Margaret Penrose.

Dorothy Dale in the City





Tavia sat down and looked about her. So this was the way business men kept important appointments! Back in half an hour! It seemed ages since Tavia left Mrs. Whites breakfast room, but the ticking clock on the wall announced that it was just ten-thirty. She must return for lunch, or the family would be frightened. She quietly looked about her, and in one quick glance decided that after all, the various eyes that were looking her way, might be kindly eyes, and with a great deal of courage, for it really takes courage to face a long line of clerks in a business office, Tavia smiled at the entire force. Soon she became interested in the clicking typewriting machines, and the adding apparatus, and forgot all about herself, which seemed the best thing in the world to do. The most comfortable and happy people of all are those who can become so interested in others that they forget themselves.

CHAPTER XVIII
DANGEROUS GROUND

Miss , began a man with a ruddy face and heavy gray hair, as he stood in front of Tavia, almost an hour later, while a small boy relieved him of his great fur coat and cane. I dont believe I have your name. Im Mr. Akerson.

Im Octavia Travers, answered Tavia, looking straight into the brown eyes of Mr. Akerson.

Oh, yes, you are the lady who phoned me? Want to see me about something very important; dont you? he asked, looking at Tavias fresh young face with open admiration. Instinctively Tavia did not like Mr. Akerson. His brown eyes were large and bold, and his manners too free and easy. As she gazed straight at him she wondered how she, alone, could deal with such a man. But she followed him, nevertheless, into an office marked Private and the door closed behind them.

Wonderful weather; is it not? he asked, pleasantly. Such bracing air as this makes us old fellows young, he rubbed his large hands together as he talked. I suppose youve been skating in the Park, and enjoying the Winter pleasures, as girls do!

No, indeed, answered Tavia sedately, we havent been skating yet, but were going to the Park to-morrow. Then she could have bitten off her tongue for saying anything so foolish for telling this stranger anything about her engagements.

The man did not seem in a hurry to find out her business. She drew herself up and raising her chin, which was always a sign that Tavia was becoming determined, she said:

I wish to inquire about one of your apartments.

I understood you to say that it was special business with me, he laughed, and looked keenly at Tavia. You could have asked any of the clerks about that.

I thought that I would have to see you personally, of course.

Oh, no, that was not necessary. My clerks are conversant with the renting of all our places.

Tavia was puzzled. She would not talk to the clerks, she wanted to find out from Mr. Akerson himself. She smiled sweetly.

I was told, she said, that in regard to this particular apartment, the Court Apartments, that I could only rent from you.

The man glanced up quickly, and closing his eyes shrewdly, asked Tavia, lowering his voice:

Who sent you to me?

A friend of mine lives there and she mentioned your name as being renting agent, and not the company you represent.

Mr.

Akerson sat back, evidently very much relieved. He toyed with a letter opener.

No, he said slowly, the Court Apartments do not belong to the company, and the clerks could not have given you the information about renting. We do not carry that place on the lists.

For one wild moment Tavia wanted to laugh. This shrewd man, of whom she had felt so much in awe, was calmly telling her just what she wanted to know!

I wish, said Tavia, to see about renting an apartment there.

An apartment just for yourself? he asked, and he looked so queerly at Tavia that she hesitated.

No, hastily corrected Tavia, that is, not alone. I expect to have someone with me. Which, as Tavia said to herself, was perfectly true, though she hesitated over it.

Lucky young chap! murmured the man, and Tavia flushed hotly.

The rent, please, demanded Tavia, trying to show the man how much he displeased her.

What can you afford to pay? he asked. The rents differ. But, I have no doubt, I could give you an apartment on very reasonable terms.

I couldnt afford to pay over fifty dollars per month, answered Tavia smoothly, which was the price at which the apartments were supposed to be rented.

Im willing to shave off a bit, said Mr. Akerson, very generously. Some of my tenants there are paying one hundred dollars for the same rooms that Ill let you have for eighty dollars per month.

Eighty dollars! exclaimed Tavia, I understood that the rents were only forty and fifty dollars!

My dear young lady, said the man soothingly, in that section! And such beautifully arranged rooms! I ask eighty and one hundred dollars for those apartments, and I get it. But, as I said, if there are any particular rooms that you fancy, the man smiled familiarly at Tavia, maybe I could come to terms with you.

Im sure I am right about the rents being forty and fifty dollars, Tavia insisted.

Oh, they were that a long time ago; in fact, the last time the apartment changed hands they could be rented for thirty-five dollars. But I built the place up, improved it, made it worth the price, and I can get that amount. Only, if youve set your little heart

Tavia jumped up. The man had leaned so far over toward her, that she resented the familiarity implied. She drew herself up to her full height and said coldly:

I do not care to pay more than the regular renting price for the Court Apartments. If you will lease an apartment at fifty dollars, you shall hear from me again.

