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On their left the mountain towered sheer above them, with precariously poised boulders and crusted drifts of snow. Half-dislodged clumps of earth and rock projected from the cliffside.

“This would be a bad place to get caught in an avalanche,” Frank observed.

Joe gulped. “Whew! Don’t even think it!”

Presently the boys saw horseshoe prints in the snow. Apparently the riders, whoever they were, had cut in from some side path.

“At least we seem to be on the right trail,” Joe said tensely.

“Probably members of the gang,” Frank cautioned. “We’d better keep a sharp eye out.”

The prints faded out presently as the path became more glazed and rocky. Soon the trail narrowed so much that the boys were forced to proceed single file. Both gulped as they glanced down the cliff at the icy river below.

Joe was close behind when Frank turned a sharp corner on the trail and reined to a halt. Ahead was a huge barrier of snow, rocks, and logs.

“Must have been an avalanche,” Joe said.

Frank moved forward for a better look. “Maybe not,” he commented. “Those logs don’t look like windfalls-they could have been cut by men. Anyhow-our trail is blocked.”

After sizing up the situation, Frank and Joe decided to risk skirting the curve of the hillside, which seemed less steep at this point.

“Maybe we can get back on the trail somewhere beyond the barrier,” Joe said hopefully.

Dismounting, the Hardys started cautiously downward. Frank went first, leading his horse and Daisy. Joe followed with his mount.

For a while the footing seemed fairly sure. The Hardys had negotiated their way around part of the slope when Frank suddenly felt the ground shifting beneath his feet.

“Look out, Joel” he cried out. “There’s loose shale under this snow!”A spatter of stones and earth went clattering down the mountainside. As the brothers scrambled for safer ground, their mounts became panicky, neighing and pawing wildly for a foothold.

The horses’ bucking dislodged still more shale. The next instant, the horses and the boys went slipping and sliding downward in the landslide. All three of the animals went over on their sides in a swirl of flying hoofs.

Frank and Joe were half stunned as they tumbled on down the mountain. Below was an icy creek.

Suddenly they were sailing through the air.

Crash! . . . Crash!

The Hardys and their horses shattered the ice and disappeared below the surface of the mountain torrent!

CHAPTER XI

Shadow of the Bear

THE icy shock of the water stung the Hardys back to full consciousness. They flailed their arms and legs wildly, fighting to get to the surface.

Frank broke water first, gasping for breath. His heart skipped when he saw nothing but the half-frozen river, the struggling horses, and the steep-sided canyon. Where was Joe?

Then his brother bobbed to the surface nearby. “Thank goodness,” Frank murmured.

Neither boy had breath to spare to make himself heard above the roar of the rushing current. The ice extended outward from both banks, but near the center, the water was surging along in full torrent. With every passing moment, Frank and Joe were being swept farther downstream.

Joe pointed to the horses. The two saddle animals were breaking their way through the ice, gradually swimming and floundering toward shore. Daisy, the elderly pack mare, loaded down with supplies, was having a more difficult time.

“She may drown!” Frank thought fearfully.

He and Joe summoned all their strength and swam toward the frantic animals. In a few minutes their own horses managed to reach the bank. Daisy was rolling her eyes, whinnying and snorting with terror. But Frank and Joe were finally able to steer her to safety through the broken ice.

At last the boys staggered out of the water and flopped down on the rocky, snow-covered bank. The saddle horses stood shaking themselves farther up the shore, and Daisy trotted on to join them.

“Wow!” Joe took a deep breath. “What a day for a swim!”

“Joe, we’re pretty lucky, at that.” Frank got up. “We’d better see about the supplies.”

“And a fire-if we can make one,” Joe added.Both boys were shivering and blue with cold. They hurried toward the horses. At least half the provisions and gear strapped to Daisy’s back had come loose and had been carried away.

“Let’s get out of sight first,” Joe suggested. “Someone may be spying on us from up on the mountain.”

“Right!” Frank agreed. “I’m sure now that the barrier on the trail was no accident.”

The brothers led the horses toward some sheltering timber. Just beyond the trees they discovered a rocky recess in the mountainside. Here they grouped the horses and proceeded to survey the state of their supplies.

“Well,” Joe said, “at least it’s not so bad as it might have been.”

Most of their provisions were gone, as well as their tent and other camp equipment. But they had blankets, towels, spare clothing, fishing gear, compass, matches, and some food. Luckily, everything had been packed in waterproof wrapping.

“I’m sure glad we still have that compass,” Frank remarked, as the boys unsaddled the horses and used the towels to rub down the animals.

“You bet,” Joe agreed. “If we should lose our bearings in this wilderness with our food so low, we’d really be in a jam.”

“You build a fire, Joe,” Frank suggested, “while I get out dry clothes for us.”

After donning fresh clothing in the warmth from the crackling flames, and drying their wind-breakers, the Hardys soon felt more comfortable. Their horses recovered rapidly and began to nibble the shrubs and winter-dry brush sticking up through the snow.

Frank stepped out of their rocky niche and shaded his eyes toward the sun, which was already red and low in the sky. In another half hour it would be out of sight behind the mountains.

“Too late to do much traveling now,” said Frank. “We may as well camp here and strike out for Windy Peak early in the morning.”

“Okay, Frank. I’ll try some fishing. That looks like a trout stream.”

He put their collapsible fishing rod together and headed off among the trees toward the bank of the river.

“Watch your step on that ice!” Frank called.

As Joe disappeared from view, his brother took out their precious compass. Using the setting sun as a reference, he checked the action of the needle to see if any magnetic ore in the range might be affecting it.

The deviation, if any, seemed to be very slight.

“It’s a cinch we’ll never get back up the cliff to the trail,” Frank thought. “At least not here. We’ll have to follow the river and try to find some place where the canyon walls are not so steep.”

“Frank! Frank!” It was Joe calling from the river. “Help! Frank, help!”

