"Mr. Burch," said Mr. Gubb, "I wasn't taking no extra time to find out if a no-account feller like Mustard Bilton signed his name M. or Max or Methuselah. No, sir."
"Do you know where Mustard Bilton is now?" asked Judge Mackinnon.
"Don't know," said Mr. Gubb.
The three lawyers consulted for a minute or two. Then the Judge turned to Gubb again.
"And did Mr. O'Hara say anything more on the occasion when you signed the will?" asked the Judge.
"He said, 'Thank you,'" said Mr. Gubb. "He said, 'Thank you, Sherlock Holmes.'"
Higgins and Burch laughed, and even the Judge smiled, and they told Mr. Gubb he could go.
An hour or three quarters of an hour after he had been called to identify his signature to the wills, a gentle tap at Mr. Gubb's door caused him to look up from the pamphlet—Lesson Four, Rising Sun Detective Agency's Correspondence School of Detecting—he was reading.
"Come on right in," he called, and in answer the door opened and a young woman entered. She was a sweet-faced, modest-appearing girl, and when she pushed back her veil, Mr. Gubb saw she had been weeping, for her eyes were red. Mr. Gubb hastily pulled out his desk chair.
"Take a seat and set down, ma'am," he said politely. "Is there anything in my lines I can be doing for you to-day?"
"Are you Mr. Philo Gubb?" she asked, seating herself.
"Yes'm, paper-hanging and deteckating done," he said.
"It's about a dog, my dog," said the young woman. "He's lost, or stolen, and—"
Emotion choked her words.
"I know it sounds foolish to ask a detective to look for a dog," she said with a poor attempt at a smile, "but—"
"In the deteckative line nothing sounds foolish," said Mr. Gubb with politeness.
"But Uncle Haddon told me once that if ever I needed a—a detective I should come to you," the young woman continued. "You knew Uncle Haddon, Mr. Gubb?"
"I had the pleasure of being known to and knowing of him," said Mr. Gubb.
"My name is Dolly O'Hara! I am his niece."
"Glad to make your acquaintance, ma'am," said Philo Gubb, and he shook hands gravely.
"He gave me my dog," said Miss O'Hara. "He gave him to me when the dog was just a puppy, and he called him Waffles. He used to joke about my loving the dog more than I loved him. He used to say—"
Miss O'Hara wiped her eyes. For a moment she could not speak.
"He used to say," she continued in a moment, "that I'd never break my heart over a lost uncle, but that if I lost Waffles I'd die of grief. It wasn't so, of course. But I'm heart-broken to have Waffles gone. He is all I'll have to remember Uncle Haddon by. And then—to have him—go!"
"I should take it a pleasure to be employed upon a case to fetch him back," said Mr. Gubb.
"Oh, would you?" cried Miss O'Hara. "I'm so glad! I was afraid a—a real detective might not want to bother with a dog. Of course I'll pay—"
"The remuneration will be minimum on account of the smallness of the crime under the statutes made and provided," said Mr. Gubb.
"But you must let me pay!" urged Miss O'Hara. "One of the things Uncle Haddon said was, 'If you ever lose that dog, Dolly, hire Detective Gubb. Understand? He's a wonderful detective. He'll leave no stone unturned. He'll find your dog. He'll pry the roof off the dog-house to find a flea, and when he's found the flea he'll hunt up a blond dog to match it. Remember,' he said, 'if you lose the dog, get Gubb.'"
"I consider the compliment the highest form of flattery," said Mr. Gubb.
"So I want you to try to find Waffles, please, if it isn't beneath you to hunt a dog," said Miss O'Hara. "How much will you charge to find Waffles, Mr. Gubb?"
"I'd ought to have five dollars—" Mr. Gubb began doubtfully.
"Of course!" exclaimed Miss O'Hara. "Why, I expected to pay far more."
"Well and good," said Mr. Gubb. "And now, how aged was the dog when he was purloined away from you?"
Philo Gubb secured a complete history of the dog. Miss O'Hara had brought, also, two photographs of Waffles in pleasing poses, and when she left, Mr. Gubb accompanied her to the late home of Waffles. It was there he gathered the clues over which he was poring with his microscope when Mr. Higgins came to ask him to step across the hall and to offer him two hundred dollars if he could produce Mustard Bilton. Mr. Gubb went across the hall.
"Gubb," said Judge Mackinnon, when he had introduced the detective to Mrs. Kinsey and Mrs. Doblin, "was Mustard Bilton in this office when you signed your name to these wills?"
"No, sir, he was not present in person," said Mr. Gubb. "He was elsewhere."
"Well, ladies," said the Judge, "it seems to me that until we can find Mustard we cannot proceed. Mr. O'Hara's last will—whichever it is—must be probated. If I took this will to the courthouse, whichever side happened to be uppermost would be probated first and the other side would naturally appear on the record as the latest will. It is a responsibility I do not care to undertake. If you will not agree to compromise and divide the estate—"
"Never!" said both ladies.
"We must find Mustard!" said the Judge.
Mr. Gubb went into the hall, but Lawyer Burch followed him.
"Gubb," he said, "just a word! Find Mustard for me. Now, don't talk—find him. Bring Mustard to Judge Mackinnon's office and I'll put two hundred dollars in your hand! That's all!"
Detective Gubb returned to his office and resumed his work on his lost dog clues. One by one he submitted the clues to inspection under the microscope. He tried the five processes of the Sherlock Holmes inductive method on them. By some strange quirk, quite out of keeping with the usual detective-story logic, he could make nothing of them. Even the flea in the bit of dog hair did not point direct to the location of the dog. They were blind clues. Mr. Gubb swept them into an empty envelope, sealed the envelope, put on his hat and went out.
On the stair he met Judge Mackinnon.
"Well, if O'Hara meant to have a little joke—and he did—he's had it," said the Judge with a chuckle. "You should have been in that room just now. Cat fights? Those two women all but jumped on each other with claws and teeth. I don't know why O'Hara wanted to worry them, but he has paid them back well for whatever they ever did to him."
"And the dog has disappeared away, too," said Mr. Gubb. "I am proceeding on my way at the present time to help discover where the dog is."
"Hope you find the poor child's pet," said the Judge as he turned off in the opposite direction.
Mr. Gubb proceeded to the late home of Haddon O'Hara. He followed the brick walk to the back of the house. He was already familiar with the premises.
The dog-house—the only recently painted structure in the neighborhood—stood opposite the kitchen door. It was perhaps three feet in height and four feet long, with a pointed roof. As a door it had an open arch, and at one side of this was a staple to which a chain could be attached. The grass in front of the dog-house was worn away, leaving the soil packed hard. The detective, arriving at the dog-house, walked around it, gazing at it closely.
The inductive method had failed—as it always failed for Mr. Gubb—and he meant now to try following a clue in person, if he could find a clue to follow. Mr. Gubb dropped to his hands and knees and crept around the dog-house, seeking a clue hidden in the grass. When he reached the front of the dog-house he paused.
"Ye look that like a dog I was thinkin' ye'd howl for a bone," said Mrs. Mullarky suddenly from the kitchen door.
Mr. Gubb turned and eyed her with disapproval.
"The operations of deteckating are strange to the lay mind," he said haughtily. "Those not understanding them should be seen and not heard."
"An' hear the man!" cried Mrs. Mullarky. "Does a dog-house drive all of ye crazy? T' see a human bein' crawlin' around on his four legs an' callin' it detectin' where a dog is that ain't there! Go awn, if ye wish! Crawl inside of ut!"
"I'm going to do so," said Mr. Gubb, and he did.
Inside, or as far inside as he could get, Mr. Gubb struck a match and examined the floor of the house. There was straw on it, but nothing even remotely suggesting a clue. No dog thief had left a glove there. Mr. Gubb began to back out, and as he backed his head touched something softer than a pine board. He craned his long neck and looked upward. Tacked to the inside of the roof of the house was a long envelope. Mr. Gubb put up his hand and pulled it loose. Then he backed into the daylight. He sat on the bare spot before the dog-house and examined the envelope.
The envelope was sealed, but on the face of it was written:—
To be delivered to Judge Mackinnon, after Waffles has been returned to his house and home. Waffles will be found in the old cattle-shed on the Illinois side of the river, north from the turnpike at the far end of the bridge. H. O'H.
It was a clue! Without stopping to silence the scornful laughter of Mrs. Mullarky, Philo Gubb jumped to his feet and made for the Illinois side of the long bridge as rapidly as his long legs could carry him. He reached the old cattle-shed and there he found Mustard Bilton seated at the door, smoking a cob pipe in lazy comfort.
"Come for the dog?" asked Mustard carelessly. "Sort of thought you'd come for him about now. Been expectin' you the last couple o' days."
"Expecting me?" said Philo Gubb. "I've been doing deteckative work on this case—"
"Yes, Had' O'Hara reckoned you'd detect around awhile before you got track of me," said Mustard without emotion. "He says, when I'd signed that there will for him, 'Day or so after I kick the bucket, Mustard, you go up and steal Waffles,' he says, 'and fetch him over to the cattle-shed on the Illinoy side,' he says, 'and keep him there until Gubb comes for him. Take a day or so, maybe,' he says, 'for Dolly to remember I told her to get Gubb, and take Gubb a day or two to scrooge round before he hits on the clue I've fixed up to point him to you, but he'll come. He's a wonder, Gubb is,' says O'Hara, 'and no mistake. If a feller was to steal the sardines out of a can,' he says, 'bet you Gubb would want to see what was inside the empty can before he'd start out to find the feller. You just sit quiet an' wait till Gubb snoops round enough,' he says, 'and he'll come.'"
"You have possession of the Waffles dog at the present time?" asked Detective Gubb.
"In yonder," said Mustard, pointing over his shoulder. "Say, what's the joke O'Hara was cookin' up, anyway?"
"You accompany yourself with me to the office of Judge Mackinnon," said Mr. Gubb, "and you'll discover it out for yourself and I'll remunerate you to twenty dollars also. Fetch the dog."
Mr. Gubb, quite properly, left Mustard and Waffles in his own office while he visited Mr. Higgins and Mr. Burch, collecting two hundred dollars from each. Then he turned Mr. Mustard Bilton over to them.
"You signed those wills of O'Hara's," said Mr. Burch when all had gathered in Judge Mackinnon's office. "Do you know which you signed last?"
"Sure, I do," said Mustard.
Mr. Burch handed him the double will.
"Which did you sign last?" asked Mr. Burch energetically.
Mustard took the document and looked at it. The Kinsey side was toward him.
"It wasn't this one," he said positively.
"Ah, ha!" cried Lawyer Higgins, turning the paper over. "Then it was this one you signed last!"
"No," said Mustard, glancing at the Doblin side of the paper. "I signed this'n the same time as I signed the other side of it. I signed both these the first day of the month. The one I signed last I signed on the second of the month."
"Ah, yes!" said Judge Mackinnon, looking at a document he had taken from the envelope Philo Gubb had handed him. "You mean this one:—
Last will and testament—and all else with which I may die possessed—to my niece Dorothy O'Hara—and hope she can take a joke—Haddon O'Hara.
You mean this one, Mr. Bilton?"
