Chapter IX. The Aftermath
 

What a day that had been at the Dalton School for girls! Sarah Ford was at home suffering from a badly sprained ankle; Dorothy Dale had been taken home ill from over-excitement, and Tavia Travers, for whom Squire Sanders had been searching, was not to be found anywhere.

The interference of Squire Sanders worried Miss Ellis. A man, especially an official, knows absolutely nothing about girls and their ways, and he is sure to antagonize them in any attempt to force them to betray one another's confidences.

But while the teacher, alone in the school, was reflecting upon the tasks she should soon undertake to perform; Dorothy lay in her little room, hot and feverish, with Aunt Libby beside her, bathing the throbbing head tenderly with cold water and vinegar.

"You've been doin' too much," muttered the old nurse, "a-runnin' newspapers, helpin' drunkards, teachin' housework to that Tavia, though 'twas a charity to show the child how to iron her own frocks. But you see deary, it was too much for you, you as has always had Aunt Libby at your elbow," and the old linen napkin, the softest of those ever ready for headaches, was dipped again into the blue bowl of cool water and strong vinegar, then pressed lightly to the feverish brow. "Try to sleep a bit now," went on the nurse, as Dorothy looked gratefully into the wrinkled face. "All you want is rest, just a good, quiet rest."

Dorothy closed her eyes. They burned so she pulled the napkin from her forehead down over the hot lids. That eased the pain, and perhaps she could sleep, she thought.

Watching her patient closely for a moment, Aunt Libby moved noiselessly to the window, pulled down the shade, pushed the chair against it so the breeze might not disturb it, left the room.

As she turned in the narrow hallway her gingham skirt brushed the crouching form of Joe, who had been waiting at his sister's door, but the aged lady did not know it.

Joe and Roger had been forbidden admission to their sister's room. She was to be left entirely alone, in absolute quiet; even Major Dale, who was assured the attack was not more than a sick headache, did not presume to disturb his daughter, but Joe had been waiting there in the hallway. He had an important message to deliver to his sister, one that "would not keep."

The boy had removed his shoes and now he stole noiselessly into the room.

"Dorothy! Dorothy!" he whispered. "Are you asleep?"

Dorothy pushed the napkin from her eyes, and raised her arm to invite her brother's kiss.

"Poor, dear Doro!" he murmured, pressing his cheek to her hot brow. "I am sorry for you--every one is," and he kissed her again. "But I have to hurry. Aunt Libby may come back."

He was looking for something in his blouse.

"I had a note from Tavia," he said. "She has gone away--"

"Gone away!" gasped the sick girl.

"Oh, only for a little while. Where is that note!"

The boy unbuttoned his waist, he even shook it out straight from the string, but no note was to be found in its folds.

"I could not have lost it!" he said, now quite alarmed that the note should have gotten out of his possession.

"What was it about?" asked Dorothy.

"Why--about--about why she went away," stammered the boy, helplessly.

"Don't you know what was in it?"

"No, it was sealed, and no one but you was to open it. Where could I have dropped it? I had it--let me see."

The fear that he had dropped the missive where it might be picked up by those not in sympathy with Tavia, and her troubles, now troubled Joe sorely. He had promised the girl, most particularly, that he would deliver the note to his sister that night, and he waited at Dorothy's door, risking the displeasure of Aunt Libby in keeping that promise. But now the very worst thing had happened--the note was lost!

"Never mind," whispered Dorothy, "perhaps you will find it in your jacket. I am sure she only said good-bye; there could not have been anything so very important in it."

"But if any of the others should get it," he sighed. "They could find out where she went, and she most particularly wanted to hide for a few days."

"Hide!"

"Yes, she told me she was sure Sarah would wake up in a few days and make a 'clean breast of it.' Tavia declared she had done nothing wrong herself, and that she was not afraid of anybody, but, she said, there was going to be trouble, and she never ran into trouble when she could run the other way."

"Well, dear," said the sister, "you had better go to bed now. I am so tired and I feel a little like sleeping. If you find the note, bring it to me in the morning; if you do not find it, there is no need to worry. Tavia will be back to see me as soon as she hears I am sick," and, giving the boy a good night kiss, Dorothy closed her eyes, while Joe crept out of the room as noiselessly as he had entered it.