Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil/Chapter 7

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Micah Davis was a Yankee, as he proudly told Bob, "born and raised in New Hampshire," and his shrewd common sense and dry humor stood him in good stead in the rather lawless environment of Chassada. He was well acquainted with the unlovely characteristics of the five who had chased Bob, and when he heard the whole story he promised to look up the Chinaman and see what he could do for him.

"If he's out of a job, I'd like to hire him," he said. "They're good, steady workers, and born cooks. He can have the room back of the store and do his own housekeeping. I'll stop in at Jake's this afternoon."

Bob was in a fever of fear that he would miss the train, and it was now a quarter of two. But Mr. Davis assured him that that special train was always late and that there was "all the time in the world to get to the station."

"I'm expecting some canned goods to come up from Wayne," he declared, "and I often go down after such stuff with my wheelbarrow. Transportation's still limited with us, as you may have guessed. I calculate the best way to fool those smart Alecs is to put you in an empty packing case and tote you down. Comes last minute, you can jump out and there you are!"

Bob thought this a splendid plan, and said so.

"Then here's the very case, marked 'Flame City' on purpose-like," was the cheery rejoinder. "Help me lift it on the barrow, and then you climb in, and we'll make tracks. Comfortable? All right, we're off."

He adjusted the light lid over the top of the box, which was sufficiently roomy to allow Bob to sit down, and the curious journey began. Apparently it was a common occurrence for Mr. Davis to take a shipment of goods that way, for no one commented. As the wheelbarrow grated on the crushed stone that surrounded the station, Bob heard the voice of the man called Bud.

"One-fifty-two's late, as usual," he called. "That young scalawag hasn't turned up, either. Guess he's going to keep still till the last minute and figure on getting away with a dash. The girl's in the waiting-room."

"I'm surprised you're not in there looking in her suitcase for the young reprobate," said Mr. Davis with thinly veiled sarcasm. "What happened? Did Carl order you out?"

Carl, the listening Bob judged, must be the ticket agent.

"I'd like to see that whippersnapper order me out!" blustered Bud. "There's a whole raft of women in there, waiting for the train."

Mr. Davis carefully lowered the wheelbarrow and leaned carelessly against the box.

"Guess I'll go in and see the girl—like to know how she looks," he observed a bit more loudly than was necessary.

Bob understood that he was going to explain to Betty and he thanked him silently with all his heart.

The friendly Mr. Davis strolled into the waiting room and had no difficulty in recognizing Betty Gordon. She was the only girl in the room, in the first place, and she sat facing the door, a bag on either side of her, and a world of anxiety in her dark eyes. The groceryman crossed the floor and took the vacant seat at her right. There was no one within earshot.

"Don't you be scared. Miss," he said quietly. "I'm Micah Davis, and I just want to tell you that everything's all right with that Bob boy. I've got him out here in a box, and when the train comes he's a-going to hop on board before you can say Jack Robinson."

"Oh, you dear!" Betty turned upon the astonished Mr. Davis with a radiant smile. "I was worried to death about him, because those dreadful men have been hanging around the station, and they keep peering in here. You're so good to help Bob!"

Mr. Davis stammered confusedly that he had done nothing, and then hurried on to advise Betty to pay no attention to anything that might happen, but to let the conductor help her on the train.

"I've got to wheel the lad down toward the baggage car," he explained, "so's they won't suspect. You see, Miss, this is an oil town and folks do pretty much as they please. If a gang want to beat up a stranger they don't find much opposition. In a few years we'll have better order, but just now the toughs have it. Sorry you had to have this experience."

"I'll always remember Chassada pleasantly because of you," said Betty impulsively. "Hark! Isn't that the train? Yes, it is. Don't mind me—go back to Bob. I'm all right, honestly I am!"

They shook hands hurriedly, and Betty followed the other passengers out to the platform. She caught a glimpse of Mr. Davis placidly trundling his wheelbarrow down the platform, and then the train pulled in and the conductor helped her aboard.

"Express?" called the baggage-car man as the wheelbarrow was halted beside the truck on which he was tumbling a pile of boxes.

"Sure, express," retorted Mr. Davis. "Live stock this time. A passenger for you, with his ticket and all. Let him go through to the coaches, George. It's all right. He'll explain."

He lifted the lid of the box and Bob stepped out. The baggage-man stared, but he knew and trusted Mr. Davis.

