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CHAPTER XVII

An Important Clue

NANCY could hardly wait for her father to proceed. She left the arm of his chair and seated herself on a couch opposite him.

“As you recall,” the lawyer began, “I mentioned that Felix Raybolt practically had stolen my client’s invention—an improvement for an automatic elevator.” Nancy leaned forward, listening intently as her father continued, “Mr. Simpson also feels that Raybolt may have decided matters were getting too hot for him and he’d better disappear. The other day Mr. Simpson’s wife happened to stop at a country store and gas station a few miles outside of Mapleton.

“A run-down old car with a shabby-looking driver was just pulling away. Mrs. Simpson had only a fleeting glimpse of the man, but she thinks he may have been Mr. Raybolt.” “How exciting!” Nancy exclaimed. “Did she follow him?”

“No, but she asked the attendant about him. The man bought a large quantity of canned goods —including bread in tins.”

“Which makes it appear,” said Nancy, “that the man was going camping.”

“Exactly. Of course he may not have been Mr. Raybolt. The clerks in the store said the shabby-looking customer was a stranger to them. But I think the clue is worth investigating.” “Oh, I agree. The man might have been Mr. Raybolt in disguise!” said Nancy eagerly. “I’ll get right to it and start by going to that store first thing tomorrow morning.” “But not without Bess and George,” Mr. Drew insisted.

Nancy called the cousins at once. Both were enthusiastic about accompanying the girl detective, although Bess as usual said she hoped there would be no danger involved.

“Oh, by the way, Ned was here,” Nancy told her. “He’s going to deliver our gifts to Honey, then take her and her mother to see Mr. Swenson.” “Good!” Bess giggled. “I see you’re starting this friendship with Ned correctly—make your date work for you!” She hung up before Nancy could retort.

The following morning the girls drove to the country store, made a few purchases, then asked if the stranger in the old car had ever come back.

“No, he never did, but he had no reason to,” one of the clerks said. “The tank of that old crate was full to the brim, and there was enough food in the back seat to last the guy a month.” “Which way did he go?” Nancy asked.

The man pointed in a direction opposite to the one where the burned Raybolt home was located. After Nancy had received a full description of the old car, she followed the road it had taken.

Presently she said, “Girls, if you were coming along here and planning to hide, where would you go?”

“If I knew about that cobwebby cabin we saw I’d go there,” George replied.

“But we were in it after Mr. Raybolt’s disappearance,” Nancy spoke up. “Nobody has been in it for a long time. Bess, what’s your guess?” “Another cabin. One that’s closer. Maybe Mr. Raybolt has a small hunting lodge somewhere.”

Nancy was driving very slowly now. Finally she said she was looking for a little-used side road. If there were tire tracks on it, she would see where they led.

Suddenly Nancy stopped. On her left was a narrow, grassy lane, almost obscured by overhanging trees. There were two distinct tire tracks.

“You’re not going to drive in there?” Bess cried out. “Nancy, you’d ruin your car!”

“I guess you’re right,” Nancy conceded, “but I think we should investigate.”

She parked, locked the ignition, and climbed out. The other girls followed. The woods road was rutty and full of stones.

“I hope we don’t have to go far,” said Bess presently. “These stones hurt my feet. We should have worn hiking boots.”

Nancy forged ahead. The road went on and on, with no sign of a cabin, or the shabby car or its owner. After the girls had walked for fifteen minutes, Bess called for a rest period. They dropped to the ground.

“It’s certainly quiet in here,” George remarked. “You could hear a pin—oh!”

All three girls were startled by the distant buzz of a chain saw. As they listened, there came a tremendous crash.

“Timber!” exclaimed George, grinning.

“You’re a little late with your warning. The tree’s already fallen,” Bess chided her cousin good-naturedly. “Well, I’m sure Mr. Raybolt isn’t doing any lumbering if he’s trying to hide, so let’s go back.” Nancy felt that they were not a long way from the tree-cutting site. “Whoever is working there may have seen Mr. Raybolt or his old car. Let’s find out,” she said.

As the girls plodded on over the rough ground, the sounds of trees being felled grew louder. Finally they came to a spot where they could see a good distance ahead. A large area of the woods was being cleared for a housing development. They assumed that the entrance to it was at the far end, for in the distance they could see several new houses.

“There’s a man who looks as if he might be the foreman,” Nancy said, and walked toward a tall, husky young man. She introduced herself, then asked him if the lane was used by the real-estate developers.

