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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?"

"Twenty-three."

"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."

Mumps!

My joint gave a throb at that minute.





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

Mystery and detective stories
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