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Title: Sube Cane
Author: Partridge, Edward Bellamy
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sube Cane" ***

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[Illustration: PROFESSIONAL JEALOUSY]



  _SUBE CANE_

  _BY_

  EDWARD BELLAMY PARTRIDGE

  [Illustration]



  THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY

  PHILADELPHIA

  1917



  COPYRIGHT
  1917 BY
  THE PENN
  PUBLISHING
  COMPANY

  [Illustration]

  "Sube Cane"



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER

  I BEFORE USING                                                       1

  II ASTONISHING RESULTS                                              16

  III THE LAST SAD RITES                                              28

  IV AN INTERRUPTED HAIRCUT                                           40

  V OUT OF WHOLE CLOTH                                                49

  VI REIMBURSEMENT                                                    60

  VII A NEW FACE                                                      75

  VIII IN THE LION'S CAGE                                             86

  IX IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMER TIME                                     100

  X HIS DAY                                                          112

  XI A FLYER IN CATS                                                 124

  XII THE FUGITIVES                                                  135

  XIII THE EVER-GLORIOUS FOURTH                                      149

  XIV THE GHOSTS                                                     160

  XV BISCUIT LEARNS TO SWIM                                          174

  XVI SANCTUARY                                                      190

  XVII AN OLFACTORY RETORT                                           200

  XVIII OF HOLY WRIT                                                 208

  XIX SUBE THE SHOWMAN                                               218

  XX TEN KNIGHTS IN A BARROOM                                        228

  XXI THE BARNSTORMERS                                               242

  XXII A SECOND-HAND WAR BABY                                        254

  XXIII RUMORS OF FRAUD                                              264

  XXIV THE AUCTIONEER                                                275

  XXV STUNG                                                          286

  XXVI SUBE GOES TO THE MOVIES                                       298

  XXVII TRIAL MERSHUM                                                309

  XXVIII THE TIMBER CRUISER                                          322

  XXIX THE PARTY                                                     334

  XXX THE TRUTH                                                      347



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE

  Professional jealousy                                    _Frontispiece_

  A great light broke on him                                           7

  The sheriff flashed a light                                         22

  "I ain't done a thing!"                                             40

  "Look how he left me"                                               57

  "Want another haircut?"                                             67

  "Now what does he mean?"                                           114

  "I'll show you!"                                                   131

  "See what I've got"                                                146

  He beheld two white figures                                        171

  "Plain and fancy swimming"                                         178

  He would have liked one for a pet                                  210

  The audience was spell-bound                                       221

  "Who's goin' to be the little girl?"                               237

  "Perhaps I can save your life"                                     251

  "We want to sell all this"                                         269

  The auctioneer paused                                              278

  Piercing shrieks greeted their appearance                          319

  "My father got it for me"                                          327

  "Put the tray on the table"                                        344



SUBE CANE



CHAPTER I

BEFORE USING


Astride the ridgepole of his father's stable Sube Cane sat with the easy
grace of a range-rider, gently rising in his stirrups in unison with the
pounding of imaginary unshod hoofs on the soft turf of a dreamland
prairie, as he conversed in low tones with a dark-haired maiden who rode
in fancy beside him. And, as he rode, he gently rubbed his upper lip
with an index finger.

Nor was this rubbing the aimless wandering of an idle forefinger; it was
persistent and purposeful. For although Sube was only twelve years of
age and still in knickerbockers, he was set upon the propagation of a
mustache.

The desire and the opportunity of fulfillment had come to him at almost
the same instant. Voices in the library had attracted his attention a
few moments before, and pausing outside the door he had heard Dr.
Richards jovially expounding to his father the virtues of a large
sample bottle of hair restorer which apparently possessed all the
quickening agencies known to man, and was, with the trifling exception
of an unendurable odor, all that the name implied--a Boon for Baldness.

The doctor's intimation that the stuff would grow hair on the side of a
house aroused Sube's interest. And soon after the doctor's departure the
boy purloined the bottle from his father's medicine cabinet, and
strictly in the interest of scientific investigation rubbed a small
quantity on the side of the house.

It was during this experiment that the big idea was born. If it would
grow hair on the side of a house, why not--?

A pleasant vision floated before Sube's eyes. He saw himself beneath the
kindly disguise of a flowing mustache, mingling unrecognized among his
friends. Then suddenly the adoring eyes of Nancy Guilford penetrated his
mask. And she began to seek his forgiveness for having called him a kid;
and with a continuous crossing of her heart she promised over and over
that she would never again refer to the fact that she was two years
older than he.

"That's all right, Nance," he condescended to say; "we'll let that go.
But if you want to have a _man_ with a _mustache_ for a fellow, you've
got to promise that you'll never speak to Biscuit Westfall again as
long as you live--"

But before Nancy's promise could be recorded, cruel footsteps intruded
upon the vision. And slipping the bottle under his coat Sube retired to
the barn, where he made the first fragrant application to his upper lip,
and then retired to the roof, where there would be plenty of ventilation
while he rubbed it in.

And here Gizzard Tobin found him a short time afterwards, to Sube's
intense discomfiture, for the young mustache-raiser was caught like a
rat in a trap and with no adequate explanation for smelling to heaven.
Sube did not overwhelm his caller with the warmth of his welcome.

Gizzard noted the lack of cordiality, and with all the directness of his
twelve years started in to probe it to the bottom.

"Been gettin' a lickin'?" he inquired as he seated himself in front of
his companion.

"No, I ain't," grunted Sube.

"Then what's the matter of you?"

"Who said an'thing was?"

At this moment Gizzard caught a whiff of the unspeakable aroma. His face
lighted up at once. "Been hurt?" he asked eagerly.

Sube shook his head.

Obviously disappointed, Gizzard pursued his inquiries. "Then what makes
you smell so much like a horse doctor?" he asked.

Sube was in deep water. He couldn't tell Gizzard the truth about the
mustache! But what _could_ he tell? As nothing occurred to him, he made
a bluff at mumbling that he didn't "smell nuthin'," thereby arousing
Gizzard's compassionate derision.

At this tense moment there popped into Sube's mind an interesting bit of
news that he had gleaned from his eaves-dropping outside the library
door during the doctor's visit, and thinking that he might, by telling
it, distract Gizzard's attention from his quest of the engaging odor,
Sube dramatically glanced around as if to make sure that nobody was
near, and whispered behind his hand:

"Hey, Giz, heard the news about ol' Whiting that lives nex' door to Doc
Richards?"

Gizzard shook his head skeptically.

"Well, sir, when he went out on his porch to get his paper this morning,
what do you s'pose he found there in a basket?"

"Apples?"

"I should say _not_! He found a little girl baby, as red as a beet!"

Gizzard was inclined to belittle this announcement. "That's nuthin'," he
muttered; "the folks who live 'cross the street from us had twins last
week--"

"But you don't understand!" cried Sube impatiently. "This was a
_founding_!"

"A what?" asked Gizzard with a blank stare.

"A founding. It didn't have any mother or father, or an'thing 'xcept a
'nomynous letter."

"A _what_ letter?" demanded Gizzard.

"A 'nomynous letter," Sube explained loftily. "A letter without any name
signed to it but 'A Friend' or 'Taxpayer' or some'pm like that."

"What'd the letter say in it?"

"Oh, nuthin' 'xcept would ol' Whiting bring up the kid, and a verse from
the Bible about sufferin' little children. And, Giz--" Sube lowered his
voice to a strained whisper--"I know who the mother is!"

"What of it?" grunted Gizzard. "Don't I know who the mother of them
twins is?"

"Huh!" snorted Sube. "I guess you don't know it's against the law to
leave founding babies around like that! Why, every officer in this town
is tryin' to find out who the mother is, and _I'm_ the only one who
knows!"

That gave the matter an entirely different complexion. And Gizzard's
eyes were bright as he asked in an eager whisper, "Who is it?"

"Figger it out for yourself," responded Sube gravely. "Who do you know
that's got a face as red as a beet? That's the first thing. And don't
girl babies always look like their mothers? That's the second thing. And
who sat there in Sunday School a couple of Sundays ago and said that
verse about sufferin' little children more'n a dozen times?"

Gizzard gasped. "Her!" he cried. "Aw, you're way off! _She_ ain't got
any children!"

Sube smiled tolerantly. "It was her, all right, and I can prove it," he
asserted; and then, perceiving that Gizzard was again beginning to sniff
questioningly at the atmosphere, Sube proceeded to introduce his proof.
Of course, the greater part of this talk was mere subterfuge to gain
time; he had already told Gizzard all he knew. And the situation was
becoming desperate. With grownups any old explanation would have gone.
But with Gizzard it was different; the explanation of that odor must
sound true. So Sube vapored on hoping wildly that something would occur
to him.

He kept on talking about the foundling and her putative mother simply
because he couldn't think

[Illustration]

of anything else. And he had just reached the point where he was
explaining that a little detective work would be required to bring the
cruel mother to justice, when a great light broke over him. He saw a
very simple way out of his predicament; he could tell Gizzard that he
was raising the mustache for detective purposes, and Gizzard would never
suspect that Nancy Guilford was at the bottom of it.

For a moment he paused, his eyes squinted for serious effect, then said
in a tone of the strictest confidence, "Giz, if a feller's goin' to do
good detective work, he's got to have a good disguise. And _I'm_ goin'
to have a blinger!" He moved closer to Gizzard as he asked, "Don't you
smell some'pm?"

Gizzard rather thought he did.

Sube nodded significantly. "Well, that's it! I'm raisin' a mustache!"

Gizzard was thrilled. And as Sube eloquently unfolded the tale of the
magic bottle, his audience was aroused to a pitch of boisterous
enthusiasm. Then followed complications that Sube had not anticipated;
Gizzard, too, wanted to raise whiskers and become a detective.

And as there appeared to be no way to prevent it without risk of
exposure, Sube reluctantly took him in as a sort of Dr. Watson, and duly
anointed his cheeks in the interest of a pair of long, flowing
side-whiskers. A bristling mustache rather appealed to Gizzard, but was
denied him on the ground of priority. Sube had already started a
mustache, and there must be no duplications.

Boon for Baldness promised nothing within a week; and for the first time
in their life the boys found the spring vacation beginning to drag.
They pored over the pictures alleged to have been taken "Before Using"
and "After Using," until the poor chromos were ragged and worn; they
discussed the "astonishing results" that were guaranteed, until they had
exhausted all the possibilities of surprise, and still the time dragged.
Then, more as a diversion than anything else, they began to shadow the
suspected mother; and this they found so absorbing that Sube almost lost
sight of the original purpose for which he had started his mustache.

A careful log of the suspect's movements was kept in a pocket memorandum
book that came in the carton with the Boon for Baldness. The entries
were masterpieces of brevity.


  Monday April 10

     WHY BE BALD WHEN BOON FOR BALDNESS WILL COVER YOUR SCALP WITH
     LUXURIANT SILKY HAIR?

     Monday she went to see the cid [Transcriber's note: 'cid' crossed
     out] kid


  Tuesday April 11

     SEE THAT DANDRUFF ON YOUR COAT COLLAR! BOON FOR BALDNESS WILL
     PREVENT IT.

     Tuesday she saw the kid again Afternoon she
     bought a bottel of something at Westfalls drug Store


  Wednesday April 12

     BE MANLY! RAISE A BEARD! LET BOON FOR BALDNESS DO IT FOR YOU.
     RESULTS GUARANTEED.

     Saw kid again


The next few pages in addition to various suggestions for the production
and preservation of human hair, set forth the damning fact that the
suspect visited the foundling every day. And the boys continued to
watch; and as they watched, they attended to their hirsutoculture with
infinite pains. In the public use of the tiny pocket phials they had
both taken to carrying they soon became as expert as a vain woman in the
repairing of a damaged complexion. They could slip out the phial and
anoint the face without fear of detection; but they encountered numerous
obstacles and difficulties of another sort.

This was especially true in the case of Sube. For although the members
of his family were wholly unaware of his secret ambitions they took a
violent dislike to the scent he wore, and did everything in their power
to discourage his indulgence in it. As he sought to seat himself at the
table for his midday meal shortly after the first application, his
father detained him, and without asking or permitting explanations, sent
him back to wash his hands and face thoroughly with soap and hot water.

The boy went, muttering and rebellious; and by the time that he had
returned to the table his father had finished eating, and had gone into
the library, where he lighted a cigar and puffed furiously as he waited
for his fragrant son to finish his meal and report to him for
investigation.

Sube tarried at the table as long as was humanly possible in the hope
that his father would forget his appointment and go back to the office.
Mr. Cane was very far from doing any such thing. He had finished the
first cigar and begun on the second before Sube gave up, arose, folded
his napkin without being reminded, and walked reluctantly into the
library.

Mr. Cane was a lawyer of parts--none of them missing. He had been
overworking for years, and the long strain on his nerves had affected
him in a most peculiar way. It had made him super-sensitive to any
strong or unpleasant odor. He would go blocks out of his way to avoid
passing a livery stable. He had been known to get off from a trolley and
take the next car because of the presence among the passengers of a man
with his hand swathed with iodoform. He had refused even to consider the
purchase of an automobile on account of the reputed odor of gasoline.
And before such a tribunal came Sube, reeking of the unspeakable fumes
of the Boon, and clutching in the hand thrust deep down in his coat
pocket his emergency phial of the same, which he was determined to
defend with the last drop of his blood.

Mr. Cane motioned to a chair and cleared his throat. "Seward," he
began--

And at that moment the boy's memory performed a queer prank. It flashed
back to the day in Sunday School when he and his little classmate had
heard for the first time of his nickname-sake Tubalcain, the ancient
artificer in brass; to his anger when the name was combined with Seward
and made into Subal Cane; to his relief when it was worn down by use
into Sube Cane; and finally it got round to the apprehension that now
seized him whenever he was called by his own baptismal name--and he
squirmed in the chair as his father went on in a tone that was
alarmingly gentle.

"--you are twelve years old. You are at the portal of manhood. You are
old enough to take a little pride in your personal appearance, and your
personal--ah--your personal--well, you should be careful never to permit
yourself to become in any way offensive to others. You should take pride
in keeping sweet and clean. Now, my son, you got into something this
morning that has made you very distasteful company for man or beast.
Have you any idea what it is?"

As Mr. Cane resumed the vigorous puffing of his cigar, Sube's heart gave
a leap; his father hadn't recognized the smell! His mustache was safe!

"Why," the boy romanced easily, "if you mean the linimunt I put on my
leg, I know what _that_ is."

"Great heavens!" his father burst out. "Do you mean to say that you
intentionally contaminated yourself with any such evil-smelling stuff
as that?"

Sube quailed before his father's accusing stare and his more accusing
gestures. "I guess I hurt it, didn't I?" he mumbled defensively. "And
didn't I have to put some'pm on it? And that was the only linimunt--"

"Liniment!" snorted Mr. Cane. "Where did you ever get any such
'liniment' as that?"

"Sir?-- Why, out of a bottle," Sube managed to squirm out at last.

"Out of a bottle, eh? Well, bring me the bottle!"

Sube half started for the door, then halted. "I can't," he whimpered.

"Can't? Why not?" demanded his father.

"'Cause I dropped it and broke it," Sube faltered.

Mr. Cane was obviously relieved. "Oh, well," he said, "if that's the
case, never mind. But just as soon as one hour has elapsed I want you to
take a good hot bath. Now don't forget it!"

As Sube uttered a scowling but respectful "No, sir," and started to
leave the room his father noticed for the first time that he was limping
badly.

"Is your leg really hurt, my son?" he asked more kindly.

Sube's face was a study of excruciating pain as he paused to reply that
it was pretty bad and he was afraid a bath would make it a good deal
worse.

Mr. Cane was not a hard man. He wished to inflict no unnecessary
suffering on any one. Perhaps the application of hot water would be
painful. And doubtless the odor of the liniment would evaporate in an
hour or two.

"Never mind about the bath," he remitted as he began to gather up his
papers in preparation for going back to his office.

As he went down the front steps a few moments later, Mr. Cane narrowly
missed being run down by a youth who came bursting round the corner of
the house in pursuit of a fleeing cat; and recognizing the fleet-footed
pursuer as the erstwhile cripple, he scowled at the deception that had
been practiced on him. Then he was struck with humor of the situation,
and smiled in spite of himself.

"Miraculous liniment," he chuckled as he started down the street; "but
I'm mighty glad the bottle's been broken."



CHAPTER II

ASTONISHING RESULTS


Contrary to Mr. Cane's expectations the odor of the liniment had not
evaporated when he came home for the evening meal. It seemed to be
stronger than ever, although Sube truthfully insisted that he had not
put any more on his injured leg since the first application.

An immediate bath was prescribed, and duly administered, and Sube sat
down at the table spotless and germless--but far from odorless. He
smelled, it seemed to his family, even worse than before. And in spite
of the various heroic processes of deodorization and fumigation through
which he was put during the ensuing days, he invariably emerged
smiling--and smelling.

The long strain began to tell on Mr. Cane. He became more nervous and
irritable than ever, and seemed constantly to wear a look of nasal
suspicion. Sube's treatment was in only its third day when his father
began to eat his lunch down town. The next day he failed to come home to
dinner; and thereafter during the rest of the fateful week he ate no
meals at home with the exception of breakfast, and that he managed to
get before the other members of the family were out of bed.

As the week of germination drew towards a close the boys became
restless. "We ought to begin to do some'pm," Sube suggested as he sat
rubbing the Boon into the pores of his long-suffering upper lip. "My
week will be up to-morrow morning at five minutes of ten, and yours will
be up at about quarter after."

"I'll bet mine'll be up before quarter after," predicted Gizzard
enthusiastically. "I'll bet I have my whiskers by ten minutes after.
Gee, but I'll be glad when I don't have to use this ol' Boon any longer.
It certainly is bad!"

"Oh, it ain't so bad," replied Sube; "anyway, not for those that use it.
I'm glad we didn't have to go to school this week. Sunday School was bad
enough. But as I tol' you, we got to be doin' some'pm. We want to pick
up that party jus' about as quick as we can after we get our whiskers."

"Well," suggested Gizzard briskly, "let's go and get her 'bout ha' pas'
ten to-morrow morning."

Sube shook his head dubiously. "Not by daylight," he drawled
professionally. "That's too easy. That's the way policemen do it. We'll
have to trick her."

"Trick her?" muttered Gizzard. "What for? How we goin' to trick her?"

"Very sim-ple," drawled Sube. "We'll pin a note on her door to-night
tellin' her to come to the Prespaterian Church steps to-morrow night at
a certain time--and when she shows up, we'll pinch her."

And so it was arranged. The note was prepared and in due time affixed to
the front door of the suspect's house in so conspicuous a place that she
found it early the next morning.

But the hours that followed the finding of the note were tragic ones for
Sube and Gizzard. They had repaired to the roof of the barn, there to
await the accomplishment of the days when their whiskers should be
delivered. And as the time drew near and no pin-feathers appeared, they
began to have visions of a sudden bursting forth of hair not unlike the
eruption of a small volcano. But the time came, and passed; and nothing
happened to change the youthful character of their hopeful faces.

They allowed fully an hour of grace during which time the word "Fake"
passed Gizzard's lips with increasing frequency as Sube sought to
bolster up their faith by reading and re-reading the guarantee on the
bottle.

"Astonishin' results, hey?" sneered Gizzard. "I should say they are
astonishin'."

"Don't be in so much of a hurry," growled Sube. "We might of made a
mistake in the time. Ol' Doc Richards, he said--"

An immediate adjournment was taken for the purpose of inspecting the
side of the house. But, alas! It was hairless. And more, it didn't even
smell.

Then the boys gave up.

They threw their pocket phials as far as they could, and stoned the
large bottle with a vengeance that would have startled a Christian
martyr. Gizzard's disgust was evidenced by a great deal of careless
language feelingly delivered. But Sube was silent. His disappointment
was beyond the reach of mere words. The pleasant vision in which he had
reveled for a week burst with a result similar to that of over-inflating
a bubble. And during the brief period while Gizzard was relieving
himself with pleasing combinations of adjectives, Sube contemplated and
rejected suicide, flight, old bachelorhood, and becoming an anarchist so
that he might dynamite the Boon for Baldness factory. He was considering
some sort of legal proceedings based on fraud and misrepresentation,
when Gizzard nudged him to ascertain why they couldn't "catch her
without whiskers."

After all, Sube had his life to live. There were other affairs besides
those of the heart. And perhaps a brilliant piece of detective work
might give him a standing that even a mustache would not have been able
to effect.

"We _gotta_ do some'pm," Gizzard rattled on. "She'll be at the church
to-night, and here we ain't got any whiskers and can't do a thing."

Sube began to pull himself together. "We'll do some'pm all right," he
muttered.

"Well, what?"

"Oh, some'pm; and don't you forget it." Sube did not yet know what it
was to be himself; but an idea soon sprouted. He went into the house for
a sheet of paper and an envelope. Then with the aid of Gizzard and the
stump of a lead pencil he wrote the following letter to the sheriff:


     Dear Sherriff

     Disgise yourself like an old women and sit on the prebsytearean
     church steps at 9 oclock tonight if you want to catch the mother of
     the founding baby. When a women comes up and says suffer littel
     childern arrest her shes the mother.

     yours trully

     Two Freinds.


"What's he got to disguise himself like a ol' woman for?" asked Gizzard.

"If we make it too easy," Sube explained, "he wouldn't pay any 'ttention
to it. And besides, a _man_ there on the church steps might scare her
away."

The boys had no way of knowing how much of an uproar the receipt of
their letter precipitated in the sheriff's office. And they would have
been decidedly uneasy if they had known with what celerity the sheriff
exhibited their letter to Mr. Cane, who was acting as Mr. Whiting's
counsel. But they remained in a state of beatific ignorance; and shortly
after nine o'clock that evening, cramped and uncomfortable from their
two hours' vigil among the branches of a large evergreen tree in front
of the Presbyterian Church, they were silent witnesses of a scene that
for a time baffled everybody, not excepting themselves.

They saw a heavily veiled woman dressed all in black who came slowly
down the street and seated herself on the church steps. Shortly
afterwards they heard hurried footsteps and a second woman came into
view. She turned in at the church and went directly up to the silent
figure on the steps. For a moment all was still. Then a bass voice cried
out:

"I _got_ y'u!"

A woman screamed. Men seemed to rise out of the ground on all sides. The
boys had a suspicion that the Resurrection was at hand, until the
sheriff flashed a light in the face of the prisoner and exclaimed in
chorus with several others:

"Good heavens! It's Miss Lester!"

The silence that followed was shattered by Miss Lester's voice. She had
recognized Mr. Cane, and at once began to accuse him of being the author
of a plot to compromise her. The boys were not clear as to the exact
nature of her charges, but it was apparent to them that she was very
angry at Sube's father.

[Illustration: THE SHERIFF FLASHED A LIGHT]

When she stopped at last, all out of breath, Mr. Cane, the sheriff and
several of the deputies took advantage of the lull to explain the
situation to her, each one telling the others to listen a minute while
_he_ told her all about it. The confusion finally became so great that
the sheriff ordered them all to be taken to his office some three blocks
away, where he hoped in a loud voice that he should be able to hear them
one at a time.

The boys dropped excitedly from the tree and followed, forgetting for
the moment that there was any such thing as a foundling.

Sube's heart went out to his father. "I know jus' how he felt," he
declared. "She bawled me out like that once before the whole Sunday
School."

"What do you s'pose he done to her?" asked Gizzard.

"Dern'd if I know," replied Sube. "But maybe if we hurry up we'll find
out all about it."

And they did. They arrived as the sheriff was explaining that he and his
deputies and Mr. Cane went to the church in answer to an anonymous
letter, and he'd like very much to have Miss Lester tell just what _she_
was doing there at that time of night.

Miss Lester's explanation was tense but straightforward. She had gone in
answer to a note she had found pinned on her front door that morning.

"You don't happen to have that note along with you, I suppose,"
suggested the ever-skeptical sheriff.

"Indeed I do!" retorted Miss Lester, fumbling in her bosom and producing
a folded paper which she handed to the officer.

He read it aloud.


     Miss Lester.

     Somebody who knows something importent will be at the prebsytearean
     church front steps Saterday night at nine oclock if you whisper
     suffer littel childern they will know its you.

     your trully

     Two Freinds


When he had finished reading it he passed to Mr. Cane. The lawyer
compared it with the other letter. "Huh!" he snorted. "Identical! Same
person wrote both of them! It's nothing but a dastardly hoax!"

The sheriff said nothing, and began to fumble in the drawers of his desk
while Mr. Cane and Miss Lester were exchanging apologies and
reëstablishing friendly relations. At length he turned around in his
swivel-chair and announced:

"It may be a hoax, all right; but I've got other evidence against this
here party."

"Evidence against _me_!" gasped Miss Lester.

The sheriff nodded gravely and consulted several crumpled sheets of
paper he held in his hand. They were the pages torn from the Boon for
Baldness diary.

"Ain't you took a lot of int'rest in this here foundling?" he asked
suspiciously.

"Indeed I have!" she responded with spirit.

"Went to see it las' Monday, didn't y'u?"

"I believe I did. I went there the moment I heard about it."

"Went again Tuesday, didn't y'u?"

"Why, I presume--"

"And y'u bought a bottle of something at Westfall's drug store Tuesday
afternoon, didn't y'u?"

Miss Lester blushed uncomfortably. "I cannot see what possible
connection my going to the drug store could have with this matter," she
parried.

"Well, anyhow, y'u went to see this here child again on Wednesday,
didn't y'u?" the sheriff persisted.

"Mr. Sheriff," Miss Lester burst forth at last, "you do not seem to
understand my position at all. I want to adopt the little darling. I
haven't a chick or child in the world that belongs to me. I have been
trying to find her parents for days so as to get their consent. That
was why I went to the church this evening. When I found the note I had
hopes that the mother had in some way learned of my interest in the baby
and wanted to talk to me about her. Oh, I am so disappointed! Who could
have been cruel enough to do such a thing for a _joke_?"

The sheriff succumbed as gracefully as possible and allowed that he had
been "barkin' up the wrong tree." As he tossed the crumpled sheets on
the table, Mr. Cane picked them up.

"You didn't tell me about these, Sheriff," he said. "Where did they come
from?"

"They come by mail late this afternoon," the sheriff replied. "I thought
I told you about it."

"Hum,-- Same handwriting as the letters," observed the
lawyer as he ran through the littered pages. "Our 'Two Friends' wanted
to be sure that their hoax was going to work--"

He stopped abruptly and sniffed at the crumpled pages with an expression
of mistrust--of something reminiscent. And suddenly, with an
unintelligible exclamation, he caught up his hat and started for the
door.

"Wait a minute, Judge," invited the sheriff affably. "I'll send you
folks home in an auto."

"Can't wait!" called Mr. Cane over his shoulder. "An automobile couldn't
get me there fast enough!"

Mr. Cane lost no time in getting home. But Sube was there ahead of him,
and already in bed and apparently asleep.



CHAPTER III

THE LAST SAD RITES


When Sube accompanied his family to church on the morrow he was
conspicuous by reason of his scentlessness. Nobody sniffed at him;
nobody moved away from him; his brothers walked uncomplainingly at his
side. Any one but Sube might have thought that the storm which descended
on him the previous night shortly after he had slipped into bed with his
clothes on, must have clarified the atmosphere completely. For Mr. Cane
had done very thoroughly that which is claimed to hurt the parent more
than the child.

But Sube was uneasy. And he had reason to be; for Miss Lester was his
Sunday School teacher.

A dark pall hung over him all through the church service; and when at
the conclusion he sought to bring up reinforcements before moving on
Sunday School, he learned to his dismay that Gizzard was confined to his
home with a slight attack of Sunday-sickness from which he was unlikely
to recover until nearly dinner time. So he faced the dragon alone.

But in common with other dragons Miss Lester's terrors waned on closer
acquaintance. As he shuffled guiltily into his seat she wished him a
pleasant good morning. But some little time elapsed before Sube could
bring himself to believe that his sense of hearing was not playing him
false. Then it occurred to him that she was going to arraign him before
the entire Sunday School. And he lived over this volcano until the
session was dismissed. The possibility that Miss Lester did not know the
identity of her "Two Friends" never entered his mind.

Once or twice during the afternoon he wondered vaguely why she had
refrained from "bawling him out," but by the next day he had forgotten
all about Miss Lester and her troubles. They were completely blotted out
of his mind by the relentless pressure of education; for school had
begun again.

One day dragged along after another. At last a week had gone. Then a
month. And spring was pretty well under way when Sube came home from
school one noon, to all appearances quite bowed down with grief. Mag
Macdougall, the family laundress, was dead.

The news was fittingly broken to those at the table, but seemed to
occasion no great concern. His father remarked in what Sube considered a
most unfeeling way that he hoped she hadn't taken with her the two
shirts that failed to come back with his linen that week; and his
mother's only comment was that she had decided to send the things to the
laundry anyway.

Sube was shocked; but he was not discouraged. He took the position that
the community's great loss was not fully appreciated, and at once
launched into a eulogy of Mag's imaginary virtues that gave to her a
character quite unlike that which she had borne in the flesh. And in
conclusion he announced that the funeral would take place that afternoon
at the Baptist Church, to which he felt he must go on account of poor
little Lizzie Macdougall's being in the same room with him at school.

And although Mr. Cane cultivated the attitude of always expecting the
unexpected to happen, this came as something of a surprise to him. For a
moment he was at a loss for words; then he had more than he knew what to
do with, out of which Sube managed to grasp the sentiment that any old
day when he was allowed to remain out of school to attend one of Mag
Macdougall's funerals would of necessity be a very cold one. And this
was a warm spring day.

Sube remonstrated. He whined. He argued until his father forbade
another word on the subject. Then in a highly rebellious and dangerous
state of mind he started for school, brooding anarchistically over the
element of paternalism that still survives in the American family. He
would have been an easy convert for any kind of soap-box heresy, but
fortunately no apostles of new thought chanced to cross his path.

However, when he had gone a short distance on his way he discovered that
he was being followed. A rather rangy dog with a white background
heavily sprinkled with black spots, and wearing a thick, stumpy tail
which a railroad train had thoughtlessly docked to half-length, was
sauntering along at a safe distance behind, apparently making no effort
to get any nearer.

Sube whirled angrily, and catching up an imaginary rock went through
most elaborate motions of hurling it at the dog, as he cried in a stern
voice:

"Go home, Sport! Go home!"

Sport halted and began to sniff calmly at a tuft of grass beside the
walk as if that had been his sole errand. He affected to be unaware of
his master's presence. After sniffing for a moment he deemed the place
worthy of excavation and began to scratch at it with his front paw.

Meanwhile Sube's orders had become more curt and angry. "Go home! I tell
you!--Go home, sir!" he bellowed as he pretended to run at the dog,
stamping his feet loudly on the walk.

But Sport calmly continued his investigations.

Then Sube caught sight of a real stone, and eagerly bent to pick it up;
but before he could steady himself so as to throw it with any kind of
aim, Sport beat a hasty retreat homeward, and the stone went clattering
down the walk wide of its mark.

Having thus disposed of the dog Sube proceeded on his way with the
thought that Sport must be losing his mind when he couldn't tell a
school day from any other day. But Sport was far from losing his mind. A
certain psychic agency called instinct by uncomprehending humans had
told him that for Sube this was not to be a school day; but Sport
realized that he could never hope to get this through the dull brain of
an ordinary boy, so he made no attempt.

At the first corner Sube fell in with a company of his fellows bound for
the cobble-stone church to pay their last sad respects to the mortal
remains of Mag Macdougall, deceased. He would have avoided them if he
could, but they were upon him before he was aware of their presence.

"Hey, Sube!" shouted Gizzard as he caught sight of his chum. "Goin'?"

This was somewhat awkward, but Sube managed to assume a look of bold
confidence as he replied, "What do you _s'pose_?"

"I s'pose you are," returned Gizzard. "Everybody is. _All_ the girls are
goin', and even Biscuit Westfall!"

Sube was lost. This was the limit of human endurance. He might have
stood it even if all the girls did go; but he had counted on Biscuit
Westfall as the one person absolutely certain to be in his seat at
school. And besides, the groundless suspicion was never wholly absent
from Sube's mind that as far as Nancy Guilford was concerned, Biscuit
needed watching. Then a voice came to him from the crowd almost as if
the speaker had read his mind. It was unnecessarily high and nasal in
quality.

"Nancy Guilford's goin'!"

Sube turned and glared into the grinning face of Dick Bissell, a
tattered youth of questionable pedigree, who stood head and shoulders
above the other boys, and who was no respecter of size so long as it was
smaller than his. But immediately upon identifying Dick Bissell as the
author of the gibe, Sube's glare melted into a sheepish grin, and he
himself melted into the crowd and became as inconspicuous as possible.

He was distinctly relieved when a moment later a concerted movement
towards the church began. At his side walked the faithful Gizzard, who,
after they had gone a short distance, asked:

"What you so mum about?"

"Who? Me?" grunted Sube. "How you want a feller to act when he's goin'
to a funeral?"

The truth was that in addition to the humiliation put upon him by Dick
Bissell, Sube was feeling a little lonely in his outlawry. The other
boys doing exactly what he was doing were guiltless. But he was a
criminal. He alone must be on the watch for tattle-tales, must run the
risk of punishment. On the whole he was in an excellent frame of mind to
get the most out of a funeral.

As the company reached the church it deployed and spread itself over the
spacious stone steps that reached across the front of the edifice. It
was still occupying this position when Biscuit Westfall, at the side of
his mother, approached and, raising his hat formally to the collective
company, passed inside.

After a little interval the girls arrived and with a shy giggle or two
hurried up the steps and disappeared through the massive doorway.
Whereupon Dick Bissell took occasion to stroll over to Sube and suggest
that if he was going to sit with the girls he'd better be going inside.

Sube indulged in another of his sickly smiles, which for a boy of his
spirit required no small amount of effort. But at that moment the
cortége arrived and dissipated any insane notions of self-destruction
that might have been forming in his outraged brain.

The boys followed the casket into the church in much the same manner as
they would have followed the band in a street parade, but instead of
going all the way to the altar they slipped into the rear seats, where
they stayed just long enough to find out that a funeral was not at all
unlike church. Then by twos and threes they began to desert.

When a sufficient number had assembled in front of the church a quiet
game of tag was proposed, to while away the time until they should be
permitted to view the remains. And they at once proceeded to the nearby
church-sheds as a place marvelously adapted to the sport.

The game was less quiet than had been anticipated, and after a little
actually threatened to put the funeral out of business. Whereupon ol'
Joe, the sexton, hastily forming an alliance with big Lew Wright,
rushed out to disperse the noise-makers. Big Lew was an elder or deacon
or something whenever anything of importance was taking place at the
Baptist Church, and at other times he ran a sawmill. He enjoyed the
reputation of handling logs and boys in much the same rough manner; and
he scattered the participants in the game as he would have brushed away
a handful of sawdust.

The gang was withdrawing silently, albeit sullenly, when without warning
there came flying over the sheds a large chunk of sod to which a
quantity of soil was clinging. This disrespectful offering struck big
Lew in the place where his ready made necktie connected with his rubber
collar, forcing from his mouth a noise that sounded very much like
profanity.

Sube did not throw the sod, but he saw it strike; and he knew instantly
that was no place for him. In a desperate attempt to make a quick
getaway he fell down. And when he regained his feet the angry elder or
deacon or something was upon him. But somehow he managed to wriggle
through a hole in the fence inches smaller than his body and started for
the lumber yard nearby with big Lew, who nimbly scaled the fence, close
behind.

Somewhere among the piles of lumber Sube shook off his pursuer. Then he
crossed the railroad tracks by crawling under a slowly moving freight
train and finally reached a place of safety in a clump of willows behind
the sauerkraut factory, but not until he had left a fair impression of
his body in a puddle of slippery brine that had been drawn from a vat of
ancient kraut.

As he entered the refugee camp a moment later he was hailed with
delight. But his popularity was short-lived. The boys were sorry about
his accident, but had a peculiar way of showing it. They stopped
bemoaning the fact that they had not been able to view the remains, and
began to comfort Sube with bits of pithy humor, meanwhile keeping him at
a distance. Sube took this in good part until Dick Bissell suggested
that it might be interesting if Sube should go to the church in his
present state and ask to see Nancy home.

Sube scowled; he blushed; he bit his lips, and clenched his fists; but
once more Dick Bissell's size and reputation won a psychological
victory, and Sube managed to produce the sheepish grin--and the crisis
was over.

Excited hoofbeats on the floor of the nearby livery barn now attracted
the boys' attention. These were followed by such sounds as men utter
when they wish to calm the ruffled spirits of a restive horse.

Dick leaped to his feet. "Hey!" he cried. "There's some'pm doin' in the
liv'ry barn! I'm goin' up and see the fun!"

He started forthwith, the others trailing after him. Far in the rear
came Sube, humiliated and indignant at what had happened, and
apprehensive about what would happen when he reached home. The liniment
episode was still strong in his memory; and to become involved in
another affair of bad odor so soon afterwards seemed to him like
trifling with Providence. Sube clambered slowly up the bank and walked
into the livery barn. It was as Dick Bissell had suspected. Something
was doing. An undersized bay mare was receiving her spring haircut.

Sube's brother Sim would have recognized at a glance that it was Fretful
Mollie; for he knew every horse in town by its first name, and most of
the horses knew Sim. But Sube was no horseman. He could tell the
difference between a horse and an automobile; he could probably have
picked a horse from a herd of cows ninety-nine times out of a hundred.
But he was no lover of horseflesh.

As he stood watching Mollie tremble and plunge whenever the clippers
touched a ticklish spot, he became conscious of a movement at the door
of the barn, and glancing around he beheld Sport. Sube was astonished,
for he had supposed that the dog was safe at home. But Sport had been
following him all the afternoon; never very far behind, and for obvious
reasons never very conspicuous.

When Sport perceived that his presence had been detected he tried to
make the best of a bad situation. He pretended that their meeting was
the merest sort of coincidence; that he had come there strictly on
business of his own, but was none the less glad to see his master.
However, human like, Sube misunderstood all this; and pointing an
automatic finger at the dog, muttered:

"Didn't I tell you to go _home_?"

Sport fled. And as he went scurrying down the alley he was kept busy
dodging several sticks, a tin can, and one or two old shoes.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV

AN INTERRUPTED HAIRCUT


While Sube was disposing of his insubordinate follower Fretful Mollie
had obtained momentary control over her tingling nerves and become
perfectly quiet. But as he returned to her side she gave a tremendous
lunge and struck out savagely with both hind feet, scattering the
tonsorial artists right and left.

As the clipper-man leaped to a place of safety, his clippers still in
his hand, he grabbed Sube roughly by the coat-collar.

"I caught y'u that time, y'u little rascal!" he cried angrily.

Sube squirmed uncomfortably. "What'd I do?" he muttered. "I ain't done a
_thing_!"

The clipper-man snatched off Sube's cap and gave it a throw as he
charged, "Y'u slung some'pm at that mare. I seen y'u do it myself."

Seeing that the crime was neatly fastened on Sube, Dick Bissell, who had
been keeping discreetly close to the door, now drew nearer. If anybody
was to be punished for his misdeeds he wanted to be in the front row. He
anticipated that Sube would receive a sound cuffing and perhaps a kick
or two; but he was as much surprised as Sube at the form his punishment
took. For without the slightest warning the clipper-man mowed a clean
swath from Sube's brow to his crown, and giving him a vigorous shove
towards the open door, admonished him to get out and stay out under pain
of having his eyebrows cut off.

As Sube recovered his balance he paused, and passed a bewildered hand
over his head. He resembled nothing quite so much as a youth grown
prematurely bald. And at the risk of losing his eyebrows he turned and
faced his assailant.

"Ain't you goin' to cut the rest of it?" he asked huskily.

"Didn't I tell y'u to get outa here?" growled the clipper-man with a
menacing gesture.

But Sube stood his ground. "I didn't do a thing to your ol' horse!" he
cried desperately.

"Well, one o' yer gang done it, and that's the same thing!" muttered the
clipper-man, supplementing his questionable logic by unquestionable
profanity.

At this point Dick Bissell undertook to interject some of his humor into
the situation.

"Nancy'll never love 'im if he looks like--" he began; but he never
finished the remark.

For Sube's fist struck him squarely in the mouth in a maniacal effort to
drive the cruel words back down his throat. And that was the way the
fight started.

For a time Sube appeared to be possessed of the strength of a young
Samson. He pounded his antagonist all over the place with an insane
fury, drawing blood from lip and nose, and planting several blows where
they were destined to leave a dark crescent "shiner." But judged from a
purely physical standpoint Sube was no match for Dick Bissell; and as
his mental demands for blood began to be satisfied his wonderful
offensive began to flag. He allowed himself to be drawn into the clinch
that Dick had from the first been trying to work.

An instant later the back of Sube's head bumped the floor, and he began
to stop Dick's blows with his face. Then it dawned on him for the first
time that he was actually fighting Dick Bissell. He knew of course that
he couldn't thrash Dick; he had known it for years; and he couldn't
understand how he ever happened to undertake such a monumental task. The
mere thought weakened him.

Dick must have felt Sube relax; for suddenly he seized both of Sube's
wrists and pinioned his arms across his breast.

