Story type: Literature
$25.00 For the Apprehension or Capture of Person or Persons Who Successfully Stole the Fashionable Bulldog Belonging to Mrs. M. Fryback on or About Friday of Last Week!
N. B.–Said dog occasionally answers to the name of Marmaduke, but mostly to Mike.
An Additional Reward of Three Dollars Cash will be paid for the return of said dog, with or without said Criminals. No Questions asked.
A. CROW, Marshal of Tinkletown.
The foregoing poster, fresh from the press of the Banner printing office, made itself conspicuous at no less than a dozen points in the village of Tinkletown on a blustery February morning. Early visitors to the post office in Lamson’s store were the first to discover it, tacked neatly on the bulletin board. Others saw it in front of the Town Hall, while others, who rarely took the trouble to look at a telephone pole before leaning against it, found themselves gazing with interest at the notice that covered the customary admonition:
“Post No Bills.”
Of course every one in Tinkletown knew, and had known for the matter of a week or more, that Mort Fryback’s bulldog was “lost, strayed or stolen,” but this was the first glaring intimation that Mort had also lost his mind. In the first place, Mike–as he was familiarly known to every inhabitant–wasn’t worth more than a dollar and a half when he was in his prime, and that, according to recollection, must have been at least twelve or fifteen years prior to his unexplained disappearance. In the second place, it was pretty generally understood that Mike–recently Marmaduke–had surreptitiously taken a dose of prussic acid in a shed back of Kepsal’s blacksmith shop and was now enjoying a state of perfect rejuvenation in the happy hunting ground.
Mr. Alf Reesling, the town drunkard, after having scanned four of the notices on his way to the post office, informed a group of citizens in front of Brubaker’s drugstore that Anderson Crow would do almost anything to get his name into print. Alf and the town marshal had had one of their periodical “fallings out,” and, for the moment at least, the former was inclined to bitterness.
“To begin with,” explained Alf, “there ain’t a dog in this town that’s worth stealin’, to say nothin’ of three dollars. You can’t tell me that Mort Fryback would give three dollars to get that dog back, not even if he was alive–which he ain’t, if you c’n believe Bill Kepsal. No, sir; it’s just because Anderson wants to see his name in print, that’s what it is. I bet if you was to ask Mort if he has agreed to pay–how much is it all told?–twenty-eight dollars–if he has agreed to pay all that money for nothin’, he’d order you out of his store.”
“Mrs. Fryback told my wife a couple of weeks ago that Marmaduke was a prize bull, and she wouldn’t take a hundred dollars for him,” said Newt Spratt. “Seems that she had somebody look up his pedigree, and he turns out to be a stepson or something like that of a dog that won first prize at a bench show–whatever that is–in New York City.”
“Ever since that actress woman was here last fall,–that friend of Harry Squires, I mean,–every derned dog in town has turned out to be related some way or other to a thoroughbred animal in some other city,” said Alf. “Why, even that mangy shepherd dog of Deacon Rank’s–accordin’ to Mrs. Rank–is a direct descendant of two of the finest Boston terriers that ever came out of Boston. She told me so herself, but, of course, I couldn’t ask how he happened to look so much like a shepherd dog and so little like his parents, ’cause there’s no use makin’ poor Mrs. Rank any more miserable than she already is–she certainly don’t get any fun out of life, livin’ with the deacon from one year’s end to the other. Yes, sir; just because that actress woman paraded around here for a month or so last fall with a French poodle, is no reason, far as I can see, why all the women in town should begin puttin’ leashes on their dogs and washin’ ’em and trimmin’ ’em and tying red ribbons around their necks–yes, and around some of their tails, too. I’ll never forget that stub-tail dog of Angie Nixon’s going around with a blue bow stickin’ straight up behind him, and lookin’ as though he’d lost something and got dizzy looking for it. And Mort’s dog, Mike–poor old Mike,–why, he got so he’d go down to Hawkins’ undertakin’ shop every time he could get a minute off and bark till Lem would let him in, and then he’d lay down in a corner and go to sleep, and Lem always swore the poor dog was as mad as a hornet when he woke up and found he was still alive.”
