Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Woman at Bay - Or, a Fiend in Skirts
Author: Carter, Nicholas
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Woman at Bay - Or, a Fiend in Skirts" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



A WOMAN AT BAY

OR

A Fiend in Skirts

BY NICHOLAS CARTER

Author of "Out of Crime's Depths," "Reaping the Whirlwind," "An Artful
Schemer," etc.

[Illustration]

STREET & SMITH CORPORATION
PUBLISHERS
79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York

Copyright, 1907
By STREET & SMITH

A Woman at Bay

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.

Printed in the U. S. A.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

I           THE KING OF THE YEGGMEN.               5
II          THE YEGGMEN'S CAMP FIRE.              22
III         THE "KING'S" LIEUTENANT.              31
IV          THE OUTLAW'S HOME.                    40
V           NICK'S WONDERFUL STRENGTH.            49
VI          NICK CARTER ROBS A BANK.              67
VII         THE DETECTIVE'S PREDICAMENT.          76
VIII        THE DETECTIVES FACE A CRISIS.         94
IX          THE ESCAPE FROM THE SWAMP.           104
X           ESCAPE OF THE HOBO QUEEN.            114
XI          PATSY'S DANGEROUS MISSION.           121
XII         BILL TURNER, THE WOODSMAN.           128
XIII        BLACK MADGE'S LIEUTENANT.            146
XIV         BLACK MADGE GIVES JUDGMENT.          165
XV          NICK'S CLEVEREST CAPTURE.            182
XVI         NICK MAKES BAD MEDICINE.             201
XVII        A WHOLESALE ROUND-UP.                210
XVIII       BLACK MADGE'S THREAT.                218
XIX         THE BAND OF HATRED.                  226
XX          A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS.              241
XXI         CURLY JOHN, THE BANK THIEF.          249
XXII        AT MIKE GRINNEL'S DIVE.              257
XXIII       BLACK MADGE'S DEFIANCE.              266
XXIV        THE FLIGHT THROUGH THE CELLAR.       275
XXV         THE MAN IN THE BED.                  284
XXVI        THE CRIMINAL'S COMPACT.              294
XXVII       THE GLARE OF A MATCH.                303
XXVIII      BLACK MADGE CAUGHT IN A TRAP.        311



A WOMAN AT BAY.

CHAPTER I.

THE KING OF THE YEGGMEN.


Four men were seated around a camp fire made of old railroad ties, over
which a kettle was boiling merrily, where it hung from an improvised
crane above the blaze.

Around, on the ground, were scattered a various assortment of tin cans,
some of which had been hammered more or less straight to serve for
plates, and it was evident from the general appearance of things around
the camp that a meal had just been disposed of, and that the four men
who had consumed it were now determined to make themselves as
comfortable as possible. The kettle that boiled over the fire contained
nothing but water--water with which one of the four men had jocularly
said he intended to bathe.

These four men were about as rough-looking specimens of humanity as can
be imagined. Not one of them had been shaved in so long a time that
their faces were covered with a hairy growth which suggested full
beards; indeed, their faces looked as if the only shaving they had ever
received, or rather the nearest approach to a shave, had been done by a
pair of scissors, cropping the hair as closely as possible.

The camp they had made was located just inside the edge of a wood
through which a railway had been built, and it was down in a hollow
beside a brook, so that the light of their fire was effectually screened
from view, save that the glow of it shone fitfully upon the drooping
leaves over their heads.

The four men were tramps--hoboes, or yeggmen, of the most pronounced
types, if their appearance went for anything at all.

Their conversation was couched entirely in the slang of their order; a
talk that is almost unintelligible to outsiders.

But, strangely enough, the four men were not hoboes at all; neither were
they yeggmen; and the lingo they talked so glibly among themselves,
although perfect in its enunciation, and in the words that were used,
was entirely assumed.

For those four men were Nick Carter, the New York detective, and his
three assistants, Chick, Patsy, and Ten-Ichi, a Japanese.

The president of the E. & S. W. R. R. Co. had sent for Nick Carter a
week before this particular evening, and as soon as he and the detective
were alone together in the president's private room, he had opened the
conversation abruptly with this question:

"Carter, have you ever happened to hear of a character known as Hobo
Harry, the Hobo King?"

"I have," replied the detective. "I have heard about him in a vague sort
of way. I have no particular information about him, if that is what you
mean."

"No; I merely wished to know if you were aware that there is such a
character."

"Yes. I have heard of the fellow."

"Do you know what he is?"

"A yeggman, isn't he?"

"He is the king of all the yeggmen. He is the master mind, the
controlling spirit of all the outlawry and lawlessness that goes on from
one end of our big railroad system to the other. Hobo Harry costs us, in
round numbers, anywhere from three to ten thousand dollars a month."

"Really?" asked the detective, smiling.

"Yes--really. This is no joke. There isn't a bit of thievery, however
petty it may be, or a scheme of robbery, however grand and great, which
they do not turn their hands to under the guidance of Hobo Harry--and we
have about got to the end of our patience."

"I suppose," said Nick, "that all this means that you want me to find
Hobo Harry for you. Is that the idea?"

"That is precisely the idea. Do you suppose you can do it?"

"I can, at least, make the effort."

"I should tell you one thing before you become too sanguine."

"Well, what is it?"

"Hobo Harry is largely a mystery. There are those--detectives, I
mean--who insist that he does not exist at all, save in imagination."

Nick nodded.

"They say that he is only a figurehead; that he is only a name; that he
is in reality an imperceptible, intangible idol, whom hoboes worship,
and to whom they refer as their common leader, while, in reality, there
is no real leader at all."

"It is possible that they are correct in that idea," said the detective
slowly.

"It is possible, but it is not likely. There is too much system about
their operations. I am at the head of a great system, and I know how
such things are done. I am confident that the operations of these
thieves--these yeggmen--could not have been carried on so successfully,
and so systematically, without a head--a chief; and so I, for one,
believe thoroughly in the existence of Hobo Harry."

"Well?" asked the detective. "What does all this lead to?"

"I am coming to that. I have had every railroad detective in my employ
searching for Hobo Harry for months--I might say for almost a year, and
without success. I have employed two of the largest and best--so
called--detective agencies in the country to assist me. The result has
in every case been the same."

"What were the results?"

"There have been any number of hoboes and yeggmen arrested; many of them
have been sent to prison; some of them have gone up for long terms; we
have proved the cases of robberies against them often enough--but the
point is, that the robberies have gone merrily on afterward, just the
same."

"Go on," said the detective, nodding his head.

"Eight separate times we have had, as we supposed, Hobo Harry himself in
our clutches. Each of those eight separate times the prisoner who was
supposed to be Hobo Harry has confessed that he was that individual,
and----"

"And so you have arrested eight Hobo Harrys, eh?"

"That is about the size of it. But the point is----"

"The point is that not one of the eight was really Hobo Harry."

"Exactly."

"Very good. Go ahead with your story."

"In each case, after the arrest, as we supposed, of Hobo Harry himself,
the robberies and thefts along the line have received an impetus; they
have increased in number, and in volume--and also in seriousness. These
yeggmen do not confine themselves to breaking into freight cars and
stations along the line of the road. They burglarize post offices, and
even country banks. They pillage houses. They turn their hands and
their talents to anything and everything where there is hope of reward
for them. The thing has got beyond endurance."

"Well?"

"We want you, Carter, to find Hobo Harry himself--if you can."

"Well?"

"The matter was discussed thoroughly at a meeting of our board of
directors yesterday, and it was determined at that meeting that if you
could find Hobo Harry and arrest him, and, having arrested him, could
convict him and send him to prison, and, having done that, could prove
to our entire satisfaction that the man is Hobo Harry, your reward will
be fifty thousand dollars, spot cash. Only, you must understand, we must
be certain that your man is the real article."

"Hobo Harry, the King of the Beggars, eh?"

"Yes. Beggars, you know, is supposed to be the name of their
organization."

The detective nodded.

"Will you take the case, Carter?"

"I suppose so--if there isn't a time limit set upon it."

"You may take your own time; that is, of course, if it is not too long."

"It will require some time to do the thing thoroughly."

"I suppose so. Well, have it your own way; only succeed. That is all the
railroad people desire--success."

"I will get your man; only I won't promise to do it in a day, or a week,
or a month. I won't set a time."

"All right. You shall be your own master in the case."

"I will have to be that--absolutely. After I leave this office, when my
interview with you is finished, you will not see me again until I have
got Hobo Harry in my clutches. You will not communicate with me, or
attempt to do so, and I will not communicate with you."

"That is a little hard, isn't it, Carter? We would like to know, from
time to time, how you are getting on, and what you are doing."

"That is precisely what you will not do."

"All right. Have it your own way. But what about the other men that are
now on the case, Carter?"

"Leave them on it. Add more of them. Appear to increase your vigilance
in other quarters. If there are fifty detectives on the case now, add
fifty more if you wish. I would prefer that you should do so rather than
not. The more the better."

"But suppose that one of them should nab the real Hobo Harry while you
are seeking him. You would lose the reward."

"I will take my chances about that. The point is that I must work
absolutely independent of all others who are on the case, and that
nobody outside of yourself and the board of directors of your company
must know that my services have been called into the matter. Will you
agree to that?"

"Certainly."

"Increase your vigilance on every side, if you can. If you do so, you
will assist me."

"I suppose," said the president slowly, "that it is your plan to become
a yeggman yourself, in pursuing this case."

"It does not matter how I may accomplish it, does it?"

"No; I was merely going to say that that very thing has been tried four
separate times; once with more or less success. But I ought to warn you
that two of the four who attempted it lost their lives; a third is a
cripple for life, minus a leg; and only the fourth, who ended by
arresting the wrong man, after all, had any degree of success. And now
he is frightened almost into imbecility, for his life has been sworn
away by the yeggmen, and he expects to be murdered every time he goes
out alone."

"All the same," said the detective, "that will not deter me."

"You will want money for your expenses, Carter. If you will tell me how
much----"

"I will present my bill of expenses along with my demand for the fifty
thousand dollars reward," the detective interrupted quietly.

By more closely questioning the president of the railroad, Nick learned
that the depredations and robberies committed by Hobo Harry's gang had
been remarkable in their extent and thoroughness; and that every effort
to break up the gang had been in vain.

Whenever one of the yeggmen was arrested and sent to prison, two new
ones, even more proficient in their thievery, seemed ready to spring up
in his place; and so the thing had gone on and on until the people who
had been robbed so often became desperate.

And then it was determined to call Nick Carter into the case.

Of Hobo Harry himself, nothing whatever was known beyond the fact that
there was such a character, and that he was the head and front of the
hobo gang--their chief, to whom absolute and implicit obedience was
accorded. His power over them seemed absolute.

Whether it was because of fear of him, or for love of him, it was,
nevertheless, true that not one of the fraternity of hoboes who had been
arrested could be prevailed upon to betray the master. Neither threats
nor offers of bribery had any effect upon them.

Hobo Harry remained as entirely in the dark as ever; and even in the
cases of the eight men to whom the president of the railroad had
referred as having confessed that each of them was Hobo Harry
himself--they had each seemed to get a queer sort of enjoyment in
posing, even for a time, as their dreaded chief.

As the president explained to Nick, there were many among the detectives
who had been detailed upon the case who insisted that there was no such
person as Hobo Harry. It was their belief that the name was merely a
fictitious one, to which the hoboes, one and all, had agreed to give
obedience.

But the president of the railroad did not believe this; neither did the
detective. The completeness of the organization of the gang was a
sufficient negative to such a statement. To have a perfect organization
there must be a chief; a head; a ruling power.

By investigating the case a little further before actually starting out
upon it, Nick discovered that the yeggmen had carried their depredations
even into whole villages. In one town--Calamont--the place had been
literally gutted in a single night.

The yeggmen had descended upon it in such numbers that the inhabitants
were terrified, and could only protect themselves by barricading their
doors, and remaining with their guns and other weapons in their hands,
while they watched the looting of their bank and post office. And there
had been other occasions as bad as that one.

Sometimes the yeggmen traveled in small groups; sometimes they worked
in twos or threes, but often they went about in large bands which had
been known to include as many as fifty or even more.

Had the outrages been confined to one community the inhabitants would
have risen in their might and, by organizing vigilance committees, could
have driven them out--possibly. But they were not confined to
communities at all; they extended all along the line of the railroad,
and the descent of the robbers seemed always to have been arranged far
ahead--and perfectly planned by a master mind at that.

These descents always happened when it was known that there were large
sums of money, either in the banks that were robbed, or when the post
offices that were broken open were better provided than usual with cash.

At every place where there was a siding along the line of the railroad,
freight cars had been broken open, and denuded of their contents; and
this often happened when there was one or more night watchmen on hand
for the purpose of preventing that very thing.

But in each case the watchman had been overpowered, and either beaten
into insensibility or maimed--and in at least one instance--killed.

And hence it was that the railroad company was willing to pay well for
the apprehension of the chief of these marauders.

All of this information Nick Carter gleaned before he formed any
definite plans for his campaign.

Roughly speaking, there was a stretch of main line of the railroad over
which, or rather along which, the yeggmen seemed to be most active. This
principal thoroughfare for their nefarious trade was approximately five
hundred miles long; and it was here where the greatest and the most
persistent outrages were committed.

There were branches of the line, too, along which they worked; but off
the main line the organization seemed to lose some of its power for
concentration of force.

After Nick had pieced together all the information that could be gleaned
without being actually at the scene of the trouble, he called his three
assistants together in consultation with him. For he had determined to
make use of all of them in this case. Indeed, that was the only method
by which he believed that he could entirely succeed at it.

To them he related the circumstance of his connection with the case,
after which he told them all he had been able to learn about it; and in
conclusion he said:

"Now, lads, there is only one way by which we can hope to succeed in
this undertaking, and that is, we must become hoboes ourselves."

The three nodded almost in unison.

"If we decide to do that," continued the detective, "we must do it
thoroughly. We must do as General Grant did when he decided, against the
wishes of his generals, to invest Vicksburg--be cut off from his base of
supplies; and that is what we must do."

"I don't think I understand exactly what you mean," said Patsy, who was
paying close attention; for Patsy liked the plan inconceivably.

"I mean," replied Nick, "that when we start out to become hoboes, we
must become so in fact, and not in appearance merely. It is easy enough
for any one of us to make ourself up as a tramp, or a hobo, or even a
yeggman, and to play the part; but in this case we must do more than
that: We must be the part."

"But that 'base of supplies' business--what do you mean by that?"
insisted Patsy.

"I mean that when we start out on this case, there will be no returning
here until we have lodged Hobo Harry behind the bars. We are going to
live as hoboes, and do as hoboes do, carrying out a real robbery or so,
on our own hooks, taking care, of course, that one or more of the real
article shall know about it."

"And taking care also," interjected Chick, "that we keep track of what
we steal, so that it, or its value, may be returned to the owners later
on."

"Of course, Chick; that goes without saying. Now, there is another
thing."

"What is that?"

"At the present time there are no less than fifty detectives, some from
Pinkerton's, and some from other places, engaged upon this case. If we
play our parts as we should play them, we are bound to run into some of
those chaps sooner or later. If we do that----"

"Well?" asked Patsy.

"We must continue to play our cards to the end, no matter what
happens--even to the extent of being arrested, and possibly tried for
the offenses that have been committed. If one of us should get caught,
he must play his part even then, for the protection of the others who
are still on their jobs; for if that one should confess himself a
detective, the usefulness of the others would be past."

"That is clear enough," said Ten-Ichi.

"It sure is," said Patsy. "It isn't very pleasant, either. Although it
will be some fun to work on the opposite side of the fence for once."

"How do you mean?" asked Ten-Ichi.

"Why, we are always chasing down criminals, aren't we? Now we will have
some fun in letting others chase us while we play the criminal. Say,
chief?"

"Well?"

"We will have a chance to learn a little about that other side of the
fence. We will discover how it feels to be chased, instead of doing the
chasing."

"Yes," said the detective; and Patsy turned then to Ten-Ichi.

"I'll make you a bet," he said. "I'll bet you anything you like, on the
basis of two to one, that I don't get nabbed while we are on this lay."

"That's a go," smiled Ten-Ichi, "for I think you will be the very first
one to go under."

"How much do you want to bet?"

"Never mind the betting part of it, lads," Nick interrupted them. "The
point is, that each of you is to do his utmost to carry out his part to
the end, no matter what happens. Now, if you please, all step this way.
I have a map here that I wish to show you."

He spread the map upon the table, and upon it he showed them the five
hundred miles of railway along which they were to work; and presently he
put his finger upon the name of a town along the line, and he said:

"Here is a place called Calamont. It is, roughly speaking, two hundred
and fifty miles from New York. Some time ago Calamont suffered greatly
by the descent of the hoboes upon it. It has not quite recovered from
the effects of that time yet, although several months have elapsed since
the occurrence. Do you see it, all of you?"

They admitted that they did.

"Right here," he continued, drawing his pencil with which he was
pointing a little to the eastward, "is a patch of woods through which
the railway runs. There are about twenty acres of woodland there, and
the road passes through the centre of it."

They nodded, and he went on:

"To the south of the railroad, through the woods, is a swamp. It is
almost an impassable swamp, I am told. I will have more to say about
that part of it presently. Understand, do you?"

They did understand.

"To the north of the tracks, through the woodland and beyond it, the
country is hilly and almost mountainous. There is a limestone formation
there. There are deep ravines and gulches, high cliffs and precipices,
and, although I stated in the first place that there is only about
twenty acres in the woodland, I meant to say in that particular patch of
woods to which I first drew your attention."

"Yes," said Chick.

"As a matter of fact, the country all around this region is wild and
unsettled. It is much too rough to settle, and there are woods and
forests everywhere. Just beyond these woods, to the northward, the
forest is almost unbroken for several miles, save that there is a narrow
clearing to separate this particular bit of woods from those beyond it."

"Well?" asked Chick, who was paying close attention.

"To the south of the tracks it is almost the same, save that the
country is flat and low. As a matter of fact, the railroad passes across
the spur which lies between the rough country to the north and the flat,
swampy country to the south.

"I have not been able to gain any very exact information about those
swamps, but from the best opinions I can get, I should assume that it is
a sort of another Dismal Swamp down there. Men and cattle, horses and
sheep have been known to wander in there, and never return. Presumably
they were lost in the swamps or----"

"Or else eaten up by the yeggmen," suggested Patsy.

"Precisely. But it is a wild country. Now"--he rested one finger upon
the map--"right here at the point where my finger rests, two weeks from
to-morrow, at or near the hour of darkness, I will meet each of you. You
will find me just north of the track; or, if any of you get there before
I do, you will wait there for me, and for the others. Whoever arrives
first must build a fire. We part to-night, here, now. You must each
leave the house separately, and become lost to the world--you must each
become a hobo in the meantime, in your own particular way. Fix
yourselves up as you please, and go where you please--only go
separately. And keep your appointment for two weeks from to-morrow.
That's all."



CHAPTER II.

THE YEGGMEN'S CAMP FIRE.


Each of the detective's three assistants understood thoroughly that Nick
Carter's reason for directing them to do as he did was that they might
each have learned the parts they had to play thoroughly by the time the
actual work of it should begin.

And not only that, they would have had two weeks during which to wear
off the newness of habit and apparel; and by the time they arrived at
the place of meeting, each would have become sufficiently schooled in
his part to play it quite naturally.

And there was still another reason which Nick hoped they would take
advantage of, although he said nothing about it: That was that they
would make acquaintances among such of the ilk as they happened to meet.
Such acquaintances might be of value later in the game.

When Chick left the house, about two hours after the interview with
Nick, he had his traveling bag in his hand, and he went direct to the
railway station, where he took a train for the West--for a city far
beyond the line of the road upon which Nick Carter's campaign was to be
worked out. It was his intention to start from there.

Ten-Ichi took his departure a little sooner than Chick, and he was
dressed as usual, also. Outside the house, on the curb, he stopped for a
few moments, and appeared to be thinking; and then he started down the
street on foot, and disappeared.

Patsy was the last to go, except the chief himself, who was smilingly
watching these departures from an upper window of the house. He had said
no more than he did to them purposely, for he was curious to see how
each would go about it. He knew that each one of his assistants was
entirely proficient in his way, but he also knew that each had a way of
his own for doing things.

When Patsy left the house he also hesitated in front of it for a moment;
and then he walked rapidly away up the street, and disappeared.

And that was all that Nick cared to see; he wished to feel assured that
each had departed on his own hook, and that it was their intention to
work singly. He had left the map for them to study in the library after
he left them alone together, and he had no doubt that each would be
fully competent to find the place of appointment when the time should
come.

He was the last to leave the house, of course. There were many
directions to give before he finally took his departure. Joseph had to
know how to account for his absence from home to those who might inquire
too particularly about him; and the absence of the three assistants had
to be accounted for also.

Having arranged that, and provided himself with everything which he
regarded as needful, he selected one of his own disguises--one that he
was fond of, and which will appear more particularly later on, and with
that in a small satchel which he expected ultimately to rid himself of,
he went out, and away also.

And from that moment we will skip to the time of the opening paragraphs
of this story, which was two weeks and one day later--to the time when
we behold the camp fire made of railway ties, with the four hoboes
grouped around it, having enjoyed their evening meal and now ready to
smoke and rest; for if there is anything in the world which a hobo
really enjoys, it is rest.

It was only a little bit after dark--and the night was not a dark one at
that. Already the moon was shining down upon the world.

But around the immediate vicinity of the camp fire it seemed quite dark
by contrast, and the light thrown back by the trunks of the trees
rendered the scene a picturesque one.

Nick Carter had purposely been the last one to arrive at the trysting
place, if such it may be termed; but he had been a close observer of the
arrival of the others, nevertheless; and he accomplished that by
arriving in the vicinity early in the day, and by later climbing among
the boughs of one of the trees, from which perch he was enabled to
watch the coming of his assistants.

Patsy came first. His eagerness led him to do that, and Nick had
expected it; and as the detective watched his youngest assistant he was
pleased to see the manner in which he made his approach.

Had Nick Carter, concealed in the boughs of the tree, been an enemy,
instead of a friend, he could not have had one suspicion aroused by
Patsy's manner.

The young fellow was most disreputable in appearance. His hair, and it
was his own, too, he had managed to dye to brick-red hue. His face and
his hands were grimy, and there was a considerable growth of beard upon
the former. He wore good shoes--just out of a store, they appeared to
be, and he carried a string of three other pairs, equally new, in one
hand. His coat was much too large for him, and he had turned the sleeves
back at the wrists for convenience. His hat had once been a Stetson; it
had also quite evidently been a target for a shotgun.

When Nick first spied him he was walking along the track, whistling; but
directly opposite the place of meeting he stopped, and, after a moment,
he dived quickly over the fence into the woods, and approached with care
the place which he finally selected for the fire.

And there he scraped some dried boughs together, made his fire, brought
an old tie from the track to aid it, arranged his crane of green sticks,
and, from a bundle that he carried slung upon one shoulder, he produced
the kettle, a package of meat, some bread, and other articles, with
which he began the preparation of his supper.

A little later a second figure appeared so suddenly out of the gathering
gloom that neither Patsy, at the fire, nor Nick, in the tree, had any
idea of its near approach.

"Hello, pal!" he said gruffly; and Patsy wheeled like lightning, with a
gun already half drawn, to face him.

"Hello yourself!" he growled, not too cordially, and eying the newcomer
suspiciously. "Who are you lookin' for?"

The other came slowly forward without deigning to reply to this direct
question, and without so much as glancing again at Patsy; but he slung
his own bundle on the ground, and, after a moment, stalked away in the
gathering darkness again.

Presently he returned with another tie, which he dropped near the fire;
and then he looked sullenly toward Patsy.

"Share up, or chuck it alone?" he demanded, thrusting his hands deep
into his pockets.

"What you got?"

"As much as you have, and as good as you have."

"All right. I'm agreeable. Chuck it down."

Half an hour later, when it was almost dark, a third one appeared.

He was shorter and slimmer than the others, and the best dressed one of
the three, although he was disreputable enough in all conscience.

He came noisily over the fence from the track, and the two at the fire
could hear him long before he reached them. But they made no move.
Anybody who approached them with as much noise as that was not to be
dreaded, it appeared.

When he arrived within the circle of the firelight, he stopped and
strangely enough began to laugh; and he laughed on, boisterously,
amazingly, in fact; he laughed until there were tears in his eyes, and
until he had to hold to a sapling near him for support.

"Aw, what's eatin' you?" called out one of the men from the fire. "What
you see that's so funny; must be in your own globes. Come along inside
if you wants to, and don't stand there awakin' up the dead."

"I ain't got any chuck of my own," he called back to them. "I was
laughing to think how near I came to getting it--and didn't."

"Well, there's enough here for three--'r four, for that matter. Come in
and set down, pal."

And it was not until the meal was cooked, and spread out upon all sorts
of improvised arrangements, that the fourth member of the party
appeared--and he made his arrival in a most surprising manner.

He dropped literally among them, seemingly from the clouds--or the
tree--just as they were beginning to eat; and he squatted beside them,
and, reaching out without a word, helped himself to a hunk of the
toasted meat, which he began to tear viciously with his teeth.

"Nice guy, ain't he?" said Patsy, leering at the one with whom he had
agreed to share.

"Looks as if he might have come over in the steerage of a cattle ship,
inside a rawhide, don't he?" assented the other, who was Chick. But
neither Chick nor Patsy was at all assured that this new arrival was
their chief, and they determined to play their parts to the end, or, at
least, until they were absolutely certain.

In reality Nick Carter looked like a Sicilian bandit in hard luck. He
certainly looked the Italian part of it, all right; but even among his
rags there was some display of color, which an Italian is never happy
without.

When the other referred to him in this slighting way, he raised his eyes
sullenly toward them, and he also released his hold upon the food he was
eating long enough to finger the hilt of his knife suggestively; for
Nick was aware of the fact that not one of the three was sure of his
identity, and he preferred not to make himself known just yet.

"Me understands da Inglis you spik," he muttered, in a sort of growl.
"Better hava da care wota you say dees times. I hava da bunch uh banan
in da tree ifa you want more chuck. Go getta it--you!"

He drew his knife quickly and leveled the point of it at the one whom
the others had already christened 'Laughing Willie'; but Ten-Ichi,
nothing daunted by the implied threat, only shrugged his shoulders, and
went on eating.

"Go getta da banan, or I slice you up fora de chuck," repeated the
supposed Italian, rising slowly from his seat by the fire and advancing
toward Ten-Ichi; but he had not taken a step before he found himself
looking into the muzzle of a pistol, and Patsy, in his capacity as host
over the meal, said sourly:

"Sit ye down, dago, or I'll make a window of your liver. We're three
friends enjoying a feast, and you're welcome to part of it if you want
it, but if you make any more breaks, out you go--feet first, if you
prefer it that way."

The Italian subsided with a grunt, and the meal continued undisturbed
until all but Ten-Ichi, who appeared to have been really very hungry,
had drawn back from the fire; and then it was that Chick made the remark
about his hurrying that was mentioned in the beginning of this story.

But Nick had in the meantime managed to make it known to the others who
he was, although he had said no word in reference to it. They each one
of them knew that there might still be others concealed in the trees or
somewhere near at hand watching them. There was no telling how many
pairs of eyes had observed them when they entered the wood. Yeggmen are
as cautious and as careful about what they do in the lonely places among
their brethren as the cave man used to be in primitive times.

For they prey upon one another, those men, as readily as they prey upon
society. Among them it is always merely a question of the survival of
the fittest--and the fittest is always the quickest, and the strongest,
or the most alert.

It was not likely that they would have this firelight to themselves for
a very long time, and they knew it; and, in fact, it was not ten minutes
after their meal was finished, and their pipes were alight, before, like
shadows, three other men suddenly loomed beside the fire, as if they had
sprung out of the ground.

And they stalked forward from three sides at once--came forward as if
they owned the woods.

But not one of our four friends, already seated there, made a motion or
uttered a word. They smoked stolidly on, but with their eyes alert for
anything that might happen.

And then, out of the darkness around them, appeared three more figures,
and then two more; and the eight, who had seemed to come together,
grouped themselves with their backs to the fire, and gazed sullenly and
silently down upon the four they found there.



CHAPTER III.

THE "KING'S" LIEUTENANT.


The moment was an ominous one, and no one was better aware of the fact
than Nick Carter. Everything depended now upon the perfection which his
three assistants had attained in the parts they were to play.

The sudden coming of the eight yeggmen, arriving as they had, so closely
together, could not be the result of mere chance, and Nick had no doubt
that they were in reality members of the very gang he was seeking. For
the detective had determined in the beginning that the headquarters of
the gang was somewhere in this vicinity. Everything in his first
investigations pointed to that. And if their headquarters were located
near that wood, or below the track in the swamp, it was certain that
they kept outposts stationed where the arrival of newcomers could be
reported at once.

Thus the appearance of Nick Carter on the scene, and the coming of the
others soon after his arrival, had doubtless been reported, and their
actions carefully watched from the very beginning.

The detective was intensely glad now that his own actions, and those of
his friends, had been so perfect--that is, perfect in the sense of
creating the impression in the mind of a possible observer that they
were strangers to one another. He knew perfectly well that if a watch
had been kept upon them there could be no doubt in the minds of the
watchers that the four men grouped around the fire were unknown to one
another.

But here were eight burly men grouped around them, each standing in a
position so that he could make himself extremely dangerous on the
instant should he choose to do so. And there was no telling how many
more might be concealed out there in the darkness of the woods around
them.

It is not the fashion among yeggmen to welcome an addition to their
party, no matter whether that addition is composed of one or of many.
Sullen silence is the rule at first, during which each man studies the
others. Suspicion is always the first impulse at such meetings. Their
attitudes are exactly that of strange dogs which encounter each other
for the first time, and walk round and round, with the hair on their
backs raised, and with their tails straight out, every nerve on a
tension, and every impulse prepared for mortal combat.

And people who have watched dogs while they go through with these
mannerisms know that it requires only a few moments for them to
determine whether they will be friends or foes, or if they will only
politely tolerate the presence of each other on the scene.

So Nick Carter sat silent, making no movement, save to puff vigorously
at the short pipe he was smoking; and so the others of his party did
likewise; for the forces of the newcomers were much stronger.

This tableau--if tableau it could be called, continued for five minutes,
and then one of the late arrivals cast aside the stub of a cigar he was
smoking, and broke the silence.

"Where might you hoboes be from?" he demanded, in an even tone, and
without a gesture of any kind.

Nobody made any reply whatever to this question, and after a moment he
spoke again.

"Which one of you is the leader of this outfit?" he asked.

Again nobody replied to him; the assistants kept silent because they
well knew that their chief would answer if he considered it wise to do
so; and Nick remained silent merely because he did not consider that it
was yet time to speak.

And now the spokesman of the other party addressed himself directly to
Nick Carter, as being, doubtless, the fiercest and most
villainous-looking one of the bunch.

"You heard me, didn't you?" he demanded.

"Yes; I heard you," was the calm reply.

"Hello! You can talk United States, can't you?"

"Quite as well as you, if necessary," was the cool response.

"You look like a dago."

"What I look like, and what I am, is none of your business--unless you
show some authority for questioning me."

"Ho, ho, ho, ho! Hear him, my coveys! What do you think of that?" And
then to Nick again: "What sort of authority do you expect me to show?"

Nick shrugged his shoulders, knocked out the ashes of his pipe, rose
slowly to his feet, and stood facing the other calmly, as he responded:

"There is only one kind of authority, signor, in a party like this. You
know what that is. I don't know you any more than I know these other
guns around here. It may all be a put-up job, for all I know. I don't
much care if it is. I am quite willing to fight you all, one at a time,
if necessary--and with guns, or knives, or fists, as you please. I come
here, and I get into a tree and wait. Why? Because I have been told of
this place, and that always there is somebody around here. I thought I
would see who the somebody was before somebody saw me. So I get myself
into a tree. Pish! And then not only one, but two, and three arrive on
the scene; and then eight more come. If you want to know who I am, and
are brave enough to fight me, and man enough to lick me--then you'll
know. If not--mind your own affairs, and leave me to attend to mine."

It was a long speech, and the others listened in absolute silence to
the end of it. But the instant Nick ceased speaking, the man to whom he
had addressed his remarks drew back his arm with a sudden motion, and
drove his huge fist forward with the quickness of a cat.

Any other person than Nick Carter might have felt the force of that
treacherous blow. Even he might have done so had he not been expecting
it, and, therefore, been entirely ready for it.

But the bony fist of the man struck only the empty air, for Nick
sidestepped in a manner that would have made Jim Corbett, in his
palmiest days, green with envy; and the battering-ram flew past his ear
harmlessly.

And then the man who had delivered it, before he could recover from the
effect of his own effort, found himself seized in a viselike grip,
raised from his feet, and hurled backward straight over the fire, and
beyond it, so that he sprawled at full length among the bushes.

He leaped to his feet with a curse, and his hand flew to his hip pocket
in search of a weapon; but he did not draw it forth again, for he found
himself looking into the muzzle of an ugly-looking forty-four.

"Drop it!" Nick ordered sharply. "I didn't hurt you, when I might have
done so easily. Are you satisfied?"

The anger of the man seemed to pass as quickly as it had arisen, and he
grinned as he slowly resumed his former position beside the fire.

It was quite true that he was not hurt; it was equally true that he knew
that this stranger might have hurt him severely had he chosen to do so,
and have been entirely excusable for doing it too.

"All right, pard, you pass," he said. "What's your handle?"

"I'm called Dago John by them as know me. What's yours?"

"Hand---- The guns call me Handsome, by way of shortening it. Shake?"

"Yes," said Nick; and they clasped hands for an instant. Then Handsome
added:

"Who might these gazaboes be?"

"Search me, Handsome," growled Nick, resuming his seat, and beginning to
refill his pipe. "If they ain't a part of your outfit, they sure ain't a
part of mine."

Handsome wheeled upon Chick then.

"Who are you?" he demanded, "and where are you from?"

"I'm the 'Chicken'; they know me around Chicago, if they don't here.
Maybe you've heard of me; but it don't make any difference whether you
have or not. I'm the Chicken, all right; and it's Chick for short."
Chick did not so much as move an eyelash while he made this retort; but
his questioner was plainly affected.

"The Chicken!" he exclaimed. "The Chicken is dead. We got it straight.
Shot by----"

"Shot by a cop, eh? That's the story, and it goes, all right. Only it
happens that it wasn't the Chicken as was shot; cause why? The Chicken
is here."

"Who was it, then?"

"It was a pal of mine. A likely gun he was, too. I jest changed hats
with him when he slid under. The rest of the clothes didn't make no
difference. They thought he was the Chicken--and it didn't hurt him any
to have 'em think so, while it helped me a lot."

"All right, Chicken," said Handsome, extending his hand a second time.
"I know about you. You're all right. Who are these other two?"

"Search me, Handsome. I reckon we're all strangers."

Handsome turned to Ten-Ichi.

"What's your handle, covey?" he growled.

Ten-Ichi's answer was a peal of demoniac laughter; and he laughed on and
on interminably, slapping his thighs and flinging his arms around him
after the manner of a man who is warming himself, until the faces of the
others around him developed broad grins--and until the man who called
himself Handsome brought him to with a sudden thrust of his arm which
nearly took the breath out of the lad.

"What's eatin' you, you loon?" he demanded.

"I was laughing," replied Ten-Ichi, now as solemn as an owl.

"You don't say so! Were you? What at?"

"You. It is so funny that you should be called Handsome."

Handsome grinned with the others.

"Well," he said. "What's your name? Out with it!"

"I'm Tenstrike--Ten, for short. That's what."

"All right, Ten; you pass. You're harmless, I guess--unless you let out
that laugh of yours at the wrong time. I would advise you not to do
that. And _you_?" He turned now to Patsy, with a sudden whirl of his
body. "You were the first of this bunch to get here. Who are you?"

"Sure," said Patsy, with a slow drawl, "I'm an Irishman, and me name
doesn't matter to you. It's enough that they call me Pat. If ye don't
happen to like it, sure you can call me Tim, or Mike, or Shamus, or any
old thing that suits ye. And what am I here for, is it? Sure, I'm on a
still hunt for a man I want to find. Mebby ye're after knowin' him."

"Maybe I am. Who is he?"

"Faith, I wish I knowed that. He calls himself Hobo Harry--that same!"

A dead silence followed upon this unlooked-for announcement. The
boldness of it surprised Nick, startled Chick, and frightened Ten-Ichi,
lest unpleasant results should come of it. But it was evident that
Patsy knew his ground, and had prepared for this very moment, for he was
cool and smiling, and he appeared to enjoy hugely the effect that his
words had had upon the others.

It was Handsome who finally broke the silence that ensued; and he
replied:

"That's a name, Pat--if that's your own handle--which isn't spoken
lightly around these parts. What do you want with him?"

"By your l'ave, mister, I'll tell that to him when I find him. In the
meantime, if youse be afther mindin' yere own business, it wouldn't
hurrt ye any. Ye seem to be making of yerself a sort of highcockalorum
elegantarium bosski. If ye tell me that ye know Hobo Harry, an' will
take me to him, so's I can tell me story to him, mebby I'll answer ye;
but not unless."

Again there was silence; and this time it was Nick who brought it to an
end.

"Handsome," he said sharply, "who's this other bunch? What I want to
know is, are they wid you?"

"They are," was the quick reply. Then he wheeled quickly to Patsy again,
and added:

"Come with me--you--if you want to see the chief. I'll take you to him.
The rest of you can wait where you are."



CHAPTER IV.

THE OUTLAW'S HOME.


A dead silence reigned around that camp fire for several moments after
the two departed; but then the seven strangers who were left seated
themselves in various attitudes, filled their pipes--or lit the stubs of
half-smoked cigars, produced from their pockets; and after that, little
by little, conversation was indulged in.

The night was warm and balmy. There was no reason why any of them should
seek other shelter than the boughs of the trees which already covered
them; but Nick knew from the manner in which Handsome had left them that
he expected to return, and that there was some other place near by to
which he intended to take them--if the chief should say the word. And he
saw now that Patsy, by rare forethought, had prepared for that very
emergency.

More than an hour had passed before Handsome made his appearance again;
and then he loomed suddenly beside the camp fire, as silently and as
stealthily as an Indian. Even Nick Carter, who was on the alert for his
approach, did not hear him coming.

"I'll take you now!" he said briefly to Nick. "The others can wait."

Without a word more he turned away again, and Nick, leaping to his feet,
followed him in silence through the darkness.

The night was almost black in there among the trees, although the moon
was shining above them; but nevertheless Nick had no difficulty in
following his guide.

They made directly for the railway tracks, and crossed the fence that
intervened; but when they reached the top of the grade, Nick's guide
halted and faced him.

"You said you are Dago John," he said slowly. "Who might Dago John be,
pard?"

"They call me Dago John because I look like an Italian, I suppose,
although I am not one," replied the detective. "But I try to carry out
the idea. If you have worked your way through the South at all, maybe
you've heard of Sheeny John. It will do as well as Dago John. A name
doesn't make much difference."

"It makes a sight of difference here, my friend. What's your lay?"

"Anything that I can turn my hand to--or my brains."

"You have an education?"

"Yes."

"Can you write a good hand?"

"It's my one fault that I can--too good a one."

"Have you looked through the screens?" (Been in prison.)

"Never yet--to stay there. What do you want to know all this for?"

"I've been telling the main guy about you."

"What about me?"