“No, that’s on someone else’s property,” he replied. “My name’s Tim Murphy. I’m in charge of the clearing operation. Are you looking for someone?” “Yes, a shabbily dressed man who has an ancient hot rod.” Nancy grinned. “We thought he might be staying in a shack in these woods.” Tim Murphy’s reply startled the girls. “I think your friend was here but left mysteriously. This development has been held up, and we just resumed work a couple of days ago. There’s a little shack not far from here. It was empty, so whenever we had a downpour, my men and I used it for shelter.

“Two days ago we went there. What a surprise we got! A man came out with a shotgun and

ordered us away! He was tall and thin, and his clothes were very shabby.”

“Was there a car around?” George asked.

“Yes, a black crate that sure was beat up. Think this is the man you’re looking for?”

“Yes,” said Bess, “but if he has a shotgun, we’re not going near him!”

Tim Murphy laughed. “You needn’t worry. He’s gone.”

This revelation shattered Nancy’s hope that her quest was nearing an end. “When did he leave?”

“During the night, and he hasn’t come back. I have an idea he won’t, either. I got the impression he wanted to be alone, and an expanding housing development is no place for a recluse. Say, do you mind telling me why you girls are interested in such a peculiar guy?” They were spared the necessity of answering Murphy when a worker called him away. He went off hurriedly, and the girls started back to the lane. They were silent until they came to the spot where they had rested before.

“Do you think the man with the shotgun really was Mr. Raybolt?” George asked Nancy.

The young sleuth shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. One thing is sure. Whoever he was, the man acted as if he were guilty of something and didn’t want strangers around.” “Which makes me think,” said Bess, “that he is Raybolt. Nancy, we must give up trying to find him before he uses that shotgun—on us!” “I might agree,” Nancy replied, “if we were certain. But our evidence is pretty slim. For the sake of the Swensons, I want to capture Mr. Raybolt before he can leave the country. I’m convinced now that he and his wife are in collusion. They’re just waiting to collect his life insurance, which is probably large, and the fire insurance, then they’ll meet in some foreign place.” George chuckled. “You know, it would serve that old cheat right if his wife collected the money and never met him! He couldn’t do a thing about it without being caught.” Bess nodded in agreement. “And I wouldn’t put it past that woman to play such a trick!”

When the girls reached the end of the lane, Bess announced that she thought they should have lunch before doing any more sleuthing.

“All right,” Nancy agreed. Laughing, she added, “How about the Mapleton Inn?”

“And have Mrs. Raybolt bring the police to arrest you!” Bess protested with a giggle.

Nancy had noticed an attractive roadside restaurant on the outskirts of town and drove to it. As the girls ate, they discussed their next move.

“I’d like to call on Mr. Swenson,” said Nancy, “and ask him if there’s anything else in the diary that might be damaging evidence against Mr. Raybolt.” It was three o’clock before the girls arrived at headquarters. When Nancy made her request to the sergeant in charge of prisoners, she was told that Mr. Swenson had just been brought to one of the waiting rooms.

“His kid came to see him,” the officer explained, “and we didn’t want her to see him behind bars. We told Honey that her dad had to stay with us a while. His wife’s there too. Are you special friends of theirs?” “Yes.”

“Okay, then.” The sergeant called another officer, who took the girls into the waiting room. A policeman stood watching.

At once Honey bounded into Nancy’s arms. “See, I have on all my new clothes!” she said proudly.

Mr. and Mrs. Swenson seemed very glad to see the visitors. The couple smiled pathetically and it was evident that Mrs. Swenson had spent a good deal of time crying. Her eyes were swollen and red. She looked pale and weary, as though she had slept little.

“Your kind friend Ned Nickerson brought Honey and me here. He will come back for us in an hour.”

Joe Swenson looked haggard and worried. He brightened somewhat when Nancy told him that Baylor Weston was not only keeping his position at the factory for him, but that a promotion awaited the inventor.

“You’re the only one who can help us,” Mrs. Swenson said tearfully to Nancy. “We haven’t enough money to engage a lawyer, and we have no well-to-do friends.” “If the case actually comes to trial, I know my father will defend Mr. Swenson without a fee,” Nancy assured her. “However, I’m hopeful that we’ll prove your husband’s innocence before that time.” “The book you have may help,” Mr. Swenson said guardedly.

Nancy nodded. She knew he meant the diary. It was still in her purse. She told herself, “I’ll have the rest of it translated at once.” The girls remained a few minutes longer, then departed, realizing that the little family wished to be alone. When they reached the street, Nancy told her friends, “If Mr. Peterson’s well enough, I’m going to see if he will read the diary. Let’s go to a phone and find out.” CHAPTER XVIII

A Revealing Translation

THERE was an outdoor telephone booth at the entrance to a parking lot next to police headquarters. Nancy entered it and dialed the number of the Peterson bakery. To her delight, she learned that her old friend was home from the hospital and would be glad to see her.

