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"The White Rabbit Mystery" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from American Girl
The White Rabbit Mystery
by Ellis Parker Butler

We girls called our Detective Club "The Tenth Street Yard" because we live on Tenth Street, and that was as near to "Scotland Yard," the headquarters of the-great English detectives, as we could come. There were just three of us at first, Betty Bliss, and Dot Carver, and I, and we got up the club to do detecting, if there was any detecting to do, and to read good detective novels to each other when there were no crimes for us to solve, which was pretty often.

There were a few crimes, though, and Betty Bliss was a wonder as a detective, even if she was only a girl, and that was how Dick Prince and Arthur Dane -- who laughed at us a lot at first -- came to ask if they could join our Detective Club, too. I suppose they thought they were smarter than Betty and would show us a few things.

Our Detective Club met on Thursday afternoons, and Thursday had not come around since we said the boys could join the club. It was Saturday morning and winter, and Dot and I had stopped at Betty Bliss's house with our skates. Betty came out with her skates.

Mrs. Sylvan came to do the chores at Dot's house.

"Art Dane is going with us," she said. "He telephoned over, and I said we would stop at his house for him."

"Where's Dick Prince?" Dot asked. "Why doesn't he come with us, too?"

"Dick has gone hunting," Betty said. "His father gave him a shotgun for his birthday, and Dick got Jed Sylvan to take him to his hunting shack in the woods. They're going to try to get some rabbits."

So that was that. We walked as far as Art Dane's house, and I "oo-ooed," and he came out with his skates hung over his shoulder.

"Hello!" he said. "How are all the lady detectives? Any more crimes?"

"Not a crime," Betty Bliss laughed. "You can't expect one every day, Art, now can you? We can't be ferrets all the time."

"If you were ferrets," Art said, "maybe you could help me. A couple of my rabbits got away last night. None of you saw anything of a couple of white rabbits, did you?"

We hadn't, of course, and we said so; and as far as I was concerned, I was ready to forget Art's white rabbits and go skating, but Betty Bliss asked Art a question.

"How did they get away? I thought you were always so careful to fasten the cages; did they gnaw out?"

"No, I must have left the lid of that cage open. I went out and gave the whole lot of them some cabbage leaves after supper last night. I thought I closed the lids, but maybe I didn't."

"Aren't you going to hunt for them?" Betty asked.

"I did hunt," Art said. "I looked all through the yards around here, but not a hair or a hide of a rabbit."

"No tracks?" Betty persisted, for a half inch or so of snow had fallen during the night.

"Not a track," Art answered. "Not a sign of them."

"Maybe they were stolen," Betty went on. "I should think tame rabbits would not go far. They would leave tracks somewhere, hopping around."

She handed her skates to Art.

"Come on," she said, starting into the yard. "I'm going to have a look at the cages. This may be a job for us, girls."

We went around the house and into the back yard where Art kept his rabbits, in cages. It was an open shed that had been a woodshed once, with no front to it; and the cages, six or eight of them, were all against the rear wall, some piled on top of others. They all had rabbits in them except one cage, the one from which the white rabbits were missing. That cage stood on a table by itself -- something like a kitchen table, but homemade.

"How many white rabbits were there?" Betty asked, looking into the empty cage.

"Two. Just a pair," Art told her. "Full grown. They were not stolen; they got out. I must have left the slide open. Don't waste your time; let's go skating."

But Betty was studying the cage. Dot and I, of course, were looking at it, too, but I couldn't see any way to tell whether the rabbits had been stolen, or just got out and hopped away. All there was, as far as I could see, was the empty cage. It was a good-sized box with mesh-wire screen on the front and one side, and a sleeping-place partitioned off at one end.

"They were stolen," Betty Bliss announced. "This is a case for us, ladies." She said it in the most positive way, as she says things when she is sure of them.

"I don't see it," Art argued. "If you can tell by looking at that cage that those rabbits were stolen, I'll say you are a wonder."

"You are a member of the Tenth Street Yard now, Inspector Dane," Betty said, "and I will thank you to speak more respectfully to your Superintendent. I do not care to have the members of my force call me a wonder when I am engaged on a case. May I ask you to look at that rabbit cage, Inspector Dane?"

"Yes, Superintendent," grinned Art, and I could see he was not taking Betty seriously, "I am looking at it."

"Give your attention to the fastening."

We all looked at the fastening when Betty called our attention to it in this way. The lid, or door, of the cage was a single board made to slide in and out between grooves on the top of the box. It was open now, pulled out so that even extra big rabbits could have jumped out through the opening. But what we looked at was the fastening. This was a piece of leather strap nailed on the slide, and there was a nail standing half-an-inch high in the top of the box, over which a hole in the strap could be put. This held the slide closed -- when it was closed -- but now the slide was pulled out almost as far as it would go.

