In all this there was no direct statement made, but the inferences were almost as strong as though the paper had come out boldly and stated as facts what Mr. Emberg believed to be true, but which he dared not assert boldly. But as long as they were not made direct and positive there was no chance for a libel suit, which is something all newspapers dread.
"There, I guess that will do if Harvey can't get at Potter," spoke Mr. Emberg when he had finished. "Queer, though, that Potter keeps himself away from our reporters. He used to be willing enough to talk."
A little later another telephone message was received from Mr. Newton, announcing that it was useless to try to see the millionaire.
"Come on in, then," the city editor directed.
Nor was Mack any more successful. He had learned that the Potter family had hurried from the dock in a closed carriage and were driven to their handsome home on the fashionable thoroughfare known as Central Park, West. No one had seen Mr. Potter, as far as Mack could learn, and the reporter was not allowed to go aboard the ship, as the custom officers were engaged in looking over the baggage of the passengers.
"Well, we've got a good story," said Mr. Emberg late that afternoon, when work for the day was over. "It's a beat, too."
"Did any of 'em make lifts for it?" asked Mr. Hylard, the assistant city editor. A "lift," it may be explained, is the insertion of a piece of news in the last edition of a paper. It is made by taking one plate from the press, removing or "lifting" a comparatively unimportant item of news from the form, inserting the new item, which was received too late for the regular edition, making a new plate, and starting the press again. It is done rather than print an entire new edition, and is sometimes used when some other paper gets a beat or piece of news which your paper must have, or in case of an accident happening after the last edition has gone to press.
"The Star lifted our story almost word for word," said Mr. Emberg. "Guess they didn't take the trouble to confirm it. The morning sheets will probably try to discount it."
Which was exactly what they did. Some had what purported to be interviews with Sullivan, denying that he had said he was going to support Reilly. Others showed, editorially and otherwise, how nonsensical it would be for Sullivan to throw his influence to any one but Kilburn.
"I hope you haven't made any mistake, Larry," said Mr. Emberg the next day. "If you misquoted Sullivan it means a bad thing for our paper."
"I quoted him correctly."
At that moment the telephone on Mr. Emberg's desk rang and he answered it.
"Dexter?" he repeated. "Yes, we have a reporter of that name here." Larry was all attention at once. "Who wants him? Oh, Mr. Sullivan? Is this Mr. Sullivan? Well, this is the city editor of the Leader. I see some of the papers are denying our story. Our account is about correct, eh? Well, I'm glad of it. Yes, I'll send Mr. Dexter to see you right away.
"Sullivan wants to see you, Larry," went on Mr. Emberg, hanging up the telephone receiver. "This may be a big thing. Go slow and be careful of what he says. Don't let him bluff you."
"You're getting right into politics," said Mr. Newton to Larry, as the young reporter prepared to go out.
"Yes, and I'm afraid I'll get into water where I can't swim."
"Don't let that worry you. You've got to learn, and in New York politics is the most important news of all."
Larry found Sullivan in the same place where he had secured the momentous interview. The Assembly leader nodded to the boy, and then picked up a copy of the paper which contained an account of the talk with Sullivan.
"You made quite a yarn of this," Sullivan remarked.
"Yes, it was a good story."
"A little too good," went on the politician. "You got me into hot water."
"Did I misquote you?"
"No, but you got the information before I was ready to give it out. I thought you knew more than you did. This last part," pointing to the generalities written by Mr. Emberg, "this last part shows that you folks are up a tree. Now I want to know where you heard that about Potter, and I'm going to have an answer," and Sullivan lost his calm air and looked angrily at Larry.
"I can't tell you where I got my tip."
"You mean you will not?"
"Well, you can put it that way," replied Larry.
"I'll make you!" and the politician arose from his chair and stood threateningly over the young reporter. For a moment Larry's heart beat rapidly in fear. Then he remembered what Mr. Emberg had said: "Don't let him bluff you." He was sure Sullivan was bluffing.
"Are you going to tell?" asked Sullivan again.
"I am not."
Sullivan banged his fist down on his desk. He shoved his hat on the back of his head. Thrusting his face close to Larry's he exclaimed:
"Then I'll put you out of business! I'll make the city too hot to hold you! I'll have you fired from the Leader, and no other paper in New York will hire you! I'll show you what it is to have Jack Sullivan down on you! I was going to play fair with you. But you sneaked in here and got information I wasn't ready to give out. Now you can take the consequences!"
"I didn't sneak in here!" cried Larry. "I came openly. What's more, you can't scare me! I'm not afraid of you! I know what I did was all right! Perhaps the Leader knows more than you think. I'm not going to tell where I got my information, and you can do as you please!"
Sullivan had cooled down. He was a bit ashamed of having given way to his anger, for usually he kept his temper.
"All right," he said. "It's war between us now. Tell your city editor he needn't send you to get any more news from me, and when the Leader wants any favors from Jack Sullivan it can whistle for 'em. I'm done with that sheet. I'll show 'em who Sullivan is!"
Larry turned and went out. It was the first time he had been browbeaten like this, but he kept his nerve. If he had only known it, Sullivan was not the first politician to threaten to annihilate a paper, nor was it Sullivan's initial attempt to scare reporters into doing what he wanted.
As Larry left the headquarters he met Peter Manton going in.
"Making up another fake interview with Sullivan?" asked Peter, with a sneer. "You've made a nice mess of it!"
"I didn't make any worse one than you did with that wreck story," retorted Larry, who could not forego this thrust at his old enemy.
"I'll get even with you yet," exclaimed the rival reporter, as he scowled at Larry, and entered Sullivan's private room.
"I wonder what Sullivan will do about it?" thought Larry, as he went back to the office.
A MISSING MILLIONAIRE
Contrary to Larry's expectations Mr. Emberg was not at all impressed by Sullivan's threats.
"I've heard talk like that before," the city editor said. "The Leader will try to worry along without the aid of Mr. Jack Sullivan. As for you, Larry, don't give it another thought. If he ever bothers you, or any of his ward-heelers try to make the least trouble for you, let me know. I guess we have some influence in this city. Well, I'll look for wholesale denials of your interview from now on. Sullivan showed his hand too quickly it seems. We must try for Potter now. Queer how he hangs back when we've got part of the story."
"Haven't any of the boys been able to find him?" asked Larry.
"Harvey can't get near him, and when he can't no one can. There's something queer about it. At the house they will give out no information, except to say that Mr. Potter can't be seen. At his office the clerks either say that he is engaged or has not come in yet. I'm beginning to think he's keeping out of the way on purpose."
Mr. Emberg's surmise about the other papers publishing denials of the Sullivan interview was correct. Those journals which were on the same political platform as that of the man whose enmity Larry had incurred proved, to their own satisfaction at least, that Sullivan could not support Reilly. As for the Leader, which was independent in politics, that paper did not worry over the accusations of "faking" made against it. Mr. Emberg knew he was right, and he was planning for a big disclosure when some of his reporters could find Hamden Potter.
For a time the Sullivan matter was dropped, and Larry found his time busily occupied in a varied lot of assignments.
One day the young reporter was sent to one of the hotels to interview a youthful millionaire, who had come to the city from a distant town in a big touring car, accompanied by a number of friends.
"Hump! Seems to me I'm assigned to all the millionaire cases," mused Larry.
The young millionaire was named Dick Hamilton, and he was none other than the youth who has figured in another series of mine, called the "Dick Hamilton Series," starting with "Dick Hamilton's Fortune." Dick had come to New York for the purpose of making an investment and had had an encounter with a sharper, who had tried to sell him some worthless stocks.
"Please give me the story," pleaded Larry, and he got the tale in detail, and what was more, he and Dick Hamilton became so friendly that the young millionaire promised to keep the story from all other reporters; so that Larry scored another beat, much to his own satisfaction and the satisfaction of his friends.
"Keep on and you'll be at the top," said the city editor, and then he went on: "Here is something else you might look into, Larry. It might make a fine thing for the Sunday supplement. You can go up there, get the yarn, and you needn't come back to-day. Write it up the first thing in the morning."
"What sort of story is it?" asked Larry.
"Why, it's a postal, from an old German, I take it, who says he has invented a flying machine."
"I guess he's about the only one in ten thousand who has been successful then," answered Larry, smiling.
"Oh, I don't suppose it amounts to anything," went on Mr. Emberg. "But it may make a good story to let the old gentleman talk, and describe the machine. The public likes stories about flying machines and queer inventors, even if the machines don't work. Get a good yarn, for we need one for the first page of the supplement. I'll sent Sneed, the photographer, up later to get some pictures of it."
