Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 5

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Bob looked at Betty, and Betty stared at Bob.

"What do you know about that!" gasped the boy. "They couldn't have arranged for the car to meet them, because the tree blowing down was an accident pure and simple. Where can they be going?"

"I don't know," said Betty practically. "But here's a drug store and I must have something cold to drink. My throat feels dried with dust. Why don't you ask the drug clerk whose car that was?"

Bob acted upon this excellent suggestion, and while Betty was recovering from her disappointment in finding no ice-cream for sale and doing her best to quench her thirst with a bottle of luke-warm lemon soda. Bob interviewed the grizzled proprietor of the store.

"A small car painted a dull red you say?" this individual repeated Bob's question. "Must 'a' been Fred Griggs. He hires out whenever he can get anybody to tote round."

"But where does anybody go?" asked Bob, feeling that his query was not couched in the most complimentary terms, but unable to amend it quickly.

The drug store owner was not critical.

"Oh, folks go over to Xville," he said indifferently. "That's a new town fifteen miles back. They say oil was discovered there some twenty years ago, but others claim nothing but water ever flowed. That's how it came to be called Xville. I guess if the truth was known, the wells wasn't oil—we're a little out of the belt here."

That was as far as Bob was able to follow the sharpers. He had no way of knowing certainly whether they had gone to Xville, or whether they had hired the car to take them to some other place nearer or further on. Betty finished her soda and they strolled about the single street for a half hour, buying three collapsible Indian baskets for the Littell girls, since they would easily pack into Betty's bag.

They reached the train to find the last section of the big tree being lifted from the track, and half an hour later, all passengers aboard, the train resumed its journey. Bob and Betty had eaten lunch in the town, and they spent the afternoon on the observation platform, Betty tatting and Bob trying to write a letter to Mr. Littell. They were glad to have their berths made up early that night, for both planned to be up at six o'clock the next morning when the train, the conductor told them, crossed the line into Oklahoma. Betty cherished an idea that the State in which she was so much interested would be "different" in some way from the country through which they had been passing.

The good-natured conductor was on hand the next morning to point out to them the State line, and Betty, under his direct challenge, had to admit that she could see nothing distinguishing about the scenery.

"Wait till you see the oil wells," said the conductor cheerfully. "You'll know you're in Oklahoma then, little lady."

Bob and Betty were to change at Chassada to make connections for Flame City, where Betty's Uncle Dick was stationed, and soon after breakfast the brakeman called the name of the station and they descended from the train. As it rolled on they both were conscious of a momentary feeling of loneliness, for in the long journey from Washington they had grown accustomed to their comfortable quarters and to the kindly train crew.

They had an hour to wait in Chassada, and Bob suggested that they leave their bags at the station and walk around the town.

"I believe they have oil wells near here," he said. "Some one on the train—oh, I know who it was, that lanky chap from Texas—was telling me that from the outskirts of the place you can see oil wells. Or perhaps we can get a bus to take us out to the fields and bring us back."

"Oh, no," protested Betty. "I know Uncle Dick is counting on showing us the wells and explaining them to us. Bob. Don't let us bother about going up close to a well—we can see enough from the town limits. Look, there's one now!"

They had reached the edge of the narrow, straggling group of streets that was all of Chassada, and now Betty pointed toward the west where tall iron framework rose in the air. There were six of these structures, and, even at that distance, the boy and girl could see men working busily about at the base of the frames.

"Looks just like the postcards your uncle sent, doesn't it?" said Bob delightedly. "Gee! I'd like to see just how they drive them. Well, I suppose before we're a week older we'll know how to drive a well and what to do with the oil when it finally flows. You'll be talking oil as madly as any of them then, Betty."

"I suppose I shall," admitted Betty. "Do you know, I'm hungry. I wonder if there is any place we can eat?"

"Must be," said the optimistic Bob. "Come on, we'll go up this street. Perhaps there will be some kind of a restaurant. Never heard of a town without a place to eat."

