Frank and Joe looked at each other. Perhaps they had better not tell the whole story of what had happened, except to their father. Learning that he was working on a report in his study, the boys dashed upstairs.
“Hello, sons,” Mr. Hardy said, smiling, and closed the door. “Now let's have the truth about your trip.”
When the boys had finished the account of their adventures, their father asked a few questions. The point which seemed to interest him most concerned the pigeons.
“You're sure there was no message concealed on the one that was shot?” he asked. “Did you look under the tail feathers?”
The boys had to admit they had not thought to look anywhere but on the legs. Probably they had missed a good clue.
Mr. Hardy asked the boys to go outside and look at the kidnappers' pigeon, which was in its cage in the garage.
“See if it's the same kind you saw in the woods.”
Aunt Gertrude had appointed herself keeper and feeder of the bird. She went out with her nephews to show them what her good care and a well-selected diet had done for “the poor, emaciated bird” that had been delivered to them.
Suddenly Aunt Gertrude, in the lead, gave a shriek, then cried out:
“It's gone! The pigeon's gonel”
The Mysterious Light
THE pigeon's cage as well as the bird had disappeared. A pane of glass which had been removed from a rear window was mute evidence of how the thief had entered.
There was no question in the boys' minds as to who had taken the bird. It had to be one of Frank's kidnappers.
“But when? When?” Aunt Gertrude cried out. “I took the pigeon his supper not an hour ago.”
She was extremely annoyed over the incident, and Mr. Hardy was vexed that they had missed another opportunity to learn who the pigeon's owner was.
“I should have followed that second pigeon to its cote. It might have helped considerably if we could have found its home.”
The detective added that the happenings in North Woods seemed to point to the fact that there was a connection between his own case and the guns and equipment stolen from the Morton truck.
“More marked bills have turned up in the United States,” he said. “The FBI is sure the money is being used for some illegal purpose. But they don't know yet what it could be.”
“But I'll bet you have a theory, Dad,” Joe spoke up.
“How did you figure that?”
The detective said his assumption was based on deduction rather than absolute proof. While in Washington he had heard that a dory containing United States rifles had been found on the coast of Central America.
“The dory had been wrecked in a storm,” the detective said, “and the men who had manned it either drowned or swam off and left it. There was no mark of identification on the boat, but I believe it came from a large vessel.”
“Smugglers,” Frank commented. “Dad, do you think Tyler Morton's stolen rifles are on their way to the Caribbean?”
“You've given up the idea they're in North Woods?” His father smiled.
“No, I haven't. And Joe and I want to go back there. Will you go with us?”
“Yes. But first I think we'd better take a look at the area from the air.”
“You mean scout the enemy before we attack?” Joe grinned. “Let's go right away.”
“The sun is too low,” his father said. “There'll be deep shadows over the woods at this time of day. We'll go tomorrow morning.”
Frank made the arrangements, and at ten o'clock the next day the three Hardys were at the airport. A young man named Eric Martin, whom the boys knew, was assigned to pilot them.
“Hello,” Joe said to him. “Any news from Wayne?”
Eric shook his head gravely. “Not a word since that hijacker message.”
Mr. Hardy gave the young man instructions, and they took off. Leaving Bayport behind, the plane followed the Willow River, then took the tributary that headed into North Woods.
As the forest came into view, Frank pulled binoculars from his jacket. “I see the little pond where we went swimming,” he reported presently.
“That means we're close to the wolf-man's hideout,” Joe said.
“Yes, there's the pen in that clearing right below us,” Frank replied. “Can't tell from this height if any wolves are in it or not.”
“And there's the shack where we saw the airplane engine,” Joe remarked.
The plane crisscrossed the area, but nothing suspicious came into view.
“Take her down to a thousand feet,” Mr. Hardy told the pilot.
The plane banked and descended.
Frank handed the binoculars to his father, but the detective could see nothing save the dense, uneven forest below.
“Those gangsters must have some kind of camp,” Joe said.
“If any of them are in the North Woods,” said his father, “they're taking every precaution not to have their camp spotted from the air. But I was hoping we might find something else.”
“Smoke, a camouflaged building, trees or vegetation arranged in some significant pattern. I suppose we may as well turn back.”
After the plane had landed and the Hardys were driving home, they made plans to leave together directly after lunch for a more careful search through North Woods. As they walked into the house, Mrs. Hardy handed her husband a telegram. He tore it open, read it swiftly, and frowned.
“I've been called back to Washington,” he said. “I'll have to catch a plane. This is urgent.”
Mr. Hardy said he would be gone only one day. He suggested that his sons keep busy on the case.
“Sure, Dad. How?” Frank asked.
“Suppose you circle the entire woodland area in your car. It's close to seventy miles all the way around, I'd say, and there may be another trail that's a shortcut to the thieves' camp.
“Talk to people who live on the edge of the woods,” his father continued. “Perhaps they can provide you with some clues.”
The young detectives started out in their car after lunch. When they reached the outskirts of North Woods, the good roads came to an end, and they began bouncing over rutted, narrow dirt roads.
“Pretty rugged out here,” Frank said.
They stopped at every house whose acreage bordered the woodland. Most of the farmers had no interest in the forest and knew little about it, except that a fox would sneak out now and then to kill their chickens.
About four o'clock the boys drew up beside a stooped man walking along the road. He was very friendly but tired looking, as if he had been guiding a plow all day.
“Hello,” Joe greeted him. “Can we give you a ride?”
The farmer whipped out a red bandanna to wipe his forehead. “Art's the name. And thanks, but I turn down this lane.”
