Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV


BLOCKED TRAFFIC


All was uproar and confusion in the coaches through which Bob had to pass to reach the car where he knew Betty was. Distracted mothers with frightened, crying children charged up and down the aisles, excited men ran through, and the wildest guesses flew about. The concensus of opinion was that they had hit something!

"Oh, Bob!" Betty greeted him with evident relief when he at last reached her. "What has happened? Is any one hurt? Will another train come up behind us and run into us?"

This last was a cheerful topic broached by the fussy little man whose capacity for going ahead and meeting trouble was boundless.

"0f course not!" Bob's scorn was more reassuring than the gentlest answer. "As soon as a train stops they set signals to warn traffic. What a horrible racket every one is making! They're all screeching at once. Get your hat, Betty, and we'll go and find out something definite. I don't know any more than you do, but I can't stand this noise."

Betty was glad to get away from the babble of sound, and they went down the first set of steps and joined the procession that was picking its way over the ties toward the engine.

"Express due in three minutes," said a brake-man warningly, hurrying past them. "Stand well back from the tracks."

He went on, cautioning every one he passed, and a majority of the passengers swerved over to the wide cinder path on the other side of the second track. A few persisted in walking the ties.

"Here she comes! Look out!" Bob shouted, as a trail of smoke became visible far up the track.

He had insisted that Betty stand well away from the track, and now the few persistent ones who had remained on the cleared track scrambled madly to reach safety. A woman who walked with a cane, and who had overridden her young-woman attendant's advice that she stay in the coach until news of the accident, whatever it was, could be brought to her, was almost paralyzed with nervous fright. Bob went to her distressed attendant's aid, and between them they half-carried, half-dragged the stubborn old person from the shining rails.

"Toto!" she gasped.

Bob stared, but Betty's quick eye had seen. There, in the middle of the track, sat a fluffy little dog, its eyes so thickly screened with hair that it is doubtful if it could see three inches before its shining black nose. This was Toto, and the rush of events had completely bewildered him. The dog was accustomed to being held on its mistress' lap or carried about in a covered basket, but she had decided that a short walk would give the little beast needed exercise, and it had pantingly tagged along after her, obedient, as usual, to her whims. Now she had suddenly disappeared. Well, Toto must sit down and wait for her to come back. Perhaps she might miss him and come after him right away.

The thundering noise of the train was clearly audible when Betty swooped down on the patient Toto, grabbed him by his fluffy neck, and sprang back. Bob, turning from his charge, had caught a glimpse of the girl as she dashed toward something on the track, and now as she jumped he grasped her arm and pulled her toward him. He succeeded in dragging her back several rods, but they both stumbled and fell. There was a yelp of protest from Toto, drowned in the mighty shriek and roar of the train. The great Eastern Limited swept past them, rocking the ground, sending out a cloud of black smoke shot with sparks, and letting fall a rain of gritty cinders.

"Don't you ever let me catch you doing anything like that again!" scolded Bob, getting to his feet and helping Betty up. "0f all the foolish acts! Why, you would have been struck if you'd made a misstep. What possessed you, Betty?"

"Toto," answered Betty, dimpling, brushing the dirt from her skirts and daintily shaking out the fluffy dog. "See what a darling he is, Bob. Do you suppose I could let a train run over him?"

Bob admitted, grudgingly, for he was still nervous and shaken, that Toto was a "cute mutt," and then, when they had restored him to his grateful mistress, they went on to their goal. No one had noticed Betty's narrow escape, for all had been concerned with their own safety. Betty herself was inclined to minimize the danger, but Bob knew that she might easily have been drawn under the wheels by the suction, if not actually overtaken on the track.

There was a crowd about the engine, and the grimy-faced engineer leaned from his cab, inspecting them impassively. His general attitude was one of boredom, tinged with disgust.

"Guess they've all been telling him what to do," whispered Bob, who, while only a lad, had a trick of correctly estimating situations.

