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CHAPTER XI A Tip from a Waitress

settles it l I’m going to River Heights at once and i talk to Mrs. Ernest Stonewell, the woman for j

whom she used to work.”

Nancy decided to tell Helen her plan, so the ] two girls went out to the patio where she was J reading. Nancy revealed her latest findings and J told of her proposed trip. “Want to come?” she asked Helen.

“No, thanks.” Helen chuckled. “You work better alone. What a clue this is1 Maybe you’ll comel back with the mystery solved!”

“Don’t count on that.” Nancy smiled. “Where is everybody?”

“John’s at the burned cottage with the explosives expert. Mrs. Willoughby and Maud are up-stairs.”

Nancy leaned toward Emily and said in a low voice, “I hope you won’t mind my asking, but does Maud Potter have anything to do with your not reporting the diamond theft?”

Emily sighed. “Well, yes. You’ve probably sensed, Nancy, that she seems to have some influence over Aunt Hazel.”

Helen’s eyes grew wide. “You mean Maud’s sort of-blackmailing her?”

The bride-to-be looked unhappy. “I’m really not sure.”

“And,” Nancy conjectured, “you’re afraid Maud has some knowledge of the diamonds that may involve your aunt if the theft is publicized?” “That’s the feeling I have.”

Before the girls could discuss the matter further, Maud herself came onto the patio. She sank into a chair. “Having a conference?” she asked sweetly.

“Yes,” Emily replied promptly. “Nancy’s going on a sleuthing trip to River Heights.”

“Oh?” Maud’s eyelids flickered. “You have what they call a hot clue’?” she asked Nancy.

“I hope so,” replied the young sleuth calmly. “Well, give my regards to your dad if you see him,” Maud said airily.

Nancy rose. “I’d better get started. I’ll pick up more clothes for you and me, Helen.” She laughed. “Then we can return yours, Em.”

Suddenly the group became aware that Jean Holmes, dressed in street clothes, stood in the doorway. She smiled timidly and said:

“Miss Drew, I heard you say that you’re going to River Heights. I need a few things I left in the room I shared in town with a girl friend.” She turned to Emily, and asked permission to accompany Nancy and get them.

“All right,” Emily said. “I trust you’ll return in time to serve supper?”

“Oh, yes, Miss Willoughby. I’ll take the afternoon bus back.” Nancy told Emily she herself probably would be back by evening.

“We’ll be on pins and needles until then,” Helen said.

Just before Nancy and Jean reached the convertible, Emily caught up to them. Drawing Nancy aside, she whispered, “I’ve been thinking -will you tell your father about my diamonds and the other incidents? Perhaps he can give you helpful advice. But please ask him to say nothing to the police, unless there’s no other way out.”

Nancy was delighted. She would feel much better if she could discuss this aspect of the case with her father.

In a few minutes she and Jean were headed for River Heights. Although Nancy had lost her handbag with wallet and driver’s license in the fire, Mr. Drew had obtained special permission for her to drive until her new license was mailed. Fortunately, he had had a key to her car in his key case, and had left it with her.

This is a lovely convertible, Jean spoke up. Nancy smiled as the car rode smoothly past farm land and woods. “Where did you work before coming to Lilac Inn, Jean?” she asked. “Many different places,” the girl replied. “Florida in the winter, sometimes, and in the summer, I come north.”

Later, as they neared River Heights, the waitress said abruptly:

“Miss Drew, I had another reason for asking to ride with you. I wanted to tell you someone at the inn is trying to make trouble for you!”

“What do you mean?” Nancy asked, as they reached the outskirts of River Heights.

Jean hesitated at first, then said she didn’t want to be accused of spying. “I think,” she said finally, “Mrs. Potter is up to something funny” “Why?”

Jean revealed that twice she had seen Maud going into Nancy’s room-yesterday, at the cottage, and then at the inn that morning.

“Really?” Nancy tried to appear nonchalant. “At what times?”

Jean was vague. She said that she had arrived at the inn shortly before lunch the previous day. “I was unpacking in my room,” Jean went on. “I looked out the window and saw Mrs. Potter enter your cottage.

“This morning,” she continued, “I was at the I looked down the hall in time to see Mrs. Potter’ lock your door.”

Nancy’s mind raced. Was Maud directly implL cated in the strange happenings at the inn? For what purpose had she entered the girls’ rooms?’ It struck Nancy as odd, however, that jean would inform on the woman who had helped her obtain a job. To the waitress she merely said, “Thank you for telling me.”

“You and Miss Corning were lucky that yo weren’t hurt in the cottage fire,” jean remarked “Yes, very lucky,” Nancy replied. Evidentl Emily had said nothing to the servants about a bomb being the real cause of the blaze. Nancy asked jean if she had ever met a girl named Mary Mason from Dockville. “Mary used to work at the inn.”

jean wrinkled her brow. “No, although the name is familiar. Perhaps I once met a Miss Mason at one of the places I’ve worked.” They were now entering the business section of River Heights. jean asked Nancy to let her off in the center of town. “I’m going to the optician’s first. Then I’ll go to my girl friend’s.” Nancy stopped near Burk’s Department Store. jean thanked her profusely and got out. The young sleuth drove to a nearby tearoom for a quick snack Then she continued on to Meadowbrook Lane, in an attractive residential section, where Mrs. Stonewell lived. Nancy soon spotted the number and stopped in front of an imposing Tudor-style home.

She hurried up to the front entrance and rang the doorbell. A maid answered. Nancy gave her name and asked to see Mrs. Stonewell. The caller was requested to take a seat in the living room.

A few minutes later Mrs. Stonewell, attractively dressed in a tailored sports suit, stepped into the room. With a gracious smile, she asked, “Is there something I can do for you, Miss Drew?”

“Yes, Mrs. Stonewell. I’m trying to trace a girl named Mary Mason,” Nancy explained. “I understand she worked for you.”

