Nick Carter, Detective: The Solution of a Remarkable Case

CHAPTER X.
SOLVING PROBLEMS.

On the following day Nick went again to the house in Forty-seventh street in order to continue his researches, for he realized that a very necessary part of the evidence he had to furnish in the case, was an explanation of the murderer's method of entering and leaving the house.

He found everything just as he had left it on the previous night.

Whoever had been in the room. when he crossed the threshold, had evidently deemed it unwise to return.

The detective went at once to the cellar, and began an exhaustive search for the secret passage-way, but after an hour vainly spent, he again sought the stair-way which had puzzled him.

The greater discoveries are made by accident, and so it happened in this case.

He had arranged a box on which to stand while examining the underside of the stairs, but in putting it in place, he had not fixed it securely, and accordingly, just as he was becoming interested in his task, the box toppled from its place.

Nick lost his balance and would have fallen had he not thrown up his hands to save himself ; as he did so, he grasped a two-by-four inch timber which looked as though it had been placed there for additional support to the stairs.

The timber was not stationary, however. It came loose in his hand, but with sufficient difficulty to save him from falling.

Leaping down, he rearranged the box and again mounted it.

The necessity for searching was, however, ended.

The removal of the stick of wood disclosed an ordinary staple and hook which fastened the movable stairs in place. He removed the hook, and the stairs worked Just as he had expected them to.

A person could go from the cellar to the parlor-floor without having to pass through a door.

The discovery was one which filled Nick with pleasure, and there only remained now to find an equally easy way into the street.

But hour after hour passed, and found him still searching

At last he turned away, noticing, as he did so, that one of the stays which supported the floor above, was out of place.

It did not occur to him that he could straighten it, and yet he put out his hand and gave it a sharp pull.

What was his surprise to find that it was loose at the top.

As he pulled there was resistance enough to satisfy him that the support acted as a lever, while behind him he heard a slight grating noise as of something moving on small iron wheels.

Turning, he flashed his light along the wall, but saw nothing.

Nevertheless he pulled the lever away -over, and then placed a weight upon it to hold it down while he searched for the aperture of which he felt certain it was the instrument.

"Ah!"

He paused with the glad exclamation on his lips.

Before him, close to the wall, was an opening in the cellar-floor.

One of the stones, with which the floor was paved, had settled down nearly five feet, leaving an opening quite large enough to admit him, and when he flashed his light along, the underground gallery that he saw, he discovered that it led toward the street, and was, without doubt, the secret entrance for which he had been searching.

Nick took the precaution to put more weight upon the lever before descending into the forbidding opening that it had revealed.

Then with his dark-lantern in hand, he entered.

The passage way was not high enough for him to stand upright, and was only sufficiently wide to accommodate his body.

It led him about twenty feet, diagonally in the direction of the street, and then abruptly ended.

He looked up.

Over his head were the stone steps which led to the front door of the house.

"More stairway doors," he muttered. "This will not be so well concealed."

Nor was it.

There was an ordinary bolt such as are used for fastening doors, which he easily moved, noticing, as he did so, that the bolt was so arranged that it could be worked from the outside.

That is, a portion of the next toe piece had been chipped off, leaving a space through which a small steel rod could be thrust, to move the fastening.

First, he tried to push the stone up, but in vain.

Then he endeavored to pull it down toward him, but it refused to move.

There was but one way left and that was to slide it away lengthwise.

The effort met with instant success.

The stone slid along easily, offering little or no resistance, and thus afforded an- opening sufficiently large for an ordinary-sized man to squeeze through.

A means by which a murderer could have entered and left the house when Eugenie La Verde was choked to death was now found.

That portion of the case was no longer a mystery.

It was still daylight in the street, and Nick hastily closed the aperture, having studied out how he could open it from the outside if necessary.

He returned to the cellar and removed the weights that he had placed upon the lever.

It remained down, as, indeed, he had expected it would.

Then once more to the secret passage-way.

