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   Chapter 5 No.5

Exit Betty By Grace Livingston Hill Characters: 13525

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The morning dawned, and still no word from the missing bride. But the brief guarded sentences which Herbert Hutton had telephoned to the newspapers had been somehow sidetracked, and in their place a ghastly story had leaked out which some poor, hard-pressed reporter had gleaned from the gossip in the church and hurried off to put into type before there was time for it to be denied. Hot foot the story had run, and great headlines proclaimed the escape of Betty even while the family were carefully paving the way for the report of a protracted illness and absence, if need be, till they could find trace of her. The sun rose brightly and made weird gleaming of the silver wire on which the dying roses hung. The air was heavy with their breath, and the rooms in the early garish light looked out of place as if some fairy wand had failed to break the incantation at the right hour and left a piece of Magicland behind. The parlor maid went about uncertainly, scarcely knowing what to do and what to leave undone, and the milk cars, and newsboys, and early laborers began to make a clatter of every day on the streets. The morning paper, flung across the steps with Betty's picture, where Betty's reluctant feet had gone a few hours before, seemed to mock at life, and upstairs the man that Betty thought she went out to marry, lay in a heavy stupor of sleep. Happy Betty, to be resting beneath the coarse sheet of the kindly working girl, sleeping the sleep of exhaustion and youth in safety, two miles from the rose-bowered rooms!

Long before day had really started in the great city Jane Carson was up and at work. She dressed swiftly and silently, then went to her little trunk, and from it selected a simple wardrobe of coarse clean garments. One needed mending and two buttons were off. She sat by the dingy window and strained her eyes in the dawn to make the necessary repairs. She hesitated long over the pasteboard suit-box that she drew from under the bed. It contained a new dark blue serge dress for which she had saved a long time and in which she had intended to appear at church next Sabbath. She was divided between her desire to robe the exquisite little guest in its pristine folds and her longing to wear it herself. There was a sense of justice also which entered into the matter. If that elegant wedding dress was to be hers, and all those wonderful silk underclothes, which very likely she would never allow herself to wear, for they would be out of place on a poor working girl, it was not fair to repay their donor in old clothes. She decided to give the runaway bride her new blue serge. With just a regretful bit of a sigh she laid it out on the foot of the bed, and carefully spread out the tissue papers and folded the white satin garments away out of sight, finishing the bundle with a thick wrapping of old newspapers from a pile behind the door and tying it securely. She added a few pins to make the matter more sure, and got out a stub of a pencil and labeled it in large letters, "My summer dresses," then shoved it far back under the bed. If any seeking detective came he would not be likely to bother with that, and he might search her trunk in vain for white satin slippers and wedding veils.

Breakfast was next, and she put on her cloak and hurried out for supplies for the larder had been heavily depleted the night before to provide for her guest. With a tender glance toward the sleeper she slipped the key from the lock and placed it in the outside of the door, silently locking her guest within. Now there would be no danger of any one spiriting her away while she was gone, and no danger that the girl might wake up and depart in her absence.

She stopped a newsboy on his way to the subway and bought a paper, thrilling at the thought that there might be something in it about the girl who lay asleep in her little hall bedroom.

While she waited for her bundles she stole a glance at her paper, and there on the front page in big letters ran the heading:

Stanhope Wedding

Held Up at Altar by

Unconscious Bride

Relatives Seek Runaway Girl Who is

Thought to be Insane

She caught her breath and rolled the paper in a little wad, stuffing it carelessly into her pocket. She could not read any more of that in public. She hastened back to her room.

Betty was still sleeping. Jane stood watching her for a full minute with awe in her face. She could not but recognize the difference between herself and this fine sweet product of civilization and wealth. With the gold curls tossed back like a ripple of sunshine, and a pathetic little droop at the corners of her sweet mouth, nothing lovelier could be. Jane hurried to the window and turned her back on the bed while she perused the paper, her rage rising at the theories put forth. It was even hinted that her mother had been insane. Jane turned again and looked hard at the young sleeper, and the idea crossed her mind that even she might be deceived. Still, she was willing to trust her judgment that this girl was entirely sane, and anyhow she meant to help her! She stuffed the paper down behind the trunk and began to get breakfast. When it was almost ready she gently awoke the sleeper.

Betty started at the light touch on her shoulder and looked wildly around at the strange room and stranger face of the other girl. In the dim light of the evening she had scarcely got to know Jane's face. But in a moment all the happenings of the day before came back, and she sat up excitedly.

"I ought to have got away before it was light," she said gripping her hands together. "I wonder where I could go, Jane?" It was pleasant to call this girl by her first name. Betty felt that she was a tower of strength, and so kind.

"I have this ring," she said, slipping off an exquisite diamond and holding it out. "Do you suppose there would be any way I could get money enough to travel somewhere with this? If I can't I'll have to walk, and I can't get far in a day that way."

Betty was almost light-hearted, and smiling. The night had passed and no one had come. Perhaps after all she was going to get away without being stopped.

Jane's face set grimly.

"I guess there won't be any walking for you. You'll have to travel regular. It wouldn't be safe. And you don't want no rich jewelry along either. Was that your wedding ring?"

"Oh, no; father gave it to me. It was mother's, but I guess they'd want me to use it now. I haven't anything else."

"Of course," said Jane shortly to hide the emotion in her voice. "Now eat this while I talk," thrusting a plate of buttered toast and a glass of orange marmalade at her, and hastening to pour an inviting cup of coffee.

