While trailing a suspect, Nick witnesses a woman being stabbed, which propels him into a new case involving Doc Helstone’s ruthless gang—and stolen diamonds.
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Table of Contents
FOLLOWING A CHANCE CLUE, by Nicholas Carter
Copyright © 2022 by Wildside Press LLC.
Originally published in 1899.
The text and punctuation has been lightly modernized for this reprint edition.
Published by Wildside Press LLC.
wildsidepress.com | bcmystery.com
Nick Carter is a fictional character who began as a detective series character in 1886 and has appeared in a variety of formats over more than a century. He first appeared in the story paper New York Weekly (Vol. 41 No. 46, September 18, 1886) in a 13-week serial, The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square.
The character was conceived by Ormond G. Smith, the son of one of the founders of Street & Smith, and realized by John R. Coryell. The character proved popular enough to headline its own magazine, Nick Carter Weekly. The serialized stories in Nick Carter Weekly were also reprinted as stand-alone titles under the New Magnet Library imprint.
By 1915, Nick Carter Weekly had ceased publication and Street & Smith had replaced it with Detective Story Magazine, which focused on a more varied cast of characters. There was a brief attempt at reviving Carter in 1924–27 in Detective Story Magazine, but it was not successful.
In the 1930s, due to the success of The Shadow and Doc Savage, Street & Smith revived Nick Carter in a pulp magazine (called Nick Carter Detective Magazine) that ran from 1933 to 1936. Since the Doc Savage character had basically been given Nick’s background, Nick Carter was now recast as a hard-boiled detective. Novels featuring Carter continued to appear through the 1950s, by which time there was also a popular radio show, Nick Carter, Master Detective, which aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System network from 1943 to 1955.
Following a Chance Clue (originally published 1899 as the lead novel in Nick Carter Weekly) has been lightly edited to modernize language (such as changing “clew” to “clue”) and to modernize punctuation where necessary
Cabin John, Maryland
Or, Nick Carter’s Lucky Find
ON A SEPTEMBER NIGHT
Nick Carter read the sign over the jeweler’s store on Eighth Avenue and stopped to glance critically at the place. He noticed that the “regulator” indicated midnight.
His thoughts flew back to another midnight earlier in the week, when Lusker’s store had been cleaned out by burglars. The robbery had been charged to a mysterious crook known as Doc Helstone, who was supposed to be the leader of a clever gang of lawbreakers. Nick had been asked to break up this gang, which had baffled some of the best men of Inspector McLaughlin’s staff. A proposition had been made to him that day, and he had promised an answer on the morrow.
Probably he would have decided to refuse the job, for he had a lot of work on hand; but, as he strolled up the avenue on that September night, an adventure was waiting for him which was to alter his purpose, and set him upon the track of a remarkable scoundrel.
Lusker’s place was nearly in the middle of a block. As Nick turned his eyes away from the window, he noticed, on the street corner beyond, a group of about a dozen men and women. There was nothing unusual about them except that they were all looking one way. Their attention had evidently been strongly attracted by something which was taking place on the side street, to the westward.
Suddenly they all hurried in that direction. Other persons, attracted by this movement, joined in it.
All whom Nick could see were hastening toward this center of interest—all, except one man, who was walking the other way.
This man came out of the street wherein the crowd was gathering, and turned up the avenue. Nick saw him for only a moment, and at a considerable distance, but he remembered him.
When Nick came to the street corner, he saw, about forty yards from the avenue, a considerable crowd, upon the downtown side. He quickly made his way to the midst of it.
There he saw a young man kneeling on the sidewalk, and supporting upon his arm the head of a woman. The man seemed considerably agitated. The woman’s face, indistinct in the dim light, was white and rigid.
“Do you know this woman?” asked Nick, quickly, of the young man, after he had cast a single glance upon the unconscious figure.
“No; I never saw her before.”
“Do you know a tall man with a light brown beard parted in the middle, a dark suit of—”
“Why, that’s the man who has gone to ring for an ambulance,” was the reply. “This lady was with him when she was taken sick.”
Nick did not wait to hear any more. He slipped through the crowd like an eel and darted away. He was on the track of the man whom he had seen walking away from the spot to which everybody else was hurrying.
The avenue was brightly lighted, but the man was not in sight. By rapid, clever work, Nick traced him to Forty-first Street, where he had entered a carriage. A hackman, who had seen this, did not remember ever to have seen the carriage or the driver or the passenger before.
“Was the man looking about for a carriage when you first saw him?” asked Nick.
