Sleuth in the little cove where they had hidden the boat on the occasion of their previous trip. Then they made their way up through the shrubbery and finally reached the fence surrounding the potato patch.
The same boy who had been there on their first visit was still at his task of weeding. Another overalled figure was in the field as well. Prom the shelter of the bushes beyond the fence frank watched the pair narrowly.
"I wonder-----" he mused.
"I'm not wondering," said Joe, tense with excitement. "That isn't a boy. It's Virginia binder!"
A OEY FOE HELP
'' gosh, why don't you call her over and speak to her?" asked Chet.
"It might cause trouble," Frank answered. "She's hiding here."
At that moment Virginia Sinder, looking oddly like a boy in her shapeless overalls, her hair hidden by a boy's cap, straightened up from the weeding and rubbed her back. She said something to her companion, then sauntered through the potato rows toward an apple tree that grew by the fence where the boys were hiding.
When the girl arrived beneath the tree she reached up and picked a ripe red bit of fruit. Just as she was about to turn away, Prank said in a low voice.-
The girl started. She swung around, her eyes
A Cry for Help 141
wide with fear and surprise. When she saw the three boys crouching behind the fence she put her hand to her mouth as if to stifle a scream.
"Don't be afraid," said Frank reassuringly. "We want to help you."
"But you'll tell my father where I am," the girl quavered.
"No, we won't. Why are you hiding heret Why did you leave Brockton?"
Frank spoke very quietly, and the boys kept themselves hidden so as not to attract the attention of the youngster in the potato field.
Virginia began to cry. "I left Brockton because I didn't want Rip Sinder to find me," she sobbed. "I'm afraid of him. He isn't my real father anyhow. I-I've changed my name, even. I call myself Mary Ford now.''
"Did you drive away in the car after we took it out of the river?"
Virginia hung her head.
'' It was a mean trick,'' she admitted. '' But -I had gone back there-to see if I could recover the coupe-I was hiding in the bushes near the bridge when you came along-----"
"You might have spoken to us," said Joe. "We weren't trying to keep your car."
"Don't be cross with me, please," said the girl imploringly as she began to weep again. "I was afraid you would stop me and ask a lot
of questions, and perhaps tell my father about me."
"That's all right," Frank assured her. "We're not angry, but relieved to know someone else didn't steal your car."
"Why are you so afraid of Rip Binder?" asked Joe.
"I'm not afraid of him," the girl retorted, "but I never want to see him again. He pretended to be my father, but he isn't. He's just a crook. Oh, I wish I could find my real parents! I don't even know my right name."
"I'm sorry," said Frank.
"Listen!" said Chet suddenly.
They were silent. Through the still air came the quick throbbing of a motor. A boat was coming up the river.
"Sinder!" exclaimed the girl, turning pale. "Oh, he mustn't find me! He mustn't find me. I won't go back home with him."
"It probably isn't Sinder at all," said Frank as Joe darted away. "Yet there's no harm in making sure."
Joe returned in a few minutes, scrambling up the path to the fence.
'' Sinder and Lemuel!" he gasped. '' They 're in a motorboat, heading toward the farm.''
A Cry for Help 143
The girl became white-faced and terror-stricken.
"He mustn't find me!" she wailed. "He mustn't."
"Look here, Virginia," said Frank. "We'll handle Rip Sinder and see that he doesn't take you back."
But the girl had whirled about and was streaking across the field.
"I won't let him take me back!" she cried desperately.
The boys did not follow her, as they did not want to reveal themselves to the farm lad, who straightened up from his weeding and stared after the fleeing girl with an expression of great astonishment. Virginia reached the other side of the field and ran into the woods.
" I '11 never come back!'' she cried. '' Never!'' Then she vanished among the trees.
"I think she's goofy!" remarked Chet. "Nice-looking girl, but a bit soft in the head."
Just then the nose of the motorboat appeared around the bend, as the craft headed toward shore. The roar of the engine died away. The boy in the field watched the boat for a moment, then ran to the house.
