The Adventures of Detective Barney/Barney Has a Hunch
BARNEY HAS A HUNCH
This was a warm afternoon in June. It was humid after a morning’s rain. And City Hall Square was at once hot and moist and noisy and crowded, so that the very air seemed to be stifled and perspiring, as if it were panting with uproar and exhausted by the persecutions of haste. Barney was standing in the oppressive shade of the World building, with some limp newspapers under his arm—disguised in an old suit of clothes that he had outgrown and a cap that he had once discarded—perfunctorily making a show of seeking customers, and vacantly watching the faces that passed. He was supposed to be on the lookout for a suspect who had escaped the surveillance of the Babbing Bureau, in Brooklyn; and he had been waiting so, for several days, at the Bridge entrance, for the purpose of picking up the man’s trail again if he should happen by. But the continuous stream of traffic had put him into the day-dream of an idler who lolls on a bridge to watch running water; and whenever he became sensible of his surroundings it was merely to envy the crowd in front of the World's score-board, who could follow the baseball game—as he could not.
A passer-by aroused him by offering him a nickel for a newspaper, and glanced at the front page with a hand still held out for change. Barney yawned as he counted the four cents into the open palm. The fingers closed on the money, but the hand did not move. Barney, surprised, looked up from the hand to the owner of it. The man was reading headlines so intently that he was unconscious of all else, and he was blinking at what he read, with his lips pressed together in some sort of instinctive effort to conceal any betrayal of the excitement that showed in his eyes.
It did not take him more than two or three “bats” of the eyelid—as Barney would have said—to gather the meaning of the headlines. Then he hastily folded up the paper, thrust his change into his pocket and hurried away with the air of having picked up something that he wished to examine in secret. And Barney, after one blank moment of staring hesitation, followed him hypnotically.
Those headlines announced, as Barney knew, that the father of Elizabeth Baxter had offered a reward of $5,000 to any one who could discover what had become of her. And Barney had suddenly found himself with what detectives call “a hunch.” He could not have explained it. He could not have defended it. But into his empty brain, on the instant that he had seen the man’s expression, there had come a conviction that this respectable-looking stranger had a guilty knowledge of the Baxter case. Of the dozen innocent explanations of the man’s manner, he could not have combated one. And he did not know enough about the case to judge what possible connection this fellow might have with it. He was not even sufficiently conscious of his mental operations to ask himself whether he ought to leave his post at the Bridge to follow such a vague scent. He followed it as unreasoningly as an animal that is carried away by an instinct.
And once having abandoned himself to it, he was possessed by it to the exclusion of everything else. “Here, kid,” he said, hastily, aside, to the first newsboy that he met, “take my stock. I ’ll see you later”; and he gave up his papers to the gaping newsie as recklessly as he had given up his post. He went along Nassau Street, looking anywhere except at the panama hat and blue-serge shoulders that he followed; but he did not see anything except these; the rest was in his eyes, but not in his mind; and he had the large, idle, disinterested stare of an operative who is tailing.
He turned down Broadway, in this manner, expecting to see his man enter an office building, and ready to close up on him, so that he might not lose him at an elevator. At Liberty Street, he followed across Broadway, and saw his quarry making towards the water-front. And then he realized that it was after five o’clock and the man was a suburbanite going home. He felt in his pocket to assure himself that he had his twenty-five dollars of expense money—given him to use, if he should need it, in following the Brooklyn suspect. He found it and kept his hand on it. With that, nothing could stop him. The man had no bag; he could not be going far. Once traced to his home, Babbing could be reached by telephone, and the Bureau could do the rest.
And even this thought of Babbing did not halt him. It rather drove him on. Instead of stopping to reconsider what he was doing—in the aspect that it would wear if it ended badly—he was so obsessed by the assurance of its ending well that he hastened to meet the conclusion that should vindicate him. And as if the thought of Babbing were Babbing himself pursuing him, he only glanced behind at it, and then hurried the more, to reach the safe end of the adventure before he could be overtaken. He had been too long bored by the routine of subordinate work that had no thrill in it. Here was a bit of scouting on his own responsibility—with the chance of a little distinction, if he succeeded. The pursuing doubt of what would happen if he failed, only added the excitement of truancy.
He came to the ferry house of the Jersey Central Railroad, so close on the heels of his “subject” that he had to go ahead when the man stopped to buy more newspapers at the entrance. But inside the doors, Barney dawdled until he was behind again, and only closed up to see the suburbanite show a commutation ticket at the gates. Barney was ignorant enough to suppose that the ticket was a pass, because the gateman did not punch it; but he was not too ignorant to know that he could get through the gates by paying his fare on the ferry—three cents—which he took from his newspaper pennies in his coat-pocket. He was puzzled to know how to discover for what destination he should buy a ticket; for if the man was traveling on a pass he could get off or on the train wherever he pleased, with no questions asked.
