Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XII. We Get a Doctor
I had my hands full the next day. We'd had another snow-storm during the night and the trains were blocked again. About ten o'clock we got a telegram from the new doctor we'd been expecting, that he'd fallen on the ice on his way to the train and broken his arm, and at eleven a delegation from the guests waited on Mr. Pierce and told him they'd have to have a house physician at once.
Senator Biggs was the spokesman. He said that, personally, he couldn't remain another day without one; that he should be under a physician's care every moment of his fast, and that if no doctor came that day he'd be in favor of all the guests showing their displeasure by leaving together.
"Either that," Thoburn said from the edge of the crowd, "or call it a hotel at once and be done with it. A sanatorium without a doctor is like an omelet without eggs!"
"Hamlet without ham," somebody said.
"We're doing the best we can," Mr. Pierce explained. "We--we expect a doctor to-day."
"When?" from Mr. Jennings, who had come on a cane and was watching Mr. Pierce like a hawk.
"This afternoon, probably. As there is no one here very ill--"
But at that they almost fell on him and tore him to pieces. I had to step in front of him myself and say we'd have somebody there by two o'clock if we had to rob a hospital to get him. And Mr. Sam cried, "Three cheers for Minnie, the beautiful spring- house girl!" and led off.
There's no doubt about it--a man ought to be born to the sanatorium business. A real strong and healthy man has no business trying to run a health resort, and I saw Mr. Pierce wasn't making the hit that I'd expected him to.
He was too healthy. You only needed to look at him to know that he took a cold plunge every morning, and liked to walk ten miles a day, and could digest anything and go to sleep the minute his head touched the pillow. And he had no tact. When Mrs. Biggs went to him and explained that the vacuum cleaner must not be used in her room--that it exhausted the air or something, and she could hardly breathe after it--he only looked bewildered and then drew a diagram to show her it was impossible that it could exhaust the air. The old doctor knew how: he'd have ordered an oxygen tank opened in the room after the cleaner was used and she'd have gone away happy.
Of course Mr. Pierce was most polite. He'd listen to their complaints--and they were always complaining, that's part of the regime--with a puzzled face, trying to understand, but he couldn't. He hadn't a nerve in his body. Once, when one of the dining-room girls dropped a tray of dishes and half the women went to bed with headache from the nervous shock, he never even looked up, but went on with his dinner, and the only comment he made afterward was to tell the head waitress to see that Annie didn't have to pay breakage--that the trays were too heavy for a woman, anyhow. As Miss Cobb said, he was impossible.
Well, as if I didn't have my hands full with getting meals to the shelter-house, and trying to find a house doctor, and wondering how long it would be before "Julia" came face to face with Dick Carter somewhere or other, and trying to keep one eye on Thoburn while I kept Mr. Pierce straight with the other--that day, during luncheon, Mike the bath man came out to the spring- house and made a howl about his wages. He'd been looking surly for two days.
"What about your wages?" I snapped. "Aren't you getting what you've always had?"
"No tips!" he said sulkily. "Only a few taking baths--only one daily, and that's that man Jennings. There's no use talking, Miss Minnie, I've got to have a double percentage on that man or you'll have to muzzle him. He--he's dangerous."
"If I give you the double percentage, will you stay?"
"I don't know but that I'd rather have the muzzle, Miss Minnie," he answered slowly, "but--I'll stay. It won't be for long."
Which left me thinking. I'd seen Thoburn talking to Mike more than once lately, and he'd been going around with an air of assurance that didn't make me any too cheerful. Evenings, when I'd relieved Amanda King at the news stand, I'd seen Thoburn examining the woodwork of the windows, and only the night before, happening on the veranda unexpectedly, I found Mike and him measuring it with a tape line. As I say, Mike's visit left me thinking.
The usual crowd came out that afternoon and drank water and sat around the fire and complained--all except Senator Biggs, who happened in just as I was pouring melted butter over a dish of hot salted pop-corn. He stood just inside the door, sniffling, with his eyes fixed on the butter, and then groaned and went out.
He looked terrible--his clothes hung on him like bags; as the bishop said, it was ghastly to see a convexity change to such a concavity in three days.
Mr. Moody won three dollars that day from the slot-machine and was almost civil to his wife, but old Jennings sat with his foot on a stool and yelled if anybody slammed the door. Mrs. Hutchins brought him out with her eyes red and asked me if she could leave him there.
"I'm sorry if I was rude to you the other night, Minnie," she said, "but I was upset. I'm so worn-out that I'll have to lie down for an hour, and if he doesn't get better soon, I--I shall have to have help. My nerves are gone."
At four o'clock Mr. Sam came in, and he had Mr. Thoburn tight by the arm.
"My dear old chap," he was saying, "it would be as much as your life's worth. That ground is full of holes and just now covered with snow--!"
He caught my eye, and wiped his forehead.
"Heaven help us!" he said, coming over to the spring, "I found him making for the shelter-house, armed with a foot rule! Somebody's got to take him in hand--I tell you, the man's a menace!"
"What about the doctor?" I asked, reaching up his glass.
"Be here to-night," he answered, "on the--"
But at that minute a boy brought a telegram down and handed it to him. The new doctor was laid up with influenza!
We sat there after the others had gone, and Mr. Sam said he was for giving up the fight, only to come out now with the truth would mean such a lot of explaining and a good many people would likely find it funny. Mr. Pierce came in later and we gave him the telegram to read.
