Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 23

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"Don't you think thase sharpers carried off Bob?" urged Betty, bracing herself as the car dipped into a rut and out again.

"Every indication of it," agreed her uncle, swerving sharply to avoid a delivery car.

"But where could they have taken him?" speculated Betty, clinging to the rim of the side door. "How will you know where to look?"

"I think he is right on the farm," answered Mr. Gordon. "In fact, I shall be very much surprised if we have to go off the place to discover him. I'm heading for the farm on that supposition."

"But, Uncle Dick," Betty raised her voice, for the much-abused car could not run silently, "I can't see why they would carry Bob off, anyway. Of course I know they don't like him, and I do believe they recognized him as the boy who sat behind them on the train, though Bob laughs and says he isn't so handsome that people remember his face; but I don't understand what good it would do them to kidnap him. The aunts are too poor to pay any money for him, that's certain."

"Well, now, Betty, I'm rather surprised at you," Mr. Gordon teased her. "For a bright girl, you seem to have been slow on this point. What do these sharpers want of the aunts, anyway?"

"The farm," answered Betty promptly. "They know there is oil there and they want to buy it for almost nothing and make their fortunes."

"At the expense of two innocent old ladies," added Mr. Gordon.

"But, Uncle Dick, Bob doesn't own the farm. Only his mother's share. And the aunts would be his guardians, he says, so his consent isn't necessary for a sale. You see, I do know a lot about business." And Betty glanced triumphantly at her uncle.

He smiled good-humoredly, and let the car out another notch.

"Has it ever occurred to you, my dear," he said casually, "that, if Bob were out of the way, the aunts might be persuaded to sell their farm for an absurdly small sum? A convincing talker might make any argument seem plausible, and neither Miss Hope nor Miss Charity are business women. They are utterly unversed in business methods or terms, and are the type of women who obediently sign any paper without reading it, I intend to see that you grow up with a knowledge of legal terms and forms that will at least protect you when you're placed in the position the Saunders women are."

"Miss Hope said once her father attended to everything for them," mused Betty, "and I suppose when he died they just had to guess. Oh!" a sudden light seemed to break over her. "Oh, Uncle Dick! do you suppose those men may be there now trying to get them to sell the farm?"

"Of course I don't know that they were on the place when you left," said her uncle. "But allowing them half an hour to reach there, I am reasonably certain that they are sitting in the parlor this minute, talking to the aunts. I only hope they haven't an agreement with them, or, if they have, that the pen and ink is where Miss Hope can't put her hands on it."

"Do you think there really is oil there?" asked Betty hurriedly, for another turn would bring them in sight of the farm. "Can you tell for sure, Uncle Dick?"

Mr. Gordon regarded her whimsically.

"Oil wells are seldom 'sure,'" he replied cautiously. "But if I had my doubts, they'd be clinched by what you tell me of these men. No Easterner with a delicate daughter was ever so anxious to buy a run-down place—not with a whole county to chose from. Also, as far as I can tell, judging from the location, which is all I've had to go by, I should say we were safe in saying there is oil sand there. In fact, I've already taken it up with the company, Betty, and they're inclined to think this whole section may be a find."

Betty hardly waited for the automobile to stop before she was out and up the front steps of the farm house, Mr. Gordon close behind her.

"I hear voices in the parlor," whispered Betty, "Oh, hurry!"

"All cash, you see," a voice that Betty recognized as Blosser's was saying persuasively. "Nothing to wait for, absolutely no delay."

Mr. Gordon put a restraining hand on Betty's arm, and motioned to her to keep still.

"But my sister and I should like to talk it over, for a day or so," quavered Miss Hope. "We're upset because our nephew is missing, as we have explained, and I don't think we should decide hastily."

"I don't like to hurry you," struck in another voice, Fluss's, Betty was sure, "but I tell you frankly, Madam, a cash offer doesn't require consideration. All you have to do, you and your sister, is to sign this paper, and we'll count the money right into your hand. Could anything be fairer?"

"It's a big offer, too," said Blosser. "A run-down place like this isn't attractive, and you're likely to go years before you get another bid. Our client wants to get his daughter out into this air, and he has money to spend fixing up. I tell you what we'll do—we'll pay this year's taxes—include them in the sale price. Why, ladies, you'll have a thousand dollars in cash!"

Betty could picture Miss Hope's eyes at the thought of a thousand dollars.

"Well, Sister, perhaps we had better take it," suggested Miss Charity timidly. "We can do sewing or something like that, and that money will put Bob through school."