When George heard this she said, “You’re running a shuttle service between River Heights and Mapleton.”

Bess giggled. “With side trips to Stanford and Sandy Creek.”

“Don’t plan on staying home long,” Nancy warned them. “I may need you tonight.”

“Tonight!” Bess exclaimed. “I was counting on giving myself a shampoo and—”

“Whatever it is,” George interrupted, “the Swenson-Raybolt mystery is more important. Well, I’ll stick by you, Nancy.”

“And I will, of course,” Bess declared. “But please get this mystery solved soon, so I can catch up on a few things.”

“Like what?” George asked.

“Well, I’ve postponed a nice date three times already,” Bess said. “I was to go out with Jeff

Allen tonight, but I’ll put it off again. Nancy, where will we be going?”

Nancy said this would depend on what she learned from the diary.

When the girls reached River Heights, Nancy dropped off Bess and George at their homes, then drove to the Peterson bakery. She learned from the counter clerk that the owner was upstairs in his apartment, and the woman showed Nancy the stairway to the second floor.

The elderly convalescent was seated in an armchair and apologized for not rising to greet Nancy. She smiled, saying, “Mr. Peterson, it’s wonderful to see you again, and how glad I am you’re feeling better.” “Thank you, Nancy. Why, you’re a young lady now!” He laughed. “I remember you as a little girl, always objecting to the ribbons Mrs. Gruen put in your hair. You especially liked my Swedish fruit tarts.” “Mm,” said Nancy, smiling in recollection. “I can almost taste the lingonberry ones now. They were my favorite. Well, Mr. Peterson, I’ve come to ask a favor of you. Would you translate a Swedish diary for me?” “It would give me great pleasure. I am very much interested in diaries. Many secrets of history have been unraveled by diaries that were uncovered some time after the writers’ deaths.” “I never realized that,” said Nancy.

“In many cases this is true of the personal journals the famous people kept,” the baker explained. “Take Queen Victoria of England, for instance. Pictures of her and the complicated politics she was forced to play make her seem like a very stern old lady. But she left a diary telling of her life as a young queen and mother of small children that gives a very different idea of her. She was gay—loved to dance and give very elegant parties.” “How interesting!”

“Then of course there were other diaries set down by great men of history; for example, George Washington’s well-kept account of his life. One section tells of a journey from Washington to Philadelphia which took five days! He also told of a gift of mules to him from General Lafayette for his farm.

“One of the most important diaries was that of Christopher Columbus, who kept a record of his entire journey from Palos in Spain to our continent. Did you know, Nancy, that when he saw the shores of Cuba he thought it was Japan?” Nancy laughed. “I guess the old mariners made some amazing mistakes.”

“What is more amazing is how they managed to get back home,” said Mr. Peterson. “Some of the voyages must have seemed endless. I enjoyed reading about a schoolmaster who took a job as a private tutor with a family that was moving from Scotland to Virginia. It was a three-month voyage and all he received for tutoring the children was ‘bed, board, washing, and five pounds’ for the entire time!” “How things have changed!” Nancy remarked.

She had listened in rapt attention to his recital of items in the old journals. Nancy wondered if Joe Swenson’s up-to-date diary would prove to be as revealing about the writer’s inner thoughts. A tingle of excitement came over her as she took the diary from her purse and handed it to Mr. Peterson.

The baker glanced through it before starting to read aloud. “The writer of this journal is an inventor, I see,” he commented. “It’s not a day-by-day account. Apparently he put down only the most important events.” Mr. Peterson began to translate. Much of what had been written was delightful and informative, but had no bearing on the Raybolt case.

After a while Nancy interrupted to say, “If you’re becoming tired, please stop. I’ll come back another time.”

“Don’t you worry, Nancy. I feel fine.”

He read on. “‘Today,’ ” the diarist had written, “‘I went to see a man who sells inventions to big companies and shares the royalties with the inventors. His name is Raybolt. Tomorrow I shall take him my drawings and typed instructions for the electrochemical process and machine which will put a special ceramic finish on steel to resist high temperatures.’ ” Mr. Peterson turned the page and translated a description of the meeting, during which Mr. Swenson had handed over everything to Felix Raybolt. He had been given a check for five hundred dollars and the verbal promise of a fifty-fifty royalty split in the future.

