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CHAPTER I

A Strange Fragrance

“THAT Oriental-looking clerk in the perfume shop certainly acted mysterious,” Bess Marvin declared, as she and her two friends ended their shopping trip and hurried down the street to the railroad station.

“Yes,” Nancy Drew answered thoughtfully. “I wonder why she didn’t want you to buy that bottle of Blue Jade?”

“The price would have discouraged me,” spoke up Bess’s cousin, dark-haired George Fayne. Her boyish name fitted her slim build and straightforward, breezy manner. “Twenty dollars an ounce!” Blond, pretty Bess, who had a love for feminine luxuries, laughed. “I was extravagant, but I just couldn’t resist such yummy perfume. After all, Dad gave me money to buy something frivolous, so I did!” Nancy by this time was some distance ahead. “Hurry, girls, or we’ll miss the next train to River Heights!” In her active life the attractive, titian-haired young sleuth had learned that being on time was important.

The three eighteen-year-old girls continued their frantic pace until the railroad station finally came into view.

Once at the station, they set down their packages to rest their arms. “Whew!” Bess sighed, looking at her watch. “I didn’t think we’d make it, but we have two minutes to spare. And this would be one of July’s hottest days!” Nancy was pensive, still contemplating their encounter with the mysterious woman in the Oriental perfume shop. She had realized the Blue Jade was much too expensive, and the unwillingness of the young woman to part with it had stimulated her interest. Instinct had told Nancy that there must be some special reason why the saleswoman had been so reluctant to sell the Blue Jade.

Then another idea struck her. “You know,” she said aloud, “it’s possible that saleswoman deliberately raised the price of the perfume.” George frowned. “But why? You’d think she’d be thrilled to make such a good sale.”

“Yes,” Nancy agreed. “That’s what perplexes me. There’s something very strange about it and I’d certainly like to know what it is!” “Oh, Nancy,” teased George, “there you go again, dreaming up another mystery!”

Nancy’s blue eyes sparkled as she thought of the prospect. The young sleuth had already solved several mysteries, some of them for her father, Carson Drew, a famous criminal lawyer. Among the cases on which Nancy had worked were The Secret in the Old Clock and The Secret of Shadow Ranch.

The girls heard the train approaching the station. As it came to a halt they quickly gathered up their packages and hurried aboard.

“What a day!” Bess exclaimed as she pushed on through the cars. The train was crowded, and the girls walked through several cars before they found any vacant seats.

George and Bess began discussing their many purchases. Bess gloated in particular over the bottle of exotic perfume. Even though the package was wrapped, it gave off a slight fragrance which was very pleasant.

George took a quick inventory of their purchases, then laughed. “Bess, it’s a good thing we got you to leave that last department store or you wouldn’t have had enough money left to buy your ticket home,” she stated bluntly. “You should practice self-control, the way I do.” “Self-control!” Bess retorted. “I suppose you call a new hat, two dresses, three pairs of stockings, and a handbag self-control!” George mustered a smile and decided to drop the subject.

Nancy leaned her head back against the cushion, and as she relaxed, studied the faces of the nearby passengers. She thought that the thin, sweet-looking girl who occupied the seat just opposite looked very tired, worried, and even ill. Nancy judged the girl to be her own age.

“Why are you so quiet, Nancy?” Bess demanded suddenly.

“Just resting,” Nancy returned.

She did not tell her friends that she had become interested in the nearby passenger, for George and Bess often teased her about her habit of scrutinizing strange faces. However, it was Nancy’s lively interest in people that was largely responsible for involving her in unusual adventures, and she was always on the alert for a new mystery.

Bess eyed her perfume package longingly and finally ripped off the paper. “I can’t stand it any longer.” She sighed. “I must try some of this delicious-smelling stuff!” She opened the bottle and dabbed a couple of drops behind each ear. Then she offered it to George. “Try some. It’s really lovely—makes me think I’m in the mystic Orient.” George could not keep from making a face. “No thank you!” she replied firmly. “It’s not my type!”

Nancy and Bess laughed. Then Bess offered some to Nancy, who accepted willingly. Bess again took out the stopper and was leaning over to put some perfume on Nancy when the train lurched and jogged her arm.

“Oh!” Bess cried in horror. The perfume sprayed over Nancy, as the bottle fell to the floor.

“Such a waste of money!” George muttered as she picked up the half-empty container.

“What a shame!” Nancy exclaimed. “It’s your perfume, Bess, and now I have a lot of it on me.”

Bess groaned. “I should’ve waited till I was home to open the bottle. I’m lucky there’s some left!” Carefully she placed the small vial in her handbag.

By now the concentrated odor of Blue Jade had permeated the car, and passengers in nearby seats flung open the windows.

“I’m glad we’re getting off at the next stop.” Nancy giggled. “Everyone is laughing at us.”

Nancy had become so engrossed with the spilled perfume that she had forgotten about the pale young woman who occupied the opposite seat. Now, as Nancy turned her head, she was startled to see that the girl had slumped down in a dejected heap.

“She’s fainted!” Nancy exclaimed, moving quickly across the aisle.

She shook the girl gently, but there was no response from the frail figure.

“Bess! Ask if there is a doctor in the car!” Nancy cried urgently.

By this time other passengers in the car were aware that something had happened, and were crowding about, asking unnecessary questions and getting in the way. Nancy politely asked them to move back.

