The Daughter of Anderson Crow
by George Barr McCutcheon
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse




Author of Beverly of Graustark, Jane Cable, etc.

With Illustrations by B. Martin Justice

New York Dodd, Mead and Company





Anderson Crow (Frontispiece)

"'Safe for a minute or two at least,' he whispered"

"A baby, alive and warm, lay packed in the blankets"

"September brought Elsie Banks"

"The teacher was amazingly pretty on this eventful night"

"'What is the meaning of all this?'"

The haunted house

Wicker Bonner

"Rosalie was no match for the huge woman"

"She shrank back from another blow which seemed impending"

"Left the young man to the care of an excellent nurse"

"'I think I understand, Rosalie'"

"'I beg your pardon,' he said humbly'"

"It was a wise, discreet old oak"

"The huge automobile had struck the washout"


Anderson Crow, Detective

He was imposing, even in his pensiveness. There was no denying the fact that he was an important personage in Tinkletown, and to the residents of Tinkletown that meant a great deal, for was not their village a perpetual monument to the American Revolution? Even the most generalising of historians were compelled to devote at least a paragraph to the battle of Tinkletown, while some of the more enlightened gave a whole page and a picture of the conflict that brought glory to the sleepy inhabitants whose ancestors were enterprising enough to annihilate a whole company of British redcoats, once on a time.

Notwithstanding all this, a particularly disagreeable visitor from the city once remarked, in the presence of half a dozen descendants (after waiting twenty minutes at the post-office for a dime's worth of stamps), that Tinkletown was indeed a monument, but he could not understand why the dead had been left unburied. There was excellent cause for resentment, but the young man and his stamps were far away before the full force of the slander penetrated the brains of the listeners.

Anderson Crow was as imposing and as rugged as the tallest shaft of marble in the little cemetery on the edge of the town. No one questioned his power and authority, no one misjudged his altitude, and no one overlooked his dignity. For twenty-eight years he had served Tinkletown and himself in the triple capacity of town marshal, fire chief and street commissioner. He had a system of government peculiarly his own; and no one possessed the heart or temerity to upset it, no matter what may have been the political inducements. It would have been like trying to improve the laws of nature to put a new man in his place. He had become a fixture that only dissolution could remove. Be it said, however, that dissolution did not have its common and accepted meaning when applied to Anderson Crow. For instance, in discoursing upon the obnoxious habits of the town's most dissolute rake—Alf Reesling—Anderson had more than once ventured the opinion that "he was carrying his dissolution entirely too far."

And had not Anderson Crow risen to more than local distinction? Had not his fame gone abroad throughout the land? Not only was he the Marshal of Tinkletown at a salary of $200 a year, but he was president of the County Horse-thief Detectives' Association and also a life-long delegate to the State Convention of the Sons of the Revolution. Along that line, let it be added, every parent in Tinkletown bemoaned the birth of a daughter, because that simple circumstance of origin robbed the society's roster of a new name.

Anderson Crow, at the age of forty-nine, had a proud official record behind him and a guaranteed future ahead. Doubtless it was of this that he was thinking, as he leaned pensively against the town hitching-rack and gingerly chewed the blade of wire-grass which dangled even below the chin whiskers that had been with him for twenty years. The faraway expression in his watery-blue eyes gave evidence that he was as great reminiscently as he was personally. So successful had been his career as a law preserver, that of late years no evil-doer had had the courage to ply his nefarious games in the community. The town drunkard, Alf Reesling, seldom appeared on the streets in his habitual condition, because, as he dolefully remarked, he would deserve arrest and confinement for "criminal negligence," if for nothing else. The marshal's fame as a detective had long since escaped from the narrow confines of Tinkletown. He was well known at the county seat, and on no less than three occasions had his name mentioned in the "big city" papers in connection with the arrest of notorious horse-thieves.

And now the whole town was trembling with a new excitement, due to the recognition accorded her triple official. On Monday morning he had ventured forth from his office in the long-deserted "calaboose," resplendent in a brand-new nickel-plated star. By noon everybody in town knew that he was a genuine "detective," a member of the great organisation known as the New York Imperial Detective Association; and that fresh honour had come to Tinkletown through the agency of a post-revolution generation. The beauty of it all was that Anderson never lost a shred of his serenity in explaining how the association had implored him to join its forces, even going so far as to urge him to come to New York City, where he could assist and advise in all of its large operations. And, moreover, he had been obliged to pay but ten dollars membership fee, besides buying the blazing star for the paltry sum of three dollars and a quarter.

Every passer-by on this bright spring morning offered a respectful "Howdy" to Anderson Crow, whose only recognition was a slow and imposing nod of the head. Once only was he driven to relinquish his pensive attitude, and that was when an impertinent blue-bottle fly undertook to rest for a brief spell upon the nickel-plated star. Never was blue-bottle more energetically put to flight.

But even as the Tinkletown Pooh-Bah posed in restful supremacy there were rushing down upon him affairs of the epoch-making kind. Up in the clear, lazy sky a thunderbolt was preparing to hurl itself into the very heart of Tinkletown, and at the very head of Anderson Crow.

Afterward it was recalled by observing citizens that just before noon—seven minutes to twelve, in fact—a small cloud no bigger than the proverbial hand crossed the sun hurriedly as if afraid to tarry. At that very instant a stranger drove up to the hitching-rack, bringing his sweat-covered horse to a standstill so abruptly in front of the marshal's nose that that dignitary's hat fell off backward.

"Whoa!" came clearly and unmistakably from the lips of the stranger who held the reins. Half a dozen loafers on the post-office steps were positive that he said nothing more, a fact that was afterward worth remembering.

"Here!" exclaimed Anderson Crow wrathfully. "Do you know what you're doin', consarn you?"

"I beg pardon," everybody within hearing heard the young man say. "Is this the city of Tinkletown?" He said "city," they could swear, every man's son of them.

"Yes, it is," answered the marshal severely. "What of it?"

"That's all. I just wanted to know. Where's the store?"

"Which store?" quite crossly. The stranger seemed nonplussed at this.

"Have you more than—oh, to be sure. I should say, where is the nearest store?" apologised the stranger.

"Well, this is a good one, I reckon," said Mr. Crow laconically, indicating the post-office and general store.

"Will you be good enough to hold my horse while I run in there for a minute?" calmly asked the new arrival in town, springing lightly from the mud-spattered buggy. Anderson Crow almost staggered beneath this indignity. The crowd gasped, and then waited breathlessly for the withering process.

"Why—why, dod-gast you, sir, what do you think I am—a hitchin'-post?" exploded on the lips of the new detective. His face was flaming red.

"You'll have to excuse me, my good man, but I thought I saw a hitching-rack as I drove up. Ah, here it is. How careless of me. But say, I won't be in the store more than a second, and it doesn't seem worth while to tie the old crow-bait. If you'll just watch him—or her—for a minute I'll be greatly obliged, and—"

"Watch your own horse," roared the marshal thunderously.

"Don't get huffy," cried the young man cheerily. "It will be worth a quarter to you."

"Do you know who I am?" demanded Anderson Crow, purple to the roots of his goatee.

"Yes, sir; I know perfectly well, but I refuse to give it away. Here, take the bit, old chap, and hold Dobbin for about a minute and half," went on the stranger ruthlessly; and before Anderson Crow knew what had happened he was actually holding the panting nag by the bit. The young man went up the steps three at a time, almost upsetting Uncle Gideon Luce, who had not been so spry as the others in clearing the way for him. The crowd had ample time in which to study the face, apparel and manner of this energetic young man.

That he was from the city, good-looking and well dressed, there was no doubt. He was tall and his face was beardless; that much could be seen at a glance. Somehow, he seemed to be laughing all the time—a fact that was afterward recalled with some surprise and no little horror. At the time, the loungers thought his smile was a merry one, but afterward they stoutly maintained there was downright villainy in the leer. His coat was very dusty, proving that he had driven far and swiftly. Three or four of the loungers followed him into the store. He was standing before the counter over which Mr. Lamson served his soda-water. In one hand he held an envelope and in the other his straw hat. George Ray, more observant than the rest, took note of the fact that it was with the hat that he was fanning himself vigorously.

"A plain vanilla—please rush it along," commanded the stranger. Mr. Lamson, if possible slower than the town itself, actually showed unmistakable signs of acceleration. Tossing off the soda, the stranger dried his lips with a blue-hemmed white handkerchief. "Is this the post-office?" he asked.

"Yep," said Mr. Lamson, who was too penurious to waste words.

"Anything here for me?" demanded the newcomer.

"I'll see," said the postmaster, and from force of habit began looking through the pile of letters without asking the man's name. Mr. Lamson knew everybody in the county.

"Nothing here," taking off his spectacles conclusively.

"I didn't think there was," said the other complacently. "Give me a bottle of witch hazel, a package of invisible hair-pins and a box of parlor matches. Quick; I'm in a hurry!"

"Did you say hat-pins?"

"No, sir; I said hair-pins."

"We haven't any that ain't visible. How would safety-pins do?"

"Never mind; give me the bottle and the matches," said the other, glancing at a very handsome gold watch. "Is the old man still holding my horse?" he called to a citizen near the door. Seven necks stretched simultaneously to accommodate him, and seven voices answered in the affirmative. The stranger calmly opened the box of matches, filled his silver match-safe, and then threw the box back on the counter, an unheard-of piece of profligacy in those parts. "Needn't mind wrapping up the bottle," he said.