"You're--a fine--lookin' thing!" he panted. "Nancy oughta--see y'u NOW!"

Dick had unconsciously touched the magic spring that loosed the maniac,
and Sube flung him aside as if he had been a new-born babe. The two boys
gained their feet at almost the same instant. Then Sube launched an
attack on the larger boy that far surpassed in fury his initial charge.
He hit, he scratched, he bit, and kicked; and again he exhausted his
strength and went under in a clinch. And this time he couldn't come
back. Dick hammered him roundly, and when he could spare the breath
taunted him unfeelingly about Nancy, and threatened to lick him to a
frazzle right before her loving eyes.

But Sube was too far gone to respond. He was very near that
blissful country which prize-fighters call "Out."

The stablemen enjoyed the fight immensely. And the result was quite to
their liking. Dick Bissell was their kind. They wanted him to win even
if he was fighting a boy scarcely half his size. But they enjoyed the
"little feller's bu'st o' speed" and taking their cue from Dick,
interjected a few taunts from the sidelines about what Nancy would think
of him if he got licked.

Sube had plenty of friends at the ringside, but they dared not interfere
because of what might happen to them when Dick Bissell caught them
alone. And doubtless if they had taken a hand the stablemen would have
driven them off.

But there was one friend who did not falter. He was a little late in
reaching the place of battle, but when he came, he came like a
thunderbolt. He struck Dick amidships with the full force of his
seventy pounds, knocking the astonished boy halfway across the barn.

Then with a show of flashing teeth and a few great guttural oaths he
cleared the barn of human incumbrances, and then--he went humbly to his
master craving indulgence for having again been guilty of disobedience.

Sube struggled to his feet, groggily murmuring, "Good boy, Sport." And
with a boy's first instinct on emerging from a fight began to hunt for
his cap. Sport quickly found it and brought it. Then Sube noticed for
the first time that he was alone, and that the big barn door was closed.
But he had no idea that it had been barred in the interest of public
policy to keep what the stablemen regarded as a mad dog from running at
large.

The back door was open. And towards it he staggered, bleeding and
disheveled. He made his way into the clump of willows, where he lay for
a time and rested while Sport licked affectionately at his hand whenever
it came near enough for his rosy tongue to reach.

As he took a circuitous route homeward a little later he became
conscious of a dull ache in his ear. Then he discovered that his lip was
swollen. In another moment he became painfully aware that something had
happened to one of his cheeks. Next a skinned knuckle attracted his
attention.

He considered these injuries too valuable to be wasted, and at once
invented a new game to make use of them. He pretended that he was a
wounded soldier returning from the wars, and gave himself up to such
limps and groans as seemed to fit the fancy. He dragged himself up to
the back door of his home, and after satisfying himself that the kitchen
was empty, fell prostrate on the threshold, gasping:

"Water!--Water!--I must rinse these awful wounds!"

With an exaggerated effort he pulled himself to his feet and reeled
across the kitchen, only to fall in an imaginary swoon at the foot of
the back stairs. But hearing footsteps he revived sufficiently to crawl
upstairs dragging a bullet-pierced leg lifelessly behind.

He had reached the room occupied jointly by himself and his brother
Henry, where he had indulged in several additional swoons (in the
performance of which he had now become quite an expert) when he was
suddenly reminded of the accident to his clothes. He took them off and
holding them at arm's length, sniffed at them judicially. Then he
pronounced them guilty, and dropped them on the floor pending sentence.

He at once began to put on his best suit, but before he had finished he
heard Henry coming. He kicked the offending garments under the bed and
stepped into the hallway, pulling on his jacket as he went. He
intercepted his brother at the head of the stairs.

"Hey, Cathead!" he called affably, addressing Henry by his nickname.
"Know some'pm?"

"What?" grunted Cathead, who was fourteen, studiously inclined, and
suspicious of anything Sube knew and he didn't, because it was usually
inaccurate and often led into mischief.

"There's a new batch of cookies down in the pantry!"

Cathead's interest was aroused, but he tried to conceal it. "What you
all dressed up for?" he demanded.

Sube had hoped to preclude any such inquiry, and made something of a
mess of his reply. "Why--now--now, I'm--I'm goin' somewheres," he
stammered.

"Where?"

"Never you mind where!" cried Sube with affected gayety. "Don't you
wish't you knew! But let's go and get a cookie."

Cathead had half turned to go when he stopped abruptly and began to look
around him. "Whew!" he exclaimed. "What in the dickens smells so?"

"It does smell kind o' funny, don't it?" Sube agreed.

"Funny? I should say it is funny! What is it?"

"I guess the air must be a little bad," mumbled Sube.

"A little? Say! It's awful in here!"

"But you ought to smell it out in the back yard," suggested Sube. "It's
a lot worse out there!"

With a disdainful grimace Cathead turned towards the stairs. "You said
some'pm about cookies," he remembered. "Lead me to 'em."

"They're in the pantry," said Sube as he started to follow Cathead down
the stairs. But when he was halfway down he turned back. "Dern the
luck!" he exclaimed with affected disgust. "I forgot some'pm. Got to go
back. Now don't eat 'em all up before I get there!"



CHAPTER V.

OUT OF WHOLE CLOTH


As Cathead reached the bottom of the stairs, Sube dived under the bed.
And as Cathead entered the pantry, Sube darted up the attic stairs and
threw the tainted clothes far into the darkness. From the splash that
followed he feared they might have landed in the rain water tank, but
that could not be helped now. As he rapidly slid down the attic stairs
he was thoroughly in sympathy with those who shed their brothers' blood
so far as disposing of the _corpus delicti_ was concerned.

Sube had reached his room in safety when he heard Cathead angrily
scuffing up the stairs; and, wishing to have the appearance of doing
something, he stepped over to the bureau and picked up a hairbrush. But
when he took off his cap the hairbrush dropped from his nerveless
fingers. His mutilated scalp fairly screamed at him!

In the excitement of the fight he had forgotten all about it. But there
was no time to lose. Cathead was at the door. Sube mechanically pulled
his cap far on his head, and sank limply down on the bed as Cathead
came into the room peevishly charging him with being the biggest fibber
out of captivity.

"There wasn't a cookie there, and you know it!" he cried.

"Annie must've hid 'em," returned Sube feebly.

Cathead's anger subsided as he caught sight of his brother's livid
countenance. "What's the matter of you?" he asked.

"Nuthin'."

"You're as white as paper," declared Cathead. Then catching sight of his
brother's swollen lip which in the semi-darkness of the hallway had
escaped his notice, he asked, "How'd you hurt your lip?"

The natural thing would have been to tell Cathead the truth, all the
truth, and nothing _but_ the truth. But Sube did not care to do this.
Not that he was afraid Cathead would tell; he had no thought of that. In
regard to their joint delinquencies Cathead had always been absolutely
leak-proof. Sube simply did not wish to put himself in Cathead's power;
so he took what he considered to be the easiest way.

"Huh? My lip?" he temporized as he tried to think of a plausible
explanation. "Why,--why, I--I bumped 'at against the door," he got out
finally.

"Prob'ly that's what makes you so pale," suggested Cathead. "Lay down a
minute and you'll be all right."

Sube was glad to follow this advice.

"You ain't told me what you're all dressed up for," Cathead reminded him
presently.

"I can't find my other clo's, I tole you," growled Sube. "I'll bet
mama's gone and given 'em to the Salvation Army or something."

"How long since you couldn't find 'em?"

"Took 'em off jus' soon as I got home, and I ain't seen 'em since."

"That's funny," muttered Cathead as he began a cursory search for the
missing garments. A moment later he called from the bathroom, "Hey,
Sube, I've found out what smells so bad!"

"What?" asked Sube with a note of alarm.

"It's the water! Something must of got into the cistern. I'll bet it's
another cat."

Sube gave one long futile breath that put into words would have said,
"What next!" It was a bad matter. But it was not so pressing as a
certain other bad matter. Something had to be done about his incompleted
haircut--and done quickly. No explanation could be made that was not
likely to lead to very unpleasant disclosures. His only salvation was a
_real haircut_. And that of necessity involved the expenditure of a sum
of money he did not possess.

Sube knew Cathead had money--Cathead always had money--and he at once
began a series of flattering offers to sell anything he possessed. But
Cathead was thrifty. The commercial instinct was strong in him. He
realized that the time to buy is when the other fellow wants to sell;
but he did not become over anxious. He said he was not in the market.
Neither was he conducting a loan office. Of course, if it was made worth
his while, why,--he might think of it.

This bickering nearly drove Sube mad. Time for the evening meal was
drawing near. He could hear his father's voice downstairs. In his
desperation he made up a job lot containing everything of his in which
Cathead had ever betrayed an interest, and struck it off for thirty
pieces of copper.

Cathead grasped the psychology of the moment. "I'll take you up," he
said promptly. "Come on down stairs while I get the money out of my
bank."

Sube went only too willingly. In the library he encountered his father.

"Where is your cap, Sube?" reminded Mr. Cane.

"Yes, I know it," Sube explained. "I didn't forget it; you see, I'm
goin' right out again."

"But as long as you are in the house--"

"Yes, sir; I'll take it right off."

Sube made a feint at his cap with one hand as he snatched some coins
from Cathead with the other, and darted for the door.

"Seward!" called Mr. Cane sternly. "Come here!"

_Bang!_ The front door closed with sufficient violence to jar the entire
house as Sube dashed up the street. Sube had heard his father's voice
plainly in spite of the fact that he continued to assure himself that he
had not.

He had proceeded only a short distance from home when Nancy Guilford and
her mother loomed up before him. Sube rarely overlooked an opportunity
to demonstrate to Mrs. Guilford his Chesterfieldian manners. But to-day
he dodged past with nothing more than a bourgeois twitch at his cap; and
railing under his breath at an unkind fate he sped on towards the barber
shop.

But alas, he was too late. The door was locked, and the barber, in
company with his wife, was just turning away as Sube came panting up.

"Mr. McInness! Mr. McInness!" he called feverishly as he caught sight of
the retreating tonsorial.

Mr. McInness glanced back, then paused expectantly.

"I got here just in time!" Sube puffed. "I want to get my hair cut."

The barber scowled and looked at his watch. "Too late, son," he said.
"You'll have to wait till to-morrow. It's after six."

"But I _can't_ wait till to-morrow," Sube returned in his most
persuasive tone. "I got to get it cut _now_!"

The barber shook his head. "Nuthin' doin', son," he said. "I run a union
shop. If I didn't close up at six, the union'd be on my neck inside of
thirty seconds." He made a move to start on. "You come back in the
mornin' and I'll fix you up fine!"

Sube clutched desperately at the barber's sleeve. "I can't wait!" he
pleaded. "I _got_ to get it done right now!"

"I can't take no chances!" declared the barber positively. "I've had the
union after me twic't already. If you want to get it cut to-night, why,
you'll have to go somewheres else."

"Where can I go?" asked Sube quickly.

"Well,--I don't know as I could tell you no place," responded the barber
dubiously. "Every shop in town belongs to the union."

The agonized expression on Sube's face was too much for the barber's
wife. "What seems to be the trouble?" she asked kindly. "Tell me about
it."

Here was a chance for aid from an unexpected quarter; but it was fraught
with danger. Mrs. McInness's sister was a teacher in the school Sube
attended. He must have a care what he told her.

"It's on account of my father," he finally managed to say, as he assumed
a martyred expression.

"Your father?" she asked clearly puzzled.

"Yes, ma'am. He's pretty bad to-night!"

"Why, he isn't sick, is he? I saw him on the street this afternoon."

"Not sick, exactly," Sube improvised cautiously. "The doctor says it's
his mind--"

"His mind!" gasped Mrs. McInness. "Is his mind affected?"

"What?--Well--it's more his--his nerves! You see, he can't bear to look
at anybody who needs a haircut. It makes him nervous, you see. And he
told me to get my hair cut this afternoon, but I was so busy goin' to
school and then goin' home and doin' all the work that I forgot it. And
when he come home a few minutes ago and saw I hadn't got it cut, he
ordered me out of the house and told me never to darken his door again
till I'd got my hair cut!"

Mrs. McInnes was dumbfounded. "Your father told you that!" she cried at
length. "Why, I always thought he was one of the kindest men I ever
knew!"

"He's kind in--in his office--and--and on the street," stammered Sube;
"but the minute he gets home his nerves fly up and he loses control of
himself--"

"And your father told you never to darken his door again?" she asked
incredulously.

"Yes, ma'am," Sube replied with emotion as he stared hard at the toe of
his shoe. "Not till I'd got my hair cut."

Mrs. McInness drew her husband aside and conversed with him in a low
tone.

"Pretty fishy--" Sube heard him mumble.

"But when a person's mind is affected ... there's no telling--" he heard
Mrs. McInness saying.

[Illustration: "LOOK HOW HE LEFT ME!"]

After a moment came the barber's bass rumble again: "That'd be rulable
if he'd been in the chair, or even in the shop waitin', but--"

This gave Sube another idea. "When my father drove me out of the house,"
he said modestly, "I did my best to satisfy him. I ran as fast as I
could to the nearest barber shop--that's Bill Grayson's. Maybe it ain't
exactly the nearest, but it's the quickest because I don't have to turn
any corners--you know I always come to your shop if I can. Well, I got
to Bill Grayson's just before six o'clock. I got in the chair and Bill
started on me with the clippers; but the minute the whistles blew, he
fired me right out of the chair and wouldn't finish the job! Why! Jus'
look here!" he cried dramatically, snatching off his cap. "Look how he
left me! I don't dare go home like this!"

The barber and his wife were astounded.

"Bill Grayson done that to you!" exclaimed Mr. McInness.

"Yes, sir, he did," replied Sube virtuously.

Mrs. McInness turned quickly to her husband. "There!" she challenged.
"He was in the chair at six o'clock and his hair was partly cut! You
said that would be rulable yourself!"

"But he wasn't in _my_ chair, or even in _my_ shop! There's somethin'
doggone' funny about this. Just as like as not Bill Grayson has fixed a
frame-up on me to get me in bad with the union. I ain't goin' to take no
chances--"

"Joe McInness!" his wife bristled defiantly, "_you_ may belong to the
union, but _I_ don't!--Give me the key to that shop! I'm going to finish
clipping that boy's hair!"

Sube was a little late for supper, but he came in with a broad
smile--broad though rather forced--and a neatly shingled head.

"Hey, everybody look at me!" he called cheerfully. "I've got the first
shingle of the season, and I paid for it with my own money, too! And,
mama, can I go to prayer meeting with Giz Tobin to-night? I'm all
dressed for it."

Mrs. Cane had gladly given her consent when Cathead threw a bomb into
the happy home circle.

"Sube wasn't at school this afternoon," he announced.

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Cane glaring at Sube. "Do you mean to say
that after all I said to you--?"

Sube had begun to shrivel under his father's relentless gaze when
Cathead interjected:

"But there _wasn't_ any school in _his_ room! So many of the kids went
to Mag Macdougall's funeral that Miss Wheeler had to dismiss the room,
didn't she, Sube?"

Sube huskily admitted that she did, while Cathead bemoaned the
misfortune of his being in another room, and Mr. Cane showed signs of
being relieved, although he was at the same time annoyed at Cathead's
forwardness



CHAPTER VI

REIMBURSEMENT


There was something of a sensation at the breakfast table next morning
when sube appeared with his best clothes on, and without waiting for
interrogation modestly explained that his school suit had been
incapacitated by his futile attempt to do the household a real service.
He had arisen early and quietly taken the rake to the attic for the
purpose of dragging the rainwater tank for the remains of an alleged
dead cat.

He had not succeeded in locating the body, but had unfortunately lost
his balance and fallen into the tank, from which he had escaped with his
life only after a terrific struggle (although the tank was not over
three feet deep), and he called Cathead to witness that he had carefully
examined Exhibit A and found it to be a thoroughly saturated and badly
polluted suit of school clothes.

"I declare!" complained Mr. Cane. "I never saw such a household as this.
No sooner do we get rid of one scourge than another is upon us.
Contaminated water is about the worst thing that can happen to a place.
There's no telling when we'll get this thing cleared up. I suppose the
plumber will be round here for the next month. I might as well make him
a present of the house!"

"Oh, well," soothed Mrs. Cane. "It might be worse. We'll miss the rain
water, of course, but we still have the city water to fall back on."

"Yes, but who wants to use that city water?" demanded Mr. Cane. "It's as
hard as a rock! It makes my hands feel chapped just to think of it."
Then turning to Sube he asked, "Didn't you find anything at all that
might have made this trouble?"

Sube appeared to be searching his memory. In reality he was searching
his imagination. Finally he replied, "No, sir; unless maybe it could of
been that little piece of fur I found in one corner."

"There!" cried Mr. Cane. "Why didn't you tell me that before? I might
have spent a hundred dollars having the plumber tear things to pieces in
search of that same little piece of fur!"

"I wasn't sure," muttered Sube. "I didn't know jus' _what_ it was."

"Not sure, eh? Well what did it look like?"

"It _looked_ like a rat," Sube fabricated.

"What did you do with it?"

"Threw it on the ash pile."

"_I_ can soon tell," declared Mr. Cane.

"But an ol' cat grabbed it and carried it away," romanced Sube.

The plumber came and scrubbed the tank, the clothes went to the cleaner,
and Sube proceeded to school hardened and set for the cruel grinding of
another day. And he was not disappointed. Miss Wheeler was very pressing
in her demands for documentary excuses for his absence of the day
before. But when Sube reached home at noon he found his father in no
proper mood to frame diplomatic communications. To be exact, Mr. Cane
was grouchy.

"I don't know what can be the matter with me," he complained as he took
his place at the head of the table. "Do I look sick?"

Mrs. Cane made a very careful examination of his face, and noted the
vigorous erectness of his body, while Sube's gaze was shifting uneasily
back and forth from one parent to the other.

"You haven't looked so well in years," she declared at length. "What's
the matter? Aren't you feeling well?"

"Never felt better in my life. Now I wonder
what's getting into everybody."

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Mrs. Cane nervously.

"Everybody seems to think I'm sick," grumbled Mr. Cane. "Why, the thing
began before I had reached my office this morning. The first person who
spoke of it was Joe McInness, the barber. He stopped me on the street
and asked very particularly how I was feeling to-day. I told him in an
off-hand way that I was never better, and he seemed to be quite
surprised. 'Why, I understood you were--were not feeling well,' he sort
of stammered out.

"I laughed at him. 'Do I look sick, Joe?' I asked.

"'No, you don't _look_ bad,' he said; 'but sometimes folks look
perfectly well physically when they ain't well at all in--in other ways.
And sometimes the worse off they are, the better they _think_ they are.'

"'Well, Joe,' I said as I started on, 'you can mark me down as sound
mentally, morally and physically.'

"He looked at me and said, 'Judge, what day's to-day?'

"'Why, this is Thursday,' I said.

"'And what day of the month is it?' he asked in the strangest way. And,
do you know, for the life of me I couldn't think what day of the month
it was. At that, the idiot shook his head and went into his barber
shop."

"That's the queerest thing I ever heard of," said Mrs. Cane. "You don't
suppose he had been drinking, do you?"

"Why, I did think so until other people began to drop into the office
and ask after my health. At first I was rather amused, and then it began
to annoy me. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that I was afflicted
with some insidious ailment that made me think I was brimming over with
good health when I was really on my last legs. And the most
incomprehensible feature of the thing was that I couldn't seem to
convince them of my soundness of limb and mind!"

"Have you been seen going into any doctor's office lately?" asked Mrs.
Cane apprehensively.

"Why, yes; I've been going to Dr. Richards' office frequently."

Sube sighed and took up the disposal of his neglected food as his father
continued.

"We've been preparing for the defense of that case of Munger against the
railroad company. You know Munger is trying to prove that his injuries
are of a permanent nature, and we are perfectly certain that he is
malingering. I'm in there once or twice every day to consult the
doctor's books. We are preparing a long hypothetical question--"

"What a town this is for talk!" exclaimed Mrs. Cane. "That's undoubtedly
where the report started."

"There or in the barber shop."

"Yes, that barber shop is a regular clearing house for news!" said Mrs.
Cane.

"Yes, it's as good as an afternoon card party," agreed her husband.
"And," he added after a moment, "I'm going to have the place
investigated this afternoon."

At this point something went wrong with Sube's throat. He began to choke
and snort most distressfully, and several severe thumps on the back from
Cathead were required to restore him to normal condition.

"Yes," Mr. Cane resumed, "I'm going to smoke that barber out. Why, the
good-for-nothing ignoramus as much as informed me that I was mentally
unsound! Asking _me_ the day of the week and month! That's what they
always ask an alleged incompetent person who is being examined as to his
sanity! The idea of that know-nothing presuming to ask _me_ such
questions as that!"

"But how are you going to 'smoke him out' as you say?" asked Mrs. Cane.

"I've got that all fixed up with Dr. Richards. He's going to go in there
and pump that barber dry!" replied Mr. Cane determinedly. "The doctor
will drop in for a shave, and he'll find out where McInness heard this
slanderous report--"

Sube was seized with another fit of coughing, and politely asked to be
excused from the table. However, his epiglottic difficulties vanished as
he caught up his cap and dashed out of the house. A few moments later he
made his appearance in the McInness barber shop.

The barber grinned at him. "Want another haircut?" he asked maliciously.

Sube gazed searchingly at the lather-smeared occupant of the chair and,
recognizing Dr. Richards' unmistakable features, realized he was too
late, and turned towards the door with a worried look.

"Lookin' for your father?" asked the barber.

"Huh?--Yes," replied Sube. "Seen 'im?"

"Not sence this mornin'," returned the barber compassionately.

And before the door had closed Sube heard the barber saying:

"Too bad about the judge, ain't it?"

[Illustration]

Desperation was written on Sube's face as he turned from the barber shop
and entered a nearby alley, where he sought to relieve his troubled
spirit by kicking an old tin pail, smashing several bottles, and stoning
a cat. But in spite of these pleasant diversions everything was going
wrong, and everybody was against him.

"Even the weather's gone back on me," he muttered as a raindrop struck
his face.

He was beginning to comprehend why some men turn outlaw. He stepped
into a shed to make up his mind whether to get wet or to be late for
school, although he knew in advance that it would never do for him to
get wet. On entering the shed he observed a threshing outfit that had
been stored for the winter. At the sight an idea began to sprout.

He turned and looked across the alley into the rear windows of Morton &
Company, General Insurance, where his eye fell on a telephone standing
on a desk not far from the back door. Whereupon the idea stepped from
his brain fully grown and ready for action.

Without a moment's hesitation he pulled his cap on securely and made a
dash for Morton's back door. It was unlocked. He opened it cautiously
and peered inside. The office was vacant. He caught up the telephone and
called for McInness's barber shop with a sharp nasal inflection that
sounded not at all like himself.

"Is Doc Richards there?" he asked nervously as soon as he heard the
barber's voice.

The barber turned from the telephone. "Are you here, Doc," he asked.

"They told me at his office he was there!" cried Sube in the strange
voice.

"He wants to know what you want," returned the barber.

"Tell 'im he's wanted at Bert Shepperd's farm jus' fast as he can get
there! There's been a awful accident! A man fell into a thrashin'
machine and was all chewed up--"

"Who is this?" demanded the barber.

"Tell 'im to hurry up or he'll be too late!" shouted Sube as he slammed
on the receiver and slipped quickly out of the door.

He proceeded to a point where he could command a view of the barber
shop, and crouching behind an ash-barrel, watched for developments.

And as he watched he gave way to mutterings of a vengeful nature. "He'll
pump Joe McInness dry, will he!--He will, hey!--An' then he'll tell my
dad all about it, will he!--Well, I'll show 'im!--He can't come that on
_me_--"

At this moment he saw Dr. Richards come hurrying out of the barber shop,
struggling into his overcoat as he came; and as he stood, buttoning it,
beside his runabout which stood at the curb, Sube heard him call to some
one who had not yet come within his range of vision.

"Want to go for a little ride?"

An instant later the person thus addressed came into view. It was
Sube's father. Sube saw him cast an inquiring glance at the sky from
which the rain was no longer falling, and then clamber into the
runabout. He could distinctly hear them laughing as they lighted cigars
and drove rapidly away.

Sube stood up and brushed the moist ashes from his clothes. It was no
use; everything was against him. He was both late and wet when he
reached school, and his brow was more clouded than the sky; but it
cleared wonderfully when a terrific downpour began shortly after he took
his seat. As the deluge continued his spirits rose in spite of the fact
that Miss Wheeler had notified him of her intention to detain him after
school in retaliation for his unexcused tardiness.

As is often the case his mental exaltation took literary form, and, a
forward pass having been fumbled, he was required to pick up from the
floor and read aloud a cryptic epistle intended for the private
consideration of Mr. Gizzard Tobin.


     Giz

     I dont wish nobody harm but I hope the rain keeps stinging down for
     therty days and therty nights
                                S C

As a result of this outburst Sube was compelled to copy the word
_thirty_ two hundred times to impress on his memory the correct way to
spell it.

Sube's father was late for supper. He was very late; and he came in
drenched to the skin. With him came Dr. Richards, also drenched.

"Where _have_ you been!" cried Mrs. Cane. "You've caught your death of
cold, I'm sure--"

"Oh, I've taken care of that!" was the doctor's cheery reply. "We
stopped in my office and took a little--preventive."

"But where have you been?" persisted she.

"Where haven't we been!" exclaimed the doctor with an irrepressible
chuckle at the innocent face of Sube. "In the first place I was in the
barber shop being shaved, when a telephone message came that a man had
been terribly injured by falling into a threshing machine out at the
Shepperd farm."

The doctor cast a sly glance at Sube, and noting the boy's complete
immersion in his magazine, winked slyly at his father and went on.

"I took Sam along with me for the ride--and it was _some_ ride! It began
to pour just after we started and the trip was simply one big mudhole
after another; and when we reached the Shepperd farm and asked about the
accident they laughed us out of the house! They wanted to know what we
expected them to be threshing in the merry month of May!"

Shouts of laughter from Mr. Cane and the doctor stopped the recital for
a time.

"Do tell the rest," urged Mrs. Cane, "so I can laugh too."

"Well," the doctor resumed, wiping his eyes, "I called up my office, and
the girl said that just about the time I started, Bill Morton's
stenographer called up and warned her to look out for a fake call she
heard somebody send in from Morton's private office."

"Oh! Who could have done such a thing!" gasped Mrs. Cane.

"Bill's stenographer didn't know who it was," replied the doctor,
watching Sube out of the corner of his eye. "He was too quick for her!
She didn't see him!"

Sube straightened up at once and for the first time appeared to take an
interest in the story.

"We had already started!" laughed the doctor uproariously. "And such a
time as we had!"

The doctor's laughter was infectious. Mr. Cane had been chuckling
throughout the account of their adventures and now Mrs. Cane was
beginning.

"The mud was a foot deep!" cried Mr. Cane, taking up the narrative,
"and we had to get out and wade around in it twice while we changed a
tire. And then to top off the adventure the engine got wet and went out
of commission and we had to give up the ship and _walk home_!!"

"But what is so funny about it?" insisted Mrs. Cane. "If I didn't know
you were both teetotalers I should certainly think you men had been
drinking."

The doctor subdued his laughter with an effort as he said: "It's Sube
I'm laughing at!"

Sube's magazine fell to the floor; he half stood up, then dropped back
into his chair stiff as a poker.

"Isn't he immense!" howled the doctor. "Isn't he delicious! That boy
will make _his_ mark in the world!"

"But what has _he_ to do with it?" asked Mrs. Cane, glancing at the
boy's open mouth and popping eyes.

"Oh--oh, nothing to do with _that_," stammered the doctor. "I was just
laughing at the way he was sitting there reading. I wanted to come in
and get a look at him!"

"A look at him?" asked she, mystified.

"Why, yes!" roared the doctor. "He's had his head shingled and I hadn't
seen him!"

As soon as the doctor had gone Mrs. Cane hurried her husband to his
room for dry clothing. Sube heard with bitterness the sound of their
suppressed laughter.

"That's right," he muttered. "Laugh at some joke of ol' Doc Richards and
then come down and whale the daylights out of me--"

He listened. They were coming down the stairs. As his mother entered the
room he noticed that there were tears in her eyes, and that the corners
of her mouth were twitching. His breath came faster as he observed his
father's determined walk.

With a visible effort Mr. Cane controlled his voice. "Sube," he said,
extending his hand in which money could be seen, "I want to reimburse
you for that haircut you got yesterday."

Sube mechanically took the money as he braced himself for the jolt that
he felt sure would follow. But his reckonings went wrong. His father
passed a friendly hand over the resistless stubble and remarked
cheerfully:

"Well, bullet-head, let's eat our supper."



CHAPTER VII

A NEW FACE


Sube had invented a new face. This was not an infrequent occurrence, but
it was usually a notable one. Within the week he had presented his
family with the "squirrel-face," the "teakettle-spout," the
"double-tongue," and one or two minor productions, so they were not
entirely unprepared to have him announce that he could make a face like
the king of beasts.

During the next few days Mrs. Cane found a lion-face staring at her from
all sorts of unexpected places, generally accompanied by a low snarl and
a bloodthirsty licking of chops. And on one occasion Mr. Cane had been
surprised into boxing the beast's ears and threatening to skin it alive
and make a rug of its pelt if it ever sprang out at him again.

Then, as suddenly as it had come, the lion-face disappeared and its
haunts knew it no more, for Sube had turned to other matters. He was
organizing a drum corps. The new enterprise was brought to the attention
of his family by a demand for a bass drum.

"A bass drum!" his father exploded with a sound not wholly unlike that
vast instrument. "What next! I de-clare, that boy beats--"

He gave up in despair.

Sube's mother had stronger nerves and was much less explosive. "What
could you possibly do with a bass drum?" she asked.

"I got to have one for my drum corpse," replied Sube with the air of a
man of affairs.

His father gave way to another explosion. "Well, there will be another
kind of corpse around here if you ever attempt to perform in this
neighborhood!" he threatened.

"Where's the drum your uncle Ned gave you?" asked his mother.

Sube glanced apprehensively at his father. This drum had been heard from
before. "It's put away," he mumbled; hastily adding, "That's a snare
drum, anyway. What we need is a bass drum!"

The mere thought of a drum was annoying to his father, who declared in a
menacing tone: "I hereby warn you that if I ever find a drum on the
premises, snare, bass, kettle or any other kind, I'll kick a hole
through it! Now don't forget that!"

"Kettle? Did you say kettle?" Sube asked eagerly. "What's a kettle
drum?"

"Never mind what it is," retorted his father. "The less you know about
drums, the better off you'll be."

"It wouldn't bother you just to have me _know_ about it, would it?" Sube
persisted.

"That's right! Stick to it!" growled his father. "I suppose I may as
well tell you. It's like a brass kettle with a drumhead over the top.
Now run along and don't bother me any more."

"But how do you play it?"

"What a question! Why, with sticks, of course!"

But Sube was not to be put off. "How many? One? Or two?" he asked as he
edged towards the door.

"Two, of course!" responded his father.

"Like a snare drum?" Sube called back as he tarried in the doorway.

Seeing that he was about to be relieved of his son's presence Mr. Cane
amplified a little. "More like two small bass drumsticks," he explained.
"Now run along and don't bother me again to-day, for I am very busy."

Sube followed his mother into the kitchen. "How'm I goin' to get a bass
drum?" he teased. "Mompsie, how'm I goin' to get--"

"Whatever put this drum business into your head?" she asked. "You know
any kind of noise affects your father!"

"We won't make any noise round here," he assured her. "Honest we won't.
But we want to march in the Decoration Day parade."

"Why don't you get up a nice little company of soldiers," suggested his
mother. "I'll fix a uniform for you, and perhaps your father would let
you carry his sword. But I will not help you to get any more drums or
other noise-making things. A nice little company of soldiers would be
just the thing; and I think your father would drill you once or twice to
show you how--"

"Dad drill _me_! I guess not! I don't want any 'nice little comp'ny of
soldiers,' anyway. I want a drum corpse!"

"You talk to the other boys about a nice little company of soldiers.
That would be just the thing!"

But Sube was not interested in soldiery. The depths of his being had
been sounded by the throb of the Henderson Martial Band. Creative
instincts had been aroused that only expression could satisfy. He
abandoned the quest of the drum and left the house. At the barn he
found Gizzard Tobin waiting for him.

"Well, what luck?" called Gizzard as Sube approached.

"Nuthin' doin'," muttered Sube. "Dad said he'd kick a hole through any
drum he caught on the premises, and my mother wouldn't do a thing for a
drum corpse. She wanted me to get up a pimply little company of
soldiers."

"Rotten," voted Gizzard. "What we goin'--"

"Say! But I got onto one good thing!" Sube suddenly recalled. "It's
another kind of a drum!"

And Gizzard learned with interest the details of the construction and
operation of the kettle drum.

"Hey!" he cried suddenly. "I know where there's a brass kettle! It's a
blinger, too!"

"Where?"

"In my gran'mother's parlor! There's a spinning-wheel and a bed-warmer
and a lot of ol' fashioned junk!"

"But she won't let you take it."

"Who's goin' to ask 'er?" sneered Gizzard. "I'll jus' sneak in there and
borrow it!"

"Aw, you don't dare!"

"I don't, don't I? Well, you jus' come on and watch me. I'll show you
whether I do or not!"

A little later a shiny brass kettle was handed out of one of Grandma
Tobin's parlor windows and was slipped into a sack, which was carelessly
slung over Sube's shoulder when Gizzard emerged from the kitchen door
with two cookies in his hand. That same day Cathead's banjo disappeared,
to be found a year later minus the head, which the mice had doubtless
devoured. But the new drum corps was still without a bass drum.

Next day, however, Gizzard brought glad tidings. "Hey!" he shouted from
afar. "I'm onto a bass drum!"

"Better get off," cautioned Sube; "you might bust it."

"I know where there is one, jus' the same!"

"Where?" Sube was in earnest now.

"My dad says Charley Burton used to have one, and it must be up in his
mother's attic now!"

Sube's face lengthened. "Gee! That's hard luck! Ol' lady Burton wouldn't
give me a crumb if I was starvin', nor you neither. She thinks we killed
that ol' cat of hers."

"Couldn't we get somebody else to ask her for it? Biscuit or somebody?"

"Who'd he tell her it was for?"

"Oh, a Sunday School entertainment or something."

"They don't use drums in Sunday School."

"Then he could tell her it was for a school doin's!"

The two boys looked at each other for a moment, then Sube turned and
darted out of the barn. "Be back in a minute!" he shouted as he started
for the house.

Presently he returned carrying under his coat an autograph album that
was one of Cathead's most cherished possessions. He ran through the
pages until he came to the signature of Professor Ingraham, the
principal of the school. At the first glance the name startled them; it
looked so much like its maker. But after a little it lost its terror and
presented nothing but pleasant possibilities.

"I don't know jus' what you think you're goin' to do with that,"
Gizzard, remarked at length.

"You see, there's lots of room above it," Sube suggested tentatively.

"'Yes, but she'd know the writin' was diff'rent," Gizzard hastened to
observe.

For a moment Sube was silent. Then he punched Gizzard jovially in the
ribs. "Not if I wrote it on the typewriter!" he cried.

Then he stuck out his stomach in imitation of a bass drum and marched
around saying:

"Boom!--Boom!--Boom! Boom! Boom!--Boom!--Boom!--Boom! Boom! Boom!"

"But who'll typewrite it?" asked Gizzard.

"I will--Boom!--Boom!--Boom! Boom! Boom!" and he brought up before
Gizzard with a flourish of his imaginary drumstick. "You watch me!"

"How can I watch you when you jus' 'boom' all the time?" asked Gizzard
peevishly.

"My mother's goin' to a party," Sube divulged presently, "and the minute
she's out of the house we'll sneak into my dad's den, and then I'll show
you if I can't typewrite on the typewriter! I'll show you! You jus'
wait!"

But as far as Gizzard was concerned Sube might as well have suggested
sneaking into a lion's den. "You don't need to show _me_," he declared.
"I'll wait right here!"

The cherished page was carefully removed from the album, and in due time
Sube disappeared into the house with it. After a long absence he came
out again bearing in his hand an envelope smeared with enough finger
prints to convict the whole underworld, but neatly addressed in
typewriting to:


  miss? $burton/

  %main 3/8-st


"There's capital letters on the dern thing," he explained, "but I
couldn't find 'em."

"She'll never know the diff," ventured Gizzard. "It's a long time since
she went to school, and I'll bet she's forgot all about 'em."

That afternoon Biscuit Westfall delivered the note; but not until he had
received the strongest kind of assurance (including a five-cent piece)
that it had been sent by Professor Ingraham, the principal of the
school. And from an ambush of shrubbery on the opposite side of the
street Sube and Gizzard watched him ascend Mrs. Burton's front porch and
ring the bell. Mrs. Burton herself opened the door. She greeted Biscuit
cordially, as she was very fond of him. His gentle, dutiful, sweetly
pious nature appealed to her. She took the letter with effusive thanks,
and learning that an answer was expected, adjusted her spectacles and
read it.


  &dear  )miss "burton/:

  7willyou kindley lend

  your son charleis basedrum to the school
  entertianment and oblige

  Yours affectionately
  D.D. Ingraham


She turned it over and glanced at the back. Then she read it a second
time.

"Did Professor Ingraham write this?" she asked with a puzzled
expression, tapping the missive with an index finger.

"Oh, yes, ma'am!" Biscuit assured her, thinking that he was speaking the
truth.

"Strange," she mused. "What can he possibly want of that old drum?"

"He wants it for the school entertainment," Biscuit explained. "There's
a rehearsal this afternoon, and he wanted me to take it to the
schoolhouse just as quick as I could get it there."

Overwhelmed by Biscuit's unmistakable sincerity Mrs. Burton invited him
to step inside and wait while she brought the drum down from the attic.
But he could not think of such a thing. His innate thoughtfulness would
not permit.

"I'm afraid my feet are too muddy," he said. "I'll wait right here."

Mrs. Burton withdrew. A few moments later the door opened and a huge
bass drum rolled out on to the porch.

"I guess it'll have to be tightened a little," she said as she
surrendered it to Biscuit. And as he staggered down the walk under his
awkward burden, she called after him, "Now you take real good care of
it, won't you, Karl?"

Biscuit assured her that he would.

In further pursuance of the supposed instructions from Professor
Ingraham, Biscuit delivered the drum at the vestibule of the schoolhouse
which, fortunately, was not far away. It was, however, removed a short
time afterwards by parties unknown, and was next found in the Canes'
barn, where it remained until Decoration Day, silent and shrouded in
mystery and horse-blankets.

The evening that it arrived there Sube besought his mother for a
grenadier's tall fur cap.

"So you have decided to have a little company of soldiers, have you?"
she asked.

"Sort of," he replied evasively.

But Mrs. Cane did not pursue the inquiry. She realized that boys love to
be secretive about the most trivial matters, and turned her attention to
the contriving of the grenadier's cap. This was finally accomplished to
Sube's satisfaction by the coiling of a long fox boa round a form of
milliner's wire. Epaulettes of gilt paper, and a pair of red flannel
stripes on his intensely civilian knickerbockers completed his uniform.



CHAPTER VIII

IN THE LION'S CAGE


All things seemed to coöperate to furnish that truly funereal aspect
without which no Decoration Day in a small town is complete.

In the first place Hon. E. Dalrymple Smythe of Rochester and Washington,
D. C., had accepted an invitation to be the orator of the day. This was
a distinct victory over Palmyra and Shortsville, which had to be content
with a mere assemblyman and a more mere district attorney--persons of
purely local reputation--while Tyre basked in the regal presence of a
personage of national fame. Colonel Smythe's voice had occupied more
newspaper space than any other east of the Mississippi River. Coughdrops
and codliver oil had been named for him. Correspondence schools featured
his method of making ANY man a convincing public speaker in thirty days
without leaving his own fireside. He was the editor of the ten volume
work, "The World's Most Flowery Orations," offered at the low
introductory price for thirty days only.

At his first word women wept; at his second, men; and at his third,
even the little children burst into uncontrollable sobbing. And Tyre was
to have the pleasure of shedding its Decoration Day tears before this
master of the lachrymal glands.

A touch of realism was added to the day's program by the funeral of
Captain Elias Roy, a past-Commander of the G. A. R. The captain had
died the week before, but the body had been held over for burial on
Memorial Day; and Colonel Smythe had kindly consented to say a few words
at the grave.

The weather fitted the occasion admirably. Gray clouds hung low
obscuring the sun and imparting a dreary chill to the atmosphere. Nature
herself seemed to have put on mourning.

As usual, it fell to the lot of Mr. Cane to entertain the guest of
honor, but as the colonel was to come in the morning and depart in the
evening this was not regarded as an onerous duty.

When the colonel stepped from the morning train in the wake of a
white-jacketed pullman porter, he was an impressive sight. His glossy
silk hat was flawless; his Prince Albert, molded after the latest whim,
showed the sought-after sweeping lines; taken altogether he resembled
rather an advertisement for ready-to-wear clothes than a fence-mending
congressman.

