Adelia Applegate's Compliment 3 глава





"Here's a bypath!"

Before them was a narrow roadway, over-grown with weeds and low bushes that almost hid it from view. It led from the abandoned road into the very depths of the wood. Without hesitation the two boys plunged into it.

The narrow roadway widened out farther to, then wound about a heavy clump of trees, nntil it came to an end in a wide clearing.

And in the clearing stood Chet Morton's lost roadster!

"My car!" yelled Chet, in delight.

His shout was heard by all the other boys, and the sound of snapping twigs and crackling branches soon told Frank and Chet that the others were losing no time in reaching the scene.

Chet's delight was boundless. He examined the car with minute care, in every particular, while the other boys crowded about. 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, we don't walk back home today. We ride."

He clamored into the car and in a few seconds the engine roared. There was sufficient room in the clearing to permit him to turn the roadster about, and when he swung the car around and headed up the bypath, the boys gave a cheer and hastened to clamber onboard.

Lurching and swaying, the roadster reached the abandoned road and from there it was an easy run to the main highway. In spite of the fact that it had been left in the bush for probably a week, the roadster was in perfect condition and the engine ran smoothly. Joe was given the seat of honor beside the driver, because he had discovered the tire marks that had led to the recovery of the car, and the other boys distributed themselves as best they could. They clung to the running boards, hung precariously to the back, and one lad even straddled the hood. In this manner the triumphal procession returned to Bayport.

But as the cheering lads came down the main street they noticed that there was an unwonted air of excitement in the town. People were standing on the street corners in little groups, talking earnestly, and when the boys spied Detective Smuff of the police force, striding along with a portentous frown, they called out to him.

"What's on your mind today, detective? Chet got his car back!"

"I've got something more important than stolen cars to worry about," declared Detective Smuff. "The Tower Mansion has been robbed."

 

CHAPTER VII

The Mansion Robbery

 

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 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 magnificent house on the hill?"

It was an immense, rambling stone structure situated on the top of the hill overlooking the bay, and it could be seen for miles, silhouetted against the skyline, like some ancient feudal castle. This resemblance to a castle was heightened by the fact that at each end of the mansion rose a high tower.

One of these towers had been built when the mansion was first erected by Major Applegate, an eccentric old army man who had made millions by lucky real estate deals and had laid the foundation for the Applegate fortune,, The mansion had been the admiration of its day and in its time had seen much gaiety. But as the years passed the Applegate family became scattered until at last there remained but Hurd Applegate and his sister Adelia, who continued living in the vast and lonely old mansion.

Hurd Applegate was a man of about sixty years of age. He was a tall, stooped man, eccentric in his ways, and his life seemed to be devoted to the collection of rare stamps. He was an authority on the subject, and nothing else in life appeared to hold a great deal of interest for him. The only visitors at Tower Mansion were philatelists from New York or experts desirous of appraising some new stamp that Hurd Applegate had managed to secure from some remote part of the world. It had often been said in Bayport that Hurd Applegate had accomplished only two things in life-he had collected stamps and he had built a new tower on the mansion. The new tower, a duplicate of the original tower at the opposite end of the great building, had been built but a few years-even well within the memory of the two Hardy boys.

Adelia Applegate, who lived in the Tower Mansion with her brother, was a maiden lady of uncertain years. The records in Bayport's city hall gave her age as fifty-five, but Miss Applegate admitted it to no one. She was as eccentric as her brother, and lived very much to herself, being seldom seen in the city. She was at one time a blonde, but she had endeavored to retain her youth by dyeing her hair with the result that it was now a sort of dusty black. Chet Morton was fond of saying that Miss Applegate used to be a blonde but she dyed.

She dressed in all colors of the rainbow, and her infrequent excursions into Bayport stores, when she would order the clerks about like so many soldiers, shouting at them in her high tracked voice, had become historic on account of the wild and colorful garments she carried off with her.

These eccentric people were reputed to be enormously wealthy, although they lived simply and kept only a few servants. So when Hurd Applegate came into the Bayport police station that afternoon and reported that the safe in his library had been broken open and! that it had been robbed of all the securities along with all the jewels it contained. The rumors that soon spread about the city magnified the actual loss until it became common talk that the loss amounted anywhere from one hundred thousand to a million dollars.

