Chapter XIX. No Marriage in Heaven
 

I slept late the next morning, and when I'd had breakfast and waded to the spring-house it was nearly nine. It was still snowing, and no papers or mail had got through, although the wires were still in fair working order.

As I floundered out I thought I saw somebody slink around the corner of the spring-house, but when I got there nobody was in sight. I was on my knees in front of the fireplace, raking out the fire, when I heard the door close behind me, and when I turned, there stood Mr. Dick, muffled to the neck, with his hat almost over his face.

"What the deuce kept you so late this morning?" he demanded, in a sulky voice, and limping over to a table he drew a package out of his pocket and slammed it on the table.

"I was up half the night, as usual," I said, rising. "You oughtn't to be here, Mr. Dick!"

He caught hold of the rail around the spring, and hobbling about, dropped into a chair with a groan.

"For two cents," he declared, "I'd chop a hole in the ice pond and drown myself. There's no marriage in Heaven."

"That's no argument for the other place," I answered, and stopped, staring. He was pulling something out of his overcoat pocket, an inch at a time.

"For God's sake, Minnie," he exclaimed, "return this--this garment to--whomever it belongs to!"

He handed it to me, and it was Miss Cobb's black tights! I stood and stared.

"And then," he went on, reaching for the package on the table, "when you've done that, return to `Binkie' these letters from her Jonesie."

He took the newspaper off the bundle then, and I saw it was wrapped with a lavender ribbon. I sat down and gazed at him, fascinated. He was the saddest-eyed piece of remorse I'd seen for a long time.

"And when you've got your breath back, Minnie," he said feebly, "and your strength, would you mind taking the floor mop and hitting me a few cracks? Only not on the right leg, Minnie--not on the right leg. I landed on it last night; it's twisted like a pretzel."

"Don't stand and stare," he continued irritably, when I didn't make a move, "at least get that--that infernal black garment out of sight. Cover it with the newspaper. And if you don't believe that a sweet-faced young girl like my wife has a positive talent for wickedness and suspicion, go out to the shelter-house this morning."

"So it was you!" I gasped, putting the newspaper over the tights.

"Why in the name of peace did you jump out the window, and what did you want with--with these things?"

He twisted around in his chair to stare at me, and then stooped and clutched frantically at his leg, as if for inspiration.

"Want with those things!" he snarled. "I suppose you can't understand that a man might wake up in the middle of the night with a mad craving for a pair of black woolen tights, and--"

"You needn't be sarcastic with me," I broke in. "You can save that for your wife. I suppose you also had a wild longing for the love-letters of an insurance agent--"

And then it dawned on me, and I sat down and laughed until I cried.

"And you thought you were stealing your own letters!" I cried. "The ones she carries fire insurance on! Oh, Mr. Dick, Mr. Dick!"

"How was I to know it wasn't Ju--Miss Summers' room?" he demanded angrily. "Didn't I follow the dratted dog? And wouldn't you have thought the wretched beast would have known me instead of sitting on its tail under the bed and yelling for mother? I gave her the dog myself. Oh, I tell you, Minnie, if I ever get away from this place--"

"You've got to get away this minute," I broke in, remembering. "They'll be coming any instant now."

He got up and looked around him helplessly.

"Where'll I go?" he asked. "I can't go back to the shelter- house."

I looked at him and he tried to grin.

"Fact," he said, "hard to believe, but--fact, Minnie. She's got the door locked. Didn't I tell you she is of a suspicious nature? She was asleep when I left, and mostly she sleeps all night. And just because she wakes when I'm out, and lets me come in thinking she's asleep, when she has one eye open all the time, and she sees what I'd never even seen myself--that the string of that damned garment, whatever it is, is fastened to the hook of my shoe, me thinking all the time that the weight was because I'd broken my leg jumping--doesn't she suddenly sit up and ask me where I've been? And I--I'm unsuspicious, Minnie, by nature, and I said I'd been asleep. Then she jumped up and showed me that--that thing--those things, hanging to my shoe, and she hasn't spoken to me since. I wish I was dead."

And just then a dog barked outside and somebody on the step stamped the snow off his feet. We were both paralyzed for a moment.

"Julia!" Mr. Dick cried, and went white.

I made a leap for the door, just as the handle turned, and put my back against it.

"Just a minute," I called. "The carpet is caught under it!"

Mr. Dick had lost his head and was making for the spring, as if he thought hiding his feet would conceal him. I made frantic gestures to him to go into my pantry, and he went at last, leaving his hat on the table, I left the door and flung it after him--the hat, of course, not the door--and when Miss Summers sauntered in just after, I was on my knees brushing the hearth, with my heart going three-four time and skipping every sixth beat.

"Hello!" she said. "Lovely weather--for polar bears. If the natives wade through this all winter it's no wonder they walk as if they are ham-strung. Don't bother getting me a glass. I'll get my own."

She was making for the pantry when I caught her, and I guess I looked pretty wild.

"I'll get it," I said. "I--that's one of the rules."

She put her hands in the pockets of her white sweater and smiled at me.

"Do you know," she declared, "the old ladies' knitting society isn't so far wrong about you! About your making rules-- whatever you want, whenever you want 'em."

She put her head on one side.

"Now," she went on, "suppose I break that rule and get my own glass? What happens to me? I don't think I'll be put out!"

I threw up my hands in despair, for I was about at the end of my string.

"Get it then!" I exclaimed, and sat down, waiting for the volcano to erupt. But she only laughed and sat down on a table, swinging her feet.

