Read NO QUESTIONS ANSWERED of Anderson Crow‚ Detective , free online book, by George Barr McCutcheon, on ReadCentral.com.

REWARD!!!

$25.00 For the Apprehension or Capture of Person or Persons Who
Successfully Stole the Fashionable Bulldog Belonging to Mrs. M.
Fryback on or About Friday of Last Week!

N. B. Said dog occasionally answers to the name of Marmaduke, but
mostly to Mike.

An Additional Reward of Three Dollars Cash will be paid for the
return of said dog, with or without said Criminals.  No Questions
asked.

     A. CROW, Marshal of Tinkletown.

The foregoing poster, fresh from the press of the Banner printing office, made itself conspicuous at no less than a dozen points in the village of Tinkletown on a blustery February morning.  Early visitors to the post office in Lamson’s store were the first to discover it, tacked neatly on the bulletin board.  Others saw it in front of the Town Hall, while others, who rarely took the trouble to look at a telephone pole before leaning against it, found themselves gazing with interest at the notice that covered the customary admonition: 

“Post No Bills.”

Of course every one in Tinkletown knew, and had known for the matter of a week or more, that Mort Fryback’s bulldog was “lost, strayed or stolen,” but this was the first glaring intimation that Mort had also lost his mind.  In the first place, Mike as he was familiarly known to every inhabitant wasn’t worth more than a dollar and a half when he was in his prime, and that, according to recollection, must have been at least twelve or fifteen years prior to his unexplained disappearance.  In the second place, it was pretty generally understood that Mike recently Marmaduke had surreptitiously taken a dose of prussic acid in a shed back of Kepsal’s blacksmith shop and was now enjoying a state of perfect rejuvenation in the happy hunting ground.

Mr. Alf Reesling, the town drunkard, after having scanned four of the notices on his way to the post office, informed a group of citizens in front of Brubaker’s drugstore that Anderson Crow would do almost anything to get his name into print.  Alf and the town marshal had had one of their periodical “fallings out,” and, for the moment at least, the former was inclined to bitterness.

“To begin with,” explained Alf, “there ain’t a dog in this town that’s worth stealin’, to say nothin’ of three dollars.  You can’t tell me that Mort Fryback would give three dollars to get that dog back, not even if he was alive which he ain’t, if you c’n believe Bill Kepsal.  No, sir; it’s just because Anderson wants to see his name in print, that’s what it is.  I bet if you was to ask Mort if he has agreed to pay how much is it all told? twenty-eight dollars if he has agreed to pay all that money for nothin’, he’d order you out of his store.”

“Mrs. Fryback told my wife a couple of weeks ago that Marmaduke was a prize bull, and she wouldn’t take a hundred dollars for him,” said Newt Spratt.  “Seems that she had somebody look up his pedigree, and he turns out to be a stepson or something like that of a dog that won first prize at a bench show whatever that is in New York City.”

“Ever since that actress woman was here last fall, that friend of Harry Squires, I mean, every derned dog in town has turned out to be related some way or other to a thoroughbred animal in some other city,” said Alf.  “Why, even that mangy shepherd dog of Deacon Rank’s accordin’ to Mrs. Rank is a direct descendant of two of the finest Boston terriers that ever came out of Boston.  She told me so herself, but, of course, I couldn’t ask how he happened to look so much like a shepherd dog and so little like his parents, ‘cause there’s no use makin’ poor Mrs. Rank any more miserable than she already is she certainly don’t get any fun out of life, livin’ with the deacon from one year’s end to the other.  Yes, sir; just because that actress woman paraded around here for a month or so last fall with a French poodle, is no reason, far as I can see, why all the women in town should begin puttin’ leashes on their dogs and washin’ ’em and trimmin’ ’em and tying red ribbons around their necks yes, and around some of their tails, too.  I’ll never forget that stub-tail dog of Angie Nixon’s going around with a blue bow stickin’ straight up behind him, and lookin’ as though he’d lost something and got dizzy looking for it.  And Mort’s dog, Mike poor old Mike, why, he got so he’d go down to Hawkins’ undertakin’ shop every time he could get a minute off and bark till Lem would let him in, and then he’d lay down in a corner and go to sleep, and Lem always swore the poor dog was as mad as a hornet when he woke up and found he was still alive.”

“What puzzles me is why Mort Fryback’s offerin’ this reward, and all that, if he knows the dog is dead.  It costs money to have bills like this printed at the Banner office.”  So spoke Elmer Pratt, the photographer.  “Wasn’t he present at the obsequies?”

“No, he wasn’t,” said Alf.  “He claims now that he don’t know anything about it, and, besides, Bill Kepsal says he’ll beat the head off of anybody that says Mike passed away on his premises including Mort.  So naturally Mort denies it.  He told me yesterday he would deny it even if he had both of his legs; but what chance, says he, has a one-legged man got with big Bill Kepsal?”

