DYKE DARREL THE RAILROAD DETECTIVE
THE CRIME OF THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
By FRANK PINKERTON
I. A STARTLING CRIME. II. DYKE DARREL'S TRICK. III. PROFESSOR DARLINGTON RUGGLES. IV. SCALPED. V. ELLISTON'S REBUFF. VI. DYKE DARREL'S DANGER. VII. WHAT A HANDKERCHIEF REVEALED. VIII. A PLUNGE TO DEATH. IX. WORDS THAT STARTLE. X. BLACK HOLLOW. XI. POOR SIBYL! XII. A BURNING TRAP. XIII. A SAD FATE. XIV. DYKE DARREL ASTOUNDED. XV. A BAFFLED VILLAIN. XVI. NELL MISSING. XVII NELL IN THE TOILS. XVIII. BEATEN BACK. XIX. THE DETECTIVE FOOLED. XX. OVERMATCHED BY A GIRL. XXI. A BOUT IN THE CELLAR. XXII. THE EMPTY SEAT. XXIII. DYKE DARREL ON THE TRAIL. XXIV. A RACE FOR LIFE. XXV. SAVED! XXVI. THE MYSTERIOUS WART. XXVII. THE STORY OF A WART. XXVIII. THE REVELATIONS OF A SATCHEL. XXIX. RETRIBUTION.
WON BY CRIME
A STARTLING CRIME.
"The most audacious crime of my remembrance."
Dyke Darrel flung down the morning paper, damp from the press, and began pacing the floor.
"What is it, Dyke?" questioned the detective's sister Nell, who at that moment thrust her head into the room.
Nell was a pretty girl of twenty, with midnight hair and eyes, almost in direct contrast with her brother, the famous detective, whose deeds of cunning and daring were the theme of press and people the wide West over.
"An express robbery," returned Dyke, pausing in front of Nell and holding up the paper.
"I am sorry," uttered the girl, with a pout. "I shan't have you with me for the week that I promised myself. I am always afraid something will happen every time you go out on the trail of a criminal, Dyke."
"And something usually DOES happen," returned the detective, grimly. "My last detective work did not pan out as I expected, but I do not consider that entirely off yet. It may be that the one who murdered Captain Osborne had a hand in this latest crime."
"An express robbery, you say?"
The young girl's cheek blanched.
"Yes. The express messenger on the Central road was murdered last night, and booty to the amount of thirty thousand dollars secured."
"Yes, it is a bold piece of work, and will set the detectives on the trail."
"Did you know the murdered messenger, Dyke?"
"It was Arnold Nicholson."
The girl reeled, and clutched the table at her side for support. The name uttered by her brother was that of a friend of the Barrels, a man of family, and one who had been in the employ of the express company for many years.
No wonder Nell Darrel was shocked at learning the name of the victim.
"You see how it is, Nell?"
"Yes," returned the girl, recovering her self-possession. "I meant to ask you to forego this man-hunt, but I see that it would be of no use."
"Not the least, Nell," returned Dyke, with a compression of the lips. "I would hunt these scoundrels down without one cent reward. Nicholson was my friend, and a good one. He helped me once, when to do so was of great inconvenience to himself. It is my duty to see that his cowardly assassins are brought to justice."
Even as Dyke Darrel uttered the last words a man ran up to the steps and opened the front door.
"I hope I don't intrude," he said, as he put his face into the room.
"No; you are always welcome, Elliston," cried Dyke, extending his hand. The new-comer accepted the proffered hand, then turned and smiled on Nell. He was a tall man, with smoothly-cut beard and a tinge of gray in his curling black hair.
Harper Elliston was past thirty, and on the best of terms with Dyke Darrel and his sister, who considered him a very good friend.
"You have read the news?" Elliston said, as his keen, black eyes rested on the paper that lay on the table.
"Yes," returned the detective. "It's a most villainous affair."
"One of the worst."
"I was never so shocked," said Nell. "Do you imagine the robbers will be captured, Mr. Elliston?"
"Certainly, if your brother takes the trail, although I hope he will not."
"Why do you hope so?" questioned Dyke.
"My dear boy, it's dangerous—-"
A low laugh cut short the further speech of Mr. Elliston.
"I supposed you knew me too well, Harper, to imagine that danger ever deterred Dyke Darrel from doing his duty."
"Of course; but this is a different case. 'Tis said that four men were engaged in the foul work, and that they belong to a league of desperate ruffians, as hard to deal with as ever the James and Younger brothers. Better leave it to the Chicago and St. Louis force, Dyke. I should hate to see you made the victim of these scoundrels."
Mr. Elliston laid his hand on the detective's arm in a friendly way, and seemed deeply anxious.
"Harper, are you aware that the murdered messenger was my friend?"
"Certainly. I would be less than human did I refuse to take the trail of his vile assassins. You make me blush when you insinuate that danger should deter me from doing my duty."
"I am not aware that I said such a thing," answered Elliston. "I did not mean it if I did. It would please me to have you remain off this trail, however, Dyke. I will see to it that the best Chicago detectives are set to work; that ought to satisfy you."
"And I sit with my hands folded meantime?"
A look of questioning surprise filled the eyes of Dyke Darrel, as he regarded Mr. Elliston.
"No. But you promised Nell to take her East this spring, to New York-"
"He did, but I forego that pleasure," cried the girl, quickly. "I realize that Dyke has a duty to perform in Illinois."
"And so you, too, side with your brother," cried Mr. Elliston, forcing a laugh. "In that case, I surrender at discretion."
Dyke picked up and examined the paper once more. "DIED FOR DUTY. BOLD AND BLOODY CRIME AT NIGHT ON THE CENTRAL RAILROAD."
That was the heading to the article announcing the assassination of the express messenger. The train on which the deed had been committed, had left Chicago at ten in the evening, and at one o'clock, when the train was halted at a station, the deed was discovered. Arnold Nicholson was found with his skull crushed and his body terribly beaten, while, in the bloody hands of the dead, was clutched a tuft of red hair. This went to show that one of the messenger's assailants was a man with florid locks.
Leaving Nell and Mr. Elliston together, Dyke Darrel hastened to the station. He was aware that a train would pass in ten minutes, and he wished to enter Chicago and make an examination for himself. The detective's home was on one of the many roads crossing Illinois, and entering the Garden City—about an hour's ride from the Gotham of the West.
In less than two hours after reading the notice of the crime on the midnight express. Dyke Darrel was in Chicago. He visited the body of the murdered messenger, and made a brief examination. It was at once evident to Darrel, that Nicholson had made a desperate fight for life, but that he had been overpowered by a superior force.
A reward of ten thousand dollars was already offered for the detection and punishment of the outlaws.
"Poor Arnold!" murmured Dyke Darrel, as he gazed at the bruised and battered corpse. "I will not rest until the wicked demons who compassed this foul work meet with punishment!"
There were still several shreds of hair between the fingers of the dead, when Dyke Darrel made his examination, since the body had just arrived from the scene of the murder.
The detective secured several of the hairs, believing they might help him in his future movements. Darrel made one discovery that he did not care to communicate to others; it was a secret that he hoped might lead to results in the future. What the discovery was, will be disclosed in the progress of our story.
Soon after the body of the murdered a messenger was removed to his home, from which the funeral was to take place.
As Dyke Darrel was passing from the rooms of the undertaker, a hand fell on his shoulder.
"You are a detective?"
Dyke Darrel looked into a smooth, boyish face, from which a pair of brown eyes glowed.
"What is it you wish?" Darrel demanded, bluntly.
"I wish to make a confidant of somebody."
"Well, go on."
"First tell me if you are a detective."
"You may call me one."
"It's about that poor fellow you've just been interviewing," said the young stranger. "I am Watson Wilkes, and I was on the train, in the next car, when poor Nicholson was murdered. I was acting as brakeman at the time. Do you wish to hear what I can tell?"
DYKE DARREL'S TRICK.
"Certainly I do," cried the detective. "Come with me, and we will find a place where we can talk without danger of interruption."
The two men moved swiftly down the street. At length Dyke Darrel entered a well-known restaurant on Randolph street, secured a private stall, and then bade Mr. Wilks proceed. Both men were seated at a small table.
"Shan't I order the wine?"
"No," answered Dyke, with a frown. "We need clear brains for the work in hand. If you know aught of this monstrous crime, tell it at once."
"I do know a considerable," said Mr. Wilks. "I was the first man who discovered Arnold Nicholson after he'd been shot. The safe was in the very car that I occupied. I saw the men get the swag. There were three of them."
"They all wore mask, so of course I could not tell who they were; but I've an idea that they were from Chicago."
"Why have you such an idea?"
"Because I saw three suspicious chaps get on at Twenty-second street. I think they are the chaps who killed poor Arnold, and got away with the money in the safe."
"Did you recognize them?"
"No—that is, I'm not positive; but I think one of 'm was a chap that is called Skinny Joe, a hard pet, who used to work in a saloon on Clark street."
"Yes. It might be well to keep your eye out in that quarter."
"It might," admitted Dyke Darrel. "This is all you know regarding the midnight tragedy?"
"Oh, no; I can give you more particulars."
"Let's have them, then."
"But see here, how am I to know that you are a detective? I might get sold, you know," replied Mr. Wilks in a suspicious tone.
Dyke Darrel lifted the lapel of his coat, exposing a silver star.
"All right," returned Mr. Wilks, with a nod. "I'm of the opinion that Skinny Joe's about the customer you need to look after, captain. I'll go down with you to the fellow's old haunts, and we'll see what we can find."
Mr. Wilks seemed tremendously interested. Dyke Darrel was naturally suspicious, and he was not ready to swallow everything his companion said as law and gospel. Of course the large reward was a stimulant for men to be on the lookout for the midnight train robbers; and Mr. Wilks' interest must be attributable to this.
"You see, I was Arnold Nicholson's friend, and I'd go a long ways to see the scoundrels get their deserts who killed him, even if there was no reward in the case," explained the brakeman suddenly.
