BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

CHAPTER XX

STORMBOUND ON THE WAY

Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her Josephine Lawrence website; please do not use on other sites without permission


BOB would not have dismissed his misgivings so contentedly had he been able to see Betty just at that moment.

When she shook the dust of Bramble Farm from her feet, which she did literally at the boundary line on the main road, to the great delight of two curious robins and a puzzled chipmunk, she said firmly that it was forever. As she tramped along the road she kept looking back, hoping to hear the rattle of wheels and to see Bob and the sorrel coming after her. But she reached the crossroads without being overtaken.

Years ago some thoughtful person had taken the trouble to build a rude little seat around the four sides of the guidepost where the road to Laurel Grove and Glenside crossed, and in a nearby field was a boarded-up spring of ice-cold water, so that travelers, on foot and in motor-cars and wagons, made it a point to rest for a few minutes and refresh themselves there. Betty was a trifle embarrassed to find a group of men loitering about the guide-post when she came up to it

They were all strangers to her, but with the ready friendliness of the country, they nodded respectfully.

"Want to sit down a minute, Miss?" asked a gray-haired man civilly, standing up to make room for her. "Didn't expect to see so many idle farmers about on a clear morning) did you?"

Betty shook her head, smiling.

"I won't sit down, thank you," she said in her clear girlish voice. "I'll just get a drink of water and go on; I want to reach Glenside before noon."

"Glenside road's closed," announced one of the younger men, shortly.

"Closed!" echoed Betty. "Oh, no! I have to get there, I tell you."

Her quick, frightened glance fell on the man who had first spoken to her, and she appealed to him.

"The road isn't closed, is it?" she asked breath. lessly. "That isn't why you're all here?"

"Now, now, there's nothing to worry your head about," answered the gray-haired farmer soothingly. "Jerry, here, is always a hit abrupt with his tongue. As a matter of fact, the road is closed; but if you don't mind a longer walk, you can make a detour and get to Glenside easily enough."

Betty gazed at him uncertainly.

"You see," he explained, "King Charles, the prize bull at Greenfields, the big dairy farm, got out this morning, and we suppose he is roaming up and down between here and Glenside. He's worth a mint of money, so they don't want to shoot him, and the dairy has offered a good reward for his safe return. He's got a famous temper, and no one would deliberately set out to meet him unarmed; so we're posted here to warn folks. A few automobiles took a chance and went on, but the horses and wagons and foot passengers take the road to Laurel Grove. You turn off to the left at the first road and follow that and it brings you into Glenside at the north end of town. You'll be all right."

"A girl shouldn't try to make it alone," objected another one of the group. "You take my advice, Sis, and wait till your father or brother tan take you over in the buggy. Suppose you met a camp of Gypsies?"

"Oh, I'm not afraid," Betty assured him. "That is, not of people. But I don't know what in the world I should do if I met an angry bull. I'll take the detour, and everything will be all right. I'm used to walking."

The men repeated the directions again, to make sure she understood clearly. Then Betty drank a cup of the fresh, cold spring water, and bravely set off on the new road.

The gray-haired man came running after her.

"If it should storm," he cried, coming up with her, "don't run under a tree. Better stay out in the rain till you reach a house. You'll be safe in any farmhouse."

He meant safe as far as the kind of people she would meet were concerned, but Betty, who had never in her life feared any one, thought he referred to protection from the elements. She thanked him, and trudged on.

"I certainly am hungry," she said, after a half hour of tramping. "Now I know how Bob feels without a cent in his pocket. I'll have to ask Doctor Guerin for some money. I can't get along without a nickel. Uncle Dick must be awfully busy, or else he's sick. Otherwise he would surely let me hear from him."

When she came to an old apple orchard where the trees drooped over a crumbling stone wall, Betty had no scruples about filling the pockets and sleeves of her sweater with the apples that lay on the ground. Bob had told her that portions of trees that grew over the roadside were public property, and she intended to explain to the farmer, if she met him, how she had come to carry off some of his fruit. But she met no one and saw no house, and presently the rumble of distant thunder put all thoughts of apples out of her mind.

"My goodness!" She looked at the mountain of white clouds piling up with something like panic. "I haven't even come to the road that turns, and I just know this will be a hard thunderstorm. Mrs. Peabody said last week that the August storms are terrors. I'll run, and perhaps I'll come to a house."

Holding her sweater stuffed with apples in her arms, and jamming her hat firmly on her head, Betty flew down the road, bouncing over stones, jumping over, without a shudder, a mashed blacksnake flattened out in the road by some passing car, and, in defiance of all speed regulations, refusing to slow up at a sharp turn in the road ahead. She took it at top speed, and as she rounded the curve the first drops of rain splashed her nose. But her flight was rewarded.

