While visiting the United States, the wife of young British aristocrat Lord Waldmere goes missing in New York City under mysterious circumstances. He tell his story to Nick Carter, and Nick accepts the case.
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Table of Contents
THE PRESSING PERIL
Copyright © 2022 by Wildside Press LLC.
Originally published in Nick Carter Stories (1915).
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.
The Pressing Peril (originally published May 8, 1915 as the lead novel in Nick Carter Stories) has been lightly edited to modernize language and punctuation.
Cabin John, Maryland
Or, NICK CARTER AND THE STAR LOOTERS.
THE WOMAN WHO VANISHED
“Oh, I say, old top!”
Nick Carter stopped short and looked at the speaker. There was no mistaking his nationality. He was English to the bone. English in aspect, attitude, attire, and accent. English of the most pronounced and impressive type—but impressive upon as keen and thoroughbred an American observer as the famous New York detective chiefly because of the insipid and mildly obtrusive aristocracy that stuck out all over him.
He was tall and slender. He wore a suit of pronounced plaid. He was about twenty-three years old, with yellow hair and the fair skin of a straight-bred Anglo-Saxon. He wore a monocle with a cord dangling from it, and through which one watery blue eye glared larger and brighter than the other.
He had been hurrying up Fifth Avenue for about five minutes in a sort of subdued and desperate agitation, threading his way quite rudely through the stream of pedestrians always in that fashionable thoroughfare shortly before six on a pleasant October afternoon, and he incidentally had overtaken Nick Carter near the corner of Fifty-ninth Street.
He did not accost the detective because he knew him, or had the slightest idea of his vocation. It was purely by chance that he had appealed to the man he most needed. He obeyed a sudden, irrepressible impulse, that of one who scarce knew what else to do, when he grasped Nick’s arm and stopped him, exclaiming apologetically:
“Oh, I say, old top!”
Nick sized him up with a glance. He saw more than others would have seen, that this stranger not only was deeply disturbed, but also in doubt what course to pursue. Nick merely said, nevertheless, tentatively:
The other responded with a forward thrust of his head, a more appealing scrutiny, and with native accent and characteristics that no attempt will be made to even suggest on paper.
“You’ll pardon a chap, old top, won’t you? I’m in a bally bad mess, so I am, and jolly well upset. Would you tell me where I could find an inspector—what your blooming people call a detective? I don’t want any gumshoe bobbie, don’t you know, but a ripping roarer who knows his beastly business and can keep his mouth closed. You see, old top—”
“What’s the trouble, young man?” Nick interposed. “I may be able to aid you, or advise you. I am a detective—what your blooming English people call an inspector.”
The subtle retort in the last was wasted upon his hearer. He gazed more sharply at Nick through his monocle, nevertheless, saying quickly:
“That’s blasted lucky, then, don’t you know? I can’t account for it, ’pon my word, this running bunk against a man I wanted. What name, sir, may I ask?”
“My name is Nick Carter,” replied the detective indifferently. “But what—”
“There it is again!” exclaimed the Englishman, interrupting with countenance lighting. “This is a blooming, blasted good wheeze. I’ve heard of you, sir. You’re bally well known by name even in old Lunnon. I’m deuced well pleased, Mr. Carter, so I am.”
He seemed to have temporarily forgotten his trouble, in his surprise and pleasure upon discovering the detective’s identity. He even smiled and extended his hand, which was accepted and shaken in a perfunctory way.
Nick saw plainly, in fact, that the young man really was instinctively very frank and genuine, and that under his somewhat insipid and superficial personality he was possessed of true manly sentiments and probably some depth of character.
That he was a well-bred gentleman was equally manifest, moreover, and Nick was impelled to assist him, if possible. He brought him to the point at once, nevertheless, by replying:
“Granting all that, young man, what is your trouble? Why do you need a detective?”
“Because I’m blasted hard hit, don’t you know?” he replied, serious again. “I’ve been jolly well robbed.”
“Robbed of what?”
“My wife, sir.”
