harry
Green raved so about. Can't you introduce me to your little
"No?" she continued, and laughed again. Then coming an unsteady
step toward them, she added, thickly: "Very well, Brian, old sport;
you won't introduce me,--I'll have to introduce myself." She grinned
with malicious triumph at Betty Jo: "Don't be frightened, my dear.
It's all right. I'm nobody of importance,-- just his wife,--that's
all,--just his wife."
Betty Jo, with a little cry, turned to the man who stood as if
stricken dumb with horror. "Brian?" she said. "Oh, Brian?"
It was the first time she had ever addressed him by his given name,
and Brian Kent, as he looked, saw in those gray eyes no hint of doubt
or censure, but only the truest love and sympathy. Betty Jo had not
failed in the moment of her supreme testing.
"It's true, all right, isn't it, Brian?" said Martha Kent. "I'm
his wife fast enough, my dear. But you don't need to worry,--you
two. I'm a good sport,--I am. I've had my fun. No kick coming from
me. Just called to pay my respects,--that's all. So-long, Brian, old
sport! Good-bye, my dear!"
With an uncertain wave of her hand, she staggered through the
doorway and passed from their sight.
In the little log house by the river the two who had kept the
fineness of their love stood face to face.
For Betty Jo, the barrier which Brian Kent had maintained between
them to protect her from his love was no longer a thing unknown. But
the revelation, coming as it did, had brought no shadow of distrust or
doubt of the man to whom she had so fully entrusted herself. It had,
indeed, only strengthened her faith in him and deepened her love.
For one glorious triumphal moment the very soul of the man exulted
in the truth which Betty Jo made known to him. Then he turned slowly
away, for he dared not trust himself to look at her a moment longer.
With bowed head he paced up and down the room. He went to the
table which held Auntie Sue's sewing-basket, and fingered the trifles
there. Then, slowly, he passed through the open door to the porch,
where Betty Jo, through the window, near which she stood, saw him look
away over the river and the mountains.
Suddenly, she saw him start, and stare intently at some nearer
object that had caught his attention. As Betty Jo watched, he moved
to the edge of the porch, and, stooping, grasped the railing with his
hands;--his head and shoulders were thrust forward; his lips were
parted; his whole attitude was that of the most intense and excited
interest. Then, straightening up, he threw back his head, and laughed
aloud. But his laughter alarmed the girl, who ran to the door,
crying, "What is it, Brian?"
"Look!" he shouted, madly, and pointed toward the river. "Look,
Martha Kent, alone in one of the clubhouse boats, was rowing with
drunken clumsiness toward the head of the Elbow Rock rapids.
The woman's friends had missed her, and, guessing, from some remark
she had made, where she had gone, had sent four men of the party
after her; for they realized that she was in no condition to be alone
in a boat on the river, particularly on that part of the stream near
Auntie Sue's place. After leaving Brian and Betty Jo, she had gone
back to her boat in the eddy at the foot of the garden, and was
pulling out into the stream when she saw her friends approaching.
With a drunken laugh, she waved her hand, and began rowing from them
directly toward the swift water. The men shouted for her to stop, and
pulled with all their strength. But the woman, taking their calls as
a challenge, rowed the harder, while every awkward pull of the oars
carried her nearer the deadly grip of the current.
Betty Jo, as she reached Brian's side, and saw what was happening
on the river, grasped the man's arm appealingly, with a cry: "Brian!
Brian! She is going into the rapids! She will be carried down to
But Brian Kent, for the moment, was beside himself. All that he
had suffered,--all that the woman out there on the river had cost him
in anguish of soul,--all that she had taken from him of
happiness,--came before him with blinding vividness; and now,--
now,--in her drunkenness, she was making her own way to her own
"Of course she is!" he shouted, in answer to Betty Jo. "Her
friends yonder are driving her to it! Could anything be more
As though grasped by powerful unseen hands beneath the surface, the
boat shot forward. The woman, feeling the sudden pull of the
current, stopped rowing, and looked about as if wondering what had
happened. Her friends, not daring to follow closer to the dangerous
water, were pulling madly for the landing at the foot of the garden.
The boat in the middle of the river moved faster.
"Look, Betty Jo, look!" shouted the man on the porch, madly. "It's
got her now--the river has got her--look!"
With a scream of fear, the woman in the boat dropped her oars, and
grasped the gunwale of the little craft.
Brian Kent laughed.
Betty Jo shrank back from him, her eyes, big with horror, fixed
upon his face. Then, with a quick movement, she sprang toward him
again, and, catching his arm, shook him with all her strength and
struck him again and again with her fist.
"Brian! Brian!" she cried. "You are insane!"
The man looked down at her for an instant with an expression of
bewildered astonishment on his face, as one awakened from a dream. He
raised his hand and drew it across his forehead and eyes.
The boat with the helpless woman was already past the front of the
Betty Jo cried again as if calling the man she loved from a
distance: "Brian! Brian!"
With a sudden movement, the man jerked away from her. The next
instant, he had leaped over the railing of the porch to the ground
below and was running with all his might toward the river, at an
angle which would put him opposite or a little below the boat when he
reached the bank.
With a sob, Betty Jo followed as fast as she could.
As Brian Kent raced toward the river's edge, the powerful current
drew the boat with the woman into the first rough water of the
rapids, and, as the skiff was shaken and tossed by the force that was
sweeping it with ever-increasing speed toward the wild turmoil at
Elbow Rock, the woman screamed again and again for help.
The warring forces of the stream whirled the little craft about,
and she saw the man who was nearing the bank. She rose to her feet
in the rocking boat, and stretched out her arms,--calling his name,
"Brian! Brian! Brian!" Then the impact of the boat against a
larger wave of the rapids brought her to her knees, and she clung to
the thwarts with piteous cries.
Betty Jo and the clubhouse men, who had overtaken her, saw Brian as
he reached the river opposite the boat. For a little way he raced
the tumbling waters until he had gained a short distance ahead of the
skiff; then they saw him, without an instant's pause, leap from the
high bank far out into the boiling stream.
Running along the bank, the helpless watchers saw the man fighting
his way toward the boat. One moment, he disappeared from sight,
dragged beneath the surface by the powerful currents with which he
wrestled. The next instant, the boiling waters would toss him high
on the crest of a rolling wave, only to drag him down again a second
later. But, always, he drew nearer and nearer the object of his
struggle, while the rapids swept both the helpless woman and the
tossing boat and the swimming man onward toward the towering cliff,
and the thunder-roar of the mad waters below grew louder and louder.