The woman’s smile vanished. “Let’s say I hired her. But I didn’t get much work from Mary Mason. I discharged her after a month.” She glanced at Nancy curiously. “You don’t want to hire her?”

“Oh, no,” Nancy replied. “She has some information I need. Do you know Mary’s home address?”

“No. She lived in while working for me,” said Mrs. Stonewell. “I do remember she occasionally visited a brother in Dockville. Whether or not she is living there, I can’t say. Nor do I know the street address.”

“One more question,” Nancy said. “Did you ever miss anything while Mary was working for you?”

“Not that I know of.”

She decided that when she returned to Lilac Inn later that day she would go by way of Dockville. Her next stop was at Helen’s house. Nancy reassured Mrs. Corning, who had read about the fire, of Helen’s well-being.

“Nancy,” Mrs. Corning said, “the newspaper didn’t state how the fire started. I suppose the usual carelessness-someone tossing away a lighted match.”

Nancy, inwardly relieved, replied that this was always a possibility. She did not mention the time bomb.

With additional clothes for Helen in her car, Nancy drove home. She found that Mr. Drew was out for the afternoon in connection with his case.

When Hannah heard Nancy’s account of the fire, she exclaimed, “Even on a pleasure trip, Nancy, danger follows you I” She looked at the girl knowingly. “And what about this twin of yours? Has she followed you to Lilac Inn?”

“Hannah, you’re becoming a detective,” Nancy accused fondly. “Seriously,” she added, “you guessed it. She even managed to fool a friend of Emily’s fianc6 who’s staying out there. But she vanished again.”

Hannah sighed. “I’ll certainly be glad when she’s caught.”

“I hope to do that soon,” Nancy stated. “After I pack some clothes, I’m going sleuthing in Dock-ville.” She explained about tracing Mary Mason.

“That’s a terrible place,” Hannah cried worriedly. “Oh, dear, I’d better go with you.” “Don’t worry,” said Nancy. “I’ll be safe in the daylight. When Dad gets back, please tell him where I’ve gone.”

Nancy quickly packed a suitcase. She also took along her spare set of skin-diving gear. Then, before leaving, she wrote her father a note telling the details of the jewelry theft.

When she reached Dockville later, Nancy glanced about in dismay. She was confronted with row upon row of dingy tenements. In which one did the suspect’s brother live?

Nancy stopped her convertible and inquired of a stout woman where she could find a family by the name of Mason. The woman shook her head, evidently not understanding English.

“I’ll try another block,” Nancy decided, and turned into a winding narrow street which led along the river front.

She decided to inquire again and pulled up to the curb. She was about to alight when she glanced in the rear-view mirror. Directly behind her was a red panel truck. It looked exactly like the stolen vehicle which had forced her off the road. No one was in it, but the motor was running. Nancy turned her head to get a better look at the truck.

At the same moment she saw a large rock hurtling through the air toward her open window.

CHAPTER XII A Daring Plan

BANGI The rock struck the door of Nancy s convertible, just as she ducked down. When Nancy cautiously raised her head a few seconds later, she looked all around to see if she could spot the rock thrower. No one was in sight. Nancy glanced into the rear-view mirror again. The red truck had disappearedl Had the truck driver thrown the rock? If it had struck her, she would have been badly injured. A peculiar coincidence, at the least, Nancy thought.

Quickly Nancy climbed out and examined her car door. The rock had made a dent, but there was no further damage. She determined to continue her search for Mary Mason, and hailed a grocer’s delivery truck which was coming down the street. When she asked the driver if he had seen the red truck, the man said No.

100

“Do you know where I might find someone here by the name of Mason?” Nancy inquired.

“Yes. Bud Mason. He lives in the next block, on Sixth Street,” the man replied. “I’ve made deliveries there. It’s number 12.”

Nancy thanked him. She drove along the river, and turned left on Sixth Street. The houses here were in better condition than the others she had seen in Dockville. Number twelve was a white cottage with flowers bordering the front path.

When Nancy rang the bell, the door was opened by a red-haired woman of about thirty-five. She had clear-cut features and wore heavy make-up. She wore a snug-fitting lavender dress.

Nancy introduced herself and said she was looking for a Miss Mary Mason who had worked at Lilac Inn.

“You’ve come to the right address,” the woman replied. “I’m Mary. Come in.”

“Thank you.” Nancy entered a room furnished with comfortable leather furniture, books, and several pictures of nautical scenes.

The woman eyed her caller curiously. She invited Nancy to sit down and asked, “What brings you here?”

Nancy explained that she was a friend of Emily Willoughby and was visiting at Lilac Inn. “Miss Willoughby tells me you left because the inn was haunted,” Nancy went on. “Since then, she’s been wondering what you meant. I said I’d try to find you and ask.”

Mary had listened attentively. Now she gave a high-pitched giggle. “So Miss Willoughby’s getting scared. It’s true-Lilac Inn is haunted” Mary proceeded to give Nancy a dramatic story of hearing footsteps at night when no one was around. She said that several times when she had been working late in the kitchen, a ghostly face had looked in the window.

“It’s a spooky old place” Mary shuddered. “I don’t know how I stood it-the grounds are so lonely and creepy at night. Besides, commuting to my brother’s here was too long a trip.”

Nancy wondered if she were on the wrong track after all. Perhaps Mary had left because of fright, and had wanted merely to find work closer to town.

The young sleuth looked around. “This is a pleasant home,” she said. “Have you always lived with your brother?”

Mary answered readily, “No, just since I returned to Dockville, two months ago. I worked down South during the winter, and before that, out West. I hadn’t seen Bud for a couple of years. When I came back here, he suggested I get a job nearby.” She paused. “Say, Miss Drew, how did you know I was in Dockville?” Nancy explained about her call on Mrs. Stone-well.

Mary scowled. “That fuss-budget wanted a slave, not a maid. I was glad when she fired me.”

