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CHAPTER X

ANOTHER COMPLICATION

After luncheon, when everybody at Hope Springs takes a nap, we
had another meeting at the shelter-house, this time with Mr.
Pierce. He had spent the morning tramping over the hills with a
gun and keeping out of the way of people, and what with three
square meals, a good night's sleep and the exercise, he was
looking a lot better. Seen in daylight, he had very dark hair
and blue-gray eyes and a very square chin, although it had a sort
of dimple in it. I used to wonder which won out, the dimple or
the chin, but I wasn't long in finding out.

Well, he looked dazed when I took him to the shelter-house and he
saw Mr. Dick and Mrs. Dick and the Mr. Sams and Miss Patty. They
gave him a lawn-mower to sit on, and Mr. Sam explained the
situation.

"I know it's asking a good bit, Mr. Pierce," he said,
"and personally I can see only one way out of all this. Carter
ought to go in and take charge, and his--er--wife ought to go
back to school. But they won't have it, and--er--there are other
reasons." He glanced at Miss Patty.

Mr. Pierce also glanced at Miss Patty. He'd been glancing at her
at intervals of two seconds ever since she came in, and being a
woman and having a point to gain, Miss Patty seemed to have
forgotten the night before, and was very nice to him. Once she
smiled directly at him, and whatever he was saying died in his
throat of the shock. When she turned her head away he stared at
the back of her neck, and when she looked at the fire he gazed at
her profile, and always with that puzzled look, as if he hadn't
yet come to believe that she was the newspaper Miss Jennings.

After everything had been explained to him, including Mr.
Jennings' liver and disposition, she turned to him and said:

"We are in your hands, you see, Mr. Pierce. Are you going to
help us?" And when she asked him that, it was plain to me that
he was only sorry he couldn't die helping.

"If everybody agrees to it," he said, looking at her, "and you
all think it's feasible and I can carry it off, I'm perfectly
willing to try."

"Oh, it's feasible," Mr. Dick said in a relieved voice, getting
up and beginning to strut up and down the room. "It isn't as
though I'm beyond call. You can come out here and consult me if
you get stuck. And then there's Minnie; she knows a good bit
about the old place."

Mr. Sam looked at me and winked.

"Of course," said Mr. Dick, "I expect to retain control, you
understand that, I suppose, Pierce? You can come out every day
for instructions. I dare say sanatoriums are hardly your line."

Mr. Pierce was looking at Miss Patty and she knew it. When a
woman looks as unconscious as she did it isn't natural.

"Eh--oh, well no, hardly," he said, coming to himself; "I've
tried everything else, I believe. It can't be worse than
carrying a bunch of sweet peas from garden to garden."

Mr. Dick stopped walking and turned suddenly to stare at Mr.
Pierce.

"Sweet--what?" he said.

Everybody else was talking, and I was the only one who saw him
change color.

"Sweet peas," said Mr. Pierce. "And that reminds me--I'd like to
make one condition, Mr. Carter. I feel in a measure responsible
for the company; most of them have gone back to New York, but the
leading woman is sick at the hotel in Finleyville. I'd like to
bring her here for two weeks to recuperate. I assure you, I have
no interest in her, but I'm sorry for her; she's had the mumps."

"Mumps!" everybody said together, and Mr. Sam looked at his
brother-in-law.

"Kid in the play got 'em, and they spread around," Mr. Pierce
explained. "Nasty disease."

"Why, you've just had them, too, Dicky!" said his wife. They all
turned to look at him, and I must say his expression was curious.

Luckily, I had the wit to knock over the breakfast basket, which
was still there, and when we'd gathered up the broken china, Mr.
Dick had got himself in hand.

"I'm sorry, old man," he said to Mr. Pierce, "but I'm not in
favor of bringing Miss--the person you speak of--up to the
sanatorium just now. Mumps, you know--very contagious, and all
that."

"She's over that part," Mr. Pierce said; "she only needs to
rest."

"Certainly--let her come," said Mrs. Dicky. "If they're as
contagious as all that, you haven't been afraid of MY getting
them."

"I--I'm not in favor of it," Mr. Dick insisted, looking
obstinate. "The minute you bring an actress here you've got the
whole place by the ears."

"Fiddlesticks!" said his sister. "Because any actress could set
YOU by the ears--"

Mrs. Dick sat up suddenly.

"Certainly, if she isn't well bring her up," said Miss Patty.
"Only--won't she know your name is not Carter?"

"She's discretion itself," Mr. Pierce said. "Her salary hasn't
been paid for a month, and as I'm responsible, I'd be glad to see
her looked after."

"I don't want her here. I'll--I'll pay her board at the hotel,"
Mr. Dick began, "only for heaven's sake, don't--"

He stopped, for every one was staring.

"Why in the world would you do that?" Miss Patty asked. "Don't
be ridiculous. That's the only condition Mr. Pierce has made."

Mr. Dick stalked to the window and looked out, his hands in his
pockets. I couldn't help being reminded of the time he had run
away from school, when his grandfather found him in the shelter-
house and gave him his choice of going back at once or reading
medicine with him.

"Oh, bring her up! Bring her up!" he said without looking
around. "If Pierce won't stay unless he can play the friend in
need, all right. But don't come after me if the whole blamed
sanatorium swells up with mumps and faints at the sight of a
pickle."

That was Wednesday.