"I don't see why on earth they need a doctor, anyhow," he said, "they're not sick. If they'd take a little exercise and get some air in their lungs--"
"My dear fellow," Mr. Sam cried in despair, "some people are born in sanatoriums, some acquire them, and others have them thrust upon them--I've had this place thrust upon me. I don't know why they want a doctor, but they do. They balked at Rodgers from the village. They want somebody here at night. Mr. Jennings has the gout and there's the deuce to pay. Some of them talk of leaving."
"Let 'em leave," said Mr. Pierce. "If they'd go home and drink three gallons of any kind of pure water a day--"
"Sh! That's heresy here! My dear fellow, we've got to keep them."
Mr. Pierce glanced at the telegram and handed it back.
"Lot's of starving M. D.'s would jump at the chance," he said, "but if it's as urgent as all this we can't wait to hunt. I'll tell you, Van Alstyne, there's a chap down in the village he was the character man with the Sweet Peas Company--and he's stranded there. I saw him this morning. He's washing dishes in the depot restaurant for his meals. We used to call him Doc, and I've a hazy idea that he's a graduate M. D.--name's Barnes."
"Great!" cried Mr. Van Alstyne. "Let's have Barnes. You get him, will you, Pierce?"
Mr. Pierce promised and they started out together. At the door Mr. Sam turned.
"Oh, by the way, Minnie," he called, "better gild one of your chairs and put a red cushion on it. The prince has arrived."
Well, I thought it all out that afternoon as I washed the glasses, and it was terrible. I had two people in the shelter- house to feed and look after like babies, with Tillie getting more curious every day about the basket she brought, and not to be held much longer; and I had a man running the sanatorium and running it to the devil as fast as it could go. Not that he wasn't a nice young man, big, strong-jawed and all that, but you can't make a diplomat out of an ordinary man in three days, and it takes more diplomacy to run a sanatorium a week than it does to be secretary of state for four years. Then I had a prince incognito, and Thoburn stirring up mischief, and the servants threatening to strike, and no house doctor--
Just as I got to that somebody opened the door behind me and looked in. I glanced around, and it was a man with the reddest hair I ever saw. Mine was pale by comparison. He was rather short and heavy-set, and he had a pleasant face, although not handsome, his nose being slightly bent to the left. But at first all I could see was his hair.
"Good evening," he said, edging himself in. "Are you Miss Waters?"
"Yes," I said, rising and getting a glass ready, "although I'm not called that often, except by people who want to pun on my name and my business." I looked at him sharply, but he hadn't intended any pun.
He took off his hat and came over to the spring where I was filling his glass.
"If that's for me, you needn't bother," he said. "If it tastes as it smells, I'm not thirsty. My name's Barnes, and I was to wait here for Mr. Van Alstyne."
"Barnes!" I repeated. "Then you're the doctor."
He grinned, and stood turning his hat around in his hands.
"Not exactly," he said. "I graduated in medicine a good many years ago, but after a year of it, wearing out more seats of trousers waiting for patients than I earned enough to pay for, and having to have new trousers, I took to other things."
"Oh, yes," I said. "You're an actor now."
He looked thoughtful.
"Some people think I'm not," he answered, "but I'm on the stage. Graduated there from prize-fighting. Prize-fighting, the stage, and then writing for magazines--that's the usual progression. Sometimes, as a sort of denouement before the final curtain, we have dinner at the White House."
I took a liking to the man at once. It was a relief to have somebody who was willing to tell all about himself and wasn't incognito, or in hiding, or under somebody else's name. I put a fresh log on the fire, and as it blazed up I saw him looking at me.
"Ye gods and little fishes!" he said. "Another redhead! Why, we're as alike as two carrots off the same bunch!"
In five minutes I knew how old he was, and where he was raised, and that what he wanted more than anything on earth was a little farmhouse with chickens and a cow.
"Where you can have air, you know," he said, waving his hands, which were covered with reddish hair. "Lord, in the city I starve for air! And where, when you're getting soft you can go out and tackle the wood-pile. That's living!"
And then he wanted to know what he was to do at the sanatorium and I told him as well as I could. I didn't tell him everything, but I explained why Mr. Pierce was calling himself Carter, and about the two in the shelter-house. I had to. He knew as well as I did that three days before Mr. Pierce had had nothing to his name but a folding automobile road map or whatever it was.
"Good for old Pierce!" he said when I finished. "He's a prince, Miss Waters. If you'd seen him sending those girls back to town--well, I'll do all I can to help him. But I'm not much of a doctor. It's safe to acknowledge it; you'll find it out soon enough."
Mr. and Mrs. Van Alstyne came in just then, and Mr. Sam told him what he was expected to do. It wasn't much: he was to tell them at what temperatures to take their baths, "and Minnie will help you out with that," he added, and what they were to eat and were not to eat. "Minnie will tell you that, too," he finished, and Mr. Barnes, Doctor Barnes, came over and shook my hand.
"I'm perfectly willing to be first assistant," he declared. "We'll put our heads together and the result will be--"
"Combustion!" said Mr. Sam, and we all laughed.
"Remember," Mr. Sam instructed him, as Doctor Barnes started out, "when you don't know what to prescribe, order a Turkish bath. The baths are to a sanatorium what the bar is to a club--they pay the bills."
Well, we got it all fixed and Doctor Barnes started out, but at the door he stopped.
"I say," he asked in an undertone, "the stork doesn't light around here, does he?"
"Not if they see him first!" I replied grimly, and he went out.