from American Girl
The Hurry-Up Mystery
by Ellis Parker Butler
Our Detective Club meets every Thursday afternoon, and, when we have no mystery to solve, we read a good detective mystery story, each reading a chapter in turn.
This Thursday afternoon we were to meet at Betty Bliss's home. Betty is the one who suggested having a Detective Club in the first place, so, of course, she is Superintendent -- which means chief detective -- and the rest of us are only Inspectors.
We have school Thursday and we have to carry home an armful of books for homework, so before the Detective Club meeting each of us left our books at home. Betty had gone straight home, and the rest of us picked each other up on the way to her house.
There were four of us on the way to Betty's. Dot Carver was one, and there were Dick Prince and Art Dane -- we had let them join the Detective Club even if they were boys -- and I made the last of the four. I'm Madge Turner. So we walked along, not hurrying much and talking about the mystery story we were going to read. We were in front of Betty's house, and just about to enter the yard, when the door swung open and Betty dashed out, no hat on her head. She came down the three porch steps in one jump, and did not stop when she came to us.
"Come on!" she cried excitedly. "Hurry up! We're wanted. Mrs. Simpson's --"
That was all I caught of what she was saying for she went running down the street as fast as she could run. For just an instant we stood like a lot of sillies, looking after her, and then Dick Prince grabbed my hand and ran, and Madge and Art Dane followed us. By that time Betty was half a block ahead of us -- she can run.
"Hurry up," Dick Prince shouted at me. "Show some speed, can't you?" I was doing the best I could and my legs were simply flying like windmills, but Dick was dragging me as if I was a trailer tied on behind him.
Betty went around the first corner, and Art and Dot caught up with us.
"Run!" Art urged. "Hurry up! It must be murder or something," and he and Dot passed us. When we came to the corner, Dick went around it so fast he almost swung me off my feet. Up the street we saw Betty dart into a yard, and Dick dropped my hand and sprinted. He caught up with Art Dane and Dot, and passed them. I was absolutely winded, but I could still jog-trot and I did. When I reached the Simpsons' porch, the others were already on it; they were looking at a square birdcage that hung on two nails against the side of the house, and Mrs. Simpson's maid, Delia, was talking sixty miles to the minute. She had been crying, too.
"What is it? What's the matter?" I asked Betty.
"You will kindly not interrupt, Inspector Madge," she said. "Every minute is precious. If we waste time the damage will be fatal. Now, Delia, you say you heard what?"
"Feet," said Delia. "On the porch. Like somebody walking. So I came to the door and was just in time to see somebody scoot through the bushes yonder and out of the yard."
"You didn't see who it was? You didn't get a good look at the person? You could not tell whether it was a man, or a boy, or a woman, or a girl?"
"No, ma'am," said Delia. "I wasn't expecting nothing much, you see, and it took a bit of time to get the door unlocked -- Mrs. Simpson locked it when she went out. The first time she's been out since she was sick, Miss Betty. I wouldn't have thought anything was wrong except that Jenny was hopping around sort of funny, cheeping like she is now."
I noticed the canary cage more particularly then. It was divided into two parts by a wire partition. There was one canary in each part. One canary was quite placid on its perch, and, even as I looked at it, it expanded its throat and burst into the loveliest canary song I had ever heard. But the other bird was hopping distractedly up onto a little nest in the corner and hopping down again, uttering "Cheep! Cheep!" in a worried way.
"Talk fast," Betty said. "What did you do then?"
"I looked in the cage," Delia said, "thinking maybe the Jenny bird had no water to drink, but she had plenty, and seed, too. And then I saw the three little eggs she'd been setting on, to hatch them out, was gone. I was awful scared, Miss Betty, for Mrs. Simpson had her heart set on having Jenny hatch out them eggs, so I telephoned you quick."
"And quite right, Delia," Betty agreed. "You see now, Inspectors, why haste is so necessary. We must get the eggs back before they get cold -- once they are cold they will never hatch. We have minutes only, not hours, in which to find the three stolen eggs."
