Betty Gordon in Washington/3
BOB HAS GREAT NEWS
The new minister proved to be a gentle old man, evidently retired to a country charge and, in his way, quite as diffident as Mrs. Peabody. He was apparently charmed to be entertained on the porch, and saw nothing wrong with the neglected house and grounds. His near-sighted eyes, beaming with kindness and good-will, apparently took comfort and serenity for granted, and when Betty came out half an hour after his arrival, carrying a little tray of lemonade and cakes, he was deep in a recital of the first charge he had held upon his graduation from the theological seminary forty years before.
"There, that's over!" sighed Mrs. Peabody, quite like the experienced hostess, when the minister's shabby black buggy was well on its way out of the lane. "You're dreadful good, Betty to help me through with it. He won't come again for another six months—it takes him that long to cover his parish, the farms are so far apart. Let me help you carry back the chairs."
Betty longed to suggest that they leave them out and use the porch as an outdoor sitting room, but she knew that such an idea would be sure to meet with active opposition from the master of Bramble Farm. Long before he came in to supper that night the chairs had been restored to their proper places and Mrs. Peabody had resumed the gray wrapper she habitually wore. Only the vase of flowers on the table was left to show that the afternoon had been slightly out of the ordinary. That and the tray of glasses Betty had unfortunately left on the draining board of the sink, intending to wash them with the supper dishes.
"Whose glasses, and what's been in 'em?" demanded Mr. Peabody suspiciously. "There's sugar in the bottom of one of 'em. You haven't been making lemonade?" He turned to his wife accusingly.
Bob had not come home yet, and there was only Ethan, the hired man, Betty, and the Peabodys at the supper table.
"I made lemonade," said Betty quietly. "Those are my own glasses I bought in Glenside, and the sugar and lemons were mine, too. So were the cakes."
This silenced Peabody, for he knew that Betty's uncle sent her money from time to time, and though he fairly writhed to think that she could spend it so foolishly, he could not interfere.
As soon as it was dark the Peabody household retired, to save lighting lamps, and this evening was no exception. Betty learned from a stray question Mrs. Peabody put to Ethan, the hired man, that Bob was not expected home until ten or eleven o'clock. There was no thought of sitting up for him, though Betty knew that in all likelihood he would have had no supper, having no money and knowing no one in Trowbridge.
She was not sleepy, and having brushed and braided her hair for the night, she threw her sweater over her dressing gown and sat down at the window of her room, a tin of sardines and a box of crackers in her lap, determined to see to it that Bob had something to eat.
There was a full moon, and the road lay like a white ribbon between the silver fields. Betty could follow the lane road out to where it met the main highway, and now and then the sound of an automobile horn came to her and she saw a car speed by on the main road. Sitting there in the sweet stillness of the summer night, she thought of her mother, of the old friends in Pineville, and, of course, of her uncle. She wondered where he was that night, if he thought of her, and what would be his answer to her letter.
"Is that a horse?" said Betty to herself, breaking off her reverie abruptly. "Hark! that sounds like a trotting horse."
She was sure that she could make out the outlines of a horse and rider on the main road, but it was several minutes before she was positive that it had turned into the lane. Yes, it must be Bob. No one else would be out riding at that hour of the night. Betty glanced at her wrist-watch—half-past ten.
The rhythmic beat of the horse's hoofs sounded more plainly, and soon Betty heard the sound of singing. Bob was moved to song in that lovely moonlight, as his sorry mount was urged to unaccustomed spirit and a feeling of freedom.
"When in thy dreaming, moons like these shall shine again.
And, daylight beaming, prove thy dreams are vain."
Bob's fresh, untrained voice sounded sweet and clear on the night air, and to Betty's surprise, tears came unbidden into her eyes. She was not given to analysis.
"Moonlight always makes me want to cry," she murmured, dashing the drops from her eyes. "I hope Bob will look up and know that I'm at the window. I don't dare call to him."
But Bob, who had stopped singing while still some distance from the house, clattered straight to the barn.
Betty hurried over to her lamp, lit it, and set it on the window sill.
"He'll see it from the barn," she argued wisely, "and know that I am not asleep."
Her reasoning proved correct, for in a few minutes a well-known whistle sounded below her window. She blew out the light and leaned out.
"Oh, Betty!" Bob's tone was one of repressed excitement. "I've got something great to tell you."
"Have you had any supper?" demanded Betty, more concerned with that question than with any news. "I've something for you, if you're hungry."
