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Chapter 14

IN THE TENEMENT HOUSE


The story of Hamden Potter's disappearance, as Larry wrote it, made interesting reading. He used that part about the picture which Grace had told him, but which the other reporters did not know about. The photograph of the missing millionaire, which showed a man in the prime of life, with a large moustache, came out well in the paper, and as Larry saw the article, on the front page, under a "big head," he could not but feel he had done well.

In this he was confirmed by the city editor, who, seeing copies of the other afternoon papers, as they were brought in to him, exclaimed:

"Well, Larry, you did fine!"

"How's that?" asked the youth.

"Why you've got 'em all beat on the picture proposition, and none of 'em have that part about his coming back to the house and taking the miniature of his wife and daughter. That's the best part of the whole yarn."

"I got that by luck, almost at the last minute, when the others were gone," said Larry.

"That's the kind of luck that makes big stories," commented Mr. Emberg. "You might take a run up to the house this evening and see if there's anything new, and then you can pay a visit in the morning. I'll have the police end looked after by Harvey, and I'll send a man to Mr. Potter's office. It's barely possible he may turn up there any minute. I have an idea that he is temporarily insane because of his heavy business responsibilities, and that he has wandered off somewhere. He'll come back in a few days. What do you think about it yourself, Larry?"

"I hardly know what to think. I never was on a case like this before. When I first heard about his taking the picture away I thought maybe he had gone off somewhere to commit suicide, and wanted it with him."

"No suicide for Hamden Potter," put in Harvey Newton, with a laugh, as he stood listening to Larry and Mr. Emberg talking. "He has too much to live for."

"Well, I didn't want to think that," Larry went on. "He has a very fine wife and——"

"And a beautiful daughter," broke in Harvey. "Look out, Larry, this is not a love story you're working on."

Larry blushed like a girl, for several times that day he had caught himself thinking of Grace and how pretty she was.

"Let Larry alone for getting all the facts in the case," said Mr. Emberg. "I suppose Miss Grace gave you some information?"

"She talked to all the reporters," Larry said. "Mrs. Potter is a nervous wreck."

"Well, run up any time this evening," went on the city editor. "You might stumble on some news. You wrote a very good story to-day. Try again to-morrow. We've beat the other papers on it as it is."

Larry got Mr. Potter's picture back from the art department, where a cut for use in the paper had been made, and decided that he would have a good excuse for calling at the Potter residence in going back to return it as he had promised.

"I wish I had some news to tell her," the young reporter thought as he went home to supper, "but it's too soon yet. I'd like to be a detective and see if I couldn't find her father for her. I wonder where he can be, or why he disappeared? Of course, if he's out of his mind, as Mr. Emberg believes, that would account for it, but I don't think he is."

Telling his mother he did not expect to be out long, Larry left the house early that evening. He intended to go to Mr. Potter's residence, leave the picture, have a few minutes' talk with Grace, and then go home by way of the street on which the tenement was located, where he had undergone the queer experience with the crazy inventor.

"Maybe the policeman has discovered something new about that strange man from the wreck," thought Larry.

He found Grace more composed than when he had seen her in the afternoon.

"Did you bring me any news?" she asked, as she took the picture.

"I'm sorry, but I couldn't. I will, though, if there is any to bring. I'm sure your father will be found."

"So am I!" exclaimed the girl. "Poor mother is in despair, but I am not going to give up. If the police can't find him I'm going to make a search myself. I know a great deal about his business. Father always said I ought to have been a boy."

Larry thought it would have been a pity, but he did not say so.

"I'll search all over until I find him," Grace went on.

"And I'll help you!" cried Larry, fired to sudden enthusiasm.

"Will you? Really? That will be fine!" and, before she was aware of what she was doing, Grace had held out her hand. Larry gave it a firm grip, and the girl blushed.

"I suppose I shouldn't have done that!" she said. "I'm always doing things on impulse. I don't even know your name. I must call you Mr. Reporter," and she smiled.

"I'm Larry Dexter," said our hero, blushing a bit himself. "I know your name, so now I suppose we may consider ourselves introduced."

"I guess so, though it isn't strictly according to form. But never mind. This is no time for ceremonies. I hope you will have news for me—soon."

"So do I," answered Larry as he took his leave.

