"Why not?" asked Mr. Dick.
Well, I sat down again and explained patiently that it would get out among the servants and cause a scandal, and that even if it didn't I wasn't going to have any more deception: I had enough already. And after a while they saw it as I did, and agreed to wait and see Miss Patty before they decided. They wanted to have her wakened at once, but I refused, although I agreed to bring her out first thing in the morning.
"But you can't stay here," I said. "There'll be Miss Cobb at nine o'clock, and the man comes to light the fire at eight."
"We could go to the old shelter-house on the golf links," suggested Mr. Dick, looking me square in the eye. (I took the hint, and Mrs. Dicky never knew he had been hidden there before.)
"Nobody ever goes near it in winter." So I put on my slippers again and we started through the snow across the golf links, Mr. Dick carrying a bundle of firewood, and I leading the way with my lantern. Twice I went into a drift to my waist, and once a rabbit bunted into me head on, and would have scared me into a chill if I hadn't been shaking already. The two behind me were cheerful enough. Mr. Dick pointed out the general direction of the deer park which hides the shelter-house from the sanatorium, and if you'll believe it, with snow so thick I had to scrape it off the lantern every minute or so, those children planned to give something called A Midsummer Night's Dream in the deer park among the trees in the spring, to entertain the patients.
"I wish to heaven I'd wake up and find all THIS a dream," I called back over my shoulder. But they were busy with costumes and getting some folks they knew from town to take the different parts and they never even heard me. The last few yards they snowballed each other and me. I tell you I felt a hundred years old.
We got into the shelter-house by my crawling through a window, and when we had lighted the fire and hung up the lantern, it didn't seem so bad. The place had been closed since summer, and it seemed colder than outside, but those two did the barn dance then and there. There were two rooms, and Mr. Dick had always used the back one to hide in. It's a good thing Mrs. Dick was not a suspicious person. Many a woman would have wondered when she saw him lift a board in the floor and take out a rusty tin basin, a cake of soap, a moldy towel, a can of sardines, a tooth-brush and a rubber carriage robe to lay over the rafters under the hole in the roof. But it's been my experience that the first few days of married life women are blind because they want to be and after that because they have to be.
It was about four when I left them, sitting on a soap box in front of the fire toasting sardines on the end of Mr. Dick's walking-stick. Mrs. Dick made me put on her sealskin coat, and I took the lantern, leaving them in the firelight. They'd gone back to the captive balloon idea and were wondering if they couldn't get it copyrighted!
I took a short cut home, crawling through the barbed-wire fence and going through the deer park. I was too tired and cold to think. I stumbled down the hill to the house, and just before I got to the corner I heard voices, and the shuffling of feet through the snow. The next instant a lantern came around the corner of the house. Mr. Thoburn was carrying it, and behind him were the bishop, Mike the bath man, and Mr. Pierce.
"It's like that man Moody," the bishop was saying angrily, "to send the girl—"
"Piffle!" snarled Mr. Thoburn. "If ever a woman was able to take care of herself—" And then they saw me, and they all stopped and stared.
"Good gracious, girl!" said the bishop, with his dressing-gown blowing out straight behind him in the wind. "We thought you'd been buried in a drift!"
"I don't see why!" I retorted defiantly. "Can't I go out to my own spring-house without having a posse after me to bring me back?"
"Ordinarily," said Mr. Thoburn, with his snaky eyes on me, "I think I may say that you might go almost anywhere without my turning out to recover you. But Mrs. Moody is having hysterics."
Mrs. Moody! I'd forgotten the Moodys!
"She is convinced that you have drowned yourself, head down, in the spring," Mr. Pierce said in his pleasant way. "You've been gone two hours, you know."
He took my arm and turned me toward the house. I was dazed.
"In answer to your urgent inquiry," Mr. Thoburn called after me, disagreeably, "Mr. Moody has not died. He is asleep. But, by the way, where's the spring water?"
I didn't answer him; I couldn't. We went into the house; Mrs. Moody and Miss Cobb were sitting on the stairs. Mrs. Moody had been crying, and Miss Cobb was feeding her the whisky I had left, with a teaspoon. She had had a half tumblerful already and was quite maudlin. She ran to me and put her arms around me.
"I thought I was a murderess!" she cried. "Oh, the thought! Blood on my soul! Why, Minnie Waters, wherever did you get that sealskin coat!"
DOLLY, HOW COULD YOU?
I lay down across my bed at six o'clock that morning, but I was too tired and worried to sleep, so at seven I got up and dressed.
I was frightened when I saw myself in the glass. My eyes looked like burnt holes in a blanket. I put on two pairs of stockings and heavy shoes, for I knew I was going to do the Eskimo act again that day and goodness knows how many days more, and then I went down and knocked at the door of Miss Patty's room. She hadn't been sleeping either. She called to me in an undertone to come in, and she was lying propped up with pillows, with something pink around her shoulders and the night lamp burning beside the bed. She had a book in her hand, but all over the covers and on the table at her elbow were letters in the blue foreign envelopes with the red and black and gold seal.
I walked over to the foot of the bed.
"They're here," I said.
She sat up, and some letters slid to the floor.
"THEY'RE here!" she repeated. "Do you mean Dorothy?"
"She and her husband. They came last night at five minutes to twelve. Their train was held up by the blizzard and they won't come in until they see you. They're hiding in the shelter-house on the golf links."
I think she thought I was crazy: I looked it. She hopped out of bed and closed the door into her sitting-room—Mrs. Hutchins' room opened off it—and then she came over and put her hand on my arm.
"Will you sit down and try to tell me just what you mean?" she said. "How can my sister and her—her wretch of a husband have come last night at midnight when I saw Mr. Carter myself not later than ten o'clock?"
Well, I had to tell her then about who Mr. Pierce was and why I had to get him, and she understood almost at once. She was the most understanding girl I ever met. She saw at once what Mr. Sam wouldn't have known in a thousand years—that I wanted to save the old place not to keep my position—but because I'd been there so long, and my father before me, and had helped to make it what it was and all that. And she stood there in her nightgown—she who was almost a princess—and listened to me, and patted me on the shoulder when I broke down, telling her about Thoburn and the summer hotel.
"But here I am," I finished, "telling you about my troubles and forgetting what I came for. You'll have to go out to the shelter-house, Miss Patty. And I guess you're expected to fix it up with your father."
She stopped unfastening her long braids of hair.
"Certainly I'll go to the shelter-house," she said, "and I'll shake a little sense into Dorothy Jennings—the abominable little idiot! But they needn't think I'm going to help them with father; I wouldn't if I could, and I can't. He won't speak to me. I'm in disgrace, Minnie." She gave her hair a shake, twisted it into a rope and then a knot, and stuck a pin in it. It was lovely: I wish Miss Cobb could have seen her. "You've known father for years, Minnie: have you ever known him to be so—so—"
"Devilish" was the word she meant, but I finished for her.
"Unreasonable?" I said. "Well, once before when you were a little girl, he put his cane through a window in the spring-house, because he thought it needed air. The spring-house, of course, not the cane."
"Exactly," she said, looking around the room, "and now he's putting a cane through every plan I have made. Do you see my heavy boots?"
"It's like this," I remarked, bringing the boots from outside the door, "if he's swallowed the prince and is choking on the settlement question he might as well get over it. All those foreigners expect pay for taking a wife. Didn't the chef here want to marry Tillie, the diet cook, and didn't he want her to turn over the three hundred dollars she had in the bank, and her real estate, which was a sixth interest in a cemetery lot? But Tillie stuck it out and he wouldn't take her without."
"It isn't quite the same, Minnie," she said, sitting down on the floor to put on her stockings.
"The principle's the same," I retorted, "and if you ask me—"
"I haven't," she said disagreeably, "and when you begin to argue, Minnie, you make my head ache."
"I have had a heartache for a week," I snapped, "let alone heartburn, and I'll be glad when the Jennings family is safely married and I can sleep at night."
I was hurt. I went out and shut the door behind me, but I stopped in the hall and went back.
"I forgot to say," I began, and stopped. She was still sitting on the floor, trying to put her heavy boots on, and crying all over them.
"Stop that instantly," I said, and jerked her shoes from her. "Get into a chair and let me put them on. And if you will wait a jiffy I'll bring you a cup of coffee. I'm not even a Christian in the morning until I've had my coffee."
"You haven't had it yet, have you?" she asked, and we laughed together, rather shaky. But as I buttoned her shoes I saw her eyes going toward the blue letters on the bed.
"Oh, Minnie," she said, "if you only knew how peculiar they are in Europe! They'll never allow a sanatorium in the family!"
"I guess a good many would be the better for having one close," I said.
Well, I left her to get dressed and went to the kitchens. Tillie was there getting the beef tea ready for the day, but none of the rest was around. They knew the housekeeper was gone, but I guess they'd forgotten that I was still on hand. I put a kettle against the electric bell that rings in the chef's room so it would keep on ringing and went on into the diet kitchen.
"Tillie," I said, "can you trust me?"
She looked up from her beef.
"Whether I can or not, I always have," she answered.
"Well, can I trust you? That's more to the point."
She put down her knife and came over to me, with her hands on her hips.
"I don't know what you're up to, Minnie," she said, "and I don't know that I care. But if you've forgotten the time I went to the city and brought you sulphur and the Lord only knows what for your old spring when you'd run short and were laid up with influenza—"
"Hush!" I exclaimed. "You needn't shout it. Tillie, I don't want you to ask me any questions, but I want four raw eggs in a basket, a pot of coffee and cream, some fruit if you can get it when the chef unlocks the refrigerator room, and bread and butter. They can make their own toast."
"They?" she said, with her mouth open.
