Read “YOU ARE INVITED TO BE PRESENT” of Anderson Crow‚ Detective , free online book, by George Barr McCutcheon, on ReadCentral.com.

Anderson Crow sat on the porch of the post-office, ruminating over the epidemic that had assailed Tinkletown with singular virulence, and, in a sense, enthusiasm.  Not that there was anything sinister or loathsome about the plague.  Far from it, he reflected, because it had broken out so soon after his bitter comments on the prolonged absence of the slightest symptom, or indication that a case was even remotely probable.  And here he was, holding in his hand four fresh and unmistakable signs that the contagion was spreading.  In short, he had just received and opened four envelopes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. A. Crow, and each contained an invitation to a wedding.

Alf Reesling, commonly known as the town drunkard, sat on the top step, whittling.

“No law against gittin’ married, is there, constable?” he inquired.

“I don’t know much about this new eugenric law,” mused Mr. Crow, gingerly pulling at his whiskers.  “So fer as I know, it ain’t been violated up here.”

“What’s the harm, anyway?  You was sayin’ yourself only the other day that it’s a crime the way the young fellers in this town never git married.  Just set around the parlour stoves all winter holdin’ hands, and on the front steps all summer ”

“Like as not the gosh-derned cowards heard what I said and got up spunk enough to tackle matrimony,” interrupted the venerable town marshal.  “June seems to be a good month fer weddin’s everywhere else in the world except right here in Tinkletown.  The last one we had was in December, and that was two years ago.  Annie Bliss and Joe Hodges.  Now we’re goin’ to have ’em so thick and fast there won’t be an unmarried man in the place, first thing you know.  Up to date, me and Mrs. Crow have had seventeen printed invitations, and I don’t know how many by word o’ mouth.  Fellers that never even done any courtin’, so fer as I know, are gittin’ married to girls that ain’t had a beau since the Methodist revival in nineteen-ten.  They all got religion then, male and female, and there’s nothin’ like religion to make people think they ought to have somebody to share their repentance with.”

“George Hoover’s been goin’ with Bessie Slayback ever sence McKinley beat Bryan in ’ninety-six.  Swore he’d never git married till we had another democratic president.  We’ve had one fer more’n four years and now he says he never dreamed there’d be another one, so he didn’t think it was worth while to save up enough to git married on.  You don’t happen to have a bid there fer his weddin’, have you, Anderson?  That would be too much to expect, I guess.”

“How old do you make out Bessie is, Alf?” asked Mr. Crow, shuffling the envelopes until he found the one he wanted.  He removed the card, printed neatly by the Tinkletown Banner Press, and squinted at it through his spectacles.

“Forty-nine,” said Alf, promptly.  “Twenty-sixth of last January.”

“Well, poor old George’ll have to do his settin’ in Sofer’s store after the third o’ June,” said the other, chuckling.  “She has threw him over, as my daughter would say.”

“What’s that?”

“Yep.  Bessie’s goin’ to be married next Sunday to Charlie Smith.”

Fer the Lord’s sake!” gasped Alf.  “How c’n that be?  Charlie’s got a wife an’ three grown children.”

“’Tain’t old Charlie.  It’s young Charlie,” said Anderson, looking hard at the invitation. “‘Charles Elias Smith, Junior,’ it says.”

Alf was speechless.  He merely stared while the town marshal made mental calculations.

“She’s twenty-six years older’n he is, Alf.”

“There must be some mistake,” muttered Alf.

“Not if you’re sure she’s forty-nine,” said Anderson.  “Subtract twenty-three from forty-nine and you have twenty-six, with nothin’ to carry.  Besides, old Charlie’s middle name is Bill.”

“Well, I’ll be dog-goned,” said Alf, in a weak voice.

“And here’s another’n’,” said Anderson, passing a card to his companion.

Alf read:  “’The son and daughter of Mrs. Ellen Euphemia Ricketts request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their mother to Mr. Pietro Emanuel Cocotte, on June 1, 1917, at twelve o’clock noon at the family residence, N Lincoln Street, Tinkletown, New York.’  Well, I’ll be ” Alf interrupted himself to repeat one of the names.  “Who is this Pietro Emanuel Cocotte?  I never heard of ”

“Petey Sickety,” said Anderson.

“The sprinklin’-cart driver?”

“The same,” said the marshal, his lips tightening.  He had once tried to arrest the young man for “disturbing the peace,” and had been obliged to call upon the crowd for help.

“Why, good gosh, he don’t earn more’n ten dollars a week and he sends half of that back to Sweden,” said Alf.

“Europe,” corrected Anderson, patiently.  He had put up with a good deal of ignorance on the part of Alf during a long and watchful acquaintanceship.

