Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 2

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CHAPTER II


THINKING BACKWARD


Betty leaned over the rail, flinging the contents of the seed packets into the air and breathing a little prayer that the wind might carry them far and that none might "fall on stony ground."

"If I never see the flowers, some one else may," she thought. "I remember that old lady who lived in Pineville, poor blind Mrs. Tompkins. She was always telling about the pear orchard she and her husband planted the first year of their married life out in Ohio. Then they moved East, and she never saw the trees. 'But somebody has been eating the pears these twenty years,' she used to say. I hope my flowers grow for some one to see."

When she had tossed all the seeds away, Betty snuggled into one of the comfortable reed chairs and gave herself up to her own thoughts. Since leaving Washington, the novelty and excitement of the trip had thoroughly occupied her mind, and there had been little time for retrospection.

This bright morning, as the prairie land slipped past the train, Betty Gordon's mind swiftly reviewed the incidents of the last few months and marveled at the changes brought about in a comparatively short time. She was an orphan, this dark-eyed girl of thirteen, and, having lost her mother two years after her father's death, had turned to her only remaining relative, an uncle, Richard Gordon. How he came to her in the little town of Pineville, her mother's girlhood home, and arranged to send her to spend the summer on a farm with an old school friend of his has been told in the first volume of this series, entitled "Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm; or, The Mystery of a Nobody." At Bramble Farm Betty had met Bob Henderson, a lad a year or so older than herself and a ward from the county poorhouse. The girl and boy had become fast friends, and when Bob learned enough of his mother's family to make him want to know all and in pursuit of that knowledge had fled to Washington, it seemed providential that Betty's uncle should also be in the capital so that she, too, might journey there.

That had been her first "real traveling," mused Betty, recalling her eagerness to discover new worlds. Bob had been the first to leave the farm, and Betty had made the trip to Washington alone. This morning she vividly remembered every detail of the day-long journey and especially of the warm reception that awaited her at the Union Station. This has been described in the second book of this series, entitled "Betty Gordon in Washington; or, Strange Adventures in a Great City." If Betty should live to be an old lady she would probably never cease to recall the peculiar circumstances under which she made friends with the three Littell girls and their cousin from Vermont and came to spend several delightful weeks at the hospitable mansion of Fairfields. The Littell family had grown to be very fond of Betty and of Bob, whose fortunes seemed to be inextricably mixed up with hers, and when the time came for them to leave for Oklahoma, fairly showered them with gifts.

No sooner did word reach Betty that her uncle awaited her in the oil regions than Bob announced that he was going West, too. He had succeeded in getting trace of two sisters of his mother, and presumably they lived somewhere in the section where Betty's uncle was stationed.

"I'll never forget how lovely the Littells were to us," thought Betty, a mist in her eyes blurring the sage brush. "Wasn't Bob surprised when Mr. Littell gave him that camera? And Mrs. Littell must have known he didn't have a nice bag, because she gave him that beauty all fitted with ebony toilet articles. And the girls clubbed together and gave each of us a signet ring—that was dear of them. I thought they had done everything for me friends could, keeping me there so long and entertaining me as though they had invited me as a special guest; so when Mr. and Mrs. Littell gave me that string of gold beads I was just about speechless. There never were such people! Heigho! Four months ago I was living in a little village, discontented because Uncle Dick wouldn't take me with him. And now I've made lots of new friends, seen Washington, and am speeding toward the wild and woolly West. I guess it never pays to complain."

With this philosophical conclusion, Betty pulled a letter from her pocket and fell to reading it. Bobby Littell had written a letter for each day of the journey and Betty had derived genuine pleasure from these gay notes so like the cheerful, sunny Roberta herself. This morning's letter was taken up with school plans for the fall, and the writer expressed a wish that Betty might go with them to boarding school.

"Libbie thinks perhaps her mother will send her, and just think what fun we could have," wrote Bobby, referring to the Vermont cousin.

