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Mark Twain > A Double Barrelled Detective Story > Chapter V

A Double Barrelled Detective Story

Chapter V


The next day came and went.

It is now almost midnight, and in five minutes the new morning will
begin. The scene is in the tavern billiard-room. Rough men in rough
clothing, slouch-hats, breeches stuffed into boot-tops, some with vests,
none with coats, are grouped about the boiler-iron stove, which has ruddy
cheeks and is distributing a grateful warmth; the billiard-balls are
clacking; there is no other sound--that is, within; the wind is fitfully
moaning without. The men look bored; also expectant. A hulking broad-
shouldered miner, of middle age, with grizzled whiskers, and an
unfriendly eye set in an unsociable face, rises, slips a coil of fuse
upon his arm, gathers up some other personal properties, and departs
without word or greeting to anybody. It is Flint Buckner. As the door
closes behind him a buzz of talk breaks out.

"The regularest man that ever was," said Jake Parker, the blacksmith:
"you can tell when it's twelve just by him leaving, without looking at
your Waterbury."

"And it's the only virtue he's got, as fur as I know," said Peter Hawes,
miner.

"He's just a blight on this society," said Wells-Fargo's man, Ferguson.
"If I was running this shop I'd make him say something, some time or
other, or vamos the ranch." This with a suggestive glance at the
barkeeper, who did not choose to see it, since the man under discussion
was a good customer, and went home pretty well set up, every night, with
refreshments furnished from the bar.

"Say," said Ham Sandwich, miner, "does any of you boys ever recollect of
him asking you to take a drink?"

"Him? Flint Buckner? Oh, Laura!"

This sarcastic rejoinder came in a spontaneous general outburst in one
form of words or another from the crowd. After a brief silence, Pat
Riley, miner, said:

"He's the 15-puzzle, that cuss. And his boy's another one. I can't make
them out."

"Nor anybody else," said Ham Sandwich; "and if they are 15-puzzles how
are you going to rank up that other one? When it comes to A 1 right-down
solid mysteriousness, he lays over both of them. Easy--don't he?"

"You bet!"

Everybody said it. Every man but one. He was the new-comer--Peterson.
He ordered the drinks all round, and asked who No. 3 might be. All
answered at once, "Archy Stillman!"

"Is he a mystery?" asked Peterson.

"Is he a mystery? Is Archy Stillman a mystery?" said Wells-Fargo's man,
Ferguson. "Why, the fourth dimension's foolishness to him."

For Ferguson was learned.

Peterson wanted to hear all about him; everybody wanted to tell him;
everybody began. But Billy Stevens, the barkeeper, called the house to
order, and said one at a time was best. He distributed the drinks, and
appointed Ferguson to lead. Ferguson said:

"Well, he's a boy. And that is just about all we know about him. You
can pump him till you are tired; it ain't any use; you won't get
anything. At least about his intentions, or line of business, or where
he's from, and such things as that. And as for getting at the nature and
get-up of his main big chief mystery, why, he'll just change the subject,
that's all. You can guess till you're black in the face--it's your
privilege--but suppose you do, where do you arrive at? Nowhere, as near
as I can make out."

"What is his big chief one?"

"Sight, maybe. Hearing, maybe. Instinct, maybe. Magic, maybe. Take
your choice--grownups, twenty-five; children and servants, half price.
Now I'll tell you what he can do. You can start here, and just
disappear; you can go and hide wherever you want to, I don't care where
it is, nor how far--and he'll go straight and put his finger on you."

"You don't mean it!"

"I just do, though. Weather's nothing to him--elemental conditions is
nothing to him--he don't even take notice of them."

"Oh, come! Dark? Rain? Snow? Hey?"

"It's all the same to him. He don't give a damn."

"Oh, say--including fog, per'aps?"

"Fog! he's got an eye 't can plunk through it like a bullet."

"Now, boys, honor bright, what's he giving me?"

"It's a fact!" they all shouted. "Go on, Wells-Fargo."

"Well, sir, you can leave him here, chatting with the boys, and you can
slip out and go to any cabin in this camp and open a book--yes, sir, a
dozen of them--and take the page in your memory, and he'll start out and
go straight to that cabin and open every one of them books at the right
page, and call it off, and never make a mistake."

"He must be the devil!"

"More than one has thought it. Now I'll tell you a perfectly wonderful
thing that he done. The other night he--"

There was a sudden great murmur of sounds outside, the door flew open,
and an excited crowd burst in, with the camp's one white woman in the
lead and crying:

"My child! my child! she's lost and gone! For the love of God help me
to find Archy Stillman; we've hunted everywhere!"

Said the barkeeper:

"Sit down, sit down, Mrs. Hogan, and don't worry. He asked for a bed
three hours ago, tuckered out tramping the trails the way he's always
doing, and went up-stairs. Ham Sandwich, run up and roust him out; he's
in No. 14."

The youth was soon down-stairs and ready. He asked Mrs. Hogan for
particulars.

"Bless you, dear, there ain't any; I wish there was. I put her to sleep
at seven in the evening, and when I went in there an hour ago to go to
bed myself, she was gone. I rushed for your cabin, dear, and you wasn't
there, and I've hunted for you ever since, at every cabin down the gulch,
and now I've come up again, and I'm that distracted and scared and heart-
broke; but, thanks to God, I've found you at last, dear heart, and you'll
find my child. Come on! come quick!"

