Chapter VI. The Conspiracy
 

I'm not making any excuses. I did it for the best. In any sort of crisis there are always folks who stand around and wring their hands and say, "What shall we do?" And then if it's a fire and somebody has had enough sense to send for the engines, they say: "Just look at what the water did!" Although as far as I can see I'm the only one that suffered any damage.

If Mr. Thoburn had not been there, sitting by to see the old sanatorium die so it could sprout wings and fly as a summer hotel, I'd never have thought of it. But I was in despair.

I got up and opened the door, but the Snow came in in a cloud, and the path was half a foot deep again. It shows on what little threads big things hang, for when I saw the storm I gave up the idea of bringing Mr. Sam down to see the young man, and the breath of fresh air in my face brought me to my senses.

But the angel of providence appeared in the shape of Mike, the bath man, coming down through the snow in a tearing rage. The instant I saw Mike I knew it was settled.

"Am I or am I not to give Mr. Moody a needle shower?" he shouted, almost beside himself. And I saw he had his overcoat over his bath costume, which is a Turkish towel.

"A needle shower followed by a salt rub," said I. "He's been having them for eleven years. What's the matter?"

"That fool of a young doctor," shouted Mike, "he told him before he left that if he'd been taking them for eleven years and wasn't any better it was time to stop. Ain't business bad enough--only four people in the house takin' baths regular--without his buttin' in!"

"Where's Mr. Moody?"

"In the bath. I've locked up his clothes."

"You give him a needle shower and a salt rub," I ordered, "and if he makes a fuss just send for me. And, Mike," I said, as he started out, "ask Mr. Van Alstyne to come out here immediately."

That's the way it was all the time. Everybody brought their troubles to me, and I guess I thought I was a little tin god on wheels and the place couldn't get along without me. But it did; it does. We all think we'll leave a big hole behind us when we go, but it's just like taking your thumb out of a bowl of soup. There isn't even a dent.

Mr. Van Alstyne came out on the run, and when he saw Mr. Pierce by the fire--that was his name, Alan Pierce--he stopped and stared. Then he said:

"You infernal young scamp!" And with that Mr. Pierce jumped up, surprised and pretty mad, and Mr. Van Alstyne saw his mistake.

"I'm sure I beg your pardon!" he said. "The fact is, I was expecting somebody else, and in the firelight--"

"You surprised me, that's all," said Mr. Pierce. "Under the circumstances, I'm glad I'm not the other chap."

"You may be," assured Mr. Sam grimly. "You're not unlike him, by the way. A little taller and heavier, but--"

Now it's all very well for Mr. Sam to say I originated the idea and all that, but as truly as I am writing this, as I watched his face I saw the same thought come into it. He looked Mr. Pierce up and down, and then he stared into the fire and puckered his mouth to whistle, but he didn't. And finally he glanced at me, but I was looking into the fire, too.

"Just come, haven't you?" he asked. "How did you get up the hill?"

"Walked," said Mr. Pierce, smiling. "It took some digging, too. But I didn't come for my health, unless you think three meals a day are necessary for health."

Mr. Sam turned and stared at him. "By Jove! you don't mean it!"

"I wish I didn't," Mr. Pierce replied. "One of the hardest things I've had to remember for the last ten hours was that for two years I voluntarily ate only two meals a day. A man's a fool to do a thing like that! It's reckless."

Mr. Sam got up and began to walk the floor, his hands in his pockets. He tried to get my eye, but still I looked in the fire.

"All traffic's held up, Minnie," he said. "The eight o'clock train is stalled beyond the junction, in a drift. I've wired the conductor, and Carter isn't on it."

"Well?" said I.

"If we could only get past to-day," Mr. Sam went on; "if Thoburn would only choke to death, or--if there was somebody around who looked like Dick. I dare say, by to-morrow--" He looked at Mr. Pierce, who smiled and looked at him.

"And I resemble Dick!" said Mr. Pierce. "Well, if he's a moral and upright young man--"

"He isn't!" Mr. Sam broke in savagely. And then and there he sat down and told Mr. Pierce the trouble we were in, and what sort of cheerful idiot Dicky Carter was, and how everybody liked him, but wished he would grow up before the family good name was gone, and that now he had a chance to make good and be self-supporting, and he wasn't around, and if Mr. Sam ever got his hands on him he'd choke a little sense down his throat.

And then Mr. Pierce told about the play and the mumps, and how he was stranded. When Mr. Sam asked him outright if he'd take Mr. Dick's place overnight he agreed at once.

"I haven't anything to lose," he said, "and anyhow I've been on a diet of Sweet Peas so long that a sanatorium is about what I need."

"It's like this," explained Mr. Sam, "Old Stitt is pretty thoroughly jingled--excuse me, Minnie, but it's the fact. I'll take you to his room, with the lights low, and all you'll need to do is to shake hands with him. He's going on the early train to- morrow. Then you needn't mix around much with the guests until to-morrow, and by that time I hope to have Dick within thrashing distance."

Just as they'd got it arranged that Mr. Pierce was to put on Mr. Sam's overcoat and walk down to the village so that he could come up in a sleigh, as if he had driven over from Yorkton--he was only to walk across the hall in front of the office, with his collar up, just enough to show himself and then go to his room with a chill--just as it was all arranged, Mr. Sam thought of something.

"The house people are waiting for Dick," he said to me, "and about forty women are crocheting in the lobby, so they'll be sure to see him. Won't some of them know it isn't Dick?"

I thought pretty fast.

"He hasn't been around much lately," I said. "Nobody would know except Mrs. Wiggins. She'll never forget him; the last time he was here he put on her false front like a beard and wore it down to dinner."

"Then it's all off," he groaned. "She's got as many eyes as a potato."

"And about as much sense," said I. "Fiddlesticks! She's not so good we can't replace her, and what's the use of swallowing a camel and then sticking at a housekeeper?"

"You can't get her out of the house in an hour," he objected, but in a weak voice.

"I can!" I said firmly.

(I did. Inside of an hour she went to the clerk, Mr. Slocum, and handed in her resignation. She was a touchy person, but I did not say all that was quoted. I did not say the kitchen was filthy; I only said it took away my appetite to look in at the door. But she left, which is the point.)

Well, I stood in the doorway and watched them disappear in the darkness, and I felt better than I had all day. It's great to be able to do something, even if that something is wrong. But as I put on my shawl and turned out the lights, I suddenly remembered. Miss Patty would be waiting in the lobby for Mr. Dick, and she would not be crocheting!