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Chapter 18

LARRY IS BAFFLED


This was much better than Larry had expected. To have the envelope remembered so soon was good, but to have the carrier who brought it in say he recalled having received it from the person who mailed the letter, was better yet.

"What sort of a man was he?" asked Larry, his heart beating high with hope.

"Why do you ask?" inquired the carrier.

"I'm a reporter from the Leader, and I'm trying to locate Mr. Potter, the missing millionaire," said Larry. "This letter was from him."

"Then I can't be of much service to you," the postman went on. "This was given to me by a man who bore no resemblance to Mr. Potter, whose picture I have lately seen in the papers."

"But what sort of a looking man gave you this envelope?" asked Larry.

"He was a smooth-shaven man, rather poorly dressed. I'll tell you how it was. This box, at which I was when the man gave me the letter, is at the foot of a street leading to the river. It is the last one I collect from at night. I had taken out all the mail in the box, and was just locking it up again when some one came up the street in a hurry. I looked around, for the neighborhood is a lonely one, and, as I did so, I saw a man come to a halt, as if he was surprised to see me at the box. I could see he had a letter in his hand.

"'Come on,' I said, for often people run up to me at the last minute to have me take letters. 'Come on,' I said, for I was in a hurry. 'I'll take the letter.'

"At that the man pulled his hat down over his eyes and advanced slowly. He held the letter out to me, and, as he did so, I caught a glimpse of his face, as the light from a street lamp flashed on it. I could see he was smooth shaven. I took the letter and put it in my bag. As I did so the man seemed to melt away in the shadows. I thought it rather queer at the time, for it seemed as if the fellow was afraid I'd recognize him. But I'd never seen him before, so far as I know, so he needn't have been alarmed. I brought the letter to the office, and as I sorted my mail, I noted that the stamp had been stuck on with plenty of mucilage. I also saw the blot, and, as the envelope was unlike any I had ever seen before, as far as size and quality of paper went, the thing was impressed on my mind.

"That's all I know about it," the carrier finished, "but I'm sure the man who gave me the letter was not the missing millionaire. I've seen his picture too many times lately to be mistaken."

"Then who could it have been?" asked Larry.

"That's a hard question, young man," said the carrier. "It might have been any one else. I think it was a person who didn't care about being seen, and didn't want to attract any attention. I guess he would have been better satisfied to have dropped the letter in the box when no one was looking, but seeing me there he came up with it before he knew what he was doing."

"If the letter was from Mr. Potter, and it wasn't the millionaire who mailed it, he must have got some one to do it," the chief clerk of the sub-station suggested, and Larry was forced to adopt this idea. He inquired as to the location of the box at which the carrier stood when he received the missive, and asked in what direction the man came from. Having learned these facts, and deciding he could gain nothing more by staying longer at the sub-station, Larry hurried to the Leader office.

"Well, I've gained something," he said to himself. "I've got a good story, and I have a slender clue to work on. I must write the story first, however. Then I'll go back and tell Grace what I learned."

The account of the letter and the circumstances under which it was mailed created a new sensation in the Potter mystery, and, as on several other occasions, the Leader scored a beat.

As soon as he had finished the story Larry went to see Grace, whom he found anxiously waiting for him. She asked a score of questions as to what he had learned, and the reporter told her all about his trip to the sub-station.

"What are you going to do next?" she inquired.

"I think I'll go over on the East Side and make some inquiries. Your father may be staying there," answered Larry.

Going downtown in an elevated train, and taking a stroll through that populous section, known as the "East Side," Larry soon found himself in the neighborhood of the box at which the carrier had received the letter written by Mr. Potter. He took a brief survey of the locality.

"Not very promising," was his mental comment.

All about were big tenement houses of a substantial kind. They were built of brick, and from nearly every window a woman's head protruded, while the street swarmed with children. It was a neighborhood teeming with life, for it was the abode of the poor, and they were quartered together almost like rabbits in a warren.

For want of something better to do, Larry strolled down one side of the street, at the end of which was located the letter box which formed such a slender clue. Then he walked up the other side, looking about him idly, in vain hopes of stumbling on something that would put him on the track.

It was late in the afternoon, and the streets were beginning to fill with workers hurrying home, for the day's labor was over. As Larry strolled along, rather careless of his steps, he collided with a man in front of a big tenement building.

"Excuse me," murmured the reporter.

"I beg your pardon," the man said, grabbing hold of Larry to prevent them both from falling, so forceful had been the impact. "I was looking to see if my wife was watching for me. She generally looks out of the window to see me coming down the street, and then she puts the potatoes on."

"I guess I wasn't looking where I was going," said Larry, as he disengaged himself from the man's grip. "I was—why, hello, Mr. Jackson!" he exclaimed.

"What! Why, bless my soul if it isn't Larry Dexter!" and the man held out his hand. "Why, I haven't seen you in a long time. How's your mother and the children?"

"Fine. How's Mrs. Jackson?"

