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CHAPTER XVI

The Capture

EAGERLY Nancy removed the little notebook from the hook. By holding the book directly under the beam of her flashlight, she could make out the words on the cover: Property of Josiah Crowley.

“I’ve found it at last!” she thought excitedly.

Quickly turning the first few pages, she saw that they were yellowed with age. The writing was fine and cramped, and the ink had faded. The pages were crowded with business notations, and it was difficult to make out the words.

Nancy was thrilled, for she was positive that the notebook would disclose what Josiah Crowley had done with his last will. Yet, she realized that she could not hope to read through the book without a considerable loss of precious time. She must not delay another instant in reporting to the police.

“I’ll read the notebook later,” she decided, and tucked it into her pocket. Then she put the clock together.

Hurriedly laying the timepiece back on the car seat, Nancy covered it with her coat and slid behind the wheel. Starting the engine, she swung the convertible onto the highway. Nancy cast an anxious glance in the direction the thieves had taken, and watched for side roads down which the men might turn to avoid the main highway.

“Perhaps I’d better phone the State Police from the first service station or store I come to.” Then suddenly she noticed a sign: Alternate route to Garwin. Main road under repair.

Reaching the intersection, she stopped to see if the familiar tire marks of the van indicated it had turned onto this dirt road. It had!

“Now what shall I do?”

As Nancy debated, she saw a car coming toward her. Her hopes soared. She could not be mistaken—it was a police prowl car with a red revolving roof light!

Instantly Nancy grabbed her own flashlight and jumped from the car. Standing at the side of the road, she waved her light and in a few minutes the police sedan stopped.

“I’m Nancy Drew,” she said hurriedly to the two men inside. “Are you looking for the furniture thieves in the van?”

“Yes, we are. You’re the girl who reported them?”

Nancy nodded, then pointed down the side road. “I think those are their tire marks. The men were at the Black Horse Inn, but left.”

“You can identify them?” the driver asked.

“Oh, yes.”

“Then please follow us. I’ll radio for a car to approach the thieves’ van from the other end of the road.”

The police car sped down the bad road to Garwin, with Nancy following closely behind. They rode for several miles.

“Oh dear,” thought Nancy, “I must have been wrong! We should have overtaken the van by this time.”

Another ten minutes passed. Then, unexpectedly, she caught a glimpse of a red taillight on the Toad far ahead.

“It must be the van!” Nancy told herself hopefully. “The light doesn’t appear to be moving fast enough for an automobile.”

Evidently the police were of the same opinion, for at that moment their car slowed down. Nancy figured they would not stop the van until they saw the other police car arriving from the opposite direction. A few moments later she could see headlights in the distance.

The squad car in front of Nancy now sped ahead and pulled up alongside the van. “Pull over” one of the officers shouted to the man in the cab.

Instead of doing so, the van put on a burst of speed. But in order to avoid smashing into the oncoming squad car, the driver pulled too far to the right. The van swerved sharply. Its two right wheels went off into a deep ditch, and the vehicle toppled over.

In an instant the officers were out of the car and had the fugitives covered.

By this time Nancy, who had stopped her car at the side of the road, came running up. One of the officers turned to her and asked, “Can you identify these men?”

As a light was flashed upon each of the thieves in turn, Nancy nodded. “This one is Sid, who locked me in the closet,” she declared, pointing to the leader. “The others are Jake and Parky.”

The prisoners stared in complete disbelief. They were astounded to see Nancy Drew standing there. When it dawned on Sid that she evidently was responsible for their capture, he started to say something, then changed his mind and remained silent The prisoners were quickly identified from licenses and other papers as wanted criminals.

One of the other officers opened the rear of the van and asked Nancy if she could identify the stolen furniture.

“Some of it,” she replied. “That desk was taken from the room in which I was locked in the closet.”

“Good enough,” said the trooper. “These men will get long sentences for this. They’ll be held on several charges. Are you willing to go with us and prefer charges against them?”

“Yes, if it’s necessary,” Nancy promised reluctantly. “But I don’t live in this county and I’m eager to get home right away. Don’t you have enough evidence against them? I think they’re the same men who stole several silver heirlooms from the Turner sisters.” Sid and his companions winced, but did not speak.

“I see,” said the trooper. “Well, I guess there’s no need for you to go to headquarters now,” the officer admitted. “I’ll take your address, and if your testimony should be required, I’ll get in touch with you.”

When Nancy showed her driver’s license as identification, the policeman glanced at her with new interest. Taking her aside, he said, “So you’re the daughter of Carson Drew! I see you’re following in his footsteps. Starting rather young, aren’t you?”

Nancy laughed. “It was only by accident that I arrived at the Topham bungalow at the critical moment,” she protested modestly.

“Not many girls would have used their wits the way you did,” the officer observed. “Unless I’m mistaken, these fellows are old hands at this game. They’re no doubt the men who have been stealing various things from around Moon Lake for a number of seasons. The residents will be mighty grateful for what you’ve done. And that Mrs. Topham you spoke of—she ought to give you a liberal reward for saving her household goods.”

Nancy shook her head. “I don’t want a reward, really I don’t.”

“Just the same you’ve earned one,” insisted the officer, who said his name was Cowen. “If you’d like, I’ll tell my chief the whole story and he’ll take the matter up with this Mrs. Topham.”

“You don’t know her,” Nancy remarked, “and I do. She’d never offer a reward. Even if she did, I wouldn’t accept it.” After a slight pause, she added, “In fact, I prefer that my name not be mentioned to her at all.”

Officer Cowen shook his head in disbelief. “Well, all right, then. If you’re sure you don’t want any credit for capturing the thieves, I won’t say anything. You’re certain?”