"Certainly," answered Dyke Darrel. "I can understand how one employed on the same train could take the deepest interest in such a sad affair."
"Will you go down on Clark street with me?"
"Not just now."
"I will meet you here this evening, and consult on that point."
"Very well. Better take something."
"No; not now."
Dyke Barrel rose to his feet and turned to leave the stall.
"Don't fail me now, sir."
"I will not."
The detective walked out. The moment he was gone a change came over the countenance of the young brakeman. The pleasant look vanished, and one dark and wicked took its place.
"Go, Dyke Darrel; I am sharp enough to understand you. You distrust me; but you're fooled all the same. It's strange you've forgotten the boy you sent to prison from St. Louis five years ago for passing counterfeit coin. I haven't forgotten it; and, what is more, I mean to get even."
Then, with a grating of even white teeth, Watson Wilks passed out. At the bar he paused long enough to toss off a glass of brandy, and then he went out upon the street.
It was a raw April day, and the air cut like a knife. After glancing up and down the street Mr. Wilks moved away. On reaching Clark street he hurried along that thoroughfare toward the south. Arriving in a disreputable neighborhood, he entered the side door of a dingy brick building, and stood in the presence of a woman, who sat mending a pair of old slippers by the light afforded by a narrow window.
"Madge Scarlet, I've found you alone, it seems."
"I'm generally alone," said the female, not offering to move.
She was past the prime of life, and there were many crow's feet on a face that had once been beautiful. Her dress was plain, and not the neatest. The room was small, and there were few articles of furniture on the uncarpeted floor.
"Madge, where are Nick and Sam?"
"I can't tell you."
"Haven't they been here to-day?"
"No, not in three days." "That seems strange."
"It doesn't to me. They are out working the tramp dodge, in the country, or into some worse iniquity, Watson. I do wish you would quit such company, and try and behave yourself."
At this the young man gave vent to a sarcastic laugh.
"Now, Aunt Madge, what an idea! Do you suppose your dear nephew could do anything wrong? Aren't I a pattern of perfection?"
Watson Wilks drew himself up and looked as solemn as an owl. This did not serve to bring a pleased expression to the woman's face, however. As she said nothing, the young man proceeded:
"I'm working on the railroad now, Madge, and haven't turned a dishonest penny in a long time. Of course you heard of the robbery of the midnight express down in the central part of the State last night? Some of the morning papers have an account of it."
"I hadn't heard."
"Well, then, I will tell you about it;" and Mr. Wilks gave a brief account of the terrible tragedy that had shocked the land. "It's a regular Jesse James affair, and there's a big reward offered for the outlaws."
The woman seemed interested then, and looked hard at her nephew.
"Watson, I hope you know nothing of this work?"
"Of course I know something of it," he answered quickly. "I returned in charge of the dead body of the messenger. I was in the next car when he was killed, and one of the robbers put his pistol to my head and threatened to blow my brains out if I said or did anything. You can just bet I kept mighty still."
"I should think so. This'll make a tremendous stir," returned the woman. "The country'll be full of man-trackers and it'll go hard with the outlaws if they're captured."
"You bet; but they won't be captured." "You are confident?"
"I've a right to be. I—-"
Then the young man ceased to speak suddenly, and his face became deeply suffused.
The woman sprang up then and went to the young man's side, laying her hand on his shoulder.
"Watson, tell me truly that you don't know who committed this crime."
"Bother!" and he flung her hand from his shoulder with an impatient movement. "I hope you ain't going to turn good all to once, Madge Scarlet. I tell you, thirty thousand dollars ain't to be sneezed at, and I do need money—but of course I don't know a thing about who did it, of course not; but I can tell you one thing, old lady, Dyke Barrel is on the trail, and he is even now in Chicago."
"That's who, Madam."
For some moments a silence fell over the two that was absolutely painful. At length the woman found her voice.
"Dyke Barrel! Ah! fiend of Missouri, I have good cause to remember you and your work. Do you know, Watson, the fate of your poor uncle?"
"Well, I should smile if I didn't," answered the young man. "He died in a Missouri dungeon, sent there by this same Dyke Darrel, the railroad man-tracker. Hate him? Of course you do, but not as I do. I have sworn to have revenge for the five years I laid in a dungeon for shoving the queer."
"And Dyke Darrel is now in Chicago?"
"Yes. I parted from him not an hour since."
"What is he here for?"
"The crime on the midnight express brings him here."
"And you saw and talked with him?"
"He recognized you of course?"
"No, he did not; that is the best of it. I am to meet him again to-night. It won't be long before the man who sent Uncle Dan to a Missouri dungeon is in your presence, and you shall do with him as you like, Madge Scarlet."
"As I like?"
"I have said it."
"Then Dyke Darrel shall die!"
"That's the talk," Madge. "THAT sounds like your old self; I am glad you have come to your senses. If Nick and Sam come in, tell them to be in readiness to receive a visitor."
Then the young man turned on his heel and abruptly left the room. Just as the shades of night were falling Watson Wilks peered into the saloon and restaurant where he had parted from Dyke Darrel earlier in the day.
He saw nothing of the detective.
"It is time he was here," muttered the young man. "Dyke Darrel is generally prompt in filling engagements."
"Always prompt, MARTIN SKIDWAY!"
The young villain staggered back against the iron railing near, as though stricken a blow in the face.
Unconsciously he had uttered his thoughts aloud, and the voice that uttered the reply was hissed almost in his ear.
Dyke Darrel stood before him.
The detective's face wore a stern look, which was suddenly discarded for a smile.
"I am prompt in filling engagements," said Darrel, after a moment. "You see I have at last recognized you, and the walls of the prison from which you escaped shall again envelop you."
And then a sharp click was heard. The fraudulent brakeman held up his arms helplessly—they were safely secured with handcuffs!
PROFESSOR DARLINGTON RUGGLES.
It would be hard to find a more completely astounded person than the one calling himself Watson Wilks at that moment.
The noted detective had outwitted him completely.
It was humiliating, to say the least.
"This is an outrage!" at length the young villain found voice to utter. "I will call on the police for assistance if you do not at once remove these bracelets."
"Do so if you like," answered Dyke Darrel, coolly; so icily in fact as to deter the young man from carrying out his threat. It might be that the detective would delight in turning him over to the Chicago police, a consummation that the fellow dreaded more than aught else.
"Come with me, and make no trouble. You will do so, if you know when you are well off," said Dyke Darrel significantly.
And Wilks walked along peacefully, allowing the sleeves of his coat to hide the handcuffs. After going a few blocks, the detective hailed a hack, and pushing his prisoner before him, entered and ordered the driver to make all speed for the Union depot.
"What does this mean?" demanded the prisoner, with assumed indignation.
"It means that you will take a trip South for your health, my friend."
"To St. Louis?"
"You have guessed it, Skidway."
A troubled look touched the face of the escaped prisoner.
"Why do you call me by that name, Dyke Darrel?"
"Because that IS your name. You have five years unexpired term yet to serve in the Missouri penitentiary, and I conceive it my duty to see that you keep the contract."
"A contract necessarily requires two parties. I never agreed to serve the State."
"Well, we won't argue the point."
"But I am in the employ of the railroad company, and will lose my place—-"
"You gain another one, so it doesn't matter," retorted the detective. "No use making a fuss, Mr. Skidway; you cannot evade the punishment which awaits you. Any confession you choose to make I am willing to hear. The late tragedy, for instance?"
"You'll get nothing out of me."
"I am sorry,"
"Of course you are. Did you recognize me when we first met?"
"No. It was an afterthought."
"I thought so. You shall suffer for this. You've got the wrong man, Mr. Darrel."
"You seem to know me."
"You flatter me."
"My name isn't Skidway, but Wilks, and I can prove it."
"Release me and I will."
"I'm not that green."
The prisoner muttered angrily. He realized that he was fairly caught, and that it was too late now to think of deceiving the famous detective.
Dyke Darrel had recognized in the young man calling himself Watson Wilks an old offender, who had made his escape from the Missouri State prison three months before, and he at once surmised that the young counterfeiter, who was a hard case, might have had a hand in the murder and robbery of the express messenger. Reasoning thus, the detective decided upon promptly arresting the fellow before proceeding to search further. It would be safer to have Skidway in prison than at large in any event.
More than one pair of eyes had watched the departure of Dyke Darrel and his prisoner from Chicago, and a little later a bearded man, with deep-set, twinkling eyes, and the general look of a hard pet, thrust his head into Madge Scarlet's little room, and said:
"It are all up with the kid, Mrs. Scarlet."
"What's that you say?"
The woman came to her feet and confronted the new-comer with an interested look.
"It's all up with the kid."
"Come in, Nick Brower, and let me have a look at your face. I want no lies now," cried the woman sharply; and the man drew himself into a little room, and stood regarding the female with a grin.
"Now let me hear what you've got to tell," demanded Mrs. Scarlet.
"It's ther kid—"
"Well, what has happened to him, man? Can't you speak?"
"Nabbed. Got the darbies on and gone South a wisitin'."
"Do you mean to say that Watson has been arrested?"
"I do, mam," grunted Brower. "He's well out of town, goin' South, and I reckin he'll be in Jeffe'son City before we hear from him agin. I seed him a-goin' with my own eyes."
"How did it happen?"
The man explained how young Skidway had been seized and taken on board the train by Dyke Darrel.
"You are sure his captor was Dyke Darrel?"
"I ain't blind, I reckon," growled the man. "I heard sufficient to tell me that the detective was takin' the kid back to Missoury, and that was enough for me."
"Why did you permit it?"
A laugh answered the woman.
"You might have saved the boy," pursued Mrs. Scarlet, angrily. "Now he will spend another five years in the dungeon where my poor man died of a broken heart. Watson told me that the infamous Dyke Darrel was in Chicago; but I had no thought of his recognizing the boy. Can you lend me some money, Nick?"
"A purty question, Madge. Don't you know I'm always dead-broke?" growled Brower. "What in the nation do you want with money any how?"
"I'm going to St. Louis."
