Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter III. A Will
Well, we got the poor old doctor moved back to his room, and had one of the chambermaids find him there, and I wired to Mrs. Van Alstyne, who was Mr. Dicky Carter's sister, and who was on her honeymoon in South Carolina. The Van Alstynes came back at once, in very bad tempers, and we had the funeral from the preacher's house in Finleyville so as not to harrow up the sanatorium people any more than necessary. Even as it was a few left, but about twenty of the chronics stayed, and it looked as if we might be able to keep going.
Miss Patty sent to town for a black veil for me, and even went to the funeral. It helped to take my mind off my troubles to think who it was that was holding my hand and comforting me, and when, toward the end of the service, she got out her handkerchief and wiped her eyes I was almost overcome, she being, so to speak, in the very shadow of a throne.
After it was all over the relatives gathered in the sun parlor of the sanatorium to hear the will--Mr. Van Alstyne and his wife and about twenty more who had come up from the city for the funeral and stayed over--on the house.
Well, the old doctor left me the buttons for his full dress waistcoat and his favorite copy of Gray's Anatomy. I couldn't exactly set up housekeeping with my share of the estate, but when the lawyer read that part of the will aloud and a grin went around the room I flounced out of my chair.
"Maybe you think I'm disappointed," I said, looking hard at the family, who weren't making any particular pretense at grief, and at the house people standing around the door. "Maybe you think it's funny to see an unmarried woman get a set of waistcoat buttons and a medical book. Well, that set of buttons was the set he bought in London on his wedding trip, and the book's the one he read himself to sleep with every night for twenty years. I'm proud to get them."
Mr. Van Alstyne touched me on the arm.
"Everybody knows how loyal you've been, Minnie," he assured me. "Now sit down like a good girl and listen to the rest of the will."
"While I'm up I might as well get something else off my mind," I said. "I know what's in that will, but I hadn't anything to do with it, Mr. Van Alstyne. He took advantage of my being laid up with influenza last spring."
They thought that was funny, but a few minutes later they weren't so cheerful. You see the sanatorium was a mighty fine piece of property, with a deer park and golf links. We'd had plenty of offers to sell it for a summer hotel, but we'd both been dead against it. That was one of the reasons for the will.
The whole estate was left to Dicky Carter, who hadn't been able to come, owing to his being laid up with an attack of mumps. The family sat up and nodded at one another, or held up its hands, but when they heard there was a condition they breathed easier.
Beginning with one week after the reading of the will--and not a day later--Mr. Dick was to take charge of the sanatorium and to stay there for two months without a day off. If at the end of that time the place was being successfully conducted and could show that it hadn't lost money, the entire property became his for keeps. If he failed it was to be sold and the money given to charity.
You would have to know Richard Carter to understand the excitement the will caused. Most of us, I reckon, like the sort of person we've never dared to be ourselves. The old doctor had gone to bed at ten o'clock all his life and got up at seven, and so he had a sneaking fondness for the one particular grandson who often didn't go to bed at all. Twice to my knowledge when he was in his teens did Dicky Carter run away from school, and twice his grandfather kept him for a week hidden in the shelter-house on the golf links. Naturally when Mr. Van Alstyne and I had to hide him again, which is further on in the story, he went to the old shelter-house like a dog to its kennel, only this time--but that's ahead, too.
Well, the family went back to town in a buzz of indignation, and I carried my waistcoat buttons and my Anatomy out to the spring-house and had a good cry. There was a man named Thoburn who was crazy for the property as a summer hotel, and every time I shut my eyes I could see "Thoburn House" over the veranda and children sailing paper boats in the mineral spring.
Sure enough, the next afternoon Mr. Thoburn drove out from Finleyville with a suit case, and before he'd taken off his overcoat he came out to the spring-house.
"Hello, Minnie," he exclaimed. "Does the old man's ghost come back to dope the spring, or do you do it?"
"I don't know what you are talking about, Mr. Thoburn," I retorted sharply. "If you don't know that this spring has its origin in--"
"In Schmidt's drug store down in Finleyville!" he finished for me. "Oh, I know all about that spring, Minnie! Don't forget that my father's cows used to drink that water and liked it. I leave it to you," he said, sniffing, "if a self-respecting cow wouldn't die of thirst before she drank that stuff as it is now."
I'd been filling him a glass--it being a matter of habit with me--and he took it to the window and held it to the light.