The splendid strength of arms and shoulders which Brian Kent had
acquired by his months of work with his ax on the timbered
mountain-side sustained him now in his need. With tremendous energy,
he breasted the might of the furious river. To the watchers it seemed
at times that it was beyond the power of human muscles to endure the
terrific strain. Then he gained the boat, and they saw him striving
with desperate energy to drag it toward the opposite shore and so into
the currents that would carry it past the menacing point of the cliff
and perhaps to the safety of the quiet water below.
All that human strength could do in that terrible situation, Brian
Kent did. But the task was beyond the power of mortal man.
For an instant the breathless watchers on the bank thought there
was a chance; but the waters with mad fury dragged their victims
back, and, with terrific power, hurled them forward toward the
It was quickly over.
In that wild turmoil of the boiling, leaping, seething, lashing,
hammering waves, the boat, with the woman who crouched on her knees
on the bottom, and the man who clung to the side of the craft,
appeared for a second lifted high in the air. The next instant, the
crash of breaking wood sounded above the thundering roaring of the
waters. The man and the woman disappeared. The wreck of the boat was
flung again and again against the cliff, until, battered and broken,
it was swept away around the point.
Against the dark wall of rock Brian Kent's head and shoulders
appeared for an instant, and they saw that he held the woman in his
arms. The furious waters closed over them. For the fraction of a
second, the man's hand and arm appeared again above the surface, and
Betty Jo sank to the ground with a low cry of anguish, and hid her
Another moment, and she was aroused by a loud shout from one of the
men who had caught a glimpse of the river's victims farther out at
the point of the rocky cliff.
Springing to her feet, Betty Jo started madly up the trail that
leads over the bluff. The men followed.
Immediately below Elbow Rock there is a deep hole formed by the
waters that pour around the point of the cliff, and below this hole a
wide gravelly bar pushing out from the Elbow Rock side of the stream
forces the main volume of the river to the opposite bank. In the
shallow water against the upper side of the bar they found them.
With the last flicker of his consciousness, Brian Kent had felt his
feet touch the bottom where the water shoals against the bar, and,
with his last remaining strength, had dragged himself and the body of
the woman into the shallows.
Betty Jo was no hysterical weakling to spend the priceless seconds
of such a time in senseless ravings. The first-aid training which
she had received at school gave her the necessary knowledge which her
native strength of character and practical common sense enabled her to
apply. Under her direction, the men from the clubhouse worked as they
probably never had worked before in all their useless lives.
But the man and the woman whose life-currents had touched and
mingled,--drawn apart to flow apparently far from each other, but
drawn together again to once more touch, and, as one, to endure the
testing of the rapids,--the man and the woman had not brought to the
terrible ordeal the same strength.
One was drawn into the Elbow Rock rapids by the careless
indifference and the reckless spirit that was born of the life she had
chosen; by her immediate associates and environment; and by the
circumstances that were, at the last analysis, of her own making.
The other braved the same dangers, strong in the splendid spirit
that had set him against such terrible odds to attempt the woman's
rescue. From his work on the timbered mountain-side, from his life
in the clean atmosphere of the hills, and from the spiritual and
mental companionship of that little log house by the river, he had
brought to his testing the splendid strength which enabled him to
Somewhere in that terrible conflict with the wild waters at Elbow
Rock, while the man whose life she had so nearly ruined by her
wantonness was fighting to save her, the soul of Martha Kent went
from the bruised and battered body which Brian drew at last from the
vicious grasp of the currents.
But the man lived.
CHAPTER XXIV. JUDY'S RETURN.
In the early evening twilight of the day following the tragedy at
Elbow Rock, Betty Jo was sitting on the porch, to rest for a few
minutes in the fresh air, after long hours of watching beside Brian's
A neighbor woman had come to help, but Betty Jo would not leave the
side of the man she loved as he fought his way slowly out of the dark
shadow of the death that had so nearly conquered him. Nor, indeed,
would Brian let her go, for even in those moments when he appeared
most unconscious of the life about him, he seemed to feel her
presence. All through the long, long hours of that anxious night and
day she had watched and waited the final issue;--feeling the dark
messenger very close at times, but gaining hope as the hours passed
and her lover won his way nearer and nearer to the light;--courageous
always;--giving him the best of her strength, so far as it was
possible to give him anything;--making him feel the steady, enduring
fullness of her love.
At last, they felt that the victory was won. The doctor, satisfied
that the crisis was safely past, went his way to visit other
patients. By evening, Brian was resting so easily that the girl had
stolen away for a few minutes, leaving the neighbor to call her if he
Betty Jo had been on the porch but a short time when a step sounded
on the gravel walk that led from the porch steps around the corner of
the house. A moment more, and Judy appeared.
The mountain girl stopped when she saw Betty Jo, and the latter
went to the top of the steps.
"Good-evening, Judy!" said Betty Jo, quietly. "Won't you come in?"
Slowly, with her black beady eyes fixed on Betty Jo's face, Judy
went up the steps.
As the mountain girl reached the level of the porch-floor, Betty Jo
drew a little back toward the door.
Judy stopped instantly, and stood still. Then, in a low tone, she
said: "You-all ain't got no call ter be afeared, Miss Betty Jo. You
hain't never goin' ter have no call ter be scared of me again, never."
"I am so glad for you to say that, Judy," returned Betty Jo,
smiling. "I don't want to be afraid of you, and I am not really;
"Ain't you-all plumb a-hatin' me for what I done?" asked Judy,
"No, no; Judy, dear, I don't hate you at all, and you must know
that Auntie Sue loves you."
"Yes," Judy nodded her head, thoughtfully. "Auntie Sue just
naturally loves everybody. Hit wouldn't be no more'n nature, though,
for you-all ter hate me. I sure have been poison-mean."
"But that is all past now, Judy," said Betty Jo, heartily. "Come
and sit down?" She started toward the chairs.
But the mountain girl did not move, except to shake her head in
refusal of the hospitable invitation.
"I ain't a-goin' ter put my foot inside this house, nor set with
you-all, nor nothin' 'til I've said what I done come ter say."
Betty Jo turned back to her again: "What is it, Judy?"
