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BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON
Strange Adventures in a Great City
ALICE B. EMERSON
I THE GORED COW
II HOSPITALITY UNDER DIFFICULTIES
III BOB HAS GREAT NEWS
IV AT THE VENDUE
VI THE RUNAWAY MISSED
VII A BELATED LETTER
VIII GOOD-BY TO BRAMBLE FARM
IX NEW FRIENDS
X FELLOW TRAVELERS
XI A SERIOUS MIX-UP
XII STRAIGHTENING THINGS OUT
XIII WASHINGTON MONUMENT
XIV LIBBIE IS ROMANTIC
XV OFF TO INVESTIGATE
XVI WHAT HALE HAD TO TELL
XVII MORE SIGHTSEEING
XVIII BETTY UNDERSTANDS
XIX AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
XX MUTUAL CONFIDENCES
XXI THE ACCIDENT
XXII BEING RESCUED
XXIII ANOTHER RESCUE
XXIV BOB IS CLEARED
XXV FUTURE PLANS
BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON
THE GORED COW
For lack of a better listener, Betty Gordon addressed the saucy little chipmunk that sat on the top rail of the old worn fence and stared at her with bright, unwinking eyes.
“It is the loveliest vase you ever saw,” said Betty, busily sorting the tangled mass of grasses and flowers in her lap. “Heavy old colonial glass, you know, plain, but with beautiful lines.”
The chipmunk continued to regard her gravely.
“I found it this morning when I was helping Mrs. Peabody clean the kitchen closet shelves,” the girl went on, her slim fingers selecting and discarding slender stems with fascinating quickness. “It was on the very last shelf, and was covered with dust. I washed it, and we’re going to have it on the supper table to-night with this bouquet in it. There! don’t you think that’s pretty?”
She held out the flowers deftly arranged and surveyed them proudly. The chipmunk cocked his brown head and seemed to be withholding his opinion.
Betty put the bouquet carefully down on the grass beside her and stretched the length of her trim, graceful self on the turf, burying her face luxuriously in the warm dry “second crop” of hay that had been raked into a thin pile under the pin oak and left there forgotten. Presently she rolled over and lay flat on her back, studying the lazy clouds that drifted across the very blue sky.
“I’d like to be up in an airplane,” she murmured drowsily, her eyelids drooping. “I’d sail right into a cloud and see–What was that?”
She sat up with a jerk that sent the hitherto motionless chipmunk scurrying indignantly up the nearest tree, there to sit and shake his head angrily at her.
“Sounds like Bob!” said Betty to herself. “My goodness, that was Mr. Peabody–they must be having an awful quarrel!”
The voices and shouts came from the next field, separated from her by a brook, almost dry now, and a border of crooked young willow trees grown together in an effective windbreak.
“Anybody who’ll gore a cow like that isn’t fit to own a single dumb creature!” A clear young voice shaking with passion was carried by the wind to the listening girl.
“When I need a blithering, no-‘count upstart to teach me my business, I’ll call on you and not before,” a deeper, harsh voice snarled. “When you’re farming for yourself you can feed the neighbors’ critters on your corn all you’ve a mind to!”
“Oh, dear!” Betty scrambled to her feet, forgetting the bouquet so carefully culled, and darted in the direction of the willow hedge. “I do hope Mr. Peabody hasn’t been cruel to an animal. Bob is always so furious when he catches him at that!”
She crossed the puttering little brook by the simple expedient of jumping from one bank to the other and scrambled through the willow trees, emerging, flushed and anxious-eyed, to confront a boy about fourteen years old in a torn straw hat and faded overalls and a tall, lean middle-aged man with a pitchfork in his hands.
“Well?” the latter grunted, as Betty glanced fearfully at him. “What did you come for? I suppose you think two rows of corn down flat is something to snicker at?”
They stood on the edge of a flourishing field of corn, and, following the direction of Mr. Peabody’s accusing finger, Betty Gordon saw that two fine rows had been partially eaten and trampled.
“Oh, that’s too bad!” she said impulsively, “What did it–a stray cow?”
“Keppler’s black and white heifer,” answered Mr. Peabody grimly. “Bob here is finding fault with me because I didn’t let it eat its head off.”
“No such thing!” Bob Henderson was stung into speech. “Because the poor creature didn’t get out fast enough to suit you–and you bewildered her with your shouting till she didn’t know which way to turn–you jabbed her with the pitchfork. I saw the blood! And I say nobody but an out and out coward would do a thing like that to a dumb animal.”
“Oh!” breathed Betty again, softly. “How could you!”
“Now I’ve heard about enough of that!” retorted Mr. Peabody angrily. “If you’d both attend to your own business and leave me to mind mine, we’d save a lot of time. You, Bob, go let down the bars and turn that critter into the road. Maybe Keppler will wake up and repair his fences after all his stock runs off. You’d better help him, Betty. He might step on a grub-worm if you don’t go along to watch him!”
Bob strode off, kicking stones as he went, and Betty followed silently. She helped him lower the bars and drive the cow into the road, then put the bars in place again.
“Where are you going?” she ventured in surprise, as Bob moodily trudged after the animal wending an erratic way down the road.
“Going to take her home,” snapped Bob, “Peabody would like to see Keppler have to get her out of the pound, but I’ll save him that trouble. You can go on back and read your book.”
“Just because you’re mad at Mr. Peabody is no reason why you should be cross to me,” said Betty with spirit. “I wasn’t reading a book, and I’m coming with you. So there!”
Bob laughed and told her to “come on.” He was seldom out of sorts long. Indeed, of the two, Betty had the quicker temper and cherished a grudge more enduringly.
“Just the same, Betty,” Bob announced, as he skillfully persuaded the cow to forego the delights of a section of particularly sweet grass and proceed on her course, “I’m about through. I can’t stand it much longer; and lately I’ve been afraid that in a rage I might strike Mr. Peabody with something and either kill him or hurt him badly. Of course, I wouldn’t do it if I stopped to think, but when he gets me furious as he did to-day, I don’t stop to think.”
“Well, for mercy’s sake, Bob Henderson,” ejaculated Betty in an instant alarm, “don’t kill him, whatever you do. Then you’d be put in prison for life!”
“All right,” agreed Bob equably, “I won’t kill him–just nick him in a few places–how will that do?”
“But I’m really serious,” insisted Betty. “Don’t let the cow turn up that lane. Think how awful you would feel if you were sent to prison, Bob.”
Bob took refuge in a masculine stronghold.
“If that isn’t just like a girl!” he said scornfully. “Who said I was going to prison? I merely say I don’t want to lose my temper and do something rash, and you have me convicted and sentenced for life. Gee, Betty, have a little mercy!”
Betty’s lips trembled.
“I can’t bear to think of you going away and leaving me here,” she faltered. “I’m not going to stay either, Bob, not one minute after I hear from Uncle Dick. I’m sure if the Benders knew how things were going, they would think we had a right to leave. I had the loveliest letter from Mrs. Bender this morning–but it had been opened.”
Bob switched an unoffending flower head savagely.
“You come out of that!” he shouted to the perverse cow that seemed determined to turn to the left when she was plainly asked to turn to the right. “Wait a minute, Betty; here’s Fred Keppler.”
The half-grown boy who accosted them with “What are you doing with our cow?” grinned fatuously at Betty, showing several gaps in a row of fine teeth.
“Keep your cow at home where she belongs,” directed Bob magnificently. “She’s been making her dinner off our corn.”
“Oh, gee,” sighed the boy nervously. “I’ll bet old Peabody was in a tearing fury. Look, Bob, something’s tore her hide! She must have been down in the blackberry bushes along the brook.”
“Well, see that it doesn’t happen again,” commanded Bob, gracefully withdrawing by walking backward. “Corn that’s as high as ours is worth something, you know.”
“You never told him about the pitchfork,” said Betty accusingly, as soon as Fred Keppler and the cow were out of earshot. “You let him think it was blackberry bushes that scratched her like that.”
“Well, his father will know the difference,” grinned Bob cheerfully. “Why should I start an argument with Fred? Saving the cow from the pound ought to be enough, anyway. Mr. Keppler has had to buy more than one animal out before this; he will not pay attention to his fences.”
Betty sat down on a broad boulder and leaned up against an old hickory tree.
“Stone in my shoe,” she said briefly. “You’ll have to wait just a minute, Bob.”
Bob sat down on the grass and began to hunt for four leaf clovers, an occupation of which he never tired.
“Do you think Mr. Peabody opened your letter?” he asked abruptly.
Betty paused in the operation of untying her shoe.
“Who else would?” she said thoughtfully. “It wasn’t even pasted together again, but slit across one end, showing that whoever did it didn’t care whether I noticed it or not. I’ll never mail another letter from that box. I’ll walk to Glenside three times a day first!”
“Well, the only thing to do is to clear out,” said Bob firmly. “You’ll have to wait till you hear from your uncle, or at least till the Benders get back. We promised, you know, that we wouldn’t run away without telling them, or if there wasn’t time, writing to them and saying where we go. That shows, I think, that they suspected things might get too hot to be endured.”
“I simply must get a letter from Uncle Dick or go crazy,” sighed Betty feverishly. She put on her shoe and stood up. “I wish he would come for me himself and see how horrid everything is.”
HOSPITALITY UNDER DIFFICULTIES
Betty Gordon had come to Bramble Farm, as Mr. Peabody’s home was known, early in the summer to stay until her uncle, Richard Gordon, should be able to establish a home for her, or at least know enough of his future plans to have Betty travel with him. He was interested in mines and oil wells, and his business took him all over the country.