There did not appear to be a doctor in the coach, but as Nancy rubbed the girl’s wrists, she was relieved to see that she was showing signs of recovering consciousness.

George quickly raised the window so that the fresh air fanned the girl’s face. Leaning against the seat, she looked deathly pale.

“What can I do?” George asked.

“Stay here while I get some water,” Nancy answered. “She’s coming around now. I think she’ll be all right in a few minutes.” Nancy hurried to the water cooler at the far end of the car. As she was trying to fill the paper cup, a man who had been standing near the doorway came toward her. He made a pretense of waiting his turn to get a drink, yet she realized by the intent look on his face that something had startled him. He was deliberately studying her! Was it because of the perfume? She fairly reeked with it!

Nancy was not prepared, however, for what came next. The man edged closer to her, glanced quickly about to see that no one was close by, and muttered in a guttural tone: “She’s fainted!” Nancy exclaimed

“Any word from the Chief?”

Nancy was taken completely by surprise. She knew she had never seen the man before, for she would not have forgotten such a cruel face. His steel-gray eyes bored straight into her. Nancy was so bewildered she could think of nothing to say.

The stranger realized at once that he had made a mistake. “Excuse me, miss. My error,” he murmured, starting for the car ahead. “But that perfume—Well, never mind!” CHAPTER II

Mysterious Numbers

NANCY stared after the stranger and wondered what he could have meant.

“Evidently he mistook me for somebody else,” she thought. “But even so, his actions certainly were peculiar.”

What message had he expected to receive from her? Who was the Chief? How strange that the man should speak of the perfume as though it had been the cause of his mistake!

If Nancy’s mind had not been occupied with the frail girl’s condition, she might have wondered more over the strange encounter. She dismissed it for the moment. Quickly filling a cup with ice water, she rushed back to George and Bess, who were giving first aid to the girl.

“Do you feel better now?” Nancy asked. “Here, drink this.”

“Thank you,” the girl murmured, gratefully taking the cup. “I feel much better now,” she added quietly. “It was very kind of you to help me.” “It must have been the perfume that made you faint,” George declared. “A little is all right, but half a bottle is overpowering.” “I’m sure it wasn’t the perfume,” the girl returned quickly. “I haven’t felt well since I first boarded the train early this morning.” “What a shame,” Bess said. “I’ll get you some more water.” She soon returned with a second cup.

“By the way, Nancy”—Bess turned to her friend—“who was that man who spoke to you at the water cooler?”

“You noticed him?” Nancy asked, surprised.

“Yes,” Bess said, “but I didn’t recognize him.”

“Nor did I,” Nancy remarked. “The whole thing was quite mysterious. He simply approached me and said: ‘Any word from the Chief?’” “The Chief!” Bess and George chorused. “What Chief?”

“I have no idea,” the young sleuth admitted. “But evidently it was this strange perfume that attracted his attention, or so he said.” “I wonder what the perfume could have to do with it?” Bess looked perplexed.

By this time the train was slowing down as it approached the River Heights station, and Nancy and her friends realized they must hurry or they would miss their stop.

“I’m afraid that we must interrupt this conversation and say good-by,” Nancy told the girl reluctantly. “We get off at River Heights.” “River Heights!” The girl glanced anxiously out the window. “I get off here too! I had no idea we were so close.”

“We’ll help you,” Nancy offered. “Do you really feel well enough to walk?”

“Yes, I’m all right now.”

George and Bess collected the miscellaneous packages, while Nancy helped the stranger along the aisle. The girl hesitated uncertainly as she stepped from the train.

“I’m not very familiar with River Heights,” she said to Nancy. “Which direction should I take to go to the center of town?” “You’re still too shaky to walk any distance,” George spoke up. “Have you no friend here to meet you?”

The girl shook her head.

“Then why don’t you come home for a snack with us?” Nancy suggested. “I left my car parked here by the station, and I can drive you back.” The girl started to protest, but Nancy and the others urged her on, and soon they were all settled in Nancy’s blue convertible.

“I haven’t even told you my name,” the strange girl said, leaning back wearily. “I’m Joanne Byrd. I live with my grandmother at Red Gate Farm about ten miles from Round Valley. That’s where I took the train.” Nancy introduced herself and her friends as she started the car and headed it toward the Drew residence in another section of the city.

“How nice it must be to live on a farm!” Bess remarked. “And Red Gate is such a pleasantsounding name.”

“Red Gate is a lovely place,” Joanne said feelingly. “I’ve lived there with my grandmother ever since I can remember. We don’t have the money, though, to keep up the farm. That’s why I left home today—to find work here.” “Do you have something in mind?” Bess questioned.

“I came in response to a particular advertisement,” Joanne replied, but did not say what it was. A faraway look came into her eyes. “We simply must raise enough money to pay the longstanding interest due on the mortgage of our farm or Gram will lose it.” “Surely no one would be mean enough to take over your farm,” Bess murmured sympathetically.

“A bank holds the mortgage. It has no choice. Gram knows very little about money matters, so she takes anyone’s advice. Years ago she was advised to buy another farm and sell it at a high price. All at once values crashed and she couldn’t meet the payments on her extra farm, so it went back to the original owners. Then she had to put a heavy mortgage on Red Gate, too, and if she loses that, she’ll be penniless.” As Joanne finished her story, Nancy turned the car into the Drews’ driveway.

