The Great Diamond Syndicate; Or, The Hardest Crew on Record by Nicholas Carter

The Great Diamond Syndicate

OR,

THE HARDEST CREW ON RECORD

BY

NICHOLAS CARTER

Author of the celebrated stories of Nick Carter’s adventures, which are published exclusively in the New Magnet Library, conceded to be among the best detective tales ever written.

STREET & SMITH CORPORATION
PUBLISHERS
79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York


[4]

Copyright, 1909
By STREET & SMITH


The Great Diamond Syndicate

(Printed in the United States of America)

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE
I. A DARK NIGHT’S WORK. 5
II. CONFLICTING CLUES. 21
III. COVERING CLUES. 38
IV. A GROUP OF THREE. 55
V. CUNNING FOES. 70
VI. DEATH COMES TOO SOON. 87
VII. AT FOUR O’CLOCK. 104
VIII. HOW IT WAS DONE. 121
IX. MAYNARD’S FOLLY. 139
X. A FATAL ERRAND. 150
XI. A STARTLING DISCOVERY. 159
XII. THE HUSTLING REPORTER. 166
XIII. INTO THE TRAP. 173
XIV. THE GREAT DIAMOND SYNDICATE. 181
XV. A DESPERATE GAME. 191
XVI. MORE TROUBLE. 203
XVII. MORE SURPRISES. 209
XVIII. BY THE HAND OF A WOMAN. 218
XIX. MANTELLE AT BAY. 226
XX. FLUSHING THE BIRDS. 235
XXI. A CLEVER WOMAN. 245
XXII. THE STORY TOLD. 260
XXIII. THE DEN OF THE SYNDICATE. 277
XXIV. WHAT NICK OVERHEARD. 284
XXV. A DESPERATE RAID. 291
XXVI. NICK TAKES A CHANCE. 304
XXVII. BULLY COMES TO GRIEF. 312

NICK CARTER STORIES

New Magnet Library

PRICE, FIFTEEN CENTS

Not a Dull Book in This List

Nick Carter stands for an interesting detective story. The fact that the books in this line are so uniformly good is entirely due to the work of a specialist. The man who wrote these stories produced no other type of fiction. His mind was concentrated upon the creation of new plots and situations in which his hero emerged triumphantly from all sorts of trouble, and landed the criminal just where he should be—behind the bars.

The author of these stories knew more about writing detective stories than any other single person.

Following is a list of the best Nick Carter stories. They have been selected with extreme care, and we unhesitatingly recommend each of them as being fully as interesting as any detective story between cloth covers which sells at ten times the price.

If you do not know Nick Carter, buy a copy of any of the New Magnet Library books, and get acquainted. He will surprise and delight you.

ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT
850—Wanted: A Clew By Nicholas Carter
851—A Tangled Skein By Nicholas Carter
852—The Bullion Mystery By Nicholas Carter
853—The Man of Riddles By Nicholas Carter
854—A Miscarriage of Justice By Nicholas Carter
855—The Gloved Hand By Nicholas Carter
856—Spoilers and the Spoils By Nicholas Carter
857—The Deeper Game By Nicholas Carter
858—Bolts from Blue Skies By Nicholas Carter
859—Unseen Foes By Nicholas Carter
860—Knaves in High Places By Nicholas Carter
861—The Microbe of Crime By Nicholas Carter
862—In the Toils of Fear By Nicholas Carter
863—A Heritage of Trouble By Nicholas Carter
864—Called to Account By Nicholas Carter
865—The Just and the Unjust By Nicholas Carter
866—Instinct at Fault By Nicholas Carter
867—A Rogue Worth Trapping By Nicholas Carter[2]
868—A Rope of Slender Threads By Nicholas Carter
869—The Last Call By Nicholas Carter
870—The Spoils of Chance By Nicholas Carter
871—A Struggle With Destiny By Nicholas Carter
872—The Slave of Crime By Nicholas Carter
873—The Crook’s Blind By Nicholas Carter
874—A Rascal of Quality By Nicholas Carter
875—With Shackles of Fire By Nicholas Carter
876—The Man Who Changed Faces By Nicholas Carter
877—The Fixed Alibi By Nicholas Carter
878—Out With the Tide By Nicholas Carter
879—The Soul Destroyers By Nicholas Carter
880—The Wages of Rascality By Nicholas Carter
881—Birds of Prey By Nicholas Carter
882—When Destruction Threatens By Nicholas Carter
883—The Keeper of Black Hounds By Nicholas Carter
884—The Door of Doubt By Nicholas Carter
885—The Wolf Within By Nicholas Carter
886—A Perilous Parole By Nicholas Carter
887—The Trail of the Fingerprints By Nicholas Carter
888—Dodging the Law By Nicholas Carter
889—A Crime in Paradise By Nicholas Carter
890—On the Ragged Edge By Nicholas Carter
891—The Red God of Tragedy By Nicholas Carter
892—The Man Who Paid By Nicholas Carter
893—The Blind Man’s Daughter By Nicholas Carter
894—One Object in Life By Nicholas Carter
895—As a Crook Sows By Nicholas Carter
896—In Record Time By Nicholas Carter
897—Held in Suspense By Nicholas Carter
898—The $100,000 Kiss By Nicholas Carter
899—Just One Slip By Nicholas Carter
900—On a Million-dollar Trail By Nicholas Carter
901—A Weird Treasure By Nicholas Carter
902—The Middle Link By Nicholas Carter
903—To the Ends of the Earth By Nicholas Carter
904—When Honors Pall By Nicholas Carter
905—The Yellow Brand By Nicholas Carter
906—A New Serpent in Eden By Nicholas Carter
907—When Brave Men Tremble By Nicholas Carter
908—A Test of Courage By Nicholas Carter
909—Where Peril Beckons By Nicholas Carter
910—The Gargoni Girdle By Nicholas Carter
911—Rascals & Co. By Nicholas Carter
912—Too Late to Talk By Nicholas Carter
913—Satan’s Apt Pupil By Nicholas Carter
914—The Girl Prisoner By Nicholas Carter
915—The Danger of Folly By Nicholas Carter
916—One Shipwreck Too Many By Nicholas Carter
917—Scourged by Fear By Nicholas Carter

THE GREAT DIAMOND SYNDICATE.

CHAPTER I.
A DARK NIGHT’S WORK.

“Your uncle murdered! It seems incredible!”

Nick Carter leaned back in his chair and looked at his visitor, dismay showing in his face.

“It is too true, old friend, Uncle Alvin was murdered in his bed last night, and diamonds to the value of half a million dollars stolen from the house.”

The speaker, Charley Maynard, was greatly excited. He was a young man who had arrived at legal age only a few months before. Almost from boyhood he had been a friend of the man of whom he now sought sympathy and advice.

“Half a million in diamonds!” echoed the detective. “I was not aware that Alvin Maynard possessed diamonds to that value.”

[6]

“They were mine,” replied the young man.

“The day is full of surprises,” said Nick. “When and how did you become owner of such a wonderful collection of precious stones?”

“They were delivered to me yesterday, at the residence of my uncle, up the Hudson,” replied Charley. “I heartily wish I had never set eyes on them.”

“A present?” asked Nick.

“My inheritance from my father,” was the reply. “As you know, he was a globe trotter from his youth up. It seems that during a visit to South Africa he became the possessor of the gems which were stolen last night. How he came by them I have no idea. I only know that there are some very fine stones in the collection, and that they were delivered to me yesterday afternoon. Now they are gone, my uncle lies dead in the house, my aunt is prostrated with grief, besides suffering severely from a blow dealt by a brutal assassin, and my cousin, Anton Sawtelle, lies wounded in his bed. It is a sad house this morning, Mr. Carter.”

“There was a struggle, then?” asked Nick.[7] “The robbers were discovered at their work and fought for the booty?”

“That is the strangest part of the case,” said the young man. “The diamonds were stolen from a trunk in my room on the second floor of the house, and yet I heard nothing of the struggle which must have taken place. It seems that the burglars entered by way of Anton’s room and searched the entire floor. Why they should have visited the apartments of my uncle and aunt is more than I can understand. I am not a heavy sleeper, yet I heard nothing of the affair until this morning.”

“Was no one able to give the alarm until this morning?” asked Nick. “Where were the servants? Surely they must have been aroused.”

“They were not,” was the reply, “and the first intimation I had of the murder of my uncle and the loss of my diamonds was when informed by Anton of the happenings of the night.”

Nick walked the floor of his room for a moment.

“What did Anton tell you?” he finally asked.

“He said that he heard a noise during the night[8] and arose from his bed. As he stepped out in the direction of the door opening into the hall, he was struck a savage blow, from the effects of which he did not recover until after daylight.”

“And your aunt?”

“She, too, says that she heard a noise and stepped to the door of her chamber. It was dark in the hallway, but her figure was outlined against a window in the wall at her back. While standing there, listening, she was struck on the forehead and rendered unconscious until morning.”

“And you were asleep on that floor?”

“Yes, sir, directly across the hall from the room occupied by my aunt. Uncle slept in a room at the front of the house. Anton in a room at the rear. The two rooms between these were occupied by my aunt and myself, as I have already stated.”

“The diamonds were in your trunk?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was the trunk locked?”

“No, sir, it was not. You see, we have never been molested before up there. I was not as cautious[9] as I might have been. However, if the trunk had been locked, it would have been all the same, I imagine.”

“You might have been awakened by the forcing of the lock,” said the detective. “It is strange that you did not hear the sound of the blows which killed your uncle and left your aunt unconscious.”

“I wonder at that,” said the young man, “for I am not usually a heavy sleeper. But I hope you can come out to the house at once. The sheriff and two deputies are there, but no one save the coroner has been admitted to the second floor. Can you come now?”

“Certainly,” was the reply.

“And, another thing,” said the young man, hesitation in his voice, “I wish you to act as my personal representative in the search for the diamonds. This may seem to you a selfish request, with the murderer of my uncle still at large, but it is a matter of great importance to me. The diamonds constitute my sole inheritance from my father. Nothing can bring my uncle back to life, but the diamonds, recovered, will make my future[10] life both useful and happy. Besides, the recovery of the diamonds must point to the murderer.”

“That does not necessarily follow,” replied Nick. “However, I will do the best I can for you. You were at your uncle’s yesterday afternoon?”

“Yes; I have been stopping there for a month, at his special request.”

“When and where were the diamonds delivered to you?”

“At uncle’s, at three o’clock. They were brought up from the city by a special messenger, who took a receipt and returned on the first train south.”

“When did you open the package containing the diamonds?”

“Immediately.”

“Where did you open them?”

“In the parlor on the first floor.”

“Who was present?”

“Uncle, aunt, Anton, Bernice, aunt’s maid, and myself.”

“Anton is your cousin by marriage only?”

“He is a son of my aunt by a first marriage.”

“I see. Where was he born?”

[11]

“In Paris. He has lived there nearly all his life.”

“Were there any servants about when the diamonds were shown? Did the servants see the diamonds at all?”

“No, sir.”

“Was the arrival of the gems talked of before the servants?”

“To some extent, yes.”

“You were about the grounds in the afternoon?”

“Yes, sir. I remember now that I sat on the side porch a long time, looking over the lawn and garden on that side of the house.”

“You observed no strangers about?”

“No, sir. Say! Two men came up from the station and passed the house shortly after the departure of the messenger who had delivered the diamonds. They passed on about two hundred yards, and then turned toward the depot. I did not see them again.”

“What sort of appearing men were they?”

“I remember now that their dress and manner gave me the impression that they were sailors.”

[12]

“The sheriff has charge of the case, I presume?”

“Sheriff Walton is there in person. He was notified quite early this morning at Anton’s request.”

“What direction is his investigation taking?”

“He has made a study of the grounds, and was at the railroad station when I came away, questioning the agent and the night watchman, who had been sent for.”

“I am glad he has been kept out of the house,” said the detective.

“I can’t get the thing through my head,” said the young man. “One man murdered, two persons assaulted and left unconscious, my own room entered and robbed, and I the only one on the floor not aroused by the noise. It seems a strange case.”

“Now about the murder of your uncle,” said Nick. “How was the death wound inflicted?”

“He was struck on the temple with some blunt instrument. He was in his pajamas and lying across the bed when found. It looks as if he had arisen to a sitting position when awakened, and[13] was then seized by the throat. There are marks as though a struggle had taken place.”

“And your aunt?”

“There is a cut over the left eye.”

“Not a serious one?”

“Oh, no. It is difficult, however, to imagine what sort of a weapon made the cut. It seems to be three-cornered.”

“And Anton?”

“There is no question but that he was struck with a pair of iron knuckles. The wound shows that plainly enough.”

Nick remained silent for some moments. He was puzzling over the fact that the gems had been so soon located in the house by the thieves.

“By whom were the diamonds delivered?” he finally asked.

“By a messenger from the American Express office.”

“Who paid the duty?”

“The express company.”

“It must have been a heavy one.”

“It was,” answered the young man. “It took all my little fortune.”

[14]

Nick entered the telephone booth and called up the American Express office. In a few moments he learned that the diamonds had arrived in New York the previous day at noon on an ocean liner, and that they had remained in charge of the company only an hour before the departure of the messenger. No one in the employ of the company, except the man who had paid the duty and the manager, knew of the valuable contents of the package.

While the detective was puzzling over the case, Chick entered and was soon in possession of its main features as known to his chief.

“Where were the diamonds shipped from?” he asked.

“Originally from Cape Town,” replied the young man, “but direct from Liverpool.”

Chick looked at his chief with a smile on his face.

“It is a pretty case, I imagine,” he said. “The gems must have been followed from Cape Town.”

“Well, in that case,” said young Maynard, “the man who did the following made quick work of it after they arrived in this country. Of course, the[15] route to the hiding place of the murderer must be discovered by tracing the diamonds. Don’t you think so?” he added, turning to Nick.

“It will, I think, prove easier to find the murderer than the diamonds,” said Nick. “The gems may be passed on from hand to hand, or separated and scattered to the end of the world, while the murderer cannot halve his crime with any one.”

Nick ordered his automobile, and the three were soon on their way to the country house on the Hudson where the murder had been committed.

When they reached their destination they found a crowd of curious suburbanites gathered about the gate, which had been closed and locked by the sheriff.

The house stood some distance from the road in a grove of elm trees. A handsomely kept lawn swept down to the iron fence which shut in the grounds. It was a fine old mansion, with many gables, porches, and odd corners. The dull red walls were overrun with English ivy.

The detectives ascended at once to the upper floor. The stairs brought them to a long hallway[16] running just west of the tier of rooms at the front of the house.

Entering the front room, they found the body of the dead man lying on the bed. Nick at once bent over it. His impression was that it had been placed on the bed after the deathblow had been struck, but the coroner had gone away for a time, and he could ask no questions of him.

“It is worth looking up,” thought Nick.

As the detectives were beginning their work, Sheriff Walton called out to them from the lower hallway:

“I am going away for a time,” he said, “but I’ll be back. Two suspicious men took a rig from a local stable last night, and have not returned it. I think that perhaps they are the men who were here. You will find that the burglars gained entrance by way of the west room, and passed on to the front of the house. On the way they got the diamonds from the trunk in Charley’s room.”

Nick smiled as the sheriff closed the door and took his departure.

“He seems to have solved the case already,”[17] said Chick. “I presume he has the murderer in sight now. Good luck to him, say I.”

“Here’s something to begin on,” continued Chick, pointing to footprints in the hallway. “See! There’s been a good deal of travel about here, and in bare feet. I don’t quite understand this, chief. I can’t see what it means. We have been told that Mrs. Maynard and Anton lay unconscious until morning, so I don’t see who did all this walking about. I don’t believe people came up here barefooted.”

The prints of naked feet led from door to door, and in some places were quite numerous. They passed from the north room to the south room, back again, and from the east room to the north room and back again. The south room was occupied by the owner of the diamonds, the north room by his aunt, and the east room by Alvin Maynard, who lay dead there at the time of the visit.

West of the doors of the side rooms, which were exactly opposite each other, the hall was narrower, and led only to a west room, occupied by Anton Sawtelle. The marks here were not[18] those of naked feet. The person in the stockings seemed to have made two trips to the front room. The other marks might have been made after the discovery of the crimes of the night.

One thing about the stocking marks struck the detectives as peculiar. In each instance the outgoing marks were close together, the incoming marks far apart.

“This chap was in a mighty hurry, coming back,” said Chick reflectively. “He made the return trips in long jumps. Must have got scared in the front room.”

“Anton might have visited his father’s room before dressing,” said Nick, “and discovered the dead body on the bed. That would naturally give him a fright.”

“But he seems to have gotten two frights,” said Chick, with a grin.

As Chick bent over the tracks Nick moved cautiously toward the front of the hall. He was certain that he heard footsteps there, that some one was watching their movements—noting the course their investigation was taking.

Finally he made a little rush to the front, and[19] was just in time to see a mass of dark hair disappearing down the stairs. The wearer of the hair looked back, and Nick saw a pair of handsome black eyes.

“We were watched,” he mused, turning back to the tracks. “The burglars, we are told, entered by way of Anton’s room.”

The detectives passed down the hall and entered the rear room, after it had been unlocked from the inside. The young man who had unlocked the door was already back in bed when the detectives entered. His head was bandaged and his face was pale as death. His eyes glared unnaturally from under heavy brows. He was a remarkably handsome man, although his face, even with the pallor of suffering upon it, showed signs of dissipation. His features were regular, his hair black and waving, and his figure slender and muscular.

“I called to you when you were at the door a moment ago,” he said, “but you did not answer. I presume you are Nick Carter? Yes. Well, I am glad to see you. Hope you will find the murderer, and also the brute who gave me this bump[20] on the head. My poor father! He was always a father to me!”

“All in good time,” said Nick. “We are about to make an examination of the premises, but would like to ask you a few questions, provided you are well enough to engage in conversation.”

“I am very much better,” was the reply, “and perfectly able to tell you all I know about this wretched affair.”

“What time did you go to bed last night?” was the first question.

“About ten o’clock,” was the reply. “We keep early hours up here in the country, you see,” he added, with a wan smile.

“Did you retire for the night as soon as you came upstairs? What I mean is, did you move about your room or the hall?”

Sawtelle’s face became flushed, and he hesitated. Although Nick’s eyes were seemingly not fixed on his face, he noted every change of expression. What Nick appeared to be looking at was the gravel roof of a one-story lean-to attached to the building at the west.


[21]

CHAPTER II.
CONFLICTING CLUES.

Once the young man opened his lips to reply to the question, but he changed his mind, evidently, and remained silent for a time.

“Give me time to think,” he said, after a pause. “I don’t seem to remember.”

“Did you come up here before your mother and Mr. Maynard came up for the night?”

“Oh, yes; I heard them come up and go to their rooms.”

“Did they engage in conversation?”

“They did not,” was the hesitating reply. “To tell the truth, they were not on good terms with each other last night. That makes this affair all the more terrible for mother.”

“Do you know the nature of their quarrel?”

“I do not.”

“Did you leave your room for any purpose after they came up here?”

“I did not.”

[22]

“Until when?”

“This morning.”

“Then you went to Mr. Maynard’s room?”

“I went to mother’s room first. You see, I had been attacked, and my first idea on regaining consciousness was that some one else might have been wounded.”

“That was quite early?”

“Just after daylight.”

“Where did you find your mother?”

“Lying on the floor. I placed her on the bed and went on to Mr. Maynard’s room. I found him dead, as you know.”

“Did you move the body?”

“I did not.” This with a shudder of horror.

“Were you dressed?”

“I was not. I had just tumbled off the bed, where I had fallen, or been thrown by the robbers. I think I had my trousers and socks on, that is all. You must understand that about this time I was hardly myself, and was laboring under strong excitement. I hardly know what I did after that. I remember of going to Charley’s room, and of hearing him cry out that the diamonds[23] had been stolen. You know I had lain in an unconscious condition all night from this wound on my head. I asked that Sheriff Walton be sent for, and again became unconscious.”

“Did you succeed in arousing your mother from her stupor?”

“I called to the servants to assist her.”

“How was she dressed?”

“In a nightrobe.”

“How about her feet?”

“They were bare.”

“Where was she taken, then?”

“Directly downstairs.”

“She was not able to walk about?”

“Oh, no, she was carried down.”

Young Sawtelle closed his eyes as if from weariness, and, quick as a flash, Nick lifted something from under the edge of the bed and thrust it into his pocket.

“Now, about the burglars,” said the detective. “Do you know about what time it was when they entered?”

“I have no idea.”

“What was the first sound you heard?”

[24]

“I thought I heard a window rattle, and arose to a sitting position.”

“And then?”

“I could see that there was some one in the room, and I sprang out of bed to get a revolver which I keep in the closet.”

“You did not reach the closet?”

“No. I met an iron knuckle and dropped to the floor.”

“Did you visit the closet at all last night?”

“No; I am sure that I did not.”

“You caught no parting glimpse of the intruder’s face?”

“No. There were two.”

“How do you know that?”

“I could see two forms outlined against the window.”

“You heard them moving about the room?”

“Only for a moment.”

“Did they make much noise in moving about?”

“Very little.”

Nick now turned to the windows opening on the roof of the lean-to to the west. The structure was[25] covered with a gravel roof, and during the rain of the night of the murder little pools of water had formed. Into these sand had been swept. Nick examined every one of these closely. In a moment he called Chick to his side.

“Here is the autograph of one of the burglars,” he said, pointing to an impression in one sandy pocket of the roof.

“Rubber shoes,” said Chick.

“Exactly, with a tear in the sole of the right shoe. It ought to be easy enough to follow this fellow.”

Chick made a circuit of the little roof and came back to his chief.

“The cut in the shoe which shows there,” he said, “was made after the robber got to the roof. The tin strap which supports the eave trough at the west, where the ladder was raised, is broken, and Mr. Burglar stepped on the sharp, upturned edge.”

Nick descended the ladder, which remained as the robbers had left it, and walked about the grounds for a few moments, after which he returned to the west room.

[26]

“They came from the orchard,” he said, “and after the rain.”

“The rain fell at two o’clock,” said Chick.

Nick turned to Sawtelle.

“It is your notion that you were knocked down as soon as the thieves entered the room?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Isn’t it remarkable that Charley was not awakened?”

“He is a heavy sleeper.”

“What did he say in the morning?”

“I don’t remember.”

The young man was becoming nervous and impatient, and Nick and his assistant left the room, first asking permission to return later and search for further traces of the burglars. In five minutes’ time, however, the young man passed them in the hall and went downstairs.

The detectives looked at each other in silence for a moment.

“He lies!” said Chick. “Mr. and Mrs. Maynard did walk in the hall last night after they were ready for bed, and he knows it, for he was[27] not asleep. I say he was not asleep because he came out after them. Notice that the marks leading from his door are over the ones made by naked feet, and were therefore made last.”

“That looks all right on the face of it,” replied Nick, “but he says he passed through the hall this morning.”

“I overlooked that point,” said Chick, “but, anyhow, he lied about the old people not moving about.”

“He might have been asleep,” said Nick. “Don’t jump at conclusions, my son.”

Chick bent over the floor.

“What is it?” asked Nick.

“I am looking for the marks made by the burglars in passing from the rear room to the front one,” was the reply.

An inscrutable smile appeared on the face of the detective.

“Look sharply,” he said. “Perhaps you may be able to find what you are looking for.”

Chick arose and faced his chief with excitement showing in his manner.

[28]

“They are not here,” he said. “What does it mean?”

“There are the marks of stockinged feet,” suggested Nick.

“But these two sets of tracks are the same,” said the assistant, “and were, of course, made by Anton. You have, I think, the socks he wore last night in your pocket,” added Chick, with a smile. “Suppose we compare them with the tracks?”

“You saw what I took from under the bed, then?”

“Certainly. I had had my eyes on them for some time.”

Nick took the socks from his pocket. They fitted the tracks exactly.

“You see,” said Chick, “the burglars never left that back room. Now, who murdered Alvin Maynard? Who stole Charley Maynard’s diamonds?”

What Chick stated was the truth. There were no indications that the burglars had left the threshold of Anton’s room. And yet the old man had been murdered at the other end of the hall and the diamonds had been stolen from a room which could be reached only by way of the hall!

[29]

Nick made no reply. Instead, he turned from the hall and entered the room from which the gems had been stolen. Everything was in order there. The diamonds had been taken from a trunk, and this stood near the head of the bed, the cover swung back against the wall.

In the compartment at the right end of the till was a casket, the one in which, under coarser covering, the diamonds had been shipped to New York. Nick took out his glass and inspected the packing. Then he placed some of the cotton and some of the paper in his pocketbook.

The trunk was of metal surface, and at the top of the box the iron had been worn through to the wood. Jagged edges of metal showed all along the edge of the box. On one of these edges Nick found a shred of pink wool, which he placed in his pocket with the other articles.

Nick now entered the room which had been occupied by Mrs. Maynard, going directly to the dresser.

“What do you find?” asked Chick.

“Record of last night’s proceedings,” was the reply. “It is as plain as if written in ink. I have[30] heard it said,” continued the detective, “that no person can enter a room without leaving some evidence of the visit. This may be putting it too strongly, but I am convinced that no person can commit a crime without leaving behind a record of the deed, as plain as printing, if we only know how to read the language in which it is written.”

“That has often been proven,” said Chick.

The little right-hand drawer of the dresser stood half open, disclosing a collection of rumpled handkerchiefs of fine texture. The top of the dresser was half covered with toilet articles. There were powders and liquid preparations for the face and hands, and many other articles designed to keep the marks of advancing years from showing too plainly. Nick picked up a jar of yellowish paste and turned his glass on it. Then he took the pieces of packing from his pocket.

“See here,” he said, “the woman went to Charley’s room last night, after all was still in the house, and took the diamonds and brought them to this room.”

“Impossible!” cried Chick. “That silver-haired old lady a thief—never.”

[31]

“I did not say that she stole the gems,” said Nick. “I said that she brought them to this room. First, how do I know that she took them from the trunk? Notice this jar of toilet paste. When she got ready for bed she used that on her hands and face—a common thing for women to do. Then, after her light was out, and after Charley was in bed and asleep, she entered his room and took the diamonds from the casket.”

Chick listened, with wonder showing in his eyes.

“I presume you know where all this points?” he said.

“I know that she extinguished the light before she left her room, because she groped her way in the darkness and felt along the door for the knob. She left traces of this toilet paste on the panels. She did the same thing in Charley’s room—groped her way in the darkness. More traces of the toilet paste on the door and on the trunk. This shows that Charley was not only in bed, but asleep. Lastly, she left traces of the paste on the packing from which she removed the gems.”

[32]

“Poor old woman!” said Chick.

“Wait a moment,” said Nick. “There is no knowing what her motive was. She brought the diamonds here and placed them in that little drawer at the right of the dresser. See, some of the packing clung to them, and it is still in the drawer.”

“It seems to be a clear case,” said Chick.

“But the diamonds did not remain in the drawer for any length of time,” said Nick. “Did you know Alvin Maynard in his lifetime?”

The assistant shook his head.

“Then you do not know what an inveterate snuff taker he was. Well, he came in here last night, after the return of his wife, and removed the gems from that drawer. His fingers were soiled with snuff at the time, and he left traces of it on the handkerchiefs in the drawer. The handkerchiefs are also crumpled, showing that the diamonds were not taken out in a calm manner.”

“I see,” said Chick, more surprised than ever.

Nick now went to the old lady’s closet, which[33] opened from the sleeping room, and came out with a pink nightrobe thrown over his shoulder. He attempted no explanation until they both stood in the front room, by the side of the bed whereon the dead man lay.

“It is certain that the old lady followed her husband to this room,” Nick said, then, “and that a quarrel took place here. Observe how the gathers are torn out at the neck of this nightrobe. It all ended in her being pushed down or falling in a faint. At any rate, the woman received her wound in this room, and not in the doorway of her own chamber, from the fist of a burglar, as she is said to claim.”

Nick walked over to a couch which stood by a front window. The head of the couch was composed of a straight, sharp-cornered piece of quarter-sawed oak, without upholstery of any kind on the edge. On the outer corner of this headpiece was a bruise and a stain of blood.

“It looks to me,” said Chick, “as if the burglary was a put-up job, and that the diamonds are still in the possession of some member of the Maynard family. Why, for instance, should the old lady[34] lie about the way in which she received her wound, if all is on the level here?”

Nick smiled and pointed to the couch.

“No woman,” he said, “would admit a quarrel with her husband, much less a blow. It is therefore easy to understand why she lays the wound to the burglar. Besides, the diamonds she handled last night have been stolen, and it would be indiscreet for her to admit having them in her possession, even for a minute, just before the robbery. And, then, there is the murder. It is hard to believe that any member of the family would murder the old man.”

Nick turned to the bed again and regarded the body carefully.

“The blow which killed Maynard,” he said, “was not delivered while he lay or sat on the bed. The body was placed there after the blow was struck, and what blood came from the fatal wound was wiped away. We ought to find traces of that somewhere here.”

“There you are!” cried Chick. “No burglar would stop to place a victim on the bed, or to wipe away the blood! Now, how is your theory?”

[35]

“The woman was revived here,” said Nick, “for this nightrobe is still damp, so her son did not find her unconscious in her room this morning, as he claims.”

“I wonder how Anton got along with his stepfather?” asked Chick.

“They never had any trouble that I know of,” replied Nick.

“It is my notion,” said Chick, “that, as you say, the woman was revived in this room, and also that she witnessed the murder. Yet, according to all accounts, she says nothing of it, which is unnatural, unless it is true that the murderer is known to her and entitled to her protection. And, another thing, both Anton and his mother know more about the doings of last night than they are willing to admit, and they will remain under suspicion in my mind until several points are cleared up.”

Nick made no reply. There was a lot of sense in what his assistant said, and yet he was not ready to admit the truth of his deductions. He returned to Anton’s room and entered the closet,[36] which the young man had stated he had not visited the night before.

While Nick searched in the closet, Chick remained by the outer door leading into the hall. Presently he heard soft steps at the front of the building. Whoever was moving about there was doing so with attempt at secrecy. As the assistant stood listening, the rustle of skirts was added to the sound of the footsteps.