"Yep," said Mustard, looking at the document that gave to Dolly O'Hara every jot and tittle of Haddon O'Hara's property. "That's the one. That's the one I signed last. Me and old Sam Fliggis signed her—same day O'Hara hired me to steal the dog. Well, I guess I'll be takin' the dog back home. So 'long, gents. Old Had' was bound to have his joke, wasn't he?"
"Mr. Gubb," said Judge Mackinnon suddenly, "would you be betraying a professional secret if you told us how you found this document?"
"In the pursuit of following my deteckative profession," said Detective Gubb, "according to Lesson Six, Page Thirty-two."
THE ANONYMOUS WIGGLE
Any one reading a history of the detective work of Philo Gubb, the paper-hanger detective, might imagine that crime stalked abroad endlessly in Riverbank and that criminals crowded the streets, but this would be mere imagination. For weeks before he took on the case of the Anonymous Wiggle, he had been obliged to revert to his side-line of paper-hanging and decorating.
Four hundred of the dollars he had earned by solving the mystery of the missing Mustard and Waffles he had paid to Mr. Medderbrook, together with five dollars for a telegram Mr. Medderbrook had received from Syrilla. This telegram was a great satisfaction to Mr. Gubb. It brought the day when she might be his nearer, and showed that the fair creature was fighting nobly to reduce. It had read:—
None but the brave deserve the thin. Have given up all liquids. Have given up water, milk, coca-cola, beer, chocolate, champagne, buttermilk, cider, soda-water, root beer, tea, koumyss, coffee, ginger ale, bevo, Bronx cocktails, grape juice, and absinthe frappe. Weigh eight hundred ninety-five net. Love to Gubby from little Syrilla.
Crime is not rampant in Riverbank. P. Gubb therefore welcomed gladly Miss Petunia Scroggs when she came to his office in the Opera House Block and said: "Mr. Gubb? Mr. Philo Gubb, the detective? Well, my name is Miss Petunia Scroggs, and I want to talk to you about detecting something for me."
"I'm pleased to," said Mr. Gubb, placing a chair for the lady. "Anything in the deteckative line which I can do for you will be so done gladly and in good shape. At the present moment of time, I'm engaged upon a job of kitchen paper for Mrs. Horton up on Eleventh Street, but the same will not occupy long, as she wants it hung over what is already on the wall, to minimize the cost of the expense."
"Different people, different ways," said Miss Scroggs, smiling sweetly. "Scrape it off and be clean, is my idea."
"Yes, ma'am," said Philo Gubb.
"Well, I didn't come here to talk about Mrs. Horton's notion of how a kitchen ought to be papered," said Miss Scroggs. "How do you detect, by the day or by the job?"
"My terms in such matters is various and sundry, to suit the taste," said Mr. Gubb.
"Then I'll hire you by the job," said Miss Scroggs, "if your rates ain't too high. Now, first off, I ain't ever been married; I'm a maiden lady."
"Yes, ma'am," said Philo Gubb, jotting this down on a sheet of paper.
"Not but what I could have been a wedded wife many's the time," said Miss Scroggs hastily, "but I says to myself, 'Peace of mind, Petunia, peace of mind!'"
"Yes'm," said Philo Gubb. "I'm a unmarried bachelor man myself."
"Well, I'm surprised to hear you say it in a boasting tone," said Miss Petunia gently. "You ought to be ashamed of it."
"Yes, ma'am," said Philo Gubb, "but you was conversationally speaking of some deteckative work—"
"And I'm leading right up to it all the time," said Miss Scroggs. "Peace of mind is why I have remained single up to now, and peace of mind I have had, but I won't have it much longer if this Anonymous Wiggle keeps on writing me letters."
"Somebody named with that cognomen is writing letters to you like a Black Hand would?" asked Mr. Gubb eagerly.
"Cognomen or not," said Miss Scroggs, "that's what I call him or her or whoever it is. Snake would be a better name," she added, "but I must say the thing looks more like a fish-worm. Now, here," she said, opening her black hand-bag, "is letter Number One. Read it."
Mr. Gubb took the envelope and looked at the address. It was written in a hand evidently disguised by slanting the letters backward, and had been mailed at the Riverbank post-office.
"Hum!" said Mr. Gubb. "Lesson Nine of the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School of Deteckating gives the full rules and regulations for to elucidate the mystery of threatening letters, scurrilous letters, et cetery. Now, is this a threatening letter or a scurrilous letter?"
"Well, it may be threatening, and it may not be threatening," said Miss Scroggs. "If it is a threat, I must say I never heard of a threat just like it. And if it is scurrilous, I must say I never heard of anything that scurriled in the words used. Read it."
Philo Gubb pulled the letter from the envelope and read it. It ran thus:—
Open any book at page fourteen and read the first complete sentence at the top of the page. Go thou and do likewise.
For signature there was nothing but a waved line, drawn with a pen. In some respects it did resemble an angle-worm.
Philo Gubb frowned. "The advice of the inditer that wrote this letter seemingly appears to be sort of unexact," he said. "'Most every book is apt to have a different lot of words at the top of page fourteen."
"Just so!" said Miss Scroggs. "You may well say that. And say it to myself I did until I started to open a book. I went to the book-case and I took down my Bible and I turned to page fourteen."
"As the writer beyond no doubt thought you would," said P. Gubb.
"I don't know what he thought," said Miss Scroggs, "but when I opened my Bible and turned to page fourteen there wasn't any page fourteen in it. Page fourteen is part of the 'Brief Foreword from the Translators to the Reader,' so I thought maybe it had got lost and never been missed. So I took up another book. I took up Emerson's Essays, Volume Two."
"And what did you read?" asked Philo Gubb.
"Nothing," said Miss Scroggs, "because I couldn't. Page fourteen was tore out of the book. So I went through all my books, and every page fourteen was tore out of every book. There was only one book in the house that had a page fourteen left in it."
"And what did that say?" asked Mr. Gubb.
"It said," said Miss Petunia, "'To one quart of flour add a cup of water, beat well, and add the beaten whites of two eggs.'"
"Did you do all that?" inquired Mr. Gubb.
"Well," said Miss Petunia, "I didn't see any harm in trying it, just to see what happened, so I did it."
"And what happened?" asked Mr. Gubb.
"Nothing," said Miss Petunia. "In a couple of days the water dried up and the dough got pasty and moulded, and I threw it out."
"Just so!" said Philo Gubb. "You'd sort of expect it to get mouldy, but you wouldn't call it threatening at the first look."
"No," said Miss Petunia. "And then I got this letter Number Two."
She handed the second letter to Mr. Gubb. It ran thus:—
A complete study of the history and antiquities of Diocese of Ossory fails to reveal the presence of a single individual bearing the name of Scroggs from the year 1085 to date.
Like the first letter this was signed with a waved line. Mr. Gubb studied it carefully.
"I don't see no sign of a threat in that," he said.
"Not unless you should say it was belittling me to tell me to my face that no Scroggs ever lived wherever that says they didn't live," said Miss Petunia. "Now, here's the next letter."
Mr. Gubb read it. It ran thus:—
For to-morrow: Rising temperature accompanied by falling barometer, followed by heavy showers. Lower temperature will follow in the North Central States and Northern Missouri.
"I shouldn't call that exactly scurrilous, neither," said Mr. Gubb.
"It ain't," said Miss Petunia, "and unless you can call a mention of threatening weather a threat, I wouldn't call it a threatening letter. And then I got this letter."
She handed Mr. Gubb the fourth letter, and he read it. It ran:—
Trout are rising freely in the Maine waters. The Parmacheene Belle is one of the best flies to use.
Mr. Gubb, having read this letter, shook his head and placed the letter on top of those he had previously read. It was signed with the wiggle like the others.
"Speaking as a deteckative," he said, "I don't see anything into these letters yet that would fetch the writer into the grasp of the law. Are they all like this?"
"If you mean do they say they are going to murder me, or do they call me names," said Miss Scroggs, "they don't. Here, take them!"
Mr. Gubb took the remaining letters and read them. There were about a dozen of them. While peculiar epistles to write to a maiden lady of forty-five years, they were not what one might call violent. They were, in part, as follows:—
Although a cat with a fit is a lively object, it has seldom been known to attack human beings. Cause of fits—too rich food. Cure of fits—less rich food.
If soil is inclined to be sour, a liberal sprinkling of lime, well ploughed in, has a good effect. Marble dust, where easily obtainable, serves as well.
Swedish iron is largely used in the manufacture of upholstery tacks because of its peculiar ductile qualities.
"I don't see nothing much into them," said Mr. Gubb, when he had read them all. "I don't see much of a deteckative case into them. If I was to get letters like these I wouldn't worry much about them. I'd let them come."
"You may say that," said Miss Petunia, "because you are a man, and big and strong and brave-like. But when a person is a woman, and lives alone, and has some money laid by that some folks would be glad enough to get, letters coming right along from she don't know who, scare her. Every time I get another of those Anonymous Wiggle letters I get more and more nervous. If they said, 'Give me five thousand dollars or I will kill you,' I would know what to do, but when a letter comes that says, like that one does, 'Swedish iron is largely used in the manufacture of upholstery tacks,' I don't know what to think or what to do."
"I can see to understand that it might worry you some," said Mr. Gubb sympathetically. "What do you want I should do?"
"I want you should find out who wrote the letters," said Miss Scroggs.
Mr. Gubb looked at the pile of letters.
"It's going to be a hard job," he said. "I've got to try to guess out a cryptogram in these letters. I ought to have a hundred dollars."
"It's a good deal, but I'll pay it," said Miss Petunia. "I ain't rich, but I've got quite a little money in the bank, and I own the house I live in and a farm I rent. Pa left me money and property worth about ten thousand dollars, and I haven't wasted it. So go ahead."
"I'll so do," said Philo Gubb; "and first off I'll ask you who your neighbors are."
"My neighbors!" exclaimed Miss Petunia.
"On both sides," said Mr. Gubb, "and who comes to your house most?"
"Well, I declare!" said Miss Petunia. "I don't know what you are getting at, but on one side I have no neighbors at all, and on the other side is Mrs. Canterby. I guess she comes to my house oftener than anybody else."
"I am acquainted with Mrs. Canterby," said Mr. Gubb. "I did a job of paper-hanging there only last week."
"Did you, indeed?" said Miss Scroggs politely. "She's a real nice lady."
"I don't give opinions on deteckative matters until I'm sure," said Mr. Gubb. "She seems nice enough to the naked eye. I don't want to get you to suspicion her or nobody, Miss Scroggs, but about the only clue I can grab hold of is that first letter you got. It said to look on page fourteen, and all the pages by that number was torn out of your books—"
"Except my cook-book," said Miss Petunia.
"And a person naturally wouldn't go to think of a cook-book as a real book," said Mr. Gubb. "If you stop to think, you'll see that whoever wrote that letter must have beforehand tore out all the page fourteens from the books into your house, for some reason."
"Why, yes!" exclaimed Miss Scroggs, clapping her hands together. "How wise you are!"
"Deteckative work fetches deteckative wisdom," said Mr. Gubb modestly. "I don't want to throw suspicion at Mrs. Canterby, but Letter Number One points at her first of all."
"O—h, yes! O—h my! And I never even thought of that!" cried Miss Petunia admiringly.