"I told him of your strength, for one thing. There isn't another man in
our outfit who could lift me off my feet the way you did it."

Nick shrugged his shoulders.

"I could have done it as easily if you had been twice the man you are,"
he said contemptuously.

"There is no doubt of that. I don't bear you any ill will for it,
either. Neither does the boss."

"And who may he be, Handsome?"

"Don't you know, Dago John?"

"Maybe I do, and again maybe I don't."

"Didn't you come here looking for him?"

"Maybe so."

"Well, who were you looking for?"

"Maybe the same one that the other fellow was looking for--maybe not."

"That's all right. You can come along, I guess. But I warn you to have a
care what you say to him."

"Say to who?"

"To Hobo Harry. He isn't one to be trifled with."

"Say, Handsome, on the level now, _is_ there such a person?"

"Sure there is. You'll find that out all right, too, before you are much
older. Didn't you come up here to get into the gang? Isn't that what you
are here for?"

"Sure thing; but, on the level, I didn't think that I could do it so
easy."

Handsome laughed as if he were intensely amused.

"If you think that you are in it now, you are very much mistaken," he
said, with a shrug. "We don't take men into the bosom of our family
quite as easy as that. But with us there is always room for a good man,
and he always has a chance to prove whether he is good or not. That is
the sort of chance you are going to get."

"Will you tell me about it?"

"I will if you will agree to teach me that hold by which you threw me
over the fire into the bushes a little while ago."

"Sure thing, Handsome. I'll teach you that, and a lot of others as well,
if you wish. That is one of the ju-jutsu tricks."

"I've heard about that. It's all right, all right."

"Sure thing. Now, where are we going? Are we to stay here all night,
Handsome?"

"Not quite."

"Tell me what is expected of me, then; where we are going?"

"I am to take you to the chief; to Hobo Harry himself, for he happens
to be here to-night. It is only once in a while that he is here, too;
but it happens that he is to-night. He is to interview you.
Otherwise--that is, if he were not here, you would have to hang around
on the outside until he showed up to pass upon you in person."

"I see."

"He is the only man in the whole bunch who has a right to do that. I've
got to blindfold you after we get across the fence on the swamp side of
the tracks."

"All right."

"I suppose you would like to know what you are up against before I take
you into the old swamp, wouldn't you?"

"Sure thing, Handsome."

"Well, it's just this: If you don't pass muster with the boss, you'll
never come out again. There are deep holes in that swamp, Dago."

"Oh, I don't doubt that; but what do you mean by passing muster?"

"I mean just this, and nothing more: If you are not what you appear to
be, and what you say you are, it's a slit across the windpipe for yours;
see?"

Nick did see, and he nodded understandingly.

"I reckon I'll pass, all right," he said negligently. "If you are ready,
I am."

They descended the embankment, and climbed the fence on the swamp side
of the tracks; and then, as soon as they had penetrated a short
distance into the wood, Handsome stopped again, and, drawing a huge
bandanna from his pocket, proceeded to bind it around the detective's
eyes securely.

"Now," he said, "can you do the lockstep?"

"Never tried it," said Nick.

"Sure about that?"

"Never learned--never had to."

"Well, you'll have to learn it now--unless you wish to fall into the
swamp. Get up close to me, and take hold of my sides under my arms. Then
follow in my footsteps as nearly as you can."

"I say, Handsome, you've got some education yourself."

"Never mind that now. We're not going into pasts just at present."

"All right. Lead the way. I'm ready."

Nick's eyes were so securely bandaged that he had not the least idea
where they were going, or where his footsteps tended; but even had he
been without the bandage he could hardly have told that, for the deeper
they penetrated into the swamp, the darker it became, and only those who
were perfectly familiar with the pathway could pass that way in safety
in the night.

There were times when Nick's feet slipped from the precarious footing,
and he slid into the water up to his knees; and once he went in to his
waist; but Handsome was always ready to seize upon him and support him
to dry land again at such times.

And their way wound round in a serpentine course. They climbed over
fallen and moss-grown logs; they slushed through shallow water; they
crawled on their hands and knees under embankments and rocks, and at
last, at Handsome's order, they stepped into a boat of some kind which
the latter pushed away from the bank with a pole.

After that a long time passed while the boat was propelled steadily
onward with the pole, sometimes gliding under trees that hung so close
to the water that they were obliged to get flat down inside the scow to
avoid them; and they wound around many curves and twists, until at last
they stopped, and Handsome removed the bandage from Nick's eyes.

They were beside a high bank, and directly ahead of them, through the
trees, the detective could see the lights of many gleaming fires; and he
could also discern the shadowy forms of men grouped around them, engaged
in different occupations.

"Now, keep your mouth shut, and your eyes and your ears open," was
Handsome's warning, as he led the way from the scow, and signed for Nick
to follow him. "If anybody speaks to you, don't answer; and when you get
in the presence of the chief, answer questions, and don't ask any."

"Right you are, pardy," was Nick's reply; and then he followed his
conductor through the trees toward the fire.

They came out presently upon an open glade in which a dozen camp fires
were burning. At some of these men were engaged in eating; others were
preparing to eat; and still others had finished their meal, and were
lying around in various attitudes, smoking. Some were playing cards by
the light of the fires. Nick judged, in the rapid estimate he made, that
there were in all at least twoscore of men gathered there.

He saw, too, that around this circular glade there were sheds built, and
some of these had lights behind the brush or canvas fronts. Two of them
had board fronts, and he judged that they were used when the weather was
too inclement, or too cold, to remain in the open.

As they passed through the circle of light cast by the fires, many of
the men looked up lazily toward them; but beyond one stare, no attention
was paid to them; and they passed on into the gloom beyond.

Here they traversed a narrow but well-beaten pathway through the thick
growth of alders, and presently came out upon a second glade that was
larger than the first; and higher and dryer, too.

But that was not what attracted the detective.

In the very centre of this patch of clearing was a house; or a cottage,
it would more properly be called; but it was large, and apparently
comfortable. The roof extended down in front of it and over a wide
piazza, where Nick could see that two men and a woman were seated.

But directly in front of the piazza, a man--one of the hoboes, without
doubt, to judge from his appearance--was pacing regularly up and down,
with the precision of a sentinel; and he carried a rifle in the hollow
of his arm, which, as soon as Handsome and Nick appeared, he raised and
pointed at them, while Nick could hear the click of the lock as he
raised the hammer.

Handsome threw up both hands, holding them high over his head, and Nick
did the same; and thereupon the gun was lowered, and, still with their
hands held high, the two men advanced.

There was not a word spoken; the sentinel resumed his pacing up and
down, as if there had been no interruption; and Nick's guide approached
the edge of the piazza, still with his hands raised.

One of the men who were seated there rose and stepped forward; then he
peered long and earnestly at the two men, and then he said:

"You may advance. Go inside."

And as they crossed the piazza, and stepped inside the house, the woman
of the group rose and followed them, closing the door behind her; and
Nick Carter wondered if Hobo Harry, the Beggar King, was a woman.



CHAPTER V.

NICK'S WONDERFUL STRENGTH.


When Nick Carter gazed upon the woman who stood before them, with her
hands clasped behind her, he thought that he had never seen another like
her. She could not by any stretch of the imagination have been called
beautiful; she was too masculine in her appearance for that--that is,
the expression of her face, her manner, and the position she assumed
were masculine; but the suggestion of it ended there.

She was as tall or taller than the detective, and her complexion was as
dark as the hue to which he had stained his own. Her eyes were large,
and round, and full, and fierce, and she held her head, with its crown
of dead-black hair, as if she were monarch of all she surveyed. And the
strangest part of it all was that she did not appear to be more than
twenty years old.

With a steady stare she took in every detail of Nick's appearance, from
the top of his head to the shoes he wore on his feet; and then she
turned slowly to Handsome.

"Whom have we here?" she demanded.

"Dago John, he calls himself," was the reply.

"The man you spoke of?"

"Yes."

"Who is so strong that he could throw you over the fire into the bushes,
and who did not harm you when he might have done so, after you had
struck at him with your fist?"

"The same."

She turned her attention to Nick then.

"Who are you?" she demanded.

"Just what you see, missus; no more and no less," replied Nick, speaking
boldly, for he deemed that to be the surest way to her favor.

"I see very little; nothing whatever that betokens the strength you are
said to possess."

"You can't always tell what's inside of a crib before you crack it," was
the reply; and the woman smiled.

"Where do you come from?" she asked.

"I ain't giving out my past history, lady, if it's all the same to you,"
said Nick coolly; and she frowned. Evidently she did not like this
answer.

"What errand brought you to this part of the country, and finally
induced you to make your camp in the woods out there?" she asked,
smiling again.

"I suppose you want the plain truth, lady?"

"Yes," she replied, in an easy tone; "that is, if you put any value on
your life."

"Well, the truth is this: I have heard, here and there, a good deal
about a certain person who is known as Hobo Harry, the Beggar King. I
have heard that he has gathered around him a lot of my kind, and I
reckoned that maybe he'd give me a show to be one of them. That's what I
came here for, and that's why I camped out there in the woods."

"And who are the three men who came with you?"

"Nobody came with me. I came alone."

"There were three other men there when Handsome found you? No?"

"Yes."

"Who are they?"

"Handsome can tell you that as well, or better, than I. He did the
questioning."

"Why do you want to join the forces of Hobo Harry?"

"Because I'm tired of going it alone, and because I have heard that he
takes good care of his followers."

"What can you do?"

"I can do anything that I am told to, once I have acknowledged a chief."

"That is a good answer. It covers a good deal of ground. Now, who told
you about Hobo Harry?"

"I have heard about him in a good many places."

"Who told you where to find him?"

"A gun friend of mine, who croaked down in Indianapolis, a month ago or
more. Jimmy the Sly he was called." (It was true that there had been a
Jimmy the Sly, who was one of the many of the band who had been arrested
and imprisoned; and after his release he had gone to Indianapolis, and
died there, in a hospital. Nick knew this from his interview with the
railroad president, and therefore he was not afraid to make use of the
name.)

"So you knew Jimmy the Sly, did you?"

"Yes."

"Describe him to me."

"He was tall and slender, with a pock-marked face, and the longest
fingers I ever saw; and he had a wart on the side of his nose, and
a----"

"That will do. That is sufficient. How comes it that Jimmy never
mentioned you to me?"

"You'll have to ask Jimmy that, I reckon--and you might burn yourself if
you undertook to do it. I reckon it's hot where Jimmy is, madam."

She smiled at this. Nick could see that he was making a good impression
upon her. He was still wondering if she were indeed the chief, or if she
were only his representative. It was certain that he had had no
expectation of finding a woman in this place.

"And what do you wish me to do with you, now that you are here?"

"I reckon that I'll have to leave that to you. I didn't come with my
eyes shut. I guessed pretty well what I was up against. But I came here
to be made one of you, and I hope you will give me a chance."

"What do you know of Hobo Harry?"

"Nothing."

"What do you think he is?"

"The head gazabo of this bunch."

"What do you suppose he is like?"

"Just at present writing, madam, he looks to me very much like a
beautiful woman who has the grace of a siren and the courage of a lion."

"You should be a Frenchman instead of an Italian."

"I am neither one nor the other. I'm just a--a yeggman."

"You were about to say something else."

"I was going to say--a crook."

"You have not been a yeggman always, have you?"

"I never knew anybody who had been, madam."

"You are not really a yeggman, or a hobo. Confess the truth now; aren't
you under cover, and playing the rôle for the purpose of being out of
sight for a time?"

"I'm willing to say yes, if it pleases you."

"What has been your line of work, Dago?"

"Well, I'm a fair penman; I'm a good mechanic; I could be a passable
druggist if I tried, and I wouldn't shy at taking a hand at running a
bank, if it was big enough for the risk."

"I begin to think that you are all right, Dago."

"You can betcher life that I'm all right, madam, if it comes to that.
But I don't reckon that you'll take me on my say-so. You'll be wanting
some sort of proof of me before you consent to take me into the fold."

"You are correct about that."

"I'm ready for anything."

"You have told me that you are a penman, which means that you could be a
forger; you have said that you are a mechanic, which means that you
could crack a crib if necessary; you called yourself a druggist, which
means that you know how to use the chemicals, and the poisons, too, if
necessary; and you would not refuse to tackle a bank job if one should
come your way. Do you happen to have the mark of blood against you,
too?"

"I don't suppose there is any mark that I haven't got."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Well, I wouldn't stay in a house if I wanted to get out when a live man
stood in my way, if that is what you mean."

The woman turned to Handsome quite suddenly.

"What time do you start?" she asked of him; and he replied, as if the
question were a continuance of their conversation:

"I ought to start now--inside of ten minutes."

"Very good," she said. "Take Dago with you. Break him in. Let him have
the worst of it. If he makes good, all right. If he doesn't--shoot him."

"All right," said Handsome cheerfully. "What about the others? There are
two more out there near the tracks."

"I will attend to them. Go, now. Take this man with you. Give him all
the rope he needs--but watch him. I'd sooner trust him with you than
anybody else, anyhow--and I believe he is all right."

"Come!" said Handsome, seizing Nick by the arm; and he pulled him
through the door after him. But all the way to the door, Nick kept his
eyes upon the woman, who was looking at him strangely, and with a
curious smile on her face.

Outside, when they had passed the sentinel, and were again in the part
which led to the other glade, he stopped.

"Wait a minute, Handsome," he said. "I want to ask you a question."

"There isn't time now, Dago. Save it until later. We must get away from
here at once. Do you remember where we left the boat?"

"Yes."

"Go there alone, and wait there for me. I won't be three minutes."

He did not await a reply, but darted off to one side as soon as they
reached the glade, and Nick saw him disappear inside one of the cabins
before referred to.

"I am in for it now, to the whole length of the tether," he told
himself, as he stepped briskly forward toward the place where he knew
the boat to be; and he was halfway across the glade when suddenly from
one of the groups of men near a fire, one of them leaped up and
confronted him, with his hands upon his hips, a cigar pointed at an
angle in the corner of his mouth, and a leering grin upon his face.

"Where to now, my pal?" he demanded, standing in front of Nick, and thus
stopping him.

Nick looked at the man, and smiled. He did not answer. He guessed
instantly why Handsome had left him to find his way to the boat alone.
This was doubtless one of their tricks--to see what a new recruit would
do under these circumstances. Possibly, too, he thought, the woman
wished to see an exhibition of his strength, and they had for that
purpose pitted one of their best bullies against him.

He surveyed the fellow with a quick and comprehensive glance; and in
that glance he saw that the man was a burly one, who evidently possessed
great strength. But Nick did not care for that. He was only turning over
in his mind in that instant what course it would be best for him to
pursue. And the answer came to him when the bully repeated the question.

"Where to, pard?" he demanded again, still with the sarcastic leer on
his dirty face.

"When you get back, I'll tell you!" exclaimed Nick; and at the same
instant he darted a step forward and seized the man by the
throat-and-hip hold of ju-jutsu, and the next instant had sent him
whirling through the air as if he were a cartwheel.

He struck the ground ten feet away, and went rolling over and over among
the bushes, where there happened to be a mass of cat brier, or creeping
thorn; and the series of howls and curses he sent up was a wonder.

A roar of laughter from every side proved to Nick that all had been
watching for the outcome of that episode; but he looked neither to the
right nor the left, but strode onward toward the boat.

And then he heard a cry of warning from behind him, and he leaped aside
just as the fellow he had thrown fired a bullet pointblank at him from
close behind.

As it was, the missile pierced his coat sleeve inside his arm.

As Nick leaped aside he also turned.

The hobo who had fired the shot was already running toward him, and now
he was endeavoring with every effort in his power to discharge the
weapon again; but for some reason the mechanism of the lock refused to
work, and in an instant more Nick had leaped upon him and grasped him a
second time.

He was determined now that the fellow should have a lesson indeed; so
while he held him at arm's length with one hand, he pummeled him with
the other until his face was a mass of bruises; and then, when the
yeggman was in a condition bordering upon insensibility, Nick raised him
bodily from his feet, and holding him in his arms, ran with him down
along the path toward the water.

And reaching the edge of the swamp, he threw him out into the muddy
water, headfirst.

It was not deep, but it was filled with soft ooze, which filled the
ears, and eyes, and nose, and mouth of the fellow, so that, when he rose
to his feet, he was sputtering and spitting, and coughing and swearing
when he could.

The detective left the man to make his way out of the water to dry land
as best he could, and turned coolly away to rejoin Handsome, who
approached at that moment, grinning.

"Well done, Dago," he said. "You served him just right. Come along."

They entered the scow without more words, and Handsome poled it away
from the shore, and along the waterway through the almost impenetrable
darkness--but there was never a word said about the use of the
blindfold.

"How is this?" Nick asked, after a little. "Aren't you going to tie that
handkerchief over my face again?"

"No. I ought to do it, I suppose, but it's too much trouble. Besides,
you're all right. I can tell a man when I see one."

"All right," said Nick. "It's your funeral; not mine. Only if the lady
should raise a kick--what then?"

"She would raise a kick, too, if she knew about it," replied Handsome
dubiously. "But how is she going to know it? You are not likely to tell
her, and I won't."

"No," said Nick, "I won't tell her."

"Well, then we'll dispense with the handkerchief."

They poled on in silence for a time after that; but presently Nick
asked:

"What's the lay to-night, Handsome?"

"I can't tell you that, Dago. You'll have to wait, and find out; and
you'll have to do your own part, too; for if you flunk by so much as a
hair, it's my duty to kill you."

"Which I suppose you would do, eh?"

"Sure I'd do it--why not? If you ain't what you seem to be, I'd as soon
put a hole in you as dip this pole into the water. You hear me!"

"Sure thing."

"And that notwithstanding I like you. I reckon you're all right, and I'm
going a great way toward proving what I think about it by not binding
that handkerchief over your eyes now."

"Are there any others in this thing with us, Handsome?"

"You'll find out soon enough. The best way for you is not to ask too
many questions, but to be satisfied to do as you're told."

They lapsed into silence after that, and there was no more said until
after they had arrived at the bank where the scow was to be left.

"I suppose I can ask about those other guns that we left in the woods
to-night, without giving offense, can't I?" asked Nick then.

"That depends on what you want to ask about 'em," was the reply; they
were now hurrying in the direction of the tracks.

"I want to know if Hobo Harry is going to send for them?"

"Didn't you hear her say so?" was the rejoinder; and then, when Nick
laughed softly, Handsome turned on him with fury, and would have seized
him had he not suddenly recalled the fact that his own strength was no
match for that of the man beside him.

But his anger disappeared as quickly as it came, and he joined in the
laugh.

"I gave it away that time, didn't I?" he said. "You were too cute for
me, Dago. But it is dangerous knowledge, Dago. I'll tell you that."

"You didn't give it away," replied Nick. "Any fool would have known that
the woman was Hobo Harry."

"Then there are a lot of fools in the outfit. You're wrong, Dago. Lots
of 'em don't suspect it. They think only that she is Hobo Harry's wife,
or sister, or sweetheart, or something like that. There isn't half a
dozen of us who really know for certain that Black Madge is Hobo Harry.
And there! I've let the cat out of the bag again. But you're all right.
It won't do no harm to tell you."

"Not a mite," replied Nick; but he chuckled noiselessly all the same.
That last admission made by Handsome was worth hearing.

"Black Madge, eh?" he was thinking to himself. "Now I know why it was
that there was something so strikingly familiar about the woman. Black
Madge, eh? Well, well, who would have supposed that?"

For Black Madge was a character well known in the criminal world, and to
the police, although very little was known about her really. There was a
picture in the Rogues' Gallery in New York that purported to be of her;
but Nick knew now that it was not.

Nevertheless, he remembered that once upon a time he had seen Black
Madge, who was the daughter of a Frenchwoman by an Italian father; Black
Madge, who had already made an unenviable record for herself on both
sides of the ocean.

It was a long time before that when Nick Carter saw her. She was only a
grown-up child at that time, but she was already a hardened criminal,
nevertheless; and he recalled now the circumstance of his meeting with
her.

It was in Paris. He had gone to the prefecture of police to see the
chief of the secret service, who was awaiting him, and had found the
girl in the room with the chief, who was engaged in questioning her
closely in reference to a crime that had been committed, and because it
was thought that she knew the parties concerned. But she had given no
information, and had been allowed to go; and after her departure the
chief had said to Nick:

"Monsieur Carter, some day that young woman will appear on your side of
the water. I hope you thought to take a good look at her face."

"I did," replied the detective.

"Remember it, for some day you will have cause to do so, I do not doubt.
She is a terror, and she has brains. The worst kind of a criminal. She
should have been a man, for she has a man's daring, a man's
recklessness, and a man's way of doing things. Black Madge, we call her
here."

Nick recalled all that conversation now, plunged into a reverie about it
by Handsome's use of the name. All the time he had been in the room with
her in that house in the swamp, he had felt that he ought to remember
where he had seen those eyes before. Now, he counted the years that had
passed since he saw her, and, to his astonishment, they were five.

"She was seventeen then, the chief told me," he thought, "that would
make her twenty-two by now."

And then it came back to him how strangely she had looked at him while
he was leaving her presence, and he wondered if her recollection for
faces was as good or even better than his own.

"But," he argued, "it could not be possible that she would remember me
from that one short glance she must have had of me at that time. And,
besides, I was not disguised at all, and now I look no more like myself
than--well, than she does."

"What the devil are you so silent about?" demanded Handsome. They had
reached the fence at the railroad track, and Handsome was leaning
against it.

"I was trying to figure out in my mind what sort of a lay we are on
to-night," replied Nick. "I'm not used to starting out without knowing
where I am going. I feel like a horse--with you for a driver."

"Well"--Handsome laughed--"I won't use the whip unless you get
skittish."

"What are we waiting here for?"

"We are waiting for our chauffeur with the automobile," grinned
Handsome. "Nice road for an auto, isn't it?--bumping over those ties."

"Hark!" said Nick.

"I'm harking, my gun."

"It does sound like an automobile, sure enough," said Nick.

"Didn't I tell you that we are waiting for one. Come on."

He leaped the fence, and Nick followed him over; then they climbed the
grade, and paused beside the track.

And then, while they stood there, and the droning sound peculiar to
automobiles came momentarily nearer and nearer, the detective began
thoroughly to realize for the fist time that something really serious
was afoot for the night.

But he was not long left in doubt as to the character of the approaching
vehicle, for in a moment more it swept around a curve in the railroad,
and came to a stop immediately in front of them.

And, strangely enough, it was an automobile arrangement, only that it
was equipped with car wheels instead of with rubber tires; wheels that
had flanges to fit the tracks. But it was provided with a gasoline
engine, and Nick knew from the appearance of the apparatus that it was
capable of great speed.

When it came to a stop Nick saw that it already contained two men, one
of whom was driving; but he got down from the seat under the steering
wheel, and climbed into the rear of the machine, while Handsome took his
place.

"New man; Dago for a handle," said Handsome briefly, by way of
introducing Nick to the others. What their names might be he evidently
did not deem it important to mention.

"Try-out?" asked one of the men, while Nick was climbing into the box of
the machine.

Handsome nodded curtly--and that was all that was said at the moment.

It was significant, however, to Nick, for it meant a lot. It meant that
these other men entirely comprehended the situation, and that all three
of them were prepared to shoot him in the back at any moment when his
conduct of the business in hand did not entirely satisfy them.

But Nick was resolved not to be shot in the back that night. Whatever
the business might prove to be upon which they were engaged, he was
resolved to see it through to a finish, even to the extent of helping
them burglarize a bank, if that was the lay.

"To do a great right, do a little wrong," he muttered to himself.
Whatever might be stolen or whatever damage might be done that night, he
would charge up in his expenses, and see to it that the railroad people
made it good later on, when his work should be done.

In the meantime the railroad automobile had been gathering speed, and
now it seemed to Nick to be little less than wonderful that it remained
on the tracks at all, for if he was any judge of speed, he knew that
they must be flying along at much more than a mile a minute--and he
wondered what would happen if the headlight of a locomotive should loom
suddenly before them--and then, just as the thought occurred to him,
they rounded a short curve, and came to a sudden stop.



CHAPTER VI.

NICK CARTER ROBS A BANK.


The instant the strange machine was brought to a stop--and it was done
wonderfully soon, considering the speed at which they had been
traveling--the three men leaped to the ground beside the track, and Nick
was ordered to follow them.

He did so, and then he was told to bear a hand; and, following
directions that were given him, he seized hold of the boxlike tonneau.

Almost in a twinkling of time after that the machine was lifted from the
track in sections, and finally, still in sections, was carried to a
highway near at hand, where it was put together again, minus the iron
wheels. But there were other wheels concealed in that commodious body,
and these were quickly taken out and adjusted.

Within twenty minutes of the time when they came to a stop on the track,
after rounding the curve, the machine was fitted with regular automobile
wheels, and was ready to proceed along the highway.

Nick saw in this arrangement much that had puzzled other men who had
been on the job. He had no doubt from what he knew of automobiles that
this machine was capable of sixty miles an hour, or even more than
that, on the highway; and, if that was true, it, of course, could make a
half greater speed than that on rails.

But he made no comment. That was not expected of him, and would have
been resented had he attempted to do so; but he climbed to his place
when he was told, and again they sped away toward some destination, the
nature of which he did not know.

Once he ventured to ask the man nearest him what time it was, and
received a curt "Shut up!" by way of reply; so he remained silent after
that.

And after a while--less than half an hour--they drove into a village,
and presently ran the machine around behind a church, where it was
placed in one of the stalls of a shed.

And still his three companions worked in utter silence. Beyond now and
then a curt word uttered by Handsome, who seemed to be in command of the
expedition, nothing at all was said.

Nevertheless, each man there seemed to know exactly what to do; as if
every move they made had been nicely planned out for them--and such Nick
believed to be the case.

When the machine was stored away, the men fell into line, Nick being
shoved into position directly behind Handsome, and then, in Indian file,
they moved silently forward toward a high fence that was near at hand.

They went over this one by one, Handsome waiting with patience until the
last one was over, and then the march was taken up again.

They passed now through the rear of a large yard, and before them loomed
a brick building, which Nick figured must be a courthouse; and after a
moment they made a half circuit around, and came to a stop between two
buildings of brick, one of them being that one already mentioned.

The night was dark now, for the moon had gone down, and there were no
street lamps in that village evidently; or, if there were, they were not
burned on nights when there was supposed to be a moon.

But there was light enough for Nick to discover that they were close to
the main street of the village; he could see the store windows on the
opposite side; and it suddenly came to him that the building that was
next to them--the second one--was a bank, and that they were about to
rob it.

He knew now what was expected of him; and again he determined to see the
thing through to the end.

It was not to prevent one robbery that he was engaged; but to prevent
many. It was not to apprehend the participants in a minor job like this
one promised to be, but to capture the head that directed many such
robberies, and so stop them altogether.

And still no word--not even a whisper--was spoken between the men. They
worked on in utter silence, as if their plans had been thoroughly
conned until they were learned absolutely by heart.

Nor did they pause in the yard next to the bank. There was scarcely a
halt there; but they passed to the rear of the building, and followed
one another over the high fence that was there, to the rear of the bank
building.

Keeping themselves well in the shadows, they crept forward silently to a
rear door of the building, and here Handsome paused for a moment, and
put down a canvas bag that he had been carrying all the way; and now he
whispered in Nick's ear:

"There are the tools, Dago. Let's see what kind of a cracksman you are."

Nick did not need a second bidding. Having determined upon his course,
he did not hesitate, but he seized the bag, pulled open the mouth of it,
and, having selected such tools as he wanted, he applied himself to the
task that had been set for him.

A professional burglar of long experience could not have gotten that
huge oak door open more quickly and silently than Nick Carter did, and
Handsome gave him an approving pat on the shoulder.

He was the first to enter the bank, Nick following, and the others
coming behind them; and presently, after forcing another door, they
stood crouching inside the bank itself.

A dim light burned in a gas jet in the centre of the large room, which
was divided only by the wire screen which separated the customers' side
of the rail from the clerks; and almost beneath the light, exactly where
it could shine full upon the steel doors, was the huge safe of the
institution.

A person might not stand in front of that safe for a moment without
being in full view from the street should any one happen to pass there.
Nick saw that at a glance; but nevertheless Handsome silently placed a
drill and a bottle of liquid in his hand, and motioned that he was to
begin the dangerous part of the work.

"Didn't you bring a screen with you, you chump?" demanded Nick, in a
whisper. "If you had told me what the lay was, I'd have made one."

Handsome nodded, evidently well pleased; and at the same time he
produced a roll from under his coat, and gave it to the detective. Nick
unrolled it, and found that it was merely a piece of burlap, rather more
than a yard long, and about two feet in width, and with a roll of cord
attached to each corner of it.

He knew what that was intended for readily enough, and, taking it in his
hands, he crept forward without another word, and quickly attached the
four strings to objects which he selected as being situated about right
for his purposes.

In two minutes the screen was in place, and it afforded a perfect
shelter from view from the street, and just the sort of one that would
never be noticed from the outside at all, unless a person stopped at
the window and deliberately peered inside--and that nobody was likely to
do, unless something else first attracted attention.

In fixing the screen in place so quickly and perfectly, Nick evidently
won over not only Handsome, but the others; and now there was no more
question of his doing the drilling alone. Each man took his own part of
the work in silence, as if Nick had always been one of them; and,
besides, now there was no time to be lost.

Drilling through the steel doors of a safe is not an easy task, and it
is not done quickly, although expert burglars carry tools these days
which will cut anything.

They took their turns at the drill, as they took them also with the
acids and oil; and the work went on merrily until the holes were ready
for the charges.

And here again it seemed that Handsome was determined to try Nick out to
the last, for he bent forward and whispered in his ear:

"Prove one thing more, Dago, and you're made."

"Want me to do the blowing?" asked Nick.

Handsome nodded.

"All right," said Nick. "Light out, then."

"But----"

"Get out, I say. If I do the blowing I'm boss for the time being. Git!"

They did; and again, with the implements and the explosives at hand,
Nick went to work; and, as before he worked rapidly and well--as if he
were an experienced hand at that sort of employment.

And then, when the charge was ready, Nick pulled up the heavy rope
matting from the floor, and after doubling it again and again until
there was a huge wad of it, he braced it with desks and chairs against
the front of the safe; and when all that was done to his satisfaction,
he lighted the fuse, and ran back to the rear hallway, where the others
were watching and waiting.

They had not long to wait after that. There was a lapse of perhaps a
minute and a half, and then a dull, booming roar shook the building, and
the burglars rushed forward.

Now was the time when they were compelled to work rapidly, if ever.

It was true that Nick had so muffled the sound of the explosion that it
was hardly possible that the noise of it had roused anybody at all; but
there was always a chance of somebody near at hand being wakeful or
watchful.

At any moment they might be interrupted--and no burglar likes to be
interrupted. It always means a fight, in which somebody is likely to get
killed, and burglars rarely do any killing unless they have to in order
to escape.

They rushed forward together; but now Nick purposely kept in the
background. He had no idea of being taken himself if they should be
interrupted; nor did he wish to give his companions an opportunity to
kill any person who might interrupt them. It was all right from his
standpoint to participate in the burglary, in order that he might
ultimately catch all the thieves; but he did not wish to be a party to
any fight that might come of it.

But he was made to hold one of the bags while Handsome filled it from
the inside of the safe.

They pried open the inner compartments, and threw them indiscriminately
upon the floor as soon as they were emptied; they jimmied open the steel
boxes as readily as if they had been made of softest pine--and in twenty
minutes after the explosion they were stealthily climbing the fence
again, into the courthouse yard.

And, so far as they could see, not a soul in the village had been
awakened or alarmed.

They returned to the shed, where they had left the automobile, by the
same route they had covered in approaching the bank; the machine was
backed out; they entered it, turned on the power, and sped away through
the silent streets as they had come, with nobody the wiser for what they
had done, the havoc they had wrought, and the wealth they had stolen.

Down beside the road where they had made the change before, from the
track of the railway to the highway, they paused long enough to secure
the iron wheels, and here the change was made back to a railway machine.
The car was lifted in sections to the tracks, and with everything
adjusted they were soon flying down the shining rails at a frightful
rate of speed, and in silence--for it seemed to be a rule among these
men that there should be no talking.

Mile after mile they covered in this way, and then the machine was
slowed down, and came to a stop at the point where it had picked up
Handsome and Nick at first, and here they got down, and, having taken
out the plunder, stood beside the track until the machine had
disappeared from view.

"Now, Dago, help me with the swag," said Handsome; and together they
picked it up, and once more started for the outlaws' retreat in the
middle of the impassable swamp.

When they were in the boat, and almost ready to land where Nick had
thrown the man into the water, Handsome turned to him, and whispered:

"You're all right, Dago. I'll tell Madge so, too!"



CHAPTER VII.

THE DETECTIVE'S PREDICAMENT.


When Nick Carter was shown a place to sleep that night--or, rather, that
morning, for it was well toward daylight by the time Handsome and he
returned to the outlaws' camp--he tumbled upon the bunk that was shown
him, and he lost no time in doing so; nor did he open his eyes again
until he felt a hand shaking him lustily, and a voice crying out to him:

"Wake up, Dago! You're wanted!"

He sprang up instantly; and, because he had laid himself down with
nearly all his clothing still upon his person, he was not long in making
himself ready. To have insulted the profession he had adopted by washing
his face was not to be thought of.

"Gee! But I'm hungry!" he said to Handsome, who was standing near,
waiting for him.

"Madge will give you something to eat. She is at her breakfast now," was
the whispered reply. "She wants you."

"Then," said Nick, "if I am going into the presence of a lady, and am
expected to eat with her, I'll have to wash my face and hands. Show me
where."

Handsome laughed.

"I do it myself once in a while," he said. "Come with me."

And he led Nick to a place along a path through the swamp where he
succeeded in giving himself a good wash--for Nick had the satisfaction
of knowing that the stain he had used was of such a quality that it
would defy water. Alcohol alone would remove it.

They found Madge on the doorstep, awaiting them; but Handsome paused at
the edge of the clearing, and muttered:

"I leave you here, Dago. I'm not in this. You're to have this interview
alone."

"All right," replied the detective, and was about to move on, when
Handsome detained him by a gesture.

"Put in a good word for me, Dago, if you get the chance," he whispered.
"I have already said many a good one for you--and I made it as easy for
you as I could all around."

"All right," said Nick again.

"And one more word, Dago. I forgot to tell you----"

"What?"

"Cremation Mike has got it in----"

"Who?"

"Cremation Mike--he worked in a crematory once--has got it in for you.
He's the chap you chucked into the soup, you know. He sneaked away after
you left last night, so I'm told, and he swore black and blue that he
would have your life for that act. He will, too. He's sure bad medicine,
that fellow. He's a bad member, too. I just thought I'd give you the
pointer."

Handsome turned away then, and Nick went on alone to the piazza, where
Black Madge was awaiting him.

He stopped just before he put his foot upon the veranda, and waited for
her to make some sign; and she approached quite near to him, looking him
straight in the eyes.

"Good morning, Dago," she said, smiling.

"Good morning, madam," he replied gravely.

"You look quite like a gentleman this morning," she continued, laughing
lightly. "Or, no, rather like a mountain bandit of Italy."

"I could be either if I chose," he replied again, as gravely as he had
spoken before.

"I do not doubt it. I have been giving you considerable thought since I
talked with you here last night. Come inside. You haven't had your
breakfast, I suppose?"

"No, madam."

"Then you shall breakfast with me. I was about to eat mine when I
remembered you, and sent for you."

"Madam is most kind."

She led the way into the house, where a table was spread with good
things, well cooked, too, they appeared to be; and she pointed toward a
chair at the opposite side of the table.

"Sit there," she said. "I declare, we are quite domestic."

"So it would appear, madam. I am afraid that you are doing me too much
honor, for one who has been so short a time among you."

"Bah! I am glad to have somebody who can talk decently near me. I tire
of all these ragamuffins who are my men. Sometimes I kill one of them
just for the mere fun of ridding myself of the vermin."

"Madam is incautious, perhaps."

"Why so?"

"Some day one of them might take it into his head to kill madam."

"Then somebody will have to be mighty quick about it. I'm not so easily
killed as all that. Tell me--have you guessed who I am?"

"I am not a good guesser, madam."

"On the contrary, I should suppose you to be a good one--an
exceptionally good one. Answer me: Have you guessed who I am?"

"I might make a guess now, madam."

"Oh, drop that madam. I don't want you to madam me all the time. Who do
you suppose I am?"

"If I am to make a guess, I should suppose that you are that
distinguished and elusive person whom the outside world refers to as
Hobo Harry."

She laughed long and heartily, stirring her coffee vigorously the while.

"Upon my word, you are a good one," she said, still with laughter in her
voice. "Yes, I am that distinguished and elusive person. There is no
doubt about that. I have spent a long time in bringing this organization
to perfection, Dago. What do you think of it?"

"I think it is a wonder."

"Right you are, my man! It is a wonder. For example, what did you think
of the operation that was performed last night?"

"I thought it was carried out very perfectly. The men must have been a
long time in laying their plans."

She laughed again.

"Not one of those men--not even Handsome--had ever seen that place
before. They only obeyed my orders; nothing more. I made the plans
myself. I told them exactly what to do, and when, and how to do it. It
is all a question of mathematics, and of obeying orders."

"It was perfectly done, madam."

"There you go again. By the way, Handsome gives me an excellent report
of you."

"I had supposed as much, else I would not be here breakfasting with
you."

"That is not why I sent for you; that has nothing to do with last
night."

"No?"

"I want you to tell me where I have seen you before--and where you have
met me before," she said swiftly, and with a sudden and dangerous
narrowing of her eyes.

If Nick had not had himself perfectly in hand he must have given a start
then that would have betrayed him; as it was, he answered instantly, and
as if the subject had also occurred to him:

"For the life of me, madam, I cannot remember. I have tried to recall
the time and place ever since I saw you last night; but it eludes me. I
cannot tell."

"It is well that you have answered as you have," she said, with a
threatening cadence in her voice.

"Why so, madam?"

"Because I saw plainly in your eyes last night that you remembered to
have seen me somewhere before that time. Had you denied it, you would
have lied to me; and it is not healthy for people to tell me lies."

"I can imagine that, madam. But since I have no reason to do so----"

"Tell me what there is about me that is familiar to you, Dago."

"It must be your great beauty that I remem----"

"That will be about enough of that, thank you," she interrupted him
coldly. "I know all about my beauty, and don't in the least need to be
told about it."

"One could not very well remember you at all without remembering your
beauty," insisted Nick boldly. "It is the first thing about you that
strikes one; and the second is----"

"Well--what? Possibly I will be more interested in that."

"The fear you inspire, I think. You have what the French call a 'way'
about you."

She started perceptibly.

"What do you know about the French?" she demanded; and Nick saw
instantly that he had made a mistake in reminding her of her career in
Paris. Now it was possible that she might recall where she had seen him.

But he dismissed the idea as soon as it came to him, for he remembered
again how perfectly he was disguised, and how impossible it should be
for her to remember him after all these years, through the disguise.

But now she was looking steadily at him, and for the moment she had
forgotten to eat.

"Who are you, Dago?" she demanded suddenly. "You are not what you seem."

"Few of us are," returned the detective evasively.

"Who are you?"

"I have told you, madam, as much as it is possible to tell. You do not
demand the past records of your followers. All that you insist upon is
that they shall be faithful in the future."

"Who are you?" she repeated again.

