But being beaten twice in succession by Joe Henry aroused his suspicion.
Joe Henry ran a small carting business. He had three teams and three drays, and a small stable on Locust Street, on the alley corner. He was a great friend of Pie-Wagon Pete and he ate at the Pie-Wagon.
Philo Gubb, after leaving Mr. Medderbrook, had not intentionally picked up Joe Henry. On his way to the Pie-Wagon it had been necessary for him to pass the alley opposite Joe Henry's stable and his detective instinct told him to hide himself behind a manure bin in the alley and watch the stable. In the warm June dusk he had crouched there, watching and waiting.
Mr. Gubb could see into the stable, but there was not much to see. The stable boy sat at the door, his chair tipped back, until a few minutes after eleven, when one of Joe Henry's drays drove up with a load of baled hay.
Philo Gubb heard the voices of the men as they hoisted the hay to the hay-loft, and he saw Joe Henry helping with the hoisting-rope. The hay was water-soaked. Water dripped from it onto the floor of the stable.
But nothing exciting occurred, and Philo Gubb was about to consider this a dull evening's work, when Joe Henry appeared in the doorway, a pitchfork in one hand and the slab of pine in the other. He looked up and down the street and then, with surprising agility, sprang across the street toward where Philo Gubb lay hid. With a wild cry, Philo Gubb fled. The pitchfork clattered at his feet, but missed him, and he had every advantage of long legs and speed. His heels clattered on the alley pave, and Joe Henry's clattered farther and farther behind at each leap of the Correspondence School detective.
* * * * *
"All right, you explain," said Joe Henry sullenly.
"Now you ain't to breathe a word of this, cross-your-heart, hope-to-die, Philo Gubb. Nor you neither, Billy," said Pie-Wagon Pete. "Listen! Me an' Joe Henry ain't what we let on to be. That's why we don't want to be follered. We're detectives. Reg'lar detectives. From Chicago. An' we're hired by the Law an' Order League to run down them gools. We're right clost onto 'em now, ain't we, Joe? An' that's why we don't want to have no one botherin' us. You wouldn't want no one shadowin' you when you was on a trail, would you, Gubby?"
"No, I don't feel like I would," admitted Philo Gubb.
"That's right," said Pie-Wagon Pete approvingly. "An' when these here dynamite gools is the kind of murderers they is, an' me and Joe is expectin' to be murdered by them any minute, it makes Joe nervous to be follered an' spied on, don't it, Joe?"
"You bet," said Joe. "I'm liable to turn an' maller up anybody I see sneakin' on me. I can't take chances."
"So you won't interfere with Joe in the pursoot of his dooty no more, will you, Gubby?" said Pie-Wagon Pete.
"I don't aim to interfere with nobody, Peter," said Philo Gubb. "I just want to pursoo my own dooty, as I see it. I won't foller Mr. Henry no more, if he don't like it; but I got a dooty to do, as a full graduate of the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School of Deteckating. I got to do my level best to catch them dynamiters myself."
Joe Henry frowned, and Pie-Wagon Pete shook his head.
"If you'll take my advice, Gubby," he said, "you'll drop that case right here an' now. You don't know what dangerous characters them gools are. If they start to get you—"
"You want to read that book—'The Pale Avengers'—I just gave you," said Billy Getz, "and then you'll know more."
"Well, I won't interfere with you, Mr. Henry," said Philo Gubb. "But I'll do my dooty as I see it. Fear don't frighten me. The first words in Lesson One is these: 'The deteckative must be a man devoid of fear.' I can't go back on that. If them gools want to kill me, I can't object. Deteckating is a dangerous employment, and I know it."
He went out and closed the door.
"There," said Pie-Wagon Pete. "Ain't that better than beatin' him up?"
"Maybe," said Joe Henry grudgingly. "Chances are—he's such a dummy—he'll go right ahead follerin' me. He needs a good scare thrown into him."
Billy Getz slid from his stool and ran his hands deep into his pockets, jingling a few coins and a bunch of keys.
"Want me to scare him?" he asked pleasantly.
"Say! You can do it, too!" said Joe Henry eagerly. "You're the feller that can kid him to death. Go ahead. If you do, I'll give you a case of Six Star. Ain't that so, Pete?"
"Absolutely," said Pie-Wagon.
"That's a bet," said Billy Getz pleasantly. "Leave it to the Kidders."
Philo Gubb went straight to his room at the Widow Murphy's, and having taken off his shoes and coat, leaned back in his chair with his feet on the bed, and opened "The Pale Avengers." He had never before read a dime novel, and this opened a new world to him. He read breathlessly. The style of the story was somewhat like this:—
The picture on the wall swung aside and Detective Brown stared into the muzzles of two revolvers and the sharp eyes of the youngest of the Pale Avengers. A thrill of horror swept through the detective. He felt his doom was at hand. But he did not cringe.
"Your time has come!" said the Avenger.
"Be not too sure," said Detective Brown haughtily.
"Are you ready to die?"
The detective extended his hand toward the table, on which his revolver lay. A cruel laugh greeted him. It was the last human voice he was to hear. As if by magic the floor under his feet gave way. Down, down, down, a thousand feet he was precipitated. He tried to grasp the well-like walls of masonry, but in vain. Nothing could stay him. As he plunged into the deep water of the oubliette a fiendish laugh echoed in his ears. The Pale Avengers had destroyed one more of their adversaries.
Until he read this thrilling tale, Philo Gubb had not guessed the fiendishness of malefactors when brought to bay, and yet here it was in black and white. The oubliette—a dark, dank dungeon hidden beneath the ground—was a favorite method of killing detectives, it seemed. Generally speaking, the oubliette seemed to be the prevailing fashion in vengeful murder. Sometimes the bed sank into the oubliette; sometimes the floor gave way and cast the victim into the oubliette; sometimes the whole room sank slowly into the oubliette; but death for the victim always lurked in the pit.
Before getting into bed Philo Gubb examined the walls, the floor, and the ceiling of his room. They seemed safe and secure, but twice during the night he awoke with a cry, imagining himself sinking through the floor.
Three nights later, as Philo Gubb stood in the dark doorway of the Willcox Building waiting to pick up any suspicious character, Billy Getz slipped in beside him and drew him hastily to the back of the entry.
"Hush! Not a word!" he whispered. "Did you see a man in the window across the street? The third window on the top floor?"
"No," whispered Philo Gubb. "Was—was there one?"
"With a rifle!" whispered Billy Getz. "Ready to pick you off. Come! It is suicide for you to try to go out the front way now. Follow me; I have news for you. Step quietly!"
He led the paper-hanger through the back corridor to the open air and up the outside back stairs to the third floor and into the building. He tapped lightly on a door and it was opened the merest crack.
"Friends," whispered Billy Getz, and the door opened wide and admitted them.
The room was the club-room of the Kidders, where they gathered night after night to play cards and drink illicit whiskey. Green shades over which were hung heavy curtains protected the windows. A large, round table stood in the middle of the floor under the gas-lights; a couch was in one corner of the room; and these, with the chairs and a formless heap in a far corner, over which a couch-cover was thrown, constituted all the furniture, except for the iron cuspidors. Here the young fellows came for their sport, feeling safe from intrusion, for the possession of whiskey was against the law. There was a fine of five hundred dollars—one half to the informer—for the misdemeanor of having whiskey in one's possession, but the Kidders had no fear. They knew each other.
For the moment the cards were put away and the couch-cover hid the four cases of Six Star that represented the club's stock of liquor. The five young men already in the room were sitting around the table.
"Sit down, Detective Gubb," said Billy Getz. "Here we are safe. Here we may talk freely. And we have something big to talk to-night."
Philo Gubb moved a chair to the table. He had to push one of the cuspidors aside to make room, and as he pushed it with his foot he saw an oblong of paper lying in it among the sand and cigar stubs. It was a Six Star whiskey label. He turned his head from it with his bird-like twist of the neck and let his eyes rest on Billy Getz.
"We know who dynamited those houses!" said Billy Getz suddenly. "Do you know Jack Harburger?"
"No," said Philo Gubb. "I don't know him."
"Well, we do," said Billy Getz. "He's the slickest ever. He was the boss of the gang. Read this!"
He slid a sheet of note-paper across to Philo Gubb, and the detective read it slowly:—
Billy: Send me five hundred dollars quick. I've got to get away from here. J. H.
"And we made him our friend," said Billy Getz resentfully. "Why, he was here the night of the dynamiting—wasn't he, boys?"
"He sure was," said the Kidders.
"Now, he's nothing to us," said Billy Getz. "Now, what do you say, Detective Gubb? If we fix it so you can grab him, will you split the reward with us?"
"Half for you and half for me?" asked Philo Gubb, his eyes as big as poker chips.
"Three thousand for you and two for us, was what we figured was fair," said Billy Getz. "You ought to have the most. You put in your experience and your education in detective work."
"And that ought to be worth something," admitted Philo Gubb.
So it was agreed. They explained to Philo Gubb that Jack Harburger was the son of old Harburger of the Harburger House at Derlingport, and that they could count on the clerk of that hotel to help them. Billy Getz would go up and get things ready, and the next day Philo Gubb would appear at the hotel—in disguise, of course—and do his part. The clerk would give him a room next to Jack Harburger's room, and see that there was a hidden opening in the partition; and Billy Getz, pretending he was bringing the money, would wring a full confession from Jack Harburger. Then Philo Gubb need only step into the room and snap the handcuffs on Jack Harburger and collect the reward.
They shook hands all 'round, finally, and Billy Getz went to the window to see that no ghoul was lurking in the street, ready to murder Philo Gubb when he went out. As he turned away from the window the toe of his shoe caught in the fringe of the couch-cover and dragged it partially from the odd-shaped pile in the corner. With a quick sweep of his hand Billy Getz replaced the cover, but not before Philo Gubb had seen the necks of a full case of bottles and had caught the glint of the label on one of them, bearing the six silver stars, like that in the cuspidor. Billy Getz cast a quick glance at the Correspondence School detective's face, but Philo Gubb, his head well back on his stiff neck, was already gazing at the door.
Two days later Philo Gubb, with his telescope valise in his hand, boarded the morning train for Derlingport. The river was on one of its "rampages" and the water came close to the tracks. Here and there, on the way to Derlingport, the water was over the tracks, and in many places the wagon-road, which followed the railway, was completely swamped, and the passing vehicles sank in the muddy water to their hubs. The year is still known as the "year of the big flood." In Riverbank the water had flooded the Front Street cellars, and in Derlingport the sewers had backed up, flooding the entire lower part of the town.
