The door of the train car was answered by a gray-bearded man in a conservative black suit, wearing gold pince-nez glasses and a doctor's head mirror. In a heavy Austrian accent he said, "Go away."
General Randolph Harkleroad got his foot in the closing door with an expertise borne of ample experience being unwelcome, and entered. "I'm here to see Agent West."
"Oh, you are, are you! I suppose you are that, that General Hassenfeld who is sending these bothersome telegrams!" cried the man, jabbing at Harkleroad with an accusatory finger. "Now you listen here. Herr Vest is my patient and he is not to be disturbed. He is to have no excitement."
The General took from his pocket the reply from West himself, sent that morning, to the effect that he was quite recovered and would gladly agree to this meeting—which, besides, was only a meeting. But before he could speak the doctor interrupted, with an upraised hand:
"No! it's no good saying you come to talk only. I know all about these brainless young men, thinking themselves invincible, and I know the ruthless old men who have no scruple that advantage to take. So maybe you don't order it, so maybe you don't even ask it, so what? So on his own blockheaded judgment Herr Vest goes running off on some crazy goose chase, and of such exertion at this stage I cannot answer for the consequences! He has been very ill, and I firmly prescribe rest. And now if I may kindly trouble you to go soak your head!"
"I know it's you, Gordon."
The old doctor hesitated a moment and then begrudgingly straightened his posture, seeming thereby to gain two or three inches in height. When he spoke again it was in a lower register and with a Midwestern accent, but the tone of officious indignation was very much intact. "All the same Jim has been very ill, and he does need to rest."
He had the presence of mind to stop there, but the General followed the thread. "And you will kindly trouble me to go soak my head?"
"Something like that. Sir."
"Hang it, I told West I was coming to consult him on a matter of some importance!"
"And I told you I won't allow it!" the young man answered back, without even the accent to shield him.
The General was not accustomed to this. "You won't allow . . . Ah, there you are, West," he added, at the sound of a door opening.
James West did look a little wan, but seemed otherwise all right. Certainly he was more than strong enough for a meeting, or for whatever might follow. With his usual cool composure he said, "Hullo, General. Who's your friend?"
The General and the old doctor exchanged an uneasy look.
"Oh, you didn't need to bring a doctor," said West, noticing the head mirror. "I'm all right. What can I do for you, sir?"
"Well . . . " The General returned the telegraph slip to his pocket and absently crumpled it into a tiny ball. "As a matter of fact, I've just remembered another appointment and I must be going." He put on his hat again with a peremptory nod. "Gentlemen."
No sooner had the door shut behind him than the old doctor yanked off his spectacles and shoved them into a coat pocket. "Damn! I could have sworn the crisis was past . . . " He rushed over and took West by the shoulders, pushed him into a seat, held his face in both hands and looked searchingly into his eyes. "Jim. Look at me, Jim. It's me. You're gonna be alright—"
"Artie, would you relax? I know you."
"You do?" And indeed the touch of West's face revealed no trace of fever—while his clear eyes showed a distinct trace of amusement. The old doctor peeled off his beard and administered a smack on the head with it. "Then what the heck was that about?"
"Oh, it just occurred to me," said West, leaning back and putting his feet up on the coffee table, "that if the General got the idea I wasn't quite up to par, he might decide it wasn't that important after all and leave me to my rest."
For the first time in days Artemus Gordon did as he was told, and relaxed. "Rest," he confirmed. "Then you're really not gonna go running off and overexert yourself right away?"
"Now Artie, didn't you hear I'm not to have any excitement? Doctor's orders."