Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 24

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Miss Hope, who had been wringing her hands, bewildered and hopelessly at sea, hailed this concrete suggestion with visible relief.

"All right, Sister, I think so, too," she agreed, glad for once not to have to make the decision. "You're sure you are not cheating yourself, Mr. Gordon, by paying us twenty thousand dollars?"

Mr. Gordon, who had strolled over to the door leading into the hall, assured her that he was well-satisfied with his bargain.

"Well, we'll be going," muttered Blosser. "All this comes from trying to do business with women. You had as good as passed us your word that you'd sell to us, and see what's happened. However, women don't know nothing about ethics. Come on, Fluss."

He was too disappointed and angry to notice the slip of his tongue, but Fluss flushed a brick red.

"Just one minute," said Mr. Richard Gordon, blocking the doorway. "You don't leave this place until you promise to produce that boy."

Blosser feigned ignorance, but the attempt deceived no one.

"What boy?" he blustered. "You seem bent on stirring up trouble, Stranger."

"You know very well what boy," retorted Mr. Gordon evenly. "You'll stir up something more than mere trouble if he isn't brought here within a few minutes, or information given where we may find him. Where is Bob Henderson?"

"Here, sir!" a blithe voice announced, and the door leading into a communicating room was jerked open.

Bob, his clothing a bit the worse for wear, but apparently sound and whole, stood there, brandishing a stout club.

"Oh, Bob!" Betty's cry quite drowned the exclamation of the aunts, but Bob had no eye for any one but Blosser and Fluss, who were making a wild attempt to get past Mr. Gordon.

"Have they bought the farm?" demanded the boy excitedly. "Did they get my aunts to sign anything for them?"

"I'm your new landlord. Bob," announced Mr. Gordon, patting himself on the chest. "Don't think you can put me off when the rent comes due."

"So that's all right," said Bob, with manifest relief. "As for those two scamps, who nearly choked me, well, let me get at them once."

Whirling his club he charged upon the pair who squealed in terror and tore past Mr. Gordon, down the hall and out into the yard, Bob in pursuit. Miss Hope and Miss Charity ran to the windows, and Betty and her uncle watched from the porch (Betty was going to follow Bob as a matter of course, but Mr. Gordon held her back) as the boy continued the chase. Fluss and Blosser presented a ludicrous sight as they ran heavily, their coats flapping in the wind and their hats jammed low over their eyes. Bob did not try to catch up with them, but contented himself with shouting loudly and swishing his heavy club through the air, while he kept just close enough to their heels to warn them that it was not safe to slacken speed. In a few minutes the watchers saw him coming back, walking, a broad grin on his face.

"Good little Marathon, wasn't it?" he called from the road. "Did you hear me yelling like an Indian? I chased them as far as the boundary line, and when I saw them they were still running. Gee, Mr. Gordon, I mean Uncle Dick, you got back from the oil fields just in time."

He came up on the steps and shook hands with Mr. Gordon, and submitted to a hug from each aunt.

"Have you really bought the farm?" he asked curiously. "Or was that just a blind?"

Miss Hope and Miss Charity looked anxiously at Mr. Gordon. They had planned exactly what to do with that twenty thousand dollars.

"We haven't signed an agreement," admitted the successful bidder, "but the farm is sold, all right. I'll give this check to Miss Hope now—" he hastily filled out a blank slip from his book—"as an evidence of good faith. Then I want to hear Bob's tale, and then I must do a bit of telephoning. And to-morrow morning, good people, I promise you the surprise of your lives."

Miss Hope glanced at the check he gave her, gasped, and opened her mouth to speak.

"Sh!" warned Mr. Gordon. "Dear lady, I've set my heart on staging a little climax; don't spoil it. To-morrow morning at eleven o'clock we'll have all the explanations. Now, Bob, what happened to you? I hear you nearly frightened your aunts into hysterics, to say nothing of Betty, whom I found tearing around Flame City hunting for a telephone."

Bob was in a fever of curiosity to know about the farm, whether Mr. Gordon thought there was a good prospect of oil or not, but Uncle Dick was not the kind of man to have his decisions debated. Bob wisely concluded to wait with what patience he could until the proper time. He turned to Betty.

"You know when we separated to hunt for Daisy?" he said. "Well, I went through the first field all right, but when I was passing those two old apple trees that have grown together, Fluss and Blosser jumped out and one of 'em threw a coat over my head so I couldn't shout. They downed me, and then Fluss stuffed his handkerchief in my mouth while Blosser tied my hands and feet. Daisy was behind the tree. I figured out they had come and got her, and I was mighty glad we had agreed to separate. I don't doubt they would have bound and gagged you, too, Betty, if you had been with me. They wouldn't stop at anything.

