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Title: Mark Tidd, Editor
Author: Kelland, Clarence Budington, 1881-1964
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: Plunk and Tallow were there looking dilapidated and
frightened]



                           MARK TIDD, EDITOR

                                   BY

                       CLARENCE BUDINGTON KELLAND

                               author of

                “Mark Tidd” “Mark Tidd in the Backwoods”
                       “Mark Tidd’s Citadel” etc.


                              ILLUSTRATED


                      HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS

                          NEW YORK AND LONDON



                           Mark Tidd, Editor

                 Copyright, 1917, by Harper & Brothers

                Printed in the United States of America



ILLUSTRATIONS

Plunk and tallow were there looking dilapidated and frightened

We went to selling papers as hard as we could, and before noon we were
cleaned out

“Huh!” says the second man, and we recognized him as the man with the
black gloves

Jethro just rushed at us and grabbed a-holt of Rock, rough-like



CHAPTER I


“Binney,” says Mark Tidd to me, “the Wicksville _Trumpet_ is
b-b-busted.”

“Well,” says I, “it’s been cracked for quite a spell. It hain’t been
tootin’ loud enough to notice for a year.”

“Used to be a g-good newspaper once,” says Mark.

“Yes—once,” says I, “but not more ’n once. That hain’t any record. If
I’d been gettin’ out a paper fifty-two times a year for twenty years I
bet I could ’a’ made more ’n one of those times a good one.”

Mark looked at me sudden out of his little eyes that had to sort of
_peek_ up over his fat cheeks. “Binney,” says he, “you hain’t as useless
as I calc’lated. That’s an idea.”

“Oh,” says I, “is that what it is? I sort of figgered maybe it was a
notion.”

Mark turned the whole of him around so he could face Plunk Smalley and
Tallow Martin, who were standing behind him. By rights you ought to have
a turn-table to move Mark around on, like they have for locomotives.
He’s ’most as heavy as a locomotive, and when he talks sometimes it
sounds like a locomotive pulling a load up-hill, snorting and puffing—he
stutters so.

“Fellows,” says he, “this Binney Jenks is g-g-gettin’ so he talks like a
minstrel show. Makes reg’lar j-jokes one right after another. Looks
l-like he hain’t got time to be sensible any more.”

“But what’s the idea?” says Tallow.

“Want to talk to my father first,” says Mark. “C-come on.”

Mark’s father didn’t use to have any money at all. He just sat around
inventing things and reading Gibbon’s _Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire_. First he’d invent a little, and then he’d read a little, and it
was a wonder he didn’t get the two mixed up. But finally he up and
invented a turbine-engine, and it made such a pile of money for him that
he didn’t need to do a thing but read Gibbon and carry bushel-baskets of
dollars to the bank every little while.

Usually when a man goes and gets rich all of a sudden there’s some
difference in him. He builds him a big house and hires a lot of folks to
brush his clothes and make his beds and cook chicken for him three meals
a day. But not Mr. Tidd. You wouldn’t ever think he had a cent more than
he used to. He kept his little machine-shop in the barn, and wore
overalls mostly—when he didn’t get on his Sunday suit by mistake. He was
as like as not to do that very thing, if Mark’s mother didn’t keep her
eye on him. He was a fine kind of a man, but he couldn’t remember things
for a cent. If Mrs. Tidd sent him to the grocery for a bottle of
vanilla, he’d like as not bring home a bag of onions. As far as he’d get
with remembering, you see, would be that he wanted something with a
smell to it.

Mrs. Tidd was fine, too. She scolded quite considerable, but that was
just make-believe. If you’d come in sudden and tell her you were hungry
and wanted a piece of bread-and-butter she’d sort of frown, and say you
couldn’t have it and that it wasn’t good for boys to be stuffing
themselves between meals—and then, most likely, she’d call you back and
give you a piece of pie.

Getting rich hadn’t changed her, either. Once she tried keeping a hired
girl, but it only lasted a week. She claimed it was more work following
the girl around and saving what she wasted than it was to do the work
itself.

Well, we hustled up to Mark’s house and went back to his father’s shop.
Mr. Tidd, in greasy overalls, sat right smack in the middle of the
floor, reading a book that looked like it was pretty close to worn out.
We didn’t have to ask what it was—it was Gibbon. He didn’t need to read
it; he could have _recited_ it if he’d a mind to.

“Hello, pa,” says Mark.

Mr. Tidd looked up sort of vague, as if he wondered who this stranger
could be. Then he says: “Howdy, Marcus Aurelius. I was hopin’ maybe
you’d drop in. Young eyes is better ’n old ones. Take a sort of a kind
of a look around to see if you can find a chunk of lead—about four
inches square and six inches long. Pretty hefty it was. Don’t see how I
come to mislay it.”

We looked and looked, and no lead was anywhere to be found. But Mark did
find a package with two pounds of butter in it.

“What’s the b-b-butter for, pa?” he asked.

“Why,” says Mr. Tidd, scratching his head, “why, seems to me like your
ma sent me after that butter. Guess I must ’a’ fetched it in and clean
forgot it.”

“Um!” says Mark, and out of the shop he went. In two minutes he came
back, lugging the chunk of lead.

“Where’d you git it, Marcus Aurelius?” says Mr. Tidd.

“In the ice-b-box,” says Mark. “Boon’s I see that b-butter I knew right
off where the lead was. You got the lead same time you did the butter,
didn’t you, pa?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Tidd.

Mark nodded his head like he’d known it all along. “Sure,” says he, “and
you p-p-put the lead in the ice-box and fetched the butter out to the
shop.”

“I swan!” says Mr. Tidd. “I calc’late your ma ’u’d been some s’prised if
she started spreadin’ bread, eh?” He chuckled and chuckled, and so did
we.

“Pa,” says Mark, when we quit laughing, “there was s-s-somethin’ I
wanted to talk over with you.”

“Go ahead,” says Mr. Tidd.

“I got the idea from Binney,” says Mark.

“Huh!” says I, “I hain’t had any ideas this week.”

“Your b-best ideas,” says Mark, “is the ones you don’t know you have.”

“What’s the idee?” asked Mr. Tidd.

“I’m thinkin’,” says Mark, “of becomin’ an editor.”

“Sho!” says Mr. Tidd. He was surprised, and I guess maybe we three boys
weren’t surprised, too! But if you’re around much with Mark Tidd you’ve
got to get used to it. He’s always surprising you; it’s a regular
business with him.

“What you goin’ to be editor of?” says I.

“The Wicksville _Trumpet_—if pa’s willin’,” says he.

I grinned. I almost laughed out loud. “Shucks!” says I.

“I’ll bet he can do it,” says Plunk Smalley.

Mark didn’t pay any attention to us, but just talked to Mr. Tidd. “The
paper’s b-b-busted,” says he, stuttering for all that was in him, “and
it’s goin’ to be s-s-sold at s-sheriff’s sale. I figger it’ll go cheap.
Now, pa, can’t you make out to buy it for us?” Mind how he said _us_?
That’s the kind of a fellow he was. If you were a friend of his he stuck
to you, and whatever he started you could be in if you wanted to.

“Um!” says Mr. Tidd. “A newspaper’s a mighty important thing, Marcus
Aurelius. I don’t call to mind that Gibbon mentions any of ’em in this
book, but they’re important jest the same. Figger you could make out to
run it so’s not to do any harm?”

“Yes, pa,” says Mark.

“I’ll talk it over with your ma,” says Mr. Tidd. That was always the way
with him. He had to talk over with Mrs. Tidd every last thing he did, if
it wasn’t anything more important than digging worms to go fishing. Yes,
sir, he’d ask her what corner of the garden she thought was most likely
for worms, and she’d tell him, and nobody could get him to dig anywheres
else, either.

We all went traipsing into the kitchen, where Mrs. Tidd was baking a
batch of fried-cakes.

“Git right out of here,” she says. “I’m busy. Won’t have you underfoot.
Git right out.”

“Now, ma,” says Mr. Tidd, “we wasn’t after fried-cakes—though one
wouldn’t go bad at this minute. We want to talk newspaper.”

“Go talk it to somebody else,” says Mrs. Tidd. “What about newspapers?”
Now wasn’t that just like her? First tell us to talk to somebody else,
and then ask about it in the same breath. “Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus
Tidd, you keep your hands off’n them fried-cakes,” she said, sharp-like.

“Why,” says Mr. Tidd, “Marcus Aurelius wants I should buy the Wicksville
_Trumpet_ for him and the boys.”

“Nonsense!” says Mrs. Tidd, with a sniff, handing two crisp, brown
fried-cakes to each of us. “Nonsense!”

“Ma,” says Mark, “it’s goin’ to be s-s-sold by the sheriff. Then there
won’t be any more paper here. How’ll you ever git along without the
p-p-p-personals to read?”

“Nonsense!” says Mrs. Tidd again.

“We can b-buy it dirt cheap,” says Mark, “and we can run it and m-make
money while we’re doin’ it, and sell out after a while and m-make a
profit.”

“What you’d make,” says Mrs. Tidd, “would be monkeys of yourselves. No
use arguin’ with me. You can’t doit.” She turned her back and dropped
some more cakes into the grease. “How much you calc’late it’ll cost?”
says she.

“Two-three h-hunderd dollars,” says Mark.

“Jest be throwin’ it away,” says Mrs. Tidd. “Now clear out. I don’t want
to hear another word about it.”

We turned and went out. Before we were off the back stoop she came to
the door. “You go to Lawyer Jones,” says she, “and have him do the
buyin’. Hain’t one of you fit to dicker for a cent’s worth of dried
fish.”

Mark he looked at me and winked. He knew his ma pretty well, and so did
we; but this time I thought she meant what she said.

We all hurried down to Lawyer Jones’s office and told him about it. He
acted like he thought Mr. Tidd was crazy, and he said it was an outrage
to put the control of a Moulder of Public Opinion—that’s what he called
a newspaper—? into the hands of harum-scarum boys. But all the same he
chuckled a little and says he figured Wicksville was in for stirring
times and he was glad he was alive to watch what was going to happen.

“Tidd,” said Lawyer Jones, when we were through talking about the paper,
“did you know Henry Wigglesworth died last night?”

“No,” says Mr. Tidd, looking as if he didn’t quite know who Henry
Wigglesworth was. But we boys knew Mr. Wigglesworth was ’most as rich as
Mr. Tidd, so folks said. He owned a great big farm—hundreds of acres of
it—just outside of town, and he was one of the directors of the bank and
of the electric-light company. Altogether, folks believed he must have
pretty close to a quarter of a million dollars, and that’s a heap, I can
tell you.

Everybody knew Mr. Wigglesworth, but not many were acquainted with him.
What I mean by acquainted is what we call so in Wicksville. It means you
stop to talk with him, and drop in at his house and stay to dinner if
you want to, and go to help when his horse gets sick, and ask him to
come help if you get in some kind of a pickle, that’s being acquainted.
Well, nobody I know of was that way with Mr. Wigglesworth. I don’t know
as I ever heard of a man that had been inside Mr. Wigglesworth’s big
house, or that had had Mr. Wigglesworth in his house.

He wasn’t exactly mean. No, he wasn’t that. He was just big, and
stern-looking, and dignified, and acted like he wanted folks to let him
alone. Mark said to me one day that he acted like he was always sorry
about something, but I don’t see what made Mark think so. Anyhow, folks
were afraid of him and let him alone, which, probably, was just what he
wanted. But he was talked about considerable, you can bet.

The way he lived all alone, with just one man that did his cooking and
helped take care of the big house, made folks talk, because it was
queer. Come to think about it, everything about that house of Mr.
Wigglesworth’s was queer. Sort of spooky, I’d call it.

And now he was dead.

“Yes, sir,” said Lawyer Jones, “he’s dead and gone. I was called up
there before daylight, Tidd, and what d’you suppose I found in the
house?”

“Wa-al,” says Mr. Tidd, “I dunno ’s I’d be prepared to state.”

“A boy,” says Lawyer Jones, and looked at us with the kind of expression
a man wears when he expects he’s going to startle you. And he did it,
all right.

“A b-boy!” says Mark Tidd.

“A boy,” says Lawyer Jones again. “About fifteen, I calc’late he is.”

“Who is he?” says Mark.

“That,” says Lawyer Jones, “is what I’d give ten dollars to find out.”

“Didn’t you ask him?” says Tallow.

“He didn’t know himself,” says Lawyer Jones.

“Shucks!” says I, not meaning to be disrespectful.

“It’s the truth,” says Lawyer Jones. “Didn’t know who he was nor what
for he was in Henry Wigglesworth’s house. Says his first name is Rock
and that he didn’t ever have a last name. Just Rock. Says a man named
Peterkin brought him here four days ago, and left him. Says Wigglesworth
never spoke to him, but just come sneakin’ in one night after he was in
bed, with a lamp in his hand, and stood looking down at him. The boy
says he pretended he was asleep. That’s all there is to it, and I wish I
had an idee what it all means.”

I looked at Mark Tidd. His little eyes were twinkling the way they do
when he’s all wrought up and interested, and his lips were pressed
together so they looked kind of white. You could see he was ’most eaten
up with curiosity. But he didn’t ask any questions.

In a few minutes we went out and walked back to Mr. Tidd’s shop, where
we all sat down to talk things over.

“R-reg’lar mystery,” says Mark.

“Can’t make no head or tail to it,” says Tallow.

And that’s what Wicksville in general decided—that they couldn’t make
head nor tail to it. It gave everybody in town something to talk about
and figure over.

When the Man With the Black Gloves came to town and Henry Wigglesworth’s
will was found, folks puzzled more than ever.

But we boys had other fish to fry—except Mark. I guess he had the
Wigglesworth mystery more in his mind than he did the Wicksville
_Trumpet_. But after the next morning he had to think more about the
_Trumpet_, for Lawyer Jones bid it in for us at the sheriff’s sale of
three hundred and thirty-two dollars—and Mark Tidd was a real, live,
untamed editor.



CHAPTER II


Mr. Tidd went along with us when we took possession of the Wicksville
_Trumpet_. He headed straight for the room where the machinery was,
Gibbon’s _Decline and Fall_ sticking out of his pocket. Which one
interested him first would have him for the morning—so Mark began to
talk printing-press right off. Mr. Tidd went and looked it over and
sniffed in a gentle, mild-mannered sort of way.

It _wasn’t_ much of a press, I expect. You worked it with a big crank,
like turning a coffee-grinder. We boys had seen it done lots of times,
for we’d hung around the printing-office more or less, and sometimes
we’d helped fold papers and such things. So we had _some_ experience.
Some was about all we had, though. We knew as much about running a
newspaper as a man that’s picked a sliver out of his finger knows about
surgery.

Mr. Tidd shucked off his coat and started prodding around in the insides
of the press.

Mark motioned to us and we sneaked out into the office.

“Now,” says Mark, “we c-c-commence. I’m editor and you f-fellows are
everything else.”

“What else is there?” says I. “I want to pick out a good job.”

“You can be assistant b-business manager,” says Mark.

“Assistant?” says I. “Who’s the real thing?”

“Me,” says Mark.

“Huh!” says I.

“You’re a reporter, too,” says he. “You and Plunk and T-Tallow.”

“What’s my job?” says Tallow.

“You’re a-a-assistant foreman of the pressroom,” says Mark.

“Huh! Who’s foreman?”

“Me,” says Mark.

“What job have you got that I can be assistant to?” says Plunk.

“You’re assistant circulation manager,” says he.

“All we got to do is be those things you’ve said, and reporters
besides?” says I.

“That, and hustle for ads., and help run the press, and fold papers, and
learn to set type, and clean up, and help l-l-lick folks that come in to
l-lick the editor, and run the job press, and collect money, and get
subscribers, and d-d-drum up printin’ jobs. When you hain’t got anythin’
else to d-do, you can be l-lookin’ for news.”

“Too much loafin’ about this to suit me,” says Tallow.

“Say,” says Plunk, “how _does_ a newspaper make money, anyhow?”

“It d-don’t,” says Mark. “Anyhow old Rogers always said so; but it
t-tries to make money by gettin’ folks to subscribe, and by havin’
f-folks advertise, and by doin’ printin’ jobs—like tickets for the
Congregational Young Ladies’ Auxiliary Annual Chicken-Pie Supper.”

“How many subscribers did the _Trumpet_ have when it busted?” says I.

“Hunderd and t-twenty-six,” says Mark. “And listen to this, you
f-fellows, we’ve got to have a thousand.”

“Huh!” says I. “You’ll have to git a few dozen fam’lies to move in
first.”

“Yes,” says Plunk, “and about that type-settin’—who’s goin’ to teach it
to us?”

Mark scratched his head at that. Who _was_ going to teach us how to do
it? But that was a worry that didn’t last long. We found a bridge to
cross that difficulty and the name of it was Tecumseh Androcles Spat. He
came in through the door that very minute.

He looked like Abraham Lincoln in his shirtsleeves. Tall he was, and
bony, and he hadn’t any coat on, and he did have one of those old
flat-brimmed silk hats.

He looked at us a moment and then says:

“Do I find myself standing in the editorial sanctum of one of those
bulwarks of liberty and free speech—the local newspaper?”

“Right on the edge of it,” says Mark.

“Where then, may I ask, is that great and good man, the editor?”

Mark sort of puffed out his chest and looked important.

“I am the editor,” says he.

The tall man looked sort of taken back, but just the same he took off
his hat with a sweep.

“I greet you sir,” he said. “You see before you no less a person than
Tecumseh Androcles Spat. From my earliest youth the smell of printer’s
ink has been in my nose. My services have been sought, obtained, and
finally dispensed with in no less than one hundred and seventy-four
printing establishments. I desire to round out the number and make it a
full century and three-quarters. Therefore, I apply to you for
employment.”

“Can you set type?” says Mark, beginning to look cheerful.

“Stick type? Can Tecumseh Androcles Spat stick type? My young friend, my
first tooth was cut on a quoin; I learned my letters at the case; at the
immature age of seven—an infant prodigy, with all modesty I say it—I
could set the most complicated display. To-day, in my maturity, you
perceive me unrivaled in my profession. I am the Compleat Printer.”

“You can have a j-job,” says Mark, “but I dunno if you’ll ever get your
wages.”

“No matter, no matter. I am accustomed to that. Give me but a corner to
slumber in, food for my stomach, tobacco for my pipe, and my soul is at
peace.”

“You’re hired,” says Mark.

“Where’s your coat?” says I.

“In useful service, my young friend. It hangs from crossed sticks in the
midst of a garden patch a mile or more away. It was a lovely garden
patch wherein grew peas, string-beans, luscious cabbages, fragrant
onions. But it was being destroyed. The birds of the air descended upon
it in thousands. I looked, I comprehended. What a pity, said I. So, to
avert further depredations, I stripped my coat, hung it from crossed
sticks, and stood it in the midst of the garden patch. The garden needed
it worse than I. Each time I gaze upon my uncoated arms I say to myself,
‘Tecumseh Androcles Spat is doing his part to preserve the nation’s
food.’”

“He talks like he was a lot educated,” says Plunk.

Tecumseh Androcles overheard him. “Educated. Ah, indeed. Have I not in
my day set type for every page of Goober’s Grammar, Mills’s Spelling
Book, to say nothing of histories, philosophies, dictionaries. But most
important of all, almanacs. Young gentlemen, I have set no less than ten
almanacs from beginning to end. What university, I ask you, can equip
you with the facts contained in a family almanac?”

“You’ll n-n-need all you know around here,” Mark says, with a grin. “We
just bought this p-paper at sheriff’s sale, and we’ve got the whole
business to learn.”

“Good! Splendid! You’re in luck. Tecumseh Androcles Spat is the man to
teach you. Where’ll I begin?”

“You might go out in the shop and l-look around. Sort of get the lay of
the land,” says Mark.

He hung his silk hat on a hook and, in the most pompous, dignified way
you ever saw, he stalked out into the press-room.

“Now for b-business,” says Mark. “First thing ’s to get some
s-subscribers. Folks’ll take the _Trumpet_ if they know it’s goin’ to
amount to s-somethin’. We’ve got to tell ’em.”

“How?” says I.

“By talkin’ it, singin’ it, w-whistlin’ it and p-playin’ it on your
mouth-organ,” says Mark, with a grin. “Also by printin’ it. We’ll get
out some hand-bills—and some bigger bills to stick on fences and things.
I’ll get up the bills. While I’m doin’ it you fellows go out and see
what you can l-learn from Tecumseh Androcles.”

So Mark sat down to his desk and got a pencil and commenced scratching
his head. The rest of us went out into the other room—and there was Mr.
Tidd and Tecumseh Androcles in a regular old argument. Both of them had
forgot all about working.

“’Tain’t so,” Mr. Tidd said, as loud and excited as he was capable of.
“There hain’t no book got more solid and useful knowledge in it than
Gibbon’s _Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_. It’s better ’n the
whole kit and bundle of the rest of the books in the nation.”

“My friend,” said Tecumseh, “your view is narrow, not to say biased. I
have read the volumes you praise. Without doubt there is merit in them.
Oh, without doubt. But as compared to that marvelous book, Izaak
Walton’s _Compleat Angler_, it is the nickering of a match to the
shining of the noonday sun.”

“_Angler_,” says Mr. Tidd, disgusted as could be.

“Yes, _Angler_,” says Tecumseh.

“Huh!” says Mr. Tidd.

“Do not snort at Izaak Walton,” roared Tecumseh. “I will not stand by to
see it done.”

“Then don’t go belittlin’ Gibbon,” says Mr. Tidd.

“Have you read _The Compleat Angler_?” shouted Tecumseh.

“No,” says Mr. Tidd, more warlike than I thought he had it in him to be,
“nor I hain’t read the Compleat Fly-catcher, nor the Compleat
Cold-catcher, nor—?”

“Sir!” yelled Tecumseh, reaching as if to take off his coat and finding
it was off. It sort of surprised him, I guess, but he got over it and
shook his fist under Mr. Tidd’s nose. He quit talking educated and
careful, too—just for that minute.

“Your Gibbon wasn’t nothin’ but a flea on Walton’s collar,” says he.

It looked like there was going to be a regular rumpus, so I sort of
stepped up and says:

“How’s the printin’-press gettin’ along, Mr. Tidd?”

“Eh?” says he. “Printin’-press. What printin’-press?”

“This one,” says I.

“Um!” says he, rubbing his chin. “Calc’late I plum’ forgot it. What’s
matter with it, Binney?”

“You was goin’ to find out,” says I.

“So I was.... So I was,” says he.

“And you,” says I to Tecumseh Androcles, “you quit botherin’ him. He’s
busy. See if it hain’t catchin’.”

Well, sir, you should have seen Tecumseh go to work. He could work, too,
and knew just what he was doing. He set every one of us doing something,
and it didn’t seem like ten minutes, though it must have been an hour or
so, when Mark came out with some paper in his hand.

“Here’s the hand-bill,” says he. “Tecumseh Androcles, can you s-s-set
this up so’s it’ll look strikin’?”

“Give it to me, young man, and you shall see. Ah, you shall see.”

So Tecumseh went to work and in no time had the thing set up. He fixed
it so it would go on the job press and then we began printing it. Just
let me tell you it was a jim-dandy. This is how it went:

                        THE WICKSVILLE “TRUMPET”
                            IS GOING TO TOOT

                       New Editor, New Management
                       New Policy, New Everything

                          First Toot Thursday

                       Mark Tidd and Company will
                    give this town a paper that will
                        make the State jealous.

                              $1.25 a Year

                      If there’s anything you want
                     to know, look in the “Trumpet”
                        for it. It’ll be there.

                      Don’t crowd, don’t push. But
                    hand in your subscription early.
                   If you miss the first toot you’ll
                        never forgive yourself.

                    SUBSCRIBE  SUBSCRIBE  SUBSCRIBE

By that time it was noon. Tecumseh was the first one to notice it.

“It is my custom,” said he, “to eat at this time. As I understand it you
are to supply me with nourishment.”

“That was the b-bargain,” says Mark. “Come on.”

He went out with Tecumseh, and the rest of us followed. We knew he
didn’t have any money to buy a meal with, because he’d spent his last
cent the day before, and we wondered what he was up to. He went straight
to the Acme Restaurant.

“Where’s the boss?” he says to the girl at the counter.

“Kitchen,” says she.

“Call him out,” says he.

“Call him yourself,” says she. “Your voice is as strong as mine.”

So Mark yelled, and in a minute out came Mr. Schmidt, waddling like an
old duck.

“Vat iss?” says he.

“I want to b-board this gentleman here,” says Mark, pointing to
Tecumseh.

“Yass,” says Mr. Schmidt.

“But I hain’t got any m-money.”

“Den you don’t got any board,” says Mr. Schmidt——

“But I’ve g-got a _business_ p-proposition to make you.”

“Make it quick, cakes iss in dat stove,” says Mr. Schmidt.

“We own the newspaper,” says Mark. “It’s going to be the g-greatest
newspaper in the State. Everybody’s goin’ to read it. _You’re_ goin’ to
r-r-read it. Now, I want to make money for you.”

“Why?” says Mr. Schmidt.

“Because,” says Mark, “I like the way your cakes smell,” and then he
went ahead quick, telling the old fellow how much more money he would
make if he advertised in the _Trumpet_ and told folks about his pies and
his meats, and what he was going to serve for meals. Once or twice Mr.
Schmidt tried to interrupt, but Mark never gave him a chance. He ended
up: “Now, Mr. Schmidt, you board Tecumseh Androcles and give him three
good meals a day, and we’ll advertise your place so every f-f-farmer
that comes to town will want to eat here. I’ll write the ads. m-myself.
I wouldn’t do that for everybody. We’ll give you a full column every
w-w-week.”

“I don’t—” began Mr. Schmidt, but Mark was at him again, and pretty soon
Mr. Schmidt waved his hands in the air and says: “Stop. Vill you stop?
Eh? Cakes I haff in dat oven. Dey schpoil. I advertise. Sure. I do
anyt’ing if you go away. T’ree meal a day. You advertise a column in
your paper. Iss dat it?”

“Yes,” says Mark, and waved Tecumseh to a seat at a table. “Be sure you
eat a c-c-column’s worth every week,” says he, and grinned at us.

That was our first stroke of business. I guess it was a good bargain.
Once I saw Tecumseh eating, and I guess we didn’t get much the worst of
it. No, I guess Mark Tidd didn’t get beaten very bad on that bargain.

We went outside and started for home. At the corner we nearly bumped
into a stranger. He was a small man, with the blackest eyes you ever
saw, and he scowled at us as if we hadn’t any right to be alive. One
funny thing about him was that he had on black kid gloves.

“I don’t l-like that man’s looks,” says Mark, turning to stare after
him. “Wouldn’t trust him with a red-hot stove, ’cause maybe his hands
would be made of asbestos.”

“Did look mean,” says I. “Wonder who he was?”

“Dunno,” says Mark, “and don’t want to.”

But he was mistaken about that. Before long Mark Tidd did want to know
who he was, and wanted to know it worse than he had ever wanted to know
anything in his life.

And that’s how we saw the Man With the Black Gloves for the first time.



CHAPTER III


“The t-trouble with this business,” says Mark, when we were back in the
office, “is that we haven’t m-much workin’ capital.”

“What’s workin’ capital?” Plunk wanted to know.

“It’s money you have to keep your b-business runnin’. Right now we have
to buy ink and p-paper and things. We aren’t t-takin’ in enough money to
do it, and to pay rent, and such like. All we’ve got is f-fifty dollars,
and that’s got to do. Ma says so. She says dad can t-throw away so much
money, but not another cent; and if we can’t make this p-paper pay on
what we’ve got, why we can just up and b-bust.”

“Um!” says I. “I guess we better get a wiggle on us, then.”

“C-can’t get many subscribers before the f-first paper comes out, but
we’ll print f-f-five hunderd of ’em, anyhow. Cost money, but we got to
do it.”

“How’ll you get rid of ’em?” Tallow wanted to know.

“Sell ’em,” says Mark, sharp-like. “We’ll each take a bundle and sell
’em on the s-s-street like in the cities. Get more money out of ’em,
too. Subscribers get f-f-fifty-two copies for a dollar and a quarter.
We’ll sell ’em for three cents—and folks’ll buy ’em, too. Won’t come
down with a year’s subscription right off, but they’ll dig up t-t-three
cents just so’s they can make fun of what we’re doin’.”

“Got to have some news for the paper,” I says.

“Yes,” says Mark. “We’ve got a start. There’s the story about Henry
Wigglesworth being dead, and about that boy. Probably the will will be
r-r-read this week, too. But we’ve got to go after l-little things for
p-p-personal items.”

“How d’ye know when a thing’s news?” says Plunk.

“Well,” says Mark, “everything’s news in Wicksville. But some things is
better news than others, and we can write m-m-more about ’em. Now,
s’pose Sam Wilkins hammers his finger with a h-hammer. Bein’s it’s
nobody but Sam, we’d just write a little piece somethin’ like this: ‘Sam
Wilkins up and banged his thumb with a hammer, Thursday afternoon. The
doctor says Sam’ll recover.’

“But if Sam’s brother was one of the selectmen, we’d say: ‘Samuel
Wilkins, brother of our well-known and highly esteemed selectman, Hiram
P. Wilkins, painfully injured himself Thursday while working on his
brother’s hen-coop. The selectman examined the injured thumb and gave it
as his opinion that Samuel would be able to go to work again before the
summer was over. Much regret has been expressed over the h-happening,
because it delays the completion of the selectman’s splendid new
hen-house, which is one any village may be proud of.’ See. T-that’s the
idee. If Sam’s brother was President of the United States we’d write a
whole column about it, and try to p-p-print a picture of the hurt
t-thumb.”

“I see,” says I.

“Me, too,” says the other fellows.

Just then Mr. Greening, of the Big Corner Store, came in.

“Howdy, boys!” says he.

“Howdy!” says we.

“In shape to print some hand-bills?”

“You b-bet,” says Mark. “Reg’lar size?”

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Five hundred. How much?”

Right off, without so much as waiting to wink, Mark told him.

“All right. Can I have ’em to-morrow sure?”

“Yes, _sir_. G-gettin’ out jobs on time is our s-s-specialty. Promptness
and quality,” says Mark, “is the watchword of this office.”

“Fine. Do a good job on these and I’ll have more for you every week.”

“M-much obleeged,” says Mark.

When Mr. Greening was gone I says to Mark: “How in the world did you
know how much to charge him? Bet you got it wrong.”

“You d-d-do, eh?” says Mark, with a twinkle in his little eyes. “Well,
if I did, Binney, it hain’t wrong on the losin’ side for us. No, siree.
I’ve b-been goin’ over the books the last owner of this p-p-paper left
here, to find out how much he charged for j-j-jobs, and what j-jobs was
likely to come in. Mr. Greening’s was one of ’em. So when he come I just
charged him what the other feller would have charged—and added t-t-ten
per cent, to make sure we wouldn’t l-lose anything.”

He looked proud and pleased with himself, like he always does when he
does something that’s pretty good. It _was_ pretty good, too. You’ve got
to take off your hat to Mark when it comes to making money. He’s a
regular schemer, but for all that, he’s fair. Nobody—at least no other
kid in Wicksville—would have thought of getting at prices the way Mark
did.

“The other owner of the p-p-paper didn’t make money,” says Mark. “That’s
why I added ten per cent. If we f-f-find that isn’t enough, we’ll add
more—and we’ll get it, too, ’cause we’re goin’ to turn out first-class
work—and turn it out just when we p-p-promise to. Folks don’t mind a few
cents extry if they get quality and promptness.”

Tecumseh Androcles Spat came in from the composing-room just then,
shaking his head from side to side and looking as doleful as a gander on
a rainy day.

“Mr. Editor,” said he, “my talents are lying idle. It should not be so.
At this moment I should be dazzling the inhabitants of this village with
typographical displays such as their eyes have never feasted on. Yet no
copy hangs on the hook.”

“In just one s-s-second there’ll be some hangin’ there,” said Mark, and
he reached out and stuck the paper Mr. Greening had given him on the
hook where stuff is put that the man in the composing-room is to set in
type.

Tecumseh Androcles stared at it, cocked his head on one side, wrinkled
his nose, and then began making funny motions in the air with one hand
like he was drawing lines and making dots and flourishes.

“Good,” says he in a minute. “The thing is done. Tecumseh Androcles Spat
sees the completed hand-bill in his mind’s eye—and it is beautiful.”

“M-make it beautiful,” says Mark, “but also make it quick!”

“Young sir,” says Tecumseh, “no compositor between the Broad Atlantic
and the boundless Pacific can vie with me in speed. I shall show you.”

And he dodged out into the composing-room so quickly his head seemed to
snap like the snapper on the end of a horse-whip.

“I’m afraid,” says Mark, “that Tecumseh’s bothered with what some folks
call artistic t-t-temperament. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but
it’s hard to m-manage.”

“You’ll manage it, all right,” says Tallow. “I’ll bet you could drive
two artistic temperaments in a team.”

“I’d hate to try,” says Mark, but you could see he was tickled. He
always likes to be appreciated—and so do the rest of us, I guess.

“Now,” says he, “Plunk and Tallow, scatter and hunt up news. Don’t miss
anythin’. F-f-fetch in everything you get to hear, and we’ll use all we
can that’s really n-news. Now git—and don’t loaf.”

“Huh!” says Plunk. “Guess we hain’t any more apt to loaf than _you_
are.”

“Reporters always try to loaf,” says Mark. “I read it in a book.”

Then Mark says to me that he shouldn’t be surprised if it would be a
good idea for me to go to the hotel and find out who was registered
there, and what they came to town for, and how long they were going to
stay.

“And,” says he, “if there’s any of t-t-them that sounds like he might be
int’restin’, get a talk with him and write up what he says.”

So off I went to the hotel.

“Gimme a look at the register,” says I to Billy Green, the clerk.

“What d’you want to look at the register for?” says Bill, winking at a
traveling man that was standing close by.

“To see who’s registered,” says I. “Did you think I wanted to read a
poem out of it?”

Bill laughed and pulled the book away.

“No kids allowed,” says he. “I’ll bet your hands are dirty and you’d
muss it all up.”

“Bill,” says I, “you better quit makin’ fun of me, or I’ll put a piece
in the paper about how you got on the dining-car last week, and didn’t
know what finger-bowls was, and drank the water out of your’n, thinkin’
it was lemonade ’cause it had lemon peelin’ in it.”

Bill he got pretty red and looked sideways at the traveling man and
tried to laugh it off. But it was so, and I knew it. He didn’t know how
I knew it, and I wasn’t going to tell him.

“Do I get to see the register?” says I.

“What you got to do with the newspaper?” he wanted to know.

“Mark Tidd and Plunk and Tallow and me is runnin’ it,” says I, “and I’m
after news.”

“Guess I’ll have to let you see it, then,” says he, and he pushed it
over.

There was five men registered fresh that morning. Three of them I knew,
for they were traveling men that came to town every week. One of the
others was just a man from Freesoil that didn’t amount to much, though I
wrote a line mentioning that he was in town. The other fellow I’d never
heard of.

“Who’s this Silas Spragg?” says I.

“Dunno,” says Billy. “He hain’t stated his business.”

“Guess I’ll interview him, then,” says I. “Maybe there’s some news in
him. Where’s he hidin’ away?”

“That’s him on the sidewalk, there,” says Bill, and he pointed to a man
about thirty years old who was leaning against a hitching-post in front
and looking at the town like he didn’t think much of it.

“Much obliged,” says I, and went out to see Mr. Spragg.

“Good mornin’,” says I. “Is this Mr. Silas Spragg?”

“Yes,” says he, sharp-like. “What of it?”

I figured maybe his breakfast hadn’t agreed with him, or that his shoes
was too tight, or something.

“I just saw your name on the register,” says I, “and, bein’ as I
represent the newspaper, I figgered I’d better get acquainted with you.
Ever been here before?”

“No,” says he. “If I had ’a’ been I wouldn’t have come back this time.”

“Goin’ to stay long?” I asked.

He sort of grinned. “Reg’lar newspaper man, hain’t you?” says he. “Run
one of them amateur newspapers?”

“No,” says I, “professional. Reg’lar paper printed on a printin’-press,
with advertisin’ in it, issued every Thursday, a dollar and a quarter a
year.”

“Huh!” says he. “What paper’s that?”

“The Wicksville _Trumpet_,” says I.

He laughed. “That’s busted,” says he. “Sheriff took it for debts. You
can’t fool me, sonny.”

