BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

CHAPTER XII

BETTY DEFENDS HERSELF



APPARENTLY Mr. Peabody had never taken Betty's threat to ask her uncle to take her away seriously, and her presence at the farm soon came to be an accepted fact. Conditions did not improve, but Betty developed a sturdy, wholesome philosophy that helped her to make the best of everything. Uncle Dick wrote seldom, but packages from Philadelphia continued to come at intervals, and always proved to be practical and needful.

"Though as to that, he couldn't have the lawyer send me anything that wouldn't be useful," said Betty to herself. "I never saw a place where there was so much nothing as here at Bramble Farm."

One morning when the pouring rain kept her indoors, Betty was exploring the little used parlor. Mrs. Peabody seldom entered the room save to clean it and close it up, and Betty opened a corner of the blind with something like trepidation. A large shotgun over the mantel attracted her attention at once.

"Don't touch that thing—it's always kept loaded," said the voice of Lieson at the door.

Betty shivered and drew away from the shelf. Lieson showed his tobacco-stained teeth in a friendly grin.

"I was up attic getting my rubber boots," he explained, "and I saw the mail wagon stop at the box. Do you want I should go down and get the mail?"

"Oh, would you?" Betty's tone was eager. "Perhaps there is a letter from my uncle. That would be so kind of you, Mr. Lieson, because otherwise I may have to wait till it stops raining."

"I'll go," said Lieson awkwardly, and he went slumping down the hall.

Wapley and Lieson were rough and untidy, but Betty found herself liking them better and feeling sorry for them as time went on. They worked hard and were never thanked and had very little pleasure after their day's work was over. Several times now they had done little kindnesses for Betty, and she had tried to show that she appreciated their efforts.

Lieson came back from the mail box carrying a square package, but no letter. Though Mr. Peabody was presumably waiting in the barn for him and fuming at his delay, the man showed such a naive interest in the parcel that Betty could not resist asking him to wait while she opened it.

"Why, it's a camera!" she exclaimed delightedly, as she took out the square box. "I'll take your picture, Mr. Lieson, as soon as the sun comes out, to pay you for walking through all this rain to get the mail for me."

"Say, would you?" Lieson showed more animation than Betty had ever noticed in him. "Honest? I got a lady friend, and she's always at me to send her my picture. She sure would admire to have one of me."

"All right, she hasn't long to wait," promised Betty gaily. "Here are two rolls of film, and luckily I know how to operate a camera. Mr. Arnold had a good one and he taught me. The first sunny day, remember, Mr. Lieson."

The rain continued all that day, and at night when Betty went up to bed she heard it pattering on the tin roof of the porch which was under her window.

Betty had managed to make her room more habitable, and, relieved of any fear of embarrassing her hostess, had tacked netting at the two windows and bought herself a lamp with a good burner. She scrupulously paid Mr. Peabody for the oil she used, and while he showed plainly that he considered burning a light at night in summer a wicked extravagance) he did not interfere.

"Now let me see," mused Betty. "Shall I answer Mrs. Arnold's last letter or go to bed? I guess I'll go to bed. I'll have all day to write letters to-morrow."

She was brushing her hair when a noise in the next room startled her. She knew that it was not occupied, for, besides herself, the Peabodys were the only ones who slept on the second floor. Bob Henderson and the hired men were housed in the attic. The Peabodys' bedroom was further down the hall, on the other side of the house.

"Pshaw!" Betty put her brush back on the table and gave her head a shake. "I mustn't get nervous. We're too far out in the country for burglars; and, besides, what in the world would they come here after?"

Mr. Peabody differed from the majority of his neighbors in that he banked most of his funds. Some said it was because, if he had been in the habit of keeping money in the house, his help would have murdered him cheerfully and taken the cash as a reward. Be that as it may, it was well known that Joseph Peabody seldom had actual money in his pocket or in his tin strong box, and now Betty was glad to recall this.

She had braided her hair and put out the light and was just slipping into bed when she heard the noise again. This time it sounded against the wall. Betty stealthily crept out of bed and ran to her door. There was no door key, but she shot the bolt.

"That's some protection," she murmured, hopping into bed again. "If there are burglars in the house, I suppose I've locked 'em out to scare Mr. and Mrs. Peabody to death. But at any rate they have each other, and I'm all alone."

Closing her eyes tight, Betty began to say her prayers, but she fell asleep before she had finished.

She woke in the dark to hear a noise directly under her bed!

She sat up, her eyes trying to pierce the darkness, wondering why she had not taken the precaution of looking under the bed before she locked herself into a room with a burglar.

"If I look now and see his legs, I'll faint away, I know I shall," she thought, her teeth chattering, though the night was warm. "I wish to goodness Uncle Dick had sent me a revolver."

