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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 7. The Amateur Detective
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The Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 7. The Amateur Detective Post by :burrr Category :Long Stories Author :Ellis Parker Butler Date :May 2012 Read :2352

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The Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 7. The Amateur Detective


When Billy Fenelby had taken his box of cigars up to his room he came down again, but he did not go anywhere near Bobberts' bank, as he should have gone had he intended depositing in it the thirty per cent. of the value of the cigars, which was the duty due on cigars under the provisions of the Fenelby Domestic Tariff. He walked out to the veranda and got into the hammock and began to read the morning paper.

From time to time he let it hang down over the edge of the hammock, as if it bored him, and he glanced at the door as if he hoped someone would come out of the house. The paper was not very interesting that morning, and Billy had other things to think of. He had volunteered to keep an eye on Kitty, and to find out definitely, if he could, whether she was smuggling shirt-waists and other things--or had already smuggled them--into the house, contrary to the provisions of the tariff. He felt that the more he saw of girls the less he liked them, and that the more he saw of Kitty, particularly, the less he fancied her, but if he was going to do this amateur detective business he wanted to begin it as soon as possible, and he watched the door closely. He wanted to see whether Kitty would still wear the pink shirt-waist she had worn at breakfast, or the white one she had worn the evening before, or whether she would dare to wear another.

The sudden departure of Bridget had upset the domestic affairs somewhat, and Kitty and Mrs. Fenelby were busy in the kitchen, but after the dishes were washed, and the rooms set to rights, and the beds made, and Bobberts given his bath, Kitty came out. It had been a long and tedious morning for Billy. There is nothing so helpless as a detective who can't work at his business of detecting, and when the job is to detect a pretty girl, and she won't show up, the waiting is rather tiresome. At one time Billy was almost tempted to go in and ask her to come out, and he would probably have gone in and snooped around a bit, if she had not appeared just then.

Kitty came out with all the brazen effrontery of a hardened criminal. That is to say she came out singing, and with her hair perfectly in order, and looking in every way fresh and charming. Billy recognized this immediately as the wile of a malefactor trying to throw an officer of the law off the scent, but he was not to be discouraged by it, and he jumped out of the hammock and went up to her. She still wore the pink shirt-waist, and it was very becoming. She looked just as well in it as if she had paid the lawful ten per cent. duty on it. It is not the duty that makes that kind of a shirt-waist pretty; it is the way it is made, and the trimming. The girl that is in it helps some, too. It is a fact that a shirt-waist looks entirely different on different girls. You have to consider the girl and her shirt-waist together, as a whole or unit, if you are going to be able to recognize it when you see it again, and Billy was ready to consider it that way. If he ever saw that pink confection with that saucy chin and merry face above it again he meant to be able to recognize the combination. That is one of the duties of a detective.

"Let's go out under the tree," he said, "and sit down, and--and talk it over. I have something I want to talk about."

"Talk it over," said Kitty, lifting her eyebrows. "Talk what over?"

You couldn't nonplus Billy that way, when he was in pursuit of his duty.

"Well," he said, "we--that is, I didn't thank you for bringing me up that collar this morning. I want to thank you for it."

"Yes?" said Kitty. "Well, here I am. Thank me. You did thank me once, but I don't care. Do it again."

"Thank you," said Billy.

"You're welcome," Kitty said, and then they both laughed.

"What do you think of this Domestic Tariff business?" asked Billy, seeking to lead her into some admission of which he could make use as proof of her smuggling.

"I think it is a simply splendid idea!" Kitty declared. "I am sure no one but Tom could have thought of it, and the very minute I heard of it I went into it body and soul. It was so clever of him to conceive such an idea, and such a simple way to build up an education fund for dear, sweet, little Bobberts! And isn't it nice of Tom and Laura to let us be in it and pay our share of the duty. It makes us feel so much more as if we were really part of the family."