Betty was an orphan, and this Uncle Dick was her only living relative. He came to her in Pineville after her mother’s death and when the friends with whom she had been staying decided to go to California. He remembered Mrs. Peabody, an old school friend, and suggested that Betty might enjoy a summer spent on a farm. These events are related in the first book of this series, called “Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm.”
That story tells how Betty came to the farm to find Joseph Peabody a domineering, pitiless miser, his wife Agatha, a drab woman crushed in spirit, and Bob Henderson, the “poorhouse rat,” a bright intelligent lad whom the Peabodys had taken from the local almshouse for his board and clothes. Betty Gordon found life at Bramble Farm very different from the picture she and her uncle had drawn in imagination, and only the fact that her uncle’s absence in the oil fields had prevented easy communication with him had held her through the summer.
Once, indeed, she had run away, but circumstances had brought her and Bob to the pleasant home of the town police recorder, and Mr. and Mrs. Bender had proved themselves true and steadfast friends to the boy and girl who stood sorely in need of friendship. It was the Benders who had exacted a promise from both Bob and Betty that they would not run away from Bramble Farm without letting them know.
Betty had been instrumental in causing the arrest of two men who had stolen chickens from the Peabody farm, and at the hearing before the recorder something of Mr. Peabody’s characteristics and of the conditions at Bramble Farm had been revealed.
Anxious to have Betty and Bob return, Joseph Peabody had practically agreed to treat them more humanely, and for a few weeks, during which the Benders had gone away for their annual vacation, matters at Bramble Farm had in the main improved. But they were gradually slipping back to the old level, and this morning, when Peabody had gored the cow with his pitchfork, Bob had thought disgustedly that it was useless to expect anything good at the hands of the owner of Bramble Farm.
As he and Betty tramped back after delivering the cow, Bob’s mind was busy with plans that would free him from Mr. Peabody and set him forward on the road that led to fortune. Bob included making a fortune in his life work, having a shrewd idea that money rightly used was a good gift.
“Where do you suppose your uncle is?” he asked Betty, coming out of a reverie wherein he bade Bramble Farm and all the dwellers there with a single exception a cold and haughty farewell.
“Why, I imagine he is in Washington,” returned Betty confidently. “His last letter was from there, though two days ago a postal came from Philadelphia. I think likely he went up to see his lawyer and get his mail. You know it was held there while he was out West. I hope he has all my letters now, and last night I wrote him another, asking him if I couldn’t leave here. I said I’d rather go to the strictest kind of a boarding school; and so I would. I’ll mail the letter this afternoon in Glenside.”
“It’s too long a walk for you to take on a hot afternoon,” grumbled Bob. “I’m going over to Trowbridge, and I’ll mail it there for you.”
Betty pulled the letter from her blouse pocket and handed it to him.
“Where’s Trowbridge?” she asked, as they came in sight of the boundary line of Bramble Farm and sighted Mr. Peabody in conversation with the mail carrier at the head of the lane. “Can I go with you?”
“We’d better hurry,” suggested Bob, quickening his steps. “Trowbridge is four miles beyond Laurel Grove. You’ve never been there. No, you can’t go, Betty, because I have to ride the sorrel. I suppose in time old Peabody will buy another wagon, but no one can tell when that will come to pass.”
The wagon house had burned one night, and the master of Bramble Farm could not bring himself to pay out the cash for even a secondhand wagon. As a result, the always limited social activities of the farm were curtailed to the vanishing point.
“What are you going for?” persisted Betty, who had her fair share of feminine curiosity with the additional excuse that interesting events were few and far between in her present everyday life.
“Going to a vendue,” he announced. “Now how much do you know?”
Betty tossed her head, and elevated her small, freckled nose.
“A vendue?” she repeated. “Why, a vendue is a–a–what is it, Bob?”
“A sale,” said Bob. “Some farmer is going to sell out and Peabody wants a wagon. So I have to ride that horse fourteen miles and back –and he has a backbone like a razor blade!–to buy a wagon; that is, if no one bids over me.”
“And Mr. Peabody won’t pay more than six dollars; he said so at the supper table last night,” mourned Betty. “You’ll never be able to buy a wagon for that. I wish I could go, too. Bob, I never saw a country vendue. Please, can’t I?”
“You cannot,” replied Bob with unaccustomed decision. Betty usually wheedled him into granting her requests. “Haven’t I just told you there is nothing to go in? If you see yourself perched on that raw-boned nag with me, I don’t, that’s all. But I tell you what; there’s a sale to-morrow at a farm this side of Glenside–I’ll take you to that, if you like. I guess Peabody will let me off, seeing as how there are wagons advertised. We can easily walk to Faulkner’s place.”
This promise contented Betty, and she ate her dinner quietly. Bob rode off on the old horse directly after dinner, and then for the first time Betty noticed that Mrs. Peabody seemed worried about something.
“Don’t you feel well? Won’t you go upstairs and lie down and let me do the dishes?” urged the girl. “Do, Mrs. Peabody. You can have a nice, long rest before it’s time to feed the chickens.”
“I feel all right,” said Mrs. Peabody dully. “Only–well, I found this card from the new minister back of the pump this morning. It’s a week old, and he says he’s coming out to call this afternoon. There’s no place in the house I can show him, and I haven’t got a decent dress, either.”
Betty swallowed her first impulse to say what she thought of a husband who would make no effort to see that his wife received her mail, and instead turned her practical mind to consideration of the immediate moment. The so-called parlor was hopeless she knew, and she dismissed it from the list of possibilities at once. It was a sparsely furnished, gloomy room, damp and musty from being tightly closed all summer, and the unpainted, rough boards had never been carpeted.
“There’s the porch,” said Betty suddenly. “Luckily that’s shady in the afternoon, and we can bring out the best things to make it look used. You let me fix it, Mrs. Peabody. And you can wear–let me see, what can you wear?”
Mrs. Peabody waited patiently, her eyes mirroring her explicit faith in Betty’s planning powers.
“Your white shirtwaist and skirt,” announced the girl at length. “They’re both clean, aren’t they? I thought so. Well, I’ll lend you a ribbon girdle, and you can turn in the high neck so it will be more in style. You’ll see, it will look all right.”
While Mrs. Peabody washed her dishes with more energy than usual because she had a definite interest in the coming hours, Betty flew to the shabby room that was titled by courtesy the parlor. She flung up the windows and opened the blinds recklessly. She would take only the plain wooden chair and the two rockers, she decided, for the stuffed plush furniture would look ridiculous masquerading as summer furnishings. The sturdy, square table would fit into her scheme, and also the small rug before the blackened fireplace.
She dashed back to the kitchen and grabbed the broom. She did not dare scrub the porch floor for fear that it would not dry in time, but she swept it carefully and spread down the rug. Then one by one, and making a separate trip each time, she carried out the table and the chairs. With a passing sigh for the bouquet abandoned in the field and probably withered by this time, she managed to get enough flowers from the overgrown neglected garden near the house to fill the really lovely colonial glass vase she had discovered that morning.
“It looks real pretty,” pronounced Mrs. Peabody, when she was brought out to see the transformed corner of the porch. “Looks as if we used it regular every afternoon, doesn’t it? Do you think it will be all right not to ask him in, Betty?”
“Of course,” said Betty stoutly. “Don’t dare ask him in! If he wants a drink of water, call me, and I’ll get it for him. You must be sitting in your chair reading a magazine when he comes and he’ll think you always spend your afternoons like that.”
“I’ll hurry and get dressed,” agreed Mrs. Peabody, giving a last satisfied glance at the porch. “I declare, I never saw your beat, Betty, for making things look pretty.”
Betty needed that encouragement, for when it came to making Mrs. Peabody look pretty in the voluminous white skirt and stiff shirtwaist of ten years past, the task seemed positively hopeless. Betty, however, was not one to give in easily, and when she had brushed and pinned her hostess’s thin hair as softly as she could arrange it, and had turned in the high collar of her blouse and pinned it with a cameo pin, the one fine thing remaining to Mrs. Peabody from her wedding outfit, adding a soft silk girdle of gray-blue, she knew the improvement was marked. Mrs. Peabody stared at herself in the glass contentedly.
“I didn’t know I could look that nice,” she said with a candor at once pathetic and naive. “I’ve been wishing he wouldn’t come, but now I kinda hope he will.”
Betty gently propelled her to the porch and established her in one of the rocking chairs with a magazine to give her an air of leisure.
“You’ll come and talk to him, won’t you?” urged Mrs. Peabody anxiously. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen a stranger I won’t know what to say.”
“Yes, you will,” Betty assured her “I’ll come out after you’ve talked a little while. He won’t stay long, I imagine, because he will probably have a number of calls to pay.”
“Well, I hope Joseph stays out of sight,” remarked Joseph Peabody’s wife frankly. “Of course, in time the new minister will know him as well as the old one did; but I would like to have him call on me like other parishioners first.”
BOB HAS GREAT NEWS
The new minister proved to be a gentle old man, evidently retired to a country charge and, in his way, quite as diffident as Mrs. Peabody. He was apparently charmed to be entertained on the porch, and saw nothing wrong with the neglected house and grounds. His near-sighted eyes, beaming with kindness and good-will, apparently took comfort and serenity for granted, and when Betty came out half an hour after his arrival, carrying a little tray of lemonade and cakes, he was deep in a recital of the first charge he had held upon his graduation from the theological seminary forty years before.
“There, that’s over!” sighed Mrs. Peabody, quite like the experienced hostess, when the minister’s shabby black buggy was well on its way out of the lane. “You’re dreadful good, Betty, to help me through with it. He won’t come again for another six months–it takes him that long to cover his parish, the farms are so far apart. Let me help you carry back the chairs.”