“Here comes Anderson now,” said Mr. Spratt, his gaze fixed on an approaching figure.

It was zero weather in northern New York State, and the ancient Marshal of Tinkletown was garbed accordingly.  The expansive collar of his brass-buttoned ulster was turned up, completely obscuring the ear-flaps and part of the coonskin cap he was wearing.  An enormous pair of arctics covered his feet; his grey and red mittens were of the homemade variety; a muffler of the same material enveloped his gaunt neck, knotted loosely under his chin in such a way as to leave his whiskers free not only to the wind but to the vicissitudes of conversation as well.  The emblem of authority, a bright silver star, gleamed on the breast of his ulster.

He stopped when he reached the group huddled in front of the drugstore, and glared accusingly at Alf Reesling.

“I thought I told you to keep off the streets,” he said ominously.  “Didn’t I tell you yesterday I’d run you in if I caught you drunk in the streets again?”

“Yes, you did,” replied Alf, in a justifiably bellicose manner; “but I still stick to what I said to you at first when you said that to me.”

“What was that?”

“I said you couldn’t ketch me even if I was dead drunk and unconscious in the gutter, that’s what I said.”

“For two cents, I’d show you,” said Anderson.

“Well, go ahead.  Just add two cents to what you claim I already owe you, and go ahead with your runnin’ me in.  But before you do it, lemme warn you I’ll sue you for false arrest, and then where’ll you be?  I got five witnesses right here that’ll swear I ain’t drunk now and haven’t been in twenty-three years.”

“That shows just how drunk you are,” said Anderson triumphantly.  “Far as I can see, there are only four men here.”

“Don’t you call yourself a man?”

“What say?”

“I mean I got five witnesses includin’ you, that’s what I mean.  I’m gettin’ sick of you all the time tellin’ me I been drinkin’ again, when you know I ain’t touched a drop since 1896.  Why, dog-gone you, Andy Crow, if it wasn’t for me an’ the way you keep on talkin’ about juggin’ me, you wouldn’t have any excuse at all fer bein’ town marshal.  You ”

“That’ll do now,” interrupted Anderson severely.  “You have said them very words to me a thousand times, Alf Reesling, and Who’s that coming out of the post office?”

The group gradually turned to look up the street.  Tinkletown is a slow place.  Its inhabitants do everything with a deliberation that suggests the profoundest ennui.  For example, a gentleman of Tinkletown rarely raised his hat on meeting a lady.  He invariably started to do so, but as the ladies of the place were in the habit of moving with more celerity than the gentlemen, he failed on most occasions to complete the undertaking.  What’s the sense of takin’ your hat off to a woman, he would argue, if she’s already got past you?  So far as anybody knew, there wasn’t a woman in town with an eye in the back of her head.

“Looks like a stranger,” said Newt Spratt.

“It certainly does,” agreed Anderson.  “Yes, I’m right,” he added an instant later.

The object of interest was crossing the street in the direction of the Grand View Hotel.  The group watched him with mild interest.  In front of the two-story frame building that seemed to stagger, or at least to shrink, under the weight of its own importance, the stranger a man paused to glance at one of the placards heralding the misfortune and at the same time the far from parsimonious regard of the lady who had been despoiled of a fashionable bulldog.  Having perused the singularly comprehensive notice, he deliberately tore it down, folded it with some care, and stuck it into his overcoat pocket.  Then he entered the Grand View Hotel.

“Well, I’ll be ding-blasted!” exclaimed Marshal Crow.

Mr. Reesling’s animosity gave way to civic pride.  “By jingo, Anderson,” he cried, “if you want any help arrestin’ that scoundrel, call on me!  Comin’ around here defacin’ things like that he ought to go to jail.”

Elmer K. Pratt, the photographer, voiced a time-tried but fruitless criticism.  “If you’d paste ’em up instead of tackin’ ’em up, people couldn’t take ’em down like that.  I’ve told you ”

“If you got any complaints to make about me, Elmer, you’d better make ’em to the town board and not to Alf Reesling and Newt Spratt,” interrupted Marshal Crow testily.  “Besides I do paste ’em up when I run out of tacks.”

He started off toward the Grand View, his head erect, his whiskers bristling with indignation.

“Shall we go with you, Anderson?” inquired Alf.

“’Tain’t necessary,” replied the Marshal, “but you might go over and wait for me in front of the hotel.”

“If you need any help, just holler,” said Alf.

Entering the office of the Grand View Hotel, Marshal Crow looked around for the despoiler.  Save for the presence of the proprietress, Mrs. Bloomer, relict of the founder of the hostelry, the room was quite empty.  Mrs. Bloomer, however, filled it rather snugly.  She was a large person, and she had a cold in the head which made her feel even larger.  She was now engaged in sweeping the floor.

