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CHAPTER IX

DOLLY, HOW COULD YOU?

I lay down across my bed at six o'clock that morning, but I was
too tired and worried to sleep, so at seven I got up and dressed.

I was frightened when I saw myself in the glass. My eyes looked
like burnt holes in a blanket. I put on two pairs of stockings
and heavy shoes, for I knew I was going to do the Eskimo act
again that day and goodness knows how many days more, and then I
went down and knocked at the door of Miss Patty's room. She
hadn't been sleeping either. She called to me in an undertone to
come in, and she was lying propped up with pillows, with
something pink around her shoulders and the night lamp burning
beside the bed. She had a book in her hand, but all over the
covers and on the table at her elbow were letters in the blue
foreign envelopes with the red and black and gold seal.

I walked over to the foot of the bed.

"They're here," I said.

She sat up, and some letters slid to the floor.

"THEY'RE here!" she repeated. "Do you mean Dorothy?"

"She and her husband. They came last night at five minutes to
twelve. Their train was held up by the blizzard and they won't
come in until they see you. They're hiding in the shelter-house
on the golf links."

I think she thought I was crazy: I looked it. She hopped out of
bed and closed the door into her sitting-room--Mrs. Hutchins'
room opened off it--and then she came over and put her hand on my
arm.

"Will you sit down and try to tell me just what you mean?" she
said. "How can my sister and her--her wretch of a husband have
come last night at midnight when I saw Mr. Carter myself not
later than ten o'clock?"

Well, I had to tell her then about who Mr. Pierce was and why I
had to get him, and she understood almost at once. She was the
most understanding girl I ever met. She saw at once what Mr. Sam
wouldn't have known in a thousand years--that I wanted to
save the old place not to keep my position--but because I'd been
there so long, and my father before me, and had helped to make it
what it was and all that. And she stood there in her nightgown--
she who was almost a princess--and listened to me, and patted me
on the shoulder when I broke down, telling her about Thoburn and
the summer hotel.

"But here I am," I finished, "telling you about my troubles and
forgetting what I came for. You'll have to go out to the
shelter-house, Miss Patty. And I guess you're expected to fix it
up with your father."

She stopped unfastening her long braids of hair.

"Certainly I'll go to the shelter-house," she said, "and I'll
shake a little sense into Dorothy Jennings--the abominable little
idiot! But they needn't think I'm going to help them with
father; I wouldn't if I could, and I can't. He won't speak to
me. I'm in disgrace, Minnie." She gave her hair a shake,
twisted it into a rope and then a knot, and stuck a pin in it.
It was lovely: I wish Miss Cobb could have seen her. "You've
known father for years, Minnie: have you ever known him to be
so--so--"

"Devilish" was the word she meant, but I finished for her.

"Unreasonable?" I said. "Well, once before when you were a
little girl, he put his cane through a window in the spring-
house, because he thought it needed air. The spring-house, of
course, not the cane."

"Exactly," she said, looking around the room, "and now he's
putting a cane through every plan I have made. Do you see my
heavy boots?"

"It's like this," I remarked, bringing the boots from outside the
door, "if he's swallowed the prince and is choking on the
settlement question he might as well get over it. All those
foreigners expect pay for taking a wife. Didn't the chef here
want to marry Tillie, the diet cook, and didn't he want her to
turn over the three hundred dollars she had in the bank, and her
real estate, which was a sixth interest in a cemetery lot? But
Tillie stuck it out and he wouldn't take her without."

"It isn't quite the same, Minnie," she said, sitting down on the
floor to put on her stockings.

"The principle's the same," I retorted, "and if you ask me--"

"I haven't," she said disagreeably, "and when you begin to argue,
Minnie, you make my head ache."

"I have had a heartache for a week," I snapped, "let alone
heartburn, and I'll be glad when the Jennings family is safely
married and I can sleep at night."

I was hurt. I went out and shut the door behind me, but I
stopped in the hall and went back.

"I forgot to say," I began, and stopped. She was still sitting
on the floor, trying to put her heavy boots on, and crying all
over them.

"Stop that instantly," I said, and jerked her shoes from her.
"Get into a chair and let me put them on. And if you will wait a
jiffy I'll bring you a cup of coffee. I'm not even a Christian
in the morning until I've had my coffee."

"You haven't had it yet, have you?" she asked, and we laughed
together, rather shaky. But as I buttoned her shoes I saw her
eyes going toward the blue letters on the bed.

