by Ellis Parker Butler
Although Detective Gubb’s experience with the oubliette-elevator did not lead to the detection of the dynamiters for whom a reward of five thousand dollars was offered, it resulted in the payment to him of one half of three fines of five hundred dollars for each of the three stores of whiskey he had unearthed. With this money, amounting to seven hundred and fifty dollars, Mr. Gubb went to the home of Jonas Medderbrook and paid that gentleman the entire amount.
“That there payment,” Mr. Gubb said, “deducted from what I owe onto them shares of Perfectly Worthless Gold-Mine Stock–”
“The name of the mine, if you please, is Utterly Hopeless and not Perfectly Worthless,” said Mr. Medderbrook severely.
“Just so,” said Mr. Gubb apologetically. “You must excuse me, Mr. Medderbrook. I ain’t no expert onto gold-mines’ names and, offhand, them two names seem about the same to me. But my remark was to be that the indebtedness of the liability I now owe you is only thirteen thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars.”
“And the sooner you get it paid up the better it will suit me,” said Mr. Medderbrook.
“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Gubb, and hesitated. Then, assuming an air of little concern, he asked: “It ain’t likely to suppose we’ve had any word from Miss Syrilla, is it, Mr. Medderbrook?”
For answer Mr. Medderbrook went to his desk and brought Mr. Gubb a telegram. It was from Syrilla. It said:–
Eating no potatoes, drinking no water. Have lost eight pounds. Kind love to Mr. Gubb.
“She’s wore herself down to nine hundred and ninety-two pounds, according to that,” said Mr. Gubb. “She has only got to wear off two hundred and ninety-two pounds more before Mr. Dorgan will discharge her away from the side-show.”
“And at the rate she is wearing herself away,” said Mr. Medderbrook, “that will be in about ten years! What interests me more is that the telegram came collect and cost me forty cents. If you want to do the square thing, Mr. Gubb, you’ll pay me twenty cents for your share of that telegram.”
Mr. Gubb immediately gave Mr. Medderbrook twenty cents and Mr. Medderbrook kindly allowed him to keep the telegram. Mr. Gubb placed it in the pocket nearest his heart and proceeded to a house on Tenth Street where he had a job of paper-hanging.
At about this same time Smith Wittaker, the Riverbank Marshal–or Chief of Police, as he would have been called in a larger city–knocked the ashes from his pipe against the edge of his much-whittled desk in the dingy Marshal’s room on the ground floor of the City Hall, and grinned at Mr. Griscom, one of Riverbank’s citizens.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said with a grin. “I don’t know but what I’d be glad to be un-burgled like that. I guess it was just somebody playing a joke on you.”
“If it was,” said Mr. Griscom, “I am ready to do a little joking myself. I’m just enough of a joker to want to see whoever it was in jail. My house is my house–it is my castle, as the saying is–and I don’t want strangers wandering in and out of it, whether they come to take away my property, or leave property that is not mine. Is there, or is there not, a law against such things as happened at my house?”
“Oh, there’s a law all right,” said Marshal Wittaker. “It’s burglary, whether the burglar breaks into your house or breaks out of it. How do you know he broke out?”
“Well, my wife and I went to the Riverbank Theater last night,” said Mr. Griscom, “and when I got home and went to put the key in the keyhole, there was another key in it. Here are the two keys.”
Marshal Wittaker took the two keys and examined them. One was an old doorkey, much worn, and the other a new key, evidently the work of an amateur key-maker.
“All right,” said Marshal Wittaker, when he had examined the keys. “This new one was made out of an old spoon. Go ahead.”
“We never had a key like that in the house,” said Mr. Griscom. “But when we reached home last night, this nickel-silver key was sticking in the lock of the front door, on the outside, and the door was unlocked and standing ajar.”
“Just as if some one had gone in at the front door and left it unlocked,” said Mr. Wittaker.
“Exactly!” said Mr. Griscom. “So the first thing we thought was ‘Burglars!’ and the first place my wife looked was the sideboard, in the dining-room, and there–”
“Yes,” said Mr. Wittaker. “There, on the sideboard, were a dozen solid silver spoons you had never seen before.”
“And marked with my wife’s initials–understand!” said Mr. Griscom. “And the cellar window–the one on the east side of the house–had been broken out of.”
“Why not broken into?” asked the Marshal.
“Well, I’m not quite a fool,” said Mr. Griscom with some heat. “I know because of the marks his jimmy made on the sill.”