Betty longed to suggest that they leave them out and use the porch as an outdoor sitting room, but she knew that such an idea would be sure to meet with active opposition from the master of Bramble Farm. Long before he came in to supper that night the chairs had been restored to their proper places and Mrs. Peabody had resumed the gray wrapper she habitually wore. Only the vase of flowers on the table was left to show that the afternoon had been slightly out of the ordinary. That and the tray of glasses Betty had unfortunately left on the draining board of the sink, intending to wash them with the supper dishes.
“Whose glasses, and what’s been in ’em?” demanded Mr. Peabody suspiciously. “There’s sugar in the bottom of one of ’em. You haven’t been making lemonade?” He turned to his wife accusingly.
Bob had not come home yet, and there was only Ethan, the hired man, Betty, and the Peabodys at the supper table.
“I made lemonade,” said Betty quietly. “Those are my own glasses I bought in Glenside, and the sugar and lemons were mine, too. So were the cakes.”
This silenced Peabody, for he knew that Betty’s uncle sent her money from time to time, and though he fairly writhed to think that she Could spend it so foolishly, he could not interfere.
As soon as it was dark the Peabody household retired, to save lighting lamps, and this evening was no exception. Betty learned from a stray question Mrs. Peabody put to Ethan, the hired man, that Bob was not expected home until ten or eleven o’clock. There was no thought of sitting up for him, though Betty knew that in all likelihood he would have had no supper, having no money and knowing no one in Trowbridge.
She was not sleepy, and having brushed and braided her hair for the night, she threw her sweater over her dressing gown and sat down at the window of her room, a tin of sardines and a box of crackers in her lap, determined to see to it that Bob had something to eat.
There was a full moon, and the road lay like a white ribbon between the silver fields. Betty could follow the lane road out to where it met the main highway, and now and then the sound of an automobile horn came to her and she saw a car speed by on the main road. Sitting there in the sweet stillness of the summer night, she thought of her mother, of the old friends in Pineville, and, of course, of her uncle. She wondered where he was that night, if he thought of her, and what would be his answer to her letter.
“Is that a horse?” said Betty to herself, breaking off her reverie abruptly. “Hark! that sounds like a trotting horse.”
She was sure that she could make out the outlines of a horse and rider on the main road, but it was several minutes before she was positive that it had turned into the lane. Yes, it must be Bob. No one else would be out riding at that hour of the night. Betty glanced at her wrist-watch–half-past ten.
The rhythmic beat of the horse’s hoofs sounded more plainly, and soon Betty heard the sound of singing. Bob was moved to song in that lovely moonlight, as his sorry mount was urged to unaccustomed spirit and a feeling of freedom.
“When in thy dreaming,
moons like these shall shine again, And, daylight beaming,
prove thy dreams are vain.”
Bob’s fresh, untrained voice sounded sweet and clear on the night air, and to Betty’s surprise, tears came unbidden into her eyes. She was not given to analysis.
“Moonlight always makes me want to cry,” she murmured, dashing the drops from her eyes. “I hope Bob will look up and know that I’m at the window. I don’t dare call to him.”
But Bob, who had stopped singing while still some distance from the house, clattered straight to the barn.
Betty hurried over to her lamp, lit it, and set it on the window sill.
“He’ll see it from the barn,” she argued wisely, “and know that I am not asleep.”
Her reasoning proved correct, for in a few minutes a well-known whistle sounded below her window. She blew out the light and leaned out.
“Oh, Betty!” Bob’s tone was one of repressed excitement. “I’ve got something great to tell you.”
“Have you had any supper?” demanded Betty, more concerned with that question than with any news. “I’ve something for you, if you’re hungry.”
“Hungry? Gee, I’m starved!” was the response. “I didn’t dare stop to ask for a meal anywhere, because I knew I’d be late getting home as it was. The horse was never cut out for a saddle horse; I’m so stiff I don’t believe I can move to-morrow. Where’s the eats?”
“Here. I’ll let it down in a moment,” answered Betty, tying a string to the parcel. “Sorry it isn’t more, Bob, but the larder’s getting low again.”
Bob untied the can and cracker box she lowered to him, and Betty pulled in the string to be preserved for future use.
“Thanks, awfully,” said Bob. “You’re a brick, Betty. And, say, what do you think I heard over in Trowbridge?”
“Don’t talk so loud!” cautioned Betty. “What, Bob?”
“Why, the poorhouse farm is this side of the town,” said Bob, munching a cracker with liveliest manifestations of appreciation. “Coming back to-night–that’s what made me late–Jim Turner, who’s poormaster now, called me in. Said he had something to tell me. It seems there was a queer old duffer spent one night there a while back –Jim thought it must have been a month ago. He has a secondhand bookshop in Washington, and he came to the poorhouse to look at some old books they have there–thought they might be valuable. They opened all the records to him, and Jim says he was quite interested when he came to my mother’s name. Asked a lot of questions about her and wanted to see me. Jim said he was as queer as could be, and all they could get out of him was that maybe he could tell me something to interest me. He wouldn’t give any of the poorhouse authorities an inkling of what he knew, and insisted that he’d have to see me first.”
“Where is he?” demanded Betty energetically. “I hope you didn’t come away without seeing him, Bob. What’s his name? How does he look?”
“His name,” said Bob slowly, “is Lockwood Hale. And he went back to Washington the next day.”
Betty’s air castles tumbled with a sickening slump.
“Bob Henderson!” she cried, remembering, however, to keep her voice low. “The idea! Do you mean to tell me they let that man go without notifying you? Why I never heard of anything so mean!”
“Oh, I’m not important,” explained Bob, quite without bitterness. “Poorhouse heads don’t put themselves out much for those under ’em –though Jim Turner’s always treated me fair enough. But Lockwood Hale had to go back to Washington the next day, Betty. There honestly wasn’t time to send for me.”
“Perhaps they gave him your address,” said Betty hopefully. “But, oh, Bob, you say he was there a month ago?”
Bob nodded unhappily.
“He hasn’t my address,” he admitted. “Jim says he meant to give it to him, but the old fellow left suddenly without saying a word to any one. Jim thought maybe he had the name in mind and would write anyway. I’d get it, you know, if it went to the poorhouse. But I guess Hale’s memory is like a ragbag–stuffed with odds and ends that he can’t get hold of when he wants ’em. No, Betty, I guess the only thing for me to do is to go to Washington.”
“Well, if you don’t go to bed, young man, I’ll come down there and help you along,” an angry whisper came from the little window up under the roof. “You’ve been babbling and babbling steady for half an hour,” grumbled the annoyed Ethan. “How do you expect me to get any sleep with that racket going on? Come on up to bed before the old man wakes up.”
Thankful that it was Ethan instead of Mr. Peabody, Bob gathered up his sardines and the remnants of the crackers and tiptoed up the attic stairs to the room he shared with the hired man.
Betty hastily slipped into bed, and though Bob’s news had excited her, she was tired enough to fall asleep readily.
In the morning she watched her chance to speak to Bob alone, and when she heard him grinding a sickle in the toolhouse ran out to tell him something.
“You must let me lend you some money, Bob,” she said earnestly. “I know you haven’t enough to go to Washington on. I’ve been saving, thanks to your advice, and I have more than I need. Besides, I could borrow from the Guerins or the Benders. You will take some, won’t you?”
“I have enough, really I have,” insisted Bob. “You know Dr. Guerin sold every one of those charms I carved, and I haven’t spent a cent. It’s all buried in a little canvas bag under the rose bush, just like a movie. I hate to take money from a girl, Betty.”
“Don’t be silly!” Betty stamped her foot angrily. “It’s only a loan, Bob. And you’d feel cheap, wouldn’t you, if you had to come back after you ran away because you didn’t have enough money? You take this, and you can pay it back as soon as you please after you have seen the old bookstore man.”
She pushed a tight little wad of money into the boy’s perspiring hand.
“All right,” he capitulated. “I’ll borrow it. I would like to know I had enough. Sure I’m not crippling you, Betsey?”
Betty shook her head, smiling.
“I’ve enough to buy a ticket to Washington,” she assured him. “That’s all we need, isn’t it, Bob? Oh, how I wish Uncle Dick would send for me!”
AT THE VENDUE
The shout awakened Betty at dawn the next morning, and running to the window she saw Bob disappear into the barn, Mr. Peabody close on his heels.
“Oh, goodness, I suppose he’s scolding about something,” sighed the girl. “There always is something to find fault about. I hope Bob will keep his temper, because I want him to be able to take me to the vendue this afternoon.”
Joseph Peabody came into breakfast in a surly frame of mind, a mental condition faithfully reflected in the attitude of his hired man who jerked back his chair and subsided into it with a grunt. Betty’s irrepressible sense of humor pictured the dog (the Peabodys kept no dog because the head of the house considered that dogs ate more than they were worth) tucking his tail between his legs and slinking under the table as a port in the storm. The dog, she decided, glancing at Mrs. Peabody’s timid face, was all that was needed to set the seal on a scene of ill-nature and discomfort.
Bob, when he came in late with the milk pails, wore a black scowl and set his burden down with a crash that spilled some of the precious fluid on to the oilcloth top of the side table.
“Be a little more careful with that,” growled Mr. Peabody, taking the last piece of ham, which left nothing but the fried potatoes and bread for Bob’s breakfast. “The cows are going dry fast enough without you trying to waste the little they give.”
Bob, looking as though he could cheerfully fling the contents of both pails over his employer, sullenly began to pump water into the hand basin. This habit of “washing up” at the kitchen sink while a meal was in progress always thoroughly disgusted Betty, and Bob usually performed his ablutions on the back porch. This morning he was evidently too cross to consider a second person’s feelings.
