Thetwo cousins smiled timidly at Nancy; then, as if remembering instructions, they drew themselves stiffly erect, their noses in the air. Sorrow tugged at Nancy’s heart as she found herself snubbed once more for reasons that really mattered not at all either to herself or to her former chums.
Impulsively Nancy put her hand on Bess’s arm gently.
‘‘Bess,’’ she said softly, “I have done nothing to you. Why must our friendship be broken because of a foolish quarrel that persons now dead had fifty years ago?”
To Nancy’s surprise a big tear rolled down Bess’s cheek. The girl shook Nancy’s hand from her arm and turned her back, but her head was bowed and a sob shook her shoulders. George, meanwhile, hit her lip nervously, glancing from Bess to Nancy.
“We can’t help it, Nancy,” she said finally. “Your father is doing his best to keep our family from its just share in the estate.”
The floor where women’s clothing was displayed was reached, and Nancy suggested to Bess and George that they all sit down together in the lounge provided by the store for the comfort of weary shoppers.
“Let’s talk this over a little,” she said. “You should get acquainted with Sadie, too. Even if you decide not to remain friends with me, it won’t harm you to know Sadie better.”
Hesitatingly the cousins agreed, and soon the four girls, all but Nancy feeling acutely uncomfortable, were gathered in a corner of the rest room.
“Bess, you and George met Sadie the same evening I did,” Nancy said. “We were all together then. It was the first time any of us met Mr. Sidney. Although he was a distant relative of you both, you had never heard of him. Isn’t that so?”
Bess and George nodded, and Nancy continued:
“Sadie knew my father was a lawyer because I told her so. You were both with me when I told her, I think. It doesn’t matter, because the only reason why I happened to mention it was to tell her there might be a way to trace her parentage. The very next morning after our visit to The Twisted Candles Sadie telephoned to me and said that Mr. Sidney had asked her to find a lawyer, and the only one she knew about was my father.
“Mr. Sidney wanted to make his will, and seemed perfectly competent to do so. He didn’t seem to you to be unbalanced, did be?”
Bess and George looked at each other uncomfortably, then shook their heads in unison.
“It is my father’s duty to carry out his client’s wishes,” Hancy went on. “He is legally bound to do so. He could be disbarred and thrown out of his profession if he did not do it. He would have to apply to the courts for permission to abandon the trust and give good reasons for quitting.
“That is my side of the story. Sadie’s is just as simple. Ever since she was just a little girl she has waited on Mr. Sidney, up until the day he died. He chose to make her his heiress. It hasn’t brought her happiness. I know Sadie would rather know who she is and who her parents were, than to have every cent of Asa Sidney’s money without dispute.”
“Oh, that is really true,” Sadie cried sincerely.
“I know the story of the family feud,” Nancy continued. “Now everyone who participated in the original quarrel is dead. Why should we let the foolish anger of persons who are no longer living come between us?”
“Nancy,” George said with decision, “you are right. I might add that you are right as usual. I, for one, am sorry and ashamed. Please accept my apology, and take me back as your friend. And what is more, I shall tell Great-Uncle Peter at once that I have apologized to you!”
Bess, the plumper and more sensitive of the cousins, was frankly weeping into her handkerchief.
“Oh, Na-na-Nancy,” she said, laughing through her tears, “I’m s-s-so glad we are friends again.”
Nancy laughed aloud in sheer joy, and the others joined in. Women looked at the quartette with smiles, perhaps wondering what innocent little joke was amusing the young people.
“What are you shopping for?” George asked. “We always have so much fun buying things together.”
“Sadie wants to get some new clothes,” Nancy explained. “Want to help?”
“May we, Sadie?” Bess asked.
“I’d be very glad if you would,” Sadie replied, smiling happily. “I really don’t know much about styles.”
When the store closed that evening, four gay young women left its portals, chatting merrily and laden with bundles.
Sadie had been re-outfitted from top to toe in attractive clothes which wrought a transformation in the thin, wan-looking girl. She seemed to have gained self-confidence with her new attire, too, but she was not yet entirely at ease.
“Please don’t go far from me,” she whispered to Nancy. “I’m afraid the Semitts may grab me, or do me some sort of harm.”
“Don’t worry,” Nancy said airily, although privately she admitted to herself that Sadie’s fears were well grounded. Frank Semitt would not be above kidnaping Sadie, she believed, or, more cannily, swearing that he was her legal guardian and getting a court order to put her in his power.
“We shall have to find out who Sadie really is,” she decided. “That will be a big help.”
After dinner at the Drew household Nancy helped Sadie unpack her new wardrobe, and they admired all over again each item of dress.
“I don’t want to bring up anything unpleasant, but do you remember the name of the orphanage from which the Semitts took you?” Nancy asked.
“I was. certainly reminded of it often enough,” Sadie replied with a trace of bitterness in her voice. ‘‘I don’t know how often one or the other would tell me how grateful I ought to be and how much harder I ought to work because The Twisted Candles was paradise compared with the New Fernwild Orphan Asylum.”
“The New Fernwild Orphan Asylum,” Nancy repeated. “Do you remember where it was located?”
“N-no, except that it was somewhere in the East,” Sadie replied. “I think it was in New England or up-state New York, but I can’t tell you how I got that impression. Maybe it is a lingering childhood memory.”
Long after the household was in darkness Nancy lay in her bed and pondered the problem of establishing Sadie’s identity.
How that was to be done was not easily solved. Nancy fell asleep studying the problem, and awoke the next morning with that uppermost in her mind.
Mr. Drew took Sadie with him to the courthouse for certain legal formalities, leaving Nancy alone with her mystery.
“I’ll go talk with Raymond Hill,” she decided. “He likes mysteries, and is probably good at solving them. Besides, he used to live in New York State, I heard him say.”
It did not take Nancy long to act on an idea once she had formulated it; accordingly, she was soon in her car speeding toward Smith’s Ferry, where she found Raymond Hill at his desk in the bank. The banker greeted her heartily but with genuine respect. There was nothing patronizing in his greeting; he spoke to Nancy as an equal, for she had demonstrated her courage and sagacity to his full satisfaction.
“What new twist in the mysterious doings at The Twisted Candles brings you here this morning?” Mr. Hill asked, firmly shutting the door marked “Private.”
“Just a hunch,” Nancy said. “Do you know where New Fernwild is?”
“New Fernwild? By jove, that sounds familiar. I have certainly heard the name often,” Mr. Hill said, as a smile of hope lighted up Nancy’s features. “Let me look in the government postal guide.”
From his bookcase the banker took down a thick volume which, he explained, contained the name of every town and hamlet in the country, listed by states and also alphabetically.