“Some one has been playing a joke on you,” said Mr. Wittaker. “You wait, and you’ll see. You won’t be offended if I ask you a question?”
“My wife knows no more about it than I do,” said Mr. Griscom hotly.
“Now, now,” said Mr. Wittaker soothingly. “I didn’t mean that. What are your own spoons, solid or plated?”
“Plated,” said Mr. Griscom.
“Well,” said Mr. Wittaker, “there’s where to look for the joke. Try to think who would consider it a joke to send you solid silver spoons.”
“Billy Getz!” exclaimed Mr. Griscom, mentioning the town joker.
“That’s the man I had in mind,” said Mr. Wittaker. “Now, I guess you can handle this alone, Mr. Griscom.”
“I guess I can,” agreed Mr. Griscom. And he went out.
The Marshal chuckled.
“Un-burgled!” he said to himself. “That’s a new one for sure! That’s the sort of burglary to set Philo Gubb, the un-detective, on.”
He was still grinning as he went out, but he tried to hide the grin when he met Billy Getz on Main Street. Billy uttered a hasty “Can’t stop now, Wittaker!” but the head of the Riverbank police grasped his arm.
“What’s your rush? I’ve got some fun for you,” said Wittaker.
“Some other time,” said Billy. “I just borrowed this from Doc Mortimer and promised to take it back quick.”
“What is it?” asked the Marshal, gazing at the curious affair Billy had in his hands. It looked very much like a coffeepot, and on the lid was a wheel, like a small tin windmill. Just below the lid, and above the spout, was a hole as large as a dime.
“Lung-tester,” said Billy, trying to pull away. “Let me go, will you, Wittaker? I’m in a hurry. Just borrowed it to settle a bet with Sam Simmons. I show two pounds more lung pressure than he does. Twenty-six pounds.”
“You?” scoffed Wittaker. “I bet I can show twenty-eight, if you can show twenty-six.”
“Oh, well! I suppose I can’t get away until baby tries the new toy. But hurry up, will you?”
The Marshal put his lips to the spout and blew. Instantly, from the hole under the lid, a great cloud of flour shot out, covering his face and head, and deluging his garments. From up and down the street came shouts of joy, and the Marshal, brushing at his face, grinned.
“One on me, Billy,” he said, good-naturedly, patting the flour out of his hair, “and just when I was coming to put you onto some fun, too. What do you know about the Griscom un-burglary?”
“Not a thing!” Billy said. “Tell me.”
“I didn’t expect you would know anything about it,” said the Marshal with a wink. “But how about putting Correspondence School Detective Gubb onto the job?”
“Fine!” said Billy. “Tell me what the un-burgled Griscom thing is, and I’ll do the rest.”
Billy found Philo Gubb at work in the house on Tenth Street, hanging paper on the second floor, and the lank detective looked at Billy solemnly as the story of the Griscom affair was explained to him.
“When I started in takin’ lessons from the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency’s Correspondence School of Deteckating,” said Mr. Gubb solemnly, “I aimed to do a strictly retail business in deteckating, and let the wholesale alone.”
“Seeing that you learned by mail,” said Billy Getz, “I should think you’d be better fitted to do a mail-order business.”
“Them terms of retail and wholesale is my own,” said Mr. Gubb.
“You don’t believe anybody would un-burgle a house, I guess,” said Billy.
“Yes, I do,” Philo Gubb said. “A fellow can tie a knot, or he can un-tie it, can’t he? He can hitch a horse, or he can un-hitch it. And if a man can burgle, he can un-burgle. A mercenary burglar would naturally burgle things out of a house after he had burgled himself in, but a generous-hearted burglar would just as naturally un-burgle things into a house and then un-burgle himself out. That stands to reason.”
“Of course it does,” said Billy Getz. “And I knew you would see it that way.”
“I see things reasonable,” said Philo Gubb. “But I guess I won’t take up the case; un-burgling ain’t no common crime. It ain’t mentioned in the twelve lessons I got from the Rising Sun Correspondence School. I wouldn’t hardly know how to go about catching an un-burglar–”
“Just do the opposite from what it says to do to catch a burglar,” said Billy Getz. “Common sense would tell you that, wouldn’t it? But, listen, Mr. Gubb: I’d let Wittaker catch his own burglars. The reason I ask you to take this case is because I know you have a good heart.”
“It’s good, but it’s hard,” said Philo Gubb. “A deteckative has to have a hard heart.”