The steps seemed to enter the east room, where the body lay, to return to the hall, pass into Charley’s room, across into the old lady’s room.

Nick came to the door of the closet and pointed toward the hall.

“Watch there,” he said. “You know a girl came up here a little while ago and ducked away as soon as discovered. This may be the same one.”

Chick darted down the hall and entered the old lady’s room. Standing in the middle of the floor there he saw a rather pretty girl, with black hair and eyes and regular features. She was tall and slender, and seemed to be about twenty years of[37] age. She curtsied and blushed as Chick entered the room.

“What do you want here?” asked Chick.

“You are the famous Nick Carter?” asked the girl, speaking in French, a language which Chick understood perfectly.

“Why are you here?” continued Chick. “And why were you here a short time ago?”

“I was not here a short time ago,” was the reply, “and I come now at the command of my mistress. Why should you say I was here a short time ago, when I have been with my sick mistress all morning?”


[38]

CHAPTER III.
COVERING CLUES.

“And your mistress is Mrs. Maynard?” asked Chick.

“Of a certainty.”

Chick saw that the girl was antagonistic, but he did not show what his thoughts were. The only way to secure information from the girl would be to make friends with her. He asked:

“How is Mrs. Maynard this morning?”

“She is very ill, sir.”

“It is a terrible affair,” said Chick. “It is a wonder that all the people in the house were not murdered in their beds.”

“I shall be afraid to stay here now,” said the girl, still speaking in French.

“You surely are not going away?” asked Chick. “What will Mrs. Maynard do? She surely can’t get a companion like you—young, devoted, and attractive—every day.”

The girl blushed prettily. The flattery was winning its way, seemingly.

[39]

“I must go about my work,” said the girl. “I have to take to my mistress some of her clothes from the closet.”

“Can I assist you?” asked Chick.

“Oh, no. It is only a few I carry.”

The girl went to the closet. Chick watched her every move and glance. Entering the closet, she looked anxiously about. She seemed disappointed at not finding something she sought. Passing her hands swiftly along the line of garments suspended on hooks, the girl turned them out from the wall and looked behind them.

“You are looking for something?” asked Chick.

“For a dress,” was the reply. “It is not here. Ah!”

Standing in the doorway of the closet, the girl’s eyes now fell on the pink nightrobe, lying on the bed where Nick had tossed it.

The girl stepped briskly forth and seized the robe, doubling it up and hiding as much of it from view as was possible.

“And yet she claimed to be looking for a dress,” thought Chick. “Here is mistake number one for[40] us. We should have hidden that nightrobe. I presume the woman will see that we do not get it in our hands again. Rather bright girl this. I wish Nick would happen in here just now.”

As if in answer to the thought, Nick appeared in the doorway. Chick saw that his chief had sized up the situation at a glance. The girl curtsied to the new arrival and moved off with the robe under her arm. Nick watched her from the doorway as she passed along the hall toward the front of the house.

When she came to the cross hall, directly in front of the room which had been occupied by the dead man, she dropped the robe to the floor. Instead of picking it up at once, she, with a little exclamation of impatience, gave it a push with her foot, which sent it along the floor, not toward the stairs, but to the south, down the hall which ran straight from the head of the stairs to a wing of the house, the upper floor of which was occupied by the servants as sleeping rooms.

Nick stepped quickly forward, but the girl was pushing the robe along with her foot, and the dust on the linoleum was brushed aside, obliterating[41] any marks which might have been there. The detective smiled at the strategy displayed.

The hall down which the girl passed was not a long one, and ended at a door which connected with a hall in the wing. She was, therefore, soon out of sight. As she closed the door Nick saw a disdainful smile on her face.

“That’s a bright girl,” he said, as Chick stepped to his side.

“Mrs. Maynard is covering clues,” said the assistant. “Which shows that she has much to conceal. The girl said she came after a dress, but went away with the nightrobe which discloses the story of the struggle. She was in Charley’s room before she came here. I wonder what she took from there?”

Nick stepped down the hall a few paces and bent to the floor. When he came back he held a shred of cotton in his fingers.

“She took the packing from the casket in which the diamonds were brought here,” he said. “Mrs. Maynard is getting well fast. The robe shows the struggle, and the packing shows her touch. But she came too late.”

[42]

Chick drew the little drawer from the dresser and held it out—empty.

“And the handkerchiefs show the presence of the diamonds here, and also the grab made for them by the old man. She must have taken them before I got into the room, although I was only a second behind her. What does it all mean, chief? Is it possible that Mrs. Maynard knows who killed her husband?”

Nick made no reply. He stood in the hallway looking down at a footprint left in the dust by the girl. He ended by taking a tape from his pocket and measuring it. Then he went to the door at the south end of the front hall and turned the knob. The door was locked, but he had it open in a moment.

No one was in sight as he glanced down the hall in the wing. He stepped inside and tried the door to the front room. It, too, was locked, but was soon opened with his picklock. One glance at the interior showed the detective that it was the room occupied by the maid.

It was in perfect order, except that the robe, just taken from the other part of the house, lay[43] across the back of a chair, and the handkerchiefs, just taken from the dresser of her mistress, lay on the bed. So Mrs. Maynard had not really regained them, after all!

“Well,” thought the detective, “she may have ordered the girl to get them out of sight. It is a wonder to me that she did not think of that sooner. We should have been all at sea had she ordered that floor swept early this morning.”

Nick went to where his assistant stood and announced that he had about concluded his work there.

“What did you find in the closet?” Chick asked.

Nick did not reply immediately. He seemed to be in one of his brooding moods. He walked back to the rear room again and stood at the closet door with his measuring tape in his hands. Again he went to the room where the dead man lay and studied the position of the body and the character of the wound which had resulted in instant death. Once more he went over the hall leading to the door of the west room, this time using a glass on every inch of it. Chick, standing at the door of Charley’s room, heard him mutter:

[44]

“It isn’t possible. I surely must be mistaken. And yet here it is; in black and red, literally. It is too brutal to be true! Too brutal! Too unnatural!”

Chick pondered over the words for a long time. Nick was not much given to talking his thoughts aloud, and Chick knew that he must be greatly moved to do so now.

But Chick knew that his chief had made some discovery which he did not care to communicate, because of his uncertainty as to its bearing on the case.

“It’s an odd case,” said Nick presently. “We can only trace the stolen gems to members of the family, and there is the murder.”

“But in terror of discovery,” said Chick, “is it not possible that even a member of the family might have dealt the blow which killed the old man?”

Nick made no reply. He walked down the hall leading to the servants’ quarters, and examined the floor both at the door and near it. The cunning maid had swept the floor clean along the path of travel with the robe, but Nick continued[45] his investigations along the walls, where the robe had not touched.

At last he turned away and, accompanied by his assistant, passed down the stairs and entered the parlor on the floor below. There they found Charley awaiting their arrival. Nick closed the door which communicated with other parts of the house, and asked:

“How long has the maid been here?”

Charley smiled.

“Don’t waste your time there,” he said. “She came from Paris with aunt ten or more years ago, and is devoted to the family.”

“When was your aunt married to Mr. Maynard?” was the next question.

“About ten years ago. They met first in Paris.”

“Then the maid was with your aunt before the marriage?”

“I think so. She is more of a companion than a maid, though.”

“How long has Anton lived here?”

“About a year.”

“And before that time?”

[46]

“He lived in Paris.”

“Supported by your aunt?”

“I think so.”

“Has she an income of her own?”

“A very small one. She lost most of it when she remarried.”

“I see. Is Anton to remain here? What I mean is, was it his purpose on coming here to remain in this country?”

Charley laughed uneasily.

“There was nothing else for him to do,” he said. “He could no longer live on the money he was receiving, and so he had to go to work or come here.”

“Ah! And he did not like the idea?”

“He did not.”

“And the maid? She also longs for Paris?”

“Oh, you are off the track,” said Charley. “They do not get on well when together, and the girl would not leave aunt. There is nothing in that line.”

“You think they have a mutual dislike for each other?” asked Nick, with a smile.

“I am certain of it.”

[47]

“How long since this began to show?”

“Well, they were shy of each other from the first. Lately they have quarreled in the presence of the servants.”

“Only lately?”

“Only lately,” repeated Charley.

“They knew each other in Paris?”

“Yes, I think so, when they were children.”

“Now, how has Anton been supplied with money since he came here?”

“By my aunt.”

“Has he ever complained of the size of the allowance?”

“Not that I am aware of, but he has borrowed of me.”

“And repaid?”

“Never.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Nick asked:

“Was it generally known in the house that the diamonds were coming?”

“Yes. The matter was often talked of.”

Again there was a long pause.

“Oh, say,” said Charley presently, “you may as[48] well give up that line of inquiry. We know well enough how the thieves got into the house, and how they got the gems. You see, they left plenty of clues behind. The sheriff thinks he has them located already. What have you discovered?”

The detective had no idea of reporting progress at that time, so he ignored the question and asked for Mrs. Maynard.

“She is too ill to be seen,” said Charley.

“And the maid is with her? By the way, what is the name of the maid?”

“Her name is Bernice. Yes, she is with my aunt.”

“Is Mrs. Maynard still unconscious?” asked Chick.

“Only partially so,” was the reply. “She is in a low condition, physically, and the shock of last night has affected her seriously.”

“You have called a physician?”

“Of course.”

As the question was answered the physician made his appearance in the parlor. He was old and gray, and had long been in attendance on the family.

[49]

“How are your patients?” asked Charley.

“Mr. Sawtelle is so far improved as to be able to take the air in the orchard,” was the reply, “but Mrs. Maynard is not satisfactorily recovering from the shock.”

“Is she suffering pain?” asked Charley.

“I think not. The trouble seems to be a mental one. I fear for her reason if there is not a change almost immediately.”

“Bernice is with her?” asked Charley.

“She was until a moment ago,” was the reply. “Then she called one of the servants and left the house.”

Nick and Chick exchanged glances, and the latter almost immediately left the parlor, taking the direction of the orchard as soon as he was out of the house.

Passing along the south side of the house, Chick came to a barrier of evergreens which shut out a view of the orchard from the front. Away to the left, however, there was a gate, and the detective turned toward it. As he moved along he heard voices on the other side of the hedge. He[50] could not distinguish the words, but the voices were those of Anton and Bernice!

Chick passed through the gate and walked around the rear of the house to the place where the ladder had been lifted to the roof of the lean-to, hoping to see the couple on the way. However, the voices ceased, and the young people were nowhere in sight.

The doctor quitted the parlor shortly after Chick’s departure, and, thus left alone with Charley, Nick asked:

“You said this morning that you are a light sleeper. How did you rest last night? Were you in your usual health when you awoke?”

“No,” was the reply. “I had a frightful headache, and my stomach was in bad shape. It is seldom that I awake in bad condition. Perhaps I slept too soundly.”

“Did you partake of food or drink after supper last night?” asked Nick.

Charley looked the surprise he did not express.

“Yes,” he said, in a moment, “it was a hot night, and we had ice cream and lemonade in the parlor.”

[51]

“Who suggested it?”

“I think I did.”

“Who prepared it?”

“Some one in the kitchen.”

“Who served it?”

“Bernice.”

“How long did you remain awake after partaking of the cream and lemonade?”

“Not very long. I was tired, and soon became sleepy and went off to bed.”

Nick walked the floor for a moment.

“I know what your questions mean,” said Charley excitedly. “You think I was drugged last night!”

Nick made no reply.

“I had thought of that,” continued Charley, “because of my unusual sleep, but had rejected the notion because every member of the family partook of the refreshments which were served, and because the suspicion seemed to point to some member of the family as the burglar and the murderer.”

“Never mind that now,” said Nick. “Did you see much of Anton last night?”

[52]

“Yes, he was with me until I retired.”

“And Bernice?”

“She was with my aunt in the sitting room the greater part of the evening.”

“You do not know whether she retired early?”

“Of course not. She usually does go to bed as soon as my aunt releases her from duty for the night, and aunt went to her room early last evening, before I did, in fact. Anton was the only one in the parlor when I left.”

“Where was Bernice?” asked Nick.

“She was somewhere about the house. I remember now that aunt did not require her services in her chamber.”

“She might have been in bed?”

“No, she was not, for I heard her voice downstairs, just before I left for my room. She was somewhere at the back of the house.”

“What time did Mr. Maynard go to his room?” asked Nick.

“He was there most of the evening. He had what the boys call a grouch about something, I guess.”

[53]

“Where were the diamonds during the evening?”

“In my trunk.”

Nick pondered a moment, and turned away, going to the door, from which he turned back to ask:

“Were the diamonds in your trunk when you went to bed?”

Charley laughed.

“No doubt of that,” he said. “I looked at them.”

Nick walked to and fro on the lawn until Chick came up.

“You found Bernice in consultation with Anton, I presume,” he said.

“Yes, they were in the orchard together.”

“You could not hear their talk?”

Chick shook his head.

The county physician who served as coroner was now summoned and the body placed at his disposal.

“I am sorry to have delayed you in your work so long,” Nick said, “but I did not want to miss any possible clues by having it removed before a[54] thorough examination of the room had been made.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said the coroner. “I’ll get a few of the neighbors together and hold an inquest right away. It will be death at the hands of some person unknown, I suppose. Rather a bold deed, sir?”

“Yes,” said Nick soberly, “rather a bold deed.”


[55]

CHAPTER IV.
A GROUP OF THREE.

“Shall you attend the inquest?” asked Chick, as the two detectives moved away in the direction of the orchard.

“No,” was the reply. “As the coroner said, the verdict will be that Maynard came to his death at the hands of some person or persons unknown. I want the formalities through with as soon as possible.”

The detectives now found themselves at the foot of the ladder which had been raised to the lean-to roof by the burglars. The footprints were still plainly visible.

As has been stated, rain had fallen on the previous night, and the surface of the earth was still damp. The marks of rubber soles were still to be seen in the soft mold between the trees. They led to the north side of the orchard, then across a pasture lot, and onto the highway running parallel with the railroad track. They were lost only when the men approached the station platform.

[56]

“This looks like a put-up trail,” said Chick.

“It looks like the work of amateur burglars,” said Nick, “who depend upon losing themselves in the city, and thus escaping the officers.”

“I wonder if they carried the diamonds over that route?” asked Chick.

“And I was wondering,” said Nick, “if they knew what to do with the gems when they got to the city.”

“How could they have the diamonds?” asked Chick. “They did not get beyond Anton’s room, and the diamonds were not there. I guess the members of the Maynard family were too quick for them.”

“Don’t jump at conclusions,” warned Nick.

“Well, I don’t like the looks of things up there,” said the assistant, “and I have an idea that they ought to be watched.”

“Of course,” said the chief. “You are to go back there and hang around with Charley Maynard as soon as we land these fellows on the train, or become convinced that they did not take a train back to the city.”

“There is a train leaves here at four o’clock in[57] the morning,” said Chick, referring to a timetable. “They might have taken that.”

The fact was that Chick found himself not a little puzzled at the attitude of his chief in the case. Had he been permitted to have his own way, all the investigations would have been confined to the Maynard house.

He regarded the burglary as merely incidental, and would not have wasted a moment on it. As he explained to Nick, he did not see how the burglars could have committed the murder or stolen the gems, as they had penetrated into the house no farther than the rear room.

He determined that if he was left at the house, in charge of the case there, the inmates would have some pretty hard questions to answer.

Nick must have detected his intentions, for he said:

“Let the inmates of the house alone; let them say and do what they please, and go where they see fit; but keep your eyes on them. I want to know whom they see and what they do.”

“Very well,” said Chick, not a little disappointed.

[58]

“Now,” continued the chief, “it may be that Charley was drugged on the night of the murder and robbery. See what you can learn about that.”

“You think that probable?”

“It is at least possible,” was the reply.

“Then that shows a desire on the part of some one in the house to rob him. As I said before, I think the burglars were on a worked-out claim.”

Nick chuckled, but said nothing.

Chick had differed with his chief in so many cases which had been won that he was not inclined to force his opinions to the front, so he remained silent.

The railroad station at which the detectives now stood was a small affair, and was usually closed in the nighttime. No through trains stopped there, but at four o’clock in the morning a local passed into the city, and an agent was always there at that time.

A short distance from the station was a little suburban store where fruit and light lunches were sold. Many suburbanites took and left the trains there during the day, and the keeper of the store did quite a business.

[59]

Nick approached him as he stood serving coffee and sandwiches to two travelers.

“Were you here this morning?” he asked.

“I sleep here,” was the reply.

Nick called him aside as soon as his customers left.

“Were you in your place of business when the train passed here at four o’clock this morning?” he asked.

“The place was not open,” was the reply, “but I was awake.”

“Did the train stop?”

“Yes, sir. It always does. There are usually early birds out. We call them four-o’clockers.”

“Their work in the city begins early?”

“I suppose so.”

“Do you happen to know whether any strangers were about here when the train came in?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” was the reply. “I usually don’t, but this morning a fool couple got under my window there at the back of the house and whispered, and talked, and quarreled, until I was ready to get up and fight.”

“You could not hear what they were saying?”

[60]

“I caught a word only now and then. I was too mad to listen quietly.”

“That was a queer place for a conference—under a sleeping-room window,” suggested the detective.

“Oh, they probably thought the house unoccupied during the night. It doesn’t look much like a residence, now, does it?”

The man cocked his head to one side and regarded the little structure, built of plain boards nailed on perpendicularly and battened, with a critical eye.

“But the people who usually come to this station know your habits, don’t they?” asked Nick.

“I should think they ought to,” was the reply. “I have been here long enough.”

“Then these men must have been strangers?”

“Oh, I have no doubt of that.”

“You say they quarreled?”

“Not until a third man came up.”

“So there was a third man?”

“Didn’t I say three at first?”

“No, you said two.”

“Well, there were two at first, and then a third[61] man came, and they got into a mix-up over something.”

“Did they fight?”

“Only with their mouths.”

“About what?”

“About putting something in a trunk.”

Nick saw that the country merchant did not know how to relate what had taken place with reference to the leading points, so he was obliged to humor him and ask many questions.

“So they had a trunk?” he asked.

“Didn’t I say they had a trunk?”

“You did not. Was the trunk delivered there in a wagon?”

“No. A man, the third man, brought it on his shoulder.”

“Did they open it?”

“Of course. Didn’t I say they quarreled about putting something in it?”

“Did they put something in it?”

“Yes, after a lot of talking.”

“What did they say?”

“Two men said it was safer to carry the package,[62] and the third man said they knew what his orders were.”

“Did you hear any names mentioned?”

“Just one.”

“What was that name?”

“Hartley.”

“Ah!”

It was with difficulty that Nick concealed his joy. Hartley was the name of a noted diamond dealer in New York, and Hartley was said by the police to furnish money for enterprises of a shady nature!

“What was said concerning Hartley?” asked Nick, in a moment.

“I only heard his name mentioned once.”

“You heard nothing said regarding the contents of the package they put in the trunk?” asked the detective.

“I heard one of the men say that they would be fools to give up so much without getting their money down.”

“Ah!”

So Hartley had already arranged for the diamonds[63] to be delivered to him. The third man was Hartley’s agent.

“Where did this third man come from?” asked Nick.

“I don’t know. He must have come in from some of the burgs where the morning train does not stop, and carried his trunk with him.”

“Was it a large trunk?”

“No. A small one.”

“What did they finally do with it?”

“They gave it in charge of the baggageman when the train came, after getting it checked by the station agent.”

“Who did?”

“The man who brought it.”

“With the package inside?”

“I suppose so.”

“You saw them hand it over?”

“Yes. The men parted after the train came in, and I did not see the two Englishmen again.”

“Oh, they were Englishmen?”

“Yes. Didn’t I say so?”

“The man must have bought a ticket to get the trunk checked?”

[64]

“Of course.”

“Did the men part in anger?”

“Why, when they all ran off, they did not have time to say good-by to each other. They were too much in a hurry.”

“You did not say that they got away in a hurry.”

“Oh, didn’t I? Well, they did. They found out that some one was listening. That was just after the train came in. So they ducked, and the man who had been listening went to the train.”

“How long was he there?”

“Just a minute. When he came up to where the trunk had been opened, after they left, the girl made her appearance, and they walked away together in the direction of the platform. I did not recognize either of them. You see it was dark, and they were not close to the window.”

“Now you’ve brought a girl in,” said Nick. “You must have had quite a matinée under your window this morning.”

“Didn’t I tell you about the girl before?”

“Certainly not.”

“Well, it struck me that she was down here to[65] meet some one who came on the train, and went away on the train.”

Nick began to look puzzled. This was not so easy. Who was this girl? Could it have been Bernice? Could it have been any one from the Maynard house? Had the girl and the strange man been sent there to watch the others and see that the trunk was on the train according to arrangements previously made by Hartley?

Nick had a notion who the Englishmen were.

They were probably the sailors Charley had seen the previous afternoon.

Chick had suggested that the diamonds had been followed from Cape Town or from Liverpool, and this might prove to be a fact.

The part of the third man was plain enough, Nick thought. He was there to receive the diamonds from the thieves. Hartley would take no chances of their being delivered to him in the city.

But this fourth man and the girl? That was the puzzler.

“How many girls live close about here?” asked Nick.

“Girls? Dozens of ’em. What with the daughters[66] of the suburbanites, and their maids and servants, I can’t begin to keep track of them.”

“But none live close to the station.”

“Oh, they are often about here at the time this early train passes. I don’t know where they all come from, I’m sure.”

“Well,” said Nick, “if a man came here on a train and left on the same one, and met a girl here, it must have been by previous arrangement, of course, and may occur again. You keep your eye out for a couple of weeks when this morning train passes, and you shall be well paid for your work.”

“All right,” was the reply, as the man pocketed a banknote of liberal denomination. “They won’t get away from me again.”

Nick now went to the station agent and asked about the tickets purchased for the early morning train. The agent declared that none had been bought that morning.

“But a trunk was checked,” insisted the detective.

“That was on a ticket bought in the afternoon,” said the agent.

“Do you know how many people took that[67] morning train from this station?” asked the detective.

“I do not.”

“Did you see people waiting for the train here?”

“Say,” said the agent, “I don’t know what’s getting into folks to-day. It seems that there was something doing when that train went by.”

“Ah! the sheriff has been here?”

“Yes, and a lot from the Maynard house.”

“Who, for one?”

“Anton Sawtelle for one. Got quite a clip, didn’t he?”

“Sure he did,” was the reply. “What questions did he ask?”

“Just about what you did. He wanted to know who left here on the morning train.”

“And you could not tell him?”

“Certainly not. The conductor may be able to, though.”

“Did Sawtelle give descriptions of people and ask you to verify them?”

“He asked for two men carrying the odor of rum, and for a black-haired girl.”

[68]

So here was the girl again!

And Sawtelle knew of her presence at the station!

“What else did he say about the girl, or about the men?”

“He said the men talked with a strong London accent; nothing more about the girl.”

Anton must have hastened to the station while the detectives were at the house!

There was now no such thing as leaving him out of the case!

“Who left the train here?” asked Nick, in a moment.

“I am certain that no one left the train here.”

“Anton asked about a girl. Did you notice a girl loitering about here previous to the arrival of the train, or after it left this morning?”

“I did not. No girl came in here.”

“So the girl, if there was one, kept in the background?”

“Yes; that’s it.”

Nick left the agent and walked up and down the small platform.

“The gems may be at Hartley’s by this time,”[69] he thought. “The two Englishmen who smell of rum and talk like London may be on the ocean by this time, but I imagine I know where the girl is. This case is not so mixed, after all.”

After a long talk with Chick, the detective took a train for New York, hopeful and enthusiastic over the clues he had already uncoiled.

Chick returned to the Maynard home.

It was dull there, and for a long time there were no movements among the inmates that seemed worthy of attention.


[70]

CHAPTER V.
CUNNING FOES.

That evening, while Chick sat in comfort on the north porch at the Maynard house, strong in the belief that his chief had gone to New York in quest of a murderer and thief who was then in that house, Nick was standing in front of a small, mean-looking store near Chatham Square.

There was a pawnbroker’s sign over the door, and diamonds were shown in the windows in goodly quantities. On the door itself, the top half of which was of glass, was the line: “Diamonds bought and sold.” Below was the one word: “Hartley.”

The detective had reached the city at three o’clock, and at once “made up” for an inspection of the diamond merchant’s place of business. Standing across the street, Nick had the appearance of a sailor having a leave of absence and a desire to observe all that was worth seeing in the city.

Presently Nick went into the store and stood by[71] the front counter, which was covered with show cases, each containing diamonds of all sizes and shades. The salesman who came forward to wait upon him leaned on one of the cases carelessly, and looked only casually at the pretended sailor.

“I wants to sell me di’mond,” said Nick.

“Let’s see it, mate.”

Nick took from his pocket a superb stone worth fully $500. It was finely cut and had been removed from its setting. In fact, it was a stone which the detective frequently wore.

“’Ow much for it?” he asked.

“Where did you get it?” asked the clerk.

Nick gave an impatient hitch to his breeches.

“This hain’t no bloomin’ police station, is it?” he asked.

“No,” was the reply, “but we like to know where the goods we buy come from.”

Nick put the stone back into his pocket and moved toward the door.

“Wait,” said the clerk. “How much do you want for it?”

“Four ’undred,” was the short reply.

“I’ll give you fifty dollars,” said the clerk.

[72]

Nick went back and began to haggle with the clerk. What he wanted was to keep in the store long enough to size it up thoroughly. Besides, he had a notion that the two men who had been described as smelling of rum, and talking like London, might pay their respects to the diamond merchant.

Now and then during the conversation Nick walked to the front door and looked out into the street. Just across the way, Patsy, next to Chick, his best assistant, stood in a make-up similar to that worn by his chief.

Nick had an idea that the two sailors, who were evidently unused to the ways of New York crooks, would loiter about Hartley’s place.

Patsy was watching in the street for the reason that the men might visit the vicinity of the diamond shop without actually going in. If they came within sight, he was to motion to Nick if it were possible to make him see, through the crowd; and if not, he was to go to the store after him.

But it was not necessary for Patsy to signal to Nick or to call him from the store. As the chief[73] approached the door, after being in the establishment for some time, he saw two men resembling the ones he sought standing in front of the store. They were talking together earnestly, making quick gestures with their hands.

Nick passed out into the street and halted near them. One of the men looked the detective over and approached him, pushing pedestrians aside like a man in the fighting stage of intoxication.

“’Ello, shipmate,” he said, laying a hand heavily on Nick’s shoulder. “Doin’ biz with that bloomin’ shark?”

“’E won’t buy,” replied Nick. “’E wants the bloomin’ earth, ’e does.”

“’E’s a shark, a’ Hindian Hocean shark,” roared the sailor. “’E’s got to take a broadside from me the day.”

“You ain’t out on no bloomin’ desert island now,” said Nick. “You’ll get in irons, that’s what you’ll get, if you lay alongside of that pirate here. Offered me fifty dollars for a five-hundred-dollar diamond, that’s wot ’e did, blast ’im.”

Patsy came up at this moment, and the four wandered away to a drinking place on the Bowery,[74] and sat down at a table. Nick was by no means certain that the men he was with were the ones he sought.

They drank rum liberally at Nick’s expense, but did not appear to get much the worse for their libations. They cursed Hartley from keel to topmast, as one of them expressed it, but refused to mention the cause of their hatred.

“You’re from Lonnon,” Nick said, after a time. “’Ow is the old town?”

Nick knew London like a book, and his reference to the music halls and sailor resorts set the men to talking.

“We’re goin’ back when we gets brass enough,” one of them said. “We’ve come over ’ere on a bloomin’ cruise after the wind on the tops of the tall buildings, that’s wot we has, mate.”

One of the men sprang to his feet.

“Hi’m goin’ after ’im,” he said.

“You’re drunk,” said the other. “Let ’im alone.”

“Hif you’re afraid to go, Hi goes halone,” was the reply.

“I’ll go with you to see the shark,” said Nick.

[75]

The sailor seized Nick’s hand and almost dragged him to the door.

“We’ll board the bloomin’ pirate,” he said.

The detective began to think that he had made no mistake in figuring on the movements of the two strange men.

“This man is drunk,” he thought, “but not so drunk as he pretends to be. He has probably nerved himself with liquor for an unpleasant interview. If he is the man I suspect him to be, the fact is likely to come out in the talk between the merchant and himself. If he is not one of the sailors who appeared at the Maynard house yesterday, I shall soon know that.”

The detective was now in a section of New York where the life of a man known to be in quest of lawbreakers is hardly safe. The lawless ones of the great city often make that section their home when pursued by officers of the law, and will defend each other to the death.

The establishment of the diamond merchant was ostensibly respectable, but there were in police records accounts of men and women who had entered the half-glazed door possessed of valuable[76] gems and had never returned to their former haunts. Nick knew that the outlaws of New York boasted that there were hidden cellars and secret rooms and stairways in the buildings of that quarter which no officer had ever been able to discover.

The sailor entered the store and advanced toward the rear, which was dimly lighted by a yellow jet of gas, the daylight which came through the dusty glass in front not penetrating into the back of the long room. There, on a high stool at a standing desk, bent over the pages of a great book of accounts, was a man with iron-gray hair and stooping shoulders. He glanced up as the two men approached, and Nick made a mental note of the keenest black eyes he had ever seen under a mass of gray hair.

The sailor stepped up to the desk and laid his arm insolently on a pile of books at the merchant’s elbow. Then he steadied himself and glared at the figure before him.

“You are here again, are you?” asked the merchant impatiently. “I told you to keep away from here.”

[77]

“You know wot I come for,” said the sailor sullenly.

“Who is that with you?” demanded the diamond merchant suspiciously.

“A mate I picked hup out ’ere.”

“If your mate has influence with you,” said the merchant, “I advise him to use it in getting you aboard ship as soon as possible.”

“Hartley is playing a bold game,” thought Nick.

“’And hout hour coin, then,” said the sailor, “an’ we’ll go soon enough.”

“We have had enough of this,” said Hartley. “You must cease to persecute me or take the consequences. However, this is no matter to discuss before a third party. Come with me, and you, matey, remain where you are.”

