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"The Goldfish Mystery" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from American Girl
The Goldfish Mystery
by Ellis Parker Butler

It was Saturday morning and I was on my way to Betty Bliss's, to see if she would play tennis. As I reached Betty's gate, I saw a plump, jolly-looking man coming toward me down the street. He reached me just as I put out my hand to open the gate.

"I beg pardon," he said, raising his hat and opening the gate for me, "but are you Miss Betty Bliss, the young lady who is president of a certain Detective Club of which I have heard?"

The Goldfish Mystery' by Ellis Parker Butler

I said, of course, that I wasn't; but that I was Madge Turner, and that I was a member of the Detective Club, and that I was just going in to see Betty, and that I knew she was at home.

"Now, that's fine -- very fine indeed," the jolly little man said, simply beaming at me. "The fact is that I want the help of your Detective Club, and I want it immediately. Last night twenty lovely goldfish were removed from a summerhouse on my property, bowl and all -- and I want to know who did it."

He stood back to let me enter the gate, in the most polite way. He insisted on ringing the doorbell for me. If he had not been there, I would just have opened the door to yoo-hoo for Betty. Betty herself came to the door, and this very polite man bowed at least three times.

'I beg your pardon,' he said, raising his hat.

"Miss Betty Bliss?" he asked. "Ah -- very nice, very nice indeed. I am fortunate to find you in. My name is John J. Millwig, and I have come to beg your assistance."

"Somebody took his goldfish out of his summerhouse," I told Betty, for I really thought the man would never get anywhere, he was so talkative and polite. "He wants the Detective Club to help him."

"Twenty lovely goldfish," said Mr. Millwig. "Beautiful ones. They cost ten cents apiece. And I paid two dollars for the bowl -- a big glass globe. I want you to tell me who took them. I'll pay you --"

"Oh, we couldn't take money," Betty said. "We only play we are detectives for fun."

Mr. Millwig raised his hand. "Wait!" he said. "Don't object. Surely your Club has a library -- detective novels and mystery stories and so forth. Then allow me to offer a ten dollar reward which you may use to increase your library. I must insist. If you please!"

Betty looked at me and I nodded a "yes," because -- why not?

"All right," Betty said. "We couldn't take money for ourselves, but we can accept a donation to the Club's library if we solve the mystery."

"You are kind, most kind," said Mr. Millwig as if he were delighted. "I shall never forget this kindness. And shall we go immediately? While the clues are fresh?"

Betty was in action at once. Her head went up and she snapped into her Superintendent of Detectives attitude.

"Inspector Turner," she said to me, "the Detective Club will undertake the solution of the Twenty Goldfish Mystery. Run over and get Inspector Dorothy Carver, and I will telephone Inspectors Prince and Dane, and ask Mother if we may go to Mr. Millwig's place."

Inspectors Prince and Dane were, of course, the two boys we had allowed to join the Detective Club after they got through laughing at us, and had discovered that we really could detect something now and then. So I hurried to get Dorothy and, by the time she had got her hat and coat and we were back at Betty's again, the boys were there. Mr. Millwig was bowing and being polite to everybody. Betty's mother had said we could go.

"Mr. Millwig?" Mrs. Bliss had said. "Yes, dear, I think it will be all right if the boys go with you. I met Mr. Millwig at Mrs. Denton's tea, last week, and he seems a very nice man. He is the man who bought the Coverton place a couple of months ago."

"He is certainly the most polite man I ever saw," Betty said. "What business is he in, Mother?"

"I don't believe he is in any business now," Mrs. Bliss said. "I think he has retired from whatever business he was in. I heard he was interested in fish -- tropical fish and all kinds -- and is going to raise them."

She told Betty to wear a coat because it was cool that morning, and we all went in a group to Mr. Millwig's house. I had never been inside the old Coverton place. It was quite a large property with a tall brick wall all around it. I think one reason the Covertons built such a high wall was because, just back of them, was what is called Shanty Town, where some of the rougher people live, and the Covertons had dozens of fruit trees -- apples and cherries and pears -- and lots of grapes.

When we came to the Coverton place, Mr. Millwig took a key from his pocket and unlocked the gate, which was really a door in the wall. There was a push button which, I suppose, rang a bell in the house when the butcher, or grocer, or anyone wanted to get in. Mr. Millwig stood bowing and waiting until we were all in; then he locked the gate again.

