Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter X. Another Complication
After luncheon, when everybody at Hope Springs takes a nap, we had another meeting at the shelter-house, this time with Mr. Pierce. He had spent the morning tramping over the hills with a gun and keeping out of the way of people, and what with three square meals, a good night's sleep and the exercise, he was looking a lot better. Seen in daylight, he had very dark hair and blue-gray eyes and a very square chin, although it had a sort of dimple in it. I used to wonder which won out, the dimple or the chin, but I wasn't long in finding out.
Well, he looked dazed when I took him to the shelter-house and he saw Mr. Dick and Mrs. Dick and the Mr. Sams and Miss Patty. They gave him a lawn-mower to sit on, and Mr. Sam explained the situation.
"I know it's asking a good bit, Mr. Pierce," he said, "and personally I can see only one way out of all this. Carter ought to go in and take charge, and his--er--wife ought to go back to school. But they won't have it, and--er--there are other reasons." He glanced at Miss Patty.
Mr. Pierce also glanced at Miss Patty. He'd been glancing at her at intervals of two seconds ever since she came in, and being a woman and having a point to gain, Miss Patty seemed to have forgotten the night before, and was very nice to him. Once she smiled directly at him, and whatever he was saying died in his throat of the shock. When she turned her head away he stared at the back of her neck, and when she looked at the fire he gazed at her profile, and always with that puzzled look, as if he hadn't yet come to believe that she was the newspaper Miss Jennings.
After everything had been explained to him, including Mr. Jennings' liver and disposition, she turned to him and said:
"We are in your hands, you see, Mr. Pierce. Are you going to help us?" And when she asked him that, it was plain to me that he was only sorry he couldn't die helping.
"If everybody agrees to it," he said, looking at her, "and you all think it's feasible and I can carry it off, I'm perfectly willing to try."
"Oh, it's feasible," Mr. Dick said in a relieved voice, getting up and beginning to strut up and down the room. "It isn't as though I'm beyond call. You can come out here and consult me if you get stuck. And then there's Minnie; she knows a good bit about the old place."
Mr. Sam looked at me and winked.
"Of course," said Mr. Dick, "I expect to retain control, you understand that, I suppose, Pierce? You can come out every day for instructions. I dare say sanatoriums are hardly your line."
Mr. Pierce was looking at Miss Patty and she knew it. When a woman looks as unconscious as she did it isn't natural.
"Eh--oh, well no, hardly," he said, coming to himself; "I've tried everything else, I believe. It can't be worse than carrying a bunch of sweet peas from garden to garden."
Mr. Dick stopped walking and turned suddenly to stare at Mr. Pierce.
"Sweet--what?" he said.
Everybody else was talking, and I was the only one who saw him change color.
"Sweet peas," said Mr. Pierce. "And that reminds me--I'd like to make one condition, Mr. Carter. I feel in a measure responsible for the company; most of them have gone back to New York, but the leading woman is sick at the hotel in Finleyville. I'd like to bring her here for two weeks to recuperate. I assure you, I have no interest in her, but I'm sorry for her; she's had the mumps."
"Mumps!" everybody said together, and Mr. Sam looked at his brother-in-law.
"Kid in the play got 'em, and they spread around," Mr. Pierce explained. "Nasty disease."
"Why, you've just had them, too, Dicky!" said his wife. They all turned to look at him, and I must say his expression was curious.
Luckily, I had the wit to knock over the breakfast basket, which was still there, and when we'd gathered up the broken china, Mr. Dick had got himself in hand.
"I'm sorry, old man," he said to Mr. Pierce, "but I'm not in favor of bringing Miss--the person you speak of--up to the sanatorium just now. Mumps, you know--very contagious, and all that."
"She's over that part," Mr. Pierce said; "she only needs to rest."
"Certainly--let her come," said Mrs. Dicky. "If they're as contagious as all that, you haven't been afraid of my getting them."
"I--I'm not in favor of it," Mr. Dick insisted, looking obstinate. "The minute you bring an actress here you've got the whole place by the ears."
"Fiddlesticks!" said his sister. "Because any actress could set you by the ears--"
Mrs. Dick sat up suddenly.
"Certainly, if she isn't well bring her up," said Miss Patty. "Only--won't she know your name is not Carter?"
"She's discretion itself," Mr. Pierce said. "Her salary hasn't been paid for a month, and as I'm responsible, I'd be glad to see her looked after."
"I don't want her here. I'll--I'll pay her board at the hotel," Mr. Dick began, "only for heaven's sake, don't--"
He stopped, for every one was staring.
"Why in the world would you do that?" Miss Patty asked. "Don't be ridiculous. That's the only condition Mr. Pierce has made."
Mr. Dick stalked to the window and looked out, his hands in his pockets. I couldn't help being reminded of the time he had run away from school, when his grandfather found him in the shelter- house and gave him his choice of going back at once or reading medicine with him.
"Oh, bring her up! Bring her up!" he said without looking around. "If Pierce won't stay unless he can play the friend in need, all right. But don't come after me if the whole blamed sanatorium swells up with mumps and faints at the sight of a pickle."
That was Wednesday.
