The Oakdale Affair by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The house on the hill showed lights only upon the first
floor--in the spacious reception hall, the dining room,
and those more or less mysterious purLieus thereof from
which emanate disagreeable odors and agreeable foods.
From behind a low bush across the wide lawn a pair
of eyes transferred to an alert brain these simple perceptions
from which the brain deduced with Sherlockian
accuracy and Raffleian purpose that the family of
the president of The First National Bank of--Oh, let's
call it Oakdale--was at dinner, that the servants were below
stairs and the second floor deserted.
The owner of the eyes had but recently descended
from the quarters of the chauffeur above the garage
which he had entered as a thief in the night and quitted
apparelled in a perfectly good suit of clothes belonging
to the gentlemanly chauffeur and a soft, checked
cap which was now pulled well down over a pair of
large brown eyes in which a rather strained expression
might have suggested to an alienist a certain neophytism
which even the stern set of well shaped lips could
not effectually belie.
Apparently this was a youth steeling himself against
a natural repugnance to the dangerous profession he had
espoused; and when, a moment later, he stepped out
into the moonlight and crossed the lawn toward the
house, the slender, graceful lines which the ill-fitting
clothes could not entirely conceal carried the conviction
of youth if not of innocence.
The brazen assurance with which the lad crossed the
lawn and mounted the steps to the verandah suggested
a familiarity with the habits and customs of the inmates
of the house upon the hill which bespoke long and careful
study of the contemplated job. An old timer could
not have moved with greater confidence. No detail
seemed to have escaped his cunning calculation. Though
the door leading from the verandah into the reception
hall swung wide to the balmy airs of late Spring the
prowler passed this blatant invitation to the hospitality
of the House of Prim. It was as though he knew that
from his place at the head of the table, with his back
toward the great fire place which is the pride of the
Prim dining hall, Jonas Prim commands a view of the
major portion of the reception hall.
Stooping low the youth passed along the verandah to
a window of the darkened library--a French window
which swung open without noise to his light touch. Stepping
within he crossed the room to a door which opened
at the foot of a narrow stairway--a convenient little stairway
which had often let the Hon. Jonas Prim to pass
from his library to his second floor bed-room unnoticed
when Mrs. Prim chanced to be entertaining the feminine
elite of Oakdale across the hall. A convenient little
stairway for retiring husbands and diffident burglars--
The darkness of the upper hallway offered no obstacle
to this familiar housebreaker. He passed the tempting
luxury of Mrs. Prim's boudoir, the chaste elegance of
Jonas Prim's bed-room with all the possibilities of forgotten
wallets and negotiable papers, setting his course
straight for the apartments of Abigail Prim, the spinster
daughter of the First National Bank of Oakdale. Or
should we utilize a more charitable and at the same time
more truthful word than spinster? I think we should,
since Abigail was but nineteen and quite human, despite
Upon the dressing table of Abigail reposed much silver
and gold and ivory, wrought by clever artisans into
articles of great beauty and some utility; but with scarce
a glance the burglar passed them by, directing his course
straight across the room to a small wall safe cleverly
hidden by a bit of tapestry.
How, Oh how, this suggestive familiarity with the
innermost secrets of a virgin's sacred apartments upon
the part of one so obviously of the male persuasion and,
by his all too apparent calling, a denizen of that underworld
of which no Abigail should have intimate knowledge
? Yet, truly and with scarce a faint indication of
groping, though the room was dark, the marauder
walked directly to the hidden safe, swung back the
tapestry in its frame, turned the knob of the combination
and in a moment opened the circular door of the
A fat roll of bills and a handful of jewelry he transferred
to the pockets of his coat. Some papers which his
hand brushed within the safe he pushed aside as though
preadvised of their inutility to one of his calling. Then
he closed the safe door, closed the tapestry upon it
and turned toward a dainty dressing table. From a
drawer in this exquisite bit of Sheraton the burglar took
a small, nickel plated automatic, which he slipped into
an inside breast pocket of his coat, nor did he touch
another article therein or thereon, nor hesitate an instant
in the selection of the drawer to be rifled. His
knowledge of the apartment of the daughter of the
house of Prim was little short of uncanny. Doubtless the
fellow was some plumber's apprentice who had made
good use of an opportunity to study the lay of the land
against a contemplated invasion of these holy precincts.
But even the most expert of second story men nod
and now that all seemed as though running on greased
rails a careless elbow raked a silver candle-stick from
the dressing table to the floor where it crashed with a
resounding din that sent cold shivers up the youth's
spine and conjured in his mind a sudden onslaught of
investigators from the floor below.
The noise of the falling candlestick sounded to the
taut nerved house-breaker as might the explosion of a
stick of dynamite during prayer in a meeting house.
That all Oakdale had heard it seemed quite possible,
while that those below stairs were already turning questioning
ears, and probably inquisitive footsteps, upward
was almost a foregone conclusion.
Adjoining Miss Prim's boudoir was her bath and before
the door leading from the one to the other was a
cretonne covered screen behind which the burglar now
concealed himself the while he listened in rigid apprehension
for the approach of the enemy; but the only
sound that came to him from the floor below was the
deep laugh of Jonas Prim. A profound sigh of relief escaped
the beardless lips; for that laugh assured the
youth that, after all, the noise of the fallen candlestick
had not alarmed the household.
With knees that still trembled a bit he crossed the
room and passed out into the hallway, descended the
stairs, and stood again in the library. Here he paused
a moment listening to the voices which came from the
dining room. Mrs. Prim was speaking. "I feel quite relieved
about Abigail," she was saying. "I believe that at
last she sees the wisdom and the advantages of an
alliance with Mr. Benham, and it was almost with enthusiasm
that she left this morning to visit his sister.
I am positive that a week or two of companionship
with him will impress upon her the fine qualities of his
nature. We are to be congratulated, Jonas, upon settling
our daughter so advantageously both in the matter of
family and wealth."
Jonas Prim grunted. "Sam Benham is old enough to
be the girl's father," he growled. "If she wants him, all
right; but I can't imagine Abbie wanting a bald-headed
husband with rheumatism. I wish you'd let her alone,
Pudgy, to find her own mate in her own way--someone
nearer her own age."
"The child is not old enough to judge wisely for herself,"
replied Mrs. Prim. "It was my duty to arrange a
proper alliance; and, Jonas, I will thank you not to call
me Pudgy--it is perfectly ridiculous for a woman of my
The burglar did not hear Mr. Prim's reply for he had
moved across the library and passed out onto the verandah.
Once again he crossed the lawn, taking advantage
of the several trees and shrubs which dotted it,
scaled the low stone wall at the side and was in the
concealing shadows of the unlighted side street which
bounds the Prim estate upon the south. The streets of
Oakdale are flanked by imposing battalions of elm and
maple which over-arch and meet above the thoroughfares;
and now, following an early Spring, their foliage
eclipsed the infrequent arclights to the eminent satisfaction
of those nocturnal wayfarers who prefer neither
publicity nor the spot light. Of such there are few within
the well ordered precincts of lawabiding Oakdale; but
to-night there was at least one and this one was deeply
grateful for the gloomy walks along which he hurried
toward the limits of the city.
At last he found himself upon a country road with
the odors of Spring in his nostrils and the world before
him. The night noises of the open country fell strangely
upon his ears accentuating rather than relieving the myriad
noted silence of Nature. Familiar sounds became
unreal and weird, the deep bass of innumerable bull
frogs took on an uncanny humanness which sent a half
shudder through the slender frame. The burglar felt a
sad loneliness creeping over him. He tried whistling in
an effort to shake off the depressing effects of this seeming
solitude through which he moved; but there remained
with him still the hallucination that he moved
alone through a strange, new world peopled by invisible
and unfamiliar forms--menacing shapes which lurked in
waiting behind each tree and shrub.
He ceased his whistling and went warily upon the
balls of his feet, lest he unnecessarily call attention to
his presence. If the truth were to be told it would chronicle
the fact that a very nervous and frightened burglar
sneaked along the quiet and peaceful country road outside
of Oakdale. A lonesome burglar, this, who so craved
the companionship of man that he would almost have
welcomed joyously the detaining hand of the law had
it fallen upon him in the guise of a flesh and blood police
officer from Oakdale.
In leaving the city the youth had given little thought
to the practicalities of the open road. He had thought,
rather vaguely, of sleeping in a bed of new clover in
some hospitable fence corner; but the fence corners
looked very dark and the wide expanse of fields beyond
suggested a mysterious country which might be
peopled by almost anything but human beings.
At a farm house the youth hesitated and was almost
upon the verge of entering and asking for a night's lodging
when a savage voiced dog shattered the peace of
the universe and sent the burglar along the road at a
A half mile further on a straw stack loomed large
within a fenced enclosure. The youth wormed his way
between the barbed wires determined at last to let
nothing prevent him from making a cozy bed in the
deep straw beside the stack. With courage radiating
from every pore he strode toward the stack. His walk
was almost a swagger, for thus does youth dissemble
the bravery it yearns for but does not possess. He almost
whistled again; but not quite, since it seemed an
unnecessary provocation to disaster to call particular
attention to himself at this time. An instant later he was
extremely glad that he had refrained, for as he approached
the stack a huge bulk slowly loomed from behind
it; and silhouetted against the moonlit sky he saw
the vast proportions of a great, shaggy bull. The burglar
tore the inside of one trousers' leg and the back of his
coat in his haste to pass through the barbed wire fence
onto the open road. There he paused to mop the perspiration
from his forehead, though the night was now
far from warm.
For another mile the now tired and discouraged
house-breaker plodded, heavy footed, the unending
road. Did vain compunction stir his youthful breast? Did
he regret the safe respectability of the plumber's apprentice
? Or, if he had not been a plumber's apprentice did
he yearn to once again assume the unharried peace of
whatever legitimate calling had been his before he bent
his steps upon the broad boulevard of sin? We think he
And then he saw through the chinks and apertures
in the half ruined wall of what had once been a hay
barn the rosy flare of a genial light which appeared to
announce in all but human terms that man, red blooded
and hospitable, forgathered within. No growling dogs,
no bulking bulls contested the short stretch of weed
grown ground between the road and the disintegrating
structure; and presently two wide, brown eyes were
peering through a crack in the wall of the abandoned
building. What they saw was a small fire built upon
the earth floor in the center of the building and around
the warming blaze the figures of six men. Some reclined
at length upon old straw; others squatted, Turk fashion.
All were smoking either disreputable pipes or rolled
cigarets. Blear-eyed and foxy-eyed, bearded and stubbled
cheeked, young and old, were the men the youth
looked upon. All were more or less dishevelled and
filthy; but they were human. They were not dogs, or
bulls, or croaking frogs. The boy's heart went out to
them. Something that was almost a sob rose in his
throat, and then he turned the corner of the building
and stood in the doorway, the light from the fire playing
upon his lithe young figure clothed in its torn and illfitting
suit and upon his oval face and his laughing
brown eyes. For several seconds he stood there looking
at the men around the fire. None of them had noticed
"Tramps!" thought the youth. "Regular tramps." He
wondered that they had not seen him, and then, clearing
his throat, he said: "Hello, tramps!"
Six heads snapped up or around. Six pairs of eyes,
blear or foxy, were riveted upon the boyish figure of
the housebreaker. "Wotinel!" ejaculated a frowzy gentleman
in a frock coat and golf cap. "Wheredju blow
from?" inquired another. "'Hello, tramps'!" mimicked a
The youth came slowly toward the fire. "I saw your
fire," he said, "and I thought I'd stop. I'm a tramp, too,
"Oh," sighed the elderly person in the frock coat.
"He's a tramp, he is. An' does he think gents like us has
any time for tramps? An' where might he be trampin',
sonny, without his maw?"
The youth flushed. "Oh say!" he cried; "you needn't
kid me just because I'm new at it. You all had to start
sometime. I've always longed for the free life of a tramp;
and if you'll let me go along with you for a little while,
and teach me, I'll not bother you; and I'll do whatever
The elderly person frowned. "Beat it, kid!" he commanded.
"We ain't runnin' no day nursery. These you
see here is all the real thing. Maybe we asks fer a handout
now and then; but that ain't our reg'lar lay. You
ain't swift enough to travel with this bunch, kid, so
you'd better duck. Why we gents, here, if we was added
up is wanted in about twenty-seven cities fer about everything
from rollin' a souse to crackin' a box and
croakin' a bull. You gotta do something before you can
train wid gents like us, see?" The speaker projected a
stubbled jaw, scowled horridly and swept a flattened
palm downward and backward at a right angle to a
hairy arm in eloquent gesture of finality.
The boy had stood with his straight, black eyebrows
puckered into a studious frown, drinking in every word.
Now he straightened up. "I guess I made a mistake," he
said, apologetically. "You ain't tramps at all. You're
thieves and murderers and things like that." His eyes
opened a bit wider and his voice sank to a whisper as
the words passed his lips. "But you haven't so much on
me, at that," he went on, "for I'm a regular burglar,
too," and from the bulging pockets of his coat he drew
two handfuls of greenbacks and jewelry. The eyes of
the six registered astonishment, mixed with craft and
greed. "I just robbed a house in Oakdale," explained the
boy. "I usually rob one every night."
For a moment his auditors were too surprised to voice
a single emotion; but presently one murmured, soulfully:
"Pipe de swag!" He of the frock coat, golf cap, and
years waved a conciliatory hand. He tried to look at the
boy's face; but for the life of him he couldn't raise his
eyes above the dazzling wealth clutched in the fingers
of those two small, slim hands. From one dangled a
pearl necklace which alone might have ransomed, if
not a king, at least a lesser member of a royal family,
while diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds scintillated
in the flaring light of the fire. Nor was the fistful of
currency in the other hand to be sneezed at. There were
greenbacks, it is true; but there were also yellowbacks
with the reddish gold of large denominations. The Sky
Pilot sighed a sigh that was more than half gasp.
"Can't yuh take a kid?" he inquired. "I knew youse
all along. Yuh can't fool an old bird like The Sky Pilot
--eh, boys?" and he turned to his comrades for confirmation.
"He's The Oskaloosa Kid," exclaimed one of the company.
"I'd know 'im anywheres."
"Pull up and set down," invited another.
The boy stuffed his loot back into his pockets and
came closer to the fire. Its warmth felt most comfortable,
for the Spring night was growing chill. He looked
about him at the motley company, some half-spruce in
clothing that suggested a Kuppenmarx label and a not
too far association with a tailor's goose, others in rags,
all but one unshaven and all more or less dirty--for
the open road is close to Nature, which is principally
"Shake hands with Dopey Charlie," said The Sky Pilot,
whose age and corpulency appeared to stamp him
with the hall mark of authority. The youth did as he
was bid, smiling into the sullen, chalk-white face and
taking the clammy hand extended toward him. Was it a
shudder that passed through the lithe, young figure or
was it merely a subconscious recognition of the final passing
of the bodily cold before the glowing warmth of the
blaze? "And Soup Face," continued The Sky Pilot. A
battered wreck half rose and extended a pudgy hand.
Red whiskers, matted in little tangled wisps which suggested
the dried ingredients of an infinite procession
of semi-liquid refreshments, rioted promiscuously over a
"Pleased to meetcha," sprayed Soup Face. It was a
strained smile which twisted the rather too perfect
mouth of The Oskaloosa Kid, an appellation which we
must, perforce, accept since the youth did not deny it.
Columbus Blackie, The General, and Dirty Eddie
were formally presented. As Dirty Eddie was, physically,
the cleanest member of the band the youth wondered
how he had come by his sobriquet--that is, he
wondered until he heard Dirty Eddie speak, after which
he was no longer in doubt. The Oskaloosa Kid, self-confessed
'tramp' and burglar, flushed at the lurid obscenity
of Dirty Eddie's remarks.
"Sit down, bo," invited Soup Face. "I guess you're a
regular all right. Here, have a snifter?" and he pulled
a flask from his side pocket, holding it toward The Oskaloosa
"Thank you, but;--er--I'm on the wagon, you know,"
declined the youth.
"Have a smoke?" suggested Columbus Blackie. "Here's
The change in the attitude of the men toward him
pleased The Oskaloosa Kid immensely. They were treating
him as one of them, and after the lonely walk through
the dark and desolate farm lands human companionship
of any kind was to him as the proverbial straw to the
man who rocked the boat once too often.
Dopey Charlie and The General, alone of all the
company, waxed not enthusiastic over the advent of
The Oskaloosa Kid and his priceless loot. These two sat
scowling and whispering in the back-ground. "Dat's a
wrong guy," muttered the former to the latter. "He's a
stool pigeon or one of dese amatoor mugs."
"It's the pullin' of that punk graft that got my goat,"
replied The General. "I never seen a punk yet that didn't
try to make you think he was a wise guy an' dis stiff
don't belong enough even to pull a spiel that would fool
a old ladies' sewin' circle. I don't see wot The Sky Pilot'
s cozyin' up to him fer."
"You don't?" scoffed Dopey Charlie. "Didn't you lamp
de oyster harness? To say nothin' of de mitful of rocks
"That 'ud be all right, too," replied the other, "if we
could put the guy to sleep; but The Sky Pilot won't
never stand for croakin' nobody. He's too scared of his
neck. We'll look like a bunch o' wise ones, won't we?
lettin' a stranger sit in now--after last night. Hell!" he
suddenly exploded. "Don't you know that you an' me
stand to swing if any of de bunch gets gabby in front
of dis phoney punk?"
The two sat silent for a while, The General puffing on
a short briar, Dopey Charlie inhaling deep draughts
from a cigarette, and both glaring through narrowed lids
at the boy warming himself beside the fire where the
others were attempting to draw him out the while they
strove desperately but unavailingly to keep their eyes
from the two bulging sidepockets of their guest's coat.
Soup Face, who had been assiduously communing
with a pint flask, leaned close to Columbus Blackie, placing
his whiskers within an inch or so of the other's nose
as was his habit when addressing another, and whispered,
relative to the pearl necklace: "Not a cent less
'n fifty thou, bo!"
"Fertheluvomike!" ejaculated Blackie, drawing back
and wiping a palm quickly across his lips. "Get a plumber
first if you want to kiss me--you leak."
"He thinks you need a shower bath," said Dirty Eddie,
"The trouble with Soup Face," explained The Sky Pilot,
"is that he's got a idea he's a human atomizer an'
that the rest of us has colds."
"Well, I don't want no atomizer loaded with rot-gut
and garlic shot in my mug," growled Blackie. "What
Soup Face needs is to be learned ettyket, an' if he
comes that on me again I'm goin' to push his mush
through the back of his bean."
An ugly light came into the blear eyes of Soup Face.
Once again he leaned close to Columbus Blackie.
"Not a cent less 'n fifty thou, you tinhorn!" he bellowed,
belligerent and sprayful.
Blackie leaped to his feet, with an oath--a frightful,
hideous oath--and as he rose he swung a heavy fist to
Soup Face's purple nose. The latter rolled over backward;
but was upon his feet again much quicker than one
would have expected in so gross a bulk, and as he came
to his feet a knife flashed in his hand. With a sound that
was more bestial than human he ran toward Blackie;
but there was another there who had anticipated his intentions.
As the blow was struck The Sky Pilot had
risen; and now he sprang forward, for all his age and
bulk as nimble as a cat, and seized Soup Face by the
wrist. A quick wrench brought a howl of pain to the
would-be assassin, and the knife fell to the floor.
"You gotta cut that if you travel with this bunch,"
said The Sky Pilot in a voice that was new to The Oskaloosa
Kid; and you, too, Blackie," he continued. "The
rough stuff don't go with me, see?" He hurled Soup
Face to the floor and resumed his seat by the fire.
The youth was astonished at the physical strength of
this old man, seemingly so softened by dissipation; but it
showed him the source of The Sky Pilot's authority and
its scope, for Columbus Blackie and Soup Face quitted
their quarrel immediately.
Dirty Eddie rose, yawned and stretched. "Me fer
the hay," he announced, and lay down again with his
feet toward the fire. Some of the others followed his
example. "You'll find some hay in the loft there," said
The Sky Pilot to The Oskaloosa Kid. "Bring it down an'
make your bed here by me, there's plenty room."
A half hour later all were stretched out upon the hard
dirt floor upon improvised beds of rotted hay; but not
all slept. The Oskaloosa Kid, though tired, found himself
wider awake than he ever before had been. Apparently
sleep could never again come to those heavy eyes.
There passed before his mental vision a panorama of
the events of the night. He smiled as he inaudibly voiced
the name they had given him, the right to which he had
not seen fit to deny. "The Oskaloosa Kid." The boy
smiled again as be felt the 'swag' hard and lumpy in
his pockets. It had given him prestige here that he could
not have gained by any other means; but he mistook
the nature of the interest which his display of stolen
wealth had aroused. He thought that the men now
looked upon him as a fellow criminal to be accepted into
the fraternity through achievement; whereas they suffered
him to remain solely in the hope of transferring
his loot to their own pockets.
It is true that he puzzled them. Even The Sky Pilot,
the most astute and intelligent of them all, was at a loss
to fathom The Oskaloosa Kid. Innocence and unsophistication
flaunted their banners in almost every act and
speech of The Oskaloosa Kid. The youth reminded him
in some ways of members of a Sunday school which had
flourished in the dim vistas of his past when, as an ordained
minister of the Gospel, he had earned the sobriquet
which now identified him. But the concrete
evidence of the valuable loot comported not with The
Sky Pilot's idea of a Sunday school boy's lark. The young
fellow was, unquestionably, a thief; but that he had ever
before consorted with thieves his speech and manners
"He's got me," murmured The Sky Pilot; "but he's got
the stuff on him, too; and all I want is to get it off of
him without a painful operation. Tomorrow'll do," and
he shifted his position and fell asleep.
Dopey Charlie and The General did not, however,
follow the example of their chief. They remained very
wide awake, a little apart from the others, where their
low whispers could not be overheard.
"You better do it," urged The General, in a soft, insinuating
voice. "You're pretty slick with the toad stabber,
an' any way one more or less won't count."
"We can go to Sout' America on dat stuff an' live
like gents," muttered Dopey Charlie. "I'm goin' to cut
out de Hop an' buy a farm an' a ottymobeel and--"
"Come out of it," admonished The General. "If we're
lucky we'll get as far as Cincinnati, get a stew on and
get pinched. Den one of us'll hang an' de other get stir
The General was a weasel faced person of almost
any age between thirty-five and sixty. Sometimes he
could have passed for a hundred and ten. He had won
his military title as a boy in the famous march of Coxey's
army on Washington, or, rather, the title had been conferred
upon him in later years as a merited reward of
service. The General, profiting by the precepts of his
erstwhile companions in arms, had never soiled his military
escutcheon by labor, nor had he ever risen to the
higher planes of criminality. Rather as a mediocre pickpocket
and a timorous confidence man had he eked out
a meager existence, amply punctuated by seasons
of straight bumming and intervals spent as the guest of
various inhospitably hospitable states. Now, for the first
time in his life, The General faced the possibility of a
serious charge; and his terror made him what he never
before had been, a dangerous criminal.
"You're a cheerful guy," commented Dopey Charlie;
"but you may be right at dat. Dey can't hang a guy any
higher fer two 'an they can fer one an' dat's no pipe;
so wots de use. Wait till I take a shot--it'll be easier,"
and he drew a small, worn case from an inside pocket,
bared his arm to the elbow and injected enough morphine
to have killed a dozen normal men.
From a pile of mouldy hay across the barn the youth,
heavy eyed but sleepless, watched the two through half
closed lids. A qualm of disgust sent a sudden shudder
through his slight frame. For the first time he almost regretted
having embarked upon a life of crime. He had
seen that the two men were conversing together earnestly,
though he could over-hear nothing they said, and
that he had been the subject of their nocturnal colloquy,
for several times a glance or a nod in his direction assured
him of this. And so he lay watching them--not
that he was afraid, he kept reassuring himself, but
through curiosity. Why should he be afraid? Was it not
a well known truth that there was honor among thieves?
But the longer he watched the heavier grew his lids.
Several times they closed to be dragged open again only
by painful effort. Finally came a time that they remained
closed and the young chest rose and fell in the regular
breathing of slumber.