"Auntie Sue done told me not ter let you-all er Mr. Burns see me
'til she come back. But I can't help hit, an' if I don't talk 'bout
that none, I reckon she ain't a-goin' ter mind so much. You- all
don't know that I seed Auntie Sue that night 'fore she went away, an'
that hit was me took her ter the station with 'Old Prince,' an' brung
him back, did you?"
"No," said Betty Jo, "I did not know; and if Auntie Sue told you
not to tell us about it, I would rather you did not, Judy."
"I ain't aimin' ter," Judy returned; "but Auntie Sue don't know
nothin' 'bout what's happened since she went away, an' hit's that
what's a-makin' me come ter you-all."
Betty Jo, seeing that the poor girl was laboring under some intense
emotional stress, said, gently: "What is it that you wish to tell
me, Judy? I am sure Auntie Sue will not mind, if you feel so about
The mountain girl's eyes filled and the tears streamed down her
sallow cheeks, while her twisted shoulders shook with the grief she
could not suppress, as she faltered: "My God-A'mighty! Miss Betty
Jo, I--I--didn't aim ter do hit! I sure didn't! 'Fore God, I'd er
let 'em kill me first, if I'd only had time ter think. But hit--
hit--was me what told that there woman how Mr. Burns was Brian Kent.
Hit's--hit's--me what's ter blame for gittin' her killed in the river
an' him so nigh drowned. O God! O God! If he'll only git well!
"An' I ain't a-feelin' toward you-all like I did, Miss Betty Jo. I
can't no more. I done left them clubhouse folks, after I knowed what
has happened, an' all day I been hangin' 'round here in the bresh.
An' Lucy Warden she done told me, this afternoon, 'bout how you-all
was takin' care of Mr. Burns, an' how you just naturally wouldn't let
him die. An'--an'--I kin see, now, what hit is that makes Auntie Sue
and him an' you-all so different from that there clubhouse gang an'
pap an' me. An' I ain't a-wantin' ter be like I been, no more, ever.
I'd a heap rather jump inter the river an' drown myself. 'Fore God,
I would! An' I want ter come back an' help you-all take care of him;
an' live with Auntie Sue; an'--an'-- be a little might like youuns, if
I kin. Will you let me, Miss Betty Jo? Will you? I most know Auntie
Sue would, if she was here."
Before the mountain girl had finished speaking, Betty Jo's arm was
around the poor twisted shoulders, and Betty Jo's eyes were answering
And so, when Auntie Sue came home, it was Judy who met her at the
station, with "Old Prince" and the buggy; and as they drove down the
winding road to the little log house by the river, the mountain girl
told the old gentlewoman all that had happened in her absence.
CHAPTER XXV. THE RIVER.
Brian Kent recovered quickly from the effects of his experience in
the Elbow Rock rapids, and was soon able again to take up his work on
the little farm. Every day he labored in the garden, or in the
clearing, or at some task which did not rightly fall to those who
rented the major part of Auntie Sue's tillable acreage.
Auntie Sue had told him about her visit to the President of the
Empire Consolidated Savings Bank, and of the arrangement made by the
banker--as she understood it--for Brian's protection. But while the
dear old lady explained that Homer T. Ward was one of her pupils, she
did not reveal the relation between Brian's former chief and Betty Jo.
Neither Auntie Sue nor Betty Jo, for several very good reasons, was
ready for Brian to know the whole truth about his stenographer. It
was quite enough, they reasoned, for him to love his stenographer, and
for his stenographer to love him, without raising any more obstacles
in the pathway of their happiness.
As the busy weeks passed, several letters came from the publishers
of Brian's book,--letters which made the three in the little log
house by the river very happy. Already, in the first reception of
this new writer's work, those who had undertaken to present it to the
public saw many promises of the fulfillment of their prophecies as to
its success. When the third letter came, a statement of the sales to
date was enclosed, and, that afternoon, Betty Jo went to Brian where
he was at work in the clearing.
When they were comfortably, not to say cozily, seated on a log in
the shade at the edge of the forest, she announced that she had come
for a very serious talk.
"Yes?" he returned; but he really looked altogether too happy to be
"Yes," she continued, "I have. As your accredited business agent
and--" she favored him with a Betty Jo smile--"shall I say manager?"
"Why not managing owner?" he retorted.
"I am glad you confirm my promotion so readily," she returned, with
a charming touch of color in her cheeks, "because that, you see,
helps me to present what I have to say for the good of the firm."
"I am listening, Betty Jo."
"Very well; tell me, first, Brian, just exactly how much do you owe
that bank, reward-money and all, and Auntie Sue, interest and
Brian went to his coat, which lay on a near-by stump, and returned
with a small pocket account-book.
"I have it all here," he said, as he seated himself close beside
her again. And, opening the book, he showed her how he had kept a
careful record of the various sums he had taken from the bank, with
"Oh, Brian, Brian!" she said with a little cry of delight, "I am so
glad,--so glad you have this! It is exactly what I want for my
wedding present. It was so thoughtful of you to fix it for me."
Thus by a characteristic, Betty Jo turn she made the little book of
painful memories a book of joyous promise.
When they again returned to the consideration of business matters,
Brian gave her the figures which answered her questions as to his
Again Betty Jo exclaimed with delight: "Brian, do you see? Take
your pencil and figure quick your royalties on the number of books
sold as given in the publishers' statement."
Brian laughed. "I have figured it."
"And your book has already earned more than enough to pay
everything," said Betty Jo. "Isn't that simply grand, Brian?"
"It is pretty 'grand,' all right," he agreed. "The only trouble
is, I must wait so long before the money is due me from the
"That is exactly what I came to talk about," she returned quickly.
"I tried to have it different when I made the arrangements with them,
but the terms of payment in the contract are the very best I could
get; and so I have planned a little plan whereby you--that is,
we--won't need to wait for your freedom until the date of settlement
with the publishers."
"You have a plan which will do that?" Brian questioned, doubtfully.
She nodded vigorously, with another Betty Jo smile. "This is the
plan, and you are not to interrupt until I have finished everything:
I happen to have some money of my very, very own, which is doing
nothing but earning interest--"
At the look on Brian's face, she stopped suddenly; but, when he
started to speak, she put her hand quickly over his mouth, saying:
"You were not to say a single word until I have finished. Play fair,
Brian, dear; please!"
When he signified that he would not speak, she continued in her
most matter-of-fact and businesslike tone: "There is every reason in
the world, Brian, why you should pay off your debt to the bank and to
Auntie Sue at the earliest possible moment. You can think of several
reasons yourself. There is me, for instance.
