Betty Gordon in Washington/9
Her hands filled with the bank bills Fred had thrust into them, her bag under one arm and the lunch box under the other, Betty stood forlornly on the platform and watched the horse and wagon out of sight. Mr. Peabody had merely nodded to her by way of farewell, and Betty felt that if she never saw him again there would be little to regret. As a matter of fact, she was to meet him again and not under much more favorable aspects. But of that she was happily ignorant.
The whistling of the lanky young station agent, who was covertly staring at her under pretense of sweeping up the already neat boards before the door, roused her. She remembered that she did not want to go to Pineville.
"Why, I guess I can fix it up for you," said Dan Gowdy cheerfully, when she had stated her predicament, withholding only the reason for not telling Mr. Peabody. "Let me see—twelve-three stops at Centertown. But you don't want to spend the night on the train. Going from Centertown, you'd get to Washington about ten in the morning."
"I'd rather not sleep on the train," answered Betty timidly, hoping that she was not unreasonable. Aside from the expense, she was not used to traveling, and the idea of a night alone on the train for the first time rather daunted her.
"Well, then— Wait a minute, I've got it!" shouted the agent enthusiastically. "You buy a ticket up the line to Halperin. That's quite a town, and the through trains all stop. My brother-in-law's telegraph operator there, and I'll send him a message to look out for you, and he and my sister will keep you over night. They've got a pretty place right in the country—trolley takes you to the door—and a baby that's named for me and some kid if I do say it. Then in the morning you can take the seven-forty-five for Washington and get there at five-fifty-two if it isn't late. How's that?"
"But your sister!" stammered Betty. "She doesn't know me. What will she say?"
"She'll say you have eyes just like Juliet, the little sister who died when she was about your age," declared Dan Gowdy gently. "Don't you fret. Sister, she'll be glad to have you. Now here's your ticket, and I'll talk to Steve as soon as you're on board the train. That's her smoke now."
Betty was conscious that there was something else on her mind, but it was not until she was seated in the train and had had her ticket punched that she remembered. She had thanked kind Dan Gowdy rather incoherently, though as warmly as she could, and had only half heard his explanation that she was taking the 12:01 train up the line instead of the 12:03 down, and it was no wonder that in the bustle of boarding the train she had forgotten her intention of telegraphing to her Uncle Dick. He had given her his address as the Willard Hotel, and the letter was already six days old.
"But I really think in the morning will be better," decided Betty, watching the flying landscape. "He wouldn't have given me the address if he didn't expect to be there for some time. Before I take the Washington train I'll telegraph him and let him know when to meet me."
The train made three stops before Halperin was reached, and Betty stepped down to find herself before a pretty, up-to-date station built of cream-colored brick, with a crowd of stylish summer folk mingling on the platform with farmers and townspeople. Several automobiles were backed up waiting for passengers, and there were one or two old-fashioned hacks. A trolley car was rounding the street corner, the motorman sounding his bell noisily.
"Betty Gordon, isn't it?" asked a pleasant voice.
A round-faced man was smiling down at her, a young man, Betty decided, in spite of the white hair. His keen dark eyes were pleasant, and he held out his hand cordially.
"Dan told me you had cornflowers on your hat," he said quizzically, "and I, knowing that Dan calls all blue flowers cornflowers, picked you out right away. Only they are forget-me-nots, aren't they?"
"They're supposed to be larkspur," answered Betty, laughing and feeling at ease at once. "Perhaps the milliner didn't have a garden."
"Well, anyway, they're blue," said the brother-in-law comfortably. "Don't suppose Dan told you my name?"
He was guiding her around the station toward the trolley tracks as he spoke.
"He said the baby was named for him, but he didn't say what your name was," admitted Betty dimpling.
"Just like him!" grinned her companion. "Dan's so all-fired proud of that youngster he never lets a chance slip to tell we named him Daniel Gowdy Brill. Though Dan senior usually forgets to add the Brill."
"Does—does Mrs. Brill know I'm coming?" ventured Betty.
"She sure does! I telephoned her the minute I heard from Dan, and I suspect she and the baby are sitting out on the fence now watching for you to come along. Sorry I can't go with you, but I've just come on duty. You tell the conductor to let you off at Brill's, and I'll see you at supper to-night."
He helped her on the car, tipped his hat, and ran back to the station, leaving Betty with the comfortable feeling that the Brills were used to company and rather liked it.
She repeated her instructions to the conductor, who nodded silently, and, after a quarter of an hour's ride, signaled to her that her destination was reached. They had passed the town limits, and were in the open country. Betty had noticed several farmhouses, of the artistic remodeled type, evidently summer homes of the well-to-do, as the car rattled along.