“Yes,” says I, “it was sold by the sheriff and Mark Tidd’s dad bought it
for us four fellers to run. It hain’t busted any more, and, mister, it
hain’t goin’ to be busted, either. Guess you don’t know Mark Tidd, do
you?”

“No,” says he, “but I hope he didn’t spend much money for his paper.”

“Why?” says I.

“’Cause he’s goin’ to lose it,” says he.

“Maybe,” says I, “he’ll have somethin’ to say about that.”

“So’ll I,” says he, “and here’s some news for you. You’ll like to print
it, I’ll bet. I’m a newspaper man myself. Part owner of the Eagle Center
_Clarion_. When we heard the _Trumpet_ was busted we decided to grab on
to this town and get out a special edition of the _Clarion_ for it. See?
One plant to print two papers. I’m here to be editor of the Wicksville
edition.... Now what d’you think about bustin’, eh? Figger there’s room
for two papers here?”

“No,” says I; “so you’d better take the noon train back to Eagle
Center.”

He laughed, disagreeable-like. “Not me,” says he. “The _Clarion_’ll
_own_ this town in two months. We’ll give ’em a real paper that folks’ll
buy and depend on. You might as well shut up shop right off and save
expense. Maybe we’d go so far as to give you a few dollars for the junk
up at your office.”

“Huh!” says I. “If you’re lookin’ for a row, I guess we can pervide it
for you. And we’ll start right off. Sorry I hain’t got time to talk to
you any more, but I’ve got somethin’ to do. Yes, Mister Spragg, I’m
movin’ on now, and in ten minutes the Eagle Center _Clarion_’ll be
startin’ in to wish it hadn’t ever tried to hog the whole State.
Good-by, mister. Better leave while you’ve got change enough left to pay
your fare.”

He said something to me that sounded like he was real mad, and I moved
off considerable rapid, because I didn’t know but what he’d take it into
his head to get rough. Yes, I went away from there prompt, and hurried
to the office. Mark was sitting at his desk, editing.

“Hey, Mark,” says I, “we’re up against it again. Seems like we’re always
runnin’ up against it. Folks won’t let us have peace.”

“N-n-now what?” says he.

“Eagle Center _Clarion’s_ goin’ to print a special Wicksville edition,”
says I. “They’ve got an editor here, and he says he’s goin’ to put us
out of business.”

“Um!” says Mark, and turned around so his face was toward the window.
“S-s-special edition, eh?” Then he began tugging at his ear like he
always does when there’s a problem to figure out or some sort of
difficult thing to overcome. “Well,” says he in a minute, “I don’t see
how we can s-s-stop ’em. But we’ll let ’em know they’ve got competition,
eh, Binney?”

“You bet,” says I.

“Got to m-m-make our first paper a hummer,” says he, “so folks’ll talk
about it and wonder what the dickens we’ll p-p-print _next_ week.”

“Fine,” says I. “How’ll we get about it.”

“Best way,” says he, “is to take a chance of gettin’ licked.”

“Sounds good,” says I.

“We’ll p-p-print some _real_ news,” says he, “and we’ll have a
c-c-couple of typographical errors that h-happen on purpose.”

“Dunno what they be,” says I, “but they sound int’restin’.”

“They will be,” says he. “I’ll m-m-make ’em myself.”

“Kind of discouragin’ to have another paper crowdin’ in here right at
the start,” says I.

“Shucks!” says he. “Just m-m-makes more work and more f-f-figgerin’.
’Tain’t any fun to do a thing that’s _easy_. Anybody can do an easy
thing. Where the fun comes in is havin’ to _f-f-fight_ for it.”

“Maybe,” says I, “but that’s where the worry comes, too.”

“Keep so b-busy you won’t have time to worry,” says he, “and first
l-let’s go find your Mister Spragg.”

“Come on,” says I, and off we went to the hotel.

Mr. Spragg was still leaning against the same hitching-post. If he
wasn’t going to do anything but hold up a post, I thought to myself,
maybe we won’t have such a hard time of it, after all.

“Mister Spragg,” says I, “let me introduce the editor of the Wicksville
_Trumpet_.”

“Him?” says Mr. Spragg, staring at Mark.

“Him,” says I.

Then Mr. Spragg did something he hadn’t ought to have done—not if he was
wise. He busted right out laughing in Mark’s face.

“Him the editor!” says Mr. Spragg. “Oh, my goodness! Thought I was up
against some kind of a man, but nothin’ but an over-fed kid that’s so
fat he can’t hardly waddle. Oh! Oh!”

I kept my eyes on Mark, but he didn’t turn a hair. You would have
thought he didn’t even hear what Spragg said, for he just waited for the
man to get through laughing, and then he said, quiet-like:

“Glad to meet you, Mister S-s-spragg.”

“Go along, fatty,” says Spragg, “and don’t bother me.”

“I d-d-don’t want to bother you unless I _have_ to,” says Mark, as calm
and quiet as a china nest egg. “I figgered maybe you’d like to t-t-talk
things over a bit.”

“With _you_?” says Spragg, as scornful as anything. “No time to bother
with kids.”

“All right,” says Mark, still polite as peas. “I j-just wanted to give
you the chance, that was all. I don’t b’lieve in sailin’ into a f-feller
till there’s some reason for it, and if there’s a chance to be f-friends
and keep out hard feelin’, I’m the one to do all I can.”

“Don’t be scairt of me, sonny. I hain’t goin’ to hurt you any—that is,
outside of bustin’ up that paper you’re playin’ with.”

“Oh,” says Mark, “you’re aimin’ to do that, eh? I didn’t have any right
to complain when you came in here with your p-p-paper. You had a right
to if you wanted to. And you had a r-r-right to take away my subscribers
and advertisers if you could get ’em—by fair, b-b-business-like means.
But you didn’t have a right to come in here d-d-deliberately intendin’
to bust up our business. That hain’t fair or honest.”

He stopped and looked Mr. Spragg over from head to toes.

“Come to t-think of it,” says he, “I don’t b’lieve I like your l-looks.
You look like a bluffer to me, and your eyes are too close t-together
for folks to be warranted in t-trustin’ you far. So I sha’n’t.... That’s
about all. I wanted to be d-d-decent about it, but I guess that hain’t
your way of doin’. So I’ll issue a little warnin’. Go as far as you kin
to get business. Go after my business as hard as you can m-m-manage—but
do it fair and above-board and the way d-decent business men do. As
l-long as you stick to the rules there won’t be any trouble. But the
f-first time I catch you t-t-tryin’ to do anythin’ underhand or
shysterin’ you’ll think you sat down unexpected on to a nest of
yaller-jackets. Jest f-f-fix that in your mind, Mister Spragg....
Good-by.”

For a minute Spragg stood looking at Mark bug-eyed. He was ’most
strangled with astonishment, I guess. We turned and walked off, and we’d
gone fifty feet before he came to himself enough to say a word. Then he
yelled:

“Hey, come back here! Hey, you! What you mean talkin’ like that?” And he
started after us. But just then Billy Green, the hotel clerk, came out.

“What’s matter?” says he, and then he saw Mark and me. “Hain’t been
goin’ up against Mark Tidd, have you?” says he to Spragg.

“That fat kid was sassin’ me,” says he.

“Thank your stars,” says Billy, “that’s all he done to you. Take my
advice and forgit it.”

Mark didn’t miss a word of it, and I could see his ears getting pink
with pleasure. He wasn’t swell-headed, and I guess I’ve said so before,
but he did like to hear nice things said about himself, and more than
anything else he liked to know that folks figured he wasn’t the sort you
could take advantage of. Mark was different from most fellows. He’d
rather have the sharpest brain in town than to win the most events in
the Olympic Games. And you could tickle him more by praising something
he’d _thought up_ than by praising something he’d just _done_.

Mark didn’t say anything while we walked a couple of blocks, but a man
with one eye, and that one under a patch, could have seen he was
studying and studying.

“Well,” says I, “what’s the word?”

“Wisht he hadn’t showed up so s-s-soon,” says Mark, “I was perty busy
before. I wanted t-t-time to think and study on somethin’ else for a
while. Now I’ll have to think and s-s-study about how to stop Spragg
from gettin’ the best of us, and how to get the b-best of him. Only
we’ve got to be _fair_.”

“Sure,” says I, “but what else did you want to figger on?”

“The Wigglesworth business,” says he. “I wanted to p-p-puzzle out what’s
goin’ on, and I wanted to s-sneak out and see that boy and t-talk to
him. I bet he knows things Lawyer Jones didn’t get out of him. Boys
don’t always tell men all they know.... Well, I’ll just have to f-f-find
time to do both.”

“We’ll help all we can,” says I. “Maybe we’ll be _some_ good.”

“Now don’t go gettin’ sore,” says Mark. “I hain’t ever slighted you yet,
have I? Eh? When anythin’ was g-goin’ on you got plenty to do, didn’t
you?”

“Yes,” says I.

“Well,” says he, “more l-likely you’ll get more ’n you want to do this
time.... I do wisht I could figger out where that boy comes in. Rock’s
his name. What’s he got to do with Henry Wigglesworth? Why didn’t Mr.
Wigglesworth speak to him at all? Remember Lawyer Jones said he didn’t.
Then what m-m-made Mr. Wigglesworth come s-sneakin’ in at night to look
at him? That’s the hardest of all. He could see the b-boy all day. What
for did he want to be p-p-prowlin’ in with a lamp to look at him at
night? It’s all mixed up. But you can bet there’s s-somethin’ behind it
all that’ll m-make a dandy newspaper story when we get to the b-b-bottom
of it.”

“Maybe we won’t,” says I.

He turned on me quick. “We will,” says he, “or bust.”

“Huh!” says I. “We can’t always come out on top.”

“We can always if we t-t-try hard enough. The reason some folks is
always f-f-failin’ is because they don’t think hard enough and work hard
enough. Laziness makes more f-f-failures than bad luck.”

“Maybe,” says I, “but this looks like it was too tough a job for just
kids.”

“Wait and see,” says he.

“I’ll help you,” says I.

Lots of fellows would have told me to mind my own business, or maybe
laughed at me and said I wasn’t smart enough to help, but not Mark.

“All right,” says he, “two heads is b-better than a sack of meal. What I
m-miss you may see, and what you don’t catch on to may stick out plain
to me. Let’s get at it.”



CHAPTER IV


The first thing that happened was the coming of the Man With the Black
Gloves. All of a sudden we looked up and there he was standing in the
door, squinting at us with his disagreeable eyes. You haven’t any idea
how quiet he’d come. One second he wasn’t there; the next second there
he was, and no fuss about it at all.

“Howdy!” says Mark.

“Proprietor in?” says the man, chopping off his words like he hated to
use them at all.

“I’m one of t-them,” says Mark. “What can I do for you?”

“Liner ad. How much?” He didn’t throw in one extra word for good
measure. After he was gone Mark says he bet he was stingy as anything.
He said he guessed so because he hated to give away the cheapest thing
in the world—which is talk.

“Cent a word,” says Mark.

The Man With the Black Gloves poked out a paper to Mark and says, “Head
it ‘Personal.’” Then he passed over a quarter and Mark counted the words
and gave back the change. The man turned and went out as quiet as he
came, not even nodding good-by.

Mark stood looking after him, and when he was out of ear-shot he turned
to me and said almost in a whisper, “Binney, l-l-look here!”

Something in his voice made me come quick. I took the paper out of his
hand and read what was written on it. It said:

Jethro: On deck. Report. Center Line Bridge. Eight. G. G. G.

“Funny kind of an ad.,” says I.

“F-f-funny kind of a man,” says Mark. “What d’you make of it?”

“Nothin’,” says I.

“He’s up to somethin’,” says Mark.

“Huh!” says I. “Haven’t we got work enough and mysteries enough on hand
without goin’ out of our way to find another?”

“But,” says Mark, “this is _s-s-suspicious_.”

“What of it?” says I.

“Looks to me,” says he, “like it was our d-duty as newspaper men to
l-l-look into it. May be for the good of the community.”

“Rats!” says I.

“He hain’t plannin’ no good,” says Mark.

“Likely he hain’t,” says I, “but what business is it of ours?”

“Everything is a newspaper man’s b-business,” says Mark, “even things
that hain’t none of his b-business.”

“That sounds crazy,” says I.

“Anyhow,” says he, “I’m goin’ to f-f-find out what’s the meanin’ of this
ad.”

“Go ahead,” says I, “and if you get into trouble don’t ask _me_ to pull
you out.”

Mark looked at me and grinned, and I grinned back, for it _was_ funny.
Usually the one to get folks out of trouble wasn’t me. I was better at
getting them into it. But Mark, why, he made a sort of business of
jerking us out of scrapes we got into!

“Why,” says I, “would a man put in an ad. like that? Why doesn’t he go
tell this Jethro instead of puttin’ it in the paper?”

“One reason,” says Mark, “is because he d-d-don’t want to be seen near
where this Jethro is stayin’.”

That did sound reasonable.

“Yes,” says Mark, tugging at his ear. “Jethro’s expectin’ this feller.
This Black Glove feller’s the boss, it looks to me Jethro’s either
d-doin’ somethin’ or f-f-findin’ out somethin’ for Black Gloves, and
this ad. tells him to report. That’s easy. He’s to do his r-r-reportin’
at the Center Line Bridge, and the ‘eight’ means eight o’clock.... But
what d-day?”

“Why,” says I, “the day the paper comes out!”

“N-no,” says Mark. “I f-figger he means _next_ day. By that time
Jethro’d have time to get his p-p-paper and see the ad. Most likely he’s
been told to look for his orders that way.”

“To be sure,” says I, and it did seem pretty clear after Mark reasoned
it out, but I never would have got that far in six years of digging.

“So,” says Mark, “you and me will be at Center Line Bridge Friday
n-n-night an hour ahead of t-t-time, so’s to hide away and overhear
what’s up.”

“And probably git our backs busted,” says I.

“Hain’t n-never got ’em b-busted yet,” says he.

“All right, Mark,” I says. “Where you go I go, but one of these times
neither one of us’ll be comin’ back in one piece. No, sir, we’ll be
gettin’ scattered all over the county so our folks’ll have to gather us
up in a basket.”

“B-b-between now and Friday,” says Mark, changing the subject, “there’s
a n-newspaper to get out. Stop gabblin’ and go to work.”

Mark turned around to his desk and went to work. I stood around a minute
and then, not seeing anything special to get at, I asked him what he
wanted me to do.

“Go out and get some advertisin’,” says he, and went to work again.

Get some advertising, says he! I had about as much idea how to get
advertising as I had how to catch eels with my bare hands—and I found
out that advertisements were just about as easy to catch as eels. Yes,
and maybe a little harder. If you try to catch an eel, why, he just
wriggles away, but if you try to catch an advertisement the man you try
to catch it from is as likely as not to kick you out of his store. I
don’t see why ads. aren’t catching, like measles or mumps. It would make
it a heap easier for us newspaper men.

Anyhow, all the business I managed to get was a miserable little
advertisement from old man Crane, who had started to grow whiskers and
wanted to trade a safety razor for a brush and comb. It was a cent a
word and there were fifteen words. I didn’t see exactly how we were
going to get rich at that rate.

While I was on my way back to the office I saw what looked like it was
going to be a fight, so I stopped around to watch, but it turned out to
be nothing but a squabble. It was kind of fun, though, even if nobody
did anything but talk and holler. The men mixed up in it were Mr. Pawl,
who owned the Emporium Grocery, and Mr. Giddings, who ran the Busy Big
Market.

When I got there they were just beginning to get started good. Mr. Pawl,
who was about five feet and a half tall, was reaching up in the air as
far as he could reach to shake his fist under Mr. Giddings’s nose—and
Mr. Giddings’s nose was so high up he couldn’t even come near it.

“You did,” says he, hollering as loud as he could yell. “You know you
did, you—you yaller grasshopper. She come right over and told me.
’Tain’t the first time, neither. But it’s goin’ to be the last. No man
kin say to Missis Petty that the eggs in my store was laid by a hen that
was sufferin’ from ague. No, sir, nobody kin. Sufferin’ from ague, says
you, so that the eggs was addled before they was laid, on account of the
hen shakin’ and shiverin’ so.... That’s what you told her, you wab-blin’
old bean-pole. Tryin’ to drive away my customers, eh? I’ll show you.”

“Now, Banty,” says Mr. Giddings, calling Mr. Pawl a name that always
made him mad enough to eat a barrel of nails, because he didn’t like to
have folks mention his size, “now, Banty, jest keep your feet on the
ground. ’Tain’t a mite worse for me to tell Missis Petty what I told her
than it is for you to tell Missis Green that whenever you grease up your
buggy you git a pound of my butter ’cause it’s better for the purpose
than the best axle grease—but hain’t good for nothin’ else. Remember
that, don’t you, you half-grown toadstool? ... Jest let me tell you,
this here slanderin’ ’s been goin’ on long enough, and I’m a-goin’ to
fight back. I’ll give you tit for tat, and don’t you forgit it.”

“I’ll have the law on you,” Mr. Pawl hollered.

“Law—shucks! I’ll take you acrost my knee and spank you,” says Giddings.

“I won’t muss up my hands touchin’ you,” says Pawl. “’Twouldn’t hurt you
nohow, with your rhinoceros hide. Only way to git you sufferin’ is to
touch your pocket-book. From now I’m a-goin’ after your business, and
goin’ after it hard. I’ll _bust_ you, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll bust you
so’s you can’t be put together with glue.”

“Two kin play that fiddle,” says Mr. Giddings. “In two months there
won’t be but one grocery store in Wicksville, and that one’ll be
Giddings’s Busy Big Market. Now run along and sleep on that.”

Giddings walked off, leaving Pawl dancing up and down and making noises
that didn’t have any sense to them. He was so mad he didn’t know if he
was a man in Wicksville or a rampaging hyena in the Desert of Sahara.

I poked along to the office with my little ad. and handed it to Mark,
sort of figgerin’ maybe he’d be mad because I hadn’t got more, but he
wasn’t, and I might have known he wouldn’t be.

“F-f-fine,” says he. “That’s a starter. I didn’t really f-f-figger you’d
get _any_, first time out. Bet you get to be the best advertisin’-getter
in the office.”

Maybe he didn’t mean it, and maybe he was saying it just to make me feel
good, but anyhow it was a good idea. If he’d growled and acted
disappointed, most likely it would have taken the heart out of me, so
that next time I’d have done worse. But as it was I felt, somehow, like
I could go out and get a whole basketful of ads. now. That was Mark
Tidd’s way of doing things. He knew how to manage fellows and how to get
the most work out of them. I’ll bet you that some day he’s one of the
biggest business men there is. I don’t mean big just because he’s such a
whopper, but important.

I told him about the row between Pawl and Giddings, and he laughed till
the fat on his cheeks wabbled like a dish of jelly. Then he got sober
and began tugging his ear.

“Come on, Binney,” says he.

“Where?” says I.

“Out to git some b-b-business,” Says he.

I went following along till he came to Pawl’s Emporium and was turning
in.

“Hey,” says I, “what you goin’ in here for? He’s too mad to _sell_
things, let alone buyin’ advertisin’ space.”

“Maybe,” says Mark. “Let’s try, anyhow.”

So in we went. Mr. Pawl was behind the counter, walking up and down like
a wolf in a circus cage, and every little while he would up with his
fist and bang it down with all his might. I guess he imagined he was
smashing Giddings.

“Come on away from here,” says I to Mark. “He may take it into his head
to wallop us.”

Mark just grinned.

“Howdy, Mr. Pawl!” says he.

Mr. Pawl just glared at him and banged the counter again.

“I don’t b-b-blame you for being mad,” says Mark. “I’d be madder ’n you
are if it was me.”

“If what was you?” says Mr. Pawl.

“If a competitor was t-tryin’ to get ahead of me like yours is tryin’ to
get ahead of you.”

“What’s he doin’ now? What’s he doin’ now?” Mr. Pawl yelled at the top
of his voice.

“I’ll tell you what I _think_ he’s goin’ to d-d-do,” says Mark. “He’s
goin’ to go after your customers hard. He’s goin’ to offer ’em
b-bargains, and maybe he’ll have somethin’ to say about _you_.”

“What d’you mean? How’ll he offer bargains? Where’ll he say anythin’
about me?”

“I _think_,” says Mark, “he’s goin’ to p-p-put a big advertisement in
the p-p-paper. If he does he’ll tell f-f-folks about some whoppin’
bargains. And I guess maybe he’ll compare his store with yours, and his
b-bargains with yours, and your stuff won’t get p-praised much. D’you
f-figger it will?”

“Advertise, will he? Thinks he can git ahead of me, does he? Go
spatterin’ printer’s ink, eh? Well, he better not. I’ll have the law on
him, so I will. I’ll make him wish his name wasn’t Giddings ’fore I’m
through with him.”

“I know what I’d do if I was you,” says Mark.

“What ’u’d _you_ do?” growled Mr. Pawl.

“I’d b-b-beat him at his own game,” says Mark. “I wouldn’t let on I
f-f-figgered he was goin’ to advertise, but I’d advertise myself, and
wouldn’t I offer b-bargains! I’ll bet I’d put things in the paper that
would start a reg’lar p-p-procession into this store. And if I could
think of anythin’ to say, I guess I’d sort of allude to competitors and
their way of d-d-doin’ business, and such.”

“If I could think of anythin’!” yelled Mr. Pawl. “You bet I kin think of
somethin’. How big a advertisement d’you figger he’ll print?”

“Prob’ly all of half a p-page,” says Mark.

“I’ll have a page, a whole blinged page. I’ll show him! That’s the way
we do business in the Emporium. No half-pages for us. We go the whole
hog when we go.... Now git out of here, you kids. I’m goin’ to be busy.
I’ve got to rig up a whole-page ad. for that paper, and I got to do it
quick to beat that raker-handle of a Giddings.... When’s the paper come
out?”

“To-morrow,” says Mark. “Better get your ad. in this afternoon.”

“You bet I will,” says Mr. Pawl, and while we were going out he was
already writing on it.

Mark looked at me and grinned. “F-f-funny he didn’t kick us out,” says
he.

“Mark Tidd,” says I, “I take off my hat. Talk about grabbin’ a
opportunity when it’s passin’! Well, I guess maybe you didn’t grab this
one.”

“You lugged in the opportunity,” says Mark, giving me credit like he
always does, even though I didn’t deserve much of it. “But we hain’t
quite through grabbin’ yet,” says he. “We got to see Mr. Giddings.”

We went catercorner across the street to the Busy Big Market, and there
was Mr. Giddings in the door, with a grin on his face, looking down at a
crate of eggs. On the crate he had just stuck a sign, which read:

            These Eggs Were Laid by Hardworking, Honest Hens

                 The Oldest Is Under Twenty-Four Hours

                 Buy Your Eggs Here—Don’t Go Elsewhere
                  Our Competitors’ Chickens Have Ague

                 Their Eggs Are Scrambled in the Shell

Mark started in to laugh and nudged me with his elbow.

“Laugh, you chump,” says he, “l-l-laugh.”

So I set in to laughing with all my might. Mr. Giddings looked at us and
grinned.

“Perty good, eh?” says he.

“You bet,” says Mark, “but I hear tell Mr. Pawl’s goin’ to have even
that sign beat.”

“He is, is he?” says Mr. Giddings. “How is he, I’d like to know? He
better not start in on anythin’. What’s the leetle weasel up to now?”

“Advertisin’,” says Mark. “He’s goin’ to advertise such b-b-bargains as
Wicksville ’ain’t ever seen before. I got wind of somethin’ else, too. I
hear he’s goin’ to allude to his competitors in his advertisement, and
sort of lambaste ’em and their goods.”

“He is, eh? When? How?”

“To-morrow, in the Wicksville _Trumpet_,” says Mark. “He’s g-g-goin’ to
have a full-page ad., and I’ll bet he’ll say some mean things in it,
too.”

“Think so?” says Mr. Giddings, eager-like. “Well, now, I’ll fool the
little flea. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll have a page ad., too, and if he
can offer better bargains than I do, or say more cuttin’ things, then
I’ll go out of business. Paper comes out to-morrow, don’t it?”

“Yes,” says Mark. “Better have your page in the office this afternoon.
It’ll have to be set up in a hurry.”

“You bet I will,” says Mr. Giddings, “and I’ll say things in it so hot
your compositor’ll burn his fingers settin’ ’em in type.”

We went hustling back to the office and told Tecumseh Androcles Spat
that he had a night’s work ahead of him that would come close to taxing
even his ability.

“What is it?” says he.

“Two page ads.,” says Mark.

“Huh!” says Tecumseh Androcles. “I’ll have them ready. And they will not
be mere ads. They will be works of art. I will bring to the setting of
them all my skill and knowledge, to say nothing of the genius with which
nature has endowed me. Young sirs, this town will see two page ads. such
as it has never dreamed of.”

“Fine,” says Mark, and we went back into the office.

“I’ll bet,” says Mark, “that Tecumseh Androcles was right about one
t-t-thing. Wicksville hain’t ever dreamed of two page advertisements
like those’ll be.”

“I only hope,” says I, “that there won’t be no bloodshed.”

Mark grinned, happy-like. “Business is p-p-pickin’ up. Wonder how many
page advertisements Spragg has p-p-picked up for the Eagle Center
_Clarion_?”



CHAPTER V


Next day what Mark Tidd called the _mended_ Wicksville _Trumpet_ gave
its first toot. It didn’t break our backs carrying to the post-office
the copies we mailed to regular subscribers. The four of us boys could
’most have written out enough papers longhand to fix _them_ up, but we
did print five hundred copies altogether. The rest we were going to sell
just like papers are sold in cities.

We sold them for three cents apiece, and every fellow had subscription
blanks in his pocket so if anybody got so reckless as to want to
subscribe we could catch him before he cooled off. You wouldn’t believe
it, but before night we had raked in forty-six regular
honest-to-goodness subscribers.

Folks was that interested! At first they bought our papers to see the
joke, I guess, but pretty soon they were buying them because they wanted
to read what was in them, and especial to read about Henry Wigglesworth
and the two page advertisements from Pawl and Giddings.

The Eagle Center _Clarion_ was on deck, too, giving away sample copies
of the new Wicksville edition. But we had Spragg swamped. For every
local he had we printed three, and three of the kind Wicksville folks
like to read. He had only a dozen lines about Henry Wigglesworth, while
we had two columns full of interesting things, and mystery, and Rock,
and such like. It was the first time folks really got any clear idea of
what had happened out there. At that, I guess they thought they had a
clearer idea than they had. I know we editors would have given
considerable to be better posted.

Ten minutes after he got his paper Mr. Pawl started out to lick Mr.
Giddings. About that same minute Mr. Giddings started out to do things
to Mr. Pawl, and they met in the square close to the town pump. Each of
them had a _Trumpet_ clutched in his fingers, and was waving it around
like a battle flag. When they saw each other they both let out a bellow
and rushed.

But neither of them was so war-like, when it came to doing regular
fighting, as they were when nothing but yelling was necessary. When they
got about eight feet apart they both stepped like somebody was standing
up and hauling on the lines. They stopped so sudden it must have jarred
them, and there they stood, shaking their fists at each other and waving
their _Trumpets_.

Uncle Ike Bond, the ’bus driver, drew up his horses and craned his neck
to listen.

“What’s trouble?” he called down.

“They’re squabblin’ about them advertisements,” said Jim Walker.

“Um! ... If I was them fellers I’d keep shet up about them ads. As I
view it there was consid’able truth about both of ’em. Giddings he lets
on Pawl is a skinflint and weighs his hand with every pound of butter;
Pawl he gives it out that Giddings hain’t got but one honest hair in his
head, and that one’s so loose at the root it’s clost to fallin’ out.
I’ve dealt consid’able with both,” Uncle Ike went on, waggling his head,
“and as I view it nobody hain’t been wronged.” He stopped a minute and
squinted down at them.

“Be you honest figgerin’ on a fight?” he asked, “’cause if you be I’ll
stop to watch, but if it hain’t nothin’ but a fist-shakin’ match I’ll
move along. Hey?”

Both men looked sort of sheepish, and like they wished they was where
they weren’t.

“Go on, Pawl,” said Uncle Ike, “step up and lam him one.”

Pawl backed off like the place he was standing was too hot for his feet.

“Um!” says Uncle Ike. “Well, _you_ start it, Giddings. Somebody put a
chip on Pawl’s shoulder. Giddings’ll knock it off.”

“I won’t have no chip on my shoulder,” says Pawl.

“I see somebody goin’ into my store,” says Giddings. “I got to hurry
over there.”

“Both of you better hurry back,” says Uncle Ike. “I’m what you might
call a man with experience and wisdom. For more years ’n I like to think
about I’ve been a-drivin’ this ’bus, and the seat of a ’bus is the place
to git experience. Nothin’ like it. Greatest teacher in the world. I
calc’late there’s few things I hain’t capable of discussin’ if I was
asked. I’m capable of offerin’ both of you belligerents advice right
here and now, and this is it: You go on back to your stores and tend to
business, which don’t mean puttin’ sand in the sugar, or sellin’
cold-storage eggs with a yarn that the hen is still cacklin’ that laid
’em. Jest try bein’ square with your customers, and with each other, if
you kin go so far, and you won’t git made sich an idiotic spectacle of
as you be now. Nobody’s profited by this here rumpus but Mark Tidd.
Advertisin’! Huh! Now run along, you fellers, and advertise all over
again, but advertise yourselves, and advertise honest. Try it once, and
see if you don’t git a substantial profit out of it. Jest tell the plain
truth in Mark’s paper, and stick to what you advertise. Bein’ as you’re
who you are, ’tain’t reasonable to expect wonders of you, but you can
give a sort of flickerin’ imitation of business men.... G’dap, bosses.
Mooch along there.” And Uncle Ike rattled off up the street, contented
with himself and almost tickled to death that he’d got a chance to jaw
somebody.

As for us fellows, we went to selling papers as hard as we could, and
would you believe it, before noon we were cleaned out. Yes, sir, we’d
sold every single solitary one.

“Don’t get s-s-set up,” says Mark. “Tain’t goin’ to be as easy all the
t-t-time. Folks is buyin’ to-day out of curiosity. Next week we’ll have
harder sleddin’.”

“Bet we don’t,” says Plunk. “Bet it’ll be easier to run this old paper
than it is to slide down-hill. I don’t see anythin’ hard about it.”

“Huh!” says Mark, and not another word.

Mark and I walked past the hotel, and there stood Spragg. He scowled at
us over the top of one of our papers that he had paid three real cents
for.

[Illustration: We went to selling papers as hard as we could, and before
noon we were cleaned out]

“Well,” says I, “what do you think of it?”

“Kid paper,” says he.

“Those page ads. are k-k-kid ads., ain’t they?” says Mark.

“Luck,” says Spragg. “I’ll have ’em next week.”

“Wigglesworth story was a kid story?” says Mark.

“Nothin’ to it,” says Spragg. “I’ve asked folks. I’m a newspaper man,
and if there was a story I’d get it. It wouldn’t be you young ones.”

“You g-go on thinkin’ so,” says Mark. “We couldn’t ask anythin’
b-better.”

We went on, and when we were out of earshot Mark says: “That reminds me,
I want to go up to Lawyer Jones. I w-w-want to know about Mr.
Wigglesworth’s w-w-will. Folks’ll want to know in the next _Trumpet_,
t-too.”

“All right,” says I. “I don’t mind sayin’ I’m a mite curious, myself.”

So up we went.

“Ah,” says Lawyer Jones, “what can I do for you, my young friends? Are
you—ah—representing the press to-day?”

“Y-yes,” says Mark. “We came to find out if there was anything new to
the Wigglesworth b-business. Or if you’d tell us about the w-w-will.”

“Nothing new,” says Lawyer Jones. “I can’t find out a thing about that
boy, and he can’t tell me anything that will throw the least light on
why he was in Henry Wigglesworth’s house. Seems he’s been kept alone
most of his life—without folks, anyhow. Pretty well looked after, I
guess, though. Been to one boarding-school after another ever since he
can remember—cheap ones. Didn’t know who paid his bills. Lonely little
customer. Not a coul in the world ever stood to him in the position of
father or guardian.”

“Interestin’,” says Mark. “Who’s stayin’ there with the boy?”

“Mr. Wigglesworth’s man-of-all-work. Jethro’s his name.”

“_What_?” says Mark in a tone that made me jump.

“Jethro,” repeated Mr. Jones, sort of surprised. “Why?”

“Oh, nothin’,” says Mark. “Kind of a f-f-funny name.”

“About the will,” says Mr. Jones, “I guess there’s nothing to prevent me
from reading it to you. It’s sort of queer, like everything else that
has happened since Mr. Wigglesworth died. I don’t know just what to do.”

“Will it d-d-do any harm if we p-print it?” says Mark.

Mr. Jones hesitated a moment, like lawyers always do, just for effect, I
guess, then he said, “Wa-al, I dunno’s it would do any harm.”

“And it’ll do a h-h-heap of good,” says Mark, with a grin. “There’s a
lot of curiosity itchin’ f-f-folks that readin’ what that will says will
c-cure.”

“And that sells newspapers,” says Lawyer Jones. “Well, I’m glad to help
you all I can.” So he went to his safe and came back with the will. We
could understand it, all right, though for the life of me I can’t see
why it wasn’t written out plain without so many “whereases” and
“theretofores” and “devises,” and such like.

Anyhow, the gist of it was that Henry Wigglesworth claimed his mind was
as good as new and that this was his regular will, and no other one was
worth a cent. Then he said his debts had to be paid, which they would
have had to be, whether he said it or not, I guess. Then he “gave,
devised, and bequeathed,” whatever that means, all the “rest, residue,
and remainder” of his property to “any heir or heirs in direct line of
descent from myself, if such exist or can be found.”

All that meant, Lawyer Jones explained, was that he wanted his property
to go to his sons or daughters, or his grandsons or granddaughters or
great-grandsons or great-granddaughters, if he had any.

Then the will said if nobody could find any of these direct heirs the
property was to go to George Gardener Grover, only son of Mr.
Wigglesworth’s only sister. And there you are.

“Um!” says Mark when Lawyer Jones was through. “’Tis f-f-funny, hain’t
it? These heirs, now. Why didn’t he up and name ’em by n-name?”

“I can’t tell you,” said Lawyer Jones.

“He acts,” says I, “like he wasn’t sure whether he had any or not.”

Mark looked at me with a squint, his little eyes twinkling like
everything. “Binney,” says he, “that’s a g-good shot. I’ll bet that’s
it. Anyhow, we’ll m-make b’lieve it is till we find out different. Got
to have s-somethin’ to start on.”

“To start what on?” says I.

“Why,” says he, “the job of f-f-findin’ these heirs, or of findin out
there hain’t any.” Then he turned to Mr. Jones. “Mr. Wigglesworth must
’a’ had a son or daughter or s-somethin’,” says he, “or he wouldn’t be
s-suspectin’ he had grandchildern or great-grandchildern.”

“That sounds reasonable,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ever hear of any?” says Mark.

“In the years Mr. Wigglesworth has been here,” said Mr. Jones, “he has
never mentioned a relative to me. No, I never heard that he had a child
or a wife. Somehow I had always supposed he was an old bachelor.”

“Gets queerer every minute,” says Mark.

“Well,” says I, “we can’t sit here figgerin’ about it. We got work to
do.”

“Sometimes,” says Mark, “sittin’ and figgerin’ is the most valuable work
there is.”

“Maybe sometimes,” says I, “but this hain’t one of ’em. We’ve got ink
and paper to buy and Tecumseh Androcles Spat to feed, and rent, and a
heap of things. And you said yourself we didn’t have any workin’
capital. Since we ran that bazaar I’ve had a heap of respect for workin’
capital.”

“Me too,” says Mark. “And there’s no chance of g-g-gettin’ more money
from dad. Ma set her foot down hard. She says we can waste what was put
into this paper, but she won’t see another cent go after it, and when ma
says it like that there hain’t any use arguin’. We got to sink or swim
all by ourselves.”

“Well,” says I, “I guess we made a profit on this week’s _Trumpet_,
anyhow.”

“Yes,” says Mark, “but there’s other weeks a-comin’.”

We thanked Lawyer Jones and started to go.

“Come again,” says he. “If you get any libel suits on your hands I’ll
take care of them for you at cost, so to speak. Glad to see you any
time.”

