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   Chapter 5 BEHIND THE SCENES.

With Links of Steel, Or, The Peril of the Unknown By Nicholas Carter Characters: 10906

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Nick Carter had a double object in the work laid out for that night. If Se?ora Cervera was indeed in league with the Kilgore gang, and in any way responsible for the diamond robbery, Nick was resolved to secure positive evidence of it.

While her letter to Venner appeared to implicate her, since it had taken him from his store just at the time of the robbery, it seemed hardly probable that this brilliant Spanish girl, whose extraordinary grace and whirlwind dances had made her the talk of the town, could be identified with a gang of criminals notorious the world over. Yet the bare possibility existed, and Nick never ignored even the shadow of a clew.

He further reasoned that, in case Cervera was in league with the suspected gang, one or more of them might visit the theater in which she was performing, and Nick decided to have a look at the audience that evening. He was sure he could identify Kilgore or any of his gang, even if disguised, as would be very probable.

Nick's second object was that of learning the exact relations between Se?ora Cervera and Rufus Venner, and a part of that work he confided to Chick. With himself in the front of the house, and Chick on the stage, Nick believed that nothing worth seeing would escape them.

His own search early in the evening, however, proved futile. It was the last week but one of the mammoth vaudeville attraction, and the theater was densely crowded. Though Nick watched the lobbies and the smoking room, and also made a systematic study of the auditorium, he could discover no sign of the parties he was seeking.

About nine o'clock he returned to his chair in the orchestra, and settled himself to have a look at Cervera, whose act was one of the last on the program.

Just at that time Chick Carter, in the overalls and blouse of a scene shifter, made his first pertinent discovery-that Rufus Venner, clad in immaculate evening dress, and carrying an Inverness topcoat on his arm, had arrived upon the stage.

"He seems to be at home behind the scenes," soliloquized Chick, furtively watching him. "Evidently he has some kind of a pull with the manager, or he could not get admission to the stage. Probably through his friend, the Spanish se?ora."

Venner was then in one of the left wings, apparently indulging in small talk with a handsome girl of about twenty, who had just finished her turn upon the stage. She was rather simply clad, but was strikingly pretty and modest appearing; and upon consulting a program with which he had provided himself, Chick learned that her stage name was Violet Marduke; and that she was cast as a singer of ballads.

"Evidently employed to fill in," thought Chick, who had not been much impressed with her songs, though he decided that the girl herself was a beauty. "And by his admiring glances, Venner also thinks pretty well of her," Chick mentally added.

"Room here, mister," growled a voice at his elbow. "Make room for the reptiles."

Chick turned quickly about, and then involuntarily recoiled from the startling object that met his gaze.

In front of a scene then set in the second grooves of the Stage, the continuous performance was still in progress. Meantime, several of the stage hands were wheeling to the center of the stage, back of the scene, the properties of the next performer on the program-and grewsome properties they were.

The object beheld by Chick was a huge, cagelike den, mounted on low wheels, and having a broad front of plate glass. Inside of this den were several wicker baskets, some of which were open, while others were covered and locked.

In the open baskets, or writhing freely about the floor of the den, were fully fifty serpents of various sizes, many being only a foot or two long, while several were as many yards in length.

A more repulsive and blood-curdling sight Chick had never experienced, and the stage hand who had asked him to move laughed at his look of mingled horror and repugnance.

"Ever seen any like 'em after a jamboree?" he inquired, good-naturedly.

"Well, hardly," said Chick, subduing his aversion. "If I were to go on a drunk and see anything like them, I'd sign the pledge the next morning."

"A good scheme, too."

"I should say so."

"Some o' the crawling divils are as bad as they look," added the stage hand, while he helped to place the snake den squarely on the stage.

"What do you mean?" inquired Chick, still gingerly surveying them.

"Pizen!"

"Venomous?"

"You bet! Durn 'em, I wouldn't touch one of them for the wealth of Rockefeller."

"Do you mean that some of them still have their fangs and poison bags?"

"Sure! D'ye see that little copper-colored cuss down there in the corner, not more'n a foot long? If he got a crack at you, you'd not live ten seconds."

"Well, I will take deuced good care that he gets no nip at me," declared Chick, with a grin. "Why do they have such dangerous things around?"

"H'm! What would be the excitement, or the credit of snake charming, if the wriggling beasts were made harmless by pulling out their fangs?" demanded the stage hand. "It would be like a dog fight, with the dogs muzzled. These belong to that heathen Hindoo, the snake charmer. He shows next."

"Pandu Singe?" inquired Chick, glancing at the name on the program.

"Sure. He handles 'em like so many babies. There he is now, just coming from his dressing room. He looks a bit like a snake himself."

