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CHAPTER I

A Suspicious Stranger

“A PENNY for your thoughts, Nancy Drew,” said George Fayne. “You’ve been staring into space for nearly two minutes!” “And missing all this good food!” added blond Bess Marvin. The slightly plump, pretty girl reached for a third sandwich.

“George,” said Nancy to Bess’s slim, short-haired cousin, who enjoyed her boy’s name, “I’m worried about that darling Swenson child and her mother. I wish we could do something to help them.” “You mean,” said Bess, “find Mr. Swenson, or the money his wife told us he had promised to send?”

“Yes,” Nancy answered. “It’s very mysterious, since apparently he has been away for some time. I wonder if his letters—containing money orders —were stolen.” “That’s a federal offense,” George said grimly.

The three girls, seated beneath a spreading roadside maple tree, were enjoying a picnic supper. The peaceful spot was halfway between their home town of River Heights and Sandy Creek, where they had attended a popular annual carnival.

Bess chuckled. “If there’s a thief around, Nancy will capture him!” She reached for a deviled egg. “Count me in to help with the sleuthing—if it’s not too dangerous.” “I wouldn’t count on its not being dangerous,” said George. “You know Nancy.”

The young sleuth smiled at this remark, but in a moment became serious again. All of Nancy’s friends agreed that she possessed an intangible appealing quality which people never forgot.

Nancy was pretty in a distinctive way. Her eyes were blue, her hair titian blond. She expressed her opinions firmly, but did not force them on others. Nancy’s abilities of leadership were welcome and depended upon in any group.

With Bess and George, Nancy had made the drive to Sandy Creek in her convertible. From the breath-taking “Whip” to the airplane swings, they had left nothing untried, and true to her reputation, Nancy had unearthed an adventure.

Her attention had been drawn to a little girl and her mother among the carnival crowd. They had been looking on wistfully, but had taken no part in the fun. Nancy and her friends had sensed that the mother could not afford admission tickets. On impulse, the girls had invited them to go along on several rides.

The three had fallen in love with five-year-old Honey. She was a bright and appealing child in spite of the fact that she looked undernourished. Her dress, though neat, was faded.

“Honey was so adorable,” Nancy remarked, half to herself.

“Yes, she certainly was,” Bess agreed.

“We must see the Swensons again,” Nancy said thoughtfully. “I can’t bear to think of that little girl’s going without the things she needs. We’ll visit the Joe Swenson family someday soon at their home. You wrote down the address, didn’t you, Bess?” “Yes.”

“It won’t be easy to do things for Mrs. Swenson,” George predicted. “That woman is proud. You can see that.”

“I know,” Nancy admitted. “She didn’t like our paying for everything at the carnival, but for Honey’s sake she allowed it.” Bess, gazing toward the west, observed that the sun was sinking below the horizon. “We’d better be on our way,” she declared.

The girls arose and put the food wrappings into the car. They had pulled into a side road. Now Nancy carefully steered the convertible over the rough road to the main highway, then headed for River Heights.

After the first few miles, Bess slumped down and wearily leaned her head back against the seat, while gazing out the window. “Nice homes along this road,” she observed presently.

“Mostly country estates,” George added.

“Look at that large white house on the hill.” Nancy pointed toward one with spacious grounds and a woods behind it. “Isn’t it a dream? The lawns are so well kept. Just my idea of a country place.” “Wonder who owns it?” George asked.

Nancy had no chance to reply. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion, and in an instant the lovely white house on the hillside burst into flames! Tongues of fire leaped from the windows and doors.

“There may be people trapped inside!” Nancy cried out. “We must help them!”

She drove frantically toward the burning house, pressing the automobile horn incessantly, hoping to attract the attention of neighboring residents. As the girls passed other vehicles, Bess and George shouted and pointed toward the house on the hill.

“We’ll need all the help we can get,” Nancy said grimly, “if anyone is to be rescued.”

The convertible swung into the driveway and headed up the hill toward the burning building. At a glance it was apparent to the girls that the house could not be saved. Nancy stopped the car and the three jumped out.

“There may be people trapped inside!” Nancy cried out

“If there are people trapped inside,” George exclaimed as they dashed toward the house, “how can we ever save them?” The girls scanned the windows anxiously but could see no one. Already the smoke was thick and the heat warned them that they could not enter—at least, not from the front.

“I’ll try the back,” Nancy told the cousins. “The smoke may not be so dense there. You’d better take the car to the nearest house and phone the fire department.” As Bess and George hurried off, Nancy quickly rounded the house, only to be met by a heavy cloud of smoke being carried by the wind. It made her cough and choke, and for a moment her eyes burned so that she could barely see.

Nancy started forward again, then halted abruptly as she caught sight of a man about to crawl through the back hedge. He seemed to be running away from the burning building. Did this mean he might have set the house on fire?

“Stop!” Nancy cried.

The man turned his head and in the glare of the fire she caught a momentary but clear glimpse of his face. He was very blond, ruddy complex-ioned, and square jawed. Instantly he whirled, crawled through the thick hedge, and vanished.

“His actions were those of a guilty person,” Nancy thought. Who was he? she wondered. Nancy saw him again when he stood up behind the hedge. The man was tall and gaunt, and poorly dressed.

“He doesn’t look like a criminal,” she thought. “But his identification might prove vitally important to the authorities.” Nancy had an instinctive talent for detective work. She was the only child of Carson Drew, a widely known lawyer. Mrs. Drew had passed away when Nancy was a very young child, and daughter and father had become close companions. They often helped each other on cases.

The first mystery Nancy had solved was The Secret of the Old Clock, involving her in a dangerous search for a missing will. Since then, she had successfully tackled other unusual cases. Nancy’s most recent adventure, centering around a strange white-robed clan, cleared up The Mystery at Red Gate Farm.

