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The Crime of the French Cafe and Other Stories
by Nicholas Carter
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The Crime of the French Cafe

Nick Carter's Ghost Story

The Mystery of St. Agnes' Hospital

THREE COMPLETE STORIES OF THE EXPLOITS OF NICHOLAS CARTER, AMERICA'S GREATEST DETECTIVE



THE CRIME OF THE FRENCH CAFE.



CHAPTER I.

PRIVATE DINING-ROOM "B."

There is a well-known French restaurant in the "Tenderloin" district which provides its patrons with small but elegantly appointed private dining-rooms.

The restaurant occupies a corner house; and, though its reputation is not strictly first-class in some respects, its cook is an artist, and its wine cellar as good as the best.

It has two entrances, and the one on the side street is not well lighted at night.

At half-past seven o'clock one evening Nick Carter was standing about fifty yards from this side door.

The detective had shadowed a man to a house on the side street, and was waiting for him to come out.

The case was a robbery of no great importance, but Nick had taken it to oblige a personal friend, who wished to have the business managed quietly. This affair would not be worth mentioning, except that it led Nick to one of the most peculiar and interesting criminal puzzles that he had ever come across in all his varied experience.

While Nick waited for his man he saw a closed carriage stop before the side door of the restaurant.

Almost immediately a waiter, bare-headed and wearing his white apron, came hurriedly out of the side door and got into the carriage, which instantly moved away at a rapid rate.

This incident struck Nick as being very peculiar. The waiter had acted like a man who was running away.

As he crossed the sidewalk he glanced hastily from side to side, as if afraid of being seen, and perhaps stopped.

It looked as if the waiter might have robbed one of the restaurant's patrons, or possibly its proprietor. If Nick had had no business on his hands he would have followed that carriage.

As it happened, however, the man for whom the detective was watching appeared at that moment.

Nick was obliged to follow him, but he knew that he would not have to go far, for Chick was waiting on Sixth avenue, and it was in that direction that the thief turned.

So it happened that within ten minutes Nick was able to turn this case over to his famous assistant, and return to clear up the mystery of the queer incident which he had chanced to observe.

Nick would not have been surprised to find the restaurant in an uproar, but it was as quiet as usual. He entered by the side door, ascended a flight of stairs, and came to a sort of office with a desk and a register.

It was the custom of the place that guests should put down their names as in a hotel before being assigned to a private dining-room.

There was nobody in sight.

The hall led toward the front of the building, and there were three rooms on the side of it toward the street.

All the doors were open and the rooms were empty. Nick glanced into these rooms, and then turned toward the desk. As he did so he saw a waiter coming down the stairs from the floor above.

This man was known by the name of Gaspard. He was the head waiter, and was on duty in the lower hall.

"Ah, Gaspard," said Nick, "who's your waiter on this floor to-night?"

Gaspard looked at Nick anxiously. He did not, of course, know who the detective really was, but he remembered him as one who had assisted the police in a case in which that house had been concerned about two years before.

"Jean Corbut," replied Gaspard. "I hope nothing is wrong."

"That remains to be seen," said Nick. "What sort of a man is this Corbut?"

"A little man," answered Gaspard, "and very thin. He has long, black hair, and mustaches pointed like two needles."

"Have you sent him out for anything?"

"Oh, no; he is here."

"Where?"

"In one of the rooms at the front. We have parties in A and B."

"You go and find him," said Nick. "I want to see him right away."

Gaspard went to the front of the house. A hall branched off at right angles with that in which Nick was standing. On the second hall were three rooms, A, B and C.

Room C was next the avenue. The other two had windows on an open space between two wings of the building. Nick glanced at the register, and saw that "R.M. Clark and wife" had been assigned to room A, and "John Jones and wife" to room B. Room C was vacant.

The detective had barely time to note these entries on the book when Gaspard came running back.

His face was as white as paper, and his lips were working as if he were saying something, but not a sound came from them.

He was struck dumb with fright. Whatever it was that he had seen must have been horrible, to judge from the man's trembling limbs and distorted face.

Nick had seen people in that condition before, and he did not waste time trying to get any information out of Gaspard.

Instead, he seized the frightened fellow by the shoulder and pushed him along toward the front of the house.

Gaspard made a feeble resistance. Evidently he did not want to see again the sight which had so terrified him.

But he was powerless in Nick's grasp. In five seconds they stood before the open door of room B.

The door was open, and there was a bright glare of gas within.

It shone upon the table, where a rich repast lay untasted. It illumined the gaudy furnishings of the room and the costly pictures upon the walls.

It shone, too, upon a beautiful face, rigid and perfectly white, except for a horrible stain of black and red upon the temple.

The face was that of a woman of twenty-five years. She had very abundant hair of a light corn color, which clustered in little curls around her forehead, and was gathered behind in a great mass of plaited braids.

She reclined in a large easy-chair, in a natural attitude, but the pallid face, the fixed and glassy eyes, and the grim wound upon the temple announced, in unmistakable terms, the presence of death.

Nick drew a long breath and set his lips together firmly. He had felt that something was wrong in that house. The waiter who had run across the sidewalk and got into that carriage had borne a guilty secret with him, as the detective's experienced eye had instantly perceived.

But this was a good deal worse than Nick had expected. He had looked for a robbery, or, perhaps, a secret and bloody quarrel between two of the waiters, but not for a murder such as this.

One glance at the woman showed her to be elegant in dress and of a refined appearance.

She could have had nothing in common with the missing Corbut, unless, indeed, he was other than he seemed.

Certainly, whatever was Corbut's connection with the crime, there was another person, at least, as intimately concerned in it. And he, too, had fled.

Where was the man who had brought this woman to this house? How was it possible to account for his absence except by the conclusion that he was the murderer?

That was the first and most natural explanation. Whether it was the true one or not, the man must be found.

Nick turned to Gaspard. The head waiter had sunk down on a chair by the table and seemed prostrated.

From previous experience Nick knew Gaspard to be a man without nerve, and he was not surprised to find him prostrated by this sudden shock.

There was a bottle of champagne standing in ice beside the table. The detective opened it and made Gaspard drink a glass of the sparkling liquor.

It put a little heart into the man, and he was able to answer questions.

Nick, meanwhile, closed the door of the room. Apparently the tragedy was known only to Gaspard and himself and to the guilty authors of it.

"Did you see this woman when she came in?" asked Nick.

"No."

"Who showed her and the man with her to this room?"

"Corbut."

"Who waited on them?"

"Corbut."

"Who waited on the people in room A?"

"Corbut."

"They are gone, I suppose?"

"Yes; I looked in there before I came in here."

"Did you see any of these people?"

"I saw the two men."

"How did that happen?"

"One of them came out into the hall to call Corbut, who had not answered the bell quick enough."

"Which one was that?"

"The man in room A."

"How do you know?"

"Because I saw the other man, later, coming out of room B."

"This room?"

"Yes."

"You are sure of that?"

"Perfectly."

"Did he see you?"'

"I think not. I was standing right at the corner of the two halls. The man came out and glanced around, but I stepped back quickly, because we do not like to appear to spy upon our guests. He did not see me."

"What did he do?"

"He went out the front way. I supposed the lady went with him, for I was sure that I heard the rustling of her dress."

"Where was Corbut then?"

"In room A."

"How long did he stay there?"

"Only a minute. I went back to the desk, and then was called by a waiter upstairs. Just as I turned to go I saw Corbut coming through the hall."

"Did you speak to him?"

"Yes; I called to him to stay by the desk while I went upstairs."

"Did he answer?"

"Yes; he said 'very well.'"

"And that's the last you saw of him?"

"Yes."

"All right; so much for Corbut. Now for the two men. Would you know them?"

"Not the man in room A. I didn't notice him particularly."

"But how about the man who came out of this room? He's the one we're after."

"I would know him," said Gaspard, slowly. "Yes; I feel sure that I could identify him."

"That's good. Now for the crime itself. Go back to the desk and ring for a messenger. When he comes, send him here. Don't let anybody else come, and don't say a word to anybody about this affair."

Gaspard, with a very pale face, went back to his desk.

Nick remained alone with the beautiful dead.



CHAPTER II.

GASPARD SPOTS HIS MAN.

A revolver lay on the carpet just where it would have been if it had dropped from the woman's right hand.

Its position suggested the possibility of suicide, and there was, at the first glance, nothing to contradict that theory, except the conduct of Corbut and the man who had registered as John Jones.

It might be that the woman had committed suicide, and the men had fled for fear of being implicated in the affair.

Nick examined this side of the case at once.

The pistol had evidently been held only a few inches from the woman's head when it was fired.

Her white flesh showed the marks of the powder.

The bullet had passed straight through the head.

The revolver carried a long thirty-two cartridge. Three of the five chambers were loaded.

One of them contained an empty shell, on which the hammer rested. The fatal bullet had doubtless come from this chamber, for the shell had been recently discharged.

In the fifth chamber was an old shell, which had apparently been carried under the hammer for safety, as is quite common.

The woman had a purse containing about twenty dollars, but no cards or other things which might lead to identification.

Her ears had been pierced for earrings, but she seemed not to have worn them recently. She had no watch.

There was one plain gold ring on the third finger of her right hand, and there was a deep mark showing that she had worn another, but that ring was gone.

How recently it had been removed was, of course, beyond discovery. There was no sign that it had been violently torn away.

When Nick had proceeded thus far with his investigation the messenger boy arrived. The detective sent messages to his assistants, Chick and Patsy.

He then notified a coroner, who came about ten o'clock and took charge of the body.

A minute examination failed to reveal any marks upon the clothing which might assist in establishing the woman's identity.

Nick then left the restaurant, taking Gaspard with him. Inspector Mclaughlin's men were by this time on hand, and they took charge of the house, under Nick's direction.