“Come in, everybody,” she invited. “Perhaps we can think of a way to help Joanne.”

The three girls followed Nancy into the house, where they were greeted by the Drews’ pleasant housekeeper. Hannah Gruen had been like a mother to Nancy ever since the death of Mrs. Drew when Nancy was a child. Nancy asked Hannah to make some sandwiches for them all, then led the girls to the living room.

“You must be nearly starved,” Nancy said to Joanne a moment later. “I know I am.”

“I am rather hungry,” Joanne confessed. “I haven’t had anything to eat since last night.”

“What!” the other girls chorused.

“It was my own fault,” Joanne said hastily. “I was too excited this morning to think about food.”

“It’s no wonder you fainted,” Nancy said. “I’ll ask Hannah to fix you something hot.”

Nancy returned from the kitchen with a tray of appetizing sandwiches and a bowl of soup. Joanne ate heartily. Nancy and her friends joined in, for they had had only a light snack while on their shopping expedition.

“I do feel better,” Joanne announced when she had finished. “It was so good of you to bring me here.”

“Not at all,” Nancy said softly. “We’d like to help you all we can.”

“Thank you, but I believe everything will work out all right if only I get this position.” Joanne glanced anxiously at the clock. “I’ll really have to go now or I’ll be too late to make the call this afternoon. Could you tell me how to get to this address?” She handed a folded scrap of newspaper to Nancy. “This particular ad for an office girl caught my eye since it asks for someone who has had experience on a farm.” Nancy found the advertisement to be rather conventional, but it was the name at the bottom of the paragraph that held her attention.

“Why, this ad says Riverside Heights!” she exclaimed. “You should have stayed on the train until the next stop!”

“I thought Riverside Heights and River Heights were the same place!” Joanne Byrd cried in distressed surprise.

“Riverside Heights is only a few miles away,” Nancy explained, “and the names are confusing even to people who live near here, so it’s a natural mistake.” “Oh, dear, I don’t know what to do now,” Joanne said anxiously. “If I don’t apply for that position this afternoon, I’ll probably lose my chance of getting it.” Nancy had taken a liking to the girl and wanted to help her. Not only was Joanne half sick from lack of food, but she had worked herself into a nervous state.

“You must let me drive you to Riverside Heights,” Nancy insisted. “It’ll only take fifteen minutes and you’ll have plenty of time to apply for the position.” Joanne’s face brightened instantly, but she was reluctant to accept the favor. “I’ve really troubled you enough.”

“Nonsense! We’ll start right away!” Nancy turned to Bess and George. “Want to come along?”

Bess and George both declined, since they were expected home. The cousins gathered up their packages and all the girls went to the car. Nancy dropped Bess and George at their own homes, then took the highway leading to the next city.

“I do hope I get there in time,” Joanne said worriedly. “The job will mean so much to Gram and me!”

“You’ll get there,” Nancy assured her. “Have you ever applied for a job before?”

“No. I’ve always helped Gram run the farm until now,” Joanne explained. “I felt I was more needed there than anywhere else. We keep a farm hand, but a great deal of the work still falls upon me.” The girls soon reached Riverside Heights, and Nancy had no trouble finding the address mentioned in the advertisement. It was in a run-down section of the city, but Nancy did not mention this to her companion.

“Here we are,” Nancy said cheerfully, stopping the car in front of a dingy-looking office building.

Joanne made no move to get out of the car, but sat nervously pressing her hands together.

“I’m a terrible coward,” she confessed. “I don’t know what in the world to say when I go in. I wish you’d come with me.” “I’ll be glad to,” said Nancy, as she turned off the ignition and locked the car. They entered the building. There was no elevator, so the girls climbed the dimly lighted stairway to the third floor. Soon they came to Room 305, which had been mentioned in the advertisement.

“There’s no name on the door,” Nancy observed, “but this must be the right place.”

As they stepped into the reception room, Nancy noted that it was dirty and drab. The two girls glanced at each other, exchanging expressions of disappointment.

At that moment a man came from the inner office and surveyed the girls sharply. He was tall and wiry, with hostile, penetrating eyes and harsh features. His suit was bold in pattern and color, and his necktie was gaudy.

“Well?” he demanded coldly.

Joanne found sufficient courage to take the advertisement from her pocket.

“I—I saw this in the paper,” she stammered. “I came to apply for the position.”

The man stared at Joanne critically, then at Nancy.

“You lookin’ for the job too?” he asked.

Nancy shook her head. “No. I’m here with my friend.”

The man looked at Joanne again and said with a shrug of his shoulders, “Go on in the other room. I’ll talk to you in a minute.” Joanne cast Nancy a doubtful glance and obediently stepped into the inner office.

“Look here,” the man addressed Nancy, “wouldn’t you like that job? I could use a goodlookin’ girl like you.”

“I’m not looking for work, thank you,” Nancy returned aloofly.

The man was about to make a retort when the telephone rang. He scowled and went over to the table to answer it. As he lifted the receiver he looked nervously back toward Nancy.

“Hello,” he growled into the phone. “This is Al. Shoot!”

Nancy listened to his end of the unbusinesslike conversation and watched him reach for paper and pencil and begin to scribble down a line of figures. This in itself would not have seemed so peculiar, except that he continued to eye Nancy suspiciously.

He kept on copying figures. All the while Nancy watched him curiously.

