The House on the Cliff

Franklin W. Dixon

Preview: Issue 1 of 13

I - The Haunted House

Three powerful motorcycles sped along the shore road that leads from the city of Bayport, skirting Barmet Bay, on the Atlantic coast. It was a bright Saturday morning in June, and although the city sweltered in the heat, cool breezes blew in from the bay.

Two of the motorcycles carried an extra passenger. All the cyclists were boys of about fifteen and sixteen years of age and all five were students at the Bayport high school. They were enjoying their Saturday holiday by this outing, glad of the chance to get away from the torrid warmth of the city for a few hours.

When the foremost motorcycle reached a place where the shore road formed a junction with another highway leading to the north, the rider brought his machine to a stop and waited for the others to draw alongside. He was a tall, dark youth of sixteen, with a clever, good-natured face. His name was Frank Hardy.

"Where do we go from here?" he called out to the others.

The two remaining motorcycles came to a stop and the drivers mopped their brows while the two other boys dismounted, glad of the chance to stretch their legs. One of the cyclists, a boy of fifteen, fair, with light, curly hair, was Joe Hardy, a brother of Frank's, and the other lad was Chet Morton, a chum of the Hardy boys. The other youths were Jerry Gilroy and "Biff" Hooper, typical, healthy American lads of high school age.

"You're the leader," said Joe to his brother. "We'll follow you."

"I'd rather have it settled. We've started out without any particular place to go. There's not much fun just riding around the countryside."

"I don't much care where we go, as long as we keep on going," said Jerry. "We get a breeze as long as we're traveling, but the minute we stop I begin to sweat."

Chet Morton gazed along the shore road.

"I'll tell you what we can do," he said suddenly. "Let's go and visit the haunted house."

"Polucca's place?"

"Sure. We've never been out there."

"I've passed it," Frank said. "But I didn't go very close to the place, I'll tell you."

Jerry Gilroy, who was a newcomer to Bayport, looked puzzled.

"Where is Polucca's place?"

"You can see it from here. Look," said Chet, taking him by the arm and bringing him over to the side of the road. "See where the shore road dips, away out near the end of Barmet Bay. Do you see that cliff?"

"Yes. There's a stone house at the top."

"Well, that's Polucca's place."

"Who is Polucca?"

"Who was Polucca, you mean," interjected Frank. "He used to live there. But he was murdered."

"And that's why the place is supposed to be haunted?"

"Reason enough, isn't it?" said Biff Hooper. "I don't believe in ghosts, but I'll tell the world there are some funny stories going around about that house ever since Polucca was killed."

"He must have been a strange fellow, anyway," commented Jerry, "to build a house in such a place as that."

Indeed, the Polucca place had been built on an unusual site. High above the waters of the bay it stood, built close to the edge of a rocky and inhospitable cliff. It was some distance back from the road, and there was no other house within miles. The boys had traveled a little more than three miles since leaving Bayport, and the Polucca place was at least five miles away. It could hardly have been seen, had it not been for its prominent position on top of the cliff, silhouetted clearly against the sky.

"He was a strange fellow," Frank observed. "No one knew very much about him. He didn't welcome visitors. In fact, he always kept a couple of vicious dogs around the place, so nobody cared to hang around there if they weren't invited."

"He was a miser," came from Joe Hardy.

"He may have been. At least that was the theory. Everybody said Polucca had a lot of money, but after his death there wasn't a nickel found in the house."

"Felix Polucca always said he wouldn't trust the banks," put in Biff Hooper. "But if he had any money I don't know where he made it, for he didn't work at anything and he mighty seldom came into the city."

"Perhaps he inherited it," Jerry suggested.

"Maybe. He must have had money at some time, to build that house. It's a great, rambling stone place that must have cost thousands."

"Is anybody living there now?"

The others shook their heads. "No one has lived there since the murder and I don't think anyone ever will," said Frank Hardy. "The house is too far out of the way, for one thing, and then—the stories that have been going around—"

"Well, I won't say I believe any place is haunted, but the Polucca place is certainly strange. There have been queer lights seen there at night. On stormy nights, particularly. And once a motorist had a breakdown near there, so he went up to the house for help. He didn't know anything about the history of the place. He got the scare of his life!"

"What happened?"

"He decided when he went into the front yard that the place was deserted, and he was just going to turn away when he saw an old man standing at one of the upper windows, looking at him. He called out, and the old man went away, and although the motorist hunted all through the house he didn't find any trace of the old chap. So he left that place as quickly as he could."

"I don't blame him," remarked Jerry. "But the house sounds interesting. I'm game to visit it."

"So am I!" declared the others.

