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Title: Prisoners in Devil's Bog
Author: Lloyd, Hugh
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prisoners in Devil's Bog" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: THE CELLAR YIELDED NOTHING IN THEIR SEARCH BUT MOULDY
RUBBISH AND ANCIENT COBWEBS.
Frontispiece (Page 111)]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                     _A SKIPPY DARE MYSTERY STORY_

                        PRISONERS IN DEVIL'S BOG

                                   BY

                               HUGH LLOYD

                               Author of
                      The Hal Keen Mystery Stories

                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                             SEYMOUR FOGEL

                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                         PUBLISHERS    NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          Copyright, 1934, by
                         GROSSET & DUNLAP, Inc.

                          All Rights Reserved

                Printed in the United States of America

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS


                            I ON THE TRAIL
                           II CRASHING IN
                          III A BARGAIN
                           IV JOHN DOE
                            V A FRIENDLY FACE
                           VI A SUSPICION
                          VII THE HOUSE FORGOTTEN
                         VIII TIMMY
                           IX TRAPPED
                            X THE WAY OF DEVLIN
                           XI OVERHEARD
                          XII THE STORM
                         XIII THE EVERGREEN TREE
                          XIV TALK AMONG FRIENDS
                           XV HIS JOB
                          XVI A NOTE
                         XVII A CHANGE OF PLANS
                        XVIII THE SEARCH
                          XIX HOPE IN THE ATTIC
                           XX TIMMY?
                          XXI DO DREAMS COME TRUE?
                         XXII DEVLIN'S RETURN
                        XXIII NICKIE REASONS
                         XXIV WAITING
                          XXV A PASSING FACE
                         XXVI GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
                        XXVII ACCUSATIONS
                       XXVIII THE MICE WILL PLAY
                         XXIX A SLIP
                          XXX DEVIL'S BOG
                         XXXI DOOMED
                        XXXII ANOTHER DAY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        PRISONERS IN DEVIL'S BOG



                               CHAPTER I

                              ON THE TRAIL


When Skippy Dare entered the big office building he found himself in an
enchanted realm. He had never before visited one of these commercial
palaces and he gazed about him in speechless awe. He found the
revolving door so delightful that it seemed like some freakish
entertainment in an amusement park, and he indulged himself with the
giddy sensation of going around and around in it until a uniformed
elevator starter brusquely ordered him out.

Instead, he went in.

Observing the rather ornate cigar and candy booth, he invested in a
gooey chocolate bar which he ate while studying the alphabetical list
of offices. He was deeply impressed with this imposing directory and
experienced a thrill of triumph when at last his searching eyes
discovered the name, INTERNATIONAL DETECTIVE AGENCY--7-721-728.

He was now on the trail, he told himself, though, to be sure, the least
false move might prove fatal (a phrase which he had read in a detective
story) for the eye of the starter was still upon him and he did not
look the more kindly on Skippy because of the liquefied chocolate which
now decorated the border of the boy's mouth. His spirit mounted when he
had attained the safety of a gorgeous elevator where every thrill of
its dizzy ascent brought him nearer to the famous detective agency's
offices.

Skippy, you must know, longed to be a great sleuth. He had lately read
in a newspaper of the rounding up of a gang of counterfeiters by the
famous Carlton Conne, head of the International office. That was the
spark which brought about the certainty that apprehending criminals was
the career which a kindly fate would offer him.

It must be understood that there was some color of reason to this
bizarre choice of a vocation. He had grown up on the waterfront among
characters sufficiently dubious. Few detectives, however great their
prowess and renown, had come into so much personal contact with the
lawless element of the river front as had Skippy. A motherless urchin
since infancy and lacking paternal care for a period in which his
father had been unjustly jailed, his forced association with this
motley crew had given him a remarkable insight about people in general.

That Skippy's father was at last liberated and his good name restored
is not a part of this narrative. Suffice it to say, that the hapless
man did not long survive after his liberation. He left his young and
lonely son to the tender mercies of an aunt who lived on the east side
of the great city. And, though Skippy was destined to have many narrow
escapes in the course of his spectacular career, perhaps the narrowest
of all was his escape from being put in an orphan asylum.

Like many great men he was denied the benefit of an early education.
Mrs. Kinney, weak in finances but strong in resolve, triumphed over the
Board of Education, and Skippy was given working papers which conferred
on him the inestimable privilege of earning his living.

So we find him stepping out of the elevator on the seventh floor of the
mammoth office building whistling blithely, yet distinctly conscious of
the long trousers (his first) which were such an integral part of the
new six dollar suit he was wearing. His aunt had parted with this
enormous sum only because of the inauguration of his business career.

On the door of room 721 was the magic word ENTER and Skippy paused with
his hand on the knob, giving himself a delicious moment before making
the grand plunge. It may be that he fully expected to see a handcuffed
burglar or two when he opened the door. But no such thrilling sight
awaited him. There was nothing more startling than a richly furnished
waiting room at the end of which sat a pretty young lady.

She peered over her gleaming mahogany typewriter desk and paused in her
typing with an air of bored expectancy.

"Well?"

"I gotta--eh, I wanta ... see ... Mr. Carlton Conne," Skippy stammered.

She extended her hand as if by force of habit and said wearily, "You
have a letter to deliver?"

"Nope. I--I wanta see Mr. Conne."

"Oh, you can't see Mr. Conne. He's a very busy man. What do you want?"

"I wanta job."

"We don't need any boys now." The young lady yawned discreetly. "If you
want to leave your name and address we'll send for you if an opening
occurs. Did someone send you here?" she asked, handing him a slip of
paper and a pencil.

"Nope. I bin wantin' to work for Mr. Conne since I first read about him
in the papers. I wanta learn from him how to be a regular detective
like him. That's the kinda job I want."

At this naïve confession the girl laughed while Skippy, embarrassed,
but still persistent, stood waiting. "So lemme see him?" he urged.

"No, certainly not," the girl answered a little tersely. "I told you
that Mr. Conne is a very busy man and he's a very important man--if you
know what that means. He doesn't see boys. If we should need an office
boy, we can send for you," she added with an air of finality.

It was a crucial moment to Skippy. He gave a furtive look toward a
closed door, beyond which, in some holy of holies, he imagined the
great Carlton Conne to be seated. He visualized that shrewd mouth and
those keen eyes which he had seen pictured in the newspapers at the
astonishing climax of the famous Hawley murder case. But there was no
hope. Skippy Dare was baffled by a mere girl at the very threshold of
the lion's den.

Suddenly the door opened and a trim looking young man emerged. It was
not the great Carlton Conne. Very casually, it seemed, he closed the
door and leaned against it.

"He one of 'em?" he asked briskly.

"Oh, no," said the girl.

"Well, I wish you'd get in touch up there with the principal, or one of
the teachers or somebody, and see if they can't round up two or three
of the kids who were run down. They ought to be able to identify one or
two of the gang in that stolen car. According to the wop that keeps the
banana stand, there were a bunch of 'em coming out of school when the
car ploughed through. There must be at least two who could make some
identification. The chief wants to get at least two of 'em down as soon
as possible."

"I'll see what I can do, but if the two who were run down were the only
ones that could identify...."

"Well, you know the chief; he wants what he wants when he wants it.
Even if their necks were broken he'd expect 'em to remember whether or
not they saw a machine gun in that car. So that's that."

The girl seemed listlessly tolerant. "I'll get in touch with them as
soon as I come back from lunch. Will that do?"

The young man nodded and the door closed behind him. Skippy too
departed, thoughtfully, hopefully, and with machine guns booming in his
active brain. _Gangsters, a stolen car!_ The International was on the
trail of something.

The question uppermost in his mind was--how long a time would the
typist remain out at lunch? He hurried down the hall, then darted into
the shadow of a stairway from which vantage point he could keep his
bright eyes on the International Agency's door.

There was no doubt of it now--Skippy too was on the trail of something.



                               CHAPTER II

                              CRASHING IN


It was only a matter of seconds when the door of the International
offices opened and the pretty typist stepped into the hall. Her high
heels clicked briskly along the tiled floor and she looked neither to
the right nor left, but hurried straight to the elevators.

Skippy, meanwhile, had backed down farther into the shadow and was
standing on the landing, his slim body almost rigid against the cool
wall. There was a moment's silence in which he stood tense, listening,
until at last the metallic clang of the elevator door opening and
closing echoed down to him.

He relaxed immediately and his face crinkled in a smile. With a weather
eye on the landing above and the landing below he hastily removed his
coat and tore from his new white shirt a goodly strip of the muslin.
This had the effect of setting his collar and tie somewhat awry but he
hadn't time to worry over that detail. He was too busy improvising a
presentable sling in which to rest his left arm. He had a momentary
impulse to bandage his head also, but he was too true an artist to
overdo the thing.

Be that as it may, luck was with him, for a moment later, when he
presented himself at the International offices, he found a small group
of men, presumably detectives, talking earnestly in the reception room.
One glance at Skippy and two of the men hurried forward to open the
door just beyond.

"Here y'are, kid--this way," said one, smilingly. "You'll see a door to
your right marked _Carlton Conne--Private_--that's where you're to go.
Mr. Conne wants to see some of you kids."

Skippy grinned amiably.

He was not afraid, as he trudged manfully into the holy of holies to
confront the famous head of the world-renowned detective agency, whose
picture he had so many times seen in the newspapers.

The great detective was not an awe-inspiring spectacle. He sat in his
shirt sleeves, his chair tilted back and his feet resting on the desk.
He was a stocky, middle-aged man with a bristly moustache and a crisp,
aggressive look. Also he was smoking a long black cigar (Skippy soon
learned that this was a fixed habit with the man) which he dexterously
moved from one end of his mouth to the other as he talked. When he
listened, he had a way of tilting it at an upright angle which gave him
a very shrewd and sophisticated air. It was this attitude that
captivated Skippy.

"Well," he said in his gruff, yet kindly manner, "you're one of the
kids that got in the way of that stolen car, eh? Your arm's busted, eh?"

"No sir," Skippy answered promptly with unabashed frankness. "My name's
Skippy Dare an' I just wanted to get in here--kind of--so--so I could
talk to you. But...."

Carlton Conne brought his feet down from the desk and stared. "But the
sling--what's it for?"

"That typewriter girl," said Skippy rapidly, "she said I couldn't see
you about a job--that you didn't need nobody."

"You mean you talked to Miss Purdy, our reception clerk?" asked the
detective with an enigmatic scowl.

"Yeah, I guess that's who it was. She was in that first room out there
with the big soft rug an' she was pretty all right, but she was cranky
an' wouldn't lissen. I tried to tell her I wanted a job right away an'
be a detective an'...."

Carlton Conne lifted his feet from the floor and set them back again on
the desk. He shifted the cigar about in his mouth three or four times,
then interposed: "So you got in here under false pretenses, eh?" Before
Skippy could answer, he added, "What put the sling idea into your head?"

"While I was talkin' to the--to Miss Purdy, a feller come out an' said
about the stolen car an' all an' how you wanted the kids that was run
down so's you could talk to 'em. So right away I thought about the
sling an' I sneaked into the hall an' hid on the stairway till she goes
out for lunch. Then I fixed the sling from the taila my shirt.... I'll
be good at disguises, Mr. Conne--that's why I know I'd be a good
detective."

"Oh, you do, eh?" A mirthful gleam lighted the detective's eyes, but
his face was wrinkled into a scowl. "I suppose your other disguise
today consists of working papers, eh? You can't be more than fourteen."

"Gee, how'd you guess!"

Carlton Conne looked at the boy sharply. "S'pose you've been blowing in
all your spending money on cheap detective magazines and going to these
rotten mystery thrillers, eh?"

"Nope, I don't like them magazines, Mr. Conne. An' I don't like mystery
thrillers 'cause I ain't so dumb that I don't know those things
couldn't happen in real life. Gee, I can only go to the movies once in
a while an' when I go I like to see somepin' that makes me laugh. Since
my father died I don't get no spendin' money 'cause my aunt's terrible
poor an' she says I gotta be glad she can even lemme sleep an' eat."

"And she had to put you out to work?" Carlton Conne tilted his cigar
thoughtfully. "And you decided you wanted to be a detective. Why?"

"I always wanted to be a detective," Skippy answered unabashed, "ever
since they railroaded my father. When they let him out I wanted to be
one more'n ever an' when he died an' I come back to lookin' for my aunt
I almost was sent to Reform 'cause I got hungry an' went into a
restaurant an' ate a whole lot more'n I had the money to pay for. So
anyway they found my aunt an' she took me from the station house an'
promised to take care of me. But all the time since, I been thinkin'
how if I was a detective I'd know the difference between a kid that was
bad and a kid that was hungry. Gee, I know crooks like anything, Mr.
Conne, so that's another reason I'd make a good detective. A bunch of
'em lived 'round me when I was on the barge waitin' for my father to
get outa jail. River pirates an' all! They're my special--my
specialty!" he bragged.

"And 'Reform's' your special fear, eh?" Carlton Conne asked, blinking
his eyes.

"Yeah, I was scareda that like anythin'," Skippy admitted with a
shudder at the memory. "When my father was on trial I shivered in my
boots afraid they'd send me there."

Carlton Conne brought his feet down onto the softly carpeted floor and
pulling up his chair, scrutinized a letter that lay open on his desk.
After a moment's silence he glanced up at the boy and swiftly surveyed
him.

"Suppose I were to tell you that I want you to go to Reform School!" he
said enigmatically.

"Huh?" Skippy asked, wide-eyed.

"Sit down!" Carlton Conne said briskly. "I want to talk to you!"

Skippy did as he was told.



                              CHAPTER III

                               A BARGAIN


Carlton Conne took the letter in his hand and manoeuvered the cigar
back and forth in his mouth. At length he said, "Don't be scared, kid.
I want you to go, but not for anything _you've_ done--it's for me!"

Skippy gasped. "Gee, you mean you're gonna lemme be a detec----"

"Listen, kid," the man interposed kindly, "get that detective idea out
of your head until you're--well say, twenty-four years old anyhow. You
have to learn, kid, and it takes long, hard years--it's just another
kind of school. But right now I can use a kid like you--you can be of
some use to me. If you do your work right--keep your eyes open, your
mouth shut and remember everything, I might consider you for the job as
office boy at fifteen dollars a week. In the mean time, I'm to have you
sent to the Delafield Reformatory where you're going to play the part
you almost had in real life--a boy unjustly sent there and a boy who'd
make a break for freedom at the first opportunity."

"Then--then you ain't gonna send me for real!" Skippy stammered
joyfully. "I'm just sorta gonna play de--_detective_?"

"You're going to help _me_!" answered Conne with the hint of a smile on
his face. "You're going to play the part of a reform school kid as I
told you before. And I'm counting on you to play it with the same kind
of energy that made you sling up your arm so that you could get in here
to see me. That's why I'm going to trust you to do this thing for me!
You've got ingenuity--know what that means, kid?"

"Yeah," Skippy smiled, "it means havin' swell ideas that go through."

"In a measure, yes. Anyway, you've the idea and you have ingenuity,
whether or not you know what it means. But the question is, can I count
on you not to let anyone know (except those whom I authorize to keep in
touch with you) who you are, nor the part you're playing? You may have
to play it a month, perhaps longer--I can't tell you how long, kid.
Think you could play it without betraying your game by a look or a
word?"

"Gee, Mr. Conne--gee, is it sorta dangerous like? I mean I can do that
about keepin' my mouth shut an' all--I learned that when my father got
in trouble--nobody could make me tell a thing. I mean will it be
dangerous if I _did_ tell? Not that I would--honest, Mr. Conne!"

"That's what I thought, kid. I wouldn't have asked you otherwise. And
as for its being dangerous," said Mr. Conne tipping his cigar so that
the lighted end stood dangerously near his nose, "I wouldn't allow you
to do it if it was. Of course there's bound to be a minimum of danger
in anything of this kind, but we'll prepare you for that. If you stick
and keep your mouth shut there's nothing to be feared. One of my men
will be on hand as soon as the conditions warrant it. If your aunt
consents, I'll assume full responsibility for you."

"Aw, my aunt don't care so long's I ain't no expense to her. I gotta
terrible appetite, Mr. Conne, an' she says I eat her out of house an'
home an' besides she wants back the six dollars she paid out for my
suit. She wants it to pay on insurance, she says."

"Very well, kid--she'll have it. After I get through telling you a
little more of this job, you can go home and get her and bring her down
here to me. I'll talk to her and if she's agreeable, I'll give her your
first week's salary. She knows your needs better than you do, I guess."

"Yeah," said Skippy amiably. "Aunt Min'll save for me, she says, so's
I'll have some money in bank when I grow up. She said if I got a job
she'd give me money for carfare an' for a little spendin' money."

"She can do that after you've done this work and are working regularly
in this office. Just now, while you're temporary, I'll pay you your
expenses and give your aunt your salary. How's that?"

"Sure, whatever you say, Mr. Conne," Skippy answered happily. "You pay
me more when it's sorta extra work, huh?"

"That's the basis on which all our men work here, kid," the detective
grinned. "When your time is on the company, naturally your expenses are
too. But leave that to me--I'll see that you have enough to eat in the
way of chocolate even if you do leave half of it on your chin."

Skippy grinned and reached for his handkerchief. When he had rubbed off
the smear, he looked up. "Will you tell me some more about this job?"

Carlton Conne nodded and smoothed out the letter on his desk. "This is
a report from one of my men who was on a case in Chicago," he was
saying. "To let you know more fully about this job I'll read part of
this report: 'Ran across O'Reilly here in Chi,' he says, 'and he tells
me that Dean Devlin is suspected of helping to spring a kid by the name
of Tucker from the South End Reform School here. They picked the kid up
in Wheaton and when brought back to Chi he told, under pressure, that a
reverend-looking gentleman whose description fits the Dean to a "T"
visited the South End Reform a little more than a month ago and
propositioned him. The kid was bent to beat it and the Dean gave him
some dough for a getaway.

"'Anyway, out of this money, Tucker was told to bribe a guard and the
Dean arranged the night of the escape, etc. Tucker said it was
soft--the Dean was on the job in a closed car and took him to a house
in what looked to be a nice part of the city. It was a pretty swell
flat and the kid got everything he wanted in the way of eats, but he
was kept a prisoner along with two other kids his own age who, it
seemed, were also under the Dean's protection. They too had crashed out
of different reform schools under the reverend-looking gentleman's
expert supervision.

"'Now it seems that Devlin's idea was this: each kid was kept on at the
flat till he found a job for them in some distant city. Then he saw to
it that the kid got there. And so within a month, Tucker saw the other
kids go. Then Devlin told Tucker that he had a job for him out in
Montana, and that very night he was going to drive him as far as Alton
where he could board a train absolutely safe from suspicion.

"'They started after dark and Tucker said it wasn't long before he got
drowsy. He thinks he must have fallen asleep for the next thing he knew
he felt himself falling against something and then he seemed to fall
right out of the car and whirl through the air. Next thing he knew he
was in the water. The car had gone down and he knew that he'd go down
too, not being able to swim. He paddled furiously with his hands and
looking up on the bank he saw the Dean standing there looking down.
Tucker was just about to call to him when a car drove up and Devlin got
in it and was driven away.

"'Evidently, the Dean was afraid that Tucker hadn't survived the
accident and being himself confessedly nervous of the police (that
being the reason for his generous interest in reform school boys) he
thought it best to get away as quickly as possible by hailing the first
car that came along.'"

"Gee, an' what did poor Tucker do then, huh?" Skippy asked excitedly.

Carlton Conne smiled. "Fortunately for him, he had been thrown clear of
the car and into shallow water. Just when he had resigned himself to a
watery grave, he thrust his legs out and found that his feet touched
bottom. You can bet that he didn't lose any time in scrambling up the
high embankment to safety."

"An' did he let that Devlin know that, huh?"

Carlton Conne studied the letter before him and shook his round head.
"No, he couldn't. You see he had only seen the street and the house
itself at night. After all, he had been imprisoned for a month and both
the street and the house looked just like a hundred others in Chicago.
Devlin had driven him to and from the house in such a hurry that he
never had the chance to see where he had been living. He decided to get
as far away from Chicago and the police as he could. But he was picked
up in a place called Wheaton, anyway."

"Boy, what luck!" was Skippy's sympathetic exclamation.

"Seeing it from your point of view--yes. From my point of view, it's
fortunate that Tucker lost out, for it has warmed up a trail that's
been cold too long. Devlin has been under cover a couple of years now.
O'Reilly, who is an inspector on the Chicago force, said they're
anxious to find out where the other two kids are that the Dean helped
to crash out of reform schools. Well, Dick Hallam knows that I'll be
interested to know why, for I got some old scores to settle with the
Dean and like a good detective he got the Dean's scent and has trailed
him to New York. This morning he learned that our reverend-looking
friend has applied for a permit to visit the Delafield Reform School
next Friday. That's the reason, kid, that I want you to be there when
he shows up."

"Hot dog, Mr. Conne! I been dumb not to see what you meant before. Gee
whiz, you want me there to trap him like, huh?"

"I want you to be there to help me to prepare the trap, kid. None of my
men can palm themselves off as kids and it seems that Devlin has been
playing up to kids only. That's why you're going to Delafield. You're
going to help me find out why he's been acting so generous when I know
that he isn't the type of man to do anything like that without there
being money in it somewhere. Dean Devlin never did anything for
nothing. And so you're going to put yourself in his way when he makes
that visit on Friday--I'll see to it that you have every opportunity.
What's more, you're going to fall in with any plans he may make for
you."

"Boy, it sounds terrible excitin', Mr. Conne!"

"Not dangerously so," the detective assured him. "One of our men,
Dorcas is his name, will either go up with you or be up there on Friday
and so be on hand if you need him. You'll have no cause to worry--you
won't be alone at any time if you do just as you're told. But there
won't be any real danger, kid--I wouldn't let you into this if there
was. Dean Devlin is a notorious swindler and blackmailer and though he
can cause plenty of excitement when he's on the trail, I've never heard
of him laying a hand on anybody. He's after money, not people."

"Gee whiz," Skippy said stoutly, "I wouldn't be afraid anyhow!"

"That's why I've taken an interest in you, kid. All you want is
nerve--courage enough to go through with your part, and keep your mind
and eyes on all that Dean Devlin does and says. You've got a job and I
might as well warn you that how well you do it will determine your
permanent employment by this company. In other words, it's to be your
entrance exam, so you better try to pass it!"

"Gee, will I pass it!" Skippy cried exultantly. "You'll see how I'm
gonna pass it, Mr. Conne!"

"That's the talk, kid," the detective said with a half-smile. "And when
Dean Devlin is where he can't take any more money from my clients or
anybody else, I'll talk to you about staying on for a regular job."



                               CHAPTER IV

                                JOHN DOE


In the Juvenile Court next day, Skippy was duly arraigned and
sentenced. An International Detective Agency man posing as an irate
merchant pressed a charge of petty larceny against John Doe, orphan, no
home and a native of the city of New York. The evening papers carried a
small first page story on this original John Doe who was about to spend
his first night of a four year sentence in the Delafield Reformatory.

Meanwhile, Skippy was aware that his role of John Doe, thief, had
become almost too realistic to be comfortable. His morning wait in the
courtroom had seemed interminable. The heat was oppressive, the court
procedure tiresome and he felt not a little regret that he had not
urged Mr. Conne to have his aunt come and give him the bit of
encouragement he needed to go on with his part in the reformatory. He
thought of his dead father, of Big Joe Tully who had lost his life
saving the Airedale, Mugs, which he had given to Skippy. And Mugs too
was gone, killed by an auto.

Not that he felt in the least fearful nor doubted his ability to go
through with his strange role. He merely felt a little lonesome and
wished that he might look out over the sea of faces that crowded the
courtroom and see his Aunt Min's among them, smiling her encouragement.
But his aunt was at home busy with her sewing that morning, quite
content with the money that Carlton Conne had turned over to her and
satisfied that the great detective would see that her nephew was safe
and sound.

Skippy had to be content with the presence of Dick Hallam, Carlton
Conne's man, notwithstanding the fact that he was supposed to be
prosecuting him. Hallam, however, was better than no one at all for
when the occasion permitted, he flashed a significant look at the boy.

He spent the afternoon in an ante room and Dick Hallam, blond, tall and
about twenty-eight, played "rummy" with him. Also, he had too much to
eat, including ice cream and candy and cold drinks and at about four
o'clock Carlton Conne came in.

"All set, kid?" he asked with that half-smile that Skippy was beginning
to like.

"_And how!_" the boy grinned, feeling cheerful immediately.

"He's been acting like it's a picnic, boss," Dick Hallam interposed
gaily.

"Fine," said the detective. "You want to keep it up, kid--you've
nothing to fear--not a thing! Everything's been arranged, and I don't
think you'll have to spend more than a night or two at Delafield.
Meanwhile, what time you _do_ spend, you'll have someone watching close
at hand so never feel you're alone. The warden and a few trusted guards
know of our little game, but of course you're to speak to no one about
it unless you're spoken to first. Now--you remember all the signals?"

"Yes sir--everythin'!"

Dick Hallam grinned. "He's just nervous about riding up with that rough
neck gang that's been sentenced today, boss. Especially one tough kid
named Nickie Fallon who got seven years for trying his hand at a
hold-up and carrying a gun. Some character, that kid."

"I know," Conne said understandingly, "that's the only disagreeable
part of this job, kid. But I warned you what the company would be like."

"Aw gee, Mr. Conne, I ain't afraida that. I was just wonderin' if
they'd be the kind of guys what start a fight on the way an' if they
did what would I do, huh?"

"How would you act if you were riding up with that bunch to start a
real sentence, eh? Well kid, get yourself in the state of mind that it
is real and act accordingly."