"She's well. There she is looking out of the window, wondering why I don't come home to supper. You must come in and see her. Come, and stay to supper."

The man Larry had thus unexpectedly met was the one in whose flat Mrs. Dexter and the children had stayed the first night they had come to New York, and found that the sister of Larry's mother, with whom they expected to remain, had suddenly moved away. The Dexter family, sad and discouraged at the loss of their farm, would have fared badly on their arrival in the big city had not Mrs. Jackson and her husband befriended them.

While Larry was getting a start in the newspaper work the Dexter family had lived in the same tenement with the Jacksons, and they had become firm friends. Larry and his mother since then had moved to other quarters, and had, for some time back, lost trace of their acquaintances.

"I didn't know you lived here," said Larry when he had recovered somewhat from his surprise at seeing Mr. Jackson.

"We haven't lived here long. I got a better position in this part of the city, and as I like to be near my work I moved here. We like it quite well, but it's rather crowded. However, almost any place is in New York. But you must come in to supper. Mrs. Jackson will be anxious to hear all about your folks. I can see her making signs to me to hurry up. I suppose the potatoes are all cooked and the tea made."

Larry did not require much urging to accept the kind invitation. He wanted to see his friends again, and he thought they might be able to give him some information concerning the people of the neighborhood.

"Because it's the best place in the world to hide in. If I wanted to drop out of sight I'd go about two blocks away from here and keep quiet. No one would ever think of looking for me so near my home."

"I hope you don't contemplate anything like that," said Larry with a laugh.

"No, indeed. But New York is the best hiding place, and you can depend on it, Mr. Potter is here."

"You haven't seen him in the neighborhood, have you?" asked the reporter, glad of the opportunity which gave him a chance for that question.

"No, I can't say that I have. If they'd offer a reward I might take time to hunt for him," and Mr. Jackson laughed. "I can't afford to turn detective as it is now," he added. "It's too hard to get a living."

Larry spent the evening with his friends, keeping the talk as much as possible, without exciting suspicion, on the Potter case. In this way he learned considerable about the persons living in the immediate vicinity of the Jacksons, for Mrs. Jackson was fond of making new acquaintances.

But in all this there was no clue such as Larry sought. There were any number of men, concerning whom there seemed to be some mystery, but none answered the description of Mr. Potter.

"There are a queer lot of people in this tenement," said Mr. Jackson, during the course of the talking. "All of 'em have some story hidden away, I guess. Especially one man."

"Who is he?"

"Nobody knows," replied Mr. Jackson. "He came here one night, and seemed quite excited. Let's see, it was Thursday night, I remember now. He acted as though he was afraid some one was after him."

"Thursday night," thought Larry. "That was the night the man got away from the deserted tenement."

"My wife and I were sitting here," continued Mr. Jackson, "when all at once a knock sounded on the door. I opened it, and there was this man. He asked if I had any rooms to rent. I hadn't, but I told him I had a spare bed, for I saw he was respectable. He seemed glad to get it, and paid me well, though I didn't want to take the money. But he seemed to have plenty."

"What was queer about him?" asked Larry, beginning to take an unusual interest in what his friend was saying.

"Well, the excitement he seemed to be in, for one thing. And another, he had just been shaved. I could see the talcum powder on his cheeks. I thought it strange that a man who had time to shave or get shaved should be in such a hurry. But it wasn't any of my affair, so I said nothing."

"What became of him?" Larry was quite eager now. He seemed to be on the verge of discovering something; if not of the Potter mystery then of the other, that cropped up every now and again—that of the man he had helped save from the wreck.

"He went away the next morning," Mr. Jackson resumed. "I didn't see him again until the next night. Then he told me he had a room in this tenement."

"Where?" inquired the young reporter.

"On the floor below—a front room, at the end of the corridor. But are you going to call on him?" and Mr. Jackson looked somewhat surprised at Larry's eagerness.

"Maybe I could get a story out of him," replied the reporter non-commitally. "Have to be always on the lookout, you know."

"Well, I guess you'll not get much out of this man," said Mr. Jackson. "He hardly speaks to me, though he doesn't seem cross or ugly. Only there's some mystery about him. I'm sure of that."

"If he's Mah Retto I'm positive there is," thought Larry. "And it looks as if it might be that fellow."

Not wishing to seem too keen on the scent of the queer man, the newspaper youth changed the subject. In a little while he said he had better be going home, as he had not told his mother he would be out late. He promised to ask Mrs. Dexter to call on Mrs. Jackson, and, with many good wishes from his friends, he left.

"Now for a try at the room on the next floor," said Larry in a whisper, as he found himself in the corridor. "It's only a slim chance, but a reporter has to take all that come his way."

He found the room Mr. Jackson had described, and knocked on the door. There was a sound from within, as though some one had arisen from a chair. Then a voice asked:

"Who's there?"

"Does Mah Retto live here?" asked Larry, determining on a bold plan.

Hardly had he spoken the words when the door was quickly opened.

Victor Appleton

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