When the train reached Derlingport Philo Gubb, with his telescope valise, which contained his twelve Correspondence School lessons, "The Pale Avengers," a pair of handcuffs, his revolver, and three extra disguises, walked toward the Harburger House. He was already thoroughly disguised, wearing a coal-black beard and a red mustache and an iron-gray wig with long hair. Luckily he passed no one. With that disguise he would have drawn an immense crowd. Nothing like it had ever been seen on the streets of Derlingport—or elsewhere, for that matter.
A full block away Philo Gubb saw the sign of the hotel, and he immediately became cautious, as a detective should. He crossed the street and observed the exits. There was a main entrance on the corner, a "Ladies' Entrance" at the side, and an entrance to what had once been the bar-room. From the fire-escape one could drop to the street without great injury.
Philo Gubb noted all these, and then walked to the alley. There were two doors opening on the alley—one a cook's door, and the other evidently leading to the cellar. At the latter a dray stood, and as Philo Gubb paused there, two men came from this door and laid a bale of hay on the dray, pushing it forward carefully. They did not toss it carelessly onto the dray but slid it onto the dray. And the hay was wet. Moreover, the two men were two of Joe Henry's men, and that was odd. It was odd that Joe Henry should send a dray the full thirty miles to Derlingport to get a load of wet hay, when he could get all the dry hay he wanted in Riverbank. But it did not impress Philo Gubb. He hurried to the main entrance of the hotel, and entered.
The lobby of the Harburger House was large, and gloomy in its old-fashioned black-walnut woodwork. Except for one man sitting at a desk by the window and writing industriously, and the clerk behind the counter, the lobby was untenanted. To the left a huge stairway led to the gloom above, for the hotel boasted no elevator except the huge "baggage lift," which had been put in in the palmy days of the house, when the great river packets were still a business factor.
Philo Gubb walked across the lobby to the clerk's desk. The industrious penman by the window glanced over his shoulder. He looked more like a hotel clerk than like a traveling salesman, but Philo Gubb gave this no thought. The clerk behind the desk put his fingers on his lips.
"Sh!" he whispered. "Are you Detective Gubb? Good! I've been expecting you. Have you a gun?"
"In my telescope case," whispered Philo Gubb.
"Take this one," said the clerk, handing the paper-hanger-detective a glittering revolver. "Be careful. Come—I'll show you the room."
He came from behind the desk and picked up Philo Gubb's telescope valise and led the way up the dingy stairway. Luckily for Billy Getz's great practical joke, Philo Gubb had never seen Jack Harburger, or he would have recognized him in the plump little man carrying his telescope valise. Up three flights of dark stairs, Jack Harburger led Philo Gubb, and at the landing of the fourth floor he stopped.
"You were taking a risk—a big risk—coming undisguised," he said.
"But I am disguised," said Philo Gubb. "These here is false whiskers and hair."
"What!" exclaimed Jack Harburger. "Wonderful work! A splendid make-up, detective! You fooled me with it, and I was on my guard. You'll do. Bend down like an old man. That's it! Now, listen: I have cut a hole through the wall from your room into Jack's. You can hear every word he speaks. Have you pencil and paper? Good! Jot down every word you hear. And don't make a sound. If you are discovered—well, they're a desperate gang. Come!"
He led the way through a long, dark corridor that turned and twisted. At the extreme end he stopped, put down the telescope valise, and drew a key from his pocket.
"That's Jack's room," he breathed softly, "and you go in here. Sorry it isn't a better room. We had to use it, and you won't be here long, anyway."
He opened the door. It was a large door that swung outward, and it occupied one half of one side of the room. The floor of the room was carpeted, and the walls were papered, as was the ceiling. There was no window, but an electric light burned in the center of the ceiling. Across the far side of the room stood a narrow iron bed, with a small bureau beside it. Jack Harburger pointed to a hole in the wall-paper.
"That's your ear-hole," he whispered, and Philo Gubb stepped into the room. Instantly the door slammed behind him, the key turned in the lock, and he heard a heavy iron bar clank as it fell into place outside. He was a prisoner, caught like a rat in a trap, and he knew it! He threw himself against the door, but it did not give. The electric light above his head went dark. He put out his hand, and the wall gave slightly. He drew the revolver and waited, dreading what might next occur. He heard soft footsteps outside the door, and, raising the revolver, pulled the trigger. The trigger snapped harmlessly. He had been tricked, tricked all around.
"Is the oubliette prepared?" whispered a voice outside.
"All ready for him. Twelve feet of water. He'll drown like a rat."
"Good. A slow death, like a rat in a trap—like we served the other two. Then get rid of his body the same way."
"A stone on it, and the river?"
"Yes. They never come up again."
The voices died away along the corridor, and Philo Gubb was left in utter silence. Oubliette! The fate of the detectives of "The Pale Avengers" was to be his! Suddenly the room began to quiver. The floor and the walls trembled and creaked, and Philo Gubb threw himself once more against the door. He shouted and beat upon it with his hands. Inch by inch, creaking and swaying, the room glided downward. The door seemed to glide upward beyond the ceiling, giving place to a solid wall. He turned and beat on the side of the room, and it gave forth a hollow sound. As he moved, the room swayed under his feet. He was doomed!
Alone in the darkness, his fear suddenly gave way to a feeling of pride. He was dangerous enough, then, to be thought worthy of death? His last drop of doubt oozed out of his mind. He was—he must be—a great detective, or such means would not have been taken to get rid of him. He felt a sort of calm joy in this. His murderers knew his prowess.
Locked in the room, going down to certain death, he exulted. And if he was as great as all that, it could not be that his position was hopeless. Time and again Carl Carroll, the Boy Detective, had been in equally precarious positions, but in the end he had brought the Pale Avengers low. And what a boy, untrained, could do, a graduate of the Rising Sun Correspondence School of Detecting ought to be able to do! He drew his knife from his pocket and cut into the wall-paper of the side wall.
Being a paper-hanger, the first touch of his hand against the side wall had told him the wall-paper was pasted on canvas and not on a solid wall, and now he ripped the canvas away. The wall was of rough boards, scarred and marred. The opposite wall was the same. He kneeled on the bed and tried the rear wall. He felt the plastered wall gliding upward. He stood on the bed and ripped the canvas ceiling away.
As he ripped the ceiling away, light entered the cage from a dirty skylight far above. Just over his head a heavy iron grating covered the cage, barring him in, but high up he could see the great drum, from which the cable slowly unwound as the car descended. He was in an elevator, but this knowledge gave him small comfort. Cage, room, or elevator—call it what he chose—it was relentlessly descending into the flooded cellar. He watched the drum with fascinated eyes, as the wire cable unwound itself. He lay back on the bed, his feet hanging to the floor, and stared upward. He could not take his eyes from the revolving drum. It was like a clock, marking the moments he still had to live.
But suddenly he was galvanized into action. Over his feet something cold ran, making him jerk them from the floor. It was the water of the oubliette, and he gazed on it with horror as it rose, inch by inch, toward him. Slowly, as the car dropped, the water crept up. It reached the first drawer of the small bureau. It crept up to the side rails of the bed. It wet the mattress—and still it rose. He stood on the bed and grasped the iron grating above his head.
"Stop!" whispered a voice above his head, and the creaking cage stopped.
"Gubb! Detective Gubb!" whispered the voice, and Philo Gubb looked upward. "Listen, Detective Gubb," said the voice. "One touch of my hand on the lever, and you will be dropped beneath the waters, never to appear again, except dead. One only chance remains for your life, and, blackened with crime though we are, we offer you that chance. If you will swear to leave the State, never to return, we will spare you. What say you, Philo Gubb?"
It was an offer no mortal could refuse. Life, after all, is sweet. Philo Gubb, the relentless Correspondence School detective, opened his mouth, but as he turned his head upward, he closed it again and licked his lips twice.
"No, durn ye!" he shouted angrily. "I won't never do no such thing!"
There was a hurried whispering of many voices above him.
"Think well," said the voice again. "We will give you until midnight to reconsider your rashness. Until midnight, Detective Gubb!"
"You can't scare me!" shouted Philo Gubb.
"Until midnight!" repeated the voice, and then there was silence.
Philo Gubb immediately drew his heavy pocket-knife from his pocket and began cutting out one of the panels of the door that shut him in on one side. He did not work hurriedly. He was not at all frightened. Looking up, he had seen the drum, and there was no more cable on the drum to be unwound. The car could descend no farther. His feet were as wet as they could get. Unless the river rose to unbelievable height, he could not be drowned in the makeshift oubliette, unless he voluntarily lay down in the shallow water and inhaled it. He worked on the panel slowly, but with the earnestness of a very angry victim of a hoax. The panel fell outward with a splash, and floated away. Philo Gubb bent sideways and squeezed out of the small opening into the cellar.
The huge cellar was dusky in the dim light that entered through the cobwebbed panes, high in the wall. It was an immense place, and now knee-deep in water, except for a gangway of boards laid on low trestles, which led from one side of the cellar to the cellar door. There were coal-bins and vegetable-bins, like watery bays leading from the general cellar sea, and—strange appliance to discover in a hotel cellar—a small hay-baling press stood on an extemporized platform against one wall, and alongside it, on a long table, such as are seen in factories, bales of hay, some complete and some torn open—and cases! The cases were labeled "Blue River Canned Tomatoes," but one, split across the end, gave evidence that their contents were not canned tomatoes at all. Through the crack in the case glittered the six silver stars of the Six Star whiskey. There were twenty-six of the cases.
Philo Gubb waded to the raised gangway and walked to the cellar door. It was double-barred on the inside, and he lifted the bars cautiously and stepped into the alley, closing the door carefully behind him. He pulled his false whiskers and wig from his face and stuffed them in his pockets and hurried down the alley.
When he returned, Billy Getz, Jack Harburger, and six of the Kidders were holding high revel in the closed bar-room of the Harburger House, but they all fell silent when the door opened and the Sheriff of Derling County entered, with Philo Gubb and three deputies in company. It was evident that the Sheriff did not consider Philo Gubb a joke.
"Search-warrant, Jack," he said to Harburger. "Detective Gubb, of Riverbank, has been doing some sleuthing in your hotel, he says. We want to have a look at the cellar."
The next morning the "Riverbank Eagle" was full of Philo Gubb again. Through the superb acumen of that wonderful detective, three stores of whiskey had been discovered and confiscated—one in the cellar of the Harburger House at Derlingport; one in Joe Henry's stable at Riverbank; and a smaller one in the room in the Willcox Building frequented by the "Kidders."
"How I done it?" said Philo Gubb to one of his admirers. "I done it like a deteckative does it—a deteckative that wants to detect—picks up some feller that looks suspicious-like, like it says in Lesson Four, Rule Four. And then he shadows and trails him, like it says in Lesson Four, Rules Four to Seventeen. And then somethin's bound to happen."