Skippy did just that. About six o'clock a court attendant led him out
to a closed car. Four boys ranging from about his own age to seventeen
years sat inside and eyed him sullenly as he crowded his slim body
among them to make the fifth passenger on the back seat. Two detectives
followed and took the chairs before them; another detective sat ahead
on the seat beside the driver.

"Well, if it ain't John Doe--the kid hisself!" a hoarse voice whispered
beside him.

Skippy looked up and saw a drooping mouth and black eyes almost too
bright--Nickie Fallon. Despite an inward shudder, he nodded and smiled.

"That's me," he said simply. "Got enough room?"

"Nah, but that's all jake. Might's well get used to crowdin'." Then,
after a pause: "Say, you John Doe, on the level?"

Skippy gave a sidelong glance at the detectives to see if they noted
this whispered conversation between Nickie Fallon and himself.
Apparently they didn't, and he gave the boy another smile.

"Anyways, they slipped you four years, eh? Three years less'n me."
There was another pause after which Fallon whispered, "They ain't
keepin' me two days if I can take it on the lam. How about you, kid?"

Skippy nodded again, feeling rather foolish as he did so. However, he
could think of no other course to pursue, and instinct prompted him to
hold his tongue until he was sure of himself.

"Ain't the gabby kind, eh?" said the other. "Well, that's the kinda pal
I like. Say, if they don't put us near each other up there, I'll raise
the dust--see? I wanta pal like you."

Skippy stirred uneasily. Was Nickie Fallon going to be an unlooked-for
factor in this strange play?



                               CHAPTER V

                            A FRIENDLY FACE


The Delafield Reform School was situated not far from the New Jersey
state line. Therefore, the route over which the boys were taken was
through a part of northeastern New Jersey, first crossing the great
bridge which bears the magic name of George Washington.

It was upon entering the vast span that Nickie Fallon made known to
Skippy his resolve. After that he lapsed into a long silence, looking
past his new-found pal and out upon the gleaming concrete lanes that
flanked them on both sides. His too-bright eyes seemed to roam through
space and for a moment his gaze rested on the giant cables that
stretched between sky and water like monstrous birds poised for flight.

Skippy had no doubt but that Nickie's thoughts were also on flight. The
detectives, however, seemed not to be cognizant of it, for they were
laughing and talking in low tones and apparently easy in mind about the
safety of their charges.

Dusk was settling and the broad plaza on the New Jersey side of the
bridge was resplendent with the last rays of the setting sun. Very
swiftly they left it behind and whisked down under a broad concrete
arch which brought them to a highway practically devoid of traffic.

"Ain't many people travelin' our way," a boy commented on the farther
side of the seat. He was no more than sixteen, red-haired and with
small blue eyes.

"Dippy Donovan's his name," Fallon informed Skippy immediately. "He
drew a year for wreckin' the principal's office in school. Twict he
done the same thing so now he's got his bit. I don't see doin' a
stretch for anything like that. At least I got some dough outa what _I_
done--how about _you_?"

"Yeah," Skippy murmured. And in order to divert the conversation from
himself, he asked, "Who's the kid next you an' who's the one 'long-side
him?"

"Greek pickpockets--Shorty an' Biff; don't ast me their last names! I
can't pronounce 'em."

Skippy grinned and turned his head away looking off into the dusk. He
was thinking that everything had gone fine so far and his behavior must
certainly have impressed Nickie, for that youthful transgressor seemed
to have accepted him at face value as one of his own kind.

It was during these reflections that Skippy noticed the detective
sitting up in the seat beside the driver. He was a thin, lanky sort of
man with hollow eyes and just at that moment he was glancing at the
boys. Presently his gaze rested on Skippy and without warning he pursed
his lips significantly and a look flashed from his eyes that the boy
immediately understood.

One of Mr. Conne's men!

He turned his head away again so quickly that, under other
circumstances, Skippy might have been inclined to consider the look as
merely a figment of his imagination. But in this instance, he knew that
he was right and that the detective had deliberately caught his
attention to assure him of his helpful presence there as Mr. Conne's
representative.

Well, it was helpful certainly, and tremendously reassuring to Skippy.
Mr. Conne had kept his word so far and the play gave great promise of a
successful conclusion. The boy was happier now and no longer felt alone
in his new venture. He had a staunch and dependable supporter and all
was well!

The shadows were lengthening and a lone bird winging swiftly homeward
for the night, looked dark and small against the feeble light on the
distant horizon. Talk lagged, then ceased altogether, and when night
enfolded them in one vast black shadow no sound could be heard save the
monotonous hum of the engine and the soft swish of the tires upon the
concrete road.

After a little while they turned off into a dirt road. The powerful
headlights gleamed out over deep ruts and in places the sandy soil lay
in little mounds, causing the car to bump and flounder about from one
side of the road to the other.

"Can't slow down too much," the driver said to the detectives. "I'm due
back at ten and it's after eight now."

"It's O. K. with us," said one of the men sitting in back. He nodded at
the man beside the driver. "You're not afraid of being thrown out
either, are you, Dorcas?"

"If I am I can pick myself up again," came the reply. The speaker
turned and though it was too dark to see very clearly, Skippy thought
the man smiled at him.

So Dorcas was his name!

Glad of that additional knowledge, Skippy put from him any lingering
fears. He was confident that nothing would mar Mr. Conne's well laid
plans. Dorcas would always be there at Delafield.

They were still bumping along at a pretty fair speed when the engine
emitted peculiar sounds. The driver made some comment but did not stop,
saying that it was probably due to the gas which he was trying for the
first time.

The engine continued to "act up" as the driver called it, but he did
not lessen his speed. They seemed to bump in and out of the ruts faster
than ever. Suddenly the car lurched forward tumbling them all about.
And, while Skippy strove frantically to keep himself from falling
entirely off the seat, they lurched again.

The driver yelled, the brakes ground and for the fraction of a second
the powerful car seemed to whirl. Skippy felt himself whirled along
with it, his head struck something and amid the ear-splitting shouts
and screams from the boys and the men, there came the sound of breaking
glass.

There was a sickening crash after that, but Skippy did not hear it.



                               CHAPTER VI

                              A SUSPICION


Skippy's head throbbed painfully and there was a soreness all over his
slim body when he tried to move. His ears buzzed and his eyes opened
with difficulty upon a world that was dark and confusing. Voices, low
and hoarse, seemed all about him and he had the sensation of rapid
motion that added materially to his discomfort.

It came to him gradually that he was neither lying down nor standing
up, but that he was in a half-reclining position with his head resting
on someone's lap. Also, he discovered that he was again in a car and
that they seemed to be speeding along in the dark the same as before.

His head was being jounced up and down sending sharp pains through his
body, and when he felt he could no longer stand it, he stirred. A
familiar, hoarse voice spoke directly above him.

"Feelin' kinda rocky, pal?"

Skippy squinted but it was too dark to discern anything. Nevertheless,
he sensed Nickie Fallon's bright eyes looking down at him inquiringly.

"You, Fallon?" he asked weakly.

"Yeah. Your head's been banged up an' I been holdin' you on my lap."
Then, reassuringly: "But you'll be O. K., kid--don't worry."

"It's dark--terrible dark...."

"Yeah, we're travelin' without no lights. I'd keep kinda quiet if I was
you. It ain't gonna be long 'fore we'll be where you can tumble in bed
an' sleep till your head's better."

"He'll have nice eat--eh?" came a query in a slightly foreign accent.
"Us will too, eh?"

A man's deep, sonorous voice from up in front answered in the
affirmative. Nickie Fallon bent closer to Skippy's buzzing ears and
explained, "That guy's name's Barker an' the one drivin's his pal,
Frost. They're our pals from now on. Say, what a break they gave us!"

Skippy was deeply puzzled. He couldn't seem to make it out at all.
"Those Greeks," he asked wearily, "didn't I hear one of 'em just now?"

"Shorty and Biff? Sure. They're along. Dippy was scared an' wouldn't
come. But I knew you was regular so when you went out me'n Shorty
brought you 'long seein' you wasn't hurt bad. Glad, huh?"

"How 'e be glad when you ain't tell 'eem!"

Fallon laughed. "S'right, Biff. Here I'm thinkin' the kid knows all
about it." He leaned over Skippy again: "I didn't have no chance
puttin' you wise on the way up an' I go an' forget you been out cold
since we hit the ditch."

Skippy felt a chill up and down his spine at this reminder. "We hit
somethin'--so it was a ditch, huh? Gee! I got hurt then, huh?"

"Yeah," Fallon replied laconically, "but not's bad as them bulls. The
three hadda take it--the driver couldn't put up no fight. Dippy was
bruised too, but not so bad but what he could say no when we told him
he could come with us an' beat his rap. So Barker says not to bother
'cause there wasn't no time for arguin' an' another car might come
along."

"Barker--Frost--" Skippy asked puzzled, "they're your friends, huh?"

"_Friends!_ I'll say so! Cheese, ain't it a friend that gets us away so
easy as this? Lissen, kid--it shows how friendly when I'm waitin' in
the cooler this afternoon an' along comes this Frost an' he says he
gets in by sayin' he's my cousin comin' to say so-long. Then he says
how he heard the long stretch they gimme an' that he don't think they
gimme no break. So then he talks like a Dutch uncle an' says how he an'
his pal Barker can give us a break. We don't do nothin' he says. Him
an' Barker'll find out somehow what time we're gonna take the ride to
the jug. An' they do."

"Oh!" Skippy groaned as the car bumped his head painfully.

"Feelin' all right, kid?" Fallon asked sympathetically.

"Yeah," Skippy answered half-heartedly. "It's just the bumps that make
my head ache."

"We'll soon be there," called the sonorous voice which Skippy
recognized as Barker's.

He raised himself painfully from Fallon's accommodating lap and sat
upright in the seat. The Greek named Biff was sitting on his left and
on the end of the seat sat his partner Shorty. Both were smiling at him
anxiously, particularly Biff who had a rather set mirthfulness in his
round face.

Fallon obligingly crowded himself into the other corner of the back
seat in order to give Skippy plenty of room. "Anyways, you must be
feelin' a little better wantin' to sit up," he said peering over at
him. Suddenly he lowered his voice and whispered, "Say, kid, we ain't
gotta worry now 'cause Barker an' Frost's gonna see us through an' how!
Look what chances Frost took!"

"What?" Skippy inquired, aware that a feeling of foreboding had taken
possession of him.

"_Chances!_" Fallon continued hoarsely. "Didn't he find out from one of
them guards what time we was leavin' an' didn't he hang 'round the
court house till he sees the bulls' car drive up!"

"Gee!" Skippy said, feeling incapable of saying anything more.

"Sure! So like I'm sayin', Frost waits his time an' he goes an' gets
talkin' to the driver indifferent like. It's the same driver of the car
we come up in--see?"

Skippy was beginning to see only too well, but he did not say so.

"Anyways, the driver says after a while he better go in an' see if
they're set with the kids. Frost says sure, so long. He's dressed in
overalls like a mechanic--see? When the driver goes in the building,
Flint quick opens the hood an' shoots some stuff what he's got in his
pocket, in the oil. Jest enough so's to make it get workin' by the time
we hit the bumpy road--see?"

Skippy stared.

"Well, there ain't much more. Frost strolls 'round the corner an' he
quick gets in this car with Barker sittin' there like he is now. It's a
cinch! They start off ahead 'cause the driver's already told Frost what
road he takes for Delafield. They wait behind some trees down that
bumpy road an' when we blow along they give us a coupla hunnerd feet
ahead an' follow without no lights. So when the engine goes bad on the
driver an' we hit the ditch, it's more'n Frost an' Barker expect."

"Yeah," Frost spoke up in a loud, raucous voice. "We expected they'd be
stalled and standin' around lookin' for help so that when we cruised up
soft and easy with no lights on, it'd be a cinch to cover the bulls and
get Fallon and whoever of you kids that wanted to scram, into our car.
But so help me, it was easier than that!"

"Yeah," Fallon echoed, seeming to enjoy his role as narrator. "When
Frost and Barker come along, there we was ditched--the bulls knocked
silly an' the driver so goofy it was a cinch for Frost to stick him up
and knock him cold when he tries to keep us from scrammin'."

"Frost used a gun, eh?"

"Sure! But he didn't have to shoot. An' then that sap Donovan kid
wouldn't come when he had that break. He said we'd be caught an' we'd
get a worse stretch. Aw, he was just yeller! Anyways, it was lucky that
us guys didn't get it like the bulls. Only you was out, kid. Well,
we're on our way, so we should worry, hah?"

"Where we goin'?" Skippy asked as calmly as he could.

Frost and Barker were deep in some conversation of their own and seemed
to be paying no attention to their charges. Fallon leaned close to
Skippy's ear and whispered, "Between you an' me, kid, I think it's a
hideout Barker's got somewhere in the country. We been ridin' an hour
now. Barker's boss--see? I think he's done a coupla stretches hisself
'cause Frost told me on the Q. T. that Barker's got feelin' for kids
that get a break like we got an' so he helps 'em crash out whenever he
can. He's gonna keep us under cover awhile till things quiet down an'
then he's gonna get us out west to some friends. I ain't s'posed ta
tell though. Frost says Barker wants to s'prise us."

"And you say Frost--Barker's your friend too, huh?" Skippy asked
timidly. "You known 'em long, huh Fallon?"

"Nah," Nickie answered readily. "I ain't never laid eyes on Frost till
in the cooler this afternoon." And in a hushed voice, he added: "I
ain't had no good look at Barker yet, ridin' like we are without no
lights. I first hear his voice when I get in this car--he just waited
for us when he sees how things was. We should worry when we got friends
like them?"

_Friends!_ Skippy put his hand to his head, hoping for the best, but
fearing the worst.



                              CHAPTER VII

                          THE HOUSE FORGOTTEN


The question pounded in his head more insistently than the pain he was
suffering. Did not this whole unlooked-for episode of Frost and Barker
smack too much of Dean Devlin's tactics? And could it not be possible
that Devlin might change not only his name but his tactics also? After
all, he concluded, it was but a step from Barker to Devlin and from the
Delafield Reformatory to the Juvenile Court. The man Devlin that
Carlton Conne had told him about was certainly clever enough to keep a
step ahead of the police every time.

Skippy felt more hopeless about it all as the minutes sped by. Here
they were going farther and farther away--heaven only knew where; and,
though he was aware that due to the accident, Mr. Conne could not but
think him blameless, he felt that in a measure he had failed. He hadn't
any business, he told himself, to strike his head and fall
unconscious--it was his job to _stay_ conscious!

[Illustration: A DINGY SQUARE ROOFED HOUSE LOOMED UP BEFORE THEM.]

The fact that Dorcas, a trusted and experienced detective, had also
been knocked senseless seemed not to lessen this feeling of guilt.
Skippy was steeped in remorse because an unkind Fate had seen fit to
have Fallon carry him away from Dorcas' side, away from the influence
that was Mr. Conne's and which spelled safety to him.

And yet, at that moment, he was not afraid, notwithstanding the fact
that he felt that Barker and Dean Devlin might be the same person. He
was merely puzzled as to how he should get word to Mr. Conne if it was
going to be as Fallon said, that Barker would keep them under cover for
a month.

He decided that he was feeling too sick to worry about it yet. He
longed only to get in a bed and sleep and let the morrow take care of
itself. And if Barker proved to be Devlin, he could only hope that
Fortune would smile upon him and help him to succeed despite the
mischance that had cut him off from Mr. Conne's help and the
International offices.

A long silence prevailed in the car. Shorty and Biff were sound asleep
on each other's shoulders and emitting soft nasal sounds. Nickie Fallon
was hunched in his corner in a half doze and up in front Frost and
Barker were deep in whispered conversation.

The road was rough but Frost handled the car expertly, driving it as if
he knew the bad spots by experience. He had only his parking lights on
now and they were speeding along with surprisingly little sound from
the engine.

After a time they entered a narrow, wooded lane and Frost seemed to
pick his way more carefully. Skippy was quick to note that the trees,
in places, interlaced and during their entire journey through that
section, one could stretch one's arms at either side and touch the
overhanging branches. For at least an hour, he guessed, they hadn't
passed a house.

"We come up back roads, I betcha," Nickie Fallon whispered suddenly as
if guessing his thoughts. "Looks like we're miles from nowhere. This
guy Barker knows his hide-outs, hah?"

"Mm," said Skippy. "Gee, we wouldn't know howta get back home if we
wanted to, huh?"

"Frost says we can't an' what's more we ain't to try, in case we get
thinkin' we're smarter than him or Barker is. He says kids like us 'ud
run right into the bulls an' that 'ud make it bad for them--see? Him
an' Barker'd do a long stretch if we squealed that they helped us
crash. So Frost says they ain't takin' no chances on lettin' us think
we can get anywheres alone. They're gonna treat us swell s'long as
we're stickin' under cover till they help us go west. So we gotta get
used to stayin' quiet a little while--see?"

"Yeah," Skippy answered, "I think so." He could feel Nickie Fallon
looking at him curiously. Suddenly he felt the boy move closer to him.

"Say, lissen, kid," he whispered, "d'you feel funny 'bout this Frost
an' Baker?"

"Gee," said Skippy, not a little startled, "I--I dunno.... I--whadda
you mean, huh?"

Fallon's lips almost touched Skippy's ear. "Listen kid," he confided,
"I ain't been doin' what I done, an' not learnin' that guys don't do
nothin' for love. How come, they been takin' all this trouble for some
kids they ain't never laid eyes on 'fore today, hah?"

"Whadda you s'pose?" Skippy whispered timidly.

"We ain't tippin' off Shorty or Biff, but between you'n me, kid, I
think these guys got some job for us what they can't do
themselves--see? A little job, mebbe."

"Yeah, an' if they have, it's all right, huh?" Skippy retorted making a
brave effort to measure up as one of Nickie's kind.

"Sure, only if it's bigger'n we can do an' we get grabbed--we're outa
luck. That'd mean double time. Aw, it ain't no use worryin'. If they
let us put the feed bag on regular an' give us bunks, it's worth doin'
'em a favor."

Skippy nodded but did not answer. He was too intent on watching the
number of turns that Frost had made within the past few moments. They
had already made three off the wooded road and now with the fourth one
they were in a dense woods and proceeding very slowly along a road
little wider than a footpath. Then suddenly they rolled into a clearing
and stopped. Frost chuckled and switched on his headlights.

A house, square-roofed and dingy, loomed up before them. Its shingles
were so devoid of paint that it was impossible to say what color they
had originally been painted. Blistered and peeling from long years of
neglect and with its shutters closed like so many pairs of sleeping
eyes the structure presented a picture of abject loneliness.

Unkempt grass and weeds grew up to the high stoop; there was no porch.
Behind the house and a little to the left, Skippy glimpsed a barn that
was also in disrepair. Notwithstanding this, he supposed that Barker
and Frost parked their car in it.

"No bulls'll turn you kids up here," Frost said, as if reading their
thoughts. He turned a leathern-looking face toward Skippy, smiling out
of shrewd eyes. "This house usta be in the center of a village till a
fire burned the town out. Then the railroad decided to run twenty-five
miles away so the folks left it flat. This bein' the only house left
they let the woods grow up 'round it and now, after seventy-five years,
nobody knew about it, 'cept an old nit-wit hermit that put me and
Barker wise. Last year he died so there ain't nobody now'll bother you
kids, much less the bulls."

Barker turned to them and in the half-light his long, grave face and
staring light eyes contrasted strangely with the dark wisps of hair
that straggled from under his hat and down on his forehead. But it was
when he talked that Skippy was startled, for the man's voice was so
solemn and sonorous that it was eerie.

"Now boys," he was saying, "you see how safe you are here. Keep it in
mind and don't get the idea that you can manage your own freedom better
than I can. For one thing, it would get Frost and me into trouble if
you were picked up and if you weren't, you'd get in trouble yourselves,
because this place is almost all surrounded by swamps and you might not
find your way out. When I say the coast is clear to ship you west--all
right. You'll come out of this house then, and not before!"

There was a warning note in his voice that sent a chill up and down
Skippy's spine. He wished his Airedale, Mugs, had lived to be with him
at a time like this. Shorty and Biff exchanged a few words in their
native tongue and suddenly Nickie Fallon's hand stole over and coming
in contact with Skippy's wrist, he grasped it tightly.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                                 TIMMY


Even from the outside one could sense the desolation of the house. It
took little imagination to visualize the large, sprawling rooms
downstairs and the small, stuffy rooms upstairs weighted down to a
point of suffocation by the flat tin roof. Cobwebs, slugs, every
scurrying, every crawling thing that thrived in dampness and gloom must
thrive in such a place, Skippy thought.

He was glad of Nickie Fallon's friendly hand on his arm as they
ascended the high stoop. And he was considerably cheered by the oily,
smiling faces of Shorty and Biff as they all followed in the wake of
the two men. He had somehow forgotten that these three lawless boys
would have been repugnant to him under other conditions. Now he
welcomed them as old companions, and their nearness was comforting in
this chill, lonely moment.

"Metal doors 'n everythin'," Nickie whispered in his ear. "Locks
outside too, hah? What's out is out an' what's in is in!"

They entered a stuffy vestibule and passed into a long, dark hall. At
the far end of it beside the stairway was a lantern standing on a
broken stool. It gave a feeble light at best, but now it sputtered and
flickered like some dying thing and sent out weird shadows that stole
up and down the dirty walls.

Barker stood a moment as if listening. Then he turned his grave face to
Frost and said, "No sound from upstairs. Timmy must be asleep. Go up
and get him. We'll make some coffee and have something to eat. When you
come down put some oil in that lantern."

Skippy wondered who Timmy was, but soon dismissed the thought in his
joy at hearing that they would get something to eat. Nickie, too,
brightened up at this announcement and Shorty and Biff made no secret
of their delight, but gave vent to several nasal grunts.

Frost hurried back and ascended the narrow, rickety stairway two steps
at a time. Barker motioned the boys into a room at his right where he
already had a lantern lighted.

"Sit down," he said abruptly. "I'm going out to the kitchen to make
coffee." Then, without having really looked at them, he stepped into
the hall. There was the sound of a key turning in the door outside and
suddenly he was back again, passing through the room and toward another
door as if he didn't know the boys were there. When that door had
closed behind him, his footsteps could be heard echoing over bare
boards, until, after other doors slammed, there ensued a few moments of
silence.

Skippy had taken a chair like the rest and now he glanced around the
big room. Besides the chairs they were occupying there were two other
chairs standing, battered and forlorn, against the shuttered and
heavily barred windows. The room boasted no other furniture and no
rugs; the floor was thick with dust.

"Well, it's good there ain't no more furniture to catch the dust, hah?"
Fallon commented humorously as he took note of their surroundings.
"Say, I wonder what's the big idea, barrin' windows--I ain't keen on
bars. Makes me think we're in Delafield almost."

Shorty got up softly and moved his chair close to the others. When his
pudgy body was seated, he leaned over confidentially and said, "Mebbe
we better in Delafield, eh Neecky?" He shook his round head at his
friend Biff, then nodded back at Fallon. "Eet look what ya call phoney
the way thees Barker don' look at us an' how he bring us here to thees
spooky, dirty place, eh?"

"Just what I teenck!" Biff agreed in an undertone. "I get dem
creeps--you know? Ever'ting eet should be fun eef Barker an' Frost fool
dem bulls an' take us keeds from de school--eet should be fun eef they
do it because they no want us to do the stretch and feel dis seempathy,
eh? But no--they act like we was goin' to funeral, yes Neecky?"

"Aw, forget it!" Nicky answered. "I'll admit I ain't got no yen for
this joint myself. But we ain't where we can say we'd like a nice
up-to-date apartment. We gotta be glad we ain't startin' no long
stretch at Delafield. I got a hunch Frost's kinda slippery an' Barker's
a queer bird all right, but what's that when they're keepin' us outa
the hoosegow!"

"An' for thees, Neecky--what we do, eh?" Biff asked, squinting his
small, brown eyes.

"I think," Nicky whispered, "they got a small job for us guys to
do--see? Ain't we all done a job or two for ourselves, hah? So we can
do a job for them if they ast us--see?" He turned to Skippy suddenly
and asked, "Ain't that right, kid?"

"Sure!" Skippy answered, conscious of an inward tremor as he said it.

"That's the kind of talk I like to hear, boys!" came a sepulchral voice
from the doorway where Barker stood watching them. He was grave and
unsmiling, and save for a certain steely glint in his staring eyes, his
face looked not unlike a cold, clay mask.

Nickie Fallon broke the tension with a forced, husky laugh. "You'n
Frost give us a break, Mr. Barker," he said nervously, "we'd be short
skates if we didn't try an' square it."

"Of course," Barker agreed without any enthusiasm.

A silence ensued that to Skippy was tense. Barker continued to stand
there and stare, and the boys sat rigid in their chairs until the
welcome sound of footsteps was heard coming down the stairs and along
the hall.

Frost strode into the big room and in his wake was a tall, fair-haired
boy of about sixteen whose appearance was somewhat disheveled. He had a
wild expression in his light blue eyes and at sight of Barker a shadow
crossed his face.

"I been most crazy barred up in that dark hole since daylight!" he
cried. "I thought you'n Frost would never come! Honest, I'll go nuts if
I ain't let out soon. Over a month an' two kids're gone an' I'm still
here! Barker, it's givin' me the creeps--honest! It's worse'n if I
stayed in the pen up in Al...."

"I've arranged for you to go tomorrow night, Timmy," Barker interposed
hastily. And, nodding his long head toward the new arrivals, he added:
"You'll have these boys to keep you company till then."

Timmy wheeled about, obviously unaware of the boys' presence in the
room until that moment. He drew a hand across his forehead as if dazed.
Then suddenly, in a trembling voice, he said, "More!"

Skippy felt himself trembling too.



