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Nick Carter's Ghost Story by Nicholas Carter

 

 

CHAPTER I.

THE VANISHING THIEF.

 

Nick Carter's friends often ask him whether, in the course of his remarkable experience as a detective, he has ever encountered anything which could not have been the work of human hands.

Few people, nowadays, will own that they believe in ghosts. Yet most of us would be less sure about it in a grave-yard at midnight than on Broadway at noon.

A man who can tell a reasonable story about having seen a ghost may not find many believers, but he will get plenty of listeners, for we are all eager to hear about such things.

So Nick, who always likes to oblige his friends, does not deny the existence of spirits when he is asked whether he ever saw any. On the contrary, if he has the time to spare, he usually tells the following story:

A broad-shouldered, square-jawed, bright-eyed young man called on Nick one afternoon, and was ushered into the study.

His card had gone up ahead of him, and it bore the name—Horace G. Richmond.

Nick ran his eye over his visitor, and decided that he was a fellow who knew the world and was getting everything out of it that there is in it.

He met Nick's eye with the air of a man who is going to do something unusual, and wants to announce at the start that he can back it up.

"I have a case for you, Mr. Carter, if you will take it," he said.

"State it," replied Nick.

"It's a robbery case, and a mighty queer one. I don't pretend to understand it or any part of it."

"Who's been robbed?"

"My uncle, Colonel Richmond, or, I should say, his daughter, Mrs. Pond. But the robbery affects my uncle perhaps more seriously than his daughter. It is on his account that I am here."

"Tell the story."

"I'll do it, but first let me say that whatever others may think of the case, I believe it's just simply theft. Mrs. Pond has a lot of jewelry and somebody is stealing it a piece at a time.

"That's my view, but my uncle's is different. He says that these robberies are not the work of human hands.

"Now, as for me, I try to keep my feet on the earth all the time. I want you to understand right at the start that I don't believe in any stuff about ghosts and hobgoblins.

"In my opinion, ghosts that steal diamonds ought to be in the jug, and will probably get there unless they turn over a new leaf.

"My uncle doesn't see as straight as that. Perhaps you remember that, three or four years ago, he fell into the hands of a couple of sharks who pretended to be mediums.

"He had always believed in spiritualism, and those crooks caught him just right. They called up the spooks of all the dead people he could think of. They got messages from the spirit land seven nights in the week and two matinees. My uncle simply went wild about it. You remember. It was all in the papers. They worked him beautifully, and if I had not stepped in and exposed them just in time they'd have got every cent he had."

"That would have been quite a haul," said Nick.

"Well, I should remark! He's worth more than four million dollars. I tell you, those bogus mediums thought they'd struck something very soft.

"However, I showed them up, and convinced my uncle that they were rank frauds. They're in Sing Sing now.

"My uncle did not give up his belief in spirits. He said 'these people are frauds, but there are others who honestly and truly hold communication with the departed.'

"I tell you, we've had a hard time keeping him out of the hands of sharpers since then. But we've succeeded.

"And now, by bad luck, this queer affair has come up, and all my uncle's faith has returned. He wants to consult mediums, and all that sort of thing.

"That's the only serious part of it. The jewels that have been stolen aren't worth over a couple of thousand dollars, all told.

"Of course, it's a nuisance to have such a thing happen in anybody's house, but we wouldn't care much if the mysterious circumstances were not driving my uncle's mind back to his pet delusion."

"What are these mysterious circumstances?" asked the detective.

"Why, it's like this: Colonel Richmond's aunt, Miss Lavina Richmond, was a queer old lady, who was once very rich. At that time she had a passion for collecting jewels. She used to invest her money in diamonds, just as another person might buy houses or railroad stock.

"Only about a tenth part of her fortune was invested so that she got any income out of it. In the last part of her life she lost all that part of her property, so that she hadn't anything in the world but her jewels.

"She wouldn't sell one, and there she was as poor in one sense as a lodger in City Hall Square—for she hadn't a cent of money—and yet owning diamonds and other precious stones worth nearly a million dollars.

"She wouldn't borrow on them; she wouldn't do anything but keep them locked up; and so she had to depend absolutely on my uncle for the necessities of life.

"He didn't mind that, of course, for he had plenty. She lived at his house, and eventually died there.

"She and my uncle never got along well, in spite of his kindness to her, and she had no friends except a Mrs. Stevens and her daughter. They're related to the Richmonds, but the money is all in the colonel's branch of the family.

"Mrs. Stevens and Millie, her daughter, are poor. They have just enough to live on. The colonel would take care of them, but they won't have it. They're too proud.

"Now, everybody thought that old Miss Lavina Richmond would leave her tremendous pile of diamonds to Millie Stevens. Indeed, Miss Richmond used to say so continually. I've heard her say, in the colonel's presence, that Miss Stevens should have the jewels; that such was her wish.

"Well, she died suddenly a year or more ago, and the only will that could be found was dated many years back, and left everything she possessed to the colonel's daughter.

"It was the greatest surprise that you can imagine. We all knew that such a will had been made, but we hadn't the slightest idea that it still existed, and that she had made no other. On the contrary, we knew positively that she had made a much later will in favor of Millie Stevens. But the document couldn't be found, and so the old one was submitted for probate.

"The colonel expected a contest, but the Stevenses did not make a murmur. It must have been a tremendous disappointment to them, but they bore it with perfect good nature. They didn't seem to feel half so badly about it as my uncle did. If he had had his way, he would have given all the jewels to Miss Stevens.

"He said over and over again that he believed it was his aunt's wish that the girl should have them. And I can tell you, there's no man so particular as he is about respecting the wishes of the dead.

"Mrs. Pond would have turned over the whole lot to Millie Stevens, I believe, if it hadn't been for her husband.

"Mr. Pond isn't a rich man, and he didn't feel that he could afford to yield up a million dollars' worth of property that had been thrown at him in that way. And, to speak plainly, he isn't the sort of man to let go of anything that comes within his reach.

"My uncle offered to do the fair thing out of his own pocket, but, as I've said, the Stevenses wouldn't touch his money; and there the case has stood ever since.

"The most valuable of the jewels are in the vaults of the Central Safe Deposit Company in this city. Some of the smaller pieces are in Mrs. Pond's possession. She is a woman who likes to wear a lot of jewelry, and, by Jupiter, she can do it now if she likes, for she owns more diamonds than the Astors.

"Mr. and Mrs. Pond live in Cleveland. Mrs. Pond, as I've told you, is now visiting her father. You know he bought the old Plummer place on the shore of Hempstead Harbor, Long Island.

"She has been with him about two weeks. She has two rooms on the second floor of the house, a sitting-room and a bed-room. The bed-room opens off the hall. It has only one other door, which leads to her sitting-room.

"The first robbery occurred on the second day after she had arrived. It was late in the afternoon.

"Mrs. Pond had been out riding. When she returned she hurried up to her room to dress for dinner.

"She took off some of her jewelry—some rings, pins and that sort of thing—and laid them on the dressing-table. Then she went into her sitting-room.

"Remember, I'm telling this just as she told it. How much of it is fact and how much is hysterics I can't say. She was scared half out of her wits by what happened afterward, and may have got mixed up in her narrative.

"This is what she told us: When she had been in the sitting-room about a minute she turned toward the bedroom and saw the door slowly shutting.

"She was surprised at this, for she had locked the other door of the bed-room, and it did not seem possible for anybody to be in there.

"In fact, such a thing did not come into her mind. She supposed that a draught of air was swinging the door.

"She hastened toward it, but it closed before she got there.

"She turned the knob and tried to open the door, but was unable to do so. It did not seem to resist firmly, as it would if it had been fastened. Instead it gave slightly, as if some person had been holding it.

"If that was the case, he was stronger than she was, for she didn't succeed in opening the door.

"Then she screamed. Such a yell I never heard a woman utter. I was in my own room, which is over hers, and I jumped nearly out of my skin, it startled me so.

"I was dressing, and was in my underclothes, so it took me a minute, I should say, to get a pair of pantaloons on.

"Then I ran out into the hall and down the stairs. At the same moment my uncle ran up from the ground floor.

"I mention these facts, because they seem to me to be important. You see, we approached that room by two ways—by the only two ways except that by which Mrs. Pond came.

"Just as I got to the hall door of her bed-room she opened it, and fell into my arms in a faint.

"She lost consciousness only for a moment, and, on coming to herself, she cried out that a thief had been in her room.

"By this time there were three or four servants in the hall below. One of them staid there by my uncle's orders. The others went outside and made a circuit of the house.

"We led Mrs. Pond back into her room, and she pointed to her dressing-table.

"There lay two or three rings and a pin, but the most valuable ring that she had put there was gone.

"It was a queer, old-fashioned ring in the form of a snake, and in its mouth was a ruby worth about two hundred and fifty dollars. The eyes were made of small diamonds.

"She declared that she had left the ring there. She told us how the door between the two rooms had closed.

"It appears that after she had struggled to open it for several minutes it suddenly yielded, and she almost fell into the room.

"Of course, she expected to rush straight upon the thief. He had been holding the door, and naturally he couldn't have gone far after releasing it.

"She was inside just as soon as the pressure on the other side was removed. But the room was empty.

"She thought of her jewels at once. She rushed to her dressing-table, and instantly missed the ruby ring.

"Now, that's all there is to it. We hunted high and low for the thief, and did not find a trace of him.

"How did he get away? That's where I give up the riddle. The door in the hall was locked on the inside, and practically guarded by my uncle and myself. At the other door stood Mrs. Pond.

"There is only one window. It looks out on a sort of court with the house on three sides of it.

"A man with a wagon was almost under the window all the time. He was delivering groceries to the cook.

"It's absurd to suppose that anybody got in or out by that window. No thief would have been fool enough to try it at that time of day, and, as I've told you, there were two persons who would have been perfectly sure to see him if he had. And he couldn't have got in or out without a ladder.

"I admit that it looked very queer. What do you make of it, Mr. Carter?"

"Are you sure the ring was really taken? Couldn't she have been mistaken about it?"

"That's the idea that occurred to me. But it happens that when Mrs. Pond came back from the drive my uncle banded her out of the carriage, and he distinctly remembers seeing the ring on her finger.

"She went straight to her room, and she couldn't have lost the ring by the way, for there was a guard ring on the outside of it, and that we found on the dressing-table.

