Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV


TWO INVALIDS


Betty, for a single wild instant, had an impulse to slam the door shut and gallop off the place on Clover. She was all alone, and miles from help of any sort, no matter what happened. Then, as another groan sounded, she bravely made up her mind to investigate. Some one was evidently sick and in pain; that explained the state of affairs at the barns. Could she, Betty Gordon, run away and leave a sick person without attempting to find out what was needed?

It must be confessed that it took a great deal of courage to pull open the grained oak door that led from the kitchen and behind which the groans were sounding with monotonous regularity, but the girl set her teeth, and opened it softly. In the semi-darkness she was able to make out the dim outlines of a bed set between the two windows and a swirl of bedclothes, some of which were dragging on the floor.

"I'm just Betty," she quavered uncertainly, for though the groans had stopped no one spoke. "I heard you groaning. Are you sick, and is there anything I can do for you?"

"Sick," murmured a woman's voice. "So sick!"

At the sound of utter weariness and pain, Betty's fear left her and all the tenderness and passionate desire for service that had made her such a wonderful little "hand" with ill and fretful babies in her old home at Pineville came to take its place.

"I'll have to put the shades up," she explained, stepping lightly to the windows and pulling up the green shades. "Then I can see to make you more comfortable."

She spoke clearly and yet not loudly, knowing that a sick person hates whispering.

The afternoon sunlight streamed into the room, revealing a clean though most sparsely furnished bedroom. A rag rug on the floor, two chairs, a washstand and mirror and the bed were the only articles of furniture.

Betty, after one swift glance, turned toward the occupant of the bed. She saw a woman apparently about sixty years old, with mild blue eyes, now glazed by fever, and tangled gray hair. As Betty watched her a terrible fit of coughing shook her.

"You must have a doctor!" said Betty decidedly, wondering what there was about the woman that seemed familiar. "How long have you been like this? Have you been alone? How hard it must have been for you!"

She put out her hand to smooth the bedclothes, and the sick woman grasped it, her own hot with fever, till Betty almost cried out.

"The stock!" she gasped. "I took 'em water till I couldn't get out of bed. How long ago was that? They will die tied up!"

"I fed and watered them," Betty soothed her. "They're all right. Don't worry another minute, I'll make you tidy and get you something to eat and then I'm going for a doctor."

What was there about the woman—Betty stared at her, frowning in an effort to recollect where she had seen her before. If Bob were only here to help her—Bob! Why, the sick woman before her was the living image of Bob Henderson!

"The Saunders place!" Betty clapped her hand to her mouth, anxious not to excite her patient. "Why, of course, this is the farm. And she must be one of Bob's aunts!"

As if in answer to her question, the sick woman half rose in bed.

"Charity!" she stammered, her hands pressed to her aching head. "Charity! She was sick first."

She pointed to an adjoining room and Betty crossed the floor feeling that she was walking in a dream and likely to wake up any minute.

The communicating room was shrouded in darkness like the other, and when Betty had raised the shades she found it furnished as another bedroom. Evidently the old sisters had chosen to hve entirely on the first floor of the house.

The woman in the square iron bed looked startlingly like Bob, too, but, unlike her sister, her eyes were dark. She lay quietly, her cheeks scarlet and her hands nervously picking at the counterpane. When she saw Betty she struggled to a sitting posture and tried to talk. It was pitiable to watch her efforts for her voice was quite gone. Only when Betty put her ear close down to the trembling lips could she hear the words.

"Hope!" murmured the sick woman hoarsely. "Hope—have you seen her?"

"Yes, she asked for you, too." Betty tried to nod brightly. "I'm going to do a few things here first and get you both something to eat, and then I'm going for a doctor."

Miss Charity sank back, evidently satisfied, and Betty hurried out to the kitchen. The wood-box was well-filled and she had little difficulty in starting a fire in the stove. Like the rest of the farm homes, the only available water supply seemed to be the pump in the yard, and Betty pumped vigorously, letting a stream run out before she filled the teakettle. She thought it likely that no water had been pumped for several days.

There was plenty of food In the house, though not a great variety, and mostly canned goods at that. Betty, who by this time was really faint with hunger, made a hasty lunch from crackers and some cheese before she carried a basin of warm water in to the two patients and sponged their faces and hands. She wanted to put clean sheets on the beds, but wisely decided that was too much of an undertaking for an inexperienced nurse and contented herself with straightening the bedclothes and putting on a clean counterpane from the scanty little pile of linen in a bottom drawer of the washstand in Miss Hope's room. She was slightly delirious for brief intervals, but was able to tell Betty where many things were. Neither of the sisters seemed at all surprised to see the girl, and, if they were able to reason at all, probably thought she was a neighbor's daughter.

