بخش 02

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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The boys found themselves in a plainly furnished room heated by a wood stove. They introduced themselves and their host said, “My name’s Ben Tinker.” He pointed to two wooden chairs near the stove. “Sit down and warm up.”

“What did you mean by funny things going on in the cemetery?” Frank asked him.

“It’s haunted,” Ben said flatly. “Has been for the past two weeks.”

“Haunted!” Joe echoed. “How?”

“Sometimes, late at night, a blue light blinks on and off up there. I’ve seen it,” the old man explained, “because I’m a night owl and like a breath of air before turnin’ in.”

“Has anyone else seen the light?” Frank asked.

“Doubt it. In Lucky Lode nobody’s out late at night. But that’s not all,” Ben went on. “About an hour after the lights show, somebody walks past here. I think it’s Charlie’s ghost. Charlie used to play piano in the Peacock Dance Hall next door. He was killed in a gunfight there forty years ago and buried up on Cemetery Hill.”

The Hardys were mystified. “Why do you think it’s Charlie’s ghost, Ben?” Frank asked.

“Because some nights I hear the piano-it’s still there. Sort of tuneless, like when Charlie let his fingers wander over the keys.”

“When was the last time you saw the blue light?” Frank queried.

“Night before last.”

“You don’t really believe it’s a ghost, do you?” Joe said.

“Might be. Then again might not. Somebody might be up to monkey business,” Ben admitted. “That’s why I keep this handy.” He pointed to the rifle leaning against the wall.

Frank, on impulse, asked the old-timer, “Do you know anything about John and James Coulson?”

“Sure do. They died in a mining accident about twenty-five years ago, after some highbinder stole a lot o’

gold from them.”

“We’d like to hear the story,” Frank said quickly.

Ben’s rambling account of the Lone Tree incident agreed with the version the Hardys had heard from Mike Onslow.”What happened to Bart Dawson?” Joe asked.

“Can’t say for sure,” was Ben’s reply, “but he must have kept the gold. I saw him in Helena a couple o’

years after and he acted like he didn’t know me. Why would he have done that if he hadn’t been guilty?”

The Hardys exchanged glances. It certainly sounded as though Mike Onslow’s ex-partner had absconded with the gold! The brothers got up to leave, and Frank said, “Thanks for telling us all this, Ben.”

“Any time, boys. Come back again,” the man urged. “But stay away from that graveyard!”

As the Hardys walked down the main street toward the populated part of Lucky Lode, Frank suggested that the blue light could be a signal.

“I think so, too,” Joe agreed. “Cemetery Hill is clearly visible from everywhere in town.”

“It would be an ideal place for Big Al to signal a spy if he had one in Lucky Lode,” Frank remarked.

“Ben said the light has been around for only a couple of weeks,” Joe added, “and that’s about the length of time Dad thinks Big Al has been hiding out near here.”

“The footsteps Ben hears could be the spy returning to town after meeting Al in the cemetery,” Frank speculated.

“What about the piano playing in the deserted dance hall?” Joe asked.

“Maybe it’s Ben Tinker’s imagination.”

By this time the boys had reached the business section of Main Street. Frank stopped in front of the general store. “Let’s go in and see if we can find out anything about that red paint.”

Inside, a husky man stood behind the counter, slitting open cartons with his pocketknife. Frank asked if he were the owner.

“I am,” he said. “Jim Burke’s the name.”

Frank and Joe told him who they were, and he introduced the boys to several men seated around a potbelly stove. The Hardys noticed that the town post office, telephone switchboard, and telegraph office were also in the store.

“You must know everything that’s going on in town, Mr. Burke,” Joe said, smiling.

“That’s right,” the man answered with a wink.

“Could you tell us which stores here stock red paint?” Frank asked.

Burke chuckled. “This is the only store there is,” he replied. “I carry it. You want some?”

“No,” said Joe. “We’d like to find out if anyone bought red paint in the past few weeks.”

“No one,” Burke told him promptly. “I’d remember because I don’t sell much of it. Why?”

While Frank described the boulder attack on Hank’s cabin, he and Joe watched their listeners’ faces.

None showed any sign of guilt. The Hardys told about meeting Ben Tinker and asked if anyone else had seen the blue light at the top of Cemetery Hill.Burke laughed. “Ben Tinker’s always imaginin’ things.”

One of the other men guffawed. “A couple of weeks ago he was seein’ men from outer space.”

The Hardys did not believe this but made no comment. They left the store and went back to their cabin.

Here they found Hank Shale and their father repairing the damaged wall.

“You’d better take it easy, Dad,” Joe said with concern.

“Oh, I haven’t been exerting myself.” Fenton Hardy grinned at his sons. “I have to find some way to work off a little energy.”

While Hank fixed lunch, Frank and Joe related what they had found out.

“Ben is an old man,” Hank put in as he dished out a sizzling plateful of ham and eggs, “but he’s not loco.

Still, the whole story, blue lights and all, might be just his imagination.”

That afternoon the boys insisted that their father remain quiet while they helped Hank rebuild the cabin wall. By nightfall the job was done.

While they were relaxing in front of the fire after supper, Hank told the boys where they could rent horses to search for Big Al’s hideout. “I only have my mare Daisy,” he added, “and she’s none too young and spry.”

“There are a number of abandoned mines in this area,” Mr. Hardy told his sons. “I suggest you investigate them.”

“But watch out for tommy-knockers,” Hank warned with a grin.

“Tommy-knockers? What’re they?” Joe asked.

“Some kind o’ gnomes or spirits or suchlike that live underground. Old-time miners used to say that if you heard one knockin’, it meant there was about to be an accident.”

“Okay. If we hear any, we’ll watch our step,” Frank promised jokingly. “By the way, we’d like to search the Lone Tree area. Where was Mike Onslow’s claim located?”