"Doesn't it?" said Billy. "It makes us feel as if we had a right to be here--when we pay duty and all that. I feel like bringing in a lot of stuff just so that I can pay duty on it. I was thinking about it this morning, and about that little joke of mine about not bringing in that collar last night, and I felt what I had missed by leaving it out on the porch, so I got up and went down for it. That was how you happened to meet me in the hall--I wanted to get it and bring it in so I could pay the duty, and be in the fun myself. You don't think I was going to smuggle it in, do you?"

"Oh, no!" said Kitty, with a long-drawn o. "Nobody would be so mean as to smuggle anything into the house, when the duty all goes to dear little Bobberts. It is such fun to pay duty, just as if the house was a real nation. It is like being part of the nation, and you know we women are not that. We can't vote, nor anything, and a chance like this is so rare that we enjoy it immensely. You didn't think it was queer that I should go down so early in the morning to get your collar and bring it in, did you?"

"Well, of course," said Billy, doubtfully, "it wasn't your collar, you know. It was my collar."

"I know it was," Kitty admitted frankly, "but you know how little we women can bring into the house. Hardly anything. We shop and shop, but we hardly ever really buy anything, and all the time I am just crazy to be paying duty, and to know whether it is ten per cent. or thirty per cent., and all that, as if I was a man, and so, when I happened to think of that collar that you had left down here on the porch railing, I saw it was my chance, and I decided to come down and get it and bring it into the house, so I could have the fun of paying the duty on it. So I came down and got it. And just as I reached the landing on my way up I met you, and I was so surprised that I just handed the collar to you."

"Of course," said Billy. "That was just the way it was, except that _I had just reached the landing on _my way up, when you handed me the collar. _You couldn't have just reached the landing, because if you had we would have been going up the stairs together, side by side, and we were not doing that. _I was going up the stairs, and just as I reached the landing you came from somewhere and handed me the collar."

"Isn't that what I said?" asked Kitty sweetly. "It amounts to the same thing, anyway, doesn't it? I had the collar, and you got it. I suppose you paid the duty on it?"

"Me?" said Billy. "Not much! I didn't bring it into the house; you brought it in. You have to pay the duty."

"I pay the duty on your collar?" laughed Kitty. "Well, I should think I would not! I went down and got it for you, and that was nothing but an act of kindness that anybody would do for anybody else. You can pay your own duties."

"Oh, I sha'n't pay a duty on it!" scoffed Billy. "I didn't want the collar. I didn't need it, and I refused to bring it into the house on principle. I don't believe in tariff duties. I'm a free trader. I wouldn't smuggle, and I wouldn't pay duty, and so I left it outside. You should have left it there. You didn't leave it there, and so it is your duty to pay the duty."

"Never!" declared Kitty.

For a few minutes they were silent, and Billy looked glumly at the street. Then he cheered up suddenly. He looked at Kitty and smiled.

"I'll tell you what let's do!" he exclaimed. "Let's go out under the tree and talk it over. We'll go out under the tree and talk it all over. That is the only way we can settle it."

"It is settled now," said Kitty. "I don't think it needs any more settling."

Billy beamed upon her cheerfully.

"Well," he said, "let's go out under the tree and--and unsettle it."

For a moment Kitty seemed to hesitate, but that was only for Billy's good, lest he think she yielded to his whims too readily. Then she went, and draped herself gracefully upon the sweet, dry grass, and Billy sat himself cross-legged near her.

"Now, what do you think of this Domestic Tariff business, anyway?" he asked.

"I think it is the silliest thing I ever heard of," said Kitty frankly. "I never heard of a man with real sense conceiving such a thing. As if such a lot of nonsense is needed to save a few dollars for an education that isn't to come about for sixteen years or so! And the idea of making his guests pay the duty too! It is the most unhospitable thing I ever heard of!"