The two ragged, rat-hearted creatures rose silently
and picked their way, half-crouched, among the sleepers
sprawled between them and The Oskaloosa Kid. In the
hand of Dopey Charlie gleamed a bit of shiny steel and
in his heart were fear and greed. The fear was engendered
by the belief that the youth might be an amateur
detective. Dopey Charlie had had one experience of
such and he knew that it was easily possible for them to
blunder upon evidence which the most experienced of
operatives might pass over unnoticed, and the loot bulging
pockets furnished a sufficient greed motive in themselves.
Beside the boy kneeled the man with the knife. He
did not raise his hand and strike a sudden, haphazard
blow. Instead he placed the point carefully, though
lightly, above the victim's heart, and then, suddenly, bore
his weight upon the blade.
Abigail Prim always had been a thorn in the flesh of her
stepmother--a well-meaning, unimaginative, ambitious,
and rather common woman. Coming into the Prim home
as house-keeper shortly after the death of Abigail's
mother, the second Mrs. Prim had from the first looked
upon Abigail principally as an obstacle to be overcome.
She had tried to 'do right by her'; but she had never
given the child what a child most needs and most
craves--love and understanding. Not loving Abigail, the
house-keeper could, naturally, not give her love; and as
for understanding her one might as reasonably have expected
an adding machine to understand higher mathematics.
Jonas Prim loved his daughter. There was nothing,
within reason, that money could buy which he would
not have given her for the asking; but Jonas Prim's love,
as his life, was expressed in dollar signs, while the love
which Abigail craved is better expressed by any other
means at the command of man.
Being misunderstood and, to all outward appearances
of sentiment and affection, unloved had not in any way
embittered Abigail's remarkably joyous temperament.
made up for it in some measure by getting all the fun
and excitement out of life which she could discover
therein, or invent through the medium of her own resourceful
But recently the first real sorrow had been thrust into
her young life since the half-forgotten mother had been
taken from her. The second Mrs. Prim had decided that
it was her 'duty' to see that Abigail, having finished
school and college, was properly married. As a matchmaker
the second Mrs. Prim was as a Texas steer in a
ten cent store. It was nothing to her that Abigail did
not wish to marry anyone, or that the man of Mrs.
Prim's choice, had he been the sole surviving male in
the Universe, would have still been as far from Abigail's
choice as though he had been an inhabitant of one of
Orion's most distant planets.
As a matter of fact Abigail Prim detested Samuel
Benham because he represented to her everything in
life which she shrank from--age, avoirdupois, infirmity,
baldness, stupidity, and matrimony. He was a prosaic
old bachelor who had amassed a fortune by the simple
means of inheriting three farms upon which an industrial
city subsequently had been built. Necessity rather
than foresight had compelled him to hold on to his property;
and six weeks of typhoid, arriving and departing,
had saved him from selling out at a low figure. The first
time he found himself able to be out and attend to business
he likewise found himself a wealthy man, and ever
since he had been growing wealthier without personal
All of which is to render evident just how impossible a
matrimonial proposition was Samuel Benham to a bright,
a beautiful, a gay, an imaginative, young, and a witty
girl such as Abigail Prim, who cared less for money than
for almost any other desirable thing in the world.
Nagged, scolded, reproached, pestered, threatened,
Abigail had at last given a seeming assent to her stepmother'
s ambition; and had forthwith been packed off
on a two weeks visit to the sister of the bride-groom
elect. After which Mr. Benham was to visit Oakdale as
a guest of the Prims, and at a dinner for which cards already
had been issued--so sure was Mrs. Jonas Prim of
her position of dictator of the Prim menage--the engagement
was to be announced.
It was some time after dinner on the night of Abigail's
departure that Mrs. Prim, following a habit achieved by
years of housekeeping, set forth upon her rounds to see
that doors and windows were properly secured for the
night. A French window and its screen opening upon
the verandah from the library she found open. "The
house will be full of mosquitoes!" she ejaculated mentally
as she closed them both with a bang and made them
fast. "I should just like to know who left them open.
Upon my word, I don't know what would become of
this place if it wasn't for me. Of all the shiftlessness!"
and she turned and flounced upstairs. In Abigail's room
she flashed on the center dome light from force of habit,
although she knew that the room had been left in proper
condition after the girl's departure earlier in the day.
The first thing amiss that her eagle eye noted was the
candlestick lying on the floor beside the dressing table.
As she stooped to pick it up she saw the open drawer
from which the small automatic had been removed, and
then, suspicions, suddenly aroused, as suddenly became
fear; and Mrs. Prim almost dove across the room to the
hidden wall safe. A moment's investigation revealed the
startling fact that the safe was unlocked and practically
empty. It was then that Mrs. Jonas Prim screamed.
Her scream brought Jonas and several servants upon
the scene. A careful inspection of the room disclosed the
fact that while much of value had been ignored the burglar
had taken the easily concealed contents of the wall
safe which represented fully ninety percentum of the
value of the personal property in Abigail Prim's apartments.
Mrs. Prim scowled suspiciously upon the servants.
Who else, indeed, could have possessed the intimate
knowledge which the thief had displayed. Mrs. Prim
saw it all. The open library window had been but a
clever blind to hide the fact that the thief had worked
from the inside and was now doubtless in the house at
that very moment.
"Jonas," she directed, "call the police at once, and see
that no one, absolutely no one, leaves this house until
they have been here and made a full investigation."
"Shucks, Pudgy!" exclaimed Mr. Prim. "You don't think
the thief is waiting around here for the police, do you?"
"I think that if you get the police here at once, Jonas,
we shall find both the thief and the loot under our very
roof," she replied, not without asperity.
"You don't mean--" he hesitated. "Why, Pudgy, you
don't mean you suspect one of the servants?"
"Who else could have known?" asked Mrs. Prim. The
servants present looked uncomfortable and cast sheepish
eyes of suspicion at one another.
"It's all tommy rot!" ejaculated Mr. Prim; "but I'll call
the police, because I got to report the theft. It's some
slick outsider, that's who it is," and he started down
stairs toward the telephone. Before he reached it the bell
rang, and when he had hung up the receiver after the
conversation the theft seemed a trivial matter. In fact
he had almost forgotten it, for the message had been
from the local telegraph office relaying a wire they had
just received from Mr. Samuel Benham.
"I say, Pudgy," he cried, as he took the steps two at
a time for the second floor, "here's a wire from Benham
saying Gail didn't come on that train and asking when
he's to expect her."
"Impossible!" ejaculated Mrs. Prim. "I certainly saw
her aboard the train myself. Impossible!"
Jonas Prim was a man of action. Within half an hour
he had set in motion such wheels as money and influence
may cause to revolve in search of some clew to the
whereabouts of the missing Abigail, and at the same
time had reported the theft of jewels and money from
his home; but in doing this he had learned that other
happenings no less remarkable in their way had taken
place in Oakdale that very night.
The following morning all Oakdale was thrilled as its
fascinated eves devoured the front page of Oakdale's ordinarily
dull daily. Never had Oakdale experienced a
plethora of home-grown thrills; but it came as near to
it that morning, doubtless, as it ever had or ever will.
Not since the cashier of The Merchants and Farmers
Bank committed suicide three years past had Oakdale
been so wrought up, and now that historic and classical
event paled into insignificance in the glaring brilliancy
of a series of crimes and mysteries of a single night such
as not even the most sanguine of Oakdale's thrill lovers
could have hoped for.
There was, first, the mysterious disappearance of Abigail
Prim, the only daughter of Oakdale's wealthiest citizen;
there was the equally mysterious robbery of the
Prim home. Either one of these would have been sufficient
to have set Oakdale's multitudinous tongues wagging
for days; but they were not all. Old John Baggs, the
city's best known miser, had suffered a murderous assault
in his little cottage upon the outskirts of town,
and was even now lying at the point of death in The
Samaritan Hospital. That robbery had been the motive
was amply indicated by the topsy-turvy condition of the
contents of the three rooms which Baggs called home.
As the victim still was unconscious no details of the
crime were obtainable. Yet even this atrocious deed had
been capped by one yet more hideous.
Reginald Paynter had for years been looked upon
half askance and yet with a certain secret pride by Oakdale.
He was her sole bon vivant in the true sense of
the word, whatever that may be. He was always spoken
of in the columns of The Oakdale Tribune as 'that well
known man-about-town,' or 'one of Oakdale's most prominent
clubmen.' Reginald Paynter had been, if not the
only, at all events the best dressed man in town. His
clothes were made in New York. This in itself had been
sufficient to have set him apart from all the other males
of Oakdale. He was widely travelled, had an independent
fortune, and was far from unhandsome. For years
he had been the hope and despair of every Oakdale
mother with marriageable daughters. The Oakdale
fathers, however, had not been so keen about Reginald.
Men usually know more about the morals of men than
do women. There were those who, if pressed, would
have conceded that Reginald had no morals.
But what place has an obituary in a truthful tale of
adventure and mystery! Reginald Paynter was dead. His
body had been found beside the road just outside the
city limits at mid-night by a party of automobilists returning
from a fishing trip. The skull was crushed back
of the left ear. The position of the body as well as the
marks in the road beside it indicated that the man had
been hurled from a rapidly moving automobile. The fact
that his pockets had been rifled led to the assumption
that he had been killed and robbed before being dumped
upon the road.
Now there were those in Oakdale, and they were
many, who endeavored to connect in some way these
several events of horror, mystery, and crime. In the first
place it seemed quite evident that the robbery at the
Prim home, the assault upon Old Baggs, and the murder
of Paynter had been the work of the same man; but
how could such a series of frightful happenings be in any
way connected with the disappearance of Abigail Prim?
Of course there were many who knew that Abigail and
Reginald were old friends; and that the former had, on
frequent occasions, ridden abroad in Reginald's French
roadster, that he had escorted her to parties and been,
at various times, a caller at her home; but no less had
been true of a dozen other perfectly respectable young
ladies of Oakdale. Possibly it was only Abigail's added
misfortune to have disappeared upon the eve of the
night of Reginald's murder.
But later in the day when word came from a nearby
town that Reginald had been seen in a strange touring
car with two unknown men and a girl, the gossips commenced
to wag their heads. It was mentioned, casually
of course, that this town was a few stations along the
very road upon which Abigail had departed the previous
afternoon for that destination which she had not reached.
It was likewise remarked that Reginald, the two strange
men and the GIRL had been first noticed after the time of
arrival of the Oakdale train! What more was needed?
Absolutely nothing more. The tongues ceased wagging
in order that they might turn hand-springs.
Find Abigail Prim, whispered some, and the mystery
will be solved. There were others charitable enough to
assume that Abigail had been kidnapped by the same
men who had murdered Paynter and wrought the other
lesser deeds of crime in peaceful Oakdale. The Oakdale
Tribune got out an extra that afternoon giving a resume
of such evidence as had appeared in the regular edition
and hinting at all the numerous possibilities suggested
by such matter as had come to hand since. Even fear
of old Jonas Prim and his millions had not been enough
to entirely squelch the newspaper instinct of the Tribune'
s editor. Never before had he had such an opportunity
and he made the best of it, even repeating the
vague surmises which had linked the name of Abigail
to the murder of Reginald Paynter.
Jonas Prim was too busy and too worried to pay any
attention to the Tribune or its editor. He already had
the best operative that the best detective agency in the
nearest metropolis could furnish. The man had come to
Oakdale, learned all that was to be learned there, and
This, then, will be about all concerning Oakdale for
the present. We must leave her to bury her own dead.
The sudden pressure of the knife point against the
breast of the Oskaloosa Kid awakened the youth with
a startling suddenness which brought him to his feet before
a second vicious thrust reached him. For a time he
did not realize how close he had been to death or that
he had been saved by the chance location of the automatic
pistol in his breast pocket--the very pistol he had
taken from the dressing table of Abigail Prim's boudoir.
The commotion of the attack and escape brought the
other sleepers to heavy-eyed wakefulness. They saw
Dopey Charlie advancing upon the Kid, a knife in his
hand. Behind him slunk The General, urging the other
on. The youth was backing toward the doorway. The
tableau persisted but for an instant. Then the would-be
murderer rushed madly upon his victim, the latter's
hand leaped from beneath the breast of his torn coat--
there was a flash of flame, a staccato report and Dopey
Charlie crumpled to the ground, screaming. In the same
instant The Oskaloosa Kid wheeled and vanished into
It had all happened so quickly that the other members
of the gang, awakened from deep slumber, had only
time to stumble to their feet before it was over. The
Sky Pilot, ignoring the screaming Charlie, thought only
of the loot which had vanished with the Oskaloosa Kid.
"Come on! We gotta get him," he cried, as he ran
from the barn after the fugitive. The others, all but
Dopey Charlie, followed in the wake of their leader.
The wounded man, his audience departed, ceased
screaming and, sitting up, fell to examining himself. To
his surprise he discovered that he was not dead. A further
and more minute examination disclosed the additional
fact that he was not even badly wounded. The
bullet of The Kid had merely creased the flesh over
the ribs beneath his right arm. With a grunt that might
have been either disgust or relief he stumbled to his
feet and joined in the pursuit.
Down the road toward the south ran The Oskaloosa
Kid with all the fleetness of youth spurred on by terror.
In five minutes he had so far outdistanced his pursuers
that The Sky Pilot leaped to the conclusion that the
quarry had left the road to hide in an adjoining field.
The resultant halt and search upon either side of the
road delayed the chase to a sufficient extent to award
the fugitive a mile lead by the time the band resumed
the hunt along the main highway. The men were determined
to overhaul the youth not alone because of
the loot upon his person but through an abiding suspicion
that he might indeed be what some of them feared
he was--an amateur detective--and there were at least
two among them who had reason to be especially fearful
of any sort of detective from Oakdale.
They no longer ran; but puffed arduously along the
smooth road, searching with troubled and angry eyes to
right and left and ahead of them as they went.
The Oskaloosa Kid puffed, too; but he puffed a mile
away from the searchers and he walked more rapidly
than they, for his muscles were younger and his wind
unimpaired by dissipation. For a time he carried the
small automatic in his hand; but later, hearing no evidence
of pursuit, he returned it to the pocket in his coat
where it had lain when it had saved him from death beneath
the blade of the degenerate Charlie.
For an hour he continued walking rapidly along the
winding country road. He was very tired; but he dared
not pause to rest. Always behind him he expected the
sudden onslaught of the bearded, blear-eyed followers
of The Sky Pilot. Terror goaded him to supreme physical
effort. Recollection of the screaming man sinking to the
earthen floor of the hay barn haunted him. He was a
murderer! He had slain a fellow man. He winced and
shuddered, increasing his gait until again he almost ran
--ran from the ghost pursuing him through the black
night in greater terror than he felt for the flesh and
blood pursuers upon his heels.
And Nature drew upon her sinister forces to add to
the fear which the youth already felt. Black clouds obscured
the moon blotting out the soft kindliness of the
greening fields and transforming the budding branches
of the trees to menacing and gloomy arms which appeared
to hover with clawlike talons above the dark and
forbidding road. The wind soughed with gloomy and increasing
menace, a sudden light flared across the southern
sky followed by the reverberation of distant thunder.
Presently a great rain drop was blown against the
youth's face; the vividness of the lightning had increased;
the rumbling of the thunder had grown to the proportions
of a titanic bombardment; but he dared not pause
to seek shelter.
Another flash of lightning revealed a fork in the road
immediately ahead--to the left ran the broad, smooth
highway, to the right a dirt road, overarched by trees,
led away into the impenetrable dark.
The fugitive paused, undecided. Which way should
he turn? The better travelled highway seemed less mysterious
and awesome, yet would his pursuers not naturally
assume that he had followed it? Then, of course,
the right hand road was the road for him. Yet still he
hesitated, for the right hand road was black and forbidding;
suggesting the entrance to a pit of unknown horrors.
As he stood there with the rain and the wind, the
thunder and the lightning, horror of the past and terror
of the future his only companions there broke suddenly
through the storm the voice of a man just ahead and
evidently approaching along the highway.
The youth turned to flee; but the thought of the men
tracking him from that direction brought him to a sudden
halt. There was only the road to the right, then,
after all. Cautiously he moved toward it, and at the
same time the words of the voice came clearly through
"'. . . as, swinging heel and toe,
'We tramped the road to Anywhere, the magic road
'The tragic road to Anywhere, such dear, dim years
The voice seemed reassuring--its quality and the annunciation
of the words bespoke for its owner considerable
claim to refinement. The youth had halted again,
but he now crouched to one side fearing to reveal his
presence because of the bloody crime he thought he had
committed; yet how he yearned to throw himself upon
the compassion of this fine voiced stranger! How his
every fibre cried out for companionship in this night of
his greatest terror; but he would have let the invisible
minstrel pass had not Fate ordained to light the scene
at that particular instant with a prolonged flare of
sheet lightning, revealing the two wayfarers to one another.
The youth saw a slight though well built man in
ragged clothes and disreputable soft hat. The image was
photographed upon his brain for life--the honest, laughing
eyes, the well moulded features harmonizing so well
with the voice, and the impossible garments which
marked the man hobo and bum as plainly as though he
wore a placard suspended from his neck.
The stranger halted. Once more darkness enveloped
them. "Lovely evening for a stroll," remarked the man.
"Running out to your country place? Isn't there danger
of skidding on these wet roads at night? I told James,
just before we started, to be sure to see that the chains
were on all around; but he forgot them. James is very
trying sometimes. Now he never showed up this evening
and I had to start out alone, and he knows perfectly
well that I detest driving after dark in the rain."
The youth found himself smiling. His fear had suddenly
vanished. No one could harbor suspicion of the
owner of that cheerful voice.
"I didn't know which road to take," he ventured, in
explanation of his presence at the cross road.
"Oh," exclaimed the man, "are there two roads here?
I was looking for this fork and came near passing it in
the dark. It was a year ago since I came this way; but I
recall a deserted house about a mile up the dirt road. It
will shelter us from the inclemencies of the weather."
"Oh!" cried the youth. "Now I know where I am. In
the dark and the storm and after all that has happened
to me tonight nothing seemed natural. It was just as
though I was in some strange land; but I know now.
Yes, there is a deserted house a little less than a mile
from here; but you wouldn't want to stop there at night.
They tell some frightful stories about it. It hasn't been
occupied for over twenty years--not since the Squibbs
were found murdered there--the father, mother three
sons, and a daughter. They never discovered the murderer,
and the house has stood vacant and the farm unworked
almost continuously since. A couple of men tried
working it; but they didn't stay long. A night or so was
enough for them and their families. I remember hearing
as a little--er--child stories of the frightful things
that happened there in the house where the Squibbs
were murdered--things that happened after dark when
the lights were out. Oh, I wouldn't even pass that place
on a night like this."
The man smiled. "I slept there alone one rainy night
about a year ago," he said. "I didn't see or hear anything
unusual. Such stories are ridiculous; and even if
there was a little truth in them, noises can't harm you as
much as sleeping out in the storm. I'm going to encroach
once more upon the ghostly hospitality of the
Squibbs. Better come with me."
The youth shuddered and drew back. From far behind
came faintly the shout of a man.
"Yes, I'll go," exclaimed the boy. "Let's hurry," and he
started off at a half-run toward the dirt road.
The man followed more slowly. The darkness hid the
quizzical expression of his eyes. He, too, had heard the
faint shout far to the rear. He recalled the boy's "after
all that has happened to me tonight," and he shrewdly
guessed that the latter's sudden determination to brave
the horrors of the haunted house was closely connected
with the hoarse voice out of the distance.
When he had finally come abreast of the youth after
the latter, his first panic of flight subsided, had reduced
his speed, he spoke to him in his kindly tones.
"What was it that happened to you to-night?" he
asked. "Is someone following you? You needn't be afraid
of me. I'll help you if you've been on the square. If
you haven't, you still needn't fear me, for I won't peach
on you. What is it? Tell me."
The youth was on the point of unburdening his soul
to this stranger with the kindly voice and the honest
eyes; but a sudden fear stayed his tongue. If he told all
it would be necessary to reveal certain details that he
could not bring himself to reveal to anyone, and so he
commenced with his introduction to the wayfarers in the
deserted hay barn. Briefly he told of the attack upon
him, of his shooting of Dopey Charlie, of the flight and
pursuit. "And now," he said in conclusion, "that you
know I'm a murderer I suppose you won't have any
more to do with me, unless you turn me over to the
authorities to hang." There was almost a sob in his voice,
so real was his terror.
The man threw an arm across his companion's shoulder.
"Don't worry, kid," he said. "You're not a murderer
even if you did kill Dopey Charlie, which I hope you
did. You're a benefactor of the human race. I have known
Charles for years. He should have been killed long since.
Furthermore, as you shot in self defence no jury would
convict you. I fear, however, that you didn't kill him.
You say you could hear his screams as long as you were
within earshot of the barn--dead men don't scream, you
"How did you know my name?" asked the youth.
"I don't," replied the man.
"But you called me 'Kid' and that's my name--I'm
The Oskaloosa Kid."
The man was glad that the darkness hid his smile of
amusement. He knew The Oskaloosa Kid well, and he
knew him as an ex-pug with a pock marked face, a bullet
head, and a tin ear. The flash of lightning had revealed,
upon the contrary, a slender boy with smooth
skin, an oval face, and large dark eyes.
"Ah," he said, "so you are The Oskaloosa Kid! I am
delighted, sir, to make your acquaintance. Permit me
to introduce myself: my name is Bridge. If James were
here I should ask him to mix one of his famous cocktails
that we might drink to our mutual happiness and
the longevity of our friendship."
"I am glad to know you, Mr. Bridge," said the youth.
"Oh, I can't tell you how glad I am to know you. I was
so lonely and so afraid," and he pressed closer to the
older man whose arm still encircled his shoulder, though
at first he had been inclined to draw away in some confusion.
Talking together the two moved on along the dark
road. The storm had settled now into a steady rain
with infrequent flashes of lightning and peals of thunder.
There had been no further indications of pursuit;
but Bridge argued that The Sky Pilot, being wise with
the wisdom of the owl and cunning with the cunning of
the fox, would doubtless surmise that a fugitive would
take to the first road leading away from the main artery,
and that even though they heard nothing it would be
safe to assume that the gang was still upon the boy's
trail. "And it's a bad bunch, too," he continued. "I've
known them all for years. The Sky Pilot has the reputation
of never countenancing a murder; but that is because
be is a sly one. His gang kills; but when they kill
under The Sky Pilot they do it so cleverly that no trace
of the crime remains. Their victim disappears--that is
The boy trembled. "You won't let them get me?" he
pleaded, pressing closer to the man. The only response
was a pressure of the arm about the shoulders of The
Over a low hill they followed the muddy road and
down into a dark and gloomy ravine. In a little open
space to the right of the road a flash of lightning revealed
the outlines of a building a hundred yards from
the rickety and decaying fence which bordered the
Squibbs' farm and separated it from the road.
"Here we are!" cried Bridge, "and spooks or no spooks
we'll find a dry spot in that old ruin. There was a stove
there last year and it's doubtless there yet. A good fire
to dry our clothes and warm us up will fit us for a bully
good sleep, and I'll wager a silk hat that The Oskaloosa
Kid is a mighty sleepy kid, eh?"
The boy admitted the allegation and the two turned
in through the gateway, stepping over the fallen gate
and moving through knee high weeds toward the forbidding
structure in the distance. A clump of trees surrounded
the house, their shade adding to the almost utter
blackness of the night.
The two had reached the verandah when Bridge,
turning, saw a brilliant light flaring through the night
above the crest of the hill they had just topped in their
descent into the ravine, or, to be more explicit, the small
valley, where stood the crumbling house of Squibbs. The
purr of a rapidly moving motor rose above the rain, the
light rose, fell, swerved to the right and to the left.
"Someone must be in a hurry," commented Bridge.
"I suppose it is James, anxious to find you and explain
his absence," suggested The Oskaloosa Kid. They
"Gad!" cried Bridge, as the car topped the hill and
plunged downward toward them, "I'd hate to ride behind
that fellow on a night like this, and over a dirt
road at that!"
As the car swung onto the straight road before the
house a flash of lightning revealed dimly the outlines of
a rapidly moving touring car with lowered top. Just as
the machine came opposite the Squibbs' gate a woman's
scream mingled with the report of a pistol from the tonneau
and the watchers upon the verandah saw a dark
bulk hurled from the car, which sped on with undiminished
speed, climbed the hill beyond and disappeared
Bridge started on a run toward the gateway, followed
by the frightened Kid. In the ditch beside the road they
found in a dishevelled heap the body of a young woman.
