Read THE VEILED LADY AND THE SHADOW of Anderson Crow‚ Detective , free online book, by George Barr McCutcheon, on ReadCentral.com.

A veiled lady is not, in ordinary circumstances, an object of concern to anybody.  Circumstances, however, are sometimes so extraordinary that a veiled lady becomes an object of concern to everybody.  If the old-time novelists are to be credited, an abundantly veiled lady is more than a source of interest; she is the vital, central figure in a mystery that continues from week to week, or month to month, as the case may be, until the last chapter is reached and she turns out to be the person you thought she was all the time.

Now, the village of Tinkletown is a slow-going, somnolent sort of place in which veils are worn by old ladies who wish to enjoy a pleasant snooze during the sermon without being caught in the act.  That any one should wear a veil with the same regularity and the same purpose that she wears the dress which renders the remainder of her person invisible is a circumstance calculated to excite the curiosity of even the most indifferent observers in the village of Tinkletown.

So when the news travelled up and down Main Street, and off into the side-streets, and far out beyond Three Oaks Cemetery to the new division known as Oak Park, wherein reside four lonely pioneer families, that the lady who rented Mrs. Nixon’s house for the month of September was in a “perpetual state of obscurity” (to quote Mr. Harry Squires, the Banner reporter), the residents of Tinkletown admitted that they didn’t know what to make of it.

The Nixon cottage was a quaint, old-fashioned place on the side of Battle Hill, looking down upon the maples of Sickle Street.  The grounds were rather spacious, and the house stood well back from the street, establishing an aloofness that had never been noticed before.  A low stone wall guarded the lawn and rose-garden, and there was an iron gate at the bottom of the slope.  The front porch was partly screened by “Dutchman’s Pipe” vines.  With the advent of the tenant, smart Japanese sun-curtains made their appearance, and from that day on no prying eye, no matter how well-trained it may have been, could accomplish anything like a satisfactory visit to the regions beyond.

Mrs. Nixon usually rented her house for the summer months.  The summer of 1918 had proved an unprofitable season for her.  It was war-time, and the people who lived in the cities proved unduly reluctant to venture far from their bases of supplies.  Consequently Mrs. Nixon and her daughter Angie remained in occupancy, more heartsick than ever over the horrors of war.  Just as they were about to give up hope, the unexpected happened.  Joseph P. Singer, the real-estate agent, offices in the Lamson Block, appeared bright and early one morning to inquire if the cottage could be had for the month of September and part of October.

“You may ask any price you like, Abbie,” he said.  “The letter I received this morning was written on the paper of the Plaza Hotel in New York.  Anybody who can afford to put up at the Plaza, which is right on Central Park, and also on Fifth Avenue, ain’t going to haggle about prices.  The party wants a bathroom with hot and cold water and electric lights.  Well, you’ve got all these improvements, and ”

“I’ve got to have references,” said Mrs. Nixon firmly.

“I guess if the Plaza is willing to rent a room to a party, there oughtn’t to be any question as to the respectability of the said party,” said Mr. Singer.  “They’re mighty particular in them New York hotels.”

“Well, you write and tell the party ”

“I am requested to telegraph, Abbie,” said he.  “The party wants to know right away.”

As the result of this conversation and a subsequent exchange of telegrams, the “party” arrived in Tinkletown on the first day of September.  Mr. Singer’s contentions were justified by the manner in which the new tenant descended upon the village.  She came in a maroon-and-black limousine with a smart-looking chauffeur, a French maid, a French poodle and what all of the up-to-date ladies in Tinkletown unhesitatingly described as a French gown a la mode.

Miss Angie Nixon, who had never been nearer to Paris than Brattleboro, Vermont, said to her customers that from what she had seen of the new tenant’s outfit, she was undoubtedly from the Tooleries.  Miss Angie was the leading dressmaker of Tinkletown.  If she had said the lady was from Somaliland, the statement would have gone unchallenged.

The same day, a man cook and a “hired girl” arrived from Boggs City, having come up by rail from New York.

The tenant was a tall, slender lady.  There could be no division of opinion as to that.  As to whether she was young, middle-aged or only well-preserved, no one was in a position to asseverate.  As a matter of fact, observers would have been justified in wondering whether she was black or white.  She was never abroad without the thick, voluminous veil, and her hands were never ungloved.  Mrs. Nixon and Angie described her voice as refined and elegant, and she spoke English as well as anybody, not excepting Professor Rank of the high school.

By the end of her first week in the Nixon cottage, there wasn’t a person in Tinkletown, exclusive of small babies, who had not advanced a theory concerning Mrs. Smith, the new tenant.  On one point all agreed; she was the most “stuck-up” person ever seen in Tinkletown.

She resolutely avoided all contact with her neighbours.  On several occasions, polite and cordial citizens had bowed and mumbled “Howdy-do” to her as she passed in the automobile, but there is no record of a single instance in which she paid the slightest heed to these civilities.  All of her marketing was done by the man cook, and while he was able to speak English quite fluently when objecting to the quality, the quantity and the price of everything, he was singularly unable to carry on a conversation in that language when invited to do so by friendly clerks or proprietors.

As for the French chauffeur, his knowledge of English appeared to be limited to an explosive sort of profanity.  Lum Gillespie declared on the third day after Mrs. Smith’s car first came to his garage for live storage, that “that feller Francose” knew more English cuss-words than all the Irishmen in the world.

