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CHAPTER VI

An Exciting Appointment

THE HOOVER girls walked out to the barn with Nancy. “Do come to see us again,” Grace called, as the young detective climbed into her car.

“Yes, please do,” Allison added.

Nancy promised that she would. “As soon as I have some news,” she said.

Although the weather had cleared, the River Road remained muddy and slippery. Nancy found it necessary to drive with extreme care for the next two miles until she reached the main highway.

“No wonder this River Road isn’t used much,” she thought. “And how do Grace and Allison get to town?” Nancy wondered. She had not seen a car at the Hoover home and knew that no bus passed their door.

“I certainly wish,” she thought, “that I or somebody else could locate a later will of Josiah Crowley’s by which the Hoovers and the Turners would receive some much-needed money.

I must tell Dad about this latest development.”

She decided to see if her father was in his office and drove directly there. Nancy parked the car in a nearby lot. She surveyed the convertible ruefully as she climbed out.

“Poor thing! It certainly needs a bath!”

Nancy found Mr. Drew in. As she entered his private office, he arose from the desk chair to kiss her. “I’m glad you’re here—and safe,” the lawyer said. “I was worried about you when that violent storm came up. When Hannah phoned me that you weren’t back, I began to regret I’d sent you on the errand.”

His daughter grinned. “I’m back, all in one piece. I delivered the papers to Judge Hart and learned that he and his wife saw Mr. Crowley in Masonville a couple of times. Also, I talked to the Hoover girls.”

She described her meeting with Allison and Grace Hoover and ended by asking her father if he could help them.

“From what you say, it does look as though Josiah Crowley might have made another will which included them as beneficiaries,” Mr. Drew commented thoughtfully. “I’ll be glad to do anything I can to help the Hoover girls.”

He asked whether the sisters had given Nancy any specific information about Mr. Crowley’s habits or other helpful clues. When Nancy shook her head, Mr. Drew suggested that she invite the girls to his office for a little conference. “Perhaps if I ask them some questions, it will recall helpful incidents.” The lawyer studied his desk calendar for a moment, then looked up at his daughter. “How about tomorrow afternoon at two-fortyfive? I can give them about half an hour.”

For answer, Nancy gave her father a hug and then asked if she might use his telephone to call the Hoovers at once.

Grace and Allison eagerly accepted the Drews’ invitation, and Nancy said she would drive out to bring them to the conference and take them home afterward.

“You’re a doll!” cried Allison, who had answered the telephone. “Nancy, I just know you’re going to solve this mystery!”

Suddenly an idea came to Nancy. She asked Allison how long the girls would be able to stay in River Heights.

“Oh, as long as you need us,” Allison replied.

“Good. Then I’d like you both to stay and have supper with us,” Nancy said.

“Sorry I can’t join you,” Mr. Drew told his daughter as she hung up. “I have a dinner engagement and conference in the evening.”

Just then, the mayor of River Heights was shown into the lawyer’s office, and Nancy arose to leave. She spoke to the mayor for a moment, then said, “See you later, Dad.”

Before Nancy returned home, she stopped at an old-fashioned house on a side street. It was the home of Signer Mascagni, a famous voice teacher who had retired to the small city the year before, but took a few outstanding pupils. Nancy introduced herself to the white bushy-haired, florid-faced man, then said: “Signor Mascagni, would you be willing to listen to the voice of a friend of mine and give your honest opinion as to whether or not she might become a great singer? If she might, and she can obtain the money for lessons, would you be able to take her as a pupil?”

Signor Mascagni studied Nancy for several minutes before replying. Finally he said, “You do not look like the kind of girl who would come here on a foolish errand. Ordinarily I do not accept beginners. But in this case I would be willing to hear your friend sing.” He laughed. “Mind you, I will give you nothing but the truth, and if your friend does not measure up, I hope her feelings will not be hurt too deeply.”

Nancy laughed too. “I like honesty,” she said. “As a matter of fact, this girl knows nothing about what I am asking you. Coming here will be a complete surprise to her. I’m probably no judge of voices, but I think she’s a natural. However, we will both appreciate having your opinion, and will certainly abide by it.”

She arranged for a meeting the following afternoon at four o’clock and left Signer Mascagni’s house in an excited mood. “Maybe I’m going way out on a limb,” Nancy mused, “but this is another one of those hunches of mine that Dad talks about, and I must carry through.”

When she picked up the Hoovers the following day, Nancy did not mention the appointment with the voice teacher. The three girls went directly to Mr. Drew’s office and at once he began to quiz Grace and Allison about Mr. Crowley.

“I understand that he was a rather eccentric man,” the lawyer began. “Suppose you tell me everything you can remember about what Josiah Crowley did and what he said which would help us figure out where he might have secreted a later will.”

“Uncle Josiah was rather absent-minded,” Grace spoke up. “I often saw him hunting for his spectacles, which he had pushed up on his head.” “Did he ever hide things?” Mr. Drew asked.

“Oh, yes.” Allison laughed. “Uncle Josiah was always putting articles away in what he called

a safe place. But the places were so safe he never could find the things again!”

“Then,” Nancy spoke up excitedly, “Mr. Crowley could have hidden a will and then forgotten where?”