“I am,” Nancy replied firmly, “for a particular reason of my own.”

The trooper smiled. “It must be a mighty good one.”

“There is one favor you might do me,” said Nancy. “Ask your chief to put in a good word for the caretaker, Jeff Tucker, to the Tophams. Perhaps then he won’t lose his job.”

“Be glad to,” Officer Cowen promised. “And if you’re really anxious not to figure in the case, I’ll see if we can get along without your testimony.”

Nancy thanked him, then suddenly thought of the old clock. At the moment it was lying on the front seat of her car, less than a dozen yards away. Should she reveal this information? She decided against doing so in front of the thieves, who,, though they could not hear what she had been saying, could see everything plainly. “I’ll wait until a more opportune time,” Nancy concluded.

It was agreed among the state policemen that one of them would stay to guard the van and keep a radio car standing by there. The other three troopers would take the captive thieves to headquarters.

The three prisoners, their faces sullen, were crowded into the car. One of the troopers took the wheel, while the one beside him kept the handcuffed trio closely covered.

Officer Cowen, a strapping, husky man, turned to Nancy. “I’ll ride with you,” he said. “You’re going past headquarters on the main road?” “I’m on my way to River Heights,” she responded.

“Then the station is on your route. You can drop me off if you will.”

“Why—why, of course,” Nancy stammered. “I’ll be glad to.”

At once she had thought of the Crowley clock. What if Officer Cowen should not accept her explanation as to why she had helped herself to the heirloom and its strange contents? If this happened, her progress in solving the mystery might receive a serious setback! Even as these disturbing ideas raced through her mind, the trooper started toward the blue convertible.

Nancy braced herself. “I’ll just have to ‘fess up,” she said to herself, “and take the consequences!”

CHAPTER XVII

Strange Instructions

FOR THE next few seconds Nancy’s mind worked like lightning as she rehearsed what she would say to Officer Cowen. One idea stood out clearly: the police were concerned in the theft of the furniture, so she would hand over the clock. But they were not involved in locating Mr. Crowley’s missing will. For this reason the young sleuth felt justified in keeping the notebook. She would turn it over to her father, and let him decide what disposition should be made of it.

“After all,” Nancy told herself, “Dad is handling the Crowley case for the Hoovers, and even the Turners and Mrs. Rowen, in a way.”

By this time she and the trooper had reached her car. “Would you like me to drive?” he asked.

“Why—er—yes, if you wish,” Nancy replied. “But first I want to show you something,” she added, as he opened the door for her. “I have some stolen property here.”

“What!”

Quickly Nancy explained that she had taken the responsibility of trying to learn whether or not the van held the stolen furniture. “I recognized a few of the pieces, and possibly this clock which the Tophams had told me about. I took that out to examine it. Then I never had a chance to get it back without being caught. I’m sure the Tophams will identify the old clock as their property.”

Nancy’s explanation seemed to satisfy the officer. “I’ll take it to headquarters,” he said.

“Let’s go!”

He laid the clock on the rear seat, then slid behind the wheel and drove off.

It was nearly midnight when Nancy, tired and worn from her long ride, reached the Drew home in River Heights. As she drove into the double garage, she noticed that her father’s car was gone. A glance at the house disclosed that the windows were dark, with the exception of a light in the hall. Hannah Gruen must be in bed.

“Of course she’s not expecting me,” Nancy reasoned. “I wonder where Dad can be? Oh, I hope he’ll get home soon. I want to tell him about my discovery right away.”

After locking the garage door, she went to the kitchen entrance and let herself in.

Her eyes lighted on the refrigerator and suddenly Nancy realized she was very hungry. Many hours had passed since she had eaten. “Urn, food!” she thought.

Just as Nancy opened the refrigerator door, she heard steps on the stairs and Hannah Gruen, wearing a sleepy look, appeared in robe and slippers.

“Nancy!” cried the housekeeper, instantly wide awake.

“Surprise, Hannah darling!” Nancy gave the housekeeper an affectionate hug and kiss. “I’m simply starved. Haven’t had a bite since lunch-time.”

“Why, you poor dear!” the housekeeper exclaimed in concern. “What happened? I’ll fix you something right away.”

As the two prepared a chicken sandwich, some cocoa, and Hannah cut a large slice of cinnamon cake over which she poured hot applesauce, Nancy told of her adventures.

The housekeeper’s eyes widened. “Nancy, you might have been killed by those awful men. Well, I’m certainly glad they’ve been captured.”

“So am I!” declared Nancy fervently as she finished the last crumb of cake. “And I hope the Turners get back their silver heirlooms.”

“How about the Tophams?” Hannah Gruen questioned teasingly.

“Somehow,” said Nancy with a wink, “that doesn’t seem to worry me.” Then she asked, “Where’s Dad?”

“Working at his office,” Hannah Gruen replied. “He phoned earlier that something unexpected had come up in connection with one of his cases.”

“Then I’ll wait for him,” said Nancy. “You go back to bed. And thanks a million.” The sleepy housekeeper did not demur.

Left alone, Nancy tidied the kitchen, then went to the living room.

“Now to find out what became of Josiah Crowley’s last will,” she thought excitedly, as she curled up in a comfortable chair near a reading lamp.

Carefully she thumbed the yellowed pages, for she was afraid they might tear. Evidently Josiah Crowley had used the same notebook for many years.

“He certainly knew how to save money,” she mused.

Nancy read page after page, perusing various kinds of memoranda and many notations of property owned by Mr. Crowley. There were also figures on numerous business transactions in which he had been involved. Nancy was surprised at the long list of stocks, bonds, and notes which apparently belonged to the estate.