“‘Mr. Raybolt,’ ” Mr. Peterson translated, “‘is a very shrewd man. He confided to me that he didn’t keep all his important papers and money in bank safe-deposit boxes. He has a secret hiding place in his house known to no one but himself. The—’ ” “Just a minute!” Nancy cried out. “Please translate that part again about the secret hiding place!” To herself she added, “Maybe that’s what Mr. Swenson meant when he said ‘The book you have may help.’ ” Mr. Peterson complied with Nancy’s request, then looked up and smiled. “You see a mystery here?”

“Indeed I do. And one that ought to be solved. Did you know that Mr. Raybolt’s house burned to the ground and he has disappeared?” “I had not heard,” the baker replied. “But then I do not know this Felix Raybolt. Shall I read further?”

“Oh, please do.”

Mr. Peterson went on. There were many references to the invention with some technical language about how the machine and the chemicals worked to produce the desired finish on metals.

“This is proof without a doubt that the invention is Mr. Swenson’s,” Nancy thought excitedly.

She listened carefully. The diary came to an end without any mention of a contract between the two men. Nancy was elated. Joe Swenson had a good case against Felix Raybolt! She was eager to talk over the whole matter with her father.

“Mr. Peterson,” she said, taking the diary, “you’ve been a tremendous help in this mixed-up mystery. Thank you very much.” “I am glad to have been of assistance,” the baker replied. “The reading was most enjoyable. This writer of the diary is well educated and clever.” Mr. Peterson smiled. “But he does not sound like a very good businessman. I presume that is why he is in some kind of trouble.” “That’s exactly it,” Nancy answered.

“Please translate that part again about the secret hiding place!” Nancy asked

“And you will get him out of the trouble,” the baker said. He chuckled. “I just can’t believe the little girl who loved cookies is now a detective!” Nancy laughed, shook Mr. Peterson’s hand fervently, and took her departure.

Wishing to see her father at once, she went directly to his office. Mr. Drew was about to leave, to be gone until later that evening.

“I can see you for about five minutes, Nancy,” the lawyer said.

His daughter told Mr. Drew as quickly as possible what she had learned, and he agreed that the inventor had a good chance of winning his case—if Mr. Raybolt could be found.

“So far the police haven’t a clue to his whereabouts, Nancy. I believe you came nearer to capturing him than anyone else has. It’s too bad he moved out of that cabin.” “And worse that he has disappeared into thin air,” Nancy replied. “But I’m not giving up!”

“That’s the spirit,” her father said affectionately. “Well, best of luck! And when you see Mr. Swenson, tell him not to worry.” Nancy drove home slowly as she tried to figure out the puzzle. When she reached the house, Hannah Gruen was taking a few minutes’ rest and sipping a cup of tea. Nancy joined her and told of the most recent happenings.

“My goodness,” said the housekeeper, “you’ve done several days’ work in one! Now you must relax.”

Nancy hardly touched her own cup of tea. She sat staring into space, and understanding Mrs. Gruen did not interrupt the young sleuth’s train of thought.

Suddenly Nancy cried, “I’ve just figured it out!”

“Figured what out?”

“How to trap Felix Raybolt!”

CHAPTER XIX

Setting a Trap

NANCY told Hannah Gruen her plan. She believed that Felix Raybolt was hiding somewhere near the ruined estate, perhaps in the dense woods which adjoined the property, and she proposed to watch the place for a return visit.

“It’s said that a criminal always returns to the scene of his crime,” she declared. “And he has a special reason, besides—to get something out of the secret hiding place. Up till now, I understand, police guards have been stationed on the grounds day and night. The special investigators from out of town expected to finish their examination of the ruins today, and the guards would no longer be necessary.” “What do you plan to do?” Mrs. Gruen asked.

“Bess and George and I will watch for him tonight. We may waste our time, but I have a feeling—I can’t explain it—that we’ll catch him near the burned house.” “It sounds risky, Nancy. How about taking a man with you?”

“Dad won’t be home to supper. He’ll be out for the evening.” After a pause Nancy added, “Maybe I can get Ned Nickerson.” “Please do that.”

Nancy telephoned Ned’s house but there was no answer. “I’ll stop there when I get to Mapleton,” she told Hannah.

When George received Nancy’s call, she was intrigued to hear about the secret hiding place where Mr. Raybolt kept valuable papers.

“Where do you suppose it is—or was?” George asked.

“If it’s still intact,” Nancy replied, “there’s only one spot for a hiding place—behind the stones of the cellar wall. Even if Mr. Raybolt doesn’t show up, I’d like to try to find it. So come dressed for some digging!” Nancy made the same request of Bess and added that she would pick her up in forty-five minutes.