He returned, accompanied by the woman whom the boys had seen on their former visit. She strode across the potato patch as Rip Sinder and Lemuel climbed out of the boat and
144 A Figure in Hiding
stepped on shore. Her eyes filled with fire.
"So you're back again!" she cried shrilly. "Well, it's not going to do you any good."
"We're looking for Virginia Sinder," declared Rip. "We're sure she's here and we want her."
"Well, I'm certain there's no one by that name on this farm."
"We'll see about that," growled the girl's foster father.
"Search if you like," invited the owner of the farm. "You won't find her here."
Sinder and Ms companion went into the house, then hunted around the stable and the nearby fields, but finally were forced to admit that their search had been in vain. The woman cackled triumphantly.
"Didn't I tell you? Now, will you believe me?"
'' No,'' growled Sinder peevishly. '' That girl down at Brockton told me she was here. You Ve got her hidden somewhere."
"Find her, then!"
" We will!" declared Spotty Lemuel. '' We '11 come by here some time when you're least expecting us."
"Just try coming onto this farm without my permission and I'll have you arrested for trespassing."
"Oh, come on, Spotty," growled Sinder in
A Cry for Help 145
disgust. "There's no use wasting time talking to this woman."
The two men returned to their boat in bad humor while the woman stood with her hands on her hips and watched them. The clatter of the engine finally drowned out her parting remarks, as the boat backed into the river. The farm owner then returned to the house.
"I never heard such a lot of fuss about a mere girl!'' remarked Chet.
"There's going to be even more fuss," Frank assured him. '' Now we must find her.''
He struck off around the fence and plunged into the woods at the place where they had last seen Virginia. A trail led through the bushes. Here and there in the soft earth Frank found imprints of the girl's shoes. Joe and Chet followed him, the latter grumbling that he wouldn't have come on the expedition at all had he known there was going to be so much exercise attached to it.
"Do you good," returned Joe unsympatheti-cally. '' It will take a little of that extra weight off you."
" Sinder didn't have much luck on this trip," chuckled Frank. "It was mighty fortunate we saw him coming in time to warn Virginia, or he'd have found her this trip."
The trail through the woods finally petered out as the shrubbery became deep and heavy.
146 A Figure in Hiding
Chet suddenly distinguished himself by finding a torn scrap of overall cloth on a thorn branch.
"Good work," praised Frank. "We'll keep on in this direction."
A little farther along the boys reached a swampy clearing where the footmarks again were distinct. They crossed the spot, then circled around, trying to pick up the trail.
Suddenly they heard a scream. It was the frightened cry of a girl, clear and terrifying. The boys looked at one another.
'' Virginia!'' exclaimed Joe.
"She's in trouble."
"This way!" clamored Chet, plunging into the woods.
The boys blundered through the heavy undergrowth in the direction of the cry. After five minutes of hard going they wondered if they were on the right track, for they heard nothing more. Finally they came to a stop and listened intently.
Then sharply, from over to the left of the place where the three boys were standing, the scream of terror rang out again and again. This time it sounded very near, and from the fear that quavered in every note the boys realized that Virginia must be in very real danger or distress.
Suddenly the cries were cut off. Deep silence descended over the woods once more.
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"Come on!" snapped Frank.
The boys plunged through the matted growth. Suddenly, in the depth of the forest, they came upon a small clearing in which stood a two-story homestead.
A door of the house slammed. From around a corner of the building there came the odd, misshapen figure of a man. He was very short, with huge shoulders and very long arms.
When he saw the boys he ran toward them threateningly. The lads stood their ground, whereupon the fellow picked up a heavy club from the gravel. As he advanced toward them they saw that his mouth was working strangely, as if he were trying to speak to them; yet only a horrible moaning sound came from his lips. He gestured menacingly with the heavy stick for them to go away.
Chet turned and fled into some bushes. After a moment's hesitation the Hardy boys backed away. The dumb man came across the clearing swinging the club. From his manner the boys did not doubt but that he would use the weapon if he could get close enough to them.