A citizens' committee took him nervously to its official bosom and led
him down the platform to two "hacks" the tops of which had been folded
back for the dual purpose of affording the colonel a better view of the
town, and giving the populace a better view of the colonel. Several
persons had volunteered to transport the official party around town in
their automobiles, but the committee had declined with thanks,
considering that carriages were more dignified and also more deliberate.
An automobile would have exhausted the sights of Tyre in about ten
minutes, whereas the committee was planning to devote in the
neighborhood of two hours of carriage-riding to that delightful task.
But Colonel Smythe pleaded fatigue and the necessity of reposeful
preparation for the exertions of the afternoon.

He was accordingly taken directly to the home of his host. A few moments
later he was stretched at length on the uncompromising bed in the guest
chamber, quite unmindful of Mrs. Cane's best lace bedspread, his eyes
closed, his mind at rest, his body totally relaxed. How deliciously
quiet it was! Even the birds had ceased their springtime chatter. Sleep
seemed about to overcome him when he became dimly conscious of a distant
throbbing sound.

At first it was rather soothing than otherwise, but as it became louder
it began to be annoying. It seemed to come at regular intervals.
Throb--throb--throb-throb-throb! He could no longer escape the
conviction that it was a distant drumbeat. After a little he could no
longer escape the conviction that it was not so distant. Then the piping
of fifes could be heard. No tune could be detected, but still it was not
a sound that would have been regarded as sleep-inducing.

Mr. and Mrs. Cane were nowhere about. Having the carriage at their
disposal for the day they had gone for a little drive in the country.
When they drew up before the house an hour later they were very much
surprised to see their guest striding up and down the long veranda, his
hands clasped behind his back beneath the skirts of his coat, his tall
hat on the back of his noble head, and a fat cigar in the corner of his
mouth.

"Couldn't seem to rest ... mind too active, I suppose ... thinking up a
little something to say this afternoon ... brain works best when my feet
are in motion," were a few of the fragments they caught as he strode
back and forth.

Mrs. Cane expressed mild surprise. "Couldn't sleep!" she said. "It's so
lovely and quiet--I don't see how you could fail to catch a few winks.
Our other advantages sometimes fail us, but we can always rely on peace
and quietude here in the country."

The colonel made no reply as he continued his beat. After a few rounds
he brought up before Mrs. Cane and asked irrelevantly, "Is there a band
or a drum corps in this town?"

"Oh, yes!" she assured him. "We have an excellent cornet band and a drum
corps as well."

"You'll hear them both this afternoon," Mr. Cane volunteered. "They're
sure to be in the parade."

"Where do they do their practicing?" pursued the colonel.

"Sube can tell you more about that than I can," replied the host,
turning to Sube who had just put in an appearance. "Where does the band
practice, Sube?"

"They used to practice in the barber shop, but now they're practicin' in
the town hall," Sube told him.

"Now?" asked the colonel with an unexpected show of interest.

"Oh, no. Not right _now_," replied Sube. "They only practice nights."

"Hum," said the colonel. "Where does this drum corps practice?"

"At the Henderson farm," replied Sube promptly; "that's three miles out
in the country."

"Any other musical organizations around here?" the colonel persisted.

"Sir?--No, sir," answered Sube. "But--"

"But what, my lad?" asked the colonel, noting Sube's apparent modesty.

"Nuthin'; but I was jus' wonderin'," mumbled Sube, "if you played in the
Rochester band."

As the colonel rather frigidly replied that he most distinctly did not,
Sube was nervously forced into the background by his parents, and a
moment later was as unostentatiously as possible elbowed into the house.

Two o'clock saw the whole town in the opera house. Three-thirty saw them
emerging red-eyed and melting. Three-forty saw the parade in process of
formation and nearly ready to move.

The First Division was led by the hearse containing the mortal remains
of Captain Roy, flanked on either side by an escort of G. A. R.
veterans. Immediately behind the hearse was the Silver Cornet Band; and
following close on the heels of the band were two carriages of chief
mourners. Then came in order, the G. A. R. veterans bearing their
tattered regimental colors; a carriage with Colonel Smythe, Mr. and
Mrs. Cane, and the Village President; carriages filled with Village
Trustees, Street and Sewer Commissioners, and the Committee on
Arrangements wearing fluttering decorations on their breasts; and other
prominent citizens in carriages.

The Second Division was made up of the local fire companies led by the
Henderson Drum Corps.

Every man, woman and child in the township who was able to walk was
eligible for the Third Division, and most of them were there.

While the parade was forming, Grand Marshal Richards from the back of
his trusty charger discovered far back in the crowd a martial band to
which no place had been assigned, and promptly dispatched one of his
aides to conduct them to the head of the Third Division. As the strange
band fell in line bystanders noted with interest the name on the head of
the bass drum:

[Illustration:

  CANES
  MARITAL
  BAND]

Then suddenly it dawned on them that the grenadier in charge was none
other than Sube Cane, and that the jaunty kettle-drummer was a gentleman
commonly called Gizzard Tobin. Little attention was paid to the
assistant bass-drummer, Biscuit Westfall. But he was important. He
wielded no stick, yet carried most of the weight of the drum; and he was
there from a sense of duty rather than desire. Orders alleged by Sube to
have come directly from Professor Ingraham were quite explicit. And as
the several fifers and snare-drummers had little to do with the
subsequent events of the day they shall remain nameless.

The costumes of Cane's Marital Band were military, but they were far
from uniform.

At last the procession moved. The Silver Cornet Band blared out a
funeral march several blocks long, at the termination of which the
Henderson Drum Corps gave a muffled selection that ended only when the
cemetery had been reached. As the vast multitude assembled around the
grave the Silver Cornet Band rendered _Nearer My God to Thee_ with
telling effect. And as the last sad notes died away Colonel E. Dalrymple
Smythe removed his hat and began to clear his throat.

"My friends,--" he extended his arms and looked about helplessly, as if
to create the impression that before the open grave even _his_ words
were powerless. However, it was his intention to remove that impression
a little later. As he stood thus transfixed, a hubbub started somewhere
back in the crowd. At first fitful and chaotic, it became more steady as
it gathered force, and soon settled into a regular beat.

  Pluff-a-luff--pluff-pluff
  pluff-a-luff--pluff-pluff
  pluff-a-luff--pluff-a-luff--pluff-a-luff
  pluff-PLUFF!

It was the refrain of slack drums and tin whistles. There was plenty of
noise, and plenty of rhythm, but no suspicion of a tune. For some
moments Colonel Smythe waited for order to be restored, hands still
poised in mid-air. Then he recognized the sound as the one he had
previously heard, and feeling certain that no power on earth could stop
it, he proceeded with his remarks as best he could.

Several persons motioned frantically for Grand Marshal Richards to quell
the disturbance. He nodded his head and dashed off; but he went in the
wrong direction--and the band played on.

Then Willum Edson, the leader of the Silver Cornet Band, took the law
into his own hands and rushed over to put a stop to the din. But before
he could get there Sube had brought his selection to a close, and was
conversing in a suppressed though audible tone, accompanied by violent
gesticulations, with a group of boys who had gathered round his
musicians.

"We can't play, hey!--I showed you, didn't I?--It's a fake drum corpse,
is it!--Fooled you, didn't I?"

"Yaa-a-a-ah! But they shut you up!" taunted somebody. "You dassen't play
again!"

"We dassen't, hey!"

And before the colonel was fully aware that he had the floor to himself
Cane's Marital Band had begun its second number.

Again Willum Edson made a rush for Sube's band. But Sube refused to be
cowed. No doubt he suspected the rival musician of professional
jealousy, for he swung his drumstick with a flourish that surpassed any
of his previous performances. And, pressing too close, Willum Edson
received a vigorous thump in the pit of the stomach, whereupon he
straightway lost his temper and gave the drum corps leader an angry
shove.

Sube promptly fell over a headstone, marking the resting place of
Experience, Third Wife of Carso Norton, pulling Biscuit and the bass
drum on top of him. When he had regained his feet he discovered to his
dismay a large triangular hole through the drumhead that took the MARIT
entirely out of MARITAL.

He had time for the utterance of just one angry bleat in the direction
of Willum Edson, when Nature took a hand in the conflict and let fall
one of her torrential spring downpours. A mad scramble for cover
followed.

The few who had brought umbrellas raised them, and then had to fight for
the privilege of remaining under them. Those who had come in carriages
hastened to get under the protection of the tops. The members of the
Silver Cornet Band trailed their instruments to keep them from filling
with water as they beat a hurried but organized retreat. The fire
companies in their spotless parade uniforms broke ranks and scattered.
Cane's Marital Band took refuge under a piece of canvas that had been
spread over the pile of soil thrown from the open grave, with the
exception of Sube and Biscuit, who were too much encumbered by the bass
drum to secure a place and were compelled to look for other quarters.

At the first splash of rain the colonel rescued his silk hat from a
bystander (who had attempted to protect it by putting it under his
coat) and casting dignity to the winds made a rush for his carriage. He
clambered in beside Mrs. Cane and sat helplessly in the downpour while
Mr. Cane and the Village President struggled with the ungainly top.

The driver was too much engaged with his plunging steeds to lend a hand,
but he superintended the job with superb profanity. When finally the top
had yielded to their efforts Mr. Cane, drenched and disgusted, pulled
himself into the carriage as the colonel explained:

"_That_ was the noise! The identical noise! The noise that passed under
my window and disturbed my rest! What in--What was it?"

As Mrs. Cane murmured that she hadn't the slightest idea, something in
the crowd caught her eye. It was a tall grenadier cap that had become
partly unwound and gave the appearance of having a tail. And nearby was
a large bass drum with a hole through one head. A fleeting glance and it
was gone. But a look at her husband told her that he too had seen it.

At this point the carriage became hopelessly involved in a jam of
vehicles and stopped. As it stood there the downpour moderated, and
finally settled into a gentle shower. And just before it started on
again shouts and laughter could be distinctly heard. A most unseemly
proceeding for the return from a funeral, and on Decoration Day of all
days!

Mrs. Cane leaned out and looked forward, but she could distinguish
nothing but a hooting, howling mob that seemed to be crowding round the
hearse.

At length the carriage moved; and as it caught up with the hearse she
beheld to her horror the cause of the shocking levity. Inside the hearse
was an imitation lion pacing restlessly back and forth, as it lashed its
bass drumstick tail in evident anger. There was something strangely
familiar about the beast, and especially about the tawny mane of
foxlike fur that was wrapped around its neck.

Suddenly the creature whirled about--and Mrs. Cane found herself looking
directly into one of Sube's best lion-faces. She fell back into the
cushions with a gasp. Then, perceiving that her guest was looking the
other way and had not yet seen the horrible sight, she clutched her
husband's arm.

"Drive on!" she pleaded desperately. "Drive on quickly!"

"But how can I?" he returned with a gesture of futility.

At that instant the colonel caught sight of the lion. His mouth fell
open. He drew back in surprise. Then he did something that he had not
done in years. He put aside all the care and sadness of the world; he
surrendered what little dignity the downpour had left him, and throwing
back his head, he bellowed with laughter.

A sudden shift in the jam of vehicles let the hearse move out of their
sight, but the colonel followed it with his eyes as far as he could see
it, leaning out of the carriage for one last look, and roaring and
chortling until he was weak.

By the time the carriage had reached the Cane homestead Mr. Cane was
beaming, in spite of his disheveled appearance.

"Yes, sir," he boasted, "that boy of mine is certainly a skeezix! Great
sense of humor; he can get fun out of anything--even a funeral! What do
you think of that boy of mine anyway, Colonel?"

"_Ours!_" Mrs. Cane corrected. "_Our_ boy!"



CHAPTER IX

IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMER TIME


Cane's Marital Band never formally disbanded. Except as it was dissolved
by the rain it is still legally extant. But it never assembled again
after its initial appearance in public. However, its short term of
activity furnished the town with a topic of conversation for some time
to come; and although the subject was studiously avoided in the Cane
household, it was freely discussed in the barn.

Sube was unable to explain just how he happened to get into the hearse.
He didn't know, himself. And when pressed for particulars he instantly
took the defensive.

"I guess I didn't want to get wet, did I?" he demanded.

"Wet! Say, you was soaked before you ever went near that hearse!" cried
Gizzard, who was still suffering from a slight twinge of envy.

"Well, Hi Wilbur, who was drivin' it, hollered to me to shut the doors,
and when I was shuttin' 'em I saw how nice and dry it was inside, so I
told Biscuit to bring the drum down here to the barn, and I climbed in
and slammed the doors and had a bully ride! And say! I didn't tell you
about the drum, did I?"

"No, you didn't," muttered Gizzard, as there materialized before his
eyes a sadly ruptured drumhead. "What you goin' to do about it, anyway?"

"_Goin'_ to do?--I've done it!"

"Done it! What'd you do?"

"Why, Biscuit brought the drum back here to the barn. I had all I could
do to keep him from takin' it back to ol' lady Burton jus' it was. But I
tol' 'im Mr. Ingraham wasn't through with it yet, so he left it." The
boys grinned knowingly at each other as Sube continued: "Well, I washed
the printin' off and jus' soon as it got dark I sneaked the drum up on
Burton's front porch and turned the good side up, and then I rung the
bell and ducked. I hid behind a tree and watched and pretty soon ol'
lady Burton opened the door. When she got her eye on the drum she looked
all around for somebody, and when she couldn't find anybody she took it
inside.

"The next day she come to call on my mother, and I thought she'd come to
squeal on me, and I listened at the door so's to know what to say; but
she never said a word about the drum at all!"

"She didn't!" cried Gizzard delightedly.

"Never peeped about it!" Sube assured him. "But you'd ought to heard her
rip ol' Prof Ingraham up the back!"

"What's he been doin'?" asked Gizzard.

"I don't know. I couldn't understand; but she called him all kinds of
names! She said he was underbred and ign'rant and ill-mannered and
illiterate and a lot of stuff like that, and I most b'lieve we'll have a
new principal next year!"

"Say! She'd ought to gone to school to him for a while! He's the worst
principal to chew about manners I ever saw."

"Gee! Do you s'pose vacation'll ever get here?" sighed Sube.

"It don't ack like it," replied Gizzard dubiously. "Last week was about
six months long, and there was one day of vacation at that."

"Seems to me as if time was goin' backwards," complained Sube.

But it was not. It was going forward at its regular speed. The
difficulty was that the boys' minds were outstripping it. In due time
vacation arrived, and a long happy summer stretched itself out before
them.

Mr. Cane believed in vacations. He also believed in teaching boys to be
industrious. He still harbored the old-fashioned idea that every boy
should be required to do some useful work every day of his life, Sundays
excepted. And while Sube and his brothers with their more up-to-date
point of view could see the fallacy of his position, they were unable to
reform him with any amount of argument.

As Sube seated himself at the breakfast table one morning and glanced
over his working orders for the day, a scowl came over his usually sunny
countenance.

"What's the good of callin' it a vacation if a feller has to labor all
the time?" he muttered.

Mr. Cane glanced at Sube over the top of his newspaper as he replied:
"Now we are not going to open up that old discussion again. The way you
boys take on over an hour's work around the place makes me sick! Why,
when I was your age, Sube, I was glad to work from daylight until dark
for just my board; and it wasn't any such board as you boys get,
either."

"Yes, I'll bet you were glad," growled Sube.

"Certainly I was glad," his father assured him. "In those days boys
expected to work. They weren't brought up with the idea of lolling at
ease that you boys seem to have."

"Did you work every day?" asked Cathead.

"Every day."

"Every single day?"

"Certainly."

"Didn't you ever take a day off?"

"Oh, occasionally I'd take a day off to go fishing or do a little
studying--"

"I don't s'pose they had circuses in those days," interjected Sube.

"Oh, perhaps once during the summer my father would take me to see a
good dog and animal show," explained Mr. Cane as he folded his napkin
and left the table.

"They didn't use to go in swimmin' in those days, did they?" Sube
muttered, taking care that his father did not hear.

"Or play ball?" supplemented Cathead cautiously.

"Ain't that jus' like a man?" growled Sube as the door closed behind
their father. "Give a feller a lot of work to do and not even let him
_kick_ about it!"

"What you gotta do, anyway?" asked Cathead.

"Plenty," grunted Sube; "plenty."

"Well--I cut it the last time," ventured Cathead. "It's your turn."

"Yes, but it takes about half a day to cut the ol' lawn," grumbled Sube.
"I'll bet your job won't take you half an hour. What you got to do,
anyway?"

"Me? Oh, I got to thin the beets."

"Huh!--A snap!" sneered Sube, as he turned to his brother Sim, and
asked: "What'd he give you?"

"Sproutin' p'tatoes," answered Sim.

"How many you got to do?"

"Two bushels."

"Nuthin' but a picnic," declared Sube. "I'm the only one that's got a
_real_ job!"

After breakfast Sube repaired to the barn, where he found the lawn-mower
waiting for him.

"Ha! There you are, you ol' grass-chewer, you!" he exclaimed
malevolently. "Thought you'd catch me off my guard, didn't you?--Well
this is the way I treat vill'uns like _you_!" He seized an oil can, and
thrusting it between the blades of the lawn-mower as he would have
plunged a dagger between the ribs of an enemy, he gave several vicious
squirts. "There!" he cried. "Take that!--And that!"

He drew back a pace and contemplated his enemy witheringly. "'Nuff?--Oh!
Ain't you? Ain't you, now?--Well take that, then!--And that!" He gave
another cruel thrust into the very vitals of the defenseless machine,
and then withdrew his dripping blade. "You _will_ waylay me just inside
the door of this cave, will you!--You will, will you!--I guess you won't
do that again--"

"Who you talkin' to?" came a voice at the door.

Sube jumped back, ready for another antagonist, as Cathead entered.

"Oh! It's you, is it?" asked Sube, about equally divided between relief
and confusion. "I thought it was--that it might be--that--Why, I was
jus' oilin' the machine!"

But Cathead did not press the point. He had other things in view. "Say,
Sube," he began at once, "If you think thinnin' the beets is such a snap
job, what'll you take to do 'em?"

Sube turned on his brother with a glare as he replied: "What d'you think
I am! Don't you s'pose I got enough to do for one day?"

"Oh, you got enough to do without pay; but I was goin' to pay you,"
replied Cathead evenly.

"What do you want to do to-day?" demanded Sube.

"Nuthin' much. Do you want the job, or don't you?"

"I don't know yet. What'll you gimme?"

"I'll give you a dime. And it's an awful easy way to earn a dime, too,"
asserted Cathead suavely.

"I don't care so much about the money," vapored Sube; "but I'm goin' to
be awful tired when I get through cuttin' the lawn."

"Well, if you don't care about the money, what do you care about?"
demanded Cathead.

And suddenly Sube remembered all the valuable property he had parted
with in order to get a much-needed haircut, and that Cathead had
steadfastly refused to be treated like an "uncle," but had insisted that
he had bought everything outright.

"Let's see," muttered Sube; "you still got my automatic?"

This high-sounding weapon was an antique revolver with the cylinder
missing, but it was the apple of his eye.

"Why, yes," agreed Cathead. "I'll give you that."

"And my billiard ball?" added Sube.

Cathead had very little use for this misshapen trophy of the fire in the
People's Pool Parlor, and readily included it. And one by one Sube
enumerated all the things of which he had previously been mulcted, and
they all came back to him. Then Cathead took his fish-pole and hurried
off to join Cottontop Sigsbee for a day's sport with the finny family.

A few moments later, as Sube was trundling the lawn-mower out of the
barn door he was hailed by Sim.

"What you want?" asked Sube a little bit peevishly.

"I wanta talk to you a minute," replied Sim with a nervous laugh. "You
see, I was jus' down lookin' at those p'tatoes, and, now--you
know--now--you know I had to sprout a couple of bushels--"

Sim was at a loss for the words to express the desired meaning most
effectively.

"What of it?" grunted Sube. "Are you through?"

"I should say I ain't!" cried Sim. "Why, I ain't started yet!"

"You better get busy, then," advised Sube as he started on with the
mower.

"Wait a min-ute! Can't you?" cried Sim.

"I got work to do," asserted Sube as he brought the mower to a
standstill. "If you got an'thing to say to me, make it snappy."

"That's what I'm tryin' to do," whined Sim, "if you'll only hold your
horses long enough. Now--now I got a sore hand, and now--I can't sprout
p'tatoes very good; and now--what'll you take to sprout 'em?"

Sube glanced at his brother sharply. "Where you wanta go to-day?" he
demanded.

Sim squirmed uneasily as he scrutinized the palm of his injured hand,
looking in vain for something that even remotely resembled a sore spot,
and digging diligently with his thumbnail in the hope of unearthing one.
"Nowheres much," he replied finally.

"All right then! What you yappin' about? Go on back and do your work,"
advised Sube as he made a move to proceed with the lawn-mower.

"Aw, wait a min-ute! Can't you? Give a feller a chance to say some'pm!
Can't you?"

"Well?" Sube rested on his lawn-mower expectantly.

"Now--now Ted Horner's comin' for me at ha'past nine to see--now--to see
if I can--now--can go out to their farm to spend the day."

"Well?"

"Why, now--now--I thought maybe I could get you--"

Sube opened negotiations without waiting for Sim to conclude his
statements. "What'll you gimme?" he asked.

"What'll you take?"

"Well, what'll you gimme?"

"Well, what'll you take?"

"Look here!" cried Sube with exasperation. "Ain't I got to know what you
pay before I can go to work for you?"

"Yes, and ain't I got to know what you charge 'fore I can hire you?"
returned Sim feebly.

"Huh!" snorted Sube as he made a feint to go on with the lawn-mower.

Sim came to time. "Give you a dime," he offered magnanimously.

Without deigning to reply Sube started on with the mower. He had cut
twice across the lawn before Sim appeared at the corner of the house.

"Hey, Sube! Give you fifteen!" he called.

"Nuthin' doin'," returned Sube as he went about his work with renewed
vigor.

He had two more strips to his credit when Sim stayed his progress with
an offer of twenty cents.

"I don't work for less'n a quarter," Sube announced loftily as he
resumed his work.

"Hold on a minute! Can't you!" yelled Sim with unconcealed exasperation.
And as Sube halted in a position from which he could begin activities
again with very little effort, Sim continued more affably: "I only got
twenty cents! I can't give you any more than I got, can I?"

"You had a quarter a couple of days ago," charged Sube with an air of
suspicion. "What'd you do with the other nickel?"

"Spent it."

"What for?"

"Some new rubbers for my slingshot."

"Oh, that'll be all right!"

"_What_ will?"

"I'll take the twenty cents and the slingshot. Bring 'em to me before
you start."

And the lawn-mower moved on with just a little more noise and a little
more speed than before.



CHAPTER X

HIS DAY


The handle of a slingshot protruded from Sube's hip-pocket, and money
jingled as he walked a few minutes later when Gizzard Tobin, Biscuit
Westfall and Stucky Richards swooped down on him as he humbly toiled.
The new-comers had their tennis racquets, and Biscuit was resplendent in
a new pair of white knickerbockers.

Sube fixed a disdainful glance on the snowy trousers, instantly
recalling Nancy Guilford's partiality for such raiment, as he inquired,
"What you all dolled up for?"

"Comp'ny," responded Biscuit cheerfully. "We got a missionary visitin'
to our house. But say, see what I got!"

Sube raised his eyes to the speaker's hand and beheld a tennis ball with
the unaccustomed advantage of a cover. "Where'd you get it?" he asked
listlessly.

"Miss Carruthers give it to me. It's only 'bout a year or two old! Ain't
it a peach! Hurry up and get the lawn done and then we'll have some
doubles."

Sube pointed to Biscuit's shoes. "You can't play with those heels on,
you know."

"Well, I can go barefoot, can't I?"

"Not if 'mama' knows it," twitted Sube with an offensive nasal accent on
the mama, as he grasped the handle of the lawn-mower and resumed his
task while his callers disappeared in the direction of the tennis court.

After a few moments Biscuit reappeared on a run, minus his shoes and
stockings. "Hey, Sube!" he yelled. "The net ain't up! Where'll I find
it?"

"I'll tend to that," growled Sube. "You go on back to the court."

And he abandoned the lawn-mower and went into the house. After a long
wait he emerged from the back door and started towards the court. He did
not turn back when Biscuit reminded him that he had forgotten the net,
but proceeded silently to the nearest net post, to which he pinned a
sheet of paper. Then he returned to his work on the lawn.

Three mystified boys scrambled to their feet and hurried over to examine
the paper. It read.

  GrOunD RuLeS
  ALL tHe WOrK On tHe pLACe MuSt
  Be FiniSHied BeFOre tHe teNiS
  Nett iS Put uP.

  By OrDOR COmm

[Illustration]

"Now what does he mean by that?" asked Biscuit.

"He means they can't nobody play on this here court till his work is
done," interpreted Gizzard.

"Well, you don't catch me doin' any of his work!" cried Stucky. "I got
enough of my own!"

"Me neither--" began Biscuit, when Gizzard interrupted.

"Listen here!" he shouted. "Quit your beefin' and listen here a minute!
I got a scheme!"

"If it's a scheme for us to do his work you needn't tell it!" returned
Biscuit. "I've done more work this mornin' than he does in a week--"

But Gizzard brushed him ungently aside. "Dry up! Dry up! Cut out the
noise and listen a minute! Three people can't play any decent tennis! We
gotta have _four_ if we want to play the game! It wouldn't take us five
minutes to clean up his work--and it's his court, anyway!"

Biscuit yielded ungraciously. He grumbled all the way to the front lawn,
and then suddenly became embued with enthusiasm, and took upon himself
the honor of informing Sube that they were at his service.

Sube was apparently not expecting anything of the sort. "Do you fellows
mean that you're go'n' to help me with my work?" he asked incredulously.

"Sure thing!" cried Biscuit cheerfully. "You don't s'pose we want to be
playin' tennis out there while you're workin', do you? And besides, the
court belongs to you!"

"Say!--You're good scouts, all right!" Sube exclaimed with unguarded
admiration.

"What-all you got t'do?" inquired Gizzard.

"Well, you give this ol' mower a few shoves, Giz, and I'll show the
other fellers what to do," responded Sube genially.

Gizzard seized the handles of the lawn-mower and assiduously applied
himself to the task of depilating the lawn, while Stucky retired to the
garden and began on hands and knees to thin the blushing beets to five
inches, putting the thinnings into a basket for greens.

Biscuit followed Sube about whining repeatedly:

"What am _I_ go'n'ta do? Sube, what am _I_ go'n'ta do?"

"I don't know as you _can_ do the only job that's left," Sube taunted
with a triumphant gleam at the immaculate knickerbockers. "It's pretty
pa'tic'lar work."

"I'll bet y'u I can do it! What is it?" cried the unsuspecting Biscuit.
"Show it to me! I'll eat it alive!"

"Did you ever sprout any potatoes?" inquired Sube as he led the way to
the cellar.

"No; but I'll bet y'u I can do it!"

"Well, we'll see about that," was Sube's dubious-sounding answer as he
guided Biscuit towards the potato bin.

"Gee, but it's dark in here," whined Biscuit.

Sube stopped short. "Look here!" he warned. "If it's too dark for you
down here in this cool cellar, you go on outdoors, and I'll do these
p'tates myself--or let one of the other fellers do 'em."

"Oh, no!" Biscuit hastened to assure him. "It ain't dark at all any
more. It jus' seemed so at first. I can see _fine_ now."

"Well, all right then," muttered Sube. "But if you're goin' to back out,
I want to know it 'fore you begin."

"No, sir! I ain't go'n'ta back out," Biscuit asserted resolutely.

Sube picked up a potato from which several long white sprouts were
dangling. "You jus' give 'em a simple twist of the wrist," he explained
coördinating the action with the words, "and there you are!" He held up
the beardless tuber for Biscuit's inspection. "Now, do you s'pose you
can do that?" he asked.

"Of course I can," Biscuit replied disdainfully. "It's jus' like wipin'
dishes; and I've wiped my mother's dishes ever since I was big enough
to walk!"

This burst of confidence was destined to come back to plague Biscuit,
although at the time of its utterance Sube appeared not to have heard
it.

"Let's see you do a few," was all he said.

Biscuit was a little awkward, but he managed to denude a large potato of
its foliage and handed it to Sube for approval. Sube examined it very
carefully.

"That's pretty fair," he admitted; "but you must clean 'em off good.
Chuck 'em in there," he added as he tossed the potato into a bushel
basket.

"How many you got to do?" inquired Biscuit, plunging briskly into his
task.

"Six bushels," replied Sube, with anticipation of the day when he would
be called upon to sprout potatoes on his own account. "And when the
basket's full dump it over there in the corner. As soon as you get the
six bushels done you come out and help Stucky with the beets. It's awful
hot out there in the sun." And Sube withdrew, leaving Biscuit in sole
possession of the musty cellar.

On returning to the lawn Sube found Gizzard busy with the clippers.
"What! Got her all cut!" he cried delightedly.

"You bet y'u!" replied Gizzard. "And I'm pretty near through with the
clippin', too."

"Well, I'll put the ol' mower away and stick up the net. Chuck the
clippers in the barn as you go by. Dad always gets sore if we don't put
the tools away."

He had just finished stretching the net when Stucky walked out on the
court.

"You're not done already!" beamed Sube.

"You _know_ it!" was Stucky's self-important reply.

"What did you do with the greens?"

"Give 'em to Annie."

"Stucky, you're a brick church!"

"Where's Biscuit?" asked Gizzard who at that moment came panting up.

"Down cellar sproutin' p'tates," replied Sube. "But I had him leave the
new ball outside. I was afraid he'd get it dirty."

"Wisht he'd hurry up," said Stucky. "We wanta get to playin'. Don't you
s'pose he's done?"

"Oh, I wouldn't want to bother him right in the middle of a bushel,"
Sube remonstrated. "Let's have a little three-hander while we're
waitin'. I'll stand the two of you."

The little three-hander had become almost a set, and, strange to say,
Biscuit had been entirely forgotten when his mother, accompanied by a
slight, sallow gentleman in a black suit, drew up by the side of the
street in a surrey from the livery.

"Boys!" she called.

The game stopped. There was momentary confusion among the players. Sube
slipped the new ball into his pocket and carelessly kicked his sweater
over a pair of shoes and stockings lying beside the court, before he
appeared to be able to locate the speaker. When at last his eyes
encountered Mrs. Westfall's, he snatched off his cap with elaborate
gusto and sang out politely:

"Good morning, M's Westfall! Did you call us?"

"Yes," she replied sharply. "Where's Karl?"

"Ma'am?"

"Is Karl here?"

"Oh! No, ma'am."

"I gave him permission to come here and play tennis!" she cried with
visible irritation. "Hasn't he been here?"

"No, ma'am. We ain't seen him this mornin'."

Mrs. Westfall was annoyed. "He's going driving with us!" she informed
them. "Do you know where he is?"

"No, ma'am! He hasn't been around here!"

At that moment a movement at the rear of the house and in the immediate
neighborhood of the cellar door caught Mrs. Westfall's eye. An animated
mass of dirt and potato sprouts that might by some stretch of the
imagination have been taken for a human being, emerged and paused to
regard itself. For a moment it brushed desperately at the place where
trousers might have been expected to hang had it been a male member of
the human family. A cloud of stifling dust arose; and out of the midst
of the cloud came a wail of distress that Mrs. Westfall recognized as
the voice of her missing son.

Her astonishment gave way to annoyance, quickly followed by a surge of
red anger. She handed the reins to her escort and leaped from the surrey
with the agility of a tigress.

Sube involuntarily fell back a few steps muttering: "Why! That must be
him! I wonder where he's been!"

But he need have no fear, for this was his day. He was immune from
disaster of any kind. The enraged woman rushed past him, and seizing
Biscuit by the nape of the neck, hauled him over her knee and repeatedly
applied to his person a large red hand, utterly regardless of the
nebulous masses of dust that arose at each stroke.

At first Biscuit put up a terrified resistance, attempting desperately
to get a hearing for his plea of justification; but when the blows began
to rain down on him he gave himself up to such solace as the human voice
affords.

He cried; then he bawled; and as the chastisement proceeded he bellowed
lustily. It was not so much the physical pain, nor the anguish of
outraged innocence, although he felt both keenly, as it was the burning
disgrace of being chastised in the presence of his fellows.

But his lamentations had little effect on his mother. She ceased her
ministrations only when her strength was spent.

"There!" she gasped with her final blow. "You--dirty--boy!!--Look at
your bare feet!"

Biscuit looked at them. They were indeed bare, and very, very dirty.

"You know you are forbidden to go barefooted!" she charged with a
gesture that seemed to indicate that she contemplated a renewal of the
assault. "And look at your beautiful new trousers! They're _ruined_!!"

Biscuit glanced down at them, at the same time keeping up a defensive
blubbering.

"You deceived me!" she continued the arraignment. "You told me you
wanted to come here and play tennis!--And you never came near
here!--When I stop for you I find the other boys playing like little
gentlemen, while you are off by yourself getting into--Goodness knows
what!--Go home, you dirty boy, as fast as ever you can get there! I'll
finish with you in private!"

The thing was beyond Biscuit; it was too much for him. The harm was
done. It was too late for explanations. He made no attempt to reply, but
limped, still blubbering, in the direction of his shoes, the coarse turf
torturing his tender feet.

Mrs. Westfall followed menacingly at a little distance with further
animadversions, when suddenly she remembered her guest, whose presence
she had entirely overlooked in the stress of her emotions. She did not
doubt that he was looking on with mortification and horror; and,
accordingly, with such moderation of her angry voice as she could
command, she added:

"Go home, you wicked boy, and pray to God to forgive you."

As the Westfall family withdrew, practical Sube whispered to his
companions, "If Biscuit's on to his job he'll put on an extra pair of
pants before he does any prayin'."



CHAPTER XI

A FLYER IN CATS


Fate gave indications of having designed Sube for a business career, and
although he tried to keep out of the clutches of trade during vacation
he was not entirely successful.

When, one morning, Mr. Gizzard Tobin, always Sube's friend and often his
well-wisher, found Sube seated on the bottom of an upturned pail in his
father's barn laboriously endeavoring to cut in two with a pair of lawn
clippers a perfectly good tennis net, his modest inquiry as to Sube's
purpose in so doing was met with the response that it was for "luc'ative
bus'ness."

Regarding this explanation as somewhat indefinite he asked, "What
bus'ness?"

"I told you it's for bus'ness," Sube informed him rather stiffly, and
then recalling a phrase with which Annie had crushed the iceman a few
moments before, he added, "But that is neither here nor there."

Gizzard was susceptible to high-sounding phrases, and he was
accordingly impressed; but having nothing equally lofty in his own
vocabulary he attempted no reply.

Sube snipped on in silence until the net dropped on the floor in two
pieces. Then he tossed aside the clippers, and catching up the smaller
piece of net spread it out before him very much as a tailor displays a
handsome panting, and announced:

"Now we're ready for bus'ness."

"Bus'ness!" sneered Gizzard. "Bus'ness! I'd like to know what bus'ness
uses a ol' piece of tennis net."

"Lots of bus'nesses uses nets," replied Sube with an air of superiority;
"but that is neither here nor there."

At this second flight Gizzard began to feel that he was seriously
handicapped by his lack of education. But he struggled as best he could
against the overwhelming odds by asking rather peevishly:

"What bus'nesses uses nets? Name one!"

"Fishermen use nets; but that is neither here nor there. I'll tell you
another--"

"I'm goin' home," muttered Gizzard, beginning to feel that he was
entirely outclassed.

"Don't you want to be in the new bus'ness?" asked Sube in astonishment.

"Not unless I know what it is," murmured Gizzard as he tarried in the
doorway.

"Why, it's catchin' wild animals!" shouted Sube in his enthusiasm.
"We'll tangle 'em up in the net so's they can't get away and then we'll
shut 'em up in cages and sell 'em!"

"That ain't a bus'ness," growled Gizzard sullenly; "it's nuthin' but a
game."

"No, it ain't a game!" Sube insisted. "I tell you it's a reg'lar
bus'ness, and there's money in it!"

But Gizzard had been the victim of bitter experience. "If you mean the
trappin' bus'ness," he said, "there's nuthin' in it! I've trapped, and I
_know_!"

"Trappin' bus'ness? Now who said an'thing about the trappin' bus'ness? I
don't mean the trappin' bus'ness at all! I mean the bus'ness of catchin'
stray cats!"

"But you said there was money in it," returned Gizzard with a trace of
disappointment. "Who'd be fool enough to pay for stray cats?"

"P'fessor Silver would!" declared Sube jubilantly.

"Who's P'fessor Silver?"

"He's the ol' guy that's stayin' at M's Rude's. Wears those big round
goggles--you know! Always sneakin' up on bugs and lookin' at 'em
through a magnifyin'-glass."

"What's _he_ p'fessor of?"

"Hobart College!"

"And he'll pay for ol' cats?"

"You're right he will! Fif-ty cents apiece!"

"_Fif-ty_ cents apiece? Aw, what'd he want of ol' cats enough to pay
fif-ty cents for 'em?"

"That is neither here nor there," declared Sube, "so long as he does pay
for 'em."

"S'pose that ol' net'd hold a cat?" questioned Gizzard.

"Would it hold a cat? Would it? Say, boy, that net'd hold a elephant!
But that is neither here nor there, 'cause all we--"

But Sube did not finish what he started to say because of a peculiar
interruption. For Gizzard, feeling that drastic action was necessary to
offset Sube's continued use of his lofty new phrase, walked over and
dealt the net a vicious kick. His foot caught in its tricky meshes and a
quick jerk on Sube's part did the rest. In another instant Gizzard found
himself prostrate on the floor with Sube standing over him yelling:

"You're a tiger or an elephant or some'pm and I'm a native tryin' to
capture you!"

The proposition did not appeal to Gizzard, and he made an attempt to
rise, but Sube easily tripped him again. Several subsequent attempts met
the same fate. Then Gizzard, bellowing with rage, started in to kick the
net to pieces. This he found to be a difficult task. The more he kicked,
the more tangled he became, and the more angry he got. But he did not
give up the struggle until he was wound up into a very fair semblance of
a mummy.

Meanwhile Sube had been hopping about his victim, shouting orders to a
couple of imaginary helpers called Sambo and Rastus, and pulling or
throwing the net where it would do the most good. He thoroughly enjoyed
the contest and warmly congratulated his catch at its termination.

"You certainly put up an elegant fight, Giz!" he exclaimed. "You'd make
a bully tiger! And now I'll know what to do when I get a fierce ol'
tomcat in there!"

But Gizzard was in no mood for compliments. "Let me up now," was all
that he replied.

When the smoke of battle had cleared away a co-partnership was formed.
The terms were quickly arranged on a fifty-fifty basis; but the more
important matter of selecting a name required some little time and a
great deal of discussion.

"Why not call it Tobin & Cane Cat Company?" suggested Gizzard with his
customary modesty.

Sube shook his head. "That wouldn't do, 'cause we might want to catch
other wild animals besides cats," he explained.

"What other wild animals? I'd like to know."

"Oh, any wild animals that happened to come prowlin' around."

"Name some of 'em," Gizzard persisted.

"Woodchucks, foxes,--skunks--"

"Say," interrupted Gizzard, "you can have my share of all the skunks you
catch in that net! But I won't help you. You couldn't fool the p'fessor
on a skunk, anyway! He'd jus' get out his little magnifyin'-glass and
hold it over a skunk for about a minute-- And besides--"

"All right," Sube agreed; "we won't catch any skunks if you don't want
to. But we could! And hey! I got a name!"

"What?"

"Let's call it Cane & Tobin--Big Game!"

And although Gizzard felt that the euphonic effect of Tobin & Cane would
have been an improvement, he acquiesced.

The new concern opened for business at once, and within half an hour had
made its first capture. The hunters were stealing cautiously past a
neighbor's garden, carrying the net between them, when Sport, Sube's
dog, chased a large tiger cat out from between the rows of corn and
directly into the net. The boys did little except to drop the net and
keep out of reach of the snarling, spitting, clawing beast until it had
become involved beyond possibility of escape.

Carefully carrying the net on two sticks, they bore their prey to their
place of business, where they made ready for his accommodation a cage
that had once housed a thriving family of rabbits. Before attempting to
incarcerate him, however, they formally christened him Gyp the Blood.

Gyp had not occupied the net for any great length of time, but he had
become very much attached to it, and vigorously resisted all efforts to
deprive him of its clinging comfort. Force and strategy were tried in
vain. Then Sube suggested the use of hypnotism.

"You see," he explained, "if I could charm 'im like they do snakes, he'd
be as gentle as a little rabbit, and I could untangle 'im from that net
as easy as unrollin' a piece of paper."

"Snake charmin' is all right if it works; but if it don't work, you get
killed! Go to it, if you can do it! Say, how do you charm a thing,
anyway?"

"That's easy. You jus' look 'em in the eye and kinda whistle a little
tune, and keep on lookin' 'em in the eye and gettin' closer and closer,
and pretty soon without their knowin' what you're doin' at all--why,
they're all charmed! But if they get on that you're charmin' 'em!
Wow!--Then look out!"

Gizzard was greatly interested in the occult art. "How can you tell when
you're done?" he asked eagerly.

[Illustration]

"I'll show you!" Sube bent over Gyp the Blood and gazed steadily into
the brightly gleaming eyes. Meanwhile he had begun to whistle a little
tune strangely reminiscent of the Streets of Cairo. But Gyp the Blood
did not easily succumb to hypnotic suggestion. He continued to growl
peevishly and lashed the floor with the loose end of his tail. Closer
and closer bent Sube. The growling diminished. Then it ceased
altogether. The distance between the eyes of the boy and the eyes of the
cat became a matter of inches. Then there was a terrific snarl!