But I didn't explain any more. I had found Tillie about a year before, frying sausages at the railroad station, and made her diet cook at the sanatorium. Mrs. Wiggins hadn't wanted her, but, as I told the old doctor at the time, we needed somebody in the kitchen to keep an eye on things for us. It was through Tillie that we discovered that the help were having egg-nog twice a day, with eggs as scarce as hens' teeth, and the pharmacy clerk putting in a requisition for more whisky every week.
Well, I scribbled a note to Mr. Van Alstyne, telling what had happened, and put it under his door, and then I met Miss Patty in the hall by the billiard room and I gave her some coffee from the basket, in the sun parlor. It was still dark, although it was nearly eight o'clock, and nobody saw us go out together. Just as we left I heard the chef in the kitchen bawling out that he'd murder whoever put the kettle against the bell, and Tillie saying it must have dropped off the hook and landed there.
We went to the spring-house first, to avoid suspicion, and then across back of the deer park to the shelter-house. It was still snowing, but not so much, and the tracks we had made early in the morning were still there, mine off to one side alone, and the others close together and side by side. There was a whole history in those snow tracks, mine alone and kind of offish, and the others cuddling together. It made me lonely to look at them.
I remember wishing I'd taught school, as I was educated to; woman wasn't made to live alone, and most school-teachers get married.
Miss Patty did not say much. She was holding her chin high and looking rather angry and determined. At the spring-house I gave her the basket and took an armful of fire-wood myself. I knew Mr. Dick would never think of it until the fire was out.
They were both asleep in the shelter-house. He was propped up against the wall on a box, with the rubber carriage robe around him, and she was lying by the fire, with Mrs. Moody's shawl over her and her muff under her head. Miss Patty stood in the doorway for an instant. Then she walked over and, leaning down, shook her sister by the arm.
"Dorothy!" she said. "Wake up, you wretched child!" And shook her again.
Mrs. Dicky groaned and yawned, and opened her eyes one at a time.
But when she saw it was Miss Patty she sat up at once, looking dazed and frightened.
"You needn't pinch me, Pat!" she said, and at that Mr. Dick wakened and jumped up, with the carriage robe still around him.
"Oh, Dolly, Dolly!" said Miss Patty suddenly, dropping on her knees beside Mrs. Dicky, "what a bad little girl you are! What a thing for you to do! Think of father and Aunt Honoria!"
"I shan't," retorted Mrs. Dicky decidedly. "I'm not going to spoil my honeymoon like that. For heaven's sake, Pat, don't cry. I'm not dead. Dick, this is my sister, Patricia."
Miss Pat looked at him, but she didn't bow. She gave him one look, from his head to his heels.
"Dolly, how COULD you!" she said, and got up.
It wasn't very comfortable for Mr. Dick, but he took it much better than I expected. He went over and gave his wife a hand to help her up, and still holding hers, he turned to Miss Patty.
"You are perfectly right," he said, "I don't see how she could myself. The more you know of me the more you'll wonder. But she did; we're up against that."
He grinned at Miss Patty, and after a minute Miss Patty smiled back. But it wasn't much of a smile. I was unpacking the breakfast, putting the coffee-pot on the fire and getting ready to cook the eggs and make toast. But I was watching, too. Suddenly Mrs. Dick made a dive for Miss Patty and threw her arms around her.
"You darling!" she cried. "I'm so glad to see you again—Pat, you'll tell father, won't you? He'll take it from you. If I tell him he'll have apoplexy or something."
But Miss Patty set her pretty mouth—both those girls have their father's mouth—and held her sister out at arm's length and looked at her.
"Listen," she said. "Do you know what you have done to me? Do you know that when father knows this he's going to annul the marriage or have Mr. Carter arrested for kidnaping or abduction?—whatever it is." Mrs. Dick puckered her face to cry, and Mr. Dick took a step forward, but Miss Patty waved him off. "You know father as well as I do, Dolly. You know what he is, and lately he's been awful. He's not well—it's his liver again—and he won't listen to anything. Why, the Austrian ambassador came up here, all this distance, to talk about the etiquette of the—of my wedding, something about precedence, and he wouldn't even see him."
"He can't annul it," said Mr. Dick angrily. "I'm of age. And I can support my wife, too, or will be able—soon."
"Dolly's not of age," said Miss Patty wearily. "I've sat up all night figuring it out. He's going to annul the marriage, or he'll make a scandal anyhow, and that's just as bad. Dolly,"—she turned to her sister imploringly—"Dolly, I can't have a scandal now. You know how Oskar's people have taken this, anyhow; they've given in, because he insisted, but they don't want me, and if there's a lot of notoriety now the emperor will send him to Africa or some place, and—"
"I wish they would!" Mrs. Carter burst out suddenly. "I hate the whole thing. They only tolerate you—us—for our money. You needn't look at me like that; Oskar may be all right, but his mother and sisters are hateful—simply hateful!"
"I'll not be with them."
"No, but they'll be with you." Mrs. Dicky walked over to the window and looked out, dabbing her eyes. "You've been everything to me, Pat, and I'm so happy now—I'd rather be here on a soap box with Dick than on a throne or a dais or whatever you'll have to sit on over there, with Oskar. I want to be happy—and you won't. Look at Alice Thorne and her duke!"
"If you really want me to be happy," Miss Patty said, going over to her, "you'll go back to school until the wedding is over."
"I won't leave Dicky." She swung around and gave Mr. Dick an adoring glance, and Miss Patty looked discouraged.
"Take him with you," she said. "Isn't there some place near where he could stay, and telephone you now and then?"
"Telephone!" said Mrs. Dick scornfully.
"Can't leave," Mr. Dick objected. "Got to be on the property."
Miss Patty shrugged her shoulders and turned to go. "You're both perfectly hopeless," she said. "I'll go and tell father, Dorothy, but you know what will happen. You'll be back in school at Greenwich by to-night, and your—husband will probably be under arrest." She opened the door, but I dropped the toast I was making and ran after her.
"If he is arrested," I said, "they'll have to keep him on the place. He can't leave."
She didn't say anything; she lifted her hand and looked at the ruby ring, and then she glanced back into the room where Mr. Dick and his wife were whispering together, and turned up her coat collar.
"I'm going," she said, and stepped into the snow. But they called her back in a hurry.
"Look here, Miss—Miss Patricia," Mr. Dick said, "why can't we stay here, where we are? It's very comfortable—that is, it's livable. There's plenty of fresh air, anyhow, and everybody's shouting for fresh air nowadays. They've got somebody to take my place in the house."
"And father needn't know a thing—you can fix that," broke in Mrs. Dick. "And after your wedding he will be in a better humor; he'll know it's over and not up to him any more."
Miss Patty came back to the shelter-house again and sat down on the soap box.
"We MIGHT carry it off," she said. "If I could only go back to town! But father is in one of his tantrums, and he won't go, or let me go. The idea!—with Aunt Honoria on the long-distance wire every day, having hysterics, and my clothes waiting to be tried on and everything. I'm desperate."
"And all sorts of things being arranged for you!" put in Mrs. Dick enviously. "And the family jewels being reset in Vienna for you and all that! It would be great—if you only didn't have to take Oskar with the jewels!"
Miss Patty frowned.
"You are not going to marry him," she said, with a glance at Mr. Dick, who, with his coat off, was lying flat on the floor, one arm down in the hole where the things had been hidden, trying to hook up a can of baked beans. "If it doesn't turn out well, you and father have certainly done your part in the way of warning. It's just as Aunt Honoria said; the family will make a tremendous row beforehand, but afterward, when it all turns out well, they'll take the credit."
Mr. Dick was busy with the beans and I was turning the eggs. Mrs. Dick went over to her sister and put her arm around her.
"That's right, Patty," she said, "you're more like mother than I am. I'm a Jennings all over—except that, heavens be praised, I've got the Sherwood liver. I guess I'm common plebeian, like dad, too. I'm plebeian enough, anyhow, to think there's been a lot too much about marriage settlements and the consent of the emperor in all this, and not enough about love."
I could have patted Mrs. Dicky on the back for that, and I almost upset the eggs into the fire. I'm an advocate of marrying for love every time, although a title and a bunch of family jewels thrown in wouldn't worry me.
"Do you want me to protest that the man who has asked me to marry him cares about me?" Miss Patty replied in an angry undertone. "Couldn't he have married a thousand other girls! Hadn't a marriage been arranged between him and the cousin—"
"I know all that," Mrs. Dicky said, and her voice sounded older than Miss Patty's, and motherly. "But—are you in love with him, Pat?"
"Certainly," Miss Patty said indignantly. "Don't be silly, Dolly."
At that instant Mr. Dick found the beans, and got up shouting that we'd have a meal fit for a prince—if princes ate anything so every day as baked beans. I put the eggs on a platter and poured the coffee, and we all sat around the soap box and ate. I wished that Miss Cobb could have seen me there—how they insisted on my having a second egg, and was my coffee cold, and wasn't I too close to the fire? It was Minnie here and Minnie there, and me next to Miss Patty on the floor, and she, as you may say, right next to royalty. I wished it could have been in the spring-house, with father's crayon enlargement looking down on us.
Everybody felt better for the meal, and we were sitting there laughing and talking and very cheerful when Mr. Van Alstyne opened the door and looked in. His face was stern, but when he saw us, with Miss Patty on her knees toasting a piece of bread and Mr. Dicky passing the tin basin as a finger-bowl, he stopped scowling and looked amused.
"They're here, Sallie," he called to his wife, and they both came in, covered with snow, and we had coffee and eggs all over again.