“Fine,” said Bess. “That’ll give me time to eat and get dressed. I’ll be ready.”

Finally the girls were on their way to Mapleton.

“It’s going to be pretty dark tonight,” Bess commented. “There’ll be no moon.”

“So much the better,” Nancy declared. “Mr. Raybolt probably wouldn’t venture to return if he thought there would be any danger of his being detected.” “Your plan sounds dangerous to me,” Bess remarked. “What if Mr. Raybolt should come and make trouble?”

“We’d be three to one,” Nancy returned. “Of course it would be better if we had a man along. I’m going to stop at Ned’s house and see if he can come with us.” “Good!”

The sun was sinking low when Nancy swung into Mapleton. The girls stopped at the Nickerson residence which was on their route, but were disappointed to learn that Ned had not returned home after driving Mrs. Swenson and Honey to Sandy Creek.

“Who knows—maybe he’s off hunting for Foxy Felix,” Nancy said to her friends. “I’ll leave a note for him, and if he should get back in time, he might follow us to the estate.” She quickly wrote a message and gave it to Ned’s mother. Mrs. Nickerson promised to deliver it the moment her son came home.

As they drove away from the Nickerson home, Bess said nervously, “I have a feeling something dreadful is going to happen tonight. It wouldn’t be so bad if there only were other houses close by, but they’re so far away, the neighbors wouldn’t hear us even if we screamed for help.” “Calm down,” Nancy advised. “Three strong, capable girls like ourselves shouldn’t need any help.”

“I’d be a match for Foxy Felix myself,” George boasted. “Look at my arm muscles. I assure you I haven’t wasted all the time I spent in the gym.” Dusk was just settling when the girls came within sight of the burned mansion. The Raybolt estate looked unpleasantly lonely. Even George felt less inclined to joke as she realized that within a few moments it would be dark.

Nancy drove past the estate and hid the convertible in a dense clump of trees.

“We’ll leave the car here,” she said, “and go quietly up the driveway.”

The girls armed themselves with flashlights, a pick, and two lightweight shovels. Then they went cautiously along the road and turned into the estate. No one came to challenge them as they reached the ruined house. A few charred beams which had not fallen to the ground stood like sentinels guarding the wreckage. In the dimness the girls could easily imagine that they were ghostly figures.

“This is going to be spookier than I figured,” Bess chattered nervously. “Nancy, you do have the wildest ideas.”

The girl detective did not reply to this. When she was fairly certain no one else was around, she turned on her flashlight and played it on the stone walls of the house’s foundation. Nancy realized it would be a herculean task to move the debris away to inspect them. Nevertheless, she set the light on a pile of rubble and began to shovel away a heap of plaster.

“What do you expect to find?” George asked, turning on her flashlight and setting it down. “And tell me how I can help.”

“A safe,” Nancy answered. “And how about you girls taking turns with the pick and shovel? The other one act as lookout.”

Bess posted herself as guard while the others worked. Nancy and George uncovered several feet of wall but found no loose stones or anything indicating a section to open. The stones were tightly cemented.

Suddenly Bess whispered hoarsely, “Put out the lights! I hear someone coming!”

The flashes were clicked off and the three girls crouched down. They could hear nothing now.

“I’m sure I wasn’t mistaken,” Bess said.

“I believe we had better quit this work and hide,” said Nancy. “If Mr. Raybolt is coming, he’ll probably be here soon.” “Maybe he’s the person I heard,” Bess whispered.

“All the more reason for us to pretend to be leaving in case he’s watching us,” George spoke up.

The girls left the ruins without turning on their lights, stumbling and falling over the debris. They went down the driveway, but before reaching the end, Nancy said, “Let’s leave the tools here, go into the woods, and sneak back toward the ruins.” They hid the pick and shovels and retraced their steps. Nancy found a place behind a clump of bushes only a short distance from the ruins. The shrubs concealed the girls, yet disclosed a view of the driveway and the woods. Nancy and her friends settled themselves as comfortably as possible. But from the first, insects made it plain that they resented the intrusion.

A half hour passed, then an hour. The girls were startled several times as twigs crackled or dead limbs of trees crashed in the breeze.

“The bugs have nearly eaten me up,” Bess complained, “and my back feels as though it were broken.”

“You’ll become paralyzed after another hour or so.” Nancy grinned.

“How long do you propose staying here?” George demanded. “It must be almost midnight now.”

“It isn’t ten o’clock yet.” Nancy laughed.

