Sleuth brought the boys across Barmet Bay and up the Willow River to Brockton in record time. There they found the place they sought without any trouble. It was the larger of the two garages in the village.
There were half a dozen cars in the place as the boys entered. They recognized Virginia's coupe the moment they saw it. The proprietor, clad in overalls, crawled out from beneath a battered sedan.
"Looking for a job?" he asked the Hardys. "My man quit this morning and I'm up against it. Can you wash a car?"
Frank nudged Joe sharply.
"You bet we can," he said. "How much do you pay?"
"Two dollars each for the rest of the day,
The Search Ended 187
and there's enough work to keep you going until midnight. You can start in right this minute. I've a couple of spare overalls in the office."
Joe was inclined to grumble a little at the state of things. However, he and his brother were provided with work clothes and started washing a car that looked as if it had travelled five thousand miles through swamps and marshes.
"This isn't my idea of detective work," Joe said. "We came out here to find that girl, not to spend the rest of the day scrubbing cars."
"If Virginia comes in here for her coupe we'll be right on hand to meet her, that's the point," remarked Frank. "Get busy and earn that two dollars."
The boys toiled all afternoon, but Virginia Sinder did not show up. From the garage-man they learned that the coupe had been left in his •fjare a few days before. He said the owner might be in to claim it any time. Joe was distinctly gloomy over the prospect of washing cars until such a time as the girl should choose to put in her appearance.
completing their last job at eleven o'clock that night when the slight figure of a girl slipped into the garage.
She was Virginia!
"I've come for my coupe," she told the proprietor. "How much do I owe you?"
The boys peered from behind the car they were washing and saw her pay the man. Then she asked him for a road map, which she studied for a few moments.
"How far is it," she inquired, "from here to Miami, Florida?"
This was the last straw as far as Frank and Joe were concerned. Virginia Sinder had eluded them for the last time. She wasn 't going to leave for Florida if they could prevent it!
"Before you go, Virginia," said Frank, stepping before her, "how about telling us of the nine hundred dollars Nick Cordoza says you stole from him?"
THE MYSTERIOUS CELLAB
virginia started back with a cry. Then "without replying she darted quickly toward her coupe. Wrenching open the door, she leaped inside before the boys could prevent her. The garage-owner stood open-mouthed.
"Stop her!" yeUed Frank.
He leaped onto a running board just ate Virginia pressed the starter. The motor roared, then back-fired. There were half a dozen sharp reports that sounded like pistol shots. Joe plunged forward and hurled himself into the seat beside the girl.
The car lurched forward across the garage floor and out into the road. The motor backfired a second time. From across the street a belated villager mistook the sounds for those of a pistol.
"It's a hold-up! "he yelled. "Police! Help! Police!"
Virginia pressed down on the accelerator pedal. Along the highway raced the coupe, its back-firing and the shouts of the passers-by
190 A Figure in Hiding
arousing the village. A highway policeman who was having a sandwich and a cup of coffee in a lunch room across the street rushed out, saw the speeding car, and jumped onto his motorcycle. Brockton's chief of police, who was just leaving the station house made a standing broad jump for his automobile. Two men ran from the adjacent fire house, yelling:
"Wait for us, Chief!"
Virginia took the next corner on two wheels. The coupe rattled onto a dirt road that led north of Brockton along the river.
"Have you gone crazy?" shouted Frank, trying to reach the wheel. "Stop the car before you have us all killed."
The girl did not answer, for she was in too much of a panic over the theft of which she had been accused. She clung to the wheel more grimly than ever. Frank and Joe saw that any attempt to interfere with her would result in a terrible accident. The speedometer showed that the car was traveling at more than fifty miles an hour, pitching and bouncing precariously on the rutted road.
From behind them they could hear the clatter of the pursuing motorcycle. The boys glanced back and saw the headlight of the speeding machine.
The officer was firing his revolver. Bullets
The Mysterious Cellar 191
whistled through the air, one of them shattering the rear window of the coupe. Even then the girl made no move to stop. Instead, she increased the speed until the needle of the speedometer crept above sixty.