“All right! Here is this man, un-burgling houses. For all we know he is honest and upright,” said Billy Getz. “He continues un-burgling houses. The habit grows. Each house he un-burgles tempts him to un-burgle two. Each set of spoons he leaves in a house tempts him to leave two sets in the next house, or four sets, or a solid silver punch-bowl. In a short time he wipes out his little fortune. He borrows. He begs. At last he steals! In order to un-burgle one house he burgles another. He leads a dual life, a sort of Jekyll-Hyde life–”
“But what if I caught him?” said Mr. Gubb.
“Oh, you won’t catch–I mean, we will leave that to you. Frighten him out of the un-burgling habit. I’ll tell Marshal Wittaker you will get on the trail?”
“Yes,” said Philo Gubb. “I feel sorry for the feller. Maybe he’s lettin’ his wife and children suffer for food whilst he un-burgles away his substance.”
“Then,” said Billy Getz, taking up his lung-tester, “suppose you stop in at the Marshal’s office to-night at eight-thirty. Wittaker will tell you all about it.”
Philo Gubb waited until Billy was well out of the house, and then he said: “He done it, and I know he done it, and he done it to make a fool out of me, but I guess I owe Billy Getz a scare, and if I can prove that un-burglary onto him, he’ll get the scare all right!”
Detective Gubb, when it was time to go to the Marshal’s office, pinned his large nickel-plated star on his vest, put three false beards in his pocket, and went.
The Marshal received him cordially. Billy Getz was there.
“You understand,” said Wittaker, “I have nothing to do with putting you on this case. But I want to ask you to report to me every evening.”
“I could write out a docket,” said Philo Gubb. “That’s what them French deteckatives did always.”
“Good idea!” said Wittaker. “Write out a docket, and bring it in every night. Now, I’ll go over this Griscom case, so you’ll understand how to go at it. Here, for instance, is the house–”
The clock on the Marshal’s desk marked ten before they were aware. Billy had arisen from his chair, for he had a poker game waiting for him at the Kidders’ Club, when the telephone bell rang. The Marshal drew the ‘phone toward him.
“Yes!” he said, into the telephone. “Yes, this is Marshal Wittaker. Mr. Millbrook? Yes, I know–765 Locust Avenue. Broken into? What? Oh, broken out of! While you were out at dinner. Yes. Opened the front door with a key. Yes. What kind of a key, Mr. Millbrook? Thin, nickel-silver key. Nothing taken? What’s that? Left a dozen solid silver spoons engraved with your wife’s initials? I see. And broke out through a cellar window. Yes, I understand. No, it doesn’t seem possible, but such things have happened. I’ll send–”
He looked around, but Philo Gubb, who had heard the name and address, was already gone.
“I’ll attend to it at once,” he concluded, and hung up the receiver. He turned to Billy Getz. “Billy,” he said severely, “is this another of your jokes?”
“Wittaker,” said Billy, “I give you my word I had nothing to do with this.”
“Well, I’ll believe you,” said Wittaker rather reluctantly. “I thought it was you. Who do you suppose is trying to take the honor of town cut-up from you?”
“I can’t imagine,” said Billy. “Are you going to leave the thing in Gubb’s hands?”
“That mail-order detective? Not much! It is getting serious. I’ll send Purcell up to look the ground over. A man can’t make nickel-silver keys, and break out of houses and leave engraved spoons and forks around without leaving plenty of traces. We’ll have the man to-morrow, and give him a good scare.”
Detective Gubb in the meanwhile had gone directly to Mr. Millbrook’s un-burgled house at 765 Locust Avenue. Mr. Millbrook, a short, stout man with a husky voice that gurgled when he was excited, opened the door.
“I’m Deteckative Gubb, of the Rising Sun Deteckative Agency’s Correspondence School of Deteckating, come to see about your un-burglary,” said Philo Gubb, opening his coat to show his badge. “This is a most peculiar case.”
“I never heard anything like it in my life!” gurgled Mr. Millbrook. “Didn’t take a thing. Left a dozen spoons. Came in at the front door and broke out through the cellar window.”
“How long have you been married?” asked Mr. Gubb, seating himself on the edge of a chair and drawing out a notebook and pencil.
“Married? Married? What’s that got to do with it?” asked Mr. Millbrook. “Twenty years next June, if you want to know.”
“That makes it a difficult case,” said Philo Gubb. “If you was a bride and a groom it would be easier, but I guess maybe you can tell me the names of some of the folks you’ve had to dinner.”
“Dinner?” gurgled Mr. Millbrook. “Dinner? When?”