"I am Dago John, madam, at your service."

"But you have another name than Dago John."

"I had another--once."

"What was it?"

"Madam does not suppose, when she asks the question, that it will be
answered, does she?" Nick inquired boldly.

"By Heaven, sir, do you dare to defy me?"

"Not at all. I merely feel sure that madam asked the question as a joke,
knowing that it could not be answered."

For a moment it seemed as if she did not know whether to be angry at him
for his cool effrontery, or to laugh the matter off entirely, in
admiration of his bravery. She decided upon the latter course evidently,
for she did laugh--in a way that was not quite pleasant to hear,
however; and she said:

"Try to think where you have seen me before. Help me to remember. I want
to recall it."

"It is impossible, madam. I have already tried."

"Is the memory that is associated with me pleasant or otherwise?"

"It could not be but pleasant, since it was--you," he ventured; and she
frowned. It was plain that she did not relish such compliments.

And now she sat with her eyes fixed upon him, idly stirring her second
cup of coffee, and seeming to look him through and through, while she
cast her memory back over the storms of her life, not yet more than
twenty-three years, all told, and attempted with all her strength of
will to call up for recognition the ghost which his appearance had
conjured.

After a little she leaned forward, nearer to him, and her eyes, coal
black, and blazing, fairly burned into his own; but he held his gaze
steadily upon her, never once flinching from the scrutiny.

And then, so suddenly that it startled him, she leaped to her feet,
knocking her coffee to the floor, and she stood over him--but whether in
anger or only in astonishment that she had remembered, he could not have
told.

"By all the gods!" she cried out. "I remember you now. It is your eyes
that have haunted me, and now I remember where I have seen them. I
remember. It was in Paris. It was at the prefecture of police. I was
there. I was only a girl. I had just finished with the chief when you
entered the room. I did not notice your name when it was announced, but
now I remember you--at the prefecture of police in Paris! Tell me--tell
me, I say, what you were doing there!"

The detective knew that it would be folly to deny the charge that she
made. He knew that she remembered now, perfectly well, and that nothing
could disabuse her mind of the determination it had reached.

Acting upon the impulse of the instant, therefore, and determined now to
play out his rôle as it should appear, Nick pretended instantly to be as
greatly astonished as she was at the recollection, and the strangeness
of it.

He, too, leaped to his feet, imitating an astonishment as great as her
own. He did not tip over his coffee, but he did manage to upset his
chair, so that it fell backward on the floor; and then for the space of
a moment they stood staring into each other's eyes, both--from all
appearances--speechless with astonishment.

And then, very slowly, she subsided into her chair again, still keeping
her eyes upon him, and still evidently taxing her memory to the utmost
to recall all the incidents of that meeting at the prefecture in Paris.

"I remember now," she murmured at last, more to herself than to him. "It
all comes back to me, bit by bit. Monsieur Goron was chief at the
time--no? Yes. I remember. There had been a sudden death in the house
where I lived--it was on the floor just beneath me--and Goron sent for
me to question me about it. It was thought at first that Lucie had been
murdered, and Goron thought that perhaps I would know about it. He had
just finished questioning me when you entered the room--ah!"

Her eyes blazed with a sudden fire of anger, and her lips tightened over
her teeth.

"When you entered the room Goron rose and shook hands with you. Why did
he do that? Goron did not shake hands with criminals!"

"Nor with his police spies, did he?" asked Nick, smiling and shrugging
his shoulders.

"But why did he shake hands with you?"

"Because we were old acquaintances, madam."

"And he called you by name. What was that name?"

"Madam, for some time past I have deemed it best to forget it."

"Nevertheless you shall remember it now."

Nick shrugged his shoulders, and did not reply.

"What was that name?" she demanded again.

"I have told madam that I----"

She started from her chair, and ran across the room so suddenly that
Nick was interrupted in what he was about to say; and she seized a rope
that hung from the ceiling and stood with her hand upon it, grasping it.

"If I pull this rope," she said coldly, "as many of my followers as hear
it will rush to this place. You know what is likely to happen then if I
loose them upon you. They are all like wild beasts, or like dogs, ready
to tear each other at the slightest provocation. If I should point my
finger at you--so--and say to them, 'Take him; he is yours,' your life
would not be worth as much as the dregs in your coffee cup. Tell me,
what that name was, or I will summon the men."

The detective shrugged his shoulders, and leaned back in his chair,
smiling.

"It would be a foolish and a useless proceeding," he said calmly. "I
should not tell them that name any more than I tell it to you. I will
not tell it. It is of no moment here. It could do you no good to hear
it, and to mention it might do me harm; therefore, I shall not mention
it, no matter how often you order me to do so. It pains me to disobey
you, madam, but you force me into the alternative, and I have no choice.
Pull the rope if you will."

Instead of pulling it, she released it, still staring at him, and she
returned slowly to her chair.

"You are a strange man," she murmured, "and a brave one. There is not
another who would dare to defy me as you have done."

"Perhaps there is not another who has so much at stake," he replied
quietly, but with perfect truth, as the reader knows.

Again she knit her brows in perplexity; again the detective knew that
she was concentrating her mind upon that incident at the prefecture,
trying with all her power to recall the merest detail of it.

Nick remembered that his name had been mentioned aloud at that time; he
recalled the fact that Goron, in rising to shake hands with him, had
called him by name plainly enough. It was evident that she also
remembered that much of the facts, and was now straining every energy
she possessed to recall what that name was.

And while she thought so deeply, her face gradually assumed an
expressionless cast. She closed her lips firmly together. Her eyes
became sombre. She seemed oblivious of his presence, and of her
surroundings. For the moment she was back again in Paris, at the
prefecture, in the presence of Goron, five years ago.

After a little, without another change of expression, she shrugged her
shoulders, and rose from her chair, and then, with an assumption of
carelessness, she passed from the room upon the piazza, saying as she
went:

"Come. We will not bother any more about this for the present. We will
take up the subject again another time, after we have both had
opportunity to think it over. If you care for a cigar, Dago, there are
some in that cupboard yonder. Help yourself."

Now, it happened that Nick did care for a cigar. He had not had one in
many a day, but had forced himself to be content with an old pipe. The
prospect of a cigar was enticing, and so he took her at her word, and
helped himself--turning his back to her as he did so, and so he did not
see the strange smile which crossed her face as she passed through the
door upon the piazza.

He was a bit puzzled by this sudden change in her attitude and manner.
He could not exactly account for it. Had she remembered? He could not
tell.

He realized, however, that he was in a predicament--that his position
was precarious; for if she should remember--if she should recall the
name of Nick Carter as connected with that incident, he knew that his
own life would not be worth the snap of a finger, no matter how bravely
he might fight, or how many of the foe he should overcome in the contest
that would inevitably follow.

For, scattered about in that stronghold in the swamp, there were no less
than a hundred of her followers, and there was not one among them who
would not kill at her bidding.

She was standing upon the piazza, looking away through the woods, when
he came out, and, without turning her head, she said to him:

"Take that chair, and remain there until you have smoked your cigar. The
men might take it into their heads to be jealous if you should go among
them with it, and they should know that you, a new arrival, had
breakfasted with me. I will return in a moment."

She left him then, entering the house; and with no thought of immediate
danger in his mind, Nick followed her suggestion, and leaned back in the
chair, tilting it against the house, determined to enjoy that smoke to
the utmost.

After that it was difficult to tell exactly what did happen.

He remembered afterward that he smoked on in enjoyment of the cigar for
some minutes, and that he thought it somewhat rank, notwithstanding the
fact that it had the appearance of being of excellent quality.

And then suddenly the cigar flashed, exactly as if there had been three
or four grains of gunpowder wrapped in it--and he was instantly
conscious of an intensely bitter taste in his mouth.

And then it seemed to him almost as if somebody had struck him, so
strange were his sensations--and from that instant memory left him
entirely.

The woman had been watching him narrowly from the doorway; she was
waiting for that flash from the end of his cigar, and when it came she
passed out through the door swiftly, and caught him as he was about to
fall from his chair to the floor of the piazza; caught him, and held
him, and then deftly raised him to his feet, and half carried him inside
the house before anybody--had a person been observant of the
scene--could have realized that anything was wrong.

She possessed great strength, this remarkable woman; for the instant she
was inside the door, heavy as he was, she raised him in her arms, and
carried him into an adjoining room, where she closed the door behind
her, and deposited him upon a couch.

And then, still working with great rapidity, she pulled aside a rug that
was on the floor, and, having lifted a trapdoor, she again took him in
her arms, and descended through the opening in the floor to the depths
beneath it.

After a little she reappeared, and this time there was a grim smile upon
her face, while she replaced the rug over the trapdoor, and otherwise
rendered the room the same as it had been before the incident happened.

She passed coolly out upon the piazza, and for a time strode up and down
it in deep thought; but at last she raised her head quickly, and called
sharply to the sentinel who was pacing up and down in front of the
cottage.

"Send Handsome to me!" she ordered; and then she continued her pacing
until Handsome appeared.

Handsome belied his name terribly in the light of day, for an
uglier-looking chap could not be imagined; and yet, withal, there was a
gleam of humor in his eyes and at the corners of his mouth. She turned
to him abruptly.

"Where are the others of that bunch who were found with Dago?" she asked
sharply.

"Yonder," replied Handsome, jerking his thumb over his shoulder toward
the glade beyond them.

"What do you think about them, Handsome?" she asked again.

"I haven't thought much about them," he replied. "They are about the
usual sort, I believe; no better and perhaps no worse."

"I am not so sure of that."

"No?" he asked, vaguely surprised.

"Handsome, I want you to take them, one by one, to the pool in the
woods, strip them, and scrub them with soap, and water, and sand, if
necessary. I want you to make sure that there is no suggestion of
disguise about any of the three. Do it at once--and when it is done, no
matter whether there is a question of disguise about any of them or not,
bring them to me."

Handsome departed without a word. It was plain that Black Madge was
accustomed to obedience. It was plain also that her suspicions were
thoroughly aroused; for now she paced up and down again restlessly, and
continued so to pace until almost an hour later Handsome stood before
her again.

"Well?" she demanded.

"Two of them were plainly disguised," he replied.

"And the other?" she demanded, frowning.

"The other, as plainly was not disguised."

"And the two who were disguised--what of them?"

"I cannot tell if they are known to each other. I cannot tell whether
they are spies or not, only it is quite likely that they are."

"And the third one? The one who wore no disguise?"

"I think he is all right. He is the one called Pat. When he realized
that the others who had been with him were in disguise, he flew at one
of them, thinking that he had been followed himself, and I think would
have killed the fellow if I had not been there to prevent it."

Madge listened, with a shrug of her shoulders; then she said briefly:

"Bring them here, Handsome. Bring the two who were disguised, first.
Leave the other one alone until I send for him. What are the supposed
names of these two?"

"One is called Tenstrike, and the other calls himself the Chicago
Chicken."

"The Chicago Chicken," she said slowly. "Chick, for short, is it not? I
think we are on the right track, Handsome. Bring that one here
alone--first."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE DETECTIVES FACE A CRISIS.


Chick had committed the folly of not being entirely thorough in the
creation of his disguise; so also had Ten-Ichi; and the soap and
scrubbing brushes, as employed by Handsome, had done the work of
removing it.

But Patsy? Well, it had not been necessary for Patsy to be quite so
thorough, for his own particular person and features were sufficient
disguise, with a few minor alterations and additions.

For instance, at the risk of not having it wear off soon enough to suit
his purposes, he had gone to a professional hair dyer, and had ordered
his shock of hair indelibly dyed to a dirty brick-red; and he had put
spots on his face, and the back of his hands, with nitrate of silver, so
that the spots burned into the skin. No soap and water could remove
these. They would only disappear with time; but Patsy had never traveled
on a reputation for beauty, and he did not give the matter a thought
beyond the immediate necessities.

He had taken another precaution, also, just before he entered the woods
to go to the place of meeting. He had stripped himself in a secluded
place near the railway tracks, and he had rolled himself in the coal
dust around the track, griming the dirt into his body, so that when it
came to the time that Handsome stripped him--well, it can be imagined
how he looked.

A little snuff rubbed thoroughly against his teeth had rendered them
sufficiently discolored, and altogether he so thoroughly looked his part
that Handsome, when he stripped him, had not the slightest doubt of his
reality.

But the frauds connected with Chick and Ten-Ichi were easily detected.

Black Madge, while still seated at the table with the detective, had
suddenly recalled the name that had long ago been mentioned in her
presence by the chief of the Paris police. It had come to her in a flash
that the name was Nick Carter--and that this man who was so calmly
seated in her presence was Nick Carter.

Madge knew a great deal more about Nick Carter than Nick supposed she
did; she knew all about his household, and about his assistants. She
knew their names as well as if they were followers of her own--and when
Handsome, in mentioning the names of the other men, had talked about
Tenstrike and the Chicken, she had connected the names at once.

As for the other one--Pat--that had a significance also; but Pat is a
very common name, and she did not do herself the honor to suppose that
Nick Carter would bring all three of his assistants into the woods with
him in search of her. One, she thought, would have to be left behind to
look after the business, and, therefore, she was all the more ready to
believe that Patsy, since he was not in disguise, was one of her own
kind, who had inadvertently fallen into the company of the detectives.

Handsome and four other men accompanied Chick to the cottage, and when
he stood before Madge she looked him over from head to foot with cold
scorn.

"So," she said venomously, "you thought to deceive me, did you--you and
your master?"

Chick made no reply, and, after a moment, she went on:

"We have a way of ridding ourselves of such men as you are, when they
come among us. It is not pleasant for them, but it serves as a lesson to
others. Step inside the house. Take him inside, Handsome. Let the others
wait out here, and if there is the slightest sound of a row inside the
house let them enter it at once."

When the three were in the room together, she said to Chick:

"You observe that I know who you are?"

Chick nodded--and he also smiled.

She stamped her foot upon the floor under her, and continued:

"Down there, beneath us, unconscious and chained to the wall, is Nick
Carter. Even Handsome did not know that till now. He did not know that
Dago John, who went with him last night to rob the bank, was no other
than Nick Carter. But it is true, Handsome."

"Gee!" breathed Handsome, his fingers twitching.

"He is all right now, Handsome. He cannot hurt you. I have put him out
of business--and I don't think we had better let the men know that Nick
Carter has been among them. Let them wreak their vengeance upon this
fellow, and upon the other--that little Jap. As for Nick Carter himself,
I will take care of him. He will never come out of that cellar alive.
And now, Chick, I want you to answer me a question."

"You will save your breath if you do not ask it," replied Chick. "I am
not answering questions just at present."

"Not to save yourself, or your master?"

"I know very well that nothing that I can say will have the least effect
upon my fate, or upon Nick Carter's," he replied.

"Very good," she replied slowly; and then to Handsome: "Take him away,
Handsome. Take him out there to the men. Tell them who he is, and that
they may do as they please with him. I think the quicksand bog would be
as good a place as any for him; or the fire tree; but they may do as
they please--so long as they kill him. Take him away."

Chick, realizing that it was all up with him, and that he might as well
make a fight for it, leaped forward quickly, full at the woman,
intending to seize upon her, and hold her as a shield; but even as he
attempted to do so, the floor beneath him sank under him for the depth
of two feet, and before he could recover his balance, Madge had thrown a
table cover over his head, and in another moment Handsome had thrown him
to the floor, and called the others to his assistance.

And so Chick was tightly bound and borne away a captive--to what fate he
could only imagine.

"You need not bring the Jap here at all," Madge called after them. "Let
my hoboes take him with them, along with this one; but do you bring the
man Pat to me at once."

And five minutes later Handsome reappeared with Patsy in tow, only that
Patsy was not a prisoner--as yet.

"Now, my man," said Madge coldly, "you will have to give a pretty
straight account of yourself. You were found in bad company."

"Sure, ma'am, don't I know the same? I've been apologizing to meself
ever since I discovered it, an' if Handsome here had only left me alone,
faith, I'd have settled wan part of me misgivings then and there, so I
would. I had me doubts about the bunch from the beginning, ma'am, when
they came a-sneakin' up to me fire, and eatin' of me grub; and when
that other gazabo dropped from the trees, sure, I was certain of it. I
was after kapin' me eyes peeled all the time since then, your worship,
but I thought it wasn't f'r the likes of me to be after makin'
suggestions to y'r majesty, at all, at all."

"Who are you, and what are you, Pat?" she asked, smiling upon him.

"Sure, ma'am, it's nobody I am. I've never done anything worse than pick
a pocket untel a short time ago, when I had the misfortune to get mixed
up in a bit av a scrap--and the other feller didn't have the common
dacency to get on his feet ag'in when it was over. He jest stayed there,
so he did, and thinkin' that somebody would be axin' questions of me, I
lit out. Ye wouldn't know a thing more about me if I should talk for a
week--but, sure, if there's a question ye'd like to ax me, I'll be
afther answerin' it to the best of me ability, so I will."

"What brought you to me?"

"Me legs--no less; begging y'r pardon for mentionin' it. They weren't
purty to look at when Handsome stripped me--but we needn't mention that,
aither."

"But you came here in search of Hobo Harry."

"I did. That same."

"Who sent you here to find him?"

"Nobody. I had to go somewhere. I had been readin' the papers, and I
had seen a lot about Hobo Harry in 'em. All of the papers said that he
was to be found around here somewhere, and that the divil himself
couldn't catch him; and I says to mesilf, says I, sure that's the broth
av a boy ye want to find, Pat--and here I am, ma'am."

"Did you ever hear of Nick Carter?"

"I have that."

"Ever see him?"

"I did that."

"Would you know him, do you think, if you should see him again?"

"I would that. It isn't three weeks since I saw him wid these two eyes
as plain as I see y'r own beautiful face this minit. Sure, I'd know
him."

"Come this way, then."

She went into the adjoining room, and they followed. There she pulled
aside the rug again, and, having raised the trapdoor, descended, Patsy
and Handsome following close behind her.

The narrow steps took them into a spacious cellar, and, having passed
through a partition by opening a heavy oaken door, they entered what
appeared to be a prison room.

Nick Carter was there. He had recovered consciousness, and was seated on
a low stool against the wall. His arms were stretched wide apart, and
each was held in position by an iron chain on either side of him. A
ring of these chains had been passed around each wrist, and locked
there, and the chains were fastened to the stone walls by staples.

Madge stopped directly in front of the detective, and glared at him,
while he returned her fierce look with a half smile--for he had entirely
recovered from the effects of the dose she had administered.

She raised her arm and pointed toward the detective, but before she
could utter a word, Patsy cried out:

"That's him! That's him! Sure, ma'am, I'd know him among a thousand!
He's got stain on his skin; I can see that; and he is disguised in other
ways, ma'am, I can see that, too; but it's him. I'd take me oath to it,
so I would."

Madge smiled, and softly rubbed her hands together.

"Carter," she said coldly, "do you know this man who recognizes you?"

Nick shrugged his shoulders in disdain, for he understood perfectly well
that Patsy had some well-defined plan in his head for doing as he did;
and he replied:

"I suppose he is somebody whom I have arrested at some time. It is only
the worst criminals, like yourself, Madge, that I take the trouble to
remember."

She turned away with a toss of her head.

"Come!" she ordered; and they followed her from the cellar room, and up
the narrow stairs again, where she reclosed the trap.

"Go back, Pat, and take your place among the others," she ordered him
then. "You will be watched for a long time, and at the first break you
make you will be knifed, or shot. It is up to you whether you make good
in this community or not. Go now."

When he had gone, she turned to Handsome.

"Handsome," she said slowly, "you can go now, too. Keep an eye on that
Pat. At midnight to-night, come here to the cottage, for I want you to
help me to carry the body into the woods to the quicksand pit. We will
throw him there--Nick Carter, I mean."

"Of course. Shall you chuck him in alive?"

"No; for he would find some way to crawl out and escape. I will put him
out of the way first. It will be only a dead body that we will have to
carry, but I don't want the men to know that Nick Carter has been among
us until after he is dead. Then it will not matter."

"Right you are," said Handsome; and he took his departure.

But down in the cellar beneath them something had happened, for as soon
as the party of three left him, Nick calmly and easily pulled the iron
staples from the wall and stood upon his feet. The fact was that he had
already succeeded in loosening them when he heard the approach of Madge
and the others, and he had been afforded barely time to resume his
position of helpless captivity when the door was opened and they
entered.

But now he was free, save for the short chains that were still fastened
to his wrists, and the plank walls that rose between him and liberty.

But the chains on each wrist were short, and the walls were only plank;
and in Madge's eagerness and haste in fastening him there she had
neglected--or she had not thought it necessary--to search him for his
weapons.

He knew now that there was very little time to spare, and that he and
his three assistants were in a bad predicament.



CHAPTER IX.

THE ESCAPE FROM THE SWAMP.


In the meantime, Patsy had been in half a dozen different kinds of a
brown study. He realized that now the entire situation depended solely
upon him, and that the lives of his chief, and of Chick and Ten-Ichi,
rested wholly in his hands.

He stood, be it said, all alone, in the midst of a huge swamp, from
which escape could only be had by means of a boat, and into which he had
been conducted blindfolded. Around him were men, all ready at any
instant to take his life for the merest excuse; and already the lives of
his three friends were sacrificed unless he could do something--and that
very speedily--to save them.

In the cellar at the cottage he had not dared to look squarely at his
chief, for fear that the inclination on his own part to make some sort
of signal would be too strong for him to resist; and he had known that
Madge was watching every act and motion, as a cat watches a mouse.

When he left the cottage, and had gone as far as the edge of the glade,
he halted, and waited there for Handsome, for he guessed that the man
would be sent away directly; and when Handsome did come, Patsy said to
him:

"Sure, Handsome, will ye tell me what is to be done wid the others?"

"I haven't made up my mind about that yet," replied Handsome.

"And is it left to you that it is?"

"Certainly."

"Faith, but that's fine. I wish it was left to me, so I do."

"What would you do to them, Pat?"

"I'd skin 'em, begorra!"

Handsome laughed.

"Perhaps I will give you a chance," he said. "However, it is likely that
they will go into the quicksand."

"Where is that same, then?"

"Out in the swamp a bit. There is no getting out of it, and it tells no
tales. Once a man is thrown into that, he sinks out of sight in a few
minutes, and that is the last of him. It is our graveyard. There are
about fifty in there now. The place is bottomless."

"Cheerful, isn't it? Sure, man, it's unhealthy, it is; but I'll go and
have a look at it. Where is it?"

Handsome directed him how to find it, and he hastened away; but he
paused before he started long enough to select a long, strong rope that
he had seen near one of the cabins. This he carried with him, and
disappeared among the trees.

Patsy was gone less than half an hour, but when he returned he was
whistling; and then, after a little, he found an opportunity to linger
around the place where Chick and Ten-Ichi were confined in one of the
cabins.

And presently he began to sing; at first in a low tone, and in
unintelligible words; but his voice was good, and it attracted
attention, even among that motley crew, and after a little, perceiving
that they were listening, he sang the louder.

If they had but known it, he was singing in Japanese, which Ten-Ichi had
taught him to speak perfectly; and the words he uttered as he sang,
translated, were:

"There is a quicksand pit not far from here. They are going to throw you
both into it. I have carried a rope to the quicksand pit. I have tied it
to a tree near there. When you are thrown into the pit, spread out your
arms. And also spread out your legs. Keep as still as possible so as not
to sink too fast. I will be there as soon as I can do it. I will throw
you the end of the rope. And with your own combined strength and mine,
we can pull you out. I am not suspected, so I can do the act, all right.
Keep up your pluck, and manage not to go into the pit head down."

He sang this over and over several times until he was sure that Ten-Ichi
had heard and understood, and would convey the message to Chick, and
then he sauntered away.

Twice after that he tried to get near to the cottage to sing to Nick
Carter; but each time he was stopped and turned back again; and at last
he muttered to himself:

"I'll have to wait till to-night for that part of it. After I have
rescued Chick and Ten-Ichi I will have them to help me, and then it will
be funny if we don't get the chief out of the pickle he is in."

It was well toward evening, almost the hour of sundown, before Chick and
Ten-Ichi were carried to the quicksand pit; and then a procession
followed them. The hands and feet of the prisoners were not bound, for
it was desired that they should flounder in the quicksand in order to
hasten its work; and without ceremony they were hurled into the midst of
it, one, and then the other.

Patsy's only fear was that the horde of hoboes would throw sticks and
stones at the helpless men in the sand pit; but he found that this was
against orders, since the presence of such impedimenta would give the
victims something to seize hold of; and the operation of sinking was so
slow, and the hoboes had seen it so many times, that they had lost
interest in it; so that almost at once after Chick and Ten-Ichi were
thrown in they began to withdraw to their several occupations; and
finally when only a group of four remained, Patsy, who was one of them,
called out: "It's tired of this I am. Come on!" and, nothing loath, the
others followed him away.

But he was not long gone. Almost at once he found an opportunity to
leave them, and, by making a detour, to hurry back again.

Already when he had reached the pit a second time the two detectives had
sunk almost to their armpits; but in an instant Patsy found the rope he
had concealed, one end of which was fastened to a tree.

The task which followed can better be imagined than described, and only
for the great strength of the trio it must have been unsuccessful. But
with Chick and Ten-Ichi straining for their lives at one end, and Patsy
pulling on the other as best he could, they came forth inch by inch,
until at last they stood, covered with mud, to be sure, but on solid
earth.

"Now, go around that way," said Patsy, speaking rapidly. "The cottage is
over there, as you know. You'll have to cross a neck of the swamp in
getting to it, but the chief is there, a prisoner. I have seen him. He
is chained to the wall in the cellar. If you get a chance before I do,
overcome that beast of a sentinel, who is walking up and down near the
house. I'll go back through the glade, and I'll manage somehow to join
you there, if I have to kill somebody in order to do it; and take these.
They are extra ones. I swiped them." He handed them each a pistol as he
spoke.

Chance played into Patsy's hands when he returned to the glade. Two of
the men had been quarreling, and they had taken the centre of the glade
to settle their differences; and there a ring had formed around them--a
ring which comprised almost every man of the outfit.

The point was that the attention of everybody was diverted from Patsy,
and, merely bestowing a single glance upon what was taking place, he
hurried silently past them--it was almost dark now--and in a moment more
had passed through the pathway to the clearing around the cottage.

As he entered the clearing silently, he came directly upon the sentinel,
who, after listening to the row in the glade for a moment, had just
turned to retrace his steps; this made him assume a position with his
back toward Patsy, and in an instant the young athlete had leaped upon
his back and shoulders, and had seized him by the throat, so that he
bore him to the ground in absolute silence.

And even as he did that, Chick and Ten-Ichi dashed out of the woods and
helped him; and Ten-Ichi, none too gentle, now that his anger was
aroused, rapped the sentinel on the head with the butt of his pistol, so
that he stiffened out and offered no more resistance.

They had been thoughtful enough to bring the rope with them, too, and
it did not take long to tie the man; and then the three assistants of
Nick Carter leaped forward toward the door of the cottage, realizing
that at any instant they might be interrupted in their work, and knowing
that the odds would be terribly against them if they were.

They leaped upon the piazza--and as they did so the door opened directly
in front of them, and Nick Carter appeared before them with the
senseless form of Black Madge in his arms.

For just one instant he started backward; and then he recognized his
three assistants.

"Quick!" he exclaimed. "Hold her, Chick!" and he put Madge into Chick's
arms. "I have drugged her with some of her own stuff. There's plenty of
it in the house. Get into the woods, all of you, over there"--and he
pointed to the spot he wished them to go--"and wait for me. I'll be
there in a moment."

While they obeyed him, he turned back into the house; and from the edge
of the clearing, where the others had concealed themselves, they
presently saw a blaze flare up inside the house; then another, and then
another, until there were many of them; and then Nick Carter dashed out
of it again and ran toward them with all speed.

"Look, now!" he said. "Watch that upper window, in the gable!"

And looking as he commanded them to do, they presently saw, when the
light had gained in brightness, the form of a woman standing there,
outlined against the blazing fire; and if they had not known
differently, there was not one of them who would not have sworn that it
was Black Madge who stood there, surrounded by flames.

"It is a dummy that I fixed up," whispered the detective. "It was done
to keep the attention of the crowd away from us. Look! The men have
discovered the fire!"

The hoboes were rushing toward the scene in crowds now; and they saw the
figure of the woman at the window in the gable instantly.

A cry, then a shout, then a wail went up, for they thought it was their
chief--Black Madge, otherwise Hobo Harry, the Beggar King, as she
preferred to be known outside her own fraternity; and in that instant
the crowd went mad.

There was not a soul among them who did not rush to the rescue of their
chief, believing that Nick's dummy at the window was she; and then
danced and shouted, and yelled and screamed around that burning cottage,
like so many madmen.

"Come, now," said the detective. "This is our opportunity!"

Like shadows they sped away through the trees. They skirted the glade,
now without a sign of life within it; they hurried down the path among
the alders toward the place where the boat was kept, and where there
were now no less than four boats.

But they took them all in order that none might be left for the
pursuers, when it should occur to them to take up the chase; and then,
with the strength of desperation, and guided by Nick, who had been twice
over the route without being blindfolded, they made their way silently
and swiftly through the maze of the swamp, to dry land at the other side
of it.

"We have not made good our escape yet," said Nick, as they climbed the
grade of the railway. "If only a train would come along now, so we could
flag it--hark!"

Even as he spoke, a freight came around the curve toward them, and Nick,
giving the unconscious form of Madge into the care of Chick, leaped out
upon the track between the rails, and, at the risk of his life, stood
within the glare of the advancing headlight and waved his coat for the
engineer to stop.

Fortunately it was a freight, and it was going rather slowly. The
engineer saw the frantic appeal, and closed his throttle and applied the
brakes.

The party was taken aboard, and Black Madge was locked up in the jail at
Calamont. She jeered at her captors, assuring them that she would be
free again, and that when she was they had better remember who and what
she was.

Nick and his assistants then returned to New York, pretty thoroughly
tired out by their experiences with Black Madge and her followers.

The following day Nick Carter called upon the president of the E. &
S. W. R. R. Co., and told him the story of the capture of "Hobo Harry."

"Also, I want to tell you," said the detective, "that I was one of the
burglars that robbed the bank at Calamont. I see there is quite a stir
about it. But I know where the loot is concealed, and if you will raise
a hundred men for me I will go back and clean out that swamp, and not
only return the property to the bank, but I will find almost all that
has been stolen from different places for a long time."

Arrangements were at once made to carry out Nick's plans, but the
detective was not quick enough.

The news of the arrest of Black Madge had spread through the surrounding
country like wildfire, and, by the time Nick and his force of railroad
employees reached the place, the gang had fled, and the people of the
near-by towns, having formed vigilance committees, had swooped down on
the stronghold in the swamp.

Nick and his men, however, destroyed everything that remained, with axes
and matches, and what they could not destroy in that way they blew up
with dynamite, so that the place no longer offered a refuge for the
hoboes.



CHAPTER X.

ESCAPE OF THE HOBO QUEEN.


It was about a week later that Nick Carter received a note from the
president of the railroad which caused him great astonishment. It was
brief and to the point. It read:

     "Can you call on me at once? Black Madge has escaped."

That was all, but it was enough to stir the detective to action, and,
taking Patsy, who happened to be in when the message arrived, along with
him, Nick at once visited the office of the railroad.

"Well, Carter, it didn't take long for Black Madge to make good her
threat, did it?" said the president as he rose and shook hands with the
detectives.

"I think," replied the detective, smiling, "that, considering the
trouble we were put to in capturing her, it was a very short time for us
to hold her. Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Cobalt?"

"Do? Why, you can catch Black Madge again for vs."

"Oh," said the detective, smiling. "Can I? Well, possibly."

"You see," the president continued, "we have called a hasty meeting of
the board since the information of the escape of Black Madge came to us,
and we have decided that no effort shall be spared to get that woman
into custody again. At liberty, she is a constant menace to the welfare
of the road, and of every town along the line, as well as of everybody
who lives in those towns."

"I'll admit that she's a bad one," said Nick.

"We don't want her at liberty. With the following she has, she is a
dangerous woman--much more dangerous than a man would be in her
position."

"I don't know about that. But she is dangerous enough without argument
about it."

"Exactly. We want her caught. And we want you to catch her."

"I imagine that this time, Mr. Cobalt, it will be rather a harder task
than it was before."

"Why so?"

"She will be very much more on her guard now than then. And, besides,
she knows enough about me to know that now I will most certainly hunt
her down."

The railway president was thoughtful a moment, and then he said:

"You see, Carter, the very manner of her escape is a menace to us."

"How is that?" asked the detective. "The first and, therefore, the only
information I have had on the subject was that contained in your
message, which told me merely that she had escaped. What is there that
is particularly interesting about the manner of her escape?"

"Then you have not heard about it, eh?"

"I have just informed you that I have heard nothing."

"Well, to say the least, her escape was characteristic. Her hoboes did
it for her."

Nick raised his brows.

"You don't say so!" he exclaimed. "Well, we might have expected
something like that, I suppose. I regarded it as a little bit
unfortunate that the arrest was made in the county where it was, for
that compelled us to put her temporarily in the Calamont jail--and I
thought at the time that the Calamont jail was a trifle close to her
stamping ground. Now, suppose you tell me exactly what happened."

"You know Calamont, of course?" asked the railway president, and the
detective smiled broadly.

"I know very little about it," he said, "with the exception that I
assisted in the robbing of a bank that is located there."

It was the president's turn to smile.

"That was a queer experience for you, Carter, wasn't it? But the
president of that bank is quite willing that you should rob it again on
the same terms. You know we fixed him all up again, and my company
promises to keep a large deposit there now. Altogether, they regard your
descent upon the bank as a very fortunate experience for them."

"No doubt. Now about that escape."

"Calamont is a village of about three thousand inhabitants. That bank,
for instance, is the only one there."

"What has that----"

"Wait a moment. Calamont has suffered a great deal from the depredations
of the hoboes, and now has a force of special constables, whose duties
consist in arresting and taking to jail every tramp who crosses the
borders of the village. The other night, when Madge made her escape, the
jail was filled with them."

"Oh," said the detective. "I begin to understand."

"Exactly."

"It was a put-up job on their part to get as many of their kind as
possible in the jail for that night, and then to take their queen out of
it; eh?"

"Precisely; and that is just what they did do. You see, the tramps began
coming in early in the day. They made intervals between the times of
their arrivals, and they appeared at different parts of the town, so
that before anybody realized it, the jail was about filled with them.
But they seemed not to know one another, and so the residents of the
town went peacefully to sleep that night, as usual."

"Well?"

"Well, in the morning when they woke up, the jail had been
gutted--literally gutted."

"In what sense do you mean?"

"In every sense."

"Tell me what you mean, please."

"I mean that all the tramps who had been locked up there overnight had
disappeared; that they had managed to break into the main part of the
jail, and that when they went away they took Black Madge with them; and
that before they went away they passed through the jail with axes and
smashed everything in sight. They tore down partitions, they smashed
doors, and where the doors could not be smashed, they destroyed the
locks. They tied up the jailer, and threatened to kill him--I regard it
as a wonder that they did not kill him."

"So do I. Go on."

"That is all there is to it. They went there, of course, with the
deliberate intention of rescuing Black Madge--and they did it."

"I suppose they must have taken to the woods north of the railway line;
eh?"

"You've guessed it, Carter."

"That is a wild country up through there, Mr. Cobalt."

"You bet it is. I used to go through there every fall on a hunting
expedition, when I was younger. The country hasn't changed much since
that time. It is as wild as if it were in an uncivilized country,
instead of being surrounded by----"

"I understand. Then you do know something about that country up through
there, eh?"

"Yes; I used to boast that I knew every inch of it; but, of course, that
wasn't quite so, you know."

"Yet you remember it fairly well?"

"I think so."

"Tell me something about it, for that is, I think, where I have got to
search for the woman we are after."

"There isn't much to tell about it, save that it is wild and uneven;
that the formation is limestone, and the timber is largely red oak. The
mountains--or hills, rather--are not high, but they are precipitous,
rocky, impassable, full of ravines, and gulches, and unexpected
depressions, and scattered around through that region there are
innumerable caves, too."

"That is bad," said the detective. "It will make it so much the harder
to dislodge the hoboes."

"So you have got your work cut out for you this time, and no mistake."

"Could you suggest a competent guide for that region, Mr. Cobalt?"

"Old Bill Turner--if he would go."

"Who is he?"

"An old hunter, who used to take me out with him, and who afterward
served as guide for me. But he is an old man now."

"Where does he live?"

"In Calamont. You will have no difficulty in finding him. Ask the first
man you meet in the street to direct you to old Bill Turner, and he will
do it."

"That part of it is all right--if he is not too old to go."

"Oh, I think he can be induced to do it. Old Bill likes the looks of a
dollar as well as any man you ever knew. You have only to offer him
enough, and his rheumatism will disappear like magic."

"Then that part of it is all right, too. I am to understand that I have
the same free hand in the matter that I did before?"

"Of course. Your directions are: Catch Black Madge and break up her
gang."

"And that, I suppose, is about all that you have to say to me at
present."

"Yes; unless you have some questions to ask."

"Not one, thank you. I will ask them of Black Madge--when I catch her."

"Good! I hope it won't be long before you can ask them."

"I don't think it will be very long; only, she is a little bit the
smartest woman I ever tried to handle."



CHAPTER XI.

PATSY'S DANGEROUS MISSION.


When Nick Carter and Patsy left the office of the railway president,
they strolled in silence down the street until they came to a
restaurant, and, entering, they found a secluded table in one corner,
where they seated themselves and gave the order for luncheon.

When it was brought to them, and the waiter had departed, Nick said to
his assistant:

"Well, Patsy, we start about where we began on the other case, with the
single exception that we have broken up the stronghold in the swamp. It
is safe to say that Madge has no less than fifty men around her, and
probably as many more. I should not be surprised if there were fully one
hundred in the gang, all told."

"Nor I."

"Well, I shall start for Calamont as soon as I have finished with the
meal I am now eating."

"And what do you wish me to do?"

"I want you to do a serious thing, and a dangerous one, Patsy."

"Good! That is what I would like to do."

"I think that Black Madge rather liked you in your character of a young
Irish crook; but I think also that she had some suspicion of you."

"There isn't any doubt of that."

"And, therefore, it will be an extremely dangerous thing to do to return
there, and still represent yourself as the same character."

"Gee! Is _that_ what you want me to do?"

"Yes. Do you suppose it can be done?"

"It can be tried."

"You must not forget that they will look upon you with suspicion."

"Oh, I don't forget that."

"They will connect you with their misfortunes at once. Handsome,
particularly, after being so nicely fooled by me, will be even more
suspicious of you."

"I think I can get around Handsome, all right. It is Madge I am shy of."

"There will be one thing in your favor, Patsy, if you _do_ undertake
it."

"If I _do_ undertake it? Of course, I shall undertake it."

"Then there will be one thing in your favor."

"What is that, please?"

"The very fact that you _do_ go back among them in the same character in
which you appeared before. I am inclined to think that now they would
not take in a new man, no matter how well he might be recommended; but
one that they have known before will stand a lot better chance with
them."

"I think so."

"The very fact of your returning will go far to allay any suspicions
they might have had about you formerly. It would never occur to them
that if you were really a detective that time, you would dare to return
to them in the same character."

"You are right about that."

"And, consequently, if you succeed in passing the investigation of the
first few hours, you will be all right."

"I am going to try it, anyhow."