Slowly the lads retreated from the clearing, for their assailant looked ugly. Furthermore, they could hear sounds from the house; sounds
indicating that there was another man in the building. Then they heard someone call out.
Frank and Joe ducked back into the woods. As they did so a man emerged from the house, shouting angrily:
"Zeb, you fool! Come back here. What's the matter with you?"
The servant paid no attention to what was being said, so the other hurried across the clearing. The Hardy boys, who were watching from the shelter of the trees, recognized the newcomer.
The impostor apparently had not seen them. He ran over to the dwarf and grabbed him by the arm.
'' You idiot!" he growled angrily. '' Go back to the house!"
The dumb man pointed toward the woods, trying to make himself understood. Grafton, however, was impatient. He bundled Zeb back across the clearing.
"Your job is to stay here and watch that girl. See that she doesn't escape. I don't care what you saw. Get back into the house."
He tore the weapon from Zeb's hand and flung it halfway across the open space. Then he gave the man a push that almost sent him sprawling. In a moment the pair disappeared into the house.
150 A Figure in Hiding
As the door closed behind him there came the sound of breaking glass. One of the upper windows was shattered into a thousand pieces. This was followed by a wild scream. Then for a split second the boys saw the face of Virginia Sinder framed in the open space.
'' Help!" she shrieked. '' Help!" Her cries rang through the forest.
Suddenly the burly form of Doctor Grafton appeared behind her. He clapped his hand over her mouth and silenced her cries. Then he dragged her struggling from the window.
Joe whistled solemnly. "Gosh!" he said, "now we have stumbled into a situation. We must do something about it pretty quick, too."
"I know what we'd better do," said Chet with a gulp. '' Let's gallop right back home and tell the police. I don't want to get mixed up with that pair if I can help it.''
"Police nothing!" sniffed Frank. "If we can't get that girl out of here ourselves we're not much good."
"We won't be much good if we get clubbed over the head trying it," objected Chet. "I didn't like the looks of that deaf-mute a bit. He seemed like a whole lot of bad news to me.''
Just then the boys heard voices.
"Someone coming," whispered Joe, peering out from behind a clump of bushes.
Among the trees on the other side of the
clearing were two figures pushing their way through the undergrowth. A moment later the faces of the pair became visible to the watching boys. Rip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel were paying a visit to Doctor Graf ton's hideout!
'' This is the place,'' the lads heard the former say. "He's as safe here as if he were hiding in Alaska.''
'' The police will hunt a long time before they ever find this house," Spotty Lemuel replied admiringly. He raised his voice and called out, "Doc! Hey, Doc!"
The door opened. The fake physician appeared looking a trifle dishevelled, his shirt torn and his collar awry.
'' Hello!" he panted. '' We 've a visitor here. This will be a big surprise to you, Sinder.''
"Visitor? Who is it?"
"That girl of yours. Virginia." Graf ton laughed harshly. '' She came here a little while ago, knocked on the door and asked Zeb to let her hide here. Said some men were chasing her. Can you beat that for luck ?''
"Then she was at that farm!" shouted Rip Sinder. '' The woman lied. Virginia must have run away when she saw us coming.''
"Well, she blundered right from the frying pan into the fire when she came here," said Graf ton. "She won't get out of this place in a hurry. Come in."
152 A Figure in Hiding
The men went up the steps and entered the house. Then the door banged behind them.
The Hardy boys and Chet held a council of war. The latter, never noted for his bravery, was in favor of getting as far away as possible from the sinister hideout in the woods in as short a time as they could. Frank and Joe, however, did not like the idea of running away from danger.
"If we're sensible we'll go back to Bayport and tell the police," insisted Chet. "Let them handle it."
"The Bayport police haven't any power outside of Bayport," returned Frank. "Besides, I don't like to quit, now that we're beginning to get somewhere."
"Beginning to get ourselves up to our necks in more trouble," derided Chet.
"We must figure out some method of getting Virginia away from that house," Joe stated firmly. "I don't know how it's to be managed but it must be done. If we fail, then we can call in the police, but we ought to be able to manage it ourselves."
