Betty Gordon in Washington/8

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CHAPTER VIII


GOOD-BY TO BRAMBLE FARM


Betty was still mystified.

"What has Bob to do with it?" she urged. "I don't see how the deed would be of any use to him; he couldn't claim the lots."

"No, he couldn't claim the lots," admitted Joseph Peabody's wife. "But he could hold the deed and threaten to notify George Warren, if Joseph didn't pay him a good round sum of money. Mind you, I'm not saying he would do that, Betty, but he could. That's what Joseph thinks he means to do."

"Well, I call that very silly," said Betty briskly. "Bob Henderson isn't a thief or a blackmailer, whatever Mr. Peabody chooses to think. That deed is probably in another coat pocket this minute, or else he's lost it over in Glenside."

"I expect that worries him some, too," confided Mrs. Peabody. "He would hate to have it known that he's bought the Warren lots. But I guess it would have been better to have had the deed recorded than to run the risk of losing it and the whole town likely to pick it up on the street."

Before supper that night Betty had her trunk packed and her simple belongings gathered up. She knew that Peabody was fully aware of her intention to leave, but, as her board was paid for nearly a week in advance, he could make no possible objection. It was sheer perversity, she decided, that kept him from mentioning the subject to her.

"I'm going to-morrow, Mr. Peabody," she said pleasantly at the supper table, having waited till Ethan had gone to the barn to milk. "What time would be most convenient to take my trunk over to Glenside or to Hagar's Corners?"

"I'm not going to either place to-morrow," was the composed answer. "Don't know exactly when I shall be going over again, either. Ethan and me's got our hands full right here with the late-season cultivating."

"But I have to get to the station," protested Betty. "I can walk, of course, but some one will have to take my trunk. You met me at the station when I came, or rather Bob did, you know. Why aren't you willing to help me go now that the summer is nearly over?"

"You haven't done me so many favors that I should put myself out for you," retorted Peabody sourly. "I don't care how you get to the station, but none of my rigs go off this place to-morrow, that's flat. And you haven't got that thieving nimble-fingers to plot and plan with you now. You'll have to manage by yourself."

"What are you going to do, Betty?" asked Mrs. Peabody anxiously, following the girl to the door after the meal was over. "You're not going to walk to Glenside to-night to try to get a team to come after you?"

"No, I'm only going over to Kepplers," replied Betty capably. "I'm sure one of the boys will drive me over. If not to Glenside, to Hagar's Corners, where I can get some kind of train for the Junction. All the through trains stop at Hagar's Corners, don't they? I came that way. Perhaps that station is better than Glenside, after all."

The walk across the fields tranquillized her, and she was able to enlist the aid of the Keppler's oldest boy without entering into too detailed an account of Mr. Peabody's shortcomings. Indeed, the Kepplers, father and sons, having been the nearest neighbors to Bramble Farm for eleven years, had a very fair idea of what went on there.

"Sure, I'll take you, and the trunk, too," promised Fred Keppler heartily. "Any time you say, Betty. There's a good train for Pineville, not too many stops, at twelve-three. How about that?"

It was settled that he should come for her about half past ten, and Betty walked home filled with thoughts of the little home town to which she would be speeding on the morrow.

"If Uncle Dick knew the things I've had to endure, I'm sure he'd say that I haven't lost my temper often, considering," she mused. "Is that something sticking out of the mail box? Why, it is, and a newspaper. I guess Mr. Peabody forgot to come down to the box to-day."

She opened the box and found the paper was addressed to her. The familiar wrapper and type told her it was the Pineville Post, to which she had subscribed when she left the town, and, tucking it under her arm, she went on to the house, intending to read an hour or so before going to bed.

Lighting the lamp in her room, Betty glanced toward her trunk mechanically. She had left it locked, but the lid was now ajar. Had some one been tampering with the lock?

"He's opened it!" she cried to herself, making a hasty examination. "How did he dare! And look at the mess everything's in!"

Alas for Betty's hour of neat and careful packing! Dainty garments were tossed about recklessly, her shoes rested on her clean handkerchiefs, and it was plain that no attempt had been made to conceal the fact that a heavy hand had thoroughly explored the contents of the trunk.

"I'm only thankful he didn't break the lock," said Betty, trying to find a ray of brightness. "Whatever he opened it with, nothing is broken. I suppose the only thing to do is to take everything out and do it all over. And to-morrow morning I'll sit on the top till Fred Keppler comes."

Taking out her clothes and repacking was a tiresome job, and all thoughts of reading were gone from Betty's mind when the task was completed and the trunk locked for a second time. With the feeling that, in view of what the next day might bring, she ought to go to bed early, she began at once to prepare for bed. Brushing her thick, dark hair, her eyes fell on the unopened paper.