"Don't thank me, lad," said the groceryman kindly as Bob tried to pour out his thanks. "You're from my part of the country, and any boy in trouble claims my help. There, there, for goodness' sake, are you going to miss the train after all the trouble I've taken?"

He pushed Bob gently toward the door of the baggage car and the boy scrambled in. Then, and not until then, did the vociferous Bud see what was going on. He dared not tackle the groceryman, but he came running pellmell down the platform to bray at Bob.

"You big coward!" he yelled. "Sneaking away, aren't you? Just let me catch you in this town again, and I'll make it so hot for you you'll wish you'd never left your kindergarten back East."

He was so angry he fairly danced with rage, and Bob and the baggage man both had to laugh.

"Laugh, you big boob!" howled Bud. "You wouldn't think it so funny if I had you by the collar. 'Fraid to fight, aren't you? You wait! Some day I'll get you and I'll—I'll drown you!"

Bud had made an unfortunate choice of punishment, for his words carried a suggestion to Bob. Mail and express was still being unloaded, and beside the track was a large puddle of oily, dirty water apparently from a leaky pipe, for there were no indications of a recent rain.

With a swift spring, Bob was on his feet beside the surprised Bud, and, seizing him, whirled him sharply about. Then with a strong push he sent him flat into the puddle.

Sputtering, gasping, and actually crying with rage, the bully stumbled to his feet and charged blindly for Bob. That agile youth had turned and dashed for the train, which was now slowly moving. He caught the steps of the baggage car and drew himself up. Once on the platform he turned to wave to Mr. Davis, but that good citizen was holding back the foaming Bud from dashing himself against the wheels and did not see Bob's farewell.

"Whew!" gasped Bob, making his way to Betty, after going through an apparently endless number of cars, "our Western adventures begin with a rush, don't they? I'm hoping Flame City will be peaceful, for I've had enough excitement to last me a week."

"I wish Mr. Davis lived in Flame City," said Betty warmly. "I never knew any one to be kinder. Imagine all the trouble he took for you, Bob."

Bob agreed that the groceryman was a living example of the Golden Rule, and then the sight of oil derricks in the distance changed the trend of their thoughts.

"Where do you suppose those two sharpers—what were their names?—could have gone?" said Betty. "Seems to me, there are a lot of unpleasant people out here, after all."

"You mean Blosser and Fluss," replied Bob. "I don't know where they went, but I'm certain they are not up to anything good. Still, it isn't fair to say we've come in contact with a lot of unpleasant people, Betty. All new developments have to fight against the undesirable element, Mr. Littell says. You see, the prospect of making money would naturally attract them, and that, coupled with the possibility of meeting trusting and ignorant souls who have a little and want to make more, draws the crooks. It has always been that way. Haven't you read about the things that happened in California when there was the rush of gold seekers?"

Betty was not especially interested in the gold seekers, but the glimpses she had had of the oil industry fascinated her. She hoped that her Uncle Dick would have time to take them around, and she was divided between an automobile and a horse as the choicest medium of sightseeing.

"Well, I'd like to ride," declared Bob when she sought his opinion. "I've always wanted to. But I don't intend to see the sights, altogether, Betty. I want to find my aunts, and then, if possible, I'd like to get a job. There must be plenty for a boy to do out here."

"But you've been working all summer," protested Betty, "You're as thin as a rail now. I know Uncle Dick won't let you go to work. Why, Bob, I counted on your going around with me! We can have such fun together."

"Well, of course, there will be lots of odd hours," Bob comforted her. "I don't intend to borrow any more money, Betty, that's flat. And if I don't get my share in the farm, that is, if it proves my mother never had any sisters and never was entitled to a share of anything, I don't intend to let that be the end of my ambitions. I'm going to school, if it takes an arm!"

Betty gazed at him respectfully. Bob, when in earnest, was a very convincing talker. She wondered for a moment what he would be when he grew up.

"We're coming into Flame City," he warned her before she could put this thought into words. "Tip your hat straight, Betsey, and take the camera. I can manage both bags."

"Oh, I hope Uncle Dick will meet us!" Betty was so excited she bumped her nose against the glass trying to see out of the window. "Look, Bob, just see those derricks! This is surely an oil town!"

The brakes went down, and the brakeman at the end of the car flung the door open.

"Flame City!" he shouted. "All out for Flame City!"