Pressing their way close in, he and Betty were at last able to see what had stopped the train. The high wind, which was still blowing with undiminished force, had blown down a huge tree. It lay directly across the track, and barely missed the east-bound rails.

"Another foot, and she'd have tied up traffic both ways," said the brakeman who had warned the passengers of the approach of the express. "What you going to do, Jim?"

The engineer sighed heavily.

"Got to wait till it's sawed in pieces small enough for a gang to handle," he answered. "We've sent to Tippewa for a cross-cut saw. Take us from now till the first o' the month to saw that trunk with the emergency saws."

"Where's Tippewa?" called out an inquisitive passenger. "Any souvenirs there?"

"Sure. Indian baskets and that kind of truck," volunteered the young brakeman affably, as the engineer did not deign to answer. "'Bout a mile, maybe a mile and a half, straight up the track. We don't stop there. You'll have plenty of time, won't he, Jim?"

"We'll be here a matter of three hours or more," admitted the engineer.

"Let's walk to the town, Betty," suggested Bob. "We don't want to hang around here for three hours. All this country looks alike."

Apparently half the passengers had decided that a trip to the town promised a break in the monotony of a long train trip, and the track resembled the main street of Pineville on a holiday. Every one walked on the track occupied by the stalled train, and so felt secure.

"Bob," whispered Betty presently, "look. Aren't those the two men you followed this morning? Just ahead of us—see the gray suits? And did you hear anything to report?"

"Why, I haven't told you, have I?" said Bob contritely. "The train stopping put it out of my mind. What do you think, Betty, they were talking about the Saunders place! Can you imagine that?"

"The Saunders place?" echoed Betty, stopping short. "Why, Bob, do you suppose—do you think—"

"Sure! It must be the farm my aunts live on," nodded Bob. "Saunders isn't such a common name, you know. Besides, the one they call Dan Carson—he isn't with them, guess he is too fat to enjoy walking—said it was owned by a couple of old maids. Oh, it is the right place, I'm sure of it. And I count on your Uncle Dick's knowing where it is, since they spoke of the farm being in the heart of the oil section."

"Where do you suppose they're going now?" speculated Betty.

"Oh, I judge they want to see the sights, same as we do," replied Bob carelessly. "Perhaps they count on fleecing some confiding Tippewa citizen out of his hard-earned wealth. They can't do much in three hours, though, and I think they're booked to go right on through to Oklahoma. Of course I don't know how crooks work their schemes, but it seems to me if you want to make money, honestly or dishonestly, in oil, you go where oil is."

Betty Gordon was not given to long speeches, but when she did speak it was usually to the point.

"I don't think they're going back to the train," she announced quietly. "They're carrying their suitcases."

"Well, what do you know about that!" Bob addressed a telegraph pole. "Here I am making wild guesses, and she takes one look at the men themselves and tells their plans. Do I need glasses? I begin to think I do."

"I don't guess their plans," protested Betty. "Anyway, perhaps they were afraid to leave their bags in the car."

"No, it looks very much to me as though they had said farewell to the Western Limited," said Bob. "They wouldn't carry those heavy cases a mile unless they meant to leave for good. Let's keep an eye on them, because if they are going to 'work' the Saunders place, I'd like to see how they intend to go about it."

For some time the boy and girl tramped in silence, keeping Blosser and Fluss In view. A large billboard, blown flat, was the first sign that they were approaching Tippewa.

"I hope there is a soda fountain," said Betty thirstily. "The wind's worse now we're out of the woods, isn't it? Do you suppose those sharpers think they can get another train from here?"

"Tippewa doesn't look like a town with many trains," opined Bob. "I confess I don't see what they expect to do, or where they can go. Here comes an automobile, though. Can't be such an out-of-date town after all."

The automobile was driven by a man in blue-striped overalls, and, to the surprise of Bob and Betty, Blosser and Fluss hailed him from the road. There was a minute's parley, the suitcases were tossed in, and the two men followed. The automobile turned sharply and went back along the route it had just come over.