At seven o'clock in the morning Nick received a message from Patsy, who had been directed to find the cabman in whose cab Corbut had fled.

Patsy had located the cabman at his home on West Thirty-second street. The man's name was Harrigan.

Nick took Gaspard with him and went to the house where Harrigan boarded.

"I got on to him easy enough," said Patsy, whom they found outside the house. "I found the policeman who was on that beat last night, and got him to give me a list of all the night-hawks he'd seen around there up to eight o'clock of the evening.

"Then I began to chase up the fellows on that list. The second man put me on to Harrigan. He remembered seeing him get the job, but couldn't tell what sort of a man hired him.

"I guess there's no doubt that he's the man, but I haven't questioned him yet. He's in there asleep."

Nick passed himself off as a friend of Harrigan's, and was directed with Patsy to the man's room.

They went in without being invited, after having tried in vain to get an answer to their pounding on his door.

The cabman was snoring in a heavy slumber.

"From what I heard," said Patsy, "Harrigan had a very large skate on last night. He's sleeping it off."

Nick shook the man unmercifully, and at last he sat up in bed.

"What t' 'ell?" said he, looking about him wildly. "Who are youse, an' wha's the row?"

As the quickest way to sober the man, Nick showed his shield. It acted like a cold shower-bath.

"Say, what was it I done?" gasped Harrigan. "S' help me, I dunno nothing about it. I had a load on me last night, an' I ain't responsible."

Patsy laughed.

"There's no charge against you," said Nick; "I only want to ask you a few questions."

Harrigan sank back on the pillow with a gasp of relief.

"Gimme that water-pitcher," he said; "me t'roat's full o' cobwebs."

He drank about a quart of water, and then declared himself ready for a cross-examination. Nick sized him up for a decent sort of fellow; and saw no reason to doubt that he was telling the truth when he answered the questions that were put to him.

It appeared that he had been on Seventh avenue, near the French restaurant, from a little after six to about half-past seven on the previous evening.

At the latter hour a man had engaged his cab. He had taken it to the side door of the restaurant, and the waiter had got in. The man who hired the cab was already inside.

He had driven them somewhere on Fifty-seventh street, or it might be Fifty-eighth. He couldn't remember exactly.

The two men got out together. He didn't know what had become of them.

His fare was paid all right. Then he had a couple more drinks, and the next thing he knew he was at the stable where he had hired the cab.

Of course he didn't confess this in so many words, but Nick understood the facts well enough.

That was absolutely all that Harrigan knew about the case.

"Would you recognize the man who hired your cab if you saw him again?" asked Nick.

"Oh, sure," said Harrigan. "I wasn't so very full. I had me wits about me. Say, you ain't going to do me dirt an' git me license taken away? I was all right. I didn't do any harm."

Nick assured Harrigan that if he acted right in this case his license would be safe, and then left the man to his slumbers.

"Not very promising, is it, my boy?" said Nick to Patsy, as they went downstairs. "We've lost the trail as soon as we struck it."

"Do you think he's giving it to us straight?"

"Yes; he doesn't know where he took the men nor what became of them after they left his cab."

"It's a pity he had such a jag. He'd have been the best witness in the case."

Nick smiled.

"If he hadn't been drunk he wouldn't have had anything to do with the case," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"Why, it's clear enough. This man that we want saw Harrigan on that cab while the man was on his way to the restaurant with the woman. Then when it became necessary to get Corbut out of the way, he remembered the drunken cabman, and hired him."

"I don't see how you know that."

"A man would rather have a sober driver than a drunken one, wouldn't he?"

"Yes."

"Well, the man who told you he saw Harrigan get the job was sober, wasn't he?"

"Yes."

"Then why didn't the man take his cab? Because he wanted a drunken driver, who wouldn't be sharp enough to get on to any queer business.

"But he wouldn't have tried to find a drunken cabman just by luck, and he wouldn't have taken a sober one. Therefore he had seen Harrigan and hoped to find him in the same place.

"That's part of the plot. Now, then, you go to Chick, who's watching the body of the woman. I'm going to take Gaspard uptown and have a look at that part of the city where Harrigan left his passengers."

Nick and Gaspard went to the Thirty-third street station of the Sixth avenue elevated road.

They walked to the edge of the platform on the uptown end.

Suddenly Gaspard gave a violent start. He uttered an exclamation of surprise and pointed across the tracks.

"What is it?" cried Nick.

"The man who was in room B!" exclaimed Gaspard. "I am sure of it!"

At that instant a downtown train rushed into the station, cutting off Nick's view.

And a half-second later an uptown train pulled in on their side. Nick pushed open a gate before the train had fairly stopped. He dragged Gaspard after him.

The gateman tried to stop them, but Nick pushed the fellow in the car so violently that he sat down on the floor.

Then the detective pulled the other gate open, and, still dragging Gaspard, sprang down in the space between the tracks.

The other train was just starting. Nick leaped up and opened one of the gates.

Gaspard stood trembling. Excitement and terror rendered him incapable of action.

Nick reached down, and, seizing the man by the shoulders, lifted him up to the platform of the car as if he had been a child of ten.

"Look back," cried the detective, pushing Gaspard to the other side of the car. "Is your man still at the station?"

Two or three men were there, having, apparently, just missed the train.

It seemed possible that the criminal—if such he was—had seen Gaspard point, and had been shrewd enough not to board the car.

But Gaspard looked back and declared that his man was not there.

"Good," said Nick. "He must be on the train. We have him sure."



CHAPTER III.

JOHN JONES.

"I want you!" whispered Nick.

How many luckless criminals have been startled by those words! How many have seen the prison or the gallows rise before them at the sound!

In this case, however, the words seemed to produce less than the ordinary effect.

The man to whom they were addressed turned suddenly toward the detective, but did not shrink or tremble.

"I beg your pardon," said he; "I didn't quite understand what you said."

The man's coolness made Nick even more in doubt about Gaspard's identification.

After boarding the train they had walked through it hurriedly, and in the car next the engine Gaspard had clutched Nick's arm, whispering:

"There is your man!"

The person indicated was well-dressed, rather good-looking, and about thirty-five years old. There was nothing particularly striking about his appearance.

It would have been easy to have found dozens of such men on lower Broadway any day.

Nick feared a mistake. But Gaspard was sure.

"I never forget a face," he said. "That is the man whom I saw coming out of room B. That is the murderer."

The man was standing up and holding on to one of the straps. His profile was turned to them.

Nick waited until he turned and showed his full face. The detective was bound to give Gaspard every chance to change his mind.

But he remained firm, and at last Nick approached the accused and suddenly whispered the terrifying words in his ear.

Having done so, he was obliged to carry it through. Therefore, when the stranger asked Nick to repeat what he had said, the detective, in a low voice, inaudible to anybody else in the car, told him what the accusation was.

"This is ridiculous," said the man. "I read the story of this affair in the papers this morning, but I am not connected with it in any way. If you arrest me, you must be prepared to take the consequences."

"I guess we can manage the affair quietly," said Nick, "and give you no trouble at all. I suppose you were going downtown to business?"

"Yes."

"Well, I will go along, too, if you don't mind."

"By all means," said the man, and he looked much relieved.

"I understand what your duty is," he continued. "Since this imported French jackass has made this charge, of course you'll have to look into it. Come down to the office and make some inquiries, and then go up to my flat. I was at home last evening after eight o'clock.

"What did you do before that?"

"I had dinner with my wife, and then put her aboard a train. She's gone away on a visit."

"Where has she gone?"

"No, sir; none of that. I don't propose to have a detective go flying after her to scare her to death. She keeps out of this mess, if I have any say about it."

"But if you're arrested she'll hear about it and come back to the city."

"I'm not going to be arrested. You're too sensible a man to do such a thing. I can see that.

"Here we are. We get off at Franklin street. My place of business is just a little way up the street, toward Broadway."

They left the train. Nick was beginning to feel that a mistake had been made. This man's easy manner and perfect confidence were hard to square with the idea of his guilt.

"By the way," said the suspect, as they descended the stairs, "I forgot to give you my card."

He handed it to Nick as he spoke, and the detective read this:

MR. JOHN JONES.

ALLEN, MORSE & JONES, Electrical Fixtures, The "Sunlight" Lamp.

"What did I tell you!" exclaimed Gaspard, who was looking over Nick's shoulder. "It is the name that was on the register. He is the man."

But Nick took a different view. He was of the opinion that Mr. Jones had presented very strong evidence of his complete innocence.

Anybody else might have signed himself "John Jones," but the real John Jones, never!

It would be mighty hard to convince a jury that a man meditating murder had recorded his correct name for the benefit of the police.

The coincidence was certainly astonishing, but it was in Jones' favor.

They walked over to the office of Allen, Morse & Jones.

Mr. Allen was there.

"Good-morning, Mr. Allen," said Jones, "My name has got me into trouble again."

"How is that?"

"Did you read about that French restaurant murder last night?"

"Well, I glanced at the story in one of the papers."

"This Frenchman here is a waiter in the place. He saw me in an elevated train just now, and told this other man, who is a detective, that I was the party who took that woman to the restaurant.

"That was bad enough, but when they found out what my name was, they convicted me immediately. It appears that the visitor to the restaurant signed the very uncommon name of John Jones on the books."

"Why, what the devil!" exclaimed Allen, looking wrathfully at poor Gaspard, who was shaking in his shoes. "Don't you know that this is a serious matter? What do you mean?"

"He is the man," cried Gaspard. "If I were dying, I would swear with my last breath that he is the man."

"But who's the woman?" asked Allen, turning to Nick. "And what has she to do with my partner?"

"That I cannot say," replied Nick; "she has not been identified."

"Then you have absolutely nothing to go upon except this fellow's word?"

"Nothing."

"Why, this is nonsense."

"Perhaps so," said Nick, "but you will admit that I would be false to my duty if I did not make an investigation."

