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Nancy’s father was a skillful driver and right now he was intent upon reaching the lake as soon as possible. He could barely restrain himself from breaking the speed limits.

“This is one time I wish I had a helicopter,” he told the two young people.

“It wouldn’t do you much good at Melrose Lake, Mr. Drew,” said Laura. “It’s a pretty thickly wooded area. I doubt that you’d find a landing strip.” Don realized that this remark, although unintentional, heightened Carson Drew’s worry about Nancy being lost in the woods. He changed the subject quickly.

“I thought you weren’t due home until Sunday, sir,” Don said.

“That’s right,” the lawyer replied, his eyes intent on the highway ahead. “In Cincinnati late this afternoon I had a call from Chief McGinnis of the River Heights police. He thought it was imperative for me to return home immediately.” Mr. Drew proceeded to tell Don and Laura the complete story of the embezzlement case.

Laura looked worried. “The Monroe National Bank had my mother’s securities!” she exclaimed. “You don’t suppose—” “Maybe,” Don put in, “Nancy learned something in connection with this at the Aborn house and is staying to get more information.” “Oh, she shouldn’t have done it!” Laura cried out fearfully.

“Now there may not be anything to your theory,” Mr. Drew remarked. “Don’t borrow trouble.”

Don patted Laura’s shoulder. “Sure. We have enough worries as it is. Mr. Drew, you were telling us why you came back early.” “Yes. Although I’m making a private investigation for Mr. Seward, the bank president, Chief McGinnis has been helping me on an unofficial basis. We’re old friends, you see.

“When Nancy told me that two of the suspects —the Dowds—were in the acting profession and had been out of town recently, I had a hunch they might tie in with the case. I asked the chief to check on any past records the couple might have, and call me in Cincinnati.” At this point Carson Drew explained that Chief McGinnis had learned that the Dowds both had records for theft and embezzlement. Each had served prison terms. Using various aliases, they had either acted or worked in theaters in several states and among other crimes had robbed the ticket offices.

“When the chief told me this,” said Carson Drew, “I asked him to take the list of missing securities to various brokerage offices in the River Heights area. He did this and found that during the past few days all of them had been sold by a woman.” “The same woman?” Don asked.

“Apparently not,” Mr. Drew replied. “At least when Chief McGinnis asked for the woman’s description it was different every time.” “How odd!” Laura exclaimed. “Could it have been Mrs. Dowd? Since she’s an actress she must be good at disguise.” “You may be right,” Mr. Drew acknowledged. “Anyway, the chief sent two officers to their house to pick up the Dowds for questioning.” “Did they find them?” Don asked eagerly.

The lawyer shook his head. “When the police got to the house they learned that the actor and actress had had a man caller earlier in the day and that the three had left together. Mr. Dowd said they would not be back.” “How discouraging for you”—Laura sighed in sympathy—“but I’m sure you’ll find them.”

“There’s a state alarm out for the couple,” Mr. Drew said. “They shouldn’t be able to get very far.”

“What do the Dowds look like?” Laura asked.

In reply, the lawyer took two photographs from his breast pocket and handed them to her.

Laura held the pictures toward the light on the dashboard. She shook her head in disbelief. “These are the Dowds?” she repeated.

“Yes, why? Have you seen them before?”

Laura said in a tense voice, “I know them as Mr. and Mrs. Aborn. Oh, Mr. Drew, if they’ve caught Nancy, she’s in real danger!” CHAPTER XVI

A Speedy Getaway

UNAWARE that help was coming, Nancy worked feverishly to slip her hands out of the ropes in the dark cellar of the shack.

“How are you doing?” Jacob Aborn asked her.

“The bonds are becoming looser,” Nancy replied.

Suddenly she recalled Hannah’s promise to send the police to the Aborns’ home if she had not returned at a reasonable hour. When she told the imprisoned man about this, it seemed to give him courage.

However, to herself Nancy said, “By that time those criminals will have escaped. They may even prevent Hannah from carrying out her plan! And both Laura and Hannah may be harmed!” As if to offset this alarming possibility, the ropes around Nancy’s hands suddenly pulled free.

“I did it!” she exclaimed, and Mr. Aborn sprang from his bench, crying, “We’ll be able to escape!”

Nancy did not respond, for she was working grimly at the ropes which bound her feet. “If I could only see!” she muttered.

Then she remembered the packet of matches in her skirt pocket. She took it out and lighted a match, which she stuck in a crack in the wall. As the light burned she worked to untie the knots that bound her ankles. Several more matches were used before she was free.

“Miss Drew, you’re the most ingenious girl I’ve ever met!” Mr. Aborn said admiringly. “I wish I could think that fast. It just occurred to me that there’s a can of kerosene under the stairs. You might fill the lantern.” Nancy found the can and in a few seconds the place was aglow with light.

“Now I’ll open the padlock again,” Nancy told Mr. Aborn.

After getting the key she hurried to the side of Laura’s guardian. A minute later the chains fell to the floor with a loud thud.

“At last!” Jacob Aborn cried in relief.

“Our next step,” said Nancy, “is to get out of here as fast as we can and then try to alert the police.”

“It’s my bet,” her companion said, “that Dowd has already skipped town.”

Nancy was inclined to agree, but since the swindler had not expected his two prisoners to escape, he might still be at the Aborn house with his wife.

“We’ll head for my car,” Nancy said, “and decide what we’ll do when we reach it.”

Jacob Aborn moved forward several steps, then his knees began to tremble. “My legs will be all right after I’ve used them for a few minutes,” he apologized.