Chick turned and gazed curiously at the approaching foreigner.

Pandu Singe was a tall, swarthy man, with straight, black hair, an Indian cast of features, and a pair of intensely black and piercing eyes. Their glitter was indeed like that in the eyes of a snake, yet the Hindoo, approaching without a word to anybody, or a glance to either side, was not without a certain sort of savage dignity.

He wore a red turban around his head, while a loose, black robe, belted around his waist, reached nearly to his ankles. With a gesture he signed the several men away from his hideous den of reptiles, and Chick retired up the stage.

The detective had barely made his change, when he heard the low voice of Busby near by, the friend who had smuggled him upon the stage that evening.

"Hist! There she is, Chick!"

"Cervera?"

"Yes. Down yonder, just to the right of the electric switchboard. Slip in back of this wood wing, and you can have a good look at her."

"All right, Busby, old man," whispered Chick. "Don't you pay too much attention to me, or it may be noticed. I'll see all there is to be seen, old boy."

Busby winked understandingly, and Chick stepped back of the scenery mentioned, through a portion of which he could easily watch Cervera unobserved.

That she was a daughter of sunny Spain no man would have doubted. Her wavy hair was as dark as night, and her eyes were as radiant as the night stars. Her rich, olive complexion was much rouged, adding to the brilliancy of her splendid beauty.

She appeared to be about twenty-five, and was clad in her stage costume, which combined all the bright hues of the rainbow, and was enlivened by a myriad of dazzling jewels and diamonds.

The costume served to display to advantage her matchless figure, however, and Chick was fain to admit that he had never seen a much more striking beauty.

"She's a bird, all right, and no mistake," he said to himself, while intently regarding her handsome face and jewel-bedecked figure. "Yet she has a bad eye, despite her beauty, and a cruel mouth. She certainly would put up a wicked fight, if once aroused. Yes, a deucedly bad eye! What in thunder is she staring at, to look like that!"

From her position near one of the lower wings, Sanetta Cervera was gazing steadfastly across the stage at something which Chick could not see.

The dark eyes of the Spanish dancer had taken on a threatening glare. Her curved brows had drooped and knit, until they formed a straight line below her forehead, and her red lips were drawn and firmly compressed.

Before Chick could discover any occasion for this mute display of feeling, the performance in front of the set scene concluded, and the act of the snake charmer was due to begin.

Then came a rapid change of scenery, during which Chick was again obliged to change his position, and for a time he lost sight of Cervera in the stir and confusion of the busy stage.

He did not succeed in locating her again until she began her performance, when a full stage was given her for the marvelously graceful and impassioned dances of which her act consisted, and which had fairly turned half the heads in the city.

In the white glare of the limelight, she certainly presented a wild and dazzling picture. Her beauty was indescribably accentuated. She appeared like a being ablaze with diamonds. Her every attitude was one of seductive grace, her every movement as swift and light as those of a startled leopard.

At its conclusion her act evoked thunders of applause, and then Chick saw her hastening toward her dressing room, flushed with excitement and panting for breath.

Suddenly she halted and her smile vanished.

Then Chick saw her turn abruptly toward one of the wing scenes, where she met Venner face to face.

The wealthy Fifth Avenue jeweler laughed and extended his hand to greet her, but she frowned and hesitated before accepting it; and Chick made a quick move and stole back of the scenery, near which the two briefly remained standing.

He arrived in time to overhear only a few words, however, of which he could make nothing bearing upon the diamond robbery, or relating to the Kilgore gang.

"Pshaw! You are entirely wrong, Sanetta," Venner was expostulating, with voice lowered. "Your eyes have deceived you."

The woman replied through her teeth, with a hiss like that of a snake.

"My eyes deceived me? Never! You lie! I know what I see!" she fiercely answered, with but a slight foreign accent.

"You are wrong, Cervera," protested Venner. "I-"

"I am not! I see-and I know!"

"But-"

"Caramba! I say you shall go with me!"

"Why, certainly, if you wish it. Am I not here for that?"

"You know that I wish it-and you shall go."

"Whenever you are ready, Sanetta," replied Venner. "Yet your infernal-"

"Silence! You shall wait here till I have changed my suit. Then we will go-we will go together. You shall wait here."

"Go and make the change, then," said Venner, bluntly. "I will be here when you return."

"H'm!" thought Chick, as he heard Cervera move quickly away. "Evidently there is something amiss between them, but what the dickens is it?"

Still watching, he soon saw Cervera return in her street attire, when Venner quickly gave her his arm, and they departed by the stairs leading to the stage door.

Chick immediately recalled Nick's instructions-that the couple should now be left to him.

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