Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 15

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CHAPTER XV


UNEXPECTED NEWS


"Bob!" Betty's over-tired nerves seemed to jangle like tangled wires. "Bob, is anything the matter?"

"Well, of course, nothing is really the matter," replied Bob, his assumed calmness belied by his excited face. "Nothing that need worry you, Betty. But—there's another oil fire!"

"Another well on fire?" repeated Betty. "Oh, Bob, is it anywhere near Uncle Dick?"

"You come in and sit down. Ki will look after Clover," said Bob authoritatively. "Supper is almost ready, and I'll tell you all I know. Mrs. Watterby has gone to bed with a sick headache, but Grandma is taking her place."

"Is it a very bad fire?" urged Betty. "Where is it? When did it start? Have you seen it?"

"I guess it is pretty bad," said Bob soberly. "It's the north section, Betty. Just what Thorne has been afraid of."

"The north section!" Betty looked startled. "But, Bob, we were there this morning. Everything was all right."

"Well, when I came back with the record book Thorne sent me with and found you and Clover had dashed off, everything was all right, too. I hung round for an hour or so, hoping you'd ride back, and then MacDuffy asked me to take a message to Thorne. They were having dinner at the mess house, and Uncle Dick came in before we had finished. He was feeling great over some leases they'd signed that morning, and he thought he'd get home to-night. He didn't seem to worry about you—said he knew Clover was a sensible and well-broken horse and that he guessed you'd come out none the worse for wear. Somebody called Thorne outside just as the Chink brought in the pie, and he was back in a few minutes, looking as if the bottom had dropped out of the world.

"'Two wells afire in the north section, Mr. Gordon,' he said, and at that every man shot from the table out into the air. We could just see the two thin spirals of smoke—that section must be four miles from the bunk house.

"Everybody ran for their horses, and Uncle Dick for his car. He cranked it and then saw me getting in with him.

"'You go back and stay with Betty,' he cried to me. 'Stay with her every minute till I come back. If I'm gone three hours or three days or three years, don't leave her. And keep her away from the oil fields. We'll be overrun as soon as news of this gets out, and the kind of crowd that will be here is no place for a girl. Promise me, Bob.'

"So of course I promised," concluded the lad earnestly. "He got into the car, and maybe he didn't make that tin trap speed. All I saw was a cloud of dust. This afternoon all of Flame City has gone past here on foot. In cars, and on horseback. They say more wells have caught."

"Do you think Uncle Dick is in danger?" faltered Betty. "Aren't the fire fighters surrounded sometimes and suffocated with smoke?"

"What have you been reading?" demanded Bob with a stoutness he was far from feeling. "Uncle Dick knows too much to be caught like that. No, he may not get home for a couple of days more, but there is no need for you to lie awake and worry. Take my advice and go to bed the minute you've had supper; you look tired to death, Betty."

"Oh, Bob!" For the moment Betty had actually forgotten her great news, but now it came rushing back to her. "Oh, Bob, I've something wonderful to tell you!"

"Won't listen till you've had your supper," said Bob firmly, marching her out to the dining-room table, as Grandma Watterby rang the bell. "You eat first, then you can talk."

Betty could hardly touch her food for excitement, but she did not want the Prices to hear what she had to tell Bob, so she made a pretense of eating. The Watterby household was eager to hear what had happened to her on her unplanned-for ride, and she told them that Clover had taken her some miles before she could be halted. She did not go into details.

"Now, Bob!" She fairly dragged him from the supper table, ignoring his suggestion that they help Grandma Watterby wash the dishes. "I can't wait another minute, not even to help Grandma. I have something to tell you, and you simply must listen. I've found your aunts!"

Bob stared at her stupidly.

"I found the three hills!" Betty hurried on excitedly. "Clover carried me ever so far, and I saw the three hills in the distance. I had to ride miles before I reached them, but it isn't more than seven or eight by the road. And, Bob, both your aunts are very sick, and they have no one to take care of them or get them anything to eat. There aren't any neighbors around here, you know; all the women are too old or too busy like Mrs. Watterby, and the men are crazy about oil. You and I have to go there to-night."

"Betty, are you sure you are not crazy?" demanded Bob uneasily. "How do you know they are my aunts? How can we go there and stay? They must need a doctor."

Betty was impatient of explanations, but she saw that Bob was genuinely bewildered, so she hastily sketched the proceedings of the afternoon for him.

"And Doctor Morrison must be there now," she wound up triumphantly. "They look so much like you, Bob. He'll see it, too."

