FOR a moment Mr. Gordon stared at his niece, a puzzled look in his eyes. Then his face cleared.

"Oh, I see. You've made a natural mistake," he said. "Mrs. Peabody doesn't live out West, Betty, but up-state—about one hundred and fifty miles north of Pineville. I've picked up that word ranch in California. Everything outside the town limits, from a quarter of an acre to a thousand, is called a ranch. I should have said farm."

Betty settled back in the buggy, momentarily disappointed. A farm sounded so tame and—and ordinary.

"The plan came to me while I was sitting out on the porch waiting for dinner," pursued her uncle, unconscious that he had dashed her hopes. "Your father and I had such a happy childhood on a farm that I'm sure he would want you to know something about such a life first-hand. But of course I intend to talk it over with you before writing to Agatha."

"Agatha?" repeated Betty.

"Mrs. Peabody," explained Mr. Gordon. "She and I went to school together. Last year I happened to run across her brother out in the mines. He told me that Agatha had married, rather well, I understood, and was living on a fine, large farm. What did he say they called their place? 'Bramble Farm'—yes, that's it."

"Bramble Farm," echoed Betty. "It sounds like wild roses, doesn't it, Uncle Dick? But suppose Mrs. Peabody doesn't want me to come to live with her?"

"Bless your heart, child, this is no permanent arrangement'" exclaimed her uncle vigorously. "You're my girl, and mighty proud I am to have such a bonny creature claiming kin with me. I've knocked about a good bit, and sometimes the going has been right lonesome."

He seemed to have forgotten the subject of Bramble Farm for the moment, and something in his voice made Betty put out a timid hand and stroke his coat sleeve silently.

"All right, dear," he declared suddenly, throwing off the serious mood with the quick shift that Betty was to learn was characteristic of him. "If your old bachelor uncle had the slightest idea where he would be two weeks from now, he'd take you with him and not let you out of his sight. But I don't know; though I strongly suspect, and it's no place to take a young lady to. However, if we can fix it up with Agatha for you to spend the summer with her, perhaps matters will shape up better in the fall. I'll tell her to get you fattened up a bit; she ought to have plenty of fresh eggs and milk."

Betty made a wry face.

"I don't want to be fat, Uncle Dick," she protested. "I remember a fat girl in school, and she had an awful time. Is Mrs. Peabody old?"

Mr. Gordon laughed.

"That's a delicate question," he admitted. "She's some three or four years younger than I, I believe, and I'm forty-two. Figure it out to suit yourself."

The bay horse had had its own sweet way so far, and now stopped short, the road barred by a wide gate. It turned its head and looked reproachfully at the occupants of the buggy.

"Bless me, I never noticed where we were going," said Mr. Gordon, surprised. "What's this we're in, Betty, a private lane? Where does it lead?"

"Let me open the gate," cried Betty, one foot on the step. "We're in Mr. Bradway's meadow. Uncle Dick. We can keep right on and come out on the turnpike. He doesn't care as long as the gates are kept closed."

"I'll open the gate," said Mr. Gordon decidedly. "Take the reins and drive on through."

Betty obeyed, and Mr. Gordon swung the heavy gate into place again and fastened it.

"Is Mrs. Peabody pretty?" asked Betty, as he took his place beside her and gathered up the lines. "Has she any children?"

The blue eyes surveyed her quizzically.

"A real girl, aren't you?" teased her uncle.

"Why, child, I couldn't tell you to save me, whether Agatha is pretty or not. I haven't seen her for years. But she has no children. Her brother, Lem, told me that. She was a pretty girl." Mr. Gordon added reflectively: "I recollect she had long yellow braids and very blue eyes. Yes, she's probably a pretty woman."

To reach the turnpike they had to pass through another barred gate, and then when they did turn into the main road, Mr. Gordon, glancing at his watch, uttered an exclamation.

"Four o'clock," he announced. "Why, it must have been later than I thought when we started. The horse has taken its own sweet time. Look, Betty, is there a place around here where we can get some ice-cream?"

Betty's eyes danced. Like most twelve-year-old girls, she regarded ice-cream as a treat.

"There's a place in Pineville; but let's not go there—the whole town goes to the drug-store in the afternoons," she answered. "Couldn't we go as far as Harburton and stop at the ice-cream parlor? The horse isn't very tired, is it, Uncle Dick?"

"Considering the pace he has been going, I doubt it." responded her uncle. "What's the matter with you and me having a regular lark, Betty? Let's not go back for supper—we'll have it at the hotel. They can put up the horse, and we'll drive back when it's cooler."

Betty was thrilled at the idea of eating supper at the Harburton Hotel; certainly that would be what she called "exciting." But since her mother's death she had learned to think not only for herself but for others.

