Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter IV. And a Way
Mr. Sam wasn't taking any chances, for the next day he went to the city himself to bring Mr. Dick up. Everything was quiet that day and the day after, except that on the second day I had a difference of opinion with the house doctor and he left.
The story of the will had got out, of course, and the guests were waiting to see Mr. Dick come and take charge. I got a good bit of gossip from Miss Cobb, who had had her hair cut short after a fever and used to come out early in the morning and curl it all over her head, heating the curler on the fire log. I never smell burnt hair that I don't think of Miss Cobb trying to do the back of her neck. She was one of our regulars, and every winter for ten years she'd read me the letters she had got from an insurance agent who'd run away with a married woman the day before the wedding. She kept them in a bundle, tied with lavender ribbon.
It was on the third day, I think, that Miss Cobb told me that Miss Patty and her father had had a quarrel the day before. She got it from one of the chambermaids. Mr. Jennings was a liver case and not pleasant at any time, but he had been worse than usual. Annie, the chambermaid, told Miss Cobb that the trouble was about settlements, and that the more Miss Patty tried to tell him it was the European custom the worse he got. Miss Patty hadn't come down to breakfast that day, and Mr. Moody and Senator Biggs made a wager in the Turkish bath--according to Miss Cobb-- Mr. Moody betting the wedding wouldn't come off at all.
"Of course," Miss Cobb said, wetting her finger and trying the iron to see if it was hot, "of course, Minnie, they're not married yet, and if Father Jennings gets ugly and makes any sort of scandal it's all off. A scandal just now would be fatal. These royalties are very touchy about other people's reputations."
Well, I heard that often enough in the next few days.
Mr. Sam hadn't come back by the morning of the sixth day, but he wired his wife the day before that Mr. Dick was on the way. But we met every train with a sleigh, and he didn't come. I was uneasy, knowing Mr. Dick, and Mrs. Sam was worried, too.
By that time everybody was waiting and watching, and on the early train on the sixth day came the lawyer, a Mr. Stitt. Mr. Thoburn was going around with a sort of greasy smile, and if I could have poisoned him safely I'd have done it.
It had been snowing hard for a day or so, and at eleven o'clock that day I saw Miss Cobb and Mrs. Biggs coming down the path to the spring-house, Mrs. Biggs with her crocheting-bag hanging to the handle of her umbrella. I opened the door, but they wouldn't come in.
"We won't track up your clean floor, Minnie," Mrs. Biggs said-- she was a little woman, almost fifty, who'd gone through life convinced she'd only lived so long by the care she took of herself--"but I thought I'd better come and speak to you. Please don't irritate Mr. Biggs to-day. He's been reading that article of Upton Sinclair's about fasting, and hasn't had a bite to eat since noon yesterday."
I noticed then that she looked pale. She was a nervous creature, although she could drink more spring water than any human being I ever saw, except one man, and he was a German.
Well, I promised to be careful. I've seen them fast before, and when a fat man starts to live on his own fat, like a bear, he gets about the same disposition.
Mrs. Biggs started back, but Miss Cobb waited a moment at the foot of the steps.
"Mr. Van Alstyne is back," she said, "but he came alone."
"Alone!" I repeated, staring at her in a sort of daze.
"Alone," she said solemnly, "and I heard him ask for Mr. Carter. It seems he started for here yesterday."
But I'd had time to get myself in hand, and if I had a chill up my spine she never knew it. As she started after Mrs. Biggs I saw Mr. Sam hurrying down the path toward the spring-house, and I knew my joint hadn't throbbed for nothing.
Mr. Sam came in and slammed the door behind him.
"What's this about Mr. Dick not being here?" he shouted.
"Well, he isn't. That's all there is to it, Mr. Van Alstyne," I said calmly. I am always calm when other people get excited. For that reason some people think my red hair is a false alarm, but they soon find out.
"But he must be here," said Mr. Van Alstyne. "I put him on the train myself yesterday, and waited until it started to be sure he was off."
"The only way to get Mr. Richard anywhere you want him to go," I said dryly, "is to have him nailed in a crate and labeled."
"Damned young scamp!" said Mr. Van Alstyne, although I have a sign in the spring-house, "Profanity not allowed."
"Exactly what was he doing when you last laid eyes on him?" I asked.
"He was on the train--"
"Was he alone?"
"No, standing. What the deuce, Minnie--"
"Waving out the window to you?"
"Of course not!" exclaimed Mr. Van Alstyne testily. "He was raising the window for a girl in the next seat."
"Precisely!" I said. "Would you know the girl well enough to trace her?"
"That's ridiculous, you know," he said trying to be polite. "Out of a thousand and one things that may have detained him--"
"Only one thing ever detains Mr. Dick, and that always detains him," I said solemnly. "That's a girl. You're a newcomer in the family, Mr. Van Alstyne; you don't remember the time he went down here to the station to see his Aunt Agnes off to the city, and we found him three weeks later in Oklahoma trying to marry a widow with five children."
Mr. Van Alstyne dropped into a chair, and through force of habit I gave him a glass of spring water.
"This was a pretty girl, too," he said dismally.
I sat down on the other side of the fireplace, and it seemed to me that father's crayon enlargement over the mantel shook its head at me.
After a minute Mr. Van Alstyne drank the water and got up.
"I'll have to tell my wife," he said. "Who's running the place, anyhow? You?"
"Not--exactly," I explained, "but, of course, when anything comes up they consult me. The housekeeper is a fool, and now that the house doctor's gone--"
"Gone! Who's looking after the patients?"