A ferry boat was waiting in its slip, and the man entered the woman’s saloon while Barney went in among the smokers. He had had enough experience in tailing to know that he ought not to be visible to his subject when he could cover him from ambush; and he walked confidently to the forward end of the boat, to wait there until his man should come out to disembark. He was worried about his railroad ticket. He foresaw that without one he would not be able to pass the gates in the railroad station; and he might not have time to run back to buy a ticket after he had seen what train he ought to take.
While the ferry boat was threading its way across the traffic of the river, he was busy devising stratagems to outwit the gatekeeper. He would pretend that his mother was on the train with his ticket. Or he would come running, as an office boy, with a verbal message to his employer, who was a passenger. Or he would say that he had missed a man in a panama hat and a blue-serge suit, who had his ticket; and had such a man passed the gates?
Considering his clothes, he decided that he had better say he was traveling with his mother, who was a cook, newly hired to work in some country place of which he did not know the name. He was to have met her on the station platform. He had missed her. She had his ticket. He wanted to go and look for her.
That ought to be convincing. He decided to try it. The ferry boat was nosing and bumping its way into its dock at Jersey City when the panama hat came out with a crowd of passengers, and Barney manœuvered to get a good look at the wearer of it. The sum of his observation was that the man appeared inoffensive. He was well-dressed, but his clothes showed both the wear that they had had and the care that had been taken of them. He carried gloves—though it was so warm—but they were soiled leather gloves that had evidently weathered the winter. He was an oldish young man, an office worker probably, well-featured, of the lean type. Barney had often delivered telegrams to his kind, in downtown offices, behind spindle railings at secretarial desks. The only thing unusual about him was the set look of distant expectancy with which he kept his eyes fixed on nothing ahead of him, uneasily, excitedly, but with no guilty suspicion of any one around him.
He pushed his way through the stream of passengers that went ashore with him, and Barney had to race to keep up. In the train-shed, he went directly to his train, with the assurance of custom, knowing exactly where to find it. And to Barney’s relief there were no gates and no gate-keepers. A board at the track-end gave a list of the stations at which the train stopped. The last of these was “Somerville.” Barney said to himself “Me fer Somerville”—and followed down the platform.
He was led to the smoking car, which was hardly more than half a car, because the forward part of it had been cut off to make a baggage room. He took the seat nearest the rear door, and watched some of the suburbanites getting squares of heavy cardboard from the baggage man to use as card-tables on their knees; they sat down in fours, here and there, to play. The Panama hat was invited to join some acquaintance at euchre, and declined; he was engaged with his newspapers and a brier pipe. A man directly in front of Barney was hailed to make the fourth in the game, and threw aside his paper to accept. Barney leaned over the back of the seat and took the paper. At that moment, the train started. and his young imagination—that had been reined in restively while he watched—was set galloping with the forward motion—so that when he opened his paper, to study out the Baxter case, he could no more control his attention than if he were in school with a text book, on a Spring day, beside an open window that overlooked a baseball game.
He frowned diligently at a portrait of Elizabeth Baxter smiling, on the front page,—a dark girl of twenty, naïvely handsome and self-assured. He gathered from her picture nothing more than a feeling that her smile was incongruous. He did not understand that the photograph had been originally published with the announcement of her engagement to marry a conspicuously wealthy old bachelor named Huntley—an occasion for which a smile was fitting. He stared at the Panama hat. He looked out of the window absent-mindedly. He smiled to himself. He came back to his newspaper with a guilty start.
This is what he should have been reading: Miss Elizabeth Baxter was the only daughter of D. B. Baxter, who was vaguely described as a “well-known Wall Street man.” She had left her father’s apartment in the Antonia one morning, to go to her dressmaker; and she had telephoned to her maid, two hours later, that she would not be home for luncheon. She had not returned for dinner either. Nor for the night. Next morning, private detectives, secretly employed by her father and her fiancé, had started on her trail, and by the end of two weeks they had found that she had been to her dressmaker’s at ten o’clock in the morning; that she had bought a novel in a Fifth Avenue bookshop at half-past eleven; that she had telephoned at a quarter to twelve from a candy store where she had bought a box of chocolates; that when she left the candy store, she disappeared “as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed her.” No trace of her had been found. No word had come from her. At the end of two weeks, her frightened parent appealed to the police, and the police counseled secrecy, because it would be easier to discover the criminal if no alarm were raised.
