Chapter XXI. At Aunt Winnie's
 

Dorothy had fastened Tavia's hair up under her hat, so that the one long and uninjured side covered the burnt ends and hid the damage. She looked like a pretty boy, Dorothy told her, and the red line about her neck was not noticeable at all, for around the scar Dorothy had pinned her own white silk handkerchief. Except for a few tell-tale spots of "scorch" marking the back of her new dress, from her appearance Tavia might never have been suspected of being the heroine of a railroad accident.

"Oh, there is Aunt Winnie!" exclaimed Dorothy as the train stopped, and she looked out of the window near the door.

A depot wagon was drawn up to the platform, and in it sat a stylishly dressed woman.

If Tavia had felt "alarmed at the style" as she afterward told Dorothy, the moment Mrs. White grasped her hand in welcoming her to Birchland all nervousness left her, for Mrs. White had an unmistakable way of greeting her guests--she really was glad to see them. Dorothy climbed up beside her aunt, while Tavia took the spare seat at front, and it seemed to her the world had suddenly fallen from its level, everything was beneath her. She had risen physically, mentally and socially from her former self--the first ride on a box seat was an inspiration to the country girl, and Tavia felt its influence keenly.

Dorothy chatted pleasantly to her aunt, occasionally referring to something to Tavia to give her a chance to join in the conversation and Tavia noticed that Dorothy had already cheered up wonderfully.

"I suppose this is the sort of company Doro belongs in," Tavia thought. "There is something so different about society people."

Mrs. White certainly was different. She knew exactly how to interest the girls, and she also knew how to make them feel at home. She had asked all sorts of polite questions about Dalton folks, and showed the keenest interest in the new appointment of Squire Travers. Tavia insisted that Dorothy had elected him, and this item of news Mrs. White begged Tavia would repeat to the "boys" as she declared they would be "just delighted to hear how their girl cousin managed Dalton politics."

The boys were at camp, Mrs. White told the girls, and an early visit to their quarters was among the treats promised.

From the station to the "Cedars" was but a short ride, and when the carriage turned into the cedar shaded driveway Tavia felt another "spasm" of alarm--it was such an imposing looking place.

"This is where you may play games," said Mrs. White, pointing out the broad campus behind the trees. "The boys have no end of sport hiding in the cedars, and I am sure you girls will find them jolly. There are some very pleasant neighbors at the next cottage--one young girl among them."

"This is splendid," Tavia said. "We can invent new games here. I think 'tree-toad' would be a novelty."

Presently the luggage was taken in by the man, while the girls followed Mrs. White up the broad staircase to their rooms.

"Now, my dears," said their hostess, as she opened the doors to two connecting rooms, "here is where you will 'pitch your tents' as the boys would say. I hope you will be comfortable, but should you need anything Dorothy knows the plan of this house--just ask for anything you want. I'll leave you now. We will lunch as soon as you feel refreshed."

"But, auntie," called Dorothy, as Mrs. White passed into the hall," won't you come here a moment? I have a very interesting thing to tell you," and as Mrs. White stepped back to the door again, Dorothy snatched the hat from Tavia's head.

Instantly the "installment" hair fell to the waist on one side, and clung to Tavia's neck at the other.

"Why!" exclaimed the aunt. "What on earth has happened to the child's locks?"

"Hair tonic model," laughed Dorothy, "sit down, auntie, and I will tell you."

Mrs. White took the uninjured mass of golden brown tresses into her hands.

"Some one stole them, of course," she ventured.

"One more guess!" smiled Dorothy.

At this the scar on Tavia's neck was discovered.

"Not in a fire?" exclaimed the aunt.

"Exactly," declared Dorothy, and then she told of the railroad accident.

"Why, you poor dear!" sighed Mrs. White to Tavia, "you must be quite ill from the shock. Get into bed immediately, and I will see how we can doctor you up," and before Tavia had a chance to protest against the "treatment" she found herself in bed, shoes and dress off, and wrapped in a comfortable robe Dorothy had brought in her bag.

"Now," teased Dorothy, "you wanted to know how it feels to be sick. How do you like it?"