“Anyhow,” said the town drunkard, arising in some haste, “I guess I’ll be gittin’ home.  Maybe I ain’t too late.”  He was moving off with considerable celerity.

“Too late for what?” called out Anderson.

“That measley, good-fer-nothin’ Gates boy dropped in to see my girl Queenie last night.  First time he’s ever done it, but, by criminy, the way they’re speedin’ things up around here lately there’s no tellin’ what c’n happen in twenty-four hours.”

“Hold on a minute, Alf.  I’ll walk along with you.  Now, see here, Alf,” Mr. Crow laid a kindly, encouraging hand on the other’s shoulder as they ambled down the main street of the village “no matter what happens, you mustn’t let it git the best of you.  Keep straight, old feller.  Don’t touch a drop o’ ”

Mr. Reesling stopped short in the middle of the sidewalk.  “Dog-gone it, Anderson leggo of my arm.  Do you want everybody to think you’re takin’ me to jail, or home to my poor wife, or somethin’ like that?  It’ll be all over town in fifteen minutes if you ”

“’Tain’t my fault if you’ve got a reputation, Alf,” retorted the town marshal sorrowfully.

“Well, it ain’t my fault either,” declared Alf.  “Look at me.  I ain’t had a drink in twenty-three years, and what good does it do me?  Every time a stranger comes to town people point at me an’ say, ’There goes the town drunkard.’  Oh, I’ve heerd ’em.  I ain’t deef.  An’ besides, ain’t they always preachin’ at me an’ about me at the Methodist an’ Congregational churches?  Ain’t they always tellin’ the young boys that they got to be careful er they’ll be like Alf Reesling?  An’ what’s it all come from?  Comes from the three times I got drunk back in the fall of ’ninety-three when my cousin was here from Albany fer a visit.  I had to entertain him, didn’t I?  An’ there wasn’t any other way to do it in this jerk-water town, was there?  An’ ever since then the windbags in this town have been prayin’ fer me an’ pityin’ my poor wife.  That’s what a feller gits fer livin’ in a ”

“Now, now!” admonished Anderson soothingly.  “Don’t git excited, Alf.  You deserve a lot o’ credit.  Ain’t many men, I tell you, could break off sudden like that, an’ ”

“Oh, you go to grass!” exclaimed Alf hotly.

Anderson inspected him closely.  “Lemme smell your breath, Alf Reesling,” he commanded.

“What’s the use?” growled Alf.  “Wouldn’t last fer twenty-three years, would it?”

“Well, you talk mighty queer,” said the marshal, unconvinced.  He couldn’t imagine such a thing as a strictly sober man telling him to go to grass.  He was the most important man in Tinkletown.

Further discussion was prevented by the approach of Mr. Crow’s daughter, Susie, accompanied by a tall, pink-faced young man in a resplendent checked suit and a dazzling red necktie.  They came from Brubaker’s popular drugstore and ice-cream “parlour,” two doors below.

“Hello, Pop,” said Susie gaily, as the couple sauntered past their half-halting seniors.

“H’are you, Mr. Crow?” was the young man’s greeting, uttered with the convulsive earnestness of sudden embarrassment.  “Fine day, ain’t it?”

Mr. Crow said that it was, and then both he and Alf stopped short in their tracks and gazed intently at the backs of the young people.  Even as they stared, a fiery redness enveloped the ears of Susie’s companion.  A few steps farther on he turned his head and looked back.  Something that may be described as sheepish defiance marked that swift, involuntary glance.

Mr. Reesling broke the silence.  There was a worried, sympathetic note in his voice.

“Got on his Sunday clothes, Anderson, and this is only Wednesday.  Beats the Dutch, don’t it?”

“I wonder ” began Mr. Crow, and then closed his lips so tightly and so abruptly that his sparse chin whiskers stuck out almost horizontally.

He started off briskly in the wake of the young people.  Alf, forgetting his own apprehensions in the face of this visible manifestation, shuffled along a few paces behind.

Miss Crow and her companion turned the corner below and were lost to view.

“By gosh,” said Alf, suddenly increasing his speed until he came abreast of the other; “you better hurry, Anderson.  Justice Robb’s in his office.  I seen his feet in the winder a little while ago.”

“They surely can’t be thinkin’ of ” Mr. Crow did not complete the sentence.

“Why not?” demanded Alf.  “Everybody else is.  And it would be just like that Schultz boy to do it without an invitation.  Ever since this war’s been goin’ on them Schultzes have been blowin’ about always bein’ prepared fer anything.  German efficiency’s what they’re always throwin’ up to people.  I bet he’s been over to the county seat an’ got a license to ”

Anderson interrupted him with a snort.  He put his hand on his right hip pocket, where something bulged ominously, and quickened his pace.

