BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
MRS. PEABODY WRITES
Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her
Josephine Lawrence website;
please do not use on other sites without permission
THE bad, little stubborn horse standing on the track at the mercy of the coming comet! That was Betty's thought as she sped down the road. In the hope that a sense of the danger might have reached the animal's instinct, she gave the bridle a desperate tug when she reached the horse, but it was of no use. Feverishly Betty set to work to unharness the little bay horse.
She was unaccustomed to many of the buckles, and the harness was stiff and unyielding. Working at it in a hurry was very different from the few times she had done it for fun, or with some one to manage all the hard places. She had finished one side when the whistle sounded again. To the girl's overwrought nerves it seemed to be just around the curve. She had no thought of abandoning the animal, however, and she set her teeth and began on the second set of snaps and buckles. These, too, gave way, and with a strong push Betty sent the buggy flying backward free of the tracks, and, seizing the bridle, she led the cause of all the trouble forward and into safety.
For the third time the whistle blew warningly, and this time the noise of the train could be plainly heard. But it was nearly a minute before the glare of the headlight showed around the curve.
"Look what didn't hit you, no thanks to you," Betty scolded the horse, as a relief to herself. "I 'most wish I'd left you there; only then we never would get Uncle Dick home."
Poor Betty had now the hardest part of her task before her. She went back and dragged the buggy over the tracks, up to the horse and started the tedious business of harnessing again. She was not sure where all the straps went, but she hoped enough of them would hold together till they could get home. When she had everything a» nearly in place as she could get them, she climbed down into the pit.
To her surprise, her uncle's eyes were open. He lay gazing at the buggy lamp she had, left.
"Uncle Dick," she whispered, "are you hurt? Can you walk? Because you're so big, I can't pull you out very well."
"Why, I can't be hurt," said her uncle slowly in his natural voice. "What's happened? Where are we? Goodness, child, you look like a ghost with a dirty face."
Betty was not concerned with her looks at that moment, and she was so delighted to find her uncle conscious that she did not feel offended at his uncomplimentary remark. In a few words she sketched for him what had happened.
"My dear child!" he ejaculated when she had told him, "have you been through all that? Why, you're the pluckiest little woman I ever heard of! No wonder you look thoroughly done up. All I remember is whistling for you to come ahead and then taking a step that landed me nowhere. In other words, I must have stepped into this pit. I'm not hurt—just a bit dazed."
To prove it, he got to his feet a trifle shakily. Declining Betty's assistance, he managed to scramble out of the pit, up on to the road. His head cleared rapidly, and in a few more moments he declared he felt like himself.
"In with you," he ordered Betty, after a preliminary examination of the harness which, he announced, was "as right as a trivet." "You've done your share for to-night. Go to sleep, if you like, and I'll wake you up in time to hear Mrs. Arnold send Ted out to take the horse around to the livery stable. It wouldn't do for me to do it— I might murder the owner!"
Betty leaned her head against her uncle's broad shoulder, for a minute she thought, and when she woke found herself being helped gently from the buggy.
"You're all right, Betty," soothed Mrs. Arnold's voice in the darkness. "I've worried myself sick! Do you know it's one o'clock?"
Mr. Gordon took the wagon around to the stable, and Betty, with Mrs. Arnold's help, got ready for bed.
Betty was fast asleep almost before the undressing was completed, and she slept until late the next morning. When she came down to the luxury of a special breakfast, she found only Mrs. Arnold in the house.
"Your uncle's gone out to post a letter," that voluble lady informed her. "Both boys have gone fishing again. I'm only waiting for their father to come home and straighten 'em out. Will you have cocoa, dearie?"
Before she had quite finished her breakfast, Mr. Gordon came back from the post-office, and then, as Mrs. Arnold wanted to go over to a neighbor's to borrow a pattern, he sat down opposite Betty.
"You look rested," he commented. "I don't like to think what might have happened last night. However, we'll be optimistic and look ahead. I've written to Mrs. Peabody, dear, and to-morrow I think you and Mrs. Arnold had better go shopping. I'll write you a check this morning. Agatha will want you to come, I know. And to tell you the truth, Betty, I've had a letter that makes me anxious to be off. I want to stay to see you safely started for Bramble Farm, and then I must peg away at this new work. Finished? Then let's go into the sitting room and I'll ex- plain about the check."
The next morning Betty and Mrs. Arnold started for Harburton with what seemed to Betty a small fortune folded in her purse. Mrs. Arnold had shown her how to cash the check at the Pineville Bank, and she was to advise as to material and value of the clothing Betty might select; but the outfit was to represent Betty's choice and was to please her primarily—Uncle Dick had made this very clear.
