It was a bitterly cold night in March.
The bleak, gloomy streets of Chicago were almost deserted.
A poor little boy in rags was slinking along an aristocratic avenue,
shivering with the cold and looking very wretched.
His pallid, emaciated face showed poverty and privation, an air of utter
misery surrounded him, and he had a mournful look in his sunken eyes.
Nobody noticed poor Joe Crosby but the police.
He was then only one of the many waifs of the great city.
Tom Reynard, the detective, had seen him stealing along like a thief,
and the zealous officer became so suspicious of the boy’s actions that
he began to follow him.
Perhaps he was justified in doing this, for the hoodlums of Chicago were
a pretty bad set of rowdies, as a rule.
The detective was a middle aged, sharp, shrewd fellow, of medium size,
clad in a black suit and derby hat, his bony face clean shaven, his keen
blue eyes snapping with fire, and his reputation for ability the very
He kept the skulking boy well in view and was a little bit startled to
see him mount the stoop of a very handsome brown stone house, through
the parlor windows of which, partly open at the top, there gleamed a
Instead of the poor little wretch making an attempt to break into the
house as the detective expected, he boldly rang the bell.
A servant answered the summons, and, seeing the boy, she cried:
“What! Joe Crosby—you back home again?”
“Yes, Nora,” the boy replied, in firm tones, “and I am going to stay,
too. My stepfather, Martin Murdock, is a wicked man. He lured me to a
wretched tenement in West Randolph street, where an Italian villain has
been keeping me a prisoner. But after a month of captivity I escaped
from there to-night, and now I have come back to make Martin Murdock
tell me why he did this?”
“Oh, the rascal!” indignantly cried the girl. “He told us that he sent
you off to boarding-school. Come in, Joe, come in.”
“Is my stepfather in the house?”
“Yes; you will find him in the front parlor.”
The boy entered the mansion and disappeared from the detective’s view.
Reynard vented a whistle expressive of intense astonishment.
“Holy smoke!” he muttered. “Here’s a daisy game! Never thought I was
going to drop onto a family affair of this kind. Wonder if I could hear
what goes on in the parlor if I get up on the stoop?”
He saw that the parlor windows were partly open at the top, and mounting
the stairs he crouched in the doorway.
Joe had gone into the parlor.
A well-built man, in stylish clothing, stood in the room.
It was Martin Murdock.
He was apparently about forty years of age and wore a black mustache,
had dark hair and black eyes, an aquiline nose, and upon his left cheek
a V-shaped, livid scar.
A cry of astonishment escaped his lips when he saw the boy.
“Free!” he gasped. “How did you get away, you whelp?”
“That is my business,” the boy replied, angrily. “You must explain why
you had me imprisoned in that vile den.”
“Oh, I must, eh?” sneered the man, with a nasty leer.
“I have thought it over,” said Joe, sharply. “You was a poor man when
you married my mother. When she died I know that she left me a large
fortune, for I heard the lawyer read her will. You was made my guardian
until I come of age, in five years. Now there was one point in the will
that would make you wish to see me dead. That was the clause which said
you would inherit all my money if I were to die before I am twenty-one.
Are you trying to put me out of the way so you can get that money,
He looked the man squarely in the eyes as he asked this question.
Murdock quailed before his victim’s reproachful burning glance for Joe
had correctly surmised the dark plot he had in view.
His nervousness only lasted a moment for he quickly recovered.
“Fool!” he hissed, getting enraged at the thought that his wicked scheme
was suspected. “How dare you hint that I’d do such a thing?”
“Because I know you are a villain.”
“What!” roared Murdock, furiously. “You insult me. I’ll pound the life
out of you, you infernal young scoundrel!”
And he sprang at the boy and dealt him a savage blow that knocked him
over upon the floor, rushed up to him and began to kick him about the
Weak from past privations, and unable to defend himself, poor Joe
groaned in a heart-rending manner, and cried, piteously, as the hot
tears ran down his pale, thin cheeks:
“Oh, don’t—don’t, Mr. Murdock!”
“I’ll kill you!” yelled the brute.
