Chapter II. Dorothy at the Office
 

Could the sunshine of yesterday be forgotten in the clouds of to-day?

Major Dale was ill. Overfatigue from the long march, the doctor said, had brought on serious complications.

Early that morning after Memorial Day, Aunt Libby called Dorothy to go to her father. The faithful housekeeper had been about all night, for the major had had a high fever, but now, with daylight, came a lowering of temperature, and he wanted Dorothy.

"Now, don't take on when you see him," Aunt Libby told the frightened girl. "Just make light of it and pet him like."

Poor Dorothy! To think her own "Daddy" was really sick--and so many veterans already dead! But she must not have gloomy thoughts, she must be brave and strong as he had always taught her to be.

"Why, Daddy," she whispered, in a strained voice, kissing his hot cheek, "the honors of yesterday were too much for you."

"Guess so, Little Captain, but I'll be on hand at mess time," and he made an effort to look like a well man. "But I tell you, daughter, there's something on my mind; the Bugle should come out to-morrow."

"And so it will. I'll go directly down to the office and tell Ralph."

"Yes, Ralph Willoby is a good boy--the best I have ever had in the Bugle office. And that's why I sent for you so early. I want you to go down to the office and help Ralph."

"Oh, I'll just love to!" and Dorothy was really pleased at the prospect of working on the paper, in spite of the unfortunate circumstance---her father's illness--that gave her the chance.

"Not so fast now. You must pay strict attention--"

"But you are not to talk: you have had a fever, from fatigue, you know, and it might come back. Just let me go to the office and I will promise to return for instructions at the very first trouble Ralph meets."

Dorothy was already on her feet. She knew the very worst thing the major could do in his present condition would be to talk business.

"Now I'm off," she said, with a kiss and an assuring smile, "you will be proud of to-morrow's Bugle. 'All about Memorial Day!' 'Get the Bugle if you want the news!'" she added, in true newsboy style. Then Aunt Libby came in to wait on the major.

But Dorothy's heart was not as light as her smile had been. Her father looked very ill, and the bread and butter of the Dale household depended upon the getting out of the Bugle.

Her brothers, Joe and Roger, had been sent to school early to be out of the way, but to-morrow they might both stay home, thought the sister, for they could help sell papers.

"Father never would let the boys do it," she reflected, "but he is sick now, and we must do the very best we can. If he were ill a long time we would have to get along."

Only waiting to snatch up a sandwich left from her brothers' lunch,--for she knew the noon hour would be a busy time at the Bugle office,-- Dorothy hurried out and over to Tavia's.

"I can't go to school to-day," she called in at the half opened door. "Father is sick, and I must attend to some business for him."

"Bad?" queried Tavia, for she noticed the change in her friend's manner.

"Perhaps not so very. But you know he is seldom sick, and now he has a fever."

"Fever?" echoed Mrs. Travers. "Tavia, close that door this very minute! We cannot afford to catch fevers."

Dorothy felt as if some one had slapped her face. To think of her father giving any one sickness!

"Nonsense, ma," spoke up Tavia. "The major is only ill from walking in the hot sun. Come in, Doro dear, and tell us if we can help you."

"Aunt Libby is alone with him, and when the doctor comes she may need something. If your ma would not be afraid to let Johnnie run over about noon, I would pay him for any errand," spoke Dorothy.

"Oh, certainly, dear," the woman replied, now venturing to poke her uncombed head out of doors, thinking, evidently that the mere mention of money was the most powerful antiseptic known. "Of course Johnnie will be too pleased. I'll send him any time you say."

Secretly glad that her mother had so promptly overcome her fear of the fever, but also ashamed that her motive should be so flagrant, Tavia slipped on her things and joined her companion.

"I wouldn't keep you another minute," she began, "for I know just how anxious you are. But I'm going along to help. I can go on errands at least, and keep you company."

"Oh, Tavia, dear, perhaps you had better go to school. On account of the trouble yesterday, teacher will think we are both defying her."

"Then let her send the Lady Sarah to find out," retorted Tavia. "I would show her if I had freckles on my tongue."

"Please don't talk so, Tavia, it is wrong--"

"Wrong? My father says there are some men in this world too mean to bother the law about. He says he knows one he would like to thresh only he is sure the sneak would not hit him back, but would have him arrested. Physical punishment is the kind for such, father declares. And that's just the way I feel about Lady Sarah. I would not tell teacher on her, for that would give her a chance to 'crawl,' as Johnnie calls being mean. So sticking my tongue out at her is the nearest I can come to physical punishment."

This doctrine did not in any way coincide with the upright views of Dorothy, but she knew argument would be useless. Besides, her head and heart were too full of other things to bother about school girl troubles.

"Are you going to print the whole paper?" Tavia asked, with amusing ignorance of the ways of the Great American Press.