“I been watchin’ these Schultzes fer nearly a year,” said he, “an’ the whole caboodle of ’em are spies.”

They turned the corner.  Susie and her companion were on the point of disappearing in a doorway fifty yards down Sickle Street.

Anderson slowed up.  He removed his broad felt hat with the gold cord around it, and mopped his forehead.

“That’s the tin-type gallery,” he said, a little out of breath.

“Worse an’ more of it,” said Alf.  “That’s the surest sign I know of.  It never fails.  Mollie an’ me had our’n taken the day before we was married an’ an’ why, it’s almost the same as a certificat’, Anderson.”

“Now, you move on, Alf,” commanded the marshal.  “How many times I got to tell you not to loiter aroun’ the streets?  Move on, I say.”

“Aw, now, Anderson ”

“I’ll have to run you in, Alf.  The ord’nance is very p’ticular, an’ that notice stuck up on the telephone pole over there means you more’n anybody else.  No loiterin’.”

“If you need any evidence ag’in that Schultz boy, just call on me,” said Alf generously.  “I seen him commit an atrocity last week.”

“What was it?”

“He give that little Griggs girl a lift in his butcher wagon,” said Alf darkly.

Anderson scowled.  “The sooner we run these cussed Germans out o’ town the better off we’ll be.”

Alf ambled off, casting many glances over his shoulder, and the marshal crossed the street and entered Hawkins’s Undertaking and Embalming establishment, from a window of which he had a fair view of the “studio.”

Presently Susie and young Schultz emerged, giggling and snickering over the pink objects they held in their hands.  They sauntered slowly, shoulder to shoulder, in the direction of Main Street.

Mr. Hawkins was in the middle of one of his funniest stories when Anderson got up and walked out hurriedly.  The undertaker had a reputation as a wit.  He was the life of the community.  He radiated optimism, even when most depressingly employed.  And here he was telling Anderson Crow a brand-new story he had heard at a funeral over in Kirkville, when up jumps his listener and “lights out” without so much as a word.  Mr. Hawkins went to the door and looked out, expecting to see a fight or a runaway horse or a German airplane.  All he saw was the marshal not two doors away, peering intently into a show-window, while from across the street two young people regarded him with visible amusement.  For a long time thereafter the undertaker sat in his office and stared moodily at the row of caskets lining the opposite wall.  Could it be possible that he was losing his grip?

Miss Crow and Mr. Otto Schultz resumed their stroll after a few moments, and the marshal, following their movements in the reflecting show-window, waited until they were safely around the corner.  Then he retraced his steps quickly, passed the undertaker’s place, and turned into the alley beyond.  Three minutes later, he entered Main Street a block above Sickle Street, and was leaning carelessly against the Indian tobacco sign in front of Jackson’s cigar store, when his daughter and her companion bore down upon his left flank.

Mr. Alf Reesling was a few paces behind them.

As they came within earshot, young Schultz was saying in a suspiciously earnest manner: 

“You better come in and have anodder sody, Susie.”

Just then their gaze fell upon Mr. Crow.

“Goodness!” exclaimed Susie, startled.

“By cheminy!” fell from Otto’s wide-open mouth.  He blinked a couple of times.  “Is is that you?” he inquired, incredulously.

“You mean me?” asked Anderson, with considerable asperity.

“Sure,” said Otto, halting.

“Can’t you see it’s me?” demanded Mr. Crow.

“But you ain’d here,” said the perplexed young man, getting pinker all the time.  “You’re aroundt in Sickle Street.”

“Alf!” called out Anderson.  “Look here a minute.  Is this me?” He spoke with biting sarcasm.

Mr. Reesling regarded him with some anxiety.

“You better go home, Anderson,” he said.  “This sun is a derned sight hotter’n you think.”

“Didn’t we see you a minute ago around in Sickle Street, Pop?” inquired Susie.  “Looking in that hair-dresser’s window?”

“Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t,” replied Mr. Crow, shrewdly.  Then, with thinly veiled significance:  “I’m purty busy lookin’ into a good many things nowadays.”  He favoured Otto with a penetrating glance.  “Ever sence the U. S. A. declared war on Germany, Mr. Otto Schultz.”

“How aboudt that sody, Miss Susie?” said Otto, in a pained sort of voice.

“You’d better be saving your money, Otto,” she advised, with such firmness that her father looked at her sharply.

“Oh, spiffles!” said Otto, getting still redder.

Mr. Crow was all ears.  Alf Reesling burned his fingers on a match he held too long in the hot, still air some six or eight inches from the bowl of his pipe.

“Well, getting married is no joke,” said Susie, shaking her pretty head solemnly.