"Of course, we hunted for the ruby ring. We took up the carpets; we made such a search as I never saw before. The ring was not there.

"I don't think there's a shadow of doubt that the ring was stolen, but I can't form an idea of how it was done.

"The more I think about it the more confused I get. To my mind the queerest part of it is that somebody held the door, and then let go of it and vanished in a quarter of a second. How are we going to explain that?"

"Didn't the thief put something against the door?"

"I thought of that, and tried to work out that theory, but it's impossible. Not a piece of furniture was out of place, and there wasn't a stick or a prop of any kind in the room that could have been used for such a purpose."

"Well, that's strange, I must admit," said Nick. "I guess it will be necessary for me to go down and look the ground over."

"That's just what we want."

"Come along, then. I'm ready."

 

 

CHAPTER II.

NICK IS BOLDLY CHALLENGED.

 

Nick knew the old Plummer mansion well. There is not a house to match it in this country.

A hundred years and more ago it must have been the scene of strange adventures. It was built, certainly, by one who did not expect a peaceful and quiet life within it.

The thick stone walls, which look so unnecessarily massive, are really double. There are secret passages and movable panels and trap-doors enough in that house to hide a man, if a regiment of soldiers was after him.

Evidently such a place offered every chance to shrewd criminals who might have a motive for playing upon the superstitious beliefs of the present proprietor.

Anybody who couldn't get up a respectable ghost in the old Plummer house must be a very poor fakir.

The mere fact that all the doors and windows of a room were closed did not prevent any person from going in or out at will, if he knew the secrets of the house.

Nick thought of these things as he rode down there in the cars, and he prepared himself for an interesting time, chasing bogus ghosts through secret doors and panels.

But a surprise awaited him on his arrival. Colonel Richmond met him at the door, and, by Nick's request, took him at once to the room from which the articles had been stolen.

It was a modern room in a new part of the house.

Nick was entirely unprepared for this. He did not know that the colonel had built any additions to the old mansion.

Colonel Richmond spoke of this remarkable feature of the case at once.

"If this thing had happened in the old part of the house," he said, "I shouldn't have thought that it was anything but an ordinary robbery.

"Every room there can be entered in a secret manner, and no doubt there are plenty of panels and passages which even I do not know.

"But there's nothing of the kind here. This wing was built under my eye, and from my own design. I saw the beams laid and the floors nailed down.

"There is absolutely no way to enter the room in which we now stand except by the two doors and the window.

"My nephew has told you about the robberies. You know that the doors and the windows were practically guarded all the time.

"I don't believe that any mortal being could have got in here and got out again without being seen.

"As for myself, I understand the case perfectly. My belief will seem strange to you, because you do not see with the eye of the spirit. Everything has to be done by human hands, according to your matter-of-fact notion.

"I know better; and I tell you that these jewels were taken by the spirit of my deceased aunt, and that she did it to show me that my daughter was wrongfully in possession of them."

When a healthy, hearty old man, who seems to be as sane as anybody else in the world, stands up and talks such nonsense as this, what can one say to him?

It is useless to tell him that he is wrong about the whole matter. It is folly to attempt to reason with him.

The only way to do is to show him a perfectly natural explanation of the mystery, and simply make him see it.

That was the task which Nick had before him, and it must be owned that, at the first glance, he did not see how he was going to accomplish it.

He examined the room and satisfied himself that it had no secret entrances.

Such being the case, Nick was unable to form a theory of the robbery which would fit the facts as they had been stated to him.

After looking at the rooms, he went with Colonel Richmond to the parlor, on the ground floor, and there proceeded to question him about the mysterious occurrences.

"There have been three robberies in all," said the colonel, "and they have been exactly alike.

"In every case my daughter has left some articles of jewelry on the dressing-table in her bed-room, and one of them has vanished. Never more than one at a time.

"Twice it happened while she was in the adjoining room. The bed-room door which opens into the hall was locked on these occasions.

"The third time she was in the hall, talking with my nephew. He was standing in the upper hall, leaning over the banister rail. They were discussing a plan for a drive out into the country. Quite a party was to go.

"Horace had just received word from a gentleman whom they had invited that he would be unable to go. He had read the note in his room, and he called downstairs to my daughter to tell her about it.

"That was how they happened to be standing in the hall. Presently she went back into her room, and almost immediately noticed that a small locket set with diamonds had been taken.

"She screamed, and Horace and I came running to her room. We searched it thoroughly.

"There was nobody there. The door between the bedroom and the sitting-room was open, but the other door of the sitting-room, which opens into the old portion of the house, was locked and bolted on the inside.

"Now, I submit to you, Mr. Carter, whether in that case any other way of entrance or exit was possible except by the windows."

"I'm bound to admit," responded Nick, "that if the doors were in the condition you describe, no person could have entered or left those rooms except by the windows."

"Well, it had been raining hard, and the ground was soft. We looked carefully under all the windows.

"There was no sign of a footprint, and nobody could have walked there without making tracks. Oh, it is clear enough! Why do we waste your time in a search for invisible spirits of the dead?"

He rambled on in this way for several minutes, and Nick did not try to stop him.

The colonel was at last interrupted, however, by the entrance of his daughter.

Mrs. Pond had been out driving. She learned, on her return, that a stranger had come to the house, and she hurried into the parlor, suspecting who was there.

"I am delighted to see you, Mr. Carter," she exclaimed. "You will clear up this abominable mystery and relieve my father's mind from these delusions."

"Then you do not share his opinions," said Nick.

Mrs. Pond laughed nervously.

"No, indeed," she said, "and yet I must admit that I am quite unable to explain the facts. I suppose you have heard the story?"

"Yes."

"What do you think about it?"

"It is much too early in the case for me to express an opinion. But there are one or two questions that I should like to ask you."

"Do so, by all means. It was at my request that you were called in."

"At your request?"

"Yes; I talked with Horace about it, and at last we agreed to ask you to take the case. He didn't believe in it at first, for he did not want to let anybody into our family secrets."

She glanced at her father as she spoke. It was evident that the family was a good deal ashamed of Colonel Richmond's spiritualistic delusions and wanted to keep quiet about them.

"I talked Horace into it after a while," Mrs. Pond continued, "and at last he became as enthusiastic as myself. We know that you will find the thief."

"Thank you," responded Nick. "There is one point which seems peculiar to me. After you had been robbed once, why did you continue to leave the jewels unwatched in the very place from which one of them had previously been taken?"

"I insisted upon it," said Colonel Richmond. "I told my daughter that she must make no change in her habit of wearing or caring for my aunt's jewels. I wished to show that we were not foolishly trying to hide them from the eye of a spirit, but that we wished to learn the desire of my departed aunt as soon as possible."

"It was by your order, then," said Nick, "that your daughter continued to put the jewels on her dressing-table when she laid them aside for any reason?"

"It was."

"I have just left some of them there now," said Mrs. Pond. "I went to my room after my ride, and took off a light cloak which was fastened with three pins, each having a diamond in its head. I stuck them all into a cushion on that dressing-table."

"Is the room locked?" asked Nick.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Pond, and she produced the key of the door which opened from the hall above.

"Will you allow me to go up there now?"

"Certainly."

She handed the key to Nick.

He took it and walked out of the parlor.

Nick had already formed a sort of working theory in the case. He scarcely believed that it would hold water, but it would do for a starter.

The most probable explanation that had come to him was that Mrs. Pond had not really been robbed at all.

It might be that she had some motive for making these articles vanish. Perhaps she had some need of money, and was secretly selling them against the wish of her husband and her father.

So, when Nick took that key and went toward that room he did not expect to find the three diamond pins in the position described by the lady.

He found the door locked, and he opened it by means of the key. Then he locked it behind him, leaving the key in the lock.

He turned at once to a dressing-table.

The three pins were there, just as Mrs. Pond had said.

Nick laughed softly to himself.

"That looks bad for my first shot at this queer case," he said; "but perhaps she didn't dare work the game while I was in the house."

He glanced out of the window of the room.

Two servants were in the yard. They seemed to be explaining the robberies to a new driver of a groceryman's wagon, for they had one of his arms apiece, and were pointing to the window.

Nick walked into the sitting-room, and spent some minutes examining the walls, and especially the door leading toward the old part of the house.

He found nothing at all to reward his search. There absolutely was no secret entrance.

The detective decided that nothing further could be done in that room. He walked toward the other.

To his astonishment he found that the door had been closed while he had been busy with his investigations.

He sprang against it.

The door yielded a little, and yet he could not open it.

Some person stronger than he seemed to be holding it on the other side.

He drew back for a spring. That door would have gone to splinters if it had stood in his way again.

Instead, it swung open the instant he touched it, and the force of his lunge took him nearly to the middle of the room.

In an instant he was on guard, but he saw no one.

The room was quiet, and it was empty.

The door into the hall was locked as he had left it.

All was the same, except that on the dressing-table was the cushion bearing two diamond pins instead of three.

The robbery had been done, as one might say, under the nose of the greatest detective in the world.

"Well, this takes my breath away," said Nick to himself. "It's the nerviest challenge that ever was sprung on me."

 

 

CHAPTER III.

HOW NICK FOUND THE JEWELS.

 

It certainly looked like sheer recklessness for this thief, whoever he might be, to play his game on Nick almost at the very moment when the great detective appeared upon the scene.

Shrewd as Nick was, he had not expected this. His first thought, as the reader knows, was that it was a bold challenge, the defiance of a nervy criminal who thought himself absolutely safe from detection.

But a moment's reflection made this seem less probable.

Was it not more natural to suppose that this event proved that the detective was unknown to the thief?

Such being the case, Colonel Richmond, his nephew and Mrs. Pond were acquitted at the start.

It may seem ridiculous to suspect them, in any case, but so strange was the nature of this affair that Nick gave nobody the credit of certain innocence.

Colonel Richmond was certainly very nearly crazy on one point. He might be so much of a lunatic as to commit these robberies from simple delusion. Or he might wish to prove to his daughter that the diamonds were not rightfully hers.

Mrs. Pond might be pawning them for small extravagances which she was afraid to have known.

As to Horace Richmond, there was no motive which seemed plausible. The value of the articles taken was so small as to make the game not worth while for a man in his position.

And it was perfectly certain that no professional thief or dishonest servant was doing the work.

