Open Wide,Excellency

On the romantic South Seas island of Manatiti Julie found a cure for her heartache when Doctor Pete went to work on her peppery papa’s toothache

LESLEY HOLMES June 15 1951

Open Wide,Excellency

On the romantic South Seas island of Manatiti Julie found a cure for her heartache when Doctor Pete went to work on her peppery papa’s toothache

LESLEY HOLMES June 15 1951

Open Wide,Excellency

On the romantic South Seas island of Manatiti Julie found a cure for her heartache when Doctor Pete went to work on her peppery papa’s toothache

LESLEY HOLMES

FROM THE WIDE screened veranda of the official bungalow Monsieur Georges Napoleon Bonet, His Excellency, the Governor for six months gone, viewed his world with dissatisfaction. Back in his native France this post in the remote South Pacific island of Manatiti had seemed like the fulfillment of a dream. He’d pictured the indolent life of the tropical potentate, seen himself in his kingdom revered and beloved by his subjects—the big little man, as big a man as Bonaparte.

But it hadn’t turned out like that. His kingdom proved to be the insignificant skirting of an arrogant mountain range, a mere speck, a puny outcropping in the sand and rock. And it didn’t seem even to be his kingdom.

The handful of Europeans and Americans on the island accorded him an unimpressed friendliness that outraged his pompous little soul. The natives, a lazy worthless lot, seemed to regard all white men with suspicion. They trusted only Doctor Peter Jones, the redhaired Canadian who fed their vanity and crowned their strong, white teeth with glittering gold at a profit, Monsieur Bonet suspected, of unthinkable exorbitancy. He was the real king here, a cocksure swaggerer who had dared even to turn his eyes on the Governor’s daughter, Julie, convent bred and betrothed to the young Vicomte. And Julie had returned his look. But Georges Napoleon Bonet had a plan.

Though it was not much past eight o’clock in the morning Monsieur Bonet felt the moist glaze of sweat prickling through his pores. By noon it would be a sticky ooze. He groaned.

The landscape hurt his eyes, brazen, vulgar-hued, as if the luxuriant growth of the green belt drew its colors from the sun, refueled them and tossed them out with a lavish disregard of harmony—orangy scarlets, hot and riotous, lusty purples shading into blues, and a green shot through with a tarnished, brassy yellow that warred with all the other greens. The deeply curved crescent of the beach glared whitely like the upside lip of a gigantic basin, tilted and spilling its molten sapphire, a perpetual overflow, into the far reaches of the Pacific ocean.

Monsieur Bonet frowned. His pursed lips buttoned more tightly as he caught sight of Julie. Like a child, a hoyden, she looked, rather than a young lady turned seventeen. Hatless and scantily clad she carried on a conversation of Continued on page 48

Open Wide, Excellency

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sorts with a native gardener. Though her familiar ease angered him he marveled at the way she managed to make herself understood gestures, smiles, a finger pointing and a complete abandonment of all maidenly dignity. It angered him further that she got results.

His tooth hurt, a nagging reminder that the ship wasn’t due for another three days. He wouldn’t have that tooth out. Nor would he let that impudent Canadian dentist monkey with it. For that young man he had a surprise this very morning. In the meantime, it was damn hot.

From an inside pocket he drew forth an oblong box. The half dozen French caramels it contained were richly dark and messy from the heat. He dug one out from among its fellows.

At this juncture Julie spied him. She waved and shouted to him. Ina young girl just six months from the finest convent in the whole of France her wild, coltish behavior was shocking. Monsieur Bonet didn’t deign to answer. He was in a hurry. He had an appointment.

Julie was fleet of foot. She came running. “Are you going somewhere, Papa?”

“To the dentist’s, Julie. I’m late.” His eyes traveled over her dishevelment, the untidy tangle of dark curls, the too-short frock, the bare legs. “Go and dress,” he commanded. He would have her feel his displeasure.

“But, Papa, mayn’t I come?” Her dark eyes coaxed. “I adore Doctor Pete.” She added impishly: “He

adores me, too, Papa.”

“Julie! You are without reason!” He would like to have boxed her ears for her. Mon Dieu! She was taller than he. He drew himself up. “Do as I say, Julie. Get dressed. You scarcely know the man.”

