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CHAPTER V

The Unexpected Prowler

AN EMBEZZLEMENT case! Nancy was excited. What, she wondered, did her father want her to do? The young detective longed to place a call to him immediately, but knew she must wait until eight o’clock.

“Where is Mrs. Gleason’s sister?” she asked.

Hannah said that the woman had left a short while before, after hearing that Nancy would be home by suppertime.

“But first she fixed a chicken casserole dish for us,” Hannah added. “It’s all ready to pop in the oven. My dear, I hate to bother you—” Nancy grinned mischievously and teased, “You mean you hate to have anyone else but you reign in your kitchen. Don’t worry, Hannah, I’ll be neat.” “Oh posh!” said Hannah. She blushed and gave Nancy a loving glance.

Humming softly, Nancy went to the modern pink-and-white kitchen. The casserole, which looked tempting, stood on one of the gleaming counter tops. After lighting the oven, Nancy placed the dish inside to heat.

She set two wooden trays with doilies, napkins, and silver. Then, after placing bread and butter on each, Nancy poured two glasses of milk. Lastly, she made a crisp salad of lettuce and tomatoes and marinated it with a tangy French dressing.

While waiting for the casserole, Nancy went back to the living room. Hannah was reading the evening paper.

“You’re a wonderful help, dear,” the housekeeper said gratefully, looking up. “Tell me, did you enjoy your vacation?” “It was lovely,” said Nancy, and described the resort. She then told Hannah of the adventure on Twin Lakes and of Laura Pendleton and the Aborns.

“Hannah, wouldn’t it be nice if Laura could visit us sometime soon?”

“It certainly would.”

By now their supper was ready and Nancy brought it in on the trays. After they had eaten, she put the dishes in the washer, then helped Hannah, who was using crutches, upstairs to bed. Nancy then went out to put her car in the garage, and returned to the house just as the clock was striking eight. She went to place the call to Carson Drew.

Nancy looked at the series of numbers on the slip of paper Hannah had given her:

942 HA 5-4727

She dialed the long-distance number, and after one brief ring the phone on the other end was picked up.

“Hotel Williamston,” the switchboard operator answered.

“May I speak with Mr. Carson Drew?” his daughter requested.

“One moment, please.”

There was a pause, then the operator’s voice said, “I’m sorry but Mr. Drew checked out this evening.”

“Did he say where he was going?” Nancy inquired in amazement.

The desk clerk said no. Nancy thanked him and hung up, feeling oddly upset. It was unlike her father to change his plans without calling home to tell where he would be. Could anything have happened to him? she wondered.

Since Hannah was asleep, Nancy did not awaken her to discuss the matter. Leaving on a light in the lower hall, she went to her own room and unpacked, deep in thought. As she hung up her dresses in the closet the young sleuth wondered if her father might be following a new clue in another city.

Deciding that this probably was what had happened and that she would hear from her father the next morning, Nancy felt reassured, took a bath, and went to bed. She fell asleep almost immediately.

Several hours later Nancy was awakened by the sound of a dull thud. She sat up and groped for the bedside light. Turning it on, she got out of bed and slipped into her robe and slippers.

“I hope Hannah hasn’t fallen out of bed,” Nancy thought worriedly, and hurried down the carpeted hall to the housekeeper’s room.

Peering in the bedroom door, Nancy saw that Hannah was sound asleep. Puzzled, Nancy went back to her own room. The girl detective had almost decided she had been dreaming, then she heard an even louder noise.

The creaky window in the ground-floor library was being opened! Someone was entering the house!

Alarmed, Nancy decided to call the police and tiptoed to the bedside telephone in Mr. Drew’s room. When the sergeant answered, she told him she would unlock the front door.

Nancy tiptoed quietly down the stairs. Upon reaching the ground floor, she eyed the closed door of the library, located at the far end of the living room. Not a sound came from the library which Mr. Drew used as a study.

With bated breath Nancy moved toward the front door and opened it. At that instant the library door was flung open. A man’s dark figure was outlined in the doorway. Nancy’s heart skipped three beats.

As Nancy debated whether to run outdoors or upstairs, she heard a loud chuckle. At the same time, a table lamp was turned on.

“Dad!” cried Nancy in disbelief, as color flooded back into her face. “Is it really you?”

“Of course!” said Carson Drew, a tall, distinguished-looking man who right now seemed a little sheepish.

He placed the brief case he was carrying on a table, then walked toward Nancy with outstretched arms. His daughter rushed into them and gave Mr. Drew a loving kiss.

“You’re the best-looking burglar I’ve ever seen!” Nancy declared, and told her father of fearing the house was being entered. Then she clapped a hand to her face. “The police! I notified the police when I heard the window creaking open.” At that very moment father and daughter heard a car stop outside. Two policemen rushed in.

“Where’s the burglar?”

“Right here,” Mr. Drew confessed. “I forgot my house key. Sorry to put you to this trouble.”

The policemen grinned and one said, “I wish all our burglary cases were solved this easy!” A few minutes later the officers left.

