Read “JAKE MILLER HANGS HIMSELF” of Anderson Crow‚ Detective , free online book, by George Barr McCutcheon, on ReadCentral.com.

“Have you heard the latest news?” inquired Newt Spratt, speaking in a hushed voice.  He addressed Uncle Dad Simms, the town’s oldest inhabitant, whom he met face to face at the corner of Main and Sickle streets one fine morning in May.  Now any one in Tinkletown would tell you that it was the sheerest folly to address Uncle Dad in a hushed voice.  Mr. Spratt knew this as well as he knew his own name, so it should be easy to understand that the “news” was of a somewhat awe-inspiring nature.  Ordinarily Newt was a loud-mouthed, jovial soul; you could hear him farther and usually longer than any other male citizen in Tinkletown.  But now, he spoke in a hushed voice.

Uncle Dad put his hand up to his left ear and said “Hey?” This seemed to bring Mr. Spratt to his senses.  He started violently, stared hard for a moment at the octogenarian, and then strode off down Main street, shaking his head as much as to say, “There must be something the matter with me.  Nobody ever speaks to him unless he has to.”

And Uncle Dad, after gazing for a long time at the retreating figure, resumed his shuffling progress up Main street, pleasantly satisfied that Newt had gone to the trouble to tell him it was a nice day.

Although it would not have occurred to Newt, in his dismal state of mind, to look upon the day as a nice one, nevertheless it was.  The sun was shining brightly, (but without Newt’s knowledge), and the air was soft and balmy and laden with the perfume of spring.  Birds were twittering in the new green foliage of the trees, but Newt heard them not; dogs frisked in the sunshine, wagging their tongues and tails, but Newt saw them not; hens cackled, horses whinnied, children laughed, and all the world was set to music, but Newt was not a happy man.

He was not a happy man for the simple reason that everybody else in town had heard the “news” long before it reached him.  For half-an-hour or more he had been putting that same old question to every one he met; indeed, he even went out of his way five or six blocks to ring the front door bell at the home of William Grimes, night watchman at Smock’s Warehouse, rousing him from a sound sleep in order to impart the “news” to him, only to have Bill call him a lot of hard names while making it clear that he had heard it before going to bed for the day.

The more Newt thought of it, the more he realized that it was his duty to go back and look up Uncle Dad Simms, even though it meant yelling his head off when he found him; it was a moral certainty that the only person in Tinkletown who hadn’t heard it was Uncle Dad, and he would take a lot of telling.

The Weekly Banner would not be out till the following day; for at least twenty hours Uncle Dad would remain in the densest ignorance of the sensation that had turned Tinkletown completely upside down.  Somebody ought to tell him.  Somebody ought to tell poor old Uncle Dad Simms, that was all there was about it.

Moved by a sharp thrill of benevolence, Mr. Spratt retraced his steps, an eager look in his eyes.  He found the old man standing in the broad, open door of Bill Kepsal’s blacksmith shop.  The blacksmith’s assistant was banging away with might and main at his anvil, and Uncle Dad wore a pleased, satisfied smile on his thin old lips.  He always said he loved to stand there and listen to the faint, faraway music of the hammer on the anvil, so different from the hammers and anvils they used to have when he was a boy, when they were so blamed noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think.

Newt took him by the arm and led him away.  He was going to tell him the “news,” but he wasn’t going to tell it to him there.  The only place to tell Uncle Dad anything was over in the Town Hall, provided it was unoccupied, and thither he conducted the expectant old man.  As they mounted the steps leading to the Hall, Uncle Dad’s pleased expression developed into something distinctly audible something resembling a cackle of joy.  Mr. Spratt favoured him with a sharp, apprehensive glance.

“Are they goin’ to hold the inquest as soon as all this?” shouted Uncle Dad, putting his lips as close as possible to Newt’s ear.

Newt stopped in his tracks.

“Have you heard it?” he bellowed.

“What say?”

“I say, have you heard it?”

“Speak up!  Speak up!” complained Uncle Dad.  “You needn’t be afraid of him hearin’ you, Newt.  He’s been dead for six or eight hours.”

“My God!” groaned Newt.

For the second time that morning he left Uncle Dad high and dry, and started swiftly homeward.  There was the possible, but remote chance that his wife hadn’t heard the news, and if she had heard it, she’d hear from him!  He’d let her know what kind of a wife she was!

Never, within memory, had he failed to be the first person in Tinkletown to hear the news, and here he was on this stupendous occasion, the last of them all.  And why?  Because he had taken that one morning to perform a peculiarly arduous and intensive bit of hard work up in the attic of his wife’s house.  He had chosen the attic because Mrs. Spratt rather vehemently had refused to let him use the parlour, or even the kitchen.  And all the time that he was up in the attic, working his head off trying to teach his new fox terrier pup how to stand on its hind legs and jump over a broom stick, this startling piece of news was sweeping from one end of Tinkletown to the other.

