THE SECRETS OF CABIN ISLAND
This Hardy Boys fanfiction novelet was written by a teenage fan in 1959,
in the Leslie McFarlane style of the originals.
It is a sequel to the 1929-text version of The Mystery Of Cabin Island
and takes place during the holiday week following that story.
in the Leslie McFarlane style of the originals.
It is a sequel to the 1929-text version of The Mystery Of Cabin Island
and takes place during the holiday week following that story.
Chapter One: ICE SKATING ON THE BAY
Chapter Two: FIRE ON CABIN ISLAND
Chapter Three: ORPHAN OF THE FLAMES
Chapter Four: AUNT GERTRUDE MELTS DOWN
Chapter Five: QUESTION MARK AND THE MYSTERIANS
Chapter Six: AUNT GERTRUDE FINDS A CLUE
Chapter Seven: ON THE FLYING EXPRESS
Chapter Eight: ADVENTURE IN NEW YORK
Chapter Nine: STAKE-OUT
Chapter Ten: IN THE OLD WAREHOUSE
Chapter Eleven: THE INNER SANCTUM
Chapter Twelve: THE PIRATE TREASURE
Chapter Two: FIRE ON CABIN ISLAND
Chapter Three: ORPHAN OF THE FLAMES
Chapter Four: AUNT GERTRUDE MELTS DOWN
Chapter Five: QUESTION MARK AND THE MYSTERIANS
Chapter Six: AUNT GERTRUDE FINDS A CLUE
Chapter Seven: ON THE FLYING EXPRESS
Chapter Eight: ADVENTURE IN NEW YORK
Chapter Nine: STAKE-OUT
Chapter Ten: IN THE OLD WAREHOUSE
Chapter Eleven: THE INNER SANCTUM
Chapter Twelve: THE PIRATE TREASURE
Chapter One: ICE SKATING ON THE BAYThe long cold snap that had begun before the Christmas holiday showed no signs of coming to an end, and the young people of Bayport were determined to make the best of every minute of it. The cold clear day in the week between Christmas and New Year Day found them in groups of dozens and scores on the frozen surface of Barmet Bay, surrounded by the snow-blanketed hills to the west and the black water far away to the east beyond the bay where King Frost had lost his ice-bound battle with the Atlantic.
The colorfully clad figures of ice skaters glided and spun in the numerous coves along the shoreline. Farther out beyond them, ice-boats raced in the wind with billowing sails on the open reaches of the bay, looking like a frenetic flight of whirling wheeling gulls.
Frank Hardy, a dark handsome boy of sixteen, a scarf carelessly wrapped around his neck atop a thick red sweater, sped backwards over the ice on one of the smooth little natural rinks that lined the rugged shoreline.
"Be careful! I wouldn't chance it if I were you," warned his brother Joe, a fair curly-haired boy who was a year Frank's junior. "You can hurt yourself trying to do a back flip!"
"He's darn tootin' right," agreed their plump good-natured friend Chet Morton. The brows on his round wind-burned face were furrowed in concern. "If you misjudge your moves, Frank, you could bang your head on the ice!"
But Frank Hardy only cast them an amused glance as he gathered speed, looking back over his shoulder.
"Oh, be careful," pleaded Callie Shaw, a pretty brown-haired girl who was Frank's particular favorite among the girls at Bayport High. She wrung her hands worriedly in their pretty knitted mittens.
"Right, Frank, you could really get injured," agreed Iola Morton in anxious tones. She was Chet's sister, cute and pleasantly plump, and she was more than reluctantly admired by the bashful Joe.
Frank chuckled as he whisked backward through the frosty air. "Don't be such fussbudgets! I've practiced this a thousand times."
Joe sniffed indignantly. "Sure he did. All last summer while he was sitting in an easy chair at home, imagining doing it!"
The girls skated closer to Joe and Chet and held onto their arms in consternation as Frank proceeded to pick up speed. The foursome watched, mouths agape, as Frank's feet suddenly shot up in front of him and his head dropped down as he executed a perfect back flip on the ice.
It was all so fast and quick, and the watchers held their breath collectively as Frank spun under and over in what seemed to be the mere blink of an eye. The blades of his skates clanked solidly onto the ice and he was again upright and whisking backwards, a wide splitting grin on his face.
He made a little jump and then did a triple spin, then came to an unexpected heart-thumping stop with a backward scrape of the toe of his blade.
"Super!" Joe exclaimed in delight and relief. "That was excellent!"
Chet nodded in agreement, his face astonished. "Wow! That sure was swell. But you can bet I'll never try it!"
Iola spun happily around on her blades. "Frank Hardy, you're a marvel!"
Callie applauded with her mittened hands. "Bravo! You could skate in an ice show."
Other folk who had been skating in the cove glided over to congratulate Frank on his well-done back flip. With a happy smile, he accepted their praise and gave a little bow.
"You see," he said at length, rejoining his brother and their chums, "I spent a lot of time picturing that flip in my mind. If you picture yourself doing something enough times then ... poof! ... you can do it."
Joe didn't look very convinced. "Or ... poof! ...you can bang your head on the ice and crack your skull!"
Frank looked at him disdainfully. "You're beginning to sound like Aunt Gertrude!"
He was referring to their maiden aunt, their father's sister, a bossy and dictatorial lady with a temper as hot as the number of years of her age. She had been staying with the Hardy family for a prolonged visit during the holidays.
Joe grimaced and punched Frank's arm playfully. "I promise never to criticize you again, even if you try going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I'd rather zip my lips shut forever than become another Aunt Gertrude!"
The friends all laughed at the amusing remark and then they began to skate again, spinning around on the smooth surface in carefree abandon amongst the other outdoor winter enthusiasts.
"Let's race over to the ice-boat," Callie suggested.
She pointed out of the little cove to the open bay where a stoutly built homemade ice-boat was anchored. Its colorful sail was rolled up and strapped to the mast to help keep the boat perched securely on the open ice.
The others eagerly took up the challenge, and the gay youngsters set off over the glistening surface with joysome zest.
"Last one there is a chimpanzee!" shouted Chet, as he lumbered his substantial bulk along with the others.
His sister chuckled as she and the others all shot ahead of Chet. She did a little toe dance on her blade tips. "And it looks like it's going to be you, Mr. Monkey Business!"
Joe reached the ice-boat first, closely followed by Frank and Callie. Iola came in right after them and they all turned to watch Chet as he trailed behind.
"Well?" he quipped, huffing in annoyance at their mirthful expressions. "So I'm a monkey. It's better than being a baboon, like you guys."
Callie rolled her eyes and gazed up to the unny blue sky. "Hmmmm...," she mused, then:
"Monkey, baboon, chimpanzee,
which is the better
or the worst of the three?
Just ask Chet.
You can bet
he's been every kind of monkey
a boy can be!"
Frank guffawed and Joe and the girls burst into laughter. The hapless Chet huffed up to the ice-boat quite out of breath and very indignant.
He gave them all an ornery look. "Go ahead and laugh. You'll see. One of these days my name will be up there in lights and you'll all be sorry you didn't suck up to me when you had the chance."
This profound statement caused a fresh burst of laughter.
Joe leaned against the ice-boat and pointed up to the top of the cliffs. "You mean up there? Your name in lights?"
Callie chuckled. "Yes, right up there on top of the cliffs. 'Chet Morton' in six-foot high letters."
Frank grinned. "All the kids in Bayport will use it for target practice. Ten cents a round. Shoot out Chet Morton's lights!"
Grumbling to himself, Chet ignored this chaff of his comrades and climbed into the trim little ice-boat. He sat down with a grunt. "Maybe we ought to go for a ride? This ice skating has got me tired out already."
He pulled a shiny red apple from his pocket and took a big bite.
The others exchanged amused expressions. They had been on the ice only twenty minutes or so, but it was no great surprise that Chet had tired out so quickly. He usually did, no matter what they were doing.
They had sailed out to the cove earlier on the ice-boat along with their friend Biff Hooper and his ice-boat. Biff didn't care to ice skate, so he was now out on the bay scudding over the ice in his speedy craft, which had been a Christmas gift from his father.
Frank and Joe's ice-boat, however, had been wrought from their very own hands. It represented several weeks of hard labor on their part. It was staunch and stoutly built and it sped over the ice as swift as any other. The boys were justifiably proud of their handiwork.
Chet took another bite of his apple. "Ice-boating beats ice skating all to pieces anyway."
Joe snickered. "You prefer it because you don't have to do anything but sit down."
"And what's wrong with sitting down, may I ask?" Chet harrumphed. "You fellows think that every minute of every day one has to be doing something exerting!"
Frank rolled his eyes as the others tittered in amusement. "Well, we can't all fit in this craft," he reminded Chet. "We have to wait for Biff to return before we can take off again."
"Why, that looks like him now," Iola declared, pointing out on the bay.
Joe peered ahead, shielding his eyes from the bright sun with his hand. "Sure thing. That's Biff, all right, heading this way. And he sure seems to be in a hurry."
Biff's craft was bearing down on them at a rate of speed at which the boy normally wouldn't sail. Frank and Joe and the others wondered why he was in such a hurry.
"Look," cried Callie. "He's pointing up to his mast and sail!"
The others could see Biff wildly gesturing upward. They exchanged perplexed expressions, not knowing why the boy was gesticulating.
"What's wrong? What does he want?" Chet asked, rising to his feet.
Frank's brows knit in thought for a moment, then, "I think he wants us to unfurl our sail and be ready to take off when he gets here."
"That's the ticket!" piped Chet, shoving his half-eaten apple into his jacket pocket. "Something must be happening out there and he wants us to go with him to check it out."
He unstrapped the sail and Joe jumped into the ice-boat to help him unfurl it. By the time Biff neared them in his trim craft, the Hardy boys' boat was ready to go.
"What in thunder is up?" Frank shouted to the boy.
Biff bore down on his tiller to bring his ice-boat to a skidding halt. His expression was one of keen excitement.
"There's a fire on Cabin Island!" he shouted. "The old log cabin is burning!"
Frank and Joe, along with Chet and Biff, had recently stayed in the old cabin on Cabin Island over the Christmas holiday and had experienced many exciting adventures. During a severe winter storm, an old tree had fallen and hit the cabin, destroying the huge chimney and fireplace and exposing a missing stamp collection of great value that had been hidden there many years before. The boys had returned the collection to its rightful owner, Elroy Jefferson, the owner of Cabin Island, and had been well-rewarded for their efforts.
Now, it was hard to believe that the damaged cabin they had recently vacated was on fire!
Frank voiced that opinion. "Someone must have set it on fire purposely!"
"This is awful!" Joe agreed. "Mr. Jefferson will be horrified."
Biff pointed northward up the bay. "Look, you can see the smoke billowing up. All the ice-boats are speeding in that direction. Let's go!"
Further urging was not necessary. Chet jumped from the Hardys' craft and he and Iola climbed into Biff's ice-boat. Frank and Callie climbed in with Joe, and Frank took the tiller. Seconds later both ice-boats were racing in the wind upshore to Cabin Cove, one of the largest coves on Barmet Bay, in which lay Cabin Island.
Alongside them, the high gloomy cliffs rose sheer from the icy rock-bound shore. The area around Cabin Cove was an inhospitable place, seldom visited because of the high cliffs, its dangerous lonely shoreline, and its remote location from Bayport.
"Goodness! Look at the smoke!" Callie cried out, as the ice-boats rounded the point and Cabin Island came into full view.
The island itself looked dark and austere, even in the sun and with the ice gleaming on all sides. Great clouds of mushrooming dark smoke were rising from a high eminence overlooking the bay where the log cabin had stood. The island was heavily timbered and the first thought to come to the minds of Frank and Joe was that the entire island might burn!
"Head to the southern end by the burning cabin," Joe called out. The other ice-boats could be seen converging there.
Frank nodded, working the tiller to tack starboard. The wind took the sail and scurried them on. Biff followed in their wake.
Then Joe jerked his head to watch a lone ice-boat sailing around the opposite end of the island. Two figures were sitting in it, crouched low and heads to the wind.
"Frank!" he shouted, pointing north. "That ice-boat over there! Those fellows in it may be the culprits who set the fire!"
Frank turned his head to look and his eyes widened. "Why, that's Tad Carson and Ike Nash, those two ne'er-do-wells who caused us so much trouble over Christmas!"
The boys in question were unsavory characters, loud-mouthed and insolent, and they had been a source of annoyance and irritation to the brothers during their recent adventures at Cabin Island. They sailed in a larger craft that was well-made and speedy, and the envy of many of the young fellows in Bayport.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they set the fire," Joe expostulated. "And now they're trying to sneak away. Let's go after them!"
Frank nodded grimly, then looked at Callie and shouted, "Hold on!"
The girl grabbed the gunwale for support as Frank quickly changed course, spinning the ice-boat around on one runner.
"Hey you guys! Where're you going?" Chet demanded from his seat in Biff's craft.
But there was no response from the Hardy boys' boat. Frank, Joe, and Callie were all three intent on catching up with the larger ice-boat now speeding south in a direct course back to Bayport.
Chapter Two: FIRE ON CABIN ISLANDThe Hardy boys' trim-lined ice-boat bore down on the larger one as they raced along the ice-bound bay. Joe peered ahead and saw the steersman of the other craft turn around and glare at them with an angry sneer.
"That's Ike Nash driving that boat, for sure," Joe shouted to his brother. "The other fellow has got to be Tad Carson!"
Frank nodded, working his tiller as the boat hurtled forward at a terrific speed. "Mark my words, those two trouble makers had something to do with that fire back there!"
"It sure looks like it," Callie agreed, holding onto the side of the boat. "Everyone else is going out to the island. They're running away from it. But how did they get a new ice-boat so quickly? Didn't Hanleigh crack up their boat in the blizzard last week?"
She was referring to a Mr. Hanleigh who had been harassing theHardy boys and their chums during their holiday on Cabin Island. He had known about the hidden stamp collection and was trying to find it and steal it. Tad Carson and Ike Nash had helped him by driving him out to the island several times in their ice-boat.
The trouble-prone boys had begun to suspect that Hanleigh was up to no good, and so demanded a higher payment to take him out to the island. In an attempt to outsmart them, Hanleigh had stolen their boat one day and set off for Cabin Island alone. A raging blizzard had ensued and he cracked up the ice-boat beyond repair close by the island. The Hardy boys and their chums had heard his cries for help and were able to rescue him from the storm.
"Hanleigh gave the boys the money to buy a new ice-boat," Frank told Callie, "so they wouldn't press charges against him for stealing the other one."
"Right," Frank nodded in agreement. "And in just a couple days they had that swell new one sailing out on the bay, making everyone else green with envy."
Callie smiled. "You and Joe don't look green at all."
Frank hooted. "We wouldn't be jealous of those two morons if they owned the Taj Mahal!"
"You can say that again," uttered Joe. "But it sure jars my noggin that they were helping Hanleigh to bother us at the island, and then they end up the better for it!"
"I'd sure give the shirt off my back to know what they were doing out there right now," Frank added grimly.
Frank's inquisitive mind, and likewise Joe's, had caused them to become enmeshed in a number of mysteries that had baffled the local authorities. Although still in high school, the boys were anxious to follow in their father's footsteps. Fenton Hardy had been a member of the detective bureau of the New York Police Department for many years. He had won such great distinction that he moved to Bayport to work as a private investigator, often called to take in hand top-secret cases of international nature.
The lads had already proven time and again that they had inherited their father's ability. Most recently they had solved The Mystery of Cabin Island, only the week before, and it looked already, with the smoke rising in the sky behind them and the renegade ice-boat racing ahead, like another mystery was now abrew there.
"You're gaining on them!" cried out Callie, as their craft neared the other. "Just a little more and we'll be alongside them."
By now it was clear that the other boy in the larger ice-boat was indeed Tad Carson. Both he and Ike Nash were casting angry glances at the Hardy boys, and making every effort to elude their pursuit.
Joe began to shout at the other boys. "What were you fellows doing on Cabin Island? Did you start that fire?"
"Aw, dry up!" threw back Tad Carson, his hands gripping the side of the boat as he turned to look. "Mind your own business, sonny boy!"
Frank's eyes smoldered at them from his position at the tiller. "You know you have no business being on the island. We'll report you to the authorities," he warned. "We'll tell them we saw you leaving the island under suspicious circumstances."
Ike Nash shook his fist at Frank. "Go tell it to the Marines, buster! We're not afraid of you!"
The ice-boats had been racing almost neck and neck but, as the Nash boy shook his fist, his other hand on the tiller jerked sideways and sent the speeding craft into a portside turn. The boat jerked and wobbled, swaying dangerously as the wind filled its sail and further increased its speed.
"Watch out!" Joe cried, as the larger boat sped directly at them.
"They'll hit us!" Callie burst out, ducking down into the boat for protection as best she could.
Joe heard Tad Carson shout out a warning and saw Ike Nash as his eyes bugged round and his mouth dropped open in surprise and fear. With its packed full sail swooshing the boat on, a collision appeared to be inevitable.
Frantic, Frank bore down on the tiller to spin away from the oncoming craft. The big sail thwoomped and thwacked as the wind pushed and pulled it. Joe hunkered down and pulled Callie with him so that the boom would not hit them as it swung about.
