In Safe Hands
There are a number of pivotal points in this story around which the action turns. The general conception, construction and elaboration are excellent, as well befits the work of a leading writer. No small interest is lent to the narrative by the illustrations, also the work of a leading artist.
There was nothing lacking in Ralph Trevor’s manner to his sister when he met her at Woodbury Station. Her manner lacked cordiality. She did not speak to him until they had walked through the High Street and come to a little country lane.
“How is he?” she asked then.
“Going on all right,” Trevor said. “What is the injury?”
“Broken arm—concussion of brain.” “How did it happen?”
“Steering-gear went wrong. Car ran into a brick wall. Lane hit the wall. I pitched over it into a heap of mud, and came out safe, but dirty.’
“That’s how you generally come out of things,” Mrs. Hunt observed.
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
“You’d better oil your tongue before you talk to Lane. You aren’t married to him yet, you know !”
“I presume your telegram means that he intends to ask me?”
Trevor twirled his long mustache, and watched his sister out of the corner of his eyes.
“He thinks that he has asked you already,” he said.
Mrs. Hunt stopped walking.
“What do you mean?”
“He has lost all memory of the last three weeks. The doctor says they often do in these cases. They don’t recover it, as a rule.”
“What do you mean?” his sister asked again.
Her voice was as quiet as before, but her big black eyes had quickened.
“I have supplied him with a mem-
ory.” Mrs. blunt breathed audibly, and her color heightened; but she did not speak, “it includes an engagement to a charming lady. It was made two days before he went for a motor ride — with his future brother-in-law.”
“You think I’ll be a party to that?” she cried fiercely.
“Yes,” said Trevor, quite calmly. “I think so.”
“What a scoundrel you are!”
“Generally, yes,” he agreed. “Specially, no. I feel that I am benefiting everybody concerned in this particular transaction.”
“This particular transaction will never take place,” she asserted. “I am going back to the station.”
“There’s no train for an hour and a half,” he remarked suavely; “and I should follow you and make my narration on the platform. You may just as well listen to me here. Allow me to offer you a seat.”
lie waved to a tree-trunk by the roadside. She sat down; and he leaned against a tree, smoking a cigarette.
“There are three people to benefit,” he stated. “Lady first. You’ve been setting vour cap at Lane ever since you left off widow’s weeds; so I presume you wish to marry him.”
“I must marry someone. I can’t starve !”
“There were candidates more eager to supply your daily bread. You appeared to prefer him.”
“We will say that the benefit to me is obvious. How about him?”
“How modest we are ! I should have thought that his gain was still more
self-evident. You are no doubt aware that you are a particularly good-looking young woman.”
“Not so young.”
“Twenty-eight last month; and you don’t look it. Looks apart, he’d find you a very decent partner. I am convinced, after a long experience, that you are a much nicer person than most people believe.”
“After an experience of the same length,” said Mrs. Hunt, “I take the opposite view of you.”
“Exactly,” he agreed, waving the cigarette. “We come to the wicked brother. He is a real bad lot. Unless he gets three thousand pounds within a fortnight, he goes to — perdition !”
“Prison !” Mrs. Hunt almost hissed. “Perdition is a much nicer word ; but
we’ll say prison, if you prefer. You can’t let me go.”
“If I keep you, it wall be for our mother’s sake, not for yours.”
“But a little for your own, as well,” suggested Trevor. “Your position in society is none too secure as it is. With your brother gone to — perdition—” “I wouldn’t do this vile thin» for my own sake,” she cried passionately.
“You may choose your own reasons. I gather that they are sufficient.”
She sat in silence for a time, biting lier lips.
“They may be sufficient,” she said at length, “if I find that he really wants to marry me; not unless. How did he come to send for me?”
“I took him to the inn after the accident, and got a doctor and a nurse. He
was unconscious for hours. When he came round his memory had stopped at three weeks ago ; Saturday afternoon, four forty-five. He had just met you in the park. You wore a black-and-white hat. Love notes these little details. You shook hands; and there his memory halts, till he finds himself in bed in the inn. Everything between has gone.” “It may come back.”
“The doctor thinks not. Anyhow, he will only know what comes back, and not what doesn’t. He can’t possibly be sure that there aren’t other things which he doesn’t recall; tender love-passages, for example.”
“You beast l”
“You—beauty 1 Shall I go on ?”
“You may as well, since you’ve gone so far.”