"Was the slide open like that when you came out this morning, Inspector?" Betty asked Art.

"Yes," said Art doubtfully, "I think so." And then he said quite positively, "Yes, I know it was! That's why I thought I must have left it open last night. Yes, it was open."

"And the fastening, Inspector? I asked you to give that your attention."

Art came closer to the cage and took the end of the leather strap in his fingers.

"Well, say!" he exclaimed, and he looked at Betty with a grin that was almost sheepish. "You've sure got sharp eyes, Betty!" And then he said in a hurry, "I mean Superintendent."

We all looked at the strap closely, and it was easy to see that the leather had been broken through at one side where the hole that was meant for the nail was.

"I don't suppose you did that, Inspector Dane?" Betty asked. "When you pull out that slide to feed your rabbits, you don't usually jerk it and break the fastener, do you? You didn't do that last night, did you?"

"I did not!" declared Art. "I never jerked a lid in my life. If I did, I'd just have to put on another strap."

"So we see," said Betty, "that someone opened that slide in a hurry, and probably in the dark. Someone, most likely, who did not know there was a fastener on the slide. He jerked at the slide and broke the fastener. In other words, Inspector, a thief took your rabbits."

"Well --" said Arthur.

But if that is not enough proof," said Betty, "look at the straw in the bottom of the cage. I don't suppose you pushed all the straw up in one corner, did you, Inspector?"

"Certainly not," said Art. "If I had done anything to it, I would have spread it out."

"But it is all pushed into one corner," Betty pointed out. "And how would that happen? I have picked up tame rabbits by the ears, and you and I know what they do when they are lifted. They kick -- struggle and kick. If your rabbits had jumped out of the open box they would not have disturbed the straw much; when the thief lifted them, they kicked, and they kicked the straw into a pile. Are you satisfied now that someone took the rabbits, Inspector?"

"Yes, I am," grinned Arthur. "Anyway, it looks that way."

"Because if you are not," said Betty, "you can look at the cabbage leaves in this cage. You said you came out after supper last night and gave the rabbits cabbage leaves. Did you give all your rabbits cabbage leaves?"

"Yes, all of them," Arthur admitted.

"You can see, then," said Betty, pointing at the other cages, "that all the cabbage leaves have been eaten except those in this cage. I ask you, Inspector, if these white rabbits are different from your black rabbits, and your black-and-white rabbits, and your Maltese blue rabbits? Don't they like cabbage leaves as much as the other rabbits do?"

"Of course," Art laughed. "I see what you are getting at. The white rabbits wouldn't have jumped out of the cage until they had eaten the cabbage leaves -- or at least most of them. And they did not eat much of the leaves. So they must have been stolen out of the cage before they had a chance to eat the cabbage leaves."

"You are intelligent, Inspector," said Betty, but it did not sound exactly like a compliment. "You grasp facts quickly when you finally see them. We will admit, then, that a crime has been committed here, and that the white rabbits were stolen. Everything indicates that, including the fact that you could find no rabbit tracks in the snow that fell during the night. Stolen rabbits would not make tracks in the snow. So now we will decide when they were stolen."

"Before the snow fell last night," said Art promptly. "I know that because there were no tracks in the snow when I came out here this morning -- no footprints."

"We can set the time a little closer than that, I think," Betty said. "We know that the rabbits were here when you came out to give them the cabbage leaves last night. What time was that?"

"After supper. About seven-thirty o'clock. It was dark. I used my flash light."

"Rabbits awake?"

"Oh, yes! It wasn't quite that dark."

"Hum," said Betty thoughtfully. "You gave the white rabbits their cabbage leaves last, didn't you?"

"Yes, but how did you know that?"

"They would have eaten more of the leaves if they had been fed first. You'll notice the leaves in their cage are hardly more than nibbled. That means that the thief was here very soon after you were. The rabbits had no time to eat much. Possibly the thief was hiding here in the shed when you were here. But, no -- there is no place where a person could hide."

"Then you mean, Superintendent," I said, "that the thief came and took the rabbits almost as soon as Arthur went back to the house?"

"It would seem so from the clues we have noticed," Betty said, "unless Inspector Dane is trying to play a trick on us, and knows where the rabbits are, and put them there himself. And if you are trying to be that sort of a smarty, Art Dane, we'll never speak to you again as long as we live, will we, girls?"

