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CHAPTER VI

The Robbery

JOE HARDY quickly led the way into the swampy area as the other boys trooped along, everyone talking at once. When they reached the spot, Chet examined the tire and exclaimed:

“There’s no mistake about it! This is one of the tires! When the thief put on the new one, he threw this away.”“Perhaps the Queen is still around,” suggested Frank quickly. “The thief may have picked this road as a good place to hide your jalopy until he could make a getaway.”

“It would be an ideal place,” Chet agreed. “People coming to Willow Grove have to park at the gate, so nobody would come in here. But this old road comes in from the main highway. Let’s take a look, fellows.”

A scrutinizing search was begun along the abandoned road in the direction of the highway. A moment later Frank and Chet, in the lead, cried out simultaneously.

“Here’s a bypath! And here are tire marks!” Frank exclaimed. To one side was a narrow roadway, almost overgrown with weeds and low bushes. It led from the abandoned road into the depths of the woods.

Without hesitation Frank and Chet plunged into it. Presently the roadway widened out, then wound about a heavy clump of trees. It came to an end in a wide clearing.

In the clearing stood Chet Morton’s lost jalopy!

“My Queen!” he yelled in delight. “Her own license plates!”

His shout was heard by the rest of the boys, who came on a run. Chet’s joy was boundless. He examined the car with minute care, while his chums crowded around. At last he straightened up with a smile of satisfaction.

“She hasn’t been damaged a bit. All ready to run. The thief just hid the old bus in here and made a getaway. Come on, fellows, climb aboard. Free ride to the highway!”

Before leaving, the Hardys examined footprints left by the thief. “He wore sneakers,” Frank observed.

Suddenly Chet swung open the door and looked on the floor. “You mean he wore my sneakers. They’re gone.”

“And carried his own shoes,” Joe observed. “Very clever. Well, that washes out one clue. Can’t trace the man by his shoe prints.”

“Let’s go!” Chet urged.

He jumped into the car and in a few seconds the engine roared. There was barely sufficient room in the clearing to permit him to turn the jalopy about.

When he swung around and headed up the bypath, the boys gave a cheer and hastened to clamber aboard.Lurching and swaying, the car reached the abandoned road and from there made the run to the main highway. The boys transferred to Tony’s truck and the motorcycles, and formed a parade into Bayport, with Frank and Joe in the lead. It was their intention to ride up to police headquarters and announce their success to Chief Collig.

“And I hope Smuff will be around,” Chet gloated.

As the grinning riders came down Main Street, however, they noticed that no one paid any attention to them, and there seemed to be an unusual air of mystery in the town. People were standing in little groups, gesticulating and talking earnestly.

Presently the Hardys saw Oscar Smuff striding along with a portentous frown. Joe called out to him. “What’s going on, detective? You notice we found Chet’s car.”

“I’ve got something more important than stolen cars to worry- Hey, what’s that?” Detective Smuff stared blankly, as the full import of the discovery filtered his consciousness.

The boys waited for Smuff’s praise, but he did not give it. Instead, he said, “I got a big mystery to solve. The Tower Mansion has been robbed!”

“Good night!” the Hardys chorused.

Tower Mansion was one of the show places of Bayport. Few people in the city had ever been permitted to enter the place and the admiration which the palatial building excited was solely by reason of its exterior appearance. But the first thing a newcomer to Bayport usually asked was, “Who owns that house with the towers over on the hill?”

It was an immense, rambling stone structure overlooking the bay, and could be seen for miles, silhouetted against the sky line like an ancient feudal castle.

The resemblance to a castle was heightened by the fact that from each of the far ends of the mansion arose a high tower.

One of these had been built when the mansion was erected by Major Applegate, an eccentric, retired old Army man who had made a fortune by lucky real-estate deals. Years ago there had been many parties and dances in the mansion.

But the Applegate family had become scattered until at last there remained in the old home only Hurd Applegate and his sister Adelia. They lived in the vast, lonely mansion at the present time.

Hurd Applegate was a man about sixty, tall, and stooped. His life seemed tobe devoted now to the collection of rare stamps. But a few years before he had built a new tower on the mansion, a duplicate of the original one.

His sister Adelia was a maiden lady of uncertain years. Well-dressed women in Bayport were amused by her clothes. She dressed in clashing colors and unbecoming styles. Hurd and Adelia Applegate were reputed to be enormously wealthy, although they lived simply, kept only a few servants, and never had visitors.

“Tell us about the theft,” Joe begged Smuff.

But the detective waved his hand airily. “You’ll have to find out yourselves,”

he retorted as he hurried off.

Frank and Joe called good-by to their friends and headed for home. As they arrived, the boys saw Hurd Applegate just leaving the house. The man tapped the steps with his cane as he came down them. When he heard the boys’

motorcycles he gave them a piercing glance.

“Good day!” he growled in a grudging manner and went on his way.

“He must have been asking Dad to take the case,” Frank said to his brother, as they pulled into the garage.

The boys rushed into the house, eager to find out more about the robbery. In the front hallway they met their father.

“We heard the Tower Mansion has been robbed,” said Joe.

Mr. Hardy nodded. “Yes. Mr. Applegate was just here to tell me about it. He wants me to handle the case.”

“How much was taken?”

Mr. Hardy smiled. “Well, I don’t suppose it will do any harm to tell you. The safe in the Applegate library was opened. The loss will be about forty thousand dollars, all in securities and jewels.”

