Chapter II. Miss Patty Arrives
 

It was pretty quiet in the spring-house that day after the old doctor left. It had started to snow and only the regulars came out. What with the old doctor talking about dying, and Miss Patty Jennings gone to Mexico, when I'd been looking forward to her and her cantankerous old father coming to Hope Springs for February, as they mostly did, I was depressed all day. I got to the point where Mr. Moody feeding nickels into the slot-machine with one hand and eating zwieback with the other made me nervous. After a while he went to sleep over it, and when he had slipped a nickel in his mouth and tried to put the zwieback in the machine he muttered something and went up to the house.

I was glad to be alone. I drew a chair in front of the fire and wondered what I would do if the old doctor died, and what a fool I'd been not to be a school-teacher, which is what I studied for.

I was thinking to myself bitterly that all that my experience in the spring fitted me for was to be a mermaid, when I heard something running down the path, and it turned out to be Tillie, the diet cook.

She slammed the door behind her and threw the Finleyville evening paper at me.

"There!" she said, "I've won a cake of toilet soap from Bath- house Mike. The emperor's consented."

"Nonsense!" I snapped, and snatched the paper. Tillie was right; the emperor had! I sat down and read it through, and there was Miss Patty's picture in an oval and the prince's in another, with a turned-up mustache and his hand on the handle of his sword, and between them both was the Austrian emperor. Tillie came and looked over my shoulder.

"I'm not keen on the mustache," she said, "but the sword's beautiful--and, oh, Minnie, isn't he aristocratic? Look at his nose!"

But I'm not one to make up my mind in a hurry, and I'd heard enough talk about foreign marriages in the years I'd been dipping out mineral water to make me a skeptic, so to speak.

"I'm not so sure," I said slowly. "You can't tell anything by that kind of a picture. If he was even standing beside a chair I could get a line on him. He may be only four feet high."

"Then Miss Jennings wouldn't love him," declared Tillie. "How do you reckon he makes his mustache point up like that?"

"What's love got to do with it?" I demanded. "Don't be a fool, Tillie. It takes more than two people's pictures in a newspaper with a red heart around them and an overweight cupid above to make a love-match. Love's a word that's used to cover a good many sins and to excuse them all."

"She isn't that kind," said Tillie. "She's--she's as sweet as she's beautiful, and you're as excited as I am, Minnie Waters, and if you're not, what have you got the drinking glass she used last winter put on the top shelf out of reach for?" She went to the door and slammed it open. "Thank heaven I'm not a dried-up old maid," she called back over her shoulder, "and when you're through hugging that paper you can send it up to the house."

Well, I sat there and thought it over, Miss Patty, or Miss Patricia, being, so to speak, a friend of mine. They'd come to the Springs every winter for years. Many a time she'd slipped away from her governess and come down to the spring-house for a chat with me, and we'd make pop-corn together by my open fire, and talk about love and clothes, and even the tariff, Miss Patty being for protection, which was natural, seeing that was the way her father made his money, and I for free trade, especially in the winter when my tips fall off considerable.

And when she was younger she would sit back from the fire, with the corn-popper on her lap and her cheeks as red as cranberries, and say: "I don't know why I tell you all these things, Minnie, but Aunt Honoria's funny, and I can't talk to Dorothy; she's too young, you know. Well, he said--" only every winter it was a different "he."

In my wash-stand drawer I'd kept all the clippings about her coming out and the winter she spent in Washington and was supposed to be engaged to the president's son, and the magazine article that told how Mr. Jennings had got his money by robbing widows and orphans, and showed the little frame house where Miss Patty was born--as if she's had anything to do with it. And so now I was cutting out the picture of her and the prince and the article underneath which told how many castles she'd have, and I don't mind saying I was sniffling a little bit, for I couldn't get used to the idea. And suddenly the door closed softly and there was a rustle behind me. When I turned it was Miss Patty herself. She saw the clipping immediately, and stopped just inside the door.

"You, too," she said. "And we've come all this distance to get away from just that."

"Well, I shan't talk about it," I replied, not holding out my hand, for with her, so to speak, next door to being a princess-- but she leaned right over and kissed me. I could hardly believe it.

"Why won't you talk about it?" she insisted, catching me by the shoulders and holding me off. "Minnie, your eyes are as red as your hair!"

"I don't approve of it," I said. "You might as well know it now as later, Miss Patty. I don't believe in mixed marriages. I had a cousin that married a Jew, and what with him making the children promise to be good on the Talmud and her trying to raise them with the Bible, the poor things is that mixed up that it's pitiful."

She got a little red at that, but she sat down and took up the clipping.

"He's much better looking than that, Minnie," she said soberly, "and he's a good Catholic. But if that's the way you feel we'll not talk about it. I've had enough trouble at home as it is."

"I guess from that your father isn't crazy about it," I remarked, getting her a glass of spring water. The papers had been full of how Mr. Jennings had forbidden the prince the house when he had been in America the summer before.

"Certainly he's crazy about it--almost insane!" she said, and smiled at me in her old way over the top of the glass. Then she put down the glass and came over to me. "Minnie, Minnie," she said, "if you only knew how I've wanted to get away from the newspapers and the gossips and come to this smelly little spring- house and talk things over with a red-haired, sharp-tongued, mean-dispositioned spring-house girl--!"

And with that I began to blubber, and she came into my arms like a baby.

"You're all I've got," I declared, over and over, "and you're going to live in a country where they harness women with dogs, and you'll never hear an English word from morning to night."

"Stuff!" She gave me a little shake. "He speaks as good English as I do. And now we're going to stop talking about him--you're worse than the newspapers." She took off her things and going into my closet began to rummage for the pop-corn. "Oh, how glad I am to get away," she sang out to me. "We're supposed to have gone to Mexico; even Dorothy doesn't know. Where's the pop- corner or the corn-popper or whatever you call it?"

She was as happy to have escaped the reporters and the people she knew as a child, and she sat down on the floor in front of the fire and began to shell the corn into the popper, as if she'd done it only the day before.

"I guess you're safe enough here," I said. "It's always slack in January--only a few chronics and the Saturday-to-Monday husbands, except a drummer now and then who drives up from Finleyville. It's too early for drooping society buds, and the chronic livers don't get around until late March, after the banquet season closes. It will be pretty quiet for a while."

And at that minute the door was flung open, and Bath-house Mike staggered in.

"The old doctor!" he gasped. "He's dead, Miss Minnie--died just now in the hot room in the bathhouse! One minute he was givin' me the divil for something or other, and the next-- I thought he was asleep."

Something that had been heavy in my breast all afternoon suddenly seemed to burst and made me feel faint all over. But I didn't lose my head.

"Does anybody know yet?" I asked quickly. He shook his head.

"Then he didn't die in the bath-house, Mike," I said firmly. "He died in his bed, and you know it. If it gets out that he died in the hot room I'll have the coroner on you."

Miss Patty was standing by the railing of the spring. I got my shawl and started out after Mike, and she followed.

"If the guests ever get hold of this they'll stampede. Start any excitement in a sanatorium," I said, "and one and all they'll dip their thermometers in hot water and swear they've got fever!"

And we hurried to the house together.