“Nobody knows, any more,” Hank said, scratching his head. “The Lone Tree territory’s too big for you fellows to cover alone.”

He drew them a sketch, showing the location of Lone Tree and deserted mines in the area. Frank and Joe decided which ones they would try next day.

Later, the brothers walked down to the livery stable on Main Street and rented horses for their expedition. The boys rode back to the cabin and stabled the animals in Hank’s lean-to. When they returned, Hank and Mr. Hardy were asleep, but the boys sat up for a while and discussed the mystery.

They became aware that the wind had risen and was whipping around the cabin.

“We’d better take a look at the horses,” Frank suggested.

Bundling into their heavy jackets, the boys went outside. The lean-to was snugly built and the animals seemed comfortable. Satisfied, Frank and Joe started back. As they rounded the corner of Hank’s cabin, they stopped short.

“Look!” breathed Joe.Clearly visible on the top of Cemetery Hill was a winking blue light!

CHAPTER VI

Ghost Music

“LET’S go up there!” urged Frank, grabbing Joe’s arm.

As quickly and quietly as possible, the boys scaled the hill in back of Hank’s cabin and hurried along the ridge trail toward the graveyard. When they reached the edge of the clearing, Frank and Joe paused in the shelter of the trees.

The night was moonless but the northern lights made great colored streaks across the sky. In a back corner of the cemetery, the brothers spotted a tall, thin figure.

“Probably the person who signaled with the blue light!” Joe whispered.

Crouching low, the young detectives crept through the broken fence. They moved forward soundlessly to a large stone monument and knelt behind it. The Hardys wished they could get closer to the man, but that gravestone was the only one large enough to afford them cover.

The man paced about restlessly, stamping his feet and huddling his shoulders for warmth. Presently the boys heard the sound of footsteps in the front of the cemetery. A second figure, big and bulky, approached the first. The newcomer’s cap was pulled low, and his face appeared to be muffled for protection against the bitter cold. He took up a position with his back turned to the two brothers.

As the thin man spoke, Frank and Joe strained their ears to hear above the roaring of the wind. They were able to catch only a part of the conversation.

”. . . Big Al’s plenty mad,” the first man was saying. “He gave me special orders for you tonight, Slip Gun.”

The big man was silent, apparently waiting for the speaker to continue.

“He wants you to keep the Hardy boys bottled up in town,” the thin man went on. “Also, be sure to tip him off on every move they make.”

The other man’s muffled response was drowned by the wind. Evidently he had asked a question.

“No luck yet,” the tall figure declared. “He’d better forget . . . that special business . . . it’s hopeless . . . meeting day after tomorrow . . . wants . . . the usual stuff.”

“Where?”

“Shadow of the Bear,” answered the thin man.

The next instant there came the loud crack of breaking twigs. Both men whirled toward the noise. The boys held their breath. Was somebody else in the graveyard?

After a long silence, the thin man said, “Tomorrow Jake and I … with the boss . . . Brady’s Mine. It’s onethat ain’t flooded.”

Frank’s and Joe’s hearts jumped with excitement, but the wind rose to a howl and they could hear no more. The men murmured together for a few minutes, then parted.

The thin man moved past the Hardys’ hiding place. He slipped through the gap in the fence and quickly disappeared into the woods. Soon afterward, the boys heard a horse whinny and a brief clatter of hoofs on rocky ground.

“No chance of following him,” Joe muttered. “He might have led us to the gang’s hideout, too.”

Just then the other man trudged by. The boys waited tensely until the bulky figure reached the gate.

“Joe,” whispered Frank, “we can still find out who Big Al’s spy in town is.”

Cautiously the boys started toward the cemetery gate. They could hear the big man ahead, slipping and slithering along over the stony, snow-covered hill. The Hardys followed him as closely as they dared, moving furtively from one patch of scrub brush to another.

Suddenly Frank stopped short to listen. He thought he had heard a noise behind them and seized his brother’s arm to alert him. Startled, Joe slipped and nearly fell. A shower of stones cascaded down the hill!

There was silence on the dark slope. Frank and Joe stood motionless, listening intently. They could imagine the burly figure ahead listening as well. Then, from behind them, another rock came tumbling down.

Joe nudged Frank. “We didn’t cause that! Someone’s following us!”

Had the thin man spotted them, the Hardys wondered, and doubled back to stalk them? Or had a third person been in the cemetery, as they suspected?

The brothers scanned the hill above, but could see no one. “He’s probably hiding behind boulders or scrub,” Frank whispered.

After a while the Hardys thought they detected sounds of movement below them. Warily they descended, alert for any possible attack from the rear.

By the time they reached the foot of the hill, Frank and Joe had drawn close enough to their quarry to spot his shadowy figure disappearing into the ghost town. The boys trod stealthily on the snow-crusted wooden sidewalk, hugging the buildings. Ahead they could hear the man’s footsteps and see his bulky, muffled shape. Suddenly he vanished into the sagging shell of a deserted building.

The Hardys quickened their pace and peered around the corner of the building. They were just in time to see the man emerge from the rear. He whirled about and ran to the far side of the adjoining building.

Frank darted in pursuit and saw the man return to the street. When Frank reached the sidewalk again, Joe was at his elbow, silent as a shadow. Ahead, the man was hurrying down the street toward the other end of town.

“He knows he’s being followed,” Joe whispered, “and is trying to shake us.”

“Come on, or we’ll lose him!” Frank urged.

Flinging caution aside, the boys broke into a run, their steps pounding on the plank walk. Apparently theirquarry heard them and immediately stepped up his own pace. A moment later the dim figure melted into the darkness between two old buildings. Frank and Joe reached the spot in a few seconds.

“This way!” Frank urged in a low voice, and the Hardys plunged into the shadowy gloom of the narrow passageway.

Behind the two structures, the brothers found themselves in an area overgrown with weeds and brush which merged into the trees on the hillside. Frank and Joe halted, straining their eyes in the darkness and listening intently. Nothing could be heard but the wind-then the howl of a wolf somewhere beyond the ridge.