Never, said Newt firmly, as he hurried homeward by the back streets, never would he do another day’s work in his life, if this was to be the result of honest toil.  And what’s more, he hadn’t even received a single word of praise from his wife when he descended from the attic and triumphantly told her what he had accomplished, he and the pup between them after three hours of solid, painstaking endeavour.

Mrs. Spratt had merely said:  “If you could learn that pup how to split firewood or milk a cow or repair the picket fence or something like that, you might be worth your salt, Newt Spratt.  As it is, you ain’t.”

As Newt turned gloomily into the alley leading up to his back gate, he espied the Marshal of Tinkletown, Anderson Crow, leisurely approaching from the opposite direction.  Mr. Crow, on catching sight of Newt, hastily removed something from his mouth and held it behind his back.  Perceiving that it was nobody but Newt Spratt, he restored the object to his lips and began puffing away at it, but not until he had sent a furtive glance over his shoulder.

“What you doin’ back here?” inquired Newt, somewhat offensively, as the two drew closer together.  “Lookin’ fer clues?”

Anderson again removed the corn-cob pipe, spat accurately over the hand with which he shielded his straggling chin whiskers, and remarked: 

“Do you see anything wrong with this here pipe, Newt?” he asked, gazing rather pensively at the object.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said Newt.  “Still, I think you’re mighty sensible not to smoke it any place except in an alley.  Why don’t you get a new one?  They only cost ten cents.  If you got a new one once in a while, say once a year, your wife wouldn’t order you out of the house every time you light it.”

“She don’t order me out of the house when I light it,” retorted Anderson. “’Cause why?  ’Cause I never light it till I get two or three blocks away from home.”

The subject apparently being exhausted, the two alley-farers lapsed into characteristic silence.  Mr. Spratt leaned rather wearily against his own back fence, while Mr. Crow accepted the support of a telephone pole.  Presently the former started to say something about the weather, but got no farther than the first two or three words when an astounding conjecture caused him to break off abruptly.  He glanced at the old marshal, swallowed hard a couple of times, and then hopefully ventured the time-honoured question: 

“Anything new, Anderson?”

The marshal responded with a slow, almost imperceptible shake of the head.  He was gazing reflectively at a couple of English sparrows perched on one of the telephone wires some distance down the line.

Newt experienced a sudden, overwhelming joy.  Caution, however, and a certain fear that he might be mistaken, advised him to go slow.  There remained the possibility that Anderson might be capable of simulation.

“Where’s the body?” he inquired, casually.

Marshal Crow’s gaze deserted the sparrows and fixed itself on Newt’s ear.

“The what?”

His companion exhaled a tremendous breath of satisfaction.  Life was suddenly worth living.  The Marshal of Tinkletown had not heard the “news.”  The marshal, himself!

“Well, by Gosh!” exclaimed the revivified Mr. Spratt.  “Where have you been at?”

“That’s my business,” snapped Anderson.

“All I got to say is that you ought to be attendin’ to it, if it’s your business,” said Newt loftily.  “You’re the marshal of this here town, ain’t you?  And everybody in town knows that Jake Miller is dead except you.  You’re a fine marshal.”  There was withering scorn in Newt’s voice.  He even manifested an inclination to walk off and leave the marshal without further enlightenment.

Anderson made a valiant effort to conceal his astonishment.  Assuming a more or less indifferent air, he calmly remarked: 

“I knowed Jake was a little under the weather, but I didn’t think it was serious?  When did he die?”

“He didn’t die,” said Newt.  “He hung himself.”

“What’s that?” gasped Anderson, his jaw sagging.

“Hung himself some time last night,” went on Newt joyously.  “From a rafter in Ed Higgins’s livery stable.  With a clothesline.  Kicked a step-ladder out from under himself.  Why, even Uncle Dad Simms has heard about it.  Ed found him when he went out to wait a second!  I’m goin’ your way.  What’s the rush?  He’s been dead six or eight hours.  He can’t escape.  He’s down in Hawkins’s undertaking place.  Hey!  You dropped your pipe.  Don’t you want it any ”

“If you’re goin’ my way, you’ll have to run,” called out Marshal Crow as he unlimbered his long legs and made for the mouth of the alley.  He was not running, but Newt, being an undersized individual, had no other means of keeping up with him unless he obeyed the sardonic behest.  For ten or fifteen rods, Mr. Spratt jogged faithfully at the heels of the leader, and then suddenly remembered that it was a long way to Hawkins’s Undertaking Emporium in Sickle street, at least an eighth of a mile as the crow flies, and as he already had had a hard day’s work, he slowed down to a walk and then to a standstill.  He concluded to wait till some one came along in a wagon or an automobile.  There wasn’t any use wasting his valuable breath in running.  Much better to save it for future use.  In the meantime, by standing perfectly still, he could ruminate to his heart’s content.

Marshal Crow’s long strides soon carried him to the corner of Maple Street, where he made a sharp turn to the right, shooting a swift look over his shoulder as he did so.  His late companion was leaning against a tree.  Satisfied that he had completely thrown Mr. Spratt off the trail, Anderson took a short cut through Justice of the Peace Robb’s front and back yards and eventually emerged into Main Street, where he slackened his pace to a dignified saunter.