Hartley moved toward a rear door, accompanied by the sailor, and Nick stepped back to a chair which stood at the end of the counter, hidden from the front by a stack of boxes and books. The clerk in front walked back and saw that the detective was in the chair, and returned to the[78] front, seemingly to watch through the door for customers.

The thing for Nick to do now was to listen to the conversation which was to take place between the men who had just left him. But how? There were two doors opening from the room to the rear. One was at about the middle of the store, and the other was close to the wall at the left, and about opposite the chair in which Nick sat.

Hartley and the sailor had passed through the centre door, so this probably led to another room. The other door, being near the wall, undoubtedly led to a hallway running to the rear of the building. Nick resolved to investigate. Seeing that his weapons were handy, he moved toward the side door, being careful to keep below the top of the long desk.

The clerk was apparently busy in front, and did not hear the door open, as Nick supposed, and so the detective stepped into a dark passage and prepared to bring his flash into use. Then, before he could take the lantern from his pocket, he heard a sharp click, like the movement of a metallic spring, and dropped into the darkness.

[79]

The floor had fallen away beneath his feet, and he was sliding down a well of a place which seemed scores of feet deep and just large enough in diameter to permit the passage of his body. It was the old trick of lower New York, which had been worked thousands of times, and will be worked as many times more.

Nick, who had been up against the trapdoor game before, would naturally have been more careful in that treacherous establishment only for the fact that he believed his disguise perfect, and Hartley rather above the murder of inquisitive men whom he had had no occasion to suspect of greater interference with his plans than the opening of a door for the purpose of listening to a forbidden conversation.

As Nick dropped into the dark tunnel, he heard a trapdoor close above his head, and at the same instant his right heel caught in what seemed to be little more than a horizontal crevice in the wall of the place. At the moment of falling he had crowded his feet out to the sides and his hands to the front, in hope of finding some break to check his fall.

[80]

Finding that his heel was slipping from the place where it rested, Nick drew out his knife, which opened as he removed it from his pocket, the blade being controlled by a spring at the back, and drove it into the wall to his left. Supported by this and by the foothold on the right, the detective began an investigation of the place.

He could have used his lantern readily enough, as the right hand was free, but he was afraid of watching eyes, so he groped about in the darkness, hoping to find an outlet about where his heel had struck.

He understood the trap games of New York well enough to know that the shaft communicated with more than one basement of the building, which was an old one and probably full of devices for the destruction of unwelcome guests. If he could come upon a door connecting with the floor directly underneath the store, the trick of the diamond merchant might, after all, be turned to good advantage.

A careful examination of the wall on the right convinced the detective that the door to the first basement was where his foot had struck; that, in[81] fact, his heel rested on a bit of flooring under the crack of the door.

“Now,” he thought, “I wonder which way this door opens? If they throw people down here, it opens into the room; if they back people up against the wall and let them fall in, it opens into the shaft! Ah! Here it is.”

The door gave way under the pressure of Nick’s foot, and a faint light crept into the shaft. There was a light at the front of the first basement, and men were there engaged in unpacking boxes.

It was no easy matter for Nick to change his position so as to pass through the doorway, but he succeeded at last, and stood in the shadows cast by the flaring gas jet in front. He knew that those at work could not see him, so he moved about with considerable confidence.

The basement was used for storing, and packing and unpacking, goods of many kinds. At the back, where Nick stood, it was well-nigh filled with boxes of various sizes. At the right of the basement, facing from the front, was a stairway running to the store floor above. This, the detective[82] thought, might lead to the rear room where the talk between the diamond merchant and the sailor was in progress. He mounted the steps halfway and paused, listening for the sound of voices. As he waited, he thought with wonder at the position in which he found himself.

That a New York merchant of the apparent respectability of Hartley should occupy a place of business set with a man trap of the character which had caught him was incredible enough, but that he should actually bring it into use was almost beyond belief. It meant much to the detective. It showed him that the establishment was one in which such devices were considered necessary to the business of the proprietor, and therefore one which should be broken up by the police. It was almost incredible that such a den should exist within a few blocks of Broadway.

Presently the sound of voices came to the ears of the listening detective. First he heard the smooth tones of the merchant saying:

“You have betrayed me, and you cannot deceive me again. The best thing you can do is to leave the country, and leave it at once.”

[83]

“’Ow can we get hoff without th’ coin? Tell me that!” answered the voice of the sailor. “Hi’ll split on the game if we don’t get hour hown.”

“What have you done with the diamonds?” demanded the merchant.

Nick bent forward eagerly.

At last his quest was to be crowned with results.

What diamonds could be meant save the ones stolen from the Maynard home?

“Hi gave them to the bloomin’ toff you sent hup there,” was the angry reply.

“That is not true,” said the merchant. “You gave him a counterfeit package, and stood by while he packed it in the trunk and checked the trunk. From the moment the trunk was closed in your presence it was never opened again until it was brought here. You stole the diamonds, and now you try to blackmail me.”

“This is something like!” thought Nick. “The diamonds were placed in the trunk, as I supposed, and shipped here. Hartley says he never received them. Sailor says he delivered them to[84] the agent. Now, which one lies, and where are the diamonds?”

“Hit’s a lie!” shouted the sailor. “Your bloomin’ pirate got the gems.”

“You talk of splitting on the game,” continued the merchant. “What do you know of the murder which took place at the Maynard house on the night of your visit there?”

“That’s gaff!”

“Gaff, is it?” demanded Hartley. “Read the newspapers when you go out and see if I speak the truth. Maynard was murdered in his bed on the night you secured the diamonds. You’ll both find yourselves in the electric chair if you say too much about the affair.”

“S’lp me!” cried the sailor, “Hi don’t know of any murder. Hi——”

The merchant interrupted him.

“I don’t want to know anything about it,” he said. “I merely repeat my former advice, which is to get out of the country.”

Nick waited in vain for the sailor to go on. What words were on his tongue when so suddenly checked? He made general denial. Who,[85] then, had murdered Alvin Maynard? Where were the diamonds?

Nick was listening to the voice of one of the men who had stolen the gems, yet he was no nearer a solution of the murder mystery than before. He believed what the man said regarding the murder. He had not even known of it until informed by the merchant. Even now he seemed to doubt the truth of the statement.

“I’ll land him in the Tombs when he leaves here,” thought Nick, “and we’ll see about the murder later. It is possible that, after all, he knows where the diamonds are, and yet, men of his character don’t usually hang about for a little money when in the possession of half a million in diamonds.”

But Nick’s plans were defeated by something which happened on the floor above. He heard a quick blow, a fall, and then the groans of a man in agony. As he was about to spring up the stairs and through the door at the top, the sound of another voice came to his ears:

“How was that for a knockout?”

It was the coarse voice of a bully.

[86]

“Very well done,” replied the merchant. “Put him in the shaft with his mate.”

“Croak him?” asked the other.

“No; fix him up so that he won’t know his own name when he is able to be about again,” was the reply.


[87]

CHAPTER VI.
DEATH COMES TOO SOON.

“So that he won’t know his own name when he is able to be about again!”

Nick knew very well what that meant. The sailor was to be beaten, and imprisoned, and drugged, and frightened, until he became crazed; and then turned out into the world again. Even if some faint glimmerings of what had taken place should come to him, no one would credit the statement of a half-crazed sailor, who, as would be believed, came by his infirmity on the high seas and had forgotten!

“It is devilish!” muttered the detective. “I wonder how I am going to get at the fellow before they quite kill his intelligence?”

Locked in the unconscious brain of the sailor was the story of the taking of the diamonds, if not the story of the murder of Alvin Maynard.

If he could only communicate with Patsy, sitting there in the saloon with the other party to the[88] robbery! If Patsy only knew, then the whole thing would be easy.

The fact that the diamond merchant had been implicated in the robbery could not aid the detective at that time. He had no proof except the words of the sailor he had heard while listening on the stairs. But all in good time the necessary evidence would be found, he was certain of that.

Nick might now do one of two things.

One was to remain in the basement, and get to the sailor after he had been dumped down the shaft. Wounded and in fear of death, the man would be likely to tell all he knew about the diamond robbery.

The other was to force his way out of the basement and take the sailor with Patsy into custody. This man probably knew as much of the affair as the other.

After studying the matter over, Nick decided to remain and assist the sailor out of the den he was in. The other man might prove sullen and refuse to talk after being placed under arrest. Besides, humanity prompted the detective to help the wounded sailor. Only that such a course would[89] have placed Hartley on his guard and defeated all his plans, Nick would have beaten down the door and rushed to the rescue of the sailor then and there. In fact, this was his first idea, but he quickly saw that to do so would be to imperil the success of the case.

But it was not entirely in the hope of recovering the diamonds that the detective decided to remain where he was.

There might be peril in remaining, but there were things to be cleared up of more importance than the recovery of the diamonds.

The sailor might be able to throw some light on the strange murder of Alvin Maynard.

At least he would be able to tell how the diamonds had been secured, and to explain the situation in the house at the time of his visit.

He was positive that the robbers had not passed beyond Anton’s room, and he wanted an account of what had taken place there.

There were many things to be explained, and the sailors were the only ones who would be apt to tell the truth.

Presently a noise like that made by dragging a[90] heavy body over the floor came from the private room just over Nick’s head.

The paid assassin of the diamond merchant was about to complete his task.

Just at this moment the workmen employed at the front of the basement extinguished their light and went away. Their departure gave Nick an opportunity to work out a plan which had been forming in his brain.

The sailor was undoubtedly badly wounded now, and would, of course, be still further hurt by a long drop into the sub-basement.

Nick wanted to get at the man while he was in good shape—while he could talk of the events of the previous night.

A long board lay on one of the packing boxes, and the detective took this and carried it to the shaft.

“I’ll switch the victim off their trunk line to death or insanity,” thought Nick, “if my usual luck will hold for a few minutes.”

The board was wide as well as long, and perfectly smooth on one side. Bracing one end against the wall of the shaft opposite the door,[91] the detective placed the other against a heavy box, which he dragged up to the dark doorway.

“Now, my cunning friends,” he mused, “your sailor will strike this slanting board when you dump him into the shaft and be shunted into this basement. I hope they will dump him in without throwing a flash of light into the shaft. That might spoil everything, as it would disclose the presence of the board and might make it necessary for me to do a little shooting.”

Satisfied as to the utility of his plan, the detective stood in the open doorway, and waited. Before long he heard a sound at the trapdoor above, and a gleam of light appeared. Nick almost held his breath. If they should take a notion to look down the shaft, his plans would be ruined. But they did not. It was a gruesome place at best, and the associations were probably far from pleasant, so they just lifted the trap in the floor above and threw the sailor down.

Nick knew by the movements above, plainly heard as being directly over his head, that the man had been taken from the rear room to the hall and there disposed of. It was pitch dark in the[92] basement, so those above could not see that the door was open.

In a second the unconscious man came tumbling down, and Nick stood ready to direct the fall into the basement where he stood. The man struck the plank, which gave a trifle under the weight, and slid swiftly toward the door. There was not room on either side of the plank to fall off.

“This is great business for the heart of New York City,” thought Nick, as he caught the sailor in his arms. “Now, I wonder how badly this man is injured?”

He flashed a gleam from his flash on the man’s face, which was covered with blood, and saw that his eyes were opening. Then the man raised his head and tried to speak. The detective lifted him higher and bent his ear to catch the sound.

“There was no killin’,” the man muttered.

“But the man up there is dead,” whispered Nick, in the man’s ear. “Who did the killing?”

“We did not,” was the faint reply.

“Where did you get the diamonds?” asked Nick, seeing that the man had been fatally[93] wounded by the savage blow of the bully, and could not last much longer.

“We watched an’ got them from——”

That was all. It was only a dead man that lay in the detective’s arms. The sailor had died with the secret on his lips, when one more word would have set everything straight.

There was now but one thing for the detective to do, and that was to reach Patsy and the other sailor, and take the latter into custody. He was guilty only of robbery, and might be induced to tell the truth by promises of leniency. Besides, he would doubtless be greatly enraged at the murder of his companion, and this might cause him to relate not only the events of the night at the Maynard house, but also the deal with Hartley. For the murder of the sailor, Hartley and the bully could be called to account later.

Nick ascended the stairs to the rear room, listened at the door, opened it a trifle, and looked inside. There was no one there, and the only light came through a transom over the door leading to the store. Crossing the room softly, Nick came to a door opening into the hall. It was through[94] this doorway that the sailor had been carried on the way to the shaft.

Nick lifted the trap and looked down. All was dark and still below, and a swirl of foul air came up into his face. His flash showed the board to be in position.

“I came near making a blunder there,” he mused. “If they see that they will know that their secret is known, and flee. I must go back.”

The detective hastened to the basement, returned the board to the place from which it had been taken, and arranged the body so as to give the impression that it had fallen through the doorway instead of proceeding down the shaft. Then he opened a door leading to the sub-basement, left the door to the store floor open, and passed on to the hall again.

“They will never suspect that the sailor did not fall into the first basement,” he thought, “and they may believe that I found my way out of the place where they dumped me, or thought they dumped me. However, we must get the bully under lock and key as soon as possible. It is the electric[95] chair for him. Hartley must be watched until we know more about the diamond deal.”

At the rear of the hall in which Nick now found himself, a staircase led to the second floor. As Nick started to ascend it in the darkness, a man came rushing down and almost fell over him. Nick quickly stepped aside, and the fellow, who was panting as from a long run or a struggle, passed on to the door of the rear room, and entered.

While Nick waited, wondering if it was now safe to attempt the ascent of the stairs, there was a rush of feet in the store in front and angry voices came to the ears of the listener.

“I tell you he came in here,” Nick heard a voice say. “You’ve hidden him somewhere.”

“Some street row,” thought Nick.

All was still on the second floor when Nick reached the head of the stairs, and in a moment he was in the street. About the first person he saw there was Patsy. There was an excited crowd in front of the store, and policemen were guarding the door.

“What is it?” asked Nick.

[96]

“They did up my sailor,” was the reply. “Where is your man?”

“Dead,” was the reply. “And yours?”

“Gone to the hospital with a smash on the head that would have killed an ox,” was the reply. “I don’t think he’ll ever get over it.”

“How did it happen?” asked Nick.

“Well, we got tired of waiting for you, and came and stood in front of the shop, here. Presently a tough mug of a fellow came out and looked us over. Then he went back and whispered with the clerk, and a gray-haired man was called into the conversation. We could see them through the window, and noted that they were all very much excited.”

Nick began to understand.

“Then the tough mug came out and began picking a quarrel with us. The sailor was drunk and made a dash at him. He got a thump on the head that will hold him for a long time, I reckon, and then the tough came at me. I gave him one in the eye, and he turned and ran away. I think he went up the stairway, but the mob says he went into the store.”

[97]

“He is probably cursing the clerk good and plenty by this time,” said Nick. “I figure it out that the clerk thought he dumped the other sailor’s partner when he dumped me, and so imagined that both were provided for. Then, when the bully saw the other one on the street with you, he understood that something must be done, for he knew too much about the diamond deal, and would be making inquiries for his partner, who had entered this place not long before.”

“And his partner is dead?” asked Patsy.

“Dead down there in the cellar,” said Nick.

“And the bully thought that both parties to the diamond deal were down there, all safe and beyond the power of harm?”

“That is about it.”

“Well,” said Patsy, “if one is dead, the rascals are safe for a time, all right, for the other will not be out of the hospital for a long time, and may not know his own name when he does come out. He got a fierce smash on the front of the head.”

“It was evidently the purpose to craze the man,” said Nick. “That seems to be a cheerful way these fellows have. Well, this leaves us in[98] bad shape. I know now that the two sailors took the diamonds from the Maynard house, but I don’t know where the diamonds are any more than I did an hour ago. Again, these men might have thrown some light on the murder of Alvin Maynard. That is now impossible, for one is dead and the other may never regain his senses.”

“This man Hartley seems to be playing a close game,” said Patsy. “Dumped you, did they?”

Nick explained very briefly what had taken place in Hartley’s establishment.

“So the diamonds are actually lost?” asked Patsy.

“It seems so,” was the reply. “The sailors got them, in what manner I hope soon to learn, and turned them over to the agent. The agent put them in his trunk in their presence and checked them to New York. When the trunk got to Hartley’s the diamonds were gone, and a counterfeit package lay in the trunk. And it seems that both the sailor and the agent went to Hartley for their pay, which they would not have done if they had played him false. It is a great mix-up, and the finding of the men who took the diamonds from[99] the house seems to have little bearing on the finding of the man who killed Alvin Maynard.”

“There must be some common-sense solution,” said Patsy.

“I have thought,” said Nick, “that the sailors took from the house a package supposed to contain the diamonds, but I can’t imagine them traveling to the station and turning over what they had to the agent without knowing whether they had the gems or not. They would not trust to appearances—such men never do.”

“Chick may learn something up at the Maynard house,” suggested Patsy.

“In the meantime,” said Nick, “we ought to get our hand on that bully and lock him up. But this should be done without letting Hartley know that he has been arrested. Now, I am going up to the Maynard house to-night, and I want you to manage the arrest of the bully. String a line of men around the whole block, if necessary, but get him! I’ll be back in the morning. And, when you arrest the fellow, don’t let him communicate with any one. Hartley would make a jump for liberty that might give us a long chase.”

[100]

It was eight o’clock when the detective left a train at the little suburban railroad station. Chick stood on the platform waiting for him.

“What’s the news?” asked the chief.

“Unless I am much mistaken,” was the reply, “the diamonds are still about the house. If they are not, there are a lot of lunatics up there.”

“For instance?”

“Well, Mrs. Maynard seems to have recovered from her fits. At any rate, she sits in the parlor and watches Anton every minute of the time. If he goes to his room she makes an errand upstairs. If he goes out into the grounds she is not far away.”

“Go on,” said Nick.

“And Anton seems to be keeping his eye on the maid, Bernice. He goes where she is as often as he decently can, and once I heard them quarreling in the shrubbery.”

“Then you think Mrs. Maynard suspects Anton?”

“I don’t know if she suspects him of the robbery and the murder, but I believe she thinks he knows all about the events of that night. You[101] know she was about the house herself, and took the diamonds from the trunk.”

“That is the way we figured it out this morning,” said Nick, thinking of the girl Anton had inquired for at the depot.

“I guess that is settled,” said Chick.

“Nothing is settled until the case is ended,” replied Nick. “For instance, you speak of the diamonds being here in the house at this moment. What if I tell you that I heard a man admit taking them and turning them over to one of Hartley’s agents?”

“Is that a fact?” asked Chick, in surprise.

Nick then related, in brief, the story of the afternoon’s work.

“Here is the mystery,” said Chick. “How did the men get the diamonds? They did not penetrate the house farther than the west room. Who gave them the gems, then? And who killed Alvin Maynard? Again, the burglars were not in a position to do it! They never got to that front room. Were there two sets of criminals in the house last night, each acting with a different purpose in view?”

[102]

Nick smiled, but attempted no explanation.

He had his own notion about things, but he was not ready to tell the story of the crime, even to his assistant.

The detectives were now walking side by side under the orchard trees, perhaps fifty yards back of the house. They had followed the track taken in the morning.

It was a moonlight night, but there were heavy banks of clouds in the sky, and now and then the landscape was in darkness.

“Here we are at the path leading to the house,” said Nick, “and we may as well find out what Charley Maynard is thinking of. How does he take the loss of his diamonds now that the excitement has worn off?”

“Like the sensible fellow that he is,” was the reply. “And it has been discovered that he is not broke if he never gets the diamonds. He was Alvin’s favorite, and the old man was rich. Charley gets a couple of millions.”

“Then he can well afford to take the matter coolly,” said Nick, “for——”

But the sentence was never finished.

[103]

Two revolver shots came from a thicket in the orchard.

Then, in the moonlight, two spiral puffs of smoke crept upward.

It was a close call, but the bullets did no harm.


[104]

CHAPTER VII.
AT FOUR O’CLOCK.

“That was going some,” said Chick coolly.

Nick did not wait to make reply. He rushed the thicket whence the shots had come, but arrived too late to find the would-be murderer there. When Chick reached the spot, he found his chief down on his knees examining the earth, lantern in hand.

As the assistant came up, Nick shut off the flash, and moved away from the spot.

“Now,” said Chick, “that shows that there are people about here who are implicated in the happenings of last night. They evidently think we are getting too inquisitive.”

Nick walked on toward the house without making reply. He was thinking fast. Once more his clues were pointing in a contrary direction.

“Those shots were intended to defend the murderer and not the diamond thief,” he mused. “Now, I wonder if the people up here have fallen into my trap?”

[105]

Arrived at the house, Nick and Chick, after a moment’s conversation with Mrs. Maynard and Charley, proceeded to the second floor of the mansion. Nick stopped at the head of the stairs with a smile on his face. The stairs and the halls had been swept and washed during the day, thus removing every trace of the record left by naked feet the night before.

Nick hastened to the closet in Anton’s room. When he came out again, the smile on his face had broadened. His next move was to visit the hallway used by the servants in reaching the rooms over the main part of the house. This, too, had been cleaned, and tiny marks which Nick had observed on the door in the morning had been obliterated. In one place the paint had been partially rubbed from the door casing in scrubbing off a stain. The detective turned toward the lower part of the house.

“The case up here is closed,” he said.

Chick opened his eyes, but said nothing.

Nick went to the back end of the house and asked for Bernice.

“She’s gone,” said one of the servants.

[106]

“Gone where?”

“To the city,” was the reply.

Nick smiled and turned away. He remembered distinctly of having caught a glimpse of the girl at one of the upper windows just before entering the orchard, perhaps five minutes before the shooting.

“She went away two hours ago,” said the servant, a young girl who seemed devoted to the maid. “I saw her take the train.”

Nick thought he knew why the girl had been hiding in the house, and why she had instructed the servant to tell of her departure. He turned to his assistant.

“Bernice may try to take the next train,” he said. “Now, I want to talk with her before she gets off, and I wish you would watch the depot and see that she remains here at least until morning.”

“But she has already gone,” said Chick.

“You may find her hiding about the station,” said Nick. “The girl is frightened half to death. Anton thinks she has the diamonds.”

“I don’t understand,” said Chick, but Nick[107] would talk no more, so the assistant set out to the depot.

Nick then asked for Mrs. Maynard, and together they ascended to the maid’s room. The old lady was trembling violently, and it was with difficulty that Nick got her into the room. The results of the interview were far-reaching.

“Where is Bernice?” asked the old lady, at the close of the talk.

“She is waiting to get to New York,” was the reply.

“Yes, she asked permission to go, some time in the afternoon,” said the old lady, “and it was granted. The poor girl is half crazed.”

Nick smiled and escorted Mrs. Maynard back to the parlor.

“The case is clearing,” he thought. “If I only had a line on the whereabouts of the diamonds!”

At this moment Charley Maynard entered the parlor, which Nick was about to leave.

“There are strange doings about here,” he said. “Who did the shooting?”

“All in good time,” said Nick. “There is little use in discussing suspicions.”

[108]

“Do you think the diamonds are still in this house?” asked the young man.

“I know that they are not,” was the reply.

In a few words Nick explained the events of the afternoon in the city. Charley gave an exclamation of vexation.

“If the sailors stole the diamonds,” he said, “and gave them to the agent, and some one unknown and untraceable stole them from the agent, what chance do I have of ever getting them back? If the sailors, who were in the house for a felonious purpose, did not murder my uncle, who did? I think we are further from the end of the case than when we began.”

“If I have my usual luck,” replied Nick, “you shall hear the end of the case before another sunrise.”

“Then you must know exactly what you are doing,” said Charley. “I am sure that no one else does.”

“Right you are,” replied Nick. “There is one chance in two that I have located the diamonds. Be patient until the time for the disclosure comes.”

[109]

Charley went grumbling off to his room, and Nick sat on the porch or wandered about in the moonlight until three o’clock. Then he went toward the station, taking a roundabout path. He had heard nothing from Chick since he had left the house early in the evening.

The detective did not go straight to the station, but stopped in a thicket of evergreens that bordered a fence not far from the little railroad house. From his hiding place he had a full view of the back of the building, and also of the window of the little store under which so many things had taken place the night before. As Nick lay down to await the arrival of the train, Chick crept up and laid a hand on his arm.

“I saw you coming,” he said. “What’s new up at the house?”

“The end of the case lies here,” said Nick. “We have done with the house end of the murder and the robbery.”

“Well, you’ve got me guessing,” said Chick.

“Did the maid show up?” asked Nick.

“She’s hanging about in the shrubbery somewhere. Why should she do that?”

[110]

“She’s afraid she’ll be arrested for doing the shooting, and for other things,” said Nick.

“She do the shooting!” said Chick. “Impossible!”

“Don’t form conclusions, yet,” said Nick.

“It appears to me that you are doing that very thing,” said Chick.

“The girl hasn’t seen you, has she?” asked Nick.

“I think not. I have not been out in the open, and she has usually been between me and the station. She’s shy of being seen, I can tell you that.”

“Now,” said Nick, “the train is coming. Move down to the front, keeping out of sight, and get where you can see the whole length of the line of cars. If a man gets off, you follow him, but keep out of sight. If I point to any person who gets on the train, jump aboard and arrest him before the arrival at New York.”

“If the girl joins him?” asked Chick. “I presume that is what all this means.”

“The girl will not join him,” was the reply. “She may try to, but she will not succeed.”

[111]

“Who is this man?” asked Chick.

Nick laughed.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “I don’t know that there is any man. The girl may be waiting here to sneak away on the train, though it seems strange that she would wait until this hour, when early trains stop here. A girl met a man here last night, and she may meet him again to-night. It looks to me as if that girl was Bernice. We shall soon know if I have doped the case wrong. Here comes the train.”

Chick glided through the shrubbery, and came out at the front of the locomotive, keeping under the headlight. By moving about a little he could see along both sides of the line of cars. Presently he saw a man step off the smoking-car platform, on the side opposite the station. He dodged the lighted windows and ducked away to the right, where a patch of bushes hid a view of the field beyond. Chick was not far behind him. He was wondering if Nick was prepared for this, but in a moment he understood.

Bernice came out of the copse to meet the man,[112] and a rustle of bushes off to the right told Chick that his chief was there, observing the interview.

Chick could not get near enough to hear what was being said, but it looked to him as if Nick was better placed. As the starting bell rang, Chick saw the man take something from his purse and pass it over to Bernice.

Then the man moved toward the train, with the girl facing in the same direction.

Chick then saw his chief rise up out of the bushes and point to the man who was making for the train. As the fellow sprang upon the lighted platform, Chick mounted the steps of the now moving train, and took a seat in the smoker. He was bound to obey orders, though he knew little of the significance of his own actions.

As the train moved off, Bernice skirted the station building and started off toward the house at a swift walk. Nick, who had heard considerable of the girl’s talk with the man, followed close behind her.

Arriving on the house grounds, she passed around to the kitchen door, which was opened at her knock. Some one had evidently been waiting[113] for her. Nick moved up to a window, and looked in. The servant girl he had before talked with stood in front of the maid, a lighted lamp in her hand. The maid’s hand bag lay on a table between them.

As Nick waited, the girls moved into the pantry, as if to get a luncheon, and Nick hastened back to the door, which he found unfastened.

The lamp was still in the pantry when the detective opened the outer door and looked into the kitchen. He crept in, seized the hand bag, and hastened out again.

Stationing himself at the window again, Nick saw the girls leave the pantry.

“I thought I heard a noise out here,” said Bernice.

“It was the wind,” said the girl, offering the usual threadbare explanation.

Bernice approached the table.

“Where is my hand bag?” she asked.

“I haven’t got it,” was the reply.

“You saw me lay it here?”

“Yes.”

“Some one has stolen it,” said the maid, terror[114] showing in her face. “Have you seen Anton about here to-night?”

“He has not been here,” was the reply. “Do you think he would steal it?”

“I am sure of it,” replied the maid. “Oh, what shall I do? It means ruin to lose that hand bag now!”

“You can buy another,” said the girl stupidly.

“But the contents!” cried the maid. “I can’t replace them!”

“Shall I go to Anton’s room and see if he is there?” asked the girl.

“Yes—no! Oh, what shall I do? Perhaps I had better go myself.”

Bernice moved away, followed by the servant, and Nick opened the kitchen door again, and entered. He followed the girls through the dining room into a hall from which ran the stairs connecting with the servants’ hall on the second floor.

Bernice mounted the stairs and soon stood at the door which opened into the main hall, which ran in front of the room where the murder had been committed.

[115]

“I can’t bear to go in there,” Nick heard her whisper.

“The body is not there,” said the servant. “It is in the large room back of the library, and the watchers are there with it.”

Bernice opened the door and started in. Then she shrank back, and said to the girl:

“You go, Nancy, and see if there is a light in Anton’s room.”

The girl returned presently, and said that there was a light there.

“Then you remain here,” said Bernice, “and I’ll go and see him. Don’t you stir until I return. Oh, what shall I do?”

Nick heard the girl sobbing convulsively for a moment after she was left alone. He waited no longer.

He advanced to where the girl stood, lamp in hand, and said:

“Go and awake your mistress and ask her to come to the parlor.”

“But I was told to remain here,” said the loyal servant.

“Bernice will be down in a moment,” said Nick.

[116]

As he spoke, the door of Anton’s room opened, and the young man and the maid looked out.

“What’s wanted?” asked Anton.

“You are wanted in the parlor, both of you,” replied Nick. “Go on, little girl, and tell your mistress to come.”

“What does this mean?” asked Bernice.

“Come to the parlor and find out,” replied Nick, stepping to the door of the room occupied by Charley and knocking on the panels.

“Wake up, Charley,” he cried, “and come to the parlor. Your diamonds have been found. Oh, you are dressed!” added Nick, opening the door. “I thought you went to bed to get some sleep!”

“Sleep!” cried the young man; “I have been watching that door all night!”

He pointed to Anton’s door.

“You have?” cried Anton. “Why should you watch my door?”

“Never mind that,” said Nick. “The truth is out, and the story will be told in the parlor. You watched the wrong door, Charley.”