“Looks as if he’s given us the slip,” Joe muttered.

The boys flicked on their flashlights and searched about. They finally picked out the fugitive’s prints, but his tracks led to the hard-trampled roadway and became indistinguishable. Baffled, the Hardys started back through the ghost town on their way to Hank’s cabin.

“Of all the luck!” Joe grumbled. “We almost had our hands on that spy!”

“At least we’ve learned one thing about him,” Frank said thoughtfully.

“What’s that?”

“His nickname. The man he met in the cemetery called him ‘Slip Gun.’ “ “You’re right! I almost forgot,” Joe said. “Maybe it’ll help us trace him, if we can find out what it means.

Any idea?”

Frank shook his head. “Not a glimmer, except that it sounds like a cowboy expression. Maybe Hank can tell us.”

As they approached Ben Tinker’s place, the brothers noticed that the windows were dark. Frank and Joe paused at the shack to listen, and heard a steady wheezing snore coming from inside.

“Good thing the old man’s asleep”-Frank chuckled-“or he might have started shooting at us!”

The Hardys resumed their pace. They were about to go past the deserted dance hall next door, when suddenly they froze in their tracks. Both Frank and Joe felt the hair on their necks rise and cold chills sweep up and down their spines.

From the abandoned hall, through the moan of the wind, came the sound of piano playing.

Tinker’s ghost music!

CHAPTER VII

A Rooftop Struggle

THE wind suddenly died down and in the eerie silence Frank and Joe again heard the tinkle of the piano keys coming from the deserted dance hall.Joe murmured, “Here’s one mystery we can solve tonight! Let’s find out what goes on in here!”

“Right.”

Moving lightly over the wooden sidewalk, the boys approached the dance-hall entrance. The weird, tuneless music stopped.

Frank and Joe looked at each other. “Maybe we’ve scared the spook away,” Frank whispered half jokingly.

As if in answer, the music started once more. This time both the treble and bass keys of the piano sounded.

Quickly the Hardys drew flashlights from their jacket pockets and stepped inside. The searchers snapped on their flashlights and played the beams about the interior.

The music stopped again.

The room was sparsely furnished with a few rickety tables and chairs, heavily coated with dust. Ancient oil-lamp chandeliers, festooned with cobwebs, dangled from the ceiling.

At that moment the piano resumed its tinkling. Outside, the wind howled and shutters banged.

“Boy! This place is really creepy!” said Joe with a shudder.

Frank gripped his brother’s arm. “Look there!”

The boys’ lights now fell on a raised dais at one end of the room. On it stood a battered upright piano.

The Hardys stared in astonishment as the music continued. “The piano’s playing by itself!” Joe exclaimed.

Quickly the brothers crossed the room and Frank lifted the top of the old piano. He shone his flashlight inside. There was a sudden squeaking and twanging of wires.

“For Pete’s sake!” he burst out, as several rats scampered out of the piano, jumped down to the floor, and scurried away.

The boys laughed heartily. “There goes Tinker’s ghost music,” Frank said.

“Talented rats.” Joe grinned.

Suddenly, from the direction of the doorway, they heard the sidewalk creak. The boys whirled as a low, flat voice snarled, “You kids have been askin’ for it!”

Frank and Joe barely had time to glimpse a head-masked by a ghostlike hood with eyeholes -above the swinging doors. Then a gloved hand jerked into view, clutching a short-barreled revolver, the thumb cocking back the hammer. There was a spurt of flame.

Bang! A bullet whistled across the room and thudded into the piano. The Hardys dived from the dais, snapping off their flashlights and crashing into the tables and chairs below.

As the echoes of the shot died away, Frank picked up a broken chair and hurled it in the general direction of the gun flash.

There was a grunt as the chair connected, then the Hardys could hear the gunman’s feet scraping acrossthe floor. He was stalking them in the darkness!

The boys separated instinctively to divide his attention. Frank crept off to the right and Joe to the left.

Suddenly Frank sprang to his feet. In two long strides he reached the window and leaped through it into the darkness outside.

Crash! Bang! There was no glass in the window, but Frank’s weight had carried away the cross-pieces of the frame. He landed feet first. A moment later he saw a figure struggling through the window, grunting with the effort. The masked man!

Frank dashed around the corner of the dance hall. When he reached the back, he skidded to a halt at a high fence that was blocking his way. Hearing the gunman’s steps behind him, Frank vaulted the fence and fell in a heap on the other side.

The gunman leaped a moment later. Frank held his breath. He could see the man silhouetted against the dim light of the sky-then darting off into the darkness.

Frank jumped up and dashed into a ramshackle building that stood next to the dance hall. But the hooded man evidently had spotted the boy’s move, for Frank heard steps pounding in pursuit.

Without hesitation he raced through the front door and out onto the slippery, snowy sidewalk.

There was no time to find cover. The gunman was hot on his heels. In desperation, Frank ran straight down the open street. As he sped along, he wondered what had happened to Joe.

Flinging a glance over his shoulder, Frank saw the hooded gunman raise his arm to fire. Zing! The bullet whistled past Frank’s head and ricocheted off a metal store sign.

Just ahead, to the left, was an old hitching rail. Frank recalled that it stood in front of the ghost town’s abandoned hotel. He cut across the street and dashed into the narrow side yard of the hotel.

A flight of outside stairs slanted up the wall of the building. Frank mounted the steps two at a time. At the top was a rickety wooden balcony, which sagged under Frank’s weight as he stepped onto it.

“Now what?” the young detective wondered. Had he worked himself into a corner? Frank’s heart thudded as he heard the gunman’s footsteps on the wooden walk below.

Just out of reach, the overhanging roof of the hotel loomed in the blackness. There was no place else to go, so Frank leaped up for the edge.

