Chapter XV. The Prince, with Apologies
 

Tillie brought the supper basket for the shelter-house about six o'clock and sat down for a minute by the fire. She said Mr. Pierce (Carter to her) had started out with a gun about five o'clock. It was foolish, but it made me uneasy.

"They've gone plumb crazy over that Mr. von Inwald," she declared. "It makes me tired. How do they know he's anything but what he says he is? He may be a messenger from the emperor of Austria, and he may be selling flannel chest protectors. Miss Cobb's all set up; she's talking about getting up an entertainment and asking that Miss Summers to recite."

She got up, leaving the basket on the hearth.

"And say," she said, "you ought to see that dog now. It's been soakin' in peroxide all day!"

She went out with the peroxide, but a moment later she opened the door and stuck her head in, nodding toward the basket.

"Say," she said, "the chef's getting fussy about the stuff I'm using in the diet kitchen. You've got to cut it out soon, Minnie. If I was you I'd let him starve."

"What!" I screeched, and grasped the rail of the spring.

"Let him starve!" she repeated.

"Wha--what are you talking about?" I demanded when I got my voice.

She winked at me from the doorway.

"Oh, I'm on all right, Minnie!" she assured me, "although heaven only knows where he puts it all! He's sagged in like a chair with broken springs."

I saw then that she thought I was feeding Senator Biggs on the sly, and I breathed again. But my nerves were nearly gone, and when just then I heard a shot from the direction of the deer park, even Tillie noticed how pale I got.

"I don't know what's come over you, Minnie," she said. "That's only Mr. Carter shooting rabbits. I saw him go out as I started down the path."

I was still nervous when I put on my shawl and picked up the basket. But there was a puddle on the floor and the soup had spilled. There was nothing for it but to go back for more soup, and I got it from the kitchen without the chef seeing me. When I opened the spring-house door again Mr. Pierce was by the fire, and in front of him, where I'd left the basket, lay a dead rabbit. He was sitting there with his chin in his hands looking at the poor thing, and there was no basket in sight.

"Well," I asked, "did you change my basket into a dead rabbit?"

"Basket!" he said, looking up. "What basket?"

I looked everywhere, but the basket was gone, and after a while I decided that Mr. Dick had had an attack of thoughtfulness (or hunger) and had carried it out himself.

And all the time I looked for the basket Mr. Pierce sat with the gun across his knees and stared at the rabbit.

"I'd thank you to take that messy thing out of here," I told him.

"Poor little chap!" he exclaimed. "He was playing in the snow, and I killed him--not because I wanted food or sport, Minnie, but--well, because I had to kill something."

"I hope you don't have those attacks often," I said. He looked at the rabbit and sighed.

"Never in my life!" he answered. "For food or sport, that's different, but--blood-lust!" He got up and put the gun in the corner, and I saw he looked white and miserable.

"I don't like myself to-night, Minnie," he said, trying to smile, "and nobody likes me. I'm going into the garden to eat worms!"

I didn't like to scold him when he was feeling bad anyhow, but business is business. So I asked him how long he thought people would stay if he acted as he had that day. I said that a sanatorium was a place where the man who runs it can't afford to have likes and dislikes; that for my part I'd a good deal rather he'd get rid of his excitement by shooting off a gun, provided he pointed it away from the house, than to sit around and let his mind explode and kill all our prospects. I told him, too, to remember that he wasn't responsible for the morals or actions of his guests, only for their health.

"Health!" he echoed, and kicked a chair. "Health! Why, if I wanted to keep a good dog in condition, Minnie, I wouldn't bring him here."

"No," I retorted, "you'd shut him in an old out oven, and give him a shoe to chew, and he'd come out in three days frisking and happy. But you can't do that with people."

"Why not?" he asked. "Although, of course, the supply of out ovens and old shoes is limited here."

"As far as Mr. von Inwald goes," I went on, "that's not your affair or mine. If Miss Patty's own father can't prevent it, why should you worry about it?"

"Precisely," he agreed. "Why should I? But I do, Minnie--that's the devil of it."

"There are plenty of nice girls," I suggested, feeling rather sorry for him.

"Are there? Oh, I dare say." He stooped and picked up his rabbit. "Straight through the head; not so bad for twilight. Poor little chap!"

He said good night and went out, taking the gun and the rabbit with him, and I went into the pantry to finish straightening things for the night. In a few minutes I heard voices in the other room, one Mr. Pierce's, and one with a strong German accent.

"When was that?" Mr. von Inwald's voice.

"A year ago, in Vienna."

"Where?"

"At the Bal Tabarin. You were in a loge. The man I was with told me who the woman was. It was she, I think, who suggested that you lean over the rail--"

"Ah, so!" said Mr. von Inwald as if he just remembered. "Ah, yes, I recall--I was with--the lady was red-haired, is it not? And it was she who desired me--"

"You leaned over the rail and poured a glass of wine on my head. It was very funny. The lady was charmed."

"I recall it perfectly. I remember that I did it under protest-- it was a very fine wine, and expensive."

"Then you also recall," said Mr. Pierce, very quietly, "that because you were with a--well, because you were with a woman, I could not return your compliment. But I demanded the privilege at some future date when you were alone."

"It is a pity," replied Mr. von Inwald, "that now, when I am alone, there is no wine!"

"No, there is no wine," Mr. Pierce agreed slowly, "but there is-- "

I opened the door at that, and both of them started. Mr. von Inwald was standing with his arms folded, and Mr. Pierce had one arm raised holding up a glass of spring water. In another second it would have been in the other man's face.

I walked over to Mr. Pierce and took the glass out of his hand, and his expression was funny to see.

"I've been looking everywhere for that glass," I said. "It's got to be washed."

Mr. von Inwald laughed and picked up his soft hat from the table.

He turned around at the door and looked back at Mr. Pierce, still laughing.

"Accept my apologies!" he said. "It was such a fine wine, and so expensive."

Then he went out.