BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
WINNING NEW FRIENDS
BETTY opened the gate and ran up the path. The younger girl, who seemed about her own age, put out a friendly hand and touched her sleeve.
"Not wet a bit, Mother!" she announced triumphantly. "And I don't believe her hat's spotted, either!"
A jagged streak of lightning and another thundering crash sent them all scurrying indoors. The lady led the way into a pleasant room where an open piano, books, and much gay cretonne-covered wicker furniture gave an atmosphere at once homelike and modern. Betty had craved the sight of such a room since leaving Pineville and her friends.
"Pull down the shades, Norma; and, Alice, light the lamp," directed the mother of the two girls.
The younger girl drew the shades and Alice, who was evidently some years older than her sister, lighted the pretty wicker lamp on the center table.
"I'm so glad you reached our house before the storm fairly broke," said their mother, smiling at Betty. "In another second you would have been drenched, and there isn't a house between here and Baxter's nursery."
Betty explained that she had been on her way to the nursery, and thinking that her kind hostess should know her guest's name, gave it, and said that she was staying at Bramble Farm.
"Oh, yes, we've heard of you," said the lady, in some surprise. "I am Mrs. Guerin, and my husband, Dr. Guerin, learns all the news, you know, on his rounds among his patients. Mrs. Keppler, I believe, was the one who told him there was a girl visiting the Peabodys."
Betty wondered rather uncomfortably what had been said about her and whether she was regarded with pity because of the conditions endured by any one who had the misfortune to be a member of the Peabody household. The Kepplers, she knew, were their nearest neighbors.
Norma and Alice each took a seat on the arms of their mother's chair, and regarded the guest curiously, but kindly.
"Do you like the country?" asked the younger girl, feeling that something in the way of conversation was expected of her. Betty replied in the affirmative, adding that, aside from lonesomeness now and then, she had enjoyed the outdoor life immensely.
"But what do you do all day long?" persisted Norma. "The Peabodys are so queer!"
"Norma!" reproved her mother and Alice in one breath.
"Well they are!" muttered Norma. "Miss Gordon isn't a relation of theirs, is she? So why do I have to be polite?"
"I'm only twelve," said Betty, embarrassed by the "Miss Gordon," and puzzled to know how to avoid a discussion of the Peabodys. "No one ever calls me 'Miss.' My Uncle Dick went to school with Mrs. Peabody, and he thought it would be pleasant for me to board with them this summer."
"When you get lonesome for girls, come over and see us," suggested Mrs. Guerin cordially. "Come whenever you are in Glenside, anyway. Norma hasn't many friends of her own age in town, and she'll probably talk you deaf, dumb and blind."
"I don't get over very often," said Betty, thinking how fortunate Norma was to have such a lovely, tactful mother, "because I usually have to walk. But if your husband is a doctor, couldn't he bring you over to call some afternoon? Doctors are always on the road, I know."
A curious expression swept over Mrs. Guerin's face, inexplicable to Betty. She avoided a direct answer to the invitation by sending the girls out to the kitchen for lemonade and cakes and blowing out the lamp and raising the shades herself. The brief thunderstorm was about over, and the sun soon shone brightly.
Alice wheeled the tea-wagon out on the porch, and the four spent a merry half hour together. Betty felt that she had made three real friends, and the Guerins, for their part, were agreeably delighted with the young girl who was so alone in the world and who, while they knew she must have a great deal that was unpleasant to contend with, resolutely talked only of her happy times.
Betty had just risen to go when a runabout stopped at the curb and a gray-haired man got out and came up the path.
"There's father!" cried Norma, jumping up to meet him. "Father, the Rutans telephoned over an hour ago. I couldn't get you anywhere. It was before the storm."
"Hal, this is Betty Gordon," said the doctor's wife, drawing Betty forward. "She is the girl staying with the Peabodys. Do you have to go out directly?"
"Just want to get a few things, then I'm off," answered the doctor cheerily. "Miss Betty, if you don't mind waiting while I stop in at the drug store, I'm going half of your way and will be glad to give you a lift. The roads will be muddy after this rain."
Betty accepted the kind offer thankfully, and Mrs. Guerin and the girls went down to the car with her. They each kissed her good-bye, and Mrs. Guerin's motherly touch as she ducked the linen robe over Betty's knees brought thoughts of another mother to the little pink-frocked figure who waved a farewell as the car coughed its sturdy way up the street.
At the drug store the doctor got his medicines and Betty her pictures, which she paid for and slipped into her bag without looking at. She liked Doctor Guerin instinctively, and indeed he was the type of physician whom patients immediately trusted and in whom confidence was never misplaced.