"Us deteckatives have to think of things," said Philo Gubb. "And so we will say, just for cod, like, that Mrs. Canterby got at your books and ripped out the pages. She'd think: 'What will Miss Petunia do when she finds she hasn't any page fourteens to look at? She'll rush out to borrow a book to look at.' Now, where would you rush out to borrow a book if you wanted to borrow one in a hurry?"
"To Mrs. Canterby's house!" exclaimed Miss Petunia.
"Just so!" said Mr. Gubb. "You'd rush over and you'd say, 'Mrs. Canterby, lend me a book!' And she would hand you a book, and when you looked at page fourteen, and read the first full sentence on the page, what would you read?"
"What would I read?" asked Miss Scroggs breathlessly.
"You would read what she meant you to read," said Mr. Gubb triumphantly. "So, then what? If I was in her place and I had written a letter to you, meaning to give you a threat in a roundabout way, and it went dead, I'd write some foolish letters to you to make you think the whole thing was just foolishness. I'd write you letters about weather and tacks and cats and lime and trout, and such things, to throw you off the scent. Maybe," said Mr. Gubb, with a smile, "I'd just copy bits out of a newspaper."
"How wonderfully wonderful!" exclaimed Miss Petunia.
"That is what us deteckatives spend the midnight oil learning the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency's Correspondence School lessons for," said Mr. Gubb. "So, if my theory is right, what you want to do when you get back home is to rush over to Mrs. Canterby's and ask to borrow a book, and look on page fourteen."
"And then come back and tell you what it says?" asked Miss Petunia.
"Just so!" said Philo Gubb.
Miss Petunia arose with a simper, and Mr. Gubb arose to open the door for her. He felt particularly gracious. Never in his career had he been able to apply the inductive system before, and he was well pleased with himself. His somewhat melancholy eyes almost beamed on Miss Petunia, and he felt a warm glow in his heart for the poor little thing who had come to him in her trouble. As he stood waiting for Miss Scroggs to gather up her feather boa and her parasol and her black hand-bag, he felt the dangerous pity of the strong for the weak.
Miss Petunia held out her hand with a pretty gesture. She was fully forty-five, but she was kittenish for her age. There was something almost girlish in her manner, and the long, dancing brown curls that hung below her very youthful hat added to the effect. When she had shaken Mr. Gubb's hand she half-skipped, half-minced out of his office.
"An admirable creature," said Mr. Gubb to himself, and he turned to his microscope and began to study the ink of the letters under that instrument. His next work must be to find the identical ink and the identical writing-paper. He had no doubt he would find them in Mrs. Canterby's home. The ink was a pale blue in places, deepening to a strong blue in other places, with grainy blue specks. He decided, rightly, that this "ink" had been made of laundry blue. The paper was plain note-paper, glossy of surface and with blue lines, and, in the upper left corner, the maker's impress. This was composed of three feathers with the word "Excellent" beneath. The envelopes were of the proper size to receive the letters. They bore an unmistakable odor of toilet soap and chewing-gum.
"Dusenberry!" said Mr. Gubb, and smiled.
Hod Dusenberry kept a small store near the home of Mrs. Canterby. There seemed no doubt that the coils of the investigation were tightening around Mrs. Canterby, and Mr. Gubb put on his hat and went out. He went to Hod Dusenberry's store. Mr. Dusenberry sat behind the counter.
"I came in," said Mr. Gubb, "to purchase a bottle of ink off of you."
"There, now!" said Mr. Dusenberry self-accusingly. "That's the third call for ink I've had in less'n two months. I been meanin' to lay in more ink right along and it allus slips my mind. I told Miss Scroggs when she asked for ink—"
"And what did you tell Mrs. Canterby when she asked for ink?" asked Mr. Gubb.
"Mrs. Canterby?" said Hod Dusenberry. "Maybe I ought to see the joke, but I'm feelin' stupid to-day, I reckon. What's the laugh part?"
"It wasn't my intentional aim to furnish laughable amusement," said Detective Gubb seriously. "What did Mrs. Canterby say when she asked for ink and you didn't have none?"
"She didn't say nothin'," said Mr. Dusenberry, "because she never asked me for no ink, never! She don't trade here. That's all about Mrs. Canterby."
The Correspondence School detective had been leaning on the show-case, and with the shrewdness of his kind had let his eyes search its contents. In the show-case was writing-paper of the very sort the Anonymous Wiggle letters had been written on—also envelopes strangely similar to those that had held the letters.
Mr. Gubb smiled pleasantly at Mr. Dusenberry.
"I'd make a guess that Mrs. Canterby don't buy her writing-paper off you neither?" he hazarded.
"You guess mighty right she don't," said Mr. Dusenberry.
"And maybe you don't recall who ever bought writing-paper like this into the case here?" said Mr. Gubb.
"I guess maybe I do, just the same," said Mr. Dusenberry promptly. "And it ain't hard to recall, either, because nobody buys it but Miss 'Tunie Scroggs. 'Tunie is the all-firedest female I ever did see. Crazy after a husband, 'Tunie is." He chuckled. "If I wasn't married already I dare say 'Tunie would have worried me into matrimony before now. 'Tunie's trouble is that everybody knows her too well—men all keep out of her way. But she's a dandy, 'Tunie is. They tell me that when Hinterman, the plumber, hired a new man up to Derlingport and 'Tunie found out he was a single feller, she went to work and had new plumbing put in her house, just so's the feller would have to come within her reach. But he got away."
"He did?" said Mr. Gubb nervously.
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Dusenberry. "He stood 'Tunie as long as he could, and then he threw up his job and went back to Derlingport. They tell me she don't do nothin' much now but set around the house and think up new ways to git acquainted with men that ain't heard enough of her to stay shy of her. Sorry I ain't got no ink, Mr. Gubb."
"It's a matter of no consequential importance, thank you," said Mr. Gubb, and he went out. He was distinctly troubled. He recalled now that Miss Scroggs had smiled in a winning way when she spoke to him, and that she had quite warmly pressed his hand when she departed. With a timid bachelor's extreme fear of designing women, Mr. Gubb dreaded another meeting with Miss Scroggs. Only his faithfulness to his Correspondence School diploma had power to keep him at work on the Anonymous Wiggle case, and he walked thoughtfully toward the home of Mrs. Canterby. He went to the back door and knocked gently. Mrs. Canterby came to the door.
"Good-afternoon," said Mr. Gubb. "I been a little nervous about that paper I hung onto your walls. If I could take a look at it—"
"Well, now, Mr. Gubb, that's real kind of you," said Mrs. Canterby. "You can look and welcome. If you just wait until I excuse myself to Miss Scroggs—"
"Is she here?" asked Mr. Gubb with a hasty glance toward his avenues of escape.
"She just run in to borrow a book to read," said Mrs. Canterby, "and she's having some trouble finding one to suit her taste. She's in my lib'ry sort of glancing through some books."
"Does—does she glance through to about near to page fourteen?" asked Mr. Gubb nervously.
"Now that you call it to mind," said Mrs. Canterby, "that's about how far she is glancing through them. She's glanced through about sixteen, and she's still glancing. She thinks maybe she'll take 'Myra's Lover, or The Hidden Secret,' but she ain't sure. She come over to borrow 'Weldon Shirmer,' but I had lent that to a friend. She was real disappointed I didn't have it."
Mr. Gubb wiped the perspiration from his face. He too would have liked at that moment to have seen a copy of "Weldon Shirmer," and to have read what stood at the top of page fourteen.
"If it ain't too much trouble, Mrs. Canterby," he said, "I wish you would sort of fetch that Myra book out here without Miss Scroggs's knowing you done so. I got a special reason for it, in my deteckative capacity. And I wish you wouldn't mention to Miss Scroggs about my being here."
"Land sakes!" said Mrs. Canterby. "What's up now? Miss Scroggs she's right interested in you, too. She made inquiries of me about you when you was working here. She says she thinks you are a real handsome gentleman."
Mrs. Canterby laughed coyly and went out, and Mr. Gubb dropped into a chair and wiped his face again nervously. His eye, falling on the kitchen table, noted a sheet of writing-paper. It was the same style of paper as that on which the Anonymous Wiggle letters had been written. He bent forward and glanced at it. In blue ink evidently made of indigo dissolved in water, was written on the sheet a recipe. The writing, although undisguised and slanting properly, was beyond doubt the same as that of the Wiggle letters. When Mrs. Canterby returned to the kitchen with "Myra's Lover" hidden in the folds of her skirt, the perplexed Mr. Gubb held the recipe in his hand.
"By any chance of doubt," he said, "do you happen to be aware of whom wrote this?"
"Petunia wrote it," said Mrs. Canterby promptly, "and whatever are you being so mysterious for? There's no mystery about that, for it's her mince-meat recipe."
"There is often mystery hidden into mince-meat recipes when least expected," said Mr. Gubb. "I see you got the book."
He took it and turned to page fourteen. At the top of the page were the words, completing a sentence, "—without turning a hair of his head." Then followed the first complete sentence. It ran: "'A woman like you,' said Lord Cyril, 'should be loved, cherished, and obeyed.'"
"Goodness!" exclaimed Mr. Gubb, and handed the book back to Mrs. Canterby.
"Why did you say that?" asked Mrs. Canterby.
"I was just judging by the book that Miss Scroggs is fond of love and affection in fiction tales," he said.
"Fond of!" exclaimed Mrs. Canterby. "Far be it from me to say anything about a neighbor lady, but if Petunia Scroggs ain't crazy over love and marriage I don't know what. She'd do anything in the world to get a husband. I recall about Tim Wentworth—Furnaces Put In and Repaired—and how hungry Petunia used to look after him when he went by in his wagon, but she couldn't get after him because she hasn't a furnace in her house, but the minute he hung up the sign 'Chimneys Cleaned,' she was down to his shop and had him up to the place, and I know it for a fact, for I took some of the soot out of her eye myself, that she courted him so hard when he got to her house that even when he went to the roof to clean the chimney she stuck her head in the fireplace and talked up the flue at him."
"Goodness!" said Mr. Gubb again. "I guess I'll go on my way and look at your wall-paper some other day."
Mrs. Canterby laughed.
"Just as you wish," she said, "but if Petunia has set out after you, you won't get away from her that easy."
But Mr. Gubb was already moving to the door. He heard Miss Petunia's voice calling Mrs. Canterby, and coming nearer and nearer, and he fled.
At Higgins's book-store he stopped and asked to see a copy of "Weldon Shirmer," and turned to page fourteen. "'Fate,'" ran the first full sentence, "'has decreed that you wed a solver of mysteries.'" Mr. Gubb shivered. This was the mysterious passage Miss Scroggs had meant to bring to his eyes in an impressive manner. He was sure of one thing: whatever Fate had decreed in the case of the heroine of "Weldon Shirmer," Philo Gubb had no intention of allowing Fate to decree that one particular Correspondence School solver of mysteries should marry Miss Petunia Scroggs. He hurried to his office.
At the office door he paused to take his key from his pocket, but when he tried it in the lock he found the door had been left unlocked and he opened the door hastily and hurried inside. Miss Petunia Scroggs was sitting in his desk-chair, a winning smile on her lips and "Myra's Lover, or The Hidden Secret," in her lap.
