Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
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T HAD BEEN
cloudy all morning, and by the time Djuna came in for his lunch it had begun to rain. There was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning just as he opened the kitchen door and rushed in, followed by his dog, Champ.
“Mercy on us!” exclaimed Miss Annie Ellery, who was putting plates on the kitchen table. “That was enough to knock the house down! Is that any way to come in?”
Djuna laughed. “Oh, boy, did I have to run!” he said. “Tommy Williams and I were playing catch, and we saw it coming! Gee, look at it pour!”
He picked Champ up and held him up to look out of the window at the rain. Champ was a shaggy little black dog, a Scotch terrier—black from the tip of his nose to the tip of his stubby tail. His body was chunky and strong, but his legs were so short that they looked as if he had borrowed them from some other dog that was only half his size. His face was so covered with whiskers that his beady black eyes peered out through the tangle of hair. He wriggled in Djuna’s arms.
“All right, don’t look, if you don’t want to,” said Djuna, putting him down again. “Miss Annie, do you think it’s going to rain all afternoon?”
Miss Annie Ellery was a little bit of a woman, hardly taller than Djuna. She had gray hair, and wore spectacles, but her eyes twinkled all the time.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said. “These summer showers never last long. But it will be too wet to play outdoors, won’t it?”
“I guess I’ll go over and see Mr. Boots,” said Djuna, as he sat down to eat his lunch. “He’s going to help me build a house for Champ.”
“Well, that will be nice,” said Miss Annie.
“Are you sure he’s got time? Hasn’t he got something else to do?”
“Oh, he won’t mind,” said Djuna. “He said he had lots of time.”
“Poor Mr. Boots!” sighed Miss Annie. “He’s such a good carpenter, and there’s so little work for him to do, here in Edenboro! It’s a shame!”
“He’s going to try to get some work over in Clinton,” Djuna said. “Or maybe he’s going to try in Riverton. He’s going over there tomorrow, he told me.”
“Well, I do hope he finds something!” said Miss Annie.
It was still raining when Djuna finished his lunch, but he put on his slicker and called to Champ to follow him. The little black dog jumped up from the kitchen floor, where he had been lying with his chin on his paws, but when he got to the doorstep and felt the rain hit his nose he hesitated.
“Don’t be a sissy,” said Djuna. “A little rain won’t hurt you!”
Champ gave a bark, probably meaning to say, “Yes,
’ve got a raincoat, but
haven’t,” but came along meekly.
The village of Edenboro, where Miss Annie Ellery and Djuna lived, was so small that it had only one street. There were only a dozen houses in the village, and only one store. The storekeeper’s name was Mr. Pindler. His store was right in the middle of Edenboro, at the corner where another road started off for the town of Clinton, which was three miles away. From Clinton, the road went on to Riverton, a much bigger town, where there was a railroad. Riverton was ten miles from Edenboro. Besides keeping the store, Mr. Pindler was the postmaster, but nobody in Edenboro got many letters, so he had plenty of time to attend to the store.
Djuna and Champ picked their way along the muddy road, down which little rivers of water were trickling, went past Mr. Pindler’s store, and came to a little house just beyond the store. This was where Mr. Boots lived. It looked more like a small barn than a house, because Mr. Boots had built it to use as his carpenter shop. Behind the house was a small shed, in which Mr. Boots kept the truck he used to haul lumber in from the railroad station at Riverton.
Over the front door of the shop was a sign, which Mr. Boots had painted himself. It said:
CARPENTER, BUILDER & HOUSEPAINTING
Djuna knocked at the door, heard the old man answer, “Come in!” and stepped inside.
The workshop consisted of one room. Against the wall, on one side of the room, was a long wooden workbench. Hammers and saws and all sorts of other tools hung on the wall over the bench. There were piles of new boards under the bench. On the other side of the room was a narrow staircase that led up to the attic Mr. Boots slept in the attic. Under the staircase, there were some wooden shelves. On the shelves were a great many cans of paint. Some of them were half empty, and some of them were new and shiny, and hadn’t ever been opened. This was the paint that Mr. Boots kept ready for use, in case he was hired to paint a house, or anything else. At the far end of the room, at the rear, was an iron stove, where Mr. Boots cooked his meals, and beside the stove was the coal-bin in which he kept his coal.
As Djuna and Champ came in, Mr. Boots was bending over the stove, watching the coffeepot to make sure it didn’t boil over. He turned around.
“Oh, hello, Djuna!” he said. “Hello there, Champ! Glad to see you both! Wipe your feet on that piece of cloth there, and come in! Fine weather for ducks, ain’t it?”
Mr. Boots had a very kind face, and very bright blue eyes. The top of his head was bald, but there was a fringe of white hair around it, and there was a fringe of white beard under his chin. His face and his hands were tanned very brown.
Champ shook himself hard, to get the raindrops off, and Djuna wiped his feet on the piece of cloth by the door and then hung up his coat.
“Could you help me make that house for Champ this afternoon, Mr. Boots?” he asked eagerly. “Or are you too busy?”
“Haven’t got a thing in the world to do,” said Mr. Boots. “I was just wonderin’ if you weren’t comin’ over. This is just the right kind of a day for doin’ some work indoors. You just let me finish this cup of coffee, and we’ll see what we can do.”
While Mr. Boots was drinking his coffee, Djuna wandered around the shop and looked at the things on the workbench. He never got tired of looking at all the different tools there, which Mr. Boots kept so carefully sharpened and bright. There were fresh shavings of pine scattered on the bench, and the whole room had a wonderful piney smell. The rain drummed on the roof, and it was very cozy and pleasant in the shop. Champ found a place for himself by the stove and curled up to take a nap.
While he was examining the things on the workbench, Djuna noticed among them a beautifully shaped wooden box, fitted with lids and a handle, and made from very smooth light wood. “What is this going to be for, Mr. Boots?” he asked.
Mr. Boots finished his coffee and came over to the bench. “Why,” he said, “that’s a work-basket, or will be, soon as I get it finished up. I sort of thought I’d take it over to Riverton and see if I could get some orders for a few of ’em, you know.”
“Gee, it’s a dandy!” exclaimed Djuna. “What made you think of it?”
“Well,” said the old man, slowly, “I got to thinkin’ about one my sister used to have. She used to think a heap of it. So I figgered if it was such a handy thing to have, maybe I could make and sell some of ’em.”
“Does your sister live in Riverton?” asked Djuna.
“She isn’t livin’, Djuna,” said Mr. Boots, sadly. “It’s been more than a year now, since she died. She married a man named Stricker—oh, a long time ago—and moved away from here, right after they was married. Poor thing, she had an awful hard life, but I couldn’t get her to come back here. First her husband died, and then her boy ran off from home. Guess it was too much for her.”
“Is her boy living?” asked Djuna. “How old is he? Old as I am?”
Mr. Boots shook his head. “Eddie Stricker?” he said. “No, he’s twice as old as you be. He’s a young man grown.”
live?” Djuna persisted.
Mr. Boots hesitated. “He’s in jail!” he said bitterly. “Now, Djuna, I didn’t go to tell you! It just sort of slipped out. I’d ruther you didn’t say anything about it to anybody else. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, I won’t tell anybody,” Djuna assured him. “Gee, that’s awful! What did he do?”
“That’s just it,” said Mr. Boots. “Accordin’ to the last letter I had from his mother, he didn’t do anything wrong—nothin’ to be sent to jail for, at least. Where he made his mistake was in runnin’ away from home. Somewheres or other, he got acquainted with some fellows, a bad lot, and these other fellows they held up a man and shot him and got away. Eddie didn’t know anything about it, but these fellows got him to take a gold watch they had got from the man they shot, and take it to a pawnshop, and the police arrested Eddie. I don’t know. If he had stuck by his mother, it wouldn’t ever have happened, that’s one thing sure. Let’s not talk about it, Djuna. Makes me feel terrible.”
Mr. Boots blew his nose violently and leaned down to peer under the work-bench.
“I’ve got some nice boards down here,” he said. “They ought to be just what we want to build
Champ’s house for him. Just lemme see what I’ve got here.”
Djuna felt sorry for Mr. Boots. But Mr. Boots was smiling again when he straightened up and showed Djuna the boards he had chosen.
“Fust thing we’ll have to do is to measure Champ,” he said, “so as we can know how big a door he has to have, and then we can build the house to fit the door. Ain’t much use buildin’ a house if you can’t get into it, is there?”