He caught sight of Alf Reesling, the reformed town drunkard, holding conversation from the sidewalk with some one in a second story window of Mrs. Judy O’Ryan’s boarding house, half a block away.

“Hello!” shouted Alf, discovering the marshal.  “Here he comes now.  Where you been all morning, Andy?  I been huntin’ everywhere for you.  Something horrible has happened.  I just stopped to tell Judy about it.”

The marshal stopped, and gazed upon Alf with mild interest.  He nodded carelessly to Mrs. O’Ryan in the upstairs window, and addressed the following significant remark to Alf: 

“I guess I’ve got Jake’s motive purty well established, Alf.  You needn’t ask me what I’ve unearthed, because I won’t tell you.  It’s a nice day, ain’t it, Judy?”

Before Mrs. O’Ryan could affirm or deny this polite bit of information, Alf cried out: 

“You don’t mean to say you know about it?”

“The rain yesterday and day before has brought your lilacs out splendid, Judy,” said Anderson, ignoring him.

“I was up to your house before eight o’clock, and your wife said you’d gone out in the country to practise your new Decoration Day speech, Anderson.  How in thunder did you find out about Jake?”

Marshal Crow turned upon the speaker with some severity.  “See here, Alf, are you tryin’ to act like Newt Spratt?”

That was a deadly insult to Alf.

“What do you mean?” he demanded hotly.

“Nothin’ except that Newt had the same kind of an idée in his head that you seem to have got into yours.  Next time you see Newt you tell him I been laughin’ myself almost sick over the way I fooled him, the blamed iggoramus.”  Having planted a seed that was intended to bear the fruit of justification, the venerable marshal decided that now was the time to prepare himself against anything further in the shape of surprise.  So he linked arms with Alf and started off down the street.

“Now, see here, Alf,” he began, somewhat sternly.  “I won’t stand for any beatin’ about the bush from you.  You got to tell me the whole truth an’ nothin’ but the truth, and if your story hangs together and agrees with what I’ve already worked out, I’ll see that you get fair treatment and ”

Alf stopped short.  “What in sassafras are you talkin’ about?  What story?”

“Begin at the beginnin’ and tell me where you was last night, and early this morning, and where and when you last saw Jake Miller.”

The marshal’s manner was decidedly accusative, although tempered by sadness.  Something in his voice betrayed a great and illy concealed regret that this life-long friend had got himself so seriously entangled in the Jacob Miller affair.

“Where was I last night and this morning?” repeated the astonished Alf.

“Percisely,” said Anderson, tightening his grip on Alf’s arm.

“In bed,” said Alf succinctly.

“Come, now,” warned the marshal; “none of that.  I want the truth out of you.  When did you last see Jake Miller, and what was he doing?”

“I saw him about half an hour ago, and he wasn’t doin’ anything.”

“I mean, before he came to his untimely end.”

“I don’t know what you’re drivin’ at, but if it gives you any satisfaction I c’n say that the last time I saw him alive was yesterday afternoon about four o’clock.  He was unloadin’ some baled hay over at Ed’s feed-yard and that’s all.”

“How was he actin’?”

“He was actin’ like a man unloadin’ hay.”

“Did he appear to have anything on his mind?  I mean anything more than usual?”

“Couldn’t say.”

“Did he look pale or upset-like?”

“I kinder thought, afterwards, that he did look a leetle pale.  Sort of as if he’d eat something that didn’t agree with him.”

“I see.  Well, go on.”

“Go on what?”

“Tellin’ me.  Where did you next see him?”

“Oh, there was a lot of people saw him after I did.  Why don’t you ask them?”

“Answer my question.”

“I didn’t see him again until about half past seven this morning.  He was hangin’ from a rafter in Ed’s stable.  My God, it was awful!  I know I’ll dream about Jake for the next hundred years.”

“Did he have a rope around his neck?”

“No, he didn’t.”  Anderson started.  This was an unexpected reply.

“Well, er, what did he have around his neck?”

“A halter strap.”

“You you’re sure about that?”

“Positive.”

“I see.  So far your story jibes with the facts.  Now, answer me this question.  When and where did you help Jake Miller write that note of farewell?”

“What?” gasped Alf.

“You heard me.”

“I didn’t help him write any note.”

“You didn’t?”

“Nobody helped him write it.”

“How do you know that, sir?”

“Do you mean to tell me that Jake left a farewell note?”

“I’m not sayin’ whether he did or not.  You don’t mean to claim that he didn’t leave one, do you?”

“If he did, nobody that I know of has laid eyes on it.”

Anderson smiled mysteriously.  “Well, we’ll drop that feature of the case temporarily.  You was quite a friend of Jake Miller’s, wasn’t you?”

“Off and on,” said Alf.  “Same as you was,” he added, quickly.

“What reason did he ever give you for wantin’ to take his own life?  Think carefully, now, and nothing but the truth, mind you?”

