Part 1 out of 3
THE OAKDALE AFFAIR
The house on the hill showed lights only upon the first
floor--in the spacious reception hall, the dining room,
and those more or less mysterious purLieus thereof from
which emanate disagreeable odors and agreeable foods.
From behind a low bush across the wide lawn a pair
of eyes transferred to an alert brain these simple per-
ceptions from which the brain deduced with Sherlock-
ian accuracy and Raffleian purpose that the family of
the president of The First National Bank of--Oh, let's
call it Oakdale--was at dinner, that the servants were be-
low stairs and the second floor deserted.
The owner of the eyes had but recently descended
from the quarters of the chauffeur above the garage
which he had entered as a thief in the night and quitted
apparelled in a perfectly good suit of clothes belong-
ing to the gentlemanly chauffeur and a soft, checked
cap which was now pulled well down over a pair of
large brown eyes in which a rather strained expression
might have suggested to an alienist a certain neophy-
tism which even the stern set of well shaped lips could
not effectually belie.
Apparently this was a youth steeling himself against
a natural repugnance to the dangerous profession he had
espoused; and when, a moment later, he stepped out
into the moonlight and crossed the lawn toward the
house, the slender, graceful lines which the ill-fitting
clothes could not entirely conceal carried the conviction
of youth if not of innocence.
The brazen assurance with which the lad crossed the
lawn and mounted the steps to the verandah suggested
a familiarity with the habits and customs of the inmates
of the house upon the hill which bespoke long and care-
ful study of the contemplated job. An old timer could
not have moved with greater confidence. No detail
seemed to have escaped his cunning calculation. Though
the door leading from the verandah into the reception
hall swung wide to the balmy airs of late Spring the
prowler passed this blatant invitation to the hospitality
of the House of Prim. It was as though he knew that
from his place at the head of the table, with his back
toward the great fire place which is the pride of the
Prim dining hall, Jonas Prim commands a view of the
major portion of the reception hall.
Stooping low the youth passed along the verandah to
a window of the darkened library--a French window
which swung open without noise to his light touch. Step-
ping within he crossed the room to a door which opened
at the foot of a narrow stairway--a convenient little stair-
way which had often let the Hon. Jonas Prim to pass
from his library to his second floor bed-room unnoticed
when Mrs. Prim chanced to be entertaining the femi-
nine elite of Oakdale across the hall. A convenient little
stairway for retiring husbands and diffident burglars--
The darkness of the upper hallway offered no obstacle
to this familiar housebreaker. He passed the tempting
luxury of Mrs. Prim's boudoir, the chaste elegance of
Jonas Prim's bed-room with all the possibilities of forgot-
ten wallets and negotiable papers, setting his course
straight for the apartments of Abigail Prim, the spinster
daughter of the First National Bank of Oakdale. Or
should we utilize a more charitable and at the same time
more truthful word than spinster? I think we should,
since Abigail was but nineteen and quite human, de-
spite her name.
Upon the dressing table of Abigail reposed much sil-
ver and gold and ivory, wrought by clever artisans into
articles of great beauty and some utility; but with scarce
a glance the burglar passed them by, directing his course
straight across the room to a small wall safe cleverly
hidden by a bit of tapestry.
How, Oh how, this suggestive familiarity with the
innermost secrets of a virgin's sacred apartments upon
the part of one so obviously of the male persuasion and,
by his all too apparent calling, a denizen of that under-
world of which no Abigail should have intimate knowl-
edge? Yet, truly and with scarce a faint indication of
groping, though the room was dark, the marauder
walked directly to the hidden safe, swung back the
tapestry in its frame, turned the knob of the combina-
tion and in a moment opened the circular door of the
A fat roll of bills and a handful of jewelry he trans-
ferred to the pockets of his coat. Some papers which his
hand brushed within the safe he pushed aside as though
preadvised of their inutility to one of his calling. Then
he closed the safe door, closed the tapestry upon it
and turned toward a dainty dressing table. From a
drawer in this exquisite bit of Sheraton the burglar took
a small, nickel plated automatic, which he slipped into
an inside breast pocket of his coat, nor did he touch
another article therein or thereon, nor hesitate an in-
stant in the selection of the drawer to be rifled. His
knowledge of the apartment of the daughter of the
house of Prim was little short of uncanny. Doubtless the
fellow was some plumber's apprentice who had made
good use of an opportunity to study the lay of the land
against a contemplated invasion of these holy pre-
But even the most expert of second story men nod
and now that all seemed as though running on greased
rails a careless elbow raked a silver candle-stick from
the dressing table to the floor where it crashed with a
resounding din that sent cold shivers up the youth's
spine and conjured in his mind a sudden onslaught of
investigators from the floor below.
The noise of the falling candlestick sounded to the
taut nerved house-breaker as might the explosion of a
stick of dynamite during prayer in a meeting house.
That all Oakdale had heard it seemed quite possible,
while that those below stairs were already turning ques-
tioning ears, and probably inquisitive footsteps, upward
was almost a foregone conclusion.
Adjoining Miss Prim's boudoir was her bath and be-
fore the door leading from the one to the other was a
cretonne covered screen behind which the burglar now
concealed himself the while he listened in rigid appre-
hension for the approach of the enemy; but the only
sound that came to him from the floor below was the
deep laugh of Jonas Prim. A profound sigh of relief es-
caped the beardless lips; for that laugh assured the
youth that, after all, the noise of the fallen candlestick
had not alarmed the household.
With knees that still trembled a bit he crossed the
room and passed out into the hallway, descended the
stairs, and stood again in the library. Here he paused
a moment listening to the voices which came from the
dining room. Mrs. Prim was speaking. "I feel quite re-
lieved about Abigail," she was saying. "I believe that at
last she sees the wisdom and the advantages of an
alliance with Mr. Benham, and it was almost with en-
thusiasm that she left this morning to visit his sister.
I am positive that a week or two of companionship
with him will impress upon her the fine qualities of his
nature. We are to be congratulated, Jonas, upon settling
our daughter so advantageously both in the matter of
family and wealth."
Jonas Prim grunted. "Sam Benham is old enough to
be the girl's father," he growled. "If she wants him, all
right; but I can't imagine Abbie wanting a bald-headed
husband with rheumatism. I wish you'd let her alone,
Pudgy, to find her own mate in her own way--someone
nearer her own age."
"The child is not old enough to judge wisely for her-
self," replied Mrs. Prim. "It was my duty to arrange a
proper alliance; and, Jonas, I will thank you not to call
me Pudgy--it is perfectly ridiculous for a woman of my
The burglar did not hear Mr. Prim's reply for he had
moved across the library and passed out onto the ve-
randah. Once again he crossed the lawn, taking advan-
tage of the several trees and shrubs which dotted it,
scaled the low stone wall at the side and was in the
concealing shadows of the unlighted side street which
bounds the Prim estate upon the south. The streets of
Oakdale are flanked by imposing battalions of elm and
maple which over-arch and meet above the thorough-
fares; and now, following an early Spring, their foliage
eclipsed the infrequent arclights to the eminent satis-
faction of those nocturnal wayfarers who prefer neither
publicity nor the spot light. Of such there are few within
the well ordered precincts of lawabiding Oakdale; but
to-night there was at least one and this one was deeply
grateful for the gloomy walks along which he hurried
toward the limits of the city.
At last he found himself upon a country road with
the odors of Spring in his nostrils and the world before
him. The night noises of the open country fell strangely
upon his ears accentuating rather than relieving the my-
riad noted silence of Nature. Familiar sounds became
unreal and weird, the deep bass of innumerable bull
frogs took on an uncanny humanness which sent a half
shudder through the slender frame. The burglar felt a
sad loneliness creeping over him. He tried whistling in
an effort to shake off the depressing effects of this seem-
ing solitude through which he moved; but there re-
mained with him still the hallucination that he moved
alone through a strange, new world peopled by invisible
and unfamiliar forms--menacing shapes which lurked in
waiting behind each tree and shrub.
He ceased his whistling and went warily upon the
balls of his feet, lest he unnecessarily call attention to
his presence. If the truth were to be told it would chron-
icle the fact that a very nervous and frightened burglar
sneaked along the quiet and peaceful country road out-
side of Oakdale. A lonesome burglar, this, who so craved
the companionship of man that he would almost have
welcomed joyously the detaining hand of the law had
it fallen upon him in the guise of a flesh and blood po-
lice officer from Oakdale.
In leaving the city the youth had given little thought
to the practicalities of the open road. He had thought,
rather vaguely, of sleeping in a bed of new clover in
some hospitable fence corner; but the fence corners
looked very dark and the wide expanse of fields be-
yond suggested a mysterious country which might be
peopled by almost anything but human beings.
At a farm house the youth hesitated and was almost
upon the verge of entering and asking for a night's lodg-
ing when a savage voiced dog shattered the peace of
the universe and sent the burglar along the road at a
A half mile further on a straw stack loomed large
within a fenced enclosure. The youth wormed his way
between the barbed wires determined at last to let
nothing prevent him from making a cozy bed in the
deep straw beside the stack. With courage radiating
from every pore he strode toward the stack. His walk
was almost a swagger, for thus does youth dissemble
the bravery it yearns for but does not possess. He al-
most whistled again; but not quite, since it seemed an
unnecessary provocation to disaster to call particular
attention to himself at this time. An instant later he was
extremely glad that he had refrained, for as he ap-
proached the stack a huge bulk slowly loomed from be-
hind it; and silhouetted against the moonlit sky he saw
the vast proportions of a great, shaggy bull. The burglar
tore the inside of one trousers' leg and the back of his
coat in his haste to pass through the barbed wire fence
onto the open road. There he paused to mop the per-
spiration from his forehead, though the night was now
far from warm.