Well, they stayed for an hour, and Mr. Sam talked himself black in the face and couldn't get anywhere. For the Dickys refused to be separated, and Mrs. Dick wouldn't tell her father, and Miss Patty wouldn't do it for her, and the minute Mr. Sam made a suggestion that sounded rational Mrs. Dick would cry and say she didn't care to live, anyhow, and she wished she had died of ptomaine poisoning the time she ate the bad oysters at school.
So finally Mr. Sam gave up and said he washed his hands of the whole affair, and that he was going to make another start on his wedding journey, and if they wanted to be a pair of fools it wasn't up to him—only for heaven's sake not to cry about it. And then he wiped Mrs. Dicky's eyes and kissed her, she being, as he explained, his sister-in-law now and much too pretty for him to scold.
And when the Dickys found they were not going to be separated we had more coffee all around and everybody grew more cheerful.
Oh, we were very cheerful! I look back now and think how cheerful we were, and I shudder. It was strange that we hadn't been warned by Mr. Pierce's square jaw, but we were not. We sat around the fire and ate and laughed, and Mr. Dick arranged that Mr. Pierce should come out to him every evening for orders about the place if he accepted, and everybody felt he would—and I was to come at the same time and bring a basket of provisions for the next day. Of course, the instant Mr. Jennings left the young couple could go into the sanatorium as guests under another name and be comfortable. And as soon as the time limit was up, and the place was still running smoothly, they could declare the truth, claim the sanatorium, having fulfilled the conditions of the will, and confess to Mr. Jennings—over the long-distance wire.
Well, it promised well, I must say. Mr. Stitt left on the ten train that morning, looking lemon-colored and mottled. He insisted that he wasn't able to go, but Mr. Sam gave him a headache powder and put him on the train, anyhow.
Yes, as I say, it promised well. But we made two mistakes: we didn't count on Mr. Thoburn, and we didn't know Mr. Pierce. And who could have imagined that Mike the bath man would do as he did?
After luncheon, when everybody at Hope Springs takes a nap, we had another meeting at the shelter-house, this time with Mr. Pierce. He had spent the morning tramping over the hills with a gun and keeping out of the way of people, and what with three square meals, a good night's sleep and the exercise, he was looking a lot better. Seen in daylight, he had very dark hair and blue-gray eyes and a very square chin, although it had a sort of dimple in it. I used to wonder which won out, the dimple or the chin, but I wasn't long in finding out.
Well, he looked dazed when I took him to the shelter-house and he saw Mr. Dick and Mrs. Dick and the Mr. Sams and Miss Patty. They gave him a lawn-mower to sit on, and Mr. Sam explained the situation.
"I know it's asking a good bit, Mr. Pierce," he said, "and personally I can see only one way out of all this. Carter ought to go in and take charge, and his—er—wife ought to go back to school. But they won't have it, and—er—there are other reasons." He glanced at Miss Patty.
Mr. Pierce also glanced at Miss Patty. He'd been glancing at her at intervals of two seconds ever since she came in, and being a woman and having a point to gain, Miss Patty seemed to have forgotten the night before, and was very nice to him. Once she smiled directly at him, and whatever he was saying died in his throat of the shock. When she turned her head away he stared at the back of her neck, and when she looked at the fire he gazed at her profile, and always with that puzzled look, as if he hadn't yet come to believe that she was the newspaper Miss Jennings.
After everything had been explained to him, including Mr. Jennings' liver and disposition, she turned to him and said:
"We are in your hands, you see, Mr. Pierce. Are you going to help us?" And when she asked him that, it was plain to me that he was only sorry he couldn't die helping.
"If everybody agrees to it," he said, looking at her, "and you all think it's feasible and I can carry it off, I'm perfectly willing to try."
"Oh, it's feasible," Mr. Dick said in a relieved voice, getting up and beginning to strut up and down the room. "It isn't as though I'm beyond call. You can come out here and consult me if you get stuck. And then there's Minnie; she knows a good bit about the old place."
Mr. Sam looked at me and winked.
"Of course," said Mr. Dick, "I expect to retain control, you understand that, I suppose, Pierce? You can come out every day for instructions. I dare say sanatoriums are hardly your line."
Mr. Pierce was looking at Miss Patty and she knew it. When a woman looks as unconscious as she did it isn't natural.
"Eh—oh, well no, hardly," he said, coming to himself; "I've tried everything else, I believe. It can't be worse than carrying a bunch of sweet peas from garden to garden."
Mr. Dick stopped walking and turned suddenly to stare at Mr. Pierce.
"Sweet—what?" he said.
Everybody else was talking, and I was the only one who saw him change color.
"Sweet peas," said Mr. Pierce. "And that reminds me—I'd like to make one condition, Mr. Carter. I feel in a measure responsible for the company; most of them have gone back to New York, but the leading woman is sick at the hotel in Finleyville. I'd like to bring her here for two weeks to recuperate. I assure you, I have no interest in her, but I'm sorry for her; she's had the mumps."
"Mumps!" everybody said together, and Mr. Sam looked at his brother-in-law.
"Kid in the play got 'em, and they spread around," Mr. Pierce explained. "Nasty disease."
"Why, you've just had them, too, Dicky!" said his wife. They all turned to look at him, and I must say his expression was curious.
Luckily, I had the wit to knock over the breakfast basket, which was still there, and when we'd gathered up the broken china, Mr. Dick had got himself in hand.
"I'm sorry, old man," he said to Mr. Pierce, "but I'm not in favor of bringing Miss—the person you speak of—up to the sanatorium just now. Mumps, you know—very contagious, and all that."
"She's over that part," Mr. Pierce said; "she only needs to rest."
"Certainly—let her come," said Mrs. Dicky. "If they're as contagious as all that, you haven't been afraid of MY getting them."
"I—I'm not in favor of it," Mr. Dick insisted, looking obstinate. "The minute you bring an actress here you've got the whole place by the ears."
"Fiddlesticks!" said his sister. "Because any actress could set YOU by the ears—"
Mrs. Dick sat up suddenly.
"Certainly, if she isn't well bring her up," said Miss Patty. "Only—won't she know your name is not Carter?"
"She's discretion itself," Mr. Pierce said. "Her salary hasn't been paid for a month, and as I'm responsible, I'd be glad to see her looked after."
"I don't want her here. I'll—I'll pay her board at the hotel," Mr. Dick began, "only for heaven's sake, don't—"
He stopped, for every one was staring.
"Why in the world would you do that?" Miss Patty asked. "Don't be ridiculous. That's the only condition Mr. Pierce has made."
Mr. Dick stalked to the window and looked out, his hands in his pockets. I couldn't help being reminded of the time he had run away from school, when his grandfather found him in the shelter-house and gave him his choice of going back at once or reading medicine with him.
"Oh, bring her up! Bring her up!" he said without looking around. "If Pierce won't stay unless he can play the friend in need, all right. But don't come after me if the whole blamed sanatorium swells up with mumps and faints at the sight of a pickle."
That was Wednesday.
Things at the sanatorium were about the same on the surface. The women crocheted and wondered what the next house doctor would be like, and the men gambled at the slot-machines and played billiards and grumbled at the food and the management, and when they weren't drinking spring water they were in the bar washing away the taste of it. They took twenty minutes on the verandas every day for exercise and kept the house temperature at eighty. Senator Biggs was still fasting and Mrs. Biggs took to spending all day in the spring-house and turning pale every time she heard his voice. It was that day, I think, that I found the magazine with Upton Sinclair's article on fasting stuck fast in a snow-drift, as if it had been thrown violently.
Wednesday afternoon Miss Julia Summers came with three lap robes, a white lace veil and a French poodle in a sleigh and went to bed in one of the best rooms, and that night we started to move out furniture to the shelter-house.
By working almost all night we got the shelter-house fairly furnished, although we made a trail through the snow that looked like a fever chart. Toward daylight Mr. Sam dropped a wash-bowl on my toe and I went to bed with an arnica compress.
I limped out in time to be on hand before Miss Cobb got there, but what with a chilblain on my heel and hardly any sleep for two nights—not to mention my toe—I wasn't any too pleasant.
"It's my opinion you're overeating, Minnie," Miss Cobb said. "You're skin's a sight!"
"You needn't look at it," I retorted.
She burned the back of her neck just then and it was three minutes before she could speak. When she could she was considerably milder.
"Just give it a twist or two, Minnie, won't you?" she said, holding out the curler. "I haven't been able to sleep on the back of my head for three weeks."
Well, I curled her hair for her and she told me about Miss Summers being still shut in her room, and how she'd offered Mike an extra dollar to give the white poodle a Turkish bath—it being under the weather as to health—and how Mike had soaked the little beast for an hour in a tub of water, forgetting the sulphur, and it had come out a sort of mustard color, and how Miss Summers had had hysterics when she saw it.
"Mike dipped him in bluing to bleach him again, or rather 'her'—it's name is Arabella—" Miss Cobb said, "but all it did was to make it mottled like an Easter egg. Everybody is charmed. There were no dogs allowed while the old doctor lived. Things were different."
"Yes, things were different," I assented, limping over to heat the curler. "How—how does Mr. Carter get along?"
Miss Cobb put down her hand-mirror and sniffed.
"Well," she said, "goodness knows I'm no trouble maker, but somebody ought to tell that young man a few things. He's forever looking at the thermometer and opening windows. I declare, if I hadn't brought my woolen tights along I'd have frozen to death at breakfast. Everybody's complaining."
I put that away in my mind to speak about. It was only by nailing the windows shut and putting strips of cotton batting around the cracks that we'd ever been able to keep people there in the winter. I had my first misgiving then. Heaven knows I didn't realize what it was going to be.
Well, by the evening of that day things were going fairly well. Tillie brought out a basket every morning to me at the spring-house, fairly bursting with curiosity, and Mr. Sam got some canned stuff in Finleyville and took it after dark to the shelter-house. But after the second day Mrs. Dicky got tired holding a frying-pan over the fire and I had to carry out at least one hot meal a day.