A few seconds later the car skidded dangerously on a curve, but Virginia was a good driver and pulled the machine out of it, then shot around a bend. A fork in the road loomed immediately ahead. The girl juggled the wheel, and without a moment's hesitation turned to the left. Then she bore down on the wheel again and raced around another sharp curve.
The move had the effect of throwing the pursuing posse off the track for the moment. The boys could hear the motorcycle and the police car roar down the right-hand fork.
The motorcycle officer, however, knew what he was doing. With the choice of two roads before him he had chosen the right-hand turn, knowing that it would join with the other farther on. His purpose was to meet the fleeing coupe at the next fork.
Joe had made several attempts to knock Virginia's foot off the accelerator; each effort had only caused the girl to jam down harder toward the floor. This caused a lurching of the car that nearly sent it crashing into the ditch. Wishing heartily that they had never
192 A Figure in Hiding
tried to find the desperate girl, the Hardy boys hung on, hoping for the best while anticipating the worst.
At the next curve the expected happened. Just as the car swung around the bend there came an explosive report. A rear tire had blown out!
The coupe swung crazily and went into a fearful skid. Frantically Virginia clung to the wheel and tried to regain control of the machine, but it shot across the road at terrific speed. The boys saw trees, rocks and bushes rise swiftly into the glare of the headlights.
Then there was a blinding crash. The car pitched over and hurtled down an embankment.
The Hardys had an impression of deafening noise and dazzling lights. They were knocked senseless as the coupe bounced and careened down the slope. It landed against a tree and came to a stop, nothing now but a twisted heap of wreckage.
Virginia and Frank had been thrown clear and lay on the ground in the darkness, motionless: Joe was pinned under the debris.
For a long time there was not a sound. Finally a harsh voice came from the inky blackness.
"Over this way, Zeb. Wait-I'll switch on the flashlight."
The Mysterious Cellar 193
A brilliant beam stabbed the dark night. Two men crept closer to the wreck.
"A bad business," grumbled one of them. "I don't want the police coming around here investigating.''
The voice was that of Grafton!
He was carrying a flashlight. Its beam playing on the wreck picked out the still form of Virginia lying beside the mangled car.
The other man sprang into the radiance of the electric torch and crouched beside the girl. He was Zeb, the deaf-mute. His contorted face looked inhuman and ghastly in the glare as his mouth twisted and his writhing hands made strange motions in the air.
"Why, it's that girl!" exclaimed Grafton. "Dead!"
His queer servant caught sight of Frank. He leaped forward and dragged Frank's limp body beside that of Virginia.
"What? Another?" exclaimed Grafton. When he turned the light on the Hardy boy's face he shouted, "Ha! It's one of those kids! One of the young rowdies!"
Silently, gesturing weirdly, Zeb capered over to the car. He had to lift up the machine to reach Joe, but the deaf-mute was inhumanly strong. Soon the three motionless figures were lying side by side on the rough ground.
"Dead, eh?" snapped Grafton. "Well, I'm
194 A Figure in Hiding
not going to get mixed up in any police investigation if I can help it. We'll have to get rid of these bodies, Zeb."
He swung around. The powerful beam of his flashlight revealed his hideout in the woods. The sinister retreat where Virginia had been held prisoner stood about twenty yards away.
"Carry the bodies to the house!" ordered Grafton, illustrating his command by a gesture to the deaf-mute. "Into the cellar!"
One by one the servant bore the three inert forms down a flight of steps into the basement of the building.
"Hurry!" ordered Grafton. "There's going to be a storm!"
The air was hot and oppressive. Lightning flared in the sky. The wind began to rise, howling mournfully. Drops of rain splattered against the windows.
"Hurry!" urged Grafton again.
He rushed into the house, to return a moment later with two battered automobile license plates which he took to the wreck. "Working swiftly, he removed the originals from the smashed coupe and substituted the old ones.
'' There!" he snarled finally. '' If the police come nosing around here I'll tell them that wreck has been lying in the bushes for weeks. They'll never know it was the girl's car."