A few moments later an interesting group assembled in the great parlor of the Maynard country[117] house. Mrs. Maynard, Bernice, the small servant girl, Charley Maynard, and Anton, with the detective, constituted the party.

Bernice was deadly pale. Her eyes glared strangely about the room, and her hands trembled violently. Anton took a chair at her side, and seemed anxious to restore her self-command.

Mrs. Maynard looked with averted eyes at the couple. Charley was cool, as usual, but his eyes were fixed reprovingly on the maid.

“You stated that the diamonds had been found,” he said, turning to Nick. “I have suspected all along that they never left the house.”

“Is that the reason why you watched Anton’s door to-night?” asked Nick.

“It is,” was the reply.

Anton sprang excitedly to his feet.

“Remain quiet,” said Nick. “There is no need of temper here.”

“The coward!” cried Anton. “To insult me here in the presence of my mother!”

“You were wrong in supposing that the diamonds were in the house,” said Nick to Charley.[118] “They were removed by two burglars last night, and are now in New York.”

“Have the burglars been caught?” asked Anton eagerly.

“They have,” was the reply.

“And have confessed?” asked Charley.

Anton sank back in his chair.

“I don’t believe it,” declared Bernice.

“Where are the diamonds located?” asked Charley.

Nick opened his pocketbook and took out a key to which was attached a brass tag.

“You stole my hand bag!” shouted Bernice.

Nick looked up with a smile on his face.

“One thing at a time,” he said. “Your diamonds, Charley, are now located in deposit vaults on Broadway, in box number three thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine, and this is the key thereof.”

Bernice looked like a girl about to commit murder.

“You thief!” she cried. “You stole my hand bag!”

“Yes,” replied Nick, “I did steal your hand bag.[119] It is down in the kitchen, behind the range. I have no further use for it.”

“Did you get this key from her hand bag?” demanded Charley.

Nick nodded.

“Then she stole the diamonds,” said Charley.

“You are wrong,” said the detective. “She did not steal the diamonds, but she was prepared to do so, and she concealed all knowledge of their whereabouts, for she knew this morning where they were.”

“It is false!” shouted Bernice. “Do you get us all up in the night to tell us of these things? It is all a lie!”

“You will be claiming, presently,” said Anton, “that I murdered Alvin Maynard.”

“You did,” said Nick coolly.

Again Anton sprang to his feet, but Nick lifted the muzzle of a revolver to his breast, and he sat down again.

Mrs. Maynard bowed her head and sobbed audibly. Charley moved nearer to the accused man. Bernice stared like one under a spell, first[120] at Mrs. Maynard and then at Anton, who sat with his eyes fixed reproachfully on his mother.

Nick understood the meaning of that look, and said:

“Don’t blame your mother. I knew the truth before she confessed to the scene in the dead man’s room last night.”

“You are a devil,” cried Bernice. “If I had only shot straight.”

“It would have been better for you if you had not shot at all,” said Nick, “for that was what made me certain of your complicity in the diamond robbery.”

“You lie! You lie! I know nothing about it,” shouted the girl.

“Wait,” said Nick coolly, “and I will tell the story of the robbery and the murder.”


[121]

CHAPTER VIII.
HOW IT WAS DONE.

“When the news that the diamonds were coming reached the house,” began Nick, “Anton, being without money and in debt, began figuring how the inheritance of his cousin by marriage could best be put to his own advantage.”

“That is a lie!” roared Anton.

“If you interrupt me again,” said Nick, “I’ll put the handcuffs on you. You, Anton, even went so far in your envious plotting as to speak to your mother about the diamonds being divided. Charley, you said, would not miss a few, and it would be the means of saving you from disgrace. Your mother resented the imputation on her honesty, and resolved to see that the diamonds, when they arrived, should be protected from thievery.

“The diamonds came, and your plans were not perfected. You wanted to keep your skirts clean, yet you wanted to profit by the inheritance of your friend. On the night the diamonds arrived,[122] you remained downstairs long after the others were in their rooms—all except Bernice. You did not tell me the truth when you said that you were almost the first one on the second floor that night.”

Nick then turned to the company in general as he continued:

“Seeing that whatever was done must be done at once, Anton that night confided his plans to Bernice, proposing that he get the diamonds and that she dispose of them in a way yet to be arranged. Bernice consented, and Anton went to his room to watch for a chance to steal the diamonds. In the meantime, Charley had been given a sleeping potion in his lemonade. This was done by Anton doctoring up his own and deftly changing glasses. The substitution was witnessed by Mrs. Maynard, who then began to fear not only for the safety of the gems, but also for the future of her son.

“Anton went to his room late, after arranging the details of the robbery with Bernice, and sat by his door in undress, waiting for the house to become quiet. While he sat there he heard his[123] mother leave her room and cross the hall to the apartment where the diamonds were, and where the owner was sound asleep, with the gems unprotected in an old trunk, which was not even locked. Alarmed at the thought of what might take place, Mrs. Maynard had decided to herself take charge of the diamonds for the night. Too loyal to her son to betray him, and thus put Charley on his guard, she resolved to risk her own reputation for honesty in defending the property.

“After a time Mrs. Maynard recrossed the hall to her own room, leaving her son in a frame of mind little short of desperation. All his plans had failed! Then it was that he heard the door of his stepfather’s room open. The old man, feeling that something unusual was going on, had watched the hall, and had heard his wife enter and leave Charley’s room. That day the mother had pleaded with her husband in the interest of her spendthrift son, and had been refused the money favor she asked.

“It was natural, then, that the old man should believe that his wife had become a midnight thief in order to provide her son with money. After[124] Mrs. Maynard returned to her room Mr. Maynard went there, light in hand, and in no gentle frame of mind. He found the diamonds where his wife had placed them—in a little drawer of her dresser—accused her of stealing them, refused to listen to any explanation, and carried the gems off to his own room.”

“You are an evil spirit!” gasped Bernice. “You have eyes in this house when you are away in New York.”

“Mrs. Maynard followed her husband on his return to his room,” continued Nick. “There she resented his charges, explained her purpose in taking the diamonds, and demanded their return to her custody. But she had asked for money for her son that day, and Mr. Maynard would not listen to her story. He believed that she had stolen the gems for the purpose of enriching her son at the expense of the nephew.

“After a time the woman tried to take the diamonds by force, and a struggle took place, during which she was thrown to the floor, her head striking on the corner of the lounge, inflicting the wound which she afterward ascribed to a blow[125] from the burglar. Anton, who was watching and listening in the hall, heard the fall, and entered the room just in time to see Mr. Maynard bending over his mother in a threatening attitude.

“Just before leaving his room he had used a geologist’s hammer in fixing a box in which he proposed to hide and ship the diamonds. Unconsciously he carried this hammer in his hand when he entered the front room. Seeing his mother insensible on the floor, and Mr. Maynard bending over her in an angry attitude, the young man had every right to believe that he was acting for the best, when he bounded forward and struck the man a violent blow on the head. Mr. Maynard fell dead.

“Alarmed at what he had done, the young man hastened to place the body on the bed and apply restoratives, but it was too late. He then revived his mother and carried her back to her room.

“While all these events had been going on, Bernice had been waiting at the end of the hall leading to the servants’ quarters. She was expecting that Anton would eventually bring her the box containing the diamonds. When Mr. Maynard[126] fell dead, Anton took the diamonds to his room, after a distressing interview with his mother, who was inconsolable at the death of her husband, whose last words to her had been words of anger and reproach. The mother protested without avail against the larceny of the gems. Anton was determined to profit by the events of the night.

“Anton carried the diamonds to his room and secreted them in a box in the closet. The geologist’s hammer with which the murder had been committed was placed on a shelf in the same closet, after being cleared from the marks of the blow, by wiping it on a towel which hung in the closet. This hammer has a break on one side of the striking surface, and this shows in the wound on the dead man.”

“Is all this necessary?” asked the mother, greatly distressed at the details of the killing of her husband.

“It seems to be,” was the reply. “When Anton closed his door, Bernice crept down the hall and listened. She waited there until the young man’s light was extinguished. Then she realized that[127] it was not his intention to trust her with the diamonds. You see, Anton had doubtless decided to deny everything, not knowing that the girl had been a witness of the murder.

“Then the burglars came. They had followed the diamonds from New York, and would have entered the house earlier, only that they understood that something unusual was in progress on the inside. During the absence of Anton in his stepfather’s room they had raised a ladder to a window of his room. One of them had looked through the window while Anton gloated over the diamonds.

“When the young man went to bed the burglars entered the room, not knowing that Bernice was watching at the door, of course. Anton was not sound asleep, and sprang up at the noise they made. He was instantly grappled with, and finally knocked down, though not rendered entirely unconscious, with a pair of iron knuckles. While he lay on the floor, fearing for his life, the men, who had seen him enter the closet with the diamonds, searched about and secured the gems.

“All this time Bernice was listening at the door,[128] afraid to call out for fear of inviting her own death at the hands of the burglars, resolved not to leave her post of observation, for the reason that she had not entirely given up the notion of securing the diamonds. She is a quick-witted girl, this French maid, and her brain was busy with a plan as she stood at the door in the dark hall.

“She regarded the arrival of the burglars as opportune. Their presence in the house would account for the murder and for the disappearance of the diamonds. Besides, she had a plan for securing the diamonds. When the burglars left Anton’s room, she darted through it and climbed down the ladder in pursuit. Anton, though not fully recovered, knew who it was that was passing through without stopping to offer assistance, and at once decided that Bernice was in league with the robbers, and had brought them to the house.

“Bernice followed the burglars to the railroad station. Here they met a third man, the agent of a diamond merchant, and she saw the diamonds placed in charge of the third man, locked in a trunk, and finally checked for passage on the train. I am still at a loss to know why this was[129] done, but I think the merchant considered the gems safer there than in the pocket of any one of the three men.

“Now, Bernice had a lover on the train which would carry the diamonds away, and that lover was no less a person than the baggageman in whose charge the diamonds were placed. When the train halted at the station she called him from his car, told him what was going on, and the two went to where the three men were still haggling over the disposition of the diamonds. On the way to New York this baggageman opened the trunk and stole the diamonds. The sailors believed that the agent stole them, the agent believed that the sailors gave him a counterfeit package, and Hartley, the merchant, sided with the agent. So, you see, it all made a pretty mess.

“Yesterday in New York,” continued Nick, “the baggageman stored the diamonds in a deposit vault on Broadway, and when the train came through here not long ago, he handed the key to the box to Bernice. I have it here now.”

“But the baggageman, he have escape!” cried[130] Bernice. “I have nothing to do with it all! I am free—innocent!”

At that moment Nick was called to the telephone. Before leaving the room he turned to Anton and Bernice.

“I am going to leave you here,” he said, “although both are under arrest. I don’t know but you will try to escape. If you do it will be the worse for you both. Under the circumstances, if you behave well, I am inclined to be very lenient with you. Will you remain here until I return?”

They both promised. For the first time a gleam of hope shone in Anton’s eyes.

When Nick reached the phone he found Chick at the other end.

“I have the baggageman under arrest,” said the assistant.

“What does he say?”

“He says that he did not know what the box contained.”

“That may be true. Have you found out whether the diamonds are really in the vault?” asked Nick.

[131]

“It is impossible to locate the manager to-night,” was the reply. “How are things at your end?”

“Everything lovely,” was the reply. “Come out on the first train.”

When Nick went back to the parlor he handed Charley the key to the safety box in the Broadway vaults.

“The baggageman is under arrest in New York,” explained Nick. “Perhaps you had better go down on an early train and see if the diamonds are all right. He claims that he did not know what was in the box.”

“He did not,” said Bernice. “I was not the fool to tell him.”

“You may have made a mistake in not doing so,” said Nick, “for he might have left the package about in a careless manner. You have done several injudicious things in connection with this affair,” added Nick. “When you watched us from the hall on the morning following the murder you attracted attention to yourself. When you came up and destroyed the footprints in the hall leading to the servants’ rooms, you made[132] yourself an object of suspicion. When you shot at us from the thicket in the orchard, you admitted, as plainly as words could have done, that you were deeply implicated in the robbery or the murder, or both. Under these circumstances it was natural that you should be followed to the station and your movements there noted. I saw the baggageman give you the key to the deposit box, and heard what you said to him. Your interview with him the night before was witnessed by the lunchman, although he could not hear what was said at that time. It was enough for me that you were there with him. So you see you, yourself, supplied the clues which led to the location of the gems.”

“What are you going to do with me now?” demanded the girl.

“I have done my work in the case,” replied the detective. “I have located the diamonds, and I have discovered how Alvin Maynard came to his death. The case is now in the hands of the sheriff and the State’s attorney.”

“Remember your promise to me,” interrupted Mrs. Maynard. “You promised not to be too[133] hard on my son and Bernice if I told you what I knew of the affair.”

“I shall recommend leniency,” replied Nick, “but I knew all the facts before you told me your story. The geologist’s hammer with which the blow was struck was found in Anton’s closet yesterday morning, but I did not remove it. I was not certain at that time that it was the instrument of death. During my absence in New York the young man removed it, thus showing that he had an interest in concealing clues pointing to the murderer. Again, I learned on my first inspection of the closet that the stolen diamonds had for a time been secreted in a box in the closet. One of the gems had broken away from its fastening and was found in the box. The box and the diamond were also removed during my absence. Instead of covering up his tracks, the young man was only supplying more proof against himself. I think the burglars must have seen Anton carry the diamonds to the closet on his return from the front of the house, for they appeared to have found them with little trouble.”

“Are you going to turn me over to the sheriff?”[134] asked Anton, his face deadly pale, his lips quivering, his brain whirling at the contemplation of the case against him.

“I shall be obliged to do that,” said Nick, “but I don’t see how you can be convicted of murder, for you certainly had a right to strike when you believed your mother to be in peril. Bernice will be held as accessory after the fact only, for I shall not press the charge of attempted murder, though she might have killed Chick or myself. I shall be lenient for the sake of this poor old lady.”

At this moment a knocking was heard at the door, and Charley admitted the sheriff.

“I followed a false clue,” he said to Nick. “What luck here?”

“The diamonds have been recovered in New York,” replied Nick, “and the death of Mr. Maynard is no longer a mystery. I have two prisoners here, Anton Sawtelle and Bernice. I ask you to take them into custody and keep them prisoners in this house until the State’s attorney can be consulted.”

The detective did not consider it necessary to tell the whole story to the sheriff, but the latter[135] consented to do as requested. In a few moments the house was dark, and Nick slept soundly until eight o’clock in the morning, when he was awakened by Chick.

“How are things in New York?” asked the chief.

“Both Hartley and the bully murderer are under arrest,” replied Chick, “and the sailor at the hospital is in a fair way to recover. He got a wicked blow, however.”

“They have run their course,” said Nick.

“The baggageman puts up the biggest yell,” said Chick. “He says that he did not know that there had been a robbery; that he did not know that there were diamonds in the package, and that he only did a favor for Bernice.”

“When baggagemen break open trunks as a favor to their sweethearts,” said Nick, “it is time that they were called down.”

“It was a pretty mess,” said Chick. “The burglars seemed to happen along just in time to turn suspicion from members of the household. Anton and Bernice put up the job to get the diamonds,[136] all right, but Mrs. Maynard unconsciously foiled them for the time being.”

“I think Anton must be a bad sort of a chap,” said Nick. “He would have robbed his friend of half a million.”

“I’d like to know whether the baggageman put the diamonds in the safety box,” said Chick, in a moment. “He might have opened the package, weakened at sight of so much wealth, and carried out the character of the case by putting a dummy package in the box.”

“Well,” replied Nick, “the man is under arrest, but, for all that, it would not be so easy to again locate the diamonds.”

That morning the case was laid before the State’s attorney, and Anton and Bernice were taken to the county jail.

The diamonds were found in the safety vault, and Charley recommended leniency in the case of the baggageman, who was charged with breaking baggage confided to his care. It proved to be the fact that he did not know what was in the trunk, and that he had been made to believe that Bernice had the right to have it opened.

[137]

The wounded sailor recovered, and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary for breaking and entering. His sentence was made light because he testified willingly against Hartley. He said that they had followed the diamonds from South Africa, and had applied to Hartley for funds immediately upon their arrival in New York.

The one thing the sailor would not talk about was as to how they were able to interest Hartley in the venture in so short a time. They arrived on the vessel with the gems they were after, and in an hour’s time they were working under the instructions of the diamond merchant. This part of the case was a mystery to all.

Nick Carter was abroad at the time of the trial and sentence. Hartley, too, remained silent on this one point, even after he had received a sentence at Sing Sing, and the bully had been sent to the electric chair for the murder done at the store.

“It was one of the strangest cases I ever handled,” said Nick, after the matter was closed. “I came near getting a broken head there in the diamond store, but my usual luck protected me.[138] There is one point, however, that I would like to see cleared up.”

“About how the sailors and Hartley got together so quickly?”

“That’s it. I have my suspicions, but they are vague.”

“Has Charley Maynard disposed of his diamonds?” asked Chick.

“He has not,” was the reply. “I wish he would,” added the detective soberly, “for it is not safe to have such a fortune in so small a parcel. The diamonds were followed from Africa. Who knows whether the leaders in the conspiracy have given up hope of securing them? Those sailors never put up that job.”

“I think I understand what your suspicions are regarding the combination between Hartley and the sailors, made in an hour,” said Chick.

“Well,” said Nick, “it is the young man’s own affair. I have advised him, but he only laughs at me.”

“Past experiences should teach him better,” said Chick, and so it would seem.


[139]

CHAPTER IX.
MAYNARD’S FOLLY.

But past experiences did not prove of any advantage to Maynard, who still kept the diamonds in his possession, greatly to the surprise of his chum, Henry Townsend.

“Do you mean that you have with you over half a million dollars in diamonds—here on the Bowery at midnight?” asked Townsend, one night as they sat in a popular café in the Bowery.

“That is the situation.”

“I had an idea that the gems you were handling so carelessly were paste.”

“Not a bit of it. They are the real thing.”

“Your entire collection?”

“The same.”

“Then you are running a fearful risk, especially when the nature of our visit to this part of the city is considered. How many members of the dramatic club know that you are carrying the diamonds in your pocket to-night?”

[140]

“All of them, I take it. The gems were much admired.”

“Then you’re a fool, Maynard. Why, it’s simply tempting Providence. You alarm me.”

The men were taking a light luncheon in a rear room of the café. They had attended a dress rehearsal of a play soon to be presented in the interest of charity by a dramatic club of which they were both members.

They were now waiting at the Bowery café for the arrival of an acquaintance, one Julius Mantelle by name, who was to conduct them to a private interview with a female fortune teller over whom the city was at that time in a craze.

The appointment had been made that evening during the rehearsal already mentioned, and was for two o’clock at the woman’s rooms, not far from the place where the young men waited.

“I wish you hadn’t mentioned the diamonds,” said Maynard presently. “You have about spoiled my evening. It makes me nervous, now that you mention them, to think of their being here at this time.”

[141]

“I should think it would,” said Townsend. “How did you come to do it?”

“Oh, they are to be used during the play, you know, and this was the last full-dress rehearsal, so I carried them down. Then, during the rehearsal, this appointment was made, unexpectedly, as you know, and I had to bring the gems with me or leave them there with the other properties.”

“They would have been safer there,” urged Townsend. “We don’t know what sort of a game we are going up against at the den of this African fortune teller. She is a mystery to the police, and is surrounded by a lot of servants who would, I actually believe, even do murder for her. We don’t even know Mantelle, who made the appointment for us at the hour of two in the morning—an unusual time, to say the least. Yes, I know! He seems to have plenty of money, and is a good entertainer, but what else do we know about him? It will never answer, Maynard. You must get rid of those diamonds before we go to that woman’s den.”

“But how?”

[142]

“Let me carry them to the nearest respectable hotel and have them placed in the vault.”

“Oh, I need not trouble you to do that. I can go myself.”

“But it is a risk for you to go,” said Townsend. “If you have been watched or followed, you would never get to the hotel, while no one would suspect me of having the diamonds. Pass them over while no one is in the room with us.”

“Pshaw!” cried Maynard. “You are making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“I have heard it said,” continued Townsend, “that blood never washes off a diamond. The first night these gems were in America your uncle was murdered. A fine record those diamonds have! Come, let me be off with them—that is, if you can trust me with half a million.”

“If you think it is as serious as all that,” said Maynard, “I’ll let you have them, but it looks like we were getting frightened at nothing. To be sure, Anton and Bernice were sentenced to short terms on the recommendation of Nick Carter, and are now both out. I saw Anton yesterday, but he[143] came to the home of his mother, and made all sorts of promises for the future.”

“And where is Bernice?”

“She did not return to Aunt Maynard. I think, however, that Anton knows where she is, and will assist her if he succeeds in getting money from his mother.”

“I don’t like the pair,” said Townsend, “any more than I like the circumstances of the night. You certainly must get rid of the diamonds.”

“I suppose so, but how? If we really are in danger, it is not safe for you to take them. Suppose we call a cab and both go to the Wisconsin? That’s rather a neat little hotel over on Broadway.”

“No, you remain here, and I’ll walk there. You must see the necessity of not seeming to be going away for a purpose.”

“All right, then. Here are the diamonds. Hurry back.”

Young Maynard passed a rather bulky package to Townsend, and the latter hurried away. At the door of the room he paused and turned back.

[144]

“I’ll go to the Wisconsin first,” he said, “and if there is no chance there, I’ll go on up Broadway. You wait until I return.”

Townsend closed the door and walked through the outer room to the street. As he did so, a dark, lithe, muscular man of perhaps thirty years, who had been standing at the cigar case for a moment, stepped to the street door and spoke a few words to a man standing there. Then he turned to the cigar case again, and as he did so was accosted by a young man as dark and as sinister of face as himself.

“Well?” asked the elder man.

“The young fellow took them off with him.”

“Where?”

“To a hotel.”

“I see,” said the other. “To the Wisconsin. Get a cab—quick.”

“But the night is dark, and he is walking.”

“Never mind that now. Get a cab, pick up Number Two at the corner, and drive quickly to the Wisconsin. Number Two knows what to do on arrival.”

The young man hastened away, and the other[145] paid for a package of cigars he had ordered and took his departure.

Young Maynard waited half an hour for the return of his friend, but he did not come. As he was about to go in search of him, Julius Mantelle entered the room.

“I am late,” said the fresh arrival, throwing himself into a chair and ringing for an attendant. “I met a friend out here, and he steered me up against a jolly bunch that just let go of me. Where is Townsend?”

“He was called away,” replied Maynard, becoming every instant more anxious for his friend. “I am expecting him every moment.”

When the attendant arrived, Julius ordered brandy and cigars, and set out to make himself at home. He was a man of sallow skin and slender build. His eyes were dark and dull in repose, but they flashed like those of a snake under excitement. His nose was broad at the nostrils, his lips were thick, his hair jet black, and curly. He spoke English with a slight French accent. Maynard had known him only a few weeks, having met him at the house of a mutual acquaintance.[146] From that first day Mantelle had seemed to court the acquaintance and companionship of the young millionaire.

“Townsend is late,” said Mantelle presently. “We shall miss the appointment.”

Maynard could hardly retain his seat in his chair. He was fearful that his friend had come to some injury in his service. Surely, he had been absent long enough to have executed his commission twice over. He was not thinking of the appointment. He was wondering how he could obtain news of his friend without exciting curiosity of the man sitting there.

“Shall we go without him?” asked Julius, after a time.

“By no means,” was the reply. “I shall wait for a few minutes, and then look him up if he does not return.”

“In that case,” said the other, “we may as well call the appointment off. I am confoundedly sleepy, anyway. See you to-morrow.”

Mantelle went away, and Maynard sprang for the phone. Two millions in diamonds would have[147] appeared as small to him as did the half million involved when it came to a question of the safety of his friend. He began to understand now that he had made an awful mistake in carrying the diamonds about with him.

At the phone he called up the Wisconsin Hotel, asking for the clerk. When that rather important individual was on the wire Maynard asked:

“Was there a young man there within the hour asking to leave a package in the safe until morning?”

“No,” came the short reply.

Maynard gave a brief description of his friend’s personal appearance, and asked:

“Was such a person there for any purpose?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did he make his business known?”

“He immediately went to one of the rooms in response to a call left at the desk for him,” was the answer.

Maynard experienced a feeling of relief, but only for a moment.

“Is he there still?” he then asked.

[148]

“He came down almost immediately, and went away,” was the reply.

Maynard hung up the receiver, his face white and drawn. There was still much information to be asked at the hotel, but not by phone.

“Something has happened,” he thought. “Townsend may be dead, for all I know. It was a horrible mistake to permit him to go away alone with the diamonds. Why should he go to a room at the Wisconsin and leave immediately? Why should he keep me here in suspense when he understood how anxious I was as to the result of his mission? I can never solve the problem alone. I wonder if it is possible to reach Mr. Carter to-night? I wonder if he will come?”

The excited young man called the detective’s private number and waited with wildly beating heart. Presently a response came over the wire.

“Is Mr. Carter there?” he asked.

“Talking,” was the reply, much to Maynard’s relief.

In a few words Maynard explained the exact situation.

“I may be unnecessarily alarmed,” he said, “but[149] I feel that something ought to be done at once. Can you come?”

“Immediately,” was the prompt response, and Maynard hung up the receiver to walk and worry until the detective laid a hand on his shoulder.


[150]

CHAPTER X.
A FATAL ERRAND.

“Now tell me about it,” said Nick, as soon as they had gained the seclusion of a private room.

Maynard told the story of the night, not sparing himself in the least.

The detective looked very grave.

“Is it serious?” asked the young man.

“I am afraid so,” was the reply, “but hope for the best. We can do nothing here, so we may as well go to the Wisconsin at once.”

While Maynard was cheered by the presence of the great detective, he realized that Nick’s willingness to respond to his call meant that the detective feared more than the loss of the diamonds. He would hardly have left his bed at that hour simply for the purpose of recovering diamonds which had been carelessly lost track of.

Arrived at the hotel, the detective made himself known to the clerk, that being the surest way of securing the attention he required. The clerk[151] was at once all smiles, ready to answer all questions, to do anything in his power to accommodate the famous detective, whose appearance at the hotel was forever afterward spoken of as a notable event.

“First,” said Nick, “we must learn whether it was really Townsend who came here. Describe the young man you have reference to.”

“Medium build,” began the clerk; “brown hair, light mustache, blue eyes, Roman nose, very fair complexion.”

“That is the man,” said Maynard.

“Wait,” said Nick. “How was he dressed?”

“Suit of blue basket cheviot, sack coat, vest cut high, dark-brown derby hat, wing collar, blue four-in-hand tie with red threads in it, small diamond pin on the tie, long cuffs with amethyst buttons, diamond ring on the little finger of the left hand.”

“That was Townsend,” said Maynard.

“You ought to have been a detective,” said Nick to the clerk. “Now show us to the room to which he was taken.”

“But the message which called him to the[152] room,” suggested Maynard. “What about that? Who sent it, and from what place was it sent?”

“That we may learn of the man whom he visited,” said Nick, and the three took the elevator to the third floor. The halls were well lighted, but seemed deserted, and they were alone in the elevator, with the exception of the boy operator.

“The man who took the room seems to be awake,” said the clerk, pointing to the transom over the door of room 43. “There is a light inside.”

The clerk knocked on the panel of the door, but there was no response.

“Perhaps he is asleep,” said the clerk. “I’ll try him again.”

There was no response to the second summons, and the detective took out his picklock. In a moment the door flew open.

Nick stepped inside, then turned and faced Maynard in the doorway. His face was paler than usual, but there was no excitement in his manner.

“Wait a moment,” he said to the young man.[153] “Prepare yourself for a shock before you step into the room.”

“Who is there?” whispered Maynard, who seemed to have lost the power of loud speech. “Is he ill?”

The clerk brushed by the two men, and advanced to a table which stood at the centre of the room, and at which a figure clad only in white underclothing was half sitting, half lying, with arms resting on the top.

“Ill!” cried the clerk, in a tone of horror. “The man is dead!”

Maynard sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. He knew only too well the form at the table. Nick turned to the clerk, and asked:

“Is this the young man who was summoned to this room by a call?”

“Yes,” was the hoarse reply.

“But you stated that he left the hotel almost immediately.”

“Some one left,” was the horrified reply, “and that some one wore the clothes I described to you. See! This young man has been stripped, and[154] there are the clothes of the man who made the exchange!”

There could be no doubt about it. The dead man at the table was Townsend.

The grief of Maynard was pitiful.

“If I had only taken my chances with the diamonds,” he muttered. “Poor Townsend, to come to this at last! It was all my fault, Mr. Carter. I sent him to his death!”

“The diamonds!” echoed the clerk. “Does this mean robbery as well as murder?”

“That remains to be seen,” replied the detective.

As Nick spoke, he lifted from the floor a small square of oiled silk, red in color. He held it up for the inspection of Maynard.

“Were the diamonds wrapped in this?” he asked.

Maynard nodded.

“That is only part of the wrapping,” he said.

“Were the diamonds of great value?” asked the clerk.

“Half a million,” was the short reply. Nick now regarded the jewels as a small part of the[155] case. The thing to do was to locate and punish the murderer of Henry Townsend.

The clerk stepped back in wonder.

“He should have left them in the safe,” he said.

“That is what he came here to do,” said the detective. “Now, before the coroner or the police are notified, I must search this room for some clue to the identity of the murderer. But first, tell me everything you know regarding the occupant of this room, the person who murdered this poor boy, and walked out of the hotel dressed in the victim’s clothes. When was the room taken?”

“Not ten minutes before the young man you call Townsend came.”

Maynard sprang to his feet.

“Then the murderer knew where Townsend was going when he set off on foot from the café—knew where he was going and what he carried, and laid a trap for him!” he cried.

“What was said?” asked Nick.

“He came to the desk and asked if any one had called for Martin Haynes. I said that there had been no such party asked for. Then he said that he had a message for a friend of his who might[156] call there during the night. If he did call, he was to be sent up to room forty-three. When Townsend came in I gave him the message, and he went up at once. I don’t know what the message was.”

