Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 5

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"Be sure you send me a postal from Washington. I never knew anybody from there before," said Grandma Watterby earnestly.

"And don't get off the train unless you know how long it's going to stop," advised Will Watterby.

"Do you think you ate enough breakfast?" his wife asked anxiously.

Bob and Betty were waiting for the Eastern Limited, and the Watterby family, who had brought them to the station, were waiting, too. The Limited stopped only on signal, and this was no every day occurrence.

"We'll be all right," said Bob earnestly. "You can look for a postal from Chicago first, Grandma."

Then came the usual hurried good-byes, the kisses and handshakes and the repeated promises to "write soon." Then Bob and Betty found themselves in the sleeper, waving frantically to the little group on the platform as the Limited slowly got under way.

"And that's the last of Flame City—for some time at least," observed Bob.

Betty, who had made excellent use of lessons learned in her few previous long journeys, took off her hat and gloves and placed them in a paper bag which Bob put in the rack for her.

"I did want a new hat so much," she sighed, looking rather enviously at the woman across the aisle who wore a smart Fall hat that was unmistakably new. "But Flame City depends on mail order hats and I thought it safer to wait till I could see what people are really wearing."

"You look all right," said Bob loyally. "What's that around that woman's neck—fur? Why I'm so hot I can hardly breathe."

"It's mink," Betty informed him with superiority. "Isn't it beautiful? I wanted a set, but Uncle Dick said mink was too old for me. He did say, though, that I can have a neckpiece made from that fox skin Ki gave me."

"Don't see why you want to tie yourself up like an Eskimo," grumbled Bob. "Well, we seem to be headed toward the door marked 'Education,' don't we, Betsey?"

They exchanged a smile of understanding.

Bob was passionately eager for what he called "regular schooling," that is the steady discipline of fixed lessons, the companionship of boys of his own age, and the give and take of the average large, busy school. Normal life of any kind was out of the question in the poorhouse where he had spent the first ten years of his life, and after that he had not seen the inside of a schoolroom. He had read whatever books he could pick up while at Bramble Farm, and in the knowledge of current events was remarkably well-posted, thanks to his steady assimilation of newspapers and magazines since leaving the Peabody roof. But he feared, and with some foundation, that he might be found deplorably lacking in the most rudimentary branches.

Betty, of course, had gone to school regularly until her mother's death. In the year that had elapsed she had thought little of lessons, and though she did not realize it, she had lost to a great extent the power of application. Systematic study of any kind might easily prove a hardship for the active Betty. Still she was eager to study again, perhaps prepare for college. More than anything else she craved girl friends.

"Let's go in for lunch at the first call," suggested Betty presently. "I didn't eat much breakfast, and I don't believe you did either."

"I swallowed a cup of boiling coffee," admitted Bob, "but that's all I remember. So I'm ready when you are."

Seated at a table well toward the center of the car, Betty's attention was attracted to a girl who sat facing her. She was not a pretty girl. She looked discontented and peevish, and the manner in which she addressed the waiter indicated that she felt under no obligation to disguise her feelings.

"Take that back," she ordered, pointing a beautifully manicured hand at a dish just placed before her. "If you can't bring me a poached egg that isn't raw, don't bother at all. And I hope you don't intend to call this cream?"

Bob glanced swiftly over at the table. The girl consciously tucked back a lock of stringy hair, displaying the flash of several diamonds.

"Sweet disposition, hasn't she?" muttered Bob under his breath. "I'd like to see her board just one week with Mr. Peabody."

"Don't—she'll hear you," protested Betty. "I wonder if she is all alone? What lovely clothes she has! And did you see her rings?"

"Well, she'll need 'em, if she's going to snap at everybody," said Bob severely. "Diamonds help out a cross tongue when a poor waiter is thinking of his tip."

The girl was still finding fault with her food when Betty and Bob rose to leave the car, and when they passed her table she stared at them with languid insolence, half closing her narrow hazel eyes.

"Wow, she's bored completely," snickered Bob, when they were out of earshot. "I don't believe she's a day older than you are, Betty, and she is dressed up like a little Christmas tree."

"I think her clothes are wonderful," said Betty. "I wish I had a lace vestee and some long white gloves. Don't you think they're pretty, Bob?"

"No, I think they're silly," retorted Bob. "You wouldn't catch Bobby Littell going traveling in a party dress and wearing all the family jewels. Huh, here comes the conductor—wonder what he wants."

The conductor, it developed, was shifting passengers from the car behind the one in which Bob and Betty had seats. It was to be dropped at the next junction and the few passengers remaining were to be accommodated in this coach.

"You're all right, don't have to make any change," said the official kindly, after examining their tickets. "I'll tell the porter you go through to Chicago."

The car had been fairly well crowded before, and the extra influx taxed every available seat. Betty took out her crocheting and Bob decided that he would go in search of a shoe-shine.

"I'll come back and get you and we'll go out on the observation platform," he said contentedly.

"Chain six, double crochet—into the ring——" Betty murmured her directions half aloud.

"Right here, Ma'am?" The porter's voice aroused her.

There in the aisle stood the girl she had noticed in the diner, and with her was a harassed looking porter carrying three heavy bags.

"Perhaps you would just as lief take the aisle seat?" said the girl, surveying Betty as a princess might gaze upon an annoying little page. "I travel better when I can have plenty of fresh air."

"You might have thought I was a bug," Betty confided later to Bob.

The diamonds flashed as the girl loosened the fur collar at her throat.

"Please move over," she commanded calmly.

Betty was bewildered, but her innate courtesy died hard.

"You—you've made a mistake," she faltered. "This seat is taken."

"The conductor said to take any vacant seat," said the newcomer. "You can't hold seats in a public conveyance—my father says so. Put the bags in here, porter. Be careful of that enamel leather."

To Betty's dismay, she settled herself, flounces and furs and bags, in the narrow space that belonged to Bob, and by an adroit pressure of her elbow made it impossible for Betty to resume her crocheting.

"I think you done made a mistake, lady," ventured the porter. "This seat belongs to a young man what has a ticket to Chicago."

"Well, I'm going to Chicago," answered the girl composedly. "Do you expect me to stand up the rest of the way? The agent had no business to sell me a reservation in a car that only went as far as the Junction."

The porter withdrew, shaking his head, and in a few minutes Bob came back to his seat. Betty, watching the girl, saw her glance sidewise at him from her narrow eyes, though she pretended to be absorbed in a magazine.

"I beg your pardon," said Bob politely.

There was no response.

"Pardon me, but you've made a mistake," began Bob again. "You are in the wrong seat."

The magazine came down with a crash and the girl's face, distorted with rage, appeared in its place.

"Well, if I am, what are you going to do about it?" she shrilled rudely.