For another mile the now tired and discouraged
house-breaker plodded, heavy footed, the unending
road. Did vain compunction stir his youthful breast? Did
he regret the safe respectability of the plumber's appren-
tice? Or, if he had not been a plumber's apprentice did
he yearn to once again assume the unharried peace of
whatever legitimate calling had been his before he bent
his steps upon the broad boulevard of sin? We think he
And then he saw through the chinks and apertures
in the half ruined wall of what had once been a hay
barn the rosy flare of a genial light which appeared to
announce in all but human terms that man, red blooded
and hospitable, forgathered within. No growling dogs,
no bulking bulls contested the short stretch of weed
grown ground between the road and the disintegrat-
ing structure; and presently two wide, brown eyes were
peering through a crack in the wall of the abandoned
building. What they saw was a small fire built upon
the earth floor in the center of the building and around
the warming blaze the figures of six men. Some reclined
at length upon old straw; others squatted, Turk fash-
ion. All were smoking either disreputable pipes or rolled
cigarets. Blear-eyed and foxy-eyed, bearded and stub-
bled cheeked, young and old, were the men the youth
looked upon. All were more or less dishevelled and
filthy; but they were human. They were not dogs, or
bulls, or croaking frogs. The boy's heart went out to
them. Something that was almost a sob rose in his
throat, and then he turned the corner of the building
and stood in the doorway, the light from the fire playing
upon his lithe young figure clothed in its torn and ill-
fitting suit and upon his oval face and his laughing
brown eyes. For several seconds he stood there looking
at the men around the fire. None of them had noticed
"Tramps!" thought the youth. "Regular tramps." He
wondered that they had not seen him, and then, clear-
ing his throat, he said: "Hello, tramps!"
Six heads snapped up or around. Six pairs of eyes,
blear or foxy, were riveted upon the boyish figure of
the housebreaker. "Wotinel!" ejaculated a frowzy gentle-
man in a frock coat and golf cap. "Wheredju blow
from?" inquired another. "'Hello, tramps'!" mimicked a
The youth came slowly toward the fire. "I saw your
fire," he said, "and I thought I'd stop. I'm a tramp, too,
"Oh," sighed the elderly person in the frock coat.
"He's a tramp, he is. An' does he think gents like us has
any time for tramps? An' where might he be trampin',
sonny, without his maw?"
The youth flushed. "Oh say!" he cried; "you needn't
kid me just because I'm new at it. You all had to start
sometime. I've always longed for the free life of a tramp;
and if you'll let me go along with you for a little while,
and teach me, I'll not bother you; and I'll do whatever
The elderly person frowned. "Beat it, kid!" he com-
manded. "We ain't runnin' no day nursery. These you
see here is all the real thing. Maybe we asks fer a hand-
out now and then; but that ain't our reg'lar lay. You
ain't swift enough to travel with this bunch, kid, so
you'd better duck. Why we gents, here, if we was added
up is wanted in about twenty-seven cities fer about ev-
erything from rollin' a souse to crackin' a box and
croakin' a bull. You gotta do something before you can
train wid gents like us, see?" The speaker projected a
stubbled jaw, scowled horridly and swept a flattened
palm downward and backward at a right angle to a
hairy arm in eloquent gesture of finality.
The boy had stood with his straight, black eyebrows
puckered into a studious frown, drinking in every word.
Now he straightened up. "I guess I made a mistake," he
said, apologetically. "You ain't tramps at all. You're
thieves and murderers and things like that." His eyes
opened a bit wider and his voice sank to a whisper as
the words passed his lips. "But you haven't so much on
me, at that," he went on, "for I'm a regular burglar,
too," and from the bulging pockets of his coat he drew
two handfuls of greenbacks and jewelry. The eyes of
the six registered astonishment, mixed with craft and
greed. "I just robbed a house in Oakdale," explained the
boy. "I usually rob one every night."
For a moment his auditors were too surprised to voice
a single emotion; but presently one murmured, soulfully:
"Pipe de swag!" He of the frock coat, golf cap, and
years waved a conciliatory hand. He tried to look at the
boy's face; but for the life of him he couldn't raise his
eyes above the dazzling wealth clutched in the fingers
of those two small, slim hands. From one dangled a
pearl necklace which alone might have ransomed, if
not a king, at least a lesser member of a royal family,
while diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds scintil-
lated in the flaring light of the fire. Nor was the fistful of
currency in the other hand to be sneezed at. There were
greenbacks, it is true; but there were also yellowbacks
with the reddish gold of large denominations. The Sky
Pilot sighed a sigh that was more than half gasp.
"Can't yuh take a kid?" he inquired. "I knew youse
all along. Yuh can't fool an old bird like The Sky Pilot
--eh, boys?" and he turned to his comrades for confirma-
"He's The Oskaloosa Kid," exclaimed one of the com-
pany. "I'd know 'im anywheres."
"Pull up and set down," invited another.
The boy stuffed his loot back into his pockets and
came closer to the fire. Its warmth felt most comfort-
able, for the Spring night was growing chill. He looked
about him at the motley company, some half-spruce in
clothing that suggested a Kuppenmarx label and a not
too far association with a tailor's goose, others in rags,
all but one unshaven and all more or less dirty--for
the open road is close to Nature, which is principally
"Shake hands with Dopey Charlie," said The Sky Pi-
lot, whose age and corpulency appeared to stamp him
with the hall mark of authority. The youth did as he
was bid, smiling into the sullen, chalk-white face and
taking the clammy hand extended toward him. Was it a
shudder that passed through the lithe, young figure or
was it merely a subconscious recognition of the final pass-
ing of the bodily cold before the glowing warmth of the
blaze? "And Soup Face," continued The Sky Pilot. A
battered wreck half rose and extended a pudgy hand.
Red whiskers, matted in little tangled wisps which sug-
gested the dried ingredients of an infinite procession
of semi-liquid refreshments, rioted promiscuously over a
"Pleased to meetcha," sprayed Soup Face. It was a
strained smile which twisted the rather too perfect
mouth of The Oskaloosa Kid, an appellation which we
must, perforce, accept since the youth did not deny it.
Columbus Blackie, The General, and Dirty Eddie
were formally presented. As Dirty Eddie was, physi-
cally, the cleanest member of the band the youth won-
dered how he had come by his sobriquet--that is, he
wondered until he heard Dirty Eddie speak, after which
he was no longer in doubt. The Oskaloosa Kid, self-con-
fessed 'tramp' and burglar, flushed at the lurid obscenity
of Dirty Eddie's remarks.
"Sit down, bo," invited Soup Face. "I guess you're a
regular all right. Here, have a snifter?" and he pulled
a flask from his side pocket, holding it toward The Os-
"Thank you, but;--er--I'm on the wagon, you know,"
declined the youth.
"Have a smoke?" suggested Columbus Blackie. "Here's
The change in the attitude of the men toward him
pleased The Oskaloosa Kid immensely. They were treat-
ing him as one of them, and after the lonely walk through
the dark and desolate farm lands human companionship
of any kind was to him as the proverbial straw to the
man who rocked the boat once too often.
Dopey Charlie and The General, alone of all the
company, waxed not enthusiastic over the advent of
The Oskaloosa Kid and his priceless loot. These two sat
scowling and whispering in the back-ground. "Dat's a
wrong guy," muttered the former to the latter. "He's a
stool pigeon or one of dese amatoor mugs."
"It's the pullin' of that punk graft that got my goat,"
replied The General. "I never seen a punk yet that didn't
try to make you think he was a wise guy an' dis stiff
don't belong enough even to pull a spiel that would fool
a old ladies' sewin' circle. I don't see wot The Sky Pi-
lot's cozyin' up to him fer."
"You don't?" scoffed Dopey Charlie. "Didn't you lamp
de oyster harness? To say nothin' of de mitful of rocks
"That 'ud be all right, too," replied the other, "if we
could put the guy to sleep; but The Sky Pilot won't
never stand for croakin' nobody. He's too scared of his
neck. We'll look like a bunch o' wise ones, won't we?
lettin' a stranger sit in now--after last night. Hell!" he
suddenly exploded. "Don't you know that you an' me
stand to swing if any of de bunch gets gabby in front
of dis phoney punk?"
The two sat silent for a while, The General puffing on
a short briar, Dopey Charlie inhaling deep draughts
from a cigarette, and both glaring through narrowed lids
at the boy warming himself beside the fire where the
others were attempting to draw him out the while they
strove desperately but unavailingly to keep their eyes
from the two bulging sidepockets of their guest's coat.
Soup Face, who had been assiduously communing
with a pint flask, leaned close to Columbus Blackie, plac-
ing his whiskers within an inch or so of the other's nose
as was his habit when addressing another, and whis-
pered, relative to the pearl necklace: "Not a cent less
'n fifty thou, bo!"
"Fertheluvomike!" ejaculated Blackie, drawing back
and wiping a palm quickly across his lips. "Get a plum-
ber first if you want to kiss me--you leak."
"He thinks you need a shower bath," said Dirty Ed-
"The trouble with Soup Face," explained The Sky Pi-
lot, "is that he's got a idea he's a human atomizer an'
that the rest of us has colds."
