In the Pump RoomThe next morning George and Bess, with their maid Nancy, stood in the midst of a crowd of suffering, sweltering humanity, all attired in identical white terry-cloth bathrobes, in what was called "the Pump Room." This name was taken from the gathering-places of those who sought to drink the waters in fashionable British spas. Here, at Spring Rock, there were waters, but these were a decidedly secondary attraction. "The Pump Room" had no waters on offer, and no pump. But it was a gathering place, there was much socialization, and people came here, thinking to see and to be seen. They were soon disillusioned. There was not much to display, nor much to gawk at, when everyone had to submit to the leveling sartorial discipline of the white fuzzy robe.
But talk people could, and they did so with no little abandon.
One middle-aged man, loquacious and with a strident nasal tone, soon began to dominate the conversation in the area adjacent to the River Heights cousins.
"Lady Dorrance, I beg to differ with you," he was saying. "The human body is a chaste temple, whatever part of it you might wish to consider. Even the effluents that come forth, from no matter which orifice, are to a great degree, blessed. For instance, let us dilate upon the menses. The blood that monthly issues from the hymeneal cavities of women, gracious beings all, is not something to be shamefully hidden or casually flushed away. It is, in a profound sense, the elixir of life. I have respectfully gathered and prayerfully quaffed this precious nectar-from my mother, my aunt, my sister, my wife . . ."
Several ladies present blushed, others turned away their faces. George rolled up her eyes. She had once toured as Rita in Uncommon Women and Others.
"And nothing is so salubrious as spit," the authoritative man went on. "I spit all the time because it nourishes the world all around me, and saliva comes up from within me like an inexhaustable well."
To demonstate, he began to spit, first at Lady Dorrance, then upon her several companions. They skittered back, increasing their distance from this geyser in human form.
"You do well to stand back," he granted. "For this gives me the chance to expectorate upon you with more than usual force. It is my theory that the further saliva travels from the oral cavity of one to the pores of another, the more refulgent benefit is thereby conferred."
With that, the gentleman worked up a monstrous gob of spit, and if truth be told, phlegm. Calculating his trajectory with the precision of an artillery major, he launched it towards the cluster of retreating ladies. Lady Dorrance caught it upon the front of her robe. She winced in disgust.
"It is better landing there, Agatha," said her nearest companion, Natasha. "If he had missed entirely we would soon be walking on it and slipping, and falling on our faces."
"Ladies, ladies, have no fear of my missing you when I spit. I am a crack shot."
"Better keep him talking," whispered Natasha to her friend, "or he will spit some more."
Just then Natasha was favored with a slimy benediction upon her cheek.
"Dr. Henreid," stuttered Agatha hastily, "you must favor us with some of your other theories."
"I would be pleased to do so. For instance, Lady Dorrance, did you know that urine is not only quite clean, free from any impurity, but a cleansing agent in itself? I rinse my hands in it all the time, sometimes while in the act of urination. It is so comfortably warm to the touch and it imparts a sweet perfume to my palms that seems to linger on me, and upon everything I touch, all day."
With this he extended his wide-open hands towards the spit-drenched ladies. They withdrew even further.
"Be not afraid, good women. This sweet dew is safe, healing, and confers charm to the body, rest to the spirit. The mixture of spit, urine, and sweat is triply beneficent. Let our palms embrace, and you will drink of me, just as I drink the health of you."
"This guy is his own pump room, a veritable spa in himself," cracked George to Bess sotto voce.
Unfortunately the eccentric doctor's hearing was preternaturally acute. He turned to Bess and George. Lady Dorrance, Natasha, and several others gratefully slipped into the anonymity of the white-clad crowd.
"My blessings upon you, too, my children. My name is Doctor Fritz Henreid. I am here all the time, this place is so salubrious. Are you new patients at Spring Rock?"
"We arrived only yesterday," ventured George, hoping to keep the subject away from the topic of precious bodily fluids as long as possible.
"Might I learn your names?" the doctor inquired.
"I am Bobbie Watson, and this cripple standing next to me is my cousin. She is a distinguished meteorologist, Dr. Bobbie Watson. She won the Finland prize for discovering why it rains meteors in Ecuador."
"And you are both named Bobbie Watson?" asked the doctor.
"Everyone in our family is named Bobbie Watson," George informed him. "That makes it easy for us to remember who we are."
At these words, Nancy, who stood just behind George, gave an audible start.
"Which reminds me," blathered George, "I should also introduce our maid, Bobbie Watson. She doesn't quite recollect who she is at the moment, so we call her Bobbie Watson just to be safe." She turned to Nancy. "Isn't that true, Bobbie?"
