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CHAPTER VII RUNNING A LUNCH COUNTER
For some minutes the absurdity of the situation scarcely dawned upon Dorothy. But the screeching of an approaching train promptly reminded her of her newly-acquired duties.

“Suppose the passengers should want papers,” she thought. “I had better look at the bundles.”

An old man thrust his face in under the wooden flap that was up in the day time, and put down at night.

“A good cup of coffee, and quick there!” he demanded. “I have got to get away ahead of that train.”

Dorothy turned to the big coffee urn, and for the first time noticed that there was a fire under it.

The next thing Dorothy did was to look at the man who had given her the first order at the improvised restaurant. He was smiling at her—a frank, pleasant smile, that had in it not the least suggestion of familiarity.

“Well?” he asked questioningly. “Did I startle you?”

52 “Not exactly,” was her answer. “That is—well, I’m not really used to this sort of work, and——”

“You don’t know how to run that machine—isn’t that it?” he asked, nodding brightly. “Confess now, that you don’t know how to get coffee out of it.”

“That’s it,” said Dorothy with an air of relief that he had divined her trouble. “There are so many attachments to it that I really don’t know which one to turn to get the coffee out.”

“In the first place,” spoke the man, “is there coffee in it?”

“I think so.”

“I mean coffee with water on it—coffee to drink?”

“Yes, the young lady who runs it, and who had to get off in a hurry to deliver a message, said so.”

“Good! That’s one point solved. Now then, there is no question but what the coffee is hot. I can see the alcohol flame under it. The next thing is how to get it out.”

“I believe so,” agreed Dorothy with a smile. “Suppose I turn this faucet.”

“No, don’t!” cried the man suddenly. “It may not be the right one, and you might scald yourself. Let me come in and maybe I can find the right thing to twist.”

53 “No! Don’t!” exclaimed Dorothy.

“Why not? ’Fraid I might get burned? I don’t mind.”

“No, it isn’t that,” and she was conscious of a movement under the counter.

“Well, then, is it because you think I don’t know how to run that machine? I confess that I haven’t a working knowledge of it. A planing mill is more in my line. Now if you were to ask me to get you out so many feet of inch pine, tongue and groove, or something like that, I could do it in no time, but I will admit that getting coffee out of a contraption like that is a little beyond me. An old fashioned pot is simpler. Still, if I came behind, I might help you.”

He made a motion as if he were coming in.

“Don’t!” cried Dorothy again, and the dog growled.

“Oh, I see,” said the man. “He doesn’t like strangers. Well, maybe I can help you from outside here. I’ve no desire to be made into mincemeat so early in the morning.”

“What shall I do?” asked Dorothy, rather helplessly.

“About the dog?”

“No, about this coffee urn. What shall I turn first?”

“Try that faucet there,” suggested the man,54 pointing to the largest one, of a number that adorned the shining bit of machinery.

Dorothy did so, forgetting to hold a cup under it. A stream of cold water spurted out.

“Wrong guess!” exclaimed the man. “I might have known, too. There’s a glass gage there, and I can see water in it now. I should have looked at that first. You might have been wet.”

“I’m not salt,” returned Dorothy, laughingly.

“More like sugar, I should say,” spoke the man. “Tut! Tut!” he exclaimed, as he saw a frown pass over Dorothy’s face. “No harm intended. Besides, I’m nearly old enough to be your father. Now about the coffee. I really need some and I haven’t much time to spare.”

“Suppose I try this faucet?” suggested Dorothy, and she put her hand on a second shining handle.

“Do,” begged the hungry man.

With a menacing hiss some hot water spurted out.

“Look out!” the hungry one called. “You’ll be burned!”

Dorothy got back out of the way just in time.

“There’s the right one!” the first customer exclaimed, as he pointed to the lowest faucet of all. “If I had kept my wits about me I’d have seen. The coffee shows in the gage glass. Besides,55 it’s the lowest one down, and, naturally, the coffee goes to the bottom of the urn. Try that one.”

Dorothy did, but there was no welcoming stream of the juice of the aromatic berry. She was beginning to get nervous.

“The other way,” directed the man. “It’s one of those patent faucets, I guess. Turn it the other way.”

She did so, and a brown stream, hot and fragrant, trickled out. It splashed on the board counter.

“I guess you’d better take a cup,” said the man with a smile. “We’ve found the right place this time, and there’s no use wasting the coffee. Sorry I’ve been such a bother, but I really would use a cup.” Dorothy laughed frankly. Her nervousness was passing away.

On a side shelf of the queer little restaurant she saw that the iron-china cups were piled up. She reached for one, filled it with the smoking coffee, and handed it to the man outside the flap.

“Sandwich!” he demanded. “This coffee makes a fellow want to eat, instead of quenching his appetite.”

Dorothy looked around and smelled ham. The bread was in a box, and almost fell at her feet as she searched for it.

“Plenty of mustard,” demanded the customer,56 and this time the strange waitress began to think she would fail to fill the order.

“I can’t seem to find the mustard,” she said lamely.

“You’re a stranger here then? I thought the other one had a different head on her,” replied the man, who was now helping himself to the loaf of bread that Dorothy had laid down preparing to cut it. “Well, I think I can find that mustard,” and he turned to the little side door. As he did so the big black dog growled again and barred his way inside the shanty.

