بخش 02

مجموعه: مجموعه قصه های نانسی درو / سرفصل: پلکان پنهان / فصل 2

بخش 02

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The Gorilla Face

“SOMETHING has happened to Helen!” Aunt Rosemary cried out fearfully.

Nancy was already racing through the second-floor hallway. Reaching the stairs, she leaped down them two steps at a time. Helen Corning had collapsed in a wing chair in the parlor, her hands over her face.

“Helen! What happened?” Nancy asked, reaching her friend’s side.

“Out there! Looking in that window!” Helen pointed to the front window of the parlor next to the hall. “The most horrible face I ever saw!” “Was it a man’s face?” Nancy questioned.

“Oh, I don’t know. It looked just like a gorilla!” Helen closed her eyes as if to shut out the memory of the sight.

Nancy did not wait to hear any more. In another second she was at the front door and had yanked it open. Stepping outside, she looked all around. She could see no animal near the house, nor any sign under the window that one had stood there.

Puzzled, the young sleuth hurried down the steps and began a search of the grounds. By this time Helen had collected her wits and come outside. She joined Nancy and together they looked in every outbuilding and behind every clump of bushes on the grounds of Twin Elms. They did not find one footprint or any other evidence to prove that a gorilla or other creature had been on the grounds of the estate.

“I saw it! I know I saw it!” Helen insisted.

“I don’t doubt you,” Nancy replied.

“Then what explanation is there?” Helen demanded. “You know I never did believe in spooks. But if we have many more of these weird happenings around here, I declare I’m going to start believing in ghosts.”

Nancy laughed. “Don’t worry, Helen,” she said. “There’ll be a logical explanation for the face at the window.”

The girls walked back to the front door of the mansion. Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary stood there and immediately insisted upon knowing what had happened. As Helen told them, Nancy once more surveyed the outside of the window at which Helen had seen the terrifying face.

“I have a theory,” she spoke up. “Our ghost simply leaned across from the end of the porch and held a mask in front of the window.” Nancy stretched her arm out to demonstrate how this was possible.

“So that’s why he didn’t leave any footprints under the window,” Helen said. “But he certainly got away from here fast.” She suddenly laughed. “He must be on some ghosts’ track team.”

Her humor, Nancy was glad to see, relieved the tense situation. She had noticed Miss Flora leaning wearily on her daughter’s arm.

“You’d better lie down and rest, Mother,” Mrs. Hayes advised.

“I guess I will,” Aunt Flora agreed.

It was suggested that the elderly woman use Aunt Rosemary’s room, while the others continued the experiment with the chandelier.

Helen and Aunt Rosemary went into the parlor and waited as Nancy ascended the front stairway and went to Miss Flora’s bedroom. Once more she began to rock from side to side. Downstairs, Aunt Rosemary and her niece were gazing intently at the ceiling.

“Look!” Helen exclaimed, pointing to the crystal chandelier. “It’s moving!” In a moment it swung to the left, then back to the right.

“Nancy has proved that the ghost was up in my mother’s room!” Aunt Rosemary said excitedly.

After a few minutes the rocking motion of the chandelier slackened and finally stopped. Nancy came hurrying down the steps.

“Did it work?” she called.

“Yes, it did,” Aunt Rosemary replied. “Oh, Nancy, we must have two ghosts!” “Why do you say that?” Helen asked.

“One rocking the chandelier, the other holding the horrible face up to the window. No one could have gone from Miss Flora’s room to the front porch in such a short time. Oh, this complicates everything!”

“It certainly does,” Nancy agreed. “The question is, are the two ghosts in cahoots? Or, it’s just possible, there is only one. He could have disappeared from Miss Flora’s room without our seeing him and somehow hurried to the first floor and let himself out the front door while we were upstairs. I’m convinced there is at least one secret entrance into this house, and maybe more. I think our next step should be to try to find it—or them.” “We’d better wash the luncheon dishes first,” Aunt Rosemary suggested.

As she and the girls worked, they discussed the mystery, and Mrs. Hayes revealed that she had talked to her mother about leaving the house, whether or not she sold it.

“I thought we might at least go away for a little vacation, but Mother refuses to leave. She says she intends to remain right here until this ghost business is settled.”

Helen smiled. “Nancy, my great-grandmother is a wonderful woman. She has taught me a lot about courage and perseverance. I hope if I ever reach her age, I’ll have half as much.” “Yes, she’s an example to all of us,” Aunt Rosemary concurred.

Nancy nodded. “I agree. I haven’t known your mother long, Aunt Rosemary, but I think she is one of the dearest persons I’ve ever met.”

“If Miss Flora won’t leave,” said Helen, “I guess that means we all stay.” “That’s settled,” said Nancy with a smile.

After the dishes were put away, the girls were ready to begin their search for a secret entrance into the mansion.

“Let’s start with Miss Flora’s room,” Helen suggested.

“That’s a logical place,” Nancy replied, and took the lead up the stairway.

Every inch of the wall, which was paneled in maple halfway to the ceiling, was tapped. No hollow sound came from any section of it to indicate an open space behind. The bureau, dressing table, and bed were pulled away from the walls and Nancy carefully inspected every inch of the paneling for cracks or wide seams to indicate a concealed door. “Nothing yet,” she announced, and then decided to inspect the sides of the fireplace.

The paneled sides and brick front revealed nothing. Next, Nancy looked at the sides and rear of the stone interior. She could see nothing unusual, and the blackened stones did not look as if they had ever been disturbed.

She closed the damper which Helen had left open, and then suggested that the searchers transfer to another room on the second floor. But no trace of any secret entrance to the mansion could be found.

