CHAPTER IV


AT THE VENDUE


"You, Bob!"

The shout awakened Betty at dawn the next morning, and running to the window she saw Bob disappear into the barn, Mr. Peabody close on his heels.

"Oh, goodness, I suppose he's scolding about something," sighed the girl. "There always is something to find fault about. I hope Bob will keep his temper, because I want him to be able to take me to the vendue this afternoon."

Joseph Peabody came into breakfast in a surly frame of mind, a mental condition faithfully reflected in the attitude of his hired man who jerked back his chair and subsided into it with a grunt. Betty's irrepressible sense of humor pictured the dog (the Peabodys kept no dog because the head of the house considered that dogs ate more than they were worth) tucking his tail between his legs and slinking under the table as a port in the storm. The dog, she decided, glancing at Mrs. Peabody's timid face, was all that was needed to set the seal on a scene of ill-nature and discomfort.

Bob, when he came in late with the milk pails, wore a black scowl and set his burden down with a crash that spilled some of the precious fluid on to the oilcloth top of the side table.

"Be a little more careful with that," growled Mr. Peabody, taking the last piece of ham, which left nothing but the fried potatoes and bread for Bob's breakfast. "The cows are going dry fast enough without you trying to waste the little they give."

Bob, looking as though he could cheerfully fling the contents of both pails over his employer, sullenly began to pump water into the hand basin. This habit of "washing up" at the kitchen sink while a meal was in progress always thoroughly disgusted Betty, and Bob usually performed his ablutions on the back porch. This morning he was evidently too cross to consider a second person's feelings.

"Always ready enough to throw out what doesn't belong to you," went on Mr. Peabody grumbling. "Born in the poorhouse, you're in a fair way to die there. If I didn't watch you every minute, you'd waste more than I can save in a year."

Bob, his face buried in the roller towel, lost his temper at this point.

"Oh, for Pete's sake, shut up!" he muttered.

But Mr. Peabody had heard. With a quickness that surprised even his wife, for ordinarily he slouched his way around, he sprang from his chair, reached the side of the unconscious Bob, and soundly boxed his ears twice.

"I'll take no impudence from you!" he cried, enraged. "Here, come back!" he yelled, as Bob started for the door. "You come back here and sit down. When you don't come to the table, it will be because I say so. Sit down, I say!"

Bob, his face livid, his ears ringing, dropped into a chair at the table. Ethan continued to eat stolidly, and Betty kept her eyes resolutely fastened on her plate.

"Just for that, you stay home from the Faulkner sale!" announced Mr. Peabody who was more than ordinarily loquacious that morning. "I'll find something for you to do this afternoon that'll keep your hands busy, if not your tongue. Eat your breakfast. I'll have no mincing over food at my table."

Poor Bob, who had often been forbidden a meal as punishment, now mechanically tried to eat the unappetizing food placed before him. Betty was terribly disappointed about the sale, for she had set her heart on going. There were few pleasures open to her as a member of the household at Bramble Farm, and, with the exception of the Guerin girls in town, she had no girl friends her own age. Bob had proved himself a sympathetic, loyal chum, and he alone had made the summer endurable.

"Don't care!" she cried, to console the boy, as Peabody and his helper went out of the house to begin the field work for the day. "Don't care, Bob. I really don't mind not going to the sale."

Mrs. Peabody was in the pantry, straining the milk.

"We're going," whispered Bob. "You meet me right after dinner at the end of the lane. I'm sick of being knocked around, and I think Jim Turner will be at the sale. I want to see him. Anyway, we're going."

"But—but Mr. Peabody will be furious!" ventured Betty. "You know what a scene he will make, Bob. Do you think we had better go?"

"You needn't," said Bob ungraciously. "I am."

"Of course, if you go, so will I," replied Betty, swallowing a sharp retort. Bob was badgered enough without a contribution from her. "Perhaps he will not miss us—we can get back in time for supper."

Immediately after dinner at noon Mr. Peabody sent Bob out to the hay loft to pitch down hay for the balers who were expected to come and set up their machine that night, ready for work the next day. He could not have selected a meaner job, for the hay loft was stifling in the heat of the midday sun which beat down on the roof of the barn, and there were only two tiny windows to supply air. Mr. Peabody himself was going up in the woods to mark trees for some needed fence rails.

Bob departed with a significant backward glance at Betty, which sent her flying upstairs to get into a clean frock. Mrs. Peabody manifested so little interest in her activities that the girl anticipated no difficulty in getting safely out of the house. As it happened, her hostess made the way even easier.

"If you're going to Glenside, Betty," she remarked dully, stopping in the doorway of Betty's room as the girl pulled on her hat, "I wish you'd see if Grimshaw has any meat scraps. Joseph might get me a bit the next time he goes over. Just ask how much it is, an' all—the hens need something more than they're getting."