“Townsend said nothing about leaving a parcel in the safe when he came in?”

“No, sir. He seemed surprised at the message, and went straight to the elevator.”

“How was the person who took this room dressed?”

“All in black, including hat, tie, and frock coat. He was a dusky sort of fellow, with black eyes and hair; just about Townsend’s size.”

“Not like Townsend in feature or complexion?”

“Not in the least,” replied the clerk slowly, with a look of perplexity growing on his face. “I can see now,” he added, “how mistaken I was in supposing that it was Mr. Townsend who left the hotel. I can’t understand, however, how I came to be so careless, for it is my duty to know what goes on here at night.”

“I presume that you did not notice the person who went out, except generally, and were deceived by the clothes worn,” said Nick.

[157]

“Of course that is it,” was the reply, “but all the same, I don’t make many mistakes like that. I couldn’t keep my job if I did.”

“And the person who engaged the room gave the name of Martin Haynes?” asked the detective.

“Yes, sir.”

“Register?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Any baggage?”

“No, sir,” replied the clerk. “He paid in advance for one night, and nothing was said about baggage.”

“Who occupied this room yesterday?”

“A young man who comes here once a week, usually Thursday. He travels for a wholesale house.”

“Does he always have this room?”

“Oh, no, sir.”

“Then he does not leave his clothing or toilet articles here?”

“He does not.”

“How long since has a woman occupied the room?”

The clerk pondered a moment.

[158]

“At least two weeks,” he replied, at length. “It may be more than that.”

“That is all for the present,” said Nick. “We’ll come down presently, and look at this Mr. Haynes’ signature on the register. By the way, was it a very stout person?”

“On the contrary, he was a very slender man,” replied the clerk.

“Mustache?” asked Nick.

“Yes, sir, a black mustache.”

“Hands large or small?”

“Quite small, sir, and sparkling with a fine ring.”

“Diamond?” asked the detective.

“Yes, sir. The real thing.”

“Send in the night elevator boy when you go out,” said Nick.


[159]

CHAPTER XI.
A STARTLING DISCOVERY.

The clerk passed out of the room with an offended air. He was loath to leave the presence of the great detective without gaining some notion as to his course of action in the murder case. The elevator boy soon made his appearance, and Nick asked:

“You have been on duty all night?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You carried a slender, dark-faced person up to this room an hour or so ago?”

“Yes, sir.”

Nick looked at his watch. The hands pointed to the hour of two.

“Can you tell me the exact time?” he asked.

“It was ten minutes past one when I left the office for the elevator,” was the reply.

“Did the person speak to you on the way up?”

“Yes, sir,” was the reply. “He asked me about the fire escape and the stairs winding about the elevator well. Seemed afraid of fire.”

[160]

“About the voice? Harsh or soft?”

“Soft and low, sir.”

“Yes, yes. And when did that person go down again?”

“I don’t know, sir. He did not go down in the cage.”

“Did you see the person going down?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you see him pass through the office?”

“No, sir. It was late, and I guess I was asleep in the elevator.”

“You saw the young man who came to this room?”

“The brown-haired one? Yes, sir.”

Nick pointed to the silent figure in the chair at the table.

The boy stepped forward and peered into the dead man’s face.

“Gee!” he cried, springing toward the door. “Why didn’t you tell me he was dead? Did that other feller kill him?”

“That is what we are trying to find out,” said Nick. “Now, when this young man came up in the elevator, did he say anything to you?”

[161]

“Yes, he asked me if I knew the party in forty-three.”

“And you?”

“I told him that I did not. I had seen him only once.”

“Is that all he said?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How did he act?”

“Queer, I thought. When he stepped out of the cage he turned back again, as if he thought of going back down with me. Once or twice he clutched his left side, up there by the inside pocket.”

“I wish he had gone down again!” cried Maynard, starting from his chair. “He lost his life by going on! Can nothing be done, Mr. Carter? Is he past all hope of recovery?”

Nick dismissed the elevator boy and turned to the agitated young man.

“Don’t give way to your emotions now,” he said. “We have much to do if the murderer is ever brought to justice and the diamonds recovered.”

“Never mind the diamonds,” said Maynard. “I[162] wish I had never set eyes on them! First my poor uncle, and now my best friend! The devil is in the diamonds! I hope I shall never see them again.”

“Are you strong enough to remain here while I take a look at the body and the room? If not, you would better sit in the office.”

“Oh, yes, I’ll remain here. Poor Henry! You don’t know what it is to lose a chum like that.”

Nick approached the body and lifted the head from the table.

There was no blood in sight.

But just over the heart was a faint stain. The detective opened the shirt and saw a tiny puncture in the breast. The dead man had been stabbed with some slender weapon. The wound was exactly over the heart.

Nick gazed long and thoughtfully at the still figure. He did not understand how the wound could have been made so exactly over the vital spot. If Townsend had resisted, such a mode of murder would have been impossible. Then a light came to the wondering detective.

[163]

He bent forward and laid his face close to that of the dead man.

“I thought so!” he then muttered.

“What is it?” asked Maynard.

“A spray of chloroform was thrown into Townsend’s face, and the wound was made while he was dazed, if not quite unconscious.”

“But if the murderer had him under the influence of the drug, why did he not permit the drug to do the work? This stabbing seems brutal and unnecessary.”

“I can’t understand that part of it myself,” said Nick. “However, we shall know more of the details before long.”

“What sort of a weapon was it?” asked Maynard. “The cut is a tiny one.”

“It might have been made with a hatpin,” said Nick.

“Men don’t carry hatpins about with them,” said Maynard.

“This murder,” replied Nick, “was committed by a woman.”

“A woman!” echoed Maynard.

“Exactly, by a woman disguised as a man.[164] That may be why the young man was dazed with a spray of chloroform before the fatal blow was struck. The woman was not strong or daring enough to take the risk of determined resistance.”

“But how do you know that it was a woman who was here? The clerk said nothing about that.”

“The clerk was deceived. See here! This blue ribbon comes from the front of a woman’s undervest. In the haste of dressing in Townsend’s clothes, the ribbon broke and she tossed it aside. There are other things that tell me it was a woman, sure enough.”

“Think of a woman doing a thing like this!” cried Maynard.

“Horrible crimes have been committed by women,” said Nick, laying the cast-off clothing of the murderer on the table and drawing up a chair.

“There is nothing in the pockets,” he finally said. “Not a blessed thing. Now for the tailor. Ah!”

“What is it?” asked Maynard, as Nick gave a start of surprise.

“The clothes,” he said, “were made in Paris[165] by Mons. Dumond. Here is the mark of the firm on the inner side of the collar. Careless thing to leave that mark here. It tells a great deal.”

“I see no name there,” said Maynard.

“Of course not,” said the detective, “but the trade-mark of the firm is here. I have seen it before under similar circumstances. Dumond makes clothes for actors; and has also been nicknamed the thieves’ tailor. In other words, he makes duplicates, imitations, disguises, and all sorts of trick garments. He is known by the better class of rascals the world over.”

“Then we can easily learn the name of the person who ordered this suit.”


[166]

CHAPTER XII.
THE HUSTLING REPORTER.

Nick smiled at the simplicity of the young man.

“Dumond has a reputation for keeping his mouth shut,” he said, “and that is the reason he has built up such a profitable business. Go to him to-morrow with this suit, trade-mark and all, and he will swear that the trade-mark is a forgery, and that he never saw the clothes before.”

“Do you think the woman came to America in quest of these diamonds?” asked Maynard.

Nick did not reply immediately. He was examining a comb and brush which lay upon a dresser at the head of the bed.

“Look here,” he finally said, turning to Maynard with the brush and comb in his hand, “the woman could not resist the temptation to primp before the mirror. And she left hairs in the brush and the comb.”

Maynard took the brush into his hand.

“What do you see there?” asked Nick.

[167]

“Not black hairs, certainly. Short red hairs.”

“Exactly.”

“But this person was dark,” insisted Maynard; “at least so described by the clerk.”

“Also described by the clerk as a man,” said Nick, with a smile.

“How do you know that these hairs were not left here by some former occupant of the room?” asked the young man.

“Because,” was the reply, “she combed her hair, after removing her black wig, before she removed her clothes. There were short red hairs on the collar of the coat she wore.”

“A red-haired woman,” mused Maynard.

“Very slender and with black eyes,” added Nick. “She couldn’t color her eyes, you know, and the clerk said they were black. We may also add a very nice white complexion.”

Nick went to the washstand in the corner of the room and pointed to a black sediment on the sides of the bowl. The piece of toilet soap which lay on the marble top was also rimmed with black. The interior of the bowl and the surface of the soap were still moist.

[168]

“There is where she washed off her face stain,” said Nick. “So we have a slender, red-haired, fair-complexioned woman, about five feet three, according to the clothes, with very small feet and hands.”

“How do you know about the feet and hands?” asked the young man.

“The woman slopped water from the bowl as she washed,” was the reply, “and it fell on the carpet and over her shoes. See, the spot where this foot stood is dry; the carpet is wet, and the dry spot represents a very small shoe.”

“We started in with a dark-complexioned male murderer,” said Maynard, “and now we have come to a fair-faced woman with red hair, and clothes made in Paris.”

“You asked me a moment ago,” said Nick, “if I thought this woman came across the Atlantic in quest of these diamonds, and I made no reply. Now, I can tell you that it is possible that she did, and that she did not come alone.”

“A conspiracy for robbery?”

“That is about the size of it, as it looks now.”

“Do you think this affair in any way connected[169] with the former larceny of the diamonds, when they were followed from South Africa?”

“There is little doubt of it,” was the reply. “Who was with you to-night besides the dead man?”

“Why, I was at rehearsal, as I told you at first. That is the way the diamonds came to be with me. They were to be used in the play, you know.”

“And the members of the club knew that you had them with you?”

“Of course. They admired them vastly.”

“And who did you talk with about them; especially, I mean?”

“Julius Mantelle, I think.”

“Who is he?”

“A recent acquaintance from Paris and a member of the club. During the rehearsal he made an appointment with me.”

“Where were you going?”

“Why, I told you about that. To the African fortune teller’s. We had a date for two o’clock, and we waited at the café, Townsend and I, for Julius to come.”

“He did not arrive until after Townsend left?”

[170]

“No. He went home with one of the ladies.”

“Had you talked with Julius, as you call him, about the African fortune teller before to-night? You mean the fortune teller out on East Houston Street?”

“Oh, yes, he had long promised to secure a private séance for Townsend and I, and to-night the chance came.”

“What do you know of Julius Mantelle?”

“Nothing.”

“Is he in business?”

“He is just a globe trotter, I think.”

“Plenty of money?”

“I think so. He never borrows.”

“How long have you known him?”

“About three months.”

“He came from Paris to New York?”

“So I am informed. That must be the clerk coming back, and there seems to be some one with him. I wonder if he called the police?”

The next moment the door was thrust open, and the clerk, accompanied by a youth of breezy manners, swung into the room. Nick looked at them[171] sternly, for he was not patient when disturbed at his work.

“What do you want?” he asked.

The young man, who was red-headed, freckled-faced, and the owner of a perennial smile, advanced toward the detective.

“I am to blame for the intrusion,” he said. “I’m a reporter, and want to know all about this murder and the loss of the diamonds. Which is Mr. Charles Maynard, and which is Mr. Nicholas Carter, the famous detective? Ah! the coroner has not been called as yet. Here is the body of the murdered man. What luck! Now, if you will stand aside, I’ll take a snapshot of it.”

The young man began arranging a camera which he carried in his coat pocket. Nick took him by the back of the neck and landed him outside the door.

“Now, keep out of here,” he said. “And you, too,” he added, turning to the clerk.

“Oh, you can’t stop the press,” shouted the reporter, pounding on the door. “I’ve got the story right here. And another one to boot. Young girl mysteriously murdered half an hour ago in[172] a tenement on East Houston Street. Beautiful girl! I took her picture.”

Nick opened the door.

“Come in here and tell me about it,” he said.

“Oh, you have thawed out, have you?” said the young man. “Well, I don’t know much about the case. The girl had been out during the night, I take it. Anyway, there was a row, and the girl was stabbed. The people of the tenement declare they had a row over diamonds, or something of that sort. I’m going back there right now. Want to come with me?”

“It may have some connection with this case,” whispered Maynard to the detective. “Diamonds in the case, you know.”

“I was just thinking of that,” said Nick, “but I am not entirely satisfied that this young man is just what he pretends to be.”

“I might go back with him and find out,” suggested Maynard.

For a moment Nick made no reply.


[173]

CHAPTER XIII.
INTO THE TRAP.

“No,” said the detective presently, “I think I’d better go myself, though it may be a trap. Hold these people here while I slip down to the phone.”

During the absence of the detective the red-headed young man moved swiftly about the room. To Maynard he seemed to be looking for something. He hung constantly in the vicinity of the chair upon which the murderer’s clothing had been placed after the exchange of garments. Once or twice he got down on the floor and examined the carpet. Maynard thought this remarkable, but said nothing.

When Nick returned from the phone booth and the young man was still busy in his search of the room, Maynard explained his actions to the detective, who smiled and said not a word in reply.

“Well, I’ve got to get a move on,” said the young fellow, in a moment. “Are you chaps coming with me?”

[174]

“We must wait for the coroner,” replied Nick.

And so they waited, while the young man fumed up and down. Nick turned to the clerk again, motioning him into the hall, where he followed.

“When Townsend entered the office,” he asked, “how did you know that he was the one this Martin Haynes had asked for?”

“Oh, Haynes gave me a description and a name.”

This set Nick to thinking on new lines for a moment. Then he said:

“While we are waiting for the coroner, we may as well go to the office and inspect the signature.”

Leaving Maynard and the reporter in the room, Nick and the clerk descended to the office. The signature, when inspected through a powerful glass, proved to be a very ordinary one, but Nick made certain that it was written by a woman.

“How did that reporter get in here?” asked Nick.

“I suspect that the elevator boy gave him a tip,” was the reply.

[175]

Nick called the boy, who looked confused, and neither admitted nor denied the accusation.

Presently a deputy coroner arrived, and Nick accompanied him to room 43. While the reporter was asking him impossible questions, Nick took the clothing left by the murderer to the office, and left it with the clerk, carefully wrapped.

“Give that to no one,” he said. “I will call for the package in person.”

Then the reporter and Maynard came down the elevator, and the former started off.

“I’m going,” he said. “Come along.”

“Shall I come?” whispered Maynard.

“It is a trap,” said Nick, “and you may as well go home so as to be fit to-morrow.”

“Why do you say it is a trap?”

“Because that chap is not a reporter. How do I know? If he was a reporter he would have telephoned in something for the first edition the minute he saw the body, without waiting for anything more. Besides, what has he learned about the dead man or the circumstances of the murder?”

“But if it is a trap, why do you go?”

“Because, if it is a trap, it is set by the murderer[176] or some of her confederates, and going with this young man will place me in touch with the gang.”

“But it is dangerous.”

“All my work is dangerous.”

“Why don’t you take officers with you?”

“I shall not be alone,” replied Nick significantly, and turned away with the red-headed young fellow.

As the detective and his young companion passed out of the square of light in front of the hotel, Maynard, standing irresolute at the window, saw two men who had been hidden in a stairway across Broadway leave their shelter and follow them. Alarmed at the occurrence, Maynard stepped out into the street and passed on in the direction taken by the detective, the reporter, and their pursuers.

He saw them turn east, and then they were lost to his sight. With a heavy heart the young millionaire returned to the hotel. Policemen were standing guard out in the hall.

There was a door connecting room 43 with 44. Maynard secured the latter room and threw himself[177] on the bed. He lay for a long time listening to the talk of the officers, but finally fell into an uneasy slumber.

When he awoke again there was a bright light in 43. His door was a trifle ajar, and he could hear voices in the room where the dead man lay. He arose and stepped toward the door. Then a voice that he knew came to his ears. It was the voice of a woman.

“I think we’ve settled Nicholas for good and all,” she said. “That was a clever thought.”

Maynard started back in terror. What was that woman doing there, in the room with his murdered chum? Why should she desire to see the detective come to harm? Maynard actually pinched himself to see if he was not dreaming. But what he heard was a reality, fast enough. Had this woman whose voice he heard taken any part in the murder? While the young man puzzled over the matter, another voice reached his ears:

“Yes, Nick will trouble us no more,” it said. “He went up against the wrong bunch this time.”

This voice was as familiar to Maynard as the[178] other, only it was a man’s voice. He could not figure it out. Why should these people be here, and why was the room open at all? Had Nick Carter come to harm? With this thought prominent in his mind, Maynard moved toward the doorway. In the half light of the room he stumbled over a rocker and fell heavily to the floor. Before he could get on his feet again he heard quick steps rushing into the room, saw a blaze of light from the doorway; saw, also, two faces that he knew, rage and apprehension showing upon them. Then he called out, saw an uplifted arm, heard a wrathful voice, and a blow descended.

When the officers came to 43 in the early morning, they found the door to 44 open. Entering, they found Maynard lying on the floor with a frightful wound in his head and a stab in the region of the heart. Room 43 gave many evidences of having been searched thoroughly. Even the carpet had been loosened in places. The body of Townsend, however, had been in no wise disturbed. Maynard was conveyed to his hotel, and the dead man taken to the residence of his parents.

[179]

“If Maynard lives,” the doctor said, “it will be a wonder. He was left for dead.”

The clue to the murderer which he had stumbled on was of no avail at that time, for what he knew might never aid in the detection of the criminals. The wound on the head, the doctor said, was liable to produce a lapse of memory which would go further back than the night on which it was received.

In the meantime, Nick Carter was satisfied that Maynard had gone to his rooms from the hotel, and would remain there until the next day. As he walked down the street with the self-styled reporter, the detective listened between steps for a sound he hoped to hear not far away. No such sound came to his ears. Presently he found himself in Houston Street.

The house occupied by the African fortune teller with whom Maynard and Townsend had made an appointment was not far away. Nick knew the place well, for, as much out of curiosity as anything, he had called upon the woman when she had first attracted the attention of the town, and had made a close scrutiny of her apartments,[180] which were on the first floor of an old residence not far from the East River.

There was a red light over the door, but the building seemed still and the window shades were closely drawn. The young man stopped directly in front of the house.

“This is the place,” he said.

Again Nick listened for the expected footfalls, but in vain. There was nothing for it but to go in alone and trust to luck. He had summoned Chick and Patsy from his home when he had called the coroner, instructing them to hasten to the hotel and trail him, wherever he went. Something had possibly happened to disarrange the plan.


[181]

CHAPTER XIV.
THE GREAT DIAMOND SYNDICATE.

“Are you coming in?” asked the alleged reporter. “The girl I told you of is in the rear room on the second floor.”

Nick made a quick decision.

“Go ahead,” he said.

He knew that he was entering a trap, and that his life would be in danger, but he had no thought of turning back.

The young man rang the bell, and in a moment the door was opened, showing the interior of a plainly furnished hallway from which a flight of stairs led to a floor above. The place was illuminated only by the red hanging lamp which showed through the transom over the street door; and the general appearance was mysterious. Somehow the atmosphere of the room carried out the impression given by the light. The first impulse on entering was to flee from some unseen peril. There was a strong odor of musk about the place,[182] and this seemed to the vivid imagination to conceal the presence of something uncanny.

As the two entered the hallway they were met by a stalwart servant in the regulation dress coat and white vest. There was something sinister in the fellow’s face as he barred the way to the staircase. He spoke in French.

“Why are you here?”

“This is an officer,” replied the young man. “We have come to see the body of the girl who was killed here not long ago.”

The servant pointed up the staircase, saying:

“We have nothing to conceal from the police. First door to the left.”

The two started on up the stairs, the young fellow in the lead. Nick was watchful and ready with a revolver, which was hidden within easy reach under his coat. He understood the peril of the situation, but trusted to his usual good luck to get him out of any complications that might arise. He was now satisfied that the secret of Townsend’s death lay in that house, and he was determined to uncover it.

But the detective had no opportunity to use his[183] weapon. The forces with which he was contending were keener than he supposed. Halfway up the staircase a spray of chloroform struck him in the face, blinding him and sending him to the floor in an unconscious condition. This was a form of attack upon which he had not figured.

When he regained consciousness he was lying, securely bound as to hands and feet, on a leather couch in a room which looked like an ordinary business office. There were two windows, evidently facing a street, for the shades were drawn over the panes and inside blinds still further shut out the view. There were three doors to the room, one from the hall, through which he concluded he had been carried, a second connecting with what must be a small front room over the lower hall, and one connecting with a rear apartment. In the matter of furniture, the room was supplied with two curtain-top desks, two swivel chairs, and the leather couch upon which the detective found himself. A gas log blazed in a grate opposite the hall door.

At first Nick’s head buzzed badly, but he soon recovered. Then his eyes fell on the figure of a[184] man sitting at a desk in the front of the room. The fellow was lean and muscular, with a large head, remarkably flat on top, and keen black eyes. As Nick looked him over, he swung around in his chair.

“You are coming to, eh?” he said. “That dose would have finished an ordinary man. How are you feeling?”

“Never better,” replied Nick. “You seem to be quite comfortable here.”

“Yes, we are fairly well fixed here, though our London office is more luxurious.”

Nick had no idea where he was. The man he was talking with looked and acted like a business man absorbed in his work. There was nothing suspicious or terrifying about the apartment. In fact, the leather thongs which bound him were the only evidences that he was not in an ordinary place of business.

“This is a new one on me,” said the detective presently. “What became of the young fellow who brought me here?”

“He has gone out to see about another matter,”[185] was the reply. “Remarkable man, that. You believed him to be a reporter?”

“I certainly did not,” replied Nick. “I understood that I was walking into a trap, but thought I could trust to luck.”

“And you are still trusting to luck?”

“Certainly. I shall get out in some way.”

“You have no idea where you are?”

“On Houston Street, I presume,” replied Nick, wondering if the men he had ordered on duty had located the house he entered.

“Streets do not matter,” said the other. “It is the place that counts. This looks all regular, doesn’t it?”

The fellow glanced about the room with evident pride.

“It looks all right,” said Nick. “What is the game?”

“It is the office of the Great Diamond Syndicate,” was the reply, “or a branch office, rather, for the main establishment is in London.”

“You have the Maynard diamonds here, I presume?” asked Nick.

“They are not far away,” was the reply.

[186]

“The syndicate steals diamonds, eh?” asked Nick.

“Acquires diamonds,” corrected the other.

“And plans a cowardly murder now and then?” continued Nick.

“We do not consider the means,” was the reply. “We look only to results. We are organized in the regular way and pay very large dividends. Men organize to secure lands and other things without paying for them. Why shouldn’t we organize to acquire diamonds? We don’t aim to commit violence. In fact, we are a very respectable institution. You will find us rated in the commercial agencies.”

“The fellow intends to murder me,” thought Nick, “else he would not be so free with the affairs of the concern.”

“We have offices and agents in all the large cities,” continued the fellow, “and are doing a fine business. Whenever a rare collection of gems is made, we list it. From that time we are on the lookout to acquire it. Let me give you an illustration of our methods. The diamonds which you call the Maynard diamonds were collected in[187] South Africa. The collection was reported at our London office. We sent two men out to Cape Town to get them, but they did not succeed.

“The diamonds were sold to a man who shipped them to this country. Our men followed on the same ship, and reported to our agent here. They got them in New York, but lost them again. One of these men was killed, the other is serving time, as you know. Then this young man Maynard got the diamonds back through your efforts. He has been followed by two of our best men for a year, so you see that the collection has cost us quite a tidy sum of money.”

“Quite enterprising, I’m sure,” said Nick. “How many people have you put out of the way in your quest for the Maynard diamonds?”

“I don’t confess to any crime,” was the reply. “I think, on the whole, that we are very considerate in our methods. Why, we acquire plenty of collections without wasting a drop of blood. There was the Harvard collection, two millions; the Gould lot, one million; the Montreville collection, half a million; the Burns lot, one million. Not a drop of blood shed, no one arrested, and the[188] diamonds shipped away. You can see for yourself that we are doing the best we can with a peculiar business. We have our agents in all grades of society.”

“Even in dramatic clubs,” said Nick.

“Even in dramatic clubs,” repeated the other, with a smile. “We really enjoyed the chase after the Maynard diamonds.”

“You seem to be enjoying the present situation,” said Nick. “How long are you to keep me in this uncomfortable position?”

“Why, the fact is,” said the other, “that we are waiting for a report from a man who was sent to your residence two hours ago. You see, you have a collection of gems which is listed at half a million in the office of the Great Diamond Syndicate in London. You have put us to so much trouble and expense that we thought best to acquire this collection, and a man has gone up after it. He is to search the steel vault off your sleeping room and all available parts of the house. If he can do so, he will accomplish his work without bloodshed, but you have trained your people to resist coercion, and there may be a fight. I sincerely[189] hope that no member of your family will be injured.

“We are doing this thing for two reasons,” continued the other. “In the first place, you were sentenced to death in London not long ago, and cannot long enjoy the possession of the diamonds. In the second place, we thought best to demonstrate to you, previous to your death, that you detectives are, on the whole, rather cheap people. You go about with your picklock and your electric torch, and think you are the whole thing. Now you see how hopeless you are in the hands of a syndicate of brainy and determined men.”

“And if the man at my house does not find the diamonds?” asked Nick dryly.

“Then you will be required to write an order for their delivery to this place.”

Nick shut his teeth with a snap.

“You won’t, eh?” said the other. “Pardon me, but I think you will. We have means of persuasion here. What do you think of our methods by this time?”

“Of course you have planned my death?” asked Nick.

[190]

“Of course,” was the reply. “Do you think I would talk so freely with a man who was to be permitted to live?”

“Then, if I am to die, anyway, why should I comply with your wishes in the matter of the diamonds?”


[191]

CHAPTER XV.
A DESPERATE GAME.

A sinister smile flashed over the white face of the man at the desk.

“There are many methods of executing the orders of the Great Diamond Syndicate,” he said, “and there are forms of death calculated to break the most obstinate will. Besides, the safety of your beloved Chick ought to count for something with you.”

The detective strained at his bonds and ground his teeth in impotent rage.

“I’d like to have half an hour with you with bare knuckles,” he said, as the man at the desk gazed upon him in triumph. “I think I could teach you a few points in humanity. Let me tell you now that the American head of the Great Diamond Syndicate is not equal to his job. In short, is a very cheap fool.”

“I am not a passionate person,” said the other. “Proceed.”

[192]

“If you were fit for the position,” continued Nick, “you would never have permitted me to regain consciousness.”

“We are looking to you for help in securing your diamonds,” was the cool reply.

“Then, having made this mistake, you should never have confided the secrets of your syndicate to me.”

“We decided to bring you down a peg or two before your death, to show you how little you were really capable of when pitted against men of ability and courage.”

“To humiliate me, in fact?”

“To punish you.”

“What do you suppose I’ll do to your syndicate when I get out of here?” asked Nick.

“You’ll never get out,” was the reply. “You are as good as dead now.”

Nick smiled and turned his face to the wall. He was listening intently for some indication of the presence of his assistants. He had no idea how they would get to him, but he was satisfied that get to him they would.

[193]

Presently there came a ring at the door. Nick knew by the sound that he was on the second floor of the house. He had little doubt that he was still in the house occupied wholly or in part by the African fortune teller. He was now convinced that the woman was a confederate of the diamond thieves.

Nick listened with his heart beating wildly as he heard the front door opened. He was naturally anxious about the safety of his assistants and Joseph. He had not the least doubt that the thieves had actually planned a robbery at his house. As fate would have it, there was no one in the house save Joseph, if Chick and Patsy had obeyed his telephone call. The thieves might really secure his diamonds, but that was not the chief cause of his anxiety.

“There will be a long score to settle when I get out of this,” he thought.

Presently the man arose from the desk and approached the door leading into the hall. There were now loud voices out there, and Nick was listening with all his senses alert. The man opened the door a trifle.

[194]

“What is coming off out there?” he demanded, in French.

“This fool servant won’t let me into the house,” came a voice which sounded remarkably like that of the alleged reporter who had guided Nick to the place. It was like the young fellow’s voice, and yet it was not. There was a note in it which Nick recognized. He was satisfied that it was Chick playing a desperate game.

“What is the matter, Maurice?” asked the man, standing in the doorway.

“He doesn’t make correct replies,” was the answer.

“I do, too! He’s a fool!”

“Bring him up here and keep a strong hold on him,” commanded the chief of the diamond thieves.

“I’ll go up there, all right,” was the reply, “but if he touches me, I’ll knock his head off. I ought to know all about this den, if I have fuddled my head a bit with drink, and I have been with you longer than he has.”

Nick saw the chief step back to his desk and grasp a revolver.

[195]

“That is a counterfeit,” he said, looking toward Nick with a smile. “It is probably one of your men trying to break into the game. We’ll let him up and see what he looks like; then we’ll settle him for good.”

As the chief stepped back to the door, Nick gave a sharp call of warning, which he knew that Chick would understand. The chief turned angrily in his direction for just an instant. In that instant there was a quick, heavy blow below, and a fall. Then a cool breath of air from the street swept through the hall and up the stairs to the room where Nick lay.

The chief of the diamond thieves turned back into the room. There was a look of brutal rage on his face.

“You were right,” he said. “I presumed too much on the competence of our guards. You know too much to be allowed to leave this place alive.”

As he leveled his revolver at the helpless detective there came a rush on the outer staircase, and he paused, as if uncertain whether it would not be better to turn his weapon on the intruders.

[196]

At that critical moment there came a sharp call for help, seemingly from the rear room, and he bounded in that direction.

“Help! I am being strangled.”

The voice appeared to be that of a woman.

The would-be murderer, when he reached the room whence the cry had seemed to proceed, found it entirely unoccupied. With a muttered oath he sprang back to the helpless detective on the couch, and again lifted his weapon.

He was too late to accomplish the murder of his prisoner. Chick, disguised as the young man who had played the part of the reporter, swept into the room and struck down the revolver. The bullet buried itself in the carpet. Behind Chick came Patsy and Danny, Nick’s chauffeur, who had entered the lower hall when Chick had opened the door, after putting the guard out with a blow.