If such a person had been in the game, he would not have taken one of those diamond pins; he would have taken all three.

It was impossible to lose sight of the fact that the Stevenses would be the real gainers, if this ghost business led Colonel Richmond to insist that his daughter should give up the jewels.

Mrs. Stevens and her daughter could not be doing the job personally, but they might have a secret agent among the servants, or more probably concealed in some secret recess of the strange old house.

Nick resolved to go to see Mrs. and Miss Stevens without delay. He hoped to judge by their conduct whether they knew anything about the robberies.

These thoughts passed through his mind in a flash.

He quickly searched the room to be sure that the thief was not concealed in it, and then descended to the main hall. The outer door was open, and Colonel Richmond and his daughter were standing on the steps.

Just as Nick joined them Horace Richmond strolled up. They all stood looking at a carriage which was coming up the driveway.

"Why, it's Mrs. Stevens," exclaimed Mrs. Pond. "I thought you said she did not come here any more."

"She hasn't been here in some time," responded the colonel. "I have thought that she avoided us because of this matter of the jewels."

Nothing more could be said on the subject, for at that moment the carriage drew up before the door.

Colonel Richmond advanced courteously and assisted Mrs. Stevens to alight.

Nick noticed at once that she was much agitated.

Colonel Richmond asked her into the house, but she said that she preferred to sit on the veranda. She had come on business, and would stay but a moment.

She evidently wished to speak to the colonel privately, and so the others stepped aside; but Nick's eye was upon the woman every moment.

Very few words had passed between them, when the colonel uttered a cry and called to Nick.

The detective instantly advanced. He made a sign to Richmond, but it was not understood, and the colonel introduced Nick by his right name.

"Here is an extraordinary thing, Mr. Carter," he said. "We now have proof positive that this affair is not the work of mortal hands."

"What is that?" asked Nick.

"The jewels have appeared!"

"Where?"

"In Mrs. Stevens' house. They have been mysteriously transported there without human aid."

"I should be glad to have that proven," said Nick.

"It shall be," said the colonel. "Tell your story, Mrs. Stevens, if you please."

"It is very simple," she said. "This noon, when I returned to my room after lunch, I found upon my dressing-table certain pieces of jewelry which I recognized as having belonged to the late Miss Lavina Richmond.

"I knew them well. Nothing that I can imagine could have surprised me more than to find them there. I have no explanation to offer. I can't explain how it happened."

Nick could explain it very easily, at least so far as the appearance of the jewels in that particular place was concerned. It looked like a natural development of the plot. But his face expressed no emotion as he asked:

"Who had access to that room?"

"Nobody," replied Mrs. Stevens. "It was locked."

"Is it customary for you to lock your bed-room door when you go to lunch?"

"No; it is quite unusual. But we have a new servant in the house, and, as I had considerable money in the room, I took that precaution.

"All the doors were locked. I had the key to one of them. The others were on the inside of the locks.

"When I went to lunch the jewels were not there. When I returned they were there. That is all that I know about it. Here they are."

She drew from her pocket as she spoke a small cardboard box.

The woman was making heroic efforts to be calm, but it seemed as if she might either faint or go into hysterics at any moment.

Was she playing a game that was too hard for her?

That was the question for Nick to answer; and yet, when he looked at this gentle, refined woman, he hardly had the heart to suspect her of any dishonesty.

"I will show you the jewels," she said, struggling to command her voice, "you can then see whether they are all here."

Her trembling hands could hardly find the string which was tied about the box.

While she pulled at it she kept talking as if she must do it to relieve her overburdened mind. She described the articles of jewelry which were in the box.

"They are the very ones," said the colonel.

As he uttered the words the string was loosened, and the cover fell off the box.

There was a sharp cry. It came from Mrs. Pond, who, with Horace, had approached during this scene.

"Why, there's one of my diamond pins!" she exclaimed. "How on earth did it come to be there?"

Well, if Mrs. Pond was surprised, she wasn't a bit more so than Nick Carter.

The pin referred to was the one which had been stolen from the cushion in Mrs. Pond's dressing-room not ten minutes before.

"Why, this is impossible," cried Mrs. Pond. "I left that pin with the two others like it in my room."

Without saying another word, she turned and ran into the house.

Almost immediately her voice was heard in the hall.

"It's gone!" she cried. "It's been taken out of my bedroom."

She appeared at the door with a very white face.

But her excitement was nothing to that of Mrs. Stevens.

Nick dropped the role of detective and assumed that of doctor in less than a second.

When he had saved Mrs. Stevens from an attack of hysterics, he said:

"I was aware that that pin had been taken. It was done while I was in your room, Mrs. Pond. The circumstances were exactly the same as those attending the other robberies."

"But I did not put it in the box," exclaimed Mrs. Stevens. "It was not among the jewels which I found."

She turned to Colonel Richmond. Her face was ghastly pale.

"I have scorned your belief," she said; "but now I am convinced. No mortal being could have done this thing."

"What do you say to that, Mr. Carter?" cried the colonel, with flashing eyes.

"I would like to ask a few questions," rejoined Nick. "Were you alone when you put those jewels into the box?"

"I was."

"Has it been in your possession ever since?"

"It has not been out of my care."

"Did you tell anybody about the finding of the jewels?"

"Nobody."

"Please describe everything that happened after you found them."

"I was, of course, greatly agitated. I did not know what to do. For some time I sat staring at the jewels and trying to think what was my proper course.

"At last I took this box from a drawer of my dressing-table and put the jewels into it.

"Then I called to the servant who was in the dining-room, and asked her to see that the carriage was got ready, for though it is a long drive, I had resolved to make it, because I felt safer in that way."

"Did you go out of your room to call the girl?"

"Only into the hall."

"Who could have got into your room while you were out?"

"Nobody."

"Where was your daughter?"

"In her own room."

"How do you know?"

"I called to her after I had dressed, and she answered me. I told her that I was going to drive over here, and she was very much surprised. I did not tell her why."

"Did you meet anybody on the way over who spoke to you or came to the side of the carriage?"

"Nobody."

"That is all I wish to ask."

In fact, Nick had no more questions. He was really at a loss for an explanation of this strange occurrence.

If the pin had been taken from the room, by a person concealed in the house, it might have been possible that that person had escaped from the grounds unseen, and had given it to Mrs. Stevens.

There was hardly time for such a trick to have been done, but in so strange a case every possibility was to be considered.

If such a thing had been done, it must have been very near to the house.

The thief must have known when Mrs. Stevens was coming, or she must have waited for him just outside the colonel's grounds.

There was a place where the road was heavily fringed with trees, not more than a hundred yards from the colonel's gate.

The trick must have been done there, if at all.

Nick resolved to settle this small point, if possible, immediately.

It was of no use to ask the man who had driven Mrs. Stevens' horse. Of course, he would lie, if there was any need of it.

So Nick excused himself from the group on the pretext that he was going to search Mrs. Pond's rooms again.

He remembered that just after Mrs. Stevens had arrived, a wagon belonging to the colonel had driven into the grounds. He quietly looked up the two servants who had been in this wagon. They told him that they remembered seeing Mrs. Stevens drive up.

She had passed them on the road. They had had her carriage in sight for a mile before it turned into Colonel Richmond's grounds.

Her horse had been driven at a good pace. It had not stopped. Nobody had approached the carriage.

Nick was convinced that the men were telling the truth.

Then how had Mrs. Stevens obtained that pin?

Her possession of the other articles might be explained, but the pin was a "stickler."

 

 

CHAPTER IV.

MILLIE STEVENS.

 

After questioning the two men whom he had found in the stable, Nick walked toward the house.

On the way he met Horace Richmond.

"Mrs. Stevens has gone home," said Horace. "She would not remain for dinner, although she has such a long ride before her. She seems terribly distressed by this strange affair."

"What did your uncle say to her?"

"Not much," was the reply; "and I was a good deal surprised. He begged her not to be nervous about it, and talked very pleasantly to her, but he steered clear of the matter of the jewels.

"I don't understand it. I thought he would insist upon what he calls a restitution of the property."

"Perhaps, after all," said Nick, "he isn't so far off his base on the ghost question as you think he is."

"Don't you deceive yourself about that. He is just as sure that his aunt's spirit removed those jewels as you are that that house is resting on its foundations.

"And I wouldn't try to shake his belief just now," continued Horace, seriously. "Simply say nothing about the affair this evening. Talk about something else to him. Stay with us as long as you can, and quietly look the ground over. Then tell me privately what you think."

This advice seemed good to Nick. He passed a quiet evening in the house, and nobody but Mrs. Pond referred to the robberies. Horace managed to quiet her quickly.

But the next morning after breakfast she came to Nick with a very long face.

"My father has been talking to me," she said, "and I'm going to lose those jewels surely, unless you do something and do it very quickly. I don't care for their value, but they're mine by right, and I mean to keep them if I can. But, of course, I can't bear to make my father's life miserable. It will probably end by my compelling my husband to let me give them up."

Nick had his doubts about the possibility of such a thing, and they were made certainties very soon afterward.

Mr. Pond arrived unexpectedly. When the story was told him, he "danced the war-dance," as our young friend Patsy might have expressed it.

"You don't seem to realize the importance of this matter," he exclaimed. "Why, it's a million-dollar robbery, that's what it is! If we give up the jewels, the colonel will give us their value. By jingo, he'll have to.

"Well, what's that but the theft of a million from him?"

Nick was compelled to confess that it was just that, and nothing else.

"And who'll reap the proceeds?" continued Pond. "Why, the Stevenses, of course. Nobody else gets anything out of it. They're playing on the colonel's superstitions for a million dollar stake.

"Now, Mr. Carter, you go ahead and work this thing out. Catch the thief. Don't let the colonel get you out of the way. If there's a question of money, I'm good for the best fee you can name."

Nick's first move that day was to go to Mrs. Stevens' house.

She lived well on her small income. It was a nice old country-house, with grounds of considerable extent, and a stable in which two good horses were kept.

Nick rode over there on one of Colonel Richmond's fine saddle-horses.

As the detective rode up the winding, shaded walk toward the house, he noticed a man-servant just ahead of him.

This servant had a newspaper and some letters in his hand. He seemed to have come from the village post-office.

Leaning over the railing of the veranda, as if waiting for this servant, was one of the handsomest girls Nick had ever seen. She was a beauty of the dashing, dark-eyed type—a girl of courage and strong will.