"But how can you tell what's goin' to happen?" asked his admirer.
"Well, sir," said Philo Gubb, "that's the beauty of the deteckative business. You don't ever know what's goin' to happen until it happens."
Although Detective Gubb's experience with the oubliette-elevator did not lead to the detection of the dynamiters for whom a reward of five thousand dollars was offered, it resulted in the payment to him of one half of three fines of five hundred dollars for each of the three stores of whiskey he had unearthed. With this money, amounting to seven hundred and fifty dollars, Mr. Gubb went to the home of Jonas Medderbrook and paid that gentleman the entire amount.
"That there payment," Mr. Gubb said, "deducted from what I owe onto them shares of Perfectly Worthless Gold-Mine Stock—"
"The name of the mine, if you please, is Utterly Hopeless and not Perfectly Worthless," said Mr. Medderbrook severely.
"Just so," said Mr. Gubb apologetically. "You must excuse me, Mr. Medderbrook. I ain't no expert onto gold-mines' names and, offhand, them two names seem about the same to me. But my remark was to be that the indebtedness of the liability I now owe you is only thirteen thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars."
"And the sooner you get it paid up the better it will suit me," said Mr. Medderbrook.
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Gubb, and hesitated. Then, assuming an air of little concern, he asked: "It ain't likely to suppose we've had any word from Miss Syrilla, is it, Mr. Medderbrook?"
For answer Mr. Medderbrook went to his desk and brought Mr. Gubb a telegram. It was from Syrilla. It said:—
Eating no potatoes, drinking no water. Have lost eight pounds. Kind love to Mr. Gubb.
"She's wore herself down to nine hundred and ninety-two pounds, according to that," said Mr. Gubb. "She has only got to wear off two hundred and ninety-two pounds more before Mr. Dorgan will discharge her away from the side-show."
"And at the rate she is wearing herself away," said Mr. Medderbrook, "that will be in about ten years! What interests me more is that the telegram came collect and cost me forty cents. If you want to do the square thing, Mr. Gubb, you'll pay me twenty cents for your share of that telegram."
Mr. Gubb immediately gave Mr. Medderbrook twenty cents and Mr. Medderbrook kindly allowed him to keep the telegram. Mr. Gubb placed it in the pocket nearest his heart and proceeded to a house on Tenth Street where he had a job of paper-hanging.
At about this same time Smith Wittaker, the Riverbank Marshal—or Chief of Police, as he would have been called in a larger city—knocked the ashes from his pipe against the edge of his much-whittled desk in the dingy Marshal's room on the ground floor of the City Hall, and grinned at Mr. Griscom, one of Riverbank's citizens.
"Well, I don't know," he said with a grin. "I don't know but what I'd be glad to be un-burgled like that. I guess it was just somebody playing a joke on you."
"If it was," said Mr. Griscom, "I am ready to do a little joking myself. I'm just enough of a joker to want to see whoever it was in jail. My house is my house—it is my castle, as the saying is—and I don't want strangers wandering in and out of it, whether they come to take away my property, or leave property that is not mine. Is there, or is there not, a law against such things as happened at my house?"
"Oh, there's a law all right," said Marshal Wittaker. "It's burglary, whether the burglar breaks into your house or breaks out of it. How do you know he broke out?"
"Well, my wife and I went to the Riverbank Theater last night," said Mr. Griscom, "and when I got home and went to put the key in the keyhole, there was another key in it. Here are the two keys."
Marshal Wittaker took the two keys and examined them. One was an old doorkey, much worn, and the other a new key, evidently the work of an amateur key-maker.
"All right," said Marshal Wittaker, when he had examined the keys. "This new one was made out of an old spoon. Go ahead."
"We never had a key like that in the house," said Mr. Griscom. "But when we reached home last night, this nickel-silver key was sticking in the lock of the front door, on the outside, and the door was unlocked and standing ajar."
"Just as if some one had gone in at the front door and left it unlocked," said Mr. Wittaker.
"Exactly!" said Mr. Griscom. "So the first thing we thought was 'Burglars!' and the first place my wife looked was the sideboard, in the dining-room, and there—"
"Yes," said Mr. Wittaker. "There, on the sideboard, were a dozen solid silver spoons you had never seen before."
"And marked with my wife's initials—understand!" said Mr. Griscom. "And the cellar window—the one on the east side of the house—had been broken out of."
"Why not broken into?" asked the Marshal.
"Well, I'm not quite a fool," said Mr. Griscom with some heat. "I know because of the marks his jimmy made on the sill."
"Some one has been playing a joke on you," said Mr. Wittaker. "You wait, and you'll see. You won't be offended if I ask you a question?"
"My wife knows no more about it than I do," said Mr. Griscom hotly.
"Now, now," said Mr. Wittaker soothingly. "I didn't mean that. What are your own spoons, solid or plated?"
"Plated," said Mr. Griscom.
"Well," said Mr. Wittaker, "there's where to look for the joke. Try to think who would consider it a joke to send you solid silver spoons."
"Billy Getz!" exclaimed Mr. Griscom, mentioning the town joker.
"That's the man I had in mind," said Mr. Wittaker. "Now, I guess you can handle this alone, Mr. Griscom."
"I guess I can," agreed Mr. Griscom. And he went out.
The Marshal chuckled.
"Un-burgled!" he said to himself. "That's a new one for sure! That's the sort of burglary to set Philo Gubb, the un-detective, on."
He was still grinning as he went out, but he tried to hide the grin when he met Billy Getz on Main Street. Billy uttered a hasty "Can't stop now, Wittaker!" but the head of the Riverbank police grasped his arm.
"What's your rush? I've got some fun for you," said Wittaker.
"Some other time," said Billy. "I just borrowed this from Doc Mortimer and promised to take it back quick."
"What is it?" asked the Marshal, gazing at the curious affair Billy had in his hands. It looked very much like a coffeepot, and on the lid was a wheel, like a small tin windmill. Just below the lid, and above the spout, was a hole as large as a dime.
"Lung-tester," said Billy, trying to pull away. "Let me go, will you, Wittaker? I'm in a hurry. Just borrowed it to settle a bet with Sam Simmons. I show two pounds more lung pressure than he does. Twenty-six pounds."
"You?" scoffed Wittaker. "I bet I can show twenty-eight, if you can show twenty-six."
"Oh, well! I suppose I can't get away until baby tries the new toy. But hurry up, will you?"
The Marshal put his lips to the spout and blew. Instantly, from the hole under the lid, a great cloud of flour shot out, covering his face and head, and deluging his garments. From up and down the street came shouts of joy, and the Marshal, brushing at his face, grinned.
"One on me, Billy," he said, good-naturedly, patting the flour out of his hair, "and just when I was coming to put you onto some fun, too. What do you know about the Griscom un-burglary?"
"Not a thing!" Billy said. "Tell me."
"I didn't expect you would know anything about it," said the Marshal with a wink. "But how about putting Correspondence School Detective Gubb onto the job?"
"Fine!" said Billy. "Tell me what the un-burgled Griscom thing is, and I'll do the rest."
Billy found Philo Gubb at work in the house on Tenth Street, hanging paper on the second floor, and the lank detective looked at Billy solemnly as the story of the Griscom affair was explained to him.
"When I started in takin' lessons from the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School of Deteckating," said Mr. Gubb solemnly, "I aimed to do a strictly retail business in deteckating, and let the wholesale alone."
"Seeing that you learned by mail," said Billy Getz, "I should think you'd be better fitted to do a mail-order business."
"Them terms of retail and wholesale is my own," said Mr. Gubb.
"You don't believe anybody would un-burgle a house, I guess," said Billy.
"Yes, I do," Philo Gubb said. "A fellow can tie a knot, or he can un-tie it, can't he? He can hitch a horse, or he can un-hitch it. And if a man can burgle, he can un-burgle. A mercenary burglar would naturally burgle things out of a house after he had burgled himself in, but a generous-hearted burglar would just as naturally un-burgle things into a house and then un-burgle himself out. That stands to reason."
"Of course it does," said Billy Getz. "And I knew you would see it that way."
"I see things reasonable," said Philo Gubb. "But I guess I won't take up the case; un-burgling ain't no common crime. It ain't mentioned in the twelve lessons I got from the Rising Sun Correspondence School. I wouldn't hardly know how to go about catching an un-burglar—"
"Just do the opposite from what it says to do to catch a burglar," said Billy Getz. "Common sense would tell you that, wouldn't it? But, listen, Mr. Gubb: I'd let Wittaker catch his own burglars. The reason I ask you to take this case is because I know you have a good heart."
"It's good, but it's hard," said Philo Gubb. "A deteckative has to have a hard heart."
"All right! Here is this man, un-burgling houses. For all we know he is honest and upright," said Billy Getz. "He continues un-burgling houses. The habit grows. Each house he un-burgles tempts him to un-burgle two. Each set of spoons he leaves in a house tempts him to leave two sets in the next house, or four sets, or a solid silver punch-bowl. In a short time he wipes out his little fortune. He borrows. He begs. At last he steals! In order to un-burgle one house he burgles another. He leads a dual life, a sort of Jekyll-Hyde life—"
"But what if I caught him?" said Mr. Gubb.
"Oh, you won't catch—I mean, we will leave that to you. Frighten him out of the un-burgling habit. I'll tell Marshal Wittaker you will get on the trail?"
"Yes," said Philo Gubb. "I feel sorry for the feller. Maybe he's lettin' his wife and children suffer for food whilst he un-burgles away his substance."
"Then," said Billy Getz, taking up his lung-tester, "suppose you stop in at the Marshal's office to-night at eight-thirty. Wittaker will tell you all about it."
Philo Gubb waited until Billy was well out of the house, and then he said: "He done it, and I know he done it, and he done it to make a fool out of me, but I guess I owe Billy Getz a scare, and if I can prove that un-burglary onto him, he'll get the scare all right!"
Detective Gubb, when it was time to go to the Marshal's office, pinned his large nickel-plated star on his vest, put three false beards in his pocket, and went.
The Marshal received him cordially. Billy Getz was there.
"You understand," said Wittaker, "I have nothing to do with putting you on this case. But I want to ask you to report to me every evening."
"I could write out a docket," said Philo Gubb. "That's what them French deteckatives did always."
"Good idea!" said Wittaker. "Write out a docket, and bring it in every night. Now, I'll go over this Griscom case, so you'll understand how to go at it. Here, for instance, is the house—"
The clock on the Marshal's desk marked ten before they were aware. Billy had arisen from his chair, for he had a poker game waiting for him at the Kidders' Club, when the telephone bell rang. The Marshal drew the 'phone toward him.