Mr. Drew explained to Nancy that he had hesitated about ringing the doorbell and disturbing Mrs. Gruen and Nancy. Recalling that one of the windows in the library did not close completely and needed repair, he removed the screen and opened the window.

“I’m sorry I scared you. I flew home tonight rather unexpectedly and didn’t have a chance to let you know, Nancy.” “Has there been a new development in your embezzlement case, Dad?” she inquired.

Mr. Drew nodded. “Yes, but since it’s late I suggest we both go to bed. We can talk about it in the morning.”

Nancy stifled a yawn. “Good idea,” she agreed.

Father and daughter turned off the lights and went upstairs. Both slept soundly until eight o’clock the following morning when Nancy was awakened by Hannah.

“Get up, sleepyhead!” said the housekeeper. Teasingly she prodded Nancy’s foot with the tip of a wooden crutch while leaning on another one. “It’s a beautiful day!” Nancy jerked awake, rubbing her eyes. “Hannah!” she gasped. “What are you doing up?”

The housekeeper smiled. “One day of staying off my feet will keep me well for a year,” she declared. “Besides, I feel fine this morning.” “But Dr. Darby said—” Nancy began.

“Stuff and nonsense!” Hannah replied tartly. “He left me these crutches to use and that’s what I intend to do with them. Nancy, is your father home? I noticed his door is closed.” “Yes, Hannah.” Nancy related the burglar scare.

The housekeeper smiled in amusement. Then, with a swish of her skirt, she turned and clumped out of the room. She paused at the door, winked at Nancy, and said: “Pancakes and sausage at eight-thirty—and you tell your dad that I’m going to squeeze some extra-juicy oranges.” Mr. Drew was awake also. Nancy could hear the buzz of his electric razor! It was good, she thought, for the little family to be home again.

In half an hour they were seated in the cheerful breakfast room. As they began to eat, Mr. Drew caught up on the latest news and listened with concern to the story of Nancy’s two storm adventures.

“I’m grateful that you’re here safely beside me,” he said gravely.

When the lawyer heard about Laura Pendleton and the Aborns, he frowned. “I agree with you, Nancy, it does sound strange,” he said. “But you should not interfere with Laura and her guardians unless she asks you to. They may turn out to be very nice people.” “I agree,” said Hannah, then added pointedly, “But if things should prove otherwise, Mr. Drew?”

“Then I’d be happy to help Laura have another guardian appointed by the court,” the lawyer replied. “In the meantime, Nancy, let’s invite Laura to spend a few days with us very soon.” Nancy beamed. “Thanks, Dad. That’s just what I wanted to do.”

When the meal was finished and the dishes had been put in the washer, Mr. Drew and Nancy went to his study, a comfortable room with book-lined shelves, deep-seated leather chairs, and a wide, highly polished mahogany desk.

Nancy sat down in a yellow club chair, then said eagerly, “Come on, Dad, don’t hold out on me any longer about this case of yours.” Mr. Drew smiled, and absently fingered a glass paperweight. Sitting down, he began to talk.

Mr. Drew’s client, a Mr. Seward, was the president of the Monroe National Bank in Monroe. It had branches throughout the country, including one in River Heights. During a recent audit, many valuable securities had been discovered missing from the main bank’s vault. Most of the securities were bonds which read “Payable to Bearer.” “How dreadful!” said Nancy. “It means that whoever has the bonds can cash them.”

“That’s right.” Mr. Drew said that the bonds belonged to various bank clients throughout the country. In all cases the clients had inherited money and had asked the bank as custodian to invest it for them. A Mr. Hamilton was put in charge. This was a very common bank procedure: the bank made the investments and paid the dividends to the individual, thus relieving the person of handling his own transactions.

“I was called in on the case,” Carson Drew said, “by Mr. Sill, manager of our River Heights branch, when Mr. Seward advised him that a number of the missing securities belong to residents in our community. Mr. Seward felt this was an odd coincidence.” “It is,” Nancy agreed. “Have you any idea who might have taken the property?”

Mr. Drew said no. So far the evidence pointed to Mr. Hamilton, although the man was a highly trusted officer.

“What about the people who work in the vault?” Nancy asked, wrinkling her forehead.

“They’re being checked on now. Most of these employees have worked for the bank a long time, however. At present two of them are on vacation, so the investigation may take some time.” “Couldn’t you find out where they went?” Nancy asked.

“We’ve tried that,” her father replied, “but they’re not at their homes and the neighbors don’t know where they’re vacationing. We’ll just have to wait until the men get home.” “I see,” Nancy agreed.

“The main thing is,” said Mr. Drew, “that Mr. Seward doesn’t want any publicity about the theft. The bank will continue to pay dividends to the security holders, of course. My assignment is to find the missing property and the guilty person.” “A big order,” said Nancy. “How are you going to do this?”

Carson Drew said he was presently checking on employees other than Hamilton who worked in the custodian department. Also, he was trying to find out if there might be a tie-in between the thief and one or more of the persons whose property was missing.