But the trim little craft did turn, and not a moment too soon. The bigger boat sped broadside it, one runner airborne as Ike Nash struggled to turn the boat starboard. The two boats banged together at the gunwales and Callie screamed. Joe looked up to see the airborne runner of the larger craft ready to smack their mast.
"Frank! The mast! Watch out!"
But Frank had already seen it and, with great effort, he retained his coolness and presence of mind. Using the impact of the boats to his advantage, for the force of the bigger boat scudded them sideways, his quick hand on the tiller spun them away with barely an inch of space between the flying runner of the other boat and the mast of his boat.
He had to hold onto the gunwale for dear life and he didn't see the other boat as it veered over until the sail was almost level with the ice and Tad Carson fell out, almost to be hit by the low-swinging mast.
It took Frank a full thirty seconds to get his boat under control, and he slowed the craft down to almost a halt as Joe and Callie rose up to see what was happening.
What they saw was the other ice-boat still zigzagging down the shoreline out of control, its sail being tossed by the wind. Tad Carson had risen from the ice and was shaking both his fists at them.
"I'll get you for this, you Hardys!" he threatened, in an ugly humor. "You can't just go around accusing people of crimes. If you make any more trouble for us, you'll really have it coming to you, I'll say!"
Joe leered at him. "Oh yeah? Just what is it that you think you're going to do?"
Callie had to put her two cents in. "You're a big bag of wind, Tad Carson. Everyone knows it, and absolutely no one is afraid of you."
"She's right," Frank laughed. He pointed to the other ice-boat which was now finally coming to a halt some distance away. "You'd better forget about your threats and go teach your clumsy chum how to sail that boat!"
"And you haven't heard the last from us yet," Joe pounded home. "We'll find out who set that fire on Cabin Island. And if you and Ike are involved in it, you'd better start saying your prayers!"
Tad Carson glared at them for a moment. Then, with a dismissive wave of his hand at the Hardy boys and Callie, he spun around and began trudging across the frozen bay to his ice-boat.
"He's nothing but a big bully," Callie declared, scowling. "And so is Ike Nash. Bayport would surely be a better place without them."
Frank grinned at her proudly. "It looks like you'd be willing to duke it out with them yourself."
Callie raised her clenched fists in a pugilistic pose. "I'll knock 'em both out," she drawled, "and then clean up the floor with 'em!"
"And I believe you can do it," Joe hastened to say, a big smile splitting his face. "Their bark is way bigger than their bite!"
"And our suspicions about their behavior are even bigger yet," Frank declared. "Let's go back to Cabin Island and see if we can find any clues as to who started that fire."
In a short time the trio were once again approaching the southern tip of the island. The sky was dark from the smoke that was still pouring up from the burning log cabin. About twenty ice-boats had congregated near the shore and their passengers were watching the debacle above. Frank pulled up close to Biff's boat, and their chums plied them with questions.
"What happened? Was that Tad and Ike you were chasing?"
"Did you get those two bird-brains?"
"What were they doing on the island? Did they tell you?"
Frank gave them a quick run-down of what had occurred, and also their suspicions that the ne'er-do-well boys might have had something to do with the fire.
"Well, they probably did!" Biff said, firmly.
"Those boys are just a nuisance," Iola put in. "If they were near the island, then you can be sure they were involved somehow."
Chet grunted. "I'd like to give them a piece of my mind. And my fists, too!"
"What a lot of bad luck," Joe groaned, gazing up at the fire. "Last week that big old tree fell on the cabin to wreck it, and today a fire has burned it down!"
"At least we found Mr. Jefferson's stamp collection before the fire could destroy it," Frank pointed out.
Callie shook her head in dismay. "It looks like the cabin is a total loss."
"Mr. Jefferson will have to rebuild it," Joe remarked. "Or maybe now he'll sell the property. It ought to fetch a good price on the real estate market."
"It's the perfect location for an expensive vacation home," Iola mused. "Or even a lodge. New Yorkers would love coming here for relaxation and boating and fishing."
Frank gave her a curious look. "That's an interesting idea. We'll have to visit Mr. Jefferson and ask if he's had any recent offers to buy the island."
"Hanleigh wanted to buy it," Joe reminded him.
"That was only because he knew the stamp collection was hidden there. He'd have no use for it now."
"But someone else might," Joe suggested. "I think we should go ashore and look for clues."
It was decided that Biff, Chet, and Iola would go back to Bayport to inform the police and Elroy Jefferson about the fire. Frank, Joe, and Callie would go onto the island to do some sleuthing. Joe readied the sail and, moments later, the wind filled it and the craft sped along the glassy surface away from their chums and the other ice-boats. They tacked toward the far side of the island past countless little coves and inlets, and rugged rocky promontories.
Joe shouted, "There's the cove we use. Let's pull in there."
Frank nodded, guiding the boat around a wooded arm of land that sheltered the little cove where they beached their boat and ice-boat when enjoying the island. He pulled up to the small snow-buried beach.
"Such a pretty place," Callie commented, gazing at the wooded island. "Like a winter wonderland!"
All the tree limbs, and even the tiniest branches, were laden with snow. Some were so heavy with their burdens that they bowed down almost to the ground. Last week's blizzard had dumped over a foot of snow in the Bayport area.
The trio hastily changed into their boots then alighted from the ice-boat and anchored it to a tree trunk. A sloping hillside loomed before them with a narrow path winding up through the trees. The snow was trampled and a multitude of footprints filled the trail.
"Somebody sure was here," Joe muttered, taking the lead and advancing up the slope.
Callie and Frank followed. When they reached the top of the embankment the trees thinned out a little and the burning cabin could be seen ahead. Sparks flew in the air and the acrid smell of smoke was everywhere. All three of them started to cough.
Callie wrapped her scarf around her face, covering her mouth. "This is awful. Do you think the woods will catch on fire?"
Frank shook his head. "I hope not. The trees are pretty well blanketed with snow. Let's see how close we can get to the cabin."
The three young people moved on, trudging through the snow and avoiding as best they could the shower of sparks. The trees thinned out more and more until they reached the clearing in which the old cabin stood on its perch overlooking Barmet Bay.
The flames were dying down and all that could be seen of the cabin remains were the old damaged fireplace and piles of burning logs where the walls had fallen down.
Suddenly, a strange cry seemed to arise from nowhere, sounding like a terrified human wail. Shocked, the Hardy boys and Callie just stood there, looking around anxiously for the source of the frightening sound.
"What is it?" Callie gasped.
"Sounds like a child," Joe suggested.
"Yes, it does," Frank agreed. "But what would a child be doing here on Cabin Island by this fire?"
No sooner had Frank voiced the question when, to their complete astonishment, a little boy ran out from a thick stand of pines not far from them. He was dressed in a red and black checked woolen coat, matching leggings and cap, and he was covered from head to toe with soot.
He ran toward the boys and Callie, his arms outstretched. He was wailing and crying:
"Help me! Help me! Please! I lost my daddy and I don't know what to do!"
Chapter Three: ORPHAN OF THE FLAMES
The Hardy boys were astonished as the little boy ran up to them through the deep snow. Curly blond hair stuck out from beneath his cap and tears streaked down his sooty face.
"Where in the world did he come from?" Frank wanted to know.
"Poor little tyke," Callie gasped. "He's terrified!"
Joe had stooped down as the boy approached and, seeing this, the frightened child ran right up to him. He flung himself at Joe, erupting into a new deluge of frightened tears.
"My daddy! My daddy! I can't find him! Where'd he go?"
Joe wrapped his arms around the lad and hugged him. "Now, now, sonny. We don't know where your daddy is. Try to calm down now and tell us what happened."
"Right," Frank said, squatting down next to them with a puzzled expression. "When did you last see your daddy?"
The boy looked at Joe and Frank, then up to Callie with wide frightened eyes. His two front teeth bit his lower lip and his entire body trembled.
Callie pulled out a handkerchief from an inner pocket. "Poor kid, he's scared all to beat the band." She stooped down next to Joe and began to dab the youngster's face with the fresh cloth. "There now, honey, let me clean some of this soot from your face. You're a real cutie-pie."
"But ... but my daddy!"
"Did he go into the cabin by the fire?" Frank asked, brushing soot from the boy's coat.
"Yeah, when did you see him last?" Joe added.
The boy looked at all three of them for a moment, then, "I ... don't ... remember! We were here ... by the cabin. And I think Daddy got in a fight with somebody. Then there was a big fire and ... and I lost Daddy!" The boy ended his tale with a loud wail.
Joe's brows knitted as he screwed up his face and frowned. "How did you get out here to the island?"
The boy narrowed his eyes, trying to remember. Then he burst into a fresh volley of tears. "I don't know. I just remember a big ... a big ... sail!"
Frank and Joe exchanged glances.
"Must've been an ice-boat," Joe hissed. "I bet Ike and Tad..."
Callie interrupted him as she dabbed at the boy's face. "What if his father was in the cabin?" she whispered in a tone so low the boy couldn't hear.
Frank and Joe gaped at each other again.
"We'd better go check," Frank muttered, as both he and Joe jumped to their feet.
"You stay with Callie," Joe instructed the lad. "She'll take care of you, all right."
"But where ya goin'?" the boy wailed, holding onto Joe.
"We have to look for your daddy. Don't worry, we'll find him."
The boy reluctantly let go and Callie encircled her arms around him. "That's a good fellow. Now let me brush off more of this soot from your clothes."
Frank and Joe set off toward the burning cabin. The fire was ebbing now and the volume of smoke ascending from the ruins had slowed to a lesser plume billowing up to the sky. But there was no doubt that the cabin was a complete loss.
"That poor kid," Joe was saying as they hurried on. "He must be in shock. He can't remember anything. What in the world did he and his father come out to the island for?"
"It's a mystery!" Frank expounded. "But I'll bet you that Tad and Ike drove them out here on their new ice-boat. The question is Why, and what happened to the kid's dad?"
"Well, I hope he's not in ... in there!"
They had stopped a few feet from the smoldering ruins and Joe pointed at the devastation. Frank shuddered at the thought of the boy's father being in there, but he led Joe on as they crept closer until the emanating heat was too hot to bear and it made them cough so hard it hurt their throats. Then they backed away a foot or two and began to circle the burned cabin, peering into the remaining shell of the building to see if an unfortunate victim lay within.
"It sure doesn't look like anybody was in there," Joe declared, as they completed a circle around the old cabin.
"Let's check one more time just to be sure," Frank advised.
Once again the boys walked a ring around the remains, edging up a little closer to bear as much of the heat as they could in order to see better. The furniture was all burned, almost to a crisp, the conflagration had been so intense. Very little was left of the internal furnishings, not even the beds, only the charred mattress springs.
When they had completed their second trip around, Frank propounded, "You can be sure there was no one in the cabin when it burned. There'd be some remains. A skeleton, at least."
"You're right," Joe readily agreed. "But now what? What in tarnation happened to the kid's father?"
They both looked at the thick woods at the same time.
"He must be somewhere on the island," Frank reflected. "Maybe he got hurt in the fight the boy mentioned and wandered off?"
They started back toward Callie and the boy, trudging through the deep snow. There seemed to be footprints everywhere, as if a great deal of activity had taken place within the clearing. Frank stopped and grabbed Joe's arm to halt him.
"Look here," he pointed. "Looks like there was a fight right here, the way the snow is all beat out. Then tracks lead off into the woods. Let's check it out."
"We'd better let Callie know we're taking off," Joe suggested.
They returned to Callie and the child, who had calmed down quite a bit in the time since they'd left him. Callie was standing next to a tall fir tree with her arms around the little chap, who was holding onto her for dear life.
"His name is Bobby," Callie told them. "Or, that is, he thinks his name is Bobby."
The boy gave them a look of grim dismay. "I feel ... funny. I can't remember stuff. Did you find my daddy?"
"Not yet, Bobby," Frank answered. "But that's good news, so far. Nobody was in the cabin to get hurt by the fire. We're going to look around the rest of the island for him now."
Callie looked at them with caution. "We really should get Bobby back to Bayport, to the hospital maybe. At least somewhere inside and out of the cold."
"We'll take him to our house," Frank decided, "and then call Dr. Andersen. But first we have to search the woods in case his dad got hurt. It won't take us long. The island isn't that big."
The boys returned to the spot in the clearing where it appeared there had been the scuffle, then followed the tracks off toward the woods on the side of the island facing the mainland. They had explored the entire island the week before and thus were familiar with its terrain. The footprints led to a narrow path through the trees and then out to a steep embankment that led down to the rock-strewn shoreline.
"It looks like two or more people came this way, both back and forth," Joe said, eyeing the broken trail ahead as they walked along the narrow cliff path. "If Tad Carson and Ike Nash were in on this deal, I wonder how long they stayed on the island?"
Frank pushed aside a low hanging snow-laden spruce branch. "Perhaps they only dropped the boy and his father off. Maybe Bobby's dad was going to meet someone else here."
"Could be," Joe agreed. "And that might be the person he got in a fight with."
Frank nodded. "And then for some reason they took off down this way."
"Maybe the mystery person had a gun?" Joe surmised.
The brothers looked at each other and immediately quickened their pace.
Frank gulped. "The boy's father could be in a great deal of danger!"
Joe tromped forth steadfastly, his lips grim with anger. "If our mystery man forced Bobby's father off the island at gunpoint and left the little tyke here alone ... why, I'll ... I'll..."
Frank clapped his younger brother on the back. "Take it easy. Don't work yourself up over it. It's only a guess. We really have no idea what happened here today."
"I guess that's the real story," Joe huffed, shaking his head regretfully. "All we know is that whatever happened, it had to be so terrible that it caused that little boy to go into a state of shock."
The trail along the cliff narrowed even more and then the embankment changed into a slightly more gentle slope down which a path led through clumps of scrub brush and pine, and a profusion of large snow-covered rocks. The confusion of footprints followed the trail down to the shore. The boys trudged on, using the utmost caution in descending the treacherous slope.
The cliffs of the mainland and the wintry rolling hills beyond were about a mile away from this point of the island. There was no one on the ice in this part of the lonely Cabin Cove, as few people ever ventured this far out into the bay away from Bayport. The group of ice-boats that had sailed out to the point by the burning cabin were probably the most craft that had been out this way in ages.
The boys arrived down on the shore and began to pick their way through the big rocks and boulders that lined it until they were out on the ice.
"There was an ice-boat here," Frank said, pointing to the runner marks in the snow at the ice's edge. "The driver must've anchored to one of these rocks."
Joe stood looking around, his hands on his hips and a grim frown on his face. "It sure looks like the two people who were fighting came down this way and took off in an ice-boat."
"Ditto on that," Frank agreed readily. "And they left little Bobby all alone on Cabin Island. Sheez! Like an orphan, and right by all those flames!"
"This is sure a deep mystery," Joe said with quickening pulses. "We've got to find that boy's dad! But we'll need some clues. Maybe if Bobby has something to eat when we take him home, and a nice nap, too, he'll be able to remember things."
"I hope so," Frank said soberly. "Otherwise we're totally stumped, unless we can get Tad and Ike to tell us what they know."
"Chief Collig will get them to talk when he hears about little Bobby," Joe ventured, making a fist. "Otherwise you and I will beat it out of them."
Frank grinned at him. "You bet we will. It'll be a pleasure making those troublemakers talk. I'll bet ..."
Suddenly his eyes widened as his words broke off in mid-sentence, and he scurried over to one of the big rocks a few feet away. With a grunting exclamation, he dropped to his knees in the snow.
"Joe! Get a load of this!"
By the time Joe reached his side, Frank had turned and was holding a bright object in his gloved hand.
"Gosh, Frank, what is it?"
The bright gold and silver object glittered and shone in the cold sunlight. It had an intricate shape with a great amount of detail and design, and many rows of glistening colored stones added great beauty to the highly stylized object.
"It's a stick-pin, like the ones the Shriners wear on their fez hats. These stones here that are shaped like a question mark form the insignia of some exclusive or secret society. In fact, it's so secret that it bears no name. Usually the gems spell out the society name, or at least it's engraved on the pin."
Joe picked it out from his brother's hand and turned it over. On the back was a sturdy pin and clasp. "Maybe it's from one of those weird cults people talk about?"
Frank jumped back up to his feet. "Possibly. But it sure is a good clue. Someone ought to be able to recognize that design. Perhaps one of the jewelers in town."
Joe's eyes widened in excitement. "Bobby might recognize it! Maybe it belongs to his father?"
"If it does, I bet he threw it here purposely to leave a sign in case someone came looking for him. It sure looks like ..."
Again Frank's words broke off as a shrill scream from up on the island pierced the quietude.
"That's Callie!" he burst out.
Not a second later, the girl's scream rang out again loud and clear high above them.
Joe shoved the glittering pin into his pants pocket and jumped forward. "Hypers! Something's wrong up there!"
Frank was right behind him. "You bet there is! And we'd better get back up to the clearing pronto!"
Chapter Four: AUNT GERTRUDE MELTS DOWN
Slipping and sliding, the boys scrambled up the embankment, grabbing onto rocks and shrubs for support. When they attained the path at the top, they turned and ran along the cliff in the deep snow huffing and grunting from their exertions. At length, Frank turned again and led the way down the path through the woods and out into the clearing by the burned down cabin.