"Oh, now, Superintendent Bliss!" I said. "That's not fair to Inspector Dane. He didn't even say the rabbits were stolen. He said they got away. Nobody would ever have thought they were stolen if you hadn't suggested it."

"I'm most certainly not playing a trick on you," Art declared. "Cross my heart and hope to die!"

"Then they were stolen," said Betty positively. "Someone came and took the rabbits just after you were here in the shed. Now the question is who took them?"

Art Dane laughed again.

"Listen," he said. "I believe now that they were stolen. You've shown me proof enough of that. But don't pretend you can tell us who did steal them -- unless you knew before you came here. You're not going to say there are clues right here before our eyes to tell us who the thief was, are you?"

"No," Betty said slowly. "No, I don't believe there are clues here to tell us that. And, after all, a clue isn't supposed to tell us much; a clue is a thread that leads us somewhere. A clue doesn't talk, it shows the way to something, like a ball of yarn that is unrolled to show the way through a labyrinth."

She was looking around, turning her head this way and that way, looking at the cages, and the walls, and the floor. The cage the white rabbits had been in was at one end of the shed, farther from the door than most of the other cages, and it was on a rough table as I have already said.

"This box," Betty asked suddenly, nodding to a wooden box that was partly under the table. "Was it always pulled out from under the table part way?"

"No," Art said, looking at the box in his turn. "It was always pushed in under the table all the way. Someone has pulled it out."

"To stand on," said Betty. "Someone must have pulled it out to stand on, to be able to reach into the cage to get the rabbits. Is there any other reason it should be pulled out like this?"

"No, Superintendent," said Art. "There was nothing in it."

"It looks to me," said Betty, "as if whoever took the rabbits was short. Even I could reach into the cage without standing on the box -- any of us could. So if whoever took the rabbits had to stand on this box, he must have been a small boy. Does that sound sensible, Inspector Carver?"

Dot had said almost nothing so far, and neither had I, because we were so interested in Betty and her detective work; and anyway Betty and Art had hardly given us a chance. But now Dot did speak up.

"Betty!" she exclaimed, and I wish you could have seen her face. First it had a look of surprise, the sort of surprise that shows on a person's face when she suddenly discovers that she knows more than she knew she knew. As if someone had asked a riddle, and she thought, "I'm so stupid I never can solve this riddle," and then the answer came to her in a flash. First Dot's face showed that sort of surprise. She was surprised at herself. Then she had a shocked look, as if she really couldn't believe what she was thinking. Then her face had a look of pleasure, as if she was pleased that she was able to solve the riddle.

'I will thank you to speak more respectfully to your superintendent.'

"Betty!" she exclaimed again. "I know who stole the rabbits! I'm just sure I know. I'm positive I know."

"Who was it?" Betty asked.

"No, I won't tell you," Dot said. "It wouldn't be fair. It would be too simple. Because I ought to have known all along. It wouldn't be detective work; it would just be telling you right out who took them."

"Do you mean. Dot Carver," I demanded, "that you have known all this while who took those rabbits!'"

"No," Dot said, rather flustered, "I didn't know. Or I did know, but I didn't have brains enough to see. I mean I'm almost sure I know. I'm just positive I know who took the rabbits."

She laughed, a giggling sort of laugh.

"But I didn't guess until Betty -- until Superintendent Bliss gave me a hint," she went on. "It just couldn't be anyone else. The thief almost told me the rabbits were going to be stolen, almost told me --"

"Who was it?" Art asked.

"That wouldn't be fair," Dot giggled. "Maybe I'm not right, but I think I am; and if I told you who it was, we wouldn't have any more work to do on this case, and it is a lovely mystery. I'll write the name, if you want me to, but you must not look at it until the case is solved."

"It may never be solved if you don't tell us, Dot," I said.

"Yes, it will, Inspector Madge," Dot declared. "I shouldn't wonder if Superintendent Bliss solved it. She's warm; she's almost hot. But, if she doesn't solve it, I just know that the case will be cleared up this evening. I just know it!"

"How so?" Art asked, looking puzzled.

He is a very good-looking boy, and the puzzled look made him look even nicer. "How will it be cleared up?"

I hate to say, again and again, that Dot giggled, but that is exactly what she did do. "The thief will bring the rabbits back," she said; and if that was not enough to make her giggle, I don't know what would be. She was thinking something was screamingly funny. "At least, if I'm right, the thief will. Who has a pencil?"

Art had a pencil, just a stub of one, but he had no paper and neither had any of us, so Dot tore a piece of label off one of the cages to write on. The cage had been a packing box before Art made a cage of it. The scrap of paper was small, with hardly enough room to write anything on, but Dot went to the other end of the shed, and wrote the name on the paper, and folded it once, and then again. It was not much bigger than the end of her thumb when it was folded.