“O.K., Hank,” he muttered just before he hung up. “You say you’ve found a girl? … Fine! We can’t be too careful in this business!” All this time Nancy was wondering what kind of transactions went on in this office. There had been no indication on the door of what business the man was engaged in and nothing in the room gave her any clue. She realized now that Joanne’s chances of getting the position were slim, and Nancy was actually relieved. She was very suspicious of the whole setup.

“I was just taking down some stock-market quotations,” the man remarked lightly as he crossed the room toward Nancy.

“This isn’t an investment house, is it?” she asked.

“No, you wouldn’t call it that exactly,” he answered with a smirk. “We run a manufacturing business.”

“I see,” Nancy murmured, though she really did not understand at all. “What do you manufacture?”

The man pretended not to hear and moved on to the inner office where Joanne was waiting. In haste to escape further questions, he forgot to pick up the sheet of paper with the numbers on it.

Nancy was curious about the telephone conversation and could not resist the temptation to take a peek at the notation. She stepped silently over to the telephone table and glanced at the sheet. Strung out across the top and bottom of the page were numbers. The top row read:1653 112 129 1562 16 882 091 5618 “Stock quotations, like fun!” Nancy told herself. “Why did he lie about it? He must have been afraid I’d discover something!” As usual, Nancy was intrigued at any hint of a mystery.

She studied the row of odd figures. Suddenly it dawned on her that they might be a message in code!

Nancy looked quickly toward the inner office. The door was open, but the man sat with his back toward her. She did not dare pick up the paper. If only there was enough time to copy the code!

With one eye on the office, Nancy took a sheet of paper and frantically scribbled the numbers, carefully keeping them in their right order. She could hear Joanne’s soft voice, then her prospective employer talking loudly, and realized the interview was coming to an end.

She had copied only the top row of numbers, but dared not spend any more time at it. She put the copy into her bag and slipped back into her chair just a moment before Joanne and the man emerged from the inner room. He glanced toward the telephone, gave a start, and rushed across the room. With a muttered exclamation he grabbed the paper and thrust it into his pocket.

Nancy’s heart was beating madly as she forced herself to remain outwardly calm. He stood with a cold look on his face, his eyes fixed on Nancy.

CHAPTER III

Work on a Code

HAD the man heard her rush from the telephone table? Nancy wondered. Was he suspicious of her actions during his absence? If so, what reason did he have and what business deal was he hiding in this dingy excuse for an office? Nancy pretended not to notice his penetrating, questioning eyes, but she was ill at ease.

The hostile man spoke up. “You girls better get out of here!” he blurted. “I got no more time to waste. And don’t bother to come back!” Nancy and Joanne looked hastily at each other and moved toward the door. Once outside the building, Nancy breathed a sigh of relief and turned toward Joanne, who was close to tears.

“Don’t feel bad because you didn’t get the job,” Nancy said gently as they walked to the car.

“You wouldn’t have wanted it, I’m sure.”

“That man was detestable!” Joanne shuddered. “I had just given my name and address when he started to shout. You must have heard him.” Nancy nodded. “I think he had already found another girl to work for him,” she said. “At least I heard him say something like that over the phone.” “I knew I wouldn’t get the job.” Joanne sighed dejectedly. “He told me I wasn’t the type!”

“I’d count my blessings if I were you,” said Nancy soberly. “There’s something strange going on in that office and I’d like to know what it is.” “Why, what do you mean?” Joanne asked quizzically.

“Well,” Nancy began carefully, “I’m not sure my suspicions are just, but I have a hunch there’s something shady about the telephone message he got when you were in the inner office.” Nancy explained about the series of numbers on the sheet of paper and how she suspected they might form some sort of code.

“At any rate,” Nancy went on, “we can’t be sure of anything, so this must remain confidential.”

Joanne nodded and fell silent.

Many thoughts raced through Nancy’s mind as she remembered the day’s encounters. First there had been the perfume shop and its mysterious saleswoman, then the curious man on the train who had been attracted by the strange fragrance. And now, this crude, gruff man in Room 305!

“What should I do now?” Joanne asked forlornly. “I can’t go back to Red Gate Farm and let

Gram down. I simply must find work!”

“Why not come home with me?” Nancy suggested as they paused beside her car. “I’ll be glad to have you as my guest for the night, and in the morning you’ll feel better and can decide what to do then.” Joanne shook her head proudly. “Thank you, but I wouldn’t think of letting you go to any more trouble. I have a little money. I can find a boardinghouse and I’ll keep on looking for work here.” Nancy saw that Joanne was disappointed and discouraged and hated to leave her on her own, but finally conceded. “I guess you’re right,” she admitted. “But at least let me help you hunt for a place to stay.” Joanne accepted the offer gratefully.

Even with the car, it was difficult to locate a pleasant room. Joanne could not afford a highpriced place, and the cheaper ones were unsatisfactory. Finally, however, they found a suitable room on a quiet street and Nancy helped Joanne get settled.

“I may be driving over this way tomorrow,” she said. “If I do, I’ll stop in to see what luck you’ve had.”

“I wish you would,” Joanne invited shyly. “I’ll need someone to bolster my morale.”

“All right, I will,” Nancy promised.

After a few words of encouragement she said good-by, then drove slowly toward River Heights, her mind again focused on the various events of the day.

