Turn Back the Clock
JANET MANLY dismounted behind the old Blake place and the elderly groom came from the stables and took the reins.
“You will want Chief for the field in the morning, my lady?”
“Yes, the redcoats get breakfast and stirrup cups at Langdons. The hounds are now baying with a swell British accent.”
He frowned, for one should not be flippant about fox hunting. She turned away, black hair waving about an oval face with a hint of squareness at the chin. The wideset blue eyes had a challenging gleam. The lovely mouth was repressed, reminding you of a hospital nurse when handing over a chart to a critical staff member. Yet she had an appeal when it was not consciously subdued.
At the front of the house Janet noticed the sunlight glinting on the brass plate near the front door. Dr. J. Manly, it read. She thought: you ought to take it down; you aren’t fooling anyone. Why keep on without a practice?
Terrence, her Irish terrier, followed into the severely furnished receiving room.
She went to a little dressing room, at the back, changed to a white silk shirt, a tailored suit, and white shoes.
Milteron had seemed a gœd stand for an up and rising psychoanalysis expert, for there was money in Milteron and only people with money can afford to have bad mental traits corrected. It wasn’t her sex that had been against her. She hadn’t made wives jealous, but the rich appeared mentally tranquil—and why not? She had joined the country club, subscribed to the local hunt, and had been invited around a lot. No patients had resulted. A few old residents had wandered in to sample a new doctor, backed out terrified when they saw she lacked pants authority.
Best sell the two hunters and join one of the medical corps bound for England. A darn good education was getting no results.
The telephone raqg and Janet picked up the receiver. “Hello—”
“Is this the office of Dr. Manly?”
“This is desperate business. Every doctor I’ve tried is away. Is Dr. Manly there?”
“Tell him to come to the Peters place as quick as a car can bring him. My father is locked in the library. I heard a revolver shot. He must be mad but he hasn’t killed himself, not yet.”
“Talk to him—hold his attention. Dr. Manly will be right over, knows the estate on the river road.”
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She hung up, grabbed a medical kit, blew off the dust, ran out to the garage. Breeze into it, woman, here is a real case at long last. That is if the patient hasn’t already killed himself.
The county road was only so-so. She quickly reached the highway leading to the liver road, Number 11. The needle hung about sixty. The tiling was to get there. IIow did you stop a would-be suicide, anyway.
No use in recalling case histories, from Ellis, Freud, Adler, and Jung. She couldn’t classify a person she knew nothing about. She suspended thinking, gave all attention to her driving. The car flew northward. The Peters estate had been pointed out to her. She turned in through high stone pillars, twisted on two wheels up a roadway circling snake-like. Then she saw the house, an enormous example of the terrible seventies, standing on a great lawn. Iron deer, even. She brought the air to a shrieking standstill by a big porch, leaped out.
A DOOR banged back. A man came swinging at her, hot eyes glaring from a long thin face.
“Who in the devil are you? I sent for a doctor.”
“J. Manly, M.D., specialist. No time for papers and such. Does your father still answer?”
“Yes, he says he is determined. His first shot was at a photograph, to test his aim. He will kill himself, anyway, but he wants me to agree—”
“Which photo?” she gasped, breathlessly.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, very much.”
“One made on his last hunting trip, below the trophy. But this is wasting time.”
“No, it is an indicator.”
“Come this way.”
“What about the youthful enlargements, if he has them?”
"He admires them greatly. At the end of the hallway.” Janet swung along behind him. They were stopped short by a great oak door. Above it, ajar, was an old-fashioned glass transom.
“Mr. Peters,” she called, “this is important. I think you should see me first—or I’ll be married to your son. You won’t be given a chance to approve or disapprove.”
Her shoulders shook in a frenzied grasp.
“What are you saying?”
The whisper would have carried from a stage to the gallery.
The other twisted, spoke into his ear. “Anything to stimulate his will to live. Don’t let me down.”
“Is Preston, my son. there?” boomed a deep voice. “Yes, I thought it best to keep this from you, Father.” “A strange woman here in the house?”
“I hear you’ve shown interest only in yourself lately,” said Janet, and that was a safe bet. She risked another. “What concern have you shown for your son since you retired?”
“Ah, he told you I was on the shelf?”
“Retirement is the cause of most middle-aged self deaths. Read the papers, but open the door first. You must be curious to meet your daughter-in-law to be?”
Incoherent words came from inside.
“Act as if you liked it,” urged Janet.
The key turned in the lock. The man in the doorway, revolver in hand, might have posed for the wreck of a Roman senator. Flis black-rimmed eyes had a vague, irresolute expression, like that of a general who has lost his army, left with only himself to command. He glanced down at the weapon he held in embarrassment.
“A suicide pact a man makes with himself is very personal. I’m not trying to stop you, only to postpone the act.”
“You will not attempt to argue me out of it?”
“Of course not. Put that revolver in your coat pocket. The sight of it is hardly social.”
“You are a cool one,” he said, wonderingly.
“Most women throw fits for the effect. May I come in? Preston has spoken of your trophies and photographs.”
He stepped back, murmured an apology. His son followed her into a big room, skylighted. A side wall was decorated with mounted heads of big game, enlarged photographs beneath them that had been taken in the field. There were bookcases and gunracks on either side of the huge fireplace, about which big leather chairs were grouped. Over the stone mantel loomed a moose head. The glass of a framed photograph, below it, had been mashed by a bullet.
Janet kicked away fallen glass. She studied the snapshot of the man in hunting clothes standing beside a friend, or guide, the moose hanging on a pole, between two saplings, in the background. Peters’ face, as now, was deeply lined; oddly it lacked the usual fatuous look of triumph to be expected in the posed triumphant hunter.
The shot from the revolver had plowed through his own pictured chest.