Sube fell over on his back howling with pain and holding both hands to
his nose.

"It's jus' like charmin' snakes," remarked Gizzard as he struggled to
control his laughter. "It's all right if it works!" Then, catching sight
of Sube's nose, he exclaimed, "Gee! He handed you a good one on the
nose! Hurt much?"

"No, not much," Sube prevaricated, for he considered the admission of
pain unethical for all save girls and cry-babies. "But I know how to do
it now!"

"How to hypnotize 'im?"

"Don't get cute, now! No; how to get him out of that net. We'll put 'im
in the cage net and all, and then while you hammer on the box and poke
'im with a stick I'll hook the net with a piece of wire and yank like
Holy Moses!"

And it was done. And in less than two hours from the time of his
capture, Gyp the Blood was safe behind the bars. But his fiery spirit
was far from subdued. His eyes glowed as fiercely as before, and his
blasphemous growling was none the less continual.

During the afternoon two more victims were brought in, and the Big Game
establishment of Cane & Tobin began to sound like something. The
necessity of a commissary department was also discovered. Plates and
saucers were easy enough to purloin, but very hard to fill three times a
day.

On account of the lack of confidence usually displayed by parents in the
mercantile ventures of their sons, most of the youthful business of our
country is run on the basis of a shady enterprise. The catching of cats
for the market proved to be no exception to this rule. The strictest
possible secrecy was maintained. It is therefore not unreasonable to
assume that the commissariat obtained its supplies elsewhere than from
the homes of the partners. It was at this particular time that Elder
Woodruff's Jersey cow was guilty of an unaccountable shrinkage in milk;
and as foraging in the enemy's country is held to be permissible in time
of extremity, perhaps-- But there was no proof.

Business was good; and by closing time on Wednesday the firm had in
stock ten high-grade, hand-picked stray cats. But Thursday passed
without a haul. Likewise Friday morning. The conclusion that the stray
cat had become extinct was more than once hinted at. And, while no
formal campaign against the pet cat was inaugurated, Sube returned from
lunch bearing in his arms a hirsute beauty that might easily have
claimed descent from the Shah of Persia. A short time afterwards Gizzard
carelessly sauntered in with an Angora kitten.

Sube's offering, which was large and portly, instantly reminded Gizzard
of Mrs. Rude's Snowdrop; but he reflected that all white cats look more
or less alike and refrained from making any mention of the likeness. He
also neglected to say that he had found his contribution on the walk in
front of Nancy Guilford's house. He reasoned that cats do not ordinarily
play around in the street in front of their owner's homes. He had heard
that somebody had given Nancy a kitten, but reports are likely to be
exaggerated. And while Gizzard had always suspected that there was
something between Sube and Nancy, it came to him now with compelling
force that he had never been _told_ anything about it; and perhaps he
understood that mere inferences are not regarded as the best evidence by
the authorities.

And when partners begin to keep things from each other the breakers are
usually not far away.



CHAPTER XII

THE FUGITIVES


Saturday passed quietly. No captures were made, no prospects sighted.
But on Sunday Gizzard began to hear things. Certain inquisitive boys in
his Sunday School class interrogated him as to the progress of the new
business, and were especially curious to know what disposition was to be
made of the captives. Gizzard dismissed them as prying ninnies, and more
than thrice denied the existence of the enterprise.

After Sunday School Sube proceeded homeward a few laggard steps, when
his attention was arrested by a most unusual anthill in a crack near the
center of the sidewalk. He paused to investigate it, for he was greatly
interested in ants, especially on Sunday. On several prior occasions he
had pointed out to other naturalists, notably Nancy Guilford, certain
peculiarities he had observed in the industrious insects. Pleasant
discussions had been almost sure to follow. But to-day something was
amiss. Nancy swept by without so much as a glance at the young
naturalist. His first impulse was to call out to her, but the peculiar
way she had brushed aside her skirts as she passed him counseled
silence. So he pretended that he had not noticed her, and for several
minutes confined his attention to the anthill. Then he crossed the
street and passed along the other side utterly oblivious of all the
world.

These things had not escaped Gizzard's observation, but he said in his
heart, "It means nothing. It is the way of woman." However, on the
morrow when he heard Nancy shout across the street to a companion that
Sube Cane had stolen her new kitten and that her father was going to
have him arrested, they took on a new and horrible significance.

He was irresistibly drawn to Cane's barn, where he found Sube peacefully
seated among his yowling charges.

"Oh! You're still here, are you?" Gizzard asked nervously.

"Sure. Where'd you think I'd be?"

"Well, I didn't know. You can never tell! A feller never knows what's
goin' to happen to 'im!" was the cryptic response.

Sube looked at Gizzard with a new found interest. "Say, what's the
matter of you? You're as white as a sheet!"

"I ain't feelin' very good," Gizzard admitted. "I feel kind o' weak
right here." He placed a hand over his stomach as he added, "Guess I'd
better be goin' home."

"Better not!" cautioned Sube. "Your mother'll give you a dose of castor
oil!"

"No she won't," muttered Gizzard weakly. "I'm goin' anyhow."

"Seen any strays to-day?" Sube called after him as he went out of the
door.

"Nope. S'long!"

"S'long!"

Twice that afternoon Gizzard returned, and each time went away
complaining of weakness in his middle. Why he did not tell Sube what he
had heard can never be explained, for Gizzard did not know himself.
Perhaps he did not wish to have his partner unduly alarmed by rumors
that might turn out to be false. But when he came rushing into the barn
after supper, he told what had been on his mind, without further delay.

"Hey, Sube!" he cried in a tremulous voice. "You gotta get out of here!
He jus' went in your house lookin' for you!"

He caught Sube by the arm and dragged him towards the door.

"What I got to get out for?" asked the amazed cat-catcher.

"Dan Lan-non!" enunciated the terrified informant. "He's goin'ta _'rest_
you!"

At the name of this grim officer of the law all felons trembled. Sube
was no exception to the rule. He grew deathly pale. He had that empty
feeling in his interior that Gizzard had complained of. He vaguely
wondered what crime he had committed, but did not stop to inquire, as
Gizzard dragged him feverishly towards the back door of the barn. Once
outside he seemed to recover possession of his senses and assumed the
lead. He conducted Gizzard to the midst of a clump of blackberry bushes
in the rear of a deserted house not far away, and there Gizzard
unburdened his soul.

Sube was scared. He was petrified. But he was faithful to the last. He
could not believe that Nancy had betrayed him.

"It must of been that ol' M's Rude," he kept repeating. "It _must_ of
been! It couldn't of been--anybody else! Now I wonder if that big cat
with the long hair belonged to her."

"Wonder? Ain't you _sure_?"

"Why, it looked like hers, but--"

"It wasn't M's Rude," declared Gizzard. "It was Nancy Guilford! Why,
didn't she say she was goin' to have you--!"

"Girls _say_ lots of things they don't mean."

"Yes, but she said it, and then it happened!"

"I don't care what she _said_! I tell you it was that ol' M's Rude!"
Sube burst out angrily. Then modifying his tone he continued: "But that
don't cut any ice anyway! What I want to know is, what we goin' to do?"

Then followed a long discussion of the possibilities, and, as neither of
the fugitives was willing to be taken alive, there seemed to be only one
alternative: flight. Alaska was discarded as too cold, and South America
as too hot. That portion of Texas nearest to the Mexican line seemed to
offer the most tempting prospects for a "career," and Sube had begun to
take a bit of grim comfort in the pangs that he felt sure Nancy Guilford
must endure as she came to realize that she had made a desperado of him,
when an idea flashed into his brain with the brilliancy of a
searchlight.

"Say!" he gasped. "Why couldn't we sneak back there and let the derned
ol' cats out! Then we'd lay low till they had time to get back to their
homes--!"

"You're on!" cried Gizzard.

They made their way out of their retreat, unmindful of the scratching
thorns, and cautiously retraced their steps to the barn.

"I never heard 'em so quiet before," whispered Sube. "S'pose they're all
asleep?"

"Prob'ly," replied Gizzard. "It must be awful late."

They lighted a stump of a candle that had been hidden away for just such
emergencies, and ascended the dusty stairs. Horror seized them as they
found their place of business in wildest disorder, with the cages upset
and broken open and every cat gone. Through the flickering gloom they
stared at each other dumbfounded, bewildered; their last faint glimmer
of hope gone.

"Where do you s'pose--" faltered Gizzard, but he was unable to say more.

"Dan must've got 'em for proof!" groaned Sube.

"What'll we _ever_ do!" snivelled Gizzard.

"Now I s'pose we _got_ to beat it!" replied Sube in a voice husky with
emotion.

A long hoarse whistle startled them.

"A freight train!" cried Sube. "If it stops, we'll jump it!"

They tumbled down the stairs, blew out the candle, and restoring it to
its hiding place, started on a run for the railroad station some three
blocks away. As they passed under an electric light on the corner they
heard a shout behind them; but instead of stopping to investigate they
put on more speed. After a little Gizzard looked back and caught a
glimpse of their pursuer.

"It's Dan Lannon all right!" he panted. "And he's after us!"

The fugitives pressed forward to the very limit of their speed. Suddenly
with a roar and a rumble the freight train pulled into the station and
came to a stop, effectively blocking the street along which they were
going. To clamber aboard at that point was not to be thought of, for an
electric light at the crossing made the entire neighborhood as light as
day. A flank movement was inevitable.

Sube dashed to the right, calling to Gizzard to follow. But Gizzard had
already started towards the left. By the time the boys discovered their
mistake the enemy was already threatening their lines of communication;
and so they were separated.

Gizzard skirted the rear end of the freight train and went directly
home, where he was sent to bed and no questions asked. But Sube cut in
between two houses, fell over a flower bed, caught his chin on a
clothesline, tore his pants on a barbed-wire fence, and skinned his knee
against a woodpile. Then he found himself in his own back yard with no
place to go. He tarried in the dark shadows recovering his wind and
feeling, no doubt, quite like the prodigal son. But he did not tarry
long. There were too many mysterious sounds on all sides to suit him. He
must go somewhere. Only one place presented itself; so he clambered up a
post of the back porch, and slipping through the window was soon cuddled
up spoon-fashion to his sleeping brother, Cathead.

And there his mother found him an hour later, sound asleep. She called
his father. "Look in the bed," she said. "Here we've been worrying about
Sube and all the time he was right where he belonged. He must have come
in while you were talking to Mr. Lannon."

"That's very likely," his father agreed; "but I wonder what he's been up
to. I'm always suspicious of Sube when he does anything he ought to."

"Don't you think you'd better call up Mr. Lannon and tell him that Sube
has come home? He might go all around looking for him."

"Don't you worry about Dan Lannon! He won't bother himself to look for
anybody unless he has received his mileage in advance. I didn't ask him
to look for Sube, anyway; I simply told him to send the boy home if he
happened to see him."

When Sube woke up the bright sunlight was streaming in the window. He
was inclined to believe that the whole affair had been a nightmare. But
a lump on his knee and a ragged rent in his trousers seemed to indicate
that parts of it, at least, were real. It was soon apparent that Cathead
knew nothing of his brother's criminal offense, for immediately on
waking up he asked:

"Where were you so late last night?"

"Nowheres much. Just round here everyplace."

"Who was with you?"

"Giz."

"Jus' the two of you?"

"Yes, the two of us! Say, what you think this is? A game of truth?"

"You better go to bed earlier," replied Cathead, "if it makes you so
dern' cross to stay up late."

"Boys!" called their mother from the foot of the stairs. "Breakfast is
ready! Come right down!"

When Sube reached the breakfast table and observed that his father had
already gone he breathed a sigh of relief. Then it struck him that it
might be an unfavorable sign. To his guilty conscience everything seemed
suspicious. He glanced furtively at his mother and was not reassured.
Something about her reminded him of the way she looked the day she took
him to the dentist to have a tooth pulled.

"I didn't hear you come in last night, Sube," she remarked at length.

Sube started. "Ma'am?" he said defensively; then it occurred to him that
he did not care to have the question repeated, and he added quickly,
"No, ma'am."

"You must have come in while Mr. Lannon was here."

Sube swallowed hard. "Yes, ma'am," he almost whispered.

"Nobody heard you come in. When you slip in so quietly you ought to let
me know. There's no telling how long Mr. Lannon may have hunted for
you--"

The telephone rang. Mrs. Cane answered. It was Mr. Cane inquiring
whether the carpenter had come to do some work on the barn. Sube heard
his mother say:

"Yes, he's here now."

A moment later he heard her say in a low tone: "No, I won't let him get
away before you come--"

Sube did not wait to hear more. He quietly rose from his chair and
slipped out of the front door. The back door would have been better, but
it was directly in line with his mother's vision. As he leaped down the
front steps he found himself face to face with Mrs. Rude, and before he
could begin the retreat he instantly planned she opened fire on him.

"Good morning, Sube!" she called pleasantly. "I've found my kittie! She
came back last night!"

Out of a whirling brain Sube tried to direct a suitable reply. The best
he could do was:

"Yes'm."

For a moment his burden seemed to slip from him. Mrs. Rude wasn't after
him at all! But when it began to dawn on him that it must have been
Nancy after all who had put the police on his trail, his last state was
worse than his first. His senses were paralyzed. He became deaf, dumb
and blind. A young lady passing along the street found it necessary to
speak to him twice before she was able to attract his attention.

At the second "Hello, Sube!" he turned, outrage written on every
feature. But Nancy seemed to concede to him the right to be peevish, for
she spoke again even more sweetly than before.

"See what _I've_ got!"

[Illustration]

And for the first time Sube saw in her arms a fluffy mass of white fur
adorned by a huge pink bow.

It was her kitten!

Again Sube had the empty feeling; but this time it was, no doubt,
because he had slighted his breakfast. Nancy passed on. And as he stood
gazing after her he was dimly conscious of the stopping of an
automobile; but he did not turn his eyes. He was too much engrossed in
loving or hating; he didn't know which.

"Good morning, young man!"

Sube reluctantly turned his gaze to the speaker. It was Professor
Silver--the one person in all the world (next to Dan Lannon) that Sube
did not care to see. As the desperate boy battled with the temptation to
turn and run, the professor began aggressively:

"Now, young man, I had an opportunity to motor to Geneva last evening
with a friend of mine; and when I found there was plenty of room, I
thought it an excellent opportunity to deliver the cats you had on hand.
I was unable to find you about, so I took the liberty of appropriating
some gunnysacks that were hanging in the barn."

Sube tried to speak, but before he was able to produce an intelligible
sound, the professor began again.

"Now, young man, there were two of those cats that I could not use on
account of their long fur. Persian cats are of absolutely no use to our
biological department. So I let the two go. That leaves ten
merchantable cats to be accounted for at fifty cents a head." He held
out to Sube a five dollar bill as he added: "I trust this will be
satisfactory, young man. I want to be perfectly fair; but I do not feel
that I should be required to pay for something that I could not use."

Sube gazed at the banknote in his hand and wondered if he was in the
midst of another dream as he gulped out something that the professor
took to be an acceptance of his offer, and retired. Sube was still
gazing at the banknote when Cathead came out of the house.

"Oh, where'd you get that!" cried Cathead as he spied the greenback.

The sound of Cathead's voice brought Sube back to his senses. He folded
up the bill with a pleasant crackling sound and thrust it into his
pocket, and turning to Cathead said loftily:

"I owe a feller two dollars and a half; but that is neither here nor
there. Want to go 'long and see me pay it to him?"



CHAPTER XIII

THE EVER-GLORIOUS FOURTH


Probably the longest period of time that a boy is capable of
comprehending is that which drags itself out between one Fourth of July
and the next. From Christmas to Christmas is not nearly so long. This is
a question that modern calendar makers should investigate, as Julius
Cæsar seems to have overlooked it.

But in spite of everything the Fourth of July was actually approaching.
It was only days away. Sube viewed the advent of the festival with more
than ordinary equanimity. He still had two dollars left from the flyer
in cats, and the authorities had apparently relaxed their efforts to get
him. His continued passing of Dan Lannon on the other side of the street
was simply the survival of an inborn prejudice against the conservators
of law and order. It couldn't have been timidity.

As far as Sube and Gizzard were concerned, the customary pre-holiday
rush for remunerative employment was a thing of the past. They lolled
luxuriantly in the shade while the other boys were picking neighborhood
cherries, manicuring the lawns and doing what they were pleased to call
"odd jobs."

"What's the use killin' ourselves workin'?" Sube asked Gizzard one day
as they lazily passed a ball back and forth in a listless game of catch.
"Of course," he added in the bored tone of the idle rich, "if I didn't
have money, I s'pose I'd get busy, too. I always like to give the
ever-glorious Fourth a good send-off."

At the term "ever-glorious" Gizzard's hand was poised in air. He was
tempted to put Sube out of his misery on the spot; but a natural
repugnance to the destruction of human life stayed the stroke, and he
returned the ball without intent to kill, albeit a little faster than
Sube regarded as entirely necessary.

"Ouch!" cried Sube as the ball stung his bare hand. "Say! What you think
you're playin'? Stinger? I'll show you that two can play at that game!"

He returned the ball with a vengeance.

Gizzard stepped aside and let it pass. "If you're goin' to sling that
hot stuff you can chase it yourself," he muttered sullenly as he threw
himself down on the grass.

"Me chase it!" howled Sube angrily. "Well, I won't! You didn't try to
stop it at all!"

"I'm glad it ain't _my_ ball," remarked Gizzard with an affected lack of
interest.

"It don't make any diff whose ball it is!" Sube glowered over his
reclining chum. "You'll go and get that ball or I'll--"

"Hi, fellers! I've earned twenty cents already this morning!" came a
voice from behind them.

This was from Biscuit Westfall, who had just emerged from the parsonage
tugging a long set of quilting-frames.

"Throw in that ball, will you, Biscuit?" called Gizzard pleasantly.
"It's right by the big elm tree."

Biscuit laid down his burden and complied with the request. Cordial
relations were instantly restored.

"Gee! But there's go'n'ta be an ever-glorious bonfire to-night," Sube
observed. "The kids have got two sheds back of the Gibson Block jus'
cram-full of boxes and barrels--"

"Yes, but there ain't go'n'ta be no bells rung!" was Gizzard's
discouraging interjection.

"Why not, ain't there?" demanded Sube.

"'Cause there ain't!"

"Why not? I'd like to know!"

"'Cause the board of trustees won't let us ring the firebell, and all
the churches have put their solid-ivories together and agreed not to
let their bells be rung! That's why not!"

"Aw, come off!" sneered Sube.

"I guess I know what's in the paper! Don't you read the _Citizen_?"

"Now what do you know about that!" exclaimed Sube disgustedly. "Ain't
that a nice way to celebrate the ever-glorious Fourth!"

"I call it _rotten_!" replied Gizzard feelingly; but it is safe to say
that his feelings were aroused more by Sube's continued repetition of
his new phrase, than disappointment over the modified form of welcome to
the festal day prescribed by certain unpatriotic grown-ups who seemed to
have forgotten that they once were young.

The neither-here-nor-there expression still rankled in Gizzard's memory,
and now Sube was adding vinegar to the wound. But Gizzard realized the
importance of keeping his feelings to himself. He knew that greater
misery would be his lot if Sube ever found out how he felt about it.

"Rotten's no name for it," agreed Sube, scowling. "I guess those ol'
guys have forgot how we signed that Declaration of Independence from
Germany--"

"Germany!" howled Gizzard derisively. "You said Germany! Why, it wasn't
Germany at all! It was _France_!"

"France nothin'! I tell you it was Germany!"

"Look here! They was red-coats, now wasn't they?"

"Yes, but the France soldiers wear red _pants_! Don't you know the diff
between pants and coats! Ha-ha! Can't tell the diff between pants and
coats!"

"Can, too! Can, too! Can, too! C-a-n,--t-o-o!" bawled Gizzard. "And,
anyhow, I knew more'n you did about ringin' the bells! You didn't know
nuthin' about it till I told you!"

"Yes, but I know a pair of pants from a--" Sube stopped short as an idea
came to him. "Say!" he began eagerly, "what's to hinder our sneakin' up
in the Prespaterian steeple and ringin' their ol' bell for em!"

Gizzard shook his head. "Nothin' doin'," he replied promptly. "The paper
says there's goin' to be a watchman at every church in town."

Sube's face relapsed into a scowl. "Did it say who?" he asked
half-heartedly.

"Jus' the sextant."

A look of great joy broke over Sube's countenance. "Ol' Hank Morley!" he
cried. "Why, he's blind in one eye and can't hardly see out of the
other! And he's so feeble he couldn't catch a louse!"

"But how could we get in?" asked Gizzard dubiously.

Sube glanced about for eavesdroppers as he whispered softly, "Cellar
window! They been puttin' in coal for next winter and they've left the
window out."

"Yes, but how could we--"

"Sneak in this afternoon after the last load of coal goes in, and climb
up in the ol' steeple and wait there till they touch off the bonfire,
and then we'll give that ol' bell the most ever-glorious ringin' it ever
got!"

The details were soon arranged. Sube would invite Gizzard to his house
for supper and to spend the night, and Gizzard would, in turn, invite
Sube to his house for supper and lodging, and then! Nothing could be
simpler.

A few moments later Sube was fingering his cap in the presence of Mrs.
Tobin and bashfully requesting that Gizzard be permitted to accept the
hospitality of the Cane household until the following morning.

"Why, it will be all right for Charley to take supper with you, Sube,
but what about the bonfire to-night? I never allow Charley to be out so
late alone, and his uncle Bert was going to take him to see it. He
stopped in here a few minutes ago and said he'd come for Charley at
about eleven."

Sube swallowed once or twice, and then managed to say, "Oh, that's all
right! My mother won't let me go alone, either--"

"But who will go with you?" Mrs. Tobin persisted.

"Why,--why, my father's going with us!"

Mrs. Tobin was mildly astonished. "Your _father_?" she asked.

"Oh, yes'm! My father's crazy about fires! He's stuck on bonfires! But
he likes every kind of fires. He always goes to fires, even in the
middle of the night! He wouldn't miss one for anything! He says a big
bonfire is the noblest way to celebrate the ever-glorious Fourth, and
he's never missed a single one since we signed the Declaration of
Independence from the Germans!"

Sube glanced triumphantly at Gizzard while Mrs. Tobin was busy with her
thoughts. She was a little uncertain whether Sube had misquoted his
father or recent discoveries had upset some more of our traditional
history. What the boy had said, sounded like his father, certainly; and
she decided to read up her history a bit before attempting to correct
him. But while thinking the matter over she busied herself by wrapping
up a package containing a toothbrush and certain other nocturnal
necessities for her son, and reminding him to wash behind his ears and
put on a clean collar before he went.

"It was that there hist'ry that put it acrost," Gizzard admitted as he
and Sube passed out of the house. "It must of been the Germans."

"Why I knew all the time it was the Germans! Don't you s'pose I know the
hist'ry of the country I live in? Now you be sure you call it the
Germans when you go in and spout before _my_ mother."

"Me?--_Me_ spout before _your_ mother?"

"Yes, _you_! Didn't I spout 'fore _your_ mother?"

"Yes, Sube, but I ain't a very good spouter. I get too dumb scairt!"

"Now don't back out on me, Giz!" pleaded Sube, "I got you off, didn't I?
Well, then, you gotta get me off! Now I'll tell you what to do. You tell
her about your uncle Bert first pop, and then she won't have any excuse
to say no!"

"I will if I can remember it," mumbled Gizzard. "I get so scairt I can't
remember nothin'."

Not long afterwards The People _ex rel_ Cane and Tobin against The
Society for the Prevention of Unnecessary Noises, came on for hearing
before Mrs. Justice Cane sitting at Special Term. The argument was
opened on behalf of the relators by Mr. Gizzard Tobin. The speaker's
voice which at first was very low and uncertain, gathered speed and
volume as it proceeded, and finally ended in perfect fury of words.

"My--my mother--she wants to--to know can Sube come over to my
house--for supper to-night--and she wants to know can he stay all night
with me to-night till eleven o'clock--and then she'll call us and wake
us up so's my uncle Bert he can come and get us and take us to see the
bonfire--he likes bonfires, he likes every kind of fires, he always goes
to fires in the night, he's gone to fires ever since the Germans set
fire to the Declaration-ofinna-pen'ance--"

Gizzard's finish was not unlike the explosion of a cannon-cracker after
the proper amount of sizzling at the fuse.

"What is it you are saying, Charley?" gasped Mrs. Cane.

Gizzard turned hopelessly to his co-petitioner. "You tell 'er, Sube."

"I'm invited to his house for supper and to stay all night," Sube
interpreted calmly.

"But what about the Germans setting fire to the Declaration of
Independence?"

"You didn't understand him, he talked so fast. His uncle Bert's dead
stuck on bonfires--"

"Dead stuck?"

"He likes 'em," Sube corrected, "and he wants us to go to bed early, and
then he'll call us a little before midnight, and take us up to see the
bonfire for a little while, and then take us back home again."

"That isn't a good place for boys," ruled Mrs. Cane dubiously. "There's
a very rough element at those bonfires. What does your mother think
about it, Charley? Is she going to--"

"Sure she is! Isn't she, Giz?" interrupted Sube with great enthusiasm.

"Yes, ma'am," mumbled Gizzard unconvincingly.

"That's what he was tryin' to tell you," Sube enlarged. "She likes to
celebrate the ever-glorious Fourth, and she says she's never missed a
bonfire since we signed the Declaration of Independence from the
Germans!"

"If that's the case," said Mrs. Cane with a visible effort to retain
control of herself, "I'll have to let you go--"

"Whoo-oo-pee-ee! Hoo-oo-ray!" and Sube bounded out of the house with
Gizzard at his heels. "Three rousing cheers for the ever-glorious
Fourth!"

And they were gone.



CHAPTER XIV

THE GHOSTS


The boys experienced little difficulty in gaining entrance to the church
through the cellar window, and noiselessly made their way to the
gallery, from which they ascended a frail ladder leading to a hatchway
in the ceiling. On raising the scuttle, Sube, who up to this time had
maintained a somewhat aggressive lead, suddenly remembered his manners.

"Why, here, Giz," he said in a self-deprecatory tone, "here I been
crowdin' ahead all the time. I'll bet you'd like to go first part of the
way." And he nimbly descended the ladder and stepped to one side.

But Gizzard, too, had observed the pitchy darkness ahead. He, also, had
felt the draft of hot stuffy air that rushed out at the opening of the
hatchway. "I'm follerin' all right, ain't I?" he demanded with equal
courtesy.

"Yes, but I don't want--"

"Well, go on, then!"

He caught Sube by the shoulder and gave him a forceful but friendly
shove towards the ladder. Sube placed a tentative foot on the bottom
rung and then turned back most considerately.

"But I don't want to hog the lead all the time," he explained
courteously.

However, Gizzard was not to be outdone in politeness. He urged Sube
forward with the most elegant sort of gruffness. "Get up that there
ladder!" he ordered. "I'm right on your heels!"

Sube submitted to the inevitable and took the lead. Once in the loft he
was able to discern another ladder. At the top of this was a third. Then
followed several more. At last came another hatchway that opened into
the blessed daylight, and the bell chamber itself. The boys were amazed
at the size of the bell.

"It's bigger'n all outdoors with the lawn around it!" exclaimed Gizzard
with an expression akin to awe. "S'pose we can ever ring it? If we can't
we might as well be gettin' out of here."

"'Course we can ring it," was Sube's withering response; but at the same
time he made a mental reservation.

"I s'pose we could swing that dinger back and forth if we couldn't do
nothin' else," Gizzard admitted resignedly.

On concluding their examination of the bell they discovered that they
were very high up in the air. The location of various points of interest
occupied them for perhaps half an hour, and then time began to drag. It
seemed a lifetime before darkness came, and meanwhile, the shouts of
boys playing ball in a vacant lot not far away floated up to them with
peculiar distinctness; and an outraged feeling in the place where the
stomach was supposed to be, reminded them that supper-time had passed
and they had failed to perform the customary epicurean exercises.

Gizzard was inclined to complain. He could think of lots of other things
that would have been more fun. But Sube realized that it was too late to
back out, and he bolstered up his ebbing courage by talking of the glory
of achievement.

"Won't the other kids open their eyes, though, when they hear this ol'
bell go boom--boo-oo-oo-oom! And won't they sit up and beg when they
find out we're the ones who pulled it off!"

But Gizzard would not be comforted. "That's all right," he admitted,
"only I wisht I was home in the pantry with a big bowl of bread and milk
in front of me, and a piece of--"

"Yes, and how'd you like to have all the kids callin' you 'Quitter' and
tellin' you to go play with Biscuit Westfall?"

"You don't think I'm goin' to quit now, do you?" muttered Gizzard
peevishly. "Can't I talk about some'pm to eat without goin' home to get
it? Cer'nly I can!"

"Well, don't let's talk about it, anyway," was Sube's conciliatory
reply. "I'm hungry enough as it is--"

At this point a family of bats that lived far up in the steeple decided
to go out in search of their evening meal. For a few moments the air was
literally filled with flapping wings. The youthful bellringers nearly
died of fright before they discovered the cause of the mysterious
noises.

By the time that they had recovered from this shock, the floor had begun
to feel very much harder, and after a little they decided to lie down
and rest their heads on the mysterious bundles they had brought with
them. Suddenly Gizzard sat up with a jerk.

"Say!" he gasped. "Now we _are_ up against it!"

"Up against what?" asked Sube languidly.

"We dassent ring that bell!" Gizzard exclaimed in a tone of subdued
alarm.

"Why not! I'd like to know!" demanded Sube, rising quickly to a sitting
posture.

"With ol' Hank Morley waitin' right at the bottom of the ladder when we
come down!"

Sube collapsed. "Gosh! I didn't think about that."

"The minute we begun to ring that bell," Gizzard enlarged, "he'd duck
right to the bottom of the ladder, and he'd wait there for us if we
stayed up here a week!" After a moment he added hoarsely, "Prob'ly
they'd starve us out!--Or else send Dan Lannon up after us!"

"Well," Sube responded weakly, "we can't get out _now_! We got to wait
till ol' Hank goes home--"

"Yes, and we'll miss the bonfire!" whined Gizzard. "You got me into a
_nice_ pickle this time!"

"Well, why didn't you think of it before?" was Sube's feeble defense.

"Why didn't _you_ think of it when you was thinkin' of the rest?"
returned Gizzard. Then contriving a particularly cruel thrust he added
maliciously: "This'll be a _nice_ way to celebrate the ever-glorious
Fourth!"

If Gizzard could have seen Sube's face he would have felt repaid for his
efforts; but darkness prevented, and the depths of Sube's chagrin were
never known.

"I'm layin' down now," was all he said.

Then Gizzard stabbed again. "This'll be a ever-glorious place to see
that ever-glorious bonfire," he taunted.

"I wonder if those bats'll be comin' back pretty quick," Sube ventured
by way of a chastened response.

"Well, if one of the ever-glorious little cusses ever comes flappin'
round _me_, I'll knock his ever-glorious brains out!" threatened Gizzard
as he settled back on his comfortless pillow.

Sube made no reply. But as long as Gizzard was able to keep his eyes
open he babbled of things ever-glorious. It was not long, however,
before they both slept. And below them, stretched at full length on a
pew in the church, Hank Morley also slept.

Midnight approached. A mammoth bonfire was laid in the street at the
bank corner. Butch Bosworth and Dick Bissell took a turn past the
Baptist Church and, observing the sexton on guard before the door,
passed on. At the Presbyterian Church they found the coast apparently
clear. The porch was vacant, and there was no light to be seen inside.
They were not long in locating the open cellar-window, through which
they crawled and stealthily made their way to the gallery. And as the
town clock began the stroke of twelve the Presbyterian church-bell set
up such a pealing and clanging as it had never before been heard to
utter.

In the nave of the church Hank Morley awoke with a start. He leaped to
his feet and rushed to a small closet near the foot of the single
stairway leading to the gallery, and, opening the door, caught up a
lighted lantern. As he went clumping up the gallery stairs, the tumult
in the steeple suddenly ceased. Two dark figures slunk from the vicinity
of the bellrope and took refuge beneath the pews.

"Hands up!" ordered Hank, taking his stand at the head of the stairs and
leveling a shining object at the marauders.

Two pairs of dirty hands went up instantly.

"Come out of there or I'll shoot!" cried Hank.

Butch and Dick rose up and stood cowering before him. Hank raised his
lantern and scrutinized their guilty faces with his one good eye.

"I know ye both!" he announced at length. "Now march down that pair o'
stairs and wait for me at the bottom. No boltin', or I'll shoot!"

On reaching the foot of the stairs Hank stepped over to the front door,
and lowering his shining weapon, stuck it into the keyhole and unlocked
the door.

"Breakin' into a place what's locked, is _burglary_!" he told them
crabbedly. "Did ye know that?"

The boys' answer, if indeed they made any, was swallowed up by the
tumultuous booming of the church bell, which began at that moment with
the unexpectedness of a thunderclap.

"What! Didn't I get all of ye?" cried Hank, starting for the stairs.

But there was no answer, for before Hank had taken two steps Butch and
Dick were gone.

The same stroke of the bell that had brought Henry Morley out of his
slumbers, had startled the two boys in the bell chamber almost out of
their wits. For some moments they clung to each other in terror, not
comprehending where they were or what was happening. That they were on
the brink of destruction, neither one doubted. In such close quarters
the vibration and reverberation were terrific. The sound was much more
like the roar of a cannon than the joyful pealing of a church bell.

Gradually the situation dawned on them, but they dared not move for fear
of being struck by the swinging bell. However, the moment the clamor
ceased--which it soon did--Sube scrambled to his feet, and giving
Gizzard a healthy prod with his foot, he cried:

"It was a fake! An ever-glorious fake, what you read in the paper!"

"I guess it was, all right," muttered Gizzard as he got up and began to
investigate the condition of his eardrums by poking a finger into each
ear. "It must of been!"

By the light of the bonfire which now was shining through the
window-slats they could see that the bell was still swinging back and
forth, but in too small an arc to cause the clapper to strike.

"They must of got tired!" cried Sube. "See! They're tryin' to ring it
and can't. Let's jump onto the wheel and help 'em!"

"All right!" was Gizzard's prompt response.

"Now I'll jump on this side, and you jump on that side!" shouted Sube.
"We'll work it like a see-saw!"

As they rocked, the bell gathered momentum, and presently began to peal
with the regularity of a clock. This was kept up for fully five minutes
before they dropped off thoroughly exhausted.

"Woof!--Poof!--Woofoo-oo-oo!" puffed Sube. "Wonder who it was down
below. Some of the kids prob'ly, or they wouldn't of got tired so
quick."

"Whee-ee-ee-ew!" blew Gizzard. "Hot work!"

"Hey! I got a scheme!" Sube announced gleefully. "Let's put on our
pajamas and scare those kids when we come down!"

Gizzard was not averse to this form of amusement, but he still clung to
the old-fashioned nightgown.

"Better yet!" cried Sube. "That'll look more like a spook than my
pajamas will! Pile into it!"

So, clad in their night-clothes they began to feel their way down the
series of ladders in the inky-black steeple. Somehow they managed to
reach the hatchway leading down into the gallery, and Sube, who was in
the lead, was groping for the top of the ladder when Gizzard felt him
suddenly recoil.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Oh, Lordy!" gasped Sube as he drew back into the loft.

Gizzard was alarmed. "What's the matter?" he repeated. "What is it?"

"Ol' Hank Morley--" was all Sube could say.

"Maybe it's all right," said Gizzard reassuringly. "He rung it himself,
didn't he! Try it! Go on down!"

"I can't! He took the ladder away!"

As Gizzard sank back weakly, voices were heard in the gallery below.

"How many is there?" asked a hoarse grating voice that they both
recognized as Elder Jones's.

"They's a number of 'em all right," replied the sexton. "Look at how
they ringed that bell! I can't ring it like that myself, and I been
practicin' on it for nigh thirty year! They must be half a dozen of 'em,
at least!"

"Well, they can't get down till we put the ladder back; but you better
wait here and watch for 'em while I step over to my house and 'phone for
an officer. I won't be gone long."

And Elder Jones tramped out with a very determined tread emphasized at
each alternate step by an equally determined rap from his cane.

Hank Morley sat down on the top step of the gallery stairs, his trusty
lantern beside him. From his coat pocket he produced a fragrant Missouri
meerschaum, and although smoking was strictly forbidden in the church,
he felt that he was entitled to certain indulgences, and accordingly
filled and lighted it. He had taken only a few puffs when he heard a
noise behind him and glanced casually back over his shoulder. Instantly
the glance became a stare that was far from casual, for, floating in
mid-air between the floor and the ceiling he beheld two white figures
that sailed back and forth gracefully and seemed to have no difficulty
in navigating the thin air.

[Illustration: HE BEHELD TWO WHITE FIGURES]

Hank did not wait to take a second look. He had seen enough. Why tarry?
With one frantic bound he cleared the stairs. With another he crossed
the vestibule, and with a third he reached the middle of the street. A
few moments later he was in Hennessey & O'Brien's saloon calling
hoarsely for alcoholic aid.

"Say, ol' Hank's got a fine start for the Fourth," the barkeep murmured
confidentially to his employer a few moments later. "When a feller
begins to see ghosts, it's time to cut it out."

True to his word Elder Jones returned to the church only a short time
after he had left it, and although he found the lighted lantern at the
head of the gallery stairs the sexton had gone. The elder was still
awaiting his return when the two officers arrived.

And, as Gizzard had expected, Dan Lannon was one of them.

The ladder was replaced and a thorough search of the steeple was made,
but they were unable to find any traces of the culprits save a small
size toothbrush that was found in the bell chamber.

"Why don't you cut a hole for this bellrope?" asked Dan Lannon as he
attempted to replace the scuttle and found the rope hanging through the
hatchway.

"There is a hole over to your left, there, about six feet," replied the
elder. "Those little rascals must have pulled it out when they was up
above there. But what I'd like to know is, how'd they ever git out of
that there steeple!"

"They might have slid down the rope," suggested Dan.

"Never!" cried the elder. "Never! Not with Henry Morley watchin' right
here in plain sight! But I reckon that somethin' happened here while I
was gone! Must have or Henry wouldn't have quit his post! Probably he's
out chasin' 'em now! Wait till we hear from Henry--wait till we hear
from Henry."

The elder went home with menacing mutterings and noisy cane-rappings on
the sidewalk; but the officers were more fortunate. They met Henry
Morley on the street within fifteen minutes after they left the elder.
Henry was in a very communicative mood, but the officers considered
that he was more illuminated than illuminating.

"I most believe ol' Hank rung that there bell himself," allowed Dan
Lannon. "I don't know as I ever saw him so lit up before."

"Likely he did," replied his brother sleuth. "More'n likely he did. When
a feller gets so that he's seein' sperits floatin' round in the air,
he's likely to ring anything."

Next morning when Henry Morley tendered his resignation and went to live
with his daughter on a farm in the country, the officers felt that their
deductions of the evening before had been amply verified.

But among those whose opinion really amounted to anything Sube and
Gizzard were heroes.



CHAPTER XV

BISCUIT LEARNS TO SWIM


Biscuit Westfall's mother was a prudent woman; she had laid down the law
that Biscuit could not go in swimming until after he had learned to
swim. But when Biscuit tried to explain this to his friends, he
succeeded only in raising a shout of tantalizing laughter. And although
Biscuit knew that it was wicked to allow his angry passions to arise, he
seemed to be unable to control them. To stoop to the inelegant, the
ridicule "got his goat."

"You ack like a lot of boneheads!" he burst out finally. "What's the
matter of you, anyway?"

No words were said in reply, but the tantalizing laughter increased in
volume.

"Go on, laugh!" he cried angrily. "And when you get through, laugh some
more. What do _I_ care?"

Another outburst was the only response.

"What do I care how much you fools laugh?" he sneered, when once more he
could make himself heard.

At this his tormenters began to roll about on the grass apparently quite
helpless, and Biscuit, thoroughly disgusted, started for home.

"Hey, Biscuit!" Sube called after him teasingly. "Don't go home mad!
Come on down 'in'; and we'll teach you how to swim on the way down!"

But Biscuit did not so much as glance back.

"Learnin' to swim 'fore he could go in the water!" howled Gizzard
derisively.

"That'd be like learnin' to eat without grub," suggested Sube as the
party moved off in the direction of the swimming-hole.

When Biscuit walked into the house a few minutes afterwards, he came
upon his mother in conversation with a tall young man, who, had he lived
up to his teeth, would have been prominent.

"Yes, madam," the caller was saying, "we have added a number of new
courses to our curriculum and are now in a position to offer to the
world, I might say, universal knowledge. We now cover, I might say, the
entire field of human endeavor.

"Take for example the ordinary day of life. It begins the instant one is
out of bed in the morning. First, take our morning exercises. They come
in our excellent course in _Physical Culture and Muscle-building_, with
full directions how to increase your weight a pound a day"--he glanced
at Mrs. Westfall and observing her ample figure, added--"also, I might
say, how to reduce your weight to any desired figure.