They got their own breakfast in a chafing-dish, or rather he got it and carried it to her. And she'd sit on the edge of her cot, with her feet on the soap box—the floor was drafty—wrapped in a pink satin negligee with bands of brown fur on it, looking sweet and perfectly happy, and let him feed her boiled egg with a spoon. I took them some books—my Gray's Anatomy, and Jane Eyre and Molly Bawn, by The Duchess, and the newspapers, of course. They were full of talk about the wedding, and the suite the prince was bringing over with him, and every now and then a notice would say that Miss Dorothy Jennings, the bride's young sister, who was still in school and was not coming out until next year, would be her sister's maid of honor. And when they came to that, they would hug each other—or me, if I happened to be close—and act like a pair of children, which they were. Generally it would end up by his asking her if she wasn't sorry she wasn't back at Greenwich studying French conjugations and having a dance without any men on Friday nights, and she would say "Wretch!" and kiss him, and I'd go out and slam the door.
But there was something on Mr. Dick's mind. I hadn't known him for fourteen years for nothing. And the night Mr. Sam and I carried out the canned salmon and corn and tomatoes he walked back with me to the edge of the deer park, Mr. Sam having gone ahead.
"Now," I said, when we were out of ear-shot, "spit it out. I've been expecting it."
"Listen, Minnie," he answered, "is Ju—is Miss Summers still confined to her room?"
"No," I replied coldly. "Ju—Miss Summers was down to-night to dinner."
"Then she's seen Pierce," he said, "and he's told her the whole story and by to-morrow—"
"What?" I demanded, clutching his arm. "You wretched boy, don't tell me after all I've done."
"Oh, confound it, Minnie," he exclaimed, "it's as much your fault as mine. Couldn't you have found somebody else, instead of getting, of all things on earth, somebody from the Sweet Peas Company?"
"I see," I said slowly. "Then it WASN'T coincidence about the mumps!"
"Confounded kid had them," he said with bitterness. "Minnie, something's got to be done, and done soon. If you want the plain truth, Miss—er—Summers and I used to be friends—and—well, she's suing me for breach of promise. Now for heaven's sake, Minnie, don't make a fuss—"
But my knees wouldn't hold me. I dropped down in a snow-drift and covered my face.
MISS PATTY'S PRINCE
I dragged myself back to the spring-house and dropped in front of the fire. What with worry and no sleep and now this new complication I was dead as yesterday's newspaper. I sat there on the floor with my hands around my knees, thinking what to do next, and as I sat there, the crayon enlargement of father on the spring-house wall began to shake its head from side to side, and then I saw it hold out its hand and point a finger at me.
"Cut and run, Minnie," it said. "Get out from under! Go and buy Timmon's candy store before the smash—the smash—!"
When I opened my eyes Mr. Pierce was sitting on the other side of the chimney and staring at the fire. He had a pipe between his teeth, but he wasn't smoking, and he had something of the same look about his mouth he'd had the first day I saw him.
"Well?" he said, when he saw I was awake.
"I guess I was sleeping." I sat up and pushed in my hairpins and yawned. I was tireder than ever. "I'm clean worn out."
"Of course you're tired," he declared angrily. "You're not a horse, and you haven't been to bed for two nights."
"Care killed the cat," I said. "I don't mind losing sleep, but it's like walking in a swamp, Mr. Pierce. First I put a toe in—that was when I asked you to stay over night. Then I went a step farther, lured on, as you may say, by Miss Patty waving a crown or whatever it is she wants, just beyond my nose. And to-night I've got a—well, to-night I'm in to the neck and yelling for a quick death."
He leaned over to where I sat before the fire and twisted my head toward him.
"To-night—what?" he demanded.
But that minute I made up my mind not to tell him. He might think the situation was too much for him and leave, or he might decide he ought to tell Miss Summers where Dick was. There was no love lost between him and Mr. Carter.
"To-night—I'm just tired and cranky," I said, "so—is Miss Summers settled yet?"
He nodded, as if he wasn't thinking of Miss Summers.
"What did you tell her?"
"Haven't seen her," he said. "Sent her a note that I was understudying a man named Carter and to mind to pick up her cues."
"It's a common enough name," I said, but he had lighted his pipe again and had dropped forward, one elbow on his knee, his hand holding the bowl of his pipe, and staring into the fire. He looked up when I closed and locked the pantry door.
"I've just been thinking," he remarked, "here we are—a group of people—all struggling like mad for one thing, but with different motives. Mine are plain enough and mercenary enough, although a certain red-haired girl with a fine loyalty to an old doctor and a sanatorium is carrying me along with her enthusiasm. And Van Alstyne's motives are clear enough—and selfish. Carter is merely trying to save his own skin—but a girl like Miss Pat—Miss Jennings!"
"There's nothing uncertain about what she wants, or wrong either," I retorted. "She's right enough. The family can't stand a scandal just now with her wedding so close."
He smiled and got up, emptying his pipe.
"Nevertheless, oh, Minnie, of the glowing hair and heart," he said, "Miss Jennings has disappointed me. You see, I believe in marrying for love."
"Love!" I was disgusted. "Don't talk to me about love! Love is the sort of thing that makes two silly idiots run away and get married and live in a shelter-house, upsetting everybody's plans, while their betters have to worry themselves sick and carry them victuals."
He got up and began to walk up and down the spring-house, scowling at the floor.
"Of course," he agreed, "he may be a decent sort, and she may really want him."
"Of course she does!" I said. He stopped short. "I've been wanting a set of red puffs for three years, and I can hardly walk past Mrs. Yost's window down in the village. They've got some that match my hair and I fairly yearn for them. But if I got 'em I dare say I'd put them in a box and go after wanting something else. It's the same way with Miss Patty. She'll get her prince, and because it isn't real love, but only the same as me with the puffs, she'll go after wanting something else. Only she can't put him away in a box. She'll have to put him on and wear him for better, for worse."
"Lord help her!" he said solemnly, and went over to the window and stood there looking out.
I went over beside him. From the window we could see the three rows of yellow lights that marked the house, and somebody with a lantern was going down the path toward the stables. Mr. Pierce leaned forward, his hands at the top of the window-sash, and put his forehead against the glass.
"Why is it that a lighted window in a snow-storm always makes a fellow homesick?" he said in his half-mocking way. "If he hasn't got a home it makes him want one."
"Well, why don't you get one?" I asked.
"On nothing a year?" he said. "Not even prospects! And set up housekeeping in the shelter-house with my good friend Minnie carrying us food and wearing herself to a shadow, not to mention bringing trashy books to my bride."
"She isn't that kind," I broke in, and got red. I'd been thinking of Miss Patty. But he went over to the table and picked up his glass of spring water, only to set it down untasted.
"No, she's not that kind!" he agreed, and never noticed the slip.
"You know, Minnie, women aren't all alike, but they're not all different. An English writer has them classified to a T—there's the mother woman—that's you. You're always mothering somebody with that maternal spirit of yours. It's a pity it's vicarious."
I didn't say anything, not knowing just what he meant. But I've looked it up since and I guess he was about right.
"And there's the mistress woman—Mrs. Dicky, for example, or—" he saw Miss Cobb's curler on the mantel and picked it up—"or even Miss Cobb," he said. "Coquetry and selfishness without maternal instinct. How much of Miss Cobb's virtue is training and environment, Minnie, not to mention lack of temptation, and how much was born in her?"
"She's a preacher's daughter," I remarked. I could understand about Mrs. Dicky, but I thought he was wrong about Miss Cobb.
"Exactly," he said. "And the third kind of woman is the mistress-mother kind, and they're the salt of the earth, Minnie." He began to walk up and down by the spring with his hands in his pockets and a far-away look in his eyes. "The man who marries that kind of woman is headed straight for paradise."
"That's the way!" I snapped. "You men have women divided into classes and catalogued like horses on sale."
"Aren't they on sale?" he demanded, stopping. "Isn't it money, or liberty, or—or a title, usually?" I knew he was thinking of Miss Patty again.
"As for the men," I continued, "I guess you can class the married ones in two classes, providers and non-providers. They're all selfish and they haven't enough virtue to make a fuss about."
"I'd be a shining light in the non-provider class," he said, and picking up his old cap he opened the door. Miss Patty herself was coming up the path.
She was flushed from the cold air and from hurrying, and I don't know that I ever saw her look prettier. When she came into the light we could both see that she was dressed for dinner. Her fur coat was open at the neck, and she had only a lace scarf over her head. (She was a disbeliever in colds, anyhow, and all winter long she slept with the windows open and the steam-heat off!)
"I'm so glad you're still here, Minnie!" she exclaimed, breathing fast. "You haven't taken the dinner out to the shelter-house yet, have you?"
"Not yet," I replied. "Tillie hasn't brought the basket. The chef's been fussing about the stuff we're using in the diet kitchen the last few days, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's shut off all extras."
But I guess her sister and Mr. Dick could have starved to death just then without her noticing. She was all excitement, for all she's mostly so cool.
"I have a note here for my sister," she said, getting it out of her pocket. "I know we all impose on you, Minnie, but—will you take it for me? I'd go, but I'm in slippers, and, anyhow, I'd need a lantern, and that would be reckless, wouldn't it?"
"In slippers!" Mr. Pierce interrupted. "It's only five degrees above zero! Of all the foolhardy—!"
Miss Patty did not seem to hear him. She gave the letter to me and followed me out on the step.
"You're a saint, Minnie," she said, leaning over and squeezing my arm, "and because you're going back and forth in the cold so much, I want you to have this—to keep."
