Chapter XII. Auntie Sue Takes a Chance.
 

So Brian wrote his book that winter.

When the days were fair, he worked with his ax on the mountain-side. But his notebook was ever at hand, and many a thought that went down on the pages of his manuscript was born while he wrought with his hands in the wholesome labor which gave strength to his body and clearness to his brain. In the evenings, he wrote in the little log house by the river, with Auntie Sue sitting in her chair beside the table,--the lamp-light on her silvery hair, and her sewing-basket within reach of her hand,--engaged with some bit of needlework, a book, or perhaps with one of her famous letters to some other pupil, far away. The stormy days gave him many hours with his pen, and so the book grew.

And always as the man endeavored to shape his thoughts for the printed pages that would carry his message to the doubting, disconsolate, and fearful world that he knew so well, he heard in his heart the voices of the river. From the hillside where he worked in the timber he could see the stream winding through the snowy hills like a dark line carelessly drawn with many a crook and curve and break on the sheet of white. From the porch he saw the quiet Bend a belt of shining ice and snow, save for a narrow line in the centre, which marked the course of the strongest currents; while the waters of the rapids crashed black and dreadful against the Elbow Rock cliff, which stood gaunt and grim amid the surrounding whiteness; and in the deathlike hush of the winter twilight, the roar of the turmoil sounded with persistent menace. And all that the river said to him he put down,--so far as it was given him to do.

And that which Brian Kent wrote was good. He knew it--in his deepest, truest self he knew. And Auntie Sue knew it; for, of course, he read to her from his manuscript as the book grew under his hand. Even Judy caught much of his story's meaning, and marvelled at herself because she, too, could understand.

So the spring came, and the first writing of the book was nearly finished.

And now the question arose: What would they do about the final preparation of the manuscript for the printers? Brian explained that he should have a typewritten copy of his script, which he would work over, correct, and revise, and from which perfected copy the final manuscript would be typewritten. But neither Auntie Sue nor Brian would consider his finishing the book anywhere but in the little log house by the river; even if there had been no other reason why Brian should not go to the city, if it could be avoided.

"There is only one thing to do,"--said Auntie Sue, at last, when the matter had been discussed several times,--"we must send for Betty Jo. She has been studying stenography in a business college in Cincinnati, and, in her latest letter to me, she wrote that she would finish in April. I'll just write her to come right here, and bring her typewriter along. She will need a vacation, and she can have it and do your work at the same time. Besides, I need to see Betty Jo. She hasn't been to visit me since before Judy came."

Brian thought that Auntie Sue seemed a little nervous and excited as she spoke, but he attributed it to her combined interest in the book and in the proposed typist. The man could not know the real cause of his gentle old companion's agitation, nor with what anxiety she had considered the matter for many days before she announced her plan. The fact was that Auntie Sue was taking a big chance, and she realized it fully. But she could find no other way to secure the services of a competent stenographer for Brian, and, as Brian must have a competent stenographer in order to finish his book properly, she had decided to accept the risk.

"That sounds all right, Auntie Sue," returned Brian. "But who, pray tell, is Betty Jo?"

"Betty Jo is,"--Auntie Sue paused and laughed with a suggestion of embarrassed confusion,--"Betty Jo is--just Betty Jo, Brian," she finished.

Brian laughed now. "Fine, Auntie Sue! That describes her exactly,--tells me her life's history and gives me a detailed account of her family,--ancestors and all."

"It describes her with more accuracy than you think," retorted Auntie Sue, smiling in return at his teasing manner.

"I reckon as how she's got more of er name than that, ain't she?" said Judy, who was a silent, but intensely interested, listener. "I've allus took notice that folks with funny names'll stand a right smart of watchin'."

Brian and Auntie Sue laughed together at this, but the old lady said, with a show of spirit: "Judy! You know nothing about it! You never even saw Betty Jo! You shouldn't say such things, child."

"Might as well say 'em as ter think 'em, I reckon," Judy returned, her beady-black eyes stealthily watching Brian.

"What is your Betty Jo's real name, Auntie Sue?" asked Brian, curiously.

Again Auntie Sue seemed to hesitate; then--"Her name is Miss Betty Jo Williams," and as she spoke the old teacher looked straight at Brian.

"A perfectly good name," Brian returned; "but I never heard of her before."

Judy's black eyes, with their stealthy, oblique look, were now watchfully fixed on Auntie Sue.

"She is the orphan-niece of one of my old pupils," Auntie Sue continued. "I have known her since she was a baby. When she finished her education in the seminary, and had travelled abroad for a few months, she decided all at once that she wanted a course in a business college, which was just what any one knowing her would expect her to do."

"Sounds steady and reliable," commented Brian. "But will she come?"

"Yes, indeed, she will, and be tickled to death over the job," returned Auntie Sue. "I'll write her at once."

While Auntie Sue was preparing to write her letter, Judy muttered, in a tone which only Brian heard: "Just the same, 'tain't no name for a common gal ter have; hit sure ain't. There's somethin' dad burned queer 'bout hit somewhere."

"Nonsense! Judy," said Brian in a low voice; "don't worry Auntie Sue."

"I ain't aimin' ter worry her none," returned the mountain girl; "but I'll bet you-all a pretty that this here gal'll worry both of youuns 'fore you are through with her;--me, too, I reckon."

For some reason, Auntie Sue's letter to Betty Jo seemed to be rather long. In fact, she spent the entire evening at it; which led Judy to remark that "hit sure looked like Auntie Sue was aimin' ter write a book herself."

A neighbor who went to Thompsonville the following day with a load of hogs for shipment, posted the letter. And, in due time, another neighbor brought the answer. Betty Jo would come.

It was the day following the evening when Brian wrote the last page of his book that another letter came to Auntie Sue,--a letter which, for the second time, very nearly wrecked Brian Kent's world.