When we were outside I says to Mark, “Now don’t go gettin’ all het up
about this mystery. We got enough on our hands now. We can’t run a paper
on nothin’ and find missin’ heirs and investigate mysterious liner
advertisements put in the paper by men with black gloves, and a dozen
other things. We got to settle down to this paper job.”

“Sure,” says Mark. “That’s what I’m doin’. Hain’t gettin’ news about the
biggest thing a newspaper has to do?”

“No,” says I, “gettin’ money is.”

He grinned like he does sometimes when he’s ready to admit he’s getting
the worst of an argument.

“Maybe you’re r-r-right, Binney,” says he, “and then again, maybe this
heir-huntin’ and mystery-piercin’ will help to get that money. Never can
tell.”

“I wouldn’t depend on it,” says I.

“I sha’n’t,” says he. “Come on to the office.”

Plunk and Tallow were there, and so was Tecumseh Androcles. He was
standing up, making a speech to the fellows.

“Ah,” says he, when we came in, “here is the editor and another of the
staff. I, Tecumseh Androcles Spat, wish to congratulate you on the first
issue of the rejuvenated _Trumpet_. It was an achievement. On your part,
you have filled the paper with pertinent reading-matter and with
lucrative advertising. On my part, I have put it in type in such a
manner as to cause favorable comment, even from the metropolitan press.
I am proud to be associated with you. I hope the relation will long
continue and that the progress of this deserving paper will be marked
and rapid.”

“Good for you,” says Mark, “but one swallow don’t make a summer. Wait
till we see what happens next week. See how many new subscribers we can
gaffle on to, and how m-m-many advertisements we can get. Likewise,
let’s not forget the job-printin’ end of it. Now, let’s buckle down f’r
the n-n-next issue.”

Which we did.



CHAPTER VI


Next morning Mark and Tallow and Plunk and I were in the office just
after the train from the city came in. A strange man came slamming
through the door like he figured out his errand was pretty important and
he was pretty important himself.

“Where’s the editor?” says he in about the same voice you might expect
somebody to say, “Who stole my horse?”

“I’m h-him,” says Mark, and I could see his face sort of setting like it
does when he thinks something unpleasant is going to happen and he’s got
to use his wits.

“Huh!” says the man, looking him over. “There’s enough of you, hain’t
there—except so far as age is concerned.”

Now, if there’s one thing Mark hates to be twitted about it’s his size;
it riles him to have anybody make fun of it, and his little eyes began
to get sharp and bright. “Look out, mister,” says I to myself. Mark
didn’t say anything, though, except, “What can I d-do for you.”

“You can hand over the cash for _that_,” says the man, throwing a piece
of paper down on the counter.

Mark picked it up and looked at it. You couldn’t tell by his face what
he thought of it, though he read it pretty careful and then didn’t say
anything for quite a spell.

“Well, my fat friend,” says the man, “what about it?”

Mark looked him over hard, and then says, “Mister, if you had as much
manners as I’ve got flesh, you and me would get along b-b-better.”

“Don’t git fresh,” says the man.

“Look here,” says Mark, “this is my office. If you c-c-come in here like
you ought to, actin’ d-decent, you’ll be treated the same. If you’ve got
any b-business with me, act like a b-business man. If you can’t act that
way—git out. There’s the d-door. I guess whatever b-business there is to
do can be done with your boss.”

The man sort of eased off a trifle and acted a little more like he was a
regular human being instead of a bear with a toothache.

“I was sent here to collect that bill,” says he.

“All right,” says Mark. “Now what about that bill? I don’t know anythin’
about it. So f-f-far as I know I don’t owe any bill. What m-makes you
think I do?”

“It’s for paper,” says the man. “Paper sold to the Wicksville _Trumpet_
more ’n three months ago, and it hain’t never been paid for. The boss he
told me either to git the money or to shut up your shop for you. So
which’ll it be?”

“N-neither for a minute,” says Mark. “Here you come rushin’ in here with
a b-b-bill for eighty-seven dollars that I hain’t ever heard of. Before
anythin’ else happens I want to know a l-little more about it.”

“There hain’t any more to know. You’ve had the paper, and we hain’t ever
had the money.”

“But we don’t owe it,” says Tallow. “We just bought this paper a few
days ago.”

“Well,” says the man, “you bought its bills with it, didn’t you?”

“Not if we could h-help it,” says Mark. “Now, mister, you come with me.
We’ll f-f-find out.”

So all of us went to Lawyer Jones and told him the facts. He looked
sorry and acted sorry, but he said there wasn’t anything to do but pay
it. “It’s a shame,” say she, “and you’ve been swindled, but it can’t be
helped. The old proprietor owed this money, and concealed the fact when
you bought the paper. It isn’t honest, but the people who sold the paper
aren’t to blame. The man who sold you the _Trumpet_ is. According to law
you’ll have to pay.”

“Um!” says Mark, tugging at his cheek like he always does when he’s
thinking hard. “Eighty-seven d-d-dollars. Woosh!”

“We ’ain’t got it,” says I.

“Mister,” says Mark, “you see h-how it is. ’Tain’t _our_ fault this bill
isn’t paid. Seems to me like the l-l-least you could do would be to give
us some more time.”

“It don’t rest with me,” says he. “I was sent here to git the money or
to put you out of business. Them’s orders, and I’m a man that obeys his
orders every time. You can bet on that.”

“Come b-back to the office,” says Mark.

We all went back there, and us four boys held a little meeting to see
how much cash we had. Every cent we could scrape up in the world, and
that included advertising bills that hadn’t been paid, was seventy-six
dollars. We’d had to spend some for supplies and such.

“Will you t-t-take fifty dollars,” says Mark, “and wait for the rest?”

“I’ll take eighty-seven dollars,” says the man.

“F-fellers,” says Mark, “we’re eleven d-dollars shy. Looks like we _got_
to pay. Tallow, you go out and collect in what’s owin’ us. Tell the
f-f-folks why we got to have it. They’ll p-pay. The rest of us’ll get
the eleven dollars. You, mister, sit down and wait half an hour.”

Out we went, and I says to Mark, “How we goin’ to git that eleven
dollars?”

“I just got a s-scheme,” says he, “while that man was talkin’. It’s
about Home-Comin’ Week. We’ll get out a s-special Home-Comin’ Edition.
Get the idee?”

“I don’t,” says I.

“Here it is,” says he. “We’ll print a p-page full of pictures of our
l-leadin’ citizens, with a little piece about each of ’em. The cuts of
the photographs’ll cost about a dollar apiece, and we’ll charge ’em two
dollars ’n’ a h-half to have ’em put in. That l-leaves a d-dollar ’n’ a
half to cover the cost of paper and p-printin’. Be a nice profit in it.”

“You won’t git nobody,” says I.

“Binney,” says he, “you hain’t got any idee how many folks wants to see
their picture in the p-paper. We’ll git a lot.”

“Go ahead,” says I, “but you’ll see.”

“Got the idee so’s you understand it?” says he to Plunk and me.

We told him we guessed so.

“Can you t-talk it?” says he.

“We can try,” says I.

“Then,” says he, “Tallow’ll take the right side of Main Street, Binney,
you take the left side, and don’t miss anybody, clerks and all. I’ll
kind of s-s-skirmish around.”

I went along and talked to four people, and every one of them said they
didn’t want anything to do with it, just like I told Mark, so I went
back to the corner pretty disgusted with the idea. I met Plunk there,
and he was disgusted, too.

“Knew it wouldn’t work,” says he.

“Where’s Mark?” says I.

“He went that way,” says he, pointing.

“Let’s find him,” says I; so off we went.

Pretty soon we saw him come around the corner and go into the milkman’s
yard.

“What’s he goin’ in there for?” Tallow says. “Can’t be figgerin’ on
gettin’ anythin’ out of Ol’ Hans Richter.”

“Let’s find out,” says I, and we went along and followed Mark right back
into Richter’s barn. Richter was standing in the barn door with a
milk-pail over each arm, and Mark was talking to him. Just as we got
there Old Hans says:

“Mein picture in your baber, eh? Ho! What for does Ol’ Hans want mit a
picture in the baber?”

“It isn’t what you w-w-want,” says Mark, “it’s what the f-f-folks in
town want. Why, Mr. Richter, this thing won’t be worth a cent if you
ain’t in it! What kind of a p-page of prominent citizens of Wicksville
would it b-be if you wasn’t there? No good. Folks ’u’d say, ‘Where’s
Hans Richter? Where’s the man that’s been f-fetchin’ our milk for twenty
year?’ That’s what they’d say. And folks comin’ from out of t-t-town
would want to know what b-business we had printin’ other men’s pictures
and leavin’ yours out. Why, Mr. Richter, we _d-dassen’t_ leave you out!”

“You t’ink dot?”

“You bet I do. We just _got_ to have you. You don’t think we want to
have to print Jim Withers’s picture, do you? He hain’t been p-peddlin’
milk here more ’n two years.”

“Jim Withers, iss it? Ho! You print his picture in your baber if mine I
do not give? Eh?”

“We’d have to, but we don’t _want_ to.”

“By yimminy, you don’t haff to. Nein. Shall der people be cheated? Nein.
Dey shall haff Hans Richter’s picture, and not any other. Jim Withers!
Whoosh! He iss a no-goot milkman. How much you said dot vass?”

“Two d-dollars ’n’ a half,” says Mark.

Old Hans dug down into his back pocket and pulled out a leather bag, and
I’m going to turn as black as a crow if he didn’t give Mark the money.

“Now,” says he, “I giff you dot picture, eh? Vun I got w’ich was took in
mein vedding coat a year ago. Dot coat iss yet as goot as new, and
fourt-one year old it iss. Ya. Fourt-one year.”

“Fine,” says Mark, and in a minute Old Hans gave him the picture and
Mark turned around to where we were.

“How you comin’?” says he.

“Poor,” says I.

“How about you?” says Plunk.

“P-perty good,” says Mark. “I got four.”

“_Four_,” says I. “So quick! How’d you do it, and who be they?”

“Well, there’s Richter, and old man Meigs, our leadin’ veteran of the
Civil War, and Grandad Jones, that crossed the plains in a p-prairie
schooner, and Uncle Ike Bond.”

“I surrender,” says I. “If you kin git them old coots you kin git
anybody. I’m through. Nobody’ll listen to me or Plunk. You sail in and
git ’em.”

He grinned the way he does when he’s tickled with himself and when he
knows folks are appreciating what a brainy kid he is.

“It’s easy,” says he. “Just m-make ’em feel how important they are. You
f-fellows go and see what news you can p-pick up. I’ll git in these
pictures.”

And I’ll be kicked hard if he didn’t. In an hour he came to the office
with ten photographs and twenty-two dollars and a half. He handed over
to the collector man what was due him, for Tallow had got in most of the
collections, and had enough left to pay for the cuts of the photographs.
The man signed a receipt for the money and went away, looking like he
was disappointed.

“Well,” says Mark, “we s-s-scrambled out of _that_ hole, didn’t we? But
we got to do some harder s-scramblin’ now. I’m goin’ after more
photographs.”

He took most of the day at it, and when night come around how many do
you think he’d grabbed on to? Forty-one. Yes, sir. And he had the cash
money for every one of them. That left us with just exactly ninety-one
dollars and a half in the treasury, and so we were really some better
off than we had been before the collector came around.

“Fiddlesticks!” says Tallow. “Wisht the collector hadn’t showed up. We’d
almost be _rich_.”

“If he hadn’t s-s-showed up,” says Mark, “we wouldn’t have thought up
this s-scheme. It’s _havin’_ to do things that makes folks do their
best. Bein’ necessary is one of the best things can happen to a
f-f-fellow.”

Wasn’t that just like him! And you’ll notice he didn’t grab all the
credit himself, though, goodness knows, he was entitled to it. No, sir,
he says, “we” thought up the scheme. He was the real kind of a kid to do
anything with, because he kept you feeling good. All the time you knew
he was the one that was thinking up things and doing them. All we did
was trail around and help. But just the same, he made us feel we had as
much to do with it as he did. I expect we worked all the harder because
of that. Do you know, I shouldn’t wonder if that was a pretty good way
for all folks that has other folks working for them to act. The working
folks would work harder and take more pleasure in it. I expect Mark had
it all figured out that way.



CHAPTER VII


After supper we met at the office, though I’m bound to say I wasn’t
tickled to death with the prospect of what was ahead.

“Mark,” says I, “here we’re goin’ out to Center Line Bridge to meddle
with somethin’ that don’t concern us. It ’u’d serve us right if this Man
With the Black Gloves caught us and gave us the larrupin’ of our lives.”

“’Tis our b-business,” says Mark. “Anythin’ that’s suspicious is the
business of a newspaper man. There’s news in it.... And b-besides I
figger it’s our duty to do.”

When Mark Tidd starts talking about duty you might as well lay down and
roll over. You couldn’t change his mind with a ton of giant powder.

“Duty?” says I. “How?”

“Well,” says he, “as citizens. Maybe these f-fellers are plannin’
somethin’ that ought to be stopped, and there hain’t anybody to stop it
but us, b-because nobody else suspects ’em.”

“All right,” says I. “I expect I can run as fast as any of you.”

“Besides,” says Mark, “the man the Man With the Black Gloves is g-goin’
to meet is named Jethro.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” I says.

“Heaps,” says Mark, and then shut up like a clam. That’s the way with
him. Sometimes he gets it into his head to be mysterious and to keep his
notions shut up under his hat. Well, when he does you might as well
forget them, for he’s as close-mouthed as a bulldog with a tramp’s pants
in his teeth.

“Come on, then,” says I, “let’s get it over.”

It was a half-hour’s walk to the bridge, but before we got within a
quarter of a mile of it Mark halted us.

“We can’t go bangin’ up t-t-there with a brass b-band,” says he. “There
wouldn’t be any meetin’. We got to come the Indian.”

“Crawl a quarter of a mile through witch-hazel and swamp on our bellies,
I expect,” says I.

“There hain’t any law compellin’ you to come, Binney,” says Mark, “but I
f-figgered you wouldn’t want to miss anythin’.”

“I don’t,” says I, “not even a good lickin’, which most likely we’ll
git. You hain’t got any idea, Mark,” says I, “how I love a good
lickin’.”

He laughed and says, “Say, Binney, anybody’d think you was a million
years old. Hain’t there any f-f-fun in you? Here’s a reg’lar game to
p-play that beats any game you can think up, and we can add to it by
p-pretendin’.” He was the greatest fellow for pretending I ever saw, and
when he was at it he almost had you believing that what he _made
believe_ was so.

“Go on,” says I, “start up your game. I’ll be taggin’ right on behind.”

“All right,” says he. “Us four kids are the f-f-faithful followers of a
young Duke. This young Duke has disappeared, and we kind of figger his
enemy, the Knight With the Black Gauntlets, has captured him and is
holdin’ him for r-ransom. See? But we don’t know where. But our scouts
tell us the Knight With the Black Gauntlets is close to our castle and
we set out to watch him to see if we can’t rescue the Duke—and here we
be. We know our enemy’s ahead somewheres, and we want to git clost to
him to watch him and overhear what he s-says, if he says anythin’. Most
likely the Duke will make us all knights if we rescue him, and I’ve
always sort of hankered to be a knight.”

“Me too,” says Plunk. “Them knights sure had a circus, ridin’ around
with lances and bustin’ up tournaments and lickin’ everybody they met by
slammin’ ’em over the head with an iron mallet or pokin’ ’em off a horse
with a lance. That there Richard Cur the Lion was the best one, eh? Say,
Mark, what did they call him Cur the Lion for? Curs and lions hain’t got
much in common.”

“’Tain’t Cur,” says Mark, “though it _does_ s-sound like it. You spell
it C-o-e-u-r. The whole thing means ‘of the Lion Heart.’”

“Fine,” says Plunk. “That’s a bully name.”

“If you want a name,” says I, “I’ll give you one.”

“What?” says he.

“Plunk of the Wooden Head,” says I, because I was sort of disgusted.

“And I’ll g-give _you_ one,” says Mark. “It’s Binney of the Complainin’
Tongue.”

I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything to say, and I might have
known better, in the first place, than to go fooling with a scheme of
Mark’s and making fun of it. So I shut up and was glad to.

“Now,” says Mark, “I f-figger that Knight’ll stop clost to the bridge
that crosses the river dividin’ his lands from ourn. Maybe there’ll be a
m-messenger a-waitin’ there for him. It’s our business to hear what’s
said, because a word may be d-dropped that’ll show us where he’s
imprisoned our master, the Duke.”

“How’ll we manage it?” says Tallow.

“Divide up,” says Mark. “You two men-at-arms, Tallow and Plunk, sneak
over and come to the b-bridge from the left side of the road. There’s
thick alders growin’ right there and you can scrooch down in ’em. Binney
and I will t-tackle the job from the right. Then, if one p-party’s
discovered and s-slain, the other party’s got a chance to come through
alive and rescue the Duke.”

“Huh!” says I. “I know which party I hope gits slain, if anybody does,
and I hain’t one of it.”

We started off then, Mark and I going to the right, and Tallow and Plunk
cutting off through the woods to the left.

“We want to get there g-good and early,” says Mark, “so as to get all
p-placed and settled before the Knight with the Black Gauntlets comes.”

“All right,” says I. “Maybe I can’t think as fast as you can, but I can
make my legs go faster.”

So off we went, for a while going as fast as we could plug, then, when
we were getting so near that a man on the bridge might hear us, Mark
made me stop hurrying and crawl.

“Maybe they got g-guards out,” says he, “and we can’t take any chances.”

So we crawled the rest of the way, dodging from one tree to another and
getting mud on our knees and tearing holes in our pants. But it was fun.
I was beginning to get excited myself, and I believe I really got to
worrying about the young Duke that was held a captive. Yes, sir, I felt
pretty bad about the hole he had got himself into, and says to Mark I
hoped they gave him enough to eat and treated him decent.

That’s how persuading Mark is. He really gets you to think things are
happening that he’s only pretending about.

Anyhow, we got to the bridge, or rather so close to it we could look it
over careful and see if anybody was there. But not a soul was in sight.

“’Tain’t safe,” says Mark, “even if it looks l-like it was. They may be
in ambush along the road. We got to f-find out.”

We kept on crawling until we were sure nobody was on our side of the
bridge anywheres. Then Mark made us wade the river, which was only about
up to our knees in spots, to be sure nobody was hid on the other side.
It would have been fine if there hadn’t been a hole there and if I
hadn’t stepped in it. But I did, and fell down and floundered around and
let out a yell.

“Hey!” Mark whispered. “Shut up! Want to git a l-lance through your
stummick?”

“Don’t expect a feller to drownd without makin’ a noise, do you?” says
I. “I notice you didn’t fall into any holes.”

“No,” says he, with a grin. “I had you walk first so if there was one
you’d sort of warn me of it.”

“Which I done,” says I, feeling pretty chilly and not what you could
call comfortable.

“You’ve been wet before,” says he, “and it didn’t hurt you.”

“Probably,” says I, “it won’t hurt me this time, but that hain’t no
reason I should be happy about it.”

We didn’t say any more until we’d scouted out the other side of the
bridge and found that none of the Knight’s men were hidden there.

“Now,” says Mark, “we want to hide ourselves so’s we can overhear what
they s-s-say. Let’s f-find a good place.”

It was an old wooden bridge, and when you looked up at it from below you
made up your mind that it had better be fixed some time before long, for
you could see through cracks and splits and broken boards right up to
the sky.

“What’s the matter,” says I, “with hidin’ down under the bridge, right
at the end? Nobody’ll look there, and we can sit on the bank in the mud
and be comfortable. I love to sit in the mud,” says I.

“Good idee,” says Mark. “Fine idee. We can hear p-plain, and not one
chance in a hunderd of bein’ seen.”

Under we got and settled there as comfortable as was possible. I don’t
know if you ever sat in black mud under an old bridge with your clothes
dripping and the evening chilly, but if you did, and got any fun out of
it, why then, you are better at enjoying yourself than I am. My teeth
got to chattering.

“Keep s-still,” says Mark.

“You’ll have to hold my jaw if you want me to,” says I. “The cold makes
it wiggle and rattle my teeth.”

“Stuff your cap in your mouth,” says he, which I did. Oh, it was a
pleasant party, what with chewing on an old cap and all that!

“Wonder if Tallow and Plunk are on deck,” says I.

“Sure,” says he; “you can always d-d-depend on _them_.”

“Meanin’,” says I, and feeling sort of peevish, “that you can’t depend
on me.”

“You n-notice,” says he, “that I picked you to come with me, don’t you?”

That made me feel pretty good, like praise always does make a fellow,
even if he don’t deserve it, and after that the cold wasn’t so chilly
nor my clothes so clammy on my back.

After about half an hour, which seemed like a week, we heard a horse
coming. It stopped at the end of the bridge and a man got out. He
whistled, but nobody answered, and the man started to pacing up and down
from one end of the bridge to the other. Then in another ten minutes up
came another rig, and a man got out of it.

“I been waitin’ for you,” says the first man.

“Huh!” says the second, and we recognized him as the Man With the Black
Gloves, or the Knight With the Black Gauntlets, like he was promoted to
be to-night.

“Well?” he says in a minute.

“Everythin’s all right,” said the first man. “Rock don’t remember
nothin’ he hadn’t ought to, ’cause I’ve questioned him mighty close.
Nobody’s been sneakin’ around to see him, though a lot of Jakes have
drove by to stare at him since them kids had that piece in the paper.”

“Wigglesworth didn’t leave any writing?” says the Knight.

[Illustration: “Huh!” says the second man, and we recognized him as the
man with the black gloves]

“Not what you’d call writin’. Though he might. Acted toward the last
like he was suspicious of me. Didn’t let on nothin’ to me, and kept to
himself. One night he was writin’ in the library, but what he wrote I
dunno. Maybe it was letters. He didn’t leave anythin’ around. That is,
except a puzzle or somethin’ he wrote out for Rock.”

“Puzzle,” says the Knight.

“Yes,” says the first man, “puzzle, or else he’d gone crazy.”

“What become of it?”

“Rock’s got it.”

“Thought I said to grab every bit of writing you could get your hands
on.”

“This didn’t amount to nothin’,” said the man.

“You aren’t on the job to think, but to do what you’re told.”

“Well, I done it,” says the man; “anyhow I made a copy of it, and give
the old man’s writin’ to the kid.”

“Let’s have it,” says the Knight.

He read it, or I guess that’s what he was doing, because he was still
awhile. Then he grunted, disgusted-like.

“No sense to it,” says he.

“Not a mite,” says the other man.

“But there may be,” says the Knight.

“Shucks!” says the man.

“Wigglesworth was queer—and suspicious. Look how he acted toward the
boy. Maybe he made a writing. Seems like he must have. Didn’t _tell_
anybody, so far as I can find out. That’s certain, I guess. But he must
have written. _Must_ have. And we’ve got to find it. Never can tell when
a writing will pop up just when it will send you higher than a kite.”

“I’ve looked till my eyes is wore out.”

“Look some more,” says the Knight.

“Where’s Pekoe?”

“Nobody knows. Gone off to South America or India or the North Pole
again, likely. _He_ won’t bother us.”

“May some day.”

“Don’t believe he knows enough about things. If he had he’d hung
around.”

And right there Tallow Martin let out a sneeze. I knew it was Tallow,
because there ain’t a man, woman, child, horse, cow, or mule in
Wicksville that could enter a sneezing match with him and even get
second prize. Tallow would get all the prizes if there was a dozen.

“What’s that?” says the Knight.

“Sneeze,” says the other man.

“Somebody’s around here—listening,” says the Knight. “It came from that
way. Quick! After them.”

Off they went, tearing into the bushes, and we could hear Plunk and
Tallow get up and flounder away. Mark was disgusted.

“Tallow,” says he, “ought to train his nose to be quiet, or sell it to a
lighthouse for a foghorn. Now the fat’s in the f-f-fire.”

“They’ll never catch those kids,” says I.

“Not likely to,” says he, “but they’ll be on their guard now. They know
somebody was listenin’—and if somebody was l-listenin’ it means somebody
was suspicious of ’em.”

“Looks that way,” says I, “but what do we suspect ’em of?”

“I don’t know,” says he, “but it’s somethin’ to do with Mr. Wigglesworth
and that kid.”

“Sure,” says I, “but let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s make
tracks while they’re gone.”

“Can’t leave Plunk and Tallow,” says he. “Maybe they n-n-need help.”

That was Mark all over. He’d stick to you like a corn-plaster, and he
wouldn’t quit sticking till he’d got you out of any fix you were in. Of
course I couldn’t go off, either, and not know what had happened, so we
climbed out of the mud and started into the woods after the men.

We didn’t go far, though, before we heard them coming back, and laid
down behind some bushes till they were past. They didn’t have any
captives, so we knew the kids were safe.

“Well,” says Mark, when it was safe to move along again, “we know one
thing. We know where our master, the Duke, is imprisoned.”

“Oh,” says I, “do we?”

“Yes,” says he, “he’s shut up in Castle Wigglesworth, and they won’t
l-let him use his own name, but call him Rock. The next thing on our
program is to t-t-try to get a chance to talk to him and l-look over the
lay of the land.”

We went on back to the printing-office as quick as we could, and Plunk
and Tallow were there looking pretty scratched up and dilapidated, and
frightened a little, I guess. Mark didn’t say a word about Tallow’s
sneezing, though Tallow looked pretty guilty. But Mark knew Tallow
didn’t do it on purpose, and he never lit into a fellow much, anyhow. If
you did something that was wooden-headed he might look at you so you’d
wish the floor would open up and let you through, but that would be all.
Oh, he was a bully fellow to go into things with, all right.

“Now,” says he, “we b-better get to bed. To-morrow Binney and I are
goin’ to Wigglesworth Castle to t-try to see the Duke and to get a
squint at that p-puzzle paper he’s got. Maybe there’s somethin’
important in it. Bet there is.”

And we all headed for home.



CHAPTER VIII


“What’s in the box?” says I to Mark Tidd next morning, when we had
started out toward what he was still calling Castle Wigglesworth.

“Did you f-f-fetch a lunch?” says he.

“No,” says I.

“Didn’t think you would,” says he, “so I f-fetched enough for two.”

I looked at the box. Honest, it reminded me more of a piano box than
anything else; anyhow, of a good-sized packing-case.

“Is that full?” says I.

“Couldn’t git in another crumb,” says he.

“How long you plannin’ to stay?”

“Home ’fore supper.”

“And that’s just lunch!” says I.

“Nothin’ but a s-snack,” says he. “Didn’t put in a thing but six pieces
of apple p-p-pie and eight ham sandriches and a few fried-cakes, and
three-four bananas, and a l-little hunk of cake, and some f-f-fried
chicken, and a h-hunk of bread in case we didn’t have enough sandriches,
and some b-butter—”

“And a barrel of flour,” says I, “and a crate of eggs, and a crock of
baked beans, and a side of bacon—”

“Huh!” says he. “I guess there won’t be much l-left.”

“I wonder,” says I, “if they let our Duke go prancin’ around outdoors,
or do they keep him shut up in a dongeon?”

“Can’t never tell about this crowd,” says Mark. “They’re l-liable to do
’most anythin’. I calc’late, though, he’ll be let out some, with a
strong guard.”

“If the guard’s around, how’ll we git to talk to him?”

“That’s what we got to f-find out,” says he.

We got to where we could see Mr. Wigglesworth’s house—the castle, I
should say—along about nine o’clock. It was a big place with porches and
lots of windows and curlicues and gables and wings, and such like. I
can’t ever see what one old man ever did with all of it. It was in the
middle of a whopping yard that was beginning to look run down. The grass
hadn’t been cut as often as it ought to have been, and things was
beginning to grow up in the gravel walk. In a month more it would look
like one of those houses where nobody lives.

There was a hedge all along the front higher than my head, but when we
had crept up close I poked my head through and had a good look. It was a
funny kind of a place. Sort of a menagerie, only the animals weren’t
alive. There were some deer and a big dog and a cat and a lion—all made
out of stone or something.

“Huh!” says I. “If _I_ was goin’ to keep pets I’ll bet they’d be the
kind I could teach tricks to. What good ’s a stone dog, _I’d_ like to
know.”

“It’s art,” says Mark.

“Oh,” says I, “it is, eh? I thought art was daubin’ paint on a piece of
cloth, and then puttin’ a gold frame around it.”

“Anythin’s art,” says Mark, “that hain’t good for nothin’ but to look
at.”

“Then,” says I, “I hain’t art.”

“No,” says Mark, “but you come m-mighty clost to it.”

“Where d’you s’pose the Duke is?” says I, changing the subject because I
couldn’t see any use talking about art any more. I wasn’t interested in
art. “I don’t see no guards,” says I, “and I don’t see the Duke.”

But just then a kid came around the corner of the house. He was just an
ordinary-looking kid, though it didn’t seem like he was enjoying himself
very much. He sat down alongside the stone dog and propped his head up
in his hands and stared at the ground.

“L-lonesome,” says Mark, sympathetic-like.

“Let’s go in and play with him,” says I.

“Sure,” says Mark, sarcastic, “and s-spill the whole mess of beans. What
would the Knight With the Black Gauntlets do if he saw us playin’ with
that Duke, eh? He wouldn’t suspect any thin’, would he?”

“Let’s git him over here, then,” says I.

“Charm him over l-like a snake does a bird,” says Mark.

But the Duke saved us trouble by getting up and walking over toward the
hedge and then following the hedge around toward us. When he was right
opposite us Mark whistled low and cautious. The Duke stopped and looked.

“We’re r-right here behind the hedge,” says Mark. “Don’t act like you
was t-t-talkin’ to anybody. Come and sit down with your back ag’in’ that
l-little mountain-ash tree.”

The boy did like Mark said, acting sort of surprised, but not frightened
a bit. I guess he had pretty good nerve, because I figger I’d be some
scared to have a voice I couldn’t see, and wasn’t expecting, and didn’t
know anything about, go ordering me around.

“Be you Rock?” asked Mark.

“Yes. Who are you?”

“I’m Mark Tidd, and Binney Jenks is with me. We came out to talk to
you.”

“You better not let Jethro see you,” says Rock. “What do you want of
me?”

“First,” says Mark, “we want to git acquainted. And when we’re
acquainted and you git so you can trust us, then we want to see if there
hain’t s-somethin’ we can do to help you.”

“I don’t know that I need any help,” says Rock, stiff-like.

“If you don’t,” says Mark, “you’re the f-first feller I ever see that
didn’t. For instance, Rock, wouldn’t you l-like to be helped to know
what you’re here at Wigglesworth’s for? Eh? Don’t suppose that’s been
worryin’ you any. From what you say Jethro don’t want f-folks talkin’ to
you. Wouldn’t you like to know why? Do you know the Man With the Black
Gloves? And did you know him and Jethro met on Center Line Bridge l-last
night and t-talked you over? Why d’you s’pose they did that?”

“Where do you come in?” says Rock.

“Well,” says Mark, “there’s a number of r-reasons for my comin’ in.
First, I’m in the newspaper b-business, and I want the news. Second, I
kind of like m-monkeyin’ around with mysteries. It’s got to be a habit
with me.”

“Hum!” says Rock, and sat quiet a spell, sort of thinking it over.
Pretty soon he says: “Well, it can’t do any harm if it doesn’t do any
good. I”—his voice sort of wabbled for a second and I hoped he wasn’t
going to blubber—“I’ve been mighty lonesome—almost always.”

“That’s p-perty rotten, hain’t it?” says Mark.

“You’d think so,” says Rock, “if you hadn’t ever had any folks at all
that you knew about, and had lived with folks that kept you just because
somebody paid your board, and had been sent off to schools where the
fellows thought you were queer because you didn’t know anything about
yourself and never made friends with you.”

“I’ll b-bet I would,” says Mark in a way he has when he’s sorry for
anybody. Somehow he manages to make you feel some better right off. “And
we—there’s f-four of us—would like to be friends with you if you’ll let
us. Honest. And we’d l-like to help you out. We ain’t just s-stickin’
our noses into your business out of curiosity.”

“I wish I could get a look at you,” says Rock, sort of dubious.

Mark chuckled and nudged me. You could see he liked Rock saying that,
and afterward he said to me that right there he made up his mind the
strange boy was all right. “He ain’t anybody’s fool,” says he, “and if
you go trustin’ anybody before you get a good l-look into his eyes, why,
then you’ll run a fine chance of bein’ a fool.”

He says to Rock, “Come out and take a l-look, then.”

“I dassent,” says Rock. “Jethro’s watchin’ me all the time, and he
ordered me not to go outside the hedge nor to speak to any one.”

“I b’lieve in orders bein’ obeyed when somebody gives ’em that’s got the
right to,” says Mark, “but this Jethro hain’t no more right to be
b-bossin’ you than I have, which hain’t any at all.”

“I know that,” says Rock, “but if he catches me there won’t be any fun
in it.”

“We’ll fix it so’s he _won’t_ catch you,” says Mark. “Wait a minute till
I think.”

He studied over it a minute, and then says to Rock: “Hain’t there an
arbor back there a c-couple of hunderd feet?”

“Yes,” says Rock.

“Does it back right against the hedge?” says Mark.

Rock looked careful and said it did.

“Good,” says Mark. “You sort of l-loaf back there slow and like you
didn’t have anythin’ in mind. We’ll crawl up along the hedge and
b-burrow through. ’Tain’t likely we’ll be seen in there.”

“All right,” says Rock, and off he went. Mark watched to see how he did
it, and nodded like he was satisfied. “Look,” says he to me. “That kid’s
got b-brains.”

Rock did act fine, and not a bit like he had anything on his mind. He
just sort of wandered around, but every little bit he managed to get
nearer to the arbor. Then he stooped and picked up a stone out of the
driveway in front of the house and chucked it at the arbor. Like anybody
would, he stopped to see where the stone hit, and then he walked over
there slow and poked around the arbor like he was sort of curious to see
how it was built.

“Come on,” says Mark, and we snaked it on our stummicks till we was
right back of the arbor. I poked my head through, and then wiggled
through myself. It wasn’t so easy for Mark, because a hole that would do
for me wouldn’t be big enough for one of his legs, but he made it at
last, considerable scratched and het up. Then he whistled soft.

In a minute Rock came mooching in, but he didn’t come right in. He
stopped in the door and looked at it. It wasn’t a door, but just a sort
of open arch, and he shook the side to see if it was strong, and turned
around and looked all over the yard. Then he moved back in as slow as
molasses, until he figgered it was safe to quit acting and look us over.

“Hello!” says he.

“I’m Mark Tidd,” says Mark, “and this is Binney Jenks.”

Rock didn’t say anything, but just eyed Mark steady, and then me;
finally he stuck out his hand and says, “I like your looks.”

“Fine,” says Mark, “then everybody’s satisfied. I kind of like my looks
myself. There’s enough of ’em.” Mark would joke about his being fat
himself, but if anybody else went to trying it they wanted to look out.
“There’s this about us,” says Mark, “we may not be able to do you any
good, but it’s s-s-sure we can’t do you any harm.”

“Whether you do me good or harm,” says Rock, “I’m goin’ to tie to you.
Just,” says he, “for the sake of bein’ able to say to myself that I’ve
got some friends.”

“Bully for you,” says Mark. “Now l-let’s get to business. What’s your
whole name?”

“Roscoe Beaumont,” says he.

“How old?”

“Sixteen.”

“Where was you b-born?”

“I don’t know?”

“What was your f-f-father’s first name?”

“I don’t know.”

“What was your m-mother’s name before she was married?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who brought you to Mr. Wigglesworth’s?”

“A man by the name of Pekoe.”

“_What?_” says Mark.

“Pekoe,” says Rock, and then I remembered that the Man With the Black
Gloves had mentioned this Pekoe on the bridge.

“Who is Pekoe?”

“I don’t know,” says Rock.

“How did he happen to f-fetch you here?”

“He came to the school where I was and said my father had told him to
come after me the first chance he got and take me to Henry Wigglesworth
in Wicksville, Michigan, but he says that was several years ago, and
this was the first time he’d been in my part of the United States since
then. He said my father was dead, and that he died down in South
America.”

“Oh,” says Mark. “I guess your mother must ’a’ died a long time ago”

“When I was a baby,” says Rock.

“And t-t-that’s all you know about yourself?”

“Every single word.”

“Don’t know why you was to be f-f-fetched to Mr. Wigglesworth?”

“No.”

“What did Mr. Wigglesworth say when you came?”

