The Great Spy System, or, Nick Carter's Promise to the President

CHAPTER VIII.
NICK CARTER WORKS THE SWITCHBOARD.

It seems an incredible tale that such a thing as that one described could happen within the city of Washington, but often the very boldness of a lawless proceeding is its principal safeguard, and that seemed to be the rule in this case.

Of course, we must understand that Mustushimi had placed his scouts out, to warn him of the possible approach of the police, and naturally he had investigated to discover if any were in the immediate neighborhood before he made the concerted attack.

But, even then, the thing could not have occurred without police interference had not Nick Carter in a measure prepared for it, as has been already outlined.

It may seem strange to the reader that he should voluntarily cut off from himself all chance of police assistance until after a certain hour; but Nick had plotted to capture as many of the members of the spy system as possible, and he realized that his only means of success existed in the possibility of inducing them to enter one the houses that he had prepared for their reception.

The real genius of his plan existed in the foresight he had used in calculating so exactly, as he had, that he could entice them there to make the attack; but we must remember that Nick Carter had passed all his life in the study of just such characters as he was pitted against now, and, like the hunter who stalks the deer, or the lesser one who seeks the hare, he knew just what courses they would take under given conditions.

He knew now, as be peered through the window toward them, that the crucial moment had arrived; that the attack was already upon him, and that now he had to depend upon the correctness with which his instructions had been carried out, for the success of his plan.

"Come!" he called to the senator; and he sprang back from the window, and led the way up the stairs to the second floor of the house, where, as we know, the switchboard of the electric apparatus had been installed.

The front door, which was to receive the first force of the attack, was not barred against the intruders.

Nick knew that the very first blow of the improvised battering-ram against it would force it open; and he intended that it should be so. In that case, there would be no breakage, save that of the latch.As, he dashed up the stairs, having forced the senator to go before him, he wondered if the chief of the spies had bethought himself far enough to have planned a concerted attack on each of the houses.

The two men reached the second floor before the ram touched the street door; and then the detective said to the senator:

"Now, my friend, here is the place where you can assist me, and where you will have a chance to make use of some of that nerve of yours."

"As I told you before," replied the senator, "I brought it with me."

"Good! I don't doubt it."

"What do you wish me to do? Give your orders, and I will obey them."

"You are to stand here, at the bottom of the second flight of stairs, where you can look over the balustrade at the advancing men, but without being too plainly seen yourself."

"Yes."

"Keep out of sight as much as possible, and be careful not to draw a chance shot from any of them if it can be avoided: but I hardly think they will venture to shoot, now that there is a chance, as they view it, of capturing us without."

"Well?"

"Taunt them, if you deem it advisable. Do what you can to egg them on so that they will dash forward as much in a body as possible."

"I begin to understand what you want, I think."

"The thing I want is to get as many of them as possible on the stairs at the same time. That is, I want all of them, if possible, lined along the stairs between the ground floor and this one when I turn on the current. In that case I can hold them all."

"But there will be some of them who are so crowded that they will not be grasping the rail, and therefor will not feel the shock."

"My dear senator, haven't you noticed that there are two strips on the stairs themselves? The men who do not touch the rail with their hands will, in all probability, be standing upon one of the strips or, if not that, will be touching one of the men who is in contact with the 'live' wire; and, besides, once I get them in the house, the wires run in so many places that I don't thin that one of them will escape contact with it."

"What do you suppose is keeping them waiting? why don't they make the attack?"

It was strange- the silence that had ensued.

"They will come on, in a minute," replied the detective. "They may be awaiting a signal of some sort form the other house; or our passivity may have alarmed them."

"Hark! They are coming again now."

It was true.

A murmur of voices could be heard outside the door; then the shuffling noise of many feet upon the stones outside; then the dull blow made by the impact of the heavy beam against the door itself.

And as the door gave way instantly, as Nick knew it would do.

It flew open at the first touch of the heavy beam against it, and as Nick still remained beside the senator, they could both see that half a dozen men at once forced their way into the lower hall.

But they paused there tentatively.

The utter absence of opposition seemed to alarm them greatly. It was evident that they suspected a plot of some kind; it was not unlikely that it might have occurred to them that a bomb had been prepared to receive them.

But the voice of Mustushimi was now heard form the steps outside the house, shouting to his men.

"Forward!" he called to them. "What are you waiting for? Forward!"