The Mysterious Cellar 195
The wind moaned. A livid flash of lightning threw a blinding glare on the scene, which was followed by a crashing roar of thunder. Then came the rain. The skies seemed to open as the storm broke and torrents poured from the fceavens.
The scene in the cellar of Graf ton's sinister hideout was even weirder than that out-of-doors. By the light of a flickering, guttering candle the deaf-mute toiled with a spade. He was digging a wide grave in the damp earth. The spade rose and fell. From somewhere upstairs in the house there sounded the deep notes of a clock striking the hour of twelve, the ominous strokes rising above the clamor of the storm.
"Shovel faster!" shouted Graf ton.
The candlelight shone on his cruel face as he motioned excitedly to the deaf-mute.
THE HOTJSE OF PERIL
frank's hand moved slightly. He had not yet regained his senses, but consciousness was slowly asserting itself.
Zeb, the deaf-mute, saw the movement. He looked nervously over toward Grafton. The bogus doctor, who had not even troubled to make sure that the victims of the car smash were really dead, gestured impatiently.
"Hurry!" he shouted.
Zeb resumed his task. The black earth flew from his spade as the crude grave became wider and wider.
"We'll bury 'em here," chuckled the doctor. "We'll bury 'em here and their bodies will never be seen again."
The servant panted as he dug furiously at the earth. He thought he saw signs of returning consciousness in Joe as well. His nervousness increased, but he was so thoroughly under the domination of Grafton that he dared not disobey his master's orders.
Finally the grave was finished. With an
The House of Peril 197
abrupt gesture Grafton signalled for the man to stop work.
"Bury them, Zeb!" he shouted with a maniacal laugh. '' Bury them and cover them up with earth. The police can hunt until Doomsday, but they'll never find them."
The deaf-mute dragged the three bodies over to the shallow hole and toppled them, one by one, into the grave. As he did so, the man was more certain than ever that the young people were being buried alive. When he tried by signs to explain his fear to Grafton, the bogus doctor curtly ordered him to hurry with the work of covering the three victims from view.
"What are you gibbering about?" he demanded angrily. "Get busy with that spade."
The storm was at its height. There was an almost continuous roll and rumble of crashing thunder, an incessant play of flickering lightning. Zeb seized the spade again and flung earth into the grave. It fell across the body of Frank as he sprawled inertly in the trench.
"That's it!" shouted Grafton, waving his arms in the guttering candlelight, his voice rising above the roar and crash of the storm.
As he spoke there came a terrific, deafening crash. A bolt of lightning had struck the chimney! It followed the chimney to the cellar. Suddenly the gloomy cavern was illuminated by a dazzling, livid flash.
198 A Figure in Hiding
Doctor Grafton uttered a cry, flung his arm in front of Ms face as if trying to defend himself from this terror, and then toppled forward. The lightning bolt had knocked him senseless,
Zeb, the deaf-mute, was shaking with fear, and with good reason; two of the figures in the grave were beginning to move. Frank and Joe, strangely revived by the shock of the electric current that had passed through the cellar, sat up slowly.
Zeb stared at them, appalled. Then he dug frantically into the heap of dirt with his spade and began to hurl earth at the two boys.
Frank, dizzy and weak, struggled to his feet. He did not know where he was nor what had happened, but the sight of the open grave, the unconscious figure of Grafton, and the eerie form of the deaf-mute told him that he and his brother were facing some hideous danger.
"Joe!" he said hoarsely.
"I'm all right, Frank," gasped his brother. He began to scramble out of the pit.
Zeb was in a veritable frenzy. The Hardys realized that they would have to overpower the deaf-mute before they could hope to escape from this sinister place. Armed with a spade the man was a formidable opponent.
The boys started to close in on him. Zeb backed away, holding the spade in a threatening manner. Frank darted in suddenly and
The House of Peril 199
made a move as if to grab the deaf-mute, who swung viciously with the heavy tool. The weapon passed harmlessly, whereupon Frank and Joe rushed in simultaneously from each sicle.
They hurled themselves on Zeb before he could raise the spade again. The fellow was very strong and struggled desperately, but the Hardy boys were fighting for their lives. They overpowered him finally, and bundled him toward the open door of a closet built into the cellar wall.