“Well, I don’t think Mr. Raybolt is coming or he’d have been here by this time,” Bess said sleepily. “Why don’t we go home?” “I want to stay a while longer,” Nancy returned quietly.

Again the girls became silent. Bess and George, having accustomed themselves to their hiding place, stretched out and left Nancy to keep watch. They were no longer nervous or afraid—only weary of an adventure which had gone stale.

Presently George became very quiet and then fell asleep. Bess’s eyes closed, too, and soon she was in a deep sleep.

How long the cousins slept, they had no idea. But suddenly they were awakened by a scream, and the sound of running feet on the driveway.

“Nancy!” cried George, jumping up. “What has happened?”

There was no answer.

“Nancy!” called Bess, grabbing George by the arm.

Still there was no answer, and the two girls realized that their friend was no longer with them. Where was she? Who had screamed? Who was coming up the road in such haste?

CHAPTER XX

A Surprising Victory

WHILE the cousins had been asleep, Nancy had taken matters into her own hands. Her mind had been too active for her to feel sleepy. As she watched, first the woods, then the driveway, then the burned house, she suddenly became aware of footsteps.

“Maybe that’s Ned,” she thought hopefully.

The masculine figure was still too far away for Nancy to be able to discern who it could be. While she waited with bated breath, the man paused. She was about to awaken Bess and George when it occurred to her that they might speak aloud and warn the oncoming figure of their presence.

As the man turned toward the burned house, Nancy was in a quandary. She did not dare rouse her friends, yet she wanted to follow the intruder. She must find out who he was— Ned, come to help her, an inquisitive neighbor, or Felix Raybolt.

Leaving her friends, Nancy began to follow the man. Stealthily she crept nearer the ruins, dodging from tree to tree. She was glad there was no moon, for the darkness afforded protection.

When she was only a few feet away from the man, Nancy paused. He turned on a flashlight. This was not Ned Nickerson. From descriptions of the estate owner and from numerous newspaper photographs of him, Nancy felt certain that the tall, thin figure must be Felix Raybolt! He was carrying a shovel.

Suddenly he scrambled over the rubble and began to dig vigorously in the cellar wall some distance from where Nancy had been working.

“So that’s where the secret hiding place is,” thought the young detective.

She watched excitedly as Mr. Raybolt uncovered a group of stones in the foundation wall. He removed them, opened the door of a safe beyond, and pulled out a stack of papers. To Nancy’s horror, he laid them down and set a match to the sheaf.

“It’s evidence against him!” Nancy said to herself. “He can’t destroy it!”

Instantly Nancy sprang forward. She grabbed the shovel and beat out the flames. At the same time she cried, “Mr. Felix Raybolt, you can’t burn those papers!” The man had started violently and staggered backward. Nancy caught him by the arm, saying, “Why have you been hiding?”

Almost at once, Mr. Raybolt recovered from the shock of the unexpected encounter, and jerked himself free. For an instant he looked at Nancy in blank amazement.

“A snooper, eh?” he sneered.

Without warning he grabbed both his flashlight and her own. He turned and started to run across the grounds. “Get out of my way! Mind your own business!” he warned.

Nancy darted after him, but he definitely had the advantage of being familiar with the area. Her only chance to capture him lay in the possibility of his turning toward the place where she had left Bess and George. She must arouse them. Nancy did not know what Raybolt might do if she made an outcry, but she had to take that chance.

“Help! Help!” she screamed.

Bess and George, having heard the shrill cries for help, and approaching footsteps, were now convinced Nancy had uttered the cries and that she was in danger.

“Oh, what shall we do?” asked Bess. “The screams seemed to come from near the ruins.”

“Sh!” George warned. “Those footsteps coming up the driveway! Maybe it’s someone who can help us!”

This remark electrified Bess, who turned on her flash and rushed frantically ahead. She was the first to reach two men running up the driveway.

“Mr. Drew! Ned Nickerson!” the cousins cried in relief.

“Where’s Nancy?” the men asked together.

“We don’t know,” Bess gasped. “We heard her scream—over by the ruins.”

The men dashed past the girls, Ned in the lead. Bess and George started after them.

“Help! Help!” came Nancy’s scream again, but this time it was nearer.

Suddenly a man’s figure burst from a clump of shrubs at the bend in the driveway. He saw the approaching group too late to stop. He could not turn, for Nancy appeared directly behind him. He veered off to the lawn.

“Hold on there!” Mr. Drew commanded sharply.

“Dad!” Nancy cried out, and an instant later she recognized the second figure. “Ned!”