But Callie and the boy were nowhere in sight!
"Callie! Callie!" Frank gaped around in consternation. "Where are you?"
"Good grief!" cried Joe. "I hope nothing has happened to her and Bobby!"
The boys traded feverish glances as they ran over to the spot on the edge of the clearing where they had last seen Callie and the child. They looked around frantically but could see nothing throughout the woods except the snow and trees. Joe checked the footprints in the snow, but there were so many in the area that he couldn't tell in which direction the two had gone.
"Callie! Callie!" Frank cried out, turning a complete circle again to check the view in all directions.
"Where are you?" Joe added, in a loud gruff call.
There was complete silence for a long moment. Frank and Joe stared at each other with fearful expressions. Then, from seemingly far away, they heard:
"Frank! Joe! I'm down by the ice-boat!"
"It's her!" Frank cried in relief. "Let's go!"
It had been Callie, all right, but her voice sounded frightened and strained.
"We're coming!" Frank shouted, as they took off once again.
They ran with the long loping leaps of the antelope and were slipping and sliding down the hillside to the cove in a matter of minutes. Callie was sitting in the ice-boat with little Bobby snuggled at her side.
"What happened? Why did you scream?"
Frank, in his excitement, ran out onto the ice so quickly that he began to slip and slide and lose his balance. His arms flailed wildly and his feet flew out from under him. He fell on his backside and slid across the ice, coming to a halt right by the boat.
Joe walked up behind him grinning. "I guess this means he's fallen for you, Callie."
Frank reddened with embarrassment. "Yuck! I feel like I just pulled a Chet Morton prank. But I was frantic, Callie. What happened?"
The pretty brown-eyed girl's face sobered from its smile at Frank's tumble. "We were waiting by the clearing when this ... this ... strange man came out of a clump of trees right toward us. Scared me to death! Bobby, too."
"Strange man?" Frank questioned, looking bewildered. "What do you mean? Why was he strange?"
"He was just so odd and scary looking...."
"He was a monster!" Bobby broke in, his eyes wide and frightened. "A big ugly monster!"
Frank and Joe could only gape at the two of them.
"Wow, this sure is queer," Joe declared.
"Queer is right," Callie agreed. "He was a tall man, and big, too, with sharp features and swarthy skin. And he was wearing dark robes, like a priest or bishop, and over them a long black cloak with weird designs on it in gold and silver. You know, like astrological ones - the stars and the zodiac. He was wearing a big fur hat, like they wear in Russia and those far northern countries."
"I screamed when I saw him," the girl went on. "He was just as frightened, too, not expecting to see us there. He gasped and turned and fled, and I began running with Bobby down here to the boat. Then we ran into him again not a minute later, and when I screamed again he ran off a second time. I was all ready to take off in the boat if he came anywhere near us again!"
Frank nodded his approval. He noticed that she had unhooked the boat's anchor rope from the rock.
"He looked like a wizard," Callie continued, in a speculative tone. "Or maybe a magician. But not a very nice one. More like one you might run into in a nightmare."
Joe had pulled the intricate silver and gold pin from his pocket. He showed it to Callie.
"He may have been looking for this. We found it on the other side of the island."
Callie picked up the weighty object and scrutinized it closely. "Gosh, it's beautiful, and probably valuable if these stones are real gems. It sure would go well with the rest of his strange outfit."
"Have you ever seen this pin, Bobby?" Frank asked the child.
"I don't think so," the little boy responded, screwing up his face as he looked at the glittering pin.
"Did your daddy wear a pin like this?" Joe questioned him further.
The boy shook his head adamantly. "Daddy doesn't wear stuff like that. He's a tough guy!"
The others chuckled at the remark, and Frank said, "Well, I hope he's a really tough guy, Bobby. We couldn't find him. We think somebody abducted him and took him off the island on an ice-boat."
The little boy's eyes rounded again and he burst into tears, burying his head in the fluff of Callie's jacket.
"Don't fret, sweetie," she soothed him. "If Frank and Joe can't find your father, the police will."
"Right," Frank agreed. "Now we have to go back to Bayport and notify the police about this business. I'd like to stay and look for that weird wizard character, but we'd better get Bobby somewhere safe and warm. We'll take you to our house, Bobby," he said to the boy. "You'll like our mother. She's really sweet. And our Aunt Gertrude! Oh boy, she'll really have something to say about our bringing you home!"
Callie and Joe began to laugh.
"She'll blow her top," Frank predicted.
Joe nodded. "And after that, old General that she is, she'll take Bobby in hand and treat him like a puppy."
"A puppy?" The boy looked at them excitedly. "Do you have a puppy?"
Frank shook his head. "No way. Aunt Gertrude would never allow us to have a dog in the house. But she'll treat you like a cuddly little pet. You'll see."
A half hour later the Hardy boys were walking up the drive to their house on High Street back in Bayport. It was a stately brick home with a roomy garage in back where the boys parked their motorcycles and the old auto they had used to help them solve The Shore Road Mystery of the stolen automobiles. At the rear of the garage was a barn which had been fitted out as a gymnasium. The boys and their chums spent many happy hours there on rainy days when the outdoors was too damp and soggy to offer them adventure.
They had berthed the ice-boat in its spot next to their boathouse and then walked Callie home to her house, which was only a few blocks away from their own. Little Bobby walked between them, holding their hands, and the boys were telling him about all the wonderful foods their mother and Aunt Gertrude would cook for him.
"Will they bake me a cake?" Bobby asked. "I really like cake a whole lot."
Joe nodded, as Frank reached to pull open the side door of the house. "Aunt Gertrude loves to bake cakes. And even more, she loves to watch boys eat them!"
As they entered the hall they were immediately greeted by Aunt Gertrude who was standing in the kitchen, obviously eagerly awaiting their return in order to let them have it.
"Well, it's about time, I dare say," she tore right in at them. "Look at all that snow all over your clothes! At least stamp it off your boots. I just cleaned everything up. Goodness, it's a disgrace the way you boys go tramping all over that frozen bay and then attempt to bring half of it back into the house with you. Why, I never ..."
She abruptly stopped speaking as her flashing eyes rested on Bobby, who stood between the brothers looking at Aunt Gertrude like a scared little rabbit.
"Humphh!" she snorted, her expression softening. "And who, may I ask, is this little fellow?"
"His name is Bobby," Frank told her. "Or at least he thinks so. He doesn't really remember for sure."
"We found him on Cabin Island," Joe took up the story. "There was a big fire there earlier and the cabin burned down. We found Bobby there alone. He'd gone out to the island with his father, but we couldn't find him. He's missing!"
"Why ...!" Aunt Gertrude stared at them with an astonished expression. "Why ... my goodness! Well, don't just stand there like two bumps on a log. Bring that little fellow in here. My word, he's awfully sooty from that fire! Joe, you make some hot chocolate right away. And Frank, go into the sewing room and get your mother. We'll cook up something wonderful for this lost little boy to eat."
The boys stooped over to pull off their boots.
"Come! Come!" Aunt Gertrude commanded. "Don't waste time!"
"But Aunty," Joe said, "our boots are full of snow."
"Snow shmoe! Who cares?" the peppery lady exclaimed. "We have to feed this lost hungry little boy. If you make a mess, you and Frank can clean it up later."
Grinning at each other, the brothers walked Bobby into the room and Aunt Gertrude immediately began to fuss and coo over him like a mother hen. She pulled off his cap.
"We must get him some clean clothes. Oh, I know just where your clothes are up in the attic, boys, from when you were his age. Why, my goodness gracious!" she tossled Bobby's hair with her bony fingers as he looked up at her with a curious grin. "With this curly blond hair he looks an awful lot like you did at his age, Joe."
Joe pulled open a cupboard to get the powdered hot chocolate. He winked at Frank and they made thumbs-up signs at each other. They had known Aunt Gertrude's motherly instincts would rise to the top. They well-remembered how nice and fussy she'd been to them when they were little.
Frank pulled his boots off and left them in the kitchen before he ventured through the carpeted dining room to find his mother. Joe mixed the powder with the milk to boil on the stove as Aunt Gertrude helped Bobby take off his coat and leggings.
"Yes indeed, Bobby. You look a lot like Joe did when he was a little boy," the woman rambled on. "He and Frank were real cutie-pies just like you are. But then they grew up! Humphh! Boys their age are nothing but a nuisance, always messing things up, always in your hair. They should have just stayed cute little boys like you, in my opinion. But I suppose someday you'll grow up, too ..."
Aunt Gertrude kept up this kind of inane banter for the next twenty minutes or so while she and Mrs. Hardy, who was surprised but also happy to meet the lost little orphan of the fire, prepared an early dinner for him and everyone else.
Fenton Hardy had been in the library when the boys arrived home and, after hearing their story, he himself called Chief Collig at the Bayport Police Department to make a report of the fire on Cabin Island and the lost little boy.
"The Chief already got most of the story about the fire from Chet Morton," Fenton Hardy told his sons after hanging up. "He suggests that we let Bobby rest tonight. Perhaps tomorrow he'll remember things better and we'll be able to pose some questions to him. For now, his father will be considered to be a missing person."
Next he called Doctor Andersen, who agreed to come over later in the evening to take a look at Bobby. After Frank and Joe had brought some of their old clothes down from the attic for Bobby to change into and Aunt Gertrude had happily announced that she was baking a chocolate cake at Bobby's request, Fenton Hardy asked his boys to join him in the library.
"Now tell me," he said to his sons, a crooked little grin on his handsome face, "what information about this incident haven't you told me about yet?"
Frank and Joe exchanged surprised expressions.
"How do you know there's more?" Frank blurted out.
Fenton Hardy chuckled. "It's written all over your faces that there is more to the story than you've related so far."
Joe reached into his pocket. "Gosh, Dad, no wonder you're such a great detective. You can read people's minds."
"Maybe yours and Frank's, at times," Fenton Hardy admitted with a smile. "What is it you have there, son?"
Joe had pulled out the gold and silver jeweled stick-pin they'd found at Cabin Island. He handed it to his father.
"We didn't show it to you before because there wasn't time, with all the commotion about Bobby and everything. But we found it on the shore right by the spot where it looked like someone had taken off in an ice-boat. It may have belonged to that strange character Callie and Bobby saw."
Fenton Hardy's expression suddenly turned to one of great interest as he looked the stick-pin over.
"Boys, this object could be an important clue in a case I've been working on," he said at length.
"What do you mean, Dad?" Frank asked eagerly.
"I've been on the trail of an unusually unscrupulous band of criminals who operate a real estate scam under the guise of a mysterious cult."
"A cult?" Joe repeated, as both boys leaned forward with curiosity.
Fenton Hardy nodded his head. "Yes, they lure people into their web with promises of great psychic power and control over other men. They achieve a kind of mass hypnosis over these followers and then induce them to sign over their properties, supposedly to be used for the good of the group."
"But how could such a cult be involved with Cabin Island?" Joe wanted to know.
"Good question, but it undoubtedly is." Fenton Hardy held the pin up so they could see it clearly. "Can you see the question mark symbol embedded in these jewels?"
Frank and Joe both nodded in assent.
"We noticed it immediately," Joe told him.
"I have only seen photographs of pins like this," their father went on, "but I'm certain this is one of them. They are worn by the members of the cult known as the Mysterians. This one in particular with the question mark is worn by the Grand Master himself, perhaps that wizard-looking fellow seen by Callie and the boy on Cabin Island."
"You mean the leader of the cult?" Frank asked.
"Yes, boys, His Highness himself. And he is known to all only by the name 'Question Mark'!"
Chapter Five: QUESTION MARK AND THE MYSTERIANS
Frank let out a low whistle. "Wow! Question Mark and the Mysterians! They sure sound like a bad lot of shady characters, Dad."
Fenton Hardy nodded. "They are very adept at swindling even some of the most wealthy and discriminating people out of their property."
"But how can people be so gullible?" Joe asked. "You'd think educated people of means would know better."
The boys' father smiled knowingly. "I agree. It's hard to understand why some people fall for such scams. But, sometimes, in their quest for power and glory, some people easily become hoodwinked by those who promise it through mystical or occult means."
"Hoodwinked is right," Frank declared. "If the Mysterians promise psychic power and control over others ... why, that's just pure bunk. Any sensible person knows that."
"The problem is, my boys, men who seek that kind of power are not necessarily sensible."
"I'll say," Joe agreed. "I think you'd have to be a real goon to fall under the spell of a cult like that. Where have you been looking for them, Dad?"
"They are headquartered in New York, and that's why I've been spending so much time there lately. They are elusive, though. I have not been able to find their Inner Sanctum, as they call it, their headquarters and 'temple'. But I do know it's located somewhere between Greenwich Village and the Financial District."
"Yipes! That's a pretty big area," Frank responded. "Don't you wonder why Grand Master Question Mark may have been up this way on Cabin Island today?"
"I sure do, boys, and I mean to find out. Bobby's father may be involved with the Mysterians in some way and planned to meet them on Cabin Island this afternoon."
He looked thoughtful for a moment, rubbing his chin with his fingers. Then, "Their main focus is to get property from their victims. I'm inclined to believe they may be trying to acquire Cabin Island."
Joe's mouth dropped open in surprise. "Maybe the Mysterians set the fire! Mr. Jefferson told us he'd never sell the island because his deceased wife and son used to love spending time there. But with the cabin destroyed, he might be inclined to change his mind."
"I wonder if he's been approached by them to sell the island?" Frank mused. "We should stop by and ask him."
"Great idea," Fenton Hardy praised. "Why don't you boys visit him tomorrow?"
Frank and Joe nodded eagerly, and Joe added, "We'll go in the morning. But I sure hope Bobby's dad isn't one of the Mysterians. That'd make him a crook!"
"We'll have to wait and see," their father advised. "The cute little tyke may hold the key to this entire case, if only he can remember his past!"
Dinner that evening was earlier than usual and comparable to a holiday feast. The extra fuss was all meant for little Bobby, but Frank and Joe enjoyed it immensely, too, for their appetites were hardier than usual due to their exciting adventures on the bay in the cold frosty air.
Mrs. Hardy and Aunt Gertrude had made roasted chicken with all the trimmings, including vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. For dessert there was a sumptuous chocolate cake with fudge-like frosting that Aunt Gertrude had baked especially for Bobby. The boy was all smiles and in high spirits, and he ate with a voracious appetite.
"I never ate such good food!" he exclaimed happily, much to the pleasure of Mrs. Hardy and Aunt Gertrude.
They did not ply the boy with questions about his past during the meal, nor after it while they sat around the radio console in the living room listening to a mystery show. They knew the boy needed time to recover from the shock. The Christmas tree was still up, its colorful lights twinkling, and outside the front terrace doors next to it could be seen the falling snow. Frank and Joe kept exchanging amused glances as they watched how motherly their mother and Aunt Gertrude were being to their little friend. They'd probably want to keep him for good if his father couldn't be found.
Doctor Andersen came over later and gave Bobby a complete examination. He announced that the boy was in tip-top condition but in a state of shock, as they had already suspected. It was the doctor's belief that after a day or two of quiet and rest the boy should recover his memory completely.
"Children are very resilient in traumatic experiences of this nature," he declared. "Unlike us older folks, they recover quickly."
Later, Frank called Callie on the telephone to bring her up to date with the latest developments. Next he called Chet so that he and Iola would know what had happened on the island, and the activity that had followed. Then, finally, he called Biff.
"Wow! It's another mystery for you and Joe to solve," the Hooper boy exclaimed. "I wonder who that strange wizard-looking man could be?"
Frank had not told any of his chums about the strange cult called the Mysterians because of the confidential nature of their father's work.
"I wonder, too," Frank responded. "It sure is queer, isn't it? But you can bet Joe and I will get to the bottom of it!"
Aunt Gertrude had prepared the guest bedroom for Bobby and the boy soon showed signs of tiring by wide long yawns. Frank and Joe took him upstairs and tucked him in.
"We'll leave this bedside lamp on for you, Bobby," Joe told him, playfully tossling the boy's curly blond hair. "And we'll be right across the hall in our bedroom."
"And we'll leave the doors open," Frank added. "If you need anything, just call us. We'll be over in a jiffy."
The boy yawned again and sighed happily. "I like it here. This is the best house in the world to live in!"
The boys looked at each other and grinned. "We sure think so!"
Later, in their room, after they had gotten into bed, the boys couldn't help discussing the case in further detail.
"Wouldn't it be something if that strange man on the island really was the leader of the cult Dad is investigating?" Joe asked.
"That's got to be the story!" Frank affirmed with conviction. "The jeweled pin proves it. What we have to find out is what connection the Mysterians have to Cabin Island."
"Who'd ever think, " Joe said musingly, "that Cabin Island had so many secrets? First there was the long lost stamp collection, and now this mystery about the fire and the sinister cult."
"Which we are definitely going to solve," Frank said, with a yawn. "But not tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough. I'm beat!"
"Me, too," Joe uttered, curling up snugly under his blankets. "We sure had an exciting, eventful, and tiring day!"