“I don’t know what will happen to Joanne if she doesn’t find work,” Nancy told herself. “It would be a shame if her grandmother loses Red Gate Farm. I wish I could do something, but I don’t know of any available jobs.” It was nearly dinnertime when Nancy reached River Heights. As she passed the Fayne home, she saw George and her cousin Bess on the front lawn and stopped to tell them about Joanne’s unsuccessful interview.

“Isn’t that too bad?” Bess murmured in disappointment. “She seems such a sweet girl. I’d like to know her better.” “I promised I’d drive over to see her tomorrow,” Nancy told the girls. “Why don’t you come along?”

“Let’s!” George cried enthusiastically. “I love going places with you. We always seem to find some sort of adventure!” Nancy’s blue eyes became serious. “I’d say this has been a pretty full day! I can’t seem to forget that mysterious saleswoman in the Oriental perfume shop or the strange man on the train. I wasn’t going to say anything to you about this, but something odd happened this afternoon in that office.” Nancy then related the mysterious actions and behavior of the man named “Al.”

“You mean you think his telephone conversation was a little on the shady side?” Bess asked, wide-eyed.

“It seemed that way to me,” Nancy answered. “I doubt very much that it’s a manufacturing business and those numbers I copied from his pad were anything but stock-market quotations!” “Well, here we go again! Never a dull moment with Nancy around!” George laughed gaily.

“Don’t be too impatient, George,” Nancy advised with a grin. “We don’t have proof that any of today’s incidents is really cause for suspicion.” At this moment a foreign-make car went by. Nancy glanced casually at the driver, then gave a start. He was the man who had spoken to her on the train!

He slowed down and stared at the three girls and at the Fayne home. Nancy felt at once that he was memorizing the address. He gave a self-satisfied smile and drove on. Nancy noted his license number.

“I almost feel as if I’ll hear from him again,” she told herself, then revealed to the girls, who had not noticed the car’s driver, that he was the man who had confronted her on the train.

“He’s still interested in you,” Bess teased.

But George found nothing to laugh about. “I don’t like this, Nancy,” she said seriously. “I remember he had a hard, calculating face.” Nancy, too, remained serious. A disturbing thought had suddenly occurred to her.

“Why,” she told herself, “that man must have been trailing me. But I wonder for what reason?”

She determined, for the moment at least, not to mention her suspicions aloud and dropped the subject of the mysterious man. Presently she bade Bess and George good-by, climbed into her convertible, and drove home.

“I think I’ll ask Dad what he thinks about that man Al’s mysterious telephone message,” Nancy decided as she hopped from the car.

She had often taken some of her puzzling problems to her father. He, in turn, frequently discussed his law cases with his daughter and found Nancy’s suggestions practical.

“You look tired, dear,” Carson Drew observed as she entered the living room and sank into a comfortable chair. “Have a big day shopping?” “I can’t remember when so much ever happened to me in one day.” Nancy smiled despite her fatigue.

“I suppose I’ll be getting the bills in a few days,” her father remarked teasingly.

“It wasn’t just the shopping, Dad,” Nancy returned gravely.

Nancy now plunged into the story of the Oriental shop and the dropped perfume bottle, of her encounter with the stranger on the train, and the strange fact of having seen him a short while ago in a foreign-make car.

“What do you make of it?” she questioned.

Mr. Drew shrugged. “What did he look like?”

“The man seemed very polite, but he had a cruel look in his eyes.” Nancy gave a brief description of him.

“Hm,” Mr. Drew mused, “I can’t say I like the sound of this.”

“I wouldn’t wonder about it,” said Nancy, “except that the girl in the shop seemed so reluctant to sell the perfume. Why do you suppose she cared whether someone bought it?” “Maybe she was instructed to save it for special customers,” Mr. Drew suggested.

“Dad, you may have something there!” Nancy exclaimed.

She told her father about Joanne Byrd and described the office which they had visited together. She ended by showing him the figures which she had copied.

“This was almost all of the message,” she explained. “I didn’t have time to copy the rest. Can you figure it out?”

Carson Drew studied the sheet of paper. “I’m not an expert on codes,” he said finally, “but I suspect this might be one, since the man lied in saying these figures are market quotations.” “Can you decipher it?” Nancy asked eagerly.

“I wish I could, but it looks like a complicated one. It would probably take me days to figure out what these numbers stand for. Why don’t you work on it yourself?” “I don’t know too much about codes,” Nancy declared, “but perhaps I can learn!”

“I have a book you might use,” her father offered. “It may not help much, since every code is different. Still, all codes have some features in common. For instance, in any language certain words are repeated more frequently than others. If you can figure out a frequency table, then look for certain numbers to appear more often than others, you may get somewhere.” “I’d like to try,” Nancy said eagerly.

“This will be a good test for your sleuthing mind,” her father said teasingly. “If you don’t figure out the code, you can always turn this paper over to an expert.” “Not until I’ve had a fighting chance at it myself,” Nancy answered with spirit.

“I’d really like to help you with this mystery,” her father said, “but I’m so tied up with this

Clifton case I just can’t tackle anything else right now.”

Immediately after dinner Mr. Drew retired to his second-floor study to work on his law case. Nancy went to her bedroom to read the book on codes. When she finished, the girl detective took out the sheet on which she had copied the numbers and studied the figures intently.