                               CHAPTER IX

                                TRAPPED


Skippy was destined to remember that night. Whether it was the chill
gloom of the house or the nameless dread which seemed to hang like a
pall over the wilderness hideout, he did not know. Certainly,
everything they said and did gave them a feeling of unreality, as if
they were merely moving puppets in a play. He missed his father, as he
never had before, and that was saying much.

After their peculiar meeting with Timmy Brogan (as they afterward
learned was his full name), Barker gravely invited them to the kitchen
for refreshment. They followed Frost through two unfurnished rooms,
wading through the dirt and dark until they emerged into a sprawling
room running the width of the house and which, like the sitting room,
was illuminated by means of a lantern dangling from a hook in the high
ceiling.

A small oil stove, battered and rusty, was trying to send up a yellow
flame strong enough to boil the coffee. Another stove, a wood-burner,
stood back in the opposite corner as if it were trying to hide its
antiquity from the boys' eyes. A sprawling cupboard stood in another
corner and in the center of the room, surrounded by broken down chairs
and boxes, was a dilapidated table holding several plates of
freshly-made sandwiches.

"Sit down, boys," Barker said simply. "The coffee will be ready in a
minute."

"Seems like I ain't fed in a million minutes!" Timmy said with bitter
complaint. "Since you left me that lousy sandwich when you beat it at
dawn, I...."

"_Shut up!_"

Barker's funereal voice filled the room for a tense second, then he
turned on his heel and walked toward the cupboard in long, determined
strides. Timmy grew pale and sat down on the nearest box, reaching
hungrily for a sandwich.

Frost chuckled mirthlessly for no reason at all that Skippy could see.
Barker took out several thick cups with which he strode back toward the
stove and poured the coffee when it was ready. After that they ate, and
a strange, silent repast it was with the lantern sending eerie shadows
up on the smoke-blackened ceiling and leaving the little group in a
semi-gloom about the table.

Skippy ate because he was hungry, but his mind wasn't on it. He was too
confused, too worried at the unexpected turn of events to think of
anything else but what had happened and what might happen. Barker made
him feel strangely hopeless about this adventure which he had set out
upon so light heartedly and which Carlton Conne had seemed to plan so
thoroughly. It now appeared that he who had planned on helping to trap
Dean Devlin had himself been trapped in a larger web.

That was it--he was _trapped_!

He looked at the two kitchen windows. They were shuttered and barred
like the windows in the other rooms. The door leading out of the
kitchen opened onto a shed and Skippy was certain that that too was
invulnerable both inside and out. Upstairs, he learned ten minutes
later, were three stuffy bedrooms fit for occupation. He was assigned
to one of them along with Nickie Fallon and Timmy. Shorty and Biff
occupied the room next to them and across the hall was the room in
which Barker and Frost alternately slept and watched to see that their
young protégés did not triumph over locks and other man-made
obstructions and steal forth into the night.

"Ever since I been here, I been askin' myself--why the locks, if them
two guys brought me here outa sympathy?" Timmy whispered to his new
room-mates as Frost bade them a chuckling good-night and locked the
door on the outside. He retreated to his tumbled looking cot and held
his head in his hands wearily while he stared at the lantern hanging
above his head. "Take it from me, guys, there's somethin' screwy about
Barker an' Frost, an' you might's well get smarted up."

Skippy looked at the decrepit bed in which he and Nickie were to sleep
and his heart sank. There wasn't a breath of air save the occasional
wisps of breeze that mysteriously found their way through the chinks in
the shutters. He walked to the window and by stooping could look
through the bars and see a rising moon casting a flickering gleam of
light on water.

"Is it a lake or somethin'?" he asked.

"Lake, me eye!" Timmy answered. "It's a swamp, that's what. You'll see
how much when the moon comes up good. There's only a little back yard
an' then the swamp begins."

"Say," Nickie whispered inquiringly, "you got somepin' on Barker an'
Frost? What's the matter, anyways?"

Timmy got up and walked over to Fallon. "They got me scared, that's
what! Barker's terrible--he's got me scared skinny an' I'll tell you
guys why!" He tiptoed to the door, listened a moment and then came
back. "Did _he_ help you guys crash outa reform?"

Nickie explained that they had not got that far before Barker had
reached out a helping hand and gathered them in. While he was speaking
they all moved toward the bed and sat down, there being no chairs in
the room.

"So he kinda switched the deck with you guys for a change, hah?" Timmy
commented after Fallon finished. "That proves what I say about him
bein' a pretty foxy guy, turnin' a trick that maybe ain't gonna be so
healthy for us in the end."

"How come?" Skippy asked softly.

"It's a long story, an' if you guys ain't sleepy..." Timmy began.

"Say, lissen," Nickie interposed, "the kid'n me don't mind bein' put
hip. I didn't like the way Barker bore down on you downstairs an' it
give me the hunch mebbe he's too phoney even for us--see! So come
across an' mebbe we won't get the short enda the stick."

"Sure I'll spiel, but that's all the good it'll do," Timmy said
dismally. "We'll never get nowheres together, take it from me--Barker
ain't lettin' us! He'll take us away from here, one by one, and so far
the two guys that have gone from here ... anyways, I'll tell you what I
think--Barker's a _killer_!"

"_What?_" Skippy gulped.

They heard the scraping of a lock and suddenly the door swung open. A
breeze from the hall blew out the feeble lantern light and they were in
total darkness.



                               CHAPTER X

                           THE WAY OF DEVLIN


Skippy felt Nickie's hand on his arm and Timmy crowded up close to both
of them. For a second there was no sound, then they heard someone move
in the doorway and presently Barker's voice pierced the darkness.

"What have you been whispering about in here, Timmy?" he demanded.

"_Whisperin'?_" Timmy's voice trembled ever so little. "Aw, I was only
tellin' these guys how you got me outa the pen an' they was tellin' me
how slick you helped them--that's all."

Skippy was certain that Barker sighed. In any event, he said, "Hmph!
You better let them go to sleep and do your talking tomorrow!" He shut
the door as swiftly as he had opened it--the key turned in the lock and
all was silence.

Nickie was alert, tense. He nudged Skippy and Timmy and then he moved
his lips. "Us three can cram into bed," he said so softly that the boys
had to strain their ears to hear. "We'll pull a blanket over our heads
so's we can talk--see? It'll be hot, but we should worry, hah?"

Skippy was worried, but he didn't say so for he, too, was anxious to
learn from Timmy what lay behind Barker's grave, almost brooding
exterior. He undressed and hopped in on one side of Timmy while Nickie
crawled in on the other and if they felt stifled as they whispered
under the blanket for three-quarters of an hour or more, they were not
aware of it, so intensely interesting was the story to which they were
listening.

"Where do I come from?" Timmy repeated in answer to Skippy's question.
"Albany. Barker comes in the jug where I'm doin' five years--for
stealin'. Well, he looks like a minister an' I think he passes it out
that he is one. Anyway, he spies me an' gets talkin' kinda religious
an' fatherly while the guard's around. When the bloke strolls off,
Barker quick drops the fatherly act an' wants to know would I like to
crash. Sure, I tells him. He tells me to be set the next night--that
he'll be waitin'. When he leaves he slips me fifty bucks an' tells me
to slip it to the guard I think'll look the other way for that much
jack."

"You made it, huh?" Skippy asked.

"Easy. Fifty bucks is big money for them guards. The one I stake lets
me slip without no trouble at all. Barker was waitin' outside in a big
closed car."

"Frost with him?" Skippy asked curiously.

"Nope. I never seen that grinnin' skunk till Barker brings me down to
this hole. That's a month an' a half ago. Barker took me straight to a
house in Albany where he said he rented a room. On the way he tells me
that from then on I should say I'm his son. So I do. We only stay in
the house three days. I'm willin' to keep under cover so he tells the
landlady an' everybody I ain't feelin' so well, that's the reason I
don't go out. Barker steps out plenty an' I hear him talkin' to the
landlady down the hall."

"What'd they talk about?" Skippy asked.

"Sure--it was nothin' much. A lotta boloney! Barker makes the dame
think he's one grand old man--all for his wild son--all that bunk.
Anyways, the last day we're there he drags me out right after dark.
Takes me to a doctor. When I ast him what for, he says that's his
business; that I should act like a sulky son. Well, I do it. The doc
gimme the up an' down an' says O. K. So we go back to the house an' the
landlady hands Barker a telegram that I found out afterward was from
Frost. It says somethin' about grandma bein' sick; that he should come
home to New York. It was signed Joe."

"Then you packed up an' come here, I bet," Skippy said.

"Sure," Timmy murmured. "He leaves the telegram on the bureau an' down
in the hall he gives the landlady a coupla weeks' rent. Tells her if we
ain't back by then, he'll send the dough every week till we do get
back. He give her a song and dance bout wantin' a farm when he come
back an' that he wanted the room to come back to so's he'd have a place
while he was lookin'. When we come away he tells me it's a lotta
boloney he give her; that he only wanted the room till this little
business broke O. K. He says he ain't got no idea of goin' back there."

"Mm," said Nickie, "sounds like he was buildin' an alibi for hisself,
hah?"

"That's what I gets thinkin'," Timmy admitted. "Anyways, we ride all
night an' plenty next mornin' till we hit a woods in the mountains
where Barker parked his car way in the trees. We slep' there all
afternoon, then start ridin' again when the sun was goin' down. Bout
nine or so we come here. Frost's here. So's two kids bout our
age--Willie Meehan, an' Sammie Brown. Next day we get comparin'
things--Willie comes from Boston an' Sammie from Syracuse. They crashed
jugs like me, with Barker's help. What's more they all stayed in a city
room a coupla days like me an' just before they leave a telegram comes
tellin' Barker he's gotta hustle to New York on business or that old
stuff bout his dying grandmother. Anyways it's Frost that always sends
'em."

"An' those kids," Skippy asked eagerly, "did they say they were
Barker's sons an' go to a doctor like you?"

"Sure. It's the same old line--he'll do the same with you guys too.
Blamed if I know his racket, but when I'm here about a week, Willie
says Barker's sendin' him west that night. Willie's here a little over
a month then. Seems he don't keep kids much longer'n that--I'm overdue
now!" He laughed grimly. "Anyways, he beats it with Willie an' we was
glad he was gettin' a break an' on his way. So two days after Barker
comes back--it's at night like he always comes an' goes an' Sammy an'
me's sleepin' in this room. Frost and Barker think we're dead's
doornails so when they come upstairs they get arguin' an' forget how
loud they talk. Well, I'm awake and how! I hear the whole works."

"_Gee!_" Skippy breathed, happy in the thought that now perhaps he
would learn something of value to Mr. Conne, when he should be so
fortunate as to see the detective again.

"Yeah, I said a lotta things like that when I was listening," Timmy
confided. "I heard Barker say somethin' about that Willie wouldn't go
through. So Frost asks him what he did then. Barker says he had to do
the job hisself. Frost laughs when he hears that. He tells Devlin he
better plan his jobs better if he don't wanta take the hot squat."

"_Devlin?_" Skippy asked breathlessly.

"Yeah, I forgot to tell--Barker's an alias. Devlin's his right moniker.
I found it out when I was here two days."

"So Frost told him he might burn?" Nickie asked, as if he was turning
this odd warning over in his mind. "And that's what makes you think
Barker's a killer--'cause Frost cracked that?"

"Yeah--sure. What else? Sammy promised he'd try an' get word back to me
somehow so's to lemme know what job Barker wanted him to do, but he
knew an' I knew it couldn't be done. Barker'd most likely send him too
far away afterward. He went a coupla weeks ago. I been alone since,
wonderin' an' worryin' when my turn'd come an' what it'd be!" Timmy
took a deep breath and almost sobbed. "If it's a killin' job--I ain't
goin' through. I ain't gonna pull no trigger on nobody for Barker or
nobody else!"

"Me, neither!" Nickie asserted flatly. "Looks like Barker springs us
'cause it's easier than springin' older guys in the big house. Then he
gets us for a job an' if anybody's grabbed it'll be us 'cause the law
figures us future criminals anyway--see? Ten to one he dopes it we
won't squeal 'cause he's did us a favor."

"Just what _I_ think!" Timmy agreed.

Not having the lawless squint upon such matters, Skippy did not know
what to think. His active mind was full of plausible answers to the
problem, yet somehow he could find no convincing explanation as to
Devlin's real motive. Why did the man, in each case, hire a room and
have the boy pose as his son? Why was each boy required to go with him
to a physician? There seemed no answer to those questions. Particularly
was he puzzled as to why Devlin should accord them all this
prisoner-like treatment while they were awaiting release.

He got nowhere along this line. He always ended by asking himself the
question: was Devlin as grim of soul as he was of features? Some inner
voice was ever prompt in answering this query of his and it was always
the same.

Yes!



                               CHAPTER XI

                               OVERHEARD


Sleep wouldn't come to Skippy that night. Hours after Timmy had
dejectedly gone to his cot and Nickie had sunk into deep, untroubled
slumber beside him, he lay on the hot bed worried and lonely. Aunt Min
and Carlton Conne seemed separated from him by a dark and terrible
abyss, and he shivered with the fear that he might not get back again
to the people and places that typified law, order and safety.
Particularly safety.

He hadn't any illusions now. Clearly, nothing but a miracle would get
him out of the web which had so entangled him the moment he had been
placed in Dean Devlin's car. Nothing save an almost impossible
combination of favorable circumstances would make it possible for him
to get word to Mr. Conne. And how, if it were true that Devlin kept
them imprisoned until he saw fit to embark them on the dark, mysterious
"job," could those circumstances occur so that he might be of any real
help to Carlton Conne? He despaired of any such good fortune.

The breeze was not strong enough to penetrate through the shuttered
window now. Nothing but damp, humid heat found its way to his burning
cheeks. He felt the stillness about the air augured a heavy storm and
soon he heard thunder in the distance.

The buzz of crickets, the tin-like sound of locusts vied with the deep
throated chorus of frogs about the house. Once an owl lent its eerie
hoot to this droning night symphony and, as if in answer, another
chorus of insects filled the air with dismal chantings.

Skippy stood it as long as he could, then got up and tiptoed to the
window to get a breath of air. Through the bars he could see the
quarter moon, a shimmering bit of silver light gleaming upon the swamp
and here and there transforming it into pools of shining, black
lacquer. Overhead, however, sullen clouds were slowly trespassing and
it would be only minutes before the lonely place would be surrounded by
darkness and storm.

He clung to one of the bars and peered down upon the roof of the
woodshed just below the window. It would be an easy jump down there, he
decided--easy, if it were not for the five long strips of iron that so
effectually barred the way. Crude and amateurish though they looked,
Skippy knew that they had been put there to withstand any such feeble
attacks as his two bare hands might make upon them.

While he was digesting this fact he became aware of voices, Frost's and
Devlin's, coming from the hall. He stepped toward the door noiselessly
and pressed his ear close against it.

The men were not in the hall as he had at first thought, they were in
their room with the door ajar. It was evident that they had intended to
converse in whispers, but presently they were launched upon an argument
and caution was forgotten.

"Tell me if you can," Devlin was saying angrily, "what I'm going to do
with those two Greeks, eh? It isn't enough that you didn't discover
what they were before we brought them all the way here, but on top of
it, you tell me I'll think of what to do about them! _I'll think_, eh?"
He sneered. "All I can think of is that they're Greeks and that I don't
look anything like a Greek or talk anything like one! How can I pass
them off as my sons, eh?"

"Easy, boss, easy," Frost said placatingly, "I didn't know they was
Greeks no more'n you. They was sentenced before I gets into court. The
ones I counted on was that Nickie and that other kid, Dippy and that
smart-looking youngster John Doe. You coulda knocked me cold with a
feather when Fallon tags the Greeks along. There wasn't no time to
argue, was there?"

"All right--all right," Devlin boomed. "Just tell me what I'm going to
do with 'em! They can't go back and tell what they've seen here and I'm
not going to go to the trouble of getting them off my hands without
getting some money out of it, that's all there is to it!"

"O. K., boss. It's soft--soft." Frost's voice was rasping yet servile.
"There's black wigs a guy can buy, ain't there? Well, I'll grab me one,
fix myself up like a grease ball, talk spig, take the kids one at a
time and try my hand at your racket."

"Now you're talking, Frost. Take one--say, to Pittsburgh, eh? You'll be
father and son looking for work in the mills. And I'd only aim for the
minimum price on both of them. They're not worth taking any chances on
big money. The other Greek you could take--say to Maine. That's putting
a safe distance between, eh?"

"Sure thing, boss," Frost crowed. "And say, listen, why not lemme clean
up the job right on the spot, hey? No use makin' extra trips back here.
I can work it careful."

"Hmp--it's an idea, Frost. We'll dope it out after tomorrow night and
Timmy's off my mind. Don't try to do anything until then." There was a
pause, then: "Do you think he's wise to anything? I sort of feel that
he was doing more than just whisper his family history to those other
kids."

"Nah; what could he say, hey? He ain't seen nothin' no more'n the
others. You're just gettin' nervous, that's all. But I'll tell you
what, Dean, you _will_ make them kids wise that something's phoney with
your big heart racket, when you don't even trust 'em unless you got the
key to their room in your pocket. You're puttin' the lid flat down and
scarin' the life out of 'em too soon. Now if I was you, I'd let 'em
loose in the house. Maybe if you'd done that in Chi, Tucker wouldn't
got away like he done. If he'd known where you hung out he'd been back
and you'd cashed in on him."

"Well, I didn't and that's my funeral," Devlin said in measured tones.
"I'm only glad Tucker wasn't caught so he could spill out my racket. I
guess he got away all right or we'd have seen some flat-footed dick
keeping our trail warm before this. Anyway, I think you're right about
locking up the kids. I'll make 'em think I trust 'em even if I don't."

"O. K.," Frost chuckled, "I'll do it right now and give 'em a surprise
in the morning. Long's I got the keys to the downstairs doors in my
pockets, we ain't got no cause to worry that they'll sneak."

Skippy did not wait to hear more. He made a running jump from the door
to the bed and had assumed a restful, sleeping posture before Frost's
key scraped in the lock. But the man made no effort to enter. Instead,
he turned on his heel and recrossed the hall to his room and presently
a deep silence pervaded the house.

Not many seconds later, the storm broke and the dark, eerie house
trembled and groaned like some stricken thing in the whistling gale.



                              CHAPTER XII

                               THE STORM


Rain lashed against the shutters and poured down the side of the house
in torrents. Loose shingles slammed and clattered with every twist of
the wind and the trees bowing down before its fury moaned piteously,
their branches squeaking and crackling like ancient spectral voices in
the night.

A zig-zag streak of lightning flashed upon the dirty wall and the clap
of thunder that followed seemed to sweep away all rational thought. To
Skippy, the world had suddenly gone mad and he did not wonder at it
since Devlin, asleep no doubt, had locked within his black heart
secrets which challenged even the warring elements.

Carlton Conne had said of Devlin that he was criminal, but not
dangerously so. Perhaps that had been true once, but not now. Devlin
had contributed something more than just law evasion to the sordid
atmosphere of the house. Human laws defied had given the place its
dark, furtive character for one sensed it in every nook and corner that
made up the tottering structure.

The storm screamed on and through the tiny, hot room a cooling breeze
now found its way. Skippy shifted around to the foot of the bed and let
the welcome air blow over him. He wished he might call out and hear a
cheery answer from Big Joe Tully as in the old river days. Nickie was
still undisturbed by the shrieking night and Timmy, though restless and
tossing about, was asleep.

Skippy thought of the two Greeks, Shorty and Biff, apparently oblivious
of the meaning of it all. Their bland, oily faces reflected pretty
accurately the stupid squint which they had on their petty thieving
practices; it was the only thing they knew, the only means of living
which they could understand. Skippy wondered how they would feel about
the dark and seemingly sinister "job" which Devlin or Frost would
demand that they carry out as the price for their sympathetic
"protection."

Not for a moment was Skippy deceived as to who was the brains of the
Devlin-Frost combination. Frost was a chuckling, subservient thief, but
it was in the depths of Dean Devlin's dubious soul that the plans were
carefully laid.

He was making mental note of all these things in anticipation of the
day when he should see Carlton Conne and give his report. It made not a
bit of difference that this day now seemed remote--it had to come
sometime! He would spend all his waking hours preparing for it despite
the bars and locked doors that mocked him.

He would escape somehow--some day!

The sound of scurrying rats overhead gave him a brilliant idea. The
attic! Was that barred also? He determined to find out somehow, now
that Frost had so generously secured for them the run of the house.
Well, he would run, certainly, just as soon as the opportunity
presented itself.

As he meditated he heard Timmy throw himself from the cot and shriek.
Skippy was on his feet and helping him up in a second.

"Dreaming--huh, Timmy?"

Timmy was trembling violently. "It was like as if it was true," he said
in a choking voice. "I'm dreamin' it's a night like this an' I'm out
with Devlin in a funny-lookin' old car."

"Aw, it's this storm what made you dream," Nickie interposed, aroused
by the commotion and sitting up rubbing his eyes.

Timmy's protest was almost a sob. "I'm tellin' you it was real-like!
We're ridin' along in the dark an' it's lightnin' an' I'm gettin' wet
an' I shiver. All of a sudden it don't look like Devlin sittin' beside
me no more--it's like a ghost without no body--just big, starin' eyes
like Devlin's--then I'm wise he's a killer--see? But he's gonna kill
_me_!" Timmy crawled up on his cot and sat down, still trembling.
"Somehow I don't remember what happened after that till I feel like I'm
runnin' an' that Devlin's chasin' me. Then when I feel like I'm half
dead I look up an' see it's this house. Up in the attic I see you an'
Nickie at the little window. I'm hurt an' tell how Devlin tries to kill
me. All of a sudden long arms come reachin' out from behind a big tree
out in front. All I see is Devlin's starin' eyes an' I'm sorta chokin'
to death when I wake up on the floor."

"Holy Smoke!" Nickie exclaimed. "What a guy! Can't you pick out nothin'
better to dream about?"

Skippy sat down beside Timmy and patted him sympathetically. Suddenly
the door opened and they saw Devlin's tall form outlined there.

"What's going on here?" he asked impatiently.

"Timmy," Skippy ventured; "he's hadda bad dream an' it threw him outa
bed!"

"Hmph!" the man boomed in his funereal voice. "Dreams don't come true!
Get back to bed and to sleep, you kids!" He shut the door and they
heard his bare feet patter across the hall.

Nickie sneered contemptuously at the door. "It'd be too bad for you,
Devlin, if that dream did come true!"

"But it won't," Skippy said soothingly. "My aunt always says dreams are
always opposite."

Timmy had got hold of himself somewhat, and valiantly tried to forget
his dream. "Yep," he agreed, "I guess that's right. Mebbe it was the
heat an' my stomach. I never could eat right fore goin' to bed without
dreamin' terrible things. But I never dreamed nothin' bad's that,
that's all." He laughed nervously. "Aw, I'll forget it!"

Skippy wondered if he really would. Somehow he had the feeling that he
wouldn't forget it--not ever!



                              CHAPTER XIII

                           THE EVERGREEN TREE


The remainder of the night was a torment. Toward dawn Skippy dozed
occasionally only to awaken each time with a start to find himself
trembling and expectant. What he might hear or see he could not
imagine, but he watched with relief the murky light of the new day
seeping in through the chinks of the shutter and routing the dismal
gloom that kept him in breathless suspense.

The light did no more than seep in, however, for the storm left in its
wake gray, sullen skies and air that was warm and still. Frost went
downstairs about six o'clock--Skippy had already learned to distinguish
his lighter, hurried step from Devlin's heavy tread. Then, after a
moment, he heard the man at the barn, and soon the low hum of the car
was audible as he backed it out and around the house.

Silence reigned in the dismal place for another hour or so and then
Skippy heard Devlin moving about in his room. When the man walked
hurriedly downstairs, Nickie awoke, wild-eyed and staring.

"_Who--what's that?_" he whispered hoarsely.

"Just Devlin," Skippy answered. "What's the matter--you ain't been
dreamin' like Timmy?"

Nickie ran his fingers through his straight black hair as he sat up. "I
don't know--maybe so. I just get scared when I hear the least little
sound in this joint. _Me_, that's never been scared of nothin'--hah!"

"I know," Skippy admitted. "I guess Devlin makes us feel that way, huh?"

Nickie nodded. "If I didn't hate the jug worse'n this house, I'd say,
let's sneak."

"Maybe we'll have to," Skippy said softly, and nodded toward the
sleeping Timmy. "If we stick round s'long as he's done an' get like
he's now, I'd rather take a chance an' beat it."

Nickie nodded thoughtfully. "Anythin' you say, kid, an' I'm stringin'
along. Even if you're only a kid, that bean of yours works all day."

Skippy warmed to Nickie for that tribute and he felt less afraid. It
gave him a sense of strength to know that he had such an ally for he
realized that he could do little alone.

Devlin called them gruffly to breakfast and the food wasn't bad. It
would have been almost pleasant, Skippy ventured to remark, if they
only had more light in the kitchen. Nickie agreed to this, but Timmy
seemed in a daze.

After breakfast, Devlin made a concession which took them by surprise.
"On account of the weather being so hot," he said gravely, "I'm going
to let you boys stay outside a while."

"Gee!" Skippy murmured.

Devlin scowled. "It's taking a chance to let you out, but I'm counting
on you not straying away from in sight of this house--_understand_?"
After a pause, he added: "I got my reasons."

They understood only too well and made no further comment when Devlin
unlocked the front door and sat on the ugly high stoop as they passed
down and into the clearing about the house. Timmy sat on the bottom
step, blinking his blue eyes and clasping and unclasping his hands.

"What's the matter?" Skippy asked sympathetically.

Timmy grinned. "I been in that dark house so long, my eyes don't know
howta act, that's all." He took a long, deep breath of the murky air as
if it were the utmost luxury. Then suddenly his thin, pale face became
almost colorless and he nodded toward the right of the clearing.
"Look!" he gasped.

