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CHAPTER V

WANTED--AN OWNER

I have never reproached Miss Patty, but if she had only given me
the letter to read or had told me the whole truth instead of a
part of it, I would have understood, and things would all have
been different. It is all very well for her to say that I looked
worried enough already, and that anyhow it was a family affair.
I SHOULD HAVE BEEN TOLD.

All she did was to come up to me as I stood in the spring, with
her face perfectly white, and ask me if my Dicky Carter was the
Richard Carter who stayed at the Grosvenor in town.

"He doesn't stay anywhere," I said, with my feet getting cold,
"but that's where he has apartments. What has he been doing
now?"

"You're expecting him on the evening train, aren't you?" she
asked. "Don't stare like that: my father's watching."

"He ought to be on the evening train," I said. I wasn't going to
say I expected him. I didn't.

"Listen, Minnie," she said, "you'll have to send him away again
the moment he comes. He must not go into the house."

I stood looking at her, with my mouth open.

"Not go into the house," I repeated, "with everybody waiting for
him for the last six days, and Mr. Stitt here to turn things over
to him!"

She stood tapping her foot, with her pretty brows knitted.

"The wretch!" she cried, "the hateful creature as if things
weren't bad enough! I suppose he'll have to come, Minnie, but I
must see him before he sees any one else."

Just then the bishop brought his glass over to the spring.

"Hot this time, Minnie," he said. "Do you know, I'm getting the
mineral-water habit, Patty! I'm afraid plain water will have no
attraction for me after this."

He put his hand over hers on the rail. They were old friends,
the bishop and the Jenningses.

"Well, how goes it to-day with the father?" he said in a low
tone, and smiling.

Miss Patty shrugged her shoulders. "Worse, if possible."

"I thought so," he said cheerfully. "If state of mind is any
criterion I should think he has had a relapse. A little salt,
Minnie." Miss Patty stood watching him while he tasted it.

"Bishop," she said suddenly, "will you do something for me?"

"I always have, Patty." He was very fond of Miss Patty, was the
bishop.

"Then--to-night, not later than eight o'clock, get father to play
cribbage, will you? And keep him in the card-room until nine."

"Another escapade!" he said, pretending to be very serious.
"Patty, Patty, you'll be the death of me yet. Is thy servant a
dog, that he should do this thing?"

"Certainly NOT," said Miss Patty. "Just a dear, slightly
bald, but still very distinguished slave!"

The bishop picked up her left hand and looked at the ring and
from that to her face.

"There will be plenty of slaves to kiss this little hand, where
you are going, my child," he said. "Sometimes I wish that some
nice red-blooded boy here at home--but I dare say it will turn
out surprisingly well as it is."

"Bishop, Bishop!" Mrs. Moody called. "How naughty of you, and
with your bridge hand waiting to be held!"

He carried his glass back to the table, stopping for a moment
beside Mr. Jennings.

"If Patty becomes any more beautiful," he said, "I shall be in
favor of having her wear a mask. How are we young men to protect
ourselves?"

"Pretty is as pretty does!" declared Mr. Jennings from behind his
newspaper, and Miss Patty went out with her chin up.

Well, I knew Mr. Dick had been up to some mischief; I had
suspected it all along. But Miss Patty went to bed, and old Mrs.
Hutchins, who's a sort of lady's-maid-companion of hers, said she
mustn't be disturbed. I was pretty nearly sick myself. And when
Mr. Sam came out at five o'clock and said he'd been in the long-
distance telephone booth for an hour and had called everybody who
had ever known Mr. Dick, and that he had dropped right off
the earth, I just about gave up. He had got some detectives, he
said, and there was some sort of a story about his having kept
right on the train to Salem, Ohio, but if he had they'd lost the
trail there, and anyhow, with the railroad service tied up by the
storm there wasn't much chance of his getting to Finleyville in
time.

Luckily Mr. Stitt was in bed with a mustard leaf over his stomach
and ice on his head, and didn't know whether it was night or
morning. But Thoburn was going around with a watch in his hand,
and Mr. Sam was for killing him and burying the body in the snow.

At half past five I just about gave up. I was sitting in front
of the fire wondering why I'd taken influenza the spring before
from getting my feet wet in a shower, when I had been standing in
a mineral spring for so many years that it's a wonder I'm not
web-footed. It was when I had influenza that the old doctor made
the will, you remember. Maybe I was crying, I don't recall.

It was dark outside, and nothing inside but firelight. Suddenly
I seemed to feel somebody looking at the back of my neck and
I turned around. There was a man standing outside one of the
windows, staring in.

My first thought, of course, was that it was Mr. Dick, but just
as the face vanished I saw that it wasn't. It was older by three
or four years than Mr. Dick's and a bit fuller.