“Mornin’, Jennie,” was Anderson’s greeting.  “Where’s the feller that’s stoppin’ here?”

Mrs. Bloomer had the sniffles.  “He’s gone up to his room,” she said.  Then after another sniffle:  “Why?”

“I want to see him.”

“Well his room’s at the head of the stairs, to your right.”

Anderson twisted his whiskers in momentary perplexity.

“Might be better if you asked him to come down.”

“Ask him yourself,” she said.  “I don’t want to see him.”

Marshal Crow made a mental reservation to yank Mrs. Bloomer up before Justice Robb the next time she left the garbage can standing on the sidewalk overnight.

He hesitated about going up to the guest’s bedroom.  It wasn’t quite the legal thing to do.  The more he thought of it, the longer he hesitated.  In fact, while he was about it, he thought he would draw a chair up to the big sheet-iron stove and sit down.

“Won’t you take off your overcoat and goloshes?” inquired the landlady, but in a far from hospitable manner.

“How long has this feller been here?” demanded Anderson, moving his left foot a little, but not quite far enough to avoid the broom.

“Last night.”

“Um-m!  What’s his name and where’s he from?”

“Go and look at the register, and then you’ll know as much as I do.  It’s a public register.  Nothing secret about it.”

Anderson got up suddenly.  “I guess I’ll go look while you’re sweepin’ around here.”

The register on the little counter in the corner revealed the name of a single arrival below the flowing Spencerian hand of Willie Spence, the clerk, head waiter, porter and bell-boy of the Grand View Hotel.  Willie, because of his proficiency as a chirographer, always wrote the date line in the register.  He was strong on flourishes, but somewhat feeble in spelling.  Any one with half an eye could see that there was something wrong with a date line that read:  “Febury 25nd 1919.”  The lone guest’s name, written in a tight “running” hand with total disregard for the elementary formation of letters, might have been almost anything that occupied less than two inches of space.  Even his place of residence was a matter of doubt.

The Marshal put on his spectacles and studied the signature.  As far as he could make out, the man’s name was something like “Winnumnn Millmmmln.”  It was a name that baffled him.  The longer he studied it, the worse it became.

“Seems to me, Jennie, if I was runnin’ this hotel, I’d have Willie Spence register for the guests, and save ’em the trouble.”

“Can’t you make it out?”

“Course I can,” he replied promptly.  “It’s as plain as day to me, but I’ll bet you a good cigar you can’t make it out.”

She fell into the trap.  “All right, I take you up.  It’s Mr. & Mrs. George F. Fox.”

Mr. Crow stared at her for a second or two.  Then he recovered himself.  “You’re right,” he said.  “What kind of a cigar do you smoke, Jennie?”

As he had feared, she promptly named the highest-priced cigar she had in stock, a three-for-a-quarter brand, and then coolly announced that if he’d leave a dime on the show case, she’d get it.

“Got his wife with him, I see,” remarked Anderson.

“Yep,” said Mrs. Bloomer.

“What’s his business?”

“I asked him last night,” said she, pausing in her work to fix Anderson with a rather penetrating look.  “He said he was a trained elephant.”

“A a what?”

“A trained elephant.”

“You don’t say so!”

“And his wife is a snake-charmer,” she added uneasily.

Anderson blinked rapidly.  “Well, of all the But what on earth’s he doing here in Tinkletown?”

“I didn’t ask any more questions after that,” said she, with a furtive glance up the stairway.  “I’d give a good deal to know what they’ve got in them big black valises they brought with ’em.  Three times as big as regular valises, with brass trimmin’s.  I hope she aint got any reptiles in ’em.”

Marshal Crow took that instant to consult the office clock.  “By ginger!” he exclaimed, with some sprightliness.  “I got to be movin’ along.  I’m follerin’ up a clue in that dog case.”

Mrs. Bloomer’s anxious gaze was bent on a dark corner back of the stairway.

“I do hope, if she has got any snakes in them valises, she won’t let ‘em get loose and go crawlin’ all over the place.  I ”

Mr. Crow sent a quick, searching look about the office as he strode toward the door.

“Ain’t you going up to his room?” inquired Mrs. Bloomer.

“Not just now,” replied Anderson, and closed the door quickly behind him.

Alf Reesling and his companions were waiting impatiently on the sidewalk.  They were actively disappointed when the Marshal emerged empty-handed.

“Was he too much fer you?” was Alf’s scathing inquiry.

