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"The Detective Club" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from American Girl
The Detective Club
by Ellis Parker Butler

Now, I am going to tell this exactly as it happened and then you can decide whether you think Betty Bliss was a clever detective or not.

It began in Betty's living room right here in Westcote, and there were five of us in it. I was there -- my name is Madge -- and of course Betty was there, and so was Dorothy Carter. The two boys were Dick Prince who lives next door to Betty, and Arthur Dane who lives next beyond Dick. We all live in the same neighborhood and in Tenth Street, so we had formed the Tenth Street Reading Circle, and we were reading detective mystery stories together. One of us read a chapter, and then another read a chapter, and so on.

So this evening we were reading the last of The Mystery of the Golden Puffin, which is a pretty good story, and Betty Bliss said, "I'd love to be a detective. All my life I've wanted to be a detective."

This was so. I remembered when Betty coaxed me to go with her to see Mr. Cassidy, the Chief of Detectives in Westcote, and he told us a lot of things about detecting, and Betty said then she wished she could be a detective.

"Yes," I said, "and I remember when Mr. Cassidy put the handcuffs on us. I was glad when he took them off again."

"But he did say girls could be detectives -- when they grew up," Betty said. "There are lots of women detectives."

"Women, maybe," said Dick Prince scornfully. "But a lot of good, girl detectives would be!"

"How do you know?" Betty Bliss demanded. "Just because there never have been any girl detectives, you say that. I'll tell you what would be fun," she went on in the enthusiastic way she sometimes does. "A Detective Club. To do real detecting. Just the five of us."

"Not for me," said Dick Prince who thinks he is smart. "I don't go into any detective club with girls. If it came to real detecting, you girls would make a mess of it."

"All right, then," said Betty Bliss, tossing her head, "you boys needn't come in! We girls will be the Detective Club. We'll make it a sort of Scotland Yard, Madge, like the one in London. I'll be Superintendent, and you and Dot can be Inspectors."

"We'd better not call it Scotland Yard," Dot said. "If we solve a lot of cases and get to be famous all over the world, we wouldn't want anybody to think we were the London Scotland Yard, and give that Scotland Yard the credit, would we?"

"Listen to them!" jeered Dick Prince. "Famous! Wow!"

"We can call ourselves Tenth Street Yard," said Betty, paying no attention to Dick. "That's where we are -- on Tenth Street."

So that was what we decided to call our detective club, and we made Betty Bliss the Superintendent and Dot and me Inspectors, while the boys joked about it. But Betty was in earnest.

"You wait," she said. "One of these days there'll be a crime in Westcote, and Tenth Street Yard will do some detecting, and maybe you'll be surprised."

We did not know how soon a crime was to be reported in our very own neighborhood, or that in a few hours we would be busy studying clues -- if any -- and working on our first case under the direction of Superintendent Betty Bliss. Although Betty did most of the detecting, I am bound to say.

The crime was discovered the next morning. Betty had asked Dot and me to go over to her house and play croquet. We got there as she was finishing breakfast and we went out of the house together, but the minute Betty saw the lawn she stopped short.

"Oh, piffle!" she exclaimed with vexation. "No croquet this morning, girls."

The wickets were all pulled up and laid together on a lawn chair because Silas, the man-of-all-work for the block, was just getting ready to cut the grass. He was oiling his mower, but he looked up and saw us.

'I hates to spoil folks' fun,' said Silas in a queer whining voice.

"I reckon I busted up your croquet game for this mornin', Miss Betty," he said in his queer whining voice, as he wiped his chocolate-brown face with the back of his hand. "I hates like pizen to spoil folks' fun, but a hard-workin' man's got to work when he's due to work. Anyhow 'twon't be but an hour or so before I gets this lawn trimmed up all nice an' salubrious -- an' den you-all kin have dat croquet game."

"Oh, well, we'll do something else now," Betty said. "Let's go over and play at Dick's -- shall we?"

So we went around through the gates into Dick Prince's yard, and before we reached the back porch where the mallets were kept, we saw Dick and Arthur.

"Betty," Dick said, "we were just going to get you. If you want to be a detective, here's your chance. Woof is gone. Someone stole him. He's gone as clean as a whistle -- not a hide nor hair of him left."

