Read The Yellow Cat Mystery Online

Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.

The Yellow Cat Mystery (17 page)

BOOK: The Yellow Cat Mystery
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His voice had begun to tremble a little, and he paused for a moment until he could steady it.

“When I got to the Hamilton Block it was too late to call the police. So I went up the stairs and opened the door of Dr. Hammer’s office and saw his coat hanging there on a chair, and I took the passport out of it—”

His lips began to tremble again, as the memory of the dreadful danger came back to him; and Socker Furlong jumped to his feet and put an arm around Djuna’s shoulders.

“Now, that’s enough of that, kid,” he said gently. “We won’t pester you any more. And besides, this is Christmas Eve. We ought to be singing carols, instead of talking about safe crackers and smugglers! C’mon, folks, what’ll we sing?”

Rilla bounced up out of her chair before anybody else had a chance to say a word.

“I don’t know any carols,” she said shrilly. “But I made up a poem, and Mamma said I could say it!”

“Oh, horsumpphat!” muttered Tommy, under his breath. “A
poem!”

But Socker beamed at her. “A poem?” he said. “That’s fine! Go ahead, Rilla!”

Rilla drew a very long breath and began:

Missus Pulham had —

Then she stopped short, trying to remember the next words.

“Go ahead, dear,” said her mother. “Mrs. Pulham had a—”

Rilla started off again, and went through it with a rush:

Missus Pulham had a great big cat,

And all his fur was yellow,

And I guess that the boy that her cat likes best

Is Djuna, the deteckative fellow!

With that she sat down, suddenly—and everybody cheered like mad!

Turn the page to continue reading from the Ellery Queen Jr. Mystery Stories

Chapter One
Question: When Is a Red Herring Blue?

T
HE END
of the second week in April had brought some wonderful spring weather, sunny and warm. What would the rest of April bring?

Djuna, turning over in bed in his big attic room in Miss Annie Ellery’s little house in Edenboro, woke up that morning with a start. For a moment he wondered, sleepily, where he was. But then he heard barking, outdoors, almost under the attic window.
BARK
,
BARK
,
BARK
! It was his little black Scottie dog, Champion. Champ had been told, and he hadn’t objected, that as soon as the weather got warm enough he must stay outdoors and sleep in the kennel that old Mr. George Boots had built for him. And now he wanted his breakfast, and he wanted it
quick!
“I guess that’s what woke me up,” thought Djuna. “I must have heard him barking in my sleep.”

And he bounded out of bed and hurried over to the window in his bare feet. Champ stopped barking as soon as he caught sight of Djuna, and he began to wiggle his stumpy little tail and make delighted whining noises.

“Oh, take it easy!” Djuna called down to him. “Don’t you see I’m coming, as fast as I can?”

He hurried into his clothes, washed his face, dabbed the brush at his hair, and clattered down the stairs to the kitchen, where Miss Annie Ellery was already getting breakfast ready. She was a little gray-haired old lady, but the heat of the kitchen stove had made her cheeks so rosy that she looked very young. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at him.

“Good morning, Djuna,” she said. “Put your skis in the corner, and breakfast will be ready in a minute.”

“Skis?” said Djuna, wonderingly. Then he grinned. “Oh, you mean the way I came downstairs. Yes, ma’am, I’ll put ’em away. The snow is all gone, anyway, and I guess I won’t need ’em till next winter.” He sniffed and said, “Gee, something smells awful good. What is it?”

“Scrambled eggs,” said Miss Annie, bending over the stove again, with her back to him. “With kippers.”

“Kippers?” exclaimed Djuna. “What’s kippers?”

“Kippered herring,” said Miss Annie, without taking her eyes from the frying pan.

“What’s kippered herring?” persisted Djuna.

Miss Annie was too busy to answer. Djuna waited. But she didn’t turn around. Another grin stole over Djuna’s face.

“Be careful, Miss Annie,” he said warningly. “Don’t step on Champ!”

Miss Annie gave a little jump and squealed. “Mercy on us!” she exclaimed, and turned around. All she saw was Djuna, grinning.

“April Fool, Miss Annie!” he chanted. “April Fool!”

Miss Annie wiped her forehead weakly. “Great glittering glories of Golconda!” she gasped. “April Fool’s Day has been over for two weeks.”