“Nothin’. Pekoe he left me outside and went to the house. He was gone
half an hour and came back and said I was to go in. Pekoe went on out of
the gate and I went in. Jethro met me and fixed up a room for me. I
didn’t see Mr. Wigglesworth for a couple of days. He never came out of
his room. Guess he was perty sick then. One night when he thought I was
asleep he came into my room with a light turned down, and looked at me.
I pretended I was asleep, but I managed to get a look at him just the
same. He didn’t say a word, but just looked funny—queer. He shook his
head and then nodded as much as to say that something was so. After that
he went out. I never saw him again.”

“What did you do with the p-p-puzzle he wrote for you the night before
he d-died?”

Rock looked sort of surprised that Mark knew about it, but didn’t ask
any questions. “I got it in my pocket,” says he. “It don’t mean
anythin’. I guess he must have been out of his head.”

“Maybe,” says Mark. “Can’t tell. Mind lettin’ me see it?”

Rock pulled it out and handed it over.

“Huh!” says he. “This d-d-don’t make _much_ sense.”

“I can’t see it makes any,” says Rock.

“If it’s what it _may_ be,” says Mark, “it would take work to f-figger
sense out of it. Can I keep it?”

“Yes,” says Rock. “Do you think it really is anything?”

“Lemme study it first. Let’s see, it says, ‘Where pussy looks she walks.
Thirty and twenty and ten and forty-six. Stop ninety degrees in the
shade. In. Down. Across. What color is a brick? Investigate. Believe
what tells the truth.’ Some muddle, hain’t it?”

“Clean out of his head when he wrote it,” says I.

“Suppose,” says Mark, “you knew you was d-dyin’, and there was a
m-message you wanted to l-leave, and you knew the only man around was
ag’in’ you, and you dassent trust him, and you was sick and a leetle
queer. Suppose you just _had_ to leave a m-message that nobody could see
sense to, but that had sense in it if it was studied out. Then what? Eh?
Maybe,” says Mark, waggling his head—“maybe you’d think up a p-p-puzzle
like this.”

“Do you think it’s a—what d’you call ’em-a cryptogram?”

“I think,” says Mark, “that there’s a chance of it.”

“What’s a cryptogram?” says I.

“A cipher message,” says Mark.

“Oh,” says I. “Like havin’ each letter in the alphabet a number or some
kind of a mark?”

“Yes,” says Mark, “only this hain’t that kind—if it is one.”

“What kind is it?”

“It’s one where the words and letters mean just what they are, but where
you have to study out what they tell you to do.”

“Clear as mud,” says I.

“’Tain’t what you’d call plain as p-p-print,” says Mark, “but I’ll study
over it.” He shoved it into his inside pocket. “We better be gettin’
along, Rock. We’ll come as often to see you as we can. You come here
every day, and maybe we’ll be here or leave a m-message. We’ll l-leave
it under that stone. If you have any word for us, why, you leave a note
under the stone. Eh?”

“All right,” says Rock. “I hope you’ll come often.”

“We will,” says Mark, “and we’ll keep you posted. You open your ears and
eyes and don’t miss anythin’.”

“You bet,” says Rock. “Somehow you got me irit’rested, and sort of
lookin’ ahead. I haven’t ever had anything to look ahead to before.”

“Maybe you haven’t now,” says Mark, “so don’t get your heart set on it
too much.”

“Good-by,” says Rock. “_Look out_,” he whispered, sudden. “_I see Jethro
comin’_.”

In about two jerks of a lamb’s tail we were through the hedge and out of
sight. Rock sauntered out of the arbor as if nothing had happened, and
we saw Jethro stop and talk to him with a scowl. Then we hurried back to
town.



CHAPTER IX


During the next few days we were pretty busy getting ready for the next
issue of the _Trumpet_, so we didn’t get to see Rock, and Mark didn’t
have a minute to study out that puzzle about the cat and what color is a
brick and all that. Things didn’t go along as smooth this time as they
did before. Mark said it was because the novelty had worn off. We got
some advertising, but there weren’t any full pages, and we didn’t get in
half a dozen subscriptions, so that when the paper was printed we were
just about out of money again.

Our paper, printed with patent insides, as they call them, had to be
paid for at the express office before we could get it, and Tecumseh
Androcles Spat had had to buy a new pair of pants on account of some
trouble with a dog while he was out walking one evening, and ink cost
money. You haven’t any idea what a lot it takes to print a paper.

Well, we got it out all right, and then started to sell it. But this
time Spragg was right on hand with his Eagle Center _Clarion_, and had
kids selling it just like we sold the _Trumpet_, only he sold his paper
for three cents, while we had to get five or bust.

And this time he had more Wicksville news, though we still beat him
there. But folks will buy cheap even if what they’re getting isn’t so
good as what costs a little more. The result of the whole thing was that
we got left with a hundred papers on our hands, and that was pretty bad.
It was Spragg that did it.

When we knew just how we’d come out we had a meeting in the office to
see what to do about it.

“If we could only git rid of Spragg,” says Tallow.

“Yes,” says I, “he’s messin’ up the whole show.”

“S-sounds easy,” says Mark. “How’d you goat it?”

We looked at one another but nobody had any ideas.

“Might sick a dog on him,” says I.

“We might get out an Eagle Center edition of the _Trumpet_,” says Plunk.

Well, there was an idea and we talked it over, but it wasn’t long before
we saw that wouldn’t do. We had our hands full now without monkeying
with Eagle Center.

“If,” says I, “we could only fix it so’s folks here didn’t want anything
to do with Eagle Center—”

“Binney,” says Mark, “_there_ is an idee. Start a t-town row. Get folks
here to hatin’ Eagle Center. Make a sort of war, eh? Fine. Now,” says he
with a grin, “all we got to do is f-figger out how to do it.”

“If that Eagle Center paper would only talk mean about Wicksville,” says
I.

“It won’t,” says Mark; “they’re after Wicksville b-business.”

He sat back and pulled at his ear like he does when he’s thinking hard,
and whistled a little, and reached for his jack-knife and whittled some.

Pretty soon he whacked his leg and says he’s got it.

“Well?” says I.

“We’ll go to Eagle Center,” says he, “and interview a b-b-bunch of
folks, and sort of get ’em to talk about Wicksville. Bet we can f-fix it
so’s they make fun of this town. Then,” says he, “there’s that old
b-business of the trolley line from the city, which might go through
here and m-might go through Eagle Center. What made me think of that was
that a s-surveyor got off’n the train to-day, and I asked him what he
was up to, and he says he was goin’ over the right of way that was laid
out a couple of years ago.”

“Um!” says I. “Sounds promisin’.”

“We’ll t-try it,” says Mark. “Binney, you and I will go over in the
m-mornin’.”

So next morning over we went.

I never saw anything so easy. Mark says that folks would rather make fun
of somebody or something, whether they’ve got any reason for doing it or
not, than to work and make money, and I guess he’s right.

As soon as we began talking about Wicksville they up and sailed into it
like they had been waiting for the chance for years. Of course we helped
things along by bragging a little and by making a few comparisons that
didn’t favor Eagle Center any. But it didn’t take much urging. Why, we
could have got enough interviews to fill the paper twice, and any one of
them, when they stood out in print, was enough to make the whole
population of Wicksville take off its coats and roll up its
shirt-sleeves and start right over to give Eagle Center a walloping.

When we had all we wanted we started back for home, and planned out how
we’d use it, and the way we planned was the one that would do the most
good, you bet.

“Now,” says Mark, “if we just had some sure news about that t-trolley
line.”

“We hain’t,” says I.

“No,” says he, “but if Plunk and Tallow’ll git out and tag around after
that s-surveyor we’ll git some. Just hang around him and ask questions,
but don’t l-let on you’re newspaper men. Just be kids.”

So off they went.

They found out that surveyors were going over both routes—the one
through Wicksville and the one through Eagle Center. It seems like the
company was keeping pretty quiet about the whole thing, but from what
Plunk and Tallow could gather, it was pretty sure the trolley line was
going through some place.

Well, there was big news, and if Spragg didn’t get hold of it it would
be bigger than ever.

We set right to work getting things in shape for the next paper, and
called in Tecumseh Androcles Spat to tell him all about it and get him
to fix up the paper so it would look exciting. He got the idea right
away.

“Will Tecumseh A. Spat dress up this paper? You may take it, young
gentlemen, from an authority, that he will. It is an opportunity. This
town shall see what a paper with a real story in it should look like. We
will hammer them in the eyes with type. We will make our pages leap out
to meet them. Ah, this is an occasion such as delights the heart of a
compositor and make-up man. I revel in it. Trust me, gentlemen, and you
shall not be disappointed.”

And we weren’t. All we had to do was write the stuff and give it to
Tecumseh. Why, he hardly took time to eat or sleep! He was that tickled
with himself he almost busted out of his clothes, and we had to keep
going hard or he’d have run right away from us.

It was two days before we got the stories all written—the trolley line
and what Eagle Center thought of Wicksville. Then we did a little
advertising of our own. Mark wrote the signs.

The first one, printed in big type and tacked up in front of our office,
went like this:

                          WICKSVILLE INSULTED

            Never were such things said about a town without
                           blood being shed.

                       Has Wicksville any pride?
                         You bet it has pride.

             READ ABOUT IT IN THE NEXT WICKSVILLE “TRUMPET”

                Every word printed was actually uttered.
                       What will you do about it?

Then we printed about twenty little signs that said:

                   Where is Wicksville’s civic pride?
                    Will it stand by to be insulted?
             Read the insults in the Wicksville _Trumpet_.

That night we put these all up, and the next morning the town was
talking. I’ll bet twenty folks stopped in the office to ask what it was
about, but mum was the word with us. We wouldn’t peep.

“It’s so,” says Mark Tidd. “Every w-w-word of it. This town’s been
insulted like no town was ever insulted before. It’s a shame and
somethin’ ought to be done about it. The Board of Trade ought to do
somethin’.”

“But who insulted us?”

“The whole thing’s in the n-n-next p-paper,” says Mark, getting sort of
excited and stuttering like everything. “Wait till the paper comes out.”

“We want to know now,” says the man.

“Well,” says Mark, “I’m sorry, but it hain’t possible to accommodate
you. This is a newspaper. It’s p-printed to give news. That’s what we
have to sell, and we can’t give it away any more than the grocer would
give you a p-p-pound of cheese.”

“I’ll pay you for it,” says the man. “Your paper costs a nickel. Well,
there’s your nickel. Now give me the news.”

“No,” says Mark, “that wouldn’t be f-f-fair. Other folks have to wait
till their paper comes, and so will you.” And that was the end of it,
though the man kept on asking, and so did other folks.

By the time Thursday got around the town was pretty much worked up. You
haven’t any idea how much folks think of their town till something
happens, and then up in the air they go. Well, Wicksville was up in the
air, you can bet, and it looked like it was up there to stay. Some folks
was for having a public meeting about it, but others pointed out it was
foolish to have a public meeting till you knew what you were going to
have it about.

Other folks said, though, that as long as you knew your town had been
insulted, what was the difference _how_ it was insulted or who did it?
Something ought to be done. Of course we didn’t do a thing to stop
people from feeling that way, either.

At last the _Trumpet_ went to press, and she was a dandy. Across the
front page was a big head-line:

                  WICKSVILLE INSULTED BY EAGLE CENTER

Then, side by side, we printed interviews, heading each one
appropriately. Mr. Wiggamore, the justice of the peace at Eagle Center,
said every time a loafer came into his court the first question he asked
him was, did he come from Wicksville. That was pretty good for a
send-off, letting on that Wicksville folks were loafers, but he went
farther than that. He said when he had to drive through the country he
would go out of his way five miles before he would drive through our
town, because our streets were so rotten they weren’t fit to drive
cattle over, let alone a horse and buggy. We knew that would rile the
folks, because we do take pride in our streets.

Next came Mr. Smart, the grocer. He said he wouldn’t do business in
Wicksville except on a cash basis. That he’d never seen a man from
Wicksville he’d trust with a red-hot stove. And he said the town looked
like somebody passing in the night had dropped it by accident and
forgotten it. Also he said that the man that dropped it was probably
mighty glad of it.

Then came Mr. Pilkins, town clerk, and he gave his opinion that
Wicksville was the worst-looking, most run-down, dilapidated,
out-at-heel village in Michigan. He said it was a shame; that the rest
of the towns in the country ought to take up a collection to help
Wicksville folks paint their houses. He said it was his experience that
Wicksville folks were ashamed of where they lived, and didn’t let on
unless they were cornered, and he said that when they thought they’d be
believed they always let on they came from Eagle Center.

Mr. Stoddy said that Wicksville didn’t have enterprise enough to keep
the hogs out of Main Street. Now that was a lie if there ever was one,
and it made me kind of mad myself. He said the best men in our town were
the women, and that so fax’s he could see there wasn’t any reason for
keeping up such a town at all unless it was that no other town wanted
such a lot of folks to live in it.

Well, those are just samples. The men that said them were more than
nine-tenths joking, all right, but when you saw what they said right in
cold type it looked pretty bad. Whee! but it looked bad.

Then, right on top of those insults, and a lot more, we printed another
big head-line:

               SHALL EAGLE CENTER STEAL OUR TROLLEY LINE?

Then we printed the story about the trolley line, and what was going on.
And we more than hinted that if Eagle Center got a chance it would do
something underhanded to influence the line to go that way. And we
pointed out the benefits of the line to Wicksville, and what money it
would bring to town, and all that. My! it was a screamer.

Then, inside, we printed an editorial by Mark Tidd, which asked our
folks if they wanted anything to do with a town that thought about us
the way Eagle Center did. He asked if we wanted to trade with them, or
visit with them. He wanted to know why the Board of Trade didn’t meet
and fix up to boycott Eagle Center, and he ended up by demanding why
something wasn’t done at once to see to it Wicksville got that trolley
line for itself.

You wouldn’t believe it, but we ran out of papers before they’d had time
to dry, and had to turn to and print some more. Yes, sir, we printed a
whole hundred extra, and sold every one of them. Wherever you looked was
a man reading the paper, maybe out loud to a crowd. It was funny. Men
stood shaking their fists and scowling and making speeches and tearing
around like they was crazy. There was some talk of organizing a party to
go over to Eagle Center to dare them to fight, but this was overruled.

Anyhow, everybody was mad, and when Spragg, of the Eagle Center
_Clarion_, came out of the hotel and sent his boys to sell papers, the
crowd took after him and chased him up to his room, and he didn’t dare
come down until the town marshal went home and put on his star and then
escorted him to the train. Spragg never waited to see what became of his
papers, but just went away from there as fast as he could.

I don’t believe he was exactly clear why the folks was so turned against
him, but he soon found out, all right.

Well, there was a mass meeting, and our folks adopted resolutions paying
their respects to Eagle Center and to everybody that lived in it, and
they vowed they wouldn’t have any dealings with the town or anybody in
it. They appointed committees and everything.

Mark and the rest of us were at the meeting, and we got busy getting
subscriptions. Civic pride was the tune we played.

“Here,” says Mark, “is a paper all our own. It’s a b-b-better paper than
Eagle Center’s. Yet you f-folks let an Eagle Center man come in here and
sell that paper of his, and you r-refuse to buy ours. Now’s the time to
show them. If you mean what you say, why, cut out that Eagle Center
paper and dig down for a dollar ’n’ a quarter to subscribe for your
own.”

That was the way he talked, and the rest of us took a leaf out of his
book. And it got results, too. That night we took more than fifty
subscriptions. Which was pretty good. We thought it had disposed forever
of the Eagle Center _Clarion_, but it hadn’t. Anyhow, it hadn’t disposed
of Mr. Spragg, who seemed to have got a grudge against us. He wasn’t
much of a newspaper man, but as an enemy he did pretty well, so we found
out before we were through with him.



CHAPTER X


“We’ve been sort of neglectin’ Rock,” says I to Mark Tidd, that evening.

“We have been perty b-busy,” says he, “but we better go out to see him
to-morrow.”

“Fine,” says I. “I liked his looks.”

“Man With the Black Gloves is in t-town,” says Mark.

“When did you see him?” says I.

“He drove in a couple of hours ago.”

“Hum!” says I. “He’s comin’ for somethin’.”

“Yes,” says Mark, and wrinkled his fat face all up like he was puzzled.
“D’you know,” says he, “that we don’t even know his n-n-name?”

“That’s right,” says I.

“Nor where he hails from.”

“Correct,” says I.

“Let’s see what we kin find out,” says he.

So we went off to the hotel and asked questions, but we didn’t find out
anything. Seems like the man never stayed there overnight and didn’t
register. Nobody we could find had ever spoken to him, and nobody had
ever seen him before a week or so ago. He just _was_ and that’s all we
could find out about him.

“T-try the livery stable,” says Mark.

“What for?” says I.

“See if anybody there recognizes his horse,” says Mark, impatient-like.

Now there was a real idea, and I wished I’d thought of it myself, but I
didn’t. It took Mark for that. When he missed thinking of a thing it was
a pretty foggy day, I tell you.

Over at the livery we didn’t get much satisfaction.

“He hain’t never drove in with the same horse twict,” says the barn-man.
“Sometimes it’s a gray, and sometimes it’s a bay, and last time it was a
black.”

“Didn’t recognize any of ’em?” says Mark.

“Nary,” says the man.

And there we were, no better off than we’d been before. If those horses
had come from anywheres within ten or fifteen miles of Wicksville that
barn-man would have known them, so all we learned was that the Man With
the Black Gloves must have come farther than that.

“If we could only trace those horses,” says Mark.

“Which way did he come from?” says I.

“Good for you, Binney,” says Mark. “That’ll help some, if we can
f-f-find out.”

We asked around and found out the man drove in from the west. But there
was quite a lot of country west of us, as Mark pointed out, reaching
right out to the Pacific Ocean, which was a little matter of a couple of
thousand miles.

“’Tain’t likely he drove from the Pacific,” says I, “and ’tain’t likely
he drove more ’n twenty-five or thirty mile.”

“No,” says he, “’tain’t.... We might as well give _that_ up for
to-night. I expect Jethro and the Man With the Black Gloves are havin’ a
m-m-meetin’ somewheres.”

“How about that puzzle?” says I. “The one about where the cat looks and
what color is a brick, and all that stuff.”

“I hain’t l-looked at it,” says he. “Let’s see what we can make of it.”

He took it out of his pocket and we went to his house and sat down by a
lamp.

“‘Where pussy looks she walks,’ it goes,” says Mark. “‘Thirty and twenty
and ten and forty-six. Stop. Ninety degrees in the shade. In. Down.
Across. What color is a brick? Investigate. Believe what tells the
truth.’ There she is,” says he. “If you can see any sense to it, Binney,
you’ve got me beat.”

“Let’s take it by chunks,” says I. “That first sentence, now. ‘Where
pussy looks she walks.’ What’s there to that? Anything?”

“Huh!” says he. “Huh!” And then he went to tugging at his ear and
scowling. “If we knew what pussy he was talkin’ about we might have some
idee.”

“But we don’t,” says I.

“Binney,” says he, sober as a judge, but with a twinkle in his little
eyes, “I calc’late you’re right for once, though how you come to manage
it _I_ don’t know. We sure don’t know what cat’s bein’ d-d-discussed.”

“Where she looks she walks,” I says. “Oh, rats! it’s crazy!”

“If,” says Mark, “it means anythin’ at all, it’s givin’ a direction.
See? If Mr. Wigglesworth left a message and this is it, why, maybe, just
for instance, he’d hid somethin’. Eh? And if he hid somethin’, why, he
wanted somebody to f-f-find it, but he wanted that s-somebody to be the
right p-person.”

“Yes,” says I, “but who’s the right person?”

“Rock,” says he.

“How d’you know?” says I.

“B-because,” says he, “it was Rock he gave the p-puzzle to.”

“All right so far,” says I. “But let’s git back to pussy and what’s
she’s lookin’ at. Most likely it’s a bird. Cats is gen’rally lookin’ at
birds.”

“This cat wouldn’t be,” says he. “It would be l-lookin’ somewhere
definite, and it would keep l-lookin’. What would be the use sayin’ it
at all if the cat wouldn’t still be lookin’ where Mr. Wigglesworth
wanted it to when we found her?”

“None,” says I, “which makes the whole thing look crazier ’n ever. A cat
don’t set around eyin’ one spot permanent, even if it’s a mouse-hole.
Cats move around,” says I, “and hain’t to be depended on.”

“I’ll bet you this cat is,” says he.

“You’ve got some notion about it,” says I.

“Not much of one,” says he, “but I’m guessin’, for the sake of argument,
that Mr. Wigglesworth wanted somebody to find the cat and s-start there
and go to walkin’ where p-p-pussy looked. See? That would give the
direction to go. Go where she looked. If she l-looked south, walk south.
If she l-looked north, walk north.”

“So far so good,” says I. “Go on.”

“The next looks easy. ‘Stop,’ it says. Well, ‘stop’ means to quit
w-walkin’, don’t it?”

“Yes,” says I, “but you’re leavin’ out some-thin’.”

“What?” says he.

“Why,” says I, “the ‘Thirty and twenty and ten and forty-six.’”

“To be sure,” says he. He thought some more, and so did I.

“Maybe,” says I, “them figures means letters of the alphabet. A would be
1, and B would be 2, and so on. Let’s try it.”

We did, but nothing came of it. It didn’t make a word of sense.

“’Tain’t that,” says Mark, “but I’ll tell you what I b-b-b’lieve it
_is_.”

“What?” says I.

“Feet,” says he.

“Whose feet?” says I.

“Feet,” says he, sharp-like. “Measure. Twelve-inch feet.”

“Oh,” says I.

“Yes,” says he, his cheeks flushing a little and his eyes getting all
shiny with excitement. “That must be it. It means to start where the cat
is and walk where she looks thirty and twenty and ten and forty-six
feet. How many’s t-that?”

“Thirty and twenty’s fifty, and ten is sixty and forty-six is a hunderd
and six,” says I.

“Good enough,” says he. “We’re so far in no time at all. We f-find
pussy, makin’ sure we got the _right_ pussy, and we take note of where
she’s l-lookin’ and we walk that way a hunderd and six f-feet.... Then
what do we do?” says he, with a grin.

“We stop,” says I. “It says it on this paper, but it didn’t need to.
We’re stopped, anyhow, by what comes next.”

“What does come next?”

“‘Ninety degrees in the shade,’” says I.

“Perty hot,” says he.

“Does it mean we got to look for a spot that’s as warm as that?”

“Don’t b’lieve it,” says he. “No spot’s n-ninety degrees in the shade
around here _always_. To be any good for what Mr. Wigglesworth’s got in
mind, a spot would _always_ have to be ninety in the shade. Or else
there’d have to be somethin’ to tell just when to look. See? If he’s
given directions to find somethin’, I think those directions are good
every d-day and every hour of the day.”

“That’s l-likely,” says I. “If we only knew he _was_ givin’ directions,”
says I, “we could git along better.”

“As for me,” says he, “I’m s-s-sure of it.”

“That settles it, then,” says I, gettin’ a little sarcastic.

While we were arguing about it there was a clanging and banging out in
the yard like a dozen kids were knocking tin pans together, and we heard
somebody set up a holler.

“Hey! inside there! Hey! Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd, are you at
home?”

“It’s Zadok,” says I, and we ran to the door.

Sure enough, there was old Zadok Biggs, the tin peddler, who was such a
good friend of ours. Zadok was about half a man high and a man and a
half wide, with the soberest, most serious-looking face you ever saw. He
traveled all over the State in his red wagon, swapping tinware with
wimmen for old rags.

“Come in, Zadok,” Mark called, and in he came.

“Ha!” says he. “My friend Marcus Aurelius. Remarkable boy, remarkable
name. Where’s your ma and pa? Extraordinary folks. No ordinary ma and pa
would have picked out such a name. Live up to it,” says Zadok Biggs.
“And there’s Binney Jenks, too. Howdy, Binney?”

“Fine,” says I, “and how’s yourself?”

“Excellent,” says he, “or, to put it in plain language, very well
indeed. What have you boys been accomplishing? Accomplishing is an
elegant word. I love to use it. Most folks would say’doing.’”

“We’re runnin’ a newspaper,” says I. “At least Mark is, and the rest of
us are helping.”

“Newspaper. Ha! Splendid! Molding public opinion. I, Zadok Biggs, might
have been a great editor, though nature fitted me to be a judge. What
newspaper?”

“The Wicksville _Trumpet_” says Mark.

“Splendid! Extraordinary! Are you making money? Do the folks appreciate
a good periodical—paper is the commoner term?”

“Some d-does and some doesn’t,” says Mark.

“Ha! Not going as well as would be wished. Talk it over with Zadok. Tell
Zadok your troubles. Maybe there will be a resultant benefit. Good
words, those. Another man would say that maybe good would come of it,
but Zadok Biggs has seen life and studied life, and he knows words.
Perhaps I will be able to point out an opportunity. Opportunities are my
specialty.”

“You b-bet they are,” says Mark, and I agreed with him, for Zadok had
helped us out more than once before.

“Opportunity!” says Zadok. “A fine word and means a fine thing. What is
an opportunity? Means something like a chance, only better. An
opportunity is something you take hold of and hang onto and it leads you
ahead. Always ahead. Opportunities never hold you back. Some folks say
there aren’t opportunities, but they don’t know. If they rode all over
the State on top of my wagon they would know. I know. I see ’em.
Everywhere I see opportunities, and I see folks missing them. Yes, sir,
missing opportunities that would make something of them. Why? Because
they’re lazy, or because they want somebody to help them instead of
helping themselves, or because they haven’t eyes to see. But I don’t
take much stock in that. Anybody has eyes to see. What they lack is
ambition to git up and hustle. Am I right?”

“You are,” says Mark.

“Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd does not let his opportunities slip. I
have seen him catch them by the tail. Oh, many times I have seen him,
and Binney, too, and Plunk and Tallow. Don’t be impatient. While I talk
I think, I look about to see if there is an opportunity running at
large. An opportunity for boys running a newspaper. Ha!”

He stopped and scratched his head, and whistled “Marching Through
Georgia,” and got up and walked out to the dining-room, where he yelled
at Mr. Tidd and Mark’s mother, and talked to them awhile. Then he came
back and says:

“How does a paper make money? Subscribers, say I, and advertising. How
do you get subscribers? First by having a good paper they’ll want to
read. I can trust you to do that. Mark Tidd would have no other kind.
Advertising? There may be advertising your experience has not made you
aware of. That you don’t know about would be the vulgar way of
expressing it. And Zadok Biggs knows of such advertising. It pays. There
is money in it.”

“Good,” says Mark. “What is it?”

“County advertisin’,” says Zadok. “Things the law requires the county to
have published in a newspaper. Like accounts and audits and proceedings
and such. Advertise for bids generally, and the paper that bids lowest
gets the work. For a year, mostly. And now’s the time.”

“Mostly goes to politicians, don’t it?” says Mark.

“Yes,” says Zadok, “but there’s an opportunity for other folks—for Mark
Tidd and his friends. If I was them I’d go to the county-seat, and I’d
see the county authorities and I’d argue with ’em. Yes, sir, and I’ll
bet I’d get that business. I’d surprise’em. That’s what I’d do.”

“When is the contract g-given out?” says Mark.

“Next week,” says Zadok.

“Then,” says Mark, “you can expect to see Binney and me h-headin’ for
the county-seat about the day after to-morrow.”

“Why not to-morrow?” says Zadok. “Opportunities don’t perch long. You
got to get ’em before they flit.”

So we told him we had to see Rock to-morrow and why and all about it,
and he agreed with us. “Let’s see that cryptogram,” says he. “You know
what cryptogram means, eh?”

“Yes,” says Mark, and handed him the writing and told him what we had
made out of it. As far as we had gone he agreed with us, but couldn’t go
any farther.

“About that Man With the Black Gloves,” says he. “I’ll keep an eye out
for him. Comes from the West, does he? I’ll watch. Zadok goes many
places and sees many folks. Perhaps I will see him. Now,” says he, “is
there a piece of apple pie and a glass of milk and a bed for me?”

“You bet,” says Mark, so we all had a lunch that Mrs. Tidd got for us,
like she always does whenever anybody is there, and I went home. I
promised to be there bright and early to go out to Rock’s with Mark.



CHAPTER XI


Mark was around at my house, whistling for me, before I was through
breakfast, so I gobbled down my last four pancakes and hustled out. He
had another lunch as big as a trunk, so it was safe to say we wouldn’t
starve before noon.

About a half a mile from the Wigglesworth place we saw a buggy coming
toward us like the horse was running away, but it wasn’t. A man was
driving, and the man was Jethro. When he saw us he pulled up so short he
almost snapped his horse’s head off, which was mighty poor driving.

“Hey!” says he. “Seen a kid down that way anywheres?”

“L-lots of ’em,” says Mark.

“Don’t git fresh,” says Jethro.

“I wasn’t,” says Mark. “I was t-t-tellin’ the truth.”

“Did you see a kid,” says Jethro, “that looked like he was runnin’
away?”

“How does a kid l-look that’s runnin’ away?” Mark asked.

Jethro reached for the whip like he had intentions of taking a lick at
us, but he changed his mind.

“You know all the kids in Wicksville,” says he. “This was a strange
one—one you hain’t never seen before. See sich a one?”

“No,” says Mark. “What’s he runnin’ away for?”

“’Cause he’s a ongrateful little skunk,” says Jethro. “If you see any
strange kids sort of hidin’ around, you tell me and I’ll give you a
dollar.”

“You’re Mr. Wigglesworth’s man, hain’t you?” says Mark, like he didn’t
know.

“Yes,” says Jethro.

“Didn’t know you had a b-boy,” says Mark.

“He wasn’t mine. I was sort of guardian over him.”

“Oh!” says Mark. “And he’s run off and you want us to help you f-find
him?”

Jethro didn’t say anything for a minute, but thought it over. Then he
says to himself something about kids being all over creation and seeing
everything that goes on. After that he says to us:

“You kids make a business of lookin’ for this runaway, and I’ll pay you
five dollars if you find him.”

“Why don’t you advertise?” says Mark, and at that Jethro looked sort of
startled.

“Look here,” says he, “no advertisin’ goes. This is a secret between you
and me. See? You hain’t to talk about it to anybody or you don’t get no
five dollars.”

“Mum’s the word,” says Mark.

“You report to me at Wigglesworth’s house,” says Jethro, “if you find
out anything.”

“All right,” says Mark, and off drove Jethro. When he was gone Mark
turned and winked at me.

“Hired by the enemy,” says he. “Now there’s a way we can get into the
Wigglesworth grounds and house any t-t-time we want to without makin’
Jethro suspicious.”

“Sure,” says I, “but what’s this runaway business? Has Rock run off?”

“It l-looks that way,” says Mark,

“What for?” says I.

“How should I know?” says Mark. “Let’s head for the arbor and see if
he’s left a l-letter.”

We ducked off the road and slid up the hedge. This time Mark was too
interested in what was really happening to do any pretending about dukes
or knights, so we just sneaked along like a couple of boys till we got
to the arbor, and wriggled through the hedge. There was a letter in the
hiding-place.

    _Dear Friend_ [the letter said], I’m going away. I don’t like it
    here because Jethro keeps getting meaner and meaner, and watches
    me all the time like I was in jail, and won’t let me do
    anything. I won’t stand it. Jethro isn’t anything to me, and
    neither is that man with black gloves that comes and scowls at
    me and asks a lot of questions. I’m going off to China or
    Florida or the South Sea Islands or some place, so most likely
    I’ll never see you again.

    I don’t know what I was brought to this place for. If anybody
    has a right to make me stay, why doesn’t he say so? I might as
    well be in jail. I guess I can earn a living, all right. Maybe
    I’ll go to Alaska and dig gold. Maybe I’ll write to you some
    day.

    Yours truly,

    _Rock_.

“H’m!” says Mark. “He’s g-goin’ a lot of places, hain’t he?”

“Wisht I was goin’ with him,” says I. “The South Sea Islands sounds
fine.”

“But it’s quite a walk,” says Mark, “especially when you think about
crossin’ the Pacific Ocean to get there.”

“He’d stow away on a vessel?” says I.

“Shucks!” says he. “Rock won’t get twenty m-miles from Wicksville.”

“Bet he does,” says I.

“Shucks!” says Mark again. “We got to f-find him, and I hain’t goin’ to
look in Alaska, nor Florida, either.”

“You hain’t goin’ to give him up to Jethro, be you?”

“That,” says he, “is exactly what I’m goin’ to do.”

“Mark Tidd,” says I, “I wouldn’t ’a’ thought it. For five dollars you’d
squeal on this poor kid that’s in a peck of trouble. Well,” says I,
getting madder and madder, “you can hunt for him alone. I won’t have
anything to do with it. It’s a dirty trick,” says I.

“Binney,” says Mark, “l-look out or you’ll bile out of your shirt. Keep
it on,” says he. “How many d-dirty tricks have you seen me play on
folks?”

“None,” says I, “but that don’t stop this from bein’ one.”

He just grinned as good-natured as could be.

“You’re foolin’,” says I.

“No,” says he, “I mean it.”

“You’ll give up Rock to them men?”

“Yes,” says he, “if I f-f-find him.”

“Then,” says I, “you and me is through. We been perty good friends, and
we’ve done a heap of things together, and I guess I figgered you was
almost as great a man as Napoleon Bonaparte, but you hain’t. I hain’t as
smart as you,” says I, “but you can bet I don’t go givin’ away any kids
that’s in trouble. You go look for him,” says I, “and I’ll go look for
him. But I won’t be tellin’ on him if I find him. I’ll warn him,” says
I.

“Binney,” says Mark, “you’re a n-noble young man right out of a book.
Honest you are. You’re a hero,” says he.

“I hain’t,” says I.

“L-look here, you saphead,” says he, “have some sense. I’m goin’ to git
Rock back into Jethro’s hands,” says he, “but not to help Jethro. We
_got_ to have him back here. How we g-g-goin’ to find out about him if
he’s run away? Tell me that. There’s somethin’ mighty mysterious and
important about him. Jethro and the Man With the Black Gloves hain’t
d-doin’ all they’re up to just for fun, be they? Not by a jugful. Rock
had ought to have known b-better than to go sneakin’ off, but I s’pose
he got l-lonesome. Poor kid! But lonesome or not, he’s got to come
b-back.”

I felt pretty silly and didn’t think of anything to say.

“Come on,” says Mark.

“Where?” says I.

“To l-look for Rock,” says he.

“Where’ll we look?”

“Well,” says he, “if you was Rock and was r-r-runnin’ away, where’d you
go?”

“South Sea Islands,” says I.

He just grunted scornful-like. “Which way would you g-g-go first?”

“Right to the depot,” says I, “and take a train.”

“How’d you pay for your t-ticket? Rock didn’t have a cent.”

That was a facer. “Then I’d steal a ride on a freight,” says I.

“No you wouldn’t,” says he. “You wouldn’t go toward t-town at all.
Jethro was watchin’ you close. You had to sneak away in a s-second when
he wasn’t lookin’. How’d you m-manage it?”

“Why,” says I, “I’d git near the gate gradual, and then I’d run like the
dickens.”

“You wouldn’t, n-n-neither—especial if you wanted to leave a l-letter.
I’ll tell you what Rock did. He got hold of p-p-paper and pencil and
pocketed ’em. Then he went out in the yard and walked around. You see
how he did the other day when we came here first. He hain’t any n-ninny.
Well, he’d walk around the yard and after a while he’d c-c-come into
this arbor. For t-two reasons. To leave the letter he was goin’ to
write, and to get time to hustle off to quite a d-distance before Jethro
suspected he was escapin’.”

“How’s that?” says I.

“Why,” says he, “Jethro’d s-see Rock come in here, and he’d think he
knew where he was. He wouldn’t come p-pokin’ in to see. So Rock would
write his l-letter in a hurry, and scrooch out through the hedge and
run. All the t-time Jethro’d be thinkin’ he was right in here. Maybe it
would b-be an hour before he’d begin to wonder what Rock was up to so
l-long and come in to see. In an hour Rock could move off quite a ways.”

“Sure,” says I, “but where’d he move to?”

“He’d git away from the road,” says Mark. “He wouldn’t take the road
t-toward Wicksville, and he wouldn’t go the other way, and he wouldn’t
cross the road and go s-south, because somebody might see him when he
crossed. There hain’t but one other way for him to go, and that’s
n-north toward the r-river and the woods. That’s where he went.”

“Sounds likely,” I says.

“It’s sure,” says he. “He got through the hedge and took a l-look and
seen those woods right there. Then he made for ’em lickety-split.”

