This story was first published in “The People’s Friend” on April 24, 1916.
The author, Margaret Douglas, entered it into the magazine’s short story competition — and won!
It’s accompanied here by the original illustration.
We hope you enjoy.
Betty Bruce gave her hair an approving pat.
“You like quite nice,” she remarked to her reflection in the mirror. A tall, slender figure in white, she stood in the dainty bedroom slowly drawing on her long white gloves.
A dark-haired girl rushed into the room.
“Guess what I’ve brought you, Betty?” she said gaily, holding her hands behind her, a tantalising smile on her face.
“Don’t be a goose, Molly,” her cousin replied. “What are you hiding?”
With a triumphant flourish, Molly brought to view an exquisite spray of pink rosebuds.
“Who sent them? Are they for me?” gasped Betty.
“The messenger said ‘with Mr Manningham’s compliments.’ They’ll look heavenly in your corsage.”
Molly sighed enviously.
The flowers fell to the carpet. Betty picked them up ruefully.
“Molly, I can’t wear them,” she announced decidedly. “I hardly know Mr Manningham.”
“You old-fashioned child!” laughed Molly. “You have such absurd notions, you little country mouse. I’ll wear them.”
She tucked the buds into the corsage of her cream satin gown.
“Let’s go downstairs.”
Molly Gordon was a handsome brunette of dominating personality. Her large dark eyes seemed to glow with hidden fire under the finely arched eyebrows.
Betty, with her golden curls, heaven-blue eyes, and adorable dimples, looked like a vision from another planet.
“What along time you’ve been titivating yourselves!” querulously remarked Mrs Gordon, reclining on a couch near the fire in the drawing room.
Betty knelt down beside her aunt.
“Aunty, do say we’re the loveliest girls you ever saw!”
“Even if you don’t mean it,” remarked a young man who sat near the couch, an amused smile on his cheerful, ugly face.
“Betty, my child,” he went on, “you may kiss me. Now, don’t lose your head. This is the chance of a lifetime.”
He shut his eyes and waited patiently.
“Keep your eyes shut, Teddy,” said Betty, affecting meekness.
She advanced slowly to the youth’s chair. Ted Gordon’s arms shot out. He opened his eyes to find he was embracing the family cat!
That insulted animal struggled furiously. Finding herself released, she took refuge under a table. From her shelter she gloomily surveyed the incomprehensible humans.
“The taxi!” exclaimed Molly, as the doorbell rang. “And, of course, mother’s asleep!”
A gentle snore came from the couch. Mrs Gordon had an uncomfortable habit of falling asleep at all times and seasons, to the great embarrassment of her family.
“Hurry upstairs for your cloaks, girls,” directed Ted, as the maid announced the taxi was waiting. “I’ll waken ma.”
He shut the drawing room door with a bang which shook the room.
“Teddy Gordon, what do you mean?” demanded the thoroughly awakened matron.
“Were you sleeping, ma?” he inquired innocently.
“Certainly not!” answered the incensed lady, as he helped her into an evening wrap.
Betty was glowing with happiness as the taxi sped swiftly through a typical Glasgow fog to Kelvinside.
“The Wedderburns always give splendid hope — you’ll have a ripping time, Betty,” declared Ted as the party entered the house.
When she found herself, after a warm greeting from the hostess, in the flower-decked ballroom, Betty drew a breath of sheer delight.
“How lovely it is, Teddy! I’m dying for a dance.”
“Why, here’s Manningham!” exclaimed Ted.
“Miss Bruce, I’m afraid to touch you. Are you of this sordid earth?” Mr Manningham took Betty’s programme as he spoke.
“I never saw anything so pretty as the decorations,” Betty said enthusiastically. “Isn’t the music lovely?”
“Is this your first dance?”
“Yes, but please don’t tell anyone!”
“Little Betty!” he whispered daringly, looking with admiration at the flower-like face as he returned her programme.
“Betty, let me introduce you to Captain Ford.”
Her aunt’s voice broke the spell that held her.
With a feeling of relief Betty turned from Mr Manningham’s dark, passionate face, and was soon gliding round to the strains of a haunting waltz melody.
“Enjoying yourself?” queried Molly, some time later.
“Yes, I’m having a heavenly time,” answered Betty, but in her heart was the piteous cry — “why doesn’t he come?”
John Alderstone, the young surgeon who had paid her such marked attention during her stay in Glasgow, had not appeared.
“Perhaps he didn’t mean what he said,” thought the poor child miserably.
Escaping from her partner, she left the ballroom, and seating herself on the top step of the broad staircase, she gazed dreamily down into the big hall.
Two people were there. A man and a woman.
“Lovers, probably,” thought Betty, sighing.
Suddenly her face went white. Rising painfully, she crept like a wounded thing to an empty dressing room.
“My heart is broken,” she sobbed. “He loves Molly. It’s all been a mistake. Oh! what shall I do? Are men all like that? All false and wicked?” she moaned despairingly.
She had recognised the lovers in the hall. They were Molly Gordon and Dr Alderstone.