“I suppose you brooded on not being the hunter you once were,” said Janet slowly. “You shot the other heads mounted in this room. You missed that moose, I take it, and someone else brought it down. You are ashamed at a sign you can’t hunt as you did.”
The elder Peters’ cheeks mottled to his pouched eyes.
“I never told a single soul—”
“You have suffered from frustration, Mr Peters You can’t beat it because at your age you can’t look forward. I’m a doctor, you know, and a specialist on mental states.”
HE WINCED as if stung. Then he took the revolver from his sagging pocket, placed it on the table, pushed a newspaper so that it was hidden from sight. That was significant, to Janet.
“We once had a professor talk to our sporting circle. He told us that in this country men grew younger instead of older, at heart still boy nimrods. He was all big pursed lips and spectacles, polished dome ar.d all hatched out of a bad egg. He was complete with rot about dreams and all. A woman makes this probing more—”
“Messy like?” she supplied.
“Yes, a lady—”
“Ladies are neither here nor there. Not here at present.”
“I should have thought—”
“Your son would have chosen an old-fashioned sort? That isn’t done any more; I picked your son, the modern custom. I might have perhaps aimed better, for I have money of my own, and time was no object, but the poor young thing—”
“My son—you are speaking of my son?”
“None other; but don’t try playing the heavy father after frightening him out of his few wits.”
Preston came to the centre table with a decanter and glasses. She asked to be excused, saying that when she came out the flaming age was over, and nice girls didn’t drink. She was glad that the two men were quickly hoisting big ones. Imagine harking back to that prehistoric debutante period.
The older man downed the brandy as if water, but still glanced at her suspiciously; her light keyed attitude threw him off. Tears and pleading would have placed him in an important role, from which he had slipped.
“Here’s to your good health,” said his son, without a smile.
The father suddenly remembered to be a host. He conducted Janet toward a big easy chair. She still carried her emergency kit and settled it down beside her. Preston busied himself with a heap of kindling beneath several logs on andirons in the fireplace. The older man became Ransom Peters to her and she was identified to an extent.
She studied Ransom in his chair, muscles tense as if to spring and butt his head somewhere in desperation. He wanted to escape from the hated present into an idealized past. Once a big man, as they say in business, his dominance had grown slack; the world in which he had loomed large, to himself, was getting on quite well without him.
Preston was tall and rangy, hoarse from attempting to become an echo and still failing. He had a certain unsure manner of one who hadn’t established a distinct individuality. But he must help her. Instinct and training had aided
her so far. but she must fill in a past in which they had met so importantly unknown to his father.
“You tell your dad about us. Preston. I don’t always hold forth as if on a platform.”
Preston smiled boyishly. “Father, if you will onlypromise—”
“I’m ashamed, my lad. The nights of insomnia and this terrible vacuum in which I’ve whirled made me seek an escape. I guess you, too, need someone to see you through.” Janet flushed. “I’ll put on crinolines and a bustle when next we meet, Mr. Peters.”
“You are not used to the modem girl. Father. I don’t mean the creatures you read about who shock till blown into premature middle age. I mean one like—”
“J—as in Janet, with a profession and a modicum of brains.”
“Sounds priggish,” murmured the elder Peters.
“Yes, a little, but I am twenty-eight, with a swell training and experience. Modesty would be silly.”
“I met—Janet—in New York, when I was there, badly fitting into your office in the daytime, going to art school at night. After Janet came to this town professionally I felt you wouldn’t appiove.”
“I thought you—Grace Burke—”
“One of those understandings, without words, because we have known each other since kids. But you know—” He shrugged his shoulders, perhaps lying manfully. “As one grows older mutual interests become more important.”
“You differ, with your mawkish art ideas. Have you explained to Grace?”
“I didn’t see the need of it.”
“And you shut me out of your life.”
“You were about to shut off your entire life,” said Janet sharply. “Not a thought of your son. You perk up lastminute interest. You’ve kept him tied with whatever is the masculine equivalent of apron strings, and now, I suppose, you were leaving him with an income, on his own, thinking you were doing the right thing.”
“My conscience—” Suddenly the man was seized by a yawn, followed by a series of them. “I am tired, desperately tired, but I haven’t slept for five nights. I try to think of the bravery of London. My own cowardice is something I loathe. The future is something I cannot face. I try to live in the past. I would like to break every mirror.”
“You have been fighting yourself, weary from the contest. You must make terms of peace.”
ANET lifted her kit to her lap.
“I can give you twelve to fourteen hours sleep, or, rather, I have a hypnotic that will do it. The taste is horrible, even taken with brandy or whisky, which would discourage habit forming.”
“I won’t take dope.”
“This is not a narcotic. Preston, bring over a good slug of brandy.”
He obeyed, and she opened her kit, took out a four-ounce bottle containing a colorless liquid. She poured a small quantity into the drink, stirred it with a glass spoon.” Ransom Peters took the glass as if one of the guests of the Borgias.
“This isn’t a charm, but you will feel yourself growing drowsy very slowly. An elephant couldn’t resist it. For extreme cases this is the way we correct stubborn nature.” A shudder and the glass was empty.
“Smells and tastes like rotten fish,” he commented, and fumblingly lighted a cigar. “Five long nights, thinking of the lost years and the good things they contained, gone into oblivion, leaving me an empty, ruined hulk, nothing to see in the future except vacancy. I’ve dragged myself about by day, haunted by an endless procession of pictures from the past, like an endless film. In all of them I am young, complete, proud and dominant—and now I’m deprived of everything. I yearn to cross to the past—turn back the clock—in one instant of blending into it, as a bullet sped into my brain. It was weak of me.”
“Part of your youth still lives,” suggested Janet, softly, “in your son ...”
He sighed, his eyelids drooped a little, and he slumped into his seat For a long time they sat in silence.