"I keep the gate locked," he said. "The grapes are ripe -- magnificent grapes -- and boys will be boys. Please come this way."

Straight ahead of us was the path to the house, but, off to the left, was a gravel path that led to the summerhouse where the goldfish had been. The path was fine gravel and had been carefully raked, and no one had walked on it since it had been smoothed.

"Wait a minute!" Dick Prince said. "Was this path raked this morning?"

"Dear me, no!" declared Mr. Millwig. "Yesterday noon Silas raked it -- he is a hired hand I employ now and then.

I let him out of the yard at five o'clock, and locked the gate after him."

"We know Silas," I said. "He cuts our grass. He does odd jobs for the whole neighborhood."

"And he is fond of my goldfish," said Mr. Millwig. "He would stand by the hour, looking at them, if I would let him."

"The point is," said Dick Prince, "that nobody walked on this path lately -- not since Silas raked it. The goldfish were not carried to this gate."

"Unless someone walked on the grass, and not on the path, Inspector," said Betty. "But let us see the scene of the crime before we make any deductions."

We were walking toward the summerhouse. It was built like a small Greek temple, raised three steps above the lawn, with eight white marble pillars and a rounded roof, and it was open on all sides. There were four white benches in it and, right in the middle, a white marble pedestal with a flat top.

"There!" said Mr. Millwig, pointing at the pedestal. "My bowl of goldfish stood right there on that pedestal. It was a big bowl; it was this big."

He showed us how big he meant, and the bowl would have been an armful for Betty, or Dot, or me, almost too heavy for us to carry if it was filled with water. Art Dane and Dick Prince walked up the steps of the summerhouse; they were eager to be first. Betty turned to me.

"The Omnibus of Crime will be one," she said, and I looked at her. I did not know what she was talking about.

"What?" I asked. "What did you say?"

"The Omnibus of Crime," she repeated. "It is a book. I think that is one of the books we will buy with the reward money."

"My goodness!" I exclaimed. "You must be very sure we will win the reward. You talk as if you had solved the mystery already."

"Perhaps I have, Inspector," Betty said, with a twinkle in her eye. "I have one clue, anyway. But let us proceed."

We went up the three steps into the summerhouse, and Dick Prince was pointing out things to Dot and Art while Mr. Millwig stood by, rubbing his hands.

"A little water spilled on the floor, but not much," Dick was saying. "A little water spilled on the pedestal top, but only a little. Was the bowl very full, Mr. Millwig?"

"Now, that's a clever question," Mr. Millwig said. "The bowl was brimful at midnight last night when I left the summerhouse. I sat here, smoking a cigar."

"Here is the ash by this bench," said Art, pointing.

"Clever! Clever!" cried Mr. Millwig. "That's where I sat, true enough. But what do you deduce from the bowl being full, sir?"

"It is too soon to deduce anything positively," Betty said, quite grandly, "but I think it means that the bowl of goldfish was not taken by a boy, or a girl. No boy, or girl, could have taken the bowl from the pedestal without spilling more water than was spilled here."

"Clever, Miss Betty!" Mr. Millwig beamed.

"I'd rather you called me Superintendent Bliss when we are at work, if you don't mind," Betty said. "It is one of the rules of the Club."

"Quite right, Superintendent," said Mr. Millwig. "We must obey the rules. But what are your Inspectors doing now?"

Dick and Art were on their hands and knees crawling on the grass around the summerhouse, feeling it with their hands. Dot had picked up a small fish-net scoop from the floor, a net about as big as a teacup, with a wire handle a foot long.

"This is dry, Superintendent," she said to Betty. "That means it was not used to dip the fish out of the bowl. I thought maybe the thief had come with a jar to put the fish in."

"Then what became of the big glass bowl?" asked Betty, and all Dot could say was, "Well --" rather doubtfully. By this time Dick and Art were through crawling around the summerhouse.

"No water anywhere on the grass," Art said. "I thought we might know in which direction the bowl was carried away if we found water spilled. But it settles one thing -- a man or a woman took the bowl, water and all."

"Unless it was taken by a large strong boy, perhaps?" suggested Mr. Millwig. "And, as for the direction the party took, may I show you something that might be a clue?"

With that he led us across the grass, to the left of the summerhouse, and stopped where the grass ended and a large vegetable garden began. Off to one side, we could see the grapes he had mentioned, the vines climbing over a dozen trellises. To the other side were hundreds of dahlia plants, all wilted now. Mr. Millwig noticed Betty looking at them.