But Bob began to think presently that perhaps Chassada differed in more ways than one from the towns to which he was accustomed. In the first place, though every one seemed to have plenty of money—there was a neat and attractive jewelry store conspicuous between a barber shop and a grain store—no one seemed to have to work. The streets were unpaved, the sidewalks of rough boards in many places, in others no walks at all were attempted. Many of the buildings were mere shacks incongruously painted in brilliant colors, and there were more dogs than were ever before gathered into one place. Of that Bob was sure.

"Do you suppose they've all made fortunes in oil?" Betty ventured, scanning the groups of men and boys that filled every doorway and lounged at the corners. "No one is working, Bob. Who runs the wells?"

"Different shifts, I suppose," answered Bob. "I declare, Betty, I'm not so sure that you'll get anything to eat after' all. We'll go back to the station; they may have sandwiches or cake or something like that on sale there."

They turned down another street that led to the station, Bob in the lead. He heard a little cry from Betty, and turned to find that she had disappeared.

"The lady fell down that hole!" shouted a man, hurrying across the street. "There go the barrels! I told Zinker he ought to have braced that dirt!"

Bob, still not understanding, saw four large barrels that had stood on the sidewalk slowly topple over the side of an excavation and roll out of sight.

"She went in, too," cried the man, scrambling over the edge. "Are you hurt, lady?" he called.

"Betty!" shouted Bob. "Betty, are you hurt?" he took a flying leap to the edge of the hole, and, having miscalculated the distance, slid over after the barrels.

Over and over he rolled, bringing up breathless against something soft.

"I knew you'd come to get me," giggled Betty, "but you needn't have hurried. Are there any more barrels coming?"

Bob was immensely relieved to find that she was unhurt. The barrels had luckily been empty and had rolled over and into her harmlessly.

"Well, looks like you're all right," grinned the Chassada citizen who had followed Bob more leisurely. "Let me help you up this grade. There now, you're fine and dandy, barring a little dirt that will wash off. George Zinker excavated last winter for a house, and then didn't build. I always told him the walk was shifty. You're strangers in town, aren't you?"

Bob explained that they^ were only waiting over between trains.

"So you're going to Flame City!" exclaimed their new friend with interest when Bob mentioned their destination. "I hear they've struck it rich in the fields. Buying up everything in sight, they say. We had a well come in last week. Hope you have a place to stay, though; Flame City isn't much more than a store and a post-office."

Betty looked up from rubbing her skirt with her clean handkerchief in an endeavor to remove some of the gravel stains.

"Isn't Flame City larger than Chassada?" she demanded.

"Larger? Why, Chassada is four or five years ahead," explained the Chassada man. "We've got a hotel and three boarding houses, and next month they're fixing to put up a movie theater. Flame City wasn't on the map six months ago. That's why I say I hope you have a place to go—you'll have to rough it, anyway, but accommodations is mighty scarce."

Bob assured him that some one was to meet them, and then asked about a restaurant.

"If you can stand Jake Hill's cooking, turn in at that white door down the street," was the advice, emphasized by a graphic forefinger. "Lay off the custard pie, 'cause he generally makes it with sour milk. Apple pie is fair, and his doughnuts is good. No thanks at all—glad to accommodate a stranger."

The white door indicated opened into a little low, dark room that smelled of all the pies ever baked and several dishes besides. There were several oilcloth-topped tables scattered about, and one or two patrons were eating. As Bob and Betty entered a great gust of laughter came from a corner table where a group of men were gathered.

"Guess that was good advice about the custard pie," whispered Bob mischievously. "Think you can stand it, Betty?"

"Tm so hungry, I could stand anything," declared Betty with vigor. "I'd like a couple of sandwiches and a glass of milk. I guess you have to go up to that counter and bring your orders back with you—I don't see any waiters."

Bob went up to the counter, and Betty sat down at a vacant table and looked about her.