“Whew!” exclaimed Frank. “What a haul! When did it happen?”

“Either last night or this morning. Mr. Apple-gate did not get up until after ten o’clock this morning and did not go into the library until nearly noon. It was then that he discovered the theft.”

“How was the safe opened?”

“By using the combination. It was opened either by someone who knew the set of numbers or else by a very clever thief who could detect the noise of thetumblers. I’m going up to the house in a few minutes. Mr. Applegate is to call for me.”

“I’d like to go along,” Joe said eagerly.

“So would I,” Frank declared.

Mr. Hardy looked at his sons and smiled. “Well, if you want to be detectives, I suppose it is about as good a chance as any to watch a crime investigation from the inside. If Mr. Applegate doesn’t object, you may come with me.”

A few minutes later a foreign-make, chauffeur-driven car drew up before the Hardy home. Mr.

Applegate was seated in the rear, his chin resting on his cane. The three Hardys went outside. When the detective mentioned the boys’ request, the man merely grunted assent and moved over. Frank and Joe stepped in after their father. The car headed toward Tower Mansion.

“I don’t really need a detective in this case!” Hurd Applegate snapped.

“Don’t need one at all. It’s as clear as the nose on your face. I know who took the stuff. But I can’t prove it.”

“Whom do you suspect?” Fenton Hardy asked.

“Only one man in the world could have taken the jewels and securities.

Robinson!”

“Robinson?”

“Yes. Henry Robinson-the caretaker. He’s the man.”

The Hardy boys looked at each other in consternation. Henry Robinson, the caretaker of the Tower Mansion, was the father of one of their closest chums! Perry Robinson, nicknamed “Slim,” was the son of the accused man!

That his father should be blamed for the robbery seemed absurd to the Hardy boys. They had met Mr. Robinson upon several occasions and he had appeared to be a good-natured, easygoing man with high principles.

“I don’t believe he’s guilty,” Frank whispered.

“Neither do I,” returned his brother.

“What makes you suspect Robinson?” Mr. Hardy asked Hurd Applegate.

“He’s the only person besides my sister and me who ever saw that safe opened and closed. He could have learned the combination if he’d kept his eyes and ears open, which I’m sure he did.”“Is that your only reason for suspecting him?”

“No. This morning he paid off a nine-hundred-dollar note at the bank. And I know for a fact he didn’t have more than one hundred dollars to his name a few days ago. Now where did he raise nine hundred dollars so suddenly?”

“Perhaps he has a good explanation,” Mr. Hardy suggested.

“Oh, he’ll have an explanation all right!” sniffed Mr. Applegate. “But it will have to be a mighty good one to satisfy me.”

The automobile was now speeding up the wide driveway that led to Tower Mansion and within a few minutes stopped at the front entrance. Mr. Hardy and the two boys accompanied the eccentric man into the house.

“Nothing has been disturbed in the library since the discovery of the theft,”

he said, leading the way there.

Mr. Hardy examined the open safe, then took a special magnifying glass from his pocket. With minute care he inspected the dial of the combination lock.

Next he walked to each window and the door to examine them for fingerprints. He asked Mr. Applegate to hold his fingers up to a strong light and got a clear view of the whorls and lines

on the inside of the tips. At last he shook his head.

“A smooth job,” he observed. “The thief must have worn gloves. All the fingerprints in the room, Mr. Applegate, seem to be yours.”

“No use looking for fingerprints or any other evidence!” Mr. Applegate barked impatiently. “It was Robinson, I tell you.”

“Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to ask him a few questions,” Mr.

Hardy advised.

Mr. Applegate rang for one of the servants and instructed him to tell the caretaker to come to the library at once. Mr. Hardy glanced at the boys and suggested they wait in the hallway.

“It might prove less embarrassing to Mr. Robinson that way,” he said in a low voice.

Frank and Joe readily withdrew. In the hall they met Mr. Robinson and his son Perry. The man was calm, but pale, and at the doorway he patted Slim on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Everything will be all right.” With that he entered the library.Slim turned to his two friends. “It’s got to be!” he cried out. “My dad is innocent!”

CHAPTER VII

The Arrest

FRANK and Joe were determined to help their chum prove his father’s innocence. They shared his conviction that Mr. Robinson was not guilty.

“Of course he’s innocent,” Frank agreed. “He’ll be able to clear himself all right, Slim.”

“But things look pretty black right now,” the boy said. He was white-faced and shaken. “Unless Mr. Hardy can catch the real thief, I’m afraid Dad will be blamed for the robbery.”

“Everybody knows your father is honest,” said Joe consolingly. “He has been a faithful employee -even Mr. Applegate will have to admit that.”

“Which won’t help him much if he can’t clear himself of the charge. And Dad admits that he did know the combination of the safe, although of course he’d never use it.”

“He knew it?” repeated Joe, surprised.

“Dad learned the combination accidentally. It was so simple one couldn’t forget it. This was how it happened. One day when he was cleaning the library fireplace, he found a piece of paper with numbers on it. He studied them and decided they were the safe combination. Dad laid the paper on the desk. The window was open and he figured the breeze must have blown the paper to the floor.”

“Does Mr. Applegate know that?”

“Not yet. But Dad is going to tell him now. He realizes it will look bad for him, but he’s going to give Mr. Applegate the truth.”

From the library came the hum of voices. The harsh tones of Hurd Applegate occasionally rose above the murmur of conversation and finally the boys heard Mr. Robinson’s voice rise sharply.