“But, Papa ... I do. Very well. For six months now I see him nearly every day. At the tennis club. At . . .” Her two hands gripped his arm with sudden urgency. “We are in love, Papa.”

The heat! The tooth! Now this! Monsieur Bonet, scarcely aware of his action, raised his free hand. It contacted his daughter’s cheek in a stinging slap.

Julie sprang away, momentary fury in her eyes. “You shouldn’t have done that, Papa.”

“No? I shouldn’t have done that? You’re shameless! What of the Vicomte?”

“The Vicomte? He’s very far away. Doctor Pete is here. Please, Papa. . . . He may speak to you today.” The expression of her eyes had changed to pleading. “Please Papa ... Be kind to him. I know you didn’t mean . . .”

“Didn’t mean . . .?” He seized her by the shoulders, felt their yielding fragility under his fat fingers. I could shake her, he thought. I could frighten her. “What of your aunt, my sister Hortense?” he sputtered. “Where was she while . . . while . . .?”

Tante? She’s a wonderful chaperon. She’s in love with him, too.”

She mocks me, he thought. Ah, well ... In three more days the ship would come. He let his hands fall from her shoulders. “Go now, you little fool,” he said.

Monsieur Bonet strode away then, as nearly as a man with short legs and a fat belly can be said to stride. The white shell road—it was a road of sorts though the island of Manatiti boasted no vehicles—was a hard-packed surface, like macadam, under his feet.

Men walked in Manatiti whether or not they cared for walking.

How he disliked Doctor Peter Jones ! The man’s speech was horrible, peppered with coarse American slang as the inside of a shellfish with fine grains of sand. And he was of a gangling, awkward tallness. The red hair was unruly, abhorrent. There was no part of Doctor Jones he approved.

Monsieur Bonet had not far to go. He quickened his steps. From previous visits he looked forward to the dentist’s office as a place of delicious freshness only slightly antiseptic, a clean room where soft whites and subdued greens predominated.

As he approached the wide, shallow steps that led to the main entrance Doctor Jones appeared in the doorway. Bonet labored up the steps and the young man advanced to meet him, tossing his ragged cigarette butt into a bougainvillea clump by the corner of the bungalow.

“Good morning, Your Excellency! Ready for some punishment?”

Monsieur Bonet said: “Good morning, young man,” with as much asperity as he could muster. The calculated disrespect in the other’s tone was of a monstrousness inconceivable.

“It’s warm,” drawled the Canadian. “Would you like to sit for a while? Perhaps you’d care for a drink? For the moment . . .”

“No, no.” M. Bonet was brisk. “I’m pressed for time. Also . . .” He hesitated. “There’s a matter of business I would discuss when you’ve finished.”

“I won’t keep you waiting long, Excellency.”

As Monsieur Bonet was about to protest there came from within a long-drawn, whimpering cry.

“One of the native youngsters,” said Doctor Jones. “I’ll just finish with him.”

Monsieur Bonet sputtered. “You . . . you propose that I should wait? For a native!”

“It’s a child,” said Doctor Jones.

“A native,” countered His Excellency.

“He’s suffering,” explained Doctor Jones. “I’m sorry but I’m afraid I must ask you to wait,” And he turned into the open doorway, leaving the Governor with the added heat of indignation.

After a short interval he reappeared, ushering his small patient out by the door Monsieur Bonet would enter. His Excellency watched with distaste.

“Will you come in now, Excellency?” invited Doctor Jones.

The office, without doubt, was a cooler place than the rest of the world this morning. But his memory had omitted to stress the image of the chair. There it stood, ugly, graceless. He sat down in it.

Doctor Jones said brightly: “This won’t take long. I’ll polish off that

Continued on page 50

Continued from page 48

last filling.” He levered the chair into position. “Give you any trouble?” “No. No trouble.” Monsieur Bonet strove for brightness in his turn. He fought against the illusion of being bodily suspended, felt himself going smaller and smaller, at last a mere entity, impotent, at the mercy of this red-headed giant. The leather warmed under his buttocks, anchoring him there with the tenacity of a snug plaster. He felt the crick in the back of his neck, his ego a cringing thing faced now with the horror of physical hurt.