Mary went on to say that after she left Lilac Inn, she had stayed here. “I’m keeping house for Bud until I find a really good deal.”

“Oh-by the way,” Nancy said casually, “the other day I found a note to the gardeners. I understand you printed it.”

For a fraction of a second Nancy was sure she detected a startled look on Mary’s face. Then the former waitress laughed heartily. “Oh, Miss Drew, isn’t that funny you should have found that?”

“Then you knew lilacs are called blue pipes’?” Nancy asked. “And what in the world did the message mean?”

After a short pause, Mary answered, “I don’t know. Someone asked me to write it.” “Who?”

“I don’t remember his name. I wasn’t there long, you know.”

Nancy went through the list of names of the gardeners, but Mary still insisted she did not remember who had asked her to print the message.

“Another thing,” said Nancy. “I phoned this house the other day and was told no Mary Mason who had worked at Lilac Inn was here.”

Mary Mason flushed. “I don’t know who answered the phone. Around here nobody calls me

Mary. That’s my business name. I’m Dotty Mae. My full name is Dorothy Mary.” “I see,” said Nancy. “Sorry.”

Mary stood up. “Hate to rush you, Miss Drew. But I’m er-expecting company.”

She accompanied Nancy to the door. The young sleuth said good-by and went to her car. She started the engine, glancing surreptitiously at the Masons’ cottage. Nancy plainly saw the window curtain move, as if someone were standing behind it, watching her.

As she drove away, Nancy reviewed the conversation. Mary Mason had seemed quite friendly, and sometimes a bit flighty. Nancy reflected that Mary’s explanation of the “blue pipes” note sounded logical, but that the woman’s whole story had been overly glib. She had, Nancy felt, not been entirely truthful.

“Why didn’t she want to tell me who asked her to write the note about blue pipes’?” Nancy’s hands gripped the wheel hard as a startling idea occurred to her. “She’s shielding someone.”

“Blue pipes” was being used as a signal-perhaps between persons at Lilac Inn and an outside accomplice. Were Mary Mason and a gardener two of them? And could Maud possibly be a third member of the group? Were they responsible for the diamond theft?

“They’re all familiar with the place,” Nancy reasoned, “and might have learned of the secret closet.”

If this were the case, she speculated, the three might have other assistants. “For instance,” Nancy thought, “the woman who bumped into me in Benton, whoever put the diamond in my purse, and the person who placed the bomb in our cottage.”

Nancy felt excitedly that her theory was worth following. She decided to return home and see if her father were there.

When Nancy arrived she was delighted to find Carson Drew at the desk in his study. The lawyer went over the whole case with his daughter, then shook his head in amazement. “This is a many-sided case you’ve tackled,” he remarked. “I’m inclined to agree that the mysteries at Lilac Inn and your impersonator are linked together, and that blue pipes’ is a signal of some kind.”

Mr. Drew leaned forward in his chair. “Of course,” he said, “Emily should report her entire story to the police. If Maud Potter does hold a threat over Mrs. Willoughby, she’ll be dealt with by the law.

“Frankly I’m more alarmed about the spear throwing and time bomb than any other angle to the case, Nancy,” Mr. Drew said somberly. “You and Helen are in constant danger.”

Nancy said she realized this. “I’ll be on my guard every minute,” she promised. “And keep my eyes and ears open for any more blue pipe’ messages.”

The young detective went across the room to hug her father. “Dad, it’s so helpful to talk everything over with you.”

Mr. Drew looked at his daughter keenly. “There’s something else on your mind. Want to tell me?”

He had observed a troubled expression come over Nancy’s pretty features. Now she replied, “Yes. Dad, what’s your impression of Sergeant John McBride?”

“I think he’s a fine, intelligent young man,” Mr. Drew said. “And seems to be quite taken with you,” he teased.

Nancy’s face remained serious. “I like him, too. But-well, Helen has a feeling he’s at the inn for some other purpose than just helping Em and Dick.”

Mr. Drew shook his head. “Nancy, don’t worry. John may have his own reasons for being at Lilac Inn. But I firmly believe he’s not mixed up in any jewel theft!”

With a smile Nancy said, “You’re such a good judge of character. I knew you’d relieve my mind.”

The lawyer then advised his daughter, despite Emily Willoughby’s concern, to phone Chief McGinnis and tell him the whole story.

“He can use his own judgment on how to pro

7 teed. Also, he can dismiss the police guard at our home.”

Nancy put in the call and gave the chief a detailed report, including the appearance of the stolen red truck in Dockville.

“I’ll notify the authorities there at once,” he said.

She inquired if there were police records of Dorothy Mary (Dotty Mae) Mason, Maud Potter, or any of the gardeners at Lilac Inn.

“I’ll check.” When the officer returned to the phone, he said, “No, Nancy. Nothing.”

She promised to keep in touch and hung up. The girl’s thoughts spun from subject to subject. Suddenly a daring plan popped into her head. “I’ll try it!” Nancy decided.

Again she picked up the telephone. This time she dialed Lilac Inn. Emily answered.

“I think I’m making progress,” Nancy told her friend. “I may not see you until tomorrow morning. Will you explain to everyone?”

“Of course.” Emily then said happily that Dick had arrived. Her fiance had learned from the explosives expert that the cottage fire definitely had been caused by a time bomb. The police were still working on the case.

Nancy said good-by, and mentally rehearsed her plan. “I’ve had sleuthing adventures before,” she thought. “But this will be the first time I’ve impersonated a ghost’”.

The Guard’s Mistake

WHEN Nancy confided to her father the idea of impersonating the ghostly woman in the lilac grove, Mr. Drew looked dubious.

“I think it’s risky, Nancy. And also, how do you know any of the gang is going to see you?” “I don’t. I only hope so. But, Dad, if I’m convincing enough, someone may call me by her name, and I may learn to whom she was signaling, without raising suspicion.”

