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Although Clancy was puzzled and a little worried, yet his excitement and apprehension were as nothing compared to Ballard’s.

“I guess it isn’t so bad as all that, Pink,” said the red-headed chap. “Maybe there’s nothing more serious back of it than a joke. It wouldn’t be the first time Chip has put one over on us.”

“Disappearing mysteriously from his room, at night, would be a particularly silly joke, seems to me, for Chip to pull off.” Ballard answered, stepping out into the hall. “He wouldn’t do a thing like that, Red. Come on, and let’s have a look at your room.”

He pushed hurriedly on into the other sleeping apartment and began a survey of the surroundings with keen eyes. Ballard, while commonly supposed to have an easy-going, lazy disposition, could be alert enough when roused.

“Chip must have got out through a window,” said Ballard.

“You don’t say so, Pink?” said Clancy dryly. ‘‘I thought maybe he had dug out through the side of the house.”

“He got up, dressed, and dropped from one of the windows–and you never heard him,” went on Ballard, unmoved by his chum’s sarcasm.

“No,” admitted Clancy, “I never heard him. I was worn to a frazzle last night and wouldn’t have heard a cannon if some one had set it off right in the room. Now, Sherlock, I wish you’d tell me at what time Chip dropped from the window, and why he took French leave.”

“That’s too many for me, Watson. It’s a black mystery. You see, it isn’t like Chip to make a move of this sort without putting us next.” Ballard frowned thoughtfully. “I’ll bet,” he hazarded presently, “that Merry never left this room of his own accord.”

“Oh, come! You can’t believe, Pink, that somebody forced him to get out of bed, dress, and drop from the window, all against his will? Even though I was sleeping soundly, how could all that have gone on here without waking me up?”

“I’m arguing from the known facts,” said Ballard loftily. “If you have a better argument, Red, you might come across with it.”

“I’m up in the air and haven’t a notion of how it all happened.”

“Then don’t knock holes in my theory unless you’ve got a better one.”

“I don’t have to do any knocking, Pink. Just as it is, your theory is so full of holes it won’t hang together. If Chip was forced to leave here, somebody had to come in to do the forcing, didn’t they? And they’d have had to come in by the window, same way Chip went out. That would mean ladders, and noise—a whole lot of noise, because Chip would have put up a fight-and I’d surely have heard what was going on.”

“Possibly not.” said Ballard.

“Possibly not!” exclaimed Clancy. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, Red, that maybe you were drugged. A little chloroform on a handkerchief would have done the trick.”

“Go on!” snorted Clancy, in disgust. “There’d be an odor of chloroform in this room if any had been used. Anyhow, who’d want to remove Chip from the hotel by force? What would be the object?”

'Remember that cowboy I saw skulking around the hotel last night?' Ballard whispered huskily.

“Remember that cowboy I saw skulking around the hotel last night?” Ballard whispered huskily. “You joshed me about that cowboy, but more than likely, he was laying his plans to abduct Chip.”

“Why should that cowboy want to get Merry away from the hotel?” Clancy asked.

“Well,” returned Ballard, “once more we shall have to theorize. We won that race yesterday from Barzy Blunt and his cowboy athletes. Blunt and his friends not only lost the relay Marathon, but a bonanza mine as well. Think that left them in a pleasant mood? We know how Blunt felt, for he tried to roll Chip into the cañon with a bowlder. He—”

“Chip says it was an accident.”

“Trying to shield Blunt, of course. That’s a good deal like Chip. He’s giving the Cowboy Wonder the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t have to do that, Red. We can judge the whole affair strictly on its merits. Blunt’s a cur. He and his bunch have put up some scheme or other, and Chip is the victim of it. They want to get even with him.”

Clancy was more than half convinced. At the same time, a doubt was left lingering in his mind. He knew that Merriwell’s judgment was sound, and that if he said that bowlder affair in the cañon was an accident, then, more than likely, an accident it was. But Chip was generous to a fault, and easily imposed upon through that side of his nature. It was possible Blunt had been able to impose upon him, regarding that incident in the canyon, and that this had been done to screen a plot that had resulted in Chip’s disappearance.

“Well, anyhow,” said he, “Chip’s gone, no matter whether he went willingly or unwillingly. I move that we get into our clothes and go downstairs. Perhaps we can get some dews, if we look around. Maybe,” he added, but not in a tone overly sanguine, “we’ll find Chip himself. Perhaps he saw that same cowboy sneaking about the hotel and went out by the window to lay hands on him and find out what he was up to.”

This last offhand remark of Clancy’s had rather a promising look. Ballard admitted it to himself as he hastened back to his own room and began shedding his pajamas and getting into his clothes. Fifteen minutes later, the two lads came together again in the hotel office.

Pophagan, the proprietor of the hotel, was there, and Woo Sing was just traveling through the room, after beating the breakfast gong out in front.

“Mornin’, gents,” said Pophagan. “where’s the Chip of the Old Block? Gen’rally he’s the first one down.”

“Don’t know where he is, Pophagan,” answered the worried Clancy. ‘‘He disappeared from our room some time during the night. I found the door locked on the inside, but Merry was gone. He must have dropped from the window.”

“Sufferin’ horn toads!” remarked the landlord. “What sort of a dodge do you call that, hey?”

“We don’t know what to call it,’’ spoke up Ballard.

“You haven’t seen him around anywhere, have you?”

'Nary I haven’t. But you can’t lose that lad,' and Pophagan wagged his head sapiently. 'He knows what he’s about every time and all the time.'

“Nary I haven’t. But you can’t lose that lad,” and Pophagan wagged his head sapiently. “He knows what he’s about every time and all the time. Take it from me, if he’s gone, he’ll come back. And when he comes back, by thunder he’ll tell you why he went. You’ll find–and I’ll bet my spurs on it–that his reason was a blame’ good un.”


