That Night

Aptek all their precautions, the sailing away of the airplane without them was a bitter pill to swallow. The Hardy boys had been so confident that the men would remain in this place until the night of the twenty-eighth that this early morning flight took them completely by surprise.

"We've lost them now," said Frank. "We don't know where they're going or where this hold-up, or whatever it is, is going to take place. And we don't even know where we are ourselves."

"It's tough luck. After all the trouble we went to!"

"I guess the only thing we can do now is go back to Bayport and do our best to warn the post office authorities. I have a pretty good hunch that the gang are planning another air mail robbery. Why else would they use a plane?"

"Not much use staying here," agreed Joe, "They certainly stole a march on us that time."

They got dressed and left the empty house. Neither said very much, for they were discouraged beyond measure. All their discomfort of the past two days seemed to have gone for nothing. They realized that the defeat was not their fault, because they could not anticipate that Ducroy and his cronies would leave that morning when they had definitely planned to remain in the vicinity all day; but there remained the unescapable fact that the quarry had eluded them.

"Perhaps the police in the village recognized them and they had to clear out," suggested Joe,

"I guess that's the reason. I can't think of any other."

They trudged down the lane that led out toward the village road. Their immediate plan was to reach the village, find out where they were, and then return to Bayport as soon as possible.

"There's just a slim chance we may be able to catch them yet if we tell the post office authorities all we know," I Tank pointed out, "But we haven't much time to work in."

The sky was overcast and cloudy that morning, in harmony with the mood of the Hardy boys. They found it difficult to be cheerful after the reverse they had just suffered.

"I'll bet there isn't even a railway here, grumbled Joe.

"And our roadster is miles away."

"What a fine fix we're in!"

"Perhaps they'll come back," remarked Frank, trying to be optimistic.

"They're gone for good."

The Hardy boys crossed a rustic bridge over a stream and went up the dusty road into the village. It was only a small farming town and there were few people in sight. Several cars were parked in front of the small hotel.

"We might as well go in here and have breakfast," suggested Joe. "Our sandwiches are all gone."

They went into the hotel and entered the dining room. In spite of the disappointment they had suffered, their appetites still held good and they managed to make away with a goodly supply of ham and eggs, flapjacks and syrup, toast and coffee. The meal over, they felt better. After paying the check at the desk, they sat down to consider future plans.

The clerk told them that the village was about one hundred miles from Bayport, and that the nearest railway was four miles distant. If they hired a man from the garage to drive them to the station they could catch a train that would bring them to Bayport late that afternoon.

"I guess it's the best we can do," said Frank. "Mighty flat ending to our adventure."

"Perhaps it isn't over yet." Joe was looking out into the street. Suddenly he clutched his brother's arm. "Look, Frank! Do you see what I see?"

Frank looked out. He gasped with astonishment.

Across the street, lolling in the doorway of a grocery store, was a familiar figure. There was no mistaking the battered hat, the shabby clothes, the mournful and unshaven features.

"Newt Pipps!"

"He's still here."

At that moment the Hardy boys were perhaps the most delighted and amazed lads in the United States.

"They left him here," said Frank. "Why, this means the others will be coming back!"

"Unless they've ditched Newt altogether."

"They wouldn't do that," said Frank, meeting Joe's objection. "He knows too much. He knows all about this crime they have been planning. Ducroy and Ollie Jacobs would be afraid to get rid of him now."

"That's right, Frank. We gave up hope too quickly. The other pair will probably be coming back to the farm today."

"We'd better get back there just as quickly as we know how. We don't want to be caught napping now."

Newt Pipps was still standing in front of the grocery store. Apparently he had no intention of moving on. The Hardy boys knew they were risking discovery if they went out the front entrance, so they scouted around until they found a back door to the hotel and departed unobtrusively. They cut across the yard, went down a lane, and soon found themselves on the road leading back to the farm.