“Teddy, for goodness sake stop eating! If you take any more trifle you’ll have apoplexy, or something equally cheerful.”
Marjory Wedderburn giggled, in spite of her efforts to be motherly. Opposite her at a small table sat her old play-fellow, Teddy Gordon.
His head was adorned with a green paper turban, on top of which waved an attenuated scarlet feather.
He looked at the piquant face reproachfully.
“I don’t come here to flirt, like you,” the feather waved mournfully towards her. “Marjory, you are breaking my heart!”
“Try some more trifle,” she recommended unkindly. “Your heart’s the unbreakable kind, Ted — sort of elastic arrangement,” she explained airily.
“I’ll have some fizz!” the youth declared with deadly determination. “It’s sure to go to my head — then you’ll be sorry when something awful happens.”
“Teddy, don’t!” said the girl beseechingly.
“Say ‘Teddy, darling,’ and I won’t,” returned the rash young man.
Marjory looked at him scornfully. His eccentric headdress had fallen rakishly to one side, obscuring his right eye. His boyish face and impertinent snub nose presented such a contrast to his tragic tones that she giggled anew.
“I may not be handsome –” the injured youth continued.
“Far from it!” murmured Marjory.
“But at least I’m not a flirt, and the way you’ve been carrying on with that idiot Thompson is simply disgraceful. Pass the fizz!”
“You’ll get no champagne here. It’s meant for men, not cheeky boys who think they’re jealous. I’ll have to go now, Ted, I’m neglecting the people upstairs shamefully.”
“You haven’t said it yet.”
“‘Teddy, darling!'” replied he solemnly.
“Diddums!” jeered the maiden.
“Wait till we’re married, miss — I’ll keep you in order.”
“Is this a proposal?” gasped Marjory.
“Certainly it is!”
She went off into a peal of helpless laughter.
“This unseemly levity in one so young –” began Teddy reprovingly, when he broke off. “Why, here comes Betty and Manningham. Come on,” he shouted; “Marjory’s had eight helpings of trifle, but there’s lots of ices left yet.”
“You fiend!” laughed Marjory, straightening the gilt paper crown on her dark curls.
“Well, young ‘un — you look pretty lively.” remarked Mr Manningham, as he got a chair for Betty.
“I am feeling a bit elevated,” admitted Ted cheerfully. “Marjory and I are betrothed.”
“I don’t think!” cried the wrathful damsel.
“We’re thinking of keeping a mangle,” Ted confided, unabashed.
Suddenly his turban was snatched off violently, and he got a smart box on the ear from a soft little hand as Marjory fled from her tormentor.
Ted grinned cheerfully, as he strolled off in quest of fresh amusements.
“Miss Bruce, you look tired,” Mr Manningham said tenderly. “Let me give you some wine.”
“No, thanks.” Betty forced a smile to her lips. “I’ll have an ice, please.”
The man gazed at her white, strained face as he served her.
“Betty,” he whispered softly, “what are you thinking about?”
“I was thinking late hours don’t suit me. I was not formed for Society.”
To her horror, the girl felt an unsurmountable lump in her throat. Tears swam in the her big blue eyes.
A merry crowd had just gone. Betty and Manningham were alone. He imprisoned her hands in his strong, warm grasp.
“Betty, dearest! I love you. I’ve adored you since the first day I saw you, you adorable baby!”
She wrenched her hands free.
“Mr Manningham! You’ve no right to speak to me like that!”
“Then give me the right. Be my wife, darling. I can give you all the pretty things you crave for – and all the love of my heart, little girl!”
Betty dabbed her eyes viciously with a wisp of lace and muslin.
“I am a woman, not a baby, Mr Manningham.”
She hoped privately he did not notice how unsteady the “woman’s” voice was. “I will marry a man for what he is, and not for what he has – if I ever marry at all.”
She rose ere he could intercept her, and hurried from the room, to find herself face to face with Dr Alderstone.
“Dr Alderstone!” she exclaimed faintly.
The young surgeon bowed stiffly, and passed on, before the unhappy girl could utter another word.
“Little spitfire!” muttered Mr Manningham, helping himself liberally to champagne. “Egad, this is an unlucky spot for proposals, judging by that young ass Gordon and your humble servant.”
He sat frowning in the deserted room.
Mrs Gordon slept peacefully in a corner of the taxi.
“Well, I must say you are a lively lot,” grumbled Ted. “I say, what happened to Alderstone? He was dancing with you, Moll. Why did he do a bunk?”
“An important case. Do stop jabbering. I’m tired to death,” replied his sister snappishly.
“Betty sat silent and miserable.
“What does it all mean?” her thoughts ran. “Everything has gone wrong, and I was so happy looking forward to the dance and seeing Jack again.”
She shivered as Ted helped her out of the taxi. A heavy shower of rain was falling. The deserted street looked dreary and ghostly.
“You do look fagged. Dances don’t agree with you, ducky,” remarked Ted, as she went wearily upstairs.
“I must go home, aunty. Mother needs me, and I begin teaching next week. There’s so much to do in the house beforehand.”