“However, there seems to be no such place as New Fernwild listed,” Mr. Hill said with a perplexed frown. “I certainly have heard or read about–”
“It is the name of an orphan asylum, Mr. Hill,’’ Nancy said. ‘‘It may not be named after the town it is in. I guessed it might be, but if there is no such place as New Fernwild it will be harder than ever to locate the institution.”
“Orphan asylum, orphan asylum,” repeated Mr. Hill, running his fingers through his hair. “I have it! Goodness gracious, what a strange coincidence.”
He pushed the buzzer on his desk, and to the porter who responded immediately Mr. Hill ordered that the contents of a certain safety deposit box be brought to him. While waiting for the man to return Mr. Hill drummed on the desk with his fingers, snapped them, whistled softly, and occasionally shot a searching look at Nancy under his brows. She did not break into his train of thought, although his conduct puzzled her considerably.
“Why did you come to me with this question?” Mr. Hill asked suddenly.
“The orphanage is the one from which the Semitts took Sadie,” Nancy said. “I want to find out for her who her parents were. I came to you because you are interested in the case, because I suspect you like mysteries—the way you picked me out as Nancy Drew the first time I came here convinced me of that, Mr. Hill—and because you once lived in New York State where I think the orphanage is located.”
“Nancy, you certainly have the best ordered mind and the keenest ability to put two and two together of any person I ever met,” Mr. Hill said. “If you should decide to go into business, I’ll make a place for you in the bank, and guarantee that you will be an officer in two years. I mean it. I am not joking. I think you would bring us the business of every woman in the county, and—oh, Luther, there you are!”
The porter had entered, and placed a huge bundle of legal looking documents and leather-bound account books on Mr. Hill’s desk.
“Now, let’s see,” Mr. Hill said, assorting the papers with a practised hand. “These papers are part of the records of my father’s estate. Ah, yes! I knew it.”
Mr. Hill unfolded a sheaf of yellowed foolscap bound in blue paper like a lawyer’s brief.
“Papers of Incorporation of the New Fernwild Orphanage,” he read. “A Charitable Institution, not operated for profit or supported by taxes, to be maintained and directed by the League for the Friendless.”
“Now we are on the right track,” Nancy cried, leaping to her feet in excitement. “How did it happen that you have this?”
“My father was one of the trustees of the orphanage, and president of the League for many years,” Mr. Hill said. “Well, Nancy, what is to be done next?”
“How long ago was your father associated with the asylum?” Nancy asked.
“For many years, but he died twenty-two years ago.”
“That is too bad,” Nancy said. “Will you please do this, though, because the present management will remember who you are and will respect your wishes: Please telegraph the orphanage and ask if a little girl named Sadie Wipple was a ward there ten years ago. Ask under what circumstances she was removed.”
Nancy paused a moment and Mr. Hill looked at her attentively, but when she spoke again he leaned forward and slapped the top of his desk in amazement.
“And ask,” Nancy said, “if Asa Sidney, the famous inventor, was one of the contributors to the society’s treasury!”
The Clue of the Candle
Raymond Hill’seyes glowed with admiration as he arose and escorted Nancy to the door.
“I will let you know just as soon as any reply from New Fernwild arrives,” he said. “I am sure you are on the right track, Nancy.”
“I hope we are,” Nancy replied modestly. ”It is only a hunch, of course, but we must overlook no possibility.”
Nancy drove directly borne, and learned that her father and Sadie had not yet come back from attending to the affairs of the Sidney estate. That gave Nancy a chance to relax in a porch hammock and to read a little. She heard steps on the floor, and called out: “Is that you, Sadie?”
“Not exactly,” a deep, masculine voice replied, and Nancy jumped from the hammock to confront Ned Nickerson.
“Why Ned, where in the world did you come from?” Nancy cried with sincere pleasure. “And how sunburned you are! Have you been at camp?”
“No, I have been working, believe it or not,” the young man replied, seating himself on the porch steps and stretching his muscular arms.
“Feel that muscle, Nancy! I’ll be fit as a fiddle for football when college opens again.”
“’Working, Ned? Where? And at what?” Nancy asked. “And can you stay for luncheon?”
“Golly, I wish I could,” Ned replied, looking at Nancy with admiration. “But duty calls. In fact, I’m playing hooky this minute. I thought I’d make a stab at earning my own way this summer instead of loafing and letting Dad support me, so I got a job at High Point Inn.”
“Where is that? Are you the manager, or a dish-washer?” Nancy laughed.'
“Oh, nothing as responsible as either,” Ned laughed back. “I drive the bus that meets all trains, carry trunks upstairs and down again, take timid, elderly ladies rowing on the river, and make myself generally useful, including pushing a lawn-mower. It’s interesting, and it surely has kept me in perfect form.”
“How thrilling, Ned, and how commendable!” Nancy exclaimed. “Where did you say High Point Inn is?”
“Down the river about forty miles,” Ned said. “It is a rather popular, quiet sort of family resort.”
“How did you get here, then?” Nancy asked. “Did you row one of the guests up?”
“Oh, nothing as strenuous as that,” Ned replied. “I came up to get a couple the management just hired, a new assistant head-waiter and his wife, who comes well recommended as a pastry cook. I’ll soon find out how good her recommendations are, I’ll wager!”
“Are they River Heights people?” Nancy asked, her interest in the High Point Inn’s new servants suddenly heightened.
“They’re at a cheap boarding house down on Cadillac Street,” Ned said. “Where is Cadillac Street? The number is 32, and it’s called The Elite Mansion, if you can imagine that.”
“Cadillac Street? You go down three blocks to the first traffic signal, and turn right three blocks down hill. It runs along the river and number 32, I judge, would be to the left,” Nancy explained. “Who are these celebrated kitchen folks? French chefs?”
“Queer sort of name,” Ned replied. “Cement, or something like that. Cemetery? No, Semitt. Used to have a place of their own, they said, until a crooked lawyer cheated them out of the property. There’s a chance for your father to pick up some business, setting wrongs right and so forth, hey?”
“I’ll mention it to him,” Nancy smiled. “Must you really go?”
“I certainly must. I might lose my job,” Ned said. “As long as I was in town I thought I’d take a few minutes to call and I’m glad I found you at home, Nancy. Come down to High Point for a week-end with your father. I’ll pretend I don’t know you when I carry your baggage up-stairs, but I’ll expect an extra large tip, though! Goodbye, Nancy. I’ll write you a postcard, anyhow, and be sure to make no engagements for the third week in November. Remember the big game!”
With that farewell Ned strode off, leaped to the seat of the trim green station-wagon he had parked at the curb, and with a final wave he was gone, leaving a very happy Nancy behind.
