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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGlory Of Youth - Chapter 2. In The Shadowy Room
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Glory Of Youth - Chapter 2. In The Shadowy Room Post by :svesty Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :May 2012 Read :1153

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Glory Of Youth - Chapter 2. In The Shadowy Room


The injury to Justin's hand proved to be one of strain and sprain.

"A bandage for a few days," the doctor pronounced, "and then a little carefulness, and you'll be all right."

Justin lingered. The little fire was like a heart of gold in the shadowy room. Plain little Miss Matthews sipped her tea, with her feet on the fender. Bettina, during the doctor's examination of Justin's hand, had seated herself in her low chair on the hearth, and now her eyes were fixed steadily on the flames.

"It's a shivery, shaky sort of day," said Justin, surveying the teapot longingly, and Anthony laughed. "He wants his tea, Bettina," he said, "and a place by your fire. It's another of his pussy-cat traits--so if you'll be good to him, I'll have another cup, and he shall tell us about his hydro-aeroplane."

Justin, standing in front of the fire, was like a young god fresh from Olympus. His nose was straight, his mocking eyes a golden-brown, and, with his cap off, his upstanding shock of hair showed glittering lights. In deference to the prevailing fashion, his fair little mustache was slightly upturned at the corners. He had doffed his rain coat, and appeared in a brown Norfolk suit with leather leggins that reached his knees.

"I'm afraid I've intruded upon your hospitality," he said to Bettina, as she handed him a steaming cup, "but I'm always falling into pleasant things--and I haven't the will power to get out when I should, truly I haven't. But it isn't my fault--it's just a part of my pussy-cat inheritance."

"He can afford to say such things," Anthony remarked; "he's really more like a bird than a pussy cat. You should see him up in the air."

Justin's eyes flashed. "You should see me coming down on the water after a flight. By Jove, Anthony, that's the most wonderful little machine. I've called her 'The Gray Gull' because she not only flies but swims--cuts through the water like a motor boat."

As he talked his eyes were on Bettina. "You beauty, you beauty," was the thought which thrilled him.

When, at last, he stood up, he apologized somewhat formally. "I've stayed too long," he said, "but Anthony must make my excuses. I was down there in Purgatory--and he showed me--Paradise."

The doctor looked at him sharply. He knew Justin as a man of the world--gay, irresponsible--and Bettina had no one to watch over her.

"I'll take you as far as the shops," he said, crisply, "and then I must get at once to my old man with the pneumonia."

As the two men rode away in the doctor's small covered car, Justin asked, "Where did you discover her?" Anthony, his eyes fixed on the muddy road ahead of them, gave a brief outline: "Professionally. The mother died in those rooms. The girl is alone, except for Miss Matthews and the old Lane sisters who own the house and live in the lower part. I have constituted myself a sort of guardian for Bettina--the mother requested it, and I couldn't refuse."

"I see." Justin asked no more questions, but settled himself back in a cushioned corner, and as the two men rode on in silence, their thoughts were centered on the single vision of a shadowy room, and of a slender golden-haired, black-robed figure against a background of glowing flame.

All that night and the next day the doctor battled with Death, and came out triumphant. By four o'clock in the afternoon the old man with pneumonia showed signs of holding his own.

Worn out, Anthony drove back toward the sanatorium. The rain was over, but a heavy fog had rolled in, so that the doctor's little car seemed to float in a sea of cloud. Now and then another car passed him, specter-like amid the grayness. Silent figures, magnified by the mist, came and went like shadow pictures on a screen. From the far distance sounded the incessant moan of fog-horns.

Anthony stopped his car in front of a small shop, whose lights struggled faintly against the gloom.

Crossing the threshold, he went from a world of dampness and chill into the warmth and cheer of an old-fashioned fish house.

For fifty years there had been no change in Lillibridge's. The floor of the main room was bare and clean, and, in the middle, a round black stove radiated comfort on cold days. Along one side of the room ran three stalls, in which were placed tables for such patrons as might desire partial privacy. On the spick and span counter were set forth various condiments and plates of crackers. A card, tacked up on the wall, tempted the appetite with its list of sea foods.

Anthony wanted nothing to eat. He ordered coffee, and went into one of the stalls to drink it.

But a man at one of the tables in the main part of the room wanted more than coffee. He was a little man in a blue reefer, but he had, evidently, more than a little appetite. As Anthony sat down, he was just finishing a bowl of chowder, and was gazing with eyes of hungry appreciation upon various dishes of fried fish and fried potatoes, of hot rolls and pickles which were being set before him.