"Dear, wonderful Mr. Gubb!" she said sweetly. "It was just as you said it would be. Here is the book Mrs. Canterby loaned me."
For a moment Mr. Gubb stood like a flamingo fascinated by a serpent.
"You detectives are such wonderful men!" cooed Miss Petunia. "You live such thrilling lives! Ah, me!" she sighed. "When I think of how noble and how strong and how protective such as you are—"
Mr. Gubb kept his bird-like eyes fixed on Miss Petunia's face, but he pawed behind himself for the door. He felt his hand touch the knob.
"And when I think of how helpless and alone I am," said Miss Petunia, rising from her chair, "although I have ample money in the bank—"
Bang! slammed the door behind Mr. Gubb. Click! went the lock as he turned the key. His feet hurried to the stairs and down to the nearest street almost falling over Silas Washington, seated on the lowest step. The little negro looked up in surprise.
"Do you want to earn half a dollar?" asked Mr. Gubb hastily.
"'Co'se Ah do," said Silas Washington. "What you want Ah shu'd do fo' it?"
"Wait a portion of time where you are," said Mr. Gubb, "and when you hear a sound of noise upstairs, go up and unlock Mister Philo Gubb, Deteckative, his door, and let out the lady."
"Yassah!" said Silas.
"And when you let her exit out of the room," said Mr. Gubb, "say to her: 'Mister Gubb gives up the case.' Understand?"
"Yes," said Mr. Gubb, and he glanced up and down the street. "And say '—because it don't make no particle bit of difference who the lady is, Mister Gubb wouldn't marry nobody at no time of his life.'"
"Yassah!" said the little negro.
THE HALF OF A THOUSAND
Philo Gubb sat in his office in the Opera House Block with a large green volume open on his knees, reading a paragraph of some ten lines. He had read this paragraph twenty times before, but he never tired of reading it. It began began—
Gubb, Philo. Detective and decorator, b. Higginsville, Ia., June 26, 1868. Educated Higginsville, Ia., primary schools. Entered decorating profession, 1888. Graduated with honors, Rising Sun Detective Agency's Correspondence School of Detecting, 1910.
He hoped that some day this short record of his life might be lengthened by at least one line, which would say that he had "m. Syrilla Medderbrook," and since his escape from Petunia Scroggs and her wiles, and the latest telegram from Syrilla, he had reason for the hope. As Mr. Gubb had not tried to collect the one hundred dollars due him from Miss Scroggs, he had nothing with which to pay Mr. Medderbrook more on account of the Utterly Hopeless mining stock, but under his agreement with Mr. Medderbrook he had paid that gentleman thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents for the last telegram from Syrilla. This had read:—
Joy and rapture! Have given up all forms of food. Have given up spaghetti, fried rabbit, truffles, brown betty, prunes, goulash, welsh rabbit, hoecake, sauerkraut, Philadelphia scrapple, haggis, chop suey, and mush. Have lost one hundred and fifty pounds more. Weigh seven hundred forty-five. Going down every hour. Kiss Gubby for me.
Mr. Gubb, therefore, mused pleasantly as he read the book that contained the short but interesting reference to himself.
The book with the green cover was "Iowa's Prominent Citizens," sixth edition, and was a sort of local, or state, "Who's Who." In its pages, for the first time, Philo Gubb appeared, and he took great delight in reading there how great he was. We all do. We are never so sure we are great as when we read it in print.
It is always comforting to a great man to be reassured that he was "b. Dobbinsville, Ia., 1869," that he "m. Jane, dau. of Oscar and Siluria Botts, 1897," and that he is not yet "d." There are some of us who are never sure we are not "d." except when we see our names in the current volume of "Who's Who," "Who's It," or "Iowa's Prominent Citizens."
Outside Philo Gubb's door a man was standing, studying that part of "Iowa's Prominent Citizens" devoted to the town of Riverbank. The man was not as young as he appeared to be. His garments were of a youthful cut and cloth, being of the sort generally known as "College Youth Style," but they were themselves no longer youthful. In fact, the man looked seedy.
Notwithstanding this he had an air—a something—that attracted and held the attention. A cane gave some of it. The extreme good style of his Panama hat gave some of it. His carriage and the gold-rimmed eyeglasses with the black silk neck-ribbon gave still more. When, however, he removed his hat, one saw that he was partly bald and that his reddish hair was combed carefully to cover the bald spot.
The book in his hand was a small memorandum book, and in this he had pasted the various notices cut from "Iowa's Prominent Citizens" and one—only—cut from "Who's Who," relating to citizens of Riverbank. He had done this for convenience as well as for safety, for thus he had all the Riverbank prominents in compact form, and avoided the necessity of carrying "Iowa's Prominent Citizens" and "Who's Who" about with him. That would have been more or less dangerous. Particularly so, since he had been exposed by the New York "Sun" as The Bald Impostor.
The Bald Impostor, to explain him briefly, was a professional relative. He was the greatest son-cousin-nephew in the United States, and always he was the son, cousin, or nephew of one of the great, of one of the great mentioned in "Who's Who." He was as variable as a chameleon. Sometimes he was a son, cousin, or nephew of some one beginning with A, and sometimes of some one beginning with Z, but usually of some one with about twelve to fourteen lines in "Who's Who."
The great theory he had established and which was the basis of all his operations was this: "Every Who's Who is proud of every other Who's Who," and "No Who's Who can refuse the son, cousin, or nephew of any other Who's Who five dollars when asked for one dollar and eighty cents."
The Bald Impostor's operation was simple in the extreme. He went to Riverbank. He found, let us say, the name of Judge Orley Morvis in "Who's Who." Then he looked up Chief Justice Bassio Bates in the latest "Who's Who," gathered a few facts regarding him from that useful volume, and called on Judge Orley Morvis. Having a judge to impose upon he began by introducing himself as the favorite nephew of Chief Justice Bassio Bates.
"Being in town," he would say, when the Judge was mellowed by the thought that a nephew of Bassio Bates was before him, "I remembered that you were located here. My uncle has often spoken to me of your admirable decision in the Higgins-Hoopmeyer calf case."
The Higgins-Hoopmeyer case is mentioned in "Who's Who." The Judge can't help being pleased to learn that Chief Justice Bassio Bates approved of his decision in the Higgins-Hoopmeyer case.
"My uncle has often regretted that you have never met," says the Bald Impostor. "If he had known I was to be in Riverbank he would have sent his copy of your work, 'Liens and Torts,' to be autographed."
"Liens and Torts" is the one volume written by Judge Orley Morvis mentioned in "Who's Who." The Judge becomes mellower than ever.
"Ah, yes!" says the Judge, tickled, "and how is your uncle, may I ask?"
"In excellent health considering his age. You know he is ninety-seven," says the Bald Impostor, having got the "b. June 23, 1817" from "Who's Who." "But his toe still bothers him. A man of his age, you know. Such things heal slowly."
"No! I didn't hear of that," says the Judge, intensely interested. He is going to get some intimate details.
"Oh, it was quite dreadful!" says the Bald Impostor. "He dropped a volume of Coke on Littleton on it last March—no, it was April, because it was April he spent at my mother's."
All this is pure invention, and that is where the Bald Impostor leads all others. Even as he invents details of the sore toe, you see, he introduces his mother.
"She was taken sick early in April," he says, and presently he has Dr. Somebody-Big out of "Who's Who" attending to the Chief Justice's sore toe and advising the mother to try the Denver climate. And the next thing the Judge knows the Bald Impostor is telling that he is now on his way back from Denver to Chicago.
So then it comes out. The Bald Impostor sits on the edge of his chair and becomes nervous and perspires. Perspiring is a sure sign a man is unaccustomed to asking a loan, and the Bald Impostor is entitled to start the first School of Free Perspiring in America. He can perspire in December, when the furnace is out and the windows are open. All his head pores have self-sprinklers or something of the sort. He is as free with beads of perspiration as the early Indian traders were with beads of glass. He mops them with a white silk handkerchief.
So he perspires, and out comes the cruel admission. He needs just one dollar and eighty cents! As a matter of fact, he has stopped at Riverbank because his uncle had so often spoken of Judge Orley Morvis—and really, one dollar and eighty cents would see him through nicely.
"But, my dear boy!" says the Judge kindly. "The fare is six dollars. And your meals?"
"A dollar-eighty is enough," insists the Bald Impostor. "I have enough to make up the fare, with one-eighty added. And I couldn't ask you to pay for my meals. I'll—I have a few cents and can buy a sandwich."
"My dear boy!" says Judge Orley Morvis, of Riverbank (and it is what he did say), "I couldn't think of the nephew of a Chief Justice of the United States existing for that length of time on a sandwich. Here! Here are twenty dollars! Take them—I insist! I must insist!"
Some give him more than that. We usually give him five dollars.
I admit that when the Bald Impostor visited me and asked for one dollar and eighty cents I gave him five dollars and an autographed copy of one of my books. He was to send the five back by money-order the next day. Unfortunately he seems to have no idea of the flight of time. For him to-morrow never seems to arrive. For me it is the five that does not arrive. The great body of us consider those who give him more than five to be purse-proud plutocrats. But then we sometimes give him autographed copies of our books or other touching souvenirs. And write in them, "In memory of a pleasant visit." I do wonder what he did with my book!
Judge Orley Morvis was the only Who's Whoer in Riverbank, but the town was well represented in "Iowa's Prominent Citizens," and after collecting twenty dollars from the Judge the Bald Impostor proceeded to Mr. Gubb's office.
"Detective and decorator," he said to himself. "I wonder if William J. Burns has a son? Better not! A crank detective might know all about Burns. I'm his cousin. Let me see—I'm Jared Burns. Of Chicago. And mother has been to Denver for the air." He took out the memorandum book again. "The Waffles-Mustard case. The Waffles-Mustard case. Waffles! Mustard! I must remember that." He knocked on the door.
"Mr. Gubb?" he asked, as Philo Gubb opened the door. "Mr. Philo Gubb?"
"I am him, yes, sir," said the paper-hanger detective. "Will you step inside into the room?"
"Thank you, yes," said the Bald Impostor, as he entered.
Philo Gubb drew a chair to his desk, and the Bald Impostor took it. He leaned forward, ready to begin with the words, "Mr. Gubb, my name is Jared Burns. Mr. William J. Burns is my cousin—" when there came another rap at the door. Mr. Gubb's visitor moved uneasily in his chair, and Mr. Gubb went to the door, dropping an open letter carelessly on the desk-slide before the Bald Impostor. The new visitor was an Italian selling oranges, and as Mr. Gubb had fairly to push the Italian out of the door, the Bald Impostor had time to read the letter and, quite a little ahead of time, began wiping perspiration from his forehead.
The letter was from the Headquarters of the Rising Sun Detective Agency, and was brutally frank in denouncing the Bald Impostor as an impostor, and painfully plain in describing him as bald. It described in the simplest terms his mode of getting money and it warned Mr. Gubb to be on the outlook for him "as he is supposed to be working in your district at present." The Bald Impostor gasped. "A number of victims have organized," continued the letter, "what they call the Easy Marks' Association of America and have posted a reward of fifty dollars for the arrest of the fraud."