When Frank and Joe Hardy arrived home that evening they met Hurd Applegate just leaving the house. The man tapped the step with his cane as he came out and when he met the boys he gave them an abrupt and piercing glance.

"Good day!" he growled, in a grudging manner, and went on his way.

"He must have been asking dad to take up the case," said Frank to his brother, as soon as Hurd Applegate was out of earshot.

They hurried into the house, eager to find out more about the robbery, and in the hallway they met Fenton Hardy, who had just seen Mr. Applegate to the door.

"I hear the Tower Mansion was robbed," said Joe.

Mr. Hardy nodded.

"Yes – Mr. Applegate was just here. He wants me to handle the case."

"How much was taken?"

"Quite curious, aren't you?" remarked Mr. Hardy, with a smile. "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, I believe."

"We heard it was over a hundred thousand!" exclaimed Joe.

"Rumors always exaggerate. Forty thousand dollars is the figure Mr. Applegate puts It at. And it's quite enough, too. All in securities and jewels."

"Whew!" exclaimed Frank. "Quite a haul. When did it happen?"

"Either last night or this morning. He did not get up until after ten o'clock this morning and he did not go into the library until nearly noon. Then he discovered the theft."

"How was the safe opened?"

"It was either opened by some one who knew the combination or else by a very clever crook It wasn't dynamited at all. I'm going up to the house in a few minutes. Mr. Applegate came here to call for me."

"Can't we go along?" asked Joe eagerly

Mr. Hardy looked at his sons with a smile.

"Well, if you are so anxious to be detectives I suppose it is about as good a chance as an, to watch a crime investigation from the inside, If Mr. Applegate doesn't object, I suppose you may come along."

In a few minutes an automobile drew up before the Hardy home. Mr. Applegate was sitting in the rear seat, resting his chin on his cane. When Mr. Hardy mentioned the boys request he merely grunted assent, so Joe and Frank clambered into the car with their father They were tremendously excited at the prospect of being "on the inside" in the mysterious case.

While the car bowled along over the city roads toward the Tower Mansion that was gloomily silhouetted against the sky, Mr. Hardy and Mr. Applegate discussed the robbery.

"I don't really need a detective in this case," snapped Hurd Applegate. "Don't need 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?" asked Fenton Hardy.

"Only one man in the world could have taken it. Robinson!"

"Robinson?"

"Yes. Henry Robinson-the caretaker He's the man."

The Hardy boys looked at one another in consternation.

Henry Robinson, the caretaker of the Tower Mansion, was the father of one of their closest chums. Perry Robinson, nick-named "Slim", was to have accompanied them on their Jaunt to the woods that day but had failed to appear. The reason was now evident.

But that Henry Robinson should be accused of the robbery seemed absurd. The boys had met Slim's father and he had appeared to them as a good-natured, easy-going man, the soul of honesty.

"I don't believe it," whispered Frank.

"Neither do I," returned his brother

"What makes you suspect Robinson?" asked Mr. Hardy of 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 kept his eyes and ears open. I believe he did."

"But is that your only reason for suspecting him?"

"More than that. This morning he paid off a note at the bank. It was a note for nine hundred dollars, and I know for a fact that he didn't have more than one hundred dollars to his name a few days ago. The Robinsons have been hard up, for they had sickness in the family last winter and Henry Robinson has had a hard time meeting his debts since then. Now where did he raise nine hundred dollars so suddenly!"

"Perhaps he has a good explanation," said Mr. Hardy mildly. "It doesn't do to jump to conclusions."

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

"Luckily, he'll not have to satisfy Mr. Apple-gate, but will have to convince a jury-if it gete Siat far," whispered Joe in his brother's ear.

The automobile was speeding up the winding driveway that led to Tower Mansion, and within a few minutes it drew up at the front entrance. Mr. Applegate dismissed the driver and Mr. Hardy and the two boys accompanied the eccentric man into the house.

Nothing had been disturbed in the library since the discovery of the theft. Mr. Hardy examined the open safe, then drew a magnifying glass from his pocket and with minute care Inspected the dial of the combination lock. Then he examined the windows, the door-knobs, all places where there might be fingerprints. At last he shook his head.

"A smooth job," he observed. "The fellow must have worn gloves. Not a finger-print in the room."