“I had no idea Josiah Crowley was worth so much,” she murmured.

After a time Nancy grew impatient at the seemingly endless list of figures. She skipped several pages of the little notebook, and turned toward the end where Mr. Crowley had listed his possessions.

“Why, what’s this?” she asked herself. Fastened to one page was a very thin, flat key with a tag marked 148.

Suddenly a phrase on the opposite page, “My last will and testament,” caught and held Nancy’s attention. Eagerly she began to read the whole section.

“I’ve found it!” she exclaimed excitedly. “I’m glad I didn’t give up the search!”

The notation concerning the will was brief. Nancy assumed the cramped writing was Josiah Crowley’s. It read:

To whom it may concern: My last will and testament will be found in safe-deposit box number 148 in the Merchants Trust Company. The box is under the name of Josiah Johnston.

“And this is the key to the box!” Nancy told herself.

For several moments the young sleuth sat staring ahead of her. It seemed unbelievable that she had solved the mystery. But surely there could no mistake. The date of the entry in the notebook was recent and the ink had not faded as it had on the earlier pages.

“There is a later will!” Nancy exclaimed aloud. “Oh, if only it leaves something to the Turners, and the Mathews, and Abby Rowen, and the Hoover girls! Then Allison could take voice lessons and little Judy would be taken care of, and—”

Nancy hurriedly read on, hoping to learn something definite. But although she carefully examined every page in the book, there was no other mention of the will, nor any clue to its contents.

“No wonder the document didn’t come to light,” Nancy mused. “Who would have thought of looking for it in a safe-deposit box under the name of Josiah Johnston? In his desire for safekeeping, Josiah Crowley nearly defeated his own purpose.”

Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard a car turn into the driveway. Rushing to the window, Nancy saw her father pull into the garage. She ran to meet him at the kitchen door.

“Why, hello, Nancy,” he greeted her in surprise. “If I had known you were here, I’d have come home sooner. I was doing some special work on a case. Back from Moon Lake ahead of schedule, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Nancy admitted, trying to hide her excitement. “But for a good reason.”

Before her father could hang up his hat in the hall closet, she plunged into the story of her adventures and ended by showing him the notebook which she had found inside the mantel clock. When she had finished, Carson Drew stared at his daughter with mingled pride and amazement.

“You’re a good detective, Nancy. You’ve picked up an excellent clue,” he said.

“Dad, I thought it best not tell the police about the notebook. We don’t want to reveal the secret of another will to the executor mentioned in the old one.”

“You mean Mr. Topham. I agree,” the lawyer replied. “The new will may name someone else as executor.” He smiled. “I think you and I should try to see this will. But,” he added, “which Merchants Trust Company is it in? There must be dozens of banks by that name.”

Nancy suddenly snapped her fingers. “Dad, I believe I know. You recall that Judge Hart and his wife told me they had seen Josiah Crowley in Masonville a couple of times. And there’s a Merchants Trust Company there.”

Mr. Drew looked at his daughter admiringly. “I believe you have the answer, Nancy. And Judge Hart is just the man to help us. I’ll phone him in the morning. Well, I guess we both need some sleep.”

As the lawyer kissed his daughter good night, he added, “My dear, you were hi serious danger when you encountered those thieves. I don’t like to have you take such risks. I am very grateful indeed that you are back home safe.”

“The Tophams aren’t going to thank me when they find out what I have done,” Nancy said, as she went up the stairs ahead of her rather. “In fact, we may have a battle on our hands, Dad.”

“That’s right, Nancy. And it will be just as well that they don’t learn the details of how the will was found until the matter is settled beyond a doubt.”

“I’m certainly curious to find out if the new will left anything to the Tophams,” said Nancy. “If not,” her father put in, “your discovery will strike them at an especially awkward time.”

Nancy paused on the stairs and turned to face her father. “What do you mean?”

“Well, there’s talk about town that Richard Topham has been losing heavily in the stock market this past month. He has been getting credit at a number of places on the strength of the inheritance, and I suspect he is depending on Crowley’s money to pull him through a tight spot. He’s making every effort to speed up the settlement of the estate.” “Then we’d better hurry,” said Nancy, resuming the climb.

“Don’t build your hopes too high,” Mr. Drew advised her wisely. “There may be a slip, you know.”

“How?”

“We may fail to find the will in the safe-deposit box.”

“Oh, I can’t believe it, Dad. The notebook says it’s there!”

“Then,” the lawyer continued, “there is a chance that Josiah Crowley didn’t dispose of the fortune as the Turners and the Hoovers and others expected he would.”

“But he promised all those people—”

“I know, Nancy. But there’s just the possibility that the notation in the notebook was wishful thinking and Mr. Crowley never got around to making the new will.”

“You can discourage me all you want to, Dad, “but I’m not going to stop hoping!” Nancy said. “Oh, I can scarcely wait for morning to come!”

Her father laughed. “You’re an incurable optimist! Now put Josiah Crowley out of your mind and get a good night’s sleep.”

At the door of her bedroom Nancy hesitated, then turned back toward the stairs.

“What’s up?” Mr. Drew asked.

Without answering Nancy ran down to the living room, picked up the notebook which lay on the table, and hurried back up the carpeted steps.

“After all I’ve gone through to get my hands on this,” she told her father, “I’m not going to take any chances!” Nancy laughed. “Tonight I’ll sleep with it under my pillow!”

