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- The Re-Creation of Brian Kent - 20/41 -
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 artistic temperament'?"
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 the house."
"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 again."
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 her.
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 water-stained volume.
"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. Burns?"
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 said.
"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 protest half-heartedly.
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