“The ice!” Frank thought. “Joe’s broken through!”

Laying the compass on a flat rock, the older Hardy dashed toward the river. To Frank’s amazement, Joe was in no danger. But he was sprawled flat on the ice, clinging desperately to the rod and trying not to lose the prize catch he had hooked. The fish had sounded and was bending the rod almost to a U-shapeas it fought to escape.

“Quick! Give me a hand!” Joe shouted.

Frank flat-footed gingerly out onto the ice, grabbed the line, and began hauling in.

“I guess we’re breaking all the rules for game fishing,” he called back with a chuckle, “but this is one fellow we can’t risk losing!”

The fish put up a furious struggle that roused the boys’ admiration, but they finally managed to reel in a huge cutthroat trout.

“Boy, what a swell catch!” Frank cried. “There’s our supper!”

“First fish that ever decked me,” Joe said, grinning. “But then it’s the first time I’ve ever tried trout fishing on ice.”

Back at camp, Joe set about cleaning the fish while Frank built up the fire. Suddenly Joe heard his brother gasp.

“What’s wrong?”

“The compass!” Frank exclaimed. “I left it right here on this flat rock. Now it’s gone!”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. I put it exactly where this pine cone is. Wait a minute! That wasn’t here before!” Frank broke off and picked up the pine cone. An exasperated look spread over his face. “You know what, Joe? A pack rat has been here!”

“I’ll bet you’re right!” Joe declared. “The rat picked up the compass because it’s bright and shiny, and left the pine cone in its place.”

The Hardys looked at each other gravely. Any other time the situation might have been funny, but right now the compass was vital to them. Without it, they might never find their way safely out of the wilderness.

“Come on! Let’s look for it!” Frank urged. “I remember reading that pack rats will often drop a prize if something else catches their eye.”

The boys began a systematic search, pacing back and forth around the camp in widening circles. At last Frank detected some faint rodent tracks in the trampled snow and soon spotted a shiny object in the cliffside brush.

Frank pounced on the compass with a cry of relief. “Whew!” he exclaimed. “What a break!”

“Better keep it in your pocket from now on,” Joe advised.

The trout, cooked over heated rocks, made a tasty dish. After the meal, the boys felt more cheerful. As they huddled around the campfire in their blankets, Frank said thoughtfully, “Tomorrow’s the day for Big Al’s meeting.”

“Right. I wish we could find the place.”

“If only we knew what Shadow of the Bear meant,” Frank mused.In spite of the cold and their desperate situation, the boys slept well. The horses, too, evidently rested well during the night, staying close together near the embers of the fire.

Next morning Frank and Joe made a cold break-fast of oatmeal mush and dried apricots from their scanty supplies. Then they fed and saddled the horses, strapped their remaining gear on Daisy’s back, and headed downriver.

The canyon turned and twisted along the curve of the mountainside, and the footing was treacherous. As they rode, the Hardys continually scanned the sides of the gorge, hoping to find a route out of the canyon.

Twice they dismounted and tried to thread their way upward, leading the horses. But both times the cliff wall proved too steep.

At last, however, the canyon opened out and the slope of the cliffs became more gentle. Relieved, Frank and Joe halted for another cold meal. Then they rode to higher ground and struck back across the rolling foothills of the mountain range in the general direction of town.

Eventually they cut into a beaten trail. About midafternoon, the brothers swung over a rise on the rocky, snow-covered path and Frank reined up sharply.

“Look!” he exclaimed, and indicated the area to their right.

Looming against the sky was a huge, ungainly rock formation that crudely resembled a bear standing upright.

“Al’s meeting place!” Joe breathed.

Dismounting, the boys ground-hitched their horses out of sight behind a clump of boulders. Then they crept cautiously toward the huge rock formation. To their surprise, Frank and Joe discovered that it was poised on the rim of a small box canyon.

The Hardys cautiously peered over the edge. The canyon was choked with drifted snow, from which protruded a few scrubby trees and brush. The view directly below was blocked by a shelving overhang of rock, about twenty feet farther down and extending along the cliff wall. The boys could detect no sign or sound of human beings.

“Maybe we missed the meeting,” Joe murmured. “Or this isn’t the place, after all.”

“I’ll bet it is,” Frank replied. “My guess is, the confab hasn’t been held yet.” He gazed across the canyon.

“Let’s keep an eye on that bear’s shadow.”

In the lowering sun the rock formation cast a formless shadow on the opposite wall. As the boys stood up, Joe remarked with a puzzled look, “That shadow doesn’t look much like a bear.”

“True. But it might at some other time of day. Remember, Slim didn’t name any hour for the meeting. He just said, ‘Shadow of the Bear.’ “

“I get it!” Joe broke in excitedly. “Maybe the meeting is to take place when the bear shows up clearly on the canyon wall!”

“And that ought to be when the sun drops a little lower,” Frank added.

Joe asked, “Do you think the meeting will be down inside the canyon?”

“Probably. Up here by this rock formation the gang would be too easy to spot.”“But this looks like a blind canyon to me,” Joe objected. “How’ll they get into it?”

“There may be an entrance we can’t see from here. Let’s stay out of sight.”

The boys found cover in a nearby cluster of rocks and brush. As the sun sank lower, the bear’s shadow across the canyon became more distinct and realistic.

“Listen!” Joe whispered suddenly.

From somewhere below came a clopping of horses’ hoofs-then a sound of men reining up and dismounting. The Hardys peered downward, but the rocky overhang of the canyon prevented them from seeing what was taking place.

A murmur of voices came drifting up. The boys strained their ears and recognized Slim’s voice, but could not make out what he was saying. Then a harsh voice, unfamiliar to the Hardys, spoke out clearly: “You sure muffed things in Lucky Lode, Slip Gun!”

“I couldn’t help it, Big Al,” returned a voice too muffled to identify.

“One more job like that and I’ll-“ the harsh tone faded to a threatening mutter.