The veiled lady did a good many surprising things.  In the first place, she had been in the Nixon cottage not more than an hour when she ordered the telephone taken out not merely discontinued, but taken out.  She gave no reason, and satisfied the telephone-company by making the local manager a present of ten dollars.  She kept all of the green window-shutters open during the day, letting the sunshine into the rooms to give the carpets the first surprise they had had in years, and at night she sat out on the screened-in porch, with a reading-lamp, until an hour when many of the residents of Tinkletown were looking out of their windows to see what sort of a day it was going to be.  She paid cash for everything, and always with bright, crisp banknotes, “fresh from the mint.”  She slept till noon.  She went out every afternoon about four, rain or shine, for long motor-rides in the country.  The queerest thing about her was that she never went near the “movies.”

Nearly every afternoon, directly after luncheon they called it dinner in Tinkletown she appeared in the back yard and put her extraordinarily barbered dog through a raft of tricks.  Passers-by always paused to watch the performance.  She had him walking first on his hind legs, then on his front legs; then he was catching a tennis-ball which she tossed every which way (just as a woman would, said Alf Reesling); and when he wasn’t catching the ball, he was turning somersaults, or waltzing to the tune she whistled, or playing dead.  The poodle’s name was Snooks.

The venerable town marshal, Anderson Crow, sat in front of Lamson’s store one hot evening about a week after the advent of the mystery.  He was the center of a thoughtful, speculative group of gentlemen representing the first families of Tinkletown.  Among those present were:  Alf Reesling, the town drunkard; Harry Squires, the reporter; Ed Higgins, the feed-store man; Justice of the Peace Robb; Elmer K. Pratt, the photographer; Situate M. Jones; and two or three others of less note.  The shades of night had just descended; some of the gentlemen had already yawned three or four times.

“There ain’t no law against wearin’ a veil,” said the Marshal, reaching out just in time to pluck a nice red apple before Lamson’s clerk could make up his mind to do what he had come out of the store expressly to do that is, to carry inside for the night the bushel basket containing, among other things, a plainly printed placard informing the public that “N Winesaps” were “2 for 5c.”

Crow inspected the apple critically for a moment, looking for a suitable place to begin; then, with his mouth full, he went on:  “The only thing I got ag’inst her is that she’s settin’ a new style in Tinkletown.  In the last two-three days I’ve seen more’n one of our fair sex lookin’ at veils in the Five an’ Ten Cent Store, and this afternoon I saw somebody I was sure was Sue Becker walkin’ up Maple Street with her head wrapped up in something as green as grass.  Couldn’t see her face to save my soul, but I recognized her feet.  My daughter Caroline was fixin’ herself up before the lookin’-glass last night, seein’ how she’d look in a veil, she said.  It won’t be long before we won’t any of us be able to recognize our own wives an’ daughters when we meet ’em on the street.”

“My girl Queenie’s got a new pink one,” said Alf Reesling.  “She made it out of some sort of stuff she wore over her graduatin’ dress three years ago.”

“Maybe she’s got a bad complexion,” ventured Mr. Jones.

“Who?  My girl Queenie?  Not on your ” began Alf, bristling.

“I mean the woman up at Mrs. Nixon’s,” explained Mr. Jones hastily.

Harry Squires had taken no part in the conversation up to this juncture.  He had been ruminating.  His inevitable you might almost say, his indefatigable pipe had gone out four or five times.

“Say, Anderson,” he broke in abruptly, “has it ever occurred to you that there might be something back of it that ought to be investigated?” The flare of the match he was holding over the bowl of his pipe revealed an eager twinkle in his eyes.

“There you go, talkin’ foolishness again,” said Anderson.  “I guess there ain’t anything back of it ‘cept a face, an’ she’s got a right to have a face, ain’t she?”

“I mean the reason for wearing a veil that completely obscures her face all the time.  They say she never takes it off, even in the house.”

“Who told you that?”

“Angie Nixon.  She says she believes she sleeps in it.”

“How does she deduce that?” demanded Anderson, idly fingering the badge of the New York Detective Association, which for obvious reasons, it being a very hot night, was attached to his suspenders.

“She deduced it through a keyhole,” replied Mr. Squires.  “Angie was up at the cottage last night to get something she had left in an upstairs hall closet.  She just happened to stoop over to pick up something on the floor right in front of Mrs. Smith’s door.  The strangest thing occurred.  She said it couldn’t occur again in a thousand years, not even if she tried to do it.  Her left ear happened to stop not more than half an inch from the keyhole.  She just couldn’t help hearing what Mrs. Smith said to her maid.  Angie says she said, plain as anything:  ’You couldn’t blame me for sitting up all night, if you had to sleep in a thing like this.’  She didn’t hear anything more, because she hates eavesdropping.  Besides, she thought she heard the maid walking toward the door.  Now, what do you make of that, Mr. Hawkshaw?”

“If you don’t stop callin’ me Hawkshaw, I’ll ”

“I apologize.  An acute case of lapsus lingua, Mr. Crow.  But wasn’t that remark significant?”

“I am a friend of Mrs. Nixon’s, an’ I must decline to criticize her beds,” said Mr. Crow rather loftily.  “I ain’t ever slept in one of ’em, but I’d do it any time before I’d set up all night.”

“Granting that the bed was all right, then isn’t it pretty clear that she was referring to something else?  The veil, for instance?”