"Mrs. Arnold would be so worried," she objected, trying to keep the longing out of her voice. "She'd think we'd been struck at the grade crossing. And, Uncle Dick, I don't believe this dress is good enough."

But Mr. Gordon was not accustomed to being balked by objections. He swept Betty's aside with a half-dozen words. They would telephone to Mrs. Arnold. Well, then, if she had no telephone, they would telephone a near neighbor and get her to carry the message. As for the dress —here he glanced contentedly at Betty—he didn't see but that she looked fine enough to attend the King's wedding. She could wash and freshen up a little when they reached the hotel.

Betty's face glowed.

"You're just like Daddy," she said happily. "Mother used to say she never had to worry about anything when he was at home. Mrs. Arnold doesn't either, when her husband's home. Do all husbands do the deciding, Uncle Dick?"

Mr. Gordon submitted, amusedly, that as he was not a husband, he could not give accurate information on that point. But Betty's active mind was turning over something.

"Mrs. Arnold says Mr. Arnold makes the boys stand round," she confided. "I notice they mind him ten times as quick as they do their mother. But they love him more. Do you make people stand round, Uncle Dick?"

Mr. Gordon smiled down into the serious little face tilted to meet his glance.

"I haven't much patience with disobedience, I'm afraid," he replied. "I suppose some of the men I've bossed would consider me a Tartar. Why, Betty? Are you thinking of going on strike against my authority? I don't advise you to try it."

Betty blushed.

"It isn't that," she said hastily. "But—but— well, I have a temper, Uncle Dick. I get so raging mad! If I don't tell you, some one else will, or else you'll see me 'acting up,' as Mrs. Arnold says, before you go. So I thought I'd better tell you."

Mr. Gordon's lips twitched.

"A temper, out of control, is a mighty useless possession," he said solemnly. "But as long as you know you've got a spark of fire in you, Betty, you can watch out for it. Afraid of going on the rampage while you're at Bramble Farm? Is that what's worrying you?"

"Some," confessed his niece, with scarlet cheeks.

"I'll tell you what to do," counseled Mr. Gordon, and his even, rather slow voice soothed Betty inexpressibly. "When you get a 'mad fit,' you fly out to the wood pile and chop kindling as hard as you can. You can't talk and chop wood, and the tongue does most of the mischief when our tempers get the best of us. You'll remember that little trick, won't you?"

Betty promised she would, and, as they were now driving into the thriving county seat of Harburton, she began to point out the few places of interest.

The hotel was opposite the court house, and as they stopped before the curb and Betty saw the porch well filled with men, with here and there a woman in a pretty summer dress, she felt extremely shy. A boy ran up to take their horse and lead it around to the stables for a rub-down and a comfortable supper. Mr. Gordon tucked his niece's hand under his arm and marched unconcernedly up the hotel steps.

"I suppose he's used to hotels," thought Betty, sinking into one of the stuffed red velvet chairs at her uncle's bidding and looking interestedly about her as he went in search of the proprietor. "I wonder if it's fun to live in a hotel all the time instead of a house."

Her uncle came back in a few moments with a pleasant-faced, matronly woman, whom he introduced as the sister of the proprietor. She was to take Betty upstairs and let her make herself neat for supper, which would, so the woman said, be ready in twenty minutes.

"I'll wait for you right here," promised Mr. Gordon, divining in Betty's anxious glance a fear that she would have to search for him on the crowded piazza.

"You drove in, didn't you?" asked Mrs. Holmes, leading the way upstairs and ushering Betty into a pretty, chintz-hung room. "You'll find fresh water in the pitcher, dear. Didn't your father say you were from Pineville?"

Betty, pouring the clear, cool water into the basin, explained that Mr. Gordon was her uncle and said that they had driven over from Pineville that afternoon.

"Well, you want to be careful driving back," cautioned Mrs. Holmes. "The flag man goes off duty at six o'clock, and that crossing lies right in a bad cut. There was a nasty accident there last week."

Betty had read of it in the Pineville Post, and thanked Mrs. Holmes for her warning. When that kind woman had ascertained that Betty needed nothing more, she excused herself and went down to superintend the two waitresses.

Betty managed to smooth her hair nicely with the aid of a convenient sidecomb, and after bathing her face and hands felt quite refreshed and neat again. She found her uncle reading a magazine.

"Well, you look first rate," he greeted her. "I picked this up off the table without glancing at it; it's a fashion magazine. It reminds me, Betty, you'll need some new clothes this summer, eh? You'll have to take Mrs. Arnold when you go shopping. I wouldn't know a bonnet from a pair of gloves."

Betty laughed and slipped her hand into his, and they went toward the dining room. What a dear Uncle Dick was! She had not had many new clothes since her father's death.

On to chapter four

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