"Two stolen eggs, Miss Betty," said Delia, "for one of them got broken when it was being stole. Here it is, ma'am."
She went to the edge of the porch and showed Betty the broken egg where it lay half hidden by the leaves of a bush that had pushed through the porch railing. Betty bent down to look closely at the pretty blue shell.
"You're sure this is one of the eggs that were in the nest?" she asked.
"Indeed I am," declared Delia. "Wasn't I looking at the pretty things three or four times a day whilst Mrs. Simpson was sick, and telling her about them?"
Betty straightened up and looked at the cage again.
"You say Mrs. Simpson was greatly interested in the eggs?" she asked. "I suppose they were valuable."
"It wasn't that so much, Miss Betty," Delia said, "though eggs from that pair would be worth a lot. She paid fifty dollars apiece for them two canary birds, and three little ones would be worth one hundred and fifty dollars, no doubt. But it was more that she was proud of having her Jenny lay eggs and go ahead and hatch them."
"Yes," said Betty, "I know how excited I was when our canary laid an egg the first time. Mrs. Simpson was quite sick, wasn't she, Delia?"
"She was that. Like a nervous breakdown, it was," Delia said. "The doctor could not get her to take an interest in anything -- she just lay there in bed, poor lady, and the first she brightened up was when Sammy told her Jenny had laid an egg. She had me bring the cage and hang it in her room, and show her the pretty blue egg. It was like she had something in life to be interested in again, poor dear."
"And, of course, when Jenny laid more eggs she was more and more pleased and interested," suggested Betty. "I suppose the eggs are about ready to hatch, Delia?"
"Well, you can see by that one there, Miss Betty, the wee bird was about ready to come out of the shell. We looked for them to hatch any time now."
Art Dane had been getting more and more impatient as Betty and Delia talked on, and now he interrupted them.
"Listen, Superintendent," he said. "Excuse me for butting in, but you're wasting a lot of time. You say the eggs would be no good if they got cold. Well, I don't believe whoever stole them would want them to get cold. If they're worth fifty dollars apiece, or even twenty-five dollars apiece, he'd want to keep them warm. He would hustle them under another canary as quick as he could, wouldn't he? So there's another clue -- look for somebody with a hen canary that is setting on eggs."
"Why, that's quite an idea, Inspector Dane," Betty said.
"Sure it is," declared Art. "How about the thief being somebody that owns a cheap canary, and who knew about this fancy pair of Mrs. Simpson's? All we've got to do is find that setting canary."
"It's your idea, Inspector," said Betty, smiling a little. "It's only fair to let you find the setting canary, don't you think? How many canaries do you suppose there are in Westcote?"
"Why --" said Arthur, looking rather blank, "why, I don't know."
Hundreds, wouldn't you suppose?" asked Betty. "There have been hundreds always, and there were those three big canary sales not long ago. And another thing, Inspector --"
"Well, what?" Art asked uncomfortably.
"I suppose you would know the two stolen eggs when you saw them?" Betty asked. "They would have 'These eggs were stolen from Mrs. Simpson' written on them, would they, Inspector?"
"Aw, pshaw!" said Art. "I just made the suggestion."
"How did you mean to proceed, Inspector?" Betty went on, teasing him. "Were you planning to go to each owner of a hen canary and say, 'Excuse me, but may I look in your cage to see if you stole some eggs?' You might go and look in my mother's canary cage first, Inspector. Or how about going down to Brambo's and asking him if someone has offered to sell him canary eggs in the last hour or so?"
"Say, that's an idea!" said Dick Prince, for Brambo was the bird store man in Westcote. "Wouldn't the thief try to sell the eggs? And who would be more likely to buy them than Brambo? He probably has a setting canary or two."
"And the thief would say, 'Mr. Brambo, I have here two eggs I stole from Mrs. Simpson; she has those fifty dollar Belgian canaries.' Is that what he would say, Inspector Prince?"