But try as he would, the man was unable to climb the stairway unassisted. Nancy reached out a strong arm to help him. At last they reached the top of the stairway.

The young sleuth led the way to the door, unbolted it, and the two stepped outside.

“What a relief!” Jacob Aborn gasped, filling his lungs with pure air.

In the east, the moon had risen over the woods and the sky was peppered with stars. The route among the trees would be easy to find in the clear night. Yet Nancy glanced uneasily at her companion, wondering if he would be able to walk to the car.

As if reading her thoughts, Aborn said, “I’m fine now. Let’s go!”

Nancy offered her arm again, and at a slow pace they walked across the clearing and entered the woods. They had gone but a short way when Mr. Aborn sank down on a log, breathing heavily.

“You go on without me, Nancy,” he said in a voice shaky with fatigue. “I can’t do it.”

“Just rest here for a moment,” Nancy said encouragingly, unwilling to leave the man.

Shortly, Mr. Aborn felt he could continue. Leaning heavily on Nancy, he moved forward, refusing to pause again even for a brief rest.

“You’re a very kind girl to help me,” he said hoarsely.

Nancy replied modestly, “I’m so glad I found you. Think of what it means to Laura to have her real guardian found! I know she will be happy living with you and your wife.” At the mention of his wife’s name Mr. Aborn said he was grateful that she had gone away before the Dowds invaded their home. “She might have been made a prisoner too!” he declared.

Presently, with a feeling of relief, Nancy caught sight of her convertible standing among the bushes where she had left it. After she had helped Mr. Aborn into the front seat, Nancy took her place behind the steering wheel.

“Now we’ll drive to the nearest police station,” she announced. “You direct me.”

She inserted the key and tried the starter. To Nancy’s surprise, the motor did not turn over.

“That’s funny,” she said, and tried again. Nothing happened. Next, Nancy glanced at the fuel gauge. It registered half full.

“I wonder if your battery’s dead,” Mr. Aborn said in a faint voice.

“I think not,” Nancy replied, as she reached into the glove compartment and took out an extra flashlight she kept there for emergencies.

She got out of the car, lifted the hood, and flashed her light inside. She had taken a course in automobile mechanics and knew the possible sources of trouble.

“I see what the trouble is,” Nancy called. “The distributor has been uncapped and the rotor’s missing! This is sabotage!” Without this necessary part the car could not start. “I’m sure that Mr. Dowd is the saboteur,” she added angrily.

Mr. Aborn sighed resignedly. “Stumpy Dowd leaves no stones unturned,” he said in a tired voice. “Just in case we might escape he wanted to make certain we’d have no transportation. I’m afraid, Nancy, that we’ll have to go to the main highway for help.” As Mr. Aborn spoke, Nancy heard a car motor not far away. Eagerly she looked to right and left but saw no approaching headlights.

“Quick! Duck down!” Mr. Aborn whispered, and Nancy crouched in the bushes alongside her car.

A dark foreign sports car emerged from the Eagle Rock lane, then made a left-hand turn in the direction of Twin Lakes!

“It’s the Dowds making a getaway!” Mr. Aborn said. “We’re too late!”

Nancy was alarmed by this turn of events. She wondered why Stumpy Dowd was not heading toward River Heights. Had he given up the idea of going to the Drews’ residence and forcing Laura Pendleton to give him the jewels? Or was he taking an alternative route there?

“Oh dear! I wish there were a telephone nearby!” Nancy moaned. She told Mr. Aborn that his had been disconnected.

Jacob Aborn spoke up. “Nancy, I’m sure that Dowd and his wife have left my house for good. I think the best plan is for us to go there.” “Yes,” Nancy agreed. “After you’re safely inside I’ll go for help.”

“I can’t let you do that,” Jacob Aborn protested. “Few cars come along this road at night.

You’ll have an extremely long walk before you reach the main highway.”

Silently Nancy agreed, but she also noted that the man’s strength was almost spent. She helped him from the car, and the two slowly approached the lane that led to Mr. Aborn’s house.

“Oh, if I could only get my hands on that scoundrel!” the man muttered.

The thought gave him new strength, and he moved forward again. Cautiously the two crept toward the house, approaching it from the rear.

“We’d better make certain that no one’s here,” Nancy whispered.

As they drew near the back door she saw that it stood ajar, as though someone had left hurriedly without taking time to shut it.

With Jacob Aborn close behind her, Nancy stepped cautiously into the kitchen. There was profound silence. The place appeared deserted.

Crossing the room on tiptoe, Nancy and Mr. Aborn walked toward the living room. He clicked on a light. Everything was in disorder. A chair had been overturned and papers were scattered about.

“The Dowds certainly made a thorough search,” Nancy remarked.

Just then Mr. Aborn’s eyes fell upon the wall safe which stood open. With a cry of alarm he tottered across the room to look inside. Everything had been taken out.

Mr. Aborn groaned. He told Nancy that a sizable sum of his own money had been in the safe, along with shares of negotiable stock. Stumpy Dowd had forced him to tell the safe’s combination on threat of harming Laura.

Mr. Aborn, white as starch, sank into a nearby chair and buried his head in his hands. “Nearly all my securities were in there,” he said. One quick glance at him told Nancy that the man was on the verge of a complete collapse. She could not leave him alone, yet how could she get help without doing so?

A second later she and Mr. Aborn were startled to hear a car driving up the lane. Were the Dowds returning? Had the couple merely gone out for a while, or had they forgotten something in their hasty flight?