“I didn’t do it! I tell you I didn’t take that money!”“Then where did you get the nine hundred you paid on that note?” demanded Mr. Applegate.

Silence.

“Where did you get it?”

“I’m not at liberty to tell you or anyone else.”

“Why not?”

“I got the money honestly-that’s all I can say about it.”

“Oh, ho!” exclaimed Mr. Applegate. “You got the money honestly, yet you can’t tell me where it came from! A pretty story! If you got the money honestly you shouldn’t be ashamed to tell where it came from.”

“I’m not ashamed. I can only say again, I’m not at liberty to talk about it.”

“Mighty funny thing that you should get nine hundred dollars so quickly. You were pretty hard up last week, weren’t you? Had to ask for an advance on your month’s wages.”

“That is true.”

“And then the day of this robbery you suddenly have nine hundred dollars that you can’t explain.”

Mr. Hardy’s calm voice broke in. “Of course I don’t like to pry into your private affairs, Mr. Robinson,” he said, “but it would be best if you would dear up this matter of the money.”

“I know it looks bad,” replied the caretaker doggedly. “But I’ve made a promise I can’t break.”

“And you admit being familiar with the combination of the safe, too!” broke in Mr. Applegate. “I didn’t know that before. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t consider it important.”

“And yet you come and tell me now!”

“I have nothing to conceal. If I had taken the securities and jewels I wouldn’t be telling you that I knew the combination.”

“Yes,” agreed Mr. Hardy, “that’s a point in your favor, Mr. Robinson.”

“Is it?” asked Mr. Applegate. “Robinson’s just clever enough to think up a trick like that. He’d figure that by appearing to be honest, I’d believe he is honest and couldn’t have committed this robbery. Very clever. But not cleverenough. There’s plenty of evidence right this minute to convict him, and I’m not going to delay any further.”

In a moment Mr. Applegate’s voice continued, “Police station? Hello . . . Police station? . . . This is Applegate speaking-Applegate-Hurd Applegate. . . . Well, we’ve found our man in that robbery. . . . Yes, Robinson. . . . You thought so, eh?-So did I, but I wasn’t sure. . . . He has practically convicted himself by his own story. . . . Yes, I want him arrested. . . . You’ll be up right away? . . . Fine. . . . Good-by.”

“You’re not going to have me arrested, Mr. Applegate?” the caretaker cried out in alarm.

“Why not? You’re the thief!”

“It might have been better to wait a while,” Mr. Hardy interposed. “At least until there was more evidence.”

“What more evidence do we want, Mr. Hardy,” the owner of Tower Mansion sneered. “If Robinson wants to return the jewels and securities I’ll have the charge withdrawn-but that’s all.”

“I can’t return them! I didn’t take them!” Mr. Robinson defended himself.

“You’ll have plenty of time to think,” Mr. Applegate declared. “You’ll be in the penitentiary a long time-a long time.”

In the hallway the boys listened in growing excitement and dismay. The case had taken an abrupt and tragic turn. Slim looked as though he might collapse under the strain.

“My dad’s innocent,” the boy muttered over and over again, clenching his fists. “I know he is. They can’t arrest him. He never stole anything in his life!”

Frank patted his friend on the shoulder. “Brace up, pal,” he advised. “It looks discouraging just now, but I’m sure your father will be able to clear himself.”

“I- I’ll have to tell Mother,” stammered Slim. “This will break her heart. And my sisters-“

Frank and Joe followed the boy down the hallway and along a corridor that led to the east wing of the mansion. There, in a neat but sparsely furnished apartment, they found Mrs. Robinson, a gentle, kind-faced woman, who was lame. She was seated in a chair by the window, anxiously waiting. Her two daughters, Paula and Tessie, twelve-year-old twins, were at her side, and alllooked up in expectation as the boys came in.

“What news, son?” Mrs. Robinson asked bravely, after she had greeted the Hardys.

“Bad, Mother.”

“They’re not-they’re not-arresting him?” cried Paula, springing forward.

Perry nodded wordlessly.

“But they can’t!” Tessie protested. “Dad couldn’t do anything like that! It’s wrong-“

Frank, looking at Mrs. Robinson, saw her suddenly slump over in a faint. He sprang forward and caught the woman in his arms as she was about to fall to the floor.

“Mother!” cried Slim in terror, as Frank laid Mrs. Robinson on a couch, then he said quickly to his sister, “Paula, bring the smelling salts and her special medicine.”

Perry explained that at times undue excitement caused an “attack.” “I shouldn’t have told her about Dad,” the boy chided himself.

“She’d have to know it sooner or later,” Joe said kindly.

In a moment Paula returned with the bottle of smelling salts and medicine.

The inhalant brought her mother back to consciousness, and Paula then gave Mrs. Robinson the medicine. In a few moments the woman completely revived and apologized for having worried everyone.

“I admit it was a dreadful shock to think my husband has been arrested,” she said, “but surely something can be done to prove his innocence.”

Instantly Frank and Joe assured her they would do everything they could to find the real thief, because they too felt that Mr. Robinson was not guilty.

The next morning, as the brothers were dressing in their room at home, Frank remarked, “There’s a great deal about this case that hasn’t come to the surface yet. It’s just possible that the man who stole Chet Morton’s car may have had something to do with the theft.”

Joe agreed. “He was a criminal-that much is certain. He stole an automobile and he tried to hold up the ticket office, so why not another robbery?”

