Chapter VIII. And Mr. Moody Indigestion
 

Mr. Moody took indigestion that night--not but that he always had it, but this was worse--and Mrs. Moody came to my room about two o'clock and knocked at the door.

"You'd better come," she said. "There's no doctor, and he's awful bad. Blames you, too; he says you made him take a salt rub."

"My land," I snapped, trying to find my bedroom slippers, "I didn't make him take clam chowder for supper, and that's what's the matter with him. He's going on a strained rice diet, that's what he's going to do. I've got to have my sleep."

She was waiting in the hall in her kimono, and holding a candle. Anybody could see she'd been crying. As she often said to me, of course she was grateful that Mr. Moody didn't drink--no one knew his virtues better than she did. But her sister married a man who went on a terrible bat twice a year, and all the rest of the time he was humble and affable trying to make up for it. And sometimes she thought if Mr. Moody would only take a little whisky when he had these attacks--! I'd rather be the wife of a cheerful drunkard any time than have to live with a cantankerous saint. Miss Cobb and I had had many a fight over it, but at that time there wasn't much likelihood of either of us being called on to choose.

Well, we went down to Mr. Moody's room, and he was sitting up in bed with his knees drawn up to his chin and a hot-water bottle held to him.

"Look at your work, woman," he said to me when I opened the door.

"I'm dying!"

"You look sick," I said, going over to the bed. It never does to cross them when they get to the water-bottle stage. "The pharmacy clerk's gone to a dance over at Trimble's, but I guess I can find you some whisky."

"Do have some whisky, George," begged Mrs. Moody, remembering her brother-in-law.

"I never touch the stuff and you both know it," he snarled. He had a fresh pain just then and stopped, clutching up the bottle. "Besides," he finished, when it was over, "I haven't got any whisky."

Well, to make a long story short, we got him to agree to some whisky from the pharmacy, with a drop of peppermint in it, if he could wash it down with spring water so it wouldn't do him any harm.

"There isn't any spring water in the house," I said, losing my temper a little, "and I'm not going out there in my bedroom slippers, Mr. Moody. I don't see why your eating what you shouldn't needs to give me pneumonia."

Mrs. Moody was standing beside the bed, and I saw her double chin begin to work. If you have ever seen a fat woman, in a short red kimono holding a candle by, a bed, and crying, you know how helpless she looks.

"Don't go, Minnie," she sniffled. "It would be too awful. If you are afraid you could take the poker."

"I'm not going!" I declared firmly. "It's--it's dratted idiocy, that's all. Plain water would do well enough. There's a lot of people think whisky is poison with water, anyhow. Where's the pitcher?"

Oh, yes, I went. I put on some stockings of Mrs. Moody's and a petticoat and a shawl and started. It was when I was in the pharmacy looking for the peppermint that I first noticed my joint again. A joint like that's a blessing or a curse, the way you look at it.

I found the peppermint and some whisky and put them on the stairs. Then I took my pitcher and lantern and started for the spring-house. It was still snowing, and part of the time Mrs. Moody's stockings were up to their knees. The wind was blowing hard, and when I rounded the corner of the house my lantern went out. I stood there in the storm, with the shawl flapping, thanking heaven I was a single woman, and about ready to go back and tell Mr. Moody what I thought of him when I looked toward the spring-house.

At first I thought it was afire, then I saw that the light was coming from the windows. Somebody was inside, with a big fire and all the lights going.

I'd had tramps sleep all night in the spring-house before, and once they left a card by the spring: "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!" So I started out through the snow on a half run. By the bridge over Hope Springs Creek I slipped and fell, and I heard the pitcher smash to bits on the ice below. But as soon as I could move I went on again. That spring-house had been my home for a good many years, and the tramp didn't live who could spend the night there if I knew it.

I realized then that I should have taken the poker. I went over cautiously to one of the windows, wading in deep snow to get there--and if you have ever done that in a pair of bedroom slippers you can realize the state of my mind--and looked in.

There were three chairs drawn up in a row in front of the fire, with my bearskin hearth-rug on them to make a couch, and my shepherd's plaid shawl folded at one end for a pillow. And stretched on that with her long sealskin coat laid over her was Dorothy Jennings, Miss Patty's younger sister! She was alone, as far as I could see, and she was leaning on her elbow with her cheek in her hand, staring at the fire. Just then the door into the pantry opened and out came Mr. Dick himself.

