Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 1
AT BOARDING SCHOOL
"Me make you velly nice apple tart, Miss Betty." The Chinese cook flourished his rolling pin with one hand and swung his apron viciously with the other as he held open the screen door and swept out some imaginary flies.
Lee Chang, cook for the bunk house in the oil fields, could do several things at one time, as he had frequently proved.
The girl, who was watching a wiry little bay horse contentedly crop grass that grew in straggling whisps about the fence posts, looked up and showed an even row of white teeth as she smiled.
"I don't think we're going to stay for dinner to-day," she said half regretfully. "I know your apple tarts, Lee Chang—they are delicious."
The fat Chinaman closed the screen door and went on with his pastry making. From time to time, as he passed from the table to the oven, he glanced out. Betty Gordon still stood watching the horse.
"That Bob no come?" inquired Lee Chang, poking his head out of the door again. Fast developing into a good American, his natural trait of curiosity gave him the advantage of acquiring information blandly and with ease.
Betty shaded her eyes with her hand. The Oklahoma sun was pitiless. Far up the road that ran straight away from the bunk house a faint cloud of dust was rising.
"He's coming now," said the girl confidently.
Lee Chang grunted and returned to his work, satisfied that whatever Betty was waiting for would soon be at hand.
"Bake tart 'fore that boy goes away," the Chinaman muttered to himself, waddling hastily to the oven, opening it, and closing the door again with a satisfied sniff.
The cloud of dust whirled more madly, rose higher. Out from the center of it finally emerged a raw-boned white horse that galloped with amazing awkwardness and incredible speed. Astride him sat a slim, tanned youth with eyes as blue as Betty Gordon's were dark.
"Got something for you!" he called, waving his arm in the motion of lasso-throwing. "Catch if you can!"
"Oh, don't!" cried Betty eagerly. "What is it, Bob? Be careful or you'll break it."
Bob Henderson reined in his mount and slipped to the ground. The white horse contentedly went to munching dry blades of dusty grass.
"Bob, I do believe you've been silly," said Betty, trying to speak severely and failing completely because her dimple would deepen distractingly. "You know I told you not to do it."
"How do you know what I've done?" demanded Bob, placing a square package in the girl's hands. "Don't scold till you know what you're scolding about."
Betty, busy with the cord and paper, paused.
"Oh, Bob!" she beamed, her vivid face glowing with a new thought. "What do you think? I had a letter yesterday from Bobby Littell, and she's going to boarding school. And, Bob, so am I! Uncle Dick says so. And, Bob—"
"Yes?" smiled Bob, thinking how the girl's face changed as she talked. "Go on, Betty."
"Well, Louise is going, too, and they think Libbie will come down from Vermont. Dear old Libbie—I wonder if she is as incurably romantic as ever!"
Betty's fingers had worked mechanically while she spoke, and now she had her parcel undone.
"Why, Bob Henderson!" she gasped, as she drew out a handsome white box tied with pale blue ribbons and encased in waxed paper.
"I hope they're not stale," said Bob diffidently.
Betty slit the waxed paper and took off the box lid, revealing a perfectly packed box of expensive chocolates.
"They're beautiful," she declared. "But I never dreamed you would send East for 'em simply because I happened to say I was hungry for good candy. Um—um—taste one quick, Bob."
Bob took a caramel and pronounced it not "half bad."
"Uncle Dick's gone somewhere with Dave Thorne," announced Betty, biting into another candy. "He didn't know when he would get back, and I'm supposed to ride to the Watterby farm for lunch. It must be after eleven now."
"Miss Betty!" Lee Chang's voice was persuasive. "Miss Betty, that apple tart he all baked done now."
"Apple tart?" shouted Bob. "Show me, Lee Chang! I'd rather have a corner of your pie than all the candy in New York."
"Him for Miss Betty," said the Chinaman gravely.
"But you don't care if I give Bob some, do you?" returned Betty coaxingly. "See, Lee Chang, Bob gave me these. You take some, and we'll eat the tart on out way home."
Lee Chang's wish was fulfilled when he placed the flaky tart in Betty's hands, and he took a candy or two (which he privately considered rather poor stuff) and watched the girl no longer. From now on till dinner time Lee Chang's whole attention would be concentrated on the preparation of an excellent dinner for the men who worked that section of the oil fields.
"I don't believe I can ride and eat this, after all," decided Betty. "Let's sit down on the grass and finish it; Clover hasn't finished her lunch, either."
The little bay horse and the tall, shambling white were amiably straying up and down the narrow borders of the road, never getting very far away.