A long, low, comfortable-looking farmhouse sat back in an overgrown garden on one side of the road.

"D. Smith," read Betty on the mail box at the gate. "Well, Mrs. D. Smith; I hope you're at home, and I hope you'll ask me to come in and rest till the storm's over. Shall I knock at the back or the front door?"

A vivid flash of lightning sent her scurrying across the road and up the garden path. As she lifted the black iron knocker on the front door a peal of thunder rattled the loose casements of the windows.

Betty lifted the knocker and let it fall three times before she decided that either Mrs. D. Smith did not welcome callers at the front of her house, or else she could not hear the knocker from where she was. But a prolonged rat-a-tat-tat on the back door produced no further results.

"She may be out getting the poultry in," said Betty to herself, recalling how hard Mrs. Peabody worked every time a storm came up. "Wonder "where the poultry yard is?"

The rain was driving now, and the thunder irritatingly incessant. Betty walked to the end of the back porch and stood on her tiptoes trying to see the outbuildings. Then, for the first time, she noticed what she would surely have seen in one glance at a less exciting time.

There were no outbuildings, only burned, and blackened holes in the ground! A few loose bricks marked the site of masonry-work, and a charred beam or two fallen across the gaps showed only too plainly what had been the fate of barns and crib houses.

Betty ran impulsively to a window, and, holding up her hands to shut out the light, peered in. Cobwebs, dust and dirt and a few empty tins in the sink were the only furniture of the kitchen.

"It's empty!" gasped Betty. "No one lives here! Oh, gracious!"

A great fork of lightning shot across the sky, followed at once by a deafening crash of thunder. Far across the field, on the other side of the road, Betty saw a tall oak split and fall.

"I'm going in out of this," she decided, "if I have to break a window or a lock!"

She leaned her sturdy weight against the wooden door, automatically turning the knob without thought of result. The door swung easily open—there had been nothing to hinder her walking in—and she tumbled in so suddenly that she had difficulty in keeping her feet.

Betty closed the door and looked about her.

The storm shut out, she immediately felt a sense of security, though a hasty survey of the three rooms on one side of the hall failed to reveal any materials for a fire or a meal, two comforts she was beginning to crave. She took an apple from her sweater pocket, and, munching that, set out to explore the rooms on the other side of the hall.

A curious, yet familiar, noise drew her attention to the front room, probably in happier days the parlor of the farmhouse. Peering in through the partly open folding doors, Betty saw seven crates of chickens!

"Why—how funny!" She was puzzled. "Where could they have come from? And what are they doing here? Even if they saved them from the fire, they wouldn't be left after all the furniture was moved out."

She went up to the crates and examined them more closely.

'That black rooster is the living image of Mrs. Peabody's," she thought. "And the White Leghorns look like her's, too. But, then, I suppose all chickens look alike. I never could see how their hen mothers told them apart."

Still carrying her sweater with the apples, she wandered upstairs, trying to people the vacant, dusty rooms and wondering what had happened to those who had dwelt here and where they had gone.

"I wonder if the fire was at night and whether they were terribly frightened," she mused. "I should say they were mighty lucky to save the house, though perhaps the barns are the most necessary buildings on a farm. Why didn't they build them up again, instead of moving out? I would."

She was standing in one of the back rooms, and from the window she could look down and see what had once been the garden. The drenched rosebushes still showed a late blossom or two, and there was a faint outline of orderly paths and a tangle of brilliant color where flowers, self-sown, struggled to force their way through the choking weeds. The drip, drip of the rain sounded dolefully on the tin roof, and a cascade ran off at one corner of the house showing where a leader was broken. Toward the west the clouds were lifting, though the thunder still grumbled angrily.

Betty went through the rather narrow hall and entered a pleasant, prettily papered room where a low white rocking chair and a pink sock on the floor spoke mutely of the baby whose kingdom had been bounded by the wide bay window.

"They forgot the rocker," said Betty, drawing it up to the window and resting her elbows on the narrow window ledge. "I hope he was a fat, pretty baby." she went on, picking up the sock and holding it in her hand. "Is that some one coming down the road?"

It was—two people in fact; and as they drew nearer Betty's eyes almost popped out with astonishment. The pair talking together so earnestly, completely oblivious of the rain, were Lieson and Wapley, the two men who had worked for Mr Peabody! And they were turning in at the path guarded by the mail box inscribed "D. Smith."

Betty flew to the door of the room where she sat and drew the bolt.



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