Then the patient spoke. “I think I am getting a bit sleepy. Do you think ...”
His voice trailed off.
“Preston, go along with your father to his room. Get him undressed and to bed. I shall be waiting for you, my dear.”
The last phrase tinkled lightly, and the young man’s lips formed into a stiff smile as he helped his father to his feet. The men left the room together, the elder Peters shaking his head as if trying to throw off the overpowering slumber he needed so desperately.
JANET looked up at the skylight, saw that the heavens were growing dark. She drew her chair nearer to the fire. Watching the play of flames above the logs she did not hear Preston Peters return until he was standing looking down at her; the posture, she knew, gave him a mental advantage.
“I finally tumbled Dad into bed. And I feel I have you to thank for saving his life.”
“I only aimed to shift his purpose.”
“But why—why couldn’t you have thought of something else on the spur of the moment?”
“Than announcing myself as secretly engaged to you? You acted as my only possible quick link to him. If he had lost interest in your close and important concerns, only a slight thread held him to life. A shot would have severed it.”
“Oh, you thought quickly—forgive me. But it can’t stop there.”
“No, he must get a new vital personal concern. His case is definitely one of narcism.”
“But we must go on—and I lied to my father. The understanding between Grace Burke and myself—why, love enters in.”
“Not very intensely, I imagine.”
She visualized the girl’s blond prettiness, her finishing school manner of deportment that had developed into a not unattractive hunting pose, in swagger clothes, that has something reckless and devil-may-care about it.
“I was thinking only of your father,” she went on, “You have time to adjust your future, young man.”
“Young man—why, I’m thirty.”
“You don’t act it. It gives me no pleasure to appear engaged to you. What do you think would have happened if an old-fashioned medico had stormed and pleaded at the door? Your father had the centre of the stage; pride would have made him hold it. Sit down and listen and slip in a dear or a darling when you speak to me. Don’t ever touch me; I hate that.”
“Mind if I take a nip of brandy, darling?”
“Yes, I do; your faculties will be strained enough as it is.” “You mean you barge in, get Dad to drop the revolver, by lying, and then make a few lucky guesses—and now you’ll explain him to me, when I’ve known him all my life?” He literally dropped into a seat.
“You’ve been too close to the subject. It was a lucky guess that your father had retired—but he certainly shot at that photograph in general chagrin at being no longer in the prime of life.”
“I suppose he pined for his lost youth as a woman, they say, does for her lost beauty?”
“More so, for women are more realistic than men. Through many years your father built up a narcistic picture of himself that he worshipped and idealized. That was something splendid that must not be tarnished, or faded. It was, both. Many of our men cannot bear the shock. Great foreign greats who started schools in psychoanalysis never had this type to study, with the college reunions, the work of the alumni to keep a football team tops, all the worship of their own youth, even in others, that is part of so many of our men’s life illusion. They have built up pictures of themselves, images more precious than reality. Often when time smashes that picture a man— unable to defend the defacing—will commit suicide. The pain of being robbed is unbearable to the narcistic temperament. You heard your father say how he hated mirrors. Age had changed him and he suffered.”
THE YOUNG man locked his hands. The subject was a difficult one for him to discuss.
“I’ve always worshipped Dad,” he began, “perhaps because I couldn’t, as they say, follow in his footsteps. He was a great football player at college. Then he became a great game hunter, and one of the first men to take up flying as a hobby. He had gloried in his triumphs as a sportsman and in business. Up to a year ago he was chairman of the board of operations of Blimpton Steel. Now, with war orders, the company is going great guns—and retirement has terrified him. Most of the friends of his youth are dead, or changed.”
“They may have grown up,” said Janet, “and vou fill in the narcistic pattern. There, in those photos, going back thirty years and more, in his ideal—himself—the trophies as proof. You have heard of losing face, so tormenting to an Oriental. When a member of our ruling class finds his illusions of himself damaged and torn, and sees no means of restoration, life becomes unbearable.”
“What can we do, doctor?” The title came with a wrench, but he was game about it. “My dad will continue to grow older. What have—what have we to offer him?” “The only substitute is a new interest. I provided that for the time being. Ultimately the patient must cure himself.”
Continued on page 35
Continued from page 9
“But won’t he repeat the step to suicide?”
Janet sighed. “He wanted to kill himself because unable to protect the image of himself as he once was. He hated becoming old and fumbling. You could have helped him by becoming a mirror of the past, a star in athletics, a leading sportsman ...”
“I must take after my mother, who died when I was a child. I can’t follow in his footsteps. I want to paint. He thinks art is long-haired, effeminate. And he can’t see any money in it.”
“He should try collecting some of the great moderns like George Bellows. Well, you must brace up, as he would say, go in for fox hunting. I suppose you still have hunters and subscribe to the hunt club?” “Yes, a matter of pride with him.”
“A man is never too old to follow the hounds. They did it in England with one foot in the grave. You have a housekeeper?”
“Yes, Mrs. Prempton; but she is away today, and all the servants were given a free afternoon. You see—” His voice broke, miserably.
“The woman will do as a chaperon nicely. I’ll be over in the morning upon a visit. I must be at close range to study and help your father.”
“Thanks. It was silly of me to think of my own poor personal affairs.”
“There is a drawback,” she admitted. “Y’our father instinctively dislikes me, because I’ve stepped out of the traditional feminine role.”
The other laughed, boyishly. “I wouldn’t have dreamed you might be a brainy one. You deceived me on sight.” “Thanks—that is a compliment.”
“But tell me about you?”
“Ah, I go in for the other fellow confessing. I can’t be an enigma gal, but it is enough I’m a flop as a doctor here in the county, have private means, and am nice enough to be socially acceptable in the hunting set. Sounds like an advertisement. And I have no intentions as far as you are concerned, honorable or any other kind.” He looked worn and tired, but he tried to smile, and she thought: don’t go maternal on him.
