Chapter III. A Strange Adventure
 

Joe Dale was a credit to the family. Although only a boy in his tenth year, he possessed as much manliness as many another well in the teens. He was tall, and of the dark type, while Dorothy was not quite so tall, and had fair hair; so that, in spite of the difference of their ages, Joe was often considered Dorothy's big brother. Roger was just a pretty baby, so plump and with such golden curls! Dorothy had pleaded not to have them cut until his next birthday, but the boys, of course, thought seven years very old for long hair.

"Only for a few months more," the sister had coaxed, and, so the curls were kept. Dorothy always arranged them herself, telling fairy stories to conceal the time consumed in making the ringlets.

Both boys were to sell papers to-day, for the Bugle was out, and Dorothy had told her brothers of the necessity for extra efforts to help with money matters.

"You may go with one of the regular boys," Ralph Willoby instructed them. "He can tell you where you would be likely to get customers. Go into all the stores, of course, and look out for the mill hands, at noon time."

"I'll sell Bugles to-day," declared Joe, with that splendid manliness and real earnestness that makes a boy so attractive, especially to his sister.

"It takes a boy," Dorothy said proudly, as her brothers left the office, each with his bundle of papers, for, of course, Roger had to have a strap full the same as did Joe. Ralph was glancing over the paper. Evidently he was pleased with its appearance, for his face showed satisfaction.

"Is it all right?" Dorothy asked, secretly glad the "getting out" was finished, and that she would not have to write another parade story that day.

"First-rate," answered the young man, "and I think your father will be pleased. You had better go home and take him a copy, he may be anxious to see one."

"I'll go now," she told Ralph, "and I'll be back about noon, when the boys come in from their routes."

Dorothy passed out, and closed the door after her. Ralph went to the far end of the office, to finish folding the papers. Scarcely had he taken one sheet in his hand than he heard something in the hall.

A scream! And in Dorothy's voice!

Darting past the big press, and making his way to the hall door quickly in spite of the things that barred his path, Ralph pulled open the portal.

The girls were in a heap on the steps! Dorothy and Tavia.

The young man bent down anxiously. The pair seemed unusually still.

"Fainted!" he murmured, trying to lift Dorothy's head.

"Is he--go--gone?" whispered Tavia. "We are not hurt. We only made believe!"

"Oh!" sighed Dorothy. "I feel as if I were dying! I--I can't breathe!"

"Try to get on your feet," commanded Ralph. "The air will revive you!"

"There!" gasped Tavia. "There's his hat. I grabbed it when he put the handkerchief, with some stuff on it, to my nose," and the girl held up a gray slouch hat, the kind western men usually wear.

"That may help us," said Ralph. "But first you must both come down to the drug store. That stuff he used may sicken you. It has a queer smell."

Once on their feet the girls seemed all right, in fact as Tavia said, they had only "made believe" to prevent any further violence.

It seemed incredible that two girls should be way-laid in broad daylight, in the hall of the most public building in Dalton, but the fact was certainly plain--there was the dirty white handkerchief reeking with some drug, and besides, there was the hat that Tavia had taken from the man's head.

Ralph took the girls into the prescription room of the drug store, to see if they needed any attention, and there to the astonished drug clerk, as well as to the equally astonished proprietor, Tavia tried to relate what had happened.

"It was the same man who grabbed my papers the other day," she said. "I saw him first as I came along William street. Joe and Roger had just gone in Beck's with their papers, and as I saw the man watching them I was afraid he might kidnap Roger. I was just thinking who would be best to call, when he caught me watching him, and then, like a flash, he sprang into that saloon at the corner. I thought he was frightened lest he would be caught, and I hurried down here to warn Dorothy. Well, no sooner had I put my foot inside the hall than he darted at me--"

"Where did he come from?" asked the drug store proprietor.

"Probably through the alley that leads from the saloon to the end of our building," explained Ralph. "He could easily dash into the hall from there."

"He was after papers," declared Tavia, "for just as he grabbed me he saw Dorothy. I was going to scream when he put that queer-smelling stuff to my nose."

"I screamed when I saw Tavia," ventured the frightened Dorothy, "but he had me almost before I could open--my--mouth. Tavia squeezed my hand and I knew she meant for me to be quiet."

"And if you had not closed your eyes he might have given you another dose," added Tavia, who somehow, seemed to know more than any one else about the wicked ways of the mysterious stranger.

"But how did he manage to get away so promptly?" asked one of the men, trying to get on the track for capture.