Arthur Dane pointed to the doghouse, the big kennel to which Woof was always chained.

"He's gone all right," he said. "We came out to feed him and he was gone. Stolen. And more than one man was needed to steal him -- I say it would take three or four men to get away with Woof."

Betty was already on her way to the doghouse, and Dot and I were close behind her. Betty stopped before she readied the kennel and looked at Dick.

"What have you done about it?" she asked. "You weren't coming for me first, were you? Didn't you tell the police?"

"Yes," Dick said. "I did that the very first thing. I went in and asked them to send up a cop and one is on the way now. He'll be here any minute. But you talk so much about wanting to be a detective that I thought I'd give you a chance."

One glance at the big doghouse standing at the side of the Prince garage was enough to show Betty that the splendid Belgian police dog was gone. When he was in the kennel, he always came out to greet Betty and Dot and me because he liked us. He would jump to meet us, pulling at the chain that fastened him and barking his joy, but now there was only the empty kennel. A tin plate with a dog biscuit and a ration of dog food was on the smooth sandy ground, the biscuit and the food untouched, showing that Woof had been gone when Dick and Arthur put the plate there.

The officer drew his notebook from his pocket, and pushed his cap to the back of his head, and began asking questions, jotting down the answers in the notebook.

Before Betty could make any closer inspection, the policeman came and Dick's mother came from the house. She spoke to the policeman, and he touched his cap and said, "Good morning, Mrs. Prince." He was the cheery red-faced officer who patrolled our part of town and we all knew him to speak to. He drew his notebook from his pocket, and pushed his cap to the back of his head, and began asking questions, jotting down the answers in the notebook.

"Name of owner?" asked Officer Murphy. "What breed of dog? What color? Any special marks on him? What is the value of the dog?"

He asked a couple of dozen such questions, and Dick answered them. He said that Woof had cost fifty dollars as a pup, and that he was now full grown and worth over a hundred dollars.

"And that's important," said Officer Murphy. "The police have no time to chase mutts, but a hundred-dollar dog is a serious matter. A dog worth under fifty dollars would be petty larceny, but one hundred dollars makes it grand larceny, and I shouldn't wonder if the whole detective force would be after the thief."

"I hope you find him. He's a good dog," said Dick Prince.

"We'll do our best," said Officer Murphy, putting his notebook in his pocket, "but these dog stealers is mighty slick. You see how it is -- they come in an automobile and pop the dog into it by night, and by mornin' they can be a couple of hundred miles away -- and who knows where to look for the dog?"

"Isn't there anything else we can do?" Dick asked, and Officer Murphy turned to Mrs. Prince.

"You might advertise, ma'am," he said. "Like 'Fifty dollars reward will be paid for the return of a Belgian police dog,' and so on. Dog thieves steal dogs for the money they can get, and they don't care whose. Often if 'No questions asked' is put into the advertisement, it hastens the return of the animal. That's often the best way to get a dog back."

"But, Mr. Murphy," asked Betty, "don't the detectives look for clues and follow them and find dogs?"

"Well, young lady," said Officer Murphy as he prepared to go, "I daresay the detective force does the best it can, but what sort of a clue would there be when a dog is picked up and hustled away? Not any, I'm thinkin'. We do the best we can. So good day to you."

With that Officer Murphy went away and Mrs. Prince went into the house to telephone an advertisement to the paper, as I supposed, and Betty Bliss turned to Dick and Arthur.

"If you boys want to join the detective club," she said, "now is your chance. We're not going to play detective, we're really going to detect. We're going to find Woof, and we're going to find who stole him. Do you want to join Tenth Street Yard, or don't you?"

"Yes?" Dick spoke just as scornfully as the night before. "How are you going to do anything? There's nothing to do anything with. Murphy said so. There's no clue to start with -- no footprints, or fingerprints, or anything. Art and I will keep out of it."

Well, there did not seem to be anything to begin with. The empty doghouse couldn't talk, and the dog -- where was he? But Inspector Betty Bliss of Tenth Street Yard had already turned her back on Dick and Arthur, and she was examining the empty kennel.

"Look here, Inspector," she said to Dot. "I want you to look at this chain. It has been cut."

Dot and I and the two boys went to look at the short piece of chain still hanging from the staple in the doghouse.