The man fought like a wildcat when he realized their intentions, but was helpless in their grasp. They thrust him into the closet and slammed the door on him. The boys braced their bodies against it as Zeb hurled himself time and again in vain efforts to escape. Then Frank snapped the padlock and the deaf-mute was a prisoner.
"Where are we?" asked Joe, peering around the dimly-lit room.
"I think we must be in the cellar of Graf ton's hideout, but I don't know how we got here," said Frank. He had recognized the bogus doctor lying on the floor beside the grave. "Probably we were carried here from the wreck."
"Look! There's Virginia!" cried Joe, see-ing the girl's body lying in the open grave.
200 A Figure in Hiding
"Grafton must have intended burying us alive!” exclaimed Frank. A chill of horror passed through him as he realized the awful fate they had escaped so narrowly.
Frank jumped into the trench. Virginia was still alive, but unconscious. As far as he could judge, she had suffered no broken limbs in the automobile crash, yet obviously was in need of medical care.
"We must get her out of here."
Joe helped his brother lift up the limp form. Then the boys turned their attention to the problem of escaping from this underground prison. Zeb was battering and banging at the door of the closet in which he was locked. The ominous roll of thunder continued throughout it all.
Frank saw a door at the far side of the cellar and ran toward it. Just as he did so the candle gutted out. The boys groped in their pockets for matches. They had none.
Joe recalled seeing a flashlight in Graf ton's hand. He blundered across the cellar in the darkness, almost falling into the grave in his efforts to find the unconscious doctor. At last he located the electric torch. Its bright beam cut the darkness. Joe ran back to his brother's side.
hoped it would. Instead, it opened into a cupboard, from the interior of which the boys experienced a shock that would have unsettled the nerves of most boys.
Inside the enclosure were two skeletons!
The grinning skulls and empty eye-sockets were horrible in the white beam of light. Frank quickly slammed the door.
""Whew!" gasped Joe. "That gave me a scare."
"Didn't make me feel any too good, either," admitted Frank. "Grafton must use them for some of his fake medical experiments."
With the aid of the flashlight they made a further search of the cellar. In a few minutes they found a door that opened on a flight of steps leading into the upper part of the building.
"We'll have to carry Virginia,'"' said Frank. '' We can't leave her here. Graf ton might come to his senses suddenly."
They returned to the place where they had left the unconscious girl. Neither of the Hardy boys was feeling any too kindly toward Virginia just then, although they were concerned about the extent of her injuries. Her own recklessness and folly had led them into all this trouble, and it was only by the sheerest good fortune that any of them had survived the automobile smash-up.
202 A Figure in Hiding
The beam of the flashlight revealed the young woman lying where they had left her. Just then Frank saw a .faint movement outside the range of light. He turned the beam in that direction.
It shone full on the figure of Grafton, who was struggling to his feet. There was an expression of wolfish defiance on his face. His lips were drawn back, his teeth bared in a snarl. His eyes glittered. With a harsh cry he lunged to one side and vanished in the darkness.
"Get Virginia, quick!" shouted Frank. "Make for the door!"
"You'll never get out of here alive!" Graf-ton screeched from somewhere in the darkness.
Frank swung the flashlight around. He saw the man crouching at a shelf that ran the length of the cellar wall. It was lined with bottles and vials of all shapes and sizes. The doctor snatched one of the glass receptacles from the shelf.
"The deadliest acid in my collection!" he screamed. "I'll teach you fellows to interfere with me. One drop of this will kill any man it touches."
The Hardys lunged in front of Virginia to
The House of Peril 203
protect her in case Grafton should carry out his mad threat. There was a maniacal screech of laughter, as the fake physician drew back his arm.
'.Then he hurled the bottle of acid directly at the boysl
had it not been for the sudden and unexpected interference on the part of Zeb, the deadly acid would have found its mark. As the bottle flew through the air, the door of the closet in which the deaf-mute had been locked opened violently.
