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Where There's A Will
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
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"The spring will freeze!"

"Exactly. My only regret is that it is too small to skate on. But they'll have the ice pond."

"When I see Mr. Moody skating on the ice pond," I said sarcastically, "I'll see Mrs. Moody dead with the shock on the bank."

"Not at all," he replied calmly. "You'll see her skating, too." And with that he went to bed.



CHAPTER XXIV

LIKE DUCKS TO WATER

They took to it like ducks take to water. Not, of course, that they didn't kick about making their own beds and having military discipline generally. They complained a lot, but when after three days went by with the railroad running as much on schedule as it ever does, they were all still there, and Mr. Jennings had limped out and spent a half-hour at the wood-pile with his gouty foot on a cushion, I saw it was a success.

I ought to have been glad. I was, although when Mrs. Dicky found they were all staying, and that she might have to live in the shelter-house the rest of the winter, there was an awful scene. I was glad, too, every time I could see Mr. Thoburn's gloomy face, or hear the things he said when his name went up for the military walk.

(Oh yes, we had a blackboard in the hall, and every morning each guest looked to see if it was wood-pile day or military-walk day. At first, instead of wood-pile, it was walk-clearing day, but they soon had the snow off all the paths.)

As I say, I was glad. It looked as if the new idea was a success, although as Doctor Barnes said, nobody could really tell until new people began to come. That was the real test. They had turned the baths into a gymnasium and they had beginners' classes and advanced classes, and a prize offered on the blackboard of a cigar for the man who made the most muscular improvement in a week. The bishop won it the first week, being the only one who could lie on his back and raise himself to a sitting position without helping himself with his hands. As Mrs. Moody said, it would be easy enough if somebody only sat on one's feet to hold them down.

But I must say I never got over the shock of seeing the spring-house drifted with snow, all the windows wide open, the spring frozen hard, and people sitting there during the rest hour, in furs and steamer rugs, trying to play cards with mittens on—their hands, not the cards, of course—and not wrangling. I was lonesome for it!

I hadn't much to do, except from two to four to be at the spring-house, and to count for the deep-breathing exercise. Oh, yes, we had that, too! I rang a bell every half-hour and everybody got up, and I counted slowly "one" and they breathed in through their noses, and "two" and they exhaled quickly through their mouths. I guess most of them used more of their lungs than they ever knew they had.

Well, everybody looked better and felt better, although they wouldn't all acknowledge it. Miss Cobb suffered most, not having the fire log to curl her hair with. But as she said herself, between gymnasium and military walks, and the silence hour, and eating, which took a long time, everybody being hungry—and going to bed at nine, she didn't see how she could have worried with it, anyhow. The fat ones, of course, objected to an apple and a cup of hot water for breakfast, but except Mr. Thoburn, they all realized it was for the best. He wasn't there for his health, he said, having never had a sick day in his life, but when he saw it was apple and hot water or leave, he did like Adam—he took the apple.

The strange thing of all was the way they began to look up to Mr. Pierce. He was very strict; if he made a rule, it was obey or leave. (As they knew after Mr. Moody refused to take the military walk, and was presented with his bill and a railroad schedule within an hour. He had to take the military walk with Doctor Barnes that afternoon alone.) They had to respect a man who could do all the things in the gymnasium that they couldn't, and come in from a ten or fifteen-mile tramp through the snow and take a cold plunge and a swim to rest himself.

It was on Monday that we really got things started, and on Monday afternoon Miss Summers came out to the shelter-house in a towering rage.

"Where's Mr. Pierce?" she demanded.

"I guess you can see he isn't here," I said.

"Just wait until I see him!" she announced. "Do you know that I am down on the blackboard for the military walk to-day?

"Why not?"

She turned and glared at me. "Why not?" she repeated. "Why, the audacity of the wretch! He brings me out into the country in winter to play in his atrocious play, strands me, and then tells me to walk twenty miles a day and smile over it!" She came over to me and shook my arm. "Not only that," she said, "but he has cut out my cigarettes and put Arabella on dog biscuit—Arabella, who can hardly eat a chicken wing."

"Well, there's something to be thankful for," I said. "He didn't put you on dog biscuit."

She laughed then, with one of her quick changes of humor.

"The worst of it is," she said, in a confidential whisper, "I'll do it. I feel it. I guess if the truth were known I'm some older than he is, but—I'm afraid of him, Minnie. Little Judy is ready to crawl around and speak for a cracker or a kind word. Oh, I'm not in love with him, but he's got the courage to say what he means and do what he says."

She went to the door and looked back smiling.

"I'm off for the wood-pile," she called back. "And I've promised to chop two inches off my heels."

As I say, they took to it like ducks to water—except two of them, von Inwald and Thoburn. Mr. von Inwald stayed on, I hardly know why, but I guess it was because Mr. Jennings still hadn't done anything final about settlements, and with the newspapers marrying him every day it wasn't very comfortable. Next to him, Mr. Thoburn was the unhappiest mortal I have ever seen. He wouldn't leave, and with Doctor Barnes carrying out his threat to take six inches off his waist, he stopped measuring window-frames with a tape line and took to measuring himself.

I came across him on Wednesday—the third day—straggling home from the military walk. He and Mr. von Inwald limped across the tennis-court and collapsed on the steps of the spring-house while the others went on to the sanatorium. I had been brushing the porch, and I leaned on my broom and looked at them.

"You're both looking a lot better," I said. "Not so—well, not so beer-y. How do you like it by this time?"

"Fine!" answered Mr. Thoburn. "Wouldn't stay if I didn't like it."

"Wouldn't you?"

"But I'll tell you this, Minnie," he said, changing his position with a groan to look up at me, "somebody ought to warn that young man. Human nature can stand a lot but it can't stand everything. He's overdoing it!"

"They like it," I said.

"They think they do," he retorted. "Mark my words, Minnie, if he adds another mile to the walk to-morrow there will be a mutiny. Kingdoms may be lost by an extra blister on a heel."

Mr. von Inwald had been sitting with his feet straight out, scowling, but now he turned and looked at me coolly.

"All that keeps me here," he said, "is Minnie's lovely hair. It takes me mentally back home, Minnie, to a lovely lady—may I have a bit of it to keep by me?"

"You may not," I retorted angrily.

"Oh! The lovely lady—but never mind that. For the sake of my love for you, Minnie, find me a cigarette, like a good girl! I am desolate."

"There's no tobacco on the place," I said firmly, and went on with my sweeping.

"When I was a boy," Mr. Thoburn remarked, looking out thoughtfully over the snow, "we made a sort of cigarette out of corn-silk. You don't happen to have any corn-silk about, do you, Minnie?"

"No," I said shortly. "If you take my advice, Mr. Thoburn, you'll go back to town. You can get all the tobacco you want there—and you're wasting your time here." I leaned on my broom and looked down at him, but he was stretching out his foot and painfully working his ankle up and down.

"Am I?" he asked, looking at his foot. "Well, don't count on it too much, Minnie. You always inspire me, and sitting here I've just thought of something."

He got up and hobbled off the porch, followed by Mr. von Inwald. I saw him say something to Mr. von Inwald, who threw back his head and laughed. Then I saw them stop and shake hands and go on again in deep conversation. I felt uneasy.

Doctor Barnes came out that afternoon and watched me while I closed the windows. He had a package in his hand. He sat on the railing of the spring and looked at me.

"You're not warmly enough dressed for this kind of thing," he remarked. "Where's that gray rabbits' fur, or whatever it is?"

"If you mean my chinchillas," I said, "they're in their box. Chinchillas are as delicate as babies and not near so plentiful. I'm warm enough."

"You look it." He reached over and caught one of my hands. "Look at that! Blue nails! It's about four degrees above zero here, and while the rest are wrapped in furs and steamer rugs, with hotwater bottles at their feet, you've got on a shawl. I'll bet you two dollars you haven't got on any—er—winter flannels."

"I never bet," I retorted, and went on folding up the steamer rugs.

"I'd like to help," he said, "but you're so darned capable, Miss Minnie—"

"You might see if you can get the slot-machine empty," I said. "It's full of water. It wouldn't work and Mr. Moody thought it was frozen. He's been carrying out boiling water all afternoon. If it stays in there and freezes the thing will explode."

He wasn't listening. He'd been fussing with his package and now he opened it and handed it to me, in the paper.

"It's a sweater," he said, not looking at me. "I bought it for myself and it was too small— Confound it, Minnie, I wish I could lie! I bought them for you! There's the whole business—sweater, cap, leggings and mittens. Go on! Throw them at me!"

But I didn't. I looked at them, all white and soft, and it came over me suddenly how kind people had been lately, and how much I'd been getting—the old doctor's waistcoat buttons and Miss Pat's furs, and now this! I just buried my face in them and cried.

Doctor Barnes stood by and said nothing. Some men wouldn't have understood, but he did. After a minute or so he came over and pulled the sweater out from the bundle.

"I'm glad you like 'em," he said, "but as I bought them at Hubbard's, in Finleyville, and as the old liar guaranteed they wouldn't shrink, we'd better not cry on 'em."

Well, I put them on and I was warmer and happier than I had been for some time. But that night when I went out to the shelter-house with the supper basket I found both the honeymooners in a wild state of excitement. They said that about five o'clock Thoburn had gone out to the shelter-house and walked all around it. Finally he had stopped at one of the windows of the other room, had worked at it with his penknife and got it open, and crawled through. They sat paralyzed with fright, and heard him moving around the other room, and he even tried their door. But it had been locked. They hadn't the slightest idea what he was doing, but after perhaps ten minutes he went away, going out the door this time and taking the key with him.

