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   Chapter 6 No.6

Exit Betty By Grace Livingston Hill Characters: 14331

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Warren Reyburn laid down his pen and shoved back his office chair impatiently, stretching out his long muscular limbs nervously and rubbing his hands over his eyes as if to clear them from annoying visions.

James Ryan, his office boy and stenographer, watched him furtively from one corner of his eye, while his fingers whirled the typewriter on through the letter he was typing. James wanted to take his girl to the movies that evening and he hadn't had a chance to see her the day before. He was wondering if Mr. Reyburn would go out in time for him to call her up at her noon hour. He was a very temperamental stenographer and understood the moods and tenses of his most temperamental employer fully. It was all in knowing how to manage him. James was most deferential, and knew when to keep still and not ask questions. This was one of the mornings when he went to the dictionary himself when he wasn't sure of a word rather than break the ominous silence. Not that Mr. Reyburn was a hard master, quite the contrary, but this was James's first place straight from his brief course at business school, and he was making a big bluff of being an old experienced hand.

There was not much business to be done. This was Warren Reyburn's "first place" also in the world of business since finishing his law course, and he was making a big bluff at being very busy, to cover up a sore heart and an anxious mind. It was being borne in upon him gradually that he was not a shouting success in business so far. The rosy dreams that had floated near all through his days of hard study had one by one left him, until his path was now leading through a murky gray way with little hope ahead. Nothing but sheer grit kept him at it, and he began to wonder how long he could stick it out if nothing turned up.

True, he might have accepted an offer that even now lay open on his desk; a tempting offer, too, from a big corporation who recognized the influence of his old family upon their particular line of business; but it was a line that his father and his grandfather had scorned to touch, and he had grown up with an honest contempt for it. He just could not bring himself to wrest the living from the poor and needy, and plunder the unsuspecting, and he knew that was what it would be if he closed with this offer. Not yet had he been reduced to such depths, he told himself, shutting his fine lips in a firm curve. "No, not if he starved!"

That was the legitimate worry that ruffled his handsome brow as he sat before his desk frowning at that letter. He meant to begin dictation on its answer in another five minutes or so, but meantime he was forcing himself to go over every point and make it strong and clear to himself, so that he should say, "No!" strongly and clearly to the corporation. It might do harm to make his reason for declining so plain, but he owed it to his self-respect to give it nevertheless, and he meant to do so. After all, he had no business so far to harm, so what did it matter? If nothing turned up pretty soon to give him a start he would have to change his whole plan of life and take up something else where one did not have to wait for a reputation before he could have a chance to show what was in him.

But underneath the legitimate reason for his annoyance this morning there ran a most foolish little fretting, a haunting discomfort.

He had taken his cousin to a wedding the night before because her husband had been called away on business, and she had no one to escort her. They had been late and the church was crowded. He had had to stand, and as he idly looked over the audience he suddenly looked full into the great sad eyes of the sweetest little bride he had ever seen. He had not been a young man to spend his time over pretty faces, although there were one or two nice girls in whom he was mildly interested. He had even gone so far as to wonder now and then which of them he would be willing to see sitting at his table day after day the rest of his life, and he had not yet come to a satisfactory conclusion. His cousin often rallied him about getting married, but he always told her it would be time enough to think about that when he had an income to offer her.

But when he saw that flower-face, his attention was held at once. Somehow he felt as if he had not known there was a face like that in all the world, so like a child's, with frank yet modest droop to the head, and the simplicity of an angel, yet the sadness of a sacrificial offering. Unbidden, a great desire sprang up to lift for her whatever burden she was bearing, and bring light into those sad eyes. Of course it was a passing sensation, but his eyes had traveled involuntarily to the front of the church to inspect the handsome forbidding face of the bridegroom, and with instant dissatisfaction he looked back to the girl once more and watched her come up to the altar, speculating as those who love to study humanity are wont to do when they find an interesting subject. How had those two types ever happened to come together? The man's part in it was plain. He was the kind who go about seeking whom they may devour, thought Warren Reyburn. But the woman! How could a wise-eyed child like that have been deceived by a handsome face? Well, it was all speculation of course, and he had nothing to do with any of them. They were strangers to him and probably always would be. But he had no conception at that time what a small world he lived in, nor how near the big experiences of life lie all about us.

