A gaunt, yellow face with haggard eyes was turned slowly full upon her, and a hand, shaking, as that of a man in drink, was laid on her arm:
"Don't you know me, Marier-Ann?"
Maria-Ann sat down suddenly on the doorstep at the man's feet. There was no strength left in her. Then she put her head into her hands, and began to cry softly; there were few to see her, and had the whole world been there, she would not have cared.
"Just help me into the waitin'-room, Marier-Ann, where we can talk."
She bounced to her feet, with streaming, tear-blinded eyes, and Chi, linking his arm in hers, led her into the "Ladies' Room."
A porter followed them in; he addressed Chi. "She ain't paid for what she ordered, and she ain't eat it neither, and she 's left her valise."
Chi pulled out a ten-cent piece and put it into his hand. "Bring 'em all in," he said, "grub 'n' all, 'n' I 'll pay for 'em. We 'll sit here a spell till train time." Maria-Ann sobbed afresh.
The porter brought in the plate with the doughnuts, the cup of coffee, and the valise, and set them down on the wooden settee. He pointed to the ten-cent piece that lay within the inner ring of a doughnut:
"I don't take nothin' of that kind from you fellers." He touched the bit of braid on the cuff of Chi's coat; Chi smiled, and pocketed the money.
"Guess you was n't expectin' to meet an old friend so soon, was you?"
said Chi, gently, setting the plate in her lap.
Maria-Ann shook her head vigorously, but she could not control the sobs.
Chi crossed one leg over the other, and waited.
The flies buzzed on the smoke-thickened panes, and an empty truck rattled down the platform. There were no other sounds.
"When does your train go, Marier-Ann?"
There was another sob, but no answer.
"Did n't I hear you say you was on your way to Cuby?"
"Bad place for women--'n' men, too. What you goin' for?"
Maria-Ann's answer was only half audible: "To nuss."
"To nuss? Ain't there enough nussin' you can do nearer home?"
Maria-Ann looked up with tear-reddened eyes. "I did n't think so--" a sob--"till I saw you, Chi. I did n't know you--I thought I 'd begin right now, before I got there--" her hands covered her eyes again.
Chi's trembling ones, weak from the fever, drew her cold ones down from her face.
"You did just right, Marier-Ann, to want to begin right now.--The Barton's River train is due to start from here in fifteen minutes;--s'posin' you give up Cuby, 'n' come along home, 'n' try nussin' me. I need it bad enough."
"Oh, Chi, do you mean it?" Maria-Ann caught her breath.
"You bet I do," said Chi, emphatically, "only"--he paused and took up the plate from her lap, spilling the coffee, for the trembling of his hand had increased--"if you 're goin' to undertake it with me, it's got to be a life job, Marier-Ann."
The flies continued to buzz on the smoke-thickened panes. The train for Barton's River steamed in from the siding. The couple in the waiting-room boarded it. The porter watched them with a queer smile.
Then he took up the plate of uneaten doughnuts and the cup of cooled coffee, and handed them to the girl behind the counter.
"She ain't eat 'em, after all," she said. "She acted kinder queer for a Red Cross nurse."
"He's the chap I give the telegram to when he got here on the up-train last night."
"What was it?"
"Twenty-five cent one from Barton's River--'M.A. starts for Cuba Thursday stop her at Junction.'"
The girl laughed, and the restaurant filled again.
"--The stars above Shine ever on Love--"
"I 'm goin' up into the clearin', Mis' Blossom, to see if there ain't some late blackberries," said Chi, a few days after his triumphal return with Maria-Ann. "Seems as if the smell of the sun on that spruce-bush up yonder would put new life into me--I feel so kind of shif'less."
"I would, Chi," said Mrs. Blossom; "you have n't begun to get your strength back yet, and the more you 're out in this air, without overworking, the better it will be for you."
"I 'll go with you, Chi," said Rose, looking up from her work, as she sat sewing on the lower step of the porch.
"That's right, Rose-pose; it 'll seem like old times." Chi followed her with wistful eyes as she turned to go up stairs.
"I 'll be down in a few minutes, Chi; we 'd better take the two-quart pails, had n't we?"
"Maybe we 'll find enough for one or two messes."
He turned to Mrs. Blossom when Rose had left the room. "Can't there nothin' be done 'bout it, Mis' Blossom?" He spoke almost wistfully.
Mrs. Blossom's eyes filled with tears. She hesitated a moment before she spoke: "I know Rose so well, Chi, that I dare _not_ interfere. I doubt if she would accept anything, even from me, her mother."
"It beats me," Chi sighed heavily. "He 's just a-pinin' for a word or sign, 'n' there ain't no use talkin'--_she 's_ got to give it; I 'd back him up every time, he 's done enough--"
"Sh--!" Mrs. Blossom held up her finger; she heard Rose on the stairs.
Chi looked up--his old Rose-pose stood before him: old, faded, green and white calico dress, old sunbonnet, patched shoes! Chi turned away abruptly to get his pails; and her mother wondered, but said nothing.
They found more than one "patch," where the berries hung in luscious cl.u.s.ters of shining jet. Chi pummelled his chest, and drew deep, deep breaths of the balsamic mountain air. "This sets a man up, Rose-pose; there ain't nothin' like the air on this Mountain for an all-round tonic. Let's sit here a spell, right by this sweet fern."
She pushed back the sunbonnet as she sat down beside him. "Tired, Chi?"
"No--rests me clear through just to sit 'n' look off onto those slopes, just about as green as in June."
They sat awhile in silence; then Chi turned and picked up the sunbonnet that had fallen from her head. He touched it gently.
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