Chapter XIII. A Queer Picnic
 

And that was to be picnic day!

A queer holiday, indeed, with two girls taken from the classroom-- arrested!

Yes, that was what it amounted to, in spite of the jolly way Tavia and Alice trooped off, making "faces" and doing fancy "steps" back of the squire.

Miss Ellis sat at her desk dazed, and stunned. She could not realize it all--a squire coming into her room--threatening her with dismissal, and taking two girls off to the common police court for a "hearing."

She was not a woman given to showing her feelings, but this seemed more than she could bear; tears came into her eyes, fell upon her books and then she bowed her head--she had to cry! Dorothy was at her side instantly.

"Dear Miss Ellis," she murmured, "don't take it so seriously. It will be all right. I'm sure those two girls are well able to take care of themselves, and I suspect Alice went more for mischief than for anything. Perhaps I had better run down to father's office, and tell him about it; he will know exactly what to do."

The girls all looked on with sad faces. They had never before seen Miss Ellis cry in school. But she raised her head now, and seemed better able to control her feelings.

"I think, Dorothy," she said, "it may be better to wait awhile. Something may happen to--save the girls from really going to his office. We will try to study, and perhaps we may have our picnic yet."

But it was a difficult matter to apply minds to books that morning; too much had happened to be turned readily aside for mere school work. Such whispering had never been permitted before, although the girls did try to be kind to Miss Ellis, she looked so sad and worried.

Meanwhile the two girls, Tavia and Alice, had been having their own experiences.

Upon reaching the street they stepped up along side the squire, so that persons in passing thought they were merely walking along to keep the aged man company.

But Ralph Willoby was not so easily misled.

He was just leaving the Bugle office as they came along, and he instantly detected a "story."

"Come on," said Alice, "you can be our counsel. We are under arrest."

"No need," objected the squire, "I am well able to attend to this case."

"But your office is public," answered Ralph, "and I guess I'll go along and see what happens."

"But I say I don't want any interference," and the squire raised his voice. "You newspaper scamps always get things wrong anyway."

"Probably because you do not give us a chance to get them right," retorted Ralph. "This time we will try to stick to facts."

"Well, when I'm ready to give them out you can have them, but not before," insisted the angry squire.

"But I'm going along, just the same," declared Ralph, as Tavia stepped back to walk with him, so that the squire was obliged to go on with Alice, who really seemed to be enjoying the experience.

The office of the justice of the peace was a dingy, dirty little place. It had served Dalton for the small needs of a public office for some years, Squire Sanders, of course, collecting a good income for its yearly rental.

An old bench was stretched in front of the desk.

The girls sank down on this, making queer "faces" and comical gestures.

"My first offense!" sighed Alice, with mock sadness.

"Same here!" said Tavia in similar tone.

"Since you wish it," said Ralph to Alice, "I can act as counsel. You know I really am studying law, and there is nothing like taking cases for experience."

"Now, no skylarking here," called out the squire, "I want to hear all about that case, let me see--the case of--I've got it somewhere," and he turned the soiled pages of the "records" over rather roughly, considering they were supposed to belong to the town of Dalton.

Tavia was biting her lips. She felt every moment the laugh would get the better of her and get out on its own accord, but she tried bravely to suppress it.

Ralph was whispering to Alice. Evidently he was pleased with the information she imparted, for he, too, smiled broadly as the squire called:

"Octavia Travers, step up to the bar!"

"What for?" asked Tavia saucily.

"To swear--take your oath--make your affidavit," called the squire sharply.

"What's the charge?" interrupted Ralph.

"'Sault an' batt'ry," snapped the squire.

"Who signed the warrant?" questioned Ralph further.

"See here young feller!" and the squire rapped his cane vigorously upon the desk, "if you don't let me go on with this case I'll kick you out."

"Oh, no, you won't. I have as much right here as you have, and I intend to see that you do not, in any way, insult the young ladies!"

"You young scamp!" yelled the squire, making a dash for Ralph and bringing his cane down squarely on the young man's head, at which Alice and Tavia screamed.

A moment later the men were scuffling on the floor.

"I'll teach you!" the squire kept yelling.

"Let me go!" shouted Ralph.

"Oh, we must get help!" screamed Alice. "Tavia, run quick, to the office next door. That man is crazy. He will kill Ralph," and, while Tavia ran to one side of the place, Alice hurried to the other, so that all possible help would be called at once.

In a short time the little place was crowded. Some came to aid, and others came to see what was wrong. Alice and Tavia stood by with very white faces. Alice had pulled the squire away from Ralph and the aged man finally had been subdued, that is two men had succeeded in keeping him away from Ralph, but not until the young man had been considerably injured. The squire was still sputtering and those who tried to quiet him had a hard task of it. Every time they would let go his arms he would throw them up with new energy, trying to get at Ralph again, until at last it was found necessary to go to the constables' desk; get out the only pair of handcuffs in Dalton, and put them on the wrists of the obstreperous official.

This, of course, was great fun for the boys who had gathered about, and who had more than one grudge against Squire Sanders. Many a time he had chased them off the coasting hill, he had often spoiled a good day's swimming, and as for apples--a boy never knew when he was safe to "borrow" one from any orchard in Dalton.

