BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
A MIDNIGHT CALL
BETTY'S first thought was of Bob. Was he really sick? Then she remembered that the boy slept in the attic and that she probably could not have heard him if he had made the noise that woke her.
Then the sound began again, deep guttural groans that sent a shudder through the girl listening in the dark, and Betty knew that Mrs. Peabody must be ill. She lit her lamp and looked at her watch. Half-past one! She had been asleep several hours. .Slipping on her dressing gown and slippers, Betty opened her door, intending to go down the hall to the Peabodys' room and see what she could do. To her relief, she saw Mr. Peabody, fully dressed except for his shoes, which he carried in his hand, coming shuffling down the hall.
"You're going for the doctor?" said Betty eagerly. "Is Mrs. Peabody very ill? Shall I go down and heat some water?"
"I don't know how sick she is," answered the man sourly. "But I do know I ain't going for that miserable, no-account doctor I ordered off this farm once. If you're going to die, you're going to die, is the way I look at it, and all the groaning in the world ain't going to help you. And a doctor to kill you off quicker ain't necessary, either. I'm going out to the barn to get a little sleep. Here I've got a heavy day's work on to-morrow, and she's been carrying on like this for the better part of an hour."
Betty stared at Mr. Peabody in horror. Something very like loathing, and an amazement not unmixed with terror, seized her. It was inconceivable that any one should talk as he did.
"She must have a doctor!" she flung at him. "Send Bob—or one of the men, Bob's half sick himself. If you won't call them, I will. I won't stay here and let any one suffer like that. Listen! Oh, listen!"
Betty put her hands over her ears, as a shrill scream of pain came from Mrs. Peabody's room.
"Send the men on a wild goose chase at this time of night?" snarled Mr. Peabody. "Not if I know it. Morning will do just as well if she's really sick. You will, will you?" He lunged heavily before Betty, divining her intention to reach the stairway that led to the attic. A heavy door stood open for the freer circulation of air, and this Peabody slammed and locked, dropping the key triumphantly in his pocket.
"You take my advice and go back to bed," he said. "One woman raising Cain at a time's enough. Go to bed and keep still before I make you."
Betty scarcely heard the implied threat. She heard little but the heart-breaking groans that seemed to fill the whole house. Her mind was made up.
"I'm going myself!" she blazed, wrapping her gown about her. "Don't you dare stop me: I You've killed your wife, but at least the neighbors are going to know about it. I'm going to telephone to Doctor Guerin!"
With a quick breath Betty blew out the lamp, which bewildered Peabody for a moment. She dashed past him as he fumbled and mumbled in the dark and slid down the banisters and jerked open the front door, which luckily for her was seldom locked at night. She ran down the steps across the yard and into the field, her heart pounding like a trip hammer. On and on she ran, not daring to stop to look behind her. When she heard steps gaining on her, her feet dragged with despair, but her spirit flogged her on.
"I won't give up, I won't give up!" she was crying aloud through clenched teeth when the voice of Bob Henderson calling, "Betty! Betty! it's all right!" sounded close to her shoulder.
"You dear, darling Bob!" Betty turned radiantly to face the boy. "How did you get out? Hurry! We must hurry! Mrs. Peabody 'is so sick!"
"Easy there!" Bob caught her elbow as she stumbled over a bit of rough ground. "The noise woke me up, and when we heard you and Peabody, Lieson lowered me out of the window by the bedsheet. We weren't sure what he'd do to you. Say, Betty, you'd better let me go in and telephone unless you're afraid to go back. If the Kepplers see you like that, they'll know there's been a row, and they'll insist on your staying with them."
"Oh, I have to go back," said Betty in a panic. "Mrs. Peabody needs me. And I'm not afraid, if Doctor Guerin comes. I'll wait under this tree for you, Bob. Only please hurry." And the boy hurried off.
"Doctor'll be right out," reported Bob, coming back after what seemed a long wait but was in reality a scant ten minutes. "I had a great time waking the Kepplers up and a worse time getting hold of Central. And of course Mrs. Keppler wanted all the details—just like a woman. But doc answered right away after I gave his number and said he'd be here in twenty minutes. He sure can run his car when he has a clear road at night."
"Bob," whispered Betty, beginning to tremble, "I—I guess maybe I am afraid to go back to the house. Let's sit on the bank at the head of the lane and wait for Doctor Guerin. He'll take us in the car. Mr. Peabody won't dare do anything with a third person around."
"Sure we will," agreed Bob. "It's fine and cool out here, isn't it? Wonder why it can't be like this in the daytime."
They walked back to the lane, cross-lots, and sat down under a thorn-apple tree. Betty tucked her gown cosily around her feet and sat close to Bob, prepared to watch the stars and await quietly the doctor's coming. Then, to her astonishment as much as to Bob's consternation, she began to cry. She could not stop crying. And after she had cried a few minutes she began to laugh. She laughed and sobbed and could not stop herself, and in short, for the first time in her life, Betty had a case of hysterics.