“No; he knew where to find one,” was the reply.
“Did he give any directions to the driver?”
“He held up his hand in an odd sort of way, and the driver nodded. Nothing was said.”
Evidently the carriage had been waiting, and the coachman and the passenger knew each other well. They would be harder to trace on that account.
For the moment Nick gave up the chase.
He returned to the crowd around the unconscious woman. She still lay where Nick had last seen her. A policeman had come and had rung for an ambulance.
The young man who had been supporting the woman’s head had relinquished his burden, and just as Nick came up, he was edging away through the crowd. He seemed to desire to escape further observation.
Nick touched him on the arm, and the young man faced about.
“Don’t try to get away,” said the detective. “You won’t help matters by that.”
“Why shouldn’t I go away?”
“Because,” said Nick, calmly, “you will direct suspicion toward yourself.”
“Suspicion! Suspicion of what?”
“Murder!” replied the detective, in a low, steady voice.
This sinister word produced a tremendous effect upon the young man. But he came out of it in a way which showed he had plenty of nerve.
Nick had drawn him into a doorway, and the two were almost unobserved.
“Look here,” said the young man, “I’m no fool, and I begin to see that something is wrong here. But when it comes to murder, I don’t believe you’re right. That lady isn’t very sick.”
“She isn’t sick at all,” said Nick; “she’s wounded.”
“Yes. I saw at a glance that she was suffering from a blow with a sharp-pointed instrument. She has been stabbed, probably, with a stiletto.”
“Then it was that man—”
“Either that man or yourself,” said Nick, interrupting.
“But I swear by all that I hold sacred that I never set eyes on the woman before this evening. I was passing along the street when I saw her ahead of me. The man whom I described to you had just overtaken her, and they were talking. At that moment a drunken man pushed violently against me. I looked around. He lurched away.
“Then I turned toward Eighth Avenue again, and at that moment I saw the woman fall into the man’s arms with a low cry. I didn’t see him stab her, and I didn’t see any weapon. I ran up to offer assistance, and he said: ‘This lady is ill. Take her for a moment while I summon assistance. I will ring for an ambulance. It will be the quickest way to get a doctor.’
“I took the woman out of his arms because I couldn’t let her fall on the sidewalk. He hurried away. You know the rest. Now, then, I maintain that you have no right to detain me. I’m going home.”
“Do you suppose that you could do so, even if I consented? I tell you that a detective has his eye on you at this moment, though you do not see him. Do you think that policeman would have been stupid enough to let you get away if he hadn’t known that somebody was on hand to look out for you?”
“And who are you?”
“I’m a man who may believe in your innocence and help you to prove it, if your conduct justifies it.”
The young man looked at Nick as if he meditated making a break for liberty, but something in the detective’s glance restrained him. The stronger mind prevailed.
“What would you advise me to do?” he asked.
“Go back and stand near the policeman,” said Nick. “Be on hand when the ambulance surgeon makes his examination. You will be taken to the police station. When you get there, tell your story as you’ve told it to me. If there’s anything else, save it till you see me again. What is your name?”
“Austin L. Reeves. I live at ninety-two West Thirty-ninth Street.”
“Very well. Here comes the ambulance.”
Though fully twenty minutes had elapsed since the woman had received the injury, her condition had not changed in the least. Nick had felt certain that the night was so warm that no harm would result from her remaining outdoors. Otherwise, he would have taken her to a drug store or into one of the houses.
The others, expecting the ambulance every minute, and failing to perceive the real nature of the woman’s trouble, had not thought of doing anything.
When the ambulance surgeon bent over her, he saw at once that she was suffering from a serious stab wound. Not a drop of blood was visible, which showed that the weapon used must have been as fine as a needle.
The surgeon whispered a word in the ear of the policeman, who instantly whistled for assistance. Then, by Nick’s order, he placed young Reeves under arrest, and took him to the station house.
The other officer who had responded to the whistle, tried to secure witnesses. He could find nobody.
Nick, a thousand times more skillful, had been engaged in that search for some minutes, but when the ambulance rolled away with the wounded woman in it, he had not succeeded in finding a single person who could throw any light upon the matter. Apparently nobody but Reeves had seen the woman pass along the street, or had noticed the man who overtook her.
To be sure, there was the drunken man of whom Reeves had spoken, but, accepting Reeves’ story as true, the supposed drunkard was doubtless a pal of the murderer, and was there to distract the attention of any person who might be likely to interfere.
The blinder the case the more anxious Nick was to follow it up. He saw in it one of the most fascinating murder mysteries which he had ever encountered.