Came the taut quivering of nerves while the giant selected from among the deadly gadgets of his trade. Came the convulsive gripping of Monsieur Bonet’s plump hands on the chair arms. He waited for the false move that seemed inevitable, for the sharp jab, the sudden stab of pain tearing into his tender gums. The rigidity of his leg muscles was torture, the limp collar of his shirt like a twisting rope at his throat. He felt the metallic tap on the tooth with the ache.

“That one bother you?” asked the giant. “Filling’s loose.”

Monsieur Bonet gasped. “Never mind it.” And the giant shrugged.

Then it was over. The giant was Doctor Jones again. “Let me see,” he was saying. “This is Monday. I could do that tooth for you Wednesday.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Monsieur Bonet, once more His Excellency, the Governor.

“Won’t be necessary? But, Excellency . . . That tooth could get jumpy any minute.”

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten, Doctor Jones, that your contract with the French Government expires on Wednesday next at midnight.”

Doctor Jones, washing his hands, spoke carelessly over his shoulder; “Yeah? I’ll sign on again. I didn’t intend to quit.”

“I daresay,” said the Governor. “You see,” spacing his words deliberately, “I don’t intend to renew your contract.”

Doctor Jones’ hand, reaching for the towel, arrested itself in mid-air. Monsieur Bonet waited triumphantly for him to complete the movement.

It was a matter of seconds. He turned slowly and dried his hands, continued the motion mechanically. “But . . . but, Excellency, you can't mean . . .”

“I mean,” repeated Monsieur Bonet, “that I will not renew your contract. You heard me correctly.”

Doctor Jones tossed the towel from him, plunged both hands into his pockets. He faced Monsieur Bonet with belligerence. “Look here, Excellency. I’ve spent six years on this island. It’s my home. My livelihood. The natives depend on me. You can’t throw me out like this. With a couple of days’ notice.”

Monsieur Bonet’s tone was smooth. “It is more fitting,” he said, “that our dentist be a Frenchman.”

“And where’s your Frenchman?” “It could be you’ve forgotten that the ship is due on Thursday. Doctor Edouard Ravel will be aboard her. I sent for him some months ago.”

“I see. All fixed.” There was a speculative look on the Canadian’s face. “Seems to me, Excellency, it’s a pretty shabby trick. Hmm ... a Frenchman! And I’m from Canada. Is that all you’ve got against me?” “Possibly,” purred Monsieur Bonet. “There’s also the matter of my daughter. I understand . . .”

“Excellency, I love Julie. We love each other. I was coming to talk to you. I want to marry Julie. I . . .”

The look of misery on the Canadian’s face was satisfying, wonderful to see. And he, Georges Napoleon Bonet, had put it there. He answered carefully: “My only objection to you, Doctor Jones, is that you are you. Now, don’t misunderstand.” He raised a chubby, imperious hand. “An alien, a somewhat uncouth alien, is . . . well . . . hardly a suitable mate for a young lady reared as my daughter has been.”

“So you’re booting me out! You plan that I leave by the boat the other man comes on?”

“Precisely. My Government maintains only one man of your profession for the island. It would seem foolish to stay.”

“And if I refuse to go?”

“It would be unwise. I am Governor. I could make things unpleasant.”

“I wonder . . .” mused the Canadian.

“You need not,” said Monsieur Bonet. “I go now.” He tried to sound brusque. Something in the Canadian’s tone and the reflective regard which accompanied it disturbed him. Why should it? He was Governor. This was his island. He smiled. “I don’t expect I shall see you again, Doctor Jones. There should not be so much of business for you to wind up. Doctor Ravel is prepared to take over immediately. Good-by, Doctor Jones.”

On the white shell road again it was hot. He resisted the impulse to reach for the box of caramels. Until Doctor Ravel arrived he must be careful about confections. Uncomfortably he thought of Julie. There could be trouble.

Julie turned out to be difficult—at first. She would run away . . . She would go with her Doctor Pete . . . Aunt Hortense understood . . . Aunt Hortense would help her . . .

She wept, she pleaded, then suddenly was calm.

“I am sorry, Papa,” she said, in a voice so soft and warm as to melt icicles. “I am sorry to have displeased you. Of course, you are my papa and what you say . . .”