"I am. If Dyke Darrel puts my boy behind prison bars again, I will have no mercy. It's life for life. I am tired of living, and am willing to die to revenge myself on that miserable detective."
Mrs. Scarlet began pacing the room. She was deeply moved, and tears of anger and sorrow glittered in her eyes. She was about to utter a fierce tirade against the detective, when a step sounded without, followed immediately by three raps on the door.
"Whist!" exclaimed Brower. "It is the Professor."
Madge Scarlet crossed the floor and admitted a visitor, a tall man with fire-red hair and beard, who was well clad and wore blue glasses. A plug hat, rather the worse for wear, was lifted and caressed tenderly with one arm as the gentleman bowed before Mrs. Scarlet.
"I am pleased to find you at home, Mrs. Scarlet."
"I seldom go out, Mr. Ruggles, or Professor Darlington Ruggles, I suppose."
"Never mind the handle, madam. I see you have company." The Professor turned a keen glance on Nick Brower as he spoke.
"The gentleman is a friend," said Mrs. Scarlet. "You need not fear to speak before him."
"I hain't no wish to hear any private talk," said Nick Brower, and with that he cast a keen, knowing look into the visitor's face, and passed from the room.
"We're alone, Professor."
"So it seems."
"What news do you bring?"
"Have you heard of the midnight express robbery?"
"And that Dyke Darrel is on the trail?"
"I have heard all that, and more," said the woman. "My nephew has been arrested and taken to Missouri by this same infamous Dyke Darrel. It was an awful blow to me; it leaves me entirely alone in the world. I am ready to do anything to compass the ruin of the detective who brought me to this."
"I am glad to hear you say it, madam. I came here for advice and help. I assure you that it is highly necessary for all of us that Dyke Darrel be removed."
"He might be enticed here, and quietly disposed of."
"Will you entice him?"
"I might; but—-"
"Well?" as the man hesitated.
"You see, I've got a place to fill in the world, and don't want to mix with anything that's unlawful," and the Professor stroked his red beard in a solemn manner.
"Yet you would be glad to see Dyke Darrel dead?"
"Hush, woman! Walls have ears. You are imprudent. I have nothing against Mr. Darrel in particular, only he has injured my friends, and may be up to more of his tricks. Now, as regards Watson Wilks, you say Dyke Darrel has gone to Missouri with the boy in charge?"
"Yes. The last friend I had in the world has been torn from me, to languish in prison. I will have the detective's heart's blood for this," cried the woman, with passionate vehemence.
"Of course," agreed the Professor. "But of what crime was the young man accused? Not the one on the midnight express, I hope?" The tall visitor bent eagerly forward then, and penetrated the woman with a keen gaze.
"No, no," was the quick reply. "I know that Martin had no hand in that."
"Watson, I mean," corrected Mrs. Scarlet. "I sometimes call the boy Martin, which is his middle name, so he has a right to it."
"Exactly. You KNOW that the boy had nothing to do with the robbery last night. I don't wish to argue or dispute with a lady, but I shall be compelled to question HOW you know so much. Will you answer?"
"Because—because Martin is incapable of such work. I have read all about it in the papers, and am confident that it was the work of an organized band." The Professor laughed until his white teeth gleamed in the lamplight.
"So sure!" he said. "You consider that nephew of yours a pattern of propriety. Is this the only reason you have for believing that Watson Wilks had no hand in the murder of Arnold Nicholson, and the rifling of the express company's safe?"
"I have another!"
"He was in Chicago at the time the deed was done."
"Can you prove this?"
Professor Ruggles seemed extremely eager, as he bent forward and touched the arm of Madge Scarlet with a white forefinger.
"I can prove it."
"Very good. It may never be necessary, but if the worst comes, you may be called on. I suppose you're not in the best of circumstances, Mrs. Scarlet?"
The Professor drew forth his wallet. "I shall suffer, now that my boy is gone."
"Don't fear that, madam," returned Darlington Ruggles, as he laid a bank note for a large amount in her hand. "Providence and your friends will take care of you. You have rendered me more than one good service, and I may call on you for more, soon, much sooner than you imagine."
"Anything I can do, Professor, will be gladly performed;" was the woman's answer, as she clutched the bank note eagerly, and thrust it from sight.
Then Professor Ruggles turned to the door. Here he paused and faced the woman once more.
"Madge, what charge was your nephew arrested under?"
"An old one."
"That is not an answer," and the man frowned.
"The charge is for uttering counterfeit coin. I believe the boy was innocent, but there was money on the other side, and Martin was sent up for ten years; my husband for fifteen. My man died of a broken heart, being innocent, and Martin served five years and then escaped."
"I understand. I don't think the boy will ever serve out his time."
"I hope he may not, but—-"
"Keep a stout heart, Mrs. Scarlet. Influences are at work to free the boy. It will not do to permit him to languish in prison. I tell you Providence is on your side."
Then Mr. Darlington Ruggles passed from the room.
"Strange man," muttered the woman, after he had gone. "He is a mystery. Sometimes I imagine he is not what he seems, but a detective. I hope I have given nothing away, for I find it won't do to trust anybody these days."
In the meantime Professor Darlington Ruggles made his way to another part of the city, not far from the river, and met a man in a dingy basement room at the rear of a low doggery.
Strange place for a learned professor, was it not?
"You've kept me waiting awhile, boss."
The speaker was the man we have seen at Madge Scarlet's—Nick Brower by name.
"I couldn't get away sooner," returned the professor. "How does the land lay, Nat?"
"In an ugly quarter."
"I feared so myself. The young chap that Dyke Darrel took to Missouri knows enough to hang you—-"
"And you, too, pard; don't forget that," retorted the grizzled villain grimly.
"I forget nothing," said Mr. Ruggles, giving his plug hat a rub across his left arm. "It isn't pleasant, to say the least, having matters turn out in this way. I wish to see you in regard to this Dyke Darrel." "I'm all ears, pard."
"He must never see Chicago again."
"Wal?" "I want you to see to it, Nick."
"I don't know about that," muttered the grosser villain. "I've shed 'bout enough blood, I reckin."
"It is for your own safety that I speak, Nick. No trace of that last work can ever reach me."
"Don't be too sure, Darl Ruggles. With Dyke Darrel on the trail, there's no knowing where it'll end. He's unearthed some o' the darkest work ever did in Chicago an' St. Louis. I WOULD breathe a durn sight more comfortable like if Dyke Darrel was under the sod."
"So would others."
"Yourself, fur instance."
"I won't deny it, Nick. I don't feel very comfortable with the young detective free. Between you and me, Nick, I believe we can make this the last trail Dyke Darrel ever follows. A thousand dollars to the man who takes the detective's scalp. That is worth winning, Nick."
"Put 'er thar, pard."
Nick Brower held out his huge hand and clasped the small white one of the Professor.
"I'll win that thousan' or go beggin' the rest o' my days, Darl Ruggles."
"I hope you may. You'd best take the next train for the Southwest. I won't be far behind."
And then the two separated.
A little later Professor Darlington Ruggles stood on the dock overlooking the river and the shipping. Although yet early in the season the big lake was open, and several vessels laden with lumber had entered the river from various ports on the Eastern shore during the day.
A tug lay on the further side, and a schooner with bare spars loomed up in the moonlight.
"This open sewer has witnessed more thar one crime," mused the Professor. "I would like it if that infernal Dyke Darrel was at the bottom of the river. He has taken into his head to hunt down the men who killed Arnold Nicholson, and if there's a man east of the Mississippi who can ferret out this crime, Dyke Darrel is the one. But I don't mean to permit him to do anything of the kind if I know myself. It's a fight between the detective and as sharp a man as any detective that ever lived. I imagine—hello! who is this?"
The last exclamation was caused by the sudden appearance of a dark form coming up over the dock as if from the water. A moment later a man paused within six feet of Professor Ruggles, and penetrated him with a pair of glittering eyes.
"What do you want?"
It was the Professor who uttered the word, at the same time receding a step or two, for the stranger's glance startled him considerably.
"Who are you?" demanded the stranger, shortly.
"It does not concern you."
"Don't it? We'll see about that."
An arm shot forward. The Professor's plug fell to the ground, and the next instant a red wig was swung aloft in the moonlight.
"Ha! I thought so. You are the man I seek—"
The speaker's words were cut off suddenly.
A mad cry fell from the lips of the Professor when he felt himself unceremoniously scalped. The next instant his right hand drew forth a gleaming knife.
"Oh! Ah! MURDER!"
A dark form went backward over the dock; a splash followed, and the Professor stood alone. He peered into the muddy water to note the fact that it flowed on calmly as before.
Then Ruggles picked up his hat and wig, and readjusted them on his head.
"My soul! that was a narrow escape."
At this moment another form was seen approaching, and the Professor, deeming it prudent to move away, was soon striding from the spot, his tall form disappearing in the shadows before the third person reached the edge of the dock.
* * * * *
On the day following the events last narrated, a man ran up the steps at the Darrel cottage in Woodburg, and rang the bell.
Nell answered, and met the gentlemanly Mr. Elliston. She led the way at once to a room opening from the hall, where preparations had been made for a lunch.
"Where is Dyke?" questioned the gentleman the moment he was seated.
"I haven't seen him since he left for Chicago to look into the express robbery," returned Nell. "Haven't you met him?"
"No. Strange he did not write if he meant to be gone long," remarked Elliston. "You were about to dine, I see."
"Yes; will you keep me company?"
"I thought Dyke would be with me ere this," proceeded Nell, as they discussed the edibles. "When he goes for a long stay she usually drops me a line."
After the lunch, Mr. Elliston left his chair and crossed the room to glance from the window, at the same time plucking at his short beard in an apparently nervous manner.
Nell was on the point of removing the ware from the table, when Mr. Elliston turned suddenly, and resumed his seat at the table.
"Sit down, Nell, I wish a word with you."
The girl sank once more into a chair, wondering what was coming.
Laying both hands on her shoulders, Harper Elliston looked her in the eyes and said:
"You must have guessed the object of my visit to-day, Nellie Darrel."