"Yes!" he said, into the telephone. "Yes, this is Marshal Wittaker. Mr. Millbrook? Yes, I know—765 Locust Avenue. Broken into? What? Oh, broken out of! While you were out at dinner. Yes. Opened the front door with a key. Yes. What kind of a key, Mr. Millbrook? Thin, nickel-silver key. Nothing taken? What's that? Left a dozen solid silver spoons engraved with your wife's initials? I see. And broke out through a cellar window. Yes, I understand. No, it doesn't seem possible, but such things have happened. I'll send—"
He looked around, but Philo Gubb, who had heard the name and address, was already gone.
"I'll attend to it at once," he concluded, and hung up the receiver. He turned to Billy Getz. "Billy," he said severely, "is this another of your jokes?"
"Wittaker," said Billy, "I give you my word I had nothing to do with this."
"Well, I'll believe you," said Wittaker rather reluctantly. "I thought it was you. Who do you suppose is trying to take the honor of town cut-up from you?"
"I can't imagine," said Billy. "Are you going to leave the thing in Gubb's hands?"
"That mail-order detective? Not much! It is getting serious. I'll send Purcell up to look the ground over. A man can't make nickel-silver keys, and break out of houses and leave engraved spoons and forks around without leaving plenty of traces. We'll have the man to-morrow, and give him a good scare."
Detective Gubb in the meanwhile had gone directly to Mr. Millbrook's un-burgled house at 765 Locust Avenue. Mr. Millbrook, a short, stout man with a husky voice that gurgled when he was excited, opened the door.
"I'm Deteckative Gubb, of the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School of Deteckating, come to see about your un-burglary," said Philo Gubb, opening his coat to show his badge. "This is a most peculiar case."
"I never heard anything like it in my life!" gurgled Mr. Millbrook. "Didn't take a thing. Left a dozen spoons. Came in at the front door and broke out through the cellar window."
"How long have you been married?" asked Mr. Gubb, seating himself on the edge of a chair and drawing out a notebook and pencil.
"Married? Married? What's that got to do with it?" asked Mr. Millbrook. "Twenty years next June, if you want to know."
"That makes it a difficult case," said Philo Gubb. "If you was a bride and a groom it would be easier, but I guess maybe you can tell me the names of some of the folks you've had to dinner."
"Dinner?" gurgled Mr. Millbrook. "Dinner? When?"
"Since you were married," said Mr. Gubb.
"My dear man," exclaimed Mr. Millbrook, "we've had thousands to dinner! Dining out and giving dinners is our favorite amusement. I can't see what you mean. I can't understand you."
"Well, you got plated spoons and forks, ain't you?" asked Philo Gubb.
"What if we have?" gurgled Mr. Millbrook. "That's our affair, ain't it?"
"It's my affair too," said Detective Gubb. "Mr. Griscom's house was un-burgled last night, and he had plated spoons. The un-burglar left solid ones on him, like he did on you. Now, I reason induc-i-tively, like Sherlock Holmes. You both got plated spoons. An un-burglar leaves you solid ones. So he must have known you had plated ones and needed solid ones. So it must be some one who has had dinner with you."
"My dear man," gurgled Mr. Millbrook, "we never have had a plated spoon in this house! Who sent you here, anyway?"
"Nobody," said Philo Gubb. "I come of myself."
"Well, you can go of yourself!" gurgled Mr. Millbrook angrily. "There's the door. Get out!"
On his way out Mr. Gubb met Patrolman Purcell coming in.
Detective Gubb, outside the house, examined the cellar window as well as he could. There was not a mark to be seen from the outside, but a pansy-bed bore the marks of the un-burglar's exit. To get out of the cellar, the un-burglar had had to wiggle himself out of the small window, and had crushed the pansies flat. Detective Gubb felt carefully among the crushed pansies, and his hand found something hard and round. It was the drumstick bone of a chicken's leg. Detective Gubb threw it away. Even an un-burglar would not have chosen a chicken's leg bone as a weapon. Evidently Billy Getz had not left any clue in the pansy-bed.
Philo Gubb had no doubt that Billy was putting up a joke on him. The detective decided that his best method would be to shadow Billy Getz from sundown each day, until he caught him un-burgling another house, or found something to connect him with the un-burglaries. So he went home. It was eleven when he began to undress.
It was then he first realized that the knees of his light trousers were damp from kneeling in the pansy-bed, and he looked at them ruefully. The knees were stained like Joseph's coat of many colors, and they were his best trousers. He hung them carefully over the back of his chair, and went to bed.
The next morning he rolled the trousers in a bundle and took them with him on his way to his paper-hanging job. On Main Street he stopped at Frank the Tailor's—"Pants Cleaned and Pressed, 35 Cents." He unrolled the trousers and laid them across the counter.
"Can you remove those stains?" he asked.
"Oh, sure I couldt!" said Frank. "I make me no droubles by dot, Mister Gupp. Shust dis morning alretty I didt it der same ding. You fall ofer der vire too, yes?"
"Certainly. I expect it was the same wire. Into a flower-bed."
"Chess," said Frank. "Like Misder Vestcote, yes? Cudding across der corner, yes, und didn't see der vire?"
"That so?" said Detective Gubb. "You don't mean old Mr. Westcote, do you?"
"Sure, yes!" said Frank. "He falls by der flower-bed in, und stains his knees alretty, shust like dot. Vell, I have me dese pants retty by you dis efenings. You vant dem pressed too?"
"Press 'em, an' clean 'em, an' make 'em nice," said Philo Gubb, and went out.
Old John Westcote, and pansy stains on his trouser knees, was it? The thing seemed impossible, but so did un-burglary, for that matter. Old John Westcote was one of the richest men in Riverbank. He was a retired merchant and as mean as sin. He was the last man in Riverbank any one would suspect of leaving spoons and forks in other people's houses. But how did it come that he had pansy stains on the knees of his trousers? Philo Gubb thought of old John Westcote all day, and toward night he hit on a solution. Wedding presents! From what he had heard, old John was—or had been—the sort of man to accept a wedding invitation, go to the reception and eat his fill, and never send the bride so much as a black wire hairpin. And now, grown old, his conscience might be hurting him. He might be in that semi-senile state when restitution becomes a craze, and the ungiven wedding presents might press upon his conscience. It was not at all unlikely that he had chosen the un-burglary method of giving the presents at this late date. The form of the un-burgled goods—forks and spoons—and the initials engraved upon them, made this more likely.
That night Detective Gubb did not report in person or by docket to Marshal Wittaker. At seven o'clock he was hiding in the hazel brush opposite old John Westcote's lonely house on Pottex Lane. At seven-fifteen the old man tottered from his gate and tottered down the lane toward the more thickly settled part of the town. Under his arm he carried a small bundle—a bundle wrapped in newspaper!
Detective Gubb waited until the old man was well in advance, and then slipped from the hazel brush and followed him, observing all the rules for Shadowing and Trailing as taught by the Rising Sun Detective Agency's Correspondence School of Detecting. For three hours the old man wandered the streets. Now he walked along Main Street, peering anxiously into the faces of the pedestrians, with purblind eyes, and now walking the residence streets. Detective Gubb kept close behind.
As ten o'clock struck from the clock in the High School tower, old John Westcote quickened his steps a little and walked toward the opposite end of the town, where the lumber-yards are. Down the hill into the lumber district he walked, and Detective Gubb dodged from tree to tree. Halfway down the hill the old man hesitated. He glanced around. At his side was a mass of lilac bushes, seeming strangely out of place among the huge piles of lumber. Without stopping, the old man let the bundle slide from under his arm and fall on the walk. For a moment it lay like a white spot on the walk, and then it moved rapidly out of sight into the bushes.
Bundles do not move thus, unless assisted, but Philo Gubb was too far away to see the hand he knew must have reached out for the bundle. He ran rapidly, keeping in the sawdust that formed the unfruitful soil of the lumber-yard, until he dared come no nearer, and then he climbed to the top of the tallest lumber-pile and lay flat. He commanded every side of the hillside lumber-yard, and he did not have long to wait. From the lower side of the yard he saw a black figure emerge, cross the street and disappear over the bank into the railway switch-yard below. Mr. Gubb scrambled down and followed.
At the bank above the switch-yard he paused, keeping in a shadow, and looked here and there. Flat cars and box cars stood on the tracks in great numbers, most of them closed and sealed—some partly open. He heard a car door grate as it was closed. He slipped down the bank and crept on his hands and knees. He was halfway down the line of cars when he heard a voice. It came from car 7887, C. B. & Q.
"Run all the breath out of me," said the voice in a wheeze.
"Well, did you get it?" whispered another voice.
"Sure I got it! Got something, anyway. Strike a match, Bill, and let's see if he put up a job on us. If he did, we'll blow him up to-morrow night, hey?"
"That's right. We got a can o' powder left under the pile by the laylocks. How much is it?"
"We tol' him one thousand, didn't we? Same as he give the Law and Order to help grab us. Now, listen! You take half of this and go one way, an' I'll take half an' go the other. We can get away with five hundred apiece."
"And we got the five hundred apiece we got for doin' the dynamite job, too. Say, I never thought to have a thousand dollars at once in me life. What's that?"
It was Philo Gubb, slipping the car door latch over the staple and hammering home the hasp with a rock. It was the engine, backing against the long row of cars to make a coupling, and then moving slowly forward toward Derlingport as the heavy train got under way. The two rascals hammered on the side of the car with their fists. They swore. They kicked against the doors. Philo Gubb drew himself into the next open car as the train moved away.
About the same time, Officer Purcell entered the Marshal's office, where Wittaker and Billy Getz sat awaiting the coming of Philo Gubb. Purcell led John Gutman, the town half-wit.
"I got him," he said proudly. "Caught him comin' out of Sam Wentz's cellar window. Says he didn't mean no harm. Had a dream he was to leave spoons on all the society folks an' he'd be invited to all their parties."
"Did he fight you?" asked Wittaker. "Your pants is all stained up."
"Fight? No, he wouldn't fight a sheep. I tripped over a wire fence cuttin' a corner an' fell into a flower-bed. Got Hail Columbia from the lady, too. She said old man Westcote fell into the flowers yesterday, and she didn't mean to have her flower-bed used as no landin' place. Heard from Detective Gubb yet?"
Wittaker grinned. "We ought to hear from him soon. And I reckon he'll be worth waiting to hear from."
And he was. Word came from him about an hour later. It was a telegram from the Sheriff of Derling County:—
Detective Gubb captured two of the dynamiters to-night. Have their confession. Arrest Pie-Wagon Pete, Long Sam Underbury, and Shorty Billings. All implicated.
"An' the rewards tot up to five thousand dollars," said Officer Purcell. "Let's hustle out an' nab the other three, an' maybe we can split it with Gubb."