"No need of looking for finger-prints," said Applegate. "It was Robinson-that's who it was."

"Better send for him," advised Mr. Hardy. "I'd like to ask him a few questions."

Mr. Applegate rang for one of the servants and instructed him to tell Mr. Robinson he was wanted in the library at once. Mr. Hardy glanced at the boys.

"You had better wait in the hallway," he suggested. "I want to ask some questions, and it might embarrass Mr. Robinson if you were here."

The lads readily withdrew, and in the hallway they met Henry Robinson, the caretaker, and his son Perry. Mr. Robinson was pale, and at the doorway he patted his son on the shoulder.

"Don't worry, son," he said. "It'll be allright." With that he entered the library.

Slim Robinson turned to his two chums.

"My dad is innocent!" he cried.

 

CHAPTER VIII

The Arrest

 

There was something in Perry Robinson's mind that made Frank and Joe extremely sorry for their chum, for it seemed that the boy realized that the case looked black against his father.

Although the Hardy lads realized that it was only natural that Perry should stand up for his father, they shared some of his conviction that Mr. Robinson was not guilty.

"Of course he's innocent," agreed Frank, "He'll be able to clear himself all right, Perry."

"But everything looks pretty black against him," said Perry, who was pale and shaken, "Unless your father can catch the real thief I'm afraid dad will be blamed for it."

"Everybody knows your father is honest," said Joe consolingly. "He has a good record - even Applegate will have to admit that."

"A good record won't help him very much if he is blamed for this and can't clear himself

"And dad admits that he did know the combination of the safe."

"He knew it?"

"Accidentally. He was cleaning the library fireplace one day when he found a slip of paper with numbers marked on it. The combination was so simple that any one could remember it if he read it once. Dad didn't realize what it was until he had studied it a while, and then he put it back on Mr. Applegate's desk. The window was open and the breeze had blown the paper to the floor."

"Does Applegate know that?"

"Not yet. But dad is going to tell him now. He says he knows it will look bad for him; but he's going to tell the truth about it. He knew the combination, although of course he would never think of using it."

From the library came the dull hum of voices. The harsh tones of Hurd Applegate occasionally rose above the murmur of conversation and once 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 that you paid on that note?" demanded Mr Applegate.

There was silence for a while.

"Where did you get it?"

"I'm not at liberty to tell you."

"You won't tell?"

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I got the money honestly-that's all I can say about it."

"Oh, ho!" exclaimed Applegate. "You got the money honestly, yet you can't tell me where it came from! That's very likely, isn't it? If you got it honestly you shouldn't be ashamed to tell where you got it."

"I'm not ashamed. But I'm not at liberty 'to tell."

"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."

"I admit it."

"And then the day of this robbery you suddenly have nine hundred dollars that you cant 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 could clear up this matter of the money. You must admit yourself that it doesn't look promising."

"I know it looks bad," replied the caretaker doggedly. "But I can’t tell you where that money came from."

"And you admit knowing the combination of the safe, too!" broke in Applegate. "I didn't know that before. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't consider it important enough. I had found the combination by accident and I had no intention of using it. As a matter of fact, I don't think I could remember it accurately right now. I just put the paper back and decided to say nothing about it, to save trouble."

"And yet you come and tell me about now!"

"I have nothing to conceal. If I had taken the money I wouldn't very likely be telling you now that I knew the combination."

"Yes," agreed Mr. Hardy, "that's a point in your favor."

"Is it?" asked Applegate. "You're just clever enough to think up a trick like that, Robinson. You think that if you come to me now and admit you knew the combination, I would believe that you are so honest that you couldn't have committed this robbery. Very clever But not clever enough. There's enough evidence right here and now to convict you, and I'm not going to delay another minute."

There was the sound of a telephone receiver being lifted, and then Applegate's voice sounded - "Police station," After a short wait it went on. "Hello - police station, This is Applegate speaking - Applegate - Hurd Applegate - Well, I think we've found our man - In that robbery - Yes, Robinson - You thought so? - 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 - Goodbye."

The telephone tinkled.

"You're not going to have me arrested, Mr. Applegate?"

"Why not? You took the money!"

"But I'm innocent! I swear it! Haven't I always been honest, ever since I came to work for you? Have you ever had any fault to find with me?"

"Not until now," returned Applegate grimly.