"All gone," he said, rather sadly. "The frost got them last night. My asters are still fine. Well, here is what I meant."

As it was late in the season, quite a lot of the vegetable garden had been cleared out. The lettuce and beans and so on were gone, and the ground where they had been was carefully raked and smoothed from the edge of the lawn to the tall brick wall.

"There," said Mr. Millwig. "See that?"

From the edge of the lawn to the wall was another row of footprints.

It was easy enough to see what he meant. From the wall to the edge of the lawn were footprints, such as anyone would make if he climbed over the wall and went toward the summerhouse. And this was not all: from the edge of the lawn to the wall was another row.

"What ho!" Dick Prince cried. "I'll say it is a clue! This shows what happened. Someone climbed over the wall, took the goldfish, and went back the same way. This settles it."

"Clever!" Mr. Millwig began, but Betty cried, "Stop!" -- because Art and Dick -- and I, too -- were about to walk on the garden.

"Don't walk there," Betty ordered. "Don't destroy those footprints. They are most important." And immediately she took charge of matters as she had not bothered to do before then. "Keep well back from those rows of footprints," she said. "Inspector Dot and Inspector Madge will come on this side with me; Inspectors Prince and Dane may take the other side. Mr. Millwig --"

"I'll just stand here," said Mr. Millwig.

"As you please," said Betty. "What do you make of these footprints, Inspector Prince?"

"Well, Superintendent," Dick answered, "what can anyone make of them except what I said? Someone climbed over the wall -- that's clear enough; he couldn't very well come through it. He walked across here, leaving his footprints. He went into the summerhouse, took the goldfish, came back to the wall, and climbed over. Now the thing to do is to study these footprints. Then we find the man who has shoes that match the footprints. Silas, for instance. I'd try Silas first."

"And you, Inspector Dane?" asked Betty.

"It looks plain enough to me, just as Dick says," Art began, but Betty stopped him.

"Dick" she asked. "Who is Dick?"

"My mistake," Art laughed. "I mean Inspector Prince. I think as Inspector Prince does. There's nothing else to think, is there? We'll have to find the man whose feet match these footprints. Someone in Shanty Town, I'd say."

"And how are you going to match up the feet and the footprints?" asked Betty. "Are you going to bring every man in Shanty Town here to show his feet? Or are you going to make plaster casts of the footprints, and carry them around Shanty Town, and say, 'Please, mister, let me compare this plaster cast with the sole of your shoe'?"

"That was done in The Mystery of the Hidden Head," said Mr. Millwig. "Detective Bex made a plaster cast of the footprint in the soft ground under the window of the library of Barway Castle --"

"We've never read that book," Betty told him. "That's a good one, is it, Mr. Millwig?"

"Excellent," said Mr. Millwig. "One of the best I ever read. More like real life than most detective stories; Detective Bex works as real detectives do."

"Keep the name in mind, Inspector Madge," Betty said to me. "The Mystery of the Hidden Head. We'll get that, with part of the reward money Mr. Millwig is going to give us."

Mr. Millwig chuckled at that.

"You seem right sure you are going to win the reward, Superintendent," he said.

"Oh, that!" Betty replied scornfully. "I knew that before I left home."

"You mean you always solve the mysteries your Detective Club tries to solve?" asked Mr. Millwig.

"I mean that, or something else," was the answer Betty gave. She walked to the tall brick wall, being careful not to step on the footprints, and bent down to look at those closest to the wall. Then she said, "Would you mind coming here, Mr. Millwig?"

Mr. Millwig was standing on the grass at the edge of the garden, and he looked at Betty with a queer sort of smile and gave a queer little laugh.

"Oh, no!" he said with a wave of the hand. "No, thank you, Superintendent Bliss. You are doing the mystery solution, you know."

Betty turned her head toward him and, for a moment, her eyes met his. I can guess now what her eyes said. They said, "We need not pretend any longer. We understand each other," and Mr. Millwig raised his hands and laughed, "I surrender! You win, Superintendent!"

Of course we had all crowded as close to Betty as we could without stepping on the footprints, and now Dick Prince asked, "What's the matter? What does it mean?"

"You tell them, Superintendent," Mr. Millwig said, and he walked over to where Betty was stooping beside the footprints close by the wall.