There, he raised the stone and put it in place.

On the underside was a handle.

He grasped that, pulled upon it, and the stone came down in his grasp.

The secret was now entirely his.

He could go either way through the hidden passage without any trouble.

The mystery was a mystery no longer.

"I have only to satisfy myself, now, that Tony is the murderer, and then the whole story is in my possession. But I must find a motive," he thought. "Why did those men want Eugenie La Verde out of the way? There is another mystery still, to solve."

The flat stone which covered the opening in the cellarfloor, was worked by the lever, by means of a long steel rod and two cog-wheels.

It was a clever mechanical device, and whoever planned it must have had a strong incentive.

"There is nothing more to do here now," he thought. "I will go home."

He had been at home about an hour when he rose and went to the window, whistling softly to himself, and lost in thought.

Suddenly he started.

Darkness was just settling over the city, and half concealed in the door way of a vacant house opposite was Tony, the strangler.

"I had forgotten all about him," mused Nick. "it won't do to let that fellow run at large. I think I will arrest him, cobra and all, and take him down to headquarters. If he gets a chance, he'll fill the house with snakes, and I don't want that, particularly in my absence."

Nick remained at the window several moments, lost in thought.

Suddenly he smiled. A good idea had occurred to him.

He went to the telephone and called up Inspector Byrnes.

"I am going to bring you a man whom I want you to hold for me till called for," he said, as soon as they were in communication.

"All right," replied the officer. "What do you know about him?"

"I know he is a murderer although perhaps not the murderer."

"He will do to keep, anyhow."

"Rather. Say!"

"Hello."

"This fellow is a snake-charmer, and in order to take him in, I have got to kill a cobra which he carries around with him. Will you have two men on the corner of Mott and Bleecker for me, in an hour?"

"Yes. How will they know you?"

"Easily. They will see me knock my man down first. Then they will see a cobra stick its head out of the fellow's coat after which, it they look sharp, they will see me shoot the cobra."

"Good; but don't kill the man instead of the cobra."

"I guess not."

"How are you going to get him there?"

"He's outside now, waiting for me."

"Waiting for you to take him in?"

"Yes. He's in the shadow business. He's made a contract to strangle me' to death with a cord, and is on my trail now."

"Ah! Well, fetch him in; I'd like to have a look at him."

"All right. Good-by."

"Good-by."

Nick hung up the ear-piece and hastily made-a few changes in his appearance.

Then he started out to lead Tony to the Central Office of the police, where he proposed to keep him out of mischief by locking him up in a cell.

"Now, my gentle Tony, come along," murmured Nick, as he ran down the steps. "I can't keep on with this case and feel easy about matters at home unless I put you where you will be out of mischief, and since you are kind enough to follow me, I'll show you the way."

In order to make it perfectly easy for the strangler to keep track of him, Nick avoided the elevated road, and took a surface car.

Bleecker street and the Bowery were duly reached by Nick with Tony a close second.

There the detective dismounted from the car and walked leisurely westward, purposely going slowly so that the strangler could gain upon him without the appearance of haste.

Tony came near. There were many people on Bleecker street at that hour, and in order to be sure of not losing sight of his prey, the strangler was obliged to keep quite close.

When the corner of Mott street was reached, they were not more than ten feet apart.

Nick kept steadily on until he reached the curbstone.

Then he turned suddenly and in an instant was face to face with the man who was seeking an opportunity to strangle him.

Tony was evidently startled and puzzled by the maneuver, but Nick did not leave him long in doubt.

The detective's fist shot out, propelled by all the force of which he was master.

There was no withstanding such a blow.

Tony fell as though he had been shot; his head struck the pavement first, and he was instantly deprived of consciousness.

Ere a single moment had passed the thing happened which Nick had expected.

The hooded and hideous head of the cobra was raised menacingly over the senseless man's breast, where it swayed to and fro like the pendulum of a clock.

Several who had gathered around at the first sign of a disturbance, started back in horror when, they saw the snake.

