Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XIV. Pierce Disapproves
Mrs. Hutchins came out to the spring-house the next morning. She was dressed in a black silk with real lace collar and cuffs, and she was so puffed up with pride that she forgot to be nasty to me.
"I thought I'd better come to you, Minnie," she said. "There seems to be nobody in authority here any more. Mr. Carter has put the--has put Mr. von Inwald in the north wing. I can not imagine why he should have given him the coldest and most disagreeable part of the house."
I said I'd speak to Mr. Carter and try to have him moved, and she rustled over to where I was brushing the hearth and stooped down.
"Mr. von Inwald is incognito, of course," she said, "but he belongs to a very old family in his own country--a noble family. He ought to have the best there is in the house."
I promised that, too, and she went away, but I made up my mind to talk to Mr. Pierce. The sanatorium business isn't one where you can put your own likes and dislikes against the comfort of the guests.
Miss Cobb came out a few minutes after; she had on her new green silk with the white lace trimming. She saw me staring as she threw off her cape and put her curler on the log.
"It's a little dressy for so early, of course, Minnie," she said, "but I wish you'd see some of the other women! Breakfast looked like an afternoon reception. What would you think of pinning this black velvet ribbon around my head?"
"It might have done twenty years ago, Miss Cobb," I answered, "but I wouldn't advise it now." I was working at the slot- machine, and I heard her sniff behind me as she hung up her mirror on the window-frame.
She tried the curler on the curtain, which she knows I object to, but she was too full of her subject to be sulky for long.
"I wish you could see Blanche Moody!" she began again, standing holding the curler, with a thin wreath of smoke making a halo over her head. "Drawn in--my dear, I don't see how she can breathe! I guess there's no doubt about Mr. von Inwald."
"I'd like to know who put this beer check in the slot-machine yesterday," I said as indifferently as I could. "What about Mr. von Inwald?"
She tiptoed over to me, the halo trailing after her.
"About his being a messenger from the prince to Miss Jennings!" she answered in a whisper. "He spent last night closeted with papa, and the chambermaid on that floor told Lily Biggs that there was almost a quarrel."
"That doesn't mean anything," I objected. "If the Angel Gabriel was shut in with Mr. Jennings for ten minutes he'd be blowing his trumpet for help."
Miss Cobb shrugged her shoulders and took hold of a fresh wisp of hair with the curler.
"I dare say," she assented, "but the Angel Gabriel wouldn't have waited to breakfast with Miss Jennings, and have kissed her hand before everybody at the foot of the stairs!"
"Is he handsome?" I asked, curious to know how he would impress other women. But Miss Cobb had never seen a man she would call ugly.
"Handsome!" she said. "My dear, he's beautiful! He has a duel scar on his left cheek--all the nobility have them over there. I've a cousin living in Berlin--she's the wittiest person--and she says the German child of the future will be born with a scarred left cheek!"
Well, I was sick enough of hearing of Mr. von Inwald before the day was over. All morning in the spring-house they talked Mr. von Inwald. They pretended to play cards, but they were really playing European royalty. Every time somebody laid down a queen, he'd say, "Is the queen still living, or didn't she die a few years ago?" And when they played the knave, they'd start off about the prince again. They'd all decided that Mr. von Inwald was noble--somebody said that the "von" was a sort of title. The women were planning to make the evenings more cheerful, too. They couldn't have a dance with the men using canes or forbidden to exercise, but Miss Cobb had a lot of what she called "parlor games" that she wanted to try out. "Introducing the Jones family" was one of them.
In the afternoon Mr. von Inwald came out to the spring-house and sat around, very affable and friendly, drinking the water. He and the bishop grew quite chummy. Miss Patty was not there, but about four o'clock Mr. Pierce came out. He did not sit down, but wandered around the room, not talking to anybody, but staring, whenever he could, at the prince. Once I caught Mr. von Inwald's eyes fixed on him, as if he might have seen him before. After a while Mr. Pierce sat down in a corner like a sulky child and filled his pipe, and as nobody noticed him except to complain about the pipe, which he didn't even hear, he sat there for a half-hour, bent forward, with his pipe clenched in his teeth, and never took his eyes off Mr. von Inwald's face.