“I’m sure the numbers stand for letters of the alphabet,” Nancy told herself. “They must have been arranged in some pattern.” For over two hours Nancy tried combination after combination and applied it to the code. Nothing showed up until she hit upon the plan of four letters of the alphabet in sequence by number, the next four in reverse. Alternating in this manner and leaving two in the end bracket, Nancy scrutinized what she had worked out: “I’ve hit it!” she thought excitedly.

CHAPTER IV

A Switch in Jobs

The numbers with the marks above or below them stymied Nancy completely. Most of the others fell neatly into place and spelled: “Calling meeting,” Nancy repeated. “But where? And by whom?” She yawned, weary from her long concentration. “My brain’s too fogged to figure out anything more,” she told herself. “I’ll tackle this another time.” The next morning Nancy and her father enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. He praised her for hitting upon the key to the code but agreed that solving the rest of it would be difficult.

“Keep at it,” he advised, smiling fondly at his daughter. “By the way, I won’t be home to lunch or dinner today because of this Clifton case.” “I thought I’d visit Joanne and try to cheer her up,” Nancy said. “Do you, by any chance, know anyone who’s looking for an office girl?” she added.

Mr. Drew shook his head. “No. I’m afraid I don’t. But if I hear of anything I’ll let you know.”

“I feel that Joanne isn’t the type to be in the hectic business world,” Nancy remarked. “If it weren’t that she wants to help her grandmother, I doubt that she’d even try for a city position.” After Carson Drew had left for his office, Nancy busied herself around the house, helping Hannah. When the housework was finally done, Nancy settled herself in an easy chair and delved into the code book once more. But she found no new hints to help break her own set of numben.

Nancy, Bess, and George had planned to start for Riverside Heights early in the afternoon, so as soon as the luncheon dishes had been cleared away, Nancy was off to pick up the other girls. By two-thirty they had reached Joanne’s rooming house.

The landlady answered Nancy’s knock on the front door and informed her that Joanne had left two hours before to see about a job. She would be back at three o’clock. The woman invited the girls in, but the living room looked so dark and dreary that they preferred to wait outside in the car.

“It’s too bad Joanne has to stay in a dismal place like that,” Nancy remarked, “especially when she’s accustomed to farm life.” “I sure hope she finds something,” Bess added. “Maybe luck will be with her today.”

Within fifteen minutes the girls spotted Joanne at a distance. She did not notice the car, and unaware that she was being observed, walked slowly toward the rooming house, her head drooping dejectedly.

“She didn’t get the job,” George murmured. “I feel so sorry for her.”

As Joanne approached, Nancy called to her. Joanne glanced up quickly and mustered a smile.

“No luck today?” Bess questioned.

“None at all,” Joanne answered with a sigh. She came over to the car and stood leaning against the door. “I tried half a dozen places, but I couldn’t land a thing. I’ll just have to try again tomorrow.” In the face of such spirit on Joanne’s part, the girls could do nothing but encourage her, though secretly they feared she would have no better luck the next day.

“How about coming for a short ride?” Nancy invited.

“I’d love it,” Joanne accepted eagerly. “It’s so hot and stuffy in my room—” She hesitated, then added, “Of course, I guess it is everywhere these days!” Nancy took a road that led out of the city and soon they were driving past cultivated fields of corn and wheat. Gradually, Joanne became more cheerful.

“It’s so good to be out in the country again!” she declared, gazing wistfully toward a farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills. “That place looks something like Red Gate Farm, only not half so attractive. I wish you all could visit me there sometime!” “So do wel” Nancy said enthusiastically. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hike over hills and breathe in the fresh clean air?” “I’ve always wanted to spend a vacation on a farm,” Bess declared longingly. “Just imagine having cream an inch thick!” “Just what you need for reducing!” her cousin teased her.

“You wouldn’t have to worry about that.” Joanne smiled. “We keep only one cow.”

When the girls later left Joanne at the door of her boardinghouse, they had the satisfaction of knowing she was in a more cheerful frame of mind.

“We’ll keep in touch with you, Joanne,” Nancy promised as they said good-by.

“I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other,” Joanne called after them. “So please do call me Jo! I’d much prefer it.” “Jo it is!” they agreed merrily. “Good-by for now.”

Nancy and her friends had just started back to River Heights when Nancy checked her gas gauge and decided to stop at a filling station. The girls were idly watching passers-by when suddenly a young woman, walking with mincing steps because of her extremely high heels, attracted Nancy’s attention. Nancy gasped in recognition.

There was no mistaking the distinctive Oriental features. The clerk in the perfume shop!

Nancy turned to her companions. “Look at that girl who just crossed over. Isn’t she the same one who sold you the perfume, Bess?” “You mean the one who tried not to sell me the perfume, don’t you?” Bess joked. “Yes, she’s the same girl!”

Their eyes followed the girl up the street. She had not glanced toward them, but had passed the filling station and continued on.

“Now, what can she be doing here?” Nancy wondered. She got out of the car and stood watching the girl, who entered an office building a short distance farther up the street. “That’s funny,” Nancy said to her friends, who were peering from the car windows. “I think that’s the very place where Jo applied for a position!” “You don’t suppose that perfume girl has two jobs, do you?” George questioned.

“I’d sure like to find out,” the young detective answered.

Just then the attendant approached. Nancy paid him and stepped back into the car.

“We must try to follow her,” she declared, starting the motor. They pulled up near the office building into which the young woman had disappeared.