"Don't you care for these matches?" asked Mr. Lamson in mild surprise.

"I'll donate them to the church," said the other, tossing a coin upon the counter and dashing from the store. The crowd ebbed along behind him. "Gentle as a lamb, isn't he?" he called to Anderson Crow, who still clutched the bit. "Much obliged, sir; I'll do as much for you some day. If you're ever in New York, hunt me up and I'll see that you have a good time. What road do I take to Crow's Cliff?"

"Turn to your left here," said Anderson Crow before he thought. Then he called himself a fool for being so obliging to the fellow.

"How far is it from here?"

"Mile and a half," again answered Mr. Crow helplessly. This time he almost swore under his breath.

"But he can't get there," volunteered one of the bystanders.

"Why can't he?" demanded the marshal.

"Bridge over Turnip Creek is washed out. Did you forget that?"

"Of course not," promptly replied Mr. Crow, who had forgotten it; "But, dang it, he c'n swim, can't he?"

"You say the bridge is gone?" asked the stranger, visibly excited.

"Yes, and the crick's too high to ford, too."

"Well, how in thunder am I to get to Crow's Cliff?"

"There's another bridge four miles upstream. It's still there," said George Ray. Anderson Crow had scornfully washed his hands of the affair.

"Confound the luck! I haven't time to drive that far. I have to be there at half-past twelve. I'm late now! Is there no way to get across this miserable creek?" He was in the buggy now, whip in hand, and his eyes wore an anxious expression. Some of the men vowed later that he positively looked frightened.

"There's a foot-log high and dry, and you can walk across, but you can't get the horse and buggy over," said one of the men.

"Well, that's just what I'll have to do. Say, Mr. Officer, suppose you drive me down to the creek and then bring the horse back here to a livery stable. I'll pay you well for it. I must get to Crow's Cliff in fifteen minutes."

"I'm no errant-boy!" cried Anderson Crow so wrathfully that two or three boys snickered.

"You're a darned old crank, that's what you are!" exclaimed the stranger angrily. Everybody gasped, and Mr. Crow staggered back against the hitching-rail.

"See here, young man, none o' that!" he sputtered. "You can't talk that way to an officer of the law. I'll—"

"You won't do anything, do you hear that? But if you knew who I am you'd be doing something blamed quick." A dozen men heard him say it, and they remembered it word for word.

"You go scratch yourself!" retorted Anderson Crow scornfully. That was supposed to be a terrible challenge, but the stranger took no notice of it.

"What am I to do with this horse and buggy?" he growled, half to himself. "I bought the darned thing outright up in Boggs City, just because the liveryman didn't know me and wouldn't let me a rig. Now I suppose I'll have to take the old plug down to the creek and drown him in order to get rid of him."

Nobody remonstrated. He looked a bit dangerous with his broad shoulders and square jaw.

"What will you give me for the outfit, horse, buggy, harness and all? I'll sell cheap if some one makes a quick offer." The bystanders looked at one another blankly, and at last the concentrated gaze fell upon the Pooh-Bah of the town. The case seemed to be one that called for his attention; truly, it did not look like public property, this astounding proposition.

"What you so derned anxious to sell for?" demanded Anderson Crow, listening from a distance to see if he could detect a blemish in the horse's breathing gear. At a glance, the buggy looked safe enough.

"I'm anxious to sell for cash," replied the stranger; and Anderson was floored. The boy who snickered this time had cause to regret it, for Mr. Crow arrested him half an hour later for carrying a bean-shooter. "I paid a hundred dollars for the outfit in Boggs City," went on the stranger nervously. "Some one make an offer—and quick! I'm in a rush!"

"I'll give five dollars!" said one of the onlookers with an apologetic laugh. This was the match that started fire in the thrifty noddles of Tinkletown's best citizens. Before they knew it they were bidding against each other with the true "horse-swapping" instinct, and the offers had reached $21.25 when the stranger unceremoniously closed the sale by crying out, "Sold!" There is no telling how high the bids might have gone if he could have waited half an hour or so. Uncle Gideon Luce afterward said that he could have had twenty-four dollars "just as well as not." They were bidding up a quarter at a time, and no one seemed willing to drop out. The successful bidder was Anderson Crow.

"You can pay me as we drive along. Jump in!" cried the stranger, looking at his watch with considerable agitation. "All I ask is that you drive me to the foot-log that crosses the creek."


The Pursuit Begins

Fifteen minutes later Anderson Crow was parading proudly about the town. He had taken the stranger to the creek and had seen him scurry across the log to the opposite side, supplied with directions that would lead him to the nearest route through the swamps and timberland to Crow's Cliff. The stranger had Anderson's money in his pocket; but Anderson had a very respectable sort of driving outfit to show for it. His wife kept dinner for him until two o'clock, and then sent the youngest Crow out to tell her father that he'd have to go hungry until supper-time.

It is no wonder that Anderson failed to reach home in time for the midday meal. He started home properly enough, but what progress could he make when everybody in town stopped him to inquire about the remarkable deal and to have a look at the purchase. Without a single dissenting voice, Tinkletown said Anderson had very much the "best of the bargain." George Ray meant all right when he said, "A fool for luck," but he was obliged to explain thoroughly the witticism before the proud Mr. Crow could consider himself appeased.

It was not until he pulled up in front of the Weekly Banner establishment to tell the reporter "the news" that his equanimity received its first jar. He was quite proud of the deal, and, moreover, he enjoyed seeing his name in the paper. In the meantime almost everybody in Tinkletown was discussing the awful profligacy of the stranger. It had not occurred to anybody to wonder why he had been in such a hurry to reach Crow's Cliff, a wild, desolate spot down the river.

"The hoss alone is worth fifty dollars easy," volunteered Mr. Crow triumphantly. The detective's badge on his inflated chest seemed to sparkle with glee.

"Say, Anderson, isn't it a little queer that he should sell out so cheap?" asked Harry Squires, the local reporter and pressfeeder.

"What's that?" demanded Anderson Crow sharply.

"Do you think it's really true that he bought the nag up at Boggs City?" asked the sceptic. Mr. Crow wallowed his quid of tobacco helplessly for a minute or two. He could feel himself turning pale.

"He said so; ain't that enough?" he managed to bluster.

"It seems to have been," replied Harry, who had gone to night school in Albany for two years.

"Well, what in thunder are you talking about then?" exclaimed Anderson Crow, whipping up.

"I'll bet three dollars it's a stolen outfit!"

"You go to Halifax!" shouted Anderson, but his heart was cold. Something told him that Harry Squires was right. He drove home in a state of dire uncertainty and distress. Somehow, his enthusiasm was gone.

"Dang it!" he said, without reason, as he was unhitching the horse in the barn lot.

"Hey, Mr. Crow!" cried a shrill voice from the street. He looked up and saw a small boy coming on the run.

"What's up, Toby?" asked Mr. Crow, all a-tremble. He knew!

"They just got a telephone from Boggs City," panted the boy, "down to the Banner office. Harry Squires says for you to hurry down—buggy and all. It's been stole."

"Good Lord!" gasped Anderson. His badge danced before his eyes and then seemed to shrivel.

Quite a crowd had collected at the Banner office. There was a sudden hush when the marshal drove up. Even the horse felt the intensity of the moment. He shied at a dog and then kicked over the dashboard, upsetting Anderson Crow's meagre dignity and almost doing the same to the vehicle.

"You're a fine detective!" jeered Harry Squires; and poor old Anderson hated him ever afterward.

"What have you heerd?" demanded the marshal.

"There's been a terrible murder at Boggs City, that's all. The chief of police just telephoned to us that a farmer named Grover was found dead in a ditch just outside of town—shot through the head, his pockets rifled. It is known that he started to town to deposit four hundred dollars hog-money in the bank. The money is missing, and so are his horse and buggy. A young fellow was seen in the neighbourhood early this morning—a stranger. The chief's description corresponds with the man who sold that rig to you. The murderer is known to have driven in this direction. People saw him going almost at a gallop."

It is not necessary to say that Tinkletown thoroughly turned inside out with excitement. The whole population was soon at the post-office, and everybody was trying to supply Anderson Crow with wits. He had lost his own.

"We've got to catch that fellow," finally resolved the marshal. There was a dead silence.

"He's got a pistol," ventured some one.

"How do you know?" demanded Mr. Crow keenly. "Did y' see it?"

"He couldn't ha' killed that feller 'thout a gun."

"That's a fact," agreed Anderson Crow. "Well, we've got to get him, anyhow. I call for volunteers! Who will join me in the search?" cried the marshal bravely.

"I hate to go to Crow's Cliff after him," said George Ray. "It's a lonesome place, and as dark as night 'mong them trees and rocks."

"It's our duty to catch him. He's a criminal, and besides, he's killed a man," said Crow severely.

"And he has twenty-one dollars of your money," added Harry Squires. "I'll go with you, Anderson. I've got a revolver."

"Look out there!" roared Anderson Crow. "The blamed thing might go off!" he added as the reporter drew a shiny six-shooter from his pocket.

The example set by one brave man had its influence on the crowd. A score or more volunteered, despite the objections of their wives, and it was not long before Anderson Crow was leading his motley band of sleuths down the lane to the foot-log over which the desperado had gone an hour before.