"It might have been better to wait a while," suggested Mr. Hardy mildly. "Of course, it is entirely in your hands, Mr. Applegate, and I admit the case looks rather bad against Mr. Robinson. But perhaps some more evidence may turn up."

"What more evidence do we want? The man's guilty. It's as plain as the nose on your face. If he wants to return the rest of the jewels and securities I'll see what can be done toward having the charge reduced - but that's all!"

"But I can't return them! I didn't take them!"

"I suppose you have them hidden safely away by now, hoping to get them when you get out of penitentiary, eh? It'll be a long time, Robinson - a long time."

In the hallway, the boys listened in growing excitement. The case had taken an abrupt and tragic turn. Both the Hardy boys were sorry for their chum Slim, who looked as though he might collapse under the strain.

"He's innocent," muttered the boy, over and over again. "I know he's innocent. They can't arrest him. My dad never stole a dollar in his life!"

Frank patted him on the shoulder.

"Brace up, old chap," he advised. "It looks pretty bad just now, but your father will be able to clear himself, never fear."

"I'll have to tell mother–", stammered Slim. "This will break her heart. And my sisters–"

Frank and Joe led him down through the hallway and along a corridor that led to the wing of the mansion, where the Robinson family had rooms. There, in a neat, but sparsely furnished apartment, they found Mrs. Robinson, a gentle, kindly-faced woman, who was sitting anxiously in a chair by the window. Her two daughters, Paula and Tessie, twins, were by her side, and all looked up in expectation as the lads came in.

"What news, son?" asked Mrs. Robinson bravely, after she had greeted the Hardy boys.

"Bad, mother."

"They're not - they're not-arresting him?" cried Paula, springing forward.

Perry nodded, dumbly.

"But they can't!" cried Tessie protestingly. "He's innocent! He couldn't do anything like that! It's wrong-''

Mrs. Robinson began to cry, quite silently. Perry went over to his mother and awkwardly patted her shoulder, his face white and stern. The twins gazed at one another with desperate eyes.

 

Frank and Joe, their hearts too full for utterance, withdrew softly from the room.

 

CHAPTER IX

Red Hair

 

The arrest of Henry Robinson caused a sensation in Bayport, for the caretaker of Tower Mansion was one of the last men in the city whom one would have suspected of dishonesty. There was a great deal of public sympathy for the family, but little for the accused, as most people seemed to take it for granted that he would not have been arrested if he had not had something to do with the crime.

But the Hardy boys were not satisfied.

"I'm positive Henry Robinson is innocent," said Frank to his brother the next morning, "There's a great deal about this case that hasn't come to the surface yet. I have a sort of sneaking idea that the man who stole Chet Morton's car had something to do with this."

"He was a criminal - that much is certain," agreed Joe. "He stole an automobile and he tried to hold up the ticket office."

"I'd like to go back to the place where we saw the wrecked car. You never know what evidence we might find. There might be something there that would identify the chap."

"I'm with you. Let's go this morning."

So within the hour the boys were on their motorcycles, speeding along the shore road toward the place where the speed fiend's car had been wrecked in the bushes.

"I'd certainly like to do something to help dear Mr. Robinson," said Frank. "It's pretty tough on Slim and his mother and sisters."

"'We probably won't be able to do very much,, If dad can't clear him. I don't think we can help a great deal. But it's worth while trying."

"It sure is. And I've had a hunch all along that we didn't investigate the wreck of that car closely enough."

"Well, we'll make a thorough job of it this time."

When the boys reached the scene of the wreck they found the smashed car just where they had seen it last. The tires had been taken and some of the accessories that had escaped destruction had been stripped from the automobile, but the car had been so badly smashed that there were few evidences of disturbances

Leaving their motorcycles by the side of the road, the lads plunged down into the bushes and busied themselves examining the wreckage. Joe hunted through the side pockets in the hope that there might be papers or some

Other means of identification, but in this he was disappointed. There were no license plates, but Frank managed to secure the engine number, and this he jotted down in a notebook he carried.

"Perhaps this will give us a clue. Although I have an idea that the fellow got this car in the same way he got Chet's. It's probably a stolen automobile."

For a time they rummaged around among the wreckage without success. Then, at last, Frank gave a low cry.

"Here's something!" he exclaimed. '' Look!'

