Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 21

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Bob's chief feeling, after hearing the story, was one of intense indignation.

"Pretty cheap, I call it," he growled, "to stop a girl and frighten her. The miserable cowards! Just let me get a crack at them once!"

"Bob Henderson, you stay right on this farm," cried Betty, her alarm returning. "They weren't trying to frighten me—at least, that wasn't their main purpose. They wanted to find out about you. They'll kidnap you, or do something dreadful to you. I wish with all my heart that Uncle Dick would come."

"Well, look here, Betty," argued Bob, impressed in spite of himself by her reasoning, "I'm pretty husky and I might have something to say if they tried to do away with me. Besides, what would be their object?"

Betty admitted that she did not know, unless, she added dismally, they planned to set the house on fire some night and burn up the whole family.

Bob laughed, and refused to consider this seriously. But for the next few days Betty dogged his footsteps like the faithful friend she was, and though the boy found this trying at times he could not find it in his heart to protest.

Miss Hope and Miss Charity were very happy these days. For a while they forgot that the interest was due the next month, that no amount of patient figuring could show them how the year's taxes were to be met, and that the butter and egg money was their sole source of income. Instead, they gave themselves up to the enjoyment of having young folk in the quiet house and to the contemplation of Bob as their nephew. Faith had died, but she had left them a legacy—her son, who would be a prop to them in their old age.

Miss Hope and Miss Charity were talking things over one morning when Betty and Bob were out whitewashing the neglected hen house. Though the sisters protested, they insisted on doing some of the most pressing of the heavy tasks long neglected.

"I really do not see," said Miss Hope, "how we are to feed and clothe the child until he is old enough to earn his living. Of course Faith's son must have a good education. Betty tells me he is very anxious to go to school this winter. He Is determined to get a job, but of course he is much too young to be self-supporting. If only we hadn't traded that stock!"

"Maybe what he says about the farm being worth a large sum of money Is true," said Miss Charity timidly. "Wouldn't it be wonderful If there should be oil here, Sister?"

Miss Hope was a lady, and ladles do not snort, but she came perilously near to it.

"Humph!" she retorted, crushing her twin with a look. "I'm surprised at you, Charity! A woman of your age should have more strength of character than to believe in every fairy tale. Of course Bob and Betty think there is oil on the farm—they believe In rainbows and all the other pretty fancies that you and I have outgrown. Besides, I never did take much stock in this oil talk. I don't think the Lord would put a fortune into any one's hands so easily. It's a lazy man's idea of earning a living."

Miss Charity subsided without another reference to oil. Truth to tell, she did not believe in her heart of hearts that there was oil sand on the old farm, and she and her sister had been out of touch with the outside world so long that to a great extent they were ignorant of the proportions of the oil boom that had struck Flame City.

Bob had the stables in good order soon after his arrival, and a day or so before Mr. Gordon was expected he took it into his head to tinker up the cow stanchions. The two rather scrubby cows were turned out Into the near-by pasture, and Bob set valiantly to work.

Betty was helping the aunts in the kitchen that afternoon, and the three were surprised when Bob thrust a worried face in at the door and announced that the black and white cow had disappeared.

"I'm sure I pegged her down tightly," he explained. "That pasture fence is no good at all, and I never trusted to it. I pegged Blossom down with a good long rope, and Daisy, too; and Daisy is gone while Blossom is still eating her head off."

"I'll come and help you hunt," offered Betty. "The last pan of cookies is in the oven, isn't it, Aunt Hope? Walt till I wash my hands. Bob."

Betty now called Bob's aunts as he did, at their own request, and anyway, said Miss Hope, if Betty's uncle could be Bob's, too, why shouldn't she have two aunts as well as he?

"Where do you think she went?" questioned Betty, hurrying off with Bob. "Is the fence broken in any place?"

"One place it looks as though she might have stepped over," said Bob doubtfully. "The whole thing is so old and tottering that a good heavy cow could blow it down by breathing on it! There, see that corner? Daisy might have ambled through there."