“Right, Joe. I just realized that we never inspected Chet’s car for any dues to the thief, so let’s do it.”The stout boy did not bring his jalopy to school that day, so the Hardys had to submerge their curiosity until classes and baseball practice were over. Then, when Mrs. Morton picked up Chet and Iola, Frank and Joe went home with them.

“I’ll look under the seats,” Joe offered.

“And I’ll search the trunk compartment.” Frank walked to the back of the car and raised the cover. He began rooting under rags, papers, and discarded schoolbooks. Presently he gave a cry of victory.

“Here it is! The best evidence in the world!”

Joe and Chet rushed to his side as he held up a man’s red wig.

Frank said excitedly, “Maybe there’s a clue in this hair piece!”

An examination failed to reveal any, but Frank said he would like to show the wig to his father. He covered it with a handkerchief and put it carefully in an inner pocket. Chet drove the Hardys home.

They assumed that their father was in his study on the second floor, and rushed up there and into the room without ceremony.

“Dad, we’ve found a clue!” Joe cried. Then he stepped back, embarrassed, as he realized there was someone else in the room.

“Sorry!” said Frank. The boys would have retreated, but Mr. Hardy’s visitor turned around and they saw that he was Perry Robinson.

“It’s only me,” said Slim. “Don’t go.”

“Hi, Slim!”

“Perry has been trying to shed a little more light on the Tower robbery,”

explained Mr, Hardy. “But what is this clue you’re talking about?”

“It might concern the robbery,” replied Frank. “It’s about the red-haired man.” He took the wig from his pocket and told where he had found it.

Mr. Hardy’s interest was kindled at once. “This seems to link up a pretty good chain of evidence. The man who passed you on the shore road wrecked the car he was driving, then stole Chet’s, and afterward tried to hold up the ticket office. When he failed there, he tried another and more successful robbery at the Tower.”

“Do you really think the wig might help us solve the Tower robbery?” asked Perry, taking hope.”Possibly.”

“I was just telling your father,” Slim went on, “that I saw a strange man lurking around the grounds of the mansion two days before the robbery. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, and in the shock of Dad’s arrest I forgot about it.”

“Did you get a good look at him? Could you describe him?” Frank asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t. It was in the evening. I was sitting by a window, studying, and happened to look up. I saw this fellow moving about among the trees.

Later, I heard one of the dogs barking in another part of the grounds. Shortly afterward, I saw someone running across the lawn. I thought he was just a tramp.”

“Did he wear a hat or a cap?”

“As near as I can remember, it was a cap. His clothes were dark.”

“And you couldn’t see his face?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s not much to go on,” said Mr. Hardy, “but it might be linked up with Frank and Joe’s idea that the man who stole the jalopy may still have been hanging around Bayport.” The detective thought deeply for a few moments. “I’ll bring all these facts to Mr. Applegate’s attention, and I’m also going to have a talk with the police authorities. I feel they haven’t enough evidence to warrant holding your father, Perry.”

“Do you think you can have him released?” the boy asked eagerly.

“I’m sure of it. In fact, I believe Mr. Applegate is beginning to realize now that he made a mistake.”

“It will be wonderful if we can have Dad back with us again,” said Perry.

“Of course things won’t be the same for him. He’ll be under a cloud of suspicion as long as this mystery isn’t cleared up. I suppose Mr. Applegate won’t employ him or anyone else.”

“All the more reason why we should get busy and clear up the affair,” Frank said quickly, and Joe added, “Slim, we’ll do all we can to help your father.”CHAPTER VIII An Important Discovery

WHEN the Hardy boys were on their way home from school the next afternoon they noticed that a crowd had collected in the vestibule of the post office and were staring at the bulletin board.

“Wonder what’s up now?” said Joe, pushing his way forward through the crowd with the agility of an eel. Frank was not slow in following.

On the board was a large poster. The ink on it was scarcely dry. At the top, in enormous black letters, it read:

$1000 REWARD

Underneath, in slightly smaller type, was the following: The above reward will be paid for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who broke into Tower Mansion and stole jewels and securities from a safe in the library.

The reward was being offered by Hurd Apple-gate.

“Why, that must mean the charge against Mr. Robinson has been dropped!”

exclaimed Joe.

“It looks like it. Let’s see if we can find Slim.”

All about them people were commenting on the size of the reward, and there were many expressions of envy for the person who would be fortunate enough to solve the mystery.

“A thousand dollars!” said Frank, as the brothers made their way out of the post office. “That’s a lot of money, Joe.”

“I’ll say it is.”

“And there’s no reason why we haven’t as good a chance of earning it as anyone else.”

“I suppose Dad and the police are barred from the reward, for it’s their duty to find the thief if they can. But if we track him down we can get the money.

It’ll be a good sum to add to our college fund.”

“Let’s go! Say, there’s Slim now.”

Perry Robinson was coming down the street toward them. He looked much happier than he had the previous evening, and when he saw the Hardy boyshis face lighted up.

“Dad is free,” he told them. “Thanks to your father, the charge has been dropped.”

“I’m sure glad to hear that!” exclaimed Joe. “I see a reward is being offered.” “Your father convinced Mr. Applegate that it must have been an outside job. And the work of a professional thief. Chief Collig admitted there wasn’t much evidence against Dad, so they let him go. It’s a great relief. My mother and sisters were almost crazy with worry.”

“No wonder,” commented Frank. “What’s your father going to do now?”