"Very well. You have the money to your credit with the publishers;
but you can't use it yet. I have money that you can just as well
use. You will make an assignment of your royalties to me, all in
proper form, to cover the amount you need. You will pay me the same
interest my money is now earning where it is.
"I will arrange for the money to be sent to you in the form of a
cashier's cheque, payable to the banker, Homer T. Ward, so the name
Brian Kent does not appear before we are ready, you see. You will
make believe to Auntie Sue that the money is from the publishers. You
will send the cheque to Mr. Bank President personally, with a
statement of your indebtedness to him properly itemized, interest
figured on everything. You will instruct him to open an account for
you with the balance. And then--then, Brian, you will give dear
Auntie Sue a cheque for what you owe her, with interest of course.
And we will all be so happy! And--and--don't you think I am a very
good managing owner? You do, don't you?"
When he hesitated, she added: "And the final and biggest reason of
all is, that I want you to do as I have planned more than I ever
wanted anything in the world, except you, and I want this so because
I want you. You can't really refuse, now, can you?"
How, indeed, could he refuse?
So they worked it out together as Betty Jo had planned; and when
the time came for the last and best part of the plan, and Brian
confessed to Auntie Sue how he had robbed her, and had known for so
long that she was aware of his crime against her, and finished his
confession by giving her the cheque, it is safe to say that there was
nowhere in all the world more happiness than in the little log house
by the river.
"God-A'mighty sure helped me to do one good turn, anyway, when I
jumped inter the river after that there book when Mr. Burns done
throw'd hit away," commented the delighted Judy.
And while they laughed together, Betty Jo hugged the deformed
mountain girl, and answered: "God Almighty was sure good to us all
that day, Judy, dear!"
It was only a day later when Auntie Sue received a letter from
Homer T. Ward which sent the dear old lady in great excitement to
Betty Jo. The banker was coming for his long-deferred vacation to
the log house by the river.
There was in his letter a kindly word for his former clerk, Brian
Kent, should Auntie Sue chance to see him; much love for his old
teacher and for the dearest girl in the world, his Betty Jo.
But that part of Homer T. Ward's letter which most excited Auntie
Sue and caused Betty Jo to laugh until she cried was this: The great
financier, who, even in his busy life of large responsibilities, found
time for some good reading, had discovered a great book, by a new and
heretofore unknown writer. The book was great because every page of
it, Homer T. Ward declared, reminded him of Auntie Sue. If the writer
had known her for years, he could not have drawn a truer picture of
her character, nor presented her philosophy of life more clearly. It
was a remarkable piece of work. It was most emphatically the sort of
writing that the world needed. This new author was a genius of the
rarest and best sort. Mr. Ward predicted boldly that this new star in
the literary firmament was destined to rank among those of the first
magnitude. Already, among the banker's closest book friends, the new
book was being discussed, and praised. He would bring a copy for
Auntie Sue and Betty Jo to read. It was not only the book of the
year;--it was, in Homer T. Ward's opinion, one of the really big books
of the Century.
"Well," commented Betty Jo, when they had read and reread that part
of the letter, "dear old Uncle Homer may be a very conservative
banker, but he certainly is more than liberal when he touches on the
question of this new author. Won't we have fun, Auntie Sue! Oh, won't
Then they planned the whole thing, and proceeded to carry out their
Brian was told only that Mr. Ward was coming to visit Auntie Sue,
and that he must be busy somewhere away from the house when the
banker arrived, and not come until he was sent for, because Auntie
Sue must make a full confession to her old pupil of the part she had
played in the Re-Creation of Brian Kent before Homer T. Ward should
meet his former clerk.
Brian, never dreaming that there were other confessions to be made,
smilingly agreed to do exactly as he was told.
When the momentous day arrived, Betty Jo met her uncle in
Thompsonville, and all the way home she talked so continuously of her
school, and asked so many questions about his conduct and life and
their many Chicago friends, that the helpless bank president had no
chance whatever of asking her a single embarrassing question. But,
when dinner was over (Brian had taken his lunch with him to the
clearing), Homer T. Ward wanted to know things.
"Was Brian Kent still working in the neighborhood?"
Auntie Sue informed him that Brian was still working in the
"Betty Jo had seen the bank clerk?" Betty Jo's uncle supposed.
"What did she think of the fellow?"
Betty Jo thought Brian Kent was a rather nice fellow.
"And how had Betty Jo been amusing herself while her old uncle was
slaving in the city?"
Betty Jo had been doing a number of things: Helping Auntie Sue
with her housework; learning to cook; keeping up her stenographic
"Reading?" That reminded him, and forthwith Mr. Ward went to his
room, and returned with the book.
And then those two blessed women listened and admired while he
introduced them to the new genius, and read certain favorite passages
from the great book, and grew enthusiastic on the new author, saying
all that he had written in his letter and many things more, until
Betty Jo could restrain herself no longer, but ran to him, and took
the book from his hands, and, with her arms around his neck, told him
that he was the dearest uncle in the world, because she was going to
marry the man who wrote the book he so admired.
There were long explanations after that: How the book so highly
valued by Banker Ward had actually been written in that very log
house by the river; how Auntie Sue had sent for Betty Jo to assist
the author with her typewriting; how the author, not knowing who
Betty Jo was, had fallen in love with his stenographer, and, finally,
how Betty Jo's author-lover was even then waiting to meet her
guardian, still not knowing that her guardian was the banker Homer T.
"You see, uncle, dear," explained Betty Jo, "Auntie Sue and I were
obliged to conspire this little conspiracy against my man, because,
you know, authors are funny folk, and you never can tell exactly what
they are going to do. After giving your heart to a genius as
wonderful as you yourself know this one to be, it would be terrible
to have him refuse you just because you were the only living relative
of a rich old banker;--it would, wouldn't it, uncle, dear?"
And, really, Homer T. Ward could find reason in Betty Jo's
argument, which ended with that fatal trick question.
Taking his agreement for granted, Betty Jo continued: "And, you
see, Auntie Sue and I were simply forced to conspire a little against
you, uncle, dear, because you know perfectly well that, much as I
needed the advantage of associating with such an author- man in the
actual writing of his book, you would never, never have permitted me
to fall in love with him before you had discovered for yourself what a
great man he really is, and I simply had to fall in love with him
because God made me to take care of a genius of some sort. And if you
don't believe that, you can ask Judy. Judy has found out a lot about
"You won't think I am talking nonsense, or am belittling the
occasion will you, uncle, dear?" she added anxiously. "I am not,--
truly, I am not,--I am very serious. But I can't help being a little
excited, can I? Because it is terrible to love a banker- uncle, as I
love you, and at the same time to love a genius-man, as I love my man,
and--and--not know what you two dearest men in the world are going to
do to each other."
