Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XXI. The Mutiny
They went to the house together, he carrying Arabella like a sick baby and Miss Patty beside him. As far as I could see they didn't speak a word to each other, but once or twice I saw her turn and look up at him as if she was puzzled.
I closed the door and stood just inside, looking at father's picture over the mantel. As sure as I stood there, the eyes were fixed on the spring, and I sensed, as you may say, what they meant. I went over and looked down into the spring, and it seemed to me it was darker than usual. It may have smelled stronger, but the edge had been taken off my nose, so to speak, by being there so long.
From the spring I looked again at father, and his eyes were on me mournful and sad. I felt as though, if he'd been there, father would have turned the whole affair to the advantage of the house, and it was almost more than I could bear. I was only glad the old doctor's enlargement had not come yet. I couldn't have endured having it see what had occurred.
The only thing I could think of was to empty the spring and let the water come in plain. I could put a little sulphur in to give it color and flavor, and if it turned out that Mr. Pierce was right and that Arabella was only a glutton, I could put in the other things later.
I was carrying out my first pailful when Doctor Barnes came down the path and took the pail out of my hand.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "Making a slide?"
"No," I said bitterly, "I am watering the flowers."
"Good!" He was not a bit put out. "Let me help you." He took the pail across the path and poured a little into the snow at the base of a half-dozen fence posts. "There!" he said, coming back triumphant. "The roses are done. Now let's have a go at the pansies and the lady's-slippers and the--the begonias. I say"-- he stopped suddenly on his way in--"sulphur water on a begonia--what would it make? Skunk cabbage?"
Inside, however, he put down the pail, and pulling me in, closed the door.
"Now forget it!" he commanded. "Just because a lot of damn fools see a dog in a fit and have one, too, is that any reason for your being scared wall-eyed and knock-kneed?"
"I'm not!" I snapped.
"Well, you're wall-eyed with fright," he insisted. "Of course, you're the best judge of your own knees, but after last night-- Had any lunch?"
I shook my head.
"Exactly," he said. "You make me think of the little boy who dug post-holes in the daytime and took in washings at night to support the family. Sit down."
"Inhale and exhale slowly four times, and then swallow the lump in your throat. . . . Gone?"
"Good." He was fumbling in his pocket and he brought out a napkin. When he opened it there was a sandwich, a piece of cheese and a banana.
"What do you think of that?" he asked, watching me anxiously. "Looks pretty good?"
"Fine," I said, hating to disappoint him, although I never eat sardines, and bananas give me indigestion, "I'm hungry enough to eat a raw Italian."
"Then fall to," he directed, and with a flourish he drew a bottle of ginger ale from his pocket.
"How's this?" he demanded, holding it up. "Cheers but doesn't inebriate; not a headache in a barrel; ginger ale to the gingery!
`A quart of ale is a dish for a king,'" he said, holding up a glass. "That's Shakespeare, Miss Minnie."
I was a good bit more cheerful when I'd choked down the sandwich, especially when he assured me the water was all right--"a little high, as you might say, but not poisonous. Lord, I wish you could have seen them staggering into my office!"
"I saw enough," I said with a shiver.
"That German, von Inwald," he went on, "he's the limit. He accused us of poisoning him for reasons of state!"
"Where are they now?"
"My dear girl," he answered, putting down his glass, "what has been pounded into me ever since I struck the place? The baths! I prescribe 'em all day and dream 'em all night. Where are the poisonees now? They are steaming, stewing, exuding in the hot rooms of the bath department--all of them, every one of them! In the hold and the hatches down!"
He picked up the pail and went down the steps to the spring.
"After all," he said, "it won't hurt to take out a little of this and pour it on the ground. It ought to be good fertilizer." He stooped. "`Come, gentle spring, ethereal mildness, come,'" he quoted, and dipped in the pail.
Just then somebody fell against the door and stumbled into the room. It was Tillie, as white as milk, and breathing in gasps.
"Quick!" she screeched, "Minnie, quick!"
"What is it?" I asked, jumping up. She'd fallen back against the door-frame and stood with her hand clutching her heart.
"That dev--devil--Mike!" she panted. "He has turned on the steam in the men's baths and gone--gone away!"
"With people in the bath?" Doctor Barnes asked, slamming down the pail.
"Then why in creation don't they get out of the baths until we can shut off the steam?" I demanded, grabbing up my shawl. But Tillie shook her head in despair.
"They can't," she answered, "he's hid their clothes!"
The next thing I recall is running like mad up the walk with Doctor Barnes beside me, steadying me by the arm. I only spoke once that I remember and that was just as we got to the house,
"This settles it!" I panted, desperately. "It's all over."
"Not a bit of it!" he said, shoving me up the steps and into the hall. "The old teakettle is just getting `het up' a bit. By the gods and little fishes, just listen to it singing down there!"
The help was gathered in a crowd at the head of the bath-house staircase, where a cloud of steam was coming up, and down below we could hear furious talking, and somebody shouting, "Mike! Mike!" in a voice that was choked with rage and steam.
Doctor Barnes elbowed his way through the crowd to the top of the stairs and I followed.
"There's Minnie!" Amanda King yelled. "She knows all about the place. Minnie, you can shut it off, can't you?"
"I'll try," I said, and was starting down, when Doctor Barnes jerked me back.
"You stay here," he said. "Where's Mr. Pier--where's Carter?"
"Down with the engineer," somebody replied out of the steam cloud.
"Hello there!" he called down the staircase. "How's the air?"
"Clothes! Send us some clothes!"