The city editor handed Larry a postal card, poorly written and spelled, on which there was a request that a reporter be sent to a certain address on the East Side, to get a story of a wonderful invention, destined to revolutionize methods of travel.
It was not the first time Larry had been sent on this sort of an assignment. Once he had gone to get a story of a new kind of gas lamp a man had invented, and the thing had exploded while he was watching the owner demonstrate it. Luckily neither of them were hurt.
Larry found the address given on the postal was in a dilapidated tenement, seemingly deserted, and standing some distance away from other buildings.
When he got there he ran into a reporter named Fritsch, who worked on a German newspaper.
"Dot inventor vos mofed avay," said the German reporter. "Some beoples told me he vos krazy."
"Is the house vacant?" asked Larry.
"I dink so. Maype ve walk through him, yah?"
Larry was willing, and together the pair went into the tenement and upstairs.
As they passed through one of the halls Larry looked up and saw a man peering down at him over a balustrade. He gave a gasp.
"Vot it is?" questioned the German reporter.
"That man!" cried Larry. He ran up the stairs and tried to catch the individual, who was running away.
The man was the person he had helped to rescue from the ocean—the one who had given his name as Mah Retto.
The strange man entered a side room and locked the door. Larry knocked, but nobody answered his summons.
"Dot vos not der inventor," said Fritsch.
"I know it—but I'd like to see him, nevertheless," answered the young newspaper man.
A little later the two reporters came down into the street and separated. Larry went home, but after supper that evening he walked again in the direction of the lonely tenement. He wanted to see the policeman, whose post took in that section of the city, and make some inquiries of him. The officer might be able to throw some light on the sudden appearance of the strange man.
Larry found the policeman after some search. The officer, as soon as he learned Larry was from the Leader, was very willing to tell all he knew, for the Leader was a paper that always spoke well of the police, and the force appreciated this.
"It sure is a queer house," said Patrolman Higgins. "I remember the time it was filled with families, but they all moved away because the owner didn't make any repairs. The only person there was a crazy German who's daffy on airships. He got out to-day."
"I've heard of him," replied Larry. "But is he the only one in there? I heard there was another man stopping there."
"Now that you speak of it, I shouldn't wonder but what there was," answered Higgins. "I saw two lights in there to-night, for the first time. I've got sort of used to seeing one in the window where the crazy German is puttering away at his airship, but awhile ago I noticed a gleam in another part of the house. I took it for a second lamp the German had lighted, but now that I think of it, seems to me it was on the other side of the house. I shouldn't wonder but what you're right."
"Oh, it doesn't matter much," said Larry, who did not want to arouse too great interest in the matter. "I just thought you might happen to know him."
"I'll make some inquiries in the neighborhood," the officer went on. "I don't want that shack to get to be a hanging-out place for tramps. It was bad enough to have the German there, but he paid his rent to the owner, who's about as crazy as the airship inventor. I'll look up this other fellow. Drop around to-morrow night and I may have some news for you."
"I will," replied Larry, satisfied that he had put his plan into operation. "It's nothing special, but I had an idea I might get a story out of the chap." And he went home again.
Larry reported to Mr. Emberg the next morning all the details of the visit to the strange house.
"If some East Indian chooses to hide himself it can't make much difference to us," said the city editor. "I judge him to be a native from that name. I've got another story for you to go out on. It's about——"
At that instant the telephone on Mr. Emberg's desk rang insistently. He broke off what he was saying to Larry to grab up the instrument.
"Hello. Yes, this is Mr. Emberg. Oh, is that you, Harvey? What's that? Reported to the police as missing? Are you sure it's him? Great Scott! If that's true that's a corking good story! That explains some things! You take the police end and I'll send some one up to the house! Good-bye!"
The city editor was excited.
"Here, Larry!" he cried. "Jump right out on this. The police have just received a report that Hamden Potter, the millionaire financier, is missing. They tried to keep it quiet, but Harvey got on to it. Hustle up to Potter's house and get all the particulars you can. Get a picture of him. Hamden Potter missing!" he went on, as Larry hurried away on his assignment. "There's something queer in the wind, that's sure!"
There was—something more strange than Mr. Emberg suspected, and Larry's assignment was one destined to last for some time.
A BRAVE GIRL
Hamden Potter lived in one of the finest houses in New York. Larry had often admired it as he walked in the neighborhood of Central Park, in which vicinity many other New York millionaires have their residences.
"Now I've got a chance to see the inside," thought Larry, as he sat in the elevated train, and was whirled along toward his destination. "That is if they let me in. Guess I'll have my hands full getting information up there. Still, if I work it right, I may learn all I want to know."
There are only two general classes of persons from whom reporters can get news. One class is that which is only too ready to impart it, for their own ends and interests, and this news is seldom the kind the papers want. The other class consists of persons who are determined that they will give no information to the representatives of the press. This class usually has the very news that the papers want, and the journals strive all the more eagerly to get it, from the very fact that there is a desire to hold it from them. Both classes must be approached in ways best suited to them; the one that they may not take up a reporter's valuable time with a lot of useless talk, and the other that they may be tricked into giving out that which they are determined to keep back. It was to the latter class that Larry was going that morning. On his way up he was turning over in his mind the best means of getting what he wanted.
"Some butler or private secretary will come to the door," he reasoned. "I've got to get in to see a member of the family. There's only Mrs. Potter and her daughter Grace," for, in common with other rich men and those in the public eye, Mr. Potter's family affairs were, in a measure, public property to the New York newspaper world.
As Larry had surmised, his ring at the door was answered by a stately butler.
"I wish to see Mr. Potter," said the reporter, venturing on a bold stroke. He had learned several tricks of the trade.
"Mr. Potter is not home," and the door was about to close.
"Will you take a message to Mrs. Potter?" asked Larry quickly.
The door was opened a little.
"What name?" and the butler did not relax his severity.
"It doesn't matter what name. Tell her I have called in reference to Mr. Potter's absence."
"Come in!" the butler exclaimed quickly.
Larry had gained his first skirmish, in a manner perfectly legitimate, regarded from a newspaper standpoint. He had called in reference to Mr. Potter's disappearance—not to give information (as the butler may have supposed), but to get it.
"This way," said the man. "Mrs. Potter is in the library."
Larry entered through the velvet portieres the butler held aside for him. He saw, reclining on a couch, a handsome woman, whose face showed traces of tears. Beside her stood the most beautiful girl Larry had ever seen. She had brown eyes, brown hair, and a face that, though it was sad, made Larry think of some wonderful painting.
"Some one with news of Mr. Potter," the butler announced.
"Oh! Have you come to tell me of my husband?" the lady exclaimed, sitting up suddenly.
Larry's mind was working quickly. If he took the right means he was liable to get the information he wanted. On the other hand he was in a fair way to be shown the door indignantly, for he realized that he had entered under false pretenses, however honorable his motives might have been.
"I beg your pardon for intruding," he said, speaking quickly. "I have come to ask news of Mr. Potter, not to bring it. One moment," as he saw Mrs. Potter's face assume a look of anger. "His disappearance has been reported to the police. They tried to keep it quiet, but it was impossible in the case of a man of Mr. Potter's standing. Our paper—the Leader—knows of it. In a short time it will be known to every paper in New York. I think it would be wise for you to meet the situation, and give me whatever information you can. We will only be too glad to help you locate your husband, and I believe there is no better way than by newspaper publicity, even the police will tell you that. If you could give me a description of the missing man, when he was last seen, what sort of clothing he wore, and a picture of him we will publish it in the paper. Thousands of persons will see the account and will be on the lookout for him. Believe me, it is the best way!"
Larry paused for breath. He had rattled all that off without giving Mrs. Potter a chance to stop him, for he wanted to present his case in the most advantageous light.
"Mamma, I believe he is right!" exclaimed Grace Potter. "I never thought of it that way before. I thought the newspaper people were horrid when any one had trouble."
"We are human," said Larry with a little laugh, and Grace smiled, though her eyes had traces of tears.
"I could not think of discussing your father's affairs with a reporter," said Mrs. Potter stiffly.
"I don't want to pry into his affairs," returned Larry. "I only want to help you find him."
"But this publicity is so disgraceful!"
"Not at all, madam. It is a misfortune, perhaps, but other families have the same trouble. Nothing is thought of it. The newspapers are the best means of tracing lost persons."
"That's right, mother," interrupted Grace. "I often read descriptions of persons who have disappeared, and a few days later I see that they have been found, principally through an account in the paper. I am sure this young gentleman will help us."
"I will do all I can," said Larry. "So will the other papers, I am sure. Now when did he disappear? Is this a picture of him?" and he took one from the library table. "Suppose you let me take this to have a cut made of it. I will return it," and before Mrs. Potter or Grace could object Larry had it in his pocket. That is the way reporters get along sometimes, by taking advantage of every opportunity. Once lost these golden chances seldom can be seized again.
