NANCY watched Abby Rowen intently as the mantel clock finished striking. The elderly woman's lips had begun to move.
"The clock!" she whispered. "That was it! The clock!"
Nancy gripped the arms of her chair in excitement. "Josiah Crowley hid the will in a clock?" she prompted.
"No—no, it wasn't that," Abby murmured, sighing again. "I know Josiah said something about a clock, but whatever it was has slipped my mind."
Silence descended over the room. Nancy was wondering what connection the timepiece could have with the missing will. Mrs. Rowen was staring at the clock, evidently still trying to probe her memory.
Suddenly she gave a low cry. "There! It came to me just like that!"
"What, Mrs. Rowen?" Nancy urged quietly, lest she startle the old woman into forgetfulness.
"A notebook!" Abby exclaimed triumphantly.
Nancy's heart gave a leap, but she forced herself to say calmly, "Please tell me more about this notebook."
"Well, one day not long before he passed away, Josiah said to me, 'Abby, after I'm dead, if my last will isn't found, you can learn about it in this little book of mine.' "
"Do you know what became of the notebook, Mrs. Rowen?"
"Oh dearie me! There goes my memory again. No, I don't."
Although baffled, Nancy felt a growing conviction that the whereabouts of the Crowley will was definitely tied up with a clock of some kind. But, she pondered, why did the striking of the mantel clock remind Abby Rowen of the notebook?
Impulsively Nancy got up and went over to the mantel. She looked inside the glass front and in the back. There were no papers inside.
Returning to her chair, Nancy asked the elderly woman, "What became of the furnishings of the Crowley home when he gave it up?"
"The Tophams got 'most everything."
"There must have been a family clock," Nancy mused, half to herself.
"A family clock?" Abby repeated. "Oh, yes, there was a clock."
"Can you describe it?"
"It was just an ordinary mantel type, something like mine—tall, with a square face," the woman told Nancy. "Only Josiah's was fancier. Had some kind of a moon on top."
"What became of the clock?" Nancy questioned.
"I suppose the Tophams got it, too."
At last Nancy, sure she had done all she could for Abby, and that she had learned as much as possible for the present, rose to depart. After saying good-by, she stopped at a neighboring house and asked the occupants to look in occasionally on the ailing woman.
"I think maybe one of the county's visiting nurses should see Mrs. Rowen," she suggested.
"I'll phone the agency," the neighbor offered. "Meanwhile, I'll go over myself. I'm so sorry I didn't know about Mrs. Rowen."
As Nancy drove toward River Heights, she jubilantly reviewed the new facts in the case. "Now, if I can only locate Mr. Crowley's notebook—or clock—or both!"
Nancy's brow knit in concentration. How would she go about tracking down the old timepiece?
"I guess," she concluded, "if the Tophams do have the clock, I'll have to pay them a visit!"
While she did not relish the idea of calling on the unpleasant family, Nancy was determined to pursue every possible clue. "I can just see Ada's and Isabel's expressions when I appear at their front door," Nancy thought wryly. "Well, I'll think of some excuse to see them."
She was still mulling over the problem when she pulled into the driveway of her home and heard a familiar voice calling her name.
"Why, Helen Corning!" exclaimed Nancy, as a slim, attractive school friend of hers ran up. "I haven't seen you for days."
"I've been busy lately," Helen explained, "trying to sell six tickets for a charity ball. But I haven't had much luck. Would you like a couple?"
A sudden idea flashed into Nancy's mind at her friend's words. "Helen," she said excitedly, "I'll buy two of your tickets and sell the rest for you."
The other girl stared in astonishment. "Why, that's a wonderful offer, Nance. But—"
Nancy's eyes danced. "I know you think I've lost my mind. I really mean it, though. Please let me take the tickets! I can't tell you my reasons yet—except my cause is a worthy one."
Helen, looking relieved but bewildered, handed over the tickets. "This is really a break for me," she said. "Now I can leave for my aunt's Camp Avondale this evening as I'd hoped. It's at Moon Lake. I thought I'd never get off, with those tickets unsold!"
Nancy smiled. "Have a grand time, Helen," she said.
"How about coming along? It's not expensive and there's room for lots more girls. We'd have loads of fun."
"I'd love to," Nancy replied, "but right now I can't get away."
"Maybe you can make it later," Helen suggested. "If so, just zip on up. I'll be there for two weeks before the regular summer camp opens."
The two friends chatted a little longer, then said good-by. Nancy put the car away, then walked slowly toward her house, looking meditatively at the charity tickets in her hand.
"These are to be my passport to the Tophams' stronghold!"
It was the following afternoon when Nancy approached the large pretentious house belonging to the Tophams.
Bracing herself for what she realized would be a trying interview, Nancy mounted the steps and rang the doorbell. "Here goes," she thought. "I must be subtle in this maneuver to keep from arousing the Tophams' suspicions!"
At that moment a maid opened the door, and with a condescending look, waited for Nancy to State her mission.
"Will you please tell Mrs. Topham that Nancy Drew is calling?" she requested. "I'm selling tickets for a charity dance. It's one of the most important functions of the year in River Heights," Nancy added impressively.