"Yes, we saw that," Dick said. "We saw that, as soon as we saw that Woof was gone. That don't help us; they had to cut the chain to get Woof loose. That staple wouldn't come out."

"It may not mean anything," Betty said, "but maybe it might. How would you say the chain was cut, Art?"

Arthur bent down and looked at the severed link.

"You can see it was not filed," said Betty. "If it had been filed, we could see the scratches a file always makes. I did not think it would be filed -- a file makes a noise, and the noise might have awakened someone in the house. The thief would not want to make a noise."

"You're right," Arthur said. "It was not filed, Betty."

"And it was not broken," said Betty. "You can see that none of the links are worn -- it is a new chain and strong."

"It was cut, Betty," I said. "Anyone can see that."

"And cut with nippers, or pincers, or whatever people use to cut chains with," Betty said. "Don't you think so, Dick?"

"That's right," Dick admitted.

"So if we could discover who had the nippers, we would know who cut the chain and stole Woof."

"Sure!" said Dick. "And there are only about five million pairs of nippers in the United States. Ten million, I'll bet you."

"Well, anyway," said Betty, rising, "that cuts down the possible suspects about one half, because only a man or a boy would use nippers and cut a chain. A girl or a woman wouldn't."

"A girl or a woman wouldn't steal a dog -- not a big dog like Woof," said Dot. "If a woman stole a dog, it would be a small dog."

"Right you are, Inspector," said Betty. "We must look for a man or a boy. Now, why was the chain cut?"

"Why, to steal the dog, you poor simpleton," laughed Dick. "Why else would he cut the chain?"

Betty looked at Dick in such a funny way that he colored.

"I may be a simpleton," Betty said, "but I seem to remember that there was a snap-hook on the other end of the chain -- a hook that snapped into the ring on Woof's collar. All anyone had to do was to unsnap the hook. Now, please tell me why the thief cut the chain close to the kennel when all he had to do was unsnap the hook from the collar? You can tell me that, Inspector Madge."

"Can I?" I said, but I couldn't.

"The thief wanted the chain," suggested Betty. "You know Woof, Inspector. You couldn't keep Woof tied with a rope -- he chews right through a rope. This thief knew you couldn't tie a big dog with a rope and expect to keep him. So he needed the chain. And doesn't that mean that the thief was not a professional dog stealer such as Officer Murphy was talking about?"

"Why does it?" Arthur asked.

"Because I think that a professional dog stealer would be prepared and have a chain. He would have unsnapped this chain from Woof's collar and snapped on his own."

"Betty," I said, "you are a wonder."

"Please call me Superintendent when you address me, Inspector," Betty said, and Arthur laughed.

"I'll say you are pretty good, anyway, Superintendent," he said. "I wouldn't have thought of the snap-hook in a million years. What else do you see, Miss Sherlock Holmes?"

"There's something I don't see," said Betty. "And sometimes what you don't see is as important as what you do see. I don't see any claw scratches on the ground in front of the kennel. What does Woof do when any stranger tries to take him anywhere, Dick?"

"He drags back," Dick admitted. "It takes a stout fellow to pull him."

"And his claws leave scratches," said Betty. "There are no scratches here, so we must deduce one of two things -- either he was carried away, or he went willingly. He couldn't have been carried away by strangers or he would have barked, so he must have gone willingly with someone he knew and was friendly with."

"Someone could have chloroformed him, Betty," I said.

"No, Inspector," said Betty. "No one could have gotten close enough to Woof to chloroform him. He would have barked. Did he bark last night?"

"No," Dick said. "He didn't bark, and he is the very barkingest dog in this town."

"My opinion is that he was taken by someone he would follow willingly," Betty went on. "Now, who knew Woof that well?"

"There's the butcher boy," suggested Arthur. "He comes every day. He brings a bone for Woof now and then."

"Jimmy Schluter? He would never steal a dog," said Betty. "Who else, Dick?"

"There's Ed Dawson, the grocer's boy. And the iceman. And Charlie Wong, the laundryman. And Nick, the vegetable man."

"No!" Betty shook her head. "I don't believe they'd steal a dog. Anybody else?"

"I can't think of anyone," Dick told her.

"Then it seems as if we had come to two dead ends," said Betty gravely. "They don't join. Woof was stolen by someone he knew, but no one he knew would steal him."