“But don’t you remember you fooled me on April Fool’s Day and I wasn’t able to fool you, so you said I could have until the middle of the month to do it? Now I’m even!”

He looked so radiant that Miss Annie couldn’t help smiling.

“Well, it serves me right,” she said good-naturedly. “I should have known better. I should have remembered Champ was out in the yard, because, land’s sakes, he’s certainly been barking plenty. But I’m not going to have him indoors as long as the ground is muddy, getting his dirty paw marks over everything, not in
my
clean kitchen!”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Djuna meekly. “I mean no, ma’am.”

Miss Annie took the frying pan from the stove and put its contents on their hot plates.

“Well, there you are,” she said. “There’s your kippered herring.”

It not only smelled delicious, it tasted delicious. Djuna not only finished off every morsel on his plate, but also three hot muffins, fresh from the oven, with grape jelly. “Oh, boy, that sure was good!” he sighed contentedly, as he pushed back his chair. “Now may I go out, please, and give Champ his breakfast?”

“My goodness, I fed that dog long ago,” said Miss Annie. “I forgot to tell you, I’ve been so busy. But go on out for a minute, so that he won’t feel so lonesome, while I do the dishes, and then come back and help me move that extra cot around in the attic, so I can get it ready for Bobby Herrick. I’m glad you reminded me that tomorrow is the fifteenth of April — his train will get in this afternoon, you remember. Or have you been so busy thinking up ways to get even with me for my April Fool joke that you
don’t
remember?”

“Of
course
I remember!” said Djuna. “I haven’t thought about anything else, hardly, since I woke up. Oh, boy, won’t it be swell to see Bobby again! And, gee, isn’t it lucky we’ve got vacation all this week! He can only stay a week, you know.”

“Perhaps it’s just as well,” observed Miss Annie, a little grimly. “You two and Tommy Williams had enough excitement down there in Florida to last a lifetime, I should say.
*
I hope you and Bobby will never get mixed up in anything like
that
again! Just you mind your P’s and Q’s while he’s here, do you hear?”

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes, Miss Annie!” said Djuna. “What could possibly happen here? Nothing like what happened in Dolphin Beach could ever happen in a little bit of a place like Edenboro!”

Miss Annie sniffed. “I’ve heard different,” she said.

But an hour later, when they had got the spare cot out of its storage place at the far end of the attic and had put a mattress on it, and Miss Annie had tucked clean sheets on it, and everything was ready for Bobby Herrick’s arrival from Florida, Miss Annie suddenly remembered something else to do.

“Oh, dear!” she exclaimed. “I’ve just remembered that I’m clean out of cinnamon and nutmeg, and I’ve been planning to make an apple pie for you two boys for supper! Wouldn’t think of making an apple pie without them. And Mr. Pindler is out of cinnamon at the store, too! Well, I know what I’ll do — I’ll go over to Aunt Candy Barnes’s and borrow some from her. We’ve got almost the whole morning ahead of us — want to come along with me?”

“Sure!” exclaimed Djuna, eagerly. “Can we take Champ with us?”

“I don’t see why not,” replied Miss Annie. “But he’s not to go into her house when we get there, mind. She doesn’t want any muddied-up floors, any more than
I
do!”

“Oh, I won’t let him go in,” Djuna promised.

“It’s a right nice morning for a walk, too,” observed Miss Annie as they set off, with the little black Scottie frisking ahead. “Seems as though spring was really in the air. Does a body good, to get outdoors on a day like this!”

Djuna agreed. “I’ve never been in Aunt Candy’s house,” he remarked, when they had gone a little way. “That’s a funny name, though, isn’t it? Candy, I mean. Did her mother name her that because she was sweet?”

Miss Annie chuckled. “No, but she’s plenty sweet enough,” she said. “It’s from the old Latin language. Candidissima, that’s what they named her. Candidissima.”

Djuna whistled. “Whew!” he said. “What does it mean?”

“Well,” Miss Annie said, “Candy told me once that it means ‘white’ or ‘pure’ or ‘honest’ — any of those nice meanings. Folks used to give their children names like that in the old days. She is a good deal older than I am, you know. But I think it was a very nice custom. I used to know a girl named Diodata, a real pretty name to my way of thinking. ‘God’s gift’ is what it means. And she was, too!”