Frank and Joe could hardly keep from shouting for joy. They had found Big Al! If only they could dare to try capturing him!

CHAPTER XII

Big Al’s Orders

THE only reply to Big Al’s scornful words was a brief, sullen mutter. It was so low that the Hardys could not distinguish whether the speaker might have been Burke or Bob Dodge.

Frank and Joe exchanged a grimace of disappointment. If only the Lucky Lode spy would speak again, and more loudly! But evidently he was too cowed by his boss’s angry tone to put up an argument.

“Stupid cluck!” Big Al continued to rant. “You had a chance to get rid of those kids-or at least scare ‘em off this case. And what happens? You get so rattled you can’t even hang onto your own gun!”

“Don’t worry, Al”-Jake’s voice cut in quickly, trying to placate the gang leader-“Slim and me took care o’

them brats.”

“At Brady’s Mine?” the boss snapped back.

“Well, no-not there. The crowbar stunt worked okay, but they ducked the cave-in and-“

Jake’s explanation was cut short by another outburst from Big Al. Slim hastened to soothe him.

“Jake’s tryin’ to tell you, boss-they’re both drowned.”

“Drowned?”“Yeah. We figured they’d be comin’ along Ambush Trail, so we fixed up a roadblock to sidetrack ‘em and make ‘em go lower down. The cliff shoulder along there is all loose shale, but it’s covered over with snow. Sure enough, they tried to worm around it and the ground gave way. Must’ve been a regular landside from the looks of it!” Slim chuckled with satisfaction. “Anyhow, they took a long fall and wound up in the drink, horses and all.”

“You sure o’ that?” Big Al demanded suspiciously.

“Sure. Jake and me came back to check and we could see the break in the ice where they went through.

We even spotted some o’ their gear float-in’ downriver.”

“Good! It’s about time.” Big Al sounded mollified by the news. “Those kids knew too much- and they were too smart to fool around with. They were makin’ monkeys out of all you guys!”

“Aw, boss, we couldn’t help it if-“ The rest of Jake’s whining protest was lost in the wind.

“Shut up!” Big Al roared. “One thing’s sure-anything those kids knew, they’ve told their father. So he’ll have to be the next one to go. Slip Gun, you’re supposed to be handlin’ things in town. You take care of Hardy tonight. Get me?”

“Yeah.” Only a single word-and again too low for the voice to be identified.

Frank and Joe looked at each other, stunned. The gang had their father marked for death! They would have to return in time to warn him!

“The weather’s gettin’ worse all the time, boss,” Slim put in. “How much longer do we have to keep searchin’?”

“Listen, you!” Big Al’s voice was fierce. “I staked out that loot twenty-five years ago. And I aim to have it! We’re goin’ to keep lookin’ till we find the wreck of a plane. The stuff’ll be there, all right-and a skeleton with it.”

“How do you know there’s a wreck?” Jake asked.

“Don’t worry-I made sure.” Big Al gave an ugly chuckle. Again his rough voice drifted up to the listeners on the cliff. “Enough talkin’. Get these supply cartons cut open and load the horses. We’ll leave part of the stores cached here and take the rest up to the hideout.”

From below came the sound of cardboard boxes being ripped open, and the mumble of the men’s voices. Suddenly Frank and Joe heard an exclamation of annoyance.

“What’s wrong now?” Big Al snarled.

“Looks like Slip Gun just broke his knife blade,” Jake replied.

Before the unidentified man could add anything, the gang leader snapped curtly, “Never mind gripin’! Use your fingers!”

Presently they could hear the men loading the horses. A few moments later the boys heard Big Al’s harsh tones: “You’ve all had your orders. Now let’s get goin’!”

Horses’ hoofs started up on a rocky surface somewhere below-then faded bit by bit, echoing hollowly.

Joe grabbed his brother’s arm. “There must be a passage from the canyon that leads out through the hill!”

he whispered excitedly.”Right! We’d better get back to the trail and see if we can spot them!”

Frank led the way as the brothers hurried back to the site from which they had first noticed the bearlike rock formation. Sprawling among the snow and rocks to avoid being seen, the Hardys gazed intently down the hillside.

For a long while there was no sign of humans. The sun had vanished behind clouds, leaving a leaden, wintry sky. Nothing was visible below but the vast, rugged expanse of timber-clad wilderness.

Joe fidgeted anxiously. “Those fellows can’t just disappear!” he muttered. “They’ll have to come out somewh-“

Frank held up his hand for silence. “There they are!” he whispered.

Far below and off to the right, four riders had emerged from a patch of brush on the hillside. They paused momentarily, then separated. Three of the men rode upward through a notch in the hills. The fourth headed off in the direction of Lucky Lode, leading an empty pack horse behind his mount.

“That one by himself must be Slip Gun!” Joe groaned. “If only we had binoculars to see who he is!”

“Maybe we can overtake him,” Frank said hopefully. “Anyhow, the important thing is to get to the cabin and warn Dad. Let’s go!”

Quickly the boys got their horses, swung into the saddles, and started off along the trail. They watched for a safe place to descend the hillside and soon picked out a likely route. The downslope, even here, was steep and slippery, but their horses managed to negotiate it successfully.

Minutes later, Frank and Joe picked up Slip Gun’s trail in the snow. By this time the spy was far ahead and lost to view among the timber.

As the boys rode along, Joe fumed impatiently. “We’ll lose him if we don’t make better time!” he said, urging his horse to greater speed.

“Take it easy, Joe,” Frank advised. “This ground is pretty rough going for the horses-they’re doing the best they can. It won’t help any if one of them breaks a leg.”

Joe admitted the wisdom of his brother’s words, and they pressed forward at the best pace they could manage. -

“You know,” Frank said, “I’m beginning to see why Hopkins was so interested when he saw Mike Onslow’s map.”

“You must be thinking the same thing I am,” Joe returned. “Big Al must be looking for Onslow’s missing gold!”