“I think we’ve had enough investigation for one day,” Aunt Rosemary remarked.

Nancy was about to say that she was not tired and would like to continue. But she realized that Mrs. Hayes had made this suggestion because her mother was once more showing signs of fatigue and strain.

Helen, who also realized the situation, said, “Let’s have an early supper. I’m starved I” “I am, too,” Nancy replied, laughing gaily.

The mood was contagious and soon Miss Flora seemed to have forgotten about her mansion being haunted. She sat in the kitchen while Aunt Rosemary and the girls cooked the meal.

“Um, steak and French fried potatoes, fresh peas, and yummy floating island for dessert,” said Helen. “I can hardly wait.”

“Fruit cup first,” Aunt Rosemary announced, taking a bowl of fruit from the refrigerator. Soon the group was seated at the table. Tactfully steering the conversation away from the mystery, Nancy asked Miss Flora to tell the group about parties and dances which had been held in the mansion long ago.

The elderly woman smiled in recollection. “I remember one story my husband told me of something that happened when he was a little boy,” Miss Flora began. “His parents were holding a masquerade and he was supposed to be in bed fast asleep. His nurse had gone downstairs to talk to some of the servants. The music awakened my husband and he decided it would be great fun to join the guests.

“I’ll put on a costume myself,’ he said to himself. He knew there were some packed in a trunk in the attic.” Miss Flora paused. “By the way, girls, I think that sometime while you are here you ought to see them. They’re beautiful.

“Well, Everett went to the attic, opened the trunk, and searched until he found a soldier’s outfit. It was very fancy—red coat and white trousers. He had quite a struggle getting it on and had to turn the coat sleeves way up. The knee britches came to his ankles, and the hat was so large it came down over his ears.”

By this time Miss Flora’s audience was laughing and Aunt Rosemary remarked, “My father really must have looked funny. Please go on, Mother.”

“Little Everett came down the stairs and mingled with the masqueraders at the dance. For a while he wasn’t noticed, then suddenly his mother discovered the queer-looking figure.”

“And,” Aunt Rosemary interrupted, “quickly put him back to bed, I’m sure.”

Miss Flora laughed. “That’s where you’re wrong. The guests thought the whole thing was such fun that they insisted Everett stay. Some of the women danced with him—he went to dancing school and was an excellent dancer. Then they gave him some strawberries and cream and cake.”

Helen remarked, “And then put him to bed.”

Again Miss Flora laughed. “The poor little fellow never knew that he had fallen asleep while he was eating, and his father had to carry him upstairs. He was put into his little four-poster, costume and all. Of course his nurse was horrified, and I’m afraid that during the rest of the night the poor woman thought she would lose her position. But she didn’t. In fact, she stayed with the family until all the children were grown up.” “Oh, that’s a wonderful story!” said Nancy.

She was about to urge Miss Flora to tell another story when the telephone rang. Aunt Rosemary answered it, and then called to Nancy, “It’s for you.”

Nancy hurried to the hall, grabbed up the phone, and said, “Hello.” A moment later she cried out, “Dad! How wonderful to hear from you!”

Mr. Drew said that he had not found Willie Wharton and certain clues seemed to indicate that he was not in Chicago, but in some other city.

“I have a few other matters to take care of that will keep me here until tomorrow night.

How are you getting along?”

“I haven’t solved the mystery yet,” his daughter reported. “We’ve had some more strange happenings. I’ll certainly be glad to see you here at Cliffwood. I know you can help me.” “All right, I’ll come. But don’t try to meet me. The time is too uncertain, and as a matter of fact, I may find that I’ll have to stay here in Chicago.”

Mr. Drew said he would come out to the mansion by taxi. Briefly Nancy related her experiences at Twin Elms, and after a little more conversation, hung up. When she rejoined the others at the table, she told them about Mr. Drew’s promised visit.

“Oh, I’ll be so happy to meet your father,” said Miss Flora. “We may need legal advice in this mystery.”

There was a pause after this remark, with everyone silent for a few moments. Suddenly each one in the group looked at the others, startled. From somewhere upstairs came the plaintive strains of violin music. Had the radio been turned on again by the ghost? Nancy dashed from the table to find out.


Frightening Eyes

WITHIN five seconds Nancy had reached the second floor. The violin playing suddenly ceased.

She raced into Miss Flora’s room, from which the sounds had seemed to come. The radio was not on. Quickly Nancy felt the instrument to see if it were even slightly warm to prove it had been in use.

“The music wasn’t being played on this,” she told herself, finding the radio cool.

As Nancy dashed from the room, she almost ran into Helen. “What did you find out?” her friend asked breathlessly.

“Nothing so far,” Nancy replied, as she raced into Aunt Rosemary’s bedroom to check the bedside radio in there.

This instrument, too, felt cool to the touch.

She and Helen stood in the center of the room, puzzled frowns creasing their foreheads. “There was music, wasn’t there?” Helen questioned.

“I distinctly heard it,” Nancy replied. “But where is the person who played the violin? Or put a disk on a record player, or turned on a hidden radio? Helen, I’m positive an intruder comes into this mansion by some secret entrance and tries to frighten us all.” “And succeeds,” Helen answered. “It’s positively eerie.” “And dangerous,” Nancy thought.

“Let’s continue our search right after breakfast tomorrow,” Helen proposed.

“We will,” Nancy responded. “But in the meantime I believe Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary, to say nothing of ourselves, need some police protection.”

“I think you’re right,” Helen agreed. “Let’s go downstairs and suggest it to the others.” The girls returned to the first floor and Nancy told Mrs. Hayes and her mother of the failure to find the cause of the violin playing, and what she had in mind.