"Next in order would come our course in _The Bath; How to Give or Take
One_. After that would come our fashionable course, _Dress; What to Wear
and When_. Follow this with our complete course in _Domestic Science and
Home Economy_, which, I might say, contains a menu for three meals a day
for three hundred and sixty-five days, or a full year. When the
breakfast is prepared and on the table, our course in _Etiquette and
Table Manners, the Science of Good Form_. This teaches one what to do
when at the table; how to eat rare and unusual food; which fork to use;
disposing of the discard; what to say, and many other difficult
questions that are wont to arise at the table.

"Then comes the broad field of the day's work. Our courses cover, I
might say, every known profession or employment from A to et cetera;
from _Accounting to Zebra Raising_. For the evening a large number of
courses will be found available. _Billiards, How to Become a Cue
Expert_; _Bowling_, _Boxing_; _How to Train for the Ring_; _Dancing,
Tango Taught in Ten Lessons_--"

Mrs. Westfall began to show signs of distress, and the young man
instantly changed his method of attack.

"Madam," he said suddenly, "what is your hobby? What are you most
interested in?"

"Why--why missionary work, I think," she stammered.

"Ha! I have just the thing! _How to Become a Missionary, Home or
Foreign_. This is a most illuminating course, madam. Listen to some of
the chapter headings: How to Approach a Heathen, Outwitting the
Cannibals, Three Methods of Destroying Idols, How to Prove to a Savage
That he is Naked, Junk from Missionary Societies--What to Do With it,
101 Ways to Raise Missionary Funds, etc., etc."

"Or, we have a very fine course in _Philanthropy--the Science of
Giving_. This course contains a lecture by Carnegie, one by Hettie
Green, one by William Jennings Bryan, one by Jess Willard--no, that's
another course--"

"That's interesting; very interesting, but--"

"Then perhaps I could interest this manly little fellow in something.
The Inter-State Correspondence Schools make a specialty of the interests
of boys, I might say. Are you interested in athletics, my lad?
Baseball? Boxing? Broad-jumping? Football? Sailing? Swimming?--"

[Illustration]

Biscuit's interest was at once apparent.

"Plain and fancy swimming and diving, surfboarding, how to dodge the
breakers, how to cheat the undertow, rescue and resuscitation--can you
swim, my lad?"

"No, sir, but I wisht I could."

"We have a very fine course in swimming, madam. We positively guarantee
to teach swimming in ten lessons or money refunded. All the latest
strokes: overhand, trudgeon, crawl, shoulder-stroke--"

"No, not to-day," interrupted Mrs. Westfall. "It's too dangerous. I
don't want my boy going into the water."

"Aw, mama, let me learn to swim!" whined Biscuit. "I'm the only boy in
town that can't swim!"

"Karl! Be still! It's too dangerous!"

"Pardon me, madam, but it is no more dangerous than playing the piano!
By our up-to-date system the student is taught to swim without so much
as touching the tip of his finger to the water!"

"A lot of expensive apparatus, I suppose."

"No apparatus whatever! We teach it in the home! Only the smooth top of
a kitchen table is required. Individual instruction by mail. And bear in
mind that our iron-bound guarantee goes with every course. Money back if
not satisfactory."

"How much does it cost?" she asked weakly.

"A mere trifle, madam, when we consider that it may be the means of
saving this little fellow's life!"

He laid a blank on the table and produced a fountain pen.

"But the expense?" insisted Mrs. Westfall as she saw him filling out the
blank.

"Not enough for a person in your circumstances to consider-- Sign
there."

She took the pen and poised it uncertainly over the dotted line. "Before
I sign this I ought to know--"

"A mere trifle--sign there--an inconsequential nothing--on the dotted
line, please--two dollars--"

She signed her name.

"Two dollars a lesson, with our iron-bound guarantee. Thank you, madam!
Many thanks! Keep the duplicate for your own reference. And I am leaving
you a complete catalogue of our courses. You may be interested in
something else later on. And now I will wish you--"

And thus it happened that Biscuit Westfall learned to swim.

Undoubtedly the proudest moment of his whole life was the one when he
received his diploma from the Inter-State Correspondence School. To the
unprejudiced eye this diploma looked more like the document that is
drawn forth from the spy's boot in the war melodrama, than the sheepskin
of a scholastic institution. It was decorated with stars and garters,
wafers and lozenges; but to Biscuit's unsophisticated gaze it was quite
the most important document since the Declaration of Independence.

If Biscuit had worked hard, so had his mother. She had taken a peculiar
interest in demonstrating the truth of her oft-repeated assertion that
one may learn to swim before going into the water.

She replaced without complaint the oilcloth on the kitchen table which
had gone to pieces under Biscuit's efforts to master the scissors-kick.
She sewed on in silence the numerous buttons that came off. She darned
without comment the knees of many stockings that gave way before the
edge of the table. And she paid with unaccustomed cheerfulness the cost
of each lesson as it arrived. Whether Biscuit or his mother was prouder
of the diploma when it came, would have been hard to tell.

The swimming lessons remained a dead secret until the course was
completed and the diploma actually in the hands of the graduate. On one
or two occasions Biscuit had been unable to suppress the intelligence
that he knew something he wasn't going to tell, but as nobody had
pressed him for particulars, the news came as a distinct surprise. And
it was divulged on the same day that the diploma was received.

When the usual swim was proposed, instead of starting dolefully for home
as had been his wont, Biscuit slapped the proponent on the back and
cried:

"All right! I'm with you!"

"Huh?" asked Sube with a blank stare.

"Uh-huh, me! Why not?"

"Your mother gone away?"

"No, course she ain't!"

"Maybe you've learned to swim on dry land!" taunted Sube.

"I sure have!" replied Biscuit with a lofty swagger. "I can swim
better'n any you fellers. I can do the trudgeon and the crawl and the
scissors and--"

A howl of derision went up.

"Shut up a minute, you fellers!" shouted Sube. "I want to ask 'im
some'pm."

Sube was not familiar with the terms Biscuit had so carelessly torn off,
but he was none the less impressed. He had a strong suspicion that there
was something back of it all.

"Who showed you how?" he asked, concealing with an effort the real
extent of his interest.

"I took lessons!"

"Who of?"

"Oh, a perfessional."

"Yes, you did!"

"Well, I did, and I can prove it!"

"Yes, you can! How can you prove it?"

"I'll show you!" cried Biscuit as he started for home. "You wait right
here till I get back!"

"He won't be back," predicted Cottontop; "let's get a move on us."

"Aw, we might as well wait around a few minutes," said Sube. "There's
some'pm funny about this. He never acted like that before."

They had not long to wait before Biscuit was seen coming towards them on
a run. In his hand he carried what looked like a small club, but proved
on closer examination to be a mailing-tube. By means of a moistened
finger that left Bertillon imprints wherever it touched, Biscuit
extracted and unfurled before his skeptical companions the cherished
roll of vegetable sheepskin.

"There!" he declared proudly. "I guess that'll prove it!"

"Di-plo-mer--" pronounced Sube.

"Diplomer's right!" boasted the graduate. "This here's my diplomer in
plain and fancy swimmin' and divin'! It was rewarded to me by the
Inter-State Cor'spon'ence School of Chicago, Ill'noise."

Sube was impressed, deeply impressed; but he was not convinced. "It's a
diplomer all right," he admitted; "but can you _swim_?"

"Can I _swim_? _Can_ I? Say, you jus' watch me! Watch me!"

Biscuit gaily began to make swimming motions with his hands, as he
capered about.

"But I mean in the water!" insisted Sube.

"So do I!" shouted Biscuit jubilantly.

"You don't mean to say that you took lessons in the water!"

"Oh, no-o-o-o! Course not!"

"Then where'd you learn?"

"Right on top of the kitchen table! You see--"

"Never mind about that," interrupted Sube with obvious relief. "We'll go
right down to the swimmin'-hole and you can show us all your little
tricks."

"Wait till I take my diplomer home!"

"Better not," cautioned Sube. "You might need it when you get in the
water!"

"Is that so! Well, you jus' watch me!" shouted Biscuit as he started for
home with his precious possession. "_Watch_ me!"

As the boys passed the mill on the way to the swimming-hole, Gizzard,
the painter's son, doubtless with inherited instinct, spied on a window
sill by the loading platform a can of black paint and a brush, of which
Sube, the lawyer's son, likewise with inherited instinct, took immediate
possession so they wouldn't get knocked off on the ground, as he
explained to Gizzard.

Sube tarried on the bridge long enough to leave Biscuit's misshapen
initials on the white hand-rail, and then passed on to the pool, where
he found most of the boys ready for the plunge, having stripped off
their clothing as they walked.

Biscuit was in the throes of peeling off his undershirt, which had
come so far as to envelop his head, but refused to come farther. As he
struggled his bare white back arched invitingly before Sube's yearning
eyes. The temptation was too strong for Sube. He yielded. And with one
bold stroke of the brush he transformed the skin along Biscuit's spine
from the purest Caucasian to the shiniest Senegambian.

With an angry bleat Biscuit tore off the shirt and turned on his
complacent decorator. "You wipe that off'n me or I'll--!"

"Oh! Will you?--Well, all right. Turn around and I'll wipe it off." And
Sube calmly dipped his brush into the paint. "Turn around, Biscuit. Turn
your back to Uncle Sube!"

"Don't you put any more of that nasty stuff on me!" bellowed Biscuit.

"But, Biscuit," pleaded Sube in the soft voice of a painless dentist
about to extract a molar, "we've _got_ to 'nitiate you, ain't we? Now
ain't we, Biscuit?"

This conversation was designed to draw Biscuit's attention so that
Gizzard might deliver a rear attack, which he did with complete success.
For, an instant later Biscuit was extended face downward on the ground
and securely held by his little friends while Sube stood over him, brush
in hand, ready to complete his work of art.

"Watch me closely, ladies and gent'mun," Sube declaimed with solemnity,
"for I am about to confer on this can'idate the Order of the Golden
Fish. This name, ladies and gent'mun, is given to this can'idate on
account of his bein' a trick swimmer. He claims he can do the creep, and
the bludgeon, and the shears. In our future consuls he will be called
'The Pike,' ladies and gent'mun, note the name, 'The Pike!' I will now
give him the stripes that belong to him!"

He at once proceeded to do so.

Biscuit howled lustily, but quite ineffectually. The stripes were given
with extreme delicacy of handling, the body scheme following the pattern
of his Patron Fish, and the legs being finished with a neat corkscrew
design. When the rear exposure had been completed, the candidate was
flopped over and finished in front according to the same general idea.
After some discussion his face was done in a chaste checkerboard design
that was really quite effective.

The great master had just reached the ears when Cathead who was holding
one of the candidate's arms, relaxed his grip somewhat in order to make
a survey of the nearly finished masterpiece. In a flash Biscuit wrenched
loose the arm and struck the can of paint from Sube's hand, splashing
the contents over his captors as well as himself. In another flash he
was free and on his feet, and making good his escape.

Sube gave chase, wiping the paint from his face as he ran. The others
followed for a short distance, but were soon turned back by their
modesty.

At first Sube was actuated by motives of revenge. He was going to show
Biscuit that nobody could throw a can of paint in _his_ face with
impunity. But as Biscuit reached the highway and started for home the
episode assumed a different aspect. If Sube had put his thoughts in
words they would have sounded something like this:

"Why, he's startin' for home!--The crazy nut!--Hear 'im holler!--He's
scairt!--He's scairt to death!--He's scairt crazy!--He don't know what
he is doin'!--I got to catch 'im!--What if we'd meet somebody!--What if
I couldn't catch 'im!--If he should ever get to his mother!--"

The mere thought quickened Sube's pace. But at the same moment something
quickened Biscuit's pace and turned on a little more noise. An
automobile occupied by four young ladies came in sight. As it approached
it drew out to the side of the road and stopped to watch the progress of
the chase. Then it turned around and followed along like an observation
train.

Pedestrians stepped aside and looked on in amazement at the strange
sight, but fortunately not many were abroad.

As Biscuit came abreast of the Presbyterian Church he hesitated; and
hearing his pursuer thundering along behind him, turned in, rushed up
the steps, threw open the door and disappeared within, slamming the door
behind him.

Sube noted this maneuver with a gasp of relief. "Now I've got 'im
cornered!" he muttered approvingly as he leaped up the steps and burst
into the church.



CHAPTER XVI

SANCTUARY


While these events had been taking place the members of the Coral Strand
Missionary Circle were gathered at the church in solemn conclave. Mrs.
Westfall, the president, had called a special meeting to deal with
events of unusual importance that had brought out the entire membership.

The circle had lately been the object of a cowardly attack from the pen
of one Bill Busby, who devoted nearly a column of the valued editorial
space of the _Citizen_ to a whimsical commentary on foreign missions. Of
course he had mentioned no names, but his poison-tipped innuendoes were
too pointed to be overlooked.

On behalf of the Coral Strand Missionary Circle Mrs. Westfall had
demanded a retraction of the alleged libelous statements, and an apology
that should be given the same publicity as the defamatory matter.

Bill Busby had received her with extreme politeness. He had transferred
his feet from the top of the desk to the seat of a chair; he had
advanced his hat to the forward portion of his head; he had even gone so
far as to remove his cigar from his mouth and lay it on the edge of the
desk which already bore charred evidence of previous courtesies; but he
refused to retract his statements. On the contrary he insisted that they
were true. However, he had agreed to apologize, which he did in the next
week's issue.

But Bill's apology was somewhat awkward. It appeared under the caption,
_Well-meaning but Mis-informed and Misguided Philanthropists_, and
sounded very much like betting the Coral Strand Missionary Circle a new
hat that the $160 they had raised during the preceding year would have
shriveled by the time it reached its destination until it would buy no
more than $1.60 worth of shoes for the naked heathen babies.

The special meeting followed; for, regardless of the truth or falsity of
Bill's charges, the cause of foreign missions had received a body-blow.
The community--never over-enthusiastic on the subject--was now equipped
with a full-fledged excuse for refusing to make any further
contributions. A flimsy excuse, to be sure, but the flimsier an excuse
is, the better it serves its purpose.

It soon proved to be the sense of the meeting that something of a public
nature must be done to recover the lost prestige of the Coral Strand
Missionary Circle, and to counteract the insidious effects of "that
Busby man's dastardly attack on the fair name and fame of the circle."

Several plans were suggested and discussed and discarded before Mrs.
Westfall considered that the psychological moment had arrived to spring
on the meeting an idea that had come to her in the night, undoubtedly in
answer to her earnest prayer for guidance, but at last she stood before
her dear sisters, faintly flushed with enthusiasm and holding in her
hand a pink folder with which she gesticulated from time to time as she
made a few introductory remarks. Finally she opened the folder and read
from beginning to end the descriptive matter concerning the Inter-State
Correspondence School course in _Philanthropy--the Science of Giving_.
She read selected quotations from the world's most cheerful givers: from
Andrew Carnegie's essay on _Gainful Giving_, from Hettie Green's
monograph on _Making Every Cent Count_ and from other of the
authorities.

"My idea," she went on to explain as she laid aside the pink folder, "is
to have the Coral Strand Missionary Circle as a body, take this course,
so that hereafter we shall be known as a society of Graduate
Philanthropists!"

A storm of discussion followed, but above its raging the nasal tones of
Mrs. Electa Mandeville could be heard distinctly.

"They're fakes! They're all alike! They're fakes! They're fakes!" she
repeated over and over.

Gradually the others subsided and at last Mrs. Mandeville had the floor
all to herself, whereupon she shook a long bony index-finger at the
president and cried shrilly:

"I tell you they're fakes! All fakes! I've had experience with 'em and I
_know_! Look at my son-in-law! He answered an ad in a magazine that said
'Be a Civil Engineer,' and he took a course that cost me sixty dollars!
And _look_ at him! Why, he ain't even civil, to say nothing of being an
engineer!"

"I will personally vouch for the reliability of the Inter-State
Correspondence School," replied Mrs. Westfall tartly. "And besides, they
give an iron-bound guarantee of satisfaction or all money refunded."

"I wouldn't trust any of 'em!" cried Mrs. Mandeville excitedly. "They
take your money and then all they do is send you a lot of rubbish
through the mail and try to sell you text books and equipment or get
you to take some other course--!"

"Some of the _inferior_ schools might do such things," interrupted Mrs.
Westfall icily; "but not the Inter-State! As I said, I will personally
vouch for--"

"Personally? Did you say?" snapped Mrs. Mandeville. "Personally? How
could you vouch for them _personally_ unless you have had dealings with
them?"

"I said 'personally,' Sister Mandeville," returned the president, "and I
meant personally! I _have_ had dealings with them."

The Coral Strand Missionary Circle was on tip-toe. It was confidently
expected that Mrs. Westfall was about to divulge the details of some of
her secret efforts at self-improvement, and it was something of a
disappointment when she told merely of Karl's triumphant conquest of the
art of swimming without going outside of her own kitchen.

As she paused for rhetorical effect the irrepressible Mrs. Mandeville
inquired,

"But how do you know he can swim?"

There was a suspicion of a titter from the rear seats; but Mrs. Westfall
froze this levity with a glare as she retorted:

"He is, at this very moment, down in swimming with his little
playmates!"

"But if he's never tried it in the water, how do you know he can--"
began Mrs. Mandeville, but before she could finish her question there
was a tremendous slam from the front door, and Biscuit appeared in their
midst.

For a moment he was taken for an apparition of the Evil One; and when he
fled bawling into his mother's arms he brought his worthy parent under
momentary suspicion of intimacy with striped devils.

But when she began to pat his naked back and murmur: "There, ther-r-r-e!
Mother's boy is all safe!" and other similar expressions of assurance,
the horrified spectators began to grasp the situation, and restored her
good character.

It was some time before Biscuit could utter intelligible words, although
his mother fancied she heard among his tearful babblings the names of
several fish. But when he managed to convey the idea that there was some
kind of an initiation, she began to understand his highly decorated
exterior. Then suddenly it dawned on her that the painted decorations
were the only ones that he had on. In that panicky moment she wrapped
him in her best white shawl and started to conduct him towards a small
door that led into the session-room, when Mrs. Mandeville again entered
the arena.

"This," she exclaimed sarcastically, "might be a good time to get at the
_truth_ about those wonderful swimming lessons!"

Mrs. Westfall stopped in her tracks. "Perhaps it would," she said with a
murderous look at Mrs. Mandeville; and, turning Biscuit around so that
he faced the meeting she asked in a wheedling tone: "You _could_ swim
all right, couldn't you, dearie?"

"I du-du-don't know!" he blubbered.

"Don't know!" she demanded giving his shoulder an angry shake. "Don't
know! _Why_ don't you know?"

"I--uh--uh--ain't been in the wu-wu-water yet!"

A crimson flush spread over Mrs. Westfall's scowling visage as she
cried, "Oh! You haven't, eh! You haven't!"

She seized him by one of his unornamented ears and marched him down the
aisle towards the front door, where she relieved him of the shawl and
pointing a trembling finger at the door almost screamed: "Get out of
that door!... Go down to that swimming-hole just as fast as your legs
will carry you, and don't you come back till you've _found out_ whether
you can swim or not!"

And while the question of taking a correspondence course in
_Philanthropy--the Science of Giving_ was being gently but everlastingly
laid on the table, Biscuit was retracing his steps to the swimming-hole
with less precipitation and much more modesty than he had left it. More
than once he longed for the cartoonist's favorite barrel as he dodged
from tree to tree to escape the prying gaze of an inconsiderate public.

Fate dealt him a cruel blow when he sought to avoid meeting two old
ladies by slipping behind a clump of lilac bushes in Rude's front yard;
for from underneath the very bushes themselves came the shocked
observation of the voice he loved best in all the world:

"I don't know _what_ game you think you're playin', Karl Westfall, but
it's not a very nice game! I think you're horrid anyway--!"

But Biscuit did not tarry to hear more. He fled. Nor did he stop again
until he had reached the swimming-hole, which he did shortly after
Sube's return from his unsuccessful pursuit. Sube had just finished
telling how he had burst into the church--and burst out again without
being observed, when the sound of footsteps was heard on the path.

"Hark! There's somebody after us already! We'll get--"

Then Biscuit came into view.

As one they flew to welcome him.

"Good for you, old kid! How'd you get away from all those old hens? Come
'ere, let's see if I can't wipe off some of that ol' paint with my
undershirt--"

It took the underwear of the entire party to make Biscuit presentable,
and meanwhile he had given an account of the proceedings at the church.

"She never noticed the paint at all!" he declared. "She jus' asked me if
I could swim, and when I said I didn't know, she sent me back to find
out."

"You'll find out all right!" came a gruff voice from behind him.

Turning around, Biscuit beheld Seth Bissett, the terror of the town, who
had received his preliminary training in a reform school and had
afterwards finished in the penitentiary. The other boys dived into the
pool and swam to safety on the farther side of the creek; but Biscuit,
forgetting for the moment his theoretical mastery of the deep, attempted
to effect his escape by land, and ran into the arms of Warren Sours,
the ally and familiar friend of Seth Bissett.

"How many times I gotta tell you little rats to keep away from this
swimmin'-hole?" cried Seth with the assistance of several ever-ready
strong words, as he roughly grasped Biscuit by the shoulder and faced
him around. "Can you swim, bo?"

"Yes, sir," replied Biscuit proudly, little suspecting what was to
follow.

"That's blankety-blank lucky!" the big fellow went on, suddenly catching
Biscuit by an ankle and a wrist, "because now you're goin' to have a
chanct."

Warren seized him by the other ankle and wrist. And as they swung him
back and forth as in the game called "beetle and wedge" Seth counted:

"One!... Two!... Thr-e-e!"

Biscuit went sailing through the air and struck far out in the pool with
a tremendous splash; then disappeared from view. Without waiting for him
to come up, Seth and Warren hastily snatched up the clothes that were
lying about on the grass, and flinging them into the pool, made off into
the bushes without so much as a glance at the place where Biscuit had
gone down.



CHAPTER XVII

AN OLFACTORY RETORT


Up to the time that Biscuit struck the water he had uttered no outcry.
He had perfect confidence in his ability to swim and accordingly took
the affair in the light of a rough joke. But when he came to the surface
after his initial ducking he uttered a piercing shriek and went down
again.

"He can't swim a stroke!" cried Sube as he hurriedly swam towards the
spot where Biscuit had disappeared.

When Biscuit came up the second time Sube grabbed him by the hair, and
with the assistance of Gizzard towed him to shore. He was soon stretched
out on the grassy slope, head downwards to insure better drainage. And
even before the water was all out of him he gulped out spasmodically:

"I can swim all right, only they threw me in upside down! I ain't
learned to swim that way yet!"

"You're all right, Biscuit!" Sube assured him. "You can swim like a
fish!"

"Sure I can!... Didn't I swim to shore?"

"Well, you're here, ain't you? How could you get here if you didn't
swim? When you go home you tell your mother you can swim like a fish, or
she'll never let you come down here again."

"Well, I can, can't I?"

"Sure you can; just exactly."

"Then that's what I'll tell her."

"And you better not say an'thing about those big fellers helpin' you
into the water, either," Sube advised.

"Oh, I have to tell her everybody I play with!" exclaimed Biscuit
piously, "if she asks me."

"All right," muttered Sube, "if you call that playin'."

"But what'll I tell her 'bout my clo's bein' all wet?" asked Biscuit.

"Tell her you left 'em too near the bank, and they got pushed in--"

"Oh! I wouldn't tell my mother a lie for anything!"

"Lie? That's no lie! If you'd left 'em back there in the bushes they
wouldn't of got in the water, now would they?"

"Oh, no! Not if I'd left 'em way back there."

"So you _did_ leave 'em too near the water, jus' as I said!"

Biscuit blinked in wordless approval.

That evening while Seth Bissett and Warren Sours with a number of their
associates were enjoying their evening dip, a hooked stick slowly
reached out from the nearby shrubbery, and having become attached to one
of the many articles of wearing apparel lying on the grass, drew it
gently into the bushes. After a moment it was restored in the same way
and another article taken. After this had gone on for some time the
stick disappeared and was seen no more.

When the swimmers came out of the water at the approach of darkness it
was apparent that something had gone wrong. An aroma that could not be
wholly disregarded made known its undesirable presence. At first it
seemed to be located somewhere about the grass plot, but as they
finished dressing and started for home they discovered that it was
apparently everywhere.

On the way Seth Bissett tarried for a friendly chat at the gate of a
certain young lady, but found her unusually distant. So much so that in
spite of his innocence of the cause, he deemed it prudent not to prolong
his visit. Warren Sours went home; and as he entered the house with a
jocular remark about the contaminated state of the atmosphere he was
informed that until his arrival it had been quite satisfactory.
Retirement to the stable followed; and with the aid of a lantern he
finally found in each of his hip pockets a pasty smear, that from the
presence of a small piece of tinfoil in addition to certain other
deductions, he took to be the remnants of a piece of superannuated
limburger cheese. Further evidences were found inside his hatband, and
under the innersole of each of his shoes, but not until several days
later.

Subsequent inquiry developed that none of the persons at the pool that
night had been spared, although no two were attacked in the same place.
Two days elapsed before Seth Bissett found a thin layer of the
"dreadful" inside the lining of his favorite necktie, and in the
meantime he had nearly hated himself to death. It was a week before
Chuck Smith located a smear in the back of his watchcase, and during all
that time he was haunted by a suspicion that he was no longer good
company for man or beast. After changing his entire wardrobe several
times in an effort to forget that fatal swim, Bob Beach found when he
had occasion to use his purse a few days later that all his money,
though honestly earned, had become badly tainted.

Nobody seemed to be able to account for the mysterious attack. Some of
the swimmers accused each other, only to arouse vigorous denial, and
there was no proof. But Seth Bissett had his suspicions, and they were
well founded.

If Mrs. Cane had known of the pollution that swept over the
swimming-hole that night, she would doubtless have supposed that Sube
was attacked in common with the others; for he came home reeking of a
loathsome odor that he was unable to account for. But, of course, Mrs.
Cane heard little of the swimming-hole gossip.

"What _have_ you been doing!" she exclaimed as Sube came into the room.

"Never mind about that," growled his father. "Where are you going just
about as fast as you can get there!"

Sube looked from one of his parents to the other in utter surprise.
"What have I done now?" he asked.

"Heaven only knows!" Mr. Cane exploded. "But do get out of this room
with it!"

"With what?" asked the amazed boy, holding out his empty hands. "I ain't
got an'thing."

Mr. Cane mangled the air with gestures of futility while his wife laid
aside her embroidery and stood up.

"You've got something on you that doesn't smell very good. Come with--"

"Doesn't smell very good!" repeated Mr. Cane sarcastically. "Of all the
feeble language! I can describe it for you in one short word!"

"Sam-u-el! Don't be vulgar! You run along to the bathroom, Sube. We'll
try a little ammonia."

"Ammonia!" jeered Mr. Cane. "Am-mo-nia! You'd better boil him in
muriatic acid and bury him for three weeks! A little ammonia," he
repeated as he stood up and opened another window. Then his curiosity
got the better of him. "Sube," he called, "I want to ask you a few
questions--but you needn't come back here! Stop right there where you
are."

A scowl of suspicion came over Sube's face as he halted and turned
towards the author of his existence.

"Where have you been this evening?" his father began.

"Nowheres--jus' playin' round."

"Round where? Round what?"

"Jus' round here everyplace. I couldn't tell--"

"Well, tell me one place."

"Sir?--Why out in the back yard."

"Where else?"

"Why,--we went over in Bowers' back yard."

A ray of light came over Mr. Cane's stern visage as he asked, "You
weren't playing garbage-man, were you?"

"No! sir!" exclaimed Sube with a look of outraged innocence.

"Where else did you play?" asked his father.

"Where else?--Why--out in the street."

"Well, where else?"

"Over on the back street."

"Well," Mr. Cane was glowering now, "where else?"

"Over on the other street by the coalyard."

"And what game were you playing in all these different streets?"
demanded the inquisitor who was now showing signs of irritation.

"Oh, different games. First we'd play one game awhile, and then
another--"

"You weren't playing sewer inspector, were you?"

"No, sir," muttered the boy as he made a mental note of two games he had
never tried, but would at the first opportunity.

"Haven't you any idea where you got into this unspeakable effluvium?"
demanded his father with ill-restrained petulance.

"No, sir; not unless I might of got it up by the church. I was playin'
round up there part of the time, and I noticed some'pm smelled kind o'
funny, but I couldn't find out--"

"All right. Go on. Get the stuff off from you if you can--but don't come
in here again to-night!"

Sube moved on to the bathroom, where he found that his mother had drawn
a bowl of hot water into which she had put a generous quantity of
ammonia and a scrubbing-brush. But after superintending the operation
for a short time from a point over near the window, she retired, leaving
Sube to his own devices. As soon as she was gone he let out the ammonia
water on the ground that it interfered with his breathing, and hurriedly
rinsing his hands in plain cold water wiped them on the bath mat (as his
father afterward discovered) and slipped down the back stairs to rejoin
his companions in the yard for a good ol' game of rat tail.



CHAPTER XVIII

OF HOLY WRIT


The following day Sube Cane made a pleasing discovery. He was strolling
along the back street that bordered his father's garden when he was
confronted by a vision of gorgeous beauty. He halted in amazement.

"Well, I'll be jiggled!" he gasped ecstatically. "I'd like to know when
they put that up! It wasn't there this morning. There was nuthin' but a
lot of patent med'cine ads."

And he gazed in rapture at the colorful announcement of the coming of
Baylum & Barney's Greatest Show on Earth. At first a lady in fleshings
doing a toe-dance on the back of a pinto percheron held his attention,
but he was soon won from her by the Human Fly, who was depicted as in
the act of walking on the ceiling. And it was not long before the Human
Fly gave way to the Only Genuine Blood-Sweating Behemoth of Holy Writ
Now in Captivity. Then Sube truly lost his heart.

The longer he gazed at the behemoth the more he admired it. It was,
indeed, a case of love at first sight. Under his fascinated scrutiny the
shifty eyes became kind; the broad ugly nose and cavernous mouth seemed
to smile at him; the wrinkled hide looked as soft as a baby's skin. How
he would have liked one for a pet!

In his mind as he stood there a definite idea assumed form; he would
never be a lawyer when he grew up. Nothing short of a showman could
satisfy him now. The thought of attending his own show every day was
enticing. The informality of the circus life appealed to him. There
would be no dining table to keep his elbows off from; no napkin to fold
up. When he got hungry he would simply help himself to a few glasses of
red lemonade and all the hot dogs he wanted, and no time would be wasted
waiting for other people to be served. And when he led the parade, no
common milk-white horses for him; he would train and drive a pair of
good ol' blood-sweaters!

Then another idea struck him; a big one. Why not begin the business at
once! He realized that for a time, at least, he would have to be
hampered by living in a house and eating at a table; but there was
nothing to prevent his starting his show in a small way. A third
inspiration showed him how he could obtain a behemoth for immediate
use. And by the time he had reached home his plans were well under way.

[Illustration]

"Dad," he asked as he sauntered into the library a little later, "where
is Holy Writ?"

"Where is _what_?" asked his astonished parent.

"Holy Writ."

"Why, if you mean the Bible," said Mr. Cane, "it is in on the parlor
table." And he resumed the reading of his paper.

For a moment Sube was immovable. Then it dawned on him. The Holy Writ
was just another name for the Bible. And those figures underneath the
portrait of his favorite were a reference to the Book of Job. He would
go back and see what they were.

Half an hour later as Mr. Cane stepped behind the davenport in the
parlor to adjust a screen, he nearly fell over the boy.

"What in thunder are you doing there?" he demanded irritably.

"Sir?"

"I said, 'What are you doing there?'"

"Reading." Sube tried to cover up the object of his perusal by lying on
top of it; but this move only excited further curiosity on the part of
his father.

"What are you reading?"

"A book."

Evasion was always aggravating to Mr. Cane. "What book?" he cried as he
struggled to keep down his rising temper.

"This one right here." Sube indicated it with a motion of his body.

"What is the name of it?" thundered the exasperated parent.

"Sir?"

"You heard what I said!"

"The name of this book?"

Mr. Cane did not deign to answer. He simply glowered, opening and
closing his hands as if they itched to take hold of something.

Sube understood the look and the convulsive movement of the hands, and
made haste to answer: "Why, the name of it's the--" he was compelled to
turn the book over and examine the title--"the Bible," he mumbled.

"What's that?" asked Mr. Cane petulantly. "Speak so a person can
understand you! Don't mumble."

Sube hung his head as he murmured, "I said, 'the Bible.'"

Mr. Cane softened instantly. He thought he had discovered an
undreamed-of spark of reverence in his son. "That's a very good book
for you to read," he said kindly. "I hope you'll read it every day."

If Mr. Cane had looked into the parlor two minutes later, he would have
realized his mistake. For Sube carefully tore from the Holy Writ a
single page which he folded up compactly and thrust deep into his
hip-pocket. At that moment he heard his mother's voice calling him; and
hurriedly thrusting aside the screen his father had so carefully
adjusted, he leaped from the window and was gone.

As Sube's showmanship developed, his manners dwindled. Sometimes it
seemed to his family that his reason was tottering. One evening at
dinner he humiliated his parents and irritated beyond words a dyspeptic
jurist who was his father's guest, by interjecting into the conversation
observations regarding the peculiarities of the blood-sweathing
behemoth. And this in spite of the fact that his mother had previously
warned him that any attempt on his part to participate in the talk at
the table would be considered as an unfriendly act. Finally his
enthusiasm ran away with him to such an extent that he forced upon the
diners over the _sotto voce_ protests of his mother, an off-hand
description of the creature of Job's fancy, so detailed and so
unexpurgated that his instant dismissal from the table became
imperative.

He left the room more outraged than chastened, muttering something about
being able to "prove it" and fumbling sulkily in his hip pocket
apparently for evidence. A few moments later he was standing before his
beloved poster regarding his heart's desire with a sense of peculiar
proprietorship. After a little he sat down on the grass; and while
Sport, his old spotted dog, lay at his feet lazily digging at one ear
with a rheumatic hind-foot, Sube drew from his pocket and read aloud in
a halting monotone certain portions of the fortieth chapter of the Book
of Job, often pausing between verses to verify the observations of the
Patient Prophet by comparison with the portrait taken from life.

When the gathering dusk made further reading impossible, and began to
blur the features of the behemoth into less pleasing form Sube stood up.

"Sport," he said, "you'll prob'ly make a bum job of it, but you're goin'
to be a blood-sweatin' behemoth of Holy Writ."

The dog received this announcement with equanimity, little realizing the
inconvenience it was to cause him.

The next day at Sunday School Sube declined to give the Golden Text, and
recited in its stead a few verses from the Book of Job to which his
teacher, Miss Lester, took choleric exception. He was immediately sent
home; but when Miss Lester stopped in to explain matters to his mother
he had not yet arrived. As he sauntered in half an hour later he met
with a very warm reception and was placed on jail-limits for the
remainder of the day, being forbidden to leave the premises. But this
entailed no great hardship, for he spent the afternoon in the barn
printing posters and making preparations for the circus which he was
planning to launch on the morrow.

Monday was a red-letter day for the youth living in that part of the
town known as the East Village. The lucky few who were associated with
the management were engaged in building the "ampatheater" and fashioning
the drop curtain from a quantity of ex-fertilizer sacks that were
Gizzard Tobin's contribution to the enterprise; the others were kept
busy knocking the show, and at the same time getting together the price
of admission.

At about two o'clock in the afternoon a great hubbub was heard in the
streets. It sounded at first as if a newspaper extra had arrived; but a
careful listener would have been able to make out that the cry was,
"Cir-cus!" instead of, "Ux-try!" Then came the additional announcement
that the big show would start at two-thirty sharp in the main tent
upstairs in Canes' barn.

The barkers darted from place to place with such amazing rapidity and
shouted so lustily that it seemed as if there must be nearer forty of
them than four. Indeed their cries appeared to come from all sides at
once. Nor was the rapidity of their movements accelerated by their
circus costumes, for they were all in full dress; and their upturned
trousers would insist on coming down over their feet and tripping them
up from time to time.

It is possible that this may account for the disreputable condition in
which two or three fathers in the neighborhood found their evening
clothes the next time they had occasion to wear them. Although, without
exception, the boys in the affected families denied any knowledge of the
matter.

When the time-piece on the shelf in Canes' kitchen reached two-thirty
o'clock the "ampatheater" was crowded to capacity, and although several
late comers were assured by the man at the door that there were plenty
of "reserved seats for every man, woman and child, one and all, admitted
to the big tent," they found on going inside that there was standing
room only.

"Plen-ty of room! Plen-ty of room!" drawled the loud nasal voice at the
door. "Do not loi-ter about the entrance, please! Either step in, or
step aside! Gangway, please! Gang-way! Do not interfere with our
pa-trons--"

These and many other remarks of a distinctly professional nature came
from Ringmaster Cane, who seemed to be everywhere at once. Now he was at
the entrance keeping it free from loiterers; now his nasal drawl could
be heard issuing orders behind the scenes; now he was assisting a couple
of ladies to find seats in the "ampatheater"; and at last, with three
shrill blasts on a police whistle, he stood before the curtain and
cracked his whip for order.



CHAPTER XIX

SUBE THE SHOWMAN


A battered silk hat that had seen his father through a campaign for
district attorney a number of years before rested on his ears, causing
them to protrude unnaturally, while a full-dress coat with pointed tails
that just cleared the floor gave him a quadrupedal appearance. This coat
was the wearer's conception of sartorial perfection, having been cut out
by his own hands from an old raincoat of his father's. A pair of
painter's overalls with a hectic past completed his costume.

And while the audience gazed with interest at the ringmaster, the
ringmaster was gazing with equal interest at the audience. He was trying
to make himself think that the circus was solely responsible for the
gala dress that confronted him, although his better judgment should have
told him that most of those present were thus gayly clad for Cottontop
Sigsbee's party that was to take place at the conclusion of the
performance.

After cracking the whip a few times to show how skillfully it could be
done, the ringmaster proceeded to deliver a highly entertaining lecture
prepared by himself in collaboration with one Job, and to assure his
hearers that his show possessed the only "genuine blood-sweatin'
behemoth of Holy Writ now in captivity, regardluss of the claims of
jealous compet'ors exackly as advertised."

As he gave a preliminary shake of the drop-curtain the anticipations of
the audience ran high, for they distinctly smelled something suggestive
of the odor of wild animals; but alas, it was only a faint reminiscence
from the curtain. After one or two false starts the ringmaster drew back
the curtain.

"Behold now behemoth, ladies and gent'mun!" he cried with a sweeping
gesture of the hand toward the center of the stage.

With a craning of necks and a straining of eyes the audience beheld a
quadruped about the size of Sport and the color of stove-blacking,
manacled by a huge log-chain to a Nubian animal trainer who bore a
striking resemblance to Gizzard Tobin, although bereft of all clothing
save a pair of swimming trunks and a sparse coating of black.

The murmur of disapproval that greeted this tableau was quickly quelled
by the ringmaster, as he brought the curtains together and began to
declaim in a loud voice:

"Not so pre-vious, ladies and gent'mun! Not so pre-vious, I beg of you!
The best is yet to come! You have not seen this wonderful Biblic animal
p'form!... Why, ladies and gent'mun, he sweats blood! Bl-l-l-l-ud!...
Real,--rich,--red,--human bl-l-l-ud!... Each and every person present is
untitled to see him sweat bl-l-l-ud, or money refunded, exackly as
advertised!"

Then the ringmaster poked his head between the curtains and said in a
desperate whisper quite as audible on one side of the curtain as the
other: "Hurry up, Giz! I can't keep this up all night!" and turning to
the audience resumed, "Yes, ladies and gent'mun, he sweats bl-l-lud; and
Job, this wond'ful blood-sweatin' creature's trainer, is now gettin' his
blood ready for him. For, ladies and gent'mun, he does act'ally sweat
bl-l-lud! Real,--rich,--red,--human,--bl-l-l-lud! The same as you one
and all have got in your insides, exackly as advertised--"

Three distinct raps were heard. Again Sube drew back the redolent
curtain and to all appearances the dog-like behemoth was sweating blood
profusely. He was completely inundated with a bright red liquid which
dripped and trickled down on the floor in numerous gory puddles.

[Illustration: THE AUDIENCE WAS SPELL BOUND]

For an instant the audience was spellbound. Sube was enough of a showman
to realize this; but he was not enough of a showman to draw the curtain
before the spell could be broken. Intoxicated with success, he attempted
to prolong the supreme moment to the uttermost. And thus came disaster.
For this particular behemoth was new at the blood-sweating business. In
fact, he had no idea that he was sweating blood. He knew only that he
was saturated with a chilling liquid, and he did the customary thing: he
shook himself thoroughly.

For an instant there was an ominous silence, during which fresh white
dresses with socks to match suddenly acquired numberless polka dots,
while multitudes of crimson freckles appeared on hitherto unblemished
cheeks and arms and legs; and Biscuit Westfall's new white sailor suit,
purchased especially for the party, broke out with more red pimples than
a bad case of chicken-pox. Nobody was spared. But those in the rear were
only sprinkled, while those in the front row were deluged.

Expectorations, expostulations and lamentations followed in order. Then
came the most dreaded of all showman's disasters, the ghastly rush for
the exits.