The Semitts were gone! That, indeed, was joyful news for Sadie alone.
It was not long before Sadie and Carson Drew drove up to the house for lunch.
“Good news, Sadie,” Nancy cried, running to meet them. “There are a dozen boxes upstairs in your room with the rest of yesterday’s purchases in them, and—the Semitts have moved forty miles away!”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” Sadie cried, while Mr. Drew echoed her sentiments more vigorously. Nancy explained how she had learned of the Semitts’ departure.
“Fine!” Mr. Drew said. “Sadie and I have been to the old Twisted Candles and replaced the court seal on the door of the Tower Room with a stout padlock. The guards are still there, but knowing that the Semitts are out of the city is the best security of all.”
“I wonder if I might be permitted to prowl around the Tower Room this afternoon, then,” Nancy said to her father as Sadie ran upstairs to unpack her new wardrobe.
“I think I am on the trail of Sadie’s parents,” Nancy explained. “There might be some clue in the Tower Room to help me.”
“Here’s the key,” Mr. Drew said. “Will you explain your clues now or would you rather wait until they develop?”
His eyes twinkled, for he knew Nancy preferred not to divulge her plans until she had them all in working order, and as he expected—and understood, it should be added—Nancy said she would rather not discuss her scheme until it produced some promise of results.
Accordingly, after luncheon Nancy and Sadie drove off together toward the now closed tea house. The guard at the old mansion was dubious about permitting Nancy to enter the locked room, although she displayed the key and proofs of her identity.
“I don’t know, Miss,” the burly man said with a shake of his head. “There’s been more than one person around trying to get into that room. One guy said he’d gi’ me a month’s wages if I let him in for just fifteen minutes.”
“Well, I’m not offering any bribes,” Nancy said. “My father is the attorney for this estate, as I told you, and this young woman is the owner. What did the persons look like who tried to enter?”
At the man’s description of the two men who had at various times sought entrance to Asa Sidney’s study, Nancy and Sadie exchanged glances.
“And Jacob Sidney!”
“You know ’em, then?” the guard asked. “We do indeed, and I shall commend you to my father for not accepting the bribes,” Nancy said warmly. “You will lose nothing by being honest.”
Greatly mollified, the guard hemmed and hawed, and then said he would permit Nancy to enter the room if Sadie would remain outside as a guarantee of good faith, and if Nancy would promise to lock the door behind her.
“How can I, with a padlock?” Nancy asked.
“Oh, Mr. Drew put a hasp on the inside of the door, too,” Sadie said. “He locked the door behind him when we were up here this morning.”
“Are you the young lady who was here with Mr. Drew today?” the guard asked with a greater show of confidence. “My partner told me about it when I relieved him on this post at noon. Sure, you can go up, ladies.”
“I’ll stay down, anyhow,” Sadie said. “It would make me feel too sad to see the room again so soon after Mr. Sidney’s death.”
Nancy mounted the familiar stairs by herself, unlocked the heavy padlock, and entered the musty, stuffy Tower Room, which needed airing badly. She locked the door behind her and then paused to survey the room.
“What is it about the room that seems so unusual?” she asked herself. “Oh, I know. All the candles standing around in it, and some of them in such odd places.”
Like a good general, Nancy sat down to plan her campaign before beginning any action.
“Those oddly-twisted candles certainly are in queer nooks,” she mused. “I wonder if that is significant of anything.”
On the mantelshelf of the fireplace stood two handsome, stately candles in silver holders.
“I believe those pieces,” thought the speculating girl, “will bring real money as valuable antiques some day.”
She placed a chair before the yawning opening of the fireplace and climbed upon its rush-bottomed seat. Carefully she fingered the heavy pieces as she stood up closely to survey the beautiful objects.
“I wonder,” she mused as she lightly touched the shelf, “if a brick below this holder isn’t a bit uneven.”
Nancy rather thought the stone tilted as she replaced the holder onto the shelf. Cautiously stepping off the old chair she pushed it to the opposite end of the shelf where the twin candles stood. The light from the window fell directly on the shelf at this point.
“I do see something different up here,” muttered the girl. “It’s another loose brick at this end.”
At once Nancy set to work to pry up the loosened bricks. It was a tedious task and several times the low chair threatened to tip perilously, but the determined girl stuck to her job.
“I must help Sadie to find the hidden valuables, and if each candle mark is, as I think, a treasure spot, it will be easy.”
She drew forth a tightly-rolled package heavily bound with a leather thong. Quickly she stepped off the chair and laid the heavy package down on it, then untied the fastening. Revealed were twenty-dollar gold pieces neatly wrapped in single packages of one hundred dollars each. At the opposite end of the shelf was a similar bundle. The girl opened that one also.
“Three thousand dollars!” calculated Nancy rapidly. “How remarkable! Mr. Sidney was a queer but lovable old man. Now I know how to reveal more of his precious secrets for Sadie.”
Hastily the young detective put the gold packages back into their hiding places, lest someone enter and guess her plan. Nancy turned toward the tower window, still hoping to find a clue pertaining to the parentage of the faithful young heiress.
She walked slowly toward the massive, carved desk-table that filled the space below the center window, on which stood the biggest twisted candle of all. The candle stood on a battered old Bible which Nancy reverently moved to one side. The place where it had rested on the wood was brighter and dust-free compared with the rest of the surface, but within the border of the exposed area her sharp eyes detected a hair-like crack. Tracing the outline of the almost invisible line, Nancy saw that it marked an oblong about a foot wide and fourteen or fifteen inches in length.
“A secret compartment!'’ she exclaimed aloud. “Now, how to open it?”
Her fingers searched the surface of the table for a spring which might release the lid of the secret compartment, but to no avail. At length, however, her patient and minute search was rewarded, when she found a slight indentation on the under side of the projecting edge of the table-top.
At the pressure of her fingers the secret compartment flew open, revealing a recess about six inches deep. Nancy peered inside and saw an orderly pile of papers. Should she examine them, or would it be a better plan, considering the legal tangles, to have her father take them from the secret compartment in the presence of witnesses and look at the documents?
“I think I’ll leave it,” she decided, firmly shutting the lid of the hidden recess and pushing the Bible back over the place.
The ancient and well-worn book, to Nancy’s great distress, fell into two parts as she lifted it, and several loose pages dropped to the floor. She carefully gathered them up and opened the volume to replace them in their proper order. As she turned the pages she suddenly came upon a letter, and the printed address in the upper left-hand corner made her stand as if transfixed.
It was from the New Fernwild Orphanage!
What would its contents reveal? Was her search already at an end?
Nancy’s hand trembled as she reached for the letter, which she saw was addressed in pen and ink to Asa Sidney. The stamp was of a pattern now discontinued, although the date on the cancellation mark was blurred so as to be indecipherable.