His fingers dug into the broken shingles and he swung himself onto the rear slope of the snow-covered roof. Meanwhile, the hooded gunman had already started up the stairs. Frank heard his clattering footsteps as he reached the balcony platform. Then he saw the man’s hands appear, clutching the edge of the roof. A moment later his hooded head rose into view against the night sky! He was pulling himself up for a shot at close range!

Frank fought down a surge of panic. He had wriggled some distance away from the eaves. Now he must work his way back and try to overcome his assailant before the man could pull his gun.

Frank slithered toward him across the slippery shingles. By now the man had one leg up over the roof and was groping for the gun in his coat pocket.

“I won’t be able to reach him in time!” Frank thought grimly.Just then he heard steps racing up the stairway to the balcony.

The gunman heard the footsteps, too. He paused and looked down, then managed to extract the gun from his pocket. An instant later Frank saw his body jerk, and the man clutched the roof edge as if to brace himself.

Evidently the newcomer was pulling the gunman’s other leg, trying to dislodge him! The hooded figure suddenly gave a tremendous heave upward and the next moment was free, sprawled full length on the roof. Frank by now was close enough to grab the man’s coat sleeve.

The gunman threw up his arm and yanked it free. But the force of this action caused him to lose his grip completely! His gun arced through the air, hit the rear part of the roof, and bounced off. The man, meanwhile was rolling and slipping rapidly toward the edge.

Frank saw him clutch frantically for the gutter. The man caught it, hung suspended for a moment, then swung over to the drainpipe and slid down it to the ground.

“Frank! Are you all right?” It was Joe!

“I’m okay.” As quickly as possible, Frank wriggled toward the stairway side of the roof and dropped safely onto the balcony platform.

The Hardys glanced over the railing. Below, the hooded figure was groping about hastily, trying to find his gun.

“Come on, Joe! Let’s get him this time!” Frank urged, and the boys went bucketing down the stairs.

Hearing them, the man gave up his search and dashed off into the darkness. Their quarry was some distance ahead when Frank and Joe approached the inhabited part of Lucky Lode. But the town was so dimly lighted it was hard to keep the figure in view, except for his white hood.

The next moment the boys lost sight of him completely as he disappeared into the deep shadows around the general store. Nevertheless, Frank and Joe dashed in pursuit.

Reaching the store, they saw no one in front, so they ran to the back. The area was hidden in almost total darkness.

Suddenly Frank stiffened. “Did you hear something?” he muttered.

“Yes. Sounded like a door closing.”

“Come on!”

The boys ran around to the front of the store. There were no lights showing. Joe grabbed the doorknob and shook it. The door was locked.

Frank knocked. The sound echoed loudly in the quiet of the deserted street. The boys waited for a few moments. When no one answered, Frank repeated his knock. He kept hammering on the door.

At last there was a response. From inside came the call, “Just a minute! Hold your horses!”

Presently a light showed, and a moment later Jim Burke came to the door, holding an oil lamp. He had pulled on a bathrobe over his long underwear.

“Well? What’s all the excitement about?” From the look on his face, Burke was not pleased at beingdisturbed at so late an hour. Frank explained why they had roused him.

“Nope.” Burke’s expression was puzzled as he shook his head. “I haven’t seen or heard anyone -except you two.”

“Could the fellow we’re after have slipped in your back door?” Joe asked.

“Not a chance,” Burke replied. “I sleep right in the back room.”

As Burke spoke, the front door suddenly burst open and Bob Dodge strode in out of the windy darkness.

Frank and Joe stared at him. Dodge’s outer garments were wet with snow, and his coat sleeves and trouser legs were covered with burrs!

CHAPTER VIII

Tommy-knockers!

THE same thought struck the Hardy boys. Did the burrs on Dodge’s clothes mean he had been one of the people in the cemetery-perhaps even the man they had chased? Excited, Frank and Joe watched the big man’s face closely.

But Dodge displayed no outward signs of guilt. “What’s all the shooting about?” he asked while brushing the snow off his coat.

Burke raised his eyebrows. “You heard it?”

“I sure did,” the big, white-haired man replied. “I couldn’t sleep tonight, so I went for a stroll up on the hillside. Then I heard two gunshots and I came down to investigate.”

“Did you see anybody, Mr. Dodge?” Frank put in.

“Well, not too clearly. I thought I glimpsed two people running in this direction. But when I got down to the street, there was no one in sight.”

“Must’ve been these two lads,” the storekeeper said. “They woke me up and told me some gunslinger had been chasin’ ‘em through the ghost town. Didn’t hear anythin’ myself,” Burke added, “but I guess I was pretty sound asleep.”

Frank repeated the story they had told Burke. “We were investigating what Ben Tinker had told us about the old dance hall being haunted,” Frank explained. “While we were inside the place, someone shot at us.”

“He chased us for a while, and then we turned the tables and started chasing him,” Joe added. “Whoever the man was, he headed for the store.”

Dodge frowned worriedly. “You boys seem to attract danger. I hope you won’t take any unnecessary chances on this case.”“We’ll try not to,” Frank said. “There isn’t much more we can do tonight, anyhow.”

The Hardys started to leave. Just before they reached the door, Frank turned and said casually, “By the way, does either of you know what’s meant by a ‘slip gun’?”

Dodge and Burke looked surprised, but otherwise their expressions seemed innocent enough.

“It’s a gun that’s been fixed in a certain way so it can be fired by thumbing the hammer,” Dodge explained.

“You mean like fanning?” Joe asked.

“No. Fanning is when you hold the gun in one hand and keep knocking back the hammer with the other,”

Dodge replied. “But in slip shooting you fire the gun by simply wiping your thumb back over the hammer.

It’s a bit slower than fanning, but more accurate.”

“How would a gun be fixed for slip shooting?” Frank put in.