"Oh, Minnie," she said, "if you only knew how peculiar they are
in Europe! They'll never allow a sanatorium in the family!"

"I guess a good many would be the better for having one close," I
said.

Well, I left her to get dressed and went to the kitchens. Tillie
was there getting the beef tea ready for the day, but none of the
rest was around. They knew the housekeeper was gone, but I guess
they'd forgotten that I was still on hand. I put a kettle
against the electric bell that rings in the chef's room so it
would keep on ringing and went on into the diet kitchen.

"Tillie," I said, "can you trust me?"

She looked up from her beef.

"Whether I can or not, I always have," she answered.

"Well, can I trust you? That's more to the point."

She put down her knife and came over to me, with her hands on her
hips.

"I don't know what you're up to, Minnie," she said, "and I don't
know that I care. But if you've forgotten the time I went to the
city and brought you sulphur and the Lord only knows what for
your old spring when you'd run short and were laid up with
influenza--"

"Hush!" I exclaimed. "You needn't shout it. Tillie, I
don't want you to ask me any questions, but I want four raw eggs
in a basket, a pot of coffee and cream, some fruit if you can get
it when the chef unlocks the refrigerator room, and bread and
butter. They can make their own toast."

"They?" she said, with her mouth open.

But I didn't explain any more. I had found Tillie about a year
before, frying sausages at the railroad station, and made her
diet cook at the sanatorium. Mrs. Wiggins hadn't wanted her,
but, as I told the old doctor at the time, we needed somebody in
the kitchen to keep an eye on things for us. It was through
Tillie that we discovered that the help were having egg-nog twice
a day, with eggs as scarce as hens' teeth, and the pharmacy clerk
putting in a requisition for more whisky every week.

Well, I scribbled a note to Mr. Van Alstyne, telling what had
happened, and put it under his door, and then I met Miss Patty in
the hall by the billiard room and I gave her some coffee from the
basket, in the sun parlor. It was still dark, although it was
nearly eight o'clock, and nobody saw us go out together. Just as
we left I heard the chef in the kitchen bawling out that he'd
murder whoever put the kettle against the bell, and Tillie
saying it must have dropped off the hook and landed there.

We went to the spring-house first, to avoid suspicion, and then
across back of the deer park to the shelter-house. It was still
snowing, but not so much, and the tracks we had made early in the
morning were still there, mine off to one side alone, and the
others close together and side by side. There was a whole
history in those snow tracks, mine alone and kind of offish, and
the others cuddling together. It made me lonely to look at them.

I remember wishing I'd taught school, as I was educated to; woman
wasn't made to live alone, and most school-teachers get married.

Miss Patty did not say much. She was holding her chin high and
looking rather angry and determined. At the spring-house I gave
her the basket and took an armful of fire-wood myself. I knew
Mr. Dick would never think of it until the fire was out.

They were both asleep in the shelter-house. He was propped up
against the wall on a box, with the rubber carriage robe around
him, and she was lying by the fire, with Mrs. Moody's shawl over
her and her muff under her head. Miss Patty stood in the
doorway for an instant. Then she walked over and, leaning down,
shook her sister by the arm.

"Dorothy!" she said. "Wake up, you wretched child!" And shook
her again.

Mrs. Dicky groaned and yawned, and opened her eyes one at a time.

But when she saw it was Miss Patty she sat up at once, looking
dazed and frightened.

"You needn't pinch me, Pat!" she said, and at that Mr. Dick
wakened and jumped up, with the carriage robe still around him.

"Oh, Dolly, Dolly!" said Miss Patty suddenly, dropping on her
knees beside Mrs. Dicky, "what a bad little girl you are! What a
thing for you to do! Think of father and Aunt Honoria!"

"I shan't," retorted Mrs. Dicky decidedly. "I'm not going to
spoil my honeymoon like that. For heaven's sake, Pat, don't cry.

I'm not dead. Dick, this is my sister, Patricia."

Miss Pat looked at him, but she didn't bow. She gave him one
look, from his head to his heels.

"Dolly, how COULD you!" she said, and got up.

It wasn't very comfortable for Mr. Dick, but he took it much
better than I expected. He went over and gave his wife a hand to
help her up, and still holding hers, he turned to Miss Patty.

"You are perfectly right," he said, "I don't see how she could
myself. The more you know of me the more you'll wonder. But she
did; we're up against that."