“Oh dear, the police will only laugh at us,” Miss Flora objected.

“Mother dear,” said her daughter, “the captain and his men didn’t believe us before because they thought we were imagining things. But Nancy and Helen heard music at two different times and they saw the chandelier rock. I’m sure that Captain Rossland will believe Nancy and send a guard out here.”

Nancy smiled at Miss Flora. “I shan’t ask the captain to believe in a ghost or even hunt for one. I think all we should request at the moment is that he have a man patrol the grounds here at night. I’m sure that we’re perfectly safe while we’re all awake, but I must admit I’d feel a little uneasy about going to bed wondering what that ghost may do next.”

Mrs. Turnbull finally agreed to the plan and Nancy went to the telephone. Captain Rossland readily agreed to send a man out a little later.

“He’ll return each night as long as you need him,” the officer stated. “And I’ll tell him not to ring the bell to tell you when he comes. If there is anyone who breaks into the mansion by a secret entrance, it would be much better if he does not know a guard is on duty.” “I understand,” said Nancy.

When Miss Flora, her daughter, and the two girls went to bed, they were confident they would have a restful night. Nancy felt that if there was no disturbance, then it would indicate that the ghost’s means of entry into Twin Elms was directly from the outside. “In which case,” she thought, “it will mean he saw the guard and didn’t dare come inside the house.”

The young sleuth’s desire for a good night’s sleep was rudely thwarted as she awakened about midnight with a start. Nancy was sure she had heard a noise nearby. But now the house was quiet. Nancy listened intently, then finally got out of bed.

“Perhaps the noise I heard came from outdoors,” she told herself.

Tiptoeing to a window, so that she would not awaken Helen, Nancy peered out at the moonlit grounds. Shadows made by tree branches, which swayed in a gentle breeze, moved back and forth across the lawn. The scent from a rose garden in full bloom was wafted to Nancy.

“What a heavenly night!” she thought.

Suddenly Nancy gave a start. A furtive figure had darted from behind a tree toward a clump of bushes. Was he the guard or the ghost? she wondered. As Nancy watched intently to see if she could detect any further movements of the mysterious figure, she heard padding footsteps in the hall. In a moment there was a loud knock on her door.

“Nancy! Wake up! Nancy! Come quick!”

The voice was Miss Flora’s, and she sounded extremely frightened. Nancy sped across the room, unlocked her door, and opened it wide. By this time Helen was awake and out of bed.

“What happened?” she asked sleepily.

Aunt Rosemary had come into the hall also. Her mother did not say a word; just started back toward her own bedroom. The others followed, wondering what they would find. Moonlight brightened part of the room, but the area near the hall was dark.

“There! Up there!” Miss Flora pointed to a corner of the room near the hall.

Two burning eyes looked down on the watchers!

Instantly Nancy snapped on the wall light and the group gazed upward at a large brown owl perched on the old-fashioned, ornamental picture molding.

“Oh!” Aunt Rosemary cried out. “How did that bird ever get in here?”

The others did not answer at once. Then Nancy, not wishing to frighten Miss Flora, remarked as casually as she could, “It probably came down the chimney.” “But—” Helen started to say.

Nancy gave her friend a warning wink and Helen did not finish the sentence. Nancy was sure she was going to say that the damper had been closed and the bird could not possibly have flown into the room from the chimney. Turning to Miss Flora, Nancy asked whether or not her bedroom door had been locked.

“Oh, yes,” the elderly woman insisted. “I wouldn’t leave it unlocked for anything.”

Nancy did not comment. Knowing that Miss Flora was a bit forgetful, she thought it quite possible that the door had not been locked. An intruder had entered, let the owl fly to the picture molding, then made just enough noise to awaken the sleeping woman.

To satisfy her own memory about the damper, Nancy went over to the fireplace and looked inside. The damper was closed.

“But if the door to the hall was locked,” she reasoned, “then the ghost has some other way of getting into this room. And he escaped the detection of the guard.”

“I don’t want that owl in here all night,” Miss Flora broke into Nancy’s reverie. “We’ll have to get it out.”

“That’s not going to be easy,” Aunt Rosemary spoke up. “Owls have very sharp claws and beaks and they use them viciously on anybody who tries to disturb them. Mother, you come and sleep in my room the rest of the night. We’ll chase the owl out in the morning.” Nancy urged Miss Flora to go with her daughter. “I’ll stay here and try getting Mr. Owl out of the house. Have you a pair of old heavy gloves?”

“I have some in my room,” Aunt Rosemary replied. “They’re thick leather. I use them for gardening.”

She brought them to Nancy, who put the gloves on at once. Then she suggested that Aunt

Rosemary and her mother leave. Nancy smiled. “Helen and I will take over Operation Owl.” As the door closed behind the two women. Nancy dragged a chair to the corner of the room beneath the bird. She was counting on the fact that the bright overhead light had dulled the owl’s vision and she would be able to grab it without too much trouble.

“Helen, will you open one of the screens, please?” she requested. “And wish me luck!” “Don’t let that thing get loose,” Helen warned as she unfastened the screen and held it far out.

Nancy reached up and by stretching was just able to grasp the bird. In a lightning movement she had put her two hands around its body and imprisoned its claws. At once the owl began to bob its head and peck at her arms above the gloves. Wincing with pain, she stepped down from the chair and ran across the room.

The bird squirmed, darting its beak in first one direction, then another. But Nancy managed to hold the owl in such a position that most of the pecking missed its goal. She held the bird out the window, released it, and stepped back. Helen closed the screen and quickly fastened it.