The servant gave her the letters just as Nick came in sight. He not only gave her those he had been carrying in his hand, but he drew one from his pocket with a motion that suggested secrecy.

Nick rode up to the veranda, introduced himself, and asked to see Mrs. Stevens.

"Let James take your horse," said the girl. "Come into the house, if you please. I will speak to my mother."

Nick went into the cool and pretty parlor. Miss Stevens left the room for a moment, and then returned with her mother.

The detective spoke of the occurrences of the day before, and requested permission to see the room in which the jewelry had so mysteriously appeared.

While they were talking thus, it happened that Miss Stevens drew her handkerchief from her pocket, and as she did so two little pieces of paper fell to the floor.

"So she's read that letter, and torn it up so soon," was Nick's silent comment.

Almost immediately Miss Stevens said:

"There's the mail on the table, mother. I forgot to give it to you. There are several letters."

Mrs. Stevens glanced at the addresses.

"They are all for me," she said. "Was there nothing for you?"

"No, indeed," cried the girl. "There's nobody who writes letters to me."

"Lies to her mother, does she?" said Nick to himself. "Well, it begins to look bad for her."

Miss Stevens did not notice the bits of paper on the floor, and Nick by clever work succeeded in getting possession of them.

Then, by Mrs. Stevens' permission, he went to look at the room already referred to.

No sooner was he there than he got rid of the lady upon some plausible excuse, and so had an opportunity of examining the bits of paper.

They were ordinary letter paper impossible to trace.

One bit was blank on both sides. The other bore some queer little marks, but no writing. To Nick the marks were quite clear. They were the dots and dashes of the Morse telegraphic alphabet. They represented the letters n, t, b, e, t, r, a, written very small on a narrow scrap, not more than an inch long.

"Don't betray," muttered Nick. "Worse and worse. Miss Stevens will evidently bear watching."

As to the room, his inspection of it was of little use. He had not expected much. He had come to see Miss Stevens, principally, and in her case the investigation had certainly begun better than he could have reasonably expected. She was engaged in some secret affair. She concealed letters from her mother. She had bribed one of the servants. This last fact was proven by the manner in which the letter had been delivered to her.

As he was turning these matters over in his mind, Mrs. Stevens and her daughter entered the room.

"What have you discovered, Mr. Carter?" asked the girl. "You must know that my mother has told me all about this strange affair, and I am deeply interested."

"I have learned nothing," said Nick, "except that this room can be easily entered, even when the doors are locked.

"Take this door leading to the rear room, for instance. The key was on this side, it is true, but it turns very easily. A person with a pair of nippers could get in without trouble, and lock the door afterward.

"I can't tell from the appearance of the key whether or not this was done, but I think it probable."

"You mean that somebody came in here while mother was at lunch, and put the jewels where they were found?"

"Exactly."

"But who could it have been?"

"I don't know," answered Nick, frankly.

"And how do you explain the presence of that other pin in the box?" asked Mrs. Stevens.

"There is an explanation," said Nick; "but I prefer not to give it now."

"As you please," responded the lady, haughtily. "I can only say that I trust you will find this thief speedily, and end this annoyance to which we are being subjected."

"I don't think it ought to be hard for a person of your abilities," said Miss Stevens. "I have already solved the puzzle."

"And who is the guilty person?" asked Nick, with a smile.

"Colonel Richmond, of course."

"Why should he do this?"

"Because he's crazy. That's reason enough."

"I'd like to hear you explain your theory a little further."

"Why, Mr. Carter, I'm surprised at you. Is there any motive for this so-called crime? No. Then it must be a crazy person's work. Is there more than one lunatic among us? Certainly not. So, as two and two make four, and the sun doesn't rise in the west, Colonel Richmond is the man. What kind of a detective do you think I'd make?"

"There isn't any one alive who could compare with you," said Nick.

"You're joking."

"No; I'm serious. There are plenty of detectives who can reason up to the wrong man, but none, I'm sure, who can do it so quickly as you can."

Mrs. Stevens laughed at her daughter's discomfiture, and the girl joined heartily.

"Supposing for a moment that your theory is true," continued Nick. "How do you suppose that Colonel Richmond managed to get the jewels over here?"

The girl became serious in a moment.

"This is a very delicate subject," she said. "I hate to cast suspicion upon any one."

"You refer to the new servant, of course."

"Well, we know nothing about the girl," said Mrs. Stevens, "and, of course, when anything so strange happens in the house we naturally think of her. She brought good references, and she certainly looks honest."

"Did she have an opportunity to put the jewels into this room?"

"As to that, I have talked it over with my daughter, and it seems just possible that the girl could have done it. I thought at first that it was not."

"Of course, it was possible," exclaimed Miss Stevens. "She could have run up the back stairs at any time."

She proceeded to explain this theory, until it seemed quite plausible.

And yet all the time she was filling the detective's mind with the blackest suspicions against herself.

Here was the case: The plotters were trying to work on Colonel Richmond's superstitions.

A celebrated detective had been called in. If he succeeded, the plotters failed, and the Stevenses lost the jewels.

What more natural than that the criminals should wish to throw the detective on a wrong scent? Was it not to be expected that they should pitch upon this new servant as the best person with whom to deceive Nick.

Altogether, Miss Stevens was making out a very strong case against herself.

 

 

CHAPTER V.

COLONEL RICHMOND'S NIGHT ADVENTURE.

 

Of course, Nick questioned the servant. To have failed to do that would have been to throw light upon his real suspicions.

She was a tall, slender, and rather pretty Irish girl, named Annie O'Neil.

Her answers to all questions were plain and simple.

She told what she had been doing on the previous day while Mrs. Stevens was at lunch. She had not been in the dining-room all the time, but had come in twice or thrice when summoned.

During the remainder of the time she had been in the kitchen. Nobody had been with her there.

When Nick left the house, he rode half a mile back along the road, and then dismounted and sat down under a big tree. In a few minutes a farmer's wagon came along. A young man, who looked like a farm laborer, was riding beside the farmer. He did not ride far beyond the place where Nick was sitting. In a few minutes they sat together under the tree. The young farm laborer was Patsy.

"I got your message," said Patsy. "I took the chance to ride over from the station with that fellow, and I've asked him a few questions about the house where you want me to go on duty. It seems that there's no show to get in there on any pretext. I'll have to camp around on the outside like a grass-eater."

"That won't hurt you, Patsy, my lad," said Nick. "The weather's good. You're to keep an eye on the whole household, but on Miss Stevens especially.

"This is the way the case looks at present: The girl is doing the work on this end in connection with some confederate concealed in Colonel Richmond's house.

"You understand the game. It's to work the spirit racket on Colonel Richmond until he buys the jewels from his daughter or her husband, and gives them to Miss Stevens.

"You must watch for the system by which she communicates with her confederate in Richmond's house. They work the mails, but there must be some quicker means to use in emergencies.

"Try to snare a letter, or get a sight of the other party.

"And be sure not to jump at conclusions, Patsy. I've told you how the case looks, but it may be any other way. I haven't begun to work down to it yet."

Nick mounted his horse, and Patsy strolled away in the direction of the Stevens house.

When the detective got back to Colonel Richmond's, it was well along in the afternoon.

He spent the remainder of his day in exploring the secret recesses of the old house. It was, indeed, a marvelous place, and Nick got a very high opinion of the ingenuity of the man who had designed its mysterious passages.

He got little else, however. One or two discoveries he certainly made. They were important as indicating that somebody had recently been in the secret passages.

There was nothing to show what that person had been doing there, but the probability was, of course, that he had concealed himself in the old part of the house while preparing for his operations in Mrs. Pond's room, or while escaping from them.

These indications were very vague, and did not point to the principal in this affair—that mysterious thief who worked invisibly and by such strange methods.

After dinner Horace Richmond took Nick aside, for what he termed a discussion of "this ghostly rot."

"The very devil is in this business," said Horace. "The servants are getting scared out of their wits.

"They all sleep in the old part of the house, you know, and there isn't one of them who hasn't some story to tell of what goes on there in the night.

"Some of these yarns are the old-fashioned business about sighs and groans, and doors opening and shutting without anybody to open and shut them.

"But under it all I must say that there seems to be a basis of fact. There's John Gilder, the coachman. You've seen him, Does he look like a man who can be scared easily?"

"I should say not," laughed Nick. "He looks to me like a Yankee horse-trader, who is too intimate with the devil and his ways to be at all alarmed about them."

"Just so. Well, John Gilder came to me to-day, and told me just as calmly as I'd tell you the time of day, that he'd seen the ghost of Miss Lavina Richmond. He saw her right in this room where we are now."

They had gone to the large dining-hall in the old mansion. Horace sometimes used it as a smoking-room, but otherwise it was seldom visited, except when the house was full of guests and all the old part was thrown open.

It was a long and high room, finished in dark wood, and decorated with moldering portraits in the worst possible style of art.

At one end was a gigantic fire-place, which was closed by a screen of boards.

"He told me," continued Horace, "that he was passing through here late last night—near midnight, he said—and that he saw Lavina Richmond standing just about where you stand now.

"He came in by that door, behind me, and she was directly facing him. He says that he didn't move or yell, or do anything, but just stood staring at her.

"She paid no attention whatever to him, but passed across the room and went out by that other door, which opened as she approached and closed after her of itself.

"Then he ran for his room. He claims that he wasn't scared—only a bit nervous.

"You can believe that if you want to. I tell you that he was scared, so that he won't get over it in a year.

"If it wasn't for that I might think he was lying; but when a man like Gilder quietly invites the footman—whom he always hated—to take half of his bed for a few weeks, it's a sure thing that he's seen something out of the ordinary.

"And the footman, as I learn, was mighty glad to accept the invitation, for he's been having a few experiences of his own.

"Now, Mr. Carter, you and I believe that these things are done by some clever trickster. It may be that some bogus medium who used to get the colonel's good money away from him, wants more of it, and is taking this means of driving my uncle back to the fold of true believers.

"I'm beginning to believe that that may be the fact. But whatever it is, the case is almighty serious.

"Here's a nice old man, living happily, and gradually getting away from his delusion. Here's an agent of the devil trying to drive this old man back to his delusion, and make a lunatic of him, for that's what the doctor says will certainly happen.

