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   Chapter 4 No.4

Exit Betty By Grace Livingston Hill Characters: 15180

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Not two miles away, Betty lay safe and warm in the flanellette nightgown, and watched Jane Carson turn out the light and open the window. A light leaped up from the street and made a friendly spot of brightness on the opposite wall, and Betty had a sense of cosiness that she had not felt since she was in boarding school with a roommate.

"Now," said Jane, climbing into bed and pulling up the covers carefully lest she should let the cold in on her guest, "let's hear!-You warm enough?"

There was a curious tenderness in her voice as if she had brought home a young princess and must guard her carefully.

"Oh, perfectly!" said Betty, giving a little nervous shiver. "And I'm so glad to be here safe away from them all! Oh, I've needed some one to advise with so much! I haven't had a soul since they sent my old nurse away because she dared to take my part sometimes."

Suddenly Betty buried her face in the pillow and began to sob and Jane reached out quick gentle arms and gathered her in a close comforting embrace. In a moment more Betty had gained control of herself and began to explain:

"You see," she said, catching her breath bravely, "they were determined I should marry a man I can't endure, and when I wouldn't they tried to trick me into it anyway. I never suspected until I got into the church and looked around and couldn't see Bessemer anywhere; only the other one with his evil eyes gloating over me, and then I knew! They thought they would get me there before all that church full of people and I wouldn't dare do anything. But when I realized it, I just dropped right down in the aisle. I couldn't stand up, I was so frightened."

"But I don't understand," said Jane. "Were there two men?"

"Oh, yes," sighed Betty, "there were two."

"Well, where was the other one, the one you wanted to marry?"

"I don't know--" said Betty with a half sob in her voice. "That's just what frightened me. You see they were my stepmother's two sons, and it was my father's dying wish that I should marry one of them. I didn't really want to marry Bessemer, but I simply loathed Herbert, the younger one, who was so determined to marry me. I was terribly afraid of him. He had been frightfully cruel to me when I was a child and when he grew up he was always tormenting me; and then when he tried to make love to me he was so repulsive that I couldn't bear to look at him. It really made me sick to think of ever marrying him. Oh-I couldn't-no matter who asked me. So Bessemer and I decided to get married to stop the trouble. They were always nagging him, too, and I was kind of sorry for him."

"But why should you marry anybody you didn't want to, I'd like to know!" exclaimed Jane in horror. "This is a free country and nobody ever makes people marry anybody they don't like any more. Why didn't you just beat it?"

"I thought about that a good many times," said Betty, pressing her tired eyes with her cold little fingers, "but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. In the first place, I didn't know where to go, nor what to do. They never would let me learn to do anything useful, so I couldn't have got any work; and anyhow I had a feeling that it wouldn't be possible to get away where Herbert couldn't find me if he wanted to. He's that way. He always gets what he wants, no matter whom it hurts. He's awful-Jane-really!"

There was a pitiful note in her voice that appealed to the mother in Jane, and she stooped over her guest and patted her comfortingly on the shoulder:

"You poor little kid," she said tenderly, "you must have been worried something awful, but still I don't get you; what was the idea in sticking around and thinking you had to marry somebody you didn't like? You coulda gone to some one and claimed pertection. You could uv appealed to the p'lice if worst came to worst--!"

"Oh! But Jane I couldn't! That would have brought our family into disgrace, and father would have felt so dreadfully about it if he had been alive! I couldn't quite bring myself, either, to go against his dying request. We had always been so much to each other, Daddy and I. Besides, I didn't mind Bessemer so much-he was always kind-though we never had much to do with each other--"

"Well, I don't think I'd have stopped around long to please a father that didn't care any more for me than to want me to marry somebody I felt that way about!" said Jane, indignantly. "I haven't much use for a father like that!"

"Oh, but he wasn't like that!" said Betty, rising up in her eagerness and looking at Jane through her shining curls that were falling all about her eager, troubled young face, "and he did love me, Jane, he loved me better than anything else in the whole world! That was why I was willing to sacrifice almost anything to please him."

"Well, I'll be darned!" said Jane Carson, sitting up squarely in bed and staring at the spot of light on the wall. "That gets my goat! How could a man love you and yet want to torment you?"