The man tumbled out onto the floor, and the door intercepted the course of the container, which smashed into a thousand pieces.
The cellar was immediately filled with the pungent fumes of the acid. Zeb sprang fearfully away, clawing at his clothes, on which some of the poison had spattered.
"Quick!" urged Frank.
The boys, carrying Virginia, hastily ran up the steps. Grafton and Zeb were blundering about in the darkness of the gas-filled cellar, trying to find their way to the foot of the stairs.
The Hardys succeeded in reaching the upper floor in safety and slammed the door shut. Joe turned the key in the lock.
Frank switched on the flashlight and examined the room in which they found themselves. It was a kitchen. On a table stood a lamp vfhich he lit. Unconcerned by the rising uproar in the cellar, the boys turned their attention to Virginia. They rubbed her hands and wrists, dashed cold water in her face, and made every effort to revive her. Joe rummaged about in a cupboard and found it filled with medicines and chemicals. A bottle of ammonia caught his eye.
"The very thing!" he exclaimed.
The sharp, pungent smell revived the unconscious girl. Color returned to her cheeks, and she stirred restlessly. Then her eyes opened. She gasped and choked as the fumes cleared her head.
At that moment a heavy, clamorous pounding could be heard at the back door, and a deep voice shouted:
"Open up! Open up there!"
One thought flashed through the minds of the Hardy boys: Rip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel!
'' Open in the name of the law!" called a loud voice.
"The police!" cried Frank, relieved.
He sprang up and rushed to the kitchen door. It was the work of but a moment to throw back the bolt. Across the threshold there strode a State trooper, rain dripping from his oilskins.
206 A Figure in Hiding
Half a dozen men crowded behind him. The posse from Brockton had discovered the wreckage of the coupe.
"What's going on here?" demanded the trooper. "We've been looking for you three. A fine chase we had after you! Anyone hurt ?''
Footsteps thudded on the stairs leading up from the cellar.
'' Let me out! Let me out of here!'' shouted Grafton, banging at the door with his fists.
The policemen crowded into the room.
"Who's that?" demanded the trooper. "'Who's locked in the cellar?"
"A man who calls himself Doctor Grafton," returned Frank. "He is an escaped convict. There's a reward offered for his capture and we 're claiming it. He's a fake eye surgeon and swindler. Besides, he just tried to bury the three of us alive."
The trooper drew his gun.
' 'All right, men,'' he said to the others. "I '11 cover him when he comes out. If he tries any nonsense, you know what to do."
He unlocked the door. Grafton plunged out, his face contorted with rage. When he saw the officer and all the drawn guns leveled at him, his rage gave way to fear. He threw up his arms.
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" he screamed. "I surrender."
"You're wise," growled the man of the law, as he stepped forward. Metal flashed in the lamplight as a pair of handcuffs snapped about Graf ton's wrists.
The policemen found Zeb lying unconscious at the foot of the stairs. He had been overcome from the fumes of the acid hurled by his master.
Thus ended one phase of the mystery in which the Hardy boys had been engaged since the fateful night when they witnessed the theatre hold-up in Bayport. With the arrest of Grafton, the eye syndicate was broken up. The swindler was lodged in jail that night. By morning his two associates, Eip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel, had also been picked up by the police on information furnished by the boys. The two men were arrested in the second-rate hotel where Frank and Joe had located Lemuel the previous day.
With the apprehension of the trio and publication of the fact in the newspapers, dozens of victims of the eye syndicate began to come forward, offering to give evidence against the swindlers and tell about the cruel tactics the men had used. In its editorial column the leading Bayport newspaper stated that the Hardy boys had performed a public service by their clever work in rounding up this unscrupulous gang.
208 A Figure in Hiding
The brothers planned to take Virginia to her grandmother at Doeville the following afternoon. She had been put to bed in the Hardy home under the care of Aunt Gertrude, to recover from the shock of the unnerving events of the night. She had told the story of that evening when Cordoza had found her stranded. Her version coincided with his in every detail except that she had not taken the money he had shown her; and that she was amazed he had been injured badly when she had shoved him from the running board because he was becoming too friendly.