“You two wait here and keep watch,” Nancy said. “If I’m not back in a few minutes, you’d better come and see what’s going on.” “Aye, aye, sir!” George said mockingly. “We’re at your service! But be careful!”

Nancy alighted, hurried up the street, and went into the building. The halls were deserted. Evidently the girl had gone into one of the offices. But which one? As Nancy stood uncertainly staring up and down, she spotted a handyman coming down the corridor.

“Did you see a girl come into the building just a moment ago?” she inquired.

“Oriental?” the man demanded, resting on his broom.

Nancy nodded eagerly. “Yes, she looks rather Oriental.”

“Oh, you mean Yvonne Wong.”

“Do you know her?” Nancy said, thinking that with the name Yvonne, the girl was probably part French.

“No, but I heard that man she works for, with the loud voice and the swell clothes, call her by that name.”

“She works here?” Nancy inquired in surprise.

“Guess so. She must be a new girl. Came here yesterday.”

“I see,” Nancy murmured, thinking Yvonne Wong had managed a rather sudden change of jobs. “Could you tell me in which office she works?” Her questions evidently had begun to annoy the handyman. “In 305. If you’re so interested,” he said brusquely, “why don’t you go in and ask her what you want to know?” “Thank you,” Nancy responded with a polite smile, turning away. “I won’t trouble you any further.”

Nancy had taken only a few steps when she thought of one more question and came back. “By the way,” she said in a casual tone, “what sort of office is 305?” The man regarded her suspiciously. “How should I know?” he demanded bluntly. “They don’t pay me to go stickin’ my nose in other folks’ business. I got my own work.” Nancy could see that she was not going to learn any more from the man, so she left the building and joined Bess and George, who were waiting anxiously at the door.

“Well, what did you manage to find out?” Bess queried, as the three girls walked toward the car.

“Quite a bit,” Nancy answered meditatively. She was certain that she could not have been mistaken. Yvonne Wong was the same girl who only yesterday had waited on them in the Oriental shop. Why had she changed positions?

“Well,” George broke into her thoughts, “don’t keep us in suspense!”

Nancy answered all their questions as she drove toward River Heights, explaining that the young woman’s name was Yvonne Wong and that she was a new girl in the office—the same office Nancy and Joanne had visited.

“But what about Yvonne’s job at the Oriental perfume shop?” asked George.

“I don’t know,” Nancy admitted, “and the handyman wouldn’t give me any indication as to the type of business it was!” Nancy recalled the strange telephone call which had been made while she and Joanne were in the office. She distinctly remembered that some mention had been made of a girl who had been found for the position, and that the man who called himself “Al” had said that one “couldn’t be too careful.” “I wouldn’t be so suspicious about Yvonne,” Nancy added, “except I have a feeling she didn’t get that job by chance. She must have been chosen because she was especially suited to the situation—whatever that is.” “There’s something underhanded about the whole thing, but we haven’t much to go on,” Bess declared.

Nancy agreed. “Some clue may turn up. Anyway, we have Jo to think about for the time being.”

It was getting dark as Nancy dropped off Bess and then George at their homes.

It rained so hard the following day that Nancy stayed indoors and tried to figure out the remaining symbols of the code. Using the same alphabetical key, 16 was M, 5 equaled H, 2 could be B, and 18 stood for R.

“MHBR,” Nancy pondered. “That doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps those marks over and under the letters are a second code,” she reasoned. “If only I could decipher them, I might know who’s calling what meeting, and where.” The next morning a bright sun shone. While Nancy was busy with chores around the house, the phone rang and she went to answer it.

“Hello, Nancy,” said a quiet voice. “This is Jo. How are you?”

“Oh, Jo, I’m fine,” Nancy replied eagerly. “Did you find a job?” she asked hopefully.

“Not yet,” Joanne answered sadly. “But I have some other news.”

“I hope it’s good,” Nancy said.

“I just talked with my grandmother on the phone. I must go home right away. She told me that soon after I left, a man called and made an offer to buy Red Gate. His price was so low, she didn’t accept. He was very persistent, though, and gave her five days to think it over.” “Yes?” Nancy prompted.

“Well,” the other girl went on, “in the meantime, Grandmother decided to try raising money by taking in boarders. She placed an ad in the paper that same day.” “Good for her!” Nancy exclaimed. “Has she had any replies?”

“No,” Joanne said worriedly. “Even though the ad hasn’t run very long, Gram’s discouraged. I’m afraid she has changed her mind and intends to take that man’s offer. She said he’s coming to Red Gate tomorrow at five o’clock and bringing papers for her to sign.” There was a pause, then Joanne burst out, “Nancy, I just can’t let Gram go through with this, and if I’m not there, she’ll accept the man’s offer. She mustn’t give up Red Gate Farm yet! That’s why I must get home and persuade her not to sell.” “By all means,” Nancy agreed. “I suppose you’ll take the train to Round Valley in the morning?”

“That’s the horrible part, Nancy,” Joanne said dejectedly. “I’ll have only enough money for train fare half the way after I pay my room rent.” “No need to do that, Jo,” Nancy said eagerly. “You get your bag packed and be ready to leave at ten o’clock tomorrow morning!” CHAPTER V

Money, Money !

As NANCY reflected on her plan, another idea occurred to her. She was sure that Bess and George would love the chance to spend a vacation on a farm, since they had both mentioned it the other day. Nancy did some mental arithmetic and came to the conclusion that three steady boarders who paid their bills regularly might help to lessen the amount of the mortgage interest payments that threatened Red Gate.