CHAPTER XVIII

A Suspenseful Search

WHEN Nancy awoke the following morning, bright sunlight was streaming through her open bedroom window. As her eyes turned toward the clock on her dresser, she was alarmed to see that it was a little after nine o’clock.

“How could I have overslept on a morning like this?” she chided herself.

Quickly running her hand under the pillow, she brought out the Crowley notebook and surveyed it with satisfaction.

“What a surprise the Tophams are going to get!” she murmured softly.

After hastily bathing and dressing, Nancy hurried downstairs looking very attractive in a blue summer sweater suit. She kissed Hannah Gruen, who said a cheery good morning and told Nancy that Mr. Drew had already left for his office.

“Oh dear,” Nancy said, “I wonder if he forgot our date?”

“No indeed,” the housekeeper replied. “He phoned Judge Hart and expects word from him by ten o’clock. He’ll let you know the result. My goodness, Nancy, you’ve really made a big discovery. I do hope everything turns out for the best.”

She went into the kitchen but returned in a moment with a plate of crisp, golden waffles.

“Better eat your breakfast,” she advised. “Your dad may call any minute.”

Nancy ate a dish of strawberries, then started on the waffles. “These are yummy,” she stated, pouring maple syrup over a second one.

She had just finished eating when the phone rang. Mr. Drew was calling to say Judge Hart had made arrangements at the bank. “Come to my office with the notebook and key, Nancy.

We’ll start from here.”

“I’ll be right down, Dad.”

Nancy went upstairs for her purse, then drove to her father’s office.

“I have the notebook with me,” she told the lawyer. “Do you want it?”

“We’ll take the book along. I want to show it to the head of the trust department at the bank,” Mr. Drew said. “It’s our proof we have good reason for taking a look in Mr. Crowley’s box.”

After leaving a number of instructions with his private secretary, Carson Drew followed his daughter from the office. He took his place beside her in the convertible.

“I’ll never get over it if we don’t find a newer will,” Nancy declared, as they drove along. A flush of excitement had tinted her cheeks and her eyes were bright.

“You must remember one thing, Nancy,” returned her father calmly. “Crowley was an odd person and did things in an odd way. A will may be there, and again it may not. Perhaps he only left further directions to finding it.

“I remember one case in Canada years ago. An eccentric Frenchman died and left directions to look in a trunk of old clothes for a will. In the pocket of a coat were found further instructions to look in a closet of his home. There his family found a note telling them to look in a copper boiler.

“The boiler had disappeared but was finally located in a curiosity shop. Inside, pasted on the bottom, was what proved to be a word puzzle in Chinese. The old Frenchman’s heirs were about to give up in despair when a Chinese solved the puzzle and the old man’s fortune was found—a bag of gold under a board in his bedroom floor!” “At least they found it,” said Nancy.

The trip to Masonville was quickly accomplished, and Nancy parked the car in front of the Merchants Trust Company.

Father and daughter alighted and entered the bank. Mr. Drew gave his name and asked to see the president After a few minutes’ wait they were ushered into a private conference room. An elderly man, Mr. Jensen, arose to greet them.

The introductions over, Mr. Drew hastened to state his mission. Before he could finish the story, the bank president broke in.

“Judge Hart has told me the story. I’ll call Mr. Warren, our trust officer.”

He picked up his desk phone and in a few minutes Mr. Warren appeared and was introduced. Nancy now brought out the notebook, opened it to the important page, and handed it to the men to read.

When they finished, Mr. Jensen said, “What a mystery!”

Mr. Warren pulled from his pocket the file card which the owner of Box 148 had filled out in the name of Josiah Johnston. The two samples of cramped handwritings were compared.

“I would say,” Mr. Drew spoke up, “that there is no doubt but that Crowley and Johnston were the same person.”

“I agree,” asserted Mr. Jensen, and his trust officer nodded.

“Then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t open the box?” Mr. Drew asked.

“None,” Mr. Warren replied. “Of course nothing may be removed, you understand.”

“All I want to see,” Nancy spoke up, “is whether there is a will in the box, the date on it, who the executor is, and who the heirs are.”

The bankers smiled and Mr. Jensen said, “You’re hoping to solve four mysteries all at once! Well, let’s get started.”

With Mr. Warren in the lead, the four walked toward the rear of the bank to the vault of the trust department. A guard opened the door and they went through. Mr. Jensen took the key from Mr. Crowley’s notebook, while Mr. Warren opened the first part o£ the double safety lock with the bank key. Then he inserted the key from the notebook. It fitted!

In a moment he lifted out Deposit Box Number 148. It was a small one and not heavy, he said.

“We’ll take this into a private room,” Mr. Jensen stated. He, Nancy, and Mr. Drew followed the trust officer down a corridor of cubbyhole rooms until they reached one not in use. “Now,” said Mr. Jensen, when the door was closed behind them, “we shall see how many—if any—of the mysteries are solved.”

Nancy held her breath as he raised the lid of the box. All peered inside. The box was empty, except for one bulky document in the bottom.

“Oh, it must be the will!” Nancy exclaimed.

“It is a will,” Mr. Jensen announced, after a hasty glance at the first page. “Josiah Crowley’s last will and testament.”

“When was it written?” Nancy asked quickly.

“In March of this year,” Mr. Jensen told her.

“Oh, Dad,” Nancy cried, “this was later than the will the Tophams submitted for probate!” “That’s right.”

“Let’s read it right away,” Nancy begged.

Mr. Jensen handed the sheets to Mr. Drew. “Maybe you can decipher this. The handwriting is too much for me.”

The lawyer took the will. Then, as Nancy looked over his shoulder, he haltingly read aloud, giving an interpretation rather than a word by word account.