She blushed under his gaze, and looked away nervously.
"N—oo, I can't say that I do. I suppose you came to see my brother."
"Not so. It is you I wished to see, Nell. Why have I come here so often? I know you must have guessed before this. I love you, dear girl, and want you to be mine—"
He could say no more then, for Nell Darrel started sharply to her feet, pressing her hands to her burning face.
"No, no, not that." she murmured. "I never suspected that, Mr. Elliston."
"But listen to me, Nell," he pleaded, reaching up and attempting to draw her hands aside. "I can give you a handsome home in New York. If you will be my wife, I will return there at once."
She tore herself from his hands, and her confusion vanished, a feeling of indignation taking its place.
"Mr. Elliston, I tell you I do not love you, and never can. I was never more surprised in my life than now. You are old enough to be my father, sir."
He came to his feet also, and leaned with his hands clinching the top of a chair. There was a frown on his brow and a glitter in his black eyes unpleasant to see.
"Must I call you coquette?" he said, in an undertone of concentrated feeling. "You certainly have encouraged me."
"Never, sir," was the indignant response.
"Then our paths must lie apart hereafter, I suppose, Miss Darrel?"
"That is as you shall determine," she answered. "As my brother's friend, I have tolerated you, and can do so in the future."
"Ah! It was only TOLERATION then. I did not think this of you, Nell Darrel. Do you know that many of the wealthiest, most beautiful maidens of Gotham would jump at the offer you have just spurned so lightly?"
"I will not deny it."
"I could have long ago taken a partner to share my life in my elegant home on Fifth avenue, but do you know the reason of my not doing so? I can tell you. I had not seen a girl to my taste. Until I came West I believed I should never marry. From the moment of meeting you, however, I changed my mind. To see was to love, and—"
"Please cease, Mr. Elliston," pleaded Nell Darrel, putting out her hand deprecatingly. "This is a most painful subject to me."
With a sigh he crossed the floor and stood by the window once more. He seemed struggling to keep down his emotions. At that moment the detective's sister pitied the man, and felt really sorry that she had unintentionally been the means of making him miserable.
"Mr. Elliston, please do not feel so badly. I respect you, and hope we may ever be friends."
She approached him and held out her hand. He turned and regarded her with a queer glow in his eyes.
"I accept your proffer of continued friendship," he said with a forced smile. "It is better so than open war between us."
"It would avail nothing to make war on a friend," she said simply. "I respect you very highly, Mr. Elliston, and as Dyke's friend, shall always hope to retain your good opinion."
"Whatever may happen, you will have that," he returned.
Soon after the gentleman departed. The moment he was gone Nell Darrel sank to a chair, and, bowing her head on the table, began to cry.
Strange proceeding, was it not, after what had taken place? Women are enigmas that man, after ages of study, has been unable to solve.
Another face came before the girl's mind at that moment, the face of one to whom her heart had been given in the past, and who, for some unaccountable reason, had failed to put in an appearance or write during the past six months.
"If Harry were only here," murmured the girl, as she raised her head and wiped the tears from her pretty eyes. "I know something has happened to him—something terrible."
At this moment Aunt Jule, the colored housekeeper, the only other resident of the cottage, aside from Nell Barrel and her brother, entered the room, and her appearance at once put an end to Nell's weeping.
"Marse Elliston done gone. What did he want, honey?"
"To see Dyke," answered Nell, with a slight twinge at uttering such a monstrous falsehood.
"Marse Dyke don't come yet. 'Deed but he's full of business dese times. Marse Dyke a great man, honey."
If the old negress noticed traces of tears on the face of her young mistress, she was sharp enough to keep the discovery to herself.
In the meantime, Mr. Elliston made his way to the principal hotel in the little city and sought his room. He was a regular boarder, but, like other men of leisure, he was not regular at meals or room. Nevertheless, he paid his board promptly, and that was the desideratum with the landlord.
The man's teeth gleamed above his short, gray-streaked beard, as he sat down and meditated on the situation.
"So, I can be her friend still. Well, that is something. I don't mean to give up so. Dark clouds are gathering over your life, Nell Darrel, and when the blackest shadow of the storm bends above and howls about you, in that hour you may conclude that even an elderly gentleman like myself will DO."
Again the man's teeth gleamed and the black eyes glittered.
"I have set my heart on winning that girl. A mock marriage will do as well as anything, and such beauty and freshness will bring money in New York."
Harper Elliston remained in his room until a late lour. After the shades of evening fell he left the room and hotel with a small grip in his hand. He turned his steps in the direction of the railway station. Arrived at the depot, he purchased a ticket for St. Louis. Then he sauntered outside and stood leaning against the depot in a shaded spot.
It would be five minutes only until the departure of the train. There were troubled thoughts in the brain of Harper Elliston that night.
A touch on his hand caused him to start. At thin fold of paper was passed into his palm. Turning quickly, Elliston saw a shadowy form disappear in the gloom.
"Confound it, who are you?" growled the tall man, angrily. Then, remembering the paper, he went to a light, and opening it, held it up to his gaze.
"HARPER ELLISTON: Go slow in your plot against Nell Darrel. She has a friend who will see that her enemies are punished. Beware! The volcano on which you tread is about to burst."
No name was signed to the paper.
At this moment the express came thundering in; the conductor's "all aboard" sounded, and, crunching the paper in his hands, Elliston had hardly time to spring on board ere the train went rushing away into the darkness.
DYKE DARREL'S DANGER.
Martin Skidway was an old offender, and through the efforts of Dyke Darrel he and his uncle had been detected in crime and sent to the Missouri State prison for a term of years. It was a mere accident that the detective came upon the escaped young counterfeiter, or rather it was through the young villain's own foolhardiness that he was again in durance vile.
"I will not serve my time out, you can bet high on that," asserted the young prisoner in a confident tone.
Dyke Darrel more than half suspected that the young counterfeiter knew something of the late crime on the midnight express, and during the ride to St. Louis he did all that he could to worm a confession from the prisoner.
"It is possible that you may get your freedom at an early day," said the detective. "I have heard of men turning State's evidence, and profiting by it."
"I suppose so."
"I would advise you to think on this, Martin Skidway."
"Why should I think on it? Do you think I'm a fool, Dyke Darrel?"
"Not quite," and the detective smiled. "I know you have been pretty sharp, young man, but not keen enough to escape punishment. You have five years yet to serve, at the end of which time you may be arrested and hung for another crime."
"You are giving me wind now."
"I am not. A terrible crime was committed four and twenty hours since, and on this road; a midnight crime that the whole country will work to punish. It will we impossible for the express robbers to escape."
"You are a braggart!"
"I do not say that I will be the one to bring these villains to justice, but I do say that justice will be done, and I expect to see the murderers of Arnold Nicholson hung." The keen eyes of Dyke Darrel fixed themselves on the face of his prisoner, with a penetrating sharpness that fairly made the fellow squirm in his seat. On more than one occasion had the railroad detective brought confession from the lips of guilt, through the magnetism of his terrible glance.
He tried his powers on the man at his side, and found him yielding to the pressure, when Skidway suddenly turned his face to the window, and refused to encounter the gaze of his captor.
By this means he was able to defy the magnetic powers of the detective.
"Martin Skidway, you may as well admit that you know something of this latest villainy. Even if you were not connected with it, you know WHO was?"
The prisoner remained silent.
Dyke Darrel proceeded:
"You said that you were a brakeman on the train on which poor Nicholson found his death. Was that the truth?"
"It is now for your own good that you make confession, Martin Skidway!"
"I've nothing to confess."
"You can't scare me into telling a lie," said the prisoner, with an assumption of bravado that he did not feel. "I don't know anything about the express robbers, only what I've told you; you can make the most of that."
"I mean to do so," assured Dyke Darrel. "I shall not leave the trail until the perpetrators of that crime are secured and punished. In that day you may wish that you had not been so obstinate."
"I have told all I know."
"I hope you have!"
"You believe I am lying, Dyke Darrel?"
"It doesn't matter what I believe," retorted the detective. "Of course, you are not of the sort who believe in telling facts when a falsehood will serve you better. I did not expect anything different."
Arrived at the Southwestern metropolis, Dyke Darrel turned his prisoner over to the proper officers, warning them of the dangerous nature of young Skidway, and then he turned his thoughts and feet in another channel.
Dyke Darrel went to the office of the railroad company on whose road the midnight crime had been committed, and consulted with one of the officers in regard to the same.
"It is a terrible affair," said Mr. Holden, the officer in question. "I telegraphed our folks in Chicago to employ detectives in that city, and expect to have the best talent in the country look into this."
"Of course. Any clew discovered?"
"I believe the villains covered their tracks well," said Dyke Darrel. "The express messenger who was murdered was a personal friend."
"Yes; one I had known for years, which explains my interest in the case. I suppose I have your good wishes in hunting down the outlaws?"
"Well, of course; but it is a task that may tax the coolness and ingenuity of skilled detectives. Amateurs have no place on this case, I assure you."
"Admitted," returned the young detective, with a smile. "You have heard of Dyke Darrel?"
"I should think I had. He is the best detective in the West, now that Pinkerton is gone; he was a trusted friend of Allan Pinkerton, too."
"I've telegraphed for our people to see about employing Dyke Darrel. I shan't be content without."
Again a smile swept the face of the young detective.
"It seems that you never met Dyke Darrel, Mr. Holden."
"You see him now at any rate."
"I am Dyke Darrel."
"Dyke Darrel, the railroad detective; the fellow who captured the brute Crogan, and broke up the counterfeiters' nest near Iron Mountain; the man who has sent more criminals over the road than any other detective in the wide West—YOU?"
"The same, at your service," and Darrel bowed and smiled again.
"Well, I AM astonished."
Nevertheless the incredulous railway official seemed pleased at the last, and shook the young detective warmly by the hand.
"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Darrel, and hope we can induce you to take up this case. A great many suspects have been reported, but I take stock in none of them. I trust the whole affair (the management of it, I mean) to you. Will you go into it, Mr. Darrel?"