“When did he go?” says I. “The letter didn’t say.”

“This m-mornin’,” says Mark. “Jethro was all excited. Didn’t he act that
way? Like he’d just found out Rock was gone? Sure he did. He acted like
he was most r-rattled to pieces, and the first thing he did was to hitch
a horse and go f-flyin’ off wild-like, just lookin’ for the sake of
lookin’. Anyhow, Jethro hain’t got many brains. Yes, Binney, you can bet
Jethro just f-found it out.”

“Then,” says I, “Rock hain’t been gone more ’n an hour or two.”

“That’s how I f-f-figger,” says he.

“Come on, then,” says I, “he’s got quite a start.”

We streaked it along till we got out of the field and into the woods.
Maybe you think because Mark Tidd is fat that he can’t move. Well you’d
get fooled there, for though there’s enough of him for two boys and
their little brother rolled into one, he can get from one place to
another about as fast as the next one. I’ve read those rhinoceroses and
hippopotamuses in Africa are pretty whopping animals, but that when they
get started they can run to beat a horse. I don’t know if it’s so, but
Mark Tidd sort of leads me to believe it.

Right in the edge of the woods Mark stopped and picked up a cap.

“There,” says he.

“Rock’s?” says I.

“He was wearin’ it when I saw it l-last,” says he.

“Must ’a’ been in a hurry, not to pick it up.”

“P-panic,” says Mark. “He got to runnin’ across the f-field and then got
scairt. It works that way. Once you start to run, the idee gits into
your head s-somebody’s chasin’ you hard. I’ll bet Rock thought Jethro
was right onto his heels. He didn’t stop for anythin’.”

“Hope he hain’t runnin’ yet,” says I.

“Can’t tell,” says Mark, “but I was right about the way he went, eh?”

You see, when he did a thing that was pretty bright he liked to have
folks tell him so. Not that he was what you’d call vain. He wasn’t, and
he wasn’t all excited about himself, either, but he was funny that way,
and I guess we liked him all the better on account of it. So I told him
he was right about it, and that it was a good job of figgering things
out. And I was telling him what was so, too, for it _was_ a good job. I
wouldn’t have thought out what Rock had done in forty years.

We cut straight through the woods to the river, but when we came to it
we stopped, for we didn’t know whether Rock went up-stream or down, or
waded across.

“He didn’t wade,” says Mark, “b-because he don’t know this river. It
l-looks like it might be deep out there, and the current’s swift. He
wouldn’t tackle it.”

“I guess not,” says I, “but which way did he go?”

“That,” says Mark, “is what we got to f-find out. Maybe he didn’t come
right down to the river at all, but I think he did.”

“Why?” says I.

“To see if he couldn’t get across. He’d f-feel safer with a river
between him and Jethro. But he didn’t cross here. It looks dangerous.
Either he went up or down, and I think close to the water, searchin’ for
a place to cross.”

“It’s perty soft along here for quite a ways,” says I. “Maybe we can
find footprints.”

“You go up,” says Mark, “and I’ll go down. Holler if you f-f-find any
thin’.”

I went off like he said, pretending I was an Indian. Maybe a couple of
hunderd feet upstream I came on a place where somebody had walked right
down to the edge of the river, because there in the mud were tracks
filled with water. The place was tramped up quite a bit, and there were
tracks leading back away from the river toward the bluff and the trees.

I yelled at Mark and he turned and came.

We followed the tracks part way up the bluff and then they turned
up-stream, going along among the trees. Then, all of a sudden, they went
up the bank again and turned right back down-stream the way they’d come
from, and then they went higher till they came to a rail fence right
along the edge of the bluff and among the trees. From that minute we
couldn’t find another track.

“Huh!” says Mark, after a couple of minutes. “Rock’s all right. Know
what he did?”

“No,” says I. “What?”

“Got on top of the fence and went along. Maybe took off his shoes,
because the t-top rail hain’t scratched up anywheres. Figgered he
wouldn’t leave any trail. What with his doublin’ back and f-f-forth, we
don’t know which way he’s aimin’. Maybe he went up and maybe he went
down. He’s a good one, all right.”

“Too good for us,” says I, sort of discouraged.

“Huh!” says Mark, like he didn’t like my saying that very well.

“What’ll we do?” says I.

“Eat,” says he, “and then hunt both ways. Separate like we did below.”

“All right,” says I, and that’s what we did. But not a sign had either
of us seen of him when we met at the office just before supper-time.
Rock had just naturally up and disappeared.



CHAPTER XII


We had to forget about Rock for the next day, anyhow, and go to the
county-seat to see about that political printing. It was two hours’ ride
on the train, but we enjoyed that and made use of it planning how we’d
go to work to land the business. At least Mark planned and I listened
while he did it. But, somehow or other, the plans we made weren’t the
ones we carried out. Not by a long shot. If they had been Mark wouldn’t
have been as famous in the State as he is to-day among men that follow
up politics for a living, and among newspaper men.

No, the plans we carried out were other plans altogether, and they were
made in a lot less than two hours. I should say they were.

We got off the train and went up to the court-house. At the door stood a
lot of men smoking and loafing and talking, and we walked up to them and
wanted to know where we’d find the man that gave out the county printing
to the newspapers.

A couple of them winked at each other and said we’d better see the judge
of probate, who took care of orphans and lunatics and such, and I
expected to hear Mark come right back at him with something hot. But he
didn’t. Afterward he said to me:

“Binney, when you’re on b-business don’t let anythin’ mix up with it. If
you git grudges ag’in’ folks s-s-save ’em up for some other day. Some
feller may say somethin’ smart to you and git a l-lot of fun out of it.
If you take him d-down off ’n his high horse it’ll sour him quick—and
that very man may be the f-feller whose scalp you’re after.”

“Shucks!” says I.

“It’s easier to git what you want out of a man that’s f-f-feelin’ good,”
says he, “and there hain’t no way to make a man feel g-good that beats
lettin’ him think he’s awful smart. If you let him make a j-joke on you,
why, he sort of feels friendly ’cause you’ve helped him show his friends
what a w-w-whale of a feller he is. And then you git easier s-sailin’.”

“Maybe so,” says I; “that’s figgerin’ too far ahead for me. If somebody
says somethin’ fresh to me and I kin think of somethin’ to say back,
why, you can bet your hat I’m goin’ to pop it right at him.”

“And l-lose money by it,” says he.

“Money hain’t the whole thing,” says I.

“It is,” says he, “when it’s money you’re _after_. When you start out
f-for a thing you want to git it, don’t you, whether it’s m-money or
apples or f-freckles on your nose? It hain’t the money that’s important;
it’s _gittin’_ it.”

That was Mark Tidd all over. If he made up his mind he was after a thing
he stuck to it till he got it, or till it was put where it was a sure
thing he couldn’t touch it. It wasn’t so much that he wanted the
_thing_, whatever it was; it was that he was bound to do what he set out
to do. He might figure and work a week to get some old thing, and then
turn right around and give it to you. It was just the being able to
_get_ it that interested _him_.

So he didn’t say a word back to the man that joked him—that is, not a
word that was smart. He just says, “We hain’t got any orphans or
l-lunatics on hand this m-mornin’, but we’d like mighty well to see that
printin’ feller.”

He was so all-fired polite about it that somebody spoke up and says,
“There’s a couple of ’em you’ll have to deal with, sonny. Feller named
Brown and another feller named Wiggins, and they hain’t what you could
call friends, neither. You hain’t like to find ’em roostin’ in the same
bush. Both of them’s inside somewheres. If you find a feller skinnier ’n
a beanpole and along about nine feet high, with red hair on top of him,
why, that’s Wiggins. If you run ag’in’ a feller equal skinny and equal
tall without no hair at all, why, that’s Brown. You can’t mistake either
of ’em.”

“Much obliged,” says Mark, and in we went.

We poked around quite a spell, going one place and another, but we
didn’t see any tall, thin men, till we got onto the second floor and
walked up to some doors that were standing open, and looked in. It was a
court-room. We knew that right off because there was a high place built
up for the judge in front, and a pen for the jury and lots of seats.
Nothing was going on at all, and we were coming out again when we heard
a sort of murmur like folks were talking low and confidential.

“’S-s-sh!” says Mark, who was always cautious till he found out where he
stood. Then he craned his neck, and ’way back in the shadows were two
men, one standing and the other sitting, and the standing man was so
tall and thin he could have got a job in a circus. The sitting man was
thin, with a bunch of carroty hair.

“Brown and Wiggins,” says Mark, drawing back quick.

“Come on in, then,” says I.

“Nix,” says he. “L-let’s think.... Man said they wasn’t friends, didn’t
he, and that we wasn’t likely to f-f-find ’em together?”

“Yes,” says I.

“Then,” says he, “if folks that know ’em f-figger they wouldn’t be
together, it’s sort of f-f-funny to find ’em hobnobbin’, hain’t it?”

“Why,” says I, “I calc’late it is.”

“And them b-bein’ politicians, it’s f-funnier ’n ever,” says he.

“To be sure,” says I.

“Politicians,” says he, “is said to be s-s-slippery.”

“My dad says so.”

“Then,” says he, “l-lookin’ at this from all sides, a man up a t-tree
would figger them fellers was up to somethin’, eh?”

“Shouldn’t wonder,” says I, “but what of it?”

“And they’ve s-sneaked off and hid to talk,” says he to himself.

“None of our business,” says I.

“Newspaper men, hain’t we?”

“Yes,” says I.

“Sellin’ advertisin’ to the county to-day?”

“Yes,” says I.

“Then,” says he, “whatever those f-fellers do is mighty int’restin’ to
me.”

“All right,” says I. “What of it?”

“I’m f-figgerin’,” says he, “on how we could git to l-listen a little to
what they was sayin’.”

“Eavesdroppin’,” says I, scornful-like.

“When men is up to a game and s-sneaks off to p-plan it,” he says, “it’s
not eavesdroppin’ to listen. They git what’s comin’ to ’em.”

“Have it that way, then,” says I.

“But,” says he, “g-gittin’ so’s we can listen hain’t so easy. Let’s go
outside and look around.”

We went, and as we walked down-stairs Mark says, “The p’litical fight in
this county this fall is over the sheriff.”

“I know it,” says I.

“Then,” says he, “if two men that’s p’litical enemies is seen
hobnobbin’, most likely the sheriff’s got somethin’ to do with it.
Bowman’s the man that’s got the job now, and Whittaker wants to git the
Republican nomination away from him. Now, takin’ for granted that
pow-wow up there’s about the sheriff, why, what be they d-doin’ about
it?”

“How should I know?” says I.

We stopped a minute at the door, and Mark says, “How’s the fight for
sheriff gettin’ on?”

“Perty hot,” says a man—“perty almighty hot.”

“Brown’s for Bowman, hain’t he?” says Mark.

“No,” says the man; “where’d you git that idee? He’s strong for
Whittaker.”

“How’s Wiggins?”

“Nobody knows, but fellers that pertends to be wise figgers he’s for
Bowman—jest so’s to be for anybody Brown is against.”

“Huh!” says Mark. “What d’you calc’late ’u’d happen if Brown and Wiggins
was to make up f-friends and work for the same man?”

“It couldn’t happen,” says the man, “but if it did, with the batch of
delegates each one of ’em controls in the convention, the man they
agreed on would have a walk-away.”

“Hum!” says Mark. “Is Brown awful strong for Whittaker?”

“Whittaker’s best friend he’s got. Why, Whittaker lent him the money to
go into business first, and has always been befriendin’ him, and two
year ago Brown up and married Whittaker’s sister.”

“So,” says Mark, “there hain’t much danger of his switchin’ to Bowman?”

“He jest _couldn’t_,” says the man.

“Hum!” says Mark. “Int’restin’ to hear. Much obliged, mister.”

We walked on, and all of a sudden Mark chuckled right out. “Binney,”
says he, “we don’t need to go listenin’ to what those f-f-fellers is
talkin’ about. I know.”

“Shucks!” says I.

“Wait and see,” says he. “We’ll walk around a while and then go back and
see Wiggins.”

Which we did. In half an hour we went back, and after looking around a
spell we found Wiggins in his office. In we went.

“Howdy-do, Mr. Wiggins!” says Mark, “I’m Mark Tidd, of Wicksville, and
this is Binney Jenks.”

“Glad to meet you,” says Mr. Wiggins. “What can I do for you?”

“Why,” says Mark, “we come on b-business. I’m editor of the Wicksville
_Trumpet_” he says, “and the Wicksville _Trumpet_ needs some good steady
advertisin’. So,” says he, “we come to see if we couldn’t git the
c-county p-printin’ for the next year.”

“H’m!” says Mr. Wiggins, his eyes twinkling like he wanted to laugh.
“Juvenile paper? Amateur editor?”

“Not any,” says Mark. “Reg’lar weekly,” and he showed Mr. Wiggins a
copy.

“Mean to say you boys are running this?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” says Mark.

“Well,” says Mr. Wiggins, “the way this printing is given out, the
papers that want it make bids telling how much the county will have to
pay, and then the bids are opened and the job goes to the lowest.”

“Sure,” says Mark, “that’s the gen’ral idee of it, but,” he says, “most
gen’ally the f-feller gits it that’s got the most p’litical pull, don’t
he, honest Injun?”

Mr. Wiggins laughed. “Well,” he said, “maybe politics does have
something to do with it. If you think that, what made you come?”

“Because,” says Mark, “Binney and me is p-politicians, and we got pull.”

“Oh,” says Mr. Wiggins. “What influence have you to bring to bear?”

“Why,” says Mark, “we sort of f-f-figger on _yours_, and on Mr.
Brown’s.”

Mr. Wiggins laughed right out. “Don’t you know,” says he, “that Brown
and I don’t live in the same nest at all? You couldn’t get the two of us
to agree on anything to save your life. And, besides, I never saw you or
heard of you before. How do you figure you have _my_ influence?”

“Because,” says Mark, “we calc’late to be reg’lar p-politicians and see
farther into what’s goin’ on than m-most folks, and because you want us
on your side a l-little worse ’n you want ’most anybody else in the
county.”

“Now look here, sonny,” says Mr. Wiggins, “I’m pretty busy, and, while I
like boys and am willing to fool with ’em, to-day I’m short of time.
Come in some other day.”

“Wait a m-minute,” says Mark, “till we tell you how we size up this here
sheriff fight.” He didn’t wait for Wiggins to say he could, but jumped
right into it.

“This here is the hardest f-f-fight for sheriff in years,” says he, “and
anybody that b-beats out Bowman’s got a job on his hands, eh?”

“Yes,” says Wiggins.

“And f-f oiks gen’ally think you’re for Bowman, don’t they?”.

“Yes.”

“And so his side’s restin’ easier in their minds?”

“Some,” says Wiggins.

“Well, then,” says Mark, “s’posin’ I was to p-print a story in my paper
sayin’ that the row between you and Brown was made up, and that you and
Brown had met and hobnobbed and that you’d agreed, for some reason or
another, to wait till the convention and, when the f-fight got good and
hot, to make the d-delegates you control vote, not for Bowman, but for
Whittaker? Folks ’u’d be int’rested in that story, eh?”

“Say, kid,” says Wiggins, jumping up onto his feet, “who sent you here?”

“Nobody,” says Mark. “We just come after the p-printin’.”

“What you say is bosh,” says Wiggins.

“It’s _so_,” says Mark, “and we know it’s so, and you know it’s so.
What,” says he, “if you was overheard t-talkin’ up in the court-room
awhile ago?”

Mr. Wiggins sort of caved in. “You haven’t told anybody?”

“Course not. Sich p’litical information hain’t much good when you give
it away.”

“My dad’s for Whittaker, anyhow,” says I.

“So’s mine,” says Mark, “but politics is politics. How about your
influence, Mr. Wiggins?”

“You get it,” says Wiggins, sharp-like. “Go tell Brown to go up to the
court-room.”

We did that, and Brown was pretty surprised, but he went. We followed
along, and there was Wiggins waiting for us. He told Brown what Mark had
said to him, and Brown began to laugh as hard as he could, and then got
serious.

“You win, kids,” says he, “providin’ you can keep quiet.”

“We git the p-printin’?”

“You do,” says Brown, “but how Wiggins and I will explain it to certain
newspaper men, particularly the Eagle Center _Clarion_, I don’t know.”

“Was the Eagle Center _Clarion_ goin’ to git it?” says I.

“They figured on it pretty strongly,” says Mr. Brown.

And that’s how we landed the county printing. It was all by Mark Tidd’s
using his brains. All he needed was a hint, and he reasoned the thing
right out, and it was so like he reasoned it. It made Mark pretty famous
with politicians before it was all done, for after the convention, when
Whittaker got the nomination, the story leaked out, and everybody
laughed at Brown and Wiggins, and when folks found out Mark hadn’t
really heard a thing, but just jumped at conclusions and made a bluff,
they laughed harder than ever.

That was all right, but what really counted was that we got a dandy
piece of business that paid well and gave the paper a lot of reputation
and standing around the county. It got us a lot of subscribers, too,
because there are folks that have to read about the county proceedings.

Mr. Wiggins took us to dinner and made a lot of us, and didn’t hold a
grudge at all. After that we caught the train and went home, feeling
like we had done a pretty good day’s work.



CHAPTER XIII


The first thing we did when we got home was to hunt up Plunk and Tallow
to find out if anything had been heard of Rock, but he was still just as
missing as ever—and even more so.

“Well,” says Mark, “we got to f-find him, and find him quick. We need
him in our business and he needs us in hisn.”

“You hain’t goin’ to give him up to Jethro like you said—honest, are
you?”

“You b-b-bet I am,” says Mark, and there was an end to that.

“To-morrow mornin’,” says he, “you f-f-fellows be at my house at five
o’clock, and we’ll git after him. I got an idee,” says he.

“Five o’clock,” says I. “What’s the use of goin’ to bed at all?”

Mark he sort of grinned and says: “This Rock business is a sort of
s-s-side issue with us. What we’re doin’ for a livin’ is run a
newspaper—and we got to give consid’able time to it.”

That was Mark Tidd all over. Business was first. He could tend to
business more and harder than any kid I ever heard of.

Next morning we were on hand when Mark said, and off we started toward
the place where we lost track of Rock. Mark was as sure as ever he was
some place close around. “Bet I can p-prove it pretty quick,” says he,
“and after I’ve proved it I bet I can go straight to where he’s asleep
this minute.”

“Shucks!” says I.

“Will you eat a r-rotten apple if I can’t?” says Mark.

Well, I knew him pretty well, and when he talked like that he was pretty
sure he knew what he was talking about, so I sort of backed down as easy
as I could. He didn’t say anything, but just grinned aggravating.

There was just one farm out that way, and Mark headed us in the yard and
around to the barn, where Mr. Soggs was milking.

“’Mornin’, Mr. Soggs,” says he.

“Up kinder early, hain’t ye?” says Mr. Soggs.

“Ketchin’ worms,” says Mark. “Say, Mr. Soggs, been missin’ anythin’
around here l-l-lately?”

“How’d you know?” says Soggs. “You boys hain’t campin’ out around here,
be ye? ’Cause if ye be, and it’s you that’s been a-pesterin’ my wife,
stealin’ pies off n the winder-sill and sich, I’ll have the law on ye.”

“Not guilty,” says Mark. “What was stolen?”

“A hull apple pie ’n’ a hunk of ham ’n’ half a loaf of bread.”

“Too bad,” says Mark, but I could see a twinkle in those little eyes of
his. “Hope it didn’t spoil your meal, Mr. Soggs.”

“I managed,” says Soggs, “I managed.”

“To be sure,” says Mark. “Well, we’ll be movin’ on. G’by, Mr. Soggs.”

“G’by to ye,” says he, and off we went.

“There,” says Mark when we were out of hearing. “Now what you got to
say?”

“Same’s ever,” says I. “What’s a missin’ pie got to do with Rock?”

“Rock et that pie,” says Mark.

“Fiddle-de-dee,” says I, but I wasn’t so sure about it. Mark he acted so
_certain_.

“Now,” says he, “we’ll go and g-get him.”

He started off like he knew exactly where he was going, and we followed.
He led us along the bluff above the river for a spell, and then started
down. In a minute I saw where we were. We were just across from
Butternut Island, and right above our old cave—the cave where Mark and
Tallow hid Mr. Tidd’s turbine a long while back, and where Sammy, the
half-breed Injun, used to live.

“Bet he hain’t there,” says I. “He couldn’t ever find it.”

“He must ’a’ found it,” says Mark, “because he’s in it right now.”

“How d’you know?” says I.

“Because,” says he, with another aggravating grin, “there hain’t no
other place for him to be.”

Well, down we went, quiet-like, and peeked in the cave. It was pretty
dark there, but all the same we could see something. It looked like
somebody asleep, and Mark he grinned at me again.

“You sneaked up here and found him,” says I.

“Didn’t,” says he; “jest figgered it out—and there he is.”

He was that proud of himself just then that you couldn’t touch him with
a giraffe’s neck.

“Rock,” he called, soft-like, “Rock.”

Rock jumped up so sudden he was like to have busted his head against the
cave roof, and looked around scared.

“It’s Mark Tidd and the f-f-fellers,” says Mark. “Come on out.”

“How’d you find me?” says Rock, after he’d got over being scared and
surprised.

“Well,” says Mark, “I knew you must be somewheres around, because you
couldn’t of got away. You’d be seen or somethin’. We followed you to the
river and then lost your tracks, so I knew you were perty clost to here,
hidin’. This is the only good hidin’-place for a long ways, so I
f-figgered you _had_ to be here—and here you are.”

“Glad Jethro hasn’t as much brains as you have, Mark.”

“Why?”

“Because he’d have found me, instead of you.”

“But,” says Mark, “we’re a-goin’ to take you back to him.”

Rock just looked at him.

“L-look here,” says Mark, “you got to trust us if we’re goin’ to do you
any good. And I’ll tell you this, that with you gone there hain’t the
least chance of ever findin’ out about you. You got to _be_ there.... I
shouldn’t wonder if the Man With the Black Gloves would be t-tickled to
death, when he got to thinkin’ it over, if you was to run away and he
never heard of you again. You’re a-goin’ back there because that’s where
you can do yourself the most good and those f-fellers the most harm. See
it?”

“I see your idea,” says Rock, “but it don’t look very pleasant.”

“Neither does l-livin’ in a cave and eat’n’ stolen pie look very good,”
says Mark.

“But—” says Rock.

“Either you go back with us or we quit the whole b-b-business,” says
Mark. “We’re goin’ to let on to Jethro that we captured you, and he’ll
pay us money. And he’ll think you hate us, if you act right, and he’ll
trust us so’s we’ll get a chance to nose around a little. I’m mighty
curious,” says he, “about that cat that Mr. Wigglesworth wrote about,
and where it’s lookin’, and why; and I’d like a chance to l-l-look for
it.”

“Maybe you’re right,” says Rock.

“Course I am,” says Mark.

“All right,” says Rock, “but it isn’t very pleasant being shut up and
watched and treated like they’ve treated me.”

“It won’t l-l-last long,” says Mark. “Come on.”

We started back, with Rock looking pretty dubious over his prospects. If
he had known Mark Tidd as well as we did he wouldn’t have felt so much
that way, though I’ll admit _I_ wouldn’t have been tickled to death if
I’d been in his place.

[Illustration: Jethro just rushed at us and grabbed a-holt of Rock,
rough-like.]

It didn’t take us a great while to get back to the farm with Rock, and
there was Jethro walking up and down and growling and acting pretty
anxious. When he saw us turn in the yard with Rock he just _rushed_ at
us and grabbed a-holt of Rock, rough-like.

“Hey, there!” says Mark. “G-go easy.”

Jethro looked at him a second and let right go, and then began to grin.
“I guess,” says he, “that you kids have earned your money,” and he
passed it over.

“Now,” says he to Rock, “what you mean by runnin’ off, eh? Had a perty
time of it, hain’t you? Well, you let me ketch you tryin’ it again, and
you’ll wisht you’d been shut up in a cage like a monkey in a circus. You
bet you will.”

“G-got anythin’ to eat around this p-place?” says Mark.

Jethro looked Mark over and laughed right out. Not the kind of laugh a
fellow likes, but a noisy, bossy kind of a laugh. “You look like you
gen’ally got plenty,” says he.

“I do,” says Mark, short as could be, because he don’t like to have
folks talking about his weight. Then he winked at Jethro and got him off
to one side.

“Say,” he says, “that kid’s goin’ to slip away s-s-sure,” says he, “if
he hain’t watched. _You_ can’t do it right, but us fellers can. What you
say to givin’ us a job guardin’ him? We’ll see he’s kept here till it’s
time for him to go somewheres else.”

Jethro scratched his chin and thought it over.

“How much?” says he.

“Fifty c-cents a day,” says Mark. “One of us’ll be here all the t-time.”

“Good,” says Jethro. “I’ll jest take you up on that. Keep your eye on
him clost. Don’t let him git out of this yard.”

“Don’t worry,” says Mark. “Now how about s-s-somethin’ to eat?”

Jethro went in and brought us out some pie and a fried-cake apiece—the
bakery kind. They weren’t very good, but we managed to get away with
them, and then Jethro went about his business, having been fooled good
by Mark, and depending on him to keep his eye on Rock.

When he was gone Mark says to Rock, “Now you s-s-see why we wanted to
f-fetch you back? We got the job w-watchin’ you, and we can be with you
all we want, and we can s-s-snoop around this place as much as we want
to. And I can tell you I’ve got a heap of snoopin’ to do. And we can see
to it that nothin’ happens to you, for one of us will be here all the
time.”

“Mark Tidd,” says Rock, “you’re all right. You’ve got more brains in
your little finger than I have in my head.”

Mark sort of threw up his head and pushed out his chest, and his little
eyes just _shone_, he was so tickled. There’s nothing that pleases him
like getting praised when he knows it’s coming to him.

“You kids go off and p-p-play somethin’,” says he. “I want to nose
around this p-place to see if I can make any thin’ out of that writin’
Mr. Wigglesworth left. Seems to me l-like it must have meant this
p-place. Don’t it to you?”

“Why?” says I.

“Because,” says he, “there don’t seem to be anythin’ about the writin’
to indicate any other p-place. This was the p-place he was always at.
This was where Rock was, and the w-writin’ concerns Rock, you can bet on
that. What I got to do is f-find a cat that’s always lookin’ in one
d-direction, and then f-figger on from there.”

“Sure,” says I, “you just find me a cat that don’t never turn her head,
and I’ll dig up a bag of gold right under her feet. The cats I know
hain’t used to actin’ jest like that. Sometimes they move; anyways, they
wiggle their ears. And the cat ’u’d _starve_,” says I. “How could a cat
live that didn’t move around any?”

“Binney,” says he, slow-like, “if you had as m-many brains in your head
as you got _words_ you’d be a wonder,” and off he went, holding all
three of his chins up in the air, he was so disgusted.

“He’s a funny one, isn’t he?” says Rock, looking after him, “but I’ll
bet he’s more fun than any kid I ever saw.”

“You bet he is,” says I.

“What d’you s’pose he’s tryin’ to find?” says Rock. “It’s sure he
doesn’t expect to discover a _cat_ that always sits still and looks
right in one direction. He’s got too much sense for that.”

“Mostly,” says I, “you don’t get on to what Mark Tidd is up to until
he’s done it.”

“And then,” says Tallow, “sometimes you wisht you hadn’t. He’d rather
play a joke on somebody than do anything else in the world except think
up some business scheme. I’ll bet he gets rich some day. Yes, sir, I’ll
bet he gets richer than his pa.”

“Is his father rich?” says Rock.

“Got billions,” says Tallow, “and Mark got ’em for him, too. We helped
some, but Mark did most of it. Mark’s father is a inventor, and some men
stole his turbine, and we fellers got it back again.”

“Say,” says I, “let’s pester him a little to see what he’ll do—about
that cat, I mean.”

“Better not,” says Tallow.

“Go on,” says Plunk. “Maybe we can get the best of him for once. Tell
you what let’s do. Let’s make up a poem about a cat that don’t move, and
recite it to him. It’ll tease him to beat the band, because he hates
poetry.”

“Go ahead,” says I. “I hain’t no poet. It keeps me busy talkin’ ordinary
grammar.”

“Keeps you more ’n busy,” says Plunk. “If I talked as bad grammar as you
do I’d git special lessons off’n the teacher.”

“Huh!” says I. “I guess I make folks understand what I’m talkin’ about,
anyhow. Git at that poem.”

They sat still, thinking about it, and pretty soon Tallow says, “How’d
this do for a first line?

    “There was a boy and he was fat.
    He went and hunted for a cat.”

“Fine,” says I. “Go ahead.”

After a while Plunk scratched around in his head and dug up another
line:

    “It was a cat that didn’t stir,
    And probably it didn’t purr.”

“Rotten,” says I, “but what can you expect of sich a crowd?”

“See what _you_ can do, then,” says Plunk. “All right,” says I. “Listen
to this:

    “That was a funny kind of cat;
    The boy was talking through his hat.”

“Good stuff,” says Tallow. “Best yet. Be careful, Binney, or you’ll git
somethin’ printed if you don’t watch out.”

“Here he comes,” says Rock, and, sure enough, there was Mark coming
toward us slow, waddling like a duck just before Thanksgiving. He came
and sat down without saying a word, and anybody could see he was
discouraged. Why, discouragement just oozed out of him. We snickered.

“Say, Mark,” says I, “we been improvin’ our time while you was gone. We
made up a poem. Like to hear it?”

“Go ahead,” says he. “I guess I can s-s-stand ’most any thin’ to-day.”

“Here it is,” says I:

    “There was a boy and he was fat.
    He went and hunted for a cat.
    It was a cat that didn’t stir,
    And probably it didn’t purr.
    That was a funny kind of cat;
    The boy was talking through his hat.”

Mark didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes, and we knew we had
him. At last we had stung him good, and he couldn’t think of anything to
say. I was that tickled I reached over and poked Tallow in the ribs.

Mark looked at me sad-like, and then says: “I got a l-l-little to add to
that poem. How’s this?

    “He h-hunted for it all alone,
    Because the f-f-fellers’ heads was bone,
    And found a cat made out of _s-stone_!”

He almost yelled that last word, and looked so tickled and excited I
knew in a second that he had the best of us again.

“What’s that?” says I.

“Come and see,” says he, and up we got and followed him. He led us down
the yard a piece where we could see all those carved animals, and then
he took us around a clump of bushes and pointed down. There was a _cat_!
It was a stone cat.

“Guess she don’t move frequent, d-does she?” says he.

“For cat’s sake!” says Tallow.

Mark grinned. “You said it t-that time. ‘The boy was talkin’ through his
hat,’” he quoted from our poem. “Maybe he was—and maybe not. I was
lookin’ for somethin’ like this. Now, how about cats that don’t stir,
eh? Guess this cat looks the same way all the time. Don’t it?”

“Mark,” says I, “how did you ever think of it?”

“It _had_ to be this kind of a c-c-cat,” says he; “that was p-plain
enough.”

“Where she looks she walks,” says Plunk. “Let’s walk.”

“Nix,” says Mark. “Jethro might be l-l-lookin’. We want to foiler out
this thing on the quiet—and we’ll do it, you bet. We know where to start
from, and that’s the hardest part of it.” He turned to Rock, “I guess
we’re goin’ to haul you out of this scrape,” says he, “sooner or
later.... Now we got to git for h-home. I got work to do.”



CHAPTER XIV


“Listen,” says Mark Tidd that night.

“We’ve got to w-w-wake up and do some-thin’ with this newspaper.”

“Huh!” says I. “I thought we _had_ been doin’ somethin’. Dunne’s I ever
worked harder in my life.”

“Yes,” says he, “but what’s it g-gettin’ us? We’re p-payin’ our bills
and not r-runnin’ in debt, but that’s about all. No use havin’ a
b-business if you don’t make money out of it.”

“Go ahead,” says I. “I’m willin’ to make all there is.”

“I’m goin’ ahead,” says he. “I’m goin’ to start a scheme to get
s-subscribers. I want a t-thousand of ’em right off. Not jest f-folks
that buys the _Trumpet_ on the street, but that p-pays their money and
has it all the year. Like to git fifteen hunderd if I could.”

“Hain’t that many families in Wicksville,” says I, “and no family wants
more ’n one copy of a paper, even if you do edit it,” says I.

“There’s other towns,” says he. “We got the whole county to p-play with.
The Eagle Center _Clarion_ come over here and tried to t-t-take our town
away from us. Well, turn about’s fair play. Besides, there’s all the
farmers and settlements and what not.”

“If you say so,” says I, “it must be so.” I was a little mite sarcastic,
and he came right back at me quick.

“If I say so it’s so,” says he, “because I don’t jest let my t-t-tongue
waggle like you. I don’t gen’ally say somethin’ till I got somethin’ to
say, after I’ve f-figgered it out in my head. The t-trouble with you,
Binney, is you do most of your t-thinkin’ with your stummick.”

I didn’t think of anything to say back to him.

“And,” says he, “you don’t do enough thinkin’ with t-t-that to give you
a stummick-ache.”

“If you could think with your stummick,” says I, “you’d have some mighty
big thoughts,” which was so, him having one of the biggest stummicks in
town. He just grinned and said that was pretty good for me, and he had
hopes I might really say something smart some day if I practised hard.

“Let’s see,” says he; “there’s folks around solicitin’ subscriptions for
magazines. They must get p-p-paid somehow.”

“They do,” says I; “my aunt takes subscriptions, and she gits so much
for every one she takes. They call it a commission, or somethin’ like
that.”

“Wonder why we couldn’t work it ourselves,” says he. “Not reg’lar
agents,” says he, “but some scheme to git a l-l-lot of folks int’rested
in gittin’ subscribers for us. If we could git a woman’s missionary
s-s-society to goin’ on it, it would s-stir things up a lot. Them
wimmin, when they git set on anythin’, go after it all-fired hot.”

“How about the Ladies’ Lit’ry Circle,” says I, “and the Home Culture
Club?”

“Binney,” says he, “that’s an idee. L-lemme think. Um! ... Have to git
’em to w-w-workin’ ag’in’ each other somehow. Git ’em into a s-squabble
of some kind. That’d do it, sure. How m-many wimmin b’long to those
things?”

“There’s eighteen in the Circle,” says I, “because ma b’longs, and
they’re meetin’ at our house to-morrow. I know there’s eighteen, because
ma was figgerin’ how much she’d have to have to feed ’em. She says two
sandriches apiece would do for most clubs, but thirty-six never’d fill
up the wimmin in hern. She says she wished she could find somethin’
stylish to put into those sandriches that didn’t taste good. Then, she
says, she could brag about havin’ somethin’ special nice, and at the
same time nobody’d be able to make hogs of theirselves eatin’ it.”

“Have her t-t-try p-p-perfumed soap,” says Mark. “That’s swell, but
nobody’d g-gobble it much.”

“But,” says I, “I dunno how many’s in the Home Culture. I kin find out,
though.”

I did. There was an even twenty in it.

Well, Mark he sat down and pinched his cheek awhile, and then he took to
whittling, which showed plain he was going after it hard. He whittled up
nigh half a cord of wood before he got it all figgered out to suit him,
and then he says, “Binney, who’s boss of each of those clubs?”

“Mis’ Strubber’s president of the Circle,” says I, “and Mis’ Bobbin’s
president of the Home Culturers.”

“We’ll go s-s-see ’em,” says he. “We’ll give ’em all the lit’ry and all
the culture they kin use in a month of Sundays.”

So he dragged me off to Mrs. Strubber’s house. Mrs. Strubber is one of
them big women; not fat, you know, but _big_. I calc’late she’s more ’n
six feet high, and she could lift a barrel of sugar without turning a
hair. But she’s smart. Everybody says so, and she don’t deny it herself.
Most of the fellows are sort of scairt of her, but Mark didn’t seem to
be much afraid, for he marched right up to her door and rang the bell.

She came to the door, with her sleeves rolled up, wiping her hands on
her apron, and when I see how strong those arms looked I sort of edged
back so as to have the steps convenient if she didn’t act pleased to see
us.

“Well, boys?” says she in a voice perty near as big as she was.

“Mis’ S-s-strubber,” says Mark, “we’ve come to ask some advice from you.
Everybody says you’re the smartest woman in this t-t-town, so we
wouldn’t go to anybody else with an important t-thing like this.”