"Then you go that way, and I'll work around the other end of the farm," suggested Betty. "In that way, we'll cover every inch. A cow is such a silly creature that you're sure to find her where you'd least expect to. The first one to come back will put one bar down so we'll know and go on up to the house."

Betty went off in one direction and Bob in another, and for a moment she heard his merry whistling. Then all was silent.

Betty, for a little while, enjoyed her search. She had had no time to explore the Saunders farm, and though much of it was of a deadly sameness, the three hills, whose shadows rested always on the fields, were beautiful to see, and the air was wonderfully bracing. Shy jack rabbits dodged back and forth between the bushes as Betty walked, and once, when she investigated a thicket that looked as though it might shelter the truant Daisy, the girl disturbed a guinea hen that flew out with a wild flapping of wings.

"I don't see where that cow can have gone," murmured Betty uneasily. "Bob is never careless, and I'm sure he must have pegged her down carefully. Losing one of the cows is serious, for the aunts count every pint of milk; they have to, poor dears. I wish to goodness they would admit that there might be oil on the farm. I'm sure it irritates Bob to be told so flatly that he is dreaming day-dreams every time he happens to say a word about an oil well."

Betty searched painstakingly, even going out into the road and hunting a short stretch, lest the cow should have strayed out on the highway. The fields through which she tramped were woefully neglected, and more than once she barely saved herself from a turned ankle, for the land was uneven and dead leaves and weeds filled many a hole. Evidently there had been no systematic cultivation of the farm for a number of years.

The sun was low when Betty finally came out in the pasture lot. She glanced toward the bars, saw one down, and sighed with relief. Bob, then, had found the cow, or at least he was at home. She knew that the chances were he had brought Daisy with him, for Bob had the tenacity of a bulldog and would not easily abandon his hunt.

"Did Bob find her?" demanded Betty, bursting into the kitchen where Miss Hope and Miss Charity were setting the table for supper.

The aunts looked up, smiled at the flushed, eager face, and Miss Charity answered placidly.

"Bob hasn't come back, dearie," she said. "You know how boys are—he'll probably look under every stone for that miserable Daisy. She's a good cow, but to think she would run off!"

"Oh, he's back, I know he is," insisted Betty confidently. "I'll run out to the barn. I guess he is going to do the chores before he comes in."

She thought it odd that Bob had not told his aunts of his return, but she was so sure that he was in the barn that she shouted his name as she entered the door. Clover whinnied, but no voice answered her. Blossom was in her stanchion, Bob had placed her there before setting out to hunt, and everything was just as he had left it, even to his hammer lying on the barn floor.

Betty went into the pig house, the chicken house and yard, and every outbuilding. No Bob was in sight.

"But he put the bar down—that was our signal," she said to herself, over and over.

"Don't fret, dearie. Sit down and eat your supper," counseled Miss Hope placidly, when she had to report that she could not find him. "He may be real late. I'll keep a plate hot for him."

The supper dishes were washed and dried, the table cleared, and a generous portion of biscuits and honey set aside for Bob. Miss Hope put on an old coat and went out with Betty to feed the stock, for it was growing dark and she did not want the boy to have it all to do when he came in tired.

"I'll do the milking," said Betty hurriedly. "I'm not much of a milker, but I guess I can manage. Bob hates to milk when it is dark."

In the girl's heart a definite fear was growing. Something had happened to Bob! Milking, the thought of the sharpers came to her. Oddly enough they had not been in her mind for several days. The bar! Had they anything to do with the one bar being down?

Neither she nor Bob had ever said a word to his aunts on the subject of the two men in gray, arguing that there was no use in making the old ladies nervous. Now that the full responsibility had devolved upon Betty, she was firmly resolved to say no word concerning the men who had stopped her in the road and asked her questions about Bob.

She finished milking Blossom, and fastened the barn door behind her. Glancing toward the house, she saw Miss Hope come flying toward her, wringing her hands.

"Oh, Betty!" she wailed, "something has happened to Bob! I heard a cow low, and I went out front, and there Daisy stood on the lawn. I'm afraid Bob is lying somewhere with a broken leg!"