"Good, Patsy! But don't for a moment forget or neglect the danger you
will be in every minute you are there."

"I will not."

"You will have to cook up a good story----"

"I have that all ready now."

"Then you can start whenever you please. I shall not interfere with you
in the slightest manner."

"But I want a little further instruction, chief."

"The only instruction I have to give you is this: Go there; get among
them; become one of them, and one with them; pick up all the information
about them that you can, with names and identifications, so that you
will be a good witness against them when the time comes."

"I can do that."

"I want you to work independently of me entirely. Your only part of the
game, so far as it is directly connected with my part of the work, will
be to hold yourself in readiness to lend me a helping hand from the
inside at any moment I may happen to want you."

"Of course. That goes without saying. Are Chick and Ten-Ichi going to be
in this?"

"Yes. But I have not determined in what way as yet. You will have to be
on the lookout for them. I may take one of them with me, and send the
other in to follow you. Or I may send both after you, and go it alone
myself. Or I may take them both with me. All that will depend upon what
information I pick up when I get to Calamont."

"I see."

"Now, Patsy, it is up to you. All that red you used on your hair before
has not disappeared yet; but you had better go to a hair dyer's and get
it fixed up over again. Then make yourself over once more into Pat
Slick. I leave the rest to you. But as a last warning, I repeat--look
out for that man Handsome."

"Oh, I am not afraid of Handsome. He's a----"

"He is a much smarter man than either of us gave him credit for. He is
an educated man, who can represent the hobo so perfectly that you would
never suspect that he has a college education. And he is devoted to
Madge. Look out for him. He is her right-hand man, and he is dangerous.
If he saw through you before, or had any idea that he did see through
you, your life won't be worth a snap of your finger the next time you
meet--unless you can manage to shoot first."

"I know that, too. But he did not suspect."

"I am not so sure of that. Madge had a little time to think things over
while she was in the jail, and as soon as she got out, she and Handsome
had a chance to talk things over. With their two heads together, they
make about as dangerous a pair to play against as could be imagined."

"All right. I'll stand pat--and bluff."

"Be careful that they don't call you. That's all."

"Is there any particular game afoot with the hoboes just now?"

"Not that I know of."

"What specific charge are we after Madge for?"

"No specific charge, save that she is accused of all the old ones. There
is enough against her to send her to prison for the rest of her life,
once she is caught."

"I guess that's no pipe dream."

"The railway people object to her being at liberty. That is about all."

"And it is up to us to catch her?"

"That's the idea."

"What about the rest of the gang?"

"If we can round up the entire outfit, that is what they want us to do.
We are to get as many of them as we can, and make the charges after
that. That is what you are going inside the ring for: to pick up all
the information about the individual members of the gang that you can."

"I see."

"The battle cry is: Break up the gang! Root it out, so that it cannot
grow again."

"It is a pretty big proposition, chief; don't you think so?"

"It is a big proposition, and no mistake. But I shall make my
arrangements about that part of it, so that if we ever succeed in
getting them rounded up, there will be no difficulty in carrying out the
rest of it."

"All right. Now, I suppose I have my instructions."

"Yes."

"And that's all?"

"Yes."

"And you don't expect to see me or to communicate with me again
until--when?"

"Until I see you inside the stronghold of the hobo gang."

"That is all right. We'll meet there. I'll get there, and I'll find a
way to make them believe in me."

"I hesitate to send you on this business, Patsy. You have never in your
life gone out to face quite as much peril as you will find in this
expedition of yours now."

"Well, I'll face it; and I'll overcome it, chief."

"You're a good lad, Patsy. God bless you!"

"Don't worry about me, chief; not at all. I will be all right. The hobo
hasn't been born yet who can get away with me."

"Don't forget that there are perhaps one hundred of them."

"I'm not forgetting it."

"And that the worst and most dangerous of the lot is the man called
Handsome."

"I'll not forget that, either."

Nick rose from the table and stretched out his hand.

"Good-by, my lad," he said. "I don't know when we will meet again. A lot
depends upon yourself. Even now I feel almost as if I ought not----"

"Don't say another word, please. I'm going to do what you have laid out
for me to do. I wouldn't obey you now if you should change the order."

"Oh, yes, you would. But I won't change it."

And so they parted there in the restaurant.

And a little later Nick Carter took the train for Calamont.



CHAPTER XII.

BILL TURNER, THE WOODSMAN.


When Nick Carter arrived at Calamont, he was disguised as a lumberman.
It was not exactly the season of the year for lumbermen to enter the
woods, unless they were measurers, who were engaged in preparing in
advance work for the winter; so that was the character which Nick Carter
adopted.

Measurers go into the woods, measure trees on the stump, as it is
called, blaze them with cabalistic marks, and otherwise prepare the way
for the workers with the axes and saws who are to come later.

It is well known that some of the most expert lumbermen in the world are
French Canadians, and so Nick adopted this character, and he knew that
as such he could wander at will around the woods and mountains of that
region without danger of being suspected for what he really was.

If any of the hoboes who made their headquarters in that region should
see him, they would not be inclined to suspect what he really was, and
the only actual danger he would stand in would be that they might be
inclined to knock him on the head or shoot him from ambush in order to
possess themselves of the few articles he had in his possession.

And for that very reason he adopted the disguise of a French Canadian
lumberman, for it was rarely that they were supposed to have anything
more than what they carried in sight on their backs.

The month was September, and therefore warm. The leaves in some places
were getting yellow and red, although there had been no frost; but oak
leaves turn earlier than others.

When he descended at Calamont Station, he stood there on the platform
until the train had pulled out, and the other passengers who had arrived
by it had departed their several ways. Then he approached the
baggageman.

"Me want find ze man named Beel Turner," he said slowly.

"What's that?" asked the baggageman.

"Me want find Beel Turner."

"Oh! Bill Turner, is it? Well, go up that street there until you come to
the post office. You'll like enough see an old, white-whiskered chap
standing there, chewing tobacco. That'll be Bill Turner."

"Beel Turner? He ees known here? No?"

"Known here? Gee! He has lived here since the oldest inhabitant was a
baby. He has always lived here. He is about a thousand years old, my
man; but as strong and as lively as a kid yet. You'll find him somewhere
around the post office."

Nick thanked him in his broken English and strode up the street.

Sure enough, when he arrived in the vicinity of the post office, he saw
a white-whiskered man standing there, and he approached him at once.

"You ees Beel Turner?" he asked modestly, sidling up to the man.

"I be," was the response, while Bill Turner fixed his clear gray eyes
upon the detective. "What might you be wantin' of me, stranger?"

"I have--hush!--I have some money for you, Beel Turner. Can you take me
where we can talk so that nobody will overhear us?"

Turner eyed him suspiciously for a moment; then he turned abruptly away
with the remark:

"Come along with me, stranger."

Nick walked beside him through the town to the very end of the main
street. Then they turned into a roadway, which led up a steep hill for
some distance, and which presently brought them to a modest cottage that
was almost hidden under the brow of the hill.

"Here is where I live," said Turner. "I live here all alone, 'cept a cat
and two dogs. But the dogs hev got old like me, now, and they can't go
out among the hills as they used to; although, bless you, I reckon I kin
walk jest as fur as ever I could, if I try. Come in."

Nick followed him inside, and Turner offered him a rocker near the open
window. The whole house was as neat and clean as if it had the care of a
woman.

"Now, mister," said Turner, "what hev ye got on yer mind?"

"In the first place," replied Nick, in his natural voice, "I am not what
I seem to be. I am not a lumberman, or a Frenchman--or a Canadian. I am
a detective."

"Sho! You don't say so. Well, that beats me. Sure, ye do it fine,
mister. I would never hev suspected at all that you are not what you
seem. But go on."

"I have come here after that gang of hoboes who infest the neighborhood
for fifty or sixty miles around this place. I am principally after the
woman who is their chief. Do you know who I mean?"

"I reckon ye must be referrin' to that there Black Madge and her gang."

"That's right."

"Well, yer up agin' a proposition. That's all I kin say about it."

"I know that; and what I want of you is to get you to help me with that
proposition, Bill Turner."

"Ain't I too old?"

"Not a bit of it."

"Is there good pay in it?"

"The very best; and there is fifty dollars down for you right now--if
you are inclined to do as I want you to do."

Nick took a roll of bills from his pocket as he spoke, and laid it on
the table before the avaricious glances of the old man.

"Well, sir," said Turner slowly, "all I've got to say is this: If I can
do what you want done, I'll do it. I want that money as bad as anybody
could want it and not grab it right now where it is lying; but I have
never had a penny in my life that I didn't get honestly, and I am afraid
that I'm too old to do what you want done."

"I tell you that you are not."

"Then, in that case, I'll take the money and put it in my pocket--so.
There! Now, go ahead. If the work is honest, and such as an honest man
can do, I'll do it--if I ain't too old, and you say I ain't. But if the
work ain't honest, I'll return your money. Now, what is it, mister?"

"I want you first to promise that you will not reveal my identity. I
must be Jules Verbeau to you to the end, and you must forget that I am
not he in fact."

"You kin consider that done, sir."

"Second, I want you to answer some questions for me."

"Fire away."

"How well do you know the hills and mountains, the ravines and gulches,
the rocks and the caves around this region?"

"As well as I know that dooryard in front of you," replied the old man,
pointing through the window. "I know every inch of the country--every
inch of it."

"Now, another question which you will not understand at once: Do you
know how to use a pencil, and is your hand steady enough to draw plans
for me?"

"Yes, sir. I began life as a draughtsman; but that was when I was a
boy."

"That will suffice. Now--could you draw a plan of different parts of the
mountains, so it would be plain enough for me to follow without your
being present with me?"

"That would depend upon you, sir. If you are a man who has some
woodcraft in your make-up, I say yes. It would depend upon you."

"We will consider that question answered, then. Now, have you any idea
to what part of the mountainous region around here--say, within fifty
miles of where we are seated--the hobo gang would select in which to
hide themselves?"

"I think I could guess it to a dot."

"Why?"

"Because there is one region up among those hills which is exactly
fitted for them; and from which you couldn't drive them out with a
thousand men. That's why!"

"Good. That sounds as if it might be the place they would select. How
far is it from here, as you would travel afoot."

"A matter of thirty miles."

"Now, can you draw me a plan of that region?"

"I kin."

"And how to get there?"

"I kin."

"And are there caverns there? Do you suppose those people are hiding and
making their headquarters in caves?"

"Yes, to both questions. The hills round that 'ere region are
honeycombed with caves. Some of 'em is big, and some of 'em is little;
but there's a lot of 'em there."

"Good; and you know them well enough to give me a working plan of them?
What a sailor would call a chart?"

"You bet I do."

"Now, another subject: Have you ever traveled away from here? Have you
ever been to New York, for instance?"

"Never in my life. I've always lived right around here. I don't suppose
I have been ten miles away from here, except in the woods, in forty
years. But in the woods I sometimes used to go a good ways."

"I've no doubt of that. How would you like to make a visit to New
York?"

"I should like it very much--only it would cost such a lot, you know."

"Suppose your expenses were paid?"

"Well, that would be different."

"How much, in cash, will you take for your whiskers, Mr. Turner?"

"Now what the devil do you mean by that? Are you making fun of me?"

"Not at all. I was wondering if fifty dollars more, down, would induce
you to shave off your whiskers."

"Humph! Jest tell me what you are getting at and I'll answer you."

"This: I want to disguise myself so that I look like you. I want to go
out in the mountains as you would go out. While I am making believe that
I am Bill Turner, I want you to take a trip to New York, and to live
there, at my house, and take it easy, see all the sights, go to the
theatres and the museums, and all that, until I return, and I want you
to shave off your whiskers, and let me blacken your brows and otherwise
make some changes in your appearance, so that if any of the people from
Calamont should happen to meet you in the street down there they
wouldn't say, 'Why, there is Bill Turner!' Would you consent to do
that?"

"For another fifty dollars down?"

"Yes."

"I would. When do you want me to shave?"

"I will tell you in good time. First, I want you to fix up those plans."

"Hadn't I better git about it right now?"

"Yes. I think you had. And I will remain here with you while you do it
in order that you may explain things to me as you work upon them."

"That's a good idee, too. I can make you know them mountings as well as
I do, in a short time. I knows 'em so well----"

"That reminds me. Do you happen to know by sight, or have an
acquaintance with, any of the members of that gang?"

The old man shifted uneasily in his chair, and at last he replied:

"I know one of them--purty well. He calls himself Handsome."

"Good! What does Handsome know about you, Bill?"

"He don't know nothin' about me, 'cept that I'm a woodsman, and that I'm
too old to do him any harm. I helped him once, and once he helped me a
leetle, and we're sort of friends. But I ain't never seen him but twice
in my life, and then both times I met him in the woods, so I ain't never
mentioned nothin' about him to other folks."

"That's splendid! It is just what I hoped. It couldn't be better! I want
you now to tell me what you talked about when you and Handsome met each
other those two times in the woods."

"That's easy. The first time, I was walking through the woods, up about
where you are going--that is, it was in that region--when I heard
somebody hollerin' fur help. At first I couldn't tell for the life of me
where the hollerin' come from; but after a leetle I located it up on the
side of one of them steep hills, and so I crawled up there. Well, when I
got there, I found that a man had slid into a hole in the rocks, and
that he couldn't git out nohow. If I hadn't happened along the chances
are that he'd starved before he'd ha' been helped out."

"And as it was--what?"

"I helped him out. I didn't have no hatchet, but I had a good huntin'
knife along with me, and I managed to whittle down a good-sized spruce,
which I trimmed so's to make a sort of ladder of it. When that was done
I lowered the butt end of it into the hole, and Handsome--that was who
it was in the bottom of the hole--he climbed up so's I could get hold of
him, and then I pulled him out. There wasn't much to that, was there?"

"It saved his life."

"Probably."

"Wasn't he grateful?"

"Suttingly."

"What did you talk about after that?"

"We sot down there a spell and chinned, that's all. He axed me who I
was, and I told him. He axed me if I was long in these parts, and I told
him allers. He axed me where I lived, and I told him about this cottage.
That's all--only he said he was a hobo, and that he was called Handsome.
I allowed that the people who called him that lied mightily; but I
didn't say so jest then."

"What more was talked about?"

"Nothin'."

"When was the next time you saw him?"

"That was in the middle of the summer, and it was farther south--not far
from the railroad tracks."

"Well, what happened then?"

"That was the time he helped me."

"How was that?"

"I can't never tell you exactly how it was, but somehow I had got my
foot wedged in the root of a tree, and I had been tryin' an hour to git
it out, without success. The tree was hard, and I was just tacklin' that
root with my knife--I'd have cut through it in about an hour, I
reckon--when 'long comes that feller Handsome that I had saved from the
hole in the rocks. He had an axe on his shoulder, and when he spied me
he stopped, and laughed, and laughed until I got mad.

"'Caught in yer own trap, ain't ye?' he axed me.

"'I be,' says I. 'You've got a axe, and mebby you kin help me out o'
it.'

"Well, he did. He chopped the root in a jiffy, and I was free; but,
bless you, I could 'a' done it myself with my knife in a hour, anyhow.
All the same, I was grateful to him, and we sot down on a log and
chinned for a while."

"What about?"

"He asked me what I was doing around there, and I told him that I was
thinking of looking over the swamp below the tracks a leetle, with some
idea of settin' traps there late this fall and winter, and he said as
how he wouldn't advise me to do it. He said as how I wouldn't be likely
to ketch the sort of animals I was after, and that some of the animals
might ketch me; and, as I ain't exactly a fule, I ketched onto what he
meant, and I ain't been nigh that place since. And then it turned out
afterward as I thought it would, them hoboes had a hidin' place in that
very swamp."

"Right you are, Bill!" said Nick, laughing. "Is that all the
conversation you had with Handsome?"

"Every bit of it."

"And you have never seen him since?"

"Never. Hold on; he axed me that time if I had ever mentioned the fact
of our fust meetin', and I told him I had not. He seemed pleased at
that, and he told me never to mention it. I allowed that I didn't see no
reason why I should, and he laughed at that and seemed entirely
satisfied."

"That is excellent, Bill. Now, we will get at those plans. I don't want
to lose any time."

"Would you mind telling me why you axed me all about them two meetings?"

"Not at all. When I go out into the woods in the character of Bill
Turner, I am likely at some time to run across Handsome himself. I want
to be posted, so that he won't know but what I am you. I don't want him
to catch me; see?"

"Yes. But do you suppose you kin fix yourself to look enough like me
so's he won't know the difference when he sees you?"

"Certainly."

The old man shook his head.

"I don't believe it," he said, "but maybe you can. How about the voice?
Your voice ain't no more like mine than a----"

"I can do that, too," replied Nick, exactly simulating the voice in
which the old man was speaking; and he looked around him in wonder, and
then at the detective.

"It does beat all!" he said at last. "I guess you're some too many for
me, sir."

"Shall we get at those plans now?"

"Right away."

Turner brought out paper and pencil, and, having cleared the top of his
table, he began to work.

First he drew a large circle on the paper, and at one edge of it he made
a cross.

"That there cross is Calamont," he said. "Where we be now; and all
that's inside of the ring I've made lies to the east of here, from
nor'-nor'east to sou'-sou'east--and east. You understand?"

"Perfectly."

"Well, jest about in the middle o' that ring is the place where I think
them fellers would hide. It's the best place for them."

"Tell me about it before you draw anything; or, rather, talk while you
are drawing."

"That's jest what I'm going to do. Now, you follow my pencil and pay
attention."

"Go ahead," said Nick.

"When you leave here--if you start from Calamont, which I suppose you
will--you start right about here. You take a general direction nor'east
from here at first. You'll find a path through the woods after you git
about two miles from here, and that path will lead you several miles.
But about here it'll disappear, and you won't have nothin' to guide you
'cept what I show you and tell you now."

"Exactly," replied the detective.

"Up here, at about the time you lose all trace o' the path, you'll come
to a deep ravine. You want to follow up the middle of that, to the top.
And when you git to the top of it you will think that you have run up
ag'inst a cliff, and there ain't no gettin' out of it without goin'
back.

"But that ain't so. There's a waterfall at the end of the ravine. It
comes around a sort of a twist in the rocks, and if you ain't afraid of
gettin' damp, you follow around there, and you will find as nice a piece
of steps cut in them stones as you ever saw in your life. Indians cut
'em more'n a hundred years ago, so I'm told.

"Well, they take you to the top of that cliff. When you're up there, you
find you're in another ravine, not so deep as t'other. Right here that
would be," he added, making a mark with the pencil.

"All right," said Nick.

"About a mile farther up that second ravine you want to leave it. You'll
find a big dead oak that hangs out over it, and beside the dead oak
there is a path up the side of the ravine. It is one of my own paths.
You get up it by hangin' onto two things you find there for the purpose.
I put 'em there more'n twenty years ago, mister."

"Go ahead."

"When you git to the top, you want to branch off this way--so. You'll
find a clearin' about there, and off to the east you'll see some high
hills. You want to make for them."

"And those hills, I suppose, is my destination."

"That's where the caves are. That's where you will find the gang if
they are hiding anywhere in that 'ere region."

"Now, tell me about the caverns. Tell me how to find them."

"They're easy enough to find--some of 'em is; others ain't. Wait a
minute."

He pushed that paper aside, and took a fresh one.

"Now, when you come to the hills, you will approach 'em at what we call
the Dog's Nose. So named because that's what it looks like. It's a rock
that sticks out right about here, and you can't miss it. It looks
exactly like a dog's nose, stickin' out and smelling things.

"You want to go right up under that there dog's nose; and when you git
there you'll see a hole in the rock that ain't no bigger than the lower
half of that window. It's a leetle bit of a hole, and it's as dark as a
pocket inside it, too. Nobody, even if they found the hole, would ever
think of going in there. It ain't invitin' to look at."

"How did you happen to go into it?"

"I didn't. I came out of it. I got lost in that cave for three days
once, when I was a boy, and when I found my way out I came out of that
hole. Nobody knows about that entrance but me, though I suppose lots of
folks knows it's there."

"And it communicates with the cave?"

"It does. It'll take you to any part of the cave; and there is only one
rule to follow in going through it. You'll want a light, though."

"I've got the light. What is the rule?"

"Always--no matter where you are in any of them caves, take the way to
the right. Never take a gallery to the left, goin' in either or any
direction. It's a rule that holds good in them caves. It's a sort of way
that nature provided so's you could find your way through there; and I
happened to discover what it was."

"It all sounds very simple and easy."

"And it is, if you've got the pluck and the sand. But it's a ticklish
place. There is a good many places in there that I ain't never explored,
and don't want to; and it's safe to bet that the hoboes ain't done it,
neither. I reckon, mister, that that's about all I kin show you--hold
on, though!"

"What now?"

"Well, there's one place up there which it might be handy for you to
know about, and I don't think anybody but me knows about it, either."

"What is that?"

"Well, you might find occasion to want to hide yourself away while you
are in there."

"That is more than likely, Bill."

"Well, just arter you pass through the hole that is under the Dog's
Nose, and about twenty rods from there, you'll find a place where there
is a bowlder sort of set into the rocks. You won't notice it unless you
look for it, but it is there. Under it you'll find a small stone wedged
fast. If you pull out that small stone, and then push on the big rock,
it'll swing around like it was on a pivot, and you kin step inside the
hole it leaves, and close up the door after you. You'll find an
interestin' place in there, too, if you ever have occasion to use it,
mister; and nobody will find you there, either."



CHAPTER XIII.

BLACK MADGE'S LIEUTENANT.


The detective passed the remainder of that day, and much of the night,
in old Bill Turner's company, and during that time they talked
incessantly about the mountains to which Nick was going, about the
caverns in those mountains, and the trails through them; and when the
conversation was finished Nick felt that he could find his way without
difficulty wherever he cared to go among them.

When he saw that the old man was tired out, he sent him to bed, and
himself dropped upon a couch in Turner's living room, where he slept
like a top till morning.

Soon after dawn they were both astir; and after they had eaten some
breakfast, and Turner had made his usual pilgrimage to the post office,
they began again upon the plans and went over them for the last time.

And then came the task of making the changes in their personal
appearance. This, to the layman, sounds like no easy task; but to Nick
Carter it was merely the practicing of an art of which he was thoroughly
a master.

He had brought with him the things necessary to accomplish the changes;
and when the old man returned from the village he set to work--first
upon himself--for he knew that he must make his own disguise letter
perfect if he hoped to deceive such a man as Handsome.

He first made up his face, not with paints, but with stains that would
not wash off, to represent the leathery, weather-beaten countenance of
the old man; and here he was, perhaps, fortunate in the fact that the
profusion of white whiskers worn by the old man rendered his face the
easier to copy, and in reality concealed much of it from view.

Then he adjusted the beard.

But not as false beards are supposed to be adjusted. This was done
almost hair by hair. That is, the beard was divided into tufts of hair,
and each tuft was stuck on with a glue of Nick's own creation, so that
there was no danger that it would drop off under any circumstances--and
so that it could not be pulled off without drawing patches of skin with
it.

And this was as it should be, since if any one should suppose that the
whiskers might be false, and should seize them and pull sharply upon
them, they would resist the effort exactly as if the beard was natural.

In height the two men were about the same. In figure, the old man was
possibly somewhat stouter than Nick; but there was not enough
difference to be noticeable.

The detective occupied about three hours in making up that disguise, so
particular was he about it; but when it was finished at last it was
perfect. So perfect, indeed, that Turner regarded him in amazement; then
came closer to look into his eyes, and at last he said:

"I'm glad, Mr. Carter, that I didn't meet you on the street in that rig.
It would have frightened me to death. I'd have been sure that I was dead
and had met my own ghost, out for a walk."

That night, when the train bound for the city passed through Calamont at
half-past eleven, a man climbed aboard of it who--if anybody had noticed
him particularly--it would have been supposed was the same French
Canadian lumberman who had appeared there the day before.

But there was no one there save the ticket agent, and he did not notice
particularly. It is certain that he had no idea that in the black-haired
man who went away was old Bill Turner.

But so it was. Nick had made the old man up in a representation of the
Frenchman; or at least near enough to it so that in the darkness the
difference would not be noticed; and the old man, being made to appear
young, really felt young, and he went away joyously.

In his pockets he carried letters; one was to Chick, and the other was
to Joseph, his confidential servant, in case Chick should happen not to
be at home when Turner arrived there.

And those letters gave instructions that Turner was to be treated to
everything he wanted, and that Chick and Ten-Ichi should take turns in
showing him about the city. Nick assured them that they could help him
quite as much in that way as if they were among the mountains with him,
assisting him in the actual work.

And the next morning--the morning after the departure of Turner--Nick
took the old man's place in the customary stroll, or hobble would be a
better word, to the post office.

He stopped and talked with people as he met them, having posted himself,
with the old man's aid, in what he was to say. And he stood around the
post office steps for two hours, as Turner was in the habit of doing.

He was trying out the part; trying it on the dog, so to speak. And he
was thoroughly satisfied with the result.

In his talks there in front of the post office he gave it out that he
was going to take another trip into the woods; and as it was the season
of the year when Turner had been in the habit of being absent, no
surprise was felt. And that afternoon he literally pulled up stakes and
started.

Once he was in the woods, Nick quickened his pace. He realized now that,
figuratively, he had burned his bridges behind him, and that he must see
the thing through to the end.

He did not fear the consequences at all; he felt that there was only one
chance of his failure, and that was in the shrewd eyes and keen
intelligence of Handsome.

Handsome had met Turner twice and talked with him each time. Nick knew
Handsome well enough to know that the outlaw would have studied Turner
very closely at those interviews; the question now was, would Handsome
detect the fraud?

Nick did not think it likely; and, anyhow, the risk had to be taken.

That night the detective made himself a fire and camped in the woods; in
the early morning he started on again.

In due course of time he came to the ravine, and went up it to the top
as the old man had directed him to do. And he went around the "rocks
with a sort of a twist in them" until he found the steps that were cut
in the stones, and so mounted to the top.

Far up the second ravine he found the dead tree that hung over it, and
the pathway up the side of the hill beside it; and that night he camped
again in the woods.

He had not far to go that second morning, after he had eaten some
breakfast, before he arrived at the Dog's Nose. It was ten o'clock in
the morning when he got there.

All that morning Nick had noticed signs that he was approaching the
region where he would find the hobo gang. He had seen where trees had
been chopped down and corded up for firewood; and there were many other
signs that many men were in the vicinity.

When he came to the shelter of the Dog's Nose, he stopped there, and,
having fixed himself a temporary camp, resolved that he would remain
there until night, for he had some hope that some of the hoboes would
happen along, and that he could talk with them.

That was his game; not to sneak upon them unawares, but to let it be
known that he was in the neighborhood, so that Handsome would come to
him. He wanted that ordeal over with Handsome as soon as possible.

He was destined not to be disappointed. The afternoon was well advanced
when Handsome suddenly stepped out of a cluster of balsams, and stood
before him.

He had approached as silently as an Indian; as if he had passed his life
in woodcraft, and, indeed, Nick had no doubt that he had.

For a moment he stood there near the balsams, silently regarding the
detective; and Nick, perfectly acting the part of Turner, looked up and
nodded, but said nothing.

After a little Handsome strode forward, no longer taking care to remain
quiet; and he seated himself on a log near Nick, and facing him, while
at the same time he toyed with apparent carelessness with a revolver he
held in his hand.

"What brings you here, Turner?" he asked at last.

"The season of the year brings me," was the reply. "I have come here
every autumn at this time for more'n fifty years."

"Indeed!" Handsome looked at him with new interest. "Is that true?" he
asked.

"I wouldn't have any reason to lie to ye, would I?" asked Nick. "Old
Bill Turner hasn't missed a year in fifty years in coming here, Mr.
Handsome."

"Then you must know these hills mighty well, eh?"

"I know every inch of 'em; every leaf that falls on 'em, almost. That's
the way I know 'em."

"And do you know about the places under the hills as well?"

"Do you mean the caves?"

"I do."

"I know 'em purty well--yes. There is some parts of 'em that nobody
knows, I reckon; and while I--well, maybe I don't know all about 'em,
and maybe I'd get lost in 'em now; only I don't think so."

"What do you know about that hole up there, under that rock that is
shaped like the nose of a dog?"

"I know it's a hole. I reckon that's about all that anybody knows about
it. It's a dark sort of a place. I ain't got no fancy for goin' into
it."

"Does it connect with the main part of the cavern?"

"Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn't; but most likely it does; only I
don't think that anybody would be after trying to find out."

"You have never been through that hole, then?"

"I ain't never been inside of it," replied Nick, with perfect truth.

Handsome thought a moment, and then he asked suddenly:

"Turner, who sent you up here?"

"Nobody sent me; why?"

"Didn't the people of Calamont send you to find me and my followers?"

"Nary a bit of it."

"Well, now that you have seen me, and know that I am here, and therefore
guess that others are here with me, what would you do about it if you
should go back to Calamont now, and somebody there should ask you if you
had seen me?"

"Look here, Handsome, I don't meddle with other people's affairs. I want
'em to leave mine alone, and consequently I leave theirn alone. You hear
me speak!"

"But what answer would you make if that question was asked of you?"

"I probably shouldn't answer at all."

"Suppose an answer was insisted upon?"

"I ain't never found nobody yet who could make old Bill Turner answer a
question if he didn't want to."

"Do you mean that you would not wish to answer that question?"

"Look here, Handsome, if you want me to promise that I won't tell on ye,
why don't you say so? What you and your fellers do ain't none of my
funeral, so long as you leave me alone. Do you think I came up here to
spy on you?"

"That is what I thought when I first discovered you."

"Well, forget it. I ain't carryin' no tales. I'd 'a' been dead long ago
if I had done that. Life's too short. I ain't never mentioned to nobody
about the two times I have met you, and I ain't likely to, either. I
ain't got time. You ain't robbed my house, and I don't care what you do
as long as you leave me alone."

Again Handsome was silent a while, and then he said suddenly:

"Turner, would you like to go to our camp?"

"No; that is, I ain't particular about it. You might think I was trying
to spy on ye--or some of the men might, and that would make me mad."

"They won't think anything of the kind if I take you there."

"All right. If you want me to go--I'll go."

"Come along, then. You have got this far, and we've either got to trust
you, or kill you. It will depend upon you which that will be."

Keeping in his mind's eye the plans that Turner had made for him, Nick
knew perfectly the route over which Handsome led him on the way to the
camp, to which he had referred.

It was a picturesque place. Turner had described it in detail to the
detective, and had mentioned it as the most likely place for the outlaws
to make their headquarters. He had said:

"Ye see, mister, it's a sort of sasser in the mountings. There ain't
only one way to git to it from the outside, and that is a purty hard
one; so hard that half a dozen men could hold it agin' a thousand; and
the other way to git to it is through the caves; and ye've got to know
them galleries mighty well in order to find yer way through. I think
you'll do it, because you act as if you had been in caves afore."

The place was a "sasser" in the mountains, sure enough. On every side of
it there were frowning cliffs, which rose hundreds of feet in the air;
and these cliffs were as inaccessible from the outside as they were from
the saucer itself. There was only one pathway, and that was through a
narrow fissure, barely wide enough for one big man to walk through it.

And this latter could have been stopped up with rocks in half an hour,
so that nobody could get through it.

Handsome made the supposed Turner walk in front of him when they entered
the fissure; and thus it was that they appeared on the opposite side of
it; then Handsome took the lead.

Already the hoboes had erected cabins of slabs and of logs; and many of
them were still at work building others; but as with one accord they
ceased to work when they saw Handsome approaching with the old man; and
they stared at him.

"Have you got another one, Handsome?" somebody called out to him; but
Handsome deigned no reply, passing on in silence, and leading the way to
a cabin that was larger and better than the others, and which stood
exactly in the centre of the miniature valley.

Nick guessed that this was the temporary home of Black Madge, and he
was, therefore, not at all surprised when she stepped out upon the porch
in front of it.

She showed her white and even teeth, and smiled, in her own bold way, as
Handsome approached her, with Nick in tow; and she asked, as soon as
they were near enough:

"Whom have we here?"

"It is the old chap I have told you about, Madge," replied Handsome.

"Sent here to spy upon us, I suppose," she smiled scornfully. "Why
didn't you shoot him at once instead of bringing him here?"

Before Handsome could reply, Nick wheeled upon him.

"Didn't I tell ye so?" he demanded, with a show of anger. "Didn't I tell
ye so? Didn't I say that they be thinking that I was a spy; but you
wouldn't have it so? Tell me that."

"I don't think he is a spy, Madge," said Handsome. "Remember that I have
known him for a considerable time. And I have found him on the level."

Madge shrugged her shoulders.

"All right," she said. "That is, all right this time. Only now that he
is here, he stays. Don't forget that."

"Oh, I haven't forgotten that."

"Nobody leaves this valley without my permission; not a single one."

"They are all pretty well satisfied that you mean that, Madge."

"Now, tell me what you brought the old man here for."

"Because he knows every inch of the galleries inside those caves. I want
to know about them myself, and I want the old man to teach me about
them. The time will come, Madge, when we will be mighty glad to know
about those galleries."

"Possibly so," she replied. "Do as you like with him; only
remember--nobody leaves this valley without my permission. When I get
the men thoroughly organized and so they will do what I want them to do,
then I will turn loose upon the world one of the best--and the
worst--criminal organizations that has ever been heard of. Do what you
please with the old man. He looks old enough to have been dead long
ago."

"And as old as I am, madam, I've never before heard a woman speak so to
me," said Nick, as if he were hurt by it.

Madge turned to him quickly.

"You mustn't mind what I say--always Turner," she said. "I have a habit
of speaking harshly at times; but I am not unkind to those who are true
to me. Do you happen to know a man who is named Nick Carter?"

She asked the question suddenly, as if she expected the utterance of the
name would make the supposed Turner start with surprise; but Nick looked
at her quite calmly, and replied:

"I know the name. He's a detective chap, ain't he? I heerd about him;
something about that bank robbery."

"Is he in Calamont now, Turner?"

"No, ma'am; he ain't."

"You speak positively."

"Well, I know he wasn't there when I came out of town; and I didn't hear
that he was expected there, nuther. And if he had been expected there
I'd 'a' heerd it. There ain't nothin' goin' on in that town that I don't
hear about."

"Do you know if he has been sent for?"

"I ain't heerd nothin' about his bein' sent for, ma'am."

"If, some day, I should decide to send you into the village to do some
errands for me, do you suppose you could make some inquiries about Nick
Carter for me, and at the same time forget all that you know about us,
who are here?"

"I reckon I could, ma'am."

"I'll think about it. I may want to use you," she said; and turned away.
But she stopped and turned toward them again, calling to Handsome, who
went to her side; but Nick could hear the conversation that passed
between them.

"What about that fellow Pat?" she heard Madge inquire; and he could
barely refrain from giving a start that might have betrayed him, for
that question told him plainly that Patsy had already managed to arrive
among the hoboes, and--that his fate still hung in the balance. He
listened eagerly for Handsome's reply.

"I haven't had a chance to examine him yet," he said. "You wished me to
talk with him before I brought him to you."

"Go and bring him here now. Leave Turner here with me until you return."

"Get up there on the porch and sit down, Turner," he said. "Smoke your
pipe if you wish to. The queen won't object. I'll be back in a moment."

But when Handsome had hurried away to bring Patsy, and Nick had seated
himself upon a rustic chair, Madge came and stood in front of him.

"Turner," she said severely. "Tell me the truth now. What brought you
into this neighborhood?"

"The season of the year brought me," Nick replied to her as he had done
to Handsome.

"Who sent you?"

"Nobody sent me, ma'am."

"Swear to that."

"'Tain't necessary. I have said it."

"Do you know what would happen to you if I should find that you were
acting as a spy?"

"I suppose I could guess."

"I'd have you burned at the stake, just as Indians used to burn their
captives."

"Well, ma'am, I reckon I've lived too long a time now to be much afraid
of death. When a man has passed eighty, he ain't much afraid of things."

"Are you as old as that?"

"Old Bill Turner is eighty-four, ma'am; but he don't look it, does he?"

"No. I wish I could feel sure of you. I wish I could feel sure that you
are not a spy."

"Well, ma'am, it's my experience that we can't somehow help our feelings
much. If you are in doubt about it, treat it as you would an
earache--with silent contempt. Doubts, ma'am, are suthin' like boils;
they're the devil and all while you've got 'em; but they do get well
arter a while. You ain't got no call to doubt old Bill Turner, as I
knows on."

"I'll talk with you again, Turner. In the meantime, see that you walk in
a straight line."

"I can't do that no more. My old feet ain't so steady as they used to
be. But I'll do the best I can."

"We can't ask anybody to do more than that. Now keep silent. Here comes
Handsome with another man who I fear may be a spy."

Patsy, with his hair a brick-red, and with spots and freckles on his
face that were a sight to see, came forward at that moment, led by
Handsome.

His hands were tied together behind his back, and he looked as if he had
been treated rather badly. However, there was a grin upon his face as he
approached, and ducked his head in what was intended to be a polite bow
to the queen of the outlaws.

"So you have come back again?" she demanded of him abruptly.

"Yes, I'm back, your honor--I mean, ma'am," he replied, grinning the
more.

"Where have you been while you were away, then? Tell me that?"

"Well, sure, your majesty, I was a-runnin' most of the time. When the
fire broke out down there, and the divil to pay generally, they all
thinkin' as how it was y'rsilf that was bein' burrnt to death inside the
cottage, I helped all I could until it was found out that it wasn't you,
at all, at all, but a dummy that had been fixed up to look like you. And
then when the hull bunch of the spalpeens went crazy and tried to find
out what had become of you, it wasn't long until I found out that I was
all alone in that place, the rest having gone in search of you. And
after that I thought it wasn't healthy for me around there."

"I think you're a spy, Pat," she said coldly.

"Divil a bit of it. Who says so? Don't you belave it!"

"Why did you not stay with the rest of the men, then?"

"Divil a wan of me can tell that same, now. I clean forget. I think I
was scared out of me two wits. If I had been a long time wid yez, instid
of bein' there only wan day, sure I'd have remained, so I would. But I'd
been there so little that I thought it wasn't healthy for me. That's
all."

"What made you come back now?"

"Sure I heard that ye'd escaped from your jailers, and I knowed that
you'd be after protecting me. Didn't you tell me that I was all right?
And, thinks I, if I can find 'em now, sure the quane will be after
takin' care of me; and here I am."

"When I heard that you had returned, I made up my mind to have you
shot!"

"Oh, glory be to gracious! Don't be after doin' that same, your honor!
Faith, why should ye be after shootin' the likes of me? I ain't done
nothin' at all."

Patsy, with a perfect assumption of fright, fell upon his knees before
the woman and raised his hands beseechingly to her.

And for a moment she looked down upon him with cold contempt in her
eyes. It was evident to Nick, who was watching the scene narrowly, that
she was coldly calculating the chances of letting him live, and that a
breath upon the scales either way would decide her.

For a long time she remained in the same attitude, and then she raised
her head and spoke to Handsome.

"When one in my position is in any doubt," she said coldly, "there is
only one thing to do, and that is to give myself, not the other person,
the benefit of the doubt. That is what I have decided to do, Handsome.
Take him away."

"What shall I do with him?"

"Take him back to the cabin where he was tied up, and tie him up again.
To-night, when the fires are lit, we will convene a court and try him. I
will be the judge at that trial, and after it is over we will probably
hang him. I see no other way. Take him away. Go."



CHAPTER XIV.