“Since you were married,” said Mr. Gubb.
“My dear man,” exclaimed Mr. Millbrook, “we’ve had thousands to dinner! Dining out and giving dinners is our favorite amusement. I can’t see what you mean. I can’t understand you.”
“Well, you got plated spoons and forks, ain’t you?” asked Philo Gubb.
“What if we have?” gurgled Mr. Millbrook. “That’s our affair, ain’t it?”
“It’s my affair too,” said Detective Gubb. “Mr. Griscom’s house was un-burgled last night, and he had plated spoons. The un-burglar left solid ones on him, like he did on you. Now, I reason induc-i-tively, like Sherlock Holmes. You both got plated spoons. An un-burglar leaves you solid ones. So he must have known you had plated ones and needed solid ones. So it must be some one who has had dinner with you.”
“My dear man,” gurgled Mr. Millbrook, “we never have had a plated spoon in this house! Who sent you here, anyway?”
“Nobody,” said Philo Gubb. “I come of myself.”
“Well, you can go of yourself!” gurgled Mr. Millbrook angrily. “There’s the door. Get out!”
On his way out Mr. Gubb met Patrolman Purcell coming in.
Detective Gubb, outside the house, examined the cellar window as well as he could. There was not a mark to be seen from the outside, but a pansy-bed bore the marks of the un-burglar’s exit. To get out of the cellar, the un-burglar had had to wiggle himself out of the small window, and had crushed the pansies flat. Detective Gubb felt carefully among the crushed pansies, and his hand found something hard and round. It was the drumstick bone of a chicken’s leg. Detective Gubb threw it away. Even an un-burglar would not have chosen a chicken’s leg bone as a weapon. Evidently Billy Getz had not left any clue in the pansy-bed.
Philo Gubb had no doubt that Billy was putting up a joke on him. The detective decided that his best method would be to shadow Billy Getz from sundown each day, until he caught him un-burgling another house, or found something to connect him with the un-burglaries. So he went home. It was eleven when he began to undress.
It was then he first realized that the knees of his light trousers were damp from kneeling in the pansy-bed, and he looked at them ruefully. The knees were stained like Joseph’s coat of many colors, and they were his best trousers. He hung them carefully over the back of his chair, and went to bed.
The next morning he rolled the trousers in a bundle and took them with him on his way to his paper-hanging job. On Main Street he stopped at Frank the Tailor’s–“Pants Cleaned and Pressed, 35 Cents.” He unrolled the trousers and laid them across the counter.
“Can you remove those stains?” he asked.
“Oh, sure I couldt!” said Frank. “I make me no droubles by dot, Mister Gupp. Shust dis morning alretty I didt it der same ding. You fall ofer der vire too, yes?”
“Certainly. I expect it was the same wire. Into a flower-bed.”
“Chess,” said Frank. “Like Misder Vestcote, yes? Cudding across der corner, yes, und didn’t see der vire?”
“That so?” said Detective Gubb. “You don’t mean old Mr. Westcote, do you?”
“Sure, yes!” said Frank. “He falls by der flower-bed in, und stains his knees alretty, shust like dot. Vell, I have me dese pants retty by you dis efenings. You vant dem pressed too?”
“Press ’em, an’ clean ’em, an’ make ’em nice,” said Philo Gubb, and went out.
Old John Westcote, and pansy stains on his trouser knees, was it? The thing seemed impossible, but so did un-burglary, for that matter. Old John Westcote was one of the richest men in Riverbank. He was a retired merchant and as mean as sin. He was the last man in Riverbank any one would suspect of leaving spoons and forks in other people’s houses. But how did it come that he had pansy stains on the knees of his trousers? Philo Gubb thought of old John Westcote all day, and toward night he hit on a solution. Wedding presents! From what he had heard, old John was–or had been–the sort of man to accept a wedding invitation, go to the reception and eat his fill, and never send the bride so much as a black wire hairpin. And now, grown old, his conscience might be hurting him. He might be in that semi-senile state when restitution becomes a craze, and the ungiven wedding presents might press upon his conscience. It was not at all unlikely that he had chosen the un-burglary method of giving the presents at this late date. The form of the un-burgled goods–forks and spoons–and the initials engraved upon them, made this more likely.
That night Detective Gubb did not report in person or by docket to Marshal Wittaker. At seven o’clock he was hiding in the hazel brush opposite old John Westcote’s lonely house on Pottex Lane. At seven-fifteen the old man tottered from his gate and tottered down the lane toward the more thickly settled part of the town. Under his arm he carried a small bundle–a bundle wrapped in newspaper!