Betty dismissed the school question lightly from her mind. She would certainly enjoy going to school with the Littell girls, and boarding school was one of her day-dreams, as it is of most girls her age. After she had seen her uncle and spent some time with him—he was very dear to her, was this Uncle Dick—she thought she might be ready to go back East and take up her education where it had been dropped somewhat unceremoniously. But there was the subject of the probable cost—something that never bothered the Littell girls. Betty knew nothing of her uncle's finances, beyond the fact that he had been very generous with her, sending her checks frequently and never stinting her by word or suggestion. Still, boarding school, especially a school selected by the Littells, would undoubtedly be expensive. Betty wisely decided to let the matter drop for the time being.

Sage brush and prairie was now left behind, and the train was rattling through a heavy forest. Betty was glad that the rather nippy breeze had apparently kept every one else indoors, or else the monotony of a long train journey. The platform continued to be deserted, and, wondering what delayed Bob, she took up the camera to try again for a picture of the receding track. She and Bob had used up perhaps half a dozen films on this one subject, and the gleaming point where the rails came together in the distance had an inexhaustible fascination for the girl.

"How it does blow!" she gasped. "I remember now when we stopped at that water-station Bob spoke of—I didn't notice it at the time, I was so busy thinking, but the breeze didn't die down with the motion of the train. I shouldn't wonder if there was a strong wind to-day."

As a matter of fact, there was a gale, but Betty, accustomed to the wind from the back platform of a train in motion, thought that it could be nothing unusual. To be sure, the branches of the tall trees were crashing about and the sky over the cleared space on each side of the tracks was gray and ominous (the sun had disappeared as Betty mused) but the girl, comfortable in sweater and small, close hat, paid slight attention to these signs.

"I can't see what is keeping Bob," she repeated, putting the camera down. "Maybe I'd better go back into the car. How those trees do swish about! I don't believe if I shouted, I'd be heard above the noise of the wind and the train."

This was an alluring thought, and Betty acted upon it, cautiously at first, and then, gaining confidence, more freely. It is exhilarating to contend with the rush of the wind, to pitch one's voice against a torrent of sound, and Betty stood at the rail singing as loudly as she could, her tones lost completely in a grander chorus. Her cheeks crimsoned, and she fairly shouted, feeling to her finger tips the joy and excitement of the powerful forces with which she competed—those of old nature and man's invention, the thing of smoke and fire and speed we call a train.

Suddenly the brakes went down, there was an uneasy screeching as they gripped the wheels, and the long train jarred to a standstill.

"How funny!" puzzled Betty. "There's no station. We're right out in the woods. Oh, I can hear the wind now—how it does howl!"

She picked up her belongings and made her way back to the car. As she passed through the coaches every one was asking the cause of the stop, and an immigrant woman caught hold of Betty as she went through a day coach.

"Is it wrong?" she asked nervously, and in halting English. "Must we get off here?"

"I don't know what the matter is," answered Betty, thankful that she was asked nothing more difficult. "But whatever happens, don't get off; this isn't a station, it is right in the woods. If you get off and lose some of your children, you'll never get them together again and the train will go off and leave you. Don't get off until the conductor tells you to."

The woman sank back in her seat and called her children around her, evidently resolved to follow this advice to the last letter.

"She looks as if an earthquake wouldn't blow her from her seat," thought Betty, proceeding to her own car. "Well, at that. It's safer for her than trying to find out what the matter is and not being able to find her way aboard again. I remember the conductor told Bob and me these poor immigrants have such trouble traveling. It must be awful to make your way in a strange country where you can not understand what people say to you."

No Bob was to be seen when Betty reached her seat, but excited passengers were apparently trying to fall head-first from the car windows.

"I think we've run over some one," announced a fussy little man with a monocle and a flower in his buttonhole.

With a warning toot of the whistle, the train began to move slowly forward. It went a few feet, apparently hit something solid, and stopped with a violent jar.

"Oh, my goodness!" wailed a woman who was clearly the wife of the fussy little man. "Won't some one please go and find out what the matter is?"

Betty looked toward the car door and saw Bob pushing his way toward her.