"Well, I don't want no atomizer loaded with rot-gut
and garlic shot in my mug," growled Blackie. "What
Soup Face needs is to be learned ettyket, an' if he
comes that on me again I'm goin' to push his mush
through the back of his bean."
An ugly light came into the blear eyes of Soup Face.
Once again he leaned close to Columbus Blackie.
"Not a cent less 'n fifty thou, you tinhorn!" he bellowed,
belligerent and sprayful.
Blackie leaped to his feet, with an oath--a frightful,
hideous oath--and as he rose he swung a heavy fist to
Soup Face's purple nose. The latter rolled over back-
ward; but was upon his feet again much quicker than one
would have expected in so gross a bulk, and as he came
to his feet a knife flashed in his hand. With a sound that
was more bestial than human he ran toward Blackie;
but there was another there who had anticipated his in-
tentions. As the blow was struck The Sky Pilot had
risen; and now he sprang forward, for all his age and
bulk as nimble as a cat, and seized Soup Face by the
wrist. A quick wrench brought a howl of pain to the
would-be assassin, and the knife fell to the floor.
"You gotta cut that if you travel with this bunch,"
said The Sky Pilot in a voice that was new to The Os-
kaloosa Kid; and you, too, Blackie," he continued. "The
rough stuff don't go with me, see?" He hurled Soup
Face to the floor and resumed his seat by the fire.
The youth was astonished at the physical strength of
this old man, seemingly so softened by dissipation; but it
showed him the source of The Sky Pilot's authority and
its scope, for Columbus Blackie and Soup Face quitted
their quarrel immediately.
Dirty Eddie rose, yawned and stretched. "Me fer
the hay," he announced, and lay down again with his
feet toward the fire. Some of the others followed his
example. "You'll find some hay in the loft there," said
The Sky Pilot to The Oskaloosa Kid. "Bring it down an'
make your bed here by me, there's plenty room."
A half hour later all were stretched out upon the hard
dirt floor upon improvised beds of rotted hay; but not
all slept. The Oskaloosa Kid, though tired, found him-
self wider awake than he ever before had been. Appar-
ently sleep could never again come to those heavy eyes.
There passed before his mental vision a panorama of
the events of the night. He smiled as he inaudibly voiced
the name they had given him, the right to which he had
not seen fit to deny. "The Oskaloosa Kid." The boy
smiled again as be felt the 'swag' hard and lumpy in
his pockets. It had given him prestige here that he could
not have gained by any other means; but he mistook
the nature of the interest which his display of stolen
wealth had aroused. He thought that the men now
looked upon him as a fellow criminal to be accepted into
the fraternity through achievement; whereas they suf-
fered him to remain solely in the hope of transferring
his loot to their own pockets.
It is true that he puzzled them. Even The Sky Pilot,
the most astute and intelligent of them all, was at a loss
to fathom The Oskaloosa Kid. Innocence and unsophisti-
cation flaunted their banners in almost every act and
speech of The Oskaloosa Kid. The youth reminded him
in some ways of members of a Sunday school which had
flourished in the dim vistas of his past when, as an or-
dained minister of the Gospel, he had earned the so-
briquet which now identified him. But the concrete
evidence of the valuable loot comported not with The
Sky Pilot's idea of a Sunday school boy's lark. The young
fellow was, unquestionably, a thief; but that he had ever
before consorted with thieves his speech and manners
"He's got me," murmured The Sky Pilot; "but he's got
the stuff on him, too; and all I want is to get it off of
him without a painful operation. Tomorrow'll do," and
he shifted his position and fell asleep.
Dopey Charlie and The General did not, however,
follow the example of their chief. They remained very
wide awake, a little apart from the others, where their
low whispers could not be overheard.
"You better do it," urged The General, in a soft, in-
sinuating voice. "You're pretty slick with the toad stab-
ber, an' any way one more or less won't count."
"We can go to Sout' America on dat stuff an' live
like gents," muttered Dopey Charlie. "I'm goin' to cut
out de Hop an' buy a farm an' a ottymobeel and--"
"Come out of it," admonished The General. "If we're
lucky we'll get as far as Cincinnati, get a stew on and
get pinched. Den one of us'll hang an' de other get stir
The General was a weasel faced person of almost
any age between thirty-five and sixty. Sometimes he
could have passed for a hundred and ten. He had won
his military title as a boy in the famous march of Coxey's
army on Washington, or, rather, the title had been con-
ferred upon him in later years as a merited reward of
service. The General, profiting by the precepts of his
erstwhile companions in arms, had never soiled his mil-
itary escutcheon by labor, nor had he ever risen to the
higher planes of criminality. Rather as a mediocre pick-
pocket and a timorous confidence man had he eked out
a meager existence, amply punctuated by seasons
of straight bumming and intervals spent as the guest of
various inhospitably hospitable states. Now, for the first
time in his life, The General faced the possibility of a
serious charge; and his terror made him what he never
before had been, a dangerous criminal.
"You're a cheerful guy," commented Dopey Charlie;
"but you may be right at dat. Dey can't hang a guy any
higher fer two 'an they can fer one an' dat's no pipe;
so wots de use. Wait till I take a shot--it'll be easier,"
and he drew a small, worn case from an inside pocket,
bared his arm to the elbow and injected enough mor-
phine to have killed a dozen normal men.
From a pile of mouldy hay across the barn the youth,
heavy eyed but sleepless, watched the two through half
closed lids. A qualm of disgust sent a sudden shudder
through his slight frame. For the first time he almost re-
gretted having embarked upon a life of crime. He had
seen that the two men were conversing together earn-
estly, though he could over-hear nothing they said, and
that he had been the subject of their nocturnal colloquy,
for several times a glance or a nod in his direction as-
sured him of this. And so he lay watching them--not
that he was afraid, he kept reassuring himself, but
through curiosity. Why should he be afraid? Was it not
a well known truth that there was honor among thieves?
But the longer he watched the heavier grew his lids.
Several times they closed to be dragged open again only
by painful effort. Finally came a time that they remained
closed and the young chest rose and fell in the regular
breathing of slumber.
The two ragged, rat-hearted creatures rose silently
and picked their way, half-crouched, among the sleepers
sprawled between them and The Oskaloosa Kid. In the
hand of Dopey Charlie gleamed a bit of shiny steel and
in his heart were fear and greed. The fear was engend-
ered by the belief that the youth might be an amateur
detective. Dopey Charlie had had one experience of
such and he knew that it was easily possible for them to
blunder upon evidence which the most experienced of
operatives might pass over unnoticed, and the loot bulg-
ing pockets furnished a sufficient greed motive in them-
Beside the boy kneeled the man with the knife. He
did not raise his hand and strike a sudden, haphazard
blow. Instead he placed the point carefully, though
lightly, above the victim's heart, and then, suddenly, bore
his weight upon the blade.
Abigail Prim always had been a thorn in the flesh of her
stepmother--a well-meaning, unimaginative, ambitious,
and rather common woman. Coming into the Prim home
as house-keeper shortly after the death of Abigail's
mother, the second Mrs. Prim had from the first looked
upon Abigail principally as an obstacle to be overcome.
She had tried to 'do right by her'; but she had never
given the child what a child most needs and most
craves--love and understanding. Not loving Abigail, the
house-keeper could, naturally, not give her love; and as
for understanding her one might as reasonably have ex-
pected an adding machine to understand higher mathe-
Jonas Prim loved his daughter. There was nothing,
within reason, that money could buy which he would
not have given her for the asking; but Jonas Prim's love,
as his life, was expressed in dollar signs, while the love
which Abigail craved is better expressed by any other
means at the command of man.
Being misunderstood and, to all outward appearances
of sentiment and affection, unloved had not in any way
embittered Abigail's remarkably joyous temperament.
made up for it in some measure by getting all the fun
and excitement out of life which she could discover
therein, or invent through the medium of her own re-
But recently the first real sorrow had been thrust into
her young life since the half-forgotten mother had been
taken from her. The second Mrs. Prim had decided that
it was her 'duty' to see that Abigail, having finished
school and college, was properly married. As a match-
maker the second Mrs. Prim was as a Texas steer in a
ten cent store. It was nothing to her that Abigail did
not wish to marry anyone, or that the man of Mrs.
Prim's choice, had he been the sole surviving male in
the Universe, would have still been as far from Abigail's
choice as though he had been an inhabitant of one of
Orion's most distant planets.
As a matter of fact Abigail Prim detested Samuel
Benham because he represented to her everything in
life which she shrank from--age, avoirdupois, infirmity,
baldness, stupidity, and matrimony. He was a prosaic
old bachelor who had amassed a fortune by the simple
means of inheriting three farms upon which an indus-
trial city subsequently had been built. Necessity rather
than foresight had compelled him to hold on to his prop-
erty; and six weeks of typhoid, arriving and departing,
had saved him from selling out at a low figure. The first
time he found himself able to be out and attend to busi-
ness he likewise found himself a wealthy man, and ever
since he had been growing wealthier without personal
All of which is to render evident just how impossible a
matrimonial proposition was Samuel Benham to a bright,
a beautiful, a gay, an imaginative, young, and a witty
girl such as Abigail Prim, who cared less for money than
for almost any other desirable thing in the world.
