“I want you to understand one thing, Alf Reesling. A detective never knows anything till he proves it. Let me warn you, sir, you are under suspicion. An’ now, let me tell you one thing more. Doggone your ornery hide, don’t you ever laugh ag’in like you did jest now er I’ll—”
Just then the door flew open with a bang and Edna Crow, Anderson’s eldest, almost flopped into the store, her cap in her hand, eyes starting from her head. She had run at top speed all the way from home.
“Pop,” she gasped. “Ma says fer you to hurry home! She says fer you to run!”
Anderson covered the distance between Lamson’s store and his own home in record time. Indeed, Edna, flying as fast as her slim legs could twinkle, barely beat her father to the front porch. It was quite clear to Mr. Crow that something unusual had happened or Mrs. Crow would not have summoned him so peremptorily.
She was in the hallway downstairs awaiting his arrival, visibly agitated. Before uttering a word she dragged him into the little sitting-room and closed the door. They were alone.
“Is it dead?” he panted.
“No, but what do you think, Anderson?” she questioned excitedly.
“I ain’t had time to think. You don’t mean to say it has begun to talk an’ c’n tell who it is,” he faltered.
“Heavens no—an’ it only six weeks old.”
“Well, then, what in thunder has happened?”
“A detective has been here.”
“Yes, a real detective. He’s out there in the kitchen gettin’ his feet warm by the bake-oven. He says he’s lookin’ for a six-weeks-old baby. Anderson, we’re goin’ to lose that twenty thousand.”
“Don’t cry, Eva; mebby we c’n find another baby some day. Has he seen the—the—it?” Anderson was holding to the stair-post for support.
“Not yet, but he says he understands we’ve got one here that ain’t been tagged—that’s what he said—’tagged.’ What does he mean by that?”
“Why—why, don’t you see? Just as soon as he tags it, it’s it. Doggone, I wonder if it would make any legal difference if I tagged it first.”
“He’s a queer-lookin’ feller, Anderson. Says he’s in disguise, and he certainly looks like a regular scamp.”
“I’ll take a look at him an’ ast fer his badge.” Marshal Crow paraded boldly into the kitchen, where the strange man was regaling the younger Crows with conversation the while he partook comfortably of pie and other things more substantial.
“Are you Mr. Crow?” he asked nonchalantly, as Anderson appeared before him.
“I am. Who are you?”
“I am Hawkshaw, the detective,” responded the man, his mouth full of blackberry pie.
“Gee whiz!” gasped Anderson. “Eva, it’s the celebrated Hawkshaw.”
“Right you are, sir. I’m after the kid.”
“You’ll have to identify it,” something inspired Anderson to say.