Dodge shrugged. “Oh, often the trigger’s taken out, and the hammer spur lowered. Sometimes a slip shooter may cut off part of the barrel so he can carry the gun in his pocket.”

“Sounds like a real gunfighter’s trick,” Joe said.

“You boys aimin’ to try it?” Burke grinned.

“No,” Joe replied. “I just meant that a slip gun isn’t something a law-abiding person would be apt to have around.”

“Ever seen one?” Frank asked the two men.

Burke promptly shook his head. Dodge looked a bit startled, then answered slowly, “No. Stop to think of it, I don’t even recall where I acquired that information. One of those things you pick up in the West, I suppose.”

The boys said good-by and went out. The night was chillier than ever and the wind biting.

“Where to?” Joe asked, pulling his jacket collar up for protection. “Back to Hank’s?”

“Not yet,” Frank said. “Let’s see if we can find that gun the hooded man dropped.”

“Hey, that’s right!”

As the two headed back toward the ghost town,

Frank said thoughtfully, “Looks as though we now have two prime suspects, Joe.”

“Right-Burke, or Bob Dodge, which is hard to believe. But those burrs on his clothes sure looked suspicious.”

“Dodge admitted he was on the hillside,” Frank pointed out. “I suppose the cemetery isn’t the only place they grow.”

“You’ll have to admit, though, it’s a real coincidence,” Joe argued. “On the other hand, Burke took a long time to open the door for us.”

Frank nodded. “Long enough to yank off a hood and get out of wet clothes. I wish we could havesearched his back room.”

“Another thing,” Joe went on, “the general store would be a perfect setup for a spy of Big Al’s in Lucky Lode.”

“It sure would,” Frank agreed. “Burke has a chance to learn everything that goes on. What’s more, he could relay telephone or telegraph messages between Big Al and members of the gang in other spots-even handle mail for them.”

“He could provide Big Al with supplies, too, including that red paint.”

The boys trudged along in silence.

“We can build just as strong a case against Dodge,” Frank said after a while. “It seems strange to me that he keeps hanging around Lucky Lode, instead of tending to his business in Helena.”

“I’ve wondered about that, too,” Joe conceded, “even though he claims to be staying here on account of the case Dad’s working on. If Dodge is in cahoots with the gang, he may be keeping an eye on the gang’s doings. Also, he could be using the copter to transport supplies to the crooks.”

“And don’t forget that shotgun booby trap at the airport,” Frank added. “Dodge sent us to the copter alone-which could mean he wanted to make sure he wasn’t in range when the gun went off.”

Joe frowned. “But would a company president plot with a crook to rob his own truck?”

“Why not? The money was covered by insurance. And he might have hired Dad to allay suspicion.”

As the boys neared the old abandoned hotel, they watched the display of northern lights sweeping across the sky.

“You know, Frank,” Joe said slowly, “there’s one big thing in Dodge’s favor.” “What’s that?” “Dad likes him.”

“You’re right,” Frank agreed. “From the way Dad spoke last night, he really admires Dodge- and Dad’s a good judge of character. He never would have talked about Dodge as he did if he suspected him.”

Making their way through the side yard to the back of the hotel, the Hardys switched on their flashlights and began searching for the gun.

Presently Joe exclaimed, “Here it is!” The revolver lay in a clump of undergrowth. Joe picked it up carefully by the trigger guard.

“It’s a slip gun, all right,” Frank commented. “No trigger, and the barrel’s been cut short.”

“That means Slip Gun is the man we followed from the cemetery! He’s Big Al’s spy.”

“Yes,” Frank agreed. “You know, Joe-Dodge might have been the person we heard following us.”

“Maybe, but there’s no way to be sure,” Joe pointed out. “Slip Gun is a husky fellow, and Dodge and Burke are both big men. Either one would answer the description.”

“True enough,” Frank conceded. “Besides, if Dodge did follow us, why didn’t he admit it?”

When the Hardys got back to the cabin, both their father and Hank were sleeping soundly. Frank and Joe checked the slip gun for fingerprints, but found none clear enough to photograph. Evidently thehooded man’s gloved hand had smudged any that might have existed before the night’s events.

The brothers undressed quickly and crawled into their bunks. As Joe blew out the oil lamp, Frank yawned and said sleepily, “Wonder what ‘Shadow of the Bear’ means?”

“Me too. Something else to track down-“ Joe’s voice trailed off and he was fast asleep.

Neither boy needed an alarm clock. They got up at dawn without disturbing the men and had a quick breakfast. Then they went outside, saddled up their horses, and mounted.

“Do you have Hank’s sketch of the mines?” Joe asked as they started up the hill.

“Right here.” Frank patted his pocket. “I wish we still had Mike Onslow’s map.”

“Poor Mike!” Joe reined in his skittish horse. “I wish we could find at least some of his missing gold.”

“So do I.” Frank added with a chuckle, “I’ll bet Aunt Gertrude is fussing over him right now like a mother hen.”

When the boys reached the top of the hill, they could see the sunlight starting to work its way over Windy Peak. “Lucky Slip Gun didn’t stop us,” said Joe as they halted to study the map.

Brady’s Mine, they found, was located to the north, not far away. Half an hour’s ride brought them to a point somewhere below the mine site. Here the boys dismounted and led their horses carefully up the slope.

Frank and Joe scouted the area, but could see nobody, nor any tracks in the snow.

“Let’s take a look inside,” Joe suggested.

The boys tied their horses to a clump of bushes a hundred yards from the mouth of the mine. After making sure their flashlights were working, they cautiously approached the dark hole in the edge of the hill.

The mine entrance was big enough for them to walk erect. Inside, the Hardys paused to listen, then snapped on their flashlights. They were in a fair-sized cavern, which had been hacked and blasted out of the mountainside. Just ahead, a tunnel sloped downward into darkness.

Among the rubble on the floor were some lengths of rusty iron pipe and a discarded pick with a broken handle.