“Mr. Jensen—Mr. Warren, your bank has been named as executor,” he said.

“Very good.” The president smiled. “But I expect Mr. Topham won’t be happy to hear this.”

Mr. Drew had turned to the last page. “The signature of Josiah is in order,” he remarked, “and there are two witnesses—Dr. Nesbitt and Thomas Wackley. No wonder this will didn’t come to light. Both those men died in April.”

As Nancy tried to decipher the handwriting, she noticed to her delight that the Hoover girls and Abby Rowen were mentioned.

At this moment the president said, “Mr. Drew, the bank’s regular lawyer had just left for Europe on an extended vacation. Since you and your daughter have solved the mystery and are so vitally interested in it, would you handle this case for us?”

Nancy’s eyes sparkled and Mr. Drew smiled. “I’d certainly be very glad to,” he said.

“What instructions have you for us?” Mr. Warren asked.

Mr. Drew thought a moment, then said, “Because of the unusual aspects of this case, I believe that first of all I’d like you to have photostats of the will made, so I can study the contents carefully.”

“We’ll be happy to do that,” Mr. Jensen replied. “And then?”

“After I’m sure everything is legal,” Mr. Drew went on, “I’ll deliver the original will for probate and notify the people who will benefit from Mr. Crowley’s estate.”

“Fine,” said Mr. Jensen. “We have photostating equipment right here. I’ll have a couple of copies made while you wait. Or shall I send them to your office?”

Mr. Drew glanced at his daughter. “We’ll wait,” he said, smiling.

While the photostats were being made, Nancy’s mind was racing. “Oh, I hope Allison receives enough money to pay for singing lessons, and the other deserving people get nice amounts,” she whispered to her father, who nodded.

The wait seemed interminable to Nancy, who could not sit still. She walked back and forth until finally her father remarked teasingly, “You’re like a caged lion.”

Nancy pretended to pout. “At least I’m not growling,” she said, and Mr. Drew grinned. Soon a messenger brought back the will, together with two photostats of the document “Thank you,” said Mr. Jensen, who handed the photostatic copies to Mr. Drew.

“I’ll work on this at once,” the lawyer promised as he put the papers in his brief case. Then he and his daughter left the bank.

Mr. Drew insisted that he and Nancy stop for lunch and refused to let her look at the will while they were waiting to be served. “Relax, young lady,” he warned. “There’s no point in letting any prying eyes know our secret.”

As he saw his daughter’s animation fading, Mr. Drew said, “Suppose you come to my office with me and we’ll work on the problem together. I’ll have the will typed. In this way its full meaning can be understood more easily.” “Oh, thanks, Dad,” said Nancy.

In the lawyer’s office the young sleuth sat down beside his typist, Miss Lamby. As each page came from the machine, Nancy read it avidly.

“Mr. Crowley certainly seemed to know the correct phraseology for drawing up a will,” she remarked.

Finally, when the typing had been completed, Nancy said to the secretary, “I have a lot of questions to ask Dad.”

Miss Lamby smiled. “If they’re legal ones, he’ll know all the answers,” she said. “There’s no better lawyer in River Heights than your father.”

Nancy smiled as she dashed into her father’s office. The two Drews sat down to study Josiah Crowley’s last will and testament.

“If this does prove to be legal,” said Nancy, “it will certainly be a blow to the Tophams.” “I’m afraid so.”

“Dad, when you call a meeting of all the relatives and read the will aloud,” Nancy said, “please may I be there?”

Mr. Drew laughed. “I’ll humor you this time, Nancy. You may be present when the Tophams get the surprise of their lives!”

CHAPTER XIX

Startling Revelations

“DAD, it’s nearly two o’clock now. Mr. Crowley’s relatives should be here in a few minutes! I’m so excited!”

Carson Drew, who stood in the living room of the Drew home with Mr. Warren from the bank, smiled at his daughter as she fluttered about, arranging chairs.

“I believe you’re more thrilled than if you were inheriting the fortune yourself,” he remarked.

“I am thrilled,” Nancy admitted. “I can scarcely wait until the will is read aloud. Won’t everyone be surprised? Especially the Tophams. Do you think they will come?”

“Oh, yes, the Tophams will be here. And, unless I am mistaken, they will bring a lawyer with them. Just as soon as they learned that another will had come to light, they began to worry. They will certainly want to hear what is in this one.”

“Are you certain the will we found can’t be broken?” Nancy inquired anxiously.

“Of course I can’t be certain, Nancy. But I have gone over it carefully, and so far as I can tell, it is technically perfect. I also asked a couple of lawyer friends and they agree. Josiah Crowley was peculiar in some ways, but he was a very smart man. I’ll promise you the Tophams will have a difficult time if they try to contest this will.” “The bank will help you fight,” Mr. Warren put in.

With the exception of Abby Rowen, who was still confined to bed, all the old gentleman’s relatives had promised to be present. Grace and Allison Hoover, although not relatives, had also been invited.

“It’s too bad Mrs. Rowen can’t come,” said Nancy. “But I’ll take the news to her this very afternoon.”

“The size of the fortune will probably be a great surprise to everyone but the Tophams,” said her father with a smile. “Nancy, you did a remarkable piece of detective work.”

“It was fun,” she said modestly. “And I can hardly wait to have it all cleared up.”

“We may have some trying minutes with the Tophams, Nancy,” her father warned.

“Yes, I suppose so. I expect anybody would be sorry to see a fortune slip away. . . . Dad, I see Grace and Allison coming up the walk now,” Nancy announced, glancing out the window.

