Chapter VIII. Squire Sanders at School
 

Dorothy had always been able to influence Tavia, and to show her that to do right would be best in the end, although the doing of it might, at the time, seem very hard, and very unreasonable; but all her efforts now to induce her friend to go with her to school that afternoon and make the necessary explanation to Miss Ellis, were without avail--Tavia absolutely refused to go.

"No matter what comes of it," Dorothy told herself, as she walked sadly along the path, through the lane back to the schoolyard alone, "I'll stand by Tavia. She meant no harm, and was no more to blame than any one else. But I do wish, she had come this afternoon. It looks as if she were afraid or guilty, to run away from it all."

The fact that Miles Burlock had not appeared at the Dale home that morning, according to promise was of little interest to Dorothy now. Something might have happened to him. Of course, he certainly seemed determined to settle the business at once, but Dorothy's head and heart were too full of her school friends' troubles to give much thought to the Burlock matter. Major Dale had appeared concerned about it however, and had questioned Dorothy as to whether any one had mentioned to her, at school or on her way there, the fact that the strange man, likely Andrew Anderson, had been seen again in Dalton.

"Be very careful to go around by the road," her father had cautioned her on leaving, "and come directly home from school as I will be anxious," he said, when he kissed her good-bye.

But Dorothy reached school safely, and was soon surrounded by a crowd of curious, and not too thoughtful girls, whose incessant questions added much to her nervous condition. Sharp pains shot through her head, for the excitement of the day had caused the ache of early morning to become a bad attack of neuralgia.

"Please do not bother me so," she pleaded, as the girls plied question after question.

They had heard, of course, of the accident, but how it had happened, and what had become of Tavia, whether she run away or been arrested--these and many similar queries kept the excited scholars buzzing about Dorothy like bees about a hive.

"I do not know how it happened," she insisted, "I wish I did. We found her under the tree, and helped her home. That is all I know about it."

The class took its place. Miss Ellis began to speak but was surprised at that moment to see old Squire Sanders enter the room.

"Oh, oh, he's after Tavia!" whispered May Egner to Dorothy. "I'm glad she is not here."

"Take your seats, young ladies," Miss Ellis directed the class, and then the squire assuming his business attitude, that of holding his black- thorn cane well out in front of his left foot, which member in turn was in advance of its mate, and planting the cane down firmly twice, he began:

"I've come here to investigate a complaint" and he rapped his stick noisily on the floor. "Where's the girl who threw Sarah Ford from the swing, and broke her ankle?"

"Why," stammered Miss Ellis, "I have not heard of any such occurrence. Does any young lady here know anything of it?"

Dorothy was on her feet instantly. Her flushed face betrayed the emotion she tried bravely to hide, but when she spoke her voice rang with truth and confidence.

"Sarah Ford was not thrown from the swing," she began. "We found her suffering under the tree in the orchard. When the bell rang this morning she was on the swing, and I was the last girl to enter the hall. I saw her on the swing then."

A pin, dropped, might have been heard in the room. It was so like a trial to have Dorothy there "giving testimony."

"Well, that ain't the story I have," drawled the squire. "Where's that wild harum-scarum Tavia Travers? She's the one that's blamed."

"Tavia Travers!" called the astonished Miss Ellis, but of course there came no answer.

"Absent!" answered a girl from the back row.

"Can you tell us where she is?" Miss Ellis asked Dorothy.

"At home I believe," answered Dorothy simply.

"Well, this matter must be fully investigated," declared the squire, "thoroughly and fully investigated. Girls or boys who cut up tricks must be punished. Dalton will not stand any nonsense when it comes to life and limb," and again the cane thumped the floor. "I propose, as squire of the borough, to run this thing down to the very end. School girls now-a-days put on too many airs--copyin' after college rowdies with their pranks!"

While the teacher and squire were talking in the hall the pupils took advantage of the opportunity to express their opinions of the case, and what were meant to be whispered remarks soon reached a pitch of voice that called for remonstrance from the squire; and he rapped his cane vigorously on the door. This had the effect of restoring order, and also of bringing punishment upon the entire class for the remainder of the afternoon.

"To think," began Miss Ellis severely, on returning to the room, "that I should be so disgraced. Not enough to have one or two girls accused of-- of a crime--but that the rest should so misbehave before an officer of Dalton! I shall be obliged to send to the president of the Board; something I have never before had to do. But this matter must be thoroughly investigated. I am very sorry, Miss Dale, that you should be implicated, sorry for your father's sake. But it all comes of associating with girls who--who will not be governed by those in proper authority," and the teacher adjusted her glasses, satisfied that she at least held a position as head of Dalton School with dignity and "authority" that such an office required.

Poor Dorothy! Her aching head was now bowed on the desk before her, and her sobs were so pitiful, even the most thoughtless girl in the room was silent and sad to see her weeping so.

Alice MacAllister sat upright at her desk. Her strong face assumed a daring expression--that of defiance. Alice was counted a good-natured girl. Something of a romp, perhaps, for her companions often called her "Mack" and she showed a preference for the boyish nickname.

But to see Dorothy weeping so, accused unjustly!

Alice raised her hand for permission to speak. Miss Ellis signed for her to go on.

Again that sense of suppressed excitement was felt in the class room. Something else was going to happen.

"Miss Ellis," began Alice in a firm voice, "Dorothy Dale is not to blame--"

"That is not for you to decide."

"But we were all there, and know as much about it as she does."

"At least she knows enough to keep her place. Sit down at once," and the teacher looked very much annoyed.

"Not until you have heard me," and Alice raised her voice a little.

"Go on! Go on!" murmured the girls about her. "Make her listen."

"Sarah Ford was never hurt in the school yard," declared Alice. "My brother saw her running down the lane just as the bell rang, and she could not stir when Dorothy and Tavia found her."

"Be silent this moment!" called Miss Ellis, rapping her ruler on the desk. "Your brother's story is of no account in this matter."

Dorothy raised her head. The room was in a commotion. Miss Ellis seemed too surprised at the girl's audacity to try to restore order. Perhaps no one was more surprised than Alice herself, for when she spoke first she had no idea of going so far,--it was that remark reflecting upon her brother's veracity that angered her.

Then the sobbing of Dorothy--Alice could not stand it to see her crying that way; better brave dismissal than sit by and listen to that.

With one glance towards Alice--a glance full of gratitude and love. Dorothy arose and asked to be excused.

"I must go home--" she stammered "I have such a sick headache."

"Very well," replied the teacher. "You may go."

"May I also be excused?" asked Alice, not boldly but with politeness restored to her voice.

"By no means," declared Miss Ellis. "I will not brook such insolence."

"I thought I might help Dorothy home," Alice explained, taking her seat again.

Meanwhile Dorothy was looking for her hat in the cloak room. It was a small stuffy place, and the day was unusually sultry, so that Dorothy felt dizzy there, trying to find her hat--and trying to find--Oh! what was the matter? She could not see! Oh, if some one would only come!

Then, with her hands before her, she stumbled and fell,--and all became a terrible blank.