BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

CHAPTER XXV

THEIR MUTUAL SECRETS


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



BETTY woke to find her room almost as light as day. She had been dreaming of breakfasting with her uncle in a blue and gold dining-room of her own furnishing, and for the moment she thought it was morning. But the light flickered too much for sunlight, and as she became more fully awake, she realized it was a red glare. Fire!

"Fire!" Bob's voice vocalized her cry for her, and he came tumbling down the uncarpeted attic stairs with a wild clatter of shoes.

She called to him to wait; but he did not hear, and raced on out to the barn. The inarticulate bellow of Mr. Peabody sounded next as, yelling loudly, he rushed down the stairs and out through the kitchen.

"Betty!" Mrs. Peabody ran in as Betty struggled hastily to dress. "Betty! the barn's on fire! No one knows how long it's been burning. If we only had a dog, he might have barked! Or a telephone!"

Betty stifled a hysterical desire to laugh as she followed the moaning Mrs. Peabody downstairs. It was not the main barn, she saw with a little throb of relief as they ran through the yard. Instead it was the corncrib and wagon house which stood a little apart from the rest of the buildings. The cribs were practically empty of corn, for of course the new crop had not yet matured, and the only loss would be the two shabby old wagons and a quantity of more or less worn machinery stored in the loft overhead. A huge rat, driven from his home under the corncrib, ran past Betty in the dark.

"It's all insured," said Mr. Peabody complacently, watching Bob dash buckets of water on the tool shed, which was beginning to blister from the heat. "Well, Keppler, see the blaze from your place? Nice little bonfire, ain't it?"

Mr. Keppler and his two half-grown sons had run all the way and were too out of breath to reply immediately. They were not on especially good terms with Mr. Peabody, but as his nearest neighbor they could not let his buildings burn down without making an effort to help him. They had left the mother of the family at the telephone with instructions to call the surrounding neighbors if Mr. Keppler signaled her to do so with the pistol he carried.

"Guess you won't need any more help," said Mr. Keppler, regaining his breath. "How'd she start?"

"Why, when I thought it was the barn, I said to myself that lazy good-for-nothing lame Phil's been smoking," replied Mr. Peabody. "But I don't know how he could set the corncribs afire."

"Where is he now?" cried Betty, remembering the man's affliction. "He couldn't run—perhaps he tried to sleep in the wagon and is burned."

"No, he isn't," said Phil behind her.

He had been watching the fire from the safe vantage point of a boulder in the apple orchard, he admitted when cross-questioned. Yes, the flames had awakened him in the barn where he slept. No, he couldn't guess how they had started unless it could have been spontaneous combustion from the oiled rags he had noticed packed tightly in a corner of the wagon shed that afternoon.

"Spontaneous combustion!" ejaculated Mr. Peabody angrily. "If you know that much, why couldn't you drop me a word, or take away the rags?"

The lame man looked at him with irritating intentness.

"I thought you might wring my neck if I did," he said.

"I don't know whether Phil's a fool or not," confided Bob to Betty the next morning; "but he has old Peabody guessing, that's sure. He was quoting Shakespeare to him at the pump this morning."

Betty lost little time in speculation concerning Phil, for another worry claimed her attention.

"How can we go to see the Benders Saturday?" she asked Bob. "Both wagons are burned up."

"Well, we still have the horse," Bob reminded her cheerfully. "A wagon without a horse isn't much good, but a horse without a wagon is far from hopeless. You leave it to me."

Betty was willing. She was dreaming day dreams about Washington and Uncle Dick, dreams in which she generously included Bob and the Benders and Norma Guerin. It was fortunate for her that she could not see ahead, or know how slowly the weeks were to drag by without another letter. How Betty waited and waited and finally went to the Capitol City to find her uncle herself will be told in the next volume of this series, to be called, "Betty Gordon in Washington; or, Strange Adventures in a Great City." High-spirited, headstrong, pretty Betty finds adventures aplenty, not unmixed with a spice of danger, in the beautiful city of Washington, and quite unexpectedly she again meets Bob Henderson, who has left Bramble Farm to seek his fortune.

That Bob was planning a surprise in connection with their visit to the Benders, she was well aware, but she would not spoil his enjoyment by trying to force him to divulge his secret. Betty had a secret of her own, saved up for the eventful day, which she had no idea of disclosing till the proper time should arrive.

Saturday morning dawned warm and fair, and Bob tore into his morning's work, determined to leave Mr. Peabody no loophole for criticism and, possibly, detention, though he had promised Bob the afternoon off. Phil was with them no more, having ambled off one night without warning and taken his peculiarities to a possibly more appreciative circle.