As Nancy stood staring after the stranger who had disappeared into the woods, she heard fire engines clang up to the house. She dashed to the front and met George and Bess, breathless from running. Neighbors were arriving from all directions, some on foot, others in automobiles. The sight of the burning building had attracted passing motorists, and the driveway was quickly jammed with cars.

The firemen realized at once that nothing could be saved. By playing heavy streams of water on the house, the firemen barely succeeded in keeping the blaze from spreading to the outbuildings.

“What a shame such a beautiful home had to burn!” Bess remarked as the girls watched the firemen work. “I—I hope the owners aren’t in there.” A woman who was standing nearby turned to answer. “The Raybolts’ house has been closed all summer, so I guess no one is inside.” “I hope not,” Nancy murmured.

“So Mr. Raybolt doesn’t know of his loss,” Bess commented. “What a blow it will be!”

“Oh, I guess Mrs. Raybolt can stand it,” the woman returned indifferently. “Her husband has plenty of money.”

“You know them then?” Nancy questioned. The woman shook her head. “Only by

reputation. I live near here, but the Raybolts were never neighborly.”

“Have they a large family?” Nancy asked.

“No, there are only the two of them, and they’re a pair! Mrs. Raybolt thinks she’s a bit too good for anyone around here.” Nancy and her friends gathered that the owners of the ruined house were far from well liked.

In spite of the desperate efforts of the firemen, it was impossible to keep the blaze under control. Nancy noted with alarm that the wind was steadily rising and veering to the north. At any moment the outbuildings might ignite.

“Oh!” Bess cried. “Look! The roof of the house is falling in!”

A wave of heat drove the girls back a few steps and unexpectedly a thick cloud of smoke blew toward them. Nancy choked and gasped. When the smoke did not clear away she ran to escape it.

Bess and George had scattered in opposite directions, and when Nancy looked about for them, they were not in sight. Before she could call their names, the wind brought another cloud of dense smoke swirling down upon her.

Blindly Nancy stumbled toward the driveway where it curved around the rear of the house. She ran straight into a small wooden structure, and the impact nearly knocked her over. As the smoke drifted away, she could not help laughing. “Only a doghouse!” she thought. “Lucky there was no mean dog in it to attack me!” As Nancy started back to the driveway she caught sight of a small leather-covered book lying a few feet from the doghouse. Eagerly Nancy snatched it up.

She decided that the book must have been dropped that day. Otherwise, the cover would have been ruined by a heavy rain the previous night. Nancy was struck with a sudden idea. When running across the back lawn of the burning house, the mysterious tall stranger must have passed this very spot. Could he have dropped the book?

“Perhaps I’ve stumbled on a clue!” Nancy thought excitedly.

CHAPTER II

An Excitable Driver

NANCY thrust the little book into the pocket of her sports dress. She resisted the temptation to examine it on the spot, for wind-whipped sparks from the fire were flying in every direction.

She glanced about quickly but could not locate her friends. Bess and George were lost in the crowd.

A flying ember narrowly missed Nancy. “I’d better be on the move!” she warned herself, observing that the wind had shifted, and was blowing toward the driveway.

Nancy saw with alarm that a patch of dry grass had flared up very close to the parked automobiles. Several men leaped forward, and began stamping on the flames, but the burning embers were dropping everywhere.

Nancy hurried toward her convertible. “I’d better move it!” she thought.

Suddenly Nancy stopped and stared in astonishment. A strange young man was climbing into her car. The next instant he started the motor!

“Bess and George must have left the key in the ignition lock!” Nancy said to herself, rushing forward, “Is he trying to steal my car?” Nancy reached the convertible just as the self-appointed driver started to back it down the driveway, skillfully avoiding the other vehicles which were parked at various angles nearby.

“Your car?” he inquired with a disarming smile as Nancy ran alongside the convertible. “I thought I’d move it out of the danger zone.” “Thank you,” Nancy murmured a trifle uncertainly. “I think it will be safe right here unless the wind changes again.” The young man pulled as close to the edge of the drive as possible. He was about nineteen, Nancy decided, surveying him critically. His hair was dark and slightly curly, his eyes whimsical and friendly. He wore a college fraternity pin.

Nancy was still wary, nevertheless. The stranger must have read her thoughts, for he slid from behind the wheel and with a cheerful nod of farewell disappeared into the crowd.

“I don’t know what to make of him,” Nancy thought in bewilderment. “He looks like a nice person—and yet, appearances can be deceiving. Oh, dear, where are Bess and George?” At that very moment she caught sight of the cousins hurrying toward her. “We thought we’d lost you for good,” George declared as the girls climbed into the car. “Look at my dress, will you! I stumbled over a stone and landed flat!” “And I’m nearly suffocated from smoke!” Bess said weakly.

“I think it’s time we start for home,” Nancy declared. “If this wind keeps up, the fire will last for hours. We’ve done all we can to help.” Bess and George readily agreed to leave, and it seemed that dozens of other spectators felt the same way. The wind had increased in velocity, posing a fresh threat to all the cars in the vicinity of the burning house. Many vehicles crowded into the narrow driveway leading to the main road, and soon a traffic jam resulted.

Horns blasted noisily. Fenders scraped and angry words were hurled back and forth.

“Why don’t they stop honking?” George exclaimed impatiently. “It doesn’t help a bit. We’ll be here all night!” Inch by inch Nancy’s car progressed toward the main road, with the congested traffic beginning to unsnarl itself. Then suddenly a new shower of sparks descended upon the automobiles nearest the house. The drivers of these cars, anxious to get away from the flying embers, tried to force their way into the line of traffic ahead by crowding in out of turn.