"No, Brambo is honest," Dick admitted. "He wouldn't buy stolen eggs. The thief would just say, 'I want to sell a couple of canary eggs --'"
"'That are still warm --'" suggested Betty. "How would he explain that, Inspector?"
"He might tell Brambo that his hen canary had died suddenly," said Dick, but he knew that sounded silly. I said so.
"Nonsense, Dick," I said. "Mr. Brambo wouldn't buy canary eggs. If he did, he would only pay a few cents for them unless he knew they were from an extra fine canary. So there are two objections to your idea -- a thief wouldn't risk coming up on this porch and take the chance of being caught just to get a few cents; and, if he asked Mr. Brambo to pay more than a few cents, Mr. Brambo would want to know where the eggs came from."
"You have made a very wise remark, Inspector Madge," Betty said.
"But, look here," Dick objected, "if the thief wouldn't take the eggs to get a few cents, and if the thief knew he couldn't tell Mr. Brambo where the eggs came from, he wouldn't steal the eggs. Inspector Madge as good as says the eggs were not taken."
"Oh, yes, they were taken," said Betty. "Delia knows they were in the nest in the cage, and you can see they are gone, so -- " but Dot interrupted her shyly. Dot never blurts out words the way I do, and she never says anything unless she thinks it is important, least of all when Betty is talking.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Superintendent," she said, "but you said this was a hurry-up job, and aren't we wasting a lot of time just talking? I mean, oughtn't we to hurry? I mean, won't the eggs get cold while we stand here and talk?"
Dot blushed when she said this because she felt she was being nervy in reprimanding Betty even that much, but Betty did not get angry. She gave Dot a pleasant smile.
"The eggs are not getting cold, Inspector," she said. "You need not worry about that now."
"But you said --" Dot ventured again. "Anyway we're just standing here talking --"
"Quite right, Inspector Carver," Betty said as pleasantly as before, "but you know the old saying, 'The more haste, the less speed.' Sometimes a person can go faster by standing still than, by running. A man standing on the top of a railway car goes faster than a man trying to run alongside of it. Quite often, at least."
"Is that a riddle?" Art asked. "I didn't know we were playing riddles; I thought we were trying to catch a thief."
Well, I admit that Betty Bliss can be very aggravating sometimes, but she usually knows what she is about so I kept my mouth shut. Dick couldn't keep his shut; he does think he is smart.
"And this doesn't look like a railway car to me," he said. "It looks like Simpsons' porch to little Dicky Prince. If you ask me, girls and boys, I'll say we seem to be just standing here and not getting anywhere."
"I think we are," Betty said sweetly. "At least, if we are standing still, time is passing. So we are really moving from now to later in the afternoon. And that is really quite important."
"I give up!" Dick cried, throwing up his hands and making a face. "It sounds crazy to me. But I'm only a poor silly Inspector. If anybody asked me for my opinion -- which I don't suppose anybody will -- I'd say 'Let's get busy! Let's do something about something!'"
"Honest, Super," Art seconded him earnestly, "I do think we ought to get going. This Detective Club is going to get an awful slam if Delia here has to tell Mrs. Simpson we did nothing at all."
"Very well," said Betty briskly. "The Inspector desires action, and action we shall have. Inspector Prince, I believe you were the first to mention Mr. Brambo --"
"He did not," said Art. "I did."
"Then I will give you the bird store assignment," said Betty. "You will proceed to Mr. Brambo's bird store, Inspector Dane, and, without arousing in him a suspicion that anything is wrong, you will engage him in a conversation about canary birds. You will probably know how to do that -- you might begin by asking him, 'Do you sell many canary birds, Mr. Brambo?'"
"I'll know how to get him talking, don't you worry," said Art. "I know Brambo; he's all right. All the fellows go in and ask him about the birds he has, and the fish, and puppies."