“I don’t know,” Slim admitted. “Of course, we’ve had to move from the Tower Mansion estate. Mr. Applegate said that even though the charge had been dropped, he wasn’t altogether convinced in his own mind that Dad hadn’t had something to do with the theft. So he dismissed him.”

“That’s tough luck. But your dad will be able to get another job somewhere,”

Frank said consolingly.

“I’m not so sure about that. People aren’t likely to employ a man who’s been suspected of stealing. Dad tried two or three places this afternoon, but he was turned down.”

The Hardys were silent. They felt very sorry for the Robinsons and were determined to do what they could to help them.

“We’ve rented a small house just outside the city,” Slim went on. “It’s cheap and the neighborhood is kind of bad, but we’ll have to get along.”

Frank and Joe admired Slim. There was no false pride about him. He faced the facts as they came, and made the best of them. “But if Dad doesn’t get a job, it will mean that I’ll have to go to work full time.”

“Why, Slim-you’d have to quit school!” Joe cried out.

“I can’t help that. I wouldn’t want to, for you know I was trying for a scholarship. But-“

The brothers realized how much it would mean to their chum if he had to leave school. Perry Robinson was an ambitious boy and one of the top ten in his class. He had always wanted to continue his studies and go on to a university, and his teachers had predicted a brilliant career for him as an engineer. Now it seemed that all his ambitions for a high school diploma and a college education would have to be given up because of this misfortune.

Frank put an arm around Slim’s shoulders. “Chin up,” he said with a warmsmile. “Joe and I are going to plug away at this affair until we get to the bottom of it!”

“It’s mighty good of you fellows,” Slim said gratefully. “I won’t forget it in a hurry.” He tried to smile, but it was evident that the boy was deeply worried.

When he walked away it was not with the light, carefree step which the Hardys associated with him.

“What’s the first move, Frank?” Joe asked.

“We’d better get a full description of those jewels. Perhaps the thief tried to pawn them. Let’s try all the pawnshops and see what we can find out.”

“Good idea, even if the police have already done it.” Frank grinned. Then he sobered. “Do you think Applegate will give us a list?”

“We won’t have to ask him. Dad should have that information.”

“Let’s find out right now.”

When the boys returned home, they found their father waiting for them. “I have news for you,” he said. “Your theory about the wrecked auto being stolen has been confirmed. Collig phoned just now and told me the true ownership had been traced by the engine number. Car belongs to a man over in Thornton.”

“Good. That’s one more strike against the thief,” Joe declared.

But a moment later the boys met with disappointment when they asked their father for a list of the stolen jewels.

“I’m willing to give you all the information I have,” said Fenton Hardy, “but I’m afraid it won’t be of much use. Furthermore, I’ll bet I can tell just what you’re going to do.”

“What?”

“Make the rounds of the pawnshops to see if any of the jewels have been turned in.”

The Hardy boys looked at each other in amazement. “I might have guessed,”

said Frank.

Their father smiled. “Not an hour after I was called in on the case I had a full description of all those jewels in every pawnshop in the city. More than that, the description has been sent to jewelry firms and pawnshops in other cities near here, and also the New York police. Here’s a duplicate list if you want it, but you’ll just be wasting time calling at the shops. All the dealers are on thelookout for the jewels.”

Mechanically, Frank took the list. “And I thought it was such a bright idea!”

“It is a bright idea. But it has been used before. Most jewel robberies are solved in just this manner-by tracing the thief when he tries to get rid of the gems.”

“Well,” said Joe gloomily, “I guess that plan is all shot to pieces. Come on, Frank. We’ll think of something else.”

“Out for the reward?” asked Mr. Hardy, chuckling.

“Yes. And we’ll get it, too!”

“I hope you do. But you can’t ask me to help you any more than I’ve done.

It’s my case, too, remember. So from now on, you boys and I are rivals I”

“It’s a go!”

“More power to you!” Mr. Hardy smiled and returned to his desk.

He had a sheaf of reports from shops and agencies in various parts of the state, through which he had been trying to trace the stolen jewels and securities, but in every case the report was the same. There had been no lead to the gems or the bonds taken from Tower Mansion.

When the boys left their father’s study they went outside and sat on the back-porch steps.

“What shall we do now?” asked Joe.

“I don’t know. Dad sure took the wind out of our sails that time, didn’t he?”

“I’ll say he did. But it was just as well. He saved us a lot of trouble.”

“Yes, we might have been going around in circles,” Frank conceded.

Joe wagged his head. “It looks as if Dad has the inside track on the case-in the city, anyway.”

“What have you got in mind?” Joe asked.

“To concentrate on the country. We started out to find the thief because he stole Chet’s car. Let’s start all over again from that point.”

“Meaning?”

“Mr. Red Wig may have come back to the woods expecting to use Chet’s car again, and-““Frank, you’re a genius! You figure the guy may have left a clue by accident”

“Exactly.”

Fired with enthusiasm once more, the brothers called to Mrs. Hardy where they were going, then set off on their motorcycles. After parking them at the picnic site, the brothers once more set off for the isolated spot where the jalopy had been hidden.

Everything looked the same as it had before, but Frank and Joe examined the ground carefully for new footprints. They found none, but Joe pointed out six-inch circular marks at regular intervals.

“They’re just the size of a man’s stride,” he remarked, “and I didn’t notice them before.”

“I didn’t either,” said Frank. “Do you suppose that thief tied pads onto his shoes to keep him from making footprints?”

“Let’s see where they lead.”

The boys followed the circular marks through the thicket. They had not gone far when their eyes lighted up with excitement.