"They carried me to the barn loft—" Betty jumped a little. "Yes, I was up there when you were milking. Awfully hot up there in the hay it was, too. They were hiding near us when we planned to drop the bar as a signal, and I heard them laughing over that trick half the night. They slept up there with me—I was nearly dead for a drink of water—and once during the night Fluss did go down to the pump and bring me a drink, standing over me with that big club in case I should cry out when they took out the gag.

"This morning they watched and saw you ride off on Clover. They were in a panic for fear you would come back with some one before they could persuade the aunts to sell. I wish you could have seen them brushing each other off and shining their shoes on a horse blanket. They wanted to look stylish and as though they had just come from town instead of sleeping in a hayloft all night."

"They said they had stayed in Flame City over night," said Miss Hope indignantly, "The idea!"

"They had several," grinned Bob. "I certainly put in an anxious hour up there after they had gone down the ladder. You see, I didn't know Betty was going for Uncle Dick, and I didn't know that any one else would say there was oil on the place. Fluss had a roll of bills as big as your arm, and I pictured him flashing that and Aunt Hope so anxious to send me to school that she wouldn't leave a margin for herself and Aunt Charity to live on. If I had known that Uncle Dick was coming, I'd have saved myself a heap of worry."

"If I had had to telephone to him, it would have been too late," said Betty. "I just happened to find him In the post-office; didn't I, Uncle Dick?"

"I'd just got back from the fields and was after mail," Mr. Gordon explained. "I meant to stop and get directions from the Watterbys how to find the Saunders farm. Well, as it happened, everything was planned for the best."

"How did you get down from the loft, Bob?" Betty asked curiously.

"Cut the string that tied my wrists on a rusty scythe I found as I was crawling over the floor," said Bob. "Then, of course, I could pull out that nasty gag and untie my feet. I was a bit stiff at first, and I guess I fell down the hay loft ladder, but I was in such a hurry I'm not sure. The sharpers had left their club, and I brought that along for good luck. And, Aunt Hope, I'm starving to death!"

"Bless your heart, of course you are!" And Miss Hope hurried out to the kitchen, tucking Mr. Gordon's check into her apron pocket as she went "I'll stir up some waffles, I think," she murmured, reaching for the egg bowl.

Mr. Gordon would not stay for dinner, for he was anxious, he said, to get to a telephone. He would spend the night with the Watterbys and be back the next morning with "an important some one."

"I'm so excited I can't walk straight," declared Betty, skipping between table and stove in an effort to help Aunt Hope with the dinner. "Goodness, it seems forever till to-morrow morning!"

Miss Hope and Miss Charity went about the rest of the day in a daze, and Bob and Betty, who could not settle down to any task, went out fo the barn and enacted the scene of Bob's imprisonment all over again.

They were up at daybreak the next morning, and Miss Hope insisted on dusting and sweeping the whole house, though, as Bob said, it was hardly likely that their visitors would insist on seeing the attic.

"It isn't the house Mr. Gordon is interested in," the boy maintained sagaciously. "There's oil here, Aunt Hope," and this time Miss Hope did not contradict him.

At ten minutes to eleven Mr. Gordon drove up with a small, sandy-haired man who wore large hom-rimmed spectacles. He was introduced to Miss Hope and her sister as Mr. Lindley Vernet, and then the four went into the parlor and closed the door.

"Children not wanted," said Mr. Gordon, grinning over his shoulder at Bob and Betty, left sitting on the porch.

"Children!" snorted Betty, shaking an indignant fist in pretended anger. "If it hadn't been for us, or rather for you, Bob, this farm would have been sold for next to nothing."

"If it hadn't been for you, you mean," retorted Bob. "Who was it went and brought back Uncle Dick? I might have shouted myself hoarse, but those rascals would have beaten me somehow. Do you suppose this Mr. Vernet is going to buy the place?"

"I think he is the head of Uncle Dick's firm," said Betty cautiously. "At least I've heard him speak of a Lindley Vernet. But I thought Uncle Dick offered a lot of money, didn't you, Bob? How many acres are there?"

"Ninety," announced Bob briefly. "What's that? The door opened, so they must be through. No, it's only Aunt Charity."

But such a transformed Miss Charity! Her gentle dark eyes were shining, her cheeks were faintly pink, and she smiled at Betty and Bob as though something wonderful had happened.

"I came out to tell you," she said mysteriously, sitting down on the top step between them and putting an arm around each. "The farm is sold, my darlings. Can you guess for how much?"

"More than twenty thousand?" asked Betty. "Oh—twenty-five?"

"Thirty?" hazarded Bob, seeing that Betty had not guessed it.

Miss Charity laughed excitedly and hugged them with all her frail strength.

"Mr. Vernet is going to pay us ninety thousand dollars!"