Reluctantly Mr. Drew gave his consent. “If anything goes wrong, scream as loudly as you can.” “I will. But I intend to do a good acting job,” Nancy assured her father.

Right after supper she went to the attic and opened a storage trunk. From it Nancy took out a white evening dress, long-sleeved and flowing. A further search disclosed a black wig she had once used at a costume party, and a transparent white scarf.

“Just the props I need,” Nancy thought. Returning to her room, Nancy tried on the hairpiece. To her satisfaction it completely hid her own hair. Next, she wired pocket-size flashlights to the cuff of each sleeve of the gown. “These provide a glowing effect,” she thought. Nancy packed the wig and dress in her suitcase. Then she went downstairs and kissed her father and Hannah good-by.

“I wish you weren’t going back to Lilac Inn,” Hannah fretted.

“Now, Hannah,” said Mr. Drew, “you know Nancy wouldn’t give up any mystery until it’s solved.”

He then requested his daughter to telephone him the next morning. Nancy promised and left the house. She reached Benton at eight o’clock. Dusk was closing in, but it had to be considerably darker before Nancy could proceed to Lilac Inn.

She took a side road out of town. “Doris lives close to the inn,” she recalled. “I’ll drop in to see her.” Presently she drove into a dirt lane leading to the Drakes’ attractive white farmhouse.

She found Doris and her parents playing croquet on the front lawn. They greeted her cordially.

“About time you came to call,” Doris scolded teasingly. “Nancy, any, more news about your double?”

“Well, yes.” Nancy smiled. “It’s turned into quite a mystery, which I’m trying to solve.” “I understand. Detective at work,” Doris guessed wisely.

Nancy then asked the Drakes if they knew a fisherman in the vicinity who wore his hair in a crew cut. They shook their heads.

“Does anyone own the dock between yours and the one at Lilac Inn?” Nancy questioned.

Mr. Drake replied that there was no house on the adjoining property. He understood the dock had been abandoned for years.

By the time Nancy took her leave and drew near the inn, it was dark. She decided to park in the apple orchard. As the girl detective got out of her car she felt raindrops. She took a plastic coat with attached hood from the trunk of her convertible and put it on. Then, carrying her suitcase, she dashed toward the inn.

When she reached it, Nancy circled the building cautiously, not wishing to be seen by anyone. The old inn was ablaze with lights. As Nancy approached the recreation room she heard dance music.

She crept up to the shrubbery and peered in. Helen and John were dancing, and Emily’s partner was a young man of medium build with reddish-brown hair and a rather serious expression.

“That must be Dick,” Nancy surmised. She observed that Maud, Mrs. Willoughby, and Mr.

Daly were talking in a far corner of the room. “I’m glad they are having fun,” Nancy thought, continuing around the inn. There was no sign near the building of the guard her father had obtained. No doubt he was down near the river. Nancy walked to the guest cottages, hoping that one might not be locked. Nancy tried the doors and finally came to one that opened.

“Brrrr!” she shivered, stepping into the chilly, damp room. Nancy’s eyes quickly became accustomed to the gloom. The place had no furniture but a chair. “I’ll have plenty of time to get ready. The ghost won’t be out until the inn is dark. I may as well rest and go over my act,” she thought, and sat down on the chair. “I only hope my masquerade will bring results.”

The time crept by slowly, but finally Nancy saw by the luminous dial of her watch that it was eleven-thirty. She looked out the window. The rain had stopped and a few stars twinkled above.

All the lights in the inn were out. She noticed that John’s cottage, too, was in darkness. “That’s funny. He must have come back, but I haven’t heard any footsteps since I’ve been here,” Nancy mused. “Wonder where he is.”

She opened her suitcase and lifted out the dress and wig. She put them on and took a small flashlight from her handbag.

Cautiously the masquerader made her way to the lilac grove, taking care not to stumble over roots or twigs. As she drew near it, Nancy thought she heard the distant put-put of a motorboat. But the sound soon faded away.

An owl hooted nearby. The darkness beneath ■ the overhanging trees seemed forbidding. Sud- ] denly Nancy felt panicky, but resolutely she put aside her fears. She clicked on the small flash- ; lights attached to her sleeves and walked toward the spot where Helen had been struck. Dramatically, Nancy waved her arms back and forth.

“I wonder if someone will reply,” she thought. At the same moment she heard a noise in the underbrush. A small animal darted across her path, followed by the crunch of footsteps. Quickly extinguishing her lights, Nancy ducked behind a tall lilac.

The girl’s heart pounded. A figure in glowing white moved slowly toward her hiding place. At this moment the moon came out from behind a cloud, illuminating the grove.

Nancy gasped. The other girl was in a long trailing gown. But Nancy felt as though she were looking into a mirror. The young woman’s face seemed identical to Nancy’s and she wore her titian-blond hair in exactly the same fashion Nancy usually did.

“My impersonator” Nancy cried out involuntarily.

The strange woman stopped abruptly. She scanned the area with her eyes.

Nancy came to a 62 THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN

Now Nancy flashed Emily a warning glance and answered, “Had an interesting date.”

53

Emily caught on quickly. She turned to Carl Bard. “It’s all right. This is Nancy Drew.” The guard nodded. “I’m convinced. But-“ Before he had a chance to say anything more, Nancy said with emphasis, “I’ll explain everything later.”

The man shrugged, said good night, and left. “Did you have a good time this evening, Nancy?” asked Emily with a twinkle.

“I always do,” Nancy replied airily, for Maud’s benefit.

Just then a pleasant voice broke in, “Somebody arriving at this late hour?”

Dick Farnham came forward to join them. Emily smilingly introduced her fiance to Nancy. “I certainly appreciate all you’ve done to help us,” Dick told Nancy. “It’s a lucky thing you came to Lilac Inn.”

“Now we’d all better get some rest,” Emily said, and everyone agreed.

Nancy was first to reach the stairway. As she stepped up, her foot caught in the hem of her gown. She stumbled, and the black wig fell from her sleeve to the floor.

