Chapter IV. A Clew
 

As the druggist had anticipated, a citizens' committee was formed to run down the assailant of Dorothy and Tavia. The hat bore the mark of a Rochester house, so that was something of a clew. A hatless man ought to be easy enough to identify, but of course, he had managed to get a head covering somewhere; stole it, perhaps, from an open hallway.

But, after an exhaustive search, and much questioning of persons who might have seen the man, no news of importance was turned in at the committee meeting.

Mr. Travers had what he considered a tangible clew. Miles Burlock had told him that a man from Rochester had been hounding him for weeks, and that he pretended to know something of Burlock's business.

"Burlock, it seems," Mr. Travers said at the meeting, "was, in some way, connected with the Douglass family. There is money in the affair, however it may concern Burlock and Mrs. Douglass, and this stranger is after the cash."

"But what in the world has these children to do with that?" asked the chairman.

Ralph Willoby stood up.

"It seems, Mr. Chairman," he said, "that the first time the man gave us trouble was when we sent to learn something about Mrs. Douglass' death. He secured the notes to prevent us from publishing anything about the lady. Then he threatened to blow up the Bugle office if we did print an obituary. This did not intimidate us, and when the paper was out he waited for the little boys, sons of Major Dale, to harm them possibly. It was then that one of the girls saw and recognized him, and he, being sure of this, made off. A few minutes later he intercepted both girls on the stairs, tried to frighten them with some drug, took the papers from Miss Dorothy Dale, and again made his escape."

This was by far the most intelligent account of the affair yet given, and after its recital many of the men thought they could see a solution of the mystery.

"But how do you associate all this with Miles Burlock?" Ralph was questioned by the chairman: "I know Mrs. Douglass had a special interest in that man," went on Ralph. "I have known her to give him money to buy respectable clothes with, and,--well there is no need to make public our brother's misfortunes. At any rate, it seems plain to me that this stranger was trying to keep the news of Mrs. Douglass' death away from Burlock."

"Has any one seen Burlock lately?" was next asked.

No one had; in fact his absence had been noticed by many present. He was not a common drunkard, and that was probably why such an interest was manifested in his possible entire reformation.

This was all of importance that occurred at the meeting, and the committee adjourned with instructions to continue their work.

It was a beautiful spring evening. The air was soft with blossoms, and a perfumed dew made all of Dalton like a rose garden.

Major Dale was improving rapidly, in fact he had recovered so quickly that this evening he insisted upon sitting out of doors for a few minutes. The doctor had discontinued calling, and said the attack was more of overfatigue from the march on Memorial Day than anything else. Both Dorothy and Tavia had been absent from school the past week but this was Sunday evening, and they would both go back to-morrow.

Dorothy went over to talk about it with her friend.

"Well, it will be something to have another chance at Lady Sarah," said Tavia, when Dorothy had finished telling her to be sure and have her father write an excuse to hand to Miss Ellis. "I don't mind school so much when there is something else to think of in between. And the girls will be tickled too, for they all love a good fight."

"Now, Tavia, you must stop that kind of talk if you are going to be a friend of mine," counseled Dorothy. "I cannot be considered your friend if you will not be--ladylike--"

"Like Lady Sarah," Tavia finished, laughing. "Well, all right, Doro dear," and she gave her chum a bear-like hug, "I'll be as good as pie,-- lemon meringue at that,--so don't worry any more."

"Have you heard anything about the man?" Dorothy asked cautiously, for it was almost dark, and the girls were walking back to the Dale homestead.

"Not a word," answered Tavia, "except that father thinks he has gone out of Dalton altogether."

"And I have not seen Miles Burlock all week," commented Dorothy, "You know I had been trying to get him to reform."

"Everybody seems to be trying to do that."

"Well, Ralph told me he had seen Burlock crying like a baby one day because a little girl asked him for a penny. And Ralph thinks perhaps there was some little girl in Miles' story,--a daughter maybe--and he suggested that I try my influence with Miles."

"Did he cry like a baby over you?" teased Tavia, with poor appreciation of her friend's efforts to help along the Liquor Crusade.

"Now please, Tavia, don't be absurd. There is something wonderfully winning about Mr. Burlock."

"Of course there is. Wicked people are always winners."

"I won't tell you one thing more!"

"Now Doro! Doro! You know I love to hear you talk that way. And if it were not so dark I could see your eyes show how deep they are, just like the Jacks-in-the-Pulpit I gathered in the woods yesterday. You are nothing like a wild flower, more like a beautiful pink and white hyacinth, that grows in the Douglass garden; but sometimes, when you pretend to be angry, you make me think of the wood flowers. They have such a way of blooming best when some other growing thing tries to stop them. Jacks-in-the-Pulpit grow right up through stones, and bloom in tangles of poison ivy."

"I am sure I have no right to compare myself with flowers," answered the other pleasantly, for she always admired her friend's poetic ideas, although other people might laugh at them.

"Shows she is thoughtful, anyway," Dorothy would tell herself, "and that is what Ralph meant when he said she could not make serious mistakes when she followed the advice of her kind heart."

The Dale house could be seen through the trees now. Voices were heard outside; perhaps the boys playing some games.

"I'll leave you here," said Tavia, "you are not afraid of bugaboos are you?"

"Not a bit," answered Dorothy, laughing. "Be sure to be on time at school to-morrow. No use adding coals to the fire."

"It depends on whether you intend to wash, bake, or iron. Now I am going to do all three at school to-morrow, so I may as well keep up a good, warm fire;" and giving her chum a hearty hug Tavia started off.

Dorothy stopped as she neared the piazza.

Surely that was a strange voice. A man was talking very earnestly to her father.

It was Miles Burlock!