Nagged, scolded, reproached, pestered, threatened,
Abigail had at last given a seeming assent to her step-
mother's ambition; and had forthwith been packed off
on a two weeks visit to the sister of the bride-groom
elect. After which Mr. Benham was to visit Oakdale as
a guest of the Prims, and at a dinner for which cards al-
ready had been issued--so sure was Mrs. Jonas Prim of
her position of dictator of the Prim menage--the engage-
ment was to be announced.
It was some time after dinner on the night of Abigail's
departure that Mrs. Prim, following a habit achieved by
years of housekeeping, set forth upon her rounds to see
that doors and windows were properly secured for the
night. A French window and its screen opening upon
the verandah from the library she found open. "The
house will be full of mosquitoes!" she ejaculated men-
tally as she closed them both with a bang and made them
fast. "I should just like to know who left them open.
Upon my word, I don't know what would become of
this place if it wasn't for me. Of all the shiftlessness!"
and she turned and flounced upstairs. In Abigail's room
she flashed on the center dome light from force of habit,
although she knew that the room had been left in proper
condition after the girl's departure earlier in the day.
The first thing amiss that her eagle eye noted was the
candlestick lying on the floor beside the dressing table.
As she stooped to pick it up she saw the open drawer
from which the small automatic had been removed, and
then, suspicions, suddenly aroused, as suddenly became
fear; and Mrs. Prim almost dove across the room to the
hidden wall safe. A moment's investigation revealed the
startling fact that the safe was unlocked and practically
empty. It was then that Mrs. Jonas Prim screamed.
Her scream brought Jonas and several servants upon
the scene. A careful inspection of the room disclosed the
fact that while much of value had been ignored the bur-
glar had taken the easily concealed contents of the wall
safe which represented fully ninety percentum of the
value of the personal property in Abigail Prim's apart-
Mrs. Prim scowled suspiciously upon the servants.
Who else, indeed, could have possessed the intimate
knowledge which the thief had displayed. Mrs. Prim
saw it all. The open library window had been but a
clever blind to hide the fact that the thief had worked
from the inside and was now doubtless in the house at
that very moment.
"Jonas," she directed, "call the police at once, and see
that no one, absolutely no one, leaves this house until
they have been here and made a full investigation."
"Shucks, Pudgy!" exclaimed Mr. Prim. "You don't think
the thief is waiting around here for the police, do you?"
"I think that if you get the police here at once, Jonas,
we shall find both the thief and the loot under our very
roof," she replied, not without asperity.
"You don't mean--" he hesitated. "Why, Pudgy, you
don't mean you suspect one of the servants?"
"Who else could have known?" asked Mrs. Prim. The
servants present looked uncomfortable and cast sheep-
ish eyes of suspicion at one another.
"It's all tommy rot!" ejaculated Mr. Prim; "but I'll call
the police, because I got to report the theft. It's some
slick outsider, that's who it is," and he started down
stairs toward the telephone. Before he reached it the bell
rang, and when he had hung up the receiver after the
conversation the theft seemed a trivial matter. In fact
he had almost forgotten it, for the message had been
from the local telegraph office relaying a wire they had
just received from Mr. Samuel Benham.
"I say, Pudgy," he cried, as he took the steps two at
a time for the second floor, "here's a wire from Benham
saying Gail didn't come on that train and asking when
he's to expect her."
"Impossible!" ejaculated Mrs. Prim. "I certainly saw
her aboard the train myself. Impossible!"
Jonas Prim was a man of action. Within half an hour
he had set in motion such wheels as money and influence
may cause to revolve in search of some clew to the
whereabouts of the missing Abigail, and at the same
time had reported the theft of jewels and money from
his home; but in doing this he had learned that other
happenings no less remarkable in their way had taken
place in Oakdale that very night.
The following morning all Oakdale was thrilled as its
fascinated eves devoured the front page of Oakdale's or-
dinarily dull daily. Never had Oakdale experienced a
plethora of home-grown thrills; but it came as near to
it that morning, doubtless, as it ever had or ever will.
Not since the cashier of The Merchants and Farmers
Bank committed suicide three years past had Oakdale
been so wrought up, and now that historic and classical
event paled into insignificance in the glaring brilliancy
of a series of crimes and mysteries of a single night such
as not even the most sanguine of Oakdale's thrill lovers
could have hoped for.
There was, first, the mysterious disappearance of Abi-
gail Prim, the only daughter of Oakdale's wealthiest cit-
izen; there was the equally mysterious robbery of the
Prim home. Either one of these would have been suffi-
cient to have set Oakdale's multitudinous tongues wag-
ging for days; but they were not all. Old John Baggs, the
city's best known miser, had suffered a murderous as-
sault in his little cottage upon the outskirts of town,
and was even now lying at the point of death in The
Samaritan Hospital. That robbery had been the motive
was amply indicated by the topsy-turvy condition of the
contents of the three rooms which Baggs called home.
As the victim still was unconscious no details of the
crime were obtainable. Yet even this atrocious deed had
been capped by one yet more hideous.
Reginald Paynter had for years been looked upon
half askance and yet with a certain secret pride by Oak-
dale. He was her sole bon vivant in the true sense of
the word, whatever that may be. He was always spoken
of in the columns of The Oakdale Tribune as 'that well
known man-about-town,' or 'one of Oakdale's most prom-
inent clubmen.' Reginald Paynter had been, if not the
only, at all events the best dressed man in town. His
clothes were made in New York. This in itself had been
sufficient to have set him apart from all the other males
of Oakdale. He was widely travelled, had an indepen-
dent fortune, and was far from unhandsome. For years
he had been the hope and despair of every Oakdale
mother with marriageable daughters. The Oakdale
fathers, however, had not been so keen about Reginald.
Men usually know more about the morals of men than
do women. There were those who, if pressed, would
have conceded that Reginald had no morals.
But what place has an obituary in a truthful tale of
adventure and mystery! Reginald Paynter was dead. His
body had been found beside the road just outside the
city limits at mid-night by a party of automobilists re-
turning from a fishing trip. The skull was crushed back
of the left ear. The position of the body as well as the
marks in the road beside it indicated that the man had
been hurled from a rapidly moving automobile. The fact
that his pockets had been rifled led to the assumption
that he had been killed and robbed before being dumped
upon the road.
Now there were those in Oakdale, and they were
many, who endeavored to connect in some way these
several events of horror, mystery, and crime. In the first
place it seemed quite evident that the robbery at the
Prim home, the assault upon Old Baggs, and the mur-
der of Paynter had been the work of the same man; but
how could such a series of frightful happenings be in any
way connected with the disappearance of Abigail Prim?
Of course there were many who knew that Abigail and
Reginald were old friends; and that the former had, on
frequent occasions, ridden abroad in Reginald's French
roadster, that he had escorted her to parties and been,
at various times, a caller at her home; but no less had
been true of a dozen other perfectly respectable young
ladies of Oakdale. Possibly it was only Abigail's added
misfortune to have disappeared upon the eve of the
night of Reginald's murder.
But later in the day when word came from a nearby
town that Reginald had been seen in a strange touring
car with two unknown men and a girl, the gossips com-
menced to wag their heads. It was mentioned, casually
of course, that this town was a few stations along the
very road upon which Abigail had departed the previous
afternoon for that destination which she had not reached.
It was likewise remarked that Reginald, the two strange
men and the GIRL had been first noticed after the time of
arrival of the Oakdale train! What more was needed?
Absolutely nothing more. The tongues ceased wagging
in order that they might turn hand-springs.
Find Abigail Prim, whispered some, and the mystery
will be solved. There were others charitable enough to
assume that Abigail had been kidnapped by the same
men who had murdered Paynter and wrought the other
lesser deeds of crime in peaceful Oakdale. The Oakdale
Tribune got out an extra that afternoon giving a resume
of such evidence as had appeared in the regular edition
and hinting at all the numerous possibilities suggested
by such matter as had come to hand since. Even fear
of old Jonas Prim and his millions had not been enough
to entirely squelch the newspaper instinct of the Trib-
une's editor. Never before had he had such an oppor-
tunity and he made the best of it, even repeating the
vague surmises which had linked the name of Abigail
to the murder of Reginald Paynter.
Jonas Prim was too busy and too worried to pay any
attention to the Tribune or its editor. He already had
the best operative that the best detective agency in the
nearest metropolis could furnish. The man had come to
Oakdale, learned all that was to be learned there, and
This, then, will be about all concerning Oakdale for
the present. We must leave her to bury her own dead.
The sudden pressure of the knife point against the
breast of the Oskaloosa Kid awakened the youth with
a startling suddenness which brought him to his feet be-
fore a second vicious thrust reached him. For a time he
did not realize how close he had been to death or that
he had been saved by the chance location of the auto-
matic pistol in his breast pocket--the very pistol he had
taken from the dressing table of Abigail Prim's boudoir.
The commotion of the attack and escape brought the
other sleepers to heavy-eyed wakefulness. They saw
Dopey Charlie advancing upon the Kid, a knife in his
hand. Behind him slunk The General, urging the other
on. The youth was backing toward the doorway. The
tableau persisted but for an instant. Then the would-be
murderer rushed madly upon his victim, the latter's
hand leaped from beneath the breast of his torn coat--
there was a flash of flame, a staccato report and Dopey
Charlie crumpled to the ground, screaming. In the same
instant The Oskaloosa Kid wheeled and vanished into
It had all happened so quickly that the other members
of the gang, awakened from deep slumber, had only
time to stumble to their feet before it was over. The
Sky Pilot, ignoring the screaming Charlie, thought only
of the loot which had vanished with the Oskaloosa Kid.
