Nick Carter, Detective: The Solution of a Remarkable Case

CHAPTER VIII.
A FIGHT WITH A "SHADOW."

Nick did not know, until some time afterward, how near he had been to death at the moment when he crossed the threshold of Eugenie La Verde's room that night.

Nevertheless strange thoughts suggested themselves to his mind as he prosecuted his search through the place, and examined the pillows.

He was conscious, too, of a peculiar odor that he did not recognize, and which made his nerves tingle with an odd sensation that he could not explain.

The pillow on the floor looked as though somebody had pounded it out of all shape, as one will do at times in order to lie more comfortably. But the bed gave no signs of recent occupancy.

Had a man or a woman been there and lain upon the bed, some marked evidence of the fact would have been left. However, there was none.

It had been Nick's intention to take a hasty survey of the house and then go home and rest until the following day.

Now, however, he hesitated.

Presently he went slowly down the stairs, opened and closed the front door, and instead of going out, returned silently to the foot of the stairs and stood, listening.

For an hour he remained perfectly motionless, but not a sound came to him to reveal the presence of anyone, and at last, satisfied that he would gain nothing by waiting longer that night, he noiselessly left the house and started homeward.

As Nick drew near to his own residence, a slight motion made by a dark shadow on the opposite side of the street attracted his attention.

"Somebody watching for me," was his mental comment. "I wonder if it is Tony, with his string? If so, he has made good time, and his presence here so quickly may account for the noise I heard in the house in Forty-seventh street. In case it is the strangler, I'll give him a little sport before dawn."

He went directly up the Steps of his own house and entered.

People knew well enough the house where Nick lived, but nobody knew that he also owned the house directly back of it, fronting upon the other street.

He had purchased it some time before, and had so arranged that he could enter or leave his own house by the other one without fear of being seen or shadowed.

Just now, however, his purpose was to let Tony know that he was Nick Carter.

Hastening to his room, he hurriedly removed his wet clothes, placed a few necessary things in his pockets; and again went out.

Turning down the street, he soon became convinced that Tony was following him, and then he set out in earnest.

Hurrying over to Third avenue, he ran up the steps and caught a down train, just as it was moving out of the station.

The purpose in that was to compel Tony to run also, for Nick's real idea in "having some fun" with the strangler was only to get a good view of his face.

True, he had seen him in the cabin of the sloop, at the time of the row. But he had also seen them all, and he had no idea which one was Tony.

Nick saw his "shadow" running, and watched him as, disregarding the rules of the road, he leaped upon the platform of the train after it was in motion, in spite of the efforts of the guard to thrust him back.

The detective walked back through the cars until he came to the one in which Tony was quietly seated.

There was a seat directly opposite the strangler, and Nick took it, while, without any effort to conceal his purpose, he carefully studied the man's face.

When the train reached Houston street, Nick rose and left the car.

Tony did likewise.

Nick passed down the stairs and boarded an up town surface car.

Tony did the same.

"Cheeky!" muttered Nick. "I wonder if he thinks I'm a fool? Well, I'm tired of this, and I'll shake him and go home."

He remained on the car until he reached Fourteenth street, when he got down and went westward as far as the Morton House.

He turned the corner of Broadway and Fourteenth street about two hundred feet in advance of Tony.

The distance was not much, but it was enough.

As soon as he turned, Nick began making a rapid change.

He had not gone twenty feet before his appearance was entirely altered.

From a young man he was changed to a very old one. A light mustache had given place to a set of snow-white whiskers patterned a la Greeley. The derby hat that he had worn had disappeared-for it was of the "crush" kind -and in its place was a broad brimmed felt. The jaunty cane that he had carried was taken apart and thrust into a pocket. A pair of spectacles adorned his nose, and he walked with the hesitation of one who has long suffered the tortures of rheumatism.

The entire change had not occupied more than one minute of actual time, and as soon as it was completed Nick wheeled abruptly and retraced his steps.

He turned the corner and went on toward Third avenue.

He met Tony and passed him, smiling when he saw that the strangler had quickened his steps.

He could have touched the fellow as he passed, and he felt a strong inclination to do so with no very gentle hand.

However, he did not, and in another moment Tony had turned the comer and disappeared.

"I guess I am done with him for to-night," thought Nick, "and now I'll go home and go to bed."

He reached Third avenue, boarded a car, rode to his corner and got down.

Then he paused, while an amused smile stole over his features.

Tony was standing on the corner as though awaiting his arrival.

"That fellow is smarter than I thought," muttered Nick.

"Has he penetrated my disguise, or is he only waiting here in the hope that I will show up in the old shape?"

Again he passed Tony, but the fellow did not look at him.

Walking on down the street, he presently took a small mirror from his pocket and held it up before him.

The glass reflected the form of Tony skulking along rapidly behind, and gaining with every step.

"The scoundrel is going to try his game on to-night," muttered Nick. "I hope he may succeed if I don't give him a dose that he'll remember many a day."

Tony drew nearer and nearer.

Nick still held the mirror so that he could see the skulkin', snake-like figure of the would-be murderer.

He could see something of eagerness in the man's gait, as though he thirsted for blood, and could ill-restrain his passion for murder when the moment drew near for its accomplishment.

Nearer and yet nearer.

They had reached a place along the block where the darkness was greater than in the portion that they had already traversed.

Suddenly Tony darted forward, moving like a cat.

At the same instant Nick turned.

He stooped and jumped aside in the selfsame second.

Just in time.

There was an angry swish through the air, made by the cord of the strangler as he attempted to wind it around Nick's throat.

With a quick bound Nick was at Tony's side.

He seized him and was about to hurl him to the pavement when the fellow seemed to slip from his grasp like an eel.

Again the swish of the cord, and again Nick dodged just in time to avoid the strange but deadly weapon.

The detective knew that, strong as he was, if the cord once touched his neck, nothing could save him.

Once more he leaped toward Tony. Again he seized him, and this time the fellow did not slip away as before.

He could not play the same trick twice upon Nick Carter.

But even as the detective seized the man, he heard a loud hiss, and a noxious odor filled the air.

It was the suffocating smell of the cobra. Like a flash Nick realized that the man was a snake-charmer and that his pets would protect him.

He loosened his hold and leaped back out of danger,

Then his fist shot out, striking the strangler squarely between the eyes.

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