"I never saw any one like you, Betty!" Bob gazed at her in undisguised admiration. "No wonder you look tired. Why, I should think you'd be ready to drop. Hadn't you better go to bed and get a good night's sleep and let me go out to the farm? You can come to-morrow morning."

"I'm rested now," insisted Betty. "That hot supper made me feel all right again. Doctor Morrison will probably have some directions for me, and I promised the old ladies I'd be back and you promised Uncle Dick not to leave me. Let's go and tell Grandma and leave word with her for Uncle Dick. Then you saddle up, and I'll get my bag."

Bob forbore to argue further, more because he thought that it was best to get Betty away from the Watterby place on the main road to Flame City than because he approved of her taking another long ride after an exhausting day. The most disquieting rumors had come down from the fields that afternoon, and Bob knew that every kind of story, authentic and unfounded, would be promptly retailed over the Watterby gate. If Mr. Gordon's life were in danger, and Bob feared it was, it would be agony for Betty to be unable to go to him and be forced to listen to hectic accounts of the fire.

"Well, well," said Grandma Watterby, when Betty told her that she had found the Saunders place. "So you rode to the three hills, did you? Ain't they pretty? Many and many's the time I've seen 'em. And Bob's aunties—Hope and Charity—they living there?"

Betty explained briefly that they were ill and that she and Bob were going to look after things.

"We may be gone two or three days or a week," she said. "You tell Uncle Dick where we are if he comes, won't you? Doctor Morrison will bring messages if you ask him. He's going to see them, too."

Grandma Watterby hurried to the pantry and came back with a glass jar in her hands.

"This is some o' my home-made beef extract," she told them. "You take it with you, Betty. There ain't nothing better for building up a sick person. Dear, dear, to think of you finding Hope and Charity Saunders. Do they know 'bout Bob?"

Betty said no, and the horses being brought round by Ki, who had insisted on saddling them, she and Bob rode off. It was faintly dusk, and a new moon hung low in the sky.

"Isn't it lovely?" sighed Betty. "In spite of sickness and danger and selfish people, I love this country on an evening like this. What do you think we ought to do about telling your aunts. Bob? I knew Grandma would ask that question."

"Why, if they're sick, I think it would be utterly foolish to mention a nephew to 'em," said Bob cheerfully. "They probably are blissfully unaware that I'm alive, and trying to explain to them would likely bring on an attack of brain fever. I'm just a neighbor dropped in to help while they're laid up."

Betty could not bring herself to speak of the evident poverty of the lonely Saunders home. She had built so many bright castles for Bob, and the dilapidated house and buildings she had left that afternoon quite failed to fit into any of the pictures. However, she remembered happily, there was always the prospect of oil.

"It can't be out of the fields," she argued to herself. "Just suppose oil should be discovered in that section! Bob might easily be a millionaire!"

Bob was silent, too, but his thoughts were not on a problematical fortune. He was wondering, with a quickened beating of his heart, how his mother's sisters would look and whether he should be able to see in them anything of the girlish face in the long-treasured little picture that was one of the few valuables in the black tin box.

"There's a team ahead," said Betty suddenly.

Her quick ears had caught the sound of wheels, and though it was almost dark now, no lantern was lit on the rattling buggy to which they presently caught up. The rig made such a noise, added to the breathing of the bony horse that was suffering from a bad case of that malady popularly known among farmers as "the heaves," that the occupants were forced to raise their voices to make themselves heard. The top was up and it was impossible to see who was inside.

"I tell you, let me handle it, and I'll make you thousands," some one was saying as they passed the buggy single file. "I can manage women and their money, and I don't believe the idea of oil has as much as entered their heads."

"Always oil," thought Bob, hurrying his horse to catch up with Betty. "In Oklahoma the stuff that dreams are made of comes up through an iron derrick, that's sure."

At the Saunders place, bathed in faint moonlight, they found Doctor Morrison's car, and a light in the window told that he was waiting for them.

"Didn't know whether you would make it to-night or not," was his greeting, as they went around to the kitchen door and he opened it to show the room brightly lighted by two lamps. "Both patients are asleep. Miss Charity has laryngitis and Miss Hope a very heavy cold. But I think the worst is over."

He stopped, and shot a keen glance at Bob.

"Funny," he said abruptly. "For the moment I would have said you looked enough like Miss Hope to have been her younger brother."

Bob merely smiled at the doctor's remark, for he did not want the relationship to be guessed before his aunts had recognized him.