Chapter X. Apple Blossom Magic
 

Two long, dreary days had passed. Dorothy was well again, but, acting upon the advice of Miss Ellis, she remained away from school, to grow strong and take a little rest in the fresh air; to be out of doors as much as possible, the teacher said.

Alice had been to see Dorothy, and had assured her that "every thing was all right," even the misconduct of Alice in "talking back" had been forgiven, the girl herself declared.

But there was no explanation offered as to the accident to Sarah Ford. That was still a mystery to the school girls. Neither had Tavia returned to Dalton. She was visiting her aunt in Rochester Mrs. Travers announced.

Major Dale was at his office again, and the boys were not yet home from school, although the dismissal hour had passed.

There was a rush through the vines at the side of the porch--the next moment Tavia had Dorothy in her arms.

"You poor dear!" she exclaimed between her kisses. "To think that you have been sick all alone--without me!"

Dorothy leaned back in her chair--happy.

Tavia was not so much larger or older than she, but just at that moment she came like one all powerful; Tavia had such a way of being and doing.

"And all on my account," went on Tavia. "I declare you have gotten thin," and she spanned the bare wrist of Dorothy lovingly. "You never wrote, of course, as I asked you to."

The lost note! Perhaps other important matters had been overlooked in its disappearance.

"Is Sarah able to play leap-frog yet?" went on Tavia facetiously. "I hear Squire Sanders has been inquiring for me--just me, Tavia Travers. Ahem! Also my goodness me! Sakes alive! If I had only known the worthy squire wished to hold converse with this--me, you know, I certainly should have postponed my vacation. Who knows what I have missed?"

Dorothy's face showed how pleased she was; it was so good to hear Tavia rattle on that way. As Ralph Willoby had said, her heart was right, and so she made few mistakes where love could be counted on as her guide.

Tavia was stroking Dorothy's head affectionately. The two girls sat on the rustic bench, Dorothy with her head resting upon the other's shoulder.

"I made a discovery in Rochester," said Tavia, when she had exhausted every possible point, covering the sickness of her friend, the fainting in school and all that preceded and followed that occurrence. "Yes, I found out that a woman there, who did washing for my aunt, is named Burlock, and that she has been deserted by her husband--"

"Has she a daughter?" interrupted Dorothy.

"I don't know about that. Aunt Mary said she was such a strange woman, all the time moving, and no one ever could find out just where her rooms were. The way one had to do, to get her to do washing, was to apply to the Charity Bureau."

"But the Bureau must have her address," said Dorothy much interested in the story.

"Well, Aunt Mary said they could not keep track of her either. They know she is a good honest woman, who seems always to be in some trouble-- looking for her husband, of course. I made up my mind that the man she is looking for is your friend Miles. Have you seen him lately?"

"No," replied Dorothy, thoughtfully.

"And I've got more news," went on Tavia, "Miss Ellis has planned a picnic for Monday. She is going to take our class to Glen Haven Falls. Do get strong and come, if you don't go I will not."

"Oh, I am sure I will be all right by that time," answered Dorothy, "in fact I am well now. I am only staying out of school because Miss Ellis thought it best. I wonder, Tavia, how we could ever think her unfair. She is the nicest woman--why, when she called she brought me jelly, and one of her splendid roses that she prizes so much. I felt almost guilty to have spoken of her, as I did, about the procession on Memorial Day."

"Well, she has not brought me jelly or roses yet," replied Tavia, "and I hardly think she would, even had I the good fortune to be sick in bed. Yes, I mean it! I would like to see what would happen if I took sick. But no danger. Aunt Mary said she would rather feed two men than give me what I call enough. It is not really enough, you know, but I call it that," and she stretched out on the bench to show how "deliciously lazy" common health makes a girl.

"You certainly do your appetite justice," said Dorothy laughing. "Aunt Libby says it's one thing to eat, and another thing to make your eating 'tell.' Now, you make your food--"

"'Tell.' Certainly I do, and make it 'tell' out loud too. I weigh--how much do you think?"

