Chapter XIV. The Secret
 

It took but a short time for Mr. MacAllister to explain everything satisfactorily to Miss Ellis and her pupils. He was a gentleman any daughter might well be proud of, and, indeed, Alice showed a pardonable pride as he stood there smiling and assuring the teacher that, as president of the Selectmen of Dalton, he would promise a holiday to the class that would make up in every way for the disappointment of the morning.

When the visitor had departed, Miss Ellis announced she would carry out the intended program as far as a half session was concerned, but, as it was too late to go on the picnic then the pupils might go home and enjoy themselves as they wished.

Tavia and Alice were now regarded as heroines. To think they had really been in the court, and that they had been witnesses to--"a fight," as Tavia declared Squire Sanders' attack on Ralph was "nothing more nor less than a common roll around fight."

Finally the picnic lunches were disposed of, and Tavia took Dorothy's arm as they walked homeward--she had much to tell Dorothy and knew that no girl would interrupt such apparent confidence as "arm in arm" indicated.

"And what do you think Mr. MacAllister said?" began Tavia. "That old Squire Sanders let that horrible man get out of Dalton--the man who frightened us so!"

"Did he?" replied Dorothy, absently.

"And you knew, of course, about poor Miles Burlock--he died when you were sick, so I did not tell you anything about it."

"Yes, father told me."

"What are you thinking of, Doro? You are not listening to me at all."

"I have so much to think of," answered Dorothy, smiling. "I can hardly keep my thoughts in line."

"But you should have seen Alice--Oh, she just pulled the old squire by the collar. She didn't wait for a man to come. And look at my dress! Isn't it a sight? I might have known there would be an earthquake or a fight when I attempted to wear anything like this."

"It is too bad, but that is a straight tear. You can easily mend it."

"But Ralph's eye; that will not darn so neatly. I hope that hateful old squire never shows his ugly 'phiz-mahogony' in Dalton again."

"Do you think Ralph is much hurt?" Dorothy inquired anxiously. "Wasn't it disgraceful?"

"Perfectly rambunctious!" declared Tavia, "although it might have been jolly good fun if Ralph had another fellow in his place--one not quite so careful of the squire's feelings and features. But you should have seen the squire with the handcuffs on! Oh! it was better than the play I saw in Rochester," and Tavia relieved her pent-up jollity by tossing into the air the borrowed lunch box and making "passes" at it, with queer pranks in imitation of the jugglers she had seen at Rochester.

"Tavia," asked Dorothy, very seriously, "do you think you could keep a secret?"

"Keep a secret? Dorothy darling, Dare-me!"

"Now, no joking, Tavia," insisted Dorothy, "this is a matter of importance."

"Oh, I just love importance. That was what mostly happened to me and Alice to-day in the squire's office--importance!"

"Well, if you really can't be serious--

"Oh, but, Doro dear, just try me. I shall weep if you say so, only-- pardon, mamselle, but do not, if you please, make that weep too long, a few sniffs only, for I have not with me in this fleshling costume ze 'kerchief," and she made a most ridiculous little French "squat," further evidence of the Rochester play.

"I am afraid Tavia, that trip to your Aunt Mary's has affected your head; they say nothing can do so more effectively than certain kinds of plays."

"Well, the one I saw was the certain kind. Why, last night mother nearly had nervous prostration because I was practicing up in my room. I was trying to do a fall--and I did it all right."

"How foolish you are, Tavia," said Dorothy slightly frowning, "I would not think of such nonsense if I were you."

"Yes, it was awfully foolish, for it knocked the ceiling down in the kitchen, just dusting Johnnie's pompadour. The escape, however, made mother happy, so that the ceiling did not count."

Dorothy "gave in." She had to laugh and did laugh so heartily she was obliged to sit down on the grass to enjoy the "tragedy" as Tavia described the stage fall and the "ceiling drop."

"But the secret?" demanded Tavia, making sure her skirt would not be stained, before taking her place on the grass beside Dorothy.