"Why, no, dear, I could not print it. Ralph must do that."

"Oh, I know. Just put things in it."

"I may have to write some," Dorothy replied, with an important air. "The parade story was not written. Father intended to do that."

"Oh, goody!" went on the irrepressible Tavia. "Say that the meanest girl in school, Miss Sarah Ford, was chosen, at the last moment, to lead the girls, owing to the sudden illness of Miss Dorothy Dale, the most popular girl in school, who took a headache from the sun, but later recovered in time to carry a Betsy Ross flag, along with her dear friend, Miss Octavia Travers, the flags being presented to the girls by Major Dale. There now, how's that?" and Tavia fairly beamed at the very idea of having her "story" printed.

"I declare, Tavia, you can string words together, as father would say. But we cannot say anything against any one. That would bring on lawsuits, you know."

"Oh yes, I know. It's just as pa says: some folks are too mean for anything but a good thrashing--and that's Sarah. But I'll do anything I can to help you, and I hope I won't get the Bugle into any lawsuits."

Dorothy thanked her, and remarked that it was not likely.

By this time they had reached the newspaper office. Up two flights of stairs, over the post-office and drug store, the girls found the much- perplexed Ralph Willoby waiting anxiously for his employer.

Ralph was that kind of a young man whom people trust at once. He was known all over Dalton as a most zealous worker in the "Liquor Crusade," that was being very actively carried on in the town. He had a firm face, and deep, clear eyes. The major used to say his eyes could talk faster than his tongue--and he knew how to converse well, too.

He had his sleeves rolled up, and was bending over a pile of "copy" when the girls entered the office. He brushed his sleeves down and rose to hear their message.

"Father is ill," began Dorothy weakly, for inside the office its difficulties seemed to crush her.

"And we're going to get the paper out," blurted Tavia, trying to grasp the wonders of a real newspaper office in a single sweeping glance.

"Can't he come down?" and the young man's voice betrayed his anxiety.

"I'm afraid not," went on Dorothy. "He said we were to do the best we could. I was to help--"

"And I guess I'm to sell the papers. Hurry up and print some. Is this the printing press?" Tavia rattled on.

"But the parade," demurred Ralph, "it is not even written. I can manage the press well enough, but our reporter Mr. Thomas, has not come in this morning. I suppose yesterday was too much for him."

"I think I could write up the parade," ventured Dorothy. "I have often helped father read proof, you know."

"Perhaps you can," assented Ralph. "Here is a pencil and some copy paper. You had better try at once, as I will have to go to press earlier than usual to allow for 'snags,'" and he smiled to apologize for the newspaper slang.

Dorothy sat down at her father's desk. Somehow, she felt a confidence in her efforts when seated there, where he had worked so faithfully, and successfully, too, for the Bugle sounded always the note of truth and sincerity. She started at once to write up the parade. She should be careful, of course, not to mention the major's name, or her own (her father never did) and she hoped she could at least make a good composition or essay on Memorial Day.

Dorothy worked earnestly, for she meant to have that issue of the paper up to the mark, if her labors could bring it there.

Ralph had rolled up his sleeves again, and was busy with the press. Tavia was "nosing around," as she expressed it. The door opened suddenly and little Johnnie Travers rushed in.

"The major sent me--to tell you--" and he had to get a new breath in somehow--" to tell you that old Mrs. Douglass is--is dead!" he finally managed to say. "He wants you to be sure to--to--put her in the paper."

"Nothing but live stuff in this paper, Johnnie dear," spoke up Tavia. "Mrs. Douglass was bad enough alive--but dead! We really haven't space," and, in spite of the real seriousness of the matter, for Mrs. Douglass was an important woman in Dalton, or had been up to that morning, Ralph and Dorothy were compelled to laugh at the wit of their friend.

"She was a big woman," said Ralph, adding to the mix-up in language, "and the Bugle is small. But being 'big' we cannot afford to slight her memory. There is so little time--"

"I can write that," said Tavia, shaking her head with a meaning. "And I know all about Mrs. Douglass and her high fence. Also the flowers behind the boxwood. Here, Doro, give me some of that paper--"

"Oh, you would have to see some of the family," interrupted Ralph. "Find out how she died, when she will be buried; if she said anything interesting--about charities, you know--"

"For mine!" sang out Tavia, adjusting her hat.

"Yes, your first assignment," ventured Ralph. "Dorothy must finish the parade, and I must attend to the typesetting, so if you could, really,--"

"Of course I can. Haven't I spent more time in the graveyard than at school? And don't I know what they say about dead persons?

    "'Here lies Mrs. Doug,--
     She had a mug,
     And none in Dalt could match it,
     When she took sick,
     She died that quick,
     The Bugle couldn't catch it.'