"Investigate all you wish," laughed Jones. "But don't bother me any more than you have to. This is my busy day."

"I'm going right away," said Nick. "All I want of you is that you will give me your address, and meet me at your home in the latter part of the afternoon."

"Very well," said Jones, and he scribbled on a piece of paper. "I'll be there at half-past four o'clock."

Nick thanked Mr. Jones for his courtesy, and immediately withdrew. But he did not go far.

In a convenient doorway he wrote a note to Chick, on the back of the scrap of paper which Jones had given him, and sealed it in an envelope.

Then he sent Gaspard with it to Chick, who was on the lookout in the undertaker's room, where the body lay.

Having dispatched this message, Nick changed his disguise and kept watch over the establishment of Allen, Morse & Jones.

Nothing of importance happened until a little after noon, when a reply came from Chick.

Translated from the detective's cipher, it read as follows:

"The address is that of a good flat house. Jones lives there with his wife.

"They have been there only about two months. Nobody in the house knows anything about them.

"They had one servant, who was taken sick about two weeks ago and carried to a hospital, where she died.

"Since then they have lived absolutely alone. There was nobody in the house who had seen Mrs. Jones' face. She always wore a heavy veil.

"The only description I could get tallied with that of the body. The principal point was the hair.

"I have just found a woman who saw Mr. and Mrs. Jones go out yesterday afternoon. She remembers Mrs. Jones' dress. The description agrees with that found on the corpse.

"Jones carried an alligator-skin traveling-bag. Nobody saw either of them come back to the house, but Jones evidently slept there.

"I shall take the woman who saw them go out to the room where the body lies.

"Will send Patsy down with the result of this effort at identification. I believe it will show the woman to be Mrs. Jones. I send this that you may have warning."

"CHICK."

Nick read this note and then glanced across the street toward the office of Allen, Morse & Jones.

Through the window he could see Jones calmly writing a letter. Could it be possible that this man was guilty of so hideous a crime?

Half an hour passed, and then came the second message, as follows:

"Identified as Mrs. Jones."



CHAPTER IV.

ALL SORTS OF IDENTIFICATIONS.

"I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Jones, that the body of the woman murdered last night has been identified as that of your wife."

So spoke Nick, and this time Jones' calmness was not proof against the surprise.

"It can't be possible!" he exclaimed, leaping from his chair.

"I am so informed," said Nick, "and I must place you under arrest."

"But there is some infernal mistake here," said the accused. "I know that my wife is all right. This must be somebody else."

"A lady living in the same house with you has recognized the body."

"I don't care if she has. Nobody in that house knows my wife."

"Is there anybody in the city who does know her?"

"I can't think of anybody."

"How about the grocer with whom you traded?"

"Our servant attended to all that till she was taken sick. Since then I've done what little there was to do. We've eaten most of our meals at restaurants."

"What restaurants?"

"Oh, all around. There's the Alcazar, for instance, where we have sometimes dined together."

"Does the head waiter there know her?"

"I suppose he would remember her face. He doesn't know the name."

"All right. I'll have him look at the body."

"But, man, you're going to let me look at it, aren't you?" exclaimed Jones. "That would settle it, I should think."

"I'll take you there now, and we will try to get somebody from the Alcazar at the same time."

Nick took the prisoner at once to the Alcazar. The head waiter remembered Jones' face. He had seen him dining with a lady who had beautiful light hair.

The three went to the undertaker's rooms.

Nick watched Jones narrowly as he approached the body. He started violently at the first sight of it. Then he became calm.

"The hair is wonderfully like," he said, "but there is no resemblance between the two faces."

"That is true, gentlemen," said the head waiter; "this is not the lady."

"On the contrary," said a voice close beside them, "I believe that this lady was your wife, Mr. Jones."

All the color went out of Jones' face as he turned quickly toward the man who had spoken.

"Ah, Mr. Gottlieb," he said, "I am surprised to hear you say that."

"Mr. Gottlieb is the grocer from whom the Joneses bought their supplies," said Chick, who had advanced to Nick's side.

"I was not aware that you had ever seen my wife," said Jones, looking searchingly at the grocer.

"I never saw her plainly," said Gottlieb. "She came into my store once or twice, but always closely veiled. So I cannot be sure; and, of course, if you insist that this is not your wife's body, I must be mistaken."

"You are mistaken, sir," said Jones, coldly.

He turned to Nick.

"Mr. Gottlieb has sealed my doom for the present," he said, with a smile. "I am ready to go with you."

Nick took his prisoner to Police Headquarters.

The detective had meanwhile sent Patsy in quest of Harrigan, the coachman.

Jones was taken into the superintendent's room, and a dozen other men were assembled there, waiting for the arrival of the cabman.

Harrigan was very nervous when he appeared.

"Youse fellies are tryin' to do me out o' my license," said he; "but I'm tellin' yer I was all right last night. I wasn't half so paralyzed as youse t'ink I was. Show me your man and I'll identify him."

Harrigan was led into the superintendent's room. When he saw how many men were there he seemed to be a great deal taken aback.

But he put a bold face on the matter, and promptly advanced, saying:

"This is the man."

Nick made a gesture of disappointment, and then he laughed, and the superintendent with him.

The man whom Harrigan had selected was Chick.

It was evident that the cabman was going upon pure guess-work. Being sharply questioned, he confessed that he had no idea how his "fare" of the previous night looked.

"I'll give it to youse dead straight," said he, at last; "I don't know whether the mug was white or black. Say, he might have been a Chinee."

"I believe that fellow is faking," said the sergeant to Nick, as Harrigan left the room.

"No; he's straight enough, I guess," said Nick. "He's not the sort of man who would have been let into a game of this kind."

Nick then proceeded to question the prisoner in the presence of Chick and the superintendent.

His answers were straightforward enough, but they threw little light upon the affair.

The only subject which he refused to discuss was the whereabouts of his wife. When questioned about her, he invariably declined to speak.

"She's gone on a little pleasure trip," he said, "and I want her to enjoy it. This affair will be all over when she gets back. She'll never hear of it, where she is, and that's as it should be."

Nick returned to his house, where he was informed that a visitor was waiting for him.

He found a gentleman somewhat under forty years of age, and apparently in prosperous circumstances, pacing the study floor.

The visitor was evidently greatly excited about something, for his hands trembled and he started nervously when Nick entered.

"Mr. Carter," he said, anxiously, "can I trust you fully?"

Nick laughed.

"I shan't do anything to prevent it," he said.

"Will you swear to keep what I shall tell you a secret?"

"No, sir; I will not."

The man made a despairing gesture.

"I supposed that your business was always strictly confidential," he said.

"So it is, but I take no oaths."

"I didn't mean that exactly, but—but—"

The man hesitated, stammered, and was unable to proceed.

"Come, sir," said Nick; "be calm. Tell me plainly what you want me to do for you."

"It isn't for me; it's for a—for a friend of mine."

"Very well; what can I do for your friend?"

"He is accused of a terrible crime, of which he is entirely innocent. I want you to save him."

"I have been asked to do that many times."

"And you have always succeeded?"

"Oh, no; in several cases the persons have been hanged."

The visitor shuddered violently.

"I had heard," he said, "that you never failed to find the guilty persons and to save the innocent."

"That is the truth. It has been my good fortune to leave no case unsettled."

"But you said that these innocent persons had been hanged."

"They were hanged," said Nick, "but they were not innocent. Their friends assured me that the persons were entirely guiltless, but it was not true.

"And therefore," Nick continued, looking straight into the man's eyes, "I should advise you to be very sure of your friend's innocence before you put the case in my hands."

The visitor looked very much relieved.

"I'm perfectly sure of it," he cried. "My friend had nothing to do with this case."

"I'm glad to hear it. Who is he?"

"The man who has been arrested in this restaurant murder case."

"John Jones?"

"That is the name he has given to the police."

"But isn't that his right name?"

"I—I don't know," stammered the visitor.

"He must be a very particular friend of yours, since you don't know what his name is!"

"I never saw him in my life."

"Look here, Mr.—"

"Hammond is my name."

"Well, Mr. Hammond, your statements don't hang together. You began by saying that this man was your friend."

"I didn't mean that exactly, but I sympathize with him. It must be terrible to be arrested for such a crime and to find the evidence growing stronger in spite of your innocence."

"How do you know that he is innocent?"

Before Hammond could reply there came a knock at the door.

Nick answered it.

"Come in, Gaspard," he said, throwing the door wide open.

"You sent for me, and—Good God! who is this?"

"You know him, then?"

"Yes, yes, I know him," cried Gaspard; "he is the man who was in room A last night."



CHAPTER V.

PATSY'S TIP.

Gaspard's declaration produced a stunning effect upon Hammond.

At first he seemed thunderstruck. There was a look in his face which made Nick say to himself, "It isn't true."

But whether the accusation was true or false, Nick knew at once that Hammond recognized Gaspard.

Yet he couldn't be a regular visitor to the place, because Gaspard had said that he had never seen either of the two men before the fatal evening.

Therefore, as Hammond had recognized Gaspard, he must be the man who was in room A, because the man in room B had not seen the head waiter, according to Gaspard's story.

Hammond, after the first shock of surprise, recovered his nerve wonderfully.

He calmly took a chair and sat there in deep thought for nearly five minutes. He paid no attention to questions.

Finally he looked up and said:

"I don't know why I should deny it to you. There is no charge against the man in room A."

"None whatever," said Nick. "He is wanted merely as a witness."

"It occurred to me that you might have some theory of a conspiracy in which both men were concerned."

"I never thought of it."

"Then I am not to be put under arrest?"

"Certainly not, unless some new evidence appears, and I do not expect it."

"Very well; I was the man in room A."

"And who was the lady?"

"I decline to mention her name. She has nothing to do with this case. You will easily understand that I do not wish to bring a lady's name into a tragedy of this kind."