Otto took a deep breath.  “You bet you it ain’d,” he said, with feeling.  That seemed to give him courage.  He took off his straw hat, and, as he ran his finger around the moist “sweat-band,” he blurted out:  “I don’t mind if you tell your fadder, Susie.  Go and tell him.”

“Tell him yourself,” said Susie.

“As I was saying a few minutes ago,” said Otto ingenuously, “the only obchection I had to your tellin’ your fadder was that I didn’t want everybody in town to know it before I could get home and tell my mother yet.”

“Don’t go away, Alf,” said Mr. Crow, darkly.  “I’ll need you as a witness.  I hereby subpoena you as a witness to what’s goin’ to happen in less’n no time.  Now, Mr. Otto Schultz, spit it out.”

Otto disgorged these cyclonic words: 

“I’m going to get married, Mr. Crow, that’s all.”

Mr. Crow was equally explicit and quite as brief.

“Only over my dead body,” he shouted, and then turned upon Susie.  “You go home, Susan Crow!  Skedaddle!  Get a move on, I say.  I’ll nip this blamed German plot right in the beginning.  Do you hear me, Susan ”

Susan stared at him.  “Hear you?” she cried.  “They can hear you up in the graveyard.  What on earth’s got into you, Pop?  What ”

“You’ll see what’s got into me, purty derned quick,” said Anderson, and pointed his long, trembling forefinger at the amazed Mr. Schultz, who had dropped his hat and was stooping over to retrieve it without taking his eyes from the menacing face of the speaker.

It had rolled in the direction of Mr. Alf Reesling.  That gentleman obligingly stopped it with his foot.  After removing his foot, he undertook to return the hat without stooping at all, the result being that it sped past Otto and landed in the middle of the street some twenty feet away.

“So you think you c’n git married without my consent, do you?” demanded Anderson, witheringly.  “You think you c’n sneak around behind my back an’ ”

“I ain’d sneakin’ aroundt behind anybody’s back,” broke in Otto, straightening up.  “I don’t know what you are talking aboud, Mr. Crow, and needer do you,” he added gratuitously.  “What for do I haf to get your consent to get married for?  I get myself’s consent and my girl’s consent and my fadder’s consent Say!” His voice rose.  “Don’t you think I am of age yet?”

“If you talk loud like that, I’ll run you in fer disturbin’ the peace, young feller,” warned Anderson, observing that a few of Tinkletown’s citizens were slowly but surely surrendering squatter’s rights to chairs and soap-boxes on the shady side of the block.  “Just you keep a civil tongue in ”

“You ain’d answered my question yet,” insisted Otto, with increased vigour.

“Here’s your hat, Otto,” said Alf Reesling in a conciliatory voice.  He was brushing the article with the sleeve of his coat.  “A horse must’a’ stepped on it or somethin’.  I never see ”

“Ain’d I of age, Mr. Crow?” bellowed Otto.  “Didn’t I vote for you at the last ”

“That ain’t the question,” interrupted Anderson sharply.  “The question is, is the girl of age?” He favoured his sixteen-year-old daughter with a fiery glance.

Otto Schultz’s broad, flat face became strangely pinched.  There was something positively apoplectic in the hue that spread over it.

“Oh, Pop!” shrieked Susie, a peal of laughter bursting from her lips.  Instantly, however, her two hands were pressed to her mouth, stifling the outburst.

Otto gave her a hurt, surprised and unmistakably horrified look.  Then a silly grin struggled into existence.

“Maybe she don’d tell the truth aboud her age yet, Mr. Crow,” he said huskily.  “Women always lie aboud their ages.  Maybe she lie aboud hers.”

Anderson flared.  “Don’t you dare say my daughter lies about her age or anything else,” he roared.

“Whose daughter?” gasped Otto.

“Mine!”

“But she ain’d your daughter.”

What! Well, of all the ”

Words failed Mr. Crow.  He looked helplessly, appealingly at Alf Reesling, as if for support.

Mr. Reesling rose to the occasion.

“Do you mean to insinuate, Otto Schultz, that ” he began as he started to remove his coat.

By this time Susie felt it was safe to trust herself to speech.  She removed her hands from her mouth and cried out: 

“He isn’t talking about me, Pop,” she gasped.  “It’s Gertie Bumbelburg.”

“Sure,” said Otto hastily.

Mr. Crow still being speechless, Alf suspended his belligerent preparations, and cocking one eye calculatingly, settled the matter of Miss Bumbelburg’s age with exasperating accuracy.

“Gertie’s a little past forty-two,” he announced.  “Born in March, 1875, just back o’ where Sid Martin’s feed-store used to be.”

The marshal had recovered his composure.

“That’s sufficient,” he said, accepting Alf s testimony with a profound air of dignity.  “There ain’t no law against anybody marryin’ a woman old enough to be his mother.”