"I say it's too bad, not to mention the jewels at all. Now, what are we going to do about it?"

"Catch the rascal," said Nick, promptly, "and catch him mighty quick."

"Well, I hope you'll succeed. I tell you, Mr. Carter, I feel toward Colonel Richmond all the affection that I would give my father, if he were alive, and I can't bear to see him driven out of his wits in this infernal way."

"Have no fear," said Nick; "we'll save him. This trickery with the servants may give us a chance to catch our man."

They returned to the parlor in the new part of the house.

Colonel Richmond was not there.

"Where is he?" asked Horace, anxiously, of Mrs. Pond.

"He has gone to his room. He said that the excitement of this affair had worn him out completely."

Horace looked relieved.

Nick said that he, too, would go to his room.

He went, but he did not remain long in it. He had a fancy for a quiet stroll around the house on the outside. It would be interesting to know whether anybody entered or left it during the night.

One of the secret passages of the old house communicated with a sort of tunnel, which had its outer extremity in an old well about twenty yards away. This tunnel had caved in long before, but had been restored by Colonel Richmond, who wished to preserve all the old-time peculiarities of the place.

The inner end of it had been closed by a strong door, so as to prevent anybody who might have the secret from entering in that way, but Nick was strongly of the opinion that it would not keep out the persons who were "haunting" the house in case they desired to come in.

If anybody was going in and out secretly this seemed to be the readiest way, so Nick had resolved to watch the well that night.

A little house with sides of lattice-work had been built over it, and vines covered it.

Nick stealthily crept into its shadow, and prepared for his vigil. But it was not destined to be a long one.

He had not been there ten minutes before he saw a figure hastening along one of the numerous paths which wound through the grounds.

This person evidently wished to avoid observation, and that was enough for Nick. He immediately started in pursuit.

He trailed his man to the edge of the colonel's grounds. During this pursuit the man kept in the shadow of some trees, and Nick had no opportunity to see him clearly.

But as the man stepped out into the highway, a ray of moonlight fell upon him, and Nick recognized him in an instant. It was Colonel Richmond.

Why this man should be leaving his own house by stealth and under the cover of darkness was an interesting problem.

Nick resolved to know all about it before the night was much older. So he trailed along.

The colonel walked up the highway with rapid strides.

About half a mile from the house he found a carriage standing under the shadow of a tree.

Evidently he expected to find it just there, for he immediately jumped into it, and the driver whipped up his horse.

Nick was unable to see the driver, for the carriage was a covered buggy, and had been standing with its back toward him.

The horse was evidently a good one, but Nick overhauled him, and got hold of the carriage behind.

There was no chance for him to ride there, but his grip on the wagon helped him along, and he ran about eight miles quite comfortably.

His presence so near was entirely unsuspected by the occupants of the carriage. He was favorably situated for overhearing their conversation, but unfortunately they did not say anything.

Nick discovered that the driver was a woman, but he could only guess at her identity.

At last they turned suddenly out of the road, into the grounds of a private house.

The sound of the wheels was evidently heard within, and the front door was thrown open, letting out considerable light from the hall.

Nick could not go too near that light, so he let go, and crept into some shrubbery.

The carriage drew up before the door, and the colonel and his companion hurried into the house, leaving the horse tied.

The detective failed to obtain a good view of the woman or of the person who had opened the door. The latter seemed to be a servant.

When the door had closed, Nick crept up.

He manoeuvred carefully, and discovered that there was somebody sitting in the hall just inside the door.

Entrance by that means was out of the question.

However, he succeeded without much difficulty in entering the house from the rear.

He found himself in the kitchen, from which he passed to a dining-room.

This apartment was almost totally dark. Nick felt his way to the side opposite the kitchen, and came to a heavy pair of folding doors.

From the other side came a confused murmur of voices, as if many persons were talking in hushed tones.

Presently they became quite still and then there arose the sound of music. It was a slow and somber strain, as from an organ gently played.

Nick was crouching against the door, among the folds of a curtain which could be drawn across.

Suddenly he heard a slight sound behind him. He turned noiselessly.

A white figure flitted across the room.

Nick was at one end of the folding doors, and the figure passed to the other end and into the corner beyond.

There it suddenly vanished.

The light was so dim that Nick could not tell exactly what had happened.

It certainly seemed as if the figure had gone straight through the wall.

About a minute later another form appeared in the same way. It crossed the room, and vanished.

"Good!" muttered Nick. "I'll back these ghosts against any that Colonel Richmond can raise in his house."

Almost immediately there was the sound of a voice in the room beyond the doors.

"Does any person present recognize a departed friend?" it said.

Then Colonel Richmond's voice arose, hoarse and trembling with emotion.

"Aunt Lavina," he said, "tell me what you wish me to do. I will obey you absolutely."

"I thought so," chuckled the detective. "The colonel has come to attend a spiritualistic seance."

 

 

CHAPTER VI.

A ROUND-UP OF SPOOK-ARTISTS.

 

It began to look very much as if Horace Richmond's theory was correct. Certainly the colonel had fallen again into the clutches of bogus mediums.

It might be that the whole plot was directed to that end, and that the transfer of the jewels to the Stevenses was only to be an incidental result of the plot.

Yet so long as Miss Stevens' unusual conduct remained unexplained, it would not do to go upon this theory.

"One of the principal things that Horace Richmond employed me to do," said Nick to himself, "was to break up his uncle's belief in spiritualism. I guess that this is a first-class chance to do it."

He softly crept to the corner where the gliding figures had disappeared.

There, as he expected, he found one of those movable panels which the bogus mediums prepare so cleverly.

His experience of such affairs taught Nick exactly what he should find in the other room.

There must be a little cabinet in the corner covering the other side of the sliding panel.

The medium might be in it, or she might be sitting blindfold just by the door.

But the cabinet was certainly not empty. Two figures had gone into it, as Nick had observed.

One of these was doubtless playing the part of Aunt Lavina.

The other must be waiting to appear in some other role.

Nick listened. He could hear the colonel questioning the supposed spirit.

The replies were put in that silly and mysterious language supposed to be appropriate to visitors from the other world.

The meaning of them, however, was plain enough. Colonel Richmond was commanded to restore the jewels to Millie Stevens.

This point was made so exceedingly clear, and his promise was demanded in such stringent terms that Nick was no longer able to doubt that the interests of the Stevenses were being very carefully attended to by these "spook-compellers."

In view of the facts already known, it was hardly possible to reach any other conclusion than that Millie Stevens had hired this medium to do the whole job.

That it was being done "to the queen's taste," Nick was forced to admit.

Yet he couldn't help being sorry to believe that such a charming and beautiful girl as Millie Stevens should be mixed up in such a dirty business.

He waited till Colonel Richmond had completed his solemn protestations, and then suddenly slid the panel and passed through.

There was another person in the cabinet, who was, of course, instantly aware of Nick's entrance.

But the place was so dark that at first the bogus ghost did not know that Nick was not one of the regular company of spirits.

He had a chance to get his bearings before the discovery was made.

The shade of Aunt Lavina was just retreating toward the cabinet making that absurd series of nods and gestures which such spirits always use.

Nick could see this performance through an aperture in the side of the cabinet.

He instantly leaped out, and grappled with the spook.

Then there was an uproar. The whole room was in indescribable confusion.

Somebody turned up the light. For an instant Nick, grappling with the spirit, saw Colonel Richmond.

The colonel had not been given a private seance. Possibly he had not desired it. He had come with a dozen other victims of the same delusion.

He had been given a seat a little in the rear.

Before him, as is usual, was a row of persons who were "in the game."

The space where the spirits appear is always encircled by such a line as a guard against possible attempts at exposure.

Of course, everybody in the room was on his feet.

Some of the front-row people were rushing upon Nick.

Others had crowded around Colonel Richmond so closely that Nick was afraid he might not fully see the exposure of this fake.

The person whom Nick had seized was not a woman, as might have been expected, but a man. He was of short stature, but surprising strength.

Even in the mighty arms of the detective, he managed to struggle vigorously, and for a moment prevented Nick from tearing away the white and ghostly wrappings.

But a complete expose could not have been long delayed. In spite of the odds against him, Nick was certain to come out ahead.

He called out to Colonel Richmond:

"Look! Look at this! It's a man!"

Just at that instant a tall man who had been standing beside the female "medium," and acting as master of ceremonies, seized an ornament from the mantelpiece, and hurled it not at Nick, as the detective expected, but at the lamp in the corner of the room.

This lamp had been turned up by one of the timid believers as soon as the row began.

The missile which the spiritualistic "bouncer" hurled was well directed. It smashed the lamp to fragments, and the room for a minute was dark.

Then another light flashed up. The broken lamp had set fire to the window curtains.

The scene hadn't been what one would call peaceful before, but it had been nothing at all to what it became when the fire leaped up.

Pandemonium broke loose. Doors and windows were burst out, and everybody rushed toward the outer air.

Among the last to emerge was Nick.

He held the "bouncer" in one hand and the ghost of Aunt Lavina in the other.

Both of them were very badly used up. When the detective dropped them on the lawn they made no attempt to rise.

Some of the medium's stool-pigeons were beginning to get their wits together, and were making preparations for putting out the fire.

Nick yelled to them, and pointed to a line of garden hose on the lawn.

There was a head of water in this pipe, and with the aid of its stream the fire was extinguished.

The detective did not assist. He turned his attention to discovering what had become of Colonel Richmond.

The colonel had disappeared. The carriage in which he had come was gone.

Doubtless the person who had driven him over had hustled him into the carriage at the earliest possible moment.

"A shrewd move," muttered Nick, "and a bad one for me. However, I've got this gang cornered, and if they've been doing the job at the colonel's house, their operations are over."

There was an excited group of people by the main door of the house. In the midst of them stood the medium, a fat and coarse woman, whom Nick had seen before in the same crooked business.

Those around her were the real believers in spiritualism, who had come to the show.

They had witnessed the exposure, and were ready to mob the medium.

Nick took his two prisoners to this group. He tied them securely, and then turned to one of the dupes:

"Why don't you have these people arrested?" he whispered. "Charge them with taking money under false pretenses."

"Good!" said the man. "There's a warrant for some of them already. I'll get the constable, who lives over across the fields, and he'll pull 'em all in."