"Well, most of them have been here before," I explained, "and I know their treatment--the kind of baths and all that."
"Oh, you know the treatment!" he said, eying me. "And why did the house doctor go?"
"He ordered Mr. Moody to take his spring water hot. Mr. Moody's spring water has been ordered cold for eleven years, and I refused to change. It was between the doctor and me, Mr. Van Alstyne."
"Oh, of course," he said, "if it was a matter of principle--" He stopped, and then something seemed to strike him. "I say," he said; "about the doctor--that's all right, you know; lots of doctors and all that. But for heaven's sake, Minnie, don't discharge the cook."
Now that was queer, for it had been running in my head all morning that in the slack season it would be cheaper to get a good woman instead of the chef and let Tillie, the diet cook, make the pastry
Mr. Sam picked up his hat and looked at his watch.
"Eleven thirty," he said, "and no sign of that puppy yet. I guess it's up to the police."
"If there was only something to do," I said, with a lump in my throat, "but to have to sit and do nothing while the old place dies it's--it's awful, Mr. Van Alstyne."
"We're not dead yet," he replied from the door, "and maybe we'll need you before the day's over. If anybody can sail the old bark to shore, you can do it, Minnie. You've been steering it for years. The old doctor was no navigator, and you and I know it."
It was blowing a blizzard by that time, and Miss Patty was the only one who came out to the spring-house until after three o'clock. She shook the snow off her furs and stood by the fire, looking at me and not saying anything for fully a minute.
"Well," she said finally, "aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Why?" I asked, and swallowed hard.
"To be in all this trouble and not let me know. I've just this minute heard about it. Can't we get the police?"
"Mr. Van Alstyne is trying," I said, "but I don't hope much. Like as not Mr. Dick will turn up tomorrow and say his calendar was a day slow."
I gave her a glass of water, and I noticed when she took it how pale she was. But she held it up and smiled over it at me.
"Here's to everything turning out better than we expect!" she said, and made a face as she drank the water. I thought that she was thinking of her own troubles as well as mine, for she put down the glass and stood looking at her engagement ring, a square red ruby in an old-fashioned setting. It was a very large ruby, but I've seen showier rings.
"There isn't anything wrong, Miss Patty, is there?" I asked, and she dropped her hand and looked at me.
"Oh, no," she said. "That is, nothing much, Minnie. Father is-- I think he's rather ridiculous about some things, but I dare say he'll come around. I don't mind his fussing with me, but--if it should get in the papers, Minnie! A breath of unpleasant notoriety now would be fatal!"
"I don't see why," I said sharply. "The royal families of Europe have a good bit of unpleasant notoriety themselves occasionally. I should think they'd fall over themselves to get some good red American blood. Blue blood's bad blood; you can ask any doctor."
But she only smiled.
"You're like father, Minnie," she said. "You'll never understand."
"I'm not sure I want to," I snapped, and fell to polishing glasses.
The storm stopped a little at three and most of the guests waded down through the snow for bridge and spring water. By that time the afternoon train was in, and no Mr. Dick. Mr. Sam was keeping the lawyer, Mr. Stitt, in the billiard room, and by four o'clock they'd had everything that was in the bar and were inventing new combinations of their own. And Mrs. Sam had gone to bed with a nervous headache.
Senator Biggs brought the mail down to the spring-house at four, but there was nothing for me except a note from Mr. Sam, rather shaky, which said he'd no word yet and that Mr. Stitt had mixed all the cordials in the bar in a beer glass and had had to go to bed.
At half past four Mr. Thoburn came out for a minute. He said there was only one other train from town that night and the chances were it would be snowed up at the junction.
"Better get on the band wagon before the parade's gone past," he said in an undertone. But I went into my pantry and shut the door with a slam, and when I came out he was gone.
I nearly went crazy that afternoon. I put salt in Miss Cobb's glass when she always drank the water plain. Once I put the broom in the fire and started to sweep the porch with a fire log Luckily they were busy with their letters and it went unnoticed, the smell of burning straw not rising, so to speak, above the sulphur in the spring.
Senator Biggs went from one table to another telling how well he felt since he stopped eating, and trying to coax the other men to starve with him.
It's funny how a man with a theory about his stomach isn't happy until he has made some other fellow swallow it.
"Well," he said, standing in front of the fire with a glass of water in his hand, "it's worth while to feel like this. My head's as clear as a bell. I don't care to eat; I don't want to eat. The `fast' is the solution."
"Two stages to that solution, Senator," said the bishop; "first, resolution; last, dissolution."
Then they all began at once. If you have ever heard twenty people airing their theories on diet you know all about it. One shouts for Horace Fletcher, and another one swears by the scraped-beef treatment, and somebody else never touches a thing but raw eggs and milk, and pretty soon there is a riot of calories and carbohydrates. It always ends the same way: the man with the loudest voice wins, and the defeated ones limp over to the spring and tell their theories to me. They know I'm being paid to listen.
On this particular afternoon the bishop stopped the riot by rising and holding up his hand. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "let us not be rancorous. If each of us has a theory, and that theory works out to his satisfaction, then--why are we all here?"
"Merely to tell one another the good news!" Mr. Jennings said sourly from his corner.
Honest, it was funny. If some folks were healthy they'd be lonesome.
But when things had got quiet--except Mr. Moody dropping nickels into the slot-machine--I happened to look over at Miss Patty, and I saw there was something wrong. She had a letter open in her lap not one of the blue ones with the black and gold seal that every one in the house knew came from the prince but a white one, and she was staring at it as if she'd seen a ghost.