Still they hesitated, while others crowded into the hallway until there was a throng there- as many as could stand in the space at the bottom of the stairs, and Nick chuckled to himself, observing it.

That was exactly the condition he had hoped for; exactly the situation he wished, for while those who hesitated continued to stand irresolute, others crowded in behind them until there was almost a jam in the lower hall.

Two or three had stepped upon the stairs, and were waiting there, undecided what to do, when again the voice of Mustishimi was heard, ordering them onward.

"Forward!" he cried again, still from outside the house. "I will discharge the man who hesitates now! Go on! Go on!"

They obeyed him this time.

With a wild shout, given, no doubt, more to buoy up their own courage than to urge those who were behind, the men in front started rapidly up the stairs, closely followed by the others, and Nick Carter perceived that before the leaders could reach the top the others would be behind them in a dense throng.

"Shout 'now!' when we are ready for the shock!" he whispered rapidly to the senator; and then he turned and dashed into the room and stood with his hand on the switch, waiting for the word.

The time was short until it came; perhaps five seconds-no more than that; and then

"Now!" cried the senator.

Instantly Nick threw the switch all the way over, giving them in the beginning the full force of that terrible shock; but as instantly he threw it back again, half-way, so that only half of the awful current remained.

But it was enough.

If you had been listening there, a mere observer of the proceedings, you might have thought that pandemonium had suddenly broken loose in that hallway, and upon the stairs.

A chorus of shrieks that would have done credit to the biggest kind of a madhouse went up from a score of tongues; shrieks of terror and of agony; cries of pain and of fright.

And these were followed by curses and moans; by cries for help and yells of terror, and by the whole gamut of noises that men might make under such conditions.

They can be better imagined than described.

From an almost silent body of men moving up the stairway these were transformed into a horde of madmen who were too greatly terrorized to think, too frightened to guess what had happened, and who were really in too great pain to do more than shout and curse and cry out for help.

Nick left the current as he had switched it on with that second move of his hand, and then sprang to another switchboard where he moved another lever, and thus threw on the electric lights, so that instantly the stairway was flooded with brilliancy.

Then he ran out into the hall, where the senator was clinging to the balustrade, doubled up with laughter by the scene that Was enacted before him.

And it was ludicrous-to the observer. It was not at all funny to the victims of the incident.

The men along the stairs, from the bottom to the top, were writhing in all sorts of shapes.

Their bodies and arms and legs were contorted; their faces were drawn and haggard with pain. Their eyes were staring, and strained, and filled with terror.

Some of them had fainted, partly from fright and partly from the force of the shock itself; and these would have fallen to the steps had it not been for the fact that the terrific force of the current held them so that they could not let go their holds.

Down in the lower hall, one man held tightly to the brass knob of the door, and he was struggling and cursing with all his might, in his mad efforts to pull his hands away from the invisible forces that held them, for in trying to release himself he had seized the knob with the other hand, and it now held tightly to both.

And this man, the detective saw at a glance, was Mustushimi himself.

He had doubtless been the last to enter the house, and had perhaps been standing, grasping with one hand the knob of the door, when Nick turned on the current; the result was that he had been held as well as the others, for Nick perceived now that Chick in following out his instructions had builded even better than had been the original intention, and had carried a wire to every bit of metal that could be reached.

The pandemonium of curses and cries was something awful to hear; it is, almost as bad to contemplate.

But the noisiest had dwindled to moans now, and Nick could not tell whether they were more frightened than hurt, or whether it was the opposite.

But he knew that his plans had succeeded; he knew that he held every one of the men who had dared to force themselves into that house in search of him; and he knew that they could not escape until he chose to release them.

And then again he looked down upon the chief of them all, still writhing at the door, with his hands grasping the brass knob.

But, even as he looked, a stronger wrench than the others on the part of Mustushimi succeeded, and with a wild cry he tore himself loose, and staggered backward so that he fell to the floor.

But in falling he tumbled through the open doorway,outside it, and alighted on his back on the marble floor,without; and then with a scream of agony he leapedto his feet and ran away down the steps outside, withthe fleetness of a hare, and as if all the devils in Hadeswere pursuing him.

Mustushimi, the chief of them all, had succeeded in making his escape, and for a moment the detective considered dashing down that charged stairway in pursuit of him.

Fortunately, however, he thought better of it; but, nevertheless, the leader of the spies had, for the moment at least, made his escape.

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