"Now, I been thinking," she said sitting down on the

edge of the bed and eating bits of the piece of toast she had burned-Betty's was toasted beautifully-"I got a plan. I think you better go to Ma. She's got room enough for you for a while, and I want my sister to come over and take a place I can get fer her. If you was there she could leave. Mebbe you could help Ma with the kids. Of course we're poor and you ain't used to common things like we have them, but I guess you ain't got much choice in your fix. I got a paper this morning. They're huntin' fer you hot foot. They say you was temperary insane, an' 'f I was you I'd keep out o' their way a while. You lay low an' I'll keep my eye out and let you know, I've got a little money under the mattrass I can let you have till that ring gets sold. You can leave it with me an' I'll do the best I can if you think you can trust me. Of course I'm a stranger, but then, land! So are you! We just gotta trust each other. And I'm sending you to my mother if you'll go!"

"Oh!" said Betty, springing up and hugging her impulsively, "you're so good! To think I should find somebody just like that right in the street when I needed you so. I almost think God did it!"

"Well, mebbe!" said Jane, in her embarrassment turning to hang up a skirt that had fallen from its hook. "That's what they say sometimes in Chrishun Deavor meetin'. Ever go to Chrishun Deavor? Better go when you get out home. They have awful good socials an' ice cream, and you'll meet some real nice folks. We've got a peach of a minister, and his wife is perfec'ly dandy. I tell you I missed 'em when I came to the city! They was always doing something nice fer the young folks."

"How interesting!" said Betty, wondering if she might really be going to live like other girls. Then the shadow of her danger fell over her once more, and her cheek paled.

"If I can only get there safely," she shuddered. "Oh, Jane! You can't understand what it would be to have to go back!"

"Well, you're not going back. You're going to Tinsdale, and nobody's going to find you ever, unless you want 'em to! See? Now, listen! We haven't any time to waste. You oughtta get off on the ten o'clock train. I put out some clothes there for yeh. They ain't like yours, but it won't do fer you to go dressed like a millionairess. Folks out to Tinsdale would suspect yeh right off the bat. You gotta go plain like me, and it's this way: You're a friend I picked up in the city whose mother is dead and you need country air a while, see? So I sent you home to stay with Ma till you got strong again. I'm wirin' Ma. She'll understand. She always does. I kinda run Ma anyhow. She thinks the sun rises an' sets in me, so she'll do just what I say."

"I'm afraid I oughtn't to intrude," said Betty soberly, taking up the coarse, elaborately trimmed lingerie with a curious look, and trying not to seem to notice that it was different from any she had ever worn before.

"Say! Looka here!" said Jane Carson, facing round from her coffee cup on the washstand. "I'm sorry to criticize, but if you could just talk a little slang or something. Folks'll never think you belong to me. 'Intrude!' Now, that sounds stuck up! You oughtta say 'be in the way,' or something natural like that. See?"

"I'm afraid I don't," said Betty dubiously, "but I'll try."

"You're all right, Kid," said Jane with compunction in her voice. "Just let yourself down a little like I do, and remember you don't wear silk onderclothes now. I'm afraid those stockings won't feel very good after yours, but you gotta be careful. An' 'f I was you I'd cut my hair off, I really would. It's an awful pity, it's so pretty, but it'll grow again. How old are you?"

"Almost twenty-one," said Betty thoughtfully. "Just three months more and I'll be twenty-one."

"H'm! Of age!" said Jane with a sharp significant look at her, as if a new thought had occurred. "Well, you don't look it! You could pass for fifteen, especially if you had your hair bobbed. I can do it for you if you say so."

"All right," said Betty promptly without a qualm. "I always wanted it short. It's an awful nuisance to comb."

"That's the talk!" said Jane. "Say 'awful' a lot, and you'll kinda get into the hang of it. It sounds more-well, natural, you know; not like society talk. Here, sit down and I'll do it quick before you get cold feet. I sure do hate to drop them curls, but I guess it's best."

The scissors snipped, snipped, and the lovely strands of bright hair fell on the paper Jane had spread for them. Betty sat cropped like a sweet young boy. Jane stood back and surveyed the effect through her lashes approvingly. She knew the exact angle at which the hair should splash out on the cheek to be stylish. She had often contemplated cutting her own, only that her mother had begged her not to, and she realized that her hair was straight as a die and would never submit to being tortured into that alluring wave over the ear and out toward the cheekbone. But this sweet young thing was a darling! She felt that the daring deed had been a success.

"I got a bottle of stuff to make your hair dark," she remarked. "I guess we better put it on. That hair of yours is kinda conspicuous, you know, even when it's cut off. It won't do you any harm. It washes off soon." And she dashed something on the yellow hair. Betty sat with closed eyes and submitted. Then her mentor burnt a cork and put a touch to the eyebrows that made a different Betty out of her. A soft smudge of dark under her eyes and a touch of talcum powder gave her a sickly complexion and when Betty stood up and looked in the glass she did not know herself. Jane finished the toilet by a smart though somewhat shabby black hat pulled well down over Betty's eyes, and a pair of gray cotton gloves, somewhat worn at the fingers. The high-laced boots she put upon the girl's feet were two sizes too large, and wobbled frightfully, but they did well enough, and there seemed nothing more to be desired.

"Now," said Jane as she pinned on her own hat, "you've gotta have a name to go by. I guess you better be Lizzie Hope. It kinda belongs to yeh, and yet nobody'd recognize it. You don't need to tell Ma anything you don't want to, and you can tell her I'll write a letter to-night all about it. Now come on! We gotta go on the trolley a piece. I don't see havin' you leave from the General Station. We'll go up to the Junction and get the train there."

With an odd feeling that she was bidding good-by to herself forever and was about to become somebody else, Betty gave one more glance at the slim boylike creature in the little mirror over the washstand and followed Jane out of the room, shuffling along in the big high-heeled boots, quite unlike the Betty that she was.

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