Suddenly a sharp rap on the door startled Nancy. She jumped back, permitting the cover of the Bible to fall into place, thereby concealing the letter.
“Who is there?” she asked.
“It’s I, Nancy, Sadie,” came a familiar voice through the stout panels, and Nancy quickly unlocked the door to permit her friend to enter. She carefully replaced the padlock and snapped it shut.
“It—it looks just as Mr. Sidney left it,” Sadie said, surveying the room through eyes brimming with tears.
“It is what he left that interests me,” Nancy said. “Sadie, I hope to have more good news for you. First let me explain why I came here to look around. I was so intent on my theory I never stopped to consider that you might think me impudent to go poking around in your property while you are locked out.”
“Why, Nancy dear, I never dreamed—I wouldn’t think of—Nancy!”
Sadie was incoherent in her efforts to tell Nancy how grateful she was for all that had been done for her, and Nancy smiled happily at the evidence of Sadie’s trust and affection.
“Hush, Sadie! Listen to me now,” she said. “I have asked Mr. Hill–”
“Mr. Hill!” Sadie exclaimed, leaping to her feet. “I came up to tell you about Mr. Hill! He just telephoned here. He called up the house and Hannah told him we were here. He wants you to come to see him at once, and he wants to see me, too.”
“Good!” Nancy cried. “He must have an answer from Now Fernvild.”
Sadie looked bewildered, and Nancy hastened to explain.
“With Mr. Hill’s help I located the orphanage, and he surprised me by telling me that his father had been trustee of the place years ago. I asked him to telegraph there to find out about you, and to find out if Mr. Sidney had been interested in the asylum while you were sheltered there.”
“Why in the world?” Sadie asked.
“Sadie, I think—I can’t prove anything yet, but I believe there is proof within arm’s length of me now, if Mr. Hill hasn’t it already, that Mr. Sidney left you his fortune because you are his rightful heir!”
Sadie leaned back in her seat, her face white. “D-do you me-mean that I—” she began.
“I mean that I believe you are related to him,” Nancy said. “And now, in this old Bible–”
At that moment a frightful howl echoed through the old house, followed by a reverberating crash!
Carson Drew was dictating letters. Much important work had been neglected by his absorption in Sadie’s case, and he was trying to catch up with his correspondence after seeing Nancy and Sadie off on their quest at the old house.
High in River Heights’s most important office building was Mr. Drew’s office, and as he dictated to his efficient secretary his eyes wandered over the rolling hills that met the river.
A knock at the door of the outer office did not interrupt Mr. Drew. He had given orders to his staff that he should not be disturbed.
“Excuse me, Mr. Drew,” the office boy said, hesitatingly poking his head into the private office. “Excuse me, but Mr. Cochran is outside and he says he has to talk to you.”
“Mr. Cochran? Show him in at once,” Carson Drew exclaimed. “That will do, Miss Farley. I’ll call you when I wish to continue.”
Mr. Drew awaited Mr. Cochran’s entrance with interest, because he was the lawyer retained by the disappointed heirs to break Asa Sidney’s will and to deprive Sadie of her inheritance.
“Sit down, Mr. Cochran,” Carson Drew said pleasantly.
“Thanks! I hope you’ll excuse me for insisting upon seeing you. As a lawyer you will realize that this visit is rather unusual. We are opponents, technically speaking,” Mr. Cochran began.
“An unusual case,” was Mr. Drew’s guarded comment.
“Unusual? If you say it is unusual from your side, I wonder what you would think of it if you were in my position,” the visiting lawyer said with a wry smile. “Mind you, I think a good case could be made out for the practically disinherited relatives, but I really don’t relish the job very much. The people I represent are so suspicious of each other that I begin to suspect the sincerity of their claims against your client. That is speaking very frankly.”
“It is,” Mr. Drew smiled. “I suppose you will attempt to prove, if this case comes to court, that Mr. Sidney was not in his right mind and was unduly influenced by Miss Wipple to the extent that he left his fortune to the orphan waitress, and his loving relatives were cheated.”
Cochran smiled wryly.
“I realized fully that a lawyer of your experience would anticipate the tactics of the opposition,” he said formally. “That, of course, is what the plaintiffs wish to have proven.
“Now, I have come to make you a proposition, Mr. Drew. It would save your client unpleasant notoriety if this case were settled out of court. Can’t we come to some agreement?”
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Drew said quietly. “Miss Wipple’s case is a just and honest one, or else I would not be representing her. We are prepared to contest the unfair claims of the Boontons and the Sidneys, and there can be no compromise.”
“Well, I have done my duty,” Cochran said. “Now, speaking as man to man and not as lawyer to lawyer, I must confess I wish I hadn’t taken the case. Whether their claims are good or weak, my clients scarcely inspire me to enter the lists for them with any great enthusiasm.”
“Then, if I were in your position, I should withdraw,” Mr. Drew said tersely.
“I don’t want to be called a quitter,” Cochran said. “Besides, I think my clients are legally right, even if they are not very pleasant and agreeable.”
The two lawyers arose as Cochran prepared to depart. They turned their heads toward the outer office as the sounds of heated argument came to them through the doors.
“What can that be?” Mr. Drew asked, pressing a bell-button to summon his secretary.
“They are Mr. Sidney and Mr. Boonton,” she reported, and with that the door burst open and the two men named came into the office.
“This is rather an intrusion,” Mr. Drew said, confronting the excited cousins across his desk.
“That’s all right,” Boonton replied. “I am not going to be cheated out of my just rights. I saw Jacob come into the building and I followed him just to see what he was up to. And he comes here to the office of the attorney for the fortune-hunting Sadie! And who else is here? Geoffrey Cochran, the lawyer I was led to hire to protect my interests and that of my niece. It looks funny!”
“Be quiet!” Boonton roared. “I was getting a hair-cut across the street when I saw Cochran rush in here, so I came on up to Drew’s office on a hunch.”
“What do you mean, anyhow?” Cochran asked. “I came up to ask Mr. Drew if he would consider a settlement out of court.”
“Well, I hope Drew turned you down,” Jacob Sidney fumed. “Our case is good. We don’t have to be afraid of any money-seeking waitress. We hired you because we heard you were good at breaking down witnesses, not because you were good at dodging work.”
Cochran’s face flushed, and he slammed Mr. Drew’s desk with his fist.
“That settles it,” he thundered. “I refuse to take your case. I resign as your lawyer, and it gives me exceedingly great satisfaction to do so.”
“You were never with us,” Jacob Sidney sneered. “We’ll get ourselves another lawyer, and we’ll carry the case to the highest court in the land before we give up. Sadie Wipple won’t have a cent of her stolen money left when we get through, and what’s more, she’ll be in prison!”