“There must be several people behind this theft,” the lawyer explained. “It’s pretty difficult in these times to rob a bank, with all the security measures they employ. Nothing is impossible, however, if a plan is well worked out.” “Sounds like an exciting case, Dad,” said Nancy. “What can I do to help?”

In reply Mr. Drew gave Nancy a slip of paper with four names on it and their corresponding River Heights addresses. They were: Mrs. William Farley, Mr. Herbert Brown, Mrs. John Stewart, Mr. Stephen Dowd. None of the names was familiar to the young detective.

“These are the local people whose securities are missing,” Mr. Drew said. “Think of some reason to meet these people,” he directed. “See what kind of homes they have, and try to get an insight into their characters. This is a very vague assignment, but I feel you may find out something incriminating about one of them—you see, we have to be very careful not to arouse suspicion in a case of this type.” “I’ll do my best,” Nancy assured him.

“The out-of-town names I’ll check myself,” her father explained. “They live in various large cities around the country, so I’ll have to be away a good bit during the next few weeks.” “I’ll get busy on these names right away,” Nancy said. She gave her father a quick hug.

“You’re an old dear to let me help you!”

“Promise me you’ll be careful,” the lawyer warned. “An embezzler can be a dangerous person. And in this case whoever is behind the thefts is playing for big stakes.” The young sleuth said she would take every precaution. As Nancy stood up, the telephone rang.

“I’ll get it, Dad,” she offered, and hurried to pick up the receiver of the hall phone.

A low-pitched feminine voice said tersely, “Nancy? Nancy Drew?”

“Yes. This is Nancy speaking.”

As she held on, waiting for the caller’s identification, she heard sounds of a scuffle on the other end of the receiver. This was followed by a cry of pain and a loud crash!

CHAPTER VI

An Invitation to Sleuth

“WHO is this?” Nancy asked.

But the caller had cut off the connection. What had happened to her? Nancy wondered. Certainly she had sounded very distressed. Nancy hung up and waited for a second call, but the phone did not ring.

“Who was it?” Mr. Drew asked, coming into the hall.

Nancy told what had occurred.

“You didn’t recognize the voice?” he remarked.

“No, so I can’t call back. Oh dear, someone is in trouble, I just know it. And here I stand helpless to do a thing! It’s maddening!” “It certainly is,” her father said. “Well, dear, I must run down to the office.” Presently he left the house.

After seeing that Hannah was comfortable, Nancy went to her bedroom and thoughtfully opened the closet door.

“This is as good a day as any to start Dad’s investigation,” she thought.

Nancy took out a two-piece navy-blue dress which made her look older than her eighteen years. Next, she found a pair of comfortable low-heeled pumps.

For several minutes Nancy experimented with various hair styles. She finally chose a simple off-the-face arrangement. Nancy put on tiny pearl earrings, dusted her nose lightly with powder, and finally added a dash of lipstick.

After she had changed her clothes and given herself a final appraisal, Nancy went to Hannah’s room to tell her she was going out for a while.

“Gracious, Nancy,” said the housekeeper, giving the girl a sharp glance, “you look awfully businesslike today. Where are you going?” “Dad asked me to look up something for him,” she said. “I’ll be back in time for lunch.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Hannah. “I can get around. Have a good time, dear.”

When Nancy left the house she consulted the list Mr. Drew had given her. Mrs. William Farley, the first name on the paper, lived on Acorn Street, seven blocks from the Drew residence.

Nancy set out at a brisk pace, rehearsing in her mind the approach on which she had decided. One of the girl’s favorite community projects was a recreational youth center located in downtown River Heights. The center always needed volunteer helpers as well as entertainers for the children.

“A good way to find out something about Dad’s suspects,” Nancy decided, “is to see how they will respond to a needy cause. And I’ll be telling the truth when I say that I’m working for the organization.” This resolved, Nancy soon reached a modest white house which was set back from the street a short distance. The front walk was outlined with pink and white petunias and the grass was well tended.

Nancy rang the bell. The door was opened almost immediately by an elderly woman with wavy white hair and the greenest, most alert, eyes Nancy had ever seen.

“Yes?” she inquired pleasantly.

Nancy introduced herself, then explained the purpose of her call. She was invited inside.

“Please be seated,” said the woman, sitting down herself. Nancy chose a Duncan Phyfe rocking chair covered with a black floral print.

The hostess smiled. “I’d be glad to help you with your project, my dear,” she said, “although I have no talent. Also, I don’t leave this house very much. I’m a recent widow, you see, and I haven’t been too well lately.” Nancy expressed sympathy and said she understood completely. She liked this friendly little woman on first sight.

“Would a small check help your cause?” the widow asked. “Perhaps you could buy some equipment for the children.” “That would be wonderful,” Nancy said. “But I’m not soliciting funds.”

Mrs. Farley smiled shyly. “I realize this,” she said. “But there’s so little I can do to help others. Mr. Farley left most of his estate, which was modest, in trust. And I have only a tiny income to live on.” The woman arose, and despite Nancy’s protests, went to the desk where she wrote out a check.

Nancy thanked her profusely, for she realized that this was a sacrifice on the widow’s part.