Some time longer the detective and official talked, and the lamps in the streets were lit when Dyke Darrel left the presence of Mr. Holden, and turned his steps toward a hotel.
"I must send a line to Nell," mused the detective, as he moved along. "I shall remain a short time in St. Louis, as I may pick up some points here that will be of use to me. I am of the opinion that either this city or Chicago holds the perpetrators of this latest railroad crime."
The detective did not see the shadowy form flitting along not far behind. A man had shadowed the detective since his departure from the railway office. Dyke Darrel, in order to make a short cut, had entered a narrow street, where the lights were few and the buildings dingy and of a mean order.
Moving on, deeply wrapped in thought, the detective permitted his "shadow" to steal upon him, and just as Dyke Darrel came opposite a narrow alley, the shadow sprang forward and dealt him a stunning blow on the head.
The detective reeled, but did not fall. Partially stunned, he turned upon his assailant, only to meet the gleam of cold steel as a knife descended into his bosom!
WHAT A HANDKERCHIEF REVEALED.
Dyke Darrel was so dazed from the blow he had received as to be unable to ward off the dirk that was thrust at his bosom by the vile assassin, and had not a third party appeared on the scene at this critical moment the story we are now writing would never have been told.
A kind Providence had on more than one occasion favored the daring railroad detective.
Before the point of the knife touched the breast of Dyke Darrel, a swift-flying object sent the deadly weapon out into the middle of the street.
The next instant a man bounded from the shadow of a building upon the would-be assassin. There was a short struggle, when the last comer found, that instead of the detective's assailant, he held a coat in his hands.
The villain had made good his escape.
"Confound you!" greeted the new comer.
"Who was it?"
"I saw him following you, sir, and made up my mind that some villainy was in the wind. I do not know who the villain was. Are you hurt?"
"Not in the least."
Then the two men walked on until a lamp-post was gained. Here the features of each were plainly revealed.
A low exclamation fell from the lips of Dyke Darrel.
"Good thunder, Harry Bernard! how are you? Where in the world did you spring from?"
The detective grasped and wrung the man's hand warmly—a rather slender young fellow, with brown hair and eyes, a mustache being the only sign of beard on his face.
"One question at a time, Dyke," returned the young man with a laugh. "I mistrusted it was you all the time. It strikes me that you are becoming careless in your old age. Hope you're not in love—THAT makes a fool of a man sometimes?"
"Does it? No, I'm not in any such predicament; fact is, I am wedded to my profession and shall never marry. But, Harry, you haven't answered my questions yet."
"You asked me how I get on; I can answer that by saying that I was never better in my life. I have been across the plains, among cowboys and Indians, and it's given me strong muscles and good health. I arrived in St. Louis this morning. It was the merest chance that placed me in a position to do you a service, Dyke. As I said before, it seems to me that you are getting careless. Just imagine what the result would have been had I not put in an appearance. I have the fellow's coat to show for the adventure."
"True enough. I admit that I was careless," returned the detective, "and my adventure will serve to put me on my guard hereafter. Come with me to my room, Harry, and we will talk over matters in general. I must take the midnight express North, and may not see you again soon, unless you conclude to go on with me."
"I shall remain in St. Louis for the present," returned young Bernard.
He went with his friend to the hotel, however, and soon the two were in the privacy of Dyke Darrel's room.
"Now, then, let us look at that coat." Harry Bernard laid the garment down on the bed, and Darrel began a close examination of the same. It was an ordinary sack coat, with two inside pockets. The detective was not long in going through the pockets.
The ejaculation was significant.
It fell from the lips of Dyke Darrel, the detective.
"Now what?" questioned Bernard.
"Look at that."
Dyke Darrel held aloft a handkerchief that had once been white, but which was now dingy with dirt. But this was not the only discoloration. There was a stain on the square bit of linen that was significant.
"What is it?"
"Blood!" answered Dyke Darrel.
Then the detective made a close examination, and made still another discovery—a name in one corner of the rumpled handkerchief.
The keen eyes of the detective gleamed with a satisfied light.
"What have you discovered, Dyke?"
"To the most infamous crime of the century. This handkerchief has the name of its owner stamped plainly in the corner."
"That is the name on this bit of linen, which shows that it was once the property of the murdered express messenger. Of course you have heard of the crime on the Central?"
"Yes. It gave me a shock, too. Arnold was a good fellow."
Harry Bernard's face wore a serious look as he took the blood-stained handkerchief from the hand of the detective, and examined it with mournful interest.
"It must be that you were assaulted by one of the train robbers, Dyke," said the youth, as he returned the relic of that midnight crime.
"I imagine so. The scoundrels have discovered that I am on the trail, and they mean to put me out on the first base, if possible. Did you see the man's face who assaulted me, Harry?"
"Imperfectly. I know, however, that he had red hair."
"You suspected as much?"
"Yes. In the dead man's fingers was a bit of red hair. It seems conclusive that the villain who assaulted me to-night was the one who engaged in the death struggle with poor Nicholson. The trail is becoming plain, and before the National holiday rolls round I hope to have the perpetrator of this crime behind prison bars."
"I hope you are not over-sanguine, Dyke."
"I have ever been successful."
"How about the Osborne case?"
"Ah, yes; but that isn't off yet. I expect that the murderers of the old captain will come to light about the time the railway criminals are brought to justice."
"There are several hands engaged in these bloody crimes, and when I do make a haul, it will be a wholesale one."
"I should think you would need help in a work of this kind."
"Can I be of any service? You may command me, Dyke."
"Thanks. You were of inestimable service to-night, and I believe you can do more. It would please me to have you remain in this city and keep an eye out, while I go up the road to the spot where the crime was committed."
"You know the place?"
"Certainly. It was near Black Hollow, a wild spot, where the woods along the creek afforded chance for hiding. Some of the rascals are yet in that vicinity, I believe. The one who assaulted me to-night may not remain in the city long. You will do as I wish?"
"Certainly; glad to do it, Dyke."
"That settles one point, then. If I need any more help I know where I can find it."
"Elliston. He is something of a detective, you know."
Harry Bernard frowned at mention of that name. The pleasant look vanished from his face, and he relapsed into silence.
Holding up the handkerchief, Dyke Darrel said:
"This was used by the assassin to wipe his bloody hands after the murder. He was a fool to keep the tell-tale linen by him; but these fellows are always leaving some loophole open. I have made one discovery that may have escaped your notice, Harry."
"What is that?"
"Look." Laying the bloody handkerchief over the young man's knee, Dyke Darrel pointed to a spot near the center, where the imprint of fingers was plainly visible.
"You see that?"
"Certainly; the marks of human fingers, but I can't see that you will be able to make anything out of that, so many hands are alike, you know."
Then Harry laid his own hand against the spot stained with blood. "My hand fits exactly."
The eyes of Dyke Darrel began to dilate. His usually immobile features began to twitch, and a deadly pallor overspread all.
What was it that had caught the eye of Dyke Darrel, to cause such terrible emotion? He had indeed made a discovery.
A close examination of the finger-marks showed a white circle, centered with a ragged dot of blood near the knuckle; this had undoubtedly been caused by a wart on the hand of the assassin. It was this fact that had attracted and interested Dyke Darrel, and what he intended showing his friend Harry Bernard. The moment Harry laid his hand against the print on the handkerchief the detective made a startling discovery. Not only did the hand of Harry Bernard fit the bloody stain exactly, but a large wart near the knuckle of the little finger fell exactly against the spot that dotted the center of the white circle.
A feeling of unutterable horror filled the mind of Dyke Darrel at that moment. Harry Bernard had been his friend for years, and he had always found him upright and true.
But what meant this horrible revelation of the handkerchief?
Could it be possible that another had the same-sized hand and a wart near the knuckle of the little finger? It was not likely.
Dyke Darrel came to his feet, with cold perspiration oozing out upon his brow. Before him sat Harry Bernard, smiling gently, and yet he had a devil in his heart—THE DEVIL OF ASSASSINATION!
A PLUNGE TO DEATH.
For some moments neither man spoke. Harry Bernard noticed that his friend was deeply moved, and he seemed to wonder at the cause. At length he said:
"Dyke, what is it?"
"Well, speak out," as the detective hesitated.
"It is strange that your hand should so exactly fit the marks on the handkerchief, Harry."
"Well, yes," admitted the youth; "I hope you didn't imagine, however, that I had a hand in this railway robbery and murder?"
At the last Harry Bernard laughed lightly. Dyke Darrel did not seem to relish the young fellow's lightness, and only frowned.
"This is not a laughing matter, Harry Bernard," said the detective, sternly.
"Well I should say not. If you have a serious thought that I could do such a deed, Dyke, place me under arrest at once."
There was an expression of rebuke on the face of Bernard as he uttered the last words. He did not look like a criminal, that was certain, and after a moment Dyke Darrel felt ashamed of his suspicions.
"Never mind, Harry, I could not help feeling shocked. Let it pass; I will not wrong you by suspicion. But you will admit that it was a strange thing, your hand fitting so perfectly."
"Not at all. Put your own hand here," returned Bernard.
Dyke Darrel did so, but it was not so near a fit as Harry's. It was not the size of the hand, but the imprint of the wart that had so startled the detective. Harry had not discovered the true cause of his friend's excitement, and the detective concluded to say nothing about it then.
Time was flying. The midnight express would soon leave the city.
"I cannot remain with you longer," said Dyke Darrel, at length. "I shall leave the case at this end of the route in your hands, Harry, and if at any time you wish to communicate with me, address me at Woodburg."
"All right. What shall we do with this?"
Harry indicated the coat that still lay on the bed.
"You may retain that, but I will keep the handkerchief. Both may be of use in the future."
Soon after the two men separated.
Dyke Darrel went at once to the depot, and soon after nine that evening he was speeding northward at the rate of forty miles an hour. At the first stop outside of the city three passengers boarded the train. One was a short, thick-set man, with beard and hair of a dark color; the others were women. The man entered the smoking car and thrust himself into an unoccupied seat, and glanced keenly about him.