"I can understand that. Now tell me why you feel so sure of this man Jones' innocence."

"Will you promise to keep me out of this affair as much as you can?"

"Why do you wish it? What are you afraid of?"

"Well," said Hammond, looking very much embarrassed, "I'm a married man, very respectable sort of a fellow; and the lady with whom I dined was not my wife. It's all right, you know. My wife is not a jealous woman. But the thing would not look well in print."

"I won't make this public if I can help it, Mr. Hammond. Not that I have much sympathy for you. You shouldn't have been there. But the publicity would annoy your wife, and do nobody any good."

"Thank you," said Hammond, with a grim smile; "now I will tell my story. There is very little to tell.

"We arrived before the other party. We heard them go into room B.

"By and by, I went out into the hall to find the waiter, who didn't answer my ring. I saw this man," pointing to Gaspard, "at the desk, and should have spoken to him, but just then the waiter hove in sight at the end of the hall.

"So I went back. Just as I was closing the door of our room, I heard the man come out of room B.

"I didn't see him, but I know that he went down the front stairs, for I heard his footsteps, and also heard the door shut.

"The waiter came in and finally went out again. We. were just ready to leave the place when we heard the pistol-shot in the other room.

"Then we got out of the house just as fast as we could. It was cowardly, perhaps, but I knew that something terrible had happened, and I didn't want to be mixed up in it.

"Of course I wanted to keep the lady out of it, too, and—and—well, you can see that there were many reasons why I should have decided to make tracks."

"You know that the man was not in room B when the shot was fired?" said Nick.

"I'm sure of it."

"He might have come back."

"No; the front door makes a loud noise when it is shut I should have heard him if he had come in that way. And if he had come the other way this man would have seen him."

"You didn't see him at all, did you?"

"No."

"So you can't say whether Jones was the man?"

"No; but I'm sure he wasn't the murderer."

"You think it was suicide?"

"I'm sure of it. How could it have been anything else? The woman was alone."

"There might have been somebody else in the room."

"No; our waiter told us that the party consisted of only two."

"You mean Corbut?"

"I believe that's his name—the fellow who disappeared."

"How do you account for his disappearance?"

"I don't; but perhaps he was afraid of being mixed up in the affair. He may have a record which won't permit him to go before the police, even as a witness."

"How could he have got that cab?"

"I've thought a good deal about that. It was mentioned in the papers. I believe he may have slipped out the front way, called the cab, and then gone back to get something.

"Perhaps he went back for his clothes but didn't dare to take them."

"And how about the cabman's story of the man who engaged the cab?"

"The cabman's a liar. That's plain enough."

"I'm afraid he is. Now, Mr. Hammond, could either Corbut or this man Gaspard have got into room B without your knowing it?"

"Easily. Great heavens, I never thought of that! One of them may be the murderer!"

Gaspard, at these words, turned as white as a sheet.

He was so frightened that his English—which was usually very fluent—deserted him, and he mumbled protestations of innocence in his mother tongue.

"Thank you, Mr. Hammond," said Nick, without appearing to notice Gaspard's distress. "I have no more questions to ask, but I would be obliged to you if you would wait here a few minutes for me."

Nick went into another room, where he knew that Patsy was waiting.

A set of signals is arranged in Nick's house, by which he always knows when one of his staff gets in.

"Patsy," said Nick, "there's a fellow up stairs whom you'll have to shadow."

"Gaspard?"

"No; a man who calls himself Hammond. Gaspard has identified him as the man who was in room A."

"Look here," said Patsy, "am I a farmer, or is the man Gaspard the greatest living identifier?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why, it strikes me that he picked out his men a good deal too easy. If it's all straight, I'd like the loan of his luck for a few days.

"That identification on the elevated station looked to me like a fake. I don't believe he ever intended that you should get hold of the man.

"In my opinion, he's simply running around identifying everybody he sees."

"But this man Hammond admits it."

"Is he telling the truth?"

"No," said Nick, with a peculiar smile, "I don't believe he is."

"Well, then, Gaspard's a liar, and if he's lied here, he may have done the same thing in Jones' case."

Nick looked shrewdly at his youthful assistant. He is very fond of this bright boy, and gives him every chance to develop his theories in those cases in which he is employed.

"Come, my lad," said the famous detective, "tell me what has set you against Gaspard."

"He's going to skip."

"Is that so? Well, this is serious."

"It's a fact. I got it from one of the men in the restaurant. My man was told of it by Corbut."

"Corbut?"

"Yes; and there's another suspicious circumstance. There's a Frenchwoman who is going to give little old New York the shake at the same time as Gaspard. They're going back to sunny France together.

"Now, nobody knows this but the man I talked with. Gaspard thinks that Corbut was the only one who knew it.

"So it was for Gaspard's interest, in case he really did this job, and lifted some valuable plunder off that woman, to get Corbut out of the way.

"Did he pay Corbut to skip first? And is he now identifying Tom, Dick and Harry for the purpose of bothering us and keeping us busy till he can light out?"

"It's worth looking into," said Nick. "At any rate, you stick to Gaspard. I'll put somebody else onto Hammond."



CHAPTER VI.

MRS. JOHN JONES.

Nothing of great importance occurred in the case until the next afternoon when Nick was at Police Headquarters.

He was talking with Superintendent Byrnes.

"The identification of that woman gets stronger all the time," said the superintendent. "I'm beginning to think that she is really the wife of our prisoner."

"It looks so," said Nick.

At that moment a card was brought in. The superintendent looked at it and whistled softly.

Then he handed the card to Nick, who read the name. The two men exchanged glances, and both smiled.

"Mrs. John Jones," said Nick; "well, this puts a new face on the matter."

"It's a great case," was the reply. "I'm mighty glad you happened to be on the scene at once."

He turned to the officer who had brought the card, and directed that Mrs. Jones should be admitted immediately.

A pretty young woman entered. She was of about the same height as the unfortunate victim of the tragedy in the restaurant, and much like her in build.

The faces did not resemble each other in outline, but the coloring was similar. There was a faint resemblance in the large, light blue eyes.

The hair was of the same peculiar shade, and nearly as luxuriant. But nobody would ever have mistaken one woman for the other, after a fair look at their faces.

The costumes, however, were positively identical. Mrs. John Jones, to all appearances, wore the very same clothes as Nick had seen upon the woman in room B.

Mrs. Jones was evidently very nervous, but she made a fine attempt to control herself.

"You have my husband under arrest, I believe," she said. "And he is accused, they say, of killing me."

She tried to smile, but it was rather a ghastly effort.

The superintendent motioned the woman to a seat.

"Mr. John Jones is here," he said, "and he is suspected of murder."

"I have read about it," replied the woman. "There certainly appeared to be evidence against him, but of course you must be aware that I know him to be innocent."

"How?"

"Because I was with him when the crime was committed. At half-past seven o'clock of that evening we were walking toward the Grand Central Depot.

"We had dined in our flat. The people who say they saw us go out tell the truth.

"But we came back. It was my intention to take an afternoon train, but I decided to wait.

"So we came back and had dinner. Nobody saw us go in or out of the flat.

"After dinner we walked to the depot, and I took the eight-ten train for my home in Maysville, ten miles from Albany.

"I arrived in Albany Wednesday morning, and remained there with friends throughout the day and night. Then I went to Maysville, where I heard the news, and came back at once."

The superintendent touched his bell. Two minutes later John Jones was brought into the room.

"Amy!" exclaimed he. "How came you here?"

He ran up to her, and they greeted each other affectionately. The woman, who had controlled herself up to this point, burst into tears. Jones turned in wrath toward Nick.

"Haven't we had enough of this infernal nonsense?" he exclaimed. "You have raised the devil with my business and scared my wife into a fit. Now let me out, and arrest the Ameer of Afghanistan. He had more to do with this affair than I did."

Nick did not reply, but he made a secret sign to the superintendent.

"You are at liberty, Mr. Jones," said Byrnes, calmly. "I regret that it was necessary to detain you so long."

"I have no complaint to make against you," said Jones. "It was that man's work, and he shall pay for it."

He scowled at Nick, and then, after bowing to the superintendent, walked out of the room with his wife on his arm.

"Shall I call a man?" asked Byrnes.

"If you please," said Nick. "My force is pretty busy."

"Musgrave!" said the superintendent.

A man appeared so suddenly that he seemed to come out of the wall.

"Shadow the couple that has just left here," said Byrnes. "You are under Mr. Carter's orders until dismissed by him."

Musgrave turned to Nick.

"I have no special instructions," said Nick, "except that you keep your eyes on the woman."

The officer saluted, and vanished almost as quickly as he had come in.

At half-past seven o'clock that evening Musgrave was on guard outside the flat, the address of which had been given to Nick by Jones.

An old man selling papers came along the street, calling "Extra!" in a cracked voice.

Musgrave bought a paper.

"Well," said the newsman, in Nick Carter's voice, "what have you to report?"

"From headquarters they went to an employment agency on Sixth avenue. They engaged a colored girl as a servant.

"They then came straight here, and the girl followed them. Mr. and Mrs. Jones have not been out since."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Perfectly. There is no way to get out of that house from the rear."

"How about the fire-escape?"

"There is only that one on the side which you can see. The little yard back of the house is walled in by buildings."

"So Mr. and Mrs. Jones must be inside?"

"Yes."

"And the girl?"

"She is out. She has been going on errands half a dozen times, but usually to the grocer's or the butcher's around the corner. I don't know where she has gone this time. She's been out about a quarter of an hour."

"All right. I'm going over there."

Nick changed his disguise to that in which Jones had seen him. He did it in the hall of the flat house, while waiting for the door to be opened in answer to his ring.

Jones met him on the upper landing.

"Look here," said Jones, when he recognized Nick, "isn't this going a little too far? What do you want now?"