Frank pounded his fist into his palm as another thought struck him. “And, if he staked it out twenty-five years ago,” he added excitedly, “that means-Big Al and Black Pepper are the same person! Also, the wrecked plane they’re looking for must be the crate Bart Dawson took off in!”

Joe nodded thoughtfully. “Big Al seems to be sure Dawson died in the wreck.”

“Which doesn’t jibe with what Ben Tinker told us,” Frank pointed out. “Ben claimed he saw Dawson in Helena a couple of years later.”

“True-though nobody around here seems to believe anything Ben says.”“I know-but he did hear the music in the dance hall.”

Joe chuckled. “That’s right. Of course it wasn’t exactly played by Charlie’s ghost.”

Dusk was gathering fast. By the time the boys had passed through the stretch of timber, it was no longer possible to make out Slip Gun’s tracks, nor see the rider ahead. By now Frank and Joe were able to recognize familiar landmarks and inside of an hour were crossing the ridge above Lucky Lode. The town lights were visible below.

“It’s tough luck we weren’t able to nab Slip Gun,” Frank said, as the brothers spurred their horses down the trail.

“Let’s hope we’re not too late to warn Dad!” Joe said grimly.

There was no sign of the horseman they were pursuing as they pounded through the streets of Lucky Lode. The boys’ fears mounted when they drew in sight of Hank’s cabin. Although darkness had fallen, no lights showed in the windows.

Frank and Joe pulled to a halt, leaped from their horses, and dashed inside, fear gripping them.

“Hank! Dad!” Frank shouted.

No one answered. Without bothering to light the oil lamp, the boys blundered through the darkness and hastily checked the two sleeping rooms and the kitchen.

The cabin was empty!

CHAPTER XIII

A Fight in the Dark

“WE’RE too late!” Frank muttered in a choking voice.

Joe was too stunned to speak. The killer must have arrived before them! But where had the victims been taken?

The next instant the Hardys stiffened in suspense. Someone was slipping quietly into the cabin through the half-open front door.

“That you, boys?” It was Hank Shale!

Frank and Joe rushed to question him.

“What happened to Dad?” Joe exclaimed.

“Don’t worry-your pa’s safe,” the Westerner assured them. “I just finished movin’ him to Ben Tinker’s place.”

A wave of relief swept over the boys. “Did you know he was in danger?” Frank asked.”We figgered so. After I told him how Big Al’s men tried to get you lads, your pa had a hunch the gang might come after him next.”

“His hunch was right,” Joe said. “Big Al’s spy was ordered to kill Dad tonight!”

Hank gave a low whistle. “By jingo, then he took cover just in time!” Hank listened tensely as the boys related their latest adventures.

“We’d better not wait any longer,” Frank declared. “The killer may make his move any time now. Hank, you’d better go back to Ben’s place and stand guard!”

“What about you two?”

“We’ll wait here at the cabin and see if Slip Gun shows up,” Frank replied.

“And if he does,” Joe declared, “we’ll have him dead to rights!”

“Now hold on!” said Hank. “If this feller’s comin’ to kill your pa, he’ll be armed. It’d be plumb foolish to try takin’ him on alone.”

“Then we’ll wait outside and just see who he is,” Frank promised hastily. “The arrest can be handled later.”

Hank started back to Ben Tinker’s. Meanwhile, Joe lighted the oil lamp and the boys rummaged quickly through their father’s gear for extra flashlights to replace the ones they had lost in the river. Then they extinguished the lamp and hurried outside.

After stabling their horses in the lean-to, without taking time to unsaddle them, the boys darted into a nearby clump of trees. They picked out a spot from which they could watch the front door of the cabin and waited. For the next quarter of an hour nothing disturbed the peaceful quiet of the icy night.

Suddenly Frank gave a low hiss and pointed toward the cabin. The boys could barely discern the figure of a man, moving silently. He tried the door cautiously, then slipped inside.

“Think we should try to nab him?” Joe whispered.

“We promised Hank we wouldn’t,” Frank reminded his brother. “But don’t worry-once he comes back, we won’t let him out of our sight till we’ve identified him. This time he won’t give us the slip!”

The boys fell silent as a faint glow of light showed through the cabin window. The glow moved about.

Evidently the intruder had brought a flashlight of his own.

The Hardys stiffened in surprise as a second figure suddenly loomed in the darkness near the cabin. The newcomer halted for an instant, then moved swiftly toward the door and went inside.

Joe gasped, “Two of them!”

A second later came a muffled outburst of voices, then a sharp cry. Confused noises followed, then a crash.

“They’re fighting!” Frank sprang up. “Come on! That second person must have surprised the killer-he may need help!”

Joe followed as his brother sprinted from their hiding place. Frank reached the cabin first and tried to open the door. But it resisted his efforts, as if something were blocking it.Frank braced his shoulder and slammed hard against the wood. This time it yielded and came open part way.

“Wait-wait a minute!” a voice just inside muttered thickly.

The boys pushed on through and almost stumbled over someone on the floor. Frank snapped on his flashlight. Its bright beam revealed the face of Burke, the storekeeper!

“Never mind me! Get him!” Burke rasped as he struggled to his feet. “He went through the back window!”

Joe had already switched on his flashlight. As Burke spoke, the beam swept through the doorway and showed an open window.

Joe darted out the front door and ran to the back of the cabin. Frank dashed straight to the bedroom and stuck his head out the window.

Tracks were visible in the snow, leading off toward the heavy brush and timber skirting the hillside. Joe came around the corner of the cabin, picked out the footprints with the beam of his flashlight, and began following them.

“Hold it, Joe!” Frank called. “That fellow might have a gun!”

Joe halted unwillingly and looked back at his brother. “If he had a gun, wouldn’t he have used it on Burke?”

“How do we know?” Frank argued. “Maybe he had no chance to draw before he knocked Burke down-and after he heard us at the door, he may have been more interested in making a getaway.