She stooped and picked up from the snow beside the steps something soft and furry and threw it around my neck, and the next instant I knew she was giving me her chinchilla set, muff and all. I was so pleased I cried, and all the way over to the shelter-house I sniveled and danced with joy at the same time. There's nothing like chinchilla to tone down red hair.
Well, I took the note out to the shelter-house, and rapped. Mr. Dick let me in, and it struck me he wasn't as cheerful as usual. He reached out and took the muff.
"Oh," he said, "I thought that was the supper."
"It's coming," I said, looking past him for Mrs. Dicky. Usually when I went there she was drawing Mr. Dick's profile on a bit of paper or teaching him how to manicure his nails, but that night she was lying on the cot and she didn't look up.
"Sleeping?" I asked in a whisper.
"Grumping!" Mr. Dick answered. He went over and stood looking down at her with his hands in his pockets and his hair ruffled as if he'd been running his fingers through it. She never moved a shoulder.
"Dorothy," he said. "Here's Minnie."
She pretended not to hear.
"Dorothy!" he repeated. "I wish you wouldn't be such a g—Confound it, Dolly, be reasonable. Do you want to make me look like a fool?"
She turned her face enough to uncover one eye.
"It wouldn't be difficult," she answered, staring at him with the one eye. It was red from crying.
"Now listen, Dolly." He got down on one knee beside the cot and tried to take her hand, but she jerked it away. "I've tried wearing my hair that way, and it—it isn't becoming, to say the least. I don't mind having it wet and brushed back in a pompadour, if you insist, but I certainly do balk at the ribbon."
"You've only got to wear the ribbon an hour or so, until it dries." She brought her hand forward an inch or so and he took it and kissed it. It should have been slapped.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said. "You can fix it any way you please, when it's too late for old Sam or Pierce to drop in, and I'll wear the confounded ribbon all night. Won't that do?"
But she had seen the note and sat up and held out her hand for it. She was wearing one of Miss Patty's dresses and it hung on her—not that Miss Patty was large, but she had a beautiful figure, and Mrs. Dicky, of course, was still growing and not properly filled out.
"Dick!" she said suddenly, "what do you think? Oskar is here! Pat's in the wildest excitement. He's in town, and Aunt Honoria has telephoned to know what to do! Listen: he is incog., of course, and registered as Oskar von Inwald. He did an awfully clever thing—came in through Canada while the papers thought he was in St. Moritz."
"For heaven's sake," replied Mr. Dick, "tell her not to ask him here. I shouldn't know how to talk to him."
"He speaks lovely English," declared Mrs. Dick, still reading.
"I know all that," he said, walking around nervously, "but if he's going to be my brother-in-law, I suppose I don't get down on my knees and knock my head on the floor. What do I say to him? Your Highness? Oh, I've known a lord or two, but that's different. You call them anything you like and lend them money."
"I dare say you can with Oskar, too." Mrs. Dicky put the note down and sighed. "Well, he's coming. Pat says dad won't go back to town until he's had twenty-one baths, and he's only had eleven and she's got to stay with him. And you needn't worry about what to call Oskar. He's not to know we're here."
I was worried on my way back to the spring-house—not that the prince would make much difference, as far as I could see things being about as bad as they could be. But some of the people were talking of leaving, and since we had to have a prince it seemed a pity he wasn't coming with all his retinue and titles. It would have been a good ten thousand dollars' worth of advertising for the place, and goodness knows we needed it.
When I got back to the spring-house Miss Patty and Mr. Pierce were still there. He was in front of the fire, with his back to it, and she was near the door.
"Of course it isn't my affair," he was saying. "You are perfectly—" Then I opened the door and he stopped. I went on into the pantry to take off my overshoes, and as I closed the door he continued. "I didn't mean to say what I have. I meant to explain about the other night—I had a right to do that. But you forced the issue."
"I was compelled to tell you he was coming," she said angrily. "I felt I should. You have been good enough to take Mr. Carter's place here and save me from an embarrassing situation—"
"I had no philanthropic motives," he insisted stubbornly. "I did it, as you must know, for three meals a day and a roof over my head. If you wish me to be entirely frank, I disapprove of the whole thing."
I heard the swish of her dress as she left the door and went toward him.
"What would you have had me do?" she asked.
"Take those two children to your father. What if there was a row? Why should there be such a lot made of it, anyhow? They're young, but they'll get older. It isn't a crime for two people to—er—love each other, is it? And if you think a scandal or two in your family—granting your father would make a scandal—is going to put another patch on the ragged reputations of the royal family of—"
"How dare you!" she cried furiously. "How DARE you!"
I heard her cross the room and fling the door open and a second later it slammed. When I came out of the pantry Mr. Pierce was sitting in his old position, elbow on knee, holding his pipe and staring at the bowl.
WE GET A DOCTOR
I had my hands full the next day. We'd had another snow-storm during the night and the trains were blocked again. About ten o'clock we got a telegram from the new doctor we'd been expecting, that he'd fallen on the ice on his way to the train and broken his arm, and at eleven a delegation from the guests waited on Mr. Pierce and told him they'd have to have a house physician at once.
Senator Biggs was the spokesman. He said that, personally, he couldn't remain another day without one; that he should be under a physician's care every moment of his fast, and that if no doctor came that day he'd be in favor of all the guests showing their displeasure by leaving together.
"Either that," Thoburn said from the edge of the crowd, "or call it a hotel at once and be done with it. A sanatorium without a doctor is like an omelet without eggs!"
"Hamlet without ham," somebody said.
"We're doing the best we can," Mr. Pierce explained. "We—we expect a doctor to-day."
"When?" from Mr. Jennings, who had come on a cane and was watching Mr. Pierce like a hawk.
"This afternoon, probably. As there is no one here very ill—"
But at that they almost fell on him and tore him to pieces. I had to step in front of him myself and say we'd have somebody there by two o'clock if we had to rob a hospital to get him. And Mr. Sam cried, "Three cheers for Minnie, the beautiful spring-house girl!" and led off.
There's no doubt about it—a man ought to be born to the sanatorium business. A real strong and healthy man has no business trying to run a health resort, and I saw Mr. Pierce wasn't making the hit that I'd expected him to.
He was too healthy. You only needed to look at him to know that he took a cold plunge every morning, and liked to walk ten miles a day, and could digest anything and go to sleep the minute his head touched the pillow. And he had no tact. When Mrs. Biggs went to him and explained that the vacuum cleaner must not be used in her room—that it exhausted the air or something, and she could hardly breathe after it—he only looked bewildered and then drew a diagram to show her it was impossible that it could exhaust the air. The old doctor knew how: he'd have ordered an oxygen tank opened in the room after the cleaner was used and she'd have gone away happy.
Of course Mr. Pierce was most polite. He'd listen to their complaints—and they were always complaining, that's part of the regime—with a puzzled face, trying to understand, but he couldn't. He hadn't a nerve in his body. Once, when one of the dining-room girls dropped a tray of dishes and half the women went to bed with headache from the nervous shock, he never even looked up, but went on with his dinner, and the only comment he made afterward was to tell the head waitress to see that Annie didn't have to pay breakage—that the trays were too heavy for a woman, anyhow. As Miss Cobb said, he was impossible.
Well, as if I didn't have my hands full with getting meals to the shelter-house, and trying to find a house doctor, and wondering how long it would be before "Julia" came face to face with Dick Carter somewhere or other, and trying to keep one eye on Thoburn while I kept Mr. Pierce straight with the other—that day, during luncheon, Mike the bath man came out to the spring-house and made a howl about his wages. He'd been looking surly for two days.
"What about your wages?" I snapped. "Aren't you getting what you've always had?"
"No tips!" he said sulkily. "Only a few taking baths—only one daily, and that's that man Jennings. There's no use talking, Miss Minnie, I've got to have a double percentage on that man or you'll have to muzzle him. He—he's dangerous."
"If I give you the double percentage, will you stay?"
"I don't know but that I'd rather have the muzzle, Miss Minnie," he answered slowly, "but—I'll stay. It won't be for long."
Which left me thinking. I'd seen Thoburn talking to Mike more than once lately, and he'd been going around with an air of assurance that didn't make me any too cheerful. Evenings, when I'd relieved Amanda King at the news stand, I'd seen Thoburn examining the woodwork of the windows, and only the night before, happening on the veranda unexpectedly, I found Mike and him measuring it with a tape line. As I say, Mike's visit left me thinking.
The usual crowd came out that afternoon and drank water and sat around the fire and complained—all except Senator Biggs, who happened in just as I was pouring melted butter over a dish of hot salted pop-corn. He stood just inside the door, sniffling, with his eyes fixed on the butter, and then groaned and went out.
He looked terrible—his clothes hung on him like bags; as the bishop said, it was ghastly to see a convexity change to such a concavity in three days.
Mr. Moody won three dollars that day from the slot-machine and was almost civil to his wife, but old Jennings sat with his foot on a stool and yelled if anybody slammed the door. Mrs. Hutchins brought him out with her eyes red and asked me if she could leave him there.
"I'm sorry if I was rude to you the other night, Minnie," she said, "but I was upset. I'm so worn-out that I'll have to lie down for an hour, and if he doesn't get better soon, I—I shall have to have help. My nerves are gone."
At four o'clock Mr. Sam came in, and he had Mr. Thoburn tight by the arm.
"My dear old chap," he was saying, "it would be as much as your life's worth. That ground is full of holes and just now covered with snow—!"
He caught my eye, and wiped his forehead.
"Heaven help us!" he said, coming over to the spring, "I found him making for the shelter-house, armed with a foot rule! Somebody's got to take him in hand—I tell you, the man's a menace!"
"What about the doctor?" I asked, reaching up his glass.
