BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

CHAPTER XVII

AN OMINOUS QUARREL



MRS. O'HARA went back to Glenside at the end of ten days, leaving Mrs. Peabody well enough to be about, though the doctor had cautioned her repeatedly not to overdo. Doctor Guerin came for Mrs. O'Hara in his car, and it was to be his last visit unless he was sent for again. Bob's finger had healed, and he was hard at work at his carving in spare moments.

"Norma hopes you will come over to see her soon," said Doctor Guerin to Betty, as he was leaving. "She and Alice have their heads full of boarding school. By the way, Betty, what do you intend to do about school?"

"Well, I keep hoping Uncle Dick will write. It's been three weeks since I've had any kind of letter," answered Betty. She had long ago told the doctor about her uncle and the reasons that led to her coming to Bramble Farm. "When he wrote he was in a town where there were only six houses and no hotel. He must come East soon, and then he will receive my letters and send for me. I'm sure I could go to school and keep house for him, too."

The car with the doctor and his convincing personality and Mrs. O'Hara and her quick tongue and heavy hand were hardly out of sight, before Mr. Peabody assumed command of his household. He had been chafing under the rule of that "red-haired female," as he designated the capable Irishwoman, and now he was bound to make the most of his restored power.

"Gee, he sure is a driver," whispered the perspiring Bob, as Betty came down to the field where the boy was cultivating corn. Betty had brought a pail of water and a dipper, and Bob drank gratefully.

"No, don't give the horse any," he interposed, as Betty seemed about to hold the pail out to the sorrel who looked around with patient, pleading eyes. "He'll have to wait till noon. 'Tisn't good to water a horse when he's working, anyway. Put the pail under that tree and it'll keep cool. Lieson and Wapley go over to the spring when they're thirsty, but Peabody said he'd whale me if he caught me leaving the cultivator."

"The mean old thing'" Betty could hardly find a word to express her indignation.

'Oh, it's all in the day's work," returned Bob philosophically. "What are you doing?" "Hanging out clothes for Mrs. Peabody She's getting another basketful ready now. She would wash, and that's as much as she'll let me do to help her, though of course when she irons I can be useful. I don't think she ought to get up and go to washing, but you can't stop her."

"Having a woman come to wash about killed the old man," chuckled Bob, starting the horse as he saw Mr. Peabody climbing stiffly over the fence. "Thanks for the water, Betty."

Betty had no wish to meet her host, for whom another check had come that morning from her uncle's lawyer. Betty herself was out of money, Uncle Dick having sent no letter for three weeks and apparently having made no provision to bridge the gap.

She hung out clothes till dinner time, and then helped put the boiled dinner on the table in the hot, steamy kitchen. Wapley and Lieson ate in silence, and Bob found a chance to whisper to Betty that he thought there was "something doing" between them and their employer.

Whatever this something was, there were no further developments till after supper. Peabody got up from the table and lurched out to the kitchen porch to sit on the top step, as was his invariable custom. He was too mean, his men said, to smoke a pipe, though he did chew tobacco. Bob had already taken the milk pails and gone to the barn.

As Mrs. Peabody and Betty finished the dishes, Wapley and Lieson came downstairs) dressed in their good clothes, and went out on the porch where Mr. Peabody sat silently.

"Can you let me have a couple of dollars tonight?" asked Lieson civilly. "Jim and me's going over to town for a few hours."

"You'll get no money from me," was the surly answer. "Fooling away your time and money Saturday night ought to be enough, without using the middle of the week for such extravagance. Anyway, you know well enough I never pay out in advance."

There was an angry murmur from Wapley. "Who's asking you for money in advance?" he snarled. "Lieson and me's both got money coming to us, and you know it. You pay us right up to the jot to-night or we quit!"

Peabody was quite unmoved. He stood up, leaning against a porch post, his hands in his pockets.

"You can quit, and good riddance to you," he drawled. "But you won't get a cent out of me. You overdrew, both of you, last Saturday, and there's nothing coming to you till a week from this Saturday."

The men were a little confused, neither accustomed to reckoning without the aid of pencil and paper, but Wapley held doggedly to his argument.