Maud glared at it. “Hm” she said disdainfully. “Have you been up to some sleuthing trick?” The secret of Nancy having masqueraded on the grounds was likely to be guessed by this busybody CHAPTER XIV Earthquake Scare

“TIRED of being a blonde, Nancy?” Maud asked sarcastically. “Or are you the mysterious ghost of Lilac Inn?”

Emily, although at first surprised, sensed that Nancy had used the wig for a good reason. With a wink at Dick, she said, “Nonsense. I’ll bet Nancy’s date took her to a masquerade dance.”

The young sleuth was grateful for Emily’s quick thinking. Nancy waited for another outburst from Maud, but none came. Instead, the unpleasant woman said in a bored tone, “I think masquerades are so childish. Well, I’m going to bed.” She said good night and went upstairs. Nancy now turned to the engaged couple. “Are you both too tired to stay up a little longer?” Dick grinned. “Not if I’m going to hear why one of Emily’s pretty bridesmaids-to-be is masquerading as Cinderella. Tell me, Nancy, is it a new style to wear flashlights on your dress sleeves?”

“What!” Emily cried, and examined Nancy’s sleeves. “Why, Nancy, what on earth have you been up to?”

“Can we talk some place where we won’t be overheard?” Nancy requested. Dick led the way to his office.

Once inside, Nancy told of her sleuthing activities and experiences that day and night. “I’m glad you helped me along with that dance’ story, Emily. Only Dad and the guard and you two know where I’ve been.” Dick spoke up earnestly, “You might be risking your life for us, Nancy. Lilac Inn isn’t worth that.” Nancy set her jaw. “I must outwit my impersonator before she outwits me. And if I do, I’m positive I’ll olve the mysteries of this place, too.” Dick nodded understandingly. He said Emily had told ham of all he odd happenings at Lilac Inn.

“I also explained to Dick about my fear that Maud has some hold over Aunt Hazel,” Emily said, adding hat she hesitated to ask her aunt outright unless necessary.

“Of course,” Nancy said. “Mrs. Willoughby is upset as it is.’q

Emily said grimly, “If I find out Maud is threatening my aunt, she’ll regret id” The three young people started upstairs once more. On the way, Nancy asked if Mary Mason and the gardeners had brought references when they came to Lilac Inn.

“Why, yes,” Emily answered. “But at the time, Dick and I were so busy with work here, we didn’t check them until later. They seemed all right.”

The trio said good night, and Nancy entered her room. Helen was sleeping soundly, and did not awaken. It seemed to the young sleuth that her own eyes had just closed when she was awakened by Helen calling her name frantically.

“Nancyl Nancyl Wake upl There’s an earth-quake”

“What?” Nancy sat up in bed. As she did the startled girl noticed that her bed was indeed shaking slightly.

“Quick!” Helen urged. “Let’s get out of here before the ceilings fall down”

As the girls ran to the hall, they met Dick, Emily, Mr. Daly, Mrs. Willoughby, and Maud. All cried out that they too had felt the vibrations, which now had ceased.

“This is very strange,” Dick said. “This isn’t earthquake territory.”

On a hunch, Nancy suggested they telephone ththe Benton State Police and find out e tremors were widespread. Dick made the call and with a puzzled expression reported that apparently the disturbance was confined to Lilac Inn.

Maud shrieked, “The building’s falling apard We’d better get out of here”

“Go if you want to,” Emily said sharply. “But the shaking has stopped and the building is still intact.”

“I’ll make an investigation,” Dick offered. “There may be something wrong with the foundation.” He suggested that Nancy and Mr. Daly accompany him to the cellar. “The rest of you wait here.”

None of the three discovered anything out of the ordinary in the basement.

Nancy smiled in relief. “Instead of falling down this building seems to be unusually sturdy.” Mr. Daly, however, was extremely nervous. “This has never happened before,” he said. “Dick, I strongly advise you to give up the inn. It’s-it’s just not safe here any more.”

Emily’s fiance shook his head, saying that he, like Nancy, was more determined than ever to solve the mysteries at Lilac Inn. The trio went back to the second floor and reassured the others.

“Are you all sure you never felt a similar vibration before?” Dick asked. “Shaking like that used to happen to our house when a very heavy truck went by.”

“Maybe that’s what happened this time,” Helen said philosophically. “Let’s go back to bed.” Nancy was not convinced by this explanation. Remembering the explosion and fire caused by the time bomb, she wondered if someone had planted an explosive underground to try to destroy or at least weaken Lilac Inn.

“Nancy,” said Helen, when the girls were once more in bed, “why did you change your mind and come back to the inn tonight?”

When she heard about Nancy’s masquerade in the lilac grove and its results, she praised her friend. “Next time, though, don’t try such a risky thing alone,” Helen scolded.

Nancy was almost asleep when a sudden thought struck her. Why had the “ghost” been titianhaired this time, instead of brunette?

When the girls went into the dining room the next morning, the other young people, Maud, and Mrs. Willoughby were already eating.

“Welcome back, Nancy,” said John, grinning. “How’s my beautiful sleuthing skin diver?” “Ready to flip!” gibed Nancy.

Maud looked up from her grapefruit. “Will you go skin diving with a wig on?” she asked with an attempt to be facetious.

Nancy was slightly annoyed but gave no sign of this. She hoped Maud had not spread word around the inn of the wig episode.

Breakfast over, Nancy returned her car to the parking lot and then sought out Emily privately. She asked whether Maud had been gossiping about events of the previous evening. Emily said she was sure this was the case.

“Tell me, Emily,” Nancy said, “how much do you know of Maud’s background?”

“Very little. Only that Aunt Hazel met her about a year ago at a social gathering in River Heights. They became friendly. The next thing I heard was that Maud was going out West. Then, about a month ago, she showed up here. Aunt Hazel thought she would make a good social director, and Dick and I engaged her.”