“Look out!” George cried suddenly. “That man is going to hit us!”

Nancy was trapped. The driver apparently had lost control of his sedan. Crash! It plowed into the rear of Nancy’s convertible with an impact that gave the three girls a severe jolt.

They sat stunned for a moment, but fortunately none of them was injured. Nancy leaped out, and saw at a glance that her car had been badly damaged. One fender was crumpled, the rear lights were smashed, and the bumper dragged on the ground.

Her first inclination was to tell the driver what she thought of the incompetent way he had handled his car. But the man was instantly apologetic, and obviously so shaken that Nancy relented. She wrote down his name, address, and license number.

“I’d also like the name of your insurance company, Mr. Weston,” Nancy told him.

The thin, wiry man became more flustered than ever. “I—I’m terribly sorry. I’m in such a state of confusion, I can’t even remember the name. And I don’t have the company’s card with me.” It was finally decided that he would notify his agent about the accident, and Nancy would contact Mr. Weston after she had learned the total cost of repairs.

“The bill will be taken care of, believe me,” the man assured Nancy. “I’ll collect my wits, once I’m home. No more driving for me in dangerous spots. Doctor says I shouldn’t drive, anyway. Too nervous.” With a final apology, the excitable Mr. Weston retreated to his sedan, and after much difficulty, maneuvered his way past Nancy’s disabled car.

“He sure shouldn’t drive!” George exclaimed. “That man’s a menace!”

Bess looked at Nancy. “You don’t think he was putting on an act about the insurance, do you?” she said. “You’ll have a huge repair bill!” “I know,” Nancy returned. “Don’t worry. You may be sure Mr. Weston will pay it—one way or another. Right now, we must get out of this mess!” “How’ll we get home with the bumper dragging?” George questioned.

“We’ll have to find a garage,” Nancy said as the girls seated themselves once more in the convertible.

Nancy started again and slowly moved forward. George groaned. “The rear of this car sounds as if it were about to fall out!” Just then Nancy was forced to a halt by the bumper-to-bumper traffic. The girls might have been held up indefinitely on the hillside, but fortunately a young man stepped in to act as a traffic policeman. In a few minutes he had the line of cars moving steadily. By the time the girls reached the exit of the Raybolt grounds, the tangle was fairly well straightened out.

To Nancy’s surprise, she saw that the young man was the same one who had moved her convertible a short time before.

“I did misjudge him,” she chided herself. “He was only trying to help and didn’t have the slightest intention of stealing my car. How silly of me!” On the main road at last, Nancy pulled off to the side to learn the full extent of the damage to her car. While she was surveying the rear axle doubtfully, the young man came over and offered his services.

“I’m Ned Nickerson,” he declared with a warm smile. “Anything I can do?”

“Yes,” Nancy said. “Please tell us how far it is to the nearest service garage. Another car banged into mine—as you can see.” “There’s a garage at Mapleton—about two miles away.”

“I wonder if my car will hold together even that short distance.”

“It should, if your axle isn’t badly damaged.”

“But with the bumper dragging—”

“I’ll fix that. I might as well pull it off entirely.”

With a strong, deft twist, Ned Nickerson tore the bumper loose and placed it in the trunk compartment.

“Look here!” he proposed suddenly. “I’m going to Mapleton—my home’s there. I’ll keep close behind your car and push it if necessary.” “Thanks a lot,” Nancy said gratefully, “but I don’t like to trouble you.”

“No trouble at all. Glad to do it.”

She smiled and introduced herself and the other girls.

When the four reached the Mapleton garage, a mechanic inspected the convertible and said, “I’m afraid I can’t have this car ready for at least an hour, miss. Even at that I can’t touch the fender or taillights. You’ll have to leave the car until tomorrow or else get the work done at your home garage. The best I can do now is fix you up so you can make it home.” “An hour, you say?” Nancy asked. “I suppose we’ll have to wait, but we’re in a hurry to get to River Heights.” “How about my treating to ice-cream sodas while we wait,” Ned suggested. “There’s a drug store across the street.” The girls accepted and phoned their homes about the delay. The hour passed quickly. After a gay get-acquainted session, Ned accompanied Nancy, Bess, and George back to the garage.

“I’ll have the car ready in ten minutes,” the mechanic promised.

The young people went outside and chatted about the recent events. But soon their attention was attracted by a group of men standing under a nearby street lamp discussing the Raybolt fire.

“‘Pears mighty strange to me that a fire would start when the place ain’t been occupied all summer,” one elderly man commented.

“Old Raybolt deserved to be burnt out,” another added. “The skinflint! He’d steal a crust of bread from a starvin’ child!” “Wouldn’t surprise me if he burned the place down himself—to get the insurance,” a third voice chimed in. “I wouldn’t put it past Foxy Felix!” Nancy and her friends heard no more, for at that moment the mechanic announced that her car was ready. “It’s the best I could do on such short notice,” he told her. “Better have your garage man give it a general overhauling when you get home.” While Ned backed the convertible out of the shop, Nancy paid the mechanic and asked him for a receipted bill. She explained that she wished to collect from the motorist who had crashed into her.

“I take it Mr. Raybolt isn’t very well liked around here,” Nancy remarked to Ned as she relieved him at the wheel.

“No, he isn’t,” Ned declared emphatically. “He’s about as popular as a tiger who’s escaped from a circus!” “Apparently they call him Foxy Felix.”

“Yes, and from all one hears about him the name is deserved.” An odd expression flashed across Ned’s face and he looked intently through the window at Nancy. “I also wonder what could have started that fire! You know, I have a sneaking suspicion it didn’t start by accident.” “So have I,” Nancy returned with a meaningful grin.

Before Ned could question her, she quickly but graciously thanked him for his help, then drove away.