“Always ready enough to throw out what doesn’t belong to you,” went on Mr. Peabody grumbling. “Born in the poorhouse, you’re in a fair way to die there. If I didn’t watch you every minute, you’d waste more than I can save in a year.”
Bob, his face buried in the roller towel, lost his temper at this point.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, shut up!” he muttered.
But Mr. Peabody had heard. With a quickness that surprised even his wife, for ordinarily he slouched his way around, he sprang from his chair, reached the side of the unconscious Bob, and soundly boxed his ears twice.
“I’ll take no impudence from you!” he cried, enraged. “Here, come back!” he yelled, as Bob started for the door. “You come back here and sit down. When you don’t come to the table, it will be because I say so. Sit down, I say!”
Bob, his face livid, his ears ringing, dropped into a chair at the table. Ethan continued to eat stolidly, and Betty kept her eyes resolutely fastened on her plate.
“Just for that, you stay home from the Faulkner sale!” announced Mr. Peabody who was more than ordinarily loquacious that morning. “I’ll find something for you to do this afternoon that’ll keep your hands busy, if not your tongue. Eat your breakfast. I’ll have no mincing over food at my table.”
Poor Bob, who had often been forbidden a meal as punishment, now mechanically tried to eat the unappetizing food placed before him. Betty was terribly disappointed about the sale, for she had set her heart on going. There were few pleasures open to her as a member of the household at Bramble Farm, and, with the exception of the Guerin girls in town, she had no girl friends her own age. Bob had proved himself a sympathetic, loyal chum, and he alone had made the summer endurable.
“Don’t care!” she cried, to console the boy, as Peabody and his helper went out of the house to begin the field work for the day. “Don’t care, Bob. I really don’t mind not going to the sale.”
Mrs. Peabody was in the pantry, straining the milk.
“We’re going,” whispered Bob. “You meet me right after dinner at the end of the lane. I’m sick of being knocked around, and I think Jim Turner will be at the sale. I want to see him. Anyway, we’re going.”
“But–but Mr. Peabody will be furious!” ventured Betty. “You know what a scene he will make, Bob. Do you think we had better go?”
“You needn’t,” said Bob ungraciously. “I am.”
“Of course, if you go, so will I,” replied Betty, swallowing a sharp retort. Bob was badgered enough without a contribution from her. “Perhaps he will not miss us–we can get back in time for supper.”
Immediately after dinner at noon Mr. Peabody sent Bob out to the hay loft to pitch down hay for the balers who were expected to come and set up their machine that night, ready for work the next day. He could not have selected a meaner job, for the hay loft was stifling in the heat of the midday sun which beat down on the roof of the barn, and there were only two tiny windows to supply air. Mr. Peabody himself was going up in the woods to mark trees for some needed fence rails.
Bob departed with a significant backward glance at Betty, which sent her flying upstairs to get into a clean frock. Mrs. Peabody manifested so little interest in her activities that the girl anticipated no difficulty in getting safely out of the house. As it happened, her hostess made the way even easier.
“If you’re going to Glenside, Betty,” she remarked dully, stopping in the doorway of Betty’s room as the girl pulled on her hat, “I wish you’d see if Grimshaw has any meat scraps. Joseph might get me a bit the next time he goes over. Just ask how much it is, an’ all–the hens need something more than they’re getting.”
Betty knew that Joseph Peabody would never buy meat scraps for his wife’s hens. Indeed, she had priced stuff several times at Mrs. Peabody’s request and nothing had ever come of it. But she agreed to go to Grimshaw’s if she got that far in her walk, and Mrs. Peabody turned aside into her own room without asking any questions.
“Gee! thought you never were coming,” complained Bob, when the slim figure in the navy serge skirt and white middy met him at the end of the lane road. “The sale starts at one sharp, you know, and we’ll miss the first of it. Lots of ’em will come in overalls, so I’ll be in style.”
Before they had walked very far they were overtaken by a rattling blackboard, drawn by a lean, raw-boned white horse and driven by a cheerful farmer’s wife who invited them to “hop in,” an invitation which they accepted gratefully. She was going to the Faulkner vendue, she informed them, and her heart was set on three wooden wash tubs and seven yards of ingrain carpet advertised in the list of household goods offered for sale.
“My daughter’s going to set up for herself next fall,” she said happily, “and that ingrain will be just the thing for her spare room.”
When they reached the Faulkner farm, a rather commonplace group of buildings set slightly in a hollow, they found teams and automobiles of every description blocking the lane that led to the house.
Bob tied the white horse to an unoccupied post for the woman, and she hastened away, worried lest the ingrain carpet be sold before she could reach the crowd surrounding the auctioneer.
Betty, for whom all this was a brand-new experience, enjoyed the excitement keenly. She followed Bob up to the front porch of the house where the household effects were being put up for sale, Bob explaining that the live stock would be sold later.
“Well, look who’s here!” cried a hearty voice, as a man, moving aside to give Betty room, allowed the person standing next to him to see the girl’s face. “Betty Gordon! And Bob, too! Not thinking of going to farming, are you?”
Gray-haired, kindly-faced Doctor Guerin shook hands cordially, and kept a friendly arm across Bob’s thin shoulders.
“Friends of yours coming home next Tuesday,” he said, smiling as one who knows he brings pleasant news. “The Benders are due in Laurel Grove. Mrs. Guerin had a postal card last night.”
Betty was glad to hear this, for she did not want Bob to leave Bramble Farm without seeking the advice of the fine young police recorder who had been so good to them and whose friendship both she and Bob valued as only those can who need real friends.
“I came to bid on a secretary,” Doctor Guerin confided presently. “It’s the only good thing in the whole house. Rest of the stuff is nothing but trash. That antique dealer from Petria is here, too, and I suspect he has his eye on the same piece. Don’t you want to bid for me Bob, to keep him in the dark?”
Bob was delighted to do the doctor a service, and when the mahogany secretary was put up for sale the few other bidders soon dropped out, leaving the field to the Petria dealer and the lad in the faded overalls. The dealer, of course, knew that Bob must represent some buyer, but he could not decide for whom he was bidding, and so was in the dark as to how high his opponent would go. Had he known that Doctor Hal Guerin was bidding against him, he would have been enlightened, for the doctor’s collection of antiques was really famous and the envy of many a professional collector.
“I suppose some rube wants the desk for his sitting room,” thought the Petria man lazily, his eye, keen as it was, failing to see the doctor in the crowd. “Let him have it, and I’ll buy it from him for ten dollars more before he leaves the sale. He can’t resist turning over his money quick like that.”
So when the auctioneer boomed “Sold for forty dollars,” and in answer to his request for the buyer’s name Bob said clearly, “Doctor Guerin,” in his own language, the man from Petria was “just plain sick.”
After the household things were sold–and Betty noted with satisfaction that the three tubs and the ingrain carpet went to the woman who had so coveted them–she and Bob went out to the barn and watched the horses and cows, wagons, harnesses and farm machinery sold. It was an absorbing and colorful scene, and the boy and girl, fascinated, lingered till the last item was checked off. Then, with a start, Bob heard a farmer announce that it was half past five.
“Oh dear!” sighed Betty nervously, “you ought to be milking this minute. Oh, Bob, let’s not go home! Couldn’t we stay overnight with Doctor Guerin?”
“Now don’t you be afraid, there won’t anything happen to scare you,” responded Bob soothingly. It must be confessed that the knowledge of the little sum of money tucked away under the rosebush gave him a bolder outlook on the future.
Hiram Keppler, who owned the farm just beyond the Peabody place, gave them a lift as far as their lane, and as they hurried down the road Betty tried her best to master her dread of the coming interview. She had not a doubt but that Bob’s absence would have been noticed. Looking ahead fearfully, she saw a sight that confirmed her worst forebodings.
Joseph Peabody stood at the barnyard gate, a horsewhip in his hand
“Oh, Bob!” Betty clutched the boy’s sleeve in a panic. “And the balers have come!”
“So!” began Mr. Peabody, in tones of cold fury. “That’s the way you carry out my orders! Not one forkful of hay pitched down, and the men ready to go to work to-morrow. You miserable, sneaking loafer, where have you been?”
“To the vendue,” said Bob defiantly.
“Flatly refuse to mind, do you? Well, I’ll give you one lesson you won’t forget!” the man reached over and gripped Bob by his shirt collar. Struggling violently, he was pulled over the five-barred gate.
“I’ll learn you!” snarled Peabody, raising the whip.
Betty sprang up on the gate, her eyes blazing.
“How dare you!” she cried, her voice shaking with anger. “How dare you strike him! I’ll scream till some one comes if you touch him. Those men at the barn won’t stand by and see you beat a boy.”
“Hoity toity!” sputtered the amazed farmer, confronting the angry girl in the middy blouse with the blazing cheeks and tangled dark braids.
Bob tried to pull himself free, but was brought up short by a quick twist.
“I’m not through with you,” Peabody informed him grimly. He glanced quickly toward the barn and observed the men watching him covertly. It was the better part of discretion, something told him, not to flog the boy before so many witnesses.
“I’m through with you!” declared Bob through clenched teeth. “I’m going! You’ve had all out of me you’re going to get. Let go of me!”
For answer, Peabody tightened his hold on the worn shirt collar.
“Is that so?” he drawled. “Let me tell you, Mr. Smarty, you’ll go out to that barn and pitch down the hay you were supposed to do this afternoon or you’ll go back to the poorhouse. You can take your choice. The county has a place for incorrigible boys, and if you go far enough you’ll land in the reform school. Are you going out to the barn or not?”
“I’ll go,” agreed Bob sullenly.
