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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBoy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter IV. THE MAN IN THE CLOSET
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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter IV. THE MAN IN THE CLOSET Post by :jkane Category :Long Stories Author :G. Harvey Ralphson Date :April 2012 Read :1840

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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter IV. THE MAN IN THE CLOSET

CHAPTER IV. THE MAN IN THE CLOSET

"If you take my advice," Ned said to Frank, as they reached the study door, "you won't say anything to your father about the trouble at the office until we have talked with him concerning the raid on the house. He might rush off to the newspaper building immediately, without answering our questions about the visit to his room."

"That is just what he would do," Frank replied.

When the boys entered the study, closely followed by Lieutenant Gordon and Jimmie, they found three men in the room. One was Mr. Shaw, lying on a couch at the front of the apartment. One was Dr. Benson, who sat in an easy chair at his side. The third was Pedro, the servant mentioned by Frank as one of his father's favored attendants. He stood by the couch as the boys stepped into the room, his bold black eyes studying their faces impertinently as they entered.

The man was not far from forty, tall, slender, dusky of face--plainly in intellectual capacity and breeding far above the menial position he occupied in the house. Standing in repose, his figure was erect and well balanced, like that of a man trained to military service.

But even as he stood subserviently by the couch of his employer, his slender hands at his sides, there seemed to be something of the alertness of a wild beast in his physical attitude of suppression. Somehow, he gave Ned the impression of one about to spring forth upon an enemy.

After the presentations were made, it was with the greatest difficulty that Lieutenant Gordon restrained himself from at once taking up the topic he had discussed with Mr. Shaw so unsatisfactorily that afternoon--the subject of the plot against the Gatun dam. What did the editor know? What did he suspect concerning the raid on his home? Did he believe that the plotters had opened their defense right there in the city of New York?

However, he curbed his hasty impulse, knowing that the information he sought was not to be obtained in that way. Mr. Shaw was looking upon the matter entirely from the standpoint of an enterprising journalist, and would be cautious about giving out his own discoveries and impressions.

"Are you still suffering from the effects of the chloroform?" asked the lieutenant, anxiously.

"I'm still a little weak," was the reply, "and still a little tippy at the stomach, but Benson tells me that I shall be well again in an hour."

"You were of course attacked without warning," the lieutenant continued, half hoping that the editor would enter into a full and frank discussion of the event.

"Entirely so," was the reply. "I was sitting at my desk when the door was opened and some one entered. I thought it was Pedro, for I had just rung for him, and did not look around. Then I was seized from behind and a handkerchief soaked with chloroform thrust into my face."

"You did not see your assailant?" asked Ned.

"Now for the cross-examination," laughed the editor. "I have heard something of Mr. Nestor's work in the secret service," he added, "and shall be glad to answer any of his questions. Go ahead, my boy. No, to answer your first question, I did not see my assailant, and do not know whether there were two or only one."

"Did you notice the time?" asked Ned, modestly.

"Yes, it was nine o'clock. The next I knew, Pedro was lifting me onto the couch, and a maid was lifting her voice to high heaven out in the corridor. That, I have since learned, was at ten o'clock, so, you see, the ruffians had an hour to work in."

"They must have mussed the room up quite a lot in that time," said the lieutenant, hoping to bring the editor to the point in which he was interested.

Mr. Shaw made no reply, but turned to Ned with a smile.

"Go ahead, Ned," Frank cried. "We all want to know what ideas are brooding in that clever brain of yours."

"I would like to ask," Ned began, modestly, "if you can assign a reason for the attack upon you."

"Why, they came into the house after the emerald necklace," was the reply. "They looked here for it first. That is all."

"But it appears that they knew the necklace to be in Frank's safe," urged Ned. "At least it did not take them long to find it there after the safe was unlocked and he was brought from his room."

"Oh, well, they probably looked here first," insisted the editor. "The manner in which they rummaged the place while I was unconscious shows that they searched for it here. The necklace was the thing sought, of course."

"Did they take anything from the room?" asked Ned, and Lieutenant Gordon leaned forward, anxiously awaiting the answer.

"Not a thing," was the quiet reply. "At least, I have missed nothing."

"Perhaps the thing they sought was not found," suggested Gordon, no longer able to keep the plot subject out of the conversation.

"I know what you mean, Lieutenant," the other replied, "and I may as well tell you now that the papers to which you refer are not in the house--were not here and never have been here. They are perfectly safe, and we will drop them from the case, if you please."

"I am naturally anxious about them," said Gordon, "in the interest of the government, of course, for I believe they hold the key to a mystery I am asked to solve."

"You may be mistaken as to the contents of the papers," laughed Mr. Shaw. "Well," he added, "we will eliminate them from the matter in hand. What next, Mr. Nestor? I have great hope of your success in unraveling this mystery of the necklace."

"With your permission," Ned replied, "and in your presence, I would like to ask your man a few questions."

Pedro turned a pair of venomous eyes toward the speaker for just an instant. Then he stood respectfully looking at his master again. Ned saw the movement, the quick hostility of the glance, and felt surer of his ground than before.

"He will, I am sure, be happy to answer any questions you may ask," said Mr. Shaw.

