Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
FRESH EBOOK DEALS, DELIVERED DAILY
BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT
FREE AND DISCOUNTED EBOOKS
NEW DEALS HATCH EVERY DAY
boy closed the front door behind him and looked up and down the unfamiliar street. He was eager to explore the village. He was eager to meet the people who lived there. He hoped, anxiously, that some one would tell him something about Aunt Patty Tubbs, at whose house he was to stay that summer. One thing was sure: he must not ask Aunt Patty herself.
Over and over he repeated to himself, as he stood there on the front steps of the little house, the instructions he had been given before he left home:
“Go and find out what the trouble is at Aunt Patty’s house. There’s trouble of some sort. She may even be in great danger. But, if you ask her, she will probably say that there’s nothing wrong at all. Just go there and keep your ears open. You will like that town, anyway. You will have fun there. It’s a nice place to spend the summer. Just do what Aunt Patty asks you to do, and don’t bother her with questions. Listen to what her neighbors say, there in Stony Harbor, and find out for yourself what is worrying her. No one need ever guess that a boy like you is a real detective.”
So there he was, in Stony Harbor, and wondering excitedly what he would find. The village looked very peaceful. Aunt Patty’s house was a tiny little cottage, on a street of little white houses. The dazzling blue sky overhead made them seem even whiter than white. Each one had a tiny front yard, not much bigger than a handkerchief, separated from the street by a fence of wooden pickets, also painted white. Each little yard was full of bright-colored flowers. On the porch of the house across the street a very comfortable-looking yellow cat with white rings around its tail was dozing in the sun.
The new boy turned around and spoke to the shaggy little black Scotty terrier which had followed him out of the house and which was now pulling at his leash. The dog’s hair was so long and tangled that you could hardly see his sharp eyes, like bright black shoe-buttons.
“Now, listen,” said the boy. “No chasing cats, Champ, do you hear?”
Champ wagged his short little tail.
” he asked pleasantly. “Whose nose got scratched last time, yours or mine?”
“All right, let’s go, then,” said the boy. “But remember!”
They set off down the street, keeping their eyes open. Looking to the left, between two houses, the boy saw a gleam of blue water, bluer than the sky, and the clustered masts of small sailboats at a pier, only a little way off.
“Oh, boy!” he exclaimed, softly, “maybe we can go sailing!”
They walked on a few steps, passed another house, and this time the boy looked toward the right. Again he saw the gleam of bright blue water, framed between the houses, and it was so close that he could easily have thrown a stone into it.
“Oh, boy!” he said again, louder this time. “Water everywhere! And, look, Champ, there’s a diving platform out there! This is going to be
Champ sniffed, through his long black whiskers. He didn’t think much of swimming. His legs were too short.
They walked on. A little ahead of them, the street divided in two and enclosed a little green park, not much more than thirty feet square. Tall elm trees grew around it, and on the grass stood two old cannon, on wheels, their noses pointing out over the water to right and left. Between them was a low stone monument; and in front of the monument stood a boy. He had his back to them; and he was so interested in what he was doing that he didn’t hear them coming.
The new boy and his little black dog came a little closer, and then stopped. The other boy was talking to someone.
“Alberto!” he said sharply. “That’s not the way to do it!”
The boy who had just come to town wondered who Alberto could be. He couldn’t see anyone else beside the boy who was talking.
Alberto is standing on the other side of the monument, of course, where he can’t be seen, the new boy thought to himself. He must be pretty small.
“Alberto!” said the other boy, once more. “Up! Up on your hind legs!”
Oh, thought the new boy, it’s a dog! No wonder I couldn’t see him!
“There, that’s better!” said the other boy, snapping his fingers. “That’s right, walk!
you’ve got it! Down, now, Alberto, and do the headstand! Up on your hands, now! Up! That’s right! Now take a step. That’s right, Alberto, you’re doing fine! Walk toward me! That’s it, that’s the way! Good for you!”
The new boy was burning with curiosity. A dog walking on its front paws! Why, you would never see a dog like that, outside of a circus! He certainly must see that dog, or he would burst. He took a fresh grip on Champ’s leash, just in case the other dog might not be friendly, and stepped up on the grass.
The other boy heard him now, and turned around.
He was about the same age as the first boy, but he was taller and thinner. He was so tall and thin that he looked willowy. But he wasn’t sick-looking. His face was tanned as brown as a berry, and he stepped forward as though he was moving on springs.
