BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
BETTY MAKES UP HER MIND
BETTY had a confused picture of Mr. Peabody staring at her, his fork arrested half way to his mouth, before she dashed from the kitchen and fled to her room. She flung herself on the bed and burst into tears.
She lay there for a long time, sobbing uncontrollably and more unhappy than she had ever been in her short life. She missed her mother and father intolerably, she longed for the kindness of the good, if querulous, Mrs. Arnold and the comfort of Uncle Dick's tenderness and protection.
"He wouldn't want me to stay here, I know he wouldn't!" she whispered stormily. "He never would have let me come if he had known what kind of a place Bramble Farm is. I'll write to him to-night."
A low whistle came to her. She ran to the window.
"Ssh! Got a piece of string?" came a sibilant whisper. Bob Henderson peered up at her from around a lilac bush. "I brought you some bread with raspberries mashed between it. Let down a cord and I'll tie it on."
"I'll come down," said Betty promptly. "Can't we take a walk? It looks awfully pretty up the lane."
"I have to clean two more horses and bed down a sick cow and carry slops to the pigs yet," recited Bob in a matter of fact way, as though these few little duties were commonly performed at the close of his long day. "After that, though, we might go a little way. It won't be dark."
"Well, whistle when you're ready," directed Betty. "I won't come down and run the risk of having to talk to Mr. Peabody. And save me the bread!"
It seemed a long time before Bob whistled, and the gray summer dusk was deepening when Betty ran down to join him. He handed her the bread, wrapped in a bit of clean paper, diffidently.
"I didn't touch it with my hands," he assured her.
Bob's face was shining from a vigorous scrubbing and his hair was plastered tight to his head and still wet. He had so evidently tried to make himself neat and his poor frayed overalls and ridiculous shoes made the task so hopeless that Betty was divided between pity for him and anger at the Peabodys who could treat a member of their household so shabbily.
"I guess you kind of shook the old man up," commented Bob, unconscious of her thoughts. "For half a minute after you slammed the door, he sat there in a daze. Mrs. Peabody wanted to take some supper up to you, but he wouldn't let her. She's deathly afraid of him."
"Did he ever hit her?" asked Betty, horrified.
"No, I don't know that he ever did. He doesn't have to hit her; his talk is worse. They say she used to answer back, but I never heard her open her mouth to argue with him, and I've been here three years."
"Do they pay you well?"
The boy looked at Betty sharply.
"I thought you were kidding," he said frankly. "Poorhouse children don't get paid. We get our board till we're eighteen. We're not supposed to do enough work to cover more'n that. Just the same, I do as much as Wapley or Leisen, any day."
Betty walked along eating her bread and wondering about Bob Henderson. Who, she speculated, had been his father and mother, and how had he happened to find himself in the poorhouse? And why, oh, why, should such a boy have had the bad luck to be "taken" by a man like Mr. Peabody? Betty was a courteous girl, and she could not bring herself to ask Bob these questions pointblank, however her curiosity urged her. Perhaps when they were better acquainted, she might have a chance. But that thought suggested to Betty her letter.
"I'm going to write to Uncle Dick before I go to bed to-night," she announced. "He said I needn't stay if for any good reason I found I wasn't happy here. I can't stay, Bob, honestly I can't. He wouldn't want me to. Shall I ask him about a place for you? And where do I mail my letter?"
Bob Henderson's face fell. He had hoped that this bright, pretty girl, with her independent and friendly manner, might spend the summer at Bramble Farm. Bob had been so long cut off from communication with a companion of his own age that it was a perfect luxury for him to have Betty to talk to. Still, he could not help admitting, the Peabody circle had nothing to offer Betty.
"Don't mail your letter in the box at the end of the lane," he advised her. "Joe Peabody might see it and take it out. I'll take it to Glenside with me to-morrow—unless you want to go along? Say, that would be great, wouldn't it?"
Betty liked the idea, and so before they turned back to the house they arranged to mail the letter secretly in Glenside the following morning. Immensely cheered, Betty went in to write to her uncle and Bob disappeared up the stairs to the attic, where he and the two hired men shared quarters.