"Betty, you're a scream," Dot said. "You sound like a book detective. All you need now is to say 'But I could do with a bite to eat, Inspector.' They always say that."

"I've had my breakfast," Betty said. She was not in a mood to joke. She stood looking at the doghouse, going over the clues one by one again. "I can't see where I was wrong," she remarked presently. "There must be someone else who knew Woof and was friendly with him. Try to think, Dick."

All Dick could think of was some of the boys we all play with now and then, but we knew they would not steal a dog. It did look as if Betty had come to a dead end, and Dick said, "Girl detectives!" in a sort of "I told you so" way, but even that did not fuss Betty and suddenly she said "Ah!"

"Did you think of something?" I asked.

"I think our next step in this investigation will take us some distance from the scene of the crime. Inspector," Betty said seriously. "Dick, do you think your mother will let you have the car this morning?"

"I'll ask her," Dick said, giving Arthur a queer smile. "I sort of bent a mudguard yesterday, and Father did not think that was so good; but if you want it for detective work, Mother might let me take it."

Dick's mother came to the kitchen door when he had spoken to her. She said she did not think we ought to go far in the car, that amateur detectives should be able to do their detecting without running around in automobiles, and I saw that she did not take Betty's detective ability at all seriously. But Dick came to Betty's aid.

"Oh, Mother! Please!" he begged, and Mrs. Prince said, "Very well, but do drive carefully and don't go far."

So we three members of Tenth Street Yard, and Dick and Arthur, piled into the car, and Dick drove where Betty told him to go. We went across town to the section where a few small houses, that were hardly more than shacks, stood near the swamp.

"Silas's house!" Dick exclaimed. "You're right, Betty; he does know Woof. I never thought of Silas coming to cut the lawn every week. She's some detective, Arthur."

"Listen!" Betty ordered.

The car made some noise, but even while we were quite a distance from Silas's shack we heard a dog barking -- an unhappy dog.

"Woof!" came the deep bark, and then a pause and again "Woof!" and this was repeated again and again. The barking came from inside Silas's shack -- a dog saying that he did not want to be shut in, and that he wanted his master.

The Tenth Street Yard Detectives climbed up to look into the window.

We piled out of the car as soon as Dick stopped it. Betty did not bother about dignity; she ran to the shack, but its window was too high, so she pulled up a box, and the three girls of Tenth Street Yard climbed onto it and looked in at the window. A dog was there, and a big dog, too, but he was not Woof. He was a huge rough-haired mongrel, tied by a rope to the leg of a bed -- not in the least like the stolen dog!

Well, I wish you could have seen Betty's face! She had been so sure that we would see Woof. She certainly was a crestfallen girl. I wanted to say something, but I could not think of anything particularly comforting to say, so we all got into the car again and Dick drove us home.

Now, I suppose every car makes its own special sort of noise. A good detective probably knows that, and almost every dog knows the noise made by its owner's car. Anyway, as we rolled into the Prince driveway, a dog barked in Arthur Dane's father's garage that stood close beside the Prince garage, and there was no mistaking that bark -- it was Woof's bark.

Betty said nothing, but Art and Dick laughed. Dick opened the door of the garage and there stood Woof, the chain still attached to his collar, wagging his tail with joy.

I think that Betty, just at first, was almost angry. The red suffused her face, anyway, but Dick calmed her down.

"Don't be sore, Betty," he said. "We played a trick on you, but you win anyway."

"I win?" Betty asked.

"You do," Dick said. "To trick you was hardly fair play. Art and I got Officer Murphy to take part in it, just for a joke. Mother knew, too. But every deduction you made was correct, and just as true of me as it was of Silas. Woof does know me, I did cut the chain, Woof did follow me without being dragged. And --"

"And, after all," I said, "Betty did discover where Woof was without your telling her, didn't she?"

"Yes," said Dick. And then, after a moment's pause, he said, "Yes, Inspector," and Mrs. Prince came to the door with a plate of freshly cooked doughnuts. When he saw the doughnuts, Dick said, just like a real Scotland Yard mystery story, "I think, Superintendent, we could all do with a bite to eat."

He was right, and we did have a bite to eat. Just like real detectives.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:10:34am USA Central
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