Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 18
Walking jauntily down the path which now, thanks to Bob, was neat and trim, came the two men who had aroused Bob's suspicions on the train, and whom he had followed into the smoking car. They were dressed as they had been then—gray suits, gray ties, socks and hats. The older man was mopping his face with a very white handkerchief, and his shorter companion was looking eagerly up at the house.
"I beg your pardon," said the one with gray hair—Bob remembered that he had been called Fluss—"is this the Saunders home—place, I believe the natives call it?"
He smiled at Betty, showing several gold teeth, and she shrank behind Bob and hid the album under her apron.
"Yes," answered Bob civilly. "This is the Saunders farm."
"We'd like to see," the younger man spoke crisply and consulted a small leather-bound note-book, "Miss Hope Saunders or her sister, Miss Charity. Please take her our cards."
He held out the two bits of pasteboard and Betty, looking over Bob's shoulder, was astonished to read, not "Cal Blosser" and "Jack Fluss," but "Irving Snead" and "George Elmer." Each card, in the lower left-hand corner, was lettered "The West Farm Agency."
Bob controlled whatever he was feeling, and handed back the cards very politely.
"My aunts are both very ill," he said courteously. "They are under the doctor's care, and it will be impossible for them to see any one for several weeks."
"But some one must be in charge," urged Blosser, or Irving Snead, as he seemed to prefer to be known. "Isn't there some older person about?"
"Miss Gordon and I"—Betty thought that had a very nice sound as Bob said it—"are taking care of them. It is hard to get help of any kind because of the demand for workers at the fields and in Flame City. If we can do anything for you—"
"You can't!" Fluss broke in sharply. "It's very annoying not to be able to see the Misses Saunders. We've come a good many miles, thinking this place might suit one of our customers. He has a delicate daughter, and he wants to get her out on a farm. This part of Oklahoma ought to be beneficial for lung trouble. I suppose the old ladies would be willing to sell? The place is much run down and not worth much, but if our client should take a fancy to it, he would overlook the poor location and the condition of the buildings. Why not let us talk to your aunts just a few minutes? You may be the cause of their losing a sale."
"It is impossible for you to see them," repeated Bob. "They're in bed and have fever and great difficulty in talking at all. I'm sorry, but you can not see them to-day."
Blosser took out his handkerchief again and mopped his streaming face. Betty, who would be kind to any one in distress, had gone in for a glass of water and brought it out to him.
"Thank you, my dear," he murmured gratefully, gulping it down in one long swallow while Fluss shook his head impatiently in answer to Betty's mute interrogation. "My, that tasted good," Blosser added, handing back the glass, "I don't suppose you know whether your aunts want to sell?" he shot at Bob. "Must be kind of hard for them to run the farm all alone."
"Well, it was," admitted Bob, with a misleading air of confidence. "Hereafter, of course, they'll have me to help."
He did not know whether it would be wise to say any more or not; but he could not resist one thrust.
"I suppose in time they will sell," he observed carelessly. "The farm is sure to be bought up by some oil company."
Blosser and Fluss scowled darkly and looked at Bob with closer attention.
"I didn't know the old ladies had a nephew," said Fluss suspiciously. "Funny they didn't mention it when I was driving through here last spring, listing properties, eh?"
"I never knew my aunts to confide personal and private affairs to strangers," said Bob calmly.
Blosser turned on him angrily.
"You're fresh!" he snarled. "If you knew what was for your own good, you'd keep a civil tongue In your head. Come on—er—Elmer, we're wasting time with this kid. We'll come back and talk to the aunts."
Fluss still lingered. His gray eyes appraised Bob keenly and something in their steady, disconcerting stare made Betty uneasy.
"What's happened to the town?" demanded Fluss abruptly. "Couldn't find even the oldest Inhabitant hanging around the station. Everybody gone to a funeral?"
"There's a big oil fire," returned Bob. "Four or five wells have been burning a couple of days now, though they say they have it under control."
The word "oil" roused Blosser again.
"There ain't no oil on this place," he announced heavily. "I've seen a lot of money sunk in dry wells, and what I don't know about the oil country ain't worth mentioning. Isn't that so, George? Traveling round to list farms as I do, I just naturally make a study of the sections. If ever I saw a poor risk, it's this place; there ain't an inch of oil sand on it."
Betty's hand on his arm telegraphed Bob not to argue.