"I would like to ask Mrs. Jones a few questions if you have no objections."

"I object very seriously."

"Will you ask her if she is willing to see me?"

"No; I won't."

"Then I shall have to use my authority."

"Don't do that. Come now, be a good fellow. Amy is sick with all this worry. She's just gone to bed. Let her alone until to-morrow."

"I will," said Nick. "Good-night."

He descended the stairs and rejoined Musgrave, who was standing in a dark place on the opposite side of the street.

"Have you seen a light in that window?" asked Nick, pointing to the flat.

"No."

"Then Jones lied to me a minute ago when he said that his wife had just gone to bed. That window is in the principal bedroom of the flat."

"There's been no light there."

"Then they've fooled you, Musgrave."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that Mrs. Jones is out."

"It can't be possible."

"It's true. She's gone out disguised as her own servant."

"I can't believe it. Why, the girl's black as your hat."

"That's why they engaged her, in my opinion. It made the trick easier. A black face is a good disguise. But I'm going to be sure about it."

"How?"

"I'm going to see whether the colored girl is in the flat."

"How can you get in?"

"I'm going down the air shaft. The servant's room opens on that shaft. They'll have made her go in there so that her light won't show, as it would if she were in the kitchen."

Nick went to an engine-house near by, where he secured a coil of knotted rope.

He wished to make his investigations secretly, so as not to put Jones on his guard. It would not have been safe to get into the flat by the ordinary methods.

By using the fire escape of the building next door to the flat house, Nick got to the roof.

The top of the air shaft was covered with a framework, in which large panes of glass were set.

Nick removed one of them. Then he made his rope fast, and crept through the space where the glass had been.

The Jones' flat was next to the top, so Nick had a short descent.

But there was an awful stretch of empty air under him as he hung there.

The shaft went to the basement floor, about seventy feet below the level of the window which opened into the room occupied by the Jones' new servant.

He found that window readily. One glance through it was enough to satisfy him.

There sat the colored girl, reading a book. Nick's suspicions had been correct.

Naturally he did not delay very long in the air shaft. He had a hard climb to make, hand over hand, to the roof.

The instant that his eyes rested on the girl, he began the ascent.

He had gone up less than six feet when the rope suddenly gave way, and he found himself plunging downward through the shaft.



CHAPTER VII.

THE WARDROBE OF GASPARD'S FRIEND.

Nick Carter is hard to kill. A good many crooks have tried to put him out of the world, and a fair percentage of them have lost their own lives in the attempt without inflicting any injury upon Nick.

He is a man of resources, and that's what saves him. When one thing fails him, he finds something else to take its place.

And so, when that rope gave way, he took the next best thing.

That happened to be the sill of the window of Mr. Jones' bath-room. Nick seized it with a grip of iron as he shot downward.

The strain on his arms was something awful, but he held on. His fingers gripped the wood till they dented it.

In two seconds he had scrambled through the window into Jones' flat.

It was done so noiselessly that the colored servant in the room directly opposite, across the narrow shaft, was not disturbed in her reading.

From the bath-room Nick made his way to the hall, and thence to the parlor, where Mr. Jones—to judge by the light in the window observed by Musgrave—had decided to spend the evening.

Mr. Jones was not visible when Nick looked into the room.

The bedroom adjoining was also empty.

Nick ran through the flat, but saw nobody. He returned to the parlor, and there stood Mr. Jones under the chandelier.

"Well, upon my word!" exclaimed Jones, "how did you get here?"

"I might ask you the same," said Nick, "but it isn't worth while."

"I've been here all the time."

"Except when you were on the roof."

"Nonsense! What should I be doing on the roof."

"It wasn't what you were doing; it was what you were undoing that bothered me. You were undoing the knot with which I fastened my rope before I descended your air shaft to get a peep at your servant."

"Nonsense again, Mr. Carter. How could I get to the roof?"

"I'll show you just how it was done. In the first place, you saw me coming back to the house, and you guessed what I was going to do.

"You went into this room," and Nick dragged Jones into a sort of closet adjoining the parlor, "and you got out of that window onto the fire escape.

"That led you to the roof, and the rest was simple. You saw me go down, and you tried to make me go down farther and a good deal faster. But you failed, and the game's up. Now come to headquarters again."

"What for?"

"For trying to kill me. That's the charge against you. And I haven't got through with you on that other matter."

"But for heaven's sake pity my wife!"

"What's the matter with her?"

"She will be crazy when she gets back and finds me gone."

"One of my men will tell her where you are. Why did you lie to me about her going out? I've a great mind to place her, too, under arrest."

"You can't do it. It's no crime to dodge a detective. I admit that she did it, but for a very innocent purpose. She has gone to see our lawyer."

"Very well; I will attend to that later. Now, come with me."

Nick took Jones to the street. Musgrave got a policeman, and Jones was put in his care.

Musgrave remained on the watch for Mrs. Jones, while Nick went to get a report from Patsy, who was shadowing Gaspard.

Jones' last words to Nick were these:

"I am a victim of circumstances. I had nothing to do with the murder in the restaurant, nor with any attempt upon your life. You are doing me a grave injustice. If you were not as blind as a bat you would see who the real criminals are."

These words were pronounced in a calm and steady tone, and it cannot be denied that they produced a great effect upon Nick.

"If it should prove that I have wronged you," he said, "I will repay you for the injury to the limit of your demand."

And the detective did a lot of hard thinking while he was walking toward Gaspard's lodgings, where he expected to meet Patsy.

Certainly if Jones ever succeeded in establishing his innocence he would have won a friend in Nick Carter, whose good will is worth a fortune to any man.

Nick found Patsy outside the house where Gaspard lodged.

"I'm dead onto this fellow," said the youth. "He's just about ready to flit. He's bought lots of stuff to-day, and is flush with money.

"A man just went in there with a suit of clothes. Two delivery wagons from dry goods stores have been here. I suppose that the stuff they brought belongs to the woman who is going with Gaspard."

"Have you seen her?"

"No; she has kept mighty dark."

"Hello! what's this?"

Nick drew Patsy more closely into the shadow of the steps by which they were standing.

A carriage rumbled over the pavement and stopped before the door of Gaspard's lodging-house.

"Upon my word," said Nick, "it's my old friend Harrigan on the box. The way people keep bobbing up in this case is something wonderful."

"Perhaps the woman's in the cab," whispered Patsy.

On the contrary, the cab was empty.

Harrigan got off the box and rang the bell.

Nick heard him ask for Gaspard Lebeau. Gaspard was summoned.

"I've two trunks for you," said Harrigan.

"For me?" asked Gaspard.

"Yes; a young woman hired me to bring them, and she said it would be all right. You'd pay the price."

"What sort of a woman?"

"A very gallus French siren with a big white hat and a black plume as long as the tail of me horse."

"All right," said Gaspard, promptly; "bring in the trunks."

They were carried up the stairs to Gaspard's room.

Harrigan mounted the box and drove away.

"Follow him," said Nick. "Bring him back here in about half an hour."

Patsy darted away in pursuit of the cab.

Nick walked up to the door of Gaspard's house and rang the bell.

He was directed to the Frenchman's room.

Gaspard was examining the two trunks. He looked very much embarrassed at the sight of Nick.

"What's all this, Gaspard?" asked the detective. "I hear you're going back to France."

"I? Oh, no. New York suits me much better."

"But what are these trunks doing here?"

Gaspard looked particularly foolish.

"They are the property of a friend—a lady. To tell the truth, I hope to marry her. A charming girl, monsieur; and innocent as a dove."

"Why does she send her trunks here?"

"Ah, that I do not know. It was not agreed upon."

"Have you any idea what is in them?"

"Her wardrobe. Ah, she is extravagant. She buys many dresses. But then, what would you have? When one is young and beautiful—"

Gaspard finished his sentence with a sweep of the arms.

"They are heavy," said Nick, lifting one of the trunks and setting it crosswise on a lounge.

He took a bunch of keys from his pocket. Gaspard seemed aghast.

"You would not open it?" he cried.

"Perhaps it won't be necessary," said Nick. "This may answer."

He drew a knife from his pocket and opened one of the blades, which was sharpened like a very large nut-pick.

With a sudden movement, he struck this into the bottom of the trunk, and then withdrew it.

A dark red stream followed the blade when it was withdrawn. The end of the trunk projected over the side of the couch, and the red fluid dripped upon the carpet.

"My God!" exclaimed Gaspard. "It is blood!"

"So it would seem," said Nick, quietly.

He set the trunk upon the floor and snapped back the lock with a skeleton key.

Then he threw open the lid and revealed a mass of excelsior and scraps of newspapers.

This being torn away disclosed a dead and ghastly face—the face of unfortunate Corbut, the waiter.



CHAPTER VIII.

TRACING THE TRUNKS.

Corbut's body had been cut in two. Only half was in the trunk which Nick had opened.

The other half was not, however, far away. It was in the other trunk.

Both trunks contained considerable blood, but they had been neatly lined with rubber cloth, apparently taken from a rubber blanket and a man's heavy waterproof coat.

It was so fitted that the trunks, when closed, were water-tight.

"The neatest job I ever saw," said Nick. "Come, Gaspard, tell the story."

"I swear to you," cried Gaspard, "that I know nothing about it."

At this moment Patsy rapped on the door. He had brought back Harrigan.

"Come in!" said Nick; and they both entered.

"Holy mother!" shrieked Harrigan, when he saw the open trunks. "So help me, gentlemen, I don't know nothing about this business. I ain't in it. I'm tellin' yer straight. Youse don't believe I had anything to do wid this, do yer?"

"You brought the trunks here," said Nick.

"Lemme tell youse all about it," cried Harrigan, who was so anxious to tell that he couldn't talk fast enough. "De French leddy struck me on me old place. You know. Where I was de odder night.