It was sometime later when Frank awoke, having heard a noise which sounded to him like the breaking of glass. He opened his eyes and strained his ears to hear more, but all he could hear was the moaning of the wind and sleet-like snow beating against the bedroom window. Soon enough, he got tired of such strained listening and decided the noise had just been from the wind and snow. He turned over on his side and snuggled comfortably in the warm bed, shutting his eyes once again.
But a few minutes later a loud piercing scream from downstairs caused him to shoot up out of the bed. He pulled on his robe as he rushed to the door and banged into Joe, who was doing the same exact thing.
"Oops! What the heck was that?" Joe burst out.
Another scream pierced the air at that precise moment!
"It's Aunt Gertrude!" Frank exclaimed. "We'd better investigate!"
The boys rushed headlong down the stairs in the dark, almost tripping over each other several times before reaching the downstairs hall. Joe flicked on the light in the dining room and they ran in, swiveling their necks around in all directions for some indication of what had happened to Aunt Gertrude. Joe ran into the library to check that room. Frank hurried into the living room and let out an astonished gasp.
"Oh no! Joe! Come in here!"
A moment later Joe sprang into the living room and stopped dead in his tracks.
"Yikes!" he yelped, as Joe switched on a table lamp.
Aunt Gertrude, wearing a robe over her nightgown and a mass of curlers in her hair, and holding a long-handled rag mop, was sprawled out on the floor with the Christmas tree laying ontop of her.
"Well, don't just stand there gaping at me, you dolts!" the woman demanded. "Get this tree off of me! My goodness, I'm going to have pine needles and tinsel all over me for days!"
When they didn't move because of their surprise at what they were seeing, she glared at them and cried, "Snap to it, boys! What are you, in a trance or something?"
The boys jumped into action and Joe apologized. "Sorry, Aunty. It was just such a shock to see you like this..."
"Shock, my foot!" she broke in. "Hurry it up!"
The boys pulled up the tree and then set it to rights by the French doors. While Joe tightened its stand so it wouldn't fall back down, Frank helped Aunt Gertrude to her feet. There were pine needles, tinsel, and tiny pieces of broken glass ornaments all around her on the carpeting.
"Well, I never!" she fumed, brushing herself off. "I never did like the idea of bringing trees into the house, I must say, and then decorating them with all those fussy things, lights and glass balls and such! Then you only have to take it all down a couple weeks later, and it just turns out to be nothing but a big mess anyway. Humphh! As if a woman doesn't have enough work to do in a house without coming up with such a frivolous excuse to give her more!"
Frank and Joe stared at each other and rolled their eyes. No one could carry on quite the way Aunt Gertrude did!
"What happened, Aunty?" Frank asked, leading her away from the broken glass on the floor.
"What happened?" she repeated, with a cackle. "Some detective you are. Somebody broke into the house! You'd think that with three detectives in the house, at least one of you would've heard and come downstairs. But no, you fellows leave it up to me, an old lady, to come down and deal with the culprit!"
"Sorry, Aunty, but I didn't hear anything," Joe said, getting up to his feet.
Frank frowned. "I did hear a noise like breaking glass, sort of."
"Sort of?" the woman exploded, plopping down onto the couch, still holding her rag mop. "What kind of detective sort of hears something? Oh, I know you found the tower treasure, solved that mystery at the house on the cliff, went out west hunting for hidden gold, and even found the stolen cars during the shore road mystery, but it takes me ... me...to chase away a burglar!"
The boys could only look at each other and grin. She really had them on this one!
"That's because you're a light sleeper, Aunty," Frank said. "And a lot braver than Joe and me, too!"
The woman sniffed. "You bet your life I am!"
Joe had noticed that one of the French doors leading outside was slightly ajar. The pane of glass by the knob was shattered and small shards of glass were on the floor below. He pointed it out to his brother.
Frank nodded. "Obviously the way the intruder broke in. That must have been the breaking glass I heard. I thought it was just the wind. Boy, I should've gotten up to check it out."
Joe snickered. "Why bother? We have Aunt Gertrude here to protect us."
"Don't be snide, young man," she snapped. "I heard the glass break, too, and came right down with my mop. And, ugh, this horrible-looking person was standing right next to the tree, just waiting. He must've heard me coming down the stairs. Then he lunged out to grab me and I screamed and whacked him with the mop. He fell against the tree and it came crashing down on me. That's when I screamed again, and he turned and ran out the door. Scared him away, I did," she added, proudly.
"What did the man look like?" Joe asked.
"It was too dark to see him well, but he was all dressed up like Houdini himself or one of those nutty swamis. Had on a big cloak and furry hat, like that fellow Callie and the boy saw on Cabin Island."
"Wow," Joe uttered, looking at Frank. "It might have been Question Mark himself!"
Frank nodded. "Right. Looking for little Bobby or maybe his jeweled stick-pin!"
"What! Do you know who this fellow is?" Aunt Gertrude demanded.
Fenton Hardy and the boys had not told Aunt Gertrude about the stick-pin or the mysterious cult and its leader. Frank was just about to answer when Mrs. Hardy came down the stairs, wrapped in a colorful robe.
"What happened?" she asked. "I heard voices and came down to check. Oh my, look at the mess on the floor!"
The two boys and Aunt Gertrude told her what had happened.
"Heavens! This certainly warrants an investigation. We'd better call the police. Where is your father?"
Joe frowned. "Wasn't he upstairs with you?"
Mrs. Hardy shook her head. "No, he didn't come up to bed. I checked on Bobby. He's okay. But Fenton isn't upstairs."
"Maybe he fell asleep in the library," Aunt Gertrude suggested. "He sometimes does when he's up late working on a case."
"I'll check," Joe said, moving off in that direction.
Mrs. Hardy stooped down to pick up some of the debris from the carpet while Frank called the police department from the hall phone and asked them to send out a patrol car. Not a minute later Joe came running out of the library with a piece of note paper in his hand.
"Dad's gone!" he told the others, excitedly. He quickly explained to his mother and Aunt Gertrude about the strange cult his father was investigating and how it might tie in with the mystery surrounding Cabin Island. "Dad left this note. It says he's gone to New York in search of the Mysterians, and he took the stick-pin we found at the island to use as bait to capture Question Mark himself!"
Chapter Six: AUNT GERTRUDE FINDS A CLUE
While working on a case, Fenton Hardy often stole away in the middle of the night in pursuit of nefarious villains who had managed to elude him beforehand. It was not unusual. But both Frank and Joe thought it was ironic, this time, considering the circumstances.
"Well, can you beat that?" Frank exclaimed, upon hearing the news. "He runs off to New York to look for Question Mark, and the very man himself breaks into our house!"
Aunt Gertrude sniffed indignantly. "What's this world coming to when grown men call themselves such imbecilic names like 'Question Mark', and gad about town dressed like wizards? Oh, why did Fenton ever have to become a detective? He could have done something more normal, like ... well, like raise goats!"
Mrs. Hardy chuckled. "Fenton is hardly cut out to be a farmer, although I admit it would certainly be safer than being a private investigator."
"Safer and boring," Joe croaked. "I am so glad Dad isn't a farmer!"
"Ditto on that," Frank agreed. "Because you bet we wouldn't want to follow in his footsteps if that were the case! Don't clean anything up yet," he added. "The police will want to check for fingerprints."
It was in the wee early morning hours by the time the Bayport police completed their investigation of the break-in. Detective Smuff and officer Con Riley were dispatched to the house and they spent quite a bit of time perusing every inch of the property. The men finally took the hint from Aunt Gertrude, who was ready to hit them over their heads with her mop, and took their leave. Little Bobby had slept soundly through the entire nocturnal episode.
Thus it was later in the morning than usual when the boys awoke, and they scrambled to get dressed and hurry downstairs to the enticing aroma of bacon and eggs. Bobby was sitting at the table with Mrs. Hardy, mopping up egg yolk with a crusty piece of toast.
"Hi, kiddo!" Frank greeted him, while Joe tossled the boy's curly blond hair.
"Hi, Frank and Joe," the lad said happily. "I like staying at your house. There's always lots of food!"
"There sure had better be!" said Joe, hopefully eyeing Aunt Gertrude, who was standing at the stove frying up more bacon and eggs.
She sniffed condescendingly and glared at him. "Don't worry, a fresh batch for you and Frank is on the way. Although I don't know why you boys would need any nourishment, since I've been having to do all your detective work for you."
"Uh oh." Frank looked at Joe as they sat down at the table, then at their mother. "What's she talking about now?"
Mrs. Hardy smiled. "Aunt Gertrude found a very important clue."
"She did?" the boys chorused.
Aunt Gertrude's face held a very smug expression as she placed platters of bacon, eggs, and toast in front of the boys.
"Yes indeed, I did! While you boys were sleeping away the morning, I was hard at work on the case. Bobby's cap and coat and leggings need to go to the dry cleaners to get rid of the soot and smell. So I checked to see if there was a cleaner's name tag in them, like we put in our clothes. And there was!"
Aunt Gertrude picked up a piece of note paper from the telephone stand. "Here. I wrote it all down. We now know Bobby's name and where he lives."
The boys' eyes flew to the piece of paper as Frank took it from Aunt Gertrude. Their mouths dropped open as they read:
QUIGGLES DRY CLEANERS, HOUSTON STREET, NEW YORK. BOBBY JEFFERSON.
"Wow!" Frank exclaimed with a mouthful of toast. He managed to say, "Houston Street! That's near Greenwich Village, in the area where Dad believes the Mysterians' Inner Sanctum to be!"
Joe gaped at the youngster. "Do you live in New York, Bobby?"
The boy nodded his head. "That's what Aunty Gertrude says. I remember lots and lots of big buildings."
Frank swallowed. "And Jefferson! Joe, do you know what that means?"
Joe frowned, not understanding. Then his eyes widened as he suddenly got it. "Elroy Jefferson! Bobby has the same name."
Aunt Gertrude smiled smugly as she took her seat at the table. "Isn't that a coincidence, boys? You found Bobby on Cabin Island, and his last name is the same as the man who owns the place."
"There must be a connection," Mrs. Hardy concluded. "Bobby's father's last name is Jefferson, too, of course."
Bobby nodded at the boys. "I can remember that now. Everybody called my daddy 'Mr. Jefferson'."
Frank and Joe exchanged excited glances, both thinking the same thing, that the boy and his father might somehow be related to the man who owned Cabin Island.
"Elroy Jefferson had a son," Frank said, gulping down his food, "but he died some years ago."
"Perhaps Bobby's father is a more distant relation," Aunt Gertrude suggested, mixing a spoonful of sugar into her coffee. "Like a nephew or a second cousin."
Joe nodded eagerly. "Could be, Aunty. We're going out to Mr. Jefferson's house this morning to talk to him. And we'll sure let him know about this!"
"And thanks for the great clue," Frank commended her. "Boy, you're good! Next time we go out sleuthing, we're going to take you along."
Joe grinned. "Especially if we go looking for clues in caves."
"Caves?" their Aunt shrieked. "Heaven forfend! No thanks, you boys and your dad can solve all the mysteries around here. I'm happy enough just to keep the house clean and feed you to keep up your strength!"
Although Bobby was well-rested and in a happy mood, he didn't remember anything more than the fact that his last name was Jefferson and that he lived in a city with lots of big buildings. Yet this was important information and the boys were most grateful for it.
After breakfast they went down to the Bayport police station. The snow was too deep to allow using their motorcycles, so they walked bundled up in their winter outdoor clothes. They discussed the break-in with Chief Collig and made arrangements for him to come out to the house later in the day to interview Bobby.
"I hope the kid begins to remember more," Joe said, as they headed out of the station. "Man, don't you wish we could go to New York and look for clues?"
"You bet. We could go to that dry cleaners on Houston Street. Someone there sure ought to be able to tell us about Bobby and his dad!"
"At least Dad is there in New York," Joe conceded. "Hopefully he'll call home and we'll be able to pass the information on to him."
The boys set out for the Jefferson home on the Shore Road. The place was not too far out of town and the walk in the wintry cold was invigorating. They arrived there in a short time. It was a large lonely-looking mansion set back a distance from the road. A fancy black touring car was parked in front of it by the ditch.
"Looks like Mr. Jefferson has a visitor," Joe commented.
"Maybe an insurance man, or perhaps a reporter from the newspaper," Frank suggested. "He'll probably have many callers within the next few days because of the fire."
They went up the walk to the front entrance and, after ringing the bell, the prim and matronly housekeeper opened the door.
"We'd like to see Mr. Jefferson," Frank told her. "It's about the fire at Cabin Island. We were out there yesterday when the cabin was burning."
"Tsk! Tsk!" the housekeeper clucked, opening wide the door. "Such a terrible thing to happen! Come in, boys. Mr. Jefferson is busy right now but I'm sure it won't take long. He'll be with you shortly."
She led them into the reception room where they had once before waited to see Mr. Jefferson and, as they took seats, they could hear voices coming from the nearby living room. The boys looked at each other as the woman walked away, her skirts swishing.
"Sounds like an argument," Joe said in low tones. "I hope Mr. Jefferson is not being given a hard time by his insurance company."
But what they heard next caused them to dismiss that idea immediately.
"I don't care if the cabin has burned down!" Elroy Jefferson's voice was raised in consternation. "I will not sell Cabin Island for any reason. It simply is not for sale."
"But, sir," came another voice, just as loud, "my client is prepared to pay any price you ask. They will make you an offer you simply cannot refuse."
"Bosh! I can and will refuse any offer. The cabin will be rebuilt. Tell your client that I am not interested, and that is my final word on the matter. Good day!"
The living room door opened and the two men stepped out into the hall. One was Elroy Jefferson. The other, an arrogant looking fellow in a dark suit and overcoat, walked down the hall with a pouting put-out expression, his nose in the air. The front door could be heard as it closed behind him. Elroy Jefferson saw the boys waiting for him and he advanced into the room, his scowl turning to a smile.
"What a pleasant surprise, my boys!" He glanced back toward the front door and shook his head. "That was another fool who won't take no for an answer. He is a real estate agent from New York who wants to buy Cabin Island for a client. He thinks I have no use for it now that the cabin has burned down."
Frank and Joe shared a look, neither one of them very surprised at the news.
"We were out at the island yesterday during the fire," Frank told him.
Mr. Jefferson nodded. "Yes, your friends stopped by to tell me about it yesterday afternoon."
"And we immediately suspected," Joe went on, "that the person who set the fire might be someone else who wants to own the island. Find that man's client, and you may catch the culprit."
Intensely curious, Elroy Jefferson took a seat by them and urged them to tell him more. The boys eagerly related what they knew about the fire, little Bobby and his missing father, and the strange wizard-looking man seen on the island yesterday and again by Aunt Gertrude last night in their house.
Joe ended the tale by saying, "And we think it is very curious that the youngster and his father have the same surname as you do."
The man sighed deeply and rested his hands on his knees. The boys could see that he was trembling.
"These are quite unexpected developments," he muttered, more to himself than to the boys.
Then he addressed them directly. "My son's name was Robert and we called him Bobby. He was fair and blond, like you Joe, and like this lost little boy you've told me about. He disappeared some years ago after the Great War. He was in New York attending college, and the last we heard of him he had gotten involved with a strange cult."
Mr. Jefferson sighed again, deeply, and went on. "My wife and I spent a great deal of time and money trying to find him, but not a trace was ever uncovered. He was a good lad, but easily led by those who like to exert undue influence over others. I tell people he is dead but, truth is, he disappeared and was never seen or heard from again."
Frank's mouth had dropped open in astonishment. "It is possible, then, that Bobby's father is your son, and that Bobby himself is your grandson!"
Joe's eyes shone with excitement. "They live in New York, and the boy's father is obviously involved somehow with a very strange cult that specializes in mind-control."
Frank's head bobbed up and down in an energetic nod. "Gosh, Mr. Jefferson, you're son may not be dead after all."
Hope burned in the elderly man's eyes. "There was never the slightest clue before," he said in whispering tones. "But this ... this is all so fantastic. Especially that he and the boy were on Cabin Island. My son loved Cabin Island. He and I went out there as often as possible."
Frank's brows knitted in thought. "Perhaps the cult has been controlling his mind, and now they want to buy Cabin Island as part of their real estate scheming. They may have set the fire purposely, thinking that it might induce you to sell."
"But I will never sell it!" the man exploded. "It is the only link left to my boy. My dear wife passed away not long after his disappearance, she was so heartbroken. If he is alive, we must find him!"
"We'll help you in every way we can," Frank said with determination. "If Bobby's dad is your son, we'll find him. You can bet your life on it!"
Chapter Seven: ON THE FLYING EXPRESS
Frank and Joe Hardy walked back to town in the wintry cold. Along the way, they could see across frozen Barmet Bay all the way out to the black line of demarcation where the ice met the cold waters of the Atlantic.
"Too bad we have so much sleuthing to do today." Joe gazed longingly at the smooth wind-blown ice. "It'd be fun to take a ride on the ice-boat."
"Speaking of ice-boats," Frank put in, "let's go down to the harbor. Maybe we'll find Ike Nash and Tad Carson down there. We need to talk to those fellows."