“Maud can be pleasant,” Nancy commented, “and she does have musical talent. I really can’t figure her out.” To herself, Nancy conjectured on the possibility of Maud’s using her position as a cover-up.

The young detective left the inn presently to do some sleuthing in the lilac grove. She met John part way there.

“I didn’t want to mention it at breakfast, Nancy,” he said, “but I’d like to see the exact site of your masquerade. Emily and Dick told me a little about it.”

“I’ll be glad to show you.” Nancy led him to the lilac grove. She described vividly her encounter with her double. John listened intently.

“Nancy, you were in a dangerous spot. Maybe it’s a lucky thing Carl Bard scared your impersonator away.”

Nancy did not agree. “The sooner she is caught, the better. I must say, she does look much like me. I don’t wonder you were fooled.”

John laughed. “I think I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. I much prefer the real Nancy.”

Nancy blushed at his compliment. As the two looked about the lilac grove, Nancy saw a tiny object glinting in the sun. She picked it up. The object was of steel and shaped something like a can opener, except that there was a tiny wheel at the end.

“What’s this?” she asked John.

He took the little device and stared at it. “I know where it belongs,” he said. “I’ll return it.” John put the object in his pocket, and Nancy had the feeling he had deliberately evaded her question.

“I wonder if there are any distinguishing footprints,” he said, changing the subject.

Nancy frowned as she looked at the soft earth There was a print-a peculiar one which she rec ognized-clearly outlined. It had been made by skin diver’s flipper. Nancy’s mind flashed back t the night before, when she had left for the lila grove. John’s cottage had been dark. Maybe he ha been sleeping. If not, where had he been?

“John,” she said, looking the young ma squarely in the eye, “were you skin diving las night?”

“Tell me, Emily,” Nancy said, “how much do you know of Maud’s background?”

“Very little. Only that Aunt Hazel met her about a year ago at a social gathering in River Heights. They became friendly. The next thing I heard was that Maud was going out West. Then, about a month ago, she showed up here. Aunt Hazel thought she would make a good social director, and Dick and I engaged her.”

“Maud can be pleasant,” Nancy commented, “and she does have musical talent. I really can’t figure her out.” To herself, Nancy conjectured on the possibility of Maud’s using her position as a cover-up.

The young detective left the inn presently to do some sleuthing in the lilac grove. She met John part way there.

“I didn’t want to mention it at breakfast, Nancy,” he said, “but I’d like to see the exact site of your masquerade. Emily and Dick told me a little about it.”

“I’ll be glad to show you.” Nancy led him to the lilac grove. She described vividly her encounter with her double. John listened intently.

“Nancy, you were in a dangerous spot. Maybe it’s a lucky thing Carl Bard scared your impersonator away.”

Nancy did not agree. “The sooner she is caught, the better. I must say, she does look much like me. I don’t wonder you were fooled.”

John laughed. “I think I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. I much prefer the real Nancy.”

Nancy blushed at his compliment. As the two looked about the lilac grove, Nancy saw a tiny object glinting in the sun. She picked it up. The object was of steel and shaped something like a can opener, except that there was a tiny wheel at the end.

“What’s this?” she asked John.

He took the little device and stared at it. “I know where it belongs,” he said. “I’ll return it.” John put the object in his pocket, and Nancy had the feeling he had deliberately evaded her question.

“I wonder if there are any distinguishing footprints,” he said, changing the subject.

Nancy frowned as she looked at the soft earth There was a print-a peculiar one which she rec ognized-clearly outlined. It had been made by skin diver’s flipper. Nancy’s mind flashed back t the night before, when she had left for the lila grove. John’s cottage had been dark. Maybe he ha been sleeping. If not, where had he been?

“John,” she said, looking the young ma squarely in the eye, “were you skin diving las night?”

The two returned to the inn. Nancy went first to the phone and called her father. Since she did not want to mention specific details in case someone was eavesdropping, she merely told him that “last night’s meeting was most interesting.” “I understand,” Mr. Drew said.

“Also, Dad, is it all right if I go skin diving? John will accompany me.”

Mr. Drew gave his permission. “Perhaps you’ll see some unusual fish,” he added meaningfully. “Could be, Dad. I’ll let you know.”

After Nancy had said good-by, she and John confided their plan and the reason for it to Helen, Emily, and Dick. “All right,” said Emily worriedly, “but watch out for spear throwers.”

Soon Nancy and John, ready for skin diving, were back at the riverbank. They had decided to search underwater from the area of the flipper prints to the place Nancy had spotted the sharklike object.

They adjusted their face plates and tanks, and then they descended. Down-down they went, finally reaching the muddy bottom.

Their eyes darted here and there, observing schools of little fish; but nothing out of the ordinary came to sight. Nancy and John continued on, until they reached the place where Nancy had been before. They linked hands and walked cautiously along the river bottom.

Nancy pointed out the rocky overhang from which she had seen the shark shape projecting. John nodded.

To Nancy’s disappointment, there was no sign of anything resembling the mysterious object. What had it been, she puzzled? A sunken boat that might have since drifted away?

Suddenly John stumbled and dropped Nancy’s hand. Startled, she saw that his foot was wedged between two rocks obscured by weeds. He bent down and tugged, but to no avail.

At once Nancy went to his assistance. First, she pulled away the plant life surrounding the rocks. Then gently she tried to ease John’s foot loose. It would not budge.

Nancy worked desperately to dislodge one of the rocks. Finally, with John’s help, she succeeded in moving one of the stones. John’s foot was freel Exhausted, the couple rose to the surface and swam toward shore, gulping in fresh air. As soon as they sat down on the bank, John thanked Nancy for coming to his rescue. “You’re a wonderful partner to have around, Nancy-sleuthing or skin diving,” he said.

Nancy smiled. “Thanks, John. Let’s have a look at your foot and see if it’s injured.” John sighed. “Yes, Nurse.”

