Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI


HOUSEKEEPER AND NURSE


"I must be going on," Doctor Morrison continued, finishing his writing at the kitchen table which the entrance of Bob and Betty had evidently interrupted. "Here are a few directions for you, Betty. I do not think there will be anything for you to do to-night. Both should sleep right through, and I'll be out in the morning. I have made a bed for you on the parlor sofa, and one for Bob here in the kitchen. I thought you'd want to be near the patients. And, then, too, the rooms upstairs are damp and musty; evidently the upper floor of the house hasn't been used for some time. Now are you sure you will be all right? Does Mr. Gordon know you are here?"

Bob explained that they had left a message for Mr. Gordon at the Watterby farm, and Doctor Morrison, who of course knew of the fire, nodded understandlngly. Then he bade them good-night, promising to make them his first call in the morning.

"I'll go out and bed down the horses and feed the stock," said Bob, after the light of the doctor's car had disappeared down the road. "Do go to bed, Betty; you're all tuckered out."

But Betty flatly refused to stay in the house without Bob. She tagged sleepily after him while he carried water to the horses and cows, bedded them down and littered the pig pens with fresh straw. He bolted the doors of the barns and hen house and made everything snug for the night. Then he and Betty went back to the house, having stabled their own horses in two empty stalls that, judging from the dusty hay in the mangers, had not been used recently.

Both patients were sleeping, breathing rather heavily and hoarsely, it is true, but apparently resting comfortably. Betty and Bob were thoroughly tired out and glad to say good-night and go to bed. As Betty snuggled down on the comfortable old couch, she thought how kind of the doctor to have made things ready for them.

The sun streaming in through the windows woke her the next morning. With a start she jumped up and put on her slippers and blue robe. With the healthy vigor of youth she had slept without once waking during the night, and not once had the thought of her patients disturbed her. Cautiously she tiptoed into the two bedrooms. Miss Charity and Miss Hope were sleeping quietly. A swift peep into the kitchen showed her a fire snapping briskly in the store and the teakettle sending out clouds of steam. Bob was nowhere in sight.

"He's out at the barn," thought Betty. "I must hurry and get breakfast."

She dressed quickly but trimly, as usual, and raised the windows of the parlor. Screens or not, she felt the house would be the better for quantities of fresh air. She closed the door softly and went down the narrow little passage into the kitchen.

She found a bowl of nice-looking eggs in the pantry and a piece of home-cured bacon neatly sewed into a white muslin bag and partly sliced. This, with slices of golden brown toast—the bread box held only half a loaf of decidedly stale bread—solved her breakfast menu. There were two pans of milk standing on the table, thick with yellow cream, and Betty was just wondering if Bob had milked and when, for the cream could not have risen under two or three hours' time, when the boy came whistling cheerfully in, carrying a pail of foaming milk.

"Sh!" warned Betty. "Don't wake your aunts up. When did you milk. Bob? You can't have done it twice in one morning."

"Well hardly," admitted Bob, lowering his voice discreetly. "I went out last night after I was sure you were asleep. I knew the cows had to be milked and that you'd probably insist on staying out there If you went to sleep standing up. So I took a lantern I found under the bench on the back porch and went out about an hour after you went to bed. Gee, fried eggs and bacon! You're a good cook, Betsey!"

Betty had spread one end of the table with a clean brown linen cloth, and now, after Bob had washed his hands and she had strained the milk, she placed the smoking hot dishes before him, and they proceeded to enjoy the meal heartily.

"I wonder if the fire is out," said Betty anxiously. "Perhaps Doctor Morrison will know when he comes. What are you going to do now, Bob?"

"You tell me what will help you," answered Bob. "I suppose you have to cook breakfast for the aunts—doesn't that sound funny? I thought I'd kind of hang around the house—you might want furniture moved or something like that—till you had 'em all fixed comfy, and then you could go out to the barn with me while I finished out there. It's lonesome in a new place."

"Sometimes I think," announced Betty, stopping with the frying pan In her hand and beaming upon Bob, "that you have more sense than any one I ever knew. You needn't do a thing, if you'll just wait for me. There's a pile of old magazines in the parlor. You can read the stories in those."