"Be here to-night," he answered, "on the—"
But at that minute a boy brought a telegram down and handed it to him. The new doctor was laid up with influenza!
We sat there after the others had gone, and Mr. Sam said he was for giving up the fight, only to come out now with the truth would mean such a lot of explaining and a good many people would likely find it funny. Mr. Pierce came in later and we gave him the telegram to read.
"I don't see why on earth they need a doctor, anyhow," he said, "they're not sick. If they'd take a little exercise and get some air in their lungs—"
"My dear fellow," Mr. Sam cried in despair, "some people are born in sanatoriums, some acquire them, and others have them thrust upon them—I've had this place thrust upon me. I don't know why they want a doctor, but they do. They balked at Rodgers from the village. They want somebody here at night. Mr. Jennings has the gout and there's the deuce to pay. Some of them talk of leaving."
"Let 'em leave," said Mr. Pierce. "If they'd go home and drink three gallons of any kind of pure water a day—"
"Sh! That's heresy here! My dear fellow, we've got to keep them."
Mr. Pierce glanced at the telegram and handed it back.
"Lot's of starving M. D.'s would jump at the chance," he said, "but if it's as urgent as all this we can't wait to hunt. I'll tell you, Van Alstyne, there's a chap down in the village he was the character man with the Sweet Peas Company—and he's stranded there. I saw him this morning. He's washing dishes in the depot restaurant for his meals. We used to call him Doc, and I've a hazy idea that he's a graduate M. D.—name's Barnes."
"Great!" cried Mr. Van Alstyne. "Let's have Barnes. You get him, will you, Pierce?"
Mr. Pierce promised and they started out together. At the door Mr. Sam turned.
"Oh, by the way, Minnie," he called, "better gild one of your chairs and put a red cushion on it. The prince has arrived."
Well, I thought it all out that afternoon as I washed the glasses, and it was terrible. I had two people in the shelter-house to feed and look after like babies, with Tillie getting more curious every day about the basket she brought, and not to be held much longer; and I had a man running the sanatorium and running it to the devil as fast as it could go. Not that he wasn't a nice young man, big, strong-jawed and all that, but you can't make a diplomat out of an ordinary man in three days, and it takes more diplomacy to run a sanatorium a week than it does to be secretary of state for four years. Then I had a prince incognito, and Thoburn stirring up mischief, and the servants threatening to strike, and no house doctor—
Just as I got to that somebody opened the door behind me and looked in. I glanced around, and it was a man with the reddest hair I ever saw. Mine was pale by comparison. He was rather short and heavy-set, and he had a pleasant face, although not handsome, his nose being slightly bent to the left. But at first all I could see was his hair.
"Good evening," he said, edging himself in. "Are you Miss Waters?"
"Yes," I said, rising and getting a glass ready, "although I'm not called that often, except by people who want to pun on my name and my business." I looked at him sharply, but he hadn't intended any pun.
He took off his hat and came over to the spring where I was filling his glass.
"If that's for me, you needn't bother," he said. "If it tastes as it smells, I'm not thirsty. My name's Barnes, and I was to wait here for Mr. Van Alstyne."
"Barnes!" I repeated. "Then you're the doctor."
He grinned, and stood turning his hat around in his hands.
"Not exactly," he said. "I graduated in medicine a good many years ago, but after a year of it, wearing out more seats of trousers waiting for patients than I earned enough to pay for, and having to have new trousers, I took to other things."
"Oh, yes," I said. "You're an actor now."
He looked thoughtful.
"Some people think I'm not," he answered, "but I'm on the stage. Graduated there from prize-fighting. Prize-fighting, the stage, and then writing for magazines—that's the usual progression. Sometimes, as a sort of denouement before the final curtain, we have dinner at the White House."
I took a liking to the man at once. It was a relief to have somebody who was willing to tell all about himself and wasn't incognito, or in hiding, or under somebody else's name. I put a fresh log on the fire, and as it blazed up I saw him looking at me.
"Ye gods and little fishes!" he said. "Another redhead! Why, we're as alike as two carrots off the same bunch!"
In five minutes I knew how old he was, and where he was raised, and that what he wanted more than anything on earth was a little farmhouse with chickens and a cow.
"Where you can have air, you know," he said, waving his hands, which were covered with reddish hair. "Lord, in the city I starve for air! And where, when you're getting soft you can go out and tackle the wood-pile. That's living!"
And then he wanted to know what he was to do at the sanatorium and I told him as well as I could. I didn't tell him everything, but I explained why Mr. Pierce was calling himself Carter, and about the two in the shelter-house. I had to. He knew as well as I did that three days before Mr. Pierce had had nothing to his name but a folding automobile road map or whatever it was.
"Good for old Pierce!" he said when I finished. "He's a prince, Miss Waters. If you'd seen him sending those girls back to town—well, I'll do all I can to help him. But I'm not much of a doctor. It's safe to acknowledge it; you'll find it out soon enough."
Mr. and Mrs. Van Alstyne came in just then, and Mr. Sam told him what he was expected to do. It wasn't much: he was to tell them at what temperatures to take their baths, "and Minnie will help you out with that," he added, and what they were to eat and were not to eat. "Minnie will tell you that, too," he finished, and Mr. Barnes, DOCTOR Barnes, came over and shook my hand.
"I'm perfectly willing to be first assistant," he declared. "We'll put our heads together and the result will be—"
"Combustion!" said Mr. Sam, and we all laughed.
"Remember," Mr. Sam instructed him, as Doctor Barnes started out, "when you don't know what to prescribe, order a Turkish bath. The baths are to a sanatorium what the bar is to a club—they pay the bills."
Well, we got it all fixed and Doctor Barnes started out, but at the door he stopped.
"I say," he asked in an undertone, "the stork doesn't light around here, does he?"
"Not if they see him first!" I replied grimly, and he went out.
It was all well enough for me to say—as I had to to Tillie many a time—that it was ridiculous to make a fuss over a person for what, after all, was an accident of birth. It was well enough for me to say that it was only by chance that I wasn't strutting about with a crown on my head and a man blowing a trumpet to let folks know I was coming, and by the same token and the same chance Prince Oskar might have been a red-haired spring-house girl, breaking the steels in her figure stooping over to ladle mineral water out of a hole in the earth.
Nevertheless, at five o'clock, after every one had gone, when I saw Miss Patty, muffled in furs, tripping out through the snow, with a tall thin man beside her, walking very straight and taking one step to her four, I felt as though somebody had hit me at the end of my breast-bone.
They stopped a minute outside before they came in, and I had to take myself in hand.
"Now look here, Minnie, you idiot," I said to myself, "this is America; you're as good as he is; not a bend of the knee or a stoop of the neck. And if he calls you 'my good girl' hit him."
They came in together, laughing and talking, and, to be honest, if I hadn't caught the back of a chair, I'd have had one foot back of the other and been making a courtesy in spite of myself.
"We're late, Minnie!" Miss Patty said. "Oskar, this is one of my best friends, and you are to be very nice to her."
He had one of those single glass things in his eye and he gave me a good stare through it. Seen close he was handsomer than Mr. Pierce, but he looked older than his picture.
"Ask her if she won't be nice to me," he said in as good English as mine, and held out his hand.
"Any of Miss Patty's friends—" I began, with a lump in my throat, and gave his hand a good squeeze. I thought he looked startled, and suddenly I had a sort of chill.
"Good gracious!" I exclaimed, "should I have kissed it?"
They roared at that, and Miss Patty had to sit down in a chair.
"You see, she knows, Oskar," she said. "The rest are thinking and perhaps guessing, but Minnie is the only one that knows, and she never talks. Everybody who comes here tells Minnie his troubles."
"But—am I a trouble?" he asked in a low tone. I was down in the spring, but I heard it.
"So far you have hardly been an unalloyed joy," she replied, and from the spring I echoed "Amen."
"Yes—I'm so hung with family skeletons that I clatter when I walk," I explained, pretending I hadn't heard, and brought them both glasses of water. "It's got to be a habit with some people to save their sciatica and their husband's dispositions and their torpid livers and their unpaid bills and bring 'em here to me."
He sniffed at the glass and put it down.
"Herr Gott!" he said, "what a water! It is—the whole thing is extraordinary! I can understand the reason for Carlsbad or Wiesbaden—it is gay. One sees one's friends; it is—social. But here—!"
He got up and, lifting a window curtain, peered out into the snow.
"Here," he repeated, "shut in by forests and hills, a thousand miles from life—" He shrugged his shoulders and came back to the table. "It is well enough for the father," he went on to Miss Patty, "but for you! Why—it is depressing, gray. The only bit of color in it all is—here, in what you call the spring-house." I thought he meant Miss Patty's cheeks or her lovely violet eyes, but he was looking at my hair. I had caught his eye on it before, but this time he made no secret about it, and he sighed, for all the world as if it reminded him of something. He went over to the slot-machine and stood in front of it, humming and trying the different combinations. I must say he had a nice back.
Miss Patty came over and slipped her hand in mine.
"Well?" she whispered, looking at me with her pretty eyebrows raised.
"He looks all right," I had to confess. "Perhaps you can coax him to shave."
"Oskar!" she called, "you have passed, but you are conditioned. Minnie objects to the mustache."
He turned and looked at me gravely.
"It is my—greatest attraction," he declared, "but it is also a great care. If Miss Minnie demands it, I shall give it to her in a—in a little box." He sauntered over and looked at me in his audacious way. "But you must promise to care for it. Many women have loved it."
"I believe that!" I answered, and stared back at him without blinking. "I guess I wouldn't want the responsibility."