Frank spoke of their interest in the woods. The man eyed the boys with a skeptical half-smile.
“Them woods is a good place to stay clear of, I always tell folks. Why, out yonder there's a pit full of snakes; hundreds of 'em wriggling around like they was crazy!”
Frank and Joe looked at each other as the man continued, “Then there's those wild dogs, too. Ain't never seen âem, but on dear nights I hear 'em.”
“Anybody live in North Woods?” Frank asked.
“Not that I ever heerd tell of, son.”
The boys thanked the farmer and drove on to the next place. They found its owner as full of wild tales as his neighbor. He had been told that any humans or farm animals straying into the forest were never seen alive again, though their cries of agony could be heard for miles.
“Did you ever hear any?” Frank asked.
“No. But once I did hear a sirenâlike a fire-en gine sirenâand right after that there was a glow over the trees, just like the Northern Lights.”
This man was sure no one lived in the forest any longer. The whole tract had been bought up by a lumber company years before, he told them. There were rumors that strangers had been seen on one of the old woods roadsâsurveyors, most likely. The boys drove off, excited by what they had heard.
“What do you think of that siren-and-light story, Frank?”
“If we hadn't heard the siren ourselves, and seen the wolves, I'd say all the stories were yarns. I'm sure the other rumors were circulated by people who want to keep visitors out of North Woods.”
Joe was all for going into the forest at once and having another look at the wolf-man's place.
Frank shook his head, “Nobody'd know where we were. And, anyway, an order from Dad isâ”
“You're right. Let's finish our job.”
The boys made a complete circuit of the forest, but found no trails that looked as though they had recently been used. The only new clue the day had yielded was the matter of the unexplained lights. Both boys were puzzled.
“Joe, it's the second time there's been a connection between a sudden flash of lights and a wailing siren,” Frank said. “Do you suppose the one that night on the ocean, when every light on the yacht suddenly blazed up, could have anything to do with North Woods?”
Joe grinned. “You're stretching my imagination, but you probably mean that the plane could have signaled and the lights were an answer both times?”
“Exactly. When the siren wailed over North Woods, the trees were too thick for us to see any lights.”
“But we didn't hear a helicopter.”
“That's correct! So we're right back where we started from, which is exactly nowhere.”
Frank switched on the car radio, hoping for good news of Jack Wayne. But again the report was disappointing, and the announcer said hope for the flier was waning. The Hardys were silent the rest of the way home.
Frank pulled into the driveway and drove the car into the garage. He and Joe jumped out and made for the back steps, but the door swung open before they had reached it. Mrs. Hardy came out, obviously agitated.
“Frank! Joe!” she cried out. “I'm so glad you're back.”
“What's the matter, Mother?”
“It's Chet. He's been telephoning every few minutes for the past half-hour.”
“He's in trouble. Needs your help right away!”
An Urgent Plea
CHET in trouble again!
“Did he say what about?” Joe asked.
Mrs. Hardy shook her head. “But he wants you to go right over to the farm.”
“I wonder if it has anything to do with the stolen rifles,” Frank mused.
“We'll soon find out,” Joe replied as he ran back toward the garage with Frank behind him.
“Just a minute,” their mother called. “One of you has to go to the hotel. Sam Radley's waiting for these letters.” She handed Frank several envelopes for Mr. Hardy's operative, adding that the detective had something that he wanted brought back.
“Okay,” Frank said. “Joe, you go to Chet's. I'll be back here in twenty minutes. If you need any help at the Mortons', call me.”
When Frank returned from the errand, he found his mother even more disturbed than before.
“Chet phoned again,” she said. “He told me what the trouble is. Actually, it's a family matter. Chet says they must have two thousand five hundred dollars tonight. Mr. Morton is away on business for the Dairymen's League and Chet says his mother begs us to lend her at least two thousand dollars of it until he comes home. The banks are open this evening. Chet will drive over for the money in three-quarters of an hour. Poor boy, he was so confused he could hardly talk.”
“Did you talk to Mrs. Morton, Mother?” Frank asked.
“No, dear,” she replied. “Chet said she couldn't come to the telephone.”
“Mother, you didn't fall for a line like that!” Frank exclaimed. “Chet's mother would never ask for a loan of that much money!”
Mrs. Hardy looked at her tall son in amazement as he continued.
“The person who will call for the money will be the one who lost the two thousand dollars we found. This is our chance to catch him!”
Mrs. Hardy was unconvinced. Despite the fact that she had the utmost confidence in Frank's judgment, she was the type of woman, who, when a friend was in need, would make any sacrifice to help. Besides, she was sure the voice on the telephone had been Chet's. And he would not deliberately deceive her.
“It's something to do with a relative. Chet didn't seem to want to explain, and I got the feeling that the Mortons didn't care to tell us why they needed the money.”
“All right,” her son said, putting an arm around his mother's shoulder. “I know you're generous and sympathetic, but we can easily check on Chet's story. I'm going to telephone Joe. He should be at the Mortons' by this time.”
He quickly dialed Chet's number. It was several seconds before the boy picked up the receiver.
“Hello? ... Frank?”
“Is Joe there? Put him on.”
“Say, Joe, what's the story about the two thousand five hundred dollars? It's not a phony?”
“It isn't phony,” Joe replied. “I believe we ought to lend the Mortons the money.”
“What! Where's Mrs. Morton?”
“Out. She's getting the other five hundred dollars.”
“You really think we should do this?” Frank asked.
“All right. Tell Chet I'll bring it out.”