“The only thing I ever heard him say that sounded suspicious was when he told a crowd of us at Lamson’s one night that if this here prohibition went into effect he’d like to have some one telegraph his sister in Buffalo, so’s she could come on and claim his remains.”

“But he wasn’t a drinkin’ man, Alf, and you know it.”

“I know, but he always said he was lookin’ forward to the day when he could afford to get as drunk as he sometimes thought he’d like to be.  He was a droll sort of a cuss, Jake was.  He claimed he’d been savin’ up his appetite and his money for nearly three years so’s he could see which would last the longest in a finish fight.”

“Was you present when he was cut down?”

“I was.”

“Aha!  That’s what I’m tryin’ to get at.  Who cut the rope?”

“It wasn’t a rope, it was a hitchin’ strap.  An’ nobody cut it, come to think of it.  It was a perfectly good strap, so two or three of us held Jake’s body up so’s Ed Higgins could untie it from the rafter.”

“And then what?”

“Old man Hawkins and Doc Brown said he’d been dead five or six hours.”

“I see.  What did Doc say he died of?”

Alf stared at him in amazement.  “He died of being hung to a rafter.”

Marshal Crow cleared his throat, and was ominously silent for fifteen or twenty paces.  When he next spoke it was with the deepest gravity.  There was a dark significance in the look he fixed upon Alf.

“Is there any proof that Jake Miller wasn’t dead long before he was strung up to that rafter?”

“What’s that?” gasped Alf, once more coming to a sudden stop.

“It’s a matter I can’t discuss with anybody at present,” said Anderson, curtly.

“Have have you deduced something important, Anderson?” implored Alf, eagerly.  “Is there evidence of foul play?”

“That’s my business,” said Anderson.  “Come on.  Don’t stand there with your mouth open like that.  He’s still over at Hawkins’s place, is he?  I been workin’ on the quiet all by myself since early this morning, an’ I don’t know just what’s been happening around here for the last couple of hours.”

“He was there the last I heard of him,” said Alf.

“Well, you’ve given a purty good account of yourself, Alf, an’ unless something turns up to change my present opinion, you are free to come an’ go as you please.”

“See here, you blamed old hayseed, what do you mean by actin’ as if I had anything to do with Jake Mil ”

“You don’t know what you’re doing when you’re drunk, Alf Reesling.”

“But I ain’t been drunk for twenty-five years, you blamed old ”

“That remains to be seen,” interrupted Anderson sternly.  “Now don’t talk any more.  I want to think.”

Having obtained certain desirable facts in connection with the taking-off of Jacob Miller, Marshal Crow ventured boldly, confidently, into the business section of the town.  He was now in a position to discuss the occurrence with equanimity, in fact, with indifference.  Moreover, he could account for his physical absence from the centre of the stage, so to speak, by reminding all would-be critics that he was mentally on the job long before Ed Higgins made the gruesome discovery.  In other words, it served his purpose to “lie low” and observe from well-calculated obscurity the progress of events.

Now, Tinkletown had not experienced the shock and thrill of suicide in a great many years.  Sundry citizens had met death in an accidental way, and others had suddenly died of old age, but no one had intentionally shuffled off since Jasper Wiggins succeeded in completing a hitherto unsuccessful life by pulling the trigger of a single-barrelled shotgun with his big toe, back in the fall of ’83.

The horrendous act of Jacob Miller, therefore, created a sensation.

Tinkletown was agog with excitement and awe.  Everybody was talking about Jake.  He was, by all odds, the most important man in town.  Alive, he had been perhaps the least important.

He was the sort of citizen you always think of last when trying to take a mental census of the people you know by sight.

Once, and only once, had Jake seen his name in the columns of the Weekly Banner, and he was so impressed that he cut the article out of the paper and pasted it under the sweat-band of his best hat.  It happened to be the obituary notice of a farmer bearing the same name, but that made no difference to Jake; he was vicariously honoured by having his name in print, and in rather large type at that.

And now he was to have at least half a page in the Banner, with his name in huge black letters, double column, something like this: 

    JAKE MILLER HANGS HIMSELF!!!

Column after column of Jake Miller and he not there to rejoice!

Jake Miller on the front page, crowding out the news from Paris and Washington, displacing local Society “items,” shoving the ordinary “obituaries” out of their hallowed corners, confiscating space that belonged to the Lady Maccabees and other lodges, supplanting thoughtfully prepared matter in the editorial column, why, the next issue of the Banner would be a Jake Miller number from beginning to end.  And Jake not there to enjoy it all!

Jake had been a more or less stationary inhabitant of Tinkletown for about three years.  He had taken up his residence there without really having had the slightest intention or desire to do so.  In fact, he would have been safely out of the village in another ten minutes if Mrs. Abbie Nixon hadn’t missed the blackberry pie from the kitchen window sill, where she had set it out to cool, and even then he might have got away if he had had a handkerchief or something with which to remove the damning stains from his lips and chin.  But, in his haste, he used the back of his hand, and well, Justice of the Peace Robb sent him to the calaboose for thirty days, and that’s how Jake became a resident of Tinkletown.