Done! said the man, but I cant promise that the rent will go on indefinitely at that figure. You can have it at that rental for three months, but understand, the woman across the hall from you and the family above, are paying one hundred dollars per month.

Im sure youre very kind, said Tavia, arranging her fur neck piece, and pulling on her gloves, I appreciate it very much.

Dont mention it, said Mr. Akerson, grandly expanding his broad chest, I always aim to give a lady whatever she wants, and he came nearer to Tavia.

With cool dignity she backed slowly to the door, ignoring Mr. Akersons outstretched hand.

A quick flush mounted the mans brow, and he bowed Tavia out of his private office.

Once again in the open, she breathed freely.

What a perfectly horrid man, she murmured. To think that Mrs. White receives but thirty-five dollars from each apartment and he actually gets eighty and one hundred dollars! Poor Miss Mingle! It must take every penny she earns just to pay the rent! And it takes all Aunt Winnie receives to pay the expenses and taxes of the place! And with the difference Mr. Akerson buys fur coats and things. Tavias indignation knew no bounds.

On the trip home she thought quickly and clearly.

Arriving there, she was met by an excited family.

Wherever have you been? cried Dorothy.

My dear, gasped Aunt Winnie, youve given us an awful fright!

I was just down to start out on a trip through the hospitals and police stations, said Ned.

And Ive now spoiled the beautiful trip, said Tavia, with a laugh. Its just delightful to stay away long enough to be missed.

Yes, I know it is, said Dorothy. But where have you been?

Out, was Tavias laconic answer.

Really! said Ned, with broad sarcasm.

Aunt Winnie smiled. Dont tell them your secret, Tavia; they only want to find out so that they can tease you about it.

Anyone who insists on hearing my secret, said Tavia, striking a tragic pose, does so at his peril!

Ned decided that it was worth the risk, and rushed at Tavia to wrench the secret bare, but she eluded him skillfully, leaping directly over a couch. Ned was close at her heels, and out into the hall she ran, shutting the door after her, keeping Ned on the other side. In a moment it was opened. Desperate, Tavia sprang to the entrance into the main hall, and Ned followed so closely that they reached the divan in the hall at the same moment, Tavia sinking exhausted into its depths. She had won, because Ned could do nothing now except stand gallantly by he could not smother Tavia in pillows in the public hall, and still maintain his dignity so Tavias secret remained her own.

Dorothy appeared in the doorway.

Such perfectly foolish young people! she scolded. Come inside this instant! Its a good thing that father will arrive to-night, to balance this frivolous family!

Tavia sat up astonished. Major Dale coming to-night? Im so glad. And Nat and Joe and Roger! Wont that be fine for the skating party?

Dorothy, too, sank into the comfortable divan.

Fathers rheumatism is all well again, and they will arrive in time for dinner to-night, she said. The telegram came directly after breakfast.

Dorothy told me about your visit to Miss Mingle in the apartment house, said Ned, suddenly becoming serious. But Tavia did not want to discuss apartment houses just then, and she jumped lightly to her feet, just as Aunt Winnie opened the door.

Theres someone on the phone asking for Miss Travers! she said.

Certainly mysterious things were happening to Tavia that day, thought Dorothy, as she and Ned stood, frankly curious, while Tavia clung to the receiver.

Hello! she said, in a trembling voice.

Yes, this is Miss Travers!

No, I do not know your voice.

Really, I never heard your voice before!

Yes, this is Mrs. Whites apartment.

Im from Dalton, yes, and my name is Travers, but I dont know you.

Ned? Hes here. You want to speak to him?

She stepped from the telephone and handed the receiver to Ned: Its a mans voice and he kept laughing, but Im sure I never met him, and he finally asked for you, she explained.

How are you, old chum? sang out Ned, heartily. Yes, certainly, come right upstairs. Get off at the third floor. The girls will be wild with joy!

Who is it? demanded Dorothy and Tavia, in one voice.

Hell be in the room in a minute, answered Ned, mysteriously.

CHAPTER XIX
THICK ICE AND THIN

The owner of the voice on the telephone had appeared in less than a minute in the person of Bob, and before greetings were over the Major, with Nat, Roger and Joe, appeared, and there was a grand reunion.

When the boys took Bob off to see New York, the girls retired.