“I can’t permit this vulgar quarreling in my office!” Mr. Drew shouted. “Please leave at once!”
“Yes, get out of here,” Cochran seconded. “You couldn’t send Miss Wipple to jail, even if you won your case.”
“Oh, maybe you think we can’t send Sadie to jail, hey?” Peter Boonton snapped. “Don’t be so sure of that. We’ve talked this over and the whole business looks pretty bad to us, pretty bad!”
“Stop! What do you mean?” Mr. Drew demanded, striding across the room and placing his back against the door.
Boonton and Sidney, suspicions of each other as they were, drew close together and confronted the angry lawyers.
“I’ll tell you what he means,” Jacob snarled, his face flushed with rage. “He means that it is a mighty queer thing, that right after a visit to old Asa by two young ladies, mentioning no names, he makes his will all of a sudden in favor of one of them and then dies the next day—and the lady who finds him dead is the one that gets his money. If that’s not–”
“That is the most infamous accusation I ever listened to,” Mr. Drew exclaimed. “Let me warn you that it is you who will be in jail for spreading such base scandal!”
“And let me add to that, Sirs,” Cochran shouted, “that not only do I refuse to handle your case, but I hereby offer my full services to Miss Wipple and Miss Drew.”
What further argument might have taken place was never revealed, because Miss Farley again pushed the door open.
“Excuse me, Mr. Drew, but your housekeeper is on the wire and she insists upon talking with you,” the secretary said.
“Why, it is getting close to dinner time,” Mr. Drew said, glancing at his watch. “I’ll speak to her at once.”
He lifted the receiver of his private telephone, and as he listened his face grew grave, then decidedly apprehensive. Putting the instrument down, he turned to Cochran.
“My daughter and Miss Wipple are missing,” he said hoarsely. “They were supposed to have gone to the old house and then to Raymond Hill’s office. They cannot be located at either place!”
A Rascally Ruse
The ear-piercing yell so startled Nancy and Sadie that they forgot for the moment the exciting theory which Nancy had just told to Sadie.
“Wha-what was that?” Sadie chattered. “It sounded like a ghost!”
“Stuff and nonsense,” Nancy cried, running to the window, and struggling with the stiff, warped old sash.
Sadie ran to the door first and then returned to Nancy’s side, as much for the assurance of being close to that self-possessed young woman as of aiding her. Between them the girls raised the window and Nancy peered out.
“Goodness, there is a man on the porch roof with a ladder on top of him,” she exclaimed. “How did he get there? He looks badly hurt.”
Sadie took her turn at the window.
“It isn’t the guard,” she said. “Where can he be?”
“Let us run down and see,” Nancy proposed. “We must find out who the man is, and do something for him.”
She ran to the door and unlocked it, and as carefully padlocked it behind her before starting down the stairs to the second floor. Sadie followed close behind, and the two girls made their way to a front room, the windows of which opened out upon the roof of the porch where the mysterious man lay groaning beneath the ladder.
It was a struggle to raise the sash, but at last Nancy was able to climb out upon the roof. She tugged the heavy ladder from the prostrate man, and tenderly rolled him on his back.
“Frank Semitt!” Nancy cried.
“Oh, he has come after me,” Sadie wailed.
“He doesn’t look as if he were able to do anyone much harm,” Nancy said, putting her fingers on the unconscious man’s wrist. At her touch Semitt stirred and groaned hollowly.
“Where am I?” he moaned. “Oh, my poor head, my poor back.”
“You are where you certainly don’t belong,” Nancy said, steeling her heart against the pity she felt for the obviously suffering Semitt.
“Oh, I’m terribly hurt. I think I am dying,’’ Semitt moaned, rolling his eyes back.
“Sadie, help me carry him inside,” Nancy said. “We can’t let him lie here. Where is that guard?”
With great difficulty the two girls slowly and carefully carried Semitt, who seemed to have lapsed into semiconsciousness, over to the bedroom window. Nancy crept into the room and then took Semitt’s shoulders and half lifted, half dragged him across the sill. Sadie did her best to assist, but her frail strength did not lend much aid. It was impossible to lift Semitt to the bed, so Nancy placed a pillow under his head and another under his back.
“Oh, oh,” Semitt groaned. “Where—oh, I remember now. Sadie, where is my dear little Sadie, whom I love so much?”
“Before we go into that, Mr. Semitt, what were you doing with the ladder on the porch roof?” Nancy asked. She had knelt beside Semitt and again put her fingers on his pulse. The pulse count showed her that the man’s heart was beating a little more rapidly than is normal. It was not, as was to be expected if he were badly hurt, beating slowly and irregularly. Nancy began to suspect that Semitt was pretending.
“There are some of my own belongings in the house, things I value and which the law won’t let me get in to find,” Semitt said. “There’s a picture of Sadie when she was a little tot, and a lock of her hair, and her first arithmetic paper with a big red A on it, and–”
“Oh, do tell the truth!” Nancy cried. “You can’t convince me that you would risk your life and a prison sentence for burglary to get a lock of hair and a snapshot.”
“Oh, oh, you misjudge me cruelly,” Semitt sighed. “Sadie, come to your poor father, who is stricken to death just for love of you.”
That was such flagrant fraud that Nancy stood up and scanned the prostrate Semitt with scorn.
“I don’t think you are hurt at all,” she said. “Your cheeks are pink, your pulse is normal, and your speech is pure hypocrisy!”
The suspicion was now firmly established in her mind that Semitt had tried to enter the house to search for further loot, and had failed because all entrances were firmly locked and the guard alone had the key to the front door, which he himself was not supposed to enter.
Had he really fallen, Nancy wondered. And was he trying to make minor injuries appear to be serious ones in an effort to win Sadie’s sympathy? Or was it possible that it was all a ruse to gain admittance to the house? If so, where was the guard? Was he, perhaps, an accomplice of Semitt?
The inn-keeper’s eyes closed once more and his lips moved soundlessly.
“Speak up,” Nancy said, more sharply than she really felt. “I can’t hear you.”
The man beckoned to Nancy to place her ears closer so she could hear. She would not do it.
Nancy’s suspicions, of course, were entirely correct. Semitt had seen the girls arrive at the former inn, and from his ladder he had watched them in the Tower Room. All entrance to the place was barred to him and he had realized that the only way to gain admittance was by means of a trick. He had carefully posed himself under the ladder, then drummed with his heels on the tin roof, screaming to simulate an accident.
And now, he thought bitterly as he lay playing ’possum, that sharp-eyed Nancy Drew was seeing through his sham! She would not even lean over him to hear what he was saying, would she?