"How's that?" went on the girl. "Shows it was our busy day and we hadn't time to catch the dead news, not Mrs. Doug's face, you know."

"Oh, Tavia, what slang!" cried Dorothy, and added: "you had better not go, you will surely say or do something--"

"I certainly shall both say and do something. Johnnie look out for your nose there. That machine is going and your nose is not insured. Yes, Doro, this issue of the Bugle will blow a blast both loud and shrill in memory of Mrs. Doug. You know she loved blowing, never missed a windy day to collect the rent."

It was useless to argue. Tavia was bent on doing the "obit." as Ralph called the obituary assignment. She went out with Johnnie at her heels.

"She's the jolly kind," commented Ralph, as the door closed on the brother and sister.

"Yes, and so few understand her," Dorothy replied. "To me she is just the dearest girl in Dalton, but others think differently of her."

"I've known boys like that," assented the young man. "They seem to live in a shell, and only poke their real selves out to certain persons, those who love them."

"I feel more like writing now," said Dorothy, brightening up, "Johnnie told me father is better--he was taking some nourishment, the child said, and when the doctor left Johnnie did not have to go to the drug store. That means, of course, that there is nothing new setting in. I think Aunt Libby should have kept Joe and Roger from school, but she thought the house would be quieter for father with them away. Aunt Libby is very nervous lately."

"I do hope the major will be well soon," answered Ralph. "He seemed so strong, but I suppose when sickness takes hold of something worth while the result is equally of consequence."

For some time the girl and young man worked without further conversation. Dorothy bent earnestly over her story, while Ralph was busy with the type, setting up the last item of news that would go in the week's issue of the Bugle.

Suddenly something like a scream aroused them.

"What was that?" asked Dorothy, but without waiting to answer Ralph hurried to the door. At that moment Tavia staggered into the office. Her hat was off and her face was very white.

"Oh, what is it, Tavia dear?" Dorothy cried. "What has happened?"

"I'm so--so frightened," gasped the girl. "Lock the door--that--that man--he may come in! He is in the hall."

Ralph was out in the hall instantly. The girls, clasped in each other's arms, could hear him running down the stairs.

"Oh, he is so rough and strong--he may hurt Ralph," whispered Tavia, too frightened to trust her own voice.

It seemed a long time to the girls, but Ralph was back in the room with them in a very few minutes.

"There was no one in the hall," he said, "and I looked up and down the street. No one--no stranger seemed to be in sight."

"Well, I was just coming up the stairs, and I couldn't see from the sun, when some one grabbed me," Tavia explained.

"Oh, Tavia!" interrupted Dorothy.

"Yes, indeed, a great big horrid man, with a hat over his eyes, and oh, he was dreadful!" and poor Tavia began to tremble again.

Ralph had his coat on now. That man should not get away!

"But you can't leave us," begged the girls. "He might break the door in."

"Then come down stairs and we will lock up. I must telephone to Squire Sanders."

"He isn't home," Tavia declared. "I saw him drive out as I went up William Street."

But Ralph insisted on giving the alarm.

"What did he say to you?" he asked.

"Why, he must have thought I was Dorothy. I saw him first just as I turned out of the Douglass' place, and he followed me all the way. At the lane--where it was really lonely--he called to me and I stopped. He said 'Where are you going?' I told him to the Bugle office. I didn't think anything of it. I am never afraid. Then he got nearer to me--"

"Why didn't you run?" asked Dorothy.

"Why, I never thought of such a thing. I thought maybe he was coming here with some news. Even when he started up the dark stairs after me I wasn't afraid. But when he grabbed me--"

"Oh!" screamed Dorothy.

"Yes, and he said: 'See here, Miss Dale, if you put one line in print about that old woman being dead--I'll blow the place up.'"

"He must be a crank," said Ralph. "Such people always drift into newspaper offices."

"Oh, no, I am sure he meant it, for he grabbed my notes. He saw me reading them in the lane," Tavia paused an instant. "And really, poor Mrs. Douglass was a good woman. The servant girl told me how she had worked for that Miles Burlock,--she had some special interest in him,-- and you know how he drinks."

Unfortunately every one in Dalton knew only too well how Miles Burlock drank. Ralph had often helped him home, and then tried to get the man to talk of reformation, but it seemed like a hopeless case.

"Why should that strange man want the paper to keep quiet about Mrs. Douglass?" asked Dorothy.

"Something about Burlock, perhaps," Ralph answered, thoughtfully. "This man may be in with the drinking class, and perhaps if Burlock read anything or heard it, somehow he might go to the Douglass house, and they say Death is a great teacher. I know Mrs. Douglass often befriended Burlock."

"Then let him blow the office up!" cried Dorothy, with sudden courage. "Father never listened to threats! Tavia, can you remember some of the important facts? Quiet yourself and think it over."