She arose, stood with legs widespread, hands on hips, glancing down at the roaring fire.
“Remember, your father is not a coward. He thought his bowing out was entirely personal, because he was leaving you well fixed. Now, your engagement is a problem. He will not repeat anything like today. He would be ashamed—as he is ashamed that a woman should have seen him with his defenses down.”
“You believe that?” he asked, eagerly. “I do. But as a reaction you must not go to pieces.”
His laughter had an odd ring. “My father thinks I am already in pieces. You’d think I was working to try the servants’ entrance, with a pile of canvasses to peddle.”
Rain was splattering against the skylight. He insisted upon walking out with her, but she slipped behind the driver’s seat unassisted.
“You know, I haven’t expressed my
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appreciation,” Preston Peters said slowly.
“Wait until you get my bill. It will knock your eye out.” The rain ran down from his matted hair. “Better get indoors, but I’m not going to start acting big sister. Expect me in the morning, and give me a room as near to the bath as possible, adjoining one if you can. Tally ho.”
She waved, and left him standing there, his boyish grin most engaging, as she drove away.
SHE PUT the car in the garage and walked toward the house with lighted windows that flashed a welcome. It was swell to return after some useful work.
Her housekeeper had stood up the pad on the telephone stand. Janet reached for it, read the neat Spencerian writing:
“Mrs. Marshal telephoned. She said the Burkes and the Hamiltons are coming to dinner, and a girl she expected from somewhere is lost or stolen. She needs an extra woman and wants you, or she will bite the handsome stranger Hamilton is bringing like a mad dog. She says in return she promises an expensive nervous breakdown. Miss Manly, it is difficult for me to write down such nonsense. Call her when you return.”
The message wasn’t signed, but Janet recognized the handwriting. She laughed, for an Old Settler like the message-taker hated the invaders, the Squires Set. If the Burkes were guests Grace would be along, the one with the “understanding.”
She called Lily Marshal.
“Hello, Janet, you darling ...”
“After tonight I charge regular fees, for wear and tear, and flashing my uppers and my lowers in fake smiles. Who is the man?”
“Jimmie Carter from down country.” “With a dog on a leash, I bet. Well, I’ll wear the young-widow black-satin outfit, and a necklace of seed pearls I got at the five and ten. So don’t go sinuous in black yourself, my dear. You can send a car for me at seven-thirty, and leave my bit as an extra in an envelope in the hall. I’m charging ten-fifty.”
“You are à life saver.”
She hung up on superfluous thanks. Suddenly she called Lily Marshal back. “My dear, I don’t want a word of it to get out—it is a secret—but I am simply bottled up. I know I can trust you. It will not be announced for a while—and only his dad knows anything about it. I said, ‘Dad, we want to come and live with you after the event, today . .
“Who are you snatching?”
“Preston Peters, and he has been a long time out of the cradle.”
“Heavens, and I thought Grace Burke —This is amazing. He is nice looking, if a bit queer—”
“In the head, I suppose. You always were sweet, Lily.”
“Oh, I promise not to breathe a word to a single soul. It will be thrilling to keep your secret.”
Janet said she knew she could trust her, and hung up. Yes, she could trust her to drop hints as plain as sign posts. The place, a feminine audience in Lily’s dressing room. She had been received as a pleasant and harmless filler-in by county society. To be regarded as suddenly dangerous would give her a malicious pleasure she couldn’t deny herself.
NO CHANGES had been made in the bedroom, except book cases had been built on either side of a once-boarded-up fireplace, now made practical. A few antique pieces of furniture had survived, but mostly the room was furnished with the hideous plush and painted wood output
of the late seventies, the effect somehow softened by time. Janet seated herself before a vanity mirror on a low chest, her own maid and severest critic.
Her hair was wavy and only needed a comb through it. and her skin had a nice pallor. She made a face like a child pouting, painting her lips on the inner side too, for lights, since the effect when you laughed must be considered. The features were regular enough. With some women the blue eyes and black hair spelled witchery. She must lack, she thought, an intangible something. What did they have that she didn’t have? Hard to say. You couldn’t take a Ph.D. as a research student and an O.K. as a siren at the same time.
Ruefully she reached for a brass-bound tea caddy converted into a jewel case. She found a square diamond solitaire, placed it on the engagement finger. The ring had once been her own gift to herself.
The black gown, touched with cerise at the bosom, went well with her neck and shoulders. She picked up a Spanish cape and went downstairs. The car arrived on time and Janet reached the Marshals’ ready for the fray. Lily greeted her upstairs in a huge dressing room. The women gave her slanting glances as they peered into mirrors, adding last, last touches to make-up. Grace Burke was one who gave her a: “Hello, darling ” She had that bland, satisfied finishing-school manner guaranteed not to wear off. Janet experienced a cruel pleasure as the other noticed the sparkling sqlitaire.
“That was my mother’s. I wear it sometimes,” she announced, airily, splaying her fingers as she pushed back her hair.
Lily had more of a beet color than usual. She must have told all, in strictest confidence.
“Let’s go down, or the men will get too far ahead,” she suggested, and took Janet by the arm.
The two trooped ahead. In a combined study, without books, and gun room, with many racks and weapons, Janet spoke to those she knew, and was introduced to Milt Sears, a tall dark chap she labelled as a satisfied bachelor with exorbitant demands. His manner said—Ladies, you must show something very extra special to satisfy me. That amused her, and seated beside him at dinner she made no effort at all.
Over the oysters Tom Marshal, as host, got the floor. “Boys and girls, there is a traitor in our midst?”
“A what, dear?” gasped his wife.