At the trial he was so shamelessly complimentary about Mrs. Nixon’s pie that the prosecuting witness came very near to perjuring herself in order to show her appreciation.  The dignity of the law was preserved only by Jake’s unshaken resolution to plead guilty to the charge of feloniously eating one blackberry pie with never-to-be-forgotten relish.  Mrs. Nixon was so impressed by Jake’s honesty that she made a practice of sending a pie to him every baking-day during the period of his incarceration.  But when approached by two or three citizens with the proposal that she join with them in providing the fellow with work as a sort of community “handy-man,” she refused to consider the matter at all because most of her silver had come down from her grandmother and she wouldn’t part with it for anything in the world.

For one who had never laid eyes on the village of Tinkletown up to the day of his arrival, Jake Miller revealed the most astonishing sense of civic pride.  The first thing he did after being safely locked up was to whitewash the interior of his residence. (The town board furnished a rather thin mixture of slaked lime and water, borrowed a whitewash brush from Ebenezer January, and got off with a total cost of about eighty-five cents.) He also repaired several windows in the calaboose by stuffing newspapers into the broken panes, remodeled the entire heating system with a little stove polish, put two or three locks in order, and once, on finding that it was possible to remove a grating from one of the windows, crawled out of his place of confinement and mowed the grass plot in front of the jail.

It was then that the people of Tinkletown began to take notice of him.  A few of the more enterprising citizens went so far as to consult Justice Robb about extending Jake’s sentence indefinitely, claiming that it wasn’t at all likely the town would ever see another prisoner who took as much interest in keeping the jail in order as he.

And when he was finally released, he obtained a job with Ed Higgins at a slight increase in wages over what he had been receiving while in durance vile.

He was a middle-aged man with a large Adam’s apple and a retreating chin; his legs were so warped that a good ten inches of space separated the knees.  Whence he came and why he was content to abide in Tinkletown were questions he always answered, but never in a satisfactory manner.  Even the hardiest citizens soon came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much use in asking questions that Jake could answer with a slow and baffling wink.  He became a fixture in Tinkletown, doing odd jobs for nearly everybody in town, and still finding ample time to attend to his duties at the feed yard.  Whenever any one had a job to be done that he particularly disliked doing himself, he always appealed to Jake, and Jake did it.

When not otherwise employed, he slept in the box-stall once inhabited by the prize stallion, Caleb the Second, now deceased, and you would have been surprised to see what a tidy place he made of it by tacking up two or three anatomical pictures from the Police Gazette, and putting in a folding bed, or, more strictly speaking, a bed that could be folded.  It consisted of three discarded horse blankets.  Quite a snug little bed-chamber, you would say, and, as Jake himself frequently remarked, a very handy stall to have a nightmare in.

Twice a day, regularly, day in and day out, Jake inquired at the post office for mail, and invariably Postmaster Lamson, without looking, replied:  “Nothing today, Jake.”

A singular thing happened the afternoon before Jake hung himself.  He received a letter, a rather fat one, postmarked Sandusky, Ohio.  Mr. Lamson and the loafers at the store were still talking about the extraordinary event when the former closed up for the night, a little later than usual.  And while they were talking about it, Jake was getting ready to hang himself.

Marshal Crow headed straight for the Banner office, Mr. Reesling trailing a few steps behind like a dog at heel.  Quite a crowd had gathered in front of Hawkins’s Undertaking Emporium across the street from the newspaper office.

“Don’t foller me in here,” ordered the marshal, as Alf started to enter the Banner office with him.  “This is private.  Move on, now.”

“But what’ll I tell the gang over there if they ask me what you’re doin’ about the case?” argued Alf.

“You tell ’em I’ll soon have the mystery solved.”

“What mystery?  There ain’t any mystery about it.  He done it as publicly as he could.”

“Well, you just tell ’em I’ve got a clue, and I’m follerin’ it up.”

With that, he disappeared through the door, closing it with some violence in Alf’s face.

Harry Squires was putting the finishing touches to a long and graphic account of the suicide.  He looked up as Anderson sauntered into the back office.

“I’m glad you came in, Marshal,” he said.  “I hated to finish this story without mentioning you, one way or another.  Now I can add right here at the end:  ‘Our worthy Town Marshal, A. Crow, was also present.’”

Anderson sat down.  He pulled at his sparse chin whiskers for a moment or two, evidently trying to release something verbal.  Failing in this, he sank back in the chair and fixed Mr. Squires with a pathetic look.

“Where have you been?” demanded Harry.

“Oh, rooting around,” said Anderson.

“Well, I’ll tell you something that no one else in this town knows,” said the other, pitying his old friend.  “Are you listening?”

Anderson shook his head drearily.  “I’ll never be able to live this down, Harry.”

“Brace up.  All is not lost.  Will you do exactly what I tell you to do?”

“I hope you ain’t going to tell me to go down and jump in the mill-race.”