"Come on, here's where we put a spoke in the wheel," whispered Mr. Gordon, beckoning Betty to follow him and striding down the hall.

"Why, Betty!" Miss Hope rose hastily and kissed her. "Sister and I had begun to worry about you."

"This is my uncle, Mr. Gordon, Miss Hope," said Betty. "I found him in Flame City. Has Bob come back?"

Miss Hope, much flustered by the presence of another stranger, said that Bob had not returned, and presented Mr. Gordon to her sister.

"These gentlemen, Mr. Snead and Mr. Elmer,"—she consulted the cards in her hand—"have called to see us about selling our farm."

Mr. Gordon nodded curtly to the pair whose faces were as black as a thunder-cloud at the interruption.

"I'm sure Mr. Gordon will excuse us if we go on with the business," said Blosser smoothly. "You have a dining-room, perhaps, or some other room where we could finish this matter quietly?"

Miss Hope glanced about her helplessly. Betty noticed that there was pen and ink and a package of bills of large denomination on the table. Evidently they had reached the farm just in time.

"Why, it happens that I'm interested in a way in your farm, if it is for sale," announced Mr. Gordon leisurely.

He selected a comfortable chair, and leaned back in it with the air of a man who is not to be hurried. A look of relief came into Miss Hope's face, and her nervous tension perceptibly relaxed.

"This farm is sold," declared Blosser truculently. "My partner and I have bought it for a client of ours."

"Any signatures passed?" said Mr. Gordon lazily.

"Miss Hope will sign right here," said Blosser, hastily unfolding a sheet of foolscap. "She was about to do so when you came in."

Miss Hope automatically took up the pen.

"Have you read that agreement?" demanded Mr. Gordon sharply. "Do you know what you are signing? I'd like to know the purchase price. I'm representing Bob's interest."

"Oh, Bob!" Miss Hope and Miss Charity both turned from the paper toward the speaker. "We think the money will put Bob through school—a whole thousand dollars, Mr. Gordon, and the taxes paid. We can't run the farm any longer. We can't afford to hire help."

"No farm is sold without a little more trouble than this," announced Mr. Gordon pleasantly. "You don't mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"We're in a hurry," broke in Fluss. "Sign this, ladies, and my partner and I will pay you the cash and get on to the next town. You can answer this gentleman's questions after we're gone."

"I suppose there is a mortgage?" asked Mr. Gordon, Ignoring Fluss altogether.

"Five hundred dollars," answered Miss Hope. "We had to give a mortgage to get along after Father died."

"So they've offered you fifteen hundred dollars for an oil farm," said Mr. Gordon contemptuously. "Well, don't take it."

"Bob said there was oil herel" cried Miss Charity.

"That's a lie!" snarled Blosser furiously. "You're out of the oil section by a good many miles. Are you going to turn down a cash offer for this forsaken dump, simply because a stranger happens along and tells you there may be oil on it? Bah!"

"Keep your temper," counseled Fluss in a low tone. "Well, rather than see two ladies lose a sale," he said with forced cheerfulness, "We will make you an offer of three thousand dollars. Money talks louder than fair words."

"I'll give you five thousand, cash," Mr. Gordon spoke quietly, but Betty bounced about on the sofa in delight.

Fluss leaped to his feet and brought his fist smashing down on the table.

"Six thousand!" he cried fiercely. "We're buying this farm. We'll give you six thousand dollars, ladies."

"Seven thousand," said Mr. Gordon conversationally. He did not shift his position, but his keen eyes followed every movement of the rascally pair. He said afterward that he was afraid of gun play.

"Oh—oh, my goodness!" stammered Miss Hope. "I can't seem to think."

"You don't have to, Madam," Fluss assured her, his immaculate gray tie under one ear and his clothing rumpled from the heat and excitement. "Sell us your farm. We'll give you ten thousand dollars. That's the last word. Ten thousand for this mud hole. Here's a pen—sign this!"

"Drop that pen!" thundered Mr. Gordon, and Miss Hope let it fall as though it had burned her fingers. "I'll give you fifteen thousand dollars," he said more gently.

Fluss looked at Blosser who nodded.

"Seventeen thousand," he shrieked, as though the sisters were deaf. "Seventeen I tell you, seventeen thousand!"

"Twenty," said Mr. Gordon cheerfully.

Miss Charity suddenly found her voice.

"I think we'd better sell to Mr. Gordon," she announced quietly.