Chapter IX. A Loss of Importance
 

Half stunned Dick lay for a long time on the newspapers and musty straw in the disused coal bin of the tenement cellar.

"This is what I call tough luck," he muttered to himself, and tried to force the somewhat loose gag from his mouth. But it would not come.

As soon as he felt strong enough he began to work on the rope which bound his hands together. But the rascals who had placed him in the cellar had done their work well, and the cord refused to budge.

With difficulty he managed to stand erect. The bin was not only pitch-dark, but full of cobwebs and the latter brushed over his face whenever he moved. Then a spider crawled on his neck, greatly adding to his discomfort.

Hour after hour went by, and poor Dick was wondering what the end of the adventure would be when he heard a footstep overhead and then came the indistinct murmur of voice.

"Somebody is in the room overhead," he thought, and tried to make himself heard. But before he could do this the footsteps moved off and he heard the slamming of a door. Then all became as quiet as before.

An hour more went by, and the youth began to grow desperate. He was thirsty and his mouth and nose were filled with dust and dirt, rendering him far from comfortable.

In moving around his foot came in contact with an empty tomato can and this gave him an idea. He knelt down, and with the can between his heels, tried to saw apart the rope which bound his hands behind him.

The position was an awkward one and the job long and tiring, but at last the rope gave way and he found his hands free. He lost no further time in ridding himself of the gag and the rope which bound his feet.

He was now free so far as his bodily movements went, but he soon discovered that the coal bin was without any opening but a long, narrow Chute covered with an iron plate, and that the heavy door was securely bolted. With all force he threw himself against the door, but it refused to budge.

Presently he remembered that he had several loose matches in his vest pocket, and, taking out one of these, he lit it and then set fire to a thick shaving that was handy and which, being damp, burnt slowly.

"Hullo, here's something of a trap-door!" he exclaimed, as he gazed at the flooring above head. "I wonder if I can get out that way?"

He dropped the lighted shaving in a safe spot and put up his hands. The cut-out spot in the flooring went up with ease and Dick saw a fairly well furnished room beyond. Through one of the windows of the room he saw that daybreak was at hand.

"Great Caesar! I've been down here all night!" he ejaculated, and, putting out the light, leaped up and drew himself through the opening. Once in the room he put the trap down again and rearranged the rag carpet he had shoved out of place.

The door to the room was locked, so the boy hurried to the window. Throwing open the blinds, he was about to leap out into the tenement alley when a woman suddenly confronted him. She was tall and heavy and had a red, disagreeable face.

"What are you doing in my rooms, young fellow?" she demanded.

"I'm trying to get out of this house!"

"What are you -- a thief?"

"No. I was locked up in the cellar by a couple of bad men and got out by coming through a trapdoor in your floor."

"A likely story!" sneered the woman, who had been away during the night and had heard nothing of the search for Dick. "You look like a sneak-thief. Anyway, you haven't any right in my rooms."

She came closer, and, as Dick leaped to the ground, clutched him by the arm.

"Let me go, madam."

"I won't. I'm going to hand you over to the police."

"I don't think you will!" retorted Dick, and with a twist he wrenched himself loose and started off on a run. The woman attempted to follow him, but soon gave up the chase.

Dick did not stop running until he was several blocks away. Then he dropped into a walk and looked about to see, if his brothers or Frank were anywhere in sight.

"I suppose they couldn't make it out and went home," he mused. "I had, better get to Frank's house without delay."

Dick was still a block away from Senator Harrington's residence when he espied Tom, Sam, and Frank coming toward him.

"My gracious, where have you been?" burst out Tom, as he rushed forward. "You look as if you'd been rolling around a dirty cellar."

"And that is just about what I have been doing," answered Dick with a sickly laugh. "Do you know anything of Buddy Girk?" he added quickly.

"He ran away from the tenement, and Arnold Baxter was with him," replied Sam.

"Did you follow them?"

"No; we tried to find out what had become of you."

Each had to tell his story, and then Dick was led into the house. He lost no time in brushing up and washing himself, and by that time breakfast was ready in the dining room.

"It's a curious adventure, truly," said Senator Harrington, as he sat down with the boys. "I am glad you got out of it so well. The next time you see anything of those rascals you had better lose no time in informing the police."

The senator was one of that class of busy men who eat breakfast and read their morning newspaper at the same time. Having listened to what Dick had to say, he unfolded his paper and propped it up against a fruit dish before him.