“I’m glad I can help,” said Mrs. Farley. “Please come see me again and tell me how the youth center is coming along.” Nancy promised to do this. After a few more minutes of conversation, she bade Mrs. Farley good-by and left the house.

“If I’m a judge of human nature,” thought Nancy, “that woman never did a mean thing in her life!”

When she reached the sidewalk, Nancy took out Mr. Drew’s list from her handbag. Thoughtfully she crossed out Mrs. Farley’s name.

Herbert Brown, the next suspect, lived in River Heights Estates, a rather exclusive housing area located on the outskirts of the city.

“It’s kind of a long walk,” Nancy told herself. “But it will do me good.”

As Nancy strolled along, she was so engrossed with her thoughts that she failed to notice a tan sedan whose driver cruised by, honked the horn, then pulled over to the curb.

As the door opened, a good-looking young man about eighteen called, “Hi, Nancy!”

To her surprise, she saw Don Cameron, who had been a fellow student in River Heights High School. Nancy had, in fact, gone to the Spring Prom with the tall, black-haired boy.

“Hello, Don,” she said. “What are you doing home? I thought you were working on your uncle’s farm this summer before going to college.” Don grinned engagingly. “I’ve been picking string beans and berries and hoeing potatoes for nearly a month,” he replied. “But I have a leave of absence to attend my sister’s wedding this Friday.” Nancy had read of Janet Cameron’s wedding plans in the River Heights Gazette two weeks before. “Jan must be excited!” she exclaimed.

“Everyone at home is going ’round in circles,” Don stated, laughing. “Bill Bent, my brotherin-law-to-be, is no better.

“By the way, Nancy,” Don continued, “I intended calling you later today. If you’re free Thursday afternoon and evening I’d like to have you go to a barbecue party with me. It’s being given in honor of Jan and Bill.” “I’d love to,” said Nancy. “Where will it be?”

“At the Herbert Browns’ home in River Heights Estates,” Don said. “Their daughter, Lynn, is Jan’s maid of honor.” Herbert Brown! One of the possible suspects in the bank security theft! Nancy could scarcely conceal her excitement. Although she did not like the idea of spying on a host, here was an excellent chance for her to find out what Mr. Brown was like.

“What time does the barbecue begin?” Nancy asked.

“I’ll call for you at four,” said Don.

He offered to drive Nancy home, and she hopped in beside him. When the young sleuth entered the house, she found Hannah in the living room.

“My goodness,” the housekeeper exclaimed, “you haven’t solved the mystery already!”

“I gave up,” Nancy teased.

“What!”

With a grin Nancy told why she had postponed her trip. “I’ll get some lunch for us,” Nancy offered, “and then drive to the other two places on the list.” Hannah chuckled. “Since you said you’d be home,” she said, “I prepared a fresh fruit salad— it’s in the refrigerator. And rolls ready to pop into the oven.” “You’re a fine patient!” Nancy scolded.

“I feel better keeping busy,” Hannah countered.

Nancy asked whether there had been any telephone calls in her absence.

“No. But you did get a post card in the mail.” Nancy went to the mail tray in the hall and recognized Helen Corning’s writing. The message read: Dear Nancy:

Aunt June and I have decided to take a week’s automobile trip up North. Will return directly to River Heights. Plan to stop and see Laura Pendleton on our way. Hope Hannah is better.

Love,

Helen

Nancy read the card aloud and commented, “I hope Helen lets me know how everything is at the Aborns’ home. Anyway, I’m going to call Laura myself in a few days to find out how she is and make a date with her to come here.” “Do you think her guardian will let her leave his care so soon?” the housekeeper asked, as she reached for her crutches.

When there was no reply, Hannah looked out toward the hall. Nancy’s normally rosy complexion was deadly white. She looked as if she were about to faint!

CHAPTER VII

A Startling Assignment

“NANCY! Nancy! What’s wrong with you?” Hannah cried out, as she tried to hurry to the girl’s side.

As the housekeeper limped toward her, Nancy snapped to attention. “I’m all right, Hannah,” she said. “But Helen’s post card—it brought back the phone call I had this morning—” Nancy told Mrs. Gruen about the call which had ended so abruptly with a cry of pain. “The caller’s voice sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it,” she explained. “Now I think I know who it was.” “Who?” said Hannah.

“Laura Pendleton! I believe someone was trying to stop her from talking to me!”

“Mercy!” Hannah exclaimed, sinking weakly into a soft chair. “Do you think it was one of the

Aborns, Nancy? And why would they do such a thing?”

Nancy shrugged. “I’m going to call the Aborn home right now.”

While Hannah listened nervously, Nancy picked up the phone and dialed Information. When the operator replied, Nancy asked for Jacob Aborn’s number.

The operator cut off for a minute, then reported, “I’m sorry, miss, but that number has been temporarily disconnected!” “Can you tell me when this was done?” Nancy requested tersely.

“I’m sorry. I have no further information.”

Nancy thanked the operator and hung up.