The man lifted the still form in his arms. The youth
wondered at the great strength of the slight figure. "Let
me help you carry her," he volunteered; but Bridge
needed no assistance. "Run ahead and open the door for
me," he said, as he bore his burden toward the house.
Forgetful, in the excitement of the moment, of his
terror of the horror ridden ruin, The Oskaloosa Kid hastened
ahead, mounted the few steps to the verandah,
crossed it and pushed open the sagging door. Behind
him came Bridge as the youth entered the dark interior.
A half dozen steps he took when his foot struck against
a soft and yielding mass. Stumbling, he tried to regain
his equilibrium only to drop full upon the thing beneath
him. One open palm, extended to ease his fall,
fell upon the upturned features of a cold and clammy
face. With a shriek of horror The Kid leaped to his feet
and shrank, trembling, back.
"What is it? What's the matter?" cried Bridge, with
whom The Kid had collided in his precipitate retreat.
"O-o-o!" groaned The Kid, shuddering. "It's dead! It's
"What's dead?" demanded Bridge.
"There's a dead man on the floor, right ahead of us,"
moaned The Kid.
"You'll find a flash lamp in the right hand pocket of my
coat," directed Bridge. "Take it and make a light."
With trembling fingers the Kid did as he was bid,
and when after much fumbling he found the button a
slim shaft of white light, fell downward upon the upturned
face of a man cold in death--a little man,
strangely garbed, with gold rings in his ears, and long
black hair matted in the death sweat of his brow. His
eyes were wide and, even in death, terror filled, his features
were distorted with fear and horror. His fingers,
clenched in the rigidity of death, clutched wisps of
dark brown hair. There were no indications of a wound
or other violence upon his body, that either the Kid or
Bridge could see, except the dried remains of bloody
froth which flecked his lips.
Bridge still stood holding the quiet form of the girl
in his arms, while The Kid, pressed close to the man's
side, clutched one arm with a fierce intensity which bespoke
at once the nervous terror which filled him and
the reliance he placed upon his new found friend.
To their right, in the faint light of the flash lamp, a
narrow stairway was revealed leading to the second
story. Straight ahead was a door opening upon the blackness
of a rear apartment. Beside the foot of the stairway
was another door leading to the cellar steps.
Bridge nodded toward the rear room. "The stove is
in there," he said. "We'd better go on and make a fire.
Draw your pistol--whoever did this has probably beat
it; but it's just as well to he on the safe side."
"I'm afraid," said The Oskaloosa Kid. "Let's leave
this frightful place. It's just as I told you it was; just as I
"We can't leave this woman, my boy," replied Bridge.
"She isn't dead. We can't leave her, and we can't take
her out into the storm in her condition. We must stay.
Come! buck up. There's nothing to fear from a dead
He never finished the sentence. From the depths of
the cellar came the sound of a clanking chain. Something
scratched heavily upon the wooden steps. Whatever
it was it was evidently ascending, while behind it
clanked the heavy links of a dragged chain.
The Oskaloosa Kid cast a wide eyed glance of terror
at Bridge. His lips moved in an attempt to speak; but
fear rendered him inarticulate. Slowly, ponderously the
THING ascended the dark stairs from the gloom ridden
cellar of the deserted ruin. Even Bridge paled a trifle.
The man upon the floor appeared to have met an unnatural
death--the frightful expression frozen upon the
dead face might even indicate something verging upon
the supernatural. The sound of the THING climbing
out of the cellar was indeed uncanny--so uncanny that
Bridge discovered himself looking about for some means
of escape. His eyes fell upon the stairway leading to the
"Quick!" he whispered. "Up the stairs! You go first;
The Kid needed no second invitation. With a bound
he was half way up the rickety staircase; but a glance
ahead at the darkness above gave him pause while he
waited for Bridge to catch up with him. Coming more
slowly with his burden the man followed the boy, while
from below the clanking of the chain warned them that
the THING was already at the top of the cellar stairs.
"Flash the lamp down there," directed Bridge. "Let's
have a look at it, whatever it is."
With trembling hands The Oskaloosa Kid directed the
lens over the edge of the swaying and rotting bannister,
his finger slipped from the lighting button plunging
them all into darkness. In his frantic effort to find the
button and relight the lamp the worst occurred--he fumbled
the button and the lamp slipped through his fingers,
falling over the bannister to the floor below. Instantly
the sound of the dragging chain ceased; but the
silence was even more horrible than the noise which had
For a long minute the two at the head of the stairs
stood in tense silence listening for a repetition of the
gruesome sounds from below. The youth was frankly
terrified; he made no effort to conceal the fact; but
pressed close to his companion, again clutching his arm
tightly. Bridge could feel the trembling of the slight figure,
the spasmodic gripping of the slender fingers and
hear the quick, short, irregular breathing. A sudden impulse
to throw a protecting arm about the boy seized
him--an impulse which he could not quite fathom, and
one to which he could not respond because of the body
of the girl he carried.
He bent toward the youth. "There are matches in my
coat pocket," he whispered, "--the same pocket in which
you found the flash lamp. Strike one and we'll look for a
room here where we can lay the girl."
The boy fumbled gropingly in search of the matches.
It was evident to the man that it was only with the
greatest exertion of will power that he controlled his
muscles at all; but at last he succeeded in finding and
striking one. At the flare of the light there was a sound
from below--a scratching sound and the creaking of
boards as beneath a heavy body; then came the clanking
of the chain once more, and the bannister against
which they leaned shook as though a hand had been
laid upon it below them. The youth stifled a shriek and
simultaneously the match went out; but not before
Bridge had seen in the momentary flare of light a partially
open door at the far end of the hall in which they
Beneath them the stairs creaked now and the chain
thumped slowly from one to another as it was dragged
upward toward them.
"Quick!" called Bridge. "Straight down the hall and
into the room at the end." The man was puzzled. He
could not have been said to have been actually afraid,
and yet the terror of the boy was so intense, so real, that
it could scarce but have had its suggestive effect upon
the other; and, too, there was an uncanny element of
the supernatural in what they had seen and heard in
the deserted house--the dead man on the floor below, the
inexplicable clanking of a chain by some unseen THING
from the depth of the cellar upward toward them; and,
to heighten the effect of these, there were the grim stories
of unsolved tragedy and crime. All in all Bridge
could not have denied that he was glad of the room at
the end of the hall with its suggestion of safety in the
door which might be closed against the horrors of the
hall and the Stygian gloom below stairs.
The Oskaloosa Kid was staggering ahead of him,
scarce able to hold his body erect upon his shaking
knees--his gait seemed pitifully slow to the unarmed
man carrying the unconscious girl and listening to the
chain dragging ever nearer and nearer behind; but at
last they reached the doorway and passed through it
into the room.
"Close the door," directed Bridge as he crossed toward
the center of the room to lay his burden upon the floor,
but there was no response to his instructions--only a gasp
and the sound of a body slumping to the rotting boards.
With an exclamation of chagrin the man dropped the
girl and swung quickly toward the door. Halfway down
the hall he could hear the chain rattling over loose planking,
the THING, whatever it might be, was close upon
them. Bridge slammed-to the door and with a shoulder
against it drew a match from his pocket and lighted it.
Although his clothing was soggy with rain he knew that
his matches would still be dry, for this pocket and its
flap he had ingeniously lined with waterproof material
from a discarded slicker he had found--years of tramping
having taught him the discomforts of a fireless camp.
In the resultant light the man saw with a quick glance
a large room furnished with an old walnut bed, dresser,
and commode; two lightless windows opened at the far
end toward the road, Bridge assumed; and there was
no door other than that against which he leaned. In
the last flicker of the match the man scanned the door
itself for a lock and, to his relief, discovered a bolt--old
and rusty it was, but it still moved in its sleeve. An instant
later it was shot--just as the sound of the dragging
chain ceased outside. Near the door was the great bed,
and this Bridge dragged before it as an additional barricade;
then, bearing nothing more from the hallway,
he turned his attention to the two unconscious forms upon
the floor. Unhesitatingly he went to the boy first
though had he questioned himself he could not have told
why; for the youth, undoubtedly, had only swooned,
while the girl had been the victim of a murderous assault
and might even be at the point of death.
What was the appeal to the man in the pseudo Oskaloosa
Kid? He had scarce seen the boy's face, yet the
terrified figure had aroused within him, strongly, the
protective instinct. Doubtless it was the call of youth
and weakness which find, always, an answering assurance
in the strength of a strong man.
As Bridge groped toward the spot where the boy had
fallen his eyes, now become accustomed to the darkness
of the room, saw that the youth was sitting up.
"Well?" he asked. "Feeling better?"
"Where is it? Oh, God! Where is it?" cried the boy.
"It will come in here and kill us as it killed that--that--
"It can't get in," Bridge assured him. "I've locked the
door and pushed the bed in front of it. Gad! I feel like
an old maid looking under the bed for burglars."
From the hall came a sudden clanking of the chain
accompanied by a loud pounding upon the bare floor.
With a scream the youth leaped to his feet and almost
threw himself upon Bridge. His arms were about the
man's neck, his face buried in his shoulder.
"Oh, don't--don't let it get me!" he cried.
"Brace up, son," Bridge admonished him. "Didn't I
tell you that it can't get in?"
"How do you know it can't get in?" whimpered the
youth. "It's the thing that murdered the man down stairs
--it's the thing that murdered the Squibbs--right here in
this room. It got in to them--what is to prevent its getting
in to us. What are doors to such a THING?"
"Come! come! now," Bridge tried to soothe him. "You
have a case of nerves. Lie down here on this bed and
try to sleep. Nothing shall harm you, and when you
wake up it will be morning and you'll laugh at your
"Lie on THAT bed!" The voice was almost a shriek.
"That is the bed the Squibbs were murdered in--the
old man and his wife. No one would have it, and so it
has remained here all these years. I would rather die
than touch the thing. Their blood is still upon it."
"I wish," said Bridge a trifle sternly, "that you would
try to control yourself a bit. Hysteria won't help us any.
Here we are, and we've to make the best of it. Besides
we must look after this young woman--she may be dying,
and we haven't done a thing to help her."
The boy, evidently shamed, released his hold upon
Bridge and moved away. "I am sorry," he said. "I'll
try to do better; but, Oh! I was so frightened. You cannot
imagine how frightened I was."
"I had imagined," said Bridge, "from what I had
heard of him that it would be a rather difficult thing to
frighten The Oskaloosa Kid--you have, you know, rather
a reputation for fearlessness."
The darkness hid the scarlet flush which mantled
The Kid's face. There was a moment's silence as Bridge
crossed to where the young woman still lay upon the
floor where he had deposited her. Then The Kid spoke.
"I'm sorry," he said, "that I made a fool of myself. You
have been so brave, and I have not helped at all. I
shall do better now."
"Good," said Bridge, and stooped to raise the young
woman in his arms and deposit her upon the bed.
Then he struck another match and leaned close to examine
her. The flare of the sulphur illuminated the room
and shot two rectangles of light against the outer blackness
where the unglazed windows stared vacantly upon
the road beyond, bringing to a sudden halt a little company
of muddy and bedraggled men who slipped, cursing,
along the slimy way.
Bridge felt the youth close beside him as he bent
above the girl upon the bed.
"Is she dead?" the lad whispered.
"No," replied Bridge, "and I doubt if she's badly
hurt." His hands ran quickly over her limbs, bending and
twisting them gently; be unbuttoned her waist, getting
the boy to strike and hold another match while he examined
the victim for signs of a bullet wound.
"I can't find a scratch on her," be said at last. "She's
suffering from shock alone, as far as I can judge. Say,
she's pretty, isn't she?"
The youth drew himself rather stiffly erect. "Her features
are rather coarse, I think," he replied. There was a
peculiar quality to the tone which caused Bridge to turn
a quick look at the boy's face, just as the match flickered
and went out. The darkness hid the expression
upon Bridge's face, but his conviction that the girl was
pretty was unaltered. The light of the match had revealed
an oval face surrounded by dark, dishevelled
tresses, red, full lips, and large, dark eyes.
Further discussion of the young woman was discouraged
by a repetition of the clanking of the chain without.
Now it was receding along the hallway toward
the stairs and presently, to the infinite relief of The Oskaloosa
Kid, the two heard it descending to the lower
"What was it, do you think?" asked the boy, his voice
still trembling upon the verge of hysteria.
"I don't know," replied Bridge. "I've never been a believer
in ghosts and I'm not now; but I'll admit that it
takes a whole lot of--"
He did not finish the sentence for a moan from the
bed diverted his attention to the injured girl, toward
whom he now turned. As they listened for a repetition
of the sound there came another--that of the creaking of
the old bed slats as the girl moved upon the mildewed
mattress. Dimly, through the darkness, Bridge saw that
the victim of the recent murderous assault was attempting
to sit up. He moved closer and leaned above her.
"I wouldn't exert myself," he said. "You've just suffered
an accident, and it's better that you remain quiet."
"Who are you?" asked the girl, a note of suppressed
terror in her voice. "You are not--?"
"I am no one you know," replied Bridge. "My friend
and I chanced to be near when you fell from the car--"
with that innate refinement which always belied his vocation
and his rags Bridge chose not to embarrass the
girl by a too intimate knowledge of the thing which
had befallen her, preferring to leave to her own volition
the making of any explanation she saw fit, or of none
--"and we carried you in here out of the storm."
The girl was silent for a moment. "Where is 'here'?"
she asked presently. "They drove so fast and it was so
dark that I had no idea where we were, though I know
that we left the turnpike."
"We are at the old Squibbs place," replied the man.
He could see that the girl was running one hand gingerly
over her head and face, so that her next question
did not surprise him.
"Am I badly wounded?" she asked. "Do you think that
I am going to die?" The tremor in her voice was pathetic
--it was the voice of a frightened and wondering child.
Bridge heard the boy behind him move impulsively forward
and saw him kneel on the bed beside the girl.
"You are not badly hurt," volunteered The Oskaloosa
Kid. "Bridge couldn't find a mark on you--the bullet
must have missed you."
"He was holding me over the edge of the car when
he fired." The girl's voice reflected the physical shudder
which ran through her frame at the recollection. "Then
he threw me out almost simultaneously. I suppose he
thought that he could not miss at such close range."
For a time she was silent again, sitting stiffly erect.
Bridge could feel rather than see wide, tense eyes staring
out through the darkness upon scenes, horrible perhaps,
that were invisible to him and the Kid.
Suddenly the girl turned and threw herself face downward
upon the bed. "O, God!" she moaned. "Father!
Father! It will kill you--no one will believe me--they
will think that I am bad. I didn't do it! I didn't do it!
I've been a silly little fool; but I have never been a bad
girl--and---and--I had nothing to do with that awful
thing that happened to-night."
Bridge and the boy realized that she was not talking
to them--that for the moment she had lost sight of their
presence--she was talking to that father whose heart
would be breaking with the breaking of the new day,
trying to convince him that his little girl had done no
Again she sat up, and when she spoke there was no
tremor in her voice.
"I may die," she said. "I want to die. I do not see how
I can go on living after last night; but if I do die I want
my father to know that I had nothing to do with it and
that they tried to kill me because I wouldn't promise to
keep still. It was the little one who murdered him--the
one they called 'Jimmie' and 'The Oskaloosa Kid.' The
big one drove the car--his name was 'Terry.' After they
killed him I tried to jump out--I had been sitting in
front with Terry--and then they dragged me over into
the tonneau and later--the Oskaloosa Kid tried to kill me
too, and threw me out."
Bridge heard the boy at his side gulp. The girl went
"To-morrow you will know about the murder--everyone
will know about it; and I will be missed; and there
will be people who saw me in the car with them, for
someone must have seen me. Oh, I can't face it! I want
to die. I will die! I come of a good family. My father is
a prominent man. I can't go back and stand the disgrace
and see him suffer, as he will suffer, for I was all
he had--his only child. I can't bear to tell you my name
--you will know it soon enough--but please find some
way to let my father know all that I have told you--I
swear that it is the truth--by the memory of my dead
mother, I swear it!"
Bridge laid a hand upon the girl's shoulder. "If you
are telling us the truth," he said, "you have only a silly
escapade with strange men upon your conscience. You
must not talk of dying now--your duty is to your father.
If you take your own life it will be a tacit admission of
guilt and will only serve to double the burden of sorrow
and ignominy which your father is bound to feel when
this thing becomes public, as it certainly must if a murder
has been done. The only way in which you can
atone for your error is to go back and face the consequences
with him--do not throw it all upon him; that
would be cowardly."
The girl did not reply; but that the man's words had
impressed her seemed evident. For a while each was
occupied with his own thoughts; which were presently
disturbed by the sound of footsteps upon the floor below
--the muffled scraping of many feet followed a moment
later by an exclamation and an oath, the words
coming distinctly through the loose and splintered flooring.
"Pipe the stiff," exclaimed a voice which The Oskaloosa
Kid recognized immediately as that of Soup Face.
"The Kid musta croaked him," said another.
A laugh followed this evidently witty sally.
"The guy probably lamped the swag an' died of heart
failure," suggested another.
The men were still laughing when the sound of a
clanking chain echoed dismally from the cellar. Instantly
silence fell upon the newcomers upon the first
floor, followed by a--"Wotinel's that?" Two of the men
had approached the staircase and started to ascend it.
Slowly the uncanny clanking drew closer to the first
floor. The girl on the bed turned toward Bridge.
"What is it?" she gasped.
"We don't know," replied the man. "It followed us up
here, or rather it chased us up; and then went down
again just before you regained consciousness. I imagine
we shall hear some interesting developments from below."
"It's The Sky Pilot and his gang," whispered The Oskaloosa
"It's The Oskaloosa Kid," came a voice from below.
"But wot was that light upstairs then?" queried another.
"An' wot croaked this guy here?" asked a third. "It
wasn't nothin' nice--did you get the expression on his
mug an' the red foam on his lips? I tell youse there's
something in this house beside human bein's. I know the
joint--its hanted--they's spooks in it. Gawd! there it is
now," as the clanking rose to the head of the cellar
stairs; and those above heard a sudden rush of footsteps
as the men broke for the open air--all but the
two upon the stairway. They had remained too long
and now, their retreat cut off, they scrambled, cursing
and screaming, to the second floor.
Along the hallway they rushed to the closed door at
the end--the door of the room in which the three listened
breathlessly--hurling themselves against it in violent
effort to gain admission.
"Who are you and what do you want?" cried Bridge.
"Let us in! Let us in!" screamed two voices. "Fer
God's sake let us in. Can't you hear IT? It'll be comin'
up here in a minute."
The sound of the dragging chain could be heard at intervals
upon the floor below. It seemed to the tense listeners
above to pause beside the dead man as though
hovering in gloating exultation above its gruesome prey
and then it moved again, this time toward the stairway
where they all heard it ascending with a creepy slowness
which wrought more terribly upon tense nerves
than would a sudden rush.
"The mills of the Gods grind slowly," quoted Bridge.
"Oh, don't!" pleaded The Oskaloosa Kid.
"Let us in," screamed the men without. "Fer the luv
o' Mike have a heart! Don't leave us out here! IT's
comin'! IT's comin'!"
"Oh, let the poor things in," pleaded the girl on the
bed. She was, herself, trembling with terror.
"No funny business, now, if I let you in," commanded
"On the square," came the quick and earnest reply.
The THING had reached the head of the stairs when
Bridge dragged the bed aside and drew the bolt. Instantly
two figures hurled themselves into the room but
turned immediately to help Bridge resecure the doorway.
Just as it had done before, when Bridge and The
Oskaloosa Kid had taken refuge there with the girl,
the THING moved down the hallway to the closed door.
The dragging chain marked each foot of its advance. If it
made other sounds they were drowned by the clanking
of the links over the time roughened flooring.
Within the room the five were frozen into utter silence,
and beyond the door an equal quiet prevailed for
a long minute; then a great force made the door creak
and a weird scratching sounded high up upon the old
fashioned panelling. Bridge heard a smothered gasp
from the boy beside him, followed instantly by a flash of
flame and the crack of a small caliber automatic; The
Oskaloosa Kid had fired through the door.
Bridge seized the boy's arm and wrenched the weapon
from him. "Be careful!" he cried. "You'll hurt someone.
You didn't miss the girl much that time--she's on the bed
right in front of the door."
The Oskaloosa Kid pressed closer to the man as
though he sought protection from the unknown menace
without. The girl sprang from the bed and crossed to
the opposite side of the room. A flash of lightning illuminated
the chamber for an instant and the roof of the verandah
without. The girl noted the latter and the open
"Look!" she cried. "Suppose it went out of another
window upon this porch. It could get us so easily that
"Shut up, you fool!" whispered one of the two newcomers.
"It might hear you." The girl subsided into silence.
There was no sound from the hallway.
"I reckon you croaked IT," suggested the second newcomer,
hopefully; but, as though the THING without
had heard and understood, the clanking of the chain
recommenced at once; but now it was retreating along
the hallway, and soon they heard it descending the
Sighs of relief escaped more than a single pair of lips.
"IT didn't hear me," whispered the girl.
Bridge laughed. "We're a nice lot of babies seeing
things at night," he scoffed.
"If you're so nervy why don't you go down an' see wot
it is?" asked one of the late arrivals.
"I believe I shall," replied Bridge and pulled the bed
away from the door.
Instantly a chorus of protests arose, the girl and The
Oskaloosa Kid being most insistent. What was the use?
What good could he accomplish? It might be nothing;
yet on the other hand what had brought death so horribly
to the cold clay on the floor below? At last their
pleas prevailed and Bridge replaced the bed before the
For two hours the five sat about the room waiting for
daylight. There could be no sleep for any of them. Occasionally
they spoke, usually advancing and refuting suggestions
as to the identity of the nocturnal prowler below
-stairs. The THING seemed to have retreated again
to the cellar, leaving the upper floor to the five strangely
assorted prisoners and the first floor to the dead man.
During the brief intervals of conversation the girl repeated
snatches of her story and once she mentioned
The Oskaloosa Kid as the murderer of the unnamed victim.
The two men who had come last pricked up their
ears at this and Bridge felt the boy's hand just touch his
arm as though in mute appeal for belief and protection.
The man half smiled.
"We seen The Oskaloosa Kid this evenin'" volunteered
one of the newcomers.
"You did?" exclaimed the girl. "Where?"
"He'd just pulled off a job in Oakdale an' had his
pockets bulgin' wid sparklers an' kale. We was follerin'
him an' when we seen your light up here we t'ought it
The Oskaloosa Kid shrank closer to Bridge. At last he
recognized the voice of the speaker. While he had known
that the two were of The Sky Pilot's band he had not
been sure of the identity of either; but now it was borne
in upon him that at least one of them was the last person
on earth he cared to be cooped up in a small, unlighted
room with, and a moment later when one of
the two rolled a 'smoke' and lighted it he saw in the
flare of the flame the features of both Dopey Charlie
and The General. The Oskaloosa Kid gasped once more
for the thousandth time that night.
It had been Dopey Charlie who lighted the cigaret
and in the brief illumination his friend The General had
grasped the opportunity to scan the features of the
other members of the party. Schooled by long years of
repression he betrayed none of the surprise or elation
he felt when he recognized the features of The Oskaloosa
If The General was elated The Oskaloosa Kid was at
once relieved and terrified. Relieved by ocular proof
that he was not a murderer and terrified by the immediate
presence of the two who had sought his life.
His cigaret drawing well Dopey Charlie resumed:
"This Oskaloosa Kid's a bad actor," he volunteered. "The
little shrimp tried to croak me; but he only creased my
ribs. I'd like to lay my mits on him. I'll bet there won't
be no more Oskaloosa Kid when I get done wit him."
The boy drew Bridge's ear down toward his own lips.
"Let's go," he said. "I don't hear anything more downstairs,
or maybe we could get out on this roof and slide
down the porch pillars."
Bridge laid a strong, warm hand on the small, cold
one of his new friend.
"Don't worry, Kid," he said. "I'm for you."
The two other men turned quickly in the direction of
"Is de Kid here?" asked Dopey Charlie.
"He is, my degenerate friend," replied Bridge; "and
furthermore he's going to stay here and be perfectly
safe. Do you grasp me?"
"Who are you?" asked The General.