“What puzzles me is why Mort Fryback’s offerin’ this reward, and all that, if he knows the dog is dead. It costs money to have bills like this printed at the Banner office.” So spoke Elmer Pratt, the photographer. “Wasn’t he present at the obsequies?”
“No, he wasn’t,” said Alf. “He claims now that he don’t know anything about it, and, besides, Bill Kepsal says he’ll beat the head off of anybody that says Mike passed away on his premises–including Mort. So naturally Mort denies it. He told me yesterday he would deny it even if he had both of his legs; but what chance, says he, has a one-legged man got with big Bill Kepsal?”
“Here comes Anderson now,” said Mr. Spratt, his gaze fixed on an approaching figure.
It was zero weather in northern New York State, and the ancient Marshal of Tinkletown was garbed accordingly. The expansive collar of his brass-buttoned ulster was turned up, completely obscuring the ear-flaps and part of the coonskin cap he was wearing. An enormous pair of arctics covered his feet; his grey and red mittens were of the homemade variety; a muffler of the same material enveloped his gaunt neck, knotted loosely under his chin in such a way as to leave his whiskers free not only to the wind but to the vicissitudes of conversation as well. The emblem of authority, a bright silver star, gleamed on the breast of his ulster.
He stopped when he reached the group huddled in front of the drugstore, and glared accusingly at Alf Reesling.
“I thought I told you to keep off the streets,” he said ominously. “Didn’t I tell you yesterday I’d run you in if I caught you drunk in the streets again?”
“Yes, you did,” replied Alf, in a justifiably bellicose manner; “but I still stick to what I said to you at first when you said that to me.”
“What was that?”
“I said you couldn’t ketch me even if I was dead drunk and unconscious in the gutter, that’s what I said.”
“For two cents, I’d show you,” said Anderson.
“Well, go ahead. Just add two cents to what you claim I already owe you, and go ahead with your runnin’ me in. But before you do it, lemme warn you I’ll sue you for false arrest, and then where’ll you be? I got five witnesses right here that’ll swear I ain’t drunk now and haven’t been in twenty-three years.”
“That shows just how drunk you are,” said Anderson triumphantly. “Far as I can see, there are only four men here.”
“Don’t you call yourself a man?”
“I mean I got five witnesses includin’ you, that’s what I mean. I’m gettin’ sick of you all the time tellin’ me I been drinkin’ again, when you know I ain’t touched a drop since 1896. Why, dog-gone you, Andy Crow, if it wasn’t for me an’ the way you keep on talkin’ about juggin’ me, you wouldn’t have any excuse at all fer bein’ town marshal. You–“
“That’ll do now,” interrupted Anderson severely. “You have said them very words to me a thousand times, Alf Reesling, and–Who’s that coming out of the post office?”
The group gradually turned to look up the street. Tinkletown is a slow place. Its inhabitants do everything with a deliberation that suggests the profoundest ennui. For example, a gentleman of Tinkletown rarely raised his hat on meeting a lady. He invariably started to do so, but as the ladies of the place were in the habit of moving with more celerity than the gentlemen, he failed on most occasions to complete the undertaking. What’s the sense of takin’ your hat off to a woman, he would argue, if she’s already got past you? So far as anybody knew, there wasn’t a woman in town with an eye in the back of her head.
“Looks like a stranger,” said Newt Spratt.
“It certainly does,” agreed Anderson. “Yes, I’m right,” he added an instant later.
The object of interest was crossing the street in the direction of the Grand View Hotel. The group watched him with mild interest. In front of the two-story frame building that seemed to stagger, or at least to shrink, under the weight of its own importance, the stranger–a man–paused to glance at one of the placards heralding the misfortune and at the same time the far from parsimonious regard of the lady who had been despoiled of a fashionable bulldog. Having perused the singularly comprehensive notice, he deliberately tore it down, folded it with some care, and stuck it into his overcoat pocket. Then he entered the Grand View Hotel.