This conviction of Pophagan’s, stated in no uncertain terms, rather heartened Ballard and Clancy. They went in to breakfast, and whenever any one entered the dining room they looked around hoping and half expecting that it might be Merry. But Merriwell did not come and the two lads finished their meal and went back to the office somewhat gloomily.

“I’m going to do a little gumshoe work,” announced Ballard.

“All right, Sherlock,” said Clancy. “Anything’s better than loafing around with our hands in our pockets. I don’t think your gumshoe work will amount to a hill of beans, but I’m ready to encourage you in it just to pass the time.”

They left the office, and stepped out on the veranda in front of the hotel.

“Where do you begin your sleuthing?” asked Clancy.

“Under the windows of the room occupied by you and Chip,” answered Ballard. “We will look for tracks.”

They went to look, but the ground was so cluttered up with tracks of all sorts that they could get no clews.

One thing was sure, and that was that a man in tight, high-heeled boots had been under the windows all along that side of the hotel. But this fact was known and the testimony of the boot marks was not needed. So far as any footprints left by Merry entered into the question, it was impossible for the boys to pick them out from the mass of impressions in the soft, dry sand.

“What’s agitatin’ you now?” inquired Pophagan, who had approached and was watching the boys curiously.

“Trying to make sure that Chip dropped from the window,” said Clancy. “But, if he did, he left so many marks Pink is rattled.”

'Leave Merriwell be,' advised the landlord. 'Don’t go to interferin’ with his plans. Maybe you’re butting into something important. See? That kid knows what he’s about. Take it easy, and don’t fret.'

“Leave Merriwell be,” advised the landlord. “Don’t go to interferin’ with his plans. Maybe you’re butting into something important. See? That kid knows what he’s about. Take it easy, and don’t fret.”

“Did you see a mysterious cowboy skulking around the hotel last night, Pophagan?” inquired Ballard.

“Ophir’s full of mysterious cow-punchers. Maybe the one you mention wasn’t skulkin’ particular, but just had a load on. Sometimes they’re like that.”

“Well, this cowboy I saw wasn’t drunk. I looked down from my window and saw him watching someone in the office. MerriweIl was writing at the table, so it must have been him the fellow was staring at.”

“Oh, shucks!’’ grunted Pophagan, in violent disapproval.

“You’re making a mountain out of a two-by-twice molehill. Come back into the office, sit down, and take things easy. Your pard’ll show up afore dinner, and I’ll gamble on it.”

But the slow hours of the forenoon dragged by, and Merriwell did not present himself to the eyes of his worrying friends. Woo Sing pounded his dinner gong, and Ballard and Clancy went in to their noon meal, more apprehensive and disturbed than they had been at any time since the discovery that their chum was missing.

Following the meal, and while the boys sat on the veranda discussing their various theories as to why Frank went away and where he might be, the big Bradlaugh motor car came buzzing up and halted in front of the hotel.

Following the meal, and while the boys sat on the veranda discussing their various theories as to why Frank went away and where he might be, the big Bradlaugh motor or car came buzzing up and halted in front of the hotel.

Mr. Bradlaugh, president of the Ophir Athletic Dub, and Hannibal, Bradlaugh’s son, were in the car.

“Bring Merriwell and come on, fellows,” Hannibal called. “We’re here to take you out to the grounds for that practice game.”

“That practice game had dean slipped my mind,” muttered Ballard. “Say, really, Chip would never have failed to keep his promise to Spink and Handy—if he could have helped it. Here’s proof that he was carried off.”

Clancy was already on his way toward the car.

“Chip’s not here,” said he, “and we haven’t the least idea what’s become of him.”

“Not here?” echoed Bradlaugh senior.

“What are you giving us?” demanded Hannibal.

“We’re giving it to you straight,” put in Ballard; who was dose to the car himself by then.

With that, the boys hurriedly placed the matter before Hannibal and his father.

“This is queer, and no mistake!” commented the elder Bradlaugh. “I can’t imagine why Merriwell should leave so mysteriously. And yet, to tell the truth, I’m of the opinion that something came up that demanded his attention. Where is the professor?”

The last question had reference to Phineas Borrodaile, the man Frank and his friends had found in the deserted mining camp of Happenchance, and for whom they had saved the mining claim by their “relay Marathon.”

“The prof went back to Gold Hill last evening,” explained Clancy.

Bradlaugh’s face brightened.

“Then,” said he, “I’ll make a guess that Merriwell received a sudden call from Gold Hill, and went there on business connected with Professor Borrodaile.”

“Why should he steal away like he did?” asked Ballard.

“He must have had his reasons. Get into the car, boys. I’ll go to my office and call up Gold Hill. It won’t take five minutes to settle this matter, and I think it will be settled to your satisfaction.”

Mr. Bradlaugh represented an Eastern syndicate which was operating a big gold mine no more than half a mile out of Ophir. His headquarters were in the town, and the car was quickly at a halt in front of his office. While Bradlaugh was telephoning, Hannibal, Ballard, and Clancy waited for news in the machine. Mr. Bradlaugh was not gone many minutes. When he reappeared, his face wore a puzzled expression.

“Borrodaile is at the Bristow House, over in Gold Hill,” he reported. “I talked with him, and he says Merriwell has not been in Gold Hill. This certainly ‘gets’ me. You boys go back to the hotel and wait there. I want to see a man I know and have this looked into.”

“What man, pop?” inquired Hannibal.

“Learoyd, the deputy sheriff,” was the reply.

Those words caused the gloom to descend more heavily upon Clancy and Ballard. If it was a case for the deputy sheriff, they reasoned, then it must be pretty serious.

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