Chapter XII. An Unprovoked Attack
 

The beautiful month of June was jotting down her days with sweetest floral mottoes--each in its turn paying tribute to the Queen of Months. Roses had come, daisies were weaving the fields into a cloth of white and gold, the side roads of Dalton were framed with clouds of snowy dogwood, and that "rarest of days" the perfect day in June had come. And this was to be the picnic day for the girls of Dalton school.

Tavia was over to Dorothy's house very early. She wanted to borrow a lunch box, and, incidentally, to hear Dorothy's opinion of the "glorious dress" from Rochester.

"Isn't it sweet?" she began pirouetting on the board walk, at the side door of the Dale house, while waiting for Joe to find an empty cracker box for her lunch.

"It is pretty," agreed Dorothy, examining the dress critically. "Those pink ribbons are so becoming to you."

"Cousin Nannie had it made for a party, so it ought to do for a picnic," Tavia said. "How do you feel to-day Doro? I have been thinking you look- -sort of 'peaked' as Aunt Libby would say. Have you been worrying about the explanation business? Because if you feel sensitive about it, just leave it to me. I am not the least bit bashful, you know."

"I feel well enough," Dorothy assured her, "and I haven't been worrying- -about that any way," and Dorothy smiled to convince her friend that nothing serious was disturbing her peace of mind.

"Well, we assemble at nine you know; check our dinner pails. Thanks Joe, that will do nicely, and if I have any left I will leave it in the box when I return it. After a bluff at study, and an exchange of compliments, for my dress particularly (no one else will have anything like this) we will expect to hear something from you, Doro. Really, this business of making speeches in school is quite an accomplishment. Had I known that Alice was going to 'spout' the way she did that day I left for my vacation--ahem! you noticed Joe, how I said that? Well, I should have postponed the trip had I any idea there would be such stunts going on in lady-like society. But Doro, how is Sarah? Did you see her yesterday?"

"Yes, I saw her just for a moment," and Dorothy looked the other way to hide the serious thoughts that the meeting with Sarah recalled.

"And she has forgiven me for that push into the clouds? Now she is not so bad after all. I feel as if I should bring her some flowers or something; as a peace offering, you know."

"Well, I would not go over just to-day," said Dorothy, "for the doctor is to take the splints off her ankle--"

"Splints? Was it as bad as that? The poor girl, no wonder she--fibbed. I would too, if I had to stand for splints."

"Why don't you say 'stand splints,' and not use that horrid slang," corrected Dorothy.

"But she didn't stand them, she stood for them, with the other foot. You see, Doro, sometimes the much despised slang is--the real thing," and with a tantalizing swish of her skirts, and a most frivolous toss of her head Tavia called "Ta-ta!" and dashed across the fields with the lunch box under her arm.

"She's the kind of girl!" commented Joe, who had been busy making a bow and arrow for Roger. "If her brother Jack had a little of her spunk he would not be where he is."

"Why?" asked Dorothy, "doesn't Johnnie get along well at school?"

"At school?" echoed Joe, "he is never there to get along at all. I think it is clothes that keeps him home. I was going to ask Aunt Libby if any of mine might be spared--"

"Why, of course, you have some that are too small. I will see about them myself. It is too bad those children have no one to manage for them."

"What's the matter with their mother?"

"I don't know--that is--of course they have their mother, but she does not seem to know how to manage."

"And we have you and you do seem to know," responded the boy, trying the bow to make sure it would not shoot backwards. "Well, sis, you're a brick and Tavia, well, she is brick-dust, at any rate, but Jack--well he is Jack, and that is all there is to it. I'm going to ask father to let him carry Bugles next week. What little he could earn would do something for him."

"Mr. Travers is such a nice man," went on Dorothy, "I think Tavia is exactly like him."

"And Jack is like his mother. But we musn't back-bite," seeing the look of reproach on Dorothy's face. "I hope you have a jolly good time at the picnic."

One hour later the girls of Dalton school were crowded around Dorothy, asking all kinds of well-meant questions concerning her health. Tavia, too, came in for her share of the queries, although hers did not relate to health, but to other interesting little confidences, least of which was, by no means, the new dress.

But the fact that her own cousin Nannie gave it to her put Tavia at ease and questions that might otherwise seem impertinent were considered compliments--showing what a "stir" the dress created.

Dorothy looked a trifle pale, and the light blue muslin gown she wore brought out a mere gleam of the pink flush that usually shown in her cheeks. Her blonde curls--the delight of all her friends, fell in a mass about her shoulders, so that even Tavia in the famous pink and white dress did not outdo Dorothy in pretty looks.

Alice wore a buff linen that suited her "golf style" admirably. She had the air of the well-trained college girl, the result, perhaps, of annual trips to the seashore, where she was allowed to indulge in boating, swimming, and other "manly sports" as she termed the exercise.

Belle Miller, otherwise known as "Tinkle," was as "dear and dainty" as ever, in a creamy white swiss, and May Egner wore lavender, although fully conscious of the disastrous effects of picnic sun on that perishable shade. It was a "last year's" gown, so May decided she might better get a few more turns out of it and this, she thought, would be one of the rare occasions, when a lavender might be worn, "with impunity."