Before mother or daughter could answer Larry's question the door bell rang, and, a moment later, the butler announced:
"Some newspaper reporters, madam!"
"Oh, this is dreadful! I can't see them!" exclaimed Mrs. Potter. "Tell them to go away. Let them see Mr. Potter's lawyer!"
"Mother, let me attend to this for you," said Grace. "I will see the reporters. I will tell them all that is necessary. I'm not afraid. I want to find poor, dear papa!"
"You are a brave girl," murmured Mrs. Potter, as she wiped her eyes. "I would not dare face them all in our trouble."
Larry agreed with Mrs. Potter's characterization of Grace. It was no easy task for a girl of eighteen to thus assume the responsibility, but she had the courage, and Larry admired her for it.
"You had better go to your room, mother," Grace went on. "I will see the newspaper men in here," she added to the butler who was waiting. "You may stay," she said, looking at Larry, "and you will learn all we ourselves know."
Larry realized there was no opportunity for a beat in this matter of the disappearance of the millionaire, as the news the police get they give out indiscriminately to all papers. So he was content to get what information he needed in common with the other reporters. But he had a picture, and he doubted if all the others would get one.
The butler showed the reporters in. They were nearly all young men, about Larry's age, though one or two were gray-haired veterans of the pencil.
"What is it you wish to inquire about first?" asked Grace, as she faced the newspaper men, more calmly than could her mother, who had gone to her room.
WHERE IS HE?
"When did Mr. Potter run away?" asked a voice from the group of press representatives, and Larry saw it was his old enemy, Peter Manton, of the Scorcher—a sensational sheet—who had made the inquiry.
"My father didn't run away!" exclaimed Grace indignantly. "If you are going on that assumption I shall give you no information at all."
"That was a mistake," interposed an elderly reporter. "We are only anxious to know when you last saw him," and someone whispered a well-deserved rebuke to Peter.
"To begin at the beginning," Grace resumed, "father went abroad with mother and me several months ago. He was not in good health and his physician recommended a change of air. We traveled in England and on the continent, and then went to Italy. My father preceded us there, as he had some business affairs to look after in Rome.
"When we got to that city we found he had left there, as his business called him away. He left word that he might have to sail for this country ahead of us, but would try to meet us in Naples. We proceeded there, only to find that he had sailed, and he told us to come over on the next steamer. He promised to meet us in New York.
"We sailed on the Messina, expecting my father would meet us at the pier."
"Did he meet you?" asked Larry, for he recalled that day when he had secured the memorable interview with Sullivan, in which Mr. Potter's name played an important part.
"He did not," and there was a catch in the girl's voice. "One of his clerks did, and said he had received a letter from my father, stating that he was unavoidably detained, but that he would be with us soon."
She paused, and pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
"Well?" asked one of the reporters softly.
"That is all," said Grace. "I have not seen my father since parting with him at Munich, whence he proceeded to Rome. He has never communicated directly with us, and we don't know what to think. It is dreadful!" and she wept softly.
There was a pause of a few seconds, while the girl recovered her composure. Then the reporters began to ask questions, sparing Grace as much as possible.
In this way they learned that Mr. Potter's family could give no description as to was dressed when he disappeared, for quite an interval had elapsed between the time Grace and her mother had last seen him, and when they learned that he was gone.
Nor had Mr. Potter communicated with his office or his business associates, except so far as to send a clerk to meet the steamer. Before going to Europe he had arranged matters so his affairs could be conducted in his absence, and his continued failure to come back worked no harm in that respect. Confidential clerks attended to everything, and the millionaire's large interests were well looked after.
So there was really not much that Grace could tell. She said she and her mother had waited some time, after getting home, hoping Mr. Potter would come back or communicate with them, but when he had not done so they became alarmed. They feared he had met with some mishap, and, after talking the matter over with his lawyers, they had decided it would be best to report the matter to the police.
"We are much obliged to you," said Larry, when it seemed that no more questions were necessary.
"We'll do our best, through the papers, to help find your father," added a gray-haired reporter.
"Now give us his picture," put in Peter Manton, in a commanding tone.
"We have none to give out at present," said Grace coldly. "We are having a number made, showing him as he looked when he went away, and they will be ready in a few days. The lawyers will attend to that, if my father is not found in the meanwhile."
"We've got to have a picture now!" exclaimed Peter.
"You shut up!"—thus in a whisper, from another reporter who stood near the representative of the Scorcher. "You don't know when you've been treated decent. Half the millionaire families in New York wouldn't even let us inside the door, let alone telling us all we wanted to know. Dry up!" And Peter desisted after that rebuke.
Larry managed to be the last one of the reporters to leave the house. He lingered in the hall, and when he and Grace were there alone he said:
"One thing I forgot to ask. When you got back to the house was there any evidence that your father had been here ahead of you? Was the house shut up while you were in Europe?"
"I'm glad you spoke of that," the girl replied. "I had forgotten about it. Yes, the house was closed all the while we were away, and opened the day mother and I got back. But, now that you speak of it, I recollect something that seemed strange at the time. We were a little worried when father did not meet us at the pier, and I had an idea that he might have spent some nights in the house, pending our arrival, though he had said in his letters that if he came over ahead of us he was going to stop at a hotel. I went to his room——"
She broke into tears again, and Larry waited, looking out of the big front doors, for he was embarrassed.
"When I looked over his room," continued Grace, going on bravely, "I saw something was missing, that I knew was on his dresser when we left for Europe."
"What was it?" asked Larry.
"It was a little picture of mother and myself. My father was very fond of it. He must have come to the house and taken it—one of his last acts before he disappeared. It made me feel very sad when I thought of it afterward."
"Perhaps he took the picture to Europe with him, and you did not know it," suggested Larry, who was beginning to develop the instincts of a detective, as all reporters do, more or less.
"No," said Grace positively. "I remember, I was the last one in father's room before we sailed for Europe. The carriage was waiting to take us to the pier, and father went out just ahead of me. He spoke of the picture then, saying he would leave it to keep guard over his room until he came back," and once more Grace could not keep back her tears.
"Could the picture have been stolen?" asked Larry.
"The house was in perfect order when we came in," said the girl. "Nothing else was missing. It seems as if father took that picture to—to remind him of us—and—and that we would never see him again."
"Oh, yes, you will!" exclaimed Larry heartily. "You will find him all right. Perhaps he has some business matters to attend to out West, and hasn't time to come home."
"He could have written."
"Maybe he is some place where the mails are infrequent."
Thus Larry tried to comfort Grace, but it was hard work, for the disappearance of Hamden Potter certainly was strange and difficult to explain.
"I will let you know if we hear any news," said Larry as he prepared to go.
"Will you? That will be very kind of you. I thank you very much for your help. I would never have known what to do if it had not been for your suggestions. Come any time you have any news for us—and I hope you will come soon—and often," Grace added with a blush.
Larry's heart beat a little faster than usual, for it was not every day he received such an invitation to a millionaire's house, nor from such a pretty girl as Grace.
"Afraid I'll not have much chance, though," he thought to himself as he went down the steps. "I'll probably be taken off this case after to-day, and some other reporter will get it. If I had a little more experience they might let me work on it. Never mind, I'll get there some day," and with this Larry comforted himself.
IN THE TENEMENT HOUSE
The story of Hamden Potter's disappearance, as Larry wrote it, made interesting reading. He used that part about the picture which Grace had told him, but which the other reporters did not know about. The photograph of the missing millionaire, which showed a man in the prime of life, with a large moustache, came out well in the paper, and as Larry saw the article, on the front page, under a "big head," he could not but feel he had done well.
In this he was confirmed by the city editor, who, seeing copies of the other afternoon papers, as they were brought in to him, exclaimed:
"Well, Larry, you did fine!"
"How's that?" asked the youth.
"Why you've got 'em all beat on the picture proposition, and none of 'em have that part about his coming back to the house and taking the miniature of his wife and daughter. That's the best part of the whole yarn."
"I got that by luck, almost at the last minute, when the others were gone," said Larry.
"That's the kind of luck that makes big stories," commented Mr. Emberg. "You might take a run up to the house this evening and see if there's anything new, and then you can pay a visit in the morning. I'll have the police end looked after by Harvey, and I'll send a man to Mr. Potter's office. It's barely possible he may turn up there any minute. I have an idea that he is temporarily insane because of his heavy business responsibilities, and that he has wandered off somewhere. He'll come back in a few days. What do you think about it yourself, Larry?"