She greeted them with kisses and escorted the sisters into the living room, where she introduced them to Mr. Warren. As Allison sat down, she whispered to Nancy: “Is it true a later will has been found?”

“You and Grace have no cause to worry,” Nancy assured her with a mysterious smile.

The doorbell rang. This time Nancy admitted Edna and Mary Turner, who were dressed as if for a party. With them was little Judy, who threw herself into Nancy’s arms. A few minutes later the Mathews brothers, William and Fred, arrived.

“I guess everyone is here except the Tophams,” Mr. Drew commented. “We had better wait for them a few minutes.”

There was no need to wait, for at that moment the bell rang sharply. Nancy opened the door and the four members of the Topham family walked in haughtily, merely nodding to the others in the room. As Mr. Drew had predicted, they were accompanied by a lawyer.

“Why have we been called here?” Mrs. Topham demanded, addressing Mr. Drew. “Have you the audacity to claim that another will has been found?”

“I have a will written only this past March, Mrs. Topham,” Carson Drew replied evenly.

“And I’d like to introduce to all of you Mr. John Warren, trust officer of the Merchants Trust

Company, of Masonville, which has been named as executor.”

“It’s preposterous!” Mrs. Topham stormed. “Josiah Crowley made only one will and in that he left everything to us with my husband as executor.”

“It looks like a conspiracy to me,” Ada added tartly, as she gazed coldly upon the relatives and friends who were seated about the room.

Isabel did not speak, but tossed her head contemptuously. Richard Topham likewise did not offer a comment, but uneasily seated himself beside his own attorney.

“If you will please be seated, Mrs. Topham, I will read the will,” Mr. Drew suggested.

Reluctantly Mrs. Topham sat down.

“As I have said,” Mr. Drew began, “a recent will of the late Josiah Crowley was found in a safe-deposit box in the Masonville bank. The will is unusually long, and with your permission I will read from a typed copy only the portions which have to do with the disposal of the property. But first I want to ask Mr. Topham what value he puts on the estate.” “A hundred thousand after taxes,” the man replied.

“Oh!” the Turners exclaimed, and Mary said, “I had no idea Josiah had that much money.” “Nor I,” Edna agreed.

Mr. Drew picked up several typewritten sheets from the table, and began to read in a clear voice:

” ‘I, Josiah Crowley, do make this my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me at any time made. I give and bequeath all my property, real and personal, as follows: “ ‘To my beloved friends and neighbors, Grace and Allison Hoover, a sum equal to twenty per cent of my estate, share and share alike.’ “ “I must be dreaming!” Grace gasped.

“You mean I’m going to get ten thousand dollars?” Allison cried out. She burst into tears.

“Oh, Nancy, you did this for me! Now I can have my voice lessons.”

Isabel Topham eyed her disdainfully. “It would take more than ten thousand dollars to make a singer out of you!” she said maliciously.

“Quiet!” commanded her father. “Let’s hear what else this will says.”

His daughter subsided, but his wife exclaimed spitefully, “The will is a fraud. The Hoovers aren’t even relatives.”

“It is no fraud,” Mr. Drew told her quietly. Again he picked up the will and began to read:

” ‘To Abby Rowen, my late wife’s cousin, in consideration of her kindness to me, a sum equal to ten per cent of my estate.’ “

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Grace murmured. “Now she’ll be able to get the medical and other attention she needs.”

“And have someone live at her house to take care of her,” said Nancy.

“That old lady gets ten thousand dollars?” Ada Topham said harshly. “What did she ever do for Cousin Josiah?” Angrily she turned to her mother. “We took care of him for years—she didn’t!”

“I’ll say not,” Isabel echoed, her voice tart.

” ‘To my cousins, Fred and William Mathews, a sum equal to twenty per cent of my estate, share and share alike,’ “ Mr. Drew read.

“We didn’t expect that much,” Fred Mathews declared in genuine surprise. “Josiah was very kind.” Fred smiled. “Now we can take a trip like we’ve always wanted to do, William.”

“That’s right. I just can’t believe it. A long trip on an ocean liner or a plane.”

” ‘To my cousins, Edna and Mary Turner, twenty per cent of my estate, share and share alike.’ “

“Oh, how generous!” Edna murmured. “Now little Judy can have the things we’ve always wanted to give her.”

“Yes,” said Mary Turner. “Oh, I feel so relieved.”

“Aren’t we mentioned at all?” Mrs. Topham broke in sharply.

Mr. Drew smiled. “Yes, you are mentioned. I’m coming to that now. ‘To Richard Topham, five thousand dollars. To Grace and Allison Hoover—’ “ “Hold on!” cried Mrs. Topham. “What about me and the girls?” “No money was left to you,” the lawyer stated simply.

Isabel gave a shriek. “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, Mother, all those bills! What’ll we do?”

Ada too had cried out. “I’ll have to go to work! Oh, I can’t bear the thought of it!”

When the furor died down, Mr. Drew read on, “ ‘To Grace and Allison Hoover my household furniture now in the possession of Mrs. Richard Topham.’ “ There was a gasp of surprise from everyone in the room, and Mrs. Topham half arose from her chair. It was generally known in River Heights that she had practically confiscated Josiah Crowley’s furniture at the time he had been induced to make his home with the Tophams.

“How insulting!” the woman cried. “Does Josiah Crowley dare hint that I took his furniture?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what was in his mind at the time he wrote the will,” Mr. Drew told her with a smile.

Grace Hoover interposed quickly, “We have enough furniture without Josiah Crowley’s.” Allison nodded. “We’ll not take any of it from you, Mrs. Topham.”