“How many times have I got to tell you, Alf, that I’m able to deduce these cases without your assistance?  Now, this is a big case, and you leave it to me to handle.  When I get ready to act, you’ll hear something that will make your hair stand on end.  Hold on, Newt!  Don’t ask any questions.  Don’t ”

“I wasn’t going to ask any questions,” snapped Newt.  “I was going to tell you something.”

“You was, eh?  Well, what was you going to tell me?”

“Mort Fryback went by here a couple of minutes ago an’ he says for you to come into his store right away.”

Anderson frowned.  “I bet he’s confessed.”

“Who?  Him?  What’s he got to confess?” demanded Alf.

“Never mind, never mind,” said the Marshal quickly.  “I’ll step in and see him now.”

Leaving his “reserves” standing in front of the Grand View, Mr. Crow hurried into Fryback’s hardware store.

Mort was pacing or, strictly speaking, stumping back and forth behind the cutlery counter.  His brow was corrugated with anxiety.  The instant he saw the Marshal he uttered an exclamation that might have been construed as either relief, dismay or wrath.  It was, as a matter of fact, inarticulate and therefore extremely difficult to classify.  Anderson, however, deduced it as dismay.  Mr. Fryback came out from behind the counter, stumped over to the stove, in which there was a crackling fire and, after opening the isinglass door, squirted a mouthful of tobacco juice upon the coals.  Whereupon it became possible for him to articulate.

“I been lookin’ everywhere fer you,” said he, somewhat breathlessly.  “Where you been?”

“‘Tendin’ to business,” retorted Anderson.  “What’s the matter?”

Mr. Fryback took the precaution to ascertain that there were no listeners in the store.  “Somebody some woman, you c’n bet on that told my wife last night that I poisoned old Mike.”

“Well, you did, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did.  That is, I hired Charlie Brubaker to do it.  But she says I did it with my own hands, and my gosh, Anderson, I never went through such a night in my life as last night.”  He mopped his brow.  “You’d think I was a murderer.  Course, I denied it.  I swore he wasn’t dead, and that I’d increase the reward to a hundred dollars just to show her.  What I want you to do, right away, is to have a new set of bills printed, offerin’ a hundred dollars reward for that dog, instead of three.  It’s the only chance I’ve got of ever being able to live in my own house again.”

The Marshal eyed him reflectively.  “If you could get her to agree to let you offer the reward for Mike, dead or alive ”

“She wants him alive, and no other way.”

“Can’t you buy her off?”

Mr. Fryback groaned.  “I could ” he began dismally, and then fell to chewing with great vigour.

“What would it cost?” inquired Anderson, feelingly.

“An automobile,” replied Mr. Fryback, after opening and closing the stove-door once more.  “It would be cheaper, you see, to offer a hundred dollars for Mike,” he explained, ingenuously.

“It certainly would,” agreed the Marshal, “seein’ as you wouldn’t have to pay fer anything except the printin’ of the notices.  If you wanted to show how much you think of your wife, and how anxious you are to please her, you could go as high as a thousand dollars, Mort.”

“Would you, reely, Anderson?”

“Sure.  She could lord it over all these women includin’ my wife who’ve been sayin’ Mike wasn’t worth fifty cents and didn’t have a pedigree any longer than his tail.  Why, if she wanted to go on lyin’ about the value of that old dog, she could tell people she had been offered a thousand dollars for Marmyduke by a well-known dog collector in New York.”

“That might please her,” reflected Mort.  “Course, this thing has already cost me quite a lot of money, outside the printin’.  I’ve had to give Bill Kepsal a receipt in full fer what he owes me, and that young Brubaker’s been in twice to price base-burner stoves.  He says if he c’n get a good one fer ten dollars he’ll take it, and his heart seems to be set on that seventy-dollar Regal over yonder.  I’m in an awful fix, Anderson.”

“Well, you can’t say I didn’t advise you to let Mike die a natural death.”

“I wish to goodness I had,” lamented Mort.

The door opened at that juncture, and in walked a man and a woman.  The former was carrying a square black “valise,” inadequately described by Mrs. Bloomer as twice the natural size.  As a matter of fact, it was more like a half-grown trunk, to quote no less an authority than the town marshal.

The proprietor of the hardware store was, at a glance, qualified to pass an opinion on the personal appearance of the two strangers.  His companion’s attention, however, was devoted so earnestly to the big black “valise,” that he couldn’t have told, for the life of him, whether the customers were young or old, black or white.  His fascinated gaze was riveted upon the object the man deposited carefully on the floor near the door.

“You are a locksmith, I perceive,” remarked the strange man, addressing Mort.  “I’d like to have you see if you can open this box for me.  We’ve lost or mislaid the key.”

“What fer sort of a lock is it?” asked Mort, approaching.

“Hold on, Mort!” called out Mr. Crow.  “Don’t monkey with that trunk.”

The two strangers turned on him.