And, at this, the girl's arms were about his neck again, and the
girl's head went down on his shoulder; and he felt her cheek hot with
blushes against his and a very suspicious drop of moisture slipped
down inside his collar.
When he had held Betty Jo very close for a while, and had whispered
comforting things in her ear, and had smiled over her shoulder at his
old teacher, the banker sent the girl to find her lover while he
should have a serious talk with Auntie Sue.
The long shadows of the late afternoon were on the mountain-side
when Brian Kent and Betty Jo came down the hill to the little log
house by the river.
The girl had said to him simply, "You are to come, now, Brian;--
Auntie Sue and Mr. Ward sent me to tell you."
She was very serious, and as they walked together clung closely to
his arm. And the man, too, seeming to feel the uselessness of words
for such an occasion, was silent. When he helped her over the
rail-fence at the lower edge of the clearing, he held her in his arms
for a little; then they went on.
They saw the beautiful, tree-clad hills lying softly outlined in
the shadows like folds of green and timeworn velvet, extending ridge
on ridge into the blue. They saw the river, their river, making its
gleaming way with many a curve and bend to the mighty sea, that was
hidden somewhere far beyond the distant sky-line of their vision; and
between them and the river, at the foot of the hill, they saw the
little log house with Auntie Sue and Homer T. Ward waiting in the
When the banker saw the man at Betty Jo's side, his mind was far
from the clerk whom he had known more than a year before in the city.
His thoughts were on the author, the scholar, the genius, whose book
had so compelled his respect and admiration. This tall fellow, with
the athletic shoulders and deeply tanned face, who was dressed in the
rude garb of the backwoodsman, with his coat over his arm, his ax on
his shoulder, and his dinner-pail in his hand,-- who was he? And why
was Betty Jo so familiar with this stranger,-- Betty Jo, who was
usually so reserved, with her air of competent self-possession? Homer
T. Ward turned to look inquiringly at Auntie Sue.
His old teacher smiled back at him without speaking.
Then, Betty Jo and Brian Kent were standing before him.
"Here he is, Uncle Homer," said the girl.
Brian, hearing her speak those two revealing words, and seeing her
go to the bank president, who put his arm around her with the loving
intimacy of a father, stood speechless with amazement, looking from
Homer T. Ward and Betty Jo to Auntie Sue and back to the banker and
Mr. Ward, still not remembering the bank clerk in this re-created
Brian Kent, was holding out his hand with a genial smile.
As the bewildered Brian mechanically took the hand so cordially
extended, the older man said: "It is an honor, sir, to meet a man
who can do the work you have done in writing that book. It is
impossible to estimate the value of such a service as you have
rendered the race. You have a rare and wonderful gift, Mr. Burns,
and I predict for you a life of remarkable usefulness."
Brian, still confused, but realizing that Mr. Ward had not
recognized him, looked appealingly at Betty Jo and then to Auntie
Auntie Sue spoke: "Mr. Ward is the uncle and guardian of Betty Jo,
"'Brian'!" ejaculated the banker.
Auntie Sue continued: "Homer, dear, Betty Jo has presented HER
author, Mr. Burns;--permit me to introduce MY Brian Kent!"
And Judy remarked that evening, when, after supper, they were all
on the porch watching the sunset: "Hit sure is dad burned funny how
all tangled an' snarled up everythin' kin git 'fore a body kin think
most, an', then, if a body'll just keep a-goin' right along, all ter
onct hit's all straightened out as purty as anythin'."
They laughed happily at the mountain girl's words, and the dear old
teacher's sweet voice answered: "Yes, Judy; it is all just like the
river, don't you see?"
"Meanin' as how the water gits all tangled an' mixed up when hit's
a-boilin' an' a-roarin' like mad down there at Elbow Rock, an' then
all ter onct gits all smooth an' calm like again," returned Judy.
"Meaning just that, Judy," returned Auntie Sue. "No matter how
tangled and confused life seems to be, it will all come straight at
the last, if, like the river, we only keep going on."
And when the dreamy Indian-summer days were come and the blue haze
of autumn lay softly over the brown and gold of the beautiful Ozark
hills, the mountain folk of the Elbow Rock neighborhood gathered one
day at the little log house by the river.
It was a simple ceremony that made the man and the woman, who were
so dear to Auntie Sue, husband and wife. But the backwoods minister
was not wanting in dignity, though his dress was rude and his words
plain; and the service lacked nothing of beauty and meaning, though
the guests were but humble mountaineers; for love was there, and
sincerity, and strength, and rugged kindliness.
And when the simple wedding feast was over, they all went down to
the river-bank, at the lower corner of the garden, where, at the eddy
landing, a staunch John-boat waited, equipped and ready.
When the last good-byes were spoken, and Brian and Betty Jo put out
from the little harbor into the stream, Auntie Sue, with Judy and
Homer T. Ward, went back to the porch of the little log house, there
to watch the beginning of the voyage.
With Brian at the oars, the boat crossed the stream to the safer
waters close to the other shore, and then, with Betty Jo waving her
handkerchief, and the neighbor men and boys running shouting along
the bank, swept down the river, past the roaring turmoil of the Elbow
Rock rapids into the quiet reaches below, and away on its winding
course between the tree-clad hills.
"I am so glad," said Auntie Sue, her dear old face glowing with
love, and her sweet voice tremulous with feeling, "I am so glad they
chose the river for their wedding journey."
Note.--This biographical sketch of Harold Bell Wright will give the
reader a knowledge and understanding of the life-work, aims and
purposes of the author as expressed through his books. It is
reprinted on these pages in response to popular demand.--The
HAROLD BELL WRIGHT
By ELSBERY W. REYNOLDS
The biography of a man is of importance and interest to other men
just to the degree that his life and work touches and influences the
life of his time and the lives of individuals.
Only in a feeble way, at best, can the life story of any man be
told on the printed page. The story is better as it is written on
the hearts of men and women and the man himself does the writing.
He lives longest who lives best. He who carves deepest against
corroding time is he who touches with surest hand the greatest number
of human hearts.