Fortunately the stairway was large and the audience was small. There
was no choking of the aisles. Nobody was trampled underfoot. Not a
single casualty occurred, although Sport had a narrow escape. For, as
the howling mob was rushing out of the big barn-door, he came flying
down the stairs astride his long tail, followed by numerous missiles and
epithets forcefully hurled after him by unseen persons in the loft.

Sube came to a hasty conclusion that Cottontop's party was no place for
him, and went into hiding for the rest of the afternoon. Annie called
him until she was hoarse, but there was no response. And when she tried
to enlist Sport's aid in finding his master the long-suffering creature
refused to be lured from his kennel, but spent the remainder of the day
licking at the unpalatable mixture of stove-blacking and raspberry juice
with a sullen expression that seemed to indicate that even among dogs
patience sometimes ceases to be a virtue.

On the whole it was an ignominious ending for Sube's moment of triumph.
It threatened to crush his three-ring ambitions; but two weeks later
when the special train of Baylum and Barney's Greatest Show on Earth
came thundering into town an hour before daybreak, the first person on
hand to welcome and assist was none other than Sube Cane.

In spite of the interference of several officious roustabouts Sube
succeeded in superintending the unloading of the blood-sweating
behemoth's cage, and personally conducted it to the Fair Grounds. When
the tarpaulin was removed it was discovered that the cage had been so
badly damaged in transit that immediate repairs were necessary.

Arrangements were accordingly made to transfer the behemoth to another
cage; and while the roustabouts were still something of a hindrance to
the youthful superintendent, matters progressed smoothly until Sport
appeared on the scene, fawning humbly and wagging his tail with
obsequious joy at the sight of his master.

Sube had placed the dog in solitary confinement before leaving home for
the express purpose of preventing his attendance at the circus, and he
was greatly annoyed at this display of presumption. He intimated as much
in a gruff undertone followed by the vicious throwing of several
imaginary rocks. Sport retired with a deeply injured air, and was soon
lost to sight in the crowd.

But just as the huge hulk of the blood-sweating behemoth was passing
from one cage to the other the faithful animal came back and made a
heroic effort to save his master's life by attempting to attack the
hideous beast through the bars of the temporary fence by which it was
confined.

The unexpectedness of the onslaught caused the behemoth to shy so
violently from its assailant that it knocked down the fence on the
farther side of the lane through which it was being urged, and suddenly
found itself free and unfettered. Meanwhile Sport was pressing his
attack with great vocal enthusiasm, and was showing signs of closing in
on his quarry. He abandoned this idea, however, when the behemoth turned
and made a counter-charge. It was then that a parade not on the program
took place.

It was led by Sport, at a pace totally at variance with the ordinary
formal circus-wagon parade, for Sport was capable of much more speed
than his years and his rheumatism would have induced one to believe. In
fact, the only thing that prevented him from making a world's record was
his tail, which kept getting tangled up with his front legs.

A short distance behind Sport came the behemoth, lumbering, careening
and snorting, but making very rapid progress. Then after a long blank
space came Sube the Showman, on a bicycle he had commandeered for the
occasion, pressed to the utmost to maintain the pace set by the leaders.
Not far behind Sube came a motley crowd of blasphemous circus-hands and
howling urchins. The rear guard was made up of the more mature onlookers
whose curiosity was mightier than their caution.

The parade proceeded by the most direct route to Canes' barn, the First
Section arriving only a few feet in advance of the Second. Nor did the
First Section tarry long in the barn; but hurled itself through a small
hole in the rear wall that led into its kennel--and there it fell
exhausted. The Second Section brought up with a loud snort in an
abandoned horse stall, and stood puffing and wheezing and wondering what
to do next, when the Third Section arrived and by almost superhuman
efforts managed to close the big barn-door all but a few inches.

The Third Section was peering so intently through the crack of the door
in an effort to see whether the Second Section was sweating blood
exackly as advertised, that it failed to note the coming of a
rubber-tired runabout drawn by a team of milk-white Arabians, until the
red-faced individual in charge of the conveyance exploded:

"Well--I'll--be--blowed!"

Sube quickly turned around, and recognizing at a glance that the man
belonged with the circus, cried exultantly:

"I've got 'im!"

"So I should judge," replied the man, smiling broadly.

At this moment the broken ranks of the Fourth Section began to arrive,
badly winded but still swearing magnificently.

"What do you know about that, boys!" shouted the red-faced individual,
pointing with his milk-white whip at a poster on the barn-door.

It was a relic of Sube's circus.

  OnLY GenUWiNe BLooD SweATTiNg
  BoHemuTH oF HoLy WRiT iN
  cAPiTiVity ADmiSion 5sTc
  1o MArbLeS oR 20 PiNs

"Did you capture him yourself?" asked the red-faced individual as he
clambered heavily from the runabout.

"Yes, sir."

"May I see him?"

Sube's assurance fled. His bashful reply was almost inaudible. "Yes,
sir," he mumbled.

"Five cents, I suppose," said the showman loudly as he pressed an
unexpected nickel into Sube's hand and peered into the barn.

Sube backed away a few steps and stood picking at the nickel with his
thumbnail when the showman turned from the door and said to the circus
hands:

"He's in there all right. Go after him!" Then placing a large red hand
on Sube's shoulder he added, "Young man, my name's Barney. I've been in
the show business a good many years. But when you get ready to take your
show on the road, I'll get ready to retire. You've got _me_ skinned a
mile!"

Supposing that this was some sort of a doubtful compliment Sube hung his
head. He rubbed his lips with the back of his hand. He bored his heel
into the earth. A sudden feeling of aversion for the loud-mouthed
showman and his cursing assistants swept over him. He decided to abandon
his career as a showman. And without raising his eyes he said:

"I ain't goin' int' the show business. I'm goin' to be a lawyer."



CHAPTER XX

TEN KNIGHTS IN A BARROOM


Sube Cane had often seen his father wrapped in contemplation, so he knew
how the thing ought to be done. He accordingly clasped his hands behind
his back beneath the place where coat-tails should have been, drew his
eyebrows into a scowl, pursed his lips, and fixed his gaze on the object
to be considered.

This proved to be a hole; a small hole in the side of ol' Uncle George
Bond's barn, close to the ground. It was perfectly rounded at the top
and equipped with a neat sliding-door; and it did look interesting. But
then, any hole that there is even the slightest possibility of crawling
through looks interesting to a boy. Sube was so engrossed in his
contemplations that he started perceptibly on hearing a gruff voice
inquire what he thought he was doing there.

He quickly withdrew his hands from underneath the imaginary coat-tails
and released the scowl. Then he glanced around to find himself looking
into the grinning face of his friend, Hon. Gizzard Tobin.

"Thought you'd scare me, didn't you?" Sube growled.

"_Thought_ so!" cried Gizzard. "Say! You jumped a mile!"

"Well, I guess I didn't jump! I knew it was you all the time."

"Yes, you didn't! What'd you jump for, then?"

"Didn't jump. Jus' moved a little."

"I should say you _did_ move! You thought ol' Uncle George was right
after you!"

"That shows how much you know about it," Sube sneered as he bent over to
examine the hole at closer range.

Gizzard vaulted the fence and came up beside him. "What you lookin' at
that ol' chicken-hole for?" he asked disdainfully.

Sube cocked his head over on one side as if to view the problem from
another angle and replied: "I was jus' wonderin'."

"What about?"

"Jus' wonderin' if a feller could crawl through there," said Sube
pointing a stubby finger at the hole.

"You couldn't, and I wouldn't want to," replied Gizzard with
unaccustomed promptness.

"Why couldn't I?" asked Sube deliberately.

"'Cause that there slide's hooked on the inside!"

Sube muttered something unintelligible as he bent over and inserted his
finger under the sliding-door. He raised it far enough to demonstrate
that it was not fastened, and dropped it as he asked:

"Now why wouldn't you want to?"

"S'pose I want ol' Uncle George to kick the liver out of _me_! Why, I
jus' looked in the door one day when he was in there, and he swore at me
till I was out of sight; and he said if he ever caught me on his
premises again, he'd kick the liver out of me! And I bet he would, too!"

Relatively speaking, ol' Uncle George Bond was nobody's uncle; but as a
matter of nomenclature he was everybody's. He was death on boys, to be
sure. However, his unfriendly attitude was of very little importance at
this particular time because he was out of town.

"Gone to Sodus for a month," was the information Sube presently
imparted.

"What makes you think so?" asked the skeptical Gizzard, still intent on
the preservation of his liver.

"Saw him buy his ticket and get on the train this mornin'. That's what
makes me think so! And I heard him tell the agent he was goin' for a
month's vacation!"

"All right," said Gizzard. "I'll go in there if you will--if we can get
in."

Sube squeezed through without a great deal of difficulty; but Gizzard
stuck fast somewhere about amidships. He kicked and wriggled while Sube
pulled, but it was all in vain. It was necessary for Gizzard to back out
and shift his cargo before he could come into port. He presently handed
in to Sube one baseball, one broken padlock, one bicycle-wrench, one
slingshot, and other articles too numerous to mention; and having been
thus lightened, he came through without difficulty.

The wonders of the forbidden country unfolded with such bewildering
rapidity that the youthful explorers had difficulty in deciding what to
try first. However, they soon concluded to redecorate the interior of
the barn with remnants left over from the recent painting of ol' Uncle
George's house.

When they had tired of being painters they opened a carpenter shop and
started to build a boat out of some old boards with the aid of ol' Uncle
George's razor-edged tools. This went very well until Sube hammered his
thumb, when he retired from the concern and left Gizzard to complete
the vessel alone; but after Gizzard had planed a thin layer from the end
of his finger he too retired, and the carpenter business went to the
wall.

They next engaged in the manufacture of cider, opening a mill in a
corner of the barn, where they found a small hand-press. Sube turned the
crank while Gizzard poured in bushels of imaginary apples. Then they
"put on the brakes" to squeeze out the imaginary juice, which was drawn
from a spigot at the bottom in real glasses and bottles with which the
place seemed to abound. After a little the strain on their imagination
became so great that something had to be done to relieve it.

"If we jus' had a few apples we could make a little _real_ cider," Sube
suggested tentatively.

"Well, I know where we can get some," said Gizzard. "There's a tree jus'
loaded with harvest apples right out behind the barn!"

Without another word both boys started for the opening by which they had
entered, but Gizzard, being a little nearer, reached it first. While he
was wriggling his way to the outside Sube tried the back door and found
it fastened only by a hook. So it happened that when Gizzard reached the
apple tree he found Sube already there with his cap half full of
apples. Then the cider business began in earnest.

The apples were small and not very juicy, and the boys soon found that
there was quite a little work connected with the manufacture of cider in
commercial quantities. But they did manage to make a glassful apiece
before they were compelled to knock off for the noon hour.

The partners went out by the back door, which they fastened shut with a
piece of board; and as they walked home they made plans for the future
conduct of their business.

"We got to put on a few hands to pick up the apples while we run the
mill, if we want to increase our produck," Sube informed his partner
gravely. "There's too much overhead for us to handle alone."

"I'd say there was too much underfoot," returned Gizzard with equal
gravity. "What we want is apples--"

"I guess you don't understand much about bus'ness," was Sube's lofty
comment. "Overhead's a reg'lar bus'ness word that means--means somethin'
special."

Gizzard defended his position heatedly. "I guess I know jus' much about
it as you do!" he retorted. "Underfoot's a reg'lar word, too! And it
means some'pm special! I've heard my dad use it a hundred times."

For a moment Sube maintained a discreet silence. He wanted to avoid
having trouble with his partner at the very beginning of their business
career if it could be done with honor; especially as the title to the
business was somewhat clouded. Then he said diplomatically:

"Well, anyway, we got to put on a few more hands to pick up apples."

"Right you are," agreed Gizzard. "Who we goin' to get?"

"Oh, we might hire Stucky Richards, and Cathead, and Cottontop Sigsbee.
S'pose that'll be enough?"

"We don't want to get too many! The more we have, the more cider they'll
drink up."

"That's right. I guess they'll do."

The cider mill commenced business in earnest that afternoon with a full
roster of hands. And they soon demonstrated their sufficiency, for
apples were delivered at the press faster than the proprietors could
dispose of them. When they had picked up all the apples on the ground
they threshed the tree until hardly an apple was left on it; and they
even went so far as to pick a bushel of crabapples for their employers.

The result of the afternoon's work (which was well up in the gallons)
was placed in a convenient cask equipped with a spigot. Then the
enterprise was reorganized as a saloon. Ol' Uncle George's workbench
made an ideal bar, at which thirsty customers clamored for beer, liquor,
and other ugly-sounding beverages, that Sube and Gizzard as bartenders
served with a flourish an expert sodawater clerk might well have envied.

Then the histrionic muse, never far beneath the surface of youth, came
forth and transformed the scene into an extemporaneous drama that was a
howling success in spite of its leanings towards the morality play. This
production, called by its authors, "Ten Knights in a Barroom"--was, in
fact, so successful that the players promised themselves the pleasure of
repeating it daily during the ensuing month.

But this proved to be impossible; for that night ol' Uncle George was
called home by a fire in his shoe store.

The management declined to make use of ol' Uncle George's properties
while he remained in town for fear that he might have occasion to use
them himself, and thus bring about some slight unpleasantness in their
hitherto delightful relations. Meanwhile the members of the company
fidgeted and chafed under the delay.

A rehearsal attempted in Canes' barn was, for some unknown reason, a
decided frost. Then they tried Stucky Richards' barn, which was right
next door to ol' Uncle George's; and although things went somewhat
better there, they lacked the zest of the initial performance.

Stucky's properties, as far as they went, were above criticism; his
workbench made an excellent bar; his broken chairs were deliciously
hopeless; his cuspidor was admitted by all to be much better than ol'
Uncle George's; his bottles and glassware were vastly superior; but
there he stopped.

He had no cider press, and no means of getting one. He had no cider; and
worst of all he had no spigot-equipped cask without which no
disreputable saloon can exist.

But this was not all that troubled the Ten Knights in a Barroom company.
Professional jealousy crept in to plague their once placid ranks. By
secretly consulting the faded poster in Severn's blacksmith shop (from
which he had adapted the name for his production) Sube learned that he
had overlooked a character. The next time the company assembled he
attempted to rectify his error.

[Illustration]

"Say, you kids," he began; "we made a mistake about one thing. You can't
all be Old Soaks. Somebody's got to be a little ragged girl that pleads
with her drunken father to come home with her. Now who's goin' to be the
little girl?"

Cathead thought he scented a conspiracy, and wishing to be on the safe
side, volunteered to take the part of the drunken father.

"Not on your life!" cried Sube. "Somebody's got to be a little girl, and
you'd make the best one of anybody here. Wouldn't he, kids?"

Stucky and Cottontop were positive that Cathead would make an ideal
girl, and they so expressed themselves. But Cathead thought otherwise.

"I won't be a girl! I ain't goin' to be a girl! I never been one and I
ain't ever goin' to be one!" he insisted.

"Now looka here, Cathead--" Gizzard began pleadingly.

"I won't look there! And I won't be a girl! I'll be a drunken father,
but I'll never be a girl!"

"But somebody's _got_ to be a girl!" Sube urged desperately. "Now who's
it goin' to be?"

He looked from Cottontop to Stucky and then back to Cottontop again, but
there were no volunteers.

"I couldn't be it if I wanted to," Cottontop explained. "I'm too big to
be a girl, and besides, there'd be nobody to take my part."

Then Stucky felt that he must have himself excused. "My voice is
changin'," he said, purposely causing his voice to crack and waver.
"Hear how it acks! I couldn't be a girl with a voice like that.
Everybody'd be onto me in a second."

It seemed to be up to Cathead, but without waiting to be so informed
Cathead began to bawl excitedly: "I won't be a girl! I won't be a girl!
And if you don't shut up I won't be in your ol' show at all!"

It was at this point that Biscuit Westfall appeared in the doorway,
where he paused, a little uncertain as to his welcome; for the attitude
of the other boys towards him was subject to change without notice.
Sometimes he was tolerated; often he was told to go home; and more often
he was tormented until he was glad to retire. Biscuit's life was too
sheltered, his character too beautiful to make good company of him. Had
he butted into the theater on the day previous he would have been
unceremoniously kicked out; but to-day he was hailed with delight.

"We was jus' talkin' about you, Biscuit," Sube began cautiously. "We was
wonderin' if you could take a part in our show."

Biscuit was overjoyed. His confidence was restored, and he entered
without misgivings as he cried:

"_Can_ I? CAN I? Say! Watch me! _Watch_ me!"

Sube scratched his ear dubiously. "You've said a mouthful, Biscuit:
_can_ you! It's a pretty hard part. Cathead, there, has been teasin' us
to let him take it, but we don't think he can do it."

Cathead considered that this was placing him in a false position and
tried to protest; but Biscuit drowned him out.

"Say! I've took part in everything they've had in Sunday School ever
since I was a littie-bittie baby! I can take any ol' part!"

"Can you plead?" asked Sube.

"Can I plead? _Can_ I! Say! You jus' oughta hear me when I get
started--"

"Did you ever take a girl part?"

Biscuit frowned. "I could, but I don't want to. If it's a girl part, let
Cathead have it, and I'll take some other part."

A long argument followed, but Biscuit was stubborn. He would not be a
girl under any circumstances. So rather than abandon the part Sube
reluctantly permitted the child character to be changed from female to
male. Cathead gladly assumed the cares and burdens of a drunken parent,
and the rehearsal proceeded.

It had not gone very far, however, when Biscuit discovered that he was
not to participate in the bacchanalian revel, but was to linger about
the doorway pleading with his father to come home with him. Then there
was trouble again. Biscuit refused to go on with the part unless he was
allowed to drink and have fun in the saloon like the other boys.

Sube was disinclined to sacrifice the historical accuracy of his
production, but the part was a hard one to fill and juvenile actors were
scarce. So he finally yielded, and suggested a slight alteration of the
lines by which the drunken father invites the ragged child to come in
and "have some'pm" and the child accepts.

This change being satisfactory to Biscuit the rehearsal went on.



CHAPTER XXI

THE BARNSTORMERS


The day after Biscuit joined the Ten Knights in a Barroom Company ol'
Uncle George Bond succeeded in adjusting his loss with the insurance
company and went back to Sodus. But he had wasted two weeks of his
cherished vacation hanging around Morton's insurance office trying to
make Bill Morton understand that smoke could damage a stock of shoes as
well as fire or water. But ol' Uncle George was too much engrossed in
explaining to the insurance adjuster how prejudiced the average person
is against having his feet smell like smoke, to go near his barn; so he
finished his vacation in total ignorance of the momentous events that
had been transpiring there.

When it became known that he had gone back to Sodus the Ten Knights in a
Barroom Company resumed work with feverish industry. With no other means
of transportation at their disposal than a wheelbarrow with a wobbly
wheel they moved to Stucky's barn the cider press and the precious cask
with its more precious contents; they were going to take no more chances
with fire. The entire morning was spent in preparing the stage for the
first _real_ dress rehearsal since their initial attempt.

The rehearsal was to begin immediately after lunch; and when Biscuit
failed to report on time some anxiety was felt for the juvenile part, as
his mother was unreasonably strict with him. It would have been just
like her to lug him off to some ol' missionary business or other.
However, it was not long before he came flying around the corner of the
house, shouting as he ran:

"I've got a audience!--I've got a audience!--And it's _some audience_!"

A thrill swept the company. An audience had been the one thing lacking
to make the production perfect, although nobody had thought of it
before, so much "the thing" had the play been.

"Who is it? Who is it?" came the chorus.

"Mamma wasn't goin'ta let me come back," panted Biscuit, "'cause there's
a meetin' of the Temp'rance Union at our house this aft, and when I tole
her it would break up our show, she wanted to know what show and I tole
her Ten Knights in a Barroom, and she said that was a temp'rance play
and it was sweet of us to give it, and could they all come and see it
and I tole her you bet they could!"

A spontaneous cheer went up, after which Sube asked:

"What time they comin'?"

"'Bout three o'clock, I tole her. Is that all right?"

"You bet it's all right; only we want to have a rehearsal, and have it
dern' quick!"

Sube hastily donned his white apron and began to roll up his sleeves
while the other players put on their various costumes. The rehearsal was
soon in full blast. There were no preliminaries about this production:
the action commenced at once. The bartender and his assistant began to
pass out the foaming beakers to Cathead, and to Cottontop and Stucky
(who took the parts of First Old Soak and Second Old Soak respectively),
while Biscuit peered in at the door, pleading piteously with his drunken
father (Cathead) to come home with him. All except Biscuit feigned
drunkenness, not even excluding the bartender and his assistant.

In due time Cathead gruffly bade the child to come in and have a little
liquor. A second invitation was unnecessary. After his first drink the
child, too, feigned intoxication.

As the rehearsal proceeded it was apparent to everybody that the play
was a hit. Each actor was overwhelmed by the tremendous success of his
own part. And contrary to all expectation Biscuit made a prominent
feature of what had been regarded as a minor part. After a little the
barefoot lad in ragged garb not only urged his parent to accompany him
home, but became so insistent about it that he actually ejected the old
gentleman several times, triumphantly returning between the bouts for
more liquor.

Then Biscuit became confused about the identity of his father and
pleaded with Stucky instead. When Stucky remonstrated, Biscuit not only
waxed urgent but simply would not take no for an answer, and for the
first time in his life he put Stucky on his back, and then dragged him
off the stage howling. This act was repeated at will.

At about that time Cathead, who was usually very shy and retiring,
became so fascinated by Biscuit's portrayal of the child character that
he decided to try it for himself. He addressed his first pleadings to
Cottontop, who rather resented them; and Cathead deemed it advisable to
take his intended father down and sit on him. Flushed with success, he
did likewise to Gizzard. This was something of a novelty to Cathead. In
affairs of this kind he had seldom done the sitting.

The popularity of the child character grew. Every member of the company
took a hand in it. And when the putative parent remonstrated, as he
invariably did, being at the moment engaged in pleading with some one
else, a struggle would ensue.

Sube was attempting to plead with Gizzard, who was at the moment
pleading with Cathead; Cathead had just finished pleading with Cottontop
and was engaged in taking him down to sit on him; Cottontop did not care
to be sat on just then as he was in the act of pleading with Stucky; and
as Stucky was pleading with Biscuit and did not want to be pleaded with,
he resented Cottontop's advances. And they had fallen in a confused heap
on the floor, pleading, yelling, struggling and straining, with Biscuit
standing over them asserting in stentorian tones his identity as the
only genuine ragpicking pleader in the lot--when the ladies of the
Temperance Union, led by Biscuit's mother, entered the theater.

The actors were so engrossed in what they were doing that they did not
hear the startled cries of the audience. In fact, they had no idea that
their audience had arrived until they felt themselves being pulled apart
and separated into individuals.

Biscuit was the first one to be separated from the mass, but he gave his
mother no sign of recognition until she had obtained a firm grip on his
ear and informed him in biting tones that she had never expected to see
the day when she would find _him_ fighting like a drunken rowdy.

Then he cried joyously, with partly feigned intoxication:

"Hello, ma, ol' girl! I sure didn't know you! I'm glad you got here in
time to shee me plead! The rest of these kids think they can plead azh
good azh I can, but they can't! They can't plead worth a darn!"

Mrs. Westfall relinquished her hold on the ear as if it had been a hot
coal. Her jaw fell. Her breath came with difficulty. The leering face,
the disrespect, the profanity! It was more than she could bear. She was
shocked. She was humiliated! She was dumfounded!

Quite unmindful of his mother's presence Biscuit lurched towards the
gasping members of her temperance flock and called out invitingly:

"Have a little liquor, ladies! Then I'll plead for you! Hey,
bartender!"--he stalked over and prodded Sube with his foot--"Wake up
there, and 'tend to your customers!"

"Don't touch me," growled Sube. "I'm an awful sick boy!"

"Shick! Who's shick? _You?_--Aw, come off! You're only playin' up!"
bawled Biscuit. "You wazh laughin' louder'n anybody a minute ago!"

But the truth of Sube's assertion was soon apparent to all. He was
undeniably sick. And the mere sight of his distress seemed to have an
unfavorable effect on the other thespians, for one by one they were
seized with similar spasms. Biscuit, who was the last to succumb, was
the sickest of all. His moans were the loudest, his convulsions the most
violent, his cramps the most griping.

Somebody had the presence of mind to run for Dr. Richards, but he was
not in his office. Efforts to get in touch with any of the other
physicians in town failed. They were all at the hospital watching the
performance of a rare operation by an eminent surgeon from a nearby
city. So the women of the Temperance Union helped the stricken boys to
their respective homes as best they could, that being considered the
proper place to die.

That it was a case of wholesale poisoning was readily apparent to all
but the victims. And each mother upon receiving her writhing son, put
into practise her idea of first aid to the poisoned. Stucky Richards'
mother tried the stomach pump without fatal results. Mrs. Sigsbee used a
mustard plaster on Cottontop's abdomen and camphor on his temples with
about equal success. Biscuit's mother prayed; but rather for her son's
forgiveness than his recovery.

The Cane boys were put to bed and compelled to drink several quarts of
tepid soapsuds while their father was rushing home from the office.

"What have you been eating?" he demanded breathlessly when, at last, he
reached Sube's bedside.

"Nu--nu--nuthin'," Sube managed to gulp out.

"Now think hard," urged Mr. Cane sternly. "You must have eaten something
or you wouldn't be so sick. Think hard! What did you eat this afternoon,
all you boys together?"

"Nu--nu--nuthin'," was Sube's hopeless response.

"Now take your time," said Mr. Cane more soothingly. "Think over
everything you did this afternoon--everywhere you went--and I'm sure
you'll be able to remember eating _something_! Doesn't that remind you
of something?"

"Nu--nu--no, I told you!" sobbed Sube hoarsely, taking advantage of his
sickness to indulge in a little impertinence.

But his father overlooked it and tried another method of interrogation.
"Where did you go right after lunch?" he asked.

"Uh--uh--over to Stu--Stucky Richards'."

"All right. You went over to Stucky's after lunch. Then what did you
do?" Mr. Cane was going about it as he usually approached an unwilling
witness.

"Pu--pu--played."

"You played! All right. What did you play?"

"Tu--Tu--Ten Knights in a Bu--Bu--Bar-room."

"What's that!" gasped Mr. Cane.

"I tu--tu--told you once!"

"All right--all right--how did you play it?" asked the frantic parent.

"It tu--takes too lu--lu--long to tell--"

A serious spasm prevented any further questioning for some moments. Then
Mr. Cane tried again.

"What part did you take in this game?"

"It wu--wu--wasn't a game!"

"Well, what was it?"

"It was a mu--mu--mellerdrammer!"

Sube's father was becoming desperate. He had tried kindness without
effect. Something must be done before it was too late. Perhaps
intimidation would get something out of the boy.

"Sube," he began sternly, "I may as well tell you that you have been
poisoned by something you have put into your stomach! If you will only
tell me what it is perhaps I can save your life! If not, there's no
telling _what_ may happen! Now, what have you been eating this
afternoon?"

[Illustration]

But Sube was in the state where he would not thank anybody for saving
his life. His response was listless.

"Nu--nu--nuthin'."

At this moment Mrs. Cane, who with Annie had been in constant attendance
at the bedside of Cathead, whose malady seemed to be much more active
than Sube's, came into the room.

"What did you do with the ten-pound sack of sugar Annie says you carried
off?" she asked desperately.

It was necessary to repeat the question several times before she
succeeded in obtaining a reply.

"Pu--pu--put it in the su--su--cider," Sube finally confessed.

"Cider!" cried Mr. Cane exultantly. "Have you been drinking _cider_?"

"A lu--lu--little."

"Where did you boys get cider?"

"Mu--mu--made it."

"Made it!" Mr. Cane could not believe his ears. "Made it? How could you
boys make cider?"

The process was soon explained. But Mr. Cane was still in doubt. It
seemed incredible that a little sweet cider could bring about such
disastrous results.

"How much did you drink?" he asked at length.

"Just a lu--lu--little."

"But what was the sugar for?" Mrs. Cane persisted.

"Why, whu--when we made the cider it was swu--swu--sweet; but when we
went to du--du--drink it, it was su--su--sour! So we put the
shu--shu--sugar in it!"

"When did you make it?" asked his father.

"About tu--tu--two weeks ago--"

"T-w-o w-e-e-k-s!" gasped Mr. Cane as he fell across the bed in a state
of total collapse. "Two weeks!--And hot weather at that!"

The telephone rang. Mr. Cane answered.

"Hello!" he called. "That you, doctor?"

"----"

"Stomach pump? No, I guess not. They're about half-full of tepid
soapsuds just now, and they seem to be doing very well without any pump
at all."

Then Mr. Cane listened for a long time chuckling softly. At last he
said:

"Well, don't operate, doctor! I've found your poison!"

"----"

"Hard cider!"



CHAPTER XXII

A SECOND-HAND WAR BABY


Sube Cane had never heard life defined as just one certain kind of thing
after another, but he knew that it was so; for so he had found it. And,
when, a few days after the final performance of Ten Knights in a
Barroom, he had turned the house upside down hunting for his Wild West
hat only to learn that his mother had given it away a few days before,
he felt the tragedy of existence as never before.

"Gave it away!" he gasped in stricken tones. "What'd you do that for?"

"Why, I had no idea that you wanted it," she replied; "it was always
lying around in the way. You never wore it, and besides, it had a great
hole through it."

Sube scowled. "Who'd you give it to?" he asked peevishly, with an insane
idea of getting it back.

"To some women who were soliciting for the destitute Belgians," she
answered. "You ought to be very glad to help such a worthy cause."

"What were their names?"

"I'm sure I don't know. They were representatives of the Red Cross
Society who had come all the way down from Rochester."

And Sube went out of the house wronged and brooding, and threw himself
down on the grass near the kitchen door, where Gizzard joined him a
short time later.

"Now, what do you know about that, Giz?" growled Sube, as Gizzard jumped
up and caught a limb of the apple tree and started to skin the cat.
"They went and gave away my Wild West hat."

Although the cat was only partially skinned, Gizzard delayed the
operation long enough to remark that it was no great loss anyway.

"I guess you don't know the hat I mean," returned Sube warmly. "I mean
the hat that Buffalo Bill wore in the Indian fight, and got a
bullet-hole through!"

Gizzard dropped to the ground. "If you mean that ol' felt hat you found
on the Fair Grounds the day after the circus," he said without mercy, "I
know _that_ one."

The authenticity of this hat had long been disputed; and even now, after
it was gone, Gizzard was unwilling to concede to it any of the virtues
with which Sube's imagination had clothed it. And in addition to this,
Gizzard had grievances of his own. The solicitors had by no means passed
him by.

"You needn't think you're the only one," he complained. "My mother went
and give away the best pair of ol' pants I had. She gave 'em to the
sufferin' Belgiums."

"Huh!" snorted Sube disdainfully. "Nothin' but an ol' pair of pants!
What's an ol' pair of pants, anyway? Everybody's got an ol' pair of
pants to give away; but let me tell you they won't get another genuwine
hat that Buffalo Bill wore with a hole shot through!"

But the former occupant of the pants refused to have them lightly
treated. "Let me tell you that them pants wasn't to be sneezed at!" he
retorted. "They was the best _ol'_ pants I ever had. You never seen such
pockets in your life--great big, deep fellers, and a little secret
money-pocket--"

Reference to this secret pocket reminded Sube of something. "You mean
those gray pants with the buckle on the back and all the suspender
buttons on 'em?" he interrupted.

"Yep, the very ones," replied Gizzard, pleased that his apparel should
have made such an impression on his friends. "'Member 'em?"

"You bet I remember 'em!" cried Sube enthusiastically. "That's the pair
we used to sing the song about--'Papa's Pants Will Soon Fit Gizzie!'"

"Well," returned Gizzard defiantly, "they wasn't an ol' felt hat that a
horse had stepped on, anyway."

The allusion was somewhat pointed, but Sube did not follow the matter
up. Instead, he asked amicably, "Who did the beggin' over to your
house?"

"A couple of ladies from Rochester," answered Gizzard. "I didn't see
'em, but that's what Ma said."

"That's jus' what I thought," muttered Sube as he practiced "jumping the
fence" with his jackknife, and at the same time turned an idea over in
his mind. Presently it came out. "Look 'ere, Giz," he said, "if a couple
of ladies can come down here from Rochester and get away with a lot of
stuff, what's the reason _we_ can't go around and get hold of some good
things?"

"They wouldn't give 'em to _us_."

"Not if we said they was for the sufferin' Belgiums?" demanded Sube.
"I'll betcha they would!"

"But what do we want of a lot of ol' women's clo's and hats and things,
and ol' men's shoes?" asked Gizzard.

"Sell 'em to the second-hand man!" howled Sube jubilantly. "He'll buy
_any_thing, and pay us good cash money for it, too! But," he added after
a moment, "we won't sell 'em any of the ol' men's shoes, 'cause _I_ can
wear 'em. I got good big feet on me; I can wear _any_ man's shoe!"

Gizzard glanced quickly down at Sube's feet, and then at his own; then
he gave a disdainful grunt. "Bet my feet are as big as yours," he
declared, "if not bigger."

"Aw, come off," retorted Sube. "You got reg'lar little baby-feet."

"Is that _so_!" demanded Gizzard belligerently. "I'll measure up with
you any ol' time." And he planted one of his feet alongside of Sube's in
such a way that the toe of his own shoe extended slightly beyond that of
his competitor. "There!" he howled exultantly. "What'd I tell you?"

Sube shoved him away forcefully, at the same time muttering, "Cheater!
There was room enough for your other foot back there by my heel."

"Beater!" shouted Gizzard lustily.

"Cheater!" responded Sube as lustily.

"Beater!"

"Cheater!"

This shouting was continued for some time with the regularity of a
couple of canvasmen driving a tent stake, each of the contestants firmly
believing that the first one to give up would be the loser. But Annie
declared the argument a draw by suddenly opening the screen door and
throwing cold water--a pail of it--on the contestants.

As soon as they had retired to a safe distance Gizzard started to renew
the argument, but Sube refused to go on with it. "Listen here, Giz," he
said, "we could keep on chewin' about it all night, and wouldn't prove
an'thing. The only way to do is wait till we get a pair of good ol'
man-size shoes, and then we'll try 'em on, and the one they fit the best
has got the biggest feet. What's the matter of that?"

"I'll go you!" replied Gizzard with enough spirit to show that he had no
fear of the outcome. "But how do we know they'll give us any men's
shoes?"

"We'll ask for 'em," replied Sube with a great show of assurance.

"What'll we say?"

"We'll say we're collectin' for the sufferin' Belgiums, and that they
need ol' men's shoes awful bad. And if they've got any, they'll give 'em
to us."

"And what if they ast us where we're takin' the things to?" asked
Gizzard.

"We'll tell 'em our mothers are the committee, and that we're takin' the
things to our house; and that _we_ are jus' runnin' errands for 'em."

And so the thing was done. Their first call netted them two gingham
aprons and a faded morning dress of a type the boys called "wrappers"
and a woman's hat, untrimmed. Their next brought them several pairs of
women's shoes in an advanced state of dilapidation. This offering had
really been made ready for the rubbish-man, but the donor thought that
if the Belgians could use it, they were welcome to it.

"We better sling all this junk away," suggested Gizzard as they reached
the street.

"Sling it away!" cried Sube. "Well, I guess not! This is as good as
money to us; the second-hand man will buy every bit of it!"

"What'll you gimme for my share?" asked Gizzard skeptically.

"Oh, you wait," was Sube's evasive reply; "you jus' wait till that
little ol' second-hand man comes round, and then you'll be glad we
didn't sling it away. We'll have more money than we know what to do
with!"

Of course, at the moment, neither of the boys knew how literally true
this prediction was to turn out. In fact, Gizzard's reply was little
more than a dubious muttering to the effect that they'd better "dump the
dern' stuff at the barn" before stopping anywhere else.

Sube refused to do this. "'Tain't the best way," he argued. "The best
way is to have our arms all full of stuff when we go to a house, and
then they'll think we're genuwine, and give us more."

And Sube was right. The mere sight of the "wrapper" reminded the next
lady of the house they called on, that she had one she could spare. And
before long the stock of "wrappers" was quite complete, with sizes full,
and a wide range of patterns to select from.

Then suddenly there came from the clear sky, so to speak, the most
splendid offering of the day: a silken slumber-robe of stunning
checkerboard design, and trimmed with a shimmering band of panne velvet.

True, there were coffee stains on the front and paint stains on the
back, but it was a gorgeous garment. And the suggestive effect of it was
wonderful; for the first door at which Sube knocked after he had hung
the slumber-robe over his arm, responded with a man's suit of
gambler's-plaids that could have been suggested by nothing else.

And with the plaid suit came a crimson vest with a set of brass buttons
that was nearly complete. The combined effect of the slumber-robe and
the suit and the vest drew from the next place a pair of men's
lemon-colored shoes with moth-eaten cloth tops--and before the members
of the Belgian relief committee had reached the sidewalk they were in a
turmoil.

The shoes had been handed to Gizzard; but the moment Sube got his eyes
on them he politely offered to relieve Gizzard of the burden.

"You got your hands full, there, Giz," he said; "I'll take those shoes."

"Never mind," replied Gizzard, brushing hurriedly by. "I can handle 'em
all right."

But Sube insisted. "I ain't got much of a load," he prevaricated,
reaching towards the shoes and dropping one or two of the things he was
carrying. "I'll take 'em."

"I don't _think_ you will," growled Gizzard. "I'll keep 'em myself. She
give 'em to _me_! And besides, they're too big for you."

"I ain't afraid of that," returned Sube angrily. "All I'm 'fraid of is
that they ain't big enough."

As he said this he suddenly dropped his burden on the ground and made a
grab for the shoes.

"No, you don't!" howled Gizzard, dropping his own burden and jumping
back. But he was too late; Sube had already snatched one of the shoes
and was reaching for the other. A struggle ensued, each boy holding fast
to the shoe he already had and trying to get possession of the other;
but it was of short duration. For each boy realized that he could not
overpower the other without the unrestricted use of both hands.

As suddenly as it had started, the struggling stopped, and each boy
dropped on the grass and began to remove a shoe preparatory to putting
his half of the bone of contention in the only safe place he could think
of. And at practically the same instant both were back on their feet
again ready to resume the struggle. But the hopelessness of holding one
end of an evenly matched opponent while removing a shoe from the other
end became apparent to both; and muttering things about "showing" each
other they took up their burdens, and still muttering, made their way
back to "headquarters."



CHAPTER XXIII

RUMORS OF FRAUD


Sube was the first to enter the barn and deposit his load of cast-offs
on the floor, and as Gizzard came shuffling along a short distance
behind looking down at his mismated feet, Sube grunted:

"Umgh, I'm glad that shoe didn't fall off'm you 'fore you got here; it
fits you like a cup on a pump."

Gizzard snorted with rage. "I'll _show_ you how it fits," he threatened,
"if you don't give me my other shoe! She give them shoes to _me_! She
put 'em right in my hands, and they're mine!"

If Sube had been entertaining any ideas of taking the shoe from Gizzard
by force, he did not show it, for when he spoke again his voice was calm
and peaceful. "Listen here, Giz," he pleaded; "look at this bully
gambler's suit. Jus' think of wearin' a suit like a feller that keeps a
good tough pool hall! You gimme that other shoe, and I'll give you my
share of this suit, and the red vest besides."

But Gizzard was not to be sidetracked. "What do I want of an ol' suit
of clo's?" he demanded angrily. "I wouldn't give that shoe for a dozen
of 'em! Now you gimme my shoe 'fore it falls off! She give that shoe to
me, and it's _mine_!"

For a moment Sube hesitated; then he bent over and unbuttoned the
lemon-colored shoe, and kicked it across the barn. "Take your ol' shoe!"
he blurted out. "It's too small for me, anyway!"

"Ya-a-ah!" jeered Gizzard as he leaped after it. "Too small, nuthin'!
Y'could of kicked it off without unbuttonin' it at all!"

"It pinched my foot, or you wouldn't have got it so easy," muttered
Sube; "but let me tell you one thing, Mr. Gizzard--I get my pick of all
the rest of the men's shoes we take in."

Gizzard felt that he could afford to be generous. "Sure you do," he
assented readily. "But I can tell you that there won't be nuthin' to
compare with these good ol' cloth-tops," he added as he finished
buttoning the shoe which he had just put on, and began strutting up and
down before Sube in a most tantalizing way.

This was too much for Sube, who stood up and pretended to yawn as he
said, "Well, you better be gettin' 'em off so's we can go on collectin'
things."

"Gettin' 'em off?" demanded Gizzard with an offended air. "I don't
think I'll be gettin' 'em off. I'm goin' to wear 'em!"

"Wear those lookin' things in public?" sneered Sube. "Well, if you do,
you'll go collectin' alone. _I_ won't go with you."

"You bet I'll go alone," said Gizzard. "And we'll soon see who it is
that gets all the best things." And he shuffled out of the barn and went
his way.

"Remember, now," Sube called after him, "I get my first pick of _all_
the men's shoes no matter who brings 'em in."

