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Chapter 19

GRACE ON THE TRAIL


Larry saw, standing before him, framed in the doorway from which streamed the glare from a big reading lamp, the man of mystery—the fellow who had escaped from the tumble-down tenement—the man he and Bailey had pulled ashore on the life-raft.

"Are you Mah Retto?" asked Larry again, rather at a loss for something to say, when he saw the strange man confronting him.

The mysterious one looked at Larry for several seconds. He seemed much excited, and in doubt as to what to do. Then, seeming to arrive at a sudden decision, he quickly closed the door, and Larry heard the key turned in the lock.

"Not much satisfaction in that," muttered the young reporter. "That was him, though. I wonder what I had better do?"

Larry stood in the hallway, undecided. He wanted another opportunity to see and speak to the man he believed was Mah Retto, but he considered it would not be wise to knock again on the door. The occupant of the room either would not answer or would order him away.

"I'll have to come again," Larry said to himself. "I've learned one thing, anyhow, and that is where he lives."

The young reporter went to the office of the Leader early the next morning. He found Mr. Emberg on hand, and told the city editor the plans for the day; that of making a tour of the steamship piers. Mr. Emberg thought this was a good idea, and complimented Larry on his work thus far.

"I ran across my old friend, the East Indian, last night," Larry said, as he was leaving. "I'm going to work him up for a story when I get through with this Potter case."

"Don't do it until then," advised Mr. Emberg. "I want you to devote all your attention to the missing millionaire. The East Indian story will not amount to much or I'd put another man on it. You may get a yarn for the Saturday supplement out of it, but even that's doubtful."

Larry thought differently, but he did not say so. Nor did he mention that he was going to take Grace Potter with him on his tour of the docks. He had an idea that the city editor might object, or laugh at him, and Larry did not care to have that happen. He felt he was doing right, and he knew there could be no serious objection to the daughter of the missing man aiding in a search for her parent.

Larry found Grace waiting for him. She was quietly dressed, and wore a heavy veil, so that no one in the street would recognize her, since her picture had been published in several papers, and there might be comments from the crowd if the daughter of Mr. Potter was seen out in company of a newspaper reporter.

"Anything new?" asked the young lady, for she had taken to greeting Larry in that newspaper fashion.

"Not much. I didn't learn anything of consequence by my trip to the East Side last night. I'm not done there, however. Now we'll try the piers, and see what sort of a 'pull' you have with the captains of the vessels."

"We may not find many captains," Grace said, "unless their ships are about to sail. Still it is worth trying. Shall we start?"

"I'm ready any time you are," Larry answered. "What did your mother say?"

"She objected a bit at first, but I soon convinced her it was for the best."

Larry thought it would not have been hard for Grace to have convinced him that almost anything was for the best. She looked quite trim in her dark dress, with her glossy hair held snugly in place by her veil.

As they went down the steps of the mansion Larry saw a man, who was standing on the other side of the street, move rapidly away, as if he had been watching the house. The young reporter uttered an exclamation before he was aware of it, and Grace quickly asked:

"What's the matter?"

"I—I saw some one," Larry replied.

"Any one would think it was a ghost from the way you act," the girl went on, with a little laugh. She was in much better spirits than any time since her father had disappeared, for the chance of helping to search for him, and the change, from sitting idly in the house waiting for news, was a welcome relief.

"No, it wasn't a ghost. It was a man I'd like to have a chance to talk to," Larry went on.

"Would he give you—er—a 'story'? Is that what you call it?"

"That's right. Yes, I believe he could give me a story," and Larry looked in the direction the man had gone. He was no longer to be seen. "A very good story," he added, for the man was the same one he had surprised in the tenement the night before—the man of the life-raft.

However, he could not leave Grace to go in search of the strange individual, and it was more important, as Mr. Emberg had said, to stick to the Potter case. The other could wait.

"All the same I'd like to know what he was doing in this neighborhood," thought Larry. He puzzled over the matter for several seconds as he and Grace went along.

