Dorothy Dale by Margaret Penrose
Chapter V. Miles Burlock
What could that man want of her father?
And what was so mysterious about their conversation that reached her ears in spite of her attempting to enter the house without intruding upon her father's company?
Her name was being spoken, and why would Aunt Libby not open that door?
"There she is now," said Major Dale, as Dorothy gave one more knock. "Daughter, come this way. We are waiting for you."
How hard her heart beat! And how foolish she was to be nervous!
"This gentleman," began Major Dale, "wants you to hear a story. It may be sad for ears so young, but perhaps the knowledge that you have helped Mr. Burlock to settle one point in this story may make it more interesting to you."
The faint moonlight, that now streamed from the spring sky, made a silvery glow upon the faces of the two men, and even in the shadows, that of Miles Burlock showed features firm and what might be called handsome. Dorothy had often seen him before, but he had never looked that way. His face was clearer now he was changed.
"Child," he said, extending his hand to her, "You need not fear Miles Burlock now. He is a man--no longer a slave to rum--but a wake at last."
"I am so glad!" Dorothy stammered.
"Yes, that day you took my hand, although it was not fit for yours, and the way you asked me to join in the League work came like a miracle of grace. Perhaps it is--because--because you are so like the child I lost."
He bowed his head, and for a moment, was silent, then he looked at Dorothy again.
"As you are the one chosen to help this man find himself--for he has been morally lost for years,--I feel it may be that you, too, may help me find my own child," Miles Burlock went on. "At any rate it is best that you should hear the story, for when men like us have passed away the children may be here to remember what others will be glad to forget about me--to forget that I tried to undo the wrong I had done to those lost to me now."
Major Dale opened the door to the sitting room, and there the man continued his story.
"As a boy I was cared for by an over-indulgent aunt, and I have often thought that the fact of having lost my own mother might, in some way, make an excuse to heaven for me, for the boy or girl who never knows a mother has suffered more than mortal can count,--in ways more numerous than mortal can see, and a motherless babe is the saddest story in all human history. Well, money had been left for me, and this too, I believe, was an inherited wrong, for too early in life had I begun to feel independent. Later that indifference to discipline grew to recklessness, and then the final evil came in the shape of bad company."
Major Dale stopped the speaker for a moment and Dorothy was glad to move a little nearer her father. Somehow, this strange story was unlike anything she had ever heard, and while it fascinated her, it also frightened her, for she had not before known anyone who had lived such a wild life.
"And here is where your daughter, Major Dale, has come so strangely into my life," went on Mr. Burlock. "The good people of this town have been working hard to save such men as I have been--but no longer will I rank myself with such. That young man, Ralph Willoby, had pleaded with me in a way few could have resisted, but the trouble was, I was in the hands of a man who had been my evil genius for years, and no matter how firm was my resolve to get away from temptation, this tyrant would manage to put the poison into my hands. Of course I thought him a friend,--that was what he had always pretended to be,--but through the strange interference of this little girl,"--laying his hand on Dorothy,--"I have seen the light; the scales have fallen from my eyes."
The awful face of the villainous man, who had so frightened Dorothy on the stairs of the Bugle office, seemed to flash into that room. Could he be that evil genius?
"Yes, Major Dale," he went on, "you must have heard by this time that a man waylaid your daughter, grabbed the papers from her hands and tried to frighten her so that there would be no outcry until he had made his escape. Well, that man was no other than he who put liquor to my lips when I was a boy; who took me from my home when I was a husband, and made me sign papers that would leave my young wife helpless in all the affairs that she should rightfully control. Not satisfied with this record of villainy, he, at last, separated me from my wife and daughter, and though I have searched for years for them, it has all been in vain."
The man stopped. Tears were streaming down his pallid face and the sorrow of a lifetime seemed about to break the bonds of human endurance. Major Dale put his hand on the other's shoulder.
"Cheer up, brother," he said, "There may yet be time. Life is with you still."
"Ah, but have I not searched all this week? And did not that man promise to take me to them?"
Dorothy had shrunk back when Mr. Burlock said the man who had put terror in her own life was the same person who had destroyed his happiness. Then it was as Ralph said,--Miles Burlock did figure in the mysterious case.
The evening was melting into night. Major Dale was still feeble from his illness and his daughter, quick to see the look of pain on his loved face, determined to stop the story for the time being.
"You must lie down, father," she said, putting her arm about him, "You know the doctor said to be very careful."
With a promptness that bespoke good breeding the visitor arose.
"Pray pardon me," he said politely. "I have been very selfish. I will not disturb you longer. I will come again to-morrow."
"We will be very glad, indeed, to help you, if we can," the major replied, rather faintly, for Dorothy had not spoken a moment too soon for his comfort.
"The real matter with which I would ask you to help me is the putting aside, now, of the money which is in my name, and which should be secured against enemies of my poor wife and daughter," said Miles Burlock. "I will never again trust anything to the uncertain time when they may be found, for I believe now they are being kept away from me by this same scoundrel, Andrew Anderson. It may be well for you to know his name."
"And where is he?" asked the major, his voice showing the feeling he could not hide, a determination to deal severely with the man who had threatened Dorothy.
"That is something I would not dare to tell even if I knew. My only hope of getting these affairs settled so that I may sometime make amends to my dear ones, is by keeping away from Anderson. It might not detain you too long to say that last week my friend, my counselor, and benefactress Marian Douglass, passed away. For years she held safely for me the principal of the money I had been wasting. Now that she is gone, and he knows it, I must at once make it secure in some other way. To-morrow, if you will allow me, I will come again and bring witnesses. No other man in Dalton would be so worthy of the trust. Thousands of dollars have almost made themselves in ways planned and carried out by Marian Douglass, who held this money both for me and from me, but now a part of this must be used to find my wife and my daughter Nellie, and then to run down their persecutors, for I have been a tool, simply, in the hands of those who took what I had and who have been trying for years to get the rest. If nothing happens to me to-night I will come to-morrow morning, after that we may tell the town who it was who tried to spoil the fair name of Dalton."
He pressed Dorothy's hand to his lips as he left. She felt a tear fall upon it; and she knew that all her prayers and all her efforts to save this man from his evil ways had not been in vain, and with the happiness that comes always in the knowledge of good accomplished, a new resolve came into her heart--she would some day find Nellie Burlock.