Well, you should have seen her grin. My! but she was tickled. “Come
right in,” says she. “I was jest in the middle of a batch of
fried-cakes, but I calc’late Milly kin finish ’em up. Like fresh
fried-cakes?” says she.

“Not g-gen’ally,” says Mark, “but I’ve heard a lot about yourn. Folks
says they melt in your mouth.”

“A-hum!” says Mrs. Strubber, perducing some of them fried-cakes. “You’re
a onusual p’lite young man, Mark Tidd. I wisht other boys would pattern
after you.”

“Yas’m,” says Mark, his mouth full of fried-cake.

“What kin I do for you?” says she. “Don’t hurry. Eat them cakes and
don’t try to talk till you’re done. You might strangle,” says she.

“Mis’ Strubber,” says Mark, “I’ve heard some argimint in Wicksville over
these t-t-two wimmin’s clubs—the Circle,” he says, “and the Home
Culturers.”

“A-hum!” says Mrs. Strubber, drawing herself up like a rooster looking
for trouble—not a banty rooster. No, sir, one of them great big Barred
Rocks.

“Yes,” he says, “there’s some t-talk, and I figger it ought to be
s-settled once for all. ’Course most folks agrees that _you’re_ the
smartest woman the’ is, but a few hain’t got sense enough to own up to
it. But quite a few f-folks is divided over which of the two clubs is
the brainiest, and which does the m-most good here, and all that. Now,
for me, there hain’t any doubt at all. But it ought to be s-s-settled,
and I f-figger the Wicksville _Trumpet_ ought to t-take a hand, it bein’
literature, kind of.”

“A-hum!” says she, scowling as black as a pail of axle grease.

“So,” says he, “I got to t-thinkin’ it over,” he says, “and it
l-l-looked like the public demanded that question should get settled
once for all. Now, if _you_ kin see your way clear to come in with me,
the _Trumpet_’ll announce a contest between the clubs, and the thing’ll
be decided forever. Not only,” says he, “as to b-brains, but as to
c-cookin’.”

“If them Home Culturers,” says Mrs. Strubber, “got the _nerve_,” she
says, “to come into a contest ag’in’ us, I guess we got the self-respect
to give ’em the come-down that’s due ’em.”

“Good,” says Mark. “I f-figgered you’d think that way.”

“What kind of a contest?” says she.

“Sev’ral kinds,” says he, “endin’ with a big display of all kinds of
cookin’, and two nights with big dinners, one to be served by each club.
There’ll be the argimint contest, and it’s always p-practical results
that shows there, hain’t it, Mis’ Strubber?”

“You bet it is,” says she.

“So,” says he, “I kind of reasoned out that we’d let results tell. Now,”
he says, “the kind of argimints that counts is _sellin’_ argimints. And
you got to sell somethin’ hard to sell, and everybody’s got to sell the
same thing.”

“Mark Tidd,” says she, “that’s a splendid idee.”

“I was wonderin’ what you could t-tackle,” says he. “It ought to be
somethin’ havin’ to do with b-brains.”

“Sure thing,” says she.

“Books, maybe,” says he. “Or maybe s-somethin’ that would be harder ’n
books.”

“My husband’s sister’s second daughter,” says she, “sells magazine
subscriptions. She says it’s the hardest thing there is—except newspaper
subscriptions. She tackled that, but she says it was too much for her.”

“Um!” says Mark. “I bet it wouldn’t be too hard for _you_.”

“A-hum!” says Mrs. Strubber. “I calc’late I could do it on a pinch.”

“Then,” says Mark, “let’s settle on that-sellin’ n-n-newspaper
subscriptions. But what p-paper can you git to let you? It’ll be p-perty
hard, won’t it?”

She thought quite a spell and guessed it would be. Then all of a sudden
she bust right out and clapped her hands together, “Why,” she says,
“you’re int’rested in this, and you got a paper. Couldn’t we git you to
let us use the _Trumpet_?”

Mark he sat back and frowned and sort of shook his head, but after a
minute he says, deliberate-like, “Well,” says he, “I guess I’d be
willin’ to do that for a cause of this kind. But,” says he, “it’s
concedin’ consid’able.”

“Oh,” says she, “thank you, Mark! It’s awful good of you to let us do
that. But what’s the rest of your scheme?”

“Why,” says he, “every year’s subscription you sell will mean ten votes,
and the side sellin’ the most will be showed to be the smartest arguers,
and the smartest arguers, everybody admits, is the smartest f-folks all
around. Then, at the end, there’ll be a dinner served by the Circle, and
one served by the Home Culturers, that nobody can go to but subscribers
to the _Trumpet_. That’ll help sell the s-s-subscriptions. The night
after the second dinner’ll be the cookin’ show, admission included when
you sell a s-subscription, and every subscriber’ll have one vote as to
which club’s wimmin is the b-best cooks. That’ll about shut up every
argimint as to which is the s-smartest and usefulest. ’Cause,” says he,
“the ones that win both them things will p-prove it so nobody kin say a
word.”

“Mark Tidd,” says she, “you’re a smart boy.”

“Like the idee?” says he, looking tickled to death.

“You bet,” says she. “How’ll we start it?”

“Why,” says he, “you have a m-meetin’ of your club and git up a
challenge to them Home Culturers, darin’ ’em to contest that way ag’in’
you. I’ll p-publish it in the _Trumpet_, and it bein’ public that way,
they won’t dast to refuse, and you’ll have ’em. See? And,” says he, “as
a example of p-public spirit,” he says, “the _Trumpet_ will give a
p-prize to the winners equal to t-t-ten per cent.,” he says, “of all the
subscriptions taken. It’ll be,” says he, “a set of books, real brainy
books, for the winnin’ club always to have in its l-l-library.”

“Mark,” says she, “you’re that generous!”

“Generous!” I thought to myself, for I knew mighty well Mark would be
tickled to pay near twice that much to git subscriptions.

“I’ll call that meetin’ for to-morrow,” says she, “and have the
challenge ready so’s you can publish it in the next paper.”

“Got a picture of you?” says he. “I’d like to p-print it the day the
challenge comes out.”

Well, the way she jerked one out of the plush album and gave it to him
would have made you scairt. She jest _tore_ it out of the page without
waiting to draw it out of the slits.

“Mark Tidd,” says she, “the club’ll give you a special vote of thanks
for this,” she says.

Mark he said something sugary to her and then we left, and he kept his
face straight till we got around the corner. Then he just leaned up
against a tree and shook like a plate of jelly. I don’t know as I ever
saw him laugh harder, and I laughed, too, though it wasn’t so funny to
me, for I was thinking what a slick way he had about him. My goodness!
I’d hate to have Mark Tidd want me to do something I didn’t want to,
because, before I knew it, he’d have me all through with it.

We went back to the office, where Plunk and Tallow were keeping shop,
and who should be there but the Man With the Black Gloves. Yes, sir, he
just went in ahead of us, and he was writing another advertisement to be
put in the paper. It went like this:

           Jethro: Same time. Same place. Important. G. G. G.

“Well,” says Mark, when he had gone out, “I guess we got to m-make
another t-trip to that bridge.”



CHAPTER XV


Next afternoon late Mrs. Strubber came in with a challenge to the Home
Culturers, all drawn up and ready to print. Mark had sent her picture
away to have a cut made, and as soon as the challenge came in we took it
right out to Tecumseh Androcles Spat to have him set it in type. He read
it over once, and then he read it over twice, and then he reached for
his coat.

“Where you g-g-goin’?” asks Mark.

“Far, far away,” says he, moving toward the door.

“What d’you m-mean?” says Mark.

“I’ve lost my taste for this employment,” says he. “The sweetness of the
job got worn off as soon as I read that paper. I’m a peaceful man, Mark
Tidd. I hain’t never carried no weapons, and I regard those that seek
for warfare and strife as not havin’ the necessary quantity of brains.
I’ll admit,” says he, “that I’ve participated in a couple of riots and a
few fights, but it wasn’t of my own free will and accord. Furthermore,
and you can take the word of Tecumseh Androcles Spat for it, the
newspaper business hain’t as safe as knittin’ socks, anyhow, but when
you start to call down trouble onto yourself, like this challenge will
call it down, then it’s time for a man who’s set up as many almanacs as
I have, and is steeped in wisdom, to go and enlist in a regiment bound
to fight Injuns.”

“Mr. Spat,” says Mark, “what in the world are you talkin’ about?”

“You’ll see,” says he. “Wait till them enraged wimmin start besiegin’
this office. Wait till they jam into the place bristlin’ with hatpins
and dignity. Wait till the full awfulness of what’s goin’ to happen
begins to occur, and then you’ll think of Tecumseh Androcles Spat and
regret you cast aside his wise words with scorn.”

“Shucks!” says Mark. “Those ladies will get us a wad of
s-s-subscriptions.”

“At what a cost!” says he.

“Tecumseh Androcles Spat,” says Mark, “be you goin’ to f-f-fail us when
we need you most, eh? Be you g-goin’ to desert us, carryin’ away the
wisdom and experience we can’t spare? Lemme ask you, how d-d-do you
s’pose we can git along without you to advise us? If t-t-trouble should
come,” says he, “who would git us out of it if you was g-g-gone?”

“Hum!” says Spat.

Mark winked at me.

“See what you’ve made of this p-p-paper already,” says he. “L-look what
you kin do before you’re through. D’you know how f-folks in this town
speak about you, Mr. Spat? D’you know you’ve been spoke of for the State
Legislature? And you’d go away and desert Wicksville and us on account
of a few wimmin that couldn’t hurt a-a-anythin’.”

“Mark Tidd,” says Spat, “it seems like I’m duty bound to stay, but mark
my words, which is words of experience, paid for with groans and misery,
you’re goin’ to wish you was locked into a cage with ravenin’ wildcats
and howlin’ hyenas before this contest is over. I’ll stay, but I’ll
suffer. I’ll stay to save you boys from the results of your rashness....
Now gimme back that challenge.”

He went back to work and set it up, and more stuff Mark had written
explaining all about the contest, and Mrs. Strubber’s picture was to be
printed right in the middle of all of it, with some glowing and
complimentary facts about her and her club. The whole thing was to be
printed on the first page of the _Trumpet_.

While this was going on Mark and the rest of us was pretty busy getting
all the news of the county fair that was going on, and the night before
the _Trumpet_ came out we had a heap of writing to do. It was my job to
write little items about folks and things that happened. Mark said he
wanted enough to fill a column, so I set to work, and it _was_ work, I
can tell you. I did more chawing of my pencil than writing, and it took
me about a dozen times as long to do it as it took Mark to write three
times as much. But I was pretty proud of what I’d done when I was
through with it. I figgered it would be about the most interesting part
of the paper, and it did come pretty close to being that. When I handed
it to Mark I says, “There, if that hain’t perty good newspaper writin’ I
hope I don’t ever git to eat another fried-cake.”

Mark read it over, and every once in a while he would look up at me and
chuckle, and then he says, “Binney, if you’d done this apurpose it would
be g-great.”

“I done it apurpose,” says I. “Think I done all that writin’ by
accident, like a feller would stub his toe and accidentally skin his
nose?”

“Um!” says he. “We’ll p-p-print it jest as it stands, and say, ‘By
Binney Jenks,’ at the top, so everybody’ll know you d-did it. That,”
says he, “may save the l-lives of some of the rest of us.”

“What you mean?” says I.

“I’ll r-read ’em to you,” says he. This was the first he read:

“‘Mr. Bud Drimple took first prize for the fattest pig at the fair.’”
Mark peeked at me out of his little eyes that was twinkling like
everything. “Maybe Bud Drimple _was_ the f-f-fattest pig there and ought
to have got the p-prize,” says he, “but he’ll hate to be t-told so.”

I didn’t say a word. Mark read another.

“‘Many folks asked Jacob Wester what he exhibited at the fair. He said
it was a cow.’” Mark giggled. “What did it look like, Binney, if so many
f-f-folks was uncertain about it? Did it resemble a l-locomotive or a
sewin’ m-machine?”

“Huh!” says I. “You think you’re smart.”

“No,” says he, “I t-think you be. Here’s another: ‘Mrs. Hob Sweet was
among those watching the prize Jersey cow. Many claimed she was the
finest piece of live stock on the grounds.’ ... Which, Binney, the
Jersey or Mis’ Sweet?”

“Anybody,” says I, “would know I meant the Jersey.”

“‘Jed Tingle,’” he read again, “‘who just got m-m-married to Myrtie
Wise, bought him a new horse-whip, for which he s-s-says he’s got
pressing need lately.’” Mark shook his head. “I dunno,” says he, “but we
might get sued in court for accusin’ a man of thrashin’ his wife.”

“I didn’t,” says I. “That wasn’t why he had pressin’ need of that whip;
it’s because, as everybody knows, he’s been stuck with a balky colt.”

“All right,” says Mark. “How about this? ‘Dave Ward made two purchases
at the fair. One was a pie baked by Mrs. John Baird, and sold at the
Methodist ladies’ booth. The other was a bottle of pain-killer.’”

“What’s wrong with that?” I says.

“N-nothin’,” says he. “It’s good sense. You’d know if you ever ate a pie
of hern. Dave was wise, but maybe Mis’ Baird won’t like bein’ twitted
with it.”

“Git out!” says I, beginning to feel uncomfortable. “You twist around
everything a feller says.”

“This,” says he, “is m-mighty descriptive. ‘Crowds stood around the
merry-go-round watching it go around and around.’”

I didn’t say a word. He was makin’ me mad.

There were a lot more of them, but I told Mark he needn’t bother to read
me any others. I had enough. The way _he_ read them made them sound
altogether different than I had meant them, but I guess he read what I
wrote, all right. Which goes to show that folks ought to be careful what
they write, and be sure they mean what they are saying. I’ll bet lots of
trouble gits started just that way. One fellow writes something that’s
all right, but says it careless, and the fellow that reads it thinks
something mean is said about him. Then, _bingo_!

Anyhow, Mark put them in the paper just as they were, and the paper came
out. You can believe me or not, just as you want to, but the next two or
three days I was pretty scarce around there, especially after Hob Sweet
dropped into the office with a horse-whip and inquired after me anxious,
like he was particular desirous of seeing me. I saw him coming and made
up my mind that some place else would be more comfortable, so, I skinned
out of the back door.

While I was making for a safe spot I almost bumped into Jed Tingle and
Mrs. Baird, who were standing on a corner, each one with a _Trumpet_
clutched in their hand, and talking mad as anything. I didn’t stop to
mention anything to them, but cut out around them so as not to disturb
them a mite.

Mark knew where I’d be and he sent Plunk out with a basket of grub and a
warning to keep away from home till it was bedtime, and then to sneak in
pretty average cautious, because, he said, there had been a procession
of folks calling at my house all day to look for me, and he judged my
father was some put out at being bothered that much.

Well, that blew over after a while. Folks sort of forgot it in the
excitement of the battle between the Literary Circle and the Home
Culturers. No sooner had that challenge got around than Mrs. Bobbin
rushed into the office with an answer to it and _her_ picture. And her
answer wasn’t what you’d call diplomatic. Well, Mrs. Strubber’s
challenge wasn’t as gentle as it might have been.

Mrs. Bobbin’s paper says:

    The members of the Home Culture Club has read the challenge put
    out by Mrs. Strubber and them other wirnmin that calls
    themselves the Literary Circle, and the idea of their being
    smarter than the Home Culturers made us all laugh till we was
    sick.

    We’re tickled to death to contest with them in any kind of a
    contest from washing dishes to building a house. If they can do
    a single thing that we can’t do a heap better, why, now’s the
    time to show us. We’re going into this thing, and when we’re
    through somebody in this town is going to be made to look mighty
    foolish—which is their natural way of looking.

There was more of it, but that’s enough to show how friendly it was and
what a pleasant and sociable little contest it was going to be.

But what Mrs. Bobbin said was singing a baby to sleep when you come to
compare it with what was said later and what was done later. The town
took sides, and there was more bitter feelings than there was before the
election when we voted on local option. Yes, sir, and more fight, too,
because every husband of a club-woman figured he had to let on he was
certain his wife was smartest and the best cook and the whole bag of
tricks, and some of them men didn’t have any arguments to offer except
what they could double up in their fists. Why, you could go down back of
the fire-hall and see a fight almost any time of day!

The contest was to run two weeks, ending up with those two dinners and
the exhibit of cooking, but before twenty-four hours was gone by it
looked like maybe there wouldn’t be enough folks left undamaged to be in
at the finish.

Folks didn’t dare stick their heads out of doors for fear of bumping
into a woman after their subscription to the _Trumpet_. They just dug in
like it was a matter of life and death. Mark watched it and grinned,
for, says he, if there’s a man, woman, child, cat, dog, or parrot in
Wicksville that hain’t a subscriber for our paper before this thing is
over, it’s because he’s up so high in a balloon that nobody can reach
him.

As for Tecumseh Androcles Spat, he worked with a baseball bat right
beside him, and the way to both doors barricaded with packing-boxes so
nobody could get to him. And when he went out he pulled up the collar of
his coat and he jerked his hat down over his eyes so nobody would
recognize him. He said, as far as he was concerned, he’d a heap rather
have a whole skin and no excitement than to be having all the fun in the
world, but obliged to see it out of a bed in the hospital.

Some of us had to be in the office all the time these days, and we drew
sticks to see who it would be every morning. I lost three days hand
running, so I didn’t get out to see Rock, nor out to the bridge when
Jethro and G. G. G. met there the night that was set. No, I just hung
around the office and took in subscriptions that the women brought in,
and gave them out receipts, and talked to them, and kept both sides
happy, like Mark told me to do. He said I was to do what I could to make
both parties sure they was winning, but not to give out any real facts
about how many subscribers was got. Which I did as good as I could.

Mark and Tallow went to the bridge, and it seemed from what G. G. G.
told Jethro that the man called Pekoe, who had brought Rock to
Wicksville, was doing something that hadn’t been expected of him, and
that G. G. G. was startled over it and wanted Jethro to take extra pains
to see that Pekoe didn’t get to see Rock. From what Mark and Tallow
could gather, this Pekoe was coming to see Rock, but they didn’t know
why—G. G. G. and Jethro didn’t.

“What he’s up to I don’t know,” G. G. G. told Jethro. “He don’t _know_
anything. He can’t _tell_ the boy anything. But something’s in the air.
You keep them apart.”

“You bet I will,” says Jethro.

When Mark and Tallow came back, Mark says, “F-fellers, keep your eyes
p-peeled for a strange man. We want to know it the m-minute this Pekoe
strikes Wicksville.”

So, not having anything else to do but run a paper, and dodge folks that
wanted to lick me, and help with the contest, and do the chores at home,
and play some, and a few other little things, I had to help keep my eye
open to find a man I’d never saw and didn’t have any idea what he looked
like. Mark was always reasonable about what he wanted you to do. He
never asked anybody to do more than _twict_ as much as it was humanly
possible for anybody to manage.



CHAPTER XVI


I’ll bet you’ve forgotten all about Spragg, the Eagle Center _Clarion_
man. If you have, you want to remember him again, for the time was
coming fast when he would be right on hand like a case of mumps. Not
that mumps are generally on hand. When I had them they reached from one
ear right around to the other, and Mark Tidd didn’t have half so much
face as I did.

Well, one day about the time the contest was getting nicely started up I
saw Spragg in town. He’d waited till things cooled down, and was there
at the hotel, nosing around just as if nothing had happened.

“Howdy-do, Mr. Spragg!” says I, with my face as sober as a judge. “Hope
you’re feelin’ well and gittin’ all the exercise you need.”

“I’m feelin’ well,” says he, “but I’m short of exercise. I’ll git it,
though, and don’t you lose sight of that. You kids think you’re pretty
smart, but my name’s spelled S-p-r-a-g-g, see?”

“No,” says I, not seeing at all. What did _that_ have to do with it, I
wondered; but, just for luck, I thought I’d josh him a little. “I
thought your name was spelled M-u-d. Looked like that awhile back.”

“Go on,” says he. “Keep heapin’ it up. Perty soon I’ll have enough
ag’in’ you boys to make it worth my while to git even. And when I set
out to git even I do it with a plane,” says he.

“Reg’lar carpenter, hain’t you? I didn’t know but a man with a name
spelled like yours would even things off with a butter-knife, or maybe a
nursin’-bottle.”

“You better move away from here,” says he, “before I lose my temper.”

“Huh!” says I, moving off where I’d have a good start if he came after
me. “Folks that loses their temper in Wicksville gen’ally gits all the
help they want findin’ it ag’in.”

“Go ahead,” says he; “get all the laugh you can out of it now. In
another day or two you’ll be laughin’ crossways of your mouth. What
would you smart newspaper kids say to a daily in Wicksville, eh? Reg’lar
city daily. Guess that would sort of put the lid on that old weekly of
yours, wouldn’t it? Spragg is my name. Begins with a capital S, remember
that.”

I wasn’t going to let on to him that what he said worried me, so I said
to him: “You’d have to be spryer ’n you be now to git out a daily. The
way you move around I guess a monthly’s about _your_ speed.”

He made a move after me and I scooted down the street to tell Mark. He
wasn’t in, though, and Tallow said he and Plunk had gone out to see Rock
at the farm.

“When he comes back,” says I, “he’ll have all the rock he wants, and it
looks to me like it would be rock bottom. We’re goin’ to be up against a
daily paper here.”

An hour after in comes Mark and Plunk.

“B-been studyin’ the yard there at Rock’s,” says he, “and I c-c-can’t
make head nor tail to that message of Mr. Wigglesworth’s. Found the cat,
all right, and w-w-walked where she l-looked. M-measured off a hunderd
and six feet, but there we come to n-ninety degrees in the shade.
Stumped us. Found the shade, all right, but it wasn’t ninety degrees.
Held a t-thermometer, and it wasn’t but sixty-seven.”

“It’s goin’ to be ninety degrees in the shade of this office,” says I.
“Spragg’s back and is goin’ to start a daily to run us out of business.”

“How d’you know?” says he.

“Spragg says so,” I told him.

“Hum!” says he. “I sort of d-doubt it. Spragg don’t look like he had
money enough or gumption enough.”

“Maybe somebody’s backin’ him,” says I.

“Might be,” says he. “Guess I b-b-better look into it.”

So he and I went out together, leaving Plunk and Tallow to mind the
office.

“A d-daily,” says he, “would have hard sleddin’ here. Don’t b’lieve it
would make a go. But while Spragg was t-tryin’ it he might hurt us a
lot. Two newspapers in a little town l-like this can’t m-make money.”

“Neither can one,” says I. “Anyhow we hain’t got rich. Might as well be
two as one, so far’s I can see.”

“The _Trumpet’s_ goin’ to pay,” says he, and he shut his jaw tight, like
he does when he’s made up his mind to do something or bust. “Spragg or
no Spragg, we’re goin’ to make a reg’lar paper of the _Trumpet_—and git
money out of it. Don’t go gittin’ limp in the s-s-spine,” he says.

It don’t take long in Wicksville to find out what’s going on, because
there isn’t much going on, anyhow, and as soon as something turns up and
one man hears of it, why, he can’t rest or eat till he’s run all over
peddling it to everybody he sees. And every man _he_ tells has to start
out the same way, so in a half-hour from the time a thing starts almost
everybody in town is out looking for somebody to tell it to. That’s what
makes it so hard to run a newspaper. Everybody knows everything he reads
in the paper as soon as the editor does. I guess about the only reason
folks subscribe to the _Trumpet_ at all is to see if their own name is
mentioned, or to say to somebody else: “Huh! There hain’t never no news
in this paper. I knew every doggone thing printed in it two days before
the paper come out.”

Well, that’s why it wasn’t hard for us to find out that Spragg really
was planning to start a daily paper in town, nor to figger out that he
didn’t have much money to start it with himself. He was trying to start
what he called a co-operative paper. Co-operative means that one man
gets a lot of other men to put their money into a thing with the idea
that they’ll all get some good out of it, whereas nobody gets anything
but the fellow that starts it.

Spragg’s notion was to put in a little money himself and to have the
merchants and business folks in town put in the rest. His argument was
that there was money in running a newspaper, and the money was made out
of the advertising. So, if the men that put in the advertisements and
paid money for them owned the newspaper themselves, why, they would just
be paying the money to themselves, and the subscribers would pay the
cost of getting out the paper. So the advertisers would be getting their
advertisements practically for nothing. It sounded dangerous to me.

I guess it worried Mark some, too, for if merchants could get their
advertising in a daily practically without costing them a cent, what
would they spend any money in the _Trumpet_ for?

Spragg was just talking the thing up, but he was talking a lot, and it
looked like he had the business men interested. Where Spragg came in was
that he was to be the editor and have a salary and a share of the
profits.

Mark went and sat down on my steps and began to whittle like he always
does when he’s got a puzzle on his mind. He whittled and whittled and
didn’t say a word for an hour. Then he looked at me out of his twinkling
little eyes that you could hardly see over his fat cheeks and says:

“I guess Spragg’s idee is to get these f-f-fellers all into the paper.
They’ll p-put their money in to start it, and p-perty soon they’ll see
that their advertisements hain’t free. Not by a big s-sight. And p-perty
soon they’ll get disgusted and along Spragg’ll come and buy their shares
of the paper dirt cheap. He f-f-figgers to come out at the other end
with a daily p-paper that didn’t cost him hardly anything. And then
he’ll be where he can m-make some money.”

“Yes,” says I, “because by that time, with all the stores not givin’ us
any advertisements, we’ll be busted.”

“That,” says he, “is how Spragg f-f-figgers it. But,” says he, “I figger
it some d-different.”

“How do you figger it?” says I.

“I f-f-figger,” says he, stuttering like a gas engine just starting up
on a cold morning, “that he hain’t ever g-goin’ to start any paper at
all, and that we’re goin’ to keep all the business we’ve got, and that
Mr. Spragg’ll wisht he never heard of Wicksville or of the _Trumpet_ or
of us.”

“Sounds good,” says I, “and I’ve seen you pull out of a lot of deep
holes, but this one looks to me like it would be too much for you. I
guess this time, Mark, you’re up against it hard.”

“Binney,” says he, “if Spragg b-beats us then you can p-paint a sign
sayin’ ‘idiot’ and pin it on my b-back, and I’ll wear it a month.”

You notice he said “us.” That was just like him always. He wasn’t what
you’d call modest, but he was square with us other fellows that didn’t
think as quick and as shrewd as he did. We all got the credit for what
was done if he could fix it that way. But I don’t believe many folks
were fooled by it. They knew Mark Tidd and they knew us.

“You can always catch f-f-folks with a scheme,” says he, “that makes ’em
think they’re gettin’ somethin’ for n-nothin’. But,” he says, “I hain’t
ever seen anybody git somethin’ without pay in’ about what it was
worth.”

“Yes,” says I, “if you coop a watermelon out of Deacon Burgess’s garden,
why, you pay for it by tearin’ your pants on his barb-wire fence, or by
gittin’ the stummick ache.”

“That’s about the idee,” says he.

“What you goin’ to do first?” I says.

“Haven’t f-figgered it out yet,” says he. Then he went to talking about
the contest.

“How many subscriptions have we got in?” says he.

“Lemme see,” says I, “this is the third day it’s been goin’ and
yesterday we had seventy. Tallow said we got in twenty-six this morning.
That makes ninety-six.”

“Huh!” says he. “They hain’t got warmed up yet. But we’ll get ’em good
perty soon. They’ll start comin’ strong.”

We walked down the street and in front of the post-office was a crowd
standing around a couple of men that was arguing so you could have heard
them in the next township. Mark and I ran over to see what was going on,
because newspaper men always ought to be right where things are
happening. We edged into the crowd and found out it was Mr. Strubber and
Mr. Bobbin, and they was quarreling about how smart their wives was.

“Huh!” says Strubber. “Your wife wouldn’t never have dared to git into a
contest with my wife if she hadn’t been forced. She was cornered and
dassen’t back down.”

“Strubber,” says Bobbin, “I hain’t denyin’ your wife has her p’ints.
There’s ways where she can beat my wife all holler. Why, when it comes
to takin’ the broom and chasin’ her husband around the house Mrs. Bobbin
wouldn’t even tackle the job at all. She knows without tryin’ that Mrs.
Strubber kin beat her good and plenty there.”

“You mean,” hollered Strubber, “that my wife chases me with a broom? You
dast say that? Why, you miserable little swiggle-legged, goggle-eyed,
slumgullion, Mrs. Strubber’s as gentle as a lamb! Yes, sir, she’s all
brain, that’s what she is. If you was to take Mrs. Strubber’s brain out
and lay it on top of that thing _your_ wife calls a brain, it ’u’d be
like coverin’ a pea with a bushel basket.”

“Sure!” says Bobbin. “It’s big all right, but you’re right when you
compare it to a bushel basket. It’s as thin and empty as any bushel
basket in Michigan.”

Strubber pretended to look at Bobbin careful, and then he laughed out
loud. “Folks tells me,” says he, “that you really eat the stuff Mrs.
Bobbin cooks.”

“You bet I do,” says Bobbin.

“Lookin’ at you,” says Strubber, “I’m prepared to admit it. Nothin’ else
would make you look that way. I always wondered what made you sich a
peeked, ornery, yaller-complected, funny-lookin’ little runt like you
be. You must ’a’ had a tough constitution when you got married, or you
wouldn’t never have survived all these years—if what you _be_ can be
called survivin’. As for me, I guess I’d rather not ’a’ survived at all
as to be what that cookin’ has made of you.”

“Huh!” says Bobbin. “I hain’t no tub of lard like _you_ be. What I git
is good wholesome food that makes muscles and brain. You get fed on
sloppy stuff to fatten you. You know what we feed hogs, don’t you, eh?
Gather it up out of pails at folks’ back doors. It fats up the hogs,
too. Well, Mrs. Strubber, she uses that same method on you.”

“Be you comparin’ my wife’s cookin’ to _swill_?” yelled Strubber,
wabbling all over like a bowl of jelly he was that mad.

“Not comparin’,” says Bobbin. “And what goes for Mrs. Strubber goes for
all the rest of them Lit’ry Circle wimmin.”

“Eh? What’s that?” bellowed another man from the crowd. “I want you
should know _my_ wife b’longs to that Lit’ry Circle, and the finest
wimmin in town does. Wimmin b’longs to that that would be ashamed to be
one of them Home Culturers. Why, nobody b’longs to the Home Culturers
but folks the Lit’ry Circle wimmin wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with.”

“Is that _so_?” another fellow shouted, and began working close to the
row. “My wife’s a Home Culturer, and if you think I’ll stand by to let a
spindle-shanked, knock-kneed, bald-headed, squint-eyed wampus like you
say sich things, why, you’re mighty badly mistook. Listen here. ’Tain’t
doin’ no good to stand here fightin’ about our wives. There’s a contest
on to see which ones is the best. I don’t need no contest to tell _me_.
But us men better shut up and let the contest go ahead. Then you Lit’ry
Circle fellers will have to hunt your holes. Why, doggone you, them Home
Culturers will git two subscriptions to your one. Hear _me_. And when it
comes to cookin’ and gittin’ up a meal of vittles—well, jest wait,
that’s all I got to say.”

He turned around and began to push out of the crowd, and so did the
other men. I guess they judged they was gettin’ perty close to a fight,
and that jest talking wouldn’t answer the purpose much longer. I notice
that men is willing to stand and rave and tear and talk jest so long as
it hain’t likely to go any farther. But the minute things begins to look
like business, and spectators is all keyed up to see a fight, why, the
talking stops and the folks that started it all begins to disappear
fast. Mostly a man that talks won’t fight, and a man that fights keeps
his mouth tight shut.

Mark and I went along toward the office.

“L-l-looks to me,” says he, grinning like all git out, “as if f-folks
was beginnin’ to git a bit het up over the contest.”

“Yes,” says I. “I hope both sides don’t turn to and get het up at us. If
they do,” says I, “the South Pole is about the only place we’ll be safe,
and maybe not there.”

“I don’t care,” says he, “as long as it gits us s-s-subscriptions.”

Which was just exactly like him. Results was what counted.



CHAPTER XVII


Next morning Mark and Plunk and I went out to the Wigglesworth farm to
see Rock. We walked right into the yard like we always do, now that
Jethro thinks we’re working for him, but Rock wasn’t in sight. Jethro
was, though. He was fussing around the side yard and we walked over to
where he was.

“Howdy, Jethro!” says Mark, and Jethro turned his face toward us. He had
one of the biggest and best black eyes I ever saw. It was a regular
socdolager of a black eye—one of the kind that runs way down on your
cheek and that starts to wiggling and twitching every once in a while
like a blob of jelly.

“Howdy!” says Jethro, short-like.

“Run into somethin’?” says I.

“Yes,” says he, and felt of his eye.

“I run into one of them things once,” says Plunk, who talks sometimes
when he ought to keep his mouth shut. “There was a boy on the other end
of it, and he was mad at me.”

“There wasn’t no boy on the other end of this,” says Jethro.

“Where’s Rock?” says Mark.

“Around the house somewheres,” says Jethro. “Yell and he’ll come.”

So we left Jethro and went around back of the house and yelled for Rock.
In a minute he came, and you could see right off that he was either sick
or something. He wasn’t exactly pale, but he looked like he’d like to be
pale. His eyes was kind of big and hollow like he hadn’t slept much.

“Never was so glad to see anybody in my life,” says he, and he said it
like he meant it.

“How d-d-did Jethro git his b-black eye?” says Mark.

“I don’t know,” says Rock, and he shivered a little. “Something has been
happening. I don’t know what. I’m scared, and I’m not ashamed to own it
up. Last night, just after I went to bed, somebody came to the door.
After that I heard voices down-stairs, and then a whopping racket like
somebody was smashing the furniture. Then there was a noise like a man
was dragging a bag of flour up-stairs—way up into the third story. I
didn’t dare sneak out to see what it was, but I couldn’t get to sleep.
In about an hour I heard something moving around over my head somewhere.
And then somebody began to thump on a door and yell, ‘Hey, there. Lemme
out of here. Lemme out of here.’”

“Yes,” says Mark, eager-like.

“Then Jethro went banging up-stairs and there was a lot of yelling and
banging, and then Jethro came down again. Since then I’ve heard somebody
moving around up there. Every once in a while, whoever it is, takes a
crack at the door and yells a little.”

“Um!” says Mark. “T-that’s what Jethro run into, Plunk. It was a
f-feller’s fist, which is what causes most black eyes. I’ve heard of
folks gittin’ ’em by f-fallin’ out of bed, and by runnin’ into a
d-d-door in the dark, and by havin’ a bird fly into their face, and by
stoopin’ over quick and buttin’ their own knee. I’ve heard of all those
ways, but when you come to git the f-f-facts, most gen’ally you find out
it was a fist they run into. I f-figgered it was that way with Jethro,
and I guess I kin n-name the fist.”

“Go on,” says Plunk.

“It b’longed to a f-feller named Pekoe,” says Mark.

“_Pekoe!_” says Rock.

“That’s the f-feller.”

“He’s the man that brought me here,” says Rock.

“Jest so,” says Mark.

“What is he back for? And why did Jethro shut him up?” says Rock.

“That,” says Mark, “is what it’s our b-b-business to find out.”

“Easy,” says I. “Jest go up to his door and ask.”

“Sure,” says Plunk. “Jethro’s out in the yard.”

“M-maybe,” says Mark, with a sort of grin, “we might try.”

We went to the back door and started in, but just as, we opened the door
Jethro came into the kitchen and looked at us, standing between us and
the door toward the front of the house.

“Better play outdoors to-day,” says he. “I’m goin’ to clean house, and I
don’t want you kids underfoot.”

So out we went.

“Hum!” says Mark. “Jethro’s out in the yard. Easy to g-g-git to see this
Pekoe. Easy l-like turnin’ three summersets in the air without a
spring-board.”

“I guess he don’t want us messin’ around,” says I.

“Didn’t judge he would,” says Mark, “so it must be there’s s-somethin’
to find out. As soon as you see a f-f-feller tryin’ to keep somethin’
away from you, why, you want to git to work to find out what it is.
’Cause, m-m-most gen’ally it’s somethin’ you’ll be glad to know.”

“What room was he shut up in?” says I.

“Somewhere on the third floor,” says Rock. “It sounded almost over my
head.”

“Where’s your room?” says Mark.

“Other side of the house,” says Rock. “I’ll show you.”

“Not too s-s-sudden,” says Mark. “We don’t want to let on to Jethro
we’re up to anythin’, or suspect anythin’. Let’s go to the other side of
the house and p-play around awhile first.”