Anyhow, don’t risk it, Joel”

“Okay.” Joe shrugged and returned to the cabin.

By this time Burke was sitting down, and Frank had righted the overturned table and chairs. The storekeeper was disheveled and had a raw-looking bruise on his right cheek.

“What happened?” Frank asked him.

“I came here to see you boys or your dad,” Burke replied. “Instead, I discovered Bob Dodge nosin’

around with a flashlight-“

“Dodge!” Frank and Joe exclaimed together.

“You heard me!” the storekeeper snapped. He rubbed his cheek gingerly. “I accused him of bein’ a crook, and he slugged me with his flashlight. Then we started fightin’. Finally Dodge knocked me down against the door, and before I could get up, he scrammed.”

“If Dodge had the flashlight, how could you see who he was?” Joe asked.

“I couldn’t at first,” Burke explained. “I called out, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘Who’s there?’-somethin’ like that.

Then he started givin’ me some cock-and-bull story about lookin’ for your dad and Hank Shale, and I recognized his voice. I said, ‘Don’t try to kid me, Dodge-you’re in with that gang Mr. Hardy’s after!’

That’s when he conked me with the flashlight.”

The boys looked at each other in bewilderment.”What made you suspect Dodge is in league with Big Al’s gang?” Frank questioned.

“Because I suddenly remembered him buyin’ some red paint soon after your dad first came to Lucky Lode,” Burke replied. “It slipped my mind when you boys asked me. That’s what I was com-in’ here to tell you.”

Frank and Joe digested this startling news. Burke’s story added up to a convincing case against Dodge.

“That would explain why he fled,” Joe said. “If he figured the jig was up, Mr. Dodge may have headed for the gang’s hideout.”

“Or taken off in his copter!” Frank exclaimed. “I’ll see if it’s still where he landed us.”

“We’ll both go,” Joe said.

“No need for that,” his brother argued. “You’d better help Mr. Burke back to his store.”

From the quick look his brother flashed him, Joe guessed that Frank still mistrusted Burke and wanted the man kept under surveillance.

Burke, however, declined the offer. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m okay now.”

The storekeeper stood up to go, but after taking a few steps, he teetered and leaned weakly against the wall.

“Whew!” Burke muttered, shaking his head. “Guess I’m still a bit woozy from that clout Dodge gave me.”

Joe helped him back to the chair, then went for some water from the kitchen pump. Before leaving, Frank made an excuse to join Joe.

“Take Burke to the store,” he whispered. “Then go straight to Ben Tinker’s and make sure Dad’s okay.

I’ll meet you there.”

Frank went outside, got his horse from the lean-to, and rode off toward the clearing where he judged the helicopter was parked.

Joe, meanwhile, bathed Burke’s head with cold water and bandaged his injured cheek.

“Where did your dad go?” Burke asked.

“He and Hank Shale are following a lead on the case,” Joe said vaguely. He then suggested that they take the remaining two horses and ride, rather than walk, to the store.

Burke shook his head. “It’s not far enough to bother. Besides, the way I feel, I’m not sure I could stick onto a saddle.”

Joe assisted him on foot to the store with no further difficulty. Burke thanked him, said good night, and went inside. Joe lingered until he saw the light go out. Then he hurried to Ben Tinker’s cabin.

The young detective found Mr. Hardy, Hank, and Ben awake and gathered around a glowing potbelly stove. They listened with keen interest as Joe poured out his story of the night’s events. Just as he was finishing, there came the sound of a horse being reined up outside, and a moment later Frank burst into the cabin.”The helicopter’s still at the field,” Frank reported. ‘I scouted around a bit, but there’s no sign of Dodge.

And he hasn’t returned to the hotel.”

Mr. Hardy frowned and stroked his jaw. “I find it hard to believe that Bob Dodge can be a criminal-much less a killer,” the detective said. “What’s your opinion, boys?”

“Until tonight it seemed to me to be a tossup between Burke and Dodge,” Joe replied. “We’ve suspected one of them must be Big Al’s spy, ever since that night we trailed the hooded man to the general store.”

Frank nodded and tallied up the evidence.

His father said, “Burke may be lying about what happened at the cabin tonight. Are you sure Dodge wasn’t the second man to arrive?”

“It was too dark to tell,” Frank admitted. “But you’re right-Dodge may have surprised Burke there and accused him of working with the gang. And Burke may have done the attacking but got knocked down.”

“In that case, why should Dodge duck out the window?” Hank objected.

“Burke was blocking the door,” Joe said. “Maybe Dodge decided to get out fast, in case Burke came at him again.”

Ben Tinker put in, “That still don’t explain where he disappeared to.”

Mr. Hardy arose from his chair and paced back and forth. “The flashlight might carry fingerprints,” he remarked. “Was it still around?”

“I didn’t see it,” Joe replied. “Dodge must have taken it with him.”

“But we don’t know that,” Frank emphasized. “Burke could have slipped it inside his coat while we were looking out back.”

Joe agreed. “We should have checked on that right away.”

Frank suddenly snapped his fingers. “Let’s assume Dodge is innocent. And if he got those burrs on his coat up at the cemetery, he must have been the third man-the one we heard behind us.”

“Yes, and he may have spotted the blue signal light and gone to investigate just as we did.”

“Right,” Frank went on. “So maybe Dodge suspected all along that Burke was the man who met Slim.

But he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Then, when he discovered Burke at the cabin tonight, he accused him outright-and Burke got panicky and jumped him.”

Ben Tinker grunted suspiciously. “If Dodge suspected Burke, whyn’t he tell you lads or your pa?”

“Matter of fact, Dodge did come around yesterday,” Hank reminded them. “But the doc was tendin’ to Fenton, and the boys weren’t here, so he never got to talk to ‘em.” “Maybe that’s why Dodge came to the cabin tonight-to tell us his suspicions,” Mr. Hardy conjectured. “Has Burke ever been in trouble with the law?” he asked.