“Everybody in town give Gertie up long ago,” added Alf, amiably.  “Only goes to show that while there’s life there’s hope.  I’d ‘a’ swore she was on the shelf fer good.  How’d you happen to pick her, Otto?”

“She’s all right,” growled Otto uncomfortably.  Then he added, with considerable acerbity:  “I’m goin’ to tell her you said she was forty-two, Alf Reesling.”

“Well, ain’t she?” demanded Alf, bristling.

“No, she ain’d,” replied Otto.  “She’s twendy-nine.”

“Come, come,” put in Anderson sternly.  “None o’ this now!  Move on, Alf!  No scrappin’ on the public thoroughfares o’ Tinkletown.  You’re gettin’ more and more rambunctious every day, Alf.”

“He ought to be ashamed of himself, speakin’ by a lady when he knows he’s in such a condition,” said Otto, turning from the unfortunate Alf to Miss Crow.  “Ain’d that so, Susie?”

“Don’t answer, Susie,” said Mr. Crow, quickly.  “This is no time to side in with Germany.”

“I’m as good an American as you are already,” cried Otto, goaded beyond endurance.

Mr. Crow smiled tolerantly.  “Git out!  Let’s hear you say ’vinegar’.”

“Winegar,” said Otto triumphantly.  “I can say it as good as you can yet.”

Anderson nudged Mr. Reesling, and chuckled.

“That’s the way to spot ’em,” he said significantly.

“There’s a better way than that,” said Alf.

“How’s that?”

Alf whispered in the marshal’s ear.

Anderson shook his head.  “But where are you goin’ to get the weenywurst, Alf?”

“Come on, Otto,” said Susie, impatiently.  “I have an engagement.”

They moved off rapidly, passing the ice-cream parlour without hesitating.

“D’you hear that?” said Alf, after a moment.  “She said she was engaged.”

That night Anderson Crow, town marshal, superintendent of streets, chief of the fire department, post-commander of the G. A. R., truant officer, dog-catcher, member of the American Horse-thief Detective Association, member of the Universal Detective Bureau, chairman of Tinkletown Battlefield Society, etc., lay awake until nearly nine o’clock, seeking a solution to the astonishing problem that confronted Tinkletown and its environs.

Late reports, received by telephone just before retiring, ran the number of prospective marriages up to twenty-eight.  His daughters, Susie and Caroline the latter the eldest of a family of six and secretly approaching the age of thirty-two confided to him that they had had eleven and three proposals respectively.  A singular feature of the craze was the unanimity of impulse affecting men between the ages of twenty and thirty, and the utter absence of concentration on the part of the applicants.  It was of record that some of them proposed to as many as five or six young women before being finally accepted.  Rashness appeared to be the watchword.  The matrimonial stampede swept caution and consequences into a general heap, and delivered a community of the backwardness that threatened to become a menace to posterity.

As Anderson Crow lay in his bed, he tried to enumerate on his fingers the young men who remained unpledged.  Starting with his thumb he got as far as the third finger of his left hand and then, being sleepy and the effort a trying one, he lost track of those already counted and had to begin all over again, with the maddening result that he could go no further than the second finger.  One of the eligibles had slipped his mind completely.  The whole situation was harrowing.

Fer instance,” he ruminated aloud, oblivious of the fact that his wife was sound asleep, “what is a feller like Newt Blossom goin’ to keep a wife on, I’d like to know.  He c’n hardly keep himself in chewin’ tobaccer as it is, an’ as fer the other necessities of life he wouldn’t have any of ’em if his mother wasn’t such a dern’ fool about him.  The idée of him tryin’ to get our Susie to marry him an’ Carrie too, fer that matter w’y, I git in a cold sweat every time I think of it.”

He shook his wife vigorously.

“Say, Ma,” he said, yawning, “I just thought o’ somethin’ I want you to remember in the mornin’.  Wake up.”

“All right,” she mumbled, sleepily.  “What is it?”

But Mr. Crow was now fast asleep himself.

Early the next morning he entered the kitchen, where he found Caroline helping her mother with the breakfast.

Mrs. Crow paused in the act of paring slices from a side of bacon.  She eyed her husband inimically.

“See here, Anderson, you just got to put a stop to all this foolishness.”

“Don’t bother me.  Can’t you see I’m thinkin’?” said he.

“Well, it’s time you did somethin’ more than think.  That Smathers boy was here about ten minutes ago, red as a beet, askin’ fer Susie.  Carrie told him she wasn’t up yet, and what do you think the little whipper-snapper said?”

Anderson blinked, and shook his head.

“He said, ‘Well, I guess you’ll do, Caroline.  Would you mind steppin’ outside fer a couple of minutes?  I got somethin’ I want to say to you in private.’”

