Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 17

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Betty turned to stare at Bob. He looked at her helplessly.

"My mother!" he whispered. "She's calling my mother!"

Betty was the first to recover. She went quietly over to the bed.

"There, dear, lie down," she said soothingly. "Everything is all right. It's the fever," she explained in an aside to Bob. "The doctor said she used to be out of her head when she had even a slight cold."

"Faith!" cried Miss Hope again, resisting Betty's attempts to press her back against the pillow. "I wrote and wrote," the hoarse voice babbled on. "You and David are so cruel—you will never send us word. David!" she sat up straighter and pointed an accusing finger at Bob standing in the doorway. "David! Faith and David—"

"You're making her worse," said Betty. "Go away, please, Bob. See, she'll lie down now."

Exhausted, Miss Hope sank back on her pillow, and suddenly the delirium left her.

"You're very good to me, my dear," she whispered weakly. "I think I'll go to sleep."

Betty watched her for a few minutes till her even breathing told that she really was asleep. Then she went in to see if Miss Charity had been disturbed. She was awake and beckoned for Betty to come nearer the bed.

"Was Faith here?" she whispered painfully. Betty had to put her ear down to her mouth to hear. "Has she come at last?"

Betty shook her head sorrowfully. She had hoped the sick woman's voice had not reached her sister.

"Miss Hope had more fever," she said compassionately. "She has gone to sleep now. If I bring you a little nice beef tea, don't you think you might take a nap, too?"

The old lady was childishly pleased with the idea of something to eat again, and Betty fixed her tray daintily and toasted a cracker to go with the cup of really delicious home-made beef tea. Miss Charity drank every drop, and fifteen minutes later Betty had the satisfaction of seeing her go to sleep.

Bob was out on the back porch, whittling furiously, a sure sign that he was disturbed.

"They're my aunts, all right," he began, as soon as Betty appeared. "I couldn't be quite sure, in spite of the name and the coincidences, but now I know it. Do you think I look like them, Betty?"

"You look an awful lot like Miss Hope," said Betty. "You look like Miss Charity, too, but not nearly as much. Miss Hope has blue eyes, you see. You haven't seen Miss Charity yet, but her eyes are black. I'm sure they are your aunts, Bob."

"Well, if they ever needed a husky nephew they need him now," declared Bob whimsically. "I don't know how long they've been sick, but this place looks as though no one had cleaned it up in a year. The animals need currying, too."

"They haven't been able to hire any help, I suppose," said Betty. "And I don't believe you can get a hired man around here. The men are all working in the oil fields. Ki is mad at the oil investors, and that's the only reason Will Watterby can keep him."

"Are they both asleep?" asked Bob, whose mind skipped topics with amazing rapidity. "All right then, let's go out to the barn. Something tells me if you look around you'll get a basket of eggs."

They had great fun doing the work together, and both agreed that if they never thanked the Peabodys for another thing, they could say truthfully that they were thankful for the knowledge of farm work learned on Bramble Farm. Bob knew what to feed the animals, how to take care of them, and even what to do for a severe nail cut one of the cows had suffered. Betty gathered a basket of eggs with little hunting and also found several rat holes which Bob promptly attended to by nailing tin over them.

"We can't start in and repair the whole place," he said cheerfully. "But we'll do little jobs as fast as we come to them."

Both sisters were soundly sleeping when, the chores finished, Betty and Bob came back to the house. They had their lunch, and then Bob brought the dilapidated old lawn mower around to the back porch to see if he could put it in running order. Betty sat down near him, with the doors open so that she could hear the slightest movement within the house, and worked fitfully at her tatting. She was learning to make a pretty edge, under Grandma Watterby's instruction, but it did not progress very quickly, mainly because Betty was always going off for long rides, or playing somewhere outdoors.

"Look at that cloud of dust!" said Bob suddenly, glancing up from his tinkering. "Some one is going somewhere in a hurry. He's stopping. Why, Betty, it's Ed Manners!"

Manners was a Flame City youth, a lad of about eighteen, and the son of the postmaster. Bob and Betty ran down to the road to see him as he stopped his motorcycle with skillful abruptness.