He may or may not be a prodigy of physical strength. He may or may
not be a tower of mental energy. But so long as this old world
stands the man with an overpowering desire for all that is best for
the race to be in the race, whose life is in tune with the divine and
with the good that is within us all, whether he be orator, writer,
artist or artisan, is a giant among men.
That which we read makes a deeper and more lasting impression on
our lives than that which we see or hear. An author with millions of
readers must be a great central power of thought and influence, at
least, in his own day and generation. We can understand the truth of
this through a study of the aims and life purposes of Harold Bell
Wright as expressed through his books and the circumstances under
which they were written. The wonderful popularity of this author is
well estimated by the millions of copies of his books that have been
sold. This is also the greatest testimonial that can be given to the
merit of his work. The great heart of the reading public is an
unprejudiced critic. "Is not the greatest voice the one to which the
greatest number of hearts listen with pleasure?"
When a man has attained to great eminence under adverse
circumstances we sometimes wonder to what heights he might have
climbed under conditions more favorable. Who can tell? It is just as
easy to say what the young man of twenty will be when a matured man of
forty. The boy of poverty makes a man of power while the boy nursed in
the lap of luxury makes a man of uneventful life, and, again, a life
started with a handicap remains so through its possible three score
years and ten and the life begun with advantages multiplies its
talents ten and a hundred fold.
So, after all, is not the heart of man the real man and is it not
the guiding star of his ambition, his will, his determination, his
Harold Bell Wright, the second of four sons, was born May 4, 1872,
in Rome, Oneida County, New York. From an earlier biographer we
quote the following:
"Some essential facts must be dug from out the past where they lie
embedded in the detrital chronicles of the race. Say, then, that
away back in 1640 a ship load of Anglo-Saxon freedom landed in New
England. After a brief period some of the more venturesome spirits
emigrated to the far west and settled amid the undulations of the
Mohawk valley in central New York. Protestant France also sent
westward some Gallic chivalry hungering for freedom. The fringe of
this garment of civilization spread out and reached also into the
same valley. English determination and Huguenot aspiration touched
elbows in the war for political and religious freedom, and touched
hearts and hands in the struggle for economic freedom. Their
generations were a genuine aristocracy. Mutual struggles after
mutual aims cemented casual acquaintance into enduring friendship.
William Wright met, loved and married Alma T. Watson. To them four
sons were born. A carpenter contractor, a man who builds, contrives
and constructs, is joined to a woman into whose soul of wholesome
refinement come images of dainty beauty, where they glow and grow
radiant. With lavish unrestraint the life of this French woman pours
itself into her sons. The third child died in infancy. The eldest
survived his mother by some thirteen years. The youngest is a
constructive mechanical engineer. The second son is Harold Bell
"During ten years this mother and this son live in rare intimacy.
The boy's first enduring impression of this life is the vision of the
mother bending affectionately over him while criticising the water
color sketch his unpracticed fingers had just made. Crude blendings
and faulty lines were pointed out, then touched into harmony and more
accurate perspective by her quick skill. Together their eyes watched
shades dance on sunny slopes, cloud shadows race among the hills or
lie lazily in the valley below.
"Exuberant Nature and ebullient boy loved each other from the
first. Alone, enravished, he often wandered far in sheer joy of
living. He brings, one day, from his rambles a bunch of immortelles
which mother graciously receives. Twenty years later the boy,
man-grown, bows reverently over a box of withered flowers-- the same
bouquet the mother took that day and laid away as a precious memento
of his boyish love. Such was the first decade.
"A ten-year-old boy, motherless, steals from harsh labor and yet
harsher surroundings, runs to the home of sacred memories, clambers
to the attic, and spends the night in anguished solitude. This was
his first Gethsemane. For ten years buffeted and beaten, battling
with adversity, sometimes losing but never lost, snatching learning
here and there, hating sham, loving passionately, misunderstood,
misapprehended, too stubbornly proud to ask apologies or make useless
explanations, fighting poverty in the depths of privation, wrestling
existence from toil he loathed, befriending many and also befriended
much, but always face to face with the grim tragedy which has held
part of the stage since Eden.
"Such was the second decade. The first was spent on hill sides
where shadows only made the light more buoyant as they fled away. The
second was passed in the valley where the shadow hung lazily till the
cloud grew very black and drenched the soil.
"Lured to college, he undertook to acquire academic culture. As is
well known, college life with its professorial anecdotes and jokes,
its student pranks and grind, is routine drudgery and cob-webbery
prose. Bookish professors and conventional students rarely have just
such an animate problem of French artistry and Bohemian experience to
solve. They did nobly, to be sure, but here was a mind which threw
over them all the glamour of romance."
Mr. Wright entered the Preparatory Department of Hiram College at
the age of twenty, having previously accepted the faith and
identified himself with the Christian Church in the little quarry
town of Grafton, Ohio. He continued active in the different
departments of work in his church all during his school years with
the ultimate result of his entering the ministry.
Having no financial means, while in school he made his way by doing
odd jobs about town, house painting and decorating, sketching, etc.
After two years of school life, while laboring to gain funds in order
that he might continue his schooling, he contracted from overwork and
out-door exposure a severe case of pneumonia that left his eyesight
badly impaired and his constitution in such condition that, to the
present day, he has never fully recovered.
Air castles were tumbled and hopes blasted when his physician
advised him that it would be fatal to re-enter school for, at least,
another year. Whereupon, seeking health and a means of existence,
starting from a point on the Mahoning river, he canoed with sketch and
note book, but alone, down stream a distance of more than five hundred
miles. From this point, by train, he embarked for the Ozark mountains
in southwest Missouri. Here, for some months, while gradually
regaining his strength, he secured employment at farm work, sketching
and painting at intervals.
Once more, he found himself on bed-rock, taking his last cent to
pay express charges back to Ohio on some finished pictures, but, this
time, fortune smiled promptly with a good check by return mail.
It was while in the Ozarks that Harold Bell Wright preached his
first sermon. Being a regular attendant at the services, held in the
little mountain log school house, he was asked to talk to the people,
one Sunday, when the regular preacher had failed to appear.
From this Sunday morning talk, that could hardly be called a
sermon, and others that followed, he came to feel that he could do
more good in the ministry than he could in any other field of labor,
and soon thereafter accepted a regular pastorate at Pierce City,
Missouri, at a yearly salary of four hundred dollars. True to a
resolve, that his work should be that through which he could help the
most people, he had now chosen the ministry. A further resolve that
he would give up this ministry, chosen with such earnest conviction,
should another field of labor offer more extensive measures for
reaching mankind, took him, in later years, into the field of
literature. He left the ministry with many regrets but with the same
earnest conviction with which he had earlier chosen it.