It was at the beginning of the man-hunt that various citizens recalled certain actions and certain characteristics of the stranger which had made them suspicious from the start. His prodigal disposition of the box of matches impressed most of them as reckless dare-devilism; his haste, anxiety, and a single instance of mild profanity told others of his viciousness. One man was sure he had seen the stranger's watch chain in farmer Grover's possession; and another saw something black on his thumb, which he now remembered was a powder stain.

"I noticed all them things," averred Anderson Crow, supreme once more.

"But what in thunder did he want with those hair-pins?" inquired George Ray.

"Never mind," said Anderson mysteriously. "You'll find out soon enough."

"Do you know Anderson?" some one asked.

"Of course I do," responded the marshal loftily.

"Well, what were they for, then?"

"I'm not givin' any clews away. You just wait a while and see if I'm not right."

And they were satisfied that the detective knew all about it. After crossing the foot-log the party was divided as to which direction it should take. The marshal said the man had run to the southeast, but for some inexplicable reason quite a number of the pursuers wanted to hunt for him in the northwest. Finally it was decided to separate into posses of ten, all to converge at Crow's Cliff as soon as possible. There were enough double-barrelled shotguns in the party to have conquered a pirate crew.

At the end of an hour Anderson Crow and his delegation came to the narrow path which led to the summit of Crow's Cliff. They were very brave by this time. A small boy was telling them he had seen the fugitive about dinner-time "right where you fellers are standin' now."

"Did he have any blood on him?" demanded Anderson Crow.

"No, sir; not 'less it was under his clothes."

"Did he say anythin' to you?"

"He ast me where this path went to."

"See that, gentlemen!" cried Anderson. "I knew I was right. He wanted—"

"Well, where did he go?" demanded Harry Squires.

"I said it went to the top of the clift. An' then he said, 'How do you git to the river?' I tole him to go down this side path here an' 'round the bottom of the hill."

"Didn't he go up the cliff?" demanded the marshal.

"No, sir."

"Well, what in thunder did he ask me where the cliff was if he—"

"So he went to the river, eh?" interrupted Squires. "Come on, men; he went down through this brush and bottomland."

"He got lost, I guess," volunteered the boy.


"'Cause he yelled at me after he'd gone in a-ways an' ast—an' ast—" The boy paused irresolutely.

"Asked what?"

"He ast me where in h—— the path was."

"By ginger, that's him, right out an' out!" exclaimed Mr. Crow excitedly.

"'Nen he said he'd give me a quarter if I'd show him the way; so I—"

"Did he give you the quarter?" questioned one of the men.

"Yep. He'd a roll of bills as big as my leg." Everybody gasped and thought of Grover's hog-money.

"You went to the river with him?" interrogated the reporter.

"I went as fur as the clearin', an' then he tole me to stop. He said he could find the way from there. After that he run up the bank as if some one was after him. There was a boat waitin' fer him under the clift."

"Did he get into it?" cried Squires.

"He tole me not to look or he'd break my neck," said the boy. The posse nervously fingered its arsenal.

"But you did look?"

"Yep. I seen 'em plain."

"Them? Was there more than one?"

"There was a woman in the skift."

"You don't say so!" gasped Squires.

"Dang it, ain't he tellin' you!" Anderson ejaculated scornfully.

The boy was hurried off at the head of the posse, which by this time had been reinforced. He led the way through the dismal thickets, telling his story as he went.

"She was mighty purty, too," he said. "The feller waved his hat when he seen her, an' she waved back. He run down an' jumped in the boat, an' 'nen—'nen—"

"Then what?" exploded Anderson Crow.

"He kissed her!"

"The d—— murderer!" roared Crow.

"He grabbed up the oars and rowed 'cross an' downstream. An' he shuck his fist at me when he see I'd been watchin'," said the youngster, ready to whimper now that he realised what a desperate character he had been dealing with.

"Where did he land on the other side?" pursued the eager reporter.

"Down by them willer trees, 'bout half a mile down. There's the skift tied to a saplin'. Cain't you see it?"

Sure enough, the stern of a small boat stuck out into the deep, broad river, the bow being hidden by the bushes.

"Both of 'em hurried up the hill over yender, an' that's the last I seen of 'em," concluded the lad.

Anderson Crow and his man-hunters stared helplessly at the broad, swift river, and then looked at each other in despair. There was no boat in sight except the murderer's, and there was no bridge within ten miles.

While they were growling a belated detachment of hunters came up to the river bank greatly agitated.

"A telephone message has just come to town sayin' there would be a thousand dollars reward," announced one of the late arrivals; and instantly there was an imperative demand for boats.

"There's an old raft upstream a-ways," said the boy, "but I don't know how many it will kerry. They use it to pole corn over from Mr. Knoblock's farm to them big summer places in the hills up yender."

"Is it sound?" demanded Anderson Crow.

"Must be or they wouldn't use it," said Squires sarcastically. "Where is it, kid?"

The boy led the way up the river bank, the whole company trailing behind.

"Sh! Not too loud," cautioned Anderson Crow. Fifteen minutes later a wobbly craft put out to sea, manned by a picked crew of determined citizens of Tinkletown. When they were in midstream a loud cry came from the bank they had left behind. Looking back, Anderson Crow saw excited men dashing about, most of them pointing excitedly up into the hills across the river. After a diligent search the eyes of the men on the raft saw what it was that had created such a stir at the base of Crow's Cliff.

"There he is!" cried Anderson Crow in awed tones. There was no mistaking the identity of the coatless man on the hillside. A dozen men recognised him as the man they were after. Putting his hands to his mouth, Anderson Crow bellowed in tones that savoured more of fright than command:


There was no response.

"Will you surrender peaceably?" called the captain of the craft.

There was a moment of indecision on the part of the fugitive. He looked at his companion, and she shook her head—they all saw her do it.

Then he shouted back his reply.


The Culprits

"Ship ahoy!" shouted the coatless stranger between his palms.

"Surrender or we'll fill you full of lead!" called Anderson Crow.

"Who are you—pirates?" responded the fugitive with a laugh that chilled the marrow of the men on the raft.

"I'll show you who we are!" bellowed Anderson Crow. "Send her ashore, boys, fast. The derned scamp sha'n't escape us. Dead er alive, we must have him."

As they poled toward the bank the woman grasped the man by the arm, dragging him back among the trees. It was observed by all that she was greatly terrified. Moreover, she was exceedingly fair to look upon—young, beautiful, and a most incongruous companion for the bloody rascal who had her in his power. The raft bumped against the reedy bank, and Anderson Crow was the first man ashore.

"Come on, boys; follow me! See that your guns are all right! Straight up the hill now, an' spread out a bit so's we can surround him!" commanded he in a high treble.

"'But supposin' he surrounds us," panted a cautious pursuer, half way up the hill.

"That's what we've got to guard against," retorted Anderson Crow. The posse bravely swept up to and across the greensward; but the fox was gone: There was no sight or sound of him to be had. It is but just to say that fatigue was responsible for the deep breath that came from each member of the pursuing party.

"Into the woods after him!" shouted Anderson Crow. "Hunt him down like a rat!"

In the meantime a coatless young man and a most enticing young woman were scampering off among the oaks and underbrush, consumed by excitement and no small degree of apprehension.

"They really seem to be in earnest about it, Jack," urged the young woman insistently, to offset his somewhat sarcastic comments.

"How the dickens do you suppose they got onto me?" he groaned. "I thought the tracks were beautifully covered. No one suspected, I'm sure."

"I told you, dear, how it would turn out," she cried in a panic-stricken voice.

"Good heavens, Marjory, don't turn against me! It all seemed so easy and so sure, dear. There wasn't a breath of suspicion. What are we to do? I'll stop and fight the whole bunch if you'll just let go my arm."

"No, you won't, Jack Barnes!" she exclaimed resolutely, her pretty blue eyes wide with alarm. "Didn't you hear them say they'd fill you full of lead? They had guns and everything. Oh, dear! oh, dear! isn't it horrid?"

"The worst of it is they've cut us off from the river," he said miserably. "If I could have reached the boat ahead of them they never could have caught us. I could distance that old raft in a mile."

"I know you could, dear," she cried, looking with frantic admiration upon his broad shoulders and brawny bare arms. "But it is out of the question now."

"Never mind, sweetheart; don't let it fuss you so. It will turn out all right, I know it will."

"Oh, I can't run any farther," she gasped despairingly.

"Poor little chap! Let me carry you?"

"You big ninny!"

"We are at least three miles from your house, dear, and surrounded by deadly perils. Can you climb a tree?"

"I can—but I won't!" she refused flatly, her cheeks very red.

"Then I fancy we'll have to keep on in this manner. It's a confounded shame—the whole business. Just as I thought everything was going so smoothly, too. It was all arranged to a queen's taste—nothing was left undone. Bracken was to meet us at his uncle's boathouse down there, and—good heavens, there was a shot!"

The sharp crack of a rifle broke upon the still, balmy air, as they say in the "yellow-backs," and the fugitives looked at each other with suddenly awakened dread.

"The fools!" grated the man.

"What do they mean?" cried the breathless girl, very white in the face.

"They are trying to frighten us, that's all. Hang it! If I only knew the lay of the land. I'm completely lost, Marjory. Do you know precisely where we are?"