The man had no ticket, but paid the conductor to a station a hundred miles from the city.
While sitting with his back to the aisle, a touch on the shoulder roused him.
"Eh, it's you, Ruggles?"
The man we have met on a previous occasion, Professor Darlington Ruggles, settled himself beside the late comer.
A grunt answered the Professor's attempt to be sociable. At length, after casting a keen glance about the car, to find that but few passengers were present, and those of but little consequence, Professor Ruggles said:
"He's in the next car."
"Yes. I'd like to get my clutches onto him agin."
"You had him once?"
"Yes, but he had help, and escaped. Do you imagine he's on the trail?"
"Certainly," answered Professor Ruggles.
"Then he'll get off to-night."
"I hope so; but you must be cautious."
"Trust me for that."
"Have you formulated a plan?"
"Then let me help you."
"I'll be glad to do so."
"If we can get the fellow onto the platform the work will be easy. You understand, Sam?"
"Once he goes over nothing can save him."
"True, but how will we git the cuss outside?"
"Easy's preaching. I'll go and introduce myself and get him to wait this car to try an excellent brand of cigars—see?" And the Professor chuckled audibly.
"I expect it's easier said than done," returned the thickset villain. "Twixt you 'n me, Ruggles, Dyke Darrel's cut his eye teeth, an' he don't walk into no traps with his eyes open, I can tell you that."
"Well, we'll see about it. I flatter myself that I'm sharper than any detective that ever lived."
Then, adjusting his glasses, the sunset-haired Professor left his seat and walked down the aisle to the door. He came hurrying back with an interested, perhaps anxious look on his countenance.
"Now's your time, Sam," whispered Professor Ruggles; "the fellow's on the platform smoking!"
This was fully two hours after the thickset man first stepped upon the train. He at once came to his feet, and sauntered in a careless manner to the door. The night was not dark, and the man could plainly see a dark form leaning against the end of the opposite car, a bright red gleam showing the end of his cigar.
It was indeed Dyke Darrel, who had come out upon the platform to cool his heated brow and reflect on the situation, while he smoked a cigar for its soothing influence.
He could not drive the thought of Harry Bernard and the train robbery from his mind. He remembered that the young man had left Woodburg suddenly the fall before, and nothing had been seen or heard from him by his friends since, until Dyke's meeting him so strangely in St. Louis. It was barely possible that the assault and the rescue by young Bernard were part of a deep-laid plot. Dyke Darrel possessed a suspicious mind, and he could not reconcile appearances with the innocence of young Harry Bernard.
Deeply meditating, the detective scarcely noticed the opening of the car door opposite his position. His gaze, however, soon met the form of a man as he stepped across the narrow opening between the coaches.
The detective was instantly on the alert. He was not to be caught napping, as he had been once before that night.
The moment the stranger passed to his platform, Dyke Darrel faced him with a drawn revolver in his hand.
"Mr., I want a word with you."
Thus uttered the thick-set passenger, and then Dyke Darrel recognized the man who had boarded the train at the first station outside of St. Louis.
"What is it you want?" demanded the detective shortly.
With the word, the man lunged forward. Divining his movement, Dyke Darrel sank suddenly to the steps, and his assailant plunged headlong from the train!
WORDS THAT STARTLE.
It seemed a terrible plunge into eternity. Not for one moment did the detective lose his presence of mind, however. Straightening, he reached up and grasped the bell-cord.
Ere many seconds the train came to a stop.
"Man on the track," said Dyke Darrel when the conductor came hurrying to see what was the trouble.
Lanterns were at once brought into requisition, and men went back to look for the body of the detective's assailant.
No one imagined that he could possibly plunge from the speeding train and escape death. Dyke Darrel moved along confidently expecting to look upon the bruised corpse of the outlaw who had attempted his destruction.
He met with disappointment.
No man was found.
"He must have been a tough one to have jumped the train without receiving a scratch," said a voice in the ear of the detective, as he flashed the rays of a lantern down on the track.
Dyke Darrel glanced at the speaker, a gentleman with enormous red beard, and rather worn silk hat.
This was the detective's first introduction to Professor Ruggles.
"I've no doubt of his being tough," answered Dyke Darrel.
"How did it happen?"
"I think the fellow intended to throw me off the train."
"Goodness! is that so? What was the trouble about?"
"No trouble that I am aware of. I did not know the man."
"Then it's likely he mistook you for some one else."
Dyke Darrel eyed the speaker keenly. There seemed to be nothing suspicious about the Professor, however, and soon after the detective dismissed him from his mind.
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor, a little later, and soon the train was speeding northward at a rapid rate.
Dyke Darrel went into the rear car, and sat down to meditate on his adventure. He realized that his death had been planned by enemies to law and order, and he believed by the ones who were anxious to throw him off the trail of the outlaws who perpetrated the crime on the midnight express a few nights before.
It did not seem possible that the man who had attempted to throw him from the train, and had gone over himself, had escaped unharmed.
Doubtless, though badly hurt, he had managed to drag himself away from the immediate vicinity of the track, where he had remained secreted until the brief search was over.
Since his fall was unexpected, it was not likely that any of the villain's friends were in the vicinity, and so it might be an easy matter to trace the outlaw. Dyke Darrel formed a plan of operation at once, and rose to leave the train at the next stop.
"Do you get off here?"
Dyke Darrel was somewhat surprised to see Harper Elliston on the platform of the little station.
"I stop here," said Dyke. "And you?"
"I thought of going to Chicago."
"Postpone your trip then. I wish to consult with you on a matter of importance."
The tall gentleman hesitated.
The train began to move.
"You must decide quickly," cried the detective.
Elliston walked the length of the narrow platform, with his hand on the car rail, his satchel in the other hand. His hand fell from the rail, and the express swept swiftly away in the darkness.
"Anything to accommodate, Dyke. I had some business of importance to transact in Chicago, but it can wait."
"I am sorry if I put you to extra expense, Harper, but I wish to consult with one whom I can trust. I've got a devilish mean work on hand," said Dyke Darrel in an explanatory tone.
"You know I am always ready to assist you, Dyke. Is it a criminal case?"
"Yes; the last on record."
"The express crime?"
"I mistrusted as much. You have been down the road?"
"To St. Louis!"
"I took a young offender down who escaped from prison last winter. I think the officers will look after him more closely in the future."
"Who was it?"
"I don't call to mind the name, now."
Lights in the distance showed that the village contained one public-house at least. So there the two men repaired.
Mr. Elliston quaffed a glass of wine, while the detective would take nothing but a cigar. Repairing to a room, the two men sat and conversed for some time in the most confidential way.
Dyke Darrel gave his friend an account of his adventure on the train, which had induced him to stop off and investigate.
The reader may imagine that it was extremely indiscreet for the detective to give away his plans to Elliston, but Dyke Darrel had known this man for more than a year, had visited him in New York, and found him to be well thought of there, and he had more than once confided in him, to find him as true as steel.
At this time the detective believed Elliston to be the best friend he had in the world. He knew the New Yorker to be a man of great ability and thoroughly acquainted with the world, and more than once he had done a good turn for Darrel. Why then should he not trust him? In fact, Dyke Darrel had noticed the growing interest Mr. Elliston took in his sister, and it pleased him. Looking upon him as almost a brother, it is little wonder that Dyke Darrel took the man from Gotham into his confidence to a considerable extent.
"I think you did the right thing in leaving the train to look after this villain," said Elliston, when he had heard the detective's story; "but you must be aware that you run a great risk in going about the country without disguise, avowedly in search of the perpetrators of the express robbery. Of course, this man has friends, and they will not hesitate to shoot or stab, as they did in the case of the express messenger."
"But, my dear Dyke, had I not happened at the station you might have run into a trap. I have reason to believe there are many lawless characters in this neighborhood. It strikes me that the man knew what he was about when he assaulted you at this point on the road."
To this, however, Dyke Darrel did not agree. He believed that the villain who attempted his murder sought the first favorable opportunity for his fell work, regardless of time and place.
Early the next morning the detective and his friend hired a horse and buggy of the hotel proprietor, and set off down the road to the scene of the "accident."
Dyke Darrel was confident that he could find the spot, and, sure enough, he was not far out in his reckoning. When in the vicinity of where he believed the man had left the train, Darrel's quick eye caught sight of a group of men standing under a shed, on the further side of a distant field.
"There is some cause of excitement over yonder," remarked Dyke Darrel, as he drew rein, and pointed with his whip.
"It seems to mean something," admitted Elliston.
"I propose to investigate."
Securing his horse, Dyke Darrel vaulted the fence, and, closely followed by Elliston, made his way across the field.
A dozen men and boys stood about, regarding some object with commiserating glances.
Dyke Darrel pushed his way into the crowd, and was not disappointed in what he saw—a man lying prostrate on some blankets, with white face and blood-stained garments.
"We found him jest off the railroad, in a fence-corner," said one of the countrymen. "He'll never git up an' walk agin."
"Has he said anything?"
This last question was put by Harper Elliston.
"Nary word. He fell off 'n ther train last night, I reckon."
Elliston knelt and felt the man's pulse.
"He lives," said the New Yorker, "but there isn't much life; he cannot last long."
"A little brandy might revive him," said Dyke Darrel. "I would like to have him speak; it is of the utmost importance."
"Indeed it is," cried Elliston. "Where is the flask of brandy you brought from the train, Dyke?"
"In the buggy."
"Send a man for it."
"I will go myself;" and Dyke Darrel set off at a rapid walk across the field. At the same moment the man on the blanket groaned and opened his eyes.
"How do you feel, my man?" questioned Elliston.
"I—I'm used up."
"It looks so."
Elliston bent lower.
"You're going to die, Sam, sure's shooting," he said in a whisper at the ear of the prostrate wretch.
A groan was the only reply.
"Do you hear me, Sam?"
"Yes, I—I hear," was the faint answer.
Placing his lips to the ear of the man, Elliston continued to whisper for some seconds.