“Oh!” Nancy said, gazing ruefully at her wrists which now showed several bloody digs from the owl’s beak. “I’m glad that’s over.”

“And I am too,” said Helen. “Let’s lock Miss Flora’s door from the outside, so that ghost can’t bring in any owls to the rest of us.”

Suddenly Helen grabbed Nancy’s arm. “I just thought of something,” she said. “There’s supposed to be a police guard outside. Yet the ghost got in here without being seen.” “Either that, or there’s a secret entrance to this mansion which runs underground, probably to one of the outbuildings on the property.”

Nancy now told about the furtive figure she had seen dart from behind a tree. “I must find out right away if he was the ghost or the guard. I’ll do a little snooping around. It’s possible the guard didn’t show up.” Nancy smiled. “But if he did, and he’s any good, he’ll find me!” “All right,” said Helen.. “But, Nancy, do be careful. You’re really taking awful chances to solve the mystery of Twin Elms.”

Nancy laughed softly as she walked back to the girls’ bedroom. She dressed quickly, then went downstairs, put the back-door key in her pocket, and let herself out of the house. Stealthily she went down the steps and glided to a spot back of some bushes.

Seeing no one around, she came from behind them and ran across the lawn to a large maple tree. She stood among the shadows for several moments, then darted out toward a building which in Colonial times had been used as the kitchen.

Halfway there, she heard a sound behind her and turned. A man stood in the shadows not ten feet away. Quick as a wink one hand flew to a holster on his hip. “Halt!” he commanded.


A Startling Plunge

NANCY halted as directed and stood facing the man. “Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m a police guard, miss,” the man replied. “Just call me Patrick, And who are you?” Quickly Nancy explained and then asked to see his identification. He opened his coat, pulled out a leather case, and showed her his shield proving that he was a plain-clothes man. His name was Tom Patrick.

“Have you seen anyone prowling around the grounds?” Nancy asked him.

“Not a soul, miss. This place has been quieter than a cemetery tonight.”

When the young sleuth told him about the furtive figure she had seen from the window, the detective laughed. “I believe you saw me,” he said. “I guess I’m not so good at hiding as I thought I was.”

Nancy laughed lightly. “Anyway, you soon nabbed me,” she told him.

The two chatted for several minutes. Tom Patrick told Nancy that people in Cliffwood regarded Mrs. Turnbull as being a little queer. They said that if she thought her house was haunted, it was all in line with the stories of the odd people who had lived there from tune to time during the past hundred years or so.

“Would this rumor make the property difficult to sell?” Nancy questioned the detective.

“It certainly would.”

Nancy said she thought the whole thing was a shame. “Mrs. Turnbull is one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met and there’s not a thing the matter with her, except that once in a while she is forgetful.”

“You don’t think that some of these happenings we’ve heard about are just pure imagination?” Tom Patrick asked.

“No, I don’t.”

Nancy now told him about the owl in Miss Flora’s bedroom. “The door was locked, every screen was fastened, and the damper in the chimney closed. You tell me how the owl got in there.”

Tom Patrick’s eyes opened wide. “You say this happened only a little while ago?” he queried. When Nancy nodded, he added, “Of course I can’t be everywhere on these grounds at once, but I’ve been round and round the building. I’ve never stopped walking since I arrived. I don’t see how anyone could have gotten inside that mansion without my seeing him.”

“I’ll tell you my theory,” said Nancy. “I believe there’s a secret underground entrance from some other place on the grounds. It may be in one of these outbuildings. Anyway, tomorrow morning I’m going on a search for it.”

“Well, I wish you luck,” Tom Patrick said. “And if anything happens during the night, I’ll let you know.”

Nancy pointed to a window on the second floor. “That’s my room,” she said. “If you don’t have a chance to use the door knocker, just throw a stone up against the screen to alert me.

I’ll wake up instantly, I know.”

The guard promised to do this and Nancy went back into the mansion. She climbed the stairs and for a second time that night undressed. Helen had already gone back to sleep, so Nancy crawled into the big double bed noiselessly.

The two girls awoke the next morning about the same time and immediately Helen asked for full details of what Nancy had learned outdoors the night before. After hearing how her friend had been stopped by the guard, she shivered.

“You might have been in real danger, Nancy, not knowing who he was. You must be more careful. Suppose that man had been the ghost?”

Nancy laughed but made no reply. The girls went downstairs and started to prepare breakfast. In a few minutes Aunt Rosemary and her mother joined them.

“Did you find out anything more last night?” Mrs. Hayes asked Nancy.

“Only that a police guard named Tom Patrick is on duty,” Nancy answered.

As soon as breakfast was over, the young sleuth announced that she was about to investigate all the outbuildings on the estate.

“I’m going to search for an underground passage leading to the mansion. It’s just possible that we hear no hollow sounds when we tap the walls, because of double doors or walls where the entrance is.”

Aunt Rosemary looked at Nancy intently. “You are a real detective, Nancy. I see now why Helen wanted us to ask you to find our ghost.”

Nancy’s eyes twinkled. “I may have some instinct for sleuthing,” she said, “but unless I can solve this mystery, it won’t do any of us much good.”

Turning to Helen, she suggested that they put on the old clothes they had brought with them.

Attired in sport shirts and jeans, the girls left the house. Nancy led the way first to the old icehouse. She rolled back the creaking, sliding door and gazed within. The tall, narrow building was about ten feet square. On one side were a series of sliding doors, one above the other.

“I’ve heard Miss Flora say,” Helen spoke up, “that in days gone by huge blocks of ice were cut from the river when it was frozen over and dragged here on a sledge. The blocks were stored here and taken off from the top down through these various sliding doors.”