“Another due!” Joe yelled. “And this time a swell one!”

CHAPTER IX

Rival Detectives

“MAYBE,” Frank said with a grin, “Dad will take us into his camp when he sees these!”

“Just a minute,” Joe spoke up. “I thought we were rivals now, and you and I have to solve this mystery alone to earn the reward.”

Frank held up a man’s battered felt hat and an old jacket. “If these belong to that thief, I think we’ve earned the money already!”

He felt through the pockets of the jacket, but they were empty. “No clue here,” he said.

“This hat has a label, though-New York City store,” said Joe.”And the coat, too,” Frank added. “Same shop. Well, one thing is sure. If they do belong to the thief, he never meant to leave them. The labels are a dead giveaway.”

“He must have been frightened off,” Joe concluded. “Maybe when he found that Chet’s jalopy was gone, he felt he’d better scram, and forgot the coat and hat.”

“What I’d like to know,” Frank said, “is whether some hairs from that red wig may be in the hat.”

Joe grinned. “Bright boy.” He carried the hat to a spot where the sunlight filtered down through the trees and looked intently at the inside, even turning down the band. “Yowee! Success!” he yelled.

Frank gazed at two short strands of red hair. They looked exactly like those in the wig which the boys had found.

Joe sighed. “I guess we’ll have to tell Dad about this. He has the wig.”

“Right.”

Frank and Joe hurried home, clutching their precious clues firmly. Mr. Hardy was still in his study when his sons returned. The detective looked up, frankly surprised to see them home so soon. There was the suspicion of a twinkle in his eyes.

“What! More clues!” he exclaimed. “You’re really on the job.”

“You bet we have more clues!” cried Frank eagerly. He told the boys’ story and laid the hat and jacket on a table. “We’re turning these over to you.”

“But I thought you two were working on this case as my rivals.”

“To tell the truth,” said Frank, “we don’t know what to do with the due we’ve found. It leads to New York City.”

Mr. Hardy leaned forward in his desk chair as Frank pointed out the labels and the two strands of red hair.

“And besides,” Frank went on, “I guess the only way to prove that the thief owns these clothes is by comparing the hairs in the hat with the red wig. And Joe and I don’t have the wig.”

With a grin the detective went to his files and brought it out. “Chief Collig left this here.”

The strands of hair were compared and matched perfectly!”You boys have certainly made fine progress,” Mr. Hardy praised his sons.

He smiled. “And since you have, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Chief Collig asked me to see what I could figure out of the wig. He says there’s no maker’s name on it.”

“And there isn’t?” Joe asked.

His father’s eyes twinkled once more. “I guess Collig’s assistants weren’t very thorough. At any rate, I discovered there’s an inner lining and on that is the maker’s name. He’s in New York City and I was just thinking about flying there to talk to him. Now you boys have given me a double incentive for going.”

Frank and Joe beamed with pleasure, then suddenly their faces clouded.

“What’s the matter?” Mr. Hardy asked them.

Joe answered. “It looks as if you’re going to solve the case all alone.”

“Nothing of the sort,” the detective replied. “The person who bought the wig may not have given his name. The hat may have been purchased a long time ago, and it isn’t likely that the clerk who sold it will remember who bought it.

The same with the jacket.”

Frank and Joe brightened. “Then the case is far from solved,” Frank said.

“All these are good leads, however,” Mr. Hardy said. “There is always the chance that the store may not be far from where the suspect lives. Though it’s a slim chance, we can’t afford to overlook anything. I’ll take these articles to the city and see what I can do. It may mean everything and it may mean nothing. Don’t be disappointed if I come back empty-handed. And don’t be surprised if I come back with some valuable information.”

Mr. Hardy tossed the wig, coat, and hat into a bag that was standing open near his desk. The detective was accustomed to being called away suddenly on strange errands, and he was always prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

“Not much use starting now,” he said, glancing at his watch. “But I’ll go to the city first thing in the morning. In the meantime, you boys keep your eyes and ears open for more clues. The case isn’t over yet by any means.”

Mr. Hardy picked up some papers on his desk, as a hint that the interview was over, and the boys left the study. They were in a state of high excitement when they went to bed that night and could not get to sleep.

“That thief must be pretty smart,” murmured Joe, after they had talked longinto the night.

“The smarter crooks are, the harder they fall,” Frank replied. “If this fellow has any kind of a record, it won’t take long for Dad to run him down. I’ve heard Dad say that there is no such thing as a clever crook. If he was really clever, he wouldn’t be a crook at all.”

“Yes, I guess there’s something in that, too. But it shows that we’re not up against any amateur. This fellow is a slippery customer.”

“He’ll have to be mighty slippery from now on. Once Dad has a few clues to work on he never lets up till he gets his man.”

“And don’t forget us,” said Joe, yawning. With that the boys fell asleep.

When they went down to breakfast the following morning Frank and Joe learned that their father had left for New York on an early-morning plane.

Their mother remarked, “I’ll be so relieved when he gets back. So often these missions turn out to be dangerous.”

She went on to say that her husband had promised to phone her if he wasn’t going to be back by suppertime. Suddenly she added with a tantalizing smile, “Your father said he might have a surprise for you if he remains in New York.”

Mrs. Hardy refused to divulge another word. The boys went to school, but all through the morning could scarcely keep their minds on studies. They kept wondering how Fenton Hardy was faring on his quest in New York and what the surprise was.