BLACK MADGE GIVES JUDGMENT.


It was a strange scene upon which the light of a huge camp fire shone
that night, in the mountain retreat of the outlaws.

A stake had been set in the ground, and to this Patsy was tied, so that
all could see him plainly. Somewhat to one side, on a huge rustic chair,
made by one of the men, the queen was seated in state, ready to act as
judge at the trial that was to begin, and Cremation Mike was selected as
prosecuting attorney.

A jury of twelve of the men had been drawn, only it was a foregone
conclusion that they would bring in their verdict according as the queen
should direct.

Handsome acted as master of ceremonies, and around them was gathered the
entire membership of Black Madge's hobo gang--as villainous a looking
crew as might be imagined.

As yet, no one had been appointed to defend Pat, and now Madge raised
one hand, when she was ready to begin the trial, and she announced:

"There is no one who has offered to act as attorney for the prisoner.
This trial will afford you some amusement, my men. We will have a good
time out of it, anyhow, before we hang him. I will appoint counsel for
him."

They were all silent, waiting, and presently she spoke again.

"I will name the old man there, Bill Turner, as counsel for the defense.
Will you defend the man, Turner?"

"I'll try to, madam, though I don't know anything about the case. He may
be guilty for all I know. What is he charged with?"

"With being a spy."

"If you want me to defend him, I'll do my best."

"Go ahead, then. Let the trial begin," she ordered.

The prosecution took up the case; that is, Cremation Mike got upon his
feet and began to make a speech to the jury. He said:

"We've got proof enough that the man is a spy, ain't we, mates? We all
know what happened down there in the swamp, the time that Nick Carter
got among us, and carried away Black Madge almost before our eyes, and
we none the wiser for it. We know how Nick Carter set the cottage afire
after drugging Madge, and how then he fixed up a dummy in one of the
windows, so that we would think that she was burning up. We know that,
don't we, mates?

"And don't we know that there were four men who came to our camp in the
swamp at the same time, and who came together? Wasn't one of that four
Nick Carter himself? And were not two others of that same four Nick
Carter's assistants? And who was the fourth one of that four? Why, it
was that cove there, tied to the stake, and waiting for you to hang him.

"Would he have been in that sort of company if he hadn't been made out
of the same kind of cloth? Didn't he come there with that other outfit?
Didn't we prove--that is, didn't Madge prove that one of the four was
Nick Carter; that another of the four was his assistant, who is called
Chick? And that still another of the four was another assistant, who is
called Ten-Ichi?

"And don't you know that Nick Carter has got still another assistant,
and that his other assistant is named Patsy? Haven't you heard of that?
It is true. And so is this fellow's name Pat--or Patsy. It is all the
same.

"Now, again, didn't they come here together? Didn't Handsome find them
camping in the woods, waiting for a chance to get to our camp, and
didn't this fellow tell him the first one of the bunch that he was
looking for Hobo Harry, the Beggar King--and ain't Hobo Harry and Black
Madge one and the same? I tell you, there ain't any doubt that the man
is a spy, and that he ought to be hanged.

"Now, do you guns remember what happened the night of the fire, the time
when Nick Carter got away with Madge, and took her to jail? I'll remind
you of it. Don't you remember that when we found the other two out, they
were sent to the quicksand pit? I was one of those who helped to throw
them into the quicksand pit. Did you ever hear of anybody's getting out
of that pit alive? I never did until that incident; but I have found out
since that both those assistants, Chick and Ten-Ichi, are alive and
kicking, down in New York, this very day.

"Well, who got 'em out of that quicksand pit, then? Why, this fellow!
That is where he was, and what he was doing while we were fighting the
fire, and don't you forget it! We was all too busy to remember about the
men we had chucked into the sand; but he didn't forget. For why? Because
he was one of them himself, and because he had determined all along to
go to that pit as soon as ever he could, and get them out of it.

"How'd he get 'em out, you ask? I don't know. I only know that he did
get 'em out somehow, for they are out. I know that for certain."

Nick, in the character of Turner, leaped to his feet.

"I object!" he cried out. "This man ain't tryin' this case fair. I don't
know who he is, and I don't keer a cuss; I only know that you app'inted
me to defend him, and I'm a-goin' to do it till you tell me to stop. I
object, ma'am, to the course he is adoptin'. It ain't fair. He's making
a lot of statements the which he ain't got a shadow of proof about. I
don't know anything about that air fire he speaks about, 'ceptin' what
I've heerd down at Calamont. But we ain't got the fire here as a
witness; and we ain't got the quicksand here as a witness; and we ain't
got the two men as he says was saved from it here as witnesses. And
unless he can produce witnesses to testify to what he says about them
air escapes, I move that the hull speech he made be strucken out, your
honor. Let him call his witnesses to the stand, and swear 'em, or swear
at 'em. Let him do suthin, 'cept standing up there and shootin' off his
mouth."

Madge smiled grimly. She was getting more enjoyment out of this affair
than she had anticipated.

"Call your witnesses, Mike," she said.

"I ain't got none, Madge, to swear to what I have said, but every one
here knows it is the solemn truth. I don't need no witnesses. However,
I'll put Handsome on the stand fur a minute, about the way the bunch
arrived at our camp, if you say so."

"I think it would be a good idea. It would be more regular."

"All right, Madge. Handsome, take the stand. Hold up your right hand,
and swear that you'll tell the truth. That's all right. Now, did you
hear what I said about your findin' that outfit in the woods north of
the track?"

"I did."

"Wasn't it the dead-level truth?"

"It was."

"The hull four was there, warn't they?"

"They were."

"And they was all strangers?"

"They were."

"You never seen any one of them afore that time, had you?"

"Never."

"And, later, wasn't it found out that three of 'em were spies?"

"It was."

"And wasn't one of the spies Nick Carter himself?"

"Yes."

"And weren't the other two his assistants?"

"They were."

"Didn't they confess it?"

"They did."

"And weren't they afterward thrown into the quicksand pit to die?"

"They were."

"Did they die there?"

"I don't think they did."

"Don't you know that they escaped?"

"I'm reasonably certain of it."

"How did they escape?"

"I don't know that."

"Isn't it your opinion that this galoot here----"

"I object!" shouted Nick.

"Oh, well," exclaimed Mike, in disgust, "ask him some questions
yourself, then."

"I will. Handsome, when did you first see them four in the woods north
o' the track?"

"Oh, I don't know. Before dark that night."

"Was they together?"

"Part of the time."

"Only part o' the time? What do you mean by that?"

"They didn't come there together."

"Oh, didn't they? Where was you?"

"I was hiding, and watching them."

"So you saw 'em all when they arrived there, did you?"

"Yes."

"Who got there first?"

"This man--Pat."

"Did the others appear to know him?"

"No; but they didn't appear to know each other, either."

"But if they were spies, and you afterward proved that they were, and if
they got there, and found Pat already there, it would be natural that
they should act as if they didn't know each other, wouldn't it, in order
to deceive him?"

"I suppose so."

"Have you ever seen anything suspicious about the prisoner?"

"No; only his disappearance after the fire and the arrest of Madge."

"P'r'aps he kin explain that."

"He can't. He has tried already. You heard him. I don't call that an
explanation, but it is probably the best he can give."

"Would you be afraid to trust him now?"

"Personally? I don't think I would."

"Then, personally, you don't think that he is a spy?"

"No; but I don't _know_ that he isn't."

"That'll do. I don't want to ask you any more questions." He turned to
Cremation Mike. "Have you got any more witnesses?" he asked.

"No," with a grin. "I don't need no more."

"Maybe not. But I've got one witness."

"Oh! Have you. Who is it?"

"I'm going to put the prisoner on the stand."

But Madge was plainly tired of the amusement already. She rose in her
place, and her eyes were flashing darkly.

"We will stop this farce here and now," she said. "It won't do any good,
anyhow. I can see plainly enough that there are some here who believe he
is a spy. I am a good deal of that opinion myself; and as there is a
doubt in my mind, I'll just settle the thing right now. Jury, you can
find the man guilty. That's what he is, probably."

"Guilty," said the jury, with one voice, and grinning.

"Prisoner," continued Madge, "you have got until to-morrow morning, at
nine o'clock, to live. At that time the boys will take you to some
convenient tree, and hang you by the neck until you're dead--and that
settles it."

Things looked dark for Patsy. It was quite evident that Black Madge was
in deadly earnest in what she had said. One life more or less was
absolutely nothing to her, and if there was the breath of a suspicion
against one, it was, from her standpoint, better to put that one out of
the way at once than to run any sort of risk by permitting him to live.

Nor did the hoboes who had gathered there to hear and to witness the
trial hesitate to voice their sentiments about it by loud cheering when
Madge uttered the sentence of death. It would be a hanging, indeed, and
it did not make much difference to them who was hung. It has been said
before that they were much like wild beasts, or dogs, who are without
any quality of compassion.

When Nick walked away from the scene of the trial near the fire, he
found that Handsome was beside him, and then, before either uttered a
word, Madge joined them.

She was smiling as if she were well pleased with her evening's work, and
she said to the detective:

"You did well, Turner. One would suppose that you had at some time been
a lawyer."

"I'd 'a' got the man free if I'd had a fair judge and jury," replied
Nick boldly, stroking the white whiskers he wore.

Madge frowned. Then she laughed aloud.

"I like you for your boldness," she said. "But have a care that you do
not find yourself suddenly in the same predicament, Turner."

"I'd be inclined to shoot myself afore I came to trial, if I should,"
Nick retorted.

They had reached Madge's cabin by this time, and now they mounted to the
porch, and Nick pulled out an old pipe that Turner had given him, filled
it, and lighted it.

The detective was determined in his own mind that before the dawn of
another day he would find some way to save Patsy; but how it was to be
done he had no idea.

He did not know yet what disposition they intended to make of him. For
all he knew they might send him into one of the cabins and lock him up
for the night. But he did know that unless he acted, Patsy would be
murdered at sunrise the following morning, and he did not intend to
permit that to happen.

"Miss Madge," he said, after a pause, during which he had smoked in
silence, "if it is all the same to you, I'd like to know what you intend
to do with me to-night. I'm an old man, and I'm sorter 'customed to
going to bed rayther early, so, if you don't mind, and you'll tell me
where I'm to sleep, I think I'll turn in."

Instead of replying directly to him, Madge turned to Handsome.

"What shall we do with him?" she asked. "You are responsible for his
being here. I think I will turn him over to you."

"All right," said Handsome, rising. "I'll take him to my own cabin.
He'll be safe enough there. I'll be back in a minute, Madge."

Nick followed him across the floor of the little valley to a hut that
was at the opposite side of it, and close to the cliff--and Nick knew at
once, from his recollection of the plan he had studied, that he was
quite near to the entrance to the cavern.

The cabin consisted of only one room, in which two bunks had been
roughly built, and, after lighting a candle, Handsome indicated one of
these, and said:

"You can sleep there, Turner. Turn in when you like. To-morrow we will
explore the caves together."

"Right you are," said Nick, yawning widely. "I shan't need any rocking
this night. My old legs are tired out for sure."

Two minutes after the departure of Handsome, Nick blew out the candle,
and for a time he stretched himself in the bunk, lest Handsome should
return to see that all was right. But it was speedily evident to the
detective that Handsome had no suspicion whatever of him, and had,
therefore, left him to his own devices.

But Nick knew that it could not be very long before the outlaw would
return to seek his own rest and repose, and that he must, therefore,
determine upon what he was to do before he should return.

Ten minutes he lay there, and then he rose slowly and cautiously from
the bunk and crept to the door which had been left open, and peered out.

The fires were still blazing merrily, and many of the men were gathered
around them. Some of the men were playing cards, and the others were
engaged in various ways. At all events, they one and all seemed to have
forgotten his existence, and that was what he chiefly desired.

Nick knew in which cabin Patsy was a prisoner. He could see it from the
doorway where he was standing, almost opposite him at the other side of
the valley. The distance in feet from his own position was about the
distance of a city block--two hundred feet.

The old silver watch, the size of a turnip, which Turner had carried
forty years or more, was in his pocket, and by the light of the stars
Nick managed to see the time--ten o'clock.

"There is no time like the present," he mused to himself, while he
hesitated in the doorway. "If I wait until all is quiet, I will stand
all the more chance of being discovered; and, besides, it won't be long
until Handsome returns here, and after he has come and crawled into his
bunk it will be next to impossible for me to get out of here without
rousing him--unless I should drug him, and that will not do at all.
Handsome is altogether too fly for that. He would know that he had been
drugged.

"Now, if it wasn't for these white whiskers, I could creep around the
edge of the bottom of the cliff to the cabin where Patsy is, without
being noticed; and I dare not take them off----"

He stopped there. There was absolutely no use in conjecturing upon the
"ifs" of the question, and so, after another moment, during which he
studied the lay of the land intently, he slipped noiselessly out at the
door and around behind the cabin, and from there crept on his hands and
knees to the bottom of the cliffs. And there he discovered what he had
been unable to see in the imperfect light. The grass there was quite
tall, where it had not been trampled by the feet of the motley crew that
infested the place, and he found that by lying at full length and
pulling himself slowly along on his stomach he would be able to conceal
himself almost entirely from view.

Nick made that half circle of the small valley, crawling in that way,
and entirely without being discovered; and in that manner he arrived
directly in the rear of the cabin where Patsy was a prisoner.

But here a new difficulty confronted him. There was a guard in front of
the door, and that guard, strangely enough, was Cremation Mike.

The cabin in which Patsy was a prisoner was built of roughly hewn logs,
the crevices and chinks being stopped with mud and clay. The ground
beneath it was hard--rocky, in fact; so there was no possibility of
digging under the logs without tools to do it, and even then it would
have taken too much time to accomplish it.

Nick turned his attention to Cremation Mike. He was seated upon a
convenient stump, smoking a short pipe. His back was toward the door of
the cabin, and he was about ten feet from it. The door itself had been
fastened by passing a freshly cut sapling across its front, and slipping
either end of it into rustic slots that had been hastily fashioned for
the purpose.

It was plain that there was only one way to get Patsy outside of that
cabin, and that was to overcome Cremation Mike; and, having determined
upon this, Nick crept forward as silently as a shadow, and so rounded
the corner of the cabin, and presently came up half standing, directly
behind the unsuspecting outlaw.

Nick did not wish to kill the man, but he did want to knock him out so
effectually that he could not interfere in what was to follow, and
therefore he had picked up a piece of round, smooth stone, which he had
wrapped in his handkerchief.

And now, with this improvised weapon, he struck Cremation Mike sharply
on the back of his head, with the result that Mike pitched forward, and
would have fallen to the ground had not Nick managed to catch him. Then
he laid him down gently upon the ground, and turning swiftly, opened the
door of the cabin.

"Quick, Patsy!" he called in a sharp whisper. "It is I. Nick. Come."

Patsy, who had not been bound, it seemed, leaped to the door with a low
exclamation of surprise and pleasure.

"Bully, Nick," he whispered. "I thought it was all up with me that time.
And do you know, it never once occurred to me that the old man might be
you. The disguise is perfect."

"Come," said Nick. "There is no time for words now. Follow me, and do
exactly as I do. I want to get back to my own sleeping place before my
absence is discovered, if it is possible to do so. But, first, is there
any sort of a chair or stool inside that cabin?"

"Yes. A stool."

"Bring it out, if you know where to put your hand upon it."

Patsy brought it in a twinkling, and, placing it against the stump, Nick
propped the senseless form of Mike upon it, so that from the front it
appeared as if he were seated there quite naturally.

"He will come around presently," said Patsy, "and miss me."

"Let him. That is what I want him to do," replied Nick. "Come on, now."

He dropped upon his knees again, and, with Patsy following, they crept
around through the grass again along the edge of the cliff, and at last
reached the cabin from which the detective had started.

But he did not stop here. He made at once for the entrance to the
cavern, which was near at hand, and passed inside, with Patsy following
closely behind him; and then with his electric flash light, he led the
way along the corridor of the cave--for it was his object to find that
hiding place to which Turner had directed him in case he found it
necessary to hide.

"Keep to the right always in that cave, no matter which way you are
going," Turner had told him with emphasis, and remembering that now,
while he wondered if, after all, there were two corridors to the cavern,
he followed the rule, and almost on a run--for the passage was quite
smooth before them--he led the way through.

They came at last to the bowlder to which Turner had referred, and Nick
removed the small stone from beneath it. And then he pushed upon it as
Turner had directed, with the result that the rock swung open before
them, leaving an aperture through which they could easily pass.

But Nick did not enter. Instead he thrust a candle and a box of matches
into Patsy's grasp, and said to him:

"Remain here until I come for you, even if you get hungry. I don't know
any more about what is ahead of you than you do. I only know that you
will be safe there. We have no time to talk now. I will shut this rock
behind you."

Then he turned and sped away.



CHAPTER XV.

NICK'S CLEVEREST CAPTURE.


Nick Carter made his way as rapidly back through the cavern as he had
gone through it with Patsy; but when he arrived at the entrance he came
to a stop, and then went ahead again very slowly.

He had no idea how long a time he had been gone, nor what might have
happened during his absence. But when he peered out upon the valley,
everything was apparently in the condition in which he had left it. If
there had been any change at all, it was only that fewer of the men were
gathered around the fires. Otherwise everything was the same.

And so, with all the swiftness he could muster, he crawled to the cabin
which Handsome had given him to occupy, entered it cautiously, and,
finding it empty, crawled into the bunk that had been allotted to
him--tired, but rejoiced to think that he had succeeded so well where
there had been such small chance of success.

And it so happened that he had barely laid himself down and composed
himself to wait for developments, when a great cry went up, which was
immediately followed by other shouts and loud curses--and Nick knew that
the escape of Patsy had been discovered, and that he had returned just
in time to avoid the consequences.

Almost immediately following upon the utterance of the shouts, the door
of the cabin flew open, and Handsome leaped inside, his eyes ablaze, and
his whole form quivering with rage--and he carried a flash light, which
he threw at once into the detective's face; into the face of the man he
supposed to be Bill Turner.

Nick could see that the instant the light fell upon him Handsome seemed
greatly relieved; and then, before the outlaw could utter a word, Nick
cried out in the voice of old Turner:

"What--what's all that row about, Handsome?" and he blinked his eyes as
if he had just been awakened.

"It's lucky for you that you don't know what it's about!" was Handsome's
rejoinder. "Get out of that, Turner, and come along with me."

"But, what's the matter?" demanded Nick, sliding out of the bunk. "What
has happened?"

"That fellow Pat has escaped--that's what!" was the reply.

"Sho! You don't say so! Well, well, well! When did he do it?"

"I haven't found out yet. Come along. I thought at first that maybe you
had had a hand in it--but I see you did not."

"What! Me?"

Every hobo that belonged to the gang had gathered in the centre of the
place near where the mock trial had been held, and they were talking
earnestly together. Cremation Mike, with one hand held at the back of
his head, was the centre of the group--or rather of the throng.

But Handsome burst unceremoniously through the crowd and confronted
Mike, Nick following at his heels.

Black Madge forced her way through it at the same time from the opposite
side.

"Now, Mike," said Handsome savagely. "Tell me how this happened."

"I don't know. All that I know is, I got a crack on the head from
behind. When I woke up, the bar had been ripped off the door and the
bird had flown. That's all I know."

"How long ago did it happen?"

"How do I know that? Unless some one can tell how long I've been
unconscious. But I'll bet my hat that it ain't ten minutes. I don't
think it's three minutes. He can't be far away, and"--grinning--"he
can't get away. He can't go through the pass, because the guards are
there; I posted them myself; and the only way in which he could hope to
get out is through the cave, and I don't believe he could find his way
through there. I know that I wouldn't try it myself. I'd rather stay
here and be hung."

Madge interrupted the conversation here.

"Do you think that he got out of the cabin without aid?" she asked of
Mike. "Do you believe that it was he who struck you, Mike?"

"I do, Madge. I'm sure of it."

"Then, you weren't keeping good guard, that's all."

"Well, I never thought it was possible for him to get out of that cabin.
It may be that I dozed. I didn't suppose I did, but----"

"But," said Madge icily, "the point is this: The boys shall not be
disappointed in the hanging bee they were to hold in the morning. It is
up to you, Mike, to find the prisoner. If you don't find him in time,
you shall hang in his place--that's all. I mean it."

Cremation Mike's face turned to the color of chalk, for he realized that
she did, indeed, mean what she said. For a moment he stood there
trembling, and then he seized a lantern which one of the men was
holding, and cried out:

"Come along, whoever will help me. I know that he can't have gone far.
He ain't had time. I know it. Come along."

"Wait," said Handsome coolly; and he turned to Nick.

"Turner," he said, "I begin to think that it is fortunate that you came
here when you did."

"I am sure of it," said Nick in reply.

"You know that cave from end to end, don't you?"

"I think I do."

"Then, you shall act as guide."

"All right. I'm ready."

But this short conversation had called the attention of Madge to the
supposed old man, whom she had for the moment forgotten, and now she
turned savagely upon him.

"I believe that you are at the bottom of this," she said, her eyes
blazing.

Before Nick could make any reply, Handsome broke in.

"That is nonsense, Madge," he said. "I know it. As soon as there was an
alarm--as soon as Mike yelled out that the prisoner had escaped, I
legged it for the cabin, and I found Turner just waking up from his
sleep. He had no hand in it. He couldn't."

"It's lucky for you," said Madge, still eying Nick sharply.

"Will you guide us through the cave, Turner?" demanded Handsome.

"Sure."

"Then, come on."

"Hold on a minute," said Nick. "Don't you think it would be a good idea
to send some of the men to guard the other entrances? If the prisoner
hasn't had time to get through the cave yet, and if he should happen to
find one of the ways out on the other side, he'd run right into the
arms of whoever was on the watch."

"Good!" said Handsome. "We know of two outside entrances. How many do
you know about?"

"Four," replied Nick. "Four, not counting the hole under the Dog's Nose.
That may be an entrance; but one man can guard that."

"Where are those entrances?"

Glibly Nick described how they might be found, using the exact language
that had been used by the old man in his description of them; and after
a short delay four men were sent away to each of the entrances, on a
run, with instructions to remain on guard before them until they should
be relieved.

"Now," said Nick, when they had gone, "we know that the prisoner can't
escape. We know it's only a matter of time when he'll be
caught--therefore, we needn't hurry. Don't you agree with me, Handsome?
He can't get out of the cave at any of the entrances, without being
captured or shot down, an', o' course, he can't come back this way
without meetin' with the same fate. Ain't that right?"

"I guess it is," agreed Handsome.

"Ain't that right, Miss Madge?" asked Nick again, turning to her.

"It sounds entirely reasonable," she replied. "There has been only one
mistake made from the start of this affair, and that is that Pat was not
shot down when he first showed himself here. As it stands now, he has
temporarily made his escape. I am satisfied, now, that he is a spy, and
I commission each one of you to shoot him down without mercy, on sight.
I shall go with you into the cave to search."

"Do you wish me to direct the search?" asked Nick, still standing
quietly before her.

"Yes. What have you to suggest?"

"This: There be four entrances outside o' the one here in this little
valley. I should divide the men into four parts. I kin direct each party
so that it won't have no difficulty in followin' the cavern and
searching it thoroughly to the entrance. I'll take one o' the parties.
How many men are there here now?"

"Let me see," replied Madge. "Sixteen have gone away to guard the
entrances, and four will have to remain here on guard. That takes away
twenty. We still have eighty left."

"Good. That'll give us twenty in each party. Now, madam, it's for you to
say who'll lead them. Tell me who the leaders will be, and I'll instruct
'em at once."

She picked out four of the men, and ordered them to step forward; and,
one by one, Nick directed each of them how to proceed after he had
passed the entrance of the cavern with the men who were to follow him;
and he made the directions so explicit that there was not one who had
any doubt about being able to follow them.

It was as Nick had suspected it would be; that Madge did not yet trust
him far enough to give him the sole leadership of one of the parties,
but she directed that Handsome should go with him--and at the last
moment, when they were ready to start, and after the other three parties
had entered the cavern, she decided to accompany Nick's party herself.

"I may as well go along," she said. "I would like to learn something
about the interior of that cavern myself, and I don't know a better way
to learn it than to go with you."

And so it was that presently the detective found himself in the cavern,
leading twenty-two persons, for the extra two were Madge and Handsome.

And the course that Nick had selected for himself was the one that would
take him past the hiding place where he had left Patsy; for it was no
part of his plan that he should give the others even a chance of an
accident of finding that hiding place.

It had been shortly after eleven o'clock when Nick returned to the cabin
after assisting Patsy in his escape; it was now after midnight.

There were torches and lanterns in abundance scattered among the four
parties that were searching; and, in the directions that Nick had given
each party, he had taken good care that they should become thoroughly
lost if possible. He had an object in this, as will be seen.

The way through the cave along the route which the detective had
selected to follow was smooth and even, as we already know; but Nick
made it as long and as rough as possible by taking the party off into
some of the side galleries as they proceeded.

He was looking for a place where he might lose some of them, and at
least where he might, before the expedition was finished, succeed in
separating them.

What he chiefly desired was to finally get either Madge or Handsome
alone with him.

It was two hours later before they finally passed the bowlder behind
which was the entrance to the hiding place where Patsy was concealed;
but not one of the party so much as glanced toward it; and Nick led the
way on past it to the exit--and that exit was not the hole under the
Dog's Nose, but a larger one at some distance from it.

There they found the four men who had been sent hither, and they
reported that they had seen nothing; and cautioning them to remain on
guard, Nick led his party back into the cave again.

And then, after a few moments, he pretended suddenly to find that fifth
entrance--the hole under the Dog's Nose--and there four other men were
waiting--and they had seen not a thing to suggest the proximity of the
prisoner who had escaped.

"Now," said Nick, "I think we'd better s'arch them side galleries more
thoroughly. If you'll return with me to the entrance from the valley,
we'll start over again, and go into and through every one o' 'em. We'll
divide our party into smaller groups o' three and four, and in that way
we kin cover all of them at the same time. What do you say?"

"All right," said Madge, still looking upon him with suspicion. "But
Handsome and I will remain with you, Turner."

"That is what I hoped you'd do," replied Nick; but he spoke with a
meaning which she did not understand.

They followed the plan suggested by the detective. That is, they
returned to the entrance from the valley, and there Nick divided his
followers into six parties, thus arranging that four of the parties
should contain four searchers each, one of them should contain three,
and his own immediate party should consist of himself, with Handsome and
Madge.

To the leaders of each of these subparties he gave the necessary
directions, with the result that he sent them off as they arrived at
their respective galleries, and after a little he found himself alone
with the two chiefs of the outlaws.

"There ain't much for us to do now," he said. "There ain't much more
searching as we kin do. There's only two galleries left for us to
explore 'less we find some hiding place that's remained unknown until
now."

"And that isn't likely, is it?" asked Madge. Her voice was still filled
with suspicion against him.

"You know as much about that ere as I do," he replied.

But they searched each of the galleries without any result, and Nick
finally directed the route so that at last they paused to rest directly
in front of the movable rock behind which was the entrance to the place
where Patsy was concealed.

And Nick seated himself so that his own back was against that rock, for
he did not care to run the chance that Handsome might lean against it
hard enough to move it--at least, not until he was in every way prepared
for that part of the drama.

Madge was tired by this time, and she showed it. She leaned against the
rocky wall and sighed deeply; and Handsome furnished the cue for the
next scene--so perfectly that Nick could not have ordered it otherwise
if he had tried.

"I'm dry," said Handsome, yawning. "This is dry work, Madge. Don't you
think we had better give the thing up for a time and wait. Pat will be
starved out after a little. He'll have to come out and get caught."

"If he ain't lost in the galleries," suggested Nick; and Madge replied:

"No; we won't give it up. If you are dry, Handsome, suppose you go to
the camp and get something for us all. I wouldn't mind having something
myself."

"I'll do it," said Handsome, rising. "Wait here."

He was off like a shot, for now he felt that he knew the route
sufficiently well through the caverns to find his way without
difficulty; as, indeed, he did. And he had a lantern to light his path.

Nick sat quietly until Handsome was well out of hearing, and then,
purposely, he leaned very hard against the rock behind him--so hard that
it moved, and he nearly fell upon his back inside the opening.

With a well-simulated cry of surprise, he leaped to his feet, and stood
staring, and Madge did the same.

"A secret hidin' place!" cried out the supposed old man--and he pushed
the rock farther in, thus making the opening even larger.

Then he stooped forward toward it.

"Hello in there!" he called lustily, for he wished to warn Patsy of what
was taking place, and at the same time to instruct him what to do. "Come
out of that, you--Pat! There are two of us here, and one is Madge
herself. Come out of that!"

"You fool!" exclaimed Madge.

"Come out of that!" repeated the detective, pretending not to hear her.
"Come out of that, or we'll come in after you!"

There was no reply, and Nick turned to her.

"Come along," he said. "We'll go inside and find him."

She had a revolver in her hand, and now she stepped quickly forward, for
there was nothing of the coward about Black Madge. There was not a thing
on earth that she feared.

She stepped forward so quickly that she had passed inside the barrier of
rock before Nick--as he intended she should--and then, as he stepped
after her, he seized her quickly from behind--seized both her arms, and
pulled them behind her with a suddenness that made her drop her weapon
to the rocky floor.

As he pulled her backward, she tried to cry out, but he had anticipated
that, and already he had grasped her so that he could press one of his
hands for an instant over her mouth, and at the same moment he called
out:

"Quick, Patsy! On your life! There isn't an instant to spare!"

And Patsy was ready and fully prepared.

He had approached them through the darkness at the first note of warning
from Nick, and was in reality only a few feet distant when they entered
the rocky passage; so that when the detective seized upon Madge and
pulled her backward, Patsy was ready to leap forward and to give his
aid.

When Nick's hand was pressed over her mouth to stop the cry that rose to
her lips, Patsy was there to seize her, also; and he did it; and,
although she struggled fiercely, she was quickly overpowered, and a gag
was thrust into her mouth.

Then they tied her, hand and foot, with cords with which Nick had
provided himself, and together they carried her far back into the recess
behind the rock.

"There is a big room here," said Patsy. "And it is stocked with
provisions, and a stream of pure water trickles through it. One could
live here a month without going out."

"Good!" said the detective. "Carry her in there. Then when we have made
her safe, we will wait for Handsome, and serve him in the same manner.
And after that, I have got a plan which will work the whole thing out to
a finish."

Madge was glaring at him venomously all this time, for she could not
speak. But her eyes were terrible to see in their utter ferocity.

She knew now what the game was that had been played against her. She
knew now that the man she had supposed to be old Bill Turner was all the
time no other than Nick Carter himself.

She could have bitten her tongue out with rage and chagrin. She fairly
writhed in the ecstasy of her impotent anger.

But they laid her gently upon the rocky floor, where there were some
blankets over leaves--it was evident that Bill Turner had used this
place as a retreat of his own, and had provided it for that purpose,
like a schoolboy who finds a cave and makes a cache--and then Nick spoke
to her.

"You see, Madge," he said, "it is all up with you and your gang; or very
nearly so. We are going out now to capture Handsome, and bring him here
to keep you company. After that I will show you a trick that will make
you green with envy, and that will finish up this hobo business of yours
once and forever. Come on, Patsy."

They left her there and returned to the entrance.

"Now," said the detective, "there is only one way to make Handsome fall
into the trap. We must leave this entrance open for him to discover when
he returns. He will first miss us. Then he will see the hole behind the
rock. Then he will step forward to look inside. Then no doubt he will
call out. I will stand here and remain silent; and then Handsome will do
one of two things--he will either come inside to search for Madge and
me, or he will set up a yell for the others to come to him."

"Suppose he brings some of the men back with him?" asked Patsy.

"We have got to chance that."

"Well, what are we to do when he steps inside this hole--for he will do
that?"

"You stand over there in that niche," replied Nick. "When he steps
inside the very nature of the place will bring his back toward me. I
will tap him on the back of the head with my fist and knock him into
your arms. You are to grab him with your arms around him, and hold him
so that he cannot get at a weapon, and until I can get my fingers on
him. That is all. Now, ready and wait."

They had some time to wait; longer than Nick expected, and he began to
fear that Handsome would bring some of the men back with him; but at
last they saw the glimmer of his light as he approached, and Nick knew
by the sounds he heard that Handsome was returning alone.

Presently he appeared. He was calling out softly, for he could not
understand why he had not been answered--and the light he carried
prevented him from seeing the hole behind the rock until it was directly
in front of him.

And then he came to a sudden stop, and gazed at it in astonishment.

"Gee!" Nick heard him exclaim. "Dogged if they haven't found a hole
here. And they have gone into it, too. I wonder if that old cuss knew
about it all the time?"

He remained in doubt for a moment what to do; and then, as Nick had
predicted, he stepped softly forward, and, holding his light aloft,
peered through the opening.

But Nick had chosen his place of concealment well, and Handsome could
not see him.

Then Handsome called out:

"Madge! Bill! Where the devil are you?"

There was no reply, and he waited a moment before he called again. Then
he repeated:

"Madge! Madge!"

When no reply came to this second call, he stood for some time in doubt,
as if he thought of calling assistance to him before he entered that
dark and unknown place; and once Nick thought he half turned, as if he
had decided to summon some of the others.

But he evidently thought better of this, for he turned about resolutely
again, and boldly stepped into the opening. Two such steps brought him
exactly into the position where the detective wanted him, and as soon as
he had achieved it, Nick struck him with his fist.

With a half-articulated cry, Handsome pitched forward and fell into the
grasp of Patsy, who was ready for him; and then, when he would have
struggled, other arms--Nick's--seized him from behind, and another blow
fell upon him, striking him behind the ear, and rendering him half dazed
for the moment.

And then Nick, knowing that Patsy could hold him, turned about and
closed the rock door of the retreat; and before Handsome had recovered
his senses sufficiently to offer any resistance, the two detectives had
bound him so securely that he could not move.

"Take his feet," ordered Nick, then. "We will carry him back into that
chamber, to keep Madge company."

While they were doing that, Handsome managed to recover his powers of
speech--for, now that the rock door was closed, Nick did not think it
necessary to gag the man--and his powers of speech in this particular
instance were something frightful to listen to.

He was still swearing when they dropped him, none too gently, upon the
floor of the cavern not far from Madge; and then Patsy lighted two
bracket lamps with which the place was provided, while Nick smilingly
removed the gag from Madge's mouth.

And where Handsome had worn out his vocabulary of curses, Madge took it
up, and completed it in masterly style, and there was really nothing for
either of the detectives to say for a long time. But her breath was gone
after a while, and she lapsed into sullen silence, closing her remarks
with the request:

"At least give me something to drink out of that bottle that Handsome
went after."

Nick could really do nothing less, and he complied; and the liquor
seemed to restore some of her accustomed coolness, for she looked at
Nick with an ugly gleam in her black eyes, and said:

"You are Nick Carter again, aren't you?"

"Again?" replied Nick, laughing. "I was always Nick Carter. I was so
interested in that last interview I had with you, Madge, that I couldn't
stay away; and now, when you condemned my assistant to death, you
hastened the reckoning. That is all."

"I'll condemn you to death yet--and watch you die, too!" was her
retort.



CHAPTER XVI.

NICK MAKES BAD MEDICINE.


Handsome had also recovered from his paroxysm of rage by this time, for
he was one who had the gift of knowing when he was beaten, and the logic
to accept a situation when he knew that it could not be avoided.

"I reckon you've got the drop on us, Carter," he said. "You've played
the game mighty well, too. There is one thing about it that I would like
to know, though, if you will tell me. Will you?"

"What is it?" asked the detective.

"I want to know if you have been old Bill Turner from the beginning. I
want to know if it was you whose acquaintance I made in the first place,
the time I was pulled out of the hole in the rocks, or if it was old
Bill himself."

"That was the old man himself," replied Nick, smiling.

"And the second time I met him; was that him--or you?"

"That was the old man, also."

"Well, all that I can say is that you have played the part so devilish
well that I find it hard to believe even now that you are not what you
appear to be."

"You're a fool!" said Madge spitefully.

"Oh, I admit the impeachment, Madge. There isn't any doubt of it. I'm a
fool, all right."

"And you are up against it rather hard just now, Handsome; you and
Madge," said Nick.

"I know that, too. I'm no fool as far as that is concerned. What are you
going to do about the rest of the gang?"

"I'm going to capture the whole bunch," was Nick's rather astonishing
reply.

"I don't see how you are going to do it," retorted Handsome. "There is a
cold hundred of them, all told--and every entrance to the cave is
guarded. You attended to that yourself."

"Certainly, I did; because I foresaw this very moment."

"Well, all that I can say is that you can see a cussed sight farther
into a stone fence than I can."

"I'll show you how it is done, if you are interested," replied the
detective. "But, first, I am afraid that I will have to ask you to step
out here a moment, into the other part of the cave, always remembering
that if you make any kind of a break, down you go with a cracked skull;"
and Nick leaned forward and loosened the cords around his ankles.

"Oh, I know when my hands are in the air, Carter. If I make any breaks
it will be because I think I see a chance of winning. What do you
want?"

He rose stiffly to his feet as he asked the question; and Nick looked
him in the eye as he replied:

"I want you to remember, in the first place, that I am more than twice
or three times as strong as you are, and that if you offer to give me
any trouble I shall hurt you; and hurt you so badly, too, that you won't
get over it right away. I am going to take you into the other part of
this cavern, toward the door where we entered. I am going to free your
hands, and then I shall ask you to put on these old togs that Turner has
left here for a change of clothing in case he got wet--for I want these
that I am wearing for Patsy. After you have made the change I shall tie
you up again, and then you will see--what you will see. But, remember,
if you refuse to obey me on the instant that I give an order, down you
go, and I will take the clothing off your senseless body, instead of
letting you do it, and keep well. Now, are you ready?"

"Yes."

Nick took him into the adjoining part of the cave, and held the light on
him while he made the necessary change; for Nick had found some extra
clothing of Turner's in the cave; and when that was done he tied
Handsome up again, more securely than ever, and placed him on the floor
again.

"Now, Patsy," he said, "you and I will make a change. You will play the
part of old Turner, and I will play the part of Handsome. It is
necessary for what we have to do."

Nick first dressed himself in the outer clothes that Handsome had
removed; and then he sent Patsy into the other part of the cave to put
on the clothing he had taken off--the suit that he had worn as old
Turner; and, while Patsy was making the change, he was himself busily
engaged in removing the white beard and hair that he had been wearing.

It will not be necessary to describe in detail this operation; it is
sufficient to say that the two detectives worked steadily for a long
time; and that when at last they were through with what they were doing,
Nick had assumed the personality of Handsome, and Patsy was transformed
into what Nick had been--old Bill Turner.

When everything was in readiness, he saw to it once more that the bonds
which held his two prisoners were sufficiently secure, and that there
was no possibility of their escaping; and he went so far as to fasten
them to the opposite walls, so that they could not crawl within reach of
each other, and make use of their teeth; and then he turned to Patsy,
who was now, to all outward appearance, old Bill Turner.

"Come along, Bill," he said, exactly imitating the voice of Handsome--so
that Handsome grinned in spite of himself. "We have got a lot to do yet,
and it will be daylight before we know it."

They passed outside then, into the corridor of the cavern, and when Nick
had shut the big rock in place over the entrance, he wedged the small
stone under it, so that it could not be moved from the inside.

"There," he said. "Even if they should get loose, which is not at all
likely, they could not get out. And if they yell themselves hoarse,
nobody could hear them. Come on. We've got a lot of work cut out for
us."