I'm not nervous. I've had to hold my own against chronic
grouches too long to have nerves, so I went to the door and
looked out. The man came around the corner just then and I could
see him plainly in the firelight. He was covered with snow, and
he wore a sweater and no overcoat, but he looked like a
gentleman.

"I beg your pardon for spying," he said, "but the fire looked so
snug! I've been trying to get to the hotel over there, but in
the dark I've lost the path."

"That's not a hotel," I snapped, for that touched me on the raw.
"That's Hope Springs Sanatorium, and this is one of the Springs."

"Oh, Hope Springs, internal instead of eternal!" he said.
"That's awfully bad, isn't it? To tell you the truth, I think
I'd better come in and get some; I'm short on hope just now."

I thought that was likely enough, for although his voice was
cheerful and his eyes smiled, there was a drawn look around his
mouth, and he hadn't shaved that day. I wish I had had as much
experience in learning what's right with folks as I have had in
learning what's wrong with them.

"You'd better come in and get warm, anyhow," I told him, "only
don't spring any more gags. I've been `Hebe' for fourteen years
and I've served all the fancy drinks you can name over the brass
railing of that spring. Nowadays, when a fellow gets smart and
asks for a Mamie Taylor, I charge him a Mamie Taylor price."

He shut the door behind him and came over to the fire.

"I'm pretty well frozen," he said. "Don't be astonished if I
melt before your eyes; I've been walking for hours."

Now that I had a better chance to see him I'd sized up that drawn
look around his mouth.

"Missed your luncheon, I suppose," I said, poking the fire log.
He grinned rather sheepishly.

"Well, I haven't had any, and I've certainly missed it," he said.

"Fasting's healthy, you know."

I thought of Senator Biggs, who carried enough fat to nourish him
for months, and then I looked at my visitor, who hadn't an ounce
of extra flesh on him.

"Nothing's healthy that isn't natural," I declared. "If you'd
care for a dish of buttered and salted pop-corn, there's some on
the mantel. It's pretty salty; the idea is to make folks thirsty
so they'll enjoy the mineral water."

"Think of raising a real thirst only to drown it with spring
water!" he said. But he got the pop corn and he ate it all. If
he hadn't had any luncheon he hadn't had much breakfast. The
queer part was--he was a gentleman; his clothes were the right
sort, but he had on patent leather shoes in all that snow and an
automobile cap.

I put away the glasses while he ate. Pretty soon he looked up
and the drawn lines were gone. He wasn't like Mr. Dick, but he
was the same type, only taller and heavier built.

"And so it isn't a hotel," he remarked. "Well, I'm sorry. The
caravansary in the village is not to my liking, and I had thought
of engaging a suite up here. My secretary usually attends to
these things, but--don't take away all the glasses, Heb--I beg
your
pardon--but the thirst is coming."

He filled the glass himself and then he came up and stood in
front of me, with the glass held up in the air.

"To the best woman I have met in many days," he said, not mocking
but serious. "I was about to lie down and let the little birds
cover me with leaves." Then he glanced at the empty dish and
smiled. "To buttered pop-corn! Long may it wave!" he said, and
emptied the glass.

Well, I found a couple of apples in my pantry and brought them
out, and after he ate them he told me what had happened to him.
He had been a little of everything since he left college he was
about twenty-five had crossed the Atlantic in a catboat and gone
with somebody or other into some part of Africa--they got lost
and had to eat each other or lizards, or something like that--and
then he went to the Philippines, and got stuck there and had to
sell books to get home. He had a little money, "enough for a
grub-stake," he said, and all his folks were dead. Then a
college friend of his wrote a rural play called Sweet Peas--
"Great title, don't you think?" he asked--and he put up all
the money. It would have been a hit, he said, but the kid in the
play--the one that unites its parents in the last act just before
he dies of tuberculosis--the kid took the mumps and looked as if,
instead of fading away, he was going to blow up. Everybody was
so afraid of him that they let him die alone for three nights in
the middle of the stage. Then the leading woman took the mumps,
and the sheriff took everything else.

"You city folks seem to know so much," I said, "and yet you bring
a country play to the country! Why don't you bring out a play
with women in low-necked gowns, and champagne suppers, and a
scandal or two? They packed Pike's Opera-House three years ago
with a play called Why Women Sin."

Well, of course, the thing failed, and he lost every dollar he'd
put into it, which was all he had, including what he had in his
pockets.

"They seized my trunks," he explained, "and I sold my fur-lined
overcoat for eight dollars, which took one of the girls back
home. It's hard for the women. A fellow can always get some
sort of a job--I was coming up here to see if they needed an
extra clerk or a waiter, or chauffeur, or anything that meant
a roof and something to eat--but I suppose they don't need a
jack-of-all-trades."

"No," I answered, "but I'll tell you what I think they're going
to need. And that's an owner!"





Where There's A Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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