“Well, I’ll be ding-blasted!” exclaimed Marshal Crow.
Mr. Reesling’s animosity gave way to civic pride. “By jingo, Anderson,” he cried, “if you want any help arrestin’ that scoundrel, call on me! Comin’ around here defacin’ things like that–he ought to go to jail.”
Elmer K. Pratt, the photographer, voiced a time-tried but fruitless criticism. “If you’d paste ’em up instead of tackin’ ’em up, people couldn’t take ’em down like that. I’ve told you–“
“If you got any complaints to make about me, Elmer, you’d better make ’em to the town board and not to Alf Reesling and Newt Spratt,” interrupted Marshal Crow testily. “Besides I do paste ’em up when I run out of tacks.”
He started off toward the Grand View, his head erect, his whiskers bristling with indignation.
“Shall we go with you, Anderson?” inquired Alf.
“‘Tain’t necessary,” replied the Marshal, “but you might go over and wait for me in front of the hotel.”
“If you need any help, just holler,” said Alf.
Entering the office of the Grand View Hotel, Marshal Crow looked around for the despoiler. Save for the presence of the proprietress, Mrs. Bloomer, relict of the founder of the hostelry, the room was quite empty. Mrs. Bloomer, however, filled it rather snugly. She was a large person, and she had a cold in the head which made her feel even larger. She was now engaged in sweeping the floor.
“Mornin’, Jennie,” was Anderson’s greeting. “Where’s the feller that’s stoppin’ here?”
Mrs. Bloomer had the sniffles. “He’s gone up to his room,” she said. Then after another sniffle: “Why?”
“I want to see him.”
“Well his room’s at the head of the stairs, to your right.”
Anderson twisted his whiskers in momentary perplexity.
“Might be better if you asked him to come down.”
“Ask him yourself,” she said. “I don’t want to see him.”
Marshal Crow made a mental reservation to yank Mrs. Bloomer up before Justice Robb the next time she left the garbage can standing on the sidewalk overnight.
He hesitated about going up to the guest’s bedroom. It wasn’t quite the legal thing to do. The more he thought of it, the longer he hesitated. In fact, while he was about it, he thought he would draw a chair up to the big sheet-iron stove and sit down.
“Won’t you take off your overcoat and goloshes?” inquired the landlady, but in a far from hospitable manner.
“How long has this feller been here?” demanded Anderson, moving his left foot a little, but not quite far enough to avoid the broom.
“Um-m! What’s his name and where’s he from?”
“Go and look at the register, and then you’ll know as much as I do. It’s a public register. Nothing secret about it.”
Anderson got up suddenly. “I guess I’ll go look while you’re sweepin’ around here.”
The register on the little counter in the corner revealed the name of a single arrival below the flowing Spencerian hand of Willie Spence, the clerk, head waiter, porter and bell-boy of the Grand View Hotel. Willie, because of his proficiency as a chirographer, always wrote the date line in the register. He was strong on flourishes, but somewhat feeble in spelling. Any one with half an eye could see that there was something wrong with a date line that read: “Febury 25nd 1919.” The lone guest’s name, written in a tight “running” hand with total disregard for the elementary formation of letters, might have been almost anything that occupied less than two inches of space. Even his place of residence was a matter of doubt.
The Marshal put on his spectacles and studied the signature. As far as he could make out, the man’s name was something like “Winnumnn Millmmmln.” It was a name that baffled him. The longer he studied it, the worse it became.
“Seems to me, Jennie, if I was runnin’ this hotel, I’d have Willie Spence register for the guests, and save ’em the trouble.”
“Can’t you make it out?”
“Course I can,” he replied promptly. “It’s as plain as day to me, but I’ll bet you a good cigar you can’t make it out.”
She fell into the trap. “All right, I take you up. It’s Mr. & Mrs. George F. Fox.”
Mr. Crow stared at her for a second or two. Then he recovered himself. “You’re right,” he said. “What kind of a cigar do you smoke, Jennie?”