They discovered nothing. There was no reason why she should have run away. She had no enemies, no love affairs—except the legitimate one with her fiancé—no troubles either of body or mind, no secrets that the police detectives could so much as raise a suspicion of.
Then her father offered a reward and gave his story to the newspapers. Another “mysterious disappearance!” Lists were printed of the names of girls who had been reported “missing” to the New York police in the year past, and they made an alarming array of victims for “a plague of crime” that threatened “every home.” If the “rich and beautiful” Elizabeth Baxter were not safe, whose daughter could be considered beyond danger? She had been destroyed by the White Slave trade and the “poison needle.” She had been snatched away from crowded Fifth Avenue, at midday, in broad sunlight, and barred up in some noisome den of abductors. She would be murdered now—to escape detection—if she had not been murdered already.
Her case had been discussed, that morning, in the operatives’ room of the Babbing Bureau, but Barney had heard only one authoritative remark upon it, and that had been repeated as Babbing’s diagnosis:—“When a girl buys a book and a box of chocolates, she ’s going on a railroad journey. This poison needle talk is all bunk! Did you ever try to give a hypodermic injection? Next thing, these newspaper boys will be running stories of girls being followed on Fifth Avenue and tattooed down the back without knowing it!”
Barney said “Somerville” to the conductor, and gave him five dollars, and did not even count the change. “When a girl buys a book and a box of chocolates, she ’s going on a railroad journey.” He was in a state to find a confirmation of his “hunch” in the fact that he was on a railroad journey himself, and he gazed out the window at Newark Bay as if he expected to discover there some trace of her passage. She must have looked out at that water as she went by.
The man in the Panama hat did not disengage himself from hisuntil the car had almost emptied itself at Plainfield. Then he began to make preparations for his arrival at the next station—which the conductor had announced as “Findellen”—and Barney, watching him, took his own paper up again, to shield himself behind it, in case the man should glance at him in passing.
Barney spread his sheet and hunched his shoulders. The train had stopped before he dared look around; and when he reached the car platform his man had already disappeared in the station.
“This isn ’t Somerville,” the conductor said.
Barney nodded. “ ’S all right. Keep the change.”
He felt cocky. Not only because he thought he had traced the Baxter mystery to its lair in Findellen, but because Findellen was so small a village to his superior metropolitan eye. It had one “front” street of shops about as imposing as a row of booths on Coney Island, and its old frame station house was little better than a Harlem shack to Barney. He entered the waiting-room and found it empty—except for a row of benches around the walls, some country cuspidors, and an old base-burner, cold and rusty, that was still standing where the winter had left it. He screened himself behind the stove to spy through the open doorway, and he saw his man cranking a little touring car in which a woman sat at the steering wheel. An automobile!
An automobile presented such an unexpected difficulty to tailing that he stood gazing at the car as if it were an impassable obstacle that had suddenly blocked his way. It moved from the square of the door frame. He hurried to the door. The machine was already disappearing up the street that led straight from the station into the hills behind Findellen. He pulled down the peak of his cap and started after it desperately.
Crossing the road, he crossed the car’s trail in the paste of red Jersey mud that remained from the morning’s rain; and three of the wheels had left smooth tracks where the car had turned, and the fourth had imprinted the indented pattern of a corrugated shoe designed to prevent skidding. Barney slowed his pace to study it. He glanced at the sky, that showed sunset colors. He drew a dollar watch from his trouser pocket and found it five minutes after six. He put his cap back from his forehead thoughtfully, and turned along the main street—away from the trail of the automobile—to find a hardware store. He could not follow a track in the mud after dark. He had to have a lantern.
At seven o’clock, with a little electric lamp in his pocket, he was climbing the hill road behind Findellen, munching crackers and cheese that he had bought from a grocery store, and keeping an occasional eye on the corrugations of the automobile track, to make sure that it was still with him. The road slanted obliquely up the side of a ridge that was too steep to be cleared for farming, and Barney could see nothing but bushes, trees, and undergrowth. He could hear nothing but the twilight song of a wood-bird. He neither looked nor listened. In animate or inanimate nature he had, at his most leisurely moments, only sufficient interest to throw a stone at it. Just now, he was not in a holiday mood to try his aim on anything. He had natural human instincts, even if he did not belong to a gun club.
At the top of the hill the road paused at the turn to show him a panorama of the flats in which Findellen and the railroad lay, under an evening mist. He did not admire the view, although it was admirable. He thought the street lights made a poor showing after New York—as if the place were living by candlelight in a bare world that was too large for it.
