BETTY TAKES COVER
In the office they found Parson Tom at work
with pencil and note-book. The latter he closed as
they came in.
"For goodness' sake shut that door behind you,"
he laughed. "I've been trying to think of the
things I need for my journey to-night, but that uproar
makes it well-nigh impossible."
The words brought Betty back to matters of the
moment. Everything had been forgotten in the
interest of her tour of the mills at Dave's side.
Now she realized that time was short, and she too
must make her preparations.
Dave closed the door.
"We'd best get down to the barn and fix things
there," he said. "Then you can get right back
home and arrange matters with Mary. Betty could
go on and prepare her."
The girl nodded her approval.
"Yes," she said, "and I can get my own things
Both men looked at her.
She answered their challenge at once, but now
there was a great change in her manner. She no
longer laughed at them. She no longer carried
things with a high hand. She intended going up
to the camps, but it almost seemed as though she
desired their justification to support her decision.
Somehow that tour of the mills at Dave's side had
lessened her belief in herself.
"Yes," she said, "I know neither of you wants
me to go. Perhaps, from your masculine point
of view, you are both right. But—but I want to
go. I do indeed. This is no mere whim. Uncle,
speak up and admit the necessity for nursing.
Who on earth is up there to do it? No one."
Then she turned to Dave, and her earnest eyes
were full of almost humble entreaty.
"You won't refuse me, Dave?" she said. "I
feel I must go. I feel that some one, some strange
voice, is calling to me to go. That my presence
there is needed. I am only a woman, and in these
big schemes of yours it is ridiculous to think that I
should play a part. Yet somehow—somehow——Oh,
Dave, won't you let me help, if only in this
small way? It will be something for me to look
back upon when you have succeeded; something
for me to cherish, this thought that I have helped
you even in so small a way. You won't refuse me.
It is so little to you, and it means so—so much to
Her uncle was watching the grave face of the
lumberman; and when she finished he waited,
smiling, for the effect of her appeal.
It was some moments before Dave answered.
Betty's eyes were shining with eager hope, and at
last her impatience got the better of her.
"You said 'yes' once to-night," she urged softly.
Her uncle's smile broadened. He was glad the
onus of this thing was on the broad shoulders of
"Betty," said Dave at last, looking squarely into
her eyes, "will you promise me to keep to the sick
camps, and not go about amongst the 'jacks' who
aren't sick without your uncle?"
There was something in the man's eyes which
made the girl drop hers suddenly. She colored
slightly, perhaps with vexation. She somehow felt
awkward. And she had never felt awkward with
Dave in her life before. However, she answered
"I promise—promise willingly."
"Then I'll not go back on my promise. Go and
get ready, little girl," he said gently.
She waited for no more. Her eyes thanked him,
and for once, though he never saw it, nor, if he had,
would he have understood it, there was a shyness
in them such as had never been there before.
As the door closed behind her he turned with a
sigh to his old friend.
"Well, Tom," he said, with a dry, half regretful
smile, "it strikes me there are a pair of fools in this
The parson chuckled delightedly.
"But one is bigger than the other. You wait
until Mary sees you. My word!"
Betty hurried out of the mill. She knew the
time was all too short; besides, she did not want to
give the men time to change their minds. And
then there was still her aunt to appease.
Outside in the yards the thirsty red sand had entirely
lapped up the day's rain. It was almost as
dry as though the summer rains were mere showers.
The night was brilliantly fine, and though as
yet there was no moon, the heavens were diamond-studded,
and the milky way spread its ghostly path
sheer across the sky. Half running in her eagerness,
the girl dodged amongst the stacks of lumber,
making her way direct to a point in the fence nearest
to her home. To go round to the gates would
mean a long, circuitous route that would waste at
least ten minutes.
As she sped, the din of the mill rapidly receded,
and the shadows thrown by the flare lights of the
yards behind her lengthened and died out, merged
in the darkness of the night beyond their radiance.
At the fence she paused and looked about for the
easiest place to climb. It was high, and the lateral
rails were wide apart. It was all the same whichever
way she looked, so, taking her courage in
both hands, and lifting her skirts knee high, she essayed
the task. It was no easy matter, but she
managed it, coming down on the other side much
more heavily than she cared about. Still, in her
excited state, she didn't pause to trouble about a
trifle like that.