“I relieved the nurse for an hour, and improved my shining hour by asking if I should send for you. You’d be crying your eyes out, I told him. He stared at me, and fairly gasped. ‘You mean—?’ he said. ‘Is that one of the things I don’t remember?’ I pretended—”
“Stop I” Mrs. Hunt seized her brother’s arm fiercely. “Do you mean that he was distressed at the idea?”
“Not a bit,” said Trevor coolly. “He was distressed at forgetting the engagement, that’s all. He seemed rather — well, rather pleasantly curious about it. He remembered admiring you for a long time, he said, and the idea of proposing to you had been in his mind. I gather that his sister had done her best to put it out. Do you know her?”
“ ï es. She looks like a doll ; but she has the brains of. half a dozen people. She’s clever, I warn youl”
“She’ll be clever if she stops him now. He quite fancies your coming and fussing over him. Upon my word, a blush becomes you, Edie.”
“If I were a man,” said Mrs. Hunt, “I think I should horsewhip you I I am going to do this in my own way. I shall tell him plainly that I know that he doesn’t remember—”
“Don’t be a fool I” Trevor dropped his cigarette.
“And that he must begin again — if he wants to — and not unless.”
“Oh!” Trevor laughed. “That’s all
right. He’ll like you all the better for your coyness, and begin again at once. Upon my word, Edie, I believe you’ve a fancy for the chap. Well, you’ll make a pretty good wife. He’ll have something to thank you for.”
“Yes,” said the woman firmly. “He will. If you have this three thousand from him, you shall never touch another penny of his money through me. I swear it by our dead mother ! Not if it is to save you from hanging; and I expect it will come to that. Look at me, and see if I mean it.’
Trevor lit a fresh cigarette and smiled.
“Already I see you the haughty wife of the rich squire, and myself the outcast relative,” he said with mock plaintiveness. “Well, you’re not a bad sort, Edie. I’ve never done much harm to you, if you remember, old girl. I won’t blackmail you. Thars a straight promise.”
“And you’ll never give him any idea of this? But you’re not quite so bad as that.”
“I really don’t know how bad I am,” Trevor owned candidly. “But I don’t think I’m bad enough to round on you, Edie.”
He put his hand on her shoulder; but she shook it away.
“Don’t touch me I” she cried fiercely ; and they walked on.
She went straight up to the injured man’s room when they reached the inn. The nurse eyed her, and went out quickly*
“My word!” she told the landlady. “She’s a beauty I And mighty fond of him, if I’m a judge.”
Mrs. Hunt sat down beside the couch.
“Ralph has told me that you have forgotten, she said. Her voice trembled. “Of course you are free.”
The sick man smiled at her faintly.
“How beautiful you are,” he said. “I have been thinking of you ; and I don’t want to be free. Wonyt you kiss me?”
“Not now,” she cried. “I — when you are well—if you want me then—”
“But if I want you now?” he asked. “Now that I am ill? Your name is Edith, isn’t it, dear? I suppose I called
you that when—when we became engaged? I may, mayn’t I?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I— If you want me, I am glad; very truly glad.”
Two days later another lady alighted at Woodbury Station — Lane’s sister, Mrs. Newcombe. Trevor met her also.
She was little and very fair. She had baby-blue eyes, the most innocent childish face, and the most bewitching childish smile. Her husband habitually addressed her as “you pretty little humbug,” and her brother called her “big sister.” When she asked questions, her way was delightfully artless.
Trevor did not like her artless questions; and he liked the questions that she did not ask still less. She made no
allusion to the “engagement,” or to Mrs. Hunt. When she met that lady, her manner was that of a very polite child to a perfect stranger with whom it does not propose to make friends.
“We shall have trouble with her,” Trevor predicted when she had gone up to the sick-room. Those soft little swindles are the dangerous sort. Well, I
reckon you’ve got him pretty tight now.”
Mrs. Hunt walked over to the window without answering. Her hands clasped and unclasped, as if she alternately grasped something and let go.
Mrs. Newcombe fluttered to the sick man’s couch—she always moved like a butterfly flitting — dropped on her knees, and gave him several butterfly kisses.
“Well, baby brother!” she said with a soft laugh. She always called him that, though she was twelve years the younger. “You’ve got into a mess, as usual, when your big sister isn’t looking after you! Iiow did it happen?”
“Trevor says that the steering-gear went wrong, and —”
She put her hand over his mouth, and laughed again.
“Never mind the steering-gear. How did you go wrong?”
They looked at each other.
“I suppose you mean—”
She held up a warning finger.
“Don’t try deceiving me, Jack.”
“I was engaged to her two days before the accident,” he said, like some one who is sticking to a story.