“Sounds reasonable,” said Newt Spratt, and then, after due reflection, “mighty reasonable.”

“I’d hate to sleep in a veil,” said Alf Reesling.  “It’s bad enough to try to sleep with a mustard poultice on your jaw, like I did last winter when I had that bad toothache.  Doc Ellis says he never pulled a bigger er a stubborner tooth in all his experience than ”

“I think you ought to investigate the Veiled Lady of Nixon Cottage,” said Harry Squires, lowering his voice and glancing over his shoulder.  “You can’t tell what she’s up to, Anderson.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s a woman with a past.  She may be using that veil as a disguise.  What’s more, there may be a price on her head.  The country is full of these female spies, working tooth and nail for Germany.  Suppose she should turn out to be that society woman the New York papers say the Secret Service men are chasing all over the country and can’t find the Baroness von Slipernitz.”

“What fer kind of a dog is that you got, Ed?” inquired Mr. Crow, calmly ignoring the suggestion.

Mr. Higgins’ new dog was enjoying a short nap in the middle of the sidewalk, after an apparently fatiguing effort to dislodge something in the neighbourhood of his left ear.

“Well,” began Ed, eyeing the dog doubtfully, “all I know about him is that he’s a black dog.  My wife has been sizin’ him up for a day or two, figgerin’ on having him clipped here and there to see if he can’t be made to look as respectable as that dog of Mrs. Smith.  Hetty Adams has clipped that Newfoundland dog of hers.  Changed him something terrible.  When I come across them on the street today, I declare I only recognized half of him an’ I wouldn’t have recognized that much if he hadn’t wagged it at me.  It beats all what women will do to keep up with the styles.”

“I seen him today,” said Mr. Spratt, “an’ I never in all my life see a dog that looked so mortified.  I says to Hetty, says I:  ‘In the name o’ Heaven, Hetty,’ says I, ‘what you been doin’ to Shep?’ An’ she says:  ’I’d thank you, Newt Spratt, not to call my dog Shep.  His name is Edgar.’  So I says to Shep:  ‘Come here, Edgar that’s a good dog.’  An’ he never moved.  Then I says:  ‘Hyah, Shep!’ an’ he almost jumped out of his hide, he was so happy to find somebody that knowed who he was. ’Edgar, your granny!’ says I to Hetty.  ‘What’s the use of ruinin’ a good dog by calling him Edgar?’ An’ Hetty says:  ’Come here, Edgar!  Come here, I say!’ But Edgar, he never paid any attention to her.  He just kep’ on tryin’ to lick my hand, an’ so she hit him a clip with her parysol an’ says:  ’Edgar, must I speak to you again?  Come here, I say!  Behave like a gentleman!’ ‘There ain’t no dog livin’ that’s goin’ to behave like a gentleman if you call him names like that,’ says I.  ’It ain’t human nature,’ says I. An’ just to prove it to her, I turned an’ says to Shep:  ‘Ain’t that so, Shep, old sport?’ An’ what do you think that poor old dog done?  He got right up on his hind legs and tried to kiss me.”

“No wonder she wants to call him Edgar,” said Harry Squires.  “That’s just the kind of thing an Edgar sort of dog would do.”

“I was just going to say,” said Mr. Crow, twisting his whiskers reflectively, “that maybe she does it because she’s had smallpox, or been terribly scalded, or is cross-eyed, or something like that.”

Mr. Squires inwardly rejoiced.  He knew that the seed had been planted in the Marshal’s fertile brain, that it would thrive in the night and sprout on the morrow.  He saw delectable operations ahead; he was fond of the old man, but nothing afforded him greater entertainment than the futile but vainglorious efforts of Anderson Crow to achieve renown as a detective.

The reporter was a constant thorn in the side of Crow, who both loved and feared him.  The Banner seldom appeared without some sarcastic advice to the Marshal of Tinkletown, but an adjoining column invariably contained something of a complimentary character, the one so adroitly offsetting the other that Mr. Crow never knew whether he was “afoot or horseback,” to quote him in his perplexity.

Harry Squires had worked on a New York morning paper in his early days.  His health failing him, he was compelled to abandon what might have become a really brilliant career as a journalist.  Lean, sick and disheartened, he came to Bramble County to spend the winter with an old aunt, who lived among the pine-covered hills above the village of Tinkletown.  That was twenty years ago.  For nineteen years he had filled the high-sounding post of city editor on the Banner.  He always maintained that the most excruciating thing he had ever written was the line at the top of the first column of the so-called editorial page, which said:  “City Editor Harry Sylvester Squires.”  Nothing, he claimed, could be more provocative of hilarity than that.

In his capacity as city editor, he wrote advertisements, personals, editorials, news-items, death-notices, locals and practically everything else in the paper except the poetry sent in by Miss Sue Becker.  He even wrote the cable and telegraph matter, always ascribing it to a “Special Correspondent of the Banner.”  In addition to all this, he “made-up” the forms, corrected proof, wrote “heads,” stood over the boy who ran the press and stood over him when he wasn’t running the press, took all the blame and none of the credit for things that appeared in the paper, and once a week accepted currency to the amount of fifteen dollars as an honorarium.