The other boys turned and saw a huge evergreen tree spreading its
branches over the sinister house. Not a breath of air rustled its broad
boughs--it seemed to stand there waiting.

"The tree in my dream!" Timmy said, trembling. "I never seen it till
now! When I come here it's night an' I don't notice it. I never looked
out front--just now it's the first...."

"What's he talking about?" Devlin said, annoyed, from the top of the
stoop.

"About that tree!" Nickie said, with ill-concealed contempt. "He had a
terrible dream bout it last night--see?"

Devlin bit his lip and frowned. "It's nonsense! What's wrong with you,
Timmy, eh?"

"What wouldn't be wrong, hah?" Nickie retorted sullenly. "If he'd
stayed in the pen he wouldn't got no worse treatment than you give
him--shuttin' him up a month in this hole till he's all shot. I ain't
sayin' that it ain't better late than never, but even up in Delafield
they don't keep a guy shut away from the daylight. Timmy or none of us
_asked_ you to spring us so you might give us a break an' treat us like
human bein's."

Devlin's lips were set and grim and his beetle brows were so drawn that
they made a deep furrow above his large nose. "Listen, you," he said
angrily, "any more talk like that from you and you'll regret it. I'm
running this and whether you did or didn't ask to be sprung, makes no
difference. You'll keep your mouth shut--_understand_!"

The Greeks, smiling and silent until then, emitted a sound of dismay.
Nickie mumbled something under his breath but made no other answer for
the warning note in Devlin's voice was not to be misunderstood. Skippy
gulped, and just then they heard the unmistakable sound of an old car
chugging along through the narrow swamp trail.

Presently Frost appeared in the clearing, driving an ancient,
dilapidated car that groaned and ground to a stop. The sight of it was
amusing and the boys stared at it, smiling and curious. Timmy, however,
did not share this curiosity.

He had taken one look at the car, and fainted.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                           TALK AMONG FRIENDS


The day dragged by and though Timmy seemed to have recovered from the
effects of his spell, he moped around, melancholy and wrapped in his
own gloomy thoughts.

"He's goin' nuts, that's what he is," Nickie whispered to Skippy after
the evening meal was over.

"That's why we ain't stayin' to get like him," Skippy whispered back.

Nickie winked and nodded. He was beginning to see Skippy's point of
view more and more.

They had cleared away the dishes and sat down to a game of cards at
Shorty's suggestion, which was received with enthusiasm, and even Timmy
had brightened and apparently put out of his mind the fears that had so
unnerved him during the day.

Just before dusk, Devlin and Frost went out and locked the back door
behind them. The boys hurried to the two back windows and peered out
through the chinks in the shutters to watch the men go to the barn and
presently back out in the queer looking car.

"Wonder where they're goin'?" Skippy asked of no one in particular.

"Oh, they'll be back," said Timmy grimly. "For _me_!" He lunged back to
the table and took up his hand of cards with grim determination.

"Atta boy!" Skippy said. "Gee, Timmy, don't get down again, huh? Devlin
can't _make_ you do nothin' you don't wanta. You'll soon find out what
he's gonna tell you to do. Beat it after that; soon's you get the
chance."

"Yeah, some chance it'll be takin', I bet!" Timmy exclaimed. "I got a
hunch an' that's all there's to it. But I ain't lettin' myself go off
the handle no more--I wanta keep what nerve I got to tell Devlin where
he's gettin' off if he springs any killin' jobs on _me_."

"That goes double," Nickie said, suddenly very serious. "I don't like
the look in Devlin's eye, he looks crazy b'lieve _me_, an' Timmy's
right bout needin' all his nerve. He'll need it--we'll all need it when
the time comes. An' lissen, guys, maybe we'll wanta know how we make
out afterwards, hah? What d'ye say we dope out where we'll write
letters to, hah?"

Shorty laughed. "Eet is funny, Neeckie. You talk lak that when mebbe we
all see each other again some place out west together, eh? Ees that not
what you thought when we come here, yes?"

"Yeah--I thought a lotta things when I come here," Nickie answered.
"That's why I come. But I ain't so sure about Devlin sendin' us
somewheres out west where we'll meet--see! He ain't said nothin', so I
guess it means we say so long when we blow here. Anyways, we land some
place; there ain't no sayin' there won't be somewheres we'll go, so I
say let's write an' tell each other how we shook Devlin or how we
didn't. Now I got a aunt where you guys can write me in New York. After
I get fixed wherever I go, I'll tip her off an' she'll send me the
letters."

"I got a aunt in Glens Falls," Timmy said brightening.

"I got a aunt in New York, too!" Skippy added. They all laughed at the
coincidence, but Shorty and Biff broke into the conversation eagerly.

"I got Pop an' Mom in New York!" Shorty announced proudly.

"Me, too!" said Biff. "We leeve next door Shorty an' I bet they all
crazy we don't show at Delafield."

They fell to talking about their parents proudly. Nickie did some
reminiscing about his aunt's kindly care of him and it seemed that
Timmy had somewhat the same story to tell. Skippy was listening
intently, but at the same time his mind was going back to the night
before when he had heard Devlin denouncing Frost for having brought the
two Greeks along.

"Say, fellers," he said suddenly. "Shorty an' Biff got parents, huh?
You, Nickie, an' Timmy an' me--we ain't got none. I heard Devlin an'
Frost talkin' last night--I couldn't sleep so I heard what they said.
One thing I know was that Devlin was burnin' up, 'cause he asked Frost
what was he gonna do bout Shorty and Biff 'cause they're Greek'n' he
couldn't pass 'em off for his sons. So Frost says he'll take 'em
himself--one he'll take to Pittsburgh an' the other to Maine. Anyway,
Devlin was mad that they came 'cause he said he didn't expect 'em. So
you know what I think, fellers?"

"Spill it, kid," Nickie said.

"That Devlin picks on orphans a-purpose!"

"Say," Nickie said, admiringly, "that's brains, kid, an' I don't mean
maybe. That's callin' the turn. Holy Smoke, if that don't seem like
what he's doin'--the orphan racket, hah?" Nickie said as if to himself.
"I wonder why, hah?"

Skippy grinned. "I doped out a little about him--maybe I can dope out
the rest, huh?"

"Here's hopin', kid," Timmy said smiling. "Anyways, even if you don't,
maybe when I find what's what an' get shipped west--maybe I can tip off
the bulls so's you guys won't have no killin' jobs to do when Devlin
puts the bee on you. It'd be better to go to Delafield an' get a couple
years off on good behavior than be in the spot I'm in tonight."

"Yeah," said Nickie thoughtfully, "that's callin' the shot, Timmy. Even
my full stretch'd be better'n what I'd get for goin' along with Devlin.
Anyways, it ain't no bad idea to tip off the dicks if you can."

"You speak crazy!" Biff interrupted. "Timmy teep off, yes, but where he
tell them deecks to find us, eh? Do we know where we are, eh?"

The looks they exchanged were an admission of defeat. After all, did
Timmy know where he had been this past month and a half--did any of
them in that damp, shadowy room have the slightest idea where the
lonely house was situated? New York State? New Jersey? Pennsylvania?
They might have been in the vast, trackless wilderness of Africa, so
cleverly had Devlin concealed from them the location of that dismal
house.

Skippy was reminded then of the boy Tucker about whom Mr. Conne had
told him. Tucker hadn't known either where the house was located in
which Devlin had kept him imprisoned for a full month. There was
something very painstaking in Devlin's methods. He either completely
confused his reform school "protégés" by taking them to live in a house
and street which had its counterpart in hundreds of other houses and
streets or else he confounded them utterly by driving them deep into
this swampy wilderness under cover of night.

What were they to do?

An idea came to Skippy--why not write a letter and give it to Timmy to
mail? In the next second, he was thankful that the impulse hadn't
flourished under cold reasoning for he suddenly realized that Devlin
would be just the man to anticipate that sort of thing and Timmy would
be relieved of any such messages immediately. Also, he was reminded of
Carlton Conne's warning: "Get in touch with no one, kid--tell no one
_anything_ unless you're certain that it's one of my men ... it's the
only way that Dean Devlin can ever be caught ... and your job, kid, is
to help me set the trap!"

_His job--to help set the trap!_ What was he to do?

He was still asking himself that when Frost came into the back yard in
the noisy, ancient car. Devlin had preceded him in the closed car and
was already locking it up in the barn.

"Looks like they took the junk pile to get the big guy's closed car,
hah?" Nickie said, not exactly at ease.

Timmy was looking over his shoulder, watching through the shutters the
backyard scene under Devlin's powerful flashlight. "Looks like I'm
gonna ride in the junk pile tonight," he said simply. "I wonder why,
hey?"

Skippy felt suddenly choked and unable to utter a sound and, judging by
the silence, the other boys were experiencing the same difficulty.



                               CHAPTER XV

                                HIS JOB


Even if they had been capable of speaking afterward, Devlin gave them
little time. He came in, hurried upstairs and came down again in a few
minutes, carrying a suitcase and wearing his usual dark clothes. He
ordered Frost to stay close to the house until he returned. And without
seeming to see the silent, staring boys he nodded at Timmy with some
show of impatience.

"Time's short--come on!"

Skippy could still feel the strong, firm clasp of Timmy's handshake
long after the ancient car clattered out of the back yard. He felt
restless, and Nickie, that heroic defier of man-made petty laws, seemed
stunned and fearful.

Shorty and Biff, a little too blunt to be long affected by anything,
were comfortably seated again at the table arguing in their native
tongue over a game of cards. Frost was seated opposite them, absorbed
in a New York newspaper.

"All along I been sorta thinkin' we might be layin' it on kinda thick,"
Nickie whispered at Skippy's side. "Know what I mean? Aw, I thought
mebbe we'd got thinkin' the worsta Devlin counta that funeral pan he's
got an' the house an' all--see? People get jumpy just talkin' bout
ghosts, don't they? Well, that's what I mean--I thought we got thinkin'
he's a killer like Timmy done an' we couldn't thinka him as nothin'
else. Up till just before they beat it I tells myself mebbe it's just
his old racket, the swindlin' game that he's workin' in a new way with
us kids as fall guys--see? But when I sees his face an' his eyes all
funny an' starin' when he tells Timmy to c'mon, I get feelin' bad
inside."

"Me too," Skippy agreed, after he had made certain that Frost was not
watching them.

"Say, kid," Nickie said, between half-closed lips, "I ain't feelin'
we're thinkin' the worsta him now. I'm feelin' that mebbe he's worse'n'
what we think, he is--see!"

They sauntered toward the table at that juncture for Frost was looking
up from his paper. His shrewd, colorless eyes observed them and his
thin mouth was wrinkled mirthfully.

"Something in this here paper might give you kids a laff," he chuckled.
"Here, sit down and read it--I gotta go up to my room and do a few
things."

He was still chuckling when he left the kitchen but none of the boys
paid him any attention then. They were too interested in the page which
Nickie spread out and on which they read the headlines:

                            HOLD UP POLICE,
                             HELP BOYS FLEE
                            REFORMATORY TERM

                   Gangsters Wrest Four From Injured
                      Guards After Delafield Bound
                            Auto Is Ditched.

                          JOHN DOE IS RESCUED

                    He And Three Others Escape With
                        Armed Aid--Comb Country
                             For Fugitives.

There were two columns of the story. It had been discovered that the
car had been tampered with and the driver told of being drawn into
conversation while he was waiting at the courthouse by a "queer-looking
man, dressed like a mechanic." Also, he described how the boys had been
taken from him at the point of a gun and how Dippy Donovan had refused
to escape. It was hinted at the reformatory that the boy, because of
his behavior, stood a chance of having more than half his sentence
remitted.

"They'd do that for us too, eh?" Shorty remarked regretfully. "The time
eet go quick then an' when we got out we go 'ome, eh? Now we don't go
'ome teel we do stretch. Now we go west where Devlin send us. Always we
are seeck for 'ome but we can't go."

"Yeah," said Nickie wistfully, "that's the trouble. It's justa bad
break. I never give it a tumble before bout home, sweet home. All I
thought was what a joke on them dicks when we pull a fast one. I never
think how it ain't such a joke goin' west where we can't go home unless
we take a rap. An' it'll be harder doin' the stretch afterward than
now--why didn' I thinka that, hah?"

"I coulda told you if I hadn't been out," Skippy said thoughtfully.

"Yeah, sure thing, kid. You got brains. Me, I think I'm smart--see! I
don't think how I'm gonna get homesick out west an' wanta see my aunt
an' New York too. Holy Smoke, I don't wanna be dodgin' dicks forever!"
he added, bitterly.

Bragging, laughing boy-heroes the day before, they were all bitter and
resentful now. Their grand dream of escape, their defiance of the law,
had brought them nothing but disappointment, and instead of knowing
that each day brought them nearer to freedom, they were to be forever
pursued by the spectral arm of the law. It threatened them with a
double punishment should they come back voluntarily, yet it stood
between them and their homes if they evaded it.

Skippy was absorbed in these thoughts just as if he had been one of
them. He no longer felt that he was playing a part or acting as the
spring of the trap into which Mr. Conne hoped Devlin would fall; he
felt that the whole thing had become too realistic and that the spring
of the trap was threatening to snap upon himself instead of Devlin.

Nickie broke into his musing. "Aw, we ain't gettin' nowheres by sittin'
here mopin' about it, hah? C'mon, kid, let's play rummy."

Skippy had been turning the pages of the paper, giving them a cursory
glance. As he turned to the ninth page he saw a column marked PERSONAL
and directly under it he saw his name. His heart pounded furiously.

"Yeah, later," he said, trying to make his voice sound calm. "I gotta
read the baseball news."

Nickie nodded absently for he was already absorbed in a good hand of
cards which Biff had just dealt him. Skippy made certain that they were
all equally absorbed; also, he made certain that Frost was still quiet
upstairs. Then he proceeded to read.

    SKIP: UNDERSTAND UNEXPECTED MOVE--SHOULD HAVE PREPARED FOR THAT
    ... YOU MUST SEND WORD SOMEHOW--IT'S YOUR JOB!... SIGNED "BOSS."

He must send word--_somehow_! _It was his job!_ No one but Carlton
Conne could have said it just like that--no one but Carlton Conne could
have written it! And Skippy thrilled at the thought, thrilled each time
he read the vivid message. He _would_ get word to him somehow,
particularly since he had seen in print that it was his job to do
nothing else but! There was no doubt about it now.

Carlton Conne had signed himself as _Boss_!



                              CHAPTER XVI

                                 A NOTE


A half hour later, Skippy had decided on one phase of his job. He
climbed the dusty stairway and proceeded to the door of a room which no
boy had been allowed to enter.

Frost answered his knock but did not ask him in. He had jumped up from
a small, battered table upon which he had been writing, and now he
stood in the open doorway, his colorless eyes searching Skippy's face
in surprise.

"Can you lend me some paper an' pencil?" the boy asked briskly.

Frost's eyes narrowed. "What for?"

"To work out cross-word puzzles," Skippy answered, his eyes meeting
Frost's gaze unflinchingly. "The kids are playin' cards an' I wanna do
something." He laughed. "I work cross-word puzzles--every night!"

"Mm!" Frost seemed to be turning the thought over and over. Finally, he
walked to the table and taking a bunch of keys from his pocket, he
selected one and opened a little drawer. When he came back to the door
he held out a pencil and two sheets of ordinary note-paper. "Here,
kid," he said, chuckling, "cross-word puzzle all night if you feel like
it."

Skippy took the paper smilingly but did not stop for further
conversation. He wasn't taking any chances and he hurried downstairs
again before Frost could think it over and perhaps recall him.

For an hour, Skippy scribbled and wrote all over one sheet of the
paper. The other piece of paper along with a pencil of his own he
carefully concealed under his belt. And, when the game of rummy was
broken up around midnight, the boy had torn his scribbling sheet into a
hundred bits and scattered it on the table. Then when they went
upstairs, he returned the pencil to Frost.

Fifteen minutes later, he saw the rim of light disappear from under the
door jamb and he knew that Frost had blown out his lantern and was
going to bed. He waited breathlessly then and after some minutes got
out of bed and tiptoed to the door where he listened intently.

It was some time before he was rewarded with the sound of Frost's first
labored snore. Then he roused Fallon.

"Don't make a sound, Nick," he whispered.

"I won't, kid!" Nickie murmured sleepily. Then he sat up. "What's
wrong?"

"I'm gonna write a note, Nickie--I'll tell you why after. What I want
you to do is go over to the door an' listen for Frost's snore. If he
stops, gimme the high sign. I'm gonna light the lantern an' take it
over by the window. The light won't show into the hall from there."

"Good dope, kid," Nickie agreed, stepping out onto the floor. "But what
you gonna write with, hah? You gave Frost back the pencil."

Skippy winked. "I got my own, but I didn't wanna make him suspicious. I
wanted some paper so's I could write this note tonight when I got the
chance. If I didn't ask for a pencil, then he'd know I had one--get me?
I tore up the one sheet I scribbled on--tore it up in a lotta pieces
so's he could see it. He won't know whether it's one or two sheets of
his paper that I used an' I'm takin' a chance he thinks it's the two
sheets. Anyway, I don't think he'll give it a thought that I held back
the other sheet 'cause I give him back the pencil."

"Kid, there's no mud on you," said Nickie admiringly. "Get the lantern
an' write your note. I'll listen an' if I hear a peep outa him, I'll
cough--see?"

Skippy got the lantern down from the hook on the side wall. He took it
over to the window and set it down firmly on the sill, then spread out
the neatly folded note-paper and began to write:

  "After the accident we rode and rode--through woods and every
  place, I don't know where. It was eight or nine o'clock when we got
  here, a terrible lonesome house with swamp and woods all round.
  It's got bars all inside on the windows so we can't get out. A boy
  named Timmy Brogan went with him tonight so a feller named Frost
  (his pal) is here with us now. There's three kids besides me and
  maybe by the time you get this two will be gone. Anyway, boss, all
  I can tell you about it, is Frost said this house used to be in a
  village but the village burned down all round it. So instead of
  building up the village again the people moved twenty-five miles
  away near a railroad--that was seventy-five years ago. Frost says
  it's the house that people forgot and he says nobody knew about it
  but a nit-wit hermit that died last year. So this is all I know
  about where I am. I get headaches kind of from it being so hot in
  this house with all the shutters closed too, but outside of that,
  I'm all right. Devlin's terrible mysterious and queer acting boss
  and the kid that went tonight said _he_ was a worse man than ever
  you think. Anyway, I hope I can give this to somebody soon so you
  can find out where we are and help us.... Skip"....

Nickie was still a patient sentinel and he smiled encouragingly. Skippy
took heart and folded up the note and wrote outside:

"To Whoever Gets this Will they Please send this to the Manhattan
World, New York City ... thanks.... And keep this a secret or else
we'll be taken away and won't get helped!"

Below it, he added:

"To the Editor of the Personal Column.... An Answer to Boss' in
Friday's paper, August 19...."

He put down his pencil and folded the note still smaller. Then he got
one of his shoes and slipped the paper inside of the loose lining.
After that, he nodded to Nickie and putting the light out they crawled
into bed.

"Devlin'll be takin' one of us to go through that doctor's examination
business soon's he gets back, Nickie," Skippy whispered. "Whoever he
takes, will take that note 'cause it'll bring us help if we wait our
chance an' slip it to somebody we think we can trust. We'll pass
somebody going back an' forth to the doctor's office an' it's better if
it's a lady."

"Yeah, an _old_ lady," Nickie murmured, thinking wistfully of his good
aunt. "Them you can trust."

"For two reasons we shouldn't give it to the doctor," Skippy warned.
"Devlin might get wise, an' besides the doctor might be workin' with
Devlin. So we gotta be careful, huh?"

"You tell 'em! Kid, you're a wonder at dopin' out things. If it wasn't
for you, I'd be in the dumps--you keep a guy all pepped up."

"Aw, it ain't anything. I wanna help myself too, don't I? But I trust
you, Nickie, honest. I wouldn't let you in on this if I didn't. Shorty
and Biff are out 'cause I don't feel sure of 'em."

"Yeah, they're too dumb. But take it from me--Nickie Fallon's been your
pal from the minute I saw you--see? An' that means it's all jake
between us. Justa show how much you can trust me, kid, I won't even
read that note if I'm gonna be the one to take it. I'll keep it in my
shoe till Devlin ain't lookin' an' I see that old lady. What you
wrote's your business an' I ain't buttin' in."

Skippy knew that Fallon was sincere. And though, at first, he was a
little fearful that he had not obeyed orders strictly to the letter, he
knew that Carlton Conne would understand that he _had_ to take Nickie
into his confidence this little bit. He had purposely refrained from
sending the message direct to the great detective or bringing the name
of the International Detective Agency into it in any way lest the note
should fall into unfriendly hands.

After all, he told himself, no one, not even Nickie, could guess who he
was or the part he was playing, from the contents of that note.
Certainly, Devlin wouldn't guess, if he read it, that the man addressed
as "Boss" was the man who was determined to track him down--none other
than that famous detective, Carlton Conne!

He had done all that he could do now. They had to be patient and wait
until one or the other could safely place the note in the hands of some
trustworthy person. Thus far they were safe and sound, Skippy assured
himself. At least they were tonight.

But what of tomorrow?



                              CHAPTER XVII

                           A CHANGE OF PLANS


The day dawned cloudy and gray and when Skippy woke at eight o'clock he
looked in vain for a ray of heartening sunlight. Nothing but warm air
came in through the shutters and it was sticky and close.

Nickie sat up and stretched lazily. "Wow! What a headache, kid," he
said, rubbing his forehead. "How's yours, hah?"

"Bad as last night," Skippy answered mournfully. "We gotta expect
headaches in a hot, dark house like this, huh? Gee whiz, Nickie,
sump'n's gotta happen to get us outa here soon or I'll be like Timmy, I
guess. Here it's only the second mornin' an' I feel like it's a year."

Nickie was up and listening at the door while Skippy was talking.
"Where is he?" he asked, on the alert.

"Frost went downstairs most an hour ago, so don't worry. I heard him
walkin' an' walkin' round his room just like he had sump'n on his mind.
Then all of a sudden he comes out into the hall'n' locks his door like
he always does an' beats it downstairs. Sump'n must be up."

Skippy was right--something was up. They found out what it was when
they appeared in the kitchen for breakfast a few minutes later. Frost
was hurrying back and forth from the yard and down to the cellar
bearing pails of water from the pump outside.

"I'm putting five days' water supply in the crock down cellar," he
explained after his last trip. "Keep the cover on it tight like I'm
leaving it, and it'll stay fresh and cold. There's canned stuff and
other grub so you can feed and I'll show you how else you can manage
before I leave."

"You beatin' it?" Nickie asked.

"Mm," Frost murmured. His colorless eyes dropped before their gaze.
And, as if to change the subject, he asked: "D'ye know if them Greek
kids are awake?"

"No, we didn't hear a thing when we come down," Skippy answered
promptly. Then, out of a clear sky he hurled the query: "Why, you ain't
takin' 'em away, are you, Mr. Frost?"

Frost was disconcerted. "Why--er--sure!" he stammered. "I am! I--if
Dev--if Barker comes back--he should be here by Wednesday, tell him
there's a note in the room explainin' matters." He blinked his
colorless eyes, then added: "I'm lockin' you kids up for five days, but
I'm leavin' you the run of the house--that's how much I trust you!"

"Says you!" Nickie sneered.

Points of color appeared upon Frost's cheeks. He glared at Fallon and
asked, "What d'ye mean, hey?"

"Ain't them ears pinned on your head?" was Nickie's retort. "It looks
like we're trusted with bars all over the joint an' even on the cellar
winders, hah? It looks like we're trusted when the bars ain't even
enough, so you hadda padlock all the shutters too. Yeah, that stuff
goes for Sweeny."

"That's Dev--Barker's idea--not mine--get me? Anyway, I ain't got no
time to argue. We'll hash it over when I get back," Frost snapped.

He turned, went upstairs and Nickie proceeded with the making of
coffee. Skippy got a package of bacon from the cupboard and silently
set about the task of frying it. Words wouldn't come--he could do
nothing but listen and wait. For what, he didn't know.

When Shorty and Biff came downstairs and back to the kitchen they were
their usual smiling selves. Nickie looked from his coffee pot to them
and Skippy's eyes traveled back and forth from their round faces to the
briskly frying bacon.

"Frost tell you he's beatin' it with you guys this morning?" Nickie
asked.

"Sure," Biff smiled.

"And you ain't nervous or nothin', hah?" Nickie asked, amazed that Biff
could smile.

"Nah. The queecker we go, the queecker comes the time we sneak home."

"We theenk maybe we tell dees Frost we rather not go to Peetsburgh or
Maine or what it ees he wants to take us," Shorty spoke up. "We theenk
we ask heem to take us home so we can say hello, then we go Delafield.
Maybe they lop off time for us too 'cause we come back, eh?"

"Maybe," Skippy said in a small voice.

"You never can tell," Nickie said, his eyes staring into space.

They ate in silence, a strange oppressive silence, and Skippy felt
almost glad when Frost's hurried steps sounded on the stairs. If it had
to be, it was better to have it over now than to endure the tension of
waiting and living in dread.

A smile and a handclasp and they were gone. Nickie and Skippy stood
listening as Frost locked the woodshed door from the outside. When the
car chugged softly outside they made no attempt to go to the windows
and look. Neither one moved an inch until the sound of the motor had
ceased to echo in the clearing.

"If I thought Frost didn't have no gun, I'd jumped him," said Nickie at
last. "But catch him and Devlin in a racket like this without carryin'
rods, hah?"

Skippy was again reminded of Carlton Conne's assurance that Dean Devlin
was not the gun-toting kind of criminal. The boy had no doubt but that
that had been true of Devlin once, but not now. Too, the detective had
said that Devlin was after people's money--not people. In the light of
what Skippy now knew, that also was no longer true. Devlin had
evidently made rapid strides in criminality. He had taken on a partner
and whatever his mystery racket was, the fact that he trafficked in
these convicted boys, evidently for gain, robbed him completely of the
superficial glamour his adventurous life might have previously given
him.