Caroline sat down and laughed unrestrainedly.

“Well, by geminy crickets!” gasped Anderson, aghast.  Then he added anxiously:  “You you didn’t go an’ do anything foolish, did you, Carrie?”

“Not unless you’d call throwing a pail of cold water on him foolish,” said Carrie, wiping her eyes.

“Somethin’s got to be done, Anderson,” said his wife, compressing her lips.

Susie came in at that juncture.  She was the apple of Anderson’s eye the prettiest girl in town.  Mr. Crow hurried to the kitchen door.

“Go back upstairs,” he ordered, casting a swift, uneasy glance around the back yard.

“What’s the matter, Pop?”

Mr. Crow did not respond.  His keen, roving eye had descried a motionless figure at the mouth of the alley.

Caroline explained.

“Can you beat it?” cried Susie, inelegantly, but with a very proper scorn.  “I told him yesterday he ought to be ashamed of himself, trying to coax Fanny Burns away from Ed Foster.”

“Ed Foster?” exclaimed Mr. Crow sharply, turning from the doorway.  “Why, he’s not goin’ to be married till after the war, an’ that’s a long ways off.  Ed’s around in his uniform an’ says the National Guard’s likely to be called ’most any day now.  He ”

“That’s one of the arguments Joe Smathers put up to Fanny,” said his youngest daughter.  “He said maybe the war would last five years, and he thought she was a fool to wait that long.  What’s more, he said, if Ed ever does get to France he’s likely to be killed or fatally wounded and then where would she be?”

Anderson suddenly lifted his right leg and slapped it with great force.

“By the great Jehoshaphat!” he shouted.  “I’ve got it!  I’ve solved the whole derned mystery.  Come to me like a flash.  Of all the low-down, cowardly ”

Mrs. Crow interrupted him.  “Do you mean to say, Anderson Crow, that you never suspected what’s got into all these gay Lotharios?”

He was instantly on his guard.  “What are you talkin’ about, Ma?” he demanded querulously.  “You surely can’t mean to insinuate that I ”

“What is this mystery you’ve just been solvin’?” she asked relentlessly.

He met this with a calm intolerance.

“Nothin’ much.  Just simply got to the bottom of a German plot to stuff the young men of America so full of weddin’ cake they won’t be able to git into the trenches, that’s all.”

“My goodness!” exclaimed Mrs. Crow, who, as a dutiful wife, never failed to be impressed by her husband’s belated discoveries.

“Eggin’ our boys into gittin’ married, so’s they can’t be drafted,” went on Anderson, expanding with his new-found idea.  “It’s a general pro-German plot world-wide, as the sayin’ is.  Now, I’ll tell you somethin’ else.  Shut the door, Susie.  Like as not some spy’s listenin’ outside this very minute.  They know I’m onto ’em.”  He lowered his voice.  “You’d be surprised if I was to tell you that the whole derned plot originated right here in Tinkletown, wouldn’t you?  Well, that’s exactly what I’m goin’ to tell you.  Started right here and spread from one end of the land to the other.  Sort of headquarters here.  I don’t know as there is any more prominent or influential Germans in the whole United States than Adolph Schultz, the butcher on Main Street, and Heiney Wimpelmeyer, the tanyard man, and Ben Olson, the contractor, and ”

“Ben Olson is a Swede,” interrupted Carrie.

“He claims to be a Swede,” said her father severely.  “Don’t try to tell me anything, Carrie.  I guess I know what I’m talkin’ about.”  He paused to mentally repair the break in his chain of thought.  “Um ah what wuz I talkin’ about?”

“About the Swedes,” said Carrie, snickering.

“Breakfast’s ready, Pa,” said Mrs. Crow.  “Call the boys, Susie.”

“How are you going to stop it, Pop?” inquired Susie, after they were all seated.

“Never you mind,” said he.  “I’ve got the thing all worked out.  I’ll stop it, all right.”

“You can’t keep people from gittin’ married, Anderson, if they’re set on doin’ it,” said his wife.

“You bet if I was old enough I wouldn’t be gittin’ married,” said fourteen-year-old Hiram, in a somewhat ambiguous burst of patriotism.

Immediately after breakfast Mr. Crow set out for the town hall.  He was deep in thought.  His whiskers were elevated to an almost unprecedented level, so tightly was his jaw set.  He had made up his mind to preserve the honour of Tinkletown.  Meeting Alf Reesling in front of the post office, he unburdened himself in a flood of indignation that left the town drunkard soberer than he had been in years, despite his vaunted abstemiousness.