"And us sitting here thinking we had a joke on him!" exclaimed Marshal Wittaker with disgust. "It makes me sick!"
"Well, I feel a little bilious myself," said Billy Getz.
THE TWO-CENT STAMP
The house in Tenth Street where Philo Gubb was doing a job of paper-hanging when he made the happy error of capturing the dynamiters while seeking the un-burglars was the home of Aunt Martha Turner, a member of the Ladies' Temperance League of Riverbank.
The members of the Ladies' Temperance League—and Aunt Martha Turner particularly—had recently begun a movement to have City Attorney Mullen impeached and thrown out of office, for they claimed that while he had been elected by the Prohibition-Republican Party, and had pledged himself to close every saloon, he had not closed one single saloon. Aunt Martha Turner and her associates believed this was because Attorney Mullen was himself a drinker of beer, and it was to get proof of this that the hot-headed ladies had engaged a youth named Slippery Williams to make a raid on his home.
Detective Gubb was, however, quite unconscious of all this when he proceeded to the home of Aunt Martha to complete his work there. He was in an unhappy frame of mind, for he had in his pocket nothing but one two-cent stamp and he had immediate need for one hundred dollars.
Mr. Gubb had, early that morning, visited the home of Mr. Medderbrook, from whom he hoped to have news of Syrilla, but the colored butler informed him that Mr. Medderbrook had been called to Chicago.
"He done lef word, howsomedever," said the butler, "dat ef you come an' was willin' to pay thutty cents you could have dis telegraf whut come from Mis' Syrilla. An' he lef dis note fo' you, whut you can have whever you pay or not."
Mr. Gubb quite willingly gave the negro thirty cents, the very last money he possessed, and read the telegram. It said:—
Hope on, hope ever. Have given up wheat bread, corn bread, rye bread, home-made bread, bakers' bread, biscuit and rolls. Have lost six pounds more. Love to Gubby.
This would have sent Mr. Gubb to his work in a happy frame of mind, had it not been for the note Mr. Medderbrook had left. This note said:—
Called to Chicago suddenly. I must have one hundred dollars payment on account of the gold stock immediately. Cannot let my daughter marry a man who puts off paying for gold stock forever. Unless I hear from you with money to-morrow, all is over between us.
Such a letter would have made any lover sad. Mr. Gubb had no idea where he could raise one hundred dollars during the day and he saw his promising romance cut short just when Syrilla was beginning to lose weight handsomely. The greeting he received when he reached Aunt Martha Turner's was not of a sort to cheer him. Mrs. Turner met him with a sour face.
"No, you can't go ahead with puttin' the wall-paper on this kitchen ceilin' to-day, Mr. Gubb," she said.
"I'd like to, if I could," said Philo Gubb wistfully. "My financial condition ain't such as to allow me to waste a day. I'm very low in a monetary shape, right now."
Aunt Martha Turner seemed worried.
"Well," she said reluctantly, "I guess if that's the case you might as well go ahead. I expect I'll have to be out of the house 'most all day. If you get done before I get back, lock the kitchen door and put the key behind a shutter."
She departed, and Philo Gubb set up his trestle, unrolled and trimmed a strip of ceiling-paper, pasted it, and climbed his ladder. At the top he seated himself a moment and shook his head.
He sighed and picked up the paste-covered strip of ceiling-paper, but before he could get to his feet the kitchen door opened and "Snooks" Turner put his head in cautiously.
"Say, Gubb, where's Aunt Martha?" he asked in a whisper.
"She's gone out," said Philo Gubb. "She won't be back for quite some time, I guess, Snooksy."
"Good!" said Snooks, and he entered the kitchen. Some weeks before he had met Nan Kilfillan. He was deeply in love with Nan, and Nan was a good girl, although Aunt Martha Turner did not approve of her, because she was "hired girl" to City Attorney Mullen. Before she had met Snooks Nan had done her best to "make something" of "Slippery" Williams, who was courting her then, but that task was beyond even Nan's powers.
Snooks held a job on the "Eagle" as city reporter, with the dignified title of City Editor, and he was making good. He got the news. He seemed able to smell news. When there was big news in the air he would become uneasy and feel nervous.
"I got the twitches again," he would say to the editor of the "Eagle." "There's some big item around. I've got to get it." And he would get it.
"She's gone out, has she?" said Snooks, when he had entered his aunt's kitchen and asked Philo Gubb about Aunt Martha. "That's good. I wanted to see you on a matter of business—detective business."
He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a small roll of bills. He was not the usually neat Snooks. One eye was blackened and one side of his face was scratched. His clothes were badly torn and soiled. He looked as if some one had tried to murder him.
"There!" he said, holding the bills up to Philo Gubb after counting them. "There's twenty-five dollars. You take that and find out what I have done, and what's the matter with me, and all about it."
"What do you want me to find out?" asked Mr. Gubb, fondling the bills.
"If I knew, I wouldn't ask you," said Snooks peevishly. "I don't know what it is. I'd go and find out myself, but I'm in jail."
"Where did you say you was?" asked Philo Gubb.
"In jail," said Snooks. "I'm in jail, and I'm in bad. When the marshal put me in last night I gave him my word I'd stay in all day to-day, and it ain't right for me to be here now.
"'Dog-gone you, Snooks!' he says, 'you ain't got no consideration for me at all. Here I figgered that there wouldn't be no wave of crime strike town for some days, and I went and took the jail door down to the blacksmith to have a panel put in where the one rusted out, and my wife made me promise to drive out to the farm with her to-morrow, and now you come and spoil everything. I got to stay in town and watch you.'
"'Go on,' I says, 'and take your drive. I'll stay in jail. I got a strong imagination. I'll imagine there's a door.'
"'Honor bright?' he says.
"'Yes, honor bright,' I says.
"So he went," said Snooks, "and he's trusting me, and here I am. You can see it wouldn't do for me to be running all over town when, by rights, I'm locked and barred and bolted in jail. I'm locked and barred and bolted in jail, and well started on my way to the penitentiary as a burglar."
"As a burglar!" exclaimed Gubb.
"That's it!" said Snooks. "I can't see head or tail of it. You got to help me out, Gubb. See if you can make any sense of this:—
"Last night I went out for a walk with Nan. She's my girl, you know, and she's going to marry me. Maybe she won't now, but she was going to. She works for Mullen. We got back to Mullen's house about eleven o'clock, and Mrs. Mullen always locks the door at half-past ten, whether Nan is in or not. So, being late, we had to ring the doorbell, and Mr. Mullen came to the door to let Nan in, and when he saw I was with her he shook hands with me and asked me to come in and have a cigar, and sit awhile, but I told him I had to hustle up some news for to-day's paper, and he let me go. That's how pleasant he was. So I went downtown, and the first fellow I met was Sammy Wilmerton."
"Widow Wilmerton's boy?" asked Philo Gubb.
"Exactly!" said Snooks, feeling his eye with his finger. "And he says, 'Snooks, did you hear what the Ladies' Temperance League did last night?' I hadn't heard. 'I heard ma say,' says Sammy, 'but don't say I told you. They got up a petition to have City Attorney Mullen impeached by the City Council.'
"Well, that was news! I went into the 'Eagle' office and called up Mullen.
"'Hello! Is that Attorney Mullen?' I says.
"'Yes,' he says.
"'Well, something happened last night,' I says, 'and I'd like to see you about it.'
"'How do you know what happened?' he says.
"'No matter,' I says; 'can I come up?'
"After a half a minute he says, 'Oh, yes! Come up. Come right away. I'll be waiting for you.'
"So I went."
"Nothing strange about that," said Philo Gubb, shifting himself on the ladder.
"So I went," continued Snooks. "I rang the doorbell and, the moment it rang, the door flew open and—bliff!—down came a bed-blanket over me and somebody grabbed me in his arms and lugged me into the house. I guess it was Attorney Mullen—you know how big and husky he is. But I couldn't see him. I couldn't see anything. Only, every two seconds, bump! he hit at my head through the blanket. That's how I got this eye. And, all the time, he was talking to me, mad as a hatter, and I couldn't hear a word he said. But I could hear his wife screaming at the top of the stairs, and I could hear Nan screaming, and I heard a window go up.
"'Stop that yelling!' says Mullen, in a voice I could hear, and then he picked me up again and carried me to the back door, and opened it and threw me all the way down the eight steps. I chucked off the blanket, and I was going up the steps again, to show him he couldn't treat me that way, when—bing!—somebody next door took a shot at me with a revolver. Thought I was a burglar, I guess. I started to run for the back gate, when—bing!—somebody shot at me from the other house. What do you think of that? For a few minutes it sounded like the battle of San Juan, and I can't understand yet why I didn't suffer an awful loss of life."
"But you didn't?" asked Philo Gubb.
"No, siree! I made a dive for the cellar door, just as they got the range. I stayed in the cellarway, with the bullets pattering on it like hail, until the cop came. Tim Fogarty was the cop. He ordered 'Cease firing!' and the shower stopped, and I let him capture me. He took me to the calaboose, and this morning, early, he had me before the judge, and I'm held for the grand jury, and the charge is burglary and petit larceny. Now what is the answer?"
"Being pulled into a house and thrown out the other door isn't burglary," said Philo Gubb. "Burglary is breaking in or breaking out. Maybe Attorney Mullen mistook you for some one else."
"Mistook nothing!" said Snooks. "He was in the court-room this morning. He handled the case against me. Who is that?"
Some one was climbing the back steps, and Snooks made one dive for the cellar door, and slipped inside. He knew how to get out through the cellar, for he was familiar with it. He did not wait now, but opened the outside cellar door, and after looking to see that the way was clear, hurried back to the jail.
Philo Gubb did not have time to descend from his ladder before the kitchen door opened. The visitor was Policeman Fogarty.
"Mawrnin'!" he said, removing his hat and wiping the sweat-band with his red handkerchief. "Don't ye get down, Misther Gubb, sor. I want but a wurrd with ye. I seen Snooksy Tur-rner here but a sicond ago, me lookin' in at the windy, an' you an' him conversin'. Mayhap he was speakin' t' ye iv his arrist?"
"He was conversing with me of that occurrence," said Philo Gubb. "He was consulting me in my professional capacity."
"An' a fine young lad he is!" said Policeman Fogarty, reaching into his pocket. "I got th' divvil for arristin' him. 'Twas that dark, ye see, Misther Gubb, I cud not see who I was arristin'. Maybe he was consultin' ye about gettin' clear iv th' charge ag'inst him?"
"He retained my deteckative services," said Philo Gubb.
"Poor young man!" said Fogarty. "I'll warrant he has none too much money. Me hear-rt bleeds for him. Ye'll have no ind iv trailin' an' shadowin' an' other detective wurrk to do awn th' case, no doubt. 'Tis ixpinsive wurrk, that! I was thinkin' maybe ye'd permit me t' contribute a five-dollar bill t' th' wurrk, for I'm that sad t' have had a hand in arristin' him."
