Chapter XXII. Home to Roost
 

I couldn't stand any more. It was all over! I rushed to my room and threw myself on the bed. At two-thirty I heard the bus come to the porte-cochere under my window and then drive away; that was the last straw. I put a pillow over my head so nobody could hear me, and then and there I had hysterics. I knew I was having them, and I wasn't ashamed. I'd have exploded if I hadn't.

And then somebody jerked the pillow away and I looked up, with my eyes swollen almost shut, and it was Doctor Barnes. He had a glass of water in his hand and he held it right above me.

"One more yell," he said, "and it goes over you!"

I lay there staring up at him, and then I knew what a fright I looked, and although I couldn't speak yet, I reached up and felt for my hairpins.

"That's better," he said, putting down the glass. "Another ten minutes of that and you'd have burst a blood vessel. Don't worry. I know I have no business here, but I anticipated something of this kind, and it may interest you to know that I've been outside in the hall since the first whoop. It's been a good safety-valve."

I sat up and stared at him. I could hardly see out of my eyes. He had his back to the light, but I could tell that he had a cross of adhesive plaster on his cheek and that one eye was almost shut. He smiled when he saw my expression.

"It's the temperament," he said. "It goes with the hair. I've got it too, only I'm apt to go out and pick a fight at such times, and a woman hasn't got that outlet. As you see, I found Mike, and my disfigurement is to Mike's as starlight to the noonday glare. Come and take a walk."

I shook my head, but he took my arm and pulled me off the bed.

"You come for a walk!" he said. "I'll wait in the hall until you powder your nose. You look like a fire that's been put out by a rain-storm."

I didn't want to go, but anything was better than sitting in the room moping. I put on my jacket and Miss Patty's chinchillas, which cheered me a little, but as we went down- stairs the quiet of the place sat on my chest like a weight.

The lower hall was empty. A new card headed "Rules" hung on the door into the private office, but I did not read it. What was the use of rules without people to disobey them? Mrs. Moody had forgotten her crocheting bag and it hung on the back of a chair. I had to bite my lip to keep it from trembling again.

"The Jenningses are still here," said the doctor. "The old man is madder than any hornet ever dared be, and they go in the morning. But the situation was too much for our German friend. He left with the others."

Well, we went out and I took the path I knew best, which was out toward the spring-house. There wasn't a soul in sight. The place looked lonely, with the trees hung with snow, and arching over the board walk. At the little bridge over the creek Doctor Barnes stopped, and leaning over the rail, took a good look at me.

"When you self-contained women go to pieces," he said, "you pretty near smash, don't you? You look as if you'd had a death in your family."

"This was my family," I half sniveled.

"But," he said, "you'll be getting married and having a home of your own and forgetting all about this."

He looked at me with his sharp eyes. "There's probably some nice chap in the village, eh?"

I shook my head. I had just caught sight of the broken pieces of the Moody water-pitcher on the ice below

"No nice young man!" he remarked. "Not the telegraph operator, or the fellow who runs the livery-stable--I've forgotten his name."

"Look here," I turned on him, "if you're talking all this nonsense to keep my mind off things, you needn't."

"I'm not," he said. "I'm asking for the sake of my own mind, but we'll not bother about that now. We'd better start back."

It was still snowing, although not so hard. The air had done me some good, but the lump in my throat seemed to have gone to my chest. The doctor helped me along, for the snow was drifting, and when he saw I was past the crying stage he went back to what we were both thinking about.

"Old Pierce is right," he said. "Remember, Miss Minnie, I've nothing against you or your mineral spring; in fact, I'm strong for you both. But while I'm out of the ring now for good--I don't mind saying to you what I said to Pierce, that the only thing that gets into training here, as far as I can see, is a fellow's pocketbook."

We went back to the house and I straightened the news stand, Amanda King having taken a violent toothache as a result of the excitement. The Jenningses were packing to go, and Miss Summers had got a bottle of peroxide and shut herself in her room. At six o'clock Tillie beckoned to me from the door of the officers' dining-room and said she'd put the basket in the snow by the grape arbor. I got ready, with a heavy heart, to take it out. I had forgotten all about their dinner, for one thing, and I had to carry bad news.

But Mr. Pierce had been there before me. I saw tracks in the fresh snow, for, praise heaven! it had snowed all that week and our prints were filled up almost as fast as we made them. When I got to the shelter-house it was in a wild state of excitement. Mrs. Dick, with her cheeks flushed, had gathered all her things on the cot and was rolling them up in sheets and newspapers. But Mr. Dick was sitting on the box in front of the fire with his curly hair standing every way. He had been roasting potatoes, and as I opened the door, he picked one up and poked at it to see if it was done.

"Damn!" he said, and dropped it.

Mrs. Dick sat on the cot rolling up a pink ribbon and looked at him.

"If you want to know exactly my reason for insisting on moving to-night, I'll tell you," she said, paying no attention to me. "It is your disposition."

He didn't say anything, but he put his foot on the potato and smashed it.

"If I had to be shut in here with you one more day," she went on, "I'd hate you."

"Why the one more day?" he asked, without looking up.