“He’s tied,” said Dorothy, “but I think it will be best for me to look on the shelf there, where the canned goods are. Yes, it’s here,” and she brought down a big yellow bottle of sandwich-flavoring stuff.

“Here, I’ll cut the ham. I’ve got to get away. I’m late now,” and he proceeded to “cut the ham” after the manner in which he had attacked the bread. Dorothy was afraid she had made a great mistake. There would be nothing left for the train people if he kept on.

Finally he managed to get another cup of coffee, he poured the condensed milk into it thick and fast, then he asked;

“How much?”

“I really don’t know,” Dorothy replied, “but57 if you have been in the habit of eating here just whatever you always pay will do.”

“Guess you had better charge it then,” he said, and before she had time to reply he was off down the track, wiping his mouth with his red handkerchief as he went.

“This is not just my sort of position,” mused Dorothy, cleaning up the refuse left on the counter. “I hope I won’t have to pay the damages.”

The incoming train left her no further time for reflection, for, as it pulled in and stopped at the station, a crowd of men, evidently night workers, scrambled for the lunch counter.

“Coffee and rolls!”

“Coffee and cheese cake!”

“Coffee and franks for me!”

“Coffee! coffee! coffee!”

Dorothy was actually frightened. These men wanted breakfast, and had only a few minutes in which to get it. How could she wait on them?

Long arms were reached inside the open window, and cups and saucers brought down to wait for the coffee.

“I’m not the girl who—who—runs this place,” Dorothy said, timidly, as one very rough-looking man shouted again his order. “I only stepped in to—watch the place, until the other girl gets back. I do wish she would come,” and, filling a big58 pitcher with the coffee from the urn she placed it before the hungry men.

“But we can’t eat again until noon,” declared a big fellow, who spoke with the unmistakable Maine tang, “and this joint is run special for car men. I’ll have them folks reported,” and he brought his hand down on the counter so that the heavy cups danced.

“Oh, please don’t do that!” begged Dorothy, “for the young lady said her father was ill, and I am sure something important has detained her. I will do the very best I can.”

The train blew a warning whistle. Dorothy put everything she could find on the counter. “I’ll pay for it if I have to,” she was thinking. “Certainly I must avoid—a panic.”

A young man, well dressed, was coming along now. Her heart gave a great bound. What would he want?

She turned to put more water in the coffee urn.

“Have you the morning papers?” asked the newcomer.

His voice made her start. She turned and faced—Mr. Armstrong!

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to unwrap the papers,” she said, blushing furiously. “Isn’t this dreadful, Mr. Armstrong?”

“Surprising, I’m sure,” he replied, smiling. “You have more than your hands full.”

59 Dorothy tried to explain, but her confusion was now more than excitement—it was akin to collapse.

“Perhaps I could help you,” suggested her friend of the bridge-bound train. “I am not in a hurry. Mother is on ahead, and I can wait for the next accommodation.”

“Oh, if you only would! I cannot find anything more to eat,” and she brushed back her hair, in lieu of rolling up her sleeves.

“You can’t go in there,” growled one of the train men. “There’s a dog that don’t like dudes.”

Another toot, and the men rushed off, half emptied cups in hand, sandwiches in pocket, and the rack of pastry left empty, inside the counter, where it had fallen as the last pie was grabbed from its wires.

“The cups,” called Dorothy. “They are taking them away!”

“Don’t worry about that,” Mr. Armstrong told her. “Likely they will toss them out the car windows. They’re that sort that never breaks. But I’m glad they’re gone. You look quite done out.”

“And just think! I have been away from the hall for the past hour. They will think I’m drowned, or lost or——”

“Eloped,” finished the young man. “Well,60 I’m sure you did this to help someone, and if your success as a lunch counter manager is doubtful, no one could criticise your courage. Now, you had better shut this place up, before another avalanche swoops down, and, if you don’t mind, I’ll walk along with you. I can get the seven-ten easily, and have the pleasure of an early walk. To be honest, travelling on that train was not altogether pleasant.”

“I certainly must get back,” Dorothy replied. “But how am I to lock this place up? I do wish that girl would come back.”

She looked anxiously over the hills. There was a wheel coming. Yes, and that was the girl, with the blue suit.

“Oh, there she comes!” went on Dorothy. “Whatever will she think of this wreck and ruin?”

“From remarks I heard among the trainmen she may be glad they got coffee,” said Mr. Armstrong.

The bicycle had stopped now. The girl jumped off, and hurried to Dorothy.

“Oh,” she sighed, “I am so sorry I kept you so long, but father is so ill!” and they noticed that, in spite of the exertion of riding, she was very pale.

“I’m afraid I didn’t do very well,” ventured Dorothy.

61 “That train was the track foreman’s. It was all right; no matter what you did as long as you kept the window open,” said the girl gratefully. “But I am afraid I have gotten you into trouble. Do you go to Glenwood?”

“Yes,” replied Dorothy.

“I thought so. Well, the young ladies are looking for you. I heard one say——”

She stopped suddenly, looking at Mr. Armstrong.

“What?” asked Dorothy, but no direct answer was given, for school girls were seen coming over the hill, and it was Jean Faval who was first to hail the finding of Dorothy, and she, also, who first reported that she was in the company of a young man!
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