She was strangely happy without fully understanding
the reason. This trip to the hills would
be a break in the monotony of her daily routine.
But somehow it was not that that elated her. She
loved her work, and at no time wanted to shirk it.
No, it was not that. Yet it was something to do
with her going. Something to do with the hill
camps; something to do with helping—Dave—ah!
Yes, it was that. She knew it now, and the knowledge
thrilled her with a feeling she had never before
Her course took her through a dense clump of
pine woods. She was far away from the direct
trail, but she knew every inch of the way.
Somehow she felt glad of the cool darkness of
those woods. Their depth of shadow swallowed
her up and hid her from all the rest of the world,
and, for the moment, it was good to be alone. She
liked the feeling that no one was near her—not
even Dave. She wanted to think it all out. She
wanted to understand herself. This delight that
had come to her, this joy. Dave had promised to
let her help him in his great work. It was too
good to be true. How she would work. Yes, she
would strain every nerve to nurse the men back to
health, so that there should be no check in the
Suddenly she paused in her thought. Her heart
seemed to stand still, then its thumping almost
stifled her. She had realized her true motive.
Yes, she knew it now. It was not the poor sick
men she was thinking of. She was not thinking of
her uncle, who would be slaving for sheer love of
his fellow men. No, it was of Dave she was thinking.
Now she knew. She loved him. She felt it
here, here, and she pressed both hands over her
heart, which was beating tumultuously and thrilling
with an emotion such as she had never known before.
Never, even in the days when she had believed
herself in love with Jim Truscott. She
wanted to laugh, to cry aloud her happiness to the
dark woods which crowded round her. She wanted
to tell all the world. She wanted everything about
her to know of it, to share in it. Oh, how good
God was to her. She knew that she loved Dave.
Loved him with a passion that swept every thought
of herself from her fevered brain. She wanted to
be his slave; his—his all.
Suddenly her passion-swept thoughts turned
hideously cold. What of Dave? Did he?—could
he? No, he looked upon her as his little "chum"
and nothing more. How could it be otherwise?
Had he not witnessed her betrothal to Jim
Truscott? Had he not been at her side when she
renounced him? Had he not always looked after
her as an elder brother? Had he——
She came to a dead standstill in the heart of the
woods, gripped by a fear that had nothing to do
with her thoughts. It was the harsh sound of a
voice. And it was just ahead of her. It rang
ominously in her ears at such an hour, and in such
a place. She listened. Who could be in those
woods at that hour of the night? Who beside herself?
The voice was so distinct that she felt it
must be very, very near. Then she remembered
how the woods echo, particularly at night, and a
shiver of fear swept over her at the thought that
perhaps the sound of her own footsteps had reached
the ears of the owner of the voice. She had no desire
to encounter any drunken lumber-jacks in such
a place. Her heart beat faster, as she cast about in
her mind for the best thing to do.
The voice she had first heard now gave place to
another, which she instantly recognized. The recognition
shocked her violently. There could be
no mistaking the second voice. It was Jim Truscott's.
Hardly knowing what she did, she stepped
behind a tree and waited.
"I can't get the other thing working yet," she
heard Truscott say in a tone of annoyance. "It's a
job that takes longer than I figured on. Now, see
here, you've got to get busy right away. We must
get the brakes on him right now. My job will
come on later, and be the final check. That's why
I wanted you to-night."
Then came the other voice, and, to the listening
girl, its harsh note had in it a surly discontent that
almost amounted to open rebellion.
"Say, that ain't how you said, Jim. We fixed
it so I hadn't got to do a thing till you'd played
your 'hand.' Play it, an' if you fail clear out, then
it's right up to me, an' I'll stick to the deal."
Enlightenment was coming to Betty. This was
some gambling plot. She knew Jim's record.
Some poor wretch was to be robbed. The other
man was of course a confederate. But Jim was
talking again. Now his voice was commanding,
"This is no damned child's play; we're going to
have no quibbling. You want that money, Mansell,
and you've got to earn it. It's the spirit of the
bargain I want, not the letter. Maybe you're
weakening. Maybe you're scared. Damn it,
man! it's the simplest thing—do as I say and—the
At the mention of the man's name Betty was
filled with wonder. She had seen Mansell at work
in the mill. The night shift was not relieved until
six o'clock in the morning. How then came
he there? What was he doing in company with
But now the sawyer's voice was raised in downright
anger, and the girl's alarm leapt again.