"We quit anyway," he announced with more dignity than Betty thought he possessed. She and Mrs. Peabody were listening nervously at the window, both afraid of what the quarrel might lead to. "You go pack our suitcases, Lieson, and I will figure up what he owes us. Never again do we work for a man who cheats."

Peabody leaned up against his post and chewed tobacco reflectively, while Wapley, tongue in cheek, struggled with a stub of pencil and a bit of brown wrapping paper.

"There's twenty-five dollars coming to us," he announced. "Twelve and a half apiece. Pay us, and we go."

"I don't know about the going, but I know there won't be any paying done," sneered Pea- body, just as Lieson with the two heavy suitcases staggered through the door and Bob with his two foaming pails of milk came up the steps.

Bob put down the milk pails to listen, and Wapley took a step toward Mr. Peabody, his face working convulsively.

"You cheater!" he gasped. "You miserable sneak! You've held back money all season, just to keep us working through harvest. If I had a gun I'd shoot you!"

The man was in a terrible rage, and Betty wondered how Mr. Peabody could face him so calmly. Suddenly she saw something glitter in his hand.

"I've got my pistol right here," he said, raising his hand to wave the blunt-nosed revolver toward Wapley. "I'll give you two just three minutes to get off this place. Go onI said go!"

Wapley whirled about and saw the milk pails. He seized one in either hand, raised them high above his head and dashed the contents furiously over Bob, Mr. Peabody, the steps and the porch impartially, sprinkling himself and Lieson liberally, too.

"I never knew how much milk those cows gave," Bob said later. "Seems like there must have been a regular ocean let loose."

Mr. Peabody was furious and very likely would have fired, but Bob put out his foot and tripped him, though he managed to pass the matter off as an accident. Wapley and Lieson trudged slowly up the lane, carrying the heavy cheap leather suit- cases. Betty watched them as far as she could see them, feeling inexpressibly sorry for the two who had worked through the long hot summer ' and were now leaving an unpleasant place with what she feared was only a too well-founded grievance.

"Some of you women," Peabody included Betty in the magnificent gesture, "get to work out there and clean up the milk. There's several pounds of butter lost, thanks to those no-'count fools. I'm going after my gun."

"Gun?" faltered Mrs. Peabody.

"Yes, gun," snapped her husband. "I don't suppose it occurs to you those idiots may take it into their heads to come back and burn the barns ? Bob and me will sit up all night and try to save the cattle, at least."

Bob was furious at the idea of playing lockout all night, and he was in the frame of mind by early morning where he probably would have cheerfully supplied any arson-plotters with the necessary match. But nothing happened, and very cross and sleepy, he and Mr. Peabody came in to breakfast as usual.

Betty, too, had not slept well, having wakened and pattered to the window many times to see if the barns were blazing. Indeed, if Lieson and Wapley had deliberately planned to upset the Peabody family, they could not have succeeded better.

Bob made up his lost sleep the next night, but his appetite came in for Mr. Peabody's criticism. "You seem to be aiming to eat me out of house and home," he observed at dinner a day or two later. "You don't have to eat everything in sight, you know. There'11 be another meal later." Bob blushed violently, not because of the reproof, for he was used to that, but because of the public disgrace. Betty, the cause of his distress, was as uncomfortable as he, and she experienced an un-Christianlike impulse to throw the dish of beans at the head of her host.

The following day Bob did not come in to dinner, and Betty, thinking perhaps that he had not heard Mrs. Peabody call, rose from the table with the intention of calling him a second time.

"Where are you going?" demanded Mr. Peabody suspiciously.

"To call Bob to dinner," said Betty. "I'm afraid he didn't hear Mrs. Peabody. The meat will be all cold."

"You sit down, and don't take things on your- self that are none of your concern," commanded Mr. Peabody shortly. "Bob isn't here for dinner, because I told him not to come. He's getting too big to thrash, and the only way to bring him to terms is to cut down his food. Living too high makes him difficult to handle. This morning he flatly disobeyed me, but I guess he'll learn not to do that again. Well, Miss, don't swallow your impudence. Out with it I"

On to chapter eighteen

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