"I'M just as bad as he is, every bit," sobbed poor little Betty. "Uncle Dick would say so. I'm in his house, much as I hate it, and I hadn't any right to call him names—only he is so hateful ! Oh, dear, I wonder if I shall ever get away from here!"

She cried herself into a headache, and had no heart to open the parcel of groceries or to go down to ask Mrs. Peabody for something to eat, though indeed the girl knew she stood small chance of securing as much as a cracker after the dinner hour.

Suddenly some one put a soothing hand on her hot forehead, and, opening her swollen eyes, Betty saw Mrs. Peabody standing beside the bed. "You poor lamb!" said the woman compassionately. "You mustn't go on like this, dear. You'll make yourself sick. I'm going to close the blinds and shut out the sun; then I'll get a cold cloth for your head. You'd feel better if you had something to eat, though. You mustn't go without your meals, child."

"I've got some crackers and bouillon cubes," replied Betty wearily. "I suppose Mr. Peabody wouldn't mind if I used a little hot water from the tea kettle?"

She bit her tongue with vexation at the sarcasm, but Mrs. Peabody apparently saw no implication.

"The kitchen fire's gone out, but the kettle's still hot," she answered. "I'll step down and get you a cup. I have just ninety cobs to get supper on, or I'd build up a fresh fire for you. Joe counts the cobs; he wants they should last till the first of July."

"Oh, how do you stand it?" burst from Betty. "I should think you'd go crazy. Don't you ever want to scream?"

Mrs. Peabody stopped in the doorway. "I used to care," she admitted apathetically. "Not any more. You can get used to anything. Besides, it's no use, Betty; you'll find that out. Flinging yourself against a stone wall only bruises you—the wall doesn't even feel you trying."

"Bring up two cups," called Betty, as Mrs. Peabody started down stairs.

"I'll bet she flung herself against the stone wall till all the spirit and life was crushed out of her," mused the girl, lying flat on her back, her eyes fixed on the fly-specked ceiling. "Poor soul, it must be awful to have to give up even trying."

Mrs. Peabody came back with two cracked china cups and saucers, and a tea kettle half full of passably hot water. Betty forgot her throbbing head as she hustled about, spreading white paper napkins on the bed—there was no table and only one chair in the room—and arranging her crackers and a package of saltines which she deftly spread with potted ham.

"We'll have a make-believe party," she declared tactfully, dropping a couple of soup cubes in each cup and adding the hot water. "I'm sure you're hungry; you jump up so much at the table, you don't half eat your meals."

Mrs. Peabody raised her eyes—faded eyes but still honest.

"I've no more pride left," she said quietly. "Goodness!" exclaimed Betty, "I bought you something this morning, and haven't given it to you."

Mrs. Peabody was as pleased as a child with the pretty bottle of toilet water, and Betty extracted a promise from her that she would use it for her headaches, and not "save" it.

"If I was going to stay," thought Betty, stowing her packages of goodies under the bed as the most convenient place presenting itself, "I might be able to make things a little pleasanter for Mrs. Peabody. I do wonder when Uncle Dick will write."

She had allowed four days as the shortest time in which her uncle could possibly get an answer to her, so she was agreeably delighted when, on going out to the mailbox at the head of the lane the third morning, she found a letter addressed to her and postmarked "Philadelphia." There was no other mail in the box. The Peabodys did not even subscribe for a weekly paper.

"Bob!" shouted Betty, hurdling a fence and bearing down upon that youth as he hoed corn in a near-by field. "Bob, here's a letter from Uncle Dick! He's answered so soon, I'm sure he says I can come to him. Won't that be great?"

Bob nodded grimly and went on with his work while Betty eagerly tore open her envelope. After she had read the first few lines the brightness went out of her face) and when she looked up at Bob she was crying.

"What's the matter, is he sick?" asked the boy in alarm.

"He hasn't had my letter at all!" wept Betty. "He never got it! This was written the same day I wrote him, and he says he's going out to the oil wells and won't be in touch with civilization for some weeks to come. His lawyer in Philadelphia is to hold his mail, and send the checks for my board. And he thinks I'm having a good time with his old friend Agatha and encloses a check for ten dollars for me to spend.

Oh, Bob!" and the unhappy Betty flung her arms around the neck of the astonished Bob and cried as though her heart would break.

"There, there!" Bob patted her awkwardly, in his excitement hitting her with the hoe handle, but neither of them knew that. "There, Betty, maybe things won't be as bad as you think. You can go to Glenside and get books from the library —they've got a right nice little library. It would be nice if you had a bicycle or something to go on, but you haven't."

"Uncle's sending me a riding habit," said Betty, wiping her eyes. "And a whole bundle of books and a parcel of magazines. He says he never yet saw a farm with enough reading material on the parlor table. I will be glad to have something to read."

"Sure. And Sundays I can borrow a magazine," and Bob's eyes shone with anticipated enjoyment. "Sunday's the one day I have any time to myself and there's never much to do."

Betty slipped the letter into her blouse pocket. She was bitterly disappointed to think that she must stay at Bramble Farm, and she did not relish the idea of having to confess to the Peabodys that her plans for leaving them had been rather premature.

"I say," Bob looked up from his hoeing, the shrewd light in his eyes that made him appear older than his thirteen years. "I say, Betty, it you're wise, you won't say anything about this letter up at the house. Old Peabody doesn't know you've written to your uncle, and he'll think you changed your mind. I half believe he thinks you were only speaking in a fit of temper, anyway. If you tell him you can't reach your uncle by letter, and have to stay here for the next few weeks whether you will or no, he'll think he has you right where he wants you. He can't help taking advantage of every one."

"Doesn't any one ever come to call?" Betty asked a day or two later, following Bob out to the pasture to help him salt the sheep.

It was a Sunday morning, and even Mr. Peabody so far respected the Sabbath that he exacted only half as much as usual from his help. The milking, of course, had to be done, and the stock fed, but that accomplished, after breakfast, Wapley and Lieson, the hired men, had set off to walk to Glenside to spend their week's wages as they saw fit. They had long ago, after wordy battles, learned the futility of trying to borrow a horse from Mr. Peabody.

Bob had finished his usual chores, and after salting the sheep would be practically free for the day. He and Betty had planned to take their books out into the orchard and enjoy the peaceful sunniness of the lovely June weather.

"Come to call?" repeated Bob, letting down the bars of the rocky pasture. "What would they come to call for? No one would be civil to 'em, and Mrs. Peabody runs when she sees any one coming. She hasn't got a decent dress; so I don't blame her much. Here, you sit down and I'll call them."

Betty sat down on a flat rock and Bob spread out his salt on another. The sheep knew his voice and came slowly toward him.

"Come on now, Betty, and let's have a whack at that magazine, the one about out West," said Bob at last.

The promised package of books and magazines had arrived, and Betty had generously placed them at the disposal of the household. Wapley and Lieson had displayed a pathetic eagerness for "pictures," and sat up after supper as long as the light lasted, turning over the illustrated pages. Betty doubted if they could read.

On to chapter twelve

Back to Josephine Lawrence, Children's Books