Soon the detective returned with a flask of brandy, which he at once placed to the lips of the bruised and helpless wreck. A few sips seemed to revive the man wonderfully.
"Tell me your name, my man," questioned the detective, eagerly.
"Do you realize your condition? You have but a few hours to live, and if you wish to free your mind, we will listen."
Elliston stood at the man's feet, facing him with folded arms, while the kneeling detective addressed himself to the apparently dying man.
"I haven't nothing to tell."
"See here, Mr. Swart, it is better that you tell what you know. Do justice for once, and it may be better with you in the hereafter. You attempted to murder me last night, and I believe you had a hand in the death of Arnold Nicholson and the robbery of the express."
"I—I did, but he coaxed me into it," articulated the poor wretch in a husky voice. Elliston caught the words, and his cheek suddenly blanched. He was outwardly calm, however.
Dyke Darrel bent low to catch the faint words of Swart. It was evident that the man was rapidly sinking, and the detective was terribly anxious to get at the truth.
"Speak!" he cried, hoarsely, "WHO coaxed you to commit this crime?"
"HE did. The boy and—and Nick was with—with me."
"But who was the leader—the instigator of the foul deed?"
Close to the swollen lips of the dying man bent the ear of Dyke Darrel, every nerve on the alert to catch the faint reply.
A name was uttered that caused Dyke Darrel to spring to his feet with a great cry.
"What was it?—WHO was it?" cried Harper Elliston, seizing the arm of Dyke Darrel, and penetrating him with a keen glance.
"It does not matter."
"It does. I have had a suspicion."
"He uttered the name of Harry Bernard."
"How could you guess that?"
"Because I have felt it in my bones," answered the tall New Yorker. "Harry Bernard acted queerly before he left Woodburg the last time, and I have since arrived at the conclusion that he was engaged in some unlawful work."
"Well, I never entertained such a suspicion," was all the detective vouchsafed in reply. Then he glanced at the man on the ground.
"See, the fellow is dying."
It was true. Sam Swart, the miserable outlaw, was swiftly passing away. Half an hour later, when Elliston and the detective returned to their buggy, the would-be murderer of Dyke Darrel lay cold in death under the farmer's shed.
A serious expression pervaded the face of Dyke Darrel, and he scarcely spoke during the drive back to town.
"Did you find your man?" queried the landlord, when our friends returned.
Elliston entered into an explanation, while Dyke Darrel went up to his room and threw himself into a chair in a thoughtful attitude. His brow became corrugated, and it was evident that the detective was enjoying a spell of the deepest perplexity.
"It must be that the fellow's mind wandered," mused Dyke Darrel. "Of course I cannot accept as evidence the ragged, half-conscious utterances of a dying man. He spoke of Nick and the boy. There may be something in that. The boy? Who could that be but Martin Skidway? I've suspected him; he is capable of anything in the criminal line. It may be well for me to go to Chicago and visit Martin's Aunt Scarlet. How that woman hates me, simply because I was the means of breaking up a gang of spurious money makers, of whom old Dan Scarlet was the chief. Well, well, the ways of the world are curious enough. By the way, I haven't sent that line to Nell yet. The girl will feel worried if I don't write."
Then, drawing several postals from his pocket, Dyke Darrel wrote a few lines on one with a pencil, and addressed it to "Miss Nell Darrel, Woodburg."
Just then Elliston entered.
"When does the next train pass, Harper?"
"In twenty minutes. Will you go on it to Chicago?"
"Not to Chicago. I shall stop half a hundred miles this side, or more. I wish to do a little more investigating."
"Don't you accept what the dying Swart said as true?"
"Would a dying man be likely to utter a falsehood?"
"I can't say. What is your opinion?"
There was a peculiar look in the eyes of Dyke Darrel, as he put the question.
"I should think there could be no doubt on the subject."
"Indeed; then you consider that the last name that fell from the lips of Sam Swart was that of the man who instigated the wicked crime on the midnight express?"
"Certainly, that is my opinion."
Dyke Darrel drew out a cigar and lit it, his friend refusing to take one.
"I can't feel so sanguine as you seem to, Harper. Will you go on?"
"I shall go to Chicago."
"You do not care to remain with me longer?"
Dyke Darrel regarded his friend closely through a cloud of smoke.
"You forget that I left urgent business to keep you company last night," answered Mr. Elliston, a tinge of rebuke in his voice.
"I do not. You have my hearty thanks for your disinterested kindness, Harper," returned Dyke Darrel. "If the delay has cost you anything—-"
"See here, old chum, don't insult me," cried Elliston, as the detective drew out a well-filled wallet. "I am able and willing to pay my own bills, I hope."
"Certainly. I meant no offense."
"It is time we were on the move, Dyke, if we do not wish to miss the up train."
Dyke Darrel realized the force of his friend's words, and at once made preparations for departure. A little later the two were on board the morning express, speeding Northward. Dyke Darrel informed the conductor of the fate of Sam Swart, the outlaw, but did not intimate that the fellow was a member of the gang of train robbers, whose deed of blood had sent a shudder of horror and indignation throughout the nation.
When the train halted at Black Hollow, the station at which the terrible crime of a few days previous had been discovered, Dyke Darrel arose to go.
"When shall I see you again, Dyke?" questioned Mr. Elliston.
"I am not sure. I shall be in Woodburg next week."
"I will see you there, then."
The detective left the train, and stood alone on the platform of the little station. There were not a dozen houses in sight, and it was not often that the express halted at this place. Here the daring deed of robbers had been discovered. It could not be far from here that the outlaws left the express car, doubtless springing off and escaping in the darkness as the train slowed up to the station.
Not a soul in sight.
Dyke Darrel entered the depot, to see a man standing at the window who had been watching the moving train as it rushed away on its northern course.
"No public house here, sir," said the man, who proved to be the railway agent, in answer to an inquiry from the detective.
"Then I must find some one who will keep me for a short time," returned Dyke Darrel. "I am looking for a location in which to open a gun-shop."
"Guns would sell here, I reckon," said Mr. Bragg. "I guess maybe I can accommodate you with a stopping-place for a day or two."
"Thanks. I will pay you well."
"I'm not a shark," answered the agent. "You see that brown house up yonder, in the edge of that grove?"
"That's my place. I can't go up just now; but you may tell my wife that I sent you, and it will be all right."
Dyke Darrel sauntered down past several dingy-looking dwellings until he came to the house of Mr. Bragg. It was really the most respectable dwelling in the place, which could not have been famous for its fine residences.
The aspect about was not calculated to prepossess one in favor of the country. Somehow, it seemed to the detective that Black Hollow was half a century behind the age. Mrs. Bragg was a shy, ungainly female, and not at all communicative.
Darrel occupied the remainder of the day in exploring the country in the vicinity. A creek crossed the railroad and entered a deep gulch, the sides of which were lined with a dense growth of bushes.
An ill-defined path led down the steep side of the gulch, and was lost to sight in the dense growth at the bottom.
Dyke Darrel followed this path, and soon found himself in a dense wood that seemed to cover a strip of bottom land. Moving on, the deep shadows soon encompassed him on every side.
A solemn stillness seemed to pervade the place, and a feeling of loneliness came over the detective.
"What a splendid place for secreting plunder, or hiding from officers of the law."
It was almost dark ere the detective turned to retrace his steps. The narrow path grew indistinct, and it was only with the utmost difficulty that Dyke Darrel kept his course.
The snapping of a dry twig suddenly startled him.
This sound was followed almost instantly by the whip-like crack of a rifle. A stinging sensation on the cheek, together with the whistle of a deadly bullet, warned Dyke Darrel of a narrow escape.
Instantly the detective drew his revolver and sought shelter behind a tree. Then he gazed sharply in the direction from whence the sound of the rifle had come.
A faint line of smoke in the distance alone met the gaze of Dyke Darrel.
It was evident that some one had fired upon him with murderous intent. This was the belief of the detective.
"Somebody has dogged my steps; there can be no doubt about that," answered Dyke Darrel. "I was not wrong in my supposition that Black Hollow is the rendezvous of a gang of outlaws. I wish I had one good man with me to help hunt these scoundrels down."
The darkness deepened, but no one appeared, and fearing that he would not be able to follow the path if he tarried, Dyke Darrel, with his revolver in hand, ready for use, moved from his shelter, and attempted to make his way out of the labyrinth in which he found himself.
The detective soon lost the path, however, and found himself in a desperate tangle, with the blackness of a dismal night settling down upon the place.
"I'm in a pickle, now, for a fact," muttered Dyke Darrel. "I was a little indiscreet in coming here so late in the day. It does seem as though I must come out somewhere if I continue to strive."
Nevertheless, an hour's walk in the dense undergrowth failed to bring the detective to the bank of Black Hollow, or to any opening. "A veritable trap for the unwary," growled Dyke, as he halted with his back against a tree, with the perspiration oozing from every pore. Even his wiry limbs and muscles were not proof against the tangled nature of the wood into which he had so coolly entered.
Dyke Darrel was not in a pleasant mood as he stood meditating on the situation.
"It looks now as though I was destined to remain in the wood all night."
It was not a pleasing prospect.
The detective was on the point of making one more effort to break through the tangle that encompassed him, when something caught his eye that sent a thrill to his heart.
It was the glimmer of a light.
It did not seem to be far away, and Dyke Darrel resumed his fight with the thickets with renewed courage. In a little time he entered a glade in the woods, to find himself standing in near proximity to a low log cabin, through a narrow window of which a light glimmered.
"Some one lives here, it seems."
Dyke Darrel moved forward cautiously, for he still believed that the wood was the haunt of outlaws, and this very house might be the den where the plunder of many raids was secreted.
Soon the detective stood on a little rise of ground, in such a position that he could peer into the window. The interior of a small, poorly-furnished apartment met his gaze. Beside the glowing embers of a wood fire in a box stove crouched a human figure, seemingly the only occupant of the lone log cabin.
There was a wealth of golden hair flashing in the firelight, and the black robe covered the form of what seemed to be a beautiful woman.