“You girls haven’t seen the last of me,” the young man called gaily after them. “I know the road to River Heights. Don’t be surprised if I follow it one of these days!” CHAPTER III

The Diary

“DID you hear what Ned Nickerson said?” Bess Marvin teasingly asked Nancy, who pretended to be intent upon her driving. “You’ve made a hit, all right!” “Hit!” Nancy retorted. “The only thing that was hit is the back of my car. Won’t Dad be shocked when he sees the wreck I’m bringing home!” “She’s trying to change the subject!” George chortled. “Look at her blush. You can tell she likes him.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Nancy defended herself stanchly. “Ned Nickerson certainly helped us out of a tight spot.”

“He’s handsome, too.” Bess giggled. “And what a soulful expression in those big blue eyes of his when he looks at our Nancy!” “Were they blue? I thought they were—” Nancy broke off as she realized that Bess had deliberately trapped her. “All right, you win!” She laughed. “But just to get even I’ve half a mind not to tell you what I discovered while we were at the fire.” “Oh, come on!” George pleaded.

“All right. I’ll forgive you this time.”

Nancy was eager to relate what she had observed at the Raybolt grounds, for she wondered if her chums would interpret the incident the same way. She told them of the suspicious, gaunt-looking stranger who had run away from the burning house.

“That man must have set it on fire!” Bess declared. “Otherwise, why would he be afraid to answer when you called?” “He might have been a tramp who went into the house for shelter,” George suggested thoughtfully, “and started the fire accidentally—perhaps from a lighted cigarette.” “I thought of that,” Nancy admitted, “but it seems to me if the fire had begun that way it would have burned more slowly. Remember the sound of an explosion and how the house appeared to blaze up all at once?” “That’s true,” George said, then added, “Guess we’ll have to wait for the investigators’ reports.”

There was not much traffic that evening, and the girls reached River Heights in good time.

“There’s Mother out on the porch!” Bess cried as they drew up before the Marvin residence.

“She’s been watching for us.”

Next, Nancy dropped George at her home and then drove to the Drew house. As she pulled into the driveway, her father and Hannah Gruen, the housekeeper, came rushing out. Mr. Drew was tall and distinguished looking. The housekeeper, pleasantly plump, had a motherly expression.

“Are you all right?” they asked Nancy in unison.

“Yes, indeed, but I’m afraid my car will never look the same again.”

“I don’t care about the car,” Mr. Drew said to his daughter, “as long as you’re not hurt.” Then he relaxed and asked, “The question now is how big a lawsuit will I have on my hands?” “Suit? Oh, I see. You think I backed into another car. Don’t worry. Another car ran into mine. I have the driver’s name and license number. I’m to get in touch with him and let him know my repair cost.” As they entered the house, Mrs. Gruen went to the kitchen, while Nancy and her father turned into the living room.

“Tell me more about the fire,” Mr. Drew urged. “Whose house is it?”

“The owner is Felix Raybolt.”

“Felix Raybolt! Foxy Felix!” Mr. Drew exclaimed.

“Do you know him?” Nancy asked, surprised.

“Only by reputation—which isn’t enviable. As a matter of fact, just today I accepted a case for a client, Arnold Simpson, who wants to sue Mr. Raybolt. He tells me there are many other people who would like to do so.” “What is Mr. Raybolt like, Dad?”

“Very shrewd, and very unfriendly. I understand he’s wealthy.”

“How did he make his money?”

“He deals in patents, and I’ve heard he made fortunes on some of them.”

“You mean, Mr. Raybolt invents things?” Nancy questioned.

“No, he buys patents from inventors and cashes in on their ideas.”

“Is that legitimate?”

“Yes, he has a right to buy a patent and make a profit from it. The unfair part is that Raybolt takes advantage of the inventor by verbally promising to pay him a royalty after he has marketed the device.

“In fact, that is the complaint of my client. He told me that Raybolt purchased a patent from him covering a certain part for an automatic elevator at a ridiculously low figure, then sold the patent to a manufacturing concern for a much higher sum. When Mr. Simpson reminded Raybolt of his promise, Foxy Felix turned him down —practically laughed in his face.” “No wonder people dislike Mr. Raybolt,” Nancy remarked. “I suppose there are certain persons who might have set fire to his house out of pure revenge.” “Undoubtedly.”

After a late, light supper, Nancy admitted being tired. She said good night to her father and Hannah and went upstairs.

As she slipped off her dress, the red leather booklet which she had found on the Raybolt estate dropped to the floor. Nancy snatched it up with an exclamation of eagerness.

“This may furnish the clue I need!” she thought. “At any rate, I have an idea it will prove interesting. I’ll read it this very night!” Nancy forgot that she was tired and sleepy. Undressing hastily, she adjusted the reading lamp and took the book to bed with her.

“This is a diary,” she decided, noting that each entry was preceded by a date. “Perhaps it contains the owner’s name and address.” Settling herself comfortably against the pillow, Nancy opened the loose-leaf booklet. She stared in surprise at the first entry. The page was filled with baffling words, written in a foreign language.

She studied the text. Finally two familiar words struck her eye. “Adjö-good-by. And god vän—good friend. Swedish!” Nancy murmured, recalling that a schoolmate of hers, a girl from Sweden, had often spoken these words in her native tongue.

“Oh, dear, I can’t read the rest of it!” The young detective groaned.

She rapidly leafed through the pages. All the entries were in Swedish except the last few, which were written in cramped English.

Nancy held the diary closer to the reading lamp and tried to make out the words. But it was a discouraging task, since the letters had been run together in an indistinguishable fashion. She did manage to decipher a few scattered phrases, but try as she would, Nancy could not figure out a single entire sentence.