“But you can’t slap all the Germans in jail, Anderson,” protested Alf.  “In the first place, it ain’t legal, and in the second place in the second place ” He paused and scratched his head, evidently to some purpose, for suddenly his face cleared.  “In the second place, the jail ain’t big enough.”

“That ain’t my fault,” said the marshal grimly.  “We’ve got to nip this thing in the bud if we have to ”

“What proof have you got that the Germans are back of all this?  Got to have proof, you know.”

“Gosh a’mighty, Alf, ain’t you got any sense at all?  What are all these fellers gittin’ married for if there ain’t somethin’ behind it?  They ain’t ”

“They’re gittin’ married because every blamed one of ’em is a slacker,” said Alf forcibly.

“A what?”

“Slacker.  They don’t want to fight, that’s what it means.”

Anderson pondered.  He tugged at his whiskers.

“They don’t want to fight who?” he demanded abruptly.

“W’y w’y nobody,” said Alf.

“They don’t want to fight the Germans,” said Mr. Crow triumphantly.  “That ought to settle the matter, Alf.  What better proof do you want than that?  That shows the Germans are back of the whole infernal plot.  They are corruptin’ our young men.  Eggin’ ’em into gittin’ married so’s ”

“Well,” said Alf, “there’s only one way to put a stop to that.  You got to appeal to the women and girls of this here town.  You simply got to talk to ’em like a Dutch uncle, Anderson.  These boys of our’n have just got to remain single fer the duration of the war.”

“That puts an idée in my head,” said Anderson.  “S’posin’ I put up an official notice from Washin’ton that all marriages contracted before the draft are fer the duration of the war only.  How’s that?”

“Thunderation!  No!  That’s just what the boys would like better’n anything.”

“But it ain’t what the girls would like, it is?”

Mr. Reesling was silent for a long time, letting the idea crystallize, so to speak.

“Supposin’ they hear about it in Washin’ton,” said he doubtfully, but still dazzled by the thought.

“President Wilson don’t know this town’s on the map,” said Anderson, a most surprising admission for him.  “An’ even if he does hear about it, he’ll back me up, you c’n bet your boots on that even if I am a Republican.  Come on, Alf; let’s step around to the Banner printin’ office.”

Shortly before noon a hastily printed poster, still damp and smelling of ink, appeared on the bulletin-board in front of the town hall.  A few minutes later a similar decoration marred the façade of the Fairbanks scales in front of Higgins’s Feed Store, and still another loomed up on the telephone pole in front of the post office.

With the help of the editor, who was above all things an enterprising citizen and a patriot, the “official notice” was drafted, doctored and approved in the dingy composing-room of the Tinkletown Banner.  The lone compositor, with a bucket of paste, sallied forth and, under the critical eye of the town marshal, “stuck up” the poster in places where no one could help seeing it.

The notice read: 

OFFICIAL!!!

War Proclamation N!!!

The Undersigned by Virtue of the Authority
vested in him by his fellowmen hereby
gives
DUE NOTICE
to the citizens of Tinkletown that the
President of These United States
and
Congress in solemn conclave
have uttered the following decree, to become
effective immediately upon publication
thereof: 

All marriages entered into by Male Citizens of the United States of America between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one on and after this date, the 21st of May, 1917, shall be in force for the duration of the War only.  This measure is taken at this time for the purpose of making things as easy as possible for our young heroes, who, in the grave hour of battle, must not be worried with thoughts of the future.

Men so marrying shall have precedence over all others in the
SELECTIVE DRAFT
for the National Army Immediately to
be Called. 
Such men shall be the first called to the
Colours. 
TEMPORARY WIDOWS
of any and all such Soldiers shall not be
entitled to
PENSIONS
in the Event of the Death of said Provisional Husbands,
and shall revert upon notice thereof, to the State of
Single-blessedness from which they were
LURED!!! 
By order of
ANDERSON CROW,
Marshal.

As the first of these desolating posters was put in place, the Rev. Mr. Maltby, pastor of the Congregational Church, happened to be passing the town hall.  He halted and, in astonishment, read the notice.

“My dear man,” said he to Mr. Crow, “this cannot be true.”

“Does seem a little high-handed, don’t it?” said Anderson guiltily.

“Can it be possible that the President has issued such a revolutionary ”

“Listen a minute, Mr. Maltby,” said the marshal, taking him by the arm and furtively glancing over his own shoulder.  “It ain’t true not a derned word of it.  Now, wait a minute.  Don’t fly off the Mornin’, Father Maloney, mornin’ to you.”

The sunny-faced Catholic priest had joined them.  He adjusted his spectacles and peered at the notice.

“Well, well, bless my soul!” he exclaimed, staring blankly at the Congregationalist.  “What’s all this I see?”

“Come inside,” said Anderson hastily.  “Alf, if you happen to see Mr. Downs, the Methodist preacher, and Justice Robb, bring ’em here right away, will you?”