"I hardly know what to think. I never was on a case like this before. When I first heard about his taking the picture away I thought maybe he had gone off somewhere to commit suicide, and wanted it with him."
"No suicide for Hamden Potter," put in Harvey Newton, with a laugh, as he stood listening to Larry and Mr. Emberg talking. "He has too much to live for."
"Well, I didn't want to think that," Larry went on. "He has a very fine wife and——"
"And a beautiful daughter," broke in Harvey. "Look out, Larry, this is not a love story you're working on."
Larry blushed like a girl, for several times that day he had caught himself thinking of Grace and how pretty she was.
"Let Larry alone for getting all the facts in the case," said Mr. Emberg. "I suppose Miss Grace gave you some information?"
"She talked to all the reporters," Larry said. "Mrs. Potter is a nervous wreck."
"Well, run up any time this evening," went on the city editor. "You might stumble on some news. You wrote a very good story to-day. Try again to-morrow. We've beat the other papers on it as it is."
Larry got Mr. Potter's picture back from the art department, where a cut for use in the paper had been made, and decided that he would have a good excuse for calling at the Potter residence in going back to return it as he had promised.
"I wish I had some news to tell her," the young reporter thought as he went home to supper, "but it's too soon yet. I'd like to be a detective and see if I couldn't find her father for her. I wonder where he can be, or why he disappeared? Of course, if he's out of his mind, as Mr. Emberg believes, that would account for it, but I don't think he is."
Telling his mother he did not expect to be out long, Larry left the house early that evening. He intended to go to Mr. Potter's residence, leave the picture, have a few minutes' talk with Grace, and then go home by way of the street on which the tenement was located, where he had undergone the queer experience with the crazy inventor.
"Maybe the policeman has discovered something new about that strange man from the wreck," thought Larry.
He found Grace more composed than when he had seen her in the afternoon.
"Did you bring me any news?" she asked, as she took the picture.
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't. I will, though, if there is any to bring. I'm sure your father will be found."
"So am I!" exclaimed the girl. "Poor mother is in despair, but I am not going to give up. If the police can't find him I'm going to make a search myself. I know a great deal about his business. Father always said I ought to have been a boy."
Larry thought it would have been a pity, but he did not say so.
"I'll search all over until I find him," Grace went on.
"And I'll help you!" cried Larry, fired to sudden enthusiasm.
"Will you? Really? That will be fine!" and, before she was aware of what she was doing, Grace had held out her hand. Larry gave it a firm grip, and the girl blushed.
"I suppose I shouldn't have done that!" she said. "I'm always doing things on impulse. I don't even know your name. I must call you Mr. Reporter," and she smiled.
"I'm Larry Dexter," said our hero, blushing a bit himself. "I know your name, so now I suppose we may consider ourselves introduced."
"I guess so, though it isn't strictly according to form. But never mind. This is no time for ceremonies. I hope you will have news for me—soon."
"So do I," answered Larry as he took his leave.
The young reporter was soon in that neighborhood of the city where was situated the deserted tenement in which he believed there was some mystery. As he approached the ramshackle old structure he noticed a figure pacing up and down in front of it.
"If that's the lunatic inventor of the airship I think I'll pass on the other side," Larry said to himself. It was dark in that section of the city, the electric lights being few and far between. However, as the figure approached, and as Larry continued on, the youth saw he had nothing to fear, for it was that of his friend, Policeman Higgins.
"Well," asked Larry, as he came up. "Anything new?"
This is the reporter's form of greeting to almost everyone he meets, and means: "Have you any news for me?"
"Good-evening," replied Officer Higgins. "I was just thinking about you."
"Nothing bad, I hope."
"No, I was wishing you'd happen along. You remember we were talking the other night about a strange man that you thought was in here?"
"Well, he's in here now, and I'm going to see what he's up to. The crazy old professor, with his airship, has moved out, and the house is deserted except for this new bird. I'm going to raid his nest, for I suspect he's up to no good. I've been watching his light for some time, and he's moving around in several rooms. Maybe he's going to set fire to the place."
"Going to tackle him alone?" asked Larry.
"No, I've telephoned to the sergeant to send me a man to help me go through the shack, for though I'm not a coward I've no hankering to go in that shell after dark, knowing a man may be waiting for me with a knife or a gun."
"I'll stay here and see what happens," said Larry.
"Come along in with us if you like," went on Higgins, for he had taken a liking to the young reporter. "You may get a story out of it. Here comes Storg now," he added, as the form of another bluecoat was seen approaching down the street.
The two officers held a brief consultation. Higgins showed where a light was nickering back and forth between two rooms on one side of the building, about the third story up.
"It's been going that way for the last hour," said Higgins. "I'm going in now. Get your gun ready, Storg. You may not need it, but, if you do, it's best to have it handy."
Larry followed behind the policemen, his heart beating a little faster than usual. He was anxious to see the man who was in hiding, and who, he believed, was the same one he and the fisherman had rescued from the sea. He believed there was a mystery connected with the fugitive which would make a good story, even if he was an East Indian.
"Easy now," cautioned Higgins, but Larry thought it was needless, as the heavy shoes of the officers made noise enough to awaken the soundest sleeper.
The bluecoats entered the dark hallway of the tenement. The doors were void of locks and swung to and fro, creaking on rusty hinges, as the wind blew them. There was a damp and unpleasant smell in the house, and now and then came queer sounds, that echoed through the deserted rooms.
"Nothing but shutters banging," explained Higgins, as his companion-in-arms started. "They're flapping like a bird's broken wing, all over the place. Now for our mysterious friend."
But for the fact that both officers carried small pocket electric lamps, operated by dry batteries, they would have had difficulty in making their way through the halls and up the stairs, for there were many holes, caused by rotting boards. As it was they moved along with some speed, until they came to the third floor.
"He'll be about here somewhere," whispered Higgins, a needless precaution, as their advance had been already heralded by their heavy foot-falls.
"There's a light there," said Storg, pointing to the end of a long hall. Coming from under a door could be seen a faint gleam.
"That's where he is!" exclaimed Higgins. "Come on!"
Larry followed the officers. Their steps echoed through the silent building. Forward they went until they came to the door beneath which the light showed. Higgins tried the knob. The portal was locked.
"Let us in! We're police officers!" he exclaimed.
There was a rustling within the room, but no attempt was made to open the door.
"Open or we'll break it in!" cried Higgins, and, as there was no answer, but only silence, he put his big shoulder to the frail door. There was a crackling sound, a splintering of wood and the hinges gave way. Higgins fairly jumped into the room as the portal fell in. Storg followed after him, with his hand on his revolver, ready to use it should occasion arise. But there was no need, for the room was deserted, though a candle burning on a mantel showed there had recently been an occupant in it.
"He's gone!" cried Higgins, looking around.
At that moment there was a sound in the corridor, and somewhere along its length a door opened.
"He's getting away!" yelled Storg, as he jumped back into the hallway. Larry followed, and the policeman flashed his electric lamp.
Then, in the little circle of light cast from the glass bullseye, Larry saw, running down the stairs, the smooth-shaven man he had helped pull from the angry sea on the life-raft.
"There he goes! Catch him!" cried Storg, as he clattered down the stairs after the fugitive.
LARRY'S SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT
"Hold on! Stop!" yelled Higgins, running from the room. "Halt, or I'll shoot!"
It would have done little good had he done so, for by this time the mysterious man was in the second hallway, and out of reach of any possible bullets.
"You stay here and look after things, I'll catch him!" called Storg, as he raced down the stairs, his light making erratic circles as he advanced.
"I guess that's good advice," commented Higgins to Larry, who had remained in the upper corridor. "I'm too fat to run. Let's see what he left behind."
Back into the room, where the candle was burning, went Larry and the policeman. A quick survey showed nothing unusual. There were some old chairs and a table, left probably by the departed tenants.
"He must have had the run of several rooms," Higgins went on. "He came out of some apartment farther down the hall, and that's how he fooled us. He was on the watch, and that shows there must be something queer about him."
"Let's take a look through the other rooms," suggested Larry.
Showing his light Higgins led the way. They went through several other bare and deserted chambers, but saw no indications that the stranger had been in them. Presently they came to what had been a bathroom, though most of the plumbing had been torn out by thieves, for the value of the lead pipes and the faucets.
"He's been here!" cried Larry, as he pointed to a faint spark in one corner of the room.
The policeman flashed his electric on it. It proved to be a candle that had burned down into the socket, the remainder of a wick smouldering and glowing.
"Yes, and he shaved himself here," the officer added, as he pointed to a razor, some soap, and pieces of paper on which were unmistakable evidences that the mysterious man had been acting as his own barber. "I'd like to catch him," the bluecoat went on. "I'm sure there's something crooked about him."
