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In Tune with Wedding Bells
By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2016 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
Reuben Remington came out of the drafting room with his hands full of papers and blueprints and walked the length of the big outer office toward the superintendent's room with a grin on his face, his pleasant lips puckered as with a suppressed whistle.
There was a spring in his step and a light in his eyes that was quite unwonted, and he glanced about in a friendly way toward the girls and men who were hard at work at their desks about him, which was quite different from his usual demeanor.
Reuben was tall and well built, with a grace in every movement that made people look after him as he went through a room, though his usual gravity prevented any of them from knowing him very well. He had red-gold hair that showed a tendency to curl if it was ever allowed to grow long enough to do so, and very blue eyes that looked as if they had a sunny light behind them. But he had always held his head so high and kept such a veil of reticence over the blue of his eyes that his fellow workers felt he was trying to be exclusive. He had been with the company now for almost three years, and still they hadn't quite figured him out. Of course, he wasn't a mere member of the office staff, and they did not have much contact with him, but they saw him often enough to make them curious. And sometimes at the lunch hour in the nearby restaurants the girls talked him over. The men didn't need to. They were not so curious and not so self-conscious. He was just another fellow working hard, and they were fairly friendly with him and let it go at that.
But there was something different today about Reuben as he walked across that room, and they all looked up and noticed it.
"What's gotten into our friend Mr. Gravity?" whispered Evelyn Howe to Wilda Murdock, who was working at the next typewriter. "He looks as merry as a lark. See his eyes twinkle? He certainly is in high feather. He almost looks as if he might expect one to say good morning to him. I wonder what happened?"
"Why, don't you know?" said Wilda, watching the young man furtively from her distance. "He's on vacation tomorrow. Going away somewhere. It's the first vacation he's had since he's been here. The first year, of course, he didn't get any. They never do, starting, you know. And last year there was such a rush they needed him, and he stayed. He's that kind, you know. Always eating up work. Wanted the experience, I heard someone say. I wonder where he's going?"
"Probably home to his mother," said Evelyn. "That solemn kind are always mother-boys."
"No," said Wilda, shaking her head. "I heard his mother was dead. Ward Rand was talking to the superintendent one day and I overheard him say his father died when he was only a kid, and his mother just before he came here. Maybe that's what gave him such a grave look."
"Maybe he's got a girl somewhere," said Evelyn. "He's likely going to see her. Perhaps he's going to be married. That's likely it! That'll mean we'll have to scratch around and get a wedding present for him. Though I don't know why we should. He's not in our department, and he's never tried to be in the least friendly with us."
"He's awfully young, isn't he?" said Wilda.
"Oh, he's not so young as he looks, probably. Seems as if he must be older than he looks to have accumulated all that dignity," said Evelyn, folding circulars skillfully and deftly sliding them into the stacks of envelopes she had just typed with addresses. "Have you got all your envelopes addressed, Wilda?"
"No, I've got another coupla hundred. There! There he comes back! He didn't stay long this time. He's making business snappy. Say, I wonder if he might be going down to the shore to the house party the boss's daughter is giving this weekend? I saw her talking to him the other day. Mr. Rand introduced them when I was in there taking dictation. I wouldn't put it past her to ask him. She's rather democratic, you know. And now since he's got this raise it brings him somewhat within her range."
"I wouldn't be surprised," said Evelyn grimly. "He's terribly good-looking, of course. Watch him now. He walks like a prince, and Anise Glinden always was noted for getting good-looking men around her."
"Yes," said Wilda enviously. "She can get everything she wants. I suppose he wouldn't dare decline her invitation even if he did have another girl somewhere. He might lose his job if he did. They say she's awfully vindictive."
"Oh, maybe not!" said Evelyn wearily. "I've heard she's very pleasant sometimes. There! He's coming down this aisle. You better get to work, lady. Mr. Rand is with him, and he doesn't hesitate to tell us off if he thinks any of us is loafing on the job."
There was silence at once as the two men walked down the aisle past them, both rather preoccupied with their own conversation.
Then suddenly, just ahead of them, the girl to the right, the third from the front of the room, slumped over her machine, her inert hands and arms sliding off the keyboard of her machine and drooping at her sides, her whole slim young body collapsing into unconsciousness.
Both men saw it at once, and both started toward her, but it was Reuben Remington who reached her first and caught her as she was about to slide from her chair to the floor.
"Lay her down," directed the manager, coming nearer and moving the chair out of the way. "Flat on her back. She's fainted. That will be best. Somebody bring some water. Quick!"
Half a dozen flew to obey the command, and the other girls started from their places and came nearer to see. But the manager waved them back.