“Then see that you do. And you needn’t bother to stop for supper –you’ve several hours’ lost time to make up,” said Peabody nastily. “Now go!”
He shook the boy till his teeth rattled and then released him with a powerful sling that sent him spinning into the dust. Bruised and shaken, Bob picked himself up and started for the barn.
“You hold your tongue a bit better, or something’ll come your way,” said Peabody shortly, eyeing Betty with disfavor and turning on his heel at a shout of “Ho, Boss!” from the foreman of the balers.
“Hateful!” cried Betty stormily, climbing down from the gate. “He’s the most absolutely hateful man that ever lived! I wonder if he could send Bob back to the poorhouse?”
The same thought was troubling Bob, she found, when after supper she went out to the barn and climbed the loft ladder to see him. She had brought him some bread and water, the latter contributed by the Peabody pump and the bread saved from Betty’s own meal.
“Do you know, Betty,” confided the boy, wiping the heavy perspiration from his face with a distressingly hot looking red cotton handkerchief, “I’ve been thinking over what old Peabody said. He might take it into his head to send me back to the poorhouse. He really needs a younger boy, one he can slam about more. I’m getting so I can fight back. I don’t fancy hanging on here till he makes up his mind to get another boy, and running away from the poorhouse isn’t a simple matter. I’d better make the plunge while there’s good swimming.”
It was stifling in the loft, and Betty felt almost giddy. She sat at the top of the ladder, her feet hanging over the edge of the floor and regarded Bob anxiously.
“Well, perhaps you had better go early next week,” she said judiciously. “It would be dreadful if he did return you to the poorhouse.”
“Therefore, I’m going to-night,” announced Bob coolly. “There’s an eleven-thirty train from Glenside that will make some sort of connection with the southern local at the Junction. Wish me luck, Betty!”
“To-night!” gasped Betty in dismay. “Oh, Bob! don’t go to-night. Wait just one night more, ah, please do!”
Betty had the truly feminine horror of quick decisions, and she was frankly upset by this determination of Bob’s. Even as she pleaded she knew he had made up his mind and that it was useless to ask him to change it.
“I don’t see how you can go–you’re not ready,” she argued feverishly. “Your shirts are on the line; I saw them. You’re dead tired after all this work, and it’s a long walk to Glenside. Wait just till to-morrow, Bob, and I won’t say a word.”
“No, I’m going to-night,” said Bob firmly. “I haven’t so much packing to do that it will take me over fifteen minutes. I’ll help myself to the shirts on the line as I go in. By to-morrow morning I’ll be as far away from Bramble Farm as the local can take me.”
“But–but–I’ll miss you so!” protested Betty, the catch in her voice sounding perilously close to tears. “What shall I ever do all alone in this hateful place!”
“Oh, now, Betty!” Bob put a clumsy hand on her shoulder in an effort to comfort her. “Don’t you care–you’ll be going to Washington as soon as you get word from your uncle. Maybe I’ll be there when you come, and we’ll go sightseeing together.”
“Are you going right to Washington?” asked Betty, drying her eyes. “And are you sure you have enough money?”
“Oceans of cash,” Bob assured her cheerfully. “That’s right, brace up and smile. Think what it will mean to have one peaceful breakfast, for the last week Peabody has ragged me every meal. Sure I’m going to Washington to dig out a few facts from this Lockwood Hale. Now I’ll throw down a little more hay for good measure and we’ll go on in. Mustn’t rouse suspicions by staying out too long. Peabody will probably sit up for me to come in to-night.”
Betty waited till the hay was pitched down, then followed Bob to the main floor of the barn.
“Couldn’t I walk just a little way with you?” she asked wistfully. “How soon are you going to start? I could go as far as the end of the lane.”
“I’d rather you went to bed and to sleep,” said Bob kindly. “You couldn’t very well traipse around at night, Betty, and I’m not going till it is good and dark. There’s no moon to-night, and you might have trouble getting back to the house.”
“Well–all right,” conceded Betty forlornly. “There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do. Whistle under my window, please do, Bob. I’ll be awake. And I could say good-by. I won’t make a fuss, I promise.”
The boy’s packing was of the simplest, for he owned neither suitcase nor trunk, and his few belongings easily went into a square of old wrapping paper. He had earned them, few as they were, and felt no compunctions about taking them with him.
After the bundle was tied up he waited a half hour or so, purely as a precaution, for the Peabody household went to bed with the chickens and, with the possible exception of Mrs. Peabody, slumbered heavily. Bob slipped down the stairs, waking no one, unfastened the heavy front door, never locked and only occasionally, as to-night, bolted with a chain, and stepped softly around to the bush where his precious tin box was buried.
This box was Bob’s sole inheritance from his mother, and he had only a vague knowledge of the papers entrusted to it. Among the yellowed slips was the marriage certificate of his parents, and he knew that there were one or two letters. When Joseph Peabody had taken him from the poorhouse, the lad had buried the box for safekeeping, and during the three or four years he had been with Mr. Peabody had never taken it up.
It was not buried very deeply, and he easily uncovered it, smoothing down the earth to hide the traces of his hasty excavating. He went around to Betty’s window and whistled softly, half hoping that she might be asleep.
“Hello, Bob dear!” she called instantly, leaning from the window, her vivid face so alight with affection and hope for him that it was a pity he could not see her clearly. “I’m wishing you the best of luck, and I hope the old bookstore man has splendid news for you. You wait for me in Washington.”
“I will!” whispered Bob heartily. “And you tell Mr. Bender, won’t you? He’ll understand. I’ll write him the first chance I get, and Doc Guerin, too. Good-by, Betty–I–I–“
To his surprise and confusion, Bob suddenly choked.
“Here’s something to take with you,” said Betty softly, dropping a little packet that landed at his feet. “Good-by, Bob. I just know things will turn out all right for you.”
The dark head was withdrawn, and Bob, picking up the little package, turned and began his long walk to the Glenside station. A hoot-owl screeched at mournful intervals, and the night sounds would have tried a city lad’s nerves in that long dark stretch that led him finally to the station. But Bob could identify every sound, and nature had always proved kind to him, far kinder than many of the people he had known. He trudged along sturdily, and, twenty minutes before the train was due, found himself the solitary passenger on the Glenside platform.
He stood under the uncertain rays of the lamp to examine the parting gift Betty had given him. Tucked under half a dozen chocolate wafers was a five dollar bill folded into the tiniest possible wad. The choky feeling assailed Bob again.
“She certainly is some girl!” he thought with mixed gratitude and admiration.
THE RUNAWAY MISSED
Bob’s absence was not discovered till breakfast time, for Ethan, who was a sound sleeper, when he woke and saw Bob’s empty cot, supposed the boy had risen earlier than usual and gone to the barn. Mr. Peabody, too, took it for granted that the boy was milking, and it was not until they were seated at the table and half way through the meal that anything out of the ordinary was suspected.
“Why in tarnation doesn’t that good for nothing bring in the milk?” grumbled Mr. Peabody. “I declare he gets later and later every morning. The balers will be over to start work at seven, and if he thinks he’s going to spend half an hour dawdling over his breakfast after they get here, he’s much mistaken.”
The men who were to bale the hay had slept at the adjoining farm, according to the agreement made, and would be at Bramble Farm for dinner and supper and to spend that night.
“You’re finished, Ethan. Go hurry him up,” ordered Joe Peabody. “Send him in here flying and turn the cows out to pasture.”
“He hasn’t milked!” Ethan cleared the porch steps at a single bound and burst into the kitchen, shouting this intelligence. Excitement was scarce in Ethan’s life, and he enjoyed the pleasurable sensation of carrying unusual tidings, even if unpleasant. “The barn door was shut and the cows were bellowing their heads off. Not a one of ’em’s been milked!”
“I want to know!” said Joseph Peabody stupidly. “Was he in bed when you came down, Ethan?”
“No, he wasn’t,” answered the hired man. “I thought he’d gone on out. Do you suppose something’s happened to him?”
Mr. Peabody stepped to the porch and gave a quick glance at the bench where the milk pails were usually left to air and dry. They were there, just as they had been left the night before.
“I think he’s cleared out!” he announced: grimly. “Betty, do you know what this young scoundrel is up to?”
Betty’s eyes brimmed over, and she flung herself blindly into Mrs. Peabody’s arms which closed around her, though that good woman was unaccustomed to demonstrations of affection.
“There, there.” She tried to soothe the girl, for Betty’s convulsive sobbing really alarmed her.
“Don’t you go to feel bad, dearie. If Bob’s gone, he’s gone, and that’s all there is to it.”
Peabody, milk pail in hand, motioned to Ethan to go out and begin milking.
“That isn’t all there is to it, not by a long shot!” he growled at his wife. “If I get my hands on that boy he’ll rue the day he ever set foot off this farm. He’ll go back to the poorhouse and there he’ll stay till he’s of age.”
Betty sat up, pushing the tumbled hair from her hot forehead.
“I’m glad Bob ran away!” she cried recklessly. “He’s gone where you won’t catch him, either. You never treated him fairly, and you know it.”
Peabody banged the kitchen door by way of relieving his feelings, but the latch did not fasten so that he heard Betty’s next sentence addressed to his wife.
“I’m only waiting for a letter from Uncle Dick,” confided Betty. “Then I’m going to Washington. Things will never be any different here, Mrs. Peabody; you’ve said so yourself. I wish Uncle Dick would hurry and write. It’s been a good while since I heard.” And there was a catch in the girl’s voice.
The man slouched off the porch, a peculiar smile on his lean, shrewd face. One hand, thrust into his ragged coat pocket, rested on a letter there. As he felt it beneath his fingers, his crafty eyes brightened with a gleam of mockery.