“Well, who the deuce have we here?” said the man, with some acerbity.

“Oh, what a nice old policeman!” cried the lady, fixing the Marshal with a pair of intensely blue eyes.  Mr. Crow looked at her in amazement.  Could any one as pretty, as dainty and as refined-looking as she be engaged in the awful business of charming snakes?

“Before we go any further, mister, I’ve got to know what’s inside that box,” said Anderson firmly.

“What’s the matter with you?” demanded the other.  “There’s nothing in it that need excite the law, my good man.”

“This is our town marshal, Anderson Crow,” explained Mort Fryback.

“I might have known it,” said the stranger.  “I’ve heard a good deal about Mr. Crow.  Well, what’s the answer?”

“That’s what I want to know,” snapped Anderson.  “What is the answer?  What kind are they?  And how many have you got?”

The stranger was on the point of exploding with indignation when his fair companion intervened.

“Leave it to me, George dear.  You always fly into such a temper.  If you’d only let me attend to the small things, while you look out for the big ones, we’d get along so much better.  Wouldn’t we, Mr. Crow?”

She appealed to Mr. Crow so abruptly and so sweetly that he said he guessed so before he could check himself.

“If you will stay here until we find a key that will fit, Mr. Crow, you will see with your own eyes what will make them pop out of your head.”

“Mort, you keep away from that box, I say!” commanded Anderson, now sure of his ground.  “Do you want to get bit?”

“Oh, dear me, they won’t bite you!” cried the young lady.  “I promise you they are most amiable.  I have been handling them for several weeks and ”

Her husband interrupted her.  He revealed symptoms of increasing annoyance.

“See here, let’s get busy and open this thing.  They’ve got to be fed, you know, and it’s all damned poppycock discussing the matter any longer.”

Marshal Crow held up his hand as if stopping traffic in Main Street.

“You are in the presence of the law, Mr. Wolf,” he began.  The young woman giggled.  He glared at her.

“My name is Fox,” said the young man, curtly.

“That don’t make any difference,” retorted the Marshal.  “Mine’s Crow, and I represent the law.  You ”

“How delicious!” said Mrs. Fox.  “So like that cunning poem of Guy Wetmore Carryl’s.  You know it, of course, Mr. Crow?”

She declaimed: 

    “’I blush to add that when the bird
      Took in the situation
    He said one brief, emphatic word,
      Unfit for publication. 
    The fox was greatly startled, but
    He only sighed and answered “tut"’”

“Don’t be silly, Bess,” said her husband.  “This is no time to recite poetry.”

“I don’t see any sense in it, anyhow,” said Marshal Crow.

Mr. Fryback emerged from behind the cutlery counter, whither he had repaired in some haste when it became evident that Mrs. Fox was likely to remain for some time.  He was wiping his lips with the back of his hand, and what very recently might have been mistaken for a prodigious swelling in his cheek had strangely subsided.

“Why shouldn’t I fit a key to that lock, Andy?” he demanded, rather hotly.  “What right have you got to interfere with my business?”

The Marshal’s lips parted to utter a sharp retort, but the words failed to issue.  Young Mrs. Fox suddenly stooped over and peered intently at several heretofore unnoticed holes at one end of the black box.  These holes, about an inch in diameter, formed a horizontal row.  Much to Mr. Crow’s alarm, the young lady pulled off her glove and stuck a finger into one of the little apertures and apparently wriggled it without fear or trepidation.  Almost instantly there was an ominous rustling inside the box.  Withdrawing her finger, she called out: 

“Please look!”

The invitation was unnecessary.  Mr. Crow was looking for all he was worth.

“Good gracious, ma’am!” he gasped.  “Don’t stir ’em up like that.  Next thing they’ll crawl out of them holes and ”

“Why, you poor old goose!” she said, but not disrespectfully.  “They’re much too large to crawl through these holes.  I wish I could catch hold of one of their tails and Look!” She held her finger close to the hole and a long, thin black tongue darted through and began to writhe about in a most malevolent manner.

“For gosh sake!” exclaimed the Marshal, retreating a couple of steps.  This sudden action on his part brought a venomous oath from Mr. Fryback, and an instant apology as well.

“You’d cuss, too,” explained the blasphemer to the lady, “if a clumsy elephant, stepped on the only good foot you’ve got.”

“If you think I’m the one that claims to be an elephant ” began Anderson.

“Cootchy, cootchy, cootchy,” cooed the lady, addressing the row of holes.  Whereupon the rustling in the interior of the devilish box increased to a turmoil.  The two citizens of Tinkletown stared wide-eyed at the three little circles, and their eyes grew wider as they saw that one of them was now completely stopped up by a dark, ugly object that bore resemblance to nothing they had ever seen before a wet, shiny thing that was alive and quivering.