"About ninety?"

"One hundred and five," declared the girl. "I wish you could go away for a week. I am sure you would pick up and get the peaches back in your cheeks."

"We will go away in vacation time," replied Dorothy. "This month will not be long going around."

"Now I must run back home. I have not had a chance to tell mother a bit of news. You know it was the luckiest thing, ma wanted me to go to Rochester, and when the fuss came all I had to do was clear out. Ma had been waiting for me to get a new dress and she was so tickled when I said I would go in my old one. You see, Dorothy, Aunt Mary gives us lots of things, and no one had been out this spring. Nannie, that's my cousin, is just a little larger than I am, and oh, you should see the scrumbunctious dress I am going to wear to the picnic! It is perfectly-- glorious!" and Tavia wheeled around on her toe, threatening her boasted one hundred and five pounds avoirdupois with disaster.

With a promise to be back again in the evening Tavia left Dorothy and hurried across the fields to her home.

"Things seem to be straightening out," thought Dorothy. "Every thing is all right at school, Tavia is back, now if Sarah would only tell--I have a good mind to run over to see her."

It was a warm afternoon and Dorothy had no need to bother with wraps. Aunt Libby was at the side porch so that in passing Dorothy called to her she would be back in a short time, then she crossed through the orchard, going under the very tree in the shade of which Sarah had been found suffering. Dorothy stopped and looked up into the branches. They were very low, some of them, so low that in fruit time girls could pick the apples without climbing for them.

The blossoms were almost gone. Small sprays lay faded on the grass where careless hands had scattered them.

Somehow, it seemed to Dorothy that the tree knew all about the accident; if trees could only talk, she thought. Then, picking up a spray of the freshest blossoms, she hurried on.

To Dorothy's surprise Mrs. Ford was very cordial in her welcome. Dorothy had feared the mother of the injured girl might not be so pleased to see her.

"Walk right in," said Mrs. Ford, opening the door. "I am sure it will do Sarah good to talk with you. She is so lonesome and talks in her sleep about the girls," and she led the way to her daughter's room.

The girl was now sitting up; her injured foot rested on a cushioned chair, while her face still showed signs of suffering.

"Sarah, dear," began Dorothy with an affectionate embrace, "I am so glad to see you up."

"Are you?" asked the other mechanically.

"Yes, indeed," ignoring her cold manner, "we have been so worried about you."

"We? Who?" and Sarah toyed nervously with the coverlet that was thrown over her knees.

"Why all of us; the girls at school. We hope you will soon be able to come back."

"I will never go back. I have had all I want of Dalton School," and Sarah tossed her head defiantly.

"Here is a spray of apple blossoms. I brought them from the orchard. They are so sweet," said Dorothy, "I thought they might make you think you were out of doors, when you shut your eyes and smell of them."

She offered the spray to Sarah, but the girl made no sign of accepting it. Dorothy was disappointed. She did not mind the sick girl being fretful, but she had not expected her to be rude.

A rather awkward silence followed. Dorothy had determined if possible, to reach the heart of this queer girl, but her best efforts seemed unsuccessful.

"Well, I had better go," said Dorothy at length, still holding the blossoms in her hand, and standing beside Sarah's chair.

She turned to leave.

"Good-bye," she said. "I hope you will be better soon."

But Sarah caught her dress. "Oh, Dorothy, do not leave me," she wailed. "I am so miserable, so unhappy! Throw the apple blossoms out of the window and come back to me. I need someone! Oh, I feel as if I shall die, all alone here!"

Sobs choked her words, and she seemed struggling for breath.

"Shall I call your mother?" Dorothy asked anxiously.

"No! no!" cried the sick girl. "I only want you. Dorothy Dale help me-- you must help me or I shall die," and again Sarah broke into hysterical sobbing.