"Say, Nickie," Skippy said at length, "we got five days here alone an'
if we can't do a Houdini in that time we're a coupla bums."

Nickie's face became radiant. "Gotta plan, kid?"

"I gotta hunch maybe we can work loose a coupla bars in some window! If
we can't find a crowbar, maybe we'll find sump'n else, huh? We'll start
down cellar right away."

"You said it, kid!" Nickie was enthusiastic. "And when we scram outa
this drum, I'll say like Biff and Shorty, we'll go home'n' say hello
an' then tell the dicks we're reportin' for Delafield."

Skippy thought of an old saying of his aunt's about an ill wind blowing
someone some good. Timmy, the Greeks, and now Nickie all seemed to lose
their defiance of the law under Devlin's evil roof. If it took an evil
to cure an evil then their contact with the arch criminal had not been
entirely in vain.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                               THE SEARCH


The cellar yielded nothing in their search but mouldy rubbish, ancient
cobwebs and the stone crock which Frost had indicated as their water
supply. A broken shovel which Skippy salvaged from one of the rubbish
piles was dragged upstairs with the forlorn hope that it might prove
useful if they found nothing better.

The kitchen cupboard was next attacked but after an hour's work they
found that that too availed them nothing. Warm and perspiring, they
walked through the gloomy rooms and sat down to rest in the vast,
almost dark parlor. Skippy looked around at the chairs and sighed.

"We've gotta find sump'n, Nickie!" he said. "It ain't gonna be no joke
sittin' here an' knowin' we _could_ get out if we had sump'n to work
with!"

"Don't I know it, kid!" Nickie said, running his fingers through his
straight, black hair. "It's like night all the time in here an' the
empty rooms an' creakin' floors'd drive anybody nuts." Suddenly he
straightened up, tense with a new idea. "Lissen, kid! How bout their
room, hah? They'd be wise that we'd go huntin' sump'n, so what they
don't want us findin' they lock in their room, hah? That's it--_their
room_!"

"Yeah, but it's locked," Skippy reminded him.

"Sure, it's locked," Nickie admitted smilingly. "But that's where I
come in--see? Whadda you s'pose the dicks grabbed me for, hah? Listen,
there ain't no lock I can't pick if I stick at it long enough. I'd pick
them doors downstairs if they wasn't metal an' outside locks."

Skippy could not conceal his smile.

Nickie grinned too. "Aw, don't worry, kid. It'll be the last lock I
ever pick." Suddenly he was serious and looked straight at Skippy.
"Say, kid, I can't believe you ever beat the law even onct."

"Nope."

"Holy Smoke! Framed, hah?"

"Sorta."

"If I could lay my mitts on the guy what...."

"Aw, forget it, Nickie," Skippy said, rising. "When we get away we'll
talk about it, huh? Gee whiz, I'm here an' so we gotta be thinkin' bout
gettin' out quick's we can."

They went hopefully upstairs. Armed with a small kitchen knife Nickie
started operations at the keyhole of the room which Frost and Devlin
occupied but it was late that afternoon when it yielded.

They burst into this private and mysterious sanctum with cries of joy,
then stopped a little beyond the threshold and surveyed the room with a
feeling of disappointment. It was furnished little better than their
room and aside from an old iron bed, there was a single chair, a trunk,
and a cracked mirror which hung over the dilapidated writing table.

There were two windows, barred and shuttered like the rest of the
house. Skippy noticed that, then walked to the far end of the room and
opened a closet door.

"A ladder, Nickie!" he exclaimed, joyfully. "I betcha it's a ladder for
the attic!"

"Yeah, an' what we gonna do up in the attic, hah, kid?" Nickie asked.
"Even if there wasn't no bars to them winders up there, what'd we do,
hah?"

"Did I say I knew what we'd do? Ain't it sump'n that we found sump'n?
Gee whiz, it's sump'n that the ladder gets us _somewheres_, even if
it's the attic where we can't do anything."

Nickie's keen, smiling eyes had already found something of interest on
the writing table. "A note to the big cheese, kid. From Frost. It's
short and sweet. C'mon, take a look."

Skippy picked up the paper and read: "I got a great scheme early this
morning, boss, so I'm taking the Greeks to Pittsburgh--get me? I
thought no use hanging round here till you got back ... I could have
things moving, maybe even over by that time. I won't hog the price on
account of what you said but I thought I can kill two birds with one
stone. I can have two Greek sons as well as one, can't I? Now, I'm
going so I'll see you when I get back...." It was unsigned.

Nickie looked disappointed. "Still we don't know what their racket is,
hah? There's a price an' I wonder what for? S'help me, kid, I'm
stumped."

"Me too," Skippy admitted, opening the table drawer curiously and
peering inside. He drew out a small memorandum book and opened it.
Suddenly he whistled. "If you wanna know what the price's for, this'll
tell us, Nickie. Gee whiz, here's prices _an' how_! He's got a price
for us."

"You're crazy!" Nickie said. "A price for us?"

He soon saw with his own eyes that Devlin had listed boys, prices,
dates and places over a period of several months. Also, it was quite
evident that there had been little variation in the means by which they
came into the man's dubious protection. Against Timmy Brogan's name was
listed a price of $2,500. At the top of a page, underlined in red, was
the name of Tucker, who seemed to have been a $3,000 loss to Devlin.

Turning the next page, which bore a date two days old, the boys looked
at their own names. Nickie was rated at $3,000 and Skippy at $2,500.
Shorty and Biff were question-marked at $1,000, and in parentheses the
probable price of $500 each was printed.

"At three grand I'm the most expensive guy in the bunch," Nickie
laughed nervously. "How you make it out?"

Skippy shrugged. "You're askin' me! What's all these prices for us
anyway, huh? Why do they all go from $500 to $3,000--what could it be
for? Gee whiz, Nickie, we ain't gettin' anywheres with this."

"Don't I know it, kid? We should worry about what we don't know. Let's
look through the trunk an' the closet an' if that ain't no help, we'll
go up in the attic an' chase rats."

Skippy laughed. "An' how!" he said. "If we can't get out we can give
the rats a break anyway, huh? Devlin might put a price on 'em if he
comes back an' finds 'em here."

Without any definite motive, Skippy walked over to the back window and
looked out through a good-sized chink in the shutters where two of the
slats had fallen out. A rain barrel stood just beneath the window, and
on the surface of the water a green slime had gathered, an excellent
playground for mosquitoes.

He watched it for a moment, then with a sudden idea, he let the
notebook slip from his hands and saw it slide down the side of the
building and out of sight behind the rain-barrel.

"Say, you gone nuts?" Nickie exclaimed.

"I don't know," Skippy answered honestly. "I'm playin' a hunch--don't
ask me why! It was like--aw, you know what I mean, Nickie--like Fate!"

It _was_ Fate--Skippy was to realize that before another twenty-four
hours had passed.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                           HOPE IN THE ATTIC


Shadows of early evening were beginning to creep over the silent swamp
land before the boys hit upon a practicable plan of escape. They had
had two hours' hunt through the dust-choked attic, braving a
seventy-five year accumulation of rubbish which generations of rats had
chewed and scattered to its four corners.

They found a trunk of ancient vintage that still held up sufficiently
to enable them to sit down and rest upon it. Before them, the front
attic window offered possibilities and they were discussing it pro and
con. Also, they had been able to open it and because it lacked shutters
they enjoyed what was left of the daylight and welcomed the occasional
damp, warm breeze that blew in.

Skippy had found in the rubbish a coil of rope that was in excellent
condition. Nickie had come upon what apparently had been the handle of
an antique iron pot, and the two discoveries had formed the nucleus of
their present discussion.

The giant evergreen of poor Timmy's dream spread its lofty boughs
within a few yards of the small window. "That pot handle's strong
enough to wedge out those bars, Nickie," Skippy was saying
thoughtfully. "It'll take maybe a coupla hours, 'cause I guess they're
in there pretty tight. When we get that done, I'll lasso that tree an'
tie it pretty tight somewheres in here."

"I getcha, kid!" Nickie said enthusiastically. "We swing out along it
hand over hand, hah? Then, when we hit a strong-lookin' branch we drop
an' zip, we're on the ground fore we know it!"

"Yeah, that's it. It's the only way. We been all over this house an'
this is the best we can do."

"Sure. It's work but ain't it worth it? Anyways, kid, let's put the bag
on. We ain't had no chow all day, we been so busy turnin' this place
upside down. How about it?"

"Gee whiz, I most forgot I had a stomach--honest! I can't thinka
nothin' but gettin' away. But I'm hungry, that's a fact."

"Yeah, me too. Even them canned beans'll taste like turkey tonight."

"_Beans!_" Skippy said disgustedly. "It'll be nice to eat sump'n
besides canned beans n' stale crackers n' coffee. Gee whiz, I like
milk, I do--cold, creamy milk!"

"Yeah, an' I like soup, kid. Nice, hot, creamy soup like my aunt makes."

"C'mon, Nickie, let's get eatin' an' get it over with!"

Just as they descended the ladder they heard, far in the east, a low
rumble of thunder. Before they had started to feast on their beans,
there was no doubt that a storm was fast approaching. The wind was
rising steadily and the swaying trees made eerie sounds which they
could plainly hear during frequent lapses of conversation.

"Hope it ain't gonna be like the other night," Skippy said earnestly.
"The room was hot but I shivered just the same. An' then Timmy havin'
that dream an' screamin' like he did...."

"Yeah, I was glad I was asleep. Outside this graveyard, there ain't
nothin' gives me the jitters worse'n a bad storm. Holy Smoke, I ain't
myself then."

There was a terrific clap of thunder and the wind screeched mockingly
past the kitchen windows. A shutter somewhere on the house creaked
uneasily on its rusted hinges. The boys put down their coffee cups and
looked at each other.

"Takes a hard storm like this for clearin' the air," said Nickie
profoundly. "My aunt always says that. Remember since the other night
it's been so gloomy--ain't even seen no sun since we been here. Maybe
it'll be clear tomorrer."

"Yeah, maybe."

"Anyways, kid, will we beat it right off if we get them bars loose
tonight?"

"Sure, if we get 'em loose. But it ain't gonna be so easy, Nickie."

And it wasn't easy--not at all. They took turns at the top bar and
after an hour succeeded in making it yield only a little and on one
side at that. The lantern light was feeble and they dared not use two
lamps at a time, for they had made the discovery before climbing to the
attic that the oil supply which Frost had left them was too low to be
used freely.

The wind screamed around under the eaves and presently blew the rain
through the open window. Vainly, they tried to close it but having been
in disuse for so many years the frame had warped and Skippy soon
decided that it would take a chisel and hammer to get results.

"How about them newspapers in the cellar, kid?" Nickie suggested. "We
can pin 'em up against there while we work."

"Pin 'em with what? Gee whiz, use your bean."

"Yeah, you're right, kid. We gotta get wet an' like it."

"Not if you wanna quit till tomorrow. An' I don't like to do that,
Nickie. Sump'n tells me do what we can tonight."

"Just's you say, kid. I'm gettin' so's I feel you're a reg'lar
mascot--see? I ain't doin' nothin' without you sayin' it's K. O."

Skippy grinned and took his turn at the window. The thunder was rolling
away into the distance but the heat lightning blazed across the black
sky at frequent intervals. The moaning wind echoed back and forth
mournfully and the rain made a hissing noise as it lashed the window
sill.

Fallon had pulled the trunk as near the window as possible. He made a
doleful picture sitting there, the lantern held at arm's length so as
to give Skippy light. His pale face was in a half-shadow and his narrow
shoulders drooped dejectedly. Suddenly he looked up and his black eyes
were questioning.

"Hear a noise, kid?"

Skippy stopped his tugging at the top bar and shook his head. "What
kinda noise?"

"Like somebuddy runnin'. Maybe I'm crazy--just hearin' things."

"The wind an' the rain, I betcha," Skippy said, getting back to his
task. "It'll last all night--I think it's gettin' cooler."

"Yeah, an' you'n me's gettin' wetter. We'll be plenty cool by the time
we get through. Gimme a whack at it now, hah?"

"Wait a minute. I ain't tired yet--it's loosened a little more."

Nickie sighed. "Just on one side yet, hah? Holy smoke, at that
speed...." Then, suddenly: "Kid, I hear somebuddy! Somebuddy runnin'!"

Before Skippy could answer they were startled by a cry that seemed to
come from the clearing.

[Illustration: "HE JUST STOOD WAITIN' FOR ME TO DROWN!"]



                               CHAPTER XX

                                 TIMMY?


Nickie jumped up and held the lantern high over their heads. They
looked down into the clearing but for a long time the black night and
the screaming wind and rain obscured their vision. Skippy thought he
saw something moving but he wasn't sure.

Again a thin, piteous scream pierced the storm. _Nickie--Kid?_ Can't
you guys hear me? It's _me_--_Timmy_!"

"_Timmy!_" Skippy shouted. "What...."

"Listen," came the cry, "I wanta tell you guys ... that's why I come
back ... I'm hurt--I don't know how I found this place, honest!
Somethin' made my feet run this way so's I could tell you ... he's got
no heart ... he's...."

"We'll come down, Timmy--in front!" Skippy shouted. "Downstairs!"

"It won't do no good!" came the answer. "You can't get out unless he
leaves you--then beat it for your life!" There was a pause, then:
"Frost ... where's he?"

"He ain't here, Timmy!" Nickie cried, finding his voice. He swung the
lantern higher and then, for the first time, they could see the slight
form swaying down by the evergreen tree.

"I just come back to tell you." Timmy's voice was a heart-rending sob.
"He's what I told you ... it's a trick! He makes out somethin's wrong
with the car an' he makes me get behind the wheel n' tells me to step
on the gas an' come toward him. It's dark an' I see him standing there
up the road.... I don't know ... when I get most to him he jumps an'
it's a bridge.... I go right over in the car!" He groaned audibly.

"We gotta get out an' help you, Timmy!" Skippy cried.

"I'm goin' right away--you can't get out, you know you can't!" After a
pause, he cried: "Listen, it wasn't no accident--I hit my head on the
way down an' in the water when I come up I yelled an' I knew he was
standin' up on the bridge ... he wouldn't help me ... he just stood
waitin' for me to drown I But I didn't ... I grabbed a log an' pushed
myself up an' he didn't see me climb up...."

"Where's _he_?" Nickie called nervously.

"He was up there--on the bridge--when I sneaked away through the trees
... he acted like he was waitin' for a car to come along. I didn't meet
any ... anyhow, all I could think of was to come here an' tip you
off.... I was sick.... I slep' in the woods all day and ... I knew he
wouldn' be here--I knew he'd be lookin' in the lake for me....
_Listen!_"

The lantern swayed in Nickie's trembling hand. The light flickered and
sputtered with each fresh onslaught of the wind. Skippy held the top
bar and pressed his face into the opening, his heart beating like a
triphammer. There was a sound in the distance and the fear of what it
might be caused him to gulp with dismay.

"_It's a car!_" Timmy screamed. "A car!"

"What'd you come for, Timmy?" Nickie shouted frantically.

"_Run! Hide!_" Skippy was crying.

Timmy's slim form seemed to be swaying uncertainly. He took a few steps
nearer the great tree, acting as if he were bewildered.

Skippy no longer heard the sound and said so. Nickie agreed with him.
They cried down to Timmy to hurry--to run, but the boy looked up at
them vaguely and shrugged his shoulders mechanically.

"He's too sick--too hurt!" Skippy cried, pulling at Nickie's sleeve.
"He don't seem to move, he can't!"

The lantern seemed to be making a desperate effort to light up the
scene. Its rays struggled high over Nickie's head and shone down almost
brightly for a precious moment, down upon Timmy's upturned face.

He was smiling ... or did they imagine it? His regular features slowly
froze--froze into a horrified expression ... or were they imagining
that too? And that arm that stole out from behind the great
evergreen.... Suddenly, there was a muffled scream, a voice that
sounded like Timmy's.

Then the lantern light went out, leaving them in darkness.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                          DO DREAMS COME TRUE?


Nickie was clinging to him and making funny little noises deep in his
throat. Skippy let him cling, for he was shaking from head to foot
himself and he blinked his eyes in the darkness.

"You seen _him_--you seen--" Skippy stammered, frightened at the sound
of his own voice.

"I don't know what I seen," Nickie said, his words scarcely audible
because of his chattering teeth. "I--that scream--you heard that, hah?"

"Sure, and I seen him look terrible. Lissen!" Mechanically, they put
out their hands to feel for the window and pressed close to it
oblivious of the fresh downpour of rain which swept in upon them,
drenching them to the skin. The gale screamed its hardest, the lantern
creaked in Nickie's shaking hand like some spectral voice out of the
night, but that was the only sound to reach their listening ears.

"_Timmy!_" Skippy called suddenly. "Timmy--_answer_!"

"You hurt, Timmy?" Nickie's query was pathetic.

A tense silence seemed to beat upon their ears and for a while they had
difficulty in even listening to the noises of the storm. Their
eagerness to hear Timmy's thin voice had plunged them into a temporary
oblivion from which they recovered with a start.

"You believe in spooks?" Nickie asked in a whisper.

"Nope." Skippy gulped. "Why?"

"Call once again, hah?"

Skippy called, loud and long.

The wind screamed in answer, mockingly.

"Let's beat it downstairs an' have some light, hah?" After a pause:
"You ain't got matches, I s'pose?"

"Would I be standin' here in the dark?"

Nickie's throat was full of noises. "We better be careful goin' down
the ladder--say, we didn't leave the lantern in the hall lighted."

"An' the one in the kitchen too," Skippy reminded him grimly. "There
ain't no light till we get to the kitchen n' find a match."

Nickie stopped short. "Where's that rope an' that iron handle?" he
asked fearfully.

"I hid 'em under that rubbish by the window just now. So go on. Le's
get down."

Nickie sighed. "I oughta knowed you wouldn't forget nothin' even at a
time like this."

They groped their way down the ladder and waited for a moment in the
upper hall listening to the various sounds throughout the house and the
noise of the storm. They could not see each other and they
instinctively pressed their bodies close together. Nickie had his hand
through Skippy's arm and clung to it tightly. Then by a mutual impulse
they moved toward the stairway with measured steps, their ears strained
and listening for all that their eyes could not see.

It was a long and awesome journey to the bottom of the stairway and
once there they had a whispered consultation as to whether to go around
through the rooms to the kitchen or march straight past the cellar door
and so on into the room. Skippy decided on keeping to the hall even
though it meant passing the door to the dim regions below.

They had not taken two steps in that direction, when Nickie gave vent
to a blood-curdling scream.

"_What?_" Skippy cried frantically.

"_My foot!_" Nickie was gasping in the dark. "Sump'n run over my foot!"

"_A rat!_" Skippy said, disgustedly. "I said to shut that cellar door,
Nickie!"

"Oh my head!" Nickie groaned. "I was scared skinny. Kid, let's run."

Skippy was human enough to accede and they made the kitchen in one
breath-taking bound.

Nickie let go his hold on the other's arm. "Whew!" he said nervously.
"Gimme a match."

"Yeah, that's what I say," Skippy said, moving noisily about the room.
"They ain't on this stove--I've felt all over. Say, you lit that
lantern we took up to the attic."

"Sure, I did. Wha'd I do with them matches?" Nickie asked himself
desperately.

It was another day before he found out, and in the interim they had
decided that there was no other room in the house which offered the
comparative peace of their own room. At least they could shut
themselves in there. And that they did, not stopping until they had
pushed their heavy bed tight against the stout oaken door.

"What we afraid of, huh?" Skippy asked in a small voice. They had
undressed and were in bed.

"I dunno, kid!" Nickie admitted honestly. "I'm kinda broke up in a
hundred pieces like, since that scream."

"_Timmy's?_"

"Say, was it sure enough him?"

"Why, sure--gee whiz, who else...."

"That's why I ast if you believe'n spooks!"

"Nickie! Gee whiz, we heard Timmy talkin'--didn't he tell us twas all a
trick with Devlin--didn't he say Devlin meant to kill him and...."

"Yeah, an' ain't that like his dream the other night? Ain't it like he
comes back in his dream an' stands under that big tree? Ain't it all in
his dream how he's tellin' us up at the winder an' warnin' us, when
zip, he sees this arm come out an' pretty soon he feels like he's
chokin'? How do we know he ain't kicked off somehow last night an'
tonight he comes back from the dead, hah?"

Frightened as he was, Skippy could not help smiling into the darkness.
"Say, I thought you was a real tough guy when I first spotted you. An'
here you're talkin' bout spooks an' comin' back from the dead like
you're a regular sissy."

Nickie did not protest. Something had happened to him and he was
incapable of explaining just what it was. The tough guy, as Skippy
termed it, no longer existed, for Nickie had looked upon an evil which
had shaken him to his very soul. He did not know it then, but the small
sins which were directly responsible for his present predicament had
gone, never to return.

"I dunno, kid," he said, slowly, "but it's like I'm payin' for doin'
what I done an' makin' my aunt cry an' worry after she brought me up. I
knowed it worried her but I kep' on stubborn-like so now I got it good!
Long's I live I won't never forget Timmy's scream, whether it was him'r
his spook!"

"Maybe it was good then that this happened," Skippy said practically.
"Whether it was Timmy's ghost or not." But after a pause, he added,
fearfully: "Gee whiz, Timmy _can't_ be dead!"

"I think different, kid. I think he is!"

"But we heard him talk, Nickie. You an' me, we heard it like we hear
each other talkin' now, didn't we?"

"Sure. But ain't it funny, kid, how it's all like it was in that dream
he told us about?"

"I'll say it's funny. It's like his dream so much that it gives me the
creeps. Even to the part where he told us how he stood by the evergreen
tree an' then sudden like when he's warnin' us to beat it, them arms
reached out n' grabbed him an' he felt like he was chokin' to death.
Gee whiz! If the two of us didn't hear him speak, I'd say there was
sump'n spooky about it. We even heard the car!"

"Sure, we did. An' we see somethin' dark like a guy's arms reach out
from behind that tree, didn't we?"

"I couldn't swear I did, Nickie. It chokes me when I think of it.
Lissen, you don't think that was really Devlin--that he could really
ki--kill Timmy?"

"Kid, since I been here, I don't know what's real an' what ain't--see?
All I know is I'll go nutty if there's any more goin's on like we see
tonight."

Skippy was of the same mind, but he didn't say so. He would have given
much to know just how much was imagination and how much was stark
reality. Timmy's empty cot, a vague shadow against the side wall, did
much to keep these dreadful thoughts in his mind. Through wearying
hours the scream of his dreams and his scream in the clearing seemed to
echo mockingly through the storm. Skippy felt exhausted, yet all
through the long night the question revolved in his mind.

Was it a dream come true?



                              CHAPTER XXII

                            DEVLIN'S RETURN


Nickie slept after a long time but Skippy was not so fortunate. Not
until the storm settled down into a steady pattering rain with the
early morning hours did he find himself dozing, yet always waking
suddenly, trembling, and with his heart beating rapidly in his breast.

During one of these quiet intervals in which he was dozing, he thought
he dreamed that he heard the sound of a car. He did not wake at once,
but kept listening for it again in a more or less semi-conscious state.
Suddenly, however, he was sure that he heard footsteps down in the
kitchen.

For a moment he felt frozen with terror. Then he gathered himself
together and shook Nickie firmly. "Don't speak, Nickie!" he whispered.
"Just _lissen_!"

Nickie was wide awake and alert, but he did not move a muscle. "I hear
it, kid," he murmured. "Somebuddy in the kitchen."

"Yep. I'm frozen like."

"Me too. What'll we do, hah?"

"Stay where we are when we ain't got a light."

"Right. I forgot. Who d'you think tis?"

"_Lissen!_"

They listened intently. A muffled cough, the sound of something
metallic falling, nothing escaped them. The footsteps were measured and
heavy and seemed to circle the kitchen interminably.

"Sounds like _him_, kid!" Nickie whispered fearfully. "I know them big
feeta his'n. He's got the biggest dogs I ever seen. Ever notice?"

"Nope." Skippy thought how queer that Nickie should speak of such
details at a fearful time like this. But people did that--he was
beginning to realize that one was apt to say and do almost anything
strange in moments of distress.

"Say, kid!"

"Yeah?"

"If it's _him_ ... what bout that lock I picked in his room ... what
about the ladder?"

"I been thinkin'," Skippy answered breathlessly. "Lissen, Nick--you
don't know nothin' bout that lock, neither do I! Frost said sump'n
about how he lost his keys when he was beatin' it with Shorty and
Biff--get me? He musta picked the lock himself. We found the door that
way when we come upstairs after they blew. We were lookin' for a ladder
to go up in the attic--we wanted to go up an' snoop round for sump'n to
do. We seen the closet door standin' open an' there was the ladder."

"Oke, kid. But s'pose he's leary bout us wantin' to go up in the attic?"

"I gotta hunch he won't be--much. We didn't wedge the bar enough so's
he'd notice it less he went up an' looked close. Even then he'd know
it'd be too far to jump out the winder an' he won't get wise bout the
tree less he sees the rope. Gee whiz, I'm glad I hid it, I am."

"I could cry, I'm so glad, kid. This racket's too spooky for me to
think up an alibi quick. Holy smoke, you're a life-saver!"

At heart, Skippy felt no such assurance. He was shaking from head to
foot and he dreaded Devlin as he dreaded Death. He shuddered at the
unconscious simile and wondered if the very thought itself did not
portend the evil which Timmy had come back to warn them of.

Nickie's cold, clammy hand stole over and grasped his trembling wrist.
Unashamed, they interlaced their fingers and clasped them so firmly
that it hurt. Nevertheless, they derived a sort of comfort from the
contact and breathed more freely even after the heavy feet below
tramped out of the kitchen and they heard the measured tread into the
hall.