“How exasperating!” she thought impatiently. “This diary may contain a valuable clue, but I can’t read it!”

The notations in Swedish were in larger handwriting than those in English. Nancy felt sure the diary belonged to a man, for though the writing was small and cramped, the characters were bold. She reflected, too, that if the little journal had been dropped by the stranger whom she had seen running away from the fire, it was all the more important for her to learn his name and what he had written in the diary.

“I’ll have to find someone who can read Swedish,” she said to herself. “If only Karen were here!” But Nancy’s former schoolmate had returned to her native country with her family.

With that thought Nancy lowered her pillow, put out the light, and the next instant was asleep. It seemed only minutes later when she was awakened by the ringing of the telephone in the hall. The sun was shining through the windows and from the angle of the rays Nancy guessed that it must be after nine o’clock. Hannah, knowing that she was exhausted, had let her oversleep.

With a guilty start, Nancy jumped out of bed. Before she could open the door, Mrs. Gruen came in. “Good morning, Nancy. A young man wishes to speak to you on the phone.” “I’ll be there in a jiffy. Don’t let him escape!”

Thrusting her feet into dainty black-and-gold slippers and snatching up her dressing robe, Nancy hurried to the hall telephone.

“Hope I didn’t get you out of bed,” a low, pleasant voice came over the wire. “This is Ned — Ned Nickerson,” “Oh!” Nancy stammered, taken completely by surprise.

“You probably think I’m rushing things a bit,” Ned went on, “but I picked up a ring at the

Raybolts’ this morning, and thought it might be yours.”

“I didn’t wear one yesterday,” Nancy returned, finding her voice at last. “George or Bess might have lost one, though.” “The ring couldn’t be theirs. It has a ‘D’ on it.”

“Did you find the ring in the ashes?” Nancy questioned with rising interest.

“No. The firemen and police won’t let anyone go near the ruins. I found the signet ring near the hedge back of the house.” There was a brief moment of silence as Nancy mulled this over. Then she asked quickly,

“Does that ring bear a Swedish inscription? If it does, I may have a clue to the owner.”

She was thinking of the stranger she suspected of being the owner of the mysterious diary— the man who had vanished behind the Raybolt hedge.

“There is an inscription in a foreign language, but I can’t read it,” Ned told her. “Say! Would you like to see the ring?” “Love to,” Nancy confessed. “It may furnish a clue. But shouldn’t the ring be turned over to the police?”

Ned did not agree. “I believe, at least for the time being, it’s a case of ‘Finders Keepers.’ The ring was a good distance away from the fire area.” “All right, then. I am eager to see it.”

“If you’ll let me, I’ll drop around tonight at eight and bring the ring along,” Ned offered.

“Good.”

After Ned had hung up, Nancy fairly danced back into the bedroom. She sent one slipper flying toward the bed, and the other into the far corner of the room. The young sleuth attempted to convince herself that her jubilant spirits were the result of Ned’s discovery.

The ring might be a clue to the identity of the person who had set the Raybolt house on fire. Bess and George, she knew, would have interpreted her reaction very differently!

As soon as she had dressed, Nancy picked up the diary and placed it in her top bureau drawer for safekeeping.

“I wish I had time to go somewhere and have it translated right now,” she thought regretfully, “but it’s late and I must take my car to the garage.” Nancy hurried downstairs to the kitchen. Mr. Drew had already eaten breakfast and left for his office. Hannah Gruen uncovered a hot plate on the stove.

“Mm, blueberry muffins,” Nancy said. After biting into one, she added, “Oh, this is extra delicious.” As she ate, Nancy told the housekeeper about wanting the diary translated.

“But kept confidential, I suppose,” Mrs. Gruen remarked. “It’s not often that I can help you on a mystery, Nancy, but this time I believe I can.” CHAPTER IV

The Initialed Ring

“OH, HANNAH, that’s wonderful!” Nancy exclaimed. “But don’t tell me you can read Swedish.”

“I wish I could. The person to translate the diary is our old Swedish bakery friend, Mr.

Peterson. He has moved his shop to the other side of town.”

“Oh, I remember Mr. Peterson,” said Nancy with a chuckle. “When I was a little girl, and you and I went there, I used to wheedle tarts and cookies from him.” “And always get them,” Mrs. Gruen replied, a twinkle in her eye. “You were his favorite customer. I’m sure that he’ll be glad to translate the diary for you.” Nancy was delighted at the prospect of seeing kindly Oscar Peterson again.

“Hannah, that’s a wonderful idea! I’ll go to the bakery first chance I have. Right now, I must have my car fixed.” Nancy took the convertible to a garage downtown. The mechanic promised to have it ready sometime the following afternoon. Then Nancy walked slowly homeward. Suddenly Nancy heard her name called. Turning, she saw Bess and George hurrying to meet her.

“You must be daydreaming about Ned!” cried George as the cousins swung into step beside her. “We shouted three times.” “Sorry.” Nancy laughed.

“‘Fess up, now. Weren’t you thinking about him?” Bess prodded.

An animated expression came over Nancy’s face. Her eyes danced mischievously as she told her bit of news.

“Ned phoned this morning before I was up.”

“I told you!” Bess exclaimed. “You did make a hit! Wish I had your technique!”

“Silly! Ned phoned me on a matter of business. This morning he found a ring near the hedge at the Raybolt grounds and he thought it might belong to me. It has a ‘D’ on it.” “That was just an excuse,” Bess declared. “Of course, you didn’t lose one.”

“My guess is that the ring was lost by the man I saw running away from the fire. I can hardly wait to see it.”

“And Ned, too,” George added wickedly.