Mr. Dick had gone in when he was safely gone, but he could see nothing unusual, except that the door of the cupboard in the corner was standing open and there was a brand-new, folding, foot rule in it.

That day the bar was closed for good, and there was a good bit of fussing. To add to the trouble, that evening at dinner the pastries were cut off, and at eight o'clock a delegation headed by Senator Biggs visited Mr. Pierce in the office and demanded pastry put back on the menu and the stewed fruit taken off. But Mr. Pierce was firm and they came out pretty well subdued. It was that night, I think, that candles were put in the bedrooms, and all the electric lights were turned off at nine-thirty.

At ten o'clock I took my candle and went to Mr. Pierce's sitting-room door. I didn't think they'd stand much more and I wanted to tell him so. Nobody answered and I opened the door. He was asleep, face down on the hearth-rug in front of the fire. His candle was lighted on the floor beside him and near it lay a newspaper cutting crumpled in a ball. I picked it up. It was a list of the bridal party for Miss Patty's wedding.

I dropped it where I found it and went out and knocked again loudly. He wakened after a minute and came to the door with the candle in his hand.

"Oh, it's you, Minnie. Come in!"

I went in and put my candle on the table.

"I've got to talk to you," I said. "I don't mind admitting things have been going pretty well, but—they won't stand for the candles. You mark my words."

"If they'll stand for the bar being closed, why not the candles?" he demanded.

"Well," I said, "they can't have electric light sent up in boxes and labeled 'books,' but they can get liquor that way."

He whistled, and then he laughed.

"Then we'll not have any books," he said. "I guess they can manage. 'My only books were woman's looks—'" and then he saw the ball of paper on the floor and his expression changed. He walked over and picked it up, smoothing it out on the palm of his hand.

After a minute he looked up at me.

"I haven't been to the shelter-house to-day. They are all right?"

"They're nervous. With everybody walking these days they daren't venture a nose out of doors."

He was still holding the clipping.

"And—Miss Jennings!" he said. "She—I think she looks better."

"Her father's in a better humor for one thing—says Abraham Lincoln split logs, and that it beats massage."

I had been standing in the doorway, but he took me by the arm and drew me into the room.

"I wish you'd sit down for about ten minutes, Minnie," he said. "I guess every fellow has a time when he's got to tell his troubles to some good woman—not but that you know mine already. You're as shrewd as you are kind."

I sat down on the edge of a chair. For all I had had so much to do with the sanatorium, I never forgot that I was only the spring-house girl. He threw himself back in his easy chair, with the candle behind him on the table and his arms above his head.

"It's like this, Minnie," he said. "Mr. Jennings likes the new order of things and—he's going to stay."

I nodded.

"And I like it here. I want to stay. It's the one thing I've found that I think I can do. It isn't what I've dreamed of, but it's worth while. To anchor the derelicts of humanity in a sort of repair dock here, and scrape the barnacles off their dispositions, and send them out shipshape again, surely that's something. And I can do it."

I nodded again.

"But if the Jenningses stay—" he looked at me. "Minnie, in heaven's name, what am I going to do if SHE stays?"

"I don't know, Mr. Pierce," I said. "I couldn't sleep last night for thinking about it."

He smoothed out the paper and looked at it again, but I think he scarcely saw it.

"The situation is humorous," he said, "only my sense of humor seems to have died. She doesn't know I exist, except to invent new and troublesome regulations for her annoyance. She is very sweet when she meets me, but only because I am helping her to have her own way. And I—my God, Minnie, I sit in the office and listen for her step outside!"

He moved a little and held out the paper in the candle-light.

"'It will please Americans to know,'" he read, "'that with the exception of the Venetian lace robe sent by the bridegroom's mother, all of Miss Patricia Jennings' elaborate trousseau is being made in America.

"'Prince Oskar and his suite, according to present arrangements, will sail from Naples early in March, and the wedding date, although not yet definitely fixed, will probably be the first week in April. The wedding party will include—'"

He stopped there, and looked at me, trying to smile.

"I knew it all before," he said, "but there's something inevitable about print. I guess I hadn't realized it."

He had the same look of wretchedness he'd had the first night I saw him—a hungry look—and I couldn't help it; I went over to him and patted him on the head like a little boy. I was only the spring-house girl, but I was older than he was, and he needed somebody to comfort him.

"I can't think of anything to say that will help any," I said, "unless it's what you wrote yourself on the blackboard down in the hall, 'Keep busy and you'll keep happy.'"

He reached up for my hand, and rough and red as it was—having been in the spring for so many years—he kissed it.

"Good for you, Minnie!" he said. "You're rational, and for a day or so I haven't been. That's right, KEEP BUSY. I'll do it." He got up and put his hands on my shoulders. "Good old pal, when you see me going around as if all the devils of hell were tormenting me, just come up and say that to me, will you?"

I promised, and he opened the door, candle in hand, and smiling.

"I'm a thousand per cent. better already," he said. "I just needed to tell somebody, I think. I dare say I've made a lot more fuss than it really deserves."

At the far end of the hall, a girl came out of one room, and carrying a candle, went across to another. It was Miss Patty, going to bid her father good night. When I left, he was still staring down the hall after her, his candle dripping wax on the floor, and his face white. I guess he hadn't overstated his case.



CHAPTER XXV

THE FIRST FRUITS

By Friday of that week you would hardly have known any of them. The fat ones were thinner and the thin ones fatter, and Miss Julia Summers could put her whole hand inside her belt.

And they were pleasant. They'd sit down to a supper of ham and eggs and apple sauce, and yell for more apple sauce, and every evening in the billiard room they got up two weighing pools, one for the ones who wanted to reduce, and one for the people who wanted to gain. Everybody put in a dollar, and at gymnasium hour the next morning the ones who'd gained or lost the most won the pool. Mr. Thoburn won the losing pool on Thursday and Friday—he didn't want to lose weight, but he was compelled to under the circumstances. And I think worry helped him to it.

They fussed some still about sleeping with the windows open, especially the bald-headed men. However, the bishop, who had been bald for thirty years, was getting a fine down all over the top of his head, and this encouraged the rest. The bishop says it is nature's instinct to protect itself from cold—all animals have fur, and heavier fur in winter—and he believed that it was the ultimate cure for baldness. Men lose their hair on top, he said, because they wear hats, and so don't need it. But let the top of the head need protection, and lo, hair comes there. Although, as Mr. Thoburn said, his nose was always cold in winter, and nature never did anything for IT.

Mr. von Inwald was still there, and not troubling himself to be agreeable to any but the Jennings family. He and Mr. Pierce carefully avoided each other, but I knew well enough that only policy kept them apart. Both of them, you see, were working for something.

Miss Cobb came to the spring-house early Friday morning, and from the way she came in and shut the door I knew she had something on her mind. She walked over to where I was polishing the brass railing around the spring—it had been the habit of years, and not easy to break—and stood looking at me and breathing hard.

"Minnie," she exclaimed, "I have found the thief!"

"Lord have mercy!" I said, and dropped the brass polish.

"I have found the thief!" she repeated firmly. "Minnie, our sins always find us out."

"I guess they do," I said shakily, and sat down on the steps to the spring. "Oh, Miss Cobb, if only he would use a little bit of sense!"

"He?" she said. "HE nothing! It's that Summers woman I'm talking about, Minnie. I knew that woman wasn't what she ought to be the minute I set eyes on her."

"The Summers woman!" I repeated.

Miss Cobb leaned over the railing and shook a finger in my face.

"The Summers woman," she said. "One of the chambermaids found my—my PROTECTORS hanging in the creature's closet!"

I couldn't speak. There had been so much happening that I'd clean forgotten Miss Cobb and her woolen tights. And now to have them come back like this and hang themselves around my neck, so to speak—it was too much.

"Per—perhaps they're hers," I said weakly after a minute.

"Stuff and nonsense!" declared Miss Cobb. "Don't you think I know my own, with L. C. in white cotton on the band, and my own darning in the knee where I slipped on the ice? And more than that, Minnie, where those tights are, my letters are!"

I glanced at the pantry, where her letters were hidden on the upper shelf. The door was closed.

"But—but what would she want with the letters?" I asked, with my teeth fairly hitting together. Miss Cobb pushed her forefinger into my shoulder.

"To blackmail me," she said, in a tragic voice, "or perhaps to publish. I've often thought of that myself—they're so beautiful. Letters from a life insurance agent to his lady-love—interesting, you know, and alliterative. As for that woman—!"

"What woman!" said Miss Summers' voice from behind us. We jumped and turned. "I always save myself trouble, so if by any chance you are discussing me—"

"As it happens," Miss Cobb said, glaring at her, "I WAS discussing you."

"Fine!" said Miss Julia. "I love to talk about myself."

"I doubt if it's an edifying subject," Miss Cobb snapped.

Miss Julia looked at her and smiled.

"Perhaps not," she said, "but interesting. Don't put yourself out to be friendly to me, Miss Cobb, if you don't feel like it."

"Are you going to return my letters?" Miss Cobb demanded.

"Your letters?"

"My letters—that you took out of my room!"

"Look here," Miss Julia said, still in a good humor, "don't you suppose I've got letters of my own, without bothering with another woman's?"