“I’ll just say ‘Aunt Candy,’” Djuna decided. “That’s easier.”

By this time they had turned to the left, on the road that kept alongside the north branch of Miller’s Brook, and had come in sight of Aunt Candy’s house. It was a fine old farmhouse, at least twice as big as Miss Annie’s little cottage, and it stood quite near a pretty large pond. The pond apparently wasn’t very deep. Tall cattails and bulrushes grew thickly from the bottom; and in them and over them were dozens of blackbirds with bright red and yellow shoulder spots on their wings. They were flying around and making a tremendous chattering and gurgling, all of them excited over their return from the South.

“Red-winged blackbirds!” exclaimed Miss Annie. “Now I
know
that spring is here! That’s where they make their nests every year. Aren’t they a sight? You can tell your friend Bobby Herrick when he gets here from Florida that they beat him here. But then I guess they
started
sooner than he did!”

They watched the chattering flocks of blackbirds for a while. Before they went on, Miss Annie called Djuna’s attention to several large square blocks of stone that lay scattered among the dry meadow grass at the nearest end of the pond.

“Do you see those stones?” she asked. “They are all that are left of the dam that was built across this end of the pond, a hundred years ago, I guess, to make the water deeper. Then the man who built it — I forgot his name — built a mill wheel beside it, and the wheel was turned by the water spilling over the dam, and that would turn the machinery for a cider mill. There used to be apple orchards all around here, and the mill was used to make cider from the apples. That’s why this stream was named Miller’s Brook. But when the miller got too old to manage the business, he sold the whole place to Aunt Candy’s great-grandfather and moved away somewhere. The old mill was torn down. Most of the stones that made the dam were used to build stone walls, around pastures, and everybody has forgotten that there ever was a miller here, once upon a time, but they still call this Miller’s Brook. Queer, isn’t it?”

Djuna stared at the water of the brook, hurrying past them.

“Where does it go from here?” he asked curiously.

“Why, don’t you know?” asked Miss Annie. “It flows off to the west about three miles, and empties itself into the North River, just a little way from the railroad station at Beekman’s Landing, where you’re going to meet Bobby. I’m sure you’ve crossed it on the bridge, north of the village. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, sure!” exclaimed Djuna. “Is that Miller’s Brook, too? It’s much bigger there than it is here. I thought it was some other brook.”

“No, it’s the very same one,” Miss Annie assured him. “Of course, another, bigger stream, from up in the hills, feeds into it before it reaches the bridge. Or you might say Miller’s Brook feeds into the bigger stream. It just gets bigger as it goes along. That’s really how the village got its name — Brookville.”

“I’ll ask Mr. Boots to take us around that way after we meet Bobby,” said Djuna excitedly. “I’ll show it to Bobby and tell him we live at this end of it!”

By this time they had reached Aunt Candy Barnes’s house, which was surrounded by a neat white picket fence. Inside the front gate, Djuna tied Champ’s leash to one of the pickets, snapped the leash to his collar, and asked him to be patient while they went in to see Aunt Candy. Then they went up the walk and Miss Annie knocked with the big brass knocker fastened to the front door.

“She’s a widow, you know,” Miss Annie whispered, as they waited. “Her husband, Mr. Barnes, died years ago. So don’t ask any — oh, good morning, Aunt Candy!”

The door had opened and Aunt Candy stood there, smiling at them. She was a very old lady, heavily built, with snow-white hair and rosy cheeks. Little Miss Annie Ellery hardly came up to her shoulder.

“Oh, come in, come in, Miss Annie!” Aunt Candy exclaimed, beaming. “Mighty glad to see you! And you, too, Djuna! Come in, both of you!”

She led them into the big front room, in which a cheerful log fire was burning in a wide stone fireplace, and pointed to two chairs by the fire.

“Draw them chairs up closer to the fire,” she urged them, “and make yourselves comfortable! Weather’s a mite chilly still. I was just a-settin’ here, knittin’ another pair of socks for my boys. This pair is for Olin. Already finished a pair for Dolan. If it t’aint one, it’s t’uther!”

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