"He's comin', I bet!" Skippy whispered feverishly.

Nickie was mumbling a prayer that his aunt had taught him in babyhood,
a prayer that he thought he had forgotten long ago. He dared not speak,
nor think, for fear of screaming and acting like a weak, hysterical
girl. The prayer and Skippy's warm fingers pressing against his own
kept him from losing his head entirely.

Then they heard the footsteps on the stair!

Skippy listened, his head numb and his body trembling. The house seemed
to shake with the vibration of each step. To the frightened boys it
sounded like a dirge, for the stairs creaked and groaned and the
flooring, rotting with age and disuse, emitted eerie thumpings
throughout the dismal house.

The darkness added much to their terrible fear, for they could not see
each other and it had the effect of seeming to make them the more
helpless. Skippy felt during those terrible seconds that he would not
be able to raise a hand in his own defense.

So they waited, counting each heavy step and listening with increasing
dread as they came nearer. It seemed to take an interminable time for
those feet to span the distance between the top of the stairway and the
door of their room. They squeezed each other's fingers tensely.

At last the footsteps ceased--not at their door, but across the hall!

Skippy gulped hard. Whoever it was, he was discovering that the door
had been opened, the lock picked ... now he knew that his memorandum
book was gone ... now he had noticed that the ladder had been taken
from the closet.

They heard him rush out of the room and to the rear of the hall where
they had left the ladder standing propped against the attic opening.
Skippy could see the feeble glimmer of the lantern as it cast a lonely
ray under their door.

Time stood still after that; they seemed to be in a state of suspended
animation. Skippy could not hear Nickie breathe; Nickie listened in
vain for a heart beat from Skippy's breast. The only sound that reached
their ears was that of the rushing footsteps coming back now along the
hall and suddenly stopping before their door.

Then the doorknob rattled.

The door did not give, of course; the bed was too tightly jammed
against it. The boys waited and presently they knew that there was a
desperate effort being made to open the door, for the bed vibrated from
the impact. Finally there came a furious pounding on the oaken panel.

"Fallon--Kid?" the familiar, deep voice called insistently. "You boys
there?"

Skippy felt then that his time had come.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                             NICKIE REASONS


"You deaf?" came the funereal query. "Who's in there?"

Nickie was gulping audibly, but he could not speak. Skippy was forced
to do something about it though every instinct within him rebelled
against opening that door to Devlin. He pressed Nickie's hand, then
released it and sat up straight.

"Huh? Who--who's there?" he asked, feigning sleepiness.

"Me--Barker! Who'd you think?" was the harsh reply. Then: "What's
holding this door--_open it!_"

Skippy stepped out of the bed on feet of ice. "A m-m-minute," he said,
in a quivering voice. "J-J-just a-a minute."

Nickie seemed urged into action too. He jumped out and sprang to
Skippy's side. "No matter what, kid," he gasped quickly, "you'n me are
pals--see? It's him or us n' we'll stick! You do the talkin' an' I'll
watch his mitts. He's a big guy but there's two against one!"

"Yes," breathed Skippy, and together they pulled the bed away from the
panel. As the door flew open, Devlin stood partly in the shadow, his
face black with wrath. His eyes, so light and staring, seemed now to be
on the verge of popping out of his long, narrow head, and his beetle
brows were all but obscured by the straggling wisps of his unkempt hair.

"What's the big idea, eh?" he demanded, glaring at the boys and then at
the bed.

His voice sounded almost like a clap of thunder and all Skippy could do
was to look at the man's enormous feet. He had never noticed them
before and they fascinated him.

"Have you lost your voices, _eh_?" Devlin roared. "_Answer me!_" There
was no mistaking his anger.

"Gee whiz, mister--a--," Skippy stammered, "we was sound asleep n' all
of a sudden we heard you poundin' on the door an'...."

"Shut up and answer my question! What's the idea of the bed against the
door? What's the idea of Frost gone? The lock picked and the room
ransacked?"

"We didn't touch nothin' but the ladder, mister," Skippy answered,
feeling more courage. "We don't know nothin' bout the lock--it was like
that when we come upstairs looking for a ladder. We wanted sump'n to do
so we thought we'd go up in the attic n' look round 'cause it's fun on
a rainy night an'...."

"Where's Frost gone?" It was like the roar of a lion.

Skippy cringed inwardly but he managed to smile in Devlin's face. "He
just went, that's all. He said he left a note explainin' things an' he
said somethin' about losin' his keys an' he was lookin' all round for
'em. Then he went upstairs n' he was up a long time an' then he come
down."

"A lot of good you are!" Devlin rumbled deep in his throat. "What's the
matter with you, Fallon--can't you talk any more, eh?"

"The kid's tellin' what happened, Dev----"

It was out!

Devlin glared. "Who told you to call me that?"

"Timmy told us Frost called you that." Nickie too, was quite calm now.

"He did, did he?" The man's eyes narrowed. "Well, let it pass, it don't
matter now--this is my last month in this house, anyway, and no dick
will hear that I'm Devlin through...." He stopped, as if bewildered,
but only for a moment. Then he asked: "Which one of the Greeks did he
take?"

"Both," Skippy said quietly.

"_Both!_" Devlin was plainly beside himself and he made no further
attempt to conceal it. He stepped back into the hall, waving his long
arms from side to side. "He did, did he! So he took 'em both, eh? Well,
I'll show ... where's the note?"

"How'd we know?" Skippy retorted. "We looked for a ladder, that's all,
n' it wouldn't be where there was a note, would it?"

If Devlin heard that, he gave no sign. He stalked into his room and was
even then in possession of the note. While he read it, he ran his long,
hairy fingers back and forth through his hair.

"His hair's wet, kid--awful wet!" Nickie whispered.

Skippy nodded grimly. "An' his feet, Nick--look at 'em--they're covered
with mud! Looks like he's been walkin' through plenty."

Nickie shivered, but they said no more for Devlin had already read the
note and was tearing it into a hundred pieces. Also, he was looking at
the boys and a hard, cold glitter was in his eyes.

"You boys still haven't told me what you had the bed up against the
door for?" he asked, with a hint of cunning in his suddenly modulated
tones.

Skippy was quick to sense this and he gathered his wits to match
Devlin's. Naïvely, he answered: "Maybe it's sissy-like for guys to get
scared, mister, but we was never so scared as we was tonight when we
was up in that attic. We was lookin' through one of those old trunks
and all of a sudden we heard somebody runnin'."

"Yeah, runnin' like nobuddy's business," Nickie added, with narrowed
eyes upon Devlin. "An' like he told us in his dream, who do we see
standin' down there like a ghost, but Timmy!"

Devlin's face looked almost black, but he said nothing.

"Yeah, we was scared, an' how!" Skippy said excitedly. "It was rainin'
so hard an' the wind was blowin' so we couldn't hear hardly nothin' he
said."

"You couldn't?" Devlin's query was almost too eager.

Nickie sighed with understanding and Skippy went on, "All we heard him
say was somethin' bout somebody bein' hurt. Maybe it was him, I don't
know. Anyway, mister, we told him we couldn't let him in 'cause Frost
was away an' we told him he better run an' go back where he come from.
So he stood there awhile an' said sump'n about a car stoppin' an' all
of a sudden the wind blew our lantern out 'cause we opened the window
an' couldn't shut it again."

"Yeah, an' Timmy musta went away then," Nickie finished. "The kid an'
me we calls n' calls so after I says to the kid, maybe we only imagined
it was Timmy, hah? We been talkin' so much bout the nightmare he had
that night, I says I guess we had it on the brain. It was some spooky
here tonight with the storm an' all, an' a guy can imagine a lot."

"You must have imagined a terrible lot!" Devlin said gravely. "The last
I saw of Timmy Underwood, he was waving to me from the window of a
train bound for Montana."

Skippy stood speechless and Nickie walked helplessly to the bed and sat
down.

"I suppose the whole thing made you a little nervous," Devlin said,
staring down at the dilapidated writing table. He coughed. "This is a
quiet place, specially during a storm. But boys your age being so
nervous as to push the bed...."

"We couldn't find no match to light a lantern," Skippy said, feeling
limp.

"Yeah, an' I didn't want no spooks creepin' in on me," Nickie added.
"Live ones, I ain't afraid of...."

"Nonsense! The best thing you boys can do is to go to bed and forget
it. I'm a little tired myself." After a pause, he added: "I'm taking
you boys, somewhere in the morning so wake up early. Goodnight!"

Skippy couldn't get the door closed quickly enough. He threw himself on
the bed exhausted. "Am I glad that's over!"

"Same here, kid," Nickie agreed in a faint voice. "Our little date with
him tomorra ain't worryin' me like what Frost's gonna say bout that
lock when he gets back."

"Keep your shirt on. From what Devlin's looked an' from what he ain't
said about Frost, makes me think there'll be plenty trouble between
_them_ so the lock won't look big. Anyway, we can deny it, can't we?
Frost's double-crossed Devlin a little, I think, so will Devlin believe
all he says again, huh? Our word's as good as Frost's."

"Kid, I'm a dumb-bell again, ain't I? While you're makin' the old bean
work I'm worryin' bout Devlin's mitts." Suddenly he lowered his voice
still more and whispered close to Skippy's ear, "What's the idea sayin'
we didn' hear nothin' that Timmy said?"

"We gotta outsmart _him_! While he thinks we ain't on to nothin', he
won't be so foxy. Take it from me, Nickie, if we tell him nothin' we
got a chance--not unless."

"What a guy!"

"If he thought we thought there was really sump'n phoney bout him an'
Timmy tonight, we couldn't breathe no more without him knowin' it. He's
gonna be foxy anyhow, but he'd be worse if he knew what we was thinkin'
an' I betcha I'm right."

"You didn't fall for that about him seein' Timmy off on that train for
Montana, hah?"

"We seen Timmy down in the clearin'--we seen him with our own eyes,
didn' we?"

"Devlin looked like a minister when he said he seen Timmy wavin' on
that, train. Could a guy be lyin' an' look like that?"

"That's why they call him Dean," Skippy murmured, thinking of what
Carlton Conne had told him of the man's record. "He fools people 'cause
he looks like a saint. Sure, he can lie--he don't do nothin' else but."

"It's awful, kid, but I can't think what we saw was real--_it couldn't
be_!"

"But the mud on his shoes an' his wet hair...." Skippy argued.

And when day dawned warm and clear, they had come no nearer to the
truth than that.



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                                WAITING


Devlin had a change of mind during the intervening hours, and at
breakfast he announced with his usual gravity that they would not make
the trip that day after all. He had some important business to attend
to first, he said, and would leave them alone that afternoon. On Monday
evening they would go.

He seemed not at all concerned about the attic but just before he was
leaving that afternoon, he started to remove the ladder.

"Aw, leave it there, won't you?" Skippy asked imploringly. "Nickie an'
me, we get sick of the dark rooms downstairs an' up there we can play
cards an' all without a light. Gee whiz...."

Skippy won.

Devlin's cold, staring eyes glittered more than ever after he gave his
consent and there was a calm about him when he went out that left the
boys perplexed.

They rushed to the window when they heard him slam the metal door of
the woodshed. Eagerly they watched while he stalked with measured steps
toward the barn. Then they saw him backing out slowly in a blue coupe
that was distinctly second-hand.

"Another car!" Nickie gasped.

"Gee, I expected it, an' I didn't!" was Skippy's comment. "Did we hear
Timmy say that old sedan went over into the lake, or didn't we?"

"We did _and how_! You're right, kid, it looks like I'm goofey about
that spook stuff. We won't argue about it no more. What we gonna do all
day, hah?"

"Work on those bars," Skippy grinned. "Gee whiz, Nick, tell the truth,
I didn't think we'd have the chance. I thought he had us where he
wanted."

Seven hours later, they were not so sure but that Devlin would be
triumphant after all. They had worked sedulously during that time but
there was only a little give in the top bar and the boys were well nigh
discouraged.

Sitting atop the trunk they surveyed the bars ruefully. Another day was
drawing to its close, another day that brought them nearer to the Fate
which only Devlin held the key to. Skippy felt weary and sick.

"There's no use, I guess, Nick. It's comin' out like Timmy said--we
can't do a thing till he takes us outa here for our turn."

"Yeah, then we gotta use our beans an' scram. But it's got _me_, kid;
we saw in that book how much money he expects from us. How can he get
it when we're dead?"

"I dunno. We ain't gonna hash this mystery business all over again--I'm
too blamed tired. All I'm sure of is that Devlin gets money for us an'
sometime or other he'll wanta kill us for some reason. Timmy said it
was a trick about him shippin' us west, so that's the night he does
it--always at night, you know that. When that night comes for us, we
just gotta outguess him."

"An' it's about a month from the time he takes us to a sawbones,"
Nickie said mournfully. "Well, if we can't do nothin' else about it,
I'm gonna pull myself together. But one thing, I hope he takes us
together--see. If you go first or I go--holy smoke, I can't stand it if
he takes us separate. I'm scared I'll lose my nerve--you know it?"

"Forget it, Nick. Whatever he does, be foxy an' forget about me n' I'll
do the same. Gee whiz, from what Timmy said he don't tie you down--if
he did that we wouldn't have a chance. Now quit worryin', an' let's get
down before he comes. I'll hide the things again an' maybe he'll be out
a lotta the time an' we can try it again. If we keep pullin' on them
bars we'll weaken 'em after awhile even if it's weeks."

"Yeah, weeks too late."

Nickie's spirits rose considerably a little later. Devlin had come in
with a pail of chicken fricassee and an apple pie, announcing that he
had stopped at a lunch wagon to give the boys a treat. Skippy almost
decided that all his suspicions had been unfounded.

The problem was a tormenting one. Could anyone be so cruel? Devlin's
face, always a study, was no nearer revealing what lay behind his grave
features than on the day they had first seen him. Just now he was as
much absorbed in the chicken fricassee as the boys were.

A full stomach does much toward comforting the harassed human being,
and Nickie was no exception to the rule. The keen look of defiance came
back into his eyes and he settled back in his chair, quite forgetting
for the time that the man who had so generously fed him, was the man
whom he had expected would kill him.

Skippy's full stomach, while giving him much comfort, did not disarm
him completely. He sat back in his chair, noting Nickie's peaceful face
beside him and Devlin's mask-like countenance across the table. Someone
had to be ready and on guard--Devlin had a price for everything--even
chicken fricassee.

It came sooner than he expected. Devlin was finishing his pie and
washing it down with great draughts of coffee. "Well, boys," he said,
genially, "I suppose both of you swim, eh?"

Skippy kicked Fallon under the table and said, "Nope, not a
stroke--neither of us. Do we, Nick?"

"Nah. Ain't it a shame, hah? We oughta."

"Yes, yes. It's something every boy ought to know." Devlin got up and
his bulk seemed greater than ever. His face had resumed its thoughtful
expression and the glitter had returned to his eyes. "Well, I'll be
going up now--a little business I got to attend to. If you boys wash up
the dishes you can have a game of cards before bedtime, eh?"

They listened as he walked through the hall and up the stairs. Skippy
waited until he heard the man's step in his own room before he said,
"Well, he's begun workin' on us all right, an' I trumped his ace right
off the bat."

"How, kid?"

"He expected us to say we could swim."

"How did...."

"'cause I'm layin' for him all the time from now on. Whatever he
expected to do if we'd said yes, I don't know. But I know, he's aimin'
to try the car trick on us an' he wanted to make sure things wouldn't
go wrong. He can't afford to have us not drown when he's countin' on
it, can he?"

Nickie put his elbows on the table and cupped his chin. "You mean we
gotta go through with it an' take the chance that he can't kill us
'cause we can swim?"

"If there ain't any other chance, we gotta."

"Well, I'm licked!" Nickie said hopelessly.

But he wasn't ... not yet....



                              CHAPTER XXV

                             A PASSING FACE


Distrustful though they were and full of nameless fears, they stepped
into Devlin's coupé early on Monday evening with a feeling of relief.
To be out in the air again, a part of the moving, restless world--it
gave them no small thrill and they tried to put out of their minds all
that had troubled them since their strange imprisonment.

Devlin, adept at using either hand, dexterously managed the car with
his left hand and kept his right hand significantly at his pocket. "I
might as well warn you boys," he said when they had left the clearing,
"that I'll stand for no nonsense. I got a silencer on this gun in my
pocket and it won't make any noise if either one of you try to beat it."

Nickie seemed to have been silenced without the gun, but Skippy said,
"Aw, don't worry, mister. Why should we beat it when you're gonna ship
us out west an' everything, huh?"

"I'm glad you feel that way," the man said gravely, but watching the
boys out of the corner of his eye. "Timmy got very restless waiting
around and I had an idea he was putting notions in your heads." He
coughed.

"Aw, no," Skippy said with a gulp. "I--er--he didn't say nothin'."

Devlin did not relax. "I might as well tell you my plans now," he said
slowly. "I'm taking you both to a country doctor not far from here for
a physical examination. You are to act as if you didn't know where you
were born or much of anything else--understand? You may answer yes and
no to any questions he asks you but that is all. I'll do the rest of
the talking. And you're my sons--my sons! Don't forget that for a
moment. I'll be watching every minute."

They rode through the woods path, turning here and there so that Skippy
could not keep track of the route. Dusk was rapidly approaching and
when Devlin slowed down the car as they came abreast of a narrow path,
he could just about make it out.

Devlin stopped the car and got out backwards. Then, reaching in the
pocket flap of the coupé door, he drew out a searchlight and played it
up and down the boggy-looking path for a flashing second, yet giving
Skippy plenty of time to notice several large footprints on both sides
of the trail.

He said nothing to Nickie for Devlin was back in the car again in a
moment and they had started off. A few feet farther on they crossed a
tiny wooden bridge of amateur construction.

"Frost and me fixed that up," said the man as they rattled over the
logs. He coughed again. "Part bog and part creek and about fifteen feet
deep where we put the logs. Nasty place. Folks around here don't know
anything about it any more--their grandfolks and great-grandfolks that
did have forgot about it now."

They came at last to a road that had once boasted asphalt and Skippy
guessed that it had taken them at least an hour to reach it. Along this
they speeded silently, each one wrapped in his own thoughts. Not a car
did they meet, not a person or house did they pass and it was fully two
hours after they had left the dismal house when they espied a small,
lighted dwelling by the roadside.

Devlin drove past that, too, and presently he turned on to another
badly paved road which took them uphill. Skippy noticed the dark
outline of mountains spreading out around them. It was true then, he
thought, the house was situated in the center of swamplands and forest.
But where--where were they?

Another half hour's ride and they came into a small village, boasting a
few stores and not more than twenty-five houses. It was at the extreme
end of this quiet community and a little around the bend that Devlin
brought the car to a stop.

"Here we are," he said, backing out as soon as he had turned off his
switch. "Now remember--leave the talking to me!"

Skippy felt the gun at his back all the way up the graveled walk.
Nickie kept safely ahead and walked with short, jerky steps. They went
up on the porch and a pleasant-faced lady answered the doorbell.

She led them into the sitting room at Devlin's deep-voiced request, and
then disappeared. Then the doctor appeared, a short, near-sighted
little man who talked in nasal accents and put his stethoscope to
Skippy's rapidly beating heart with professional alacrity.

"So you got here, eh," he said, as he changed the instrument about on
the boy's chest. "Mr. Smithson told me you'd come. Name's Barker, eh?
Well, must say you're a sensible man to watch out what's ahead. Guess
both boys'll pass muster. So you're starting a mushroom place down at
Devil's Bog, eh?"

"Yes, yes," Devlin answered, standing in a nonchalant posture near the
door. "Know much about it, doc?"

"No, nothing, except that it's full of malaria and mosquitoes and a
dangerous place to go unless a body knows where they're going," the
garrulous man answered. "I've never been there--guess your place is
quite a ways in, eh?"

"Mm," Devlin answered. "Beggars can't be choosers, doc. I got to do the
best I can for my boys."

The doctor snorted. "Guess that's so. Sometimes they don't thank a body
any." He had disposed of Skippy by that time and nodded to Nickie.
"Just keep your eye on 'em, that's all you can do." Then: "Did you say
they're going to help you?"

"Mm, I'm too poor to get anyone else."

And that was all. The doctor dismissed them, saying he had to get out
on a call and before Skippy could think what to do, they were out on
the porch and the door had closed behind them. Nickie looked at his
friend, desperately.

Skippy sat down on the bottom step and began to untie his shoe.
"Something's hurtin' my foot, mister," he said innocently, as Devlin
stood above him, tall and questioning. "Guess it's the lining--wait a
minute!"

Devlin walked a few feet away, standing in an advantageous position
while his staring eyes darted from one boy to the other. Then,
impatiently, he walked on to the car. "I'm watching you, kid--hurry!"
he said, after curtly ordering Nickie inside.

Skippy got his shoe back on and began to saunter slowly down the walk,
when suddenly he saw someone turn in at the path. His heart jumped! It
was a lady and from under her hat the boy could see white hair. God had
sent her!

"I'm waiting, kid!"

Devlin's voice was icy. Skippy had to think quickly and, consequently,
there was a sharp contact, the lady's pocketbook fell to the ground and
its contents fell out on the walk.

Skippy was nothing if not gallant. He was on his knees, picking up the
scattered articles and cramming them back despite her sweet-voiced
protests. But he had to do it quickly, expertly, for Devlin had a
challenging look in his cold eyes.

Then he ran to the car and Nickie gave him an anxious look. "Sorry I
hadda keep you waitin', mister," he said naïvely, "but that lady was
old an' she couldn't stoop so well so I ..."

"Come on, get in!" was Devlin's response.

Skippy looked back and saw that the old lady stood holding her
pocketbook tightly, watching them as they drove away. Then she went up
the walk to the doctor's house.

After they had gone a few feet, Devlin backed the car around and went
back the way they had come. As they drove down the brightly lighted
street of the little community, they came abreast of a car which as
Skippy had already noticed bore a New York license plate. Even while he
looked, a face at one of the opened windows drew his attention, a brisk
face so pleasantly familiar.

Dick Hallam!

He tried to stifle his cry of surprise, but Devlin had not missed it.
"You know the man in that car?" He had already stepped on the gas and
they were plunging forward with terrific speed. "You know him?" he
asked, insistently, threateningly.

"Y--yes."

Skippy saw the headlights looming up from the rear. Dick Hallam was
giving chase. He had seen him! Devlin, on the other hand, was not
dismayed. He was using all the speed of which the car was capable and
had turned off all except his parking lights. Suddenly he swerved into
a narrow road and after that they made so many turns that Skippy lost
all sense of direction.

When Devlin slowed down he coughed with satisfaction. "I'm glad to see
that neither of you tried to pull a fast one. I had made up my mind
that I'd wreck the car if you did--I'm that way, boys."

"Yeah, we can see that," Nickie said, with no conscious attempt to be
humorous. "You needn't a' worried bout me, Devlin--I wouldn't a' laid a
hand on you. The shave was close enough the way this car was goin'."

Skippy had barely heard anything that was said. He could think only
that Dick Hallam had been near enough to touch not a half hour back,
and now the night, and perhaps Death itself, separated them. Certainly,
it was too much to hope that Hallam should find them now or ever!

The doctor had said that no one knew of Devil's Bog. Why hadn't he
known the name of the place before? Neither Carlton Conne nor his men
would ever find the place from his poor description of it. And yet, he
thought, did not the desolate swampland stand out from all other
swamplands? Somehow, it did.

And Dean Devlin, known or unknown, made it stand out still more.



                              CHAPTER XXVI

                           GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY


They talked it all over before they went to sleep that night and
concluded that one bright star of hope burned brightly in their favor.
Everything indicated that Devlin meant to get them both off his hands
at once. Nickie observed that perhaps Frost had put the idea in his
head and, if so, they had much for which to thank him.

Skippy's thoughts were full of Dick Hallam and he dared to think there
might be some hope in that direction. Might not Hallam guess that
Devlin was holding him prisoner somewhere in the locality? Might not
Carlton Conne send out his men to scour the countryside until they
trailed down the forgotten house that lay in the fastnesses of Devil's
Bog?

"He's gotta!" Skippy said aloud.

"Hah?" Nickie asked sleepily.

"I was tellin' myself that sump'n's gotta come our way. That guy we
passed--I know him. He'll use his head that we must be some place
nearby an' he'll have a hunt started for us."

"Yeah, but we're a coupla hours' ride from where the sawbones lives."

"It's called Hillbriar--I seen it on a sign."

"Yeah, and this place--_Devil's Bog_! That's a swell monicker all
right. It's the right place for Devlin all right. If the _n_ was out
an' the _i_ put before the _l_ they could call him The Devil of Devil's
Bog, hah? Say, the more I think the worse headache I get about that
doctor business. He ain't in on Devlin's racket, that's a cinch. If
only Devlin didn't pack that rod, kid, we coulda spilled things. But he
was watchin' us close, the dirty rat."

"Yeah, an' I wasn't gonna take no chance neither. Gee whiz, Nickie,
we're better off waitin' 'cause it's better bein' alive than go off the
handle an' have maybe three of us dead. Then he coulda skipped out an'
nobody woulda heard a shot."

"Yeah, we didn't have no chance without gettin' blowed up. Even in the
car, that rat wasn't missin' no tricks. A coupla times I was gonna give
you a sign, 'cause I thought between us, we could land on him, but he
had that silencer right in his mitt. He ain't got no feelin's, he makes
me thinka rock with icy water tricklin' down it."

"Did you notice anythin' just before we come to the creek, Nickie? I
mean when he stopped an' got out with his flash?"

Nickie lifted himself up on his elbow. "Say," he whispered, "them
footsteps? Say, I was wonderin' too. What was in there that he was so
nosey about, hah?"