“For pity’s sake! Oh, the pain! Stop—I can’t stand it!”
Just then the servant rushed in.
“Shame!” she cried, indignantly.
“Get out of here!” roared Murdock. “I’ll discharge you!”
Satisfied with this assurance, the girl went out.
Poor Joe, cut, bleeding and black-and-blue, crept toward the door.
The man glared at him a moment and then hissed:
“Get up, there! Get up, I say! I’ll have a final settlement with you!
Put on your hat. It is eight o’clock now. The lawyer who has charge of
your money has gone home. He lives out of town. You come with me to his
house. You’ll get your money. Then you can clear out of here and never
trouble me again.”
“Gladly!” exclaimed Joe, in eager tones.
He knew that with plenty of money he could easily get along in the world
and be under no obligations to this fiend.
Murdock scowled at him and prepared to go out.
Hearing them coming the detective left the stoop and got behind an
adjacent tree where he was unseen.
He had scarcely concealed himself when he saw Martin Murdock come out
with Joe, hail a passing cab, get in and ride away.
The detective had overheard all they said in the parlor, and with his
suspicions of the broker aroused, he pursued the cab, resolved to see
the termination of the affair.
Murdock did not utter a word to the boy, but kept watching him and
deeply thinking over a dark scheme he had in view.
The boy feared this man, but he was so eager to have a final settlement
with him that he did not hesitate to go with him.
Reaching the railroad depot they embarked on a train.
“I’ll take him to an unfrequented place and put an end to him!” thought
Murdock, grimly. “He stands in my way to nearly a million. The stakes
are enormous. It is worth the risk. I’m bound to have the money.”
Unluckily for him, the detective was on the same train.
They were whirled away.
Several hours passed by, when the end of the road was reached.
“Readestown! All out! Last stop!” called the conductor.
Murdock and the boy were the only ones in that car, and they arose,
alighted and strode away.
Tom Reynard pursued them.
The place was a noted little city in which dwelt a celebrated young
inventor named Frank Reade, Jr.
Skirting the suburbs of the city, Murdock led his victim toward a
magnificent big mansion in which dwelt the inventor alluded to.
In the extensive grounds surrounding the house were a number of immense
workshops, in which the inventor constructed his marvelous contrivances.
“There’s where the lawyer lives,” Murdock said to the boy, as he pointed
at the mansion, although he had never been in Readestown before.
This information allayed any suspicions the poor boy might have had, and
as the surroundings were isolated, the place seemed to favor the
murderous design the man had in view.
They strode toward the mansion and paused at the gate.
“You wait here for me,” said Murdock. “I’ll go in and see if the lawyer
is home. I’ll call you in if I find him.”
“All right,” the boy replied, in low, sad tones.
He leaned against the gate post with an oppressive feeling at heart and
the gloomiest forebodings in his mind.
It almost seemed as if he had a subtle premonition of his fate.
Murdock entered the grounds and stole away in the shrubbery.
He came to a pause and listened intently, then keenly peered around
without hearing or seeing anybody.
The wretch was intensely excited and as pale as death, while upon his
brow there stood great beads of perspiration.
He fully realized what he was going to do.
There was not an extenuating thing to excuse him.
From where he crouched he could plainly see the boy.
He drew a revolver from his hip-pocket, his hand shaking as if palsied,
and deliberately aimed at the poor boy.
“Oh, God, I’m shot!” shrieked Joe.
Murdock rushed to his victim.
Poor little Joe fell to the ground.
The assassin thrust the pistol in his stiffening fingers.
He designed to lend the crime an appearance of suicide.
But Tom Reynard had seen the whole deed, and came rushing up to the
villain and his victim, too late to stop the crime or be of any service.
“You murderer!” cried the detective.
“I’m caught!” hoarsely muttered Murdock.
He struck the detective with the pistol, knocked him senseless, and
hearing footsteps approaching he rushed away.
Down from the house rushed Frank Reade, Jr., alarmed by the pistol shot,
and seeing the detective was stunned he knelt down beside the boy.
Poor Joe was dead, to all appearances.