“How else does that news get in the tabloid column. That commentator made me feel like a fool today. We have an informal deal with the real estate people to ask us if we’re agreeable before making a sale or lease in our hunting shire. We don’t want the wrong sort, and we can take business away from ’em, so they’ve acted reasonable. Well, I met a young chap, belonged to a good club, wanted to lease the old Baldwin estate. I gave permission for the lease to be signed. Now listen to this.”
He pulled a wrinkled square of newsprint from his pocket, smoothed it out and spoke as if reciting:
“There’s a deal been put over in Milteron, the ritzy fox-hunting country ninety miles upcountry. You must be horsy and wear golden spurs or you can’t associate with the foxes, and the squires and their dames. Remember Doc Kedric Murlain? That fountain of youth man is supposed to have been responsible, years back, for the rejuvenation of a certain stage star who is really old as—but doesn’t look it. Using a stooge the doc has muscled in the diamond-studded horse-shoe realm, been able to lease a dump and a hundred acres. Lots of old sticks up there. They get lifted to saddles and then are tied on. The doc should rake in aplenty, making new bloods out of gouty grandpaps and old gals with as many wrinkles as ropes
of pearls. We know a butler up there who speaks to us under protest. When he bends to pick up a dropped bill he sounds like an old bed creaking, but he ain’t done me wrong yet . . . Stella Connors has ...”
The host paused. “That young chap was a paid front. He turned over the lease to that quack, and we can’t do anything about it.”
“Yes, we can,” said Ted Hamilton. “We can ignore the blighter entirely. What’s that about a stage star?”
“You wouldn’t know,” said his wife, Jo. “And I read she refused to say yes or no, so it probably is all publicity.”
“I wonder what he gives his patients, glands or something?”
“What he takes—you mean? I bet he wants your fillings.”
Voices rose in a hubbub, and Ted Hamilton caught Janet’s attention.
“Miss Manly, I forgot, you are a doctor of sorts, aren’t you? Isn’t there some way to get rid of this fraud?”
“Not if he has a license to practice,” she explained, “and doesn’t do something frightfully unethical and unprofessional. Dr. Eugen Steinach has made experiments with the hormones and endocrine organs, with a view to ward off old age, and cause what might be called rejuvenation. Orthodox medicine is sceptical but it always is toward any revolutionary approach.”
“You’ve been cracking a lot of books,” jeered the man at her side.
“Then this fellow who broke through our fences may be on the level?” Tom Marshal’s tone was eager.
“It is not good taste for one physician to criticize another,” replied Janet, knowing she was being stiff and stuffy. But the idea of several townships being a guarded paradise for the rich and horsey was painful. That columnist used low comedy, but he had something.
“This new doctor won’t contaminate anyone,” she added.
A silence fell, as if at an awkward break. Janet felt like an outsider. She was pleased when it was time to go.
GETTING out at her door she was surprised to see that the reception room was lighted. Inside she felt surprised, and pleased.
“Professor Wainright, I’m delighted.” He wagged his beard and it brushed her cheek as she hugged the man she was proud to have trained and served under.
“I walked from the station,” he said, “and you know what is good for me?”
She dashed to the kitchen for soda, ice, and glasses. He helped himself, made no comment upon her not joining him.
“How is your practice?” he asked, bluntly.
“Don’t blame the evening rags. I circulated to meet people, and get patients —continued when it didn’t work out.” “Your thesis on North American types and personalities was excellent, proving those chaps from Vienna didn’t know what they were talking about as regards men here. But you can’t make a success of psychoanalysis because you are not a man. It’s the women who want their phobias explained away and no woman will confess to another woman—and pay for the privilege.”
“I’m afraid you are right.”
“Well, my girl, I’m now connected with the American Medical Association, and much as I delight in your company, I am here on business. I want a local investigator, and none of the local medicos will do. You’re the girl for me.”
“I should bend in my best curtsy.” “You’ve heard of a certain Dr. Kedric Murlain. Yes? So his reputation has swept ahead of him. He is an Austrian. He first settled in the Berkshires, near Burtonville, and several rich men fell in with his rejuvenation treatments. It is not simple quackery or fraud. They were rejuvenated to an extent, looked fifteen years younger, they say—our data is
lacking. And then they died—suicide it is supposed, against all reason.”
"Just what do you think, doctor?”
"I hardly know. This Dr. Murlain is money mad. If—as it seems—there is any merit to his claims he could rake in millions. But we feel that he is a dangerous man, and we want no more inexplicable suicides while progress is supposedly being made. That raises ‘The Principles of Medical Ethics’ upheld by all bodies linked to the Medical Association; we cannot have our record tarnished.”
“Were the deaths investigated by the police?”
"No, for the reason that local physicians, medical examiners, saw no signs of foul play. There is a law against a man trying to kill himself, but with the accomplished fact nothing can be done about it, save set down suicide findings. Dr. Murlain was giving satisfaction, as far as we know, and there was nothing essentially unethical about his work, any more than that of
Voronoff or Steinach, who are both scientific in the best manner. But there is a dark cloud to be pierced as regards this Murlain. That is why I came here tonight. I want you to try to establish contact and. if tripping be called for, trip him up for us.” "But—”
"He specializes in men. you know.”
“I don’t blame him.”
"A woman wouldn’t desire to resemble herself at twenty-five. She’d insist upon being another Helen of Troy or Cleopatra. Oddly, I have a patient whom I found on the verge of suicide. He suffered from narcism because of the loss of his youth. I thought tonight: he will rush to this magical fountain of youth man when he hears of him, and that could be soon.”
“I told you those other patients supposedly committed suicide.”
His emphasis on the word supposedly made her pause. A word trembled in the
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silence between them. It was—murder. But lacking proof, she thought, he cannot bring himself to be inexact.
