BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM

CHAPTER IV

AT THE CROSSING



THE country hotel supper was no better than the average of its kind, but to Betty, to whom any sort of change was "fun," it was delicious. She and Uncle Dick became better acquainted over the simple meal in the pleasant dining room than they could ever have hoped to have been with Mrs. Arnold and the two boys present, and it was not until her dessert was placed before her that Betty remembered her friend.

"Mrs. Arnold will think we're lost!" she exclaimed guiltily. "I meant to telephone! And oh, Uncle Dick, she does hate to keep supper waiting."

Uncle Dick smiled.

"I telephoned the neighbor you told me about," he said reassuringly. "She said she would send one of her children right over with the message. That was while you were upstairs. So I imagine Mrs. Arnold has George and Ted hard at work drying the dishes by this time."

"They don't dry the dishes, 'cause they're boys," explained Betty dimpling. "In Pineville, the men and boys never think of helping with the housework. Mother said once that was one reason she fell in love with daddy—because he came out and helped her to do a pile of dishes one awfully hot Sunday afternoon."

After supper Betty and her uncle walked about Harburton a bit, and Betty glanced into the shop windows. She knew that probably her new dresses, at least the material for them, would be bought here, and she was counting more on the new frocks than even Uncle Dick knew.

When they went back to the hotel it was still light, but the horse was ordered brought around, for they did not want to hurry on the drive home.

"I guess I missed not belonging to any body," she said shyly, after a long silence.

Uncle Dick glanced down at her understandingly.

"I've had that feeling, too," he confessed. "We all need a sense of kinship, I think, Betty. Or a home. I haven't had either for years. Now you and I will make it up to each other, my girl."

The darkness closed in on them, and Uncle Dick got out and lit the two lamps on the dashboard and the little red danger light behind. Once or twice a big automobile came glaring out of the road ahead and swept past them with a roar and a rush, but the easy going horse refused to change its steady trot. But presently, without warning, it stopped.

Uncle Dick slapped the reins smartly, with no result.

"He balks," said Betty apologetically. "I know this horse. The livery stable man says he never balks on the way home, but I suppose he was so good all the afternoon he just has to act up now."

"Balks!" exploded Uncle Dick. "Why, no stable should send out a horse with that habit. Is there any special treatment he favors, Betty?" he added ironically. Betty considered.

"Whipping him only makes him worse, they say," she answered. "He puts his ears back and kicks. Once he kicked a buggy to pieces. I guess' we'll have to get out and coax him, Uncle Dick."

Mr. Gordon snorted, but he climbed down and went to the horse's head.

"You stay where you are, Betty," he commanded. "I'm not going to have you dancing all over this dark road and likely to be run down by a car any minute simply to cater to the whim of a fool horse. You hold the reins and if he once starts don't stop him; I'll catch the step as it goes by."

Betty held the reins tensely and waited. There was no moon, and clouds hid whatever light they

might have gained from the stars. It was distinctly eery to be out on the dark road, miles from any house, with no noise save the incessant low hum of the summer insects. Betty shivered slightly.

She could hear her uncle talking in a low tone to the dejected, drooping, stubborn bay horse, and she could see the dim outline of his figure. The rays of the buggy lamps showed her a tiny patch of the wheels and road, but that was every bit she could see.

Up over the slight rise of ground before them shone a glare, followed in a second by the headlights of a large touring car. Abreast of the buggy it stopped.

"Tire trouble?" asked some one with a hint of laughter in the deep strong voice.

"No, head trouble," retorted Mr. Gordon, stepping over to the driver of the car. "Balky horse."

"You don't say!" The motorist seemed surprised and interested. "I'd give you a tow if you were going my way. But, do you know, my son who runs a farm for me has a way of fixing a horse like that. He says it's all mental. Beating 'em is a waste of time. Jim unharnesses a horse that balks with him, leads it on a way and then rolls the wagon up and gears up again. Horse thinks he's starting all over—new trip, you see. What's the word I want?"

"Psychological?" said the sweet, clear voice of Betty promptly.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" the motorist swept off his cap. "Thank you, whoever you are. That's what I wanted to say. Yes, nowadays they believe in reasoning with a horse. I'll help you unhitch if you say so."

"Let me," pleaded Betty. "Please, Uncle Dick. I know quite a lot about unharnessing. Can't I get out and do one side?"

The motorist was already out of his car, and at her uncle's brief "all right," Betty slipped down and ran to the traces. The stranger observed her curiously.