"That is a long story," replied Bridge; "but if you
chance to recall Dink and Crumb you may also be able
to visualize one Billy Burke and Billy Byrne and his side
partner, Bridge. Yes? Well, I am the side partner."
Before the yeggman could make reply the girl spoke
up quickly. "This man cannot be The Oskaloosa Kid," she
said. "It was The Oskaloosa Kid who threw me from the
"How do you know he ain't?" queried The General.
"Youse was knocked out when these guys picks you up.
It's so dark in here you couldn't reco'nize no one. How do
you know this here bird ain't The Oskaloosa Kid, eh?"
"I have heard both these men speak," replied the
girl; "their voices were not those of any men I have
known. If one of them is The Oskaloosa Kid then there
must be two men called that. Strike a match and you
will see that you are mistaken."
The General fumbled in an inside pocket for a package
of matches carefully wrapped against possible damage
by rain. Presently he struck one and held the light
in the direction of The Kid's face while he and the
girl and Dopey Charlie leaned forward to scrutinize the
"It's him all right," said Dopey Charlie.
"You bet it is," seconded The General.
"Why he's only a boy," ejaculated the girl. "The one
who threw me from the machine was a man."
"Well, this one said he was The Oskaloosa Kid," persisted
"An' he shot me up," growled Dopey Charlie.
"It's too bad he didn't kill you," remarked Bridge
pleasantly. "You're a thief and probably a murderer into
the bargain--you tried to kill this boy just before he shot
"Well wots he?" demanded Dopey Charlie. "He's a
thief--he said he was--look in his pockets--they're
crammed wid swag, an' he's a gun-man, too, or he
wouldn't be packin' a gat. I guess he ain't got nothin'
The darkness hid the scarlet flush which mounted to
the boy's cheeks--so hot that he thought it must surely
glow redly through the night. He waited in dumb misery
for Bridge to demand the proof of his guilt. Earlier in
the evening he had flaunted the evidence of his crime in
the faces of the six hobos; but now he suddenly felt a
great shame that his new found friend should believe
him a house-breaker.
But Bridge did not ask for any substantiation of Charlie'
s charges, he merely warned the two yeggmen that
they would have to leave the boy alone and in the
morning, when the storm had passed and daylight had
lessened the unknown danger which lurked below-stairs,
betake themselves upon their way.
"And while we're here together in this room you two
must sit over near the window," he concluded. "You've
tried to kill the boy once to-night; but you're not going
to try it again--I'm taking care of him now."
"You gotta crust, bo," observed Dopey Charlie, belligerently.
"I guess me an' The General'll sit where we
damn please, an' youse can take it from me on the side
that we're goin' to have ours out of The Kid's haul. If
you tink you're goin' to cop the whole cheese you got
another tink comin'."
"You are banking," replied Bridge, "on the well known
fact that I never carry a gun; but you fail to perceive,
owing to the Stygian gloom which surrounds us, that
I have the Kid's automatic in my gun hand and that
the business end of it is carefully aiming in your direction."
"Cheese it," The General advised his companion; and
the two removed themselves to the opposite side of the
apartment, where they whispered, grumblingly, to one
The girl, the boy, and Bridge waited as patiently as
they could for the coming of the dawn, talking of the
events of the night and planning against the future.
Bridge advised the girl to return at once to her father;
but this she resolutely refused to do, admitting with utmost
candor that she lacked the courage to face her
friends even though her father might still believe in
The youth begged that he might accompany Bridge
upon the road, pleading that his mother was dead and
that he could not return home after his escapade. And
Bridge could not find it in his heart to refuse him, for
the man realized that the boyish waif possessed a subtile
attraction, as forceful as it was inexplicable. Not
since he had followed the open road in company with
Billy Byrne had Bridge met one with whom he might
care to 'Pal' before The Kid crossed his path on the
dark and storm swept pike south of Oakdale.
In Byrne, mucker, pugilist, and MAN, Bridge had
found a physical and moral counterpart of himself, for
the slender Bridge was muscled as a Greek god, while
the stocky Byrne, metamorphosed by the fire of a woman'
s love, possessed all the chivalry of the care free
tramp whose vagabondage had never succeeded in submerging
the evidences of his cultural birthright.
In the youth Bridge found an intellectual equal with
the added charm of a physical dependent. The man did
not attempt to fathom the evident appeal of the other's
tacitly acknowledged cowardice; he merely knew that
he would not have had the youth otherwise if he could
not have changed him. Ordinarily he accepted male
cowardice with the resignation of surfeited disgust; but
in the case of The Oskaloosa Kid he realized a certain
artless charm which but tended to strengthen his liking
for the youth, so brazen and unaffected was the
boy's admission of his terror of both the real and the
unreal menaces of this night of horror.
That the girl also was well bred was quite evident
to Bridge, while both the girl and the youth realized the
refinement of the strange companion and protector
which Fate had ordered for them, while they also saw
in one another social counterparts of themselves. Thus,
as the night dragged its slow course, the three came to
trust each other more entirely and to speculate upon the
strange train of circumstances which had brought them
thus remarkably together--the thief, the murderer's accomplice,
and the vagabond.
It was during a period of thoughtful silence when the
night was darkest just before the dawn and the rain
had settled to a dismal drizzle unrelieved by lightning
or by thunder that the five occupants of the room were
suddenly startled by a strange pattering sound from
the floor below. It was as the questioning fall of a child's
feet upon the uncarpeted boards in the room beneath
them. Frozen to silent rigidity, the five sat straining every
faculty to catch the minutest sound from the black
void where the dead man lay, and as they listened there
came up to them, mingled with the inexplicable footsteps,
the hollow reverberation from the dank cellar--
the hideous dragging of the chain behind the nameless
horror which had haunted them through the interminable
eons of the ghastly night.
Up, up, up it came toward the first floor. The pattering
of the feet ceased. The clanking rose until the five
heard the scraping of the chain against the door frame
at the head of the cellar stairs. They heard it pass across
the floor toward the center of the room and then, loud
and piercing, there rang out against the silence of the
awful night a woman's shriek.
Instantly Bridge leaped to his feet. Without a word
he tore the bed from before the door.
"What are you doing?" cried the girl in a muffled
"I am going down to that woman," said Bridge, and
he drew the bolt, rusty and complaining, from its corroded
"No!" screamed the girl, and seconding her the youth
sprang to his feet and threw his arms about Bridge.
"Please! Please!" he cried. "Oh, please don't leave me."
The girl also ran to the man's side and clutched him
by the sleeve.
"Don't go!" she begged. "Oh, for God's sake, don't
leave us here alone!"
"You heard a woman scream didn't you?" asked
Bridge. "Do you suppose I can stay in up here when a
woman may be facing death a few feet below me?"
For answer the girl but held more tightly to his arm
while the youth slipped to the floor and embraced the
man's knees in a vicelike hold which he could not break
without hurting his detainer.
"Come! Come!" expostulated Bridge. "Let me go."
"Wait!" begged the girl. "Wait until you know that it is
a human voice that screams through this horrible place."
The youth only strained his hold tighter about the
man's legs. Bridge felt a soft cheek pressed to his knee;
and, for some unaccountable reason, the appeal was
stronger than the pleading of the girl. Slowly Bridge realized
that he could not leave this defenseless youth
alone even though a dozen women might be menaced
by the uncanny death below. With a firm hand he shot
the bolt. "Leave go of me," he said; "I shan't leave you
unless she calls for help in articulate words."
The boy rose and, trembling, pressed close to the
man who, involuntarily, threw a protecting arm about
the slim figure. The girl, too, drew nearer, while the two
yeggmen rose and stood in rigid silence by the window.
From below came an occasional rattle of the chain, followed
after a few minutes by the now familiar clanking
as the iron links scraped across the flooring. Mingled
with the sound of the chain there rose to them what
might have been the slow and ponderous footsteps of a
heavy man, dragging painfully across the floor. For a
few moments they heard it, and then all was silent.
For a dozen tense minutes the five listened; but there
was no repetition of any sound from below. Suddenly
the girl breathed a deep sigh, and the spell of terror was
broken. Bridge felt rather than heard the youth sobbing
softly against his breast, while across the room The General
gave a quick, nervous laugh which he as immediately
suppressed as though fearful unnecessarily of
calling attention to their presence. The other vagabond
fumbled with his hypodermic needle and the narcotic
which would quickly give his fluttering nerves the quiet
Bridge, the boy, and the girl shivered together in their
soggy clothing upon the edge of the bed, feeling now in
the cold dawn the chill discomfort of which the excitement
of the earlier hours of the night had rendered them
unconscious. The youth coughed.
"You've caught cold," said Bridge, his tone almost selfreproachful,
as though he were entirely responsible for
the boy's condition. "We're a nice aggregation of mollycoddles
--five of us sitting half frozen up here with a
stove on the floor below, and just because we heard a
noise which we couldn't explain and hadn't the nerve to
investigate." He rose. "I'm going down, rustle some wood
and build a fire in that stove--you two kids have got to
dry those clothes of yours and get warmed up or we'll
have a couple of hospital cases on our hands."
Once again rose a chorus of pleas and objections. Oh,
wouldn't he wait until daylight? See! the dawn was
even then commencing to break. They didn't dare go
down and they begged him not to leave them up there
At this Dopey Charlie spoke up. The 'hop' had commenced
to assert its dominion over his shattered nervous
system instilling within him a new courage and a feeling
of utter well-being. "Go on down," said he to Bridge.
"The General an' I'll look after the kids--won't we bo?"
"Sure," assented The General; "we'll take care of 'em."
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Bridge; "we'll leave
the kids up here and we three'll go down. They won't
go, and I wouldn't leave them up here with you two
morons on a bet."
The General and Dopey Charlie didn't know what
a moron was but they felt quite certain from Bridge's
tone of voice that a moron was not a nice thing, and
anyway no one could have bribed them to descend into
the darkness of the lower floor with the dead man and
the grisly THING that prowled through the haunted
chambers; so they flatly refused to budge an inch.
Bridge saw in the gradually lighting sky the near approach
of full daylight; so he contented himself with
making the girl and the youth walk briskly to and fro
in the hope that stimulated circulation might at least partially
overcome the menace of the damp clothing and
the chill air, and thus they occupied the remaining hour
of the night.
From below came no repetition of the inexplicable
noises of that night of terror and at last, with every object
plainly discernible in the light of the new day,
Bridge would delay no longer; but voiced his final determination
to descend and make a fire in the old kitchen
stove. Both the boy and the girl insisted upon accompanying
him. For the first time each had an opportunity
to study the features of his companions of the night.
Bridge found in the girl and the youth two dark eyed,
good-looking young people. In the girl's face was, perhaps,
just a trace of weakness; but it was not the face
of one who consorts habitually with criminals. The man
appraised her as a pretty, small-town girl who had been
led into a temporary escapade by the monotony of
village life, and be would have staked his soul that she
was not a bad girl.
The boy, too, looked anything other than the role he
had been playing. Bridge smiled as he looked at the
clear eyes, the oval face, and the fine, sensitive mouth
and thought of the youth's claim to the crime battered
sobriquet of The Oskaloosa Kid. The man wondered if
the mystery of the clanking chain would prove as harmlessly
infantile as these two whom some accident of hilarious
fate had cast in the roles of debauchery and
Aloud, he said: "I'll go first, and if the spook materializes
you two can beat it back into the room." And
to the two tramps: "Come on, boes, we'll all take a look
at the lower floor together, and then we'll get a good fire
going in the kitchen and warm up a bit."
Down the hall they went, Bridge leading with the
boy and girl close at his heels while the two yeggs
brought up the rear. Their footsteps echoed through the
deserted house; but brought forth no answering clanking
from the cellar. The stairs creaked beneath the
unaccustomed weight of so many bodies as they descended
toward the lower floor. Near the bottom Bridge
came to a questioning halt. The front room lay entirely
within his range of vision, and as his eyes swept it he
gave voice to a short exclamation of surprise.
The youth and the girl, shivering with cold and nervous
excitement, craned their necks above the man's
"O-h-h!" gasped The Oskaloosa Kid. "He's gone," and,
sure enough, the dead man had vanished.
Bridge stepped quickly down the remaining steps,
entered the rear room which had served as dining room
and kitchen, inspected the two small bedrooms off this
room, and the summer kitchen beyond. All were empty;
then he turned and re-entering the front room bent his
steps toward the cellar stairs. At the foot of the stairway
leading to the second floor lay the flash lamp that
the boy had dropped the night before. Bridge stooped,
picked it up and examined it. It was uninjured and with
it in his hand he continued toward the cellar door.
"Where are you going?" asked The Oskaloosa Kid.
"I'm going to solve the mystery of that infernal clanking,"
"You are not going down into that dark cellar!" It was
an appeal, a question, and a command; and it quivered
gaspingly upon the verge of hysteria.
Bridge turned and looked into the youth's face. The
man did not like cowardice and his eyes were stern as
he turned them on the lad from whom during the few
hours of their acquaintance he had received so many
evidences of cowardice; but as the clear brown eyes of
the boy met his the man's softened and he shook his
head perplexedly. What was there about this slender
stripling which so disarmed criticism?
"Yes," he replied, "I am going down. I doubt if I
shall find anything there; but if I do it is better to come
upon it when I am looking for it than to have it come
upon us when we are not expecting it. If there is to be
any hunting I prefer to be hunter rather than hunted."
He wheeled and placed a foot upon the cellar stairs.
The youth followed him.
"What are you going to do?" asked the man.
"I am going with you," said the boy. "You think I am
a coward because I am afraid; but there is a vast difference
between cowardice and fear."
The man made no reply as he resumed the descent of
the stairs, flashing the rays of the lamp ahead of him;
but he pondered the boy's words and smiled as he admitted
mentally that it undoubtedly took more courage
to do a thing in the face of fear than to do it if fear were
absent. He felt a strange elation that this youth should
choose voluntarily to share his danger with him, for in
his roaming life Bridge had known few associates for
whom he cared.
The beams of the little electric lamp, moving from
side to side, revealed a small cellar littered with refuse
and festooned with cob-webs. At one side tottered the
remains of a series of wooden racks upon which pans of
milk had doubtless stood to cool in a long gone, happier
day. Some of the uprights had rotted away so that a
part of the frail structure had collapsed to the earthen
floor. A table with one leg missing and a crippled chair
constituted the balance of the contents of the cellar
and there was no living creature and no chain nor any
other visible evidence of the presence which had
clanked so lugubriously out of the dark depths during
the vanished night. The boy breathed a heartfelt sigh of
relief and Bridge laughed, not without a note of relief
"You see there is nothing," he said--"nothing except
some firewood which we can use to advantage. I regret
that James is not here to attend me; but since he is not
you and I will have to carry some of this stuff upstairs,"
and together they returned to the floor above, their
arms laden with pieces of the dilapidated milk rack. The
girl was awaiting them at the head of the stairs while the
two tramps whispered together at the opposite side of
It took Bridge but a moment to have a roaring fire
started in the old stove in the kitchen, and as the warmth
rolled in comforting waves about them the five felt for
the first time in hours something akin to relief and well
being. With the physical relaxation which the heat induced
came a like relaxation of their tongues and temporary
forgetfulness of their antagonisms and individual
apprehensions. Bridge was the only member of the
group whose conscience was entirely free. He was not
'wanted' anywhere, he bad no unexpiated crimes to
harry his mind, and with the responsibilities of the night
removed he fell naturally into his old, carefree manner.
He hazarded foolish explanations of the uncanny noises
of the night and suggested various theories to account
for the presence and the mysterious disappearance of the
The General, on the contrary, seriously maintained
that the weird sounds had emanated from the ghost of
the murdered man who was, unquestionably, none other
than the long dead Squibb returned to haunt his former
home, and that the scream had sprung from the ghostly
lungs of his slain wife or daughter.
"I wouldn't spend anudder night in this dump," he
concluded, "for both them pockets full of swag The
Oskaloosa Kid's packin' around."
Immediately all eyes turned upon the flushing youth.
The girl and Bridge could not prevent their own gazes
from wandering to the bulging coat pockets, the owner
of which moved uneasily, at last shooting a look of defiance,
not unmixed with pleading, at Bridge.
"He's a bad one," interjected Dopey Charlie, a glint
of cunning in his ordinarily glassy eyes. "He flashes a
couple o' mitsful of sparklers, chesty-like, and allows as
how he's a regular burglar. Then he pulls a gun on me,
as wasn't doin' nothin' to him, and 'most croaks me. It's
even money that if anyone's been croaked in Oakdale
last night they won't have to look far for the guy that
done it. Least-wise they won't have to look far if he
doesn't come across," and Dopey Charlie looked meaningly
and steadily at the side pockets of The Oskaloosa
"I think," said Bridge, after a moment of general silence,
"that you two crooks had better beat it. Do you
get me?" and he looked from Dopey Charlie to The General
and back again.
"We don't go," said Dopey Charlie, belligerently, "until
we gets half the Kid's swag."
"You go now," said Bridge, "without anybody's swag,"
and he drew the boy's automatic from his side pocket.
"You go now and you go quick--beat it!"
The two rose and shuffled toward the door. "We'll get
you, you colledge Lizzy," threatened Dopey Charlie,
"an' we'll get that phoney punk, too."
"'And speed the parting guest,'" quoted Bridge, firing
a shot that splintered the floor at the crook's feet.
When the two hoboes had departed the others huddled
again close to the stove until Bridge suggested that he
and The Oskaloosa Kid retire to another room while the
girl removed and dried her clothing; but she insisted
that it was not wet enough to matter since she had been
covered by a robe in the automobile until just a moment
before she had been hurled out.
"Then, after you are warmed up," said Bridge, "you
can step into this other room while the kid and I strip
and dry our things, for there's no question but that we
are wet enough."
At the suggestion the kid started for the door. "Oh,
no," he insisted; "it isn't worth while. I am almost dry
now, and as soon as we get out on the road I'll be all
right. I--I--I like wet clothes," he ended, lamely.
Bridge looked at him questioningly; but did not urge
the matter. "Very well," he said; "you probably know
what you like; but as for me, I'm going to pull off every
rag and get good and dry."
The girl had already quitted the room and now The
Kid turned and followed her. Bridge shook his head.
"I'll bet the little beggar never was away from his
mother before in his life," he mused; "why the mere
thought of undressing in front of a strange man made
him turn red--and posing as The Oskaloosa Kid! Bless
my soul; but he's a humorist--a regular, natural born
Bridge found that his clothing had dried to some extent
during the night; so, after a brisk rub, he put on
the warmed garments and though some were still a trifle
damp he felt infinitely more comfortable than he had for
Outside the house he came upon the girl and the
youth standing in the sunshine of a bright, new day.
They were talking together in a most animated manner,
and as he approached wondering what the two had
found of so great common interest he discovered that
the discussion hinged upon the relative merits of ham
and bacon as a breakfast dish.
"Oh, my heart it is just achin'," quoted Bridge,
"For a little bite of bacon,
"A hunk of bread, a little mug of brew;
"I'm tired of seein' scenery,
"Just lead me to a beanery
"Where there's something more than only air to
The two looked up, smiling. "You're a funny kind of
tramp, to be quoting poetry," said The Oskaloosa Kid,
"even if it is Knibbs'."
"Almost as funny," replied Bridge, "as a burglar who
recognizes Knibbs when he hears him."
The Oskaloosa Kid flushed. "He wrote for us of the
open road," he replied quickly. "I don't know of any
other class of men who should enjoy him more."
"Or any other class that is less familiar with him," retorted
Bridge; "but the burning question just now is
pots, not poetry--flesh pots. I'm hungry. I could eat a
The girl pointed to an adjacent field. "Help yourself,"
"That happens to be a bull," said Bridge. "I was
particular to mention cow, which, in this instance, is
proverbially less dangerous than the male, and much
"'We kept a-rambling all the time. I rustled grub, he
"'Blind baggage, hoof it, ride or climb--we always
put it through.' Who's going to rustle the grub?"
The girl looked at The Oskaloosa Kid. "You don't
seem like a tramp at all, to talk to," she said; "but I
suppose you are used to asking for food. I couldn't do it
--I should die if I had to."
The Oskaloosa Kid looked uncomfortable. "So should
--" he commenced, and then suddenly subsided. "Of
course I'd just as soon," he said. "You two stay here--I'll
be back in a minute."
They watched him as be walked down to the road
and until he disappeared over the crest of the hill a
short distance from the Squibbs' house.
"I like him," said the girl, turning toward Bridge.
"So do I," replied the man.
"There must be some good in him," she continued,
"even if he is such a desperate character; but I know
he's not The Oskaloosa Kid. Do you really suppose he
robbed a house last night and then tried to kill that
Bridge shook his head. "I don't know," he said; "but
I am inclined to believe that he is more imaginative
than criminal. He certainly shot up the Dopey person;
but I doubt if he ever robbed a house."
While they waited, The Oskaloosa Kid trudged along
the muddy road to the nearest farm house. which lay a
full mile beyond the Squibbs' home. As he approached
the door a lank, sallow man confronted him with a suspicious
"Good morning," greeted The Oskaloosa Kid.
The man grunted.
"I want to get something to eat," explained the youth.
If the boy had hurled a dynamite bomb at him the
result could have been no more surprising. The lank,
sallow man went up into the air, figuratively. He went
up a mile or more, and on the way down he reached his
hand inside the kitchen door and brought it forth enveloping
the barrel of a shot gun.
"Durn ye!" he cried. "I'll lam ye! Get offen here. I
knows ye. Yer one o' that gang o' bums that come here
last night, an' now you got the gall to come back beggin'
for food, eh? I'll lam ye!" and he raised the gun to his
The Oskaloosa Kid quailed but he held his ground.
"I wasn't here last night," he cried, "and I'm not begging
for food--I want to buy some. I've got plenty of money,"
in proof of which assertion he dug into a side pocket
and brought forth a large roll of bills. The man lowered
"Wy didn't ye say so in the first place then?" he
growled. "How'd I know you wanted to buy it, eh?
Where'd ye come from anyhow, this early in the mornin'
? What's yer name, eh? What's yer business, that's
what Jeb Case'd like to know, eh?" He snapped his
words out with the rapidity of a machine gun, nor
waited for a reply to one query before launching the
next. "What do ye want to buy, eh? How much money
ye got? Looks suspicious. That's a sight o' money yew got
there, eh? Where'dje get it?"
"It's mine," said The Oskaloosa Kid, "and I want to
buy some eggs and milk and ham and bacon and flour
and onions and sugar and cream and strawberries and
tea and coffee and a frying pan and a little oil stove,
if you have one to spare, and--"
Jeb Case's jaw dropped and his eyes widened. "You're
in the wrong pasture, bub," he remarked feelingly.
"What yer lookin' fer is Sears, Roebuck & Company."
The Oskaloosa Kid flushed up to the tips of his ears.
"But can't you sell me something?" he begged.
"I might let ye have some milk an' eggs an' butter an'
a leetle bacon an' mebby my ol' woman's got a loaf left
from her last bakin'; but we ain't been figgerin' on supplyin'
grub fer the United States army ef that's what yew
be buyin' fer."
A frowsy, rat-faced woman and a gawky youth of fourteen
stuck their heads out the doorway at either side of
the man. "I ain't got nothin' to sell," snapped the woman;
but as she spoke her eyes fell upon the fat bank roll in
the youth's hand. "Or, leastwise," she amended, "I ain't
got much more'n we need an' the price o' stuff's gone
up so lately that I'll hev to ask ye more'n I would of
last fall. 'Bout what did ye figger on wantin'?"
"Anything you can spare," said the youth. "There are
three of us and we're awful hungry."
"Where yew stoppin'?" asked the woman.
"We're at the old Squibbs' place," replied The Kid.
"We got caught by the storm last night and had to put
"The Squibbs' place!" ejaculated the woman. "Yew
didn't stop there over night?"
"Yes we did," replied the youth.
"See anything funny?" asked Mrs. Case.
"We didn't SEE anything," replied The Oskaloosa Kid;
"but we heard things. At least we didn't see what we
heard; but we saw a dead man on the floor when we
went in and this morning he was gone."
The Cases shuddered. "A dead man!" ejaculated Jeb
Case. "Yew seen him?"
The Kid nodded.
"I never tuk much stock in them stories," said Jeb,
with a shake of his head; "but ef you SEEN it! Gosh! Thet
beats me. Come on M'randy, les see what we got to
spare," and he turned into the kitchen with his wife.