Nancy laughed at her friends’ persistence, and was a bit surprised to find that she was blushing. A little farther on, the cousins said good-by and went to their separate homes. Luncheon was ready when Nancy reached hers. She ate with Hannah Gruen, who was very much interested in the ring Ned had found.

“Do you think it may be a clue?” she asked Nancy.

“Yes, to the writer of the diary. I’m going to study the little book thoroughly this afternoon and see if I can find a name beginning with ’D.’” “But aren’t you going to Mr. Peterson’s?” Hannah asked.

“Later. I promised to be here for a phone call from the crippled children’s home. I’m to help with their kiddie show next month. In the meantime, I think I’ll call Mrs. Swenson to see how she and Honey are and if she has heard from her husband yet.” “Sorry,” said the operator, when Nancy had dialed. “That number has been temporarily disconnected.” Nancy surmised Mrs. Swenson had been forced to give up her telephone because of lack of funds.

“As soon as my car is repaired, I must drive to their house and see Honey and her mother,”

Nancy decided. “I only hope Mrs. Swenson will let me help.”

Nancy spent the next few hours poring over the diary. But nowhere did she come across a name beginning with “D.” She made one important discovery, however. At the bottom of a page written in Swedish, Nancy found a tiny ink drawing. She deduced that it was a diagram for some part of an electronic machine.

“I’ll make no progress until I have Mr. Peterson translate this book for me,” she thought.

Nancy was on the verge of going to the bakery by bus—but a glance at the clock told her the place would be closed. Besides, it was almost suppertime.

When Carson Drew arrived home, Nancy mentioned that her new friend, Ned Nickerson, was calling that evening.

“Oh, I see,” her father drawled teasingly. “You want me to find it convenient to be away. Is that it?”

“Of course not. I particularly want you to meet Ned. He’s bringing a ring that may interest you.”

“Not a diamond, I hope!”

“Dad!” Nancy cried in exasperation. “You’re as bad as Bess and George! Ned—Mr.

Nickerson—is coming here on business.”

“In that case,” the lawyer said, his eyes twinkling, “I promise to be very proper and not embarrass you by asking the young man his intentions.” “You’re absolutely hopeless!” Nancy laughed, gave her father a hug, and ran into the kitchen.

Even though Ned’s visit was to be one of “business,” Nancy coaxed Hannah to bake a cake to be served with ice cream later in the evening.

Mrs. Gruen smiled knowingly, and immediately set to work. After supper, Nancy washed the dishes, then hurried upstairs. There was barely time for her to change into a flowered dress and high-heeled shoes before the doorbell rang. She hurried down to admit Ned.

The first greeting over, they were both a trifle embarrassed and felt a little shy. Nancy was glad that her father appeared just then, for the introduction relieved the situation.

She could tell that Mr. Drew liked Ned by the hearty way in which he shook hands. Many persons were awed in the presence of the attorney, but Nancy was delighted to discover that Ned felt at ease with him.

Seated in the comfortable living room, the lawyer skillfully directed the conversation. He had been rather curious concerning Nancy’s new acquaintance. Mr. Drew sensed that his daughter was more interested in him than in other young men whom she dated.

“Tell us about the ring, Ned,” Nancy urged. “May we see it?”

Ned took the object from his suit-coat pocket and handed it to her. Nancy observed that the signet ring probably belonged to a man, and was meant to be worn on the small finger. The polished black initial was set in relief on a gray background. Nancy studied the ring.

“It looks like an antique,” she remarked, handing the ring to her father. “And the inscription inside is in Swedish, Dad. It’s an expression my Swedish school friend always used: Bar denna med tur—wear this in luck!” The discussion was interrupted at that moment by the ringing of the hall telephone. Carson Drew rose to answer it, and after a short conversation, came back and said regretfully to their guest: “I must go down to the office—new development in a case—so I must excuse myself. Sorry. Glad to have met you, Ned.” After Mr. Drew had departed, Ned told Nancy the details of his call that morning at the

Raybolt grounds. He had gone there before breakfast in order to view the wreckage before the arrival of curious townsfolk. The house had been razed by the fire. Nothing had been salvaged.

“Did the investigators find a clue to the cause of the fire?” Nancy asked.

“So far it’s only a theory,” Ned replied. “But I learned that the police and fire officials surmise explosives in the cellar may have been set off by remote control.” “But how? And by whom?” Nancy queried in amazement.

“They have no idea. Even a passing car with a radio sending set could have done it accidentally.”

“The house is pretty far from the road,” Nancy countered. To herself she added, “Could that fleeing man who dropped the diary have used remote control—and not ever have been inside the house?” Her thought was interrupted by Ned. “It’s a queer case,” he said. “Old Foxy Felix will get quite a jolt when he hears about the fire.” “Doesn’t he know about it yet?” Nancy asked in surprise.

“Not according to latest reports. The Raybolts are still away. The neighbors tried to get in touch with them at the seashore hotel where they usually stay, but they’re not registered.” “I wonder how much they will lose.”

“Even with insurance, I’d say a goodly amount, including furniture and irreplaceable art objects.”

“That will be a blow to the Raybolts, Ned.”

“Yes, but everyone around Mapleton seems to think the old man had it coming to him. You hear all sorts of stories about the way he has connived to make money at other people’s expense.” Nancy nodded, recalling what her father had told her. “I’m curious as to how Mr. Raybolt, especially, will take the loss.” “In the worst spirit, I imagine.” Ned grinned. “If I find out, I’ll let you know.”

“I wish you would.”

Nancy was tempted to tell Ned about the diary but decided not to until she knew more about it herself. After a very enjoyable evening, which ended with ice cream and Hannah’s cake, Ned reluctantly stood up to depart.

“I don’t know what to do with this ring,” he said thoughtfully. “Why don’t you keep it, Nancy?”