A half-hour later the whole gang was under arrest and on the way to the nearest lock-up.

The detective felt that his evening's work was not in vain. Whatever might be the facts about the connection of this gang with the affair at Colonel Richmond's, it was a good thing to get them all out of the way.

The colonel's presence among them proved that they were the spiritualistic crowd which was after him. Their removal would simplify matters.

Moreover, the colonel's presence, and his questioning of the spook, showed that any theory connecting him with the disappearance of the jewels was wrong.

It was evident that he had asked the questions in all sincerity, believing that he was really in the presence of his aunt's spirit.

He could hardly be crazy enough to do that, supposing that his lunacy had led him to abstract the jewels.

Having witnessed the arrest of the gang, Nick procured a horse and drove rapidly toward Colonel Richmond's house. He arrived there about half-past eleven o'clock.

There was a light in the parlor, and through the open window Nick beheld an unusual scene.

The colonel, Mrs. Pond and Horace were present. Mr. Pond was not in the house. He had returned to New York.

Besides the persons named, there were in the parlor nearly all the servants connected in any way with the establishment.

It looked as if the colonel was holding court.

One of the servants seemed to be giving testimony. The expressions on the faces of the others showed deep interest and superstitious terror.

Nick had no doubt about what was going on. The colonel was getting to the bottom of the ghost stories. There must have been more manifestations that night.

The detective was in doubt whether to enter the house in his own character. Finally he decided not to do so.

He disguised himself in the character of John Gilder, the coachman, who was not present in the parlor.

It seemed best to gain access to the room from an entrance toward the old part of the house instead of from the main hall.

So Nick passed around the corner of the house. As he did so he was aware of a dark figure crouching in the shadow.

He instantly grappled with it, and the figure was not less prompt in grappling with him.

The struggle was very brief. It ended with Nick on top, and no harm done.

The detective instantly leaped to his feet again.

"Patsy!" he exclaimed. "What brings you here?"

 

 

CHAPTER VII.

A REALLY COMPETENT GHOST.

 

Patsy told his story in a few words.

He had watched the Stevens house all day without discovering anything.

As evening descended, however, his patience had been rewarded.

"She came out," said Patsy, "and quietly scooted off across the fields."

"Millie Stevens?"

"Yes."

"What did she do?"

"She made for that big oak tree which stands in the middle of the field on the right of the road as you go from the station.

"I had to trail carefully, for it was not very dark and there was no cover. So I couldn't get very near her.

"Under that tree a man was waiting. He had a saddle-horse with him. The man and the girl exchanged a few words.

"Of course, I couldn't hear what they said. Neither could I get a line on the man.

"I resolved to get nearer, though it was taking big risks. It couldn't be done. They saw me.

"In a flash the man leaped into his saddle and pulled the girl up in front of him in regular old-fashioned style.

"They were off in no time. It was a fine horse they rode.

"I wasn't in it at any stage of the game. I ran myself out at the end of about a mile.

"They had disappeared in the darkness, but they were taking the road toward this place, and on a venture I came over. I hoped to connect with you, and get instructions."

"That was right. Come with me."

"What's up?"

"A ghost hunt, unless I'm very much mistaken. I guess we can join it without any trouble."

They made their way into the old portion of the house.

In the hall from which the broad stone stairs led up to the second floor they paused a moment to listen.

Steps were approaching. Before they could get into a place of concealment a door opened, and Colonel Richmond entered.

He carried a small lamp in his hand. Horace followed him.

"Gilder!" cried the colonel, seeing Nick disguised as the coachman. "Why were you not present in the parlor?"

"I've just got back to the house, sir," rejoined the detective, imitating Gilder's Yankee twang".

"Who's that with you?"

"My cousin, Frank Gilder."

"What's he doing here?"

"If you please, sir, I brought him over to spend the night with me. The footman and I don't get along very well together, and I don't like to be alone in a room in this house, sir, just now."

"So!" said the colonel. "I understand that you have seen strange things. Very well; I am going to investigate this matter. I shall pass the remainder of the night in the dining-hall above."

The colonel led the way up the stairs. The whole party followed him.

"May I ask where the other servants are, sir?" said Nick.

"They will pass the night in the new part of the house," returned Horace Richmond, with a grim smile. "You can do so if you like."

"No, sir," said Nick; "I think I'd rather sleep in my own room so long as my cousin is with me."

At the head of the stairs they turned at once toward the old dining-hall.

It was proper for Nick to follow, for the nearest way to Gilder's room led in that direction.

It was exactly midnight when they opened the door of the old dining-hall. A cool breath of air swept out upon them, for the thick stone walls of this part of the house resisted the hot weather, and this room had been kept closed.

The colonel shivered slightly in the draught.

He paused on the threshold for a moment, and looked into the room. It was lighted—except for the feeble ray from the lamp—only by the faint moonlight which found its way in through the hall and narrow windows, partly overgrown with clinging vines.

The whole party entered. The colonel set his lamp upon the sideboard.

He turned to speak to the supposed Gilder, probably with the intention of sending him at once to his room.

But at that moment the lamp suddenly went out.

With a low cry the colonel sprang toward it. The lamp was not there.

It had been removed. The room was almost totally dark.

The colonel lit a match. There was no sign of the lamp. It had utterly vanished.

As the burned match fell to the floor a beam of light suddenly shot across the gloom.

And there, before the old-fashioned fire-place, stood a figure corresponding in every particular to Lavina Richmond as she appeared in a portrait painted just previous to her death, and hanging at that moment in the colonel's room.

There was no sound in the room except the labored breathing of the excited old man, whose faith was now fully justified to his mind.

He was gazing straight at this apparition.

It was veiled, and the heavy folds of a black silk dress in the style of many years ago hung loosely about the form.

Immediately a white hand appeared. The veil was lifted, disclosing the thin and pale face of a woman of advanced age and feeble health. The likeness of Lavina Richmond was perfect.

The colonel tried to speak, but his voice stuck in his throat.

Slowly the veil descended. Nick made a sign to Patsy, who had pressed up a little in advance.

He had kept an eye over his shoulder, however, to be sure of getting any orders from his chief.

There was light enough to see the signal. Patsy sprang forward toward the specter.

The distance separating them was not more than twenty feet. The athletic youth would have covered it in a twinkling.

But suddenly he fell to the floor with a smothered groan.

"I'm hit hard," he cried; and, raising himself upon one knee, with his left hand pressed to his temple, he drew a revolver with the other.

"Don't shoot!" exclaimed Nick. "It's Millie Stevens!"

The detective made a bound toward the figure.

The light which had played full upon it wavered, as if about to vanish.

Yet there was time. Nick felt sure of his prize, as he sprang out from his place beside the colonel.

And the next thing Nick knew it was six o'clock of the following morning, and he was lying in a bed, looking up into Patsy's face.

 

 

CHAPTER VIII.

PATSY'S STORY AND THE TEST PROPOSED.

 

"Are you much hurt?" asked Patsy, anxiously.

Nick took in the whole scene before he replied.

Beside the bed were Colonel Richmond, Horace and a man whom Nick rightly judged to be a doctor.

"No," said Nick, "I'm not much hurt, except in my feelings. What happened, Patsy?"

"The ghost got away," responded the young man, in a tone of disgust.

"I wouldn't talk very much," said Colonel Richmond. "The doctor says that you have been subjected to a severe nervous shock, and—"

"My grandmother's ducks!" exclaimed Nick. "Nervous shock! Well, this makes me worse. Why, man, I've been sand-bagged."

The colonel shook his head.

"The power of the unseen forces," he began; but Nick interrupted him.

"Look here, Colonel Richmond!" he said, "if you had the sensation behind your ear that I've got, you wouldn't talk about mysterious powers of darkness. I know what's the matter with me, and what I want is a chance to get square."

"There is no evidence of any injury," said the physician.

"There never is in a case of this kind," rejoined Nick. "A sand-bag doesn't leave any mark. That's why it is so popular."

"It is impossible to convince a stubborn man," said the colonel. "I should think that this experience would have been enough."

"Quite enough, thank you," responded Nick, sitting up. "And so, if you gentlemen who kindly put me to bed will gracefully withdraw I will get into my clothes, and prove to you that I have had enough, and that it is somebody else's turn now."

He made them leave him with Patsy. Then he began to dress.

"Now tell me your story," he said.

"When I jumped for that spook," Patsy began, "I got the fearfulest thump on my crust that I've had since that marline-spike fell off the main yard on to me in the little affair of the Five Kernels of Corn.

"It couldn't have been a marker to what you got afterward, though. I went down, but not out.

"You saw me draw my gun. Well, when you yelled 'Don't fire!' I held off, but when I saw you go out I decided that all orders of that kind were canceled.

"I blazed away; and, Nick, I put five bullets through that figure just as sure as you're an inch high."

"What happened then?"

"The light went out. I got to your side, and flashed your lantern in half a second.

"The figure had vanished. The colonel's lamp stood on the sideboard just where he had put it.

"We had a fair light very soon. I examined you first, and, upon my word, I thought that you were done for.

"We got you up to this room, and Horace Richmond rode off for the doctor.

"From what he said about a nervous shock you can judge how much he knows.

"His help wasn't worth anything. I will back myself against him any day.

"I made sure that you were only stunned, and would come to all right. Then I hurried down to that room and began my search.

"Well, you know that room. It is simply built up of traps and panels. A man can go through the floor or the walls almost anywhere.

"My job would have been a good deal easier if there'd been less of that secret machinery.

"When there are five hundred ways in which a thing could have been done, it's pretty hard to say which one is right.

"There's a trap pretty nearly in the spot where the figure stood. Probably she came up and went down through that.

"But how about my shooting? There's the point.

"I took a direct line from the place where I was to the trap.

"Following that line, I came to the screen in front of the fire-place.

"In that screen, and about four and a half feet from the floor, were three bullets from my pistol. The other two are not there.

"Then, as I figure it out, that ghost has carried them away.

"My shooting was pretty good, considering the light. The three bullets were in the bigness of a watch-crystal.

"I feel sure that the other two were aimed just as well. If that's true, then one of the conspirators has some mighty serious wounds. Three went through her, and she stopped two.

"But there isn't a drop of blood to be found. The passage under the trap I have explored thoroughly.

"I can't find a human being or a trace of blood or any of the machinery which they must have used for the light or the ghost.