But the tables were turned now--and the boys were glad of it. A taste of his own medicine would do the aged man good, they declared.

Not being able to do more than shout and kick, Squire Sanders soon "gave out" and fell back sullenly in a chair near a window. Ralph's head was bleeding.

"Oh, we must get Ralph to the drug store," insisted Alice. "Perhaps Dr. Gray will be there. He is hurt, I am sure," and she was almost in tears, for indeed Ralph looked very much injured--his lip was cut, and girls cannot well stand the sight of blood.

Ralph felt quite well able to walk, he declared, and assured the girls, laughingly, that their case and his would now likely "come up" together in the next term of court.

But just as Alice, Tavia, Ralph, and a few sympathizing friends were ready to leave the office Franklin MacAllister, president of the Selectmen of Dalton, and father of Alice, stepped into the place. He had heard of the disturbance, and having power to act in any such emergency, he hurried to the scene.

"Well," he exclaimed, seeing his daughter there, "what in the world are you doing here?"

"Oh, I made all the trouble," replied Alice, "that is, Tavia and I made it. We were arrested--"

"Arrested!" repeated the father, incredulously.

"Yes, indeed we were. And Mr. Willoby only stepped in to help us when he got in trouble."

Mr. MacAllister talked earnestly to Ralph. Plainly both men were of the same opinion--either Squire Sanders was crazy or he was too old and incompetent to hold office.

"What are we going to do with him, Mr. President?" asked one of the men who had the unpleasant duty of standing by and keeping guard over the squire.

"Bind him over to keep the peace," replied the president. "Squire Sanders," he called, and thereat every one held his or her breath, "this is a sad predicament to find an officer in. In fact the occurrence is a disgrace to the town of Dalton."

The squire shifted uneasily in the chair. He had not spoken coherently since the struggle with Ralph, and was still in an ugly mood. At the same time he understood who now addressed him; the president of the board; the man who had authority to bring matters about so as to deprive him of the office he had held for years.

"Stand up!" called the president, and the squire shuffled awkwardly to his feet.

"What have you to say in this matter? We have a quorum of the board here present and we may as well dispose of this case. There is also another count pending against you. How did you come to let that man Anderson slip out of Dalton so easily--help him out in fact? Was his money better than that of the people of this town, who for years have been paying you for duties that you have never honestly performed?"

At the mention of Anderson, Squire Sanders' face turned from red to a deadly ashen.

"Look out," cautioned Ralph aside to the president, "he is old you know, and might drop at any moment."

"Not a bit of it," went on Mr. MacAllister. "He is too tough for that. Speak up, Sanders. This is your last chance."

But the man never moved his lips. Sullen and beaten he sat there while Mr. MacAllister, recounted some of his misdeeds.

"You have disgraced your office," he declared, "but the most outrageous of your offenses was that of bringing into this office two innocent schoolgirls--doctoring up a charge against them, trying to force them to acknowledge they had taken part in an affair that they had absolutely nothing to do with--and all this you did for the paltry fee that goes with each case on your books. Now, Sanders, I have spoken to the members of the board here present and the verdict in your case is--that you leave Dalton inside of ten days. The penalty for contempt in the matter will be a public trial, and, no doubt, imprisonment."

It was a difficult matter to restrain the boys present. They wanted to cheer--to shout, but were not allowed to do so. Ralph had quite recovered himself now, and so insisted on going alone to the drugstore to have his slight wounds dressed if necessary. Two of the selectmen looked after Sanders, releasing him of the handcuffs, and advising him "to make himself scarce" around Dalton, until the feeling against him had quieted down some. All the defiance had left him now; he scarcely raised his head as he crept out the back way to his rooms next door.

Upon hearing the school story in full Mr. MacAllister decided to take his daughter and Tavia back to the school room himself, and set every thing right with Miss Ellis and her pupils.

"You have had a rough time of it lately," he commented as he and the two girls made their way to the school.

"But Alice is a--a brick!" declared Tavia, in appreciation of her friend's assistance. "She helped us splendidly."

"Glad to hear it," answered the father, "Alice is our tom-boy, but she is true-blue, eh, Bob?" he said patting his daughter affectionately. "You knew what I meant about the man Anderson, did you not, Tavia?" he went on. "That was your 'special friend' I believe."

"Oh, I have met him," replied Tavia laughing, "but I think now the reason the old squire wanted to get me into this trouble was because he thought it might affect Dorothy Dale, as she is my special friend. Somehow the Burlock-Anderson affair seemed to be aimed at the Dales."

"Oh, yes, no doubt of it," answered Mr. MacAllister, "but we think we are on the track of settling the matter now."

Tavia felt she could scarcely wait to tell all this to Dorothy, for she had been wondering what had become of the Anderson affair. Alice looked proudly up at her father as they neared the school.

"They may think you have come to take someone else away," she said laughing. "This has been a queer picnic day."

"Don't worry about that," he answered. "You must have an extra good time to make up for your troubles and disappointment, I will see what I can do for you."

Alice cast a meaning glance at Tavia. If her father undertook to give Dalton school a treat it would surely be something worth while, Alice was sure, and so, with that bright prospect uppermost in her mind, she led her father into the school room.