It was Mr. Sam calling. The rest was swallowed up in a fresh roaring, as if a steam-pipe had given away. That settled the people below. With a burst of fury they swarmed up the stairs in their bath sheets, the bishop leading, and just behind him, talking as no gentleman should talk under any circumstances, Senator Biggs. The rest followed, their red faces shining through the steam--all of them murderous, holding their sheets around them with one hand, and waving the other in a frenzy. It was awful.
The help scattered and ran, but I stood my ground. The sight of a man in a sheet didn't scare me and it was no time for weakness.
The steam was thicker than ever, and the hall was misty. A moment later the engineer came up and after him Mr. Pierce, with a towel over his mouth and a screw-driver in his hand. He was white with rage. He brushed past the sheets without paying the slightest attention to them, and tore the towel off his mouth.
"Who saw Mike last?" he shouted across to where the pharmacy clerk, the elevator boy and some of the bell-boys had retreated to the office and were peeping out through the door.
Here Mr. Moody, who's small at any time, and who without the padding on his shoulders and wrapped in a sheet with his red face above, looked like a lighted cigarette, darted out of the crowd and caught him by the sleeve.
"Here!" he cried, "we've got a few things to say to you, you young--"
"Take your hand off my arm!" thundered Mr. Pierce.
The storm broke with that. They crowded around Mr. Pierce, yelling like maniacs, and he stood there, white-faced, and let them wear themselves out. The courage of a man in a den of lions was nothing to it. Doctor Barnes forced his way through the crowd and stood there beside him.
It wasn't only the steam and their clothes being hidden; it had started with the scare at the spring in the morning, and when they had told him what they thought about that, they went back still further and bellowed about the mismanagement of the place ever since he had taken charge, and the food, and the steam-heat, and the new rules--oh, they hated him all right, and they told him so, purple-faced with rage and heat, dancing around him and shaking one fist in his face, as I say, while they held their sheets fast with the other.
And I stood there and watched, my mind awhirl, expecting every minute to hear that they were all leaving, or to have some one forget and shake both fists at once.
And that's how it ended finally--I mean, of course, that they said they would all leave immediately, and that he ought to be glad to have them go quietly, and not have him jailed for malicious mischief or compounding a felony. The whole thing was an outrage, and the three train would leave the house as empty as a squeezed lemon.
I wanted to go forward and drop on my knees and implore them to remember the old doctor, and the baths they'd had when nothing went wrong, and the days when they'd sworn that the spring kept them young and well, but there was something in Mr. Pierce's face that kept me back.
"At three o'clock, then," he said. "Very well."
"Don't be a fool!" I heard Mr. Sam from the crowd.
"Is that all you have to say?" roared Mr. von Inwald. I hadn't noticed him before. He had his sheet on in Grecian style and it looked quite ornamental although a little short. "Haven't you any apology to make, sir?"
"Neither apology nor explanation to you," Mr. Pierce retorted. And to the other: "It is an unfortunate accident--incident, if you prefer." He looked at Thoburn, who was the only one in a bath robe, and who was the only cheerful one in the lot. "I had refused a request of the bath man's and he has taken this form of revenge. If this gives me the responsibility I am willing to take it. If you expect me to ask you to stay I'll not do it. I don't mind saying that I am as tired of all this as you are."
"As tired of what?" demanded Mr. Moody, pushing forward out of the crowd. Mr. Sam was making frantic gestures to catch Mr. Pierce's eye, but he would not look at him.
"Of all this," he said. "Of charging people sanatorium prices under a pretense of making them well. Does anybody here imagine he's going to find health by sitting around in an overstuffed leather chair, with the temperature at eighty, eating five meals a day, and walking as far as the mineral spring for exercise?"
There was a sort of angry snarl in the air, and Mr. Sam threw up his one free hand in despair.
"In fact," Mr. Pierce went on, "I'd about decided on a new order of things for this place anyhow. It's going to be a real health resort, run for people who want to get well or keep well. People who wish to be overfed, overheated and coddled need not come--or stay."
The bishop spoke over the heads of the others, who looked dazed.
"Does that mean," he inquired mildly, "that--guests must either obey this new order of things or go away?"
Mr. Pierce looked at the bishop and smiled.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but as every one is leaving, anyhow-- "
They fairly jumped at him then. They surrounded him in a howling mob and demanded how he dared to turn them out, and what did he mean by saying they were overfed, and they would leave when they were good and ready and not before, and he could go to blazes. It was the most scandalous thing I've ever known of at Hope Springs, and in the midst of it Mr. Pierce stood cool and quiet, waiting for a chance to speak. And when the time came he jumped in and told them the truth about themselves, and most of it hurt.
He was good and mad, and he stood there and picked out the flabby ones and the fat ones, the whisky livers and the tobacco hearts and the banquet stomachs, and called them out by name.
When he got through they were standing in front of him, ashamed to look at one another, and not knowing whether to fall on him and tear him to pieces, or go and weep in a corner because they'd played such havoc with the bodies the Lord gave them. If he'd weakened for a minute they'd have jumped on him. But he didn't. He got through and stood looking at them in their sheets, and then he said coolly:
"The bus will be ready at two-thirty, gentlemen," and turning on his heels, went into the office and closed the door.
They scattered to their rooms in every stage of rage and excitement, and at last only Mr. Sam and I were left staring at each other. "Damned young idiot!" he said. "I wish to heavens you'd never suggested bringing him here, Minnie!"
And leaving me speechless with indignation, he trailed himself and his sheet up the stairs.