"Excellent, Inspector," said Betty in her best detective manner. "When, then, you have gotten Mr. Brambo in a talkative mood, you will inquire casually if he ever has any transactions in canary bird eggs. If he says 'No,' you may thank him and return here. If he says, 'Yes,' you will ask him if he has had any such deals lately, and with whom and when."
"And then come back here and tell you?" said Art.
"Why, yes," said Betty, "if you want to."
Art made a grimace because he thought Betty was being high-hat with him, but he started for Brambo's bird shop in a hurry. I saw him running down the street, keeping his elbows close to his sides and I knew he was breathing the way he told me Yale College long-distance runners are taught to breathe -- two breaths in and one out, two breaths in and one out. He did not want to reach Brambo's so breathless he could not talk.
"Action! Action! We must have action!" Betty cried, clapping her hands. "Inspector Prince, get busy and search the yard. Search the bushes around the porch here and search the bushes along the fence. Bring what you find to me."
"What shall I look for?" Dick asked. It could not be footprints because Betty had said to bring what he found to her. "You don't mean it will be the eggs, do you?"
"No, Inspector," said Betty. "I do not know that you will find anything, but, if you do, it will be reading matter."
Dick went down the porch steps and began the search of the bushes there. We could hear him pushing the lithe branches aside as he peered into the bushes.
"I think he is more likely to find what I have in mind in the bushes by the fence," Betty said, "but no matter. If it is there, it will be found sooner or later. Inspector Madge, do you want to be given active duty?"
"I'd rather stay with you, Superintendent," I told her. "Honestly, Betty, you've got a. look on your face as if you were the cat that had already eaten the canary. I'll stay here, if you don't mind, and see what happens."
"And you, Inspector Dot?" Betty asked.
"I think we ought to do anything we can," Dot said meekly.
"Just so," said Betty. "A worthy feeling, Inspector Dot. We should all do what we can. You will proceed down the porch steps and out of the yard, and turn either to the left, or to the right, and --" Betty paused. "I really should have two for this assignment," she said, "one to go to the left, and one to go to the right. You are sure you do not want to go, Inspector Madge?"
"No," I said positively, "I do not."
"Edwin ought to be home any time now," Delia said. "He could help you, Miss Betty. He'd be glad to. He'll be almost as upset as his Ma will be over the stolen eggs. He was as keen about them as if they were his own canaries."
"You think he will be here soon?" asked Betty.
"He ought to have been here long ago, school being out at three o'clock and all, but you know how boys are, Miss Betty -- they will stop and play."
"Especially when they know their mothers are out driving and won't be home till later," said Betty. "Yes, I know boys! Very well, then, Inspector Dot, you will turn to the left when you leave the yard. Proceed slowly in the general direction taken by Inspector Arthur Dane, but keep your eyes on the trees."
"On the trees?" Dot asked, probably thinking she had not heard correctly.
"At a height from fifteen to twenty feet from the ground and upward," said Betty. "You might look for a nest in a tree that is easy to climb."
"Betty!" I cried, and corrected myself. "Superintendent!" I substituted because it made Betty cross to be called Betty when she was being a detective. "I know what you are thinking! The thief hasn't any canary, so he had to use another bird's nest. That's it, isn't it?"
"It might be, mightn't it?" Betty asked.
"And that's why you've been in no hurry, you clever girl," I went on. "You guessed the eggs would be there and would not be getting cold. Dot, I'll go with you. I'll help you find a nest."
"I think Inspector Dot can handle the assignment alone," Betty said rather coldly. "I offered you active duty and you refused it. I do not like to have my Inspectors change their minds. Go ahead, Inspector Dot. Report back as soon as you have found an easily reached nest."
Well, I knew Betty was spoofing in giving me that reprimand for changing my mind. Anyone would know that two could find a nest in a tree quicker than one could, and I looked at Betty with a grin on my face. She did not fool me at all. I knew by the innocent air she tried to assume that she believed she had the canary egg mystery solved, and that the solution was apt to make itself known any minute, and that she was just vain enough to want at least one of us to be on hand to see her triumph.