“Robbed of your wife?” questioned Nick, surprised and almost inclined to laugh.
“That’s the blooming truth, Mr. Carter, or how it looks to me. I’m as hard hit as if I’d got a jolly bash on the beak. She’s a bally American girl, is Mollie, and—”
“Stop a moment,” Nick interrupted again. “My time is valuable. I cannot listen to your digressions. Answer my questions briefly and to the point. I then may be able to aid you, if there is any real occasion.”
“That’s deuced kind, old top, on my word. If—”
“When did you lose your wife, and where?” Nick cut in a bit sharply.
“I didn’t lose her. She was jolly well stolen; I’m sure of that.”
“Where and when? By whom?”
“Blast it, how can I tell?” protested the Englishman, with wagging head. “We were walking down the avenue, Mollie and I, don’t you know? A limousine shot by us, heading uptown. I heard it come to a blooming quick stop. A chauffeur came running back, a bally bounder in bottle-green livery. He tipped his lid, respectfullike, and said as how his fare had caught sight of Mollie when passing us and wanted to speak to her.”
“His fare, eh? He was the driver of a taxicab, then?” put in Nick inquiringly.
“I reckon that’s right, sir, but I won’t be cock-sure.”
“What more did he say?”
“Mollie asked the name of his fare, but he could not tell her. He said she had sent him to say a friend wanted to speak to her.”
“His passenger was a woman, then?”
“I’m jolly well sure of that. I saw her hat and veil through the window.”
“The taxicab must, then, have stopped quite near you,” said Nick.
“A matter of thirty yards, sir, not more.”
“Your wife went to see who was in the conveyance?”
“That’s precisely what she did,” nodded the Englishman. “Wait here, Archie, she said, and I’ll return in a moment. I was jolly well surprised, don’t you know, but what else could I do?”
“Nothing at all, perhaps.”
“I always do what Mollie says. She hurried to the taxicab and stuck her head through the door. She shook hands with some one, too, as well as I could tell. Then the bally chauffeur shoved her into the car, or so it looked to me, and bounded to his seat and drove away at top speed. Dash it, what d’ye think of that?”
“What did you think of it?” Nick inquired.
“I was so beastly hard hit I couldn’t think,” cried the Englishman. “I chased after the bally cab as fast as possible, hoping it would stop and let Mollie down, but it sped out of sight into the park, and here I am. I’m deuced well convinced there’s something wrong. Mollie wouldn’t bolt off in that fashion. She’s above serving me a scurvy trick. She—”
“One moment,” Nick again interposed. “You feel quite sure, you say, that you saw the chauffeur force your wife into the cab?”
“It looked jolly well like it, Mr. Carter.”
“Did you hear her speak, or utter a cry?”
“I did not, sir.”
“Were there other persons near the taxicab at the time?”
“None nearer than I, sir, nor quite as near. I ran after it as fast as I could. I felt cock-sure, even then, it was a beastly job of some kind.”
“Do you know of any reason for which your wife might be abducted?” Nick asked, more gravely.
“No, no reason at all, Mr. Carter. There can’t be any reason.”
“And you know of no person who might have designs upon her?”
“I do not,” said the Englishman, with a groan at the mere suggestion. “What designs could one have? Mollie is my wife. She thinks the world of me. She’s true-blue and deucedly clever and self-reliant. She—”
“Wait!” said Nick, checking him again. “You are English, I judge.”
“Yes, of course.”
“And your wife is an American girl?”
“She is, sir, and none better.”
“Do you reside here in the city?”
“We are here only for a time. We are boarding in Fifty-third Street, near the avenue.”
“Let’s walk that way,” said Nick. “It’s barely possible that your wife will have been dropped at the boarding house before we reach it. How long before you appealed to me did this incident occur?”
“Not more than three or four minutes. We were about three blocks below here.”
Nick remembered having seen a taxicab speeding up the avenue noticeably faster than usual at about that time. He had not observed it particularly, however, nor could he recall anything distinctive about it.
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