Following the publication of "The Shepherd of the Hills" his
publishers assured him that he could secure greater results from his
pen rather than his pulpit and prevailed upon him to henceforth make
literature his life work. This was in every way consistent with his
teaching that every man's ministry is that work through which he can
accomplish the greatest good.
In the battle of life there is always the higher ground that the
many covet but few attain. In reaching this height Mr. Wright has
given to a multitude, his time, strength and substance, that they,
too, might further advance. He is companionable, loving and loyal to
his friends. He hates sham and hypocrisy and any attempt to glorify
one's self by means other than the fruits of one's own labor.
This boy, who, from the death of his mother, was driven into a hand
to hand struggle with life for a bare existence, was necessarily
forced into contact with much that was vicious and corrupt. But he
in no way became a part of it. That same inherent love for mental
cleanliness and spiritual truths that has so distinguished the works
of the man kept the boy unstained in his unfortunate environment.
Mr. Wright resigned his charge at Pierce City for the larger work
at Pittsburg, Kansas. In the second year of his pastorate--1899-- he
married Frances E. Long in Buffalo, New York. This union of love had
its beginning back in the school days at Hiram. Unto them have been
born three sons, Gilbert Munger, 1901, Paul Williams, 1902, and Norman
In Pittsburg, Mr. Wright received enthusiastic support from his
church people. Finances were soon in a satisfactory condition, and
church attendance reached the capacity of the building, but still the
young pastor was not satisfied. Pittsburg was a mining town, a young
men's town. A little city with saloons and brothels doing business on
every hand. His soul was on fire for his church to do a larger work
and, with the hope of arousing his people, he conceived the idea of
writing "That Printer of Udell's," planning to read the story, by
installments, on special evenings of successive weeks, to his
Pittsburg was made the principal scene and the church of the story
was the kind of church he wanted his Pittsburg charge to be. The
teachings set forth, through the preacher of the story, in the latter
half of the book, are the identical things the author was preaching.
The first chapters of the story are very largely colored by Mr.
Wright's early life, but they are by no means autobiographical.
"That Printer of Udell's" was written without thought or intention
of offering it for publication. During the author's ministry he made
some of the warmest and most abiding friendships of his life, and it
was through certain of these friends that he was persuaded from
reading the story, as intended, but to offer it for publication,
giving it, thus, a wider usefulness.
Having a leave of absence of several weeks from his church during
the winter of 1901-2 he accepted an invitation from the pastor of a
Chicago church to hold a special meeting, and it was during this
meeting that the author and his publisher met for the first time. Mr.
Wright delivered a sermon entitled "Sculptors of Life" that was so
impressive that I sought him out with entreaties to repeat his sermon
as a lecture to a certain company of young people.
The acquaintance thus begun very quickly became one of friendship,
without any knowledge or thought that it would in time lead to a
co-operative life work, and when the author later offered his book
for publication it was without request or thought of financial
remuneration. Mr. Wright, however, was given a contract paying him
the highest royalty that was being paid for any author's first book.
"That Printer of Udell's" was written almost entirely in the late
hours of the night and the very early hours of the morning. Great
demands were being made on the author's time in the way of requests
for officiating and speaking at public and civic functions in
addition to the now heavy requirements of his church. His aggressive
activities, backed by his splendid spirit, fearlessness and courage in
combating the evils of his little city made for him a host of
admirers, alike, among his enemies and friends. When he left to
accept a pastorate in Kansas City, Missouri, his resignation was not
After one year in Kansas City he found that he was not physically
able to carry out the great city work as he had dreamed it and
planned it, on a scale that would satisfy his longings for service,
and it made him seriously consider whether there was not some other
way that would more equally measure with his strength. He went again
to the Ozarks, this time for rest and meditation, and while there
began writing "The Shepherd of the Hills." This Story has a peculiar
significance for the author. He feels toward it as he can not feel
for any of his other books. "The Shepherd of the Hills" was written
as a test. The strength of the message he was able to put into the
story and the response it should find in the hearts of men and women
was to decide for him his ministry henceforth, whether he would teach
the precepts of the Man of Galilee by voice or pen. It was a testing
time that bore fruit not only in this simple, sweet story, that to
quote an eminent divine, "is one of the greatest sermons of our day,"
but resulted as well in the splendid volumes that have followed.
"The Shepherd of the Hills" was finished during the year of his
pastorate at Lebanon, Missouri, and but for the sympathy,
encouragement and helpful understanding of his church officers and
membership, it is doubtful if the story could ever have been
completed. When Mr. Wright delivered the manuscript to his
publishers the first of the year, 1907, for publication the next
fall, he had accepted the pastorate of the Christian Church in
Redlands, California, hoping this land of sunshine would give him a
larger measure of health.
Some months later, resigning his Redlands pastorate, he went to the
Imperial Valley and there, the following year, wrote "The Calling of
Dan Matthews." The church and its problems were weighing on the
author and affecting his life no less than when he was in the
ministry and it was only natural that he should give to the world "a
picture that is true to the four corners of the earth." Every
incident in the story has its counterpart in real life and, with but
few exceptions, came under the author's personal observation. He did
not get the real pleasure out of writing "The Calling of Dan Matthews"
that he did the story which preceded it. But he could not, try as he
would, escape it.
The publication of "The Calling of Dan Matthews" in the fall of
1909 was just two years after the publication of "The Shepherd of the
"The Winning of Barbara Worth" required more time and effort in the
collecting of material than any book the author had written, but
probably gave him, at least, as much pleasure. He is very careful
with regard to descriptive detail, and even while writing "The
Calling of Dan Matthews" he was making a study of the desert and this
great reclamation project. Before sending his manuscript for
publication he had it checked over by the best engineers on the
Pacific coast for inaccuracies in any of his descriptions that
involved engineering or reclamation problems.
"The Winning of Barbara Worth" bears the distinction, without
doubt, of being the only book ever published that called its
publisher and illustrator from a distance of two and three thousand
miles, into the heart of a great desert, for a consultation with its
author. This story of the Imperial Valley and its reclamation was
written in the same study as was "The Calling of Dan Matthews." A
study of rude construction, about eighteen by thirty-five feet, with
thatched roof and outside covering of native arrow-weed and built
entirely by the author himself.
