BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

CHAPTER XVIII

IN THE NAME OF DISCIPLINE





BETTY opened her mouth to speak hotly, then closed it again. Argument was useless, and the distressed expression on Mrs. Peabody's face reminded the girl that it takes two to make a quarrel.

Dinner was finished in silence, and as soon as he had finished Mr. Peabody strode off to the barn.

A plan that had been forming in Betty's mind took concrete form, and as she helped clear the table she did not carry all the food down cellar to the swinging shelf, but made several trips to one of the window sills. Then, after the last dish was wiped and Mrs. Peabody had gone upstairs to lie down, for her strength was markedly slow in returning, Betty slipped out to the cellar window, reached in and got her plate, and, carefully assuring herself that Mr. Peabody was nowhere in sight, flew down the road to where she knew Bob was trimming underbrush. "Gee, but you're a good little pal, Betty," said the boy gratefully, as she came up to him. "I'm about starved to death, that's a fact."

"There isn't much there—just bread and potatoes and some corn," said Betty hurriedly. "Eat it quick, Bob. I didn't dare touch the meat, because it would be noticed at supper. Seems to me we have less to eat than ever."

"Can't you see it's because Wapley and Lieson are gone?" demanded Bob, his mouth full. "We're lucky to get anything at all to eat. Your cupboard all bare?"

"Haven't a single can of anything, nor one box of crackers," Betty announced dolefully. "The worst of it is, I haven't a cent of money. What can be the reason Uncle Dick doesn't write?"

"Oh, you'll hear before very long. Jumping around the way he does, he can't write a letter every day," returned Bob absently.

He handed back the plate to Betty and picked up his scythe.

"Don't let old Peabody catch you with that plate," he warned her. "He's got a fierce grouch on to-day, because the road commissioners notified him to get this trimming done. He's so mean he hates to take any time off the farm to do road work."

Betty went happily back to the house, for getting to be cautious in her satisfaction of getting food to Bob, and at the kitchen door she walked plump into Mr. Peabody.

"So that's what you've been up to!" he re- marked unpleasantly. "Sneaking food out to that no-'count, lazy boy! I'll teach you to be so free with what isn't yours and to upset my discipline. Set that plate on the table !"

Betty obeyed, rather frightened . "Now you come along with me." And, grasping her arm by the elbow, Mr. Peabody marched her upstairs to her own room very much as though she were a rebellious prisoner he had captured.

"Sit down in that chair, and don't let me hear a word out of you," said the farmer, pushing her none too gently into the single chair the room contained.

From his pocket he drew a handful of nails, and, using the door weight as a hammer, he proceeded deliberately to nail up the window that opened on to the porch roof.

"Now there'll be no running away," he commented grimly, when he had finished. "Give kids what's coming to 'em, and they flare up and try to wriggle out of it. You'll stay right here and do a little thinking till I'm ready to tell you different. It's time you learned who's running this house."

He went out, and Betty heard him turn a key in the lock as he closed the door.

"So he's carried a key all the time !" cried the girl furiously. "I thought there wasn't any for that door! And the idea of speaking to me as he did—the miserable old curmudgeon!"

She supposed she would have to stay locked in till it suited Mr. Peabody to release her, and quite likely she would have nothing to eat. If he could punish Bob in that fashion, there was no reason to think he intended to be any more lenient with her.

"Even bread and water would be better than nothing at all," said Betty aloud.

The sound of wheels attracted her attention, and she peered through the window to see Mr. Peabody in conversation with a stranger who had driven in with a horse and buggy.

Mrs. Peabody was stirring, and presently Betty heard her go downstairs, and a few minutes later she came out into the yard ready to feed her chickens.

"Don't let the hens out in the morning," ordered Mr. Peabody, meeting her directly under Betty's open window. The girl knelt down to listen, angry and resentful. "Ryerson was just here, and I've sold the whole yard to him. I want to try Wyandottes next. He'll be over about ten in the morning, and it won't hurt to keep them in the henhouses till then."