The would-be murderer disappeared in the rear room before Chick could lay hands on him, and closed the door in the faces of his pursuers. They had the barrier open in a trice, but the chief of the diamond thieves had disappeared. An open door[197] showing a private staircase leading to the basement revealed the manner of his flight.

While the other two hastened down the staircase in hot pursuit, Chick turned back to his chief.

“Rather close call that,” he said. “It is a wonder the fellow did not shoot before we could get into the room.”

“His attention was attracted elsewhere,” said Nick, with a smile, as Chick released him from his bonds.

“I don’t understand,” said the assistant. “I surely thought it was all off with you. What happened?”

“There was a call for help from the back room,” said Nick, with a grin.

“I see,” said Chick. “Some of your ventriloquism. Well, it saved your life, all right. What next?”

In a few words he informed Chick of the situation.

“I must get home at once,” he said.

Just then Patsy and Danny made their appearance.

“It’s no use,” Patsy said. “The house is empty.[198] I can’t understand how they got away so handily.”

“Then the game is about played out so far as this place is concerned,” said Nick, “and we may as well take our departure for the present.”

He made a quick inspection of the two desks, gathered the few papers they held into a package, and turned to the door.

“Call the police,” he said to Chick, “and leave them in charge of the building. We may have further use for some of the traps here. Wait! Here is a phone.”

He called his private number and waited impatiently. At length the voice of Joseph came over the wire.

“Have you had visitors to-night?” asked Nick.

“We certainly have,” came the reply, with a tinge of triumph in the tones.

“Did they get into the house?” asked Nick anxiously.

“No, sir,” was the reply. “I made short work of the thieves. One was wounded and taken to the hospital, and the others escaped.”

[199]

After some further conversation Nick hung up the receiver.

“This has been a bad night for the Great Diamond Syndicate,” he said.

“That is a new one on me,” said Chick, and in a few words Nick explained the interview with the chief of the syndicate.

“Do you think he was telling the truth?” asked the assistant.

“He was certainly correct about the attempt to rob my house,” replied Nick.

“But it does not seem possible that such a syndicate as he told of could exist in this age of the world.”

“There are strange things connected with criminal life,” said the detective. “I can see how such an organization as he described could be made to pay large dividends, and there is no knowing what thieves will do. London is headquarters for all manner of strange syndicates. Nothing is impossible over there.”

“It sounds like romance,” said Chick.

“Anyway,” continued Nick, “we can soon learn[200] the truth or falsity of the fellow’s statements. He will give himself away before long, for he is vain and proud of his skill in criminal work. Just imagine his telling me all about his syndicate!”

“He only wanted to show you what could be done in spite of the officers of the law,” said Chick. “Besides, he sought to make you look like thirty cents, as the boys on the Bowery say.”

“They are a bold lot,” said Nick. “Think of their sending that young man to the hotel to bring me here! However, their scheme worked to our advantage rather than to their own. By the way, where did you get that make-up?”

“I watched the fellow at the Wisconsin, and saw you go off with him,” was the reply. “I saw what you were working, and followed on as you directed. When you came in here, I ducked away and got this suit. Pretty near correct, eh?”

“It is about the thing,” replied Nick. “Listen!”

There was an alarm of fire in the street, and then fire apparatus stopped in front of the building. Chick opened the door to the hall and looked out. The whole place was in flames. The detectives darted toward the private staircase, seeking[201] escape by way of the basement, but were there met by a column of flame.

Nick threw open the windows, and fire ladders soon made their appearance. It was clear that the lower part of the structure was little better than a furnace.

“They hardly succeeded in burning us alive,” said Chick, as the four men stood on the pavement below. “That was a fool trick, it seems to me.”

“The idea,” said Nick, “was undoubtedly to destroy the papers and identifying records of the Great Diamond Syndicate. In this they only partially succeeded, for I have quite a mess of documents in my pocket. The house, however, seems to be doomed to destruction.”

This was indeed the fact, for the building burned to the ground. It was afterward discovered that the basement had been filled with combustible material, for use in just such an emergency. It was clear to the detectives that the Great Diamond Syndicate took due care of its secrets. It is true that the chief, believing Nick Carter to be as good as dead, had talked of the[202] syndicate to him, but he had done this principally through vanity, and with the purpose of showing how the keenest detectives of the day had been outwitted by the superior wisdom and courage of the mighty syndicate.


[203]

CHAPTER XVI.
MORE TROUBLE.

As Nick thought over, word for word, the talk of the diamond thief, he could not see that his communications had much injured the syndicate. He had informed the detective that there was such a syndicate, and that was about all. However, this was something to start with, especially as the papers of the syndicate had been captured. Indeed, Nick had already suspected the presence of a great conspiracy in the matter of the robbery. He had understood that it was not the work of one man. The discovery that the murder had been committed by a woman who wore clothing made in Paris had started this train of thought. His experiences at the house on Houston Street, independent of the admission of the chief thief, had confirmed his earlier notions.

“Well,” said Nick, “they have done the best thing they could under the circumstances. This blaze scatters the American branch of the Great[204] Diamond Syndicate. Only for the papers I have in my possession, the very name might be something in the nature of a dream, for all the talk of the chief thief.”

“Have you looked at the papers?” asked Chick.

“Just enough to discover that they really deal with the doings of some powerful syndicate,” was the reply. “Unless I am very much mistaken, we shall get no names or incriminating facts from them.”

“What’s the next move?” asked Chick.

“I shall go to the office until morning,” was the reply. “I have some work to do there, and I can get a short sleep on the couch.”

“It is almost morning now.”

“Well, we’ll meet at the office at eight o’clock,” said Nick.

And at eight o’clock Nick, Chick, and Patsy sat in the private room of the downtown office which Nick had lately taken with the object of having two headquarters from which to work.

“Now,” said Nick, turning to his first assistant, “the chief thief mentioned last night by name four diamond collections which have been stolen[205] by the syndicate. I remember the main features of the crimes, but of course I know nothing of the details. What I want you to do is to take up these cases and learn all about them. It may be that the hands of the syndicate’s agents may show in some of the deals. It may be that you can trace the finger marks of one person through all the robberies. Locate all the persons, high and low, who might have taken the diamonds in each case.”

Chick made a hasty note on his private memorandum, and said:

“Have you been to the Wisconsin this morning?”

“I have not been out of the office,” was the reply.

“You will find something doing up there,” said Chick.

“Wait,” said Nick, “let me get the story first hand. You turn this assignment over to Patsy and come with me to the Wisconsin.”

The detectives were not long in getting to the hotel. There Nick learned of the occurrences of the night.

“Have you heard from Maynard this morning?”[206] he asked of the night clerk, who, pale and distressed, seemingly because of what had taken place, lingered about the corridors instead of going to his room.

“He is no worse,” was the reply. “I have just come from there. It seems that he recognized the people who struck him down.”

“Does he mention names?”

“No; he only says: ‘I know you both. Don’t strike me.’ Strange thing all along.”

“How did the assailants get into the room?” asked Nick.

“That’s what puzzles me,” was the reply. “I certainly did not let them in.”

“Where is the elevator boy who was on watch last night?”

“He is asleep upstairs. I told him not to leave the building.”

“Bring him down.”

But the elevator boy was not upstairs. He was not in the hotel at all.

“I am sorry for this,” said the clerk, “because I wanted to clear myself in another matter.”

Nick scented more trouble.

[207]

“What is it?” he asked.

“Well,” said the clerk, evidently very much frightened, “you gave me a bundle last night, and asked me to keep it until you personally came for it. Did you get it during the night?”

Nick saw what the new trouble was, and was angry, but gave no evidence of the fact.

“I did not,” he replied.

“Well, the boy gave the bundle out last night. He stated that you called for it.”

“At what time was it given out?”

“Quite early in the morning.”

“After the assault on Maynard?”

“Yes, sir; so he said.”

“Where were you?”

“I dozed off and left the boy in charge.”

“Is it usual to leave a boy on watch?”

“No, sir, only——”

“Never mind that now. What did the boy say about it?”

“Just said you came after the package.”

Nick was not satisfied that the clerk was telling the truth. He was very much annoyed at the loss of the clothes.

[208]

“I did not think you had been here,” said the clerk, “and was angry with the boy.”

“And you scolded him, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you think he will return?”

“I do not, sir.”

Nick was provoked enough to lock the clerk up, but he realized that, even if he was in partnership with the thieves, better results could be obtained by leaving him at liberty.

“Do you think he belongs to the Great Diamond Syndicate?” asked Chick, as the two walked away.

“It is all a guess,” was the reply.

“I have an idea that he got that alleged reporter into the house last night,” said the assistant.


[209]

CHAPTER XVII.
MORE SURPRISES.

“The alleged reporter,” said Nick, “was probably waiting about the house. He knew that a murder had been committed, and his orders probably were to get a line on what was being done. He might have bribed the clerk or the boy; probably he did.”

“Yes, that is the story,” said Chick. “The syndicate did not expect that a murder would be necessary, and those in charge of the case were alarmed. They doubtless had a notion that they would be all right if they could only get you out of the way.”

“What about this Mantelle?” asked Nick.

“Do you think he is in the game?”

“He made the appointment which kept Maynard downtown with his diamonds,” was the reply, “and he made it only when he knew that the diamonds were in sight.”

“But he was not at the café until after Townsend left,” said the assistant.

[210]

“Anyway, we’ll look him up,” said Nick.

“There is one thing certain,” said Chick, “and that is, the case will be won if Maynard ever recovers so as to be able to give the names of the people he saw in room forty-four before he was struck down.”

“We can’t afford to wait for that,” said Nick. “The robbers and the murderer must be caught at once, if at all.”

“And the diamonds?”

“I am no longer interested in the diamonds.”

This conversation had taken place, in low tones, in the hallway near to the door of room 43. The hall was deserted except for a chambermaid loitering at the farther end. It was too early for the guests to be astir.

Nick now unlocked the door to room 43, and stepped inside.

As he did so, a lady, who occupied room 42, directly across the hallway, opened her door, and called to the maid.

She handed her a piece of silver as she came up to where she stood, leaning out into the corridor.

[211]

“Kindly go to the office and ask for mail for Mrs. Morton,” she said.

The maid hastened away.

Then Mrs. Morton stepped across the hall, and stood before the door of room 43.

Nick had not yet left the door, but was standing close to it on the inside. As the woman approached, he listened for a moment, and then opened the door.

The woman started back in dismay.

“Something you want?” asked Nick, with a smile.

The woman, who was young and far from ill-looking, blushed prettily.

“I’m ashamed of myself,” she said, “but I really wanted to know what was going on in the murder case, and so I listened. I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter,” replied Nick.

The woman sought her room, and Nick turned back to his assistant.

“There is a clever crook,” he said.

“I wonder how she got here so soon?” remarked Chick.

“You might go down and talk with the clerk,”[212] said Nick. “I’ll wager that she came here after the assault on Maynard.”

While Nick made a second and more searching examination of the room, Chick talked with the night clerk, who still insisted on hanging about the place.

“The woman came here from the Grand Central Station in a carriage at seven-thirty,” said the clerk. “She registered from Chicago, as you see. No, there was no mail for her when the maid called. What other errand did she give the maid?”

“None whatever,” replied the assistant. “At least none that we heard.”

“Well,” said the clerk, “after making the inquiry at the desk, the maid went out to the café next to the reading room and talked with one of the waiters.”

“You’ll not lose by giving out that information,” said Chick.

Before the astonished clerk could make reply, Chick was upstairs in the room Nick was searching.

“We are in a storm centre of the Great Diamond[213] Syndicate,” said Nick, when informed of the acts of the maid. “This is a fine place to fish for clues.”

“But how can the maid be in the employ of the syndicate?” asked Chick. “Up to this time the thieves have had no use for any one in this house.”

“We’ll pass on that when the time comes,” said Nick. “See what I found in this room.”

The detectives were standing in room 44.

“Red hair,” said Chick.

“Look at it with this glass.”

Chick did so.

“What do you find?” asked Nick.

“Bleached,” was the short reply.

“Exactly!”

Nick took more red hairs from his pocketbook.

“I find,” he said, “that these are from a wig.”

“Where did you get those?”

“In room forty-three, last night. They were in the brush and on the collar of the coat the murderer wore.”

“And these hairs were found in this room?”

“There on the carpet.”

[214]

“And that means——”

“That the woman who committed the murder came back here and tried to find out what was going on. She found the room deserted, and entered.”

“There were two of them,” said Chick, pointing to a lock of black curly hair on the floor, “and one was a man, and Maynard grappled with him.”

“Exactly,” said Nick, “and some one let her in, or let them in, rather.”

“And that some one knew that Maynard was being murdered!”

“It’s a puzzle,” replied Nick. “I can’t for the life of me see how the Great Diamond Syndicate got into action here so quickly.”

“Money,” said Chick.

“I guess the chief thief didn’t exaggerate much when he told me of the efficiency of his gang,” said Nick.

The detective made a little package of the articles he wished to take with him, and the two descended to the office floor. The night clerk was nowhere in sight. The day clerk was all attention.

[215]

“A strange thing has just happened,” he said. “Our night elevator boy was badly injured near here by the falling of a heavy jar from a high window. He had been out on some errand, it seems, and was returning.”

“Do you know when he left the hotel?” asked Nick.

“Before I came on watch.”

“Do you think he was returning to the hotel?”

“I don’t know about that. He might not have been.”

“Where was the boy taken?”

“To a hospital not far from the scene of the accident,” was the reply.

The detectives hurried to the place where the boy had been injured, and learned from the officer on the beat the name of the institution to which the boy had been taken.

In a short time Nick and Chick stood in a private room of the establishment, making an examination of the clothing worn by the boy, who had not yet recovered consciousness.

For a time they searched in vain.

Then, at the front of the coat, appeared a narrow[216] slit. In this was a folded paper bearing an address, and the one word:

“Scatter!”

It seemed impossible to ascertain where the boy had put in his time between the hour of leaving the hotel and the hour of his disaster.

The address was that of a cheap lodging house off the Bowery, but little could be learned there.

The tough clerk said that the boy had talked with one or two lodgers, and gone away.

“A warning from the syndicate,” said Chick. “They are up to date in their methods, it appears.”

There was silence between the two as they walked back to the house from which the jar had fallen.

“It was intended murder,” said Chick. “Just a cold-blooded crime.”

“Well?”

“The syndicate had bribed him and used him, and were afraid he would not keep his tongue between his teeth,” said Chick.

“Don’t jump at conclusions,” said Nick. “Accidents[217] of this sort are not uncommon in New York.”

“Are you going to the room from which the jar fell?” asked the assistant.

“Right now,” was the reply. “We may be able to get some sort of information from the people of the building.”

“The Great Diamond Syndicate may have gotten ahead of us,” said Chick. “Say, but that must be a hot concern. They burn houses and try to knock out whoever gets in their way. I wonder if anything will eventually happen to that smart chambermaid?”


[218]

CHAPTER XVIII.
BY THE HAND OF A WOMAN.

The detectives approached the building from the opposite side of the street, keeping their eyes on the third-story windows. The officer saw them, and approached.

“I thought you’d come back,” he said. “It’s a case worth looking up. I could get no satisfaction up there. Had to return to my beat too quick.”

“Did you see the jar fall?” asked Nick.

“I did not,” was the reply, “but a woman who was passing said it was thrown from the second window on the right of the entrance, third floor. She said she saw a head and an arm out of the window as the jar fell.”

“What do they say up there?”

“That the room is not occupied.”

“What sort of folks are in that building?”

The policeman shrugged his shoulders.

“Tough,” he said.

[219]

“Well, we are going up,” said Nick.

“I’ll wait about here,” said the officer, who knew Nick and his assistant quite well. “Let me know if anything happens.”

The two passed on up the stairs. They had, however, been seen talking with the policeman. As they reached the third floor, a rough voice asked:

“What do you fellows want up here? You’d better be making yourself scarce if you want to keep your shape.”

The speaker was meanly dressed and generally foul in appearance.

“I take it,” said Nick coolly, “that you are the janitor.”

“What is it to you who I am?” demanded the other. “Get out!”

Nick turned to his assistant.

“Call the policeman,” he said. “We’ll cool this chap off in jail.”

“What have I done?” whined the janitor, seeing that he had made a mistake.

“You might have thrown that jar down on the[220] boy, for all I know,” said Nick, with a wink at Chick.

“What would I do such a thing for?” asked the frightened janitor.

“For money,” replied the detective.

“Was it a murder?” asked the janitor, trembling.

“It looks like it might be before long.”

“Then the woman did it!” said the janitor.

“The woman?” repeated Nick. “What woman?”

“Why,” was the reply, “the woman who rented the room yesterday, and who went off just a little while ago.”

“Just after the boy was killed?”

“Yes, not five minutes after.”

“What sort of a woman was it?”

“Oh, I didn’t notice her particularly. One of the sort that live here, I take it,” answered the janitor.

“Young or old?”

“Middle-aged, I guess.”

“Did you rent the room to her?”

“Yes, yesterday afternoon.”

[221]

“What did she say about her occupation?”

“I asked no questions, sir. It is not always best to do so.”

“Well, give us a look at the room.”

The place was small, and cheap, and dirty. In the way of furniture it contained only a flat bed, a spotted washstand, a chair, and an old dresser. The detectives sent the janitor away, much to his disappointment, and made a careful study of the place.

“Here’s more red hair,” said Chick. “I wonder if this is bleached?”

Examination showed that it was. Nick took several articles from the chest and the top of the dresser and carried them away with him.

“If the room was hired for the purpose of getting rid of the boy,” said Chick, as the detectives walked away, “why should it have been taken yesterday? The boy was not in the game at that time.”

“He was sent along that street because the window was there with a murderous heart behind it. The room was not hired because there was a plot against the boy at that time. Presently we shall[222] doubtless know why it was engaged, and who the tenant was.”

“The whole case is a wonder,” said Chick. “I confess that I don’t know what to make of it. And it seems to me that we are not progressing very rapidly.”

There was an inscrutable smile on the face of the detective as he asked:

“What’s your notion of getting on with a case?”

“Why, getting a clue to work on.”

“You don’t see one here?”

“Why, there’s a woman with bleached hair, and a young man who calls himself a reporter, and the chief of the Great Diamond Syndicate, and all that, but we don’t know where to look for them.”

“There are two women with red hair,” said Nick, with a laugh.

“Two?”

“Exactly.”

“Then the woman who killed Townsend did not occupy that room back there?”

“I think not.”

“Hair is different, eh?”

[223]

“That’s the idea.”

“Well, there’s the chief of the syndicate. We know he exists, but how are we to get to him?”

“They will all come in a bunch, like sheep,” said Nick, “and the Great Diamond Syndicate will be wiped off the continent.”

“You’ve got me guessing,” said Chick.

At noon the two detectives found themselves at Maynard’s bedside.

He was unconscious, and talking wildly.

“Has he mentioned any names?” asked Nick of the nurse.

“Not a single one.”

Then Nick turned to the doctor.

“Will he live?” he asked.

“I think so. He is young and strong, and may recover, but he may have to learn his alphabet again.”

“That is another trade-mark of the Great Diamond Syndicate,” mused Nick. “Hartley, who was one of their American agents, advocated beating people on the head until they came from the hospital mere imbeciles.”

Things looked suspiciously favorable to the[224] syndicate at that time. As Chick had stated there was no clue to the whereabouts of the persons wanted. Maynard was unconscious and the elevator boy was in the same condition.

On leaving the sick room, Nick hastened to the Townsend residence.

It was a sad-faced family he met there, and for a time he delayed the important questions he had come to ask. It seemed like making little of their sorrow to trouble his parents with matters of the law at that time. Finally he called the father aside.

“You understand how difficult it is for me to break in on you at this time,” he said, “but there are questions which ought to be asked now.”

“I will do my best to answer them,” said the father.

“You have heard your son speak of one Julius Mantelle?”

“Occasionally.”

“Do you know where the fellow lives?”

“At the Hotel Cumberland, I think.”

“Have you ever met this man Julius.”

“Once.”

[225]

“Describe him, please.”

“Very dark, with broad nostrils, like a negro, thick lips, black curly hair. He speaks English with a slight French accent. I didn’t like the looks of the man.”

“What about his eyes?”

“Like a snake’s.”

“Did you know that your son had an appointment with him last night?”

“I did not.”

“Or with any one?”

“Not that I knew of. Is this man Mantelle suspected?”

“Well, he was about the café where your son and Maynard took supper after the rehearsal. I desire to locate him. Do you know where this rehearsal was held?”

The detective was given a number of West Fourteenth Street.


[226]

CHAPTER XIX.
MANTELLE AT BAY.

“It strikes me,” said Chick, as the detectives left the Townsend home, “that the Great Diamond Syndicate is giving us the fight of our lives.”

“It appears to be all that the chief declared it to be,” said Nick, “a powerful organization, officered by cunning scoundrels.”

“I think this man Mantelle knows something about the syndicate.”

“We have no proof, yet I have been thinking that same thing,” replied Nick, “and that is why I went to the Townsend home, to see if it were possible to get a line on the fellow. I did not succeed very well, but I have another plan in my mind.”

“Hunt him up and work the third degree?” asked Chick.

“Exactly,” replied the chief. “If I can get up an argument with him, or place him under accusation, I can form an estimate that will guide me.”

[227]

“There might be a little physical exertion connected with an interview in which he was accused of complicity in the murder,” said Chick, “and that would help some. I am feeling in the need of a thumping.”

“That may come soon enough,” replied Nick.

“It might be a good idea to watch the room in the tenement,” said Chick. “There may be a reason why the woman should go back there.”

“If she does, it will be in the nighttime,” was the reply. “We will talk that over later. At this time we’ll see if we can locate this man Mantelle. No one appears to know much about the fellow.”

“He may be at the Cumberland,” said Chick.

Mantelle was not at his hotel when the detectives called there, and so they went to the Bowery café, whence Townsend had gone to his death.

“Now,” said Nick, as they approached the place, “if we find him and there are others present, you observe them while I am sizing up Mantelle. And I may accuse him of all sort of things, so be on your guard.”

The clerk informed Nick that Mantelle was at breakfast with a friend in a rear room.

[228]

“Are you certain he has company?” asked Nick. “You see, he had an appointment with me at this hour—an important appointment. It is possible that the other fellow is the man we both expected to meet here. What sort of a looking chap is he?”

“It is a woman,” said the man at the desk, “and he asked particularly that they should not be disturbed.”

“Oh, he’ll see me,” said Nick, with a swagger affected by precinct detectives.

“You’ll have to get in there the best way you can, then,” said the clerk. “I am not going to have you shown in.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said Nick.

The clerk gave the detectives the number of the room, and they opened the door and entered without even the formality of knocking. Mantelle sprang to his feet, rage showing in his eyes. His companion, who hastily dropped a veil over her face as the door was opened, shrank back into her chair and turned her head away.

She was slender of figure, and seemed to be rather good-looking. Owing to the thick veil,[229] Nick could not distinguish the full outlines of her face, but what he could see of it gave him the impression that the woman was young, and fair of complexion. There was something about the droop of the shoulders, the graceful lines of the waist, which seemed familiar to the detective, yet he could not at that time place the woman.

“What do you want in here?” demanded Mantelle, springing from his chair. “Have you no eyes? Can’t you see that the room is taken?”

“Just a moment,” said Nick, with the precinct-detective swagger. “I’m a police detective, you know.”

“No, I don’t know,” replied the other hotly, “but if you are, what is that to me? Have the kindness to leave the room.”

Chick was looking on in amused wonder. He had never seen his chief play that rôle before.

“I have business with you,” said Nick, taking a chair.

It seemed to Nick that a shade of anxiety, passed over the man’s face.

“Well, proceed. What is it?”

“You were here with Townsend and Maynard[230] last night when the latter was murdered?” asked the detective.

“You are wrong,” was the reply. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

“You were not here that night?” asked Nick.

“Yes, I was here, but not with Mr. Townsend. He had left the place before I arrived, and I found Maynard waiting for him.”

“You did not see Townsend that night?” asked Nick, regarding the fellow keenly.

Mantelle hesitated. He looked like a man who was playing for time.

“I was told that you saw him out on the pavement in front of this place,” said Nick, at a venture.

“Well, what if I did? I do not at this time recall the incident, if I did see him; but what of it if I did?”

“I am also informed,” said Nick, still making a bluff, “that you saw him pass down the street without making your presence known. Is that true?”

“It is not true,” was the reply.

“We have information at headquarters,” continued[231] Nick, “that you walked on to the Wisconsin in his wake, and returned to the café only after the cry that a murder had been committed had been raised in the hotel.”

“That is not true,” said Mantelle.

“You did not go to the Wisconsin that night?” asked the detective.

“I did not,” was the reply.

“When you left here, leaving Maynard to look up his friend, where did you go?”

“That is no affair of yours,” was the angry reply.

Nick was doing a lot of guessing in his talk with the fellow, but he seemed to be making points.

“Didn’t you go to the house of an African fortune teller on Houston Street?” asked the detective.

“It is a lie!” almost shouted Mantelle. “What does all this questioning mean? Am I accused of the murder of Townsend? If so, take me to some competent person for examination. I am sick of your amateur efforts.”

“All in good time,” said Nick. “After the destruction[232] by fire of the house occupied by the African fortune teller, didn’t you visit a woman on the third floor of a tenement house near the Bowery?”

Mantelle started. The woman sitting by his side seemed about to leave her chair, so excited and nervous were her movements. Chick began to see that his chief was no longer feeling around for a clue, but knew what he was about.

“I did not visit such a place as you describe,” was the reply. “From this café I went directly to my rooms at the Cumberland.”

“How did you get to your rooms?” asked Nick, at a venture. “The elevator man says you did not ride up in the cage with him.”

Again the fellow started, as if in sudden terror, again the woman made a motion which suggested leaving the room. Nick was now playing a bold game.

“He is mistaken,” said Mantelle. “I went to my room in the usual manner.”

“And the lady sitting there by your side,” said Nick, “she——”

“Leave her out of it,” said Mantelle angrily.

[233]

“She met you later that night—or early the next morning, rather, at——”

The woman sprang to her feet, her eyes flashing through her veil.

“I won’t stay here to be insulted!” she said.

She started for the door, but Nick stopped her with a gesture.

“Wait,” he said. “Are you the woman who occupied a room on the third story of a tenement on East Houston Street?”

“Let me pass,” cried the woman, as Nick stepped in front of her. “I can account for myself to the proper authorities, but not to you.”

In her rage the woman drew herself up to her full height and gazed at the detective, with a fierce hate burning in her eyes.

“It may be as well for you to remain here and answer a few questions, but you may go if you think best,” said Nick.

“What do you want?” demanded the woman.

“This: When did you first meet Julius Mantelle?”

Mantelle now sprang to his feet.

[234]

“This is intolerable!” he cried.

“I am not detaining you,” said Nick.

Mantelle and the woman turned to the door.

“A nice mess you have made of my morning,” Julius said.


[235]

CHAPTER XX.
FLUSHING THE BIRDS.

A waiter approached, a tall, dark, slim fellow, with evident traces of African blood in his veins. He stepped impudently in front of the detectives as they followed Julius and the woman from the room. His manner was insulting in the extreme.

“How did you get into that room?” he demanded.

Nick sized up the situation instantly. Some of their conversation had been overheard, and this waiter had been set on to detain them while the man and woman got away. Either that, or assault, perhaps murder, was intended. It was clear that he had made progress during his talk with Mantelle.

Without replying to the impudent question of the waiter, Nick motioned him to step aside, and advanced toward the public room, which lay at the end of a wide hall upon which the private room opened. At the rear of the hall was a wide door opening on an alley. The waiter did not[236] move. He still obstructed the way. Julius and the woman were passing through the outer room toward the street door.

“You had no right in there,” continued the waiter, angry at the way he was ignored, “and I have a notion to throw you out into the alley.”

“Mention of the Townsend murder appears to stir things up in this house,” said the detective, looking the waiter in the eye.

For a second the fellow looked dismayed, but only for a second. Other waiters were now gathering in the hall. The clerk advanced to the scene of trouble.

“We can’t have quarreling here,” he said. “You go back to your work,” he added, addressing the waiters, “and you,” to the detectives, “make your way out as quietly as possible. I told you not to go into that room.”

“At any rate,” thought Nick, “the clerk is not in with this play, whatever it is.”

“He can’t come in here and insult my customers,” said the waiter, ignoring the protests of the clerk. “I’ll pitch him into the alley.”

“The alley is probably half full of bullies,”[237] thought Nick, “and I have no time for a battle now. The waiter is in touch with the syndicate.”

The waiter seized Nick by the shoulder and hurried him along toward the alley door, and Nick went without resistance. He wanted to see what there was in the alley.

Another waiter seized Chick and moved forward with him. It seemed to be the idea to separate the two men. Chick waited until the alley door was opened, and then landed a blow on the waiter which laid him unconscious on the floor.

Through the doorway leading to the alley the assistant had observed three muscular men waiting for Nick to be passed out to them! Surely the detective had had good cause to begin a line of inquiries at this place!

In a moment Chick was at the side of his chief, who was still inside the restaurant. There was a rush for the place, half a dozen waiters swarming about the two detectives. Chick saw iron knuckles in more than one hand, and understood that the intention was to knock them both out.

As he approached, he saw Nick whirl suddenly about, land a knockout blow on the waiter’s jaw,[238] and make toward the front of the place. Two waiters were now down, and all was excitement, but no one opposed the exit of the detectives. Two of their crack men had been knocked out, and that was enough to warn the others to be careful. At the door Nick beckoned to a policeman, a roundsman, who knew him well.

“I had to do a little hitting in there,” he said to the policeman. “Go in and take the two men you will find suffering from too much impudence. Lock them up, and keep them apart and away from visitors.”

The roundsman saluted and passed into the restaurant.

“Now,” said Nick, “we may as well learn where Julius and the woman go.”

“I’m afraid they’re out of sight,” said Chick.

