Chapter XXX. Let Good Digestion
 

There was no one left but Miss Patty. As she started out past him with a crimson spot in each cheek Mr. Pierce put his hand on her arm. She hesitated, and he closed the door on Doctor Barnes and put his back against it. I had just time to slip back into the pantry and shut myself in.

For a minute there wasn't a sound. Then--

"I told you I should come," Miss Patty said, in her haughtiest manner. "You need not trouble to be disagreeable."

"Disagreeable!" he repeated. "I am abject!"

"I don't understand," she said. "But you needn't explain. It really does not matter."

"It matters to me. I had to do this to-night. I promised you I would make good, and if I had let this pass--Don't you see, I couldn't let it go."

"You can let me go, now."

"Not until I have justified myself to you."

"I am not interested."

I heard him take a step or two toward her.

"I don't quite believe that," he said in a low tone. "You were interested in what I said here this afternoon."

"I didn't hear it."

"None of it?"

"Not--not all."

"I spoke, you remember, about your sister, and about Dick--" he paused. I could imagine her staring at him in her wide-eyed way.

"You never mentioned them!" she said scornfully and stopped. He laughed, a low laugh, boyish and full of triumph.

"Ah!" he said. "So you did hear! I'm going to say it again, anyhow. I love you, Patty. I'm--I'm mad for you. I've loved you hopelessly for so long that to-night, when there's a ray of hope, I'm--I'm hardly sane. I--"

"Please!" she said.

"I love you so much that I waken at night just to say your name, over and over, and when dawn comes through the windows--"

"You don't know what you are saying!" she said wildly. "I am-- still--"

"I welcome the daylight," he went on, talking very fast, "because it means another day when I can see you. If it sounds foolish, it's--it's really lots worse than it sounds, Patty."

The door opened just then, and Doctor Barnes' voice spoke from the step.

"I say," he complained, "you needn't--"

"Get out!" Mr. Pierce said angrily, and the door slammed. The second's interruption gave him time, I think, to see how far he'd gone, and his voice, when he spoke again, was not so hopeful.

"I'm not pleading my cause," he said humbly, "I know I haven't any cause. I have nothing to offer you."

"You said this afternoon," Miss Patty said softly, "that you could offer me the--the kind of love that a woman could be proud of."

She finished off with a sort of gasp, as if she was shocked at herself. I was so excited that my heart beat a tatoo against my ribs, and without my being conscious of it, as you may say, the pantry door opened about an inch and I found myself with an eye to the crack.

They were standing facing each other, he all flushed and eager and my dear Miss Patty pale and trembly. But she wasn't shy. She was looking straight into his eyes and her blessed lips were quivering.

"How can you care?" she asked, when he only stood and looked at her. "I've been such a--such a selfish beast!"

"Hush!" He leaned toward her, and I held my breath. "You are everything that is best in the world, and I--what can I offer you? I have nothing, not even this sanatorium! No money, no title--"

"Oh, that!" she interrupted, and stood waiting. "Well, you-- you could at least offer yourself!"

"Patty!"

She went right over to him and put her hands on his shoulders.

"And if you won't," she said, "I'll offer myself instead!"

His arms went around her like a flash at that, and he kissed her. I've seen a good many kisses in my day, the spring-house walk being a sort of lover's lane, but they were generally of the quick-get-away variety. This was different. He just gathered her up to him and held her close, and if she was one-tenth as much thrilled as I was in the pantry she'd be ready to die kissing.

Then, without releasing her, he raised his head, with such a look of victory in his face that I still see it sometimes in my sleep, and his eye caught mine through the crack.

But if I'd looked to see him drop her I was mistaken. He drew her up and kissed her again, but this time on the forehead. And when he'd let her go and she had dropped into a chair and hid her shining face against the back, as if she was ashamed, which she might well be, he stood laughing over her bent head at me.

"Come out, Minnie!" he called. "Come out and hear the good news!"

"Hear!" I said, "I've seen all the news I want."

"Gracious!" Miss Patty said, and buried her head again. But he had reached the shameless stage; a man who is really in love always seems to get to that point sooner or later. He stooped and kissed the back of her neck, and if his hand shook when he pushed in one of her shell hairpins it was excitement and not fright.

"I hardly realize it, Minnie," he said. "I don't deserve her for a minute."

"Certainly not," I said.

"He does." Miss Patty's voice smothered. Then she got up and came over to me.

"There is going to be an awful fuss, Minnie," she said. "Think of Aunt Honoria--and Oskar!"

"Let them fuss!" I said grandly. "If the worst comes, you can spend your honeymoon in the shelter-house. I'm so used to carrying meals there now that it's second nature."

And at that they both made for me, and as Mr. Pierce kissed me Doctor Barnes opened the door. He stood for a moment, looking queer and wild, and then he slammed the door and we heard him stamping down the steps.

Mr. Pierce had to bring him back.

Well, that's all there is to it. The place filled up and stayed filled, but not under Mr. Pierce. Mr. Jennings said ability of his kind was wasted there, once the place was running, and set him to building a railroad somewhere or other, with him and Miss Patty living in a private car, and he carrying a portable telephone with him so he can talk to her every hour or so. Mr. Dick and his wife are running the sanatorium, or think they are. Doctor Barnes is the whole place, really. Mr. Jennings was so glad to have Miss Patty give up the prince and send him back home, after he'd been a week in the hotel at Finleyville looking as if his face would collapse if you stuck a pin in it--Mr. Jennings was so happy, not to mention having worked off his gout at the wood-pile, that he forgave the Dickys without any trouble, and even went out and had a meal with them in the shelter-house before they moved in, with Mr. Dick making the coffee.

I miss the spring, as I said at the beginning. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but with Miss Patty happy, and with Doctor Barnes around--

Thoburn came out the afternoon before he left, just after the rest hour, and showed me how much too loose his waistcoat had become.

"I've lost, Minnie," he confessed. "Lost fifteen pounds and the dream of my life. But I've found something, too."

"What?"

"My waist line!" he said, and threw his chest out.

"You look fifteen years younger," I said, and at that he came over to me and took my hand.

"Minnie," he said, "maybe you and I haven't always agreed, but I've always liked you, Minnie--always."

"Thanks," I said, taking my hand away.

"You've got all kinds of spirit," he said. "You've saved the place, all right. And if you--if you tire of this, and want another home, I've got one, twelve rooms, center hall, tiled baths, cabinet mantels--I'd be good to you, Minnie. The right woman could do anything with me."

When I grasped what he meant, I was staggered.

"I'm sorry," I explained, as gently as I could. "I'm--I'm going to marry Doctor Barnes one of these days."

He stared at me. Then he laughed a little and went toward the door.

"Barnes!" he said, turning. "Another redhead, by gad! Well, I'll tell you this, young woman, you're red, but he's redder. Your days for running things to suit yourself are over."

"I'm glad of it," I retorted. "I want to be managed myself for a change. Somebody," I said, "who won't be always thinking how he feels, unless it's how he feels toward me."

"Bah! He'll bully you."

"`It's human nature to like to be bullied,'" I quoted. "And I guess I'm not afraid. He's healthy and a healthy man's never a crank."

"A case of yours for health, eh?" he said, and held out his hand.

THE END