Mrs. Peabody may have been curious about Bob’s departure, but she asked no questions, somewhat to Betty’s surprise.
“I’m glad she doesn’t ask me,” thought Betty, helping mechanically in the preparations for dinner which were more elaborate than usual because of the presence of the three balers. “Bob must be half way to Washington by now, and I don’t believe they have the slightest idea he is headed for there.” The Peabodys, she reasoned, knew nothing of Lockwood Hale, and of the attraction the capital of the country held for the orphan lad.
Betty insisted on doing a fair share of the extra work after the noon meal, and then ran upstairs to get ready to go over to Glenside. She wanted to tell the Guerins that Bob had gone, and from their house she knew she could telephone to those other good friends, the Benders. Laurel Grove was too far to walk, even for a practised hiker like Betty.
To her dismay, as she left the house, Mr. Peabody joined her and fell into step.
“I’ll go as far as Durlings with you,” he announced affably, Durling being their neighbor on the south, his farm lying along the road in the direction of Glenside. “Sorry the horses haven’t shoes, Betty, or you might drive.”
Betty shot him a suspicious glance. The three horses never were shod, except when a certain amount of traveling had to be done on the stone road. In all the weeks she had spent at Bramble Farm a horse had never been offered for her convenience, and all of her trips to town had been either afoot, or taken with Bob in the rattling, shabby, one-horse work wagon.
“Where did you say Bob was going?” came next.
Betty bit her lip.
“I didn’t say,” she said evenly. “I–I don’t think it’s fair to ask me.”
“But you know,” snapped Mr. Peabody. “I guess I have a right to know where he’s gone. I’m responsible for him. I’ve got papers that show it. The poorhouse folks are going to ask me what becomes of him. You just tell me where he went, and I’ll satisfy ’em. I won’t follow him and try to bring him back, Betty. He’s too old for that. Making his bed, he’ll have to lie on it. I won’t follow him.”
The girl twisted her handkerchief nervously. She was not afraid of the man. That is, she feared no physical violence at his hands, but he was capable, she knew, of forcing her back to the farm and locking her up in her room till she furnished him with the required information. And what harm could it do Bob? It was not likely that Peabody could find the boy in a large city.
“He won’t be made to come back,” repeated her tormentor.
“I wish I could believe you,” said Betty pitifully.
She looked so young and helpless, trying to pit her girlish intelligence and strength against the wily miser, that another man would have been ashamed to press her. Not so Peabody–he had always considered that he was entitled to whatever he could get from others, information, cash, or work, it mattered not.
They were approaching the Durling farm now, and suddenly Betty’s pointed chin lifted.
“I won’t tell you!” she said firmly. “I do know where Bob went, but he was perfectly justified in leaving a place where he was treated worse than a dog. You would do him no good–I’m sure of that. And if the poorhouse authorities make a fuss about his running off, I’ll tell them what he had to endure.”
Joseph Peabody’s mouth dropped in astonishment. He had seen Betty lose her temper before, but she had never so openly defied him.
“You think you’re high and mighty,” he sneered. “Let me tell you, Miss, there’s more ways than one of getting what you want in this world. Joe Peabody isn’t checkmated very often, and it takes more than an impudent girl to do it. I’m going into Lem Durling’s and telephone Jim Turner, the poormaster. I kind of surmise he can give me a line on the direction Bob’s taken.”
Betty walked on, disdaining to answer, her head very high in the air but her heart in her shoes. Jim Turner would be sure to tell of Lockwood Hale, and Mr. Peabody would be astute enough to guess that Bob’s destination was Washington.
When she reached Doctor Guerin’s house, between the heat and the dust and the long walk and her anxiety, she was in a highly excited state, and the doctor’s wife made her lie down on the couch and rest before she would allow her to telephone to the Benders. Mrs. Bender’s sister answered the telephone. The recorder and his wife had made a detour on their homeward trip that would extend their absence for another week.
“Betty, you’ll be ill if you’re going to get all worked up like this,” scolded Mrs. Guerin, for Betty was crying as she hung up the receiver. “I never saw you so unstrung, my dear. You won’t be fit to go to your uncle when he does send for you. I wonder if the doctor hadn’t better see you?”
Norma and Alice Guerin, two pretty girls, the former about Betty’s age, the latter a year or two older, looked at her anxiously. Betty in tears was an unusual sight to them.
“I’m all right,” gulped that young person, inwardly alarmed at the thought of being too ill to travel when the word came. “I didn’t sleep very well last night, thinking of Bob. Is that the secretary he bid on at the Faulkner sale?”
Knowing that the quickest way for Betty to get control of her nerves was to forget her troubles, Mrs. Guerin entered into an enthusiastic description of the beauties of the old desk, showing the secret drawer and the half score of carved pigeonholes and dwelling on the doctor’s delight in securing such a treasure at a bargain. Mrs. Guerin succeeded in having Betty more like her old self before Doctor Hal Guerin came in from a round of calls.
He was delighted to see Betty, who was an especial favorite of his, and much interested in her account of Bob’s flight.
“Did the lad have money enough?” he growled. “I suppose he’d walk before he’d borrow from me.”
“He had enough,” Betty assured him. “All the charms you sold for him amounted to quite a lot, and he had saved every cent of that.”
“And you probably helped him out,” commented the doctor shrewdly. “Well, well, the lad may yet whittle his way to fame and fortune.”
He referred to Bob’s knack for fashioning pretty and quaint little wooden charms and pendants, which he polished to satin smoothness and painted and stained in bright colors. Norma Guerin had worn one at boarding school, and it was through her and her father that Bob had secured a large number of orders which had netted him a tidy little sum.
When the time came for Betty to go, the doctor insisted that he would take her as far as the lane, and on the trip she told him that as soon as she heard from her uncle she meant to pack her trunk and leave for Washington.
“I don’t like the idea of your making the journey alone,” grumbled Doctor Guerin; “but I don’t see who there is to go with you. One thing, Betty girl, brushing up against the Peabodys has given you a practical fund of self-reliance. You’re better fitted than Alice to find your way about alone. Not that I would have chosen to have you get your knocks just in the manner they’ve been handed to you, but the results leave nothing to be desired. You’re standing squarely on your own feet, Betsey, and it’s this summer’s grilling training that has done it.”
A BELATED LETTER
The hay was all baled by the next morning, and the balers, atop the lumbering machine, caroled loudly if not musically as the fat horses dragged them slowly up the lane. Neat bales of hay were piled high on the barn floor, to be carted over to Hagar’s Corners and loaded on a freight car. That would be Ethan’s job, and he grumbled at the prospect of doing it without Bob’s help.
Betty, coming in from the garden, stumbled over something in the narrow entry. It was a man’s coat–Mr. Peabody’s, she recognized when she picked it up and shook it slightly to free it from dust. A letter fell from the pocket as she replaced it on the hook where it usually hung, and, stopping to pick it up, she saw to her surprise that it was addressed to her.
“From Washington!” she said aloud, deciphering the postmark. “And mailed five days ago! He’s carried it in his pocket ever since it came!”
At first she feared it had been read, but evidently Mr. Peabody had not troubled to open it; so hastily tearing the envelope, she read the brief note. A check was enclosed for her, and Mr. Gordon suggested that she go to Pineville and visit old friends there for a week or two until his plans were definitely shaped.
“I know the Arnolds are in California,” he wrote; “but the Bensingers will be glad to have you, or any of your mother’s old friends. You do not have to stay one minute where you are unhappy.”
Betty looked up as a shadow fell across the sunny floor. It was Mr. Peabody, and he had the grace to show confusion when he saw the letter in her hand.
Betty sprang to her feet.
“Why did you keep my letter?” she demanded hotly. “How did you dare to hold back mail? This must have been in your coat pocket three or four days. It was mailed five days ago!”
“Been rummaging in my coat pocket, have you?” sneered the farmer.
“I have not! The coat was on the floor, and I fell over it. The letter fell out while I was trying to hang it up. No one has a right to hold back another person’s mail!”
“Now hold your horses,” advised Peabody pacifically. “Who’s been holding back mail? If a body takes the mail out of the box and carries it around in his coat a day or two, because he doesn’t remember it, that ain’t such a crime that I ever knew. I just forgot there was a letter for you.”
Betty turned away in disgust and went out to her favorite apple tree to think things over. She did not believe for one moment that Mr. Peabody had forgotten her letter. Indeed, absent-mindedness was far from being one of his traits. However, there was absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing, and the way was now clear for her to leave Bramble Farm. Surely the worst of her troubles were over.
“I might go to Pineville,” she thought meditatively. “I’d love to see the Bensingers again and the dear little house where we lived. I’ll pack this afternoon.”
Betty was an orderly little person, and at her work that afternoon she stopped frequently to sew on a button here, to mend a rip in this garment or to whip a frayed edge that might mar an otherwise dainty belonging. Singing softly over her task, a timid knock at her door wakened the girl from a happy reverie.
“Come in, Mrs. Peabody,” she called cheerfully. “Do sit down and give me advice about where things should go. I thought I hadn’t bought anything this summer, but I seem to have a great deal more stuff than I brought with me.”
“You’re packing then?” asked Mrs. Peabody, taking a chair near the bed and regarding Betty oddly. “Are you really going, Betty?”
“Oh, yes,” Betty answered matter-of-factly, “Uncle Dick wants me to stop in Pineville and visit old friends for a bit. And there’s no use in pretending, Mrs. Peabody, that–that–“
“No, I suppose not,” sighed the woman, understanding only too well. “Land knows, if I could get away I’d have no misgivings about the right of it. I’ll miss you, though. You’ve been a sight of company this summer, and no one could have been sweeter to me, Betty.”