The unnatural Mrs. Fox promptly poked her finger through the hole and rubbed the snout of what must have been a full-sized boa-constrictor.  Instantly to their horror, the black obstruction, went through a process of splitting, and several deadly fangs were revealed.  Once more the wriggling black tongue darted out to caress the lady’s unprotected finger.

“Oh, you darling!” cried the lady.  “Please, Mr. Locksmith, see if you can’t find a key that will fit the lock.”

Marshal Crow dragged his friend toward the door.

“Did you see it?” he whispered hoarsely.

Before Mort could answer, the door flew open and in rushed Mrs. Bloomer, bareheaded and in a great state of agitation.

“For heaven’s sake, Anderson, hurry up and come with me,” she cried.  “Bring a pistol and, Mort, you get a couple of axes and a pitchfork or two.  My God, something awful is loose in one of them rooms upstairs!  The most terrible racket is going on in there.  I Oh, there you are!” She caught sight of her lodgers.  “Arrest them, Anderson!  Lock them up at once.  They’re dangerous people.  They oughtn’t to be running at large.  Oh, that awful thing!  It sounds like it was twenty feet long, and it’s thrashing all over the room.  Oh, my God!  What a scare I’ve had!  Oh, you needn’t look at me innocent like that, you two.  You’re in for it, or my name ain’t Jennie Bloomer.  Call a posse, Anderson, and surround the hotel.  Thank Heaven, the door of that room is locked, but goodness knows how soon it will be crawlin’ through the transom.”

At that instant she discovered that her skirt was almost touching the big black box on the floor.  Emitting a sharp squeal, she gave an elephantine leap to the shelter of Anderson’s arms, almost bowling him over.

“God knows what she’s got in that valise,” she whimpered.

Mr. Fox put on an exceedingly bold front.  Realizing that he was cornered, he adopted a lightly boastful air.

“What we’ve got in this valise, as you call it, madam, is worth more than your whole blamed hotel.”

“Keep away from that valise,” warned Anderson Crow, addressing Mr. Fox.  “Give me time to think.  Somethin’s got to be done, and right away.  I can’t take any chances of these terrible things gettin’ loose an’ drivin’ our citizens out of town.”

“The first thing you got to do, Anderson Crow,” shouted Mrs. Bloomer, “is to capture the reptile that’s loose in my hotel.  That’s what you got to do.”  She turned upon the pretty Mrs. Fox.  “Snake charmer!  That’s a nice business for a woman to be in.  Don’t come near me.”

“I am not thinking of coming near you, you old rip!” said Mrs. Fox, losing her temper in a very womanly fashion.

“None o’ that, now none o’ that,” warned the town marshal.  “Keep a civil tongue in your head, young woman.”

“Why, you long-whiskered old ” began the lady, but her husband spared the Marshal a whirlwind of revelations by taking her arm and leading her to the rear of the store, where for some minutes they were in close and earnest conference.

“The thing to do,” said Mort Fryback, “is to take this box down to the crick an’ drop it in, all locked and everything.  That will put an end to the cussed things, better’n any other way I know.”

A furious commotion took place inside the box, preventing further discussion on the part of the retreating observers.  It was as if a dozen huge and powerful serpents were exerting every effort to escape.

The voice of Mrs. Fox, clear as a bell, assailed them from behind.

“They’re hungry, poor things,” she cried.  “Perfectly ravenous.”

“That settles it,” said Marshal Crow.  “We’ve got to git rid of ’em if we have to set fire to your store, Mort.  They’re terrible when they haven’t been fed fer a long time.  Swaller pigs an’ sheep and children whole, they say.”

Mr. Fox approached.  He was now very polite and ingratiating.

“Permit me,” he observed, “to offer a solution.  If you will give me a bunch of keys, my friend, I will remove the case to my room and open it if possible.  No harm will come to anybody, and in one hour or so, my wife and I will be on our way.  My automobile is in your local garage, Mr. Hawk, and we can be ready to start as soon as we have fed and aired the er shall we say contents?”

“You arrest him, Anderson,” cried Mrs. Bloomer.  “Hold him till I estimate the damage that’s been done to my property.  He’s got to pay fer that before he can get out of this town.”

“I guess you’d better step over to the calaboose with me, mister,” said Anderson firmly.  “And you too, ma’am.  This here lady prefers charges against you, an’ it’s my duty to ”

“What is the charge, madam?” demanded Mr. Fox, lighting a cigarette.

“Never mind,” said the Marshal; “we’ll attend to that later.”

Mr. Fryback put in a word at this point.  “Yes, but who’s going to take charge of this here box?  It can’t stay here in my place.  First thing you know the derned things will gnaw a hole in the side and git out.”