"Give her room to breathe," he said sharply. "Call the doctor. He ought to be in his office now at this hour."
"I just called," said one of the office boys. "He's busy. A man got hurt in the machine shop and he's dressing his cuts. They say he can't come just now."
"Well, get another doctor!" said the manager. "Where's Miss Stanton, the nurse? Isn't she around?"
"She's up in the infirmary helping Doc," said the office boy in a reproving tone, as if he hadn't already thought of that possibility and acted on it.
"Well, hasn't anybody got a restorative? How about that aromatic ammonia you had around here the other day? Hasn't anybody got a flask or something?"
One of the girls produced a small bottle of aromatic ammonia, and dousing it on a handkerchief, Reuben held it under the girl's nostrils.
The girl's lips quivered and she drew a trembling breath as if it were almost too much effort, but the waxen eyelids remained closed, and the girl was far from conscious.
The manager watched her for an instant, and then he began to issue orders again.
"Telephone the nearest hospital. Tell them we need a nurse, too. Tell them to send an ambulance and a doctor. We must get her to the hospital as soon as possible. Do any of you girls know where her relatives are to be found?"
"I don't think she has any family," volunteered Evelyn Howe.
"Yes, she has," said Wilda Murdock. "I heard her say she had a little brother."
"Somebody go look at the record. That ought to tell us something. She must have told who to call in case of an accident when she registered. However, she'll have to go to the hospital in any case. We can't waste time. We can look up her family later. Who took this girl's registration?"
Suddenly the girl on the floor stirred, and her eyelids fluttered partly open. A troubled look passed over her face like a swift-moving cloud. Her pale lips formed a single word, though there seemed no voice behind it to make it audible.
Reuben was still on his knees beside her, wafting the handkerchief wet with ammonia before her face. He stooped a listening ear, watching the lips.
"No? Did you say 'no'?" he asked in a quiet tone.
The girl's eyes flew open for an instant–sad, pleading, anguished–and gave assent to his question.
"No, what?" asked Reuben.
"No hospital–" the pale lips uttered, the voice very faint but vehement. "I can't–go. I'll–be–all–right–" And then her breath deserted her, and it looked as if she was about to pass out again.
"Here!" said Reuben, reaching toward a glass of water that someone had brought. "Take a sip of this." And he slipped his arm under her neck and lifted her head a little, holding the glass to her lips. She swallowed a few drops.
The manager gave a decided order for the hospital ambulance in a low tone, but the girl's hearing was sharp now, and she opened troubled eyes toward him and shook her head.
"No!" she said faintly. "No!" But the manager gave his messenger a knowing nod and motioned him away and then turned back and spoke to Reuben in a low tone.
"Would you have time before your train to stick around and see this girl located? I have an important conference with a man from Chicago in five minutes and I ought to be in my office at once."
Reuben looked up with quick assent and found the girl's troubled eyes upon him with pleading in them. He flashed her a reassuring smile and laid her head gently down on the folded coat that Evelyn had slipped under her head.
"Of course, you'll make them all understand that the company will be behind whatever seems best to be done," said the manager.
Reuben gave another grave nod of his head and then wet the handkerchief with another douse of ammonia, and the girl seemed to gather in new strength from the breath of it.
"I–think–I could get up–now —" she said slowly.
"No!" said Reuben. "You're lying still till the nurse gets here. We don't want to take any chances." His voice was firmly kind, but there was a hint of a smile in his eyes.
She studied him for a moment, and then, as she noticed that the group of observers was mostly gone, she steadied her voice and said softly: "I'd like–to make you understand —" Her eyes were very pleading.
"Yes?" said Reuben. "I'll understand."
"I–couldn't go to the hospital!" she went on. "I must go home! Put me in a taxi and I'll get home."
"Where is your home?" asked Reuben, getting out pencil and notebook swiftly from his breast pocket.
His tone was businesslike, and the girl murmured a street address gratefully. "Third floor, back," she said.
"Is there a telephone there?"
"No," she said sadly.
"Well, who is there? Any of your family?"
"Just–my little brother–" she said in a tone of anguish.
"Oh, don't worry!" said Reuben smiling. "He'll be all right. Boys always get along all right. I'll see that he understands and doesn't worry."
"But"–a wave of almost terror passed over the girl's white face–"but he's only five years old, and there isn't a thing in the room to eat!"
"Oh, that's different!" said Reuben, suppressing an involuntary whistle. "Well, now don't you worry the least bit. I'll look after the kid. I give you my word of honor. Kids and I always get on. We'll be buddies till you get back."