"Come on! We gotta get him," he cried, as he ran
from the barn after the fugitive. The others, all but
Dopey Charlie, followed in the wake of their leader.
The wounded man, his audience departed, ceased
screaming and, sitting up, fell to examining himself. To
his surprise he discovered that he was not dead. A fur-
ther and more minute examination disclosed the addi-
tional fact that he was not even badly wounded. The
bullet of The Kid had merely creased the flesh over
the ribs beneath his right arm. With a grunt that might
have been either disgust or relief he stumbled to his
feet and joined in the pursuit.
Down the road toward the south ran The Oskaloosa
Kid with all the fleetness of youth spurred on by terror.
In five minutes he had so far outdistanced his pursuers
that The Sky Pilot leaped to the conclusion that the
quarry had left the road to hide in an adjoining field.
The resultant halt and search upon either side of the
road delayed the chase to a sufficient extent to award
the fugitive a mile lead by the time the band resumed
the hunt along the main highway. The men were de-
termined to overhaul the youth not alone because of
the loot upon his person but through an abiding suspi-
cion that he might indeed be what some of them feared
he was--an amateur detective--and there were at least
two among them who had reason to be especially fear-
ful of any sort of detective from Oakdale.
They no longer ran; but puffed arduously along the
smooth road, searching with troubled and angry eyes to
right and left and ahead of them as they went.
The Oskaloosa Kid puffed, too; but he puffed a mile
away from the searchers and he walked more rapidly
than they, for his muscles were younger and his wind
unimpaired by dissipation. For a time he carried the
small automatic in his hand; but later, hearing no evi-
dence of pursuit, he returned it to the pocket in his coat
where it had lain when it had saved him from death be-
neath the blade of the degenerate Charlie.
For an hour he continued walking rapidly along the
winding country road. He was very tired; but he dared
not pause to rest. Always behind him he expected the
sudden onslaught of the bearded, blear-eyed followers
of The Sky Pilot. Terror goaded him to supreme physical
effort. Recollection of the screaming man sinking to the
earthen floor of the hay barn haunted him. He was a
murderer! He had slain a fellow man. He winced and
shuddered, increasing his gait until again he almost ran
--ran from the ghost pursuing him through the black
night in greater terror than he felt for the flesh and
blood pursuers upon his heels.
And Nature drew upon her sinister forces to add to
the fear which the youth already felt. Black clouds ob-
scured the moon blotting out the soft kindliness of the
greening fields and transforming the budding branches
of the trees to menacing and gloomy arms which ap-
peared to hover with clawlike talons above the dark and
forbidding road. The wind soughed with gloomy and in-
creasing menace, a sudden light flared across the south-
ern sky followed by the reverberation of distant thunder.
Presently a great rain drop was blown against the
youth's face; the vividness of the lightning had increased;
the rumbling of the thunder had grown to the propor-
tions of a titanic bombardment; but he dared not pause
to seek shelter.
Another flash of lightning revealed a fork in the road
immediately ahead--to the left ran the broad, smooth
highway, to the right a dirt road, overarched by trees,
led away into the impenetrable dark.
The fugitive paused, undecided. Which way should
he turn? The better travelled highway seemed less mys-
terious and awesome, yet would his pursuers not natur-
ally assume that he had followed it? Then, of course,
the right hand road was the road for him. Yet still he
hesitated, for the right hand road was black and forbid-
ding; suggesting the entrance to a pit of unknown hor-
As he stood there with the rain and the wind, the
thunder and the lightning, horror of the past and terror
of the future his only companions there broke suddenly
through the storm the voice of a man just ahead and
evidently approaching along the highway.
The youth turned to flee; but the thought of the men
tracking him from that direction brought him to a sud-
den halt. There was only the road to the right, then,
after all. Cautiously he moved toward it, and at the
same time the words of the voice came clearly through
"'. . . as, swinging heel and toe,
'We tramped the road to Anywhere, the magic road
'The tragic road to Anywhere, such dear, dim years
The voice seemed reassuring--its quality and the an-
nunciation of the words bespoke for its owner consider-
able claim to refinement. The youth had halted again,
but he now crouched to one side fearing to reveal his
presence because of the bloody crime he thought he had
committed; yet how he yearned to throw himself upon
the compassion of this fine voiced stranger! How his
every fibre cried out for companionship in this night of
his greatest terror; but he would have let the invisible
minstrel pass had not Fate ordained to light the scene
at that particular instant with a prolonged flare of
sheet lightning, revealing the two wayfarers to one an-
The youth saw a slight though well built man in
ragged clothes and disreputable soft hat. The image was
photographed upon his brain for life--the honest, laugh-
ing eyes, the well moulded features harmonizing so well
with the voice, and the impossible garments which
marked the man hobo and bum as plainly as though he
wore a placard suspended from his neck.
The stranger halted. Once more darkness enveloped
them. "Lovely evening for a stroll," remarked the man.
"Running out to your country place? Isn't there danger
of skidding on these wet roads at night? I told James,
just before we started, to be sure to see that the chains
were on all around; but he forgot them. James is very
trying sometimes. Now he never showed up this evening
and I had to start out alone, and he knows perfectly
well that I detest driving after dark in the rain."
The youth found himself smiling. His fear had sud-
denly vanished. No one could harbor suspicion of the
owner of that cheerful voice.
"I didn't know which road to take," he ventured, in
explanation of his presence at the cross road.
"Oh," exclaimed the man, "are there two roads here?
I was looking for this fork and came near passing it in
the dark. It was a year ago since I came this way; but I
recall a deserted house about a mile up the dirt road. It
will shelter us from the inclemencies of the weather."
"Oh!" cried the youth. "Now I know where I am. In
the dark and the storm and after all that has happened
to me tonight nothing seemed natural. It was just as
though I was in some strange land; but I know now.
Yes, there is a deserted house a little less than a mile
from here; but you wouldn't want to stop there at night.
They tell some frightful stories about it. It hasn't been
occupied for over twenty years--not since the Squibbs
were found murdered there--the father, mother three
sons, and a daughter. They never discovered the mur-
derer, and the house has stood vacant and the farm un-
worked almost continuously since. A couple of men tried
working it; but they didn't stay long. A night or so was
enough for them and their families. I remember hear-
ing as a little--er--child stories of the frightful things
that happened there in the house where the Squibbs
were murdered--things that happened after dark when
the lights were out. Oh, I wouldn't even pass that place
on a night like this."
The man smiled. "I slept there alone one rainy night
about a year ago," he said. "I didn't see or hear any-
thing unusual. Such stories are ridiculous; and even if
there was a little truth in them, noises can't harm you as
much as sleeping out in the storm. I'm going to en-
croach once more upon the ghostly hospitality of the
Squibbs. Better come with me."
The youth shuddered and drew back. From far be-
hind came faintly the shout of a man.
"Yes, I'll go," exclaimed the boy. "Let's hurry," and he
started off at a half-run toward the dirt road.
The man followed more slowly. The darkness hid the
quizzical expression of his eyes. He, too, had heard the
faint shout far to the rear. He recalled the boy's "after
all that has happened to me tonight," and he shrewdly
guessed that the latter's sudden determination to brave
the horrors of the haunted house was closely connected
with the hoarse voice out of the distance.
When he had finally come abreast of the youth after
the latter, his first panic of flight subsided, had reduced
his speed, he spoke to him in his kindly tones.
"What was it that happened to you to-night?" he
asked. "Is someone following you? You needn't be afraid
of me. I'll help you if you've been on the square. If
you haven't, you still needn't fear me, for I won't peach
on you. What is it? Tell me."
The youth was on the point of unburdening his soul
to this stranger with the kindly voice and the honest
eyes; but a sudden fear stayed his tongue. If he told all
it would be necessary to reveal certain details that he
could not bring himself to reveal to anyone, and so he
commenced with his introduction to the wayfarers in the
deserted hay barn. Briefly he told of the attack upon
him, of his shooting of Dopey Charlie, of the flight and
pursuit. "And now," he said in conclusion, "that you
know I'm a murderer I suppose you won't have any
more to do with me, unless you turn me over to the
authorities to hang." There was almost a sob in his voice,
so real was his terror.
The man threw an arm across his companion's shoul-
der. "Don't worry, kid," he said. "You're not a murderer
even if you did kill Dopey Charlie, which I hope you
did. You're a benefactor of the human race. I have known
Charles for years. He should have been killed long since.
Furthermore, as you shot in self defence no jury would
convict you. I fear, however, that you didn't kill him.
You say you could hear his screams as long as you were
within earshot of the barn--dead men don't scream, you
"How did you know my name?" asked the youth.
"I don't," replied the man.
"But you called me 'Kid' and that's my name--I'm
The Oskaloosa Kid."
The man was glad that the darkness hid his smile of
amusement. He knew The Oskaloosa Kid well, and he
knew him as an ex-pug with a pock marked face, a bul-
let head, and a tin ear. The flash of lightning had re-
vealed, upon the contrary, a slender boy with smooth
skin, an oval face, and large dark eyes.
"Ah," he said, "so you are The Oskaloosa Kid! I am
delighted, sir, to make your acquaintance. Permit me
to introduce myself: my name is Bridge. If James were
here I should ask him to mix one of his famous cock-
tails that we might drink to our mutual happiness and
the longevity of our friendship."
"I am glad to know you, Mr. Bridge," said the youth.