The Bald Impostor glanced toward Philo Gubb and hastily turned the letter upside down. When Mr. Gubb returned, the Bald Impostor was rubbing the palms of his hands together and smiling.
"My name, Mr. Gubb," he said, "is Allwood Burns. I am a detective. I have heard of your wonderful work in the so-called Muffins-Mustard case."
"Waffles-Mustard," said Mr. Gubb.
"I should say Waffles," said the Bald Impostor hastily. "I consider it one of the most remarkable cases of detective acumen on record. We in the Rising Sun Detective Agency were delighted. It was a proof that the methods of our Correspondence School of Detecting were not short of the best."
Philo Gubb stared at his visitor with unconcealed admiration.
"Are you out from the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency yourself?" he asked.
The Bald Impostor smiled.
"I wrote you a letter yesterday," he said. "If you have not received it yet you will soon, but I can give you the contents here and now. A certain impostor is going about the country—"
Philo Gubb picked up the letter and glanced at the signature. It was indeed signed "Allwood Burns." Mr. Gubb extended his hand again and once more shook the hand of his visitor—this time far more heartily.
"Most glad, indeed, to meet your acquaintance, Mr. Burns," said Philo Gubb heartily. "It is a pleasure to meet anybody from the offices of the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency. And if you ever see the man that wrote the 'Complete Correspondence Course of Deteckating,' I wish—"
The false Mr. Burns smiled.
"I wrote it," he said modestly.
"I am most very glad to meet you, sir!" exclaimed Philo Gubb, and again he shook his visitor's hand. "Because—"
"Ah, yes, because—" queried the Bald Impostor pleasantly.
"Because," said Philo Gubb, "there's a question I want to ask. I refer to Lesson Seven, 'Petty Thievery, Detecting Same, Charges Therefor.' I have had some trouble with 'Charges Therefor.'"
"Indeed? Let me see the lesson, please," said the Bald Impostor.
"'The charges for such services,'" Philo Gubb read, pointing to the paragraph with his long forefinger, "'should be not less than ten dollars per diem.' That's what it says, ain't it?"
"It does," said the Bald Impostor.
"Well, Mr. Burns," said Philo Gubb, "I took on a job of chicken-thief detecting, and I had to detect for two diems to do it, and that would be twenty dollars, wouldn't it?"
"It would," said the Bald Impostor.
"Which is fair and proper," said Philo Gubb, "but the old gent wouldn't pay it. So I ask you if you'd be kindly willing to go to him along with me in company and tell him I charged right and according to rates as low as possible?"
"Of course I will go," said the Bald Impostor.
"All right!" said Philo Gubb, rising. "And the old gent is a man you'll be glad to meet. He's a prominent citizen gentleman of the town. His name is Judge Orley Morvis."
The Bald Impostor gasped. Every free-acting pore on his head worked immediately.
"And, so he won't suspicion that I'm running in some outsider on him," said Philo Gubb, "I'll fetch along this letter you wrote me, to certify your identical identity."
He picked up the warning letter from the Rising Sun Agency, and stood waiting for the Bald Impostor to arise. But the Bald Impostor did not arise. For once at least he was flabbergasted. He opened and shut his mouth, like a fish out of water. His head seemed to exude millions of moist beads. He saw a smile of triumph on Philo Gubb's face. Mr. Gubb was smiling triumphantly because he was able now to show Judge Orley Morvis a thing or two, but the Bald Impostor was sure Philo Gubb knew he was the Bald Impostor. He was caught and he knew it. So he surrendered.
"All right!" he said nervously. "You've got me. I won't give you any trouble."
"It's me that's being a troubling nuisance to you, Mr. Burns," said Philo Gubb.
The paper-hanger detective stopped short. A look of shame passed across his face.
"I hope you will humbly pardon me, Mr. Burns," he said contritely. "I am ashamed of myself. To think of me starting to get you to attend to my business when prob'ly you have business much more important that fetched you to Riverbank."
A sudden light seemed to break upon Philo Gubb.
"Of a certain course!" he exclaimed. "What you come about was this—this"—he looked at the letter in his hand—"this Bald Impostor, wasn't it?"
Philo Gubb's visitor, who had begun to breathe normally again, gasped like a fish once more. He saw Philo Gubb finish reading the description of the Bald Impostor, and then Philo Gubb looked up and looked the Bald Impostor full in the face. He looked the Bald Impostor over, from bald spot to shoes, and looked back again at the description. Item by item he compared the description in the letter with the appearance of the man before him, while the Impostor continued to wipe the palms of his hands with the balled handkerchief. At last Philo Gubb nodded his head.
"Exactly similar to the most nominal respects," he said. "Quite identical in every shape and manner."
"Oh, I admit it! I admit it!" said the Bald Impostor hopelessly.
"Yes, sir!" said Philo Gubb. "And I admit it the whilst I admire it. It is the most perfect disguise of an imitation I ever looked at."
"What?" asked the Bald Impostor.
"The disguise you've got onto yourself," said Philo Gubb. "It is most marvelously similar in likeness to the description in the letter. If you will take the complimentary flattery of a student, Mr. Burns, I will say I never seen no better disguise got up in the world. You are a real deteckative artist."
The Bald Impostor could not speak. He could only gasp.
"If I didn't know who you were of your own self," said Philo Gubb in the most complimentary tones, "I'd have thought you were this here descriptioned Bald Impostor himself."
His visitor moistened his lips to speak, but Mr. Gubb did not give him an opportunity.
"I presume," said Mr. Gubb, "you have so done because you are working upon this Bald Impostor yourself."
"Yes. Oh, yes!" said the Bald Impostor hoarsely. "Exactly."
"In that case," said Mr. Gubb, "I consider it a high compliment for you to call upon me. Us deteckatives don't usually visit around in disguises."
The visitor moistened his lips again.
"I wanted to see," he said, but the words were so hoarse they could hardly be heard,—"I wanted to see—"
"Well, now," said Philo Gubb contritely, "you mustn't feel bad that I didn't take you for that fraud feller right away off. I hadn't read the letter through down to the description quite. If I had I would have mistook you for him at once. The resemblance is most remarkably unique."
"Thank you!" said the Bald Impostor, regaining more of his usual confidence. "And it was a hard disguise for me to assume. I'm not naturally reddish like this. My hair is long. And black. And—and my taste in clothes is quiet—mostly blacks or dark blues. Now the reason I am in this disguise—"
He was interrupted by a loud and strenuous knock on the door.
Mr. Gubb went to the door, but before he reached it his visitor had made one leap and was hidden behind the office desk, for a voice had called, impatiently, "Gubb!" and it was the voice of Judge Orley Morvis. When Detective Gubb had greeted his new visitor he turned to introduce the Judge—and a look of blank surprise swept his features. Detective Burns was gone!
For a moment only, Detective Gubb was puzzled. There was but one place in the room capable of concealing a full-grown human being, and that was the space behind the desk. He placed a chair for the Judge exactly in front of the desk and himself stood in a negligent attitude with one elbow on the top of the desk. In this position he was able to turn his head and, by craning his neck a little, look down upon the false Mr. Burns. Mr. Burns made violent gestures, urging secrecy. Mr. Gubb allayed his fears.
"I'm glad you come just now, Judge," he said, "because we can say a few or more words together, there being nobody here but you and me. I presume you come to talk about the per diem charge I charged to you, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did," said the Judge.
"Well, I'll be able to prove quite presently or sooner that the price is correctly O.K.," said Mr. Gubb, "because the leading head of the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency is right in town to-day, and as soon as he gets done with a job he has on hand he's going up to see you. Maybe you've heard of Allwood Burns. He wrote the 'Twelve Correspondence Lessons in Deteckating' by which I graduated out of the Deteckative Correspondence School."
"Never heard of him in my life," said the Judge.
"This here," said Mr. Gubb, not without pride, "is a personal letter I got from him this A.M. just now," and he handed the Judge the letter.
Judge Orley Morvis took the letter with an air of disdain and began to read it with a certain irritating superciliousness. Almost immediately he began to turn red behind the ears. Then his ears turned red. Then his whole face turned red. He breathed hard. His hand shook with rage.
"Well, of all the infernal—" he began and stopped.
"Has the aforesaid impostor been to see you?" asked Philo Gubb eagerly.
"Me? Nonsense!" exclaimed the Judge violently. "Do you think I would be taken in by a child's trick like this? Nonsense, Mr. Gubb, nonsense!"
"I didn't hardly think it was possible," said Detective Gubb.
"Possible?" cried the Judge with anger. "Do you think a common faker like that could hoodwink me? Me give an impostor twenty dollars! Nonsense, sir!"
He arose. He was in a great rage about it. He stamped to the door.
"And don't let me hear you retailing any such lie about me around this town, sir!" he exclaimed.
He slammed the door, and then the Bald Impostor slowly raised his head above the desk.
"What did you hide for?" asked Philo Gubb.
The Bald Impostor wiped his bedewed brow.
"Hide?" he said questioningly. "Oh, yes, I did hide, didn't I? Yes. Yes, I hid. You see—you see the Judge came in."
"If you hadn't hid," said Philo Gubb, "I could have got that business of the per diem charge per day fixed up right here. I was going to introduce him to you."
"Yes—going to introduce him to me," said the Bald Impostor. "That was it. That was why I hid. You were going to introduce him to me, don't you see?"
"I don't quite comprehend the meaning of the reason," said Philo Gubb.
"Why, you see," said the Bald Impostor glibly,—"you see—if you introduced me to him—why—why, he'd know me."
"He'd know you?" said Philo Gubb.
"He'd know me," repeated the false Mr. Burns. "I'll tell you why. The Bald Impostor did call on him."
"I was there," said the Bald Impostor. "The Judge gave him twenty dollars and a copy of some book or other he had written, and he wrote his autograph in the book. Remember that. The Judge wrote his autograph in a book—and gave it to the fellow. I'm telling you this so you can tell the Judge. Tell him I told you. Tell him the fellow's mother is much better now. Tell him Judge Bassio Bates's toe is quite well. And then ask him for the twenty dollars he owes you. You'll get it."
"And you was there?" asked Philo Gubb, amazed.
"Out of sight, but there," said the false Mr. Burns glibly. "Just ready to put my hand on the fellow—but I couldn't. I hadn't the heart to do it. I thought of the ridicule it would bring down on the poor old Judge. You know he's an uncle of mine. I'm his nephew."
"He said," said Philo Gubb hesitatingly, "he'd never heard of you."
"He never did," said the Bald Impostor promptly. "I was his third sister's adopted child—I am an adopted nephew. And of course you know he would never have anything to do with his sister after she married—ah—General Winston Wells. Not a thing! It was what killed my poor foster mother. Grief!"
He wiped his eyes with his silk handkerchief.
"Grief. Yes, grief. And I hadn't the heart to bring shame to the old man by arresting the Impostor in his house—by showing that the good old man was such a silly old fellow as to be done by a simple trick. And what did it matter? I can pick up the Bald Impostor in Derlingport."
"In Derlingport?" queried Philo Gubb.
"In Derlingport," said the Bald Impostor nervously, "for that is where he went. I'll get him there. But half of the thousand dollars is rightfully yours, and you shall have it."