When Mr. Wright finished "The Winning of Barbara Worth"--so named
in honor of Ruth Barbara Reynolds--he was a sick man. He often
worked the night through, overtaxing his nerve and strength. For
several months he virtually dwelt within the four walls of his study
and for a time it was feared he would not live to finish the book. He
wrote the last chapters while confined to his bed, after which he was
taken by easy stages, through the kindness of friends, to that part of
Northern Arizona that is so delightful to all lovers of the
out-of-doors. In this bracing mile-high atmosphere he soon grew well
and strong, almost to ruggedness, and on the day his book was
published he was riding in a wild-horse chase over a country wild and
rough where the writer of this sketch would only care to go, carefully
picking his way, on foot. So it was weeks after publication before
the author saw the first bound copy of his book. During these summer
and fall months, while regaining his strength, he was busy with sketch
and note book collecting material, for this part of Arizona is the
scene of his novel "When a Man's a Man."
"Their Yesterdays" was written in Tucson, Arizona, and was
published in the fall of 1912, just one year after the publication of
"The Winning of Barbara Worth." In order to write this story, with
the least possible strain on his nerves and vitality, Mr. Wright
secluded himself in a little cottage purchased especially for this
work. His material was collected from the observations of his
thoughtful years and his intimate knowledge of human hearts. This book
is, perhaps, more representative of the real Harold Bell Wright than
anything he has done. It is the true presentation of his views on
life, love and religion. I once asked Mr. Wright, in behalf of the
faculty, to deliver an address to a graduating class of some
twenty-odd young men of the Morgan Park Academy (Chicago). He was very
busy and I suggested that without special effort he make the
commonplace remarks that one so often hears on like occasions. For
the first time that I remember he somewhat impatiently resented a
suggestion from me, saying "These young men are on the threshold of
life and the very best that is within me is due to them. I can give
to them only such a message as I would, were I to stand before
judgment on the morrow." It was with just this spirit that the author
wrote "Their Yesterdays."
Following "Their Yesterdays" the next book in order of publication
was "The Eyes of the World," published in the fall of 1914. It was
written in the same arrow-weed study on Tecolote Rancho in the
Imperial Valley where he wrote "The Calling of Dan Matthews" and "The
Winning of Barbara Worth." Being fully in sympathy with the author's
purpose in writing this story, the campaign of advertising was of such
educational character and so eventful in many ways, that it will long
be remembered by authors, publishers and reading public, and, we
trust, make for cleaner books and pictures.
As it was in the writing of "The Calling of Dan Matthews" so it was
in the writing of "The Eyes of the World," the sense of duty stood
highest. The modern trend in books and music and art and drama had
so incensed the author that "The Eyes of the World" was the result of
his all impelling desire for cleaner living and thinking. As is true
of all writers, there are sometimes those who fail to catch the
message in Mr. Wright's books. He is occasionally misunderstood, and
that was especially true with "The Eyes of the World." To the great
majority of people, clean living and thinking, the message was not to
be misinterpreted and to them the book is blessed. To that small
minority it was convicting and, from a few such, it brought forth
condemnation which, in a fellow author here and there, was pronounced
and emphasized by envy and jealousy. To critics of this class Mr.
Wright makes no reply and is not in the least disturbed.
"The Uncrowned King," a small volume--an allegory--published in
1910, to me, is one of the most delightful of Mr. Wright's books.
Possibly, it has an added charm because of certain peculiar
conditions. It was written in Redlands, California, during the
winter of 1909-10, although the notion for the little volume occurred
to the author while living in Kansas City. It was one of those times
when the longing and will to do a work greater than the physical would
permit seemed almost overpowering when, unconsciously coming to his
aid, a young woman talking to a company of Christian Endeavorers
chanced to remark, "After all, the real kings of earth are seldom
crowned." All through the evening service thoughts that this inspired
kept running through the author's mind and late that same night he
wrote the outline which was only completed some years later and given
to his publishers to enrich the world.
His first four novels in order of publication have been dramatized
and enjoyed by thousands from before the footlights and it has been a
delight to renew acquaintances with old friends in this way. It
remained for "The Eyes of the World" to be the first of his books to
be presented in a feature production of motion pictures.
The likes and dislikes of Harold Bell Wright are quite pronounced.
He is unpretending, cares not for the lime-light and avoids
interviews for the public press. Loud, boisterous conversation is
but little less offensive to him than vulgarity in speech or action.
His friends are strong, clean-minded men who are doing things in the
world and are as necessary to his being as the air to his existence,
and his generosity to them is no less marked than his caring and
providing for his family, which is almost a passion. He is extremely
fond of most forms of out-door life. The desert with its vast
expanse, fierce solitude and varied colors is no less attractive to
him than the peaceful quiet of wooded dells, the beauty of flowering
meadows or the rugged mountains with their roaring trout streams that
furnish him hours of sport with rod and line. He enjoys hunting,
horse-back riding or long tramps afoot. But when there is work to be
done it is the one thing that bulks largest and all else must wait.
After finishing "The Eyes of the World," Mr. Wright embarked on the
building of a home in the Santa Monica mountains near Hollywood,
California. So in the summer of 1915 the little family of five began
making their residence in the new canyon home, one of nature's
Then again, the author went into camp in the Arizona desert while
writing "When a Man's a Man." For he finds it very helpful to live
in the atmosphere of his story while doing the actual writing and he
also avoids frequent interruption. I think he got more real enjoyment
out of this story than any he has previously done. It is a story of
the out-of-doors in this great unfenced land where a man must be a
man. I suppose, too, he enjoyed writing this work so much, partly,
because it comes so easy for him to just tell a story without the
intervention of some nerve racking problem. The only book he has
heretofore written that is purely a story is "The Shepherd of the
Hills," and I sometimes wonder to what proportion of his readers does
this Ozark story hold first place. For all such, I am sure, "When a
Man's a Man" will find a reception of special heartiness because it is
just a fine, big, wholesome novel of simple sweetness and virile
I have written this sketch of Harold Bell Wright that you may know
him as intimately, if possible, as if you had met him in person. But
should you have the opportunity of making his acquaintance do not deny
yourself the pleasure. If you are a lover of his books I am sure you
are just the kind of person that the author himself delights to meet.
"Relay Heights," February 15, 1916.