“Hello!” he said quickly, even before the new boy could speak. “I never heard you coming! Gee, you don’t make any more noise than an Indian! Say, you’re new around here, aren’t you? What’s
name? Is that your dog? Scotty, isn’t he? Say, he’s a dandy! What’s
name? Gee, I wish I had a dog like that! You don’t live here in Stony Harbor, do you? Been here long? Where you come from? Like it here? What you say your name was?
name’s Billy Reckless. Wanta fight?”
He laughed when he said it, and he had been grinning all the time, while the words came tumbling out of him, so the new boy laughed, too.
“No,” he said. “But, gee, I’d like to see your dog!”
The thin boy laughed again. “You mean Alberto?” he asked. “Sure, I’ll show him to you, sometime. What’s your name?”
“Djuna,” said the new boy.
“Joona? How do you spell it?” asked the thin boy.
The new boy told him.
“Gee, that’s a funny one!” said the thin boy. “First time I ever heard
name! Where do you live?”
“Well, I live at Miss Annie Ellery’s house, in a place called Edenboro,” said Djuna, “but it’s an awful long way from here. I just got here today. I’m going to stay here at Mrs. Tubbs’ house. All summer, I guess. Say, let’s see your dog!”
Billy Reckless paid no attention to the question. “Mrs. Tubbs?” he repeated. “You mean Aunt Patty. How did you happen to come here?”
“Oh, is she your aunt?” asked Djuna.
“Oh, no,” said Billy. “Everybody calls her Aunt Patty, that’s all. Didn’t you know that?”
“How could I?” retorted Djuna. “I just got here today, I tell you. Miss Ellery wrote to her, and asked her if I could stay with her, because Miss Ellery used to know her, so she said yes. Say, listen, call Alberto, won’t you?”
“Me, call Alberto?” said the thin boy, looking at Djuna thoughtfully. “I don’t know whether I’d better call him, or not. How do I know your dog wouldn’t chew him up?”
Djuna laughed. “Oh, don’t you worry about that,” he said. “Champ never starts a fight. He’s very friendly.”
Champ wagged his tail, as he always did whenever he heard his name spoken.
“And besides,” added Djuna, seeing that the thin boy still hesitated, “I’ve got him on the leash. He
get away. Go on, call Alberto!”
Billy Reckless’ thin brown face lit up with a smile. “Say!” he exclaimed. “You really
dogs, don’t you? All right, then, I’ll tell you about Alberto. I’ll tell you how I happened to get him. Come on, let’s sit down over here in the shade, and I’ll tell you the whole thing, cross my heart.”
He led the way, and sat down on the low stone coping that surrounded the little square. Djuna followed, but he was puzzled.
“I don’t mind waiting,” he said, “but, look here, supposing your dog runs off, while we’re talking? And I haven’t even seen him yet!”
Billy laughed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “He won’t run off. He can’t.”
Djuna sat down, unconvinced, and still keeping his eyes on the low stone monument. Alberto remained out of sight behind it, not making a sound.
“Why can’t he run away?” Djuna demanded. “Is he tied there? No, I don’t see how he could be, not while he was doing all those tricks. Hurry up, won’t you?”
Billy smiled in a tantalizing sort of way.
“There’s no hurry,” he said. “As soon as I tell you where I got him, you’ll see why.”
“Go ahead, then!” begged Djuna.
“Well,” said Billy, “the first time I thought of Alberto was about a year ago.”
“Thought of him?” exclaimed Djuna, round-eyed.
“Sure. I didn’t have any dog, then. And I wanted a good dog. I had a name all picked out for him. I was going to call him Alberto. I think that’s a dandy name for a dog, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, I guess so,” said Djuna, slowly. “I don’t believe I ever heard of a dog named Alberto before.”
“Of course not!” said the thin boy proudly. “I made it up. Well, so then I had a name for my dog, all ready for him, but no dog. I was in a sort of a fix for an awful long time, that way. Had the name all ready, and no dog to give it to.”
“Couldn’t you get one?” asked Djuna, sympathetically.
“Didn’t have any money,” said the thin boy, promptly.
“Oh!” said Djuna. “What did you do?”
“Well, of course I began saving up money, whenever I could earn some—you know, running errands and things like that—but it took an awful long time. So then one day, all of a sudden, I got an idea. I thought I might just as well get some use of the name, while I was waiting for my dog. So I began practicing with it.”