"Thousand dollars?" queried Philo Gubb in amazement.
"The reward has been increased," said the false Mr. Burns. "The—the publishers of 'Who's Who' increased it to a thousand because the Bald Impostor works on the names in their book. They thought they ought to. But you shall have your half of the thousand. I can pick him up in Derlingport this afternoon if—if I can get there in time. And of course I should have arrested him here in Riverbank where you are our correspondent and thus entitled to half the reward earned by any one in the head office. You knew that, didn't you?"
"No!" said Philo Gubb. "Am I?"
"Didn't you get circular No. 786?" asked the Bald Impostor.
"I didn't ever get the receipt of it at all," said Mr. Gubb.
"An oversight," said the Bald Impostor. "I'll send you one the minute I get back to Chicago. I'll pick up the Bald Impostor at Derlingport this afternoon—if—Mr. Gubb, I am ashamed to make an admission to you. I—"
The Bald Impostor sat on the edge of his chair and pearls of perspiration came upon his brow. He took out his silk handkerchief and wiped his forehead.
"Go right on ahead and say whatever you've got upon your mind to say," said Mr. Gubb.
"Well, the fact is," said the false Mr. Burns nervously, "I'm short of cash. I need just one dollar and eighty cents to get to Derlingport!"
"Why, of course!" said Philo Gubb heartily. "All of us get into similar or like predicaments at various often times, Mr. Burns. It is a pleasure to be able to help out a feller deteckative in such a time and manner. Only—"
"Yes?" said the Bald Impostor nervously.
"Only I couldn't think of giving you only the bare mere sum to get to Derlingport," said the graduate of the Rising Sun Detective Agency's Correspondence School of Detecting, generously. "I couldn't think of letting you start off away with anything less than a ten-dollar bill."
DIETZ'S 7462 BESSIE JOHN
Philo Gubb sat on an upturned bundle of rolls of wall-paper in the dining-room of Mrs. Pilker's famous Pilker mansion, in Riverbank, biting into a thick ham sandwich. It was noon.
Mr. Gubb ate methodically, taking a large bite of sandwich, chewing the bite long and well, and then swallowing it with a wonderful up and down gliding of his knobby Adam's apple. From time to time he turned his head and looked at the walls of the dining-room. The time was Saturday noon, and but one wall was covered with the new wall-paper, a natural forest tapestry paper, with lifelike representations of leafy trees. He had promised to have the Pilker dining-room completed by Saturday night. It seemed quite impossible to Philo Gubb that he could finish the Pilker dining-room before dark, and it worried him.
Other matters, even closer to his heart, worried Mr. Gubb. He had had a great quarrel with Mr. Medderbrook, the father of the fair Fat Lady of the World's Greatest Combined Shows. Judge Orley Morvis had paid Mr. Gubb twenty dollars for certain detective work, but Mr. Gubb had not turned all this over to Mr. Medderbrook, and Mr. Medderbrook had resented this. He told Mr. Gubb he was a cheap, tank-town sport.
"I worked hard," said Mr. Medderbrook, "to sell you that Utterly Hopeless Gold-Mine stock and now you hold out on me. That's not the way I expect a jay-town easy-mark—"
"I beg your pardon, but what was that term of phrase you called me?" asked Mr. Gubb.
"I called you," said Mr. Medderbrook, changing his tone to one of politeness, "an easy-mark. In high financial circles the term is short for 'easy-market-investor,' meaning one who never buys stocks unless he is sure they are of the highest class and at the lowest price."
"Well, I should hereafter prefer not to be so called," said Mr. Gubb.
Almost as soon as he had said the cruel words he regretted them, but the next day Mr. Medderbrook's colored butler came to Mr. Gubb's office with a telegram for which he demanded thirty-six dollars and fifty cents.
Mr. Gubb trembled with emotion as he paid, for it meant that Syrilla was still losing flesh and that Mr. Dorgan must surely cancel his contract with her soon. The telegram read:—
Happy days! Still shrinking. Have lost one hundred and forty-five pounds since last wire. Contract sure to be canceled as soon as Dorgan gets back from hurried trip to Siam. Weather very hot. Can feel myself shrink. Fond thoughts to my Gubby.
The very next day the colored butler brought Mr. Gubb another telegram.
"Fifty dollars, please, sah," he said.
"What!" cried Mr. Gubb.
"Yes, sah," said the negro. "That's the amount Mistah Meddahbrook done say."
Mr. Gubb could hardly believe it, but he wrote his check for the fifty dollars and then read the telegram. It ran:—
Excelsior! Have lost two hundred pounds since last wire. Now weigh only four hundred pounds. Every one guys me when I am ballyhooed as Fat Lady. Affection to Gubby.
Mr. Gubb was greatly pleased by this, but when, the next day, the colored butler again appeared and asked for fifty dollars Mr. Gubb was worried. The telegram this time read:—
Frightened. Have lost two hundred pounds since last wire, now weigh only two hundred. If lose two hundred more will weigh nothing. Have resumed potatoes and water. Love to Gubby.
That same afternoon the negro brought Mr. Gubb another telegram, on which he collected seven dollars and fifty cents. This telegram contained these words:—
Am indeed frightened. Have resumed bread diet, soup, fish, meat, and cereals, but have lost fifty pounds more. Weigh only one hundred and fifty. Taking tonic. Hope for the best. Tell Gubby I think of him as much as when I weighed half a ton.
Mr. Gubb was much distressed. He had no doubt that his Syrilla would rapidly recover a part of her lost weight, but he felt as if at the moment he had lost Syrilla. He could not picture her as a sylph of one hundred and fifty pounds. He was worried, indeed, as he sat eating his lunch in Mrs. Pilker's mansion. It was then he heard a voice:—
"Say, are you the feller they call Bugg?"
Mr. Gubb looked up. In the dining-room door stood a man who looked like Napoleon Bonaparte gone to seed.
"If the party you are looking for to seek," said Mr. Gubb with somewhat offended pride, "is Mister P. Gubb, him and me are one and the same party. My name is P. Gubb, deteckative and paper-hanger."
"Well, youse is the party I'm looking for," said the stranger. "I got a hunch from Horton, the wall-paper-store feller, that youse was up here and that youse wanted a helper. Does youse?"
"If you know paper-hanging as a trade and profession and can go to work immediately at once, I could use you," said Mr. Gubb. "I've got more jobs than I can handle alone by myself."
"Say, me a paper-hanger?" said the stranger scornfully. "Why, sport, I've hung more wall-paper than youse ever saw, see? Honest, when I butted in here and saw that there Dietz's 7462 Bessie John on the wall—"
"That what?" asked Philo Gubb.
"That there Dietz's 7462 Bessie John, on the wall there," explained the stranger. "Don't youse even know the right name of that wall-paper there, that's been a Six Best Seller for the last three years?"
"It is a forest tapestry," said Mr. Gubb.
"Sure, Mike!" said the stranger. "And one of the finest youse ever seen. Looks like youse could walk right into it and pick hickory nuts off them oak trees, don't it? It's one of me old friends."
Philo Gubb took another bite of sandwich and masticated it slowly.
"Let me teach youse something," said the stranger, and he took a roll of the tapestry paper in his hand and unrolled a few feet. He pointed to the margin of the printed side of the paper with his oily forefinger. "Do youse see them printings?" he asked. "Says 7462 B J, don't it?"
"It does," mumbled Philo Gubb.
"Well, say! This here wall-paper feller Dietz—he makes this here paper, don't he? And that there 7462 is the number of this here forest tap. pattern, see? And B J—that's Bessie John—that tells youse what the coloring is, see? Bessie John is the regular nature coloring, see? They got one with pink trees and yeller sky, for bood-u-wars and bedrooms. That's M S—Mary Sam."
"It is a very ingenious way to proceed to do," said Philo Gubb, "and if regular union wages is all right you can take that straight-edge and trim all them Bessie John letters off this bundle of 7462 Bessie John I'm sitting onto."
This was satisfactory to the stranger. He removed his greasy coat, threw his greasy cap into a corner, wiped his greasy hands on a wad of trimmings and set to work. When Mr. Gubb had completed his modest luncheon he asked his name.
"Youse might as well call me Greasy," said the new employee. "I'm greasier than anything. Got it off'n my motor-boat."
During the afternoon Philo Gubb learned something of his assistant's immediate past. "Greasy" had saved some money, working at St. Paul, and had bought a motor-boat—"Some boat!" he said; "Streak o' Lightnin' was what I named her, and she was"—and he had come down the Mississippi. "She can beat anything on the Dad," he said.
The "Dad" was his disrespectful paraphrase of "The Father of Waters," the title of the giant Mississippi. He told of his adventures until he mentioned the Silver Sides. Then he swore in a manner that suited his piratical countenance exactly.
He had been floating peacefully down the river with the current, his power shut off and himself asleep in the bottom of the boat, doing no harm to any one, when along came the Silver Sides, and without giving him a warning signal, ran him down.
"Done it a-purpose, too," he said angrily.
He had managed to keep the boat afloat until he reached Riverbank, but to fix her up would take more money than he had. So he had hunted a job in his own line, and found Philo Gubb.
The Silver Sides, Captain Brooks, owner, was a small packet plying between Derlingport and Bardenton, stopping at Riverbank, which was midway between the two. No one knowing Captain Brooks would have suspected him of running down anything whatever. He was a kind, stout, gray-haired old gentleman. He had a nice, motherly old wife and eight children, mainly girls, and they made their home on the Silver Sides. Mrs. Brooks and the girls cooked for the crew and kept the boat as neat as a new pin. Captain Brooks occupied the pilot-house; Tom Brooks served as first mate, and Bill Brooks acted as purser. Altogether they were a delightfully good-natured and well-meaning family. It was hard to believe they would run down a helpless motor-boat in mid-river, but Greasy swore to it, and about it.
During the next few weeks Greasy and the detective worked side by side. Greasy had every night and all Sunday for his own purposes. Once Mr. Gubb met Greasy carrying a large bundle of canvas, and Mr. Gubb imagined Greasy was fitting a mast and sail to the motor-boat.
On July 15 the Independent Horde of Kalmucks gave a moonlight excursion on the Mississippi, chartering the Silver Sides for the purpose. The Kalmucks were the leading lodge of the town, and leaders also in social affairs. They gave frequent dramatic entertainments—in their hall in winter, and outdoors in the big yard back of Kalmuck Temple in the summer. In the entire history of the lodge there had never been so much as an untoward incident, but at eleven o'clock on the night of July 15 something frightful did occur. It spread it across the top of the first page of the "Daily Eagle" in the one shocking word—PIRATES!
The Silver Star had started on the return trip and had reached a point about two miles below Towhead Island when a rifle or revolver bullet crashed through the glass window on the western side of the pilot-house. Uncle Jerry—as most people called Captain Brooks—turned his head, stared out at the moonlit waters of the river, and saw bearing down upon him from the northwest a long, low craft. Four men stood in the forward part of the boat, and a fifth sat beside the motor. In the bright moonlight, Captain Brooks could see that all the men wore black masks. He also saw that all were armed, and that from the staff at the stern of the boat floated a jet-black flag on which was painted in white the skull and cross-bones that have always been the insignia of pirates. Even as he looked one of the men in the motor-boat raised his arm: Uncle Jerry saw a flash of fire, and another pane of glass at his side jingled to the floor.