"Were you calling, honey?" he said, coming over and looking down at her.

"You were such a long time!" says she, glancing up under her lashes at him. "I--I was lonely!"

"Bless you," says Mr. Dick, stooping over her. "What did I ever do without you?"

I could have told her a few things he did, but by that time it was coming over me pretty strong that here was the real Dicky Carter and that I had an extra one on my hands. The minute I looked at this one I knew that nobody but a blind man would mistake one for the other, and Mr. Thoburn wasn't blind. I tell you I stood out in that snow-bank and perspired!

When I looked again Mr. Dick was on his knees by the row of chairs, and Miss Dorothy--Mrs. Dicky, of course--was running her fingers through his hair.

"Minnie used to keep apples and things in the pantry," he said, "but she must be growing stingy in her old age; there's not a bite there."

"I'm not so very hungry when I have you!" cooed Mrs. Dicky.

"But you can't eat me." He brought her hand down from his hair-- I may be stingy in my old age, but I've learned a few things, and one is that a man feels like a fool with his hair rumpled, and I can tell the degree of a woman's experience by the way she lets his top hair alone--and pretended to bite it, her hand, of course. "Although I could eat you," he said. "I'd like to take a bite out of your throat right there."

Well, it was no place for me unless they knew I was around. I waded around to the door and walked in, and there was a grand upsetting of the sealskin coat and my shepherd's plaid shawl. Mr. Dick jumped to his feet and Mrs. Dick sat bolt upright and stared at me over the backs of the chairs.

"Minnie!" cried Mr. Dick. "As I'm a married man, it's Minnie herself; Minnie, the guardian angel! The spirit of the place! Dorothy, don't you remember Minnie?"

She came toward me with her hand out. She was a pretty little thing, not so beautiful as Miss Patty, but with a nice way about her.

"I'm awfully glad to see you again," she said. "Of course I remember--why you are hardly dressed at all! You must be frozen!"

I went over to the fire and emptied my bedroom slippers of snow. Then I sat down and looked at them both.

"Frozen!" repeated I; "I'm in a hot sweat. If you two children meant to come, why in creation didn't you come in time?"

"We did," replied Mr. Dick, promptly. "We crawled under the wire fence into the deer park at five minutes to twelve. The will said `Be on the ground,' and I was--flat on the ground!"

"We've had the police," I said, drearily enough. "I wouldn't live through another day like yesterday for a hundred dollars."

"We were held up by the snow," he explained. "We got a sleigh to come over in, but we walked up the hill and came here. I don't mind saying that my wife's people don't know about this yet, and we're going to lay low until we've cooked up some sort of a scheme to tell them." Then he came over and put his hand on my shoulder.

"Poor old Minnie!" he said; "honest, I'm sorry. I've been a hard child to raise, haven't I? But that's all over, Minnie. I've got an incentive now, and it's `steady, old boy,' for me from now. You and I will run the place and run it right."

"I don't want to!" I retorted, holding my bedroom slippers to steam before the fire. "I'm going to buy out Timmon's candy store and live a quiet life, Mr. Dick. This place is making me old."

"Nonsense! We're going to work together, and we'll make this the busiest spot in seven counties. Dorothy and I have got it all planned out and we've got some corking good ideas." He put his hands in his pockets and strutted up and down. "It's the day of advertising, you know, Minnie," he said. "You've got to have the goods, and then you've got to let people know you've got the goods. What would you say to a shooting-gallery in the basement, under the reading-room?"

"Fine!" I said, with sarcasm, turning my slippers. "If things got too quiet that would wake them up a bit, and we could have a balloon ascension on Saturdays!"

"Not an ascension," said he, with my bitterness going right over his head. "Nothing sensational, Minnie. That's the way with women; they're always theatrical. But what's the matter with a captive balloon, and letting fresh-air cranks sleep in a big basket bed--say, at five hundred feet? Or a thousand--a thousand would be better. The air's purer."

"With a net below," says I, "in case they should turn over and fall out of bed! It's funny nobody ever thought of it before!"

"Isn't it?" exclaimed Mrs. Dick. "And we've all sorts of ideas. Dick--Mr. Carter has learned of a brand new cocktail for the men--"

"A lulu!" he broke in.