"We sure do," Joe agreed. "I'm sure they know plenty about what happened at Cabin Island yesterday!"
The boys walked down to the main street of the city and then turned east and headed toward the harbor. Usually busy with commercial and transportation activity, the big bay and harbor area were now very quiet, almost deserted. Only a few people were milling about. The big ferries that plied the East Coast waters were all frozen in at dockside. Yachts and smaller boats were pulled up out of the water in their cradles and covered for the season, and others were stored in individual boathouses that lined the shore both north and south. Frank and Joe headed north on the harbor road toward their own boathouse where their own motorboat was stored.
"What say we check out the Sleuth," Frank suggested. "Just to make sure everything is okay, if you know what I mean."
Joe chuckled. "I know what you mean, all right. Ike and Tad are sure to be peeved at us because of the things that happened in the last week, but I hope they have the sense not to vandalize our property."
The boys need not have worried. The boathouse was in good order, the Sleuth wenched up out of the ice as should be, and the ice-boat in the berth outside was untouched.
Frank said smugly. "I guess they know better than to wrangle with us."
Joe nodded readily. "Those two are nothing but big talkers. Let's go and see if they're down by their ice-boat."
The boys continued up the shoreline to the spot where Ike and Tad berthed their craft. The two boys in question were there, unfurling the sail of their new boat in preparation for departure onto the ice. They glowered at Frank and Joe when they saw them approaching.
"Going out on the bay, chaps?" Frank asked cordially.
"Doggone! If it ain't the Hardy boys," Ike Nash returned in mocking tones. "Are you guys out solving a mystery? Looking for clues, eh?"
Joe sent him and his chum a sardonic grin. "As a matter of fact, we are. We'd like to know what you fellows were doing at Cabin Island yesterday."
Tad Carson let the sail fall open and turned angrily to face Frank and Joe. "What makes you think we'd tell you anything? You gotta be joking!"
"No joke at all," Frank said to him in a stern tone. "If you don't tell us what we want to know, we'll inform Chief Collig that you two boys were at Cabin Island yesterday at the time of the fire. Would you rather be questioned by the police chief down at the police station?"
Ike and Tad glanced at each other with worried expressions.
"If the police find out that the fire was deliberately set, you two could be implicated and charged with arson," Joe warned them. "It bodes no good to clam up about it. We're not disposed to involve you in trouble if you come clean with us and tell us what happened."
"And besides," Frank put in, "a little boy was left deserted on the island yesterday, and his father is missing, perhaps abducted. There will be an investigation into his disappearance."
Ike and Tad shared another worried look. Then Ike stepped out of the boat onto the ice. Tad leaned against the mast, frowning.
"We'd better tell them what we know," Ike said to him. "If their old man gets involved with this, it could be our ruin."
"He's already involved," Frank declared. "He's working on an angle of the case right now."
Both Ike and Tad winced visibly at this announcement.
"Well, you tell them, Ike," Tad said, glaring at his chum. "It was your idea to get us involved in the first place."
"Aw, dry up," Ike tossed back at him. "I don't recall having to twist your arm to get you to agree."
"Just tell us what happened," Frank demanded impatiently. "Every minute counts. We have to find the boy's father!"
"Oh, all right!" Ike Nash glared at them for a moment, then, "We took the man and his little boy out to the island yesterday. He offered us ten dollars to do it. We offered to wait and give him a ride back, but he said he had to meet someone there and would ride back with him."
Frank looked at Ike and then at Tad. "Is that it?"
The two troublesome lads looked at each other again, warily. Tad snarled and blurted out, "Go on, tell them!"
"Okay already!" Ike turned back to face Frank and Joe. "We dropped them off down by the cove with the little beach. But we were suspicious, you know? Why would a man with a little boy go out to the island in this weather to meet somebody?"
Frank and Joe nodded. "We'd be suspicious, too."
"So we waited a while and followed them," Ike went on. "They had gone up to the cabin. When we got up that far, it was already on fire. The boy's father was arguing with another man in the clearing, a real strange looking fellow, and the poor kid was looking on, scared as the dickens."
"What do you mean by strange looking?" Frank asked. "Was he a big guy dressed in a robe-like cloak and a tall fur hat?"
Ike nodded. "Right. Like Mister Swami himself. There was another fellow with him, too, but a normal looking guy."
Frank and Joe exchanged glances. Probably an assistant of Question Mark's! Someone to help him burn down the cabin.
Ike continued. "We could see there was trouble, with the old cabin on fire and all, and the two men fighting. So we got the heck out of there. We didn't want to be involved, you know? We got back on the ice and rounded the island. That's when we ran into you guys in your boat."
"You didn't see the boy's father after that?" Frank asked.
"No," Tad put in. "Last time we saw him was on the island. But we saw that goofy Swami guy again, just a few minutes ago."
Frank's eyes popped wide. "Where?"
"Right here. He was walking up the road toward town. He gave us a real dirty look when we stared at him. What the heck does he expect, walking around dressed like that, eh?"
Frank and Joe looked at each other in exasperation.
"We just missed him!" Joe growled. "We were probably in our boathouse when he walked by!"
Frank grabbed Joe's arm. "Let's go. Maybe we can catch up with him." He turned to Ike and Tad. "Thanks for the information. We won't say anything about it to Chief Collig or our dad."
The boys hurried back up the road toward town, running over the crunchy snow and ice. Their eyes searched ahead for any sight of the man they believed to be the cult leader named Question Mark.
"Boy, wasn't it just our luck to miss him!" Frank expostulated. "I wonder what he was doing down here in the harbor?"
"Could be he went back out to Cabin Island," Joe suggested, "looking for his lost stick-pin. You know, I've been wondering why he broke into the house last night. If he was after Bobby, how did he know Bobby was there? Same with the stick-pin. How would he know we had it?"
Frank shrugged. "It's possible that several of the Mysterians are working here in Bayport, like that real estate agent. I bet he's one of them. And they might know Dad's working on the case. Question Mark might have broken in to see if Dad had any information or evidence about them."
Joe agreed to those possibilities. "Good thing Aunt Gertrude scared him away!"
The boys were soon back on the main street of town. They looked to see if any of their chums were around, but no one was in any of the places where they usually gathered, like the pool hall or the soda fountain in the drug store.
Suddenly Frank grabbed his brother's arm. "Look!" he hissed, pointing to a man who had just walked out of a bank on the other side of the street.
Joe had to struggle not to shout out loud in triumph. It definitely was the man they were looking for! Tall and broad, he wore the long robe-like cloak embellished with mystical signs. Atop his head was the tall furry hat that made him look like some kind of Russian wizard. His skin was a dark olive tone and his features were bold and sharp, with a nose like the beak of a hawk.
"It's Question Mark, for sure!" Joe exclaimed. "Let's tail him. I wonder where he's going. Can you believe he walks the streets in that get-up?"
People were looking at him as he passed them by, but the man seemed oblivious to their curious glances. He strode forth down the sidewalk in a bold confident manner.
"He must know everybody is looking at him," Frank replied. "Perhaps he likes the attention that garb gets him."
The Hardy boys crossed the street and fell in behind the strange looking man who walked along ahead of them at a rapid gait.
"Perhaps he's going to meet some of the other Mysterians," Joe mused. "They may even have an office here in town, for all we know."
"Well, if that's what he's going to do, we'll be right behind him!"
They followed the Grand Master of the mysterious cult at a sensible distance, making sure there were enough people on the sidewalk between them to offer cover should the man look back. But he kept his gaze forward and hurried on as if with a distinct determination to arrive at his destination quickly.
"Where in tarnation is he going?" Joe wondered, after they had trailed the man for several blocks.
The cloaked figure suddenly turned up a side street, hastening in the inland direction away from the bay.
"I bet he's going to the train station," Frank responded. "It's right up that street just another block."
The boys made the turn, following about thirty feet behind on the busy street filled with shoppers and office workers.
Joe groaned. "If he gets on a train, we're done for. We'll lose him for sure!"
"Not on your life," Frank said grimly. "We have plenty of money with us from the funds Elroy Jefferson gave us for finding the stamp collection. We'll buy train tickets and follow him. He may be going back to New York."
Soon the big stone building came into view and the man in the embellished cloak turned down the walk and hastened through the main doors. Frank and Joe had to hurry closer behind him than they would have liked, but the station was crowded and they did not want to lose sight of the man.
They followed him to one of the ticket windows and got in line close behind him. Frank edged up even closer to the man as the cult leader stepped up to purchase a ticket.
"New York City," he heard the man gruffly tell the clerk. "And I need to get there fast. One ticket on the Flying Express!"
The clerk responded, "It's leaving in a couple minutes. You'll have to hurry."
The ticket was purchased and the man in the cloak hastened away toward the gates. Seconds later the boys purchased two return tickets to New York City and then raced off through the gates, after the urging of the clerk, to the platform where the Flying Express was chugging and clanging, big wheels squealing as it began to inch forward.
"Wow, we just made it!" Frank exclaimed, as he grabbed the rail and scrambled up the steps of the final coach car.
"Tell a fellow about it!" Joe grumbled, his cap almost flying off as he clambered after his brother.
They hastened into the car, warily looking around at all the passengers to locate their quarry, the man in the fur hat and robe-like cloak.
Frank nudged his younger brother. "There he is, way up in the front of the car. Let's sit back here. It'll be easy to keep an eye on him now."
Joe could see the man sitting up ahead in a seat by himself and gazing out the window as the train gained momentum and roared past the city streets. "All right, we can sit right here."
The brothers shuffled into the last seat in the car and plopped down, breathing hard from their recent exertions of following the man through town at breakneck speed.
"Good night!" cried Joe suddenly, slapping his knee. "Mother and Aunt Gertrude will surely both have conniption fits when they find out about this!"
Frank nodded sagely. "They won't like it at all and we'll really be in hot water. But we'll telephone them as soon as we get the chance and explain everything to them."
Joe chuckled. "I can just hear Aunt Gertrude. First thing out of her mouth will be, 'Well, I never!' She says that all the time, eh? 'Well, I never!'"
Frank smirked. "I guess all we can say to that is, 'She should have!'"
The boys sat back and had a much needed high-spirited laugh as the Flying Express roared on it speedy way to New York City.
Chapter Eight: ADVENTURE IN NEW YORK
The Hardy boys' success at solving mysteries was largely due to their ability to think quickly and take immediate action. They had done exactly that once again and were now bound for the big metropolis on the fast moving train. But the boys had no doubts about their ability to handle whatever they might come up against in New York. They were excited and eagerly anticipating the adventure ahead.
"I hope we don't lose him at the train station," Joe said, as the Flying Express rattled on. "There's bound to be a big crowd there."
"We'll just have to keep on our toes," replied Frank. "Besides, we're just as good at tailing suspects as any professional detectives."
Joe mused that over in his mind for a moment. "Even Dad?"
Frank grinned. "Well, maybe not quite so good as Dad."
"Funny how we and Dad are after the same suspect," Joe reflected. "Maybe we'll run into Dad in New York. Wouldn't that be something?"
Frank chuckled. "He'll have a conniption fit, too. The entire family will be angry at us."
"You said it. But we can't allow a good clue like this to pass us by. Question Mark might lead us right to the Mysterians' Inner Sanctum!"
At length, the express train reached the outer suburbs of New York and roared past miles of neat little towns with row after row of houses, sometimes all connected to each other the whole block long. Factories and warehouses came into view along the ever increasingly wider tracks and train yards. The boys became greatly excited when the tall skyscrapers of Manhattan came into view, and then the train shot over a bridge spanning the river and they were in Manhattan itself flying over crowded streets, past the big stores and tall buildings, and then down into the darkness of the tunnels that led to Grand Central Station.
The boys scrambled out the back door of the coach as soon as the Flying Express had pulled to a stop at the platform. They would take no chance at losing site of the cult leader! The passengers started filing down the steps of the car's forward door and soon their quarry moved along in their midst. He was so tall, and the fur hat stuck up even further, it was impossible not to see him clearly. The boys followed him through the gates into the cavernous vaulted station echoing with a million different sounds, and kept him easily in view as the throng moved out onto the street.
"Whew! That was tough," Frank complained, as they stepped out of the station. "We're not used to crowds like this."
Joe nodded back. "But the worst may be yet to come. Who knows where the heck he's going? And look at all the people out here. Sheez!"
The boys weren't used to such a huge gathering of people as the big crowds on 42nd Street, every one of whom was seemingly intent on what they were doing and paying little attention to their surroundings. Christmas decorations were still displayed along the light posts and in the store windows, and piles of snow lined the curbs, but the mood of the crowd was not a holiday one. The boys instinctively knew that everyone was out for himself in the crush. They not only had to keep the cloaked man in view, but they also had to watch that no one bowled them over.
"Cripes! This is like playing football," Joe grunted, after a middle-aged man banged right into him, then gave him a dirty look as if it had been his fault.
"In that case, we're in for some major interference," Frank groaned. "Look, he's going down into that subway!"
"Doggone it!" Joe seethed, as they both quickened their pace.
The boys ran down the stairs into the subway station and saw the man they were following drop a token into one of the stiles and push his way through. Frank had to run to the window to buy tokens while Joe inched forward to keep his eye on the man who was now walking down a hall in the direction of the downtown trains. Finally Frank joined him and they dropped tokens into the slots and burst through the stiles. Joe pointed down the tiled hallway that led to the downtown train platforms. The cloaked man was out of sight now.
"He went that way! Downtown trains! Gosh, I hope we didn't lose him!"
Frank, being the faster runner of the two, grabbed Joe's shoulder and pulled him along as he raced down the corridor. There came a stairway and they scrambled down it, then came to a sudden halt as they reached a crowded platform overlooking the tracks. Joe spotted the man in the tall fur hat, who was standing at the edge of the platform surrounded by a score of other subway riders. He pointed him out to Frank and, not a second later, a subway train came roaring into the station, its wheels screeching as it sidled up to the platform.
"We've got to get in the same car he gets in," Frank shouted over the din, pushing his way through the crowd.
Joe followed, holding onto his brother's jacket sleeve, and they managed to pile through the car's back door with a good portion of the crowd. They didn't take seats but instead stood holding onto the ceiling straps and facing the back of the car. Frank slowly turned toward the front where the cult leader had entered. The man had planted himself by the front doors and was holding onto an overhead bar.
The train lurched and then picked up speed and went rattling down the tunnel. Its velocity increased and soon it was flying ahead at an amazing speed. Frank and Joe looked at each other with raised eyebrows. They had never been on a subway before and didn't know the trains traveled so fast.
Swoosh! The train sped right through a station, not stopping for any of the hundreds of people standing on the platforms. The waiting figures seemed to flash by faster than the speed of light.
"Must be an express train," Joe muttered. "Gosh, we'll be downtown in a jiffy."
Frank nodded, chuckling. "This is just as fast as the Flying Express from Bayport!"
The subway train raced through two more stations and roared on downtown until it slowly began to ease up on its speed. Then it was pulling into a bright tiled station with signs on the walls proclaiming West 4th Street and Washington Square.
"Wow," Frank said in low tones. "This is in Greenwich Village, right by Houston Street. How much you want to bet old Question Mark gets off here?"
"All the money in my pocket," Joe replied eagerly. He turned to look as the car doors opened. "There he goes! C'mon, let's get crackin'!"
They wormed their way out of the door they'd come in through, caught up in the moving throng. The boys almost bumped into the man they were following as he made his way to the station exit. But he didn't even glance their way and they fell in behind him and followed him outside. They could see by the street signs that they were at Fifth Avenue and Washington Square. The Grand Master of the Mysterians cult crossed the street and headed in his brisk gait through the high stone arch that led into the park that filled the square. The Hardy boys followed at a respectful distance.
Even though the day was cloudy and cold, the park was filled with people. Many were milling about in groups socializing or hurrying across the vast pavement and lawns headed to their destinations. Others played chess or checkers at the many tables lining the walks for that purpose, despite the cold inclement weather.
Frank couldn't help letting out a chuckle. "Nobody is even looking at Question Mark. You'd think these people here saw strange characters like him every day."
"They probably do," Joe pointed out. "After all, this is Greenwich Village, famous for its Bohemian lifestyle."
The man crossed the square and soon they were following him along Houston Street which was lined with apartment buildings, old brownstones, and commercial establishments. Joe began scanning the signs above the store windows in search of Quiggles Cleaners.
"Bobby and his dad live right around here somewhere," he said. "If we find that dry cleaning shop, maybe we can get their address from the proprietor."
"There it is," Frank said, pointing to the corner ahead. "See the sign? Quiggles Dry Cleaners. We'll have to come back later when we get a chance."
Joe nodded in anticipation. "Right. For now we have to follow His Highness. I hope he leads us right to the cult's hideout!"
Frank nudged him with an elbow. "And keep an eye out for Dad, too. He may be lurking around here somewhere."
Their quarry turned down the side street by the dry cleaning shop and headed downtown, his gait quickening. The boys proceeded cautiously, walking faster to keep up with him.
"He must be nearing his destination," Joe ventured, looking around at the street they were on. It was lined mostly by large warehouses, a few stores, and old apartment buildings. It wasn't exactly shabby, but it appeared to be mostly an industrial area. Huge piles of snow sat along the curbs and driveway aprons, and a great deal of the sidewalks were icy.
