An Important Discovery
WHEN the Hardy boys were on their way home from school the next afternoon they noticed that a crowd had collected in the vestibule of the post office and were staring at the bulletin board.
“Wonder what’s up now?” said Joe, pushing his way forward through the crowd with the agility of an eel. Frank was not slow in following.
On the board was a large poster. The ink on it was scarcely dry. At the top, in enormous black letters, it read:
Underneath, in slightly smaller type, was the following:
The above reward will be paid for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who broke into Tower Mansion and stole jewels and securities from a safe in the library.
The reward was being offered by Hurd Apple-gate.
“Why, that must mean the charge against Mr. Robinson has been dropped!” exclaimed Joe.
“It looks like it. Let’s see if we can find Slim.”
All about them people were commenting on the size of the reward, and there were many expressions of envy for the person who would be fortunate enough to solve the mystery.
“A thousand dollars!” said Frank, as the brothers made their way out of the post office. “That’s a lot of money, Joe.”
“I’ll say it is.”
“And there’s no reason why we haven’t as good a chance of earning it as anyone else.”
“I suppose Dad and the police are barred from the reward, for it’s their duty to find the thief if they can. But if we track him down we can get the money. It’ll be a good sum to add to our college fund.”
“Let’s go! Say, there’s Slim now.”
Perry Robinson was coming down the street toward them. He looked much happier than he had the previous evening, and when he saw the Hardy boys his face lighted up.
“Dad is free,” he told them. “Thanks to your father, the charge has been dropped.”
“I’m sure glad to hear that!” exclaimed Joe. “I see a reward is being offered.” “Your father convinced Mr. Applegate that it must have been an outside job. And the work of a professional thief. Chief Collig admitted there wasn’t much evidence against Dad, so they let him go. It’s a great relief. My mother and sisters were almost crazy with worry.”
“No wonder,” commented Frank. “What’s your father going to do now?”
“I don’t know,” Slim admitted. “Of course, we’ve had to move from the Tower Mansion estate. Mr. Applegate said that even though the charge had been dropped, he wasn’t altogether convinced in his own mind that Dad hadn’t had something to do with the theft. So he dismissed him.”
“That’s tough luck. But your dad will be able to get another job somewhere,” Frank said consolingly.
“I’m not so sure about that. People aren’t likely to employ a man who’s been suspected of stealing. Dad tried two or three places this afternoon, but he was turned down.”
The Hardys were silent. They felt very sorry for the Robinsons and were determined to do what they could to help them.
“We’ve rented a small house just outside the city,” Slim went on. “It’s cheap and the neighborhood is kind of bad, but we’ll have to get along.”
Frank and Joe admired Slim. There was no false pride about him. He faced the facts as they came, and made the best of them. “But if Dad doesn’t get a job, it will mean that I’ll have to go to work full time.”
“Why, Slim-you’d have to quit school!” Joe cried out.
“I can’t help that. I wouldn’t want to, for you know I was trying for a scholarship. But-“
The brothers realized how much it would mean to their chum if he had to leave school. Perry Robinson was an ambitious boy and one of the top ten in his class. He had always wanted to continue his studies and go on to a university, and his teachers had predicted a brilliant career for him as an engineer. Now it seemed that all his ambitions for a high school diploma and a college education would have to be given up because of this misfortune.
Frank put an arm around Slim’s shoulders. “Chin up,” he said with a warm smile. “Joe and I are going to plug away at this affair until we get to the bottom of it!”
“It’s mighty good of you fellows,” Slim said gratefully. “I won’t forget it in a hurry.” He tried to smile, but it was evident that the boy was deeply worried. When he walked away it was not with the light, carefree step which the Hardys associated with him.
“What’s the first move, Frank?” Joe asked.
“We’d better get a full description of those jewels. Perhaps the thief tried to pawn them. Let’s try all the pawnshops and see what we can find out.”
“Good idea, even if the police have already done it.” Frank grinned. Then he sobered. “Do you think Applegate will give us a list?”
“We won’t have to ask him. Dad should have that information.”
“Let’s find out right now.”
When the boys returned home, they found their father waiting for them. “I have news for you,” he said. “Your theory about the wrecked auto being stolen has been confirmed. Collig phoned just now and told me the true ownership had been traced by the engine number. Car belongs to a man over in Thornton.”
“Good. That’s one more strike against the thief,” Joe declared.
But a moment later the boys met with disappointment when they asked their father for a list of the stolen jewels.
“I’m willing to give you all the information I have,” said Fenton Hardy, “but I’m afraid it won’t be of much use. Furthermore, I’ll bet I can tell just what you’re going to do.”
“Make the rounds of the pawnshops to see if any of the jewels have been turned in.”
The Hardy boys looked at each other in amazement. “I might have guessed,” said Frank.
Their father smiled. “Not an hour after I was called in on the case I had a full description of all those jewels in every pawnshop in the city. More than that, the description has been sent to jewelry firms and pawnshops in other cities near here, and also the New York police. Here’s a duplicate list if you want it, but you’ll just be wasting time calling at the shops. All the dealers are on the lookout for the jewels.”
Mechanically, Frank took the list. “And I thought it was such a bright idea!”
“It is a bright idea. But it has been used before. Most jewel robberies are solved in just this manner-by tracing the thief when he tries to get rid of the gems.”
“Well,” said Joe gloomily, “I guess that plan is all shot to pieces. Come on, Frank. We’ll think of something else.”
“Out for the reward?” asked Mr. Hardy, chuckling.
“Yes. And we’ll get it, too!”
“I hope you do. But you can’t ask me to help you any more than I’ve done. It’s my case, too, remember. So from now on, you boys and I are rivals I”
“It’s a go!”
“More power to you!” Mr. Hardy smiled and returned to his desk.
He had a sheaf of reports from shops and agencies in various parts of the state, through which he had been trying to trace the stolen jewels and securities, but in every case the report was the same. There had been no lead to the gems or the bonds taken from Tower Mansion.
When the boys left their father’s study they went outside and sat on the back-porch steps.
“What shall we do now?” asked Joe.
“I don’t know. Dad sure took the wind out of our sails that time, didn’t he?”
“I’ll say he did. But it was just as well. He saved us a lot of trouble.”
“Yes, we might have been going around in circles,” Frank conceded.
Joe wagged his head. “It looks as if Dad has the inside track on the case-in the city, anyway.”
“What have you got in mind?” Joe asked.
“To concentrate on the country. We started out to find the thief because he stole Chet’s car. Let’s start all over again from that point.”
“Mr. Red Wig may have come back to the woods expecting to use Chet’s car again, and-“
“Frank, you’re a genius! You figure the guy may have left a clue by accident”
Fired with enthusiasm once more, the brothers called to Mrs. Hardy where they were going, then set off on their motorcycles. After parking them at the picnic site, the brothers once more set off for the isolated spot where the jalopy had been hidden.
Everything looked the same as it had before, but Frank and Joe examined the ground carefully for new footprints. They found none, but Joe pointed out six-inch circular marks at regular intervals.
“They’re just the size of a man’s stride,” he remarked, “and I didn’t notice them before.”
“I didn’t either,” said Frank. “Do you suppose that thief tied pads onto his shoes to keep him from making footprints?”
“Let’s see where they lead.”
The boys followed the circular marks through the thicket. They had not gone far when their eyes lighted up with excitement.
“Another due!” Joe yelled. “And this time a swell one!”