'"THERE may be other angles to the deaths,” Professor Wainwright went on. “The wife is a remarkable woman but the niece, .Sonia Lariot, is a ruthfess coquette—though I know the word outmoded. We have hints that two of the patients became infatuated with the girl.” “Just what do you expect me to do?”
“I don’t know, unless you can get contact. I cannot very well pay or hire any man to take the risk of the treatment.” “There are people who have given their lives for science.”
“Volunteers in a good cause. Right. Makes me think of someone I had dinner with last night, a remarkable old chap. Er, you once told me you had no living relatives?”
“My parents and my unde and aunt were all burned to death in a private yacht when the gasoline tank exploded. was brought up by an estate, so to speak.” “I see. Your mother was a Cunningham, I remember, and if an unde by—say— that name drops in on you, you will understand. Janet, one of Dr. Murlain’s patients was the brother of that great surgeon, Dr. John Kean, who makes small fortune every time he operates. He has told the Medical Association wishes the case pushed, and this man stopped from causing further misery, matter what the cost.”
"Perhaps he should have gone to private detective bureau?”
“No; he thinks as I do, representing the association, that it takes a thief to catch thief—and it takes a doctor to catch doctor. No offense meant, my dear. You are bright; this man wouldn’t be suspicious of you, and if your present patient—but can’t suggest ...”
“Men will take a risk, and if one does while under my care I can, I hope, use that woman’s guile I’ve never yet found myself possessing. What you desire worth while, if this doctor is unethical. take it as a compliment that you have come to me, your former pupil.”
He scribbled an address and a telephone number upon a card, handed it to her.
“I’m getting out on a 2 a.m. train. Better put away the evidence. Your housekeeper only let me in because my Santa Claus beard. Keep me informed and send for help if you need it. No, walk to the station—I need the air.”
Janet went to the door with him, and waved from the gate. She waved back, watched his form disappear in the dim moonlight. Yes, she was honored by this mission; and as for risk, a woman as well as a man could take that in her stride.
AT BREAKFAST her mail and weekly paper lay beside her coffee cup. Mrs. Perkins, the housekeeper, entered with steaming tray. She had suffered long from ingrowing disapproval, like an Indian who has never got over having his land taken from him. Janet informed her she might be away for a few days, to carry on usual. The Gazette would be left for her early perusal. The front page had the story:
Fountain Of Youth Doctor Takes Old Baldwin Home
Dr. Kedric Murlain, together with his wife, and a beautiful niece, Miss Sonia Loriat, have moved into the old Baldwin place, as natives still call Refurbishing and decorating by the local firm of Pine & Barton. The coming these distinguished Austrians will add an unusual social and professional note. Dr. Murlain left his native country before political and economic changes, so he is not a poor refugee. He announces he will not enter general practice. As a specialist in rejuvenation lie intends to receive only a few patients for his successful experimentation.
“There have been many rumors
about me and my work,” said the savant, to a Gazette representative, “rumors that I have discovered a modern equivalent, scientifically speaking, to the fountain of youth Ponce De Leon sought vainly. However, any patients I shall decide to take, a few men, no women, will be by arrangement. I do not wish to be visited by curious visitors. I am not responsible for lurid and sensational accounts in the metropolitan press. I am a simple and serious devotee of science, and laboratory methods, and results that I may make of turning back the clock of time physically, and mentally, fifteen, twenty, or even thirty years, will eventually be presented to one of the great world foundations. I chose Milteron for rest and quiet, where my research may be continued in the calm a scientist needs and welcomes. All that I ask is to remain untouched by the gossip of laymen who do not understand my methods nor the results at which I am aiming. Professor Eugen Steinach, formerly of the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, and now working in Switzerland, suffered, too, during experiments at reactivation, from sensational utterances to alienate intelligent interest. His methods and treatments ward off the encroachments of old age. Mine are youth restoring. Orthodox medicine, remember, has always been sceptical. Every advance in medical science has been to the accompaniment of wagging heads of elders and spoken doubts. For me, I shall keep a dignified silence until I decide to have the validity of my practice established through the acceptance of my biological treatments by scientific bodies. Until then I ask for silence.”
Janet smiled. This was an ancient advertising trick, leaping away and then jumping into the limelight of attention, as if by mistake. Dr. Murlain was like a man painting a huge billboard disclosing what he had to offer, and then hiding behind it, waiting to be dragged out, unwillingly.
What was the one thing the rich couldn’t buy once it had vanished? Youth! The withering could never be staved off, and once gone it never could be recovered. Women had tried vainly, running to facelifting surgeons and beauty-treatment promisers; probably Dr. Murlain realized he could never satisfy them, so he accepted only men patients. Well, there were men who would eagerly pay heavily.
Ransom Peters, with his narcistic worship of himself as he once was, would be a natural prospect. Could she stop him, when he heard of the magical treatments, by telling of the suicide trail? She doubted it.
SHE FINISHED her breakfast, went upstairs and packed a bag, drove to the Peters home. A maid opened the door, but Preston Peters was behind her, to see Janet to her room.
“Up this stairway, milady, and then to the rear. The blue room adjoining a bath. A lovely view, at the back, of autumnal woodland and glorious hills.” “You talk like the manager of ye old inn. How is the patient?”
“Fine after a long, long sleep, with no bad after effects from whatever you gave him.” His eyes caught the glitter of the solitaire.
“I was at the Marshals’ for dinner last night. Lily said she would keep my secret. Where is your dad?”
“In the library.”
“Has he seen the Weekly Gazette.”
“He took it in with him.”
She waved him out, and he said they would be waiting for her downstairs.
After unpacking a bit and doing a few repair touches to her face, Janet went down to the library. Ransom Peters arose to greet her, Gazette in hand. He appeared refreshed and rested.