When Betty had the two rooms arranged a bit more tidily, and she was anxious to leave them looking presentable for she planned to send the doctor on ahead while she found Bob and brought him out with her, she brushed and braided her patients' hair smoothly, and then fed them a very little warm milk. Neither seemed at all hungry, and Betty was thankful, for she did not know what food they should have, and she longed for a physician to take the responsibility. She had given each a drink of cool water before she did anything else, knowing that they must be terribly thirsty.

She stood in the doorway where she could be seen from both beds when she had done everything she could, and the two sisters, if not better, were much more comfortable than she had found them.

"Now," she said, "I'm going to get a doctor. No, I won't leave you all alone—not for long," she added hastily, for Miss Charity was gazing at her imploringly and Miss Hope's eyes were full of tears. "I'll come back and stay all night and as long as you need me. But I must get some things and I must tell the Watterbys where I am. I'll hurry as fast as I can."

She ran out and saddled Clover, for she had been turned out to grass to enjoy a good rest, and, having got the proper direction from Miss Hope, urged her up the road at a smart canter. She knew where the Flame City doctor lived; that is, the country doctor who had practised long before the town was the oil center it was now. There were good medical men at the oil fields, but Betty knew that they were liable to be in any section and difficult to find. She trusted that Doctor Morrison would be at home.

He lived about two miles out of the town and a mile from the Watterby farm, and, as good luck would have it, he had come in from a hard case at dinner time, taken a nap, and was comfortably reading a magazine on his side porch when Betty wheeled into the yard. She knew him, having met him one day at the oil wells, and when she explained the need for him, he said that he would snatch a bit of supper and go immediately in his car.

"I know these two Saunders sisters," he said briefly. "They've lived alone for years, and now they're getting queer. It's a mercy they ever got through last winter without a case of pneumonia. Both of 'em down, you say? And impossible to get a nurse or a housekeeper for love or money."

"Oh, I'm going back," explained Betty quickly. "They need some one to wait on them. Uncle Dick will let me, I know, and I really know quite a lot about taking care of sick people, Doctor Morrison."

"But you can't stay there alone," objected the doctor. "Why, child, I wouldn't think of it. Some one will come along and carry you off."

"Bob will come and stay, too," declared Betty confidently. "There are horses and cows to take care of, you know. I found them nearly dead of thirst, and all tied in their stalls."

The doctor interrupted impatiently.

"Nice country we live in!" he muttered bitterly. "Every last man so bent on making money in oil he'd let his neighbor die under his very eyes. Here are two old women sick, and no one to lift a hand for 'em. I suppose they haven't been able to get a hired man to tend to the stock since the oil boom struck Flame City. Well, child, I don't see that I have much choice in the matter. I know as well as you do, that they must have some one to help out for a few days. That Henderson lad looks capable, and you'll be safe, as far as that goes, with him in the house. But you musn't try to do too much, and, above all, no lifting. I'll keep an eye on you."

The doctor offered to take Betty back with him in the car but she was anxious that he should not be delayed and asked him to go as soon as he could. She herself would ride on to the Watterby farm, see if Bob was there, get her supper, and pack a few necessary things in a small bag. Then she and Bob would ride back to the Saunders place. Clover was fresh enough now, after her respite, far fresher than Betty, who was more tired than she had ever been in her life, though nothing would have dragged that confession from her. Of course her uncle must be notified, if he were not at the farm. Betty knew that a message left with the Watterbys would reach him. He had been off for four days, and was expected home very soon.

Betty did not hurry Clover, for she wanted to save her for that evening's trip, and it was well on toward six o'clock before she came in sight of the farm. A black dot resolved itself into Bob and he came running to meet her.

"I was beginning to worry about you," he called. "I waited up at the fields till afternoon, because Thorne was sure you would come back there. When I got here and found you hadn't come in, I was half afraid the horse had thrown you. You look done up, Betty; are you hurt?"

"I'm all right," said Betty carelessly, dismounting. "Have you heard from Uncle Dick?"

Bob did not answer, and she turned in surprise to look at him. His face was rather white under the tan, and his hands, fumbling with the reins, were trembling.