"It looks so," agreed Larry. "Maybe Storg will get him."
"I hope so," and Higgins began to make a more thorough search of the apartment.
There was nothing, however, which shed any further light on the mysterious man. It was evident, though, that he had lived in the deserted house for several days, since there were remnants of food scattered here and there.
"The mystery is getting deeper and deeper," thought Larry. He said nothing to the policeman about the man being a person who had come ashore from the Olivia. "I'm going to ask Mr. Emberg to let me work on this case," he resolved, while he followed Higgins from room to room. "I believe it will be a great story if I can get all the details."
How much of a story it was destined to be Larry had no idea of at that moment, though his newspaper instinct, that led him to suspect there was a strange mystery connected with Mah Retto, was perfectly correct, as he learned later.
"Well, I don't see that we can learn anything more here," remarked Higgins when he had been in a number of chambers on the third floor. "He evidently only used a few of these handsome apartments," and he laughed as he looked around on the dilapidated rooms, with the plaster peeling from the walls, the windows half broken, and the doors falling from their hinges.
"Hark!" exclaimed Larry. "Some one is coming!"
Footsteps sounded in the lower hall.
"That's Storg, coming back!" cried Higgins. "I hope he got his man."
He leaned over the balustrade and called down:
"Any luck, Storg?"
"No, he got away," was the reply. "He's a good runner. I couldn't keep up to him."
"Never mind," consoled Higgins. "Maybe it's just as well. We'd have trouble proving anything illegal against him, though I could have had him held on a charge of vagrancy until I investigated a bit."
The officers, followed by Larry, left the ramshackle structure, with the wind whistling mournfully through the broken windows, and the shutters banging, while the doors creaked on the rusty and broken hinges.
"I wouldn't want to stay there all alone at night," thought the young reporter, as he started toward home. "A man must have a strong motive to cause him to hide in there. I'd like to find out what it is. Perhaps I shall, some time."
Larry spoke of the matter to Mr. Emberg the next day. He said he thought it might be a good idea to devote some hours to working up the story, in an endeavor to learn who the queer man was.
"Still puzzling over your East Indian, eh?" asked the city editor. "Well, there may be something in it, but just now I have something else for you to do."
"Another flying-machine story?"
"Not exactly. I'm going to give you a special assignment."
Larry was all attention at once. The best part of the newspaper life is being given a special assignment—that is, put to work on a certain case, to the exclusion of everything else. Every reporter dreams of the time when he shall become a special correspondent or given a special assignment. It means that your time is your own, to a great extent; that you may go and come as you please; that your expense bills are seldom questioned, and that you may travel afar and see strange sights. The only requirement, and it is not an easy one, is that you get the news, and get it in time for the paper. Of course, it need not be said that you must let no other paper beat you, but this seldom occurs, as when a reporter is on a special assignment he works alone, and what he gets is his. There are no other newspaper men to worry him.
So, when Mr. Emberg told Larry there was a special assignment for him, the young reporter's heart beat high with hope. He had often wished for one, but they had never come his way before, though to many on the Leader they were an old story.
"What is it?" asked Larry, wondering how far out of town it would take him.
"I want you to find Mr. Potter, the missing millionaire, Larry," said Mr. Emberg.
"Find Mr. Potter?"
"That's it. I want you to devote your whole time to that case. Never mind about anything else. Find Mr. Potter. There's a big story back of his going away; a bigger story than you have any idea of. I don't know what it is myself, but I want you to find out. Now I am going to give you free rein and full swing. Do whatever you think is necessary. Get us news. We'll have to have a story every day, for we're going to play this thing up and feature it. You're going to be on the firing-line, so to speak. Take care of yourself, but don't go to sleep. Get ahead of the other fellows and get us news. That's what we want. That's what makes the Leader a success. It's because we get the news, and generally get it first.
"I can't tell you where to start, or what to do. You'll have to find that out for yourself. Get all the information you can from the family. See some of Mr. Potter's business associates. Have another interview with Sullivan. Maybe he knows something about it, though I doubt it.
"At any rate, whatever you do, find Mr. Potter," and at this closing instruction Mr. Emberg learned back in his chair and looked sharply at Larry.
"Suppose I can't," and the young reporter smiled.
"'Can't' isn't in the reporter's dictionary," the city editor replied. "You've got to find him. I don't want to see you fall down. You've done well, so far, Larry. Now's a chance to distinguish yourself."
Larry knew that it was. He also realized that he was going to have his hardest work since he had become a reporter. It was a special assignment, such as any newspaper man might wish for, but it was not one that could be characterized as easy.
"I've got my work cut out for me," thought the youth, as he turned away.
"Here's an order for fifty dollars," went on Mr. Emberg, as he handed the young reporter a slip of paper. "Take it to the cashier, and when you want more for expenses let me know. Don't be afraid of using it if you see a chance to get news, but, of course, don't waste it. Now go, and find Mr. Potter, but don't forget we must have some sort of a story every day."
Larry's first act, after receiving his special assignment, was to go to Mr. Potter's house. Grace received him, and, in answer to his inquiry, stated that the family had no more news than they had at first.
"I thought you could tell us something," said the girl in disappointed tones.
"Perhaps I can, soon," replied Larry. "I'm detailed specially on this case now," and he told her of his assignment.
"Does that mean you have nothing to do but to search for my father?"
"That's what it means."
"Oh, please find him for me!" exclaimed the girl. "You don't know how much I have suffered since he has been missing, nor how much my mother has suffered. It has been terrible! Oh, if you only could find him for us!"
"Miss Potter," began Larry, who was deeply touched by her distress, "a newspaper man could have no greater incentive to work than the duty to which his assignment calls him. More especially in this case to which my city editor has told me to devote my whole time. But aside from that I'm going to find your father for your sake and your mother's. I'll do all I can. I'll work on this case day and night. I'll find your father for you!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Grace, "you don't know how much good it does me to hear you talk so! It seemed as if no one cared. Of course my father's business associates want him to come back, and so do his friends, but—but they don't wish it as much as my mother does and as I do! I miss him so much!"
If Larry had not had the injunction laid on him by Mr. Emberg to urge him on in the search, the appeal by Grace would have been more than sufficient. Hereafter, he resolved, he would feel somewhat as did the knights of old when they were commissioned by their ladies to execute some bold deed.
"Don't worry," he told Grace, as he saw her distress was getting the better of her. "I'll find him."
"Suppose you can't?"
"There's no such work as 'can't' in my dictionary," replied Larry, repeating what Mr. Emberg had told him.
Grace smiled at the young reporter's enthusiasm, but she knew she could have had no better friend, no one who would devote more time and energy to her cause, and no one who had so strong a motive for finding the missing millionaire as had this young newspaper reporter.
While the two were discussing various details of the case there was a ring at the front door, and, presently, the butler entered the library.
"Mr. Jack Sullivan to see you, miss," he announced.
SULLIVAN'S QUEER ACCUSATION
"Whom did you say it was?" asked Grace.
"Mr. Jack Sullivan," repeated the butler. "I asked him for his card, miss, but he said he hadn't got none. Told me to mention his name, an' said you'd know him."
"But I don't know him," protested Grace. "I never heard of him in my life. There must be some mistake. Are you sure he wants, me, Peterson?"
"He said so, miss, but I'll ask again."
Whereupon the butler, as stiff as a ramrod, went back to the door where he had left Mr. Sullivan standing.
"He means you, miss," the functionary remarked, as he came back to the library.
"I wonder what he can want," Grace said, half to herself. "I don't know any such person. I think there's a mistake. I will see him, and tell him so."
"Wait a minute," exclaimed Larry. "Perhaps I can explain this. I think I know Mr. Sullivan."
"Who is he?"
"A political leader of the eighth assembly district."
"What does that mean; I'm dreadfully ignorant of politics," Grace remarked with a smile. "Poor papa was much interested in them, but I never could make head or tail out of political matters."
"I have an idea that Sullivan has called here in reference to the disappearance of your father."
"Why do you think that?" and Grace turned pale. "Do you think he brings bad news?"
"On the contrary, I think he has come in search of information."
"But how can he be interested?"
Thereupon Larry told of his interview with the politician, based on what he had overheard in reference to Mr. Potter and the extension of the subway.
"Wasn't your father interested in building a new line of street railroad?" he asked of Grace.
"I'm sure I don't know. I never kept track of papa's business matters."
"What ought I to do about this Mr. Sullivan?" Grace asked.
"I think you had better see him," replied Larry.
"I'd be afraid to, alone, and mother has such a headache that she can't come downstairs. Will you stay in the room with me?" and she looked appealingly at Larry.