"I think," she said, when Dot had disappeared down the street looking up into the trees, and Dick was searching the bushes at the front of the Simpson yard, "I think we had better go inside the house if Delia doesn't mind."
"Why, not at all, Miss Betty," Delia said, and the three of us went in. Betty turned to the left and went into the living room. She pushed the window curtain a little to one side so we could see the porch, and we all sat down.
"I believe," she said, "the case is solved. Something we saw almost as soon as we came up on the porch was the clue to the mystery of the missing eggs. All I ask now is that we all keep quite still when anyone comes onto the porch, which should be in a few minutes."
As if she had known he would come just then, Dick came onto the porch. He called "Super!" and Betty hurried to the door. She told him to come in.
"I found it, if this is the reading matter you meant," Dick said, showing a strap with five school books in it. "It's a sort of reading matter, anyway."
"Edwin's homework school books; just what I thought you would find," Betty said. "Sit down, Dick, and keep quiet if Edwin comes on the porch, and you will see something, if I am not mistaken."
"You don't suspect Edwin, do you, Miss Betty?" Delia asked.
"I think he took the three eggs," said Betty. "I don't believe he tried to sell them to Mr. Brambo. We know he broke one, letting it fall when he climbed over the porch railing, and I think he put two in a nest, probably in a robin's nest, the one Dot is looking for."
"Inspector Dot," I said, tickled that I could correct Betty.
"Yes, Inspector Dot," Betty said, accepting the correction. "Let us see what the facts are: Mrs. Simpson is out of the house, enjoying her first drive in a long while. She has recovered from a nervous illness in which her canaries, and the eggs laid by the little hen canary, were her greatest pleasure and a means of aiding her recovery. Does Edwin love his mother, Delia?"
"Oh, Miss Betty, he worships her!" Delia cried. "He'd do anything for her. That's why I'd never believe he stole the eggs she was so interested in."
"On the contrary," said Betty, "that is exactly why he did take them. Inspector Art when he returns will, I believe, report that Edwin bought three canary eggs there today." "But why," I asked, "would he do that?" "To substitute for the other three eggs," Betty said with a knowing smile. "Consider this -- Mrs. Simpson was intensely interested in the canaries and Edwin knew it. The doctor probably said it was important that Mrs. Simpson have something to interest her, and no doubt Edwin heard him."
"He did that," said Delia. "I was there."
"So Edwin -- all the little wild birds laying eggs just then -- thought of eggs for the canary. He knew his mother would be delighted if her canary laid an egg. So Edwin took an egg from a robin's nest and put it under the little canary hen. Delia, was Mrs. Simpson pleased?"
"Oh, Miss Betty, you should have heard how pleased she was!"
"So Edwin, being a loving son, put another egg in the canary's nest, and then another, but --"
"I know!" I said excitedly.
"Exactly, Inspector," said Betty. "The time neared when the eggs were to hatch, and Edwin feared the effect on his mother if her three new canaries turned out to be robins, and he --"
The telephone rang just then and Delia answered it.
"It's Mr. Arthur," she said. "He's at Brambo's. He thought you'd want to know that Master Edwin bought three canary eggs there not half an hour ago."
"Half an hour ago," said Betty. "He will be here any minute now."
"But Betty," I asked, "how ever in the world did you guess all that?"
"In detective circles we do not call it guessing, Inspector Madge; we call it reasoning," Betty said. "There was nothing else I could think -- the broken egg on the porch was a robin's egg. Hush!"
It was Edwin coming up onto the porch. He hesitated a moment, looking all around, and then drew a small box from his pocket. He took off the lid, opened the little hen canary's cage door, and put three little eggs in the nest. As he came toward the door he was smiling.
"Edwin," said Delia as he entered the house, "come in -- here's some young folks to see you. I'll get some cake and lemonade."