"Our home is off to the north about three miles. We are almost opposite Crow's Cliff—the wildest part of the country. There are no houses along this part of the river. All of the summer houses are farther up or on the other side. It is too hilly here. There is a railroad off there about six miles. There isn't a boathouse or fisherman's hut nearer than two miles. Mr. Bracken keeps his boat at the point—two miles south, at least."

"Yes; that's where we were to have gone—by boat. Hang it all! Why did we ever leave the boat? You can never scramble through all this brush to Bracken's place; it's all I can do. Look at my arms! They are scratched to—"

"Oh, dear! It's dreadful, Jack. You poor fellow, let me—"

"We haven't time, dearest. By thunder, I wouldn't have those Rubes head us off now for the whole county. The jays! How could they have found us out?"

"Some one must have told."

"But no one knew except the Brackens, you and I." "I'll wager my head Bracken is saying hard things for fair down the river there."

"He—he—doesn't swear, Jack," she panted.

"Why, you are ready to drop! Can't you go a step farther? Let's stop here and face 'em. I'll bluff 'em out and we'll get to Bracken's some way. But I won't give up the game! Not for a million!"

"Then we can't stop. You forget I go in for gymnasium work. I'm as strong as anything, only I'm—I'm a bit nervous. Oh, I knew something would go wrong!" she wailed. They were now standing like trapped deer in a little thicket, listening for sounds of the hounds.

"Are you sorry, dear?"

"No, no! I love you, Jack, and I'll go through everything with you and for you. Really," she cried with a fine show of enthusiasm, "this is jolly good fun, isn't it? Being chased like regular bandits—"

"Sh! Drop down, dear! There's somebody passing above us—hear him?"

They crawled into a maze of hazel bushes with much less dignity than haste. Two men sped by an instant later, panting and growling.

"Safe for a minute or two at least," he whispered as the crunching footsteps were lost to the ear. "They won't come back this way, dear."

"They had guns, Jack!" she whispered, terrified.

"I don't understand it, hanged if I do," he said, pulling his brows into a mighty scowl. "They are after us like a pack of hounds. It must mean something. Lord, but we seem to have stirred up a hornet's nest!"

"Oh, dear, I wish we were safely at—" she paused.

"At home?" he asked quickly.

"At Bracken's," she finished; and if any of the pursuers had been near enough he might have heard the unmistakable suggestion of a kiss.

"I feel better," he said, squaring his shoulders. "Now, let me think. We must outwit these fellows, whoever they are. By George, I remember one of them! That old fellow who bought the horse is with them. That's it! The horse is mixed up in this, I'll bet my head." They sat upon the ground for several minutes, he thinking deeply, she listening with her pretty ears intent.

"I wonder if they've left anybody to guard our boat?" he said suddenly. "Come on, Marjory; let's investigate! By George, it would be just like them to leave it unprotected!"

Once more they were moving cautiously through the brush, headed for the river. Mr. Jack Barnes, whoever he was and whatever his crime, was a resourceful, clever young man. He had gauged the intelligence of the pursuers correctly. When he peered through the brush along the river bank he saw the skiff in the reeds below, just as they had left it. There was the lunch basket, the wee bit of a steamer trunk with all its labels, a parasol and a small handbag.

"Goody, goody!" Marjory cried like a happy child.

"Don't show yourself yet, dearie. I'll make sure. They may have an ambuscade. Wait here for me."

He crept down the bank and back again before she could fully subdue the tremendous thumping his temerity had started in her left side.

"It's safe and sound," he whispered joyously. "The idiots have forgotten the boat. Quick, dear; let's make a dash for it! Their raft is upstream a hundred yards, and it is also deserted. If we can once get well across the river we can give them the laugh."

"But they may shoot us from the bank," she protested as they plunged through the weeds.

"They surely wouldn't shoot a woman!" he cried gayly.

"But you are not a woman!"

"And I'm not afraid of mice or men. Jump in!"

Off from the weeds shot the light skiff. The water splashed for a moment under the spasmodic strokes of the oarsman, and then the little boat streaked out into the river like a thing of life. Marjory sat in the stern and kept her eyes upon the bank they were leaving. Jack Barnes drove every vestige of his strength into the stroke; somehow he pulled like a man who had learned how on a college crew. They were half way across the broad river before they were seen from the hills. The half dozen men who lingered at the base of Crow's Cliff had shouted the alarm to their friends on the other side, and the fugitives were sighted once more. But it was too late. The boat was well out of gunshot range and making rapid progress downstream in the shelter of the high bluffs below Crow's Cliff. Jack Barnes was dripping with perspiration, but his stroke was none the feebler.

"They see us!" she cried.

"Don't wriggle so, Marjory—trim boat!" he panted. "They can't hit us, and we can go two miles to their one."

"And we can get to Bracken's!" she cried triumphantly. A deep flush overspread her pretty face.

"Hooray!" he shouted with a grin of pure delight. Far away on the opposite bank Anderson Crow and his sleuths were congregating, their baffled gaze upon the man who had slipped out of their grasp. The men of the posse were pointing at the boat and arguing frantically; there were decided signs of dispute among them. Finally two guns flew up, and then came the puffs of smoke, the reports and little splashes of water near the flying skiff.

"Oh, they are shooting!" she cried in a panic.

"And rifles, too," he grated, redoubling his pull on the oars. Other shots followed, all falling short. "Get down in the bottom of the boat, Marjory. Don't sit up there and be—"

"I'll sit right where I am," she cried defiantly.

Anderson Crow waved to the men under Crow's Cliff, and they began to make their arduous way along the bank in the trail of the skiff. Part of the armed posse hurried down and boarded the raft, while others followed the chase by land.

"We'll beat them to Bracken's by a mile," cried Jack Barnes.

"If they don't shoot us," she responded. "Why, oh, why are they so intent upon killing us?"

"They don't want you to be a widow and—break a—lot of hearts," he said. "If they—hit me now you—won't be—dangerous as a—widow."

"Oh, you heartless thing! How can you jest about it? I'd—I'd go into mourning, anyway, Jack," she concluded, on second thought. "We are just as good as married, you see."

"It's nice—of you to say it, dear—but we're a long—way from—Bracken's. Gee! That was close!"

A bullet splashed in the water not ten feet from the boat. "The cowards! They're actually trying to kill us!" For the first time his face took on a look of alarm and his eyes grew desperate. "I can't let them shoot at you, Marjory, dear! What the dickens they want I don't know, but I'm going to surrender." He had stopped rowing and was making ready to wave his white handkerchief on high.

"Never!" she cried with blazing eyes. "Give me the oars!" She slid into the other rowing seat and tried to snatch the oars from the rowlocks.

"Bravo! I could kiss you a thousand times for that. Come on, you Indians! You're a darling, Marjory." Again the oars caught the water, and Jack Barnes's white handkerchief lay in the bottom of the boat. He was rowing for dear life, and there was a smile on his face.

The raft was left far behind and the marksmen were put out of range with surprising ease. Fifteen minutes later the skiff shot across the river and up to the landing of Bracken's boathouse, while a mile back in the brush Anderson Crow and his men were wrathfully scrambling in pursuit.

"Hey, Bracken! Jimmy!" shouted Jack Barnes, jumping out upon the little wharf. Marjory gave him her hands and was whisked ashore and into his arms. "Run into the boathouse, dear. I'll yank this stuff ashore. Where the dickens is Bracken?"

The boathouse door opened slowly and a sleepy young man looked forth.

"I thought you'd never come," he yawned.

"Wake up, you old loafer! We're here and we are pursued! Where are George and Amy?" cried Mr. Barnes, doing herculean duty as a baggage smasher.

"Pursued?" cried the sleepy young man, suddenly awake.

"Yes, and shot at!" cried Marjory, running past him and into the arms of a handsome young woman who was emerging from the house.

"We've no time to lose, Jimmy! They are on to us, Heaven knows how. They are not more than ten minutes behind us. Get it over with, Jimmy, for Heaven's sake! Here, George, grab this trunk!"


Anderson Rectifies an Error

In a jiffy the fugitives and their property were transferred to the interior of the roomy boathouse, the doors bolted, and George Crosby stationed at a window to act as lookout.

"Is it your father?" demanded the Rev. James Bracken, turning to Marjory. Young Mrs. Crosby was looking on eagerly.

"Mr. Brewster is at home and totally oblivious to all this," cried Jack Barnes. "I don't know what it means. Here's the license, Jimmy. Are you ready, Marjory?"

"This is rather a squeamish business, Jack—" began the young minister in the negligee shirt. He was pulling on his coat as he made the remark.

"Oh, hurry, Jimmy; please hurry!" cried Marjory Brewster.

"Don't wait a second, Jimmy Bracken!" cried Amy Crosby, dancing with excitement. "You can't go back on them now!"

Three minutes later there was no Marjory Brewster, but there was a Mrs. John Ethelbert Barnes—and she was kissing her husband rapturously.

"Now, tell us everything," cried Mrs. Crosby after the frantic congratulations. The Reverend "Jimmy" Bracken, of the Eleventh Presbyterian Church, was the only one who seemed uncertain as to his position. In the first place, old Judge Brewster was a man of influence in the metropolis, from which all had fled for a sojourn in the hills. He and his daughter were Episcopalians, but that made them none the less important in the eyes of "Jimmy" Bracken. In the second place, Jack Barnes was a struggling lawyer, in the Year of our Lord 1880, and possessed of objectionable poverty. The young men had been room-mates at college. Friendship had overcome discretion in this instance, at least. The deed being done, young Mr. Bracken was beginning to wonder if it had not been overdone, so to speak.