"When you know me better, Minnie," she said, "you'll know I don't spoil sport. I happen to know you have somebody in the pantry-- moreover, I know it's a man. There are tracks on the little porch, my dear girl, not made by your galoshes. Also, my dearest girl, there's a gentleman's glove by your chair there!" I put my foot on it. "And just to show you what a good fellow I am--"

She got off the table, still smiling, and sauntered to the pantry door, watching me over her shoulder.

"Don't be alarmed!" she called through the door, "I'm not coming in! I shall take my little drink of nature's benevolent remedy out of the tin ladle, and then--I shall take my departure!"

My heart was skipping every second beat by that time, and Miss Julia stood by the pantry door, her head back and her eyes almost closed, enjoying every minute of it. If Arabella hadn't made a diversion just then I think I'd have fainted.

She'd pulled the newspaper and the tights off the table and was running around the room with them, one leg in her mouth.

"Stop it, Arabella!" said Miss Julia, and took the tights from her. "Yours?" she asked, with her eyebrows raised.

"No--yes," I answered.

"I'd never have suspected you of them!" she remarked. "Hardly sheer enough to pull through a finger ring, are they?" She held them up and gazed at them meditatively. "That's one thing I draw the line at. On the boards, you know--never have worn 'em and never will. They're not modest, to my mind,--and, anyhow, I'm too fat!"

Mr. Sam and his wife came in at that moment, Mr. Sam carrying a bottle of wine for the shelter-house, wrapped in a paper, and two cans of something or other. He was too busy trying to make the bottle look like something else--which a good many people have tried and failed at--to notice what Miss Summers was doing, and she had Miss Cobb's protectors stuffed in her muff and was standing very dignified in front of the fire by the time they'd shaken off the snow.

"Good morning!" she said.

"Morning!" said Mr. Sam, hanging up his overcoat with one hand, and trying to put the bottle in one of the pockets with the other. Mrs. Sam didn't look at her.

"Good morning, Mrs. Van Alstyne!" Miss Summers almost threw it at her. "I spoke to you before; I guess you didn't hear me."

"Oh, yes, I heard you," answered Mrs. Sam, and turned her back on her. Give me a little light-haired woman for sheer devilishness!

I'd expected to see Miss Summers fly to pieces with rage, but she stared at Mrs. Sam's back, and after a minute she laughed.

"I see!" she remarked slowly. "You're the sister, aren't you?"

Mr. Sam had given up trying to hide the bottle and now he set it on the floor with a thump and came over to the fire.

"It's--you see, the situation is embarrassing," he began. "If we had had any idea--"

"I might have been still in the Finleyville hotel!" she finished for him. "Awful thought, isn't it?"

"Under the circumstances," went on Mr. Sam, nervously, "don't you think it would be--er--better form if er--under the circumstances--"

"I'm thinking of my circumstances," she put in, good- naturedly. "If you imagine that six weeks of one-night stands has left me anything but a rural wardrobe and a box of dog biscuit for Arabella, you're pretty well mistaken. I haven't even a decent costume. All we had left after the sheriff got through was some grass mats, a checked sunbonnet and a pump."

"Minnie," Mrs. Sam said coldly, "that little beast of a dog is trying to drink out of the spring!"

I caught her in time and gave her a good slapping. When I looked up Miss Summers was glaring down at me over the rail.

"Just what do you mean by hitting my dog?" she demanded. It was the first time I'd seen her angry.

"Just what I appeared to mean," I answered. "If you want to take it as a love pat, you may." And I stalked to the door and threw the creature out into the snow. It was the first false step that day; if I'd known what putting that dog out meant--! "I don't allow dogs here," I said, and shut the door.

Miss Summers was furious; she turned and stared at Mrs. Sam, who was smiling at the fire.

"Let Arabella in," she said to me in an undertone, "or I'll open the pantry door!"

"Open the door!" I retorted. I was half hysterical, but it was no time to weaken. She looked me straight in the eye for fully ten seconds; then, to my surprise, she winked at me. But when she turned on Mr. Sam she was cold rage again and nothing else.

"I am not going to leave, if that is what you are about to suggest," she said. "I've been trying to see Dicky Carter the last ten days, and I'll stay here until I see him."

"It's a delicate situation--"

"Delicate!" she snapped. "It's indelicate it's indecent, that's what it is. Didn't I get my clothes, and weren't we to have been married by the Reverend Dwight Johnstone, out in Salem, Ohio? And didn't he go out there and have old Johnstone marry him to somebody else? The wretch! If I ever see him--"

A glass dropped in the pantry and smashed, but nobody paid any attention.

"Oh, I'm not going until he comes!" she continued. "I'll stay right here, and I'll have what's coming to me or I'll know the reason why. Don't forget for a minute that I know why Mr. Pierce is here, and that I can spoil the little game by calling the extra ace, if I want to."

"You're forgetting one thing," Mrs. Sam said, facing her for the first time, "if you call the game, my brother is worth exactly what clothes he happens to be wearing at the moment and nothing else. He hasn't a penny of his own."

"I don't believe it," she sniffed. "Look at the things he gave me!"

"Yes. I've already had the bills," said Mr. Sam.

She whirled and looked at him, and then she threw back her head and laughed.

"You!" she said. "Why, bless my soul! All the expense of a double life and none of its advantages!"

She went out on that, still laughing, leaving Mrs. Sam scarlet with rage, and when she was safely gone I brought Mr. Dick out to the fire. He was so limp he could hardly walk, and it took three glasses of the wine and all Mr. Sam could do to start him back to the shelter-house. His sister would not speak to him.

Mike went to Mr. Pierce that day and asked for a raise of salary.

He did not get it. Perhaps, as things have turned out, it was for the best, but it is strange to think how different things would have been if he'd been given it. He was sent up later, of course, for six months for malicious mischief, but by that time the damage was done.