“Doesn’t look as if anyone has been here in a long time,” Joe murmured. His voice echoed weirdly in the chilly cavern.

Frank was about to reply when suddenly both boys stiffened. “Did you hear something?” he whispered.

“I sure did!”

As the brothers froze into silence, the sound came again-tap . . . tap-tap . . . tap.

“Spirits!” Joe gasped. “Tommy-knockers!”CHAPTER IX

The Crowbar Clue

THE tapping noises from within the mine died away. Frank and Joe looked at each other uncertainly.

“You don’t really believe that superstition about spirit rapping?” Frank muttered.

“Of course not,” Joe whispered. “It did sound spooky, though.”

“More likely it’s Big Al’s gang,” Frank said, peering around intently.

Joe’s face took on a troubled frown. “But there were no prints outside showing that anyone else had come here.”

“Maybe there’s another entrance,” Frank argued. “Let’s find out.”

The two boys started forward into the tunnel. Its walls and ceiling were shored with ancient timbers that gave out a smell of moldy dampness. The passageway not only sloped downward, but turned and twisted. Evidently it had been tunneled out to follow the vein of ore.

Presently the floor of the passage leveled off. The Hardys probed the darkness ahead with the yellow glow of their flashlights. Still there was no sign of the tunnel coming to an end or opening out into a large excavation.

“How far does this go?” Joe said tensely.

“It has to end somewhere,” Frank replied.

Both boys felt their nerves tauten. The eerie stillness was broken only by the sound of their footsteps echoing hollowly through the tunnel.

Suddenly Frank came to a halt and pointed to the handle of a crowbar protruding from between two of the wall timbers. The bar was painted with bright-red markings. The Hardys bent close to examine them.

AL-5-X- -4

” ‘Al!’ “ Joe read. “This may be a code message from Big Al to the gang!”

“Or maybe a message to Big Al,” Frank countered. He tested one of the red daubs with his finger. The paint was dry but looked fresh enough to have been applied recently.

Joe tried to puzzle out the meaning of the message. “Any ideas, Frank?”

The older boy shook his head. “Beats me- unless,” he added slowly, “the crowbar was put here to mark a certain spot in the mine.”

“Maybe something’s hidden behind the timbers!” Joe conjectured excitedly.

Frank doubted this. “These shorings look as if they’ve been here forever.”

“Let’s make sure,” Joe urged. “We’ll want to take the crowbar along with us, anyhow, so we can check it for clues. Hold my flashlight, will you?”Gripping the handle carefully, so that at least part of the surface could be tested later for fingerprints, Joe yanked hard on the crowbar. It gave scarcely at all. He threw his whole weight into the effort and began forcing the bar from side to side. The timbering creaked ominously. I “Hey, be careful!” Frank warned.

“This tunnel isn’t shored up too solidly along here!”

“Don’t worry-I can get the bar out.” Joe grunted, heaving hard. “It’s coming now!”

The rotten wood crumpled and shredded as the crowbar gouged into it. Suddenly, as Joe gave one last hard yank, there was a loud splintering noise. The ceiling sagged.

“Look out!” Frank cried out. He grabbed Joe’s arm, and both boys leaped ahead in the nick of time.

A split second later the tunnel caved in! As the boys dashed to safety, tons of earth and rock came pouring down. The passageway rumbled and thundered with the deafening impact.

“Good grief!” Joe stared back in awe after he and his brother had come to a halt deeper inside the tunnel.

“I should have listened to your warning, Frank!”

“Forget it. Let’s be thankful neither of us got hurt and that I still have our flashlights.”

Both boys coughed and tried to screen their noses from the cloud of dust billowing through the passage.

Gradually the particles settled.

“How do we get out of here?” Joe asked worriedly. “Dig our way through?”

The brothers strode back toward the scene of the cave-in. The tunnel there was totally blocked by the tremendous fall of dirt and rock.

“What about the crowbar?” Frank asked suddenly. “We can use that.”

“I dropped it,” Joe admitted, red-faced. “It’s somewhere underneath all this rubble.”

“Oh, great.”

“Maybe we can still dig through,” Joe said. “Come on-let’s try!”

The Hardys set their flashlights on the ground, then began clawing away the debris with their hands. Soon the boys were panting and soaked with perspiration. In addition to loose dirt and stones, huge hunks of rock had broken off and been carried downward in the cave-in.

After trying vainly to shift one enormous stone fragment, Frank and Joe gave up in despair.

“We’ll never make it,” Frank said, breathing hard. “We don’t even know how far the cave-in extends.”

Joe leaned against the wall to collect his strength. “That means we’ll have to find another way out of here.”

“If there is one.”

Although neither boy said so aloud, they knew their situation was desperate. Brady’s Mine was only one of the places on Hank’s map which they had picked out to search and they had told no one of the clue they had overheard. No doubt a search party would be organized when they failed to return. But how long would they be trapped underground before help might arrive?

“No use standing here,” Frank said finally. “Let’s find out where the tunnel leads.”“Right. We’re getting fresh air, so there must be an exit.”

Using only one flashlight in order to conserve their battery power, the Hardys pressed on.

“Joe, there’s another reason why we’ll find an exit,” Frank said suddenly. “I believe someone from the gang was doing that tapping. If so, he must have been on this side of the cave-in.”

“Sure-and the noises we heard were the sounds of the crowbar being pounded into position,” Joe guessed.

“Let’s hope he hasn’t heard us,” Frank murmured. “And the chances are there was more than one member of the gang here.”

“Probably they scooted out the other entrance, so they wouldn’t be caught in the cave-in,” Joe reasoned.

“But we’d better talk in whispers just the same.”

Both boys realized also that the flashlight beam would make them easy targets. But they had no choice.

Without a light to guide them, there would be no hope of finding a way out through the inky darkness.