"Perhaps," Miss Cobb replied in triumph, "perhaps you will say that you don't know anything of my—of my black woolen protectors?"

"Never heard of them!" said Miss Summers. "What are they?" And then she caught my eye, and I guess I looked stricken. "Oh!" she said.

"Miss Cobb was robbed the other night," I explained, as quietly as I could. "Somebody went into her room and took a bundle of letters."

"Letters!" Miss Summers straightened and looked at me.

"And my woolen tights," said Miss Cobb indignantly, "with all this cold weather and military walks, and having to sit two hours a day by an open window! And I'll tell you this, Miss Summers, your dog got in my room that night, and while I have no suspicions, the chambermaid found my—er—missing garment this morning in your closet!"

"I don't believe," Miss Julia said, looking hard at me, "that Arabella would steal anything so—er—grotesque! Do you mean to say," she added slowly, "that nothing was taken from that room but the—lingerie and a bundle of letters?"

"Exactly," said Miss Cobb, "and I'd thank you for the letters."

"The letters!" Miss Julia retorted. "I've never been in your room. I haven't got the letters. I've never seen them." Then a light dawned in her face. "I—oh, it's the funniest ever!"

And with that she threw her head back and laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks and she held her side.

"Screaming!" she gasped. "It's screaming! But, oh, Minnie, to have seen your face!"

Miss Cobb swept to the door and turned in a fury.

"I do not think it is funny," she stormed, "and I shall report to Mr. Carter at once what I have discovered."

She banged out, and Miss Julia put her head on a card-table and writhed with joy. "To have seen your face, Minnie!" she panted, wiping her eyes. "To have thought you had Dick Carter's letters, that I keep rolled in asbestos, and then to have opened them and found they were to Miss Cobb!"

"Be as happy as you like," I snapped, "but you are barking up the wrong tree. I don't know anything about any letters and as far as that goes, do you think I've lived here fourteen years to get into the wrong room at night? If I'd wanted to get into your room, I'd have found your room, not Miss Cobb's."

She sat up and pulled her hat straight, looking me right in the eye.

"If you'll recall," she said, "I came into the spring-house, and Arabella pulled that—garment of Miss Cobb's off a table. It was early—nobody was out yet. You were alone, Minnie, or no," she said suddenly, "you were not alone. Minnie, WHO was in the pantry?"

"What has that to do with it?" I managed, with my feet as cold as stone.

She got up and buttoned her sweater.

"Don't trouble to lie," she said. "I can see through a stone wall as well as most people. Whoever got those letters thought they were stealing mine, and there are only two people who would try to steal my letters; one is Dick Carter, and the other is his brother-in-law. It wasn't Sam in the pantry—he came in just after with his little snip of a wife."

"Well?" I managed.

But she was smiling again, not so pleasantly.

"I might have known it!" she said. "What a fool I've been, Minnie, and how clever you are under that red thatch of yours! Dicky can not appear as long as I am here, and Pierce takes his place, and I help to keep the secret and to play the game! Well, I can appreciate a joke on myself as well as most people, but—Minnie, Minnie, think of that guilty wretch of a Dicky Carter shaking in the pantry!"

"I don't know what you are talking about," I said, but she only winked and went to the door.

"Don't take it too much to heart," she advised. "Too much loyalty is a vice, not a virtue. And another piece of advice, Minnie—when I find Dicky Carter, stand from under; something will fall."

They had charades during the rest hour that afternoon, the overweights headed by the bishop, against the underweights headed by Mr. Moody. They selected their words from one of Horace Fletcher's books, and as Mr. Pierce wasn't either over or underweight, they asked him to be referee.

Oh, they were crazy about him by that time. It was "Mr. Carter" here and "dear Mr. Carter" there, with the women knitting him neckties and the men coming up to be bullied and asking for more.

And he kept the upper hand, too, once he got it. It was that day, I think, that he sent Senator Biggs up to make his bed again, and nobody in the place will ever forget how he made old Mr. Jennings hang his gymnasium suit up three times before it was done properly. The old man was mad enough at the time, but inside of twenty minutes he was offering Mr. Pierce the cigar he'd won in the wood-chopping contest.

But if Mr. Pierce was making a hit with the guests, he wasn't so popular with the Van Alstynes or the Carters. The night the cigar stand was closed Mr. Sam came to me and leaned over the counter.

"Put the key in a drawer," he said. "I can slip down here after the lights are out and get a smoke."

"Can't do it, Mr. Van Alstyne," I said. "Got positive orders."

"That doesn't include me." He was still perfectly good-humored.

"Sorry," I said. "Have to have a written order from Mr. Pierce."

He put a silver dollar on the desk between us and looked at me over it.

"Will that open the case?" he asked. But I shook my head.

"Well, I'll be hanged! What the devil sort of order did he give you?"

"He said," I repeated, "that I'd be coaxed and probably bribed to open the cigar case, and that you'd probably be the first one to do it, but I was to stick firm; you've been smoking too much, and your nerves are going."

"Insolent young puppy!" he exclaimed angrily, and stamped away.

So that I was not surprised when on that night, Friday, I was told to be at the shelter-house at ten o'clock for a protest meeting. Mrs. Sam told me.

"Something has to be done," she said. "I don't intend to stand much more. Nobody has the right to say when I shall eat or what. If I want to eat fried shoe leather, that's my affair."

We met at ten o'clock at the shelter-house, everybody having gone to bed—Miss Patty, the Van Alstynes and myself. The Dickys were on good terms again, for a wonder, and when we went in they were in front of the fire, she on a box and he at her feet, with his head buried in her lap. He didn't even look up when we entered.

"They're here, Dicky," she said.

"All right!" he answered in a smothered voice. "How many of 'em?"

"Four," she said, and kissed the tip of his ear.

"For goodness sake, Dick!" Mrs. Sam snapped in a disgusted tone, "stop that spooning and get us something to sit on."

"Help yourself," he replied, still from his wife's lap, "and don't be jealous, sis. If the sight of married happiness upsets you, go away. Go away, anyhow."

Mr. Sam came over and jerked him into a sitting position. "Either you'll sit up and take part in this discussion," he said angrily, "or you'll go out in the snow until it's over."

Mr. Dick leaned over and kissed his wife's hand.

"A cruel fate is separating us," he explained, "but try to endure it until I return. I'll be on the other side of the fireplace."

Miss Patty came to the fire and stood warming her hands. I saw her sister watching her.

"What's wrong with you, Pat?" she asked. "Oskar not behaving?"

"Don't be silly," Miss Patty said. "I'm all right."

"She's worked to death," Mrs. Sam put in. "Look at all of us. I'll tell you I'm so tired these nights that by nine o'clock I'm asleep on my feet."

"I'm tired to death, but I don't sleep," Miss Patty said. "I—I don't know why."

"I do," her sister said. "If you weren't so haughty, Pat, and would just own up that you're sick of your bargain—"

"Dolly!" Miss Patty got red and then white.

"Oh, all right," Mrs. Dicky said, and shrugged her shoulders. "Only, I hate to see you make an idiot of yourself, when I'm so happy."

Mr. Dick made a move at that to go across the fireplace to her, but Mr. Sam pushed him back where he was.

"You stay right there," he said. "Here's Pierce now."

He came in smiling, and as he stood inside the door, brushing the snow off, it was queer to see how his eyes went around the circle until he'd found Miss Patty and stopped at her.

Nobody answered his smile, and he came over to the fire beside Miss Patty.

"Great night!" he said, looking down at her. "There's something invigorating in just breathing that wind."

"Do you think so?" Mrs. Sam said disagreeably. "Of course, we haven't all got your shoulders."

"That's so," he answered, turning to her. "I said you women should not come so far. We could have met in my sitting-room."

"You forget one thing," Mr. Dick put in disagreeably, "and that is that this meeting concerns me, and I can not very well go to YOUR sitting-room."

"Fact," said Mr. Pierce, "I'd forgotten about you for the moment."

"You generally do," Mr. Dick retorted. "If you want the truth, Pierce, I'm about tired of your high-handed methods."

Mr. Pierce set his jaw and looked down at him.

"Why? I've saved the place, haven't I? Why, look here," he said, and pulled out a couple of letters, "these are the first fruits of those that weep—in other words, per aspera ad astra! Two new guests coming the last of the week—want to be put in training!"

Well, that was an argument nobody could find fault with, but their grievance was about themselves and they couldn't forgive him. They turned on him in the most heartless way—even Miss Patty—and demanded that he give them special privileges—breakfast when they wanted it, and Mr. Sam the key to the bar. And he stood firm, as he had that day in the lobby, and let the storm beat around him, looking mostly at Miss Patty. It was more than I could bear.

"Shame on all of you!" I said. "He's done what he promised he'd do, and more. If he did what he ought, he'd leave this minute, and let you find out for yourself what it is to drive thirty-odd different stomachs and the same number of bad dispositions in one direction."

"You are perfectly right, Minnie," Miss Patty said. "We're beastly, all of us, and I'm sorry." She went over and held out her hand to him. "You've done the impossible," she told him. He beamed.

"Your approval means more than anything," he said, holding her hand. Mrs. Dick sat up and opened her eyes wide.

"Speaking of Oskar," she began, and then stopped, staring past her sister, toward the door.

We all turned, and there, blinking in the light, was Miss Summers.



CHAPTER XXVI

OVER THE FENCE IS OUT

"WELL!" she said, and stood staring. Then she smiled—I guess our faces were funny.