Fogarty held up the bill and Philo Gubb took it.
"Contingent expenses are always numerously present in deteckative operations," he said.
"Right ye ar-re!" said Fogarty. "An' ye'll remimber, if anny wan asks ye, that I ixprissed me contrition for arristin' Snooksy. Whist!" he said, putting his hand alongside his mouth and whispering: "Some wan wanted me t' search th' house here t' see did Snooksy have sivin bottles iv beer an' a silver beer-opener in his room."
Philo Gubb sat on the ladder and contemplated the five-dollar bill until he heard Fogarty returning.
"Hist!" Fogarty said. "I did not see him, mind ye!"
Fogarty slipped out of the back door and was gone, and Philo Gubb, after a thoughtful moment, decided that the five-dollar bill was rightfully his, and slipped it into his pocket. To earn it, however, he must get to work on the case. He raised the pasted strip of paper, but before he could place the loose end on the ceiling, some one tapped at the kitchen door.
"Come in!" he called, and the door opened.
"Slippery" Williams glided into the room. His crafty eyes sought Philo Gubb.
"'Lo, Gubby! Watcha doin' up there? Where's Miss Turner?" he asked.
"Miss Turner is out on business, I presume," said the Correspondence School detective coldly, "and I am pursuing my professional duties in the deteckating line."
"Yar, hey?" said Slippery. "Who you detectin' for now?"
"Snooks Turner," said Philo Gubb. "I'm solving a case for him."
Instantly Slippery's manner changed. From rough he became smooth. From bold he became cringing.
"Why, I'm Snooksy's friend," he said. "You know me and Snooksy was always chums, don't you, Gubby? Yes, sir, I think a lot of Snooksy. He says, 'Slippery, you go up to my room and get me a bundle of clean clothes—these are all torn and dirty, and—' Well, I guess I'll get 'em, and get back. Snooks is waitin' for me."
He turned to the hall, but Philo Gubb called him back.
"You can't go up there," said Philo Gubb, from his ladder-top. "There's been enough folks up there already."
"Who was up?" asked Slippery hastily.
"Policeman Fogarty was," said Philo Gubb.
"What'd he find up there?" asked Slippery anxiously.
"Nothin'," said Philo Gubb. "He told me he couldn't find seven bottles of beer and a beer-opener."
"Look here!" said Slippery sweetly. "If I gave you five dollars to hire you to hunt for them, could you find them seven bottles of beer and that beer-opener, for me? Straight detective work? Could you?"
"I could try to find them," said Philo Gubb.
"Well, that's all I want," said Slippery. "I don't want to do nothin' with them. All I want to know is—where are they? Here's five dollars."
Philo Gubb took the money.
"All right," said Slippery, "now, you find them. They're upstairs in Mrs. Turner's bed, between the quilt and the mattress. Go find them."
"Not until Miss Turner comes home," said Philo firmly. "It's her house."
"Why, you long-legged stork you!" said Slippery, "she knows I'm here for that beer. She sent me."
"I thought you said Snooks sent you for his clothes," said Philo.
"Never you mind who sent me for what!" said Slippery, angrily. "You're a dandy detective, ain't you? Sittin' on top of a ladder, and not lettin' a friend of Snooks help him out. Say, listen, Gubby! Everybody's goin' to get into worse trouble if I don't get away with that beer. Understand? Come on! Let me take it away!"
"When Miss Turner comes back!" said Philo Gubb.
A new knock on the door interrupted them, and Slippery glided to the cellar door, through which Snooks had so recently fled. The kitchen door opened to admit Attorney Smith. He was a thin man, but intelligent-looking, as thin men quite frequently are.
"Don't get down, Mr. Gubb, don't get down!" he said. "I came in the back way, hoping to find Miss Turner. She is not here?"
"She's out," said Philo.
"Too bad!" said Attorney Smith. "I wanted to see her about her nephew. You have heard he is in jail?"
"Why, yes," said Philo, crossing one leg over the other. "He hired me to do some deteckating. I'm sort of in charge of that case. I'm just going to start in looking it up."
Attorney Smith took a turn to the end of the room and back. He was known in Riverbank as the unsuccessful competitor against Attorney Mullen for the City Attorneyship, and was supposed to be the counselor of the liquor interests.
"You have done nothing yet?" he asked suddenly, stopping below Philo Gubb's elevated seat.
"No, I'm just about beginning to commence," said Philo.
"Then you know nothing regarding the—the articles young Turner is charged with stealing?"
"Well, maybe I do know something about that," said Philo. "If you mean seven bottles of beer and a beer-opener, I do."
"Where are they?" asked Attorney Smith in the sharp tone he used in addressing a witness for the other side when he was trying a case.
"I guess I've told about all I'm going to tell about them," said Philo thoughtfully. "I don't want to be disobliging, Mister Smith, but I look on them bottles of beer as a clue, and that beer-opener as a clue, and they're about the only clue I've got. I got to save up my clues."
"Are they in this house?" asked Mr. Smith sharply.
"If they ain't, they're somewheres else," said Philo.
"Mr. Gubb," said Mr. Smith impressively "there are large interests at stake in this case. Larger interests than you imagine. We are all interested at this moment in clearing your client of the suspicion—which I hope is an unjust suspicion—now resting over and upon him. I need not say what the interests are, but they are very powerful. I feel confident that those interests could succeed in clearing Snooks Turner."
"Well, I guess, if I was left alone long enough to get down from this ladder, I could clear him myself. I didn't study in the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School of Deteckating for nothing," said Philo Gubb. "Snooks hired me—"
"And he did well!" said Attorney Smith heartily. "I praise his acumen. I wonder if I might be permitted, on behalf of the powerful interests I represent, to contribute to the expense of the work you will do?"
"I guess you might," said Philo Gubb. "Deteckating runs into money."
"The interests I represent," said Mr. Smith, taking out his wallet, "will contribute ten dollars."
And they did. They put a crisp ten-dollar bill in Philo Gubb's hands.
"And now, having shown our unity of interest with young Mr. Turner, there can be no harm in telling us where that beer is, can there?"
He turned toward the kitchen door—for Nan Kilfillan stood there. Her eyes were red and swollen. Attorney Smith hastily excused himself and went away, and Nan came into the kitchen.
"Oh, Mr. Gubb!" she exclaimed. "You will get Snooks out of jail, won't you? It would break my heart if he was sent to the penitentiary, and I know he has done nothing wrong! He is depending on you, Mr. Gubb. I brought you ten dollars—it is all I have left of last month's wages, but it will help a little, won't it?"
"Thank you," said Philo Gubb, taking the money. "I cannot estimate in advance what the cost of his clearance will be. It may be more, and it may be less. It is a complicated case. I am just about going to get down from this ladder and start working on it vigorously. If you—"
"If you wish to help us in this case, Miss Kilfillan," he said, "will you go to the jail and ask Snooks where is the beer and the beer-opener?"
"Where is—" Her face went white. "What beer and what beer-opener?" she asked tensely.
"Seven bottles and a beer-opener," said Philo Gubb.
"Oh!" she moaned. "And he said he didn't do it! He swore he didn't do it! Oh, Snooks, how could you—how could you!"
"Now, don't you weep like that," said Philo Gubb soothingly. "You go and ask him. I'll have my things ready for my immediate departure onto the case by the time you get back."
Nan hurried away, and Philo Gubb waited only to count the money he had so far received. It amounted to fifty-five dollars. He slipped it into his pocket and stood up on the stepladder. He had even proceeded so far as to put one foot on a lower step, when Mrs. Wilmerton entered the kitchen.
She was a stout woman, and she was almost out of breath. She had to stand a minute before she could speak, but as she stood she made gestures with her hands, as if that much of her delivery could be given, at any rate, and the words might catch up with their appropriate gestures if they could.
"Mister Gubb! Mister Gubb!" she gasped. "Oh, this is terrible! Terrible! Miss Turner should never have dared it! Oh, my breath! Do you—do you know where the beer is?"
"I wouldn't advise you to take beer for shortness of the breath," said Philo Gubb. "Just rest a minute."
"But," gasped poor Mrs. Wilmerton, "I told Miss Turner it was folly! She's so stubborn! Ah—h! I thought I'd never get a full breath again as long as I lived. How can we get rid of the beer?"
"There's plenty want to take it," said Mr. Gubb. "Attorney Smith—"
"Oh, I knew it! I knew it!" moaned Mrs. Wilmerton. "He threatened it!"
"Threatened what?" asked Philo Gubb.
"That he would find the beer in this house!" cried Mrs. Wilmerton. "He threatened Aunt Martha that if she did not give it to him freely, he would have it found here, and make a scandal! Beer hidden between the quilt and the mattress of Aunt Martha's bed, and she Secretary of the Ladies' Temperance League! It's awful! Martha is so headstrong! She's getting herself in an awful fix! She never should have had a thing to do with that Slippery fellow!"
"With who? With Slippery Williams?" asked Philo Gubb, intensely surprised. "Aunt Martha Turner? What did she have to do with Slippery Williams?"
"Well, she had plenty, and enough, and more than that to do with him," said Mrs. Wilmerton angrily. "Getting bottles of beer in her bed, and robbing houses at her time of life, and wanting the Ladies' Temperance League to have a special meeting this morning to approve of burglary and larceny! At her age!"
"Now, Miss Wilmerton," said Philo Gubb, from the top of the ladder, "I'd ought to warn you, before you go any farther, that Snooks Turner has engaged me and my services to detect for him in this burglar case. If Aunt Martha Turner burgled the burglary that Snooks is in jail for, maybe you ought not say anything about it to me. I got to do what I can to free Snooksy, no matter who it gets into trouble."
"Mr. Gubb!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilmerton suddenly—"Mr. Gubb, I'm not authorized so to do, but I'll warrant I'll get the other ladies to authorize, or I'll know why. If I was to give you twenty dollars on behalf of the Ladies' Temperance League to help get Snooksy out of jail,—and land only knows why he is in jail,—would you be so kind as to beg and plead with Snooksy to leave Attorney Mullen alone, in the 'Eagle,' after this?"
She held four five-dollar bills up to Philo Gubb, and he took them.
"From what I saw of his eye," said Mr. Gubb, "I guess Snooks will be willing to leave Attorney Mullen alone in every shape and form from now on. Now, maybe you can tell me how Snooks got into this business."