"Yes, I do want to tell you," answered Dorothy, "Now listen. You know Squire Sanders was particularly anxious that you should stand all the blame for Sarah's accident."

"Particularly anxious? He was dead set on it. Polite language doesn't fit the case."

"Tavia, you really are too slangy. It may be all right just for fun, in talking to girls, but some day you will be sorry. It will become a habit."

"Like Jake Schmid taking the pledge. I saw him yesterday very close to-- a saloon!"

"Poor Jake!" said Dorothy with a sigh. "But he does seem to try--"

"To take the pledge? Indeed he does and I admire his perseverance. That's just the way I try to avoid slang."

"I am afraid, Tavia, we will not accomplish much in the way of confidences, if you persist in being--ridiculous," and Dorothy made as if to continue on her way home.

"Sit right down there, Dorothy Dale," insisted Tavia, pulling her friend's skirt, and bringing Dorothy down beside her rather suddenly. "I will have to play the villain and demand that 'secret'!"

"Well, it is simply this: I think I see the motive Squire Sanders had in trying to disgrace you."

"Let me see it quick!" snapped Tavia.

"Didn't your father run against him last year for the office of Town Squire?"

"Certainly," said Tavia, briefly.

"And the only reason he did not get the office was because the squire was so old the men thought it best not to disturb him just then."

"Right, again," answered Tavia.

"Election time is now almost here. Your father would be up for the office again. Don't you see by bringing trouble to you and your folks your father would become unpopular?"

"And get left!"

"Yes; be defeated."

"But he will not!" and Tavia's brown eyes danced significantly. "The squire is down and out. And worse yet he has to run for his money. Now my own dear dad will have a chance. Oh, Doro, I love politics better than eating. I hope some day soon, while Tavia Travers is still in circulation, the women will vote in Dalton same as they do in Rochester- -they don't just exactly vote in Rochester, but a lot of them talk about it."

"Now you must not mention my suspicions," cautioned Dorothy, "for I must speak to father first. It does not seem fair that the Fords should be blamed for making statements about you that, perhaps, the squire put into their heads."

"Dorothy Dale, you would make a first class lawyer, and when you want a job at it I will engage you to defend my case. But I do not see how I am to keep all that momsey. It would be so good to have father back at a desk again. They say he really was a first class justice out in Millville. And he just hates his work now--so little wages; mom cannot seem to make them go around--me and Johnnie; Johnnie mostly gets the knot at the end."

"It certainly would be splendid to have him get the position. And I am sure father will do all he can for him: but I would not mention it to your mother, just yet."

"All right Doro, I have given you my promise, but you have made me so happy!" and Tavia hugged Dorothy so enthusiastically that the latter was obliged to beg off.

"And I tell you what," went on Tavia, "when Pop gets Squire Sander's place I--this--me--you know" and she made another wonderful, sweeping all-around bow, "I will be 'city clerk.' I will keep the books and Dorothy Hill-and-Dale, if ever your name gets on the books it shall be promptly eliminated, elucidated, expurgated--there now! Don't you think I should be in the grad. class? I was looking up words with 'ate' in--my favorite pastime,--and I came across that bunch."

"I do really think, Tavia, that you would do better at school if you only tried. We cannot always have studies that we are especially interested in. It is like the scales in piano practice, they give us the mechanical work for pretty dances and other brilliant pieces."

"Well, we have no piano, so I do not have to worry about that. I suppose you will play at the closing exercises?"

"Miss Ellis has asked me to. But Tavia, we really must be going. I have promised to go over to Sarah's this afternoon."

"May I go with you? I just would like to feel that we had talked it all off, you know. I do not want to think Sarah has any hard feelings."

"Certainly; come, I am sure Sarah will be glad to see you, and her mother is very pleasant. Be careful not to tell too much about to-day's affairs, It might worry Sarah."

"If I forget myself you just squint, and I'll be as mum as a mummy."

So Dorothy and Tavia started off homeward, arm in arm.