“No, they were waiting to see us beaten to a pulp,” replied Nick. “They have just left the stairway there at the left and turned the corner. Keep along after them and track them home. If they separate, follow the woman.”

Chick hastened away, and Nick made his way to his office, where he found Patsy awaiting him.

[239]

“I have looked up the details of the four diamond robberies,” said the assistant, “and here is the report.”

He handed his chief a typewritten roll of at least twenty thousand words. Nick glanced at the length of the document, and asked:

“How many hands show plainly in these jobs?”

“One in the last three,” was the reply.

“And all these are of recent occurrence?”

“Yes, of very recent occurrence.”

“And the proof points to a woman?”

“Exactly.”

“What sort of a woman?”

“A lady’s maid.”

“Describe her.”

Patsy laughed as he replied:

“That would be a hard thing for me to do, though my wife, Adelina, might satisfy you. Sometimes she is young and fair. Again, she is old and wrinkled. Now she has abundant black hair, now she has short auburn locks. She seemed to be an expert at disguises, for no one suspected her.”

[240]

“Yet you are certain of your ground?”

“Certainly. The face does not always do its duty when disguised. There are features which cannot be changed by art. This girl has a small mole on the right upper lip, just at the corner of the nostril.”

“That is a very common face blemish.”

“Exactly, but this girl has tried to secure the removal of this blemish, and it has resented the interference. It is inflamed, and is growing in size.”

“What else?”

“She is young.”

“How do you know that?”

“She looks it. She can’t be over twenty.”

“Where did she appear as a young woman?”

“At the Burns house.”

“Go on.”

“She is slender, and has a fancy for diamonds.”

“Go on.”

“Just now she is not in evidence. No one seems to know where she is.”

“You did not unnecessarily attract attention to her?”

[241]

“Oh, no. She is not supposed to be suspected. I was looking after a long-lost sister.”

“Can you ascertain where she put in her extra time while out at service?”

“I have already done so. She was infatuated with the stage. She went to the theatres, and sought the companionship of actors and actresses. She informed the servants at the Burns house that she was in training for the stage.”

“She may be behind the footlights now.”

“I can’t find her at any of the theatres.”

“Well,” said the detective, “about ten o’clock to-night I may be able to point her out to you. Remain here for the present.”

In an hour a call from Chick came over the phone. He was in a room opposite a private parlor at the Cumberland.

“Our parties are across the hall,” he said, “and they seem to be holding a reception. About a dozen people in there now, and more coming.”

“What sort of people?”

“Pretty good-looking lot. Look like hotel clerks, restaurant owners, and race-horse fellows of the better class.”

[242]

“Mantelle master of ceremonies?”

“He appears to be.”

“Any way of learning what they are talking about?”

“I can’t get a single word.”

“Is Julius dressed just as he was this afternoon at the café?”

“Exactly.”

“All right. I’ll be up there in a short time.”

Nick rang off, and made up a bundle from the clothing stored in his dressing room. Then he turned to Patsy.

“You saw the clothes I put up?” he asked.

“Certainly.”

“Well, if you see me in that rig, follow on, wherever I go. Perhaps you would better get on your messenger rig. You can go anywhere in that, in the part of the city where I am going.”

Patsy hastened away to prepare his change of apparel. Nick regarded his own disguise ruefully. It was without doubt necessary in this case, but he disliked to go about in the guise of another man. He preferred to win his cases by[243] reasoning them out rather than by cheap detective methods.

As soon as Patsy was ready, Nick took up his bundle with a sigh, and the two made their way to the Cumberland, Patsy following along on the opposite side of the street.

“Step into the corridor and note the room I am shown to,” said Nick, waiting for the seeming messenger to come up with him at the entrance to the hotel. “After I have been in there a minute, tell the clerk you have a message for the man in that room. Come in armed and ready for a scrap.”

“A scrap at the Cumberland?” echoed Patsy.

“We can’t tell what will happen,” replied Nick.

It was now growing dark, and when Nick entered the room where Chick awaited him, the gas was burning dimly.

In a moment the detective had his clothes off and was dressing himself in the ones brought from his office. As the work progressed, Patsy knocked at the door, and was admitted.

Directly, Nick stood before his assistants ready for action.

[244]

It seemed to them that it was Mantelle who stood there.

“It is a hard rôle to play,” said Nick, “because it is difficult to hold my face as Mantelle carries his. Anything wrong?”

“Not a thing!” said Chick.

“You look like the original,” said Patsy.

“Now,” said Nick, “I’d like to get in there and hear the talk, but I do not care to risk it, as a failure would ruin all my plans.”

“What’s the game?” asked Patsy.

“We’ll have to remain here until they leave,” was the reply.

“That may be at midnight.”

“Yes, but we must wait.”

“And then?”

“When we see that they are going, the messenger steps out and invites Mantelle into this room.”

“And we put him to sleep, and you step out in his place?”

“That’s it.”

“It’s a risky thing to do,” said Chick.

Nick remained silent.


[245]

CHAPTER XXI.
A CLEVER WOMAN.

“There is no knowing where the trail may lead you,” Chick said presently.

“I am in hope,” said Nick, “that it will lead again to the headquarters of the Great Diamond Syndicate. I have an idea that I would like a short talk with the man I met in the Houston Street house last night.”

“I wonder what’s become of the alleged reporter?” asked Chick. “He appeared to me to be rather an amusing chap.”

“You’ll probably find him with the old duffer who entertained Nick last night,” suggested Patsy. “Listen! I think they are passing out.”

The people in the private parlor were indeed leaving the room, one at a time, and quietly. There was no talking in the hall, and the door was closed after every departure. Nick smiled at the game he was playing.

“These syndicate fellows are all right,” he[246] said. “It is something worth while when you get up against fellows who meet at first-class hotels instead of in some dark basement in the slums!”

The door to the private room opened and closed again. Nick, who was at the transom, motioned, and Patsy slipped out into the hall and stood some distance from the door.

“There are only two left in the room now,” said Nick. “They are Mantelle and a woman.”

Again the door opened, and Mantelle stepped out. The woman was a few paces behind him, but still in the room.

Patsy stepped forward from the other end of the hall.

“I was just going to the parlor, sir,” he said. “I have a message for you.”

“Deliver it,” said Julius shortly.

“A call, rather,” said Patsy, correcting his mistake.

“Well?”

“It is a request to call at room fourteen. That is it, there at the right.”

Julius made a motion with his hand, and the woman closed the door of the private parlor. He[247] then stepped up to the door of fourteen and knocked lightly on the panel.

“You asked for me?” he said, as Chick opened the door.

Nick was nowhere in sight. The messenger followed on as Julius stepped into the room.

It all took place in a second, and Mantelle lay bound, gagged, and panting on the carpet.

“That was quietly done,” said Nick, stepping out of a closet. “I was afraid the noise might attract attention.”

Mantelle almost foamed with rage as he saw Nick, dressed so exactly like himself that it would seem that his best friends must be deceived.

Chick mounted a chair and looked through the transom.

“You must be going,” he said presently. “The woman in the parlor is becoming anxious and keeps opening the door a crack.”

Nick bent over Mantelle, lying helpless on the floor, and took a peculiar-looking pin from his scarf. Then he took a diamond ring from the prisoner’s little finger.

[248]

Mantelle squirmed under his bonds, but could not resist.

“I can use these to good advantage,” said Nick. “And, by the way, Mantelle, I think I have seen these before.”

The prisoner looked as if a little cursing would relieve his mind, but he did not at that time have the power to make a loud sound.

“The woman is at the door,” said Chick.

Nick opened the door and stepped out into the hall.

“I was detained a moment in that room,” he said, as the woman advanced to meet him.

Julius foamed as he realized how exactly the voice reproduced his own.

“Looks all right, doesn’t he?” asked Chick, as he closed the door. “Now, when they get to the end of the hall, Patsy, you follow on, and I’ll see that this fellow is locked up.”

Patsy moved away, and was soon in full view of Nick and his companion. They were standing in front of a clothing house, and the woman was urging him to make some purchases.

The woman had apparently not even glanced at[249] Nick as he appeared in the hall in the guise of Mantelle. She had walked at his side until they were clear of the hotel without speaking. Now she said:

“It is plain that we must leave the city for a time.”

“I presume so,” said Nick.

The woman walked along in silence while Nick wondered what was coming next. He saw no reason for sudden flight on the part of the members of the syndicate; that is, unless they had learned something of his plans.

“I don’t see why that police detective suspected you,” continued the woman. “Why don’t you change your clothes and make yourself look different? You poke around in that black suit, looking like a preacher. Fix your hair different, and put on a sporty air. You look too solemn.”

“I must go back to my room to do that,” said Nick, realizing that this was just the thing he ought to do—get to Mantelle’s rooms. But it was not in the mind of the woman that he should reach that suite of rooms.

“Here is a clothing store,” she said. “Go in[250] and buy what you need. You must not go back to the rooms now. The hotel is probably watched. It’s a wonder we all got away from there as we did after the meeting. You buy what you need here, and I’ll wait in front of the store. Change your appearance as much as possible.”

Nick was sorely puzzled. Why should the woman want him to change his clothes? She understood that the officers knew Mantelle, and that they would find him if they wanted to do so in whatever suit he might put on. Was it her purpose to escape when he went into the store to change his clothes? That was a risk he could not run, and he hesitated at the store door. Then a messenger in uniform paused at the door, looked at the number, and passed on.

“That’s Patsy, all right,” thought Nick; “here’s for the new clothes. She can’t get away so long as he is here. This is a mystery, but I’ll solve it!”

Nick selected a large, light-colored suit, and put it on over the Mantelle disguise. The hat he retained, for he could not very well conceal the derby he had worn. When he left the dressing room he seemed like another person. The woman[251] looked pleased, and asked where the other clothes were.

“I have them where I can get them again,” was the reply.

Once more in the street, the woman turned at the corner of Houston and walked in the direction of the East River. She seemed strangely agitated over something, and more than once Nick thought she was laughing immoderately.

The detective began to think he had caught a Tartar. At least, he could not make up his mind as to what was coming off next.

The house she presently entered was in the same block with the ruins of the burned headquarters of the Great Diamond Syndicate.

She led the way up a staircase, and entered a suite of rooms which faced the street. Closing the door, she laid aside her hat and coat and faced the detective with a smile.

She was a handsome woman, tall, slender, and fair of face, but certainly not the one Nick had seen at the café with Mantelle. She said:

“Well, Mr. Nick Carter!”

Nick sprang back, but before he could draw a[252] weapon he found himself looking into the muzzle of a loaded revolver. The woman certainly had the drop on him! Then a young man came from an inner room and took the revolver while the woman went through the form of securing Nick’s wrists. The detective did not resist. He knew that he could release himself from his bonds at any time. They were not of the kind used by the chief of the Great Diamond Syndicate.

This accomplished, the woman stepped back and looked the detective over contemptuously.

“You thought I wouldn’t recognize you?” she asked.

“I certainly did,” was the reply. “How did you account for my wearing Mantelle’s jewelry?”

“I imagined what had taken place in room fourteen. You are a man of action, Mr. Carter, but you have your failings. You neglected to give the sign when we met in the hall.”

“I was wondering if there were signs and grips,” said Nick. “Rather a clever lot of thieves and murderers.”

“Don’t become coarse,” said the woman. “Of course we have signs and grips.”

[253]

Then Nick recalled a sign Mantelle had made at the café when the waiters came to the private room. It was nothing more than dropping the left hand straight at the side and pointing down with the index finger, the others being closed.

Nick knew that he was in no little peril. It was true that he could cast off his bonds at any time, and might even be able to outwit the woman and her companion, but he knew well enough that other members of the syndicate were about.

“Are you waiting for some one?” asked Nick, as the woman walked about the room.

“Yes; I am waiting for Mantelle,” was the reply.

“You will find him in the Tombs,” said Nick.

“Your plans do not appear to be working to perfection in this case,” said the woman mockingly. “Mantelle will be rescued on the way to prison.”

“And when he arrives here?”

“Then you will be executed. We shall take no more chances. Do you know that you have given us more trouble than any dozen men ever did?”

[254]

“Executed,” repeated the detective. “You use a fine word to describe the crime of murder.”

“Executed is the word. You were condemned to death a long time ago.”

Nick glanced about the room. There seemed to be no way out except by the door at which he had entered. The woman noticed his scrutiny of the place, and said:

“Oh, we have taken good care that you shall not slip us again. Even if you could get out of the room, you would be killed in the street. Our men are warned, and are anxious to dispose of you.”

“It seems to me,” said Nick, “that I have heard talk something like that before, and in this case, too. Is it the habit of the syndicate to explain its plans to prisoners who are condemned to death? You appear to me to be quite frank in your statements.”

“The chief made a mistake in talking to you last night, or this morning, rather,” replied the woman. “It made us no end of trouble to-day.”

The woman arose and walked to the window. To the detective she seemed to be getting nervous.

[255]

“Do you know,” said Nick presently, “that I think you are putting up a bluff, and that you are talking against time? Is Mantelle late?”

“He’ll be here,” was the reply.

“It would be something of a consolation to me,” said Nick, “to know just how you managed to scatter the news of my capture. The others were gone when we left the hotel, before you suspected me, and you have talked with no one since we started.”

The woman laughed heartily.

“What do you suppose I got you into that clothing store for, and into the dressing room? I am agreeably disappointed in you. I thought you much keener.”

“Then you discovered my identity at once, in the hotel, and summoned your friends while I was changing my clothes? That’s clever! What a capital detective you would have made. I should not have left you alone for an instant. You might have escaped. But, then, we all make mistakes.”

Nick waited anxiously, half expecting the woman to mention the presence of Patsy while she sat at the front of the store. Patsy had certainly[256] been there, but had the woman noted his presence? It was a consolation to the detective to know that the assistant was not far off.

“I was afraid you would escape,” laughed the woman. “You took the hook easily, Mr. Carter.”

“You are a clever woman,” replied Nick. “I give you the credit of getting the best of me up to date. What next, if I may ask?”

“If you could look out of the window,” said the woman, facing Houston Street, “you would see three men lounging in front of a saloon. They are waiting for signals from this room. Do you begin to realize what a power the Great Diamond Syndicate is? When the waving of a red handkerchief announces that you are dead they will go away. But they won’t expect that signal until they see Mantelle enter the house.”

The detective had no doubt that Patsy was also watching the windows of that house. He would have given much to have communicated with him for an instant.

He arose as if to walk to the window. The young man who held the revolver moved forward into the front room.

[257]

“Get back to your chair,” he said, “or we won’t wait for Mantelle. I prefer to do the job right now, anyway. Get back!”

The fellow’s tone nettled the detective. Almost before he realized what he was doing, he burst his bonds and sprang at the man. There was a sharp report and a puff of smoke.

Then the woman, who had turned from the window in alarm, saw the young man lying unconscious on the floor, and saw, also, that the detective was no longer bound.

Nick gazed at the woman steadily for a second.

“I don’t know what to do with you,” he said. “It is not the office of a gentleman to bind and gag a woman, yet something must be done.”

The woman gazed anxiously in the direction of the door.

“Don’t expect Mantelle,” said Nick. “He is in the Tombs by this time.”

Then a step sounded in the hall outside.

“He is coming!” cried the woman.

Nick lifted his revolver.

“I hope so,” he said.

The woman gave a scream of warning.

[258]

Then the door opened, and a messenger’s uniform showed in the opening.

Patsy was evidently in great haste, and closed the door after him with a bang.

“Those fellows across the street are suspicious,” he said. “I should not have made a break to get up here except for the pistol shot. Are you hurt?”

“Not in the least,” replied Nick. “Are the watchers coming up here?”

“They started across the street just behind me.”

“Watch the woman!”

Nick sprang to the front window. The red silk handkerchief lay in a chair, ready for use as a signal.

Nick lifted the lower sash and threw the end out to the breeze. It floated for a second in the strong light of the street, and then Nick dropped it. As it fluttered to the pavement below, the detective caught an exclamation of joy from a group of three men standing at the very entrance to the house.

“There you are,” said Nick, turning back into the room with a smile. “I am now dead, and our[259] three cutthroats will go away. How are you feeling now, madam?” he added, speaking to the woman, who had thrown herself into a chair and sat looking at the two men with rage and hate in her eyes.

While Patsy watched the prisoner, Nick made a search of the rooms.

He found letters and telegrams by the score. His conclusion was that the Great Diamond Syndicate was using the rooms as headquarters.

As he opened a locked drawer in a small secretary, the woman sprang to her feet and fought desperately.

“They are private papers there,” she cried. “If you are a gentleman, let them alone. Let them alone, I tell you!”

“Private papers!” echoed Nick. “I should say so! The private papers of the Great Diamond Syndicate! This is indeed a find!”

The woman fell back on the floor in a faint.

“This looks like easy money!” smiled Patsy, with a grin.


[260]

CHAPTER XXII.
THE STORY TOLD.

The Booth Dramatic Club was holding rehearsal at its rooms on West Fourteenth Street. The rooms were on the top floor of an old-fashioned house, and were nicely fitted up with stage, dressing room, and scenery.

The play long in rehearsal was to have been presented to the intimate friends of the members of the club that night, but the death of Townsend, the illness of Maynard, and the strange disappearance of two young men who held leading parts had made a postponement necessary.

There was a stage entrance from a hall which ran along the east side of the house, and at eight o’clock Nick Carter, in the guise of Mantelle, passed through the hall and stepped out on the stage. He was accompanied by Patsy, who carried a large suit case.

“I wonder which is my dressing room?” whispered Nick.

[261]

Patsy looked amused. The two detectives had run many risks in getting into the house and up to the rooms of the club, but the test now seemed at hand.

“Well,” said the assistant, “you’ve got a leading rôle, according to the programme we found, and you must have a fine dressing room. Wait! I’ll just scout around and find a room with your stage costume in it. If I make a mistake no one will wonder at it, while they would suspect something at once if you got into the wrong room.

“There,” said Patsy, returning in a moment. “I’ve located the place and the rig. I hope you’ll make a hit in your part to-night! You wear a wig and all that, so no one will suspect you. What luck! Sure I don’t play anything? Well, then, I’ll be your servant for the night, and sit in the dressing room and watch.”

Nick dressed in the costume he wore in the play, and went out on the stage. Half a dozen of the members were there, and he nodded at them all, giving the sign with the left hand. They were all too busy with their own affairs to pay special attention to him.

[262]

Presently a dressing-room door opened, and a woman stepped out, clad in silks and blazing with diamonds. She approached Nick, who was glad that at the moment he stood in the shadow of a scene ready for adjustment.

The girl was Bernice Bouvé. She looked more beautiful than ever in her costume. In a moment Anton Sawtelle stood at her side.

“Where is Stella?” asked Bernice, laying a hand on Nick’s arm. “She should have been here long ago.”

“Now, who is Stella?” wondered Nick. “She must be the clever woman who captured me this evening. I’ll take a chance.

“She left me soon after leaving the Cumberland,” he said, “saying that she would be here on time. You look superb in those diamonds!”

Bernice smiled and Anton grinned.

“You always admired the Maynard collection,” she said.

Here was another puzzle for the detective. Had the thieves the nerve to present the stolen diamonds at the rehearsal? Could it be possible[263] that no member of the club, outside those who belonged to the syndicate, knew of the true situation of affairs, of the murder of Townsend and the assault on Maynard?

“It strikes me,” thought Nick, “that this dramatic club is composed principally of members of the Great Diamond Syndicate.”

The detective shuddered as Bernice touched him, but he remained in conversation with her for a long time.

“There comes the chief,” she said presently, pointing to a brisk-appearing man just stepping on the stage. He was accompanied by a young fellow Nick had no difficulty in recognizing as the alleged reporter who had led him to the syndicate headquarters. There was no doubt that the man referred to as the chief was the same one who had planned his death the previous evening.

In looking over the members of the club, Nick saw that it was indeed composed mostly of members of the syndicate. The few outsiders who were there were the lambs of the organization. They had either diamonds, money, or social position to thank for their admission. Nick now saw[264] clearly what the club really was, an annex to the syndicate.

While the others were at their parts, Nick went back to his dressing room.

“What are you going to do when it comes time for you to go on?” asked Patsy. “You don’t know a word of the part.”

“If Chick acts promptly,” said Nick, “the big scene will come off before I am called upon to speak my lines.”

“It will be something of a surprise party,” said Patsy. “Still, there are not so many members of the syndicate here that we know about. You have Mantelle, Stella, the two waiters, the guard at the old headquarters, and the man who tried to burglarize your house already under arrest. How many more are there here?”

“The chief,” replied Nick, “the alleged reporter, Bernice, Anton, and the members of that glee club. Oh, we’ll pick them all up if everything goes well.”

“When does it come off?”

“Very shortly, now.”

At that moment there came a knock on the door[265] leading to the hall. One of the members of the club opened it, and six men, wearing the white uniforms of caterer’s men, walked in, bearing great baskets covered with white cloths.

“A surprise!” cried half a dozen voices.

“A feed!” said Bernice, with a laugh.

“Who is responsible for this?” asked the chief.

The baskets were placed in the centre of the stage, and the members of the company gathered about them.

Nick and Patsy stood back where the men who had brought the baskets could see every move they made.

Then, when the entire company was bending over the baskets, Nick gave a signal and seized the chief of the Great Diamond Syndicate!

There were screams, calls for help, and frantic efforts at escape, but in a moment every member of the club who belonged to the villainous diamond syndicate was securely handcuffed.

“How was that for a spread?” asked Chick, who had seized Anton.

“What does it mean?” demanded the chief,[266] looking hard at Nick, still wearing the stage costume prepared for Mantelle.

Nick threw off his rig and stood revealed.

“I think,” said the chief coolly, “that we have met before.”

“Right you are,” said Nick, “and under different circumstances. How do you like the change of positions?”

“I should like to have you as a working partner,” said the chief. “You are courageous and resourceful, yet you sometimes make mistakes. You have made a scene here to-night and arrested practically all the members of this club. What charge can you make against us?”

The members of the club who had not been arrested now gathered around.

“What does this mean?” they asked.

They were mostly the sons and daughters of wealthy people, and they would in time have fallen victims to the syndicate.

“It means,” replied Nick, “that you have been associating with murderers and robbers ever since you joined this club.”

[267]

“That is strong talk,” said the chief. “Be careful what you say.”

Bernice Bouvé, who had been standing by Nick’s side, now sprang away as if to make her escape by means of a window.

“Would you commit suicide?” asked the detective, restraining her. “It would be death to leap from that window.”

“And it is death to remain here!” cried the girl.

The next moment she fell in a faint at the feet of the detective.

As she sank to the floor her hair caught on a button of Nick’s coat, and came off, revealing a short under wig of red hair.

“There!” said Patsy. “We have found the lady’s maid who made up in so many different ways. See! She wore long black hair, then a wig of red, then her own black hair, cut short.”

“Cut short at the prison,” said Nick.

The head of the syndicate stepped forward and looked down upon the girl.

“I never supposed she lacked nerve,” he said.

“The electric chair has terrors for all,” said Nick.

[268]

The chief remained silent. By this time the members of the club who were not under arrest were leaving the room, never to return. The prisoners were grouped on one corner of the stage, some of them in the costumes they had prepared for the play, which was now destined never to be presented by the club.

Nick picked up jewels as they fell from the unconscious girl.

“It seems,” he said, “that Bernice cannot prove true even to her associates in crime. All the larger stones here are paste. How the girl substituted them for the real diamonds in one day’s time is more than I can tell.”

The chief of the syndicate and Anton stepped forward in angry wonder.

The chief muttered a savage oath.

“I have suspected the girl all along,” he said. “That is why she has always been followed.”

“For all that,” said Nick, “she was your best assistant. She did her work cleverly and left no clue, as a rule. I can’t understand how she came to murder Townsend.”

“She never did!” shouted Anton.

[269]

“Wait!” said the chief of the syndicate. “We can’t protect her in the crime which was not authorized by the syndicate. She murdered Townsend because he recognized her.”

“And she and Mantelle, who is now in the Tombs, attempted the life of Maynard because he saw their faces and heard their talk? Is that it?”

The chief was silent.

“You can’t prove what you say,” said Anton, bending over the girl, who now showed signs of returning consciousness. “If that fool of a chief would only keep his mouth shut!”

“Look here,” said Nick. “You say I have no proof. Let me tell you how the crimes were committed. When Anton and Bernice were released from prison, the Great Diamond Syndicate went after them, and they readily agreed to become members of that unlawful organization. They executed the four robberies I have named, Bernice playing the part of lady’s maid and Anton following her about as her lover. Then they came to the Maynard diamonds.

“This dramatic club was formed, and a play which called for the display of a large number of[270] diamonds was selected. The conspirators, through Mantelle, induced people of wealth to join, Maynard and Townsend among others. Maynard foolishly promised the use of his diamonds, and other members agreed to bring minor collections.

“At the dress rehearsal last night Maynard produced his gems. Then the game seemed ready to work. Mantelle made an appointment at the African fortune teller’s. By the way, Stella, the fortune teller is at present in the Tombs, charged with murder. While Mantelle and the gang were making things ready, Maynard and Townsend waited at a café. One member of the syndicate overheard what they said about getting rid of the diamonds. Bernice, having more nerve than the others, was appointed to get the stones. She was dressed in man’s clothes, because that disguise was believed to be perfect. While the officers were looking for a man who had committed the crime, the guilty one would be back in her own habiliments.

“You all know how Townsend was followed and murdered. The chief undoubtedly told the[271] truth. Townsend recognized Bernice, even under her disguise, and so was killed. Then the syndicate, terribly frightened, turned its energies toward defense. It was thought best to watch and destroy the detective who took the case in hand. But they did not expect that work would begin so soon. They were expecting a police detective. I was led to the headquarters of the syndicate, you all know how, and escaped.

“When the headquarters were burned for the purpose of destroying the records, Bernice was at the Wisconsin with Mantelle, trying to find a ring she had lost in the room where the murder was committed. She did not find it, because I picked it up on my first visit to the place. I knew then whose ring it was. I had seen her wear it at the Maynard home when she was a maid there.

“On their way out of the hotel, the elevator boy gave them the suit of clothes she had worn and which I had committed to the charge of the clerk.”

The girl opened her eyes and arose slowly to her feet.

“You are telling a mess of lies!” she said.

[272]

“The suit you wore when you murdered Townsend,” said Nick, “is now at my office. I found it in the closet off Stella’s room on Houston Street. Anton bought it in Paris, and it was made over to fit you. The suit of Townsend’s, which you wore away, was found in the same place.”

“If they were in Stella’s room, why don’t you accuse her of the murder?” demanded Anton.

“Because the chief admits that Bernice committed the crime,” was the reply.

“If she goes to the electric chair, he shall go with her,” said the young man significantly. “He is as guilty as any one.”

The chief of the syndicate sprang forward.

“You traitor!” he shouted. “You are telling lies!”

“Lies!” echoed Anton; “who planned the murder of the elevator boy, after he had been bribed and used? You did, and Stella threw the jar from the window of her room when he passed along there, directed to that place by you!”

“That is just the proof I have been looking for,” said Nick. “My friend, the chief, would[273] have made way with me last night. It gives me great pleasure to send him to the Tombs on charge of murder.”

The chief of the diamond thieves, who had been so vain and so confident of his own ability only a short time before, now cringed with terror.

“They all had a hand in the affair of the boy,” he shouted. “We passed upon the matter at a full meeting of the local branch of the syndicate. If I go to the electric chair, they go with me.”

“I would go willingly,” said Bernice, “if I could take this devil of a detective with me. You thought yourselves able to outwit him! See what has come to you!”

“At any rate,” said Chick, “the Great Diamond Syndicate tried its best, and at one time I thought we were up against a stiff game. You see,” he added, “all the clues in this case have been supplied by members of the syndicate!”

“Bad management!” shouted Anton. “I knew it all along. I told you what Nick Carter could do, and yet you allowed him to live when you had him bound.”

“I don’t believe that is Nick Carter,” said another.[274] “I waited under Stella’s window to-night and received from her a signal showing that he had been killed.”

“You’re a fool!” shouted Anton. “That signal was given by Nick Carter himself to get rid of you. Your Stella is in the Tombs! Why he wasn’t killed in that room is more than I know!”

“Because,” replied Nick, with a smile, “they waited for the arrival of a man who had the nerve to do the killing, and that man was in the Tombs.”

“This ends the Great Diamond Syndicate,” said Chick.

“You are mistaken,” cried the chief. “The syndicate will live on, and will train men to hate Nick Carter; to murder him.”

The detective smiled and took a package of papers from his pocket.

“You are wrong again,” he said. “Here are the records of the syndicate. Not two hours ago I filed a duplicate with the chief of police. By this time, every person in New York in any way connected with the syndicate is either under arrest or under surveillance. Your game is played out, gentlemen.”

[275]

The prisoners were now handcuffed together and marched off to police headquarters.

“That closes the battle,” cried Chick.

“Not just yet,” replied Nick quietly. “There are names here that need attention.”

As he spoke, the detective waved the records of the syndicate in his hand.

“They not only need attention, but they will get it at once. It has been an interesting game so far. Now let us push it through to the end. There was never much mystery concerning the murder. I could have named the murderer of Townsend within an hour after viewing his body, but the girl had to be found before a word was said. Then came the developments concerning the Great Diamond Syndicate, and that organization had to be cleaned up.”

“Why were you so sure of Mantelle after the interview at the café?” asked Chick. “I know he rather overdid the thing there, but still I could see no proof.”

“When I lay on the couch in the rooms of the syndicate,” replied Nick, “I saw some peculiar jewelry lying on the chief’s desk. Well, Mantelle[276] wore that identical jewelry at the café. I could not believe it at first, for I did not remember seeing the chief take the stuff away in the hurry of his departure.”

“But it was the same?”

“It certainly was. I saw that when I took the pin and the ring from Mantelle to-night. Well, you see how that connected him with the syndicate? And there never was any doubt that the syndicate was at the bottom of the murder.”


[277]

CHAPTER XXIII.
THE DEN OF THE SYNDICATE.

“And now what is the layout, Nick?” asked Chick when the prisoners had been disposed of and the detectives had returned to Nick’s house.