“Agatha!” came a stentorian shout from the front hall. “Are you going to stay up there all day?”
“My stars, I forgot what I came up for!” Mrs. Peabody rose hurriedly. “Joseph sent me up to tell you he wanted to ask you something, Betty. And here I sit right down and him waiting there all this time!”
Betty was far from concerned over Mr. Peabody’s wasted time, but she wondered uneasily what he could wish to ask her. Something connected with Bob, doubtless. She followed Mrs. Peabody downstairs and found the master of Bramble Farm striding up and down impatiently.
“Never saw the beat of women,” he muttered. “Gabble, gabble, and an hour right out of a day’s work means nothing to ’em. Oh, here you are, Miss. You know that gray alpaca coat of mine you took the letter from this morning?”
“The coat the letter fell out of?” corrected Betty, knowing that such quibbling was foolish On her part and might provoke serious irritation in her questioner, yet unable to refrain. “Of course I remember it; what about it?”
Peabody accepted her description of the coat. He was plainly excited and nervous, and betrayed a curious disposition to conciliate Betty, instantly detected in his change of tone.
“Did you pick up any other papers?” he asked quite politely. “Any folded sheets, I mean, or a long envelope? I thought you might have put them back of the clock or somewhere for safe keeping and forgotten to mention them to me.”
Betty looked her astonishment. Automatically her eyes traveled to the clock which was pulled out of its place against the wall. So the man had actually looked there, believing that out of chagrin she might have concealed his papers from him!
“Nothing fell out of your pocket except my letter,” she said earnestly and with a quietness that carried conviction. “I saw absolutely nothing else on the floor. If I had picked up other papers, I should have returned them to you, of course.”
Mrs. Peabody cleared her throat, usually a sign of coming speech on the rare occasions when she did open her mouth in her husband’s presence.
“What you lost, Joseph?” she asked eagerly. “Something missing out o’ your pocket?”
“Yes, something out of my pocket!” said her husband savagely. “You wouldn’t know if I told you, but it’s an unrecorded deed and worth a good deal of money. And I’ll bet I know who took it–that measly runaway, Bob Henderson! By gum, he carried the coat up to the house for me from the barn the day before he lit out. That’s where it’s gone. I see his game! He’ll try to get money out of me. But I won’t pay him a cent. No sir, I’ll go to Washington first and choke the deed out of his dirty pocket.”
“Did Bob go to Washington?” quavered Mrs. Peabody, her mind seizing on this concrete fact, the one statement she could understand in her husband’s monologue. “How’d you find out, Joseph?”
“Not through Betty,” returned Peabody grimly. “She’s willing to take the scoundrel’s part against honest folks any time. Jim Turner told me. Leastways he told me of some old duffer who runs a crazy shop down there, and he thinks Bob’s gone looking him up to find out about his parents. Just let him try blackmailing me, and he’ll learn a thing or two.”
Betty had kept still as long as she could.
“Bob is no thief!” she said bravely. “You ought to be ashamed to say such a thing about him. I know he didn’t take your old deed. What earthly use would it be to him? Besides, Bob would never touch a thing that wasn’t his!”
“I don’t believe he would take anything, Joseph,” urged Mrs. Peabody with perfectly amazing temerity. As a rule she took neither side in a controversy. “Besides, as the child says, what good would an unrecorded deed do him? Unless–Joseph, have you bought the Warren lots?”
“You tend to your housework, and I’ll manage my own affairs,” snapped Peabody, turning a dull brick red, however. “I meant to put the thing in the safety deposit box over to the bank, and then that sick cow took my mind completely off it. If Betty didn’t take it, Bob did. It’s gone, and they’re the only two that could have put hands on it.”
“I tell you that I haven’t seen the deed,” said Betty firmly. “And I am equally certain that Bob never took it. He’s the soul of honor, whatever you may think, and he would no more take what wasn’t his than he would lie to you about it.”
Peabody caught hold of her right hand suddenly.
“What you carrying?” he demanded suspiciously. “A trunk key? Looks mighty funny, doesn’t it, to be packing up with something pretty valuable missing? The law would likely give me the right to search your trunk.”
“What a dreadful old man you are!” cried Betty, involuntarily, shrinking from the sinister face that grinned malevolently into hers. “You have no right to touch my trunk.”
“Well, no call to look like that,” muttered Peabody, turning toward the door. “I knew that other young one took it, and I aim to make it hot for him.”
“Bob didn’t take any deed!” stormed Betty to Mrs. Peabody, her packing forgotten for the moment. “Why does he keep insisting Bob stole it? And why, oh, why did that poorhouse man have to tell where Bob had gone?”
Mrs. Peabody’s natural curiosity had to be satisfied, and as it was no longer a secret Betty told her of Lockwood Hale and Bob’s determination to find out more about himself.
“He doesn’t want any deed,” she finished scornfully. “Can’t you make Mr. Peabody see how foolish such an accusation is?”
Mrs. Peabody leaned against the kitchen table wearily.
“I know what he’s thinking,” she said dully. “I know more than I want to know, Betty. Joseph has bought the Warren lots, and that means he’s got ’em for his own price. Old man Warren is in his dotage and these lots have been surveyed and cut up into building plots on the stone road over t’other side of Laurel Grove where the trolley’s coming through this spring. Joseph will probably sell ’em for three times what he’s paid for ’em. That’s why he doesn’t have the deed recorded; Warren’s children will get hold of it, and I doubt if the sale would hold in court. Everybody knows the old father isn’t competent to handle his property. There was talk of having one of the sons made his guardian some months ago. Joseph has just talked him into selling. If he wasn’t my husband, I should say the sale was a plain swindle.”
GOOD-BY TO BRAMBLE FARM
Betty was still mystified.
“What has Bob to do with it?” she urged. “I don’t see how the deed would be of any use to him; he couldn’t claim the lots.”
“No, he couldn’t claim the lots,” admitted Joseph Peabody’s wife. “But he could hold the deed and threaten to notify George Warren, if Joseph didn’t pay him a good round sum of money. Mind you, I’m not saying he would do that, Betty, but he could. That’s what Joseph thinks he means to do.”
“Well, I call that very silly,” said Betty briskly. “Bob Henderson isn’t a thief or a blackmailer, whatever Mr. Peabody chooses to think. That deed is probably in another coat pocket this minute, or else he’s lost it over in Glenside.”
“I expect that worries him some, too,” confided Mrs. Peabody. “He would hate to have it known that he’s bought the Warren lots. But I guess it would have been better to have had the deed recorded than to run the risk of losing it and the whole town likely to pick it up on the street.”
Before supper that night Betty had her trunk packed and her simple belongings gathered up. She knew that Peabody was fully aware of her intention to leave, but, as her board was paid for nearly a week in advance, he could make no possible objection. It was sheer perversity, she decided, that kept him from mentioning the subject to her.
“I’m going to-morrow, Mr. Peabody,” she said pleasantly at the supper table, having waited till Ethan had gone to the barn to milk. “What time would be most convenient to take my trunk over to Glenside or to Hagar’s Corners?”
“I’m not going to either place to-morrow,” was the composed answer. “Don’t know exactly when I shall be going over again, either. Ethan and me’s got our hands full right here with the late-season cultivating.”
“But I have to get to the station,” protested Betty. “I can walk, of course, but some one will have to take my trunk. You met me at the station when I came, or rather Bob did, you know. Why aren’t you willing to help me go now that the summer is nearly over?”
“You haven’t done me so many favors that I should put myself out for you,” retorted Peabody sourly. “I don’t care how you get to the station, but none of my rigs go off this place to-morrow, that’s flat. And you haven’t got that thieving nimble-fingers to plot and plan with you now. You’ll have to manage by yourself.”
“What are you going to do, Betty?” asked Mrs. Peabody anxiously, following the girl to the door after the meal was over. “You’re not going to walk to Glenside to-night to try to get a team to come after you?”
“No, I’m only going over to Kepplers,” replied Betty capably. “I’m sure one of the boys will drive me over, if not to Glenside, to Hagar’s Corners, where I can get some kind of train for the Junction. All the through trains stop at Hagar’s Corners, don’t they? I came that way. Perhaps that station is better than Glenside, after all.”
The walk across the fields tranquillized her, and she was able to enlist the aid of the Keppler’s oldest boy without entering into too detailed an account of Mr. Peabody’s shortcomings. Indeed, the Kepplers, father and sons, having been the nearest neighbors to Bramble Farm for eleven years, had a very fair idea of what went on there.
“Sure, I’ll take you, and the trunk, too,” promised Fred Keppler heartily. “Any time you say, Betty. There’s a good train for Pineville, not too many stops, at twelve-three. How about that?”
It was settled that he should come for her about half past ten, and Betty walked home filled with thoughts of the little home town to which she would be speeding on the morrow.
“If Uncle Dick knew the things I’ve had to endure, I’m sure he’d say that I haven’t lost my temper often, considering,” she mused. “Is that something sticking out of the mail box? Why. it is, and a newspaper. I guess Mr. Peabody forgot to come down to the box to-day.”
She opened the box and found the paper was addressed to her. The familiar wrapper and type told her it was the _Pineville Post_, to which she had subscribed when she left the town, and, tucking it under her arm, she went on to the house, intending to read an hour or so before going to bed.
Lighting the lamp in her room, Betty glanced toward her trunk mechanically. She had left it locked, but the lid was now ajar. Had some one been tampering with the lock?
“He’s opened it!” she cried to herself, making a hasty examination. “How did he dare! And look at the mess everything’s in!”