Does it really seem possible that a few days ago we were country school girls? mused Dorothy, as she and Tavia lay wide awake the next morning, waiting for the breakfast bell to ring. Tavia had succeeded in convincing Dorothy that on a holiday trip, one should never get up until two minutes before breakfast was served, and then to scramble madly to reach the table in time. This, Tavia, contended, was the only real way of knowing it was a holiday.

I feel as much a part of New York City as any of the natives might, answered Tavia. And there are such stacks of places we must yet explore.

How different we will make Miss Mingles days, after we all return to the Glen, Dorothy said. Well elect her one of our club, the noble little thing!

I feel like the most selfish of mortals in comparison, replied Tavia. Such goodness as hers is not common, Im sure.

A jingling of musical bells announced breakfast, and to further impress the fact upon the family, every young person banged on the other ones bedroom door, and the noise for a few minutes was deafening.

Now, Tavia, please, pleaded Dorothy, as she hurriedly dressed, dont act so to Bob! You were so contrary last evening!

Cant help it, declared Tavia. He inspires contrariness! Hes so easy to tease!

During the meal Tavia kept perfectly quiet, her eyes modestly downcast, and Dorothy watched her with great misgivings. Tavia was beginning the day entirely too modestly.

Another hour found the whole party on the banks of the lake in Central Park. The ice was in fine condition, and the lake as crowded as every spot in New York always seemed to be.

Oh, I havent forgotten the figure eight, said Major Dale, with a laugh, as he struck out. Aunt Winnie watched him anxiously because she had less confidence in his recovery than did the major. It was great fun for Roger and Joe to skate with their father.

Girls, said Aunt Winnie, as she tried bravely to balance herself, Im really not as young as I think I am! I believe Ill return to the car, bundle up in the fur robes and just watch.

The girls begged her to remain. Nat and Bob, after a long run to the end of the lake, had returned, and Nat grasped Aunt Winnie suddenly. Together they started up the lake, Aunt Winnie skating as gracefully as any of the young girls. Ned was tightening Dorothys skates as Bob approached Tavia.

Werent you surprised to see me yesterday? Bob wanted to know. You didnt think I would come; did you?

Ive been so busy, I dont know what I really have been thinking, was Tavias non-committal answer.

But did you? persisted Bob, anxious to know whether Tavia had thought of him during her holiday. Tavia knew that he was anxious.

I hardly think Ive thought much, she answered, as she did some fancy skating, just eluding Bob and Nat as they tried to catch her.

Dorothy complained to Tavia: Isnt it horrid the way people gather around just because two country girls can do a few fancy strokes on the ice!

Its embarrassing to say the least, replied Tavia, still dizzily whirling about. Im glad, arent you, that the rules for city park lakes forbid small gatherings on the ice? The guard has broken up each little group that has threatened to intrude on our privacy.

Let them watch! said Ned. Well give the city chaps some fine points on how to get over the ice!

Most of the girls seem to enjoy just standing still in the cold, said Bob, with a laugh.

I know that girl with the bright red skating cap just bought skates because she had a skating cap; she cant move on the ice, said Dorothy.

A tall man, with heavy gray hair and a fur overcoat, was skating near by, and he watched Tavia constantly. Dorothy noticed him and wondered at his persistence in keeping near their party. Tavia, however, was too deeply enraptured with her own antics on the ice, to pay attention to the mere onlookers.

Nat and Dorothy challenged Bob and Tavia to a race to the end and back in a given time, and a strong breeze carried them swiftly down the lake. As they disappeared from sight, the tall stranger in the fur coat plainly noticed Mrs. White and the major, who stood watching the young people sail away down the lake.

It was Mr. Akerson.

For once in my career Ive made some kind of a mistake, he muttered to himself. It was an inspiration to try to meet that pretty red-haired girl again, and by Jove! the knowledge gained was worth the effort! Now which one is she; the niece or the nieces chum? he mused as his car sped through the park, for he had soon tired of the ice.

Well, he said, with a laugh, the little red-haired lass is not yet through with Mr. Akerson.

Before his car had reached the park entrance, another car passed him, containing Mrs. White and Major Dale homeward bound, the young people having decided to remain on the ice until lunch.

Tavia had kept Bob just dancing whither her will o the wisp mood might lead. Finally it led the whole party up to the man who sold hot coffee and sandwiches.

This is the first really sensible move Tavias made to-day, commented Nat, as his teeth sank into a sandwich. The steaming coffee trickled down the throats of the party accompanied by various comments, but no one, except Dorothy, noticed a little lad, followed by a yellow dog, who stood hungrily watching the steaming cups. He was the typical urchin of the streets of New York City, who had wandered from goodness knows where among the East side tenements, to bask in the sunlight of Central Park. His hands were dug deep into his ragged trousers, and his dirty little face sank into the collar of a very large coat.