"I wish somebody would tell me!" exclaimed Jack Barnes, with a perplexed frown. "The beastly jays shot at us and all that. You'd think I was an outlaw. And they blazed away at Marjory, too, hang them!"

Marjory, too excited to act like a blushing bride, took up the story and told all that had happened. George Crosby became so interested that he forgot to keep guard.

"This is a funny mess!" he exclaimed. "There's something wrong—"

"Hey, you!" came a shout from the outside.

"There they are!" cried Marjory, flying to her husband's side. "What are we to do?"

"You mean, what are they to do? We're married, and they can't get around that, you know. Let 'em come!" cried the groom exultantly. "You don't regret it, do you, sweetheart?" quite anxiously. She smiled up into his eyes, and he felt very secure.

"What do you fellows want?" demanded Crosby from the window. Anderson Crow was standing on the river bank like a true Napoleon, flanked by three trusty riflemen.

"Who air you?" asked Anderson in return. He was panting heavily, and his legs trembled.

"None of your business! Get off these grounds at once; they're private!"

"None o' your sass, now, young man; I'm an officer of the law, an' a detective to boot! We sha'n't stand any nonsense. The place is surrounded and he can't escape! Where is he?"

"That's for you to find out if you're such a good detective! This is David Bracken's place, and you can find him at his home on the hilltop yonder!"

"Ask him what we've done, George," whispered Barnes.

"We ain't after Mr. Bracken, young feller, but you know what we do want! He's in there—you're shielding him—we won't parley much longer! Send him out!" said Anderson Crow.

"If you come a foot nearer you'll get shot into the middle of kingdom come!" shouted Crosby defiantly.

The inmates gasped, for there was not a firearm on the place.

"Be careful!" warned the Reverend "Jimmy" nervously.

"Goin' to resist, eh? Well, we'll get him; don't you worry; an' that ornery female o' hisn', too!"

"Did you hear that?" exclaimed Jack Barnes. "Let me get at the old rat." He was making for the door when the two women obstructed the way. Both were frantic with fear.

"But he called you a female!" roared he.

"Well, I am!" she wailed miserably.

"Who is it you want?" asked Crosby from the window.

"That's all right," roared Anderson Crow; "purduce him at once!"

"Is this the fellow?" and Crosby dragged the Reverend "Jimmy" into view. There was a moment's inspection of the cadaverous face, and then the sleuths shook their heads.

"Not on your life!" said Mr. Crow. "But he's in there—Ike Smalley seen him an' his paramount go up the steps from the landin'! 'Twon't do no good to hide him, young feller; he's—"

"Well, let me tell you something. You are too late—they're married!" cried Crosby triumphantly.

"I don't give a cuss if they're married and have sixteen children!" shouted the exasperated Crow, his badge fairly dancing. "He's got to surrender!"

"Oh, he does, eh?"

"Yes, sir-ee-o-bob; he's got to give up, dead or alive! Trot him out lively, now!"

"I don't mind telling you that Mr. Barnes is here; but I'd like to know why you're hunting him down like a wild beast, shooting at him and Miss—I mean Mrs. Barnes. It's an outrage!"

"Oh, we ain't the on'y people that can kill and slaughter! She's just as bad as he is, for that matter—an' so are you and that other lantern-jawed outlaw in there." The Reverend "Jimmy" gasped and turned a fiery red.

"Did he call me a—say!" and he pushed Crosby aside. "I'd have you to understand that I'm a minister of the gospel—I am the Reverend James Bracken, of—"

A roar of laughter greeted his attempt to explain; and there were a few remarks so uncomplimentary that the man of cloth sank back in sheer hopelessness.

"Well, I'll give them reason to think that I'm something of a desperado," grated the Reverend "Jimmy," squaring his shoulders. "If they attempt to put foot inside my uncle's house I'll—I'll smash a few heads."

"Bravo!" cried Mrs. Crosby. She was his cousin, and up to that time had had small regard for her mild-mannered relative.

"He can preach the funeral!" shouted Ike Smalley. By this time there were a dozen men on the bank below.

"I give you fair warning," cried Anderson Crow impressively. "We're goin' to surround the house, an' we'll take that rascal if we have to shoot the boards into sawdust!"

"But what has he done, except to get married?" called Crosby as the posse began to spread out.

"Do you s'pose I'm fool enough to tell you if you don't know?" said Anderson Crow. "Just as like as not you'd be claimin' the thousand dollars reward if you knowed it had been offered! Spread out, boys, an' we'll show 'em dern quick!"

There was dead silence inside the house for a full minute. Every eye was wide and every mouth was open in surprise and consternation.

"A thousand dollars reward!" gasped Jack Barnes. "Then, good Lord, I must have done something!"

"What have you been doing, Jack Barnes?" cried his bride, aghast.

"I must have robbed a train," said he dejectedly.

"Well, this is serious, after all," said Crosby. "It's not an eloper they're after, but a desperado."

"A kidnaper, perhaps," suggested his wife.

"What are we to do?" demanded Jack Barnes.

"First, old man, what have you actually done?" asked the Reverend "Jimmy."

"Nothing that's worth a thousand dollars, I'm dead sure," said Barnes positively. "By George, Marjory, this is a nice mess I've led you into!"

"It's all right, Jack; I'm happier than I ever was before in my life. We ran away to get married, and I'll go to jail with you if they'll take me."

"This is no time for kissing," objected Crosby sourly. "We must find out what it all means. Leave it to me."

It was getting dark in the room, and the shadows were heavy on the hills. While the remaining members of the besieged party sat silent and depressed upon the casks and boxes, Crosby stood at the window calling to the enemy.

"Is he ready to surrender?" thundered Anderson Crow from the shadows.

Then followed a brief and entirely unsatisfactory dialogue between the two spokesmen. Anderson Crow was firm in his decision that the fugitive did not have to be told what he had done; and George Crosby was equally insistent that he had to be told before he could decide whether he was guilty or innocent.

"We'll starve him out!" said Anderson Crow.

"But there are ladies here, my good man; you won't subject them to such treatment!"

"You're all of a kind—we're going to take the whole bunch!"

"What do you think will happen to you if you are mistaken in your man?"

"We're not mistaken, dang ye!"

"He could sue you for every dollar you possess. I know, for I'm a lawyer!"

"Now, I'm sure you're in the job with him. I s'pose you'll try to work in the insanity dodge! It's a nest of thieves and robbers! Say, I'll give you five minutes to surrender; if you don't, we'll set fire to the derned shanty!"

"Look here, boys," said Jack Barnes suddenly, "I've done nothing and am not afraid to be arrested. I'm going to give myself up." Of course there was a storm of protest and a flow of tears, but the culprit was firm. "Tell the old fossil that if he'll guarantee safety to me I'll give up!"

Anderson was almost too quick in promising protection.

"Ask him if he will surrender and make a confession to me—I am Anderson Crow, sir!" was the marshal's tactful suggestion.

"He'll do both, Mr. Crow!" replied Crosby.

"We've got to take the whole bunch of you, young man. You're all guilty of conspiracy, the whole caboodle!"

"But the ladies, you darned old Rube—they can't—"

"Looky here, young feller, you can't dictate to me. I'll have you to—"

"We'll all go!" cried Mrs. Crosby warmly.

"To the very end!" added the new Mrs. Barnes.

"What will your father say?" demanded the groom.

"He'll disown me anyway, dear, so what's the difference?"

"It's rather annoying for a minister—" began the Reverend "Jimmy," putting on his hat.

"We'll beg off for you!" cried Mrs. Crosby ironically.

"But I'm going to jail, too," finished he grimly.

"All right," called Crosby from the window; "here we come!"

And forth marched the desperate quintet, three strapping young men and two very pretty and nervous young women. They were met by Anderson Crow and a dozen armed men from Tinkletown, every one of them shaking in his boots. The irrepressible Mrs. Crosby said "Boo!" suddenly, and half the posse jumped as though some one had thrown a bomb at them.

"Now, I demand an explanation of this outrage," said Jack Barnes savagely. "What do you mean by shooting at me and my—my wife and arresting us, and all that?"

"You'll find out soon enough when you're strung up fer it," snarled Anderson Crow. "An' you'll please hand over that money I paid fer the hoss and buggy. I'll learn you how to sell stolen property to me."

"Oh, I'm a horse-thief, am I? This is rich. And they'll string me up, eh? Next thing you'll be accusing me of killing that farmer up near Boggs City."

"Well, by gosh! you're a cool one!" ejaculated Anderson Crow. "I s'pose you're goin' ter try the insanity dodge."

"It's lucky for me that they caught him," said Barnes as the herd of prisoners moved off toward the string of boats tied to Mr. Bracken's wharf.

"Come off!" exclaimed Squires, the reporter, scornfully. "We're onto you, all right, all right."

"What! Do you think I'm the man who—well, holy mackerel! Say, you gravestones, don't you ever hear any news out here? Wake up! They caught the murderer at Billsport, not more than five miles from your jay burg. I was driving through the town when they brought him in. That's what made me late, dear," turning to Marjory.

"Yes, and I'll bet my soul that here comes some one with the news," cried George Crosby, who had heard nothing of the tragedy until this instant.

A rowboat containing three men was making for the landing. Somehow, Anderson Crow and his posse felt the ground sinking beneath them. Not a man uttered a sound until one of the newcomers called out from the boat:

"Is Anderson Crow there?"