“Nothing of the sort.  That wouldn’t help matters.  You could swim out.  Now, listen.  I know why Jake hung himself; and I am the only one who does know.  The whole story is told here in this article I have just written.  We’ve been friends and foes for a great many years, Mr. Hawkshaw, and I want to show my appreciation.  I don’t know how many times you have saved my life.  I sha’n’t tell you in just what way you have saved it; I can only say that I should have died long ago of sheer ennui, if you know what that is, if it hadn’t been for you, old friend.  You have been a life-saver, over and over again.  And in spite of the many times you have saved my life, I don’t seem to have put on any flesh.  I remain as skinny as I was when I first met you.  I ought to be so fat that I’d have to waddle.  But, that’s neither here nor there.  I’m going to save your life now, Sherlock.  I’m going to fix it so that when you do die, the people of this burg will erect a monument to you that will make the one in Trafalgar Square, if you know where that is, look like a hitching post.  Lend me your ear, Mr. Pinkerton.  That’s right.  Take off your hat.  You can hear better.

“I am going to reveal to you the true facts in the case of our late lamented friend, Jake Miller.  I have in my possession the letter he received yesterday afternoon.  It is under lock and key, and no one else has seen it.  While everybody else was gazing at Jake and wondering how long he’d been hanging there, I with my nose for news, went off in search of that letter.  I might have spared myself the trouble, for the last thing Jake did before ending his life, was to put it in an envelope and mail it to me.  He also enclosed a short note in which he implored me to do the right thing by him and put his name in the biggest type we have on hand.  That’s just what I intend to do.  Now, I’m going to turn that letter over to you.  Instead of me being the one to tell you about it, you are going to be allowed to tell me about it.  See?  That’s what you are here for now, to show me this letter with all its harrowing details.  Later on, when the coroner comes over from Boggs City, you can deliver it to him.  Now listen!”

Ten minutes later, Marshal Crow strode solemnly out of the Banner office, and debouched upon the crowd in front of Hawkins’s.  Several erstwhile admirers snickered.  He paid not the slightest attention to them.  Instead he inquired in a loud, authoritative voice if any one had seen Alf Reesling.

“I’m standin’ right in front of you,” said Alf.

“I deputize you to act as guard during the day over the remains of Orlando Camp.  You are to see to it that no one trespasses within fifty feet of it without an order from me, or the Governor of New York.  You will ”

“What the devil are you talkin’ about?” demanded Alf.  “There ain’t no remains around here named Camp.”

The marshal smiled, but there was more pity than mirth in the effort.

“All you got to do is to do what I deputize you to do,” he said quietly.  “Is Bill Kepsal here?”

“Present,” said the iron-armed blacksmith, with a series of winks that almost sufficed to take in the whole assemblage.

“I deputize you, William Kepsal, and ” (he craned his neck slightly) “and you, Newton Spratt, out there on the edge of the crowd, to act as guards durin’ the night, until relieved by Deputy Reesling at seven A. M. tomorrow mornin’.  You will permit no one to approach or remove the body of Moses Briscoe from its present place of confinement until further orders.  And now, feller citizens, I must request you one and all to disperse and not to congregate again in this locality, under penalty of the law.  Disperse at once, move on, everybody.”

The crowd didn’t move an inch.

“He’s gone plumb crazy,” said Rush Applegate to Uncle Dad Simms, and he made such a special effort that Uncle Dad heard him quite distinctly.

“He always wuz,” agreed Uncle Dad.  “What’s he crazy about this time?”

“Come on home, Anderson,” said Alf Reesling, gently.  “Maybe if you took a dose of ”

“Lemme talk to him,” interrupted Elmer K. Pratt, the photographer.  “I had an uncle once that died in an asylum, and I used to keep him quiet before he got hopeless by lettin’ on that he really was George Washington.  Now, look here, Anderson, ”

Marshal Crow held up his hand.  There was no sign of resentment in his voice or manner as he addressed the grinning crowd.

“I don’t blame you for thinkin’ that man in there is Jake Miller.  I thought so myself until a couple o’ days ago.  That’s when I first begin to suspect that he was the very man he now turns out to be.  Gentlemen, if the individual that you knew as Jake Miller hadn’t took his own life last night, I would have had him behind the bars today, sure as all get out.  He wasn’t no more Jake Miller than I am.  Jake Miller was one of his alibis.  He had ”

“You mean aliases,” interrupted Professor Rank, of the high school.

Or nom de plumes,” added Willie Spence, the chief clerk at the Grand View Hotel, one of the most inveterate readers in town.  To Willie the name of any author was a nom de plume; it didn’t make any difference whether it was his real name or not.

“He had a lot of names besides Jake Miller,” explained Anderson loftily.  “And he didn’t have to go to high school to get ’em,” he added as an afterthought, favouring Professor Rank with a withering look.  “Now, disperse, all of you.  Go on now, Willie, disperse.  Everybody disperse except Alf Reesling.  You stay here an’ keep watch till I come back.”

With that, he took the easiest and most expeditious way of dispersing the crowd by walking briskly off in the direction of Main Street.  The crowd followed, or more strictly speaking, accompanied him.  He was the centre of a drove of eager inquirers.  Having successfully dispersed the crowd in front of Hawkins’s Emporium, he stopped in front of the post office and addressed it once more.