“Tom Marshal telephoned me on this chap I’ve been reading about. We are getting very exclusive all of a sudden. Is
there any limit to possible discoveries of science? Why, youth is worth buying if an old man was broke after the purchase. Anyway, who would pay him on trust? He would be forced to first deliver the goods.”
“Early experiments often are dangerous.”
It was a problem how to play fair with her patient, and still get contact with Dr. Kedric Murlain.
“The devil with danger—such an end in view,” Peters was saying.
“Then let me investigate for you instead of your risking a rebuff. Find out what, if any, are his terms.”
“The sky is my limit. But I’m asking a lot of you.”
“Wait until you receive my bill, Mr. Peters. However I’ll allow Preston to drive me over, though I really need no escort.”
Out in the two-seater, and speeding along with Preston driving, Janet explained why she had acted as she had last night.
“I’ve suffered from an inferiority complex,” she explained, “no mother to guide her one might say. I was engaged, once, out on the Coast. Then I overheard a conversation that disclosed he was selling himself for my money. I acted cheaply by jilting him—never showed up at the church. I’m humiliated every time I think of the whole affair.”
-“One cad should not leave such a lasting impression.”
“Little you know about it. I shrank and dried up, emotionally. Just the kind of a case I could cure, possibly, in a patient. I often say, jeeringly, doctor cure thyself.”
“But we can be friends.”
“Yes, just friends.”
He drove with one hand while they shook on it.
“I’m glad you gave Grace Burke a shock,” he told her. “I’ve been taken too much for granted. I’d probably balked at the fence. Now, how are you going to approach Dr. Murlain?”
“I’ll wait until I see him,” she explained. Talk about herself was one thing, her secret mission another.
He stopped before a red brick building, built very near the highway. The old hitching post was still there, and an iron bird bath stood in the tall grass. Janet ‘'asked Preston to wait, approached with an odd, self-conscious feeling as if watched from within. She banged the brass knocker with a will.
The prettiest brunette Janet had ever ’seen this side of the footlights opened the door. She wore a rainbow peasant costume that would have been trying, on anyone else. Ushered into a sitting room the girl took her name, whirled out with a display of legs worth inspection.
The let down, of course, would be the doctor. Anything less than a seer, all in white, except his turban, and carrying an urn, strange spices burning in it, would be disappointing.
A SHORT, middle-aged man slowly walked into the room, pulled at a little forked beard which was brown and streaked a little with grey. He had small
black eyes set back in his head, and red ) lips that pouted. She had seen salesmen in | Oriental bazaars in Atlantic City looking j like that. A woman liberally painted came ! behind him. The usual excuses were ! exchanged, for early calling, and a house ! not in readiness. The doctor introduced his wife, murmured that he was honored, pulled out a chair.
Janet explained that a patient of her’s ; was interested in what he had read on the other. She had found him on the verge of suicide, life after retirement no longer of value to him. He needed an interest to keep on—and this rejuvenation . . .
“I think we might work together,” she explained, “but my patient must see ; results before he would pay a fee.”
“I agree on that,” put in Mrs. Murlain, saying her husband was a child regarding business, and that she handled his affairs. “Have your patient bring a photograph of himself taken, say, fifteen years ago. When he can mirror himself, as he was then, the first stage has been reached.”
“Yes, and the fee?”
“We would prefer to meet your principal.”
The butterfly niece entered the room, was made known to the visitor as Sonia, to ! much bowing and smiling, feminine bloom almost too flagrant. What normal man wouldn’t desire to be young again, on a footing with this incarnation of sweet and twenty?
An appointment was made, and Mrs. j Murlain conducted Janet to the porch. | The former saw the young man seated at ¡ the driver’s seat of the automobile.
“Ah, a young man driving you?”
“Yes, the son of my patient. I was wise not to bring him inside. Your charming niece would have been fatal to his peace of mind.”
“She is too young, and Sonia does not care for young men. We have been waiting for a possible suitable match with a mature man. Such a one is married off very young in my country.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
The two parted with mutual compliments. Janet had nothing to report, she thought, on Dr. Murlain, but that woman she could recognize as a fighter; it showed in the way she held her chin, hunched her shoulders, and in the assertive way she spoke.
No rejuvenation—no pay, Janet informed Preston, who said that even so he didn’t like it at all.
“You’ll like it less when I tell you in confidence that several former patients committed suicide.”
“After the treatments failed?”
“No, after they showed results.”
“But dad wants youth more than anything else in the world. The lack—but what is the use of talking. I saw that woman who brought you to the door. Who is she?”
“The wife of the wizard. Mrs. Murlain.” “She could do with a bit of rejuvenation.”
“There is mystery here thick enough,” said Janet, but did not add she felt that it had to do, not with youth, but the dark menace of death.
Ransom Peters, upon the return of Janet and Preston, was waiting outside on the grounds. As the car stopped he looked as if on a hot griddle.
“On sober thought this whole idea sounds so preposterous I’ve been feeling like a fool. I suppose there is an actual Doctor Murlain?”
Janet realized that he was ashamed of his own eagerness.
“Very actual, and a Mrs. Murlain, and a niece that is a perfect beauty—a beauty anyway. I know what you mean, Mr. Peters. I thought I’d be received in some kind of a modern magician’s layout, with a crystal ball at the very least, and the doc saying he was the seventh son of a seventh son, and that his was a secret that had been passed on from remote ages.” “Instead?”
“I’m afraid modem business is no
friend of romance, Mr. Peters. Dr. Murlain is a middle-aged savant with a Vandyke that I swear is dyed. His wife could lose a few years and look the better for the loss. She is the money boss, and mercenary. He merely says that no result r.o pay—if he can make you look, in a first stage, like a photo of yourself taken fifteen years ago, he will want plenty. I don’t know how much.”