"Best ever," replied the girl in the pillows. "Make it incurable please."

"Here," announced their hostess, appearing at the door with a steaming bowl that smelled good. "Just drink this bouillon. I believe that more lives might be saved by the hot bouillon process than by the reported efficacy of hot whisky. One stays hot, the other turns into chills. Just drink this dear, and I will banish Dorothy. I know how she can talk when one should sleep--she roomed with me one summer," and at this Dorothy was whisked out of the room by her aunt, and Tavia left to commune with the pleasant aroma of hot bouillon with chopped parsley flavoring.

"Riches are not to be despised," she commented, when the paneled door closed her away from friends for the moment. "I wonder Major Dale does not let Dorothy stay with her aunt; she would know exactly how to train her in society ways, and Dorothy is plainly cut out to be a leader where ever she goes. I suppose," reflected the girl, "some day Mrs. White will introduce her into her social world and then--"

A step in the hall aroused her from her rather tangled reverie, and presently Dorothy stood before her with an immense bunch of "Jack" roses.

"Oh!" exclaimed Tavia, in unfeigned admiration, "have you been to heaven stealing flowers?"

"No, an angel tossed them down," replied Dorothy, "and her card said they were for you." Whereat she held out to Tavia the "angelic" bouquet.

"Oh Dorothy Darling Dale! I never saw such flowers! I have always thought the wild kinds prettier than those that grew so proud-like but there is just as much difference between a Jack-in-the-pulpit and a real Jack rose as there is between you and me!"

"Well Jack, I like you just as well as if you grew in a hot house-- better, because you have taught me the value of life's storms--you have grown outside and know the music of the winds," and with the flowers she gave her friend all the hug she dared risk in the presence of the "railroad line" on Tavia's neck.

"But you have the sweetness of the greenhouse," insisted Tavia, "and that blows off with the music of the winds."

"Well, we will not quarrel over our virtues," said Dorothy, "the thing to discuss at present is what are you going to do with the railroad money?"

"What money?" inquired Tavia, showing surprise.

"Your damages, of course. How much do you calculate your other braid was worth?"

"Not worth talking about."

"But if you were offered a fair price for it you would not refuse?" persisted Dorothy.

"No, I'd take most anything from a cream soda to a twenty-five cent piece."

"Well, my dear, now compose yourself. Get a good hold on the chair near you, or better still sit down, since you insist on getting out of bed. I have a very lively piece of news for you--the sensational kind."

"Let her go," called Tavia grasping the chair with both hands.

"It is this. Aunt Winnie says you will undoubtedly received damages for the accident. She says Mr. French is a noted lawyer and he will possibly arrange it so that all you will have to do is to put your name to the signing-off paper. The fact that you lighted the lamp, auntie says, will not do away with the fact that a careless employee left that explosive there."

"Do you know, Dorothy," said Tavia in her most serious tone, "the only thing that has consoled me for asking that baby in there is, that she told me she was going in for a drink of water, and had she done so she would, or at least might, have tasted the poison stuff. She was the most meddlesome child and might have killed herself."

"Certainly her mother would have allowed her to roam about as she pleased," said Dorothy, "for people told me after the accident that little Lily had been in almost every seat in the car, while her mother curled herself up on that sofa. It is a strange thing to me that most women travelers are more careful of their dogs than of their babies. Did you notice that blonde with the soft leather bag? Well, she had a poodle in that bag, it is against the rules, you know, to keep animals in the passenger cars, but that lady had her bag open on the seat, and every time a brakeman came through she would pull the string and close the bag. Then once in a while she would let the dog run around a bit. But indeed she did not let it get away like Lily's mother let her go."

"And do you really think the railroad people will pay me damages?"

"I am almost sure of it. Aunt Winnie is a very clever business woman, and if they come while we are here it will be all the better for you. Just think! Suppose they should offer five hundred dollars!"

"I am too poor to be able to think of five hundred dollars all at once. I will have to try it on the installment plan. But wouldn't it be jolly if I did get a good sum," and Tavia's eyes took on a far-away look-- perhaps all the way to Dalton and happiness.