“Yes, sir,” came in an almost whispered chorus.
“Finally,” continued Mr. Trotter, “one customer, more curious than the others, reported his observations to the police. Today the Johnny Tinplates made a raid on the place. A most curious state of affairs came to light. So—but is this tangled tale clear to you all as far as I have gone?”
“Yes, sir,” came the whispered chorus.
“What the police learned,” went on Mr. Trotter, in a voice that now sounded slightly awestruck, “was this: a week ago the three Chinese partners had a serious row. They quarreled, then fought. Two of the yellow partners killed the third! And now, a serious problem confronted the two survivors of that misunderstanding. What was to be done with the remains of the unsuccessful disputant?”
Midshipman Trotter looked at each of the wondering plebes in turn. It looked as though he were asking the question of them.
“I don’t know, sir,” admitted Dan Dalzell, at the left of the line.
“I don’t know, sir,” admitted the man next to Dan. So it went down the line, until Dave Darrin, at the further end, had admitted himself to be as much in the dark as were the others.
“Then, listen,” resumed Mr. Trotter impressively. “The Chinese, being descended from a very ancient civilization, are not only very ingenious but also very thrifty. They were burdened with two hundred pounds of evidence on the premises. In their extremity the two survivors cut up their late partner, cooked him, and disposed of the flesh at meal times.”
From the gravity of the narrator’s expression he appeared to be reciting a wholly true story.
“Now, then,” rasped out Midshipman Trotter, “that being the state of affairs at the laundry—what was the telephone number?”
Trotter’s gaze was fixed on Dan Dalzell’s face almost accusingly.
“How the—” began startled Dan gruffly. Then, instantly realizing that he was making a mistake, he broke in hastily:
“Beg your pardon, sir, but I don’t understand how to get at the telephone number.”
“You try, mister,” ordered Midshipman Trotter, turning to the plebe next to Dalzell.
“I can’t solve the problem, sir.”
So it ran, straight down the line, each confessing his ignorance, until finally Mr. Trotter glared at Dave Darrin.
“Come, come, mister, from the very exact narrative that I have given, can’t you deduce the telephone number of that laundry?”
“Yes, sir; I think so,” answered Darrin, with a slight smile.
“Ah! Then there’s a man in the squad who is more than a mere saphead. Let us have the telephone number, mister!
“Two-ate-one-John,” replied Dave promptly.
This was the correct answer. Dave had heard that “gag” before.
“Mister,” beamed Mr. Trotter, “I congratulate you. You are no mollycoddle. Your head is not over-fat, but somewhat stocked with ideas. As soon as you have soaked in a few more ideas you will be fit to associate with the young gentlemen at this sailor-factory. You may, therefore, take the washbowl, fill it half full of ideas, and stand on your head in them until they have soaked well in!”