Betty had learned a good deal about shopping in the last months of her mother's illness, and she did not find it difficult to choose suitable and pretty ginghams for her frocks, a middy blouse or two, some new smocks, and a smart blue sweater. She very sensibly decided that as she was to spend the summer on a farm she did not need elaborate clothes, and she knew, from listening to Mrs. Arnold, that those easiest to iron would probably please Mrs. Peabody most whether she did her own laundry work or had a washerwoman.
When the purchases came home Uncle Dick delighted Betty with his warm approval. For a couple of days the sewing machine whirred from morning to night as the village dressmaker sewed and fitted the new frocks and made the old presentable. Then the letter from Mrs. Peabody arrived.
"I will be very glad to have your niece spend the summer with me," she wrote, in a fine, slanting hand. "The question of board, as you arrange it, is satisfactory. I would not take anything for her, you know, Dick, and for old times' sake would welcome her without compensation, but living is so dreadfully high these days. Joseph has not had good luck lately, and there are so many things against the farmer . . . Let me know when to expect Betty and some one will meet her."
The letter rambled on for several pages, complaining rather querulously of hard times and the difficulties under which the writer and her husband managed to "get along."
"Doesn't sound like Agatha, somehow," worried Uncle Dick, a slight frown between his eyes. "She was always a good-natured, happy kind of girl. But most likely she can't write a sunny letter. I know we used to have an aunt whose letters were always referred to as 'calamity howlers.' Yet to meet her you'd think she hadn't a care in the world. Yes, probably Agatha puts her blues into her letters and so doesn't have any left to spill around where she lives."
Several times that day Betty saw him pull the letter from his pocket and re-read it, always with the puzzled lines between his brows. Once he called to her as she was going upstairs.
"Betty," he said rather awkwardly, "I don't know exactly how to put it, but you're going to board with Mrs. Peabody, you know. You'll be independent—not 'beholden,' as the country folk say, to her. I want you to like her and to help her, but, oh, well, I guess I don't know what I am trying to say. Only remember, child, if you don't like Bramble Farm for any good reason, I'll see that you don't have to remain there."
A brand-new little trunk for Betty made its appearance in the front hall of the Arnold house, and two subdued boys—for Mr. Arnold had returned home—helped her carry down her new treasures and, after the clothes were neatly packed, strap and lock the trunk. There was a tiny "over-night" bag, too, fitted with toilet articles and just large enough to hold a nightdress and a dressing gown and slippers. Betty felt very young-ladyish indeed with these traveling accessories.
"I'll order a riding habit for you in the first large city I get to," promised her uncle. "I want you to learn to ride—1 wrote Agatha that. She doesn't say anything about saddle horses, but they must have something you can ride. And you'll write to me, my dear, faithfully?"
"Of course," promised Betty, clinging to him, for she had learned to love him dearly even in the short time they had been together. "I'll write to you, Uncle Dick, and I'll do everything you ask me to do. Then, this winter, do let's keep house."
"We will," said Uncle Dick, fervently, "if we have to keep house on the back of a camel in the desert!" At this Betty giggled delightedly.
Betty's train left early in the morning, and her uncle went to the station with her. Mrs. Arnold cried a great deal when she said good-bye, but Betty cheered her up by picturing the long, chatty letters they would write to each other and by assuring her friend that she might yet visit her in California.
Mr. Gordon placed his niece in the care of the conductor and the porter, and the last person Betty saw was this gray-haired uncle running beside the train, waving his hat and smiling at her till her car passed beyond the platform.
"Now," said Betty methodically, "if I think back, I shall cry; so I'll think ahead."
Which she proceeded to do. She pictured Mrs. Peabody as a gray-haired, capable, kindly woman, older than Mrs. Arnold, and perhaps more serene. She might like to be called "Aunt Agatha."' Mr. Peabody, she decided, would be short and round, with twinkling blue eyes and perhaps a white stubby beard. He would probably call her "Sis," and would always be studying how to make things about the house comfortable for his wife.
"I hope they have horses and pigs and cows and sheep," mused Betty, the flying landscape slipping past her window unheeded. "And if they have sheep, they'll have a dog. Wouldn't I love to have a dog to take long walks with! And, of course, there will be a flower garden. 'Bramble Farm' sounds like a bed of roses to me."
The idea of roses persisted, and while Betty outwardly was strictly attentive to the things about her, giving up her ticket at the proper time, drinking the cocoa and eating the sandwich the porter brought her (on Uncle Dick's orders she learned) at eleven o'clock, she was in reality busy picturing a white farmhouse set in the center of a rose garden, with a hedge of hollyhocks dividing it from a scarcely less beautiful and orderly vegetable kingdom.
Day dreams, she was soon to learn.
On to chapter six
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