So we did. We played tag, which wasn’t much of a game for Mark Tidd,
though he moved a lot faster than you’d have thought. But when he ran he
looked like it was going to bust him all to pieces, and the sight of it
generally made you laugh so you couldn’t run yourself. That kind of
evened things up.

After a while Mark says, “N-now, Rock, you run like the d-dickens,
around the other side of the house, with Binney chasin’ you. Go over by
that l-little grape-arbor where we used to m-meet you, and then l-lay
down like you was tired out. We’ll come along behind.”

Rock and I tore off, with Plunk and Mark coming along behind, and all
lay down like we were tired right in front of the arbor.

“Don’t l-look at the house,” says Mark. “Probably Jethro’s watchin’.”

“There’s your cat,” I says to Mark, pointing over where his stone cat
was.

“Huh!” says he. “N-n-ninety degrees in the shade. There’s where you quit
walkin’ where she l-looks,” says he. “Right under that tree there.”

The tree was back toward the rear of the house, but out quite a ways
from it. We all looked at it.

“I can’t make out,” says Mark, “what the weather has to do with it. Hot
or cold, it gits me.”

“Ninety degrees in the shade is pretty hot,” says Plunk.

“Maybe,” says I, “it hain’t got anything to do with how hot it is. Maybe
he wrote it that way just to fool folks and make it harder to know what
he was tryin’ to tell.”

Mark he looked at me a minute like he was mad. Then he reached over and
banged me on the back, and says: “Binney, I sh’u’dn’t be s’prised if you
amounted to s-somethin’ some day. Weather was what Mr. Wigglesworth
wanted f-folks to think of that happened to see the writin’. So,” says
he, “it wasn’t weather he meant at all. I was a noodle not to think of
that. Um! ... Ninety degrees. What’s ninety degrees except weather?”

I didn’t think of anything, and nobody else did, either. We thought
quite a while, and then Mark slapped his fat leg’ and started to shake
all over with one of them still laughs of his. “Why, you boobs,” says
he, “ninety degrees is m-measurin’! That’s it. You know a circle? Well,
there’s three hunderd and sixty degrees around one. In ’rithmetic or
somethin’ they divide up a circle l-like a clock, only, instead of
havin’ minutes marked off, they have degrees. Ninety degrees.... Um! ...
That’s a quarter of the way around a circle. If you walk to the middle
of a circle, and then turn off to the place on the circle that’s ninety
degrees from the place where you first stepped on the circle, why, it’s
a right angle. See?”

“No,” says I, “my eddication hain’t got that far.”

He drew it out on the ground, and then it was as plain as plain could
be.

“You walk where the c-c-cat looks,” says he, excited and stuttering like
the mischief. “When you’ve walked as far as the writin’ says—a hunderd
and t-ten feet, wasn’t it?—you turn off at a right angle, and there you
are.”

“Which way d’you turn?” says I.

That stopped him a minute, but he recited over Mr. Wigglesworth’s
writing: “‘Where p-pussy looks she walks. Thirty and twenty and ten and
forty-six. N-ninety degrees in the shade. In. Down. What color is a
b-brick? Investigate. B’lieve what t-tells the truth.’”

“Yes,” says I.

“What comes after ninety degrees in the shade?” says he.

“‘In,’” says I.

“In what?” says he.

“I dunno,” says I.

“Well,” says he, “use your b-brains. If you turn to the left what is
there to go in?”

“Nothin’,” says I, looking over that way.

“If you turn to the right, what is there to g-g-goin?”

“Why,” says I, “the house is that way.”

“Well,” says he, “then I guess you t-turn to the right, don’t you? If
directions tell you to go in, and there hain’t anythin’ to _go_ into,
why, then, you’re turnin’ wrong. Whatever it is we’re l-lookin’ for is
in the house.”

“Looks that way,” says I.

“What doors are on the back of the house?” says Mark to Rock.

“Kitchen door, and a door that goes down cellar,” says Rock.

“The cellar d-d-door’s the one,” says Mark, “because the next word in
the writin’ is ‘Down.’ You got to go in and down, which m-m-means you go
in the cellar door and down cellar. We’re gettin’ it, Rock. I knew we
would if we stuck to it long enough. Now we’ve got to get into that
cellar. Can’t f-f-figger out the rest of that writin’ till we do.”

“If you say so,” says I, “I guess it must be so.” Maybe I was a little
sarcastic, but he didn’t pay any attention to me; he was too interested.
That’s the way with him. When he gets his mind settled down to thinking
about a thing, you could shoot him out of a cannon and he wouldn’t pay
any attention to it. Concentrate is what Tecumseh Androcles Spat calls
it. He says Mark is one of the greatest concentrators he ever saw.

Pretty soon he sort of waggled his head as if he was shaking a fly off
his nose, and says, “Well, we can’t do any m-more about that to-day.
Besides, we’ve got this Pekoe on our hands. Rock, turn around gradual,
like there wasn’t any reason for it, and tell me how many windows from
the back yours is.”

“It’s the fourth, on the second floor,” says Rock.

“All right. Now which s-s-side of you did that noise come from, or was
it r-right straight on top?”

“Sounded like it was almost over my head. It may have been to one side.
I was pretty excited, you know. Come to think about it, it might have
been a _little_ toward the front of the house.”

Mark got up slow and went into the grape-arbor. When he got inside we
saw him turn around, back in the shadows where nobody could see him from
the house, and look careful up toward the windows on the third floor.

He wasn’t gone but a minute. Then he came waddling out and says: “He’s
in a room with the blinds shut. Fifth window from the back. Blinds
closes t-t-tight. That’s what makes me think he’s there. Maybe they’re
n-nailed.”

I sneaked a look, and sure enough, the window he was talking about did
have its blinds closed. That made it hard for anybody inside to see out,
and impossible for anybody outside to see in, or to make any signals or
anything.

“Fine chance,” says I, “of getting at anybody up there. There ain’t a
ladder in town that’ll reach him.”

“There’s things b-besides ladders,” says Mark. “Say, Binney, if you was
s-shut in a room, and something came and rapped on your window like
this, _rap-rap-rap_, then _rap-rap-rap_, what would you think?”

“I’d think somebody was doin’ it to make me take notice,” says I.

“That’s what this Pekoe would t-t-think,” says Mark.

“But,” says I, “you can’t reach him. If you tried it with a long pole
Jethro’d catch you at it.”

“Yes,” says Plunk, “and if you tried it by throwing stones, he’d catch
you at that too.”

“Maybe,” says Mark. “But I got a d-d-dodge that’ll work, maybe, and
Jethro won’t see it, either. Let’s all git into the arbor where we can’t
be seen.”

We went in and Mark asked if Plunk and I had our sling-shots. We had,
because we always had them along. You can never tell when you may need a
sling-shot in your business.

“Now,” says Mark, “here’s the notion. We shoot at Pekoe’s window. I
shoot, then Plunk, then Binney. One, two, three. L-l-like that. Then
stop a m-minute, and do it right over—one, two, three. See? Jethro won’t
be able to _see that_,” says he.

“Go ahead,” says I, getting a good stone in the leather, and another in
my hand to be ready for the second volley.

Mark shot, then Plunk, then me. _Pat-pat-pat_, the three stones sounded.
Then we did it again. _Pat-pat-pat_. After that we waited with our eyes
glued to the window, and our ears, too. Pretty soon we heard a noise
like glass breaking, and then Pekoe, if it _was_ Pekoe, began pushing
and banging at the blinds.

“Hope he don’t make too m-m-much noise,” says Mark.

It seemed like he couldn’t open the blinds, so they must have been
nailed or fastened somehow, and they were strong, heavy blinds, but he
could work the shutters up and down so as to get a better look outside,
and we could see his fingers reaching through. We knew he must have his
eyes right there, looking, so Mark went to the door of the arbor and
stood there quiet. Pekoe couldn’t miss seeing him any more than he could
miss seeing the new post-office in town if he was standing right in
front of it. That’s one good thing about being fat—it’s easy for folks
to see you when you want them to. But, on the other hand, it’s hard to
hide from folks you want to keep away from.

Mark looked at the house careful, but Jethro wasn’t in sight.

“Rock,” he says, “you and Plunk go to the kitchen and yell to Jethro
that you’re hungry. If he comes, one of you back over to that kitchen
window there and waggle your hand behind you.”

Off they went, and pretty soon Plunk showed up in front of the window
and waggled his hand. So we knew Jethro was in there where he couldn’t
see. Then, quick as a wink, Mark looked up at the window and waggled
_his_ hand. The man inside saw it, because he shoved as much of his hand
through the shutters as he could, and wiggled it as hard as he could
wiggle. Mark nodded his head.

Plunk was still standing in the kitchen window, so we knew Jethro was
there yet. Mark gave a look, and then started making letters with his
fingers. You know that sort of deaf and dumb alphabet that every boy in
the United States can use if he wants to—mostly behind his geography in
school. Well, that’s what Mark was doing now. He was trying to talk to
Pekoe.

“Is your name Pekoe?” he spelled out as slow as time. Then he spelled
out, “If you can read what I say wiggle one finger.”

Just one finger came through the blinds and wiggled.

“Are you a friend of Rock’s? If you are show two fingers,” Mark
signaled.

Two fingers came into sight.

“If you know who he is, and why he’s kept here, show two fingers again.
If you don’t know, show one finger.”

Just one finger came through.

“I wonder what he’s g-g-got to do with it, then,” says Mark to me.

And then Plunk and Rock and Jethro all came around the corner of the
house, and Mark didn’t dare make another move. We didn’t stay long after
that, because we had a lot of work at the _Trumpet_ office, so we went
along. But we promised Rock we’d be back next day, some of us, and for
him to lay low and not to try monkeying with Pekoe unless he got a good
chance and was sure Jethro wasn’t around.

While we were walking home Mark says, “P-p-perty good day’s work. Got
the worst part of Mr. Wigglesworth’s writing f-f-figgered out, and had a
l-little chat with Pekoe.”

“There’s some bridges to cross yet,” says I.

“Yes,” says he, “but we’ll cross ’em. You _bet_.”



CHAPTER XVIII


My, how those Home Culturers and Literary Circlers did work to get
subscriptions for us. I never would have believed it, and how any of
them had time to cook their husbands’ meals, or wash their kids’ faces,
I don’t see. Probably they didn’t, for little things like keeping house
wouldn’t matter when there was a contest on to see who had the most
brains.

Old Grandma Smedley claimed both clubs didn’t have any brains or they
wouldn’t be fussing with such things. “I calc’late,” says she, “that I’m
the only woman in town that’s got even common sense. If a woman wants
dumb foolishness in the family she don’t have to do it herself. Her
husband’s always ready.” But what she said didn’t matter; the contest
went on just the same.

The rules of the contest were that the money had to be paid right in
with a subscription before it counted, and the first thing Mark and us
fellows knew we had quite some considerable of a bank account. You get
forty-odd women hustling for subscriptions at a dollar and a quarter
apiece, and it don’t take long to have the money mount up.

While the subscriptions were coming in we didn’t forget the advertising,
you can bet. Mark figured out arguments for us to shoot at the
merchants, and they worked pretty good. Every week we carried more
advertising than we ever had before, just because we had convinced
business men how interested everybody was in the _Trumpet_ just now
while the contest was going on, and how everybody was reading it. The
business men could see that for themselves, because _they_ were reading
it, and their wives were reading it.

“Let’s see,” says Mark, “how much we _m-might_ make a year out of this
paper if this contest b-brought our subscription list up to f-fifteen
hunderd. The subscriptions would amount to eighteen hunderd and
seventy-f-five dollars. Then our regular advertisin’ that we could
f-figger on here in Wicksville and the county’ll fetch about
seventy-five dollars a week, or even up to a hunderd, if we’re real
lucky. As soon as we git enough s-subscribers I’m goin’ after some
out-of-town adver-tisin’. I see a lot of it in good country p-papers.
We’ll git some of that, and our job work amounts to quite a bit the way
it’s been comin’ in. Looks to me like we ought to make this p-paper show
a profit of, anyhow, two thousand d-dollars a year, and maybe more.”

“Countin’ chickens before they’re hatched,” says I.

“We’re hatchin’ ’em fast,” says he.

“Spragg may bust up the nest,” says I, “and drive off the settin’ hen.”

“Spragg hain’t got real d-dangerous _yet”_ says he, “but we’ll have to
pay him some attention perty quick.”

“Seems like we ought to get somethin’ more to do to take up our time,”
says I. “We hain’t busy enough. Nothin’ to do but run a contest that’s
close to bein’ a civil war, and git adver-tisin’ and write the news and
_git_ the news, and scare up advertisements, and tend to Spragg, and
monkey around with Rock’s mix-up. If, maybe, we could buy a three-ring
circus and be all the acts, includin’ the menagerie, and then have
school start up to give us somethin’ to do daytimes, I guess we’d keep
from gettin’ lonesome.”

Mark grinned, and says he was going to get somebody to help Tecumseh
Androcles in the shop, but how that helped _us_ I didn’t see.

Well, as I was saying, those women combed the town and country for
subscriptions, until it got so that anybody who hadn’t subscribed for
the _Trumpet_ was as popular as a little girl coming to school with a
box of candy. All you had to do was to stand in front of the post-office
and mention that you hadn’t subscribed for the paper yet, and right off
you’d be asked by one woman to go driving with her, and by another to
come to dinner, and by another if you wouldn’t like a batch of her
raised biscuits. I dunno what a feller could have got out of not having
subscribed yet if he held out long enough, but I guess most of ’em got
their money’s worth. For when you get a paper for a year, and two or
three invitations to dinner, and buggy rides, and auto rides, and fresh
pies sent over, and all that sort of thing, why, it would be a mean man
that wasn’t satisfied.

Mark sat down at his desk and started writing letters. I guess he wrote
a dozen and put them in the envelopes and stamped them.

“Who’s goin’ to git all the mail?” I says.

“Diff’rent folks,” says Mark, the way he always speaks when he intends
to keep something to himself. “I’m just writin’ around to git a
l-l-little information.”

“Thought you had all there was,” says I.

“Keep cool, Binney,” says he. “Your strong point hain’t sarcasm. Let’s
go out to see Rock.”

We two went out and we expected maybe Rock would have something exciting
to tell us, but he didn’t. It seems like nothing at all had happened. He
hadn’t seen a thing of Pekoe, and hadn’t heard him much.

“Funny,” says Mark, “that you don’t know anything about this Pekoe,
Rock, when it was him that b-brought you here.”

“Not when you know how I’ve always lived,” says Rock. “Why, I haven’t
seen my father since I was a baby! I don’t even remember what he looks
like. He wrote me once in a while, but his letters didn’t tell much.
About all there was in them was that he would come home some day.”

“You don’t suppose this Pekoe is him, do you?”

“I _know_ he isn’t,” said Rock, as positive as could be.

“But your father sent him,” says I.

“He didn’t say,” says Rock.

“What made you g-go off with him, then?”

“There wasn’t anything else to do.”

Well, we were stumped right there. It was a sure thing that this Pekoe
knew something we ought to know, but it looked like he might as well be
in China as where he was, for all the good it did us. It made Mark Tidd
mad.

“We’re goin’ to t-t-talk to Pekoe,” says he, “and we’re goin’ to do it
right off.”

“I’m willin’,” says I, “but I hain’t got any wings to fly up to his
window.”

“And Jethro might not like to see a boy flying around the yard like a
bird, anyhow,” said Rock, making the first thing that sounded like a
joke that I ever heard him try. It wasn’t much of a joke when you come
to think of it, but it was encouraging.

“I wish Plunk and Tallow was here,” says Mark.

“I’ll git ’em,” says I, and off I went, running as hard as I could. It
didn’t take long to grab onto the fellows and hustle back. When we got
there Mark and Rock had their heads together like they were making up a
scheme.

“Plunk,” says Mark, “you and Tallow are g-g-goin’ to have a fight. A
noisy fight. You got to slam-bang into each other like all git out.”

“G’wan!” says Tallow.

“He knows I kin lick him,” says Plunk.

“If Mark Tidd wants any fightin’ done he kin do it himself,” says
Tallow.

Mark didn’t say anything till Tallow was through spluttering. Then he
says: “Jest wait a m-minute till I tell you about it. I’ve got to talk
to this Pekoe. It hain’t any easy job to do it, and it won’t be possible
if you don’t help. That’s where the f-f-fight comes in. I want you to go
back by the barn and start a reg’lar rip-snortin’ rumpus that can be
heard to Jericho. It’ll attract Jethro right out of the house to see
what’s goin’ on. While he’s gone Binney and I will sneak up-stairs.
Rock’ll keep w-w-watch at the foot of the third-floor and make a noise
to warn us if Jethro’s comin’. See? You hain’t goin’ to back down on me,
be you?”

“No,” says Tallow, “but I wisht you’d find somethin’ for me to do where
I wouldn’t get all mussed up. Plunk gets too doggone int’rested when he
goes to fightin’. Seems like he don’t know the difference between
foolin’ and bein’ in earnest.”

“So much the better,” says Mark. “It’ll look real to Jethro.”

“It’ll look real to Plunk,” says Tallow, short-like, but Plunk just
grinned. He sort of liked fights.

Tallow and Plunk went off to the other side of the house like Mark told
them. I wished I could have watched the row, because I’ll bet it would
have been a bully scrap. The way the fellows looked when we saw them
again made me sure of it. Both of ’em looked as if they’d been in a
boiler explosion that had blown them into the middle of a cyclone mixed
up with an earthquake. It was just my luck.

Mark and Rock and I waited till we heard Plunk shout as loud as he
could, “You did say it, too. I heard you. What you mean talkin’ about me
like that?”

Tallow yelled right back at him, “I calc’late I kin say what I want to,
and if you don’t like it you can lump it.”

“I’ve a notion,” says Plunk, “to hit you so hard your head’ll bust like
a bad egg.”

“Hit ahead,” says Tallow. “I dare you to. You dassent. You couldn’t bust
an egg any-how—not if you _jumped_ on it. Looky here. Here’s a chip on
my shoulder. You dassent knock it off. Jest touch it with your finger,
that’s all. Jest brush it off, if you’re lookin’ to go to the hospital.”

“I’ll knock it off,” says Plunk. “You bet I will. Have I got to chase
you all over the yard to do it? Huh! Jest gimme one _lick_ at you, and
that’ll be all—just one good lick.... There goes your old chip.”

_Spang!_ Tallow swatted at him, and in a second they were at it. Usually
when a fellow gets to fighting in earnest he’s too busy with his fists
to have much time for hollering, but the way Tallow and Plunk yelled and
dared each other was a caution. I don’t see how they managed it.

“Good kids,” says Mark. “L-l-listen to ’em. That ought to fetch Jethro.”

It did. In a minute out came Jethro to see what the racket was about,
and as soon as he came, the three of us slid in the side door. You bet
we were pretty spry about it. Rock knew the way, and he hustled some. We
stuck right to his heels. We almost jumped to the top of the first
flight of stairs, and would have jumped the next but our wind was
getting short. Rock stopped at the bottom of that flight.

“Cough,” says Mark, “if Jethro comes this way.”

“All right,” panted Rock, and up we went.

All the doors on that floor were shut, but we knew Pekoe’s door must be
on the left side of the hall and three or four doors from the back of
the house. Mark tried the fourth door, rapping on it three times soft,
and then three times again.

“Who’s there?” says a voice.

“Are you Mr. Pekoe?” says Mark.

“Yes. Who are you?”

“Friends of Rock’s. We haven’t much time. Got Jethro out of the w-w-way
for a minute and sneaked up. We’re helpin’ Rock. There’s some kind of a
mystery about him, and we’re solvin’ it. We got to know what _you_
know.”

“Don’t go too fast, young feller,” says Pekoe. “I don’t know you yet,
and I hain’t talkin’ to anybody that inquires. Maybe you was sent by the
feller that shut me up here.”

“We weren’t. Rock’s with us. He’s standin’ at the f-f-foot of the
stairs, watchin’. It was us that s-s-shot at your window yesterday, and
it was me that t-t-talked deaf and dumb with you.”

“Oh,” says Pekoe. “What do you want to know? Why don’t you let me out
first?”

“We can’t,” says Mark. “Why don’t you get out?”

“I’m no sparrow,” says Pekoe. “It’s three stories down and them blinds
is nailed. I can’t bust open the door. That Jethro didn’t leave a thing
in the room I could use to bust it down. There hain’t a chair or a bed
in here. Nothin’ but a mattress and some quilts. What kin a feller do
with them?”

“Not much,” says Mark. “And we can’t do anythin’ now. But we’ll git you
out. Rock’s the m-m-main consideration now. You f-fetched him here?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I got a letter from his father tellin’ me to git him at the school he
was at and fetch him here.”

“Why?”

“’Cause his father was down with some kind of sickness in Central
America and figgered he was goin’ to die. The letter was two months old
when I got it. It jest said he was goin’ to die, and to get his son and
take him to Henry Wigglesworth in Wicksville.”

“What made his father send you?” Mark says.

“Because him and me was pals in lots of places, and because he knew he
could trust me to do what he asked. We been in a lot of pinches
together.”

“Why was you to t-t-take Rock to Mr. Wigglesworth?”

“I dunno. Big Rock never told me.”

“Is Rock’s father’s n-n-name Rock, too?”

“Yes.”

“What else?”

“Rock Armitage,” says Pekoe.

“Huh!” says Mark in a sort of disappointed tone. Then in a second he
says: “What made you come back again? And how did the Man With the Black
Gloves know you was comin’ so as to l-l-lay for you?”

“I come back because—”

Just then Rock began to cough like the mischief, and we dassent stop,
but rushed right to the stairs. Rock looked up and motioned us back, and
we could hear Jethro coming up the stairs from the ground floor. Rock
hadn’t signaled us quick enough so we could get down, and there we were,
caught on the top floor of that house without any chance I could see but
what we’d be caught by Jethro, and then there’d be a fine mess of fish.

But Mark he never stopped to think. He just grabbed my arm and hauled me
back along the hall. We stopped back from the stairs and heard Jethro
ask Rock what he was doing there, and Rock said he was just going to his
room for something. And then Jethro started up to the third floor.

Well, if he got to the top of those stairs he’d see us, for there wasn’t
anything to hide us. Mark reached out quick and tried a door. It wasn’t
locked, thank goodness, and he jerked it open and in we popped. It was a
stairway leading up to the attic or something, and you’d better believe
we went up some fast and considerable quiet.

“Huh!” I whispered when we were up there. “We’re in a lovely boat now.
Four stories up.”

“I dunno,” says Mark. “It might be worse.”

“Yes,” says I, “we might be up _eight_ stories.”

“Anyhow,” says he, “we’re in the h-h-house.”

“Yes,” says I, “and like to stay in it.”



CHAPTER XIX


We found out we were in a big attic that covered the whole of the house.
Part of it was floored over and part of it was just joists with the lath
and plaster showing on the under side. It looked as if there was about
an acre in it, and it was full of angles and brick chimneys and little,
funny-shaped windows, and rubbish, and trunks and goodness knows
what—except things to eat.

We were there, and no chance of getting out right away, so the idea of
getting something to eat was one that came pretty quick. It went about
as soon as it came.

“Guess we’ll have to gnaw air,” says I, kind of down-hearted.

“L-l-lucky,” says Mark, “if Jethro don’t gnaw us.”

“What’ll Plunk and Tallow do when we don’t show up?”

“Nothin’, I hope,” says Mark. “Rock’ll f-find some way to tell ’em we’re
penned up here, and I guess they’ll have sense enough to do n-nothin’
but hang around to see what t-turns up.”

“They’ll hang around,” says I. “You couldn’t drive ’em away. Don’t think
they’d sneak off and leave us, do you?”

“Not them,” says Mark, and the way he said it would have sounded pretty
good to Tallow and Plunk if they had heard. It showed that Mark _knew_
them, and was sure he could depend on them no matter what happened.

“L-let’s rummage around,” says Mark.

We stirred things up good, because Mark said you never could tell what
you were going to find in an attic, and if there was anything there to
throw any light on Rock’s affairs, why, we wanted to know it. There were
trunks and boxes of old clothes, and busted chairs, and piles of old
magazines and books, and hats, and shoes. You could find ’most anything
you didn’t want there, but not much you did want, unless you was
figuring on dressing up for a masquerade.

Over in a corner, though, I found a little rocking-chair for a baby, and
what was left of a doll’s house and some busted toys.

“Look here,” says I. “I wonder what Mr. Wigglesworth was doin’ with
these kid things. Didn’t have any that I ever heard of.”

“No,” says Mark, but his eyes began to shine like everything. “Not that
we heard of. Maybe, Binney, there’s n-n-nothin’ to this, but maybe it’s
the m-most important thing we’ve run onto in this whole business.”

“How?” says I.

“B-because,” says he, “it makes it l-look as if what I was hopin’ was so
might be so.”

“Um!” says I. “How int’restin’.”

Well, we kept on digging into things, and after a while Mark hauled out
one of those old-fashioned photograph-albums that fasten with a brass
catch in front. It wasn’t a big plush one, like we got to home on the
center-table, but a little leather one about six inches long and four
wide and two thick. We went over by a window and looked through it. My!
but it was comical—the clothes folks used to wear, and the faces they
wore when they went to have their pictures taken!

We looked at every picture careful. Along at the front we recognized Mr.
Wigglesworth when he was a young man, with Burnside whiskers and funny
pants, and his hair all plastered down in front and combed up on the
side. After a few pages was another picture of a young woman sitting on
a rock with Mr. Wigglesworth standing behind her with his hand on her
shoulder.

“Look at that!” says Mark, excited as a bantam rooster. “He was married.
See? B-b-bet that p-picture was taken on their weddin’ trip. It’s a
weddin’-trip-lookin’ picture,” says he.

“Yes,” says I, “it sure looks foolish.”

“Hum!” says he. “This is important.”

“Good,” says I.

But the next picture—that was what startled both of us, for—maybe you
won’t believe it—but it was the Man With the Black Gloves, only about
twenty years younger than he is, and not wearing the gloves, but just as
mean and ornery-looking then as he is now.

“There,” says Mark, “I g-guess when we leave here we t-take this album
along.”

“Why?” says I.

“All those p-pictures,” says he, “has the names of the photographers on
’em, and the p-places where they was taken. We can go there or write
there, and t-trace back somethin’ about Mr. Wigglesworth’s family.”

But we hadn’t seen all the album yet. There was, farther on, a picture
of Mrs. Wigglesworth (at least we guessed it must be Mrs. Wigglesworth)
with a baby on her lap, and Mark was like to jump out of his skin.

“I knew it m-must be,” says he. “We’re gettin’ hot,” says he.

After that came a lot of pictures of a kid—a girl, and she kept getting
older and older, until the last one showed she was maybe eighteen or
nineteen, somewheres around there—about as old as a school-teacher,
maybe. And then there wasn’t any more of her, and there wasn’t any more
of Mrs. Wigglesworth, either.

But Mark was satisfied. “Look at that last p-picture,” says he. “Who
d-does it resemble?”

“Nobody I kin see,” says I.

“All right,” says he; “jest wait.”

“I hain’t got anythin’ else to do,” says I, “so I might ’s well.”

He stepped back and almost went off of the floor and stepped on the lath
and plaster between the joists.

“Lookout!” says I. “You’ll go right through.”

He slapped his knee. “Right t-through!” says he. “Ain’t we fat-heads?
Say, Pekoe’s room’s over about there, hain’t it?” says he, pointing
across the attic.

“Somewheres,” says I.

“Anyhow,” says he, “we hain’t been wastin’ time.”

He went to the back of the house and paced off toward the front.

“I calc’late Pekoe’s room is about under here,” says he, and got down on
his knees and began working cautious at the plaster between two laths
with his knife. He picked and picked, and at last got a hole through
about as big around as a lead-pencil, then he got down on his stummick
and looked through it.

“Mr. Pekoe,” says he.

“What?” says Pekoe’s voice, kind of muffled-like.

“We’re h-here,” says Mark, “up in the attic. Jethro’s got us cornered,
but he don’t know it.”

“That’s where you’re ahead of me,” says he; “Jethro’s got me cornered
and he _does_ know it.”

“Tell me all you know about Rock and his f-f-father,” says Mark.

“Don’t know much about Rock,” says Pekoe, “except that his father always
kept him in school, and sometimes had pretty hard work to find the money
to pay for it. Mostly Big Rock was in South America or Alaska or Burma
or Africa or somewheres, trying to find a gold mine or a diamond mine,
or somethin’. He never got to the United States at all. He wasn’t a
feller that talked much, but when it came to _acting_ well, you can bet
he was right there. There never was a squarer pal than Big Rock, and
there’s men that loves him from Nome to Cape Town.”

“Where was Rock’s m-m-mother?”

“Big Rock never mentioned her, but I knew she was dead. Been dead since
Rock was a little baby. Guess that’s why Big Rock went to
globe-trottin’.”

“You don’t know her name?”

“Never heard it.”

“And Big Rock’s d-dead now?”

“Not by a jugful,” says Pekoe. “I thought he was, and he thought he was
goin’ to be, but I got a letter from him a week ago, and he says he got
over that sickness, and for me not to take Rock to Wicksville if I
hadn’t, and if I had, to git him back again, because he didn’t want the
boy to go there while he was alive. He says he didn’t want to be
beholdin’ to a man while there was a chance of keepin’ away from it. The
way he wrote made me think he had some sort of a grudge ag’in’ this Mr.
Wigglesworth.”

“And that’s all you know?”

“Every livin’ thing,” says he.

“All right,” says Mark. “Now we won’t t-talk any more, ’cause Jethro
might hear. We’re g-goin’ to git away, and we’ll git you away as soon as
we kin. I guess things is g-goin’ to happen around here perty sudden.”

“Hope so,” says Pekoe. “They would happen sudden if Big Rock was to show
up.”

“Good-by,” says Mark, “till we see you again.”

“Now,” says I, “let’s figger on how we’re goin’ to escape from the
dungeon.”

“’Tain’t a d-dungeon,” says Mark. “We’re shut up in the tower of the
Knight we’ve been f-fightin’. There’s men-at-arms crowdin’ all around,
and the drawb-bridge is up and the moat’s full of water. I guess he’s
holdin’ us for ransom.”

“If I don’t git somethin’ to eat perty soon,” says I, “he won’t have
anythin’ _to_ ransom.”

“Food,” says Mark, “hain’t to be thought about in sich circ’mstances.
Here we be shut in the same t-tower with the young Duke that we’re
liegemen of, and his father’s retainer, the Knight Pekoe. What’s food
compared with sich things?”

“Even a Duke,” says I, “wouldn’t be much good if he didn’t eat for a
week or two. I guess they’d be lookin’ for a new Duke to take his job.”

“The b-best of it,” says Mark, “is that the Duke’s secret is hid in this
Castle Wigglesworth. If we could git it we could rescue the Duke and the
Knight would wish he hadn’t ever been born.”

“You hain’t figgerin’ on tryin’ to follow up that paper thingumbob of
Mr. Wigglesworth’s, be you?”

“We’re inside the castle,” says Mark, “and the enemy don’t know it.
Never have a b-better chance to snoop around, if we wait till after
dark.”

“Without nothin’ to eat,” says I.

He jest sniffed.

“And,” says I, “with the risk of this Knight Jethro findin’ us
snoopin’.”

“You hain’t s-s-scairt, be you?” says he.

“I hain’t what you’d call easy in my mind,” says I.

“All right,” says he. “If that’s the way you f-f-feel, we’ll jest
escape, and I’ll git Plunk or Tallow to come back with me when we can
git a chanct.”

“You won’t,” says I, “because so long as I’m here I might as well stick.
If them kids can do it, I guess I can.”

“I knew you would, Binney,” says he, which ended that. I was elected to
stay, hungry or no hungry, so I settled down and made believe I was
eating an apple pie. But that didn’t do much good. It just made me
hungrier.

“Wish we could c-c-communicate with our faithful friends, the Knights
Tallow and Plunk,” says he.

“We can try,” says I.

“There’s a ladder l-leadin’ to a trap door in the roof,” says Mark.
“Let’s go up it and see what there is to see.”

The ladder went up over in a front corner, and I scrambled up it first.
Mark came right behind me. I unhooked the trap door cautious and shoved
it up; then I poked my head through. There was a flat place about six
feet square with a railing around it, and I knew we were on top of a
sort of little tower on the front of the house.

“Come on,” says I, “but keep down. We can hide behind this railin’
here.”

“’Tain’t a railin’,” says Mark, “it’s a battlement.”

That’s the way with him. When he’s playing a thing he _plays_ it, and
sticks to details. Everything you say or do has got to be the way it
would be if what you was doing was real instead of make-believe. He was
the greatest make-believer I ever saw.

We crawled out on the roof, and looked around pretty careful, I can tell
you. Nobody was in sight for a while. Then we saw Rock in the yard, and
after a while we saw Plunk and Tallow coming toward him. They stopped
and talked with their heads close together.

“Our t-trusty friends,” says Mark, “have found a way of t-talkin’ to the
young Duke.”

“Yes,” says I, “they’re doin’ it the usual way—with their mouths.”

“We got to let them know we’re h-h-here,” says he.

“Yell at ’em,” says I.

He just looked at me, and then got his slingshot out of his pocket and
put a pebble in the leather. Then his eyes sort of twinkled, and he
says, “If I hit where I aim, Plunk Smalley’s g-g-goin’ to git a
s’prise.”

Plunk’s back was toward us, so I sort of guessed.

Mark aimed careful and let her fly. In a jiffy Plunk clapped his hand to
the seat of his pants and let out a holler you could have heard in
Illinoy. Then him and the others looked all around and Mark stuck up his
head pretty slow, and then his hand, and waggled it.

Plunk and Tallow and Rock saw it, but they had sense enough not to
waggle back. They knew Jethro might see them. So they just nodded their
heads and made believe they was looking at something else.

“Now,” says Mark, “we’ll give ’em their orders.”

“How?” says I.

“Write ’em,” says he, “and chuck ’em over.” He got out his pencil and
wrote a note that said:

_Faithful Knights_:—The Knight Binney and me is safe. Our presence
hain’t known, and we got to talk with the prisoner Pekoe. In the tower
where we’re hid we found other secrets that is important to the young
Duke. Tell him his father’s alive, and is a great man, so the prisoner
Pekoe says. We hain’t going to escape till we see if we can get past the
men-at-arms and the bad Knight Jethro, and hunt around in the dungeons
under this castle to find out what the writing left by the Earl
Wigglesworth leads to. You faithful knights stick around till you hear
from us, but don’t be seen. If we don’t show up by midnight, you better
wake up Lawyer Jones and tell him what has happened, and for him to come
out with his men-at-arms to rescue us. If you hear three whistles inside
go and bang like everything on the front door and holler fire. All in
the young Duke’s service,

_Mark Tidd, Knight_

Then he folded it and, making sure Jethro wasn’t watching, let it
flutter over the edge. It fell to the grass quite a ways off and pretty
soon we saw the knights and the young Duke go over to it, and Tallow put
his foot on it. After a while he sat down, and we saw him stuff it in
his pocket. Then they all went over to the arbor and out of sight. We
knew they were reading the note, and that they would stick just like
Mark told them.



CHAPTER XX


About all we could do now until Jethro was safe in bed was to sit around
and wish he’d go early. If I was going to pick out the worst job in the
world, it would be a waiting job. I don’t know why it is, but when
you’re waiting time goes along about a dozen times as slow as it does
any other time. If it hadn’t been for Mark Tidd and his make-believes I
guess I’d have gone plumb crazy.

“Say,” says I, after a while, “I know there’s some sort of a mystery
about Rock, but what d’you s’pect it is? From them photographs you was
so glad to find I guessed maybe you figgered he was Mr. Wigglesworth’s
son.”

“Shucks!” says he. “And you mustn’t speak about the young Duke as Rock.
’Tain’t respectful. Earl Wigglesworth’s son! Shucks! Anybody could see
that b-baby in the photographs was a girl. Besides, didn’t this
p-prisoner Pekoe say he was a son of the man called the Big Duke, that’s
off huntin’ for the Holy Grail or s-s-somethin’ in far countries?”

“Sure,” says I, “so he did.”

We didn’t say anything for a spell, and then I asked: “If the young Duke
hain’t a son of Earl Wigglesworth’s, why was he fetched here? What
int’rest did the Earl Wigglesworth have in him, anyhow?”