He watched the lovely bride as all the audience watched her until he saw her fall, and then he started forward without in the least realizing what he was doing. He found himself half way up the side aisle to the altar before he came to himself and forced his feet back to where his cousin was sitting. Of course he had no right up there, and what could he do when there were so many of her friends and relatives about her?

His position near the side door through which they carried her made it quite possible for him to look down into her still face as they took her to the vestry room, and he found a great satisfaction in seeing that she was even more beautiful at close hand than at a distance. He wondered afterward why his mind had laid so much stress upon the fact that her skin was lovely like a baby's without any sign of cosmetics. He told himself that it was merely his delight to learn that there was such a type, and that it ran true.

He was therefore not a little disappointed that the minister, after the congregation had waited an unconscionable time for the return of the bride, came out and announced that owing to her continued collapse the ceremony would have to be postponed. The clatter of polite wonder and gossip annoyed him beyond measure, and he was actually cross with his cousin on the way home when she ranted on about the way girls nowadays were brought up, coddled, so that a breath would blow them away. Somehow she had not looked like that kind of a girl.

But when the morning papers came out with sensational headlines proclaiming that the bride had run away, and suggesting all sort

s of unpleasant things about her, he felt a secret exultation that she had been brave enough to do so. It was as if he had found that her spirit was as wise and beautiful as her face had been. His interest in the matter exceeded all common sense and he was annoyed and impatient with himself more than he cared to own. Never before had a face lured his thoughts like this one. He told himself that his business was getting on his nerves, and that as soon as he could be sure about one or two little matters that he hoped would fall into his hands to transact, he would take a few days off and run down to the shore.

Again and again the little white bride came across his vision and thoughts, and hindered the courteous but stinging phrases with which he had intended to illumine his letter. At last he gave it up and taking his hat went out in the keen November air for a walk to clear his brain.

This was James Ryan's opportunity. It was almost twelve o'clock and no harm in calling the "forelady" in the cotton blouse department of the big factory. He swung to the telephone with alacrity.

"I want to speak with Miss Carson, please. Yes, Miss J. Carson. Is that Miss Carson? Oh, hello, Jane, is that you?"

"Yes, it is Mister Ryan," answered Jane sweetly.

"Jane!"

"Well, didn't you 'Miss Carson' me?"

"Give it up, Jane. You win. Say, Jane!"

"Well, Jimmie?"

"That's my girl, say how about that wedding veil? Been thinking any more about it?"

There was silence for a moment, then a conscious giggle, the full significance of which James Ryan was not in a position to figure out.

"Say, Jimmie, quit your kiddin'! You mustn't say things like that over the 'phone."

"Why not?"

"'Cause. Folks might listen."

"I should worry! Well, since you say so. How about seein' a show together to-night?"

"Fine an' dandy, Jimmie! I'll be ready at the usual time. I gotta go now, the boss is comin'. So long, Jimmie!"

"So long, darling!"

But the receiver at the other end hung up with a click, while Jane with a smile on her lips thought of the pasteboard box under her bed and wondered what Jimmie would say if he could know. For Jane had fully made up her mind that Jimmie was not to know. Not at present, anyhow. Some time she might tell him if things turned out all right, but she knew just what lordly masculine advice and criticism would lie upon James Ryan's lips if she attempted to tell him about her strange and wonderful guest of the night before. Maybe she was a fool to have trusted a stranger that way. Maybe the girl would turn out to be insane or wrong somehow, and trouble come, but she didn't believe it; and anyhow, she was going to wait, until she saw what happened next before she got Jimmie mixed up in it. Besides, the secret wasn't hers to tell. She had promised Betty, and she always kept her promises. That was one reason why she was so slow in promising to think about a wedding veil in response to James Ryan's oft repeated question.