But I had an idea that he meant what he said about the many women, and that Miss Patty knew it as well as I did. She flushed a little, and they went very soon after that. I stood and watched them until they disappeared in the snow, and I felt lonelier than ever, and sad, although certainly he was better than I had expected to find him. He was a man, and not a little cub with a body hardly big enough to carry his forefathers' weaknesses. But he had a cold eye and a warm mouth, and that sort of man is generally a social success and a matrimonial failure.
It wasn't until toward night that I remembered I'd been talking to a real prince and I hadn't once said "your Highness" or "your Excellency" or whatever I should have said. I had said "You!"
I had hardly closed the door after them when it opened again and Mr. Pierce came in. He shut the door and, going over to one of the tables, put a package down on it.
"Here's the stuff you wanted for the spring, Minnie," he announced. "I suppose I can't do anything more than register a protest against it?"
"You needn't bother doing that," I answered, "unless it makes you feel better. Your authority ends at that door. Inside the spring-house I'm in control."
(It's hard to believe, with things as they are, that I once really believed that. But I did. It was three full days later that I learned that I'd been mistaken!)
Well, he sat there and looked at nothing while I heated water in my brass kettle over the fire and dissolved the things against Thoburn's quick eye the next day, and he didn't say anything. He had a gift for keeping quiet, Mr. Pierce had. It got on my nerves after a while.
"Things are doing better," I remarked, stirring up my mixture.
"Yes," he said, without moving.
"I suppose they're happier now they have a doctor?"
"Yes—no—I don't know. He's not much of a doctor, you know—and there don't seem to be any medical books around."
"There's one on the care and feeding of infants in the circulating library," I said, "and he can have my Anatomy."
"You're generous!" he remarked, with one of his quick smiles.
"It's a book," I snapped, and fell to stirring again. But he was moping once more, with his feet out and his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
"I say, Minnie—"
"Miss—Miss Jennings and the von Inwald were here just now, weren't they? I passed them on the bridge."
"What—how do you like him?"
"Better than I expected and not so well as I might," I said. "If you are going to the house soon you might take Miss Patty her handkerchief. It's there under that table."
I took my mixture into the pantry and left it to cool. But as I started back I stopped. He had got the handkerchief and was standing in front of the fire, holding it in the palm of his hand and looking at it. And all in a minute he crushed it to his face with both hands and against the firelight I could see him quivering.
I stepped back into the pantry and came out again noisily. He was standing very calm and quiet where he had been before, and no handkerchief in sight.
"Well," I said, "did you get it?"
"Miss Patty's handkerchief?"
"Oh—that! Yes. Here it is." He pulled it out of his pocket and held it up by the corner.
"Ridiculous size, isn't it, and—" he held it up to his nose—"I dare say one could almost tell it was hers by the scent. It's—it's like her."
"Humph!" I said, suddenly suspicious, and looked at it. "Well," I said, "it may remind you of Miss Patty, and the scent may be like Miss Patty, but she doesn't use perfume on her handkerchief. This has an E. C. on it, which means Eliza Cobb."
He left soon after, rather crestfallen, but to save my life I couldn't forget what I'd seen—him with that scrap of linen that he thought was hers crushed to his face, and his shoulders heaving. I had an idea that he hadn't cared much for women before, and that, this being a first attack, he hadn't established what the old doctor used to call an immunity.
Mrs. Hutchins came out to the spring-house the next morning. She was dressed in a black silk with real lace collar and cuffs, and she was so puffed up with pride that she forgot to be nasty to me.
"I thought I'd better come to you, Minnie," she said. "There seems to be nobody in authority here any more. Mr. Carter has put the—has put Mr. von Inwald in the north wing. I can not imagine why he should have given him the coldest and most disagreeable part of the house."
I said I'd speak to Mr. Carter and try to have him moved, and she rustled over to where I was brushing the hearth and stooped down.
"Mr. von Inwald is incognito, of course," she said, "but he belongs to a very old family in his own country—a noble family. He ought to have the best there is in the house."
I promised that, too, and she went away, but I made up my mind to talk to Mr. Pierce. The sanatorium business isn't one where you can put your own likes and dislikes against the comfort of the guests.
Miss Cobb came out a few minutes after; she had on her new green silk with the white lace trimming. She saw me staring as she threw off her cape and put her curler on the log.
"It's a little dressy for so early, of course, Minnie," she said, "but I wish you'd see some of the other women! Breakfast looked like an afternoon reception. What would you think of pinning this black velvet ribbon around my head?"
"It might have done twenty years ago, Miss Cobb," I answered, "but I wouldn't advise it now." I was working at the slot-machine, and I heard her sniff behind me as she hung up her mirror on the window-frame.
She tried the curler on the curtain, which she knows I object to, but she was too full of her subject to be sulky for long.
"I wish you could see Blanche Moody!" she began again, standing holding the curler, with a thin wreath of smoke making a halo over her head. "Drawn in—my dear, I don't see how she can breathe! I guess there's no doubt about Mr. von Inwald."
"I'd like to know who put this beer check in the slot-machine yesterday," I said as indifferently as I could. "What about Mr. von Inwald?"
She tiptoed over to me, the halo trailing after her.
"About his being a messenger from the prince to Miss Jennings!" she answered in a whisper. "He spent last night closeted with papa, and the chambermaid on that floor told Lily Biggs that there was almost a quarrel."
"That doesn't mean anything," I objected. "If the Angel Gabriel was shut in with Mr. Jennings for ten minutes he'd be blowing his trumpet for help."
Miss Cobb shrugged her shoulders and took hold of a fresh wisp of hair with the curler.
"I dare say," she assented, "but the Angel Gabriel wouldn't have waited to breakfast with Miss Jennings, and have kissed her hand before everybody at the foot of the stairs!"
"Is he handsome?" I asked, curious to know how he would impress other women. But Miss Cobb had never seen a man she would call ugly.
"Handsome!" she said. "My dear, he's beautiful! He has a duel scar on his left cheek—all the nobility have them over there. I've a cousin living in Berlin—she's the wittiest person—and she says the German child of the future will be born with a scarred left cheek!"
Well, I was sick enough of hearing of Mr. von Inwald before the day was over. All morning in the spring-house they talked Mr. von Inwald. They pretended to play cards, but they were really playing European royalty. Every time somebody laid down a queen, he'd say, "Is the queen still living, or didn't she die a few years ago?" And when they played the knave, they'd start off about the prince again. They'd all decided that Mr. von Inwald was noble—somebody said that the "von" was a sort of title. The women were planning to make the evenings more cheerful, too. They couldn't have a dance with the men using canes or forbidden to exercise, but Miss Cobb had a lot of what she called "parlor games" that she wanted to try out. "Introducing the Jones family" was one of them.
In the afternoon Mr. von Inwald came out to the spring-house and sat around, very affable and friendly, drinking the water. He and the bishop grew quite chummy. Miss Patty was not there, but about four o'clock Mr. Pierce came out. He did not sit down, but wandered around the room, not talking to anybody, but staring, whenever he could, at the prince. Once I caught Mr. von Inwald's eyes fixed on him, as if he might have seen him before. After a while Mr. Pierce sat down in a corner like a sulky child and filled his pipe, and as nobody noticed him except to complain about the pipe, which he didn't even hear, he sat there for a half-hour, bent forward, with his pipe clenched in his teeth, and never took his eyes off Mr. von Inwald's face.
Senator Biggs was the one who really caused the trouble. He spent a good deal of time in the spring-house trying to fool his stomach by keeping it filled up all the time with water. He had got past the cranky stage, being too weak for it; his face was folded up in wrinkles like an accordion and his double chin was so flabby you could have tucked it away inside his collar.
"What do you think of American women, Mr. von Inwald?" he asked, and everybody stopped playing cards and listened for the answer. As Mr. von Inwald represented the prince, wouldn't he be likely to voice the prince's opinion of American women?
It's my belief Mr. von Inwald was going to say something nice. He smiled as if he meant to, but just then he saw Mr. Pierce in his corner sneering behind his pipe. They looked at each other steadily, and nobody could mistake the hate in Mr. Pierce's face or his sneer. After a minute the prince looked away and shrugged his shoulders, but he didn't make his pretty speech.
"American women!" he said, turning his glass of spring water around on the table before him, "they are very lovely, of course." He looked around and there were Mrs. Moody and Mrs. Biggs and Miss Cobb, and he even glanced at me in the spring. Then he looked again at Mr. Pierce and kept his eyes there. "But they are spoiled, fearfully spoiled. They rule their parents and they expect to rule their husbands. In Europe we do things better; we are not—what is the English?—hag-ridden?"
There was a sort of murmur among the men, but the women all nodded as if they thought Europe was entirely right. They'd have agreed with him if he'd advocated sixteen wives sitting cross-legged on a mat, like the Turks. Mr. Pierce was still staring at the prince.
"What I don't quite understand, Mr. von Inwald," the bishop put in in his nice way, "is your custom of expecting a girl to bring her husband a certain definite sum of money and to place it under the husband's control. Our wealthy American girls control their own money," He was thinking of Miss Patty, and everybody knew it.
The prince turned red and glared at the bishop. Then I think he remembered that they didn't know who he was, and he smiled and started to turning the glass again.
"Pardon!" he said. "Is it not better? What do women know of money? They throw it away on trifles, dress, jewels—American women are extravagant. It is one result of their—of their spoiling."
Mr. Pierce got up and emptied his pipe into the fire. Then he turned.
"I'm afraid you have not known the best type of American women," he said, looking hard at the prince. "Our representative women are our middle-class women. They do not contract European alliances, not having sufficient money to attract the attention of the nobility, or enough to buy titles, as they do pearls, for the purpose of adornment."
Mr. von Inwald got up, and his face was red. Mr. Pierce was white and sneering.