"May I come in?" she asked, and without waiting she came in and closed the door. "You DO look cozy!" she said, and shook herself free of snow.

Mr. Dick had turned white. He got up with his eyes on her, and twice he opened his mouth and couldn't speak. He backed, still watching her, to his wife, and stood in front of her, as if to protect her.

Mr. Sam got his voice first.

"B—bad night for a walk," he said.

"Frightful!" she said. "I've been buried to my knees. May I sit down?" To those of us who knew, her easy manner had something horrible in it.

"Sorry there are no chairs, Julia," Mr. Pierce said. "Sit on the cot, won't you?"

"Who IS it?" Mrs. Dick asked from, as you may say, her eclipse. She and Miss Summers were the only calm ones in the room.

"I—I don't know," Mr. Dick stammered, but the next moment Miss Julia, from the cot, looked across at him and grinned.

"Well, Dicky!" she said. "Who'd have thought it!"

"You said you didn't know her!" his wife said from behind him.

"Who'd have thought wha—what?" he asked with bravado.

"All this!" Miss Julia waved her hand around the room, with its bare walls, and blankets over the windows to keep the light in and the cold out, and the circle of us sitting around on sand boxes from the links and lawn rollers. "To find you here, all snug in your own home, with your household gods and a wife." Nobody could think of anything to say. "That is," she went on, "I believe there is a wife. Good heavens, Dicky, it isn't Minnie?"

He stepped aside at that, disclosing Mrs. Dick on her box, with her childish eyes wide open.

"There—there IS a wife, Julia," he said. "This is her—she."

Well, she'd come out to make mischief—it was written all over her when she came in the door, but when Mr. Dick presented his wife, frightened as he was and still proud of her, and Mrs. Dick smiled in her pretty way, Miss Summers just walked across and looked down at her with a queer look on her face. I shut my eyes and waited for the crash, but nothing came, and when I opened them again there were the two women holding hands and Miss Summers smiling a sort of crooked grin at Mr. Dick.

"I ought to be very angry with your husband," she said. "I—well, I never expected him to marry without my being among those present. But since he has done it—! Dick, you wretched boy, you took advantage of my being laid up with the mumps!"

"Mumps!" Mrs. Dick said. "Why, he has just had them himself!" She looked around the circle suspiciously, and every one of us looked as guilty as if he had been caught with the mumps concealed around him somewhere.

"I didn't have real mumps," Mr. Dick explained. "It was only—er—a swelling."

"You SAID it was mumps, and even now you hate pickles!"

Mr. Pierce had edged over to Miss Summers and patted her shoulder.

"Be a good sport, Julia," he whispered.

She threw off his hand.

"I'm being an idiot!" she said angrily. "Dick's an ass, and he's treated me like a villain, but look at that baby! It will be twenty years before she has to worry about her weight."

"I never cared for pickles," Mr. Dick was saying with dignity. "The doctor said—"

"I think we'd better be going." Miss Patty got up and gathered up her cloak. But if she meant to break up the party Miss Summers was not ready.

"If you don't mind," she said, "I'll stay. I'm frozen, and I've got to go home and sleep with my window up. You're lucky," she went on to the Dickys. "I dare say the air in here would scare us under a microscope, but at least it is warm."

The Van Alstynes made a move to go, but Mr. Dicky frantically gestured to them not to leave him alone, and Mrs. Sam sat down again sulkily. Mr. Pierce picked up his cap.

"I'll take you back," he said to Miss Patty, and his face was fairly glowing. But Miss Patty slipped her arm through mine.

"Come, Minnie, Mr. Pierce is going to take us," she said.

"I'd—I'd rather go alone," I said.

"Nonsense."

"I'm not ready. I've got to gather up these dishes," I objected.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the glow dying out of Mr. Pierce's face. But Miss Patty took my arm and led me to the door.

"Let them gather up their own dishes," she said. "Dolly, you ought to be ashamed to let Minnie slave for you the way she does. Good night, everybody."

I did my best to leave them alone on the way back, but Miss Patty stuck close to my heels. It was snowing, and the going was slow.

For the first five minutes she only spoke once.

"And so Miss Summers and Dicky Carter are old friends!"

"It appears so," Mr. Pierce said.

"She's rather magnanimous, under the circumstances," Miss Patty remarked demurely.

"Under what circumstances?"

I heard her laugh a little, behind me.

"Never mind," she said. "You needn't tell me anything you don't care to. But what a stew you must all have been in!"

There was a minute's silence behind me, and then Mr. Pierce laughed too.

"Stew!" he said. "For the last few days I've been either paralyzed with fright or electrified into wild bursts of mendacity. And I'm not naturally a liar."

"Really!" she retorted. "What an actor you are!"

They laughed together at that, and I gained a little on them. At the corner where the path skirted the deer park and turned toward the house I lost them altogether and I floundered on alone. But I had not gone twenty feet when I stopped suddenly. About fifty yards ahead a lantern was coming toward me through the snow, and I could hear a man's voice, breathless and gasping.

"Set it down," it said. "The damned thing must be filled with lead." It sounded like Thoburn.

"It's the snow," another voice replied, Mr. von Inwald's. "I told you it would take two trips."

"Yes," Thoburn retorted, breathing in groans. "Stay up all night to get the blamed stuff here, and then get up at dawn for a cold bath and a twenty-mile walk and an apple for breakfast. Ugh, my shoulder is dislocated."

I turned and flew back to Miss Patty and Pierce. They had stopped in the shelter of the fence corner and Mr. Pierce was on his knees in front of her! I was so astounded that I forgot for the moment what had brought me.

"Just a second," he was saying. "It's ice on the heel."

"Please get up off your knees, you'll take cold."

"Never had a cold. I'll scrape it off with my knife. Why don't you wear overshoes?"

"I never have a cold!" she retorted. "Why, Minnie, is that you?"

"Quick," I panted. "Thoburn and Mr. von Inwald coming—basket—lantern—warn the shelter-house!"

"Great Scott!" Mr. Pierce said. "Here, you girls crawl over the fence: you'll be hidden there. I'll run back and warn them."

The lantern was swinging again. Mr. Thoburn's grumbling came to us through the snow, monotonous and steady.

"I can't climb the fence!" Miss Patty said pitifully. But Mr. Pierce had gone.

I reached my basket through the bars and climbed the fence in a hurry. Miss Patty had got almost to the top and was standing there on one snow-covered rail, staring across at me through the darkness.

"I can't, Minnie," she whispered hopelessly. "I never could climb a fence, and in this skirt—!"

"Quick!" I said in a low tone. The lantern was very close. "Put your leg over."

She did, and sat there looking down at me like a scared baby.

"Now the other."

"I—I can't!" she whispered. "If I put them both over I'll fall."

"Hurry!"

With a little grunt she put the other foot over, sat a minute with agony in her face and her arms out, then she slid off with a squeal and brought up in a sitting position inside the fence corner. I dropped beside her.

"What was that noise?" said Mr. Thoburn, almost upon us. "Something's moving inside that fence corner."

"It's them deers," Mike's voice this time. We could make out the three figures. "Darned nuisance, them deers is. They'd have been shot long ago if the spring-house girl hadn't objected. She thinks she's the whole cheese around here."

"Set it down again," Mr. von Inwald panted. We heard the rattle of bottles as they put down the basket, and the next instant Thoburn's fat hand was resting on the rail of the fence over our heads. I could feel Miss Patty trembling beside me.

But he didn't look over. He stood there resting, breathing hard, and swearing at the weather, while Mike waited, in surly silence, and the von Inwald cursed in German.

After my heart had been beating in my ears for about three years the fat hand moved, and I heard the rattle of glass again and Thoburn's groan as he bent over his half of the load.

"'Come on, my partners in distress, My comrades through this wilderness,'"

he said, and the others grunted and started on.

When they had disappeared in the snow we got out of our cramped position and prepared to scurry home. I climbed the fence and looked after them. "Humph!" I said, "I guess that basket isn't for the hungry poor. I'd give a good bit to know—" Then I turned and looked for Miss Patty. She was flat on the snow, crawling between the two lower rails of the fence.

"Have you no shame?" I demanded.

She looked up at me with her head and half her long sealskin coat through the fence.

"None," she said pitifully. "Minnie, I'm stuck perfectly tight!"

"You ought to be left as you are," I said, jerking at her, "for people to come"—jerk—"to-morrow to look at"—jerk. She came through at that, and we lay together in the snow and like to burst a rib laughing.

"You'll never be a princess, Miss Patty," I declared. "You're too lowly minded."

She sat up suddenly and straightened her sealskin cap on her head.

"I wish," she said unpleasantly, "I wish you wouldn't always drag in disagreeable things, Minnie!"

And she was sulky all the way to the house.

Miss Summers came to my room that night as I was putting my hot-water bottle to bed, in a baby-blue silk wrapper with a band of fur around the low neck—Miss Summers, of course, not the hot-water bottle.

"Well!" she said, sitting down on the foot of the bed and staring at me. "Well, young woman, for a person who has never been farther away than Finleyville you do pretty well!"

"Do what?" I asked, with the covers up to my chin.

"Do what, Miss Innocence!" she said mockingly. "You're the only red-haired woman I ever saw who didn't look as sophisticated as the devil. I'll tell you one thing, though." She reached down into the pocket of her dressing-gown and brought up a cigarette and a match. "You never had me fooled for a minute!" She looked at me over the match.

I lay and stared back.

