from American Girl
The Red Avengers' Mystery
by Ellis Parker Butler
Our Detective Club was having a meeting in Betty Bliss's yard that afternoon and our bicycles were sprawled here and there on the lawn. It was a lovely day. Betty Bliss had just opened our book -- The Mystery of the Rolling Moon -- because we read mystery stories at our meetings when we had no real ones to solve.
"Listen, Betty!" Dick Prince said. "I don't want to sit around and listen to you read a book. Let's go somewhere on our wheels. It's a swell day."
"That's right," Art Dane added. "What's the use pretending we're a Detective Club when nothing ever happens for us to detect? Let's make this a Bicycle Club and have some fun."
"Oh, no!" Dot Carver begged. "If you boys are tired of our Club, you don't have to stay in it, but we girls started the Club -- and I like it, don't you, Madge?"
I said I did. I said it would be all right to get up a Bicycle Club, but that I thought one afternoon a week wasn't too much to give to our Detective Club. I said this partly on Betty Bliss's account because the Detective Club had been her idea and I knew she loved it.
"You can all do as you like," Betty said, lifting her chin in the air, "but I'm going to keep on being a Detective Club if I have to be it alone. And as for not having any mysteries to solve, you can't expect one every day. But one can happen any time."
As if to prove it, Mrs. Wecks came into the yard where we were. She was quite excited, or angry, or something.
"Are you Betty Bliss?" she asked Betty. "Is this the Detective Club I have heard so much about? If so, I'll give you something to bother with -- my dog has been murdered, outrageously murdered."
Before she was through speaking, Mr. Wecks, her husband, came around the house, puffing a little from having followed her so fast. He was a plump little man, quite bald, and now rather red in the face from hurrying. He took off his hat and wiped the top of his head.
"Outrageously murdered," he repeated. "Rascals. Killed her dog. Demanded money. Shameful."
"I'll tell them, Samuel," Mrs. Wecks said. "Please leave this to me."
We had all jumped to our feet, of course, and Art and Dick had taken off their hats as gentlemen should, and now Mrs. Wecks told us what had happened.
"Last night," she began, "I went to a bridge party at Mrs. Tolenton's, and I did not get home until after twelve. We often play that late -- we usually do. When I got home my dog was gone."
"I know that little black-and-white dog," Betty Bliss said. "It always runs up and down inside your fence and barks at me when I go by. You know the dog, Inspector Madge."
"Yes, Superintendent Bliss," I said, because Betty likes to be called Superintendent when we are working on a mystery -- Superintendent of Detectives, you know. I knew the little dog well, because it was the snappiest, barkingest dog I ever saw.
"Very well," said Mrs. Wecks. "When I reached home my dog did not come to meet me, and this note was tucked under the front door."
With that she handed Betty the note and we all crowded close to read it. It was printed with pencil on coarse white paper and this is what it said:
"Mrs. Wecks: If U dond put 100$ under stoan at nord-east coarner of yard befoar midnide tonide yoor dorg will B murdered. Don't fail; we meen business. The Red Avengers."
Betty looked up from the note. "And you didn't put the money under the stone, Mrs. Wecks?" she asked.
"Of course not!" spluttered Mr. Wecks. "It was after midnight then. Rascals. One hundred dollars indeed!"
"I didn't have one hundred dollars, not in the house," said Mrs. Wecks. "Who would have?"
"And they did take the dog?" asked Betty, her eyes on the note. "Wasn't anyone at home? Didn't anyone hear it?"
"Alice was at home -- she's our maid -- but she had gone to bed," said Mrs. Wecks. "She did not hear anything except three or four sharp barks when Mr. Wecks put Tammie out."
"At half-past eleven," said Mr. Wecks, "I thought I would go to bed, and we always put Tammie out for a short run before we go to bed, so I went to the back door and let him out. He barked three or four times and that was the last I heard of him.
I went back in the house. Ten minutes later I went to the back door and called him, but he did not come. I called and whistled --"
"And you were out there calling and whistling when I got home and found this note under the front door," said Mrs. Wecks rather snappishly. "Calling and whistling, when at that very minute my poor dog was being murdered -- or was dead. Or buried."
"Buried?" asked Betty Bliss, for that was a queer thing for Mrs. Wecks to say. "You say your dog was buried?"
"Certainly," said Mrs. Wecks. "The wretches killed the poor animal and buried it just outside the back fence. The grave is there. Oh, I'll make them sorry for it!"