“It sounds suspicious,” Hannah remarked, “but, Nancy, the Aborns may have changed their plans and gone away with Laura for a vacation somewhere else.” “I know one way to find out,” said Nancy with determination. She reminded Hannah of the young couple, Cathy and Jim Donnell, who had helped move the fallen tree at Melrose Lake.

“I’ll ask them if they’ve seen Laura or the Aborns,” Nancy explained.

Hannah sighed. “You’re just like your father,” she said, “and he certainly is astute. But I’m worried that you’re becoming involved in another complicated mystery.” Nancy tweaked Hannah’s cheek. “The more there are, the better I like them!”

The housekeeper smiled. She said that while Nancy was calling Cathy and Jim she would put lunch on the table.

“Fine. I’ll help you in a moment.”

As Hannah hobbled to the kitchen, Nancy got the Donnells’ number and dialed it. After two rings a girl’s voice said, “Hello!” “Cathy?” Nancy inquired.

“Yes.”

Nancy gave her name. “Do you remember me?” she asked.

“Of course,” said Cathy. “My family and I were talking about you just a short while ago. Jim and I told them about the Aborns’ being home and we all went over this morning to say hello and meet Laura. But the house was closed. Nobody’s staying there.” “Oh!” said Nancy, disappointed. She explained that this was her reason for calling, and told of the Aborns’ telephone having been disconnected.

Cathy already knew this, and added, “Dad found a note on the back porch telling the milkman to discontinue deliveries until further notice.” “Cathy, does Mr. Aborn own a foreign make of car?” Nancy queried.

“Why, no,” Cathy replied. She added that her parents thought the Aborns might have planned suddenly to take a short trip somewhere. “I’m sure that we’ll hear from them in a few days. If we do, I’ll call you, Nancy.” “Fine,” said the young detective. “Remember me to Jim. Good-by.”

Deeply troubled, Nancy went to the kitchen and told Hannah what Cathy had said.

“Chances are,” said the housekeeper, “the call you received this morning was not from

Laura at all. You know a lot of people, dear.”

Nancy replied that usually when someone had to break a telephone conversation in an abrupt manner the person called back as soon as possible to explain what had happened.

“That’s true,” Hannah admitted. “It’s very strange.”

After lunch Hannah said she was going next door to visit with Mrs. Gleason. Nancy helped her to the neighbor’s front porch. Then Nancy backed her convertible from the garage and headed for Mr. Drew’s downtown office.

“I’ll report my progress so far regarding his suspects.”

Nancy parked the car in a lot adjoining a large building where lawyers, doctors, and other professional people had offices. Mr. Drew’s suite was on the fifth floor. A few minutes later Nancy greeted her father’s secretary, Miss Hanson.

“My, how pretty you look, Nancy!” said the efficient young woman, who had been with Carson Drew for the past five years.

“Thank you.” Nancy blushed a trifle. “You look lovely yourself.”

When the lawyer learned that his daughter had arrived, Carson Drew at once asked Nancy to come into his office.

“I can see by the gleam in your eyes, Nancy, that you have some information for me.”

Nancy told him of her interview with Mrs. Farley. “In my opinion, she’s a woman of very fine character.” Then Nancy mentioned the invitation to the barbecue party at Mr. Herbert Brown’s home.

Mr. Drew raised his eyes and chuckled. “Better than I expected.”

“My main reason for coming was to tell you something else,” Nancy said.

She quickly reviewed the latest developments in the Laura Pendleton case. Mr. Drew listened quietly. Finally he said:

“There’s something odd about all this. Nancy, I must leave River Heights on the threeo’clock plane this afternoon for Cincinnati, but I’ll be home by Sunday. Why don’t we plan to drive to the Aborns’ home later that afternoon and see for ourselves what the story is? They may have returned by then.” “That’s a grand idea!” Nancy exclaimed. Then, knowing that he was busy, she kissed her father good-by and wished him a successful trip.

“I’ll call you every night at eight!” Mr. Drew promised, and Nancy left the office.

On the way down in the elevator, Nancy asked Hank, the operator, if he knew where Hilo Street was located. Mrs. John Stewart, the third suspect, lived in an apartment at this address.

“I know the general area,” Nancy added. “It’s about three miles from here on the eastern side of the city.”

“That’s right,” Hank said. “It’s a classy neighborhood! All high-priced apartment buildings. I believe Hilo Street runs off East Main.” Nancy thanked him, then went to her convertible. She drove carefully through the city traffic and finally reached Hilo Street. Mrs. Stewart’s apartment house was Number 76.

Nancy scanned the buildings and found that this one was the largest on the street. It was ultramodern in design and about twenty stories high. After parking her car, she smoothed her hair and got out.

A red-coated doorman nodded pleasantly to the young detective as she entered the building a minute later. Nancy checked the directory and saw that Mrs. Stewart was in Apartment Three on the fourth floor. She rang the elevator button.

Almost instantly, aluminum doors slid open noiselessly, and Nancy stepped inside the carpeted elevator. It was self-operated, and Nancy pushed the fourth-floor control.