"She talked a kind o' dago, but I tumbled to what she was a-givin' me. This was about half-past seven o'clock.

"'Meet me,' says she, 'in an hour.' An' she give me street an' number.

"It was West Fifty-seventh street; but dere ain't no such number. Dere's nuttin' but a high board fence.

"But that didn't make no difference, 'cause when I got dere, her jiblets was a-standing on der sidewalk, waitin' for me.

"'Drive over ter de corner,' says she, 'and' turn round an' come back.'

"I did it, an' when I got dare, she showed me dese two trunks. I hadn't seen 'em before.

"Den she give me dis mug's address, an' two bones for me fare, an' tole me ter come down here, which I did, an' I wish ter —— I hadn't; see?"

"That's a pretty good story, Harrigan," said Nick. "Patsy, get a policeman to stay here with Gaspard."

Patsy brought the blue-coat in a few minutes.

"Now, we'll go up to Fifty-seventh street," said Nick.

Half an hour later they had found the place where, as Harrigan claimed, "de French leddy" had delivered the trunks to him.

"I t'ought o' course she'd been fired out o' some boardin'-house," said Harrigan. "Dere's a hash-mill dere on der right. I had an idea she'd been trun out o' dere."

Nick meanwhile had been examining the sidewalk with the aid of his dark lantern.

"Clever work," he said. "There are no marks on the sidewalk. The trunks were not dragged. That woman must be pretty strong. You say you didn't see the trunks when you first drove up?"

"No."

"Then they couldn't have been here. Where were they? Not in any of these houses. She couldn't have got them out quick enough. Then they must have been behind that fence."

There was a little gate in the fence, which Nick opened as he spoke.

"Ah, here we have tracks," he said. "It's all clear enough now. The trunks were brought across this vacant lot from one of the houses facing the other street."

The lot is the width of three flat houses, which stand behind it. There are no gates in the fence between the yards of the houses and the lot, but Nick found a wide board that could be pulled off and replaced without much trouble.

Passing through the opening made by taking away this board, he found himself in the yard of the middle house.

"The trunks came from here," he said. "They were lowered down in the dumb waiter to the cellar and then carried through the lot to Fifty-seventh street.

"I'll leave the rest of this job to you, Patsy. Find out all you can and have as many witnesses as you can get together, at the superintendent's office to-morrow afternoon, at three o'clock. We're going to have a special examination into this case."

The special examination began promptly at the hour named by Nick.

All the persons hitherto mentioned in connection with the case—except, of course, the two victims—were present. There were also several witnesses whom Patsy had secured.

"The case which I have made out," said Nick, "is perfectly clear. It begins with Gaspard's identification of the prisoner, Jones.

"We know that he was at the restaurant when the crime was committed. His name is on the books.

"In some way, which I am not now prepared to fully explain, the waiter, Corbut, obtained a knowledge of the crime. It was necessary for the criminal to get Corbut out of the way.

"I saw Corbut get into a cab at the door of the restaurant. The driver, Harrigan, testified to taking him and another man to a point on West Fifty-seventh street. He was not sure of the exact spot, but he fixed the locality in a general way.

"From that point all trace of Corbut was lost for a time. At last his body was found.

"I succeeded in tracing the body back to a place near the spot where Harrigan last saw Corbut alive.

"I discovered that the body had been removed from a flat house on West Fifty-eighth street.

"My assistant, Patsy, questioned the people in that house. He learned that the third flat had been occupied by a couple who lived very quietly.

"The man was often away. I now desire to ask the witness, Eliza Harris, who lives in that house, when she last saw the man in question—the man who rented that third flat."

A bright-eyed little woman arose at this, and said:

"I see him now. There he is!"

She pointed to John Jones.

"He wore a false beard," she continued, "but I know him. And there's the woman."

She stretched out her hand toward Mrs. Jones.

"To their flat," Nick continued, "as I have every reason to believe, Corbut was taken by Jones on that night, and there he was murdered and his body cut in two.

"It was placed in the trunks. Jones intended, probably, to remove it next day, but his arrest prevented.

"Of course it was necessary to get the body out of the way very soon. But Jones was too closely watched. That work had to be done by the woman, and she did it exceedingly well."

Nick told how Musgrave had been duped.

"Now," he continued, "nothing remains but to clear up the details of the crime in the restaurant. I shall proceed to state exactly how it was done."

At this moment Jones, who had previously remained perfectly calm, uttered a horrible groan, and half arose to his feet. He sank back fainting.

And then came a surprising incident, for which even the shrewd superintendent of police had been wholly unprepared.

A pale-faced man, who had been sitting beside Nick, arose and cried, in a voice that trembled with emotion:

"Stop! Stop! I can bear this no longer!"

It was Hammond, the man who begged Nick to save Jones.

While Nick had been speaking, Hammond's eyes had been fixed upon Jones' face. He had watched the agony of fear growing upon the wretched man and gradually overcoming him.

And when the burden became too great for the accused to bear, Hammond also reached the limit of his endurance.

"I can't stand it," he cried. "You shall not torture this innocent man any longer."

"What do you mean?" asked the superintendent.

"This is what I mean. The fear of disgrace has kept me silent too long. Now I will confess everything. Do you think I will sit here and let an innocent man be condemned and his wife put to torture to save me from the just punishment of my fault?

"Never! Listen to me. It was I who took that unhappy woman to the place where she met her death. It was I who wrote that name in the register.

"I! I, and not that innocent man, was her companion. The waiter, Gaspard, is mistaken.

"I am the man who was in room B!"



CHAPTER IX.

HAMMOND'S STORY.

The effect of this statement can hardly be exaggerated.

It shook the very foundation of the case against the prisoner. If Gaspard's identification could be disproved, it seemed almost sure that Jones was saved.

Even though it could be shown beyond a doubt that Corbut had been murdered in a flat which was rented by Jones, that would not prove that Jones had done it.

The murderer was evidently the man who had ridden in the cab with Corbut. And Harrigan, the only witness, had failed to recognize Jones as that man.

The suspicion must instantly arise that a plot had been carefully laid, with the purpose of putting the crime upon Jones.

Some enemy had signed his name on the register, and the same cruel wretch had decoyed Corbut to the vacant flat and murdered him there. It was easy to suppose that the criminal knew the flat to be empty and had obtained a key.

It might have been by this secret enemy's connivance that the trunks were removed and sent to Gaspard.

But if Hammond was the wretch who had done all this, why had he confessed?

All these and many other thoughts must have rushed through the mind of the superintendent, in the pause which followed Hammond's declaration.

Byrnes looked at Nick for an explanation.

"This is an extraordinary statement, Mr. Hammond," said Nick. "Have you any evidence to support it?"

"I have ample evidence. I was seen in the company of the woman now dead, not fifty yards from the restaurant on the night when she met her death. I can call one of the most prominent and respected men in this city to prove that. The Rev. Elliot Sandford is the man."

This name produced a great impression.

"Why has he kept silence?" asked Nick.

"He promised me that he would do so as long as his conscience would permit. I called upon him on the morning after the crime.

"He believed me when I asserted my innocence. He agreed to be silent for the sake of my family."

"But who is the dead woman?" asked Nick.

"I have not the least idea."

"You did not know her!"

"No. Let me tell the full story. It was a chance acquaintance. I met her on the street that afternoon.

"I was walking behind her on Twenty-third street. You know what wonderful hair she had. I was admiring it.

"Suddenly I saw her drop a little purse. I picked it up and handed it to her, and somehow we fell into conversation.

"Her manner mystified me. Sometimes she seemed to be laboring under some secret grief which nearly drove her to tears. In another moment she would be apparently as merry as a schoolgirl.

"She showed no reserve whatever, but something in her manner warned me that she was a lady, and I did not presume upon her confidence.

"We walked together a long while, and at last we found ourselves near that restaurant. How we came there I do not know. I paid no attention to where we were going. T was too much fascinated by my companion.

"Suddenly she said: 'It is late and I am hungry. Let us go to dinner.'

"I thought it a strange thing to say, but I was glad enough to comply. We went into that restaurant because it was right before us.

"I signed the first name that came into my head, and then Corbut showed us into the private dining-room.

"I ordered a dinner, but before it was served, I began to be a good deal surprised at my companion's behavior. She paced up and down the room, and every now and then she listened at the door which was between us and room A.

"'I have all a woman's curiosity,' she said, 'I'd like to hear what those people are saying over their dinner.'

"I tried to make her sit down, and playfully took hold of her. Then I made a discovery which frightened me.

"The woman had a pistol in her pocket.

"Suddenly she turned upon me and exclaimed:

"'What shall we do after dinner? I'll tell you what I'd like. I want to go to the theater. Let's see something real funny. Yes, I must go. You run out now and get the tickets. There's a place just down the street where they're sold. You can get back before your dinner is cold.'

"Of course, it was perfectly plain that she was trying to get rid of me. Well, I had no objection. That pistol had scared me badly. I didn't want to be mixed up in a scandal.

"So I took my hat and cleared out. But once on the street, my courage came back, and also my curiosity. I wanted to know more of that strange woman.

"I bought the theater tickets and hurried back. I opened the door of room B.

"You know what I saw. She sat there dead, with the pistol by her side. She had committed suicide.

"I rushed out with the intention of calling for help, but fear overcame me. I looked around into the hall. This man Gaspard was at the desk.

"I dared not summon him. I turned and ran."

Hammond ceased, and a sigh ran around the room. Nick could read relief in all the faces. The mystery was solved. The innocent man was no longer to suffer under unjust suspicion.

That was what could be seen in the faces. Hammond's words had the ring of truth. Neither the superintendent nor Nick nor any other person there doubted a single statement of his story.

"When Gaspard identified me as the man in room A," Hammond continued, "I thought I saw a chance to save Mr. Jones very easily, and so I told a falsehood."