He grinned at Miss Patty, and after a minute Miss Patty smiled
back. But it wasn't much of a smile. I was unpacking the
breakfast, putting the coffee-pot on the fire and getting ready
to cook the eggs and make toast. But I was watching, too.
Suddenly Mrs. Dick made a dive for Miss Patty and threw her arms
around her.

"You darling!" she cried. "I'm so glad to see you again--Pat,
you'll tell father, won't you? He'll take it from you. If I
tell him he'll have apoplexy or something."

But Miss Patty set her pretty mouth--both those girls have their
father's mouth--and held her sister out at arm's length and
looked at her.

"Listen," she said. "Do you know what you have done to me? Do
you know that when father knows this he's going to annul the
marriage or have Mr. Carter arrested for kidnaping or
abduction?--whatever it is." Mrs. Dick puckered her face to cry,
and Mr. Dick took a step forward, but Miss Patty waved him off.
"You know father as well as I do, Dolly. You know what he is,
and lately he's been awful. He's not well--it's his liver
again--and he won't listen to anything. Why, the Austrian
ambassador came up here, all this distance, to talk about the
etiquette of the--of my wedding, something about precedence, and
he wouldn't even see him."

"He can't annul it," said Mr. Dick angrily. "I'm of age. And I
can support my wife, too, or will be able--soon."

"Dolly's not of age," said Miss Patty wearily. "I've sat up all
night figuring it out. He's going to annul the marriage, or
he'll make a scandal anyhow, and that's just as bad. Dolly,"--
she turned to her sister imploringly--"Dolly, I can't have a
scandal now. You know how Oskar's people have taken this,
anyhow; they've given in, because he insisted, but they don't
want me, and if there's a lot of notoriety now the emperor will
send him to Africa or some place, and--"

"I wish they would!" Mrs. Carter burst out suddenly. "I hate the
whole thing. They only tolerate you--us--for our money. You
needn't look at me like that; Oskar may be all right, but his
mother and sisters are hateful--simply hateful!"

"I'll not be with them."

"No, but they'll be with you." Mrs. Dicky walked over to the
window and looked out, dabbing her eyes. "You've been everything
to me, Pat, and I'm so happy now--I'd rather be here on a soap
box with Dick than on a throne or a dais or whatever you'll have
to sit on over there, with Oskar. I want to be happy--and you
won't. Look at Alice Thorne and her duke!"

"If you really want me to be happy," Miss Patty said, going over
to her, "you'll go back to school until the wedding is over."

"I won't leave Dicky." She swung around and gave Mr. Dick an
adoring glance, and Miss Patty looked discouraged.

"Take him with you," she said. "Isn't there some place near
where he could stay, and telephone you now and then?"

"Telephone!" said Mrs. Dick scornfully.

"Can't leave," Mr. Dick objected. "Got to be on the property."

Miss Patty shrugged her shoulders and turned to go. "You're both
perfectly hopeless," she said. "I'll go and tell father,
Dorothy, but you know what will happen. You'll be back in school
at Greenwich by to-night, and your--husband will probably be
under arrest." She opened the door, but I dropped the toast I
was making and ran after her.

"If he is arrested," I said, "they'll have to keep him on the
place. He can't leave."

She didn't say anything; she lifted her hand and looked at the
ruby ring, and then she glanced back into the room where Mr. Dick
and his wife were whispering together, and turned up her coat
collar.

"I'm going," she said, and stepped into the snow. But they
called her back in a hurry.

"Look here, Miss--Miss Patricia," Mr. Dick said, "why can't we
stay here, where we are? It's very comfortable--that is, it's
livable. There's plenty of fresh air, anyhow, and everybody's
shouting for fresh air nowadays. They've got somebody to take my
place in the house."

"And father needn't know a thing--you can fix that," broke
in Mrs. Dick. "And after your wedding he will be in a better
humor; he'll know it's over and not up to him any more."

Miss Patty came back to the shelter-house again and sat down on
the soap box.

"We MIGHT carry it off," she said. "If I could only go back
to town! But father is in one of his tantrums, and he won't go,
or let me go. The idea!--with Aunt Honoria on the long-distance
wire every day, having hysterics, and my clothes waiting to be
tried on and everything. I'm desperate."

"And all sorts of things being arranged for you!" put in Mrs.
Dick enviously. "And the family jewels being reset in Vienna for
you and all that! It would be great--if you only didn't have to
take Oskar with the jewels!"

Miss Patty frowned.