"Boys," said Mr. Wecks. "That's what they were, I say -- rascally boys. Gang of bad boys. Look at the note -- ignorant young wretches that can't spell."
"Yes, I was looking at the note," Betty Bliss said. "It is funny spelling, isn't it? Of course you know, Mrs. Wecks, that if the dog is dead we can't bring it to life again. All we can do is to find out who did the deed."
"I know that very well," said Mrs. Wecks, "and that's all I want. I'll see to the rest of it, never you fear. So that's why I've come to you -- you ought to know what boys would do a mean trick like this."
"Inspectors," Betty asked, "shall we take this case?"
"Yes," we all said, and in less than a minute we were on our way to the scene of the crime. Betty walked beside Mr. and Mrs. Wecks, pushing her bicycle, and Art and Dick and Dot and I rode ahead in the street. We reached the Wecks's home first and waited at the gate, and, when Betty and Mr. and Mrs. Wecks reached us, we all went in and Mr. Wecks closed the gate carefully behind us.
"I think we would like to see where the dog is buried first," Betty said. "There may be footprints there."
There were no footprints, but there was something else. The dog's grave was just outside the close wire fence, beyond what the note had called the "nord-east coarner" of the yard and in the big vacant lot there. There was a plain board planted at the head of the small grave, and on the board was painted in rough letters with red paint, "We worned you -- yoor dorg is ded." Betty walked to the board and touched one of the letters with her finger. She held up the finger and there was no paint on it.
"Dry paint," she said. "What does that suggest to you. Inspector Madge?"
"That it was painted long enough ago to be dry now," I answered.
"Exactly," said Betty. "And that means it was not painted here last night. It was painted somewhere else and brought here. Where from?"
"There," said Mrs. Wecks, and pointed. From where we stood we could see a rickety play-shack at the far end of the vacant lot. It was made of any sort of old boards and rusty tin, and on it, over the low door, was a board. Even from there we could see the words on it in red paint, "The Red Avengers."
"Say," Dick Prince exclaimed, "that's the old shack Art and I built three or four years ago to play robbers in!" and he started for the shack on a run. Art started after him and we all followed, Mr. Wecks panting because of his plumpness.
"I thought so -- I knew so," Mr. Wecks gasped. "Gang of rascal boys. Ought to be spanked. Ought to be whipped."
"Ought to be jailed, if you ask me," said Mrs. Wecks grimly.
Art and Dick had dived through the low door, long before we reached the shack, and they came out as we arrived.
"Not a thing," Dick said. "It's as bare as a barn in there."
"Not even a paint can, Inspector?" Betty asked.
"Not even a straw, Superintendent," Art told her. "It's as clean as a whistle."
"I suppose the criminals carefully removed all traces that might be clues," Dot said.
"I suppose so," said Betty, but she was thinking of something else. She put up a finger and touched one of the letters of "The Red Avengers" painted on the board. When she held up the tip of the finger, there was red paint on it.
"Fresh paint," she said, wiping it on the side of the shack. "That's queer, isn't it?"
She looked around, here and there, and touched another letter and that was fresh paint also.
"Did you ever see boys playing up here, Mrs. Wecks?" she asked.
"I dare say," said Mrs. Wecks. "Now and then. Who'd pay any attention to them -- boys fuss around everywhere. They come into this vacant lot. I never noticed them much."
"You don't remember any of them?" Betty asked. "They were just boys to you? Just plain boys, not boys you'd recognize again?"
"I wouldn't know them," said Mrs. Wecks.
"Neither would I," said Mr. Wecks. "Wouldn't know them from Adam. All boys look alike to me -- pack of rascals!"
"I guess you don't like boys," Dot said.
"Hate 'em," said Mr. Wecks. "Boys and --"
"Girls?" Dot asked pertly.
"I didn't say girls," said Mr. Wecks, getting very red in the face. For a moment Betty Bliss looked at Mr. Wecks thoughtfully, then she turned to me.
"Well, Inspector Madge," she said, "I think we can solve this mystery without wasting any more time here. I think we will look at the stone now."
"Stone?" I asked, a little bewildered.
"The stone the money was to be put under," Betty explained. She showed us the note where it said, "Put 100$ under stoan at nord-east coarner of yard." She started toward the Wecks's yard.
"But, Betty," I began, "I mean, but Superintendent Bliss, Mrs. Wecks did not put any money under the stone."
"Certainly not," Betty said. "What has that got to do with it?"