The young reporter was soon in that neighborhood of the city where was situated the deserted tenement in which he believed there was some mystery. As he approached the ramshackle old structure he noticed a figure pacing up and down in front of it.

"If that's the lunatic inventor of the airship I think I'll pass on the other side," Larry said to himself. It was dark in that section of the city, the electric lights being few and far between. However, as the figure approached, and as Larry continued on, the youth saw he had nothing to fear, for it was that of his friend, Policeman Higgins.

"Well," asked Larry, as he came up. "Anything new?"

This is the reporter's form of greeting to almost everyone he meets, and means: "Have you any news for me?"

"Good-evening," replied Officer Higgins. "I was just thinking about you."

"Nothing bad, I hope."

"No, I was wishing you'd happen along. You remember we were talking the other night about a strange man that you thought was in here?"

"Yes."

"Well, he's in here now, and I'm going to see what he's up to. The crazy old professor, with his airship, has moved out, and the house is deserted except for this new bird. I'm going to raid his nest, for I suspect he's up to no good. I've been watching his light for some time, and he's moving around in several rooms. Maybe he's going to set fire to the place."

"Going to tackle him alone?" asked Larry.

"No, I've telephoned to the sergeant to send me a man to help me go through the shack, for though I'm not a coward I've no hankering to go in that shell after dark, knowing a man may be waiting for me with a knife or a gun."

"I'll stay here and see what happens," said Larry.

"Come along in with us if you like," went on Higgins, for he had taken a liking to the young reporter. "You may get a story out of it. Here comes Storg now," he added, as the form of another bluecoat was seen approaching down the street.

The two officers held a brief consultation. Higgins showed where a light was nickering back and forth between two rooms on one side of the building, about the third story up.

"It's been going that way for the last hour," said Higgins. "I'm going in now. Get your gun ready, Storg. You may not need it, but, if you do, it's best to have it handy."

Larry followed behind the policemen, his heart beating a little faster than usual. He was anxious to see the man who was in hiding, and who, he believed, was the same one he and the fisherman had rescued from the sea. He believed there was a mystery connected with the fugitive which would make a good story, even if he was an East Indian.

"Easy now," cautioned Higgins, but Larry thought it was needless, as the heavy shoes of the officers made noise enough to awaken the soundest sleeper.

The bluecoats entered the dark hallway of the tenement. The doors were void of locks and swung to and fro, creaking on rusty hinges, as the wind blew them. There was a damp and unpleasant smell in the house, and now and then came queer sounds, that echoed through the deserted rooms.

"Nothing but shutters banging," explained Higgins, as his companion-in-arms started. "They're flapping like a bird's broken wing, all over the place. Now for our mysterious friend."

But for the fact that both officers carried small pocket electric lamps, operated by dry batteries, they would have had difficulty in making their way through the halls and up the stairs, for there were many holes, caused by rotting boards. As it was they moved along with some speed, until they came to the third floor.

"He'll be about here somewhere," whispered Higgins, a needless precaution, as their advance had been already heralded by their heavy foot-falls.

"There's a light there," said Storg, pointing to the end of a long hall. Coming from under a door could be seen a faint gleam.

"That's where he is!" exclaimed Higgins. "Come on!"

Larry followed the officers. Their steps echoed through the silent building. Forward they went until they came to the door beneath which the light showed. Higgins tried the knob. The portal was locked.

"Let us in! We're police officers!" he exclaimed.

There was a rustling within the room, but no attempt was made to open the door.

"Open or we'll break it in!" cried Higgins, and, as there was no answer, but only silence, he put his big shoulder to the frail door. There was a crackling sound, a splintering of wood and the hinges gave way. Higgins fairly jumped into the room as the portal fell in. Storg followed after him, with his hand on his revolver, ready to use it should occasion arise. But there was no need, for the room was deserted, though a candle burning on a mantel showed there had recently been an occupant in it.

"He's gone!" cried Higgins, looking around.

At that moment there was a sound in the corridor, and somewhere along its length a door opened.

"He's getting away!" yelled Storg, as he jumped back into the hallway. Larry followed, and the policeman flashed his electric lamp.

Then, in the little circle of light cast from the glass bullseye, Larry saw, running down the stairs, the smooth-shaven man he had helped pull from the angry sea on the life-raft.

"There he goes! Catch him!" cried Storg, as he clattered down the stairs after the fugitive.

Victor Appleton

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