BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
NURSE AND PATIENT
Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her
Josephine Lawrence website;
please do not use on other sites without permission
WHEN the next Sunday came round the shrill song of the locusts began early, foretelling a hot day. The heat and the flies and the general uninviting appearance of the breakfast table irritated Betty more than usual, and only consideration for Mrs. Peabody, who looked wretchedly ill, kept her at the table through the meal. Lieson and Mr. Peabody bickered incessantly, and Wapley, who had taken cold, coughed noisily.
"Guess I'll go over and see Doc Guerin an' get him to give me something for this cold," Wapley mumbled, after a particularly violent paroxysm. "Never knew folks had colds in summer, but I got one for sure."
"You take some of that horse medicine out on the barn shelf," advised Peabody. "The bottle's half full, and I'll sell it to you for a quarter. The doctor's stuff will cost you all of a dollar, and that horse medicine will warm you up fine. That's all you want, anyway, something to kind of heat up your pipes."
Betty hoped fervently that the man would not follow this remarkable prescription, and it was with actual relief that she saw him come downstairs an hour later arrayed in his best clothes ready to walk to town. She had her camera ready and stood patiently in the sun for fifteen minutes till she had taken the promised pictures. Wapley was snapped alone and with Lieson, and then a photograph of Lieson alone, and then it was Bob's turn. That usually amiable youth was . inclined to be sulky, but finally yielded to persuasion. Betty was anxious to send a full set of pictures to her uncle, and while Bob's "Sunday best" was exactly the same as his week-day attire, still, as she pointed out, he could wear his pleasantest expression for a "close up."
The cause for Bob's crossness was revealed after Lieson and Wapley had started for Glenside. His sore finger was swollen and gave him considerable pain.
"Why didn't you go with them and see the doctor?" scolded Betty. "Go now. I think the cut should be opened, Bob."
"I'm not going," said Bob flatly. "Where'd I get any money to pay him?"
"I have some—" Betty was beginning, but he cut her short with the curt announcement that he was not going to let her do everything for him.
"Well, then, go over and let Doctor Guerin examine your finger and offer to work it out for him in some way," urged Betty. "Don't be silly about money, Bob; any doctor does his work first and then asks about his pay. Won't you go?"
"No, I won't," retorted Bob ungraciously. "I'm too dog-gone tired to walk that far, anyway. Let's take books out to the orchard, and if you have any crackers or anything, we won't come back for dinner. I hate that hot kitchen!"
This was very unlike Bob, and Betty noticed that his face was flushed and his eyes heavy. She was sure he had fever, but she knew it was useless to argue with him. So, like the sensible girl she was, she tried to make him comfortable without further consulting him. She had a new parcel of magazines he had not seen, and without asking Mrs. Peabody, she took a square rug from the parlor for him to lie on and the pillow from her bed. Mrs. Peabody she knew would not object to the rug being used, but Mr. Peabody was shaving in the kitchen, and if he heard the request would instantly deny it.
On her last trip to the town Betty had bought a dozen lemons and a package of soda fountain straws, and when Bob complained of thirst, she surprised him with a lemonade. Fortunately the water from the spring in one of the meadows was icy cold.
Bob's "Gee, that's good!" more than repaid her for her trouble and the heat headache that throbbed in her temples from her hurried journeys down to the spring.
There was a faint breeze stirring fitfully in the orchard, and it was shady. Betty read aloud to Bob until he fell asleep. After he was unconscious, she looked at him pityingly, noting the sore finger held stiffly away from its fellows and the pathetic droop of the boyish mouth.
"His mother would be so sorry!" she thought, folding up a paper to serve as a fan and beginning to fan him gently. "I wonder how he happened to be born in the poorhouse. He has nice hands and feet, well-proportioned, that is, and mother always said that was a mark of good breeding. Besides, I know from the way he speaks and acts that he is different from these hired men."
Betty continued to fan till she saw Mrs. Peabody come out of the kitchen and go to the woodshed. Then she ran in to tell her that Bob would probably sleep through dinner and that would be one less for the noon meal. Sunday dinner was never an elaborate affair in the Peabody household. and Betty insisted on helping Mrs. Peabody to-day, since she could not induce her to go away from the kitchen and lie down. The men had said they were going to stay in town till milking time, and only Mr. and Mrs. Peabody and Betty sat down to the sorry repast at one o'clock. There was little conversation, and Mr. Peabody was the only one who made a pretense of eating what was served.
"Now you go upstairs, and let me do the dishes," said Betty to Mrs. Peabody, as her husband put on his hat and went out at the conclusion of the meal. "If you'll undress and go to bed, I'll get supper and feed the chickens. You look so fagged out."