"I'm afraid if I did Sullivan wouldn't talk. He knows me, and imagines I have done him a wrong, which I have not. I believe he considers me his enemy. He would probably go away without saying anything if you met him in my presence."
"But you don't need to be actually present," said Grace, with sudden inspiration. "Look here, this is a little alcove," and she pulled aside a hanging curtain and showed a recess in the library wall. "You can stand in there, and hear whatever he has to say. I'd feel safer if you were near. Of course there's Peterson, but he's so queer, and I don't like the servants to hear too much about poor father's disappearance. Will you stay here and be at hand in case I want you?"
"Of course I will," replied Larry after a moment's hesitation. "I have no idea that Sullivan will annoy you. He's too much of a politician for that. And I may be able to get a clue from what he says, though I don't imagine he knows where Mr. Potter is."
"Then I'll see him," decided Grace. "Peterson," she called.
"You may show Mr. Sullivan in here."
"In here, miss?" and the butler looked at Larry.
"I said in here."
"Very well, miss."
"Now hide," commanded the girl in a whisper, as soon as Peterson had gone to the front door, where Mr. Sullivan had been kept waiting, as the butler evidently thought the caller did not look like a person to be admitted to the hallway until he had showed his credentials, or until he had been authorized to come in by some member of the family.
Larry got behind the curtain. No sooner had the folds ceased shaking than Mr. Sullivan entered the library. Larry could see him, though the young reporter himself was hidden from view. Grace remained standing.
"You wished to see me?" she asked in formal tones.
"Yes, Miss Potter," and Larry noted that Sullivan was ill at ease. "I called about your father."
"Do you know where he is?"
"No, Miss Potter. How should I?" and Sullivan looked quite surprised.
"Then why did you come?"
"I came for some information, miss."
"We have none to give you. We have told the police and the reporters all we know."
"Are you sure?" and at this question Sullivan's bearing became different. He seemed bolder.
"What do you mean?" demanded Grace.
"I mean just this," went on the politician. "I've got a right to know where Mr. Potter is. A great deal depends on it. I've got to find him. Reilly wants to find him. He and Reilly had some deal on, and it's time it was put through. It's going to make trouble if it isn't. I want to know where Mr. Potter is?"
"So do we," answered Grace. "If this is all that you came for you had better leave."
"It isn't all I came for!" Sullivan's voice had an angry ring. "I don't believe you have told the police or the newspapers all you know about this thing. I believe——"
"Leave this room!" commanded Grace. "Leave it at once, or I shall ring for the servants to show you the door! What do you mean?"
"I mean just what I say!" and the politician's voice was angry now. "I mean that you know where your father is, and that you're only pretending you don't. It's some game to fool Reilly and me. We'll not stand for it. I want you to tell me where your father is!"
He took a step toward Grace. She seemed dazed.
"Tell me! Do you hear!" and, probably because he was so excited, the politician made a movement as if he meant to grasp the frightened girl by the arm.
"Oh!" she screamed. "Don't touch me! Larry!"
"Quit that!" cried the young reporter, stepping suddenly from behind the curtain. "That will do, Mr. Sullivan!"
Larry spoke more calmly than he had any idea he could under the circumstances. He seemed master of the situation.
The very suddenness of Larry's appearance caused Sullivan to recoil a step. He fairly glared at the young reporter and then looked at Grace, who was trembling from the words and actions of her rude visitor.
"You here!" exclaimed the politician, in a whisper. "So that's the game, eh? I thought the Leader was in on it."
"There's no game at all!" cried Larry, indignantly. "I am here in the interests of the paper to learn all I can about Mr. Potter's disappearance."
"Then ask her to tell you the truth!" cried Sullivan, pointing his finger at Grace. "She knows where he is!"
"I don't! I wish I did!" and Grace faced her accuser with flashing eyes.
"Don't repeat that remark," said Larry, calmly, though there was a determined air about him. "You know better than that, Mr. Sullivan," and Larry stood fearlessly before the politician. In the unlikely event of a physical encounter Larry had no fears, for he was tall and strong for his age.
"It's true!" Sullivan repeated, in a sort of a growl, for he was a little afraid of the tempest he had stirred up.
"I say it isn't," Larry replied. "I have worked on this case from the start, and I know as much about it as any one. What's more, I think you know more than you are willing to admit. I haven't forgotten the interview you gave me, and which you denied later. I think there's something under all this that will make interesting reading when it comes out."
"You—you don't suspect me, do you?" and Larry noted that Sullivan's hands were trembling.
"I don't know what to suspect," the young reporter answered, determined to take all the advantage he could of the situation. "It looks very queer. It will read queerer still when it comes out in the Leader—how you came here to threaten Miss Potter."
"You—you're not going to put that in, are you?" asked the politician.
"I certainly am."
"If you do I'll——"
"Look here!" exclaimed Larry. "You've made threats enough for one day. It's time for you to go. There's the door! Peterson!" he called. "Show this man out!"
Larry was rather surprised at his own assumption of authority, but Grace looked pleased.
"Yes, sir, right away, sir," replied the butler with such promptness as to indicate that he had not been far away.
He pulled back the portieres that separated the library from the hall, and stood waiting the exit of Mr. Sullivan.
"This way," he said, and a look at his portly form in comparison with the rather diminutive one of the politician would at once have prejudiced an impartial observer in favor of Peterson. "This way, if you please."
"You'll hear from me again," growled Sullivan, as he sneaked out. "I'm not done with you, Larry Dexter!"
GRACE GETS A LETTER
The door closed after Sullivan. Larry, standing in the library entrance, watched him leave the house. Then he turned to look at Grace.
"Oh, that was terrible!" the girl exclaimed, almost ready to cry, but bravely keeping back the tears. "What a horrid man! What did he mean?"
"I'm sure I don't know," replied Larry. "I doubt if he does himself. Mr. Potter's disappearance has evidently sent some of his plans askew, and he is hardly responsible for what he says or does. Don't let it worry you."
"I wonder if he knows where my father is?"
"I don't believe he does. If he did he would hardly come here, hoping to deceive you or your mother. No; Sullivan wants to find out where Mr. Potter is just as much as we do. Why, I can't tell yet, but he has a good reason, a strong reason, or he would not have acted as he did."
"What had I better do?" asked the girl.
"Do nothing. Leave it to me. I will write something for the Leader that will make Sullivan wish he had stayed away from here."
"Mother doesn't like this newspaper publicity."
"I can imagine it is not very pleasant for her," admitted Larry. "But it has to be borne if we are going to find your father. The more the papers print of the affair the better chance there is of finding him. If he is staying away for some reason he will see what a stir his disappearance has caused, and will be anxious to arrange matters so he can come back. If he is being detained against his will, the publicity will cause his captors an alarm which may result in their releasing him. So, too, if any one sees him wandering about they will recognize him by his picture, or by the description, and inform the police."
"Suppose—suppose he—should be—dead," and Grace whispered the words.
"Don't think that for a moment!"
"It is over two weeks now since he disappeared, and not one word have we heard from him."
"Persons have been known to disappear for longer periods than that, and yet turn up all right," said the young reporter, endeavoring to find some consolation for the girl. He related several instances of similar cases that had come to his attention since he had been in newspaper work.
"Now don't put too much in the paper about Mr. Sullivan—and me," said the girl as Larry was going. "There has been sufficient printed all ready, and some of my friends think I must have a staff of reporters at my beck and call, to get my name mentioned so often," and she smiled at Larry.
"I'll not mention you any more than necessary," he promised, thinking that Grace was much prettier when a smile brought out a dimple in each cheek.
Larry's description of Sullivan's visit to the Potter house proved to be what Mr. Emberg described as "a corking good scoop." None of the other papers had a line about it, of course, for Larry was the only reporter in a position to get inside information, and Sullivan was not likely to give out any account of his strange call.
"You seem to be keeping right after all the ends of this story, Larry," said Mr. Emberg the day after the account of Sullivan's visit was printed. "That's what we want. Now what sensation are you going to give us to-day?"
"I don't know. Not a very good one, I'm afraid. I've been to Mr. Potter's office. There's nothing new there, and I guess I'll have to fix up a re-hash of yesterday's stuff unless I can strike another lead. To-morrow I'm going to work on a new plan."
"What is it?" asked the city editor.
"I'm going to the steamship docks and——"
Before Larry could finish the telephone on Mr. Emberg's desk rang, and, as this instrument has precedence over everything else in a newspaper office, Larry broke off in the midst of his remark to wait until Mr. Emberg had answered the wire.
"Yes, he's here, standing right close to the 'phone," he heard the city editor say in response to the unseen questioner. "Some young lady wants to talk to you," Mr. Emberg went on, handing the portable instrument to Larry.