"Yes, sir; what is it?" demanded Crow in a wobbly voice.

"Your wife wants to know when in thunder you're comin' home." By this time the skiff was bumping against the landing.

"You tell her to go to Halifax!" retorted Anderson Crow. "Is that all you want?"

"They nabbed that murderer up to Billsport long 'bout 'leven o'clock," said Alf Reesling, the town drunkard. "We thought we'd row down and tell you so's you wouldn't be huntin' all night for the feller who—hello, you got him, eh?"

"Are you fellers lyin'?" cried poor Anderson Crow.

"Not on your life. We knowed about the captcher over in town just about half an hour after you started 'cross the river this afternoon."

"You—four hours ago? You—you—" sputtered the marshal. "An' why didn't you let us know afore this?"

"There was a game o' baseball in Hasty's lot, an'—" began one of the newcomers sheepishly.

"Well, I'll be gosh-whizzled!" gasped Anderson Crow, sitting down suddenly.

* * * * *

An hour and a half later Mr. and Mrs. John Ethelbert Barnes were driven up to Judge Brewster's country place in Mr. David Bracken's brake. They were accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. George Crosby, and were carrying out the plans as outlined in the original programme.

"Where's papa?" Marjory tremulously inquired of the footman in the hallway.

"He's waitin' for you in the library, miss—I should say Mrs. Barnes," replied the man, a trace of excitement in his face.

"Mrs. Barnes!" exclaimed four voices at once.

"Who told you, William?" cried Marjory, leaning upon Jack for support.

"A Mr. Anderson Crow was here not half an hour ago, ma'am, to assure Mr. Brewster as to how his new son-in-law was in nowise connected with the murder up the way. He said as how he had personally investigated the case, miss—ma'am, and Mr. Brewster could rely on his word for it, Mr. Jack was not the man. He told him as how you was married at the boathouse."

"Yes—and then?" cried Marjory eagerly.

"Mr. Brewster said that Mr. Jack wasn't born to be hanged, and for me to have an extry plate laid at the table for him to-night," concluded William with an expressive grin.


The Babe on the Doorstep

It was midnight in Tinkletown, many months after the events mentioned in the foregoing chapters, and a blizzard was raging. The February wind rasped through the bare trees, shrieked around the corners of lightless houses and whipped its way through the scurrying snow with all the rage of a lion. The snow, on account of the bitter cold in the air, did not fly in big flakes, but whizzed like tiny bullets, cutting the flesh of men and beasts like the sting of wasps. It was a good night to be indoors over a roaring fire or in bed between extra blankets. No one, unless commanded by emergency, had the temerity to be abroad that night.

The Crow family snoozed comfortably in spite of the calliope shrieks of the wind. The home of the town marshal was blanketed in peace and the wind had no terrors for its occupants. They slept the sleep of the toasted. The windows may have rattled a bit, perhaps, and the shutters may have banged a trifle too remorselessly, but the Crows were not to be disturbed.

The big, old-fashioned clock in the hall downstairs was striking twelve when Anderson Crow awoke with a start. He was amazed, for to awake in the middle of the night was an unheard-of proceeding for him. He caught the clang of the last five strokes from the clock, however, and was comforting himself with the belief that it was five o'clock, after all, when his wife stirred nervously.

"Are you awake, Anderson?" she asked softly.

"Yes, Eva, and it's about time to get up. It jest struck five. Doggone, it's been blowin' cats and dogs outside, ain't it?" he yawned.

"Five? It's twelve-now, don't tell me you counted the strokes, because I did myself. Ain't it queer we should both git awake at this unearthly hour?"

"Well," murmured he sleepily now that it was not five o'clock, "it's a mighty good hour to go back to sleep ag'in, I reckon."

"I thought I heard a noise outside," she persisted.

"I don't blame you," he said, chuckling. "It's been out there all night."

"I mean something besides the wind. Sounded like some one walkin' on the front porch."

"Now, look here, Eva, you ain't goin' to git me out there in this blizzard—in my stockin' feet—lookin' fer robbers—"

"Just the same, Anderson, I'm sure I heard some one. Mebby it's some poor creature freezin' an' in distress. If I was you, I'd go and look out there. Please do."

"Doggone, Eva, if you was me you'd be asleep instid of huntin' up trouble on a night like this. They ain't nothin' down there an' you—but, by cracky! mebby you're right. Supposin' there is some poor cuss out there huntin' a place to sleep. I'll go and look;" and Mr. Crow, the most tender-hearted man in the world, crawled shiveringly but quickly from the warm bed. In his stocking feet—Anderson slept in his socks on those bitter nights—he made his way down the front stairs, grumbling but determined. Mrs. Crow followed close behind, anxious to verify the claim that routed him from his nest.

"It may be a robber," she chattered, as he pulled aside a front window curtain. Anderson drew back hastily.

"Well, why in thunder didn't you say so before?" he gasped. "Doggone, Eva, that's no way to do! He might 'a' fired through the winder at me."

"But he's in the house by this time, if it was a robber," she whispered. "He wouldn't stand out on the porch all night."

"That's right," he whispered in reply. "You're a good deducer, after all. I wish I had my dark lantern. Thunderation!" He stubbed his toe against the sewing machine. There is nothing that hurts more than unintentional contact with a sewing machine. "Why in sixty don't you light a light, Eva? How can I—"

"Listen!" she whispered shrilly. "Hear that? Anderson, there's some one walkin' on the porch!"

"'y gosh!" faltered he. "Sure as Christmas! You wait here, Eva, till I go upstairs an' put on my badge and I'll—"

"I'll do nothing of the kind. You don't ketch me stayin' down here alone," and she grabbed the back of his nightshirt as he started for the stairs.

"Sho! What air you afeerd of? I'll get my revolver, too. I never did see such a coward'y calf as—"

Just then there was a tremendous pounding on the front door, followed by the creaking of footsteps on the frozen porch, a clatter down the steps, and then the same old howling of the wind. The Crows jumped almost out of their scanty garments, and then settled down as if frozen to the spot. It was a full minute before Anderson found his voice—in advance of Mrs. Crow at that, which was more than marvellous.

"What was that?" he chattered.

"A knock!" she gasped.

"Some neighbour's sick."

"Old Mrs. Luce. Oh, goodness, how my heart's going!"

"Why don't you open the door, Eva?"

"Why don't you? It's your place."

"But, doggone it, cain't you see—I mean feel—that I ain't got hardly any clothes on? I'd ketch my death o' cold, an' besides—"

"Well, I ain't got as much on as you have. You got socks on an'—"

"But supposin' it's a woman," protested he. "You wouldn't want a woman to see me lookin' like this, would you? Go ahead an'—"

"I suppose you'd like to have a man see me like this. I ain't used to receivin' men in—but, say, whoever it was, is gone. Didn't you hear the steps? Open the door, Anderson. See what it is."

And so, after much urging, Anderson Crow unbolted his front door and turned the knob. The wind did the rest. It almost blew the door off its hinges, carrying Mr. and Mrs. Crow back against the wall. A gale of snow swept over them.

"Gee!" gasped Anderson, crimping his toes. Mrs. Crow was peering under his arm.

"Look there!" she cried. Close to the door a large bundle was lying.

"A present from some one!" speculated Mr. Crow; but some seconds passed before he stooped to pick it up. "Funny time fer Santy to be callin' 'round. Wonder if he thinks it's next Christmas."

"Be careful, Anderson; mebby it's an infernal machine!" cried his wife.

"Well, it's loaded, 'y ginger," he grunted as straightened up in the face of the gale. "Shut the door, Eva! Cain't you see it's snowin'?"

"I'll bet it was Joe Ramsey leavin' a sack o' hickor' nuts fer us," she said eagerly, slamming the door.

"You better bolt the door. He might change his mind an' come back fer 'em," observed her husband. "It don't feel like hickor' nuts. Why, Eva, it's a baskit—a reg'lar clothes baskit. What in thunder do—"

"Let's get a light out by the kitchen fire. It's too cold in here."

Together they sped to the kitchen with the mysterious offering from the blizzard. There was a fire in the stove, which Anderson replenished, while Eva began to remove the blankets and packing from the basket, which she had placed on the hearth. Anderson looked on eagerly.

"Lord!" fell from the lips of both as the contents of the basket were exposed to their gaze.

A baby, alive and warm, lay packed in the blankets, sound asleep and happy. For an interminable length of time the Crows, en dishabille, stood and gazed open-mouthed and awed at the little stranger. Ten minutes later, after the ejaculations and surmises, after the tears and expletives, after the whole house had been aroused, Anderson Crow was plunging amiably but aimlessly through the snowstorm in search of the heartless wretch who had deposited the infant on his doorstep. His top boots scuttled up and down the street, through yards and barn lots for an hour, but despite the fact that he carried his dark lantern and trailed like an Indian bloodhound, he found no trace of the wanton visitor. In the meantime, Mrs. Crow, assisted by the entire family, had stowed the infant, a six-weeks-old girl, into a warm bed, ministering to the best of her ability to its meagre but vociferous wants. There was no more sleep in the Crow establishment that night. The head of the house roused a half dozen neighbours from their beds to tell them of the astounding occurrence, with the perfectly natural result that one and all hurried over to see the baby and to hear the particulars.

