Chapter XVIII. Betty Jo Faces Herself.
 

All that day Auntie Sue wondered about Judy, while Brian and Betty Jo exhausted their inventive faculties in efforts to satisfy the dear old lady with plausible reasons for the mountain girl's disappearance.

During the forenoon, Brian canvassed the immediate neighborhood, and returned with the true information that Judy had stopped at the first house below Elbow Rock for breakfast, where she had told the people that she was going back to her father, because she was "doggone tired of working for them there city folks what was a-livin' at Auntie Sue's."

This was, in a way, satisfactory to Auntie Sue, because it assured her that the girl had met with no serious accident and because she knew very well the mountain-bred girl's ability to take care of herself in the hills. But, still, the gentle mistress of the log house by the river was troubled to think that Judy would leave her so without a word.

Betty Jo was so occupied during the day by her efforts to relieve Auntie Sue that she had but little time left for thought of herself or for reflecting on the situation revealed in her encounter with Judy. But many times during the day the mountain girl's passionate accusation came back to her, "You-all are a-lyin'! You-all come back 'cause HE is here." Nor could she banish from her memory the look that was on Brian Kent's face that morning when he was carrying her in his arms back from the brink of the river-bank, over which the frenzied Judy had so nearly sent her to her death. And so, when the day at last was over, and she was alone in her room, it was not strange that Betty Jo should face herself squarely with several definite and pointed and exceedingly personal questions.

It was like Betty Jo to be honest with herself and to demand of herself that her problems be met squarely.

"First of all, Betty Jo," she demanded, in her downright, straightforward way of going most directly to the heart of a matter, "are you in love with Brian Kent?"

Without hesitation, the answer came, "I have not permitted myself to love him."

"You have not permitted yourself to love him? That means that you would be in love with him if you dared, doesn't it?"

And Betty Jo, in the safe seclusion of her room, felt her cheeks burn as she acknowledged the truth of the deduction.

The next question was inevitable: "Is Brian Kent in love with you, Betty Jo?"

And Betty Jo, recalling many, many things, was compelled to answer, from the triumphant gladness of her heart: "He is trying not to be, but he can't help himself. And"--the downright and straightforward young woman continued--"because I know that Brian Kent is trying so hard not to love me is the real reason why I have not permitted myself to love him."

But the clear-thinking, practical Betty Jo protested quickly: "You must remember that you are wholly ignorant of Brian Kent's history, except for the things he has chosen to tell you. And those things in his life which he has confessed to you are certainly not the things that could win the love of a girl like you, even though they might arouse your interest in the man. Interest is not love, Betty Jo. Are you quite sure that you are not making the mistake that is most commonly made by young women?"

Betty Jo was compelled to answer that she was not mistaking interest for love, because had such been the case, she would not be able to so analyze the situation. Betty Jo's quite womanly prejudice is admitted, because the prejudice was so womanly, and because Betty Jo herself was so womanly.

"Very well, Miss Betty Jo," the young woman continued inexorably, "you are not permitting yourself to love Brian Kent because Brian Kent is trying not to love you. But, why is the man trying so hard not to love you?"

Betty Jo thought very hard over this question, and felt her way carefully to the answer. "It might be, of course, that it is because he is a fugitive from the law. A man under such circumstances could easily convince himself that no good woman would permit herself to love him, and he would therefore, in reasonable self-defense, prevent himself from loving her if he could."

But surely Brian Kent had every reason to know that Betty Jo did not at all regard him as a criminal. Betty Jo, as Auntie Sue, recognized only the re-created Brian Kent. If that were all, they need only wait for the restitution which was so sure to come through his book. And Brian Kent himself, through Auntie Sue's teaching and through his work, had come to recognize only his real self, and not the creature of circumstances which the river had brought to the little log house. Betty Jo felt sure that there was more than this that was forcing the man to defend himself against his love for her. Thus she was driven to the conclusion that there was something in Brian Kent's history that he had not made known to her,--a something that denied him the right to love her, and that,--reasoned poor Betty Jo in the darkness of her room,--could only be a woman,--a woman to whom he was bound, not by love indeed,--Betty Jo could not believe that,--but by ties of honor and of the law.

And very clearly Betty Jo reasoned, too, that Brian's attitude toward her evidenced unmistakably his high sense of honor. The very fact that he had so persistently--in all their companionship, in their most intimate moments together even--held this invisible and, to her, unknown barrier between them, convinced her beyond a doubt of the essential integrity of his character, and compelled her admiration and confidence.

"That is exactly it, Betty Jo," she told herself sadly; "you love him because he tries so hard to keep himself from loving you."

And thus Betty Jo proved the correctness of Auntie Sue's loving estimate of her character and justified the dear old teacher's faith in the sterling quality of her womanhood.

Face to face with herself, fairly and squarely, the girl accepted the truth of the situation for Brian and for herself, and determined her course. She must go away,--she must go at once.

She wished that she had not returned to the log house by the river. She had never fully admitted to herself the truth of her feeling toward Brian until Judy had so unexpectedly precipitated the crisis; but, she knew, now, that Judy was right, and that the real reason for her return was her love for him. She knew, as well, that her very love,--which, once fully admitted and recognized by her, demanded with all the strength of her young womanhood the nearness and companionship of the mate her heart had chosen,--demanded, also, that she help him to keep that fine sense of honor and true nobility of character which had won her.

She understood instinctively that,--now that she had confessed her love to herself,--she would, in spite of herself, tempt him in a thousand ways to throw aside that barrier which he had so honorably maintained between them. Her heart would plead with him to disregard his better self, and come to her. Her very craving for the open assurance of his love would tempt him, perhaps beyond his strength. And, yet, she knew as truly that, if he should yield; if he should cast aside the barrier of his honor; if he should deny his best self, and answer her call, it would be disastrous beyond measure to them both.

To save the fineness of their love, Betty Jo must go. If it should be that they never met again, still she must go.

But there were other currents moving in the river that night. In the steady onward flow of the whole, Betty Jo's life-currents seemed to be setting away from the man she loved. But other currents, unknown to the girl, who faced herself so honestly, and who so bravely accepted the truth she found, were moving in ways beyond her knowledge. Directed and influenced by innumerable and unseen forces and obstacles, the currents which, combined, made the stream of life in its entirety, were weaving themselves together,--interlacing and separating,--drawing close and pulling apart,--only to mingle as one again.

Betty Jo saw only Brian Kent and herself, and their love which she now acknowledged, and she had, as it were, only a momentary glimpse of those small parts of the stream.

Betty Jo could not know of those other currents that were moving so mysteriously about her as the river poured itself onward so unceasingly to the sea.