“That story rather rules out the possibility of any underground passage leading from this building,” said Nancy. “I presume there was ice in here most of the year.”

The floor was covered with dank sawdust, and although Nancy was sure she would find nothing of interest beneath it, still she decided to take a look. Seeing an old, rusted shovel in one corner, she picked it up and began to dig. There was only dirt beneath the sawdust. “Well, that clue fizzled out,” Helen remarked, as she and Nancy started for the next building. This had once been used as a smokehouse. It, too, had an earthen floor. In one corner was a small fireplace, where smoldering fires of hickory wood had once burned. The smoke had curled up a narrow chimney to the second floor, which was windowless.

“Rows and rows of huge chunks of pork hung up there on hooks to be smoked,” Helen explained, “and days later turned into luscious hams and bacon.”

There was no indication of a secret opening and Nancy went outside the small, two-story, peak-roofed structure and walked around. Up one side of the brick building and leading to a door above were the remnants of a ladder. Now only the sidepieces which had held the rungs remained.

“Give me a boost, will you, Helen?” Nancy requested. “I want to take a look inside.” Helen squatted on the ground and Nancy climbed to her shoulders. Then Helen, bracing her hands against the wall,, straightened up. Nancy opened the half-rotted wooden door.

“No ghost here!” she announced.

Nancy jumped to the ground and started for the servants’ quarters. But a thorough inspection of this brick-and-wood structure failed to reveal a clue to a secret passageway.

There was only one outbuilding left to investigate, which Helen said was the old carriage house. This was built of brick and was fairly large. No carriages stood on its wooden floor, but around the walls hung old harnesses and reins. Nancy paused a moment to examine one of the bridles. It was set with two hand-painted medallions of women’s portraits.

Suddenly her reflection was interrupted by a scream. Turning, she was just in time to see Helen plunge through a hole in the floor. In a flash Nancy was across the carriage house and looking down into a gaping hole where the rotted floor had given way.

“Helen!” she cried out in alarm.

“I’m all right,” came a voice from below. “Nice and soft down here. Please throw me your flash.”

Nancy removed the flashlight from the pocket of her jeans and tossed it down.

“I thought maybe I’d discovered something,” Helen said. “But this is just a plain old hole. Give me a hand, will you, so I can climb up?”

Nancy lay flat on the floor and with one arm grabbed a supporting beam that stood in the center of the carriage house. Reaching down with the other arm, she assisted Helen in her ascent.

“We’d better watch our step around here,” Nancy said as her friend once more stood beside her.

“You’re so right,” Helen agreed, brushing dirt off her jeans. Helen’s plunge had given Nancy an idea that there might be other openings in the floor and that one of them could be an entrance to a subterranean passage. But though she flashed her light over every inch of the carriage-house floor, she could discover nothing suspicious. “Let’s quit!” Helen suggested. “I’m a mess, and besides, I’m hungry.”

“All right,” Nancy agreed. “Are you game to search the cellar this afternoon?” “Oh, sure.”

After lunch they started to investigate the storerooms in the cellar. There was a cool stone room where barrels of apples had once been kept. There was another, formerly filled with bags of whole-wheat flour, barley, buckwheat, and oatmeal.

“And everything was grown on the estate,” said Helen.

“Oh, it must have been perfectly wonderful,” Nancy said. “I wish we could go back in time and see how life was in those days!”

“Maybe if we could, we’d know how to find that ghost,” Helen remarked. Nancy thought so too.

As the girls went from room to room in the cellar, Nancy beamed her flashlight over every inch of wall and floor. At times, the young sleuth’s pulse would quicken when she thought she had discovered a trap door or secret opening. But each time she had to admit failure— there was no evidence of either one in the cellar.

“This has been a discouraging day,” Nancy remarked, sighing. “But I’m not giving up.” Helen felt sorry for her friend. To cheer Nancy, she said with a laugh, “Storeroom after storeroom but no room to store a ghost!”

Nancy had to laugh, and together the two girls ascended the stairway to the kitchen. After changing their clothes, they helped Aunt Rosemary prepare the evening dinner. When the group had eaten and later gathered in the parlor, Nancy reminded the others that she expected her father to arrive the next day.

“Dad didn’t want me to bother meeting him, but I just can’t wait to see him. I think I’ll meet all the trains from Chicago that stop here.”

“I hope your father will stay with us for two or three days,” Miss Flora spoke up. “Surely he’ll have some ideas about our ghost.”

“And good ones, too,” Nancy said. “If he’s on the early train, he’ll have breakfast with us. I’ll meet it at eight o’clock.”

But later that evening Nancy’s plans were suddenly changed. Hannah Gruen telephoned her to say that a man at the telegraph office had called the house a short time before to read a message from Mr. Drew. He had been unavoidably detained and would not arrive Wednesday.

“In the telegram your father said that he will let us know when he will arrive,” the housekeeper added.

“I’m disappointed,” Nancy remarked, “but I hope this delay means that Dad is on the trail of Willie Wharton!”

“Speaking of Willie Wharton,” said Hannah, “I heard something about him today.” “What was that?” Nancy asked.

“That he was seen down by the river right here in River Heights a couple of days ago!”


A Worrisome Delay

“You say Willie Wharton was seen in River Heights down by the river?” Nancy asked unbelievingly.

“Yes,” Hannah replied. “I learned it from our postman, Mr. Ritter, who is one of the people that sold property to the railroad. As you know, Nancy, Mr. Ritter is very honest and reliable. Well, he said he’d heard that some of the property owners were trying to horn in on this deal of Willie Wharton’s for getting more money. But Mr. Ritter wouldn’t have a thing to do with it—calls it a holdup.”