They found that his foot was merely scraped. He and Nancy went underwater again to do some more sleuthing. But they uncovered nothing suspicious. Baffled, they swam back to their starting point and walked toward the inn.

On the way, Nancy saw Gil Gary trimming a hedge nearby. She and John went over to him. “Do you happen to know anyone else around here who skin-dives, Gil?” Nancy asked.

The gardener did not look up, and continued his trimming. “Naw,” he muttered. “River bottom’s too muddy. It-“

He broke off. Nancy felt a surge of excitement. Why did Gil assume she was referring to the river? And did he know of its muddy condition from personal experience? Why had he not finished his answer? “I suppose,” she said, “some people prefer to travel by canoe.” Nancy looked directly at the dock where one of the inn’s canoes was tied up. “S’pose so,” Gil replied shortly.

John now stepped forward. “By the way, Gil, have you or Hank noticed any more tools missing lately?”

“Naw.” The gardener shook his head.

John shrugged casually. “Just wondered, because Miss Drew and I came across a funny gadget this morning. Sort of like a can opener. Sound familiar?”

“No” the gardener snapped. He flung his shears to the ground. “I’m goin’ for lunch,” he said, and retreated hastily.

Nancy and John exchanged triumphant glances.

“He’s nervous about something, all right,” John said.

“He certainly doesn’t act like an innocent person,” Nancy reasoned.

There was just time before luncheon for Nancy and John to report in private to their three young friends.

When Dick heard of the gardener’s reaction to Nancy’s queries, he frowned. “Maybe I should have a talk with him myself,” he said.

Nancy advised against this action for the present. “If Gil is connected with the diamond theft, we may learn through him who else is involved,” she pointed out. “And, perhaps, the identity of my double.”

“You mean, all the culprits might be trapped at once?” Helen asked, and Nancy nodded.

As Nancy sat down at the table with the others, Jean came over. “Thanks again for the ride, Miss Drew,” she said in her shy way. “It was real helpful.”

At this moment Maud Potter entered the room. Jean quickly bent over and whispered to Nancy, “Don’t forged Watch out for that troublemaker.”

Nancy did not know what to think. She disliked Maud, but felt it was unfair to accept Jean’s claim without proof. “Don’t trust an informer too far,” her father had once said.

The social director took her place. Looking at Emily, she announced, “Your aunt has a splitting headache and won’t be down.” “Oh, poor dear.” Emily jumped up. “I’ll go see-“

“I wouldn’t disturb her,” Maud interrupted officiously. “She’ll feel better after some rest.” Emily’s eyes blazed. “If I want to see my aunt, Maud, I shall. I’m sick and tired of your meddling. Dick and I are paying you to be social director-and-and nothing else” There was dead silence at the girl’s outburst. Then Maud gasped. “We’ll That’s all the thanks I get.”

“Thanks for what” Emily stormed. “Keeping Aunt Hazel under your thumb and being unpleasant to my guests?”

By now everyone in the dining room-waitresses and patrons-were staring in Emily’s direction. Dick tried to intervene. “Em, calm down,” he begged. “We’ll discuss it later.”

But Emily, overwrought, paid no attention. “I don’t care. I’ll give up Lilac Inn rather than see Aunt Hazel unhappy. I wouldn’t be surprised, Maud Potter, if you’re responsible for the awful things that have happened here” An almost bewildered look came over Maud’s flushed face. She started to protest, “I most certainly did not-“

Emily did not allow her to finish. “Further

13 more,” the girl went on, “I’m going to notify the

police about all my suspicions regarding the diamonds immediately.”

At this point Nancy happened to notice that Jean Holmes was taking in the scene with avid interest. For a fleeting moment the sleuth detected a hard, calculating look replacing Jean’s usually shy expression. But the next moment the waitress picked up a tray and went toward the kitchen.

In the meantime, Maud had also risen. “By all means call the police. It’s about time they learn the truth,” she said, with a scornful glance at Nancy. Declaring she had lost her appetite, the woman left the room.

Pale and trembling, Emily sat down. “I’m sorry,” she said weakly. “I just couldn’t take Maud’s arrogance another minute.”

“I don’t blame you,” Helen spoke up sympathetically, then whispered, “At least Maud didn’t act as if she were mixed up with the theft of the diamonds.”

“That’s right,” Dick conceded. “But where do we go from here? Unless this mystery’s cleared up, we may not be able to open the inn in July. Also,” he added glumly, “Emily and I might have to postpone our wedding.” “Oh, no” Emily wailed.

Dick said he could foresee no other course of action. His funds were low, and if he and Emily were to make a success of the resort, the necessary outdoor work must be completed. A pool and tennis courts, yet to be built, had been especially featured in his publicity campaign.

“I’ve already mailed out thousands of brochures,” he said.

“Yes, and we’re booked almost solid for summer reservations,” Emily said unhappily. “Oh, Nancy, what shall we do? I hate to give up hope of getting my diamonds back.”

Nancy replied firmly, “I’m not giving up. If you agree, Emily and Dick, there are a few more angles of this case I want to investigate. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell Lieutenant Brice the whole story.”

The engaged couple readily consented. “Nothing matters now except finding out the truth,” Emily said.

After lunch Nancy drove to Benton. For privacy, she telephoned the State Police officer from a booth in the drugstore there. When Nancy had finished her account, he assured her he would do all he could to turn up possible new leads to Nancy’s impersonator. Then Nancy called Chief McGinnis. The typed envelope, he said, had brought no results.

“I’ll confer with Lieutenant Brice about happenings at Lilac Inn. By the way, no luck yet in finding the stolen truck.”

Nancy’s next call was to her father. Mr. Drew confessed alarm upon hearing the details of his daughter’s meeting with her double. “No telling what she and her accomplices may be up to,” he warned. “But whatever you do, Nancy, don’t overstep anyone’s legal rights.” “I’ll remember.”

