CLUES

The money was gone from the drawer; boxes, tins, and packages had been
pulled from the shelves, examined, and either tossed helter-skelter
back or left upon the counters, and on every side lay evidence of the
burglar’s depredations.

“I said we oughtn’t to leave the money here,” wailed Harry.

Chub didn’t reply. He had seated himself on a box and was frowning
dejectedly about him.

“Who do you suppose did it?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know _who_ did it, but I know how it was _done_,” answered
Chub. He pointed to the door into the back yard. The panel nearest the
lock had been splintered in, and the marauder had evidently thrust his
hand through and turned the key from the inside.

“What shall we say when Mrs. Peel comes?” asked Harry, miserably.

“Tell her the store’s been broken into and burglarized,” answered Chub,
stolidly. “I’ll make up the money they stole, but I don’t think I ought
to pay for the goods taken. And I imagine, from the looks of things,
that the robbers took more than twelve dollars’ worth of stuff with
them.”

“That’s the worst of it,” mourned Harry. “We can make up the money
between us, for you know very well, Chub, we aren’t going to let you
pay it all, but we can’t pay for the groceries and things.”

“We haven’t even any way of finding out how much they are worth,”
replied Chub. “I suppose I’d better report the robbery to some one. I
wonder where the nearest police station is.”

He got up and walked to the back door, Harry following him, and
examined it.

“Looks as though some one had just kicked his foot through it, doesn’t
it?” he asked. “And here he goes–hello, there must have been two of
them! You can see the footprints, Harry. They just climbed the fence
here, walked across to the door, and smashed it in so that one of them
could put his hand through and turn the key. And here’s a match.”
He picked it up, examined it, and dropped it into his pocket. “They
lighted a candle or something–”

“There’s a candle over there beside the barrel,” said Harry. Chub
picked it up.

“If it was a new one when they lighted it,” he said, “they must have
been in here a good long time. I don’t believe a candle burns down that
much in less than twenty minutes or half an hour. I wonder–”

He broke off and walked to one of the shelves. A new box of tallow
candles had been dragged from its place, and one candle was missing
from the top layer. Between the counter and the door he picked up four
more matches and added them to the one in his pocket.

“I don’t suppose,” he said thoughtfully, “that they’ve got any police
around here who could catch these fellows in a hundred years. So I
guess it doesn’t make much difference whether we report the robbery
to-day or next week.”

“Oh, but we ought to tell some one right away, Chub,” exclaimed Harry.

“Well, I’m going to look around first, anyway. We ought to get some
idea of what’s been taken. I’m glad I locked the door into the
living-rooms. Here’s the key just where I put it.”

He started around the store, looking into displaced boxes and cans and
returning them to their places. Presently Harry got a piece of paper
and began to put down a list of the things which they believed had been
taken.

“There were more sides of bacon than this,” said Chub.

“There were seven,” said Harry. “I noticed yesterday. They’ve stolen
four.”

“Put it down,” said Chub. “And they’ve made a big hole here in the
canned things. Looks to me as though they’d taken about two dozen cans.
You can see where they took peaches and green-gage plums. Let’s see;
put down six of each, Harry, and about a dozen more assorted–tomatoes,
beans, and other truck. And sardines, I guess; I don’t know how many;
say three or four. That’s all they took here, I think.”

He worked around the store, examining, tidying, and replacing,
Harry following anxiously with her paper and pencil. When they had
finished they breathed easier. It seemed that the robbers had confined
themselves entirely to bacon and canned goods, although, as Chub
allowed, they might have helped themselves to other things in small
quantities for all they knew. But at most the value of the things taken
would foot up well under ten dollars.

“Don’t see why they didn’t take more,” mused Chub. “They had all the
time they wanted, apparently.”

“Maybe they had to carry the things a long way,” Harry suggested. Chub
shot a questioning glance at her.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Why, they might live a long way off,” Harry explained. “I don’t
believe it was any one who lives here, do you?”