It was probable that at the hospital something would be learned which would be of value, but Nick could not wait for it. There is nothing like following a trail when it is warm, and so Nick stuck to the ground.
After about an hour’s hard work, his efforts were rewarded. By this time the rumor that the case was a murder had begun to spread in the precinct.
The local detectives were out on it, and they dropped a word here and there which was taken up and borne along.
In the course of Nick’s search he worked along the cross-town street toward Ninth Avenue, finding out what every person knew.
At last, just in the doorway of one of the large apartment houses he found a man and woman talking about the case. Both of them were known to the police. The man was a hardened young rascal, not long out of the penitentiary. The woman was known as “Crazy Mag,” though she was not really insane. She was somewhat intoxicated, and was talking loudly. Nick entered the hall and pretended to be looking for a name on the bell rack.
“Shut up, Mag,” he heard the young tough whisper. “You’ll get yourself into trouble.”
“What’s the matter with you?” she exclaimed, roughly. “I saw the woman come out of No. 349. Why shouldn’t I say so?”
“I’ll tell you why,” said her companion. “Because that woman was put out of the way by Doc Helstone’s gang, and if you talk too much, you’ll follow her.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised if you were right,” said Nick to himself. “At any rate, this clue settles one thing—I take the contract to trap Doc Helstone’s gang.”
A NOVEL TIMEKEEPER
It was about four o’clock in the morning when Nick and the New York chief of police sat down together in the latter’s house to discuss the events of the night. What had happened in the meantime the reader will hear in Nick’s own words.
He had rapidly described the events with which the reader is familiar and had come to the scene in the hall.
“I went directly to No. 349,” Nick proceeded, “and there I found evidence which convinced me that Helstone’s gang had made the house its headquarters. I got no information from the people in the house. They only knew that a ‘club’ of some kind had hired one of the upper apartments. Of course it was empty. The gang had taken the alarm. But I saw the work of Helstone’s carpenter.
“You remember that when the central office men arrived just too late at Helstone’s place on East Tenth Street, they found the rooms full of concealed panels and secret cupboards—the cleverest things of the kind that had ever been seen in New York. Well, there was the same work over here, but the rooms were entirely deserted. The gang had got away. The last man hadn’t been gone an hour.”
“Can that be proved?”
“I could swear to it,” said Nick, smiling. “There is running water in one of the rooms. Under the faucet was a pewter drinking cup. The faucet leaked. The cup was very nearly full. The dropping water filled this little bottle in one minute and ten seconds. The bottle holds the hundredth part of a pint. The cup holds half a pint. Therefore, the leaking water would fill it in fifty-eight seconds. So somebody set that cup under the faucet less than an hour before I arrived.”
“Upon my word, Nick,” said the chief, “you can make a clock out of anything.”
“Dropping water is a first-rate timepiece,” Nick replied. “That’s why I had this bottle made.”
“Except the joiner work, was there anything in the rooms to show that Helstone had occupied them?”
“No, but it’s pretty well known in the district now. That’s the peculiar thing about Helstone. He always knows just when to flit. Before he goes, nobody knows anything about him. Ten minutes later, everybody knows.”
“But nobody has ever seen Helstone himself.”
“No; the inspector has got descriptions of some of his men, but there is no description of Helstone. He’s really only a rumor, a mysterious influence guiding the movements of those ruffians.”
“Well,” said the chief, after a pause, “what did you do next?”
“I went to the hospital.”
“Is the woman dead?”
“She lies unconscious, but will probably recover. Her clothing bears no marks by which she can be identified. She may prove to be a mystery.”
“How was she dressed?”
“A rather ordinary gray dress, with a simple hat to match. Her underclothing was unusually fine.”
“In the nature of a disguise,” said the superintendent. “A rich woman who wished to seem poor.”
“Perhaps; but here’s the great point which makes the case extraordinary and seems to connect the woman with Helstone. In a pocket of her dress were five loose diamonds. Four of them were ordinary stones worth about four hundred dollars apiece. The fifth was a splendid gem of the first water. It is worth over five thousand dollars.”
“Looks as if she was a member of the gang, and was trying to get away with some of the plunder.”
“It certainly has that appearance.”
“What did you do with the jewels?” asked the chief, after a pause.
“I sent them to headquarters, and furnished a description of them to the papers. Probably the last editions of some of them will have the description.”
The chief nodded.
“Yes,” he said, “we want the stones identified as soon as possible.”
“And also the woman,” Nick added.