“I suppose so,” Grace replied. “While living with the Tophams, I’m sure that’s just what he would have done. One day when he was calling at our house he talked about the Tophams and the way they were trying to get all his money. ‘I guess they think—just because I stay on—that they’re going to get everything. But they’ll be fooled when they find I’ve made another will,’ he said with that odd little chuckle of his. ‘This time I’m not going to trust it to any lawyer. I’ll put it away in a place that I know will be safe.’ “ Allison asked Mr. Drew, “Do you think Uncle Josiah hid another will somewhere in the Tophams’ house?”

The lawyer looked down at his desk for several seconds before replying. “If he did, we would have a great fight on our hands, I’m afraid, trying to persuade the Tophams to let us make a search.”

Another thought had come to Nancy and she shuddered at the idea. Perhaps the Tophams had been alerted by all the talk of a later will, had searched for it, discovered one, and by now destroyed it I She flashed her father a questioning look and got the impression that he had the same thought. But there was no point in discouraging the Hoover girls by telling them this.

Mr. Drew continued to question the sisters until three-thirty, then said he had another appointment. He would do all he could to help the girls and would not charge them for his services.

“Unless they bring results,” he added with a smile.

“You’re very kind, just like your daughter,” said Grace as she arose and shook hands with the lawyer. “You have no idea how much Allison and I appreciate what you’re doing for us.”

When the three girls reached Nancy’s car, she told the sisters she wanted them to meet someone special in town, and drove directly to Signer Mascagni’s home. As they went up to the front porch they could hear the sounds of a soprano voice singing an aria from Tosca.

“How beautiful!” Allison exclaimed softly.

The girls were admitted by a maid and asked to wait in a small room while Signor Mascagni’s pupil finished her lesson. Puzzled, Allison waited for Nancy to explain.

“I have a surprise for you,” Nancy said with a grin. “Signor Mascagni has promised to listen to your voice. If you pass the test, he’ll consider taking you as a pupil—that is, after we find the money for voice lessons.”

Allison was too dumfounded to speak, but Grace cried out, “Oh, Nancy, what are you going to do next? We’ve known you only twenty-four hours and you’ve already boosted our morale sky-high.”

At this moment the door to the studio opened. The young soprano came out, followed by Signor Mascagni. He said good-by to his pupil, then invited the three callers into the studio. Nancy quickly introduced the Hoover sisters.

“And you are the singer,” the man said almost at once, addressing Allison. “I can tell from your speaking voice.”

Apparently the teacher sensed that Allison had been taken by surprise and was a little nervous. Accordingly he began to talk on other subjects than music. He showed the girls several paintings in the room and pieces of statuary which had come from Italy.

“I prize them highly,” he said.

“They are exquisite,” Allison remarked.

Signor Mascagni walked to a rear window and pointed out a lovely garden in back of the house. Then, evidently satisfied that Allison was at ease, he led the way to the grand piano and sat down.

“Now what would you like to sing?” he asked Allison with a smile. “Please stand right here facing me.”

“Something very simple,” she replied. “‘America the Beautiful’?”

The teacher nodded, asked her what key she would like it played in, then began to accompany her. Allison sang as though inspired. Her voice sounded even more beautiful than it had at the farmhouse, Nancy thought. When Allison finished the song, Signor Mascagni made no comment Instead he asked her to try a scale, then to sing single tones, jumping from octave to octave.

“You have a very fine range, Miss Hoover,” was his only comment

For half an hour he had Allison try short songs in various keys and at one point joined with her in a duet. At last he turned around on the piano bench and faced Nancy and Grace.

“I believe,” he said slowly, “I believe that some day we shall know Allison Hoover as an operatic star!”

Before the girls could say anything, he jumped up and turned to shake Allison’s hand fervently. By this time the full import of his words had dawned on the young singer. Tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“Bravissimo! Bravissimo!” he exclaimed. “You sing, you cry, you smile! Magnifico! You will also be a dramatic actress splendida.”

Nancy and Grace were nearly on the verge of tears also, they were so overwhelmed by the happy news. Then suddenly the three girls became serious, remembering that there was still the problem of money for lessons from this great man. They knew his fee per hour must be very high.

Allison suddenly began to talk and poured out her whole story to the white-haired teacher. “But I know,” she declared with a brave smile, “that somehow I’m going to get the money for the lessons and I wouldn’t want to take them from anybody but you, Signer Mascagni. I’ll come back to you just as soon as I can. Thank you very, very much. Please, girls, I’d like to leave now.”

As Allison rushed toward the front door, Signor Mascagni detained Nancy and Grace. “This Allison, she is wonderful!” he exclaimed. “I want to give her lessons to see that her training is correct.” He threw up his hands and shook his head. “But I cannot afford to give the lessons free. Perhaps I could cut my price—”

“We’ll find the money somehow, signer!” Nancy promised. Then she and Grace thanked the teacher and followed Allison outside.

At the Drew home that evening there were mixed emotions on everyone’s part. Hannah Gruen had taken a great fancy to the Hoover sisters and the news of Allison’s talent had thrilled her, as well as the girls. Conversation at supper was gay and animated. Nancy and Mrs. Gruen drove the sisters to their farm and on parting Nancy again promised to do all she could to help find a will from which the girls might possibly benefit.