Nancy’s next thought was far worse than either of these. Had Stumpy Dowd somehow learned that his two prisoners had escaped?

CHAPTER XVII

Two-way Detecting

As THE automobile pulled to a halt, Mr. Aborn slumped to the floor in a faint. Evidently he had shared Nancy’s thought that the Dowds were returning, and would force their way in. The terrifying thought that he might become a prisoner again had been too much for the exhausted man.

“Oh!” Nancy cried out.

From the window Nancy saw four people hurriedly alighting from the car. A moment later the bell rang and a woman’s voice cried, “Mr. Aborn —Mr. Aborn—please let us in. It’s the Donnells!” Nancy hurried to the front door and flung it open. “Cathyl Jim!” she cried out. “Oh, you don’t know how glad I am to see you!” The two young people introduced Nancy to their parents, a good-looking couple in their forties. Then they stepped inside.

“What are you doing here, Nancy?” Jim Donnell asked, puzzled at the girl’s disheveled appearance. “What’s going on?” Nancy replied by saying Mr. Aborn was ill, and there was no time for further explanation right now. She hastily led the family into the living room. When they saw their unconscious friend on the floor, Mrs. Donnell rushed forward with an excited cry.

“How dreadful!” she exclaimed.

As she knelt down, the kindly woman said she was a registered nurse. After a brief examination of the patient she reported that Mr. Aborn appeared to be suffering from malnutrition and shock.

While Jim and his father lifted him onto the couch, Nancy told what had happened to him. The Donnells were stunned.

Before they could discuss it, however, Nancy turned to Jim. “Two phone calls must be made right away,” she said. “Would you be able to take care of them for me?” “Glad to,” the boy said. “I suppose you want me to notify the police to pick up Stumpy

Dowd—”

“Yes,” Nancy said tersely, and described the black foreign car.

She next asked Jim to call Chief McGinnis at River Heights and tell him to have extra men patrol the Drew home. “Find out if Mrs. Gruen and Laura are all right,” she requested, “and see if our housekeeper knows where to get in touch with Dad.” Jim said he would do all of these things. As soon as he returned, he would try to fix Nancy’s car.

After Jim left, Nancy turned to the others. Mr. Aborn had regained consciousness and said he felt better and able to talk.

“Lillian,” he said, giving Mrs. Donnell a wan smile, “the angels must have sent you. How did you know we were in trouble here?” “We didn’t for sure,” Mr. Donnell replied gravely, “until tonight—it’s a long story.”

The gray-haired man said that he and his wife had been amazed to hear on Tuesday from their children that Marian Aborn had returned from Florida and that she and Jacob had met Laura Pendleton at Twin Lakes.

“We were sure you would have told us of your change of plans, if this were true, Jacob,” he said to his old friend. “Anyway, we came over here yesterday morning to say hello and meet Laura. No one answered the bell.” “We concluded,” said Mrs. Donnell, “that Nancy Drew had been mistaken in thinking that you were coming back here—anyway, we remembered you saying that due to the illness of Marian’s mother you would not be able to come here with Laura until after your wife’s return.” “That’s right,” said Mr. Aborn. He explained to Nancy that first there had been legal technicalities regarding his appointment as the orphan’s guardian, since he had been living in another state. That was why his ward had remained at her boarding school.

Mrs. Donnell went on to say that this evening they had received a telephone call from Mrs. Aborn who was still in Florida. “Marian had tried several times to get you and was upset to learn that the phone here was disconnected. She called us to see why.” “My wite hadn’t heard from me in over two weeks,” Mr. Aborn stated.

Mrs. Donnell said, “But Marian thought she had. Mrs. Aborn sent telegrams here and replies came to her in Florida.”

Mr. Donnell said that when the family heard that Marian Aborn was indeed in Florida, they were fearful something was terribly wrong.

“We told Marian what we knew, suggested she come home immediately, and said we would come over here right away to see what we could uncover.” “Thank goodness you did,” Nancy sighed, and Mr. Aborn gave his friends a grateful smile.

Then he asked, “How is Marian’s mother?”

“Getting along very well.”

“When will my wife arrive?” Mr. Aborn asked anxiously.

“She’s taking a night plane from Miami to the Hamilton airport,” Mrs. Donnell replied. “My husband will meet her.” Cathy’s mother then went to the kitchen to prepare a light meal for Mr. Aborn. Nancy excused herself and went to wash her face, legs, and grimy hands. Refreshed, she returned to the living room, wondering what was keeping Jim so long.

“He’ll be here soon, Nancy,” said Cathy.

“I’ll feel much better when I know everything’s all right at home,” Nancy replied.

While Mr. Aborn ate, the pretty detective told the others of Stumpy Dowd’s connection with Mr. Drew’s case.

“What a story!” Mr. Donnell exclaimed.

Nancy excused herself for a moment and went to the front door to listen for Jim’s car. As she stood on the steps her heart suddenly leaped. A tall figure stood up from behind a bush near the front steps.

“Nancy?” a man’s voice called softly.

Nancy knew who it was. “Dad!” she cried out.

Carson Drew leaped the steps and gave his daughter a resounding kiss. “Are you all right?” he whispered.

When Nancy said yes, and that it was safe to talk aloud, Don Cameron and Laura emerged from some shrubbery.

“We saw lights and heard voices,” Laura explained. “We thought it was the Aborns. What’s going on here, Nancy?” “Yes, tell us!” Don urged.

Once again Nancy explained what had happened. Carson Drew listened to his daughter’s story of her encounter with the thief, a stern expression on his face.