He turned his back on it and came over the crest of the hill to see the valley to which the road was leading.
It was a charming valley, with the last light softening its pleasant alternations of field and orchard, smooth meadows and clustered woods. To Barney it was merely “goose pastures,” as Hudson Street calls the green suburbs. It was empty of shop windows, bill boards, moving picture fronts, newspaper bulletins, hurdy-gurdies, passers-by, street traffic, peddlers, or any of the noise and movement of affairs that make life in the open air interesting. And it was inhabited by poor country boobs who lived in loneliness, with their eyes on the city, growing cabbages to sell in town.
There could be no doubt that the man in the Panama hat was a crook, concealing himself from the police. That was the only reason why he should live in such a place. Well, it was probably “one better than being in jail.”
The road descended a more gradual slope than it had climbed, and Barney trudged along doggedly, with his mind on his destination. He expected to be walking all night, because, of course, the man would not have an auto if he lived within easy walking distance of the station. And Barney intended, when he had located the house, to wait until daylight to reconnoiter before deciding how to make his approach.
He crossed a bridge that was little larger than a culvert over a stream that was no more than a liquid note among pebbles. There was a clearing on his left, with a house in it and a barn; the automobile track did not pass it more indifferently than Barney did. The road dipped and rose again, turned through woods, came out on open fields, dropped through a grove of spruce, crossed another little hollow, rose to a sharp hillock, and started down a stony incline towards the broad valley that Barney had seen from the top of the ridge. The auto track did not show on the stones, but on every rise and fall of the road there were water-bars that held little pockets of mud, and through these the trail was clear. Barney heeded nothing else—neither the lights of the farmhouses, nor the barking of farm dogs, nor the cool accompaniment of an evening breeze that came ruffling and rustling through the grass and the foliage.
It was growing dark, and he was planning to use his electric lamp, when a dog rushed barking to the roadside from a little bungalow that looked out over the valley from the edge of the final descent. It was an aristocratic collie dog, and Barney growled at it, class-consciously. It worked itself into a nervous frenzy of vociferous disapproval of him. He hissed and spat at it like a cat, with the purpose of enticing it down the road to a place where some lilac bushes would hide him from the house. There he intended to “give it one in the ribs with a rock”; but as soon as the collie saw him stooping for the stone, it fled, growling. He threw his stone at a convenient oak-tree—whose air of dignified indifference provoked the insult—and went on.
He was near the bottom of the hill when he crossed the muddy pocket of another water-bar and saw no auto trail in it. And his expression of idle mischief changed at once to a look of intent and crafty determination. He glanced behind him, to make sure that he was concealed from the cottage. Then he crawled through an old wire fence, into the woods on the opposite side of the road from the cottage, and disappeared, crouching, in the underbrush.
The dog, after some distantly defiant barks, fell silent. In a few moments, the whole hillside, relieved of Barney’s disturbing presence, settled down into dim meditativeness, peacefully. The cottage was a simple, shingled bungalow, with a chimney of field stones that sent up a quiet curl of smoke; and it sat there, weather-browned and unpretentious, looking out over the valley, like an old woodsman in a wilderness serenely smoking his pipe. A hermit thrush began to sing its devotional roulades in the distance, and its song gave an interpretative voice to the grave and limpid beauty of the evening; and the scene held that song in its setting as harmoniously as the pale green sky above the sunset held the sparkle of the first star. Nothing could have looked less like the hiding place of a criminal mystery.
Darkness had settled down on peace, and the moon was rising on it, when Barney issued unexpectedly from the bushes and began to scuffle noisily up the road again to attract the collie. He had his coat over his arm, and when the dog came barking at him he swung the coat at it, and retreated trailing it, and flicked it into the dog’s mouth when it pursued him. As soon as the collie had a fighting hold on it, he began to yell shrilly: “Here, you! Lea’ me alone! Here! Leggo, will you? Here, you! Call off yer dog!” He pulled, and the dog pulled, backing into the gate; and when a man came running from the house to see what was the matter, the case against the dog needed no telling. “Leggo my coat,” Barney was panting. “I ’ll kick yer head off! Leggo, will yuh! Leggo!”
The man was Barney’s suspect, without his Panama hat.
“Colin!” he cried. “Colin! Stop it, sir!” He caught the dog by the collar and cuffed it. Barney dropped his end of the coat. The man got it away from the dog as a woman ran out, in a kitchen apron, calling, “What has happened, Charles? What is it?”
He replied: “Colin has attacked this boy.”
“What for? What was he doing?”