Hank and Ben replied that so far as they knew, he had not.

Frank began pacing the floor. “As things stand, we can make out a pretty convincing case for or against either Burke or Dodge,” he stated. “Dodge has disappeared but Burke is still around. What we need is some way to test Burke’s innocence- or guilt.”Mr. Hardy nodded. “Good thought.”

“We know that the gang wants Joe and me out of the way,” Frank went on. “And we also know they’re after Mike Onslow’s lost gold. So let’s set a trap for Burke.”

“How?” asked Joe.

Frank grinned and said coolly, “By using the best possible bait-the gold and ourselves!”

CHAPTER XIV

The Broken Knife

FRANK explained his plan while the others listened approvingly.

“Right smart idea, boy!” Ben Tinker cackled appreciatively. “If Burke’s in league with the gang, I’ll lay ten to one he snaps at the bait!”

Mr. Hardy agreed. “But you boys should have a lawman on hand when the trap is sprung.”

“I’ll go along,” Hank Shale volunteered. “And I’ll get Sheriff Kenner over at Bear Creek.”

After details of the planned capture had been settled, Mr. Hardy said, “You boys had better bunk here for the night, if Ben will permit. It might be risky staying at Hank’s place, in case the gang makes another attempt on our lives.”

Ben willingly approved, and the boys said they would stretch out on blankets by the stove.

“We’ll have to make one more trip back to Hank’s, though, to tend the horses,” Joe added.

The brothers set out, riding double on Frank’s horse. By this hour the long, single street of Lucky Lode was dark and silent. When the Hardys reached Hank’s cabin, they dismounted and went to the lean-to.

It was empty! Both Joe’s horse and Daisy, the pack mare, were gone!

“Who could have taken them?” Joe gasped.

Frank was equally mystified. “Maybe footprints will give us a clue,” he said hopefully.

The boys shone their flashlights around the trampled snow. Horseshoe prints led off up the hillside. A man’s tracks were heading toward the cabin from the patch of timber into which Dodge had disappeared earlier.

“He must have come back after we left!” Joe exclaimed.

“Sure looks that way,” Frank agreed. “We can check more carefully by daylight.”

The boys returned to Ben’s and stabled Frank’s horse in one of the old ghost-town buildings. When they went inside the cabin, the three men were asleep. Ben was snoring loudly.

“Even that won’t keep me awake tonight!” Joe grinned, and yawned deeply.In spite of their exhausting adventures, Frank and Joe awoke at daybreak, thoroughly refreshed. After pulling on their clothes, they hurried back to Hank Shale’s cabin.

Although the snow had wind-drifted, it was still possible to make out Dodge’s tracks. They led away from the cabin to the woods, then returned to the lean-to.

“He was punchy, all right,” Frank remarked. “His steps zigzagged.”

The prints led to a clump of brush, where the crushed, broken twigs indicated the fugitive had fallen full length.

“Dodge collapsed when he got this far!” Joe said in surprise.

“Yes, Joe. And this may prove his innocence.”

“How so?”

“Suppose it was Burke who beaned him with the flashlight, instead of the other way around. Dodge might have fought back, knocked Burke down, then scrammed out the window before Burke could come at him again. Dodge may have been dazed from the blow-“

“I get it!” Joe interrupted excitedly. “So he staggered out here in the woods, maybe not even knowing where he was going, and passed out.”

Frank said he was puzzled. “Why should Dodge go riding off up the hillside, instead of back into town?

And why take Daisy?”

Joe shook his head. “Maybe we have him figured all wrong. Could be he is part of the gang, and wanted to get up to their hideout.”

Frank and Joe checked again on the helicopter and found it still in the clearing. On their way back through Lucky Lode, the Hardys stopped off at the hotel. The worried manager informed them that he had had no word from the vanished armored-car-company owner.

“I’ve notified Sheriff Kenner and I just now finished calling Mr. Dodge’s office in Helena,” the manager added.

Back at Ben’s cabin, the boys found a hearty breakfast awaiting them. As they ate, Frank and Joe reported the theft of the two horses and discussed their theories with the men.

“An amazing turn of events,” Mr. Hardy said.

As soon as the meal was over, Hank and the boys went off to hire fresh mounts from the livery stable.

They promised to pay the owner for the lost horse if it was not recovered. Hank started off for Bear Creek to meet the sheriff. Meanwhile, Frank and Joe rode to the general store.

“Mornin’, boys,” Burke greeted them. Aside from his bruised cheek, he seemed to have suffered no ill effects from the fight.

Frank read off a short list of supplies. One item was a carton of canned beans. When Burke brought it, Frank said, “We’d better divide the cans between our saddlebags, Joe. Could you lend me a knife to open the carton, Mr. Burke?”

“Sure,” Burke took out a huge pocketknife and tossed it on the counter.As the storekeeper went off to get the rest of the items, Frank opened the knife. About half the main blade was broken off!

The Hardys exchanged quick glances of triumph. The first part of Frank’s plan had paid off. Unless the broken knife was an amazing coincidence, Burke must be the man the gang called “Slip Gun”! Now to see if he would take the bait they were about to offer!

As Frank had hoped, Burke was curious as to why the boys needed the supplies. “You fellas fixin’ to take a trip somewhere?” he asked casually as he totaled the bill.

“Not too far,” Frank replied. “We’ll be camping in a canyon up the mountain a ways.”

“And we’ll be coming back rich!” Joe added boastfully.

Frank shot an angry look at his brother, as if Joe had spoken out of turn.

“Rich?” Burke looked at the boys questioningly.

“It was supposed to be a secret,” Frank grumbled, “but-well, I guess we can trust you after what happened last night.”

“Sure! I won’t tell nobody,” Burke purred.

“Well, one reason we came out West was to look for some lost gold that an old miner named Mike Onslow told us about,” Frank began.