"Also," he went on, "when they marry they wish to control their own money, and not see it spent in—ways with which you are doubtless familiar."
We were all paralyzed. Nobody moved. Mr. Pierce put his pipe in his pocket and stalked out, slamming the door. Then Mr. von Inwald shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
"I see I shall have to talk to our young friend," he said and picked up his glass. "I'm afraid I've given a wrong impression. I like the American women very much; too well," he went on with a flash of his teeth, looking around the room, and brought the glass to the spring for me to fill. But as I've said before, I can tell a good bit about a man from the way he gives me his glass, and he was in a perfect frenzy of rage. When I reached it back to him he gripped it until his nails were white.
My joint ached all the rest of the afternoon. About five o'clock Mr. Thoburn stopped in long enough to say: "What's this I hear about Carter making an ass of himself to-day?"
"I haven't heard it," I answered. "What is it?"
But he only laughed and turned up his collar to go.
"Jove, Minnie," he said, "why do women of your spirit always champion the losing side? Be a good girl; give me a hand now and then with this thing, and I'll see you don't lose by it."
"We're not going to lose," I retorted angrily. "Nobody has left yet. We are still ahead on the books."
He came over and shook a finger in my face.
"Nobody has left—and why? Because they're all taking a series of baths. Wait until they've had their fifteen, or twenty-one, or whatever the cure is, and then see them run!"
It was true enough; I knew it.
THE PRINCE, WITH APOLOGIES
Tillie brought the supper basket for the shelter-house about six o'clock and sat down for a minute by the fire. She said Mr. Pierce (Carter to her) had started out with a gun about five o'clock. It was foolish, but it made me uneasy.
"They've gone plumb crazy over that Mr. von Inwald," she declared. "It makes me tired. How do they know he's anything but what he says he is? He may be a messenger from the emperor of Austria, and he may be selling flannel chest protectors. Miss Cobb's all set up; she's talking about getting up an entertainment and asking that Miss Summers to recite."
She got up, leaving the basket on the hearth.
"And say," she said, "you ought to see that dog now. It's been soakin' in peroxide all day!"
She went out with the peroxide, but a moment later she opened the door and stuck her head in, nodding toward the basket.
"Say," she said, "the chef's getting fussy about the stuff I'm using in the diet kitchen. You've got to cut it out soon, Minnie. If I was you I'd let him starve."
"What!" I screeched, and grasped the rail of the spring.
"Let him starve!" she repeated.
"Wha—what are you talking about?" I demanded when I got my voice.
She winked at me from the doorway.
"Oh, I'm on all right, Minnie!" she assured me, "although heaven only knows where he puts it all! He's sagged in like a chair with broken springs."
I saw then that she thought I was feeding Senator Biggs on the sly, and I breathed again. But my nerves were nearly gone, and when just then I heard a shot from the direction of the deer park, even Tillie noticed how pale I got.
"I don't know what's come over you, Minnie," she said. "That's only Mr. Carter shooting rabbits. I saw him go out as I started down the path."
I was still nervous when I put on my shawl and picked up the basket. But there was a puddle on the floor and the soup had spilled. There was nothing for it but to go back for more soup, and I got it from the kitchen without the chef seeing me. When I opened the spring-house door again Mr. Pierce was by the fire, and in front of him, where I'd left the basket, lay a dead rabbit. He was sitting there with his chin in his hands looking at the poor thing, and there was no basket in sight.
"Well," I asked, "did you change my basket into a dead rabbit?"
"Basket!" he said, looking up. "What basket?"
I looked everywhere, but the basket was gone, and after a while I decided that Mr. Dick had had an attack of thoughtfulness (or hunger) and had carried it out himself.
And all the time I looked for the basket Mr. Pierce sat with the gun across his knees and stared at the rabbit.
"I'd thank you to take that messy thing out of here," I told him.
"Poor little chap!" he exclaimed. "He was playing in the snow, and I killed him—not because I wanted food or sport, Minnie, but—well, because I had to kill something."
"I hope you don't have those attacks often," I said. He looked at the rabbit and sighed.
"Never in my life!" he answered. "For food or sport, that's different, but—blood-lust!" He got up and put the gun in the corner, and I saw he looked white and miserable.
"I don't like myself to-night, Minnie," he said, trying to smile, "and nobody likes me. I'm going into the garden to eat worms!"
I didn't like to scold him when he was feeling bad anyhow, but business is business. So I asked him how long he thought people would stay if he acted as he had that day. I said that a sanatorium was a place where the man who runs it can't afford to have likes and dislikes; that for my part I'd a good deal rather he'd get rid of his excitement by shooting off a gun, provided he pointed it away from the house, than to sit around and let his mind explode and kill all our prospects. I told him, too, to remember that he wasn't responsible for the morals or actions of his guests, only for their health.
"Health!" he echoed, and kicked a chair. "Health! Why, if I wanted to keep a good dog in condition, Minnie, I wouldn't bring him here."
"No," I retorted, "you'd shut him in an old out oven, and give him a shoe to chew, and he'd come out in three days frisking and happy. But you can't do that with people."
"Why not?" he asked. "Although, of course, the supply of out ovens and old shoes is limited here."
"As far as Mr. von Inwald goes," I went on, "that's not your affair or mine. If Miss Patty's own father can't prevent it, why should you worry about it?"
"Precisely," he agreed. "Why should I? But I do, Minnie—that's the devil of it."
"There are plenty of nice girls," I suggested, feeling rather sorry for him.
"Are there? Oh, I dare say." He stooped and picked up his rabbit. "Straight through the head; not so bad for twilight. Poor little chap!"
He said good night and went out, taking the gun and the rabbit with him, and I went into the pantry to finish straightening things for the night. In a few minutes I heard voices in the other room, one Mr. Pierce's, and one with a strong German accent.
"When was that?" Mr. von Inwald's voice.
"A year ago, in Vienna."
"At the Bal Tabarin. You were in a loge. The man I was with told me who the woman was. It was she, I think, who suggested that you lean over the rail—"
"Ah, so!" said Mr. von Inwald as if he just remembered. "Ah, yes, I recall—I was with—the lady was red-haired, is it not? And it was she who desired me—"
"You leaned over the rail and poured a glass of wine on my head. It was very funny. The lady was charmed."
"I recall it perfectly. I remember that I did it under protest—it was a very fine wine, and expensive."
"Then you also recall," said Mr. Pierce, very quietly, "that because you were with a—well, because you were with a woman, I could not return your compliment. But I demanded the privilege at some future date when you were alone."
"It is a pity," replied Mr. von Inwald, "that now, when I am alone, there is no wine!"
"No, there is no wine," Mr. Pierce agreed slowly, "but there is—"
I opened the door at that, and both of them started. Mr. von Inwald was standing with his arms folded, and Mr. Pierce had one arm raised holding up a glass of spring water. In another second it would have been in the other man's face.
I walked over to Mr. Pierce and took the glass out of his hand, and his expression was funny to see.
"I've been looking everywhere for that glass," I said. "It's got to be washed."
Mr. von Inwald laughed and picked up his soft hat from the table.
He turned around at the door and looked back at Mr. Pierce, still laughing.
"Accept my apologies!" he said. "It was such a fine wine, and so expensive."
Then he went out.
I was pretty nervous when I took charge of the news stand that evening. Amanda King had an appointment with the dentist and had left everything topsyturvey. I was still straightening up when people began to come down to dinner.
Miss Cobb walked over to the news stand, and she'd cut the white yoke out of her purple silk. She looked very dressy, although somewhat thin.
"Everybody has dressed for dinner to-night, Minnie," she informed me. "We didn't want Mr. von Inwald to have a wrong idea of American society, especially after Mr. Carter's ridiculous conduct this afternoon, and I wonder if you'll be sweet enough to start the phonograph in the orchestra gallery as we go in—something with dignity, you know—the wedding march, or the overture from Aida."
"Aida's cracked," I said shortly, "and as far as I'm concerned, Mr. von Inwald can walk in to his meals without music, or starve to death waiting for the band."
But she got the phonograph, anyhow, and put the elevator boy in the gallery with it. She picked out some things by Caruso and Tetrazzini and piled them on a chair, but James had things to himself up there, and played The Spring Chicken through three times during dinner, with Miss Cobb glaring at the gallery until the back of her neck ached, and the dining-room girls waltzing in with the dishes and polka-ing out.
Mr. Moody came out when dinner was over in a fearful rage and made for the news stand.
"One of your ideas, I suppose," he asserted. "What sort of a night am I going to have after chewing my food to rag-time, with my jaws doing a skirt-dance? Why in heaven's name couldn't you have had something slow, like Handel's Largo, if you've got to have music?"
But dinner was over fifteen minutes sooner than usual. James cake-walked everybody out to My Ann Elizer, and Miss Cobb was mortified to death.
Two or three things happened that night. For one, I got a good look at Miss Julia Summers. She was light-haired and well-fleshed, with an ugly face but a pleasant smile. She wore a low-necked dress that made Miss Cobb's with the yoke out look like a storm collar, and if she had a broken heart she didn't show it.
"Hello," she cried, looking at my hair, "are you selling tobacco here or are you the cigar-lighter?"
"Neither," I answered, looking over her head. "I am employed as the extinguisher of gay guests."
"Good," she said, smiling. "I'm something fine at that myself. Suppose I stay here and help. If I watch that line of knitting women I'll be crotcheting Arabella's wool in my sleep to-night."
Well, she was too cheerful to be angry with. So she stayed around for a while, and it was amazing how much tobacco I sold that evening. Men who usually bought tobies bought the best cigars, and when Mr. Jennings came up, scowling, and I handed him the brand he'd smoked for years, she took one, clipped the end of it as neat as a finger nail and gave it to him, holding up the lighter.