As he had feared, she promptly named the highest-priced cigar she had in stock, a three-for-a-quarter brand, and then coolly announced that if he’d leave a dime on the show case, she’d get it.
“Got his wife with him, I see,” remarked Anderson.
“Yep,” said Mrs. Bloomer.
“What’s his business?”
“I asked him last night,” said she, pausing in her work to fix Anderson with a rather penetrating look. “He said he was a trained elephant.”
“A trained elephant.”
“You don’t say so!”
“And his wife is a snake-charmer,” she added uneasily.
Anderson blinked rapidly. “Well, of all the–But what on earth’s he doing here in Tinkletown?”
“I didn’t ask any more questions after that,” said she, with a furtive glance up the stairway. “I’d give a good deal to know what they’ve got in them big black valises they brought with ’em. Three times as big as regular valises, with brass trimmin’s. I hope she aint got any reptiles in ’em.”
Marshal Crow took that instant to consult the office clock. “By ginger!” he exclaimed, with some sprightliness. “I got to be movin’ along. I’m follerin’ up a clue in that dog case.”
Mrs. Bloomer’s anxious gaze was bent on a dark corner back of the stairway.
“I do hope, if she has got any snakes in them valises, she won’t let ’em get loose and go crawlin’ all over the place. I—-“
Mr. Crow sent a quick, searching look about the office as he strode toward the door.
“Ain’t you going up to his room?” inquired Mrs. Bloomer.
“Not just now,” replied Anderson, and closed the door quickly behind him.
Alf Reesling and his companions were waiting impatiently on the sidewalk. They were actively disappointed when the Marshal emerged empty-handed.
“Was he too much fer you?” was Alf’s scathing inquiry.
“How many times have I got to tell you, Alf, that I’m able to deduce these cases without your assistance? Now, this is a big case, and you leave it to me to handle. When I get ready to act, you’ll hear something that will make your hair stand on end. Hold on, Newt! Don’t ask any questions. Don’t—-“
“I wasn’t going to ask any questions,” snapped Newt. “I was going to tell you something.”
“You was, eh? Well, what was you going to tell me?”
“Mort Fryback went by here a couple of minutes ago an’ he says for you to come into his store right away.”
Anderson frowned. “I bet he’s confessed.”
“Who? Him? What’s he got to confess?” demanded Alf.
“Never mind, never mind,” said the Marshal quickly. “I’ll step in and see him now.”
Leaving his “reserves” standing in front of the Grand View, Mr. Crow hurried into Fryback’s hardware store.
Mort was pacing–or, strictly speaking, stumping–back and forth behind the cutlery counter. His brow was corrugated with anxiety. The instant he saw the Marshal he uttered an exclamation that might have been construed as either relief, dismay or wrath. It was, as a matter of fact, inarticulate and therefore extremely difficult to classify. Anderson, however, deduced it as dismay. Mr. Fryback came out from behind the counter, stumped over to the stove, in which there was a crackling fire and, after opening the isinglass door, squirted a mouthful of tobacco juice upon the coals. Whereupon it became possible for him to articulate.
“I been lookin’ everywhere fer you,” said he, somewhat breathlessly. “Where you been?”
“‘Tendin’ to business,” retorted Anderson. “What’s the matter?”
Mr. Fryback took the precaution to ascertain that there were no listeners in the store. “Somebody–some woman, you c’n bet on that–told my wife last night that I poisoned old Mike.”
“Well, you did, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did. That is, I hired Charlie Brubaker to do it. But she says I did it with my own hands, and–my gosh, Anderson, I never went through such a night in my life as last night.” He mopped his brow. “You’d think I was a murderer. Course, I denied it. I swore he wasn’t dead, and that I’d increase the reward to a hundred dollars just to show her. What I want you to do, right away, is to have a new set of bills printed, offerin’ a hundred dollars reward for that dog, instead of three. It’s the only chance I’ve got of ever being able to live in my own house again.”
The Marshal eyed him reflectively. “If you could get her to agree to let you offer the reward for Mike, dead or alive–“
“She wants him alive, and no other way.”