"Young lady to speak to me?" murmured Larry, as he took the telephone.
"This is Grace Potter," he heard through the instrument.
"Oh, how are you?" called Larry, for want of something better to say.
"Come right up," Grace said. "I have some news for you."
"What is it?"
"I have a letter from my father!"
"A letter from your father? Where is he? How did it come? Who brought it? Is he home?"
Larry fired these questions out rapidly. But there was a click in the 'phone that told him the connection was cut off. Evidently Grace had no time to tell more.
"Hurry up there!" exclaimed Mr. Emberg, as soon as he understood the import of the message Larry had received. "This will be a feature of to-day's story! Hurry, Larry!"
Larry thought the transportation facilities in New York were never so slow as on that journey to the Potter house. He tried to imagine, on the way up, what sort of a letter Grace had received from her father. That it contained good news he judged from the cheerful note in her voice.
"Things seem to be happening quite rapidly," the young reporter mused, as he got off at the elevated station nearest to his destination. "First thing I know I'll find him, and then I'll not have a chance to see Grace any more."
He dwelt on this thought, half-laughing at himself.
"I guess I'd better stop thinking of her and attend strictly to this disappearance business," he murmured as he went up the steps of the Potter mansion. "She's too rich for one thing, and another is I'm too poor, though I'm earning good wages, and we have some money in the bank," for the sale of the Bronx land, as related in "Larry Dexter, Reporter," had netted Mrs. Dexter and her children about ten thousand dollars.
Larry's ring at the bell was answered by Grace, who, it would seem, had been on the watch for him.
"I thought you would never come," she said. "I telephoned ever so long ago."
"I came as fast as I could," Larry responded. "Where is the letter?"
Grace held out to him a small piece of paper. On it was but a single line of writing. It read:
"Am well. Have to stay away for a time. Don't worry. Will write again."
It was signed with Mr. Potter's name.
"Are you sure it's from your father?" asked Larry, thinking some cruel person might be trying to play a joke, or that some enterprising reporter had sent the message for the sake of making news. Such things are sometimes done by New York newspaper men, though their city editors may know nothing about it.
"I couldn't mistake father's writing," replied Grace. "Mamma knows it is from him, and she is much happier. But we can't imagine why he has to stay away."
"When did you get this, and how did it come?" asked the reporter.
"The postman brought it a little while ago."
"Where is the envelope?"
Grace handed it to Larry. An inspection of the post-mark showed that it had been mailed in New York in the vicinity of sub-station Y, which was on the East Side. It might have been dropped in one of the many street boxes from which collections were made for that particular office, or it might have been mailed in the station itself.
"Not much to trace him by," said Larry. He looked at the envelope again and saw that there was a small ink blot on the lower left-hand corner, and that the corner where the stamp was affixed was smeared as if with some sticky substance.
"Any one would think you were a detective," said Grace, as she watched Larry examining the envelope. "What does it matter now? We are sure father is alive, for that note was posted yesterday. That has made mother and me happy. Of course we want to find him, but I don't see how you can by that letter. I thought you'd like to know about it to make a little item for the paper, and I wanted to repay you for your kindness to mother and me."
"I haven't done anything," Larry replied. "I am only too glad to be of service to you. But I may be able to find out something by this envelope."
"I don't see how."
"Will you let me take it to the sub-station?"
"Of course. But what good will that do?"
"I want to ask the sorters and clerks in charge if they remember having handled it. I may find the carrier who brought it in from the box, and he can tell in what locality it was."
"But how can they remember when they must handle thousands of letters every day?"
"Perhaps they cannot, but it is worth trying. You see in that section of the city are mostly foreigners, who write a peculiar hand, and use stationery anything but clean or of this quality. This envelope and paper are of an expensive kind."
"Yes, they are some father had made to order for his private correspondence. I did not know he took any to Europe with him, but he must have."
"It may be that a letter carrier or mail sorter took enough notice of the envelope to remember it," Larry went on. "Besides there is a small blot on it, and the way in which the stamp is put on shows that some glue or paste was applied to the envelope. Probably he used an old stamp which had no mucilage on. To make it fast to the envelope your father, or whoever posted the letter, would have had to use some sticky substance, and, in doing so, he has put it on a little too thick. Some spread out from under the stamp and soiled the envelope.
"Of course the sorters and carriers don't pay much attention to the pieces of mail, except to see that they are properly stamped and addressed, but it's worth trying. This envelope would attract attention if anything would."
"And you are going to use that for a clue?"
"I'm going to try. It may be useless. If we can find in what particular locality it was mailed we can have the police keep a watch for your father. He may mail other letters there."
"But my father is not a criminal. Why should the police watch for him so particularly. They are keeping a general lookout now, but I wouldn't like to think they were lying in wait for him."
"It's the only way to find him," said Larry. "Of course it's unpleasant, but there is evidently some mystery here, and that's the best way to clear it up."
"But he says he has to stay away for a while," argued Grace. "Maybe he wouldn't like to be found."
"Of course that point has to be considered," Larry admitted. "But I take it you and your mother want to find your father, or be in a position to communicate with him."
"Oh, we do!" exclaimed Grace.
"Then we'll have to ask the police to help us. There is no disgrace in it. Everyone knows your father is honorable, and if he wants to disappear that's his business. It is also perfectly right for you to try to find him, for——" and Larry stopped.
"Well, for what?" asked Grace, seeing the reporter hesitate.
"I don't want to alarm you," Larry went on, "but I was going to say that there is no way of telling but what some one may have imitated his writing and forged his name."
"I am sure that is my father's writing," the girl said, earnestly. "Of course I may be mistaken. I hope not. I prefer to believe that note is from him. It makes me happier."
"Of course there is only the barest possibility that this note is not from your father, but we can take no chances. That is why I want to make a systematic search, beginning at the sub-station."
"And where will it end?" asked Grace.
"I don't know. But after that I am going to the steamship piers of all the lines that ply between here and Italy."
"I want to see if the captain of any of the steamers recalls any man answering your father's description having come over with him. He must have sailed on some steamer, as he is in this country, if that note is from him."
"That's a good idea," commented Grace. "How I wish I could help you. Couldn't I? Couldn't I go around with you—that is to the steamer piers? I've crossed the ocean several times, and I know some of the captains of the Italian lines."
"Maybe that would be a good idea," said Larry, secretly delighted with it. "You can come with me to-morrow. I will go to the sub-station now, and will let you know what I learn. Then we will make a tour of the piers. You'll be of great assistance to me, for I know very little about steamers."
"I'm so glad!" exclaimed Grace. "It has been terrible to sit here day after day and only wait! I wanted to do something to help find father. Now there is a way! I wish I was a boy—no, I'd rather be a reporter; they can do so many things," and Grace laughed more heartily than at any time since her father had disappeared.
"I'm afraid you give us too much credit," replied Larry. "We do our best, but we don't always get results. Are you sure your mother will let you go?"
"Of course," Grace replied, in a way that showed she was used to having her own way. "When will you come for me to-morrow?"
"In the morning."
"I can hardly wait. Now don't forget. I'll be your assistant. Maybe I could learn enough to be a woman reporter some day."
"I have no doubt you could," Larry responded, as he went out on his way to the sub-station with the envelope, having telephoned to the police of the letter and securing a promise that no other reporters would be informed of it for a while.
As he walked along, his thoughts were busy in many directions. The receipt of the letter, the clues the envelope offered, the plans for a search among the ship captains, and, above all, Grace's offer to accompany him, made Larry speculate on what the Potter mystery was coming to.
"I wonder what the other fellows on the Leader would say if they knew I was working this assignment in company with the millionaire's daughter," said Larry to himself. "I guess I'd better not say anything about it. They'd make fun of me. I know it's all right to take her, or I wouldn't do it. Besides, if she knows the captains she can be of considerable aid to me. Queer, though, for Larry Dexter, who used to rush copy, to be hunting for a missing millionaire in company with his pretty daughter."
It was odd, but no other line of activity is so filled with strange surprises, or brings about such a variety of work, as being a newspaper reporter of the first class.
Larry struck several snags when he attempted to get information at the sub-station. In the first place none of the officials in charge would give him any news about the envelope unless he got an order from the New York postmaster himself. The government has very strict regulations in regard to giving out information about mail matter. But Larry was not daunted. He telephoned to Mr. Emberg, and the forces of the newspaper were set to work. Certain political wires were "pulled," and, as there were on the Leader men to whom the postmaster was under obligations, that official gave the clerks at the sub-station permission to tell Larry whatever he wanted to know.
"Sorry we had to have so much red tape about it," the sub-station agent said, when Larry came back with the magical paper that opened the mouths of the subordinates.