“What is her description?”
“Age thirty, medium height, weighs about one hundred and thirty pounds, hazel eyes, very abundant hair, of a peculiar bronze hue; regular features, and, in general, unusual personal beauty. There are no distinguishing marks.”
“Looks like a refined woman?”
“Where is the wound?”
“In the back. The dagger did not touch the heart, but it grazed the spine, and there are signs that paralysis will follow, ending, of course, in death.”
“You’ve decided to take charge of the case, Nick?”
“Good. You have informed Inspector McLaughlin?”
“There’s nothing that I can do.”
“I think not, thank you.”
“Then I’ll get back to bed. Good luck to you, Nick. Helstone is game worthy of your skill, but you’ll bag him.”
At nine o’clock on that morning Nick was in Inspector McLaughlin’s office.
He held in his hand the five diamonds which had been taken from the wounded woman’s pocket.
“These four stones,” said the inspector, “will be hard to identify. The big one should find its rightful owner easily.”
He had no sooner spoken the words than Nathan Lusker was announced. He came to see whether the diamonds were a part of his stolen stock.
Lusker failed to identify them. His description did not fit the large jewel at all. This stone was cut in a peculiar manner, so that its owner should be able to describe it in a way to settle all doubt.
When Lusker had departed, an East Side jeweler called. He had no better fortune. The stones were evidently not his.
Then a card was brought in by an officer.
“Morton H. Parks,” the inspector read. “He’s not a jeweler. Bring him in.”
Mr. Parks entered immediately. He was a fine-looking man of middle age, with the face of a scholar.
He wore neither beard nor mustache.
“I called to examine some jewels,” he said. “They were, I understand, found last night in the possession of an unfortunate woman—a thief—who was stabbed by some of her accomplices.”
“Well, as to that I wouldn’t speak positively,” said the inspector, “but we have five diamonds here, and I don’t doubt that they were stolen.”
“I have reason to think,” replied Mr. Parks, “that the larger of them was stolen from my residence.”
He proceeded at once to describe the stone, and he had not spoken a dozen words before the inspector was convinced that the owner of the diamonds had appeared.
One of the smaller stones he also described very closely, and he expressed the opinion that all of them were his.
“They were stolen on the night of August 3d,” said he. “A burglar took the entire contents of my wife’s jewel casket.”
“What else did he take?” asked Nick.
Mr. Parks seemed to be much embarrassed.
“Nothing else,” he replied, at last, “except some money which was in my pocketbook.”
“What was your total loss?”
“In excess of thirty thousand dollars.”
“Why did you not report your loss to the police?”
The visitor tried to speak, but his voice stuck in his throat. He seemed to be suffering great mental distress.
“Was it because you suspected some member of your family?”
Mr. Parks bowed his head in assent. Then, with an effort, he recovered his self-command.
“I am ashamed to confess,” he said, “that I did at first suspect my nephew, who lived with us. It is dreadful to think of it, but circumstances pointed to him. I am rejoiced to find that I was wholly wrong, and that the robbery was done by an organized gang of burglars.”
“Your identification of the large diamond,” said the inspector, “satisfies me that you are the owner. Yet, on account of its value in money, and its value to us as a clue, I wish to be doubly certain. Is there any way you can strengthen the identification?”
“Yes, indeed,” replied Parks, “my wife knows the stones as well as I. You see, the large diamond was the pendant of a necklace. The smaller ones, I believe, were in rings belonging to her, though, of course, I cannot be sure now that the settings have been removed.”
“Is Mrs. Parks at home?”
“No; she is in Stamford, Connecticut. She went there yesterday morning upon a visit. I have telegraphed her to return.”
“Have you received any answer?” asked Nick.
“I did not expect any. She would certainly come.”
At this moment there was a knock at the door.
A telegram was brought in. It was addressed to Mr. Parks, and had reached his house after he left.
The butler, knowing where he had gone, had sent it after him.
He tore it open.
“From Stamford,” he said, and then his face grew white.
“Merciful Heaven!” he cried. “Gentlemen, my wife has not been to Stamford.”
“Have you her picture?” asked Nick.
For answer Parks drew out his watch and opened the back of the case with a trembling hand. He then held the picture it contained before Nick’s eyes.
“Mr. Parks,” said Nick, “tell me the truth. Was it your nephew whom you suspected of that robbery or—”
“My wife? Yes; may Heaven pity and forgive her! It was my wife.”
“Will you go to her?”
“Can it be true?”
“She lies in Bellevue Hospital, at the point of death.”
