Chapter XIV. Dick Makes a Discovery
 

While the boys were discussing the situation one of the night clerks of the hotel arrived, having been summoned by the hallman. He listened with interest to what the lads had to tell.

"I'll set the house detective on this," he said. "We can't allow anybody to prowl around, trying to use false keys."

"We want to catch that man ourselves," said Dick. "We are going to set a watch for him. No more sleep for us to-night."

"I don't blame you," returned the clerk. "If you spot him, call up the office and we'll give you all the help you want."

The boys hurried into their clothing, and then, led by Dick, walked noiselessly through the various hallways of the big hotel in the direction where the oldest Rover boy had heard the door shut. But though they passed many doors, Dick could not determine which was the right one.

"Let us set a regular watch," suggested Tom "We can take turns. One can watch while the others sleep."

"All right, I'll watch first," answered Dick.

"Call me in an hour, Dick," returned Tom.

"And call me an hour after that-- if you want me," added Sam.

The hallway was long and but dimly lighted. At the end was a sofa, and after walking up and down several times, Dick sat down on this. The long journey from Valley Brook farm had made him sleepy, but he resolved to keep wide awake, in case the mysterious individual should again show himself.

"He's got to come out of his door some time, unless he tries to get away by a fire escape," thought the youth. "And I guess all the fire escapes on this side of the building are at the end of the hall. I hope I've got him trapped, whoever he is."

Half an hour went by and nothing unusual happened. Then Dick heard a distant elevator stop, and two men got off and came down the hallway. They stared rather curiously at the youth.

"What's the matter?" asked one, presently.

"Waiting for a friend," was the answer.

"Humph! rather late," remarked the man.

"Better say early, Jack," laughed the other. "It's ten after two."

"Is that so! Great Scott! Time we got to bed!" And the two men passed into a nearby room, locking the door after them.

After that came another period of silence, broken only by the sounds of the two men undressing. To keep himself awake Dick commenced to walk up and down the long hallway again.

"I guess I'll call Tom," he thought, at last, after more than an hour had passed. "I've got to get some sleep, or I won't be worth anything in the morning. And if I am to call on Messrs. Pelter, Japson & Company I want to have my wits about me."

He stepped around the corner of the hallway, in the direction where his own room was located. He did not know that a man with eager eyes was watching him,-- a man who stood on a chair in one of the rooms, peering through the transom light of the door.

"Gone at last-- I was afraid he would stay here all night!" muttered the man. "Now is my chance to get away. I didn't think they'd get here to-night. I should have gotten that key made sooner." And opening the door noiselessly, he came out into the hallway. He wore a thin overcoat and a slouch hat, and a heavy beard covered his face.

Dick hurried his steps and called Tom, and then went back to the other hallway, unwilling to leave it unguarded even for a few minutes. He was just in time to see somebody disappearing down a broad flight of stairs to the floor below.

"Hello! who's that?" he asked himself, and ran towards the stairs. When he arrived there he looked down, to see the man going down further, to the ground floor of the hotel.

"The same fellow, I'll bet all I'm worth!" cried Dick. "There is that heavy beard! He must have been watching for a chance to get away! What a chump I was to let him get out! I've got to stop him!" And he bounded down the stairs three steps at a time.

By the time Dick reached the next floor the man was in the lower corridor of the big hotel. Here, in spite of the hour, quite a few people were stirring-- coming in from late suppers after an evening at the play or opera. The man moved into the crowd and towards the main entrance on Broadway.

"Hi! Stop him! Stop that man!" cried the oldest Rover boy, as he, too, gained the lower corridor. But the man had already gotten out on Broadway. As Dick came out he saw the fellow run across the street to a distant corner and leap into a taxicab that was empty. The driver was on the seat and the turnout started rapidly away.

"You're not going to get away if I can help it," muttered Dick, desperately, and looked around for another taxicab. One stood halfway down the block, the driver taking a nap inside.

"Wake up!" exclaimed Dick, shaking the man. "See that taxi? I want to follow it! Don't let it get out of your sight, if you want your fare and a couple of dollars besides."

"I'm on!" answered the driver, and leaped into his seat, while Dick got into the cab. Away they started, in the full glare of the electric lights of Broadway.

The course was downtown, and the first taxicab made rapid progress. The man inside looked back and when he saw Dick following him, he spoke hurriedly to his driver. Then the cab turned swiftly into a side street, and, reaching Fifth Avenue, shot northward on that well-known thoroughfare.

"Can you catch that other taxi?" asked Dick, anxiously.

"I can try," was the grim answer. "He's going some, though!"