"Excuse me, but I am in a hurry," he remarked apologetically. "I want to catch a train for New York at eight-thirty-five, and -- hullo, what's this! Rush & Wilder, Brokers and Bankers, Robbed! Thieves enter the office and loot the safe! This is news certainly."

"Rush & Wilder!" cried Frank. "Is that the firm you do business with?"

"Yes, Frank. They have lost over sixty-five thousand dollars, besides a lot of unregistered bonds. That's a big loss."

"Will you suffer?"

"I don't know but what I shall. I'll have to let that trip to New York go and look into this." And Senator Harrington settled back to read the account of the robbery in full.

"They haven't any trace of the thieves, have they?" asked Tom.

"No. It says a rear window was broken open and the iron bars unscrewed. The safe door was found closed but unlocked."

"Then the thieves had the combination," put in Sam.

"More than likely."

"I wonder if Baxter and Girk committed that crime?" came from Dick. "I think they would be equal to it. They were up to some game."

"It might be," returned Senator Harrington, with interest. "But how would those men obtain the combination of Rush & Wilder's safe?"

"I'm sure I don't know, but -- yes, they mentioned a man named Mooney who was to assist them. Perhaps he is known around the bankers' offices."

"We can soon find out. What were you boys going to do this morning?"

"I was going back to the tenements to see if I couldn't have Baxter and Girk arrested," said Dick.

"If they learn you have escaped, they will probably clear out."

"I suppose that's so. But I might go down and see."

"Yes, I'd do that. Later on you can come over to Rush & Wilder's offices."

This was agreed to, and as soon as breakfast was over Dick and the other boys hurried off to where Yates' tenements were located.

Caleb Yates was on hand, and all visited the apartment Baxter and Buddy Girk had occupied. It was found that the men had not returned, and it did not look as if they intended to come back.

"They have skipped for good, take my word on it," muttered Tom, and the others agreed with him.

Thinking it would be useless to remain around the alleyway any longer, the four boys left the vicinity, and, boarding a street car, made their way to the thoroughfare upon which were located the offices of the bankers and brokers who had been robbed.

A crowd was collected about the place and two policemen were keeping those outside in check.

"I want my money!" one old man was shouting. "This is a game of Charley Rush to do us out of our cash. I don't believe the office was robbed at all."

"You keep quiet, or I'll run you in," replied, one of the policemen, and the old man lost no time in slinking out of sight.

"Can we go in?" asked Frank, and told who he was.

"I'll send in word and see," answered the policeman at the door.

"Oh, Frank!" came from the main office, and Senator Harrington beckoned to his son; and all four of the boys went in.

They found half a dozen men present, including the members of the firm, a detective, and the bookkeeper, a young man named Fredericks.

"You are the only one who had the combination besides ourselves, Fredericks," Charles Rush was saying to the bookkeeper. "I hate to suspect you, but -"

"Mr. Rush, you can't think I took that money and those securities!" gasped the bookkeeper, and fell back as if about to faint.

"I don't know what to think."

"I can give you my word I was not near the offices from four o'clock yesterday afternoon until I came this morning, after you."

"Have you spoken of the safe combination to anybody?"

"No, sir."

"Did you put the combination down in writing?" asked Mr. Wilder.

"No, I never did anything of that sort. The combination was an unusually easy one, as you know."

"Yes, far too easy for our good," groaned Mr. Rush. Then he gazed at the four boys curiously.

"What brought you here?" he asked.

"We thought we might know something of this affair," said Dick, and told his story.

"There may be something in that," said the detective. "Especially if those men fail to turn up at that tenement again."

"Did you mention a man named Mooney?" cried Fredericks.

"I did."

"Do you know this Mooney?" put in Mr. Wilder to the bookkeeper.

"Subrug, the janitor, has a brother-in-law named Mooney -- a wild kind of a chap who used to hang around more or less."

"We'll call Subrug in and find out where this Mooney is now," said Charles Rush.

The janitor proved to be a very nervous old man. "I don't know where Mooney is," he said. "He's been a constant worry to me. He used to borrow money, but lately I wouldn't give him any more, and so he stopped coming around."

"Was he ever in here?"

The janitor thought for a moment. "I think he was, sir -- about a month ago. He started to help me clean the windows, but he was too clumsy and I made him give it up."

"I remember him!" cried the bookkeeper. "He was at the window, Mr. Rush, while you were at the safe. He must have watched you work the combination."