Gizzard nodded his head several times and started in an easterly
direction. As soon as Sube saw which way Gizzard had gone, he picked up
the slumber-robe and started in the opposite direction. He went by the
most direct route to the home of one Achilles Whitney, a gentleman
constructed on the lines of a white hope. But here he met with complete
failure and withdrew empty handed.

Next he tried the residence of Mr. Silas Peck, an ex-sheriff and a man
of some weight; but here he acquired nothing but an old derby hat and a
quantity of feminine apparel, which he had now come to regard somewhat
lightly.

His next stopping place was the door of Oliver Lyman, Esquire, another
gentleman of Goliathic size. Here, as in other places visited by him
alone, he made a special plea for men's shoes for the "sufferin'
barefooted Belgiums" and he nearly died of joy when he saw the size of
the pair the generous Mrs. Lyman handed out to him. He hurried back to
headquarters at once, and there Gizzard found him a few minutes later,
most fetchingly attired.

Sube had put on the pool-room suit and red vest, and in order to display
the vest to the greatest advantage he had thrust his hands deep in the
pants pockets. Gizzard was beginning to think that perhaps he had
overlooked a bet on the suit, when he suddenly caught sight of the
shoes. He stopped in his tracks and stood as if transfixed, motionless
and speechless, while Sube was bustling around arranging some of the
merchandise. And in spite of the mammoth size of the shoes he had on,
Sube walked gracefully--almost naturally. But there was a reason for
this; he had been foresighted enough to put Mr. Lyman's shoes on over
his own. Yet how was Gizzard expected to know that?

For only a moment was the wearer of the lemon-colored shoes speechless;
then he managed to stommer out, "S-S-Some s-s-shoes there, Sube. Where'd
you ever dig 'em up?"

"These shoes?" Sube gave his partner a patronizing look. "Why, I was
goin' past Lyman's, and I guess M's Lyman must of looked out of the
window and seen how big my feet was, 'cause she come right to the door
and called me. 'Seward,' she says, 'here's a pair of shoes I bought for
Mr. Lyman in Rochester, and they're too big for him. He can't wear 'em;
but I thought _you_ might be able to wear 'em,' she says. So I tried 'em
on, and they fit like the paper on the wall. How do you like 'em?"

Gizzard gazed enviously at the great flat, liver-shaped shoes his
companion was wearing, and replied, "They're all right, only they're
black. They don't match your suit as good as these here shoes of mine
would."

"They match plenty good enough to suit _me_," Sube assured him; "and
besides, those shoes of yours are too small for me."

"Too small!" howled Gizzard. "Why, you had 'em on jus' a little while
ago!"

"Not both of 'em," replied Sube; "only _one_ of 'em. And that's why I
give it back. Didn't I tell you right then it was too small for me--?"

"Vell, you say coom dree o'clock," said a harsh voice behind them. "I
coom; vat y'vanta sell?"

It was the buyer for Mose Smolenski, Everything New and Second-Hand
Cheap for Cash.

Sube was the first to recover from his astonishment. "Why," he managed
to get out after a struggle, "why, we want to sell all this prope'ty."
He made a sweeping gesture that included not only the clothing
contributed in the name of the "sufferin' Belgiums" but his father's new
lawn-mower, piano-box, garden tools, and a pile of kindling wood.

[Illustration]

The magnitude of the offer aroused the suspicions of the second-hand man
at once. "Dot's a good deal," he muttered; "it's too mooch, altogedder
too mooch."

"Too much?" cried Sube. "How do you know it's too much? We haven't told
you what we wanted yet?"

The second-hand man shook his head many times as he repeated slowly,
"Altogedder too mooch."

"We'll sell it awful cheap," said Sube anxiously.

The buyer continued to shake his head.

"We'll sell it for about half what it's worth."

Still the buyer shook his head.

"We'll sell it for less than that!" cried Sube in desperation. "We'll
sell it for anything! Make us an offer!"

That was enough for the representative of Mose Smolenski; now he _knew_
that something was wrong. "I make you no offers," he said, moving
towards the door; "y't'ink I vanta get ar-r-rested?"

Sube drew back in astonishment. "Arrested?" he gasped. "What for?"

The second-hand man shrugged his shoulders. "Vell, I donno. Mebbe you
buy it. Mebbe you steal it. I donno. I make no offers for dis
t'ings"--he waved a knotted hand towards the interior of the barn--"but
mebbe I buy dem shoes y'got on; how mooch y'vant for dem?"

With conscious pride Sube glanced down at his feet and replied, "They're
not for sale. It's the only pair I got that fits me."

The second-hand man turned away with another shrug of his rounded
shoulders. "Vell, if your popper or your mommer _he_ say all right, vy,
den ve talk pizness."

Sube was very much put out. "My popper and my mommer ain't got a dern
thing to do with this prope'ty," he growled. "It's mine, I tell you!"

"Vell, goo'-bye. Mebbe I come see you some odder day," said the
second-hand man smiling pleasantly through his sparse beard as he
started down the driveway.

The boys were still looking helplessly at each other when he climbed
into his ramshackle wagon and drove away. At last Sube burst out
angrily, "He thought we stole it! What do you know about that?"

"I know we got all this stuff on our hands," muttered Gizzard, "and I
wisht it was in Halifax!"

"But he thought we _stole_ it!" Sube persisted. "As if _we'd_ steal
an'thing."

"We didn't steal it," Gizzard agreed; "but here it _is_, and what are we
goin' to do with it? That's what I wanta know."

"We'll do something with it all right," Sube declared sullenly. "That
ol' second-hand man ain't the only one who can buy things."

"Well, what'll we do with it then?" asked Gizzard.

Sube made no immediate answer. He didn't know himself. But he felt an
idea coming, and he struggled hard to reach into the infinite and grasp
it.

And in the meantime, at an afternoon bridge given by Mrs. Prentice Y.
Prentice, Sube's mother had heard for the first time of the Belgian
relief work being carried on in her name.

"Oh, it can't be possible," she said; "somebody must have made a
mistake. Of course, I am thoroughly in sympathy with the Belgians, you
know; every one is. But, really, I haven't been able to find a moment to
devote to any such work."

"You haven't!" called Mrs. Potter from an adjoining table. "Why, my
dear! Your name was distinctly mentioned at our house. Celeste came
straight from the door and said that the messengers from Mrs. Cane had
come to see what I could give to the suffering Belgians. And I sent you
the most gorgeous silk slumber-robe, one that I picked up in Paris. Do
you mean to say that you never got it?"

Mrs. Cane was quite overcome. "Why, I never heard of such a thing!" she
exclaimed. "Who could have done such an underhanded trick?"

"Some swindlers, without a doubt," Mrs. Rice put in. "Just to think of
making those poor Belgians the excuse for a lot of fraud. Why, I gave
them a beautiful pair of Mr. Rice's shoes, broadcloth tops, you know. I
don't know what he'll say when he finds they're gone; and if he should
ever discover that the Belgians didn't get them after all--well, I'd
never hear the last of it! And you know that Mrs. Van Auken who lives
next door--of course you don't _know_ her; I don't myself; but you know
who she is--well, I saw her handing out one of her husband's race-track
plaid suits. _That_ ought to be easy to trace!"

At every table Mrs. Cane found one or more victims of the fraud, and
little else was talked of wherever she was. When the party finally broke
up she was in a high state of agitation.

"You're all upset, dear," said Mrs. Potter who had come up to her in the
dressing room. "You must let me take you home in my new motor. The ride
will brace you up wonderfully."

"Oh, but that would take you out of your way," remonstrated Mrs. Cane as
unconvincingly as possible.

"But, my dear! What is a block or two to an imported motor?" Mrs. Potter
waved her fat hand deprecatingly. "Nothing; abs'lutely nothing! And
François controls that sixty horsepower motor as if it were a Shetland
pony. He's wonderful!"

And thus it happened that Mrs. Cane and Mrs. Rice, and one or two others
who lived in the same neighborhood were handed into Mrs. Potter's
purring limousine by the much-liveried François, and rolled off
majestically amid the ten-inch upholstery.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE AUCTIONEER


"I can't understand how any one would DARE to use my name in such an
unwarranted way," murmured Mrs. Cane as the limousine got under way.

"Oh, my _dear_!" exclaimed Mrs. Potter. "They dare do anything these
days. If they have stopped at merely using your name, you are to be
congratulated. They have probably forged your signature and exhibited
your photograph all over town."

The idea was very distasteful to Mrs. Cane. "I should hate to think of
those awful men--they _were_ men, weren't they?"

"I didn't see them myself," replied Mrs. Potter, "but it seems to me
that Celeste said they were boys."

Mrs. Cane started perceptibly. "Boys?" she gasped.

"Why, yes; I'm sure that's what she said," returned Mrs. Potter. "But if
you want to trace them, that silk slumber-robe ought to be a great
help. There isn't another like it in this country. Picked it up in
Paris, you know; soft, clingy silk crêpe in large checks of black and
white, and the most gorgeous panne velvet border!"

This opportunity was too good for Mrs. Rice to overlook. She had
personally handed out the lemon-colored shoes, and had recognized the
solicitors beyond peradventure. "If you should inquire around among the
victims, dearie," she drawled out with carefully stimulated lack of
interest, "you might find somebody who could identify them."

At that moment the car drew up at the curb and came to a stop. Mrs. Cane
glanced out and exclaimed, "What! Home already!-- But what is the crowd?
Oh, I hope our house isn't on fire!"

As she struggled hurriedly out of the limousine without waiting for the
assistance of François, the other passengers craned their necks to see
what the excitement was. And as they looked, a startling checkered
device that was instantly recognized as Mrs. Potter's slumber-robe
fluttered out over the heads of the jostling multitude, where it waved
proudly for a moment, and was then gathered back into the hands of an
individual standing on the top of a rudely constructed counter about
which the crowd was clustered.

And as he spread the silken folds over his arm so that all might see it
to better advantage, he began to cry out in the loud voice of an
auctioneer:

"One dollar, one dollar, one dollar--one dollar, one dollar, one
dollar--I am offered only one dollar for this be-e-eautiful garment that
a certain rich lady--you all know her--bought in the large city of
Rochester; I am offered only one dollar, one dollar, one dollar--she
told me herself only this morning that it cost FIVE!--and yet I am
offered only one dollar, one dollar, one dollar, ONE DOLLAR!--I will put
it back in stock before I will sell it for such a ridic'lous figger. You
don't know what you're missin'."

He slung it on a line stretched above his head, and turning to a corps
of assistants who were waiting on a clamoring public (composed of
neighborhood domestics and Italians from across the railroad tracks),
sang out:

"Hand up something else, men! We must slaughter this stock to aid the
sufferin' Belgiums! We must aid the dessolute Belgiums!"--and he held up
a pink "wrapper."--"Now, what am I offered to start this to aid the
dessolute--"

The crowd parted, and fell back on either side, opening up a passage for
a woman in white who went rapidly towards the counter, in front of
which she came to a stop.

At the sight of her, patrons of the sale tucked their purchases under
their coats and departed in haste, and the auctioneer paused with his
mouth open as if a word had stuck halfway out. The pink "wrapper" fell
from his nerveless hand, and the gambler's-plaids in which he was clad
became as slack and empty-looking as a fallen tent. Everything about him
seemed to wilt except his remarkable shoes; and they were as long, and
as large, and as liver-shaped after her coming as before.

For one long minute she gazed at the auctioneer; and as she gazed the
clerks vanished, the multitude melted away, the auctioneer slid down
from his perch and shuffled towards the house, and the limousine gnashed
its gears, cleared its throat, and swept down the street. And all that
was left was the unspeakable litter incident to a successful
rummage-sale, the boxes and boards of the improvised counter, a few odds
and ends of stock, and above all, fluttering in the breeze, the gorgeous
slumber-robe that Mrs. Potter had picked up in Paris.

A riot-call over the telephone summoned Mr. Cane and a couple of huskies
to the scene. And while the huskies demolished the second-hand store
and tucked it somewhere out of sight, Mr. Cane did likewise with Sube.

[Illustration: THE AUCTIONEER PAUSED]

The next day Gizzard made his appearance at the Cane home at an early
hour. But he did not yodel in the yard or whistle under the window.
Instead, he walked decorously up to the front door and rang the bell.

When Annie opened the door and saw who the caller was, she was somewhat
put out. "How many times have I got to tell you boys--" she began
crossly.

But Gizzard did not quail. He had hardened himself for an ordeal, and
the encounter with Annie was as nothing to him. "I wanta see M's Cane,"
he said with quiet dignity.

Annie was so impressed by his demeanor that she stopped her tirade and
ushered him into the library. Then she went to call her mistress. In due
time Mrs. Cane came.

Gizzard stood up and strained at his cap as if he expected to find his
voice in the lining, for it was strangely missing. For a moment Mrs.
Cane watched him with amusement. Then she took pity on him.

"You came over to apologize, didn't you, Charley?" she said kindly.
"Well, it's all right; I accept your apology. I am sure you boys didn't
realize what you were doing, or you never would have done what you did
yesterday. But, of course you understand that you and Seward must return
to the rightful owners everything that is left; and I think that perhaps
you will want to be doing it right away. Seward is waiting for you in
the barn."

Gizzard's eyes spoke eloquently of his gratitude; but his voice went
back on him. For all he could say as he moved circuitously towards the
door was, "Goo'-by."

When Gizzard went into the barn a moment later he found Sube standing in
an attitude of dejection before a heap of cast-off shoes and clothing on
the floor.

"Hello, Sube," he said humbly.

"Hello, Giz."

"What'd she do to you yest'day?"

"_She_ only locked me in the closet."

"What'd your dad do?"

"Plenty much. What'd you catch?"

Gizzard twitched uncomfortably at the recollection. "First, Ma licked me
and sent me to bed without any supper, and when Pa come home he said it
wasn't enough; so he licked me again and tol' me I'd haf to come over
and 'pologize to your mother."

Sube brightened up at once. "Let's go do it now," he suggested.

"Ya-a-ah! I've done it!"

"Gee, I'd like to been there to heard you. What'd she say?"

"Oh,--she didn't say so much," replied Gizzard importantly. "She took it
all right."

"There wasn't much left to say," muttered Sube. "She'd said it all to
me."

"Well," Gizzard sighed, "she did say we'd got to take this stuff back.
But"--he added in a lower tone--"she didn't say nuthin' 'bout the dough.
How much was they, anyway?"

Sube glanced cautiously about before he answered, "Twenty dollars and
seventeen cents!"

Gizzard's jaw fell. "Gosh all hemlock!" he gasped. "What'll we ever _do_
with it?"

Sube shook his head hopelessly. "Dern'd if I know," he muttered.

"Where'd you put it?"

"Up there." Sube pointed to the place over the door where he had hidden
the candle the night they started for the Mexican border. "Want to see
it?"

"Not on your life I don't. I don't want nuthin' to do with it!"

Sube sighed. It seemed as if his troubles would never end. "Well," he
said finally, "we might as well be takin' this stuff back."

"You know where it all goes?" asked Gizzard.

Sube poked the pile of clothing with his foot. "That pink one's Miss
Mandeville's, and that blue and white thing b'longs to Hubbell's.
Where'd that green sweater come from? _You_ brought that in."

And so they went on for some time. They sorted out and put in one pile
all articles that they were able to identify. The others were left in a
heterogeneous mass that was a good deal of a problem to them until they
happened to think of some rubbish-barrels a short distance up the alley.
And there the second-hand man found them a few days later.

The boys had not been specifically instructed as to what explanation was
to be made to the property owners at the time of making restitution, so
they took that matter into their own hands. The formula adopted was
something like this:

"There was a mistake made about some of these things, and the committee
asked us to bring them back and say thank you very much." And the
messenger dashed away without waiting long enough for any complications
to arise.

But throughout the period of restoration, the lemon-colored shoes had
been conspicuously absent. Sube did not overlook this fact, but he was a
little sensitive about speaking of the matter for fear of causing
Gizzard undue embarrassment. And, doubtless for the same reason, Gizzard
forebore making any comment about the absence of the shoes last seen on
Sube at the time of the auction. Perhaps each partner assumed that the
other had gone by himself and made restoration. But in any event,
neither the one pair nor the other was ever seen in public again.

But in a little cubby-hole above the barn-door was something not so
easily disposed of. It made no sound; it had no perceptible odor; and
yet, every time the boys went into the barn they were reminded of it.
Twenty dollars and seventeen cents has more ways than one to make its
presence known.

Sube treated it with supreme indifference; he would not so much as
glance up at the hiding-place. But Gizzard was more impressionable, for
suddenly he cried out:

"I wisht the dern stuff was in Halifax!"

"I wisht it was," muttered Sube; "but it ain't. And it's a lot of
money."

"It's more'n I ever want to see again!" exclaimed Gizzard warmly. After
a moment of silence he cried, "Hey, Sube, why not give it to the Sunday
School?"

Sube shook his head. The impropriety of giving tainted money to the
church occurred to him at once, but Gizzard's suggestion to give it away
had put an idea into his mind. "What's the reason we can't send it back
to the gover'ment?" he asked. "We could put it in an envelope and mail
it to the President."

"What's the President got to do with it?" demanded Gizzard.

"Well, the gover'ment _made_ it, didn't it? And the President's the same
as the gover'ment, ain't he?"

In common with a number of other people, Gizzard was not sure about
this. He said he would have to ask his father. And at this point the
bell rang to summon Sube to his midday meal. As the boy seated himself
at the table his father asked:

"Have you returned all those things that were out in the barn?"

"Yes, Papa," answered the boy quietly. "We took them all back."

"Well, what did you do with the money?" Mr. Cane inquired. "You must
have taken in some money."

"We haven't done an'thing with it--yet."

"What are you _going_ to do with it?" asked the merciless inquisitor.

"Why,--why, we were thinking about sending it to the President, so he
could put it back in the treasury."

"Conscience money, eh?" demanded Mr. Cane. "Well, it's a great relief to
discover that you _have_ a conscience. But why don't you satisfy your
conscience by devoting it to the purpose for which you raised it?"

Sube looked up at his father with an expression of ineffable relief.
"_Could_ we do that?" he asked breathlessly.

"Why not?" replied Mr. Cane. "By the way, how much was there?"

"Twenty dollars and seventeen cents."

Mr. Cane uttered a low, long whistle. "And the auction was only half
over when it was raided!" he murmured. "Mother, you ought to let this
boy handle the next charity bazaar for the church."



CHAPTER XXV

STUNG


"I ain't hardly had a decent swim all summer," Sube complained to
Gizzard one day late in August. "It's all right to go in on the sly once
in a while, but when you got to do it all the time it gets to be a
chestnut."

"Well, why don't we fix up some other swimmin'-hole?" suggested Gizzard.

"The Unionville hole is the only decent one there is!" returned Sube
bitterly. "And I'm goin'ta fix that Bigmouth Bissett so's he won't come
botherin' when _I'm_ in swimmin'! That's what I'm goin'ta do!"

Gizzard's interest was aroused at once. "What you goin' to do to 'em?"
he asked.

"Never you mind! I'll fix 'em! He'll be sorry he ever monkeyed around
_me_!"

"But how'll you fix 'em?" Gizzard insisted.

"You jus' wait! I'll show you!"

To tell the truth Sube did not then know what he was going to do to his
arch enemy. But he had supreme faith that there is always something to
be done if one can only think of it. Relations had been strained ever
since the limburger episode. Seth Bissett had sworn that he would avenge
himself, and he was everywhere regarded as a gentleman of his word in
matters of vengeance.

Accordingly, whenever Sube and his companions had desired to take a
swim, they had deemed it advisable to post a sentry in a place where he
could command a view of the approach to the swimming-hole. And as picket
duty usually fell to Biscuit's lot no matter who counted out or how,
Biscuit made slow progress in mastering the art of swimming in the water
with the same degree of skill he exhibited on top of the kitchen table.
He was still inclined to swim like a fish--under water.

But he was a past-master at the art of "chawin' beef." He could untie
knotted clothes faster than any other member of the gang--perhaps
because he had had more practice--and he was familiar with every known
penalty meted out to "the last man with his clo's off." He could tell
with clairvoyant certainty who was "cracking stones"; and as a sentry he
stood in a class by himself. He never slept, he never loafed; he never
slipped back to take a peek at the game of tag. But when the enemy
approached he quickly spread the alarm so that the swimmers could snatch
up their clothes and retire into the bushes.

At first the element of danger was exhilarating; then it became
bothersome; and finally, intolerable. It was at this stage that Sube
made known his intention to fix Seth Bissett. Not long afterwards he
went into the silence and emerged with an idea. Then his actions became
suspicious, and his face assumed a look of inscrutable determination.
The subsequent acts of Sube and Gizzard were baffling in the extreme.
They repaired to the upper story of the barn for a conference; but when
Annie innocently entered the barn a few moments afterwards in quest of
kindling wood, Sube's suspicions were aroused, for suspicions are one of
the most precious possessions of boyhood.

"Bet she's follerin' us!" he whispered.

Gizzard glanced cautiously about before he replied, "Prob'ly."

"Let's get out of here and go to some place that's safe."

An adjournment was thereupon taken to the midst of the berry patch in
the rear of the deserted house, to which they had fled the night Dan
Lannon was after them. From there they returned to the barn and
obtained the ball of strong twine that Sube had used on his box kite,
after which they took a roundabout course that brought them at dusk to
the Unionville Mill.

They slipped across the bridge and plunged into the jungle back of the
swimming-hole; and there they lay in hiding until the last laggard
swimmer had left. Then they stepped boldly into the clearing.

After assuring himself that the coast was clear Sube drew back his
sleeves in imitation of a prestidigitator. "Watch me closely, ladies and
gent'mun!" he began in an undertone. "The hand is quicker than the eye."

He made a few baffling passes with his hands and produced the ball of
string. This he held aloft between his thumb and forefinger that each
and all might see.

"I have here a simple little ball of twine, ladies and gent'mun! A
simple little--"

"Aw, shut up!" cried Gizzard good naturedly. "And go on up that tree
'fore it gets so dark you can't see nuthin'!"

Sube immediately began to climb the huge leaning willow that overhung
the pool, protesting meanwhile that the hand was quicker than the eye.
But after he had ascended a few feet he became singularly silent.
Between the darkness and the foliage Gizzard lost sight of him
completely, but he did not appear to be alarmed, for he lay down on his
back and gazed up at the stars that were just beginning to become
visible. It was some time before Sube re-appeared laboriously lowering
himself to the ground. As soon as his feet touched the sod he snatched
the ball of string from his teeth and spat vigorously.

"Rottenes' string I ever tasted!" he sputtered.

"Well," returned Gizzard, "if it's any worse'n chawin' a knot out of a
porpoise-hide shoestring, I don't want any."

"But I got it fixed all right," said Sube.

Then Gizzard led the way into the shrubbery, followed by Sube, who
carefully paid out the string as he went. An observer might have thought
that the pair were intent upon outwitting a labyrinth; but assuredly
such was not their purpose. For after retiring a few paces into the
underbrush, Sube tied the string securely to a sapling, and detaching
the ball with his knife, put it into his pocket; then, taking hold of
hands in order to keep together they made a wide detour to avoid coming
in contact with the string, and started for home.

The next night was a memorable one in the annals of the Unionville
swimming-hole. None of the bathers present that night could think of
anything else for several hours afterwards; and the pangs of some of
them lasted well into the next day, and even the day after that. The
thing began just as Seth Bissett was poised on the bank for a dive.

He heard a vicious hum, and at almost the same instant felt something
strike him a stinging blow on the ear. Before he could so much as raise
his hand to investigate, another pierced his shoulder. Then a broadside
swept his entire body.

The other members of the party were at a loss to account for his strange
actions, other than by the hypothesis that he had been seized with
sudden insanity; for, with an unearthly yell, he leaped into the air
swinging his arms and legs like the wings of an ungainly windmill, and
landed, after a short but successful flight, far out in the water.

As he came to the surface he took up the yell where he had left off and
again began the windmill motions to the accompaniment of incoherent
profanity. Then he went down again. By this time his strange conduct was
perfectly understood by his companions, for they had themselves been
attacked by the same insidious foe. A swarm of yellow-jacket hornets,
proverbially mad, had descended upon them without apparent provocation,
and wholly without warning.

As soon as the wily yellowjackets discovered that their prey was in the
water, they hovered about over the surface, striking at everything that
came up. And while mankind is, in a limited way, amphibious, surely he
makes no claim of extensive submarine ability. This fact the murderous
hordes seemed to have taken into consideration in carrying out their
attack.

By painful stages the victims worked their way downstream until they
were out of range. Then they dragged themselves up on the bank and
started what looked like a cartoon of a mud-slinging campaign. To an
idle passerby a group of full grown human beings with their heads and
often their bodies completely poulticed in black mud would have been an
amusing sight. But on this occasion not so much as a suspicion of a
smile crossed the face of any person present. An incipient laugh would
doubtless have been punished by immediate execution.

The only observers who were not among the suffering participants were in
no mood for smiles. They lay absolutely motionless back in the bushes
and devoutly hoped that their labored breathing and pounding heartbeats
would not be overheard. The affair had got away from them entirely.
There was no telling what would happen if their part in it should be
discovered.

Not until it was quite dark did the badly stung bathers dare to return
for their clothes. The hornets were gone. And the languid stillness of
the summer night was broken only by their grim tokens of exclamation.

Some time after the last suffering victim had dragged his weary feet
down the path leading from the pool, two dark shadows cautiously emerged
from the shrubbery.

"Let's beat it for home!" urged a husky voice. "If any one saw us around
here they'd prob'ly kill us!"

"All right," breathed the other. "The quicker the better!"

"Do you s'pose any one ever did die from bee-sting?"

"I'm afraid so. One feller said if he didn't die before mornin' he might
have one chance in a hundred--"

Next day Sube's face blanched with fear as he saw the undertaker's wagon
pass the house in the direction of the Unionville Mill. When the
fearsome news was broken to Gizzard he presented a ray of hope.

"I ast my dad last night if anybody ever died of bee-sting and he said
he never heard of any; but he said if a person got enough of 'em he
couldn't see why they wouldn't kill just like a charge of birdshot."

"Does he know about everybody that dies in the whole world?" asked Sube
incredulously.

"Maybe not all of 'em; but he knows about a good many."

At this point in the discussion Biscuit arrived, and with him came a
brilliant idea to Sube.

"How good do you know Hi Wilbur, Biscuit?" he asked.

"How good! Say! He used to work for us!"

"Bet you don't know 'im good enough to nail 'im for a ride when he comes
along!" challenged Sube.

"Oh! Don't I! Don't I, now! Well, you just watch me! _Watch_ me! I'll
show you if I do or not!" howled Biscuit.

"Well," said Sube, "he jus' went down the street, and when he comes back
pretty quick we'll watch you all right!"

"Huh! You watch me! _Watch_ me!"

"Well," taunted Sube, "when you're ridin' with 'im and we're watchin'
you, I'll bet you dassent ask him who's dead down the street--Here he
comes now! Get on the job, Biscuit! We're watchin'!"

As the undertaker's service wagon approached with Hi on the lofty seat,
Biscuit ran out in the road and hailed him. The team was instantly
brought to a standstill and Biscuit clambered aboard.

"Fooled you, didn't he?" jeered Gizzard.

"Not on your life he didn't!" retorted Sube. "When he comes back and
tells us who's dead you'll see that I fooled--Look!--He's gettin' down!"

Biscuit came running back to them triumphantly. "Ha-ha! What'd I tell
you--!"

"Who's dead?" interrupted Sube.

"Nobody but ol' Miss Stebbins," replied Biscuit. "But I got some'pm
better'n that to tell you!"

Sube and Gizzard waited in breathless suspense until Biscuit should
speak. There was no telling what it might be.

"They've took Seth Bissett back to prison--!"

"What's that!" cried Sube and Gizzard in a chorus.

"Yessir! The payroll officer came this mornin' and found Seth's face all
blotchy 'cause he'd been on two or three drunks lately, and the officer
said there was a lot of complaints against 'im, so he took 'im back to
prison!"

"Did they take 'im jus' cause his face was all broke out?" asked Sube
weakly.

"Oh, my no!" replied Biscuit. "Hi says he's been drunk every night for a
month, hollerin' round and bustin' windows and all like that!"

"Hear that, Gizzard, ol' sock!" cried Sube, lustily thumping Gizzard on
the chest. "Hear what he said!"

For an answer Gizzard returned a jovial body-blow, after which the two
boys clinched and went down rolling over and over in the exuberance of
their spirits.

The gang was hastily assembled for a swim, and soon with unrestrained
shouts of joy they were tearing along the narrow path, undressing as
they went. Sube was the first one in the water. As he came to the
surface his companions thought they detected a peculiar expression on
his face, but they threw themselves into the pool without stopping to
investigate. Then they were sorry. For the pool was unspeakably
polluted.

They hurriedly dragged themselves out on the bank, making faces
expressive of disgust and disappointment. Sube was the first to speak.

"It's all off for this year!" he growled. "We might jus' well go up to
the spring and wash this smelly ol' water off'm us. That rotten ol'
pickle factory's opened up--"

"Pickle factory?" asked Biscuit. "What's the pickle factory got to do
with it?"

"Why, they'll be dumpin' their ol' smelly brine in the creek from now
until next winter!... And jus' when we'd got the hole to ourselves,
too!"



CHAPTER XXVI

SUBE GOES TO THE MOVIES


Vacation vanished. School opened. Another year of education loomed up
before Sube like an impassable mountain. The weather began to give hints
of an approaching winter. Except on rare occasions the evenings were
spent indoors. These occasions were usually devoted to attendance at the
opera where the Kings and Queens of Filmdom could be seen for the
trifling sum of five cents or the one-half part of a dime.

And always--with one exception--these evenings at the movies were the
result of earnest solicitation on the part of the boys. The exception
was noted on a certain Friday evening when Mrs. Cane had planned to open
her parlors for a lecture of the Mothers' Club.

As the Cane family was about to rise from the supper table on that
memorable evening, Mrs. Cane announced that she had arranged a pleasant
surprise for the boys. Whereupon she distributed largess to the extent
of a nickel apiece and told them that as an experiment she had decided
to permit them to go just this once unattended to the Theatorium.

If she had let them remain at home they would have paid scant attention
to the Mothers' Club; but the moment she showed a desire to be rid of
their presence she aroused Sube's suspicions.

"What don't you want us round home for?" he asked as he pocketed his
nickel.

"Oh, it isn't that I don't want you here, dears," she replied; "but I
knew this dry old lecture wouldn't interest you at all."

But Sube was not so easily disposed of. "What's it about?" he asked
casually.

"Nothing that you would care to hear--the proper discipline of children
or something of that sort," returned his mother hurriedly. "Run along
now, boys; mother's very busy. You may stay to see the pictures through
twice if you'll be very quiet and behave like gentlemen. And Henry, you
take good care of Sim. Remember he's a little boy--"

Before starting for the Theatorium, Sube slipped out in the back yard
and made a thorough though futile search for evidences of ice-cream. But
for some reason this did not satisfy him; when once his suspicions were
aroused it was very difficult to allay them. All through the first show
he was pondering over his mother's unprecedented conduct. He felt sure
there was some ulterior motive.

During the intermission Sube announced that he was going to try the
seats further back.

"I know I can't see so good," he explained, "but my neck kinda hurts
from bending it up so far."

"My neck don't hurt," declared Cathead. "I'll stay here."

"My neck don't hurt," echoed Sim. "I'll stay here too."

None of the other youthful occupants of the bald-headed row was willing
to exchange front seats for rear, so Sube was forced to try the
experiment alone. This was as he had anticipated and desired, for he had
deep-laid plans which could best be carried out by himself. As soon as
the second show was under way he slipped out of the theater and started
for home, gliding silently from tree to tree with a skill that had been
acquired by long continued study of the methods of Old Sleuth.

He reached the parlor window just too late to hear the last of a group
of Spanish chansonettes rendered in the original tongue by Miss Netta
Podger, who had spent the summer abroad. This was unfortunate for Sube,
as foreign languages always interested him.

When the applause evoked by Miss Podger's artistry had died away into
random coughings and throat-clearings, Sube heard the president of the
Mothers' Club struggling to give expression to the pleasure she took in
introducing the exceedingly reverend J. Mills Mossman, D.D., who, she
said, would deliver this evening his famous lecture entitled, "Moral
Suasion; or Spare the Rod and Save the Child." Under cover of the burst
of applause which greeted this announcement Sube scrambled up and seated
himself precariously on the window sill. Of course he wanted to see as
well as hear.

He understood that Dr. Mossman was the new Baptist minister. He had seen
the much-discussed gentleman on the street once or twice, but rumors of
football prowess and heavyweight championships during college days had
aroused in Sube a curiosity to look him over at closer range.

As Dr. Mossman began to speak Sube pressed his face against the shutters
and peered in. He found himself perilously near the doctor's large left
ear. Then he noted the enormous size of the white but muscular hands,
little dreaming that he would ever fall into them. But his attention
was not long held by the speaker's personal appearance, for Sube was
electrified by what he was saying.

He began to comprehend at once why his mother had not wanted him to hear
the lecture. He felt outraged at the thought that she should thus seek
to restrict his education, and stunt his mental and spiritual growth. He
was converted to "Moral Persuasion" on first sight, and made up his mind
to affiliate himself with their organization at the earliest
opportunity.

When Dr. Mossman waggishly declared that the hairbrush should be used
solely for arranging one's locks, and that the good old slipper should
be devoted exclusively to the humble task of comforting tired feet, Sube
joined heartily in the laugh that followed. And when the good doctor
concluded his lecture with the impassioned statement that "willfully
inflicted pain never improved anything!" Sube participated so
enthusiastically in the applause that he lost his balance and fell to
the ground, taking with him the greater part of his father's cherished
ivy.

For an instant he was dazed. He could not seem to comprehend where he
was. Then he recovered his bearings and hurried back to the Theatorium.
As he reached the lobby the doors swung open and the crowd began to
emerge. Cathead and Sim were among the last to come out.

"How's your neck?" asked Cathead as he approached Sube, who stood
looking at a poster of the next day's bill.

"My neck?" asked Sube, momentarily off his guard. "Who said
an'thing--Oh! my _neck_! Oh, yes; my neck is fine! It was all right jus'
as soon as I sat in the back seat a little while." He gave his head a
few experimental twists, and then added in confirmation: "Yup, it's all
right."

The hour was late when the theatergoers reached home. The last guest had
departed, and their father was unamiably engaged in carrying out the
folding chairs, which had been donated for the occasion by the local
undertakers, and piling them on the front porch.

The boys, preferring almost anything to going to bed, offered their
assistance, which their father rather reluctantly declined. Cathead
dallied, asking numerous questions about the lecture, but Sube trudged
off to bed without a word.

The following day a cold rain kept the boys indoors. Throughout the
morning frequent observations were made, but no cheering patch of blue
large enough to make the mythical Dutchman's breeches could be seen.
Although the rain began before seven it failed to stop before 'leven. In
fact, it was three o'clock before it let up at all.

By lunch time the boys had resigned themselves to the weather, and with
the aid of the telephone had succeeded in interesting Gizzard and
Cottontop in the "gym" that had sprung into being in the upper story of
the barn.

The earlier part of the afternoon was spent by the four boys in
improving the equipment of the gym and in demonstrating their abilities
as death-defying athletes. It was the performance by Sube of a feat
called the "muscle-grinder or Hindu punishment" that really started the
trouble, for it threw him into a state of perspiration which caused him
to remark that he would enjoy taking a swim.

"I guess you wouldn't find the water pretty cold!" suggested the
practical Gizzard. "Oh, no!"

"But s'posin' we had it fixed so's it would be warm! S'posin' we had a
little shack built right over the swimmin'-hole!"

"Water'd be cold jus' samee!"

"But I can _s'pose_ it would be warm, can't I? I can s'pose anything,
can't I? I can s'pose boilin' ice-water if I want to, can't I?"

"You can s'pose it," admitted Gizzard grudgingly, "but that won't make
it so. Who'd want boilin' ice-water, anyway?"

"But jus' s'posin' we had a place fixed like that," continued Sube quite
unperturbed. "I'd take a swim every day in the year. And when I'm a man
I'm goin' to have a swimmin'-hole made right in my own house, and then I
can go in whenever I want to!"

"You'd oughta be a Baptis'," suggested Gizzard.

"What's bein' a Baptis' got to do with goin' in swimmin'?" asked Sube
cautiously.

"Why, _they've_ got a swimmin'-hole right inside their church!" declared
Gizzard with an air of omniscient loftiness.

"A swimmin'-hole in the Baptis' Church!" howled Sube derisively. "You
make me laugh! Say, Giz, who's been stringin' you?"

"Nobody ain't been stringin' me," defended Gizzard stoutly. "Jus' shows
you don't know much! There's one there, 'cause my dad painted it jus'
last week with two coats of white 'namel and--"

"What in the dickens would they have a swimmin'-hole in a church for?
Jus' tell me that!" demanded Sube conclusively.

"To bap-_tize_ people!" replied Gizzard, apparently greatly bored at
this display of ignorance. "Didn't you know the Baptis'es don't jus'
squirt a little water on a baby's bean? They let 'em grow up and then
duck 'em all over."

Sube had a vague recollection of something of the sort, but his interest
in the matter was material rather than doctrinal. "How big is this
wonderful swimmin'-hole?" he asked guardedly.

"Big enough to swim in, all right," Gizzard assured him.

"Where do they keep it?" Sube was feeling his way carefully, fearing a
hoax of some sort.

"It's down under the minister's desk," Gizzard told him with an air of
vast importance. "You can't see it when you go in the church, but all
you got to do is press a little button, and _Bingo!_--There's your
swimmin'-hole!" A sort of "Behold!--" movement of the hand accompanied
this exposition.

Sube was torn between belief and skepticism. He hoped that what Gizzard
was telling him was the truth. But the appearance of secret places at
the pressing of buttons was associated in his mind with hip-pocket
literature, rather than with the House of God. However, Gizzard's
responses to his persistent questioning were so earnest and so
convincing that Sube had just about concluded to become a Baptist, when
Gizzard chanced to remark that he knew what the mysterious indoor pool
was called.

"What?" asked the others in a chorus.

"My dad says they call it 'mershum,'" was the lofty response.

Sube's Baptist leanings collapsed like a house of cards. "Now I _know_
you're lyin'," he growled disgustedly, "'cause that's a kind of a pipe
you smoke. My father's got one."

For a few moments conflict seemed inevitable. Then the discussion took a
new angle and developed into an argument as to the knowledge of their
respective fathers of the correct meaning of the word "mershum." After
this had waged for a few minutes with honors about equally divided,
Gizzard had a brilliant idea.

"Look here, Sube!" he cried. "We could keep chewin' about this all day
long and not get nowhere. But if I could _show_ it to you, then you'd
have to b'lieve it!"

"I'll b'lieve it jus' soon as I _see_ it," Sube admitted; "and not
before."

"All right!" shouted Gizzard, starting for the stairs. "Come on! I'll
show it to you!"

Sube stirred uneasily. "Yeah, and then when we got there you'd say we
couldn't get in the church 'cause it was locked. You can't bluff _me_--"

"You think so, do you? Well, we ain't goin' in the door at all! We're
goin' in a window with a busted catch! Hope to die and cross my heart if
we ain't! And if you don't come along now we'll know who's the bluffer,
by jingo!"

"All right, kid," grunted Sube as he arose languidly and began to hunt
for his cap. "But if I find out you been lyin' to me,--I'll fix you good
and plenty."



CHAPTER XXVII

TRIAL MERSHUM


A short time afterwards the four boys clambered through a narrow opening
in the lower section of a window that was sacred to the memory of Zenas
Wheelock, deceased, and his three wives, equally deceased, and huddled
timorously just inside in readiness to retreat at the first unfavorable
symptom. The interior of the church was pretty scary at first, it was so
dark and empty and smelled so religious.

But after listening cautiously until he was satisfied that nobody was
about but his own company, Sube made bold to speak.

"Well, Giz," he said, "why don't you trot out your wonderful mershum
swimmin'-hole?"

All of them started at the hollow echoing sound of Sube's voice, and
Cathead made a movement towards the window. But Gizzard pointed a stubby
finger at the pulpit.

"It's down under there," he said. "Maybe I can't open it the first
thing, but I know it's there, all right."

He walked over and began to run his hand along the edge of the platform
on which the pulpit stood. At first he succeeded in finding nothing but
a great deal of dust and an occasional sliver, while Sube goaded him on
with unkind remarks, and Cathead tried to persuade him to abandon the
investigation so that they might "get out while the gettin' was good."

Suddenly there was a click, followed by a seismic rumble. The pulpit and
the platform on which it stood moved perceptibly. There were
simultaneous exclamations from three members of the party. Gizzard's
denoted triumph; Sube's delighted astonishment; and Cathead's nervous
apprehension. Cottontop was beyond words. He could only gasp.

Flushed with success, Gizzard began to dance around the front of the
altar, making unmistakable signs of derision, and shouting excitedly:

"Ya-da! Ya-da! What'd I tell you! What'd I tell you!"

Sube recovered his indifferent attitude at once.

"Well, we ain't _seen_ it yet, have we?" he said.

"You fellers help me push this here thing back and you'll see it in a
hurry!" cried Gizzard confidently.

All lent a hand except Cathead, who discreetly remained in the
background. And suddenly he gave a cry of warning.