Slim Robinson was at school that day, but after classes he confided to the Hardys that he was leaving for good.

“It’s no use,” he said. “Dad can’t keep me in school any longer and it’s up to me to pitch in and help the family. I’m to start work tomorrow at a supermarket.”

“And you wanted to go to college!” exclaimed Frank. “It’s a shame!”

“Can’t be helped,” replied Perry with a grimace. “I consider myself lucky to have stayed in school this long. I’ll have to give up all those college plans and settle down in the business world. There’s one good thing about it-I’ll have a chance to learn supermarket work from the ground up. I’m starting in the receiving department.” He smiled. “Perhaps in about fifty years I’ll be head of the firm!”

“You’ll make good at whatever you tackle,” Joe assured him. “But I’m sorryyou won’t be able to go through college as you planned. Don’t give up hope yet, Slim. One never knows what may happen. Perhaps the thief who did rob Tower Mansion will be found.”

Frank and Joe wanted to tell Slim about the clues they had discovered the previous day, but the same thought came into their minds-that it would be unfair to raise any false hopes. So they said good-by and wished him good luck. Perry tried hard to be cheerful, but his smile was very faint as he turned away from them and walked down the street.

“I sure feel sorry for him,” said Frank, as he and Joe started for home. “He was such a hard worker in school and counted so much on going to college.”

“We’ve just got to clear up the Tower robbery, that’s all there is to it!”

declared his brother.

As they neared the Hardy home, the boys’ steps quickened. Would they find that their father had returned with the information on the identity of the thief?

Or was he still in New York? And were they about to share another of his secrets?

CHAPTER X

A Sleuthing Trip

FRANK and Joe’s first stop was the Hardy garage. Looking in, they saw that only Mrs. Hardy’s car was there. Their father had taken his sedan to the airport and not brought it back.

“Dad’s not home!” Joe cried excitedly. “Now we’ll hear what the surprise is.” Dashing into the kitchen, he called, “Mother!”

“I’m upstairs, dear,” Mrs. Hardy called back.

The boys rushed up the front stairway two steps at a time. Their mother met them at the door of their bedroom. Smiling broadly, she pointed to a packed suitcase on Frank’s bed. The boys looked puzzled.

Next, from her dress pocket, Mrs. Hardy brought out two plane tickets and some dollar bills. She handed a ticket and half the money to each of her sons, saying, “Your father wants you to meet him in New York to help him on the case.”Frank and Joe were speechless for a moment, then they grabbed their mother in a bear hug. “This is super!” Joe exclaimed. “What a surprise!”

Frank looked affectionately at his mother. “You sure were busy today-getting our plane tickets and money. I wish you were going too.”

Mrs. Hardy laughed. “When I go to New York for a week end I want to have fun with you boys, not trot around to police stations and thieves’ hide-outs!”

she teased. “I’ll go some other time. Well, let’s hurry downstairs. There’s a snack ready for you. Then I’ll drive my detective sons to the airport.”

In less than two hours the boys were on the plane to New York City. Upon landing there, they were met by Mr. Hardy. He took them to his hotel, where he had engaged an adjoining room for them. It was not until the doors were closed that he brought up the subject of the mystery.

“The case has taken an interesting turn, and may involve considerable research. That’s why I thought you might help me.”

“Tell us what has happened so far,” Frank requested eagerly.

Mr. Hardy said that immediately upon arriving in the city he had gone to the office of the company which had manufactured the red wig. After sending in his card to the manager he had been admitted readily.

“That’s because the name of Fenton Hardy is known from the Atlantic to the Pacific!” Joe interjected proudly.

The detective gave his son a wink and went on with the story. “ ‘Some of our customers in trouble, Mr. Hardy?’ the manager asked me when I laid the red wig on his desk.

” ‘Not yet,’ I said. ‘But one of them may be if I can trace the purchaser of this wig.’

“The manager picked it up. He inspected it carefully and frowned. ‘We sell mainly to an exclusive theatrical trade. I hope none of the actors has done anything wrong.’

” ‘Can you tell me who bought this one?’ I asked.

” ‘We make wigs only to order,’ the manager said. He pressed a button at the side of his desk. A boy came and departed with a written message. ‘It may be difficult. This wig is not a new one. In fact, I would say it was fashioned about two years ago.’

” ‘A long time. But still-‘ I encouraged him,” the detective went on. “In a few minutes a bespectacled elderly man shuffled into the office in response to themanager’s summons.

” ‘Kauffman, here,’ the manager said, ‘is our expert. What he doesn’t know about wigs isn’t worth knowing.’ Then, turning to the old man, he handed him the red wig. ‘Remember it, Kauffman?’

“The old man looked at it doubtfully. Then he gazed at the ceiling. ‘Red wig-red wig-‘ he muttered.

” ‘About two years old, isn’t it?’ the manager prompted.

” ‘Not quite. Year’n a half, I’d say. Looks like a comedy-character type.

Wait’11 I think. There ain’t been so many of our customers playin’ that kind of a part inside a year and a half. Let’s see. Let’s see.’ The old man paced up and down the office, muttering names under his breath. Suddenly he stopped, snapping his fingers.

” ‘I have it,’ he said. ‘It must have been Morley who bought that wig. That’s who it was! Harold Morley. He’s playin’ in Shakespearean repertoire with Hamlin’s company. Very fussy about his wigs. Has to have ‘em just so. I remember he bought this one, because he came in here about a month ago and ordered another like it.’