Semitt suddenly sat bolt upright, and with a sweep of his arms threw Nancy off her balance. She reeled and fell against Sadie, and in a flash Semitt had whipped a sheet from the bed and was looping it over the heads and arms of the surprised girls.
Nancy fought like a tigress, blinded and hound as she was; she kicked and she screamed. Sadie, frightened to speechlessness, only got in Nancy’s way.
Something wet and very, very cold drenched Nancy’s face; something that smelled pungently. She held her breath and closed her eyes against the stinging fumes. A sleeping potion —she was being drugged!
Fight as she would, Nancy could not hold her breath indefinitely. Her tortured lungs seemed to be bursting and she was forced to inhale deeply. The floor seemed to be giving way beneath her feet. Down—down, on great invisible wings. Down—down–
Sometime later Nancy opened her eyes and breathed deeply again. What had happened? She was stretched on the floor of the bedroom, alone. It was dusk outside. And her head ached violently.
There was no answer.
Nancy pulled herself to her feet, and clinging to the wall for support groped her way out of the room into the darker hall, and step by step down the stairs. The key was still in the front door where Sadie had left it after obtaining it from the guard to answer the telephone.
With infinite effort Nancy turned the key and staggered out upon the porch. The fresh, cool air revived her a great deal, but she had to sit down on the steps to gather her dazed wits.
Where was Sadie? Nancy reproached herself bitterly for having fallen into the wily Semitt’s trap.
Refreshed at last, she arose and looked for her car. It was gone. Semitt had evidently taken it—and Sadie, too.
“I’ll telephone home,” she cried aloud. “Oh, if only I am not too late!”
As she turned to reenter the house, Nancy was taken aback at the sight of a pair of large feet in thick-soled shoes protruding from beneath the steps of the house.
The Kidnaped Heiress
A moretimid person than Nancy Drew would have fled in fear and horror from the scene. To Nancy, however, the motionless, half-concealed limbs meant that someone was in distress, and that meant more to her than her own immediate safety.
She seized the man’s ankles. Although the effects of the drug had left her still weak and dizzy, she tugged until she had pulled the unconscious person into full view.
“It’s the watchman!” she exclaimed, kneeling beside the still form and raising the man's head to her lap.
The guard groaned and his eyelids fluttered. Immediately Nancy rolled the man over, turned his head to one side, and began to administer artificial respiration. As clean, fresh air replaced the fumes of the sleeping potion in his lungs the man began to stir.
Suddenly tires crunched on the gravel of the driveway and the beams of twin headlights cut through the twilight; falling full upon the laboring girl and the man she was striving to rescue. A shout, and the squealing of brakes suddenly applied, made Nancy leap to her feet, certain that Semitt had returned to finish his criminal plot.
“Nancy! What is the matter? Are you hurt?”
“Dad!” Nancy cried, recognizing first the voice and then the form of the man who leaped from the car. “Oh, Dad! We were trapped by Frank Semitt. He drugged the watchman and me, and has fled with Sadie!”
“Great Scott!’’ Carson Drew exclaimed, folding Nancy in his arms. “Hill, did you hear?”
Raymond Hill emerged from the car just as the watchman sat up, blinking in the glare of the headlights.
“This is bad business,” the banker said. “It is a matter for the police.”
“What happened to me?” the guard asked thickly. “Did you knock me down with the car you were driving?”
“No, you were drugged,” Nancy said.
“I remember everything now,” the man said, struggling to his feet. “A fellow came and said he was a servant of Mr. Drew and had come to help the girls. I wouldn’t let him in, so he showed me some cards and papers to prove he had a right to enter. When I leaned over to look at them he clapped a cloth soaked in some drug over my mouth and nose. That’s all I remember.”
In as few words as possible Nancy told what had happened to her and, as far as she could, to Sadie.
“There is no time to be lost,” Mr. Drew agreed. “Watchman, suppose you go to the old farmhouse where the other man is and find out if anybody was near that place. We must get after the Semitts, but the question is, where, did they go?”
“Let us drive to High Point Inn, where Ned Nickerson said they had taken up employment today,” Nancy suggested.
It was agreed that was the best clue. Accordingly, Mr. Hill, Nancy, and Carson Drew jumped into the latter’s automobile and sped off for the river resort.
It was a long drive, and few words were exchanged on the journey. Nancy’s mind was busy trying to fit together the scant clues and her reasons of the motives for the kidnaping. What had the Semitts to gain by the daring crime? Did they intend to hold Sadie for ransom? If so, where had they taken the girl?
At last the gayly-illuminated grounds of High Point Inn came into view. Electrically-lit Japanese lanterns were strung between the trees like giant flowers from another world. The great porches were crowded with gay couples—men in white flannels and women and girls in airy summer frocks. Music from an orchestra hidden behind a grove of evergreens added to the joyous atmosphere of the place, and a searchlight sweeping over the river revealed rowboats and canoes drifting about with their happy occupants.
The gayety of the scene was lost on Nancy. Grim business had to be done. She leaped from the car before it came to a halt and ran to the entrance of the hotel without pausing to return the puzzled looks of the vacationists she passed.
“I want to see the manager at once,” Nancy told the clerk at the desk.
“No more rooms,” the clerk said. “It won’t do any good to see the manager.”
“I don’t want rooms,” Nancy said. “Let me talk with him at once, please. It is a matter of life or death.”
The clerk’s eyes protruded from his head. He summoned a bellboy at once and sent him off to find a Mr. Harmon. Just as Mr. Hill and Mr. Drew entered the lobby, Mr. Harmon, a fat, jolly man in evening dress, stepped up to Nancy.
“I’ll explain later,” Nancy said to him. “First, tell me if you employed a couple named Semitt today or yesterday.”
“I did, but they did not stay long,” Mr. Hannon said. “Their references were not satisfactory.”
Mr. Drew introduced himself and Mr. Hill to the proprietor, briefly explaining why Nancy was so concerned about the Semitts.
“They left about three o’clock,” Mr. Harmon said. “They drove down in their own machine.”
“Their own car!” asked Nancy in surprise. “I heard they were brought here by a friend of mine who is working here.”
“Well, young Nickerson went to their boarding place, but the Semitts were very haughty and said they’d prefer coming in their own car. Now they’ve gone, and where they went to I don’t know.”
“Then the next clue is their old address,” Nancy said, looking around in, the hope of catching sight of Ned Nickerson. That young man was not to be seen, and Nancy regretfully concluded that there was no time to hunt him up, and nothing to be gained by it, anyhow.
“Ned said they were boarding at a place called the Magnificent Mansion, or something like that, in Cadillac Street, River Heights,” Nancy told her father. “Let us go there.”