“All you got to do,” he announced, taking a seat on the porch, “is to wait till the Banner comes out, and then you’ll get all the news.  I just been in there to tell Harry Squires about my discoveries, and he is workin’ his head off now gettin’ it all in shape for the subscribers to the paper.  And that reminds me.  He asked me to do him a favour.  He says there are quite a number of cheap skates in this town that ain’t regular subscribers to the Banner.  That’s why Ebenezer January’s barber shop is so crowded on Thursday mornings that Ebenezer is threatenin’ to stop his subscription.  Ebenezer says there’s so many customers in his place waitin’ to be next with the paper that he ain’t hardly got room to hone up his razors after Wednesday’s work.  I promised Harry I’d suggest that you all go around and subscribe today, because he says he’s engaged Ebenezer to whitewash the press-room tomorrow and the barber shop won’t be open at all.  He says it’s an outrage that ”

He stopped short to glare in speechless amazement at a familiar figure almost under his nose.

“I thought I told you to stand guard back there, Alf Reesling,” he roared.

“Aw, thunder, he can’t run away,” protested Alf.  “An’ nobody’s goin’ to steal him, so what’s the sense ”

“I’ll give you just fifteen minutes to get back there to Hawkins’s,” declared the marshal firmly.  “If you’re not back there by that time, I’ll arrest you for contempt.”

“That suits me,” said Alf promptly.

“Yes, sir,” said Anderson, addressing the crowd, “I would have nabbed him today if he hadn’t gone an’ hung himself like this.  He must have got onto the fact that I had him dead to rights.  He knowed there wasn’t any escape for him, no chance in the world.  Wait a second!  Don’t all talk at once, and don’t ask questions!  An’ say, Abner, it won’t do you any good to go round to the Banner office, because I swore Harry Squires to secrecy.  So stay where you are.  Harry won’t tell you a thing, even if your father-in-law is a regular subscriber.  What time is it, Lum?”

On being informed by Lum Gillespie that it was later than he thought, Marshal Crow looked at his own watch and arose in some haste.

“By ginger, I got to get busy.  I still got to see if I can find that letter Jake received yesterday afternoon.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the contents of that letter had a good deal to do with his hurryin’ up this hangin’ business.  Like as not it was a warnin’ from some confederate of his’n, lettin’ him know I was gettin’ purty hot on his trail.  It’s mighty hard to keep these things from leakin’ out, ’specially when you’re workin’ at long range as I’ve been fer some time.  My investigations have been carried on from one end of the country to the other.  I finally got ’em narrowed down to a place out west called Sandusky, Ohio, an’ I was just on the point of telegraphin’ to the police out there that I had their man when this thing happens.”

He was assisted in his search for the letter by a volunteer organization of about one hundred men and boys.  The search was a most diligent one.  Much to the disgust of Ed Higgins, the floor of Jake’s sleeping apartment was yanked up by willing, excited citizens; the hay-mow was ransacked from one end to the other; the grain bins were turned inside out, and there was some talk of ripping off a section of the roof.  At half past twelve o’clock, the marshal went home to his midday meal, leaving the work in charge of Lum Gillespie, the garage owner, whose love for Mr. Higgins was governed entirely by the fact that the liveryman’s business interfered considerably with his own prosperity.

Secure in the seclusion of his own woodshed, Marshal Crow slyly withdrew Jake’s letter from an inside pocket and reread it with great care.  Later on, having fortified himself with a substantial dinner, he returned to the hunt.  Advising the toilers that he was going to do a little private searching, based on a “deduction” that had come to him while he was at home, he ambled off in the direction of Power House Gulley.  Half an hour later he reappeared and instructed the crowd to knock off work.  He had found the letter just where he figured he would find it!

“I don’t see why in thunder you didn’t figure it out at breakfast instead of at dinner,” growled Ed Higgins, moodily surveying the wreckage.  “I’ve a notion to sue you for damages.  Look at that box-stall!  Look at that ”

“Never mind, Ed; I’ll have Lum an’ the rest of ’em put everything back in order, jest as they found it.  Now, you fellers get to work and put things in shape around here.  I’m goin’ to take this letter over an’ show it to Harry Squires.  It proves everything, absolutely everything.  See here, Alf, what in thunder are you doin’ here?  Why ain’t you guardin’ them remains as I told you to do?”

“I am guardin’ ’em,” said Alf.  “I c’n guard ’em just as well from a distance as I can close up, an’ you know it.  All I got to do is to walk to the corner there an’ I c’n see Hawkins’s place as plain as anything.  I could see it from right here if it wasn’t fer Lamson’s store an’ the Grand View Hotel.”

The marshal gave him a look of bitter scorn, and strode away.  The crowd straggled along behind.  Anderson stopped at the Banner office door and, exposing the dirty envelope to the eager gaze of the crowd, advised every one present to step in and take out a year’s subscription to the paper.  Then he disappeared.  The crowd surged forward, filling the outer office with something like sardine compactness.  The door to Mr. Squires’s private office, however, closed sharply behind Mr. Crow, and for the next fifteen or twenty minutes the young lady bookkeeper was busy taking subscriptions from the disappointed throng.  She got sixty-three new subscribers and definite promises from a large number of citizens who were considerably in arrears.