"Oh, I can't tell you how glad I am to know you. I was
so lonely and so afraid," and he pressed closer to the
older man whose arm still encircled his shoulder, though
at first he had been inclined to draw away in some con-
Talking together the two moved on along the dark
road. The storm had settled now into a steady rain
with infrequent flashes of lightning and peals of thun-
der. There had been no further indications of pursuit;
but Bridge argued that The Sky Pilot, being wise with
the wisdom of the owl and cunning with the cunning of
the fox, would doubtless surmise that a fugitive would
take to the first road leading away from the main artery,
and that even though they heard nothing it would be
safe to assume that the gang was still upon the boy's
trail. "And it's a bad bunch, too," he continued. "I've
known them all for years. The Sky Pilot has the reputa-
tion of never countenancing a murder; but that is be-
cause be is a sly one. His gang kills; but when they kill
under The Sky Pilot they do it so cleverly that no trace
of the crime remains. Their victim disappears--that is
The boy trembled. "You won't let them get me?" he
pleaded, pressing closer to the man. The only response
was a pressure of the arm about the shoulders of The
Over a low hill they followed the muddy road and
down into a dark and gloomy ravine. In a little open
space to the right of the road a flash of lightning re-
vealed the outlines of a building a hundred yards from
the rickety and decaying fence which bordered the
Squibbs' farm and separated it from the road.
"Here we are!" cried Bridge, "and spooks or no spooks
we'll find a dry spot in that old ruin. There was a stove
there last year and it's doubtless there yet. A good fire
to dry our clothes and warm us up will fit us for a bully
good sleep, and I'll wager a silk hat that The Oskaloosa
Kid is a mighty sleepy kid, eh?"
The boy admitted the allegation and the two turned
in through the gateway, stepping over the fallen gate
and moving through knee high weeds toward the for-
bidding structure in the distance. A clump of trees sur-
rounded the house, their shade adding to the almost ut-
ter blackness of the night.
The two had reached the verandah when Bridge,
turning, saw a brilliant light flaring through the night
above the crest of the hill they had just topped in their
descent into the ravine, or, to be more explicit, the small
valley, where stood the crumbling house of Squibbs. The
purr of a rapidly moving motor rose above the rain, the
light rose, fell, swerved to the right and to the left.
"Someone must be in a hurry," commented Bridge.
"I suppose it is James, anxious to find you and ex-
plain his absence," suggested The Oskaloosa Kid. They
"Gad!" cried Bridge, as the car topped the hill and
plunged downward toward them, "I'd hate to ride be-
hind that fellow on a night like this, and over a dirt
road at that!"
As the car swung onto the straight road before the
house a flash of lightning revealed dimly the outlines of
a rapidly moving touring car with lowered top. Just as
the machine came opposite the Squibbs' gate a woman's
scream mingled with the report of a pistol from the ton-
neau and the watchers upon the verandah saw a dark
bulk hurled from the car, which sped on with undimin-
ished speed, climbed the hill beyond and disappeared
Bridge started on a run toward the gateway, followed
by the frightened Kid. In the ditch beside the road they
found in a dishevelled heap the body of a young woman.
The man lifted the still form in his arms. The youth
wondered at the great strength of the slight figure. "Let
me help you carry her," he volunteered; but Bridge
needed no assistance. "Run ahead and open the door for
me," he said, as he bore his burden toward the house.
Forgetful, in the excitement of the moment, of his
terror of the horror ridden ruin, The Oskaloosa Kid has-
tened ahead, mounted the few steps to the verandah,
crossed it and pushed open the sagging door. Behind
him came Bridge as the youth entered the dark interior.
A half dozen steps he took when his foot struck against
a soft and yielding mass. Stumbling, he tried to regain
his equilibrium only to drop full upon the thing be-
neath him. One open palm, extended to ease his fall,
fell upon the upturned features of a cold and clammy
face. With a shriek of horror The Kid leaped to his feet
and shrank, trembling, back.
"What is it? What's the matter?" cried Bridge, with
whom The Kid had collided in his precipitate retreat.
"O-o-o!" groaned The Kid, shuddering. "It's dead! It's
"What's dead?" demanded Bridge.
"There's a dead man on the floor, right ahead of us,"
moaned The Kid.
"You'll find a flash lamp in the right hand pocket of my
coat," directed Bridge. "Take it and make a light."
With trembling fingers the Kid did as he was bid,
and when after much fumbling he found the button a
slim shaft of white light, fell downward upon the up-
turned face of a man cold in death--a little man,
strangely garbed, with gold rings in his ears, and long
black hair matted in the death sweat of his brow. His
eyes were wide and, even in death, terror filled, his fea-
tures were distorted with fear and horror. His fingers,
clenched in the rigidity of death, clutched wisps of
dark brown hair. There were no indications of a wound
or other violence upon his body, that either the Kid or
Bridge could see, except the dried remains of bloody
froth which flecked his lips.
Bridge still stood holding the quiet form of the girl
in his arms, while The Kid, pressed close to the man's
side, clutched one arm with a fierce intensity which be-
spoke at once the nervous terror which filled him and
the reliance he placed upon his new found friend.
To their right, in the faint light of the flash lamp, a
narrow stairway was revealed leading to the second
story. Straight ahead was a door opening upon the black-
ness of a rear apartment. Beside the foot of the stair-
way was another door leading to the cellar steps.
Bridge nodded toward the rear room. "The stove is
in there," he said. "We'd better go on and make a fire.
Draw your pistol--whoever did this has probably beat
it; but it's just as well to he on the safe side."
"I'm afraid," said The Oskaloosa Kid. "Let's leave
this frightful place. It's just as I told you it was; just as I
"We can't leave this woman, my boy," replied Bridge.
"She isn't dead. We can't leave her, and we can't take
her out into the storm in her condition. We must stay.
Come! buck up. There's nothing to fear from a dead
He never finished the sentence. From the depths of
the cellar came the sound of a clanking chain. Some-
thing scratched heavily upon the wooden steps. What-
ever it was it was evidently ascending, while behind it
clanked the heavy links of a dragged chain.
The Oskaloosa Kid cast a wide eyed glance of terror
at Bridge. His lips moved in an attempt to speak; but
fear rendered him inarticulate. Slowly, ponderously the
THING ascended the dark stairs from the gloom ridden
cellar of the deserted ruin. Even Bridge paled a trifle.
The man upon the floor appeared to have met an un-
natural death--the frightful expression frozen upon the
dead face might even indicate something verging upon
the supernatural. The sound of the THING climbing
out of the cellar was indeed uncanny--so uncanny that
Bridge discovered himself looking about for some means
of escape. His eyes fell upon the stairway leading to the
"Quick!" he whispered. "Up the stairs! You go first;
The Kid needed no second invitation. With a bound
he was half way up the rickety staircase; but a glance
ahead at the darkness above gave him pause while he
waited for Bridge to catch up with him. Coming more
slowly with his burden the man followed the boy, while
from below the clanking of the chain warned them that
the THING was already at the top of the cellar stairs.
"Flash the lamp down there," directed Bridge. "Let's
have a look at it, whatever it is."
With trembling hands The Oskaloosa Kid directed the
lens over the edge of the swaying and rotting bannister,
his finger slipped from the lighting button plunging
them all into darkness. In his frantic effort to find the
button and relight the lamp the worst occurred--he fum-
bled the button and the lamp slipped through his fin-
gers, falling over the bannister to the floor below. In-
stantly the sound of the dragging chain ceased; but the
silence was even more horrible than the noise which had
For a long minute the two at the head of the stairs
stood in tense silence listening for a repetition of the
gruesome sounds from below. The youth was frankly
terrified; he made no effort to conceal the fact; but
pressed close to his companion, again clutching his arm
tightly. Bridge could feel the trembling of the slight fig-
ure, the spasmodic gripping of the slender fingers and
hear the quick, short, irregular breathing. A sudden im-
pulse to throw a protecting arm about the boy seized
him--an impulse which he could not quite fathom, and
one to which he could not respond because of the body
of the girl he carried.
He bent toward the youth. "There are matches in my
coat pocket," he whispered, "--the same pocket in which
you found the flash lamp. Strike one and we'll look for a
room here where we can lay the girl."
The boy fumbled gropingly in search of the matches.
It was evident to the man that it was only with the
greatest exertion of will power that he controlled his
muscles at all; but at last he succeeded in finding and
striking one. At the flare of the light there was a sound
from below--a scratching sound and the creaking of
boards as beneath a heavy body; then came the clank-
ing of the chain once more, and the bannister against
which they leaned shook as though a hand had been
laid upon it below them. The youth stifled a shriek and
simultaneously the match went out; but not before
Bridge had seen in the momentary flare of light a par-
tially open door at the far end of the hall in which they
Beneath them the stairs creaked now and the chain
thumped slowly from one to another as it was dragged
upward toward them.
"Quick!" called Bridge. "Straight down the hall and
into the room at the end." The man was puzzled. He
could not have been said to have been actually afraid,
and yet the terror of the boy was so intense, so real, that
it could scarce but have had its suggestive effect upon
the other; and, too, there was an uncanny element of
the supernatural in what they had seen and heard in
the deserted house--the dead man on the floor below, the
inexplicable clanking of a chain by some unseen THING
from the depth of the cellar upward toward them; and,
to heighten the effect of these, there were the grim stor-
ies of unsolved tragedy and crime. All in all Bridge
could not have denied that he was glad of the room at
the end of the hall with its suggestion of safety in the
door which might be closed against the horrors of the
hall and the Stygian gloom below stairs.