“You were lucky to come out of this so well,” he remarked.

“Yes,” Laura agreed. “And it’s so wonderful to have a guardian whom you say is nice!”

“Mr. Aborn is a fine person, Laura,” Nancy said. “I’ll take you in to meet him in a minute.”

Carson Drew now brought Nancy up to date on his news, and ended by saying, “We were so worried we drove here immediately, not even taking time to call the police.” Don added that they had left Mr. Drew’s car at the end of the lane and were scouting the house to see if Nancy were inside when she had appeared on the front steps.

“How many times I wished you were here!” said Nancy. She now suggested that everyone come into the house to meet the others. “Jim Donnell,” she added, “should return any minute.” “I’ll wait for the young man out here and act as guard in case the Dowds show up,” Carson

Drew said, sitting down on a step. “The rest of you run along—”

As Nancy walked inside with Don and Laura she saw that Mr. and Mrs. Donnell were helping Mr. Aborn up the stairs to his bedroom. Hearing voices, the guardian turned, looked at his ward, and exclaimed: “Laura dear—at last—I’d know you anywhere! You look just like your mother!”

“Mr. Aborn!” Laura cried out. She raced up the steps and gave her guardian a big kiss.

Introductions were quickly made, and when Mr. Aborn was settled in his bed, he had a visit with Laura and Nancy. But after they had chatted for a few minutes the girls could see that the man needed sleep badly.

“We’ll say good night now,” said Nancy. “Sweet dreams.” She turned off the light, and they went downstairs.

When Nancy and Laura reached the first floor, they found Mr. Drew and Jim Donnell talking in the hall with a state trooper. While Cathy took Laura aside, Nancy walked toward the group.

She was introduced to Sergeant Murphy, then Carson Drew explained to her that the state police were putting all available cars on the chase and hoped to round up the Dowds and their accomplice shortly.

“Good!” Nancy exclaimed. “But what about Mrs. Gruen?”

Sergeant Murphy said that he had talked with Chief McGinnis. The River Heights official had immediately sent a patrol car and four men to the Drews’ home.

“Your housekeeper was relieved to hear that you, Miss Drew, had been found,” he reported. “Nothing unusual has happened at your home tonight. But it will be closely guarded until the Dowds and their accomplice are caught.” “Oh, I’m glad,” said Nancy. Sergeant Murphy left, after saying he would check back later.

Nancy and Mr. Drew walked into the living room, and she introduced her father to Mr. and Mrs. Donnell and Cathy. After a few minutes of excited conversation, the young sleuth said: “Dad, I have a hunch that the man ‘Fred’ whom Stumpy Dowd mentioned is someone employed at the Monroe National Bank. Tell me, was Mrs. Pendleton’s name ever mentioned in connection with the missing securities?” Mr. Drew shook his head. “No, Nancy, it wasn’t.”

“Then,” said Nancy, “I think we’re going to find that Laura’s bonds were never deposited in the bank’s vault. Whoever took them and passed them on to Stumpy Dowd must be someone who works in the custodian department of the bank.” “That’s good reasoning, Nancy,” her father agreed, “but we have checked almost all the employees and they’ve been given a clean bill of health. One man, Mr. Hamilton’s assistant, has been on vacation and we won’t be able to interview him for another week or so.” “What’s the man’s name?” Nancy asked.

Mr. Drew consulted a list of names which he took from his pocket. “William Frednich.” Nancy snapped her fingers. “Frednich! Maybe he’s the ‘Fred’ the Dowds were talking about. And if he is,” she continued excitedly, “I think they’re together and I believe I know where the Dowds are hiding out with this man!” Carson Drew looked at his daughter in amazement. “Where?” he asked.

“Not far from here,” Nancy said mysteriously. Then she jumped up from her chair. “Let’s find out, Dad!”

CHAPTER XVIII

Night Trail

CARSON DREW, startled, looked at his daughter.

“Where do you think the Dowds and Fred are hiding, Nancy?”

“In a bungalow on Twin Lakes—the one I told you we stayed in after Laura rescued us,” she explained. “My main reasons for thinking so are these: I saw a black foreign car come from there, and the place was well-stocked with food. Fred may have been living there.” “Go on. This is interesting,” the lawyer said.

Nancy’s hunch was that the thieves had first planned the bank theft, then the Dowds had rented the bungalow under an assumed name.

“Makes sense.” Carson Drew nodded.

“Fred,” Nancy continued, “knew of Laura’s large estate and jewelry, and got the idea of having Stumpy Dowd impersonate Mr. Aborn. In order to get the jewelry they had to have Laura with them, so they decided to take her to the Melrose Lake house.” “Good logic,” said Mr. Drew. “Then, when the real Mr. Aborn appeared, they had to kidnap him temporarily. Well, we’ll follow your hunch. Shall we go?” The others offered to go, but Mr. Drew thought that the Donnells should stay with Mr. Aborn and Laura.

“Please do,” Nancy added. “After all, my hunch could be wrong. The Dowds may return here.”

“We’ll nab ’em if they do!” Jim said determinedly.

A few minutes later Mr. Drew’s car was on the detour again, heading for the Twin Lakes road. When they reached it, there were no other cars in evidence.

“That’s odd,” said Nancy, knowing that this was the only road which connected the two resorts.

“Oh, oh!” said Don. “Look!”

Mr. Drew had also seen a small red light a few hundred feet distant. He slowed up. Ahead was a gate obstruction across the highway. On it was nailed a sign which read: ROAD UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Travel at your own risk

“This is great!” Mr. Drew remarked unhappily.