"And another thing," she said. "I never had any real intention of marrying Dicky Carter and raising a baby sanatorium. I wouldn't have the face to ask Arabella to live here."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Miss Summers," I said. "I've gone through a lot; I'm an old woman in the last two weeks. My hair's falling from its having to stand up on end half the time."

She leaned over and put her cigarette on the back of my celluloid mirror, and then suddenly she threw back her head and laughed.

"Minnie!" she said, between fits, "Minnie! As long as I live I'll never forget that wretched boy's face! And the sand boxes! And the blankets over the windows! And the tarpaulin over the rafters! And Mr. Van Alstyne sitting on the lawnmower! I'd rather have had my minute in that doorway than fifty thousand dollars!"

"If you had had to carry out all those things—" I began, but she checked me.

"Listen!" she said. "Somebody with brains has got to take you young people in hand. You're not able to look after yourselves. I'm fond of Alan Pierce, for one thing, and I don't care to see a sanatorium that might have been the child of my solicitude kidnaped and reared as a summer hotel by Papa Thoburn. A good fat man is very, very good, Minnie, but when he is bad he is horrid."

"It's too late," I objected feebly. "He can't get it now."

"Can't he!" She got up and yawned, stretching. "Well, I'll lay you ten to one that if we don't get busy he'll have the house empty in thirty-six hours, and a bill of sale on it in as many days."

The celluloid mirror blazed up at that minute, and she poured the contents of my water-pitcher over the dresser. For the next hour, while I was emptying water out of the bureau drawers and hanging up my clothes to dry, she told me what she knew of Thoburn's scheme, and it turned me cold.

But I went to bed finally. Just as I was dozing off, somebody opened my door, and I heard a curious scraping along the floor. I turned on the light, and there was Arabella, half-dragging and half-carrying a solid silver hand-mirror with a card on it: "To Minnie, to replace the one that blew up. J. S."



CHAPTER XXVII

A CUPBOARD FULL OF RYE

Doctor Barnes came to me at the news stand the next morning before gymnasium.

"Well," he said, "you look as busy as a dog with fleas. Have you heard the glad tidings?"

"What?" I asked without much spirit. "I've heard considerable tidings lately, and not much of it has cheered me up any."

He leaned over and ran his fingers up through his hair.

"You know, Miss Minnie," he said, "somebody ought kindly to kill our friend Thoburn, or he'll come to a bad end."

"Shall I do it, or will you?" I said, filling up the chewing-gum jar. (Mr. Pierce had taken away the candy case.)

Doctor Barnes glanced around to see if there was any one near, and leaned farther over.

"The cupboard isn't empty now!" he said. "Not for nothing did I spend part of the night in the Dicky-bird's nest! By the way, did you ever hear that touching story about little Sally walking up and laying an egg?—I see you have. What do you think is in the cupboard?"

"I know about it," I said shortly. "Liquor—in a case labeled 'Books—breakable.'"

"'Sing a song of sixpence, a cupboard full of rye!'" he said. "Almost a goal! But not ONLY liquors, my little friend. Champagne—cases of it—caviar, canned grouse with truffles, lobster, cheeses, fine cigars, everything you could think of, erotic, exotic and narcotic. An orgy in cans and bottles, a bacchanalian revel: a cupboard full of indigestion, joy, forgetfulness and katzenjammer. Oh, my suffering palate, to have to leave it all without one sniff, one sip, one nibble!"

"He's wasting his money," I said. "They're all crazy about the simple life."

He looked around and, seeing no one in the lobby, reached over and took one of my hands.

"Strange," he said, looking at it. "No webs, and yet it's been an amphibious little creature most of its life. My dear girl, our friend Thoburn is a rascal, but he is also a student of mankind and a philosopher. Gee," he said, "think of a woman fighting her way alone through the world with a bit of a fist like that!"

I jerked my hand away.

"It's like this, my dear," he said. "Human nature's a curious thing. It's human nature, for instance, for me to be crazy about you, when you're as hands-offish as a curly porcupine. And it is human nature, by the same token, to like to be bullied, especially about health, and to respect and admire the fellow who does the bullying. That's why we were crazy about Roosevelt, and that's why Pierce is trailing his kingly robes over them while they lie on their faces and eat dirt—and stewed fruit."

He reached for my hand again, but I put it behind me.

"But alas," he said, "there is another side to human nature, and our friend Thoburn has not kept a summer hotel for nothing. It is notoriously weak, especially as to stomach. You may feed 'em prunes and whole-wheat bread and apple sauce, and after a while they'll forget the fat days, and remember only the lean and hungry ones. But let some student of human nature at the proper moment introduce just one fat day, one feast, one revel—"

"Talk English," I said sharply.

"Don't break in on my flights of fancy," he objected. "If you want the truth, Thoburn is going to have a party—a forbidden feast. He's going to rouse again the sleeping dogs of appetite, and send them ravening back to the Plaza, to Sherry's and Del's and the little Italian restaurants on Sixth Avenue. He's going to take them up on a high mountain and show them the wines and delicatessen of the earth, and then ask them if they're going to be bullied into eating boiled beef and cabbage."

"Then I don't care how soon he does it," I said despondently. "I'd rather die quickly than by inches."

"Die!" he said. "Not a bit of it. Remember, our friend Pierce is also a student of human nature. He's thinking it out now in the cold plunge, and I miss my guess if Thoburn's sky-rocket hasn't got a stick that'll come back and hit him on the head."

He had been playing with one of the chewing-gum jars, and when he had gone I shoved it back into its place. It was by the merest chance that I glanced at it, and I saw that he had slipped a small white box inside. I knew I was being a silly old fool, but my heart beat fast when I took it out and looked at it. On the lid was written "For a good girl," and inside lay the red puffs from Mrs. Yost's window down in Finleyville. Just under them was an envelope. I could scarcely see to open it.

"Dearest Minnie," the note inside said, "I had them matched to my own thatch, and I think they'll match yours. And since, in the words of the great Herbert Spencer, things that match the same thing match each other—! What do you say?—Barnes."

"P. S.—I love you. I feel like a damn fool saying it, but heaven knows it's true."

"P. P. S.—Still love you. It's easier the second time."

"N. B.—I love you—got the habit now and can't stop writing it.—B."

Well, I had to keep calm and attend to business, but I was seething inside like a Seidlitz powder. Every few minutes I'd reread the letter under the edge of the stand, and the more I read it the more excited I got. When a woman's gone past thirty before she gets her first love-letter, she isn't sure whether to thank providence or the man, but she's pretty sure to make a fool of herself.

Thoburn came to the news stand on his way out with the ice-cutting gang to the pond.

"Last call to the dining-car, Minnie," he said. "'Will you—won't you—will you—won't you—will you join the dance?'"

"I haven't any reason for changing my plans," I retorted. "I promised the old doctor to stick by the place, and I'm sticking."

"As the man said when he sat down on the flypaper. You're going by your heart, Minnie, and not by your head, and in this toss, heads win."

But with my new puffs on the back of my head, and my letter in my pocket, I wasn't easy to discourage. Thoburn shouldered his pick and, headed by Doctor Barnes, the ice-cutters started out in single file. As they passed the news stand Doctor Barnes glanced at me, and my heart almost stopped.

"Do they—is it a match?" he asked, with his eyes on mine.

I couldn't speak, but I nodded "yes," and all that afternoon I could see the wonderful smile that lit up his face as he went out. It made him almost good-looking. Oh, there's nothing like love, especially if you've waited long enough to be hungry for it, and not spoiled your taste for it by a bite here and a piece of a heart there, beforehand, so to speak.

Miss Cobb stopped at the news stand on her way to the gymnasium. She was a homely woman at any time, and in her bloomers she looked like a soup-bone. Under ordinary circumstances she'd have seen the puffs from the staircase and have asked what they cost and told me they didn't match, in one breath. But she had something else on her mind. She padded over to the counter in her gym shoes, and for once she'd forgotten her legs.

"May I speak to you, Minnie?" she asked.

"You mostly do," I said. "There isn't a new rule about speaking, is there?"

"This is important, Minnie," she said, rolling her eyes around as she always did when she was excited. "I'm in such a state of ex—I see you bought the puffs! Perhaps you will lend them to me if we arrange for a country dance."

"They don't match," I objected. "They—they wouldn't look natural, Miss Cobb."

"They don't look natural on you, either. Do you suppose anybody believes that the Lord sent you hair in seventeen rows of pipes, so that, red as it is, it looks like an instantaneous water-heater?"

"I'm not lending them," I said firmly. It would have been like lending an engagement ring, to my mind. Miss Cobb was not offended. She went at once to what had brought her, and bent over the counter.

"Where's the Summers woman?" she asked.

"In the gym. She's made herself a new gym suit out of her polka dotted silk, and she looks lovely."

"Humph!" retorted Miss Cobb. "Minnie, you love Miss Jennings almost like a daughter, don't you?"

"Like a sister, Miss Cobb," I said. "I'm not feeble yet."

"Well, you wouldn't want to see her deceived."

"I wouldn't have it," I answered.

"Then what do you call this?" She put a small package on the counter, and stared at me over it. "There's treachery here, black treachery." She pointed one long thin forefinger at the bundle.

"What is it? A bomb?" I asked, stepping back. More than once it had occurred to me that having royalty around sometimes meant dynamite. Miss Cobb showed her teeth.

