“I’ve got it,” he announced. “No!—he ripped off the end of the parcel—here’s a haul.”
Bart writhed, choked on the loose strangling filaments of cotton, but could not utter a word.
“Give me that package!” cried the colonel. “Stop! where are you going?”
Lem Wacker had bolted. The colonel stared in marveling astonishment as his cohort sprang through the open doorway. Bart had managed to wad the cotton in his mouth into a compact wet mass, enabling him to speak.
“Colonel Harrington!” he cried, “that man has not got the package you were after. He has instead stolen a money envelope for Martin & Company containing fifteen thousand dollars in currency, and is making off with it. Cut this rope instantly that I may pursue him, or I give you my word that, as a partner in his crime, rich as you are, and influential as you are, you shall go to the State penitentiary.”
THIRTY SECONDS OF TWELVE
It was an exciting moment. Bart was intently worked up, but he kept his head level. Everything hung on the action of the next two minutes.
Whatever price the rich Colonel Harrington was paying Lem Wacker for his cooeperation, it was not enough to blind that individual to a realization of the fact that accident had placed in Wacker’s grasp the great haul of his life, and he was making off with this fortune, leaving the colonel in the lurch.
The latter stood shaking like an aspen, his face the color of chalk. Apparently he took in and believed every word that Bart had spoken.
“I’m in a fix—a terrible fix!” he groaned. “This is dreadful—dreadful!”
“Mend it, then!” cried Bart. “Quick! if you have one spark of sense or manhood in you. There’s a knife—cut this rope.”
With quivering fingers Colonel Harrington took up from the desk the office knife used for cutting string. It was keen-bladed as a razor. Unsteady and bungling as was his stroke, he severed the rope partly, and Bart burst his bonds free.
“Stay here,” called out the young express agent sharply. “I hold you responsible for this office till I return!”
He dashed outside like a rocket, scanned the whole roadway expanse, and darted for the freight yards with the speed of the wind.
The electric arc lights were sparsely scattered, but there was sufficient illumination for him to make out a fugitive figure just crossing the broad roadway towards the freight tracks.
It was Lem Wacker. A train of empty box freights blocked his way. He stooped, made a diving scurry under one of them, and was lost to view.
Bart ran as he had never run before. The train cleared the tracks as he reached the spot where Wacker had disappeared.
At that moment above the jangling, clumping activity of the yards there arose on the night air one frightful, piercing shriek.