"Wish I knew, believe me. That path I betcha goes through the woods an'
down to that bog. He said, didn't he, that the creek an' the bog both
wound round that way, huh? Anyway, it's a cinch that he was down that
path Saturday night. We seen mud on his feet an' tonight we could see
his footsteps."

"Then it looks like he took Timmy for ..." Nickie whispered fearfully.

"I been thinkin' the same thing. Gee whiz, Nickie, it's awful, huh?
He's like you say--a devil! We gotta be pretty foxy with a feller like
that. He ain't afraida nothin', I don't think."

"Yeah, an' don't think we can beat him to it. Lissen, kid, he's twice
our size an' the gun he carries ain't no water pistol. It looks like if
he don't get us one way, he'll get us the other. Kid, the only way
we'll get a break is for your friends to round up the dicks an' come
down here and surprise Devlin. An' how can that happen when they don't
know...."

"But maybe they will, Nickie," Skippy whispered hopefully. "I didn't
know the name of this place when I wrote that note. Even I didn't have
a chance to hardly get it outa my shoe so I wouldn't a' had a
chance...."

"An' that old lady," Nickie interposed ruefully. "Holy Smoke, kid, what
a chance that was to slip her that note if Devlin hadn't kep' watchin'
every move. Just the kinda old lady we was talkin' about too."

"What you talkin' about, Nickie, huh?"

"That note what you was gonna slip the first old lady you
could--remember? An' you'd a' had a swell break if it wasn't for
Devlin. He's a hoodoo with that funeral pan o' his."

"Gee whiz, Nickie, did I get away with it as swell as that? Gosh, I was
scared skinny that maybe Devlin was wise I knocked her pocketbook outa
her hand on purpose. _She_ didn't know I did it on purpose."

"On purpose--how come?"

"Sure, I thought you knew it, Nickie. Gee whiz, was that a break that
it opened up an' her stuff ran all over the walk! When I give it back
that note was inside."

"Kid, that's the pay-off! If that ain't a break."

"Well, I did an' how! By now I bet she's read that an' maybe already
she's put it in an envelope an' it's on the way to New York."

Skippy would not have been able to endure the anxiety of the following
days if he had not had faith that the note was well on its way. Hope
would soon have fled if he had known that the sweet-voiced old lady had
not discovered the note that night, nor for many nights to come. She
had gone home after her visit to the doctor and, being confined to her
bed for the next two weeks with a bad cold, there had been no occasion
to use her "best" pocketbook.

Devlin seemed destined to win.



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                              ACCUSATIONS


Their hopes flared high, then burned so low that they were beginning to
exchange whispers of despair. When a week had passed, then ten days,
they looked at each other hopelessly and each knew what was in the
other's thoughts without the exchange of a word. Timmy's "nerves" had
been nothing compared to Nickie's "jumpiness," as he called it. He
fairly quailed whenever Devlin's footsteps sounded.

The man kept to his own room, except for three consecutive days when he
left the house just before dusk and returned late at night. At those
times, the boys hurried to the attic and fell to work at the window
bars, only to realize at the end of the week, that it would take more
than their inadequate little pot handle to gain freedom.

On Wednesday of the following week, Devlin was plainly angry. The boys
knew he was thinking of Frost and they seemed to sense that the man's
unexpected departure was enraging Devlin more and more. He paced the
length of the house, muttering to himself and clenching his big hands
until his knuckles cracked. This continued throughout the afternoon.

Supper was a disappointment as all the meals had been. Devlin had not
again been so generous as to surprise them with any more of the
lunchroom delicacies such as he had brought in on that Sunday night.
Meal after meal was the same, a monotony of canned beans, bacon and
crackers.

Skippy had no appetite that night. The smell of bacon made him sick and
he felt that never again in his life would he be able to eat it. Nickie
moped dejectedly over his plate and when he did put anything to his
mouth he washed it down quickly with coffee as if he dared not taste it.

He looked at Skippy and shook his head. "If there's two more weeks like
this, kid, you'll need your strength--see. I'm sick, too, but I feel I
gotta eat no matter what, so I wash every mouthful down with this
rotten coffee. No matter how rotten coffee is, it's better'n tastin'
them blamed beans and bacon."

Skippy was trying out this sound advice when they heard the familiar
sound of a car chugging into the clearing. Nickie put down his coffee
cup with a bang and before either one of them could make any comment,
they heard Devlin rushing out of his room and down the stairway.

He came loping into the kitchen muttering, "Frost--it's Frost," and
rushed to one of the windows and looked out.

The boys were at the other window in a second and though the evening
shadows were lengthening, they could see the big, dark car rolling into
the barn. They watched as Frost came out with his short, hopping
stride, and they heard Devlin mumble deep in his throat.

The man made no attempt to go near the door but stood back against the
wall and waited. The boys went back to the table and made a pretense of
drinking their coffee. All the time, however, they too were waiting and
they listened intently as Frost's key clinked against the metal door.

Abruptly his leathern-looking face appeared in the doorway wreathed in
smiles. "Howdy!" he was saying breezily. "How----" He caught the insane
glint in Devlin's eyes and stood suddenly still. "Say, you don't look
glad to see me, boss!"

"Did you expect me to?" Devlin's voice boomed through the room.

Frost flushed up to the roots of his colorless hair. His small, shifty
eyes strayed toward the boys, then back to Devlin again. "Oh, if you
feel that way about it--I was thinkin' I was helpin' you out--givin'
you a hand...."

"Since when did I ask you to do my thinking for me, eh? Since when did
you give me a hand without being told to?" There was a ring in Devlin's
voice that made his listeners quiver when he added, "Come
upstairs--I've got plenty to say to you!"

The boys had never had any doubt that Devlin was a man of his word. Now
they were learning that he went far beyond that and gave no quarter to
anyone who had taken too much for granted at his expense. And from the
terrible wrath with which Devlin shook the house, Frost must have been
aware that he had committed the unforgivable sin in the eyes of his
nefarious employer.

Devlin seemed to have thrown aside all caution in his anger. His
solemn, terrible voice trailed down the stairs to where the boys were
standing, absorbing it all. Frost, at first, had made a feeble protest,
but was soon forced to stand back and listen.

"Boss," he had said, obsequiously, "there ain't no use gettin' sore
when I only meant to help out. Anyways, it seemed like wastin' time
stayin' here and...."

"_Shut up!_"

Devlin's long, determined stride shook the floor with each step he
took. "I didn't make up my mind what to do about those infernal Greek
kids. And I had that pest Timmy on my hands while you...."

"Didn't things blow right, Boss?" Frost's voice sounded conciliatory.

Devlin shouted, "Don't remind me of it! I tell you it looks like luck
is turning against me. First with Tucker out in Chi and now Timmy--I
tell you they're a dead loss! Then I come in here Saturday night almost
dead, I'm so tired, and what do I find! You gone on your own hook with
the two Greeks--after me telling you to stay here!"

"But, Boss--I did the job without no trouble and...."

"With that grinning face of yours I suppose you could look the part,
eh? Only I've got the face for this business--people don't get wise to
a face like mine--they think I'm drowning in grief. But _you_--I wasn't
going to let you go through with the Greeks; either one of 'em. I
decided that when I was fooled by that pest of a Timmy. It's risky
enough for me without you going ahead and doing things on your own. It
shows what brains you've got when you couldn't even wait the month at
least."

Frost became sullen and defiant at this challenge. "Oh, yeah?" he
parried. "Well, let me tell _you_ somethin', Boss. I was goin' to tell
you when I come in but you ain't give me a chance to get a word in--I
had brains to wait a month all right, but somethin' happened. We got a
room and I passed the word around we was looking for jobs like you work
it. I even give the landlady such a sob story she gives me the dope
herself that we ought to get our names on the dotted line so it was
soft."

"How much?" Devlin inquired almost eagerly.

"A grand each!" came the proud reply. "I made the agent talk me into
that--he said a thousand when I said five hundred."

"_Go on!_"

"I made the first payment Friday, and Saturday morning we went out
after dawn for a fishing trip--not a phoney one, Boss--I meant it real
'cause I wanted the low down on how I'd work it when the time was ripe.
I knew by then they couldn't swim, but like I say it was a try-out. It
was a hazy morning and the water was rough and we hadn't got far out
when that Shorty stands up in the boat to pass something to Biff. Next
thing I know we was in the water and the Greeks was shoutin' their
heads off and the tide was pushin' me down-stream like anything. I
couldn't swim against it and I was lucky to grab the end of the boat
that was floatin' upside down. Anyway, a guy fishin' in near shore
hears the racket and comes out. But the Greeks had got it and he was
lucky to help me."

"Did they find 'em?" Devlin's question was eager.

"Sure, and say, wasn't I plastered with sympathy at that boardin'
house! Things just blew my way. I won't have no trouble gettin' the
money. In three weeks I'm going back and collect. I told 'em out there
that I was comin' East to look for work 'cause the trouble didn't make
Pittsburgh look so good to me."

"That's better, Frost--I didn't think you had it in you. Those two
downstairs will be off my hands by that time--I'll go out with you."

"I wouldn't take no chances if I was you, Boss. I got today's papers in
the car. They're playin' up on the Delafield kids and they hinted there
was a racket behind it!"

"_What?_" Devlin's heavy foot pounded on the floor.

"Yeah," Frost answered as if he were almost enjoying the telling of it,
"one paper says the dicks are hep and some famous detective has
promised to run down the brains of it."

"_Carlton Conne!_" was all Devlin said.

"That's what I thought right away. You know that guy, Boss, so I'd lay
off a little. You might get jammed in Pittsburgh. I can collect them
two G's all right."

"I realize that, Frost," said Devlin coldly. "But trouble or no
trouble, I'm going to go to Pittsburgh with _you--understand_?"

The boys could not hear Frost's reply. He might not have voiced his
opinion at all. But Devlin's heavy steps overhead seemed to speak
volumes. Suddenly he hurled a question that made Skippy's heart stand
still.

"Frost," he was shouting, "where's that memorandum book of mine, eh?"

The boys sprang into the kitchen. They closed the door noiselessly
behind them and sat down, stunned and hopeless looking.

"Well, it's come, hah?"

Skippy nodded. "Gee whiz, I did forget. We just gotta deny it like we
planned."

"Yeah, but that ain't sayin' Devlin's gonna believe us, kid."

Skippy leaned forward on the table, his eyes blinking thoughtfully.
"Listen, Nickie, it don't make no difference what he believe, does it?
If we don't get help, we'll have to go with him an' take the chance
like we planned. So we should worry about it either way."

Skippy was right. Worrying about it wouldn't help. Devlin and Frost
came downstairs a few minutes later and accused them, but they managed
to stick to their guns. That they had taken the ladder seemed to have
caused no suspicion; neither had the boys' frequent trips to the attic
revealed how desperate had been their efforts to loosen the bars.
Devlin seemed not to have noticed it.

His mind was on the notebook and his face showed that he would not
dismiss the topic easily. "Where is it?" he was saying.

"Say, mister, what do we want with a darn old notebook anyway!" Skippy
retorted. "Search us--search our whole room but you won't find it,
'cause what would we want with it, huh?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Devlin said, narrowing his eyes. He
turned to Nickie, "I think you picked that lock--what for?"

"Aw, pipe down. Even if I did--what about it, hah? You can see that we
didn't take anything an' if we had, what could we do with it? I guess
you ain't worried that we got any money or anything like that, hah?"

"Hear that, Frost? I guess they're telling the truth and that puts it
up to you. You trying to double cross me?"

"Say, I ain't that dumb, Boss," Frost protested. "Maybe you mislaid it
or lost it."

"Maybe--and maybe not." Then Devlin turned on his heel and left the
room with Frost hopping after him protesting his innocence. But it was
evident to the boys that Devlin suspected Frost for the dour looking
leader returned soon muttering: "I'll get him yet."



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                           THE MICE WILL PLAY


It was apparent next day that relations were strained between the two
men. Frost went about looking sullen and defiant and Devlin, when he
was not up in his room sleeping, sat in the kitchen drinking coffee
with ominous gravity.

Late afternoon came and Devlin appeared dressed to go out. He strode
about the kitchen several times, then walked to the door. Frost eyed
him curiously.

"Goin' out, Boss?" he asked.

Devlin looked back and nodded. "I'll be back early tonight." He glanced
at the boys. "You be ready to take a ride with Frost and me."

He slammed the door and Nickie paled, noticeably. Frost sat idly at the
table drumming his thick fingers upon the oilcloth cover. Skippy went
to the window and watched until Devlin backed the big car out. Then he
turned suddenly.

"Say, mister," he said to Frost, "me an' Nickie know what Devlin'll
take us on a ride for tonight."

If Frost was surprised he did not show it. He glanced up at Skippy. "So
you're a wise kid, hey?"

"Nope, we just kept our ears open last night an' heard plenty. Devlin
talked loud enough so we put two and two together. Anyhow we know Timmy
never went out West--we know he's dead. Tucker got picked up in Chicago
an' that put the bulls wise Devlin was in a new racket."

Frost was aghast. "How do you--you...."

Skippy put his cards on the table. "I know everthin' now, I do, an' I
knew plenty before I ever seen Devlin. We'll give you a break if you
let us get away tonight. If you don't Devlin'll go to Pittsburgh with
you an' grab that dough--a blind guy could see he figures you're givin'
him the double-x--an' besides I heard him say he'd get you. Anyhow I
know the cops'll grab him there an' if you're with him you'll be
grabbed, too. So chaw on that a bit."

Frost was plainly frightened. "He's been actin' so crazy lately he
might take me for a ride at that and if I get grabbed with him I'll get
the hot squat too."

Skippy used the best thrust he knew. "Sure, you will. The cops got that
notebook right now--anyway if they ain't, Carlton Conne's got it an'
that's as good as with the cops." He waited a moment until that shot
had found its mark and then he added: "I sent Carlton Conne a note an'
that notebook too the night Devlin took us to the doctor's house--I
told him how long it was from the time we had the accident an' all
about this house an' what the hermit told you. So if you know anything
about Carlton Conne you know he'll find this joint sooner or later an'
if Nickie an' me are dead, it'll be tough for you if you're found with
Devlin. Now I'll give you a break if you'll give us one. How 'bout it?"

Like many of his ilk, Frost thought only of his own safety and as he
had neither brains nor cunning, he did not stop to question nor
consider anything but himself.

"Sure, I'll give you kids a break--_sure_!" he was crying like the
yellow creature he was. "You think I wanta burn with Devlin when I
ain't done nothin' yet but help kids for him, hey? I met him in Chi and
he brought me here and propositioned me. But I ain't never tried the
trick on any kids and them Greeks if they didn't get drowned like they
did, I couldn't gone through with it--I know it. I got more feelin's
than Devlin, but I hadda stick and play up--get me? I come along in a
car that night I see him first and saw him ship that Tucker kid over
that cliff into the lake. I'd made a stick-up a few minutes before and
I was makin' my getaway without lights."

"An' you seen what he did?" Skippy asked eagerly.

"Sure. He didn't hear me and he didn't see me so I switched off under
some trees and it was a lonesome road that hardly anybody traveled
between midnight and morning. I see an old car stop and this guy gets
out. It's Devlin. Then you could have knocked me over when I sees him
give the little car a shove right over the cliff. So me bein' in a
little racket myself I puts on my lights and chugs up to him and he
waves me to stop. So he gives me a story that him and his son was
ridin' along and the car stalls. He gets out to crank it while his son
gets behind the wheel to fix the spark. Well, the brake mustn't been
on, he tells me, when all of a sudden he sees the car headed right over
the cliff to the lake. He just has time to jump out of the way, he
says."

"Such a warm-hearted guy he is!" Nickie said disgustedly.

"Yeah, he ain't got no heart," Frost said, with more composure. "But to
make it quick, I tell him I'm wise and what's his racket. So we get
real chummy and he tells me to drive on and when we do he says it's
insurance that he's working."

"_Insurance!_" Skippy repeated as if he must never forget the word.

"Yeah, he tells me it's a good payin' racket. He says he can get
orphans so they don't have no real near folks inquirin' after 'em. He
can get 'em insured and wait a month or so, then he can take 'em out in
a car, an old closed car he likes to get that don't cost him more'n a
few bucks--you know, the kind that's ready for the junk yard. If they
can swim he can dope 'em a little with some stuff he's got so by the
time they get where he wants, all he has to do is to get out and push
the car over to the water."

"So that's how he worked it, huh?" Skippy asked, feeling rather sick.

"Sure," Frost answered readily. "If they can't swim, he likes it
better. Then he uses that stallin' business to get out, leavin' off the
brake. He thought he had Tucker sure, but the kid comes to and gets out
in time so Devlin thinks he don't give him enough dope."

Nickie shuddered visibly. "So he reports it an accident?"

"Yeah, and with that funeral face Devlin gets away with it. When the
whole business is over he collects the insurance."

"Gee whiz!" Skippy murmured. "_It's awful!_"

"Yeah, don't think I liked it when he told me!" Frost said, on the
defensive. "But he told me I wouldn't have to do no part of that. He
said all I had to do was the details like he called it. So what could I
do when he had told me all that and asked me to come in on it with him?
He'd have put me on the spot for what I knew about him if I didn't.
Besides, he said it was goin' to be safe and that he'd worked it out
so's we couldn't get caught."

"Why didn't you stay in Pittsburgh?" Skippy asked suddenly. "You wanted
to, I betcha."

"Sure, I did. But he'da found me--if it was years he'd find me so I
thought I'd better come back."

"You can go back to Pittsburgh tonight if you help us get away. You can
start back now--the coupe's out in the barn, ain't it?"

"Yeah, but he might..." Frost began.

"Tell him you took us out for the air an' we beat it."

Nickie was aroused, jubilant at the new turn of events. "Yeah, an' say,
Frost, tell him you chased us down in the woods where the bog gets
tough, but that we give you the slip there, hah?"

"That's the stunt, Mister Frost. And tell him you'll hunt us on one
side while he hunts on the other. Then, when he's gone, you beat it
fast, 'cause we'll have the cops in here after him by that time. He
can't chase you to Pittsburgh when he's in jail, can he?"

Frost fell as Skippy afterward termed it, "hook, line and sinker."
"Sounds like it's fool-proof, kids," he said. "And the dicks don't know
about me, hey?"

"How would they?" Skippy assured him.

Frost got up. "I'll get my keys," he said, "and we'll beat it pronto.
I'll take you to the highway and make out I won't be glad to beat it."

Nickie looked at Skippy while they were waiting. "It ain't true you
sent that notebook, is it?" he asked incredulously.

Skippy grinned. "Gee, _you're_ not fool-proof, Nickie. How could I get
that book without Devlin seein' me that night, huh? Didn't I have a big
enough job on my hands gettin' that note into the old lady's
pocketbook? I hadda spread it on thick to frighten him right off an'
make him think the cops had that book--well, it ain't a lie exactly
'cause they'll have it some day an', boy, is that enough to send Devlin
where he can't be sent any more, huh?"

"An' how!" Nickie agreed. "Then it's still out there behind the barrel,
hah?"

"Sure, an' it's gonna stay there till the cops come an' get it. I'll
tell 'em where it is--nobody else would think to look for it there. We
can't let Frost see us takin' it now an' even if we could, I don't like
it on us in case anythin' goes wrong."

"Aw, what could go wrong now, hah?" Nickie said confidently. "Frost
takes us out to the road where we're safe, so we should worry."

Skippy felt somewhat less confident. He could not, try as he would, put
away from him the feeling that nothing was sure in the dark, forgotten
swampland of Devil's Bog. When they were once clear of it entirely, he
told himself, he would be able to laugh at the fears which he felt now.



                              CHAPTER XXIX

                                 A SLIP


Frost drove away from the clearing with a confidence that communicated
itself to Nickie. He was talkative, affable and even informative.
Devlin, he told them, had searched out the abandoned house after his
talk with the old hermit when they had had a breakdown with their car
some ten miles from the bog. Their hunt hadn't been an easy one--they
made the journey three times before they found the place.

"But the boss is that persistent," the man was saying. "He don't give
up. That's why I ast you kids to tell the dicks as soon's you get out,
'cause if he don't find you by tonight, he'll be hoppin' off after me."

"Did he tell you anything about poor Timmy, huh?" Skippy asked. "Did he
tell you that he come back that night?"

"He didn't tell me nothin' about him excep' that he had trouble," Frost
answered truthfully. "But I know what you kids think about it--I think
the same thing. He said he could never go to Albany and collect on
Timmy so you know what that means without me tellin'."

Skippy couldn't talk about it--it was all too horrifying. Nickie must
have felt the same way for he was silent and his dark eyes kept to the
narrow woods trail as if he dared not look on either side. Somewhere in
that bog was Timmy, free from Devlin at last.

They rode along in silence after that and though they were all a bit
nervous they felt that courage would come when a safe distance had been
put between them and the terrible house. Though Devlin was not there in
body he seemed to be there in spirit, and they longed to get out of the
woods and into the open where he could no longer wield his power.

It was about five o'clock. Bits of warm sunshine filtered through the
higher branches of the trees but below the shadows were gathering and
where the growth was thick a gloom had already penetrated.

When they had been riding for some little time, Frost said, "The boss
is goin' to see Smithson, the insurance man, I think. He lives in
Hillbriar near that doctor you went to see. He must have some place
else to go, I been thinkin', 'cause it wouldn't take him that long to
just go there."

The boys were about to agree when they rounded a turn in the narrow
trail and saw just ahead the path which Devlin had seemed so interested
in on that memorable Monday night. Also, they saw Devlin sitting in his
car as if he had just climbed in and was ready to start away. He was
headed in the same direction that they were.

Frost swerved the car with such force that it almost turned on its
side. "Scram, kids!" he said hoarsely. "I'll have to too! He'll
know--he'll know I'm double-crossin' him!"

Skippy was out of the coupé with Nickie jumping after him. They grasped
hands instinctively, and broke through the thick brush running blindly,
wildly, but running as they had never run before. Devlin's terrible
voice seemed to follow them everywhere for his shouts rang out time and
again and they heard Frost scream several times.

Not once did they look back. They could hear the crackling brush and
they thought that Frost must be somewhere in their wake. They thought
no more about the man than that for they were too intent on their own
preservation. They must not, at any cost, stop until Devlin's funereal
echoes were left far behind.

Darkness had almost overtaken them before they had the courage to sit
down and rest on a fallen log. Muddy and scratched from head to foot,
they would have presented a comical picture if it had not been for the
piteous expression on their faces. Mosquitoes had already got in some
of their work as the great red lumps on their hands and foreheads
indicated.

"We gotta slap mud on thick, Nickie," Skippy said wearily. "I read once
about a kid what was lost in a swamp and he did that and saves his
life. These blamed things can eat a feller up--you know it?"

"I feel like I'm ate up a'ready," Nickie answered pathetically. "Kid,
you think we gotta stay in this graveyard all night?"

"It's night now an' where are we? There's no use stumblin' 'round in
the dark, is there? We might walk plunk into that bog an' you heard
yourself what Frost said about it. You don't get out once you walk into
some parts."

"Wonder where Frost is, hah? I don't remember when we stopped hearin'
him behind us. I s'pose we oughta stopped, but honest, kid, I felt like
Devlin most had wings, his voice sounded so near all the time."

"Frost knows this place better'n we do. Gee whiz, I wish he coulda kept
up with us. But he didn't, so we gotta make the best of it. I'm 'fraid
to lie down in the mud, ain't you, Nickie?"

"You said it, kid! The mosquitas'll bite right through our pants. Guess
we'll have to be like the birds an' roost in a tree all night, hah?"

"Yeah, I was thinkin' that too. Gee, we won't get much sleep--we
_can't_ sleep, 'cause maybe we'll fall out!" Skippy yawned with
exhaustion. "We gotta take turns watchin' each other."

They gave up that plan after a half-hour's sentry duty on two of the
lower limbs of a poplar tree. Not only were their positions
uncomfortable, but the mosquitoes annoyed them despite their masks of
mud. Then, too, an owl had taken up its position in a nearby tree and
hooted into the awful darkness until they felt they could stand it no
longer.

"Sounds like Devlin," said the superstitious Nickie. "Sounds like his
spook."

"How can it be, if he ain't dead?" Skippy whispered back.

"Aw, ain't my aunt told me that some guys is so bad, they have
infloo-ence on things 'round them? Well, I heard owls near that house
like you did, an' how do you know Devlin didn't put the bead on one of
'em an' make it just like he is?"

"Pretty soon you'll be tellin' me you believe in imps an' all that
stuff in fairy stories," Skippy said, with a little laugh.

"Aw, shut up!"

Skippy was silent, for the owl had taken the stage and drowned them out
completely.



                              CHAPTER XXX

                              DEVIL'S BOG


Dawn finally came, and they waited anxiously for the light to filter
through the trees sufficiently for them to be on their way. It was a
disheartening sight that the light disclosed, for nothing but trees and
swamp seemed to surround them and they could see no road or trail.

Skippy had been to the top of the tree, but it was not high enough for
a lookout. "There's so many other trees higher'n this, it can't be
done," he said, disappointed. "An' how we gonna climb those high trees
when they can't be climbed, huh?"

Nickie shrugged his shoulders. "The next thing we gotta think of is
chow."

Skippy grinned. "We got lots of mud--nothing but. Gee whiz, I'm hungry."

"It's too bad we couldn't 'a' knocked off that blamed owl, hah? We'd
'a' got some sleep maybe an' we'd 'a' had some breakfast on his fat
neck."

They started off with high hopes. It was all a chance, Skippy reasoned,
and they hadn't any idea what direction would be best. The thing to do,
then, was to go and keep on going, trusting to luck that they would
come out somewhere.

They wallowed through miles and miles of mud, trying with long sticks
each dubious looking stretch of swamp in their path. Often they were
forced to turn back and circle great pools of silent black water where
on the thick green scum the thin rays of sunlight smiled in derision.