The Oskaloosa Kid was staggering ahead of him,
scarce able to hold his body erect upon his shaking
knees--his gait seemed pitifully slow to the unarmed
man carrying the unconscious girl and listening to the
chain dragging ever nearer and nearer behind; but at
last they reached the doorway and passed through it
into the room.
"Close the door," directed Bridge as he crossed toward
the center of the room to lay his burden upon the floor,
but there was no response to his instructions--only a gasp
and the sound of a body slumping to the rotting boards.
With an exclamation of chagrin the man dropped the
girl and swung quickly toward the door. Halfway down
the hall he could hear the chain rattling over loose plank-
ing, the THING, whatever it might be, was close upon
them. Bridge slammed-to the door and with a shoulder
against it drew a match from his pocket and lighted it.
Although his clothing was soggy with rain he knew that
his matches would still be dry, for this pocket and its
flap he had ingeniously lined with waterproof material
from a discarded slicker he had found--years of tramp-
ing having taught him the discomforts of a fireless camp.
In the resultant light the man saw with a quick glance
a large room furnished with an old walnut bed, dresser,
and commode; two lightless windows opened at the far
end toward the road, Bridge assumed; and there was
no door other than that against which he leaned. In
the last flicker of the match the man scanned the door
itself for a lock and, to his relief, discovered a bolt--old
and rusty it was, but it still moved in its sleeve. An in-
stant later it was shot--just as the sound of the dragging
chain ceased outside. Near the door was the great bed,
and this Bridge dragged before it as an additional bar-
ricade; then, bearing nothing more from the hallway,
he turned his attention to the two unconscious forms up-
on the floor. Unhesitatingly he went to the boy first
though had he questioned himself he could not have told
why; for the youth, undoubtedly, had only swooned,
while the girl had been the victim of a murderous assault
and might even be at the point of death.
What was the appeal to the man in the pseudo Oska-
loosa Kid? He had scarce seen the boy's face, yet the
terrified figure had aroused within him, strongly, the
protective instinct. Doubtless it was the call of youth
and weakness which find, always, an answering assur-
ance in the strength of a strong man.
As Bridge groped toward the spot where the boy had
fallen his eyes, now become accustomed to the dark-
ness of the room, saw that the youth was sitting up.
"Well?" he asked. "Feeling better?"
"Where is it? Oh, God! Where is it?" cried the boy.
"It will come in here and kill us as it killed that--that--
"It can't get in," Bridge assured him. "I've locked the
door and pushed the bed in front of it. Gad! I feel like
an old maid looking under the bed for burglars."
From the hall came a sudden clanking of the chain
accompanied by a loud pounding upon the bare floor.
With a scream the youth leaped to his feet and almost
threw himself upon Bridge. His arms were about the
man's neck, his face buried in his shoulder.
"Oh, don't--don't let it get me!" he cried.
"Brace up, son," Bridge admonished him. "Didn't I
tell you that it can't get in?"
"How do you know it can't get in?" whimpered the
youth. "It's the thing that murdered the man down stairs
--it's the thing that murdered the Squibbs--right here in
this room. It got in to them--what is to prevent its get-
ting in to us. What are doors to such a THING?"
"Come! come! now," Bridge tried to soothe him. "You
have a case of nerves. Lie down here on this bed and
try to sleep. Nothing shall harm you, and when you
wake up it will be morning and you'll laugh at your
"Lie on THAT bed!" The voice was almost a shriek.
"That is the bed the Squibbs were murdered in--the
old man and his wife. No one would have it, and so it
has remained here all these years. I would rather die
than touch the thing. Their blood is still upon it."
"I wish," said Bridge a trifle sternly, "that you would
try to control yourself a bit. Hysteria won't help us any.
Here we are, and we've to make the best of it. Besides
we must look after this young woman--she may be dy-
ing, and we haven't done a thing to help her."
The boy, evidently shamed, released his hold upon
Bridge and moved away. "I am sorry," he said. "I'll
try to do better; but, Oh! I was so frightened. You can-
not imagine how frightened I was."
"I had imagined," said Bridge, "from what I had
heard of him that it would be a rather difficult thing to
frighten The Oskaloosa Kid--you have, you know, rather
a reputation for fearlessness."
The darkness hid the scarlet flush which mantled
The Kid's face. There was a moment's silence as Bridge
crossed to where the young woman still lay upon the
floor where he had deposited her. Then The Kid spoke.
"I'm sorry," he said, "that I made a fool of myself. You
have been so brave, and I have not helped at all. I
shall do better now."
"Good," said Bridge, and stooped to raise the young
woman in his arms and deposit her upon the bed.
Then he struck another match and leaned close to ex-
amine her. The flare of the sulphur illuminated the room
and shot two rectangles of light against the outer black-
ness where the unglazed windows stared vacantly upon
the road beyond, bringing to a sudden halt a little com-
pany of muddy and bedraggled men who slipped, curs-
ing, along the slimy way.
Bridge felt the youth close beside him as he bent
above the girl upon the bed.
"Is she dead?" the lad whispered.
"No," replied Bridge, "and I doubt if she's badly
hurt." His hands ran quickly over her limbs, bending and
twisting them gently; be unbuttoned her waist, getting
the boy to strike and hold another match while he ex-
amined the victim for signs of a bullet wound.
"I can't find a scratch on her," be said at last. "She's
suffering from shock alone, as far as I can judge. Say,
she's pretty, isn't she?"
The youth drew himself rather stiffly erect. "Her fea-
tures are rather coarse, I think," he replied. There was a
peculiar quality to the tone which caused Bridge to turn
a quick look at the boy's face, just as the match flick-
ered and went out. The darkness hid the expression
upon Bridge's face, but his conviction that the girl was
pretty was unaltered. The light of the match had re-
vealed an oval face surrounded by dark, dishevelled
tresses, red, full lips, and large, dark eyes.
Further discussion of the young woman was discour-
aged by a repetition of the clanking of the chain with-
out. Now it was receding along the hallway toward
the stairs and presently, to the infinite relief of The Os-
kaloosa Kid, the two heard it descending to the lower
"What was it, do you think?" asked the boy, his voice
still trembling upon the verge of hysteria.
"I don't know," replied Bridge. "I've never been a be-
liever in ghosts and I'm not now; but I'll admit that it
takes a whole lot of--"
He did not finish the sentence for a moan from the
bed diverted his attention to the injured girl, toward
whom he now turned. As they listened for a repetition
of the sound there came another--that of the creaking of
the old bed slats as the girl moved upon the mildewed
mattress. Dimly, through the darkness, Bridge saw that
the victim of the recent murderous assault was attempt-
ing to sit up. He moved closer and leaned above her.
"I wouldn't exert myself," he said. "You've just suf-
fered an accident, and it's better that you remain quiet."
"Who are you?" asked the girl, a note of suppressed
terror in her voice. "You are not--?"
"I am no one you know," replied Bridge. "My friend
and I chanced to be near when you fell from the car--"
with that innate refinement which always belied his vo-
cation and his rags Bridge chose not to embarrass the
girl by a too intimate knowledge of the thing which
had befallen her, preferring to leave to her own volition
the making of any explanation she saw fit, or of none
--"and we carried you in here out of the storm."
The girl was silent for a moment. "Where is 'here'?"
she asked presently. "They drove so fast and it was so
dark that I had no idea where we were, though I know
that we left the turnpike."
"We are at the old Squibbs place," replied the man.
He could see that the girl was running one hand gin-
gerly over her head and face, so that her next question
did not surprise him.
"Am I badly wounded?" she asked. "Do you think that
I am going to die?" The tremor in her voice was pathetic
--it was the voice of a frightened and wondering child.
Bridge heard the boy behind him move impulsively for-
ward and saw him kneel on the bed beside the girl.
"You are not badly hurt," volunteered The Oskaloosa
Kid. "Bridge couldn't find a mark on you--the bullet
must have missed you."
"He was holding me over the edge of the car when
he fired." The girl's voice reflected the physical shudder
which ran through her frame at the recollection. "Then
he threw me out almost simultaneously. I suppose he
thought that he could not miss at such close range."
For a time she was silent again, sitting stiffly erect.
Bridge could feel rather than see wide, tense eyes star-
ing out through the darkness upon scenes, horrible per-
haps, that were invisible to him and the Kid.
Suddenly the girl turned and threw herself face down-
ward upon the bed. "O, God!" she moaned. "Father!
Father! It will kill you--no one will believe me--they
will think that I am bad. I didn't do it! I didn't do it!
I've been a silly little fool; but I have never been a bad
girl--and---and--I had nothing to do with that awful
thing that happened to-night."
Bridge and the boy realized that she was not talking
to them--that for the moment she had lost sight of their
presence--she was talking to that father whose heart
would be breaking with the breaking of the new day,
trying to convince him that his little girl had done no
Again she sat up, and when she spoke there was no
tremor in her voice.
"I may die," she said. "I want to die. I do not see how
I can go on living after last night; but if I do die I want
my father to know that I had nothing to do with it and
that they tried to kill me because I wouldn't promise to
keep still. It was the little one who murdered him--the
one they called 'Jimmie' and 'The Oskaloosa Kid.' The
big one drove the car--his name was 'Terry.' After they
killed him I tried to jump out--I had been sitting in
front with Terry--and then they dragged me over into
the tonneau and later--the Oskaloosa Kid tried to kill me
too, and threw me out."