They were about half way back to the farm when they heard a distant droning noise. Frank looked up.

"Here comes the plane!"

A speeding shadow in the sky quickly resolved itself into the shape of an airplane, which gradually approached and began to descend in wide spirals. The boys left the road and took to the shadow of the trees, for although they knew there was little chance of being recognized from the air, they were taking no risks. The plane came lower and lower, then skimmed across the fences, coming to rest in the field near the old farmhouse.

"If this isn't luck!" exclaimed Frank.

"They probably went away to get gas and oil. Now, if they'll only give us a chance to get back in our hiding place again everything will .be all right."

They went on cautiously, toward the field They had just come to the entrance of the lane leading down toward the farm when they heard voices. Frank and Joe scrambled into the hedge and hid themselves.

They were not a moment too soon.

Giles Ducroy and Ollie Jacobs clambered over the fence, only a few yards away.

"Everything is all set now," Ducroy was saying. "We're all fueled up, the plane is in first-class shape, and we're all ready for the big job."

"We'll go back and pick up Newt now," said Ollie Jacobs.

"He gives me a pain," grumbled Ducroy. "If it wasn't that he has been with us from the start I'd be tempted to drop him right now. Imagine being too frightened to go on that flight with us this morning."

"Newt is yellow."

"He certainly is. Well, as long as he comes with us to-night and does his part, I don't care how yellow he is about flying."

"Shall we come back here right away?"

"No. Some of these villagers might get suspicious. We'll hang around town until it gets dark. Then we'll set out. I know the exact time and place we can count on meeting this fellow and the whole thing ought to be over in twenty minutes."

"Good," said Jacobs.

The two men went on down the lane. They had not seen the Hardy boys hiding in the hedge. When they reached the road they turned in the direction of the village and in a few moments were lost to view.

Frank and Joe crawled out of the hedge.

"On the trail again," said Frank.

"We shan't have to stay hidden in the plane, after all. This is luck."

They hastened down the lane to the farmhouse. Unwittingly, the rascals had played into their hands. They now knew that Ducroy would not start on the mysterious mission until after darkness had fallen, and they resolved to be in readiness.

"Just when we had given up hope," said Frank, "everything gets clear again!"

"Clear enough so far," agreed Joe. "We won't take any chances on slipping up again. We'll be hiding in that plane at sundown."

The boys went back to the house and there they remained for the rest of the day. They found that from one of the upper windows of the building they could have an uninterrupted view of the road leading to the village, and they made frequent visits to this window in order to make sure that Ducroy and his companions would not steal a march on them. However, the afternoon dragged past with no sign of the trio, and it was evident that they were following their original program of loafing about the village.

The airplane, which had evidently escaped notice, rested alone in the field.

Toward the latter part of the afternoon the clouds which had been gathering all day gathered overhead and there was a light shower of rain. It passed over, but the weather became cool and blustery.

"A bad night for flying," remarked Frank.

"If Ducroy can chance it, so can we."

"That's right. I hope they don't call it off."

"Not after waiting this long," said Joe. "Ducroy has set his heart on this affair. It'll take a mighty stormy night to make him quit at the last moment."

The afternoon seemed endless, but at last Frank turned to his brother.

"We may have quite a while to wait, but I think we ought to go over to the plane now."

"I don't mind waiting. I'd rather wait an hour or so than be left behind, as we thought we were this morning."

"Let's go, then."

The boys left the house and went over to the field. The airplane was apparently just as Ducroy and Jacobs had left it. There was no sign of anyone on the village road.

The Hardy boys climbed into their hiding place and made themselves as comfortable as possible. For the time being, they left the door open for the sake of fresh air. Minutes went by. The sky grew darker and the wind rose. Once in a while a gust of rain spattered against the wings of the machine.

At last Joe crouched forward.

"Here they come! I see a light down the road.''

He reached out and closed the door.

Breathlessly, the Hardy boys awaited the next move in their perilous adventure.