“Shall I go ahead and paste any more of these, Anderson?” inquired the compositor, shifting his quid.

“Certainly,” said the marshal.

Later on the marshal left the town hall, followed by several smiling gentlemen of the cloth, Justice Robb, and the editor of the Banner.

“Bless your heart, Marshal Crow,” said Father Maloney, “we’re with ye to a man.  It’s a glorious lie ye’re telling, and ye’ve got the church solid behind ye.”

“Naturally we shall not be obliged to falsify,” said the Rev. Mr. Maltby, still a bit shaken.  “We can simply say that the matter is news to us.  Eh, brothers?”

“Sure,” said Father Maloney.  “We can do that much for the good of the country.  Indeed, if I’m closely pressed I may go as far as to say that I caught a glimpse of the official despatch from Washington.  This is no time to deny the President, gentlemen, no matter who issues his proclamation.”  He added the last with a whimsical smile and a wink that rather shocked his Methodist brother.  “Especially when the whole matter is vouched for by our respected town marshal, who, to my certain knowledge, possesses the veracity of a George Washington.  Have you ever been caught chopping down a cherry tree, Mr. Marshal?”

“No, sir,” said Anderson promptly.

Father Maloney beamed.  “There ye are!” he exclaimed heartily.  “I told ye so.  The epitome of veracity.  There isn’t another man of his age in America who would have answered no to that question, with no one in a position to contradict him.”

The editor had his notebook.  “Gentlemen, would you object to being interviewed on this important message from Washington?  Giving your views on the situation and anything else ”

“You may say for me, Harry, that I warmly indorse the President of the United States in any act which he may deem wise and expedient,” said Rev. Mr. Maltby, rising nobly to the occasion.  Father Maloney and Rev. Mr. Downs promptly acquiesced.

“And also that I am prepared to issue marriage certificates for the duration of the war to all females so desirin’ ’em,” said Justice of the Peace Robb.  “It ain’t cuttin’ me out of any fees,” he went on, addressing the marshal.  “Fer as I c’n make out, they all want to git married fer nothin’.”

“I will be very careful how I word your remarks, gentlemen,” said Editor Squires, putting up his notebook.  “Now, I’ll start out and interview a few of the prospective brides.  It ought to make good reading.”

Long before nightfall the sleepy village of Tinkletown was in a state of agitation unsurpassed by anything within the memory of the oldest inhabitant....  Along about supper time one could have heard animated arguments rising above the clear stillness of the air, penetrating even to the heaven which was called upon to witness the unswerving fidelity of two opposing sexes.  There was a distinct difference, however, in the duration of this professed fidelity.  Masculine voices pleaded for the immediate justification of undying constancy, while those of a feminine quality preferred a prolongation of the exquisite agony of suspense.  In short, the brides-elect were obdurate.  They insisted on waiting, even to the end of time, for the realization of their fondest, dearest hopes.  Several heartbroken gentlemen, preferring anything to procrastination, threatened to shoot themselves.

“What’s the sense of doing that?” argued one middle-aged widow of a practical turn of mind.  “You can save funeral expenses by letting the Germans do it for you.”

The next day the merchants of Tinkletown notably the Five and Ten Cent Store and Fisher’s Queensware Store did a thriving business.  From one end of the town to the other came people returning presents that fortunately had not been delivered, and others asking to have their accounts credited with presents already received.

Of the twenty-odd weddings announced for the week ending June 3, 1917, only one took place.

Mr. Otto Schultz was married on Saturday to Miss Bumbelburg.  He was the only candidate in town who was worth suing for breach of promise.  Miss Bumbelburg, having waited many years for her chance, was not to be frightened by a Presidential proclamation.  The duration of the war meant nothing to her.  She had unlimited faith in the Kaiser.  When the war was over he would come over to the United States and revoke all the silly old laws.  And she was so positive about it that, after a rather heated interview in the home of Mr. Schultz, senior, that gentleman admitted it would be cheaper for her to come and live with them after the wedding than to present her with the thousand dollars she demanded in case Otto preferred war to peace.

Mr. Crow, on the 5th of June, strode proudly, efficiently, up and down Main Street, always stopping at the registration booth to slap former fiances on the back and encourage them with such remarks as this: 

“That’s right, son.  If you’ve got to fight, fight for your country.”

To Mr. Alf Reesling he confided: 

“I tell you what, Alf, when this here Kaiser comes up ag’inst me he strikes a snag.  He couldn’t ‘a’ started his plot in a worse place than here in Tinkletown.  Gosh, with all you hear about German efficiency, you’d ‘a’ thought he’d ‘a’ knowed better, wouldn’t you?”