The next morning two farmers drove madly into Tinkletown with the astounding news that some one had been murdered at schoolhouse No. 5. In passing the place soon after daybreak they had noticed blood on the snow at the roadside. The school-room door was half open and they entered. Blood in great quantities smeared the floor near the stove, but there was no sign of humanity, alive or dead. Miss Banks’s handkerchief was found on the floor saturated.
Moreover, the school-teacher was missing. She had not returned to the home of Mrs. Holabird the night before. To make the horror all the more ghastly, Anderson Crow, hastening to the schoolhouse, positively identified the blood as that of Miss Banks.
A Tinkletown Sensation
Sensations came thick and fast in Tinkletown during the next few hours. Investigation proved that ’Rast Little was nowhere to be found. He had not returned to his home after the spelling-bee, nor had he been seen since. Mrs. Holabird passed him in the road on her way home in the “bob-sled.” In response to her command to “climb in” he sullenly said he was going to walk home by a “short cut” through the woods. A farmer had seen the stylish Farnsworth sleigh driving north furiously at half-past eleven, the occupants huddled in a bunch as if to protect themselves from the biting air. The witness was not able to tell “which was which” in the sleigh, but he added interest to the situation by solemnly asserting that one of the persons in the rear seat was “bundled up” more than the rest, and evidently was unable to sit erect.
According to his tale, the figure was lying over against the other occupant of the seat. He was also, positive that there were three figures in the front seat! Who was the extra person? was the question that flashed into the minds of the listeners. A small boy came to the schoolhouse at nine o’clock in the morning with ’Rast Little’s new derby hat. He had picked it up at the roadside not far from the schoolhouse and in the direction taken by the Farnsworth party.
Anderson gave orders that no word of the catastrophe be carried to Rosalie, who was reported to be ill of a fever the next morning after the spelling-bee. She had a cough, and the doctor had said that nothing should be said or done to excite her.
The crowd at the schoolhouse grew larger as the morning passed Everybody talked in whispers; everybody was mystified beyond belief. All eyes were turned to Anderson Crow, who stood aloof, pondering as he had never pondered before. In one hand he held Miss Banks’s bloody handkerchief and in the other a common school text-book on physiology. His badges and stars fairly revelled in their own importance.
“Don’t pester him with questions,” warned Isaac Porter, addressing Alf Reesling, the town drunkard, who had just arrived.
“But I got something I want to say to him,” persisted Alf eagerly. Two or three strong men restrained him.