Chapter XV. Dorothy in Politics
 

The news of Squire Sanders' downfall spread rapidly throughout Dalton. To the men interested in public affairs it was no surprise, for they had known, of course, of his shortcomings; but there were those in the town who looked upon the "disgraceful scene" in the office that morning as something too serious for ordinary treatment--it should be brought to the attention of the sheriff, they declared.

Among those of that opinion was Mr. Ford, father of Sarah. He was one of the men who felt they had been wronged, personally, by the squire, and in reference to this matter Mr. Ford called upon Major Dale.

It was late that same afternoon, when Dorothy and Tavia were visiting Sarah, that Mr. Ford arrived at the office of Major Dale.

"I have been a fool," he told the major, "to listen to such arguments as that man made against mere children. Of course my daughter was injured and that angered me; but it was the foolish talk of that old man which made me think I should have revenge--revenge upon a girl no more guilty than a babe in its cradle."

Mr. Ford spoke with much bitterness. Men do not like to make such mistakes, but those of high character are always ready to do what they can to right such wrongs.

"But there was no real harm done?" interrupted the major.

"No harm done! To take two innocent girls into that office and accuse them of--I don't know what! Why, Major, it was simply outrageous," and Mr. Ford paced the floor impatiently.

"It was a lucky thing that my young man, Ralph Willoby, happened along, although it seemed unlucky enough for him. But I believe he is not injured beyond a cut lip and bruised eye. The old squire seemed to have entirely lost control of himself. This comes from keeping incompetent men in office--just through sentiment."

"Exactly. They can do more harm than one would imagine. Think how he talked me into the idea that this poor Travers family should pay my daughter's doctor bill! And I told him to go ahead and collect it!"

Each time that this thought came to Mr. Ford it seemed to him more repugnant. First, that he should have blamed Tavia without investigating the matter himself; next that he should have allowed a man like Squire Sanders to "humbug" him.

"Well," said the major, "we now have it in our power to put the right man in the office of Justice of the Peace. You know John Travers was up for it last year."

"I do, but--he is not of our party."

"Yet you admit he is the right man?"

"I know of no one better fitted for the office."

"Then make it the man this time, and leave the party aside. Franklin MacAllister was in this afternoon. He says the appointment must be made at once, but that your faction in the council will oppose Travers. Your vote can decide the matter."

Mr. Ford was silent for a moment. Men think it almost a sacred obligation to "stick to their party," especially when that party puts the member in office with the understanding that their interests shall be looked after.

"It may cost me my place on the board--" said Mr. Ford thoughtfully, "but that will not affect my family, or my pocket-book--"

"Still you have been a good member," interrupted the major, "and we cannot afford to lose you, either."

"But you said Mac. stated my vote would carry it one way or other?"

"Yes, he has canvassed it."

"Then Travers shall be the man!" and Mr. Ford brought one hand down on the other in a most determined, and defiant manner.

"Strange," said Major Dale, "but the children have settled this for us. My little girl Dorothy had the whole thing planned out, and talked me over to her way. She is very fond of the Travers girl, you know."

The office door opened and Mr. MacAllister entered.

"Hullo!" he said cheerily. "Been lobbying, Major?"

"Seems so."

"Well, Travers has my vote," Mr. Ford hurried to say.

"What, going back on your party?" said Mr. MacAllister, laughing.

"Either that or go back on my own daughter," commented Mr. Ford. "It seems this is the girls' election."

The major could hardly disguise his pride--Dorothy had certainly "been busy" lately, and every undertaking of hers had met with success. A girl, after all, may be something more than a pretty doll, he thought. But the whole thing is to get them to exert their influence in the right direction. See how Dorothy had helped in the liquor crusade. And without "soiling her finger tips," thought the major, proudly.

And while this caucus was being held in the major's office, Dorothy was conducting another sort of meeting at the Ford home.

Tavia and Sarah had "made up" most affectionately. Sickness, sometimes is a powerful teacher, and afforded, in Sarah's case, time to think reasonably which was plainly what she needed.