"You look like an outdoor girl," he told her as he turned the car toward the open country. "I don't believe you've had to take much in the way of pills and powders, have you?"
Betty smiled and admitted that her personal acquaintance with medicine was extremely limited.
"Mrs. Peabody has headaches all the time," she said anxiously. "I think she ought to see a doctor. And one day last week she fainted, but she insisted on getting supper." Doctor Guerin bit his lip.
"Guess you'll have to be my ally," he said mysteriously. "Mrs. Peabody was a patient of mine, off and on, for several years—ever since I've practiced in Glenside, in fact. But—well, Mr. Peabody forbade my visits finally; said he was paying out too much for drugs. I told him that his wife had a serious trouble that might prostrate her at any time, but he refused to listen. Ordered me off the place one day when Mrs. Guerin was in the car with me, and was so violent he frightened her. That was some time ago." The doctor shook his head reminiscently. "Mrs. Peabody in the house was groaning with pain and Mrs. Guerin was imploring me to back the car before Peabody killed me. He was shouting like a mad man, and it was Bedlam let loose for sure.
"I went, because there was nothing else to do, but I managed to get word to the poor soul, through that boy, Bob Henderson, that if she ever had a bad attack and would send me word, day or night, I'd come if I had to bring the con- stable to lock that miser up out of the way first. I suspect he is a coward as well as a bully, but fighting him wouldn't better his wife's position any; he would only take it out on her."
"Yes, I think he would," agreed Betty. "I used to wonder how she stood him. But telling her what I think of him doesn't help her, and now I don't do that any more if I think in time."
"Well, you may be able to help her by sending me word if she is taken ill suddenly," said the doctor. "I'm sure it is a comfort to her to have you with her this summer. Now here's the boundary line. Sorry I can not take you all the way in, but it would only mean an unpleasant row."
Instead of half way, the doctor had taken her almost to the Peabody lane, and Betty jumped down and thanked him heartily. She was glad to have been saved the long muddy walk. She was turning away when a thought struck her.
"How could I reach you if Mrs. Peabody were ill?" she asked. "There's no 'phone at Bramble Farm, you know."
"The Kepplers have one," was the reply, Doctor Guerin cranking his car. "They'll be glad to let you use it any time for any message you want to send."
Betty found no one in the house when she reached it, the men being still at work in the field and Mrs. Peabody out in the chicken yard. Betty took off her pretty frock and put on a blue and white gingham and her white shoes. She was determined not to allow herself to get what Mrs. Peabody called "slack," and she scrupulously dressed every afternoon, whether she went off the farm or not.
The pictures, she discovered when she examined them, were exceptionally good. Lieson, in particular, had proved an excellent subject, and Betty privately decided that he was more attractive in his working clothes than he could ever hope to be in the stiff black and white she knew he would assume for Sunday. She took the prints and went downstairs to await an opportunity to show them.
Bob Henderson was in the kitchen, doing something to his hand. Betty experienced a sinking sensation when she saw a blood-stained rag floating in the basin of water on the table.
"Bob!" she gasped. "Did you hurt yourself?"
Bob glanced up, managing a smile, though he was rather white around the mouth.
"I cut my finger," he said jerkily. "The blame thing won't stop bleeding."
"I have peroxide upstairs!" Betty flew to get the bottle.
It was a nasty cut, but she set her teeth and washed it thoroughly with the antiseptic and warm water before binding it up with the clean, soft handkerchief she had brought back with her. Bob had been clumsily trying to make a bandage with his dark blue bandana handkerchief, all the lad had.
"How did you do it?" asked Betty, as she tied a neat knot and tucked the ends in out of sight. "I'll fix you some more cloths to-night; you'll have to wash that cut again in the morning." Bob was putting away the basin and now he went off to get the pails of slop for the pigs. Betty thought he had not heard her question, but when Lieson came in for a drink of water and saw the pictures he unconsciously set her right. Lieson was greatly pleased with his picture, and looked so long at the other prints that Betty feared lest Mr. Peabody should come in and make an accusation of wasted time.
"That's a good picture of Bob, too," commented Lieson. "He cut his hand this afternoon on the hoe. The old man come down where he was hoeing corn, and just as he got there Bob cut a stalk; you can't always help it. Peabody flew into a rage and grabbed, the hoe. Bob thought he was going to strike him with it, and he put up his hand to save his head, and Peabody brought the sharp edge of the hoe down so it nicked his finger. Guess he won't be able to milk to-night."
Betty stood in the doorway of the kitchen and stared away into the serene green fields.
"It looks so peaceful," she thought wearily. "And yet to live in such a place doesn't seem to have the slightest effect on people's dispositions. I wonder why?"
On to chapter fifteen
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