The lanky boy stepped, out and planting himself in
front of The Oskaloosa Kid proceeded to stare at him.
"Yew seen it?" be asked in awestruck tone.
"Yes," said the Kid in a low voice, and bending close
toward the other; "it had bloody froth on its lips!"
The Case boy shrank back. "An' what did yew hear?"
he asked, a glutton for thrills.
"Something that dragged a chain behind it and came
up out of the cellar and tried to get in our room on the
second floor," explained the youth. "It almost got us,
too," he added, "and it did it all night."
"Whew," whistled the Case boy. "Gosh!" Then he
scratched his head and looked admiringly at the youth.
"What mought yer name be?" he asked.
"I'm The Oskaloosa Kid," replied the youth, unable to
resist the admiration of the other's fond gaze. "Look
here!" and he fished a handful of jewelry from one of
his side pockets; "this is some of the swag I stole last
night when I robbed a house."
Case Jr., opened his mouth and eyes so wide that
there was little left of his face. "But that's nothing,"
bragged The Kid. "I shot a man, too."
"Last night?" whispered the boy.
"Yep," replied the bad man, tersely.
"Gosh!" said the young Mr. Case, but there was that
in his facial expression which brought to The Oskaloosa
Kid a sudden regret that he had thus rashly confided in
"Say," said The Kid, after a moment's strained silence.
"Don't tell anyone, will you? If you'll promise I'll give
you a dollar," and he hunted through his roll of bills for
one of that lowly denomination.
"All right," agreed the Case boy. "I won't say a word
--where's the dollar?"
The youth drew a bill from his roll and handed it to
the other. "If you tell," he whispered, and he bent close
toward the other's ear and spoke in a menacing tone;
"If you tell, I'll kill you!"
"Gosh!" said Willie Case.
At this moment Case pere and mere emerged from
the kitchen loaded with provender. "Here's enough an'
more'n enough, I reckon," said Jeb Case. "We got eggs,
butter, bread, bacon, milk, an' a mite o' garden sass."
"But we ain't goin' to charge you nothin' fer the garden
sass," interjected Mrs. Case.
"That's awfully nice of you," replied The Kid. "How
much do I owe you for the rest of it?"
"Oh," said Jeb Case, rubbing his chin, eyeing the big
roll of bills and wondering just the limit he might
raise to, "I reckon 'bout four dollars an' six bits."
The Oskaloosa Kid peeled a five dollar bill from his
roll and proffered it to the farmer. "I'm ever so much
obliged," he said, "and you needn't mind about any
change. I thank you so much." With which he took the
several packages and pails and turned toward the road.
"Yew gotta return them pails!" shouted Mrs. Case after
"Oh, of course," replied The Kid.
"Gosh!" exclaimed Mr. Case, feelingly. "I wisht I'd
asked six bits more--I mought jest as well o' got it as not.
"Gosh!" murmured Willie Case, fervently.
Back down the sticky road plodded The Oskaloosa
Kid, his arms heavy and his heart light, for, was he not
'bringing home the bacon,' literally as well as figuratively.
As he entered the Squibbs' gateway he saw the girl and
Bridge standing upon the verandah waiting his coming,
and as he approached them and they caught a nearer
view of his great burden of provisions they hailed him
with loud acclaim.
"Some artist!" cried the man. "And to think that I
doubted your ability to make a successful touch! Forgive
me! You are the ne plus ultra, non est cumquidibus,
in hoc signo vinces, only and original kind of hand-out
"How in the world did you do it?" asked the girl,
"Oh, it's easy when you know how," replied The Oskaloosa
Kid carelessly, as, with the help of the others, he
carried the fruits of his expedition into the kitchen. Here
Bridge busied himself about the stove, adding more
wood to the fire and scrubbing a portion of the top plate
as clean as he could get it with such crude means as he
could discover about the place.
The youth he sent to the nearby brook for water after
selecting the least dirty of the several empty tin cans
lying about the floor of the summer kitchen. He warned
against the use of the water from the old well and while
the boy was away cut a generous portion of the bacon
into long, thin strips.
Shortly after, the water coming to the boil, Bridge
lowered three eggs into it, glanced at his watch, greased
one of the new cleaned stove lids with a piece of bacon
rind and laid out as many strips of bacon as the lid
would accommodate. Instantly the room was filled with
the delicious odor of frying bacon.
"M-m-m-m!" gloated The Oskaloosa Kid. "I wish I
had bo--asked for more. My! but I never smelled anything
so good as that in all my life. Are you going to
boil only three eggs? I could eat a dozen."
"The can'll only hold three at a time," explained
Bridge. "We'll have some more boiling while we are
eating these." He borrowed his knife from the girl, who
was slicing and buttering bread with it, and turned the
bacon swiftly and deftly with the point, then he glanced
at his watch. "The three minutes are up," he announced
and, with a couple of small, flat sticks saved for the purpose
from the kindling wood, withdrew the eggs one
at a time from the can.
"But we have no cups!' exclaimed The Oskaloosa Kid,
in sudden despair.
Bridge laughed. "Knock an end off your egg and the
shell will answer in place of a cup. Got a knife?"
The Kid didn't. Bridge eyed him quizzically. "You
must have done most of your burgling near home," he
"I'm not a burglar!" cried the youth indignantly. Somehow
it was very different when this nice voiced man
called him a burglar from bragging of the fact himself
to such as The Sky Pilot's villainous company, or the
awestruck, open-mouthed Willie Case whose very expression
Bridge made no reply, but his eyes wandered to the
right hand side pocket of the boy's coat. Instantly the
latter glanced guiltily downward to flush redly at the
sight of several inches of pearl necklace protruding accusingly
therefrom. The girl, a silent witness of the occurrence,
was brought suddenly and painfully to a
realization of her present position and recollection of
the happenings of the preceding night. For the time she
had forgotten that she was alone in the company of a
tramp and a burglar--how much worse either might be
she could only guess.
The breakfast, commenced so auspiciously, continued
in gloomy silence. At least the girl and The Oskaloosa
Kid were silent and gloom steeped. Bridge was thoughtful
but far from morose. His spirits were unquenchable.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I shall have to replace
James. His defection is unforgivable, and he has misplaced
The youth and the girl forced wan smiles; but neither
spoke. Bridge drew a pouch of tobacco and some papers
from an inside pocket.
"'I had the makings and I smoked
"'And wondered over different things,
"'Thinkin' as how this old world joked
"'In callin' only some men kings
"'While I sat there a-blowin' rings.'"
He paused to kindle a sliver of wood at the stove.
"In these parlous times," he spoke as though to himself,
"one must economize. They are taking a quarter of an
ounce out of each five cents worth of chewing, I am told;
so doubtless each box must be five or six matches short
of full count. Even these papers seem thinner than of
yore and they will only sell one book to a customer at
that. Indeed Sherman was right."
The youth and the girl remained occupied with their
own thoughts, and after a moment's silence the vagabond
"'Me? I was king of anywhere,
"'Peggin' away at nothing, hard.
"'Havin' no pet, particular care;
"'Havin' no trouble, or no pard;
"'"Just me," filled up my callin' card.'
"Say, do you know I've learned to love this Knibbs person.
I used to think of him as a poor attic prune grinding
away in his New York sky parlor, writing his verse
of the things he longed for but had never known; until,
one day, I met a fellow between Victorville and Cajon
pass who knew His Knibbs, and come to find out this
Knibbs is a regular fellow. His attic covers all God's country
that is out of doors and he knows the road from La
Bajada hill to Barstow a darned sight better than he
There was no answering sympathy awakened in either
of his listeners--they remained mute. Bridge rose and
stretched. He picked up his knife, wiped off the blade,
closed it and slipped it into a trousers' pocket. Then he
walked toward the door. At the threshold he paused
and turned. "'Good-bye girls! I'm through,'" he quoted
and passed out into the sunlight.
Instantly the two within were on their feet and following
"Where are you going?" cried The Oskaloosa Kid.
"You're not going to leave us, are you?"
"Oh, please don't!" pleaded the girl.
"I don't know," said Bridge, solemnly, "whether I'm
safe in remaining in your society or not. This Oskaloosa
Kid is a bad proposition; and as for you, young lady, I
rather imagine that the town constable is looking for you
The girl winced. "Please don't," she begged. "I haven't
done anything wicked, honestly! But I want to get away
so that they can't question me. I was in the car when
they killed him; but I had nothing to do with it. It is
just because of my father that I don't want them to find
me. It would break his heart."
As the three stood back of the Squibbs' summer
kitchen Fate, in the guise of a rural free delivery carrier
and a Ford, passed by the front gate. A mile beyond he
stopped at the Case mail box where Jeb and his son
Willie were, as usual, waiting his coming, for the rural
free delivery man often carries more news than is contained
in his mail sacks.
"Mornin' Jeb," he called, as he swerved his light car
from the road and drew up in front of the Case gate.
"Mornin', Jim!" returned Mr. Case. "Nice rain we had
last night. What's the news?"
"Plenty! Plenty!" exclaimed the carrier. "Lived here
nigh onto forty year, man an' boy, an' never seen such
work before in all my life."
"How's that?" questioned the farmer, scenting something
"Ol' man Baggs's murdered last night," announced the
carrier, watching eagerly for the effect of his announcement.
"Gosh!" gasped Willie Case. "Was he shot?" It was
almost a scream.
"I dunno," replied Jim. "He's up to the horspital now,
an' the doc says he haint one chance in a thousand."
"Gosh!" exclaimed Mr. Case.
"But thet ain't all," continued Jim. "Reggie Paynter
was murdered last night, too; right on the pike south of
town. They threw his corpse outen a ottymobile."
"By gol!" cried Jeb Case; "I hearn them devils go by
last night 'bout midnight er after. 'T woke me up. They
must o' ben goin' sixty mile an hour. Er say," he stopped
to scratch his head. "Mebby it was tramps. They must a
ben a score on 'em round here yesterday and las' night
an' agin this mornin'. I never seed so dum many bums
in my life."
"An' thet ain't all," went on the carrier, ignoring the
others comments. "Oakdale's all tore up. Abbie Prim's
disappeared and Jonas Prim's house was robbed jest
about the same time Ol' man Baggs 'uz murdered, er
most murdered--chances is he's dead by this time anyhow.
Doc said he hadn't no chance."
"Gosh!" It was a pater-filius duet.
"But thet ain't all," gloated Jim. "Two of the persons in
the car with Reggie Paynter were recognized, an' who
do you think one of 'em was, eh? Why one of 'em was
Abbie Prim an' tother was a slick crook from Toledo er
Noo York that's called The Oskaloosie Kid. By gum, I'll
bet they get 'em in no time. Why already Jonas Prim's
got a regular dee-dectiff down from Chicago, an' the
board o' select-men's offered a re-ward o' fifty dollars fer
the arrest an' conviction of the perpetrators of these
"Gosh!" cried Willie Case. "I know--"; but then he
paused. If he told all he knew he saw plainly that either
the carrier or his father would profit by it and collect the
reward. Fifty dollars!! Willie gasped.
"Well," said Jim, "I gotta be on my way. Here's the
Tribune--there ain't nothin' more fer ye. So long! Giddap
!" and he was gone.
"I don' see why he don't carry a whip," mused Jeb
Case. "A-gidappin' to that there tin lizzie," he muttered
disgustedly, "jes' like it was as good as a hoss. But I
mind the time, the fust day he got the dinged thing, he
gets out an' tries to lead it by Lem Smith's threshin' machine."
Jeb Case preferred an audience worthy his mettle;
but Willie was better than no one, yet when he turned
to note the effect of his remarks on his son, Willie was
no where to be seen. If Jeb had but known it his
young hopeless was already in the loft of the hay barn
deep in a small, red-covered book entitled:
"HOW TO BE A DETECTIVE."
Bridge, who had had no intention of deserting his helpless
companions, appeared at last to yield reluctantly to
their pleas. That indefinable something about the youth
which appealed strongly to the protective instinct in the
man, also assured him that the other's mask of criminality
was for the most part assumed even though the stories
of the two yeggmen and the loot bulging pockets
argued to the contrary. There was the chance, however,
that the boy had really taken the first step upon the
road toward a criminal career, and if such were the case
Bridge felt morally obligated to protect his new found
friend from arrest, secure in the reflection that his own
precept and example would do more to lead him back
into the path of rectitude than would any police magistrate
or penal institute.
For the girl he felt a deep pity. In the past he had
had knowledge of more than one other small-town girl
led into wrong doing through the deadly monotony and
flagrant hypocrisy of her environment. Himself highly
imaginative and keenly sensitive, he realized with what
depth of horror the girl anticipated a return to her home
and friends after the childish escapade which had culminated,
even through no fault of hers, in criminal
tragedy of the most sordid sort.
As the three held a council of war at the rear of the
deserted house they were startled by the loud squeaking
of brake bands on the road in front. Bridge ran quickly
into the kitchen and through to the front room where he
saw three men alighting from a large touring car which
had drawn up before the sagging gate. As the foremost
man, big and broad shouldered, raised his eyes to the
building Bridge smothered an exclamation of surprise
and chagrin, nor did he linger to inspect the other members
of the party; but turned and ran quickly back to his
"We've got to beat it!" he whispered; "they've brought
Burton himself down here."
"Who's Burton?" demanded the youth.
"He's the best operative west of New York City,"
replied Bridge, as he moved rapidly toward an outhouse
directly in rear of the main building.
Once behind the small, dilapidated structure which
had once probably housed farm implements, Bridge
paused and looked about. "They'll search here," he
prophesied, and then; "Those woods look good to me."
The Squibbs' woods, growing rank in the damp ravine
at the bottom of the little valley, ran to within a hundred
feet of the out-building. Dense undergrowth
choked the ground to a height of eight or ten feet
around the boles of the close set trees. If they could
gain the seclusion of that tangled jungle there was little
likelihood of their being discovered, provided they were
not seen as they passed across the open space between
their hiding place and the wood.
"We'd better make a break for it," advised Bridge, and
a moment later the three moved cautiously toward the
wood, keeping the out-house between themselves and
the farm house. Almost in front of them as they neared
the wood they saw a well defined path leading into the
thicket. Single-file they entered, to be almost instantly
hidden from view, not only from the house but from
any other point more than a dozen paces away, for the
path was winding, narrow and closely walled by the
budding verdure of the new Spring. Birds sang or twittered
about them, the mat of dead leaves oozed spongily
beneath their feet, giving forth no sound as they passed,
save a faint sucking noise as a foot was lifted from each
Bridge was in the lead, moving steadily forward that
they might put as much distance as possible between
themselves and the detective should the latter chance to
explore the wood. They had advanced a few hundred
yards when the path crossed through a small clearing
the center of which was destitute of fallen leaves. Here
the path was beaten into soft mud and as Bridge came
to it he stopped and bent his gaze incredulously upon
the ground. The girl and the youth, halting upon either
side, followed the direction of his eyes with theirs. The
girl gave a little, involuntary gasp, and the boy grasped
Bridge's hand as though fearful of losing him. The man
turned a quizzical glance at each of them and smiled,
though a bit ruefully.
"It beats me," he said.
"What can it be?" whispered the boy.
"Oh, let's go back," begged the girl.
"And go along to father with Burton?" asked Bridge.
The girl trembled and shook her head. "I would rather
die," she said, firmly. "Come, let's go on."
The cause of their perturbation was imprinted deeply
in the mud of the pathway--the irregular outlines of an
enormous, naked, human foot--a great, uncouth foot that
bespoke a monster of another world. While, still more
uncanny, in view of what they had heard in the farm
house during the previous night, there lay, sometimes
partially obliterated by the footprints of the THING,
the impress of a small, bare foot--a woman's or a child's
--and over both an irregular scoring that might have
been wrought by a dragging chain!
In the loft of his father's hay barn Willie Case delved
deep into the small red-covered volume, HOW TO BE
A DETECTIVE; but though he turned many pages and
flitted to and fro from preface to conclusion he met only
with disappointment. The pictures of noted bank burglars
and confidence men aided him not one whit, for in
none of them could he descry the slightest resemblance
to the smooth faced youth of the early morning. In fact,
so totally different were the types shown in the little
book that Willie was forced to scratch his head and exclaim
"Gosh!" many times in an effort to reconcile the
appearance of the innocent boy to the hardened, criminal
faces he found portrayed upon the printed pages.
"But, by gol!" he exclaimed mentally, "he said he was
The Oskaloosie Kid, 'n' that he shot a man last night;
but what I'd like to know is how I'm goin' to shadder
him from this here book. Here it says: 'If the criminal
gets on a street car and then jumps off at the next
corner the good detective will know that his man is
aware that he is being shadowed, and will stay on the
car and telephone his office at the first opportunity.'
'N'ere it sez: 'If your man gets into a carriage don't
run up an' jump on the back of it; but simply hire another
carriage and follow.' How in hek kin I foller this
book?" wailed Willie. "They ain't no street cars 'round
here. I ain't never see a street car, 'n'as fer a carriage, I
reckon he means bus, they's only one on 'em in Oakdale
'n'if they waz forty I'd like to know how in hek I'd hire
one when I ain't got no money. I reckon I threw away
my four-bits on this book--it don't tell a feller nothin'
'bout false whiskers, wigs 'n' the like," and he tossed
the book disgustedly into a corner, rose and descended
to the barnyard. Here he busied himself about some
task that should have been attended to a week before,
and which even now was not destined to be completed
that day, since Willie had no more than set himself to it
than his attention was distracted by the sudden appearance
of a touring car being brought to a stop in front of
Instantly Willie dropped his irksome labor and
slouched lazily toward the machine, the occupants of
which were descending and heading for the Case front
door. Jeb Case met them before they reached the porch
and Willie lolled against a pillar listening eagerly to all
that was said.
The most imposing figure among the strangers was
the same whom Bridge had seen approaching the
Squibbs' house a short time before. It was he who acted
as spokesman for the newcomers.
"As you may know," he said, after introducing himself,
"a number of crimes were committed in and around
Oakdale last night. We are searching for clews to the
perpetrators, some of whom must still be in the neighborhood.
Have you seen any strange or suspicious characters
"I should say we hed," exclaimed Jeb emphatically.
"I seen the wo'st lookin' gang o' bums come outen my
hay barn this mornin' thet I ever seed in my life. They
must o' ben upward of a dozen on 'em. They waz makin'
fer the house when I steps in an' grabs my ol' shot
gun. I hollered at 'em not to come a step nigher 'n' I
guess they seed it wa'n't safe monkeyin' with me; so
"Which way did they go?" asked Burton.
"Off down the road yonder; but I don't know which
way they turned at the crossin's, er ef they kept straight
on toward Millsville."
Burton asked a number of questions in an effort to
fix the identity of some of the gang, warned Jeb to telephone
him at Jonas Prim's if he saw anything further of
the strangers, and then retraced his steps toward the
car. Not once bad Jeb mentioned the youth who had
purchased supplies from him that morning, and the
reason was that Jeb had not considered the young man
of sufficient importance, having cataloged him mentally
as an unusually early specimen of the summer camper
with which he was more or less familiar.
Willie, on the contrary, realized the importance of
their morning customer, yet just how he was to cash in
on his knowledge was not yet entirely clear. He was already
convinced that HOW TO BE A DETECTIVE
would help him not at all, and with the natural suspicion
of ignorance he feared to divulge his knowledge to the
city detective for fear that the latter would find the
means to cheat him out of the princely reward offered
by the Oakdale village board. He thought of going at
once to the Squibbs' house and placing the desperate
criminals under arrest; but as fear throttled the idea in
its infancy he cast about for some other plan.
Even as he stood there thinking the great detective
and his companions were entering the automobile to
drive away. In a moment they would be gone. Were they
not, after all, the very men, the only men, in fact, to
assist him in his dilemma? At least he could test them
out. If necessary he would divide the reward with
them! Running toward the road Willie shouted to the
departing sleuth. The car, moving slowly forward in low,
came again to rest. Willie leaped to the running board.
"If I tell you where the murderer is," he whispered
hoarsely, "do I git the $50.00?"
Detective Burton was too old a hand to ignore even
the most seemingly impossible of aids. He laid a kindly
hand on Willie's shoulder. "You bet you do," he replied
heartily, "and what's more I'll add another fifty to it.
What do you know?"
"I seen the murderer this mornin'," Willie was gasping
with excitement and elation. Already the one hundred
dollars was as good as his. One hundred dollars!
Willie "Goshed!" mentally even as he told his tale. "He
come to our house an' bought some vittles an' stuff. Paw
didn't know who he wuz; but when Paw went inside he
told me he was The Oskaloosie Kid 'n' thet he robbed a
house last night and killed a man, 'n' he had a whole
pocket full o' money, 'n' he said he'd kill me ef I told."
Detective Burton could scarce restrain a smile as he
listened to this wildly improbable tale, yet his professional
instinct was too keen to permit him to cast aside
as worthless the faintest evidence until he had proven
it to be worthless. He stepped from the car again and
motioning to Willie to follow him returned to the Case
yard where Jeb was already coming toward the gate,
having noted the interest which his son was arousing
among the occupants of the car. Willie pulled at the
detective's sleeve. "Don't tell Paw about the reward,"
he begged; "he'll keep it all hisself."
Burton reassured the boy with a smile and a nod,
and then as he neared Jeb he asked him if a young
man had been at his place that morning asking for
"Sure," replied Jeb; "but he didn't 'mount to nothin'.
One o' these here summer camper pests. He paid fer all
he got. Had a roll o' bills 's big as ye fist. Little feller he
were, not much older 'n' Willie."
"Did you know that he told your son that he was The
Oskaloosa Kid and that he had robbed a house and
killed a man last night?"
"Huh?" exclaimed Jeb. Then he turned and cast one
awful look at Willie--a look large with menace.
"Honest, Paw," pleaded the boy. "I was a-scairt to
tell you, 'cause he said he'd kill me ef I told."
Jeb scratched his head. "Yew know what you'll get ef
you're lyin' to me," he threatened.
"I believe he's telling the truth," said detective Burton.
"Where is the man now?" he asked Willie.
"Down to the Squibbs' place," and Willie jerked a
dirty thumb toward the east.
"Not now," said Burton; "we just came from there;
but there has been someone there this morning, for
there is still a fire in the kitchen range. Does anyone live
"I should say not," said Willie emphatically; "the
place is haunted."
"Thet's right," interjected Jeb. "Thet's what they do
say, an' this here Oskaloosie Kid said they heered things
las' night an' seed a dead man on the floor, didn't he
M'randy?" M'randy nodded her head.
"But I don't take no stock in what Willie's ben tellin'
ye," she continued, "'n' ef his paw don't lick him I
will. I told him tell I'm good an' tired o' talkin' thet one
liar 'round a place wuz all I could stand," and she cast a
meaning glance at her husband.
"Honest, Maw, I ain't a-lyin'," insisted Willie. "Wot
do you suppose he give me this fer, if it wasn't to keep
me from talkin'," and the boy drew a crumpled one dollar
bill from his pocket. It was worth the dollar to escape
"He give you thet?" asked his mother. Willie nodded
"'N' thet ain't all he had neither," he said. "Beside
all them bills he showed me a whole pocket full o'
jewlry, 'n' he had a string o' things thet I don't know
jest what you call 'em; but they looked like they was
made outen the inside o' clam shells only they was all
round like marbles."
Detective Burton raised his eyebrows. "Miss Prim's
pearl necklace," he commented to the man at his side.
The other nodded. "Don't punish your son, Mrs. Case,"
he said to the woman. "I believe he has discovered a
great deal that will help us in locating the man we want.
Of course I am interested principally in finding Miss
Prim--her father has engaged me for that purpose; but
I think the arrest of the perpetrators of any of last
night's crimes will put us well along on the trail of the
missing young lady, as it is almost a foregone conclusion
that there is a connection between her disappearance
and some of the occurrences which have so excited
Oakdale. I do not mean that she was a party to any
criminal act; but it is more than possible that she was abducted
by the same men who later committed the other
The Cases hung open-mouthed upon his words, while
his companions wondered at the loquaciousness of this
ordinarily close-mouthed man, who, as a matter of fact,
was but attempting to win the confidence of the boy
on the chance that even now he had not told all that
he knew; but Willie had told all.