So, with her chin in the air in her most detective-like manner, she started for the Wecks's yard and we all followed. We went in at the back gate and Mr. Wecks closed it as carefully as if the little dog was still in the yard -- that was habit, I suppose -- and we followed along inside the fence until we came to that "nord-east coarner." The stone was there, a large, flattish stone -- the only stone anywhere around there. Betty bent down, put her fingers under the edge, and tried to lift it.
"I can't do it, Inspector Prince," she said to Dick. "You and Inspector Dane try it," and she stood aside. Art and Dick took hold of the edges of the stone and heaved and pulled. It was not that the stone was so heavy, but it was hard to turn and start it moving. When it did turn over, it brought a little of the fresh earth with it, and a hundred bugs and beetles and thousand-legged worms scuttered and scurried to get out of the light. That stone had not been moved for months or years, and anyone could see that. Betty had bent down to see and now she stood straight.
"At any rate," she said, "they knew the stone was here -- those Red Avengers. They mentioned it in the ransom note."
Now, I don't pretend to be as smart as Betty Bliss, but like a flash I knew what she was thinking. The Red Avengers -- whoever they were -- had asked Mrs. Wecks to put one hundred dollars under the stone by midnight, but they had not looked under the stone to see if the money had been put there! Did that mean they never expected Mrs. Wecks would put any money there?
"Of course, Superintendent," I said, as if Betty had spoken her thought, "the dog-murderers might have been lurking outside the fence. They might have seen that nobody put money under the stone. Then, of course, they wouldn't bother to look under it."
"Quite true, Inspector Madge," Betty said, but she did not seem to be paying much attention to my words. She was frowning thoughtfully, looking at Mr. Wecks's shoes -- or so I thought -- and suddenly her face cleared us it does when she has seen a clue that will solve a mystery. "You can put that stone back where it was, Inspector Dane," she said, and Dick and Art heaved the stone back into the hole.
"Well, well," said Mr. Wecks impatiently, "are you getting anywhere? Can you give us any idea who the rascally boys were? I don't know any boys. You ought to know what boys would do a thing like this."
"We could make a list of all the boys we know," said Madge eagerly. "Then Art and Dick -- I mean Inspectors Dane and Prince -- could see if any of them had red paint, find the paint can, or maybe see some red paint on their hands or clothes. It would take some time --"
"Time does not matter," said Betty. "We will take all the time we need. I think," she said to Mr. and Mrs. Wecks, "that the Detective Club will have to hold a consultation. We will report as soon as there is anything to report."
"You mean you want us to let you talk it over?" Mrs. Wecks asked. "Very well. Come, Samuel."
"Lot of nonsense," grumbled Mr. Wecks. "If they don't know what boys did it, they ought to say so!" But he followed Mrs. Wecks toward the house. Betty sat down on the stone and we all sat down around her. She spread the note out on her knee.
"First this note," she said. "What sort of boy would write this note?"
"A young boy," Dick Prince said. "Look at the spelling. 'Yoor' for 'your', and 'nord-east' for 'north-east.' That's the way a kid spells -- a six- or seven-year-old."
"And probably a German kid," said Art. "Look at 'dond' for 'don't' and 'nord' for 'north.'"
"Yes?" said Betty. "But do you notice this, Inspectors -- the simple words are misspelled, as 'stoan' for 'stone' and 'dorg' for 'dog,' but the two hardest words are spelled correctly -- 'murdered' and 'business'? And here is another thing -- in the first part of the note 'don't' is spelled 'dond'', but in the latter part it is spelled 'don't'"
"You mean the note is a fake?" asked Art.
"I mean just that," said Betty positively. "And I'll give you another reason. See here where it says, 'Don't fail; we meen business.' Notice that there is a semicolon after 'fail'? No six-year-old boy uses a semicolon. I don't believe you do, Inspector Dane."
"Well, no," grinned Art. "I don't know where to put them. I steer clear of them."
"So I think whoever wrote the note tried to make it seem as if a small boy had written it, but the writer was old enough to spell 'murder' and 'business' correctly and to use a semicolon correctly. Someone at least as old as Inspector Dane or Inspector Prince. Probably older."
"But who --?" I began.
"A very pertinent question. Inspector Madge," Betty said. "Who did write the note if a small boy did not? I suppose we have a right to say that the same boy -- or boys -- or older person -- painted the 'Red Avengers' sign on the shack and painted the words on the board at the head of the little dog's grave."
"Certainly it was all one gang," Art conceded.