But figuring out how to do this became a problem that seemed insurmountable to Nancy. At breakfast the following day, Mr. Drew suggested, “Nancy, perhaps if you’d give your mind a little rest from the Crowley matter, an inspiration about the case might come to you.”

His daughter smiled. “Good idea, Dad. I think I’ll take a walk in the fresh air and clear the cobwebs from my brain.”

As soon as she finished eating, Nancy set out at a brisk pace. She headed for River Heights’ attractive park to view the display of roses which was always very beautiful. She had gone only a short distance along one of the paths when she caught sight of Isabel and Ada Topham seated on a bench not far ahead.

“They’re the last people in the world I want to see right now,” Nancy thought. “They’ll probably say something mean to me and I’ll lose my temper. When I think how Grace and Allison and the Turners could use just one-tenth of the Crowley money which the Tophams are going to inherit, I could just burst!”

Nancy had paused, wondering whether she should turn back. “No,” she told herself, “I’ll go on to see the roses. I’ll take that path back of the Tophams and they won’t notice me.”

Nancy made her way along quietly, with no intention of eavesdropping on the two girls. But suddenly two words of their conversation came to her ears, bringing Nancy to an involuntary halt.

She had distinctly heard Isabel say—”the will.”

In a flash Nancy’s detective instincts were aroused and her heart pounded excitedly. “It must be Josiah Crowley’s will they’re talking about,” she reasoned.

CHAPTER VII The Angry Dog

WITH the instinct of a detective who dared not miss a clue, Nancy deliberately moved closer to the bench on which the Topham girls were seated.

“If there should be another will, I’m afraid we’d be out of luck.” The words, in Ado’s nasal voice, came clearly to Nancy.

Isabel’s reply was in so low a tone that the young sleuth could just manage to catch the words, “Well, I, for one, don’t believe Josiah Crowley ever made a later will.” She gave a low laugh. “Mother watched him like a hawk.”

“Or thought she did,” Isabel retorted. “The old man got out of her clutches several times, don’t forget.”

“Yes, and what’s worse, I’m sure Nancy Drew thinks he made a later will. That’s why she’s taking such an interest in those Hoover girls. I actually saw them go into Mr. Drew’s office yesterday and it wasn’t to deliver eggs! If Nancy gets her father interested, he might dig up another will. Oh, how I hate that interfering girl!”

At this Nancy could barely refrain from laughing. So the Tophams were concerned about the existence of a second will. With bated breath she listened further.

“You’re such a worry wart, Ada. You can trust Dad and Mother to take care of things, no matter what happens,” Isabel commented dryly. “They won’t let that pile of money get away from us. It’s ours by right, anyhow.”

“You’ve got something there,” Ada conceded. “We should have old Josiah’s money after supporting and putting up with him for three years. That was pretty clever of Mother, never accepting any board money from Josiah Crowley!”

The conversation ended as Isabel and Ada arose from the bench and walked away. Nancy waited until they were out of sight, then emerged from her hiding place. Seating herself on the bench vacated by the Topham sisters, Nancy mulled over the remarks she had just overheard.

“There’s no doubt in my mind now that if there is a later will, the Tophams haven’t destroyed it. How thrilling! But where can it be?”

Nancy realized that to find it was a real challenge. “And I’d better hurry up before the Tophams stumble on it!”

For another ten minutes Nancy sat lost in thought, sifting all the facts she had gleaned so far.

“There must be some clue I’ve overlooked,” she told herself. Suddenly, with a cry of delight, she sprang to her feet. “Why didn’t I think of that before? The Hoover girls and the Turners aren’t the only ones who should have figured in this will. There are other relatives of Mr. Crowley who have filed a claim. I wonder who they are. If I could only talk with them, I might pick up a due!”

Immediately Nancy set off for her father’s office. He was engaged in an important conference when she arrived, and she had to wait ten minutes before being admitted to the inner office.

“Now what?” Mr. Drew asked, smiling, as she burst in upon him. “Have you solved the mystery or is your purse in need of a little change?”

Nancy’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes danced with excitement. “Don’t tease me,” she protested. “I need some information!”

“At your service, Nancy.”

The young sleuth poured out the story of the Topham sisters’ conversation in the park, and told him of her own conclusions. Mr. Drew listened with interest until she had finished.

“Excellent deducting,” he praised his daughter. “I’m afraid, though, I can’t help you obtain the relatives’ names. I don’t know any of them.”

Nancy looked disappointed. “Oh dear!” she sighed. “And I’m so anxious to find out right away. If I delay even a single day the Tophams may locate that other will—and destroy it.”

The next instant her face brightened. “I know! I’ll drive out and see the Turner sisters. They might be able to tell me who the other relatives are.” Nancy arose and headed for the door.

“Just a minute,” said the lawyer. “I wonder if you realize just what you are getting into,

Nancy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Only this. Detective work isn’t always the safest occupation in which to engage. I happen to know that Richard Topham is an unpleasant man when crossed. If you do find out anything which may frustrate him, the entire Topham family could make things extremely difficult for you.”

“I’m not afraid of them, Dad.”

“Good!” Mr. Drew exclaimed. “I was hoping you would say that. I’m glad you have the courage of your convictions, but I didn’t want you to march off into battle without a knowledge of what you might be up against.”

“Battle?”