Presently the tunnel widened, opening into a sizable cavern. The Hardys held their breath as Frank swept his flashlight beam rapidly about the chamber. He and Joe were ready to dive to the floor or retreat at the first sign of an enemy. But the cavern was empty.

“Look!” Frank exclaimed. “Another tunnel!” He aimed his light toward a dark hole that gaped in the far wall.

The two boys hurried to examine it. This passageway was narrower than the one they had just left and not shored by timbers. It was high enough for the Hardys to walk erect, but in places they found it a tight squeeze.

This time, Joe took the lead. Although the tunnel twisted and turned, he pressed forward steadily. He became aware that the cool draft was growing stronger.

“Feel the breeze?” Joe called back over his shoulder. “We must be near the end.”

Joe had spoken too soon. They turned a sharp corner and the tunnel ended in a sheer wall of solid rock.

They could go no farther!

The boys shone their flashlights upward. There was nothing to see but the rock roof.

Joe gave a groan and sank down on the rocky floor of the tunnel. “What’ll we do now?”

For a few minutes the brothers sat in silence. Then suddenly Frank leaped to his feet. “The draft!” he said.

“What about it?”

“We’ve passed the opening.”

Frank snapped on his light and started back down the tunnel. Joe scrambled to his feet and followed. As they moved back around the bend again, they could feel the movement of air on their cheeks.

“The air current seems to flow from somewhere up above,” Frank said, aiming his light toward the roof.”It does!” Joe exclaimed. “See that crack?”

High overhead, well out of reach, was a rocky shelf protruding from the wall. Frank grabbed a handful of dust and tossed it up to the shelf. Some dropped on the edge, but the rest remained in the air and then slowly drifted away out of sight.

“That’s it!” Joe said excitedly. “There’s something beyond! It must lead to an exit.”

Frank braced himself against the wall. “Up you go, Joe!”

Quickly Joe climbed to his brother’s shoulders and found he could easily reach the rocky shelf.

Joe gripped the edge and pulled himself upward. Then he lay on his stomach and, reaching down, grasped Frank’s hand in a fireman’s grip. A second later Frank was seated beside Joe.

When the Hardys turned, they found still another tunnel facing them. This one slanted upward from the shelf and was too low-roofed for anyone to walk upright. Aiming their lights ahead, the boys crawled on hands and knees through the cramped area.

Presently a glimmer of daylight showed ahead. Joe was about to exclaim in relief when a murmur of voices suddenly reached the boys’ ears.

The Hardys knelt motionless and looked at each other. Were members of the gang just outside the tunnel exit waiting for them?

Frank put a finger to his lips. Without a word the boys resumed their crawling-but more slowly and quietly now-toward the mouth of the passage.

Near the opening they halted. A voice which Frank and Joe recognized as that of the thin man they had overheard at the cemetery was saying:

“Those kids ought to be showin’ any time now, if the cave-in didn’t get ‘em.”

Then another man, deeper-voiced, chuckled. “If it didn’t, we’ll trap ‘em like rats comin’ out of a hole!”

CHAPTER X

Ambush Trail

A PANG of fear shot through Frank and Joe as they realized they were trapped in the mine. A clump of brush partly screened the tunnel mouth, but the Hardys’ enemies were waiting outside-ready to seize the boys the moment they appeared!

Scarcely daring to breathe, the boys listened as the thin man went on: “I figured it was them Hardys eavesdroppin’ at the graveyard last night.” He laughed. “Pretty smart o’ me givin’ out that hint about Brady’s Mine, eh?”

“They fell for it, all right,” his partner agreed. “And that crowbar business, too, with the phony code. Best part is, it’ll look accidental.”The boys heard a deep-throated chuckle. Joe shot a shamefaced glance at his brother. The crowbar must have been painted to attract their attention and then cunningly planted at a weakly shored part of the tunnel!

The thin man continued, “I’ll really get a kick out o’ payin’ off those brats. Big Al was plenty sore at me ‘cause that shotgun setup in the copter didn’t work out.”

” ‘Twasn’t your fault, Slim.”

“Try tellin’ that to Al. He was mad over Slip Gun not gettin’ the kids last night. Now he blames me for wastin’ time this mornin’.”

“How come?”

“Aw, that special business he keeps harpin’ on -it’s all he thinks about. He wanted us to do some searchin’ elsewhere today, but the Hardys comin’ here changed his plans.”

There was silence for a while. Frank and Joe waited tensely, digesting what they had overheard. Then Slim spoke again.

“Wonder how much longer we’ll have to wait? I’m gettin’ fed up, perchin’ here in this cold.”

“Maybe the kids can’t find their way out,” his partner suggested. “If they ain’t dead already, that is.”

“You sure the tunnel caved in, Jake?”

“Sure. Sounded like an earthquake. I could see the dust comin’ out the front end.”

“Did you make certain the tunnel was completely blocked?” Slim asked.

“Well, I didn’t actually go inside and look. I might’ve got trapped. Besides, they didn’t show up!”

“You chowderhead!” Slim exploded irritably. “If it ain’t blocked, the kids may still be able to squirm out.

Go on back and make sure.”

“Okay, okay.” Jake sounded as if he were getting to his feet.

“Wait! Got another idea. You fetch their horses and bring ‘em back here before you check the tunnel,”

Slim added. “That way, there’ll be no chance o’ the Hardys pullin’ a sneak.”

After warning Joe to silence, Frank wriggled forward and peered out through the screen of brush. In the distance he could see Jake’s stocky figure heading down the snow-covered mountainside on his way to the mine entrance.

Frank was astonished at how far Jake had gone in a few seconds. Since the two men had conversed in low voices, the speakers had sounded as if they were fairly close to the clump of brush. Now Frank realized his mistake.

The opening was on one side of a narrow draw. Slim was evidently perched out of sight, somewhere higher up the mountainside-probably holding a rifle to cover the boys.

