Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page













Ezra Jenkins, proceeding troubledly along busy Auffenberg Street, in that famous city of America known as “Little Berlin,” came to a full stop—in front of Number 444.

This was it!

The place where reigned the man who intended to send him to the penitentiary!

And a penitentiary in which, moreover, he—Ezra—would have to spend that valuable range of precious years running from this, his 29th year of life, to that one which would be his 39th. At which time, of course, so he realized, he would be a dithering, doddering ancient. An ancient!

And now, for the first time ill at ease in his crude farm clothes, Ezra puzzledly studied the Picklers’ Building, which occupied Number 444, and doubtlessly many other numbers, of Auffenberg Street. Studied it with the reverent awe of one who realized that here was the train-despatcher’s office—rather, the delicate brain center—from which was controlled the growing of perhaps 75-percent of America’s cabbages, their shredding, their pickling, and their marketing.

An artistic, many-storied structure of modernistic white tile stood illumined in the pre-noontime late-October sunshine, with beautiful cast- and hammered-bronze signs out in front of the arched stone entrance, including one unusually large and sinister one with sunken Gothic letters which spelled—

With a dolorous sigh, considering that he must now enter this place of cabbagedom and beard a very bad man in the latter’s own den—but taking up a position out on the curb in front, Ezra proceeded to extract from his hip pocket a letter which, as he started to unfold it to read its disconcerting news for the 19th time, and then destroy it for good and all, revealed at its top the richly-embossed heading:




Buschweiser Beer Building

Wiscon City



And as Ezra continued to unfold the letter—for it was typed on no less than a sheet of legal foolscap—he gazed uneasily down at himself. Viewing, thereby, a pair of legs and one torso clad in a too tightly fitting brown homespun suit, the coat—too square in lapels, too short in length, and bulging clumsily at the breast pocket because of the latter’s odd content—illy shrouding a hickory shirt with too large black-and-white checks, the soft shirt collar itself held together by a bright red necktie, the pants of the suit also too tight and also too short, but the bottoms fortunately held fast within the tops of yellow cowhide thong-laced boots coming halfway up their bearer’s shins. Ezra did not have to have a mirror to see furthermore the purple derby hat atop his own head—a hat so short of rim as almost to be rimless, and which was far too tight for the head that bore it because the yellow hair on which it rested had been uncut for nearly 3 months.

But needs must when the Devil drives—and when Ezra, busy fixing up the fencing on his east 10-acre field, had received this letter yesterday afternoon, he had had no more time than enough to grab up his green carpet bag, stuff it with a few things, and barely make the once-a-day jerkwater train that had put him into Wiscon City late last night. Awake most of the night because of the city noises so strange to his ear, he had finally fallen asleep only at dawn—and slept till nearly 11 o’clock in the morning. And now—

Morosely he bent his attention to the letter. Which carried at its right-hand top the date of the day before yesterday. And at its left-hand top his own address of Rural Route 3, Wauwaukauchee Lake, Wisconsin. And which dealt, for the most part, with the name and person of a man on whom Ezra—God help him!—was about now to call. The man, no less, who was even now fixing to put Ezra into the penitentiary. The man who was—

Herman Hieronymus. The Sauerkraut King!




The letter, plainly self-typed by the lawyer who wrote it, for its errors were carefully corrected by pen, and self-typed obviously so that its highly confidential matter could not even leak to a stenographer, ran:


Dear Ezra:

The crime which you have committed is forgery!

And the mandatory sentence in this state for forgery is 10 years in the penitentiary.

Has been, in fact, since the close of World War II or thereabouts, when crime became so rampant.

Moreover, Ezra, sentence for forgery carries absolutely no good-behavior-time-off provision, such as exists in those more modest crimes—murder, rape, and arson!

Why? Because the sentence is mandatory. And mandatory sentences do not now—but enough of that.

Now—to you!