"Hungry? Gee, I'm starved!" was the response. "I didn't dare stop to ask for a meal anywhere, because I knew I'd be late getting home as it was. The horse was never cut out for a saddle horse; I'm so stiff I don't believe I can move to-morrow. Where's the eats?"
"Here. I'll let it down in a moment," answered Betty, tying a string to the parcel. "Sorry it isn't more. Bob, but the larder's getting low again."
Bob untied the can and cracker box she lowered to him, and Betty pulled in the string to be preserved for future use.
"Thanks, awfully," said Bob. "You're a brick. Betty. And, say, what do you think I heard over in Trowbridge?"
"Don't talk so loud!" cautioned Betty. "What, Bob?"
"Why, the poorhouse farm is this side of the town," said Bob, munching a cracker with liveliest manifestations of appreciation. "Coming back to-night—that's what made me late—Jim Turner, who's poormaster now, called me in. Said he had something to tell me. It seems there was a queer old duffer spent one night there a while back—Jim thought it must have been a month ago. He has a secondhand bookshop in Washington, and he came to the poorhouse to look at some old books they have there—thought they might be valuable. They opened all the records to him, and Jim says he was quite interested when he came to my mother's name. Asked a lot of questions about her and wanted to see me. Jim said he was as queer as could be, and all they could get out of him was that maybe he could tell me something to interest me. He wouldn't give any of the poorhouse authorities an inkling of what he knew, and insisted that he'd have to see me first."
"Where is he?" demanded Betty energetically. "I hope you didn't come away without seeing him, Bob. What's his name? How does he look?"
"His name," said Bob slowly, "is Lockwood Hale. And he went back to Washington the next day."
Betty's air castles tumbled with a sickening slump.
"Bob Henderson!" she cried, remembering, however, to keep her voice low. "The idea! Do you mean to tell me they let that man go without notifying you? Why I never heard of anything so mean!"
"Oh, I'm not important," explained Bob, quite without bitterness. "Poorhouse heads don't put themselves out much for those under 'em—though Jim Turner's always treated me fair enough. But Lockwood Hale had to go back to Washington the next day, Betty. There honestly wasn't time to send for me."
"Perhaps they gave him your address," said Betty hopefully. "But, oh, Bob, you say he was there a month ago?"
Bob nodded unhappily.
"He hasn't my address," he admitted. "Jim says he meant to give it to him, but the old fellow left suddenly without saying a word to any one. Jim thought maybe he had the name in mind and would write anyway. I'd get it, you know, if it went to the poorhouse. But I guess Hale's memory is like a ragbag—stuffed with odds and ends that he can't get hold of when he wants 'em. No, Betty, I guess the only thing for me to do is to go to Washington."
"Well, if you don't go to bed, young man, I'll come down there and help you along," an angry whisper came from the little window up under the roof. "You'e been babbling and babbling steady for half an hour," grumbled the annoyed Ethan. "How do you expect me to get any sleep with that racket going on? Come on up to bed before the old man wakes up."
Thankful that it was Ethan Instead of Mr. Peabody, Bob gathered up his sardines and the remnants of the crackers and tiptoed up the attic stairs to the room he shared with the hired man.
Betty hastily slipped into bed, and though Bob's news had excited her, she was tired enough to fall asleep readily.
In the morning she watched her chance to speak to Bob alone, and when she heard him grinding a sickle in the toolhouse ran out to tell him something.
"You must let me lend you some money. Bob," she said earnestly. "I know you haven't enough to go to Washington on. I've been saving, thanks to your advice, and I have more than I need. Besides, I could borrow from the Guerins or the Benders. You will take some, won't you?"
"I have enough, really I have," insisted Bob. "You know Dr. Guerin sold every one of those charms I carved, and I haven't spent a cent. It's all buried in a little canvas bag under the rose bush, just like a movie. I hate to take money from a girl, Betty."
"Don't be silly!" Betty stamped her foot angrily. "It's only a loan, Bob. And you'd feel cheap, wouldn't you, if you had to come back after you ran away because you didn't have enough money? You take this, and you can pay it back as soon as you please after you have seen the old bookstore man."
She pushed a tight little wad of money into the boy's perspiring hand.
"All right," he capitulated. "I'll borrow it. I would like to know I had enough. Sure I'm not crippling you, Betsey?"
Betty shook her head, smiling.
"I've enough to buy a ticket to Washington," she assured him. "That's all we need, isn't it. Bob? Oh, how I wish Uncle Dick would send for me!"