The two men must have thought their conversation was inaudible to anyone else, but the steep-sided draw had caused an echo effect, trapping their voices and reflecting the sound back toward the tunnel.

Frank signaled his brother to crawl forward and join him. Stealthily Joe complied. Several minutes laterJake returned, leading the boys’ horses. Slim came down the slope to meet him.

“No sign of ‘em,” the Hardys heard Jake report.

“Check inside the tunnel,” Slim told his partner. “If they didn’t get buried by the cave-in, we’re supposed to take ‘em up to Windy Peak.”

The thugs exchanged one or two other remarks, but their conversation was carried away by a surge of icy wind sweeping down the draw.

Jake turned and started off again, heading back to the mine entrance. Slim threw a glance toward the clump of brush to make sure their quarry had not yet emerged. Then he took the boys’ horses and trudged toward a stunted, leafless tree growing out of the mountainside.

“Let’s jump him!” Joe urged.

Frank had noticed that the man wore a long-barreled revolver in a holster slung at his hip. If he had a rifle, he must have left it at the spot where he and Jake had been waiting.

“It’s risky, but we’ll try,” Frank agreed.

The moaning of the wind would help cover the sound of their footsteps in the snow, and Slim’s back was turned as he prepared to tether the horses to the tree. Jake was already out of sight behind a shoulder of the hill.

“It’s now or never!” Frank hissed.

Slithering from the hole and past the screen of brush, the boys darted across the slope. They were halfway to the man when one of the horses suddenly detected the boys and whinnied.

Slim muttered an oath and jerked the horse roughly by its bridle. He seemed to realize that something behind him had startled the animal.

The man whirled, his hand streaking toward the gun at his hip. At the same moment, Frank hurled himself through the air in a flying tackle. Just as Slim yanked his gun from its holster, Frank rammed into him!

In an instant Joe had joined the fray. He stunned. Slim with a backhand smash to the side of the head. As the thug went limp, his revolver arced into the air and went hurtling down the mountainside.

“Come on! Grab your horse!” Joe urged. “We’ve got to get out of here before Jake finds out what happened and starts firing at us.”

The boys quickly untied their mounts and swung into the saddles. The horses whinnied, then went galloping down the draw as Frank and Joe dug their heels into the horses’ flanks.

Frank threw a glance over his shoulder just in time to see Slim staggering to his feet. The man’s face was livid with fury.

“Jake!” he bawled at the top of his lungs. “The Hardy kids are gettin’ away!”

His voice trailed off and was lost against the wind. Moments later a rifle crack echoed, but by now the boys were well out of range.

“Did you spot the men’s horses?” Joe called.”Up the mountainside, I think,” Frank yelled back. “We’d better not count on a big lead!”

The boys pushed their mounts hard, taking desperate chances along the rocky declivities. No sounds of pursuit reached their ears, and gradually Frank and Joe slowed their pace.

In about twenty minutes they topped the ridge overlooking Lucky Lode and rode down the trail into town. As their horses clip-clopped along the main street toward Hank’s cabin, Frank asked, “Did you hear what that fellow Slim said about I taking us to Windy Peak?”

“I sure did,” Joe returned. “It could mean that’s Al’s hideout. Let’s search there.”

Frank nodded. “It’ll be an overnight trip. We’ll need supplies.”

The boys were surprised to find a battered blue station wagon parked in front of their cabin.

“Doc Whitlow’s here,” Hank explained when they went inside. “He’s in with your pa now.”

“Is Dad worse?” Frank asked, concerned.

“Not exactly, but he spent a kind o’ restless night. And this mornin’ he felt like he was runnin’ a slight fever. So I fetched the doc.”

Minutes later the physician, a young man with a brown beard, emerged from Mr. Hardy’s room.

“Nothing to worry about,” Doc Whitlow announced. “Apparently your father overexerted himself yesterday and irritated the fracture.”

“He shouldn’t have worked on the wall,” Frank said.

“I gave him something to ease the pain,” the doctor said. “He’s sleeping now.”

Doc Whitlow declined Hank’s offer of lunch, saying he had to get back to his office in the nearby town of Bear Creek. After he had left, Hank prepared a meal of beans and frankfurters and sat down to eat with Frank and Joe.

“You boys just missed seein’ Bob Dodge,” he remarked.

“When was he here?” Joe asked.

“Just a while ‘fore you two showed up. Say- you boys look like you been through the mill. What happened?”

The Hardys related all that had taken place the night before, as well as the entrapment at Brady’s Mine and their narrow escape from the two gang members, Slim and Jake. Hank, too, was puzzled by the Shadow of the Bear reference. The boys asked him to pass on a full report to their father.

“You mean you won’t be around to tell him?”

“We’re going up to investigate Windy Peak,” Frank replied. “The sooner the better.”

A worried look spread over the Westerner’s leathery face. He urged the boys to be extremely cautious, now that the gang was clearly trying to get rid of them. He agreed to provide supplies for the trip, however, and to lend them his mare Daisy for use as a pack horse. Soon the boys were ready to start.

“What’s the easiest way to get up Windy Peak, Hank?” asked Joe as he tightened the cinch.”There ain’t no easy way this time o’ year,” the man replied. “You’ll have to take an old Indian path called Ambush Trail, up near Brady’s Mine. Starts about half a mile north o’ the mine entrance. But watch your step.”

“Bad going?” Frank put in.

“Plenty bad. Even in summer, that trail’s full o’ narrow ledges and hairpin turns. Now it’ll be lots worse.

We had a freak thaw early this month that probably loosened quite a few boulders. Some places you’ll be on icy ledges lookin’ straight down the side of a cliff.”

Hank’s warning proved to be fully justified. At first the trail seemed fairly easy, but as they left the timberline behind, the path narrowed and wound confusingly in and out among the rocky outcrops on the face of the mountainside.

“I’ll bet even the Indians got lost sometimes on this snaky trail,” Joe remarked wryly.

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