How you, Ezra, a graduate of the most up-to-date and advanced high school in the entire United States—the famous Wauwau County Experimental High—teaching everything from Freud to Differential Calculus—could do such a stupid thing—and in such way that you can’t even prove your innocence—is beyond me. Where oh where oh where on God’s green earth, Ezra, you ever got it into your fool head that either of two persons holding a piece| of real-estate in joint-tenancy can sign the other’s name to a deed or option on it is completely beyond me. And when you tell me you deliberately simulated your brother’s handwriting merely to “save trouble and questions”—I give up! So help me, I—— I

But whether or no, Wiscon City’s Kraut King is going to put you in Chippewa Penitentiary if it’s the last thing he ever does. And then—and get this, Ezra!—sue you for all you’ve got, and almost certainly get title to no less than your own entire half-interest in that $10,000 chunk of land of yours and your brother’s. Can he do that, too—you are now asking. Nothing else but, Ezra! In view of his being able conclusively to establish that he lost his one and only chance to complete this alternative deal—all because of your utterance of a forgery. Oh yes, I had a stormy visit with Hieronymus today, Sunday though it was: the Great Disgusting Beast—as I’ve always personally termed him—was most bellicose; and you may be sure I told him absolutely nothing of the real facts.

Which—according to all you set forth in your long letter,; Ezra—and I’ve dug up to boot—boil down to the inescapeable fact that your brother has vanished in this city—apparently into thin air. Certainly under most mysterious and sinister circumstances, to say the least, if you ask me. And under——

But I want to give you the best advice I can. And here it is:

First: you must dig out for Wiscon City, Ezra, at once—and without a single hour’s delay. And commence silently and quietly unearthing, yourself, a clue to the whereabouts, of X-Y-Z. Or X-Y, as you say your brother often calls himself; or just X—as you say he calls himself even oftener. Since—Good Lord, what an imposition upon an innocent babe!—I mean, the matter of that uncle of yours in the East who insisted he be named that, so as to have an “individual” name, as a price for leaving you folks that 100 acres. If I’d been such a babe, I’d—but skip it. You say he’s very proud of the name—so that’s that. Anyway, you must start unearthing X’s whereabouts yourself, and quick. For Herman Hieronymus is going to arrest you by midnight of the coming Friday—if not sooner—if the phony deed is not made good. In short, Ezra, you have to find X dead or alive—to make the joint-tenancy conveyance either valid—or non-fraudulent by virtue of the then-non-essentiality of the forged signature. For otherwise it remains a 24 karat, 100 percent forgery, see?

Don’t ring in the police whatever you do! For the mysterious disappearance of a man with such a name as your brother will make the newspapers sure. While, in turn, if it ever gets out why he went to Wiscon City, that will make both you and him a laughing stock all over the country. No, don’t risk his disappearance getting to the papers. For then Hieronymus will know he’s non-est—and will act. Don’t ring in detective agencies either. For Hieronymus has ownership in darned near all of them. Indeed, he’s mixed up in nearly everything in Wiscon City. Even takes a flier, now and then, on buying, from an impoverished taxi-owner, one of the privately-owned cabs that have made this city world-famous—if, that is, the registered pattern is a good lively “hot” one—and sells it later for a profit.

But before following up the single clue provided by the glass gun——

And now hearing, from not far behind himself an angry honking of cab horns, Ezra spun about to see the source of the commotion. Which proved to be caused by two cabs, each facing the other, but neither of which would get out of the way of the other. One was enameled in the most brilliant green that Ezra had ever seen in his life—even greener than the galluses he was wearing—and had, trailing in back of itself and giving it a sort of moral support, another cab painted purple halfway up, with pale from there on up, and possessing white wheels. While facing the frontmost cab—and with one flat tire—was a black cab striped with jagged yellow stripes.

Ezra shook his head helplessly.

“I’ll say—the goshwhacked cabs in this town are wild!” he commented.


Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page