“Did Mr. Ritter himself see Willie Wharton?” Nancy asked eagerly.

“No,” the housekeeper replied. “One of the other property, owners told him Willie was around.”

“That man could be mistaken,” Nancy suggested.

“Of course he might,” Hannah agreed. “And I’m inclined to think he is. If your father is staying over in Chicago, it must be because of Willie Wharton.”

Nancy did not tell Hannah what was racing through her mind. She said good night cheerfully, but actually she was very much worried.

“Maybe Willie Wharton was seen down by the river,” she mused. “And maybe Dad was ‘unavoidably detained’ by an enemy of his in connection with the railroad bridge project. One of the dissatisfied property owners might have followed him to Chicago.”

Or, she reflected further, it was not inconceivable that Mr. Drew had found Willie Wharton, only to have Willie hold the lawyer a prisoner.

As Nancy sat lost in anxious thought, Helen came into the hall. “Something the matter?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Nancy replied, “but I have a feeling there is. Dad telegraphed to say that he wouldn’t be here tomorrow. Instead of wiring, he always phones me or Hannah or his office when he is away and it seems strange that he didn’t do so this time.”

“You told me a few days ago that your father had been threatened,” said Helen. “Are you afraid it has something to do with that?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Helen offered.

“Thank you, Helen, but I think not. There isn’t anything I can do either. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Maybe I’ll hear from Dad again.”

Nancy looked so downcast that Helen searched her mind to find something which would cheer her friend. Suddenly Helen had an idea and went to speak to Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary about it.

“I think it’s a wonderful plan if Nancy will do it,” Aunt Rosemary said.

Helen called Nancy from the hall and proposed that they all go to the attic to look in the big trunk containing the old costumes.

“We might even put them on,” Miss Flora proposed, smiling girlishly.

“And you girls could dance the minuet,” said Aunt Rosemary enthusiastically. “Mother plays the old spinet very well. Maybe she would play a minuet for you.”

“I love your idea,” said Nancy. She knew that the three were trying to boost her spirits and she appreciated it. Besides, what they had proposed sounded like fun.

All of them trooped up the creaky attic stairs. In their haste, none of the group had remembered to bring flashlights.

“I’ll go downstairs and get a couple,” Nancy offered.

“Never mind,” Aunt Rosemary spoke up.

“There are some candles and holders right here. We keep them for emergencies.”

She lighted two white candles which stood in old-fashioned, saucer-type brass holders and led the way to the costume trunk.

As Helen lifted the heavy lid, Nancy exclaimed in delight, “How beautiful the clothes are!” She could see silks, satins, and laces at one side. At the other was a folded-up rose velvet robe. She and Helen lifted out the garments and held them up.

“They’re really lovelier than our formal dance clothes today,” Helen remarked. “Especially the men’s!”

Miss Flora smiled. “And a lot more flattering!”

The entire trunk was unpacked, before the group selected what they would wear.

“This pale-green silk gown with the panniers would look lovely on you, Nancy,” Miss Flora said. “And I’m sure it’s just the right size, too.”

Nancy surveyed the tiny waist of the ball gown. “I’ll try it on,” she said. Then laughingly she added, “But I’ll probably have to hold my breath to close it in the middle. My, but the women in olden times certainly had slim waistlines!”

Helen was holding up a man’s purple velvet suit. It had knee breeches and the waistcoat had a lace-ruffled front. There were a tricorn hat, long white stockings, and buckled slippers to complete the costume.

“I think I’ll wear this and be your partner, Nancy,” Helen said.

Taking off her pumps, she slid her feet into the buckled slippers. The others laughed aloud.

A man with a foot twice the size of Helen’s had once worn the slippers!

“Never mind. I’ll stuff the empty space with paper,” Helen announced gaily.

Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary selected gowns for themselves, then opened a good-sized box at the bottom of the trunk. It contained various kinds of wigs worn in Colonial times. All were pure white and fluffy.

Carrying the costumes and wigs, the group descended to their bedrooms, where they changed into the fancy clothes, then went to the first floor. Miss Flora led the way into the room across the hall from the parlor. She said it once had been the drawing room. Later it had become a library, but the old spinet still stood in a corner.

Miss Flora sat down at the instrument and began to play Beethoven’s “Minuet.” Aunt Rosemary sat down beside her.

Nancy and Helen, dubbed by the latter, Master and Mistress Colonial America, began to dance. They clasped their right hands high in the air, then took two steps backward and made little bows. They circled, then strutted, and even put in a few steps with which no dancers in Colonial times would have been familiar.

Aunt Rosemary giggled and clapped. “I wish President Washington would come to see you,” she said, acting out her part in the entertainment. “Mistress Nancy, prithee do an encore and Master Corning, wilt thou accompany thy fair lady?”

The girls could barely keep from giggling. Helen made a low bow to her aunt, her tricorn in

her hand, and said, “At your service, my lady. Your every wish is my command!” The minuet was repeated, then as Miss Flora stopped playing, the girls sat down.

“Oh, that was such fun!” said Nancy. “Some time I’d like to— Listen!” she commanded suddenly.

From outside the house they could hear loud shouting. “Come here! You in the house! Come here!”

Nancy and Helen dashed from their chairs to the front door. Nancy snapped on the porch light and the two girls raced outside.

“Over here!” a man’s voice urged.

Nancy and Helen ran down the steps and out onto the lawn. Just ahead of them stood Tom Patrick, the police detective. In a viselike grip he was holding a thin, bent-over man whom the girls judged to be about fifty years of age.