"Of course, the failure to find traces of the conspirators is not strange. These passages are so long, and so intricate, and so mighty well gotten up that I haven't had time to go through them all.

"But the wounded person is another matter. Where she is hidden is more than I can imagine."

"I hope it wasn't Miss Stevens," said Nick.

"You called her name."

"Yes; I thought the chances were that it was she, but, of course, I couldn't recognize her in that rig for certain."

"Well, if it was she, of course, we shall find it out. It's impossible for her to carry those two bullets around with her and not show it."

Nick was dressed by this time. They went out into the hall of the new part. Nick had been taken to a room there, instead of being carried to that which had been assigned to him in the old part of the house.

From below came the sound of voices. The colonel, the doctor and Mrs. Pond were talking of the case.

Patsy stopped before a closed door in the upper hall.

A sign from Patsy arrested Nick's attention. He communicated to Nick in their silent language:

"That's Horace's room, isn't it? Whom is he talking with?"

Nick listened. Then he laughed.

"You've fooled yourself there, Patsy," he said. "He's talking to a parrot. It's one of his pets. He has a good many."

Patsy looked a little sheepish.

"You can't blame me, Nick," he said. "We must suspect everybody in such business as this. Isn't that right?"

"Quite right," responded the detective.

They went at once to the old dining-hall. Colonel Richmond presently joined them there.

To him Nick frankly explained all the events of the previous night, including the disguise which he had adopted in order not to appear in the ghost hunt in his own person.

In return the colonel confessed the facts of his visit to the medium. He said that he had done it secretly, because Horace and his daughter so strongly objected to his seeing those who held communion with the other world.

As to the woman who had met the colonel, he said that he did not know her name. She was veiled all the time, and did not speak to him.

After the disturbance—he was careful not to call it an expose—this woman had led him to the carriage, and they had hastened away.

Such was the strength of his delusion that he still believed that the manifestations he had seen at that house were genuine. He would not accept Nick's version of the affair.

"I have made up my mind what to do," he said. "My decision is unalterable. I shall buy the jewels and give them to Millie Stevens. I believe that in so doing I shall carry out my aunt's wishes."

It was a queer case for Nick. He had followed up many crimes, and had recovered a hundred fortunes in stolen property, but this was the first time that he had seen a robbery going on before his eyes and been unable to prevent it.

His pride was aroused. There was no use in combating the colonel's delusion. Of that he felt sure.

The man must be humored in order to secure delay.

"Colonel Richmond," said Nick, "I wish to suggest to you a final test in this matter. It will settle all doubt and satisfy me thoroughly.

"If you can convert me to your views, I should think the achievement might be worth the trouble."

"It would, indeed," cried the colonel, with sparkling eyes.

Nick, with his usual tact, had hit upon exactly the right course.

"You believe, of course," he said, "that the spirits of the dead cannot be stopped by bolts and bars."

The colonel smiled, and nodded assent.

"The most of the jewels in dispute are, I believe, in the vaults of a safe deposit company," Nick continued. "Very well; my test is this: Name some article of the collection which you are sure is there, and see whether your aunt will transfer it to Miss Stevens' possession.

"It should be as easy for a ghost to take anything from the vaults of a safe deposit company as from that dressing-table upstairs. Will you consent to the test?"

The colonel stood irresolute.

"Consent," said a voice, as of a woman standing beside them.

Yet the three men were the only human beings in that room.

"The voice came from that screen!" cried Patsy, and he leaped toward the old fire-place.

He tore away the screen. No one was there.

"It was my aunt's voice," said the colonel, calmly. "I consent."

"Consent to what?" asked Horace Richmond, entering the room at that moment.

The test was explained to him.

"Good!" he whispered to Nick. "A fine idea."

"Name a piece of jewelry," said the detective to the colonel.

"Among all her wonderful collection," replied Colonel Richmond, speaking slowly, "there was no piece of which she was more proud than the gold clasp, studded with diamonds, which you well remember, Horace."

"I do," responded Horace. "There is an old tradition about it. A remote ancestor of ours is said to have brought it from the Holy Land at the time of the third crusade."

"An ancient family," said Nick. "You have a right to be proud of your ancestry. I accept the article named as the one upon which the test shall be made, provided that you are sure that it is now in the vault."

"Perfectly certain," responded the colonel. "I put it there with my own hands. Nobody else was present, except an officer of the company and my daughter. It is utterly impossible that the jewel can have been removed."

"I will take that for granted," said Nick. "The conditions of the test are that this piece shall not be found in the vault when we visit it this afternoon, and that it shall be afterward discovered in the possession of Millie Stevens."

"Granted," said the colonel; and then in a clear voice, as if he wanted to be sure that there was no misunderstanding in spirit land, he announced the conditions of the test.

 

 

CHAPTER IX.

THE DIAMOND CLASP.

 

They then left the room. Nick dispatched Patsy secretly to the Stevens house.

Shortly before noon, Colonel Richmond, Horace, and Nick took a train for the city.

At two o'clock they entered the vault of the safe deposit company.

It is a long room below the level of the street.

The walls are lined with metal drawers, fastened by locks of the most approved pattern.

The drawers near the floor are the largest. They are, perhaps, a foot square, as seen when closed. Near the top of the room they are much smaller.

A movable metal step-ladder stands ready for the convenience of those who wish to reach the boxes on the upper tiers.

The space in the middle of the room is railed off, and there sits a guard day and night.

"This is ours," said the colonel, advancing toward one of the larger drawers. "I placed the diamond clasp on the very top of the pile of jewels within. It was in a case of its own."

Nick turned to speak to the officer in charge.

He questioned him regarding the possibility of any person taking anything from the boxes. He asked especially about the custody of Mrs. Pond's jewels.

"Colonel Richmond and Mrs. Pond have the two keys necessary for opening the drawer," said the official.

"Yes," said Colonel Richmond, speaking over his shoulder to Nick. "I told you all about that, and I explained how the second key happened to be in my possession instead of Mrs. Pond's."

"True," said Nick, apologetically, "that was not what I was asking about."

At that moment he heard the click of the drawer as it was pulled open.

"Here, wait for me!" he cried. "I should see everything."

As he stepped forward Horace Richmond was just closing the little case which had held the diamond clasp. The colonel was turning away.

"I am deeply disappointed," he said. "The clasp is there."

As the colonel walked away with bowed head, Nick turned to Horace.

The young man's face was a study. He looked as if he had seen a grave-yard full of ghosts.

"Nick Carter," he whispered, "this is dreadful."

"What?"

"Hush! I had to fool him. I positively had to or he would have gone crazy."

He poured the words into Nick's ear in an excited whisper.

"I made him think the clasp was in the box, but it isn't. I substituted another piece. The clasp is gone. What shall we do?"

He showed Nick the box. It contained nothing. Horace had removed the piece which he had used in the deception.

"Good Heavens!" cried Horace. "He heard me."

He pointed to the colonel, who stood like one who has been struck upon the head.

"Gone!" he cried, rushing toward them. "You deceived me!"

Well, they searched the drawer, and the clasp certainly was not there.

Horace explained how he had deceived the colonel by quickly putting another piece of jewelry into the little case when he found it empty.

"I am clever at sleight-of-hand," said he, "or I could never have worked it. I just flashed it before your eyes, uncle, and made you think that you saw the clasp. Forgive me; I thought it was the best."

"I will forgive you, Horace," said Colonel Richmond, gently; "but now you must believe. And you, too, Mr. Carter. Here is proof positive."

They locked the drawer and left the vault.

In the ante-chamber Nick turned to Horace.

"I suppose you'll want to knock my head off when I tell you what I now propose to do," said the detective. "But I think it ought to be done."

"What is it?" asked Horace.

"I think you ought to be searched."

"Exactly my own idea," said Horace. "It is only fair to you. Proceed."

Nick searched him. The diamond clasp was not found. Horace certainly did not have it.

"I hope you're satisfied," he said to Nick. "You know perfectly well that I have had no opportunity to dispose of it. There wasn't much chance in that vault."

Nick laughed.

"I should say not," he replied. "I'm afraid we shall have to fall back upon the theory of the colonel."

"No theory," cried he; "but the living truth, and now proven before you both. But let me ask, Mr. Carter, why you suspected my nephew of taking the clasp."

"I didn't," replied Nick promptly. "I searched him in order to remove every possibility."

"Surely he would have no motive for such an action."

"None that I can see," said Nick, with perfect sincerity.

They proceeded at once to Mrs. Stevens' house.

It was about seven o'clock when they arrived.

They drove up from the station, and on the way picked up Patsy.

During the remainder of the drive, he was busy communicating with Nick in their sign language.

"Miss Stevens is in her room," said Patsy. "She has had a doctor with her almost all the time. He refuses to say anything. I believe, upon my soul, that I shot her last night."

Annie O'Neil, the servant, answered the bell.

She ushered them into the parlor, and said that Mrs. Stevens was in the room of her daughter who was quite ill.

Annie went upstairs to summon her mistress.

A minute later the party below heard a scream.

Then Mrs. Stevens appeared. She was very pale.

In her hand she held a small object wrapped in paper.

"I have just found this upon my daughter's pillow," she said. "I have not removed the paper, but I know instinctively what is within. It is another jewel."

"I am equally sure of it," cried the colonel. "Open the package, Mrs. Stevens."

"My hand trembles so," the lady began.

"Don't open it now," said Nick, "wait a moment. I have a suggestion to make. And, at any rate, we all know what is within.

"Colonel Richmond. I suppose it is useless to plead with you further?"

"Quite useless," said the colonel. "Millie shall have all the jewels. I am determined to buy them of my daughter, and make the transfer at once."

"Well, I am beaten," said the detective. "The case has gone against me. But I will still try to help you. I wish to call your attention to the legal aspects of this case.

"They may surprise you, but, before, going further, I think you should know them. You will not accept my authority, if I state the facts as they are.

"Mrs. Stevens, is it not true that you have one of the judges of the Supreme Court as your neighbor?"

"Yes; Judge Lorrimer is our next neighbor on the south."

"Will you kindly send your servant to his house, or perhaps—"

He glanced at Horace.

"All right, I'll go," said Horace. "I know the judge. But I don't see what you are driving at, Mr. Carter."