“That is fair enough. When—”
“We can pop over in the morning. I don’t know when treatments will start. They both seem to fancy having me about, by the way.”
“Why, of course, my dear young lady. Just think what I would have missed if your announcing your engagement to Preston hadn’t given me an interest in life, jogged me out of that will to die? Why that doctor promises something worth all I can pay—for a return to golden youth, with a man shedding age as a snake does its skin. You cannot realize how very wonderful that sounds to an old retired thing on the shelf, outside, looking back at everything, seeing nothing ahead save emptiness.”
His eyes burned feverishly.
”1 can show up at a board meeting and demand my place again as chairman. I can go hunting as I once did, never tiring, a shot to be proud of. I can be like a big brother to my son, and with new life in the old dog perhaps women will look at me again, as they once did.”
Janet felt as if she were being shown a picture of a being that was not meant for another’s reaction. The tone was hopeful, wistful; never again would she credit that only women studied themselves in mirrors, shrank from wrinkles, the slow but sure encroachments of time. Well, she had never believed it wholly, but she now saw that it could be quite as painful to a man to have the things he prided in, taken away, only decay to beckon in the future.
“Mr. Peters, I have been told some things I cannot repeat, but this I must warn you—up in the Berkshires several rich patients of Dr. Murlain died violent deaths, at their own hands, just as the rejuvenation was said to be coming along splendidly. Why—why should they take their own lives? Again—why should anyone wish to murder them, plot to make them appear suicides? But it all points to danger, danger of a possible mental condition with renewed youth—or what— who can say? But danger—”
Ransom laughed, gratingly. “I’d take one chance in a hundred. You know I thought my life valueless. But I’d fight to preserve my life, the clock of time turned back.”
He swung open the door of the car, held out his hand and helped her alight. Preston drove on to the garage.
“If you don’t mind I shall go to my room. I have an important letter to write.”
He nodded, with a smile, and she could imagine that he had once been a very attractive and commanding figure of a man.
Yes, she thought, I have a letter to write to Dr. Wainwright, and he will be pleased to know that I have stepped inside, into Dr. Murlain’s confidence, and that of his wife, and that I shall accompany Ransom Peters, the first patient, on his course of treatments. For of course he would pay any sum asked, to drop fifteen years. But am I being ethical, letting Peters go along, while acting as a sort of under-cover agent for the Medical Association? Unless she told the whole truth, Ransom Peters would not hesitate—and if she did so would his hesitation be more than momentary? She doubted it, and once started playing this role she would go through with it. If her patient faced any secret danger it would be best that she be in a position to do something about it in time—or be first on the ground to investigate, a little voice said, sneeringly.
She decided to tell everything in a letter to Dr. Wainwright, who might stand for a
model of professional ethics. If he decided she was doing the proper thing there would be no reason for her to have any qualms about it.
rTvHP: TELEPHONE rang and she reached for the instrument upon a little stand by the bed.
“Hello, yes, this is Janet.”
“Lily speaking—and only able to talk freely because we all put in private phones. You and Preston Peters were seen driving from the place that modern magician took over. Have you a witchcraft tale to tell?” “He leaves women to their fate, hundred-dollar bills and black dresses for the old folks home.”
“Tom is interested, I still have my girlish laughter. He has been dreaming of a blond chorus girl who will love him for himself alone, if he can be young again. He is here by my elbow.”
“Put him on. That you, Tom Marshal, and yyu should be ashamed of yourself.” “Lily thinks I’m fooling, but I am serious enough, after taking a long look at myself, and not liking the details. I know that I would never have allowed this medico in as a neighbor, but since he is in,
I would like to know the dope on the cost of going back to yesterday—a yesterday of fifteen or twenty years ago when I could ride like the devil, hold my liquor, and so on and so on. I wonder if you wouldn’t kindly represent me?”
“I haven’t yet found how much he will shock the bank roll. I imagine it will be plenty.”
“Pay only upon proof that he gives results, is one thing I’d insist upon.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be acting as a friend of Lily’s, if you are made over. Your motives are very questionable, you will admit that.”
He laughed heartily. “I’m not as bad as I sound. Seriously, the thought of renewed youth is wonderful, but it is difficult to talk soberly about it. I feel like the guy in the melodrama who said: ‘Turn back the clock, and give me yesterday.’ And here one is promised years of yesterdays. Now be a good girl and get me all the details.” She promised she would scout for him and managed to get him to hang up.
The letter she had written to Dr. Wainright was in an envelope, addressed, but not sealed. She added a postscript about Tom Marshal, and how his request would bring her into the case assigned to her even more closely, but that she would never forgive herself if she implicated others, to their dire cost. She would get all the data possible, hoping no one would be hurt.
Janet signed her initials, thinking she had little spunk. No, it wasn’t that; danger to herself wasn’t a frightening prospect, it was the idea of these others. She had saved Ransom Peters’ life, possibly, but she might be making herself too important in the matter. Peters and Marshal would go ahead even if she had left the county. Snap out of it. You are getting wrinkles you can’t afford, not at twenty-eight. Brace up and dress, and see if you can’t earn a few compliments from the gentlemen? She did just that, and could see the response in two pairs of eyes as she came downstairs to a kind of general sitting room off the house, where Ransom and Preston Peters were waiting.
The conversation at dinner was light, touching on all topics save the one that had taken suddenly so much attention. Ransom Peters was a new man, it seemed, genial if not jovial. Something new radiated from him, for he had been given again, vision and a great hope. He already seemed ten years younger; in spirit he was running to meet a miracle, and that had transformed him.
A chill went through Janet as she remembered what had happened to those former patients. Just why, against all reason, had they destroyed themselves? And if not suicide, and ugly murder was the explanation—could she be more than a spectator?
To Be Continued