Pedro nodded, half defiantly, as though he felt humiliated by being placed at the service, even a verbal one, of a boy, and Ned asked:

"When you saw the men at the head of the staircase, what did you say to them?"

The answer came in perfect English, yet there was a something in the voice which told as plainly as words could have done that English was not the native tongue of the speaker.

"I ordered them from the house," he said.

"And then they attacked you?"

"The mark of a hand is on my throat, sir."

"How many men were there?"

"Two, sir, and they both piled on top of me."

"There was no one else in the corridor?"

"No one."

"They were armed, I presume?"

"I saw no weapons in their hands."

"They might have killed you?"

"Only for the arrival of Master Shaw they might have done so."

"Can you describe these men?" asked Ned.

"I don't think I can, sir. I was too busy to notice their faces or their clothes during the short time I was with them."

"Can you say whether one of them was tall and slender, with very black hair, turning gray in places?" asked Ned, fixing his eyes on those of the servant.

Pedro looked back at his questioner for an instant, and then his gaze fell to the floor.

"I can't say," he replied, slowly, while the others, amazed at the character of the question, turned to Ned for explanation.

"If the description I have given is recognized by you as that of one of the men you met in the corridor," Ned went on, "can you tell me whether his clothing was wet or dry?"

There was dead silence in the room. There had been nothing thus far in the case leading up to this description, and those present looked at Ned with wonder in their faces. To say the least, the questions seemed irrelevant.

Pedro stood for a moment touching his dry lips with the tip of his tongue, his fingers clasping and unclasping, then his shoulders straightened into firmer lines and he faced his questioner with a smile of complacency.

"I don't know what you mean," he said.

"Perhaps I should have said damp clothing," Ned replied. "The man I have in mind--the man who might have been one of your assailants--entered the house just after the rainstorm, which came on close after six o'clock. His clothing was soaking wet when he came in, but would not remain so for four hours."

Pedro grasped the back of a chair which stood near him and looked out of the window to the lighted street in front of the house. While he stood silent Mr. Shaw arose to a sitting position on the couch and asked:

"Why the description, Mr. Nestor? Why the positive statement about the time at least one of the men entered the house?"

Every eye in the room was now fixed on Nestor's face. Even Lieutenant Gordon seemed inclined to think that some huge joke was being pulled off.

"The man who came in at six," Ned replied, "came in out of the rain, and left marks showing the height and breadth of his shoulders on a wall against which he leaned. These marks show a man tall and slender. He entered the house dripping with water, moving about like a street sprinkler and leaving signs of his presence in the places he visited. He seems to be a person of rather refined tastes, inclined to be neat in personal appearance, for he went to Frank's bathroom to clean up. There he used the washbowl and the toilet articles, leaving black hair turning gray in the comb."

"This is uncanny," shouted Frank. "You couldn't have observed all this during the minute you were in the bathroom," he added.

Mr. Shaw considered the question gravely, his eyes fixed on those of the boy.

"He sprinkled the closet floor, did he?" he asked, presently.

"Yes, sir; and stood back against the closet wall, and used Frank's comb and brush."

"Did he come to this room, also?"

"Yes, sir; the little round spots on the delicate covering of this little table were made by dripping water. You see, sir, he was in here before the water dripped off his clothes in the closet, probably soon after he entered the house."

"But how did he get into the house? How did he get into this locked room?"

"I should say that he was assisted by some one belonging in the house," was the quiet reply. "After he left this room he mounted the staircase and hid in Frank's closet, evidently waiting for you to return home, or for Frank to come. Perhaps he hoped that one of you might bring home the thing, or the things, he had been unable to find in your rooms."

"The papers concerning the Gatun plot, for instance," said the lieutenant.

The editor glanced at the officer with a slight frown on his brow, but made no reply to the remark. It was plain that he was unwilling to take up that phase of the case.

"It is a wonder the fellow didn't jimmy Frank's safe and get the emerald necklace, without waiting so long for the safe to be opened," he said, in a moment.

Thus insisting on his previously expressed opinion that the sole purpose of the thieves had been to secure the emerald necklace, further disclaiming any belief that the alleged plot against the government had figured in the matter at all, the editor smiled provokingly at the officer.

Nestor looked from the lieutenant to the newspaper owner and smiled quietly.

"I wish I knew," he said, "whether the papers we hear so much about really reveal the details of an alleged plot against the government."

Mr. Shaw did not reply.

"If they do not," continued the boy, "do they connect some man, or some group of men, with a plot which may be forming?"

The editor glanced approvingly at Ned, as if rather pleased with his cleverness, but did not speak.

"I have known newspaper men," Ned went on, "to make mistakes in such matters. However, I have no doubt that you have good reasons for the course you are taking," he continued, "and therefore I have no fault to find with you."

"You're a fine fellow, Mr. Nestor," the editor exclaimed. "Some day, when you see the matter in the right light, I'll tell you all about it. I can't do so now, for no end of trouble might come from it."

"Very well," replied Ned. "There is one more question I want to ask you. Will you answer it?"

"If I can consistently do so, yes."

"If the men who searched this house to-night were after the necklace, and that alone, why should they extend their operations to your offices in the newspaper building?"

"Did they do that?" asked the editor calmly. "Then I shall have to go down there and look things over. Will you kindly accompany me?"

But the search at the offices was barren of clues.

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