“Search me,” Barney answered. “He did n’t say a word. He just jumped out an’ grabbed me, an’ I dodged, an’ he got the coat.”
The dog was barking protestingly, but he could not make himself understood.
“Bad dog!” the woman scolded him. “Go in the house, sir. You bad dog, you. Did he tear it?”
“I guess so,” Barney said. “I heard it rip.”
“Give it to me. I ’ll mend it. Oh, you bad dog. How dare you!” She took the coat and turned back to the house with it, driving the crestfallen dog before her.
“I hope he has n’t spoiled your coat,” the man apologized. “I never knew him to do such a thing before.” He added suspiciously: “I could have sworn he would n’t attack any one—unless he was badly provoked.”
“That ’s all right,” Barney said. “If I ’d seen him first, he would n’t ’a’ got me. I did n’t notice him in the dark.”
“What were you doing?”
“Mindin’ my own bus’ness.”
“Do you live around here?”
The man was scrutinizing him as well as he could in the faint moonlight, and Barney’s manner resented the scrutiny.
“Where are you from?”
Barney did not answer.
“You ’re not a country boy.”
“Never mind about me,” Barney said. “Gi’ me the coat an’ I ’ll get along.”
”You ’re from the city, aren’t you?”
Barney looked down at his feet, kicked at a tuft of grass in the path, and did not reply.
“What are you doing away out here?”
The man laughed. “What ’s the matter? Have you run away from home?”
“That ’s all right,” Barney said. “I can take care o’ myself. If you ’ll gi’ me a glass o’ milk er somethin’, I ’ll call it square.”
“There ’s a town just over the hill. Got any money?”
“Sure. I ’m a millionaire. I ’ll split some wood fer you, if you ’ll gi’ me some bread and butter.”
“All the wood ’s split.” He went down into his pocket and drew out a quarter.
Barney took it, ungraciously. “What ’s the matter? Runnin’ some sort o’ joint in here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, first you got a dog that tries to chew me up, ’cause I come past the gate. An’ then you stand me off fer a bite to eat, like you was afraid to—”
“Not at all,” the man said hastily. “Come along. We can give you something to eat anyway.” He started up the path and Barney followed him grudgingly.
“Sorry if I did n’t seem quite hospitable,” he said, in an attempt at jocularity. “We have n’t any servant just at present, and my wife has to do the cooking. Sit down on the veranda here, till I speak to her.”
“I on’y wanted some bread and butter—an’ somethin’ to drink.”
“All right. Make yourself comfortable.” He waved his hand at a wicker chair and a hickory rocker on the veranda. Barney chose the wicker chair.
There were no lights in this wing of the house, which overlooked the road. The only light that Barney had seen was shining on a bush from a distant window where some one was evidently busy in the kitchen; he could hear an occasional clatter of plates. Between him and the lighted window, the whole house was dark, but he did not know who might be watching him from that darkness, so he kept his eyes off it, and settled himself wearily in the easy chair, and put his head back against the cushioned head-rest, and showed no interest in anything.
They found him apparently asleep there, when they came back—the woman with a tray of food, the man with a green-shaded reading lamp. The light woke Barney. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. They placed a porch table before him and arranged on it the tray and the lamp.
“Pretty tired, eh?” the man said.
Barney nodded, his eyes on the food. He reached a slice of buttered bread before the tray was on the table, and proceeded to “wolf” it. He did not look at his hosts. The lamp on the table shone full on him, and left them in obscurity. He pretended to be hungrily unconscious of their amused scrutiny. When they spoke to him he answered with nods, his mouth full, his eyes scouting eagerly ahead of his appetite.
The man sat down on the edge of the veranda, smoking his pipe. The woman cut the top off a boiled egg, poured Barney’s tea for him, and put cream and sugar in it. Then she drew up the hickory rocker beside the lamp and applied herself to the sewing of his coat, while the man began to sound and examine him with mildly humorous hints and queries.
Barney did not need to invent the story which he allowed them to draw out of him. It was the story of a boy whom he had known in Hudson Street—a motherless newsboy whose drunken father used to beat him regularly, to make him give up the money he earned. He ran away and lived on the streets, supporting himself. Then the father put the police after him; and he was arrested and sentenced to the Reform School, but his sentence was suspended on condition that he gave up his “bumming” and remained at home. When he could endure it no longer, he fled again; but this time, to escape the New York police, he went tramping; and Hudson Street heard no more of him.
Barney’s manner accepted such a father as a natural fact of life, without any emotional embellishment or indignant comment. The woman put down her sewing, and poured him another cup of tea, and eyed him in silent pity. She was a capable-looking young housewife, of a prettily maternal aspect; and Barney’s face and hands needed washing.