“Yes. The Tophams won’t give up the fortune without a bitter struggle. However, if they attempt to make serious trouble, I promise to deal with them myself.”

“And if I do find the will?”

“I’ll take the matter into court.”

“Oh. thank you! There’s no one like you in all the world.”

After leaving her father’s office, Nancy went directly home to get her car. When she told Hannah Gruen her plans, the housekeeper warned, “Don’t become too deeply involved in this matter, dear. In your zeal to help other people, you may forget to be on your guard.”

“I promise to be as careful as a pussycat walking up a slippery roof,” Nancy assured the housekeeper with a grin, and left the house.

Quickly backing her car from the garage, she set off in the direction of the Turner home. The miles seemed to melt away as Nancy’s thoughts raced from one idea to another. Before the young sleuth knew it she had reached the house.

“Hi, Judy!” she called to the little girl, who was playing in the yard with a midget badminton set.

The child looked very cunning in a pink play suit. The hand-embroidered Teddy bears on it were surely the work of her loving aunts.

“Hi, Nancy! I’m glad you came. Now I’ll have somebody to play with,” Judy said, running up to the visitor.

Obligingly Nancy took a racket and batted the feathered shuttlecock toward the child. “Hit the birdie,” she called.

Judy missed but picked up the shuttlecock and whammed it nicely across the net. Nancy hit it back and this time the little girl caught the birdie on her racket and sent it over.

The game went on for several minutes, with Judy crying out in delight. “You’re the bestest batter I ever played with, Nancy,” she declared.

After ten minutes of play, Nancy said, “Let’s go into the house now, Judy. I want to talk to your aunties.”

Judy skipped ahead and announced her new playmate’s arrival.

“Hello, Nancy,” the women said as she entered the living room.

“We were watching the game from the window,” said Mary Turner. “This is a real thrill for Judy. Edna and I are very poor at hitting the birdie.”

“It was lots of fun,” Nancy replied. “I’m glad to see you all again.”

She now asked whether the police had located the thieves who had taken the silver heirlooms from the house.

“Not yet,” Mary answered. “And what’s worse, we found that several other pieces had been taken, too.”

“What a shame!” Nancy exclaimed. “But I’m sure the stolen articles will be found.” Then she added, “I came here on a particular mission.”

“Yes?”

“Your story about Mr. Josiah Crowley intrigued me. Then, the other day, I met two girls, Grace and Allison Hoover, who told me of a similar promise from him regarding his will.”

“How amazing!” Edna Turner exclaimed. “I heard Josiah mention the Hoovers and Allison’s beautiful voice.”

“Dad and I have become very much interested in the case and are inclined to agree with you and the Hoovers that Mr. Crowley may have written another will shortly before his death and hidden it some place.”

“Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a will could be found!” Mary exclaimed. “It might mean all the difference in the world to Judy’s future.”

“What I want to do,” Nancy went on, “is talk to as many of Mr. Crowley’s relatives as I can find. Some place I may pick up a clue to where a more recent will is hidden. Tell me, do any of his other relatives live around here?”

“Yes. Three that I can think of,” Edna answered.

She went on to say that two cousins, who had never married, lived on a farm just outside

Titusville. “Their names are Fred and William Mathews.”

Suddenly the Turner sisters blushed a deep pink. They glanced at each other, then back at Nancy. Finally Edna said:

“Many years ago Fred proposed to Mary, and William to me, and we came near accepting. But just at that time we had the great tragedy in the family and took Judy’s mother to rear, so we decided not to marry.”

An embarrassing pause was broken by Judy. “Some day my aunties are going to give me one of my mother’s dollies, Nancy. Isn’t that nice?”

“It certainly is,” Nancy agreed. “And you must be sure to show it to me.” Then she asked the sisters, “What relation are the Mathews to Mr. Crowley?”

“First cousins on his mother’s side.”

“Do you think they would mind my asking them some questions, even though I’m a stranger?”

“Not at all,” Mary replied. “They’re very fine gentlemen.” “And tell them Mary and I sent you,” Edna added.

“How far is Titusville from here?” Nancy inquired.

“Oh, not more than five miles on Route 10A. You could drive there in a few minutes. It’s on the way to Masonville. Nancy, won’t you stay and have lunch with us?”

Eager to continue her work, the young sleuth was about to refuse, but Judy put in an invitation also. “Please, oh please, Nancy. And while my aunties are fixing it, you and I can play badminton.”

“All right,” Nancy agreed. “And thank you very much.”

It was nearly two o’clock when she finally was ready to depart.

“Oh, Mary,” said Edna suddenly, “we forgot to tell Nancy about Josiah’s wife’s cousin, Mrs. Abby Rowen. She’d be apt to know more about the will than anyone else.”

“That’s right! You really should call on her, Nancy. She took care of Josiah one time when he was sick, and he thought the world of her. He often declared he intended to leave her something. She’s a widow and has very little.”

“Even a few thousand dollars would mean a lot to her,” Edna added. “Abby must be over eighty years of age, and growing forgetful. She has no children and there’s no one to look after her.”

“Where shall I find Mrs. Rowen?” Nancy asked, hoping it was not far away.

“Abby lives on the West Lake Road,” Edna responded. “It’s a good many miles from here.”