During the morning the boys decided to return to the scene of the thrilling events of the previous night. They eagerly examined the wreckage of Virginia's car, which they found to be smashed beyond all hope of repair.
"Couldn't sell it even for junk," said Frank, peering through one of the shattered doors. "I'll never know how we got out of that disaster without breaking our necks. No wonder Graf ton thought we were killed.'' With a note of excitement in his voice he cried, "Joe I"
'' I see something. Over there. It's money.'' Frank lunged into the wreckage at imminent risk of tearing his clothes. "Why, it's a wad of bills big enough to choke a cow!''
Frank emerged with a thick roll of money.
"The cash from the Rialto Theatre hold-up!" shouted Joe.
They counted it, nine hundred dollars in all. Thus was another phase of the double mystery solved by the Hardy boys. Yet its solution presented a new problem. Had Virginia really stolen the money from Nick Cordoza?
When the boys returned home they found the girl up and dressed, in spite of Aunt Gertrude's protests. Virginia's unbounded astonishment when they told her of the discovery of the money convinced them that she had no knowledge of it being in her car.
"Why, it must have fallen out of the man's hand," she exclaimed.
Joe grinned. "To think of us getting the machine out of the river and cleaning it up without discovering the money makes me feel pretty small."
"Perhaps it's just as well it happened as it did," said Virginia, "for otherwise you wouldn't have helped me," she added gratefully.
The bills were returned to the Rialto Theatre management that afternoon, greatly to the resentment of Detective Smuff, who felt that it should have been entrusted to the authorities.
210 A Figure in Hiding
In that way the Bayport Police Department might have received the credit for restoring the sum to the owner.
Nick Cordoza was still under arrest and would be charged with the hold-up. Collig and Smuff were quite eclipsed by the glory that had come to the Hardys as the result of the arrest of the eye syndicate members and the knowledge that the boys should collect a reward of five hundred dollars for the capture of Graf-ton. Incidentally part of that was given by the brothers to the hotel as payment for the broken glass canopy.
That afternoon Virginia, scarcely able to believe her good fortune, was restored to her grandmother, Mrs. Lunberry. The old lady wept tears of joy. The girl was pathetically happy at finding a home of her own at last after the many years she had spent in the unpleasant atmosphere of Eip Binder's custody.
The boys drove back home after leaving Virginia at Doeville. The girl promised them that she would be "a figure in hiding" no longer. The lads were met by Fenton Hardy, who told his sons the full story of the investigation he had conducted into the activities of the eye syndicate with the help of his youthful-looking assistant, Fred Ware.
"Grafton's real name," he told them, "is Paul Zane, and Mr. Zatta's real name, of course,
is Zane, too. Binder and Lemuel were merely tools. They scouted for prospects and wrote letters. Grafton performed the fake operations and collected the money. In time I might have been able to round up the gang, but I think it would not have been accomplished nearly so quickly if you two hadn't stepped into the case."
"I'm glad it's all over," sighed Mrs. Hardy. "Maybe we'll be able to have our meals on time again."
"Meals on time! In this house?" snorted Aunt Gertrude scornfully. "You mark my words, this affair may be all cleared up, but just as sure as eggs is eggs------"
"Are eggs, Aunty," chuckled Joe.
'' Just as sure as you 're an impudent boy, another mystery will pop up and there'll be no peace around here until it's solved."
She was right. Excitement awaited her nephews in "The Secret Warning."
"Chet Morton called up this morning," said Mrs. Hardy. "He said he thought you boy3 ought to try and find out who played that trick on him and sent him to Boston."
"One of Cordoza's pals, more than likely," said Fenton Hardy. "They didn't want Chet on hand to give evidence and identify him as the hold-up man."
"Maybe," sniffed Aunt Gertrude, "but I doubt it. I think Chet Morton sneaked off to Boston all by himself because he was afraid he would be taken back to jail. He preferred to be a figure in hiding, the same as everybody else in this mystery."
The contemptuous snort with which Aunt Gertrude terminated her statement expressed more vividly than words could her opinion of boys in general and Chet Morton in particular.