"I always thought the girls disliked me," she told Tavia, "that, of course, made me dislike most of them. But I did love Dorothy," she hastened to declare, "and I was jealous of her love for you."

"I don't blame you a bit," answered Tavia, in her direct way. "If she should turn 'round and fall in love with you--why then no telling what might happen."

Sarah was now able to walk around with the aid of a cane, and this afternoon she sat out on the porch entertaining her friends.

"I do hope," said Dorothy, "that you will be able to go on the picnic with us, Sarah. Perhaps that, too, will be all the better for being postponed."

"Only my lunch," sighed Tavia, melodramatically. "I shall never be able to put up another such!" and she smacked her lips in remembrance of the good things the borrowed lunch box had contained.

"Perhaps, then, I will be able to invite you to take some of mine," said Sarah politely. "Mother just loves to do up dainty lunches."

"Accepted with pleasure," replied Tavia, imitating society manners. "Make it enough for yourself, plenty for me, and a little to spare. Then we will be sure to come out all right."

Mrs. Ford came out to ask the visitors to remain to tea, but they politely declined. She was especially kind in talking to Tavia, and invited her to come again with Dorothy.

"They say," remarked Dorothy to Tavia, as the girls hurried along the lane, "'that love scarce is love that does not know the sweetness of forgiving,' and it does seem that way, don't you think so?"

"Oh, that was what ailed us all, was it? Not our fault at all, but the fault of some old mildewed poet, that wanted to make good his verses. The 'sweetness of forgiving,' eh? Well, it is better than scrapping, I'll admit, but I wish poets would make up something handier. We went through quite something to find the sweetness."

"Hurry," whispered Dorothy, "I thought I heard something move in the bushes!"

"So did I," admitted Tavia, quickening her pace.

"It is always so lonely in the lane at night, we should have gone around."

"Let's run," suggested Tavia. "One row a day is enough for me."

The bushes stirred suspiciously now, and both girls were alarmed. They were midway in the lane, and could not gain the road, except by running on to the end of the lonely path. Each side was lined with a thick underbrush, and--there was no mistaking it now--someone was stealing along beside them!

Taking hold of hands the girls ran. As they did the figure of a man darted out in the path after them. Not a word was spoken--all their strength was put into speed--to get to the end of the lane before that man should overtake them!

They knew the footing well, although the path was rough with tree stumps and rocks thrown there from the fields at the side.

Suddenly there was an exclamation. Turning quickly Tavia saw the man's form rolling in the deep grass.

"He has fallen over the big stump," she said, "and has rolled into the thick briars. Hurry now, we will get out all right." And, with renewed courage, the girls ran on, reaching the end of the lane in full view of houses, before the "tramp" could possibly overtake them.

"That was the same fellow," declared Tavia. "What in the world does he follow us for?"

"It's all the Burlock business," Dorothy answered. "But hurry, we must give the alarm this time. Perhaps they will be able to catch him."

Out of breath, and very much frightened, the girls reached the center of the village, going directly there instead of turning into a side street to go home.

"Perhaps father is in his office," remarked Dorothy.

"There's Ralph," said Tavia, as that young man emerged from a doorway.

Quicker than it takes to tell it a searching party was formed. The three men who had been talking politics were still in the major's office, and when told of the girl's fright they promptly started out for the lane picking up more help at every turn.

"We will get him if we have to burn down the woods," declared the major, deeply incensed at his daughter's peril.

"And not a gun in the crowd," remarked Mr. MacAllister. "This is where we need our constable."

They had reached the lane now, and it was quite dark. Numbers of men, who had been taking a quiet evening smoke at their own doors joined in the "rounding up" as Mr. Ford called it.

"No Squire Sanders to help him out this time," some one remarked.

Then the men scattered--completely surrounding the place where the tramp had been last seen.

"The only way he could get away from us would be in a balloon," said Mr. MacAllister.

"Or an airship," spoke up someone else.

With heavy clubs and every available weapon to beat down the brush they started out through the lane on the man hunt.

Surely twenty good men should be able to find the one "tramp" now.

But would they?