"Who'll keep it?" she asked, and we said she had better give it to Art because he had pockets. He promised not to look at it, or show it to any of us.

"When can we look at it?" Betty asked.

"Not until tonight," Dot said, "or until the thief brings the rabbits back. Eight o'clock tonight -- they'll be back then, if they are coming back."

"Well, say!" Art said. "This is the craziest business I ever did hear of. What do you mean, Dot -- did the fellow just borrow my rabbits?"

"No," Dot said. "They were stolen. The thief meant to keep them, but will not keep them."

"I give it up," Art said. "It doesn't make sense to me."

"I'm sorry!" Dot pretended to be meek and humble, but she did not make much of a success of it. "I think Superintendent Bliss ought to go ahead with her detective work now. It would be a wonderful triumph if she could solve the mystery of the white rabbits by clues and induction."

"We will carry on, Inspectors," Betty said briskly, "although I do think we have every right to know what Inspector Carver knows. In the detection of crime, the knowledge possessed by the police, whatever it is, is always available and can be used. If one detective knows anything, it is at the service of the force. But we can use what Inspector Carver knows tonight, if the case is not solved by then. My last induction, I believe, was that the thief was a small boy."

"O. K.," said Art. "If he pulled that box out to stand on, he was a small boy, and I guess that is what he did. Now the question is, what small boy? Can you tell us that, Superintendent?"

I would love to say that Betty could. It would be grand to say that she looked at the floor, and picked up a black button, and said, "Ah, ha! Tommy Jones!" Or that she picked a thread of wool from a splinter on the white rabbits' cage, and said, "What ho! Jimmy Smith!" but she did not. We hunted high and low for more clues, but there just were not any. At last even Betty gave it up.

"That's as far as I can go," she said. "It was a small boy, and Art should know what small boys know he has rabbits. The rest is legwork, and I assign you to that job, Inspector Dane. Make a list of all the small boys who might have stolen the rabbits, and go to see them."

Well, that is good detective work, too; and in real life, a lot of it has to be done, but this was Saturday afternoon and the skating was good.

"Tomorrow, Superintendent," Art begged. "Just now something tells me we are missing some good skating. Those rabbits will keep, and if we have a thaw, the skating won't. So let's go skating,"

We did, but we agreed to meet at Art's house at eight o'clock to see whether Dot's guess was right or wrong, and at eight Betty and Dot and I rang the Danes' bell. Art opened the door, and he was one big grin from ear to ear.

"The rabbits came home to roost," he said. "Jed Sylvan brought them home fifteen minutes ago. He had a sack of rabbits in one hand, and little Susie Sylvan in the other."

"I was right! I was right!" cried Dot, clapping her hands. "Did you look at the name I wrote, Art? Did you?"

"Yes," he said, digging it out of his pocket. "There it is, 'Susie Sylvan.' And was the poor kid meek and humble! Did she beg my pardon! She got spanked, too, I understand,"

"I'm ashamed to tell you how simple it was," Dot said, when we were inside. "You know that Jed is always hunting, and has a lot of skins tacked on his shed wall to dry and cure -- rabbit and fox and coon skins? And Mrs. Sylvan comes around doing chores? All there was to my smartness was that my little sister, Doris, has a coat with a white rabbit fur collar, and yesterday when Mrs. Sylvan came to the house, she brought Susie."

"And Susie admired Doris's collar," said Betty.

"Yes," agreed Dot, "and she said, 'I'm going to have a bunny collar on my coat, too, I am. I know where I can get a bunny collar for my coat. My papa can make me a bunny collar, he can.'"

"And when I said it was a small boy --"

"I thought of a small girl," smiled Dot. "And I wondered why a small girl should take white rabbits when the others were closer to hand -- nearer the door. So, of course, I guessed that Susie Sylvan wanted white rabbit skin. And, of course, I knew that Jed Sylvan would make her bring the rabbits back as soon as he got home."

"Which is all fine and dandy," said Art, "except that little Susie took the rabbits last night. Why didn't her father make her bring them home then?"

Dot looked blank. Art laughed.

"Don't cry, Inspector," he said. "Jed wasn't home. He went out to his hunting shack yesterday afternoon, and little Susie left the rabbits in their woodshed. Superintendent, does Inspector Dot deserve a piece of chocolate cake?"

"I shall mention in my report," said Betty, "that she merits an extra large piece. And I'd like a big piece, too," she added hastily.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:10:47am USA Central
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