“Can’t you buy her off?”
Mr. Fryback groaned. “I could–” he began dismally, and then fell to chewing with great vigour.
“What would it cost?” inquired Anderson, feelingly.
“An automobile,” replied Mr. Fryback, after opening and closing the stove-door once more. “It would be cheaper, you see, to offer a hundred dollars for Mike,” he explained, ingenuously.
“It certainly would,” agreed the Marshal, “seein’ as you wouldn’t have to pay fer anything except the printin’ of the notices. If you wanted to show how much you think of your wife, and how anxious you are to please her, you could go as high as a thousand dollars, Mort.”
“Would you, reely, Anderson?”
“Sure. She could lord it over all these women–includin’ my wife–who’ve been sayin’ Mike wasn’t worth fifty cents and didn’t have a pedigree any longer than his tail. Why, if she wanted to go on lyin’ about the value of that old dog, she could tell people she had been offered a thousand dollars for Marmyduke by a well-known dog collector in New York.”
“That might please her,” reflected Mort. “Course, this thing has already cost me quite a lot of money, outside the printin’. I’ve had to give Bill Kepsal a receipt in full fer what he owes me, and that young Brubaker’s been in twice to price base-burner stoves. He says if he c’n get a good one fer ten dollars he’ll take it, and his heart seems to be set on that seventy-dollar Regal over yonder. I’m in an awful fix, Anderson.”
“Well, you can’t say I didn’t advise you to let Mike die a natural death.”
“I wish to goodness I had,” lamented Mort.
The door opened at that juncture, and in walked a man and a woman. The former was carrying a square black “valise,” inadequately described by Mrs. Bloomer as twice the natural size. As a matter of fact, it was more like a half-grown trunk, to quote no less an authority than the town marshal.
The proprietor of the hardware store was, at a glance, qualified to pass an opinion on the personal appearance of the two strangers. His companion’s attention, however, was devoted so earnestly to the big black “valise,” that he couldn’t have told, for the life of him, whether the customers were young or old, black or white. His fascinated gaze was riveted upon the object the man deposited carefully on the floor near the door.
“You are a locksmith, I perceive,” remarked the strange man, addressing Mort. “I’d like to have you see if you can open this box for me. We’ve lost or mislaid the key.”
“What fer sort of a lock is it?” asked Mort, approaching.
“Hold on, Mort!” called out Mr. Crow. “Don’t monkey with that trunk.”
Marshal Crow was issuing commands right and left, and the squad, augmented by a step-ladder from the hardware shop, was about to enter the hotel, when Mrs. Fox uttered an excited little shriek, and then these desolating words:
“Oh, George, I’ve found it! I’ve got the key. It was away down in my muff.”
Before any action could be taken to restrain the impetuous young woman, she was inserting the key in the lock!
Those nearest her collided violently with those farther away, and in less time than it takes to mention it, there was no one within a radius of fifty feet–except a new arrival on the scene.
To the intense horror of Mort Fryback, his wife emerged from the Grand View Hotel and entered the danger zone.
“Hey, Maude!” he bellowed. “Keep away from that! For the love of–” He clapped his hand over his eyes. Mrs. Fryback had reached the side of the eager Mrs. Fox just as that lady lifted the lid of the box.
Now, Mrs. Fryback was Mort’s third wife; according to longevity statistics, she was much too young to die. As a matter of fact, she was little more than a bride. That probably accounts for the brand-new mink coat and muff she was sporting. Moreover, it accounts for Mort’s surprising mendacity and even more amazing humility in relation to the taking-off of Mike. No doubt in similar circumstances, he would have told his second wife, who died when she was pretty well along in years, that he’d show her who was boss in his home, and if she didn’t like what he did to Mike, she could lump it. But, alas, between a vacillating young wife who has you under her thumb and a constant old one who has been thoroughly squashed under yours for a great many years, there is a world of difference.