“It’s all right, little one.” Monsieur Bonet smoothed the mussed curls. “It is finished now. On Thursday the young man goes. It is well.”

His sister, Hortense, said nothing. Her placidity, as she sat with her embroidery, irritated him. But he felt she would not interfere.

Julie was speaking again, wistful and respectful: “You are always so right, Papa. It would be too bad if your plans went wrong. It . . .” Her voice trailed off meekly under his sharp glance.

The scene had a familiar ring—tears and temper followed by sweet submission, then the suggestion that things might not work out. He couldn’t place it—quite.

Hortense, who had paused to watch him, said: “She’s like her mother,

Georges,” and went back to her needlework.

The next two days passed slowly.

Julie was docile, almost ladylike in her behavior. She’s trying, he thought. I must be patient.

Wednesday seemed longer than Tuesday. It dragged its way around the clock. But tomorrow, it would be Thursday. The ship would come. Doctor Ravel would be there to fix his tooth. The uncouth Doctor Jones would be on his way—he hoped.

Finally the day ran itself out. Hortense, sitting by the lamp with her embroidery, was yawning. She said: “It is late, Georges. Will you excuse me? Julie has already retired.”

Monsieur Bonet watched her gather up her things, stow them carelessly in her large bag-—a jumble of scissors, thimble, silk and fine linen.

“Goodnight, Georges,” said Hortense from the doorway.

“Oh . . . goodnight. Goodnight, my dear.”

When she had gone his hand sought I the inside pocket where he carried his caramels. He might have one before going to bed. A glass of wine, too, would go well. So Monsieur Bonet sat with his wine and his caramels. He thought of Doctor Jones, wondered if the impudent young man might defy him on the morrow and refuse to leave. That would be of an awkwardness— with the native population on the side of Doctor Jones.

The clock struck midnight. He would look in on the little Julie, shine the light on her for a moment while she slept, as her mother used to do. I’m sentimental tonight, he thought. The wine, perhaps. But he wasn’t ashamed. He crept quietly, tiptoeing, flexing his knees for greater stealth. He parted the curtains at her doorway, moved cautiously toward the narrow couch. He raised the mosquito netting and shone the light. But no Julie lay tranquil and sleeping. The bed was empty.

He stared, at first refusing to believe. The little fool! And that low-down Canadian!

He charged back into the main room and from there out of the house. Anger | spurred his short legs to a furious pace for the first hundred yards. Then he halted, wheezing and panting for breath. His hand groped for the j inside pocket, came forth with the caramels. He crammed, not one, but three, into his mouth. His jaws champed furiously, more competent agents than his legs to give vent to his rage.

Lights showed in Doctor Jones’ bungalow as he approached. He heard voices. He must rid himself of the caramels. He chewed harder but the contents of his mouth were of an obstinate, glutinous consistency, having merged into an unmanageable wad that sucked at his gums and teeth with the inexorable persistence of a j quicksand. He strove to free them. His jaw muscles bulged with the effort. He insinuated a thumb and forefinger into his mouth and pulled, a frenzied, vigorous yank of panic. That did it.

It came loose, a saliva-drenched mass. Incredible waste of deliciousness! He stood in the middle of the road, engrossed momentarily with this minor sorrow. The pain struck then and he clutched convulsively at his cheek.

“Oh!” he gasped. “Oh-h-h . . . My tooth!” There was the horrified realization that the filling had gone. Only an air pocket remained, a monster torture chamber for the quivering, naked nerve where viscous shreds of caramel clung to increase the agony.

“I must go on,” he babbled aloud. “I must get Julie. But oh-h . . . oh, my tooth! He’ll have to fix my tooth . . .”

He came upon them sitting on the steps of the bungalow veranda, close together. He thought Julie had been

weeping and that fellow seemed to he trying to comfort her. Shameless! At his explosive, “Young man! What is the meaning of this?” they had not even the grace to move apart.

The Canadian drawled: “Good evening, Excellency. Did you come to say good-by?”

“I came for my daughter, sir,” challenged Monsieur Bonet. “If! were a younger, stronger man I’d . . . oh-h . . .” Like vicious jabs from a red-hot needle was the tooth. “Oh-h-h . . . I cannot bear it . . . this torment . . . My tooth!”