The fast walking man was approaching a warehouse with a large dock area in front for truck deliveries. Suddenly a shift whistle blew, startling the boys as it pierced the air shrilly. Within seconds a stream of workers came pouring out of the building onto the pavement in front of the truck docks and onto the sidewalk. The cult leader seemed to get swallowed up in the sudden surging crowd and Frank and Joe panicked, darting ahead recklessly and bumping into some of the workers who were eager to make their way home.
"Watchit, sonny!" a big burly fellow growled at Frank, who had slammed square into him.
"Sorry, sir!" the boy yelped.
He grabbed his brother by the arm and yanked him off the curb into the street, away from the milling men. Both boys gaped ahead, looking for the man they had been following.
"There!" Joe pointed down the street. "Look!"
They caught just a glimpse of the back end of the man's cloak swinging around the corner about forty feet ahead. A sign post declared it was Broome Street.
"Sheez! Let's hurry!" Frank snarled, and he took off down the street pulling Joe along.
Joe started laughing and wriggled himself free of Frank's grasp. "You don't have to hold onto me. I am quite capable of keeping up with you."
"Yeah, but the last thing we need is to get separated. That would really mess things up!"
"What messed things up is that shift letting out right in our path. Which reminds me. It must be around three o'clock and I'm starving!"
"We'll just have to wait to eat," Frank grunted back, as they rounded the corner. "Oh no! He's gone!"
The boys stopped in their tracks. There were pedestrians on the side street, but Question Mark and his tall fur hat were nowhere in sight!
"Gosh!" Frank exclaimed in consternation. "We lost sight of him for not even a minute. Where did he go?"
The boys stood on the corner and warily looked down the street. It was like all the others in the neighborhood; small factories, warehouses, apartments, and some storefronts.
"He had to go into one of these nearby buildings," Joe observed. "Probably just the first four or five on either side. There wasn't enough time for him to go farther."
Frank nodded in agreement and they began to stroll slowly down the sidewalk scrutinizing the buildings. They looked through the windows of the storefronts but did not see the man inside any of them. One was a small diner. They were both hungry, not having eaten since breakfast, but they couldn't stop now for a meal, much to their chagrin.
Next to the diner was a narrow alley and a large warehouse on its other side with five storeys and rows of big windows on the upper ones. There was a loading dock in front, all closed up and looking like it wasn't in use these days. Halfway down the alley was a metal door and a fire escape ladder that hung down close to it and led up to the fire escapes along the windows and doors on the floors above.
"I bet he went into this warehouse," Frank said thoughtfully. "It looks like the perfect place for their headquarters and Inner Sanctum. Doggone! I wish we knew for sure."
Joe pointed to the building across the street. "That's a library reading room there. Dad says they have them all over New York. He often uses them as a place to rest and go over his notes when he's on a case. Why don't we sit in there and keep a lookout on this warehouse. In time somebody will surely go in or out. Maybe Question Mark himself."
Frank nodded. "Good idea. One of us can take off to go telephone Mother while the other keeps watch."
Joe agreed to this plan and the boys were just about to step into the street from the alley when the side door to the warehouse burst open and the cult leader they had been chasing, still wearing his cloak and hat, strode angrily out pulling behind him by the arm an elderly colored man.
"Now you just get out of here!" they could hear the Grand Master shout at the Negro. "I've had it with your constant snooping around. You were hired to clean the place, not spy on everybody. Scram now, and forget what you've seen here. And don't come back!"
"Yes, sir! Yes, sir!" the colored man responded, fear showing in his widened eyes.
The cult leader pushed the man roughly away and turned on his heels with an indignant expression. Then he strode back into the warehouse slamming the door behind him!
Chapter Nine: STAKE-OUT
The Hardy boys had inched back and were peering around the corner of the building that housed the diner, so as not to be seen. But as soon as the door had shut behind the cloaked figure, they hurried into the alley after the colored man who had started to walk away in the other direction.
"Wait a minute, sir!" Joe called, as they approached him.
The man turned and looked at them fearfully. The boys could see the whites of his eyes.
"Did you just come out of that building to bother me some more?" he asked in bewilderment. "I told your boss I was leaving!"
"No, we haven't been inside the warehouse, mister," Frank replied. "But we'd like to ask you a couple questions about it."
"Right," Joe nodded his head eagerly in agreement. "We saw that crazy coot in the cloak and hat rough you up and throw you out. Are you okay?"
"I'm all right, son. Thanks for asking. He didn't hurt me, but he sure is a big fellow, eh?"
"I'll say," Frank agreed. "What the heck are they doing in that building?"
The Negro looked warily back up the alley, then said, "I sure don't want to talk about it here. Let's we go down to the next street, boys. I'm scared of them people in there!"
Frank and Joe agreed and walked with the man to the end of the alley. They turned onto the sidewalk and stopped in front of a storefront a little ways down from the warehouse. Frank could tell the man was frightened.
"Why was that fellow so mean to you?" he asked. "You sure don't look like the kind of person who would do anything wrong."
The man shook his head sadly. "I was just doing my job. They hired me a few days ago to do the cleaning. Then they started complaining right away that I was looking around too much while I was working. Well, I had to look things over first before I could clean up, no?"
"Why sure," Joe agreed. "Especially in a place that big. What do they have going on in there? Must be something fishy if they think you were snooping."
The colored man nervously looked up at the top floors of the building. "Most of it isn't in use, boys, just the top two floors. There's a few offices, meeting rooms, and a big auditorium that looks something like a temple."
"A temple?" Frank repeated in surprise.
"Uh huh. They call it the Inner Sanctum and told me never to be telling anybody about it. Well, who am I going to tell, eh?" the man asked. "They practice some strange kind of religion, they do. But I don't think anybody'd care much about it. I'm just an old man who needs a job, not a tattler."
"We're sorry you lost your job," Joe remarked. "Did he pay you the wages he owed you?"
The man nodded his head. "Right, just before he threw me out. I'd heard a strange noise down on the third floor earlier, like a cry. I thought maybe some bats got in last night, or birds, 'cause there's a couple broken windows along the fire escapes. So I went down to look around. One of the other members found me down there and complained to the boss, who'd just come back from being away out of town. Acted like I was sneaking around or something. Ain't nothing but lots of empty old rooms in there!"
Frank and Joe looked at each other and shared mystified expressions.
"They sure are a queer outfit," Frank said. "It's a tough break to lose your job, but in the long run you're probably better off not being involved with those people."
"You're right about that, son," the fellow returned. "Guess I'll just have to find me another job. There's always lots of work around town for those willing to do it."
"Good luck," Joe told him. "We just wanted to make sure you're okay after the way that ruffian pushed you around."
The man tipped his cap to the boys and gave them a smile of gratitude. "Well, you are very nice lads , yes indeed, to take an interest in an old fellow like me. Good day, boys."
Frank and Joe said goodbye and watched the old Negro walk down the street in the bleak overcast afternoon light.
"Sure sounds like the Mysterians' hideout to me," Frank opined, looking back at the hulking warehouse. "I wonder why they got so upset when he was looking around on the third floor?"
"They must be hiding something up there. Or, maybe someone!"
Frank's eyes widened. "You could be right! If Bobby's father was abducted, which seems likely, they could be holding him prisoner up on that third floor."
"Exactly what I was thinking." Joe's lips set in a thin hard line. "He may have been crying for help. That could be the noise the colored man heard."
Frank looked back up to the grimy windows of the upper floors. "We have to get into that warehouse!"
"We can probably get in through one of the broken windows on the third floor." Joe peered back into the alley. "The windows are right along the fire escapes on the alley side. Should be easy."
"But we'll have to wait until it gets dark," Frank warned. "Otherwise it'd be too risky."
Joe's nerves were tingling at the thought of the adventure that lay ahead. "Then what say we first get something to eat, then call Mother, then wait in the reading room of the library for darkness to fall?"
"Sounds like a good plan to me," Frank grinned. "And I especially like that it starts with food. I'm hungry! Then when we're good and ready later on to sneak into the warehouse, Question Mark and his Mysterians won't have a Chinaman's chance of getting away!"
The boys ate a late lunch in the diner at the opposite end of the alley on Broome Street, then walked back to Washington Square to search for a telephone exchange at which to call home. They located one in a small exclusive hotel on lower Fifth Avenue. The switchboard operator, an attractive and friendly young woman, put through the long distance call to Bayport.
"For goodness sake!" Laura Hardy exclaimed when she heard her son Frank's voice over the wire. "Where are you boys? We've been awaiting your return all afternoon."
"Something came up, Mother," Frank said, trying to break the news lightly. "We happened upon Question Mark down by the harbor. You know, that cult leader who broke into our house last night. So we followed him to his hideout, just the place Dad's been looking for!"
Frank heard his mother sigh wearily. "And where, may I ask, is its location?" she queried.
"Ahem," Frank cleared his throat. "New York City."
"New York! You and your brother are in New York?"
Frank knew her shrill tone bode no good. He rolled his eyes at Joe, who was listening, with a martyred look.
"He got on a train, Mother," Frank explained. "We had to follow him. We couldn't let that dirty crook get away."
"That was a rash thing to do, Frank!" came the reply. "Good heavens! What do you intend to do next?"
He didn't dare tell her that they were planning to sneak into the warehouse later in the evening. "We're doing a stake-out on the joint. Then, at the right moment, we'll call in the authorities."
"You had better!" his mother declared. "Don't try to apprehend those criminals on your own. And make sure you stay in a nice hotel tonight, and be sure to eat! Do you have enough money?"
Frank assured her that they did. "If Dad should call, tell him that the hideout is on Broome Street, south of Houston Street, in the old warehouse across from the library reading room. Maybe we'll meet up with him there."
Mrs. Hardy groaned. "I'm beginning to agree with Aunt Gertrude. Your father should have been a goat farmer. Life would be so much easier!"
Frank's mother went on to inform him that Chief Collig had come out to the house to question little Bobby, but the boy had not gained any further knowledge of his memory. She summed things up by reminding him that tonight was New Year's Eve and that meant there would be a lot of activity in the city. Frank assured her that he and his brother would be careful and not take any unnecessary risks. Then he rang off and the boys sat down on a couch in the lobby to relax for a few minutes.
"Wow, I forgot all about tonight being New Year's Eve," Joe confessed. "Maybe we ought to get a room in this hotel. That way we'll have a base of operation. Then we can freshen up and go to the library reading room to stake out the warehouse."
"Good idea," Frank agreed. Then he began to chuckle. "Can't you just hear Aunt Gertrude carrying on when Mother tells her we're in New York?"
Joe screwed up his face like a prune. "I sure can. She'll say, 'Well, I never! Those boys ought to be put to the switch when they get home. I never heard the likes of it, running off to New York like that, just as big as you please!'"
Frank guffawed, causing a few of the other people in the lobby to turn and look. The boys had a good long laugh, knowing Aunt Gertrude was, at the very moment, expressing her utter indignation. Still chuckling, they walked across the lobby to the registration desk. They secured a room for the night and went upstairs where they cleaned up and then rested for a while before heading back outdoors.
The roar and rush of the great city greeted them as they walked back out to Fifth Avenue. There was a tangible excitement in the air with the gaiety of New Year's Eve approaching. The boys set off back down to Broome Street as if they were hitting the trail to an exotic far-off destination or, perhaps, a secret meeting on the moon or the planet Mars. Excitement shone in their eyes and determination was set firmly on their lips.
They stopped by the Quiggles Dry Cleaners shop but it had already closed for the day. Next door, at a pharmacy, they bought candy bars to keep in their pockets for later, and two flashlights. Several minutes later, they arrived at the library reading room and entered, appreciating the warmth inside after the brisk hike in the bracing cold air. The walls inside were lined with shelves of books and there were racks of magazines, newspapers, and periodicals. Large library tables filled the big room and several men and a couple women were seated at them scrutinizing various reading materials. The large windows in front offered a direct view of the alley and warehouse across the street.
Frank picked out a couple daily newspapers and took a seat at the unoccupied table in front so that he could have an unobstructed view out the window. Joe took his time perusing the book shelves and finally picked out a volume entitled The Barmet Bay Coast, a history of pirating and Indian wars along the coast near Bayport during the early years of our country. He then plopped down next to Frank at the table.
He nudged his brother with an elbow. "Look at this volume, Frank. Barmet Bay was the scene of all kinds of pirate activity and wars between the early settlers and the Indians."
Frank chuckled quietly. "Hasn't changed much since then, eh? Still lots of smuggling, car theft, and any other kind of thievery you can think of."
"Tell a fellow about it!" Joe agreed. "Good thing you and I are are there to track down all the culprits! Hey, I wonder if we're the only sleuths ever to stake out a joint from a library reading room?"
Frank considered the point. "I don't recall ever reading about it, but it sure sounds like something Sherlock Holmes might have done a time or two."
Joe nodded with a satisfied grin. "Then I guess we're in good company. All we need now is for night to fall so we can embark on our quest for the Inner Sanctum!"
The brothers sat and read, casting surreptitious glances across the street now and then as the shadows began to lengthen and dusk began to fall. There seemed to be no activity at all at the warehouse other than the pedestrians walking back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the truck docks.
The street lamps came on and darkness was quickly approaching when Frank noticed a delivery truck pull into the alley and stop by the side door. The driver clambered out and went over to the door and began to pound on it.
"Look!" Frank hissed at Joe, who was pleasantly engulfed in a passage about tribal warfare between the Seneca and Micmac Indian tribes along the coast.
Joe looked up to see the warehouse door opening and two men hurrying out to assist the truck driver. Within the next few minutes, they carried inside a variety of boxes, trays, and bottles.
"Looks like a caterer delivering food," Joe whispered. "Maybe the Mysterians are having a New Year's Eve party tonight?"
"Could be," Frank agreed. "Or maybe they're holding their strange rites. You know how cults have those weird ceremonies."
"Whatever." Joe shrugged his shoulders. "Something's up, for sure. At least we know there'll be plenty to eat in there in case we can't get back out!"
At length, the truck departed and then darkness fell completely. The other occupants of the reading room began to leave one by one until Frank and Joe were the only ones left, other than the librarian who was sitting behind a desk along the room's back wall. Some time later she came up front to tell the boys that the facility would be closing in ten minutes.
Frank checked his watch. It was almost nine o'clock. They had been sitting there for hours.
"We'd better go," he told his brother. "It's late enough. And it sure isn't going to get any darker."
The boys put their reading materials away and, while buttoning up before going outside, Frank noticed a figure stealthily begin to sneak down the alley.
"Look," he breathed, grabbing Joe's arm and pointing out the window. "Someone's there, and it looks like he's casing out the joint, too!"
"Sure does," Joe agreed, pulling on his cap.
Just then the reclusive figure stepped near a pool of light from the only outdoor light in the alley, and the boys were better able to see him. The man, dressed in an overcoat and a hat with the brim turned far down, cautiously made his way toward the warehouse door. What Frank saw made him gasp.
"Yikes!" he blurted, his jaw tightening. "That sure looks like Dad!"
Joe pulled on his gloves. "Does it ever! That's got to be him! Let's hurry and let him know we're here. Won't he ever be surprised?"
Chapter Ten: IN THE OLD WAREHOUSE
The Hardy boys rushed out the front door of the reading room eager to meet up with their father in the dark alley across the street. As they stepped off the curb, Frank suddenly flung his arm out in front of Joe to stop him.
"Whoa! Somebody's coming. We'd better get out of sight."
Joe, eager to see his dad, hadn't seen the large sedan coming down the street. As he stepped back with Frank into the shadows of the reading room's recessed doorway, the auto turned into the alley, its headlights cutting a wide bright arc in the darkness.
"Darn! They'll see Dad," he muttered, fists clenched anxiously.
Frank peered across into the alley. "He's not there! I can't see him in the light from the headlights. I wonder where he went?"
Joe raised his eyes to look at the upper floors. "He must have jumped up to the fire escape stairway. You know Dad. He's always able to put the iron up his back in a pinch and make the best of it."
The sedan pulled up to the warehouse door and the car doors opened. Five people stepped out, a few words were muttered by one of them to the driver, and then the auto pulled away. It was difficult for the boys to tell if the newcomers were men or women. They all were wearing cloaks similar to the one worn by Question Mark.
"Cult members!" Joe hissed. "They're arriving for tonight's celebrations."
"And here come more," Frank responded, as another auto, a big touring sedan, pulled off Broome Street and into the alley.
The curtains were down, so they couldn't see anyone inside the car. The headlights lit up the alley and the boys got a better look at the people now standing by the door. One of them was knocking on it with a fist.
"What a bunch of weirdos," Joe grunted. "They're wearing masks, too!"
As the new arrivals climbed out of the sedan, the boys could see that they, too, were cloaked and wearing black domino masks. They joined the others at the door, which had now been opened by someone from inside, and they all filed into the warehouse chatting amongst themselves.
Frank shrugged and his eyes narrowed. "Looks like a big night for the Mysterians, eh?"
"You're darn tootin' right," Joe returned. "And here come more."