Felix Raybolt was easily captured. The appearance of the two men convinced the estate owner that his game was up, and he made little protest as they led him to Carson Drew’s sedan.

“Nancy, you girls had better come with us,” Mr. Drew suggested. “You can return and pick up your car later.” They agreed readily.

“Where are you taking me?” Raybolt muttered, as he got into the sedan.

“To jail,” Mr. Drew told him tersely.

“To jail?” the prisoner shrieked. “I haven’t done anything!”

“Maybe not, but an innocent man is being held there in connection with your disappearance. You must exonerate Joe Swenson at once from having had anything to do with your absence or with the fire.” “Swenson?” echoed the captured man. “He—”

Raybolt broke off and slumped down in the seat. He looked sick and beaten. His face was grimy and unshaven, and his clothing torn and stained.

“How in the world did you and Dad get here at the psychological moment?” Nancy asked Ned.

“Well—I’d been gone from home since morning,” Ned explained. “This evening I drove to River Heights to see you. Mrs. Gruen told me you had gone to Mapleton and said she thought I was with you. I telephoned Mother from your house and she gave me your message.” Mr. Drew added, “I returned home just as Ned was leaving. When I heard what you were doing I decided I’d better come along.” At the jail Foxy Felix did not even appear to be flustered about the situation. When questioned by the officials, he admitted that he had had an appointment with Joe Swenson but said that he had been outside the house at the time of the explosion.

“Isn’t it true that you had explosives illegally stored in your cellar?” Nancy asked him.

Raybolt nodded. He claimed the explosion and fire had been accidental. When asked about his disappearance, he gave an evasive explanation. He said that he had been stunned at first, then had staggered off into the woods.

“And vanished,” said Carson Drew. “You carry heavy life and fire insurance, I presume, Mr. Raybolt. Your wife could have collected the money, and met you later in some faraway place.” The telltale flush on Raybolt’s face told the lawyer that Nancy’s and his supposition had probably hit its mark, but Raybolt confessed nothing. They judged that Mapleton had become too unfriendly a place for Foxy Felix. His enemies were numerous, and he no doubt lived in constant fear of physical harm. The fire had given him an opportunity to slip away quietly.

“Guess we can’t hold him,” the captain told the Drews. “This clears Swenson beyond a doubt. Sorry we arrested him, Miss Drew, but you must admit the evidence pointed his way.” Joe Swenson was brought into the room. He was overjoyed about being freed, and at first could scarcely believe the good news. Tears came to his eyes as he thanked Nancy and her friends for all they had done.

“It’s a shame that Felix Raybolt can’t be held,” Nancy said. “Isn’t there any charge to keep him here?”

“I’m afraid not,” her father returned. “Everyone knows the man has swindled people, including my client, but we have no proof. We need papers, letters—” Suddenly Nancy grabbed her father’s arm. “I may be able to produce them!” she said excitedly, and told about the papers which Raybolt had tried to burn but she had managed to save.

“Excellent,” said Mr. Drew, as Bess, George, and Ned gasped in astonishment. “We’ll go out there at once with an officer if Captain Johnson agrees.” The captain called a lieutenant and said that the man would accompany them to the burned estate. Mr. Raybolt, he added, would have to remain at headquarters to await the arrival of the papers.

The others hurried outside and drove off in a squad car. When they reached the ruins, Nancy pointed out the exact location of the safe. The police lieutenant quickly gathered up the records that Raybolt had started to burn, also some papers which the officer found in the safe. When the Drews and their friends reached headquarters, they were amazed to find that Mrs. Raybolt had arrived. She was admonishing her husband not to admit anything.

Captain Johnson handed the papers to Mr. Drew. “Please look at these,” he requested. “If they have any bearing on this case—” Felix Raybolt jumped from his chair. “Don’t read them! I admit I paid small sums to inventors and promised royalties I never sent, though I sold their ideas for large amounts. I’ll give restitution to every one of them!” “Felix! Felix!” his wife screamed. “Don’t give in!” She glared at Nancy. “Oh—look at all the trouble you’ve caused!” Raybolt appeared not to hear her. “I’ll pay everyone even if it takes my last cent! I’ll do anything if only you won’t send me to prison!” “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” Mrs. Raybolt pleaded. ‘We’ll be ruined!”

“We’ll be ruined if I don’t,” her husband muttered, “because I’ll have to go to jail.”

Mrs. Raybolt sank into a chair, covered her face with her hands, and began to sob. For an instant Nancy felt sorry for her, then changed her mind, as the woman burst out: “We had the whole thing so well planned. No loopholes. Then this Nancy Drew has to come along and spoil our lives.”