"I suppose I'll be there to-morrow night," she thought, picking it up and slitting the wrapper with a convenient nail file.

She opened and smoothed out the first page. The first words that caught her attention, in large black headlines across four columns, were:


GYPSY BAND STRICKEN WITH SMALLPOX: WHOLE TOWN QUARANTINED!


Then followed the account of the discovery of illness among a band of gypsies camped on the outskirts of Pineville, of the diagnosis of smallpox, and of the strict quarantine immediately put in force. The issue of the Post was only two days old.

"Well, I never!" gasped Betty, doing some rapid thinking. "I'm glad it didn't happen after I got there. I might be held up for weeks. I can't stay here, that's certain. There's nothing to do but drive to Glenside and take the train for Washington. I guess Fred will be willing to change his plans."

She decided that she would say nothing to the Peabodys about the alteration of her traveling schedule, fearing that if Mr. Peabody heard she was going to Washington he might accuse her of a conspiracy with Bob in connection with the lost deed.

Bright and early the next morning she was up, her pretty traveling bag, the gift of her uncle, packed, her room in perfect order. There was really no one or nothing to say good-by to, for she felt more pity than affection for Mrs. Peabody, and the Bramble Farm animals had been too unused to petting to respond readily to her overtures. Betty, at the breakfast table, had a swift conviction that she would be leaving with far different feelings if Bob had been there to stay behind.

Mr. Peabody asked her no questions about her plans and stalked off as usual to the barn with Ethan when he had finished the meal.

"I declare I'm going to miss you, Betty," said Mrs. Peabody once, in the middle of the dish-washing, with which Betty insisted on helping.

That was a good deal for her to say, and the girl, who had a natural longing to be missed, was grateful. And when Fred Keppler drove into the yard, promptly at half-past ten, and went upstairs for her trunk—for neither Peabody nor his hired man was in sight—Mrs. Peabody kissed her warmly and with tears in her eyes.

"Hop right in, Betty," said Fred cordially. "Got a nice day for your trip, haven't you? All fixed? All right, then."

He gathered up the reins and had turned the horse's head when, apparently from the clouds, Mr. Peabody appeared on the scene.

"Long as you're going over to Hagar's Corners you won't mind giving me a lift, will you?" he drawled. "I have an errand over at the station, and it won't take me a minute. I can come right back with you. Go on, Fred; I'll sit in here with the trunk and you and Betty needn't mind me."

Without waiting for an invitation, he swung himself up on top of the trunk, and smiled pleasantly. He was saving his own horse a long drive and getting a necessary errand done at the expense of a neighbor, always a desirable consummation in the Peabody mind.

Fred opened his mouth and closed it wordlessly. His father would have known what to do, but fifteen-year-old Fred did not know how to deal with such a display of assurance. There seemed nothing to do but to take this unwelcome passenger to Hagar's Corners and back.

Betty, for her part, could have cried with vexation. Gone was her chance of asking Fred to take her to Glenside, and with it the hope of getting to Washington. She knew that after the noon train at Hagar's Corners there were no more till four o'clock. She wanted to say good-by to the Guerins and to cash her uncle's check. No wonder she was assailed by a strong desire to tumble the satisfied Mr. Peabody out head over heels.

The drive was taken almost in silence, each of the three busy with his own thoughts. At the station Betty and her trunk were put down, and then she had a few minutes to speak to Fred while Mr. Peabody was talking to the freight agent, who was also the passenger agent, the telegraph clerk and the janitor.

"Don't you want some money?" whispered Fred hurriedly. "Mother told me to ask you. And she sent you this."

He thrust into her hand a box of lunch.

"I have a check I want to cash," said Betty nervously. "Will the station agent do it, do you suppose? It's for fifty dollars. And, Fred, Pineville is quarantined for smallpox and I want to go to Washington, but I didn't want Mr. Peabody to know. Hush! Here he comes now!"

Fred Keppler had what his fond mother called a "good head," and as Peabody and the agent stopped in the station doorway to continue their discussion he proceeded to bear out her theory by thrusting a wad of bills into Betty's hand.

"Money for the calves," he explained. "Just fifty there. Haven't seen Dad to turn it over to him. Give me the check and it will be all right. And you ask Dan Gowdy, the agent, about trains. I guess he can dope out a way to get you to Washington. You still have ten minutes."

"Good-by, and thank you heaps!" cried Betty warmly, shaking his hand. "I don't know what I should have done without you, Fred!"