"Lead on!" laughed Chet. "It'll be a brave ghost that will tackle the whole five of us."

Jerry clambered on behind Chet, and Biff mounted Joe's motorcycle. The machines roared, and the little cavalcade started on its way down the shore road toward the house on the cliff.

Instead of being an aimless trip, the outing had now assumed all the aspects of an adventure. With the exception of Jerry, the boys had all passed by the Polucca place at one time or another, but none had ever ventured off the main road to explore the deserted place.

The lane leading into the Polucca grounds, never kept in good repair even during the owner's lifetime, was now almost indiscernible and was overgrown with weeds and bushes. The house itself was hidden from the roadway by trees. Most people gave the place a wide berth, whether they believed in ghosts or not, for the stories that had been told of the rambling stone building since the murder of Felix Polucca two years before were sufficient to indicate that there had been strange happenings in the old house. Whether or not they were of supernatural origin was a matter of debate.

The murder of Felix Polucca had been particularly brutal. He was an old Italian, suspected, as Frank said, of being a miser. He was very eccentric in his ways and most people considered that he was not quite sound mentally.

Be that as it may, Bayport was shocked one morning to learn that the old man had been found dead in the kitchen of his house, his body riddled with bullets. The motive, apparently, was robbery, for although it was popularly believed that the old man possessed a great deal of money that he kept with him in the house, it was never found, in spite of the most diligent search.

This was the gloomy history of the place the Hardy boys and their chums were now about to visit and explore. To add to the atmosphere of excitement that had possessed them from the moment the old house was mentioned, as they drew closer to the cliff, the sun retired behind a cloud and the sky gradually became darker.

Frank glanced up. Although the sky had been bright and clear when the party left Bayport, clouds had gathered in the east and it was plain that a storm was gathering.

"Looks as if we'll have to go into the Polucca place whether we want to or not," he called out to the others. "It's going to rain."

In a little while they came to the lane that led to the haunted house. In spite of the fact that it was overgrown with weeds and bushes, the boys were able to drive down the faintly defined roadway until at last a rusty iron gate barred their progress.

Frank, who was in the lead, got off his machine and kicked the gate open, the rusty chains clanking dismally as they fell from the staples. Then the party went on into the grounds.

Under the lowering sky that heralded the approaching storm, the grounds of the Polucca place were far from inviting. Dank, tall grass grew beneath the unkempt trees, and thistles and weeds sprouted up in the very center of the roadway. A rising wind stirred among the branches of the trees and the waving grasses rustled mournfully.

"Creepy sort of a place," muttered Jerry.

"Wait till you see the house," Chet advised.

Not one of them could restrain a slight shiver of apprehension when at last they came in view of the old stone building. It was framed in a mass of trees, bushes, and weeds that threatened to engulf it from all sides. Weeds obscured the front door. Bushes grew up level with the sills of the vacant downstairs windows. Trees on either side and beyond the house extended trailing branches down over the roof. A shutter hung by one hinge from an upstairs window, and banged with every passing gust of wind.

A deathlike silence hung over the old building. Under the black clouds that now filled the entire sky it was imbued with an atmosphere of gloom and terror.

"Come on!" said Frank. "Now that we're here we may as well go through the place."

"Haven't seen any ghosts yet," laughed Chet, with an effort at being lighthearted. But in spite of himself, his tone seemed forced.

They left the motorcycles beneath a tree and advanced toward the old stone building. The front door was almost off its hinges, and it swung creakingly open at Frank's touch.

Frank stepped boldly into the hallway. The interior of the house was veiled in gloom, for the rear windows were boarded up, but the lads could see that everything was deep in dust. A staircase was before them, leading to the upper stories of the building. To the left, was a closed door.

"This must be the parlor," said Frank, as he flung the door open.

The room was empty. A stone fireplace was at one side, and as the boys came into the room a rat scuttled out of the fireplace and raced across the floor, disappearing through a hole in the wall. The sound made everyone jump, for the boys' nerves were at a tension on account of the forbidding atmosphere.

"Just a rat!" said Frank.

His voice had the effect of calming the others.

They stood hesitantly in the middle of the deserted parlor. Joe went over to the window and looked out, but the view from the front window of the Polucca place was so lonely and gruesome, in its aspect of tangled trees and weeds and undergrowth under the lowering darkness of the sky, that he came back.

"Where shall we go next?" said Chet.

"Nothing much to see around here," said Frank, disappointed. "It's just an ordinary, dirty, old, deserted house. Let's explore upstairs, anyway—"

At that moment there was a startling interruption.

A weird shriek, quavering as if with terror, rang out from the upper part of the haunted house!

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