All the girls wore appropriate costumes, and, when the classes assembled, the room presented a veritable holiday look. Study seemed the last thing to be thought of amid such gaiety.

Even Miss Ellis wore a white collar and cuffs, a relief from her usual somber black, and as she touched the bell she smiled pleasantly to her pupils, plainly bidding them a happy holiday.

"Young ladies," she began, "we will take a brief review of last Friday's work. It is so near closing time we must not waste an entire day."

Dorothy felt the time had arrived for her to speak.

How she dreaded to mar that happy school hour with such unpleasant reminders of past troubles!

But she had promised Sarah; moreover it was due the entire class that the occurrence should be disposed of honorably.

Tavia was waiting anxiously. Alice also fidgeted at her books. Finally Dorothy raised her hand. The motion was not seen at once by Miss Ellis, but it is safe to say no other person in the room missed it.

A stir of excitement caused the teacher to look up and she bowed to Dorothy.

"I am sorry, Miss Ellis," began Dorothy with hesitation, "to refer to anything unpleasant today, but I have promised Sarah Ford to make an explanation for her--she of course could not come herself."

"What is it Dorothy?" asked the teacher, although she no doubt guessed what the girl wished to say.

"I just want to state that Sarah did not intend to blame anyone for her accident--she had only cried that it was our fault when she was suffering so, and did not mean that those about her should have taken it up as they did. She wished me to apologize for her, and to say that the whole thing was an accident, the reports as well as the injury."

"Thank you," said Miss Ellis as Dorothy sat down. "I am very glad indeed that the unpleasant happening has been disposed of."

Alice was on her feet next.

"I also want to apologize, Miss Ellis," she broke out in her "boyish tones," adding: "I should not have spoken as I did, when you asked me to be silent. I was rude to do so."

"A fault atoned for is a lesson learned," commented the teacher, as Alice took her seat.

It seemed to the girls the entire session would be given up to apologies and "love feasts," but when Tavia arose there was a decided murmur through the room.

"Fluffy!" whispered the girl in the very last seat referring to Tavia's fancy dress.

"Full bloom!" said another, meaning that the pink and white dress put the "Tiger Lily," as they called Tavia, in full bloom.

But these remarks had no effect on Tavia.

"I believe," she began bravely, "that I was the real cause of the trouble. I did swing Sarah too high, I was angry about Memorial Day, and blamed her for taking Dorothy's place. I am very sorry."

At that moment a man appeared at the door. It was Squire Sanders!

In he tramped, his cane beating a formidable march in advance of his steps, and his green-black hat kept on his head making a poor show of his manners in a girls' schoolroom.

"I just come in to settle up that little matter of the Ford girl," he drawled. "I see you've got that wild harum-scarum Travers' girl back again."

"The matter has been settled." Miss Ellis interrupted.

"Has, eh? Well, I've not been notified to that effect and I continue my services until I am officially notified to quit," he announced, bringing his cane down in a "full stop."

How odious his presence was in the room at that moment. Tavia's face crimsoned when he referred to her as a "harum-scarum" and only a warning look from Dorothy kept her from replying to his insult.

"I think, Squire Sanders," said Miss Ellis, "that Mr. and Mrs. Ford are satisfied the affair was an accident. It was a misunderstanding-- blaming the pupils."

"Accident or no accident, that's no account to me. I'm on this case, and I intend to see it through."

"Mean old thing!" said one girl, somewhat above a whisper, "he just wants the fine. Let's chase him!"

It was quite evident more than one girl felt like "chasing" the obnoxious squire, but he held his ground and continued to punctuate his impolite remarks with that noisy cane.

"I want to see Octavia Travers at my office," he announced, "and I want her to come right along with me now!"

"Squire Sanders!" cried Miss Ellis, shocked and alarmed. "I cannot and will not permit you to take a pupil from this room!"

"Oh, you won't eh?" the squire looked more unpleasantly than ever. "Well, I'd like to see you stop me! Perhaps you would like to give up your job here? There's more after it, and some knows more about the ways of keeping wild girls down than Rachel Ellis does, too. I would advise you not to interfere with an officer. Come along, Miss Travers."

"She will not!" called out Alice. "My father is a town committeeman and I know something about the laws of Dalton. Show us your warrant!"

This was a surprise to Squire Sanders. He never expected his authority would be questioned--and by a mere schoolgirl.

"Warrant, eh?" he sneered. "Maybe you would like to come along yourself, since you are so smart!"

A wild thought flashed through the mind of Alice. What if he should take both her and Tavia to his office!

It would be a case of false arrest, and cost the squire his place in Dalton!

"Get ready!" he called again to Tavia, who now seemed to regard the whole thing as a joke, and was smiling broadly.

"Don't move a step!" called Alice, while Miss Ellis looked on helplessly.

"Now, that settles it," cried out the squire, red with anger. "I'll take you, too. Come right along here!"

Alice shot a meaning look at Miss Ellis and stepped out.

"Come, Tavia," she said, "the more the merrier. Girls we will be back in time for the picnic," and, taking the "cue" from Alice, Tavia also stepped out, and with her, marched off behind the squire.