As Jake went to the truck and began a careful search for the keys, Nancy listened fearfully from her hiding place.
"Say, if you've lost 'em—" the leader did not finish the threat, for at that moment the third man announced:
"Here they are on the floor! You must have thought you'd put 'em in your pocket, Jake, and dropped 'em instead."
"I didn't!" the other retorted.
The thieves were obviously in a quarrelsome mood. Just then the leader interposed:
"Cut out the yaking! We ain't got no time for a fight unless we want to land behind bars!"
"And if we do, it'll be your fault, Sid Sax. You left that girl to starve—"
"Shut up!" the leader snarled.
After a few more angry words, the three thieves climbed into the front seat and in a moment the engine started.
In relief Nancy heard the men go. The moment they were a safe distance from the barn, she climbed out of the bin.
Nancy watched long enough to make certain that the van had taken the road to Garwin. Then, snatching up her flashlight and clutching the precious clock in her arms, she turned and ran. "I'd better cut through the woods," she decided.
As Nancy darted among the trees, she cast an anxious glance over her shoulder, but to her intense relief she saw that she was not being followed. There seemed to be no one in the vicinity of the Black Horse Inn.
"I had a narrow escape that time," the young sleuth told herself as she ran. "I hate to think what might have happened if I had been discovered!" She clutched the mantel clock more tightly in her arms. "But it was worth the risk I took! I found the clock and maybe the secret of Josiah Crowley's will!"
Reaching the car, Nancy sprang inside. She took the key from her pocket and inserted it in the ignition lock.
"I'll notify the police as fast as I can," she decided. "Perhaps the state troopers can catch those men before they dispose of the furniture."
Then, just as Nancy was about to start the motor, her glance fell upon the Crowley clock which she had placed on the seat beside her. Did it contain old Josiah's mysterious notebook as she suspected?
"Oh, I must find out!" She got her flashlight.
Since the clock was too unwieldy to open inside the car, Nancy stepped out and laid it on the ground. She unfastened the glass door and ran her hand around the walls. There was nothing inside. She tried the back. Only the mechanism of the timepiece was there.
"Gone!" Nancy groaned. "Oh dear! Has my luck run out?"
Could it be, she wondered, that the Tophams had discovered the notebook only to destroy it? Nancy discarded this thought as quickly as it came to mind, for she recalled the conversation she had overheard between Ada and Isabel. No, the Tophams were as ignorant as herself concerning the location of a later will.
It was more likely that Abby Rowen had been confused in her story. After all, she had not de-dared that the notebook would be found inside the clock. Nancy herself had made the deduction.
"I was almost certain I'd find the notebook," she murmured in disappointment. But a moment later she took heart again. "It must be here somewhere," she told herself.
Turning the clock upside down, Nancy gave it a hard shake. Something inside moved. Hopefully she repeated the action.
"Unless I'm wrong," Nancy thought excitedly, "there's something inside this clock besides the works!" She examined it more closely. "An extra piece of cardboard back of the face! And something in between the two! The notebook maybe!"
After a vain attempt to remove the heavy cardboard face with her fingers, Nancy took a small screw driver from the glove compartment. With the tool it required but an instant to remove the two hands of the clock and jerk off the face.
As the cardboard fell to the floor, Nancy peered inside and gave a low cry of joy.
There, at one side of the clock, attached to a hook in the top, dangled a tiny dark-blue notebook!