"Through that same alley into the saloon," Ralph said. "I will go at once, and have the place searched."

"As soon as he got the papers Dorothy had he went off," finished Tavia, "just as he did when he got my notes."

Leaving the girls to quiet themselves in the drug store, all the men, except the head clerk, started out to give the alarm.

This time a thorough search should be made, and even a reward offered by the town for the capture of the coward who went about trying to frighten helpless girls. There was certainly some hidden motive in his actions, as he had, each time, made an attack on some one connected with the Bugle's business, and the men quickly concluded his intentions had to do with an attempt to stop the Liquor Crusade.

Miles Burlock also figured in the case they decided, although how this stranger was mixed up in matters relating to Burlock, and what connection Mrs. Douglass' death could have with such affairs, was not plain.

The druggist warned Dorothy and Tavia not to tell their experience to any one, not even to the folks at home, for, he argued the stranger might get to hear they were after him, and so escape.

Dorothy readily agreed to keep silent, in fact it would not do for any one in her home to know of her experience, as the major was too ill to be worried, but Tavia did not see why her father should not be acquainted with the affair, as he always knew what to do. And why should other men be allowed to search for the man who had threatened her, when it was plainly her own father's special privilege?

"Well, if you feel that way about it," agreed the druggist, "tell your father to come down here to-night and perhaps he will be put on the committee."

This was quite satisfactory to Tavia, and after making sure that no more strangers lurked about, the girls made their way home.

"I never was afraid in daylight before," remarked Dorothy, whose face was still pale from the fright. "Let us hurry. There are the boys. Be sure not to say anything to them about the scare."

"Hurrah!" shouted Joe swinging his empty strap. "All sold out."

"Me too," said little Roger, who had his strap buckled so tightly about his fat waist, that he had hard work to breathe under the pressure.

"Hip--hip--" answered Tavia, continuing:

    "Blow Bugle, blow,
     Blow Bugle blow,
     We're very proud
     You blew so loud
     To let the people know."

"Price five cents! Order now! That's the way city people put things in the papers about their goods," declared Tavia. "I think when I leave school I'll look for work in a newspaper office."

"Ralph said you did splendidly," said Dorothy, "I'm sure I never could have gotten along without you. But we are home now and--"

"No paper for the major," finished Tavia.

"There's a boy. I'll get one," said Joe, running off at full speed to overtake the newsboy, who had just turned the corner.

"Aunt Libby may be cross," whispered Dorothy, "for she has been all alone, and this being Saturday she would expect help."

"Mother won't say anything to me," Tavia decided, "for--well, I have something to tell her that will make her forget all about the work."

"Not about the--you know--" cautioned her companion."

"My, no," answered the other. "It's just about Mrs. Douglass' funeral. You know ma always goes to funerals, and I have found out that people may go to the house and see her. That will interest ma."

Joe was back with the paper, and was proud to have such an active interest in the Bugle. It seemed something to say it was his own father's paper, and then to have people remark what a bright sheet it was, and how it was never afraid to tell the truth.

"Let me give it to father?" he asked Dorothy.

"No, let me?" pleaded little Roger, "cause I ain't hardly seen him a bit lately."

"But you must not tell that we sold papers," directed Joe. "Father is not to know yet, you know."

"Oh, I won't tell," Roger promised.

"But you might forget," argued Dorothy.

"Nope," declared the little fellow, "I'll just let this strap keep squeezing me, then I couldn't forget."

"And have father ask where you got it," said Joe laughing.

"Then I'll tie a string round my finger," persisted the younger brother.

"I'll tell you," Dorothy concluded, "You just run in, give father a good hug, put the paper on his lap and run out again without saying a word. Then he will think you are playing newsboy."

This plan was finally decided upon, although Roger did think he would like to stay for "just a little while" to hear "Daddy" say "something about something."

They found the major anxiously expecting them. He feared something had happened--the press might break down, or the paper supply give out, Many things might occur when the man who ran the business was not there to keep ends straight. To say that the major was pleased was not half telling it--he was delighted. To think that they could get out a paper like that! And that his Little Captain should write up the parade. It really was well described.

Perhaps what astonished him most was Tavia's part in the issue. He laughed when Dorothy told how jolly Tavia was. Of course, there was no mention of the encounter with the strange man.

But that night Dorothy could not sleep. The excitement perhaps, or was it fear?

Oh, if that horrid man had never come to Dalton!