"Yes, a bomb," she said. "Minnie, since that creature took my letters and my er—protectors, I have suspected her. Now listen. Yesterday I went over the letters and I missed one that beautiful one in verse, beginning, 'Oh, creature of the slender form and face!' Minnie, it had disappeared—melted away."

"I'm not surprised," I said.

"And so, last night, when the Summers woman was out, goodness knows where, Blanche Moody and I went through her room. We did not find my precious missive from Mr. Jones, but we did find these, Minnie, tied around with a pink silk stocking."

"Heavens!" I said, mockingly. "Not a pink silk!"

"Pink," she repeated solemnly. "Minnie, I have felt it all along. Mr. Oskar von Inwald is the prince himself."

"No!"

"Yes. And more than that, he is making desperate love to Miss Summers. Three of those letters were written in one day! Why, even Mr. Jones—"

"The wretch!" I cried. I was suddenly savage. I wanted to take Mr. von Inwald by the throat and choke him until his lying tongue was black, to put the letters where Miss Patty could never see them. I wanted—I had to stop to sell Senator Biggs some chewing-gum, and when he had gone, Miss Cobb was reaching out for the bundle. I snatched it from her.

"Give me those letters instantly," she cried shrilly. But I marched from behind the counter and over to the fireplace.

"Never," I said, and put the package on the log. When they were safely blazing, I turned and looked at Miss Cobb.

"I'd put my hand right beside those letters to save Miss Patty a heartache," I said, "and you know it."

"You're a fool." She was raging. "You'll let her marry him and have the heartaches afterward."

"She won't marry him," I snapped, and walked away with my chin up, leaving her staring.

But I wasn't so sure as I pretended to be. Mr. von Inwald and Mr. Jennings had been closeted together most of the morning, and Mr. von Inwald was whistling as he started out for the military walk. It seemed as if the very thing that had given Mr. Pierce his chance to make good had improved Mr. Jennings' disposition enough to remove the last barrier to Miss Jennings' wedding with somebody else.

Well, what's one man's meat is another man's poison.



CHAPTER XXVIII

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

Even if we hadn't known, we'd have guessed there was something in the air. There was an air of subdued excitement during the rest hour in the spring-house, and a good bit of whispering and laughing, in groups which would break up with faces as long as the moral law the moment they saw my eye on them.

They were planning a mutiny, as you may say, and I guess no sailors on a pirate ship were more afraid of the captain's fist than they were of Mr. Pierce's disapproval. He'd been smart enough to see that most of them, having bullied other people all their lives, liked the novelty of being bullied themselves. And now they were getting a new thrill by having a revolt. They were terribly worked up.

Miss Patty stayed after the others had gone, sitting in front of the empty fireplace in the same chair Mr. Pierce usually took, and keeping her back to me. When I'd finished folding the steamer rugs and putting them away, I went around and stood in front of her.

"Your eyes are red," I remarked.

"I've got a cold." She was very haughty.

"Your nose isn't red," I insisted. "And, anyhow, you say you never have a cold."

"I wish you would let me alone, Minnie." She turned her back to me. "I dare say I may have a cold if I wish."

"Do you know what they are saying here?" I demanded. "Do you know that Miss Cobb has found out in some way or other who Mr. von Inwald is? And that the four o'clock gossip edition says your father has given his consent and that you can go and buy a diadem or whatever you are going to wear, right off?"

"Well," she said, in a choked voice, with her back to me, "what of it? Didn't you and Mr. Pierce both do your best to bring it about?"

"Our what?" I couldn't believe my ears.

"You made father well. He's so p—pleasant he'll do anything except leave this awful place!"

"Well, of all the ungrateful people—" I began, and then Mr. Pierce came in. He had a curious way of stopping when he saw her, as if she just took the wind out of his sails, so to speak, and then of whipping off his hat, if anything with sails can wear a hat, and going up to her with his heart in his eyes. He always went straight to her and stopped suddenly about two feet away, trying to think of something ordinary to say. Because the extraordinary thing he wanted to say was always on the end of his tongue.

But this day he didn't light up when he saw her. He went through all the other motions, but his mouth was set in a straight line, and when he came close to her and looked down his eyes were hard.

It's been my experience of men that the younger they are the harder they take things and the more uncompromising they are. It takes a good many years and some pretty hard knocks to make people tolerant.

"I was looking for you," he said to her. "The bishop has just told me. There are no obstacles now."

"None," she said, looking up at him with wretchedness in her eyes, if he had only seen. "I am very happy."

"She was just saying," I said bitterly, "how grateful she was to both of us."

"I don't understand."

"It is not hard to understand," she said, smiling. I wanted to slap her. "Father was unreasonable because he was ill. You have made him well. I can never thank you enough."

But she rather overdid the joy part of it, and he leaned over and looked in her face.

"I think I'm stupid," he said. "I know I'm unhappy. But isn't that what I was to do—to make them well if I could?"

"How could anybody know—" she began angrily, and then stopped. "You have done even more," she said sweetly. "You've turned them into cherubims and seraphims. Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. Ugh! How I hate amiability raised to the NTH power!"

He smiled. I think it was getting through his thick man's skull that she wasn't so happy as she should have been, and he was thrilled through and through.

"My amiability must be the reason you dislike me!" he suggested. They had both forgotten me.

"Do I dislike you?" she asked, raising her eyebrows. "I never really thought about it, but I'm sure I don't." She didn't look at him, she looked at me. She knew I knew she lied.

His smile faded.

"Well," he said, "speaking of disliking amiability, you don't hate yourself, I'm sure."

"You are wrong," she retorted, "I loathe myself." And she walked to the window. He took a step or two after her.

"Why do it at all?" he asked in a low tone. "You don't love him—you can't. And if it isn't love—" He remembered me suddenly and stopped.

"Please go on," she said sweetly from the window. "Do not mind Minnie. She is my conscience, anyhow. She is always scolding me; you might both scold in chorus."

"I wouldn't presume to scold."

"Then give me a little advice and look superior and righteous. I'm accustomed to that also."

"As long as you are in this mood, I can't give you anything but a very good day," he said angrily, and went toward the door. But when he had almost reached it he turned.

"I will say this," he said, "you have known for three days that Mr. Thoburn was going to have a supper to-night, and you didn't let us know. You must have known his purpose."

I guess I was as surprised as she was. I'd never suspected she knew.

She looked at him over her shoulder.

"Why shouldn't he have a supper?" she demanded angrily. "I'm starving—we're all starving for decent food. I'm kept here against my will. Why shouldn't I have one respectable meal? You with your wretched stewed fruits and whole-wheat breads! Ugh!"

"I'm sorry. Thoburn's idea, of course, is to make the guests discontented, so they will leave."

"Oh!" she said. She hadn't thought of that, and she flushed. "At least," she said, "you must give me credit for not trying to spoil Dick and Dolly's chance here."

"We are going to allow the party to go on," he said, still stiff and uncompromising. It would have been better if he'd accepted her bit of apology.

"How kind of you! I dare say he would have it, anyhow." She was sarcastic again.

"Probably. And you—will go?"

"Certainly."

"Even when the result—"

"Oh, don't preach!" she said, putting her hands to her ears. "If you and Minnie want to preach, why don't you preach at each other? Minnie talks 'love, love, love.' And you preach health and morality. You drive me crazy between you."

"Suppose," he said with a gleam in his eyes, "suppose I preach 'love, love, love!'"

She put her fingers in her ears again. "Say it to Minnie," she cried, and turned her back to him.

"Very well," he said. "Minnie, Miss Jennings refuses to listen, and there are some things I must say. Once again I am going to register a protest against her throwing herself away in a loveless marriage. I—I feel strongly on the subject, Minnie."

She half turned, as if to interrupt. Then she thought better of it and kept her fingers in her ears, her face flushed. But he had learned what he hoped—that she could hear him.

"You ask me why I feel so strongly, Minnie, and you are right to ask. Under ordinary circumstances, Minnie, any remark of mine on the subject would be ridiculous impertinence."

He stopped and eyed her back, but she did not move.

"It is impertinence under any circumstances, but consider the provocation. I see a young, beautiful and sensitive girl, marrying, frankly without love, a man whom I know to be unworthy, and you ask me to stand aside and allow it to happen!"

"Are you still preaching?" she asked coldly over her shoulder. "It must be a long sermon."

And then, knowing he had only a moment more, his voice changed and became deep and earnest. His hands, that were clutching a chair-back, took a stronger hold, so that the ends of the nails were white.

"You see, Minnie," he said, turning a little pale, "I—I love Miss Jennings myself. You have known it a long time, for you love her, too. It has come to the point that I measure the day by the hours when I can see her. She doesn't care for me; sometimes I think she hates me." He paused here, but Miss Patty didn't move. "I haven't anything to offer a woman except a clean life and the kind of love that a woman could be proud of. I have no title—"

Miss Patty suddenly took her fingers out of her ears and turned around. She was flushed and shaken, but she looked past him without blinking an eyelash to me.

"Dear me," she said, "the sermon must have been exciting, Minnie! You are quite trembly!"

And with that she picked up her muff and went out, with not a glance at him.

He looked at me.

"Well," he said, "THAT'S over. She's angry, Minnie, and she'll never forgive me."

"Stuff!" I snapped, "I notice she waited to hear it all, and no real woman ever hated a man for saying he loved her."



CHAPTER XXIX

A BIG NIGHT TO-NIGHT

I carried out the supper to the shelter-house as usual that night, but I might have saved myself the trouble. Mrs. Dicky was sitting on a box, with her hair in puffs and the folding card-table before her, and Mr. Dick was uncorking a bottle of champagne with a nail. There were two or three queer-smelling cans open on the table.