Mr. Drew carefully folded the document he had been reading, and after placing it in his pocket, he said to the people in the room: “That is all, except that there is a proviso for the executor to pay all Mr. Crowley’s just debts, including his funeral expenses, and that what balance is left in the estate goes to the Manningham Old Men’s Home. I understand Josiah Crowley kept his assets in a liquid state. It will not be difficult to convert the estate into cash. For that reason I should think it would be possible to draw on your inheritances at once.”

Ada wheeled upon Nancy, her face convulsed with anger. “You engineered this whole thing, Nancy Drew!” she accused bitterly.

“Any good I’ve done I’m happy about,” Nancy answered.

“We’ll break the will!” Mrs. Topham announced firmly.

CHAPTER XX

A Happy Finale

“OF COURSE you may take the matter into court if you like,” Mr. Drew responded to Mrs. Topham’s threat. “But I warn you it will be a waste of your time and money. If you don’t wish to accept my judgment, ask your own lawyer.”

“Mr. Drew is right,” the other lawyer said, after arising and looking carefully at the legal document which Mr. Drew took from his pocket.

“Oh, he is, is he?” Mrs. Topham retorted. “If that’s all you know about law, you’re discharged! We’ll get another lawyer and we’ll fight to the last ditch!”

With that she arose and stalked from the room. Isabel and Ada followed, after bestowing a withering glance upon Nancy. Mr. Topham brought up the rear. As soon as the door had closed behind them, their lawyer arose and picked up his brief case.

“Well, I can’t say I’m sorry to be taken off the case,” he remarked as he, too, took his leave.

“But I advise you to be on your guard. That woman is certainly belligerent.”

At once the atmosphere in the Drew living room became less strained, though each person was fearful Mrs. Topham would make trouble. Everyone began to talk at once.

“Oh, Nancy, I can hardly believe it yet!” Allison declared happily. “The money means so much to Grace and me! And we owe it all to you, Nancy Drew! You haven’t told us how you came to find the will, but I know you were responsible.”

When the Hoover girls and Mr. Crowley’s relatives begged her for the details, Nancy told of her adventure with the thieves at Moon Lake. After she had finished the story, they praised her highly for what she had done.

“We’ll never be able to thank you enough,” Grace said quietly. “But after the estate has been settled, we’ll try to show our appreciation.”

It was on the tip of Nancy’s tongue to say that she did not want a reward, when Mr. Drew turned the conversation into a different channel.

“Mrs. Topham will not give up the money without a fight,” he warned. “My advice would be to go along as you have until the court has decided to accept this will as the final one. However, if Mrs. Topham and her daughters bring the matter into court, I’ll give them a battle they’ll never forget!”

After thanking Mr. Drew and Nancy for everything they had done, the relatives and friends departed. Allison and Grace were the last to leave. On the porch, Allison paused to hug Nancy and say, “Please let us know what develops. I’m so eager to start taking voice lessons.”

Nancy wanted to set off at once to see Abby Rowen and tell her the good news. But upon second thought she decided to wait. Suppose the Tophams succeeded in upsetting the whole easel For a week Nancy waited impatiently to hear the result of the battle over the will. As she and her father had anticipated, Mrs. Topham was fighting bitterly for the Crowley estate.

She had put forth the claim that the will Nancy had unearthed was a forged document.

“This suspense is just awful,” Nancy told her father one morning. “When are we going to get final word?”

“I can’t answer that, Nancy. But apparently Mr. Topham thinks it’s a losing battle. I suppose you’ve heard about the family.”

“Why, no, what about them?”

“They’re practically bankrupt. Richard Topham has been losing steadily on the stock market of late. After his failure to recover the Crowley fortune, the banks reduced his credit.

He’s been forced to give up his beautiful home.”

“No, really? How that must hurt Mrs. Topham and the two girls!”

“Yes, it’s undoubtedly a bitter pill to swallow. They are moving into a small house this week, and from now on they’ll have to give up their extravagant way of living. Both girls are working. Personally, I think it will be good for them.”

Word came that the three furniture thieves had finally confessed to many robberies and their unsold loot was recovered. Among the pieces were all the heirlooms they had stolen from the Turners.

One evening Mr. Drew came home wearing a broad smile. Facing Nancy and laying both hands on her shoulders, he said:

“We’ve won, my dear. The will you located has been accepted as the last one Mr. Crowley wrote.”

“Oh, Dad, how wonderful!” she cried, whirling her father about in a little dance. “First thing tomorrow morning, may I go and tell Allison and Grace and the others?”

“I think that would be a fine idea. Of course the bank and I will formally notify them later.”

The following morning Nancy was the first one downstairs and started breakfast before Hannah Gruen appeared.

“My goodness, you’re an early bird, Nancy,” the housekeeper said with a smile. “Big day, eh?”

“Very big,” Nancy replied.

As soon as the family had eaten, Hannah said, “Never mind helping me today. You run along and make those people happy as soon as possible.”

“Oh, thank you, Hannah. I’ll leave right away.”

Nancy, dressed in a simple green linen sports dress with a matching sweater, kissed her little family good-by and drove off. Her first stop was at the Mathews brothers. They greeted her affably, then waited for Nancy to speak.

“I have good news,” she said, her eyes dancing. “Mrs. Topham lost her case. The will Dad and I found has been accepted for probate. You will receive the inheritance Mr. Crowley left you!”

“Praise be!” Fred cried. “And we never would have received it if it hadn’t been for you.” His brother nodded in agreement.

To cover her embarrassment at their praise, Nancy reached into a pocket and pulled out a handful of travel folders and airline schedules. “I thought you might like to look at these. Now I must hurry off and tell the other heirs.”