Leaving Bob comfortably established in a padded rocking chair, she went in to see if either of her patients was awake. Both were, as it happened, and though they looked slightly bewildered at first, Betty soon recalled to their minds her coming and the visit from the doctor. Both were very weak, and Miss Charity still was voiceless, but their eyes were clear and there was no sign of delirium.

Betty had brought an enveloping white apron and cap with her, and she presented an immaculate little figure as she gently sponged the hands and faces of the old ladies and made their beds tidy and smooth. Doctor Morrison had ordered water toast and weak tea for their breakfast, and when Betty went out to the kitchen to prepare two trays she found that Bob had pumped two pails of fresh water, cleared the table and stacked the dishes in the dishpan and was taking up ashes from the stove while he waited for the kettle of water which he had put on for them to heat.

"I thought you'd need the teakettle yourself," observed this energetic young man, a streak of soot across his forehead in no way detracting from his engaging smile. "I'll have to put in an hour or so chopping wood this afternoon. The box will be empty by noon."

Betty found that both her patients were too weak to feed themselves, so she had to handle one tray at a time. The meal was barely over when Doctor Morrison drove up. He found Bob washing dishes and Betty drying them.

"Well, well, you look as bright as two dollars," said the gray old doctor merrily. "You don't need any prescriptions, that's evident. How are the sick ladies, Miss Nurse?"

"They slept all night—at least, I think they did," she reported conscientiously. "I never woke up, and I think I would have heard them call, for the door from the parlor was left open and their doors too, of course. They slept about an hour and a half after Bob and I were up and about. But they are very weak. I had to feed them."

"That's to be expected," said the doctor professionally. "We'll go in and see how the fever is. I don't suppose they've seen Bob?"

Betty shook her head.

"I thought the fewer people they saw the better," she answered quietly. "Miss Hope was afraid I was doing too much and I told her a boy was here looking after the barns and the stock. That seemed to satisfy her."

"Well, for two youngsters, I must say you show extraordinary good sense," the doctor said. "I don't know what these old ladies would have done if you hadn't taken hold."

He wanted Betty to go with him to the sick-rooms, and at his first glance pronounced Miss Hope better. Miss Charity, too, was much improved, but she struggled against the throat spray and was exhausted when the treatment was finished.

"They'll build up, but slowly," declared the doctor when he and Betty and Bob were again together in the kitchen. "I think it is safe to say that they'll sleep nearly all day. Keep them warm and on a light diet—here is a better list than the one I scribbled last night—and be careful of yourself, Betty. I'm having some supplies sent out to you. I took a look at the pantry last night before you came, and the old ladies have been living on what the farm produced; If it didn't produce what they needed, they evidently went without. I'm afraid they're desperately poor and proud. What's that? Grandma Watterby's beef extract? Fine! Just what you need! Give 'em some for supper. Well, Betty, out with it—don't ask a question with your eyes; use your tongue."

"The fire?" stammered Betty. "Is it out? Have you heard anything?"

"Still burning," was the reluctant answer. "About all the town spent the night up there, hampering the employees I haven't a doubt and thinking they were helping the force. However, don't worry, child; I honestly believe that Mr. Gordon is in no danger. He is intelligent and careful, and the company will sacrifice the whole field before they will let a man risk his life."

Doctor Morrison was to come the next day, and some hours after he left them a rickety oilfield wagon drove up and left a box of groceries. The boy driving the sleek mule was in a great hurry "to see the fire," and he merely tumbled the box off and drove on with hardly an unnecessary word.

"Goodness, the doctor seems to expect us to stay a month!" gasped Betty, unpacking the tin cans and packages. "It's almost as much fun as keeping a store, isn't it, Bob? Oh, my gracious! what was that?"

A cry had sounded from Miss Hope's bedroom.

Bob and Betty ran to the door. She was sitting up in bed, her bright, hot eyes staring at them unseeingly.

"Faith!" she cried piercingly. "Faith, my darling!"