After thanking the manager of the inn briefly the three hurried out, and Mr. Drew pointed the car toward the city.
“I remember the name of the boarding house now,” Nancy said. “The Elite Mansion is the place and the number is 32 Cadillac Street.”
“Do you think they would go back there?” Mr. Hill asked doubtfully.
“No, I don’t,” Nancy said. “We may, however, find some stray bit of information which would give us a hint as to where they would most likely go. A letter from some other town or state, a sentence overheard by the boarding house mistress—who can tell?”
The car sped past the Drew home without stopping, and turned into Cadillac Street, a bare and ordinary looking thoroughfare where warehouses and docks lined one side and small shops and cheap rooming houses the other.
The appearance of the street improved toward its head. A third-rate boat club and the piers of the excursion steamers replaced the dingier docks on the river side, while opposite them a row of houses that had once been occupied by prosperous river captains gave the street an air of decayed respectability. Number 32 was one of these shabby old homes.
Again Nancy was the first one up the steps. A slatternly colored maid answered the bell, and when Nancy asked for the Semitts the servant said bluntly that they were not at home.
“Then let me speak to the proprietor, and quickly, too,” Nancy commanded. “This is a matter of the law, and I am not responsible for what will happen to anybody who delays me.”
“I think, Hill,” Mr. Drew said with a laugh to his companion at the foot of the front steps, “that we will let Nancy conduct this investigation without interference. She seems to know what she is about.”
The boarding house mistress, a huge woman with hair of a vivid, metallic yellow, who was dressed in a much-beruffled gown of purple organdie, hurried to the door.
“What is the matter, dearie?” she asked, looking at Nancy with hard eyes. “What’s this my Daisy tells me about getting the law chased onto her?”
“I am looking for a couple named Semitt—Frank and Emma Semitt,” Nancy replied, smiling pleasantly. “I’m sorry if I frightened your maid, but I must have the information quickly. It concerns an inheritance.”
Nancy calculated that a tempting hint such as a mention of an inheritance would make the woman more voluble, and her appraisal of Queenie Dilberry was not wrong.
“An inheritance? Fancy that, now. Isn’t that exciting!” Mrs. Dilberry cried. “Honey, I’d give my right arm to help you, but Frank and Emma went away this noon. A lovely couple. I wish they could have stayed forever. So refined!”
“No doubt,” Nancy said dryly. “Where did they go?”
“They took a job at a swell hotel up the river,” Mrs. Dilberry said. “Took all their stuff. Car and all.”
“They left the hotel at once,” Nancy said. “I was just there. They—they didn’t take the position. I wonder if you have any idea where they might have gone?”
“Dearie, I ain’t got the slightest!” Mrs. Dilberry said earnestly. “They didn’t seem to have friends, and they didn’t get no mail during the time that they was here. Ain’t that a shame, now!”
“Yes, a big shame,” Nancy said disappointedly. “I would willingly give fifty dollars for information that would locate them.”
The boarding house mistress’s eyes popped at the size of the reward, but it was plainly evident that she was honestly ignorant as to the Semitts’ whereabouts.
“Thank you, at any rate,” Nancy said. “I shan’t waste any more of your time.”
She then rejoined her father and Mr. Hill.
“Where next, Nancy?” Mr. Drew asked.
“We might stop off at the house on the chance that Sadie was brought home, or that the Semitts called up to arrange for a ransom,” Nancy suggested.
However, nothing had been heard of Sadie by telephone or any other means.
“This is certainly a matter for the police, then,” Mr. Drew said. “Nancy, you must be exhausted after your trying experiences. You must stay here and let Hannah fix you a warm bath and a light supper. Mr. Hill and I will get the state troopers and private detectives busy at once.”
“Dad, please,” Nancy begged. “I am hungry—I did not know it until this minute. I shall feel better after a bite to eat, but I must go with you. I should be worried to death doing nothing at home, while Sadie—”
Hannah, at the mention of food, had trotted into the kitchen and returned with a bowl of rich chicken broth which she had kept warm all evening.
“Here, Nancy dear, eat it right off the library table,” she said. “I’ll bring you some milk and crackers. And you, Mr. Drew, and the gentleman–?”
“We bought some frankfurters at Smith’s Ferry,” Mr. Drew smiled. “They spoiled my appetite.”
“And mine,” Mr. Hill added. “Thank you, but I know I couldn’t eat a mouthful, Mrs. Gruen.”
As Nancy sipped her liquid supper she pondered the situation. Where could the Semitts have vanished?
“I’ve finished,” she said suddenly, putting down her glass. ‘‘Let’s go back to The Twisted Candles.”
“The Twisted Candles!”
The two men could not believe their ears.
“Yes, the old house itself,” Nancy said. “I am sure that is where we shall find the answer to the whole riddle. Oh, the more I think of it the more I am sure I am right.”
The Gleam in the Dark
Nancy Drew sat alone in the back seat of the speeding car that raced once more over the now familiar road to the old Sidney home. Her mind, too, was racing. Her decision to return to The Sign of the Twisted Candles had been made “on a hunch,” as she would have explained it, but it must be remembered that her successful hunches were always the result of constructive thinking.
This had been Nancy’s train of thought as she had sipped her milk. Whatever it was that Frank Semitt was after, whether actual treasure or just valuable information, it was certainly in the old house. About that there was no question.
Sadie had been kidnaped from the house and the Semitts had vanished. Where would the pursuers be least likely to search for them!
“The scene of the kidnaping, of course,” had flashed into Nancy’s mind. “Nobody, Frank Semitt will reason, would look for him or for Sadie at the place from which he stole the girl!”
“Don’t you think you better cut off your motor and just coast up to the house?” Nancy advised her father. “Put out the lights, too.”
“Here goes, then,” Mr. Drew replied, switching off the headlights and throwing his gears into neutral.
The car rolled silently up to the big old house, dark and almost invisible against its background of trees. Nancy felt a pang of disappointment. The place looked as deserted as if no living person had been near the mansion for years.
“Let us make a circuit of the house first and see if we can find the watchman,” Nancy whispered. Noiselessly she stole along on the grass, the two men following her closely.
Slowly she led the way around The Twisted Candles. As she turned the corner of the kitchen wing Nancy sniffed the air. Someone had recently been smoking a pipe close by!
She put out a hand to halt the men behind her, and hugging the walls closely she slipped around the end of the house. A low murmur of voices came to Nancy’s alert ears!
“Who is there?” she called softly.
Instantly the conversation ceased. Nancy waited breathlessly for a moment and then advanced boldly toward the source of the now hushed sounds. If the watchman were conferring, they would be less apt to shoot if Nancy made a bold move than if she skulked in the shadows. If the speakers should be the Semitts, she had Mr. Drew and Mr. Hill close behind to aid her.