“Then I shan’t have time to go there today,” the young sleuth said. “But I’ll surely see her as soon as I can. And now I must be going.”

Nancy thanked the Turner sisters and said good-by. But before she could leave, Judy insisted upon showing how she could jump rope and do all kinds of dancing steps with a hoop on the lawn.

“Judy entertains us all the time,” Mary remarked. “We believe she’s very talented.”

Nancy thought so too. As she drove off, she again hoped that money would become available for a very special education for Judy.

After Nancy had gone five miles along the designated route, she began to watch the mailboxes. Soon she noticed one which bore the name Mat-hews. The farmhouse stood back a distance from the road and had a wide sweep of lawn in front of it Near the house a man was riding a small tractor, mowing the grass.

Nancy drove down the narrow lane which led into the grounds, and stopped opposite the spot where the man was working. The man’s back was toward her, and he apparently had not heard the car above the noise of the tractor, so she waited.

Looking toward the house, Nancy suddenly saw a sight that appalled her. Wedged between two stones of a broken wall was a police dog puppy whining pitifully. Nancy dashed forward and released the little animal. As it continued to whimper, she cuddled the pup in her arms and began to examine its paws.

“Why, you poor thing!” Nancy said, seeing a tear in the flesh of one hind leg. “This must be taken care of right away.”

She decided to carry the puppy over to the man on the mower. As Nancy walked across the lane, she suddenly heard an angry growl near her. Looking back, she saw a huge police dog, evidently the pup’s mother, bounding toward her.

“It’s all right,” Nancy called soothingly to the dog. “I’m not going to take your baby away.”

She took two more strides, but got no farther. With a fierce snarl the dog leaped on Nancy, knocking her flat!

CHAPTER VIII

A Forgotten Secret

NANCY screamed for help, hoping to attract the farmer’s attention. She expected momentarily to be bitten by the angry dog, but to her great relief the animal did not harm her.

The young sleuth’s sudden fall had caused the puppy to fly from her arms. With a leap its mother was at the pup’s side. She grabbed her baby by the back of its neck and trotted off toward the bam.

“O-o, that was a narrow escape.” Nancy took a deep breath as she got to her feet, brushed herself off, and ruefully surveyed a tear in her sweater.

By this time the man on the tractor, having changed direction, saw the fracas and came running. He apologized for the dog’s actions, but Nancy said quickly: “It was my fault. I should have set the pup down. Its mother probably thought I was trying to dognap her baby!”

“Possibly.”

Nancy explained why she had picked up the little animal and the farmer said he would look at the cut later.

“I’m glad you weren’t hurt,” he added. “Thanks for being such a good scout about it. Did you come to see me or my brother?” he asked. “I’m Fred Mathews.”

Nancy gave her name, and added that she was acquainted with the Turner sisters and others who had been told they would benefit under Josiah Crowley’s will.

“My dad—the lawyer Carson Drew—and I are working on the case. We believe there might have been a later will than the one presented by Mr. Topham, and we’d like to find it.”

“And you came to see if William and I could give you a clue?” Fred’s bright blue eyes sparkled boyishly.

“That’s right, Mr. Mathews. Also, did Mr. Crowley ever tell you he was going to leave you some money?”

“Indeed he did.”

At this moment another man came from the house and Fred introduced him as his brother William. Both were tall, spare, and strong-muscled. Though their hair was gray, the men’s faces were youthful and unwrinkled.

“Let’s sit down under the tree here and discuss this,” Fred suggested, leading the way to a group of rustic chairs. He told William of Nancy’s request, then asked him, “Did Cousin Josiah ever give you any idea he’d made a will in which we were not beneficiaries?”

“No. I thought one would come to light when he died. To tell the truth, Miss Drew, Fred and I were thunderstruck at the will which left everything to the Tophams. That wasn’t what Cousin Josiah led us to believe.”

“It certainly wasn’t,” Fred spoke up. “But I guess William and I counted our chickens before they were hatched. We just about make ends meet here with our small fruit farm. Help and equipment cost such a lot. One thing we’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t afford, was to travel. We thought we’d use the money from Cousin Josiah to do that.”

“But our dream bubble burst,” said William. “No trips for us.”

Nancy smiled. “Don’t give up hope yet. Dad and I haven’t.”

She was disappointed that the brothers could offer her no clues about a place to look for another will. A little while later she left the farm and returned home.

“No new evidence,” she told her father. “Let’s hope Mrs. Abby Rowen has some!”

Early the next morning she set off for the elderly woman’s home, and reached her destination by asking directions of people living along West Lake Road.

“This must be Abby Rowen’s house,” Nancy told herself. “It fits the description.”

She climbed out of her car and stood before the one-story frame building which was badly in need of paint and repair. The yard around it was overgrown with weeds, and the picket fence enclosing the cottage sagged dejectedly.

“The place looks deserted,” Nancy mused. “But I’ll see if Mrs. Rowen is at home.”

Nancy made her way up the scraggly path to the house and rapped on the front door. There was no response. After a moment, she knocked again.

This tune a muffled voice called, “Who’s there? If you’re a peddler, I don’t want anything.”

“I’m not selling anything,” Nancy called out reassuringly. “Won’t you let me in, please?”

There was a long silence, then the quavering voice replied, “I can’t open the door. I’ve hurt myself and can’t walk.”

