THE MAN BEYOND THE HEDGE

It was past midnight when he finally left with Mr. Burr, but the
intervening time had not been wasted. Orders, contracts and other
details for at least a week had been explained to the bookkeeper, and he
was given full powers to act as the firm’s representative. After a final
word of caution, Mori parted with him at the door, and took a _’rikisha_
for the Manning residence. He found Nattie pacing the floor of the front
veranda. The lad greeted him impatiently.

“Have you heard anything?” he asked.

“Not a word. I have been busy at the office since you left. Everything
is arranged. Mr. Burr has taken charge, and he will conduct the business
until this thing is settled. We are lucky to have such a man in our
employ.”

“Yes, yes; Burr is an honest fellow. But what do you intend to do now?”

“Still excited, I see,” smiled Mori. He shook a warning finger at the
lad, and added, seriously: “Remember what I told you. If you continue in
this fashion I will call a doctor and have you taken to the hospital.”

“I can’t help it,” replied Nattie, piteously. “I just can’t keep still
while Grant is in danger. You don’t know how anxious I am. Let me do
something to keep my mind occupied.”

“If you promise to go to bed for the rest of the night I will give you
ten minutes now to discuss our plans. Do you agree?”

“Yes; but you intend to remain here until morning?”

“No, I cannot spare the time. I must have the detectives searching for
clews before daylight.”

“Mori, you are a friend indeed. Some day I will show you how much I
appreciate your kindness.”

“Nonsense! You would do as much if not more if the case was reversed.
Now for the plans. To commence, we are absolutely certain of one thing:
Patrick Cronin was in the scheme, and he was sent to get us out of the
way while Ralph and Willis Round attended to Grant.”

“I am glad the Irishman met with his just deserts,” exclaimed Nattie,
vindictively. “He is now food for fishes.”

“Yes; a fitting fate. The accident cannot be considered an unmixed
catastrophe. If it had not occurred we would have gone on to Nagasaki,
and have lost much valuable time. As it is, we are comparatively early.
What we need now is a clew, and for that I intend to begin a search at
once.”

“Would it do any good to notify the American Consul?”

“No; our best plan is to keep the affair as quiet as possible. We will
say nothing about it. If Grant is missed we can intimate that he has
gone away for a week.

“Now go to bed and sleep if you can,” he added, preparing to leave. “I
will call shortly after breakfast and report progress.”

With a friendly nod of his head he departed on his quest for detectives.
Nattie remained seated for a brief period, then he walked over to a
bell-pull, and summoned a servant. At his command the man brought him a
heavy cloak, and assisted him to don his shoes.

From a chest of drawers in an adjacent room the lad took a revolver.
After carefully examining the charges he thrust it into his pocket and
left the house.

The night was hot and sultry. Not a breath of wind stirred, and the
mellow rays of a full moon beamed down on ground and foliage, which
seemed to glow with the tropical heat. Notwithstanding the discomfort
Nattie drew his cloak about him and set out at a rapid walk down the
street leading past the Manning residence.

From out on the bay came the distant rattle of a steamer’s winch. The
stillness was so oppressive that even the shrill notes of a boatswain’s
whistle came to his ears. An owl hooted in a nearby maple; the
melancholy howl of a strolling dog sounded from below where the native
town was stretched out in irregular rows of bamboo houses.

The lad kept to the shady side of the road, and continued without
stopping until he reached a mansion built in the English style, some ten
or eleven blocks from his house. The building stood in the center of
extensive grounds, and was separated from the street by an ornamental
iron fence and a well-cultivated hedge.

It was evidently the home of a man of wealth. In fact, it was the
domicile of Mr. Black and his son Ralph. What was Nattie’s object in
leaving the Manning residence in face of Mori’s warning? What was his
object in paying a visit to his enemy at such an hour of the night?