"What is there to do first?" asked Patsy.

"The first thing is to return to the cabins in the valley, and find out
what time it is. Oh, there is a watch in those clothes. Look at it. What
time is it?"

"Half-past two," replied Patsy, imitating the broken voice of the old
man to perfection.

"That's good, Patsy. I refer to your imitation. You will not have to use
it much--possibly not at all; but it is as well to be perfect in your
part all the same. I think we will have time enough for what we have to
do if we hurry."

He led the way rapidly then, back to the valley, where some of the
searchers had already returned, and he found them grouped around the
exit, when they issued from the cave.

But when they attempted to address him, believing him to be Handsome, he
returned no reply, for he had seen Handsome ignore them utterly many
times; but it was Cremation Mike who stepped forward in front of them
as they approached the cabin in which Madge was supposed to live.

"Any luck?" he demanded surlily.

"No," replied Nick, stopping for a moment.

"Look here, Handsome, if that fellow is gone for good, do you suppose
that Madge will do what she said she would?"

"What was that, Mike?"

"Hang me in his place?"

"I shouldn't wonder if she did."

"Say, Handsome, can't you say a word for me with her? Where is she? Can
I see her?"

"You had better keep away from her," suggested Nick.

"No; I want to see her. Take me to her, will you?"

"All right. Come along," replied the detective, and so Cremation Mike
fell in behind them, and followed them into the cabin where Madge was
supposed to be.

But they were no sooner inside the house with the door closed than Nick
wheeled in his tracks, and grasped Mike by the throat, and then struck
him with his fist over the temple. The result was that Cremation Mike
sank to the floor without a sound, and was speedily bound and gagged.

"That's one," said the detective grimly. "There are a good many more,
Patsy."

"Do you expect to get them all, one by one, in that way?" asked Patsy.
"It will take a week to do that."

"No; I have a better plan than that. Wait."

Nick knew of Madge's fondness for trapdoors, and also that she always
kept a large supply of liquors on hand with which sometimes she treated
her men, or some of them. He had no doubt that somewhere in that cabin
he would not only find the liquors he wanted, but also drugs.

There was a trapdoor in the floor of the largest room in the cabin, and
under it was a shallow cellar wherein were several cases of liquors. The
robbery of freight cars had always kept the hoboes well supplied with
such articles.

"Now, I'm going to make the hoboes a punch," he said to Patsy. He was
searching through a cupboard while he spoke, and from there he produced
a large bottle of laudanum. "I will have to use this," he continued. "It
is the only thing here which will do at all, and as it has an
excessively bitter taste, I will have to make a punch in order to
conceal it. But it will do the work I want done better and more safely
than anything else."

"You'll have to use a washtub for the punch, to make enough for all of
them," said Patsy. "And is there enough laudanum?"

"Plenty; and there is a couple of pails. They will do as well as a tub.
Now help me. We have lemons, and sugar, and everything that we require,
here in this cupboard. But first, let's drop Cremation Mike into the
cellar with the cases."

They did that, and replaced the trapdoor; then they sliced lemons--all
that they could find; they found a pot of cold tea, and this they dumped
into the mess with the laudanum; and upon all this, bottle after bottle
of the whisky was poured into the pails until they were filled to the
brim.

"Now, Patsy," said the detective, "remember that you are old Bill
Turner. I want you to go out among the men right now, and tell them that
Madge and Handsome have fixed them all up a punch, and if they will form
in line and pass in front of the door of this cabin, each one of them
can have two drinks of it. And it would be a good idea if you should act
as if you had already taken your own two--or several. It will give them
confidence."

"I can do it," replied Patsy, and he went out.

After a little Nick heard the murmur of voices before the cabin, and he
stepped to the door and opened it; and then he found that the men,
without an exception, save those who were on guard at different
places--he found that eighty men had formed in line, and were ready for
the treat that had been promised them.

He carried out the two pails and stood them on the porch; and then with
a dipper in one hand and a goblet in the other, he called out:

"Come up slow, now; one by one. Don't be in haste. Remember there are
two drinks each, for you, and no more. These two pails will just about
do it. I'm doing the trick for Black Madge, who happens to be busy just
now."

And so they began the procession past him; and so he doled out the
concoction he had arranged for them, and watched them gulp it down with
evident relish; and he called out when he served the first drink:

"The orders are that each one of you, as soon as you have had your two
drinks, shall go to your quarters and turn in. You are wanted to rest
up, so that we can begin this search again, and find that fellow we are
after. Come on, now. When you have taken your medicine, go to your bunks
and turn in--all of you!"

And they came. Then they took their medicine, and so nicely had Nick
calculated the quantity that would be required that there was scarcely a
pint of the concoction left when they were through.

Many of them stopped long enough to beg for a third drink of it, and
only once did Nick grant that request--to a big fellow for whom two
might not be sufficient.

And within thirty minutes after that last one had passed the porch, that
camp was as quiet as a church.



CHAPTER XVII.

A WHOLESALE ROUND-UP.


"Patsy," said the detective, when they reëntered the cabin, after
watching their punch consumed almost to the dregs, "this is about the
biggest capture I was ever in."

"But we are not through yet, chief," replied the assistant, stroking the
white beard he wore so naturally that Nick laughed aloud. "There are
sixteen more men at liberty yet, and we have got the whole bunch to tie
up. Don't forget that there are four men stationed at each of the
outside entrances to----"

"Oh, I haven't forgotten it. We will serve them in the same way. All we
have to do is to manufacture one more pail of punch. So here goes. And
as for tying them up, that will hardly be necessary."

"Why?"

"They are good for twelve hours of solid sleep at the very least. Many
of them will not waken in twenty-four hours."

"And maybe some of them will never wake up. How is that?"

"It is a chance that we had to take; but by restricting them to two
drinks each, I figured that there would be no danger. No; I think we are
all right. Now, help me make this extra pail of punch. After that we
will carry it through the cavern to the different parties of four each."

"Suppose they get suspicious, and won't drink it?"

"No danger of that, my lad."

When the punch was made, they divided it into two lots, each carrying
half, and, thus equipped, they again entered the cavern, this time just
as daylight was beginning to appear.

The first party they selected to serve was the one farthest away, and
the detective discovered that they were grumbling because they had not
been relieved.

But when he appeared with the pail of punch, and told them what had
happened--that every one had been served with the same thing--they
forgot their sorrows and had their share as the others had taken theirs.

And here, in order to make doubly sure, Nick had given each of the
drinks a larger dose of the sleeping draught than he had served in the
valley. As soon as the men had drunk what was given them, and had been
refused more, he left them, followed by Patsy, and returned through the
cave to another entrance.

And here again the operation was repeated in the same manner, an idea of
suspicion never once entering the head of any of the men; they were far
too eager for the drink which the thoughtfulness of their mistress had
provided for them.

"They'll be suspicious when they begin to feel drowsy all at once,"
suggested Patsy, as they moved away.

"Let them," replied Nick. "We won't be there, and not one of them will
be able to go very far before he drops in a stupor. I have fixed it, all
right."

They found the second party as eager as the first, and one of them
already the worse for too many drinks from a bottle he had had in his
pocket; but they took the medicine that Nick portioned out to them as
the others had done, and they in turn were left alone to drop off to
sleep as they would; for they had been awake all night, and now it was
broad daylight. They figured that they deserved some sleep.

At the third entrance the four men were already asleep--all but one of
them, and he was drowsing; and Nick, in his character of Handsome,
pretended to be angry at first. He pretended to refuse to give them the
punch that had been sent to them until they begged so hard that he
finally relented.

"Why," said Patsy, when they left them, and took their way toward the
fourth, and last, place--the hole under the Dog's Nose, near the place
where Handsome and Madge were prisoners, "it's all as easy as living on
a farm."

"And not half so interesting," laughed the detective.

They walked past the movable rock behind which the two prisoners were
confined without so much as devoting a glance to it, for they were both
intent upon accomplishing this last installment of capture through the
medium of the laudanum; and here they found the four men who were on
duty, just about ready to mutiny because they had not been relieved.

But the presence of Handsome--or the man they believed to be
Handsome--quieted them at once, for they stood in wholesome dread of him
and his anger; and when they understood what had been brought to them,
they were ready for anything.

And so it was that in their turns they took their medicine as the others
had done. When they had swallowed it, Nick said to them:

"Stretch out, now, you fellows, where you are. I'll let you sleep for a
while, at least. I'm going to sit here and smoke. I am tired myself.
Turner, sit down. We'll keep watch here for a spell."

The men did not require a second invitation, but speedily took advantage
of the permission--and it was surprising how soon the laudanum took
effect upon them.

Ten minutes had not elapsed before the four were sleeping soundly, and
snoring as if they never expected to awake again.

"I think we can go now," said Nick, at last, rising.

"What is the next trick to be done?" asked Patsy.

"Let me see," replied Nick. "It's thirty miles from here to Calamont.
How far is it to the railway track in a direct line? That is the way you
came, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"How far is it?"

"About four miles, possibly. I can make it in an hour."

"Then skip. This is the nearest point to start from. Get to the track as
soon as you can. Flag the first train that comes along, no matter what
it is. Get aboard it, and go to the first station. Get off there, and
use the telegraph operator. Have him wire to Mr. Cobalt, the president
of the road, exactly what has happened. Ask Cobalt to send a special
train to us from the nearest point. We will want about twenty officers
to take charge of all these prisoners, and he had better send along some
chains with padlocks on them. You can figure that out yourself. We will
want to make chain gangs of these men, so that they can walk to the
railway, but so that they are chained together and cannot escape. You've
got the idea?"

"Yes."

"Go, then, and see how quickly you can get the officers here, and we can
get this crew away from here."

"And you?"

"I'll stay here. Skip, now. Don't talk any more."

"Have I got to carry these whiskers with me?" grinned Patsy.

"You'd better not stop to remove them now. I put them on to stay. Go!"

And Patsy went.

Nick remained where he was for a while, thinking deeply, and altogether
satisfied with what he had accomplished; but after a little he rose, and
took his way back into the cave, intending to see what Handsome and
Madge were doing, and if they were making any effort to free themselves.

But after he had reëntered the cave, and had covered the twenty rods
that intervened between it and the movable rock, he stopped in
astonishment and stared.

The rock was pushed wide open.

With a bound he darted forward and entered the place, but only to find
that Madge and Handsome had both disappeared. Their bonds were lying
upon the floor of the cavern, but they were no longer there themselves.

Nick did not wait to see more than that then.

He turned away on a run, and darted through the galleries with all the
speed he could summon under the circumstances--and he came out into the
valley, where the sun was shining, directly behind his two escaped
prisoners, for they had not preceded him by more than a minute,
evidently.

With one wild spring he was upon them, and as Handsome turned to defend
himself, Nick hit him with his fist, so that he sent him reeling across
the grass, where he fell senseless to the earth.

But in the meantime Madge had turned with a scream of rage, and when she
saw the real Handsome fall helpless, she broke into a run toward her own
cottage, for she had no weapon to use now, Nick having deprived them
both of their guns.

But the detective ran after her, and, just as she was about to leap upon
the porch, he succeeded in seizing her, and in pulling her back again
toward him.

She turned upon him then like a fury; but with a laugh he sprang under
her extended arms, and seized her around the waist; and then he lifted
her from her feet, and, still laughing, he ran across the grass to the
cabin in which Patsy had once been a prisoner, and in another moment he
had tossed her inside, closed the door and fastened it.

For a long time he could hear her storming in there, but he had to hurry
back to Handsome, who was still down and out when he got to him, but who
presently revived.

But he had all the fight taken out of him, and he allowed himself to be
bound again securely, after which Nick led him to Madge's cabin, and
tied him to one of the rustic chairs on the porch.

Including Black Madge and her first lieutenant, Handsome, there were one
hundred and two prisoners turned over to be dealt with by the law when
Patsy returned to the place in the hills, having piloted the officers
who were sent by special train to complete the capture.

Black Madge did not see the detective again to speak to him; but she
sent him a note, in which she said:

"I haven't done with you yet, Nick Carter. I will
never forgive you for fooling me as you did. I shall
manage to get my liberty again, somehow, some time,
and when I do, it will be for the purpose of
wreaking vengeance on you. And I will get even some
day, never fear."



CHAPTER XVIII.

BLACK MADGE'S THREAT.


Nick Carter had entirely forgotten Black Madge's threat when he was
forcibly reminded of it one morning by the following letter which he
found on his breakfast table:

"NICK CARTER: One month ago--how time flies--I wrote
to you that I hadn't done with you yet; that I would
never forgive you, and that I would get even some
day.

"That was a month ago. I thought when I wrote that
it might take a year--but they are easy marks in
this State.

"It was my hope after you captured me and all my
followers, that I would have a chance to see you
again, and to talk to you before I was taken away to
prison. You would say probably that I wanted to
boast; for a threat, after all, is only another kind
of boasting. But it wasn't so, Nick Carter; I wanted
to tell you what you had succeeded in doing; and
this is it:

"You have succeeded in creating in me a passion
which supersedes all others in my nature--the
passion of hatred. Twice now you have foiled me;
twice you have been successful in arresting me, and
the latter of these two times you not only destroyed
the organization which I had created, and rendered
it utterly impotent for my future uses, but you
destroyed almost at one blow every ambition that I
had through that organization and by reason of it.

"You didn't know that, and you couldn't appreciate
it; and it wouldn't matter at all to you if you had;
neither has it anything to do with the purport of
this letter.

"I know you will say that I am a fool to take the
trouble to warn you, but I would be less than a
woman, and much less than the bad woman I am, if I
did not take this opportunity of exulting over the
chance that is now promised to me to get square with
you.

"Heretofore my every effort has been centred upon
playing on my fellow men; heretofore I have had only
two thoughts in pursuing my career; one was to
create an organization of which I was the supreme
head, and the other was to secure by the operation
of that organization all the money that it was
possible to obtain.

"I have always been a thief with a system. My
robberies have all been committed after careful
planning; you know that because of the one you
helped to commit yourself. But now I have only one
ambition left--to get square with you. I haven't
decided yet how I shall do it, or when, or where it
shall be done. If I had so decided I would not tell
you, so it makes no difference.

"But I have been a hard student, Nick Carter, of
many things. I have had good instructors in the
science of mixing and using poisons; there is no
person living to-day, man or woman--yourself
included--who is a better marksman than I am with
firearms; there is no person, man or woman, who is
more adept to-day in the use of all weapons than I
am. This is not boasting; it is fact.

"Moreover, I have the power to appear in many
guises--disguises you might call them. In one or
more of them--perhaps in many of them--I shall
appear to you, and when you are least expecting it I
shall strike.

"Don't think by that that I mean to strike you dead.
That would not be making you suffer enough; but I
shall find other and better ways in which to
strike--ways that will make you suffer and realize
what you did when you made me your enemy, and made
me hate you as I do.

"And another thing; I have already set to work to
bring together, as rapidly as I can find them,
people who have criminal records and who have reason
to hate you as I do; people whom you have pursued as
you have pursued me; those whom you have sent to
prison; those whose careers you have interrupted;
those you have threatened; and those who have cause
for holding a grudge against you.

"I have sought many of those, and I have found many.
I am still seeking others, and I shall find more;
and when I have got together enough of them, and
have selected from that number those whom I deem
most available for my purpose and competent to carry
out my directions as I shall give them, I shall
organize them into a Band of Hatred, the sole object
of which shall be your undoing and, ultimately, your
death.

"You have preyed too long already upon that class
of humanity to which I belong, and from our
standpoint your position is much the same as is our
position from yours.

"You know me well enough, Nick Carter, to know that
from this moment forward you will never be safe from
danger for one moment of your life; whether you are
sleeping or waking; whether you are afloat or
ashore; whether you are quartered in the seclusion
of your own study at home, or are abroad upon the
streets of the city.

"You know that I do not threaten idly. You know that
I am a woman with a purpose. You know that I am
intelligent, educated, and determined. You know that
I am a woman to be feared.

"I have thought this matter all over, and decided
upon it during those hours when I was locked in the
cabin up there in the hills, after you had drugged
the men of my company, and succeeded in capturing us
all.

"When I was taken to prison I knew that it would be
only a short time before I would be able to make
good my escape. How I have succeeded in
accomplishing it does not matter. I have found one
key in my experience that never fails to open prison
locks, if it is properly applied; the fact that it
is made of gold is sufficient explanation, and gold
I had in plenty, for I have always been successful,
and even now I have hoards concealed in different
places which will supply me with funds more than
sufficient to carry out to the bitter end this
campaign of vengeance upon which I have determined.

"I think that is all.

"I shall leave here for New York City an hour after
this letter is put in the mail. When you will see me
first I do not know.                   BLACK MADGE."

The detective read this remarkable letter twice from beginning to end,
and then he passed it in silence across the table to Chick, who was
seated opposite to him.

And Chick also read it twice in silence, and as silently returned it.
Nick, realizing that Ten-Ichi and Patsy would also fall under the
sweeping hatred of Black Madge, tossed it over to them with the
direction that they read it also.

There was not one among them who felt like making any comment upon the
letter, or its contents, at least until their chief had spoken; but
presently, with a gesture to Chick, which meant that he was to follow
him as soon as he had finished his breakfast, the detective left the
table and went to his study.

It was only a few moments after that when Chick entered the room,
smiling.

"I hope, Nick," he said, dropping into a chair near the window and
lighting a cigar, "that you enjoyed the reading of that letter from
Madge?"

The detective was silent a moment before he replied, and then quite
slowly he said:

"So far as I am personally concerned, Chick, the letter or its contents
has no more effect upon me than the snapping of your fingers, but I will
confess that I am in some dread concerning what she might do to you,
and to Ten-Ichi and Patsy."

Chick leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud.

"If you will excuse me for saying so," he remarked, "that is utter
nonsense. Of course, the boys downstairs and I are quite capable of
taking care of ourselves."

"I don't doubt that," said Nick, "but that is not exactly the point."

"What is, then?"

"You have forgotten one part of her letter," said Nick.

"What part?"

"That part wherein she speaks about making me suffer, rather than
attempting to do me physical harm."

"Oh! I haven't forgotten it."

"Do you understand what she means by that, Chick?"

"Certainly."

"Let me hear if you do."

"Well, she probably means that it would be her first effort to make you
suffer by injuring those whom you love--in other words, by doing
something or other to one of us. But forewarned is forearmed, and,
anyhow, I don't think it behooves any of us to be afraid of a woman."

"This is a case," said Nick, "where a woman is much more dangerous than
a man. A man would fight out in the open; a woman will fight in the
shadow; or, at least, such a woman as that will. She is a pretty bad
one, Chick, and a grave foe."

Chick nodded.

"It is always best," continued the detective, "to give your enemy or
your adversaries credit for every advantage they possess. Black Madge is
a wonderfully smart woman, and is unprincipled and implacable as she is
smart. She will halt at nothing to carry out her design of vengeance,
and just as sure as you are sitting there, Chick, we will presently feel
the surety of that threat."

Chick flicked the ashes from his cigar, and then strode across the room
to the window, where he stood for a moment looking out.

"I don't see exactly what we are going to do to head her off before she
begins," he said presently.

"There is nothing to do," replied Nick gloomily.

"Upon my word," said Chick, laughing, "one would think that you were
more than usually affected by that letter from Madge. Do you really take
it so seriously as all that?"

"I take it seriously," replied the detective, "because I so well
understand what the woman means, and she means just what she says.
Instead of going on evenly and living the life we have been living, we
must not be for an instant off our guard from this day on, until she is
again behind the bars, and I hope the next time I arrest her it will be
within the limits of the State of New York, where I can place a watch
over her so that she will not escape."

"And I hope so, too," said Chick.

"And now, in the meantime," continued Nick, smiling, "since we have this
letter and know what she is about to do, I think we will meet her
halfway, and not wait for her to open the ball. Since she is at liberty,
we will set about capturing her at once."



CHAPTER XIX.

THE BAND OF HATRED.


Down on the East Side of New York, in Rivington Street, and some
distance east of the Bowery, on the second floor of one of the oldest
buildings in the city, a remarkable meeting was being held during the
night that followed the receipt of Madge's letter by Nick Carter.

In a room on this floor, which was brilliantly lighted by four gas jets
blazing from the chandelier, nine people were seated. They were gathered
along two sides of the room, in which was a centre table, and behind
this table was Black Madge.

Before her on the table were various sheets of letter paper, which she
had turned from a pad one after another as she made notes upon them, and
in her hand she held a pencil which ever and anon flew rapidly over the
paper while she recorded such information concerning those who were
present with her as she cared to remember.

They had been present in that room for upward of an hour, and during
that time Madge had questioned each one of the eight who faced her
concerning the statements they had made, and which she had noted.

Now she leaned back in her chair, and, holding one of the sheets of
paper in her hand, she said:

"Stand up, Scar-faced Johnny, and answer the questions I shall ask you."

One of them, a short, stocky, red-headed, brutalized being, who was
almost as broad as he was long, leaped to his feet, thrust his hands
deeply into his pockets, and with his chin stuck forward aggressively,
waited.

"You hate Nick Carter, do you, Johnny?" Madge asked.

"I hate him like poison."

"And you would kill him if you could?"

"I'd cut his throat in half a minute if I was sure of not being caught."

"Tell me again why you hate him so."

"Ain't he sent me twice to prison? Once for four years and once for
three. And the last time he done it didn't he hand me a welt alongside
of the jaw that I'll never forget? A man can't hit me like that and have
me love him afterward. You just show me the way to do it, Black Madge,
and I'll lay him out cold--so cold that he'll never get over it again.
All I want is a chance."

"All right," said Madge, "take your seat.

"Now, Slippery Al, you stand up. What's your line of graft, Slippery?"

Slippery, who was tall, and sallow, and lean, and unkempt, and who
looked consumptive and otherwise unwholesome, grinned sheepishly, as he
replied:

"I reckon my name ought to answer that question. I slips in and I slips
out where I can and when I can, and picks up anything that's lying
around."

Madge laughed scornfully.

"You don't look as if you had sense enough to hate anybody or anything,"
she said.

"Oh, I hate Nick Carter, right enough," was the unhesitating reply.

"Why do you hate him?"

"Because he sent my father and my mother and my two brothers to prison,
and they're all there now, and they weren't doing a thing that
interfered with him in any way."

"What were they doing?" asked Madge.

"Well, if you want to know it straight, Black Madge, they was running a
little counterfeit plant of their own--making dimes and quarters and a
few half dollars for some of us to blow in when we couldn't find the
real rhino."

"Running a counterfeit plant, eh?"

"That's it, marm."

"And Nick Carter sent them all to prison, did he?"

"He did that."

"How does it happen that he didn't send you along with them?"

"Well, I managed to slip out just in time," said Slippery, with one of
his sheepish grins; "but he sent a bullet after me when I was running
away that singed the hair over my right ear, and taking it all in all I
hate him about as much as anybody."

"Not enough to kill him if I should ask you to do it, do you?"

"Well, Madge, when it comes to killing, that ain't in my line; but if
you want me to lead him on somehow where somebody else could do the job,
I think I'd be about the covey that could do it."

"That'll do for you. Sit down, Slippery."

"What's your name?" she added to the man who was next him.

A dark, beetle-browed, heavy-jawed, coarse-featured man, who looked as
if he was as powerful as a giant, rose slowly to his feet, and replied
in a surly tone, and with an ugly glitter in his eyes:

"I have got about forty names; leastwise, the police say I have; but
they as knows me best calls me Bob for short; sometimes they fixes it up
a little by calling it Surly Bob. But I think that Bob will do for you."

"What have you got against Nick Carter, Surly Bob?" asked Madge,
smiling. She liked the looks of this hard-featured individual. He was
just brutal enough in his appearance to satisfy her ideas of what a man
should be.

Bob deliberately took a huge chew of tobacco into his mouth before he
replied, and then, with a slow and almost bovine indifference, he
responded:

"I don't know as it makes much difference to you, Black Madge, what I
hate him for as long as I do hate him, and I'm bound to get square with
him some day, whether I do it in connection with this organization that
you're getting together or on my own hook without the help of any of
you," and he glanced defiantly around. "It's enough that I do hate him.
He's done enough to me to make me hate him. It's enough that if I had
him alone in this room to-night one of us would never leave it alive
unless he got the best of me without killing me, for I would certainly
do him if I got half a chance.

"But I'll tell you one thing about him that maybe it will do some of you
good to hear, for I give you fair warning that you want to give Nick
Carter a wide berth unless you can manage somehow to catch him foul.
He's about as strong as three horses, and if he ever succeeds in getting
his grip on you you're gone. I'm about as tough as they make them, but
I'm a wee baby in Nick Carter's hands, and don't any of you forget it."

"Tell us the story," said Madge.

"Oh, it ain't no story; it's just a short account. We ran into each
other once near the front door of a bank I had gone into after hours and
without the permission of the president and board of directors. When I
picked myself up from the middle of the street after he grabbed me there
was a crack in the top of my skull which didn't get well for three
months. That's all I've got to say about it, but I want to add this: If
that fellow Slippery Al, who says killing ain't in his line, but leading
astray is, wants to bring Nick Carter my way, and will fetch him along
so as I can get him foul, I'll fix him for keeps, and no questions
asked."

And Surly Bob sat down.

He had no sooner taken his seat than the individual next to him sprang
up without waiting to be asked to do so. If you had encountered this
individual along Broadway or on Fifth Avenue in New York City, you might
not have devoted a second glance to him; but if you had, and still had
not studied him closely, you would not have thought him other than a
gentleman.

His features were handsome or would have been handsome were it not for
the crafty and shifty expression of his eyes and the otherwise
insincerity that was manifest in his face. Among his companions of the
underworld he was known far and near as Gentleman Jim.

By profession he was what is known as a confidence man, although it was
said of him that he had the courage to take any part that might be
required of him in preying upon the world at large.

He had been known to assist, and to do it well, at a bank robbery. He
had once lived for some time in Chicago as a highwayman. It was said of
him that in his youth he had begun his career of crime by rustling
cattle in the far West, and that he was as quick and as sure with a gun
as any "bad man" of that region.

His attire was immaculate and in the height of fashion. He was clean
shaven, and he wore eyeglasses which gave to him somewhat of a
professional look, and which he had been heard to say were excellent
things to hide the expression in a man's eyes.

In stature he was tall, rather broad, and extremely well built. In
short, Madge looked upon him when he rose with undoubted admiration in
her eyes, as if she believed that here was a man who could be anything
he chose to be in the criminal world.

When he spoke it was in an evenly modulated tone of voice which might
have done excellent service in a drawing-room; and, moreover, his voice
was pleasant to listen to.

"I suppose you would like to hear from me, as well as from the others,
Madge," he said slowly. "I haven't got very much to say, except that I
don't take much stock in boasted hatreds. Where I was raised, and where
I began my career--and I am not particularly proud of that career--when
we hated anybody we rarely said much about it, but I will say this to
you, and to the others who are here: I am very glad that this
organization is being perfected. I am very glad that some concerted
action is to be taken against this man, Nick Carter, who has come pretty
near putting us all out of business. You all know who I am, and some of
you have got a pretty good idea what I am. Nick Carter knows about as
much about me as any of you, which, after all is said, is next to
nothing at all. But I have been on a still hunt for Mr. Nick Carter for
some time, and when I get him in a position which Surly Bob calls foul,
I shan't wait to send to any of you for assistance. I'll do the rest
myself."

"And now you," said Madge, fixing her eyes upon the individual who was
seated next to Gentleman Jim "Rise in your place and tell us your name,
and make us a little speech, as the others have done."

"My name is Cummings--Fly Cummings, I'm called. Some of the bunch here
knows me and some don't. Those that do know me don't need to be told
anything about me, and those that don't know me are just as well off.
I'm in business for myself, and always have been. The world owes me a
living, and it's been paying it pretty regular ever since I was sixteen
years old, and I'm now coming sixty-two. I'm like the others here in one
respect: I've got a grudge against the man we've been talking about.
I've never been able to make him feel it, because I've always fought
mighty shy of him rather than get within his reach; but when I heard
that this here movement had been started going by you, Madge, and the
word was passed around among the guns downtown that you wanted a few of
us that hated Nick Carter to come to the captain's office and form a
little organization, it struck me that it was just about the right thing
to do. I've heard what Surly Bob had to say, and I know that Surly isn't
the sort of chap that's in the habit of talking through his hat. If
Surly Bob had it in for me I'd patronize the New York Central Railroad,
and take a train out of town right away.

"I've heard what Gentleman Jim had to say, and if Jim was looking for my
gore to-night, I'd take a steamer across the ocean or commit suicide,
because I'd know I couldn't get away from him in any other way.

"I've heard what Slippery Al had to say, and while Slippery ain't of
much account, he's about the nastiest toad that ever picked a pocket,
and I wouldn't care to have him down on me.

"And as for Scar-faced Johnny, well, Johnny is a bad one, too. I ain't
making any threats particularly, Madge, but I'm willing to join this
organization, or I wouldn't be here, and I want to say now that when
you're fixing up the business, and arrange for the signals so that we
can summons each other when we want them, I'll do my part to the tune of
compound interest; and I guess that'll be about all from me."

The sixth man of the party, who was the next to get upon his feet, had
the stamp of prison life all over him. His face bespoke the pallor which
is acquired in no other place in the world, and the vicious, shifty,
sneaking gleam in his eyes spoke well of the craftiness which is the
result of long confinement under the domination of brutal guards and
turnkeys.

So recently had he escaped from prison, apparently, that his hair was
still cropped short to his skull, and one almost expected when looking
at him to see the stripes of prison garb upon him.

"I am Joe Cuthbert," he said slowly, in a tone so low that it could
scarcely be heard. "I wouldn't have come here to-night at all if I
hadn't been assured on the level that it would be perfectly safe to do
so. I don't think there is any one of you in this room except Madge
herself who knows me, but you will all hear from me later on as sure as
I'm alive and can escape arrest.

"You may have been told since you came here that I have just escaped
from prison, or if you haven't been told it, and know how to read, you
have probably seen the rewards for my recapture. You will know, too,
that I was sent up for croaking another chap, or, as they call it in the
courts, for murder. I want you all to know that I served eight years.
Eight years of hell, and that I've come out of there with the
determination of getting square with the man that sent me up. That man
was Nick Carter; and that's all I've got to say."

There was a moment of utter silence after this announcement, which had
in it many of the elements of the dramatic.

There was not a person in that room who had not seen the inside of a
prison, and many of them had served as many as four years, while others
had been in prison many times for short terms.

But to have just escaped from prison after having been confined for
eight long years seemed to them the climax of the possibilities of
hatred.

But the moment passed, and Madge fixed her eyes upon the seventh of the
group, who slowly rose to his feet and said:

"After what we've just heard, Madge, it doesn't seem that anything that
I can say can add to the intensity of feeling that pervades this
distinguished assembly. I regard it as quite an honor to be among those
who know so well how to hate. As for me, I have also been inside a
prison, to which this man Nick Carter sent me. I had been mixed up in a
little diamond robbery from one of the big firms in this town. I don't
know but maybe some of you heard about it; it was called the taking of
the pear-shaped diamonds, and at the time that happened I was in love
with a very beautiful girl, and was outwardly leading a very respectable
life. It's enough for me to say now that when the exposure that
followed Nick Carter's investigation of that case, and through it the
exposure of all my previous criminal record, which before that time I
had been able to conceal, the girl went back on me, and would have
nothing more to do with me. Now she is married to another man, and while
I don't blame her any, I do blame the man that exposed me, and if any of
you people that are gathered here can help me in getting square with him
I'll be eternally grateful. My name is Eugene Maxwell."

There was only one other individual left in this collection who had not
as yet spoken, and now, although Madge fixed her eyes instantly upon
him, he remained in his chair as he was, with immovable, sphinxlike
countenance and gloomy eyes. He was a tall, spare, rather well-dressed
figure, when he rose at last in reply to her spoken request, and he
stood, half leaning upon a cane which he held in his two hands, and bent
a little toward her as he spoke.

"I haven't any name, so far as anybody knows," he said slowly, and with
distinct and deliberate enunciation. "It has pleased my friends always
to bestow a title upon me. Until to-night I have always worked alone,
and have rarely made myself known to any of the inhabitants of the
underworld, and if any of you here have ever happened to be told about
The Parson, you will know who I am."

There was a distinct stir in the room when he uttered this name or
title, for The Parson had always been more or less a mystery, and one
that was much envied by thieves generally. He was a confidence man of
the higher type; the sort of man who would go into strange cities or
villages or communities, and represent himself to be a professional man;
sometimes a minister; sometimes a priest; again a rabbi; and it was his
graft to solicit and collect contributions for charitable purposes upon
forged recommendations and letters which he had prepared in advance.

His success in this line had been enormous, and his work had always been
done in the dark and alone, until six years before this particular
occasion, having done it once too often, Nick Carter had trailed him
down and captured him.

He continued:

"I was always very successful in my line of graft until Nick Carter got
after me, and while I didn't get quite so long a term as our friend
Cuthbert, I was sent up for five years, and served four years and three
months of it. I want to say to you now that every night and every
morning of my life during those four years and three months I cursed
Nick Carter and everybody and everything that belonged to him. That's
why I'm here. I take part in this little scheme that Madge has concocted
to down that fellow with the greatest pleasure I have ever known. If you
should happen to be in want of funds any time----"

"I'll supply the funds," interrupted Madge.

"All the same, if you should happen to be in want of funds at any time,
all you've got to do is to whisper it to The Parson and I'll put my hand
down in my pocket and supply the dollars, for I've got a few left, and I
know where there are a lot more to be obtained."

He resumed his seat slowly, rested his chin upon the head of his cane
between his hands, and the gloomy look came over his face again like a
mask.

And now Madge stood up behind the table, resting her hands upon it, and
leaning a little bit forward as she spoke.

"I'm a proud woman, my friends," she said. "I'm a young woman, too,
being not yet twenty-four, and a good hater. I am part Spanish and part
French. I was raised in Paris, and learned all that I know about my
business over there. The first time that I ever saw Nick Carter in my
life was in the office of the Prefecture of Police in the room of the
Chief of the Secret Service. I was seventeen years old at the time when
the chief had sent for me to question me about the death of a woman
which had occurred in the house where I lived on the floor above me, and
about which, fortunately, I knew absolutely nothing.

"But Nick Carter came into the chief's office while I was there. I had
only a fleeting glance of him at the time. I left the room almost as
soon as he entered it. I did not see him again for five years, at which
time he came in disguise to the thieves' headquarters where I was
staying. I recognized him that time by his eyes, but nevertheless he
captured me and sent me to jail.

"I escaped from that jail before I came to trial, and did it through the
help of my friends. Somewhat later than that he hunted me down a second
time, but I escaped, and I have sworn now to be even with him, and that
is why I have brought you here together. You will please to stand up
now, raise your right hands, and repeat after me in taking the oath of
The Band of Hatred."



CHAPTER XX.

A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS.


A strange series of accidents began the night of the day following the
receipt of the letter, and Nick Carter had no doubt whatever that it was
the first act to be played in the drama of vengeance which Black Madge
had inaugurated against them.

It was rather a simple thing of itself, and did no damage to amount to
anything. The fact was that during the night some malicious person had
placed under the front steps in the areaway of his house a barrel that
had been filled with cotton waste saturated with oil. It was only
necessary after that to apply a match to the inflammable material to
start an incipient conflagration. Had the house itself not been built of
granite, and--save the doors and windows and other trimmings--been
practically fireproof, the result would have been disastrous; as it was,
however, beyond badly scorching the door, and cracking a few of the
stones by reason of the intense heat that was generating, no damage was
done.

But the fact had been sufficient to remind Nick Carter and his three
assistants that Madge had not threatened idly, and that already she had
undertaken to carry out the substance of some of her warning.

At midnight the day following the fire in the areaway a blazing bomb was
hurled through the window of the second story of Nick Carter's house,
and rolled to the middle of the floor, where it blazed furiously, and
would undoubtedly have done a great deal of damage had it not so
happened that the housekeeper was present at the time, for Nick had a
guest that night, and she had been called late to prepare the room for
him.

The day following this one, about four o'clock in the afternoon, Joseph
discovered a dynamite cartridge containing a pound and a half of the
explosive in the vestibule at the front door. The fuse of this cartridge
was already alight and would have reached and exploded the percussion,
or detonating cap, if Joseph, for some reason unknown, had not gone to
the front door at that moment. He was not called there, and had not
heard anybody in the vestibule, or on the steps, and Joseph forever
insisted after this incident that it was an intervention of Providence.

This last incident was extremely serious, for had the cartridge been
exploded it must have torn away the entire front of the house, and have
done enormous damage, even if it had taken no lives.

Friday night of that week at about half-past eight o'clock in the
evening Chick and Patsy were walking up Madison Avenue together, and
when they arrived at the corner of Thirtieth Street, and were about to
turn toward Fifth Avenue, a shot was fired at them from across the
street.

Fortunately the bullet did not strike either of them; and, although they
both immediately pursued the would-be assassin, he was evidently
prepared to avoid them, for he leaped upon a bicycle and sped away so
swiftly that there was no hope of overtaking him. They only saw that he
was tall and slender, and that was all.

The Saturday morning following an express wagon stopped at Nick Carter's
house and delivered a package addressed to the detective, which was
marked: "Fragile. This side up, with care."

Joseph carried it to the detective's study, placed it upon the table,
and was about to leave the room when Nick stopped him.

"What is that, Joseph?" he asked.

"An express package, sir, which just came for you."

"Who brought it, Joseph?"

"The express wagon, sir."

"Bring it over here. Let me see it."

Joseph took the package in his hand, carried it over to place it on the
desk in front of the detective, who regarded it with a smile, while
strangely enough his mind went back to the number of attempts to injure
him that had been made during the week that was now nearly past.

"Did you sign for it, Joseph?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"I am expecting no package." said the detective.

"No, sir," said Joseph, not knowing what else to reply.

"I think, Joseph," said the detective, "that if you will take it to the
basement, or, rather, to the laundry, and draw one of the tubs there
full of water, it would be a good idea to put the package to soak for
five or six hours before we open it."

"Really, sir," said Joseph. "Why?"

"Joseph, if that package had come here as it has a week or ten days ago,
I should have opened it without a second thought, but, under the
circumstances and considering all that has happened of late, I deem it
wise to use every precaution. Take the package down and soak it as I
have directed."

Some hours later, when the detective recalled the incident to mind, he
and Chick went to the basement together, found the package, and with a
great deal of care opened it--from the bottom.

It was found to contain an infernal machine of the most approved
pattern, loaded with broken glass, slugs of lead and old iron, and an
assortment of nails, old keys, and bullets.

"A very pretty little present to send a fellow," said Nick, smiling
grimly. "I rather think it is a lucky thing, Chick, that it occurred to
me to give it a good soaking. I wonder what the woman will do next?"

Sunday evening when the detective entered his room he found Joseph
writhing on the floor in evident agony, brought about by the contents of
what had been a box of candy, and Nick instantly guessed that another
attempt had been made upon his life, this time to poison him.

But Joseph fortunately had only nibbled at one of the pieces, and,
beyond an hour's suffering for his foolishness, was not injured.

It appeared, when Nick questioned him, that a boy had handed the box of
candy in at the door, saying, when Joseph appeared to receive it, that
it had been ordered by the detective himself, and was to be placed in
his study for him; and the boy had had the temerity to raise the lid of
the box when he delivered it, wink slyly at Joseph, and exclaim:

"See! aren't they dandy? I tasted one; they're fine."