THE ONLY WITNESS
Mr. Parks seemed to be greatly agitated by this intelligence, and it was some time before he regained his self-command. Then Nick asked him how it happened he had had no suspicions on reading the description of the wounded woman in the morning papers.
“Read that,” he said, thrusting a paper into Nick’s hands. “Does that describe her?”
“It is all wrong,” said Nick.
“And that picture?”
“It is a pure fake. There has been no opportunity of getting a picture of her.”
“The description and the picture caught my eye before I read about the diamonds. Therefore I never thought of my previous suspicions of my wife, except to be thankful that they had been proved groundless.”
“Why did you suspect her at first?”
“In one word, because it seemed utterly impossible that anybody else should have done it. The theory of burglars would not hold water. One of my servants had been ill, and had been about the house with a light almost all night, and had seen nothing of robbers.”
“Did you tell the servants of your loss?”
“No; I questioned them without letting them know anything unusual had happened.”
“They have been the guilty ones.”
Parks shook his head.
“I watched them all. They were honest. Then I learned that my wife speculated in stocks. There are more women stock gamblers in New York than most people could be made to believe. She had wasted her private fortune, and had got all the money she could from me. Heaven knows that I did not begrudge it. I only asked for her confidence, but she would not give it to me.”
“How about the nephew?”
“Out of the question entirely. He was not in the house. He was in a sleeping car bound for Boston. I only mentioned him to you because I could think of no other way to avoid mentioning my wife. And now, gentlemen, do not detain me longer. I have recovered from the first shock of this dreadful news. I must go to her. Guilty or innocent, she is my wife, and I will protect and help her so long as she has need of me.”
All three went at once to Bellevue Hospital.
When they stood beside the motionless and deathlike figure, the grief of the husband was pitiful to see.
He knelt by the bed, and taking his wife’s hand gently in his, he kissed it.
The patient occupied a cot in the accident ward. Several other injured persons were there.
Parks turned to ask Nick whether his wife could be removed from the hospital, but Nick had vanished.
Inspector McLaughlin could not tell where he had gone.
“He seems to be directing everything,” said Parks, “and I wished to ask whether I might take my wife to my house.”
“The surgeon can answer you,” said the inspector, pointing to a white-bearded and venerable man, who at that moment approached the cot.
“Then the police will offer no objection?” said Parks.
Parks at once turned to the surgeon and besought permission to take his wife home at once.
“It is impossible,” said the surgeon.
“Because the patient could not endure the removal.”
“Is there any hope?”
“There is a faint hope.”
“Thank God for that.”
“In a few moments we shall make another examination of the wound. An operation may be necessary to remove a splinter of bone. After that she must be kept perfectly quiet.”
“Will you not allow me to see her?”
“We cannot prevent you, but it would endanger her life.”
Parks bowed his head.
“At least I can secure her a separate room,” he said.
“And I can send a nurse to assist the regular hospital attendants.”
“You will send for me if she becomes conscious?”
“Yes; and now I must ask you to withdraw. I think it much better that you should do so.”
Without making any protest against this decree, Parks again knelt beside his wife and kissed her. Then he slowly walked out of the ward.
The surgeon beckoned to a nurse. Then he and Inspector McLaughlin went into a small adjoining room.
“Why did you do that, Nick?” asked the inspector, when they were alone.
Nick was removing the disguise in which he had appeared as the surgeon.
“For two reasons,” he replied. “The first is that Mrs. Parks really ought not to be removed. But if Parks had been told so less firmly he might have insisted.
“My second reason for keeping her here is that while she will almost certainly die, she will, perhaps, have a few minutes of consciousness. We must know what she says.”
“That is true.”
“And Parks would naturally conceal it.”
“He would, since it would be a confession tending to degrade her.”
Nick said nothing.
“You can’t blame him for wanting to keep this affair quiet,” continued the inspector.
“It is only natural; but we must hear what she has to say if ever able to speak rationally. We must do it in common justice.”
“Justice to her?”
“No; to the young man whom we hold under arrest.”
“He ought easily to be able to clear himself, if he is innocent.”
“On the contrary, he will find it very hard.”
“Well, you know best, Nick. Of course I have not had a chance to study the case you have. What will be the difficulty?”
“Lack of witnesses.”
“That seems incredible.”
“It is true. By chance that scene upon the street seems to have been wholly unobserved.
“Reeves is found with this wounded woman in his arms. We have only his word to explain how he came by her. A coroner’s jury would certainly hold him.”
“What do you think?”
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