Bridge heard the boy at his side gulp. The girl went
"To-morrow you will know about the murder--every-
one will know about it; and I will be missed; and there
will be people who saw me in the car with them, for
someone must have seen me. Oh, I can't face it! I want
to die. I will die! I come of a good family. My father is
a prominent man. I can't go back and stand the dis-
grace and see him suffer, as he will suffer, for I was all
he had--his only child. I can't bear to tell you my name
--you will know it soon enough--but please find some
way to let my father know all that I have told you--I
swear that it is the truth--by the memory of my dead
mother, I swear it!"
Bridge laid a hand upon the girl's shoulder. "If you
are telling us the truth," he said, "you have only a silly
escapade with strange men upon your conscience. You
must not talk of dying now--your duty is to your father.
If you take your own life it will be a tacit admission of
guilt and will only serve to double the burden of sorrow
and ignominy which your father is bound to feel when
this thing becomes public, as it certainly must if a mur-
der has been done. The only way in which you can
atone for your error is to go back and face the conse-
quences with him--do not throw it all upon him; that
would be cowardly."
The girl did not reply; but that the man's words had
impressed her seemed evident. For a while each was
occupied with his own thoughts; which were presently
disturbed by the sound of footsteps upon the floor be-
low--the muffled scraping of many feet followed a mo-
ment later by an exclamation and an oath, the words
coming distinctly through the loose and splintered floor-
"Pipe the stiff," exclaimed a voice which The Oska-
loosa Kid recognized immediately as that of Soup Face.
"The Kid musta croaked him," said another.
A laugh followed this evidently witty sally.
"The guy probably lamped the swag an' died of heart
failure," suggested another.
The men were still laughing when the sound of a
clanking chain echoed dismally from the cellar. In-
stantly silence fell upon the newcomers upon the first
floor, followed by a--"Wotinel's that?" Two of the men
had approached the staircase and started to ascend it.
Slowly the uncanny clanking drew closer to the first
floor. The girl on the bed turned toward Bridge.
"What is it?" she gasped.
"We don't know," replied the man. "It followed us up
here, or rather it chased us up; and then went down
again just before you regained consciousness. I imagine
we shall hear some interesting developments from be-
"It's The Sky Pilot and his gang," whispered The Os-
"It's The Oskaloosa Kid," came a voice from below.
"But wot was that light upstairs then?" queried an-
"An' wot croaked this guy here?" asked a third. "It
wasn't nothin' nice--did you get the expression on his
mug an' the red foam on his lips? I tell youse there's
something in this house beside human bein's. I know the
joint--its hanted--they's spooks in it. Gawd! there it is
now," as the clanking rose to the head of the cellar
stairs; and those above heard a sudden rush of foot-
steps as the men broke for the open air--all but the
two upon the stairway. They had remained too long
and now, their retreat cut off, they scrambled, cursing
and screaming, to the second floor.
Along the hallway they rushed to the closed door at
the end--the door of the room in which the three lis-
tened breathlessly--hurling themselves against it in vio-
lent effort to gain admission.
"Who are you and what do you want?" cried Bridge.
"Let us in! Let us in!" screamed two voices. "Fer
God's sake let us in. Can't you hear IT? It'll be comin'
up here in a minute."
The sound of the dragging chain could be heard at in-
tervals upon the floor below. It seemed to the tense lis-
teners above to pause beside the dead man as though
hovering in gloating exultation above its gruesome prey
and then it moved again, this time toward the stairway
where they all heard it ascending with a creepy slow-
ness which wrought more terribly upon tense nerves
than would a sudden rush.
"The mills of the Gods grind slowly," quoted Bridge.
"Oh, don't!" pleaded The Oskaloosa Kid.
"Let us in," screamed the men without. "Fer the luv
o' Mike have a heart! Don't leave us out here! IT's
comin'! IT's comin'!"
"Oh, let the poor things in," pleaded the girl on the
bed. She was, herself, trembling with terror.
"No funny business, now, if I let you in," commanded
"On the square," came the quick and earnest reply.
The THING had reached the head of the stairs when
Bridge dragged the bed aside and drew the bolt. In-
stantly two figures hurled themselves into the room but
turned immediately to help Bridge resecure the door-
Just as it had done before, when Bridge and The
Oskaloosa Kid had taken refuge there with the girl,
the THING moved down the hallway to the closed door.
The dragging chain marked each foot of its advance. If it
made other sounds they were drowned by the clanking
of the links over the time roughened flooring.
Within the room the five were frozen into utter si-
lence, and beyond the door an equal quiet prevailed for
a long minute; then a great force made the door creak
and a weird scratching sounded high up upon the old
fashioned panelling. Bridge heard a smothered gasp
from the boy beside him, followed instantly by a flash of
flame and the crack of a small caliber automatic; The
Oskaloosa Kid had fired through the door.
Bridge seized the boy's arm and wrenched the weapon
from him. "Be careful!" he cried. "You'll hurt someone.
You didn't miss the girl much that time--she's on the bed
right in front of the door."
The Oskaloosa Kid pressed closer to the man as
though he sought protection from the unknown men-
ace without. The girl sprang from the bed and crossed to
the opposite side of the room. A flash of lightning illumi-
nated the chamber for an instant and the roof of the ve-
randah without. The girl noted the latter and the open
"Look!" she cried. "Suppose it went out of another
window upon this porch. It could get us so easily that
"Shut up, you fool!" whispered one of the two new-
comers. "It might hear you." The girl subsided into si-
There was no sound from the hallway.
"I reckon you croaked IT," suggested the second new-
comer, hopefully; but, as though the THING without
had heard and understood, the clanking of the chain
recommenced at once; but now it was retreating along
the hallway, and soon they heard it descending the
Sighs of relief escaped more than a single pair of lips.
"IT didn't hear me," whispered the girl.
Bridge laughed. "We're a nice lot of babies seeing
things at night," he scoffed.
"If you're so nervy why don't you go down an' see wot
it is?" asked one of the late arrivals.
"I believe I shall," replied Bridge and pulled the bed
away from the door.
Instantly a chorus of protests arose, the girl and The
Oskaloosa Kid being most insistent. What was the use?
What good could he accomplish? It might be nothing;
yet on the other hand what had brought death so hor-
ribly to the cold clay on the floor below? At last their
pleas prevailed and Bridge replaced the bed before the
For two hours the five sat about the room waiting for
daylight. There could be no sleep for any of them. Occa-
sionally they spoke, usually advancing and refuting sug-
gestions as to the identity of the nocturnal prowler be-
low-stairs. The THING seemed to have retreated again
to the cellar, leaving the upper floor to the five strangely
assorted prisoners and the first floor to the dead man.
During the brief intervals of conversation the girl re-
peated snatches of her story and once she mentioned
The Oskaloosa Kid as the murderer of the unnamed vic-
tim. The two men who had come last pricked up their
ears at this and Bridge felt the boy's hand just touch his
arm as though in mute appeal for belief and protection.
The man half smiled.
"We seen The Oskaloosa Kid this evenin'" volun-
teered one of the newcomers.
"You did?" exclaimed the girl. "Where?"
"He'd just pulled off a job in Oakdale an' had his
pockets bulgin' wid sparklers an' kale. We was follerin'
him an' when we seen your light up here we t'ought it
The Oskaloosa Kid shrank closer to Bridge. At last he
recognized the voice of the speaker. While he had known
that the two were of The Sky Pilot's band he had not
been sure of the identity of either; but now it was borne
in upon him that at least one of them was the last per-
son on earth he cared to be cooped up in a small, un-
lighted room with, and a moment later when one of
the two rolled a 'smoke' and lighted it he saw in the
flare of the flame the features of both Dopey Charlie
and The General. The Oskaloosa Kid gasped once more
for the thousandth time that night.
It had been Dopey Charlie who lighted the cigaret
and in the brief illumination his friend The General had
grasped the opportunity to scan the features of the
other members of the party. Schooled by long years of
repression he betrayed none of the surprise or elation
he felt when he recognized the features of The Oska-
If The General was elated The Oskaloosa Kid was at
once relieved and terrified. Relieved by ocular proof
that he was not a murderer and terrified by the immedi-
ate presence of the two who had sought his life.
His cigaret drawing well Dopey Charlie resumed:
"This Oskaloosa Kid's a bad actor," he volunteered. "The
little shrimp tried to croak me; but he only creased my
ribs. I'd like to lay my mits on him. I'll bet there won't
be no more Oskaloosa Kid when I get done wit him."
The boy drew Bridge's ear down toward his own lips.
"Let's go," he said. "I don't hear anything more down-
stairs, or maybe we could get out on this roof and slide
down the porch pillars."
Bridge laid a strong, warm hand on the small, cold
one of his new friend.
"Don't worry, Kid," he said. "I'm for you."
The two other men turned quickly in the direction of
"Is de Kid here?" asked Dopey Charlie.
"He is, my degenerate friend," replied Bridge; "and
furthermore he's going to stay here and be perfectly
safe. Do you grasp me?"
"Who are you?" asked The General.
"That is a long story," replied Bridge; "but if you
chance to recall Dink and Crumb you may also be able
to visualize one Billy Burke and Billy Byrne and his side
partner, Bridge. Yes? Well, I am the side partner."
Before the yeggman could make reply the girl spoke
up quickly. "This man cannot be The Oskaloosa Kid," she
said. "It was The Oskaloosa Kid who threw me from the