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   Chapter 2 CONCERNING SE ORA CERVERA.

With Links of Steel, Or, The Peril of the Unknown By Nicholas Carter Characters: 11104

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Joseph Maynard arrived at Nick Carter's residence just as the famous New York detective was about preparing for lunch, and quickly stated his mission, disclosing the superficial features of the crime.

Nick Carter habitually looked below the surface of things, however, and in trifles he invariably discovered more than the ordinary man. Before Maynard had fairly outlined the case Nick keenly discerned that the robbery could not have been committed by any common criminals, and he at once decided not only that he would take the case, but also that it gave promise of something far more startling than then appeared aboveboard.

Yet even Nick's keen discernment utterly failed, at this early stage of the affair, to anticipate its actual magnitude and tragic possibilities.

Having consented to accompany Maynard to the scene of the crime, Nick turned to Chick Carter, his reliable chief assistant, who also had been an attentive listener to Maynard's disclosures.

"You had better come with me, Chick," said he. "This affair has rather a bad look, and in case quick work is imperative, I may need your assistance."

"Go with you it is, Nick," Chick heartily cried, hastening to put on his coat and hat.

"From the circumstances disclosed by Maynard, however," added Nick, "I am inclined to think that these rats have very carefully covered their tracks, and that a still hunt for their trail may prove to be our stunt. Yet you had better go along with me."

"I'm ready when you are, Nick."

"Very good. Come on, Mr. Maynard. I see you have a carriage at the door. We will not delay even for lunch, but will snatch a bite later."

Together the three men left the house, and it was precisely one o'clock when Nick was ushered into the private office of Venner & Co., where the two members of the firm then were seated, apparently still engaged in discussing the audacious robbery.

Mr. Rufus Venner, it may be here stated, was a man of about forty years of age, and was a very well-known man about town. Darkly handsome, with an erect and imposing figure, an habitué of the best clubs, a man still unmarried, yet of whom hints were frequently dropped that he was very popular with the fair sex, whom he was known to lavishly entertain at times-this was the senior member of the firm of Venner & Co., and the man who, quickly arose to greet Nick Carter and Chick when the two detectives entered.

"Your clerk has already given me the main facts of the case, Mr. Venner, so we will dispense with any rehearsal of them, and get right down to business," Nick crisply observed, immediately after their greeting. "There are a few questions I wish to ask you, and concise replies may expedite matters."

"I will respond as briefly as possible, Mr. Carter," Venner quickly rejoined, as they took chairs around the office table. "I do not fancy being robbed in this scurvy fashion, sir, and you may go to any reasonable expense to discover and arrest the thieves. Now, Detective Carter, your questions?"

"To begin with," asked Nick, with a steadfast scrutiny of Venner's darkly attractive face, "what is the value of the stolen diamonds?"

"About four thousand dollars."

"Ten in number, I was told."

"Precisely."

"Are they of uniform value?"

"Nearly so. They are splendid gems, and perfectly matched, and are worth about four hundred dollars each. I wanted them for a special purpose, which-"

"Which I will presently arrive at," Nick courteously interposed. "I understand, Mr. Venner, that you called yesterday at the store of Thomas Hafferman and made some inquiries about these stones?"

"I did, and also examined them."

"In what part of Hafferman's store were you at the time?"

"In his private office."

"Were any of the clerks present?"

"Not any-Stay! One of the clerks brought in the diamonds to Mr. Hafferman, but he did not remain. Only Mr. Hafferman himself remained with me while we discussed the matter."

"Do you know the clerk's name?"

"Boyden, I think, he was called."

"The same who brought the diamonds here this morning," put in Mr. Garside. "His name is Harry Boyden."

Nick made a note of it in a small book which he drew from his pocket.

"Did you make any deal at that time regarding the diamonds?" he inquired.

"I only had them reserved for me a day or two, stating that I would either call again or send an order for them, if I decided to purchase them," replied Venner.

"Are you quite sure that only Mr. Hafferman heard you make that statement?"

"Sure only in that the office door was closed, and that he alone was with me. If there were any eavesdroppers about I did not suspect it."

"Naturally not," smiled Nick. "Now, then, for what special purpose did you want those particular diamonds? I think you referred to one."

A slight tinge of red appeared in Venner's cheeks when he replied, a change which by no means escaped Nick's observation.

"I wanted the stones, or then thought I might, for a customer who contemplated giving me an order for a valuable diamond cross, to be worn upon the stage. We happen to have in stock no diamonds perfectly adapted to her requirements, and so I called upon Hafferman to learn if he could supply me."

"Who is the customer, Mr. Venner?"

"I do not see how her identity can be at all essential to the investigation of this affair, yet I have no objection to disclosing it," said Venner, frowning slightly.

"Why demur over it, then?" demanded Nick, bluntly.