The man showed his sympathy by asking: “What do you intend to do? How do you expect to make a living?”
“Search me,” Barney said. “I ’ll strike a town somewhere, an’ sell papers, er shine shoes, I guess.”
The collie dog sat watching him distrustfully, until he shared a slice of bread with it. He did so with the secret thought that he would have to “get next” to that dog if he was to do any sleuthing on the premises; hut he was aware of the glance that the couple exchanged when they saw him so forgive his enemy out of a natural kindness of heart.
The dog seemed less touched than they.
The man asked: “Where are you going to spend the night?”
Barney answered: “I thought maybe yuh ’d let me bunk in yer hayloft.”
He looked doubtfully at his wife. “We have n’t any hayloft,” he said.
She put in: “He could have the maid’s room—over the kitchen.”
“Yes. I suppose he could.”
“I ’ll make it up,” she said.
She left them. After a moment’s silence, the man followed her. And when they were gone, Barney turned to make a face, tauntingly, at the dog.
He was sure, from their manner, that there was some concealment of guilt in the house; and he was satisfied that he could find out what it was, before morning, if they let him spend the night under their roof.
When they returned, he was apparently half-asleep again, and he mumbled a prompt acceptance of the woman’s proposal that he should go to bed at once. She led him around the front of the house to the kitchen porch, and the kitchen light was still the only one to be seen. Of the kitchen itself he looked only at the doors. One that was closed evidently led to the dining-room and the rest of the house; one that was open showed the stairs to the upper floor; a third was the back door to the yard; a fourth under the staircase might be the door of a pantry.
She lighted a candle and ushered him upstairs to a tiny room that had a sloping ceiling, a single window in the gable end, and no door except the door to the stairs. At that side of the room in which there should have been a door communicating with the other rooms of the upper floor, there was a blank partition-wall of rough plaster. It was a satisfactory arrangement for isolating a servant from the family privacies in a small house, but it did not appeal to Barney. He had counted on being able, from the upper hall, to spy on whatever was being done below stairs.
The room was bare and clean, with no furniture but an iron cot, a kitchen chair, a sort of camp wash-stand, and a little dresser. “I ’m afraid we have n’t any night clothes that will fit you,” she said, putting down the candle.
Barney replied ungraciously: “I ’d be asleep ’fore I could get into ’em anyway.” He did not wish to encourage her in any solicitude concerning him; it might prove embarrassing if she came back to see that he was sleeping comfortably. He sat down on the side of the bed and began to unlace his shoes.
She accepted her dismissal. “Good-night,” she said. “We have breakfast about seven. I ’ll call you.”
He mumbled “G ’night.” He dropped his shoe heavily on the floor as she descended; and though she closed the door at the foot of the stairs, and he could not hear her in the kitchen, he dropped the other shoe as noisily when he got it off. Then he stripped to his undershirt and trousers, blew out the light, threw himself heavily on the bed in the hope that its creaking would be audible, and lay on his back, listening.
He listened and listened, but he could hear nothing, except the incessant stridulant drone of insect mechanisms out-of-doors.
He sat up to look out the window, and there was nothing to be seen but leaves and moonlight.
He crawled to the sill in the hope that there might be the roof of a lean-to below the window. There was none. And the moon was so bright that he could not have climbed out with any safety in any case. And there would be the dog to betray him, even if there had been no moon.
He got his little electric lamp from his hip-pocket and tiptoed to the stairs. A cautious flash showed him the door below him. He descended, in the darkness, with infinite precautions, waiting and listening after every movement. There was no sound from the kitchen. And when he had lifted the latch and opened the door an inch or two, there was no light to be seen, except the moonlight that came through the kitchen windows. He shut the door behind him, to leave no evidence of his passage in case his retreat were intercepted and he had to hide downstairs. He moved inch by inch towards the closed door of the dining-room. He saw a faint crack of light beneath it.
They were in there, then. If he could get that door open, perhaps he could hear them. He approached it stealthily. He raised his hand to the latch. A low growl checked him.
It was the dog, in the dining-room. It had scented him. It began to bark. Some one called to it from the other end of the house; and Barney fled.
But he did not flee upstairs; that would have been a final confession of failure. He made for the pantry door that he had noticed—intending to hide until the alarm had subsided—and when he plucked the door open, he found himself at the head of cellar steps. He went down them swiftly by the light of the pocket lamp, and stood waiting at the bottom, in the darkness, looking up, listening breathlessly, ready to retreat further if he heard any one coming. He was enjoying it like a game. In case he was caught, he had a story ready, to the effect that he had been too hungry to sleep, so he had sneaked downstairs to smouch something from the pantry.