Detective Gubb waited until the old man was well in advance, and then slipped from the hazel brush and followed him, observing all the rules for Shadowing and Trailing as taught by the Rising Sun Detective Agency’s Correspondence School of Detecting. For three hours the old man wandered the streets. Now he walked along Main Street, peering anxiously into the faces of the pedestrians, with purblind eyes, and now walking the residence streets. Detective Gubb kept close behind.
As ten o’clock struck from the clock in the High School tower, old John Westcote quickened his steps a little and walked toward the opposite end of the town, where the lumber-yards are. Down the hill into the lumber district he walked, and Detective Gubb dodged from tree to tree. Halfway down the hill the old man hesitated. He glanced around. At his side was a mass of lilac bushes, seeming strangely out of place among the huge piles of lumber. Without stopping, the old man let the bundle slide from under his arm and fall on the walk. For a moment it lay like a white spot on the walk, and then it moved rapidly out of sight into the bushes.
Bundles do not move thus, unless assisted, but Philo Gubb was too far away to see the hand he knew must have reached out for the bundle. He ran rapidly, keeping in the sawdust that formed the unfruitful soil of the lumber-yard, until he dared come no nearer, and then he climbed to the top of the tallest lumber-pile and lay flat. He commanded every side of the hillside lumber-yard, and he did not have long to wait. From the lower side of the yard he saw a black figure emerge, cross the street and disappear over the bank into the railway switch-yard below. Mr. Gubb scrambled down and followed.
At the bank above the switch-yard he paused, keeping in a shadow, and looked here and there. Flat cars and box cars stood on the tracks in great numbers, most of them closed and sealed–some partly open. He heard a car door grate as it was closed. He slipped down the bank and crept on his hands and knees. He was halfway down the line of cars when he heard a voice. It came from car 7887, C. B. & Q.
“Run all the breath out of me,” said the voice in a wheeze.
“Well, did you get it?” whispered another voice.
“Sure I got it! Got something, anyway. Strike a match, Bill, and let’s see if he put up a job on us. If he did, we’ll blow him up to-morrow night, hey?”
“That’s right. We got a can o’ powder left under the pile by the laylocks. How much is it?”
“We tol’ him one thousand, didn’t we? Same as he give the Law and Order to help grab us. Now, listen! You take half of this and go one way, an’ I’ll take half an’ go the other. We can get away with five hundred apiece.”
“And we got the five hundred apiece we got for doin’ the dynamite job, too. Say, I never thought to have a thousand dollars at once in me life. What’s that?”
It was Philo Gubb, slipping the car door latch over the staple and hammering home the hasp with a rock. It was the engine, backing against the long row of cars to make a coupling, and then moving slowly forward toward Derlingport as the heavy train got under way. The two rascals hammered on the side of the car with their fists. They swore. They kicked against the doors. Philo Gubb drew himself into the next open car as the train moved away.
About the same time, Officer Purcell entered the Marshal’s office, where Wittaker and Billy Getz sat awaiting the coming of Philo Gubb. Purcell led John Gutman, the town half-wit.
“I got him,” he said proudly. “Caught him comin’ out of Sam Wentz’s cellar window. Says he didn’t mean no harm. Had a dream he was to leave spoons on all the society folks an’ he’d be invited to all their parties.”
“Did he fight you?” asked Wittaker. “Your pants is all stained up.”
“Fight? No, he wouldn’t fight a sheep. I tripped over a wire fence cuttin’ a corner an’ fell into a flower-bed. Got Hail Columbia from the lady, too. She said old man Westcote fell into the flowers yesterday, and she didn’t mean to have her flower-bed used as no landin’ place. Heard from Detective Gubb yet?”
Wittaker grinned. “We ought to hear from him soon. And I reckon he’ll be worth waiting to hear from.”
And he was. Word came from him about an hour later. It was a telegram from the Sheriff of Derling County:–
Detective Gubb captured two of the dynamiters to-night. Have their confession. Arrest Pie-Wagon Pete, Long Sam Underbury, and Shorty Billings. All implicated.
“An’ the rewards tot up to five thousand dollars,” said Officer Purcell. “Let’s hustle out an’ nab the other three, an’ maybe we can split it with Gubb.”
“And us sitting here thinking we had a joke on him!” exclaimed Marshal Wittaker with disgust. “It makes me sick!”
“Well, I feel a little bilious myself,” said Billy Getz.