"It was a foolish thing to do," said Nick. "The truth is always best. If we had known at the outset what we know now, Mr. Jones might have been spared a great deal of trouble. Since the woman committed suicide—"

"Hold on!" cried the superintendent. "How do you account for the murder of Corbut?"

"He must have found the body and robbed it. Probably he took some money and a diamond ring. There was the mark of a ring on her finger, but the ring was gone.

"Corbut fled with these things. He engaged Harrigan's cab. He was decoyed to that flat by some woman, probably, who knew that nobody was in it, and was there murdered.

"Of course, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jones had anything to do with it. Now, if Mr. Jones would only explain how he happened to be at that restaurant, the case would be clear. We know positively that he was there."

A great light of hope had shone in Jones' face while Hammond was telling his story, and when Nick added his explanation of Corbut's death, the prisoner nearly laughed for joy.

"It's true I was there," he said. "My wife and I dined in room A, and—"

"Fool!" exclaimed the woman, in a terrible voice. "Don't you see that this is a trap?"

In her wild excitement, she covered Jones' mouth with her hand to prevent his speaking further.

"That is true," said Nick. "It was a trap, and the wretch has fallen into it. Jones, you have put the halter around your neck."

"No! It is a lie!" exclaimed Jones, freeing himself from the woman's grasp. "I tell you that I was in room A. The crime, if there was a crime, was committed in room B."

"No, it wasn't," said Nick. "It was committed in room A."



CHAPTER X.

THE TRUE STORY OF MRS. JOHN JONES.

Jones fell back into his chair. The woman bit her lip till the blood spurted out.

Then suddenly the color left her face. She sat up, staring straight before her, and she did not move during the explanation which Nick gave.

While he was speaking, the detective watched her narrowly. Certainly she was meditating some remarkable action. He wondered what it could be.

"Yes," said Nick, turning to the superintendent, "we have at last straightened out the matter of those two rooms and their occupants.

"As to the spot where the crime was committed, I have not been in doubt from the first.

"You will remember that the fatal wound was visible on both the woman's temples. The bullet passed entirely through her head.

"But where was the bullet? That was the question which I asked myself at once.

"I could not find it in room B, where the body lay. Then I tried room A, with no better success.

"At this point Chick took up the hunt, and carried it to the end. The bullet was in neither room. It was just between them.

"You remember that there was a door which I found fastened upon both sides.

"Chick opened that door, and in its framework, the wood of which was old and soft, he found the bullet.

"The mark was covered when the door was shut. Therefore the door must have been open when the shot was fired.

"The position of the bullet shows that the shot was fired from room A. Then the woman, for some reason, had got into that room. She had unlocked the door on her side and had managed to induce the persons on the other side to slip their bolt.

"Now, why did she do this? Of course there is only one answer. Jealousy was her motive. The man in room A was her husband.

"I have satisfied myself of that. She must have known that he was going to dine in that house with another woman.

"It is clear that she made the acquaintance of Hammond because she was determined to get into that restaurant, and women are not admitted alone.

"The dropping of the purse was, of course, a very simple trick. She had noticed Hammond behind her, and as he was evidently a gentleman, she decided to use him for her purpose.

"You have heard how she led him to the restaurant. Of course it was only by chance that they got the room next to that in which her husband was.

"Hammond has told how she listened to the voices, and how she got rid of him.

"What followed can be easily understood. She got into room A. She drew her pistol and attempted to shoot either her faithless husband or his companion.

"Jones disarmed her and shot her with her own pistol.

"Then he carried her into room B, and put her in that chair.

"At that moment Corbut entered, for the door of room B was not locked.

"In some way they bribed him to keep silence. They sent him into room A, where he locked the connecting door on that side.

"Jones fastened it on the side of room B and fled. It was then that Gaspard saw him coming out of room B. And that's what mixed the case so badly.

"It gave us the wrong arrangement of men in those rooms. That was the only reason why I ever doubted Jones' guilt. I was convinced that the man who had brought the woman to the house was not the man who had shot her.

"You did not know, Mr. Hammond, that when you told me, in my house, that you were the man in room A, that you practically confessed to being the murderer."

At these words, Hammond gave a dry and painful gasp. He saw what an escape he had had.

"As to the two women," Nick continued, "it is easy to read the secret.

"Jones had two wives. The real wife, now dead, lived in the flat the address of which Jones gave me. This woman lived in the Fifty-eighth street flat, where Corbut was murdered.

"Jones divided his time between them. He really loved this one and wished to be rid of the other.

"His true wife surprised his secret at last, and it led her to her death.

"That night after the murder the plan was formed by which this woman was to personate the other. The striking similarity in the hair, which was the most conspicuous beauty of each, suggested the plot.

"Perhaps Jones had thought of such a thing long before. That may have led him to keep his real wife practically unknown in this city, while he was frequently seen with this woman.

"As to the dresses, this woman, who is a very clever dressmaker, as I am told, doubtless had time to copy the other's costume in the night and the day following the crime.

"She did most of the work in Albany, where she went as soon as possible. Then wearing the duplicate dress, she went to her friends in Maysville, and afterward came here.

"Is it all plain now?"

"It is clear as a bell, Mr. Carter," said the superintendent.

"Wait a moment!"

It was the woman's voice. She spoke calmly, and looked straight into Nick's face.

"You have made one grave error," she said. "It was not John who killed that woman; it was I.

"She tried to shoot him, and I wrenched the pistol from her hand. I shot her dead.

"The plot was all mine. It was I who bribed Corbut. It was I who killed him.

"John brought him to our flat. I sent my husband away, and when he returned a few minutes later, Corbut was dead. John had no guilty hand in either crime.

"He fainted at the sight of Corbut's body. When he came to himself, the body was no longer to be seen. I had put it into the trunks. It was I who afterward sent them to Gaspard.

"These crimes I committed for love of this man. I had been his wife for five years, and for three of them I did not know he had another.

"And when I found it out, I did not do as this woman did. I simply loved him more.

"I love him still, and because I love him I tell the truth to save him. Yes, more, because I love him, I will shed more blood. He shall not see me imprisoned or condemned to death. I will spare him that pain."

As she spoke, she drew a little ornamental dagger from her dress. It was a mere toy. Nobody would have supposed it to be a deadly weapon.

However, Nick sprang forward to prevent her from doing herself an injury.

He was too late. She plunged the dagger into her brain.

So firm and true was her hand that the slender blade pierced the thin bone of her right temple, and was driven in until the hilt made an impression on her white skin like a seal upon wax.

Jones uttered a scream of horror at this sight. He, too, had attempted to stay her hand, but had been too slow.

As she fell, he plucked the dagger from the wound and attempted to drive it into his own brain. But Nick caught his arm and wrested the blood-stained weapon from him.

Deprived thus of the means for ending his life, Jones fell upon his knees before the woman and covered her hands with kisses, nor could he be taken away, until the hands were chilled by death.

And that was the strange end of the affair. The woman's confession, though it may not have been true, will doubtless save Jones' life.

At the time of this writing the district attorney is of the opinion that a plea of murder in the second degree had better be accepted. There is no indication that the prisoner will fight the case.

So Jones will spend his days in prison, though he will escape the death chair.

A word should be added about the witness, Gaspard. He has been cleared of all reproach, and has sailed for France with his bride.

THE END.



NICK CARTER'S GHOST STORY.



CHAPTER I.

THE VANISHING THIEF.

Nick Carter's friends often ask him whether, in the course of his remarkable experience as a detective, he has ever encountered anything which could not have been the work of human hands.

Few people, nowadays, will own that they believe in ghosts. Yet most of us would be less sure about it in a grave-yard at midnight than on Broadway at noon.

A man who can tell a reasonable story about having seen a ghost may not find many believers, but he will get plenty of listeners, for we are all eager to hear about such things.

So Nick, who always likes to oblige his friends, does not deny the existence of spirits when he is asked whether he ever saw any. On the contrary, if he has the time to spare, he usually tells the following story:

A broad-shouldered, square-jawed, bright-eyed young man called on Nick one afternoon, and was ushered into the study.

His card had gone up ahead of him, and it bore the name—Horace G. Richmond.

Nick ran his eye over his visitor, and decided that he was a fellow who knew the world and was getting everything out of it that there is in it.

He met Nick's eye with the air of a man who is going to do something unusual, and wants to announce at the start that he can back it up.

"I have a case for you, Mr. Carter, if you will take it," he said.

"State it," replied Nick.

"It's a robbery case, and a mighty queer one. I don't pretend to understand it or any part of it."

"Who's been robbed?"

"My uncle, Colonel Richmond, or, I should say, his daughter, Mrs. Pond. But the robbery affects my uncle perhaps more seriously than his daughter. It is on his account that I am here."

"Tell the story."

"I'll do it, but first let me say that whatever others may think of the case, I believe it's just simply theft. Mrs. Pond has a lot of jewelry and somebody is stealing it a piece at a time.

"That's my view, but my uncle's is different. He says that these robberies are not the work of human hands.

"Now, as for me, I try to keep my feet on the earth all the time. I want you to understand right at the start that I don't believe in any stuff about ghosts and hobgoblins.

"In my opinion, ghosts that steal diamonds ought to be in the jug, and will probably get there unless they turn over a new leaf.

"My uncle doesn't see as straight as that. Perhaps you remember that, three or four years ago, he fell into the hands of a couple of sharks who pretended to be mediums.

"He had always believed in spiritualism, and those crooks caught him just right. They called up the spooks of all the dead people he could think of. They got messages from the spirit land seven nights in the week and two matinees. My uncle simply went wild about it. You remember. It was all in the papers. They worked him beautifully, and if I had not stepped in and exposed them just in time they'd have got every cent he had."

"That would have been quite a haul," said Nick.

"Well, I should remark! He's worth more than four million dollars. I tell you, those bogus mediums thought they'd struck something very soft.