"Let us see what we can make of it then," said Betty. "The note comes to Mrs. Wecks when she is not at home. It is pushed under her front door. She does not find it until after midnight, when it is too late to pay the ransom asked."
"And she wouldn't pay a hundred dollars for that nasty, snappy little cur anyway," said Dot scornfully.
"Very well," said Betty. "That would look as if she was not meant to save the dog -- the note was put under the door too late, and the money asked was more than she would pay."
"Someone meant to murder the dog and make Mrs. Wecks think a gang of boys did it!" Dot cried. "Is that it, Superintendent?"
"Let us consider," said Betty calmly. "The paint on the board at the head of the grave was dry; the paint on the 'Red Avengers' board on the shack was wet. What does that mean? I think it means that whoever planned to do away with the dog painted the headboard a day or more ago. He had planned it all in advance. But, when the time came, he remembered the shack and thought it would make it all look even more like the work of a boy gang if he painted 'Red Avengers' on the shack, to make the shack look like the gang's headquarters."
"That sounds all right," said Art, "but what if he did?"
"Several things," said Betty, jumping up and brushing the back of her skirt. "But I want you to look in Mr. Wecks's shed there, Inspector Dane, and see if there is a spade. If there is, Inspector, please get it; we will investigate the dog's grave."
"But, Betty!" I cried, forgetting to call her Superintendent. "You aren't going to dig up a dead dog? Horrors! I never heard of anything so disgusting."
"I don't think you will be more disgusted than you can stand, Inspector," said Betty dryly. "Detectives have to do unpleasant things sometimes."
So I said no more. Art got a spade from Mr. Wecks's shed and we went out of the yard, and Art began digging the soft dirt out of the dog's grave. He had hardly dug out three spadefuls when he struck something hard. He spaded it out.
"Say," he exclaimed, "it's the paint can. And here's the brush!"
"Of course!" Betty said calmly. "Where did you expect to find them? Go on digging."
"But that's all," Art said when he had shoveled out a little more earth. "There's hard clay below this. This is as deep as the grave is. There's no dog here."
"I hardly thought there would be," Betty said. "He does not look like a man who would actually kill a dog, no matter how much he hated it and it hated him. He would get rid of it some other way."
"Betty! I mean Superintendent!" I cried. "You don't mean that Mr. Wecks --"
"I have mentioned no names. Inspector," Betty said.
"Look!" said Art. "There's red paint on the handle of this spade."
"No doubt," said Betty. "Whoever used that spade put the paint can in the grave and probably got paint on his fingers. Come -- I want to ask Mrs. Wecks a few questions."
We found Mr. and Mrs. Wecks sitting on their side porch.
"I think we are making good progress, Mrs. Wecks," Betty said, "but I want you to tell me something about the dog, if you please. It was a barking dog, wasn't it?"
"Barked at every one," said Mrs. Wecks. "Samuel did not like my dog; it bit his ankles."
"Yes, I saw his sock was nipped," said Betty, "but I was thinking of last night. You said your maid heard your dog give three or four sharp barks when Mr. Wecks put the dog out, but then no more. Mrs. Wecks, was there anyone the dog would not bark at -- anyone who came to the house now and then -- someone the dog liked?"
Mr. Wecks got very red in the face now. "Nonsense! Tut, tut! Enough of this!" he spluttered, but Mrs. Wecks answered Betty.
"He barked at every one -- postman, iceman, grocery boy -- every one but Silas Johnson, the colored man who cuts our lawn. He liked Silas. It was Silas who gave me Tammie when he was a pup."
Betty turned to us. She actually snapped her fingers.
"Madge, Dot, Art. Dick!" she commanded. "Find Silas and bring Mrs. Wecks's dog home. Be careful, don't let the dog bite you."
Well, we jumped on our wheels and went spinning down the street. We did not stop until we reached Silas Johnson's cottage. He was in the yard, burning trash.
"Silas," I called to him, "we've come for Mrs. Wecks's dog," and he put down his rake and came to the fence.
"Yas'm," he said, grinning. "All told Mistah Wecks how Mis' Wecks ain't gwine lay still an' lose her dog without makin' trouble. He gimme fi' dollahs to take an' con-ceal dat dog. You wait an' Ah fotch de dog."
He brought Tammie out of the cottage -- muzzled -- and Art took the dog and we wheeled back to Mrs. Wecks's house. And was Mrs. Wecks pleased! The last we saw of Mr. Wecks he was going into the house, his face as red as fire, saying, "Tut, tut! Bit me on the ankles! What was a man to do?"