"Well, you see, Jane, he hadn't been very fond of them when they were boys"-she spoke it with dignity and a little gasp as if she were committing a breach of loyalty to explain, but realized that it was necessary-"and he felt when he was dying that he wanted to make reparation, so he thought if I should marry one of them it would show them that he had forgiven them--"

"It-may-be-so," drawled Jane slowly, nodding her head deliberately with each word, "but-I don't see it that way! What kind of a man was this father of yours, anyway?"

"Oh, a wonderful man, Jane!" Betty eagerly hastened to explain. "He was all the world to me, and he used to come up to school week-ends and take me on beautiful trips and we had the best times together, and he would tell me about my own dear mother--"

Betty's hand grasped Jane's convulsively and her voice died out, in a sudden sob. Jane's hand went quickly to the bright head on the pillow:

"There! there!" she whispered tenderly, "don't take on so, I didn't mean anything. I was just trying to dope it out; get it through my bean what in thunder--! Say! Did he tell you he wanted you to marry those guys?"

"Oh, no, he left word-it was his dying request."

"Who'd he request it to?"

"My stepmother."

"H'm! I thought so! How'd you know he did? How'd you know but she was lyin'?"

"No," said Betty sorrowfully, "she wasn't lying, she showed me the paper it was written on. There couldn't be any mistake. And his name was signed to it, his dear hand-writing, just as he always wrote it with the little quirl to the S that wasn't like anybody else. It went through me just like a knife when I saw it, that my dear father should have asked me to do what was so very very hard for me to think of. It was so much harder to have it come that way. If he had only asked me himself and we could have talked it over, perhaps he would have helped me to be strong enough to do it, but to have her have to tell me! She felt that herself. She tried to be kind, I think. She said she wanted to have him wake me up and tell me himself, but she saw his strength was going and he was so anxious to have her write it down quick and let him sign it that she did as he asked--"

"Well, you may depend on it he never wrote it at all-or anyhow, never knew what he was signing. Like as not she dragged it out of him some way while he was out of his mind or so near dying he didn't know what he was about. Besides, they mightta some of 'em forged his name. It's easy to copy signatures. Lotsa people do it real good. If I was you I wouldn't think another mit

e about it. If he was a man like you say he is, he couldn'ta done a thing like that to his own little girl, not on his life! It ain't like real fathers and mothers to. I know, fer I've got a mother that's a peach and no mistake! No, you may depend on it, he never knew a thing about that, and marrying a guy like that is the last thing on earth he'd want you to do."

"Oh, do you really think so? Oh, are you sure?" cried Betty, clinging to Jane eagerly, the tears raining down her white cheeks. "I've thought so a thousand times, but I didn't dare trust myself to decide."

"Yes, I'm sure!" said Jane, gathering her in her arms and hugging her tight, just as she would have done with a little sister who had waked up in the night with a bad dream. "Now, look here, you stop crying and don't you worry another bit. Just tell me the rest if there's any rest, so I'll know what to bank on. Who is the other guy, the one you didn't mind marryin'? What became of him?"

"Why, that's the queer part," said Betty, troubled again. "He didn't seem to be anywhere, and when they carried me into the room back of the church and fanned me and got water to bathe my face, a doctor came and gave me some medicine and sent them all out, and I asked him to send Bessemer to me. I wanted to find out why he hadn't been standing up there by the minister the way I expected. I heard the doctor go out and ask for Bessemer and I heard my stepmother's voice say, 'Why Bessemer isn't here! He's gone down to the shore!' and then somebody said, 'Hush,' and they shut the door, and I was so frightened that I got up and tried all the doors till I found one that led down some stairs, and I locked it behind me and ran and found you!"

"You poor little kid!" cried Jane, cuddling her again. "I sure am glad I was on the job! But now, tell me, what's your idea? Will they make a big noise and come huntin' you?"