“If it is not too far, Mr. Officer, I should be happy to carry the box over to the lock-up unless, of course, some one else will volunteer.  I see quite a number of citizens looking in through the window.  Doubtless some of them might ”

“How long after a man’s been on a bad spree is he likely to think he sees snakes?” demanded Anderson, struck with an idea.

“The time varies,” replied Mr. Fox, rather startled.

“Alf ain’t been tight in a good many years,” mused the Marshal.  “I guess it would be safe to let him carry ’em.  Don’t you think so, Mort?”

“Him and Newt Spratt,” said Mort.  “Newt’s always braggin’ about not being afraid of anything.”

“Well, perhaps it would be just as well not to tell ’em what’s in this here box,” said Anderson.  He turned to the pair of strangers.  “Only they ain’t going to carry it to the calaboose.  They’re going to carry it to the crick, an’ throw it in.”

The young woman uttered a cry of dismay, and her husband uttered something distinctly out of place, for Mrs. Bloomer again told him he ought to be ashamed of himself.

After a few whispered words in the ear of the distracted young woman, Mr. Fox turned to the others.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do, gentlemen,” said he, and then added, with a polite bow to the corpulent Mrs. Bloomer, “and ladies.  Mrs. Fox and I had planned giving a little exhibition at the hotel, but that now seems to be out of the question.  Kindly bear in mind that we are not visiting your little city on pleasure bent.  We are here strictly for business.  As a rule we do not make one-night stands.  But we have been attracted to your charming city almost against our will although, I may add, it was at the earnest invitation of one of your most important denizens I should say citizens.  You will agree, I am sure, that it would hardly pay us to visit a place like this unless we were reasonably assured of something in the way of pecuniary benefits.  You may not know it, gentlemen, but we have had a bona-fide offer of one hundred dollars and that isn’t to be sneezed at, is it?  We Please bear with me, Mr. Hawk.  I shall not detain you ”

“My name is Mr. Crow,” snapped Anderson.

“Sorry,” apologized Fox.  “I fear I confused you with the celebrated Hawkshaw, the detective.”

Mr. Crow turned purple.

“That’s what Harry Squires, the reporter on the Banner, calls him most of the time,” volunteered Mort Fryback.  “That, an’ Shellback Holmes.”

“Such is fame,” said Mr. Fox agreeably.  “Well, to get right down to cases, Mrs. Fox and I propose that you allow us to give our little exhibition in the Town Hall, if you have one and ”

“Not much!” roared Anderson.  “I’ve had enough of this talk.  I’m going to take action at once.”  He flung open the front door and addressed the group in front of the store, now increased to nearly a score, including several scattered women and children and Ed Higgins’ dog.  “I call on all you men to assist me in surrounding the Grand View Hotel.  There is dangerous work ahead, and I want only the bravest, wait a second, Newt, don’t go away, and most determined men in town to volunteer.  Here, Mort, you hand out some axes, an’ pitchforks, an’ crowbars, an’ ”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, George,” cried Mrs. Fox frantically, “don’t let them do it.  Stop them!”

But the stranger motioned for her to be silent.

Some time was spent in explaining the situation to the posse, and in stationing a group of the hardiest men beneath certain windows of the second floor back.  During this arrangement of forces, three of the bravest men in Tinkletown had to go to the post office for some very important letters, and two more rushed over to see that they came back.

Anderson Crow marshalled a dozen or more able-bodied conscripts in Main Street, preparatory to a frontal attack on the suite at the head of the stairway.  He had commandeered a double-barreled shotgun belonging to Bill Kepsal, and with this he proposed to “shoot the daylights” out of the serpent through the transom if it hadn’t crawled under the bed where he couldn’t “get a bead on it.”

In the meantime, Mr. Fox had carried the big black box out of Fryback’s store, and his wife was now standing guard over it on the porch of the Grand View Hotel.

Marshal Crow was issuing commands right and left, and the squad, augmented by a step-ladder from the hardware shop, was about to enter the hotel, when Mrs. Fox uttered an excited little shriek, and then these desolating words: 

“Oh, George, I’ve found it!  I’ve got the key.  It was away down in my muff.”

Before any action could be taken to restrain the impetuous young woman, she was inserting the key in the lock!

Those nearest her collided violently with those farther away, and in less time than it takes to mention it, there was no one within a radius of fifty feet except a new arrival on the scene.

To the intense horror of Mort Fryback, his wife emerged from the Grand View Hotel and entered the danger zone.

“Hey, Maude!” he bellowed.  “Keep away from that!  For the love of ” He clapped his hand over his eyes.  Mrs. Fryback had reached the side of the eager Mrs. Fox just as that lady lifted the lid of the box.