And then he had run away, laughing.

Joseph had seen the candy, and, being fond of it, could not resist the
temptation also to take a taste of it when he placed the box upon his
master's table.

That same night, at half-past eleven o'clock, Nick was seated at the
desk in his study, which is located on the third floor in the rear of
his house. He was engaged in looking over some notes relative to an old
case which he wished to recall to mind.

The shade at the window was lowered, but the light was in such a
position that it threw his shadow against the curtain and outlined his
head upon it almost perfectly.

Suddenly he was startled by the report of a gun, and the next instant a
bullet crashed through the glass of his window and buried itself in the
opposite wall of the room.

Later on, when he investigated the incident, he found that the bullet
had passed directly through the shadow of his head as it was cast upon
the window shade, the person who fired it evidently supposing that his
head was directly behind that shadow; but the fact that the light was at
one side of the room, and had therefore thrown the shadow somewhat back
of where he was actually seated, saved his life.

Further investigation disclosed the fact that the bullet had been fired
from the rear of one of the houses in the block directly behind where
the detective lived. It was not discovered how the would-be assassin had
secured his position on the roof.

But this accumulation of accidents--so called for want of a better
term--was altogether too much for the serenity and the composure of the
detective and his assistants.

It was evident that Madge had determined to make his life miserable if
it could be done, and when Nick recalled the substance of the letter she
had sent him he decided in his own mind that the bullet had not really
been intended to take his life, but only to warn him of the dangers that
were hovering over him every minute that he lived.

In the meantime--or, rather, during the time that has already been
mentioned--the detective and his assistants had not been idle. There had
not been a day or a night when he and Chick and Patsy and Ten-Ichi had
not been engaged in searching some part of the city for Black Madge, or
for some trace of her.

They had visited the dens in the lower part of the city; they had
questioned the policemen and the stool pigeons of the detective bureau,
and they had even gone so far as to communicate directly with crooks who
were known to them for information concerning the woman.

But none had been forthcoming. Black Madge was keeping herself as
thoroughly under cover as if she were still in the prison in that other
State from which she had escaped.

But after this occurrence of Sunday night, when the bullet was shot
through the window at the detective, he determined to make no more
half-hearted efforts to find Madge, but to set out at once that very
night in search of her; and accordingly he put away his papers and
called Chick into the room with him.

"Chick," he said, "do you happen to know anything about Mike Grinnel's
place?"

"I only know," said Chick, "that he is said to keep one of the worst
dives in the city, and that it is located somewhere in Rivington Street.
I am not sure about it, because I have never had occasion to go there.
The only thing I do know about it is that it is said to be a great
Sunday night resort for thieves and crooks of all classes."

"Right," said Nick. "That coincides with what I have heard. I have never
been there, either, Chick but I am going there to-night--now. The
question is, do you want to go with me?"

"I sure do," replied Chick.



CHAPTER XXI.

CURLY JOHN, THE BANK THIEF.


Mike Grinnel's place in Rivington Street was at that time one of those
monstrosities which were permitted to exist within the limits of New
York City nobody knows how. During the day and the early part of the
evening it was to all appearances merely an ordinary saloon, and if a
stranger were passing it he would regard it as a likely place to enter
if he required refreshment.

But when the hours deepened into the night, the place gradually assumed
more and more the aspect which might be labeled dangerous. Men and women
drifted in together and talked in low tones at tables arranged along the
side of the room, and as the time continued toward midnight, and passed
it, the air of respectability gradually disappeared until it was
entirely gone.

By eleven o'clock the place was usually thronged by people who seemed to
know each other in a furtive sort of way, and who sometimes would call
others by name across the room.

At one o'clock the front doors were closed and locked; the curtains were
tightly drawn so that not a ray of light was permitted to escape into
the street, blinds were pulled up to make this fact doubly secure, and
this was when the place really began to live and thrive in its true
character. Then also was when Mike Grinnel himself came out of his
shell, and assumed personal charge of the affairs of the place; for Mike
Grinnel had a reputation among the crooks and thieves who were his
customers, and if an incipient row started at any time among his guests
he had only to look with his frowning brow in their direction to quell
it.

The way into this dive of Grinnel's after the legal hours, and when it
was supposed to be closed, was, strangely enough, through a house from
the other side, and of course it followed that only the initiated--those
who were known to the man at the door--could pass.

When Nick Carter and his first assistant left the house that particular
Sunday night to go to Mike Grinnel's, the principal question was how
they were to get inside the place at all.

Nick had no doubt in his mind whatever that if Black Madge were in town
that she would be one who would most certainly visit Mike Grinnel's dive
Sunday night, for that was the red-letter night of the week at that
place among the inhabitants of the underworld.

He knew that she would feel perfectly secure against intervention there.
He knew that she would have perfect confidence in the espionage which
Mike Grinnel exercised in his place for the safety of his customers,
for it was his boast that no thief or criminal of any sort had ever been
arrested in his place and taken from it by the officers.

And, therefore, Nick felt sure that if he could but gain admission and
Black Madge were in the city, which he did not doubt, he would find her
there.

To enter a place of this kind one must be actually introduced; that is,
vouched for by some frequenter of it. It will not suffice for one to
apply at such a place, and state merely that he knows so-and-so and is
all right; he will be turned down hard. But Nick Carter was never
without resource in a matter of this kind, and, therefore, when he left
the house with Chick, instead of going directly to Mike Grinnel's they
took their way to police headquarters, where, as he knew would be the
case, he found the inspector.

"Inspector," he said, "I noticed in the paper yesterday morning that
Curly John had been arrested by one of your men and brought to
headquarters on suspicion of being connected with that Liverpool bank
robbery three months ago."

"That's correct," said the inspector. "Do you know anything about the
case?"

"Not a thing in the world," said Nick, laughing; "but I want to use
Curly John. I want to use him very badly. I want you to lend him to me
for to-night, if you will."

The inspector could only stare his amazement. He had known Nick Carter a
good many years, but never before had he received a request of this kind
from him.

"I guess you will have to say that again, and say it slow, Nick; I don't
think I understand you."

The detective laughed heartily. Then he began at the beginning and told
first about the letter he had received from Black Madge containing the
threats, and then one by one related the incidents that had happened to
him and to his household during the week that was past. In conclusion,
he said:

"Now, inspector, I am convinced that if Black Madge is in the city of
New York, she is now at this very moment seated at one of the tables at
Mike Grinnel's place. I want to go there to find out. If she is there I
want to know it. If she is there and I can manage to find out where she
goes when she leaves there, that is all I care to know to-night."

"But how can Curly help you?" asked the inspector.

"Curly can help me in this way: I know something about his reputation
and his career. I came across him once several years ago in reference to
an old case of mine with which he had nothing to do, but concerning
which he gave me some valuable information. I found that Curly John was
all right at that time, and, as people of his profession regard it,
pretty much on the square. I want you, if you will, to ring the bell
and order him brought up here and let me talk to him."

"That's easy," said the inspector, and he did as requested.

Five minutes later when Curly John entered the room he paused when he
was just inside of the door, and fixed his eyes intently upon Nick
Carter, and then, with scarcely a glance at the inspector, who had
summoned him, he addressed himself directly to the detective.

"I know you," he said. "I remember you perfectly well, Mr. Carter, and I
wouldn't be afraid to bet that it was you that sent for me right now. I
hope you've come to get me out, for I give you my word that I know no
more about that Liverpool crib-cracking business than you do, and that's
what they're holding me for just now."

"Curly," said Nick, "you gave me some assistance once in a case I had
after I assured you that you would not betray a pal in doing it, and
that I would do a certain favor for you afterward. Did I keep my word
with you?"

"You kept it for fair, Mr. Carter. I ain't forgot it, neither."

"Well, Curly, I have come here to-night to get you to do another favor
for me, but first answer me one question."

"All right, sir. What's that?"

"Do they let you in at Mike Grinnel's Sunday night prayer meetings?"

"They sure do, Mr. Carter."

"If you were at liberty at this minute, isn't that the first place you
would point for?"

"That's about the size of it."

"And you would have no trouble in getting inside?"

"Not the least in the world."

"If the inspector will consent to let you go will you take me there--me
and this young man beside me, who is my assistant--on condition that I
make you a solemn promise that I will make no arrest while there; that I
will in no way interfere with Grinnel's business, or with any of his
customers who are there, and that unless you reveal the fact yourself it
will never be known that I was inside the place?"

Curly John scratched his head in perplexity.

"That's a pretty big contract you ask of me, Mr. Carter," he said.
"What's the game?"

"The game is, Curly, that I am very anxious to find out if a certain
person is in the city. If that person is in the city that person will be
at Grinnel's to-night, I know."

Curly scratched his head some more.

"And suppose, Mr. Carter, that person is at Grinnel's to-night, what do
you expect to do to that person?"

"To use your own words," replied Nick, "not the least thing in the
world."

"Then what do you want to go there for?"

"I have already told you that. I want to find out if that person is in
the city."

"Are you giving me this on the square?" asked Curly John.

"Absolutely on the square."

"And you won't make any trouble?"

"Not a particle of trouble of any kind."

"You nor that chap over there who is with you?"

"Neither of us. You have my word for that."

"Well, what about what's to come after it? Do you intend to follow that
person down and do the arresting afterward?"

"I will promise you, Curly, that there shall be no arrest of any kind or
of any person arising out of the visit to Grinnel's place to-night
within twenty-four hours from this moment."

Curly scratched his head a third time very intently and seriously, and
at last asked:

"Don't any of them coves over there know you, Mr. Carter?"

"I suppose," said Nick, smiling, "that every one of them knows me, and
that many of them know Chick as well."

"And so that's Chick, is it? I have heard about him. Well, now, Mr.
Carter, let me ask you this: You just now said that unless I told it,
not a soul would know that you were there at that place to-night if I
took you there. Now, how do you reconcile that with the fact that they
all know you?"

"In this way, Curly: That I shall ask you to wait here a few moments
after you give your consent, while Chick and I step into the next room
and make some alteration in our appearances with things that the
inspector will loan me from his cabinet."

Curly sneered.

"Oh! this is a disguise business, is it? Well, Mr. Carter, do you think
that the guns down there at Grinnel's are such blamed fools as not to
see through a racket of that kind?"

"Oh! I can fool them, all right," said Nick, "if you consent. Now,
Curly, I have given you a promise once before in my life, and lived up
to it literally. I have made you one now, and I will live up to it
literally. The inspector will let you go and will send for you in case
he should want you again. You get your liberty, and I get what I want.
And now, Curly, it's up to you. Will you do it?"

"Yes, by thunder, I'll do it! Go into the next room and get ready. When
you're ready, I am. And I will introduce you and Chick there as a pair
of old pals of mine from the other side of the water."



CHAPTER XXII.

AT MIKE GRINNEL'S DIVE.


When Curly John knocked at the door of the Sunday-night entrance to Mike
Grinnel's dive in a peculiar manner, that was evidently full of
significance to the one behind it, it opened instantly, and the burly
form of the bouncer of the establishment was discovered.

His face, which might have been a stone mask for all the expression it
manifested when he first appeared, beamed with joy, however, when he
discovered Curly John, and thrust out his big hamlike fist with
undoubted enthusiasm.

"Hello, Curly," he said. "I thought you were in limbo."

"And so I was," replied Curly, "until they discovered that they didn't
want me."

"Make up their minds that you wasn't in that little affair, eh?"

"That's the size of it, Red. Here's my two friends that I brought with
me. Some one you don't know, and they ain't either of them known inside,
either. Do you let them pass?"

"Sure, Curly. I lets them pass, if you say so."

"Come, lads," said Curly, without vouchsafing any further statement to
the guard at the door; and so it was that the way was open for the two
detectives to enter upon the mysteries of that infamous retreat where it
was the proprietor's boast that no police officer had ever appeared
without his own expressed permission.

The big room where the patrons congregated on Sunday night was
comfortably filled when Nick Carter entered it with his two companions.

In all that place there were only two tables unoccupied, and one of
those was almost directly in the centre of the room. Curly led the way
to it at once, and the three seated themselves around it while the bank
burglar sent out his order for the refreshments that were required.

Nick and Chick had made the necessary changes in their appearance; and
each assumed the outward character and general aspect of a person who
would be likely to frequent such a place as Grinnel's.

Nick Carter was always a thorough believer in the maxim that too much
disguise was worse than none at all, and therefore, when the occasion
required that he should assume one, it was his habit to do as little
real disguising as possible, and therefore, with the exception of giving
himself a black eye, and blocking out a couple of his teeth, fixing his
face so that it appeared as though there was a couple days' growth of
beard upon it, and donning a rough-looking costume, he was unchanged.

In a place like Mike Grinnel's no man thought of taking off his hat
unless his head was too warm, and therefore Nick kept his on with the
brim pulled down well over his eyes.

The mere fact that the two detectives were in the company of Curly John
was sufficient voucher for their personalities, and it did not occur to
anybody, not even to Mike Grinnel himself, to question them.

They were there; they were with Curly John; he had brought them, and
that was enough. And, although there were many expressions of welcome
spoken and called out to Curly John when he passed into the room and
took his seat at the table, nobody in all that throng offered to
approach him, for it was an unwritten law of the underworld that a man
who reappears for the first time among his associates after imprisonment
is left alone to make his own advances when he is pleased to do so.

As for the two strangers who accompanied him, their presence did not
concern the others, so long as Curly John vouched for them.

If they thought anything about it at all, they assumed that the burglar
was preparing for another professional trip, and that the two strangers
were interested in his plans. They all regarded it as none of their
affair, and in the underworld it is the rule of life to mind your own
business, and let other people do the same.

As soon as the detective had taken his seat--which he was careful to do
in such a position that he could command a view of the greater part of
the room without perceptibly turning his head--he began, little by
little, and one by one, to study the people who were there.

At first he paid no attention whatever to the men; but, since it was a
fact that more than half of the guests, or patrons, or whatever you
please to call them, were women, and as there were at least sixty
persons present, it was some time before his eyes rested upon the face
that he sought.

But Madge was there without question. She had not thought it necessary
to attempt any disguise of any sort, and her bold, black eyes were
roving restlessly about the room when Nick Carter encountered them.

But his own were so thoroughly shaded by the wide brim of the slouch hat
he wore that he did not believe that she knew he was looking at her.

In this manner he studied her for some time, and discovered that she was
furtively watching Curly John and the two who had come there with him.

It was apparent to the detective that Black Madge had not overcome her
old habit of suspecting everybody; and the mere fact that there were two
strangers present in the room, even though they were accompanied by one
of the old habitués of the place, was to her a warning that they might
not be all right.

It had been Nick's intention to make no demonstration of any kind while
he was inside Grinnel's dive; it was his purpose to go there and observe
all that he could, and then to go away again without having exchanged a
word with any one except Curly, unless it should become absolutely
necessary.

He intended--if he should succeed in finding Madge there--to trust to
luck and his own ingenuity to follow her when she would leave the place,
and so discover where she was living, and by that means he could keep
his eye upon her for several days thereafter, and ultimately could round
up the gang of crooks which he had no doubt she had organized.

But Madge, although she had no idea that either of the strangers might
be Nick Carter, did not intend that these two men should leave that room
without passing through some sort of inspection which would serve to
identify them for what they might be.

While every one else in that place was thoroughly satisfied about them,
because of their presence with Curly, this fact cut no ice with Black
Madge, and always suspicious, she was instantly suspicious of them when
they entered.

Therefore, a very short time had elapsed after the detectives took their
seats at the table, before she left her own place, and crossed the
sawdust-covered floor swiftly to Curly's table.

There she slapped him on the shoulder, as a man might have done, and
with a laugh, which called the attention of every other person in the
room to what she was doing, as she intended it to do, she exclaimed:

"Hello, Curly. It does me good to see you back among us again. How did
you put out the lamps of those chaps up in Mulberry Street, so that they
let you out?"

Curly, who was wise in his day and generation, jumped to his feet and
shook hands heartily with Black Madge; for he guessed instantly that it
was not to greet him that she had crossed the floor, but rather to gain
a closer view of his companions, and by standing erect he could keep her
a little distance without appearing to do so.

"Oh! they just found out they didn't want me," he replied. And then,
realizing that something was expected of him by the others in the room,
at least, if not Madge herself, he jerked a chair around toward her, and
added: "Sit down, Madge, won't you, and have something?"

"Sure," she replied, laughing again, and dropping negligently into the
chair.

"What kind of a game are you playing now, Madge?" asked Curly, after he
had motioned to the waiter to approach; and then, pausing long enough
to give the order, he added: "Last I heard of you you were behind the
mosquito bars resting up a bit."

Madge laughed again. She seemed to be full of laughter to-night, but it
was an uneasy, imperfect, and significant sort of laughter that Nick
Carter had heard from her lips before, and which he, therefore,
understood. He realized, now, that it was important that he should
proceed with great caution.

"Oh, yes," she said. "Nick Carter did that for me. But I'm out again,
just the same, and now my lay is to get square with Nick Carter."

"You don't say so," said Curly, shifting uneasily in his chair, and
forgetting himself so far as to cast one furtive glance in the direction
of the detective. "What are you going to do to him?"

"Ask me that after I've got him where I want him," replied Madge, fixing
her bold eyes full upon Nick Carter's face; and then, slowly removing
them, and swinging her body half around until she again faced Curly, she
added insinuatingly:

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends, Curly?"

Curly shook his shoulders. He was on safe ground, now, ground where he
felt perfectly at home; for it was never necessary to indulge in
introductions in that walk of life, not even when they were asked for,
but he replied:

"Sure, Madge. These are my two friends, and I guess that'll be about
enough. You can call them by any name you want to, and they'll both
answer you."

"Under cover?" she asked.

"A little," admitted Curly.

"Are they dumb, or tongue-tied, or have they temporarily lost their
voices; or, are they only bashful? I should think that two full-grown
men such as they are might be able to speak for themselves."

"It ain't always good taste to speak for yourself," said Curly, with an
uneasy laugh. "They might do it once too often."

Madge's suspicions were plainly aroused. She remained silent for a
moment after that, and then, leaning forward, she rested her arms upon
the table, and with her face thrust well forward over them, again stared
into the detective's face.

"Do you know who you are like?" she asked coolly.

"Yes," replied Nick, just as coolly as she had spoken, "I have heard it
said often, but if you will take my advice you won't mention the name
aloud. It might excite some of the people here."

She laughed.

"That's just what I mean to do," she said, with a tightening of her
lips. "They need excitement; that's what they live on. It's what we all
live on. It's what we come here to get. Excitement is the backbone and
muscle and sinew of our beings. And do you know that I think I could
startle them all mightily right now if I should call something out to
them which is on my mind to say?"

She reached out her left hand, and seized Curly by the shoulder, pulling
him over to her, and then, in a tone which only the three who were
present with her could hear, she went on, her voice deadly calm:

"Did you think, Nick Carter, that you could fool Black Madge? Did you
think that you could come here into this same room where I am without my
knowing instantly who you were? Don't you know that your very presence
in the same room with me would make itself known to my sensibilities by
reason of the very hate I bear you?"

She paused a moment and laughed uneasily. And then she continued:

"Don't you know, Nick Carter, that you have walked directly into a trap,
from which you cannot escape? And were you not aware before you came
here that if your identity became known your life wouldn't be worth a
moment's purchase? If you so much as quiver an eyelid, Nick Carter, I
will call out your name, and point you out as a spy, and you know what
that will mean in Mike Grinnel's dive."



CHAPTER XXIII.

BLACK MADGE'S DEFIANCE.


It was a crucial moment for each of the three men who were seated at
that table, and it affected each of the three quite differently.

Chick was concerned only for the safety of his chief, for even then it
did not occur to him that Black Madge had taken sufficient interest in
himself to identify him, and that doubtless she still regarded him as
really a friend of Curly's.

Curly was plainly frightened, as well as utterly astounded. It had never
occurred to him that the disguise of Nick Carter, which had seemed to
him to be perfect, would be, or could be, so readily penetrated; and he
realized, for the moment, at least, that he was in as much danger as
Nick Carter himself, for if it should be known to the others--or should
suddenly be made known to them--that Nick Carter was in that room, they
would not only kill the detective, but they would also murder the man
who had dared to bring him there.

Black Madge was as thoroughly aware of this fact as was Curly himself,
and she did the latter justice to believe that somehow he had been
imposed upon by the detective, just as Nick had sought to impose upon
all of them; in a word, she did not blame Curly for the existing
situation.

As for the situation itself, she was delighted with it, for it had
thrust Nick Carter into her power much more quickly and certainly than
she had ever supposed it could be done.

She had not been seated at the table with them a full minute before she
was perfectly assured in her own mind that the man opposite her was Nick
Carter, and it did not occur to her to doubt that the other man was one
of his assistants--it made no difference to her which one.

And now, while she threatened the detective with death if he should make
any overt omission, she was eagerly casting about in her mind how to get
him entirely into her power to do with as she would without alarming the
others that were present there.

She knew that Nick Carter understood and realized the danger as
thoroughly as she did; but she also knew that he was extremely
resourceful whenever danger threatened, and that she might only count
upon him as captured and overcome entirely when he was bound and gagged,
or dead, before her.

As for Nick, when Madge uttered the threat to him, he returned her gaze
steadfastly, at the same time reaching out a little farther with the
hand that was resting upon the table, and then he replied, quietly and
in the same low tone that she had employed:

"I took every one of those things into consideration, Madge, when I came
here. Now, I want to know if you intend to shout out that name, and give
the alarm, as you have threatened to do, or if you will sit there
quietly where you are, pretending to be interested in the drink in front
of you, and talk it over calmly."

She shrugged her shoulders, and again leaned back in her chair, but at
the same time drawing it a little nearer to the table.

"As you please," she said. "I don't care to precipitate matters and
break up the party here unless you force me to do so--at least, not just
yet."

"Madge," said Nick, "you think that you have me in your power. You
believe that by shouting out my name I would be killed. That is
doubtless quite true, but before that killing was accomplished I should
have done a little execution on my own account, and Chick, who is here
beside me, is quite ready to do his part. As for Curly, he is an
innocent party in this affair, so we won't consider him at all, although
you must admit that he would have to take the consequences of bringing
me here, which would be far from pleasant."

She nodded, and smiled at him fiercely, and then she replied:

"Go on. You were about to tell me that in the sleeve of that arm, which
is extended toward me over the table, you hold a weapon with which you
could kill me before I could give the alarm a second time. Very well I
know it, but all the same I am not afraid of it, Nick Carter, any more
than I am afraid of you, and you know that I have never been that."

"I know," said Nick.

"Go on, then," she repeated. "What do you want to talk about? Since you
wish to talk things over calmly, what did, you come here for, anyhow?"

"I came," said Nick, "believing that you were in the city, and knowing
that I would find you here if you were, I came because I was determined
to find out where you were, and to put a stop to your career."

She started savagely, but Nick held up his hand and hushed her.

"I am not going to make any arrests in this place, Madge. I am not going
to interfere with Mike Grinnel's business, or with his reputation for
affording security to his patrons. If every person in this room was my
friend instead of my enemy, you, Madge, would be as free to depart in
peace when you get ready to do so as you would have been had I not come
here."

"That all sounds very fine," she said, "if only I cared to believe it."

"Believe it or not, as you please, it is the truth."

"And what did you come here for?"

"I have told you that already. I came to find you."

"And, having found me, to let me go away in peace?"

"I have said that also, I believe."

"Nick Carter," she exclaimed, laughing scornfully, "you are not a good
liar."

"I never lie," replied Nick.

"Well," she said, "I will speak my little piece, now that you are
through. You are here, and there are two locked doors between you and
the street, and there are between twenty and thirty men in this room now
who would rather be killed than let you escape if they knew you were
here. I might as well confess to you that eight of those men belong to
me. That is, they obey my orders. Now, what are you going to do about
it?"

"I think," replied Nick quietly, and smiling back at her, "that, with
your permission, I will order another round of drinks."

She pushed back her chair petulantly from the table, and half started to
rise from it, but Nick Carter's voice, low, but sharp, halted her.

"Stop, Madge," he said; "keep your seat. This thing has gone too far for
either of us to attempt to fool the other. You might as well understand
that if there is to be any row precipitated, I will do the
precipitating."

She blazed her eyes at him for an instant, and then parted her lips with
the evident intention of shouting out his identity. And, while he did
not move to prevent her from doing so, the steady gaze of his eyes
somehow overcame her, and she closed them again without making a sound.

"That is better, Madge," he said. "This is a case of diamond cut
diamond, only for the moment my diamond is a little harder and sharper
than your own. Take my advice, and sit where you are."

Curly and Chick had both been absorbed spectators and listeners to this
little scene between the detective and Black Madge.

Chick had, of course, made himself ready at any instant to act, no
matter what sort of action might be required.

But Curly was distinctly in a quandary. He knew that it was no fault of
Nick's that the discovery had been made, and he also knew that if she
was forced to keep silent the identity of Nick Carter would not be
discovered by the others present.

If the thing should come to a row, every instinct of Curly's life and
profession would force him to take the side of the underworld as against
Nick Carter, and his impulse would be that way, too. But his strongest
desire at that moment was to prevent an exposure at any cost. It was for
this reason that he now intervened.

"Madge," he said, "listen to me for a minute."

"Hello, Curly," she said, turning her head lazily toward him, "it isn't
necessary for you to butt in on this affair."

"I am going to butt in, Madge, just the same. Now, listen to me."

"Go on, then."

"You know where I stand, Madge, and there ain't no reason why I should
explain how all this came about; or, if you think there is, there ain't
going to be any explanation offered anyhow, but the point about it is
this: It wouldn't be healthy for you, nor for any of us, if you should
yell out a certain name in this present community, and I want to tell
you right now that I won't stand for your doing it. It's up to you to
keep still, Madge, and mind your own business, for while I should be
with the boys as against Nick Carter to the bitter end, if it actually
came to a fight, at the same time I'd blame you for the fight, and
although you're a woman you would be the first one I'd look for out of
this bunch. Now, I've spoken my piece, and you can go on with yours."

This was a development which Madge had not anticipated, but Curly had
spoken so plainly to the point, and his premises were so well taken and
so logical from his standpoint, that she could offer no objection.

If she could have left the table for a moment; if she could have had
time to think, or if she could have secured an opportunity to exchange
half a dozen sentences with any one of the members of her Band of
Hatred, it would have been different, and she might have planned for the
overthrow of the detective.

As it was, the circumstances had arrived at such a condition that
leaving her chair would be equivalent--so far as her companions were
concerned--to the calling out of Nick Carter's name.

Madge knew Curly John, and she knew him for a man who never made idle
threats. His reputation among his fellows was that he spoke very rarely,
and said very little when he did speak, but that what he said was always
to the point, and that he always meant what he uttered.

And so she saw the tables rather turned upon herself. Instead of Nick
Carter being in her power, she was temporarily in his.

The situation had its ludicrous side. Each was in a sense the prisoner
of the other, for, while Nick Carter could not hope to escape from that
room unless she gave him permission to leave it, she could not rise from
the chair upon which she was seated without risking death unless he
permitted it.

If only she could have conveyed the shortest kind of a message to Mike
Grinnel, or have signaled some word to Slippery, or to Surly Bob, or
Gentleman Jim, or Fly Cummings, or Cuthbert, or Maxwell, or The Parson,
all of whom were in that room at the time, everything would have been so
easy for her.

But she could not leave her chair; neither could she signal to any of
these.

Nick Carter's eye was upon her; his arm was extended across the table,
and she knew the potency of that arm, as well as something about the
strength and fund of resource of the detective.

But the situation was unbearable. She felt that she could not endure it,
and that in some manner it would have to be brought to a close, and at
once.

And so she leaned still further back in her chair, gradually tilting it
until it rested poised upon the two rear legs.

And then, with a sudden motion, and at the same instant uttering a
scream, which rang shrilly through the room, she threw herself directly
backward, at the same time kicking up her feet and so striking them
fiercely against the under side of the table.

The weight of her body and the force with which she struck the table
instantly overturned it, bottles, glasses, and all, so that it crashed
to the floor in utter confusion.

And at the same instant every one in that room leaped to their feet and
reached for their weapons.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE FLIGHT THROUGH THE CELLAR.


The action of Black Madge was so sudden and so unlooked for that it came
as an entire surprise, even to Nick Carter, and the act which overturned
the table, coming as it did from a position directly opposite his own,
sent the table full upon him, and spilled the contents that had rested
upon it into his lap.

More than that, in spite of his effort to resist the force of the
attack, his chair was overturned backward, and he found himself the next
instant sprawling upon the floor.

But even if he was for an instant put out of business by the incident,
there were other things connected with it which worked to his
assistance.

Always in a resort of this kind, where there is ever the least
likelihood of police interference, there are many arrangements prepared
for instantly turning off the lights, and it is the first impulse of
every person who finds himself in such a place to "dowse the glim"
instantly upon the raising of a disturbance, if it is possible to do so.

Again, when there is the sudden noise of crashing glass and the
appearance of confusion in such a place at such a time, it never can be
determined at once what the cause of it is, and, as discretion is
always the better part of valor, and certainly is counted so among the
denizens of the underworld, there were at least a dozen men in that room
at the time who leaped for the switch to turn off the lights the instant
that Madge upset the table.

Mike Grinnel himself happened to be standing where one of the switches
was within reach of his hand, and so it happened that before Nick
Carter's chair could reach the floor the place was in total darkness.

Nick was not unaccustomed to experiences of this kind. It was by no
means the first time that he had been present in a resort like this one
when the lights had been turned off, and it is safe to say that he never
in his life entered a room where such a thing was likely to occur
without studying his surroundings carefully the moment he was inside,
and determining then and there what course he would pursue if such an
event should occur.

Consequently, although Madge's action came as an utter surprise to him,
he was nevertheless prepared for it. And so was Chick.

When the detective found himself falling, and knew that his chair must
topple over, the thought instantly came to him that Chick would escape
the greater part of the confusion resulting from it--and he knew that
he could rely upon Chick's activity and resource as thoroughly as upon
his own.

Nick managed to seize the edge of the table with his hands while
falling, and exerting the great strength of his arms to the utmost, he
literally picked it from the floor and hurled it over his head, while he
was practically lying on his back.

Then, kicking the chair from under him, and half rolling over--realizing
in that instant that Madge could not possibly get upon her own feet as
quickly as he could on his--he leaped to his knees, and threw himself
forward across the now empty space which the table had occupied, and so
managed to seize the skirt of Black Madge's dress.

One jerk of his strong arms pulled her toward him, and the next instant
he had seized her, and by passing one arm around her neck clapped his
hand over her mouth, thus preventing her from calling out.

Although she struggled fiercely, clawing with her hands, and kicking
with her heels, and attempting vainly to scream, the confusion in the
room was so great that no one was conscious of what she was doing, save
Nick Carter himself, who held her.

And Nick knew that behind the bar, almost midway in its length, there
was a small door, which connected with some sort of an apartment back of
it. What that apartment was, he did not know, other than that he had
seen Grinnel pass out and return through that small door twice since he
entered the place; and he concluded that it must be sort of a retiring
room, possibly a private office of the proprietor.

The door was not tall enough for a man to pass through standing in an
upright position, and it was considerably narrower than an ordinary
door; but all the same, to Nick's idea, it offered a safe and secure
retreat for the moment, if he could but succeed in reaching it.

What was beyond it, he did not know. But it was enough for him, that, if
he could get past it before the lights were turned on again, he at least
would be out of that crowded room, and have time to catch his breath,
and determine what it was best to do.

He regarded Chick as entirely competent to take care of himself.

Therefore, the instant that he seized upon Madge, and stopped her
screaming by clapping his hand over her mouth, he pulled himself to his
feet, and, holding her struggling form firmly, he carried her safely
across the space which intervened between him and the end of the bar--a
space which he knew would be practically clear of impedimenta at the
moment.

Nick figured that Grinnel, having turned off the lights, would stand
silently with his hand upon the switch ready to turn them on again in an
instant.

If he could only succeed in carrying Madge behind that bar and through
the door already described before the lights were turned on, much would
be accomplished.

The detective reached the end of the bar in safety, and, feeling the
back of it with his body, glided around behind it to the spot where he
knew the small door to be located, and then, releasing his left hand
from the woman he carried long enough to reach for the latch of the
door, he pulled it open, passed through, and closed it behind him.

With the hand that was still free he pulled a pair of handcuffs from his
pocket, and, before Madge could escape him, he snapped them upon her
wrists behind her back and dropped her to the floor, at the same time
pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and tying it firmly--much too
firmly for her comfort--around her jaws.

His next act was to produce his flash light and turn it upon the door,
where, to his delight, he discovered that it was only necessary to drop
a heavy iron bar into place to secure it; and this bar passed entirely
across the door, and rested in iron slots at either side of it.

He also noticed in that instant that the door was an extremely heavy
one, and that the partition through which it opened was a substantial
one. Without doubt, the room had been prepared by Mike Grinnel himself
with great care as the means of a safe and sure retreat for him in the
event of a raid upon his place.

The detective discovered, also, that there was a gas jet in the room,
and he turned this on, and lit the gas at once.

Madge was in the meantime using every effort in her power to pull the
handkerchief from her face, so that she could cry for help, but now with
light sufficient to see what he was about, the detective lost no time in
securing her so firmly that she was entirely helpless.

To her baleful glances of utter hatred, he paid not the slightest
attention, but he began at once to examine the room with great care,
knowing well that there should be another means of entrance to and
egress from it than the one he made use of. For Mike Grinnel, skilled as
he was in the habits of the people he dealt with, would never have built
for himself a den from which there was no escape after once he had
entered it. Although there was no sign of a second door to be seen
anywhere, Nick did not despair of finding one, and he began his search
by first pulling out a sideboard which stood against the wall, and
looking behind it.

He next had recourse to a couch, under which he searched for a trapdoor,
but found none; and then his attention was attracted to an iron safe,
not quite so high as his head, which stood in one corner of the room.

An iron safe is not a thing which is easily moved from its position, but
Nick seized upon it, nevertheless; nor was he surprised when he found
that it was so perfectly balanced on the wheels that supported it that
it moved readily enough in response to his efforts.

And behind it was the door he sought. It was not over three feet high,
and thirty inches in width, but there was a latch upon it, mortised into
the wood, and there was a hole in the door, through which was passed a
small steel chain that was attached to a rung fastened to the iron safe.
This, of course, was intended to use for pulling the safe back into
position after the door had been made use of, and the fugitive, whoever
he might be, had made his escape.

Nick pulled open the door, thus making it ready for his use, and then
quickly returned to Black Madge's side. He raised her in his arms,
carried her to the little door, and, having unceremoniously thrust her
headfirst through it, crawled after her, closed the door, and pulled the
safe into place again with the aid of the chain.

He found himself now in a narrow corridor, faced by rough bricks on
either side of him, evidently constructed between the party walls of the
two buildings, and ten feet in front of him he perceived a flight of
steps leading downward.

Again picking Madge up in his arms, he hurried down the narrow stairs to
the bottom, and there came upon an iron door, fastened with a spring
lock on the inside, which he therefore easily opened.

Passing through this, and closing it behind him, so that the lock
snapped again, he found himself in the cellar beneath the building that
adjoined the one in which Mike Grinnel's dive was located. Across the
cellar, and at the far end of it, was a flight of wooden stairs.

Nick regretted at that moment that he did not remember what sort of a
place was located next to Grinnel's, but he realized the imperative
necessity of getting out of the building into the street as quickly as
possible, no matter how he accomplished it, and therefore, when he
carried his captive up those stairs to the top of them, and found there
only an ordinary wooden door locked against him, he lost no time in
kicking it open, and passing through.

When he did so, and when he came out in the room above, it happened that
the battery of his own light gave out, and before he could determine his
surroundings he was in utter darkness.

This lasted, however, only a moment, and he was in the act of hastening
forward toward the front of the house, when, with startling suddenness,
the whole place flashed into brilliant illumination, and he found
himself standing at one end of what looked like a Chinese laundry, while
directly in front of him, and not many feet distant, was Mike Grinnel
and three of the men from his place, confronting him, with drawn
revolvers in their hands.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE MAN IN THE BED.


The detective knew in that instant that he could no longer hope to save
his prisoner; that is, to escape with her, and that the chances were
about a thousand to one against his own escape.

That Mike Grinnel was thoroughly incensed, and that he was determined
that the detective should never get out of that place alive, was
apparent in the cold glitter of his eyes, as he looked at Nick across
the barrel of his revolver.

And Nick knew how Grinnel had succeeded in heading him off. He could see
in his mind just what the surprise was in the saloon when the lights
were again turned on and it was discovered that one of the strangers who
had come there with Curly had disappeared, and had taken Black Madge
with him.

Grinnel, knew, of course, that there was only one way out of that place,
which was through the private door back of the bar into the little room
which he used as an office, and thence through that other door behind
the safe, through the narrow corridor, down the stairs into the cellar,
and then up again into the back end of the Chinese laundry.

And Grinnel had lost no time in summoning to his aid three of his most
trusted adherents, and hastening with them to the laundry, where he was
ready to head off the detective's retreat.

It had not been difficult for them to get there and be ready for him
before he could reach the place with his burden; for he had used up a
great deal of time in searching out the secret door behind the safe, and
in finding his way through the cellar.

And, moreover, Mike Grinnel was a man of expedient. Having arranged this
method of escape for himself, if the necessity of it should arise, he
had also prepared the laundry with lights to turn on or to extinguish as
he might desire; and, therefore, having reached the laundry and prepared
himself and his followers for the coming of the detective, they had only
to wait silently in the darkness until they heard him approaching, when
Mike switched on the lights.

It was a moment fraught with peril, and with unnumbered possibilities.
At such times there is always an instant of inaction; an instant when
neither party concerned knows quite what to do.

But the detective, as it happened--with the possible exception of Mike
Grinnel himself--was the first to recover.

The detective was carrying Madge in his arms; and now, at the risk of
injuring her, realizing that it was the only way by which any
possibility of escape could be offered to himself, he raised her over
his head at the very instant that the turning on of the lights revealed
his enemies, and threw her with all his strength at Mike Grinnel's burly
figure.

Of course, not one of the crooks dared to use his weapon, lest Black
Madge herself be shot, and it was upon this idea that the detective
acted as much as any other.

Nor did it occur to Mike Grinnel that this other, whom he had seemed to
have now guessed must be Nick Carter, would resort to any such measure
as he had, and, therefore, he was not prepared.

The body of Madge, flying the short distance across the room, struck
Grinnel squarely on the chest, and thus forced him backward against two
of the men who were with him; and so in that instant four people all
together were huddled in a heap upon the floor, and only one of Nick's
visible enemies remained standing.

And the instant that Nick threw Madge at them, he leaped forward and
seized the switch, which was almost at Grinnel's shoulder, where he had
been standing; and, with a twist of his wrist, he turned off the lights
as suddenly as they had been turned on.

At the same instant he had taken into consideration the position of the
one man of the enemy who was left erect, and no sooner had he turned the
switch than he leaped forward toward the spot where he knew that man to
be standing.

Nicely calculating the distance, he struck out a savage blow with his
right hand, and he heard this last one of his enemies go down in a heap
upon the floor.

And then the detective leaped over him toward the door which he had seen
during that brief interval of illumination, passed through it, and
pushed it shut behind him.

He knew now that he was in the front room of the laundry. He knew that
there should be tables and benches there, and it was only the work of an
instant for him to reach out and feel around until he seized upon one,
and then, exerting his great strength, he pulled it over in front of and
against the door he had closed.