Regarding himself as permanently buried in this out-of-the-way spot on the earth’s surface, he had the grim humour to write his own “obituary” and publish it in the columns of the Banner.  He began it by saying that he was going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the “deceased.”  He had written hundreds of obituaries during his career as city editor, he said, and not once before had he been at liberty to tell the truth.  In view of the fact that he had no relations to stop their subscriptions to the paper, he felt that for once in his life he could take advantage of an opportunity to write exactly as he felt about the deceased.

He left out such phrases as “highly esteemed citizen,” “nobility of character,” “loss to the community,” “soul of integrity” and other stock expressions.  At the end he begged to inform his friends that flowers might be deposited at the Banner office or at his room in Mrs. Camp’s boarding-house, as he was buried in both places.  Buttonhole bouquets could be pinned upon him any day by simply stopping his customary funeral procession about town.  Such attentions should always be accompanied by gentle words or exclamations of satisfaction, as for example:  “How natural you look!” or “You owed me ten dollars, but I forgive you,” or “It’s a pity your friends allowed you to to be laid away in a suit of clothes like that,” or “I don’t believe half the things people said about you,” or “It’s a perfect shame you don’t feel like resting in peace,” or “Did you leave anything worth mentioning?” He also suggested that he would rest much easier in his grave if a slight increase in salary attended the obsequies.

From this it may be gathered that Harry Squires was a man who made the most out of a very ordinary situation.

Marshal Crow’s suggestion met with instant response.  “On the other hand, Anderson, the lady may be as beautiful as the fabulous houri and as devilish as Delilah.  I don’t want to take any steps in the matter without giving you your chance.”  He spoke darkly.

Mr. Crow pricked up his ears.  “What do you mean by that?”

“As a newspaper man, I am determined to clear up the mystery of the Veiled Lady.  If you persist in sitting around twiddling your thumbs and looking like a primeval goat, I shall send to New York and engage a detective to work on the case exclusively for the Banner.  The Banner is enterprising.  We intend to give our subscribers the news, no matter what it costs.  If you ”

The Marshal swallowed the bait, hook and all.  He arose from his chair and faced Mr. Squires.  “I’ll thank you, Harry Squires, to keep out of this.  I didn’t mean to say a word about it to you or anybody else until I had gone a little further with my investigations, but now I’ve got to let the cat out of the bag.  I’ve been working day and night on her case ever since she came to town.  Never mind, Newt don’t ask me.  I’ll announce the result of my investigations at the proper time an’ not a minute sooner.  Now I guess I’ll be moseyin’ along.  It’s gettin’ purty late, an’ I’ve got a lot of work to do before midnight.”

He started down the steps.  Harry Squires leaned back in his chair and scratched a match on the leg of his trousers.  By the time he raised the lighted match to the bowl of his pipe, the smile had left his lips.

An uneventful week passed.  The Veiled Lady made her daily excursions in the big high-powered car, pursued her now well-known domestic habits, retained her offensive aloofness, played games with the astounding Snooks, suffered no ill effects whatsoever from the inimical glares of the natives; and above all, she continued to set the fashions in Tinkletown.

Mr. Crow stalked the streets early and late.  He lurked behind the corners of buildings; he peered sharply from the off-side of telephone poles as the big limousine swept haughtily by.  He patrolled the Nixon neighbourhood by day and haunted it by night.  On occasion he might have been observed in the act of scrutinizing the tracks of the automobile over recently sprinkled streets.

One evening, just after dusk, after a sharp encounter with Harry Squires, who bluntly accused him of loafing on the job, he sauntered past the Nixon cottage.  His soul was full of bitterness.  He was baffled.  Harry Squires was right; he had accomplished nothing and what was worse, he wasn’t likely to accomplish anything.  He sauntered back, casting furtive glances into the spacious front-yard, and concluded to ease his restless legs by leaning against a tree and crossing them in an attitude of profound nonchalance.  The tree happened to be almost directly in front of the Nixon gate.  Not to seem actually employed in shadowing the house, he decided to pose with his back to the premises, facing down the street, twisting his whiskers in a most pensive manner.

Suddenly a low, musical voice said: 

“Good evening!”

Mr. Crow looked up into the thick foliage of the elm, then to the right and left, and finally in the direction of the cottage, out of the corner of his eye, after a sudden twist of the neck that caused him to wonder whether he had sprained it.

The Veiled Lady was standing at the gate.  In the gathering darkness her figure seemed abnormally tall.

The Marshal hastily faced about and stared hard at the mystery.

“Evening,” he said, somewhat uncertainly.  Then he lifted his hat a couple of inches from his head and replaced it at an entirely new angle, pulling the rim down so far over the left eye that the right eye alone was visible.  This shift of the hat instantly transformed him into a figure of speech; he became as “cunning as a fox.”  People in Tinkletown had come to recognize this as an unfailing symptom of shrewdness on his part.  He always wore his hat like that when he was deep in the process of “ferreting something out.”

“Have I the honour of addressing Mr. Anderson Crow?” inquired the lady.

“You have,” said he succinctly.

“Field Marshal Crow?”

“Ma’am?”

“Or is it Town Marshal?  I am quite ignorant about titles.”

“That’s the name I go by, ma’am.”

“Your name is very familiar to me.  Are you in any way related to the great detective?”

This was unexpected tribute.  The only thing he could think up to say was, “I’m him,” and then, apologetically:  “ unless some one’s been usin’ my name without authority.”