"I want to persuade Colonel Richmond to get the law in the case before he goes further. He should consult an authority about this transfer before he makes any more promises which may or may not be legally good."

"I think it a good idea," said Colonel Richmond. "Horace, go over to the judge's house."

During the interval while he was gone very little was done. Mrs. Stevens sat holding the package, and apparently deeply moved.

She several times declared to Colonel Richmond that she did not wish her daughter to get the jewels in such a way, and that she was still convinced that human beings had planned and executed the whole strange series of robberies and surprises.

"If it should prove," said Nick, "that this is a conspiracy, do you wish any arrests?"

He turned toward the colonel as he spoke.

"If it does," said the colonel, with a smile, "you can arrest me. It won't."

"But I am serious."

"So am I. Of course, if there had been a crime I would not shield the guilty parties, whoever they might be."

At that moment Horace returned with Judge Lorrimer, whom he had met walking just beyond Mrs. Stevens' grounds.

"I have tried to explain the case to him," said Horace; "but he says he doesn't understand how any legal complications can arise."

"We will try to make that clear presently," said Nick. "Mrs. Stevens, open that package. No; wait a moment. You are agitated. You should have a glass of water. Permit me to ring."

He put his hand upon the bell-cord.

As he did so, Mrs. Stevens opened the package. The article within rolled out upon her lap.

It was not the diamond clasp, but an ordinary pocket-knife of large size.

"Why, Nick, it's yours," cried Patsy.

"So it is," responded the detective. "But this is a diamond clasp."

He drew the relic of the third crusade from his pocket as he spoke, and handed it to the colonel.

At that moment Annie O'Neil appeared at the door in answer to the bell.

"And now," said Nick, while the others stared in wonder. "We will consider the legal points involved.

"Judge Lorrimer, here are the necessary blank forms. Please grant me warrants for the arrest of Horace Richmond and Annie O'Neil for criminal conspiracy."

 

 

CHAPTER X.

SOME CLEVER TRICKS EXPLAINED.

 

No sooner had Nick uttered these words than a loud cry rang through the house.

Instantly Millie Stevens appeared upon the threshold of the parlor.

"Horace!" she cried. "Tell me it is not true. You have not done this."

"Certainly not," he exclaimed. "It is an absurd slander. Carter, you'll be sorry for this."

The girl looked straight into Horace's face for an instant.

Then she uttered a moan.

"He is guilty!" she cried; "I can read it in his eyes. And I loved him so."

She sank upon the floor at her mother's feet.

"Oh, mother," she said, "this is a just punishment for me. You told me I must give him up. You read his heart.

"But I secretly accepted his love. I received letters in which he begged me to keep our love a secret, and in which I should have read a confession of guilt.

"And all the time he loved me only because he thought that I should have a fortune in gold and diamonds."

"You have stated the case exactly," said Nick. "When he thought you would inherit all those jewels, he made love to you. Heaven knows that your own attractions should have been enough, but they were not for him.

"When the jewels went elsewhere, he was probably on the point of giving you up. I judge that from certain letters of yours in that telegraph cipher which I found in his room.

"Then he wormed his plan for making you rich. He managed the robberies at the house with the aid of John Gilder and one or two of that spiritualistic gang whom he smuggled into the house.

"He did everything to increase his uncle's delusion. It was he who put Colonel Richmond again in the hands of that medium."

"I supposed that that affair was all over," said Mrs. Stevens; "both the colonel and I had disapproved of it."

"Annie O'Neil," said Nick, turning to the servant, "a full confession from you is what we now require. It may save you from prison.

"We know that you managed the affair from this end. It was you who put the jewels where they were found, after they had been given you by Horace. It was you—catch her!"

This last exclamation was addressed to Patsy. The girl was wavering as if she would fall.

Before Patsy could reach her she sank sobbing to the floor. She proceeded to pour out an incoherent confession, in which little was clear but the name of Horace Richmond, and the fact that the girl "loved him still."

"I've been waiting for this," said Horace, with a brutal sneer. "Trust a woman and lose the game. Well, it's all up. I loved you, Millie, but not enough to marry you without the jewels. So I schemed for the transfer, and I have failed."

"It was Annie O'Neil whom you followed last night, Patsy," said Nick. "Who was the men?"

"John Gilder," gasped the terrified girl.

"And you played ghost?"

"Yes, sir."

"But how about my shooting?" asked Patsy. "How does Annie O'Neil happen to be alive?"

"Read that from Chick," said Nick, producing a paper. "He's made some discoveries in the colonel's house to-day while we were all away.

"He's found the ghost. It seems that this girl was inside of a hollow dummy.

"She stood over a trap door. Just as soon as she had shown her face, she dropped the veil, and went through the trap."

"The dummy still continued to stand there, and you shot at it. Two of your bullets flattened on its steel braces. The rest went through.

"John Gilder flashed the light. When he turned it off, the dummy was hauled down through the trap, and hidden in a place that neither you nor I found, Patsy."

Colonel Richmond seemed to be in a trance.

"But the mysterious force," he said, at last. "The injury to yourself and your assistant. How do you explain that?"

"It was done by John Gilder swinging a sand-bag on a string at the end of a pole which he poked through one of those panels.

"It couldn't be seen in that dim light, and it made a fearful weapon. It's a wonder that he didn't knock our heads off."

"I thought that I heard something whiz," muttered Patsy.

"And yet I heard her voice this morning," said the colonel. "She said 'consent.'"

"No, she didn't; I said it," rejoined Nick. "I'm something of a ventriloquist."

"How was the affair managed at the safe deposit vault?" asked the colonel, after a pause.

"Why, Horace took the clasp out of the box and put it into your pocket. You really saw it, only he made you think afterward that you didn't.

"After I had searched him he picked your pocket and got the clasp. Then he wrapped it in paper.

"I picked his pocket to make matters even, and substituted my knife similarly wrapped up.

"When we got to this house he gave the knife to Annie O'Neil, who put it on Miss Stevens' pillow when she went upstairs to call Mrs. Stevens."

"You have not explained the robberies at my house," said Colonel Richmond.

"I'll do that over there. Is the rest of it clear? Has anybody a question to ask?"

Nobody spoke.

"Annie O'Neil," said Nick, "I'll leave here in Patsy's charge. Horace Richmond, come with us."

Horace looked ugly for a moment, and then he calmed down and sullenly complied with Nick's order.

Judge Lorrimer begged to be of the party in order to see the explanation of the mysterious robberies of which he had heard.

Two hours later they all stood in Mrs. Pond's room.

"The essential part of this matter," said Nick, "was this door which appeared to open and close of itself.

"I saw that at a glance, and made a secret investigation. It is done by electricity.

"There's a magnet in the casing which is powerful enough to swing the door to, after which the same magnet pushes this little bolt—which looks like an ordinary screw—into position, and that holds the door, but not very steadily.

"You may say that this should have given me the criminal at once, but it didn't.

"You see, this electro-magnet works whenever a current is turned into the wires. Horace was clever enough to have the wires lead all over the house.

"A connection with the electric light wires, furnishing the current, can be made in almost every room in the house.

"Of course, I suspected Horace at once, because his room was directly overhead. In fact, the two are connected, as you see, by a ventilator in the form of a pipe with a grated opening in each room.

"The grating here, you see, is open."

"But, bless me," exclaimed Judge Lorrimer, "no thief could come through such a place. Why, it isn't six inches square."

"Step in here a minute and see," said Nick, and then he called out:

"All ready, Chick!"

The whole party had by this time gone into Mrs. Pond's sitting-room.

Nick said hush, and pointed to the ventilator. Most of the party could see it through the door.

Instantly there appeared a mass of green feathers, and then Horace Richmond's parrot fluttered noiselessly down into the room.

For a minute or two it ran around the floor. Then it flew up on to the dressing-table, seized a small gold bar pin in its beak, and flew back into the ventilator pipe.

"A nice trick," said the detective. "I believe it took you some time to teach the bird that."

"About a year," growled Horace. "The bird was well trained before."

"Is it all clear?" said Nick.

"Perfectly," said the colonel. "But how did you get at it?"

"Simply enough. There was only one way into this room when those robberies were committed, and the parrot was the only living thing in the house that was small enough to go through that pipe and intelligent enough to do the trick.

"You see, Horace trained the bird to pick up bright objects, and especially articles of the color of gold, and to go up and down that pipe.

"Then he schemed to have your daughter come here. The rest was easy. He waited till she was in the farther room, and then closed the door between by the electrical device.

"Immediately he sent down the parrot. The bird was so well trained that he required only a minute or two to secure something.

"Of course, it was not always something of value. There were probably a dozen failures where the bird brought back nothing or some useless object that glittered.

"I suspected the bird, and so put Chick on that lay. As you see, he has got the creature to work very well.

"Now, colonel, what more can I do for you? What shall be done with the prisoners?"

"Nothing; I will not prosecute."

"I guess we can hush it up, if you say so," responded Nick. "By the way, there's one thing that I want to explain. I mean the strange appearance of that diamond pin in the box on the occasion of Mrs. Stevens' first visit.

"It was not the real pin, but a duplicate which had been prepared in advance. Horace had put up that game as a finishing touch for his uncle.

"Mrs. Pond had forced Horace to go for me; but he wouldn't be scared out. He played the game right under my nose.

"Annie O'Neil had the duplicate pin. She opened that box while Mrs. Stevens was calling to her daughter, as she testified, and put the duplicate into it. Then she wrapped it up just as before."

"So I won't have to give up the jewels," said Mrs. Pond.

"I am afraid you will," said Nick; "the queerest part of the story is to come.

"Chick has found a later will by Miss Lavina Richmond. It is undoubtedly genuine.

"And where do you suppose it was found? The strangest of all places—in Horace Richmond's room."

"She died there," responded the colonel. "She must have hidden the will during her last illness."

"It is strange to think of Horace Richmond struggling with that parrot, and putting up his elaborate schemes, while the document which would have given him all he wanted was hidden in his own room."

Horace Richmond's face at that moment was an amusing spectacle.

So was Mrs. Pond's.

"Never mind, daughter," said the colonel. "It is better so. I will make good the loss to you."

And so ends Nick Carter's ghost story in a most natural manner.

Nobody was ever punished for the affair. Even the gang of mediums and heelers whom Nick had rounded up were released after their night in jail, because, on sober second thought, their dupes were ashamed to complain against them.