It was too dark to see clearly in her room, and after Betty had groped around in a vain hunt for a lamp and matches, she went down to the kitchen intending to ask for a light.
Mrs. Peabody stood at the table, mixing some- thing in a pan, and a small glass lamp gave the room all the light it had.
"I'm setting my bread," the woman explained, as Betty came in. "Where have you been, dear? You must be hungry."
"No, I'm not hungry," answered Betty, avoiding explanations. "I've been out for a little walk. May I have a lamp, Mrs. Peabody?"
Her hostess glanced round to make sure that the door was shut.
"You can take this one in just a minute," she said, indicating the small lamp on the table. "Mr. Peabody's gone up to bed. You see we don't use lights much in summer—we go to bed early 'cause all hands have to be up at half-past four. And lamps brings the mosquitoes."
Betty sat down in a chair to wait for her lamp. She was tired from her journey and the exciting events of the day, but she had made up her mind to write to her uncle that night, and her mind made up, Betty was sure to stick to it.
"Aren't you going to bed?" asked Betty, taking up the lamp when Mrs. Peabody had finished.
Mrs. Peabody made no move to leave the kitchen.
"I like to sit out on the back stoop awhile" and get cooled off," she said. "Sometimes I go to sleep leaning against the post, and one night I didn't wake up till morning and Bob Henderson fell over me running out for wood to start the fire. I like to sit quiet. Sometimes I wish I had a dog to keep me company, but Mr. Peabody don't like dogs."
Betty went back to her room and began her letter. But all the while she was writing the thought of that lonely woman "sitting quiet" on the doorstep haunted her. What a life! And she had probably looked forward to happiness with her husband and home as all girls do.
The mosquitoes were singing madly about the light before the first five minutes had passed, but Betty stuck it out and sealed and addressed her letter, putting it under her pillow for safe keeping. Then she blew out the light and undressed in the dark. The bed was the hardest thing she had ever lain upon, but, being a healthy young person and very tired, she fell asleep as quickly as though the mattress had been filled with softest down and only wakened when a shaft of sunlight fell across her face. Some one was whistling softly beneath her window.
Seizing her dressing gown and flinging it across her shoulders, Betty peered out. Bob Henderson, swinging a milk pail in either hand, was back of the lilac bush again.
"Say, it's quarter of six," he called anxiously, as he saw Betty's face at the window. "Breakfast is at six, and if you don't hurry you'll be cheated out of that. I'm going to Glenside right after, too."
"I'll hurry," promised Betty. "Thank you for telling me. Have you been up long?"
"Hour and a half," came the nonchalant answer as Bob hurried on to the barn.
Betty sat down on the floor to put on her shoes and stockings. At first she was angry to think that she should be made to rush like this in order to have any breakfast when her uncle was paying her board and in any other household she would have been accorded some consideration as a guest. Then the humor of the situation appealed to her and she laughed till the tears came. She, Betty Gordon, who often had to be called three times in the morning, was scrambling into her clothes at top speed in the hope of securing something to eat.
"It's too funny!" she gasped as she pulled a middy blouse on over her head. "I'll bet the Peabody's never have to call any one twice to come to the table; not if they're within hearing distance. They come first call without coaxing."
The breakfast table was set in the kitchen, and when Betty entered Mrs. Peabody was putting small white saucers of oatmeal at each place. Ordinarily Betty did not care for oatmeal in warm weather, but this morning she was in no mood to quarrel with anything eatable and she dispatched her portion almost as quickly as Bob did his. Mr. Peabody grunted something which she took to mean good-morning, and the two hired men simply nodded to her. After the oatmeal came fried potatoes, bread without butter, ham and coffee. There was no milk to drink and no eggs.
"If I was going to stay," thought Betty to her- self, "I'd get some stuff over in town and hide it in my room. I wonder if I couldn't anyway. When I leave, Bob would have it."
She fell to planning what she would buy and became as silent as any of the other five at that queer table.
On to chapter nine
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