By the time Nancy returned to the inn, it was late afternoon. The sky had filled with black clouds, and the air was close and oppressive. “There’s going to be a thunderstorm,” Nancy thought as she entered the lobby.

No one was in sight. But just then Mr. Daly came from his office. He said that nothing had been found to account for the quakelike vibrations.

“I’m afraid, Mr. Daly,” Nancy said, “that the cause is man-made. How, I don’t know yet.” The former owner of the inn was shocked. “To think this fine building must endure such treatment” He told Nancy that the inn had been built in 1760 by an English family, and had catered to both stagecoach and river travelers. The inn had passed from one generation of the original family to the next. “Some people said that Lilac Inn was a refuge for slaves who had escaped from the South.”

“Maybe that’s why the secret room was built,” Nancy remarked. “Who owned the inn previous to you?” she asked.

“A Spaniard named Ron Carioca who’d lived in the West Indies. It was he who planted the beautiful lilac tree-for good luck-outside the front entrance.”

Just then Mr. Daly’s phone rang, and he excused himself to answer it. Nancy walked on into the dining room and looked out the bay window. The sky was getting darker each minute.

“Oh, hello, Miss Drew.” The voice was Jean Holmes’. She carried a large vase filled with yellow iris and reddish-purple lilacs, which she set on the window sill.

“You seem to like flowers, Jean,” Nancy observed. “That’s a pretty combination: iris and blue pipes.’ “

“‘Blue pipes’?” Jean echoed. “What made you use that expression?”

“It’s different,” Nancy said nonchalantly. Did the waitress seem suddenly ill at ease, or was it Nancy’s imagination? Before the young sleuth could decide, there was a loud clap of thunder, followed by the banging of several shutters. As Jean and Mr. Daly hurried to shut the diningroom windows, Nancy saw John and Dick dash across the side lawn toward the inn.

Rain came pouring down in silvery sheets. There was another resounding thunderclap, then a vivid flash of lightning. A splintering, crashing sound followed.

“Oh” Jean shrieked. “The inn’s been struck”

CHAPTER XVI A Letter

THE crash had come from the front of the inn. Everyone raced through the lobby to peer outside.

“Oh” Nancy cried. “The historic lilac tree is down.” The lovely “tree of good fortune” had fallen onto the lawn, splintered and charred. “More bad luck” Emily said mournfully. Suddenly Maud burst out, “This is the last straw! I’m fed up with a place full of thieves, weird noises, bombs, a trembling building- I quit.”

She turned a scathing look on Mrs. Willoughby. “You got me into this. Thanks for nothing I’ve found a better job on my own” Emily’s face was expressionless as Maud snapped open her purse and fumbled through its contents. She drew out a letter and flourished it. “This is an offer of a position I received today from the Hotel Claymore in River Heights. I’ve already accepted it,” Maud stated. “Emily, I didn’t go to the employment agency just to find you a waitress, but to find a decent job for myself. But I asked the manager not to say I had been there.”

With dignity Emily said, “Maud, Dick will write a check for whatever salary we owe you.” With a triumphant air Maud marched upstairs. Emily looked around anxiously. The waitresses and cooks had gathered in a corner of the hall. Obviously they had not missed a word of what had been said.

Nancy sensed what her friend was thinking: that the employees were probably suspicious about the fire. Now that Maud had mentioned the bomb, all of them might become alarmed enough to give notice. Prospects for Lilac Inn’s success would indeed be dim.

“I must help Em and Dick before it’s too late,” Nancy told herself determinedly.

As the rain abated and the sky began to brighten, the men went outside to examine the fallen lilac. Nancy now turned to Mrs. Willoughby, who seemed almost in a daze. “Perhaps you’d better sit down and rest,” she said kindly.

Emily’s aunt gave a great sigh. “I will. Please come with me to Emily’s office,” she asked the three girls.

When they were seated, Emily said, “Aunt Ha zel, was Maud Potter threatening you in some way?” “I’m afraid so,” Mrs. Willoughby replied wearily. “Actually I believe she wouldn’t have carried it out. But I couldn’t be sure-“ To the girls’ dismay, the woman broke down and sobbed. Nancy patted her shoulder. “Won’t you tell us about it?”

Regaining composure, Mrs. Willoughby nodded. “I feel terrible. When I brought Maud here, I thought I was helping Emily and Dick. But it’s turned out just the opposite.

“Anyhow,” she went on, “I met Maud a year ago at a party in River Heights. We became friendly-attended the theater and so forth. Maud seemed very pleasant and good company at the time. And I also felt sorry for her.”

“Sorry?” Helen echoed. Mrs. Willoughby explained that Maud’s husband had died several years before, leaving her penniless. Since then, she had worked at various resorts, but not very long at any one.

“When Maud heard about Lilac Inn, she persuaded me that, with her experience, she’d be ideal as social director. But soon after her arrival here, she asked me to lend her a large sum of money-claimed to have a lot of unpaid bills which her salary wouldn’t cover. Maud became angry when I refused, but she continued her demands for money.”

Emily interrupted, “Aunt Hazel, why didn’t you tell us she was bothering you? Dick would have asked her to leave.”

“Maud insinuated that if I tried to force her to leave, she would say that-that I had stolen your diamonds, Emily, by getting them from the bank weeks ago, and substituting the fake stones” “How dreadful” Nancy cried out, and Emily added fiercely, “That awful womanl But, Aunt Hazel, we never would have believed her.”

“I know,” Mrs. Willoughby said ruefully. “But with so many strange things happening, I guess I wasn’t thinking logically.”

Nancy had one more question to clear up regarding Maud Potter. She decided to mention Jean Holmes’ warning about the woman.

“Did any of you notice Maud going into our cottage the day of the fire?” Nancy asked. “Or our room here?”

No one had. Furthermore, Mrs. Willoughby added, “I believe Jean must have been mistaken. When Maud wasn’t with us, she stayed in her room typing. She probably was writing letters of application.”

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