“Are you actually the great Anderson Crow?  Do you know, I have always thought of you as a fictitious character like Sherlock Holmes.  Are you really real?  Do I look upon you in the flesh?”

Mr. Crow was momentarily overwhelmed.

“Oh, I I guess I’m not much different from other men, ma’am.  I’m not half as important as folks make me out to be.”

“How nice and modest you are!  That is the true sign of greatness, Mr. Crow.  I might have known that you would be simple.”

“Simple?” murmured Anderson, to whom the word had but one meaning.  He thought of Willie Jones, the village idiot.

“‘Simplicity, thou art a jewel,’” observed the Veiled Lady.  “Will you pardon a somewhat leading question, Mr. Crow?”

“Lead on,” said he, still a trifle uncertain of himself.

“Who is that man standing against the tree beside you?  Is he a friend of yours?”

“Who is is my what?”

“Your companion.  Now he has moved over behind the tree.”

Anderson shot a startled look over his shoulder.

“There ain’t any man behind the tree.  I’m all alone.”

“Are you trying to make sport of me, Mr. Crow?”

“I should say not.  I been standin’ here fer some time, an’ I guess I’d know if anybody was ”

“Do you think I am blind?” demanded the lady quite sharply.

“Not if you c’n see a man behind this tree,” said he, with conviction.  “You got the best eyesight of anybody I ever come across that’s all I got to say.”

“I see him very distinctly.”

Anderson obligingly circled the tree.

“Do you see him now?” he inquired in an amused tone.

“Certainly.  He walked around the tree just ahead of you.”

“What the ” began Anderson angrily, but checked the words in time.  “You are mistaken.  There ain’t no one here, ’cept me.”

“Is he one of your subordinates?” queried the woman, leaning forward in the attitude of one peering intently.

“Must be a shadow you’re seein’, ma’am,” he suggested, and suddenly was conscious of the queer sensation that some one was on the opposite side of the tree.

“That’s it!” she exclaimed eagerly.  “A shadow!  Aren’t you detectives always shadowing some one?”

“Yes, but we don’t turn into shadows to do it, ma’am.  We just ”

“There he is!  Standing directly behind you.  What object can you possibly have, Mr. Crow, in lying to me about ”

“Lying?” gasped Anderson, after a swift, apprehensive glance over his shoulder.  “I’m tellin’ you the gospel truth.  Maybe that confounded veil’s botherin’ your eyesight.  Take it off, an’ you’ll see there ain’t no one ”

“Ah!  What a remarkable leap!  He must be possessed of wings.”

Mr. Crow himself moved with such celerity that one might have described the movement as a leap.  He was within a yard of her when he next spoke; his back was toward her, his eyes searching the darkness from which he had sprung.

“Good Lord!  You you’d think there was some one there by the way you talk.”

“He leaped from behind that tree to this one over here.  It must be thirty feet.  How perfectly amazing!”

By this time the good Marshal was noticeably impressed.  There was no denying the fact that his voice shook.

Now who’s lying?” he cried out.

She took no offence.  Instead she pointed down the dark sidewalk.  It seemed to him that her arm was six feet long.  He was fascinated by it.

“Now he is climbing up the tree just like a squirrel.  Look!”

Anderson felt the cold perspiration starting out all over his body.

“I I swear I can’t see anybody at all,” the Marshal croaked weakly.

“Run over to that tree and look up, Mr. Crow,” she whispered in great agitation.  “He is sitting on that big limb, looking at us his eyes are like little balls of fire.  Send him away, please.”

Haltingly the Marshal edged his way toward the tree.  Coming to its base, he peered upward.  He saw nothing that resembled a human figure.

“Be careful!” called out the Veiled Lady.  “He is about to swing down upon your head.  Hurry!  There!  Didn’t you feel that?”

Anderson Crow made a flying leap for safety.  He had the uncanny feeling that his hair was slowly lifting the hat from his head.

“Feel feel what?” he gasped.

“He swung down by his hands and kicked at you.  I was sure his foot struck your head.  Ah!  There he goes again.  See him?  He is climbing over my wall no, he is running along the top of it.  Like the wind!  And he ”

“Good heavens!  Am I am I goin’ blind?” groaned Mr. Crow, his eyes bulging.

“Now he has disappeared behind the rosebushes down in the corner of the lot.  He must be the same man I have seen always about this time in the evening.  If he isn’t one of your men, Mr. Crow, who in Heaven’s name is he?”

“You you have seen him before?” murmured the Marshal, reaching up to make sure that his hat was still in place.

“Four or five times.  Last night he climbed up and stood beside that big chimney up there silhouetted against the sky.  He looked very tall much taller than any ordinary man.  The night before, he was out here on the lawn, jumping from bush to bush, for all the world like a harlequin.  Once he actually leaped from the ground up to the roof of the porch, as easily as you would spring Where are you going, Mr. Crow?”

“I I thought I saw him runnin’ down the street just now,” said Anderson Crow, quickening his pace after a parting glance over his shoulder at the tall lady in the gateway.  “Maybe I can overtake him if I if I But I guess I’d better hurry.  He seems to be runnin’ mighty fast.”

He was twenty feet away when she called after him, a note of warning in her voice: 

“You are mistaken!  He is following you he is right at your heels, Mr. Crow.”