Another big auto pulled into the alley and stopped by the warehouse door. Four more cloaked and masked cult members stepped out before the car pulled off down to the next street. Frank and Joe huddled in the cold waiting for the arrivals to end. The library reading room was now dark and everyone was gone. The librarian must have gone out by a back entrance. But the boys lingered. Two more cars pulled into the alley across the street within the next few minutes, ejecting ten more people. In all, the boys figured that about twenty-five cult members had arrived.
"We should call the police," Joe muttered, as they waited for the coast to clear. "There's not much we can do against such a large number of people."
"And what will we tell them?" Frank asked bluntly. "That a bunch of people are getting together in an old warehouse? It's New Year's Eve, after all. The cops would figure they're just having a party."
Joe scowled. "Dad wouldn't be sneaking in there if it was just a party, you can bet!"
"He'll have a gun on him," Frank said, trying to ease his brother's anxiety. "All we have to do is sneak in there and meet up with Dad. Then we can work together to round up all those crooks!"
After ten or so minutes had passed with no new arrivals, the boys figured that everyone who was going to attend the evening's activities had arrived. They waited another five minutes, just to be safe, then quickly crossed the street and stole into the alley, staying far in the shadows to avert the one glowing light close to Broome Street.
The fire escape stairway was several feet past the side door, and they quickly hurried over to it. The bottom step of the stairway was about seven feet from the ground, and the boys were easily able to jump up and grasp it after climbing up on snow piles along the wall. They pulled it down closer and in moments they were stealthily climbing the stairs, trying not to make even the slightest sound.
"Go up to the third floor," Joe whispered to Frank, who had taken the lead. "With the broken windows there, we ought to be able to get inside with no problem."
Frank nodded silently, figuring that's what their father must have done. There was no sign of him on the fire escapes. He obviously had been able to get into the building. Frank kept climbing until he had reached the big third floor windows and the fire escape platforms that led along them.
"Let's go toward the back," Joe suggested. "Stay away from that light out front."
The boys stole along the fire escape, the sounds of the city drifting up from below them. They knew that later there would be uproar and pandemonium everywhere as the clock struck twelve and the New Year celebrations reached their zenith.
Frank hissed at Joe. "This window here is broken. Look, there's a piece of glass missing big enough for a raccoon to crawl through."
Joe snickered. "This isn't Bayport. There probably aren't any raccoons in this neighborhood. But it's no wonder that old colored man was concerned. Birds and bats could easily fly in through that hole."
The windows were huge, about four feet long and twice as high. The bottom panes could be pushed up from the insides to allow air to flow in. The boys checked the next two along the fire escape, looking for a bigger hole, one they could fit their arms through to facilitate pushing the window up. Neither of those were broken, but the next one had a huge area of glass missing, perfect for their purpose. But, even better, it was already opened, pushed up far enough for a person to crawl through.
"Good luck, I'll say," Frank muttered. "I bet Dad did this and climbed inside."
"Talk about following in his footsteps," Joe grinned with irony. "This is just the ticket!"
Frank squeezed himself through the opening between the window sash and the sill, stepping onto the floor into the interior of the warehouse. Joe followed and they squatted there in the darkness for a minute, straining their ears for any sound. Muffled noises of music and conversation came from somewhere upstairs, but not a sound was to be heard near at hand. The boys pulled out their flashlights and switched them on. Twin beams of light played about showing they were in a huge room, long in length and high-ceilinged, and piled high in most spots with old crates and boxes. A closed door stood across from them.
"That must lead to a hall," Joe ventured. "Let's investigate!"
It seemed to be colder in the warehouse than it had been outside, and the boys were shivering as they crossed the cavernous room. Joe carefully pulled open the door and, switching off the flashlights, the boys peered into a long hall the length of the building. It was dimly lit by bare bulbs in three locations, and a stairwell could be seen in the middle with steps going up and down.
"Shall we go right upstairs?" Joe asked in low tones. "Or should we look around on this floor for Mr. Jefferson?"
"Let's see if we can find Bobby's father," Frank replied. "I'm convinced he's being held captive on this floor and that's why the cult members were angry at the old colored man for looking around."
"Go down that far end to the left," Joe urged. "That would face the next block, which isn't as busy as Broome Street. And I'm sure they'd keep him as far from the stairwell as possible."
Frank nodded and led the way, creeping quietly down the hall. Joe closed the door to the storeroom behind him and followed. They passed a handful of other doors which obviously led into more storerooms, but they heard nothing to arouse their suspicions. At the end of the hall they decided to turn around and work their way back to the middle again, but this time open each door and check out the rooms they led into.
It was then that they heard a muffled sneeze coming from within the storeroom closest to them.
"Great guns!" Joe blurted out. "Did you hear that? Somebody's in there!"
"Shhh!" Frank silenced him. "If that's Bobby's dad, there may be a guard in there, too."
Joe bit his bottom lip in consternation. He hoped he hadn't flubbed things up. They inched their way up to the door and listened, hardly daring to breathe. All was quiet. Then, suddenly, another sneeze came from within. Then, an angry voice.
"Doggone it! I wish I could get more heat in here. But no! Everybody's busy upstairs. I might as well be locked up all alone on the moon!"
"That must be him," Joe hissed in Frank's ear. "Mr. Jefferson!"
"I do believe you are right, little brother. And it sounds like he's alone. Let's go!"
Frank slowly turned the knob and pushed the door inward. Inside was another big room like the one they had come into when they had entered the building. This one, too, was piled high with crates and boxes, most of which looked like they had been long forgotten years ago. But there was light in the room, albeit dim, and a separate smaller room up against the wall facing the street in back. Light shone out from beneath its closed door. Next to the door along the wall were a table and chairs, an icebox, and a desk with a small dim lamp on its top.
"He must be locked in that room," Frank whispered, after taking it all in, and he began to tip-toe across to the door, Joe following.
When they reached it, the boys noticed immediately that the door was a metal one and had not only a sturdy lock on the outside but also a bolt and chain. The room was a veritable prison! Then, a sudden voice from within the room startled both Frank and Joe.
"Who's out there? I heard you come in. You can't fool me. I need more heat in here! I'm catching a cold!"
The boys exchanged brief puzzled expressions, then Frank blurted out in a low hoarse voice:
"We're the police! Who are you and why are you locked in that room?"
"The police?" came the voice from behind the door. "Thank goodness! My name is Bob Jefferson and I'm being held prisoner in this room by the Mysterians, the mystic cult that owns this building. They're all upstairs now practicing their strange rites. Please let me out of here!"
"It's Bobby's dad!" Joe exclaimed happily. "Yessiree! Doesn't that just beat the band?"
Frank had quickly unhooked the chain on the door and slid back the bolt, but he needed a key to unlock the lock.
"Where is the key to the lock?" He asked the man inside.
"Check on the table by the icebox. They usually leave the key ring there so the guy on the next shift guarding me has it at hand."
Joe bounded over to the table and saw a key ring laying in front of a table clock that pointed to the hour of eleven. He could scarcely believe it was that late already, only one hour to midnight! He picked up the key ring, which held several keys, and brought it over to Frank.
Frank made a couple attempts to unlock the lock before he found the right key, but soon enough the tumblers clicked and the door opened.
"Oh, mercy me!" the man inside shouted, pushing his way out. He looked like a thirty year-old version of little Bobby and was wearing a knit cap and overcoat. He sneezed again as he rushed out into the bigger room. "Bad enough they had to lock me up," he went on, "but there's hardly any heat in there! This whole building is freezing cold except upstairs, of course, where they hold their ... hey! You fellows aren't the police. Why, you're just .... boys!"
Surprised, the man stepped back to look at them., his hands on his hips and his brows knit in confusion.
"We're the Hardy boys from Bayport," Frank told him. "We found your son Bobby on Cabin Island yesterday after the fire. He's okay. He's at our house now with our mother and our aunt."
Bob Jefferson looked at them for a moment with an expression of great relief, then staggered over to the table where he crumpled down into a chair and held his head in his hands. The boys could see he was trembling.
"Thank goodness he's all right," the man sighed wearily. "I've been so worried about Bobby! I didn't know what happened to him. I was mesmerized. The leader of the cult is a master of hypnosis. He put me under his spell on the island and took me back to Bayport, then here to New York. It wasn't until I was locked up in that room and the spell had worn off that I realized I didn't know what happened to my son."
"Didn't they tell you?" Frank asked.
Bob Jefferson shook his head. "No, they wouldn't tell me anything. I thought they were holding him captive, too, in some other location. I can't believe they left him alone on that island!"
"What a bunch of cutthroats!" Joe said indignantly. "Good thing we went there to check out the fire."
"What in blazes were you doing on the island with little Bobby?" Frank demanded.
The man hung his head in shame. "It's a long story, boys. But my father owns Cabin Island. I haven't spoken to him in ten years. He probably thinks I'm dead. You see, the cult known as the Mysterians has had me under their control since I first came to New York to attend college."
"We know your father," Frank told him, "and he does think you are dead. Or at least he did so until this morning when we told him you might still be alive."
Bob Jefferson looked up at them, hope in his expression. "I met the leader of the cult on Cabin Island yesterday. The cult wants to own the island. Question Mark, the leader, had his assistant start fire to the cabin, believing my father would sell the island if the cabin was destroyed. I began to fight with him, I got so angry. But he was able to mesmerize me, as always, and that's the last I remember until I came to my senses there in that room."
"But why does the cult want to buy Cabin Island?" Frank asked. "Our dad is a detective and he's working on this case, so we know that the cult specializes in real estate swindles. But we also know they are willing to pay top price for the island. And that's no swindle! Why do they want it?"
Bob Jefferson sighed deeply, then said, "There is a hidden cave on Cabin Island that is a veritable treasure trove, boys. It is filled with gold and gems and a thousand other riches, cached there, I'm sure, hundreds of years ago by some long forgotten pirates. I stumbled upon it when I was a boy your age and kept it my very own secret. I never told anyone, not even my dad."
"Even though the cult had me under their control for years," he went on, "I never mentioned it to them either. It had become unimportant and I pretty much had forgotten about it until Question Mark drew it out of me recently during a mind control session. We met there yesterday because he wanted to see it, and I showed him the cave and its pirate cache. It's all still there, boys, millions and millions of dollars worth of treasure. That's why the Mysterians want to buy Cabin Island!"
Chapter Eleven: THE INNER SANCTUM
"Wow! What a secret to keep to yourself all your life," Joe exclaimed. "I would have blabbed it to everybody I know. Especially all my friends."
Bob Jefferson smiled wanly. "I pretty much kept to myself when I was a kid. I wasn't very outgoing and I didn't have many friends. That treasure cave was my special private place. It's really hard to find because it's so well hidden. I never had to worry that others would discover it. My dad always had lots of money, so it never occurred to me that we'd need to use any of the treasure."
"Are you married, Mr. Jefferson?" Frank asked. "What happened to Bobby's mother?"
The man shook his head sadly. "That's another thorn in my side, boys. I've led a life of hard luck because of the Mysterians. I married a girl named Marie when I was in college, and Bobby was born a year later. But my wife despised the cult's control over me. I had a good job and made a good living, but the cult took a lot of my money and made me only a poor caricature of a man. It all made Marie very sick and she passed away two years ago, an unhappy and tormented woman."
Joe pounded a fist lightly on the table. "But why didn't you let your parents know you were still alive? Your mother got sick because of your disappearance and she passed on, too."
Bob Jefferson's face lost the little color it had and his lids fell closed in sadness. "I can't explain it, boys. The cult had control of me and I've been helpless all these years to do anything about it. They have ruined the lives of many other people, too. I'm not the only one."
"Then they need to be locked away in prison, all of them," Frank declared adamantly. "That way they can harm no one else, ever again."
Bob Jefferson sneezed again, then rose to his feet, a determined scowl appearing on his face. "Then let's go upstairs and get them," he growled. "I feel like I could wring their necks, every last one of them!"
Joe shook his head to disagree. "I think it's best if you never see any of them again, ever. They have too much power over you."
Frank agreed. "Ditto on that. You need to get away and stay away. Our dad stole into this building earlier tonight. We saw him from the library reading room across the street. He always carries a gun, so we'll have protection. We're going to go upstairs to help him out. The best thing you can do is go get the police."
"Right. That way we can round up the whole cult," Joe put in. "Do you know where the nearest police station is?"
The man nodded. "Of course I do. My son and I live in this neighborhood."
"The you go hightail it to the station," Frank advised. "Joe and I will help our dad keep the cult at bay until the police come."
"All right, boys," Bob Jefferson said eagerly. "That's a sensible plan. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you rescued my son, and now me."
Joe regarded him with a cautious glance. "It's not over yet. The Mysterians are obviously a clever bunch of people and we'll have to keep our fingers crossed that we can outwit them all the way."
Bob Jefferson followed the boys out to the hall and they crept quietly down to the room in which they had entered through the open window. They could hear the revelry from upstairs and were glad that all the cult members were up there partaking in whatever kind of mysterious rites prevailed.
The boys used the flashlights to lead Bob Jefferson to the window.
"It'll take me about five minutes to get to the station," he whispered. "So look for me to return with the police in about fifteen minutes or sooner."
"Good luck!" they wished him, as he squeezed out through the window.
"Poor fellow. Life has been rough for him, I'll say," Frank ruminated, as they crossed back to the hall.
"It sure has, but his future will be a bright one," Joe reasoned. "Elroy Jefferson will welcome him back with open arms, and little Bobby, too, of course. The family already has lots of money, but with that treasure on Cabin Island, why they'll be multi-millionaires!"
Happy that things were going to work out well for the Jeffersons, the boys crept down the hall to the stairwell in the building's middle that led up and down. Both Frank and Joe grimaced as they looked up to the next floor. The noise from the cult members' festivities was getting louder, and they had no idea what to expect when they arrived upstairs.
"Good night!" Joe hissed. "They sure are a queer bunch. Sounds like a pack of Indians!"
Frank's lips were resolutely set, his eyes determined. "Let's get this show on the road. I'm game. How about you?"
Joe chuckled. "You bet! It's time to rustle up these birds and clip their wings!"
Holding their flashlights out in front of them like weapons, the Hardy boys slowly ascended the stairway to the fourth floor, the location of the cult's revelry.
"Wow," Frank exclaimed in a low tone as they stepped into the hallway of the fourth floor. "It sure looks different up here, doesn't it?"
Joe nodded in agreement. Small wall sconces with ruby shades cast a reddish glow along the carpeted hall that was flanked by walls covered with a silky fabric of a design showing the planets and stars, solar systems, galaxies, and signs of the zodiac. It was very plush and elegant, a different world from the floor below. Toward the back of the building were large double doors, closed now and obviously leading into the auditorium the colored man had told them about. From behind the doors came the sound of the cult's feverish merriment.
"That must be the Inner Sanctum in there," Joe whispered.
"Exactly what I was thinking," Frank added, as they crept down the eerie hallway past several closed oaken doors. He switched off his flashlight and Joe followed suit. "There's enough light here. We won't need these for now."
Several feet in front of the double doors, on the right side, was a dimly lit hall. Frank motioned to Joe to enter it. They both knew they couldn't just go barging in through the big double doors; the hall might provide a less conspicuous access to the auditorium. Joe turned into the hall and crept along, his brother following him. Various doors led off of it to hither and yon. One, on their left, which looked like it might lead to the bigger room in which the cult was reveling, was slightly ajar.
"Let's try in here," Joe suggested. "Dad may have come this way."
Frank nodded silently and the boys moved through the doorway into the room beyond, which was dark in shadows. Joe halted, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness rather than turning on his flashlight. He could feel his brother waiting tensely behind him.
"It's just another hallway," he hissed a minute later, seeing that walls surrounded them. "Follow me."
Frank followed him down the narrow hall and, as they moved on, the sounds of the cult revelry grew louder. Then, the hall took a quick turn to the left and the glow of soft lighting could be seen ahead. The boys inched on, realizing that they were approaching the auditorium, the Inner Sanctum of the Mysterians.
They crept forward a few more feet and Frank suddenly grabbed Joe from behind and put his lips to his brother's ear. "Look, through that arch on our left. There are rows of seats. It's like a balcony to the Inner Sanctum!"
Joe turned to look and then nodded. He stepped through the arch into the small area, like a gallery, that contained eight rows of theater-like seating. It overlooked the large auditorium in which the cult members were writhing and cavorting in what appeared to be senseless abandon. No one was in the gallery, and Frank and Joe slipped into a row of seats so that they could sit and watch. Hardly daring to breathe, they sat on the edge of the seats and peered into the auditorium.
The Inner Sanctum of the Mysterians was large and high-ceilinged with walls draped in blood-red velvet, and dimly lit by recessed lighting. Astrological symbols were to be seen everywhere, on the wall coverings, the fabric of the furniture, dangling in abundant profusion from the dark ceiling, and embellished on the crimson flowing robes the members were now wearing along with their domino masks. Weird, frenetic music played from an unseen source and the robed figures cavorted in spasmodic movements, weaving in and out amongst themselves.
In the center of the room against the far wall was an elevated altar with several marble steps leading up to it. On the top of the altar were several large astrological artifacts , planet and star symbols in sculpture, and two golden vessels in which bright flames burned. The whole room reeked with the smell of a peculiarly sweet incense.