Her heart was pounding with excitement. Would Mrs. Stewart prove to be a link in the embezzlement case? Nancy hoped to find a clue this time!

When the elevator stopped at the fourth floor, Nancy got out and easily located Apartment Three. She pressed the doorbell.

A trim-looking maid, a rather harassed expression on her pretty face, opened the door immediately. “Oh, hello!” she said. “You must be the walker.” “Why, no—” Nancy began, but before she could explain, the maid went into the living room, leaving the door ajar.

As Nancy, speechless, glanced hastily into the apartment beyond, the maid reappeared. She was leading a pair of frisky black-and-white French poodles by a gold-linked leash.

“Here!” she said abruptly, thrusting the leash into Nancy’s hand. “Their names are Irene and

Frederika. Mrs. Stewart says to take them for a nice, long walk!”

Before Nancy could utter a word, the door was closed with an emphatic bang!

CHAPTER VIII

The Frightened Runaway

NANCY DREW, dog tender! This was a new title, the young detective thought. As she burst into laughter, the two poodles began to yap excitedly and dance around in little circles.

“Hello, girls,” Nancy said to them, and bent down to pat the friendly animals. She then rang the doorbell with determination.

This time the door was opened by a tremendously stout woman whose chubby face was framed by a mass of fuzzy brown curls.

“Yes?” she inquired coyly. “Have you had some trouble with the babies? I told Collette to give you explicit instructions.” Nancy smothered a giggle. “Are you Mrs. Stewart?” she asked briskly.

“Of course,” the woman said impatiently.

Nancy introduced herself and said that a mistake had been made. She was not the dog walker, but had come to solicit Mrs. Stewart’s aid for the River Heights Youth Center.

“Oh dear!” Mrs. Stewart blushed, obviously flustered. “Collette’s made a mistake. I’m sorry.” She jerked the leash from Nancy and gave the poodles a loving glance. “Mama will give you both cookies while we wait for your real walker.” Nancy cleared her throat and Mrs. Stewart’s glance returned to the caller. “Oh, yes—your project. I’m afraid that we’ll have to discuss it another time. I’m having an afternoon musicale featuring the most divine violinist—Professor Le Bojo. He is expected any moment—” “I understand,” Nancy nodded. “Perhaps I can return later when Mr. Stewart is home?”

“He left today for a fishing trip in Maine,” Mrs. Stewart replied. She added somewhat angrily, “I simply don’t understand Gerald—he doesn’t appreciate our home life here with the children!” Her glance swept toward the poodles.

Nancy managed to keep a straight face, said good-by to Mrs. Stewart, and left. When she returned to her car Nancy reached the conclusion that Mrs. Stewart was hardly the type to plan a bank swindle!

“Her poor husband,” Nancy thought with a laugh.

There was only one more name for Nancy to check today—Mr. Stephen Dowd. She drove out Hilo Street and headed across the city. The man’s address was in a business zone which was partly residential, although most of the homes were two-family dwellings.

After a little difficulty, Nancy found the house she sought—a brown duplex situated between a gasoline station and a tailor shop. She parked and went up the walk. Mr. Dowd’s half of the house was on the right-hand side.

The young sleuth rang the bell and waited. No answer. She pushed the button again. Still no one came to the door.

“Maybe I can find out something from his next-door neighbor,” Nancy thought hopefully.

As she was about to ring the bell on the left, the door was opened by a young woman, a shopping bag in her hand. She appeared startled to see Nancy.

The young sleuth smiled pleasantly. “I came to call on Mr. Dowd,” she explained. “He’s probably at work?”

“No. Mr. and Mrs. Dowd are both away now—on tour with a show, they said. They board here. I’m Mrs. Wyman.”

“Are they entertainers?” Nancy inquired with interest, and explained about the youth center.

Mrs. Wyman said the couple were actors, but she did not know what parts they played. “Since moving here two months ago, they’ve been away a great deal of the time.” Nancy thanked Mrs. Wyman and said she would call again. “They sound like the type of people I’m looking for to help amuse the children,” she explained.

Nancy drove away, but told herself they would bear further investigation. It seemed unnatural that they would not have told what parts they were playing.

Nancy felt a little discouraged about her findings so far. She realized that she could do nothing else until she met Herbert Brown the next afternoon.

“I think I’ll go home, get my bathing suit, and head for the club,” she decided. The day was becoming very warm.

Fifteen minutes later Nancy parked in her driveway. As she was about to insert her key in the front lock, the door was opened from inside.

Laura Pendleton, wan and disheveled, stared at the young detective!

“Laura!” Nancy gasped. She could hardly believe her eyes.

“Hello, Nancy,” her friend said, as Hannah Gruen came into view, walking slowly on her crutches.

“Come in, Nancy,” the housekeeper invited urgently. “Laura’s been waiting for you over an hour. She’s terribly upset—” The three went into the living room and Nancy sat down on the couch beside the visitor. Before Nancy could ask why she was in River Heights, Laura burst into tears.

“Oh, I’m so unhappy!” she sobbed. “That’s why I ran away!”