“According to Mr. Trevor — in the days that you don’t remember ! What a baby you are, Jack! Now, really?”
“I don’t remember,” he owned. “I was a little surprised, because, after our conversation, I had almost made up my mind to give up the fancy. I did have a liking for her, you know, May.”
“No doubt they knew that!”
“I see what you mean, of course. I’ll be honest, and own that I didn’t quite believe him at first ; but after she came, I did—I mean, I do. I’m sure she’s a good woman, May.”
“You weren’t so sure a few weeks ago. Perhaps you remember that.”
“Yes, Î remember. She seems changed, May. She isn’t a bit cold and reserved, as she was then. _ She’s awfully kind to me — you’ve no idea how kind ! I look forward to her coming in, and — I’m ashamed of myself for having any doubts, only—” He paused.
“Only,” said his sister, “a little of your memory has come back, eh, baby brother?”
“Yes. How did you guess?”
“I didnt guess ; I made sure. I came down by an early train, got out at the junction, and went to see the doctor. I cross-examined him, like a lawyer’s wife. I’d talked it over with Tom, of course, and he made some inquiries. He found out a good deal about Trevor. No, nothing very bad about her: She
was a governess, and married for a
home. Her husband was a bad lot; but there’s no proof that she assisted him in his villainies. We can trust the doctor. He inclines to my view of the case. He has a very poor opinion of Trevor. I have a poorer.”
“You can’t think much less of him than I do. But I won’t think badly of Edith, whatever the doctor says.”
Mrs. Newcombe shrugged herself like a teased child.
“Pie doesn’t say anything against her. She’s much too nice-looking to be ill thought of by a man ! But I am a woman, baby brother !”
“Do you think so badly of her, May?” he asked wistfully.
Mrs. Newcombe’s face grew older, and she stifled a sigh.
“I’ll be candid too, Jack. I think she is a bit of an adventuress — driven to it by necessity, and by that villian of a brother ; but I don’t think she’s really bad. She isn’t quite our class, Jack, and —well, you wouldn’t let yourself fall in love with her if you could help it, would you?”
“I don’t know that I can.”
“If you knew that she had entered into this infamous plot—it is infamous, Jack—you wouldn’t marry her then, I suppose?”
“It is infamous to suspect it!”
“Ah ! But you do! If I bring it home to her? You wouldn’t marry her?” “No, no! I’d shoot myself first! I hope you won’t, May ; I like her a good bit.”
“Poor old baby brother !” She kissed him softly. “I’m sorry ; but it’s best to know, dear. I will find out. You pan trust me not to be unnecessarily horrid.” “Yes, dear. You’re never that; and you’re sensible.”
“I’m sensible !” She nodded gravely. “You place yourself in my safe hands?” “Yes,” he agreed; “but if you can’t bring it home to her, I’m to have the benefit of the doubt and marry her. I want to ! You’ll remember that?”
“Yes, dear, I’ll remember that.”
She kissed him once more, wiped her eyes, and flitted down-stairs. Finding Trevor and Mrs. Hunt alone in the inn parlor, she closed the door, and took a chair.
“Now,” she said, smiling her childish smile, “we’ll have a talk. I’ll put my cards on the table. I’m going to fight. You say that my brother is engaged to this ladv. Prove it !”
“Are you your brother’s keeper?” Trevor asked.
“Yes!” said Mrs. Newcombe emphatically. She smiled the innocent smile
again. “My brother is returning home with me this afternoon. My husband is coming to fetch us. He is my brother’s lawyer.”
“Your brother is not an infant,” Trevor remarked.
“Neither am I ! My brother has placed himself in my hands.” She held them out daintily. “They are stronger
than they look, Mr. Trevor. But it isn’t you who have to settle the business. Mrs. Hunt, you say that you are engaged to my brother. I say that it is—-choose any nolite word that you like. I mean a tie!”
“Your suggestion is an insult!” said Mrs. Hunt.
“Yes!” said Mrs. Newcombe resolute-
ly. Her babyish way had gone, and she spoke and looked like steel. “I shall put the case to my brother like this: ‘If they are genuine, they will not ask you for money. Give me your word that you will not let them have any from you for six months. If you believe in them, you must agree to that.’ What do you think he will answer? Do yon think
you will get—shall we say three thousand pounds in a fortnight, Mr. Trevor?”
Trevor paled slightly, but he did not flinch.