"I haven't the slightest idea in the world!" said Mrs. Wilmerton. "All I know about it is—"
Both Mrs. Wilmerton and Philo Gubb turned their heads toward the door. The greater duskiness of the kitchen was caused by the large form of City Attorney Mullen. He bowed ceremoniously to Mrs. Wilmerton, who turned bright red with embarrassment, probably because of her part in the efforts of the League to have Mr. Mullen impeached by the City Council. Attorney Mullen was not, however, embarrassed.
"I am glad you are here, Mrs. Wilmerton," he said, "for I wish a witness. I do not wish to have any stigma of bribery rest on me. I came here," he continued, taking a leather purse from the inner pocket of his coat, "to give these twenty-five dollars to Mr. Gubb. Mr. Gubb, I have just visited Snooks—so called—Turner at the jail. I went there with the intention of bailing him out, pending the simple process of his ultimate and speedy release from the charges against him. I am convinced that I was wrong when I made the charge of burglary against him. I am convinced that no burglary was ever committed on my premises—"
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilmerton. "Not even seven bottles of beer and a beer-opener, I suppose!"
Attorney Mullen turned on her like a flash.
"What do you know about beer and beer-openers?" he snapped.
"I may not know as much as Detective Gubb, but I know what I know!" she answered, and Mr. Mullen restrained himself sufficiently to hide the glare of hatred in his eyes by turning to Philo Gubb.
"Exactly!" he said with forced calmness. "And perhaps I know more about them than Mr. Gubb knows. In fact, I do know more about them. I know they are upstairs between a blanket and a mattress. I know, Mrs. Wilmerton," he almost shouted, turning on her with an accusing forefinger, "that they were stolen from a house in this town by some one representing the Ladies' Temperance League. I know that burglary was committed by, or at the behest of, some one representing the Ladies' Temperance League! I know that, if this matter is carried to the end, a respectable old lady—a leader in the Ladies' Temperance League—will go behind the bars, sentenced as a burglar! That's what I know!"
"Oh, my!" gasped Mrs. Wilmerton, and sank into a chair.
"Now, then!" said Attorney Mullen, turning to Philo Gubb again, and handing him the twenty-five dollars, "I give you this money as my share of the fund that is to pay you for the work you do for Snooks Turner. I make no request, because of the money. It is yours. But if you love justice, for Heaven's sake, send word to him to come out of jail!"
"Won't he come out?" asked Philo Gubb, puzzled.
"No, he won't!" said Attorney Mullen. "I begged him to, but he said, 'No! Not until Philo Gubb gets to the bottom of this case.' But should we, as citizens, and as members of the Prohibition Party, permit you, Mr. Gubb, to land Aunt Martha Turner in the calaboose?"
"Well, if what I find out, when I get down from this ladder and start to work, sends her there, I don't see that I can help it," said Philo Gubb. "Deteckative work is a science, as operated by them that has studied in the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School of Deteckating—"
"Snooks says he don't know anything about any beer," said Nan Kilfillan, entering hastily, and then pausing, as she saw Mr. Mullen.
"Did you tell him it was upstairs, in bed?" asked Philo Gubb.
"In his room? In his bed?" said Attorney Mullen eagerly. "Why, that puts an entirely different aspect on the matter! That gives me, as City Attorney, all the proof I shall need to convict the respectable Miss Martha Turner and her honorable nephew of the 'Eagle.' And, by the gods! I will convict them!"
He glared at Mrs. Wilmerton. Nan broke into sobs.
"Unless," he added gently, "this whole matter is dropped."
Philo Gubb took out all the money he had received and counted it, sitting cross-legged on the ladder.
"I guess," he said thoughtfully, "you had better run up to the jail and tell Snooksy I want to see him right away, Miss Kilfillan. Maybe he can stretch the jail that much again. Tell him I'm just going to get down from this ladder and start to work, and I want to ask his advice."
"What do you want to ask him?" inquired Attorney Mullen, as Nan hurried away.
"I want to ask him about those seven bottles of beer and that beer-opener," said Philo Gubb.
"Mr. Gubb," said the City Attorney, "I can tell you about those bottles of beer. If those bottles of beer came from my house Aunt Martha Turner goes to the penitentiary. If she does not go to the penitentiary, there are no bottles of beer and there is no beer-opener. And never were!"
"I told her she had done a foolish, foolish thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilmerton.
"Just so! And it was foolish," said Attorney Mullen, "If it was done. And, if it was done, and Snooks Turner telephoned, and I thought he meant the burglary, I would, naturally, assault him."
"You hurt him bad," said Philo Gubb.
"And I meant to!" said Attorney Mullen.
All turned toward the door, where Policeman Fogarty entered with Snooksy and Nan.
"I've done ivrything I cud t' quiet th' matter up," said Fogarty to Mullen, thus explaining his interest in the affair.
"I like jail," said Snooks cheerfully. "I'm going to stay in jail."
Aunt Martha Turner interrupted him. She came into the kitchen like a gust of wind, scattering the others like leaves, and threw her arms around her nephew Snooksy.
"Oh, my Snooksy! My Snooksy!" she moaned. "Don't you love your old auntie any more? Won't you be a good boy for your poor old auntie? Don't you love her at all any more?"
"Sure," said Snooks happily. "A fellow can love you in jail, can't he?"
"But won't you come out?" she pleaded. "Everybody wants you to come out, dear, dear boy. See—they all want you to come out. Every last one of them. Please come out."
"Oh, I like it in jail," said Snooks. "It gives me time for meditation. Well, good-bye, folks, I'll be going back."
His aunt grasped him firmly by the arm and wailed. So did Nan.
"But, Snooksy," begged Mrs. Turner, "don't you know they'll send me to the penitentiary if you go back to that old jail?"
"Yes, but don't you care, auntie. They say the penitentiary is nicer than the jail. Better doors. Nobody can break in and steal things from you."
"Snooks Turner!" said his aunt. "You know as well as I do that Mr. Mullen will forgive and forget, if you will. Would you rather see me go to prison—suffer?"
"No, of course not, auntie," said Snooks, laughing. "But you see, I've hired Detective Gubb to work on this case, and if there's no case, it will not be fair to him. He's all worked up about it. He's so eager to be at it that he has almost come down from the top of that ladder. In another day or two he would come all the way down, and then there's no telling what would happen. No, I'm a newspaper man. I want Philo Gubb to discover something we don't know anything about."
"I might start in trailing and shadowing somebody that hasn't anything to do with this case," suggested Philo Gubb. "That wouldn't discommode none of you folks, and I'd sort of feel as if I was giving you your money's worth. Somebody has been writin' on the front of the Methodist Church with black chalk. I might try to detect who done that."
"But that would be a very difficult job," said Snooks.
"It would be some hard," admitted Philo Gubb.
"Then you ought to have more money," said Snooks. "Aunt Martha ought to contribute to the fund. If Aunt Martha contributes to the fund, I'll be good. I'll come out of jail."
Aunt Martha opened her shopping bag, and fumbled in it with her old fingers. Philo Gubb took from his pocket the bills he had been given during the morning. He counted them. He had exactly one hundred dollars, just enough to send to Mr. Medderbrook.
"How much should I give you, Mr. Gubb?" asked Aunt Martha tremulously, and Philo Gubb stared thoughtfully at the ceiling for a few minutes. When he spoke, his words were cryptic to all those in the room.
"Well, ma'am," he said, "I guess ten cents will be about enough. I've got a two-cent postage stamp myself."
"Ain't detectives wonderful?" whispered Nan, clinging to Snooks's arm. "You can't ever tell what they really mean."
Nobody seemed to care what Philo Gubb meant, but a week later Snooks stopped him on the street and asked him why he had asked for ten cents.
"For to register a letter," said Philo Gubb. "A letter I had to send off."
Philo Gubb, with three rolls of wall-paper under his arm and a pail of mixed paste in one hand, walked along Cherry Street near the brick-yard.
On this occasion Mr. Gubb was in a reasonably contented frame of mind, for he had just received his share of the reward for capturing the dynamiters and had this very morning paid the full amount to Mr. Medderbrook, leaving but eleven thousand six hundred and fifty dollars still to be paid that gentleman for the Utterly Hopeless Gold-Mine Stock, and upon the further payment of seventy-five cents—half its cost—Mr. Medderbrook gave him a telegram he had received from Syrilla. The telegram was as follows:—
Rapidly shrinking. Have given up all soups, including tomato soup, chicken soup, mulligatawny, mock turtle, green pea, vegetable, gumbo, lentil, consomme, bouillon and clam broth. Now weigh only nine hundred and fifty pounds. Wire at once whether clam chowder is a soup or a food. Fond remembrances to Gubby.
Mr. Gubb was thinking of this telegram as he walked toward his work. Just ahead of him a short lane led, between Mrs. Smith's house and the Cherry Street Methodist Chapel, to the brick-yard. Mrs. Smith's chicken coop stood on the fence line between her property and the brick-yard!
Philo Gubb had passed Mrs. Smith's front gate when Mrs. Smith waddled to her fence and hailed him.
"Oh, Mr. Gubb!" she panted. "You got to excuse me for speakin' to you when I don't know you. Mrs. Miffin says you're a detective."
"Deteckating is my aim and my profession," said Mr. Gubb.
"Well," said Mrs. Smith, "I want to ask a word of you about crime. I've had a chicken stole."
"Chicken-stealing is a crime if ever there was one," said Philo Gubb seriously. "What was the chicken worth?"
"Forty cents," said Mrs. Smith.
"Well," said Philo Gubb, "it wouldn't hardly pay me."
"It ain't much," admitted Mrs. Smith.
"No. You're right, it ain't," said Philo Gubb. "Was this a rooster or a hen?"
"It was a hen," said Mrs. Smith.
"Well," said Mr. Gubb, "if you was to offer a reward of a hundred dollars for the capture of the thief—"
"Oh, my land!" exclaimed Mrs. Smith. "It would be cheaper for me to pay somebody five dollars to come and steal the rest of the chickens. It seems to me, that you ought to make the thief pay. I ain't the one that did the crime, am I? It's only right that a thief should pay for the time and trouble he puts you to, ain't it?"
"I never before looked at it that way," said Mr. Gubb thoughtfully, "but it stands to reason."
"Of course it does!" said Mrs. Smith. "You catch that thief and you can offer yourself a million dollars reward if you want to. That's none of my business."
"Well," said Philo Gubb, picking up his paste-pail, "I guess if there ain't any important murders or things turn up by seven to-night, I'll start in to work for that reward. I guess I can't ask more than five dollars reward."
At seven the evening was still light, and Philo Gubb, to cover his intentions and avert suspicion in case his interview with Mrs. Smith had been observed by the thief, put a false beard in his pocket and a revolver beside it and left his office in the Opera House Block cautiously. He slipped into the alley and glided down it, keeping close to the stables. A detective must be cautious.