“He drew us a map,” put in Joe, “but it was stolen from us.”

“Then yesterday we were out in a box canyon where there’s a certain rock formation that looks like a bear,” Frank went on. “We’d heard Big Al’s gang planned to meet there. We didn’t see the gang, but we did spot a clue to the whereabouts of the gold. And we have the location marked right here on a map we drew ourselves.”

Frank pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and tapped it significantly.

Burke stared in amazement. “No foolin’! You really know where to lay hands on the gold?”

The boys nodded gloatingly.

“But please don’t say a word to anyone,” Joe cautioned. “We don’t want to start a gold rush out to that canyon before we’ve had a chance to uncover the treasure.”

“Don’t worry, boys! Mum’s the word as far as I’m concerned.” Burke gave an oily smile.

After stowing the supplies in their saddlebags, Frank and Joe rode out of town. Beyond the ridge they reined up at a sheltered spot agreed upon beforehand with Hank. Here the boys waited until they were joined by Hank and Sheriff Kenner. Then all four set out together, retracing the route the Hardys had followed when returning to town from the canyon the evening before.

A brief search soon disclosed the opening in the hillside through which the gang had emerged from the canyon. The entrance widened into a high-arched rocky passage, big enough for riding two abreast. The passage ended directly below the bear-shaped rock.

Once inside, Frank, Joe, and their two companions paused to consider their next move.Sheriff Kenner, a rugged-looking man with an iron-gray mustache, asked the boys, “What time do you figure the gang will show-assuming Burke took the bait?”

“He jumped at it!” Joe declared confidently.

“My hunch is,” Frank said, “they’ll wait until after dark and try to take us by surprise.”

The group kept out of sight below the rocky overhang and Hank cooked lunch over a small fire.

Meanwhile, the two boys searched for the broken knife blade. Joe soon found it.

“This sure looks as if it fits Burke’s knife,” he said, handing over the blade to the sheriff.

By the time darkness fell, the group had arranged a convincing-looking camp with two stone-and-brush dummies covered with blankets to resemble sleepers. Then the four retired with their horses behind a cluster of huge boulders.

Time passed slowly. The campfire was renewed. Suddenly, above the soughing of the wind, the listeners’

ears caught the faint clop of horses’ hoofs. The riders were coming through the rocky passage. Frank, Joe, and their two companions swung quietly into their saddles. Sheriff Kenner whispered final orders.

Moments later, three horsemen entered the canyon. There was sufficient moonlight for the boys to make out Slim and Jake. The third man, they guessed, was Big Al. Evidently Burke was not taking part in the raid.

The three thugs paused inside the canyon. The dying campfire and the two blanketed dummies lay in plain view. Big Al hissed out an order. Slim and Jake charged forward, their horses breaking into a gallop. The gang leader followed at a more leisurely pace.

“All right, let’s take ‘em!” Sheriff Kenner snapped in a low voice. He and Hank spurred their horses from behind the boulders, while Frank and Joe waited, according to plan.

“Don’t go for your guns! Just reach!” Sheriff Kenner yelled. At the same time, he fired a shot to show that he meant business.

Slim and Jake reined up sharply. Their hands shot skyward in panic as the bullet whistled over their heads. Frank and Joe spurred their horses into action and sped from behind the boulders. At that same instant Big Al wheeled his horse in a wild dash for the passageway. The boys and Hank followed, but suddenly Hank’s horse stumbled and its rider went flying off. The Hardys stopped, and turned back to help him.

“I’ll-be all right-boys. Nothin’-broken! Just -got the-wind knocked out o’ me,” he called out.

Reassured, Joe swung his mount in the direction of the escaping outlaw. “Big Al’s getting away! Let’s go after him!” he called to his brother.

Frank needed no urging. Together, they galloped after the ringleader. With Slim and Jake to deal with, the sheriff was powerless to join the chase. He shouted a warning to the two boys, advising them to wait, but his cry was drowned by the thundering hoofbeats.

The boys were already plunging through the tunnel in hot pursuit of the outlaw. In the darkness ahead they could hear the pounding hoofs of Big Al’s mount and see an occasional glint of sparks as its steel shoes struck the rocks.

Presently a dim glow of moonlight showed the passageway coming to an end. For a time Big Al’s figurewas clearly silhouetted. Then it was lost to view as he emerged from the passage and headed to the right along the foot of the hillside. In moments Frank and Joe were out of the passageway and turning their own horses in the same direction.

“Big Al’s heading toward the same notch he and his men aimed for yesterday!” Frank called.

For more than an hour the chase continued- over rocks, through dangerous gullies, then along a river winding through a narrow canyon. Suddenly Frank and Joe lost sight of their quarry as the canyon curved sharply. When the boys rounded the bend, they reined up in astonishment.

Ahead, the canyon ended abruptly in a high frozen cataract. The outlaw had vanished!

CHAPTER XV

Underground Chase

FRANK and Joe looked at each other in sheer disbelief, mingled with uneasiness. Except for the panting of their horses, not a sound broke the wintry silence of the canyon.

“Could Big Al have rigged some kind of ambush?” Joe asked in a low, worried voice.

“I don’t see how,” Frank murmured, scanning the terrain. “There’s no place for him and his horse to hide.”

The cliff walls on either side were bare and precipitous. With the moon almost directly overhead, the snow-covered floor of the canyon was revealed with brilliant clarity. The narrow riverbanks were barren of brush. Aside from a few scattered rocks -none big enough to afford cover-nothing intervened between the boys and the frozen waterfall.

“Well, he must be here somewhere,” Joe said edgily. “His tracks will give us the answer.”

Frank agreed. The boys dismounted and moved forward cautiously, leading -their horses. Moonlight wrapped the scene in eerie loneliness. The boys kept their eyes and ears alert. Gradually they became aware of another sound-the muted roar of falling water, still flowing behind the glacier-like formation.