Early next morning Tinkletown wagged with an excitement so violent that it threatened to end in a municipal convulsion. Anderson Crow's home was besieged. The snow in his front yard was packed to an icy consistency by the myriad of footprints that fell upon it; the interior of the house was "tracked" with mud and slush and three window panes were broken by the noses of curious but unwelcome spectators. Altogether, it was a sensation unequalled in the history of the village. Through it all the baby blinked and wept and cooed in perfect peace, guarded by Mrs. Crow and the faithful progeny who had been left by the stork, and not by a mysterious stranger.

The missionary societies wanted to do something heroic, but Mrs. Crow headed them off; the sewing circle got ready to take charge of affairs, but Mrs. Crow punctured the project; figuratively, the churches ached for a chance to handle the infant, but Mrs. Crow stood between. And all Tinkletown called upon Anderson Crow to solve the mystery before it was a day older.

"It's purty hard to solve a mystery that's got six weeks' start o' me," said Anderson despairingly, "but I'll try, you bet. The doggone thing's got a parent or two somewhere in the universe, an' I'll locate 'em er explode somethin'. I've got a private opinion about it myself."

Whatever this private opinion might have been, it was not divulged. Possibly something in connection with it might have accounted for the temporary annoyance felt by nearly every respectable woman in Tinkletown. The marshal eyed each and every one of them, irrespective of position, condition or age, with a gleam so accusing that the Godliest of them flushed and then turned cold. So knowing were these equitable looks that before night every woman in the village was constrained to believe the worst of her neighbour, and almost as ready to look with suspicion upon herself.

One thing was certain—business was at a standstill in Tinkletown. The old men forgot their chess and checker games at the corner store; young men neglected their love affairs; women forgot to talk about each other; children froze their ears rather than miss any of the talk that went about the wintry streets; everybody was asking the question, "Whose baby is it?"

But the greatest sensation of all came late in the day when Mrs. Crow, in going over the garments worn by the babe, found a note addressed to Anderson Crow. It was stitched to the baby's dress, and proved beyond question that the strange visitor of the night before had selected not only the house, but the individual. The note was to the point. It said:

"February 18, 1883.

"ANDERSON CROW: To your good and merciful care an unhappy creature consigns this helpless though well-beloved babe. All the world knows you to be a tender, loving, unselfish man and father. The writer humbly, prayerfully implores you to care for this babe as you would for one of your own. It is best that her origin be kept a secret. Care for her, cherish her as your own, and at the end of each year the sum of a thousand dollars will be paid to you as long as she lives in your household as a member thereof. Do not seek to find her parents. It would be a fool's errand. May God bless you and yours, and may God care for and protect Rosalie—the name she shall bear."

Obviously, there was no signature and absolutely no clew to the identity of the writer Two telegraph line repairers who had been working near Crow's house during the night, repairing damage done by the blizzard, gave out the news that they had seen a cloaked and mysterious-looking woman standing near the Methodist Church just before midnight, evidently disregarding the rage of the storm. The sight was so unusual that the men paused and gazed at her for several minutes. One of them was about to approach her when she turned and fled down the side street near by.

"Was she carryin' a big bundle?" asked Anderson Crow.

The men replied in the negative.

"Then she couldn't have been the party wanted. The one we're after certainly had a big bundle."

"But, Mr. Crow, isn't it possible that these men saw her after she left the basket at—" began the Presbyterian minister.

"That ain't the way I deduce it," observed the town detective tartly. "In the first place, she wouldn't 'a' been standin' 'round like that if the job was over, would she? Wouldn't she 'a' been streakin' out fer home? 'Course she would."

"She may have paused near the church to see whether you took the child in," persisted the divine.

"But she couldn't have saw my porch from the back end of the church."

"Nobody said she was standing back of the church," said the lineman.

"What's that? You don't mean it?" cried Anderson, pulling out of a difficulty bravely. "That makes all the difference in the world. Why didn't you say she was in front of the church? Cain't you see we've wasted time here jest because you didn't have sense 'nough to—"

"Anybody ought to know it 'thout being told, you old Rube," growled the lineman, who was from Boggs City.

"Here, now, sir, that will do you! I won't 'low no man to—"

"Anderson, be quiet!" cautioned Mrs. Crow. "You'll wake the baby!" This started a new train of thought in Anderson's perplexed mind.

"Mebby she was waitin' there while some one—her husband, fer instance—was leavin' the baskit," volunteered Isaac Porter humbly.

"Don't bother me, Ike; I'm thinkin' of somethin' else," muttered Anderson. "Husband nothin'! Do you s'pose she'd 'a' trusted that baby with a fool husband on a terrible night like that? Ladies and gentlemen, this here baby was left by a female resident of this very town." His hearers gasped and looked at him wide-eyed. "If she has a husband, he don't know he's the father of this here baby. Don't you see that a woman couldn't 'a' carried a heavy baskit any great distance? She couldn't 'a' packed it from Boggs City er New York er Baltimore, could she? She wouldn't 'a' been strong enough. No, siree; she didn't have far to come, folks. An' she was a woman, 'cause ain't all typewritin' done by women? You don't hear of men typewriters, do you? People wouldn't have 'em. Now, the thing fer me to do first is to make a house-to-house search to see if I c'n locate a typewritin' machine anywheres. Get out of the way, Toby. Doggone you boys, anyhow, cain't you see I want ter get started on this job?"

"Say, Anderson," said Harry Squires, the reporter, "I'd like to ask if there is any one in Tinkletown, male or female, who can afford to pay you a thousand dollars a year for taking care of that kid?"

"What's that?" slowly oozed from Anderson's lips.

"You heard what I said. Say, don't you know you can bring up a kid in this town for eleven or twelve dollars a year?"

"You don't know what you're talkin' about," burst from Anderson's indignant lips, but he found instant excuse to retire from the circle of speculators. A few minutes later he and his wife were surreptitiously re-reading the note, both filled with the fear that it said $10.00 instead of $1000.


Reflection and Deduction

"By gum, it does say a thousand," cried Anderson, mightily relieved. "Harry Squires is a fool. He said jest now that it could be did fer eleven or twelve dollars. Don't you suppose, Eva, that the mother of this here child knows what it costs to bring 'em up? Of course she does. When I find her I'll prove it by her own lips that she knows. But don't bother me any more, Eva; I got to git out an' track her down. This is the greatest job I've had in years."

"See here, Anderson," said his wife thoughtfully and somewhat stealthily, "let's go slow about this thing. What do you want to find her for?"

"Why—why, doggone it, Eva, what air you talkin' about?" began he in amazement.

"Well, it's just this way: I don't think we can earn a thousand dollars a year easier than takin' care of this child. Don't you see? Suppose we keep her fer twenty years. That means twenty thousand dollars, don't it? It beats a pension all to pieces."

"Well, by ginger!" gasped Anderson, vaguely comprehending. "Fifty years would mean fifty thousand dollars, wouldn't it. Gee whiz, Eva!"

"I don't imagine we can keep her that long."

"No," reflectively; "the chances are she'd want ter git married inside of that time. They always—

"'Tain't that, Anderson. You an' me'd have to live to be more'n a hundred years old."

"That's so. We ain't spring chickens, are we, deary?"

She put her hard, bony hand in his and there was a suspicion of moisture in the kindly old eyes.

"I love to hear you call me 'deary,' Anderson. We never get too old for that."

He coughed and then patted her hand rather confusedly. Anderson had long since forgotten the meaning of sentiment, but he was surprised to find that he had not forgotten how to love his wife.

"Shucks!" he muttered bravely. "We'll be kissin' like a couple of young jay birds first thing we know. Doggone if it ain't funny how a baby, even if it is some one else's, kinder makes a feller foolisher'n he intends to be." Hand in hand they watched the sleeping innocent for several minutes. Finally the detective shook himself and spoke:

"Well, Eva, I got to make a bluff at findin' out whose baby it is, ain't I? My reputation's at stake. I jest have to investigate."

"I don't see that any harm can come from that, Anderson," she replied, and neither appreciated the sarcasm unintentionally involved.

"I won't waste another minute," he announced promptly. "I will stick to my theory that the parents live in Tinkletown."

"Fiddlesticks!" snorted Mrs. Crow disgustedly, and then left him to cultivate the choleric anger her exclamation had inspired.

"Doggone, I wish I hadn't patted her hand," he lamented. "She didn't deserve it. Consarn it, a woman's always doin' something to spoil things."

And so he fared forth with his badges and stars, bent on duty, but not accomplishment. All the town soon knew that he was following a clew, but all the town was at sea concerning its character, origin, and plausibility. A dozen persons saw him stop young Mrs. Perkins in front of Lamson's store, and the same spectators saw his feathers droop as she let loose her wrath upon his head and went away with her nose in the air and her cheeks far more scarlet than when Boreas kissed them, and all in response to a single remark volunteered by the faithful detective. He entered Lamson's store a moment later, singularly abashed and red in the face.

"Doggone," he observed, seeing that an explanation was expected, "she might 'a' knowed I was only foolin'."

A few minutes later he had Alf Reesling, the town sot, in a far corner of the store talking to him in a most peremptory fashion. It may be well to mention that Alf had so far forgotten himself as to laugh at the marshal's temporary discomfiture at the hands of Mrs. Perkins.

"Alf, have you been havin' another baby up to your house without lettin' me know?" demanded Anderson firmly.