"Oh, that's all right," the reporter said. "I know how it is. Now, what I want to know is, in what box was that letter posted?" and he held out the envelope Grace had given him.
"Rather hard to say," spoke the head clerk. "I'll show it to all the carriers who are in now, and later to those who come in during the afternoon. They may recognize it. It's a little out of the run of ordinary envelopes we get in this section of the city."
One after another several carriers scanned the envelope. All shook their heads, until it came to an elderly man. As soon as he saw the envelope he exclaimed:
"I brought that in. I remember it very well." "Where did you get it?" asked Larry, eagerly. "A man gave it to me last night, just as I was taking the mail from a box down near the river," was the unexpected reply.
LARRY IS BAFFLED
This was much better than Larry had expected. To have the envelope remembered so soon was good, but to have the carrier who brought it in say he recalled having received it from the person who mailed the letter, was better yet.
"What sort of a man was he?" asked Larry, his heart beating high with hope.
"Why do you ask?" inquired the carrier.
"I'm a reporter from the Leader, and I'm trying to locate Mr. Potter, the missing millionaire," said Larry. "This letter was from him."
"Then I can't be of much service to you," the postman went on. "This was given to me by a man who bore no resemblance to Mr. Potter, whose picture I have lately seen in the papers."
"But what sort of a looking man gave you this envelope?" asked Larry.
"He was a smooth-shaven man, rather poorly dressed. I'll tell you how it was. This box, at which I was when the man gave me the letter, is at the foot of a street leading to the river. It is the last one I collect from at night. I had taken out all the mail in the box, and was just locking it up again when some one came up the street in a hurry. I looked around, for the neighborhood is a lonely one, and, as I did so, I saw a man come to a halt, as if he was surprised to see me at the box. I could see he had a letter in his hand.
"'Come on,' I said, for often people run up to me at the last minute to have me take letters. 'Come on,' I said, for I was in a hurry. 'I'll take the letter.'
"At that the man pulled his hat down over his eyes and advanced slowly. He held the letter out to me, and, as he did so, I caught a glimpse of his face, as the light from a street lamp flashed on it. I could see he was smooth shaven. I took the letter and put it in my bag. As I did so the man seemed to melt away in the shadows. I thought it rather queer at the time, for it seemed as if the fellow was afraid I'd recognize him. But I'd never seen him before, so far as I know, so he needn't have been alarmed. I brought the letter to the office, and as I sorted my mail, I noted that the stamp had been stuck on with plenty of mucilage. I also saw the blot, and, as the envelope was unlike any I had ever seen before, as far as size and quality of paper went, the thing was impressed on my mind.
"That's all I know about it," the carrier finished, "but I'm sure the man who gave me the letter was not the missing millionaire. I've seen his picture too many times lately to be mistaken."
"Then who could it have been?" asked Larry.
"That's a hard question, young man," said the carrier. "It might have been any one else. I think it was a person who didn't care about being seen, and didn't want to attract any attention. I guess he would have been better satisfied to have dropped the letter in the box when no one was looking, but seeing me there he came up with it before he knew what he was doing."
"If the letter was from Mr. Potter, and it wasn't the millionaire who mailed it, he must have got some one to do it," the chief clerk of the sub-station suggested, and Larry was forced to adopt this idea. He inquired as to the location of the box at which the carrier stood when he received the missive, and asked in what direction the man came from. Having learned these facts, and deciding he could gain nothing more by staying longer at the sub-station, Larry hurried to the Leader office.
"Well, I've gained something," he said to himself. "I've got a good story, and I have a slender clue to work on. I must write the story first, however. Then I'll go back and tell Grace what I learned."
The account of the letter and the circumstances under which it was mailed created a new sensation in the Potter mystery, and, as on several other occasions, the Leader scored a beat.
As soon as he had finished the story Larry went to see Grace, whom he found anxiously waiting for him. She asked a score of questions as to what he had learned, and the reporter told her all about his trip to the sub-station.
"What are you going to do next?" she inquired.
"I think I'll go over on the East Side and make some inquiries. Your father may be staying there," answered Larry.
Going downtown in an elevated train, and taking a stroll through that populous section, known as the "East Side," Larry soon found himself in the neighborhood of the box at which the carrier had received the letter written by Mr. Potter. He took a brief survey of the locality.
"Not very promising," was his mental comment.
All about were big tenement houses of a substantial kind. They were built of brick, and from nearly every window a woman's head protruded, while the street swarmed with children. It was a neighborhood teeming with life, for it was the abode of the poor, and they were quartered together almost like rabbits in a warren.
For want of something better to do, Larry strolled down one side of the street, at the end of which was located the letter box which formed such a slender clue. Then he walked up the other side, looking about him idly, in vain hopes of stumbling on something that would put him on the track.
It was late in the afternoon, and the streets were beginning to fill with workers hurrying home, for the day's labor was over. As Larry strolled along, rather careless of his steps, he collided with a man in front of a big tenement building.
"Excuse me," murmured the reporter.
"I beg your pardon," the man said, grabbing hold of Larry to prevent them both from falling, so forceful had been the impact. "I was looking to see if my wife was watching for me. She generally looks out of the window to see me coming down the street, and then she puts the potatoes on."
"I guess I wasn't looking where I was going," said Larry, as he disengaged himself from the man's grip. "I was—why, hello, Mr. Jackson!" he exclaimed.
"What! Why, bless my soul if it isn't Larry Dexter!" and the man held out his hand. "Why, I haven't seen you in a long time. How's your mother and the children?"
"Fine. How's Mrs. Jackson?"
"She's well. There she is looking out of the window, wondering why I don't come home to supper. You must come in and see her. Come, and stay to supper."
The man Larry had thus unexpectedly met was the one in whose flat Mrs. Dexter and the children had stayed the first night they had come to New York, and found that the sister of Larry's mother, with whom they expected to remain, had suddenly moved away. The Dexter family, sad and discouraged at the loss of their farm, would have fared badly on their arrival in the big city had not Mrs. Jackson and her husband befriended them.
While Larry was getting a start in the newspaper work the Dexter family had lived in the same tenement with the Jacksons, and they had become firm friends. Larry and his mother since then had moved to other quarters, and had, for some time back, lost trace of their acquaintances.
"I didn't know you lived here," said Larry when he had recovered somewhat from his surprise at seeing Mr. Jackson.
"We haven't lived here long. I got a better position in this part of the city, and as I like to be near my work I moved here. We like it quite well, but it's rather crowded. However, almost any place is in New York. But you must come in to supper. Mrs. Jackson will be anxious to hear all about your folks. I can see her making signs to me to hurry up. I suppose the potatoes are all cooked and the tea made."
Larry did not require much urging to accept the kind invitation. He wanted to see his friends again, and he thought they might be able to give him some information concerning the people of the neighborhood.
"Because it's the best place in the world to hide in. If I wanted to drop out of sight I'd go about two blocks away from here and keep quiet. No one would ever think of looking for me so near my home."
"I hope you don't contemplate anything like that," said Larry with a laugh.
"No, indeed. But New York is the best hiding place, and you can depend on it, Mr. Potter is here."
"You haven't seen him in the neighborhood, have you?" asked the reporter, glad of the opportunity which gave him a chance for that question.
"No, I can't say that I have. If they'd offer a reward I might take time to hunt for him," and Mr. Jackson laughed. "I can't afford to turn detective as it is now," he added. "It's too hard to get a living."
Larry spent the evening with his friends, keeping the talk as much as possible, without exciting suspicion, on the Potter case. In this way he learned considerable about the persons living in the immediate vicinity of the Jacksons, for Mrs. Jackson was fond of making new acquaintances.
But in all this there was no clue such as Larry sought. There were any number of men, concerning whom there seemed to be some mystery, but none answered the description of Mr. Potter.
"There are a queer lot of people in this tenement," said Mr. Jackson, during the course of the talking. "All of 'em have some story hidden away, I guess. Especially one man."
"Who is he?"
"Nobody knows," replied Mr. Jackson. "He came here one night, and seemed quite excited. Let's see, it was Thursday night, I remember now. He acted as though he was afraid some one was after him."
"Thursday night," thought Larry. "That was the night the man got away from the deserted tenement."
"My wife and I were sitting here," continued Mr. Jackson, "when all at once a knock sounded on the door. I opened it, and there was this man. He asked if I had any rooms to rent. I hadn't, but I told him I had a spare bed, for I saw he was respectable. He seemed glad to get it, and paid me well, though I didn't want to take the money. But he seemed to have plenty."
"What was queer about him?" asked Larry, beginning to take an unusual interest in what his friend was saying.