It was all very foolish, of course, and when Doctor Guerin found them there in the road at half-past two in the morning, he scolded them both soundly.
"I gave you credit for more sense, Bob," said the doctor curtly, as he helped Betty into the machine. "You should have left Betty with Mrs. Keppler over night, or at least taken her straight home. If she hasn't a heavy cold to pay for this it won't be your fault. I never heard of anything quite so senseless!"
"I wasn't going to stay with the Kepplers!" retorted Betty with vigor. "I don't know them at all, and I hadn't anything to wear down to breakfast! 'Sides there is Mrs. Peabody dreadfully sick with no one to help her and Bob has a festered finger. He had a high temperature this afternoon."
"I'll look at the finger," promised Doctor Guerin grimly. "Don't let me have to hunt for you, either, young man; no hiding out of sight when you're wanted. And, Betty, you go to bed. I'll get Mrs. Peabody comfortable and give her something so that she'll sleep till I can send some one out from town. You can't nurse her and run the house, you know. Your Uncle Dick would come up and shoot us all. Go to bed immediately, and you'll be ready to help us-in the morning."
They had reached the house and Betty followed the doctor's orders. Every one obeyed Doctor Guerin. Even Mr. Peabody, summoned from the barn, though he was surly and far from pleasant, brought hot water and a teaspoon and a tumbler at his bidding. Mrs. Peabody had had these attacks before, and when she had taken the medicine was soon relieved. Doctor Guerin stayed with her till she fell asleep and then went down to the kitchen, taking the unwilling Bob with him. The cut finger was lanced and dressed and strict instructions issued that in two days Bob was to pre- sent himself at the doctor's office to have the dressing changed.
"And you needn't assume that obstinate look," said the doctor, who watched him closely. "If you're so afraid you won't be able to pay me, we'll drive a bargain. You recollect that odd little wooden charm you made for Norma last summer? Well, the girls at boarding school have 'gone crazy,' to quote my daughter, over the trinket, and one of them offered her a dollar for it. Carve me a couple more, when you have time, and that will make us square. The girls were wondering the other day if you could do more."
"I'll make six—" Bob was beginning radiantly, when the doctor stopped him.
"You will not," he said positively. "One dollar is your price, and two of them will fully meet your obligations to me. If you can be dog-gone businesslike, so can I."
Doctor Guerin drove over again in the morning, bringing a tall raw-boned red-haired Irishwoman who looked as though she were able to protect herself from any insult or injury, real or fancied. Wapley and Lieson were pitiably in awe of her, and Mr. Peabody simply shriveled before her belligerent eye. She was to stay, said the doctor, for a week at least and as much longer as Mrs. Peabody needed her.
"Did you see her spreading the butter on her bread?" demanded Bob in a whisper, meeting Betty on the kitchen doorstep after the first dinner Mrs. O'Hara had prepared.
"Did you see Mr. Peabody?" returned Betty, in a twitter of delight. "I was afraid to look at him, or I should have laughed. She tells me to 'run off, child, and play; young things should be outdoors all day,' and she does a barrel of work. Mrs. Peabody declares she is living like a queen, with her meals served up to her. Poor soul, she doesn't know what it means to have some one wait on her."
Bob dared not stay away from Doctor Guerin's office; and indeed, after receiving the order for the wooden charms, he was willing to go. It was understood that he was to begin his carving as soon as the finger had healed, and Betty was interested in the little trinket he brought back with him to serve as a guide.
"Did you really make that, Bob?" she cried in surprise. "Why, it's beautiful—such an odd shape and so beautifully stained. You must be ever so clever with your fingers. I believe, if you had some paints, you could paint designs and perhaps sell a lot of them to a city shop. Girls would just love to have them to wear on chains and cords."
Bob was immediately fired with ambition to make some money, and indeed he could evolve marvelous and quaint little charms with no more elaborate tools than an old knife and a bit of sandpaper. He had an instinctive knowledge of the different grains, and the wood he picked up in the woodshed, carefully selecting smooth satiny bits.
So all unknown to the Peabodys, Bob in his leisure time began to carve curious treasures, and with his carving to dream boyish dreams that lifted him out of the dreary present and carried him far away from Bramble Farm to big cities and open prairies, to freedom and opportunity.
And Betty, who sometimes read aloud to him as he carved and sometimes sewed, sitting beside him, began to dream dreams too. Always of a home somewhere with Uncle Dick, a real home in which there should be a fireplace and an extra chair for Bob. For your girl dreamer always plans for her friends and for their happiness, and she seldom dreams for herself alone.
So July with its heat and thunderstorms ran into August.
On to chapter seventeen
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