"What is it, Sarah dear?" pleaded Dorothy. "Tell me how I can help you," and she bent down closer to the weeping girl.

"Oh, I do not know. I have--Oh, Dorothy have you ever tried to injure another?"

"Why, no, dear, and I am sure you have not, either."

"Oh, but I have indeed! I can not bear the pain any longer. I must tell someone--you. You will know how to help me."

A very sad face looked up into Dorothy's. The brown eyes that had always been thought so proud and haughty were now "begging" for help, for pity, and for counsel.

"Tell me about it," said Dorothy, taking a trembling white hand in her own, which was scarcely more steady.

"Did--they--arrest Tavia?" asked Sarah, the words seeming to choke her in their utterance.

"Why, no. Of course they did not," Dorothy replied. "I just left Tavia a half hour ago, and she was as light hearted and happy as ever I have seen her. That little trouble at school did not last long."

"Oh, I am so glad!" exclaimed Sarah. "The thought of it has just-- haunted me!"

"About the accident?" asked Dorothy, trying to help Sarah unburden her mind.

"Yes. I really did not mean to do so wrong. But when I found you were all gone, and I tried to jump--"

"Yes, of course it was very wrong of Tavia to send you up so high just as the bell was going to ring," and Dorothy pressed the other's hand encouragingly.

"Then when I saw my white dress, all black from the ashes, I ran away!"

"Now do not excite yourself, dear," cautioned Dorothy, for she saw how Sarah's face had flushed, and did not like to hear her raise her voice so.

"No, it will not hurt me. The pain of it has been killing me ever since, but now it will go--with my confession!"

"Hush!" whispered Dorothy, "your mother is in the hall."

"Poor mother!" answered Sarah. "She has tried every way to help me, but I could not tell her. It seemed so terrible!"

"But how did you hurt your ankle?" asked Dorothy bluntly.

"I fell out--of--the--tree! I did not mean to do it. I was up there hiding from those who passed in the lane, and all at once the awful thought came to me that I could slip and blame it on Tavia. But I did not mean to do it that way. Oh, Dorothy, how dreadfully I have been punished!" and the sick girl fell to weeping again.

"Never mind dear. We all do wrong sometimes--"

"No, Dorothy Dale, you never do. I have been jealous of your love for Tavia. I have loved you from the first moment I saw you--that day helping a poor drunken man to his feet. I said then I would make you love me, but see how I have failed. You will hate me now."

"No, Sarah dear. You are better and nobler this minute than any other girl in Dalton, for no other likely, has had to make the heroic effort to do right that you have been obliged to go through with. You know the joy there is over one lost lamb when it is returned to the fold?"

Sarah leaned back, and looked up full into Dorothy's face.

"I knew you would know just what to say to me;" she whispered. "Dorothy Dale you are--an--angel," and the big, brown eyes sent out such a look of love, admiration and, at last--happiness.

"It all seemed worse to you, thinking of it here, alone, with no one to say a word to you," continued Dorothy, consolingly. "And then of course, your father was angry. That only showed how fond he is of you."

"Yes. It seems every thing helps one to do wrong. I really never accused Tavia of doing it, only that time when we came in, and then I was so sick and frightened, I had no idea, then, that father would take it all in earnest. But he rushed right off, and when I heard Squire Sanders had been at the school--oh, Dorothy how can I tell you how I felt!"

"But it is all over now," spoke Dorothy soothingly, "and I will take care that every girl in school knows the greatest part of the trouble came from a mistake."

"But I can never go back to that school again--"

"Why, of course you can. I have to make an explanation myself when I go back. You know how hasty Alice is; well she got herself in trouble on my account, and I feel I must say something about it. I was too sick then to know just what to say. So, now that Tavia is back, she will have to give an excuse. Then I can say how the whole trouble was more of a mistake, than anything else, and how we were all really somewhat to blame; perhaps one as much as another."