Things at the sanatorium were about the same on the surface. The women crocheted and wondered what the next house doctor would be like, and the men gambled at the slot-machines and played billiards and grumbled at the food and the management, and when they weren't drinking spring water they were in the bar washing away the taste of it. They took twenty minutes on the verandas every day for exercise and kept the house temperature at eighty. Senator Biggs was still fasting and Mrs. Biggs took to spending all day in the spring-house and turning pale every time she heard his voice. It was that day, I think, that I found the magazine with Upton Sinclair's article on fasting stuck fast in a snow-drift, as if it had been thrown violently.
Wednesday afternoon Miss Julia Summers came with three lap robes, a white lace veil and a French poodle in a sleigh and went to bed in one of the best rooms, and that night we started to move out furniture to the shelter-house.
By working almost all night we got the shelter-house fairly furnished, although we made a trail through the snow that looked like a fever chart. Toward daylight Mr. Sam dropped a wash-bowl on my toe and I went to bed with an arnica compress.
I limped out in time to be on hand before Miss Cobb got there, but what with a chilblain on my heel and hardly any sleep for two nights--not to mention my toe--I wasn't any too pleasant.
"It's my opinion you're overeating, Minnie," Miss Cobb said. "You're skin's a sight!"
"You needn't look at it," I retorted.
She burned the back of her neck just then and it was three minutes before she could speak. When she could she was considerably milder.
"Just give it a twist or two, Minnie, won't you?" she said, holding out the curler. "I haven't been able to sleep on the back of my head for three weeks."
Well, I curled her hair for her and she told me about Miss Summers being still shut in her room, and how she'd offered Mike an extra dollar to give the white poodle a Turkish bath--it being under the weather as to health--and how Mike had soaked the little beast for an hour in a tub of water, forgetting the sulphur, and it had come out a sort of mustard color, and how Miss Summers had had hysterics when she saw it.
"Mike dipped him in bluing to bleach him again, or rather `her'-- it's name is Arabella--" Miss Cobb said, "but all it did was to make it mottled like an Easter egg. Everybody is charmed. There were no dogs allowed while the old doctor lived. Things were different."
"Yes, things were different," I assented, limping over to heat the curler. "How--how does Mr. Carter get along?"
Miss Cobb put down her hand-mirror and sniffed.
"Well," she said, "goodness knows I'm no trouble maker, but somebody ought to tell that young man a few things. He's forever looking at the thermometer and opening windows. I declare, if I hadn't brought my woolen tights along I'd have frozen to death at breakfast. Everybody's complaining."
I put that away in my mind to speak about. It was only by nailing the windows shut and putting strips of cotton batting around the cracks that we'd ever been able to keep people there in the winter. I had my first misgiving then. Heaven knows I didn't realize what it was going to be.
Well, by the evening of that day things were going fairly well. Tillie brought out a basket every morning to me at the spring- house, fairly bursting with curiosity, and Mr. Sam got some canned stuff in Finleyville and took it after dark to the shelter-house. But after the second day Mrs. Dicky got tired holding a frying-pan over the fire and I had to carry out at least one hot meal a day.
They got their own breakfast in a chafing-dish, or rather he got it and carried it to her. And she'd sit on the edge of her cot, with her feet on the soap box--the floor was drafty--wrapped in a pink satin negligee with bands of brown fur on it, looking sweet and perfectly happy, and let him feed her boiled egg with a spoon. I took them some books--my Gray's Anatomy, and Jane Eyre and Molly Bawn, by The Duchess, and the newspapers, of course. They were full of talk about the wedding, and the suite the prince was bringing over with him, and every now and then a notice would say that Miss Dorothy Jennings, the bride's young sister, who was still in school and was not coming out until next year, would be her sister's maid of honor. And when they came to that, they would hug each other--or me, if I happened to be close--and act like a pair of children, which they were. Generally it would end up by his asking her if she wasn't sorry she wasn't back at Greenwich studying French conjugations and having a dance without any men on Friday nights, and she would say "Wretch!" and kiss him, and I'd go out and slam the door.
But there was something on Mr. Dick's mind. I hadn't known him for fourteen years for nothing. And the night Mr. Sam and I carried out the canned salmon and corn and tomatoes he walked back with me to the edge of the deer park, Mr. Sam having gone ahead.
"Now," I said, when we were out of ear-shot, "spit it out. I've been expecting it."
"Listen, Minnie," he answered, "is Ju--is Miss Summers still confined to her room?"
"No," I replied coldly. "Ju--Miss Summers was down to-night to dinner."
"Then she's seen Pierce," he said, "and he's told her the whole story and by to-morrow--"
"What?" I demanded, clutching his arm. "You wretched boy, don't tell me after all I've done"
"Oh, confound it, Minnie," he exclaimed, "it's as much your fault as mine. Couldn't you have found somebody else, instead of getting, of all things on earth, somebody from the Sweet Peas Company?"
"I see," I said slowly. "Then it wasn't coincidence about the mumps!"
"Confounded kid had them," he said with bitterness. "Minnie, something's got to be done, and done soon. If you want the plain truth, Miss--er--Summers and I used to be friends--and--well, she's suing me for breach of promise. Now for heaven's sake, Minnie, don't make a fuss--"
But my knees wouldn't hold me. I dropped down in a snow-drift and covered my face.