"Look out there! You're movin' the whole blame' bus'ness!"

And indeed they were. Pulpit and platform rolled majestically back
several feet, disclosing to their popping eyes just such a pool as
Gizzard had described. When Gizzard had sufficiently recovered from his
surprise to find his voice, he demanded of Sube with the gruffness which
he was now entitled to employ:

"Ain't that there a swimmin'-hole?"

"Looks like one," Sube was forced to admit.

"Get onto them little steps goin' down into the water, jus' like I tole
you," Gizzard pointed out.

Sube did get on to them, first with his eyes, and then with his feet. He
squatted down and dipped his hand into the water. "Why, it's warm!" he
exclaimed.

"Sure it's warm," said Gizzard patronizingly. "Didn't I tell you it's
right on top the furnace, so's they can use it all winter?"

"Hadn't we better be gettin' that thing back?" asked Cathead, glancing
nervously towards the door.

"What for?" blurted Sube brazenly. "We jus' got her opened up!"

Cathead squirmed uneasily. "Somebody might come in and catch us. Ol' Joe
might come to take care of the furnace."

"Huh!" snorted Sube defiantly. "Who's afraid of ol' Joe? I ain't any
more afraid of him than I am of--" Sube looked about for a suitable
means of comparison--"of you!" he cried, pointing his finger at Cathead.
"And I guess you know how much that is."

"Well, then," argued Cathead, "somebody else might come in. Doc Mossman
might--!"

At the mere mention of the minister's name Gizzard quailed; Cottontop
showed signs of nervousness; and Cathead furtively glanced at the window
by means of which they had entered, as if to be sure that it was still
there. But Sube was no craven. He let out a howl of derision.

"That big boob! Ha--a--a ha! He's a big bag of wind! Why, he wouldn't
hurt a fly! Say, I ain't any more afraid of him than I am of ol' Joe!
You know what I'd do to him if he should come buttin' in here? I'd take
'im down into that little ol' mershum swimmin'-hole, and I'd duck 'im
and duck 'im till he went home bellerin'! Gee! I wisht he would come in
here. Wouldn't we have fun with him, though!"

Gizzard was not naturally timid. Rather was he inclined to be
venturesome; and in addition to that he had carefully schooled himself
to fear nothing that Sube was not afraid of. It was accordingly not long
before he was able to force his unwilling tongue to say slighting things
about Dr. Mossman. And, encouraged by Sube's contemptuous
animadversions, he finally found himself saying that if the "Big Noise"
should come botherin' around _him_, he'd lick him with one hand.

"Well, if that's the way you feel about it," remarked Sube, "what's to
hinder our havin' a little swim in this mershum swimmin'-hole?"

Gizzard was taken completely by surprise. He had supposed that the
episode would end with the villification of the minister. For a moment
he was silent.

"What's the matter? Afraid?" taunted Sube.

"No, I ain't," replied Gizzard weakly.

"Will you go in if I will?"

"If you do, I will; but what'd we do if anybody should come in and catch
us?" Gizzard equivocated.

"That's easy," blustered Sube. "We'd stay right in the water, and these
two fellers would shut the thing up and duck under the seats with our
duds, and wait till they went out again!"

It sounded so reasonable and so safe that Gizzard resisted no longer.
And soon the two boys were floating about in the delightful depths of
the baptistry. There was not a great deal of room for swimming, but they
repeatedly expressed their unqualified approval of mershum as a pastime.

Cathead had done his best to keep the boys from going into the water,
and he now began to urge them to come out.

"I tell you it ain't safe," he was saying. "Somebody is liable to come
in here--"

As if in response to the suggestion, there was a metallic sound from the
front door which indicated the introduction of a key into the lock. This
was followed by an ominous rattling of the knob. Then came the hum of
voices. A supreme effort brought the pulpit back to place. Cottontop
snatched Gizzard's clothes and dived under the seats; but Cathead, who
was thoroughly rattled, caught up Sube's clothes, and throwing them out
of the window, hastily scrambled out after them.

In the impenetrable darkness of the baptistry the two boys clung to each
other for company and listened intently. Suddenly Sube felt Gizzard's
muscles stiffen; then heard him gasp, "Good Gosh!"

"What's the matter of you?" whispered Sube.

"It's ol' Mossy, and a whole lot of women's with him!"

"Well, what of it? They ain't comin' in here, are they?"

"That's jus' what I'm scairt of!" sniffed Gizzard, on the verge of
tears.

"Don't be a baby!" said Sube disgustedly. "They ain't comin' in _here_!
You don't s'pose ol' Mossy'd bring a lot of women with him if he was
goin' to take a swim in this here mershum swimmin'-hole, do you?"

This thought was so comforting to Sube that he chuckled perceptibly.
Gizzard, too, was reassured; for he sought out Sube's ear and said:

"I thought maybe you was goin' to get a chanct to show me what you
promised to do to him."

Sube sniffed disdainfully, and ignoring Gizzard's little pleasantry,
suggested that they move up to the front end of the tank and see if they
could make out what the intruders were doing. There was room at the
crack for only one ear, and this was occupied by Sube's right one. From
time to time he issued bulletins based partly on what he heard or
thought he heard, and partly on what he imagined was taking place.

"They're all tellin' 'im what a whale of a speech he made down to my
house last night ... they all b'lieve in it, too!"

"B'lieve in what?" asked Gizzard.

"If it's who I think it is, it don't matter much, 'cause they're mostly
ol' maids that ain't got any children--"

"B'lieve in what?" persisted Gizzard. "What is it they b'lieve in?"

"Sh--h--hut up!" breathed Sube. "Want to get us caught?"

"Well, what is it--?"

"Shut up till I hear, can't you?"

"Well, you might tell a feller--"

Sube turned exasperated from the crack, and feeling about till he found
Gizzard's ear, drew it towards him with what Gizzard considered
unnecessary emphasis, and whispered crossly:

"Moral Persuasion, if you must know!"

Then he turned his attention once more to matters outside the baptistry.
Gizzard was still wondering what Moral Persuasion was like, when he felt
Sube groping for his ear again. He fortified it with his hand before
yielding it.

"They're beggin' him to make another speech so's those who didn't go to
the meetin' last night can hear about Moral Persuasion, too. I guess
he's goin' to do it, 'cause he jus' tole 'em that it's his hobby--"

"What's that?" asked Gizzard.

But Sube nudged him to silence with his elbow.

"What's a hobby?" Gizzard insisted.

"Shut up! Will you?--Jus' listen and you'll find out all about it! He's
tellin' 'em now--"

Gizzard listened. Dr. Mossman's remarks were informal but none the less
forceful. He briefly repeated his arguments of the evening before, and
added in conclusion that many of the foremost minds of the day regard
corporal punishment as a sin. When the resulting applause had faded away
he cried out with irrepressible enthusiasm:

"And I may say that I am one of them!"

Within the dark baptistry the two boys embraced each other effusively,
and Gizzard whispered:

"Now I know why you wa'n't more afraid of him! I ain't any more afraid'n
you are, now!... I wisht my folks was Baptis'es--"

"Hark!" gasped Sube. "What's that he's sayin'?"

He pressed his ear to the crack and listened intently.

"What is it?" breathed Gizzard as Sube drew back, trembling in every
fiber.

"He's goin' to open this thing up so's to show it to those
women!--They're goin' to be ducked to-morrow--he's sayin' he's sorry
it's so dark, but he thinks they can see enough without lightin' the
lamps."

A wave of terror swept over Gizzard. He sank his nails into Sube's arm
as he panted desperately: "What you goin' to do? You got me into this!
Now you can get me out again!"

Sube shook him off. "_I_ got _you_ in, did I? I did, did I? Well, I
guess I didn't! I didn't even know it was here till you tole me! I guess
_you_ better be gettin' _me_ out of--"

There was a click and a jar. A streak of light became visible at the
front end of the pool. The boys, who had unconsciously retreated to the
rear end, with one accord took a long breath and disappeared beneath the
surface, clinging to each other for support and encouragement.

They felt the rumble as the pulpit was shoved back, and waited in vain
for it to be replaced. Finally the pounding in their ears became so loud
that they thought it must have been accomplished without their hearing
it. Then, having remained under water for a period of time afterwards
estimated by Gizzard as fifteen minutes, and by Sube as half an hour at
the very least, they came up. And their coming was no graceful bobbing
to the surface. It was more like a volcanic upheaval, followed by the
terrific spouting of a horrid two-headed marine monster.

[Illustration]

Piercing shrieks greeted their appearance, followed quickly by the din
and confusion of a panic. The terrified boys brushed the water from
their eyes and gazed in trembling awe at the havoc of which they had
been the innocent cause.

They saw Dr. Mossman pulled down by a pack of frenzied women who
trampled him underfoot as if he had been a doormat, and then fought,
tore, scratched and screamed their way to the door.

Gizzard was the first to speak.

"What is it?" he asked in a voice husky with terror. "S'pose the church
is on fire?"

Sube's teeth chattered violently as he shook his head and managed to
say, "I don't know; but I guess we better be gettin' out of here!"

They had ascended the little steps before they realized that they were
naked. Looking about in brainless bewilderment Gizzard asked,

"Where's our clo's?"

And although Sube knew, he was never able to tell, for at that instant
he saw rising before him like a Phoenix from its ashes the battered
remains of Dr. Mossman. It then became apparent that Sube had lost some
of his contempt for the minister, for he tried to avoid him and jump
hastily back into the water.

But alas, he was too late.

Dr. Mossman seized him with an iron grip and drew his shivering body
across a large pious knee--and for the next few moments forgot all
about his hobby.

When Sube appeared at Sunday School the following day he was nursing a
bad cold.

"Did you catch an'thing 'sides a cold?" asked Gizzard under his breath.

"Not buch I didn't!" returned Sube. "Bud we godt a bystery over to our
house."

"A mystery? What is it?"

"By bother found the Baptis' bidister's overcoat hangin' in our frondt
hall last dight, and dobody in the house could tell her how it godt
there!" Sube punched the grinning Gizzard jovially in the stomach as he
continued, "She hadt me take it to him, but he didn't know how it godt
there either!"

"We got a mystery over to my house, too!" howled Gizzard. "My mother's
been tryin' to figger out how I could lose off my undershirt and one
stockin' without knowin' it!"

When they had sufficiently calmed down the boys passed into Sunday
School, winking knowingly whenever their eyes chanced to meet.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE TIMBER CRUISER


Jealousy is about as reasonable as lightning; it is fully as deadly, and
often much more unexpected. And because Biscuit Westfall's mother's
brother-in-law (who was a farmer with a fine woodlot) when bringing in
the annual Christmas tree for Biscuit, had also brought one for Nancy
Guilford's Christmas party, he had aroused Sube's groundless jealousy of
Biscuit to the striking point.

Biscuit cared nothing for Nancy; he had a lady love of his own. Of
course he was polite to Nancy, but he was polite to every lady. And
Nancy cared nothing for Biscuit. She had found him useful in her scheme
of life, and had accordingly made use of him. But she loved him not.
However, as far as the Christmas tree was concerned she was innocent of
using him even as an exciter. He had offered the tree, and she had taken
it.

Somewhere Sube had learned the history of the tree, and when he saw it
he shook his head dubiously. "Pretty punk, isn't it?" he asked. "Is
that the best you could get?"

"Uh huh, the very best," Nancy emphatically assured him.

"Why didn't you let _me_ get you a tree?" he demanded. "I'd 'ave got you
one a hundred times better'n that."

"Oo--oo! Could you, honest?"

"Could I!"

"Will you do it?"

"Will I? Half a dozen if you want 'em."

Nancy assured him that one was all she could possibly use, and thereupon
he obtained his ax and set out to conquer the forest. But he soon found
that Biscuit's uncle Peter had spoken the truth when he said that good
Christmas trees were scarce. They were; decidedly scarce. The few that
had come through the dry fall without unwithered limbs had already been
hewn by the early tree-hunters. And Sube was hard to please.

He had in his mind the picture of an ideal Christmas tree, and as he
rejected one prospect after another, the picture became more vivid.

"You're a rusty runt," he informed an anæmic-looking pine that appeared
in his path. "And you're too much like a beanpole," he told another.
"Yes, and you're lop-sided," he explained to a third; "you look like
you'd had an arm cut off."

The afternoon waned. Dusk came on. To be in the woods after dark would
be quite useless, so he might as well be starting for home. And still
the picture of the perfect tree possessed his mind. If he could only
think where it was.

Then suddenly it came to him. Why, of course! That was just where he had
seen it! It wasn't exactly growing wild, but the people who inhabited
the place wouldn't care. He felt quite sure about that. And anyway, it
would be dark by the time he reached there.

An hour later when Nancy Guilford opened the door in response to his
ring (for which she had been listening for some time) a perfect specimen
of cypress greeted her delighted gaze. It was bright green, symmetrical
and bushy-limbed. It was as perfect as the picture on a Christmas card.
Nancy's exclamations and gurglings of delight brought her mother to the
door, with the result that Sube was invited over that evening to help
trim the tree.

When he arrived some two hours later he found the gift tree mounted in a
disguised soap box, and standing at one end of the parlor from which the
furniture had been removed to facilitate the laying of the crash, with
the entire household gathered round about offering on-lookers' advice as
to the most effective way of decorating it.

This was not exactly as he had anticipated. He had planned to arrange
those details according to his own ideas and Nancy's. But somehow he
managed to live through it. If, however, he had known that the Guilfords
were entertaining company he would not have come. He hated to meet
strangers, especially tall women dressed all in black who think they
have got to talk to a fellow all the time.

When Sube was presented to Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger he fastened his gaze on
a little red spot on the crash and moved his lips deferentially,
although no sound came. Observing his embarrassment, Mrs.
Hotchkiss-Harger attempted to put him at his ease by the questionable
method of interrogation.

"So this is the young man," she remarked in her deep voice, "to whom we
are indebted for this beautiful tree?"

Sube nodded microscopically.

"It's a cypress, isn't it?" she persisted.

Again Sube's head moved slightly, although it would have taken a mind
reader to translate the movement.

"Why, I had no idea that cypresses were indigenous to this part of the
country. Where did you get that tree, young man?"

Sube started visibly. This was a question he was hardly prepared to
answer. "Th--that tree, th--there?" he stammered in confusion. "That
tree?--Why--"

Once more the success of well-handled dilatory tactics was evident; for
Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger suddenly burst into tears.

"Oh, it all comes back so clearly," she sobbed. "I went to the nursery
myself--broken and crushed as I was--and selected the four dainty
cypresses that were planted at the four corners of the lot where my poor
dear Clarence was laid to rest. They must be just about the size of this
one! I _must_ go and see them to-morrow. Why, I haven't seen those
darling little trees since the day they were set out!--Oh, dear--!"

"There, there, sister," comforted Mrs. Guilford. "How could you have
seen them when you have been abroad all the time? They've had the best
of care, and they were looking be-autiful the last time I saw them--"

"Ah, yes, I stayed away that I might learn to forget!" moaned Mrs.
Hotchkiss-Harger between huge convulsive sobs. "But how the old grief
closes in on me the moment I return. Oh, I must go to the cemetery
to-morrow!"

[Illustration: "MY FATHER GOT IT FOR ME"]

"Oh, I don't believe I'd go on the day before Christmas," Mrs. Guilford
advised gently.

"I must!--I must!--I can't wait a moment longer!"

Then with a supreme effort Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger mastered her grief, and
removing her black-bordered handkerchief from her reddened eyes, turned
to Sube who had been watching her with keen interest, and said:

"You haven't yet told me where you got that tree, young man."

Sube had to swallow once or twice before he managed to mumble, "Don't
know exackly."

"Don't know?" she demanded. "How can it be possible that you don't know?
You cut this tree yourself, did you not?"

"No, ma'am. I--"

"You didn't! Well, who did, then?"

"Ma'am? Oh,--who cut this tree?--Why,--why, my father got it for me!" he
finally stammered out. "I don't know jus' where he did get it. Out in
the woods somewheres, I should--"

"Ah! Then he cut it himself, did he?"

"Yes, ma'am. He cut it all right! He likes to cut Chris'mus trees. He
says most people don't know a good Chris'mus tree when they see one."

"One could scarce say that about him."

This delicate compliment brought forth no response from Sube except a
dark scowl, but it terminated Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger's part of the
conversation, and she yielded to her sister's earnest solicitation that
she lie down for a while.

Left alone with Nancy for a moment Sube began to look around for his
cap. "I gotta be goin' home," he whispered huskily.

"Going home!" cried Nancy. "Why, you just got here! And besides, we
haven't put a thing on the tree yet!"

"I know it," muttered Sube, "but my mother tole me I could only stay a
couple of minutes--"

"Why, it isn't late at all! What time do you have to go?"

"What time is it now?"

Nancy stepped to the door and looked at the big clock in the hall. "Why,
it's only twenty-five minutes after seven!" she announced joyfully.

"I gotta go at ha'-past," said Sube, as he struggled to extricate his
cap from his coat-pocket where he had finally located it.

"That's _mean_!" cried Nancy petulantly. "It's just as mean as it can
be! Why didn't you come earlier?"

"Well, I did come right after supper--"

"Then what you got to go so soon for?"

"Why--why, my mother's got to go to see a sick lady."

"A sick lady? Who's sick that your mother's got to go and see, I'd like
to know?"

"I guess you don't know everybody that's sick!"

"I guess I know everybody that's sick that your mother's got to go and
see! Now, who is it?"

"It's Auntie Emma! Yah, you didn't know she was sick at all! Did you?"

"Well, it must have been awful sudden, because I saw her go by just
yesterday."

"Sudden! I guess it was sudden. She was sittin' at the supper table jus'
well as you are, and _Bingo!_ she fell right out of her chair onto the
floor sick abed!"

Nancy was deeply moved. "Oh, isn't that awful! What made it?"

"Huh?--What made it?--Why, I can't think what they call it. It's an
awful funny name."

"Was it heart disease?" ventured Nancy.

"Aw, it was a million times worse'n that!"

Nancy gasped. "She isn't going to die, is she?"

"Well, I dunno," he replied dubiously. "She was still alive when I come
away, but--"

"I'm sorry," murmured Nancy. "Awful sorry. I hope--"

"Well, I gotto be goin'. They might need me any minute!"

"I'm so sorry about it. Do you s'pose you'll be able to--to come to my
party?"

This was a new phase of the matter that Sube had not considered. "Well,
you can't tell," he replied. "It's a funny disease. Doc Richards says
she may be dead one minute, or may be well the next."

"Oh, I do hope she'll be well," said Nancy earnestly; and as Sube passed
out of the door she called after him, "I'm going right in and tell mamma
about it."

Sube stopped in his tracks. But the heavy front door had slammed behind
him. Oh, well, he'd tell them to-morrow that she was sick one minute,
and well the next. That would be easy to fix up. But he was not going to
stay round there all the evening and have that big tall woman in black
keep asking _him_ questions. Probably she'd forget all about the
Christmas tree by to-morrow anyway. And besides, nobody would ever
suspect his father of hooking a Christmas tree from a cemetery lot.
Evergreen trees were so much alike that nobody could tell one from
another, for that matter. And dismissing these trivial matters from his
mind he paid an unexpected call on his friend Gizzard. He reached home
shortly after nine o'clock.

"You oughta see that Chris'mus tree!" he cried as he entered the house.
"It's a pippin! We got it all covered with glass balls and nickel-plated
shavings and red and green candles, about a million of 'em!"

"When did you do all this?" asked his mother.

"Jus' got through!"

"You did?" she asked incredulously. "Why, I understood Mrs. Guilford to
say that you had already left there when she telephoned me over an hour
ago."

"Well,--you see--you see, I did leave there, but I jus' went outdoors,
and then came right back again."

"But what did you mean by telling her that Auntie Emma was desperately
ill and that you had to come home--"

"Did she 'phone you that?" cried Sube eagerly. "Did she honest?"

"Of course she did; and I want to know--"

"Oh, I guess I didn't fool _her_ all right!" he laughed boisterously.
"Oh, no! Guess not!"

"But I want to know what you meant--"

"Why, she said she bet I couldn't fool her, so in a little while, I tole
her Auntie Emma was sick and I had to go home, and jus' to fool her I
went outdoors and stayed a while; but I didn't know I fooled her so much
that she 'phoned--"

"Then what did Nancy mean when she called up and asked for you about
half an hour later?"

"Oh, ho!" cried Sube gleefully. "Then I fooled her, too! Did she call me
up, honest? You see I was outdoors again and I didn't know it!"

"You must not fool so much, my boy. You'll get the reputation of being
very untruthful--"

"_Get_ it!" interjected Mr. Cane. "_Get_ it! If he could get any more of
a repu--"

"Samuel!" cried Mrs. Cane in a voice she seldom found it necessary to
use. And as her husband subsided she turned again to Sube. "Nancy wanted
you to call her up as soon as you came in," she said.

"Oh, that's all right," Sube explained. "She's seen me since then."

"They why do you suppose she called again about five minutes before you
came?" asked his mother.

"Prob'ly I was on the way home," he suggested. "I stopped to talk to
some kids. I'll call her up anyway."

Sube went to the telephone, and removing the receiver with one hand he
carefully pressed down the hook with the other to avoid arousing the
operator, and called loudly for Guilfords' number. Then he held an
illuminating though strictly imaginary conversation with Nancy, in the
course of which he twitted her playfully about being so easily fooled.

"Put an'thing more on the tree?" he asked finally. "That's right! I
guess we put on everything there was. Well, g'by! See you to-morrow!"
And he hung up the receiver.

He had just resumed his chair after this master-stroke when the
telephone rang. This time it was the _real_ Nancy.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE PARTY


Sube's glib flow of language of the moment before seemed to have
deserted him entirely. He stuttered and stammered and stalled. He tried
to put matters off till the morrow, but Nancy would not hear of such a
thing. She wanted to be reassured as to Auntie Emma's condition. She
must know at once whether her party was likely to be cheated out of his
presence.

"Mamma called up your mother," she informed him, "and she said she
hadn't heard a word about it. She thought there must be some mistake."

"Yes, there was," Sube considered it safe to reply.

"You hadn't told her yet! You were keeping it from her to spare her,
weren't you, Sube?"

"Yes, I was."

"That's just what I told mamma. And when we both called up and you
weren't home yet, I just knew you'd gone down there to help. You had,
hadn't you?"

"Why, yes, course I had."

"And now tell me all about how she is."

"I can't!"

"Why, yes, you can! I want to know all about it! Now tell me!"

"But I tell you I can't!"

"But you must!"

"Why, you know--you know--now, what I tole you about one minute, and the
next?"

"No! What did you tell me?"

"Why, you know!"

"No, I don't! Tell me again!"

"I can't now!"

"Why not?"

"'Cause I can't!"

"Oh!--I know why!--She's dead!--Mamma!" Sube heard her call. "She's
dead!"

"She is not!" screamed Sube. "She's--she's just the _opposite_!"

"She's what?"

"The opposite to what you said!"

"What's that?"

"Alive and kickin'! All well! All over it the next minute! See you
to-morrow! G'-by!"

And again slammed on the receiver.

Mrs. Cane had just finished a little dissertation on the elements of
courtesy and its necessary place in the lexicon of youth, when Sube
looked up absently and asked:

"Who's pooah deah Clar-r-rence?"

"I didn't understand, dear. What's the name?" she asked.

"He's dead, I guess. Nancy's aunt was bawlin' about him to-night."

"He means Clarence Harger," guessed Mr. Cane. "She still sheds tears
every time his name is mentioned; and strange to relate, I don't believe
her lachrymal glands ever yielded up one drop of moisture until she
found that the old tight-wad had left her a quarter of a million that
she never dreamed he possessed."

"Was Clarence a tight-wad?" asked Sube with interest. "Where'd he live,
anyway? When'd he die?"

"He was a very nice man," Mrs. Cane hastened to explain. "He lived and
died in Rochester. And you must be very courteous to Mrs.
Hotchkiss-Harger, as she is one of your father's very best clients. Her
husband was a splendid man--"

"Where was he buried?" asked Sube.

"He was buried here in the family lot beside his father and mother."

"But Clarence was a tight-wad, was he?" Sube repeated.

Mr. Cane squirmed. "Oh, that was just a joking way of speaking," he
explained seriously. "He was a fine fellow; a very successful business
man; he realized that it was the pennies that made the dollars, and ran
his business on the lines of strictest efficiency and economy; and
although he was well off, he lived very simply--"

"I see," Sube assured him. "He _was_ a tight-wad!"

"Please, Sube!" Mrs. Cane was very gentle, but very much in earnest.
"Please don't ever say that again. It might get back to Mrs.
Hotchkiss-Harger's ears, and if it did it would offend her terribly. She
isn't in a very humorous state just now, and she couldn't possibly see
the joke. It would be a very serious matter if she should be offended by
any member of our family as she is about the most important client I
have just now. You won't ever mention this matter again, will you, my
boy?"

"Oh, no! Not if you don't want me to. But we all know he _was_ a
tight-wad, don't we?"

If Sube had desired to mention the matter to Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger,
which no doubt he would have done at the first propitious opportunity,
he would have had no chance until the next evening; for he did not see
her until then. But when he saw her he did not go out of his way to
converse with her. He made himself as small as possible and started for
the farther end of the room.

He was one of nineteen of Nancy's little friends who were assembled in
the library chattering like magpies, while, beyond the closely drawn
parlor curtains, her father and mother were lighting the candles on the
Christmas tree. One moment the young people were fairly on tip-toe with
pleasant anticipations--and the next they were silent and shocked.

For the front door of the house had suddenly burst open, and in rushed a
tall woman heavily veiled, and generously cloaked in broadtail. As she
entered, she had involuntarily called on her Maker for help; and as if
the response were not sufficiently prompt, she sought to enlist the
additional aid of her sister, whose name she moaned rather than called.

At her entrance the buzzing library became as silent as the third
strike; but when she began to repeat her sister's name with increasing
anguish, there were quick movements to points of vantage near the door,
and several of the more venturesome boys poked their heads out and
stared.

The confusion in the hall did not last long, however, for Mrs. Guilford
came flying from the parlor, and taking her sister into her capable arms
led her gently down the hall and into a side room, the door of which she
quickly closed behind them.

"What are 'vandals'?" asked Biscuit Westfall of Sube as the company
began to breathe again.

"Vandals?"

"Yes, vandals. She said vandals had desecrated the resting place of her
poor dear Clarence."

"Did she say that?"

"She sure did! What are they, anyway? Are they an'thing like
woodchucks?"

At this point Mr. Guilford threw back the curtains, and the assemblage
trooped into the parlor with exclamations of great joy. The servants
slipped in from the kitchen to see the tree and watch the children; and
Mrs. Guilford found them clustered about the parlor door as she came
softly out of her sister's room a few moments later.

Mr. Guilford had already assumed the rôle of an uncostumed Santa Claus,
and the sounds of merriment were increasing with each package he clipped
from the tree and delivered, and when Mrs. Guilford picked up a pair of
shears and began to assist him, the uproar became deafening.

Suddenly all was hushed by an anguished moan.

As Mrs. Guilford dropped her shears and started for the door her worst
suspicions were confirmed; for she caught sight of the towering form of
her widowed sister with her hands pressed closely together in an
attitude of supplication, and her eyes turned heavenwards.

"God help me! It's the very one!" she mumbled over and over. "God help
me! It's the very one!"

In an instant Mrs. Guilford was at her sister's side; but her efforts to
lead her from the room were futile.

"No! I must examine it! I have proof!... I can tell!... I can identify
it!... When I saw that it had been cut down I scrutinized the stump, and
God had been good to me! He had put a little black ring around the
heart! It is a _sign!_ ... I must turn over that tree and examine--!"

"Not _now_, dear; you're all upset--"

"Yes, now--this instant!"

"But it's all lighted--the children are all here! We must wait until
they have finished and gone into the dining-room, and then you can do
anything you want to. But not just now--"

And again Mrs. Guilford led her distraught sister down the hall and into
the side room.

It was the firm conviction of all the children save two, that the tall
lady in black was crazy (a conviction of which some of them were never
able to rid themselves in after years), and they did not hesitate to
whisper about it among themselves.

The two who entertained no doubt as to the soundness of her mind were
Sube and Nancy. To them her verbal wanderings about the little black
ring had been perfectly lucid. But no look of understanding passed
between them. In fact, their eyes did not squarely meet again during the
entire evening, although neither one was for an instant unaware of the
other's exact location.

Observing that Sube was standing by the tree, Nancy made her way thither
by devious wanderings; but when she reached the tree she found that Sube
had moved over by the doorway leading into the hall. She started in that
direction, but before she had come up to him, the first call to supper
was sounded; and by the time that she had reached the dining-room she
found him securely seated between Cottontop Sigsbee and Stucky Richards.

In some mysterious way an exchange of seats was effected between Nancy
and Cottontop; but no sooner had Cottontop yielded his seat to the
hostess than Sube had slipped quickly across the room and hauled
Biscuit Westfall from his seat, of which he at once took possession with
the announcement that he and Biscuit had also swapped.

This was an act of plain insanity; for of course nothing remained for
Biscuit to do except to go over and seat himself beside Nancy. It would
have been difficult to decide which Sube would have kicked the harder,
himself or Biscuit, had he been given a "free kick" at that moment. But
he had no such good fortune.

Instead, he was compelled to sit idly by and look helplessly on at
Biscuit and Nancy in close and apparently very intimate conversation. Of
course Sube had no way of knowing that Nancy was simply assuring Biscuit
that she would at once effect an exchange of seats with the lady at
Sube's side, and thus restore Biscuit to the damsel of his choice.

The situation quickly became intolerable to Sube, and under cover of the
confusion caused by the entry of a corps of waitresses bearing napkins
and plates, he contrived to escape into the hall. This was his first
false step; but others quickly followed.

For, finding nobody in the hall to observe him, he slipped into the
deserted parlor. This was done with no definite purpose other than a
desire to remove himself from a painful sight; the boy was simply
wandering in the midst of a haze of bewildered jealousy--until his eyes
fell on the Christmas tree. And then he came to his senses with a
perceptible bump.

If the tree was really a witness against him, he ought to know it. If
there _was_ a little black ring around the trunk surely it had escaped
his attention. The candles had all been extinguished; there could be no
possible harm in examining the trunk, and then he would be sure. He was
drawn to the spot with all the fascination of a murderer for the scene
of his crime.

He tipped the tree and attempted to peer under the box in which it
stood, when in some way it got away from him and fell to the floor with
a tremendous crash, the tinkling ornaments flying in all directions.

But alas! There was no opening through the bottom of the box!

As he stood glowering over the prostrate tree, he heard his name called.
At almost the same instant he heard Mr. Guilford asking what the crash
was. Hurried footsteps in the hall became audible. He was caught
red-handed!

He glanced around desperately for a window through which he might essay
a dive, when he spied

[Illustration]

a door that he had not previously noticed; and quickly opening it he
peered into what seemed to be a deserted bedroom. He stepped inside,
softly closing the door after him. As he stood listening he heard the
sound of excited voices in the parlor. Then he heard a rustling from the
vicinity of the bed, and the deep voice of Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger saying
languidly:

"I'm not asleep, Bridget.... Put the tray on the table.... I don't feel
as if I should ever be able to taste another morsel of food ... but I
suppose you may as well leave it.... And, Bridget, I seem to feel a
draft from that window; would you mind closing it."

Sube glanced gratefully at the partly opened French window, and closed
it, but not until he was on the outside. Then he threw himself over the
railing of the veranda and jumped to the ground, and he was nearly a
block away before he so much as paused for breath.

Then it suddenly came to him that it was bitterly cold, that there was
snow on the ground, and that his overcoat and cap were peacefully
reposing on the bed in the Guilfords' chilly guest chamber.

If the weather had been a little more favorable he might have held out;
he might even have started for parts unknown. But the combination of
mental anguish and physical discomfort was too much for him. He simply
could not go back to Guilfords'. He had burned his bridges behind him
too effectually to permit that. The frosty night air seemed to have
numbed his hitherto ready imagination, for he could think of only one
other place to go; and that was home.

But what could he tell his father and mother? They surely would demand
an explanation. And for once he found himself utterly unable to think of
a suitable lie. Then suddenly like a flash from the sky came an
inspiration.

Why not try the truth!

George Washington had tried it once on a tree-cutting scrape, and had
made it work. And why couldn't _he_?



CHAPTER XXX

THE TRUTH


"What! Home so soon!" exclaimed Sube's mother as he came into her
presence. Then noting that he was hatless and coatless she became
apprehensive. "Why, what has happened?" she asked. "What is the matter?"

Sube swallowed hard. Not without an effort, and a colossal one, could he
speak the truth. But at last he managed to get out, "I came home."

"So it would appear," contributed his father, while at the same time his
mother was asking apprehensively:

"But _why_? Tell me what has happened!"

Sube continued the desperate swallowing movements, but no sound came.

Then Mrs. Cane adopted the inductive method, and asked, "Is the party
over already?"

Sube shook his head.

"Something terrible has happened!" she cried. "Did the tree catch on
fire?"

Then Mr. Cane took a hand in the proceedings.

"Stop that sniveling, and speak up!" he ordered. "What--has--happened?"

Sube drew a deep breath, and said in a husky voice, "I ran away from
it."

"Ran away from a party!" cried his father. "_You!_--What in thunder did
you do that for? What had you been doing that you wanted to run away
from?"

"I stole the Chris'mus tree--!"

"Stole the Christmas tree!" cried Mr. Cane. "What are you talking
about?"

"Yessir; that's what I did--"

"Well, that's a new one on me!" thundered Mr. Cane. "I've heard of
stealing a red-hot stove, but as for an illuminated Christmas tree with
all the presents on it-- That--gets--me!"

"There wasn't any candles or presents on it when I took it," Sube
explained weakly.

Mr. Cane stood up. Here was a subject that required very careful
investigation, and he was always at his best when on his feet.

"Sit down there." He pointed to a chair directly in front of his wife.
"Now, let's get to the bottom of this thing. When did you pull off
this--robbery?"

"Yesterday."

Mr. Cane thought he had the witness trapped. "Yesterday, eh?" he
demanded. "Why, only last night you were over there decorating this
selfsame tree! When did they take the decorations off from it?"

"Didn't take 'em off! I s--s--swiped it before there was any decorations
put on it."

The prosecutor was baffled. "How on earth could you decorate a tree when
you had stolen it, and there wasn't any tree there to decorate?" he
asked irritably.

"You don't understand," Sube explained desperately. "I s--swiped the
tree _for_ Nancy. The one that--that somebody else got for her wasn't
any good, and she asked me to get her a decent one; and I hunted all
over the woods and there wasn't a single one left that was any good, and
on the way home I saw this one, and--I didn't think any one would care,
so--I took it."

"Well? Where did you take it from?" pursued his relentless father.

Sube's voice died almost to a whisper as he replied, "From the
cemetery."

"What's that!" cried the amazed Mr. Cane. "The cemetery?"

Sube nodded guiltily.

"Good heavens, boy!" exclaimed his father. "Don't you know that it's a
crime to desecrate a cemetery lot?"

But before Sube could answer, his mother interceded.

"There; that'll do, Father! You seem to have lost sight of one thing."

Mr. Cane turned expectantly towards his wife.

"The boy has told the truth!" she declared, a little tremulously.

"Well, that's so-- So he has--that's commendable. That's the only
redeeming feature of this lamentable affair--"

"Never mind, Father; we can talk about that later. I want Sube to
understand how much we appreciate the fact that he has come to us and
told us the truth. Of course it was wrong for you to take the tree,
Sube, but since you have been so truthful about it, we shall help you to
make amends. Your father and I will do all in our power to set matters
right. I promise that for both of us."

"You don't have to make any promises for me," Mr. Cane hastened to say.
"Nobody has any greater regard for the truth than I have. I deplore this
act of vandalism more than I can say; but since you have told the truth,
I give you my word that I will help you clear the thing up. Now let's
have the rest of it."

All Sube's doubts had fled. He felt that he was now protected by the
panoply of truth, and he came out with the whole story with brutal
directness.

"When I took the tree to Guilfords' they was all tickled with it. They
thought it was a 'beaut'! But the minute _she_ saw it, she spotted it.
And she went up there to the cemetery this afternoon, and when she saw
one of her trees was gone, she came back there to the house and took on
awful--!"

"Just a minute," his father interrupted. "Who is this 'she' you keep
referring to?"

"Why, Nancy's aunt! M's Hotchkiss-Harger!"

"But what had _she_ to do with the case?" his father persisted.

"Why, I cut the tree on her cemetery lot!"

Speechless with horror, Mr. and Mrs. Cane stared helplessly at each
other, while Sube, with a feeling of unaccustomed security, laid bare
the entire situation.

"Yes," he rattled on, "she spotted it right off. And when she asked me
where I got it, I told her _you_ cut it for me." He indicated his father
by a movement of the head.

"You told her _I_ cut it for you!" shrieked the stricken parent.
"G-o-o-d Heavens!!"

It was with difficulty that Mr. Cane kept from laying violent hands on
his son as he paced up and down the room excitedly exclaiming:

"What next!--What next!"

"But we must not lose sight of the fact that Sube has told the truth,"
Mrs. Cane reminded him from time to time.

"Don't keep harping on that all the while," growled her irate husband.
"He's told the truth all right; but it's a pity he couldn't have begun
to tell it a little sooner."

After a few more turns up and down the room Mr. Cane came to a stop
before his son.

"Are you perfectly certain there hasn't been some mistake about this?"
he asked desperately. "Are you perfectly certain that the tree came from
the Harger lot?"

Sube hesitated. "Well, I ain't sure," he admitted finally. "It was
pretty dark."

"Let's be thankful for that!" exclaimed his father fervently.

"But _she_ is," Sube added after a moment.

"What do you mean by that?" asked his father suspiciously.

"Why, I mean that I didn't know _whose_ lot it was; but she went up
there this afternoon and found one of her trees gone--"

"Yes, but somebody else might have taken it! You say you are not certain
which lot you took it from."

"But I could tell in a holy minute if I should go up there--"

"Sube!" his father glared at him dangerously. "You are positively
forbidden to go anywhere near that cemetery for the next six months! If
you do,--I will turn you over to the authorities, and let the law take
its course. Don't forget that! I mean it!--And now, you may go to bed
just as fast as you can get there."

"But I want to tell you some'pm--"

"I don't care to hear another word. I've heard quite enough for one
night. Go--to--bed!"

As Sube dragged himself unwillingly up the stairs, Mrs. Cane said to her
husband:

"Well, at last the tide has turned. Sube has discovered the truth."

"Huh! I must say he picked out a fine time to discover it," was her
husband's grim rejoinder. "Why, if Mrs. Hotchkiss-Harger should believe
I ever did such a thing as rob a cemetery of its shrubbery, she'd never
trust me again--and besides, I'd die of shame and mortification."

"Well," comforted Mrs. Cane, "in the first place, she'd never believe
such a thing. And in the next place, what does an old evergreen tree
amount to compared with the truth? I must admit that I was somewhat
surprised to see you trying to lead your own son into evasion when he
was doing his best to tell the truth."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day, with an armful of packages Nancy Guilford ascended the Canes'
front porch and rang the doorbell. And as Annie was stuffing the turkey
Mrs. Cane herself opened the door.

"How is Sube feeling to-day?" asked Nancy in her most winning tone.

Mrs. Cane had not heard that he was ill, but she guessed at once that
his early retirement of the evening before must have been based on an
imaginary indisposition. "Come right in, and see for yourself," she
invited cordially.

Sube was cornered in the library; there was no escape. And it was with
the face of a desperado at bay that he confronted Nancy as she entered.

"Hello!" she called cheerfully. "Feeling better to-day? I was so sorry
you couldn't stay last night."

Sube glared at her in silence as she went on placidly.

"I brought over your presents for you. Most of 'em are jokes. You
mustn't open 'em until after I go."

But as Mrs. Cane stepped out of the room Nancy changed her mind, and
decided to open one present, a longish package which she tore open and
from which she produced the butt of a cypress sapling.

"I tried to tell you about this last night," she whispered hurriedly,
"but you wouldn't let me get anywhere near you. There! See where the
carpenter sawed it off! There's no little black ring on that end at
all!"

Sube took the stick into his hands mumbling dazedly, "Well, what do you
know about that!"

Instinctively his gaze went to the other end, which he had hacked off
with the ax, and on which he saw something that he hastened to cover
with his hand. At this moment Mrs. Cane reëntered the room; but she saw
nothing of the stick, nor did she notice the deformity of Sube's left
side, which was plainly visible through his jacket.

Nancy at once stood up, and after a fitting exchange of holiday
sentiment, announced that she was on her way to slide down hill, and
took her departure. But she could not by any possibility have more than
reached the gate when Sube threw into the furnace the only existing
evidence of his guilt; and as he watched it turn into uncommunicative
ashes he muttered to himself, "Nance is _all right_! But if they ever
catch me tellin' the truth again--they'll _know_ it! Here I got to stay
in the house all day when I might jus' well be slidin' down hill."

He stood and gazed at the glowing coals long after the piece of wood had
been consumed, and as he gazed, he wondered.

"Would Nance 'ave done as much for Biscuit Westfall?" he asked himself.

He didn't believe she would. And he was right.

THE END





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Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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