Nancy, her father, their friends, and the police captain looked at Mrs. Raybolt in astonishment. The officer leaned forward and asked, “Are you admitting that you and your husband planned this whole unscrupulous plot?” “Keep quiet!” Raybolt stormed.

But the damage had been done. Little by little a full confession was obtained from the husband and wife about the plot they had devised to pile up a fortune from insurance, then vanish.

Raybolt finally admitted that he had rigged up a television set on the first floor to trigger the explosion by remote control. He had planned that it would go off when Joe Swenson arrived for the appointment.

“But Swenson was twenty minutes early,” Mr. Raybolt growled, “so I had to go ahead and cause the explosion without getting the papers out of the safe. I knew I could come back later for them.” Further questioning proved that Mrs. Raybolt was responsible for having the two detectives track down the inventor and put the blame on him.

At the end of the session, everyone in the room showed complete disgust for the Raybolts. “All their conniving at the expense of other people,” Nancy thought.

Both the Raybolts were held. They were allowed to telephone for legal counsel, but even before the lawyer arrived, the husband asked for a checkbook from Mrs. Raybolt’s purse and wrote out a check for several thousand dollars to the order of Joe Swenson.

“If you’ll look among those papers Nancy Drew saved,” the estate owner said, “you’ll find one that’s a receipt for the sale of his invention to the Streeter Corporation.” Mr. Drew looked at the receipt and commented that the amount of the check was five hundred dollars less than the sum on the receipt.

“I received five hundred from Mr. Raybolt in cash,” Joe Swenson spoke up. Then, without smiling, he added, “Thank you, Mr. Raybolt, for this check.” Mr. Drew, meanwhile, had continued looking through the papers Nancy had rescued. He frowned angrily, but said nothing until he came to a bulging envelope which he opened.

“These are the plans stolen from my client, Mr. Simpson,” he remarked. “I will take them, Mr. Raybolt. And, Captain Johnson, I think you had better keep the rest of these papers to see that the other inventors are properly reimbursed.” “I’ll certainly see that they are,” the officer declared.

All the visitors but the Raybolts left headquarters. Ned offered to take the still-stunned Joe Swenson home in order to break the good news to his wife. Honey, of course, would be asleep.

“Suppose you come to dinner at our house tomorrow for a victory celebration, all of you,”

Nancy invited. “Ned, could you—”

“Yes, I’ll gladly drive the Swensons over,” he said.

Bess chortled, “We wouldn’t miss it for the world!” and George nodded vigorously.

The following day was an exceedingly happy one at the Drew home. The Swensons wore broad grins, and Honey’s mother said, “We owe all our happiness to you, Nancy.” “I think you owe it to the fact that your husband dropped the diary,” Nancy said, smiling.

“Yes,” said George. “If it hadn’t been for the clue Nancy found in it, she never could have located the owner and helped bring you all together.” As the gala dinner ended, Mr. Swenson mentioned that Baylor Weston was promoting him to a responsible position in the experimental division of the factory at a large salary.

“That’s marvelous,” said Nancy.

“You have been so kind to us,” Mrs. Swenson spoke up, “that we want to show our appreciation in a more material way.”

She presented each of the girls with a tissue-wrapped package. “It isn’t much,” she said apologetically.

“Indeed it is!” Nancy cried, unwrapping a beautiful purse.

As she opened it, the girl detective found a note inside. The message read: “Will you please keep my signet ring to remind you of your adventure and of our deep gratitude for all you have done for us. Joe Swenson.” “I’d love to, of course,” Nancy said, a little catch in her throat. “The ring has meant a great deal to you. Now it will to me.” Bess and George likewise received purses and Ned a wallet. They thanked the donors heartily. A short time later the inventor and his family left, after promising to call frequently on Nancy and her father.

The young detective felt a glow of pleasure as always when she made lasting friends of people she had helped. But she did not know in what strange way this would occur soon again. Much to her amazement, in her next adventure, Nancy’s Mysterious Letter, she was to help someone with a name like her own who was in great trouble.

“It really was a gorgeous party!” Bess sighed blissfully. “Such fun!”

“Say,” said Ned, “I have a notion to start a diary of my own!”

“Why don’t you?” Nancy asked lightly.

She became conscious that Ned’s eyes were looking straight at her. “I will if I can fill most of the pages with entries of dates with you.” Nancy evaded the question. “I enjoyed your help in solving the Swenson mystery. Maybe we’ll soon find another one we can work on together.”

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