THE arbor was rather small and rickety, but at least it was shady. Betty sat down beside her uncle, who braced his feet against the opposite seat to keep his place on the narrow ledge.

"I'm afraid I take up a good deal of room," he said apologetically. "Well, my dear, had you begun to think I was never coming?"

Betty glanced up at him bravely. "It was pretty long—waiting," she admitted. "But now you're here, Uncle Dick, everything is all right. When can we go away?"

"Aren't you happy here, dear?" asked her uncle, plainly troubled. "I thought from your first letter that Mrs. Arnold was a pretty good kind of friend, and I pictured you as contented as a girl could possibly be after a bitter loss like yours."

He smiled a bit ruefully.

"Maybe I'm not strong on pictures," he added. "I thought of you as a little girl, Betty. Don't know what'll you say, but there's a doll in my grip for you."

Betty laughed musically.

"I've always saved my old doll," she confided, slipping a hand into Uncle Dick's broad fist where it lay clinched on his knee. He was very companionable, was this uncle, and she felt that she already loved him dearly. "But, Uncle Dick, I haven't really played with dolls since we moved from the city. I like outdoor things."

"Well, now, so do I," agreed her uncle. "I can't seem to breathe properly unless I'm outdoors. But about this going away—do you want to leave Pineville, Sister?"

Betty's troubled eyes rested on the little garden hot in the bright sunshine.

"It isn't home any more, without mother," she said slowly. "And—I don't belong, Uncle Dick. Mrs. Arnold is a dear, and I love her and she loves me. But they want to go to California, though they won't talk it before me, 'cause they think I'll feel in the way. Mr. Arnold has a brother on a fruit farm, and he's wild to move out there. As soon as you take me somewhere, they're going to pack up."

"Well, then, we'll have to see that you do belong somewhere," said Mr. Gordon firmly. "Anything else, Sister?"

Betty drew a deep breath.

"It's heavenly to have you to listen to me," she declared. "I want to go! I've never been anywhere, and I feel as though I could go and go and never stop. Daddy was like that. Mother used to say if he hadn't had us to look after he would have been an explorer, but that he had to manage to earn a living and do his traveling as a salesman. Couldn't I learn to be a salesman, a saleswoman, I mean? Lots of girls do travel."

"We'll think it over," answered her uncle diplomatically.

"And then there's another thing," went on Betty, her pent-up thoughts finding relief in speech. "Although Mrs. Arnold was mother's dearest friend, I can't make her understand how mother felt about wearing mourning."

Betty indicated her rose smock.

"Lots of Pineville folks think I don't care about losing my mother," she asserted softly, "because I haven't a single black dress. But mother said mourning was selfish. She wouldn't wear black when daddy died. Black makes other people feel sorry. But I did love mother! And do yet!"

Uncle Dick's keen blue eyes misted and the brave little figure in the bright smock was blurred for a moment.

"I suppose the whole town has been giving you reams of advice," he said irrelevantly. "Well Betty, I can't promise to take you with me—bless me, what would an old bachelor like me do with a young lady like you? But I think I know of a place where you can spend a summer and be neither lonesome nor unhappy. And perhaps in the fall we can make other arrangements."

Betty was disappointed that he did not promise to take her with him at once. But she had been trained not to tease, and she accepted the compromise as pleasantly as it was offered.

"Mrs. Arnold will be disappointed if you don't go round to the front door," she informed her uncle, as he stretched his long legs preparatory to rising from the low seat. "Company always comes to the front door, Uncle Dick."

Mr. Gordon stepped out of the summer house and turned toward the gate.

"We'll walk around and make a proper entry," he declared obligingly. "I meant to, and then as I came up the street I remembered how we used to cut across old Clinton's lot and climb the fence. So I had to come the back way for old times' sake."

Betty's eyes were round with wonder.

"Did you ever live in Pineville?" she asked in astonishment.

"You don't mean to tell me you didn't know that?" Uncle Dick was as surprised as his niece. "Why, they shipped me into this town to read law with old Judge Clay before they found there was no law in me, and your father first met your mother one Sunday when he drove twenty miles from the farm to see me."

Betty was still pondering over this when they reached the Arnold front door and Mrs. Arnold, flustered and delighted, answered Mr. Gordon's knock.

"Sit right down on the front porch where it's cool," she insisted cordially. "I've just put on my dinner, and you'll have time for a good talk. No, Betty, there isn't a thing you can do to help me—you entertain your uncle."

But Betty, who knew that excitement always affected Mrs. Arnold's bump of neatness, determined to set the table, partly to help her hostess and partly, it must be confessed, to make sure that the knives and forks and napkins were in their proper places.