Nancy reluctantly nodded yes. This conversation was becoming confusing to her. Did Mrs. Watson know something about her condition? Nancy had been led by Mr. Drew and the other servants to suppose otherwise.
"And I suppose that your baby, when it comes, will also be named Bobbie?" guessed the doctor with a knowing grimace.
"Both of them."
"You are expecting twins? Two babies?" asked the doctor.
"Yes, two Bobbies, both girls."
"But they won't always be Bobbie Watsons," contended Dr. Henreid. "What if one or both of them get married? Then they will have to take another name."
"Not at all," contradicted Bess, diving into the spirit of this dialogue. "For when they get married, if they should so choose, they will marry Bobbie Watsons."
"How so? Will they only choose partners so named, or will their husbands have to change their names to marry them?"
"Neither," said Bess. "When they get married the girls and their spouses will suddenly discover that they are all, and have always been, Bobbie Watson. So it works out quite well, don't you see?"
"I am not at all certain what you mean," said the dumbfounded doctor.
"That is because you do not drink of the fountain of industrial life. Have you heard of the Love Canal?" George sensed that Bess now had the good doctor on the run.
"Uh yes," he conceded.
"Well, we believe that every thing that comes up out of mother earth is sacred. When we tour the Southwest we delight in going to oil-wells in order to guzzle the fresh crude. And, more than that, we think that everything that the human being, God's most precious and crafty servant, has contrived, is doubly a sacrament for our use. That is why we take such unbounded, rampant joy in bathing in what some benightedly denominate industrial waste."
"And after bathing in chemicals that others so mistakenly call toxic, each one of us arises a newly baptized Bobbie Watson, and we live such pleasing lives until we die," George appended to her cousin's oration.
"Moreover," claimed Bess, "our hands are soaked in pesticides even now. I dipped arms in a two-to-one mixture of atrazine and diazinon up to my elbows this morning. Would you like to smell?" She extended a limp hand toward the doctor in a most genteel way.
"Excuse me ladies," he demurred. "I will have to reserve that pleasure for some future morning. I think I hear my number being called."
As the doctor fled precipitously through the sea of white-robed humanity, George remarked, "His number is up, indeed. I don't think we need endure the pleasure of his continued company for some time, if ever."
Nancy appreciated the calmness her charges had shown in the face of the spitting doctor. She had no idea how she could have endured to face the man had he approached her alone. Ashamed of her galloping timidity, she wondered if, in the part of her that was missing, was some modicum of that character trait called presence of mind. It was so hard, she mused, being half a person.
"They are calling your number, Bess," observed George.
Bess hobbled towards the treatment room door, wondering what lay inside for her.
"I wish I could sit down," whined George, now that she had leisure to think of her bodily complaints.
"Here Mrs. Watson, please use this camp stool I found in the closet of your room. I guessed that it would come in handy."
"Thanks Nancy," said George as she eased her bulk into the seat. "You are always so resourceful."
"Am I?" she asked.
"Of course. But you ought to know that."
Do I? I don't seem to know anything, thought Nancy. Am I really resourceful? I would like it if I was. And I would like it even more if I knew that I was resourceful. If I knew that I was anything at all. Clues, clues, give me clues! I must find out who, and what kind of person, I really am!
"Nancy, I think I will close my eyes and nap a bit," George confided.
"Then, Mrs. Watson, I will stand here and wake you up when they call your number."
"No, I needn't keep you on guard here just for that. Bess will be back long before it is my turn. In the meantime why don't you look around, uh, I mean, circulate."
"Yes, Mrs. Watson."
"Top ho, Jeeves!" George saluted Nancy with a debonair gesture and then immediately fell asleep. To get away from her mistress's rasping snore Nancy made her way to the other end of the crowded hall.
Lounging by the doorway, Nancy spotted her masculine companion of the day before striding down the hallway outside.
He turned and smiled. "Nancy! Having a cure yourself, or just shepherding your old employers?"
"The latter," she answered laconically.
"You remember our date for tonight?" he asked earnestly.
"Do I ever! Dancing and dining!"
"I count the minutes, my pretty fair maid. But I must go now. My masters await."
And with that he rushed down the hall and disappeared around the bend.
Am I really pretty and fair? Nancy wondered. To herself, in the mirror, she had looked common, vulgar, and plain. Almost defective. But in Ashley's eye she had caught a note of genuine appreciation. If I look good to him, she thought, little care I for the scathing opinion of the rest of the world entire-or even my own.