This was quite enough for Anderson Crow.  He broke into a run.  As he clattered past the lower end of the garden wall, a low, horrifying chuckle fell upon his ears.  It was not the laugh of a human being.  He afterwards described it as the chortle of a hyena hoarse and wild and full of ghoulish glee.

Alf Reesling’s house was two blocks down the street.  Mr. Reesling was getting a bit of fresh air in his front yard.  The picket gate was open, probably to let in the air, and he was leaning upon one of the posts.  His attention was attracted by the sound of approaching footsteps.  Almost before he knew what had happened, they were receding.  Anderson swept past; his chin up, his legs working like piston-rods.

The astonished Alf recognized his friend and adviser.

“Hey!” he shouted.

It was a physical impossibility for Anderson to slacken his speed.  At the same time, it was equally impossible for him to increase it.  Alf, scenting excitement, set out at top speed behind him, shouting all the time.

Pursued and pursuer held their relative positions until they rounded into Main Street.  Reaching the zone of light and safety produced by show-windows and open doors, the Marshal put on the brakes and ventured a glance over his shoulder.  Alf, lacking the incentive that spurred Anderson, lagged some distance behind.  A second glance reassured the Marshal.  Alf was lumbering heavily past Brubaker’s drugstore, fully revealed.

Observing an empty chair on the sidewalk in front of Jackson’s cigar-store, Mr. Crow directed his slowing footsteps toward it.  He flopped down with an abruptness that almost dismembered it.  He was fanning himself with his hat when Alf came up.

Alf leaned against the wooden Indian that guarded the portals.  Presently he wheezed: 

“Wha what’s all the rumpus?”

Instead of replying, Mr. Crow pressed his hand to his heart and shook his head.

“Take your time,” advised Alf sympathetically; whereupon Anderson nodded his head.

Sim Jackson ambled to the front door, and Mort Fryback hobbled across the street from his hardware store.  Lum Gillespie dropped the hose with which he was sousing an automobile in front of his garage and approached the group.

In less than three minutes all of the nighthawks of Main Street were gathered about Anderson Crow, convinced that something unusual was in the air despite his protests.

Suddenly the Marshal’s manner changed.  He swept the considerable group with an appraising eye, and then in a tone of authority said: 

“Now that I’ve got you all together, I hereby order you in my capacity as an official of the State and county, to close up your stores an’ consider yourselves organized into a posse.  You will close up immejately an’ report to me here, ready for active work.”

Shortly after ten o’clock a group of fifteen or eighteen men moved silently away from Jackson’s cigar-store, led by their commander-in-chief.  He was flanked on one side by Bill Kepsal, the brawny blacksmith, and on the other by Sim Jackson, who happened to possess a revolver.

After the posse had turned into the unrelieved shades of Maple Street, Mr. Crow halted every few yards and said:  “Sh!”

He had related a portion but not all of his experiences, winding up with the statement that poor Mrs. Smith had been terribly frightened by the mysterious prowler, and that it was their duty as citizens to put an end to his activities if possible.

“Her description of him don’t fit anybody livin’ in this town,” he had said during the course of his narrative.  “We ain’t got anybody who c’n jump thirty foot, or who c’n shin up a chimbly like a squirrel.  You never saw anybody as quick as he is, either.  Supposin’ you think you see him standin’ right beside you.  Zip!  Before you could blink an eye, he’s over there in front of Mort’s store just like that.  Or up a tree!  Spryest cuss I ever laid eyes on.  Made me think of a ghost.”

“Ghost?” said Newt Spratt, pausing in the act of rolling up his sleeves.

“You say you saw him, Anderson?” inquired Alf Reesling.

“Course I did.  Tall feller with ”

“And the lady saw him too?”

“She saw him first, I been tellin’ you.  She seemed to be able to see quicker’n I could, ’cause she saw nearly every move he made.  My eyesight ain’t as good as it used to be, an’ besides, she could see plainer from where she stood.  Come on now no time to waste.  We got to post ourselves all around the place an’ an’ nab him if he shows himself again.  All you fellers have got to do is to obey orders.”

At the corner of Maple and Sickle streets, a few hundred feet from the Nixon cottage, the cavalcade received a whispered order to halt.  The Marshal, enjoining the utmost stealth, instructed his men where to place themselves about the grounds they were soon to invest from various approaches.  After stealing over the stone wall, they were to crawl forward on hands and knees until each man found a hiding-place behind a bush or flower-bed.  There he was to wait and watch.  The first glimpse of the mysterious intruder was to be the signal for a shout of alarm; whereupon the whole posse was to close in upon him without an instant’s delay.

In course of time, the posse successfully debouched upon the lawn and occupied crouching positions behind various objects of nature.  The minutes slowly consolidated themselves into half an hour; they were pretty well started on the way toward the three-quarter mark, and still no sign of the sprightly stranger.  Lights were gleaming behind the yellow shades of the downstairs window in the cottage; through the Japanese curtains enveloping the veranda a dull, restricted glow forced its way out upon the bordering flower-beds.

Suddenly out of what had become an almost sepulchral silence, came the sound of a woman’s voice.  The words she uttered were so startling that the listeners felt the flesh on their bones creep.

“But wouldn’t poisoning be the surer and quicker way?  Slip a few drops of prussic acid into his food, and death would be instantaneous.”

Marshal Crow clutched Bill Kepsal’s arm.  “Did you hear that?” he whispered.  She had spoken in hushed, quavering tones.

Then came a man’s voice from the porch above, low and suppressed.