Senator Biggs was the one who really caused the trouble. He spent a good deal of time in the spring-house trying to fool his stomach by keeping it filled up all the time with water. He had got past the cranky stage, being too weak for it; his face was folded up in wrinkles like an accordion and his double chin was so flabby you could have tucked it away inside his collar.
"What do you think of American women, Mr. von Inwald?" he asked, and everybody stopped playing cards and listened for the answer. As Mr. von Inwald represented the prince, wouldn't he be likely to voice the prince's opinion of American women?
It's my belief Mr. von Inwald was going to say something nice. He smiled as if he meant to, but just then he saw Mr. Pierce in his corner sneering behind his pipe. They looked at each other steadily, and nobody could mistake the hate in Mr. Pierce's face or his sneer. After a minute the prince looked away and shrugged his shoulders, but he didn't make his pretty speech.
"American women!" he said, turning his glass of spring water around on the table before him, "they are very lovely, of course." He looked around and there were Mrs. Moody and Mrs. Biggs and Miss Cobb, and he even glanced at me in the spring. Then he looked again at Mr. Pierce and kept his eyes there. "But they are spoiled, fearfully spoiled. They rule their parents and they expect to rule their husbands. In Europe we do things better; we are not--what is the English?--hag-ridden?"
There was a sort of murmur among the men, but the women all nodded as if they thought Europe was entirely right. They'd have agreed with him if he'd advocated sixteen wives sitting cross- legged on a mat, like the Turks. Mr. Pierce was still staring at the prince.
"What I don't quite understand, Mr. von Inwald," the bishop put in in his nice way, "is your custom of expecting a girl to bring her husband a certain definite sum of money and to place it under the husband's control. Our wealthy American girls control their own money," He was thinking of Miss Patty, and everybody knew it.
The prince turned red and glared at the bishop. Then I think he remembered that they didn't know who he was, and he smiled and started to turning the glass again.
"Pardon!" he said. "Is it not better? What do women know of money? They throw it away on trifles, dress, jewels--American women are extravagant. It is one result of their--of their spoiling."
Mr. Pierce got up and emptied his pipe into the fire. Then he turned.
"I'm afraid you have not known the best type of American women," he said, looking hard at the prince. "Our representative women are our middle-class women. They do not contract European alliances, not having sufficient money to attract the attention of the nobility, or enough to buy titles, as they do pearls, for the purpose of adornment."
Mr. von Inwald got up, and his face was red. Mr. Pierce was white and sneering.
"Also," he went on, "when they marry they wish to control their own money, and not see it spent in--ways with which you are doubtless familiar."
We were all paralyzed. Nobody moved. Mr. Pierce put his pipe in his pocket and stalked out, slamming the door. Then Mr. von Inwald shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
"I see I shall have to talk to our young friend," he said and picked up his glass. "I'm afraid I've given a wrong impression. I like the American women very much; too well," he went on with a flash of his teeth, looking around the room, and brought the glass to the spring for me to fill. But as I've said before, I can tell a good bit about a man from the way he gives me his glass, and he was in a perfect frenzy of rage. When I reached it back to him he gripped it until his nails were white.
My joint ached all the rest of the afternoon. About five o'clock Mr. Thoburn stopped in long enough to say: "What's this I hear about Carter making an ass of himself to-day?"
"I haven't heard it," I answered. "What is it?"
But he only laughed and turned up his collar to go.
"Jove, Minnie," he said, "why do women of your spirit always champion the losing side? Be a good girl; give me a hand now and then with this thing, and I'll see you don't lose by it."
"We're not going to lose," I retorted angrily. "Nobody has left yet. We are still ahead on the books."
He came over and shook a finger in my face.
"Nobody has left--and why? Because they're all taking a series of baths. Wait until they've had their fifteen, or twenty-one, or whatever the cure is, and then see them run!"
It was true enough; I knew it.