“You are clever, Mrs. Newcombe,” he said steadily; “but you are not clever enough. You can stop the money; but that only hurts me. Well, I must put up with it. My sister has only to go up to your brother—she can go now, with you—and give him her word, that he was engaged to her, and he will marry her. Now you see our cards.”
“Yes; but you haven’t seen all mine. Your sister won’t go and say it. If she does, she can marry my brother—I admit it. But you won’t get the three thousand pounds; and you’ll go to prison. I know all about the affair. My husband has investigated it. If your sister admits that she is not engaged to my brother, you’ll get the money. I’ll see to that! Now you see all my hand.”
There was a deadly silence. Mrs. Hunt broke it.
“I will acknowledge in writing that 1 was not engaged to your brother,” she offered.
Trevor started up.
“She is doing it to keep me out of prison,’ he declared. “It isn’t true. She is in love’with him—”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Hunt.
“And engaged to him.”
“No,” said Mrs. Hunt. “No!”
“She only says that because she —” Trevor began.
“Hush !” said Mrs. Newcombe. “Hush !” She walked over to Mrs. Hunt and put her hand on her shoulder. “There is more in this than money,” she said. “Let us put that aside. We are two women who love my brother very much in our ways. You can’t marry him by a trick like^ that; and now that you have done it, you can’t marry him at all. He would never forgive it; though perhaps, if he would— well, it wouldn’t have been a very suitable marriage for him in any case. You know that as well as I do; and we are thinking of him, because we^ both care so much for him, and—it is a hard world to us women! You can’t marry him, my dear.”
Mrs. Hunt bowed silently. Then she rose. Her brother gave her his arm, and they went. Mrs. Newcombe put her husband’s card in Trevor’s hand as he passed her.
“Call there,” she said, “and he will do what I have promised.”
Then she went up-stairs to her brother. She buried her face on his shoulder and cried.
ONE morning, a month after Lane’s accident, Mrs. Newcombe called upon Mrs. Hunt. Mrs. Newcombe’s face had lost its smiles ; and she noticed that Mrs. Hunt looked ill.
“You have worried over him too,” she said.
“Of course,” Mrs. Hunt answered. “Won’t you sit down?”
“Thank you. Do you distrust me, or only dislike me, Mrs. Hunt?”
“Neither, Mrs. Newcombe.”
“I am glad! You will be surprised, perhaps, to know that I am inclined to like you ; and certainly I trust you. A month ago my brother put himself in my hands. He is slipping through them.” öhe gave a little sob. “No; dear ; I dont mean to you. He is' slipping away from us both.”
Mrs. Hunt threw out her hands desperately. Mrs. Newcombe took both of them in hers.
“I believe that these could hold him,” she said, “if — but I can’t talk to you as ‘Mrs. Hunt.’ Your name is Edith, isn’t it? Edith — please forgive me—is there any reason why he shouldn’t marry you?”
“I am—my father’s daughter,” said Edith Hunt, “and my brother’s sister.” “Never mind them! Yourself, Edith.—yourself?”
“How dare you?” Mrs. Hunt drew herself up. “How dare you? As if I would dream of marrying him, if there were any reason of that kind against it! Please go.”
Mrs. Newcombe rose and put her arm round Mrs. Hunt and kissed her.
“I didn’t think so,” she said, “but he put himself in my hands, you see, dear. I had to be sure.”
“You aren’t sure,” Mrs. Hunt said haughtily. “You have only my word.” “That is enough, Edith.”
The tall woman dropped her head on the shoulder of the little one. They were silent for a long while.
“Now,” Mrs. Newcombe said, “I will put him in your hands, if I can. I have always been able to do anything with Jack. I call him my 'baby brother.’ But now—I don’t know. You see, it isn’t the — the deceit that stands in the way. If he thought that you did it because you loved him, he would forgive it easily enough. I’m not at all sure that he wouldn’t regard it as rather a virtue ! But he thinks ’that you only wanted him for his money, and that you sold him for three thousand pounds. That is his absurd way of putting it. He’s quite beyond argu-
ment. It never is any use arguing with a man ! And meanwhile he’s just dying for the want of you, Edith ; slipping away from life, because he can’t find enough interest to hold to. Will you sink your pride, and come and make him believe that you love him?”
“I will try,” Mrs. Hunt said.
Lane was lying upon a couch in his sister’s drawing-room, blinking listlessly at the wall, when they went in. He did not turn round. His sister took both of his hands and gently placed them in those of Edith Hunt.
“Baby brother,” she said, “you are in safe hands now—in loving hands and faithful !’
He turned and saw the face of the woman he loved; and she caught his hands to her, and drew him back to life and love.