Frank studied the hideout intently. After a while he said:
"Virginia is in that room on the second floor, the one with the broken pane in the window. I can see her moving back and forth. Now, if one of us could climb up that big tree near the
side of the house he could reach a branch on a level with the window and signal to Virginia. Then she would know we're here trying to rescue her.''
"Who'll climb the tree?" asked Chet without enthusiasm.
"I will. And I'll do it right now," replied Frank.
"I'll stand guard at the bottom in case anyone comes out," volunteered Joe. "Chet can stay here."
"That suits me," their chum declared heartily.
Frank and Joe made their way through the undergrowth until they reached the big tree. It was about twenty feet from the house. Frank shinned up the trunk and pulled himself from branch to branch until he was on a level with the broken window.
From his lofty perch he could look into the room. Virginia was still there, sitting beside the window sobbing. Frank had been resourceful enough to put some pebbles into his pocket. Now he tossed one of them. It fell short.
He threw another. This one struck the glass sharply and Virginia looked up, startled. As she peered out the window she saw Frank. He pressed a finger to his lips as a signal for silence lest she call out in her surprise.
The girl understood. By signaling to her the
154 A Figure in Hiding
Hardy boy tried to assure her that he and his companions would stand by and look for a chance to rescue her. The opportunity came sooner than they expected.
While Frank was still in the tree, the door of the house opened and Zeb, the deaf-mute, emerged. To the surprise of the watchers he headed straight across the clearing to the place where Chet was hiding. Evidently he had caught sight of the stout lad for the odd man was waving his arms and seemed to be in a state of wild excitement.
This was too much for Chet. He appeared from behind a bush, uttered a cry of terror, and fled. Zeb wheeled, ran back to the house, and banged at the door. Doctor Grafton opened it.
"What's the matter with you?" the latter demanded testily. "What's all the noisy fuss about?"
Zeb fairly danced in his efforts to make the man understand him. Eip Sinder and Spotty Lemuel crowded across the threshold. Suddenly the former let out a shout.
"Someone's running through the woods!" he cried. "Look! I see him. That's what Zeb is trying to tell us."
across the clearing. Then they tore into the shrubbery with a great crashing of twigs and undergrowth.
"Now is our chance!" cried Frank as he descended the tree. "We'll get Virginia out of that house before they come back."
He dropped to the ground. As the two Hardys dashed across the clearing, they could hear shouts from the men chasing Chet.
"Virginia! Hurry!" called Joe as he and his brother plunged through the open doorway into the house.
virginia did not appear on the stairs. Instead, the boys heard sounds of banging and thudding in the upper part of the house.
"She's locked in!" exclaimed Frank.
He raced up the steps. At the top of the landing he was confronted by a closed door. Fortunately its key had not been removed from the lock, so Frank quickly released the imprisoned girl.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" she gasped gratefully, as she flung herself through the doorway and hurried downstairs with the boys. "Where did the men go?" she murmured.
'' They 're in-the woods. "We '11 have to hurry, because they'll be back any minute," Joe told her.
The three dashed out the front door. Fortunately none of the men had returned as yet. The commotion going on in the woods led the boys to believe the chase was still on and that Chet was evading capture still.
A Disappearance 157
The boys were tingling with apprehension lest Zeb or one of the other men might return and catch sight of them before they should have time to gain the shelter of the woods. However, they hastened across the clearing in safety and ran into the thick underbrush without being seen.
1' What of Chet!'' asked Joe.
"They won't catch him. For all his weight, Chet can run like a deer when he has to. Eight now he's so frightened that he is probably sprouting wings to help him along."
Virginia was pathetically grateful for the boys' help. Crying and laughing by turns, she told them how she had found the house in the woods and had sought refuge there, only to discover to her horror that Doctor Grafton was the owner; how she had been made prisoner and then locked in an upstairs room; of her tremendous relief when she had caught sight of Frank signaling to her from among the branches of the big tree.
"We'd better get back to the river. Chet will make his way toward the