Nancy gently stroked Laura’s hair and waited for the hysterical girl to calm down. Then she said quietly, “Tell me everything that has happened since I saw you last.” Slowly Laura started to speak. After Nancy and Helen had left the hotel suite, Mr. Aborn said he had to attend to some business for a short while. He had left the hotel. Meanwhile, Laura and Mrs. Aborn had checked out and waited for the guardian in his blue sedan, which was parked in the hotel lot.

“Where did Mr. Aborn go?” asked Nancy.

“I don’t know, but when he met us a short while later he was carrying a brief case. As we started toward Melrose Lake, Mrs. Aborn asked what I had done with Mother’s jewelry. When I said it was in my handbag she asked me to give it to her for safekeeping. I said I would when we got home.” “Then you did go directly to Melrose Lake?” Nancy questioned.

“Yes,” Laura replied. She hesitated, then went on with her story. “The Aborns showed me to my room and I started to unpack.

“I found I needed more hangers,” the girl went on, “but when I went to the door to ask Mrs.

Aborn for them, I discovered it was locked on the outside.”

“Locked!” Hannah gasped and Nancy was shocked.

Laura nodded. “I was so frightened,” she said, “that at first I didn’t know what to do. Then I heard voices coming from the Aborns’ room. I lay down on the floor so I could hear them better and listened.

“Marian Aborn said, ‘What did you lock her in for—she doesn’t know anything!’ and my guardian replied, ‘Not yet, but she’s a smart kid. See if you can gain her confidence and get hold of the jewels.’ ” As Laura paused, a terrible thought came to Nancy. Were the Aborns thieves? But they could not be, she argued, if Marie Pendleton had trusted the couple to take care of her daughter. “And besides, I gather the Donnells think they are nice people.” Aloud she asked, “What happened next?” “I thought I must have heard them wrong,” the auburn-haired girl said slowly, “but I suddenly remembered Mother telling me always to take good care of her jewelry. So I took it from my handbag and hid it underneath the mattress of the bed.

“Just as I finished doing this, the door to my room opened. Mrs. Aborn stood there, looking very friendly. She offered to help unpack my bags, and admired several dresses as I hung them in the closet—” “And then—” Nancy pressed.

Laura said that she and Mrs. Aborn had prepared a tasty dinner, then she and the couple had watched television for a while.

“Just before we went upstairs to bed, Mrs. Aborn said it would be a good idea for me to put my mother’s jewels in the wall safe in the living room. I agreed and said that I would give them to her in the morning.” “What was Mrs. Aborn’s reaction to this?” Hannah asked.

“Oh, both she and her husband became very angry. They said that apparently I didn’t trust them to take care of a few insignificant gems, while they in turn had the responsibility of caring for a penniless orphan! Oh, Nancy, I thought Mother had a lot of money! Mrs. Aborn yelled at me and said I was ungrateful and a big burden to them. They were sorry they had ever agreed to take met “I can’t explain how I felt,” Laura went on, her hands shaking with nervousness. “I was just numb. Then I burst into tears and rushed to my room.” Laura said that finally she had fallen asleep and awakened this morning to find she was again locked in.

“At eight o’clock Mrs. Aborn opened the door, acting very friendly, and said breakfast was ready in the kitchen.” “Was anything said about last night?” Nancy asked.

Laura said no, that the Aborns had acted as though nothing had happened. “But a strange thing occurred after breakfast,” Laura stated. “Mr. Aborn took a small package from the refrigerator and left the house, saying he would be back later. Before he went he said I would be sorry if I didn’t co-operate with them!” “I presume he meant to hand over the jewels,” Hannah guessed, and Laura nodded.

“I knew then that I had to leave their house and also get word to Nancy. While Mrs. Aborn was emptying the rubbish I tried to use the phone, but she caught me and twisted my arm, then hung up the receiver!” “You see, I was right, Hannah!” Nancy exclaimed, and told Laura her theory about the call.

“Were you locked up again?” Hannah asked.

Laura explained that before Mrs. Aborn could do this she had run past her and barricaded herself inside the bedroom, not wanting the jewels to be unguarded. At that moment the doorbell had rung. Apparently Mrs. Aborn had not answered it, for the woman had kept quiet for a long while on the first floor.

“So I quickly took my handbag and the jewels, and climbed down a trellis outside my window,” Laura said. “Once I was on the detour I was lucky enough to get a ride to the highway and there I caught a bus to River Heights. I took a taxi to your house.” As Laura sat back with an exhausted sigh, Hannah stood up. “You’re worn out, dear,” the housekeeper said. “I’m going to get you a cup of hot tea and you’re not to say another word until you’ve drunk it!” With that, she bustled out of the room and returned shortly with a small tray on which was a cup of hot tea and a piece of toast. By the time Laura had finished the snack, color had returned to her cheeks and she looked more relaxed.

“I wonder if we should report your experience to the police,” Nancy mused.

“What could we tell them?” Laura quavered.

“That’s the point,” Nancy continued. “We could tell them that the Aborns tried to get your jewels, but of course they would deny it all. It would be their word against yours.” “And I don’t have definite proof!” Laura said dejectedly.