“No, I don’t. It might have been a couple of tramps. The railroad isn’t
more than a quarter of a mile from here, and they may have been walking
along the track and got hungry and came over to see what they could
find. Only, how’d they know there was no one at home here?”

“That’s so,” murmured Harry. “It looks as though it must have been some
one who knew that Mrs. Peel was away, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered Chub, thoughtfully. “Well, whoever they were, they
cleaned up the cash-drawer.” He walked over to it and stared into it,
hands in pocket. “There ought to have been a lock on it, though I
don’t suppose that would have kept them out.” He turned away, and as
he did so something white on the floor under the counter caught his
eye. Picking it up, he bore it to the light. It proved to be a crumpled
wad of papers. Chub smoothed them out, revealing Harry’s memoranda
of sales, the letter to Jennie, and the letter to Mrs. Peel. Both
envelopes had been torn open.

“Guess they thought there might be money in them,” said Chub.
Then–“Look here, Harry,” he said, “I’m going to read this one to
Jennie and see if Mrs. Peel says when she’s coming back. Under the
circumstances I think it’s allowable, don’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Harry. “I do. Because she ought to know what’s
happened, and if she isn’t coming to-day or to-morrow we must write to
her.”

So Chub opened the letter and read it aloud:

“DEAR JENNIE:–I found Millie was very much better when I got
here, and there wasn’t any real need of my coming, except
James was worried and upset and afraid she was going to be real
sick. The doctor was here about half an hour ago and says she
is doing nicely. It was just a touch of heat, but James thought
it was a fever. She was doing a heavy washing, and the weather
was terribly hot, and she just gave out like a flash. I tell
James he must have a woman to come in Mondays and help Millie,
and he agrees. Unless something unlooked-for happens, I will be
home day after to-morrow afternoon, and if you have your bag
packed you can go right home the minute I get there, if you
want to. Your aunt Millie sends her love, and so does James.”

“Your aff. aunt,

“AMANDA PEEL.”

“When was it written?” asked Harry.

“Day before yesterday,” Chub answered. “That means that she will be
back to-day. Well, all the better. I’ve had about all the storekeeping
I want.”

“So have I,” said Harry, dolefully. “And it was such good fun until
this morning, wasn’t it?”

“It wasn’t bad. You stay here, and I’ll see if I can find out where the
nearest station is. You aren’t afraid, are you?”

“N–no,” answered Harry, “I’ll stay near the door.”

She had no chance to be lonesome, for ten minutes after Chub left,
almost the entire population of the village had appeared on the scene,
eager for details of the robbery, anxious to see the broken door, and
highly curious about Harry. Meanwhile Chub, seated behind Cæsar and
beside Bennie Hooper, was being taken to Washington Hills and the
sheriff. Chub found the sheriff in the middle of a horse trade in front
of the livery-stable. When, however, he had stated his errand the horse
trade was adjourned, and the sheriff followed Chub and Bennie back to
the scene of the robbery in his side-bar buggy.

The sheriff was a young, alert man, and Chub had to own that he seemed
quite intelligent. But he didn’t offer them much hope.

“I reckon,” he said, after he had looked over the premises and heard
all the particulars they could give him, “that whoever done this job
has got away before this. Tramps, likely as not. It looks like their
sort of work; bungly, you see; took no pains to hide their tracks. They
was hungry and couldn’t find any place that looked more promising.
Probably had a gunny-sack and filled it, and then went back to the
railroad. The old lady was lucky they didn’t take more.”

“But doesn’t it seem funny,” asked Chub, “that they should know the
place was empty?”

“Well, you left a note on the door, didn’t you? Maybe they prowled
around, found that, didn’t see any lights, and concluded they’d take a
chance. Probably they tried the windows and couldn’t open ’em without
breaking the glass, and then went around back. Well, I’ll see what can
be done. But I guess it’s a hopeless job. Like as not they’re ten miles
or even twenty miles away by now. Maybe they caught a freight. But I’ll
telegraph up and down the road. You leave it to me, sir. Tell Mrs. Peel
I’ll let her know if anything comes up.”