Doctor Jones rose to his feet, pulling Julie up beside him. “Well now, Excellency,” he said civilly, “I’m sorry about the tooth.”

“You must fix it,” chattered Monsieur Bonet. “Now.”

“Tonight? Well, Excellency ...” “But you can’t, Doctor Pete,” put in Julie. She tugged at his arm.

“Sure I can.”

“No, no,” persisted the girl. “You are no longer dentist here. It is the law. You have no contract.”

Doctor Jones was staring down at her. “Have no . . .? But . . .” He

turned again to Monsieur Bonet who had ascended the flight of steps. “Gosh, Excellency,” he said. “Isn’t that a darn shame! But she’s right, you know. My contract expired at midnight. It’s past one in the morning now. I can’t break the law.”

“It is no matter. Fix my tooth.” “Sorry, Excellency. I can give you a sedative. But I’m afraid that’s all. Anyhow, the ship comes tomorrow.” “No! No! My tooth cannot wait.” “Papa,” said Julie, “Doctor Pete is a very upright man. It seems to me you may have to . . . to arrange a little.”

“Arrange, Julie?”

“Yes, Papa. Suppose he were really the dentist here. Suppose you were to renew his contract. Suppose ...”

“I could not, Julie. He is . . . impossible. I could not have him here. But he must fix my tooth. Ah-h-h! This pain ... it is unendurable . . .” “Pretty tough, isn’t it, Excellency! But there is a way. Better bring him into the office, Julie.”

“But, Doctor Pete . . .”

“Do as I say, Julie. I know what I’m doing.”

Monsieur Bonet found himself stumbling over the threshold with Julie close behind. As from a long way off he heard her whisper: “You’re unkind, Papa. I’ll not forget how unkind you are tonight.”

Under the white glare of the overhead gas lamp the chair leered, stark and empty, waiting for him. He climbed into it.

Doctor Jones, tying the ridiculous fragment of white toweling under his chin as one might tie the bib for an infant, was cheerful and hearty. Up went the chair and Georges Napoleon Bonet with it.

“Open,” commanded Doctor Jones, whose red hair, under the light, had seemed to come alive, a disembodied thing that floated evilly above him.

Monsieur Bonet heard Julie moan, “Oh, Doctor Pete . . .”

“It’s a good tooth,” mused Doctor Jones. “One of the best you’ve got, Excellency. Seems too bad to take it out.”

Monsieur Bonet felt himself beginning to struggle. No! No! he thought wildly. Not take it out!

Doctor Jones restrained him gently. “Easy, Excellency. Easy, now. It’s only if you want to.”

“I don’t want it out. I want it filled.” “Excellency, I’m afraid you don’t understand. I, personally, can do nothing. As Julie reminded us, I’m no longer the dentist.”

“You talk in riddles, Doctor Jones. You say you can do nothing. Yet you say there is a way.”

“There is, Excellency. If you want relief one of my boys can extract the tooth. He’s good at it.”

A widely grinning native had entered the room and padded to the side of the chair. His dark eyes regarded Monsieur Bonet unblinkingly.

“It’s the best I can offer, Excellency. It’s up to you.”

“No, no!” The protest burst from Monsieur Bonet’s lips on a high thin note that ended in a half sob. The pain again! That staring native! “Let me down,” he pleaded. “Let me down.”

Doctor Jones lowered the chair and motioned the native away. Monsieur Bonet sat up straight, assembled his dignity. “Perhaps,” he said . . . “Yes?” breathed Julie. “Yes, Papa?” Monsieur Bonet had caught the warm shine in Julie’s eyes. “Perhaps,” he went on, “it would be best to . . . to arrange a little, after all.”

“I’m at your service, Excellency,” Doctor Jones’ voice was gentle.

Monsieur Bonet averted his gaze. “You’re a stubborn young man,” he said.

“Yes, Excellency. The choice is yours.”

Julie was beside him now, her eyes dark and melting with hope. “Papa,” she said softly. “Dear Papa.”

“So!” Monsieur Bonet looked from the young Doctor Jones to the little Julie and sighed. The young man had much to learn. But the young man was not a weakling. He thought of the Vicomte and sighed again. He said, “Where is that contract?”

“Right here, Excellency,” said Doctor Jones.