That evening on the way to the movies Jane instituted an investigation.

"Jimmie, what kind of a man is your boss?"

"White man!" said Jimmie promptly.

"Aw! Cut it out, James Ryan! I don't mean how'd s'e look, or what color is he; I mean what kind of a man is he?"

"Well, that's the answer. White man! What's the matter of that? I said it and I meant it. He's white if there ever was one!"

"Oh, that!" said Miss Carson in scorn. "Of course I know he's a peach. If he wasn't you wouldn't be workin' for him. What I mean, is he a snob?"

"No chance!"

"Well, I saw him with 'em last night. I was passin' that big church up Spruce Street and I saw him standin' with his arms folded so--" she paused on the sidewalk and indicated his pose. "It was a swell weddin' and the place was full up. He had a big white front an' a clawhammer coat. I know it was him 'cause I took a good look at him that time you pointed him out at church that evenin'. I wondered was he in with them swells?"

Her tone expressed scorn and not a little anxiety, as if she had asked whether he frequented places of low reputation.

"Oh, if you mean, could he be, why that's a diffrunt thing!" said James the wise. "Sure, he could be if he wanted, I guess. He's got a good family. His uncle's some high muckymuck, and you often see his aunts' and cousins' names in the paper giving teas and receptions and going places. But he don't seem to go much. I often hear folks ask him why he wasn't some place last night, or 'phone to know if he won't come, and he always says he can't spare the time, or he can't afford it, or something like that."

"Ain't he rich, Jimmie?"

"Well, no, not exactly. He may have some money put away, or left him by some one. If he don't have I can't fer the life of me see how he lives. But he certainly don't get it in fees. I often wonder where my salary comes from, but it always does, regular as the clock."

"Jimmie, doesn't he have any business at all?"

"Oh, yes he has business, but it ain't the paying kind. Fer instance, there was a man in to-day trying to get his house back that another man took away from him, and my boss took the case! He took it right off the bat without waiting to see whether the man could pay him anything or not! He can't! He's only a poor laboring man, and a rich man stole his house. Just out an' out stole it, you know. It's how he got rich. Like as not we'll lose it, too, those rich men have so many ways of crawling out of a thing and making it look nice to the world. Oh, he'll get a fee, of course-twenty-five dollars, perhaps-but what's twenty-five dollars, and like as not never get even the whole of that, or have to wait for it? Why, it wouldn't keep me in his office long! Then there was a girl trying to get hold of the money her own father left her, and her uncle frittered away and pertends it cost him all that, and he's been supporting her! Well, we took that, too, and we won't get much out of that even if we do win. Then there come along one of these here rich guys with a pocket full of money and a nice slick tongue wanting to be protected from the law in some devilment, and him we turned down flat! That's how it goes in our office. I can't just figger out how it's coming out! But he's a good guy, a white man if there ever was one!"

"I should say!" responded Jane with shining eyes. "Say, Jimmie, what's the matter of us throwin' a little business in his way-real, payin' business, I mean?"

"Fat chance!" said Jimmie dryly.

"You never can tell!" answered Jane dreamily. "I'm goin' to think about it. Our fact'ry has lawyers sometimes. I might speak to the boss."

"Do!" said Jimmie sarcastically! "And have yer labor for yer pains! We'll prob'ly turn them down. Fact'ries are always doing things they hadn't ought to."

But Jane was silent and thoughtful, and they were presently lost in the charms of Mary Pickford.

The evening papers came out with pictures of Elizabeth Stanhope and her bridegroom that was to have been. Jane cut away the bridegroom and pasted the bride's picture in the flyleaf of her Bible, then hid it away in the bottom of her trunk.

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