On the way downtown the two discussed their plans. There were not many Italian steamship lines to visit, but it might take some time to see the captains of all the boats at present in port. Some of the commanders would be at their hotels pending the loading of their vessels.

"Have you made up your mind what you want to ask them?" inquired Larry, as they were nearing the station where they intended to get off.

"What I want principally to know is if a person answering my father's description came over with them lately. I want to find out, in case he did, how he acted, and if he gave any hint of being in trouble."

"That may be a good clue to follow," Larry sad. "Now we'll make our first attempt."

It ended in failure, for though they found the captain of the Italian steamer they boarded in the cabin of his vessel, he could not aid them. He was very polite about it, and seemed quite sorry that he could be of no service.

It was the same in a number of other cases. Some of the captains remembered Grace, for she had crossed with them once or twice, but none of them recalled a man answering Mr. Potter's description making the voyage with them recently.

The last place they visited was the dock of the line to which the wrecked Olivia belonged. This line Grace had never traveled on, but she had a letter of introduction to the manager from the captain of the Messina, on which she had made her last trip. The commanders of two steamers of this company were in port. One of them was at the dock, for his vessel was about to sail.

To him Grace made her inquiries, but fruitlessly. She turned away, rather disappointed. There was but one more chance left. The other captain was at his hotel, not far away, for seamen like to remain near the water front.

"We'll go there," said Larry, "and then I must get back to the office, and write my story for to-day's paper."

"I wish you had some better news," spoke Grace. "But I am afraid Captain Padduci, whom we are now going to see, will prove as disappointing as the rest."

"We'll hope for the best," remarked Larry. "I wish——"

But what he wished he never told, for at that instant his attention was attracted by a voice. It was that of a man who stood at the small window of the steamship office. The window was one which he and Grace had just stepped away from, after inquiring as to where Captain Padduci's hotel was.

If the voice attracted Larry the sight of the man himself did more to rivet his attention. For the first glance showed him the inquirer was none other than the mysterious individual, Mah Retto.

"I would like to inquire where I can find Captain Tantrella of the steamer Olivia," the man asked of the clerk.

"The Olivia is lost," replied the steamship clerk.

"I know it, but I would like to see the captain. He was saved, I believe."

"Yes, he was. He commands a freight ship now. She's due in port in a few days. The Turtle is her name. You can come around when she gets in."

The mysterious man turned away as though disappointed. As he did so he caught sight of Larry, and instantly he hurried out of the office.

Larry was greatly excited. He was convinced, more than ever, that there was something in this man's actions that made him an object of suspicion. He felt that he must follow the fellow, but he could not leave Grace. He looked around for her, but she had gone to the ladies' dressing room to adjust her veil and hat, which had been blown about by the high wind. She came back presently, to find Larry much agitated.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing much," replied Larry. "I just saw my queer stranger again and——"

"You'd like to follow him, and you don't want to leave me," put in Grace with quick wit. "Now run right along. I can go to that hotel all by myself and see Captain Padduci. I'm not a bit afraid. I once traveled from London to Paris alone. You hurry after him, and I'll see the captain. I'll telephone you the result of my interview. You can come up and see me this evening, and we'll talk over some more plans."

"That will be good," Larry said, "but are you sure you won't mind me leaving you?"

"I can get along all right," replied Grace. "Of course I'd like to have you come along, for I believe you understand this matter better than I do, but I want you to find that other man and get your story."

Larry was inclined both ways, but he knew it would be better to hurry after Mah Retto, as Grace could make all the necessary inquiries of Captain Padduci.

"Until to-night, then," the young reporter said, as he hurried out of the steamship office, and Grace turned to go to the captain's hotel.

Reaching the street Larry saw, some distance ahead of him, the form of the man whose actions so puzzled him, and who had led him such a baffling chase.

"Here is where I get you," thought Larry, as he hurried on.

Victor Appleton

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