Mrs. Dick looked at my basket and turned up her nose.

"Put it anywhere, Minnie," she said loftily, "I dare say it doesn't contain anything reckless."

"Cold ham and egg salad," I said, setting it down with a slam. "Stewed prunes and boiled rice for dessert. If those cans taste as they smell, you'd better keep the basket to fall back on. Where'd you get THAT?" Mr. Dick looked at me over the bottle and winked. "In the next room," he said, "iced to the proper temperature, paid for by somebody else, and coming after a two-weeks' drought! Minnie, there isn't a shadow on my joy!"

"He'll miss it," I said. But Mr. Dick was pouring out three large tumblersful of the stuff, and he held one out to me.

"Miss it!" he exclaimed. "Hasn't he been out three times to-day, tapping his little CACHE? And didn't he bring out Moody and the senator and von Inwald this afternoon, and didn't they sit in the next room there from two to four, roaring songs and cracking bottles and jokes."

"Beasts!" Mrs. Dicky said savagely. "Two hours, and we daren't move!"

"Drink, pretty creature!" Mr. Dick said, motioning to my glass. "Don't be afraid of it, Minnie; it's food and drink."

"I don't like it," I said, sipping at it. "I'd rather have the spring water."

"You'll have to cultivate a taste for it," he explained. "You'll like the second half better."

I got it down somehow and started for the door. Mr. Dick came after me with something that smelled fishy on the end of a fork.

"Better eat something," he suggested. "That was considerable champagne, Minnie."

"Stuff and nonsense," I said. "I was tired and it has rested me. That's all, Mr. Dick."

"Sure?"

"Certainly," I said with dignity, "I'm really rested, Mr. Dick. And happy—I'm very happy, Mr. Dick."

"Perhaps I'd better close the door," he said. "The light may be seen—"

"You needn't close it until I've finished talking," I said. "I've done my best for you and yours, Mr. Dick. I hope you appreciate it. Night after night I've tramped out here through the snow, and lost sleep, and lied myself black in the face—you've no idea how I've had to lie, Mr. Dick."

"Come in and shut the door, Dick," Mrs. Dick called, "I'm freezing."

That made me mad.

"Exactly," I said, glaring at her through the doorway. "Exactly—I can wade through the snow, bringing you meals that you scorn—oh, yes, you scorn them. What did you do to the basket tonight? Look at it, lying there, neglected in a corner, with p—perfectly good ham and stewed fruit in it."

All of a sudden I felt terrible about the way they had treated the basket, and I sat down on the steps and began to cry. I remember that, and Mr. Dick sitting down beside me and putting his arm around me and calling me "good old Minnie," and for heaven's sake not to cry so loud. But I was past caring. I had a sort of recollection of his getting me to stand up, and our walking through about twenty-one miles of snow to the spring-house. When we got there he stood off in the twilight and looked at me.

"I'm sorry, Minnie," he said, "I never dreamed it would do that."

"Do what?"

"Nothing. You're sure you won't forget?"

"I never forget," I said. I had got up the steps by this time and was trying to figure why the spring-house door had two knobs.

I hadn't any idea what he meant.

"Remember," he said, very slowly, "Thoburn is going to have his party to-night instead of to-morrow. Tell Pierce that. To-night, not to-morrow." I was pretty well ashamed when I got in the spring-house and sat down in the dark. I kept saying over and over to myself, so I'd not forget, "tonight, not to-morrow," but I couldn't remember WHAT was to be to-night. I was sleepy, too, and my legs were cold and numb. I remember going into the pantry for a steamer rug, and sitting down there for a minute, with the rug around my knees before I started to the house. And that is all I DO remember.

I was wakened by a terrible hammering in the top of my head. I reached out for the glass of water that I always put beside my bed at night and I touched a door-knob instead. Then I realized that the knocking wasn't all in my head. There was a sort of steady movement of feet on the other side of the door, with people talking and laughing. And above it all rose the steady knock—knock of somebody beating on tin.

"Can't do it." It was the bishop's voice. "I am convinced that nothing but dynamite will open this tin of lobster."

"Just a moment, Bishop," Mr. Thoburn's voice and the clink of bottles, "I have a can opener somewhere. You'll find the sauce a la Newburg—"

"Here, somebody, a glass, quick! A bottle's broken!"

"Did anybody remember to bring salt and pepper?"

"DEAR Mr. Thoburn!" It sounded like Miss Cobb. "Think of thinking of all this!"

"The credit is not mine, dear lady," Mr. Thoburn said. "Where the deuce is that corkscrew? No, dear lady, man makes his own destiny, but his birth date remains beyond his control."

"Ladies and gentlemen," somebody said, "to Mr. Thoburn's birthday being beyond his control!"

There was the clink of glasses, but I had remembered what it had been that I was to remember. And now it was too late. I was trapped in the pantry of my spring-house and Mr. Pierce was probably asleep. I clutched my aching head and tried to think. I was roused by hearing somebody say that Miss Jennings had no glass, and by steps nearing the pantry. I had just time to slip the bolt.

"Pantry's locked!" said a voice.

"Drat that Minnie!" somebody else said. "The girl's a nuisance."

"Hush!" Miss Summers said. "She's probably in there now—taking down what we say and what we eat. Convicting us out of our own mouths."

I held my breath and the knob rattled. Then they found a glass for Miss Patty and forgot the pantry.

Under cover of the next burst of noises I tried the pantry window, but it was frozen shut. Nothing but a hammer would have loosened it. I began to dig at it with a wire hairpin, but I hadn't much hope.

The fun in the spring-house was getting fast and furious. Miss Summers was leaning against the pantry door and I judged that most of the men in the room were around her, as usual. I put my ear to the panel of the door, and I could pretty nearly see what was going on. They were toasting Mr. Thoburn, and getting hungrier every minute as the supper was put out on the card-tables.

"To the bottle!" somebody said. "In infancy, the milk bottle; in our prime, the wine bottle; in our dotage, the pill bottle."

Mr. von Inwald came over and stood beside Miss Summers, and I could hear every whisper.

"I have good news for you," she said in an undertone.

"Oh! And what?"

"Sh! You may recall," she said, "the series of notes, letters, epistles, with which you have been honoring me lately?"

"How could I forget? They were written in my heart's blood!"

"Indeed!" Her voice lifted its eyebrows, so to speak. "Well, somebody got in my room last night and stole I dare say a pint of your heart's blood. They're gone."

He was pretty well upset, as he might be, and she stood by and listened to the things he said, which, if they were as bad in English as they sounded in German, I wouldn't like to write down.

And when he cooled down and condensed, as you may say, into English, he said Miss Jennings must have seen the letters, for she would hardly speak to him. And Miss Summers said she hoped Miss Jennings had—she was too nice a girl to treat shamefully.

And after he had left her there alone, I heard a sort of scratching on the door behind Miss Summers' back, and then something being shoved under the door. I stooped down and picked it up. It was a key!

I struck a match, and I saw by the tag that it was the one to the old doctor's rooms. I knew right off what it meant. Mr. Pierce had gone to bed, or pretended to throw them off the track and Thoburn had locked him in! Thoburn hadn't taken any chances. He knew the influence Mr. Pierce had over them all, and he and his champagne and tin cans had to get in their work before Mr. Pierce had another chance at them.

I had no time to wonder how Miss Summers knew I was in the pantry. I tried the window again, but it wouldn't work. Somebody in the spring-house was shouting, "'Hot butter blue beans, please come to supper!'" and I could hear them crowding around the tables. I worked frantically with the hairpin, and just then two shadowy figures outside slipped around the corner of the building. It was Mr. Pierce and Doctor Barnes!

I darted back and put my ear to the door, but they did not come in at once. Mr. Thoburn made a speech, saying how happy he was that they were all well and able to go back to civilization again, where the broiled lobster flourished like a green bay tree and the prune and the cabbage were unknown.

There was loud applause, and then Senator Biggs cleared his throat.

"Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished fellow guests," he began, "I suggest a toast to the autocrat of Hope Springs. It is the only blot on the evening, that, owing to the exigencies of the occasion, he can not be with us. Securely fastened in his room, he is now sleeping the sleep that follows a stomach attuned to prunes, a mind attuned to rule."

"Eat, drink and be merry!" somebody said, "for to-morrow you diet!"

There was a swish and rustle, as if a woman got up in a hurry.

"Do you mean," said Miss Patty's clear voice, "that you have dared to lock Mr. Pier—Mr. Carter in his room?"

"My dear young lady," several of them began, but she didn't give them time.

"It is outrageous, infamous!" she stormed. I didn't need to see her to know how she looked.

"How DARE you! Suppose the building should catch fire!"

"Fire!" somebody said in a bewildered voice. "My dear young lady—"

"Don't 'my dear young lady' me," she said angrily. "Father, Bishop, will you stand for this? Why, he may jump out the window and hurt himself! Give me the key!"

Miss Julia's fingers were beating a tatoo behind her, as if she was afraid I might miss it.

"If he jumps out he probably will hurt himself. It is impossible to release him now, Miss Jennings, but if you insist we can have a mattress placed under the window."

"Thanks, Thoburn. It won't be necessary." The voice came from the door, and a hush fell on the party. I slipped my bolt and peeped out. Framed in the doorway was Mr. Pierce, with Doctor Barnes looking over his shoulder.