She saw one of these as she stepped from the trolley car, and also, under a tree, a young woman holding a beautiful, rosy baby. These two immediately swooped down upon her.
"I'm so glad you've come!" Mrs. Brill kissed her unaffectedly. "Kiss Danny, too! Isn't he a nice baby? We waited lunch for you, and if you're half as starved as we are—"
Still chattering, she led the way into the house. Mrs. Brill was an elder sister of the Hagar's Corner's agent and very like him in face, manner, and bright, cheery way of speaking. The house was tastefully furnished, and a white-capped maid could be seen hovering over the table as they went upstairs. Betty learned long afterward that Mr. Brill's father was wealthy and idolized his son's wife, who had given the younger man the ambition and spur his career had lacked until he met and married her. It was lovely Rose Gowdy who persuaded Steve Brill to take the job of telegraph operator, forgetting his prematurely white hair, and she who encouraged him to work his way to the top of the railroad business. Rose, and Rose's son, were given all the credit of that ultimate success by the older Brill.
"I had a little sister once who looked just like you," said Mrs. Brill, as she watched Betty smooth her hair at the mirror in the chintz-hung guest room. "Her name was Juliet. Poor old Dan nearly broke his heart when she died."
"He said something about her," replied Betty shyly. "Oh, look at that cunning baby! He thinks he can eat his own foot!"
"He will, too, if he doesn't get his bottle soon," said the baby's mother, rising. "Come, dear, we'll go down. Danny has his bottle in his wheeler right in the dining-room."
The little maid served them a dainty meal, and the round-eyed baby fell asleep as they ate and talked, lying in blissful content in a white-enameled contrivance that was like a crib on four wheels, and sucking quietly on his bottle.
"Now if you want to lie down, you may," said Mrs. Brill when they had finished. "I'll be busy for the next couple of hours with two of my neighbors who are planning a minstrel show for the country club. They had already planned to come when Steve telephoned. If you're not tired, perhaps you'll enjoy looking over our farm. Even if you've spent your summer on one, you may find things to interest you."
Betty was not tired, and she had been longing to explore the belt of green fields that encircled the old farmhouse. Hatless, but carrying her sweater over her arm, she went happily out.
There was a small but well-kept poultry yard with some handsome white leghorns lazily sunning themselves; a gentle-eyed Jersey cow stood close to the first pair of bars; and a fat, lazy collie snoozed under a cherry tree but declined to accompany Betty on her explorations, though she petted and flattered and coaxed him with all her powers of persuasion. He wagged his tail cordially and beamed upon her good-naturedly, but as to getting up and walking about so soon after dinner—well, he begged to be excused.
"You're a lazy thing!" said the girl indignantly, finally giving up the task as hopeless and climbing the fence into a larger pasture.
Over in one corner of the field she spied something that quickened her steps with pleasure. A baby colt, long-legged, sleek of head and altogether "adorable" as Betty would have said, ambled more or less ungracefully about enjoying the shade of a clump of trees and sampling the grass at intervals.
"Oh, I do hope you're tame!" whispered Betty softly.
She was fond of animals, and Bramble Farm, with the exception of a few lambs, had had no young life in its pastures and stables. The little calves were always sold as early as possible that there might be more milk for butter, and Betty was fairly aching to pet something.
She walked cautiously up to the colt, who sniffed at her suspiciously, but stood his ground. He pricked his ears forward and looked at her inquiringly.
"You dear!" said the girl quietly. "You little beauty! You wouldn't mind if I patted you, would you?"
She put out one hand and touched the rough side of the little animal. He stood perfectly still, and she stroked him for a minute or two, speaking gently to him. Presently he nuzzled her playfully.
"Oh, you darling!" she cried delighted. "Wouldn't I love to take you with me and have you for a pet! If you wouldn't grow any larger than you are now, I'd take you everywhere just like a dog."
She had both arms around the colt's neck now, and he seemed to enjoy being petted. All at once Betty thought she heard hoof-beats on the ground, and at the same time the colt raised his head and whinnied.
Betty looked up and across the field toward the house. She stood back from the colt and stared in dismay and astonishment at what she saw.
Tearing across the ground, headed directly for her, was a fierce animal with flashing red nostrils, huge mouth open wide and showing two great rows of strong yellow teeth bared to the gums. Sparks seemed to fly from the hoofs and a coarse black tail streamed in the wind.
"Good gracious!" gasped Betty weakly. "That must be the colt's mother!"
The colt whinnied again in welcome and delight, but Betty felt rooted to the earth.