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CHAPTER XI

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 <133>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?
Four 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.





Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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