Nancy patted the girl’s hand. “We’ll do everything we can to help you, Laura. You’ve really had a terrible experience, you poor girl.” “Nancy, you’re a real friend,” Laura said. Tears came into her eyes. “Mr. Aborn is my legal guardian—I saw the papers—but what am I going to do?” “You’ll stay with us,” Hannah said quickly, “and when Mr. Drew comes home he’ll know how to handle the situation.” Nancy was quiet, but she was doing a lot of figuring. Something mysterious was going on at Melrose Lake. She intended to find out for herself what it was.

CHAPTER IX

A Valuable Inheritance

IF IT had been possible Nancy would have started out for Melrose Lake at once, but she felt that Laura needed her. Besides, there was a job to do for her father at the Browns’ barbecue next day.

“Helping Dad comes first,” Nancy decided.

Laura spoke again of her mother’s affairs. “She used to say I’d always be financially independent if anything happened to her.” “We’ll find out,” Nancy said, and then took Laura upstairs so she might shower and rest.

In the meantime, Nancy selected some of her own clothes for the visitor. When she appeared at the dinner table, Hannah declared that Laura looked pretty as a picture and much more relaxed.

“I am—thanks to both of you,” their guest said gratefully.

When the meal was finished the two girls sat out on the Drews’ porch. To cheer up her guest, Nancy told Laura of her funny experience with the French poodles, while trying to get volunteers for the youth center. The young detective did not mention her real reason for calling at the apartment.

Laura giggled. “I wish I could have been with you,” she said. “Tell me, Nancy, have you any souvenirs of the mysteries you’ve solved?” “Two trophies.” Nancy displayed a mantel clock and a valuable silver urn. Laughingly she told Laura that her father often said she would have the house cluttered before she finished her career!

Just then the telephone rang and Hannah called from upstairs that Mr. Drew was on the line. Nancy hurried to talk with him.

“Nancy, I’ve come across some evidence that indicates Mr. Hamilton, or some person working for him in the trust department, was behind the security thefts. A detective is tailing Hamilton, and if he tries to leave town, the Monroe police will be notified.” “How about the others in his department?” Nancy asked.

“They’re being watched, too, but not so steadily. Of course we don’t want to arrest an innocent man.”

Nancy said she hoped the guilty person would make a misstep soon so the case might be solved, and told her father what she had learned of the River Heights suspects since she had seen him.

He suggested that she keep trying to contact the Dowds. “And that reminds me,” the lawyer said. “You can forget about Mr. Herbert Brown being suspicious.” He explained that Brown was a personal friend of the bank president’s and had been cleared.

Nancy was relieved to hear this. “I’ll keep trying to get in touch with the Dowds,” she promised.

Next, she told her father about Laura Pendleton’s flight from the Aborns’ home. “Do you think we should report her experience with them to the police?” she asked.

Mr. Drew said no, that so far the two girls had only their suspicions of the couple’s dishonesty, even though Laura had overheard them talking about her jewels. “You need some concrete evidence before calling in the authorities,” he stated.

“I thought I’d run up to Melrose Lake and do some sleuthing,” she said.

“All right, but keep out of danger,” he warned. “I’ll be eager to hear what you find out. We’ll have a conference when I get home and decide what we can do for Laura.” “Thanks, Dad.” A moment later they bade each other good night and hung up.

As the teen-aged detective started for the porch, she had an inspiration. It was not essential now for her to meet Herbert Brown. If Don Cameron would agree to take Laura as a substitute to the barbecue party, it would leave Nancy free to go to Melrose Lake the next day!

“I’ll ask Don if he’d mind. If he does—well, that’s that.”

Hopefully Nancy dialed the Cameron house. Don answered and the girl detective told him the problem.

“Wow! A real mystery!” he remarked. “If I didn’t know what sleuthing means to you, Nancy,

I’d say you were just trying to brush me off. But you have me feeling sorry for this Laura Pendleton, too. Okay. If she’s willing to go with me, I’ll be glad to take her. But I’m sure sorry you can’t make it. See you another time.” “Thanks, Don. I shan’t forget this. Of course if Laura won’t go, I’ll keep the date. ’By now.”

As Nancy walked toward the porch, she smilingly crossed her fingers, hoping that Laura would agree to the plan. Stepping outside, Nancy asked, “How would you like to go to a barbecue tomorrow, Laura?” The girl’s face glowed with anticipation. “It would be fun!” she exclaimed. “Where, Nancy?”

When the plan was explained, Laura said, “Oh, but I don’t want to take your date away from you.”

“Don and I have already arranged everything,” Nancy assured her. Then she told of her desire to do some sleuthing at Melrose Lake.

At once Laura said she was afraid to have Nancy go to the Aborns’ home. “There’s no telling what my guardian might do to you,” she said fearfully. “He has a terrible temper, and if he learns you’re helping me—” “He won’t learn that,” Nancy said determinedly.

Reluctantly Laura agreed to Nancy’s whole scheme. “But if anything should happen to you, I—I’d just want to die!” she declared.

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