"Will Watterby told me you were out here," he called as soon as he saw Bob. "Say, two more wells caught last night, and they say it's absolutely the biggest fire we've ever had. The close drilling has made the trouble. Remember how Mr. Gordon used to rave over so many derricks on an acre? Don't you want to come with me, Bob? I'd take you, too, Betty, but it is no place for a girl."

Ed Manners waved an inviting hand towards the side-car. Bob was eager to go—what boy would not be?—and he knew that not to go would mean that he was missing something which in all probability he would never see again.

"Go ahead, Bob," urged Betty bravely. "I'll be all right. Honestly I will. If you don't get back to-night, why. Doctor Morrison will be out in the morning."

But Bob had made up his mind. He heard clearly again the final commands of Mr. Gordon, his Uncle Dick, for whom he would do far more than this.

"Can't go, Ed," he said briefly and finally. "Sorry, but it isn't to be thought of. Betty and I have a job cut out for us right here."

The lad on the motorcycle had no time to waste in arguing. He was eager to get to the scene of excitement, and if Bob chose to throw up a chance to see a spectacular fire, why, that was his business. With a loud snort and a series of back-fires, the machine shot up the road and in less than a minute was out of sight.

"I hope, oh, I hope that Uncle Dick is all right," worried Betty, walking back to the house. "You needn't have stayed with me, Bob. Still, of course, I'm glad you did. I might be a little nervous at night."

Bob thought it more than likely but all he said was that he wouldn't think of leaving her alone with two sick women and no telephone in the house.

"As soon as my aunts are well enough to hear the sad news that I'm their long-lost nephew," he said half in fun and half in earnest, "I intend to have a 'phone put in for them. It's outrageous to think of two women living isolated like this."

The afternoon passed rapidly, Bob getting his machine in running order and clipping a little square of lawn before supper time. Betty fed her patients again, and again they went to sleep. After an early supper Betty and Bob were glad to go to bed, too, and it seemed to the former that she had been asleep only a few moments when something wakened her, and she sat up, startled.

The moonlight was streaming in at her windows, silvering the stiff, haircloth furniture and bathing the red and blue roses of the Brussels carpet in a radiance that softened the glaring colors and made them even beautiful. Betty was about to lie down and try to go to sleep again when a cry came from Miss Hope.

"Faith!" she moaned. "Faith, my dear little sister!"

Betty was out of bed in a second and pattering toward the sufferer's room. Bob, half-dressed, appeared at the door leading into the kitchen simultaneously.

"Don't let her see you," warned Betty. "I think that makes her worse. I wish I knew what to do when she gets these spells."

For some time Miss Hope rambled on about "Faith," and would not be persuaded to lie down. At last, after crying pitifully, she sank back on the pillow and the phantoms seemed to leave her poor brain. Like a child she dropped off into a deep sleep, and Bob and Betty were free to creep back to their rooms and try to compose their nerves. Miss Charity had slept peacefully through it all.

The doctor, told of Miss Hope's ravings, listened thoughtfully, but did not seem to attach much importance to the recital. He had driven up early the following morning and brought the hopeful news that the fire was said to be under control.

"She's always had a tendency to be flighty in any illness," he said, speaking of Miss Hope's disorders. "Faith was a sister to whom she was greatly attached. A pretty girl who married and went away before I came here to practise. Miss Saunders told me once that from the time of her marriage to this, not a word of her ever reached them. She completely disappeared. Of course this has preyed on the minds of both sisters, and it's a wonder they haven't broken down before this."

Doctor Morrison stayed an hour or so, and praised Betty's nursing unstintedly. He said she seemed to know what to do instinctively and had that rare tact of the born nurse which teaches her how to avoid irritating her patients.

Both Betty and Bob felt that they had no right to explore the house, though they were interested to know what might be upstairs. Betty, especially, was anxious to see the attic. She pictured trunks filled with papers that might be of help and interest to Bob, and in her experience an attic never failed to reveal a history of the family.

She did find, in the parlor where she slept, an old album, and that afternoon brought it out on the porch to show it to Bob. She hoped he might be able to recognize his mother among the tintypes and photographs. But as soon as she stepped outdoors she saw something which made her almost drop the precious old album and clutch Bob's arm wildly.

"Look who's coming in here!" she cried excitedly.

"Well, what do you know about that!" ejaculated the astonished Bob.