The people in the spring-house were abject. That's the only word for it. Craven, somebody suggested later, and they were that, too. They smiled sickly grins and tried to be defiant, and most of them tried to put down whatever they held in their hands and to look innocent. If you ever saw a boy when his school-teacher asks him what he has in his mouth, and multiply the boy thirty times in number and four times in size, you'll know how they looked.

Mr. Pierce never smiled. He wouldn't let them speak a word in defense or explanation. He simply lined them up as he did at gym, and sent them, one by one, to the corner with whatever they had in their hands. He made Mr. Jennings give up a bottle of anchovies that he'd stuffed in his pocket, and the bishop had to come over with a cheese.

And when it was all over, he held the door open and they went back to the house. They fairly ducked past him in the doorway, although he hadn't said a dozen words. It was a rout. The backbone of the rebellion was broken. I knew that never again would the military discipline of Hope Springs be threatened. Thoburn might as well pack and go. It was Mr. Pierce's day.

Mr. von Inwald was almost the last. He stood by, sneering, with an open bottle of olives in his hand, watching the others go out.

Mr. Pierce held the door open and eyed him.

"I'll trouble you to put that bottle with the others, in the corner," Mr. Pierce said sternly.

They stood glaring at each other angrily.

"And if I refuse?"

"You know the rules here. If you refuse, there is a hotel at Finleyville."

Mr. von Inwald glanced past Mr. Pierce to where Doctor Barnes stood behind him, with his cauliflower ear and his pugilist's shoulders. Then he looked at the bottle in his hand, and from it to Miss Patty, standing haughtily by.

"I have borne much for you, Patricia," he said, "but I refuse to be bullied any longer. I shall go to the hotel at Finleyville, and I shall take the little olives with me." He smiled unpleasantly at Mr. Pierce, whose face did not relax.

He walked jauntily to the door and turned, flourishing the bottle. "The land of the free and the home of the brave!" he sneered, raising the bottle in the air. Standing jeering in the doorway, he bowed to Miss Patty and Mr. Pierce, and put an olive into his mouth.

But instantly he made a terrible face, and clapped a hand just in front of his left ear. He stood there a moment, his face distorted—then he darted into the night, and I never saw him again.

"Mumps!" Doctor Barnes ejaculated, and stood staring after him from the steps.



CHAPTER XXX

LET GOOD DIGESTION

There was no one left but Miss Patty. As she started out past him with a crimson spot in each cheek Mr. Pierce put his hand on her arm. She hesitated, and he closed the door on Doctor Barnes and put his back against it. I had just time to slip back into the pantry and shut myself in.

For a minute there wasn't a sound. Then—

"I told you I should come," Miss Patty said, in her haughtiest manner. "You need not trouble to be disagreeable."

"Disagreeable!" he repeated. "I am abject!"

"I don't understand," she said. "But you needn't explain. It really does not matter."

"It matters to me. I had to do this to-night. I promised you I would make good, and if I had let this pass—Don't you see, I couldn't let it go."

"You can let me go, now."

"Not until I have justified myself to you."

"I am not interested."

I heard him take a step or two toward her.

"I don't quite believe that," he said in a low tone. "You were interested in what I said here this afternoon."

"I didn't hear it."

"None of it?"

"Not—not all."

"I spoke, you remember, about your sister, and about Dick—" he paused. I could imagine her staring at him in her wide-eyed way.

"You never mentioned them!" she said scornfully and stopped. He laughed, a low laugh, boyish and full of triumph.

"Ah!" he said. "So you DID hear! I'm going to say it again, anyhow. I love you, Patty. I'm—I'm mad for you. I've loved you hopelessly for so long that to-night, when there's a ray of hope, I'm—I'm hardly sane. I—"

"Please!" she said.

"I love you so much that I waken at night just to say your name, over and over, and when dawn comes through the windows—"

"You don't know what you are saying!" she said wildly. "I am—still—"

"I welcome the daylight," he went on, talking very fast, "because it means another day when I can see you. If it sounds foolish, it's—it's really lots worse than it sounds, Patty."

The door opened just then, and Doctor Barnes' voice spoke from the step.

"I say," he complained, "you needn't—"

"Get out!" Mr. Pierce said angrily, and the door slammed. The second's interruption gave him time, I think, to see how far he'd gone, and his voice, when he spoke again, was not so hopeful.

"I'm not pleading my cause," he said humbly, "I know I haven't any cause. I have nothing to offer you."

"You said this afternoon," Miss Patty said softly, "that you could offer me the—the kind of love that a woman could be proud of."

She finished off with a sort of gasp, as if she was shocked at herself. I was so excited that my heart beat a tatoo against my ribs, and without my being conscious of it, as you may say, the pantry door opened about an inch and I found myself with an eye to the crack.

They were standing facing each other, he all flushed and eager and my dear Miss Patty pale and trembly. But she wasn't shy. She was looking straight into his eyes and her blessed lips were quivering.

"How can you care?" she asked, when he only stood and looked at her. "I've been such a—such a selfish beast!"

"Hush!" He leaned toward her, and I held my breath. "You are everything that is best in the world, and I—what can I offer you? I have nothing, not even this sanatorium! No money, no title—"

"Oh, THAT!" she interrupted, and stood waiting. "Well, you—you could at least offer yourself!"

"Patty!"

She went right over to him and put her hands on his shoulders.

"And if you won't," she said, "I'll offer myself instead!"

His arms went around her like a flash at that, and he kissed her. I've seen a good many kisses in my day, the spring-house walk being a sort of lover's lane, but they were generally of the quick-get-away variety. This was different. He just gathered her up to him and held her close, and if she was one-tenth as much thrilled as I was in the pantry she'd be ready to die kissing.

Then, without releasing her, he raised his head, with such a look of victory in his face that I still see it sometimes in my sleep, and his eye caught mine through the crack.

But if I'd looked to see him drop her I was mistaken. He drew her up and kissed her again, but this time on the forehead. And when he'd let her go and she had dropped into a chair and hid her shining face against the back, as if she was ashamed, which she might well be, he stood laughing over her bent head at me.

"Come out, Minnie!" he called. "Come out and hear the good news!"

"Hear!" I said, "I've seen all the news I want."

"Gracious!" Miss Patty said, and buried her head again. But he had reached the shameless stage; a man who is really in love always seems to get to that point sooner or later. He stooped and kissed the back of her neck, and if his hand shook when he pushed in one of her shell hairpins it was excitement and not fright.

"I hardly realize it, Minnie," he said. "I don't deserve her for a minute."

"Certainly not," I said.

"He does." Miss Patty's voice smothered. Then she got up and came over to me.

"There is going to be an awful fuss, Minnie," she said. "Think of Aunt Honoria—and Oskar!"

"Let them fuss!" I said grandly. "If the worst comes, you can spend your honeymoon in the shelter-house. I'm so used to carrying meals there now that it's second nature."

And at that they both made for me, and as Mr. Pierce kissed me Doctor Barnes opened the door. He stood for a moment, looking queer and wild, and then he slammed the door and we heard him stamping down the steps.

Mr. Pierce had to bring him back.

Well, that's all there is to it. The place filled up and stayed filled, but not under Mr. Pierce. Mr. Jennings said ability of his kind was wasted there, once the place was running, and set him to building a railroad somewhere or other, with him and Miss Patty living in a private car, and he carrying a portable telephone with him so he can talk to her every hour or so. Mr. Dick and his wife are running the sanatorium, or think they are. Doctor Barnes is the whole place, really. Mr. Jennings was so glad to have Miss Patty give up the prince and send him back home, after he'd been a week in the hotel at Finleyville looking as if his face would collapse if you stuck a pin in it—Mr. Jennings was so happy, not to mention having worked off his gout at the wood-pile, that he forgave the Dickys without any trouble, and even went out and had a meal with them in the shelter-house before they moved in, with Mr. Dick making the coffee.

I miss the spring, as I said at the beginning. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but with Miss Patty happy, and with Doctor Barnes around—

Thoburn came out the afternoon before he left, just after the rest hour, and showed me how much too loose his waistcoat had become.

"I've lost, Minnie," he confessed. "Lost fifteen pounds and the dream of my life. But I've found something, too."

"What?"

"My waist line!" he said, and threw his chest out.

"You look fifteen years younger," I said, and at that he came over to me and took my hand.

"Minnie," he said, "maybe you and I haven't always agreed, but I've always liked you, Minnie—always."

"Thanks," I said, taking my hand away.

"You've got all kinds of spirit," he said. "You've saved the place, all right. And if you—if you tire of this, and want another home, I've got one, twelve rooms, center hall, tiled baths, cabinet mantels—I'd be good to you, Minnie. The right woman could do anything with me."

When I grasped what he meant, I was staggered.

"I'm sorry," I explained, as gently as I could. "I'm—I'm going to marry Doctor Barnes one of these days."

He stared at me. Then he laughed a little and went toward the door.

"Barnes!" he said, turning. "Another redhead, by gad! Well, I'll tell you this, young woman, you're red, but he's redder. Your days for running things to suit yourself are over."

"I'm glad of it," I retorted. "I want to be managed myself for a change. Somebody," I said, "who won't be always thinking how he feels, unless it's how he feels toward me."

"Bah! He'll bully you."

"'It's human nature to like to be bullied,'" I quoted. "And I guess I'm not afraid. He's healthy and a healthy man's never a crank."

"A case of yours for health, eh?" he said, and held out his hand.

THE END

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