"Nothing is the matter except that I knew who took the bowl of goldfish before we even came inside Mr. Millwig's wall," Betty said. "All I needed to prove that I was right was these footprints. I believe you noticed, Inspector Prince, that one row of footprints leads from the wall toward the summerhouse, and that the other row leads from the direction of the summerhouse to the wall."

"Sure, I did, Superintendent," agreed Dick.

"As if," said Betty, "someone had climbed over the wall and walked to the summerhouse, and then had come back again. But the footprints could have been made quite another way -- someone could have walked from the summerhouse to the wall, and then walked back again toward the summerhouse. And that was what he did."

"How do you know?" asked Art Dane.

"These footprints are all the same depth in the soft soil," explained Betty. "Those close to the wall are the same depth as the others. Now, if anyone had climbed over the wall from the outside and had dropped to his feet here, the footprints closest to the wall would be much deeper than the others. And they are not. So no one climbed over the wall."

"That's right!" Art exclaimed.

"And no one climbed back over the wall from this side," said Betty, smiling a little, because no one could climb this wall without a board, or a ladder, to help. And there is no mark of a board, or of a ladder, here."

"He could have jumped up and caught the top of the wall, and pulled himself up," suggested Art.

"With a bowl full of water and goldfish?" asked Betty. "Some water would have splashed out, even if anyone could do it and carry a bowl of that size. No, Inspector, these footprints were made as a blind. Will you please step to one side, Mr. Millwig."

"I said I surrendered, didn't I?" murmured Mr. Millwig, but he stepped to one side as Betty had asked, and we all saw quite plainly that the footprint Mr. Millwig had made was exactly like those we had been studying.

"Betty!" I cried. "Do you mean that Mr. Millwig took the goldfish himself?"

"Of course!" Betty laughed. "He never said they were stolen -- he said they were 'removed from the summerhouse.' He did not ask us to find a thief -- he asked us to tell him who removed the goldfish from the summerhouse. Well -- you see those dahlias? Frosted and dead, aren't they?"

"That's a point," said Mr. Millwig cheerfully. "That's a point I did not think of myself."

"Didn't you?" asked Betty. "But I thought that a man who was so fond of goldfish would not leave them out after it was frosty enough to kill dahlias. I thought you would take them into the house, Mr. Millwig. You might have thought, as you sat there smoking your cigar, 'Dear me, it is getting chilly! I believe I'll take my goldfish into the house.'"

"Just what I did think," admitted Mr. Mill-wig.

"And so," said Betty, "having heard of our Detective Club, you thought you would have a little fun with us."

"No, no!" declared Mr. Millwig. "Not fun; not in that sense of the word. I merely thought I would see how keen you were, my dear young people. And I am delighted."

"But I don't see yet how you knew it was Mr. Millwig and not someone else," objected Art. "A real thief could have made those footprints to throw us off the scent."

"Certainly, Inspector," said Betty, "but suppose you were going to steal twenty goldfish. You wouldn't try to carry away a whole big bowl brimful of water. You would have brought a jar just big enough to hold the goldfish and a little water. You would not have wanted the bowl, because if it was seen anywhere it would be proof that you had stolen Mr. Millwig's fish. Or, if you had been foolish enough to take the bowl, you would have spilled some of the water out -- and you and Inspector Prince could find no spilled water."

"But, Superintendent Bliss," I said, "you knew from the first that Mr. Millwig had taken the fish. You must have known, because you began to plan how the Club would spend the reward money. How did you know?"

"Why, that was simple, Madge," laughed Betty, dropping her detective pose. "Mr. Millwig said the fish were worth ten cents each, and that the bowl was worth two dollars. That is only four dollars. And he offered a ten dollar reward. People don't offer ten dollars for the return of four dollars worth of property -- not if they are serious. And --"

"And what?" I asked. Betty looked at Mr. Millwig and laughed.

"I rather guessed that Mr. Millwig was just testing us," Betty said, "because he did not need our Detective Club to solve such a simple mystery. You see, Madge, I happened to hear yesterday that, before Mr. Millwig retired from the profession, he was one of the cleverest detectives in New York."

Well, Mr. Millwig just laughed and slapped his leg, and laughed again. "The best ten dollars worth of fun I ever had!" he said. He was as pleased as could be. He enjoyed it. He asked us to make him an honorary member of the Detective Club, and we did.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:10:37am USA Central
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