“If your mother exerted herself more, her health would be better,” answered Mrs Gordon grimly.
Her widowed sister-in-law, with her delicacy and high-strung nerves, was, in her opinion, “a poor useless piece of affectation.”
“Mother never spares herself!” cried loyal Betty. “You don’t know how much she suffers, aunty.”
Mrs Gordon sniffed audibly.
It was three weeks after the dance. They seemed long, weary weeks to proud, shy Betty.
Dr Alderstone had called once, when she was out. Charles Manningham had haunted the house.
An irresistible longing for home, to pour out her troubles to the gentle mother she adored, assailed her.
“Good-bye, aunty. I’ve had a lovely time,” said Betty the following afternoon, as she stepped into a taxi, followed by Molly.
On the way to the station she looked with compunction at her cousin’s wan face.
“I almost wish I hadn’t told these lies,” she thought remorsefully.
The next moment there was a crash, then a sickening thud. Molly found herself being hurled down, down, into darkness and agonising pain ere she lapsed into merciful oblivion.
A motor van had collided with the taxi.
Betty stood on the pavement white and dizzy. Blood flowed from a wound in her cheek. Her right side and arm felt stiff. She watched with dazed eyes the policemen busying themselves with Molly. The drivers argued fiercely.
“Is she dead?”
Her own voice startled Betty by its harsh and discordant sound.
“No, no, miss,” replied a fatherly constable soothingly.
He held Molly’s beaded purse and big muff.
“Be off!” he commanded the crowd, as it hustled and jostled round the scene of the accident.
“Miss Bruce!” exclaimed a man’s voice in amazement. Betty held her hands out imploringly.
“Oh, Jack! Don’t leave me!”
Sighing, she swayed towards him, and knew no more till she found herself in a chemist’s shop with John Alderstone bending over her.
“Where is Molly?”
“At hospital by this time.”
“And the drivers?”
“Escaped scot-free — just a few bruises.”
Dr Alderstone noticed with relief the colour coming faintly back into the girl’s cheeks and pallid lips.
“Oh, what will aunty do when she hears the dreadful news!”
Betty struggled to rise.
“Wait till I fix this ugly cut on your cheek.”
The gentle, deft fingers set to work quickly.
“We will walk there,” decided the doctor. “No more taxis for you today; the hospital is quite near.”
They set off slowly together, Betty trembled nervously as they followed a nurse up the long, airy ward with its shining, polished floor, past the beds with their quiet occupants; the gay flowers and plants.
The nurse paused at a bed round which stood a screen. A faint odour of disinfectants was in the air.
The injured girl lay motionless. Her face looked ghastly and unfamiliar under the bandaged head. Bettly knelt down and kissed the white lips.
Molly’s eyelids quivered. She tried to moisten her lips.
“Betty!” she whispered painfully.
Dr Alderstone gently put the weeping girl aside.
“Now, Miss Gordon, we can’t allow you to talk, you know,” he admonished in his kind, cheery voice.
The piteous appeal in the dark eyes made him bend down to catch the weak whisper.
“I lied to you and Betty. She loves you. I’m sorry. Forgive.”
Jack turned swiftly to Betty, a joyful light in his eyes.
“My darling,” he whispered. “Say to her — ‘we forgive you’.”
The bewildered Betty sank on her knees by the bed. Her tears fell fast as she whispered.
“Molly, we forgive you.”
“You must leave the patient now,” warned the nurse.
“She told me you were engaged to Manningham, which explained, as I thought, why you didn’t wear my roses. She might have ruined our lives,” the doctor said sternly, as they left the hospital to break the tragic news to the unsuspecting mother.
“Forgive and forget, Jack!” pleased Betty.
“Yes, I forgive her. We love one another, sweetheart, and that is all that matters,” he returned fondly.
Betty slipped a warm little hand into his, as she smiled happily through her tears. All her doubts and sorrows had vanished, dispelled by that wondrous healer, love.
Molly Gordon left her home in all the pride of health and youthful beauty. After months of pain and suffering, she returned a helpless invalid. Her domineering nature has gone. Changed and humbled by suffering, she is a marvel to those who knew her ere her life was wrecked.
Six months after the accident Betty became John Alderstone’s happy wife.
On the outbreak of the Great War, Dr Alderstone handed over his practice in Glasgow to a colleague “for the duration of the war”, and is now a surgeon in a London hospital for wounded soldiers.
Betty has no time to be lonely, in her pretty house at Kensington. An important personage by name John Alexander Alderstone, demands all her time and attention.
“Fancy, Jack!” exclaimed Mrs Alderstone one afternoon when her husband was off duty, and enjoying a cup of tea with his pretty wife. “Teddy has got orders for the front, and Marjory and he are having a war wedding!”
“Here’s happiness to them both!” said Jack as he drained his cup. But there’s only one perfect wife in the world, and she’s mine!”
Betty held up the son and heirm as she dimpled adorably.
“Kiss dadda!” she commanded.
The golden-haired baby laughed gleefully, as the doctor drew mother and child into his fond embrace.
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