"You're getting careless, Minnie," he said, squinting at it. "Some of those drugs ought to be dissolved first in hot water. There's a lump of lithia there that has Schmidt's pharmacy label on it."
"Where?" I demanded, and started for it. He laughed at that, and putting the glass down, he came over and stood smiling at me.
"As ingenuous as a child," he said in his mocking way, "a nice, little red-haired child! Minnie, how old is this young Carter?"
"An--er--earnest youth? Willing to buckle down to work and make the old place go? Ready to pat the old ladies on the shoulder and squeeze the young ones' hands?"
"He's young," I said, "but if you're counting on his being a fool--"
"Not at all," he broke in hastily. "If he hasn't too much character he'll probably succeed. I hope he isn't a fool. If he isn't, oh, friend Minnie, he'll stand the atmosphere of this Garden of Souls for about a week, and then he'll kill some of them and escape. Where is he now?"
"He's been sick," I said. "Mumps!"
"Mumps! Oh, my aunt!" he exclaimed, and fell to laughing. He was still laughing when he got to the door.
"Mumps!" he repeated, with his hand on the knob. "Minnie, the old place will be under the hammer in three weeks, and if you know what's good for you, you'll sign in under the new management while there's a vacancy. You've been the whole show here for so long that it will be hard for you to line up in the back row of the chorus."
"If I were you," I said, looking him straight in the eye, "I wouldn't pick out any new carpets yet, Mr. Thoburn. I promised the old doctor I'd help Mr. Dick, and I will."
"So you're actually going to fight it out," he said, grinning. "Well, the odds are in your favor. You are two to my one."
"I think it's pretty even," I retorted. "We will be hindered, so to speak, by having certain principles of honor and honesty. You have no handicap."
He tried to think of a retort, and not finding one he slammed out of the spring-house in a rage.
Mr. Van Alstyne and his wife came in that same day, just before dinner, and we played three-handed bridge for half an hour. As I've said, they'd been on their honeymoon, and they were both sulky at having to stay at the Springs. It was particularly hard on Mrs. Van Alstyne, because, with seven trunks of trousseau with her, she had to put on black. But she used to shut herself up in her room in the evenings and deck out for Mr. Sam in her best things. We found it out one evening when Mrs. Biggs set fire to her bureau cover with her alcohol curling-iron heater, and Mrs. Sam, who had been going around in a black crepe dress all day, rushed out in pink satin with crystal trimming, and slippers with cut-glass heels.
After the first rubber Mrs. Van Alstyne threw her cards on the floor and said another day like this would finish her.
"Surely Dick is able to come now," she said, like a peevish child. "Didn't he say the swelling was all gone?"
"Do you expect me to pick up those cards?" Mr. Sam asked angrily, looking at her.
Mrs. Sam yawned and looked up at him.
"Of course I do," she answered. "If it wasn't for you I'd not have stayed a moment after the funeral. Isn't it bad enough to have seven trunks full of clothes I've never worn, and to have to put on poky old black, without keeping me here in this old ladies' home?"
Mr. Sam looked at the cards and then at her.
"I'm not going to pick them up," he declared. "And as to our staying here, don't you realize that if we don't your precious brother will never show up here at all, or stay if he does come? And don't you also realize that this is probably the only chance he'll ever have in the world to become financially independent of us?"
"You needn't be brutal," she said sharply. "And it isn't so bad for you here as it is for me. You spend every waking minute admiring Miss Jennings, while I--there isn't a man in the place who'll talk anything but his joints or his stomach."
She got up and went to the window, and Mr. Sam followed her. Nobody pays any attention to me in the spring-house; I'm a part of it, like the brass rail around the spring, or the clock.
"I'm not admiring Miss Jennings," he corrected, "I'm sympathizing, dear. She looks too nice a girl to have been stung by the title bee, that's all."
She turned her back to him, but he pretended to tuck the hair at the back of her neck up under her comb, and she let him do it. As I stooped to gather up the cards he kissed the tip of her ear.
"Listen," he said, "there's a scream of a play down at Finleyville to-night called Sweet Peas. Senator Biggs and the bishop went down last night, and they say it's the worst in twenty years. Put on a black veil and let's slip away and see it."
I think she agreed to do it, but that night after dinner, Amanda King, who has charge of the news stand, told me the sheriff had closed the opera-house and that the leading woman was sick at the hotel.
"They say she looked funny last night," Amanda finished, "and I guess she's got the mumps."
My joint gave a throb at that minute.