"And I'm going around to read to the old ladies and hold their hands--"

"You'll have to chloroform them first," I put in. "Perhaps it would be better to give the women the cocktail and hold the men's hands."

"Oh, if you're going to be funny!" Mr. Dick said savagely, "we'll not tell you any more. I've been counting on you, Minnie. You've been here so long. You know," he said to his wife, "when I was a little shaver I thought Minnie had webbed-feet--she was always on the bank, like a duck. You are a duck, Minnie," he says to me; "a nice red-headed duck! Now don't be quirky and spoil everything."

I couldn't be light-hearted to save my life.

"Your sister's been wild all day," I told Mrs. Dick. "She got your letter to-day--yesterday--but I don't think she's told your father yet."

"What!" she screeched, and caught at the mantelpiece to hold herself. "Not Pat!" she said, horrified, "and father! Here!"

Well, I listened while they told me. They hadn't had the faintest idea that Mr. Jennings and Miss Patty were there at the sanatorium. The girl had been making a round of visits in the Christmas holidays, and instead of going back to school she'd sent a forged excuse and got a month off--she hadn't had any letters, of course. The plan had been not to tell anybody but her sister until Mr. Dick had made good at the sanatorium.

"The idea was this, Minnie," said Mr. Dick. "Old--I mean Mr. Jennings is--is not well; he has a chronic indisposition--"

"Disposition, I call it," put in Mr. Jennings' daughter.

"And he's apt to regard my running away with Dorothy when I haven't a penny as more of an embezzlement than an elopement."

"Fiddle!" exclaimed Mrs. Dick. "I asked you to marry me, and now they're here and have to spoil it all."

The thought of her father and his disposition suddenly overpowered her and she put her yellow head on the back of a chair and began to cry.

"I--I can't tell him!" she sobbed. "I wrote to Pat,--why doesn't Pat tell him? I'm going back to school."

"You'll do nothing of the sort. You're a married woman now, and where I go you go. My country is your country, and my sanatorium is your sanatorium." He was in a great rage.

But she got up and began trying to pull on her fur coat, and her jaw was set. She looked like her father for a minute.

"Where are you going?" he asked, looking scared.

"Anywhere. I'll go down to the station and take the first train, it doesn't matter where to." She picked up her muff, but he went over and stood against the door.

"Not a step without me!" he declared. "I'll go with you, of course; you know that. I'm not afraid of your father: I'd as soon as not go in and wake him now and tell him the whole thing-- that you've married a chap who isn't worth the butter on his bread, who can't buy you kid gloves--"

"But you will, as soon as the sanatorium succeeds!" she put in bravely. She put down her muff. "Don't tell him to-night, anyhow. Maybe Pat will think of some way to break it to him. She can do a lot with father."

"I hope she can think of some way to break another Richard Carter to the people in the house," I said tartly.

"Another Richard Carter!" they said together, and then I told them about how we had waited and got desperate, and how we'd brought in Mr. Pierce at the last minute and that he was asleep now at the house. They roared. To save my life I couldn't see that it was funny. But when I came to the part about Thoburn being there, and his having had a good look at Mr. Pierce, and that he was waiting around with his jaws open to snap up the place when it fell under the hammer, Mr. Dick stopped laughing and looked serious.

"Lord deliver us from our friends!" he said. "Between you and Sam, you've got things in a lovely mess, Minnie. What are you going to do about it now?"

"It's possible we can get by Thoburn," I said. "You can slip in to-night, we can get Mr. Pierce out--Lord knows he'll be glad to go--and Miss Dorothy can go back to school. Then, later, when you've got things running and are making good--"

"I'm not going back to school," she declared, "but I'll go away; I'll not stand in your way, Dicky." She took two steps toward the door and waited for him to stop her.

"Nonsense, Minnie," he exclaimed angrily and put his arm around her, "I won't be separated from my wife. You got me into this scrape, and--"

"I didn't marry you!" I retorted. "And I'm not responsible for your father-in-law's disposition."

"You'll have to help us out," he finished.

"What shall I do? Murder Mr. Jennings?" I asked bitterly. "If you expect me to suggest that you both go to the house, and your wife can hide in your rooms--"

"Why not?" asked Mr. Dick.