“Is this your ghost?” the guard asked.

His prisoner was struggling to free himself but was unable to get loose. The girls hurried forward to look at the man.

“I caught him sneaking along the edge of the grounds,” Tom Patrick announced.

“Let me go!” the man cried out angrily. “I’m no ghost. What are you talking about?” “You may not be a ghost,” the detective said, “but you could be the thief who has been robbing this house.”

“What?” his prisoner exclaimed. “I’m no thief I live around here. Anyone will tell you I’m okay.”

“What’s your name and where do you live?” the detective prodded. He let the man stand up straight but held one of his arms firmly.

“My name’s Albert Watson and I live over on Tuttle Road.”

“What were you doing on this property?”

Albert Watson said he had been taking a short cut home. His wife had taken their car for the evening.

“I’d been to a friend’s house. You can call him and verify what I’m saying. And you can call my wife, too. Maybe she’s home now and she’ll come and get me.”

The guard reminded Albert Watson that he had not revealed why he was sneaking along the ground.

“Well,” the prisoner said, “it was because of you. I heard downtown that there was a detective patrolling this place and I didn’t want to bump into you. I was afraid of just what did happen.”

The man relaxed a little. “I guess you’re a pretty good guard at that.”

Detective Patrick let go of Albert Watson’s arm. “Your story sounds okay, but we’ll go in the house and do some telephoning to find out if you’re telling the truth.”

“You’ll find out all right. Why, I’m even a notary public! They don’t give a notary’s license to dishonest folks!” the trespasser insisted, Then he stared at Nancy and Helen, “What are you doing in those funny clothes?”

“We—are—we were having a little costume party,” Helen responded. In the excitement she and Nancy had forgotten what they were wearing!

The two girls started for the house, with the men following. When Mr. Watson and the guard saw Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary also in costume they gazed at the women in amusement.

Nancy introduced Mr. Watson. Miss Flora said she knew of him, although she had never met the man. Two phone calls by the guard confirmed Watson’s story. In a little while his wife arrived at Twin Elms to drive her husband home, and Detective Patrick went back to his guard duty.

Aunt Rosemary then turned out all the lights on the first floor and she, Miss Flora, and the girls went upstairs. Bedroom doors were locked, and everyone hoped there would be no disturbance during the night “It was a good day, Nancy,” said Helen, yawning, as she climbed into bed.

“Yes, it was,” said Nancy. “Of course, I’m a little disappointed that we aren’t farther along solving the mystery but maybe by this time tomorrow—” She looked toward Helen who did not answer. She was already sound asleep.

Nancy herself was under the covers a few minutes later. She lay staring at the ceiling, going over the various events of the past two days. As her mind recalled the scene in the attic when they were pulling costumes from the old trunk, she suddenly gave a start.

“That section of wall back of the trunk!” she told herself. “The paneling looked different somehow from the rest of the attic wall. Maybe it’s movable and leads to a secret exit! Tomorrow I’ll find out!”


The Midnight Watch

As SOON as the two girls awoke the next morning, Nancy told Helen her plan.

“I’m with you,” said Helen. “Oh, I do wish we could solve the mystery of the ghost! I’m afraid that it’s beginning to affect Miss Flora’s health and yet she won’t leave Twin Elms.”

“Maybe we can get Aunt Rosemary to keep her in the garden most of the day,” Nancy suggested. “It’s perfectly beautiful outside. We might even serve lunch under the trees.” “I’m sure they’d love that,” said Helen. “As soon as we get downstairs, let’s propose it.”

Both women liked the suggestion. Aunt Rosemary had guessed their strategy and was appreciative of it.

“I’ll wash and dry the dishes,” Nancy offered when breakfast was over. “Miss Flora, why don’t you and Aunt Rosemary go outside right now and take advantage of this lovely sunshine?”

The frail, elderly woman smiled. There were deep circles under her eyes, indicating that she had had a sleepless night.

“And I’ll run the vacuum cleaner around and dust this first floor in less than half an hour,” Helen said merrily.

Her relatives caught the spirit of her enthusiasm and Miss Flora remarked, “I wish you girls lived here all the time. Despite our troubles, you have brought a feeling of gaiety back into our lives.”

Both girls smiled at the compliment. As soon as the two women had gone outdoors, the girls set to work with a will. At the end of the allotted half hour, the first floor of the mansion was spotless. Nancy and Helen next went to the second floor, quickly made the beds, and tidied the bathrooms.

“And now for that ghost!” said Helen, brandishing her flashlight.

Nancy took her own from a bureau drawer.

“Let’s see if we can figure out how to climb these attic stairs without making them creak,” Nancy suggested. “Knowing how may come in handy some time.”

This presented a real challenge. Every inch of each step was tried before the girls finally worked out a pattern to follow in ascending the stairway noiselessly.

Helen laughed, “This will certainly be a memory test, Nancy. I’ll rehearse our directions. First step, put your foot to the left near the wall. Second step, right center.Third step, against the right wall. I’ll need three feet to do that!”

Nancy laughed too. “For myself, I think I’ll skip the second step. Let’s see. On the fourth and fifth it’s all right to step in the center, but on the sixth you hug the left wall, on the seventh, the right wall—”

Helen interrupted. “But if you step on the eighth any place, it will creak. So you skip it.” “Nine, ten, and eleven are okay,” Nancy recalled. “But from there to fifteen at the top we’re in trouble.”

“Let’s see if I remember,” said Helen. “On twelve, you go left, then right, then right again.