The abandoned brick-kilns offered admirable seclusion. A brick-kiln is built entirely, or almost so, of the brick that are to be burned, and the kilns are torn down and carted away as the brick are sold. The over-structure of the kilns was a mere roof of half-inch planks laid on timbers that were upheld by poles.
A ladder leaning against one of the poles gave access to the roof. In the darkness it was impossible for Philo Gubb to find a finger-print of the culprit on the kilns, although he looked for one. He did not even find the usual and highly helpful button, torn from its place in the criminal's eagerness to depart. He found only an old horseshoe and a broken tobacco pipe. As there were evidences that the pipe had been abandoned on that spot several years earlier, neither of these was a very valuable clue.
Mr. Gubb next gave his attention to the chicken coop. It was preeminently a hand-made chicken coop of the rough-and-ready variety.
Philo Gubb entered the chicken-house and looked around, lighting his dark lantern and throwing its rays here and there that he might see better. The house was so low of roof that he had to stoop to avoid the roosts, and the tails of the chickens brushed his hat. It needed brushing, so this did no harm. The hens and the two roosters complained gently of this interruption of their beauty sleep, and moved along the roosts, and Mr. Gubb went outside again. It was quite evident that the thief had had no great hardships to undergo in robbing that roost. All he had to do was to enter the chicken-house, choose a chicken, and walk away with it.
Why had he not taken ten chickens? Mr. Gubb, as he put the keg hoop over the end board of the gate, studied this.
The theory that Mr. Gubb adopted was that the thief, coming for a raid on the coop, had been surprised to find it so poorly guarded. It had been so easy to enter the coop and steal the chicken that he had decided it would be folly to take eight or ten chickens and thus arouse instant suspicion and reprisal. Instead of this he had taken but one, trusting that the loss of one would be unnoticed or laid to rats or cats or weasels. Thus he would be able to return again and again as fowl meat was needed or desired, and the chickens would be like money in the bank—a fund on which to draw. This theory was so sound that Mr. Gubb believed it would require nothing more than patience to capture the criminal. The thief would come back for more chickens!
Philo Gubb looked around for an advantageous position in which to await the coming of the thief, and be unseen himself, and the loose board roof of the brick-kiln met his eye. No position could be better. He climbed the ladder inside the kiln, pushed one of the boards aside enough to permit him to squeeze through onto the roof, and creeping carefully over the loose boards, reached the edge of the roof. Here he stretched himself out flat on the boards, and waited.
Nothing—absolutely nothing—happened! The mosquitoes, numerous indeed because of the nearness of the pond, buzzed around his head and stung him on the neck and hands, but he did not dare slap at them lest he betray his hiding-place. Hour followed hour and no chicken thief appeared. And when the first rays of the sun lighted the east he climbed down and stalked stiffly away to a short hour of sleep.
The next night the Correspondence School detective wasted no time in preliminary observations of the lay of the land. He kept out of sight until the sun had set and dusk covered the land with shade, and then he went at once to the roof of the brick-kiln. This time he was disguised in a red mustache, a pair of flowing white side-whiskers, and a woolen cap. And he wore two revolvers—large ones—in a belt about his waist.
It was still too early for brisk business in chicken-stealing when Philo Gubb climbed to the roof of the kiln and spread himself out there, and he felt that he had time for a few minutes' sleep.
He was tremendously sleepy. Sleep fairly pushed his eyelids down over his eyes, and he put his crooked arm under his head and, after thinking fondly of Syrilla for a few minutes, went to sleep so suddenly that it was like falling off a cliff into dreamland. He dreamed, uneasily, of having been captured by an array of forty chicken thieves, of having been led in triumph before the Supreme Court of the United States, and of having been condemned as a Detective Trust on the charge of acting in restraint of trade—as injuring the Chicken Stealers' Association's business—and required to dissolve himself.
The dream was agonizing as he tried one dissolvent after another without success. Turpentine merely dissolved his skin; alcohol had no effect whatever. He imagined himself in a long room in which stood vast rows of vats bearing different labels, and in and out of these he climbed, trying to obey the order of the court, but nothing seemed capable of dissolving him, and he suddenly discovered that he was made of rubber. He seemed to remember that rubber was soluble in benzine, and he started on a tour of the vats, trying to find a benzine vat.
He walked many miles. Sometimes he arose in the air, with ease and grace, and flew a few miles. Finally he found the vat of benzine, immersed himself in it, and began to dissolve calmly and with a blessed sense of having done his duty.
It was then that Philo Gubb entered the dreamless sleep of the utterly weary, and, about the same time, two men slunk under the roof of the brick-kiln and after looking carefully around took seats on the fallen bricks, resting their backs against the partly demolished kiln. They arranged the bricks as comfortably as possible before seating themselves, and when they were seated, one of them drew a whiskey bottle from his pocket and, after taking a good swig, offered it to his partner.
"Nope!" said he. "I'm going to steer clear of that stuff until I know where I'm at, and you're a fool for not doing the same, Wixy. First thing you know you'll be soused, and if you are, and anything turns up, what'll I do? I got all I can do to take care of you sober."
"Ah, turn up! What's goin' to turn up 'way out here?" asked Wixy. "They ain't nobody follerin' us anyway. That's just a notion you got. Your nerves has gone back on you, Sandlot."
"My nerve is all right, and don't you worry about that," said Sandlot. "I've got plenty of nerve so I don't have to brace it up with booze, and you ain't. That's what's the matter with you. You saw that feller as well as I did. Didn't you see him at Bureau?"
"That feller with the white whiskers?"
"Yes, him. And didn't you see him again at Derlingport? Well, what was he follerin' us that way for when he told us at Joliet he was goin' East?"
"A tramp has as good a right to change his mind as what we have," said Wixy. "Didn't we tell him we was goin' East ourselves? Maybe he ain't lookin' for steady company any more than we be. Maybe he come this way to get away from us, like we did to get away from—say!—Sandlot," he said almost pleadingly, "you don't really think old White-Whiskers was a-trailin' us, do you? You ain't got a notion he's a detective?"
"How do I know what he is?" asked Sandlot. "All I know is that when I see a feller like that once, and then again, and he looks like he was tryin' to keep hid from us, I want to shake him off. I know that. And I know I'm goin' to shake him off. And I know that if you get all boozed up, and full of liquor, and can't walk, and that feller shows up, I'm a-goin' to quit you and look out for myself. When a feller steals something, or does any little harmless thing like that, it's different. He can afford to stick to a pal, even if he gets nabbed. But when it's a case of—"
"Now, don't use that word!" said Wixy angrily. "It wasn't no more murder than nothing. Was we going to let Chicago Chicken bash our heads in just because we stood up for our rights? Him wantin' a full half just because he put us onto the job! He'd ought to been killed for askin' such a thing."
"Well, he was, wasn't he?" asked Sandlot. "You killed him all right. It was you swung on him with the rock, Wixy, remember that!"
"Tryin' to put it off on me, ain't you!" said Wixy angrily. "Well, you can't do it. If I hang, you hang. Maybe I did take a rock to him, but you had him strangled to death before I ever hit him."
"What's the use gabbin' about it?" said Sandlot. "He's dead, and we made our get-away, and all we got to do is to keep got away. There ain't anybody ever goin' to find him, not where we sunk him in that deep water."
"Ain't I been sayin' that right along?" asked Wixy. "Ain't I been tellin' you you was a fool to be scared of an old feller like White-Whiskers? Cuttin' across country this way when we might as well be forty miles more down the Rock Island, travelin' along as nice as you please in a box car."
"Now, look here!" said Sandlot menacingly. "I ain't goin' to take no abuse from you, drunk or sober. If you don't like my way, you go back to the railroad and leave me go my own way. I'm goin' on across country until I come to another railroad, I am. And if I come to a river, and I run across a boat, I'm goin' to take that boat and float a ways. When I says nobody is goin' to know anything about what we did to the Chicken, over there in Chicago, I mean it. Nobody is. But didn't Sal know all three of us was goin' out on that job that night? And when the Chicken don't come back, ain't she goin' to guess something happened to the Chicken?"
"She's goin' to think he made a rich haul, like he did, and that he up and quit her," said Wixy. "That's what she'll think."
"And what if she does?" said Sandlot. "She and him has been boardin' with Mother Smith, ain't they? Ain't Mother Smith been handin' the Chicken money when he needed it, because he said he was workin' up this job with us? I bet the Chicken owed Mother Smith a hundred dollars, and when he don't come back, then what? Sal will say she ain't got no money because the Chicken quit her, and Mother Smith will—"
"Well, what?" asked Wixy.
"She'll send word to every crook in the country to spot the Chicken, and you know it. And when word comes back that there ain't no trace of him—"
"You've lost your nerve, that's what ails you," said Wixy scornfully.
"No, I ain't," Sandlot insisted. "I've heard plenty of fellers tell how Mother Smith keeps tabs on anybody that tries to do her out of ten cents even. Why, maybe the Chicken promised to come back that night and pay up. I bet he did! And I bet he was sour on Sal. And I bet Mother Smith knew it all the time, and that when he didn't come back that night she sent out word to spot him or us. I bet you!"
"You've lost your nerve!" said Wixy drunkenly. "You never did have no nerve. You're so scared you're seein' ghosts."
"All right!" said Sandlot, rising. "I'll see ghosts, then. But I'll see them by myself. You can go—"
"Goo'-bye!" said Wixy carelessly, and finished the last drop in his bottle. "Goo'-bye, ol' Sandlot! Goo'-bye!"
Sandlot hesitated a moment and then arose and, after a parting glance at Wixy, struck out across the drying floor of the brick-yard, and was lost in the darkness. Wixy blinked and balanced the empty bottle in his hand.
"He's afraid!" he boasted to himself. "He's coward. 'Fraid of dark. 'Fraid of ghosts. Los' his nerve. I ain' 'fraid."
He arose to his feet unsteadily.
"Sandlot's coward!" he said, and threw down the empty bottle with a motion of disgust at the cowardice of Sandlot. The bottle burst with a jangling of glass.
On the loose board roof Philo Gubb raised his head suddenly. For an instant he imagined he was a disembodied spirit, his body having been dissolved in benzine, but as he became wider awake he was conscious of a noise beneath him. Wixy was shifting twenty or thirty bricks that had fallen from the kiln upon a truss of straw, used the last winter to cover new-moulded bricks to protect them from the frost against their drying. He was preparing a bed. He muttered to himself as he worked, and Philo Gubb, placing his eye to a crack between the boards of the roof, tried to observe him. The darkness was so absolute he could see nothing whatever.
He heard Wixy stretch out on the straw, and in a minute more he heard the heavy breathing of a sleeper. Wixy was not letting any cowardice disturb his repose, at all events, and Philo Gubb considered how he could best get himself off the roof.