Now, Mrs. Fryback was Mort’s third wife; according to longevity statistics, she was much too young to die.  As a matter of fact, she was little more than a bride.  That probably accounts for the brand-new mink coat and muff she was sporting.  Moreover, it accounts for Mort’s surprising mendacity and even more amazing humility in relation to the taking-off of Mike.  No doubt in similar circumstances, he would have told his second wife, who died when she was pretty well along in years, that he’d show her who was boss in his home, and if she didn’t like what he did to Mike, she could lump it.  But, alas, between a vacillating young wife who has you under her thumb and a constant old one who has been thoroughly squashed under yours for a great many years, there is a world of difference.

Others who stared in horror at the picture on the porch, groaned audibly as young Mrs. Fox looked up into the face of the unsuspecting victim and smiled.  Thus encouraged, young Mrs. Fryback, disdaining death, smiled in return and stooped over to look into the depths of that unspeakable box.  Instead of starting back in alarm, she uttered a shrill little cry of delight, and dropping to her knees plunged both hands into the nest of wriggling horrors!

Lucius Fry, who had hastily set up the step-ladder, and was now balancing himself somewhat precariously at the top of it, let out a lugubrious howl.

“She’s a goner!” he announced.

The two young women had their heads close together and were conversing.  Marshal Crow, armed with the double barreled shotgun, began a cautious circuitous advance, his finger on the trigger.

He stopped short when about twenty feet from the women, and spasmodically pulled the trigger.  There is no telling what might have happened if the gun had been loaded.

Mr. Fox had deliberately overturned the box and out scampered three sprightly Boston terrier puppies!

Ten minutes later all but one of Mort Fryback’s farming utensils were back in stock.  The missing implement, a hatchet, was furtively on its way to the barber-shop of one Ebenezer January, coloured.

Mr. and Mrs. Fryback, Marshal Crow and the amiable Foxes discussed the “points” of the frolicsome puppies in the rear of the hardware store.

“I just adore this one, Mrs. Fox,” said Mrs. Fryback, pointing to a rugged little rascal who was patiently gnawing at Mr. Fryback’s peg-leg.  “Do you really recommend him as the best of the lot, Mr. Fox?” she inquired, turning her shining eyes upon the gentleman.

“Absolutely,” said Mr. Fox.  “Wouldn’t you say so, Mr. Crow?”

“Ab-so-lutely,” said Anderson.

“Then I’ll take him,” said Mort’s wife, and Mort not only sighed but wiped a fine coat of moisture from his brow.  “One hundred dollars is the very least you will take?”

“The very least, Mrs. Fryback.  He is a thoroughbred, you know.  My kennels are famous, as you doubtless noted in my advertisement in Town and Country and I can personally guarantee every pup that comes out of them.  In your letter to me, Mrs. Fryback, you stated that only the best I had on hand would be considered.  The mother of these puppies has a pedigree a yard long, and the father, as I mentioned before, is Stubbs the Twelfth.  Nothing more need be said.  The mother, Bonnie Bridget, you have just seen.  Stubbs the Twelfth belongs to a millionaire in Albany.  Allow me to congratulate you, madam,” extending his hand, “on having secured one of the finest dogs in America.  And you also, Mr. Fryback, on having a wife who is such a discriminating judge of thoroughbreds.”

Mr. Fryback looked a trifle startled, but said nothing.

“If you ever come to our town, Mr. Crow, I hope you will look us up,” broke in Mr. Fox.  “Our place is about two miles out in the country.  By the way, has Mrs. Crow a good dog I mean one that she can be proud of?”

“She has a thoroughbred setter,” said Marshal Crow, compressing his lips.

“A hundred dollars is a lot of money fer a dog,” murmured Mr. Fryback.  He met his wife’s eye for a second and then added:  “But, of course, my wife has just lost one that was worth a thousand dollars, so I guess it ain’t so much, after all.”

“Marmaduke was a really wonderful dog, Mrs. Fox,” vouchsafed Mort’s wife, assuming a sad and pensive expression.

“I am sure he must have been,” said Mrs. Fox.

“One hundred dollars is very cheap, sir, for a thoroughbred Boston terrier in these days,” said Mr. Fox.  “Isn’t that so, Mr. Crow?”

“Cheap as dirt,” said Anderson.

“Mortimer, will you please give Mr. Fox the money?” said Mrs. Fryback.  “And, by the way, Mr. Crow, I hope you take down all those reward notices at once.  I wouldn’t know what to do with Marmaduke now, even if some one did bring him back to me.”

“I know what I’d order you to do with him,” said Anderson, meeting Mort’s melancholy gaze at last.

“What, may I inquire?”

“I’d order you to bury him,” said the town marshal, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the Board of Health.

Mrs. Fryback looked at him steadily for a second or two, and then slowly closed an eye.