"Oh. Joseph!" Mrs. Peabody's voice was reproachful. "I've just got those hens ready to be good layers this fall. You don't know how I've worked over 'em, and culled the best and sprayed those dirty old houses and kept 'em clean and disinfected. I don't want to try a new breed. I want a little of the money these will earn this winter."

"Well, this happens to be my farm and my livestock," replied her husband cruelly. "If I see a chance to improve the strain, I'm going to take it. You just do as I say, and don't let the hens out to-morrow morning."

His wife dragged herself out to the chicken yard, her brief insistence having completely collapsed. The girl listening wondered how any woman could give in so easily to such palpable injustice.

"I suppose she doesn't care," thought Betty, stumbling on the heart of the matter blindly. "If she did have her own way, that wouldn't change him; he'd still be mean and small and not very honest and she'd have to despise him just as much as ever. Things wouldn't make up to her for the kind of man her husband is."

Supper time came and went, and the odor of frying potatoes fame up to Betty in delicious whiffs, though she had been known to turn up her little freckled nose when this dish was passed to her.

About eight o'clock Mr. Peabody unlocked the door and set inside a plate of very dry bread and a small pitcher of water, locking the door after him. Betty slid the bolt angrily and this gave her some satisfaction. She ate her bread and water and listened for a while at the window, hoping to hear Bob's whistle. But nothing disturbed the velvety silence of the night, and by half-past nine Betty was undressed and in bed, asleep.

She woke early, as usual, dressed and unbolted her door, hungry enough to be humble. But no bread and water arrived.

The rattle of milk pails and the sounds which indicated that breakfast was in progress ceased after a while and the house seemed unusually quiet. Then, just as Betty decided to try tying the bedclothes into a rope and lowering herself from the window, she heard Bob's familiar whistle.

"Hello, Princess Golden Hair!" Bob grinned up at her from the old shelter of the lilac bush. "Let down your hair, and I'll send you up some breakfast."

This was an old joke with them, because Betty's hair was dark, and while thick and smooth was not especially long.

"I want you to help me get out of here!" hissed Betty furiously. "I won't stay locked in here like a naughty little child. Can't you get me a ladder or something, Bob, and not stand there like an idiot?"

"Gee, you are hungry," said Bob with commiseration. "Dangle me down a string, Princess, and I'll send you up some bread with butter on it. I helped myself to both. We can talk while you eat."

Betty managed to find a strong, long string, and she threw one end down to Bob, who tied the packet to it; then Betty hauled it up and fell upon the food ravenously.

"I got you into this pickle," said Bob regretfully. "Old Peabody licked me for good measure last night, or I would have been round at this window trying to talk to you. Awfully sorry, Betty. It must be hot, too, with that other window nailed up."

"Do you mean he whipped you?" gasped Betty, horrified. "Why? And what did you do yesterday?"

"Oh, yesterday I wouldn't back him up in a lie he tried to tell the road commissioner," said Bob cheerfully. "And last night I sassed him when I heard what he'd done to you. So we had an old-fashioned session in the woodshed. But that's nothing for you to worry over."

"Where is he now?" asked Betty fearfully.

"Gone over to Kepplers to see about buying more chickens," answered Bob. "Mrs. Peabody has gone to salt the sheep, and I'm supposed to be cleaning harness in the barn."

"Get me a ladder—now's my time!" planned Betty swiftly. "I could bob my hair and you might lend me a pair of overalls, Bob. For I simply won't come back here. It's too far to jump to the ground, or I should have tried it. Hurry up, and bring me a ladder."

"I'll get a ladder on one condition," announced Bob stubbornly. "You must promise to go to Doctor Guerin's. No cutting your hair and wandering around the country in boy's clothes. Promise?"

Betty shook her head obstinately.

"All right, you stay where you are," decreed Bob. "I have to go to Laurel Grove, anyway, and I ought to be hitching up right now." He turned away.

"All right, I promise," capitulated Betty. "Hurry with the ladder before Mr. Peabody comes back and catches us."

Bob ran to the barn and was back in a few minutes with a long ladder.



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