“To clean out the den of the syndicate.”

“I thought the fire did that.”

“But there is another, where the smaller fry hang out, as this record shows,” replied Nick again, referring to the paper. “To be sure, there are only the little fellows left; but great oaks from little acorns grow, Chick, and I think we had better make a clean round-up while we are about it.”

“And what are your plans?”

“You know the Dominion saloon?”

“Sure. It’s a crooked joint, although the police have never been able to get a line on it.”

“Right you are, Chick. Well, that is the hangout for the little fellows of the syndicate. I want you to go there and try and get a job as a waiter, or helper of some sort. They are always putting[278] on ‘extras’ there. Get into a good disguise, and I will join you later.”

Without further parley, Chick went into the costume room, and within half an hour he was on his way to the Dominion.

It was some time later when Nick followed him, also in disguise. He took a cab, and was soon within a block of the saloon, a resort that was operated in the interests of one of the toughest gangs in New York.

Here he dismissed the cab and strolled up to the place he sought. He did not enter immediately, however. Pretending to be under the influence of liquor, he stood for a time in front of the place, hands in pockets, glancing tipsily at the show posters in the windows.

A perfect procession of crooks was passing into the place, and Nick was waiting to attract the attention of some of them. Presently he had his wish, for a confidence man known to the crooked profession as Blister called him to the doorway.

“Hello, there!” cried the crook. “You can’t see half of the show from the outside. Come in and have a bracer.”

[279]

Nick looked up with a drunken dignity which set the crook laughing.

“I don’t know you,” he said.

“Come in and get acquainted, then,” was the laughing reply. “What do you expect to get standing out there looking at the paper lions? You can see the real thing on the inside. Admission free! Come and have a snifter.”

“You’re all right!” cried Nick. “I’m choice of me company, but I’ll have a drink with you. You’re all right.”

They walked into the place together and took seats at a table. The room was a large one, and was well filled with customers. In front was a cigar stand, shut off from the room proper by a high screen with mirror panels. Back of this was a long bar, and all along the side and clustered in the rear were tables. Just at the end of the bar an open staircase led to the rooms above.

Sitting at the table with the confidence man, Nick saw Chick passing up and down the staircase with beer and wine on trays. The assistant gave a quick glance at his chief, but did not seem to recognize him.

[280]

Nick does not drink intoxicating liquor, so when the wine was brought at the command of the crook, he was seized with a coughing fit, and succeeded in spilling most of the contents of his glass.

“We’ll have another,” said the detective, drawing forth a roll of banknotes, which caused the eyes of the confidence man to open wide. The fellow thought that the money was certain to come his way before the night was over.

Glancing about the room, Nick saw that those present were gathered in little groups, talking earnestly and in whispers. They all appeared to be very well known to each other.

Nick noticed that two muscular fellows kept near the door.

The confidence man bought several drinks, and then began talking about a little game that was going on upstairs.

“I’m going up and play a few stacks,” he said. “It’s dull down here. You may come along and look on if you want to. Don’t get into any game with strangers, however,” he added, “for there are some pretty tough chaps here to-night. If[281] you want to play a small game, I’ll get you a seat at my table after a while.”

Nick was not ready to leave the lower room, so he put the crook off and sat with his eyes on the door.

Presently four men entered the place, drank at the bar, and then started up the staircase. Nick saw that they were strangers there, judging by the attitude of the others in the room. They were tall, broad-shouldered men, and all wore full beards. It was plain that they were armed.

One of the men behind the bar called to the men as they started up the staircase.

“Where are you going?” he asked, stepping toward them.

“To the wine room,” was the reply.

“Those are private rooms,” said the attendant. “You can’t go up there to-night.”

The muscular fellows who had been watching at the door now advanced to the foot of the stairs. As they did so, four roughly dressed men entered and stepped back to the inner end of the bar.

“There seems to be a little row on between the remaining members of the syndicate,” thought[282] Nick. “Well, when thieves fall out honest men get their dues.”

“Why can’t we go up?” demanded one of the men. “We have been there before.”

“Not to-night,” said the attendant. “Take seats down here.”

The men hesitated. Then they saw that the people in the place were gathering about them with threatening looks, and took chairs at a table, the eight close together.

The crook who was sitting with Nick arose and moved up to the bar, where he stood whispering to the man in charge.

As he did so, Chick walked up to Nick as if to take an order.

“When the row begins,” he said, “go to the back end of the room. I’ll be there. We’ll go up by the private staircase. I know where to take you.”

Nick nodded, and Chick brought two glasses of wine and placed them on the table.

Before the crook returned to his chair, however, the rush was made. Nick saw the gang springing for the stairs, drawing their revolvers[283] as they went, and made for the back of the room, where Chick awaited him.

There came a shot, and in an instant the lights were out. Then followed more shots on the stairs, and a police call sounded.

The detective heard the men breaking in the door at the head of the stairs, and then came more shooting in the hall above. All was confusion in the room below.


[284]

CHAPTER XXIV.
WHAT NICK OVERHEARD.

As the detectives started up the stairs, which were not lighted, a woman’s voice came from above.

“Who is there?” she asked.

Chick crowded past his chief before he replied:

“Waiter.”

“What is going on down there?” was the next question.

“There’s a gang of toughs making for the wine rooms.”

There was a short silence, during which the detectives crept noiselessly up the stairs. In a moment Nick could feel the woman’s skirt by reaching over Chick’s shoulders. The gang was not yet in the hall connecting with the private stairs.

“Send Jim up to my room,” said the woman presently.

“All right.”

The woman was heard moving away, and the detectives followed her.

[285]

She passed down a narrow hall running toward an annex in the rear of the building. Presently she opened a door, and the passage was flooded with light. The electrics in the annex had not been switched off.

The woman uttered a cry of alarm when she saw two men were following her, one in the uniform of a waiter and the other a stranger.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded. “Go back and send Jim up. Who is that with you?”

“Friend,” replied Chick. “Business man, and I brought him up so he wouldn’t get pinched. Put him away somewhere.”

Chick made a sly motion toward his pocket. The woman understood. Many a man had been robbed in that place.

“I see,” replied the woman. “Bring him in here.”

She stepped into the room and motioned for the detectives to follow.

Nick now appeared to be very much intoxicated, and Chick helped him along. The woman pointed to a small room at the side.

[286]

“Take him in there,” she said, “then go and call Jim.”

Nick was thinking fast. His first impulse was to secure the woman against outcry and make for the front of the building.

As Nick mused, studying out the problem, another woman’s voice was heard in the room he had first entered. The door between the two rooms was open, and he heard the newcomer saying:

“This will end the business for the whole crowd. Idle police are out there with guns and night sticks. I guess the whole place will be pinched. They can’t get in here, however. Everything safe?”

There was no reply that Nick could hear, but the woman was evidently warned that a stranger was in the next room, for she began speaking in whispers. Nick began to snore loudly.

“Asleep,” whispered the woman.

“Drunk,” said the other, “and he has a roll as big as a stovepipe.”

Nick leaned back in his chair with his eyes shut, but he knew that the women were standing in the doorway looking him over.

[287]

“I wonder why Jim doesn’t come?” asked the woman who had admitted Nick to the room. “I sent a waiter after him.”

“I presume he is busy,” was the reply. “There is a big fight on out there.”

“What is it all about?”

“Why, the gang believes that Hughart squealed to Carter, and caused the arrest of the big chief. They want him.”

“But he didn’t.”

“That’s true enough, but you can’t make the gang believe it.”

Nick began to wait with impatience for the return of Chick.

There was now no shooting in front, but a good deal of running around was heard, and doors were slamming, as if a general search or chase was on.

Fretting over his enforced inactivity, Nick decided to try a new plan. With a loud snort he fell from his chair, and lay like a log on the floor.

One of the women came to the doorway.

“The drunken brute!” she cried. “We must throw him into the back room.”

[288]

Acting on this suggestion, the women seized Nick and dragged him over a doorsill, and left him. Then he heard a door close.

Opening his eyes cautiously, he found himself in utter darkness. The room was undoubtedly an inside one, for no windows were in sight.

He arose to his feet in order to get his bearings, if possible. As he did so, the room was flooded with light from electric globes far up on the wall, and a voice said:

“You awoke suddenly.”

It was the voice of one of the women who had been talking while he sat in the next room. Nick looked about. There was no one in sight.

“Sit down in that chair in the middle of the room,” commanded the voice. “You will be shot if you try any of your games.”

To say that Nick was disgusted with himself but feebly expresses his feelings. At the critical moment he had permitted a woman to outwit him!

“I am not in the killing business myself,” said the woman, “but there will soon be a person here who has no scruples in getting rid of spies and murderers.”

[289]

Nick took the chair without a word. His hope was now in Chick.

“You’re after Hughart, are you?” she asked.

“You know what we want,” replied Nick. “Why not make it an even thing for both sides?”

“Oh, you want to compromise, do you?” sneered the woman. “That bum waiter you sneaked in here got his a moment ago. And the rest of your crowd has just been taken away by the police.”

The detective did not believe this. There was still too much excitement at the front of the building.

Presently the noise grew louder, seeming to come from the room in which Chick had left him. Then the lights were shut off, and again he was in darkness.

He heard the sounds of a struggle, but had no means of knowing whether it was the police or the syndicate gang. Then came a shout:

“Kick in the doors, boys. He is here somewhere.”

This was followed by heavy blows, and a door[290] fell with a crash. Then another, and in a second the door to the room where he sat was attacked.

He sprang to a corner of the room and waited, his revolver ready at his hand.

When the door fell, three men bounded into the room. They were not policemen, but members of the syndicate.

One of the men advanced toward Nick.

“Here he is,” he shouted. “Now, hurry up. It’s a fight to get out, I suppose.”


[291]

CHAPTER XXV.
A DESPERATE RAID.

Nick was dragged to the square of light in front of the open doorway. He appeared to be still under the influence of liquor.

The men regarded him with rage and dismay, holding him fast in the meantime.

“This is not the man we want,” one of them shouted.

“Who are you?” demanded another.

Sounds of advancing footsteps were now heard from the direction of the private staircase.

“Quick!” cried one of the men, seizing Nick by the throat. “Is there any way out of this cursed hole? The cops are after us.”

“They brought me here to rob me,” faltered the detective, “and I can’t find the way out.”

“Some cheap sport,” cried one of the gang. “Come on, boys!”

But Nick had no idea of permitting the men to escape.

[292]

He had no way of knowing how many members of the gang had been taken by the police, but he was determined that these three should not get away.

He knew that in such dens as he then found himself there were often double doors, the second one of metal and sliding down from the upper casing.

The Dominion had for years been the resort of thieves and murderers, and it would not be strange if something of the kind should exist in the room where, he had no doubt, many persons had been shot from the secret panel from which he had been threatened.

In fact, the very presence of the secret panel convinced him that the room was not protected by only a wooden door.

If anything of the sort existed, there should be a push button on the outer casing.

He was already in the doorway, where he had been thrust by the gang for close inspection, and before they could move out he made a quick examination.

The button was there, and he stepped outside[293] and pressed it. As he expected, a metal door slid from above and covered the opening. The women had been too sure of him to use the door, and had been too excited to think of it when the gang arrived.

As the metal door shot down, Nick saw Chick in the room behind him, but he disappeared in an instant, much to the amazement of the detective. Then a familiar voice came from beyond the door:

“Throw up your hands in there! I have you covered!”

Then Nick remembered that Chick had informed him that he was thoroughly posted regarding the Dominion. The means used to trap victims was now being used in the interest of the law.

Chick was there at the secret panel. Nick wondered if the outlaws were obeying orders.

He looked about for some way of reaching Chick, and saw a door at the left of the metal one. Opening this, the detective found himself in a narrow hallway, at the end of which stood his assistant,[294] with two revolvers pointing through the little opening.

“You’re a brick,” cried Nick. “What are they doing?”

“Holding up their hands,” was the grim reply.

“Hold them a moment,” said Nick.

He stepped back to the room where he had left the women.

“Where are the police?” asked the detective.

“Sending crooks in by wagon loads,” was the reply.

“Oh, you are detectives, are you?” said one of the women. Then she turned to Nick.

“I would have killed you had I known,” she said angrily.

“By the way,” said Nick, addressing the woman, “you may as well tell us where you have hidden Hughart.”

“I know nothing about any such man,” came the scornful reply. “The boys will be back here soon, and then you will get what’s coming to you.”

“The police are in charge of the place.”

“But they didn’t get here in time,” sneered the woman.

[295]

This meant, if it meant anything, that Hughart had gotten away before the raid, or while it was in progress.

“Don’t be too sure of that,” was his reply.

“The police would never have thought of coming here,” stormed the woman. “It remained for you to come sneaking in like a man ashamed of himself.”

Nick had learned what he wanted to know. The police were in charge of the front part of the building, and were not likely to come there unless sent for. The crooks were scattered or under arrest, and the crooks had made themselves scarce, at least those who remained at liberty had.

There was now no danger of his being disturbed in carrying out the plans he had decided upon. Taking a position at the panel, he asked:

“Now who has the top hand?”

The crooks swore volubly, and Nick laughed.

“I’m coming in there now to disarm you,” said Nick, “but I leave a chap here who can do pretty good shooting. The man who resists will be killed.” Then, turning to Chick, he asked:

[296]

“How many pair of handcuffs have you?”

“Two, but——”

“Never mind that,” interrupted Nick. “You stay here and shoot if one of them lifts a finger. I’ll lock the women in a closet.”

This plan was adopted, and in five minutes the three crooks were disarmed and handcuffed.

“I don’t believe you’re a New York policeman,” said one of the men, glaring at Nick. “They don’t do things in this way. We have been operating here quite a time, and this is our first experience of this kind.”

“You are not discreet,” smiled Nick as he handcuffed them.

The sound of angry words now came from the room where Chick had been left in charge of the two prisoners and the women.

Nick opened the door and looked out. A heavily built man with a mustache dyed black and an evil face was shaking a huge fist at the women.

“You’ve robbed me,” he was saying, “and I now give you in charge of these officers. You saw your chance when things were getting mixed,[297] and took every dollar from the safe. You’re nice people, you are.”

The women looked the man over scornfully and maintained a discreet silence.

The tough turned to Nick.

“I remember you,” he said. “You came into the place to-night just before the raid, and you made for this room when the row started. That man there,” pointing to Chick, “hired out as a waiter early in the evening. You are detectives, I suppose?”

“You have guessed it,” replied Chick.

“Well, I want you to arrest these women. They have robbed the safe of ten thousand dollars. I will appear against them.”

“When was this money taken?” asked Nick.

“Some time during the evening.”

“But the women have been here ever since the row started.”

“Then they took the money before that time. They might have taken it during the afternoon, for all I know. They had chances enough if they knew the combination, and they must have[298] learned that, or they could not have taken it at all, for the safe was locked.”

“Where is the safe?” asked Nick.

“In a little room at the back end of the saloon.”

“Near the private staircase?”

“Close to it.”

“Is your name Jim?” asked the detective.

“Not for a minute,” was the reply. “Jim is the bartender.”

Nick glanced at the women. They threw him an appealing glance and turned their eyes away.

“Perhaps he took the money,” suggested Nick.

“He wasn’t here until just before the row began,” was the reply.

“Where is he now?” asked Nick.

“I don’t know. The police closed the place.”

As the fellow spoke he glared angrily at the prisoners. It was evident that he knew something of the cause of the raid.

“These men came here,” said Nick, “looking for a man named Hughart. Where is Hughart?”

“I don’t know anything about him,” was the angry reply. “What I want now is my money,[299] and I want these women and these rooms searched.”

“Search them, then,” said Nick. “You know the rooms better than we do.”

“We can look through the rooms later, after the women are taken away,” said the proprietor, “but I want the women searched now. I believe they have my money on their persons.”

“They will be searched at headquarters,” replied the detective.

“Well,” continued the enraged owner of the place, “if you have done your work here, I want you to get out. I must get things in shape again.”

The women flushed painfully when they heard the mention of police headquarters.

“I never took his money,” one of them said. “I don’t believe he ever had the sum he mentions.”

“I am willing to be searched now,” said the other.

“Speaking of this Hughart,” said the proprietor, “Molly, that woman there,” pointing to the one Nick desired to question closely in time; “that woman Molly is the one who had the scheme on[300] with him. She knows where he is if any one does.”

“Where was she last night?” asked Nick.

“I don’t know where she was. She was not seen about the place.”

“I was in my room,” replied Molly.

“I know better,” declared the proprietor. “You were out all evening. Come, now, you dig down and produce that money, or I’ll send you over the road.”

“I haven’t got your money,” declared Molly. “And when it comes to talk about sending me over the road, that is a game two can play at. You had better be careful what you say and do, Ben Hall. If you accuse me of taking your money, I’ll get even with you, and you may depend upon it.”

Angry as he was over his loss, Hall hesitated.

“I may be mistaken,” he said finally, turning to Nick. “I think I was a little hasty. If you’ll give me a chance to talk with Molly alone, I think we can fix it up.”

“Not at present,” was Nick’s reply. Then he added: “You do not accuse the other woman?”

[301]

“Carrie? No. Carrie’s all right. I don’t know as Molly took the money, but it looks suspicious.”

“Then there is nothing to hold Carrie for?”

“Not a thing, and you may as well release Molly, too. We can square our little matter between ourselves.”

“I’ll have to hold Molly,” said Nick.

Molly looked disappointed. In a moment she turned and whispered to Carrie, taking good care that not a word should be overheard. She spoke rapidly, and Carrie nodded now and then to show that she understood.

“What is all this talk about?” demanded Hall.

“I’m sending her after a lawyer and a bondsman, and after my laundry,” replied Molly, with warmth. “You don’t think I’m going to remain in jail, do you?”

“Oh, I’ll attend to that,” said Hall.

“Indeed you won’t,” said the woman. “You’ve got your foot in it now, and you’ll kindly let me alone. I’ll attend to you later.”

“What have I said?” asked Hall.

“You said I was mixed up in the scheme to throw down the chief. I wasn’t.”

[302]

“Yes, you were,” roared Hall; “and the boys think you are trying to throw them down. You can’t square yourself with them very easily, I can tell you that.”

“I don’t care what the boys think,” said Molly.

“Where were you this afternoon, Molly?” asked Nick.

“Right here.”

“All the time?”

“I never left the place. I have been here all day.”

Nick turned to his assistant.

“Take the men away,” he said. “Be careful how you handle them, for they are a bad lot. See them locked up at headquarters, and then return.”

“That looks like you wanted these rooms for an office,” grunted Hall.

“And when you get to the street,” continued Nick, turning to Chick, “send two policemen here to guard these rooms. Station them at the outer door there.”

Hall turned away with an oath and went back to his wrecked barroom.

[303]

After a short talk with his chief, which was not heard by the others, Chick went away with the prisoners.

Nick waited until the policeman arrived; then, leaving Carrie in charge of one of them, he called Molly aside.

“Where is Hall’s money?” he asked.

The angry woman refused to answer. Nor would she tell anything about the whereabouts of Hughart.


[304]

CHAPTER XXVI.
NICK TAKES A CHANCE.

Finally there came a knock on the door. Nick opened it and looked out. Chick stood there.

“They are landed, all right,” he said.

Nick drew him aside.

“In five minutes’ time,” he said, “release Carrie, and see that she leaves by the side door of the saloon. I will be there to pick her up. Then leave the policemen here to guard these rooms, and take Molly to the house. This place may have to be searched later.”

“Unless I am very much mistaken,” said Chick, “a couple of those crooks are watching about the place. You may have company if you follow Carrie.”

“So much the better,” replied Nick.

Five minutes later Carrie emerged from the side door of the saloon and turned toward the East River. At the same time a man in a modest suit of dark brown whirled into the side street[305] and moved along rapidly, whistling and swinging a cane as he walked. Two men standing across the street followed along in the shadows.

The detective’s disguise was a good one. He had turned his reversible suit, removed his false mustache, washed the convivial red from his cheeks, and lined his face just a trifle, in order to make himself look older and thinner. No one who had seen him at Hall’s place would have recognized him now.

He passed Carrie at a swinging pace and turned at the next corner. There he waited in a convenient doorway for her to pass. As she did so, the two men crossed to the north side of the street, upon which the girl was walking, and followed on behind her. Nick crossed to the south side of the street, and walked along in silence, keeping abreast of the girl.

“This is rather a chestnut,” he mused, “releasing a suspect and following after, and Carrie may not go to Hughart. Yet she is not a very wise person, and I am sure that Molly told her to communicate with him.”

Nick knew very well that the two men who[306] were following the girl were on the same mission as himself. The gang had not yet given up the notion of finding Hughart. They had shown both nerve and cunning in the game, as far as it had been played, and he looked for some unusual developments from them before the night was over.

Their presence complicated matters, but the detective could only follow on and take chances when the time came.

After walking several blocks, Carrie entered an all-night restaurant not far from the river, and seated herself at a table. From the opposite side of the street, Nick saw the trailers peering through the windows of the place, evidently in doubt as to the advisability of entering.

Carrie ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. The waiter who brought them remained at the table for a moment, and then talked briefly with a sporty-looking fellow who sat behind the desk, apparently the cashier.

Nick sauntered in and took a stool at the lunch counter, not far from the table where the girl sat. As he did so, the cashier approached the girl and opened a whispered conversation with her.

[307]

“You’d better cut it all out,” Nick heard him say. “According to your own story, things are getting mixed.”

Carrie whispered something which the detective could not hear. Then the cashier said:

“Like a wild man. Getting tired of waiting, I guess.”

Another whisper from the girl.

“No, he has not been down here. Afraid, I guess. You keep out of it.”

The girl bent closer, and whispered at length.

“I’ll take the message,” said the cashier next.

Nick paid his bill and left the place. The two watchers were still on the opposite side of the street.

As soon as Nick passed the square of light in front of the restaurant, he turned into a stairway which led to the upper part of the building, which was only three stories in height and without an elevator. The hallway was not lighted, and, as soon as the detective stepped inside, he was in darkness, broken only by a dim light coming through a transom over a door connecting with the restaurant.

[308]

Turning to look back, he saw that the watchers were crossing the street. Fearful that they might seek shelter in the stairway and so discover him, Nick passed on to the first landing. There was a dim light here, but the transoms above the doors showed that the rooms opening from the hall were in darkness.

He passed on up the second flight of stairs, and found himself in a narrow hallway with a window at each end. Lights showed in all the four rooms on that floor.

Nick went to the back window and looked out. There was a fire escape there, and he stepped out and hung to the rungs, his head on a level with the windowsill. The windows of the rear room were open, and the detective heard voices. They did not appear to come from that room, however, but from an inner one next to it.

The fire escape was available from the windows of the back room, and Nick moved along and looked in. As he suspected, there was no one there. He could not see into the inner room, for the door was not in line with the window.

[309]

There was, however, a door in line—the door of a closet, and this was ajar.

“It is up to me to take a chance,” muttered Nick, and in a second he was in the room making for the closet.

Before he reached the place of shelter, however, a figure appeared in the doorway connecting with the inner room. Then a man sprang forward. In an instant Nick had his revolver leveled.

“I have been looking for you, Mr. Hughart,” Nick said coolly. “You may as well come with me.”

Then a woman’s scream came from the inner room, and Carrie appeared in the doorway. She had gained the room by means of a stairway from the restaurant.

The detective confronted the pair with his threatening revolver.

“Not a word,” he said. “Come! We want you, Hughart.”

“What for?” demanded the miner.

“You’ll learn that in time,” was the reply.

“And if I refuse to go?”

[310]

“Then you will be taken by force.”

Then Nick scented danger. He saw the eyes of the pair travel past him and fix themselves on the door leading to the hall.

It is an old trick to place a person off guard, but this looked real to the detective. The terror in Hughart’s eyes was not simulated.

Without lowering his weapon, Nick turned about. He was too late. As he did so, a noose fell over his shoulders.

The rope was drawn taut, with the detective’s hands and arms between it and his body.

Hughart and the girl sprang for the inner room as the rope fell, but one of the men, gun in hand, barred the way.

“Well, Hughart,” he said viciously, “it has come to a show-down at last.”

“What do you want?” demanded the miner.

“We want you.”

Hughart made a sudden spring for the man, avoided the shot, and grappled him. The man who had been guarding Nick sprang forward to help his companion, and in a second the detective was out of the rope and in the fight.

[311]

Before the second man could draw his gun, Nick landed a heavy blow on the jaw which sent him to the floor like a dead man.

Hughart was fighting like a madman, but would have been bested had the detective not hastened to his assistance, settling the outlaw with a terrific blow.

Hughart gazed at the detective in amazement.


[312]

CHAPTER XXVII.
BULLY COMES TO GRIEF.

“That was quick work,” said Hughart, “but I did not expect to see you helping me.”

“I had an idea,” replied the detective, “that I wanted a little of your society myself, and so do the police.”

“Who’s talkin’ about the police?” said a voice, and the next moment a burly man appeared in the doorway of the inner room.

He was almost a giant, and carried himself with the air of a fighter. The muscles on his arms and neck stood out like cords, and there was an ugly leer on his face.

“I am talking about the police,” replied Nick.

“Go chase yourself,” thundered the bouncer, “you can’t bring no police up here while I’m around.”

Nick saw that there was trouble ahead, and got ready for it.

[313]

Hughart turned away.

“Wait,” said Nick. “You are going with me as soon as these men are taken care of.”

“He don’t have to go unless he wants to,” sneered the bouncer. “You can’t come up here an’ run this place.”

Hughart turned back, and said:

“I have no idea of going with you. You helped me out here, a moment ago, and I thank you for that, but here our ways part.”

Nick was in rather a tight box, for he did not know but the crooks might regain consciousness in a minute and come to the assistance of the bully.

Whatever was done must be done at once.

He turned to Hughart.

“You are wanted as a witness in the case against the chief of the diamond syndicate,” he said, “and you may as well come along without making trouble.”

“The diamond syndicate?” echoed the miner. “What do I know about a diamond syndicate?”

“You know all about it,” replied Nick.

[314]

“This is the first I have heard of it,” said the man, a look of fear on his face.

It was easy to see that the man was lying.

“He’s givin’ you guff,” roared the bouncer. “Shall I put him out?”

Nick was getting angry. The developments of the night had convinced the detective that Hughart would make trouble if an attempt to take him by force was made.

“Get out!” roared the bouncer. “Don’t be kicking up a row here.”

Nick stepped backward to the door opening into the hall, and gave a shrill call on his police whistle.

In a second the bouncer was making for him, not with a weapon, but with his brawny fists, which had doubtless put more than one man out of business.

Nick met him halfway. The fellow put up his hands in prize-ring style, but it was of little avail. Nick is a past master in the art of boxing, and the bouncer went to the floor to join the crooks.

Then Nick found himself threatened with a revolver in the hands of Hughart.

[315]

The girl screamed and covered her face with her hands. Hughart turned for a second to warn her against making an outcry, and that was enough. He went down under a crashing blow.

Carrie gave a scream of fright and anger as Hughart fell, and turned toward the inner stairs leading to the restaurant.

“It looks like a slaughterhouse,” she said.

And, indeed, she was not far from right. There were four men on the floor whom the detective had put out of business for the time being. He smiled as he thought what would have resulted had they all attacked him at once.

“Wait until the police come,” said Nick to the girl. “You are to go with me.”

“Indeed I’m not,” was the angry reply. “I was arrested once to-day, and they were glad to let me go.”

“Where do you wish to go?” asked Nick. “Do you want to communicate the news to your friend Molly, who sent you here?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about?” said the girl.

[316]

“Come, come,” said Nick, “I am the officer who had you under arrest up at Hall’s place. You were released in order that you might show the way to Hughart’s hiding place. Molly, by the way, has been taken to my house, and you can see her there.”

The girl stepped back in wonder.

“You must be Nick Carter,” she said. “No other man could so disguise himself and do what you have done here.”

“The same, at your service,” replied Nick, with a laugh.

“Then I suppose I’ll have to go with you,” said the girl, “but you won’t get anything out of me.”

Presently the police came—two patrolmen who had heard the whistle.

Nick made himself known, told them to see that the crooks were taken to police headquarters, and asked one of them to call a carriage.

Hughart was still unconscious from the blow he had received, and had to be carried to the vehicle.

[317]

“You gave him a good one,” grinned one of the officers.

“It was that or nothing,” replied Nick. “See that these men are safely handcuffed and locked up. When the wagon comes, one of you remain here and close the place.”

The officer pointed to the bouncer.

“What about this one?” he asked.

“Lock him up,” was the brief reply. “There are plenty of charges to make against him. He’s a tough, but not so tough as he thinks he is.”

Arrived at Nick’s house, Hughart and Carrie were placed in separate rooms. The latter at once asked for Molly, but was not permitted to see her at that time. Hughart was beginning to show signs of consciousness.

Chick appeared as Nick entered his study.

“You are making quite a collection to-night,” he said. “Molly is making things hum in that little room.”

“What does she say?”

“That you shall be made to suffer for her detention.”

[318]

“That is cheerful,” said Nick. “Has she been searched?”

“Yes. Mrs. Knight left her not long ago.”

“She found the money?”

“Certainly.”

“I am sorry for the woman,” mused Nick. “She is in bad shape just now.”

Although Hughart had been suspected, without cause, by his companions in the syndicate, under Nick Carter’s third degree he confessed everything, with the result that the detective was able to make a strong case against the gang.

“The small fry,” as Nick called them, it was proven had nothing to do with the murder, and all escaped with sentences ranging from ten to twenty years.

Bernice escaped the penalty of the law by committing suicide in her cell.

The chief of the diamond thieves, Anton, and Stella went to the electric chair.

The large diamonds which had been removed from the Maynard collection by Bernice were never found. After rounding up the syndicate,[319] Nick refused to engage in a hunt for the diamonds.

The case was fairly won, but the famous detective declares to this day that the cleverest criminals he ever encountered belonged to the Great Diamond Syndicate.

THE END.

No. 1151 of the New Magnet Library, entitled “The Death Circle,” by Nicholas Carter, bristles with danger and unforeseen events which will hold you spellbound.


[320]

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[321]

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