Nancy hesitated an instant before pushing open the door. As she stepped into the dreary living room, she saw a frail figure on the couch. Abby Rowen lay huddled under an old shawl, her withered face drawn with pain.

“I am Nancy Drew and I’ve come to help you, Mrs. Rowen.”

The old lady turned her head and regarded Nancy with a stare of wonder.

“You’ve come to help me?” she repeated unbelievingly. “I didn’t think anyone would ever bother about old Abby again.”

“Here, let me arrange the pillows for you.” Gently Nancy moved the old woman into a more comfortable position.

“Yesterday I fell down the cellar stairs,” Mrs. Rowen explained. “I hurt my hip and sprained my ankle.”

“Haven’t you had a doctor?” Nancy asked in astonishment.

“No.” Abby Rowen sighed. “Not a soul has been here and I couldn’t get in touch with anybody. I have no telephone.”

“Can you walk at all?” Nancy asked.

“A little.”

“Then your hip isn’t broken,” Nancy said in relief. “Let me see your ankle. Oh my, it is swollen! I’ll bandage it for you.”

“There’s a clean cloth in the closet in the kitchen,” Abby told her. “I haven’t any regular bandage.”

“You really should have a doctor,” Nancy remarked. “Let me drive you to one.”

“I can’t afford it,” the old woman murmured. “My pension check hasn’t come, and it’s too small, anyway.”

“Let me pay the doctor,” Nancy offered.

Abby Rowen shook her head stubbornly. “I’ll not take charity. I’d rather die first.”

“Well, if you insist upon not having a doctor, I’m going to the nearest drugstore and get some bandaging and a few other things,” Nancy told her. “But before I go, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

“There’s no tea in the house.”

“Then I’ll get a box. What else do you need?”

“I need ‘most everything, but I can’t afford anything right now. You might get me some tea and a loaf of bread. That’s enough. You’ll find the money in a jar in the cupboard. It’s not very much, but it’s all I have.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Nancy promised.

She stopped in the kitchen long enough to examine the cupboards. With the exception of a little flour and sugar and a can of soup, there appeared to be nothing in the house to eat. Nancy found that the money jar contained less than five dollars.

“I’ll not take any of it,” she decided.

Quietly the young sleuth slipped out the back door. She drove quickly to the nearest store and ordered a stock of groceries. Then she stopped at a drugstore and purchased bandages and liniment.

Reaching the cottage, she carried the supplies inside and adeptly set about making Abby Rowen more comfortable. She bathed the swollen ankle and bound it neatly with the antiseptic bandage.

“It feels better already,” Mrs. Rowen told her gratefully. “I don’t know what would have happened to me if you hadn’t come.”

“Oh, someone would have dropped in,” said Nancy cheerfully. She went to the kitchen and in a short while prepared tea and a light lunch for the elderly woman.

As Abby Rowen ate the nourishing meal, Nancy was gratified to observe that almost immediately her patient became more cheerful and seemed to gain strength. She sat up on the couch and appeared eager to talk with Nancy.

“There aren’t many folks willing to come in and help an old lady. If Josiah Crowley had lived, things would have been different,” she declared. “I could have paid someone to look after me.”

“It’s strange that he didn’t provide for you in his will,” Nancy replied quietly.

She did not wish to excite the woman by telling her real mission. Yet Nancy hoped that she might lead her tactfully into a discussion of Josiah Crowley’s affairs without raising hopes which might never be realized.

“It’s my opinion that Josiah did provide for me,” Mrs. Rowen returned emphatically. “Many a time he said to me, ‘Abby, you’ll never need to worry. When I’m gone you’ll be well taken care of by my will.’ “ “And then everything was left to the Tophams,” Nancy encouraged her to proceed.

“That was according to the first will,” Abby Rowen stated.

“You mean there was another will?” Nancy inquired eagerly.

“Of course. Why, I saw that will with my own eyes!” “You saw it!” Nancy gasped.

The old woman nodded gravely. “Mind, I didn’t see what was in the will. One day Josiah came to call and give me some money. Right off I noticed he had a bunch of papers in his hand. ‘Abby,’ he said, ‘I’ve made a new will. I didn’t bother with a lawyer. I wrote it myself.’ “ “How long ago was that?” Nancy asked quickly.

“Let me see.” Abby Rowen frowned thoughtfully. “I can’t remember the exact date. It was this past spring. Anyway, Josiah hinted that he’d done well by me. ‘But, Josiah,’ I said, ‘are you sure it’s legal to write it yourself?’ ‘Of course it is,’ he said. ‘A lawyer told me it was all right, just so long as I wrote it myself and signed it. But I did have it witnessed.’ “ “Do you know who witnessed the will?” Nancy broke in.

“No. He didn’t say.”

“Haven’t you any idea what became of the will?” Nancy asked hopefully.

“Well, I remember Josiah did say something about putting it where nobody could get it unless they had legal authority. But I really don’t know what became of it.”

“Are you certain that was all Mr. Crowley said?” Nancy inquired gently. She recalled the Turners saying that Abby had become forgetful.

The elderly woman shook her head and sighed. “Many a night I’ve lain awake trying to think what else he did say about where he would put the will. I just can’t recollect.” “Try to think!” Nancy begged.