"I'm sure I don't know where those boys can be," scolded the flushed but triumphant mother, as she tested the flaky chicken dumplings and pronounced the dinner "done to a turn." "We'll just sit down without them, and it'll do 'em good," she decided.

Betty ran through the hall to call her uncle. Just as she reached the door two forlorn figures toiled up the porch steps.

"Where's ma?" whispered Ted, for the moment not seeing the stranger and appealing to Betty, who stood in the doorway. "In the kitchen? We thought maybe we could sneak up the front stairs."

Ted was plastered from head to foot with slimy black mud, and George, his younger edition, was draped only in a wet bath towel. Both boys clung to their rough fishing rods, and Ted still carried the dirty tin can that had once held bait.

"I should say," observed Mr. Gordon in his deep voice, "that we had been swimming against orders. Things usually happen in such cases."

"Oh, gee!" sighed Ted despairingly. "Who's that? Company?"

Mrs. Arnold had heard the talk, and she came to the door now, pushing Betty aside gently.

"Well, I must say you're a pretty sight," she told her children. "If your father were at home you know what would happen to you pretty quick. Betty's uncle here, too! Aren't you ashamed of yourselves ? I declare, I've a good mind to whip you good. Where are your clothes, George?"

"They—they floated away," mumbled George. "Ted borrowed this towel. It's Mrs. Smith's. Say, ma, we're awful hungry."

"You march upstairs and get cleaned up," said their mother sternly. "We're going to sit down to dinner this minute. Chicken and dumplings. When you come down looking like Christians I'll see about giving you something to eat."

Midway in the delicious dinner Ted and George sidled into the room, very wet and shiny as to hair and conspicuously immaculate as to shirt and collar. Mrs. Arnold relented at the transformation and proceeded to pile two plates high with samples of her culinary skill.

"Betty," said Mr. Gordon suddenly, "is there a garage here where we can hire a car?"

"There isn't a garage in Pineville," answered Betty. "You see we're off the state road where the automobile traffic goes. There are only two or three cars in town, and they're for business. . But we can get a horse and buggy, Uncle Dick."

"Guess that's better, after all," said Mr. Gordon contentedly. "I want to talk to you about that plan I spoke of, and we'll stand a better chance of having our talk if we travel behind a horse. I wonder—" his eyes twinkled—"if there's a young man about who would care to earn a quarter by running down to the livery stable and seeing about a horse and buggy for the afternoon?"

Ted and George grinned above their respective dishes of ice-cold rice pudding.

"I'll go," offered Ted.

"I'll go, too," promised George. "Can we drive the rig back to the house?"

Mr. Gordon said they could, and the two boys dispatched their dessert in double quick time. While they went down to the town livery stable, Betty hurried to put on a cool, white frock, but, to Mrs. Arnold's disappointment, she refused to wear a hat.

"The buggy top will be up, so my complexion will be safe," Betty declared merrily, giving Mrs. Arnold a hearty squeeze as that lady followed her downstairs to the porch where Mr. Gordon was waiting.

"What's that? Go without a hat?" he repeated, when Betty consulted him. "I should say so! You're fifty times prettier with those smooth braids than with any hat, I don't care how fine it is. This must be our turnout approaching."

As he guessed, it was their horse and buggy coming toward the house. Ted was driving, assisted by George, and the patient horse was galloping like mad as they urged it on.

"Never knew a boy of that age who could be trusted to drive alone," muttered Mr. Gordon, going down to the gate to meet them.

The boys beamed at him and Betty, sure that they had pleased with their haste. They then watched Betty step in, followed by her uncle, and drive away with something like envy.

"Are you used to driving, Betty?" asked Mr. Gordon, as he chirped lightly to the horse that obediently quickened its lagging pace.

"Why, I've driven some," replied Betty hesitatingly. "But I wouldn't know what to do if he should be frightened at anything. Do you like to drive, Uncle?"

"I'm more used to horseback riding," was the answer. "I hope you'll have a chance to learn that this summer, Betty. I must have you measured for a habit and have it sent up to you from the city. There's no better sport for a man or a woman, to my way of thinking, than can be found in the saddle."

"Where am I going?" asked the girl timidly. "Who'll teach me to ride?"

"Oh, there'll be some one," said her uncle easily. "I never knew a ranch yet where there were not good horsemen. The idea came to me that you might like to spend the summer with Mrs. Peabody, Betty."

"Mrs. Peabody?" repeated Betty, puzzled. "Does she live on a ranch? I'd love to go out West, Uncle Dick."

On to chapter three

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