"It's the heat," sighed Mrs. Peabody. "Land, child, I've crawled through a sight of summers, and won't give out awhile yet, I guess. You're the one to watch out. Keep in out of the sun, and don't run your feet off waiting on Bob. I'll show you something, though, if you won't let on."
She beckoned Betty to one corner of the kitchen where a fly-specked calendar hung.
"Look here," said Mrs. Peabody. "Nobody knows what these pencil marks mean but me— I made 'em. Now's the second week in July— there's seventeen days of July left. Thirty-one days in August. And most generally you can count on the first week of September being hot— that makes fifty-five days. Three meals a day to get, or one hundred and sixty-five meals in all."
"Then what?" asked the hypnotized Betty.
"Oh, then it begins to get a little cooler," said Mrs. Peabody listlessly. "I've counted this way for three summers now. Somehow it makes the summer go faster if you can see the days marked off and know so many meals are behind you."
Inexperienced as Betty was, it seemed infinitely pathetic to her that any one should long for the summer days to be over, and she realized dimly that the loneliness and dullness of her hostess' daily life must be beginning to prey on her mind. She helped dry the dishes, went upstairs with Mrs. Peabody and bathed her forehead with Cologne and closed the shutters of her room for her. Then, hoping she might sleep for a few hours as she resolutely refused to give up for the rest of the day, Betty hurried to put on her thinnest white frock and went back to the orchard. She found her patient awake and decidedly feeling aggrieved.
"I've been awake for ages," he greeted her. "Gee, isn't it hot! You look kind of pippin' too. Do you know, I've been thinking about that riding habit of yours, Betty. What are you going to do with it?"
"Keep it till I go somewhere else where there'll be a chance to learn to ride," answered Betty. "Why?"
"Oh, I was just thinking," and Bob turned over on his back to stare up through the branches. "You'll get away from here sooner than I shall, Betty. But, believe me, the first chance I get I'm going to streak out. Peabody's got no claim on me, and I've worked out all the food and clothes he's ever given me. The county won't care— they've got more kids to look after now than they can manage, and one missing won't create any uproar. I'd like to try to walk from here to the West. They say my mother had people out there somewhere."
"Tell me about her," urged Betty impulsively. "Do you remember her, Bob?"
"She died the night I was born," said Bob quietly. "My father was killed in a railroad wreck they figured out. You see my mother was a little out of her head with grief and shock when they found her walking along the road, singing to herself. All she had was the clothes on her back and a little black tin box with her marriage certificate in it and some papers that no one rightly could understand. They sent her to the alms- house, and a month later I was born. The old woman who nursed her said her mind was perfectly clear the few hours she lived after that, and she said that 'David,' my father, had been bringing her East to a hospital when their train was wrecked. She couldn't remember the date nor tell how long before it had happened, and after she died no one was interested enough to trace things up. I was brought up in the baby ward and went to school along with the others. Many is the boy I've punched for calling me 'Pauper!' And then, when I was ten, Peabody came over and said he wanted a boy to help him on his farm; I could go to school in the winters, and he'd see that I had clothes and everything I needed. I've never been to school a day since, and about all I needed, according to him, was lickings. But if I ever get away from here I mean to find out a few things for myself."
Bob paused for breath. His fever made him talkative, and Betty had never known him so communicative.
"Where is the tin box?" she asked with interest.
"Buried, in the garden. I had sense enough to do that the first night I came to Bramble Farm, and I've never dared dig it up since. Afraid old Peabody might catch me. It's safer to leave it alone."
Presently Bob went off to sleep again and Betty mused silently till he woke, hungry, and then she gave him bouillon cubes dissolved in hot water, for Mrs. Peabody was getting supper and Bob refused to go to the table. The men came back and did the milking, grumbling a little, but on the whole willing to save Bob's finger. They had a rough fondness for the lad.
When the heavy dew began to fall Betty had to appeal to Leison to make Bob go into the house. He declared fretfully that the attic was hot, and Betty knew it was like an, oven, but it was out of the question for him to lie in the damp grass. She dressed his finger freshly for him, Mrs. Peabody looking on, but offering not a word, either of pity or curiosity. Betty wondered if she had grown into the habit of keeping still till now it was impossible for her to voice an emotion.
Bob's finger dressed, Lieson bore him upstairs despite his protests, and before the others went up to their rooms, Betty had the satisfaction of hearing that Bob had already gone to sleep.
Betty herself was extremely tired, for she had worked hard all day, waiting on Bob and trying to save Mrs. Peabody in many ways. She brushed out her thick hair and slipped into her nightgown, thankful for the prospect of rest even the hardest of beds offered her. She was asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow.
She had been asleep only a few minutes, or so it seemed, when. something woke her.
She sat up in bed, startled. Had some one groaned?
On to chapter sixteen
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