Dorothy Dale by Margaret Penrose
Chapter XX. Eventful Journey
As Tavia reached the end sofa, upon which a pretty golden-haired baby lay curled beside a sleepy mother, she made a motion to attract the child's attention. The little one saw it at once, promptly slipped down and stole away from the sofa without in the least disturbing the woman.
The tot followed Tavia to the little end room--Dorothy saw her going, and though feeling very drowsy herself (which really was the reason Tavia left her alone) Dorothy kept her eyes opened long enough to see that the mother was sound asleep, and had not missed her baby.
"I am sure Tavia will take good care of her," thought Dorothy, as she settled down for a rest, "she is so fond of children, and it will be a change for the child--traveling must be very tiresome to such little ones."
The train rumbled on. Dorothy thought of home, of the good father and two dear brothers she had left there. Then she wondered what would happen at North Birchland. It was such a lovely summer place, and her relatives there were sure to do all they could to make the stay pleasant.
In the White family there were besides Mrs. Winthrop White, her two sons, Edward and Nathaniel, aged sixteen and fourteen years. Professor White, their father, had died suddenly some years before, while on an expedition out in quest of scientific data, but the White family possessed almost unlimited means, so that Major Dale's sister, while lonely enough in life without her husband, had the pleasant duty of bringing up two talented and good looking boys in a way that befitted the positions they would occupy as their father's sons--the White family being among the most aristocratic in New York state.
Dorothy had not seen her cousins in three years, the boys' time, between vacations, being spent at school, and the intervals of late being occupied with trips abroad. As she traveled on now, and became more and more sleepy Dorothy wondered if Nat were as full of mischief as he used to be when he visited Dalton, and if Ned still spent his spare time chasing butterflies to add new specimen to his collection.
But even these interesting reflections are not to be compared with such sedative influence as the rumbling of a train with a summer breeze coming In the window, and the girl, weary enough from her fright at the falls and its consequent shock to her nervous system soon forgot to think--she was asleep.
Meanwhile Tavia was occupied with the pretty baby in the end compartment. The child was about three years old, and remarkably communicative for her age. The little alcohol lamp, she told Tavia, was used to heat her milk, also to curl her hair, for mamma never took her to the hotel without curls, she said.
To bear out this statement, Lily, that was the little stranger's name, produced from a satchel under the wash basin a tiny pair of curling irons.
It seemed like fate to Tavia,--there was the very thing she had been wishing for--curling tongs.
"Let's try it," she suggested, as Lily prattled on about the wonderful "real" curls that the iron could make.
A careful investigation revealed to Tavia the secrets of the alcohol lamp. Everything was there--even to matches.
Being sure the lamp was placed firmly upon the marble slab, Tavia struck a match and lighted the wick.
"There," she said with evident satisfaction, "that part was easy enough."
"You put the iron right in there," directed Lily, and Tavia promptly followed the advice.
"Sit on my lap while it heats," Tavia told the child, not thinking it safe to allow her to move about in the small place with a strange kind of stove burning.
The child jumped up eager to hear a story. The wood-kind, full of bears with remarkable appetites, pleased her most, Tavia discovered, and it was in such a mental delight that the child passed a very happy little "minute."
"It must be hot--" said Tavia.
She turned and at that very moment a strange flash shot up to the ceiling!
An explosion! Then such a blinding flame!
With the child still in her arms Tavia made a dash for the door. Frantically she pulled at it but it would not open! The child screamed piteously.
"Help! Help!" shouted Tavia, clutching at the knob with one hand, while she clung to the child with the other.
Instantly Dorothy was on her feet and down at that little door.
"Open it!" she screamed, for the smell of smoke had reached her on the outside.
Without waiting for an answer, or for those at hand to act, Dorothy jumped to a seat and grasped the bell rope.
At that moment the door gave in to Tavia's pulling, and she fell headlong out into the aisle with the baby in her arms.
The train stopped, and brakemen were now running through the cars in search of the trouble. Passengers had broken the tool boxes and were fighting the spreading flames with hand grenades and portable extinguishers. Fainting women called for attention--among these being Lily's mother.
Tavia was now lifted to a seat, and Dorothy had called into her ears that the baby was safe--she was not even scratched!
But Tavia was not so fortunate, for an ugly red mark showed where the tongue of fire scorched her, and her hair--
One side was entirely burned off!
Dorothy's heart sank as she noticed the loss, but it was nothing, of course, compared to what might have happened to the baby.
The excitement in the rear of the car had, by this time subsided somewhat, showing that the flames were extinguished. Lily, safe and uninjured, sat in her mother's lap--no danger of her getting away again evidently.
Among the passengers was a doctor who offered his services to Tavia. The burns were slight, he declared but there was danger of shock, and the loss of her beautiful hair was to be regretted.
Tavia tried to laugh to assure Dorothy she was all right, and then she insisted upon talking about the accident.
"The lamp did not explode," she declared. "The fire came from the other end of the room."
The trainmen listened anxiously to this report. They were obliged to make a most careful investigation, and Tavia was very willing to help them. Professional looking men crowded around--one who introduced himself to the doctor as a well known lawyer of Rochester called Dorothy aside and offered to look out for the interests of the injured girl.
"Whatever you think best," Dorothy said, "I have never had any experience with law. But if you think we should take account of it at all I should be most grateful for your help."
Then Tavia was taken into a private compartment, and there, with Dorothy encouraging her, and the lawyer and doctor listening, she told the story of the accident.
"I had lighted the alcohol lamp," she declared, "but I am positive that did not explode. The flash came from behind us--the other end of the room. Then the door would not open--oh how dreadful that was!"
For a moment Tavia covered her eyes, then she resumed:
"I heard Dorothy's voice and that seemed to keep me from falling in the smoke. At last the door opened and that's all I know."
"Now, you just rest here," the doctor advised, "while Mr. French and I do some outside investigating."
Then it was that the important clew was discovered, for at the very door of the little room, where the fire had raged, was found a piece of glass with a label!
"She was right," declared the lawyer, taking possession of the tell-tale piece of bottle, the railroad men would have been so glad to have seen first, "this tells the story. A bottle of gasoline exploded."
Looking carefully over the damaged room the lawyer made some entries in his note book and, with the doctor, approached Lily's mother. The woman positively refused to make known her name, and even the railroad men had not succeeded in learning who she was.
"That my baby is safe," she declared, "is all I ask. People saw the girl coax her off, but even this I am entirely willing to overlook, and I will positively make no claims against the company."
The doctor saw the child was not in the least injured, and also was convinced there was no danger of shock to the little nervous system, as the tot looked upon the whole occurrence as "good fun," so the professional men withdrew their offer to serve either the woman or her child.