The low black craft swept rapidly across the bows of the Silver Sides; the sputtering of its motor ceased; and the next moment the pirates were aboard the barge, lining up the dancers at the points of their pistols, and preparing to take away their ice-cream money.
And they did take it. They began at the bow of the barge and walked to the stern, making one after another of the excursionists deliver his valuables, and then slipped quietly over the stern of the barge; the pirate craft began to spit and sputter furiously; and the next moment it was tearing through the water like a streak of lightning.
To chase a speed-boat in an elderly river packet would have been nonsense. Uncle Jerry signaled full speed ahead and kept to the channel, where his boat belonged. Presently Mrs. Brooks, panting, climbed to the pilot-house.
"Well, Pa," she said, "pirates has been and robbed us."
"Don't I know it?" said Uncle Jerry testily. "No need of comin' to tell me."
"They got all the ice-cream money," said Mrs. Brooks.
"Well, 'twa'n't ourn, was it?" snapped Uncle Jerry.
"Why, Pa, what a way to talk!" exclaimed Mrs. Brooks. "It's like you thought it wa'n't nothin', to be pirated right here in the forepart of the twentieth century in the middle of the Mississippi River in broad daylight—"
"'Tain't daylight," said Uncle Jerry shortly. "It's midnight, and it's goin' to be long past midnight before we git ashore. A man can't get even part of a night's rest no more. Everybody pirootin' round, stoppin' boats an' stealin' ice-cream money! Makes me 'tarnel mad, it do."
"Pa," said Mrs. Brooks.
"Well, what is it now?" asked Uncle Jerry testily.
"Philo Gubb, the detective-man, is on board," said his wife. "I come up because I thought maybe you'd want to hire him right off to find out who was them pirates, and if—"
"Me? Hire a fool detective?" snapped Mr. Brooks. "Why'n't you come up and ask me to throw my money into the river?"
Philo Gubb, although not a dancer, had been on the barge when it was attacked, because he was a lover of ice-cream. He too had been lined up and robbed. He had been robbed not only of forty perfectly good cents, but his pirate had seen his opal scarf-pin and had rudely taken it from Mr. Gubb's tie. The pirate was, Mr. Gubb noticed, a short, heavy man with greasy hands. As the motor-boat dashed away, Mr. Gubb pressed to the rear of the barge and looked after it.
As the boat regained her speed, Philomela Brooks approached him.
"Oh, Mr. Gubb!" she exclaimed, "I'm so tremulous."
"If you will kindly not interrupt me at the present moment of time," said Mr. Gubb, "I will be much obliged. I am making an endeavor to try to do some deteckative work onto this case."
"Oh, Mr. Gubb!" Miss Philomela cried. "And do you think you'll do any good?"
"In the deteckative business," said Mr. Gubb sternly, "we try to do all the good we can do, whether we can do it or not." And he turned away and sought a more secluded spot.
The affair of the pirate craft caused a tremendous sensation in Riverbank. Before eight o'clock the next morning every one in Riverbank seemed to have heard of the affair, and when, at eight o'clock, Philo Gubb entered the vacant Himmeldinger house, which he was decorating, he started with surprise to see Greasy already there. He had not expected to see him at all. But there he was, trimming the edge of a roll of Dietz's 7462 Bessie John, and as he turned to greet Mr. Gubb, the detective saw in Greasy's greasy tie what seemed to be his own opal scarf-pin.
"That there," said Mr. Gubb sternly, "is a nice scarf-pin you've got into your tie."
"Ain't it?" said Greasy proudly. "Me new lady-friend give it to me last night."
To Greasy, Detective Gubb said nothing. He was not yet ready to act. But to himself he muttered:—
"Scarf-pin—scarf-pin. That there is a clue I had ought to look into."
In the town excitement was high all day. There was some time wasted while the Chief of Police and the County Sheriff tried to discover which was compelled by law to fight pirates, but the Chief of Police finally put the job on the Sheriff's hands, and the old Fourth of July cannon was loaded with powder and nails and put on the bow of the good ferry-boat Haddon P. Rogers, a posse of about three hundred men with shotguns and army muskets was crowded aboard, and the pirate-catcher got under way.
This was, of course, Monday, and Monday the Silver Sides made her usual down-river trip to Bardenton, leaving in the morning and returning late at night. It was usually two o'clock at night when she tied up at the Riverbank levee, but this time two o'clock came without the Silver Sides. There was a good reason. As the packet neared Hog Island, about two miles below the Towhead, on her return trip, Uncle Jerry heard the sputter of a gas engine and saw dart out from below Hog Island the same low black craft that had carried the pirates before. Even before the craft was within range, the revolvers began to spit at the Silver Sides.
"Well, dang them pirates to the dickens!" exclaimed Uncle Jerry. "If they be goin' to keep up this nonsense I'm goin' to get down-right mad at 'em." But he signaled the engine-room to slow down, as if it was getting to be a habit with him. One of the upper panes, just above his line of vision, clattered down as he pulled the bell-rope.
At the first volley, Ma Brooks and her daughters dashed into the galley and slammed the door. The remainder of the male Brookses made two jumps to the coal bins and began burrowing into the coal, and the three non-Brooks members of the crew dived into openings between the small piles of cargo stuff and tried to become invisible. When the pirates clambered aboard the Silver Star they seemed to be boarding a deserted vessel. They worked quickly and thoroughly. Piece by piece they threw the cargo of the Silver Sides into the motor-boat until they uncovered the three members of the crew, who leaped from their hiding-place like startled rabbits and loped wildly to places of greater safety. Half a dozen revolver shots followed them. The pirates then leisurely reembarked, fired a parting salute, and glided away.
The next morning Greasy appeared at work with his pocket full of Sultana raisins, and offered some to Mr. Gubb.
"Thank you," said Mr. Gubb; "raisins are one of my foremost fondnesses. Nice ones like these are hard to find obtainable."
"You're right they are," said Greasy. "Me lady-friend give me these last night. She's the girl that knows good raisins, ain't she?"
Evidently she was, but Philo Gubb had taken occasion to discover, before he went to work that morning, whether the Silver Sides had been pirated again, and he had learned that a half-dozen boxes of Sultana raisins had formed part of the cargo of the Silver Sides. He looked at Greasy severely.
"Your lady-friend is considerably generous in giving things, ain't she?" he said, trying to hide the guile of his questions in an indifferent tone. "You ain't cared to mention her name to me as yet to this time."
"Ain't I?" said Greasy carelessly. "Well, I ain't ashamed of her. Her name is Maggie Tiffkins. She's some girl!"
"You spend most of your evenings with or about her, I presume to suppose?" asked Mr. Gubb carelessly.
"You bet!" said Greasy. "Me and her is going to get married before long, we are. Yep. And I'll be right glad to have a home to sleep in, instead of a barn."
"A barn?" queried Philo Gubb.
"I been sleepin' in a barn," said Greasy. "I thought youse knowed it. I been doin' a piece or two of scene paintin' for them Kalmucks, and I sort of hired a barn to do it in, and so long as I had to have the barn I just slept in it. Keeps me up late," he said, yawning, "seein' my lady-friend till midnight and then paintin' scenery till I don't know when."
"I presume you ain't spent much time on your motor-boat of late times," said Mr. Gubb.
"Ain't had no time," said Greasy briefly.
Detective Gubb, as he pasted paper on the walls of the Himmeldinger house, turned various matters over and over in his mind. His clues pointed as clearly to Greasy as the Great Dipper points to the North Star. He had decided to join the posse on the Haddon P. Rogers when she set out on her next voyage of vengeance, but now he changed his mind.
A barn, large and vacant, would be an excellent place in which to hide the proceeds of a pirate raid. Lest—possibly—the barn should recognize him and hide itself, Mr. Gubb first went to his office in the Opera House Building, disguised himself as a hostler, with cowhide boots, a cob pipe, a battered straw hat, and blue jean trousers. Lest his face be recognized by the barn he wore a set of red under-chin whiskers, which would have been more natural had they been a paler shade of scarlet. Thus disguised, he crept softly down the Opera House Building stairs and ran full into Billy Getz, Riverbank's best example of the spoiled only-son species, and the town's inveterate jester. Mr. Getz put a hand on Mr. Gubb's arm.
"Sh-h!" he said mysteriously. "Not a word. Only by chance did I recognize you, Mr. Gubb. Now, about this pirate business—it has to stop."
"I am proceeding to the deteckative work preliminary to so doing," said Mr. Gubb.
"Good!" said Billy Getz. "Because I can't have such things happening on my Mississippi River. I hate to see the dear old river get a bad name, Mr. Gubb. I'm just organizing the Dear Old River Anti-Pirate League—to suppress pirates, you know. And we want you as our official detective. In the meantime—Greasy! That's all I say—just Greasy! Tough-looking character. Lives in a barn."
"I am just proceeding to locate the whereabouts of the barn," said Mr. Gubb.
"That's easy," said Billy Getz. "Hampton's barn—Eighth Street alley. I know, because I've been there. He's doing our scenery for the Kalmuck summer show. You go straight up this street—or no, you'd go in the opposite direction, and three miles into the country, and back across the cemetery, as advised in Lesson Thirteen, wouldn't you?"
"There are only twelve lessons," said Mr. Gubb haughtily and stalked away. He went, however, to Hampton's barn, climbed in through the alley window, and searched the place.
The barn contained nothing of interest. A cot stood at one end of the hay-loft; and stretched across the wall at the other end was a canvas on which was a partly completed scene of a ruined castle, with mountains in the distance. On the floor were pails and brushes, bundles of dry colors, glue, and the various articles needed by a scene-painter. Mr. Gubb looked behind the canvas. No loot was concealed there. He returned to his office, discarded his disguise, and went back to the Himmeldinger house. Seated on the front steps, quite neglecting his work, was Greasy, and beside him sat a girl.
"This," said Greasy, "is Maggie Tiffkins. Youse ought to know her. Mag, consider this a proper knockdown to P. Gubb, my boss."
That night the Silver Sides was attacked by the pirates on her return from Derlingport. The next morning Mr. Gubb awaited Greasy's coming impatiently, hoping for a new clue, but Greasy had none. He was glum. He had had a quarrel with Maggie, and he was cross.
"Last job of work I'll ever do for Billy Getz and them Kalmucks of his'n," he said crossly. "He's gettin' worse and worse. Them first two scenes I painted he kicked enough about: said the forest scene looked like a roast-beef sandwich, and asked me if the parlor scene was a bar-room or a cow-pasture, but when I do a first-class old bum castle and he wants to know if it's a lib'ry interior, I get hot. And so would youse."
* * * * *
For three nights the Silver Sides, now protected by the presence of part of the armed posse, was not disturbed, but on the fourth night the low, black pirate craft boldly attacked the steamer, carrying on a running fight. The pirates did not venture to board her, but the piratical business was getting to be an unbearable nuisance to Uncle Jerry Brooks. A dozen small craft were armed and patrolled the river. On the fourteenth night, when the Silver Sides was up-river on her Derlingport trip, the Jane P., the opposition steamer making the same ports, was boldly attacked by the pirates and lost the most precious part of her cargo. It was then determined to exterminate the pirates at any cost.