"Oh, yes!" said Betty wearily. "I suppose they will. I know they will, in fact. Herbert won't be balked in anything he wants--Bessemer won't count. He never counts. I'm sort of sorry for him, though I don't like him much. You see they had been making an awful fuss with him, too, about some actress down at the shore that he was sending flowers to, and I knew he didn't have a very easy time. So when he came in one day and asked me why I didn't marry him and settle the whole thing that way, I was horrified at first, but I finally thought perhaps that would be the best thing to do. He said he wouldn't bother me any, if I wouldn't bother him; and we thought perhaps the others would let us alone then. But I might have known Herbert wouldn't give in! Bessemer is easily led-Herbert could have hired him to go away to-night-or they may have made him ask me to marry him. He's like that," sadly. "You can't depend on him. I don't know. You see, it was kind of queer about the invitations. They came with Herbert's name in them first, and my stepmother tried to keep me from seeing them. She said they were late and she had them all sent off; but I found one, and when I went to my stepmother with it she said it was a mistake. She hadn't meant me to be annoyed by seeing it; and she didn't know how it happened; she must have misspoken herself-but it had been corrected and they would rush it through and send them right from the store this time so there wouldn't be any delay. I tried to think it was all right, but it troubled me, for I saw that Herbert hadn't given up at all-though he pretended to go away, and I hoped I wouldn't have any more trouble-but I might have known! Herbert never gave up anything in his life, not even when father was living. He always managed to get his way, somehow--"

"Did he love you so much?" Jane asked awesomely.

Betty shuddered:

"Oh, I don't know whether it was love or hate! It was all the same. I hate to think about him-he is-unbearable, Jane! Why, Jane, once he told me if he ever got me in his power he'd break my will or kill me in the attempt!"

"Well, now, there, Kid! Don't you think another bit about him, the old brute! You just lie down and sleep as easy as if you was miles away. They won't any of 'em ever find you here with me, and I've pulled the washstand in front of the door, so you needn't be dreaming of anybody coming in and finding you. Now go to sleep, and to-morrow I'll sneak you away to a place where they can't ever find you. Good night, Kid!" and Jane leaned down and kissed the soft hair on the pillow beside her. Betty flung her arms about her new-found friend and kissed her tenderly:

"Oh, you've been so good to me! What should I ever have done if I hadn't found you. You were like an angel. I think surely God must have sent you to help me."

"I shouldn't wonder if he did!" said Jane thoughtfully. "An angel in a mackintosh! Some angel!"

Jane Carson with her eyes wide open lay staring into the darkness and thinking it all over. She did not waste much time marvelling over the wonder that it had all happened to her. That would do for afterward when there was nothing else to be done about it. Now there must be some plans made and she was the one to make them. It was quite plain that the wonderful and beautiful Elizabeth Stanhope, the plans for whose wedding had been blazoned in the papers for days beforehand, was not at present capable of making or carrying out anything effective. Jane was. She knew it. She was a born leader and promoter. She liked nothing better than to work out a difficult situation. But this was the most difficult proposition that she had ever come up against. When her father died and her mother was left with the little house and the three younger children to support in a small country village, and only plain sewing and now and then a boarder to eke out a living for them all, she had sought and found, through a summer visitor who had taught her Sunday school class for a few weeks, a good position in this big Eastern city. She had made good and been promoted until her wages not only kept herself with strict economy, but justified her in looking forward to the time when she might send for her next younger sister. Her deft fingers kept her meagre wardrobe in neatness-and a tolerable deference to fashion, so that she had been able to annex the "gentleman friend" and take a little outing with him now and then at a moving picture theatre or a Sunday evening service. She had met and vanquished the devil on more than one battlefield in the course of her experience with different department heads; and she was wise beyond her years in the ways of the world. But this situation was different. Here was a girl who had been brought up "by hand," as she would have said with a sneer a few hours before, and she would have despised her for it. She raised up on one elbow and leaned over once more to watch the delicate profile of this gentle maiden, in the dim fitful light of the city night that came through the one little window. There had been something appealing in the beauty and frankness of the girl bride, something appalling in the situation she had found herself in. Jane Carson didn't know whether she was doing right or not to help this stray bride. It made her catch her breath to think how she might be bringing all the power of the law and of money upon her reckless young head, but she meant to do it, just the same.

Elizabeth Stanhope! What a beautiful name! It fitted right in with all the romance Jane had ever dreamed. If she only could write scenarios, what a thriller this would make!

Then she lay down and fell to planning.

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