"Thought you were older," he said genially. "Where did a little tyke like you get hold of such a long word?"

"I read it," replied Betty proudly. "They use it in the Ladies' Aid when they want to raise more money than usual and they hate to ask for it Mrs. Banker says there's a psychological moment to ask for contributions, and I have to copy the secretary's notes for her."

"I see," said the stranger. "There! Now, Mr. Heady here is free, and we'll lead him up the road a way.

Uncle Dick led the horse, who went willingly enough, and Betty and the kind friend-in-need, as she called him to herself, each took a shaft of the light buggy and pulled it after them. To their surprise, when the horse was again harnessed to the wagon it started at the word "gid-ap," and gave every evidence of a determination to do as all good horses do—whatever they are ordered.

"Guess he's all right," said the motorist, holding out his hand to Mr. Gordon. "Now, don't thank me—only ordinary road courtesy, I assure you. Hope your troubles are over for the night."

The two men exchanged cards, and, lifting his hat to Betty, though he couldn't see her in the buggy, the stranger went back to his car.

"Wasn't he nice?" chattered Betty, as the horse trotted briskly. Uncle Dick grimly resolved to make it pay for the lost time. "We might have been stuck all night."

"Every indication of it," admitted Mr. Gordon. "However, I'm glad to say that I've always found travelers willing to go to any trouble to help. Don't ever leave a person in trouble on the road if you can do one thing to aid him, Betty. I want you to remember that."

Betty promised, a bit sleepily, for the motion and the soft, night air were making her drowsy. She sat up, however, when they came in sight of the winking red and green lights that showed the railroad crossing.

"No gateman, is there?" inquired her uncle. "Well, I'll go ahead and look, and you be ready to drive across when I whistle."

He climbed down and ran forward, and Betty sat quietly, the reins held ready in her hand. In a few moments she heard her signal, a clear, sharp whistle. She spoke to the horse, who moved on at an irritatingly slow pace.

"For goodness sake!" said Betty aloud, "can't you hurry?"

She peered ahead, trying to make out her uncle's figure, but the heavy pine trees that grew on either side of the road threw shadows too deep for anything to be plainly outlined. Betty, nervously on the lockout, scarcely knew when they reached the double track, but she realized her position with a sickening heart thump when the horse stopped suddenly. The bay had chosen the grade crossing as a suitable place to enjoy a second fit of balkiness.

"Uncle Dick!" cried Betty in terror. "Uncle Dick, he's stopped again! Come and help me unhitch!"

No one answered.

Betty had nerves as strong and as much presence of mind as any girl of her age, but a woman grown might consider that she had cause for hysterics if she found herself late at night marooned in the middle of a railroad track with a balky horse and no one near to give her even a word of advice. For a moment Betty rather lost her head and screamed for her uncle. This passed quickly though, and she became calmer. The whip she knew was useless. So was coaxing. There was nothing to do with any certainty of success but to unharness the horse and lead her over. But where was Uncle Dick?

Betty jumped down from the buggy and ran ahead into the darkness, calling.

"Uncle Dick!" shouted Betty. "Uncle Dick, where are you?"

The cheery little hum of the insects filled the silence as soon as her voice died away. There was no other sound. Common sense coming to her aid, Betty reasoned that her uncle would not have gone far from the crossing, and she soon began to retrace her steps) calling at intervals. As she came back to the twinkling red and green lights, she heard a noise that brought her heart into her throat. Some one had groaned!

"He's hurt!" she thought instantly.

The groan was repeated, and, listening care- fully, Betty detected that it came from the other side of the road. A few rods away from the flagman's house was a pit that had recently been excavated for some purpose and then abandoned. Betty peered down into this.

"Uncle Dick?" she said softly.

Another deep groan answered her.

Betty ran back to the buggy and managed to twist one of the lamps from the dashboard. She was back in a second, and carefully climbed down into the pit. Sure enough, huddled in a deplorable heap, one foot twisted under him, lay Mr. Gordon.

Betty had had little experience with accidents, but she instinctively took his head in her lap and loosened his collar. He was unconscious, but when she moved him he groaned again heartbreakingly.

"How shall I ever get him up to the road?" wondered Betty, wishing she knew something of first-aid treatment. "If I could drag him up and then go and get the horse and buggy—"

Her pulse gave an astounding leap and her brown eyes dilated. Putting her uncle's head back gently on the gravel, she scrambled to her feet, feeling only that whatever she did she must not waste time in screaming. She had heard the whistle of a train!



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