"You'd better have some, doctor," was his hoarse invitation.

"Too tired," said Anthony. "I'll wait till I've had a bath and rub-down before I eat----"

"What you need," said the little man, between large mouthfuls, "is a good day's fishin'. You come out to-morrow morning, and we'll catch some cod."

The doctor's tired eyes brightened. "There's nothing that I'd like better, captain, but I've got an old man ill of pneumonia, and there's a girl with appendicitis."

"There you go," said the little man; "if it wasn't a girl with appendicitis, it would be a kid with the colic, or a lady with a claim to heart trouble. What you've got to do, doctor, is to cut it all out and come with me."

Anthony shook his head. "Suppose some one had said to you when you sailed the seas that you could leave the ship----?"

"I shouldn't have left," said the little man, "but I didn't have such a look as you've got in your eyes. What you need is a good night's sleep, and a day's fishin'. And you need it now."

Having eaten presently his last morsel, he ordered a piece of pie. "There's nothing like sea air to blow your brains clear," he stated. "And when this fog lifts, it'll be fine fishin' weather."

Again the doctor shook his head. "I'd like it, more than a little, but I've got to stick to my post."

Captain Stubbs began on his pie, and remarked, "The trouble with you is that you're mixed up with too many wimmen."

Anthony's head went up. "What do you mean?"

"Wimmen," said the little captain, "are bad enough anyhow. But when you have to handle a lot of wimmen with nerves, then the Lord help you."

He said it so solemnly that Anthony threw back his head and laughed.

"Now, up at that sannytarium of yours," said the captain, "there's about ten of them that need to be dipped into the good salt sea and hung up in the sun to dry, and that's all they need, no coddling and medicine and operations--but just a cold shock and a warm-up--and a day's fishin'."

And now Anthony did not laugh. "By Jove," he said, "I believe you're right. I'm going to try some personally conducted parties, and you shall take them out, captain----"

"Me----?" the captain demanded, incredulously. "Me take those wimmen out fishin'?"

Anthony nodded. "Yes, once a week. Is it a bargain?"

The captain stood up. "No, it ain't," he said, firmly. "I'll take you and gladly. But not any of that nervous bunch."

He settled his cap firmly on his head, and went toward the door. Then he turned. "Some day," he said, "I'm going to ask that Betty child to go out in my boat."

"Bettina?" Anthony's mind went swiftly to the shadowed room.

"Yes. She's lonesome, and so was her mother. I used to take fish up to them, and I showed the Betty child how to make chowder."

"She told me," said Anthony. "You're one of her best friends, captain."

"Well, goodness only knows she needs friends," said the little captain, adding with a significant emphasis which escaped the preoccupied Anthony, "She needs somebody to take care of her."

Receiving no response, the little man lighted his pipe, buttoned his coat, and, remarking genially, "Well, you let me know about that day's fishin'," he steamed out.

After his departure Anthony sat for some time in the deserted room. He knew that rest and refreshment were waiting for him and he knew that he needed them, but his mind was weighed down by the problem of that helpless child in the old house. All through the night as he had battled for the life of his patient, he had thought of her, who must battle with the world. He could get her work, of course, but he shrank from the thought of her pale loveliness set to sordid uses.

With a sudden gesture of resolution, he stood up and drew on his gloves.

Ten minutes later he was climbing the winding stairway, where the iron lantern again illumined the darkness.

There had been no response to his call from below, and when he reached the upper landing he found the door shut. He knocked and presently Bettina came. He saw at a glance that she had been crying.

"I can stay only a minute," he said. "I haven't had much sleep since I saw you yesterday."

"I'll make you some tea," she offered, but he stopped her with a quick, "No, no,--I've just had coffee, and I must get home."

They sat down, somewhat stiffly, on opposite sides of the hearth.

"What made you cry?" he asked, with his keen eyes on her downcast face.

"Everything--the rain yesterday--the fog to-day. I wish the sun would shine--I wish--I were--dead----"

With a sharp exclamation, he stood up. "You're too young to say such things--there's all of life before you."

"Yes," she said dully, "there's all of life----"

To him she was a most appealing figure. Her weakness seemed to stand out against the background of his strength. Suddenly he held out his hands to her. "Come here, Betty child," he said, using, unconsciously, the little captain's name for her, "come here."

Some new note in his voice made her cheeks flame, but she obeyed him. He took both of her hands in his. "I've been thinking of you, and your future. Somehow I can't see you, a little slip of a thing like you, being beaten and bruised by the hard things of life. The world is cruel and you are so--sweet. You need some one to take care of you----"

"Yes," she whispered; "but there isn't any one."

