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The Theory And The Hound
by [?]

“My dear Mr. Plunkett,” cried Morgan, conquering his mirth, “the dinner is getting, cold. Let us sit down and eat. I am anxious to get my spoon into that shark-fin soup. Business afterward.”

“Sit down, gentlemen, if you please,” added Reeves, pleasantly. “I am sure Mr. Plunkett will not object. Perhaps a little time may be of advantage to him in identifying–the gentleman he wishes to arrest.”

“No objections, I’m sure,” said Plunkett, dropping into his chair heavily. “I’m hungry myself. I didn’t want to accept the hospitality of you folks without giving you notice; that’s all.”

Reeves set bottles and glasses on the table.

“There’s cognac,” he said, “and anisada, and Scotch ‘smoke,’ and rye. Take your choice.”

Bridger chose rye, Reeves poured three fingers of Scotch for himself, Morgan took the same. The sheriff, against much protestation, filled his glass from the water bottle.

“Here’s to the appetite,” said Reeves, raising his glass, “of Mr. Williams!” Morgan’s laugh and his drink encountering sent him into a choking splutter. All began to pay attention to the dinner, which was well cooked and palatable.

“Williams!” called Plunkett, suddenly and sharply.

All looked up wonderingly. Reeves found the sheriff’s mild eye resting upon him. He flushed a little.

“See here,” he said, with some asperity, “my name’s Reeves, and I don’t want you to–” But the comedy of the thing came to his rescue, and he ended with a laugh.

“I suppose, Mr. Plunkett,” said Morgan, carefully seasoning an alligator pear, “that you are aware of the fact that you will import a good deal of trouble for yourself into Kentucky if you take back the wrong man–that is, of course, if you take anybody back?”

“Thank you for the salt,” said the sheriff. “Oh, I’ll take somebody back. It’ll be one of you two gentlemen. Yes, I know I’d get stuck for damages if I make a mistake. But I’m going to try to get the right man.”

“I’ll tell you what you do,” said Morgan, leaning forward with a jolly twinkle in his eyes. “You take me. I’ll go without any trouble. The cocoanut business hasn’t panned out well this year, and I’d like to make some extra money out of your bondsmen.”

“That’s not fair,” chimed in Reeves. “I got only $16 a thousand for my last shipment. Take me, Mr. Plunkett.”

“I’ll take Wade Williams,” said the sheriff, patiently, “or I’ll come pretty close to it.”

“It’s like dining with a ghost,” remarked Morgan, with a pretended shiver. “The ghost of a murderer, too! Will somebody pass the toothpicks to the shade of the naughty Mr. Williams?”

Plunkett seemed as unconcerned as if he were dining at his own table in Chatham County. He was a gallant trencherman, and the strange tropic viands tickled his palate. Heavy, commonplace, almost slothful in his movements, he appeared to be devoid of all the cunning and watchfulness of the sleuth. He even ceased to observe, with any sharpness or attempted discrimination, the two men, one of whom he had undertaken with surprising self-confidence, to drag away upon the serious charge of wife-murder. Here, indeed, was a problem set before him that if wrongly solved would have amounted to his serious discomfiture, yet there he sat puzzling his soul (to all appearances) over the novel flavour of a broiled iguana cutlet.

The consul felt a decided discomfort. Reeves and Morgan were his friends and pals; yet the sheriff from Kentucky had a certain right to his official aid and moral support. So Bridger sat the silentest around the board and tried to estimate the peculiar situation. His conclusion was that both Reeves and Morgan, quickwitted, as he knew them to be, had conceived at the moment of Plunkett’s disclosure of his mission–and in the brief space of a lightning flash–the idea that the other might be the guilty Williams; and that each of them had decided in that moment loyally to protect his comrade against the doom that threatened him. This was the consul’s theory and if he had been a bookmaker at a race of wits for life and liberty he would have offered heavy odds against the plodding sheriff from Chatham County, Kentucky.