* * * * *
Then I talked. I said I was unable to reach the lofty altitude of the Prof when even a fair mystery was concerned. I was more like Oswald with his childish curiosity. How, then, did the young woman open the trunk? Of course, I could guess the answer. She had found she could really do it with a hairpin, and had held off for effect. Still, I wanted to be told.
“Nothing easy like that,” said Ma Pettengill. “She’d been honest with the hairpins. She didn’t tell me till the day before they were leaving. ’It was a perfectly simple problem, requiring only a bit of thought,’ she says. ’It was the simple thing people do when they find their front door locked. They go round to the back of the house and pry up a kitchen window, or something.’ She pledged me to secrecy, but I guess you won’t let it go any farther.
“Anyway, this is what she done: It was a time for brutal measures, so she’d had Abner wheel that trunk over to the blacksmith shop and take the hinges off. Abner just loves to do any work he don’t have to do, and he had entered cordially into the spirit of this adventure. It used up his whole day, for which he was drawing three dollars from me. He took off one side of four pair of hinges, opened the trunk at the back far enough to reach in for the keys, unlocked it and fastened the hinges back on again.
“It was some job. These hinges was riveted on and didn’t come loose easy. The rear of that trunk must of been one sad mutilation. It probably won’t ever again be the trunk it once was. Abner had to hustle to get through in one day. I wish I could get the old hound to work for me that way. They’d just got the trunk back when I rode in that night. It was nervy, all right! I asked her if she wasn’t afraid he would see the many traces of this rough work she had done.
“‘Not a chance on earth!’ says Lydia. ’I knew he would never look at any place but the front. He has the mind of a true scientist. It wouldn’t occur to him in a million years that there is any other way but the front way to get into a trunk. I painted over the rivets and the bruises as well as I could, but I’m sure he will never look there. He may notice it by accident in the years to come, but the poor chap will then have other worries, I hope.’
“Such was the chit. I don’t know. Mebbe woman has her place in the great world after all. Anyway, she’ll be a help to Oswald. Whatever he ain’t she is.”
CHANGE OF VENUS
Ma Pettengill and I rode labouring horses up a steep way between two rocky hillsides that doubled the rays of the high sun back upon us and smothered the little breeze that tried to follow us up from the flat lands of the Arrowhead. We breathed the pointed smell of the sage and we breathed the thick, hot dust that hung lazily about us; a dust like powdered chocolate, that cloyed and choked.