"You haven't said a single word about my going to boarding school, Bob," Betty said, dropping down comfortably on the dusty grass and breaking the tart across into two nearly even pieces. "There—take your pie. Don't you think I'll have fun with the Littell girls?"
"You'll have a lark, but I'm not so sure about the teachers," declared Bob enthusiastically, an odd little smile quivering on his lips. "With you and Bobby Littell about, I doubt if the school knows a dull moment."
"Bobby is so funny," dimpled Betty. "She writes that if Libbie comes, her aunt expects Bobby to look after her. Wait a minute and I'll read you that part—" Betty took a letter from the pocket of her blouse. "Listen—
"'Aunt Elizabeth has written mother that she hopes I will keep an eye on Libbie. Now Betty, can you honestly see me trailing around after that girl who sees a romance in every bush and book and who cries when any one plays violin music? I'll look after her all right—she'll have to study French instead of poetry if I'm to be her friend and guide.'
"But, of course, Bobby does really love Libbie very dearly," said Betty, folding up the letter and returning it to her pocket. "She wouldn't hurt her for worlds."
"You'll be a much better guardian for Libbie, if she needs one," pronounced Bob, with unexpected shrewdness. "Bobby hasn't much tact, and she makes Libbie mad. You could probably control her better with less words."
"Well, I never!" gasped Betty, gazing at Bob with new respect. "I never knew you thought anything about it."
"Didn't until just now," responded Bob cheerfully. "So Uncle Dick is willing to let you go, is he? When do you start?"
"You don't mind, do you. Bob?" countered Betty, puzzled. "You sound so kind of—of funny."
"Don't mean to," said Bob laconically.
Having finished his tart, he lay back and rested his head in his hands in true masculine contentment.
"I like that blue thing you've got on," he commented lazily. "Did I ever see it before?"
"Certainly not," Betty informed him. "I've been waiting for you to notice it. It's wash silk, Bob, and your Aunt Faith said I could have it if I could do anything with it. She's had it in a trunk for years and years."
"I don't see how you and Aunt Faith could wear the same clothes, she's so much taller than you are," said Bob, obviously trying to put two and two together in his mind. "But it looks fine on you, Betty."
Betty smiled at him compassionately.
"Oh, Bob, you're so funny!" she sighed. "I made this blouse all myself—that is," she corrected, "Mrs. Watterby helped me cut it out and she sewed the sleeves in after I had basted them in wrong twice, but I did everything else. There wasn't a scrap of goods left over, either. I put it on to-day because I wanted you to see me in it."
She was worth seeing, Bob acknowledged to himself. The over-blouse of blue and white checked silk, slashed at the throat for the crisp black tie, and the gray corduroy riding skirt and smart tan shoes were at once suitable and becoming.
"I'll have to have some new clothes for school," declared Betty, who had a healthy interest in this topic. "We can't wear very fussy things, though—Bobby sent me the catalogue. Sailor suits for every day, and a cloth frock for best. And not more than one party dress."
"I asked her when she started," Bob confided to the blank eye of the white horse now turned dully toward him. "But if she answered me, I didn't hear."
"I'm going a week from this Friday," announced Betty hastily. "That will give me a week in Washington, and Mrs. Littell has asked me to stay with them. I must write to Mrs. Bender to-night and tell her the news; she has been so anxious for me to go to school again."
"Oh, gee, Betty, that reminds me—" Bob sat up with a jerk and began a hasty search of his pockets. "When you spoke of Mrs. Bender that reminded me of Laurel Grove, and Laurel Grove reminded me of Glenside, and that, of course, made me think of the Guerins—Here 'tis!" and the boy triumphantly fished out a small letter from an inside pocket of his coat and tossed it into Betty's lap.
"It's from Norma Guerin!" Betty's expressive voice betrayed her delight. "Why, I haven't heard from her in perfect ages. I wonder what she has to say."
"Open it and see," advised the practical Bob. "I meant to give you the letter right away, and first the tart and then the blouse thing-a-bub drove it out of my mind. I'll lead the horses and you can read as we walk. Want me to take the plate back to Lee Chang?"
He dashed back to the bunk house, returned the tin, and rejoined Betty, who was slowly slitting the envelope of her letter with a hairpin. She had tucked her candy box under her arm, and Bob took the bridles of the two horses.
"Mercy, what was that?" Betty glanced up startled, as a wild yell sounded over on their right.
There was a chorus of shouts, the same wild yell repeated, and then, sudden and without warning, came a dense and heavy rain of blackest oil.
"Oh, Bob, Bob!" There was genuine anguish in Betty's wall of appeal. "My new blouse— look at it!"
But Bob had no time to look at anything. Action was to be his course.
"It's a premature blast!" he shouted. "Come on, we've got to get out!"