Finding, after a few minutes further conversation,
that he could glean no additional information the detective
returned to his car and drove west toward Millsville
on the assumption that the fugitives would seek
escape by the railway running through that village.
Only thus could he account for their turning off the
main pike. The latter was now well guarded all the
way to Payson; while the Millsville road was still open.
No sooner had he departed than Willie Case disappeared,
nor did he answer at noon to the repeated
ringing of the big, farm dinner bell.
Half way between the Case farm and Millsville detective
Burton saw, far ahead along the road, two figures
scale a fence and disappear behind the fringing blackberry
bushes which grew in tangled profusion on either
side. When they came abreast of the spot he ordered
the driver to stop; but though he scanned the open field
carefully he saw no sign of living thing.
"There are two men hiding behind those bushes," he
said to his companions in a low whisper. "One of you
walk ahead about fifty yards and the other go back the
same distance and then climb the fence. When I see you
getting over I'll climb it here. They can't get away from
us." To the driver he said: "You have a gun. If they
make a break go after 'em. You can shoot if they don't
stop when you tell 'em to."
The two men walked in opposite directions along the
road, and when Burton saw them turn in and start to
climb the fence he vaulted over the panel directly opposite
the car. He had scarcely alighted upon the other
side when his eyes fell upon the disreputable figures of
two tramps stretched out upon their backs and snoring
audibly. Burton grinned.
"You two sure can go to sleep in a hurry," he said.
One of the men opened his eyes and sat up. When he
saw who it was that stood over him he grinned sheepishly.
"Can't a guy lie down fer a minute in de bushes widout
bein' pinched?" he asked. The other man now sat up
and viewed the newcomer, while from either side Burton'
s companions closed in on the three.
"Wot's de noise?" inquired the second tramp, looking
from one to another of the intruders. "We ain't done
"Of course not, Charlie," Burton assured him gaily.
"Who would ever suspect that you or The General
would do anything; but somebody did something in
Oakdale last night and I want to take you back there
and have a nice, long talk with you. Put your hands
"Put 'em up!" snapped Burton, and when the four
grimy fists had been elevated he signalled to his companions
to search the two men.
Nothing more formidable than knives, dope, and a
needle were found upon them.
"Say," drawled Dopey Charlie. "We knows wot we
knows; but hones' to gawd we didn't have nothin' to do
wid it. We knows the guy that pulled it off--we spent
las' night wid him an' his pal an' a skoit. He creased
me, here," and Charlie unbuttoned his clothing and exposed
to view the bloody scratch of The Oskaloosa
Kid's bullet. "On de level, Burton, we wern't in on it.
Dis guy was at dat Squibbs' place wen we pulls in dere
outen de rain. He has a pocket full o' kale an' sparklers
an' tings, and he goes fer to shoot me up wen I tries
to get away."
"Who was he?" asked Burton.
"He called hisself de Oskaloosa Kid," replied Charlie.
"A guy called Bridge was wid him. You know him?"
"I've heard of him; but he's straight," replied Burton.
"Who was the skirt?"
"I dunno," said Charlie; "but she was gassin' 'bout her
pals croakin' a guy an' trunin' 'im outten a gas wagon,
an' dis Oskaloosa Kid he croaks some old guy in Oakdale
las' night. Mebby he ain't a bad 'un though!"
"Where are they now?" asked Burton.
"We got away from 'em at the Squibbs' place this
mornin'," said Charlie.
"Well," said Burton, "you boes come along with me.
If you ain't done nothing the worst you'll get'll be
three squares and a place to sleep for a few days. I
want you where I can lay my hands on you when I
need a couple of witnesses," and he herded them over
the fence and into the machine. As he himself was about
to step in he felt suddenly of his breast pocket.
"What's the matter?" asked one of his companions.
"I've lost my note book," replied Burton; "it must
have dropped out of my pocket when I jumped the
fence. Just wait a minute while I go look for it," and
be returned to the fence, vaulted it and disappeared behind
It was fully five minutes before he returned but when
he did there was a look of satisfaction on his face.
"Find it?" asked his principal lieutenant.
"Yep," replied Burton. "I wouldn't have lost it for
Bridge and his companions had made their way along
the wooded path for perhaps a quarter of a mile when
the man halted and drew back behind the foliage of a
flowering bush. With raised finger he motioned the others
to silence and then pointed through the branches
ahead. The boy and the girl, tense with excitement,
peered past the man into a clearing in which stood a log
shack, mud plastered; but it was not the hovel which
held their mute attention--it was rather the figure of a
girl, bare headed and bare footed, who toiled stubbornly
with an old spade at a long, narrow excavation.
All too suggestive in itself was the shape of the hole
the girl was digging; there was no need of the silent
proof of its purpose which lay beside her to tell the
watchers that she worked alone in the midst of the forest
solitude upon a human grave. The thing wrapped
in an old quilt lay silently waiting for the making of its
And as the three watched her other eyes watched
them and the digging girl--wide, awestruck eyes, filled
with a great terror, yet now and again half closing in
the shrewd expression of cunning that is a hall mark of
And as they watched, their over-wrought nerves suddenly
shuddered to the grewsome clanking of a chain
from the dark interior of the hovel.
The youth, holding tight to Bridge's sleeve, strove to
pull him away.
"Let's go back," he whispered in a voice that trembled
so that he could scarce control it.
"Yes, please," urged the girl. "Here is another path
leading toward the north. We must be close to a road.
Let's get away from here."
The digger paused and raised her head, listening, as
though she had caught the faint, whispered note of human
voices. She was a black haired girl of nineteen or
twenty, dressed in a motley of flowered calico and silk,
with strings of gold and silver coins looped around her
olive neck. Her bare arms were encircled by bracelets--
some cheap and gaudy, others well wrought from gold
and silver. From her ears depended ornaments fashioned
from gold coins. Her whole appearance was barbaric,
her occupation cast a sinister haze about her; and
yet her eyes seemed fashioned for laughter and her lips
The watchers remained motionless as the girl peered
first in one direction and then in another, seeking an explanation
of the sounds which had disturbed her. Her
brows were contracted into a scowl of apprehension
which remained even after she returned to her labors,
and that she was ill at ease was further evidenced by
the frequent pauses she made to cast quick glances toward
the dense tanglewood surrounding the clearing.
At last the grave was dug. The girl climbed out and
stood looking down upon the quilt wrapped thing at
her feet. For a moment she stood there as silent and
motionless as the dead. Only the twittering of birds disturbed
the quiet of the wood. Bridge felt a soft hand
slipped into his and slender fingers grip his own, He
turned his eyes to see the boy at his side gazing with
wide eyes and trembling lips at the tableau within the
clearing. Involuntarily the man's hand closed tightly
upon the youth's.
And as they stood thus the silence was shattered by
a loud and human sneeze from the thicket not fifty feet
from where they stood. Instantly the girl in the clearing
was electrified into action. Like a tigress charging those
who stalked her she leaped swiftly across the clearing
toward the point from which the disturbance had come.
There was an answering commotion in the underbrush
as the girl crashed through, a slender knife gleaming in
Bridge and his companions heard the sounds of a
swift and short pursuit followed by voices, one masterful,
the other frightened and whimpering; and a moment
afterward the girl reappeared dragging a boy with her
--a wide-eyed, terrified, country boy who begged and
blubbered to no avail.
Beside the dead man the girl halted and then turned
on her captive. In her right hand she still held the
"What you do there watching me for?" she demanded.
"Tell me the truth, or I kill you," and she half raised
the knife that he might profit in his decision by this
most potent of arguments.
The boy cowered. "I didn't come fer to watch you,"
he whimpered. "I'm lookin' for somebody else. I'm goin'
to be a dee-tectiff, an' I'm shadderin' a murderer; and
he gasped and stammered: "But not you. I'm lookin' for
For the first time the watchers saw a faint smile
touch the girl's lips.
"What other murderer?" she asked. "Who has been
"Two an' mebby three in Oakdale last night," said
Willie Case more glibly now that a chance for disseminating
gossip momentarily outweighed his own fears.
"Reginald Paynter was murdered an' ol' man Baggs an'
Abigail Prim's missin'. Like es not she's been murdered
too, though they do say as she had a hand in it, bein'
seen with Paynter an' The Oskaloosie Kid jest afore the
As the boy's tale reached the ears of the three hidden
in the underbrush Bridge glanced quickly at his companions.
He saw the boy's horror-stricken expression follow
the announcement of the name of the murdered
Paynter, and he saw the girl flush crimson.
Without urging, Willie Case proceeded with his story.
He told of the coming of The Oskaloosa Kid to his
father's farm that morning and of seeing some of the
loot and hearing the confession of robbery and killing
in Oakdale the night before. Bridge looked down at the
youth beside him; but the other's face was averted and
his eyes upon the ground. Then Willie told of the arrival
of the great detective, of the reward that had been offered
and of his decision to win it and become rich
and famous in a single stroke. As he reached the end
of his narrative he leaned close to the girl, whispering
in her ear the while his furtive gaze wandered toward
the spot where the three lay concealed.
Bridge shrugged his shoulders as the palpable inference
of that cunning glance was borne in upon him.
The boy's voice had risen despite his efforts to hold it to
a low whisper for what with the excitement of the adventure
and his terror of the girl with the knife he had
little or no control of himself, yet it was evident that he
did not realize that practically every word he had
spoken had reached the ears of the three in hiding and
that his final precaution as he divulged the information
to the girl was prompted by an excess of timidity and
The eyes of the girl widened in surprise and fear
as she learned that three watchers lay concealed at
the verge of the clearing. She bent a long, searching
look in the direction indicated by the boy and then
turned her eyes quickly toward the hut as though to
summon aid. At the same moment Bridge stepped from
hiding into the clearing. His pleasant 'Good morning!'
brought the girl around, facing him.
"What you want?" she snapped.
"I want you and this young man," said Bridge, his
voice now suddenly stern. "We have been watching you
and followed you from the Squibbs house. We found the
dead man there last night;" Bridge nodded toward the
quilt enveloped thing upon the ground; "and we suspect
that you had an accomplice." Here he frowned
meaningly upon Willie Case. The youth trembled and
"I never seen her afore," he cried. "I don' know
nothin' about it. Honest I don't." But the girl did not
"You get out," she commanded. "You a bad man. Kill,
steal. He know; he tell me. You get out or I call Beppo.
He keel you. He eat you."
"Come, come, now, my dear," urged Bridge, "be calm.
Let us get at the root of this thing. Your young friend
accuses me of being a murderer, does he? And he tells
about murders in Oakdale that I have not even heard
of. It seems to me that he must have some guilty knowledge
himself of these affairs. Look at him and look at
me. Notice his ears, his chin, his forehead, or rather the
places where his chin and forehead should be, and then
look once more at me. Which of us might be a murderer
and which a detective? I ask you.
"And as for yourself. I find you here in the depths of
the wood digging a lonely grave for a human corpse.
I ask myself: was this man murdered? but I do not say
that he was murdered. I wait for an explanation from
you, for you do not look a murderer, though I cannot
say as much for your desperate companion."
The girl looked straight into Bridge's eyes for a full
minute before she replied as though endeavoring to
read his inmost soul.
"I do not know this boy," she said. "That is the truth.
He was spying on me, and when I found him he told
me that you and your companions were thieves and
murderers and that you were hiding there watching me.
You tell me the truth, all the truth, and I will tell you
the truth. I have nothing to fear. If you do not tell me
the truth I shall know it. Will you?"
"I will," replied Bridge, and then turning toward the
brush he called: "Come here!" and presently a boy and a
girl, dishevelled and fearful, crawled forth into sight.
Willie Case's eyes went wide as they fell upon the
Quickly and simply Bridge told the girl the story of
the past night, for he saw that by enlisting her sympathy
he might find an avenue of escape for his companions,
or at least a haven of refuge where they might
hide until escape was possible. "And then," he said in
conclusion, "when the searchers arrived we followed
the foot prints of yourself and the bear until we came
upon you digging this grave."
Bridge's companions and Willie Case looked their surprise
at his mention of a bear; but the gypsy girl only
nodded her head as she had occasionally during his narrative.
"I believe you," said the girl. "It is not easy to deceive
Giova. Now I tell you. This here," she pointed
toward the dead man, "he my father. He bad man.
Steal; kill; drink; fight; but always good to Giova. Good
to no one else but Beppo. He afraid Beppo. Even our
people drive us out he, my father, so bad man. We wander
'round country mak leetle money when Beppo
dance; mak lot money when HE steal. Two days he no
come home. I go las' night look for him. Sometimes he
too drunk come home he sleep Squeebs. I go there. I
find heem dead. He have fits, six, seven year. He die fit.
Beppo stay guard heem. I carry heem home. Giova
strong, he no very large man. Beppo come too. I bury
heem. No one know we leeve here. Pretty soon I go
way with Beppo. Why tell people he dead. Who care?
Mak lot trouble for Giova whose heart already ache
plenty. No one love heem, only Beppo and Giova. No
one love Giova, only Beppo; but some day Beppo he
keel Giova now HE is dead, for Beppo vera large, strong
bear--fierce bear--ogly bear. Even Giova who love Beppo
is afraid Beppo. Beppo devil bear! Beppo got evil
"Well," said Bridge, "I guess, Giova, that you and we
are in the same boat. We haven't any of us done anything
so very bad but it would be embarrassing to
have to explain to the police what we have done," here
he glanced at The Oskaloosa Kid and the girl standing
beside the youth. "Suppose we form a defensive alliance,
eh? We'll help you and you help us. What do you
"All right," acquiesced Giova; "but what we do with
this?" and she jerked her thumb toward Willie Case.
"If he don't behave we'll feed him to Beppo," suggested
Willie shook in his boots, figuratively speaking, for in
reality he shook upon his bare feet. "Lemme go," he
wailed, "an' I won't tell nobody nothin'."
"No," said Bridge, "you don't go until we're safely
out of here. I wouldn't trust that vanishing chin of
yours as far as I could throw Beppo by the tail."
"Wait!" exclaimed The Oskaloosa Kid. "I have it!"
"What have you?" asked Bridge.
"Listen!" cried the boy excitedly. "This boy has been
offered a hundred dollars for information leading to the
arrest and conviction of the men who robbed and murdered
in Oakdale last night. I'll give him a hundred
dollars if he'll go away and say nothing about us."
"Look here, son," said Bridge, "every time you open
your mouth you put your foot in it. The less you advertise
the fact that you have a hundred dollars the better
off you'll be. I don't know how you come by so much
wealth; but in view of several things which occurred
last night I should not be crazy, were I you, to have to
make a true income tax return. Somehow I have faith in
you; but I doubt if any minion of the law would be
The Oskaloosa Kid appeared hurt and crestfallen.
Giova shot a suspicious glance at him. The other girl involuntarily
drew away. Bridge noted the act and shook
his head. "No," he said, "we mustn't judge one another
hastily, Miss Prim, and I take it you are Miss Prim?"
The girl made a half gesture of denial, started to speak,
hesitated and then resumed. "I would rather not say
who I am, please," she said.
"Well," said the man, "let's take one another at face
value for a while, without digging too deep into the
past; and now for our plans. This wood will be searched;
but I don't see how we are to get out of it before dark as
the roads are doubtless pretty well patrolled, or at least
every farmer is on the lookout for suspicious strangers.
So we might as well make the best of it here for the
rest of the day. I think we're reasonably safe for the
time being--if we keep Willie with us."
Willie had been an interested auditor of all that
passed between his captors. He was obviously terrified;
but his terror did not prevent him from absorbing all
that he heard, nor from planning how he might utilize
the information. He saw not only one reward but several
and a glorious publicity which far transcended the
most sanguine of his former dreams. He saw his picture
not only in the Oakdale Tribune but in the newspapers
of every city of the country. Assuming a stern and arrogant
expression, or rather what he thought to be such,
he posed, mentally, for the newspaper cameramen; and
such is the power of association of ideas that he was
presently strolling nonchalantly before a battery of motion
picture machines. "Gee!" he murmured, "wont the
other fellers be sore! I s'ppose Pinkerton'll send for me
'bout the first thing 'n' offer me twenty fi' dollars a week,
er mebbie more 'n thet. Gol durn, ef I don't hold out
fer thirty! Gee!" Words, thoughts even, failed him.
As the others planned they rather neglected Willie
and when they came to assisting Giova in lowering her
father into the grave and covering him over with earth
they quite forgot Willie entirely. It was The Oskaloosa
Kid who first thought of him. "Where's the boy?" he
cried suddenly. The others looked quickly about the
clearing, but no Willie was to be seen.
Bridge shook his head ruefully. "We'll have to get out
of this in a hurry now," he said. "That little defective will
have the whole neighborhood on us in an hour."
"Oh, what can we do?" cried the girl. "They mustn't
find us! I should rather die than be found here with--"
She stopped abruptly, flushed scarlet as the other three
looked at her in silence, and then: "I am sorry," she said.
"I didn't know what I was saying. I am so frightened.
You have all been good to me."
"I tell you what we do." It was Giova speaking in the
masterful voice of one who has perfect confidence in his
own powers. "I know fine way out. This wood circle
back south through swamp mile, mile an' a half. The
road past Squeebs an' Case's go right through it. I know
path there I fin' myself. We on'y have to cross road, that
only danger. Then we reach leetle stream south of
woods, stream wind down through Payson. We all go
Gypsies. I got lot clothing in house. We all go Gypsies,
an' when we reach Payson we no try hide--jus' come
out on street with Beppo. Mak' Beppo dance. No one
think we try hide. Then come night we go 'way. Find
more wood an' leetle lake other side Payson. I know
place. We hide there long time. No one ever fin' us
there. We tell two, three, four people in Payson we go
Oakdale. They look Oakdale for us if they wan' fin' us.
They no think look where we go. See?"
"Oh, I can't go to Payson," exclaimed the other girl.
"Someone would be sure to recognize me."
"You come in house with me," Giova assured her, "I
feex you so your own mother no know you. You mens
come too. I geeve you what to wear like Gypsy mens.
We got lots things. My father, him he steal many things
from our people after they drive us out. He go back
by nights an' steal."
The three followed her toward the little hovel since
there seemed no better plan than that which she had
offered. Giova and the other girl were in the lead, followed
by Bridge and the boy. The latter turned to the
man and placed a hand upon his arm. "Why don't you
leave us," he asked. "You have done nothing. No one is
looking for you. Why don't you go your way and save
yourself from suspicion."
Bridge did not reply.
"I believe," the youth went on, "that you are doing
it for me; but why I can't guess."
"Maybe I am," Bridge half acknowledged. "You're a
good little kid, but you need someone to look after you.
It would be easier though if you'd tell me the truth
about yourself, which you certainly haven't up to now."
"Please don't ask me," begged the boy. "I can't; honestly
"Is it as bad as that?" asked the man.
"Oh, its worse," cried The Oskaloosa Kid. "It's a thousand
times worse. Don't make me tell you, for if I do
tell I shall have to leave you, and--and, oh, Bridge, I
don't want to leave you--ever!"
They had reached the door of the cabin now and
were looking in past the girl who had halted there as
Giova entered. Before them was a small room in which
a large, vicious looking brown bear was chained.
"Behold our ghost of last night!" exclaimed Bridge.
"By George! though, I'd as soon have hunted a real
ghost in the dark as to have run into this fellow."
"Did you know last night that it was a bear?" asked
the Kid. "You told Giova that you followed the footprints
of herself and her bear; but you had not said anything
about a bear to us."
"I had an idea last night," explained Bridge, "that
the sounds were produced by some animal dragging a
chain; but I couldn't prove it and so I said nothing, and
then this morning while we were following the trail I
made up my mind that it was a bear. There were two
facts which argued that such was the case. The first is
that I don't believe in ghosts and that even if I did I
would not expect a ghost to leave footprints in the mud,
and the other is that I knew that the footprints of a bear
are strangely similar to those of the naked feet of man.
Then when I saw the Gypsy girl I was sure that what
we had heard last night was nothing more nor less than
a trained bear. The dress and appearance of the dead
man lent themselves to a furtherance of my belief and
the wisp of brown hair clutched in his fingers added still
Within the room the bear was now straining at his
collar and growling ferociously at the strangers. Giova
crossed the room, scolding him and at the same time
attempting to assure him that the newcomers were
friends; but the wicked expression upon the beast's face
gave no indication that he would ever accept them as
aught but enemies.
It was a breathless Willie who broke into his mother's
kitchen wide eyed and gasping from the effects of excitement
and a long, hard run.
"Fer lan' sakes!" exclaimed Mrs. Case. "Whatever in
the world ails you?"
"I got 'em; I got 'em!" cried Willie, dashing for the
"Fer lan' sakes! I should think you did hev 'em," retorted
his mother as she trailed after him in the direction
of the front hall. "'N' whatever you got, you got 'em
bad. Now you stop right where you air 'n' tell me whatever
you got. 'Taint likely its measles, fer you've hed
them three times, 'n' whoopin' cough ain't 'them,' it's 'it,'
'n'--." Mrs. Case paused and gasped--horrified. "Fer lan'
sakes, Willie Case, you come right out o' this house this
minute ef you got anything in your head." She made a
grab for Willie's arm; but the boy dodged and reached
"Shucks!" he cried. "I ain't got nothin' in my head,"
nor did either sense the unconscious humor of the statement.
"What I got is a gang o' thieves an' murderers, an'
I'm callin' up thet big city deetectiff to come arter 'em."
Mrs. Case sank into a chair, prostrated by the weight
of her emotions, while Willie took down the receiver after
ringing the bell to attract central. Finally he obtained
his connection, which was with Jonas Prim's bank
where detective Burton was making his headquarters.
Here he learned that Burton had not returned; but finally
gave his message reluctantly to Jonas Prim after
exacting a promise from that gentleman that he would
be personally responsible for the payment of the reward.
What Willie Case told Jonas Prim had the latter in a
machine, with half a dozen deputy sheriffs and speeding
southward from Oakdale inside of ten minutes.
A short distance out from town they met detective
Burton with his two prisoners. After a hurried consultation
Dopey Charlie and The General were unloaded
and started on the remainder of their journey afoot under
guard of two of the deputies, while Burton's companions
turned and followed the other car, Burton taking
a seat beside Prim.
"He said that he could take us right to where Abigail
is," Mr. Prim was explaining to Burton, "and that this
Oskaloosa Kid is with her, and another man and a foreign
looking girl. He told a wild story about seeing
them burying a dead man in the woods back of
Squibbs' place. I don't know how much to believe, or
whether to believe any of it; but we can't afford not
to run down every clew. I can't believe that my daughter
is wilfully consorting with such men. She always
has been full of life and spirit; but she's got a clean
mind, and her little escapades have always been entirely
harmless--at worst some sort of boyish prank. I
simply won't believe it until I see it with my own eyes.
If she's with them she's being held by force."
Burton made no reply. He was not a man to jump to
conclusions. His success was largely due to the fact
that he assumed nothing; but merely ran down each
clew quickly yet painstakingly until he had a foundation
of fact upon which to operate. His theory was that the
simplest way is always the best way and so he never befogged
the main issue with any elaborate system of deductive
reasoning based on guesswork. Burton never
guessed. He assumed that it was his business to KNOW,
nor was he on any case long before he did know. He
was employed now to find Abigail Prim. Each of the several
crimes committed the previous night might or might
not prove a clew to her whereabouts; but each must be
run down in the process of elimination before Burton
could feel safe in abandoning it.
Already he had solved one of them to his satisfaction;
and Dopey Charlie and The General were, all unknown
to themselves, on the way to the gallows for the
murder of Old John Baggs. When Burton had found
them simulating sleep behind the bushes beside the road
his observant eyes had noticed something that resembled
a hurried cache. The excuse of a lost note book had
taken him back to investigate and to find the loot of the
Baggs's crime wrapped in a bloody rag and hastily
buried in a shallow hole.
When Burton and Jonas Prim arrived at the Case farm
they were met by a new Willie. A puffed and important
young man swaggered before them as he retold his tale
and led them through the woods toward the spot where
they were to bag their prey. The last hundred yards was
made on hands and knees; but when the party arrived
at the clearing there was no one in sight, only the hovel
stood mute and hollow-eyed before them.
"They must be inside," whispered Willie to the detective.
Burton passed a whispered word to his followers.
Stealthily they crept through the underbrush until the
cabin was surrounded; then, at a signal from their leader
they rose and advanced upon the structure.