"Isn't it?" agreed Billy, promptly. "It makes us feel as if we had no right to be here. A man can't afford to bring even the things he needs, when he has to pay that exorbitant duty on everything. And it is so much worse on you. Now I can get along with very little. A man can, you know. But how is a girl going to do without all the things she is accustomed to? I believe," he said, confidentially lowering his voice and glancing at the house, "I believe, if I were a girl, I would be tempted to smuggle in the things I really needed."

"Would you?" asked Kitty, sweetly. "But then you men have different ideas of such things, don't you? You don't think a girl would do such a thing, do you? Would you advise it? I don't know whether--how would you go about smuggling, if you wanted to? But I don't believe it would be honest, would it?"

She turned up to him two such innocent eyes that Billy almost blushed. There is no satisfaction in knowing a person is guilty, the satisfaction is in making the person look guilty, and Kitty looked like an innocent child questioning the face of a tempter and seeing guilt there. He longed to ask her outright how she happened to have a pink shirt-waist, but he did not dare to, lest he put her at once on her guard. He felt a great desire to take her by the shoulders and shake her out of her calm superiority. It was very trying to him. No girl had a right to act as if she thought herself the superior of any man. Just to show her how inferior she was he dropped the subject of the tariff entirely and began a conversation on Ibsen. He did not know much about Ibsen but he knew a little and he could lead her beyond her depths and make her feel her inferiority that way. Kitty listened to him with an amused smile, and then told him a few things about Ibsen, quoted a few enlightening pages from Hauptmann, routed him, slaughtered him gently as he fled from position to position, and ended by asking him if he had ever read anything of Ibsen's. It was very trying to Billy. This girl evidently had no respect for the superior brain of man whatever.

"I think the lawn needs sprinkling," he said, coldly.

"Do you know how it should be done?" she asked, and that was the final insult. Nice girls never asked such questions in such a way. Nice girls looked up with wonder in their eyes and said, "Oh! You men know how to do everything!" That settled Billy's opinion of Kitty! She was evidently one of these over-educated, forward, scheming, coquetting girls. She had not even said, "Oh! don't sprinkle the lawn now; stay here and talk with me." He squared his shoulders and marched over to the sprinkling apparatus, while she sat with her back against the tree and watched him. He turned on the water and adjusted the nozzle to a good strong flow. He wet the lawn at the rear of the house first, and was pulling the hose after him into the front lawn when Mrs. Fenelby suddenly appeared on the porch. She had a box of cigars in her hand, and when he saw them Billy jumped guiltily.

"Billy!" she exclaimed, "Are these your cigars?"

"Why, say!" he said, after one glance at her face on which suspicion was but too plainly imprinted. "Those are cigars, aren't they? That's a whole box of cigars, isn't it?"

"It is," said Mrs. Fenelby, severely, "and I found it in your room. I don't remember having received any duty on a box of cigars, Billy. I hope you were not trying to smuggle them in. I hope you were not trying to rob poor, dear little Bobberts, Billy."

Billy held the nozzle limply in one hand and let the stream pour wastefully at his feet.

"That box of cigars--" he began weakly. "That box of cigars, the box you found in my room, well, that is a box of cigars. You see, Mrs. Fenelby," he continued, cautiously, "that box of cigars was up there in my room, and--Now, you know I wouldn't try to smuggle anything in, don't you? Now, I'll tell you all about it." But he didn't. He looked at the box thoughtfully. He saw now that he had been silly to buy a whole box. A man should not buy more than a handful at a time.

"Well?" said Mrs. Fenelby, impatiently.

"Isn't that the box you bought when you went over to the station with Tom this morning?" asked Kitty, sweetly. "You brought back a box when you returned you know."

Billy turned his head and glared at her. But she only smiled at him. He did not dare to look Mrs. Fenelby in the eye.

"Tom smokes a great deal, doesn't he?" Kitty continued lightly. "I wondered when you brought that box of cigars back with you if he hadn't asked you to bring them over for him. That was what I thought the moment I saw you with them."