"However, I showed them up, and convinced my uncle that they were rank frauds. They're in Sing Sing now.

"My uncle did not give up his belief in spirits. He said 'these people are frauds, but there are others who honestly and truly hold communication with the departed.'

"I tell you, we've had a hard time keeping him out of the hands of sharpers since then. But we've succeeded.

"And now, by bad luck, this queer affair has come up, and all my uncle's faith has returned. He wants to consult mediums, and all that sort of thing.

"That's the only serious part of it. The jewels that have been stolen aren't worth over a couple of thousand dollars, all told.

"Of course, it's a nuisance to have such a thing happen in anybody's house, but we wouldn't care much if the mysterious circumstances were not driving my uncle's mind back to his pet delusion."

"What are these mysterious circumstances?" asked the detective.

"Why, it's like this: Colonel Richmond's aunt, Miss Lavina Richmond, was a queer old lady, who was once very rich. At that time she had a passion for collecting jewels. She used to invest her money in diamonds, just as another person might buy houses or railroad stock.

"Only about a tenth part of her fortune was invested so that she got any income out of it. In the last part of her life she lost all that part of her property, so that she hadn't anything in the world but her jewels.

"She wouldn't sell one, and there she was as poor in one sense as a lodger in City Hall Square—for she hadn't a cent of money—and yet owning diamonds and other precious stones worth nearly a million dollars.

"She wouldn't borrow on them; she wouldn't do anything but keep them locked up; and so she had to depend absolutely on my uncle for the necessities of life.

"He didn't mind that, of course, for he had plenty. She lived at his house, and eventually died there.

"She and my uncle never got along well, in spite of his kindness to her, and she had no friends except a Mrs. Stevens and her daughter. They're related to the Richmonds, but the money is all in the colonel's branch of the family.

"Mrs. Stevens and Millie, her daughter, are poor. They have just enough to live on. The colonel would take care of them, but they won't have it. They're too proud.

"Now, everybody thought that old Miss Lavina Richmond would leave her tremendous pile of diamonds to Millie Stevens. Indeed, Miss Richmond used to say so continually. I've heard her say, in the colonel's presence, that Miss Stevens should have the jewels; that such was her wish.

"Well, she died suddenly a year or more ago, and the only will that could be found was dated many years back, and left everything she possessed to the colonel's daughter.

"It was the greatest surprise that you can imagine. We all knew that such a will had been made, but we hadn't the slightest idea that it still existed, and that she had made no other. On the contrary, we knew positively that she had made a much later will in favor of Millie Stevens. But the document couldn't be found, and so the old one was submitted for probate.

"The colonel expected a contest, but the Stevenses did not make a murmur. It must have been a tremendous disappointment to them, but they bore it with perfect good nature. They didn't seem to feel half so badly about it as my uncle did. If he had had his way, he would have given all the jewels to Miss Stevens.

"He said over and over again that he believed it was his aunt's wish that the girl should have them. And I can tell you, there's no man so particular as he is about respecting the wishes of the dead.

"Mrs. Pond would have turned over the whole lot to Millie Stevens, I believe, if it hadn't been for her husband.

"Mr. Pond isn't a rich man, and he didn't feel that he could afford to yield up a million dollars' worth of property that had been thrown at him in that way. And, to speak plainly, he isn't the sort of man to let go of anything that comes within his reach.

"My uncle offered to do the fair thing out of his own pocket, but, as I've said, the Stevenses wouldn't touch his money; and there the case has stood ever since.

"The most valuable of the jewels are in the vaults of the Central Safe Deposit Company in this city. Some of the smaller pieces are in Mrs. Pond's possession. She is a woman who likes to wear a lot of jewelry, and, by Jupiter, she can do it now if she likes, for she owns more diamonds than the Astors.

"Mr. and Mrs. Pond live in Cleveland. Mrs. Pond, as I've told you, is now visiting her father. You know he bought the old Plummer place on the shore of Hempstead Harbor, Long Island.

"She has been with him about two weeks. She has two rooms on the second floor of the house, a sitting-room and a bed-room. The bed-room opens off the hall. It has only one other door, which leads to her sitting-room.

"The first robbery occurred on the second day after she had arrived. It was late in the afternoon.

"Mrs. Pond had been out riding. When she returned she hurried up to her room to dress for dinner.

"She took off some of her jewelry—some rings, pins and that sort of thing—and laid them on the dressing-table. Then she went into her sitting-room.

"Remember, I'm telling this just as she told it. How much of it is fact and how much is hysterics I can't say. She was scared half out of her wits by what happened afterward, and may have got mixed up in her narrative.

"This is what she told us: When she had been in the sitting-room about a minute she turned toward the bedroom and saw the door slowly shutting.

"She was surprised at this, for she had locked the other door of the bed-room, and it did not seem possible for anybody to be in there.

"In fact, such a thing did not come into her mind. She supposed that a draught of air was swinging the door.

"She hastened toward it, but it closed before she got there.

"She turned the knob and tried to open the door, but was unable to do so. It did not seem to resist firmly, as it would if it had been fastened. Instead it gave slightly, as if some person had been holding it.

"If that was the case, he was stronger than she was, for she didn't succeed in opening the door.

"Then she screamed. Such a yell I never heard a woman utter. I was in my own room, which is over hers, and I jumped nearly out of my skin, it startled me so.

"I was dressing, and was in my underclothes, so it took me a minute, I should say, to get a pair of pantaloons on.

"Then I ran out into the hall and down the stairs. At the same moment my uncle ran up from the ground floor.

"I mention these facts, because they seem to me to be important. You see, we approached that room by two ways—by the only two ways except that by which Mrs. Pond came.

"Just as I got to the hall door of her bed-room she opened it, and fell into my arms in a faint.

"She lost consciousness only for a moment, and, on coming to herself, she cried out that a thief had been in her room.

"By this time there were three or four servants in the hall below. One of them staid there by my uncle's orders. The others went outside and made a circuit of the house.

"We led Mrs. Pond back into her room, and she pointed to her dressing-table.

"There lay two or three rings and a pin, but the most valuable ring that she had put there was gone.

"It was a queer, old-fashioned ring in the form of a snake, and in its mouth was a ruby worth about two hundred and fifty dollars. The eyes were made of small diamonds.

"She declared that she had left the ring there. She told us how the door between the two rooms had closed.

"It appears that after she had struggled to open it for several minutes it suddenly yielded, and she almost fell into the room.

"Of course, she expected to rush straight upon the thief. He had been holding the door, and naturally he couldn't have gone far after releasing it.

"She was inside just as soon as the pressure on the other side was removed. But the room was empty.

"She thought of her jewels at once. She rushed to her dressing-table, and instantly missed the ruby ring.

"Now, that's all there is to it. We hunted high and low for the thief, and did not find a trace of him.

"How did he get away? That's where I give up the riddle. The door in the hall was locked on the inside, and practically guarded by my uncle and myself. At the other door stood Mrs. Pond.

"There is only one window. It looks out on a sort of court with the house on three sides of it.

"A man with a wagon was almost under the window all the time. He was delivering groceries to the cook.

"It's absurd to suppose that anybody got in or out by that window. No thief would have been fool enough to try it at that time of day, and, as I've told you, there were two persons who would have been perfectly sure to see him if he had. And he couldn't have got in or out without a ladder.

"I admit that it looked very queer. What do you make of it, Mr. Carter?"

"Are you sure the ring was really taken? Couldn't she have been mistaken about it?"

"That's the idea that occurred to me. But it happens that when Mrs. Pond came back from the drive my uncle banded her out of the carriage, and he distinctly remembers seeing the ring on her finger.

"She went straight to her room, and she couldn't have lost the ring by the way, for there was a guard ring on the outside of it, and that we found on the dressing-table.

"Of course, we hunted for the ruby ring. We took up the carpets; we made such a search as I never saw before. The ring was not there.

"I don't think there's a shadow of doubt that the ring was stolen, but I can't form an idea of how it was done.

"The more I think about it the more confused I get. To my mind the queerest part of it is that somebody held the door, and then let go of it and vanished in a quarter of a second. How are we going to explain that?"

"Didn't the thief put something against the door?"

"I thought of that, and tried to work out that theory, but it's impossible. Not a piece of furniture was out of place, and there wasn't a stick or a prop of any kind in the room that could have been used for such a purpose."

"Well, that's strange, I must admit," said Nick. "I guess it will be necessary for me to go down and look the ground over."

"That's just what we want."

"Come along, then. I'm ready."



CHAPTER II.

NICK IS BOLDLY CHALLENGED.

Nick knew the old Plummer mansion well. There is not a house to match it in this country.

A hundred years and more ago it must have been the scene of strange adventures. It was built, certainly, by one who did not expect a peaceful and quiet life within it.

The thick stone walls, which look so unnecessarily massive, are really double. There are secret passages and movable panels and trap-doors enough in that house to hide a man, if a regiment of soldiers was after him.

Evidently such a place offered every chance to shrewd criminals who might have a motive for playing upon the superstitious beliefs of the present proprietor.

Anybody who couldn't get up a respectable ghost in the old Plummer house must be a very poor fakir.

The mere fact that all the doors and windows of a room were closed did not prevent any person from going in or out at will, if he knew the secrets of the house.

Nick thought of these things as he rode down there in the cars, and he prepared himself for an interesting time, chasing bogus ghosts through secret doors and panels.

But a surprise awaited him on his arrival. Colonel Richmond met him at the door, and, by Nick's request, took him at once to the room from which the articles had been stolen.

It was a modern room in a new part of the house.

Nick was entirely unprepared for this. He did not know that the colonel had built any additions to the old mansion.

Colonel Richmond spoke of this remarkable feature of the case at once.

"If this thing had happened in the old part of the house," he said, "I shouldn't have thought that it was anything but an ordinary robbery.

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