No evidence of life indicated their presence had been
noted, and Burton came to the very door of the cabin
unchallenged. The others saw him pause an instant
upon the threshold and then pass in. They closed behind
him. Three minutes later he emerged, shaking his
"There is no one here," he announced.
Willie Case was crestfallen. "But they must be," he
pleaded. "They must be. I saw 'em here just a leetle
Burton turned and eyed the boy sternly. Willie
quailed. "I seen 'em," he cried. "Hones' I seen 'em. They
was here just a few minutes ago. Here's where they burrit
the dead man," and he pointed to the little mound of
earth near the center of the clearing.
"We'll see," commented Burton, tersely, and he sent
two of his men back to the Case farm for spades. When
they returned a few minutes' labor revealed that so
much of Willie's story was true, for a quilt wrapped
corpse was presently unearthed and lying upon the
ground beside its violated grave. Willie's stock rose once
more to par.
In an improvised litter they carried the dead man
back to Case's farm where they left him after notifying
the coroner by telephone. Half of Burton's men were
sent to the north side of the woods and half to the road
upon the south of the Squibbs' farm. There they separated
and formed a thin line of outposts about the
entire area north of the road. If the quarry was within
it could not escape without being seen. In the mean
time Burton telephoned to Oakdale for reinforcements,
as it would require fifty men at least to properly beat the
tangled underbrush of the wood.
In a clump of willows beside the little stream which
winds through the town of Payson a party of four halted
on the outskirts of the town. There were two men, two
young women and a huge brown bear. The men and
women were, obviously, Gypsies. Their clothing, their
head-dress, their barbaric ornamentation proclaimed the
fact to whoever might pass; but no one passed.
"I think," said Bridge, "that we will just stay where we
are until after dark. We haven't passed or seen a human
being since we left the cabin. No one can know that
we are here and if we stay here until late to-night we
should be able to pass around Payson unseen and reach
the wood to the south of town. If we do meet anyone
to-night we'll stop them and inquire the way to Oakdale
--that'll throw them off the track."
The others acquiesced in his suggestion; but there
were queries about food to be answered. It seemed that
all were hungry and that the bear was ravenous.
"What does he eat?" Bridge asked of Giova.
"Mos' anything," replied the girl. "He like garbage
fine. Often I take him into towns late, ver' late at night
an' he eat swill. I do that to-night. Beppo, he got to be
fed or he eat Giova. I go feed Beppo, you go get food
for us; then we all meet at edge of wood just other side
town near old mill."
During the remainder of the afternoon and well after
dark the party remained hidden in the willows. Then
Giova started out with Beppo in search of garbage cans,
Bridge bent his steps toward a small store upon the
outskirts of town where food could be purchased, The
Oskaloosa Kid having donated a ten dollar bill for the
stocking of the commissariat, and the youth and the
girl made their way around the south end of the town
toward the meeting place beside the old mill.
As Bridge moved through the quiet road at the outskirts
of the little town he let his mind revert to the
events of the past twenty four hours and as he pondered
each happening since he met the youth in the
dark of the storm the preceding night he asked himself
why he had cast his lot with these strangers. In his
years of vagabondage Bridge had never crossed that invisible
line which separates honest men from thieves and
murderers and which, once crossed, may never be recrossed.
Chance and necessity had thrown him often
among such men and women; but never had he been of
them. The police of more than one city knew Bridge--
they knew him, though, as a character and not as a
criminal. A dozen times he had been arraigned upon
suspicion; but as many times had he been released with
a clean bill of morals until of late Bridge had become almost
immune from arrest. The police who knew him
knew that he was straight and they knew, too, that he
would give no information against another man. For
this they admired him as did the majority of the criminals
with whom he had come in contact during his
The present crisis, however, appeared most unpromising
to Bridge. Grave crimes had been committed in
Oakdale, and here was Bridge conniving in the escape
of at least two people who might readily be under police
suspicion. It was difficult for the man to bring himself
to believe that either the youth or the girl was in
any way actually responsible for either of the murders;
yet it appeared that the latter had been present when a
murder was committed and now by attempting to elude
the police had become an accessory after the fact, since
she possessed knowledge of the identity of the actual
murderer; while the boy, by his own admission, had
committed a burglary.
Bridge shook his head wearily. Was he not himself
an accessory after the fact in the matter of two crimes
at least? These new friends, it seemed, were about to
topple him into the abyss which he had studiously
avoided for so long a time. But why should he permit
it? What were they to him?
A freight train was puffing into the siding at the Payson
station. Bridge could hear the complaining brakes
a mile away. It would be easy to leave the town and his
dangerous companions far behind him; but even as the
thought forced its way into his mind another obtruded
itself to shoulder aside the first. It was recollection of the
boy's words: "Oh, Bridge, I don't want to leave you--
"I couldn't do it," mused Bridge. "I don't know just
why; but I couldn't. That kid has certainly got me. The
first thing someone knows I'll be starting a foundlings'
home. There is no question but that I am the soft
mark, and I wonder why it is--why a kid I never saw
before last night has a strangle hold on my heart that I
can't shake loose--and don't want to. Now if it was a
girl I could understand it." Bridge stopped suddenly in
the middle of the road. From his attitude he might have
been startled either by a surprising noise or by a surprising
thought. For a minute he stood motionless; then he
shook his head again and proceeded along his way toward
the little store; evidently if he had heard anything
he was assured that it constituted no menace.
As he entered the store to make his purchases a foxeyed
man saw him and stepped quickly behind the
huge stove which had not as yet been taken down for
the summer. Bridge made his purchases, the volume of
which required a large gunny-sack for transportation,
and while he was thus occupied the fox-eyed man clung
to his coign of vantage, himself unnoticed by the purchaser.
When Bridge departed the other followed him,
keeping in the shadow of the trees which bordered the
street. Around the edge of town and down a road which
led southward the two went until Bridge passed through
a broken fence and halted beside an abandoned mill.
The watcher saw his quarry set down his burden, seat
himself beside it and proceed to roll a cigaret; then he
faded away in the darkness and Bridge was alone.
Five or ten minutes later two slender figures appeared
dimly out of the north. They approached timidly,
stopping often and looking first this way and then that
and always listening. When they arrived opposite the
mill Bridge saw them and gave a low whistle. Immediately
the two passed through the fence and approached
"My!" exclaimed one, "I thought we never would get
here; but we didn't see a soul on the road. Where is
"She hadn't come yet," replied Bridge, "and she may
not. I don't see how a girl can browse around a town
like this with a big bear at night and not be seen, and
if she is seen she'll be followed--it would be too much
of a treat for the rubes ever to be passed up--and if
she's followed she won't come here. At least I hope she
"What's that?" exclaimed The Oskaloosa Kid. Each
stood in silence, listening.
The girl shuddered. "Even now that I know what it
is it makes me creep," she whispered, as the faint clanking
of a distant chain came to their ears.
"We ought to be used to it by this time, Miss Prim,"
said Bridge. "We heard it all last night and a good
part of to-day."
The girl made no comment upon the use of the name
which he had applied to her, and in the darkness he
could not see her features, nor did he see the odd expression
upon the boy's face as he heard the name
addressed to her. Was he thinking of the nocturnal
raid he so recently had made upon the boudoir of Miss
Abigail Prim? Was he pondering the fact that his pockets
bulged to the stolen belongings of that young lady?
But whatever was passing in his mind he permitted
none of it to pass his lips.
As the three stood waiting in silence Giova came presently
among them, the beast Beppo lumbering awkwardly
at her side.
"Did he find anything to eat?" asked the man.
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Giova. "He fill up now. That mak
him better nature. Beppo not so ugly now."
"Well, I'm glad of that," said Bridge. "I haven't been
looking forward much to his company through the
woods to-night--especially while he was hungry!"
Giova laughed a low, musical little laugh. "I don'
think he no hurt you anyway," she said. "Now he know
you my frien'."
"I hope you are quite correct in your surmise," replied
Bridge. "But even so I'm not taking any chances."
Willie Case had been taken to Payson to testify before
the coroner's jury investigating the death of Giova's
father, and with the dollar which The Oskaloosa Kid
had given him in the morning burning in his pocket had
proceeded to indulge in an orgy of dissipation the moment
that he had been freed from the inquest. Ice
cream, red pop, peanuts, candy, and soda water may
have diminished his appetite but not his pride and selfsatisfaction
as he sat alone and by night for the first
time in a public eating place. Willie was now a man of
the world, a bon vivant, as he ordered ham and eggs
from the pretty waitress of The Elite Restaurant on
Broadway; but at heart he was not happy for never before
had he realized what a great proportion of his anatomy
was made up of hands and feet. As he glanced
fearfully at the former, silhouetted against the white of
the table cloth, he flushed scarlet, assured as he was that
the waitress who had just turned away toward the
kitchen with his order was convulsed with laughter
and that every other eye in the establishment was glued
upon him. To assume an air of nonchalance and thereby
impress and disarm his critics Willie reached for a toothpick
in the little glass holder near the center of the table
and upset the sugar bowl. Immediately Willie
snatched back the offending hand and glared ferociously
at the ceiling. He could feel the roots of his hair being
consumed in the heat of his skin. A quick side glance
that required all his will power to consummate showed
him that no one appeared to have noticed his faux pas
and Willie was again slowly returning to normal when
the proprietor of the restaurant came up from behind
and asked him to remove his hat.
Never had Willie Case spent so frightful a half hour
as that within the brilliant interior of The Elite Restaurant.
Twenty-three minutes of this eternity was consumed
in waiting for his order to be served and seven
minutes in disposing of the meal and paying his check.
Willie's method of eating was in itself a sermon on
efficiency--there was no lost motion--no waste of time.
He placed his mouth within two inches of his plate
after cutting his ham and eggs into pieces of a size that
would permit each mouthful to enter without wedging;
then he mixed his mashed potatoes in with the result
and working his knife and fork alternately with bewildering
rapidity shot a continuous stream of food into his
In addition to the meat and potatoes there was one
vegetable in a side-dish and as dessert four prunes. The
meat course gone Willie placed the vegetable dish on
the empty plate, seized a spoon in lieu of knife and
fork and--presto! the side-dish was empty. Whereupon
the prune dish was set in the empty side-dish--four deft
motions and there were no prunes--in the dish. The entire
feat had been accomplished in 6:34 1/2, setting a
new world's record for red-headed farmer boys with one
In the remaining twenty five and one half seconds
Willie walked what seemed to him a mile from his seat
to the cashier's desk and at the last instant bumped into
a waitress with a trayful of dishes. Clutched tightly in
Willie's hand was thirty five cents and his check with a
like amount written upon it. Amid the crash of crockery
which followed the collision Willie slammed check and
money upon the cashier's desk and fled. Nor did he
pause until in the reassuring seclusion of a dark sidestreet.
There Willie sank upon the curb alternately cold
with fear and hot with shame, weak and panting, and
into his heart entered the iron of class hatred, searing
it to the core.
Fortunately for youth it recuperates rapidly from mortal
blows, and so it was that another half hour found
Willie wandering up and down Broadway but at the
far end of the street from The Elite Restaurant. A motion
picture theater arrested his attention; and presently,
parting with one of his two remaining dimes, he
entered. The feature of the bill was a detective melodrama.
Nothing in the world could have better suited
Willie's psychic needs. It recalled his earlier feats of
the day, in which he took pardonable pride, and raised
him once again to a self-confidence he had not felt since
be entered the ever to be hated Elite Restaurant.
The show over Willie set forth afoot for home. A
long walk lay ahead of him. This in itself was bad
enough; but what lay at the end of the long walk was
infinitely worse, as Willie's father had warned him to
return immediately after the inquest, in time for milking,
preferably. Before he had gone two blocks from the
theater Willie had concocted at least three tales to account
for his tardiness, either one of which would have
done credit to the imaginative powers of a Rider Haggard
or a Jules Verne; but at the end of the third
block he caught a glimpse of something which drove
all thoughts of home from his mind and came but
barely short of driving his mind out too. He was approaching
the entrance to an alley. Old trees grew in the
parkway at his side. At the street corner a half block
away a high flung arc swung gently from its supporting
cables, casting a fair light upon the alley's mouth,
and just emerging from behind the nearer fence Willie
Case saw the huge bulk of a bear. Terrified, Willie
jumped behind a tree; and then, fearful lest the animal
might have caught sight or scent of him he poked his
head cautiously around the side of the bole just in
time to see the figure of a girl come out of the alley behind
the bear. Willie recognized her at the first glance--
she was the very girl he had seen burying the dead man
in the Squibbs woods. Instantly Willie Case was transformed
again into the shrewd and death defying sleuth.
At a safe distance he followed the girl and the bear
through one alley after another until they came out upon
the road which leads south from Payson. He was across
the road when she joined Bridge and his companions.
When they turned toward the old mill he followed them,
listening close to the rotting clapboards for any chance
remark which might indicate their future plans. He
heard them debating the wisdom of remaining where
they were for the night or moving on to another location
which they had evidently decided upon but no
clew to which they dropped.
"The objection to remaining here," said Bridge, "is
that we can't make a fire to cook by--it would be too
plainly visible from the road."
"But I can no fin' road by dark," explained Giova. "It
bad road by day, ver' much worse by night. Beppo no
come 'cross swamp by night. No, we got stay here til
"All right," replied Bridge, "we can eat some of this
canned stuff and have our ham and coffee after we
reach camp tomorrow morning, eh?"
"And now that we've gotten through Payson safely,"
suggested The Oskaloosa Kid, "let's change back into
our own clothes. This disguise makes me feel too conspicuous."
Willie Case had heard enough. His quarry would remain
where it was over night, and a moment later Willie
was racing toward Payson and a telephone as fast as his
legs would carry him.
In an old brick structure a hundred yards below the
mill where the lighting machinery of Payson had been
installed before the days of the great central powerplant
a hundred miles away four men were smoking as
they lay stretched upon the floor.
"I tell you I seen him," asserted one of the party. "I
follered this Bridge guy from town to the mill. He was
got up like a Gyp; but I knew him all right, all right.
This scenery of his made me tink there was something
phoney doin', or I wouldn't have trailed him, an' its a
good ting I done it, fer he hadn't ben there five minutes
before along comes The Kid an' a skirt and pretty
soon a nudder chicken wid a calf on a string, er mebbie
it was a sheep--it was pretty husky lookin' fer a sheep
though. An' I sticks aroun' a minute until I hears this
here Bridge guy call the first skirt 'Miss Prim.'"
He ceased speaking to note the effect of his words on
his hearers. They were electrical. The Sky Pilot sat up
straight and slapped his thigh. Soup Face opened his
mouth, letting his pipe fall out into his lap, setting fire
to his ragged trousers. Dirty Eddie voiced a characteristic
"So you sees," went on Columbus Blackie, "we got a
chanct to get both the dame and The Kid. Two of us
can take her to Oakdale an' claim the reward her old
man's offerin' an' de odder two can frisk de Kid, an'--
"An' wot?" queried The Sky Pilot.
"Dere's de swamp handy," suggested Soup Face.
"I was tinkin' of de swamp," said Columbus Blackie.
"Eddie and I will return Miss Prim to her bereaved
parents," interrupted The Sky Pilot. "You, Blackie, and
Soup Face can arrange matters with The Oskaloosa Kid.
I don't care for details. We will all meet in Toledo as
soon as possible and split the swag. We ought to make
a cleaning on this job, boes."
"You split a mout'ful then," said Columbus Blackie.
They fell to discussing way and means.
"We'd better wait until they're asleep," counseled
The Sky Pilot. "Two of us can tackle this Bridge and
hand him the k.o. quick. Eddie and Soup Face had
better attend to that. Blackie can nab The Kid an' I'll
annex Miss Abigail Prim. The lady with the calf we
don't want. We'll tell her we're officers of the law an'
that she'd better duck with her live stock an' keep her
trap shut if she don't want to get mixed up with a murder
Detective Burton was at the county jail in Oakdale
administering the third degree to Dopey Charlie and
The General when there came a long distance telephone
call for him.
"Hello!" said the voice at the other end of the line;
"I'm Willie Case, an' I've found Miss Abigail Prim."
"Again?" queried Burton.
"Really," asserted Willie. "I know where she's goin' to
be all night. I heard 'em say so. The Oskaloosie Kid's
with her an' annuder guy an' the girl I seen with the
dead man in Squibbs' woods an' they got a BEAR!" It
was almost a shriek. "You'd better come right away
an' bring Mr. Prim. I'll meet you on the ol' Toledo road
right south of Payson, an' say, do I get the whole reward
"You'll get whatever's coming to you, son," replied
Burton. "You say there are two men and two women--
are you sure that is all?"
"And the bear," corrected Willie.
"All right, keep quiet and wait for me," cautioned
Burton. "You'll know me by the spot light on my car--
I'll have it pointed straight up into the air. When you
see it coming get into the middle of the road and wave
your hands to stop us. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Willie.
"And don't talk to anyone," Burton again cautioned
A few minutes later Burton left Oakdale with his two
lieutenants and a couple of the local policemen, the car
turning south toward Payson and moving at ever accelerating
speed as it left the town streets behind it and
swung smoothly onto the country road.
It was after midnight when four men cautiously approached
the old mill. There was no light nor any sign of
life within as they crept silently through the doorless
doorway. Columbus Blackie was in the lead. He flashed
a quick light around the interior revealing four forms
stretched upon the floor, deep in slumber. Into the
blacker shadows of the far end of the room the man
failed to shine his light for the first flash had shown
him those whom he sought. Picking out their quarry the
intruders made a sudden rush upon the sleepers.
Bridge awoke to find two men attempting to rain
murderous blows upon his head. Wiry, strong and full
of the vigor of a clean life, he pitted against their
greater numbers and cowardly attack a defense which
was infinitely more strenuous than they had expected.
Columbus Blackie leaped for The Oskaloosa Kid,
while The Sky Pilot seized upon Abigail Prim. No one
paid any attention to Giova, nor, with the noise and confusion,
did the intruders note the sudden clanking of a
chain from out the black depths of the room's further
end, or the splintering of a half decayed studding.
Soup Face entangling himself about Bridge's legs succeeded
in throwing the latter to the floor while Dirty
Eddie kicked viciously at the prostrate man's head. The
Sky Pilot seized Abigail Prim about the waist and
dragged her toward the doorway and though the girl
fought valiantly to free herself her lesser muscles were
unable to cope successfully with those of the man. Columbus
Blackie found his hands full with The Oskaloosa
Kid. Again and again the youth struck him in the face;
but the man persisted, beating down the slim hands
and striking viciously at body and head until, at last,
the boy, half stunned though still struggling, was
dragged from the room.
Simultaneously a series of frightful growls reverberated
through the deserted mill. A huge body catapulted
into the midst of the fighters. Abigail Prim
screamed. "The bear!" she cried. "The bear is loose!"
Dirty Eddie was the first to feel the weight of Beppo's
wrath. His foot drawn back to implant a vicious kick in
Bridge's face he paused at the girl's scream and at the
same moment a huge thing reared up before him. Just
for an instant he sensed the terrifying presence of some
frightful creature, caught the reflected gleam of two
savage eyes and felt the hot breath from distended
jaws upon his cheek, then Beppo swung a single terrific
blow which caught the man upon the side of the head
to spin him across the floor and drop him in a crumpled
heap against the wall, with a fractured skull. Dirty
Eddie was out. Soup Face, giving voice to a scream more
bestial than human, rose to his feet and fled in the opposite
Beppo paused and looked about. He discovered
Bridge lying upon the floor and sniffed at him. The
man lay perfectly quiet. He had heard that often times
a bear will not molest a creature which it thinks dead.
Be that as it may Beppo chanced at that moment to
glance toward the doorway. There, silhouetted against
the lesser darkness without, he saw the figures of Columbus
Blackie and The Oskaloosa Kid and with a
growl he charged them. The two were but a few paces
outside the doorway when the full weight of the great
bear struck Columbus Blackie between the shoulders.
Down went the man and as he fell he released his hold
upon the youth who immediately turned and ran for the
The momentum of the bear carried him past the body
of his intended victim who, frightened but uninjured,
scrambled to his feet and dashed toward the rear of the
mill in the direction of the woods and distant swamp.
Beppo, recovering from his charge, wheeled in time to
catch a glimpse of his quarry after whom he made with
all the awkwardness that was his birthright and with
the speed of a race horse.
Columbus Blackie, casting a terrified glance rearward,
saw his Nemesis flashing toward him, and dodged
around a large tree. Again Beppo shot past the man
while the latter, now shrieking for help, raced madly
in a new direction.
Bridge had arisen and come out of the mill. He called
aloud for The Oskaloosa Kid. Giova answered him from
a small tree. "Climb!" she cried. "Climb a tree! Ever'one
climb a small tree. Beppo he go mad. He keel ever'one.
Run! Climb! He keel me. Beppo he got evil-eye."
Along the road from the north came a large touring
car, swinging from side to side in its speed. Its brilliant
headlights illuminated the road far ahead. They picked
out The Sky Pilot and Abigail Prim, they found The
Oskaloosa Kid climbing a barbed wire fence and then
with complaining brakes the car came to a sudden stop.
Six men leaped from the machine and rounded up the
three they had seen. Another came running toward
them. It was Soup Face, so thoroughly terrified that he
would gladly have embraced a policeman in uniform,
could the latter have offered him protection.
A boy accompanied the newcomers. "There he is!" he
screamed, pointing at The Oskaloosa Kid. "There he is!
And you've got Miss Prim, too, and when do I get the
"Shut up!" said one of the men.
"Watch this bunch," said Burton to one of his lieutenants,
"while we go after the rest of them. There are some
over by the mill. I can hear them."
From the woods came a fearfilled scream mingled
with the savage growls of a beast.
"It's the bear," shrilled Willie Case, and ran toward
Bridge ran forward to meet Burton. "Get that girl and
the kid into your machine and beat it!" he cried. "There's
a bear loose here, a regular devil of a bear. You can't do
a thing unless you have rifles. Have you?"
"Who are you?" asked the detective.
"He's one of the gang," yelled Willie Case from the
fancied security of the tonneau. "Seize him!" He wanted
to add: "My men"; but somehow his nerve failed him at
the last moment; however he had the satisfaction of
Bridge was placed in the car with Abigail Prim, The
Oskaloosa Kid, Soup Face and The Sky Pilot. Burton
sent the driver back to assist in guarding them; then he
with the remaining three, two of whom were armed
with rifles, advanced toward the mill. Beyond it they
heard the growling of the bear at a little distance in the
wood; but the man no longer made any outcry. From
a tree Giova warned them back.
"Come down!" commanded Burton, and sent her
back to the car.
The driver turned his spot light upon the wood beyond
the mill and presently there came slowly forward
into its rays the lumbering bulk of a large bear. The
light bewildered him and he paused, growling. His left
shoulder was partially exposed.
"Aim for his chest, on the left side," whispered Burton.
The two men raised their rifles. There were two reports
in close succession. Beppo fell forward without a
sound and then rolled over on his side. Giova covered
her face with her hands and sobbed.
"He ver' bad, ugly bear," she said brokenly; "but he
all I have to love."
Bridge extended a hand and patted her bowed head.
In the eyes of The Oskaloosa Kid there glistened something
perilously similar to tears.
In the woods back of the mill Burton and his men
found the mangled remains of Columbus Blackie, and
when they searched the interior of the structure they
brought forth the unconscious Dirty Eddie. As the car
already was taxed to the limit of its carrying capacity
Burton left two of his men to march The Kid and Bridge
to the Payson jail, taking the others with him to Oakdale.
He was also partially influenced in this decision by
the fear that mob violence would be done the principals
by Oakdale's outraged citizens. At Payson he stopped
long enough at the town jail to arrange for the reception
of the two prisoners, to notify the coroner of the death
of Columbus Blackie and the whereabouts of his body
and to place Dirty Eddie in the hospital. He then telephoned
Jonas Prim that his daughter was safe and would
be returned to him in less than an hour.
By the time Bridge and The Oskaloosa Kid reached
Payson the town was in an uproar. A threatening crowd
met them a block from the jail; but Burton's men were
armed with rifles which they succeeded in convincing
the mob they would use if their prisoners were molested.