But she didn't answer him. She was in the worst kind of a temper; she threw the ribbon down, and coming over, lifted the lid of my basket and looked in.

"Ham again!" she exclaimed ungratefully. "Thanks so much for remembering us, Minnie. I dare say our dinner to-day slipped your mind!"

"I wonder if it strikes you, Minnie," Mr. Dick said, noticing me for the first time, "that if you and Sam hadn't been so confounded meddling, that fellow Pierce would be washing buggies in the village livery-stable where he belongs, and I'd be in one piece of property that's as good as gone this minute."

"Egg salad and cheese!" said Mrs. Dick. "I'm sick of cheese. If that's the kind of supper you've been serving--"

But I was in a bad humor, anyhow, and I'd had enough. I stood just inside the door and I told them I'd done the best I could, not for them, but because I'd promised the old doctor, and if I'd made mistakes I'd answer for them to him if I ever met him in the next world. And in the meantime I washed my hands of the whole thing, and they might make out as best they could. I was going.

Mrs. Dick heard me through. Then she came over and put her hand on mine where it lay on the table.

"You're perfectly right," she said. "I know how you have tried, and that the fault is all that wretched Pierce's. You mustn't mind Mr. Carter, Minnie. He's been in that sort of humor all day."

He looked at her with the most miserable face I ever saw, but he didn't say anything. She sighed, the little wretch.

"We've all made mistakes," she said, "and not the least was my thinking that I--well, never mind. I dare say we will manage somehow."

He got up then, his face twisted with misery.

"Say it," he said. "You hate me; you shiver if I touch your hand--oh, I'm not very keen, but I saw that."

"The remedy for that is very, simple," she replied coolly. "You needn't touch my hand."

"Stop!" I snapped. "Just stop before you say something you'll be sorry for. Of course, you hate each other. It beats me, anyhow, why two people who get married always want to get away by themselves until they're so sick of each other that they don't get over it the rest of their lives. The only sensible honeymoon I ever heard of was when one of the chambermaids here married a farmer in the neighborhood. It was harvest and he couldn't leave, so she went alone to see her folks and she said it beat having him along all hollow."

She was setting out the supper, putting things down with a bang. He didn't move, although he must have been starving.

"Another thing I'd advise," I said. "Eat first and talk after. You'll see things different after you've got something in your stomach."

"I wish you wouldn't meddle, Minnie!" she snapped, and having put down her own plate and knife and fork, not laying a place for him, she went over and tried to get one of the potatoes from the fire.

Well, she burnt her finger, or pretended to, and I guess her solution was as good as mine, for she began to cry, and when I left he was tying it up with a bit of his handkerchief; if she shivered when he kissed it I didn't notice it. They were to come up to the house after her father left in the morning, and I was to dismiss all the old help and get new ones so he could take charge and let Mr. Pierce go.

I plodded back with my empty basket. I had only one clear thought,--that I wouldn't have any more tramping across the golf links in the snow. I was too tired really to care that with the regular winter boarders gone and eight weeks still until Lent, we'd hardly be able to keep going another fortnight. I wanted to get back to my room and go to bed and forget.

But as I came near the house I saw Mr. Pierce come out on the front piazza and switch on the lights. He stood there looking out into the snow, and the next minute I saw why. Coming up the hill and across the lawn was a shadowy line of people, black against the white. They were not speaking, and they moved without noise over the snow. I thought for a minute that my brain had gone wrong; then the first figure came into the light, and it was the bishop. He stood at the front of the steps and looked up at Mr. Pierce.

"I dare say," he said, trying to look easy, "that this is sooner than you expected us!"

Mr. Pierce looked down at the crowd. Then he smiled, a growing smile that ended in a grin.

"On the contrary," he said, "I've been expecting you for an hour or more."

The procession began to move gloomily up the steps. All of them carried hand luggage, and they looked tired and sheepish Miss Cobb stopped in front of Mr. Pierce.

"Do you mean to say," she demanded furiously, "that you knew the railroad was blocked with snow, and yet you let us go!"

"On the contrary, Miss Cobb," he said politely, "I remember distinctly regretting that you insisted on going. Besides, there was the Sherman House."

Senator Briggs{sic} stopped in front of him. "Probably you also knew that that was full, including the stables, with people from the stalled trains," he asserted furiously.

Two by two they went in and through the hall, stamping the snow off, and up to their old rooms again, leaving Slocum, the clerk, staring at them as if he couldn't believe his eyes.

Mr. Pierce and I watched from the piazza, through the glass.

We saw Doctor Barnes stop and look, and then go and hang over the news stand and laugh himself almost purple, and we saw Mr. Thoburn bringing up the tail of the procession and trying to look unconcerned. I am not a revengeful woman, but that was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Doctor Barnes turned suddenly, and catching me by the arm, whirled me around and around, singing wildly something about Noah and "the animals went in two by, two, the elephant and the kangaroo."

He stopped as suddenly as he began and walked me to the door again.

"We've got 'em in the ark," he said, "but I'm thinking this forty days of snow is nearly over, Minnie. I don't think much of the dove and the olive-branch, but we've got to keep them."

"It's against the law," I quavered.

"Nonsense!" he said. "We've got to make 'em want to stay!"