As may be supposed, the detective was surprised at the sight. After a moment of reflection he resolved to enter the cabin.
Striding to the door, he rapped gently. No answer came, and the detective rapped again. This time the door was cautiously opened, and a white face peered out.
"A traveler who has lost his way."
"You cannot come in. Sibyl isn't afraid, but she wishes to be alone."
Nevertheless, the woman stood aside and held the door wide. This seemed invitation enough, and the detective at once crossed the floor, and pushed to the door at his back.
The female receded before him, and stood at the far side of the room, with both hands extended, waving them gently up and down.
"Come no nearer, sir; Sibyl would view you from afar. There, stand where you are, and do not move. It may be that you are the one I have been looking for all these years."
The speaker was evidently young, and possessed a weirdly beautiful face, that strangely attracted Dyke Darrel. He stood still and watched her singular movements curiously.
She drew a morocco case from her bosom, opened it, and gazed at something, evidently a picture, long and earnestly. She seemed to be comparing the face of the picture with that of her visitor.
Dyke Darrel was puzzled, and somewhat pleased.
"No, you are not my Hubert; he was a nobler looking gentleman by far."
"Will you permit me to look at the picture, Miss—"
"No, no; I dare not trust it out of my hands. I promised him, you know, and I must not disappoint Hubert, for he is very exacting. Hark!"
The girl secreted her prize, and lifted a warning hand.
"Don't you hear his step? It is Hubert—dear, dear Hubert—come back to comfort his poor Sybil after these long, weary years."
A low, startling laugh fell from her lips at the last. She darted across the floor, and flung the door wide, peering out into the darkness.
A solemn, awful silence followed, then the door was sharply closed, and the queerly acting girl faced Dyke Darrel once more. She looked weirdly beautiful, with a mass of golden hair falling below her taper waist, her face white as the winter's snow, almost too white for the living.
So she stood now; the dancing light from the fire fell full on her countenance, revealing it for the first time plainly to the gaze of the detective.
A low, stunned cry escaped from his lips.
"My God! It is Sibyl Osborne, the Burlington Captain's daughter."
A low laugh fell from the girl's lips.
She began humming a gay tune, and danced across the room with arms outstretched, as though attempting to fly.
The truth came with stunning force—the poor girl was crazy! Her father, a wealthy Burlington real estate broker, had mysteriously disappeared some months before, and it was supposed that he had met with foul play. Despite the efforts of Dyke Darrel and other detectives, no clew had yet been found of the missing man. The detective had met Sibyl at her father's house, and had regarded her as one both beautiful and accomplished. To meet her as now was a terrible revelation indeed.
No wonder Dyke Darrel was stunned.
For some moments he stood in pained silence, watching the antics of the poor unfortunate.
"Hubert will come, Hubert will come," she sung, as she glided back and forth across the floor.
What had caused this awful calamity? Dyke Darrel asked this question in saddened thoughtfulness, as he gazed upon the beautiful wreck before him.
"Tell me that Hubert will come, sir, and then I won't believe that he wrote that cruel letter," cried Sibyl, in a mournful voice, pausing in front of the detective. "I cannot tell you unless you show me the letter," returned Dyke Darrel, resolving to humor her.
Quickly she drew from her bosom a letter and placed it in the detective's hand.
He drew it from the wrapper, hoping to learn something that might give him a clew to the situation.
This is what he read:
"MISS SIBYL OSBORNE: I am sorry to inform you that I cannot see you again. I am off for Europe on my wedding tour. Forget me as soon as possible.
"Do you think my Hubert could write anything so cruel?" she questioned, as he handed the missive back to her.
"It doesn't seem possible," answered Dyke Darrel.
It was evident to his mind that the girl had become crazed on account of her father's disappearance and the treachery of her lover. The detective's heart beat sympathetically for the poor wronged girl. It was his duty to see the girl safely on her way to the Burlington ere he continued his search for the assassins of Arnold Nicholson. One had already given up his account, but there were others yet to punish.
While Dyke Darrel stood debating what course to pursue, under the remarkable change in circumstances, the mad girl uttered a sudden, sharp cry.
"See! it is Hubert, my Hubert! come at last!"
A look of mad joy sped across the white face, as one slender arm was extended, pointing toward the window. Dyke Barrel followed with his eyes, and then he, too, uttered an involuntary cry.
Glued to the narrow pane was a face that was startling in the intensity of its ghastly pallor, but it was not this that sent an involuntary exclamation to the lips of the railroad detective.
The face at the window was that of his friend, HARPER ELLISTON! His presence here was one of the mysteries of that eventful night.
A BURNING TRAP.
For some moments Dyke Darrel stared at the face in the window without moving. How came Harper Elliston in the woods at Black Hollow, when he ought to have been in Chicago, according to his expressed intentions of the previous day?
With a sudden, wild scream the crazed Sibyl darted across the floor, and thrust her hands against the window with such violence as to burst the glass, cutting her hands severely in the operation.
"Hubert! Hubert! come at last!" The girl staggered back and sank in a paroxysm to the floor.
It was indeed a startling affair, yet Dyke Darrel did not lose his presence of mind. He hurried to the door and opened it, springing outside quickly.
"Elliston, I want you."
Dyke Darrel stood by the broken window now, but the man he had expected to find was not there. The apparition had vanished as though fleeing into the upper air.
Again the detective called the name of his friend, but without receiving a reply.
Here was a mystery indeed.
Had that face at the window been an optical delusion, after all?
Dyke Darrel was not superstitious, yet in the present case a queer feeling oppressed him, and an awful misgiving entered his mind.
"I cannot believe that the face at the window was other than that of Elliston's; and yet she called him Hubert. It must be that there is a mistake somewhere, and it seems to me that the mad girl is more apt to be deceived than I."
Once more Dyke Darrel returned to the house.
Sibyl Osborne lay in a dead faint on the floor. The detective began chafing her hands at once, and loosened her corsage.
A morocco case fell to the floor.
It was the one containing the alleged picture of Hubert Vander. Under the circumstances Dyke Darrel believed he was justified in examining it.
He opened the case, and was soon gazing at the face of a handsome man.
Although smoothly shaved, the face of the photograph was that of Harper Elliston!
A horrid suspicion now took possession of the detective's brain.
Securing case and photograph on his own person, Dyke Darrel proceeded in his efforts to bring the girl back to life.
He was soon rewarded.
"It was Hubert."
These were the first words uttered by the girl when she opened her eyes. Her hands were stained with blood from cuts made by the glass.
She gazed at the blood, and grew suddenly deathly pale.
"My God! he has tried to murder me!"
Then she came to her feet, flinging her tangled golden hair about wildly, and shrank to the far corner of the room.
"You have nothing to fear from me, Miss Osborne," said Dyke. "I am your friend."
"And Hubert's friend?"
"Yes, Hubert's friend, too."
"Who did this, then?"
She held up her bleeding hands.
He tried to explain, and she seemed to understand partially, so much so as to lose her fear of the detective.
She began to laugh soon, and the late adventure seemed to pass entirely from her mind. Dyke was glad to have it so.
"Will you not lie down and rest?" he said presently. "We have a long journey to go in the morning."
"Where? To Hubert?"
"Yes, to Hubert."
Her great blue eyes regarded him wistfully, and a throb of pain entered his heart at thought of the beautiful girl's misfortune. There was growing in his heart a dangerous feeling, one that boded no good to Harper Elliston, should that man prove to be as he now believed, the Hubert Vander of the mad girl's dreams.
"Take me to Hubert now, kind sir. I know you can do so, and I shall die if he does not keep his word with me. He will never betray a poor girl—such a gentleman, and so good? Yes, I will do anything to please you, for it will bring dear Hubert back."
She went up and laid both hands on the shoulders of the detective, and looked so mournfully into his face as to touch the tenderness in his nature deeply. His heart bled for the girl who had been the victim of a villain's wiles.
"Sit down and rest, Miss Osborne; we will try and find Hubert in the morning."
"You are very kind."
She seemed gentle and subdued now. It was the calm after the storm. Dyke saw that he was not recognized, however, and the madness was not gone from the poor girl's brain.
It was a very sad case, indeed.
Several stools were in the room, and some blankets hung against the further wall, proving that some one had lately occupied the cabin. Undoubtedly it had been used as a hiding-place for outlaws, and it was a question in the mind of the detective as to how soon the cabin would be revisited. The presence of the insane girl necessarily altered his plans somewhat. He could not leave her to perish in the woods.
Removing the blankets from the wall, Dyke Darrel improvised a bed for the poor girl, and induced her to lie thereon. He then replenished the fire with some dry sticks that lay beside the stove, since the night air was chill, and sat himself upon the floor, with his head reclining against the logs. Before doing this, however, he had taken the precaution to secure the only door with a wooden latch that had been made for the purpose.
The window, of course, he was unable to secure.
It did not seem hardly safe to sleep under the circumstances, but Dyke Darrel was very tired, having been without much rest for several nights, and he was on the present occasion extremely drowsy.
Resolving not to fall into a deep slumber, the detective sat with his revolver at his side, and went off into the land of dreams before he was aware of it.
Dyke Darrel slept heavily.
A crackling sound outside did not reach his ear with sufficient force to waken him. A face peered in at the window, dark and sinister, but the sleeping detective heeded it not.
Another face, girded about with bristling red hair, appeared for a moment, and then receded. Dark forms moved about the cabin without, and engaged in a whispered conversation.
Presently the trees and bushes became visible, and there was a smell of burning wood in the air.
"It is well," uttered a voice. "They will both perish like rats in a trap. Dyke Darrel, the famous detective, will never be heard of more, and that girl—well, she will be better dead than living. Come, Nick, let us go!"
"You're sure the door's tightly fastened?" "I fixed it so Satan himself could not open it."
"Let us go!"
"Wait. I'd like to see the curse roast."
"No, no; that won't do. We'll come in the day time and look at the bones. This old log hut has had its day, and we could not put it to a better use than to make a mausoleum for the man-tracker of the West."