"Maybe they'll be held up at some cross street."

"Not this time in the morning," answered the driver, "They've got a straight road to the Park."

On and on went one taxicab after the other. Fifty-fifth Street was passed and still the first turnout kept well in the lead. But then a big furniture van appeared out of a side street and the cab ahead had to slow down.

"Now is your chance!" cried Dick. "Run up alongside of 'em!"

His driver did as requested. But then came a mix-up, as two more cabs appeared, and Dick's was caught between them. He looked ahead and saw the man with the heavy beard leap to the ground.

"Guess your man is going to run for the Park!" cried the taxicab driver. "Hold on-- I want my money first, young fellow!"

Dick had leaped to the ground, bent on catching the fleeing individual. He pulled some bills from his pocket.

"Here is five dollars-- wait for me!" he cried. "Or maybe you had better come along. That fellow is a criminal."

"I'll wait here," answered the taxicab driver. He did not wish to become mixed up in an affair which he did not understand.

The corner of Central Park at Fifty-seventh Street was already in sight. The bearded man ran swiftly across the broad plaza and the sidewalk. Then he darted along the side of the Park and on to the path leading to the menagerie. In a moment more the darkness of the place swallowed him up.

"Hey there, what are you running for?" It was a challenge from a Park policeman, as he stepped in front of Dick.

"I wanted to catch that man who just ran in here," explained the youth.

"I didn't see any man."

"Well, he went in here just now. He ran away from the Outlook Hotel in a taxi and got out just below here."

"Who is he?" asked the policeman, becoming interested.

"I don't know. But he tried to get in my room at the hotel. The hotel men want to catch him."

"Humph! Well he's gone now."

Dick continued to look around for the escaped man, but it was all to no purpose. Then he returned to where he had left the taxicab. He found his driver in earnest conversation with the other driver.

"That fellow didn't pay me a cent!" complained the other driver, bitterly. "An' after me doing my best for him, too!"

"Why did you try to run away?" asked Dick, coldly.

"I thought it was all right. He said he had a 'phone message that his father was dying and he must git up town at once, and he promised me big pay. I didn't know he was trying to git away from anybody."

"Well, it's too bad he got away from all of us. By the way, can you describe him to me?" went on Dick, curiously.

"Don't you know him?"

"Only by reputation-- and that's bad," and Dick smiled grimly.

"He was tall and thin and didn't have much hair on his head. I think them whiskers was false."

"Anything else that you remember?"

"He had two of his front teeth filled with gold. I noticed it when he yawned under the electric lights."

"Two front teeth filled with gold!" cried Dick, in amazement. "And tall and thin! Can it be possible!"

"Do you know him after all?" asked the man who had given the information.

"Perhaps I do. Tell me some more about him. How was he dressed and how did he talk?"

As well as he was able the taxicab man described the individual who had gotten away. As he proceeded Dick became more and more convinced that he was on the right trail.

"Here is a dollar for what you have told me," said he, to the driver. "If you spot that rascal, have him arrested, and call up the Outlook Hotel," he added.

"All right, I'll remember that," was the ready answer.

"I'll go back to the hotel," said the youth, to his own driver. He knew that Sam and Tom would be wondering what had become of him.

It took but a short while to reach the Outlook Hotel, and there Dick found not only Sam and Tom, but also a clerk and several others awaiting his return. He settled with the driver, and dismissed him.

"Do you know anything about the man who got away?" asked Dick, of the clerk.

"Not much. He came here several days ago and registered under the name of Peter Smith, of Pittsburgh. All he had was a small valise, and that is still in his room."

"Anything in it?"

"I don't know. We can go up and take a look."

"It's a pity you didn't catch the rascal, whoever he is," was Tom's comment.

"Wait," whispered Dick, to his brothers. "I've got something to tell you."

All passed upstairs in an elevator, and the clerk led the way to the room which the patron calling himself Peter Smith had occupied. All the apartment contained was a rusty-looking valise.

"Must have picked that up at some second-hand store," was Sam's comment.

The valise was unlocked and the clerk opened it. It contained nothing but a comb and brush and some magazines.

"Humph! A dead beat!" muttered the clerk. "He put the magazines inside to make the valise feel as if it was filled with clothing. It's an old game. Be intended to leave without paying his bill. I wish you had collared him!"

"I wish I had," answered Dick; and then he and his brothers returned to their own rooms.

"What have you got to tell?" demanded Tom, when they were alone.

"I've found out who that man was," answered Dick.

"Who?" questioned Sam.

"Josiah Crabtree."