Nick waved them all back and then he drew his revolver.

"Stop!" cried somebody in the crowd; "you will kill the man."

But Nick Carter knew his own skill too well to fear such a result. He stooped low down, so that the bullet, after penetrating the snake's head, could not hit Tony.

One quick glance satisfied him that there was no danger to others.

Suddenly there was a flash and a loud report.

The snake, pierced through the head, writhed and twisted until it was free from Tony's clothing.

The moment it was upon the pavement it was pounced upon by men and boys, who pounded it with clubs and paving stones until it would have been a hard matter to have recognized its original shape.

While the rabble were still annihilating the reptile, two men approached Nick and announced themselves at his service.

"Pick up that fellow and bring him along," said Nick, pointing to Tony.

The men hesitated.

They thought that perhaps there might be more snakes hidden away in his clothing.

A few words reassured them, and Tony was presently securely locked in a cell at Police Headquarters, while Nick was closeted with the inspector.

But he did not remain long, and only gave the chief a brief outline of all that he had accomplished..

"You are a wonderful fellow, Nick," said the chief admiringly, "and that was a remarkable shot with no light but the flaring torch of a peanut stand. What next?"

"I don't know. Good-night. Keep my man securely for me, for I shall want him again. I'll drop in to-morrow and talk with him, if I have time."

Nick left hurriedly, and was quickly on his way to Goerck street.

He felt confident that he would find John there, and he wanted to use him.

When near his destination, he stepped into a hall-way for a few moments, and when he emerged, it was in the character of a negro, whose face was as black as the night which surrounded him.

He was just in time, for the captain and Morgan soon came out of their Goerck street rendezvous and went off together toward Houston street.

Nick followed at a safe distance.

The two men boarded a green car which took them to the foot of West Forty-second street.

There they took the Weehawken ferry, and Nick did likewise.

He felt that he was on his way to the "nest" at last.

At Weehawken, the captain and Morgan went directly to a little stable in a deserted quarter and presently were seated together in an open buggy behind a powerful horse.

How was Nick to follow them without being seen?

It was a hard question to answer, and he begun to think that he would lose them after all, when he heard the captain tell Morgan to hold the horse while he went across the street for some cigars.

Morgan went to the horse's head, and the captain started away.

Now, if ever, was Nick's time.

He crept cautiously forward in the darkness until he reached the off- hind wheel of the buggy.

A man of less strength than Nick Carter's, could not have accomplished what he did then.

He seized the nut which held the wheel upon the axle, and without the aid of a wrench he unscrewed it and put it in his pocket.

Then, as silently as a shadow, he shrank back again out of sight.

The next moment the captain reappeared, and he and Morgan leaped into the buggy together.

They drove away rapidly, and Nick, running swiftly, followed them, knowing that they would not go far before the wheel would run off, and throw them into the road.

However, the wheel did better than might have been expected, for they drove nearly a mile before the accident occurred.

Nick was glad of an opportunity to rest, for the pace had been very rapid.

Fortunately for the men in the buggy, they had just slowed down a little to give their horse a chance to breathe, when the axle dropped.

Morgan fell into the road, and cursed loudly at the bruises he received, but the captain escaped uninjured, by leaping out on the other side.

Then they examined the wheel, and quickly found what was the matter.

"Well, we haven't much farther to go," said the captain.

After considerable maneuvering they managed to fasten the wheel so that by driving very slowly they kept it in place, while Nick was enabled to follow them without any difficulty whatever.

They traveled in that way for an hour or more, and then turned off from the main road into a lane. A quarter of a mile along the lane brought them to a commodious house which stood all alone at the edge of a wood, and looked as though it were uninhabited.

"The nest,!" thought Nick. "The next few hours ought to tell me a good deal, and they must."

The two men drove behind the house to an old barn where they cared for the horse, Nick never for a moment losing sight of them.

At last they entered the house, and as soon as it was safe to do so without unnecessary danger of immediate discovery, Nick followed.

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