Things at the sanatorium were about the same on the surface. The
women crocheted and wondered what the next house doctor would be
like, and the men gambled at the slot-machines and played
billiards and grumbled at the food and the management, and when
they weren't drinking spring water they were in the bar washing
away the taste of it. They took twenty minutes on the verandas
every day for exercise and kept the house temperature at eighty.
Senator Biggs was still fasting and Mrs. Biggs took to spending
all day in the spring-house and turning pale every time she heard
his voice. It was that day, I think, that I found the
magazine with Upton Sinclair's article on fasting stuck fast in a
snow-drift, as if it had been thrown violently.

Wednesday afternoon Miss Julia Summers came with three lap robes,
a white lace veil and a French poodle in a sleigh and went to bed
in one of the best rooms, and that night we started to move out
furniture to the shelter-house.

By working almost all night we got the shelter-house fairly
furnished, although we made a trail through the snow that looked
like a fever chart. Toward daylight Mr. Sam dropped a wash-bowl
on my toe and I went to bed with an arnica compress.

I limped out in time to be on hand before Miss Cobb got there,
but what with a chilblain on my heel and hardly any sleep for two
nights--not to mention my toe--I wasn't any too pleasant.

"It's my opinion you're overeating, Minnie," Miss Cobb said.
"You're skin's a sight!"

"You needn't look at it," I retorted.

She burned the back of her neck just then and it was three
minutes before she could speak. When she could she was
considerably milder.

"Just give it a twist or two, Minnie, won't you?" she said,
holding out the curler. "I haven't been able to sleep on the
back of my head for three weeks."

Well, I curled her hair for her and she told me about Miss
Summers being still shut in her room, and how she'd offered Mike
an extra dollar to give the white poodle a Turkish bath--it being
under the weather as to health--and how Mike had soaked the
little beast for an hour in a tub of water, forgetting the
sulphur, and it had come out a sort of mustard color, and how
Miss Summers had had hysterics when she saw it.

"Mike dipped him in bluing to bleach him again, or rather `her'--
it's name is Arabella--" Miss Cobb said, "but all it did was to
make it mottled like an Easter egg. Everybody is charmed. There
were no dogs allowed while the old doctor lived. Things were
different."

"Yes, things were different," I assented, limping over to heat
the curler. "How--how does Mr. Carter get along?"

Miss Cobb put down her hand-mirror and sniffed.

"Well," she said, "goodness knows I'm no trouble maker, but
somebody ought to tell that young man a few things. He's
forever looking at the thermometer and opening windows. I
declare, if I hadn't brought my woolen tights along I'd have
frozen to death at breakfast. Everybody's complaining."

I put that away in my mind to speak about. It was only by
nailing the windows shut and putting strips of cotton batting
around the cracks that we'd ever been able to keep people there
in the winter. I had my first misgiving then. Heaven knows I
didn't realize what it was going to be.

Well, by the evening of that day things were going fairly well.
Tillie brought out a basket every morning to me at the spring-
house, fairly bursting with curiosity, and Mr. Sam got some
canned stuff in Finleyville and took it after dark to the
shelter-house. But after the second day Mrs. Dicky got tired
holding a frying-pan over the fire and I had to carry out at
least one hot meal a day.

They got their own breakfast in a chafing-dish, or rather he got
it and carried it to her. And she'd sit on the edge of her cot,
with her feet on the soap box--the floor was drafty--wrapped in a
pink satin negligee with bands of brown fur on it, looking
sweet and perfectly happy, and let him feed her boiled egg with a
spoon. I took them some books--my Gray's Anatomy, and Jane
Eyre and Molly Bawn, by The Duchess, and the newspapers, of
course. They were full of talk about the wedding, and the suite
the prince was bringing over with him, and every now and then a
notice would say that Miss Dorothy Jennings, the bride's young
sister, who was still in school and was not coming out until next
year, would be her sister's maid of honor. And when they came to
that, they would hug each other--or me, if I happened to be
close--and act like a pair of children, which they were.
Generally it would end up by his asking her if she wasn't sorry
she wasn't back at Greenwich studying French conjugations and
having a dance without any men on Friday nights, and she would
say "Wretch!" and kiss him, and I'd go out and slam the door.

But there was something on Mr. Dick's mind. I hadn't known him
for fourteen years for nothing. And the night Mr. Sam and I
carried out the canned salmon and corn and tomatoes he walked
back with me to the edge of the deer park, Mr. Sam having gone
ahead.

"Now," I said, when we were out of ear-shot, "spit it out. I've
been expecting it."

"Listen, Minnie," he answered, "is Ju--is Miss Summers still
confined to her room?"

"No," I replied coldly. "Ju--Miss Summers was down to-night to
dinner."

"Then she's seen Pierce," he said, "and he's told her the whole
story and by to-morrow--"

"What?" I demanded, clutching his arm. "You wretched boy, don't
tell me after all I've done"

"Oh, confound it, Minnie," he exclaimed, "it's as much your fault
as mine. Couldn't you have found somebody else, instead of
getting, of all things on earth, somebody from the Sweet Peas
Company?"

"I see," I said slowly. "Then it WASN'T coincidence about the
mumps!"

"Confounded kid had them," he said with bitterness. "Minnie,
something's got to be done, and done soon. If you want the plain
truth, Miss--er--Summers and I used to be friends--and--well,
she's suing me for breach of promise. Now for heaven's sake,
Minnie, don't make a fuss--"

But my knees wouldn't hold me. I dropped down in a snow-drift
and covered my face.





Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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