"Except me. And I'm such an old fellow--years too old for you. But I'm alone, and you're alone. Could I make you happy, Betty child?"

She stared at him, all the bright color gone from her face.

"Why, how?" Her voice fluttered and died.

"As my wife. There's the big house on the rocks that I am building."

He faltered. The great house had been built for Diana, on a sudden hopeful impulse that when it was finished she would consent to be its mistress.

"There's the big house," he went on, after a moment, "and there's money enough and to spare. Not that I want you to marry me for that, but I think I could comfort you in your loneliness, Bettina."

In her secluded girlhood there had been no opportunity for masculine adoration; hence there seemed nothing lacking when this man of men, whose coming during her mother's illness had made the one bright spot in her day, whose sympathy had comforted her in her sorrow, whose friendship had sustained her in the months which had followed her great loss, when he spoke of marriage with never a word of love.

"But I'm not wise enough or good enough," she said, with a quick catch of her breath.

He drew her to him, holding her gently.

"Would you like," he asked, "would you like to think that all your life I should take care of you?"

She lay quietly, not answering for a while, then she whispered, "Do you really want me?"

Perhaps his arm relaxed a little, but his voice was very steady. "I really want to make you happy."

"And you'll let me love you with all my heart?" Her eyes were hidden.

He put his hand against the softness of her hair, turning her face up toward him. "I shall hope that you may love me with all your heart, and that I may be worthy of it."

Her hand crept up and touched his cheek. "Kiss me," she whispered, like a child.

He would have been less than a man if his heart had not leaped a little, if he had not responded to the love call of this wistful white and gold woman creature.

"My dear," he said, brokenly, and bent his head.

On the foggy streets below men and women passed and repassed like ghosts in the stillness. Little Miss Matthews, meeting Captain Stubbs on a street corner, was unconscious of his nearness until the little captain, guided by that sixth sense, which is given to sailors for their protection at sea, hailed her.

"You needn't hurry home," he told her; "that Betty child don't want you. Dr. Blake is there. That's his car."

"He was there yesterday," said Miss Matthews, disturbed by the doctor's departure from his usual routine.

"And he'll probably be there to-morrow; he's getting sweet on that Betty child, Miss Mattie."

"Oh, dear, no," said the shocked Miss Matthews. "Why, he's in love with Diana Gregory."

The captain gazed at her blankly. "You don't mean it," he protested.

"Yes, I do," said Miss Matthews; "they've known each other all their lives. But she doesn't want to settle down."

"Well, she'd better look out," said the little captain; "men won't wait forever."

"Men like Anthony Blake," returned Miss Matthews with conviction, "will. And as for Bettina, she's nothing but a child!"

The little captain carried the conversation over, tactfully, to his favorite topic. "I want you and that Betty child to go with me for a day's fishin' soon," he said; "you just name the day."

Little Miss Matthews hated the sea, with the hatred of a woman whose ancestors had made their living on the Banks and had been drowned in storms. But she liked the captain. "I am sure you are very kind," she said, primly, "but it will have to be Saturday when there isn't any school."

"All right," said the captain,--"make it a week from Saturday, and we'll probably have clearing weather."

The doctor, going down, met little Miss Matthews. Bettina, leaning over the rail, greeted the little lady somewhat self-consciously. "I'll make your tea in a minute," she said; "the doctor didn't want any."

When Anthony reached the bottom of the stair, he looked up. The faint light of the lantern drew a circle of radiance about Bettina's head.

"Wait," she called softly, and came down to him, and in the darkness whispered that she was happy, so very happy--and would she see him soon?

"To-morrow," he promised, and went away with his pulses pounding.

All the way home he thought of her. She had been charming. He felt like an adventuring knight, who, having killed all the dragons, rescues the captive princess from her tower. She was a dear child. A dear--child.

At the sanatorium he had a bath and a good dinner, and made his rounds. One little woman, when he had passed, spoke to another of his smile. "It is as if he were happy in his heart," she said, quaintly; "before this his eyes have been sad."

Later the doctor found time to read his mail. On the top of the pile of letters was a thick one in a gray envelope addressed in feminine script. He opened it and read eagerly. Then he sat very still, trying, amid all the beating agony of emotion, to grasp the truth as she had told it. Diana was free. Her engagement was broken. She was coming back to America. "I am coming home to the big house--and to you--Anthony." And she would be there in just ten days!

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