"Why, yes, of course," said Billy, with relief. "That was how it was. I--I didn't like to say it, you know," he assured Mrs. Fenelby, eagerly, "I--I didn't know just how Tom would feel about it. Tom will pay the duty. When he comes home this evening. He couldn't come home from the station--and miss his train--and all that sort of thing--just to pay the duty on a box of cigars, could he? So I brought them home. It is perfectly plain and simple! You see if he doesn't pay the duty as soon as he gets in the house. Tom wouldn't want to smuggle them in, Mrs. Fenelby. You shouldn't think he would do such a thing. I'm--I'm surprised that you should think that of Tom."

Mrs. Fenelby looked at him doubtfully, and then glanced at Kitty's innocent face. She shook her head. It did not seem just what Tom would have done, but she could not deny that it might be so. She would know all about it when he came home in the evening. She cast a glance at the lawn, and uttered a cry. Billy was pouring oceans of water at full pressure upon her pansy bed, and the poor flowers were dashing madly about and straining at their roots. Some were already lying washed out by the roots. Billy looked, and swung the nozzle sharply around, and the scream that Kitty uttered told him that he had hit another mark. That pink shirt-waist looked disreputable. Water was dripping from all its laces, and from Kitty's hair, and her cheeks glistened with pearly drops. She was drenched.

"Goodness!" she exclaimed, shaking her hanging arms and her down-bent head, and then glancing at Billy, who stood idiotically regarding her, she laughed. He was a statue of miserable regret, and the limply held garden hose was pouring its stream unheeded into his low shoes. Wet as she was, and uncomfortable, she could not refrain from laughing, for Billy could not have looked more guilty if she had been sugar and had completely melted before his eyes. Even Mrs. Fenelby laughed.

"It doesn't matter a bit!" said Kitty, reassuringly. "Really, I don't mind it at all. It was nice and cool."

She was very pretty, from Billy's point of view, as she stood with a wisp or two of wet hair coquettishly straggling over her face. Mrs. Fenelby would have said she looked mussy, but there is something strangely enticing to a man in a bit of hair wandering astray over a pretty face. Before marriage, that is. It quite finished Billy. He forgave her all just on account of those few wet, wandering locks.

"I'm so sorry!" he said, with enormous contrition. "I'm awfully sorry. I'm--I'm mighty sorry. Really, I'm sorry."

"Now, it doesn't matter a bit," said Kitty lightly. "Not a bit! I'll just run up and get on something dry--"

"You had better shut off the water," said Mrs. Fenelby, and went into the house.

Billy laid the hose carefully at his feet.

"I say," he said, hesitatingly, to Kitty, "wear the one you had on last night--the white one. I--I think that one's pretty."

"Oh, no!" said Kitty. "I can't wear that one. That one is all mussed up. I can't wear that one again. I have a lovely blue one."

"No!" said Billy, whispering, and glancing suspiciously at the house. "Not blue! Please don't! It--it's dangerous."

"Oh, but it is a dream of a waist!" said Kitty. "You wait until you see it."

"No!" pleaded Billy again. "Not a blue one! If you wore a blue one I couldn't help but notice it was blue. It isn't safe. Don't wear a blue one, or a green one, or a brown one. Just a white one. Not any other color; just white. You see," he said with sudden confidentiality, "I'm a detective. I'm detecting for Tom. I told him I would, and I've got to keep my word. He has a notion someone is smuggling things into the house without paying the duty, and he got me to detect at you for him. We're suspicious about your clothes. There's a white waist, and this pink waist, already, and if you go to wearing blue ones and all sorts of colors, I can't help but notice it. I don't want to get you into trouble with Tom, you know." He hesitated a moment and then said, "You helped me out about those cigars."

"All right!" said Kitty, cheerfully, "I'll wear a white one, but I think you might be color blind if you really want to help me."

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