"That's kind of you–" she murmured with an effort, "but I can't let you do that. You have your work. This is mine, and I must attend to it."
There was a sweet dignity about her even in her weakness that made Reuben look at her with respect.
"Well, but look here, sister, you are sick and not able to carry on just now. I'm sorry, but I guess you'll have to trust me."
"Oh, it isn't that!" said the girl desperately. "You don't understand. He's only five, and you have a big job here. You can't leave your job and look after my brother all day!"
"Well, you see, sister, I happen to be going on vacation tomorrow, a whole month, and I'll have plenty of leisure on my hands. Besides, who looks after him while you are off at work?"
"I take him to the day nursery before I come. They bring him back at five."
"That sounds easy enough, and if worse comes to worst, I guess I'm as good as a day nursery any day. Now, look here, sister, when did you have your lunch?"
"She didn't go out for lunch today," said Evelyn Howe, who was standing by. "She hardly ever does."
"I'm never hungry at noontime," said the girl on the floor apologetically.
"I thought so," uttered Reuben under his breath. "Look here, sister, that's no way to look after a little brother. A dead sister isn't much protection against the world. Now listen, this has got to stop right here, and you've got to get fit to carry on your job. Sammy," he said to the office boy across the aisle, "run down to the restaurant hot foot before that ambulance gets here, and bring me up a cup of hot tea and some toast. Or would you rather have coffee?" He turned to the sick girl, but she shook her head.
"Tea," she said breathlessly.
"All right, Sammy, tea it is, and maybe a glass of milk, and make it snappy. It's on the boss. He put me in charge."
The girl gasped and looked troubled.
"I–mustn't–lose my job!" she said desperately.
"I give you my word you won't lose your job for this," said Reuben with a restful smile. "Boys, what's the matter with bringing in that little couch from the break room?"
The girl put on a look of protest, but the two young men hurried away and presently returned with a small couch from the nearby break room. Reuben promptly lifted the girl upon it. The tray was on hand almost at once, and Reuben lifted the girl's head and held the cup of hot tea for her to drink.
A few swallows and the color began to steal slowly back to her white face. Reuben knelt there beside the couch feeding her bits of toast.
While she was eating, the hall door swung open and a doctor and nurse entered, followed by two orderlies carrying a stretcher, but the girl was lying with her face away from the door and did not see them until they were upon her.
"Oh!" she said, sitting up suddenly as she recognized what they were. "I don't need a doctor. I'm quite all right now. I–shouldn't have tried to work so long–without food."
"No, that never pays," said the doctor's grave voice. "Lie down, won't you, till I see what condition your heart is in. Nurse, get the temperature and pulse." The girl fell back on the couch with a look of despair as the doctor got out his stethoscope and made his examination. The typists in the big office ceased their copying and were quietly at some other service for the moment. It was very still in the big room, while the workers watched furtively the quiet girl who had come among them so unobtrusively, a few months before.
It was over very quickly, and the girl was transferred to the stretcher, the orderlies lifting it and carrying her from the office. Then behind the swinging doors that shut her out from them, all their tongues began to buzz.
"Well, I thought there was something strange about her, her color was so pasty," said Norah Whately. "I wonder what she's saving money for?"
"Didn't you hear?" said Peg Howard. "She's got a young brother to support, I suppose. Poor thing! If she'd been a little less closemouthed, we might have helped her some."
But out in the hall waiting for the freight elevator, the girl on the stretcher was much excited. By a supreme effort she lifted herself to a sitting posture, then tried to stand, till the intern gently pressed her back to the cot again.
"Lady, you must lie still if you don't want to pass out on the way to the hospital."
"But–I must go–home. I cannot leave–my little — brother alone! He will not under–stand!"
Her breath was very short. She could scarcely make her words heard. Except for her excitement she would not have been able to speak above a whisper.
"Now, look here, girlie!" said the handsome young intern, holding her firmly down to her cot and speaking with command in his voice. "This gentleman here is going to look after that brother of yours, and everything is going to be all right. You've got to go to the hospital at once, see?" And he smiled amiably at her.
She gave him a frightened look, and her glance hurried around the group beside her till she found Reuben. So eagerly her eyes spoke to him that he answered her at once by stepping to her side, stooping to speak in a low tone.
"It's all right, sister," he said reassuringly. "I've got the address, number Ten-Seventeen North Fresco Street, third floor, back. Is that right? And the boy's name is Noel Guthrie? Is he there now? Not till five fifteen?"
Reuben glanced at his watch.
Excerpted from In Tune with Wedding Bells by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2016 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
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