"You are not going to marry him," she said, with a glance at Mr.
Dick, who, with his coat off, was lying flat on the floor, one
arm down in the hole where the things had been hidden, trying to
hook up a can of baked beans. "If it doesn't turn out well, you
and father have certainly done your part in the way of warning.
It's just as Aunt Honoria said; the family will make a
tremendous row beforehand, but afterward, when it all turns out
well, they'll take the credit."

Mr. Dick was busy with the beans and I was turning the eggs.
Mrs. Dick went over to her sister and put her arm around her.

"That's right, Patty," she said, "you're more like mother than I
am. I'm a Jennings all over--except that, heavens be praised,
I've got the Sherwood liver. I guess I'm common plebeian, like
dad, too. I'm plebeian enough, anyhow, to think there's been a
lot too much about marriage settlements and the consent of the
emperor in all this, and not enough about love."

I could have patted Mrs. Dicky on the back for that, and I almost
upset the eggs into the fire. I'm an advocate of marrying for
love every time, although a title and a bunch of family jewels
thrown in wouldn't worry me.

"Do you want me to protest that the man who has asked me to marry
him cares about me?" Miss Patty replied in an angry undertone.
"Couldn't he have married a thousand other girls! Hadn't a
marriage been arranged between him and the cousin--"

"I know all that," Mrs. Dicky said, and her voice sounded older
than Miss Patty's, and motherly. "But--are you in love with him,
Pat?"

"Certainly," Miss Patty said indignantly. "Don't be silly,
Dolly."

At that instant Mr. Dick found the beans, and got up shouting
that we'd have a meal fit for a prince--if princes ate anything
so every day as baked beans. I put the eggs on a platter and
poured the coffee, and we all sat around the soap box and ate. I
wished that Miss Cobb could have seen me there--how they insisted
on my having a second egg, and was my coffee cold, and wasn't I
too close to the fire? It was Minnie here and Minnie there, and
me next to Miss Patty on the floor, and she, as you may say,
right next to royalty. I wished it could have been in the
spring-house, with father's crayon enlargement looking down on
us.

Everybody felt better for the meal, and we were sitting there
laughing and talking and very cheerful when Mr. Van Alstyne
opened the door and looked in. His face was stern, but when
he saw us, with Miss Patty on her knees toasting a piece of bread
and Mr. Dicky passing the tin basin as a finger-bowl, he stopped
scowling and looked amused.

"They're here, Sallie," he called to his wife, and they both came
in, covered with snow, and we had coffee and eggs all over again.

Well, they stayed for an hour, and Mr. Sam talked himself black
in the face and couldn't get anywhere. For the Dickys refused to
be separated, and Mrs. Dick wouldn't tell her father, and Miss
Patty wouldn't do it for her, and the minute Mr. Sam made a
suggestion that sounded rational Mrs. Dick would cry and say she
didn't care to live, anyhow, and she wished she had died of
ptomaine poisoning the time she ate the bad oysters at school.

So finally Mr. Sam gave up and said he washed his hands of the
whole affair, and that he was going to make another start on his
wedding journey, and if they wanted to be a pair of fools it
wasn't up to him--only for heaven's sake not to cry about it.
And then he wiped Mrs. Dicky's eyes and kissed her, she being, as
he explained, his sister-in-law now and much too pretty for him
to scold.

And when the Dickys found they were not going to be separated we
had more coffee all around and everybody grew more cheerful.

Oh, we were very cheerful! I look back now and think how
cheerful we were, and I shudder. It was strange that we hadn't
been warned by Mr. Pierce's square jaw, but we were not. We sat
around the fire and ate and laughed, and Mr. Dick arranged that
Mr. Pierce should come out to him every evening for orders about
the place if he accepted, and everybody felt he would--and I was
to come at the same time and bring a basket of provisions for the
next day. Of course, the instant Mr. Jennings left the young
couple could go into the sanatorium as guests under another name
and be comfortable. And as soon as the time limit was up, and
the place was still running smoothly, they could declare the
truth, claim the sanatorium, having fulfilled the conditions of
the will, and confess to Mr. Jennings--over the long-distance
wire.

Well, it promised well, I must say. Mr. Stitt left on the ten
train that morning, looking lemon-colored and mottled. He
insisted that he wasn't able to go, but Mr. Sam gave him a
headache powder and put him on the train, anyhow.

Yes, as I say, it promised well. But we made two mistakes: we
didn't count on Mr. Thoburn, and we didn't know Mr. Pierce. And
who could have imagined that Mike the bath man would do as he
did?





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

Mystery and detective stories
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