The sound became louder as they neared the cataract. The majestic ice curtain glittered in the moonlight.

It was fringed with great, jagged blue-white spears that hung down like stalactites.

“I don’t get it,” Joe muttered. “Al’s tracks lead straight toward the waterfall!”

As they proceeded, Frank took out his flashlight, and switched it on. He gave a cry of surprise.

“Joe! He must have gone under the waterfall!”

At the base of the cliff was a dark open space yawning between the curve of the falls and the rock face!

It was large enough to admit a horse and rider. The boys moved closer for a better look and Frank probed the darkness with his flashlight.

“Look! There’s an opening in the cliff wall!” Joe exclaimed. “It must be a tunnel!”“Or maybe just a blind cavern,” Frank said, switching off his flashlight. “Big Al could be waiting for us in there!”

After a whispered conference, Frank groped his way behind the cataract. When he reached the opening in the cliff he quickly snapped on his flashlight again for a more leisurely examination.

Presently he came back and reported to Joe. “It’s a tunnel, all right. No telling how far it goes -or where.”

“No sign of Big Al?” Joe questioned.

“Not in person, but there are wet tracks.”

The two horses balked a bit as the boys took their bridles and attempted to lead them into the dark space behind the icy falls. Joe’s animal, which was in the lead, whinnied and reared when it felt the splattering spray, but it soon calmed under Joe’s reassuring hand.

Inside the tunnel mouth the passage widened, giving the boys room to mount. Frank and Joe rode slowly forward, with Joe, in the lead, shining his flashlight.

After several hundred yards the passage widened and the boys were able to ride side by side.

“Must have been the bed of an old underground stream,” Frank guessed. “See how smooth the walls are worn.”

Joe nodded. “We’d better speed up before Big Al gets too far ahead.”

Urging their horses to a faster pace, they pushed on through the tunnel. At intervals the boys stopped and listened, hoping to catch some sound of their quarry. The fourth time they halted, a faint echoing sound of horse’s hoofs on rock reached their ears from somewhere ahead.

“We must be getting closer!” Joe said tensely.

Just how close was difficult to judge, since the enclosed passage with its smooth, hard walls might carry the sound almost any distance. The boys rode on steadily. When they paused to listen once more, the hoofbeats were no longer audible. But twenty minutes later Joe thought he could detect them again.

“He may be far ahead of us,” said Frank. “Sound can be pretty tricky in here.”

As the brothers continued along the tunnel, the chill, dank atmosphere gradually became warmer. Frank and Joe unzipped their heavy windbreakers.

After a while it became necessary to rest the horses. The Hardys did not dare pause too long for fear of losing Big Al completely, and soon went on.

The tunnel turned and twisted. The horses were nervous at first about proceeding, but gradually became accustomed to the experience.

“It seems as if we’ve been traveling for hours,” said Frank. Presently he snapped on his flashlight to glance at his wristwatch. To his amazement, it was almost three-thirty in the morning! “Whew! Do you realize the night’s almost over, Joe?”

“I sure do. The horses are bushed.”

Gradually the boys became aware that the tunnel was sloping upward. The horses began to pant andlabor from the steepness of the incline, and the Hardys had to rest them more frequently.

“It’s getting colder in here,” Joe said with a sudden shiver. Both boys zipped up their jackets.

“We must be getting close to the surface,” Frank said hopefully.

Sometime later he was about to turn on his flashlight again when he paused. “Hey! The tunnel’s not so dark as it has been-or am I imagining things?”

“You’re right!” Joe replied, with rising excitement. “I’ll keep my flashlight off for a while.”

Soon the boys could feel cold air on their faces. The tunnel was lightening every moment, and presently a gray glimmer of daylight showed ahead. With joyful cries of relief, Frank and Joe urged their horses forward.

In a minute or so, they had emerged onto a snow-covered mountainside. Rocks, scattered trees, and slopes all around them were bathed in the ghostly light of dawn. The Hardys leaped from their horses, stretched their tired muscles, and inhaled the fresh air deeply. Then they looked around and assessed their situation.

“There are Big Al’s tracks,” Joe said, pointing them out.

Frank nodded. “Fairly fresh, too-but he could be a good distance ahead of us.”

“Any idea where we are, Frank?”

“Not much, except that we’ve come clear through the mountain.” Frank grinned wryly. “I’m famished, Joe. How about you?”

“Same here! Think we can take time to eat?”

“May as well,” Frank decided. “No telling how long we’ll be on the trail. Lucky we didn’t unpack.”

The boys fed their horses, built a small fire, and had breakfast. Then they swung back into the saddles and resumed their pursuit of the outlaw. His tracks led upward onto a beaten trail winding along the mountainside.

When they reached the path, Frank reined in his mount and glanced toward a high, jutting rock formation farther up the mountain. “Know something, Joe?” he remarked. “I’ll bet this is a continuation of Ambush Trail.”

Joe snapped his fingers. “You’re right! I remember seeing that rocky outcrop way in the distance, just before we fell into the river!”

“If this is Ambush Trail,” Frank went on, “Big Al must be heading for their hideout on Windy Peak.”

“That figures,” Joe agreed. “He thinks he’s shaken us by going through the tunnel.”

The boys continued their pursuit throughout the morning. Around noontime, Big Al’s tracks left the well-defined path and disappeared upward among the higher rocks and brush.

Joe groaned at the sight. “Good grief! How can we tackle that kind of ground when our horses are exhausted already?”

Frank looked thoughtful as they slouched in their saddles and studied the terrain. “Maybe there’s no needto, Joe. I have a hunch this could be a dodge to throw us off.”

“You could be right,” Joe said, brightening. “If Big Al’s heading for Windy Peak, he’ll probably have to come back to the trail eventually.”

After talking the matter over, the Hardys decided to halt for lunch and a rest. Two hours later, feeling refreshed, they hit the trail again.

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