Anxious, almost beside himself with worry, suffering severely from his
dislocated shoulder, and perhaps slightly under the influence of a
fever, the lad had yielded to his first impulse when alone, and set out
from home with no settled purpose.

On reaching the open air he thought of Jesse Black. The mansion was only
a short distance away; perhaps something could be learned by watching
it. The conjecture was father to the deed.

Selecting a spot shaded by a thick-foliaged tree, Nattie carefully
scanned the _façade_ of the building. It was of two stories, and
prominent bow-windows jutted out from each floor. The lower part was
dark, but a dim light shone through the curtains of the last window on
the right.

A bell down in the Bund struck twice; it was two o’clock. At the sound a
dark figure appeared at the window and thrust the shade aside. The
distance was not too great for Nattie to distinguish the man as the
English merchant.

Drawing himself up the lad shook his fist at the apparition. The action
brought his head above the hedge. Something moving on the other side
caught his eye, and he dodged back just as a man arose to his feet
within easy touch.

Breathless with amazement, Nattie crouched down, and parting the roots
of the hedge, peered through. The fellow was cautiously moving toward
the house. Something in his walk seemed familiar. Presently he reached a
spot where the moon’s bright rays fell upon him.

A stifled cry of profound astonishment, not unmingled with terror, came
from the lad’s lips, and he shrank back as if with the intention of
fleeing. He thought better of it, however, and watched with eager eyes.
A dozen times the man in the grounds halted and crouched to the earth,
but finally he reached the front entrance of the mansion.

A door was opened, and a hand was thrust forth with beckoning fingers.
The fellow hastily stepped inside and vanished from view, leaving Nattie
a-quiver with excitement. The dislocated shoulder, the pain, the fever,
all were forgotten in the importance of the discovery.

“That settles it,” he muttered. “I am on the right track as sure as the
moon is shining. Now I must enter that house by hook or crook. But who
would believe that miracles could happen in this century? If that fellow
wasn’t—-”

He abruptly ceased speaking. The door in the front entrance suddenly
opened, and a huge dog was thrust down the stone steps. Nattie knew the
animal well. It was a ferocious brute Ralph had imported from England
that year.

As a watchdog it bore a well-merited reputation among the natives of
thieving propensities. It was dreaded because it thought more of a
direct application of sharp teeth than any amount of barking. Its
unexpected appearance on the scene altered matters considerably.

“Dog or no dog, I intend to find my way into that house before many
minutes,” decided the lad. “It is an opportunity I cannot permit to
pass.”




He drew out his revolver, but shook his head and restored it again to
his pocket. A shot would alarm the neighborhood and bring a squad of
police upon the scene. The brute must be silenced in some other manner.

Naturally apt and resourceful, it was not long before Nattie thought of
a plan. Cautiously edging away from the hedge until he had reached a
safe distance, he set out at a run toward home. Fortunately, the street
was free from police or pedestrians, and he finally gained the Manning
residence without being observed.

Slipping into the garden he whistled softly. A big-jointed, lanky pup
slouched up to him and fawned about his feet. Picking up the dog, he
started back with it under his right arm. The return to the English
merchant’s house was made without mishap.

Reaching the hedge, Nattie lightly tossed the pup over into the yard. It
struck the ground with a yelp, and a second later a dark shadow streaked
across the lawn from the mansion. As the lad had anticipated, the dog he
had brought did not wait to be attacked, but started along the inner
side of the hedge with fear-given speed. In less than a moment pursuer
and pursued disappeared behind an outlying stable.

Chuckling at the success of his scheme, Nattie softly climbed the fence
and leaped into the yard. The lawn was bright with the rays of the moon,
but he walked across it without hesitation, finally reaching the house
near the left-hand corner.

As he expected, he found a side door unguarded save by a wire screen. A
swift slash with a strong pocket-knife gave an aperture through which
the lad forced his hand. To unfasten the latch was the work of a second,
and a brief space later he stood in a narrow hall leading to the main
corridor.