“You’ll see it all in your paper tomorrow morning,” said Anderson, coming out of the inner office at the end of half an hour’s consultation with the editor.  “All I can say to you now is that I have captured one of the most desperate criminals in the country.  He has been wanted for nearly three years for a diabolical crime.  It makes my flesh creep to think of him being loose among our women an’ children all this time.  Is there any one here who ain’t subscribed to the Banner?”

Tinkletown slept fitfully that night when it slept at all.  The sole citizen enjoying a peaceful night’s rest was Jake Miller.  A singular circumstance connected with the broken rest of three-fourths of the people of Tinkletown was the extraordinary unanimity with which Jake became visible to them the instant they did drop off to sleep.

Bright and early the next morning, the Banner appeared with its gruesome story.  Jake was in very large type, but not much larger, after all, than Marshal Crow.  The whilom Mr. Squires, revelling in generosity, gave Anderson all the credit.  He held forth at great length on the achievements of the redoubtable marshal, winding up his account with a recommendation that a movement be inaugurated at once looking to the erection of a memorial statue to the famous “sleuth.”  The concluding sentence of this bold panegyric was as follows:  “Do not wait till he is dead!  Do it now!” And appended, in parentheses, the statement that the Banner would head the list of subscribers with a contribution of one hundred dollars!

In the body of his article, Mr. Squires printed in full the contents of the letter received by Jacob Miller on the afternoon before his death, the letter which had been recovered, after the most diligent and acute search by Marshal Crow, at the bottom of an abandoned well in Power House Gulley, the letter which so completely vindicated the theories and deductions of Tinkletown’s most celebrated son.

Jake’s letter was from his brother in Sandusky.  It warned him that the authorities had finally located him in Tinkletown and that officers were even then on the way east to “pinch” him.  They had run him down at last, despite the various aliases under which he had sought to avoid apprehension; brotherly love impelled him to advise Jake to “beat it” as “quick as possible.”  Moreover, he went on to state that if they got him he’d “swing” as sure as hell.  Brotherly interest no doubt was also responsible for the frank admission that the “family” had done all it could for him, and that if he had had a grain of sense, or had listened to his friends, he wouldn’t have married her in the first place.  And if he hadn’t married her, he wouldn’t have been placed in a position where he had to beat her brains out.  Not that she didn’t deserve to have her brains knocked out, and all that, but “you can’t go around doing that sort of thing without getting into trouble about it.”

In short, Jake (by any other name he was just as guilty) had slain his wife, presumably in cold blood.  At any rate, Mr. Squires, sustained by the information received from Marshal Crow, (who had gone deeply into the case), stated in cold type that it had been done in cold blood.

Apparently Jake had decided that he was tired of dodging the inevitable.  It was quite clear that he could not endure the thought of being “swung” for his diabolical deed.

The account also stated that Marshal Crow had at once advised the Western authorities by telegraph that he had their man, but regretted to state the scoundrel had anticipated arrest in the manner now so well known to the readers of the Banner, long recognized as the most enterprising newspaper in that part of the State of New York.

A day or two later, after the inquest, an officer arrived from Sandusky.  He was a spectator at the funeral of Jake Miller, whom he readily identified as the slayer of Mrs. Camp, and was afterwards a most interested listener to the recital given on Lamson’s porch by Marshal Crow, who, described with considerable zest and surprising fidelity the manifold difficulties he had experienced in “running the criminal to earth,” one of the most puzzling cases he had ever been called upon to tackle.

The astonished officer walked over to the Grand View Hotel with Harry Squires.  From time to time he passed his hand over his brow in a thoroughly puzzled manner.

“I don’t mind telling you, Mr. Squires,” he blurted out at last, “that we hadn’t the faintest idea that this fellow Camp was as desperate a character as all this.  We looked upon him as a rather harmless, soft-headed guy, but, my God, he turns out to be one of the slickest all-round crooks in the United States.  No wonder he managed to give us the slip all these years.  It only goes to show how even the best of us can be fooled in a man.”

“That’s right,” agreed Harry.  “It certainly does show how you can be fooled in a man.”

“When I get back home and tell ’em at headquarters what a slick duck he was, they’ll throw a fit.  Why, by Gosh, we all thought he was a nut, a plain nut.”

“Far be it from me,” said Harry, “to speak ill of either the living or the dead.”

“It’s a wonder he didn’t up and blow the head off this old Rube when he found he was about to be cornered.”

Harry took that moment to relight his pipe, and then abruptly said “Good night” to the gentleman from Sandusky.

As he rejoined the group in front of Lamson’s, Marshal Crow was saying: 

“I’m mighty glad Harry Squires had sense enough not to say in the Banner that as soon as Jake Miller found out that the jig was up, he took the law in his own hands, and lynched himself.”