Chapter XIX. A Surprise Trip
 

When Ralph Willoby carried his senseless burden to the platform, where, so short a time before, the girl had been as merry as any of her playmates, Squire Travers determined upon one thing--to form a searching party of all the boys to scour the woods from tree to stump and if possible run down the villain who had attacked Dorothy.

The fainting girl was soon revived by the careful ministrations of Miss Ellis, assisted by pupils following her directions; and, before the half-conscious girl realized what had happened to her, the boys were running through the woods, led by the squire and Ralph, bent on finding Anderson.

But such reflections were of little use now that the harm was done. Dorothy was very weak indeed. She felt as if those sinuous fingers were still about her throat, and she could see those terrible eyes peering into hers in spite of all her efforts to forget her awful experience.

Some boys had already been sent off to the nearest place where it would be possible to get a conveyance to take her home, and they now returned with a covered carriage.

Into this Miss Ellis and Dorothy were assisted, while the remainder of the girls were soon ready to leave the grounds in the large picnic wagons.

The boys "to a man" remained in the woods, helping diligently in, what now seemed to be, a useless search.

Over the narrow plank, just above the dam, the man no doubt had escaped to the other side, where the old ruins of a mill, with a big water wheel, made a safe hiding place for the fellow.

Squire Travers was much annoyed and worried over the occurrence. To think such a thing could happen with him right there, in the woods, seemed incredible.

But Ralph assured him a similar thing had happened in the public streets of Dalton, and the same man had gotten away. Why should it be strange then that he would be able to make his escape in a dense woods?

"But he must be caught," insisted the squire, "if we have to canvass the entire town and surrounding places to get him."

Some boys suggested that they disguise themselves as girls impersonating Dorothy and Tavia, and then wait to be "caught" while help remained close at hand. But it was decided such a ruse would hardly work that day, as the man would know well enough the girls would not again leave themselves liable to attack.

It was a very discouraged band of boys, with Squire Travers and Ralph Willoby as their leaders, that wended their way back to Dalton Center that evening. The picnic, of course, had been spoiled, but that did not amount to anything--it was the attack on Dorothy, and the escape of her assailant that concerned the searching party.

The squire and Ralph upon reaching town went directly to the office of President MacAllister, and the result of the meeting held there marked an epoch in the history of the township of Dalton. The new squire had outlined a plan that every suspicious character found in the place should be apprehended at once, and no sooner had this edict gone forth than the suspected ones very quietly took their departure. While it was generally believed the trouble had to do with a personal affair, there seemed danger of course to all, while such persons as this "tramp" were at liberty.

But confidence was at once established by the ruling of the squire, which put an end to the reign of terror, and Dalton became once more a pleasant place to live in.

The details of government had little interest now for Dorothy Dale, as she tossed feverishly about on her bed that night dreaming of the awful man. Dr. Gray had recommended that some one remain with her, on account of her nervous condition, and Tavia insisted on being allowed to sit up with her friend.

A cot was arranged in Dorothy's room for Tavia, but she was too anxious about the sick one to sleep. What if Dorothy should die? What a lonely world this would be for Tavia without her.

Several times during the night Aunt Libby came in and tried to induce Tavia to take another room, and allow her to stay with Dorothy, but the volunteer nurse would not leave her post.

"Do go, Tavia," said Dorothy, who had just opened her eyes, and heard Aunt Libby's argument, "I'm all right now; only nervous."

"But I've promised myself a whole night with you, and I'm not going to be chased away, just at the witching hour," Tavia insisted.

But tired nature produced an argument incontrovertible, and when Tavia stretched out on the comfortable cot, and tried to chat as lively to Dorothy as if it had been mid-day on the side porch, she began to feel drowsy, then she noticed Dorothy did not answer promptly, and so she made her words "long and draggy" as mothers do when babies show signs of "giving in." Presently there was a hush--both nurse and patient were sound asleep.

When Dr. Gray called the next morning he advised a complete change for Dorothy. She was physically well enough, he said, but the shock to her nervous system might result in complete prostration, unless her mind was speedily disabused of the unpleasant memory.

Major Dale knew this advice was wise, and he concluded to send Dorothy to visit his sister, Mrs. Winthrop White, of North Birchland.

"Pleasant company," said the doctor to Major Dale as he left, "is all the girl wants. I wouldn't wonder but that little friend of hers--the lively one,--would help her, if it could be made convenient for her to go along."

Convenient? That uncertainty had nothing to do with circumstances important to his daughter's health, Major Dale decided. If Tavia's company would be beneficial to Dorothy's health Tavia should go to North Birchland with Dorothy.

The question of school did not signify, either, the major reasoned, for if Tavia could not afford to lose the remaining weeks in the term he would see that they were made up for, amply.

Arrangements were quickly made, letters dispatched back and forth, and before the girls had time to think it over themselves, they were told to be ready for the morning train.

"Oh, isn't it perfectly grand!" exclaimed the excited Tavia, "but do you think, Doro, I will be able to behave myself, to eat properly and all that?"

"Why, Tavia," answered Dorothy, "you will find real aristocratic people are as simple as we are in manners; it is only those who try to be 'somebody,' and who do not know how, that make such a fuss over everything. Aunt Winnie is a lovely lady--we call her Winnie from Winthrop, because her own name is Ruth and we have another Aunt Ruth out West."

"Lucky thing I had my 'new' dress, and all the other things Aunt Mary sent by express last week. And father's new suit case his men presented him with when he left the factory--wasn't that providential?" asked Tavia.

Dorothy admitted it was fortunate, and so, as this was the very evening before their departure, the girls arranged such matters as required consultation and then hurried off to attend to so many little things necessary for travelers.

Aunt Libby could not hide a tear when Dorothy put her arms about the wrinkled neck, but when Major Dale helped his daughter to step upon the train platform he was smiling; glad to have her go it seemed. Joe told Johnnie afterwards that was the way soldiers always act when they face trouble.

Mrs. Travers was really glad to have Tavia go, and she did not deny it. It was such a chance for her, she told Aunt Libby, as they went home from the depot, and Tavia, she declared, was a girl who always made the most of her chances.

As the train flew along, or Dalton flew away, as it seemed from the car windows, both girls indulged in a very creditable sentiment--a streak of homesickness.

"It will be fun, of course," remarked Tavia, "but it's creepy to leave them all."

Passengers about them soon attracted their attention sufficiently to make the journey interesting. Tavia had such a way of seeing things to make Dorothy laugh, that little of interest escaped her.

Old ladies with black silk bags were her especial prey, and these she never failed to analyze--according to her own special method.

Women with babies also afforded no end of amusement to Tavia, and when she found a regular nursery cooking outfit in the "end room" of the car she could scarcely be restrained.

"I could make you the nicest clam bouillon," she told Dorothy, "and besides cooking, that little alcohol lamp is just the thing for hair crimping. I will crimp mine if I can find anything to make a hot poker of in this train."

"You really must not touch anything," Dorothy insisted, alarmed lest Tavia should do something reckless.

"Touch anything? Why my dear girl I have tested the entire outfit, and I am going to get one just like it for my hasty breakfasts."

The woman to whom the "entire outfit" belonged was now almost asleep beside her baby, on the end sofa, and Tavia assuring Dorothy she would stay there indefinitely, sallied forth to further investigate the mysteries of a nursery cooking outfit, en route.