"Anderson," replied Alf, maudlin tears starting in his eyes, "it's not kind of you to rake up my feelin's like this. You know I been a widower fer three years."

"I want you to understand one thing, Alf Reesling. A detective never knows anything till he proves it. Let me warn you, sir, you are under suspicion. An' now, let me tell you one thing more. Doggone your ornery hide, don't you ever laugh ag'in like you did jest now er I'll—"

Just then the door flew open with a bang and Edna Crow, Anderson's eldest, almost flopped into the store, her cap in her hand, eyes starting from her head. She had run at top speed all the way from home.

"Pop," she gasped. "Ma says fer you to hurry home! She says fer you to run!"

Anderson covered the distance between Lamson's store and his own home in record time. Indeed, Edna, flying as fast as her slim legs could twinkle, barely beat her father to the front porch. It was quite clear to Mr. Crow that something unusual had happened or Mrs. Crow would not have summoned him so peremptorily.

She was in the hallway downstairs awaiting his arrival, visibly agitated. Before uttering a word she dragged him into the little sitting-room and closed the door. They were alone.

"Is it dead?" he panted.

"No, but what do you think, Anderson?" she questioned excitedly.

"I ain't had time to think. You don't mean to say it has begun to talk an' c'n tell who it is," he faltered.

"Heavens no—an' it only six weeks old."

"Well, then, what in thunder has happened?"

"A detective has been here."

"Good gosh!"

"Yes, a real detective. He's out there in the kitchen gettin' his feet warm by the bake-oven. He says he's lookin' for a six-weeks-old baby. Anderson, we're goin' to lose that twenty thousand."

"Don't cry, Eva; mebby we c'n find another baby some day. Has he seen the—the—it?" Anderson was holding to the stair-post for support.

"Not yet, but he says he understands we've got one here that ain't been tagged—that's what he said—'tagged.' What does he mean by that?"

"Why—why, don't you see? Just as soon as he tags it, it's it. Doggone, I wonder if it would make any legal difference if I tagged it first."

"He's a queer-lookin' feller, Anderson. Says he's in disguise, and he certainly looks like a regular scamp."

"I'll take a look at him an' ast fer his badge." Marshal Crow paraded boldly into the kitchen, where the strange man was regaling the younger Crows with conversation the while he partook comfortably of pie and other things more substantial.

"Are you Mr. Crow?" he asked nonchalantly, as Anderson appeared before him.

"I am. Who are you?"

"I am Hawkshaw, the detective," responded the man, his mouth full of blackberry pie.

"Gee whiz!" gasped Anderson. "Eva, it's the celebrated Hawkshaw."

"Right you are, sir. I'm after the kid."

"You'll have to identify it," something inspired Anderson to say.

"Sure. That's easy. It's the one that was left on your doorstep last night," said the man glibly.

"Well, I guess you're right," began Anderson disconsolately.

"Boy or girl?" demanded Mrs. Crow, shrewdly and very quickly. She had been inspecting the man more closely than before, and woman's intuition was telling her a truth that Anderson overlooked. Mr. Hawkshaw was not only very seedy, but very drunk.

"Madam," he responded loftily, "it is nothing but a mere child."

"I'll give you jest one minute to get out of this house," said Mrs. Crow sharply, to Anderson's consternation. "If you're not gone, I'll douse you with this kettle of scalding water. Open the back door, Edna. He sha'n't take his dirty self through my parlour again. Open that door, Edna!"

Edna, half paralysed with astonishment, opened the kitchen door just in time. Mr. Hawkshaw was not so drunk but he could recognise disaster when it hovered near. As she lifted the steaming kettle from the stove he made a flying leap for the door. The rush of air that followed him as he shot through the aperture almost swept Edna from her feet. In ten seconds the tattered Hawkshaw was scrambling over the garden fence and making lively if inaccurate tracks through last year's cabbage patch.


The Mysterious Visitor

The entire Crow family watched him in stupefaction until he disappeared down the lane that led to Hapgood's grove. It was then, and not until then, that Anderson Crow took a breath.

"Good Lord, Eva, what do you mean?" he gasped.

"Mean?" she almost shrieked. "Anderson Crow, didn't you recognise that feller? He ain't no more detective than you er me. He's the self-same tramp that you put in the calaboose last week, and the week before, too. I thought I'd seen his ugly face before. He's—"

"Great jumpin' geeswax!" roared the town marshal. "I recollect him now. He's the one that said he'd been exposed to smallpox an' wanted to be kept where it was warm all winter. Well, I'll be—I'll be—"

"Don't say it, pa. He said it fer you when he clumb over that barb-wire fence out there," cried Edna gleefully.

Several days of anxiety and energy followed this interesting episode. In that time two tramps attempted to obtain food and shelter at Crow's home, one on the plea that he was the father of the unfortunate child, the other as an officer for the Foundlings' Home at Boggs City. Three babies were left on the doorstep—two in one night—their fond mothers confessing fessing by letters that they appreciated Anderson's well-known charitable inclinations and implored him to care for their offspring as if they were his own. The harassed marshal experienced some difficulty in forcing the mothers to take back their children.

In each instance he was reviled by the estimable ladies, all of whom accused him of being utterly heartless. Mrs. Crow came to his rescue and told the disappointed mothers that the scalding water was ready for application if they did not take their baskets of babies away on short order. It may be well for the reputation of Tinkletown to mention that one of the donors was Mrs. Raspus, a negro washerwoman who did work for the "dagoes" engaged in building the railroad hard by; another was the wife of Antonio Galli, a member of the grading gang, and the third was Mrs. Pool, the widow of a fisherman who had recently drowned himself in drink.

It is quite possible that Anderson might have had the three infants on his hands permanently had not the mothers been so eager to know their fate. They appeared in person early the next morning to see if the babies had frozen to death on the doorstep. Mrs. Pool even went so far as to fetch some extra baby clothes which she had neglected to drop with her male. Mrs. Raspus came for her basket, claiming it was the only one she had in which to "tote" the washing for the men.

After these annoying but enlivening incidents Anderson was permitted to recover from his daze and to throw off symptoms of nervous prostration. Tinkletown resumed its tranquil attitude and the checker games began to thrive once more. Little Rosalie was a week older than when she came, but it was five weeks before anything happened to disturb the even tenor of the foster-father's way. He had worked diligently in the effort to discover the parents of the baby, but without result. Two or three exasperated husbands in Tinkletown had threatened to blow his brains out if he persisted in questioning their wives in his insinuating manner, and one of the kitchen girls at the village inn threw a dishpan at him on the occasion of his third visit of inquiry. A colored woman in the employ of the Baptist minister denied that Rosalie was her child, but when he insisted, agreed with fine sarcasm to "go over an' have a look at it," after his assurance that it was perfectly white.

"Eva, I've investigated the case thoroughly," he said at last, "an' there is no solution to the mystery. The only thing I c'n deduce is that the child is here an' we'll have to take keer of her. Now, I wonder if that woman really meant it when she said we'd have a thousand dollars at the end of each year. Doggone, I wish the year was up, jest to see."

"We'll have to wait, Anderson, that's all," said Mrs. Crow. "I love the baby so it can't matter much. I'm glad you're through investigatin'. It's been most tryin' to me. Half the women in town don't speak to me."

It was at the end of Rosalie's fifth week as a member of the family that something happened. Late one night when Anderson opened the front door to put out the cat a heavily veiled woman mounted the steps and accosted him. In some trepidation he drew back and would have closed the door but for her eager remonstrance.

"I must see you, Mr. Crow," she cried in a low, agitated voice.

"Who are you?" he demanded. She was dressed entirely in black.

"I came to see you about the baby."

"That won't do, madam. There's been three tramps here to hornswoggle us an' I—"

"I must see her, Mr. Crow," pleaded the stranger, and he was struck by the richness of her voice.

"Mighty queer, it seems to me," he muttered hesitatingly. "Are you any kin to it?"

"I am very much interested."

"By giminy, I believe you're the one who left her here," cried the detective. "Are you a typewriter?"

"I'll answer your questions if you'll allow me to step inside. It is very cold out here."

Anderson Crow stood aside and the tall, black figure entered the hall. He led her to the warm sitting-room and gave her a chair before the "base-burner."

"Here, Mr. Crow, is an envelope containing two hundred and fifty dollars. That proves my good faith. I cannot tell you who I am nor what relation I bear to the baby. I am quite fully aware that you will not undertake to detain me, for it is not an easy matter to earn a thousand dollars a year in this part of the world. I am going abroad next week and do not expect to return for a long, long time. Try as I would, I could not go without seeing the child. I will not keep you out of bed ten minutes, and you and your wife may be present while I hold Rosalie in my arms. I know that she is in good hands, and I have no intention of taking her away. Please call Mrs. Crow."

Anderson was too amazed to act at once. He began to flounder interrogatively, but the visitor abruptly checked him.

"You are wasting time, Mr. Crow, in attempting to question my authority or identity. No one need know that I have made this visit. You are perfectly secure in the promise to have a thousand dollars a year; why should you hesitate? As long as she lives with you the money is yours. I am advancing the amount you now hold in order that her immediate wants may be provided for. You are not required to keep an account of the money paid to you. There are means of ascertaining at once whether she is being well cared for and educated by you, and if it becomes apparent that you are not doing your duty, she shall be removed from your custody. From time to time you may expect written instructions from—from one who loves her."

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse