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First published in The Black Cat, June 1914

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-04-17
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The Black Cat, June 1914 with "His Story"

A young reporter is sent out to cover a murder. He brings bock a big story but it wasn't the story he expected to get.


ELL, what'd you get?"

The query of the Night City Editor was staccato-like as it snapped at Briggs, who stood by the desk in the inside office to report the result of his assignment.

"Make a column? We're long on bull-dog; short on news; room for a column if you've got the stuff. Get any pictures? Give you a spread layout if you have."

Briggs, ordinarily optimistic and self-confident, as became his soubriquet of "Breezy," for once was subdued. He had hardly started on his career as a reporter and he had, in his own mind, fallen down on the most promising assignment yet entrusted to him. Send a man out on a story that looks fertile, and let that man fail to land the goods and he becomes, to the very busy and comprehensive editorial mind trained to news-scenting and delivering, a mere atom of inefficiency, to be eliminated as soon as possible. Such an atom did Briggs now feel himself to be. He had failed, and he did not exactly know how to confess it.

The assignment had looked, to the City Editor and to Briggs, especially good, the case being the very sensational murderous attack on a young girl by some one as yet unknown to the authorities. To Briggs, when he had come on duty that afternoon, had been handed a brief dispatch, typewritten on flimsy.

He took it eagerly and read:

Mill Vale, N. J. June, 20.

Belle Dalton, sixteen, orphan, murderously assaulted in bed by unknown person. Blows on head and sulphuric acid dashed in face as she slept. Lives with sister and brother-in-law. No clues, but jealous mill hand suspected.

"Get out on this quick," the editor had told him. "Go as far as you may have to on expenses. Land the man and there's a bonus for you. Early copy."

"Breezy" had reached the small Jersey town, made a thorough investigation and returned to the city with virtually not a line of real news to add to the laconic dispatch that had sent him forth. To put it mildly, he was chagrined, crestfallen, disgusted with himself, and quite equal to calling off the whole game and getting out of a profession to which he began to realize he was wholly unsuited. He was really ashamed. Hawley, the chief, saw this in a glance and, having a dull hour before him, felt inclined to help the boy.

"Sit down there, Briggs," he said, "and tell me what you did. Maybe between us we can dig out a yarn. Often happens that a man who's been on a story and gets tired out overlooks points that a fresh head sees clearly. Excuse me a moment."

He stepped to the door of an inner office and spoke a word in an undertone to his stenographer, then returned, dropped into his swivel chair, lighted a cigar, gave one to Briggs and, with his feet in a pile of papers on his desk, signified that he was prepared to listen.

"Now, go to it," he said; "you've got an hour or more, so tell me every detail from the time you left here until you got back."

"Well, sir," began Briggs, now somewhat at ease; "in the first place, the girl wasn't killed and—"

"I know that, but she'll die;" interrupted Hawley. "The assault was committed, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir;" replied Briggs; "she was assaulted, all right, and pretty badly used up. She came to after they'd left her alone for dead, and had sent for the undertaker. Real fear for her life then actuated her, and she sneaked out of the house and ran away. I found her. She was such a pitiful little object, all bandaged and bleeding, that I took her in tow and brought her away with me. I've got her around the corner at St. Joseph's Hospital now. I hope you'll not think me wrong in doing that, Mr. Hawley."

"Nothing wrong with being a man, Briggs. Go on," said Hawley, smiling at the boy who had not seen the real big feature of his story—the rescue of the girl.

"Well, I found the house all right. It's a plain workingman's cottage on the outskirts of the town, about half a mile from the depot, and occupied by Jasper Judson and his wife and her sister, Belle Dalton. They kept a big yellow cur dog, very sassy and very hungry. I had to club him off while Mrs. Judson stood on the back porch and didn't discourage him from trying to dine on me. When she learned who I was she snapped at me.

"'I thought you was one o' them reporters;' she said. 'Well, you can't git no infermation yere. We ain't goin' to hev no pictures in the papers, neither, an' all you reporters can't do no good spyin' 'round 'bout what don't concern you. You better hike afore my ole man comes home frum the mill. He's pretty sot agin reporters. They's been a passel of 'em 'round yere all day, an' he's sore agin 'em.'

"It was pretty discouraging, and I lost my temper for a moment, when that cur took a good nip at my leg, so I broke my club over his head, sending him yelping away, and then told her that I had come to inspect the house and that I was going to do that same, that if she refused me admittance it would indicate that she or her husband had had a hand in the assault, and that I'd cause her arrest as soon as I could get back to the Town Hall. This attitude subdued her somewhat, and she told me to come in and look around, and be quick about it, as she didn't yearn for her husband to know that she had let a reporter enter the house.

"I made the best of the short time I had. It was nearly five o'clock, and the mill would soon shut down and the husband be home. First, I inspected the house from the outside, and found that a wire screen had been broken from a cellar window. I crawled through and faced a flimsy pine door that opened onto a stairway, which had been pried from its hinges. This rather puzzled me, for there had been no lock on the door, which merely closed rather snugly. I made a special note of that, partly because Mrs. Judson, from the head of the stairs, gave me her theory of this as the way the murderous burglars had entered the house. The stairs leading to the bedrooms on the second floor rose directly above those from the cellar and opened on a hallway with two doors, one leading into the rear room, occupied by Judson and his wife, the other to the front, and only other room, which was used by Belle Dalton, and in which she lay unconscious at that very moment. This last-named door was locked and nailed up from the inside, Mrs. Judson explaining that Belle had done it herself, as she was timid.

"The rear bedroom windows overlooked the roof of the kitchen porch. So far the theories all ran that the burglars, as they had been adjudged by the simple people out there, had entered the house through the cellar window and the two flights of stairs, and had had to pass through the Judsons' room, where man and wife were sleeping, in order to get at Belle in the front room. Nothing was stolen from the house, and Judson and his wife were only wakened when Belle screamed as the biting acid struck her face and ate into the tender flesh. Both say they heard the rush of two persons through their room, and saw them spring out the window and leap from the porch roof to the ground.

"I couldn't find any deep footprints in the earth at that point, although a recent rain had softened the bare ground all about the place. But there was a pair of Judson's shoes, mud- covered, in the kitchen, and I measured them with a sheet of copy paper when the old girl wasn't looking, then compared the length and breadth measurement with the footprints at the cellar window. They matched. I had been thinking they might, for a gossipy telegraph operator at the railway station had hinted strongly about Judson being jealous of the attentions of the mill hands to his pretty sister-in-law, and of her being locked in her room one night when she had made a date with a young chap from the mill to go to a country dance and frolic. So, after I got through with the house I walked back along the tracks toward the station and met a crowd of the hands coming from work.

"A man pointed out Judson to me, and I joined him and walked along with him toward his home. He was surly and resentful of my baiting. You see, I put it up to him pretty strong, and mentioned the incident of Belle being locked in her room by him. He'd have killed me for that if he had dared—and could. Then I left him with that thought to chew on, and turned back. There wasn't a train east for two hours, so I walked up to the river bank above the power dams and sat down under a tree, looking across the pretty valley at the fine sunset cloud effect.

"Up to this point I had a pretty good story, for it looked to me as if Judson were the man we were after. My theory was pretty well worked out and I figured on an arrest as soon as those slow- going yokels got our paper in the morning with the insinuating part of the story that touched Judson hard. I must have sat there an hour, thinking it all over, before I realized that I was quite alone in that part of the world. The mill workers had all gone home long ago, and the sun was just settling behind the hills across the valley. I kept thinking of that poor little girl in the Judson house, and wondering how any man could be so bestially cruel and brutal as to do such a deed. I'd settled it in my mind that Judson was the guilty man. He can get ten years but I don't believe the little girl will ever have the nerve to go back and prosecute him. She's frightened out of her life. I never saw such abject terror as she displayed up to the very moment when I gave her to Doctor Robertson, who's an old chum of mine, to take care of.

"But that's ahead of the story. Let's see, the sun was setting—oh, yes; well, it was fearfully quiet. To me, right from the city, it seemed preternaturally quiet and rather got on my nerves after a time, and I began to wish a freight train would come along just to make a noise. A church bell began to ring, and I looked at my watch. It was seven o'clock and a train left for the city at seven-thirty-five, so I got up and turned toward the depot.

"Right in front of me was a young girl, and I guess I must have started, for she certainly did give me a shock. Her black hair was hanging down her back, tangled and matted, and her face, all but her eyes, was swathed in a white bandage. She had on a long reversible coat, and I could see through the opening at the bottom, where it hadn't been buttoned, that it covered a night dress. She was very pretty and terribly agitated. She spoke before I could say a word.

"'You're a good man;' she said, her voice sweet but giving the impression of coming over a telephone wire with a weak current, very faint.

"'Thank you;'I said;'how can I be of service to you?'

"'You must take me away with you;' she answered; 'he tried to kill me. I'm Belle Dalton, and I want to tell you all about it for your newspaper. He can't get me now. I'm not afraid of him any more. I nailed my door up because I was afraid of him;—Jasper, my sister's husband, I mean. He's a wicked man.'

"'You've been badly hurt;' I replied.'They expected you'd die. You ought not to be out here.'

"'I ran away when my sister wasn't watching;' she said, her eyes smiling above the bandages on her face.'My sister is afraid of Jasper, too, and he told her to watch me. I'm afraid he'll kill her when he finds me gone. He's drinking again. He brought a bottle home with him. I saw it in his hand when he came in to look at me. Then they went out and I got up, and ran away to you.'

"'How did you know where to find me, and why did you want me?' I asked her.

"'Oh, I knew where you were;' she answered, with a rippling laugh, although she must have been in pain; 'and I wanted you because you were the only one who wasn't afraid to charge Jasper with hurting me.'

"I wondered how she knew I had charged him with it, but in the same moment reasoned that he had probably mentioned it to his wife while they were in the girl's room, thinking her unconscious.

"'Tell me about it;' I said; 'how he hurt you and why.'

"'But we must hurry and catch the train;' she replied.'I'll tell you on the way to the city.'

"Not another word could I get out of her. She put her hand on my arm and almost dragged me along the road to the station, and we just caught the train. I didn't have time to buy her a ticket, and when the conductor came along I handed him my return coupon, and was so intently listening to her story that I completely forgot to pay for her. I recalled that afterward, for when we left the train the conductor glared at me and whispered something to a guard and I heard the words:'Nutty, or full o' booze; talking to himself all the way from Mill Vale.'

"She told me that she had been in love with a young chap at the mill, and that her brother-in-law had forbidden her to go with him. He had caught them together lately, and last night came home in an ugly temper, sullen and quiet. She had gone to bed early but couldn't sleep because of fear of him. She said it was past midnight when she heard a noise at her door and sat up in bed. Her eyes were accustomed to the darkness and she recognized Jasper. At the instant of this recognition the fiery liquid struck her face. She screamed, and then felt the fearful blow of a cudgel on her head, and sank to unconsciousness. She knew nothing more until she heard her sister and brother-in-law talking in her room. That was this evening, and she'd been unconscious all that time—about eighteen hours. Her story made the case clear, but she'll not go back to prosecute. She's afraid."

The 'phone bell on Harvey's desk purred its muted call and the editor caught up the receiver. At the same instant the big clock in the city room struck eleven.

"Night City Editor speaking;" said Hawley over the wire. "Who? Oh, Doctor Robertson, of St. Joseph's Hospital? Yes, Briggs is with me now. Have you notified the police? Well, that's all you can do, I suppose. Yes, rough on our story, though. Too bad she got away. I'll publish a big reward for her apprehension. Thank you. Good-by."

Briggs had sprung from his chair and stood trembling with excitement. Hawley anticipated his question.

"The girl has disappeared," he said. "Doctor Robertson says they have searched the hospital from top to bottom, and can't find her. She left her coat, so she must be wandering about in a night dress and will be picked up by a cop before she's gone a block."

The outer door swung inward and Hawley looked up quickly, then smiled.

"Did you wish to see me?" he asked, and Briggs turned his head, his breeding, for the moment, forgotten.

Then the young reporter's eyes almost leaped out, for in the doorway stood Belle Dalton, just as he had left her, her coat on, her head bandaged, her raven hair matted and tumbling over her shoulders. He stepped toward her, but she smiled and, without speaking, quickly drew the door shut. Both men jumped to it and Briggs, there first, tore it open. He and Hawley looked out on the big city room, filled with reporters and noisy with the rattle of typewriters and telegraph instruments, but not a sign of the girl rewarded them. She had again vanished. Briggs looked rather disgusted but Hawley turned quickly toward him and asked: "Who was that?"

"Belle Dalton, the girl I brought from Mill Vale;" answered Briggs, his voice subdued with excitement.

"I thought so;" replied Hawley.

Catching up the telephone, he got Mill Vale on the wire, then called the chief of police, and for a moment spoke with that official. He hung up the receiver and glanced at Briggs, who was still standing, a queer look of perplexity on his face.

"Sit down, Briggs!" he said.

The reporter sank into his chair. Hawley touched a buzzer and his stenographer appeared.

"Phillips, did you get everything Mr. Briggs told me?" he asked.

"Yes, sir;" answered the young man, while Briggs looked from one to the other in bewilderment.

"Well, tear it off in short takes for all you're worth. It's a four column spread with a layout. I'll write the introduction; Mr. Briggs will close it. Git."

The stenographer vanished, and Hawley turned to Briggs.

"You brought Belle Dalton to New York, and took her to the hospital, Briggs;" he said; "and Doctor Robertson saw her and put her to bed. She then vanished and came here. I know those are facts. I also know, because the Chief of Police of Mill Vale has just told me over the telephone, that Belle Dalton died tonight at seven o'clock, while you were sitting out there on the river bank.

"That's some story, Briggs, and we've got the proofs. Get busy."