Joe made a face. "Yuck! That stuff stinks," he whispered.
Frank leaned forward to better view the revelers. "They look like they all had too much to drink. What a bunch of clowns, eh?"
Just then, the music came to an end and the lights were turned up slightly. The attendees, who had worked themselves up into a frenzy, stopped their whirling and twirling, and seated themselves on the various couches and chairs and large cushions situated along the side walls of the room. As they quieted down, a loud musical gong rang out three times and, from a chamber aside the altar, the Grand Master of the cult, the man known to the Hardy boys as Question Mark, came striding out. He was dressed in one of the flowing crimson robes and a black domino mask, as were the others, and atop his head was an elaborately decorated cone shaped wizard's hat. He walked to the center of the altar and turned to face the members, who politely applauded him.
Question Mark began to speak in a voice that was big and booming:
"Good evening, Mysterians! We have gathered on this special night to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, the time of which will be upon us soon. It promises to be a profitable year for our group as we are working to acquire some valuable properties to add to our coffers. We are just about finished wrapping up the deal with the midtown hotel. It is a small residential one and will soon be a residence for our members who wish to make it their home."
There was general murmur of pleasant agreement to this suggestion.
Question Mark continued, "Much to our dismay, I am sure, its previous owner, who so badly wanted to join our ranks, is now residing in a Long Island sanitarium. It seems he went a little crazy, poor fellow. I can't imagine why. But not before he signed his property over to us, of course."
A low chuckle rippled through the audience.
Joe's fists clenched. "They drove that man crazy to get his property," he blurted out. "Why ... those ignorant ruffians!"
Frank put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Shhh! They'll hear you."
"However," the Grand Master continued in a more serious tone, "we have not made such good progress in acquiring the Cabin Island property up at Barmet Bay with its hidden cache of pirate treasure. We have run into some obstacles but hope to have them smoothed out soon. We were there yesterday but our mode of operation did not work, thus a couple of our operatives will be going back to Bayport after the holiday to begin working on the mind of the owner himself. His son, who has been a lackey of ours for years, is no longer willing to help us and seems to have leaped out of our control for now."
A murmur of disappointment could be heard from the members in the auditorium. Frank and Joe stared hard at the people, amazed that they believed they could gain control of Elroy Jefferson's mind. It may have worked on his weak-willed son, but it would never work on Mr. Jefferson himself!
Question Mark silenced the discord with a wave of his hand. "Have no fear, Mysterians. It is just a temporary setback. We shall prevail. It is only a matter of time until we own Cabin Island and its treasure, which I saw with my very own eyes yesterday and can guarantee you is worth a king's fortune."
Suddenly, just then, before the members could react to their leader's statement, an object came flying over from seemingly nowhere to land directly at the feet of the Grand Master Question Mark.
With a loud gasp, he stooped over to pick it up. Frank and Joe, from their seats in the dark empty gallery, could instantly see that it was the gold and silver jeweled pin they had found on the ice at Cabin Island!
Joe nudged Frank and whispered, "Hypers! Dad is in there somewhere. He tossed that pin up to the altar!"
Frank nodded, craning his neck to look around. "He must be one of them. He's wearing a mask and robe!"
Question Mark had been turning the stick-pin over in his hand. His swarthy sinister masked face now looked down at the members with a scowl.
"I lost this pin at Cabin Island yesterday," he declared with a growl. "I went back both yesterday and this morning to look for it, but could not find it. But it is obvious that someone else did! Whoever tossed this pin up at me is a spy amongst us. An infiltrator! How dare you enter the Inner Sanctum of the Mysterians and so disrespectfully toss a sacred pin at me!"
The members remained silent, twisting and turning to look suspiciously at each other. Frank and Joe could barely suppress their anxiety to make a move to help their father. Which one of the robed and masked figures was he?
"Who is it amongst us who brought this stick-pin here?" the Grand Master angrily demanded.
But no response came forth. Question Mark gazed at them all with a furious scowl.
"Then we must all unmask," he growled, striding down the steps from the altar, crimson robe billowing behind him. "And so we will know that the unfamiliar face amongst us is the spy in our midst!"
He pulled off his mask, exposing his eyes and nose, looking at the others with grimly set lips. Then, one by one, the Mysterians got to their feet and began to take off their masks, everyone looking at each other to see and recognize the familiar faces of their constituents, and thus the face of the stranger.
Frank and Joe watched the proceedings, mesmerized. Their hearts were hammering in their chests as the masks came off, one by one, until all the members faces were exposed except one, a tall man with dark hair.
"That's got to be Dad," Joe breathed. "What's he going to do?"
The man whom the boys believed to be their father began to step back and inch away from the group toward a side wall. With a quick movement, he withdrew a pistol from an inner pocket beneath his robe and aimed it at the Mysterians. There was a collective gasp as the cult members stepped back. But not so their furious leader. He deliberately strode toward the man with the gun!
"How dare you!" he admonished. "What are you going to do, shoot me?"
In response, a shot rang out as the gun spit fire, the bullet barely missing the cult leader's arm.
"The next shot I have to fire will hit home, guaranteed!" the boys heard their father's voice ring out as the gunman waved his weapon back and forth at the crowd.
Question Mark had stopped in his tracks, gaping first at the mysterious gunman and then at his terrified cult members.
"Well, do something, somebody!" he sputtered like a fool. "Don't let him get away with this!"
The boys heard their father laugh. "There is nothing you can do, old boy. In your ridiculous arrogance you didn't even place a guard in this building tonight. And in about two minutes the police will be here in force to haul each and every one of you down to the station and book you on numerous charges!
"The jig is up, Mysterians," Fenton Hardy added. "The only 'Question Mark' you will all be thinking of from now on is the one at the end of the question, 'How long will I be in jail?'"
But the cult leader refused to be quelled. He raised a clenched fist into the air.
"You'll never get away with it," he cried. Then, turning to the others, he implored, "Don't let him fool you. He's working on his own. The police are not coming. It's a lie. Capture him!"
Question Mark lunged forward, as did several of the other men, in a concerted effort to attack Fenton Hardy. At that same moment, Frank and Joe jumped out of their seats and ran out into the hall and down to the auditorium to come to their father's aid.
And just then, to the utter astonishment of everyone, there was a loud, strange grinding noise and all the lights went out!
Chapter Twelve: THE PIRATE TREASURE
Shouts and screams echoed in the dark Inner Sanctum, lit now only by the two flaming vessels on the altar. The cult members had been frightened into a state of pandemonium when the lights went out and were now surging this way and that, trying to find an exit. In the confusion, they kept bumping into each other, some tripping and falling, many of them crying out in fright or frustration. Frank and Joe had plunged directly into the middle of the melee, their flashlights switched on, beams arcing wildly in the darkness as they sought out their father.
"It's the police!" someone shouted. "They turned off the power! They'll get us all for sure!"
"I have to get out of here!" a shrill woman's voice cried out. "My family's name will be ruined if I'm arrested as one of the Mysterians!"
"Calm down! Calm down, I say!" Question Mark shouted above the din. "It's not the police. They don't know anything about us!"
Joe could feel the sneer on his lips as the people struggled to push their way through the now-opened doors of the auditorium.
"It most certainly is the police!" he cried out loudly, hoping to scare the wits out of everyone. "They found the man you had locked up on the third floor, and they have now come up here to arrest you!"
Frank grabbed his arm as the crowd reacted with more anxious shouts and cries. "I hope you are right. The police should indeed be here by now."
"Frank! Joe! Is that you?" a familiar voice shouted behind them.
The boys whirled around, their flashlight beams illuminating their father's face. He had pulled off the black mask and was gaping at them in astonishment.
"What in the world are you boys doing here?" he demanded.
"Oh, Dad, it's a long story," Joe hastened to explain. "No time to get into it now. We rescued Bob Jefferson, little Bobby's father. He was locked up down on the third floor. He went to get the police, so they actually may be here!"
"Of course they are here," Fenton Hardy declared. "And stop shining those lights in my face! I arranged earlier with the police for them to come at exactly eleven-twenty. They planned to shut the main power feed outside to turn this get-together into chaos. All the exits are guarded and every one of these cult members will be arrested on their way out."
Frank slapped his dad on the back. "You're terrific, Dad. What a great plan!"
Fenton Hardy sighed wearily. "Did you boys think I would sneak into this den of thieves without any kind of back-up?"
Frank and Joe caught each other's eyes for a moment in the flickering light from the flaming vessels and began to chuckle.
"Well, we did," Joe admitted. "Guess we never thought how dangerous it could be."
Fenton Hardy shook his head in wonder. "You boys sure take unnecessary chances. It's a good thing luck is always on your side."
Frank grinned. "Heck, Dad. We saw you sneak into the building earlier. We knew you were inside. What better back-up could there be than you?"
Fenton Hardy gave both his sons a stern look. "Remind me that we need to discuss your being here at a fiendish cult's mystical rites in New York City in further detail tomorrow when we are back at home in Bayport. In fact, I may even have Aunt Gertrude act as the judge and jury!"
Frank and Joe looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"What is so darn funny?" their father asked.
"We already know what she'll have to say about it," Joe snickered. "'Well, I never! Well, I never!'"
Fenton Hardy laughed along with his sons. "I guess I've heard that, too, a million times or more!"
By this time the cult members had all pushed out of the auditorium, even Question Mark himself. Frank and Joe and their dad followed in the wake of the attendees and watched from behind as they pushed down the hallway and fumbled their way down the stairs to the exits in the darkness. One of them had grabbed one of the flaming vessels from the altar and was using it as a guiding light, but another member jostled him on the stairway and the vessel fell, spilling hot oil and flame all over the steps and adding more confusion and danger to the panic.
Fenton Hardy pulled his sons over to the side of the hall. "Let's just wait here until the stampede is over. The police will take care of everything downstairs."
He gave his gun to Frank to hold while he pulled off the crimson robe and tossed it and the black mask into a corner.
"Where did you get those?" Joe asked, after Frank had given the gun back to their dad.
"I had been trailing one of the cult members last week," Fenton Hardy told them. "He is a very prominent and politically-involved citizen. This morning I went to his office and told him what I knew. I also showed him the jewelled stick-pin as proof that I was on to the cult. That did it. He was terrified his name would end up in the headlines as being associated with the Mysterians."
"So you made a deal with him?" Frank asked.
Fenton Hardy nodded. "His name will be kept out of the papers and the judge will be lenient with him for helping the police, but he'll still have to pay in some way for his involvement with the cult's crimes. He told me about tonight's meeting here and gave me his robe and mask."
"That really was something when you tossed the stick-pin at Question Mark," Frank praised. "He was really flabbergasted."
Fenton Hardy chuckled shrewdly. "He should have taken a better look at it. That was just a cheap imitation the police had made up last week. The real one is safe at the precinct station and will be used as evidence in the case."
Joe told him that Question Mark had broken into the house last night and that they had followed him from Bayport to New York that morning, and then here to the warehouse. "He had probably hired someone to take him out to the island again so he could look for the stick-pin," he suggested.
"You boys were lucky to find it yesterday," their father told them. "It was an important clue and helped solve the case. What I didn't understand was why the Mysterians wanted Cabin Island so badly. I had no idea there was a pirate treasure hidden there until Question Mark spoke of it a few minutes ago."
The boys explained to him that Bob Jefferson had discovered the cache on the island when he was a boy, but kept it a secret until Question Mark drew it out of him recently in a mind control session.
"That's a pretty amazing secret to keep to one's self all those years, sons. Barmet Bay has always been a haven for pirates and smugglers, and it appears that Cabin Island was the favorite haunt of at least one pirate, if not several."
"It could have been that lady pirate Anne Bonney," Joe suggested. "In a book I was reading earlier today in the library reading room across the street, it said that she is believed to have left several caches of treasure along the East Coast, perhaps one in Barmet Bay."
Frank shook his head in wonder. "And to think we stayed there on Cabin Island just last week," he said musingly. "We tromped all over it! But we didn't have the foggiest notion that there was a zillion dollar treasure right there just waiting to be found."
"Tell a fellow about it!" Joe said with a huff. "That cave must really be hidden. I can't believe we never found it in all our explorations on Cabin Island!"
It was the following afternoon, a cold sunny and breezy New Year's Day on frozen Barmet Bay. The Hardy boys sat in their ice-boat, accompanied by Bob Jefferson, as the staunch and streamlined craft sped over the gleaming surface of the ice.
Frank was at the tiller, enjoying the wind on his face as he watched the colorful billowing sail and tacked this way and that to get the best of the strong Atlantic breezes. They were on their way past the the high cliffs of the mainland with its many tiny coves where ice skaters were whirling and twirling with obvious abandon and glee.
Joe pointed at one of the groups. "That looks like our chums," he called to Frank. "I bet it's Chet and Iola and Callie and Biff. Looks like Biff's ice-boat anchored near them."
"Perhaps we'll stop on the way back," Frank declared. He looked over at Bob Jefferson with a smile. "We just can't let them in on this. It has to remain a secret."
Joe nodded sagely, but he wished their chums could come with them, too, out to Cabin Island where Bob Jefferson was going to show them the secret cave and its hidden pirate treasure trove. The man had been reunited with his son Bobby earlier that morning, and also with his father, Elroy Jefferson. It had been a touching reunion, and one with a bright and happy future. Bob and his father had decided to keep the treasure on Cabin Island a secret, lest onlookers, thrill seekers, and thieves start to visit the island in search of it.
However, the two Jefferson men wanted Frank and Joe to see the treasure because of all the boys had done for them.
Bob Jefferson had rushed to the police station the night before, after being rescued from captivity by the boys in the warehouse. Squad cars and wagons were leaving, according to Fenton Hardy's instructions, at the same time Bob arrived and poured out his story, so he hopped into one and accompanied them back to the warehouse. After the electricity had been cut off by men from the power company, all the cult members had been rounded up as they tried to leave the building, including Question Mark, the evil leader of the cult. They had all been carted off to jail.
"Thank goodness I'll be free of them at last!" Bob Jefferson had said, as the wagons pulled away bearing the nefarious Mysterians.
By that time it was midnight and all of New York was celebrating the New Year in boisterous revelry. But Frank and Joe, exhausted from the long exciting day, returned to their hotel for a good night's sleep. Their father went to the police station to wrap up his investigation, then on to his hotel, and Bob Jefferson returned to his apartment on Houston Street for the night. They all met early in the morning for breakfast, then took a holiday Flying Express back to Bayport.
As soon as little Bobby saw his father, all his memories instantly returned. When he later met his grandfather, Elroy Jefferson, for the first time, he was thrilled to have a 'grandpa', and very excited to see the big old mansion on the Shore Road of Barmet Bay where he and his dad would soon be residing.
"Wow, grandpa!" little Bobby had exclaimed. "I'd sure rather live here in this big house than in our little apartment in New York!"
Elroy Jefferson could scarcely believe the good fortune that his missing son Robert was alive and well and back in his life again. He accepted his son's explanation of how the cult had gained control of his mind with no question or probing, and both father and son promised never to let anything come between them again.
When Aunt Gertrude heard the story of the previous day and night's activity, she huffed and puffed and declared that Frank and Joe should not have been involved in such proceedings, and said, 'Well, I never!' at least ten times. But she was so happy that the boys had rescued little Bobby's father and reunited the man with his own father, that she immediately began to bake Frank and Joe a chocolate cake for reward.
Now, in their ice-boat out on the gleaming wintry bay, the brothers knew a big holiday meal with all the trimmings was awaiting them at home when they returned, and it would be more special than ever because the three Jeffersons would be joining them.
"Go around the other side of the island to the little cove," Bob Jefferson told Frank, as they sailed into Cabin Cove and approached Cabin Island.
The cove was locked in ice, inhospitable and deserted, as usual. Joe looked around, remembering the book he'd been reading yesterday. Yes indeed, this really was a remote spot, he thought, perfect for clandestine activity and keeping secrets that could last throughout the ages.
"Even now, hardly anyone ever comes out here," he said, as they rounded the island. "No wonder the pirate was able to stash his treasure here and no one ever found it. Except you, Bob."
"What will you do with it now?" Frank wanted to know.
The man shrugged, smiling happily. "I suppose my dad and I will convert some of it to cash. But we plan to give most of it to the museums here in Bayport and New York. Some of the artifacts are priceless objects of art, probably stolen from the castles of royalty centuries ago."
Frank nodded in eager agreement. "Treasure like that sure does belong in museums, I'll say. That way everyone can enjoy it!"
He guided the ice-boat into the little bay by the little cove and its sail began to flap idly as it came to a halt at the beach. The boys and Bob Jefferson clambered out, then anchored the boat and made it secure. Then they took off up the hillside in the deep and drifted snow filled with the footprints from all the activity of two days ago.
"Are you ready for a real treat?" Bob Jefferson asked Frank and Joe as they reached the woods at the top of the hill.
"You bet!" the boys replied.
"Remember, we have to keep it a secret until the treasure can properly be portioned out."
"No problem," Frank laughed, and Joe nodded in agreement. "This particular secret of Cabin Island will be as safe as a secret can be. You can bet your life on it!"