Is dat orful hot? he asked with interest, as Dorothy daintily drained her coffee cup.

Are you cold? she asked, kindly.

Naw, he answered, in great disgust, I aint never cold, but the dawg is. Say, lady, could yer guv the dawg a hot drink o dat stuff?

Dogs cant drink coffee, said Dorothy with a smile, but you must have some.

The boy slipped behind the dog and smiled wistfully at the coffee urns.

Naw, he said, I dont want none. But the hunger in his eyes was not to be denied by his brave little lips, and while Tavia and the boys made merry at the lunch counter, Dorothy quietly ordered coffee and sandwiches for the thin little boy. And he drank, and ate, every bit, insisting on sharing many mouthfuls with the yellow dog.

He stayed with the party, wandering up and down the banks of the lake, until they were ready to depart, and then he followed at a respectful distance as they walked across town to Riverside Drive. He had nothing else to do, and the lady with the fluffy hair was kind and good to look at, and as his whole life was spent on the streets, he carelessly followed along until they reached home. Turning, Dorothy saw him, and something in the little face went straight to her heart. He did not look at all like her own little brothers, there was only the small boy manliness about him that, somehow, reminded her of Joe, and smiling encouragement for him to follow, he did so, until the porter stopped him in the apartment hall.

Its all right, said Dorothy, in a low voice, hes with us.

What are you going to do with him? asked Tavia, as they piled on the elevator.

Feed him all the things his little stomach has ever yearned for, declared Dorothy. Ive seen so many of him about the streets, and now Im going to try and make one happy, for just a day!

The little thin boy being enthroned in the kitchenette with the yellow dog sprawled out on the floor, Dorothy returned to Tavia and the boys.

Why did not I see that little boy? asked Tavia, soberly.

Because, said Bob gently, you were ministering to the enjoyment and success of the skating party.

Huh! said Tavia, in disdain. Dorothy is the most perfect darling! Who else would have looked about for someone to bestow kindnesses upon? Im going right out to the little boy and and help entertain him. And in deep repentance Tavia strode out to the kitchenette, to make up to the thin boy whom she would have passed by if Dorothy had not been kind to him.

Soon the boys stood outside the door listening to Tavia patiently trying to say the very nicest things!

At Neds suggestion, that a little practice on Tavias part, in saying nice things, should by no means be interrupted, they rushed to the drawing room, and Dorothy played the piano while the boys sang. Dorothy finally jumped up, with her fingers in her ears, and declared she was becoming deaf, so Nat immediately sat down on the piano stool, and the singing continued.

Aunt Winnie looked in for a moment and begged the bass to try to sing tenor! And even the very boyish major closed his door to shut out the hideous sounds. But nothing disturbed Tavia, who was bent on making up to little Tommy.

CHAPTER XX
A THICKENED PLOT

This is becoming a habit, said Dorothy to Tavia, as they climbed the steps of the Fifth Avenue bus, homeward bound after a few morning hours spent in the shopping district, the day after the skating party.

Everybody seems to have the habit too, commented Tavia. We can shop steadily for two hours, and still not purchase anything. Thats what I find so fascinating!

To me the charm of shopping lies in being able to buy anything that inspires one at the moment, and then calmly return it the next day. In that way, we can really possess for a few hours almost anything we set our hearts on, said Dorothy gleefully.

Like returning the brass horses and finger bowls! said Tavia.

Not to mention the rows of books and boxes of handkerchiefs, Dorothy opened a box of chocolates as she spoke, and the candy occupied their attention for several minutes.

The bus stopped for a man who had hastily crossed the street in front of it. He climbed the steps and sat directly opposite the girls from the country. Tavia was busy with her thoughts and did not see him. Dorothy, however, noticed him, but said nothing to Tavia, because, for one frightened moment, she remembered him as the stranger who had so closely watched Tavia on the lake the morning before. To divert attention she began to talk rapidly.

Im so sorry Bob cannot stay after to-morrow morning, she said. At mention of Bobs name Tavia turned her head toward the sidewalk, and away from the stranger. Do you recall the first time we met him, Tavia?

I dont recall much about Bob, said Tavia, diffidently, I think he is too domineering. He is always preaching to me!

He takes a brotherly interest in your welfare, teased Dorothy, for Bob was the one subject on which Tavia could really be teased. Ned seems to have lost his place of big brother to Tavia, she continued, meanwhile casting sidewise glances at the man opposite. He sat staring deliberately at Tavia, and Dorothy was just about to suggest that they leave the bus and rid themselves of the mans distasteful glances, when Tavia glanced across the aisle and recognized the real estate agent!





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