“Maybe it won’t be too bad ” Nancy said. “I came this way the other day and I think I know all the turns.”

“Why don’t we try it, sir?” Don spoke up.

“All right.”

Don got out of the car and moved the barrier enough so Mr. Drew could drive through. They went slowly, because of the steam shovels, bulldozers, and equipment parked along the road.

To make matters worse, the pavement was gone in places where repairs were being made. The car tires wallowed in soft dirt.

Soon, however, they reached the end of the construction section and Carson Drew stepped on the accelerator. The car responded with a burst of speed.

“We’re not far from Twin Lakes now,” Nancy said as she spotted a few familiar landmarks.

Don wanted to know what the plan would be when they reached the bungalow. Mr. Drew said they would first check to see if the foreign car were in the vicinity. “Of course it will be hidden.” “Next,” Nancy added, “we’ll have to make sure Fred and the Dowds are there, and not some innocent people. But if Stumpy’s there, we’ll notify the police. Right, Dad?” “Unless Dowd sees us first,” he said grimly.

Nancy said she hoped this would not happen. “But I suppose they probably will have someone acting as a lookout.”

“As I understand it, Nancy,” said her father, “the bungalow is in an isolated spot.”

“Yes, and there are a lot of trees around it.”

“Could anyone inside the house make a getaway by boat?” Don asked.

“Not easily,” Nancy answered. “The bungalow is not built over the water. It’s some distance from the lake and there’s no dock where a boat could be tied.” Presently she said, “We’re about a mile from the bungalow.” Carson Drew’s face tensed. He drove to a point about a tenth of a mile from the lane leading down to the bungalow, then stopped the car in a clearing off the road.

“We’ll cover the rest of the distance on foot,” he announced.

As Nancy got out the right-hand side of the car after Don she glanced at the luminous dial on the clock. It was three o’clock in the morning!

Walking three abreast, the sleuths saw the bungalow below. It was in darkness.

“I don’t see any sign of a car,” Don whispered to Nancy, as he guided her by the arm.

Carson Drew was silent, but suddenly he jerked to attention. A twig had snapped. Now they saw a man walking toward the trio through the woods!

As Don, Nancy, and Mr. Drew ducked behind some shrubbery, they noticed that the man approaching them was carrying a fishing pole and a box of the type ordinarily used for bait.

Passing by the watchers, he walked unhurriedly toward the beach. At this moment the moon chose to show itself brilliantly, and Nancy observed that the man was tall and heavy.

“Hello, Sam,” he said, and now the watchers could see a rowboat and passenger gliding out of the shadows.

“I hope the fish are biting well this morning.” His voice carried clearly in the stillness.

The fisherman deposited his gear in the boat, and the two companions shoved off. They were barely out of sight when Don whispered hoarsely, “A light in the bungalow.” From the second-story window had come a flash of light. It did not reappear.

“Someone’s up there!” Nancy whispered. “Maybe the fisherman alerted him.”

“Let’s circle the house,” said Carson Drew, and suggested that he take the left half of the circle while Nancy and Don took the right. They would meet back at this same spot in a few minutes.

“Be careful now,” he warned the young people.

“You too, Dad,” Nancy said.

The route Nancy and Don took led past the door into the first floor of the boathouse bungalow. Cautiously they listened at the exit. There was no sound from within. They went on to the beach side.

The two tiptoed among the shadows as far as the center of the rear of the building without incident, then quietly returned to the meeting place. When they arrived, Mr. Drew was not there.

“That’s funny,” said Nancy, a little alarmed. “Where is Dad?”

Just then she and Don heard a low groan. It seemed to come from behind a tree about twenty feet away. Forgetting caution, the couple rushed to the spot. Behind its broad trunk a man lay sprawled on the ground. Mr. Drew!

“Dad!” Nancy exclaimed, kneeling down. She felt the lawyer’s pulse. It was steady.

“I think he was knocked out,” said Don angrily. “Nancy, you’re right about this being a hideout. We must get the police!” “And right away!” Nancy agreed, as Carson Drew sat up groggily. In a moment he could talk.

The lawyer said that after leaving Nancy and Don he had started around the bungalow. Someone had come from behind and struck him. “I suppose he dragged me here.” “Stumpy Dowd, I’ll bet!” Nancy exclaimed. “And this may mean that he and his wife made a getaway while Don and I were on the other side of the bungalow! Dad, do you feel well enough to try to follow them?” “Yes, but where did they go?” he asked. “And how? By boat, car, or on foot?”

As if in answer to his question, the three suddenly saw in the clear moonlight the figures of two men and a woman running up the bungalow lane toward the road. Each man carried a big suitcase. Laura’s inheritance and Mr. Aborn’s little fortune!

“After them!” Don cried.

But Mr. Drew could not make it. He tottered unsteadily and leaned against the pine. “Go on!” he said.

“No!” Nancy replied quickly. “Don, bring Dad’s car here, will you?”

As the boy started off, the trio heard the muffled backfire of an automobile coming from the direction of the woods across the main road.

“Hurry, Don!” Nancy urged. “They had a car hidden there.”

By the time Don returned, Carson Drew felt better. He suggested that Nancy drive, since she was more familiar with the road. When everyone was in the car, with the lawyer in the rear seat, they took off.

