It seemed ages to the young sleuth before the maid returned and said that "Madame" would see her. Nancy was ushered into the living room, which was so bizarre in its decor she was startled.
"Such an expensive hodge-podge!" Nancy observed to herself, sitting down. She glanced at the pink carpet—which to her clashed with the red window draperies—and at an indiscriminate assortment of period furniture mixed with modern.
A haughty voice interrupted her thoughts. "Well, what do you want, Nancy?" Mrs. Topham had sailed grandly into the room and seated herself opposite Nancy,
"I'm selling—" Nancy began pleasantly.
"Oh, if you're selling things I'm not interested," the woman broke in rudely. "I can't be handing out money to every solicitor who comes along."
With difficulty Nancy suppressed an angry retort to the cutting remark. "Mrs. Topham," she said evenly, "perhaps your maid didn't make it clear. I am selling tickets to a charity ball which will be one of the loveliest affairs in River Heights this year."
"Oh!" A slight change came over Mrs. Topham's face. Nancy sensed that her words had struck a responsive chord. The woman was well known for her aspirations to be accepted by the best families in River Heights. "Well—"
To Nancy's dismay Mrs. Topham's response was cut off by the arrival of Ada and Isabel. The sisters entered the room, but did not at first notice Nancy's presence. They were intently carrying on a disgruntled conversation.
"Really!" Ada was complaining. "I'm positive that woman snubbed us deliberately."
Then she and Isabel caught sight of Nancy and stopped short. They stared coldly at the visitor.
"What are you doing here?" Isabel asked with a patronizing air.
Mrs. Topham answered her daughter's question. "Nancy is selling tickets to a charity dance, dear. It's to be a very important affair and I think it will be very beneficial for us to be present."
Isabel tossed her head disdainfully. "Don't waste your money, Mother."
"Isabel's right," Ada chimed in. "We don't want to go to a ball just anybody can go to. We only attend the most exclusive affairs."
"Absolutely," Isabel declared in her haughtiest tone. "After all, Ada and I are very particular about the people we choose to meet"
Mrs. Topham hesitated, evidently influenced by her daughters' argument. Nancy's heart sank, and she feared her cause was lost. She fully realized that Ada and Isabel would stay away from the dance just to spite her.
As she debated what her next move should be, Richard Topham walked into the living room. He was a thin man, with sparse graying hair. His manner was rather nervous. Mrs. Topham perfunctorily introduced Nancy to her husband.
"I gather you have some tickets to dispose of, Miss Drew," he said without ceremony. "How many?"
"Why, four," Nancy replied in some surprise.
"I'll take them all." Mr. Topham opened his wallet with a flourish and drew out a hundred-dollar bill. Here you are. Keep the change for your charity."
His daughters gasped and his wife exclaimed, "Richard! Have you lost your senses? All that money!"
"Listen," Mr. Topham retorted bluntly. "This donation will entitle us to have our names on the programs as patrons."
With this remark he slumped into a chair and buried himself in the financial section of the newspaper. His family stared at one another, but they knew that the matter was closed. They never dared disturb him when he was absorbed in the stock-market reports.
Nancy arose reluctantly. She still had not accomplished the real purpose of her visit, but she had no excuse for prolonging her stay. How could she find out about the Crowley clock? Was it the one on the mantelpiece?
"I must be going," she said. Then, looking at her wrist watch, she pretended that it had stopped and began to wind it. "What time is it, please?"
"There's a clock right in front of you—on the mantel," Ada said sharply.
Nancy looked at the timepiece. "So there is," she remarked casually. "Is it an heirloom, perhaps the old Crowley clock I've heard so much about?"
Mrs. Topham looked down her nose. "I should say not! This is a far more expensive one!"
Isabel also rose to Nancy's bait. "Cousin Josiah's old clock was a monstrosity. We wouldn't even have it cluttering up the attic!"
Nancy's hopes waned, but she asked quickly, "Oh, then you sold it?"
"No," Ada spoke up contemptuously. "Who'd give any money for that piece of junk? We sent it up to our bungalow at Moon Lake."
Moon Lake! The words hit Nancy like a thunderbolt. Not only had the Topham girl given Nancy the very information she sought, but Helen Coming's invitation to Camp Avondale provided a valid reason to visit the resort! Now if she could only figure out how to see the old clock!
As if Ada had read the visitor's thoughts, she said airily, "We have some really fine pieces up at the cottage, Nancy. If you ever get up that way, drop in to see them. The caretaker will show you around."
"Thank you. Thank you so much for everything," Nancy said, trying hard to conceal her excitement. As the door closed behind her, Nancy grinned in anticipation.
"What luck!" she told herself. "Moon Lake, here I come!"