“I will if you want me to,” she said eagerly. “Perhaps I’ll find a clue to the owner through the inscription.” “That’s what I figured. Let me know if you do.” Ned grinned. “On second thought, perhaps

I’d better drop over now and then to inquire.”

Nancy’s smile gave consent. Ned was still lingering on the porch steps when Carson Drew came up the walk. Nancy repeated what she had been told about the Raybolts’ being unaware of their loss.

The lawyer raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Odd it’s so hard to locate Raybolt. Perhaps, for the sake of my own client, I’ll look into the matter.” “Why don’t you, Dad? Mr. Raybolt may be able to furnish a clue to what caused the fire.”

“You’re right, Nancy,” the lawyer said. “Raybolt may have had enemies who deliberately set fire to the house. If so, this might affect my case.” The lawyer did not reveal why.

A few minutes later Ned said good night, jumped into his car, and drove away.

“How do you like him?” Nancy asked Mr. Drew hopefully as they walked into the house together.

“Nice boy,” the lawyer commented. “I suppose I’ll be seeing a lot of him from now on.”

“Could be.” Nancy laughed, kissed her father, and ran off to her room.

She did not retire immediately. Instead, she examined the signet ring more carefully. Finally she placed it in the bureau drawer with the diary.

“I have two clues now instead of one,” Nancy assured herself jubilantly. “But the question is, are they connected?” As she undressed, Nancy determined to call on the Swedish baker early the next morning.

“I must find out what the diary says!”

CHAPTER V

A Dangerous Detour

As SOON as the morning’s chores were finished, Nancy and Hannah Gruen set out on a bus for Oscar Peterson’s bakery. Entering the clean little shop, fragrant with the odor of freshly baked bread, they were disappointed not to see the Swedish owner at the counter.

“Is Mr. Peterson in?” Nancy asked the girl in charge.

The young woman shook her head. “He’s in bed upstairs, ill.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Nancy. “Give him our best wishes, and tell him we hope he’ll be well soon.”

“Oh, Mr. Peterson expects he’ll feel good enough to come down to the shop this afternoon,” the girl told her.

“Fine,” Nancy replied. “I’ll be back.”

After Mrs. Gruen had bought some rolls, she and Nancy left the shop with the diary still in Nancy’s big purse.

Although disappointed, Nancy said, “Oh, well, I’ll see Mr. Peterson later in the day.”

Back home, Nancy again looked through the diary, hopeful of learning something from it. As she was puzzling over the blurred, cramped English, a word suddenly caught her eye.

“It’s part of an address!” Nancy cried, highly elated. “I’m certain of it!”

Getting her father’s magnifying glass from the desk, Nancy held it above the blurred writing, then read the words:

Riverwood Cottage, Sandy Creek.

Nancy stared at the address. “The Swensons!” she thought excitedly.

The young detective telephoned George and Bess and asked them to come over. When the cousins arrived, she rushed them into the living room and showed them the address.

“Riverwood Cottage, Sandy Creek!” Bess exclaimed. “That’s where the Swensons live!”

“Boy, this certainly complicates matters,” George declared.

Nancy nodded, knowing she had stumbled on a valuable, yet disturbing clue. Could it be that Honey’s father was the man who had set fire to the Raybolt home? If so, what motive could he have had? Intuition warned Nancy that the clue might lead to heartbreak for Honey and her mother.

Nancy’s face was so troubled that Bess and George begged her to tell them what she was thinking. Nancy revealed her concern for the Swensons, and also told about the ring Ned had left with her. She then pointed to the Sandy Creek notation.

“So far, this is the only clear-cut clue the diary has yielded.” Nancy sighed. “But I hate to think what it may mean.” Bess and George nodded soberly.

“I can’t imagine what Honey’s father could have to do with the fire,” Bess declared. “Yet everything fits in. The strange man you saw running away—the finding of the ring with the Swedish inscription near the hedge—” “We don’t know if it belongs to him,” Nancy said quickly. “Remember, there’s a ‘D’ on it, and his initials are J and S.” “Well, the diary must belong to Mr. Swenson, or someone who knows him,” George said.

“Otherwise, his address wouldn’t be in it. I wonder what he’s like.”

“I wish we could meet him,” Nancy returned gravely. She mentioned her futile phone call to the Swenson home.

“What are you going to do about the diary?” Bess questioned curiously. “Turn it over to the police?”

“No, I’ll keep it until I can get a translation, and find out whether or not it means trouble for the Swensons.”

“Of course this is all only circumstantial evidence,” George reflected. “We’re not certain the man you saw is Swedish. Although, according to your description, he could be.” “If he is Mr. Swenson, and he’s guilty of setting the fire, I suppose he’ll have to be brought to justice,” Bess spoke up worriedly.

“I agree,” Nancy said quietly. “But somehow I can’t believe Honey’s father would do a thing like that. She’s such a sweet little thing, and her mother is a lovely person.” “I’d hate to get them involved, no matter what!” George declared feelingly. “I’m afraid they don’t have enough to eat as it is, and if the father should go to prison—” “Let’s try to take an optimistic view,” Nancy said. “Perhaps neither the diary nor the ring is Mr. Swenson’s, or if they are, he may have a perfectly blameless reason for having been on the Raybolt grounds.” “I think you’re right about working this puzzle out by yourself, Nancy,” George commented. “You’ve had wonderful success on other mysteries. This may be your chance to help Honey and her mother.” “I wish my car were ready now!”

“When will it be?” Bess asked.

“Not until later today. I’ll tell you what! Let’s walk to the garage. It won’t do any harm to spur the mechanic on a bit. When we come back we can stop at Dad’s office and ask him if he has traced the Raybolts. He promised to try.” At the garage, the girls were dismayed to learn that repairs on the convertible were only half finished. The mechanic, however, assured Nancy that the car would be ready by midafternoon.