How can you do that without a jump and losing your balance and tumbling down?” “How about skipping fourteen and then stretching as far as you can to reach the top one at the left where it doesn’t squeak,” Nancy replied. “Let’s go!”

She and Helen went back to the second floor and began what was meant to be a silent ascent. But both of them made so many mistakes at first the creaking was terrific. Finally, however, the girls had the silent spots memorized perfectly and went up noiselessly. Nancy clicked on her flashlight and swung it onto the nearest wood-paneled wall. Helen stared at it, then remarked, “This isn’t made of long panels from ceiling to floor. It’s built of small pieces.”

“That’s right,” said Nancy. “But see if you don’t agree with me that the spot back of the costume trunk near the chimney looks a little different. The grain doesn’t match the other wood.”

The girls crossed the attic and Nancy beamed her flashlight over the suspected paneling. “It does look different,” Helen said. “This could be a door, I suppose. But there’s no knob or other hardware on it.” She ran her finger over a section just above the floor, following the cracks at the edge of a four-by-two-and-a-half-foot space.

“If it’s a secret door,” said Nancy, “the knob is on the other side.” “How are we going to open it?” Helen questioned.

“We might try prying the door open,” Nancy proposed. “But first I want to test it.”

She tapped the entire panel with her knuckles. A look of disappointment came over her face. “There’s certainly no hollow space behind it,” she said.

“Let’s make sure,” said Helen. “Suppose I go downstairs and get a screw driver and hammer? We’ll see what happens when we drive the screw driver through this crack.” “Good idea, Helen.”

While she was gone, Nancy inspected the rest of the attic walls and floor. She did not find another spot which seemed suspicious. By this time Helen had returned with the tools. Inserting the screw driver into one of the cracks, she began to pound on the handle of it with the hammer.

Nancy watched hopefully. The screw driver went through the crack very easily but immediately met an obstruction on the other side. Helen pulled the screw driver out. “Nancy, you try your luck.”

The young sleuth picked a different spot, but the results were the same. There was no open space behind that portion of the attic wall.

“My hunch wasn’t so good,” said Nancy.

Helen suggested that they give up and go downstairs. “Anyway, I think the postman will be here soon.” She smiled. “I’m expecting a letter from Jim. Mother said she would forward all my mail.”

Nancy did not want to give up the search yet. But she nodded in agreement and waved her friend toward the stairs. Then the young detective sat down on the floor and cupped her chin in her hands. As she stared ahead, Nancy noticed that Helen, in her eagerness to meet the postman, had not bothered to go quietly down the attic steps. It sounded as if Helen had picked the squeakiest spot on each step!

Nancy heard Helen go out the front door and suddenly realized that she was in the big mansion all alone. “That may bring the ghost on a visit,” she thought. “If he is around, he may think I went outside with Helen! And I may learn where the secret opening is!” Nancy sat perfectly still, listening intently. Suddenly she flung her head up. Was it her imagination, or did she hear the creak of steps? She was not mistaken. Nancy strained her ears, trying to determine from where the sounds were coming.

“I’m sure they’re not from the attic stairs or the main staircase. And not the back stairway. Even if the ghost was in the kitchen and unlocked the door to the second floor, he’d know that the one at the top of the stairs was locked from the other side.”

Nancy’s heart suddenly gave a leap. She was positive that the creaking sounds were coming from somewhere behind the attic wall!

“A secret staircase!” she thought excitedly. “Maybe the ghost is entering the second floor!” Nancy waited until the sounds stopped, then she got to her feet, tiptoed noiselessly down the attic steps and looked around. She could hear nothing. Was the ghost standing quietly in one of the bedrooms? Probably Miss Flora’s?

Treading so lightly that she did not make a sound, Nancy peered into each room as she reached it. But no one was in any of them.

“Maybe he’s on the first floor!” Nancy thought.

She descended the main stairway, hugging the wall so she would not make a sound.

Reaching the first floor, Nancy peered into the parlor. No one was there. She looked in the library, the dining room, and the kitchen. She saw no one.

“Well, the ghost didn’t come into the house after all,” Nancy concluded. “He may have intended to, but changed his mind.”

She felt more certain than at any time, however, that there was a secret entrance to Twin Elms Mansion from a hidden stairway. But how to find it? Suddenly the young sleuth snapped her fingers. “I know what I’ll do! I’ll set a trap for that ghost!”

She reflected that he had taken jewelry, but those thefts had stopped. Apparently he was afraid to go to the second floor.

“I wonder if anything is missing from the first floor,” she mused. “Maybe he has taken silverware or helped himself to some food.”

Going to the back door, Nancy opened it and called to Helen, who was now seated in the garden with Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary. “What say we start lunch?” she called, not wishing to distress Miss Flora by bringing up the subject of the mystery.

“Okay,” said Helen. In a few moments she joined Nancy, who asked if her friend had received a letter.

Helen’s eyes sparkled. “I sure did. Oh, Nancy, I can hardly wait for Jim to get home!” Nancy smiled. “The way you describe him, I can hardly wait to see him myself.” Then she told Helen the real reason she had called her into the kitchen. She described the footsteps on what she was sure was a hidden, creaking stairway, then added, “If we discover that food or something else is missing we’ll know he’s been here again.”

Helen offered to inspect the flat silver. “I know approximately how many pieces should be in the buffet drawer,” she said.

“And I’ll look over the food supplies,” Nancy suggested. “I have a pretty good idea what was in the refrigerator and on the pantry shelf.”

It was not many minutes before each of the girls discovered articles missing. Helen said that nearly a dozen teaspoons were gone and Nancy figured that several cans of food, some eggs, and a quart of milk had been taken.

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