“Why not wait till he is asleep and let me sneak up to him and put the revolver to his head ”

“But but suppose he should awake and ”

“He’ll never open his eyes again, believe me.  Poison isn’t always sure to work quickly or thoroughly.  We don’t want a struggle.”

“You may be right.  I I leave it to you.”

“Good!  The sooner the better, then.  If we do it at once, Francois and Henry can bury him before morning.  I think ”

“I cannot bear to talk about it.  Creep in and see if he is asleep.  Don’t make the slightest noise.  He he must never know!”

Stealthy footsteps, as of one tiptoeing, were heard by the listeners below the porch.  Then, a moment later, the sound of a woman sobbing.

The foregoing conversation was distinctly heard by at least half of Marshal Crow’s posse.  Three of the watchers, crouching not far from Anderson Crow and his two supporters, abruptly left their hiding-places and started swiftly toward the front gate.  The Marshal intercepted them.

“Where are you going?” he whispered, grabbing the foremost, who happened to be Elmer K. Pratt, the photographer.

“I was sure I saw that feller you were telling about skipping down toward the street,” whispered Mr. Pratt, his voice shaking.  “I’m going after him.  I ”

“Keep still!  Stay where you are.  Alf, you round up the boys collect ’em up here, quiet as possible.  We got to prevent this terrible murder.  You heard what they were plottin’ to do.  Surround the house.  Close every avenue of escape.  Three or four of us will bust in through the porch an’ You stay with me, Sim, an’ you too, Bill.  Get your pistol ready, Sim.  When I give the word foller me!  Where’s Alf?  Is he surrounding the house?  Sh!  Don’t speak!”

Shadowy figures began scuttling about the lawn, darting from bush to bush, advancing upon the house.

“Now get ready, Sim,” whispered Anderson.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a dull, smothered report, as of one striking the side of a barrel, reached the ears of the assembling forces.  Then a sharp, agonized cry from the lady in the veranda.

“Too late!” cried the Marshal, and dashed clumsily up the front steps, followed by four or five of his henchmen.

Yanking open the screen-door, he plunged headlong into the softly lighted veranda.  Behind him came Sim Jackson, brandishing a revolver, and Bill Kepsal, clutching the hammer he had brought from his forge.

They stopped short.  A woman in a filmy white gown, cut extremely low in the neck, confronted them, an expression of alarm in her wide dark eyes.  She was very beautiful.  They had never seen any one so beautiful, so striking, or so startlingly dressed.  She had just arisen from the comfortable wicker chair beside the table, the surface of which was littered with magazines, papers and documents in all sorts of disorder.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” she demanded, recovering her composure after the first instant of alarm.

Mr. Crow found his voice.  “Surrender peaceable,” he said.  “I’ve got you completely surrounded.  Won’t do any good to resist.  My men are everywhere.  Your partner will be shot down if he ”

“Why, you you old goose!” cried out the lady, and forthwith burst into a merry peal of laughter.

The Marshal stiffened.

“That kind of talk won’t ” he began, and then broke off to roar:  “Quit your laughin’!  You won’t be gigglin’ like that when you’re settin’ in the ’lectric chair.  Hustle inside there, men!  Take her paramour, dead or alive!”

“Oh, what a stupendous situation!” cried the beautiful lady, her eyes dancing.  “You really are a darling, Mr. Crow a perfect, old dear.  You ”

“None o’ that now none o’ that!” Mr. Crow warned, taking a step backward.  “Won’t do you any good to talk sweet to me.  I’ve got the goods on you.  A dozen witnesses have heard you plottin’ to murder.  Throw up your hands!  Up with ’em!  Now, keep ’em up! An’ stop laughin’! You’ll soon find out you can’t murder a man in cold blood, even if he is a trespasser on your property.  You can’t go around killin’ Say, where is Mrs. Smith?  Where’s the lady of the house?”

“I am the lady of the house, Mr. Crow,” said the lady, performing a graceful Delsartian movement with her long bare arms.  Mr. Crow and his companions stared upward at her arms as if fascinated.  “I am Mrs. Smith Mrs. John Smith.”

“I guess not,” said Anderson sharply.  “She wears a veil, asleep an’ awake.  Hold on!  Put your hands down!  She’s signalin’ somebody, sure as you’re alive,” he burst out, turning to the group of mouth-sagging, eye-roving gentlemen who followed every graceful curve and twist of those ivory arms.  “What’s the matter with you, Sim?  Didn’t I order you to go in there an’ grab that bloody assassin?  What ”

“Not on your life!  He’s got a gun,” exclaimed Sim Jackson.  “S’pose I’m goin’ in there, an’ Oh, fer gosh sake!”

A man appeared in the door leading to the interior of the house.

“For the love o’ Mike!” issued from the lips of the newcomer.  “What in thunder what’s all this?”

It was Harry Squires.

He gazed open-mouthed, first at the beautiful, convulsed lady, and then at the huddled group of men.

“We are caught red-handed, Mr. Squires,” said the beautiful lady.  “Shall we go to the electric chair hand in hand?”

A slow grin began to reach out from the corners of Harry’s mouth as if its intention was to connect with his ears.

“My God, Harry you ain’t mixed up in this murder?” bleated Anderson.

The old man’s dismay was so genuine, his distress so pitiful, that the heart of Harry Squires was touched.  His face sobered at once.  Stepping forward, he held out his hand to the Marshal.