"You may be right," the boy replied indifferently. "We won't quarrel over that."
There was nothing more to be said, and the two men turned away, Blosser putting the cards down on the step with the curt wish that "You'd hand those to your aunts and tell 'em we'll drop in again in a couple of days."
"Oh, I'm so glad they've gone!" Betty watched the retreating backs till they disappeared around a bend in the road. "Did you see how the older man stared at you, Bob? Do you suppose he remembers seeing you on the train?"
"Certainly not!" Bob openly scoffed at the suggestion. "They were stumped because they couldn't see my aunts, that's all. I only hope they forget to come around here until I've had a chance to warn my relatives—get that, Betty? My relatives sounds pretty good, doesn't it?—against their crooked ways. If they don't believe there is oil on this farm, I'll eat my hat. No client with a delicate daughter could explain their eagerness. I'll bet they've thoroughly prospected the fields before they even approached the house."
Betty could not share Bob's light-heartedness. The look in the older man's eyes as he studied Bob would persist in sticking in her mind, and she was unable to rid herself of the feeling that he would do the boy actual harm if a chance presented. What he hoped to gain by injuring Bob, Betty could not thoroughly understand, but added to her anxiety for her uncle and the responsibility she felt for the sick women, was now added a fear for Bob's safety. She tried to tell him something of this, but he laughed at her.
"If you have a vision of me kidnapped by the cruel sharpers," he teased her, "forget it. What were my voice and my two trusty arms and legs given me for? I can take care of myself and you, too, Betsey."
Nevertheless, Betty's tranquillity was sorely shaken, and though she gradually became calmer as the day wore on, she insisted on going out with Bob to do the chores at the barn that night, and extracted a promise from him that he would call her when he got up in the morning so that she might make the morning rounds with him. Luckily Miss Hope passed a quiet night, for if she had called for her lost sister again it is difficult to say what the effect might have been on Betty's already tried nerves.
One of her anxieties was removed to some extent the next morning when Doctor Morrison came out in his car and brought her word that her uncle had telephoned the Watterbys and sent Betty a message.
"The connection was very faulty," said the doctor, "and Will Watterby says he doesn't believe he made your uncle understand where you and Bob were. But he made out that Mr. Gordon was safe and the fire slackening up a bit. He doesn't expect to be able to get away under a week. Of course work is demoralized, and he'll have his hands full."
Both Betty and Bob were overjoyed to learn that Uncle Dick was all right, and when the doctor pronounced both patients on the road to certain recovery, they were additionally cheered. They said nothing to the physician of their visitors of the day before, because Bob was unwilling to announce that he was a nephew of the Saunders. He wished them to hear it first.
"I think Miss Hope might sit up for a few minutes this afternoon," counseled the doctor on leaving. "Miss Charity might try that to-morrow. Of course, I'll be out again in the morning. You two youngsters are in my mind continually."
He drove away, and for the rest of the day Bob was left pretty much to his own devices, Betty, however, stipulating that he was to stay close to the house. She could not shake off her fear of the two men, and Bob was far too considerate to worry her deliberately when she had so much to attend to.
Miss Hope was delighted to sit up for half an hour, and now that her patients were stronger, Betty was put to it to keep them amused and contented in bed. The doctor's orders were strict that they were not to get up for at least two more days.
Betty read aloud to them, seated in the doorway between the two rooms so that both could hear; she gave them reports of the condition of things outside; and Miss Hope said primly that she would like to meet and thank the boy who had been so kind as soon as she could be "suitably attired." Betty was thankful that she did not ask his name, but the sisters were not at all curious. They had been so ill and were still weak, and the fact that their household and farm was apparently running smoothly was enough for them to grasp. The details did not claim their attention.
"Charity was sick first," said Miss Hope, over her beef tea and toast. "What delicious tea this is, my dear! Yes, she was down for two days, and I took care of her and did the milking. Then I felt a cold coming on, but I crawled around for another day, doing the best I could. The night before the day you came I went out to milk and I must have fainted. When I came to I was within an inch of old Blossom's hoofs. That scared me, and I came right into the house without finishing a chore. I think I was delirious all night, and I remember thinking that if we were both going to die, at least I'd have things as orderly as possible. So I went around and pulled down all the first floor shades. Upstairs we always keep 'em drawn. And then I don't remember another thing till I came to and found you in the room."
"And she didn't come a minute too soon," croaked Miss Charity.