Bob was hungry at noon, but he hardly touched his dinner, so eager was he to get away from the table and wash and dress ready for the trip to Laurel Grove. Poor Bob had no best clothes, but he resolutely refused to wear overalls to the Benders, and he had coaxed Mrs. Peabody to get his heavy winter trousers out of the mothballs and newspapers in which she had packed them away. She had washed and ironed a faded shirt for him, and at least he would be whole and clean.

"Bob," drawled Mr. Peabody, as that youth declined dessert and prepared to rise from the table, "before you go, I want to see the wood box filled, some fresh litter in the pig pens and some fodder in all the cow mangers. If I'm to do the milking, I don't want to have to pitch all the fodder, too."

Bob scowled angrily.

"I haven't time," he muttered. "That'll take me till two or half-past. You said I could have the afternoon."

"And I also told you to fill the wood box yesterday," retorted Mr. Peabody. "You'll do as I say, or stay home altogether. Take your choice."

"He's the meanest man who ever lived!" scolded Betty, following Bob out to the woodshed. "I'll fill up that old box, Bob, and you go do the other chores. I'd like to throw this stick at his head."

Bob laughed, for he had a naturally sweet temper and seldom brooded over his wrongs.

"He did tell me to fill the box yesterday and I forgot," he confessed. "Take your time, Betty, and don't get all hot. And don't scratch your hands—they looked as pretty as Mrs. Bender's; I noticed 'em at the table."

Betty stared after him as he went whistling to the barn, her apron sagging with the wood she had piled into it. She glanced scrutinizingly at her strong, shapely tanned little hands. Did Bob think they were pretty? Betty herself admired very white hands with slim pointed fingers like Norma Guerin's.

She worked to such good purpose that she had the wood box filled and was brushing her hair when she heard Bob go thumping past her door on his way to his room. She was dressed and downstairs when he came down, and he caught hold of her impulsively and whirled her around the porch.

"Betty, you're a wonder I" he cried in admiration. "How did you ever guess the size? And when did you buy it ? You could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw it spread out there on the bed."

"I'm glad it fits you so well," answered Betty demurely, surveying the neat blue and white shirt she had bought for him. "I took one of your old ones over to Glenside. Oh, it didn't cost much!" she hastened to assure him, interpreting the look he gave her. "I'm saving the money Uncle Dick sent, honestly I am."

Bob insisted that she sit down on the porch and let him drive round for her, and now it was Betty's turn to be surprised. The sorrel was harnessed to a smart rubber-tired runabout.

"Bob Henderson! where did you get it? Whose is it? Does Mr. Peabody know? Let's go through Glenside and show 'em we look right sometimes," suggested the astonished Betty.

Bob, beaming with pride, helped her in and Mrs. Peabody waved them a friendly good-bye. She betrayed no surprise at the sight of the run-about and was evidently in the secret.

"She knows about it," explained Bob, as they drove off. "I borrowed it from the Kepplers. Tried to get a horse, too, but they're going driving Sunday and need the team. This is their single harness. Nifty buckles, aren't they?"

Betty praised the runabout to his heart's content, and they actually did drive through Glenside, though it was a longer way around, and had the satisfaction of meeting the Guerins.

Recorder Bender and his wife were delighted to see them again, and they had a happy time all planned for them. Saturday night there was a moving picture show in Laurel Grove, and the Benders took their guests. Betty had not been to motion pictures since leaving Pineville and it was Bob's second experience with the films.

Sunday morning they all went to church, and the long, delightful summer Sunday afternoon they spent on the cool, shady porch, exchanging confidences and making plans for the future.

"I'm saving the money I get for the carvings," said Bob, "and when I get enough I'll dig up the little black tin box and off I'll go. I've got to get some education and amount to something, and if I stay with the Peabody's till I'm eighteen, my chance will be gone."

"Promise us one thing, Bob," urged Mrs. Bender earnestly. "That you won't go without consulting us, or at least leaving some word for us. And that, wherever you go, you'll write."

"I promise," said Bob gratefully. "I haven't so many friends that I can afford to lose one. You and Mr. Bender have been awfully good to me."

"We like you!" returned the recorder, with one of his rare whimsical flashes. "I want to exact the same promise from Betty—to write to us wherever she may go."

"Of course I will!" promised Betty. "I don't seem to have much luck running away; but when I do go, I'll surely write and let you know where I am. And I'll probably be writing to you very soon from Washington!"

THE END

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