Others who stared in horror at the picture on the porch, groaned audibly as young Mrs. Fox looked up into the face of the unsuspecting victim and smiled. Thus encouraged, young Mrs. Fryback, disdaining death, smiled in return and stooped over to look into the depths of that unspeakable box. Instead of starting back in alarm, she uttered a shrill little cry of delight, and dropping to her knees plunged both hands into the nest of wriggling horrors!
Lucius Fry, who had hastily set up the step-ladder, and was now balancing himself somewhat precariously at the top of it, let out a lugubrious howl.
“She’s a goner!” he announced.
The two young women had their heads close together and were conversing. Marshal Crow, armed with the double barreled shotgun, began a cautious circuitous advance, his finger on the trigger.
He stopped short when about twenty feet from the women, and spasmodically pulled the trigger. There is no telling what might have happened if the gun had been loaded.
Mr. Fox had deliberately overturned the box and–out scampered three sprightly Boston terrier puppies!
Ten minutes later all but one of Mort Fryback’s farming utensils were back in stock. The missing implement, a hatchet, was furtively on its way to the barber-shop of one Ebenezer January, coloured.
Mr. and Mrs. Fryback, Marshal Crow and the amiable Foxes discussed the “points” of the frolicsome puppies in the rear of the hardware store.
“I just adore this one, Mrs. Fox,” said Mrs. Fryback, pointing to a rugged little rascal who was patiently gnawing at Mr. Fryback’s peg-leg. “Do you really recommend him as the best of the lot, Mr. Fox?” she inquired, turning her shining eyes upon the gentleman.
“Absolutely,” said Mr. Fox. “Wouldn’t you say so, Mr. Crow?”
“Ab-so-lutely,” said Anderson.
“Then I’ll take him,” said Mort’s wife, and Mort not only sighed but wiped a fine coat of moisture from his brow. “One hundred dollars is the very least you will take?”
“The very least, Mrs. Fryback. He is a thoroughbred, you know. My kennels are famous, as you doubtless noted in my advertisement in Town and Country–and I can personally guarantee every pup that comes out of them. In your letter to me, Mrs. Fryback, you stated that only the best I had on hand would be considered. The mother of these puppies has a pedigree a yard long, and the father, as I mentioned before, is Stubbs the Twelfth. Nothing more need be said. The mother, Bonnie Bridget, you have just seen. Stubbs the Twelfth belongs to a millionaire in Albany. Allow me to congratulate you, madam,”–extending his hand,–“on having secured one of the finest dogs in America. And you also, Mr. Fryback, on having a wife who is such a discriminating judge of thoroughbreds.”
Mr. Fryback looked a trifle startled, but said nothing.
“If you ever come to our town, Mr. Crow, I hope you will look us up,” broke in Mr. Fox. “Our place is about two miles out in the country. By the way, has Mrs. Crow a good dog–I mean one that she can be proud of?”
“She has a thoroughbred setter,” said Marshal Crow, compressing his lips.
“A hundred dollars is a lot of money fer a dog,” murmured Mr. Fryback. He met his wife’s eye for a second and then added: “But, of course, my wife has just lost one that was worth a thousand dollars, so–I guess it ain’t so much, after all.”
“Marmaduke was a really wonderful dog, Mrs. Fox,” vouchsafed Mort’s wife, assuming a sad and pensive expression.
“I am sure he must have been,” said Mrs. Fox.
“One hundred dollars is very cheap, sir, for a thoroughbred Boston terrier in these days,” said Mr. Fox. “Isn’t that so, Mr. Crow?”
“Cheap as dirt,” said Anderson.
“Mortimer, will you please give Mr. Fox the money?” said Mrs. Fryback. “And, by the way, Mr. Crow, I hope you take down all those reward notices at once. I wouldn’t know what to do with Marmaduke now, even if some one did bring him back to me.”
“I know what I’d order you to do with him,” said Anderson, meeting Mort’s melancholy gaze at last.
“What, may I inquire?”
“I’d order you to bury him,” said the town marshal, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the Board of Health.
Mrs. Fryback looked at him steadily for a second or two, and then slowly closed an eye.