The girls stopped a few minutes at a department store where Bess bought some kitchen spoons for her mother, then they continued to Carson Drew’s office. As usual, the lawyer was busy, but he found time to chat with his daughter and her friends.

“I had my secretary try to get in touch with Mr. Raybolt,” he told Nancy, “but so far she hasn’t been able to locate him—or his wife. They seem to have vanished!” “Maybe Felix Raybolt has gone into hiding,” Nancy suggested with a wry smile.

“Oh, I’ve no doubt he’ll be heard from, once the news reaches him that his house has been ruined,” said Mr. Drew. “I’ll keep trying to locate him.” It was nearly twelve o’clock when the girls left the lawyer’s office. Bess and George said they must go home to luncheon.

“Come have a bite with me,” Nancy urged. “Then we can all go to see Mr. Peterson—if you don’t mind taking the bus.” George and Bess eagerly accepted the invitation. They were as curious as Nancy concerning the contents of the diary. Hannah Gruen served a delicious meal, and it was nearly three o’clock before the girls finally boarded a bus to call on the Swedish baker.

“I’m dying to know what the diary says,” George declared enthusiastically.

“I hope it won’t make things look any worse for Honey’s father,” Bess murmured apprehensively.

As they alighted near the bakery, the girls were distressed to see an ambulance parked directly in front of the shop. A small group of spectators had gathered.

“There’s been an accident!” Nancy exclaimed, quickening her step. “Oh, I hope nothing has happened to dear old Oscar Peterson!” The girls reached the bakery at the same moment that the ambulance drove away, siren wailing.

“What happened?” Nancy asked a woman who was standing near the door of the shop. “Was someone hurt?”

“It was Mr. Peterson. He had a relapse, and the doctor ordered him to the hospital. Expect he’ll be there a few days.” “How dreadful!” said Bess. “But, Nancy, what will you do about the diary now?”

Nancy, mainly concerned about the kindly baker, did not answer immediately. Finally she suggested they ask the baker’s assistant if she knew of anyone who understood Swedish.

The woman gladly called several people, but none were at home. Nancy even phoned her father to see if he could recommend someone. But Mr. Drew was not at his office.

The girls were a little discouraged, but Nancy said, “We can still work on the mystery. My car should be finished by this time. If it is, we can drive over and visit Honey and her mother.” “That’s a swell idea!” Bess and George chorused.

When they reached the garage, the girls were overjoyed to find the convertible ready. “Looks almost as good as new!” Nancy said, pleased. “I’ll write a check for the amount.” To her chagrin, she had forgotten her checkbook.

“That’s all right,” the mechanic said. “I’m very busy, anyhow. I’ll make out the bill later and drop it off at your home.” “Fine,” Nancy said with a smile. Then she and the cousins phoned their homes from an outside booth to report their destination. A few minutes later they set off on the highway for Sandy Creek.

Nancy slowed as she drove past the Raybolt estate. The girls glanced at the charred ruins of the once-beautiful mansion.

“I wish we had time to stop and talk to the men investigating the cause of the fire,” Nancy said. “But we’d better get to the Swensons’ first.” About ten miles farther on, Nancy came to a sawhorse across the road. “Detour!” George groaned. “It must’ve been put up yesterday.” “It isn’t very long,” Bess declared optimistically. “I can see the end of it.”

The road had been closed to permit the construction of a new steel bridge. The bypass wound down into a valley, crossing the Muskoka River a quarter of a mile south.

“We’ll lose time on this dirt road,” Nancy remarked, turning into the detour. “Poor car! It’ll be lucky to get through without jolting to pieces.” The road was ungraded and recent rains had left it rutty. In addition, it was narrow, with hardly any places wide enough for two cars to pass. Even though Nancy drove slowly, the ride was a bumpy one.

“Good way to break a spring—on a road like this!” she declared.

“Or a bone!” Bess added wryly.

A moment later the girls became aware of a loud, insistent honking behind them.

“Big truck right in back of you, Nancy,” George observed.

“I know. Well, the driver will just have to wait. He can’t pass me on this narrow stretch.”

But the blowing of the truck’s horn continued until Nancy became irritated, then indignant.

“What is the matter with that man?” Nancy increased her speed, hoping to leave the impatient driver behind. But he speeded up, keeping close to the convertible. Honk! Honk!

Honk!

“If he doesn’t s-stop that, I’ll s-scream!” Bess complained. “And if we g-go any faster, I’ll llose all my teeth.” The convertible was now bumping up and down unmercifully. George turned around in her seat to glare at the horn-blowing driver. “Don’t give him an inch!” she told Nancy.

“Wouldn’t do him any good if I did. His truck’s too big to pass, and I’m certainly not going into a ditch to let him get by! He’ll have to wait until we reach the end of this detour!” “What’s his big hurry, anyhow?” George grumbled. “Probably just trying to make us nervous.”

“Well, he’s certainly succeeding so far as I’m concerned,” Bess said.

Just then the girls came within sight of a wooden bridge—the end of the torturous road.

“Thank goodness!” Bess cried.

With the truck still bearing down on the convertible, Nancy drove onto the bridge.

“It doesn’t look very safe,” Bess remarked uneasily. “No wonder they’re building a new bridge.”

“It doesn’t sound safe, either!” George cried out as the loose planks creaked alarmingly under the weight of the car. “If that truck tries to pass us, we’ll all crash through!” But at that moment the girls heard the heavy truck clatter onto the wooden planks. “He’s crazy!” George exclaimed. “This bridge will never hold us both!” The words were barely out of her mouth when there came a cracking, splintering sound.

“Nancy!” Bess shrieked. “Look out!”

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