Betty knew that Joseph Peabody would never buy meat scraps for his wife's hens. Indeed, she had priced stuff several times at Mrs. Peabody's request and nothing had ever come of it. But she agreed to go to Grimshaw's if she got that far in her walk, and Mrs. Peabody turned aside into her own room without asking any questions.

"Gee! thought you never were coming," complained Bob, when the slim figure in the navy serge skirt and white middy met him at the end of the lane road. "The sale starts at one sharp, you know, and we'll miss the first of it. Lots of 'em will come in overalls, so I'll be in style."

Before they had walked very far they were overtaken by a rattling buckboard, drawn by a lean, raw-boned white horse and driven by a cheerful farmer's wife who invited them to "hop in," an invitation which they accepted gratefully. She was going to the Faulkner vendue, she informed them, and her heart was set on three wooden wash tubs and seven yards of ingrain carpet advertised in the list of household goods offered for sale.

"My daughter's going to set up for herself next fall," she said happily, "and that ingrain will be just the thing for her spare room."

When they reached the Faulkner farm, a rather commonplace group of buildings set slightly in a hollow, they found teams and automobiles of every description blocking the lane that led to the house.

Bob tied the white horse to an unoccupied post for the woman, and she hastened away, worried lest the ingrain carpet be sold before she could reach the crowd surrounding the auctioneer.

Betty, for whom all this was a brand-new experience, enjoyed the excitement keenly. She followed Bob up to the front porch of the house where the household effects were being put up for sale, Bob explaining that the live stock would be sold later.

"Well, look who's here!" cried a hearty voice, as a man, moving aside to give Betty room, allowed the person standing next to him to see the girl's face. "Betty Gordon! And Bob, too! Not thinking of going to farming, are you?"

Gray-haired, kindly-faced Doctor Guerin shook hands cordially, and kept a friendly arm across Bob's thin shoulders.

"Friends of yours coming home next Tuesday," he said, smiling as one who knows he brings pleasant news. "The Benders are due in Laurel Grove. Mrs. Guerin had a postal card last night."

Betty was glad to hear this, for she did not want Bob to leave Bramble Farm without seeking the advice of the fine young police recorder who had been so good to them and whose friendship both she and Bob valued as only those can who need real friends.

"I came to bid on a secretary," Doctor Guerin confided presently. "It's the only good thing in the whole house. Rest of the stuff is nothing but trash. That antique dealer from Petria is here, too, and I suspect he has his eye on the same piece. Don't you want to bid for me Bob, to help keep him in the dark?"

Bob was delighted to do the doctor a service, and when the mahogany secretary was put up for sale the few other bidders soon dropped out, leaving the field to the Petria dealer and the lad in the faded overalls. The dealer, of course, knew that Bob must represent some buyer, but he could not decide for whom he was bidding, and so was in the dark as to how high his opponent would go. Had he known that Doctor Hal Guerin was bidding against him, he would have been enlightened, for the doctor's collection of antiques was really famous and the envy of many a professional collector.

"I suppose some rube wants the desk for his sitting room," thought the Petria man lazily, his eye, keen as it was, failing to see the doctor in the crowd. "Let him have it, and I'll buy it from him for ten dollars more before he leaves the sale. He can't resist turning over his money quick like that."

So when the auctioneer boomed "Sold for forty dollars," and in answer to his request for the buyer's name Bob said clearly, "Doctor Guerin," in his own language, the man from Petria was "just plain sick."

After the household things were sold—and Betty noted with satisfaction that the three tubs and the ingrain carpet went to the woman who had so coveted them—she and Bob went out to the barn and watched the horses and cows, wagons, harnesses and farm machinery sold. It was an absorbing and colorful scene, and the boy and girl, fascinated, lingered till the last item was checked off. Then, with a start, Bob heard a farmer announce that it was half past five.

"Oh dear!" sighed Betty nervously, "you ought to be milking this minute. Oh, Bob, let's not go home! Couldn't we stay overnight with Doctor Guerin?"

"Now don't you be afraid, there won't anything happen to scare you," responded Bob soothingly. It must be confessed that the knowledge of the little sum of money tucked away under the rosebush gave him a bolder outlook on the future.

Hiram Keppler, who owned the farm just beyond the Peabody place, gave them a lift as far as their lane, and as they hurried down the road Betty tried her best to master her dread of the coming interview. She had not a doubt but that Bob's absence would have been noticed. Looking ahead fearfully, she saw a sight that confirmed her worst forebodings.

Joseph Peabody stood at the barnyard gate, a horsewhip in his hand.