Well, I sat down again and explained patiently that it would get out among the servants and cause a scandal, and that even if it didn't I wasn't going to have any more deception: I had enough already. And after a while they saw it as I did, and agreed to wait and see Miss Patty before they decided. They wanted to have her wakened at once, but I refused, although I agreed to bring her out first thing in the morning.

"But you can't stay here," I said. "There'll be Miss Cobb at nine o'clock, and the man comes to light the fire at eight."

"We could go to the old shelter-house on the golf links," suggested Mr. Dick, looking me square in the eye. (I took the hint, and Mrs. Dicky never knew he had been hidden there before.)

"Nobody ever goes near it in winter." So I put on my slippers again and we started through the snow across the golf links, Mr. Dick carrying a bundle of firewood, and I leading the way with my lantern. Twice I went into a drift to my waist, and once a rabbit bunted into me head on, and would have scared me into a chill if I hadn't been shaking already. The two behind me were cheerful enough. Mr. Dick pointed out the general direction of the deer park which hides the shelter-house from the sanatorium, and if you'll believe it, with snow so thick I had to scrape it off the lantern every minute or so, those children planned to give something called A Midsummer Night's Dream in the deer park among the trees in the spring, to entertain the patients.

"I wish to heaven I'd wake up and find all this a dream," I called back over my shoulder. But they were busy with costumes and getting some folks they knew from town to take the different parts and they never even heard me. The last few yards they snowballed each other and me. I tell you I felt a hundred years old.

We got into the shelter-house by my crawling through a window, and when we had lighted the fire and hung up the lantern, it didn't seem so bad. The place had been closed since summer, and it seemed colder than outside, but those two did the barn dance then and there. There were two rooms, and Mr. Dick had always used the back one to hide in. It's a good thing Mrs. Dick was not a suspicious person. Many a woman would have wondered when she saw him lift a board in the floor and take out a rusty tin basin, a cake of soap, a moldy towel, a can of sardines, a tooth- brush and a rubber carriage robe to lay over the rafters under the hole in the roof. But it's been my experience that the first few days of married life women are blind because they want to be and after that because they have to be.

It was about four when I left them, sitting on a soap box in front of the fire toasting sardines on the end of Mr. Dick's walking-stick. Mrs. Dick made me put on her sealskin coat, and I took the lantern, leaving them in the firelight. They'd gone back to the captive balloon idea and were wondering if they couldn't get it copyrighted!

I took a short cut home, crawling through the barbed-wire fence and going through the deer park. I was too tired and cold to think. I stumbled down the hill to the house, and just before I got to the corner I heard voices, and the shuffling of feet through the snow. The next instant a lantern came around the corner of the house. Mr. Thoburn was carrying it, and behind him were the bishop, Mike the bath man, and Mr. Pierce.

"It's like that man Moody," the bishop was saying angrily, "to send the girl--"

"Piffle !" snarled Mr. Thoburn. "If ever a woman was able to take care of herself--" And then they saw me, and they all stopped and stared.

"Good gracious, girl!" said the bishop, with his dressing- gown blowing out straight behind him in the wind. "We thought you'd been buried in a drift!"

"I don't see why!" I retorted defiantly. "Can't I go out to my own spring-house without having a posse after me to bring me back?"

"Ordinarily," said Mr. Thoburn, with his snaky eyes on me, "I think I may say that you might go almost anywhere without my turning out to recover you. But Mrs. Moody is having hysterics."

Mrs. Moody! I'd forgotten the Moodys!

"She is convinced that you have drowned yourself, head down, in the spring," Mr. Pierce said in his pleasant way. "You've been gone two hours, you know."

He took my arm and turned me toward the house. I was dazed.

"In answer to your urgent inquiry," Mr. Thoburn called after me, disagreeably, "Mr. Moody has not died. He is asleep. But, by the way, where's the spring water?"

I didn't answer him; I couldn't. We went into the house; Mrs. Moody and Miss Cobb were sitting on the stairs. Mrs. Moody had been crying, and Miss Cobb was feeding her the whisky I had left, with a teaspoon. She had had a half tumblerful already and was quite maudlin. She ran to me and put her arms around me.

"I thought I was a murderess!" she cried. "Oh, the thought! Blood on my soul! Why, Minnie Waters, wherever did you get that sealskin coat!"