Upon reaching the road, the young sleuth turned right. “I think this is the direction the other car took,” she said. “Anyway, it leads to Stamford, where I know there’s a state police headquarters.” Carson Drew sat up groggily

The road became rough and was full of sharp turns. Nancy drove fast but carefully, slowing at each curve. There was no sign of another car until Don suddenly cried out: “I think we’re approaching a car!”

Nancy peered forward intently. She saw nothing but the road ahead.

“It’s hidden now by that hill in front of us,” Don told her.

There was a long moment of suspense, then Nancy exclaimed, “I see it!”

“Do you think it’s the Dowds?” Don asked.

“It could be,” Mr. Drew replied.

As the car reached a smooth, straight piece of road, Nancy put it to a faster and faster pace.

“We’re gaining on them!” Don said exuberantly.

Little by little the Drew sedan crept up on the car ahead. Soon its headlights spotlighted the rear of the other vehicle—a black foreign car! Three figures were silhouetted inside it!

At the same moment Nancy caught sight of a huge black-and-white checkerboard sign at the side of the road. A bad curve ahead! With well-timed precision, Nancy eased up on her speed and gradually used her brake, knowing that abrupt pressure might cause a bad skid.

“That other driver isn’t paying any attention to the warning!” Don exclaimed.

The snakelike curve was only a few hundred feet ahead on a steep downgrade. The occupants of the Drew sedan held their breath. Would the others make the turn? There came a violent screech of brakes.

“Oh no!” Nancy cried out in horror.

As she and her companions watched, the foreign car shot off the edge of the road and plunged down a steep cliff !

CHAPTER XIX

Missing Property

STUNNED by the accident to the speeding car, Nancy brought the sedan to a halt at the curve. Everyone inside was reluctant to look down into the ravine below, from which there was not a sound.

But only for an instant. Then Carson Drew urged, “Out, everyone, quickly! We must do what we can for those people!”

Nancy and Don sprang from the car and rushed to the edge of the road. The lawyer was close behind them.

As the three gazed down into the ravine, the first light of dawn revealed that the foreign car had rolled nearly to the bottom of it and overturned against a boulder. A wheel had been torn loose from its axle and the body had been smashed in. There was no sign of any of the three occupants.

A silence held the trio above. It was inconceivable that anyone in the wreck could be alive!

At last Carson Drew found his voice. “I guess we’d better notify the police and emergency squad,” he said.

Don agreed, but Nancy thought they should first see if by chance any of the accident victims were alive.

Mr. Drew and Don nodded, and followed Nancy as she scrambled down the incline. Nancy, in the lead, gasped as she saw the body of a strange man, apparently not the driver, which had been flung out of the car into a clump of bushes near the wreck. She also noticed gasoline spilling from a hole in the tank. Vaguely she thought of fire and an explosion.

“Hurry!” she urged.

As the three drew closer they saw a man’s leg and a woman’s high-heeled shoe protruding from beneath the left-hand side of the car.

With frantic haste Don and Mr. Drew dragged the man out, while Nancy tugged at the woman’s body. Stumpy Dowd and his wife! Both were breathing, but unconscious. The victims, cut and badly bruised, were carried to a safe place on the grass.

“Now let’s see about the other man, Mr. Drew,” urged Don.

As they headed for the bushes where he lay, Nancy stared at the car. “The suitcases!” she thought. “Laura’s inheritance and Mr. Aborn’s little fortune! I must get them out before they may be burned up!” Crawling under the wreck, she began to grope about frantically. Her hand struck a suitcase and she dragged it out.

At that instant Nancy realized how hot the metal was. There might be spontaneous combustion at any second. She must work fast to save the second suitcase!

“It’s the only way I can ever repay Laura for saving my life on Twin Lakes!” Nancy thought.

By feeling around she found the bag and triumphantly brought it out, only to be jerked from the scene by Carson Drew and Don.

“Nancy!” Carson Drew cried, white-faced and horror-stricken. “Are you mad? Those suitcases aren’t worth your life!” There was a sudden explosion. Then flames enveloped the car and the dry grass in the immediate vicinity began to burn.

Don Cameron shuddered, but looked at Nancy, admiration showing in his eyes. “You’re the most courageous girl I’ve ever met,” he said slowly. “Nancy, you might have been killed!” As she herself realized what a narrow escape she had had, Nancy breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. She was shaken and silent as the men threw dirt on the flames to keep them from spreading. When they finished, Don told Nancy that he and Mr. Drew thought the third man would be all right, although the stranger as well as the Dowds were injured, perhaps seriously.

“Now I suppose we must get the three of them to a hospital as fast as we can,” he said.

At that moment they all heard the low whine of an ambulance alarm. This was followed by a police siren.

Nancy, Mr. Drew, and Don looked at one another hopefully. “Do you suppose—” Nancy began.

She was right. Help had come! A moment later police and emergency squad cars stopped at the top of the ravine. Four officers, two stretcher-bearers, and an intern, clad in white, hurried down to the group.

“Thank goodness,” said Mr. Drew. Introductions were quickly made, then he asked, “How did you know about the accident?” An officer, Lieutenant Gill, told him that a farmer living not far away had seen the speeding car go off the road and notified headquarters.

“When we heard it was a black foreign car, we were suspicious immediately,” he said. “Can you identify these people as the Dowds?” “From pictures, yes,” said Mr. Drew, and briefly told the whole story of the Dowd affair up to the present moment.

“And I can testify that they were impersonating the Aborns,” Nancy added.

“Anybody know who the other man is?” Lieutenant Gill inquired.