” ‘Why would he do that?’ I asked him.

“Kauffman shrugged his shoulders. ‘Ain’t none of my business. Lots of actors keep a double set of wigs. Morley’s playin’ down at the Crescent Theater right now. Call him up.’

” ‘I’ll go and see him,’ I told the men. And that’s just what we’ll do, Frank and Joe, after a bite of supper.”

“You don’t think this actor is the thief, do you?” Frank asked in amazement.

“How could he have gone back and forth to Bayport so quickly? And isn’t he playing here in town every night?”

Mr. Hardy admitted that he too was puzzled. He was certain Morley was not the man who had worn the wig on the day the jalopy was stolen, for the Shakespearean company had been playing a three weeks’ run in New York.

It was improbable, in any case, that the actor was a thief.

The three Hardys arrived at Mr. Morley’s dressing room half an hour before curtain time. Mr. Hardy presented his card to a suspicious doorman at the Crescent, but he and his sons were finally admitted backstage and shown down a brilliantly lighted corridor to the dressing room of Harold Morley. It was a snug place, with pictures on the walls, a potted plant in the window overlooking the alleyway, and a rug on the floor.Seated before a mirror with electric lights at either side was a stout little man, almost totally bald. He was diligently rubbing creamy stage make-up on his face. He did not turn around, but eyed his visitors in the mirror, casually telling them to sit down. Mr. Hardy took the only chair. The boys squatted on the floor.

“Often heard of you, Mr. Hardy,” the actor said in a surprisingly deep voice that had a comical effect in contrast to his diminutive appearance. “Glad to meet you. What kind of call is this? Social -or professional?”

“Professional.”

Morley continued rubbing the make-up on his jowls. “Out with it,” he said briefly.

“Ever see this wig before?” Mr. Hardy asked him, laying the hair piece on the make-up table.

Morley turned from the mirror, and an expression of delight crossed his plump countenance. “Well, I’ll say I’ve seen it before!” he declared. “Old Kauffman-the best wigmaker in the country -made this for me about a year and a half ago. Where did you get it? I sure didn’t think I’d ever see this red wig again.”

“Why?”

“Stolen from me. Some low-down sneak got in here and cleaned out my dressing room one night during the performance. Nerviest thing I ever heard of. Came right in here while I was doing my stuff out front, grabbed my watch and money and a diamond ring I had lying by the mirror, took this wig and a couple of others that were around, and beat it. Nobody saw him come or go. Must have got in by that window.”

Morley talked in short, rapid sentences, and there was no mistaking his sincerity.

“All the wigs were red,” he stated. “I didn’t worry so much about the other wigs, because they were for old plays, but this one was being used right along. Kauffman made it specially for me. I had to get him to make another.

But say-where did you find it?”

“Oh, my sons located it during some detective work we’re on. The crook left this behind. I was trying to trace him by it.”

Morley did not inquire further. “That’s all the help I can give you,” he said.

“The police never did learn who cleaned out my dressing room,”“Too bad. Well, I’ll probably get him some other way. Give me a list and description of the articles he took from you. Probably I can trace him through that.”

“Glad to,” said Morley. He reached into a drawer and drew out a sheet of paper which he handed to the detective. “That’s the same list I gave the police when I reported the robbery. Number of the watch, and everything. I didn’t bother to mention the wigs. Figured they wouldn’t be in any condition to wear if I did get them back.”

Mr. Hardy folded the list and put it in his pocket. Morley glanced at his watch, lying face up beside the mirror, and gave an exclamation. “Suffering Sebastopol! Curtain in five minutes and I’m not half made up yet. Excuse me, folks, but I’ve got to get on my horse. In this business I’ll be ready in a minute’ doesn’t go.”

He seized a stick of grease paint and feverishly resumed the task of altering his appearance to that of the character he was portraying at that evening’s performance. Mr. Hardy and his sons left. They made their way out to the street.

“Not much luck there,” Frank commented.

“Except through Mr. Morley’s stolen jewelry,” his father reminded him. “If that’s located in a pawnshop, it may lead to the thief. Well, boys, would you like to go into the theater via the front entrance and see the show?”

“Yes, Dad,” the brothers replied, and Joe added, “Tomorrow we’ll try to find out the name and address of the thief through his coat and hat?”

“Right,” the detective said.

The Hardys enjoyed the performance of The Merchant of Venice with Mr.

Morley as Launcelot Gobbo, and laughed hilariously at his comedy and gestures.

The next morning the detective and his sons visited the store from which the thief’s jacket and hat had been purchased. They were told that the styles were three years out of date and there was no way to tell who had bought them.

“The articles,” the head of the men’s suit department suggested, “may have been picked up more recently at a secondhand clothing store.” The Hardys thanked him and left.

“All this trip for nothing.” Joe gave a sigh.His father laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “A good detective,” he said, “never sighs with discouragement nor becomes impatient. It took years of persistence to solve some famous cases.”

He suggested that their next effort be devoted to doing some research in the city’s police files. Since Mr. Hardy had formerly been a member of the New York City detective force, he was permitted to search the records at any time.

Frank and Joe accompanied him to headquarters and the work began. First came a run-down on any known New York criminals who used disguises. Of these men, the Hardys took the reports on the ones who were thin and of medium height.

Next came a check by telephone on the whereabouts of these people. All could be accounted for as working some distance from Bayport at the time of the thefts, with one exception.

“I’ll bet he’s our man!” Frank exclaimed. “But where is he now?”

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