“That,” says Mark, “is exactly what we got to f-f-find out. Hain’t you
s-satisfied with havin’ a dandy mystery? Want to spoil it by s-s-solvin’
it without any trouble? What good’s a m-m-mystery unless it’s
mysterious?” says he.

That did sound reasonable.

“S’posin’,” says Mark, “that the young Duke wasn’t jest the Duke, but
was entitled to be somethin’ more. Maybe king or some job like that. And
s’posin’, while his father, the Big Duke, was off c-c-chasin’ this Holy
Grail, that enemies s-stole him away, and there wasn’t any way to
p-prove he was the rightful king. See? And s’posin’ this Earl
Wigglesworth he had somethin’ to prove it by, but didn’t dare to b-burn
it up or any thin’. And when he come to die he r-r-repented his bad
deeds. And then he wrote that p-p-paper showin’ where the p-papers to
prove the Duke was entitled to be king was hid. That’s how I f-f-figger
it. Now, we faithful retainers of the Duke has got to r-recover them
papers and fix it so’s the Duke comes into what’s rightfully hisn.
Hain’t that about it?”

“Shouldn’t be s’prised,” says I. “But seems to me like the Big Duke was
mighty careless to go off chasin’ that Grail, whatever _that_ is, and
leave his son layin’ around loose for anybody to steal.”

“These here chivalrous knights,” says Mark, “was always doin’ them
foolish things. If they hadn’t,” says he, “there wouldn’t have been any
s-s-stories. Seems l-like every knight was a l-little crazy. All I ever
read about did things that was so silly you’d lick a p-puppy for not
knowin’ better than they did.”

“What’s this Grail you was talkin’ about?”

“It’s a cup,” says Mark, “and I guess it’s a magic cup or somethin’,
near’s I kin judge. It’s got a way of wanderin’ around all by itself and
hidin’ away. Feller named Galahad up and f-found it once. His dad’s name
was Launcelot, and he was the biggest knight that ever was.”

“What did this Galy-had do with it?” says I.

“Oh,” says Mark, “I calc’late he just _f-found_ it—and let it go at
t-t-that. Just like a knight. Spend a year l-lookin’ for a thing, and
when he f-finds it, instead of takin’ it home to put on the what-not and
show to folks, he jest says, ‘I spy,’ and gallops off again.”

“Looks silly,” says I.

“Was s-silly,” says he.

“Say,” says I, after thinking the thing over a while, “it just come into
my head that us fellers was pokin’ our heads into somethin’ that didn’t
concern us. What we monkeyin’ with this mystery for, anyhow?”

“Binney,” says Mark, “you s’prise me. Hain’t we newspaper men? Well!
Hain’t it the b-business of newspaper men to git the news?”

“You bet,” says I.

“And won’t the answer to this m-mystery be the b-biggest news ever
p-printed in a Wicksville paper?”

“Guess so,” says I.

“That’s why we’re after it,” says he. “Besides,” he says, “the young
Duke’s in t-trouble, and a feller that won’t help another feller out
when he’s in t-trouble hain’t much good.”

Well, _that_ was so.

Pretty soon it commenced to get dark, and from then the time went slower
and slower. Neither of us had a watch, so we couldn’t tell what time it
was, and we decided to go up on top of the tower to listen if we could
hear the town clock in Wicksville. We kept on listening a long time, and
then it struck. Eight o’clock, it said, and I would have been willing to
bet a minute before that it was ten at least.

“If you wait l-l-long enough,” says Mark, with a grin, “any l-length of
time passes by.”

I hadn’t ever thought of that before, but you could see right off that
it was so. Mark was always discovering new things.

That’s how it happened now. We kept on waiting, and after a couple of
years the town clock struck ten. Then we waited what we judged was a
half an hour.

“Jethro ought to be in b-bed now,” says Mark.

“If he’s ever goin’,” says I.

“T-take off your shoes,” says Mark, which we both did, and crept down
the attic stairs as quiet as a couple of cats. We opened the door into
the second-floor hall pretty cautious, and listened. There wasn’t a
sound. Then we sneaked along the hall to the top of the stairs, and
still we didn’t hear a thing. I kept wishing we could hear a good,
snorting snore, and then we’d be sure Jethro was out of the way.

After a minute we went down the first-floor stairs, and was just at the
bottom and turning toward the back of the house when the front-door bell
rang. I ’most jumped out of my skin. We stood stalk still a second, and
then we heard a sound in a room at the left like somebody getting up out
of a chair.

“Quick!” says Mark, and he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into a
little sort of cubbyhole under the stairs.

And then out came Jethro, as big as life and natural enough to scare the
life out of me. He marched right past us so close we could have touched
him, and went to the door.

Well, sir, when we heard the man’s voice that he let in you could have
bought _me_ for a peanut shuck. It was the Man With the Black Gloves.
Mark pinched my arm.

Right then I says to myself that being a newspaper man was all right—if
you kept on being one all in a healthy piece—but as for me, I’d rather
be something else and safe in bed.

Jethro and the Man With the Black Gloves went right past us and into the
library, where they lighted the lamp and left the doors open. The light
shone right out into the hall, and they sat down facing the door,
looking right out in our direction. We couldn’t have moved out of that
cubby-hole an inch without being seen. It was a dandy place to be, I
don’t think!

The worst of it was they talked low so we couldn’t hear a word they
said, until at last the Man With the Black Gloves sort of raised his
voice, angry-like, and says:

“We got to get that kid out of here. Right away.”

That was all we heard, but Mark laid his fingers on my hand and pressed.
I knew what he meant all right. What he meant was it was lucky we heard
_that_, and we’d have to get awful busy awful quick.

After a while we made out another thing he said, which was, “The kid’s
father’s dead. Central America. Months ago. No danger from him.”

Well, we had later news about Big Rock than that. Then Jethro says:
“This Pekoe don’t know anythin’. There’s nothin’ he can tell the boy.”

“But he can snoop around and get suspicious,” says the Man With the
Black Gloves, “and he’s no man to fool with—not if he’s been a partner
of Big Rock Armitage.”

“He wasn’t sich a tough proposition to handle,” says Jethro. “I done it
alone.”

“Huh!” says the Man.

“We might go and see what we kin git out of him,” says Jethro.

“All right,” says the Man, and up they got and went tramping up the
stairs right over our heads.

“N-n-now,” whispered Mark, and out he ducked and headed for the back of
the house. I was right on his heels, you can bet, and if the hall had
been wide enough I’ll bet I’d have beat him. I was anxious enough to get
somewheres else than where I was. Any change looked like a big
improvement to me.

We got into the kitchen, and because we didn’t know the house very well
inside, which Mark said was our fault and we ought to suffer for it, we
had to prowl around a lot to find the cellar door. That took some time,
because it was dark and we dassent make a light, and there were a dozen
doors out of that big kitchen, and we had to open every one; we opened
slow and cautious so it wouldn’t squeak or anything.

At last we found steps going down. It was as black down there as a lump
of charcoal, darker even than it was in the kitchen. But we had to go it
blind. One step, two steps, we went, and then Mark Tidd says something
startled-like, and all at once I heard the loudest, clangiest, bangiest
kind of a noise and then another. Right in front of us! I like to have
jumped clean out of my stockings.

_Bang! Bang-bang! Clangety-dang-whang-bang!_ something went, rolling and
bumping downstairs ahead of us.

“What’s that?” says I.

“It l-l-looks,” says Mark, “like our f-finish.” That was him all over.
He could joke even when we were in a fix like that, and keep as cool as
if nothing had happened at all.

“Did you kick somethin’ over?” says I.

“Oh no,” says he. “It j-just went for an evenin’ stroll all by itself.
Calc’late it was the sheet-iron wash-tub settin’ here g-gossipin’ with
the boiler,” says he.

“And Jethro’ll be here in a second gossipin’ with us,” says I.

We lighted a match then. It was time to hustle about as fast as we could
hustle, and you can’t do that when it’s so dark you can’t pinch your own
nose and feel it, even if you could find your nose to pinch.

When the light flared up we found we were half-way down the stairs, and
that the stairs went between two brick walls and didn’t go right into
the big cellar, but into a kind of little hall, and that there was a
door about six feet from the bottom step. That led into the cellar.

We scooted for the door.

“G-good heavy door,” says Mark. “Slam her s-shut.”

I did, not worrying much about noise now, and then we both lighted
matches to see what chances was standing around offering themselves to a
couple of boys who wished they was off in Africa or at the North Pole
instead of in Mr. Wigglesworth’s cellar.

The room we were in was a big one, the whole width of the house. Toward
the front of the house was a brick wall, with doors in it that led to
other parts of the cellar. The door we came through was the only one
into the room from the back.

“B-b-barricade the door,” says Mark, and we set to work piling things
against it. There were quite a few heavy things there, which was our
first piece of luck that night, and the way we pulled and hauled and
jerked them in front of that door would have done your heart good. In
three minutes it would have taken an elephant to push it open.

“There,” says Mark, “n-now we got to see if there’s another stairway
down here.”

We scurried into the other parts of the cellar, but there wasn’t another
stairs. Anybody that got us now would have to come the way we did, or
through a window, and the cellar windows were little, narrow ones that
neither Jethro nor the Man With the Black Gloves could have got through
to save their lives.

We were safe for a while, anyhow.

“Here’s a lamp,” says I; “let’s light her up. Somehow I feel easier in
my mind when it hain’t pitch dark.”

“Go ahead,” says Mark, so I lighted up, and just then somebody came
pounding down the stairs and stumbled over the tin things that had given
us away, and banged against the door.

Of course the door wouldn’t open.

“Somebody in here,” yelled Jethro. “They got the door fastened.”

“Bust it,” says the Man With the Black Gloves.

Jethro tried that, but we didn’t worry much, knowing what was against
it.

“Can’t budge it,” says he.

There wasn’t a sound for a minute. Then the Man called out:

“Hey, inside there! Who are you and what d’you want?”

Mark pinched my arm and motioned to keep still.

“Come out of there,” says Jethro, and I felt like giggling. Not that I
wasn’t afraid. Whee! I should say I was afraid. The chills that was
running up and down my back was enough to freeze my spine into an
icicle.

“They can’t g-get at us,” says Mark. “Let’s use what t-time we got to
see if we can trace out the rest of Mr. Wigglesworth’s writin’. The last
part of it says, ‘In. Down.’ We’re _that_ all right. Then it says, ‘What
color is a brick? Investigate.’ That comes next. What color _is_ a
brick, Binney?”

“Brick color,” says I.

“No?” says he. “G’wan! I thought it was the color of a orange blossom.”

“Red, then,” says I. “Most of ’em is.”

“This cellar’s b-built of red brick,” says he.

“Sure,” says I.

“Then,” says he, “it’s safe to s-s-say this s-secret’s got somethin’ to
do with these bricks here.”

“Yes,” says I.

“Git the lamp,” says he, which I did. We felt all over for loose bricks
and things like that. Sort of figgered we’d find a hiding-place
somewheres, but we didn’t, and all the time Jethro and the Man were
doing their best to get the door open.

“Hustle,” says I.

“What’s the use?” says he. “We can’t git out any more ’n they kin git
in.”

Pretty soon Mark says, “Color’s got some-thin’ to do with it, too.
Bricks and color,” says he.

He grabbed the lamp and went all around the room. All at once he stopped
and called soft to me. “Binney!”

“Yes,” says I.

“Look,” says he.

I looked where he was pointing, and up toward the top of the wall was a
brick that wasn’t brick color! It was a pale-complected brick—almost
white.

“What color is a brick?” says Mark, and heaved a big sigh of relief.

“Kin you reach it?” says I.

“No,” says he. “Here, step on my back.”

He stooped over, and I stepped where he told me. It was like standing on
a platform to speak a piece, his back was so broad. I thought a little
of the feller in the _Arabian Nights_ that got off on an island and
built a fire, and then the island dived, because it was a whale. Only
Mark didn’t dive.

I reached up and fumbled with the brick. It was wedged pretty tight, but
it wasn’t plastered. I got a holt of the edge with my nails and wiggled
and monkeyed with it, till it came out, and then I shoved my arm back
into the hole that was left—and my fingers touched something that felt
like a big envelope full of something. I hauled it out and jumped down.

“There,” says I, “we got somethin’, but much good it’s likely to do us.”

Mark was almost jumping up and down he was so tickled. He held the
envelope up to the light, and read on it, “Take this envelope to Lawyer
Jones or some other trustworthy lawyer.”

“Jest what I’d ’a’ done, anyhow,” says he.

Then he stuffed the paper inside of his shirt, and stuck his fingers in
his mouth and whistled three times. When Jethro and the Man heard that
they stopped working at the door, but when nothing else happened they
went at it again.

We waited, too. Quite a while went past, and the only thing we heard was
Jethro and the Man.

“Can’t be Plunk and Tallow has deserted us,” says I.

“N-n-never,” says Mark—and just then we heard an awful kicking and
pounding on the front door, and jangling of the bell in the kitchen, and
the fellers’ voices hollering, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” as tight as they
could.

“Good kids,” says Mark. “Git ready, Binney.” Ready was somethin’ I’d
been for several hours.



CHAPTER XXI


We heard Jethro and the Man With the Black Gloves dash up-stairs, and
they hadn’t hit the top step before Mark and I began clearing away the
door so we could get out. It didn’t take us long, you bet, and it didn’t
take us long to open the outside door and get out into the yard.

“A-arbor,” says Mark, and we made for that as tight as we could go.
Plunk and Tallow had quit hollerin’ fire, and in a minute along they
plunged and came right in on top of us.

“Where’s Rock?” says Mark. “See him?”

“No.”

“We’re s-safe,” says he. “Let’s see if we can’t rescue the young Duke. I
guess he’s goin’ to need rescuin’ perty quick.”

“There’s a light in his room,” says I.

“Let him know we’re here,” says Mark, and I whanged a stone out of my
sling-shot right through the open window. Rock stuck his head out.

“I’m goin’ to sneak over in the shadow,” says I, “and tell him to come
down.”

Off I went, not waiting for anybody to say anything, and got to the
house all right. There was plenty of bushes and things to hide behind,
and when I got there I called Rock, cautious.

“Yes,” says he.

“Come and git rescued,” says I.

“Mark and Binney got out safely?” says he.

“You bet,” says I, but I didn’t mention the papers we found behind the
white brick.

“I never could get past Jethro down the stairs,” says he.

“Stairs,” says I, “was made for folks to walk up and down on—not for
folks to escape on. What would be the fun of escapin’ jest by walkin’
down a flight of steps? Any adventure in that? Why,” says I, “Mark Tidd
would be disgusted if you escaped that way!”

“What’ll I do, then?” says he.

“Jump,” says I.

“I need all my arms and legs,” says he.

Just then something dropped on me, and I heard Jethro growl like a bear
that he had me. He needn’t ’a’ told me; I knew it. Of course I did what
I could to get away, and threw myself back and squirmed and kicked and
thrashed. But he hung on. I was on the ground and he was leaning over
me. All at once I heard a thump and a big grunt out of Jethro, and he
let go of me and keeled over, making funny, snuffling noises, like his
wind was knocked out. Which it was, for Rock had seen what was going on,
and he’d hung by his hands from the window-sill and dropped kerslam
right onto the back of Jethro’s neck.

He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me up.

“Run!” says he, and we ran. I rather guess we ran. Before Jethro got his
breath back we had a good start, and in the dark it was enough. He came
plunging and yelling after us, but we took to the shadows and dodged and
wriggled through the hedge and made up the road. He didn’t have any more
chance to catch us than an angle-worm has to catch a rabbit.

When we knew we had him beaten good we stopped and hid alongside of the
road to wait for Tallow and Plunk and Mark. It was quite a while before
they came along, and then they didn’t come by the road, but back through
the fields and wood-lots. I then whistled out a signal whistle. Mark
answered it, so I knew it was our fellows, and in a minute we got
together.

“N-now for home,” says Mark. “I’ll take Rock to the house. You f-fellers
keep quiet about everythin’ that’s happened. I’ll give out to-morrow
that Rock’s a f-friend come to visit me.”

That’s how it was. Mark stopped on his way home, late as it was, to
pound on Lawyer Jones’s door. Lawyer Jones was pretty mad when he woke
up, and said some pretty descriptive things to Mark, but when Mark told
him what was up he quieted right down, and him and Mark went inside for
a few minutes. Then we all went home.

Next day Mark and Rock and I went to Lawyer Jones’s and we all read that
paper. Rock’s eyes nearly popped out of his head, but Mark says he knew
it all the while.

“Now, Lawyer Jones,” says he, “it was the _Trumpet_ that f-found this
paper and got it. So the _Trumpet’s_ entitled to something hain’t it?”

“You bet,” says Rock. “Whatever you want from we.”

“All I want,” says he, “is to have this kept quiet till after the paper
comes out d-day after to-morrow. That’ll be the end of the contest, too,
and the dinners and everything. And we can print this whole thing, and
almost knock the eyes out of folks with what’s been goin’ on right under
their eyes, and them never knowin’ it!”

“I guess,” says Lawyer Jones, “that you’re entitled to that much.”

And so the mystery kept on being a mystery for a couple more days.

Mark got a lot of mail that day and spent most of the morning opening it
and studying it. He didn’t let on what he was up to and we knew better
than to ask. Then he went out, and him and Tecumseh Androcles Spat
talked and talked and figured. After that Mark came in and wrote all the
afternoon, and then most of the evening, and as fast as he wrote
Tecumseh and the young man we’d got to help him set up in type what Mark
had written. Part of what he was doing was writing the story about Rock
and the mystery, but most of it wasn’t that at all. It was something
quite different, as Mr. Spragg and the merchants that had gone into his
daily-paper scheme found out.

And still the subscriptions came in. It was running close. The Home
Culturers had four hunderd and thirty-four, and the Literary Circlers
had four hunderd and twenty-nine. Of course nobody knew how many votes
there were but just us fellows. That night the first dinner, the
Literary Girders’ dinner, came off, and you’d better believe it was good
eating. Eat! Whee! I almost busted the band of my pants, and Mark! you
wouldn’t believe what that fat kid mowed away. I was sure I’d never be
able to go to the dinner the next night and eat a bite. But I did. Of
course we all took quite a lot of exercise during the day, and didn’t
eat much, to save space.

The Home Culturers’ dinner looked to me like it was every bit as good as
the Literary Girders’, but among other folks there was a lot of
argument. I don’t know but there might have been a real squabble if
Constable Ginney hadn’t been there with his star right outside of his
coat, warning folks to keep the peace. He scared ’em.

The last day was a tough one for all the women in the contest. They
worked like anything, both getting ready for the food show and hauling
in the last subscriptions that were to be had. We were busy, too, and as
the day moved along we began to get kind of worried. Goodness knows,
when we saw how things was coming we had reason enough to worry.

Mark went out to get the last items of news before we went to press, and
I went with him. We saw the afternoon train come in, and there got off
it Mr. Spragg, who grinned at us like the cat that ate the canary, and a
whopping big man that was tanned and dark as an Indian. He went to the
hotel, and Mark told me to go in and write what items I had while he
went to the hotel to see if there was anything there. He didn’t come
back for quite a while, and I went out again. I passed the hotel and saw
him talking to the big man, both of them as earnest as if they was
planning to run off with the bank.

When Mark came back he looked all excited, and fidgeted around as if it
was hard for him to hold himself in. It was easy to see something had
happened.

“Well?” says I.

“If I was to t-t-tell you now,” says he, “it would spile a m-mighty fine
s’prise for you,” says he.

“Huh!” says I. “I’d rather suffer from a spoiled surprise,” I says,
“than to be worn to the bone by curiosity.”

“I’ll take a chance,” says he.

“You hain’t takin’ any chance,” says I. “You _know_.”

“You b-bet I do,” says he, and that was all I could get out of him.

“How about Pekoe?” says I. “Is he goin’ to be left out at the farm
forever?”

“Pekoe’s comfortable,” says he. “I guess he’s about due to c-c-come to
town.”

Subscriptions straggled in all the afternoon, one at a time. The way the
contest was turning out for us was great. We knew we’d have close to
fifteen hunderd paid-up yearly subscribers, and Mark says every
newspaper man in the world admits a country weekly can make good money
with that many.

“But Spragg’s daily?” says I.

“He can’t t-t-take our subscribers away from us for a year,” says he.

“He kin git the advertisin’ with his cooperative scheme, though,” says
I.

“Maybe,” says he, “and ag’in m-maybe not. I’ve been doin’ a leetle
f-figgerin’ for Spragg’s benefit—and for our own, too. We got to quit
runnin’ this paper perty soon and go back to school. Well?”

“Yes,” says I, “what then?”

“Why,” says he, “we got either to sell it or to hire an editor to run
it.”

“That’s right,” says I.

“Well,” says he, “it l-looks to me l-like it would be the best idee to
sell it.”

“If we kin,” says I.

“The f-fellers that’s int’rested with Spragg has a meetin’ to-morrow
n-night,” says he. “I’d l-like to know what’ll turn up.”

“Spragg seems perty well pleased,” says I.

“Spragg,” says he, “would git along b-better if he done more thinkin’
and less t-talkin’.”

“Where’s Rock?” says I.

“Down to the hotel,” says Mark, with a funny look in his eye. “I don’t
calc’late we’ll see Rock ’fore night.”

“That’s funny,” says I.

“’Tain’t so funny as you m-might think,” says he.

Tallow was keeping count of subscriptions, and every little while he’d
come and tell us how many was in.

“Lit’ry Circlers is two ahead,” says he, about four o’clock. The contest
was goin’ to close at five, so it looked like the Circlers had it. But
in come Mrs. Bobbin with three more, and put the Culturers jest one
ahead. That was all till the clock was ’most ready to strike, when in
come Mrs. Strubber with one. One!

Mark and I looked at each other, and then we looked at Tallow and Plunk.
It was a tie. Them women had got four hunderd and forty-six
subscriptions for each club—and the fat was in the fire. Anything else
could have happened and made a little trouble, maybe, but to have this
thing end up in a tie was to bring on a regular war.

“Mark,” says I, “I guess I got to go out of town for a couple of
days—over to Uncle Oscar’s.”

He grinned.

“We’re up against it, Binney,” says he, “but we got to stick it out.”

“Let’s give one of ’em an extry,” says Tallow, “that’ll fix the tie.”

“No,” says Mark. “This t-t-thing has been run fair, and it’ll be
f-f-finished fair. We’ll take what’s comin’ to us, and git out of it the
best we can. Anyhow,” says he, beginning to shake all over, “it’ll be
the f-funniest thing that ever happened in Wicksville.”

“Yes,” says I, “I’ll bet we laugh like anythin’ at it when our folks
come to the hospital to tell us about it. A tie,” says I. “Think of the
row them women will make when they find out they’re tied.”

“I’m t-thinkin’ about it,” says Mark.



CHAPTER XXII


There wasn’t anything for us fellows to do but to go through with the
thing now. We couldn’t very well duck out and then ever show our faces
again in Wicksville. So right after supper we went down and opened up
the hall where the food show was, and got things ready for the massacre.
I kind of wished the times that Mark played games about would come back
for a while. I mean when knights and such-like fellows went around with
cast-iron nightgowns on so that you couldn’t hurt them without you found
the combination to the safe and got the door open. That’s what Mark
calls a mixed metaphor. It says what I mean, so I don’t care what he
calls it. Anyhow, I don’t believe he knows what he’s talking about.

Well, about seven o’clock the crowd began to come. They came in a jam.
There was to be a program, and at the end of it the announcement was to
be made who had won the contest. The program started up at eight
o’clock, and meanwhile all of us but Mark had been back at the _Trumpet_
office, helping get out the paper. That was to be part of the evening’s
excitement, too.

Pretty soon folks began to get tired of the program and began to yell
for the decision of the contest. It kept getting louder and louder, till
Mark judged it was best to let them have it.

“I’ll d-do it,” says he. “I’m the one that t-thought it up, so I’ll make
the announcement and t-take what’s comin’. You fellers better skip.”

“Nix,” I says. “We’re goin’ to be right with you.”

“What you git we git,” says Plunk.

We listened and could hear the folks stamping their feet and clapping
and yelling.

“Who won? Who won?” they started to yell over and over.

“Here goes,” says Mark, and out he went. We stuck right to his heels.
The first thing I noticed, even in all that crowd, was Rock standing
over at one side, and with a hand on his shoulder was the big man that
we saw getting off the train. I nudged Plunk, and _he_ looked, and Rock
saw us and waved his hand.

Mark began. He made a regular speech, and it kept getting longer and
longer, because he hated to come to the point and announce that nobody
had won and that it was a tie. But he had to at last, because folks
began to holler again.

Finally he says, “T-this has been a wonderful contest, ladies and
gentlemen. There hain’t ever been sich a contest in Wicksville, and—if I
got anything to d-d-do with it—there’ll never be another.” I believed
_that_ all right.

“The l-ladies,” says he, “has proved some-thin’. They have p-proved that
nobody in the world kin beat the wimmin of Wicksville—not even the
wimmin of Wicksville themselves.” He stopped and looked around, and
though he was pretty uncertain in his mind, he grinned jest as calm as a
cabbage.

“The number of subscriptions got by the Home Culturers,” says he, “is
four hunderd and f-f-forty-six.”

There was yells and stamping from the Home Culturers.

“The n-number of subscriptions got by the Lit’ry Circlers is four
hunderd and f-f-forty-six,” says he.

There was yells and stamping, but all of a sudden they stopped, and
somebody yelled, “What’s that?”

“It’s a tie,” says Mark. “B-both got the s-same number.”

For a minute folks jest looked at one another, and then Mrs. Strubber
and Mrs. Bobbin jumped to their feet and began talking at once. I could
catch sich words as “cheat,” and “put-up job,” and “crooked,” and like
that.

“L-ladies,” says Mark, “you’ve kept count of how many subscriptions you
got, hain’t you?”

“Yes,” says both of ’em.

“What’s your count, Mrs. Strubber?” says he.

“We got the number you said, but _they_ never did. Our number is right.
But them wimmin—why, we must ’a’ beat ’em by fifty.”

“Mis’ Bobbin,” says Mark, “how do you make your c-count?”

“We make it same as yourn for us,” says she, “but them Lit’ry Circlers
didn’t come within ninety of us. I _know_,” says she.

“L-ladies and gentlemen,” says Mark, “both ladies says their c-count
agrees with mine. Both m-makes their n-number f-four hunderd and
f-f-forty-six. I guess that shows this contest was on the s-square. If
it wasn’t d’you think I’d ’a’ dared stand up here and announce it was a
tie?”

“Don’t see how you dared, anyhow,” yelled Uncle Ike Bond. “I wouldn’t
’a’ done it for a farm.”

“What we goin’ to do?” says Mrs. Strubber. “We can’t leave this here
undecided now. The town wouldn’t never git over it. Somebody got to be
the champeen.”

“You bet,” says Mrs. Bobbin, “and the Home Culturers has got to be it. I
guess our husbands hain’t goin’ to stand around and let us git done out
of our rights.”

“I guess ourn hain’t either,” says Mrs. Strubber, and right there it
sure looked like the furniture was going to get busted.

Then Mark got an idea.

“L-ladies,” says he, “I got a way out of it. T-there’s a man here that
hain’t subscribed. Git him up here, and let them two clubs argue him
into t-takin’ a subscription, and the side that gits him wins.”

They thought that over a minute, and then agreed.

“Who’s the man?” says all of them at once.

“Uncle Ike Bond,” says Mark, with a little grin. “He’s just got home
from a visit.”

“Uncle Ike! ... Uncle Ike!” yelled everybody, and started to push the
old ’bus-driver to the front.

“Hey!” says he. “Hey, Mark Tidd, what I ever done to you I should be got
into this? I hain’t goin’ to. No, siree. You don’t git _me_ decidin’ no
sich fight. I got respect for my skin. If I was to decide this here,
why, I’d have to lick every husband on the side I was decidin’ ag’in’.
Not that I can’t do it—but I hain’t as spry and eager as I was once. No,
siree,” says he, and he made a jump sideways, and scrambled up onto the
window-sill, with fifty folks grabbing after him, and out he jumped.
Well, that finished _that_.

Mark was laughing inside like everything. “There’s another m-man here,”
says he. “He’s big enough so’s nobody’s husband’ll be anxious to
t-t-tackle him. He’s _doggone_ big,” says Mark, “and t-there he stands.
Mr. Armitage is his n-name,” says Mark.

_Armitage!_

You could have knocked me galley-west with a feather. I seen it all in a
minute.

“Mr. Armitage,” says Mark, “won’t you s-s-step forward and—”

“Risk my life?” finishes up the big man that was standing by Rock.
“Why,” says he, “I’ll step forward and say something, and when I get
through maybe you ladies will be willing to let things stand as they
are—and glad to.”

He came surging up forward, and stood there, big and quiet, looking down
on everybody.

“First,” says he, “I want to tell you something about myself.” It was
funny, but they quieted right down and listened. Not a yell or a holler.

“After that,” says he, “I want to read you a piece in the Wicksville
_Trumpet_, the best country paper in America,” says he, and at that Mark
and us kids swelled all up.

“I’m a happy man,” says he, “because, after a dozen years, I’ve got my
son back again. In that dozen years,” he says, “I’ve been working and
fighting and starving and risking death for my son, but maybe it would
have been better if I’d stayed home and got a job and been right by his
side. But there was a time when I was sore in my heart because his
mother died.” He stopped just a second. Then he went on. “I couldn’t
bear to stay still, so I put my little son in a school and went off to
Alaska. I thought I’d find gold there, but I didn’t find enough. After
that I went to South America and to Africa and to China, and all over
the world, always keeping my son in schools, and not seeing him nor
scarcely ever writing to him. But I loved him just the same—like a
father ought to. But I was set on coming home to him rich, so he’d be
proud of me. That was wrong. I know it now. He’d have been proud of me
anyhow, because he’s that kind. Well, I thought I was dying, and sent a
friend to take my son to a man that should have looked after him—and
that man died, but I got well. Today I came back and found my son, and
saw him for the first time since he was in dresses. I found he had made
friends, four friends, who had done for him more than I had ever done.
These friends had worked for him. These friends had found him alone in a
big house, practically a prisoner, not knowing who he was or why he was
there. My boy was in a bad mix-up, I can tell you. And I was far away.
Well, these four friends, just out of the goodness of their hearts, went
to work, and solved the mystery that was surrounding my son, and proved
who he was, and have put him in the way of being heir to a great deal of
money. Not that _that_ matters now, for I found my mine at last and have
ten times as much as Mr. Wigglesworth—”

He stopped. “But here’s to-day’s _Trumpet_. Let me read to you the real
story. Then I want to say to you ladies that this contest has come out
just the way it should have. It has proved that neither side is better
than the other. It has proved that Wicksville ought to be proud of you,
and that you ought to be so proud of each other that you’d join together
and not be Home Culturers or Literary Circlers, but just one big
club—The Wicksville Women’s Club, with everybody a member and working
hard for the benefit of the town and of everybody in it.”

Then he read, slow and emphatic, the story of Rock. He read how we had
found him, and about all we had done, and about the paper Mr.
Wigglesworth left, and about how we had got the paper. And—this was news
to all of us but Mark—that Rock was Mr. Wigglesworth’s grandson, and
Rock’s mother was Mr. Wigglesworth’s daughter, who had married Mr.
Armitage against her father’s will, and he wouldn’t ever have anything
to do with her again.

Well, people’s eyes almost popped out of their heads when they heard
what had been going on right under their heads. When Mr. Armitage was
done reading he laid his hand on Mark’s shoulder and says, “Here’s the
boy that puzzled it out.”

“Binney and Plunk and Tallow did as m-m-much as me,” says Mark.

“Yes,” says Mr. Armitage, turning to us, “and I want to thank them,
publicly, too. Four of the squarest, nerviest, cleverest boys I ever
saw.”

“And now,” says he, “what do you ladies think? Won’t it be better to
have one big club, working for the good of everybody, than two clubs
pulling against each other?”

Mrs. Strubber looked at Mrs. Bobbin and Mrs. Bobbin looked back;
then—and there was streaks down their faces where the tears had been
running—they got up all at once and walked toward each other and shook
hands.

That ended _that_.

But us fellows had a hard time getting away. Everybody wanted to shake
hands and have us tell about it, and taffy us, but we did wriggle
through, with Rock and his father following us, and sneaked to the
office. And there we had a regular reunion. I tell you Mr. Armitage was
a fine man, and he had a mess of adventure stories to tell that just
lifted the hair off from your head.

Best of it is he’s going to live here with Rock on the Wigglesworth
place.

We talked a long time, and then went home to bed.



CHAPTER XXIII


In the newspaper was another piece that was interesting to a lot of
people, besides the piece about Rock. It was one Mark wrote about a
daily newspaper such as Spragg was trying to get up. Mark had written to
everybody he could think of that would know about it, and got facts and
figures, and set them right down in print where everybody could see.

He showed how much it would cost to _start_ such a paper. He showed how
much it would cost to run it a year, and how much it would have to be
paid for advertising, and how much for subscriptions, and how many
subscribers it would have to have to live at all.

Then he proved the thing that upset Spragg’s apple-cart—that the
merchants wouldn’t get their advertising for nothing, but that they
would have to advertise six days a week instead of one, and that, even
dividing up what profits there were, the merchants would have to spend
about five times as much as they ever had before, not counting in what
they put into the scheme to start it.

Well, when the business men read that article, and saw who Mark got his
information from and all, they were pretty sick, because they had
already gone into it and put up quite a lot of money. Some of them came
in to see Mark, but he said he wouldn’t talk then, but would wait till
the meeting that night.

That’s what he did. We all went to it. Spragg was there, looking pretty
sick, and Lawyer Jones went with us. First Spragg raved and talked, but
it didn’t do any good. They had formed a company, and Spragg had _some_
money in it, as well as anybody else. He didn’t like to see the way
things were going. And besides, he wasn’t getting even with Mark.

Then Mark got up and repeated some of his figures, and ended up by
saying:

“You’ve g-g-got up a company to run a n-newspaper, so why don’t you run
one? We f-f-fellers has got to go back to school, but we’ve built up the
_Trumpet_ so’s it’s a _good_ paper, with fifteen hunderd subscribers,
and it’s m-makin’ good money. Now, why don’t you buy it, you b-business
men, and run it for the benefit of Wicksville and yourselves? Hire a
good editor and give this county the b-b-best newspaper in the State.
It’s all ready. All you got to do is t-take it over. We’ll sell cheap.”

“How much?” says. Mr. Pawl, who was the chairman.

“Well,” says Mark, “we got our p-plant and stock, that’s worth
s-somethin’. We got fifteen hunderd subscribers, and that’s worth a lot,
for they’ve got a year to run, and we’ve got cash in the bank. About
twelve hunderd d-d-dollars. I’ll tell you what. Give us t-t-two thousand
dollars, and we’ll call it a deal.”

Well, they figgered, and Lawyer Jones figgered with them, and Mark
figgered with them, until at last they agreed, and a contract was made
and signed sayin’ the money would be paid over next day. Then Mark says:

“You’re goin’ to n-need an editor right off. You got a n-newspaper man
here. Maybe he hain’t acted jest right to us, but for all that, maybe
he’s a good man. Why d-don’t you give Spragg a chance at b-bein’ editor?
He’s worked to git up this company of yourn. It’ll be up to him to make
good.”

Spragg looked queer at Mark, but didn’t say a word till the meeting
decided to give him a try. Then he walked over to Mark and says, holding
out his hand:

“What you just did, Mark Tidd, is a mighty fine thing, and I’m going to
deserve it. And if you’re ever looking for a friend come to me—Spragg.”
That was all.

And so I guess that’s about all of everything. We sold out for two
thousand dollars, which Mark divided between us, fair and square, and we
put it in the bank. We knew Mark was a business man, and he had done
things before that made folks take notice, but I don’t know as he’ll
ever do a job of work harder than taking a busted-down newspaper that he
bought for three-four hunderd dollars, and making it a first-class
newspaper, and selling out for such a profit—just to pass away a
vacation.

Some day he’s going to make Rockefeller hustle.

                                THE END



Books by

CLARENCE BUDINGTON KELLAND

THE HIGHFLYERS
MARK TIDD, MANUFACTURER
THE SOURCE
SUDDEN JIM
THE HIDDEN SPRING
MARK TIDD
MARK TIDD IN THE BACKWOODS
MARK TIDD IN BUSINESS
MARK TIDD’S CITADEL
MARK TIDD, EDITOR
THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER

HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK

Established 1817





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