Once only had a steamer been attacked above the town, and this seemed to indicate that the pirates had their nest below Riverbank, and this was the more likely as the river below town gave far greater opportunities for hiding the pirate boat during the day. There were several sloughs or bayous and many indentations of the shore-line, while above the town there was none. Above the town the shores sloped back from the river's edge, and even a skiff on the shore could be seen from across the river. The search for the pirate vessel was therefore conducted below the town, but most unsuccessfully.
Mr. Gubb, in the three weeks during which the search went on, exhausted all his disguises and every page of the twelve lessons of the Rising Sun Detective Agency's Correspondence School of Detecting. He was in a condition bordering on despair. Each day he donned a disguise and visited the barn, and saw nothing but scenery and more scenery. He had reached a point where detective skill seemed to fail, and where he feared he might have to go openly to Greasy and ask him whether he was the pirate, or at least go to Maggie and ask her where she had obtained the scarf-pin and the raisins. And that would not have been detecting. Nothing like it was mentioned in the twelve lessons.
A reward of One Hundred Dollars (rewards are always in capital letters) had been offered by the Business Men's Association for the capture of the pirate craft, but no one seemed likely to earn the reward.
"Say, honest!" said Greasy, "if my boat was workin' I'd go out alone in her and cop off them hundred dollars. Youse is a detective, Gubb; why don't youse get to work and grab them dollars?"
"Your boat is not into a workable condition?" asked Philo Gubb.
"She's all but that," said Greasy. "She's hauled up on the levee, rottin' like a tomato. I tried to sell her to Muller, the grocery feller where Mag gets them raisins you liked, and I tried to trade her for a ring to Calloway, the jewelry man what Mag got my opal scarf-pin of, but I can't get rid of her nohow. If I had her workin' I'd find them pirates or I'd know why."
"I have remembered the thought of something; I've got to go downtown," said Mr. Gubb, and he left Greasy and went to question Mr. Muller and Mr. Calloway. The one admitted selling Mag the raisins, and the other the pin, and thus two perfectly good clues went bad. Mr. Gubb turned toward Fifth Street, when Billy Getz caught him by the arm.
"Come on and hunt pirates," he said. "The good cruiser Haddon P. Rogers is going to hit a new trail—up-river this time. Come on along."
Billy Getz escorted him aboard the Haddon P. Rogers and led him straight to the Sheriff on the upper deck.
"Sheriff," he said, "we've got 'em now! This time we've got 'em sure. Here's Gubb, the famous P. Gubb, detective, and after many solicitations he has consented to accompany us. We will have the pirate craft ere we return. P. Gubb never fails."
The Sheriff smiled good-naturedly.
"Always kidding, ain't you, Billy," he said.
The boat started. She steamed slowly up the river, the members of the posse on the upper deck on either side, scanning the shores carefully. Occasionally the ferry-boat backed and ran closer to shore to permit a nearer inspection of some skiff or to view some log left on the shore by the last flood. Billy Getz, standing beside the Sheriff and P. Gubb, called their attention to every shadow and lump on the shore. The boat proceeded on her slow course and reached the channel between an island and the Illinois shore. The wooded bank of the island rose directly from the water, some of the water-elms dipping their roots into the river. There was no place where a boat could be hidden, and the ferry steamed slowly along. Billy Getz poked solemn-faced fun at Mr. Gubb in the most serious manner, and Mr. Gubb was sternly haughty, knowing he was being made sport of. His eyes rested with bird-like intensity on the wooded shore of the island.
"Now, this combination of paper-hanging and detecting has its advantages," said Billy Getz, with a wink at the Sheriff. "When a man—"
Philo Gubb was not hearing him.
"The remarkableness of the similarity of nature to art is quite often remarkable to observe," he said to the Sheriff, "and is seeming to grow more so now and then from time to time. That piece of section of woods right there is so naturally grown you might say it was torn right off a roll of Dietz's 7462 Bessie John."
He stopped short.
"What's the matter?" asked Billy Getz nervously.
"Run the boat in there," said Philo Gubb excitedly. "Those verdures ain't like 7462 Bessie John; they are 7462 Bessie John."
The Sheriff stared keenly at the spot indicated by Detective Gubb's extended hand and, turning suddenly, said a word to the pilot in the house at his side. The ferry veered and ran in toward the island. Not until the boat was nearer the shore than a front row of the orchestra seats to the back drop of a theater did the others on the boat understand. Then the trick was seen and understood. The trees of the shore were not all trees. One group was a painted canvas, copied carefully by Greasy from Dietz's 7462 Bessie John at the behest of Billy Getz. Stretched across a small indentation of the shore it made a safe screen, unrecognizable a few rods from the shore, and behind this bit of painted forest they found the long, low, black pirate craft—Billy Getz's motor-boat.
When the Sheriff had torn down the canvas and his men had hoisted and heaved the pirate craft to the broad deck of the ferry, Billy Getz was gone. Riverbank never saw him again, and a half-dozen of his roistering companions also disappeared completely.
"Sometimes occasionally," said Philo Gubb, as the ferry turned toward town, "the combination of paper-hanging and deteckative work is detrimental to one or both, as the case may be, but at other occasional times they are worth one hundred dollars."
"That's right!" said the Sheriff suddenly. "You get that reward, don't you?"
"Most certainly sure," said Philo Gubb.
Philo Gubb entered his office and placed on his cutting-table the express package he had found leaning against his door. With his trimming-knife he cut the cord that bound the package. It contained, he knew, the new disguise for which he had sent twenty-five dollars to the Rising Sun Detective Agency's Supply Bureau, and he was eager to examine his purchase, which, in the catalogue, was known as "No. 34. French Count, with beard and wig complete. List, $40.00. Special price to our graduates, $25.00, express paid."
Mr. Gubb wore a face more solemn than usual, for he had just had bad news. He had hidden his distrust of Mr. Medderbrook, the father of his beloved Syrilla, and had carried that gentleman the one hundred dollars he had earned by aiding in the capture of the river pirates, but he had found Mr. Medderbrook close to tears.
"Read this, Gubb," Mr. Medderbrook said; and that he was deeply affected was shown by the fact that he did not ask Mr. Gubb to pay any part of the cost of the telegram from Syrilla which had, this time, come "Collect." The telegram read:—
Scared crazy. Resumed vegetables and all kinds of food, eating steadily all day and night, but have lost twenty-five pounds more. Now weigh only one hundred and twenty-five and going down rapidly. If worse goes to worst, love to Gubby.
It is not surprising that Mr. Gubb sighed as he lifted the exaggeratedly thin-waisted frock coat from the package, but there came a tap on the door and he hastily covered the coat with the wrapping paper and turned to the door.
"Enter in," he said. And the door opened cautiously and a short, ruddy-faced man entered, peering into the room first and then closing the door behind him as cautiously as he had opened it.
"Are you this here detective feller?" he asked bluntly.
"I am Mister P. Gubb, deteckating and paper-hanging done, to command at your service," admitted Mr. Gubb. "Won't you take a seat onto a chair?"
"Depends," said Mr. Gubb's visitor, keeping his hand on the doorknob. "I'll put it to you like this: Say some guy stole something from me, and I was willing to pay you for finding out who stole it and for getting it back—you'd take a job like that and say nothing about it to anybody, wouldn't you?"
"Most certainly sure," agreed Mr. Gubb.
"That's the idee! You'd keep it dark. It wouldn't be nobody's business but yours and mine, would it? It would be a quiet little deal between you and me, and nobody would know anything about it. Hey?"
"Exactly sure," said Philo Gubb. "The deteckative business is conducted onto an absolutely quiet Q.T. basis."
"Correct!" said his visitor. "I see you and me can do business. Now, my name is Gus P. Smith, and I've had one of the rawest deals handed me a man ever had handed him. I was coming along down one of these alleys between streets this morning and—"
He stopped short and turned to the door. Some one had tapped on the panels. Mr. Smith opened the door the merest crack and peered out. He closed it again instantly.
"Somebody to see you," he whispered. "What I've got to say I want kept private. I'll be back."
He opened the door and slipped out, and as he went a second visitor entered. The newcomer was somewhat tall and thin, and his hair was long, so long it fell upon his shoulders in greasy curls. He wore a rather ancient frock coat and a black slouch hat, and a touch of style was added by his gray kid gloves, although the weather was average summer weather. His face was thin and adorned by a silky brown beard, divided at the chin and falling in two carefully arranged points. He closed the door carefully, first looking into the hall to see that Mr. Gus P. Smith had disappeared.
"Mr. P. Gubb, the detective?" he asked.
"Most absolutely sure," said Mr. P. Gubb.
"My name," said Mr. Gubb's visitor, "is one you are doubtless familiar with. I am Alibaba Singh."
"Pleased to meet your acquaintance," said Mr. Gubb. "What can I aim to do for you?"
Mr. Alibaba Singh brought a chair close to Mr. Gubb's desk and seated himself. He leaned close to Mr. Gubb—so close that Mr. Gubb scented the rank odor of cheap hair-oil—and whispered.
"Everything is to be strictly confidential—most strictly confidential. That's understood?"
"Most absolutely sure."
"Of course! Now, you must have heard of me—I've made quite a stir here in Riverbank since I came. Theosophical lectures—first lessons in Nirvana—Buddhistic philosophy—mysteries of Vedaism—et cetery."
"I read your advertisement notices into the newspapers," admitted Mr. Gubb.
"Just so. I have done well here. Many sought the mysteries. I have been unusually successful in Riverbank." He stopped short and looked at Philo Gubb suspiciously. "You don't believe in transmigration, do you?" he asked.
"Not without I do without knowing it," said Mr. Gubb. "What is it?"
"Transmigration," repeated Alibaba Singh. "It—Hindoos believe in it. At death the souls of the good enter higher forms of life; the souls of the bad enter lower forms of life. If you were a bad man and died you would become a—a dog, or a horse, or—or something. You don't believe that, do you?"
"Most certainly not at all!" said Mr. Gubb.
"I—I teach it," said Alibaba Singh uneasily. "It is part of my teaching."
"You don't aim to believe nothing of that sort, do you?" asked Mr. Gubb as if he could not imagine any man so foolish.
"Now, that's it!" said Alibaba Singh. "That's why I came to you. All this is strictly confidential, of course? Thanks. I can speak right out, Mr. Gubb? I have in the past taught some things I did not absolutely believe."
"Quite likely true," admitted Philo Gubb.
"We—we occulists get carried on by our eloquence," said Alibaba Singh. "We—we go too far sometimes. Far too far! I admit it. I admit that frankly. When our clients reach out to us for more and more, we—we sometimes go too far. I won't say we string them along. I wouldn't say that. But we—we lead them farther than we have gone ourselves, perhaps. You understand?"
"Almost absolutely," said Mr. Gubb.
"Just so! Mr. Gubb, one of my clients was greatly interested in transmigration of souls—greatly interested. She was interested in all things mystical—in reincarnation; in the return of the spirits of the dead; in everything like that. I—really, Mr. Gubb, it was hard for me to keep up with her."