And then noonday arrived, with the sun hot and mocking directly over
the tops of the trees. Below in Devil's Bog was a steaming heat that
seemed to hiss out of the black, miry ground and every stir of air soon
lost its freshness in the dank smell of the place.

Toward mid-afternoon Nickie lost his head a little. "S'pose we
shouldn't get out, kid?" he cried. "S'pose we should go on like this
for days--we'd starve--we'd be eaten up with them mosquitoes or
somethin'."

Skippy tried to laugh. "I'd rather be eaten up with _somethin'_,
Nickie--honest!"

"Aw, I know, kid. Here, I'm older'n you--I shouldn't lose my head.
Looks like I'm yeller, hah?"

"Go on--it looks like you're mud and so'm I. Gee whiz, my aunt'd have a
fit if she could see this suit. She paid six bucks for it on a Hundred
and Twenty-fifth Street."

"Holy Smoke, will we ever see a Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street again!
Kid, if we'd only waited a little while longer, hah? Devlin had been
nosin' in that bog since he left the house an' we saw he was on his way
to Hillbriar. If we'd only waited--the coast woulda been clear."

"What's the use thinkin' about 'if'? Gee whiz, we're here an' that's
all there's to it. Anyway, we got each other. Poor Frost, in a way I
feel kinda sorry for him if he's wand'rin' 'round like us. It must be
terrible havin' no buddy to talk to in a place like this."

Nickie was touched. "I didn't think of it that way, kid. I oughta be
glad an' I _am_ glad. I'd know somethin' all right, all right, if I
didn' have you. Didn't I say it seemed like Fate you'n me took such a
shine to each other? Anyways, I felt you was regular the minute you
come in the car."

Skippy looked at him. Somehow he hadn't thought about Nickie
particularly--he had never defined his feelings except that he knew he
disliked the boy that the old Nickie represented, the sullen, defiant
and lawless Nickie. But the new Nickie, and there _was_ a new one,
walking and suffering beside him; he was kind, thoughtful and best of
all loyal.

He put his arm through Nickie's. "I like you the way you are now--you
know it! An' if you stay that way--you know what I mean--cut out the
slippery stuff an' do like your aunt wants you to, I think mebbe Mr.
Conne would stand your probation."

"You mean he'd get me sprung?" Nickie asked, incredulously.

"If you'd promise to be like you are now an' stick to it--that's
showin' how much of a friend you are, Nickie."

Nickie stopped and put out his slim, muddy hand. "There's my mitt on
it, pal!" he grinned. Then he looked puzzled. "Say, how come you got so
much drag with Carlton Conne--that big dick, hah?"

It was Skippy's turn to grin. "Sump'n tells me Mr. Conne would say it
was all right for me to tell _you_. Listen...."

And Nickie listened, fascinated. They trudged along arm in arm, digging
into the mire before them with their sticks and forgetting, as Skippy
talked, that they were weary and hungry and almost despairing.

The afternoon was waning when they noticed that the trees were
beginning to thin out ahead. The underbrush was much less dense and
therefore they were able to walk faster despite the fact that the
ground was even more miry than any they had yet encountered.

Skippy was beginning to feel a little hope. Were they not almost out of
the woods when the trees thinned out like this? He had almost convinced
himself that they were, when he saw just before him several large
footsteps in the slimy ground.

His finger trembled as he pointed to them. "Look, Nickie!"

Nickie nodded his head slowly and whispered, "Devlin's!"

They were standing there trying to decide whether to run or not when
they saw, still a little farther on, a dark object lying on the ground.
There was something so significant about its size and shape that a
mutual horror of it impelled them on, despite themselves.

Frost was lying face downward in the mud.

Skippy bit at his under lip to keep from shouting. Nickie had grasped
his arm and was shaking like an aspen leaf. Suddenly, they heard a
sound from behind a tree not ten feet distant.

Devlin stepped out before they could move. He was grave, unsmiling as
ever and his eyes glittered coldly. "Too bad, isn't it," he said
enigmatically.

Skippy could only gasp; Nickie could only shake.

"It's dangerous to run off in this bog," Devlin boomed in his funereal
voice. "A person can meet almost any kind of a death, as you see. You
boys might be lying there instead of Frost, eh? Well, it's lucky I
found you."

It was too true--Devlin had found them!



                              CHAPTER XXXI

                                 DOOMED


They had neither heart nor voice to talk. Not for hours. They seemed to
have lived through some terrible nightmare. From the moment when they
saw Devlin's footprints the panorama had moved before them, swiftly,
relentlessly. And now they were back again in the house of gloom and
terror.

Skippy sat in a daze as he watched Devlin talk. "You can't complain
about me as a host," he was saying, "after you deliberately desert my
generous hospitality what do I do, eh? I bring you safely back and now
I'm inviting you to help yourself to some supper. There's plenty of
bacon and beans!"

"Aw, pipe down, Devlin!" Nickie shouted, stung into action. "What you
gonna do with us, hah? That's all we wanta know!"

Devlin was calm, unruffled as ever. "I've got something to attend to,"
he said icily. "It can't wait. In fact, you interrupted the task by
showing up when you did. But now that I have you where I know you'll be
safe, I'll leave you for an hour or two. You're welcome to wash the mud
from yourselves and go to bed. I can assure you that you'll be quite
safe _tonight_!" He coughed significantly. "I'm leaving you boys with
an easy mind--there's no Frost now to double-cross me! Goodnight!"

Skippy shivered until he was certain the man was gone. Then he got up
wearily and reached for the coffee-pot. Nickie watched with some
surprise.

"You got the heart to eat, hah?"

"Not the heart, Nick--just the stomach."

"Ugh! I'm sick, Skip--say, kid, ain't it great the way I just natural
like call you Skippy, hah? Just like I always knew it's your name. I
s'pose he's gonna put poor Frost where nobuddy'll ever find him, the
same's Timmy. Ugh, I'm sick all through!"

Skippy went on with the making of the coffee, mechanically. "I can't
understand 'bout the note, Nickie," he said for the hundredth time. "If
Mr. Conne got it they oughta been here--gee whiz, last week. Even
before."

And for the hundredth time Nickie said consolingly, "The old lady
mighta lost her pocketbook in the river or sump'n, hah?" Then, after a
pause: "What a break for Frost just when he was doin' us a good turn!
Ain't that Fate, hah? Things just ain't right in this world."

"Listen, Nick, it's a shame about Frost an' I'm plenty thankful what he
did for us--or what he tried to do. But gee whiz, he hadn't no
lily-white soul to team up with Devlin, did he? He was used to rough
stuff--a hold-up man, that's what he was. Well, he had a gun when he
met Devlin an' he coulda made him go to the cops right that night. Gee,
Frost might not been's heartless as Devlin, but he stood for Devlin's
stuff. And that's as bad."

Nickie agreed. He had seemed to brighten up during Skippy's moral talk
and was sniffing the air. "Holy Smoke!" he exclaimed suddenly. "Even
his rotten coffee smells like food now."

Skippy smiled wanly. "Thought you wasn't hungry. Thought you was sick?"

"Guess I ain't, hah? Since I smelled that I wanta eat."

"Eat--that's right. While we live we gotta eat--gee whiz, what a life!"

"Don't talk like that, Skip. Just talk about eatin' while we can. I'll
open some beans an' I'll fry some ba...."

"Oh, _not bacon_!"

"Meat'll give us strength."

"Aw, all right. But believe _me_, this is the last time in my life I'm
gonna eat bacon!"

Nickie looked at him, frightened. Skippy knew what he was thinking
of--he thought it himself the moment he had spoken those words. They
seemed full of dreadful portent now that they had been uttered. Was it
written that this was to be the last time in his life when he would eat
food of any kind?

Did it mean that they were doomed?

[Illustration: THEY WERE FREE OF THE HOUSE SLIDING HAND OVER HAND ALONG
THE ROPE.]



                             CHAPTER XXXII

                              ANOTHER DAY


They had reached a point where fear had no longer the power to torture
them for sleepless hours on end. Long before Devlin returned they were
sleeping the sleep of exhaustion. Fortunately, they did not hear his
awesome step on the stairs nor did they hear him linger outside their
door and listen to their deep, regular breathing before he went to his
room for the night.

Day dawned and when the sun spread her roseate glow across the eastern
horizon, Skippy got up and went on tiptoe to the window. He was amazed
that he was looking out through those dirty green shutters on another
day--he was amazed that Devlin had not thought of some awful fate for
them before they had opened their eyes.

He looked out over the top of the rickety barn and down across forest
and bog. Crickets were chirping lustily already and the sweet chorus of
rising birds filled the warm air. Then a crow cawed overhead and in its
wake Skippy heard sounds that pulled at his heartstrings.

A car!

He listened again. It wasn't Devlin's big car for he could see the rear
of it parked in the barn. What had become of the blue coupé, he did not
know. Was Frost's ghost returning in that now? He shivered and jeered
at himself for absorbing Nickie's superstitions.

He seemed to sense a hushed activity going on in the clearing. His
heart leaped inside his breast. He couldn't detect any particular
sound--he felt impelled to go to the front room which Shorty and Biff
had occupied and see if he could get a glimpse of anything or anyone
through those shutters.

While he was thinking about it, he heard Devlin's heavy tread. The man
came out into the hall and dashed down the stairs. Instinctively,
Skippy rushed to the bed and awakened Nickie.

"I feel it, Nick!" he was whispering excitedly. "I feel it that
sump'n's gonna happen an' that we better get dressed."

Nickie did not have to be told a second time--he had great regard for
Skippy's hunches.

When they had dressed quickly, they ran out into the hall, but
hesitated at the head of the stairs. Devlin was standing down in the
front hall, evidently looking out through the small aperture in his
metal door and mumbling excitedly.

"I'll not give up--_never_!" he was saying in deep, wild tones.
"Neither will they get those kids--I won't give 'em the satisfaction.
I'll burn the house up and they'll burn up with me, that's what I'll
do! I'll show 'em--I'll show 'em!"

Skippy put his fingers to his lips and beckoned Nickie toward the rear
of the hall. In a second they were scrambling up the ladder and into
the attic. Then the ladder was pulled up after them and the trap door
slammed shut.

Nickie was at his wit's end, crying and gesticulating. "If he lights up
this dump, we'll roast fine up here. What's the idea, hah--what's the
idea? That guy must be cuckoo."

"I'll take a chance on him burnin'," Skippy said, running toward the
front window, "but he ain't gonna use that silencer on me!"

He paused at the window and gasped. The clearing was full of men--he
couldn't seem to count them. Men in uniform, men without uniform, and
in the group he saw one that he recognized instantly because of a
certain jauntiness of bearing and a cigar that was being chewed with a
peculiar fierceness from one side to the other in the man's generous
mouth.

"_Mr. Conne--Mr. Conne!_" Skippy cried, wild with delight. "It's
_me_--up here. Me and Nickie--Nickie Fallon!"

Carlton Conne pushed his derby hat almost off his head and as he looked
up his cigar went to the side of his mouth and remained there at a
right angle.

"Kid!" he shouted. "You there, eh? You all right?"

"Yeah!" Skippy was gasping. "But we can't...." He took hold of the bars
one at a time and shook them ferociously, with Nickie's help, of
course, to prove what he was saying, "We can't get out through these
... these...."

Nickie shrieked! Something had happened. "The bars, kid! Look, _they're
loose_!"

Skippy looked in amazement. Miracles didn't happen of course. He
remembered that they had had to leave their task quite hurriedly the
last time they had been up there--it might have happened that they had
worked the bars loose enough to wrench away, but in their haste had not
discovered it.

Nickie was straining himself to the very utmost until he had worked
them away sufficiently for them to get their bodies through the window.
Skippy was feverishly engaged in swinging his lariat over to the
evergreen tree to the accompaniment of joyous shouts.

And then they were free of the house, sliding hand over hand along the
taut rope until they reached the sturdy tree. Fallon got safely to the
ground first, and as Skippy followed he noticed great curls of thick
smoke pouring out from the shutters on the lower floor.

Somebody shouted, "We'll get in at him the same way the kids came out,
hey, Conne--through the attic?"

"Don't bother!" Mr. Conne was saying in his brusque manner. "We'll take
no chances on losing any lives. Let Dean Devlin roast. He deserves it
now--and hereafter too."

Skippy was delighted that he was having his hand shaken by the greatest
detective in his country. It was the longest handshake he had ever
experienced. And, what was more wonderful still, Carlton Conne's arm
was about his shoulder.

"We only got your note last night, kid," he was saying. "Your sweet old
lady didn't get out her pocketbook until yesterday afternoon when she
wanted to go out for a walk, after being laid up with a cold. She took
the train and came straight to New York."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Conne--I'm sorry...."

"What are you sorry for? You've been a clever youngster through this
whole thing--that note was a masterpiece."

"I wrote it like that in case Devlin should find it on me, then he
wouldn't know I was sort of workin' for you," Skippy said
apologetically.

"Couldn't have done better myself!" Mr. Conne said crisply.

"We doped out the distance from the way you figured the time and your
idea of telling how the house came to be left here and about the
hermit. We knew you were somewhere in this section because Dick Hallam
reported he spotted you in Hillbriar. I learned only yesterday from an
insurance company complaint that an apparent systematic effort was
being made to defraud by insuring boys and doing away with them to
collect on the policies. I got Hallam on the phone, had him check in
Hillbriar and he dug up the evidence that linked Devlin unmistakably to
the racket. And a few hours later, just before I got your note, I
received the information that Devlin, who had been in an insane asylum,
when we thought he was under cover and had escaped, had developed a
mania for killing while being apparently normal in other respects."

He patted Skippy on the back and then went on: "So I prayed for a break
that we might get to you in time. I blamed myself for putting you in
such danger, but I never knew Devlin as a killer and I never suspected
the racket he was working, or I wouldn't have sent you on the job.
Well, thank God we made it in time."

"It's all right, it's all right, Boss," Skippy answered.

"Yeah, it is--now," Nickie agreed.

Mr. Conne put the boys in his car and got in beside them. "We'll wait
and see this thing go up in smoke, eh? I always thought I didn't have
anything cruel in me, but darned if I don't enjoy knowing that that
smoke is taking Dean Devlin with it. It's almost too good for him--he
should suffer for making kids suffer."

"Yeah, poor Timmy," Skippy sighed.

"Yes, I've got in touch with his aunt in Glens Falls. We traced him
when you wrote his name was Timmy Brogan. You haven't any idea where
Devlin put him?"

"No, an' we don't know where he put Frost last night," Skippy said,
telling that part of their tragic story. "I feel sorry about him too,
Mr. Conne, but it's Timmy we'll never forget. He mighta got away if he
hadn't come back from the creek to warn us about Devlin. He was like a
hero, Timmy was."

Mr. Conne thought so too, but was too much absorbed to say very much.
"I'm glad Fallon escaped with you, kid," he said, smiling at Nickie.
"Your aunt's been worrying the police department day and night to find
out where you were."

"Yeah?" Nickie said abashed. "Holy smoke, I'll be glad seein' her
again."

Skippy grinned. "Nickie an' me--gee whiz, we'd gone crazy if we hadn't
been able to talk to each other. That house...."

"Never mind, kid," Mr. Conne said soothingly. "It's all over now, and I
guess you're good and sick of this business, eh? It's a rotten game and
your Aunt Min says she'll never let you out of her sight...."

"Say, listen, Mr. Conne," Skippy interposed excitedly, "I can talk Aunt
Min into lettin' me do anything--I ain't worryin' about her. It's
you--will you gimme that job you promised me? If you say I did good...."

Mr. Conne tilted his cigar up in the corner of his mouth and looked at
Skippy quizzically. "Now I might consider that job, kid," he said, half
smiling, "if you'll promise to keep that smudge off your face when you
come into my office. I notice it's dirty--and so early in the morning!"

"Aw, that's mud from yesterday--we put it on for the mosquitoes!
Anyway, will you do one thing more, huh, Mr. Conne?"

"What?"

"Nickie's promised to be awful good so will you go his probation 'cause
any judge would do that for a feller if _you_ went his probation--gee
whiz!"

"I think the answer to that will be _yes_, kid. But suppose we get away
from here now, eh? It's getting a little too hot even for me. I haven't
had my breakfast and I suppose you kids haven't either. We'll stop at a
nice lunch-wagon I noticed down on the highway and we'll have fried
eggs and...."

"Gee whiz, Mr. Conne!" Skippy interrupted. "If you're gonna say we'll
have bacon, please don't say it!"

"No? Why not?" Carlton Conne had started the car and was waiting,
expectantly. "I thought all kids loved bacon."

"Sure, we did," Skippy answered. "Nickie an' me loved it like you say,
but not now. Let's go an' eat, huh?"

"Yeah," Nickie said eagerly, "let's scram. Sometime we'll tell about
that bacon, Mr. Conne." Skippy nodded, took a long, last look at the
burning house and turned to Mr. Conne. "It's a sad story."

"What is?" the detective asked.

"The bacon," Skippy answered simply.


                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        HAL KEEN MYSTERY STORIES
                             By HUGH LLOYD

Boys! Meet Hal Keen, that lanky, nonchalant, red-headed youth whose
guiding star is the star that points to adventure, excitement and
mystery. Follow him in his hunts for clues and criminals. There are
plenty of thrills and shivers in these stories to keep you on your toes.

THE SMUGGLER'S SECRET

  Hal Keen sets out to get to the bottom of a mystery that threatens
  the safety of a whole community.

THE MYSTERIOUS ARAB

  Mystery, excitement, murder in a scientist's camp in the jungles of
  Africa, where hate, revenge, and suspicion lead to tragedy.

THE HERMIT OF GORDON'S CREEK

  The disappearance of two airmail pilots leads to a mystery that
  centers about an abandoned mine and a strange old man.

KIDNAPPED IN THE JUNGLE

  A hint of buried treasure in the ruins of an old French mission leads
  Hal deep into the Central American jungle.

THE COPPERHEAD TRAIL MYSTERY

  Baffling and blood-curdling events center about the ranch where Hal
  Keen and his friends had gone in search of gold.

THE LONESOME SWAMP MYSTERY

  The lonely and mysterious swamp gave up its secret only after a
  series of terrifying events taxed Hal's courage and ability.

THE CLUE AT SKELETON ROCKS

  In this new thriller Hal Keen finds mystery and adventure in and
  about a lonely lighthouse on Skeleton Rocks, off the Maine coast.

THE DOOM OF STARK HOUSE

  Mystery and terror in an old house in the wilderness above Quebec
  where Hal Keen is the guest of a strange family.

                GROSSET & DUNLAP, _Publishers_, NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                    THE JUDY BOLTON MYSTERY STORIES
                           By MARGARET SUTTON

Here is a new series of mystery stories for girls by an author who
knows the kind of stories every girl wants to read--mystery of the
"shivery" sort, adventure that makes the nerves tingle, clever
"detecting" and a new lovable heroine, Judy Bolton, whom all girls will
take to their hearts at once.

THE VANISHING SHADOW

  Judy's safety is threatened by a gang of crooks who think she knows
  too much about their latest "deal." She is constantly pursued by a
  mysterious shadow which vanishes before she can get a glimpse of its
  owner.

THE HAUNTED ATTIC

  The Boltons move into a large rambling house reputed to be haunted.
  Even the brave Judy who has looked forward to "spooky" goings on is
  thoroughly frightened at the strange scrapings and rappings and the
  eery "crying ghost."

THE INVISIBLE CHIMES

  Through an automobile accident a strange girl is taken into the
  Bolton household--the whole family becomes attached to her and
  interested in her story. Judy tracks down many clues before she
  finally uncovers the real identity of "Honey."

SEVEN STRANGE CLUES

  Judy gets to the bottom of a mystery that centers around a prize
  poster contest and a fire in the school building--through seven
  baffling clues that hold the key to the answer.

                GROSSET & DUNLAP, _Publishers_, NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                     THE NANCY DREW MYSTERY STORIES
                            By CAROLYN KEENE

             Illustrated. Every Volume Complete in Itself.

Here is a thrilling series of mystery stories for girls. Nancy Drew,
ingenious, alert, is the daughter of a famous criminal lawyer and she
herself is deeply interested in his mystery cases. Her interest
involves her often in some very dangerous and exciting situations.

THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK

  Nancy, unaided, seeks to locate a missing will and finds herself in
  the midst of adventure.

THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE

  Mysterious happenings in an old stone mansion lead to an
  investigation by Nancy.

THE BUNGALOW MYSTERY

  Nancy has some perilous experiences around a deserted bungalow.

THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN

  Quick thinking and quick action were needed for Nancy to extricate
  herself from a dangerous situation.

THE SECRET AT SHADOW RANCH

  On a vacation in Arizona Nancy uncovers an old mystery and solves it.

THE SECRET OF RED GATE FARM

  Nancy exposes the doings of a secret society on an isolated farm.

THE CLUE IN THE DIARY

  A fascinating and exciting story of a search for a clue to a
  surprising mystery

NANCY'S MYSTERIOUS LETTER

  Nancy receives a letter informing her that she is heir to a fortune.
  This story tells of her search for another Nancy Drew.

                GROSSET & DUNLAP, _Publishers_, NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                       THE REX LEE FLYING STORIES
                           By THOMSON BURTIS

             Illustrated. Every Volume Complete in Itself.

The author of this series of exciting flying stories is an experienced
aviator. He says, "During my five years in the army I performed nearly
every sort of flying duty--instructor, test pilot, bombing,
photographing pilot, etc., in every variety of ship, from tiny scout
planes to the gigantic three-motored Italian Caproni."

Not only has this author had many experiences as a flyer; a list of his
activities while knocking around the country includes postal clerk,
hobo, actor, writer, mutton chop salesman, preacher, roughneck in the
oil fields, newspaper man, flyer, scenario writer in Hollywood and
synthetic clown with the Sells Floto Circus. Having lived an active,
daring life, and possessing a gift for good story telling, he is well
qualified to write these adventures of a red-blooded dare-devil young
American who became one of the country's greatest flyers.

                    REX LEE; GYPSY FLYER
                    REX LEE; ON THE BORDER PATROL
                    REX LEE; RANGER OF THE SKY
                    REX LEE; SKY TRAILER
                    REX LEE; ACE OF THE AIR MAIL
                    REX LEE; NIGHT FLYER
                    REX LEE'S MYSTERIOUS FLIGHT
                    REX LEE; ROUGH RIDER OF THE AIR
                    REX LEE; AERIAL ACROBAT
                    REX LEE; TRAILING AIR BANDITS
                    REX LEE; FLYING DETECTIVE

                GROSSET & DUNLAP, _Publishers_, NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         THE HARDY BOYS SERIES
                          By FRANKLIN W. DIXON

The Hardy Boys are sons of a celebrated American detective, and during
vacations and their off time from school they help their father by
hunting down clues themselves.

THE TOWER TREASURE--A dying criminal confessed that his loot had been
  secreted "in the tower." It remained for the Hardy Boys to clear up
  the mystery.

THE HOUSE ON THE CLIFF--Mr. Hardy started to investigate--and
  disappeared! An odd tale, with plenty of excitement.

THE SECRET OF THE OLD MILL--Counterfeit money was in circulation, and
  the limit was reached when Mrs. Hardy took some from a stranger. A
  tale full of thrills.

THE MISSING CHUMS--Two of the Hardy Boys' chums disappear and are
  almost rescued by their friends when all are captured. A thrilling
  story of adventure.

HUNTING FOR HIDDEN GOLD--In tracing some stolen gold the trail leads
  the boys to an abandoned mine, and there things start to happen.

THE SHORE ROAD MYSTERY--Automobiles were disappearing most mysteriously
  from the Shore Road. It remained for the Hardy Boys to solve the
  mystery.

THE SECRET OF THE CAVES--When the boys reached the caves they came
  unexpectedly upon a queer old hermit.

THE MYSTERY OF CABIN ISLAND--A story of queer adventures on a rockbound
  island.

THE GREAT AIRPORT MYSTERY--The Hardy Boys solve the mystery of the
  disappearance of some valuable mail.

WHAT HAPPENED AT MIDNIGHT--The boys follow a trail that ends in a
  strange and exciting situation.

WHILE THE CLOCK TICKED--The Hardy Boys aid in vindicating a man who has
  been wrongly accused of a crime.

FOOTPRINTS UNDER THE WINDOW--The Smuggling of Chinese into this country
  is the basis of this story in which the boys find thrills and
  excitement aplenty.

                GROSSET & DUNLAP, _Publishers_, NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        WESTERN STORIES FOR BOYS
                          By JAMES CODY FERRIS

                    Each Volume Complete in Itself.

Thrilling tales of the great west, told primarily for boys but which
will be read by all who love mystery, rapid action, and adventures in
the great open spaces.

The Manly boys, Roy and Teddy, are the sons of an old ranchman, the
owner of many thousands of heads of cattle. The lads know how to ride,
how to shoot, and how to take care of themselves under any and all
circumstances.

The cowboys of the X Bar X Ranch are real cowboys, on the job when
required, but full of fun and daring--a bunch any reader will be
delighted to know.

                  THE X BAR X BOYS ON THE RANCH
                  THE X BAR X BOYS IN THUNDER CANYON
                  THE X BAR X BOYS ON WHIRLPOOL RIVER
                  THE X BAR X BOYS ON BIG BISON TRAIL
                  THE X BAR X BOYS AT THE ROUND-UP
                  THE X BAR X BOYS AT NUGGET CAMP
                  THE X BAR X BOYS AT RUSTLER'S GAP
                  THE X BAR X BOYS AT GRIZZLY PASS
                  THE X BAR X BOYS LOST IN THE ROCKIES
                  THE X BAR X BOYS RIDING FOR LIFE
                  THE X BAR X BOYS IN SMOKY VALLEY

                GROSSET & DUNLAP, _Publishers_, NEW YORK





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