“Who is that?” came growlingly out of the dark.
“Nancy Drew,’’ replied the girl. “And you?’’
“We were wondering where you were,” came the unexpected reply. “This is Peter Boonton. Jacob Sidney’s here, too.”
Nancy turned and called to her father and Mr. Hill to come closer.
“Boonton and Sidney are here,” she said under her breath.
The two groups met at the back steps of the house, each demanding of the other reasons for the mysterious visit in the dark.
“Jacob and I met uptown and started to argue,” Peter Boonton said. “I don’t know just why we drove down here. I’ll admit I’ve been here before, but the watchman never let me get onto the lawn, even. Tonight he isn’t to be seen anywhere.”
“What’s that! The watchman gone?” Mr. Drew asked.
“We haven’t seen him, anyhow,” Peter Boonton said. “Don’t think we’ve broken into the place, or even tried to. I’m getting sick and tired of trying to outsmart this young lady here. And when we found her car in the shed over there, why, we just decided to sit down and see what she was up to now.”
“Oh, my car is in the shed, is it?” Nancy asked with decided interest. “That’s news, because it was stolen from here this afternoon.”
“Who stole it, do you think?” Jacob asked. “You can be sure we didn’t.”
“Frank Semitt took it, after he drugged the watchman and me and kidnaped Sadie,” Nancy said bluntly. “And that is what we are doing here—looking for Sadie.”
“What! Semitt did that? Why should he want to kidnap Sadie?” the cousins demanded.
“Probably to get his hands on Asa Sidney’s hidden wealth,” Nancy said. “He has been looting this place systematically. We recovered valuable silver and rare old linens, besides bonds as good as gold that he had secreted. That is the kind of partner you had in your attempts to deprive Sadie of her inheritance!”
“I told you we shouldn’t have taken Semitt in with us,” Jacob accused Peter. “I never trusted him.”
“Yes, he was just using us to his own advantage,” Peter said gloomily. “And now he has turned kidnaper and car thief, too.”
“And you fall into such company all on account of a silly, fifty-year-old family feud which never affected either one of you,” Nancy said pointedly. “Thank goodness, I have convinced George and Bess that they must not be as silly as their elders and warp their lives with borrowed hatred!”
“Yes, Bess and George told me they made up with you,” Peter Boonton replied. “I was mad at first, but I got over it. It does seem sort of foolish. Old Asa never in the world would have willingly caused his baby’s death. His wife was mean to leave him.”
“That’s what we Sidneys have always said,” Jacob commented.
“Yes, but what did you Sidneys do? You treated every Boonton like a mad dog,” Peter retorted.
“It does sound ridiculous when you talk it over,” Nancy interjected. “And now it has resulted in danger of the worst sort to Sadie—this childish quarreling and greedy claim on the estate!”
“Honestly, I feel so disgusted with it all I can’t even get up enough dignity to feel mad at being scolded by a chit of a girl,” Boonton sighed. “Jacob, you are an old fool and I am another.”
“Maybe even a couple of old fools can help find poor Sadie,” Jacob replied. “What’s to be done?”
“My idea is to notify the police and have a state-wide alarm sent out,” Mr. Hill said.
“Yes, but what about the watchman?” Mr. Drew asked. “And what was Nancy’s idea in coming here? She had a plan of some kind. Nancy! Where are you?’’
Nancy, however, had slipped away from the group. So her car had been hidden in the shed! Had Semitt come back to The Sign of the Twisted Candles in her car or had he hidden it that afternoon?
She continued her examination of the grounds, step by step. There was no sign of the watchman at all, and Nancy recalled with a shudder, as she completed the circuit of the building and reached the front steps again, the shock of discovering the drugged man at that self-same spot.
Silently the girl contemplated the building. Her eyes swept up and down the sprawling contours. What a story the old house could tell if it could speak. What a–
“Is that a light?” she suddenly asked herself.
Upstairs in the tower the windows seemed to show a lesser degree of darkness than the blank panes elsewhere in the house. Was it a reflection of the stars, or was it some faint inner glow that made them appear so different?
Nancy looked more sharply.
“It seems as if the windows have been covered so a light won’t show through,” she said to herself. “That certainly looks like a crack of light at the bottom of the middle window, or else my eyes are playing tricks!”
She started for the front door, and then recalled the ladder still lying on the porch roof, where Semitt had played his trick upon her. Flanking the porch steps on either side were stout lattices built of age-enduring locust wood, up which honey-suckle and cinnamon vine clambered. Nancy reached through the foliage and gripped the sturdy wooden support. Her toes found a foothold, and with an ease that surprised even herself she was soon over the edge of the porch roof. Heedless of rust and dirt she climbed over the edge and drew herself erect.
Yes, there was the ladder! It was slow work to handle the heavy contraption without making a sound, but Nancy managed at last to rest the top rung against the sill of the center tower window, without the least tell-tale scrape or rattle.
She tested the ladder. It was not a very sturdy affair, because one leg was shorter than the other. However, Nancy figured that by keeping her weight to one side, she would be able to keep the ladder balanced.
Rung by rung, with infinite caution, Nancy mounted toward the tower windows. The ladder gave a sickening lurch as she came close to the top, and the daring girl reached out and clung to the dusty sill of the window just above her head.
She did not dare look upward for fear of losing her balance. With most of her weight supported by her hands Nancy continued her climb. Two steps more, and she was able to put her forearm on the sill and curl her fingers around the iron peg that held the shutters when they were closed. Cautiously she raised her head until her eyes were on a level with the window frame.
She was standing now on the top rung of the ladder, a precarious position but a triumphant one! It was plain that the windows had been draped with some sort of heavy cloth to exclude the light that was burning within, because Nancy could clearly detect the candle glow through the tiny pin-priek apertures in the cloth. More than that, her sharp ears heard the low rumble in the room of a masculine voice.
Cautious still, and taking infinite pains to retain her balance, Nancy thrust her fingers under the edge of the window and sought to lift it. She was rewarded as the frame moved upward half an inch, then an inch, and yet another half. Then the frame gave a tiny squeak and seemed to stick, and for a breathless moment Nancy ducked her head and waited for detection.
However, the voice droned on without interruption, and Nancy again dared to raise her eyes to the level of the sill. The cloth had evidently been fastened to the inner frame, not to the window sash, because the gap she had made by raising the window was still covered.
Though Nancy could make no use of her eyes in gathering information about what was going on in the Tower Room, she could still make good use of her sense of hearing. She realized that the voice was—Frank Semitt’s. Nancy had known it would prove to be his.