“I can’t remember,” Abby Rowen murmured hopelessly. “I’ve tried and tried.” She leaned against the cushions and closed her eyes, as though the effort had exhausted her.

At that very moment the clock on the mantel chimed twelve. Abby’s eyes fluttered open and an odd expression passed over her face.

For an instant she stared straight before her, then slowly turned her head and fastened her eyes on the clock.

CHAPTER IX

Helpful Disclosures

NANCY watched Abby Rowen intently as the mantel clock finished striking. The elderly woman’s lips had begun to move.

“The clock!” she whispered. “That was it! The clock!”

Nancy gripped the arms of her chair in excitement. “Josiah Crowley hid the will in a clock?” she prompted.

“No—no, it wasn’t that,” Abby murmured, sighing again. “I know Josiah said something about a clock, but whatever it was has slipped my mind.”

Silence descended over the room. Nancy was wondering what connection the timepiece could have with the missing will. Mrs. Rowen was staring at the clock, evidently still trying to probe her memory.

Suddenly she gave a low cry. “There! It came to me just like that!”

“What, Mrs. Rowen?” Nancy urged quietly, lest she startle the old woman into forgetfulness.

“A notebook!” Abby exclaimed triumphantly.

Nancy’s heart gave a leap, but she forced herself to say calmly, “Please tell me more about this notebook.”

“Well, one day not long before he passed away, Josiah said to me, ‘Abby, after I’m dead, if my last will isn’t found, you can learn about it in this little book of mine.’ “ “Do you know what became of the notebook, Mrs. Rowen?”

“Oh dearie me! There goes my memory again. No, I don’t.”

Although baffled, Nancy felt a growing conviction that the whereabouts of the Crowley will was definitely tied up with a clock of some kind. But, she pondered, why did the striking of the mantel clock remind Abby Rowen of the notebook?

Impulsively Nancy got up and went over to the mantel. She looked inside the glass front and in the back. There were no papers inside.

Returning to her chair, Nancy asked the elderly woman, “What became of the furnishings of the Crowley home when he gave it up?”

“The Tophams got ‘most everything.”

“There must have been a family clock,” Nancy mused, half to herself.

“A family clock?” Abby repeated. “Oh, yes, there was a clock.”

“Can you describe it?”

“It was just an ordinary mantel type, something like mine—tall, with a square face,” the woman told Nancy. “Only Josiah’s was fancier. Had some kind of a moon on top.” “What became of the clock?” Nancy questioned.

“I suppose the Tophams got it, too.”

At last Nancy, sure she had done all she could for Abby, and that she had learned as much as possible for the present, rose to depart. After saying good-by, she stopped at a neighboring house and asked the occupants to look in occasionally on the ailing woman.

“I think maybe one of the county’s visiting nurses should see Mrs. Rowen,” she suggested.

“I’ll phone the agency,” the neighbor offered. “Meanwhile, I’ll go over myself. I’m so sorry I didn’t know about Mrs. Rowen.”

As Nancy drove toward River Heights, she jubilantly reviewed the new facts in the case. “Now, if I can only locate Mr. Crowley’s notebook—or clock—or both!”

Nancy’s brow knit in concentration. How would she go about tracking down the old timepiece?

“I guess,” she concluded, “if the Tophams do have the clock, I’ll have to pay them a visit!”

While she did not relish the idea of calling on the unpleasant family, Nancy was determined to pursue every possible clue. “I can just see Ada’s and Isabel’s expressions when I appear at their front door,” Nancy thought wryly. “Well, I’ll think of some excuse to see them.”

She was still mulling over the problem when she pulled into the driveway of her home and heard a familiar voice calling her name.

“Why, Helen Corning!” exclaimed Nancy, as a slim, attractive school friend of hers ran up. “I haven’t seen you for days.”

“I’ve been busy lately,” Helen explained, “trying to sell six tickets for a charity ball. But I haven’t had much luck. Would you like a couple?”

A sudden idea flashed into Nancy’s mind at her friend’s words. “Helen,” she said excitedly, “I’ll buy two of your tickets and sell the rest for you.”

The other girl stared in astonishment. “Why, that’s a wonderful offer, Nance. But—”

Nancy’s eyes danced. “I know you think I’ve lost my mind. I really mean it, though. Please let me take the tickets! I can’t tell you my reasons yet—except my cause is a worthy one.”

Helen, looking relieved but bewildered, handed over the tickets. “This is really a break for me,” she said. “Now I can leave for my aunt’s Camp Avondale this evening as I’d hoped. It’s at Moon Lake. I thought I’d never get off, with those tickets unsold!” Nancy smiled. “Have a grand time, Helen,” she said.

“How about coming along? It’s not expensive and there’s room for lots more girls. We’d have loads of fun.”

“I’d love to,” Nancy replied, “but right now I can’t get away.”

“Maybe you can make it later,” Helen suggested. “If so, just zip on up. I’ll be there for two weeks before the regular summer camp opens.”

The two friends chatted a little longer, then said good-by. Nancy put the car away, then walked slowly toward her house, looking meditatively at the charity tickets in her hand.

“These are to be my passport to the Tophams’ stronghold!”

It was the following afternoon when Nancy approached the large pretentious house belonging to the Tophams.