“And also keep Mrs. Byrd from selling the place,” Nancy thought. “I hope Dad agrees to my making the trip.”

That evening at dinner Mr. Drew said, “I’ll be out of town for a week or so, Nancy. Do you think you can get some of your friends to stay with you?” “I have an even better idea,” Nancy replied, and smiled.

She outlined her plan to help Joanne Byrd. Her father consented enthusiastically, proud as always of Nancy’s desire to assist others.

It was not so easy to convince Bess and George, when Nancy telephoned them. They both wanted to help Joanne and agreed that a week or two in the country would be very pleasant, but there were complications. If George went, it meant she would lose out on a camping trip. Bess had planned to visit an aunt in Chicago, but admitted that the trip could be postponed.

“There’s one thing about it,” George said laughingly as she finally agreed to give up the camping trip. “I’ve never been with you yet that we didn’t run into an adventure or mystery! Maybe a trip to Red Gate will be exciting.” Bess and George had no trouble in getting their parents’ consent. It was decided that Nancy would pick up Joanne first, then come back for the cousins, since River Heights was on the way to Round Valley.

Nancy packed her clothes that night after telephoning the plans to Joanne. As she was dosing the suitcase, her eyes fell upon the copy of the coded message which lay on the dressing table.

“I’d better take it along and work on it whenever I have the chance,” she decided.

Nancy got up early the next morning and had breakfast with her father. After exchanging fond good-bys with him and Hannah, she hurried to her car.

It was close to ten o’clock when Nancy reached Riverside Heights. She stopped at a downtown service station and had her convertible filled with gas and checked for oiL Then she drove to Joanne’s boardinghouse.

Her passenger was waiting. Nancy was glad to find that Joanne seemed to be in better spirits.

“It’ll be such fun, all of us going together,” Joanne said, “and I know Gram will be happy to have you stay as long as you like.” “Only on the condition that we are paying guests,” Nancy insisted.

“We’ll see about that later,” Joanne said, smiling.

They put her suitcase into the trunk of the car and soon were on their way back to River Heights. Assured by Joanne that they would be welcome at Red Gate, the cousins brought out their suitcases and put them in the luggage compartment.

George took Nancy aside and said excitedly, “A little while ago a man phoned here and asked for Miss Fayne. When I answered, he said, ‘Listen, miss, tell that snoopy friend of yours to stop her snooping, or she’ll be sorry!’ Then he hung up without giving his name.” Nancy set her jaw, then smiled. “Whoever he is, he has a guilty conscience. So my suspicions were well founded.”

“Who do you think he is?” George asked.

“Either the strange man on the train who followed me here, or some accomplice of his.”

“I’m glad for your sake we’re going away, Nancy,” stated George.

“Let’s not say anything about this to Jo,” Nancy advised, as she and George walked back to the car.

“It’s a perfect day for our trip to the country,” Joanne said excitedly.

George could see by the expression on Joanne’s face that a visit to Red Gate Farm with her new friends was far more important to her than any other plans the girls might have had.

“I agree one hundred per cent!” George answered happily as she stepped into the car.

“And I’ll be so glad to get out of this heat,” Bess chimed in with a sigh. “I spent practically the whole night dreaming about the cool, refreshing breezes in the country.” As Nancy steered the convertible in the direction of Round Valley, she said with an eager smile, “We’re off to rescue Red Gate Farm!” Nancy and her friends thoroughly enjoyed the scenic route to Round Valley. They stopped for a quick lunch and then continued their drive. The winding roads led through cool groves and skirted sparkling little lakes. Each hilltop brought a different and beautiful view.

Gradually the worried expression completely left Joanne’s eyes, and color came into her thin face. She began to laugh heartily at the antics of Bess and George. As they rode along she told the girls a great deal about her home.

“You’ll like Red Gate, I’m sure,” she said enthusiastically. “We haven’t any riding horses, but there will be plenty of other things to do. We can explore the cave, for one thing.” “Cave?” Bess questioned with interest. “How exciting! What kind is it? A home for bears or a pirate’s den?”

Joanne laughed. “There’s a large cavern located on the farm. No one knows how it came to be there, but we think it must have been made a long time ago by an underground river.” “You must have explored it before this!” Nancy exclaimed.

“Oh, yes, of course, though I’ll admit I never did very thoroughly, and I haven’t been near the cave for years. As a child I was always afraid of the place—it looked so dark and gloomy. Lately I’ve been too busy working around the farm.” “We’ll have to put that at the top of our list!” George declared. “I love spooky things.”

“Well, I’m not so sure I do,” Bess admitted.

Nancy laughed. “We may even find hidden treasure in the walls.”

“I wish you could.” Joanne sighed. “It certainly would come in handy.”

The hours passed quickly as the travelers alternately sang and chatted. “Why, it’s almost four o’clock!” George announced in surprise.

“We’ve made good time,” Nancy remarked.

Bess spoke up plaintively. “I’m half-starved. It’s been ages since lunch. I could go for a gooey sundae.”

The others laughed, but agreed they were hungry too.

“Let’s watch for a roadside stand,” Nancy proposed. “I’ll have to stop soon for gas, anyway.”

“We’ll come to one soon,” Joanne spoke up. “We’re in Round Valley now.”

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