The telephone, however, had carried the word to Oakdale;
so that before Burton arrived there a dozen automobile
loads of indignant citizens were racing south toward
Bridge and The Oskaloosa Kid were hustled into the
single cell of the Payson jail. A bench ran along two
sides of the room. A single barred window let out upon
the yard behind the structure. The floor was littered
with papers, and a single electric light bulb relieved the
gloom of the unsavory place.
The Oskaloosa Kid sank, trembling, upon one of the
hard benches. Bridge rolled a cigaret. At his feet lay a
copy of that day's Oakdale Tribune. A face looked up
from the printed page into his eyes. He stooped and
took up the paper. The entire front page was devoted to
the various crimes which had turned peaceful Oakdale
inside out in the past twenty four hours. There were
reproductions of photographs of John Baggs, Reginald
Paynter, Abigail Prim, Jonas Prim, and his wife, with a
large cut of the Prim mansion, a star marking the boudoir
of the missing daughter of the house. As Bridge
examined the various pictures an odd expression entered
his eyes--it was a mixture of puzzlement, incredulity,
and relief. Tossing the paper aside he turned toward
The Oskaloosa Kid. They could hear the sullen
murmur of the crowd in front of the jail.
"If they get any booze," he said, "they'll take us out
of here and string us up. If you've got anything to say
that would tend to convince them that you did not kill
Paynter I advise you to call the guard and tell the truth,
for if the mob gets us they might hang us first and listen
afterward--a mob is not a nice thing. Beppo was an angel
of mercy by comparison with one."
"Could you convince them that you had no part in
any of these crimes?" asked the boy. "I know that you
didn't; but could you prove it to a mob?"
"No," said Bridge. "A mob is not open to reason. If
they get us I shall hang, unless someone happens to
think of the stake."
The boy shuddered.
"Will you tell the truth?" asked the man.
"I will go with you," replied the boy, "and take whatever
"Why?" asked Bridge.
The youth flushed; but did not reply, for there came
from without a sudden augmentation of the murmurings
of the mob. Automobile horns screamed out upon
the night. The two heard the chugging of motors, the
sound of brakes and the greetings of new arrivals. The
reinforcements had arrived from Oakdale.
A guard came to the grating of the cell door. "The
bunch from Oakdale has come," he said. "If I was you
I'd say my prayers. Old man Baggs is dead. No one
never had no use for him while he was alive, but the
whole county's het up now over his death. They're
bound to get you, an' while I didn't count 'em all I
seen about a score o' ropes. They mean business."
Bridge turned toward the boy. "Tell the truth," he
said. "Tell this man."
The youth shook his head. "I have killed no one," said
he. "That is the truth. Neither have you; but if they
are going to murder you they can murder me too, for
you stuck to me when you didn't have to; and I am going
to stick to you, and there is some excuse for me because
I have a reason--the best reason in the world."
"What is it?" asked Bridge.
The Oskaloosa Kid shook his head, and once more he
"Well," said the guard, with a shrug of his shoulders,
"it's up to you guys. If you want to hang, why hang and
be damned. We'll do the best we can 'cause it's our duty
to protect you; but I guess at that hangin's too good fer
you, an' we ain't a-goin' to get shot keepin' you from gettin'
"Thanks," said Bridge.
The uproar in front of the jail had risen in volume
until it was difficult for those within to make themselves
heard without shouting. The Kid sat upon his bench and
buried his face in his hands. Bridge rolled another smoke.
The sound of a shot came from the front room of the
jail, immediately followed by a roar of rage from the
mob and a deafening hammering upon the jail door.
A moment later this turned to the heavy booming of a
battering ram and the splintering of wood. The frail
structure quivered beneath the onslaught.
The prisoners could hear the voices of the guards
and the jailer raised in an attempt to reason with the
unreasoning mob, and then came a final crash and the
stamping of many feet upon the floor of the outer
Burton's car drew up before the doorway of the Prim
home in Oakdale. The great detective alighted and
handed down the missing Abigail. Then be directed that
the other prisoners be taken to the county jail.
Jonas Prim and his wife awaited Abigail's return in
the spacious living room at the left of the reception
hall. The banker was nervous. He paced to and fro the
length of the room. Mrs. Prim fanned herself vigorously
although the heat was far from excessive. They heard
the motor draw up in front of the house; but they did
not venture into the reception hall or out upon the
porch, though for different reasons. Mrs. Prim because
it would not have been PROPER; Jonas because he could
not trust himself to meet his daughter, whom he had
thought lost, in the presence of a possible crowd which
might have accompanied her home.
They heard the closing of an automobile door and
the sound of foot steps coming up the concrete walk.
The Prim butler was already waiting at the doorway
with the doors swung wide to receive the prodigal
daughter of the house of Prim. A slender figure with
bowed head ascended the steps, guided and assisted by
the detective. She did not look up at the expectant butler
waiting for the greeting he was sure Abigail would
have for him; but passed on into the reception hall.
"Your father and Mrs. Prim are in the living room,"
announced the butler, stepping forward to draw aside
the heavy hangings.
The girl, followed by Burton, entered the brightly
"I am very glad, Mr. Prim," said the latter, "to be
able to return Miss Prim to you so quickly and unharmed."
The girl looked up into the face of Jonas Prim. The
man voiced an exclamation of surprise and annoyance.
Mrs. Prim gasped and sank upon a sofa. The girl stood
motionless, her eyes once again bent upon the floor.
"What's the matter?" asked Burton. "What's wrong?"
"Everything is wrong, Mr. Burton," Jonas Prim's voice
was crisp and cold. "This is not my daughter."
Burton looked his surprise and discomfiture. He turned
upon the girl.
"What do you mean--" he started; but she interrupted
"You are going to ask what I mean by posing as Miss
Prim," she said. "I have never said that I was Miss Prim.
You took the word of an ignorant little farmer's boy and
I did not deny it when I found that you intended bringing
me to Mr. Prim, for I wanted to see him. I wanted
to ask him to help me. I have never met him, or his
daughter either; but my father and Mr. Prim have been
friends for many years.
"I am Hettie Penning," she continued, addressing
Jonas Prim. "My father has always admired you and
from what he has told me I knew that you would listen
to me and do what you could for me. I could not bear
to think of going to the jail in Payson, for Payson is my
home. Everybody would have known me. It would have
killed my father. Then I wanted to come myself and
tell you, after reading the reports and insinuations in the
paper, that your daughter was not with Reginald Paynter
when he was killed. She had no knowledge of the
crime and as far as I know may not have yet. I have
not seen her and do not know where she is; but I was
present when Mr. Paynter was killed. I have known him
for years and have often driven with him. He stopped
me yesterday afternoon on the street in Payson and
talked with me. He was sitting in a car in front of the
bank. After we had talked a few minutes two men came
out of the bank. Mr. Paynter introduced them to me. He
said they were driving out into the country to look at a
piece of property--a farm somewhere north of Oakdale
--and that on the way back they were going to stop at
The Crossroads Inn for dinner. He asked me if I
wouldn't like to come along--he kind of dared me to,
because, as you know, The Crossroads has rather a bad
"Father had gone to Toledo on business, and very
foolishly I took his dare. Everything went all right until
after we left The Inn, although one of the men--his
companion referred to him once or twice as The Oskaloosa
Kid--attempted to be too familiar with me. Mr.
Paynter prevented him on each occasion, and they had
words over me; but after we left the inn, where they
had all drunk a great deal, this man renewed his attentions
and Mr. Paynter struck him. Both of them were
drunk. After that it all happened so quickly that I could
scarcely follow it. The man called Oskaloosa Kid drew
a revolver but did not fire, instead he seized Mr. Paynter
by the coat and whirled him around and then he struck
him an awful blow behind the ear with the butt of the
"After that the other two men seemed quite sobered.
They discussed what would be the best thing to do and
at last decided to throw Mr. Paynter's body out of the
machine, for it was quite evident that he was dead. First
they rifled his pockets, and joked as they did it, one of
them saying that they weren't getting as much as they
had planned on; but that a little was better than nothing.
They took his watch, jewelry, and a large roll of
bills. We passed around the east side of Oakdale and
came back into the Toledo road. A little way out of town
they turned the machine around and ran back for about
half a mile; then they turned about a second time. I
don't know why they did this. They threw the body out
while the machine was moving rapidly; but I was so
frightened that I can't say whether it was before or after
they turned about the second time.
"In front of the old Squibbs place they shot at me and
threw me out; but the bullet missed me. I have not seen
them since and do not know where they went. I am
ready and willing to aid in their conviction; but, please
Mr. Prim, won't you keep me from being sent back to
Payson or to jail. I have done nothing criminal and I
won't run away."
"How about the robbery of Miss Prim's room and the
murder of Old Man Baggs?" asked Burton. "Did they
pull both of those off before they killed Paynter or after
"They had nothing to do with either unless they did
them after they threw me out of the car, which must
have been long after midnight," replied the girl.
"And the rest of the gang, those that were arrested
with you," continued the detective, "how about them?
All angels, I suppose."
"There was only Bridge and the boy they called The
Oskaloosa Kid, though he isn't the same one that murdered
poor Mr. Paynter, and the Gypsy girl, Giova,
that were with me. The others were tramps who came
into the old mill and attacked us while we were asleep.
I don't know who they were. The girl could have had
nothing to do with any of the crimes. We came upon
her this morning burying her father in the woods back
of the Squibbs' place. The man died of epilepsy last
night. Bridge and the boy were taking refuge from the
storm at the Squibbs place when I was thrown from
the car. They heard the shot and came to my rescue. I
am sure they had nothing to do with--with--" she hesitated.
"Tell the truth," commanded Burton. "It will go hard
with you if you don't. What made you hesitate? You
know something about those two--now out with it."
"The boy robbed Mr. Prim's home--I saw some of
the money and jewelry--but Bridge was not with him.
They just happened to meet by accident during the
storm and came to the Squibbs place together. They
were kind to me, and I hate to tell anything that would
get the boy in trouble. That is the reason I hesitated.
He seemed such a nice boy! It is hard to believe that
he is a criminal, and Bridge was always so considerate.
He looks like a tramp; but he talks and acts like a gentleman."
The telephone bell rang briskly, and a moment later
the butler stepped into the room to say that Mr. Burton
was wanted on the wire. He returned to the living
room in two or three minutes.
"That clears up some of it," he said as be entered.
"The sheriff just had a message from the chief at Toledo
saying that The Oskaloosa Kid is dying in a hospital
there following an automobile accident. He knew he
was done for and sent for the police. When they came he
told them he had killed a man by the name of Paynter
at Oakdale last night and the chief called up to ask
what we knew about it. The Kid confessed to clear his
pal who was only slightly injured in the smash-up. His
story corroborates Miss Penning's in every detail, he also
said that after killing Paynter he had shot a girl witness
and thrown her from the car to prevent her squealing."
Once again the telephone bell rang, long and insistently.
The butler almost ran into the room. "Payson
wants you, sir," he cried to Burton, "in a hurry, sir, it's a
matter of life and death, sir!"
Burton sprang to the phone. When he left it he only
stopped at the doorway of the living room long enough
to call in: "A mob has the two prisoners at Payson and
are about to lynch them, and, my God, they're innocent.
We all know now who killed Paynter and I have known
since morning who murdered Baggs, and it wasn't
either of those men; but they've found Miss Prim's jewelry
on the fellow called Bridge and they've gone
crazy--they say he murdered her and the young one
did for Paynter. I'm going to Payson," and dashed from
"Wait," cried Jonas Prim, "I'm going with you," and
without waiting to find a hat he ran quickly after the detective.
Once in the car he leaned forward urging the
driver to greater speed.
"God in heaven!" he almost cried, "the fools are going
to kill the only man who can tell me anything about
With oaths and threats the mob, brainless and heartless,
cowardly, bestial, filled with the lust for blood,
pushed and jammed into the narrow corridor before
the cell door where the two prisoners awaited their
fate. The single guard was brushed away. A dozen
men wielding three railroad ties battered upon the grating
of the door, swinging the ties far back and then in
unison bringing them heavily forward against the puny
Bridge spoke to them once. "What are you going to do
with us?" he asked.
"We're goin' to hang you higher 'n' Haman, you
damned kidnappers an' murderers," yelled a man in the
"Why don't you give us a chance?" asked Bridge in an
even tone, unaltered by fear or excitement. "You've
nothing on us. As a matter of fact we are both innocent
"Oh, shut your damned mouth," interrupted another
of the crowd.
Bridge shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the
youth who stood very white but very straight in a far
corner of the cell. The man noticed the bulging pockets
of the ill fitting coat; and, for the first time that
night, his heart stood still in the face of fear; but not for
He crossed to the youth's side and put his arm around
the slender figure. "There's no use arguing with them,"
he said. "They've made up their minds, or what they
think are minds, that we're guilty; but principally they're
out for a sensation. They want to see something die,
and we're it. I doubt if anything could stop them now;
they'd think we'd cheated them if we suddenly proved
beyond doubt that we were innocent."
The boy pressed close to the man. "God help me to be
brave," he said, "as brave as you are. We'll go together,
Bridge, and on the other side you'll learn something
that'll surprise you. I believe there is 'another side,'
don't you, Bridge?"
"I've never thought much about it," said Bridge; "but
at a time like this I rather hope so--I'd like to come back
and haunt this bunch of rat brained rubes."
His arm slipped down the other's coat and his hand
passed quickly behind the boy from one side to the
other; then the door gave and the leaders of the mob
were upon them. A gawky farmer seized the boy and
struck him cruelly across the mouth. It was Jeb Case.
"You beast!" cried Bridge. "Can't you see that that--
that's--only a child? If I don't live long enough to give
you yours here, I'll come back and haunt you to your
"Eh?" ejaculated Jeb Case; but his sallow face turned
white, and after that he was less rough with his prisoner.
The two were dragged roughly from the jail. The
great crowd which had now gathered fought to get a
close view of them, to get hold of them, to strike them,
to revile them; but the leaders kept the others back lest
all be robbed of the treat which they had planned.
Through town they haled them and out along the road
toward Oakdale. There was some talk of taking them to
the scene of Paynter's supposed murder; but wiser heads
counselled against it lest the sheriff come with a posse
of deputies and spoil their fun.
Beneath a great tree they halted them, and two ropes
were thrown over a stout branch. One of the leaders
started to search them; and when he drew his hands out
of Bridge's side pockets his eyes went wide, and he
gave a cry of elation which drew excited inquiries from
"By gum!" he cried, "I reckon we ain't made no mistake
here, boys. Look ahere!" and he displayed two
handsful of money and jewelry.
"Thet's Abbie Prim's stuff," cried one.
The boy beside Bridge turned wide eyes upon the
man. "Where did you get it?" he cried. "Oh, Bridge,
why did you do it? Now they will kill you," and he
turned to the crowd. "Oh, please listen to me," he
begged. "He didn't steal those things. Nobody stole
them. They are mine. They have always belonged to
me. He took them out of my pocket at the jail because
he thought that I had stolen them and he wanted to
take the guilt upon himself; but they were not stolen,
I tell you--they are mine! they are mine! they are mine!"
Another new expression came into Bridge's eyes as he
listened to the boy's words; but he only shook his head.
It was too late, and Bridge knew it.
Men were adjusting ropes about their necks. "Before
you hang us," said Bridge quietly, "would you mind
explaining just what we're being hanged for--it's sort of
comforting to know, you see."
"Thet's right," spoke up one of the crowd. "Thet's fair.
We want to do things fair and square. Tell 'em the
charges, an' then ask 'em ef they got anything to say
afore they're hung."
This appealed to the crowd--the last statements of
the doomed men might add another thrill to the evening'
"Well," said the man who had searched them. "There
might o' been some doubts about you before, but they
aint none now. You're bein' hung fer abductin' of an'
most likely murderin' Miss Abigail Prim."
The boy screamed and tried to interrupt; but Jeb
Case placed a heavy and soiled hand over his mouth.
The spokesman continued. "This slicker admitted he was
The Oskaloosa Kid, 'n' thet he robbed a house an' shot a
man las' night; 'n' they ain't no tellin' what more he's
ben up to. He tole Jeb Case's Willie 'bout it; an' bragged
on it, by gum. 'Nenny way we know Paynter and Abigail
Prim was last seed with this here Oskaloosa Kid,
"Thanks," said Bridge politely, "and now may I make
my final statement before going to meet my maker?"
"Go on," growled the man.
"You won't interrupt me?"
"Naw, go on."
"All right! You damn fools have made up your minds
to hang us. I doubt if anything I can say to you will
alter your determination for the reason that if all the
brains in this crowd were collected in one individual he
still wouldn't have enough with which to weigh the
most obvious evidence intelligently, but I shall present
the evidence, and you can tell some intelligent people
about it tomorrow.
"In the first place it is impossible that I murdered Abigail
Prim, and in the second place my companion is not
The Oskaloosa Kid and was not with Mr. Paynter last
night. The reason I could not have murdered Miss Prim
is because Miss Prim is not dead. These jewels were not
stolen from Miss Prim, she took them herself from her
own home. This boy whom you are about to hang is
not a boy at all--it is Miss Prim, herself. I guessed her
secret a few minutes ago and was convinced when she
cried that the jewels and money were her own. I don't
know why she wishes to conceal her identity; but I
can't stand by and see her lynched without trying to
The crowd scoffed in incredulity. "There are some
women here," said Bridge. "Turn her over to them.
They'll tell you, at least that she is not a man."
Some voices were raised in protest, saying that it
was a ruse to escape, while others urged that the women
take the youth. Jeb Case stepped toward the subject
of dispute. "I'll settle it durned quick," he announced
and reached forth to seize the slim figure. With a sudden
wrench Bridge tore himself loose from his captors
and leaped toward the farmer, his right flew straight
out from the shoulder and Jeb Case went down with a
broken jaw. Almost simultaneously a car sped around a
curve from the north and stopped suddenly in rear of
the mob. Two men leaped out and shouldered their
way through. One was the detective, Burton; the other
was Jonas Prim.
"Where are they?" cried the latter. "God help you if
you've killed either of them, for one of them must know
what became of Abigail."
He pushed his way up until he faced the prisoners.
The Oskaloosa Kid gave him a single look of surprise and
then sprang toward him with outstretched arms.
"Oh, daddy, daddy!" she cried, "don't let them kill
The crowd melted away from the immediate vicinity
of the prisoners. None seemed anxious to appear in the
forefront as a possible leader of a mob that had so
nearly lynched the only daughter of Jonas Prim. Burton
slipped the noose from about the girl's neck and
then turned toward her companion. In the light from
the automobile lamps the man's face was distinctly visible
to the detective for the first time that night, and as
Burton looked upon it he stepped back with an exclamation
"You?" he almost shouted. "Gad, man! where have
you been? Your father's spent twenty thousand dollars
trying to find you."
Bridge shook his head. "I'm sorry, Dick," he said,
"but I'm afraid it's too late. The open road's gotten into
my blood, and there's only one thing that--well--" he
shook his head and smiled ruefully--"but there ain't a
chance." His eyes travelled to the slim figure sitting so
straight in the rear seat of Jonas Prim's car.
Suddenly the little head turned in his direction.
"Hurry, Bridge," admonished The Oskaloosa Kid, "you're
coming home with us."
The man stepped toward the car, shaking his head.
"Oh, no, Miss Prim," he said, "I can't do that. Here's
your 'swag.'" And he smiled as he passed over her jewels
Mr. Prim's eyes widened; he looked suspiciously at
Bridge. Abigail laughed merrily. "I stole them myself,
Dad," she explained, "and then Mr. Bridge took them
from me in the jail to make the mob think he had
stolen them and not I-- he didn't know then that I was
a girl, did you?"
"It was in the jail that I first guessed; but I didn't
quite realize who you were until you said that the jewels
were yours--then I knew. The picture in the paper gave
me the first inkling that you were a girl, for you looked
so much like the one of Miss Prim. Then I commenced to
recall little things, until I wondered that I hadn't known
from the first that you were a girl; but you made a bully
boy!" and they both laughed. "And now good-by, and
may God bless you!" His voice trembled ever so little,
and he extended his hand. The girl drew back.
"I want you to come with us," she said. "I want Father
to know you and to know how you have cared for me.
Wont you come--for me?"
"I couldn't refuse, if you put it that way," replied
Bridge; and he climbed into the car. As the machine
started off a boy leaped to the running-board.
"Hey!" he yelled, "where's my reward? I want my reward.
I'm Willie Case."
"Oh!" exclaimed Bridge. "I gave your reward to your
father--maybe he'll split it with you. Go ask him." And
the car moved off.
"You see," said Burton, with a wry smile, "how simple
is the detective's job. Willie is a natural-born detective.
He got everything wrong from A to Izzard, yet if it
hadn't been for Willie we might not have cleared up
the mystery so soon."
"It isn't all cleared up yet," said Jonas Prim. "Who
"Two yeggs known as Dopey Charlie and the General,"
replied Burton. "They are in the jail at Oakdale;
but they don't know yet that I know they are guilty.
They think they are being held merely as suspects in
the case of your daughter's disappearance, whereas I
have known since morning that they were implicated
in the killing of Baggs; for after I got them in the car
I went behind the bushes where we discovered them
and dug up everything that was missing from Baggs'
house, as nearly as is known--currency, gold and
"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Prim.
On the trip back to Oakdale, Abigail Prim cuddled
in the back seat beside her father, told him all that she
could think to tell of Bridge and his goodness to her.
"But the man didn't know you were a girl," suggested
"There were two other girls with us, both very pretty,"
replied Abigail, "and he was as courteous and kindly to
them as a man could be to a woman. I don't care anything
about his clothes, Daddy; Bridge is a gentleman
born and raised--anyone could tell it after half an hour
Bridge sat on the front seat with the driver and one
of Burton's men, while Burton, sitting in the back seat
next to the girl, could not but overhear her conversation.
"You are right," he said. "Bridge, as you call him, is a
gentleman. He comes of one of the finest families of Virginia
and one of the wealthiest. You need have no
hesitancy, Mr. Prim, in inviting him into your home."
For a while the three sat in silence; and then Jonas
Prim turned to his daughter. "Gail," he said, "before we
get home I wish you'd tell me why you did this thing.
I think you'd rather tell me before we see Mrs. P."
"It was Sam Benham, Daddy," whispered the girl. "I
couldn't marry him. I'd rather die, and so I ran away. I
was going to be a tramp; but I had no idea a tramp's
existence was so adventurous. You won't make me marry
him, Daddy, will you? I wouldn't be happy, Daddy."
"I should say not, Gail; you can be an old maid all
your life if you want to."
"But I don't want to--I only want to choose my own
husband," replied Abigail.
Mrs. Prim met them all in the living-room. At sight of
Abigail in the ill-fitting man's clothing she raised her
hands in holy horror; but she couldn't see Bridge at
all, until Burton found an opportunity to draw her to
one side and whisper something in her ear, after which
she was graciousness personified to the dusky Bridge, insisting
that he spend a fortnight with them to recuperate.
Between them, Burton and Jonas Prim fitted Bridge
out as he had not been dressed in years, and with the
feel of fresh linen and pressed clothing, even if ill fitting,
a sensation of comfort and ease pervaded him which the
man would not have thought possible from such a source
an hour before.
He smiled ruefully as Burton looked him over. "I venture
to say," he drawled, "that there are other things in
the world besides the open road."
It was midnight when the Prims and their guests arose
from the table. Hettie Penning was with them, and everyone
present had been sworn to secrecy about her
share in the tragedy of the previous night. On the morrow
she would return to Payson and no one there the
wiser; but first she had Burton send to the jail for Giova,
who was being held as a witness, and Giova promised
to come and work for the Pennings.
At last Bridge stole a few minutes alone with Abigail,
or, to be more strictly a truthful historian, Abigail
outgeneraled the others of the company and drew
Bridge out upon the veranda.
"Tell me," demanded the girl, "why you were so kind
to me when you thought me a worthless little scamp of a
boy who had robbed some one's home."
"I couldn't have told you a few hours ago," said Bridge.
"I used to wonder myself why I should feel toward a
boy as I felt toward you,--it was inexplicable,--and then
when I knew that you were a girl, I understood, for I
knew that I loved you and had loved you from the moment
that we met there in the dark and the rain beside
the Road to Anywhere."
"Isn't it wonderful?" murmured the girl, and she had
other things in her heart to murmur; but a man's lips
smothered hers as Bridge gathered her into his arms and
strained her to him.