“Good old Anderson!  It’s all right.  Buck up, old top!  I’m sorry to say that blood has been shed here tonight.  Come with me; I’ll show you the corpse.”

Mr. Crow was not to be caught napping.  “Some of you fellers stay here an’ guard this woman.  Don’t let her get away.”

A few minutes later he stood beside Harry Squires in the cellar below the kitchen.  There was a smell of gunpowder on the close, still air.  They looked down upon the black, inanimate form of the French poodle.

“There, Mr. Hawkshaw,” said Harry, “there lies all that is mortal of the finest little gentleman that ever wore a collar.  Take off your hat, Sim and you too, Bill all of you.  You are standing in the presence of death.  Behold in me the assassin.  I am the slayer of yon grisly corpse.  Shackle me, Mr. Marshal.  Lead me to the gallows.  I am the guilty party.”

Marshal Crow took off his hat with the rest but he did it the better to mop his forehead.

“Do you mean to tell me there ain’t been any man slew in this house?” he inquired slowly.

“Up to the hour of going to press,” said the city editor of the Banner, “no human remains have been unearthed.”

“Then, where in thunder is the feller who’s been foolin’ around Mrs. Smith’s front yard, the ”

“Last I saw of him he was beating it down the street about two hours ago, and you were giving him the run of his life.  I don’t believe the rascal will ever dare come around here again.  The chances are he’s still running.”

The Marshal muttered something under his breath, and shot a pleading look at Harry.

“Yes, sir,” continued Harry solemnly, “I’ll bet my head he’ll never be seen in these parts again.”

“If he hadn’t got such a start of me,” said Anderson, regaining much of his aplomb, “I’d ’a nabbed him, sure as you’re alive.  He could run like a whitehead.  I never seen such ”

“Shall we go upstairs, gentlemen, and relieve the pressure on Miss Hildebrand?  She is, I may say, the principal mourner, poor lady.”

“Miss Who?”

“Gentlemen, the lady up there is no other than the celebrated actress, Juliet Hildebrand.  The Veiled Lady and she are one and the same.  Before we retire from this spot, let me explain that Mr. Snooks, the deceased, was run over by her automobile an hour or so ago.  His back was broken.  I merely put an end to his suffering.  Now come ”

“Mister Snooks?” inquired Anderson quickly.  “Well, that solves one of the mysteries that’s been botherin’ me.  An’ an’ you say she’s the big actress whose picture we see in the papers every now an’ again?”

“The same, Mr. Crow.  She has done me the honour to accept a play that I have been guilty of writing.  She came up here to go over it with me before putting it into rehearsal, and incidentally to enjoy a month’s vacation after a long and prosperous season in New York.”

“Do you mean to say you’ve knowed all along who she was?” demanded Anderson.  “Been comin’ up here to see her every night or so, I suppose.”

“More or less.”

“That settles it!” said the Marshal sternly.  “You are under arrest, sir.  Have you got anybody to bail you out, er are you goin’ to spend the night in the lock-up?”

“What’s the charge, Mr. Hawkshaw?” inquired Harry, amiably.

“Practisin’ without a dicense.”

“Practising what?” asked Harry.

“Jokes!” roared Anderson gleefully, and slapped him on the back.

Again the Marshal slapped the culprit’s back.  “Yes, sir, the joke’s on me.  I admit it.  I’ll set up the seegars for everybody here.  Sim, send a box of them ‘Uncle Tom’ specials round to my office first thing in the mornin’.  Yes, sir, Harry, my boy, you certainly caught me nappin’ good and plenty.  Tain’t often I git ”

“If you don’t mind, Anderson,” interrupted Elmer K. Pratt, “I’ll take a nickel’s worth of chewin’-tobacco.  My wife don’t like me to smoke around the house.”

“Gentlemen,” said Harry Squires, “there are a few bottles of beer in the icebox, and the cook will make all the cheese and ham sandwiches we can eat.  I am sure Miss Hildebrand will be happy to have you partake of her ”

“Hold on a minute, Harry,” broke in the Marshal hastily.  His face was a study.  The painfully created joviality came to a swift and uncomfortable end, and in its place flashed a look of embarrassment.  He simply couldn’t face the smiling Miss Hildebrand.

“If it’s all the same to you,” he went on, lowering his voice and glancing furtively over his shoulder at the departing members of his posse, “I guess I’ll go out the back way.”  Seeing the surprised look-on Harry’s face, he floundered badly for a moment or two, and then concluded with the perfectly good excuse that it was his duty to lead Alf Reesling, the one-time town drunkard, away from temptation.  In support of this resolve, he called out to Alf:  “Come here, Alf.  None o’ that, now!  You come along with me.”

“I ain’t goin’ to touch anything but a ham sandwich,” protested Alf with considerable asperity.

“Never mind!  You do what I tell you, or I’ll run you in.  Remember, you got a wife an’ daughter, an’ ”

“Inasmuch as Alf has been on the water-wagon for twenty-seven years, Mr. Marshal, I think you can trust him ” began Harry, but Anderson checked him with a resolute gesture.

“Can’t take any chances with him.  He’s got to come with me.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Harry.

“An’ besides,” said Anderson, “a man in my position can’t afford to be seen associatin’ with actresses an’ you know it, Harry Squires.  Come on, Alf!”