In the cool underground silence, he found that not only could he hear the growling dog as clearly as before, but he could hear much more clearly the distant voice calling, “Be quiet, sir! Be quiet! What has got into that dog to-night?”
He flashed a furtive light around him; he was in a little food cellar of hanging shelves and larder cupboards. He saw an open door that led through a stone foundation-wall into another part of the basement. And it was from this direction that the muffled angry voice seemed to come.
He sneaked to that door as softly as a cat, barefooted on the cement floor. The dog was quiet again. In the doorway he could hear a distinguishable murmur of several voices sounding through the thin floor above and ahead of him. He stood there, grinning to himself in the darkness, at the end of his hunt.
He had them.
It was the man and two women, and he could hear them distinctly when he had picked his way to the farther end of the cellar, across the clutter of lumber and garden tools and packing-cases and discarded furniture—misering the flashes of his lantern for fear some cellar window might betray a sight of him. And the first words that he heard connectedly, gave him the solution of the Baxter mystery.
“But my dear Bessie,” the man was arguing, “if your father got your letter, why should he offer this reward? There ’s no sense in it. He can't have got it.”
A girlish voice answered: “Yes. He did. I know why he ’s doing it, but I can’t explain without being unfair to Dad.”
The woman murmured something reproachfully. The man began to move, heavy-footed, around the room. “Did you tell him where you were?”
“No. I simply told him not to worry about me—that I ’d be all right.”
“Well, if he got the letter, he ’s concealing it from the detectives, is n’t he?”
“I suppose so. Yes.”
The man sat down, with a bump. “I suppose you know what you ’re doing, but I ’ll be hanged if I can see any sense in it. I ’m not thinking of myself, but if you ’re found here—”
“Well,” she said, “I ’ll go somewhere else, then.”
There were confused words of remonstrance, of angrily apologetic explanation and self-defense, of affectionate reassurance. Out of it all, the girl’s voice rose impatiently: “Well, Dad ’s doing it to deceive Mr. Huntley. That ’s why he ’s doing it. He ’s in a—he ’s in trouble—money troubles. And he could n’t refuse his consent to our marriage—to Mr. Huntley. And I could n’t refuse to marry him, either—without making it worse for Dad. That ’s why I got engaged to him, in the first place—to get him to help Dad. And don’t you think Dad tried to force me to, either—or even asked me to—for he did n’t. And when I saw he was n’t going to help Dad till after we ’d be married—and he would n’t help him at all if I backed out of it—I—well, I ‘disappeared.’ And Dad ’s just pretending he thinks I ’ve been kidnapped, so as to hold Huntley. And Huntley ’s paying the detectives, and all the rest of it. People think we ’re rich, but Dad ’s lost everything, and we have n’t a cent, and unless Mr. Huntley helps him through with this scheme of his, I don’t know what will become of him.”
She had begun to sob, and the conversation became an incoherent jumble of voices, consoling her, sympathizing with her, reassuring her. Barney did not wait to hear it out. He had heard enough to satisfy himself. It was Elizabeth Baxter. She was hiding there. And overcome with a superstitious fear that now, at the very moment of success, something might happen to betray him and spoil it all, he started back to his room on tiptoe, holding his breath.
That fear did not leave him till he had regained his room safely. There he allowed himself only an excited chuckle as he slipped off his trousers and hopped into bed in his undershirt. He gave his pillow a jubilant thump and butted his head down into it, hugging himself. Wait till he saw the Boss! Then he lay perfectly still, curled up in the cool sheets with his secret, smiling ecstatically. He could go downstairs in the morning, eat his breakfast in all innocence, and say good-by without letting them suspect anything, and slouch off up the road with his coat over his shoulder, on his travels again. And as soon as he was out of their sight he would “beat it” to Findellen, catch the first train to New York, and come dawdling nonchalantly into the Babbing Bureau to report to the Boss that he had found Elizabeth Baxter!
He fell asleep while he was dramatizing that scene with Babbing—after he had worked Babbing up to such heights of admiration of his cleverness that the scene was already too heart-tickling to be anything but a dream itself.
In the morning, everything happened very much as he had planned. After breakfasting in the kitchen, he got away without betraying himself to any one but the dog, at whom he winked triumphantly as he departed. He made short work of the road to Findellen, thanks to a passing farm wagon that gave him a lift. He arrived at the railroad station only a few minutes before a train full of commuters returning to New York for their day’s work. And when he looked from the bow of the ferry at the sky-line of the city, he found it quite as he had pictured it, except that it showed no excited appreciation of the change that had come, over night, to the status of the Baxter case.