Alas for Betty’s hour of neat and careful packing! Dainty garments were tossed about recklessly, her shoes rested on her clean handkerchiefs, and it was plain that no attempt had been made to conceal the fact that a heavy hand had thoroughly explored the contents of the trunk.
“I’m only thankful he didn’t break the lock,” said Betty, trying to find a ray of brightness. “Whatever he opened it with, nothing is broken. I suppose the only thing to do is to take everything out and do it all over. And to-morrow morning I’ll sit on the top till Fred Keppler comes.”
Taking out her clothes and repacking was a tiresome job, and all thoughts of reading well gone from Betty’s mind when the task was completed and the trunk locked for a second time. With the feeling that, in view of what the next day might bring, she ought to go to bed early, she began at once to prepare for bed. Brushing her thick, dark hair, her eyes fell on the unopened paper.
“I suppose I’ll be there to-morrow night,” she thought, picking it up and slitting the wrapper with a convenient nail file.
She opened and smoothed out the first page. The first words that caught her attention, in large black headlines across four columns, were:
GYPSY BAND STRICKEN WITH SMALL-POX:
WHOLE TOWN QUARANTINED!
Then followed the account of the discovery of illness among a band of gypsies camped on the outskirts of Pineville, of the diagnosis of smallpox, and of the strict quarantine immediately put in force. The issue of the _Post_ was only two days old.
“Well, I never!” gasped Betty, doing some rapid thinking. “I’m glad it didn’t happen after I got there. I might be held up for weeks. I can’t stay here, that’s certain. There’s nothing to do but drive to Glenside and take the train for Washington. I guess Fred will be willing to change his plans.”
She decided that she would say nothing to the Peabodys about the alteration of her traveling schedule, fearing that if Mr. Peabody heard she was going to Washington he might accuse her of a conspiracy with Bob in connection with the lost deed.
Bright and early the next morning she was up, her pretty traveling bag, the gift of her uncle, packed, her room in perfect order. There was really no one or nothing to say good-by to, for she felt more pity than affection for Mrs. Peabody, and the Bramble Farm animals had been too unused to petting to respond readily to her overtures. Betty, at the breakfast table, had a swift conviction that she would be leaving with far different feelings if Bob had been there to stay behind.
Mr. Peabody asked her no questions about her plans and stalked off as usual to the barn with Ethan when he had finished the meal.
“I declare I’m going to miss you, Betty,” said Mrs. Peabody once, in the middle of the dishwashing, with which Betty insisted on helping.
That was a good deal for her to say, and the girl, who had a natural longing to be missed, was grateful. And when Fred Keppler drove into the yard, promptly at half-past ten, and went upstairs for her trunk– for neither Peabody nor his hired man was in sight–Mrs. Peabody kissed her warmly and with tears in her eyes.
“Hop right in, Betty,” said Fred cordially. “Got a nice day for your trip, haven’t you? All fixed? All right, then.”
He gathered up the reins and had turned the horse’s head when, apparently from the clouds, Mr. Peabody appeared on the scene.
“Long as you’re going over to Hagar’s Corners you won’t mind giving me a lift, will you?” he drawled. “I have an errand over at the station, and it won’t take me a minute. I can come right back with you. Go on, Fred; I’ll sit in here with the trunk and you and Betty needn’t mind me.”
Without waiting for an invitation, he swung himself up on top of the trunk, and smiled pleasantly. He was saving his own horse a long drive and getting a necessary errand done at the expense of a neighbor, always a desirable consummation in the Peabody mind.
Fred opened his mouth and closed it wordlessly. His father would have known what to do, but fifteen-year-old Fred did not know how to deal with such a display of assurance. There seemed nothing to do but to take this unwelcome passenger to Hagar’s Corners and back.
Betty, for her part, could have cried with vexation. Gone was her chance of asking Fred to take her to Glenside, and with it the hope of getting to Washington. She knew that after the noon train at Hagar’s Corners there were no more till four o’clock. She wanted to say good-by to the Guerins and to cash her uncle’s check. No wonder she was assailed by a strong desire to tumble the satisfied Mr. Peabody out head over heels.
The drive was taken almost in silence, each of the three busy with his own thoughts. At the station Betty and her trunk were put down, and then she had a few minutes to speak to Fred while Mr. Peabody was talking to the freight agent, who was also the passenger agent, the telegraph clerk and the janitor.
“Don’t you want some money?” whispered Fred hurriedly. “Mother told me to ask you. And she sent you this.”
He thrust into her hands a box of lunch.
“I have a check I want to cash,” said Betty nervously. “Will the station agent do it, do you suppose? It’s for fifty dollars. And, Fred, Pineville is quarantined for smallpox and I want to go to Washington, but I didn’t want Mr. Peabody to know. Hush! Here he comes now!”
Fred Keppler had what his fond mother called a “good head,” and as Peabody and the agent stopped in the station doorway to continue their discussion he proceeded to bear out her theory by thrusting a wad of bills into Betty’s hand.
“Money for the calves,” he explained. “Just fifty there. Haven’t seen Dad to turn it over to him. Give me the check and it will be all right. And you ask Dan Gowdy, the agent, about trains. I guess he can dope out a way to get you to Washington. You still have ten minutes.”
“Good-by, and thank you heaps!” cried Betty warmly, shaking his hand. “I don’t know what I should have done without you, Fred!”
Her hands filled with the bank bills Fred had thrust into them, her bag under one arm and the lunch box under the other, Betty stood forlornly on the platform and watched the horse and wagon out of sight. Mr. Peabody had merely nodded to her by way of farewell, and Betty felt that if she never saw him again there would be little to regret. As a matter of fact, she was to meet him again and not under much more favorable aspects. But of that she was happily ignorant.
The whistling of the lanky young station agent, who was covertly staring at her under pretense of sweeping up the already neat boards before the door, roused her. She remembered that she did not want to go to Pineville.
“Why, I guess I can fix it up for you,” said Dan Gowdy cheerfully, when she had stated her predicament, withholding only the reason for not telling Mr. Peabody. “Let me see–twelve-three stops at Centertown. But you don’t want to spend the night on the train. Going from Centertown, you’d get to Washington about ten in the morning.”
“I’d rather not sleep on the train,” answered Betty timidly, hoping that she was not unreasonable. Aside from the expense, she was not used to traveling, and the idea of a night alone on the train for the first time rather daunted her.
“Well, then–Wait a minute, I’ve got it!” shouted the agent enthusiastically. “You buy a ticket up the line to Halperin. That’s quite a town, and the through trains all stop. My brother-in-law’s telegraph operator there, and I’ll send him a message to look out for you, and he and my sister will keep you over night. They’ve got a pretty place right in the country–trolley takes you to the door–and a baby that’s named for me and some kid if I do say it. Then in the morning you can take the seven-forty-five for Washington and get there at five-fifty-two if it isn’t late. How’s that?”
“But your sister!” stammered Betty. “She doesn’t know me. What will she say?”
“She’ll say you have eyes just like Juliet, the little sister who died when she was about your age,” declared Dan Gowdy gently. “Don’t you fret, Sister, she’ll be glad to have you. Now here’s your ticket, and I’ll talk to Steve as soon as you’re on board the train. That’s her smoke now.”
Betty was conscious that there was something else on her mind, but it was not until she was seated in the train and had had her ticket punched that she remembered. She had thanked kind Dan Gowdy rather incoherently, though as warmly as she could, and had only half heard his explanation that she was taking the 12:01 train up the line instead of the 12:03 down, and it was no wonder that in the bustle of boarding the train she had forgotten her intention of telegraphing to her Uncle Dick. He had given her his address as the Willard Hotel, and the letter was already six days old.
“But I really think in the morning will be better,” decided Betty, watching the flying landscape. “He wouldn’t have given me the address if he didn’t expect to be there for some time. Before I take the Washington train I’ll telegraph him and let him know when to meet me.”
The train made three stops before Halperin was reached, and Betty stepped down to find herself before a pretty, up-to-date station built of cream-colored brick, with a crowd of stylish summer folk mingling on the platform with farmers and townspeople. Several automobiles were backed up waiting for passengers, and there were one or two old-fashioned hacks. A trolley car was rounding the street corner, the motorman sounding his bell noisily.
“Betty Gordon, isn’t it?” asked a pleasant voice.
A round-faced man was smiling down at her, a young man, Betty decided, in spite of the white hair. His keen dark eyes were pleasant, and he held out his hand cordially.
“Dan told me you had cornflowers on your hat,” he said quizzically, “and I, knowing that Dan calls all blue flowers cornflowers, picked you out right away. Only they are forget-me-nots, aren’t they?”
“They’re supposed to be larkspur,” answered Betty, laughing and feeling at ease at once. “Perhaps the milliner didn’t have a garden.”
“Well, anyway, they’re blue,” said the brother-in-law comfortably. “Don’t suppose Dan told you my name?”
He was guiding her around the station toward the trolley tracks as he spoke.
“He said the baby was named for him, but he didn’t say what your name was,” admitted Betty dimpling.
“Just like him!” grinned her companion. “Dan’s so all-fired proud of that youngster he never lets a chance slip to tell we named him Daniel Gowdy Brill. Though Dan senior usually forgets to add the Brill.”
“Does–does Mrs. Brill know I’m coming?” ventured Betty.
“She sure does! I telephoned her the minute I heard from Dan, and I suspect she and the baby are sitting out on the fence now watching for you to come along. Sorry I can’t go with you, but I’ve just come on duty. You tell the conductor to let you off at Brill’s, and I’ll see you at supper to-night.”
He helped her on the car, tipped his hat, and ran back to the station, leaving Betty with the comfortable feeling that the Brills were used to company and rather liked it.