As she drove away, the two men smiled, waved, then immediately began to look at the folders. “I hope they have a grand trip,” Nancy thought.

Half an hour later she pulled into the driveway of the Turner home. Before the car stopped, Judy came racing from the front door. As Nancy stepped out, the little girl threw herself into the young sleuth’s arms. “Nancy, guess what! My aunties found an old, old doll that belonged to my mommy and they gave it to me. Come and see her. She’s pretty as can be.”

Judy pulled Nancy by the hand up the steps and into the house. “There she is,” the child said proudly, pointing to a blond, curly-haired doll seated in a tiny rocking chair.

“Why, she’s darling,” Nancy commented. “And, Judy, she looks like you, dimples and all.”

Judy nodded. “And Aunt Mary says she looks like my mommy did when she was a little girl, so I’m always going to take very good care of my dolly.”

At this moment her great-aunts came from the rear of the house to greet their caller.

“I see,” said Nancy, “that you have made Judy very happy. Now it’s my turn to pass along good news to you,” and she told about their inheritance.

The women smiled happily and tears came to their eyes. Then suddenly Edna Turner gave Nancy an impulsive hug. “You dear, dear girl!” she half sobbed with joy. “Now Judy will always be well taken care of and receive the kind of.schooling we think she should have!”

Mary kissed Nancy and thanked the young sleuth for her untiring efforts to see justice done. Judy, meanwhile, looked on in puzzlement at the scene. But sensing that it called for her participation, she grabbed up her new doll and began to dance around with it.

“Now you can go to school too, Carol,” she told her doll.

It was hard for Nancy to break away from the Turners, but she reminded them that she still had two calls to make.

“But come back soon,” Judy said.

“When Nancy arrived at Abby Rowen’s she was delighted to find her seated by the window in a chair. Her kind neighbor, Mrs. Jones, was there preparing food for the invalid. To this Nancy added a jar of homemade beef broth and a casserole of rice and chicken which Hannah Gruen had insisted upon sending.

“Can you stay a little while?” Mrs. Jones asked. “I ought to run home for half an hour, then

I’ll come back.”

“She’s been so kind,” Abby Rowen spoke up. “Today she took my laundry home to wash and iron.” After the woman had left, Abby went on, “The folks around here have been very thoughtful of me, but I just can’t impose on them any longer. Yet I haven’t any money—”

Nancy took the invalid’s hand in hers and smiled. “I came to tell you that now you have lots of money, left to you by Josiah Crowley.”

“What! You mean I won’t have to depend on just my little pension any longer? Bless Josiah! Nancy, I never could believe that my cousin would go back on his word.”

Nancy ate some broth and crackers with Abby Rowen and told the whole story. The old woman’s eyes began to sparkle and color came into her cheeks. “Oh, this is so wonderful!” she said. Then she chuckled. “It does my heart good to know you outwitted those uppity Topham women!”

Nancy grinned, then said soberly, “If I hadn’t become involved in this mystery, I might never have met several wonderful people—and their names aren’t Topham!”

Abby Rowen laughed aloud—the first time Nancy had heard her do this. She laughed again just as the neighbor returned. Mrs. Jones, amazed, had no chance to exclaim over the elderly woman’s high spirits. Abby launched into an account of her inheritance.

As soon as Mrs. Rowen finished the story, Nancy said good-by and left. She now headed straight for the Hoover farm. The two sisters were working in a flower bed.

“Hi!” Nancy called.

“Hi, yourself. How’s everything?” Allison asked, as she brushed some dirt off her hands and came forward with Grace.

“Hurry and change your clothes,” Nancy said. “I have a surprise for you.” “You mean we’re going somewhere?” Grace inquired.

“That’s right. To Signor Mascagni’s so Allison can sign up for lessons.”

“Oh, Nancy, you mean—?”

“Yes. The inheritance is yours!”

“I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” Allison cried out ecstatically. She grabbed the other two girls and whirled them around.

“It’s simply marvelous,” said Grace. “Marvelous. Oh, Nancy, you and Mr. Crowley are just the dearest friends we’ve ever had.” Then, seeing Nancy’s deep blush, she added, “Come on, Allison. Let’s get dressed.”

Nancy waited in the garden. Fifteen minutes later the sisters were ready to leave for River Heights. “But before we go,” said Grace, “Allison and I want to give you something—it’s sort of a reward.”

“Something very special,” her sister broke in.

“Oh, I don’t want any reward,” Nancy objected quickly.

“Please take this one,” Allison spoke up.

She led the way to the living-room mantel. There stood the Crowley clock. “We received it this morning from the Tophams,” Grace explained.

Allison added, “We think you earned this heirloom, Nancy, and somehow Grace and I feel

Mr. Crowley would want you to have it.” “Why, thank you,” said Nancy.

She was thrilled, and gazed meditatively at the old clock. Though quaint, it was not handsome, she thought. But for her it certainly held a special significance. She was too modest to explain to Allison and Grace why she would prize the heirloom, and besides, her feeling was something she could not put into words. Actually she had become attached to the clock because of its association with her recent adventure.

“This is the first mystery I’ve solved alone,” she thought. “I wonder if I’ll ever have another one half so thrilling.”

As Nancy stood looking wistfully at the old clock she little dreamed that in the near future she would be involved in The Hidden Staircase mystery, a far more baffling case than the one she had just solved. But somehow, as Nancy gazed at the timepiece, she sensed that exciting days were soon to come.

Nancy ceased daydreaming as the clock was handed to her and looked at the Hoover girls. “I’ll always prize this clock as a trophy of my first Venture as a detective,” she said with a broad smile.

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