"I said I'd stick to the deal," he cried. Then he
added doggedly, "And a deal's a deal."
Jim's reply followed in a much lower key, and
she had to strain to hear.
"I'm not going to be fooled by you," he said.
"You'll do this job when I say. When I say,
But at this point his voice dropped so low that
the rest was lost. And though Betty strained to
catch the words, only the drone of the voices
reached her. Presently even that ceased. Then
she heard the sound of footsteps receding in different
directions, and she knew the men had parted.
When the silence of the woods had swallowed up
the last sound she set off at a run for home.
She thought a great deal about that mysterious
encounter on her way. It was mysterious, she
decided. She wondered what she should do about
it. These men were plotting to cheat and rob
some of Dave's lumber-jacks. Wasn't it her duty
to try and stop them? She was horrified at the
thought of the depths to which Jim had sunk. It
was all so paltry, so—so mean.
Then the strangeness of the place they had
selected for their meeting struck her. Why those
woods, so remote from the village? A moment's
thought solved the matter to her own satisfaction.
No doubt Mansell had made some excuse to leave
the mill for a few minutes, and in order not to prolong
his absence too much, Jim had come out from
the village to meet him. Yes, that was reasonable.
Finally she decided to tell Dave and her uncle.
Dave would find a way of stopping them. Trust
him for that. He could always deal with such
things better—yes, even better than her uncle, she
admitted to herself in her new-born pride in him.
A few minutes later the twinkling lights through
the trees showed her her destination. Another
few minutes and she was explaining to her aunt
that she was off to the hill camps nursing. As
had been expected, her news was badly received.
"It's bad enough that your uncle's got to go in
the midst of his pressing duties," Mrs. Tom ex*claimed
with heat. "What about the affairs of the
new church? What about the sick folk right here?
What about old Mrs. Styles? She's likely to die
any minute. Who's to bury her with him away?
And what about Sarah Dingley? She's haunted—delusions—and
there's no one can pacify her but
him. And now they must needs take you. It
isn't right. You up there amongst all those rough
men. It's not decent. It's——"
"I know, auntie," Betty broke in. "It's all you
say. But—but think of those poor helpless sick
men up there, with no comfort. They've just got
to lie about and either get well, or—or die. No
one to care for them. No one to write a last letter
to their friends for them. No one to see they get
proper food, and——"
"Stuff and nonsense!" her aunt exclaimed.
"Now you, Betty, listen to me. Go, if go you
must. I'll have nothing to do with it. It's not
with my consent you'll go. And some one is going
to hear what I think about it, even if he does
run the Malkern Mills. If—if Dave wasn't so big,
and such a dear good fellow, I'd like—yes, I'd like
to box his ears. Be off with you and see to your
packing, miss, and don't forget your thickest
flannels. Those mountains are terribly cold at
nights, even in summer." Then, as the girl ran off
to her room, she exploded in a final burst of anger.
"Well there, they're all fools, and I've no patience
with any of 'em."
It did not take long for Betty to get her few
things together and pitch them into a grip. The
barest necessities were all she required, and her
practical mind guided her instinctively. Her task
was quite completed when, ten minutes later, she
heard the rattle of buckboard wheels and her
uncle's cheery voice down-stairs in the parlor.
Then she hurried across to her aunt's room.
She knew her uncle so well. He wouldn't bother
to pack anything for himself. She dragged a large
kit bag from under the bed, and, ransacking the
bureau, selected what she considered the most
necessary things for his comfort and flung them
into it. It was all done with the greatest possible
haste, and by the time she had everything ready,
her uncle joined her and carried the grips downstairs.
In the meantime Mary Chepstow, all her
anger passed, was busily loading the little table
with an ample supper. She might disapprove her
niece's going, she might resent the sudden call on
her husband, but she would see them both amply
fed before starting, and that the buckboard was
well provisioned for the road.
For the most part supper was eaten in silence.
These people were so much in the habit of doing
for others, so many calls were made upon them,
that such an occasion as this presented little in the
way of emergency. It was their life to help others,
their delight, and their creed. And Mary's protest
meant no more than words, she only hesitated at
the thought of Betty's going amongst these rough
lumber-jacks. But even this, on reflection, was not
so terrible as she at first thought. Betty was an
unusual girl, and she expected the unusual from
her. So she put her simple trust in the Almighty,
and did all she knew to help them.
