Joe the Hotel Boy/Chapter XI
The more Joe thought over the matter the more he became convinced that he was right. He remembered a good deal of the talk he had overheard during the storm, although such talk had, for the time being, been driven from his mind by the tragic death of old Hiram Bodley.
"If they are working some game what can this Maurice Vane have to do with it?" he asked himself.
He thought it best to get back to the hotel at once, and tell Mr. Mallison of his suspicions. But, as luck would have it, scarcely had he started to row his boat again when an oarlock broke, and so it took him the best part of an hour to make the trip.
"Where is Mr. Mallison?" he asked of the clerk of the hotel.
"Out in the stable, I believe," was the answer.
Without waiting, our hero ran down to the stable and found the hotel proprietor inspecting some hay that had just been unloaded.
"I'd like to speak to you a moment, Mr. Mallison," he said. "It's important," and he motioned for the man to follow him.
"What is it, Joe?"
"It's about those men who called to see that sick man, and about the sick man, too."
"He has gone--all of them have gone."
"What!" ejaculated our hero. "The sick man, too?"
"Exactly. But he didn't go with the others. While they were here he was in bed, but right after they left he arose, dressed himself, and drove away."
"Where did he go to?"
"I don't know."
"Do you know what became of the other two men?"
"I do not. But what's up? Is there anything wrong?" questioned the hotel proprietor, with a look of concern on his face.
"I am afraid there is," answered Joe, and told his tale from beginning to end.
"That's an odd sort of a yarn, Joe. It's queer you didn't recognize the men before.
"It is queer, sir, but I can't help that. It flashed over me just as I looked into the window of the old lodge."
"You haven't made any mistake?"
"Humph!" Andrew Mallison mused for a moment. "I don't really see what I can do in the matter. We can't prove that those men are wrongdoers, can we?"
"Not unless they tried some game on this Mr. Maurice Vane."
"They may have sold him some worthless mining shares. That sort of a trick is rather old."
"I think we ought to make a search for this David Ball, or Malone, or whatever his name is."
"I'm willing to do that."
After questioning half a dozen people they learned that the pretended sick man had driven off in the direction of a village called Hopedale.
"What made him go there, do you think?" questioned Joe.
"I don't know, excepting that he thought of getting a train on the other line."
A horse and buggy were procured, and in this Mr. Mallison and our hero drove over to Hopedale. They were still on the outskirts of the village when they heard a locomotive whistle.
"There's the afternoon train now!" cried Joe. "Perhaps it's the one he wants to catch."
The horse was touched up and the buggy drove up to the railroad platform at breakneck speed. But the train was gone and all they could see of it was the last car as it swung around one of the mountain bends.
"Too late, Mr. Mallison!" sang out the station master. "If I had known ye was comin' I might have held her up a bit."
"I didn't want the train, Jackson. Who got on board?"
"Two ladies, a man and a boy--Dick Fadder."
"Did you know the man?"
"What did he have with him?"
"A dress suit case."
"Was he dressed in a dark blue suit and wear a slouch hat?" asked Joe.
"Yes, and had a light overcoat with him."
"That was our man."
"Anything wrong with him?" asked the station master.
"Perhaps," answered the hotel proprietor. "Anyway, we wanted to see him. Did he buy a ticket?"
"Yes, to Snagtown."
"What can he want in Snagtown?" asked Joe.
"Oh, that might have been a blind, Joe. He could easily go through to Philadelphia or some other place, if he wanted to."
At first they thought of telegraphing ahead to stop the man, but soon gave that plan up. They had no evidence, and did not wish to make trouble unless they knew exactly what they were doing.
"I hope it turns out all right," observed Andrew Mallison, when they were driving back to Riverside. "If there was a swindle it would give my hotel a black eye."
"That's one reason why I wanted that man held," answered Joe.
The next day and that following passed quietly, and our hero began to think that he had made a mistake and misjudged the men. He was kept very busy and so almost forgot the incident.
Among the new boarders was a fussy old man named Chaster, who was speedily nicknamed by the bell boys Chestnuts. He was a particular individual, and made everybody as uncomfortable as he possibly could.
One day Wilberforce Chaster--to use his full name,--asked Joe to take him out on the lake for a day's fishing. Our hero readily complied, and was in hot water from the time they went out until they returned. Nothing suited the old man, and as he caught hardly any fish he was exceedingly put out when he came back to the hotel.
"Your boatman is of no account," he said to Andrew Mallison. "I have spent a miserable day," and he stamped off to his room in high anger.
"It was not my fault, Mr. Mallison," said Joe, with burning cheeks. "I did my level best by him."
"That man has been making trouble for us ever since he come," answered the hotel proprietor. "I am going to ask him to go elsewhere when his week is up."
The insults that Joe had received that day from Wilberforce Chaster rankled in his mind, and he determined to square accounts with the boarder if he possibly could.
Towards evening he met a bell boy named Harry Ross who had also had trouble with Chaster, and the two talked the matter over.
"We ought to get square," said Harry Ross. "I wish I could souse him with a pitcher of ice water."
"I've got a plan," said Joe.
Stopping at the hotel was a traveling doctor, who came to Riverside twice a year, for a stay of two weeks each time. He sold some patent medicines, and had in his room several skulls and also a skeleton strung on wires.
"That doctor is away," said our hero. "I wonder if we can't smuggle the skulls and the skeleton into Mr. Chaster's room?"
"Just the cheese!" cried the bell boy, enthusiastically. "And let us rub the bones with some of those matches that glow in the dark!"
The plan was talked over, and watching their chance the two transferred the skeleton and the skulls to the apartment occupied by Wilberforce Chaster. Then they rubbed phosphorus on the bones, and hung them upon long strings, running over a doorway into the next room.
That evening Wilberforce Chaster remained in the hotel parlor until ten o 'clock. Then he marched off to his room in his usual ill humor. The gas was lit and he went to bed without delay.
As soon as the light went out and they heard the man retire, Joe and the bell boy began to groan in an ominous manner. As they did so, they worked the strings to which the skulls and the skeleton were attached, causing them to dance up and down in the center of the old man's room.
Hearing the groans, Wilberforce Chaster sat up in bed and listened. Then he peered around in the darkness.
"Ha! what is that?" he gasped, as he caught sight of the skulls. "Am I dreaming--or is that--Oh!"
He started and began to shake from head to foot, for directly in front of him was the skeleton, moving up and down in a jerky fashion and glowing with a dull fire. His hair seemed to stand on end. He dove under the coverings of the bed.
"The room is haunted!" he moaned. "Was ever such a thing seen before! This is wretched! Whatever shall I do?"
The groans continued, and presently he gave another look from under the bed clothes. The skeleton appeared to be coming nearer. He gave a loud yell of anguish.
"Go away! Go away! Oh, I am haunted by a ghost! This is awful! I cannot stand it!"
He fairly tumbled out of bed and caught up his clothing in a heap. Then, wrapped in some comfortables, he burst out of the room and ran down the hallway like a person possessed of the evil spirits.
"Come be quick, or we'll get caught!" whispered Joe, and ran into the room, followed by the bell boy. In a trice they pulled loose the strings that held the skulls and the skeleton, and restored the things to the doctor's room from which they had been taken. Then they went below by a back stairs.
The whole hotel was in an alarm, and soon Mr. Mallison came upon the scene.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, severely, of Wilberforce Chaster.
"The meaning is, sir, that your hotel is haunted," was the answer, which startled all who heard it.