MRS. BENDER insisted that Mr. Peabody should sit down on her shady front porch while she set the table and got luncheon. Betty followed her like a shadow, and while they were laying the silver together the woman smiled at the downcast face.

"What is it, dear?" she asked gently. "You don't want to go back to Bramble Farm; is that it?"

Betty nodded miserably.

"Why do I have to?" she argued. "Can't I go and stay with the Guerins? They'd like to have me, I'm sure they would."

"Well, we'll see what Mr. Bender has to say," answered Mrs. Bender diplomatically. "Here he comes now. You call Bob and Mr. Peabody, and mind, not a word while we're at the table. Mr. Bender hates to have an argument while he's eating."

The luncheon was delicious, and Mr. Peabody thoroughly enjoyed it, if the service was rather confusing. He thought the Benders were very foolish to live as they did instead of saving up money for their old age, but since they did, he was glad they did not retrench when they had company. That, by the way, was Mr. Peabody's original conception of hospitality—to save on his guests by serving smaller portions of food.

"We'll go into the living-room and have a little talk now," proposed the recorder, leading the way into the pleasant front room where a big divan fairly invited three to sit upon it.

"Betty and Bob on either side of me," said Mr. Bender cordially, pointing to the sofa, "and, Mr. Peabody, just roll up that big chair."

Mrs. Bender sat down in a rocking chair, and the recorder seated himself between the two young folks.

"Betty doesn't want to come back with me," said Mr. Peabody resentfully. "I can tell by the way she acts. But her uncle sent her up to us, and there she should stay, I say, till he sends for her again. It doesn't look right for a girl to be gallivanting all over the township,"

"I could stay with the Guerins," declared Betty stubbornly. "Mrs. Guerin is lovely to me."

"I should think you'd have a little pride about asking 'em to take you in, when they've got two daughters of their own and he as hard up as most country doctors are," said the astute Mr. Peabody. "Your uncle pays me for your board and I certainly don't intend to turn over any checks to Doc Guerin."

Betty flushed. She had not thought at all about the monetary side of the question. She knew that Doctor Guerin's practice was largely among the farmers, who paid him in produce as often as in cash, and, as Mr. Peabody said, he could not be expected to take a guest for an indefinite time.

"You know you could stay with me, Betty," Mrs. Bender broke in quickly, "but we're going away for a month next week, and there isn't time to change the plans. Mr. Bender has his vacation."

"Gee, Betty," came from Bob, "if you're not coming back, what'll I do?"

"Work," said Mr. Peabody grimly.

Betty's quick temper flared up suddenly.

"I won't go back!" she declared passionately. "I'll do housework, I'll scrub or wash dishes, anything! I hate Bramble Farm!"

"Now, now, sister," said the recorder in his even, pleasant voice. "Keep cool, and we'll find a way. There's this letter Mr. Peabody speaks about. Perhaps that will bring you good news."

"I suppose it's from Uncle Dick," admitted Betty, wiping her eyes. "Maybe he will want me to come where he is."

"Well now, Betty," Mr. Peabody spoke persuasively, "you come along home with me and maybe things will be more to your liking. Perhaps I haven't always done just as you'd like. But then, you recollect, I ain't used to girls and their notions. Your uncle won't think you're fit to be trusted to travel alone if I write him and tell him you run away from the farm."

Betty looked dumbly at Mr. Bender.

"I think you had better go with Mr. Peabody," he said kindly, answering her unspoken question. "You see, Betty, it isn't very easy to explain, but when you want to leave a place, any place, always go openly and as far as possible avoid the significance of running away. You do not have to stay for one moment where any one is actively unkind to you, but since your uncle placed you in the care of Mr. and Mrs. Peabody, if you can, it is wiser to wait till you hear from him before making any change."

"Make him be nicer to Bob," urged Betty obstinately.

"I aim to send him to school this winter," said Mr. Peabody, rushing to his own defense. "And I can get a man now to help out with the chores. He's lame, but a good milker. Can get him right away, too— this afternoon. Came by asking for work and I guess he'll stay all winter. Bob can take it easy for a day or two."

"Then he can drive over with Betty Saturday afternoon and spend Sunday with us." Mrs. Bender was quick to seize this advantage. "That will be fine. We'll see you, Betty, before we go away. And, dear, you must write to me often."

So it was settled that Betty was to return to Bramble Farm. The Benders were warmly interested in both young folks, and they were not the sort of people to lose sight of any one for whom they cared. Mr. Peabody knew that Bob and Betty had gained friends who would be actively concerned for their welfare, and he was entirely sincere in promising to make it easier for them in the future.

He and Bob and Betty and the crated chickens drove into the lane leading to Bramble Farm about half-past four.

Betty's first thought was for her letter. The moment she saw the hand-writing, she knew it was from her uncle.

"Bob, Bob! Where are you?" she called, running out to the barn, waving the letter wildly after the first reading. "Oh, Bob, why aren't you ever where I want you?"

Mr. Peabody and his wife were still busy over the chickens.

Bob, it seemed, was engaged in the unlovely task of cleaning the cow stables, after having, on Mr. Peabody's orders, gone after the lame man to engage him for the fall and winter work. But Betty was so eager to share her news with him that she stood just outside the stable and read him bits of the letter through the open window.

"Uncle Dick's in Washington!" she announced blithely. "He's been there a week, and he hopes he can send for me before the month is up. Won't that be fine, Bob? I'm not going to unpack my trunk, because I want to be able to go the minute he sends me word. And, oh, yes, he sends me an- other check. Now we can have some more goodies from the grocery store, next time you go to Glenside."

"You cash that check and put the money away where you and no one else can find it," advised Bob seriously. "Don't let yourself get out of funds again, Betty. It may be another long wait before you hear from your uncle."

"Oh, no, that won't happen again," said Betty carelessly. "He's in Washington, so everything must be all right. But, Bob, isn't it funny? he hasn't had one of my letters! He says he supposes there's a pile of mail for him at the lawyer's office, but he hasn't had time to run up there, and, anyway, the lawyer is ill and his office is in great confusion. Uncle Dick writes he is glad to think of me enjoying the delights of Bramble Farm instead of the city's heat—Washington is hot in summer, I know daddy used to say so. And he sends the kindest messages to Mr. and Mrs. Peabody—I wish he knew that old miser!

I've written him all about you, but of course he hasn't read the letters."

All through supper and the brief evening that followed Betty was light-hearted and gay. She re-read her Uncle Dick's letter twenty times, and because of the relief it promised her found it easy to be gracious to Mr. Peabody. That man was put out because his new hired hand refused to sleep in the attic, declaring that the barn was cooler, as in fact it was.

"If I catch you smoking in there, I'll wring your neck," was the farmer's amiable good-night to the lame man as he limped out toward his selected sleeping place.

On to chapter twenty-five

Back to Josephine Lawrence, Children's Books