For the revised edition of this book, see Footprints Under the Window (revised text).
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Footprints lead to the breakup of a ring smuggling Chinese aliens.
A surprise visit by Aunt Gertrude starts the story as the boys are alone in the house for a time. She is to arrive by boat at the docks, but when they arrive to meet the boat she is not there. A man named Sidney Peebles is and he tells them that Gertrude fell ill and did not board the ship. The boys bring him to their home after he misses the ship leaving Bayport, but the next morning he has disappeared, several important papers are gone from Mr. Hardy's coat and there are footprints under the window and a note To their surprise, they also find Aunt Gertrude in the house feeling ill. She was on the ship after all and spends the rest of the story ill and infirm in the house where she is cared for by Mrs. Cody, a superstitious nurse. After the ship had left the docks the night before, a violent fight had broken out between to different groups of Chinese men, one of whom was stabbed. As the boys investigate Peebles and the footprints they realize that this is connected to the fight at the docks and to Louie Fong who has taken over the local Chinese laundry from Sam Lee and is a very unpleasant individual. They also come into contact with Orrin North, an importer, who claims that he had hired Fenton Hardy to clear him from claims of smuggling Chinese men into the country. North, while have bad things to say about their father who is out of town and cannot be contacted, refuses the boys' offer of help. He does help the boys track down Peebles who he claims to know. When the boys go to Lakeside to see him they begin to doubt that he is the same fellow they brought home. At the same time Tom Wat,the man stabbed in the dock fight,arrives to meet Peebles who he claims was part of the fight. He also realizes that this man is not the same one who claimed to be Peebles although they look very similar. The real Peebles helps to disguise Wat as a woman so that the boys can take him to their home without Fong spotting him. Wat is afraid of Fong but refuses to talk aobut what he knows. Wat's disguise leads to some misunderstanding as Chet, Iola and Calle spot him and question the boys about the good looking Chinese woman with them. They let Chet in on it eventually. Eventually the case leads to connections between North and Fong, and the boys discover a tunnel built connecting the laundry and an abandoned building where the smuggled Chinese men are being kept. The false Peebles is caught by Frank and turns out to be Henry Pinkerton, a man who wants to be a detective and is trying to make his name on this case. Joe spots someone else who is watching Fong and North. The boys and Wat capture Fong, but he escapes and eventually captures them. Then he and North capture Fenton Hardy who was the other man watching them. The boys are able to break their bonds and alert the police who are outside waiting for Fenton's signal to come in and arrest everyone.
- Sam Lee, runs a Chinese laundry
- Louie Fong, takes over running the laundry
- Sidney Peebles, mysterious young man with message for the Boys
- Mrs. Cody, a nurse
- Constable Con Riley, an Irish Bayport beat cop
- Orrin North, an importer who hired Fenton Hardy
- Tom Wat, an important Chinese witness
- Henry Pinkerton, a wannabe private eye
Businesses and organizations
- Sam Lee's Chinese Laundry
- Orrin North's trading company, unnamed
- Lantern Land, just outside Lakeside, a roadhouse and eating place
This book is unique within the Hardy Boys canon, as it shows Fenton Hardy in a most unfavorable light, supposedly going away on vacation, leaving his business unattended to and angering his clients. Too, this book was one of those that had to be revised most drastically in the 1960s, as there are innumerable references to "Chinamen."
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