That reminded her of the shotgun downstairs. With Betty to think was to act, and she sprang noiselessly out of bed and ran to the door. Thank goodness, the bolt slipped without squeaking. Downstairs ran Betty and lifted the heavy shotgun from its place over the mantel. She was no longer afraid, and her eyes sparkled with excitement. She was having a grand adventure. She had shot a gun a few times under Mr. Arnold's instructions and careful supervision when he was teaching his boys how to handle one, and she thought she knew all about it.

She gained her room, breathless, for the gun was heavy. At the threshold she stopped a moment to listen. Yes, there was the noise again. The burglar was unaware of her flight.

Unaware herself of the absurdity of her deductions, Betty raised the heavy gun and pointed it toward the bed. As well as she could tell, she was aiming under the bed. She shut her eyes tight and fired.

The gun kicked unmercifully, and Betty ejaculated a loud "Ow!" which was lost in the babble of sound that immediately followed the shot. There was the sound of breaking glass under the bed, a shrill scream from Mrs. Peabody, and the thunderous bellow of Mr. Peabody demanding: "What in Sam Hill are those varmints up to now?" Evidently he attributed the racket to Wapley and Lieson, who had been known to come home late from Glenside.

In a few minutes they were all gathered at Betty's door, Bob open-mouthed and speechless, the two men sleepily curious, the Peabodys loudly demanding to know what the matter was.

"Are you hurt, Betty?" asked Mrs. Peabody anxiously. "Where did you get the gun, dear? Did something frighten you?"

"It's a burglar!" declared Betty. "I heard him under the bed! But I got him, I know I did!"

"Light the lamp and look under the bed, Bob," commanded Mr. Peabody harshly. "I don't believe this burglar stuff, but the girl's shot off a good charge of buckshot, no doubt of that. Find out what she hit."

Bob lit the lamp and stooped down to look. Then his lips twitched.

"Rat!" he announced briefly. "A big one."

"Haul him out," directed Lieson. "Let's have a look at him."

Betty had shrunk inside the doorway when the lamp was lit, conscious of her attire, and now she managed to reach her dressing gown and fling it around her.

"He's in too many pieces," said Bob doubtfully. "Guess we'll have to get a dustpan and brush."

Mr. Peabody and the two men went grumbling back to bed, Peabody taking the gun for safe-keeping, but Mrs. Peabody sent Bob down to the kitchen for the articles he mentioned, declaring that Betty should not have to finish the night in a room with a dead rat.

"If there was another bed made up, I'd move you into it," she said. "But I haven't an extra place ready."

Betty had pinned up her hair and put on her slippers before Bob came back, and had put her best pink crepe dressing gown around Mrs. Peabody, who presented an incongruous vision so attired. Bob looked at Betty in admiration. With her tumbled dark hair and pink cheeks and blue gown and slippers, the boy thought her the prettiest thing he had ever seen.

"I didn't want to tell you—don't look," he whispered, getting down on his knees to sweep out the remains of the slaughtered rat, "but the buckshot hit two olive bottles, and there's some mess here under your bed. I guess the rat was after the crackers."

Bob carried down the dead rat and mopped up the brine from the olives and threw out the debris, making several trips downstairs without murmur. Finally it was all cleaned up, and they could go back to their rooms and finish the remainder of the night in probable peace.

"If you hear a noise"—Bob could not resist this parting shot—"run down and grab the dinner bell. We'll hear it just as quick, and you might shoot the potted ham full of bullets next time."

Betty did not sleep well, and once she woke, sure that she had heard loud talking and shouts. She thought the noise came from the attic.

"Lieson had the nightmare after your shindy," announced Bob at the breakfast table. "He suddenly began shouting and got me by the throat, declaring that if I didn't pay him every cent I owed him he'd kill me. Wapley had to come and pull him away, or I don't know but he would have choked the breath out of me."

"I had a bad dream," said Lieson sullenly.

The rain was still coming down and all the good-nature of the day before had left Lieson. He refused to answer a remark of Mr. Peabody's, and was evidently in a bad humor.

"He and the old man had a run in before breakfast," whispered Bob, pulling on his boots preparatory to carrying out food to the pigs. Betty stood at the window and they could talk without being overheard. "It was something about money. Well, Betty, are you going gunning to-day?"

"You needn't tease me," replied Betty, laughing. "I feel foolish enough, without being reminded of last night. I think I'll go upstairs and sew on buttons as a penance. There's nothing I hate to do worse."

"Do it well then," suggested the irrepressible Bob, slamming the door just in time to avoid the glass of water Betty tossed after him.

On to chapter thirteen

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