His interview with Babbing was the only event that did not work out as he had expected. Babbing was walking up and down his private office, thoughtfully, when Barney entered to see him. He asked, at once, “Where have you been?” but without looking at Barney, and without stopping in his walk.
Barney closed the door. “I been searchin’ fer this Elizabeth Baxter—an’ I found her.”
Babbing continued with his thoughts. It was some time before he asked, almost absent-mindedly, “Where?”
“Out near a place called Findellen, livin’ with some folks she knows.”
“What took you out there?”
Barney described his expedition, from the moment that he had sold a newspaper to the man in the Panama hat, down to the successful issue of his adventure, when he had stood in the cellar of the bungalow and heard Elizabeth Baxter overhead.
Babbing had seated himself at his desk, in his swivel chair, but he had turned aside from Barney with his eyes on the window, non-committally. Barney, standing before the desk, with a hand on a chair-back, like a boy before his teacher, went from assured eagerness to uneasy apprehension as he talked. He looked anxiously at Babbing’s plump inscrutable profile when he had finished. There seemed to be something wrong.
Babbing asked: “What do you mean by ‘a hunch’?”
“Well, gee,” Barney said, “the minute I saw that guy readin’ the paper, I knew he was wise to somethin’—”
“You knew it? How?”
“I—don’t know. I guessed he was.”
“What were you doing when he came up to you?”
“Watchin’ fer the Brooklyn fellah.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“As a matter of fact, you were n’t thinking of anything, were you? Mind perfectly blank?”
Barney did not answer, and Babbing wheeled around in the chair to face him. As their eyes met, Barney turned pale.
“Got another hunch, have you?” Babbing said fiercely.
Barney stiffened to meet the shock.
“You ’re fired,” Babbing said. “Sit down.”
Barney stumbled and sat down weakly in the chair.
“You ’re fired for leaving your post without permission.”
Barney pleaded chokingly: “Well, gee, Chief—”
Babbing stopped him with a gesture.
“I ’m going to see this man Baxter, privately. He has concluded a consolidation of water power companies out West and Huntley is president of the new concern. It ’s in the morning papers. Now, if what you overheard is true, he ’ll pay the five thousand dollars’ reward as soon as he understands that we claim the money without making public anything about the case—even to Huntley. Understand?”
Barney had heard, confusedly, but he had not understood. He had been trying to gulp down a constriction in his throat.
Babbing nodded at him grimly. “I ’m willing that half of this money should go to you. You ’re wasting your time here. What you need more than anything else, just now, is an education. Twenty-five hundred dollars will pay your way for a year or two—”
“I—I don’t want it. Chief. I want to—”
“It does n’t matter what you want. You ’re discharged from this office and you can’t come back until you ’ve learned to read and write and speak English.”
Barney’s heart began to beat again. “Will you take me back?”
“If you want to come—then—yes. Glad to have you.”
“Well, gee, Chief—” Barney was smiling, almost in tears.
Babbing continued quizzically, settling back in his chair. “You have the making of a detective in you, I ’m sorry to say. There ’s no doubt of it. And if you want to make a living out of it, I can’t stop you. It ’s as good a way as another, I suppose. You either have the aptitude for it, or you have n’t. It is n’t a science. It ’s an art. You can’t reduce it to rules. It ’s intuitive. All the science in the business can’t take the place of the ‘hunch.’ That ’s why I ’m discharging you. If you can get the right hunch, all you need is an education in order to make a success of yourself. Understand?”
“Yes, ’r,” Barney beamed.
“Very well, then,” Babbing rose. “Go home and tell your mother. I ’ll be around to see her to-night, after I ’ve settled with Baxter. I ’ll arrange with her about your schooling.”
“How long will it be?”
“How long will what be?”
“Before I can come back?”
“That depends on how you apply yourself to your studies.”
“Gee,” Barney said, “I ’ll ’ply myself all right.”
“Good,” Babbing held out his hand. “Good-by meanwhile. And good luck.”
Barney shook hands shyly. “Thanks, Chief. The same to you.”
“All right. Run along now.”
Barney hurried obediently to the door. “I ’ll be back,” he grinned, “before you miss me—wit’ a leather medal.”
“If you come back wit’ dat Bowery accent,” Babbing said, to a letter that he had opened, “I ’ll throw you out the window. Get out of here.”
And Barney went, giggling, with his very ambiguous past happy behind him, and his equally ambiguous future very promising before.