"Move right along; I'm with you, madam. Go to your cabin first."

The whole company streamed out to join the hunt. All the southern half
of the village was up, a hundred men strong, and waiting outside, a vague
dark mass sprinkled with twinkling lanterns. The mass fell into columns
by threes and fours to accommodate itself to the narrow road, and strode
briskly along southward in the wake of the leaders. In a few minutes the
Hogan cabin was reached.

"There's the bunk," said Mrs. Hogan; "there's where she was; it's where
I laid her at seven o'clock; but where she is now, God only knows."

"Hand me a lantern," said Archy. He set it on the hard earth floor and
knelt by it, pretending to examine the ground closely. "Here's her
track," he said, touching the ground here and there and yonder with his
finger. "Do you see?"

Several of the company dropped upon their knees and did their best to
see. One or two thought they discerned something like a track; the
others shook their heads and confessed that the smooth hard surface had
no marks upon it which their eyes were sharp enough to discover. One
said, "Maybe a child's foot could make a mark on it, but I don't see
how."

Young Stillman stepped outside, held the light to the ground, turned
leftward, and moved three steps, closely examining; then said, "I've got
the direction--come along; take the lantern, somebody."

He strode off swiftly southward, the files following, swaying and bending
in and out with the deep curves of the gorge. Thus a mile, and the mouth
of the gorge was reached; before them stretched the sagebrush plain, dim,
vast, and vague. Stillman called a halt, saying, "We mustn't start
wrong, now; we must take the direction again."

He took a lantern and examined the ground for a matter of twenty yards;
then said, "Come on; it's all right," and gave up the lantern. In and
out among the sage-bushes he marched, a quarter of a mile, bearing
gradually to the right; then took a new direction and made another great
semicircle; then changed again and moved due west nearly half a mile--and
stopped.

"She gave it up, here, poor little chap. Hold the lantern. You can see
where she sat."

But this was in a slick alkali flat which was surfaced like steel, and no
person in the party was quite hardy enough to claim an eyesight that
could detect the track of a cushion on a veneer like that. The bereaved
mother fell upon her knees and kissed the spot, lamenting.

"But where is she, then?" some one said. "She didn't stay here. We can
see that much, anyway."

Stillman moved about in a circle around the place, with the lantern,
pretending to hunt for tracks.

"Well!" he said presently, in an annoyed tone, "I don't understand it."
He examined again. "No use. She was here--that's certain; she never
walked away from here--and that's certain. It's a puzzle; I can't make
it out."

The mother lost heart then.

"Oh, my God! oh, blessed Virgin! some flying beast has got her. I'll
never see her again!"

"Ah, don't give up," said Archy. "We'll find her--don't give up."

"God bless you for the words, Archy Stillman!" and she seized his hand
and kissed it fervently.

Peterson, the new-comer, whispered satirically in Ferguson's ear:

"Wonderful performance to find this place, wasn't it? Hardly worth while
to come so far, though; any other supposititious place would have
answered just as well--hey?"

Ferguson was not pleased with the innuendo. He said, with some warmth:

"Do you mean to insinuate that the child hasn't been here? I tell you
the child has been here! Now if you want to get yourself into as tidy a
little fuss as--"

"All right!" sang out Stillman. "Come, everybody, and look at this! It
was right under our noses all the time, and we didn't see it."

There was a general plunge for the ground at the place where the child
was alleged to have rested, and many eyes tried hard and hopefully to see
the thing that Archy's finger was resting upon. There was a pause, then
a several-barreled sigh of disappointment. Pat Riley and Ham Sandwich
said, in the one breath:

"What is it, Archy? There's nothing here."

"Nothing? Do you call that nothing?" and he swiftly traced upon the
ground a form with his finger. "There--don't you recognize it now? It's
Injun Billy's track. He's got the child."

"God be praised!" from the mother.

"Take away the lantern. I've got the direction. Follow!"

He started on a run, racing in and out among the sage-bushes a matter of
three hundred yards, and disappeared over a sand-wave; the others
struggled after him, caught him up, and found him waiting. Ten steps
away was a little wickiup, a dim and formless shelter of rags and old
horse-blankets, a dull light showing through its chinks.

"You lead, Mrs. Hogan," said the lad. "It's your privilege to be first."

All followed the sprint she made for the wickiup, and saw, with her, the
picture its interior afforded. Injun Billy was sitting on the ground;
the child was asleep beside him. The mother hugged it with a wild
embrace, which included Archy Stillman, the grateful tears running down
her face, and in a choked and broken voice she poured out a golden stream
of that wealth of worshiping endearments which has its home in full
richness nowhere but in the Irish heart.

"I find her bymeby it is ten o'clock," Billy explained. "She 'sleep out
yonder, ve'y tired--face wet, been cryin', 'spose; fetch her home, feed
her, she heap much hungry--go 'sleep 'gin."

In her limitless gratitude the happy mother waived rank and hugged him
too, calling him "the angel of God in disguise." And he probably was in
disguise if he was that kind of an official. He was dressed for the
character.

At half past one in the morning the procession burst into the village
singing, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," waving its lanterns and
swallowing the drinks that were brought out all along its course. It
concentrated at the tavern, and made a night of what was left of the
morning.

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