"Only because of an aversion to bringing the

lady into the case, of which she, of course, knows nothing," retorted Venner. "I expected the order from Se?ora Cervera, the Spanish dancer."

"Ah! Is she not a member of the Mammoth Vaudeville Troupe, which has been playing here to packed houses for several months?"

"She is, yes."

"I have heard that she makes a great display of diamonds."

"That is true, Mr. Carter. She possesses a magnificent collection of jewels, and wears them with an abandon against which I frequently have cautioned her."

"By way of explanation," put in Mr. Garside, with an odd smile, "Venner might add that he enjoys quite friendly relations with the Spanish se?ora."

"I see no occasion, Garside, for comments upon my interest in Sanetta Cervera," declared Venner, with a frown at his partner. "My relations with her, Detective Carter, are only those of a friend and a gentleman. She called here several weeks ago to have some diamonds reset, when I met her personally, and was deeply impressed with her extraordinary grace and beauty. I since have shown her some attention."

"Quite natural, I am sure," observed Nick, smiling indifferently. "As you remarked, however, none of that appears to be material. I understand, Mr. Venner, that you were absent when Boyden brought the diamonds here this morning."

"I was," bowed Venner. "I received a note from Se?ora Cervera this morning, asking me to call upon her at eleven o'clock at her rooms, and to bring with me a diamond pendant which we have in stock, and which I had the pleasure of showing her a few days ago."

"Ah, I see."

"She stated in her note that if I would call upon her at the hour mentioned, she would decide whether to purchase the pendant, or have us make the diamond cross for her."

"You complied with her request, Mr. Venner, and went to call upon her?"

"Certainly."

"Where is she quartered?"

"She rents a furnished house uptown."

"Does she live alone?"

"With her servants only."

"How many?"

"She keeps a butler, a male cook, and two housemaids. Also a girl to look after her wardrobe and act as her dresser at the theater."

"Evidently Se?ora Cervera is wealthy," said Nick.

"Well, not exactly wealthy," rejoined Venner. "She is the popular craze just now, and from her professional work she derives a very large income which she scatters as if dollars were dead leaves. In a word, Detective Carter, Se?ora Cervera is an arrant spendthrift."

"So I have heard," nodded Nick.

"You have?"

"Oh, yes!" laughed the detective. "That appears to surprise you. It will not, when I tell you that there are very few public characters in New York of whose general habits I am not tolerably well informed. Of course, Mr. Venner, you have no doubt of this Spanish dancer's honesty?" Nick added, bluntly.

Venner flushed deeply, and instantly shook his head.

"Most assuredly not," he cried, with some feeling. "Se?ora Cervera dishonest? Impossible!"

"Improbable, Mr. Venner, no doubt; but not impossible."

"It is, sir," declared Venner, positively. "I know her well. Such an idea is absurd. Drop it at once, Detective Carter. Indeed, sir, if I thought her name was to be dragged into this affair, or her reputation to be in any way imperiled, I would quietly suffer the loss of these diamonds, and cease this investigation at once."

Nick laughed softly, and suppressed the response that, nearly rose to his lips.

"Don't do it, Mr. Venner," said he, complacently. "My observation was not intended to cast any reflection upon Se?ora Cervera. I have no doubt that she is perfectly honest."

"I should hope not, sir."

"By the way, have you the note she sent to you this morning?"

"Yes. Here it is."

"By mail, or a messenger?"

"A messenger brought it."

"Ah!" murmured Nick, briefly studying the written page. "Plainly a foreign hand. Very firm and forceful. It indicates a strong and determined character. I should say that Se?ora Cervera is a woman of rare qualities."

"That is perfectly correct, sir. She is a woman of rare qualities."

"What did she decide to do about the diamonds, Mr. Venner?"

"She gave me an order for the cross, Detective Carter, to be made and delivered as soon as possible."

"This was during your call upon her this morning?"

"Certainly."

"You had previously sent no order to Hafferman for the stones?"

"Surely not."

"Yet a written order was received by him, or he would not have delivered the goods."

"In which case, then, it was a forgery."

"No doubt of it," Nick readily admitted. "Chick."

"Yes, Nick."

"Take a carriage and go at once and interview Hafferman. See what you can learn from him. Get the written order received by him, and bring it here. Have a look at young Boyden, and see what you make of him. Also get the written signature of Mr. Hafferman, and that of each person employed in his store. Understand?"

"Sure thing!" nodded Chick, already seeing clearly the line Nick's investigation was taking, though neither Venner nor his partner yet perceived it. "I will return as quickly as possible."

"You will find me here," nodded Nick. "Wait a moment!"

"Well?"

"Also get a description of the party who delivered the written order at Hafferman's store. Inquire what he said at the time, and why he did not attempt securing the diamonds then and there."

"Probably he was not known there, and knew he could not get them," observed Venner, by way of explanation.

Nick made no reply to this, however, and Chick hurriedly departed.

* * *

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