Bracing herself for what she realized would be a trying interview, Nancy mounted the steps and rang the doorbell. “Here goes,” she thought. “I must be subtle in this maneuver to keep from arousing the Tophams’ suspicions!”

At that moment a maid opened the door, and with a condescending look, waited for Nancy to State her mission.

“Will you please tell Mrs. Topham that Nancy Drew is calling?” she requested. “I’m selling tickets for a charity dance. It’s one of the most important functions of the year in River Heights,” Nancy added impressively.

It seemed ages to the young sleuth before the maid returned and said that “Madame” would see her. Nancy was ushered into the living room, which was so bizarre in its decor she was startled.

“Such an expensive hodge-podge!” Nancy observed to herself, sitting down. She glanced at the pink carpet—which to her clashed with the red window draperies—and at an indiscriminate assortment of period furniture mixed with modern.

A haughty voice interrupted her thoughts. “Well, what do you want, Nancy?” Mrs. Topham had sailed grandly into the room and seated herself opposite Nancy, “I’m selling—” Nancy began pleasantly.

“Oh, if you’re selling things I’m not interested,” the woman broke in rudely. “I can’t be handing out money to every solicitor who comes along.”

With difficulty Nancy suppressed an angry retort to the cutting remark. “Mrs. Topham,” she said evenly, “perhaps your maid didn’t make it clear. I am selling tickets to a charity ball which will be one of the loveliest affairs in River Heights this year.”

“Oh!” A slight change came over Mrs. Topham’s face. Nancy sensed that her words had struck a responsive chord. The woman was well known for her aspirations to be accepted by the best families in River Heights. “Well—”

To Nancy’s dismay Mrs. Topham’s response was cut off by the arrival of Ada and Isabel. The sisters entered the room, but did not at first notice Nancy’s presence. They were intently carrying on a disgruntled conversation.

“Really!” Ada was complaining. “I’m positive that woman snubbed us deliberately.”

Then she and Isabel caught sight of Nancy and stopped short. They stared coldly at the visitor.

“What are you doing here?” Isabel asked with a patronizing air.

Mrs. Topham answered her daughter’s question. “Nancy is selling tickets to a charity dance, dear. It’s to be a very important affair and I think it will be very beneficial for us to be present.”

Isabel tossed her head disdainfully. “Don’t waste your money, Mother.”

“Isabel’s right,” Ada chimed in. “We don’t want to go to a ball just anybody can go to. We only attend the most exclusive affairs.”

“Absolutely,” Isabel declared in her haughtiest tone. “After all, Ada and I are very particular about the people we choose to meet”

Mrs. Topham hesitated, evidently influenced by her daughters’ argument. Nancy’s heart sank, and she feared her cause was lost. She fully realized that Ada and Isabel would stay away from the dance just to spite her.

As she debated what her next move should be, Richard Topham walked into the living room. He was a thin man, with sparse graying hair. His manner was rather nervous. Mrs. Topham perfunctorily introduced Nancy to her husband.

“I gather you have some tickets to dispose of, Miss Drew,” he said without ceremony. “How many?”

“Why, four,” Nancy replied in some surprise.

“I’ll take them all.” Mr. Topham opened his wallet with a flourish and drew out a hundreddollar bill. Here you are. Keep the change for your charity.”

His daughters gasped and his wife exclaimed, “Richard! Have you lost your senses? All that money!”

“Listen,” Mr. Topham retorted bluntly. “This donation will entitle us to have our names on the programs as patrons.”

With this remark he slumped into a chair and buried himself in the financial section of the newspaper. His family stared at one another, but they knew that the matter was closed. They never dared disturb him when he was absorbed in the stock-market reports.

Nancy arose reluctantly. She still had not accomplished the real purpose of her visit, but she had no excuse for prolonging her stay. How could she find out about the Crowley clock? Was it the one on the mantelpiece?

“I must be going,” she said. Then, looking at her wrist watch, she pretended that it had stopped and began to wind it. “What time is it, please?”

“There’s a clock right in front of you—on the mantel,” Ada said sharply.

Nancy looked at the timepiece. “So there is,” she remarked casually. “Is it an heirloom, perhaps the old Crowley clock I’ve heard so much about?”

Mrs. Topham looked down her nose. “I should say not! This is a far more expensive one!”

Isabel also rose to Nancy’s bait. “Cousin Josiah’s old clock was a monstrosity. We wouldn’t even have it cluttering up the attic!”

Nancy’s hopes waned, but she asked quickly, “Oh, then you sold it?”

“No,” Ada spoke up contemptuously. “Who’d give any money for that piece of junk? We sent it up to our bungalow at Moon Lake.”

Moon Lake! The words hit Nancy like a thunderbolt. Not only had the Topham girl given Nancy the very information she sought, but Helen Coming’s invitation to Camp Avondale provided a valid reason to visit the resort! Now if she could only figure out how to see the old clock!

As if Ada had read the visitor’s thoughts, she said airily, “We have some really fine pieces up at the cottage, Nancy. If you ever get up that way, drop in to see them. The caretaker will show you around.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much for everything,” Nancy said, trying hard to conceal her excitement. As the door closed behind her, Nancy grinned in anticipation. “What luck!” she told herself. “Moon Lake, here I come!”

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