A faint light shone into that room from the street, and Nick instantly
leaped for the front door of the shop, reaching it only to find that it
had been locked when the others entered.

But the door was of glass, and, hesitating not an instant, he seized a
chair and hurled it into the street, thus making a hole through which he
had no difficulty in passing.

The next instant he was outside, and for the moment, at least, safe. But
the detective knew that he was by no means free from pursuit as yet,
although he had no intention of fleeing very far; and, as he was about
to turn away, he remembered that he had left Chick inside the saloon
surrounded by rascals of every kind.

It was not in the nature of Nick Carter to desert any one under such
circumstances, much less his favorite, Chick.

While he hesitated, he heard a noise behind him in the laundry that was
made by Grinnel and his three followers, attempting to escape from the
predicament into which he had thrown them.

He remembered then that Grinnel and his men must have come out of the
dive by the front door or by the hall-door entrance, in order to have
reached the laundry when they did, and he figured in that instant that
it was more than likely that in doing so they had not thought to fasten
the door behind them, or had purposely, perhaps, left it unlocked in
order that they might be able to return with all the more speed to the
safety and seclusion of the dive.

He heard them pounding against the door against which he had pulled the
heavy bench, and he knew that at least three or four minutes must elapse
before they could make their escape; and in that moment he decided to
return to the saloon at whatever cost, if it were possible for him to
get there.

A few quick bounds brought him to the front door of the dive--that door
which swung so ceaselessly to and fro during the legal hours of its
business. He knew, although he tried it softly, that it was securely
locked against him, and he passed on to the hall door of the house,
which was just beyond it. This, as he had guessed might be the case, was
not fastened, and he pushed it open and passed beyond it.

He found himself in a hallway in black darkness, and while he paused for
a moment to listen, not a sound of any kind came to his ears, a fact
which led him to determine that either Chick had already been done for
by the frequenters of the dive, or else that he had been made a
prisoner, and was lying somewhere, bound and gagged, awaiting the return
of Grinnel.

Nick now crept along the hall until his hand came in contact with a
balustrade; and here he paused, uncertain whether to proceed through the
hall to the rear of the building, which he knew should give an entrance
to the saloon, or to ascend the stairs and temporarily hide himself in
the neighborhood of the house. Everything considered, this latter course
was distinctly the best one, since, doubtless, it would never occur to
Mike Grinnel or to any of those who were concerned with him in this
incident, that Nick Carter would have the temerity to return to the same
house from which he had just escaped.

Therefore, if safety were the only incentive for Nick Carter, to act
upon this was the very best course he could have adopted. But Nick was
ever one who considered his own safety last. His whole impulse now was
to do the best that could be done to get Chick out of the predicament
into which he had been thrust; and he considered that to be the very
method he had adopted.

Nick knew the characteristics of the people against whom he was pitted
well enough to understand that the moment they realized that he had
escaped them they would simply return to the saloon of the dive to
discuss it--and doubtless, also, to call to severe account those who
were responsible for the affair.

Such a discussion would not take place until two things had
happened--until they were satisfied utterly that Nick Carter had escaped
them, and also that they had Chick so thoroughly in their power that he
could not hope to escape.

And so the detective ascended the stairs softly, and as silently as a
shadow. He had no means of knowing, of course, the character of the
rooms on those floors, or their location; but, nevertheless, the
circumstances were such that he had to take desperate chances, and
therefore when he reached the landing he felt with his hands silently
along the wall until he came to a door, which he felt slowly down until
he touched the knob. This he turned, trying to open the door which
resisted him, showing that it was locked.

There is a way to force a door--that is, an ordinary door--and at the
same time make very little noise. It is done--if the door opens
inward--by seizing the knob firmly with both hands, having turned it,
and then by bracing the body with one knee pressed firmly against the
door directly under the knob. In this position, if it is assumed by a
strong man, every effort may be centred upon one sudden impulse forward,
which, while there is no visible or perceptible impact, will place all
of the muscular force and weight of the man directly upon the point
where the latch or lock of the door is located; and it is a very
substantial lock which will not give way under this sort of pressure
when it is correctly applied. Nor is there any perceptible noise, more
than that of the tearing out of the slot which holds the bolt of the
lock.

When this door gave way before the detective it admitted him to a square
room at the rear of the house--a room in which a lamp, turned low, was
burning; and as he closed the door behind him and pulled a chair in
front of it to hold it shut, he saw a figure of a man, who had been
sleeping fully clothed on a bed in one corner of the room, start to an
upright posture, staring and apparently alarmed.

"Who----" the man started to exclaim, but the detective interrupted him
with a sharp command.

"Shut up," he ordered, "if you let out a peep you will be the worse for
it."

Without a word, the man sank back upon the pillow, apparently not in the
least alarmed now, and evidently believing that the person who had
entered his room was only another like himself, who, having gotten into
some sort of trouble, was fleeing from his pursuers; and by all
precedents, if the man was pursued to that room, it would be infinitely
better for its permanent occupant to appear to be still sleeping
soundly, than to have any of the aspect of a confederate, and so he
closed his eyes again as if he were still alone.

Nick waited a moment at the door, listening for sounds outside, and
while he stood there he heard the hall door from the street open, and
presently close again, and he could distinguish the tramping of feet
along the hall as several persons passed to the rear of the house,
evidently on their way to the saloon again.

As soon as these noises had ceased, he knew that he was for the moment
at least safe from pursuit. He piled other things against the door, and
then deliberately crossed the room to the lamp and turned it up, after
which he strode over to the bedside.

"Now, my friend," he said to its occupant, "I'll have to ask you to wake
up for about three minutes."

"All right," was the simple response. "What do you want? Who are you,
anyway? And what in blazes do you mean by bursting into my room in this
way?"

"First," said Nick, "I want to know who you are, and whether you belong
here or not?"

"Oh, you make me tired," grunted the man on the bed. "I'm Phil, the head
day bartender downstairs."

"All right, Phil," said Nick, smiling. "Get up on your feet, where I can
look at you, and where you can answer a few questions for me."

"Oh, what's eating you?" growled the bartender. "I ain't been to bed
more than an hour. Let me sleep."

Instead of replying, the detective reached out his hand, and, seizing
Phil by the shoulder, jerked him from the bed to the floor, stood him on
his feet, and then seated him forcibly upon one of the wooden chairs
near at hand--so forcibly that his jaws snapped together like the
cracking of a nut.

"Now, will you be good?" asked Nick, smiling grimly.

"Yes, curse you," was the surly reply. "What do you want?"

"I want to talk to you."

"Well, talk on, can't you? I'm listening. Who are you, anyhow?"

"I'll tell you who I am," answered the detective, "and after I have done
so, perhaps you will consent to listen to me. I am Nick Carter, the
detective, and I want to make a little bit of use of you right now,
Philip."



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE CRIMINAL'S COMPACT.


"How long have you been here in this room?" asked the detective sharply.

"I told you about a minute ago," was the surly reply. "About an hour."

"Where were you before you came here?"

"That's none of your infernal business."

"I want to know if you were downstairs in the saloon?"

"No, I wasn't, if that will satisfy you."

"Have you been there at all to-night?"

"Yes, I was there about three hours ago."

"Was Black Madge there when you were there?"

A cunning leer came into the fellow's face before he answered, and then
he replied by asking another question.

"Who's Black Madge?" he demanded.

"You know well enough who Black Madge is," insisted the detective; "and,
Phil, if you keep a civil tongue in your head and answer my questions as
I ask them, it will be all the better for you. If you do not----"

"Well, what then?"

"If you do not, there are several little things connected with your
career which will make it unpleasant to have the inspector up at
headquarters question you about."

"Well, I ain't a-goin' to give away anybody downstairs, no matter what
happens," said the bartender.

"I'm not asking you to give anybody away. I merely asked you to answer
my questions."

"Well, go ahead and ask them. I will answer them if I can."

"Was Black Madge in the saloon downstairs when you were there?"

"Yes. She was."

"Has she been in the habit of coming here frequently of late?"

"I can't tell you for certain about that. You know, I'm on duty in the
daytime, and people of her kind come only at night."

"Answer my question," said the detective sternly. "You know the answer
to it, and you understand that I know you do."

"Well, I guess she's been in most every night for the last week."

"Do you know where she lives?"

"No."

"Do you know any of the gang that is traveling with her?"

"Yes; I guess I know most of that bunch."

"Well, Phil, I want you to tell me their names; every one of them. That
is, every one that you are certain forms one of her gang."

"There ain't anything certain about it, Carter. I'll tell you that on
the level. All I know about her and her gang is guesswork. But if I was
asked to mention them I should say that, judging from appearance, there
is about eight of them. Besides, Madge has got something up her sleeve,
but what it is I haven't an idea. It looks to me, though, as if they
were getting ready to crack some pretty big crib, and make the haul of
their lives. Now, if you're on to that lay, and your only purpose is to
prevent them doing it, so that I ain't telling you anything that will go
for putting them behind the bars, I will be on the level and tell you
all I know."

"You will have to tell me, anyhow, Phil," returned Nick quietly. "If you
don't do it willingly, I know of more than one way to compel you to do
it. However, you may rest easy upon the point you have made. I am not at
the present moment seeking to put any of them behind the bars; only
Black Madge herself. She has got to go there, whether you talk to me or
not."

"Well," said the bartender, "she don't cut any ice with me, anyhow.
She's too stuck up for my kind."

"All right," said Nick; "tell me the names of those eight men."

"There's Slippery Al, Surly Bob, Gentleman Jim, Fly Cummings, Joe
Cuthbert, Eugene Maxwell, and The Parson. Oh, and there's Scar-faced
Johnny; I forgot him. Now, I'll leave it to you, Carter, if that ain't a
likely bunch."

"And they were all in the room downstairs to-night," murmured the
detective meditatively.

"What!" exclaimed the bartender in astonishment, "do you mean to say
that you have been inside that saloon to-night?"

"Certainly."

"Would you mind telling me how you got there?"

"Never mind all that, Phil. That is not what I am here for--to explain
things to you. Do you know where Black Madge lives, or where she can be
found besides in this saloon?"

"I don't know anything about her more than I've told you."

The detective looked around the room for a moment, and discovered that
one of its articles of furniture was a tall, old-fashioned pier glass,
which reflected the full length of a person who stood before it. Then he
turned around and commanded the bartender to stand on his feet, studied
his appearance carefully, and then he shook his head.

"It won't do," he muttered.

"What won't do?" asked Phil.

"I was considering the possibility of making myself up in your likeness,
and of venturing in that disguise to go to the saloon," replied the
detective.

"What! right now?" asked Phil.

"Yes."

"And you don't think you could do it, eh?"

"No, Phil. You're too tall and too big. I never could make myself up to
look like you in the world. I will have to think of some other way."

Phil was thoughtful for a moment, while the detective was absorbed in
his own study of the situation, and then he looked up suddenly and
exclaimed:

"Why don't you send me downstairs for you?"

"Because," replied Nick, "the moment you got there you would call up the
whole gang, and have them up here after me inside of a minute."

"I wouldn't, either, Carter. Not if I agreed not to."

"I can't trust you, Phil."

Again that cunning leer came into the dissipated face of the bartender,
and he said quickly:

"You can trust me, if you pay me enough for it."

"A bribed man is usually the first to betray," said Nick.

"Not if the bribe is big enough, Carter."

"Do you mean to say that I can trust you to go down into the saloon and
to come back here presently and tell me exactly what the situation is?"

"You can, if you pay me enough. I told you that before."

"It isn't the question of pay, Phil; that is, the amount of pay. I would
be willing to give you almost anything if I thought you would perform
exactly what I want done, and return to me with the information I
desire, without saying or doing anything to betray my presence here."

"Well, I'm your huckleberry, if you want me to do it. All you've got to
do on your part is to cough up the dough."

The detective, who always went well supplied with funds, took a roll of
bills from his pocket, and slowly counted out one hundred dollars,
which, without a word, he handed to the bartender.

"I am going to take you at your word, Phil," he said slowly, "and that
is the first installment only of what I shall give you if you perform
the service well and thoroughly, and do exactly as I instruct you to do,
no more, and no less."

"And if I do it all as you tell me to do, how much more do I get?"

"Listen, and I will tell you."

"I'm listening, you bet your life."

"I came here to-night, Phil, with my first assistant, Chick; he is
downstairs somewhere now, probably bound and gagged and thrown under a
table, or behind the bar, or locked up in a closet. I want you to go
down there, and find out exactly what has become of Chick, and what has
happened to him. I want you to pick up all the information you can about
what has happened there to-night--that is, what they are saying about
it. You will have to remain there perhaps half an hour to accomplish
this, and all of that time you must be extremely careful not to let it
appear that you know anything about me at all."

"Well, and after that, what am I to do?"

"When you know what has become of Chick, and where he is now, figure out
the best way in which we can set him at liberty at once, or, if you can
manage to do it before you return to me, do it. If you succeed in
setting him at liberty yourself within the next half hour, I will,
before the sun goes down to-morrow, give you nine hundred dollars more,
and that will be a pretty good nest egg for you, Phil."

"I'll do the job, you needn't fret."

"Wait, there is another thing."

"Well, sir?"

"If you find that you cannot liberate him yourself without assistance,
you are to return to me at once, and we will plan together how it can
best be accomplished. When we have done that, if through your aid I
succeed in getting Chick safely away from here, you shall have the nine
hundred plunks extra just the same."

"On the level, Carter?"

"Yes, on the level, Phil. I mean every word I say."

"Well, I'm the huckleberry that can do it."

"Wait, Phil, before you start, there is one more thing still."

"What! another?"

"Yes. This. After we have gotten safely out of this pickle, and the
place has quieted down, it will be up to you to find out for me where
Black Madge hangs up her clothes. It is important, Phil, that I should
get that woman back into the prison where she belongs."

"I ain't no stool pigeon," grumbled the bartender.

"Neither am I asking you to be a stool pigeon," said the detective.
"What I want you to do is simple enough. I am not laying any plans
against any of the regular frequenters of this place. It's only Black
Madge I want, and you have confessed already that you don't like her.
Now, it's up to you if you want to go through this whole job, and do it
right. And, Phil, if you will stick to me and see the whole game through
the way I have outlined it to you, another thousand goes with the first
one."

"Geewhiz! do you mean that?"

"I certainly do."

"Well, then, I'm game for the whole layout, and I will see it through to
the end, but I don't want you to forget, Carter, that, if anything ever
comes of it so that my part in this business is found out by any one of
that crowd down there now, male or female, I wouldn't give a snap for
my chances of being alive twenty-four hours afterward."

"They won't find it out through me," said the detective. "If they find
it out at all it will be through you. And there's one thing more you
must remember, Phil, and that is if you betray me you will be in a whole
lot worse fix than you would be if your friends downstairs discover your
treachery. For if you do betray me, I will never let up on you, Phil,
until I see you behind the bars for a term of years that will make you
an old man before you come out again."



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE GLARE OF A MATCH.


When the bartender had taken his departure, Nick found a cigar in one of
his pockets, and seated himself to smoke quietly until Phil should
return. But when more than half an hour later the cigar was consumed,
and he had thrown it aside, he began to feel a sense of uneasiness that
the man should be gone so long a time.

However, he realized that it was no easy task that Phil had undertaken,
and that he might well occupy an hour or more in accomplishing it.

He had no more cigars to smoke, but he seated himself resolutely in a
chair, determined to wait with patience until his messenger should
return.

There was a small clock, ticking away merrily on the mantel, at the far
end of the room, and the detective watched it while the minute hand
worked its way slowly around the dial, until an hour, then an hour and a
quarter, and, finally, an hour and twenty minutes had elapsed since the
departure of the bartender.

His impatience was now so great, and his natural distrust of the
confederate he had employed was so prominent in his mind that he left
his chair, having first extinguished the light, and, going to the door,
opened it softly and peered outside.

The hallway was in utter darkness, the same as when he was there last,
and, although he listened intently, he could not hear the suggestion of
a sound from the lower regions of the house. After waiting a few moments
longer, he tiptoed forward cautiously to the stairs, and descended them,
being careful to step as closely as possible to the spindles of the
balustrade, in order that they might not creak beneath his weight, and
thus alarm others in the house. In this way he gained the lower floor.

Nick was somewhat handicapped without his flash light, but he remembered
quite distinctly the location of the sound he had heard two hours
earlier, when the party from the laundry had followed him in, and passed
through the hallway to a rear door. Now he sought that door by following
carefully along the wall until he came to it.

But, although he searched diligently for many minutes, he could not find
so much as a suggestion of a door anywhere.

He remembered then that in all probability there was no perceptible door
at all; that the door which was there somewhere was concealed in the
wainscoting in some way, or otherwise hidden from casual observation. To
have maintained a door of entrance to the saloon from that hallway would
have rendered it entirely unnecessary for Grinnel to keep up his
private entrance to the saloon from the other street. Nick's only method
of finding it now was to light a match, and this he hesitated to do, not
knowing what warning its glare might convey to others.

But there was no alternative, and presently he began his search by
lighting matches one after another, permitting them to flare up
sufficiently for a moment's vision, and then throwing them quickly to
the floor, after the manner adopted by burglars when they were engaged
in robbing a house before the pocket flash light was invented.

He was not long in discovering the entrance he sought. The walls along
the hallway were not plastered; they were merely built up with matched
boards, which had stood there unpainted for so long a time that they had
achieved a veneer of filth and dirt which made them look, in the flare
of the match, like mahogany.

But he could easily see where there was a keyhole cut into one of these
boards, and, although around it there was no other evidence of a door,
he knew that if he could turn the tumblers in that lock it would be
revealed to him.

He went to work with his picklock, and, as he supposed, the instant the
bolt of the lock was shot back the door opened easily and noiselessly in
his grasp, and from beyond it he could at once hear the murmur of
distant voices; also very far ahead of him, and beneath what was
evidently another door, he could perceive a gleam of light.

He stepped through, and closed it after him, but, realizing that it was
more than likely that he might wish to leave in a hurry, he left it
unlocked.

And now he tiptoed forward to the door beneath which the light shone,
and, getting upon his hands and knees, held his ear down where he could
hear with more distinctness.

The effect was almost the same as if he were inside the saloon.
Strangely enough, also, it was Madge's voice that came to him first, for
it appeared that she was seated near that very door, and by the answers
that were returned to her, Nick knew that no less a person than Mike
Grinnel himself was her companion. And they were speaking in low tones,
but, nevertheless, every word they uttered could be heard distinctly by
the detective.

It was in the midst of their conversation, evidently, that Nick began to
listen, and Madge was saying:

"I swore then, Mike, that I would be even with him, and that if I ever
succeeded in getting out of that prison where he put me I would never
rest another minute until Nick Carter was placed beyond the power of
injuring anybody."

"You bit off a little more than you could chew, didn't you, Madge?"
asked Mike Grinnel, in his slow, even voice, in which he never permitted
a sign of emotion.

"No, I didn't," she retorted. "I made some mistakes, maybe. I shouldn't,
for instance, have written him the letter I did."

"What was the letter, Madge?"

"Like a fool I wrote him a threatening letter, in which I told him to
look out for me. That was my vanity, I suppose. I wanted him to know
that I was on his track. I wanted to worry him; to give him something to
think of, and a lot of things to look out for."

"Well, what then, Madge?"

"It was then, Mike, that I began to get the guns together, Slippery Al,
and Gentleman Jim, and the others, and, of course, I made this place our
headquarters."

"That, Madge, is just what you shouldn't have done. That's what I'm
finding fault with you about now.

"Well," she said, "it's done, and it can't be helped; and Nick Carter
has been here, and he's gotten away again; but, all the same, we've got
Chick in our power, and if I do to him as I feel like doing now, he will
regret the day that he ever took my trail."

"If you leave him where he is now, Madge, he'll do that," said Grinnel,
laughing softly.

"Why, what would happen to him there?" she demanded quickly.

"For one thing the rats would probably eat him up before very long, and
it wouldn't be the first meal of that kind they've had down there,
either."

"You didn't tell me where you put him," said Madge.

"I don't tell anybody exactly where that place is, Madge. It's a little
hole that I've dug out underneath the cellar of this house; if it was
anywhere in the old country it would be called a dungeon; as it is, I
call it the grave--people who go there have a habit of never coming out
again."

The detective was anxious to know what had become of Phil, the
bartender. It was evident that the man had done nothing to betray the
detective, since these two were talking so quietly just inside the door
where Nick was listening.

The next words, while they did not exactly reassure him, made him think
that, after all, the bartender might be carrying out his contract by
attempting to set Chick at liberty himself.

"Is that where you sent Phil a few moments ago?" she asked. "Down there
to the dungeon where you put Chick?"

The detective could hear Grinnel chuckle and then reply:

"Yes, Madge, I sent him down there to fasten the young fellow up, so
that there would be no chance of his getting loose. You see, he was
senseless when we chucked him in there, and I forgot to make him fast,
as a sailor would say, but there are staples in the wall down there, and
there are chains fastened to those staples, and there are nice little
steel bracelets at the end of those chains, that fit beautifully around
a man's ankles. I sent Phil down to lock them fast."

"I thought nobody knew where that place was except yourself," said Madge
quickly.

"Oh, Phil's all right. I have to have some confidence in my men here, or
I couldn't run the place."

"All the same," the detective heard her murmur, "I'd rather you had left
Chick to me. They're a slippery lot, those detectives, and I shall be
uneasy----"

The detective heard no more of what was said, for at that instant he was
greatly startled by hearing a sound behind him, and evidently beneath
him, the consequence being that he paid no further attention to the
conversation beyond the door.

Indeed, he drew back away from it, and softly rose to his feet, in order
that he might be thoroughly prepared for anything that should happen;
and while he stood there he was conscious of a cold, damp draught of air
blown into his face--air that smelled as if it might come from the
cellar--and he was somehow conscious that a trapdoor had been lifted,
while the next moment he was aware that somebody was climbing through
it into that narrow hallway--somebody who was not more than ten or
twelve feet away from him. How he had wished for his little flash light
then.

Once he imagined that he could hear a faint whisper, and a sharp,
warning hiss for silence immediately following it.

Then it came back to him suddenly, all that he had heard Mike Grinnel
say to Madge about the dungeon in the house, and the bartender's errand
to it.

He thought then that the people who had raised themselves through the
trap--and he was sure that there were two of them--must be Phil and
Chick, the latter having been liberated by the former; and, acting upon
the impulse of the moment, he struck a match and held it into the faces
of the two men. The glare of the match shone directly into the face of
Chick.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

BLACK MADGE CAUGHT IN A TRAP.


But the flaring up of the match also developed another rather startling
fact, and that was the presence of Curly, who, with the bartender, Phil,
was standing directly behind Chick.

The light also discovered Nick Carter to the others, as it discovered
them to him, and, although it burned but a moment, it was a revelation
to all the parties concerned. It was Phil, the bartender, who acted more
quickly than the others in this somewhat confusing moment of the
encounter, for, with admirable presence of mind, he stepped quickly
forward, and, reaching out his hands, managed to pull the others toward
him until their heads were so close together that the faintest whisper
could be heard, and then he said:

"Follow me along the corridor into the front hall. We can talk there."

They did so, and presently they stood together in the front hallway
beside the stairs beyond the hidden doorway which Nick had discovered.
And, during the time they occupied in getting to this point, Nick, who
realized that the disguise he wore was no longer of any importance,
busily engaged himself in removing it, or, at least, the facial part of
it, so that, although in the dark they could not see him, he had
restored himself, nevertheless, to his proper person.

"Now, Curly," said the detective, "tell me what this all means. I don't
understand it at all."

"Let me talk," interrupted Phil. "It's this way, Carter: When you
escaped from the barroom through the little door into the boss' sanctum,
you had no sooner gone than Grinnel switched on the lights again, and
your absence was discovered. Then it was that the whole bunch lit on to
Curly and Chick here, with both feet, downed them, trussed them up, and
when Chick was taken to the cellar below, to feed the rats, if he had
been left there long enough, Curly was fired along with him. I tell you,
right now, Carter, it's all up with Curly in this place. He never can
make himself good with this bunch again as long as he lives, and it's up
to him to light out now, for good and all, unless he wants to turn up
his toes and go to the morgue."

The detective turned to Curly again, and once more struck a match so
that they could all see the faces of one another.

"Is that straight, Curly?" he asked.

"That's about the size of it, Mr. Carter."

"Then," said Nick, "am I to understand that the occurrences of this
evening have released me from my promise to you to make no arrests in
this place, or any arrest of any one who is now in this place within
twenty-four hours?"

"Yes, sir, the promise is all off. You can do as you've a mind to. It
would suit me to a T if you would gather in the whole push."

"Thank you, Curly," said Nick. "That statement of yours lets me out of a
peck of trouble, for having given the promise, of course I would not
break it, and I could not quite see how we could carry this thing
through to a finish without."

He was silent for a moment after that, and then he asked:

"Can I rely upon you, Curly, to stand by me through what is to come?"

"To the last ditch, Mr. Carter," was the emphatic response.

"And you, Phil--what about you?"

"Well," was the slow reply, for the man was evidently considering his
words with very great care, "I guess my usefulness in this place is just
about over. When the boss finds out that Curly and Chick have both
gotten out of the dungeon below, he will know mighty well who it was
that let them out, and that will mean yours truly for the dead wagon in
about fifteen minutes; so I think, Carter, that I'd better tie up to you
while I've got the chance. I am not a crook myself, and never have been
one, although I have consorted with them, and been companions with them
for a good many years."

"And will you see the thing through to the finish, Phil?" asked Nick
again.

"I will do just as Curly said he would do. I'll stand by you to the last
ditch."

"Are you all ready to obey my orders, exactly as I shall give them?"
asked Nick again, slowly.

"We are," came the unanimous response.

"In this case," said the detective, "I am going to make a desperate
effort to find out what a bold stroke will do, and here is my plan: We
will go back together to that door before which I was standing a moment
ago, which, I conclude, from its character, is rather a flimsy----"

"It is that," said Phil.

"And after we get there we will stand silently for a moment, each one of
you preparing for the signal which I shall give. When I say, 'Now,' I
will throw myself against the door, and burst it open, and as I do so,
and leap into the room, you three are to follow me, one after the other,
as quickly as possible.

"You, Phil, will make directly for the electric switch, and you will see
to it, no matter what happens, that the room is not plunged in darkness.

"You, Curly--by the way, have you any weapons about you?"

"I have got two guns in my pocket, all right."

"Very well; you, Curly, the moment you get into the room, will draw your
two guns, and level them at the crowd.

"After that all you have to do is to follow the lead of Chick and
myself, and protect yourselves until the fight is over--if there is a
fight."

"I reckon I can do that, too, Mr. Carter," said Curly.

"I haven't a doubt of it, Curly. I want you to remember not to shoot too
quick, and under no circumstances to shoot to kill, unless it is
absolutely necessary; as a matter of fact, I don't expect that we will
have much trouble, for when they see us in the room, fully armed, and
hear the first words that I shall utter, I think we will have no
difficulty in carrying our point."

There was nothing more said then, and Nick turned away, and led them
quickly back again to the door, near which he had heard the conversation
between Black Madge and Mike Grinnel.

For a moment they stood there, waiting to get their breath, and to
prepare their muscles and sinews and nerves for the ordeal to which they
were about to be put; and then from the detective came a low and
emphatic--"Now!"

The instant that the detective shouted out this word, he plunged
forward, throwing his shoulder heavily against the flimsy door, already
mentioned, so that it was burst from its lock and from its hinges at
the same time, and was sent flying halfway across the room.

But even before the clatter which followed the crash had subsided, Nick
Carter, with a pistol in either hand, had leaped across the threshold,
and with one more bound arrived at the spot directly beside Mike
Grinnel.

Turning the weapon about while he approached, he brought the butt of it
down, with a resounding whack, upon Grinnel's skull, sending him
tumbling to the floor, and then he straightened up, with both arms
extended, and the muzzles of his pistols wavering from form to form of
the astonished throng in the room, and he cried out:

"Hands up, every one of you. I am here after just one person. The rest
of you I don't want, unless somebody interferes with me, and if you do
interfere there are enough outside of this house, without doubt, to take
you all in."

When he leaped across the threshold, the others followed him, as he had
directed, and, having already cautioned Chick in a whisper to look out
for Madge, and feeling sure that the others would do their respective
duties, as he had directed, Nick had no fear whatever of the result.

A collection of criminals assembled as these were are always glad to
hear that there is only one among them who is "wanted," for each one
seems instinctively to know that he is not "it." And Nick Carter knew
the criminal class so well that he was certain that this announcement
would prevent any immediate attack upon him by the twenty or thirty men
who were gathered there.

Having heard this statement, and having, also, taken due notice of his
suggestion that there were plenty of reënforcements outside the
building, although it will be remembered that the detective had not
explained how far outside they were, and remembering that a considerable
time had elapsed since Nick Carter left that room before, they were one
and all willing to wait a moment before beginning what might be an
unnecessary attack, which would be sure to send many of them to prison
before it was over. And so they waited, casting furtive glances at one
another, many of them with their hands upon their weapons, and all of
them ready to fight, if need be, but quite as ready to avoid a fight, if
it were policy to do so.

"Now, listen to me," said Nick Carter. "I came here to-night to get
Black Madge, and I know by the sounds I have heard behind me since I
entered the room just now that she has got a pair of bracelets on her
that she doesn't like to wear. I am going to take her away with me, and
she is going to be sent back to the prison from which she escaped, and
if there is anybody in this crowd that interferes with me, or offers to
do so, it will be very much the worse for that person.

"On the other hand, if I am not interfered with, we shall go away
quietly with Madge, and what the rest of you may do after that does not
concern me. You have my word for it, and you all know that when Nick
Carter gives his word, he keeps it. Now, answer me, somebody, and let
him speak for all. Does what I say go?"

A voice from the far end of the room replied instantly:

"I say it goes, for one."

"Then answer, all of you," said the detective.

"It goes. You bet it goes."

In their eagerness to answer his request, they came near to all shouting
at once.

"Thank you," said Nick, smiling. "Now, I have one more word to say, and
then we will take our departure. There are eight men here whose names I
will call, and I want them each to take this as a warning from me. They
are Scar-faced Johnny; a man called Slippery Al; Surly Bob, whose career
I know; Gentleman Jim, who, for the good of his health, ought to take a
vacation on the other side of the ocean; Joe Cuthbert; Eugene Maxwell;
Fly Cummings; and, last, but not least, is the man who is known as The
Parson, and that same Parson had better get himself out of New York as
quickly as possible.

"I am speaking now to those eight whose names I have mentioned. I know
that you have all joined in with an organization created by Black Madge.
I know, or think I know, the purpose of that organization. I will give
all of you twenty-four hours to get out of the city of New York, and if
any one of you is found inside of the limits of the city after that
time, look out for squalls."

There was a low murmur around the room following upon this speech by the
detective, but whether in protest or approbation, the detective did not
concern himself to discover.

With calm deliberation, he turned his back upon them all, and motioned
to Chick, who had Madge securely handcuffed to his own wrist, to precede
him through the door.

Then he motioned to Curly and to Phil to pass through it also.

And, then, stepping himself to the door, he turned about upon the
threshold, and faced the crowd once more.

"One last word to you all," he said. "He among you who hurts Curly John,
or Phil, the bartender, for this night's work, or attempts to do so,
hurts me. I bid you good night."

It is only necessary to add that, within forty-eight hours of that time,
Black Madge found herself again in the prison of that State for which
she had expressed such abounding contempt, and that, at her trial, which
followed soon after, she was sentenced to serve ten years in the State
prison, where she is at this day.


THE END


"The Temple of Vice" is the title of New Magnet
Series No. 1223, by Nicholas Carter. It is a story
that will thrill you throughout its reading.



NICK CARTER STORIES

New Magnet Library

Not a Dull Book in This List

ALL BY NICHOLAS CARTER


Nick Carter stands for an interesting detective story. The fact that the
books in this line are so uniformly good is entirely due to the work of
a specialist. The man who wrote these stories produced no other type of
fiction. His mind was concentrated upon the creation of new plots and
situations in which his hero emerged triumphantly from all sorts of
troubles and landed the criminal just where he should be--behind the
bars.

The author of these stories knew more about writing detective stories
than any other single person.

Following is a list of the best Nick Carter stories. They have been
selected with extreme care, and we unhesitatingly recommend each of them
as being fully as interesting as any detective story between cloth
covers which sells at ten times the price.

If you do not know Nick Carter, buy a copy of any of the New Magnet
Library books, and get acquainted. He will surprise and delight you.

_ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT_

901--A Weird Treasure
902--The Middle Link
903--To the Ends of the Earth
904--When Honors Pall
905--The Yellow Brand
906--A New Serpent in Eden
907--When Brave Men Tremble
908--A Test of Courage
909--Where Peril Beckons
910--The Gargoni Girdle
911--Rascals & Co.
912--Too Late to Talk
913--Satan's Apt Pupil
914--The Girl Prisoner
915--The Danger of Folly
916--One Shipwreck Too Many
917--Scourged by Fear
918--The Red Plague
919--Scoundrels Rampant
920--From Clew to Clew
921--When Rogues Conspire
922--Twelve in a Grave
923--The Great Opium Case
924--A Conspiracy of Rumors
925--A Klondike Claim
926--The Evil Formula
927--The Man of Many Faces
928--The Great Enigma
929--The Burden of Proof
930--The Stolen Brain
931--A Titled Counterfeiter
932--The Magic Necklace
933--'Round the World for a Quarter
934--Over the Edge of the World
935--In the Grip of Fate
936--The Case of Many Clews
937--The Sealed Door
938--Nick Carter and the Green Goods Men
939--The Man Without a Will
940--Tracked Across the Atlantic
941--A Clew from the Unknown
942--The Crime of a Countess
943--A Mixed-up Mess
944--The Great Money-order Swindle
945--The Adder's Brood
946--A Wall Street Haul
947--For a Pawned Crown
948--Sealed Orders
949--The Hate that Kills
950--The American Marquis
951--The Needy Nine
952--Fighting Against Millions
953--Outlaws of the Blue
954--The Old Detective's Pupil
955--Found in the Jungle
956--The Mysterious Mail Robbery
957--Broken Bars
958--A Fair Criminal
959--Won by Magic
960--The Piano Box Mystery
961--The Man They Held Back
962--A Millionaire Partner
963--A Pressing Peril
964--An Australian Klondike
965--The Sultan's Pearls
966--The Double Shuffle Club
967--Paying the Price
968--A Woman's Hand
969--A Network of Crime
970--At Thompson's Ranch
971--The Crossed Needles
972--The Diamond Mine Case
973--Blood Will Tell
974--An Accidental Password
975--The Crook's Double
976--Two Plus Two
977--The Yellow Label
978--The Clever Celestial
979--The Amphitheater Plot
980--Gideon Drexel's Millions
981--Death in Life
982--A Stolen Identity
983--Evidence by Telephone
984--The Twelve Tin Boxes
985--Clew Against Clew
986--Lady Velvet
987--Playing a Bold Game
988--A Dead Man's Grip
989--Snarled Identities
990--A Deposit Vault Puzzle
991--The Crescent Brotherhood
992--The Stolen Pay Train
993--The Sea Fox
994--Wanted by Two Clients
995--The Van Alstine Case
996--Check No. 777
997--Partners in Peril
998--Nick Carter's Clever Protégé
999--The Sign of the Crossed Knives
1000--The Man Who Vanished
1001--A Battle for the Right
1002--A Game of Craft
1003--Nick Carter's Retainer
1004--Caught in the Toils
1005--A Broken Bond
1006--The Crime of the French Café
1007--The Man Who Stole Millions
1008--The Twelve Wise Men
1009--Hidden Foes
1010--A Gamblers' Syndicate
1011--A Chance Discovery
1012--Among the Counterfeiters
1013--A Threefold Disappearance
1014--At Odds with Scotland Yard
1015--A Princess of Crime
1016--Found on the Beach
1017--A Spinner of Death
1018--The Detective's Pretty Neighbor
1019--A Bogus Clew
1020--The Puzzle of Five Pistols
1021--The Secret of the Marble Mantel
1022--A Bite of an Apple
1023--A Triple Crime
1024--The Stolen Race Horse
1025--Wildfire
1026--A Herald Personal
1027--The Finger of Suspicion
1028--The Crimson Clew
1029--Nick Carter Down East
1030--The Chain of Clews
1031--A Victim of Circumstances
1032--Brought to Bay
1033--The Dynamite Trap
1034--A Scrap of Black Lace
1035--The Woman of Evil
1036--A Legacy of Hate
1037--A Trusted Rogue
1038--Man Against Man
1039--The Demons of the Night
1040--The Brotherhood of Death
1041--At the Knife's Point
1042--A Cry for Help
1043--A Stroke of Policy
1044--Hounded to Death
1045--A Bargain in Crime
1046--The Fatal Prescription
1047--The Man of Iron
1048--An Amazing Scoundrel
1049--The Chain of Evidence
1050--Paid with Death
1051--A Fight for a Throne
1052--The Woman of Steel
1053--The Seal of Death
1054--The Human Fiend
1055--A Desperate Chance
1056--A Chase in the Dark
1057--The Snare and the Game
1058--The Murray Hill Mystery
1059--Nick Carter's Close Call
1060--The Missing Cotton King
1061--A Game of Plots
1062--The Prince of Liars
1063--The Man at the Window
1064--The Red League
1065--The Price of a Secret
1066--The Worst Case on Record
1067--From Peril to Peril
1068--The Seal of Silence
1069--Nick Carter's Chinese Puzzle
1070--A Blackmailer's Bluff
1071--Heard in the Dark
1072--A Checkmated Scoundrel
1073--The Cashier's Secret
1074--Behind a Mask



READ

When you want real recreation in your leisure hours, read! Read the
STREET & SMITH NOVELS!

They are the cheapest and most interesting reading matter published in
America to-day. No jazz--no sex--just big, clean, interesting books.
There are hundreds of different titles, among which you will find a lot
of exactly the sort of reading you want.

So, when you get tired of rolling around in your Lady Lizzie or
listening to the blah-blah of your radio, hie yourself to the nearest
news dealer, grab off a copy of a good detective, adventure or love
story, and then READ!

Read the STREET & SMITH NOVELS. Catalogue sent upon request.

Street & Smith Corporation
79 Seventh Avenue   New York City

Printed in the U. S. A.



[Transcriber's Note: The original edition of this work did not contain a
table of contents. A table of contents has been created for this
electronic edition.

The advertisement containing a list of other Nick Carter stories has
been moved from the front of the book to the back.

The following typographical errors present in the original edition have
been corrected.

In Chapter II, a period was changed to a comma after "who he was".

In Chapter V, a missing period was added after "take me into the fold"
and after "near the tracks".

In Chapter VII, "dregs in you coffee cup" was changed to "dregs in your
coffee cup".

In Chapter XIII, "she heard Madge inquire" was changed to "he heard
Madge inquire".

In Chapter XIV, "lying at full lngth" was changed to "lying at full
length".

In Chapter XVI, "He rose stifly" was changed to "He rose stiffly".

In Chapter XIX, a missing quotation mark was added before "but he sent a
bullet after me".

In Chapter XXII, "that wake of life" was changed to "that walk of life".

In Chapter XXVI, a missing period was added after "too stuck up for my
kind".

No other changes have been made to the original text.]





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Woman at Bay - Or, a Fiend in Skirts" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home