He climbed into his buggy and was off again. They watched him go and
then locked the store and went back to the boat. It was almost noon,
and Dick and Roy had just returned after a fruitful journey to the
neighboring farm.

“We got eggs and chickens and corn and beets and peas and a whole
half-gallon of milk!” called Dick, jubilantly. “And some little round
squashes that you fry in bread-crumbs.”

“Didn’t you bring the things from the store?” asked Roy.




“No,” Chub answered.

“Why not?”

“Well, I guess we sort of forgot them. Some one broke into the store
last night and stole the money and a lot of groceries.”

Presently, when Roy and Dick had heard all there was to hear, Chub
decoyed Roy to the tent, out of hearing of Harry.

“I say, Roy,” he began, “do you remember the other night when we found
those cans of peaches on the bed?”

“Sure,” answered Roy.

“Remember we found a lot of matches on the floor?”

“Yes.”

“Remember what sort they were?”

“What sort? No, just matches, weren’t they?”

“Parlor matches?”

“Um–no, they were what we used to call ‘all-day matches,’ the kind
that come in cards and have to be broken off.”

“Exactly, sulphur matches,” agreed Chub. “Well, look at these.” He drew
five burnt matches from his pocket and held them out.

“Yes, I see,” said Roy. “Look like the same kind, don’t they? You
think, then, that the fellow that Harry saw at her window is the same
fellow that robbed the store?”

“I think he was one of them,” answered Chub, decidedly. “Besides, he
tried to steal canned fruit from us, and they took about two dozen cans
of it last night.”

“That’s so. Who do you think did it?”

“I don’t know, but–I’ve been wondering–I say, how far do you think it
is to where those Gipsies are?”

“About two miles, I should say. Now, that’s it, Chub! I’ll wager they
did it!”

“Well, that’s what I think,” said Chub. “Now, look here. After dinner
you and Dick had better go back to the store with Harry and be there
when Mrs. Peel comes. I’ll give you a check to replace the stolen
money. She won’t lose that, anyway.”

“Oh, we’ll all contribute to that,” said Roy. “I don’t know that we’re
bound to replace it, though. We didn’t steal it.”

“No, but I’d feel better if we did. You fellows needn’t help, though;
I’ve got enough to pay for it all.”

“Nonsense; we’ll go thirds on it. But what are you going to do?”

“Go fishing,” answered Chub, with a grin.

“Fishing?”

“Yes, up near where the Gipsies are camped.”

“Pshaw, you can’t find anything, Chub!”

“I don’t suppose I can,” replied Chub, musingly, “but–well, it won’t
do any harm to have a look around.”

“Let me go with you,” said Roy, eagerly. But Chub shook his head.

“No, I’ll go alone. I want to look around the camp a bit, and they
won’t think much of it if I stumble in there alone.”

“Don’t think they’ll act badly, do you?” asked Roy, uneasily.

“No; why should they? They won’t know what I’m up to. Maybe they won’t
see me. We’d better not let Harry know anything about it, though,
because she still thinks she may have dreamed that chap at her window.
If she knows it really was a man, she’ll be scared to death all the
rest of the time we’re here.”

“I don’t see what we want to stay here for, anyhow,” said Roy,
disgustedly. “The fishing’s absolutely no good.”

“Well, I think we’ll move on to-morrow. It would have saved us money if
we’d gone before. There’s the doctor coming back. I’ll tell him about
it now, so Harry won’t know.”

“Too bad, too bad!” said the doctor, when Chub had told his story. “But
I wouldn’t let it worry me much. As for the money, why, we can fix that
up easily enough among ourselves. I don’t believe I’d run any risks,
Chub, by poking my head into that Gipsy camp. They’re an evil-looking
lot. I came by there this morning again after I’d caught these.” He
looked down ruefully at the string of five small trout which he carried.

“I don’t think there’s any danger, sir,” answered Chub. “Don’t worry;
I’ll be back long before supper-time.”

But Chub was mistaken there.

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