Joe came over to where he was standing. and Frank plucked something from the front seat of the wrecked car.

"Red hair!"

In his hand Frank held a small tuft of vivid red hair. It was very coarse in texture, and the surprising part of it was that the hairs were not separate but were attached to a sort of tough linen.

"Why, it's part of a wig!" said Frank, examining the hair more closely.

"You're right," agreed his brother. "I never saw human hair ever grew like that."

"Part of the fellow's wig was torn when the car was smashed up!"

"And that explains why Harrity and his witness couldn't agree on the color of the fellow's hair!" exclaimed Joe, in excitement.

"I see it now! The man didn't wear the wig when he held up the steamboat office, and the minute he reached the car he put it on again. That explains why Brown saw a red-haired man driving away in Chet's roadster and why Harrity was positive that man wasn't redheaded."

"That's a real clue!" exclaimed Joe. "We ought to tell dad about this."

"And we will, too," said Frank, beginning to scramble through the bushes back toward the road.

He put the fragment of the red wig carefully in an inner pocket, and then the Hardy boys started back toward Bayport. The clue was slight, of course, but, still, it served to clear up the disagreement as to the color of the hold-up man's hair. It also served to prove conclusively that the man who had passed Frank and Joe on the shore road at such break-neck speed, and who had later wrecked his car, was the same man who had stolen Chet's roadster and had attempted to hold up the steamboat ticket office.

"I guess dad will think we aren't such poor detectives after all," Joe exulted, as they brought their motorcycles to a stop in the yard of the Hardy home.

Their father was in the library, but in their excitement the lads forgot to rap at the door and rushed into the room without ceremony.

"Dad, we've found a clue!" cried Joe, when he saw his father sitting at the huge oak desk, Then he fell back, embarrassed, when he saw that there was some one else in the room.

"Beg pardon!" said Frank, and the boys would have retreated, but Mr. Hardy's visitor turned around and they saw that it was Perry Robinson.

"It's only me," said Slim. "Don't go."

"Perry has been trying to shed a little more light on the Tower robbery," explained Mr. Hardy. "But what is this clue you are talking of?"

"It isn't about the robbery," replied Frank "Although it might have something to do with it, for all we know. It's about the red-headed man who stole Chet's car and who tried to hold-up the steamboat ticket office."

''What about him?"

"This!" said Frank, taking the fragment of red hair from his pocket and showing it to his father. "The fellow wore a wig."

Mr. Hardy examined the little tuft of hair closely.

"Where did you find it?" he asked.

"In the wreckage of that smashed car."

Mr. Hardy nodded.

"That seems to link up a pretty good chain of evidence The man who passed you on the shore road, wrecked his car, then stole Chet's roadster and afterward tried to hold up the ticket office. When he failed in that he abandoned the roadster. He wore a red wig that he took off occasionally to confuse pursuers, If we could only find the wig we might be able to get further information."

"Do you think it might help us solve the Tower robbery?" asked Perry.

"Possibly."

"The man was evidently a professional thief," explained Frank. "If he was smart enough to wear a wig he was evidently an old-timer at the game. And if he failed in the ticket office hold-up, who knows but what he might have been hanging around the city waiting for another chance."

"Gosh, you may be right at that!" exclaimed Perry. "I was just telling your father that I saw a strange man lurking about the grounds of Tower 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?" asked the detective.

"I'm afraid I couldn't. It was in the evening, and I was sitting by the window, studying. I happened to look up and I saw this fellow moving about under the trees near the wall. Later on I heard one of the dogs barking in another part of the grounds, and shortly afterward I saw someone running across the lawn, But I thought it was probably 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, but it might be linked up with Frank's idea that the man who stole the roadster might have still been hanging around." Mr. Hardy thought deeply for a few moments. "I am going to bring all these facts to Mr. Applegate's attention and I am also going to have a talk with the police authorities. I don't think they have enough evidence to warrant holding your father, Perry."

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

"I'm sure of it. In fact, I think Mr. Applegate is beginning to realize now that he made a mistake and I don't think the police are any too anxious to go ahead with the case on the meager evidence in their possession."

"It will be wonderful if we can have dad back with us again," said Perry. "Although it won't be quite the same. He'll be under a cloud as long as this mystery isn't cleared up. And of course Mr. Applegate won't employ him any more."





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