It was not until the meal was nearly over that
Chepstow imparted a piece of news he had gleaned
on his way from the mill. He suddenly looked up
from his plate, and his eyes sought his niece's face.
She was lost in a happy contemplation of the
events of that night at the mill. All her thoughts,
all her soul was, at that moment, centred upon
Dave. Now her uncle's voice startled her into a
"Who d'you think I met on my way up here?"
he inquired, searching her face.
Betty answered him awkwardly. "I—I don't
know," she said.
Her uncle reached for the salad, and helped himself
deliberately before he enlightened her further.
"Jim Truscott," he said at last, without looking
"Jim Truscott?" exclaimed Aunt Mary, her
round eyes wondering. Then she voiced a thought
which had long since passed from her niece's mind.
"What was he doing out here at this hour of the
The parson shrugged.
"It seems he was waiting for me. He didn't
call here, I s'pose?"
Mary shook her head. Betty was waiting to
"I feel sorry for him," he went on. "I'm inclined
to think we've judged him harshly. I'm sure
we have. It only goes to show how poor and
weak our efforts are to understand and help our fellows.
He is very, very repentant. Poor fellow, I
have never seen any one so down on his luck. He
doesn't excuse himself. In fact, he blames himself
even more than we have done."
"Poor fellow," murmured Aunt Mary.
Betty remained silent, and her uncle went on.
"He's off down east to make a fresh start. He
was waiting to tell me so. He also wanted to tell
me how sorry he was for his behavior to us, to you,
Betty, and he trusted you would find it possible to
forgive him, and think better of him when he was
gone. I never saw a fellow so cut up. It was
"When's he going?" Betty suddenly asked, and
there was a hardness in her voice which startled her
"That doesn't sound like forgiveness," he said.
"Don't you think, my dear, if he's trying to do
better you might——"
Betty smiled into the earnest face.
"Yes, uncle, I forgive him everything, freely,
gladly—if he is going to start afresh."
But Betty still had that conversation in the woods
in her mind.
"I mustn't judge him. His own future actions
are all that matter. The past is gone, and can be
wiped out. I would give a lot to see him—right
"That is the spirit, dear," Aunt Mary put in.
"Your uncle is quite right: we must forgive him."
Betty nodded; but remained silent. She was
half inclined to tell them all she had heard, but it
occurred to her that perhaps she had interpreted it
all wrong—and yet—anyway, if he were sincere, if
he really meant all he had said to her uncle she
must not, had no right to do, or say, anything that
could prejudice him. So she kept silent, and her
uncle went on.
"He's off to-morrow on the east-bound mail.
That's why he was waiting to see me to-night.
He told me he had heard I was going up into the
hills, and waited to catch me before I went. Said
he couldn't go away without seeing me first. I
told him I was going physicking, that the camps
were down with fever, and the spread of it might
seriously interfere with Dave's work. He was very
interested, poor chap, and hoped all would come
right. He spoke of Dave in the most cordial
terms, and wished he could do something to help.
Of course, that's impossible. But I pointed out
that the whole future of Malkern, us all, depended
on the work going through. Dave would be simply
ruined if it didn't. There's a tremendous lot
of good in that boy. I always knew it. Once he
gets away from this gambling, and cuts out the
whiskey, he'll get right again. I suggested his
turning teetotaler, and he assured me he'd made
up his mind to it. Well, Betty my dear, time's
Chepstow rose from the table and filled his pipe.
Betty followed him, and put on her wraps. Aunt
Mary stood by to help to the last.
It was less than an hour from the time of Betty's
return home that the final farewells were spoken
and the buckboard started back for the mill. Aunt
Mary watched them go. She saw them vanish into
the night, and slowly turned back across the veranda
into the house. They were her all, her loved
ones. They had gone for perhaps only a few
weeks, but their going made her feel very lonely.
She gave a deep sigh as she began to clear the remains
of the supper away. Then, slowly, two unbidden
tears welled up into her round, soft eyes and
rolled heavily down her plump cheeks. Instantly
she pulled herself together, and dashed her hand
across her eyes. And once more the steady courage
which was the key-note of her life asserted itself.
She could not afford to give way to any such