“I believe,” Mr. Drew replied, “that he’s William Frednich, assistant to the president of the River Heights branch of the Monroe National Bank. He’s suspected of removing certain securities from the bank.” During this conversation the intern had been examining the accident victims and the attendants had laid them on stretchers. The doctor reported that the victims had been given first aid and had revived. They would be in good shape after a short stay in the hospital.

“They’ll get a nice long rest after that,” said Lieutenant Gill, “in the state pen. I shan’t try to question them now.” As the prisoners were carried up to the ambulance, with the others following, Lieutenant Gill explained to the Dowds how Nancy had saved them from being burned in the wreckage.

“I don’t believe it,” said Stumpy ungratefully. His wife was more gracious. “Thanks, Miss Drew. And I want to tell you I’m tired of this whole business. You’re only a kid but you’ve really taught me a lesson.” Nancy did not answer. She found herself choking up, and tears came into her eyes.

As the ambulance moved away, Nancy, quickly brushing her moist eyes dry with the backs of her hands, turned toward the east. She observed that a beautiful sunrise was beginning to flood the sky with brilliant color.

Don yawned. “What do you say we head for home?” he suggested. “Otherwise, I’ll never be able to make my sister’s wedding this evening.” “Oh dear!” Nancy exclaimed. “I forgot all about it. Please forgive us for keeping you up all night.”

Don grinned. “I wouldn’t have missed this excitement for anything!”

“I suggest,” said Mr. Drew, “that we go back to Nancy’s hotel and the Drews will get some sleep. Don, you take my car and return to River Heights. Later, Nancy and I will take a taxi and pick up her convertible at the Aborns’.” “Thank you, sir. I’ll do that.”

While the three had been talking, Lieutenant Gill had been wedging open one of the two locked suitcases which Nancy had taken from the wrecked car. Mr. Drew and the others walked over as he lifted the lid.

The bag was jammed with feminine clothing. There were several dresses, a large make-up kit, pieces of lingerie, shoes, and several wigs—a gray one, a black hairpiece, and one which was decidedly auburn.

“That clinches it, Dad!” Nancy exclaimed. “Mrs. Dowd must have gone around in disguise to cash the bonds.”

“But where’s the money she got?” Don asked.

“It must be in the other bag,” Nancy suggested, “together with securities and money belonging to Laura Pendleton, Mr. Aborn, and River Heights bank clients.” Lieutenant Gill opened the second suitcase. It contained men’s clothing and toilet articles.

“Nancy, you risked your life for this!” Don exclaimed.

Nancy Drew could not believe her eyes. Had she been mistaken in believing that Stumpy Dowd had put the contents of Mr. Aborn’s safe in the bags? Quickly she glanced down at the foreign car. Had Laura’s inheritance and other people’s money burned in it?

The thought stunned the young sleuth. But in a moment an idea came to her.

“There’s just a possibility the papers are here,” she said.

All eyes turned on the girl detective, as the group awaited a further explanation.

CHAPTER XX

A Surprise Gift

“I’M SURE,” said Nancy, “that Mr. Dowd not only put the money and securities in one of these suitcases, but never removed them!” “Then where are they?” Don asked.

Nancy smiled. “These bags may have false bottoms!”

Lieutenant Gill said, “Why, of course. I should have thought of that.”

Kneeling down, he soon found that Nancy was right. The bottom of each bag opened up, disclosing packages of thousand-dollar bills and securities.

“Good thinking, Nancy,” said Don admiringly. “You’re a whiz of a detective, all right.”

It took Mr. Drew and the officers several minutes to count the large sum of money and make a rough estimate of the value of the stocks and bonds. When they finished, the officer gave Carson Drew a receipt to turn over to the president of the Monroe National Bank. Meanwhile, he would take the stolen property to police headquarters and send on a detailed report.

A few minutes later Nancy’s group said good-by to the officers, and returned to Mr. Drew’s car. When they reached the Beach Cliff Hotel, Nancy and Mr. Drew got out. They thanked Don for all he had done.

“Don’t mention it.” The young man grinned. Turning to Nancy, he added, “I kept my date with you yesterday after all!” As he got into the driver’s seat Don said that when he returned the car to the Drews’ home he would tell Hannah Gruen what had happened.

It was now very light. Nancy and her father, exhausted, could hardly wait to get a few hours sleep. They tumbled into their beds and slept until noon, then met in the hotel dining room for a hearty brunch.

“How’s your head, Dad?” Nancy asked.

“Sound as ever!” Carson Drew said, grinning. “I don’t even have a bump.”

“Then we have a date,” Nancy told him, waving a note. “This was at the desk. I picked it up.

The clerk said Jim Donnell left it a little while ago.”

“The date’s with him?” Mr. Drew asked.

“No. Laura Pendleton. She says she and the Aborns are thrilled by the news which the police relayed and would like us to come to their house as soon as possible. What do you say, Dad?” “We’ll go.”

As Nancy finished her pancakes and sausages she remarked that she could hardly wait to start for the Aborns’ home. “I wonder if the Dowds have confessed everything and what Mr. Frednich had to say.” “In my opinion it’s an open and shut case,” the lawyer replied.

While Mr. Drew paid the hotel bill, Nancy called a taxi and soon the Drews were heading for Eagle Rock Lane. Reaching it, they got out of the cab and the lawyer paid the driver.

Nancy slid in behind the steering wheel of her convertible, as Mr. Drew got in on the other side. The motor started at once. “Good old Jim,” Nancy said with a smile, and drove up the lane to the Aborn home.

As she parked, the front door was opened by a woman of about forty-five. Her pretty face showed humor, kindness, and intelligence.

After the Drews had introduced themselves, the woman said she was Marian Aborn and had reached home “in the wee small hours” because her plane was late. “I’ve been most eager to meet you two,” she added, smiling. “How can I ever thank you for all you’ve done?” As the callers went inside, Laura Pendleton hurried down from the second floor. After greeting Mr. Drew she gave Nancy a kiss and exclaimed, “Everything is so wonderful-you’ve captured the thieves and recovered all the money—and I have the nicest guardians anyone could ever hope for!” “And Jacob and I have a daughter to love!” said Marian Aborn, smiling fondly at Laura.

Nancy asked how Mr. Aborn felt. His wife said, “Come see for yourselves,” and led the way to a small study at the rear of the house.

She knocked, then opened the door, and Nancy heard the steady drum of typewriter keys. Jacob Aborn was seated behind the machine.

The erstwhile cellar prisoner already looked like a new man. His face was flooded with color, and his eyes were alert and happy. Now he stood up, greeted the Drews, and expressed his great appreciation for all they had done in recovering his and Laura’s property.

He grinned at Nancy. “First time a girl ever risked her life for me!” he said. “To show my appreciation I’m writing my adventure. You know, writing is my business. If I sell this one to a magazine, I’m going to give the proceeds to Nancy’s favorite charity—the River Heights Youth Center!” “Why, that’s terrific!” Nancy exclaimed.

Mrs. Aborn’s face sobered. She said that she had not yet heard the entire story of what had happened. Before anyone had a chance to tell her, the doorbell rang. Lieutenant Gill walked in with Chief McGinnis of River Heights and another man. While Nancy greeted the officers, her father hurried to shake hands with the stranger.

“This is Mr. Seward, president of the Monroe National Bank,” he announced a moment later, and introduced the dignified white-haired man.

The president’s glance included the policemen as he said, “I want to thank all of you in person for the splendid job you did in capturing the Dowds and the two bank employees involved in the thefts.” “There is a fourth man?” Nancy asked in amazement.

Mr. Seward explained that Alma Dowd’s brother, Joe Jackson, had been employed by the Monroe National Bank in their vault department for some time. He and Frednich had cooked up the scheme of taking the securities. They had done this between audits of the bank’s holdings. Frednich, in his job as assistant custodian, had known exactly how to place his hands on the valuable stocks and bonds.

“Frednich overheard Mrs. Pendleton’s discussion with me about Laura and the large estate she would inherit some day,” Mr. Seward said, “and also that Mr. Aborn would be her guardian. When Frednich learned that Laura Pendleton had a valuable jewelry collection, he instantly thought of a swindle scheme. Frednich had chanced to meet Mr. Aborn one time while vacationing at Melrose Lake. He had been amazed by the strong resemblance between Aborn and Stumpy Dowd, whom Alma’s brother had introduced to Frednich. He asked Dowd to impersonate Mr. Aborn and to move up the date when Laura would come to the guardian’s home. He even deposited some securities with the bank in Stumpy’s name, so there would be no question of Dowd’s having anything to do with the thefts.” “Where is Joe Jackson now?” Nancy asked.

Chief McGinnis said he would answer this question. “We caught him cruising by the Drews’ home. When we stopped the car, he tried to escape. After the whole story broke, we got a confession from him. He was going to burglarize your home, Nancy, to find the jewels.” “There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Mrs. Aborn. “Why did the Dowds rent the bungalow when they had helped themselves to this house?” Nancy grinned. “I’m sure I know,” she said. “Dowd was smart enough not to want either Frednich or Jackson to stay here—just in case anyone from the bank traced the thefts to them before Dowd could make a getaway. So he had Alma Dowd rent the bungalow and convinced Frednich that it was a good hide-out.” After Mr. Aborn and Laura had signed statements for the police, the officers and Mr. Seward left. Nancy suddenly felt a sense of loneliness and realized it was because her work on the case was at an end. Would another mystery come her way to solve? she wondered. And it did. In less than a week, Nancy was facing up to the challenge of The Mystery at Lilac Inn.

Nancy and her father now said good-by to the family at Eagle Rock. As Nancy gave Laura a farewell hug, she asked, “When will you come to get your jewelry?” Laura consulted her guardian, who said the next day would be convenient for them to drive to River Heights. “Will three o’clock be all right?” “Yes indeed.”

The following afternoon Laura Pendleton and the Aborns arrived promptly. After iced tea and some of Hannah’s delicious open-faced sandwiches, Laura whispered to Mr. Drew that she would love to get her jewelry from the safe. Excusing himself, Nancy’s father left the room and returned in a few minutes with the package, which he handed to Laura.

Nancy, meanwhile, was listening to Jacob Aborn’s surprising news that he had finished his story and was sending it to a leading magazine.

“Wonderful!” said Nancy. As she said this, she looked up to see Laura standing before her. In the girl’s hand was the beautiful aquamarine ring Nancy had admired earlier in the week.

“I’d like you to wear this,” Laura said shyly, “as a reminder that our friendship began on the water.” Quickly she slipped the ring on the third finger of Nancy’s right hand.

The pretty detective gave an exclamation of delight and admired the gift for a long moment. Then she showed it to the others. At last she turned to Laura and said with genuine sincerity: “The ring is priceless and I’ll always treasure it as a reminder of you—although no one can place a value on a true friendship like ours.” Seeing tears in Laura’s eyes, Nancy added quickly with a grin, “Even if we had to be shipwrecked to get an introduction!”

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