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Title: Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key
Author: Clark, Joan
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key" ***

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                             PENNY NICHOLS
                            MYSTERY STORIES

                   Penny Nichols Finds a Clue (1936)
          Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key (1936)
                 Penny Nichols and the Black Imp (1936)
             Penny Nichols and the Knob Hill Mystery (1939)

                                  _by_
                              "Joan Clark"
                      (Mildred A. Wirt, 1905-2002)



                             Penny Nichols
                                and the
                             Mystery of the
                                Lost Key


                                  _By_
                               Joan Clark

                                   *

                                  The
                      Goldsmith Publishing Company

                                CHICAGO

                           COPYRIGHT 1936, BY
                    THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING COMPANY

              MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                               _CONTENTS_



  CHAPTER                                                            PAGE
  I. A Valuable Letter                                                 11
  II. A Mysterious Key                                                 25
  III. An Arrogant Guest                                               38
  IV. A Face at the Window                                             51
  V. The Lost Key                                                      67
  VI. Midnight Visitors                                                76
  VII. "Ghost" Music                                                   93
  VIII. The Ivory Collection                                          102
  IX. A Scrap of Paper                                                115
  X. The Wall Safe                                                    131
  XI. A Night Adventure                                               140
  XII. A Suspicious Act                                               150
  XIII. The Secret Stairs                                             164
  XIV. A Diamond Ring                                                 175
  XV. Penny's Evidence                                                186
  XVI. Mrs. Leeds' Strategy                                           199
  XVII. The Man in the Boat                                           209
  XVIII. A Daring Theft                                               220
  XIX. The Tables Turn                                                225
  XX. A Break for Freedom                                             239



                               CHAPTER I
                           A Valuable Letter


"Hurry, Susan! We have only ten minutes before the store closes!"

Penelope Nichols, the slender girl in blue, urged her companion into the
revolving doors at the entrance of the Bresham Department Store. A
vigorous push sent the barriers spinning at such a rate that other
shoppers turned to stare at the two girls.

"You nearly took off my heels that time, Penny," Susan Altman protested
with a laugh as they emerged into the crowded store.

"Sorry, but we've no time to waste if I get that pair of white earrings.
The clerks are starting to put things away already."

Threading their way through the outgoing stream of shoppers, the girls
went directly to the jewelry counter. Penny peered anxiously into one of
the glass cases to see if the coveted ivory ornaments were still on
display. They had not been sold.

"Do you think they'll look all right with my red party frock?" she asked
her chum as they stood impatiently waiting for a clerk. In matters of
dress she valued Susan's opinion more highly than her own.

"Stunning. With your coloring you can wear anything. Now if you had a
skin like mine and a snub nose--"

Penny did not hear the remainder of her chum's oft-repeated complaint for
she was trying vainly to attract the attention of a clerk. The only
available girl at the counter was occupied in showing a tray of fine
rings to a tall man in gray tweeds.

"We'll never be waited on," Penny murmured in annoyance. "You can tell
it's going to take until closing time before he makes up his mind which
ring he wants."

Susan turned to survey the customer. He was expensively dressed and upon
a casual inspection appeared to be a gentleman of considerable means.
Although the clerk offered several diamond rings for his approval none of
them satisfied him.

"Haven't you anything better than this?" he questioned. "Show me that
large diamond, please." He tapped the glass case lightly with his cane.

The clerk obligingly placed the ring before him. The man examined the
diamond closely, comparing it with another ring previously shown him. For
the first time he appeared aware of Penny and Susan.

"Wait on these young ladies while I make up my mind which ring I prefer,"
he urged the clerk. "I am in no hurry and I can see that they are."

The clerk hesitated. The rings in which the customer was interested were
valuable ones. It was a rule of the store to keep them always in the
locked case. Yet it would take her only a minute to wait upon the girls,
and obviously the man was a gentleman. She turned to serve Penny.

"I'll take that pair of earrings," Penny announced, indicating the ivory
pieces. "They're three dollars, aren't they?"

"Yes, that is correct. I'll have them wrapped for you."

Penny offered the girl a five dollar bill in payment. She could not
restrain a little sigh as she saw it deposited in the store's cash
drawer. Perhaps she had been foolish to buy the earrings. It meant that
she must do without a great many little things in order to keep within
her allowance. Penny sighed again. At times it was trying to have a
father who believed in maintaining his daughter strictly upon a budget
plan.

Her eyes roved aimlessly toward the man at the ring counter. She saw him
cast a quick glance about. Then he walked rapidly away, making for the
nearest exit.

Penny's keen blue eyes riveted upon the ring tray. The large diamond was
missing.

She had not seen the customer actually take it--his movements had been
too deft for that--yet she knew for a certainty that while the clerk's
back had been turned he had secreted it somewhere upon his person.

Penny did not hesitate. She darted after him.

"Stop!" she cried. And then to the surprised shoppers who turned at the
sound of her voice: "Don't let that thief get away!"

The man wheeled sharply, his face convulsed in anger. With his cane he
struck viciously at a stout woman who clutched him by the coat.

A store detective blocked the main exit.

Recognizing that he could not hope to escape that way, the thief turned
and bolted up a moving escalator which was carrying a capacity load of
passengers to the second floor.

Penny, the detective, and a few of the more energetic customers took up
the pursuit.

In a desperate attempt to escape, the thief elbowed women roughly aside
as he darted up the stairway. Upon the uncertain footing of the moving
treads, several stumbled and fell. In an instant hysterical women were
screaming and clutching at one another for support.

A slender girl in a shabby business suit was rudely jostled. Penny, half
way up the moving stairway, tried to save her from a hard fall. She was
not quick enough. Down the girl went, and as she fell, the contents of
her pocketbook spilled out upon the moving stairway. The thief took
advantage of the resulting confusion to melt into the throng of shoppers
at the top of the escalator. While store detectives carried on the
pursuit, Penny tried to help the terrified women to alight from the
stairway.

"Are you hurt?" she asked the girl who had fallen, trying to assist her
to her feet.

"Never mind me! Save my pocketbook!" the other cried, frantically
beginning to gather up the scattered objects.

The other passengers upon the stairway were more of a hindrance than a
help. Yet by working fast Penny managed to accumulate nearly all of the
lost articles before the brief ride approached its end.

"My letter!"

At the other girl's shrill cry, Penny saw a white envelope riding
serenely on the uppermost step. With a bound she covered the distance
which separated her from it, pouncing upon the letter an instant before
the moving belt disappeared into the flooring.

Clutching it triumphantly in her hand, she turned to assist the girl who
had lost it.

"Why, you're limping," she observed. "Here, lean on me."

"It's nothing," the girl maintained staunchly. "I twisted my ankle when I
fell."

Penny helped her to a nearby chair. Despite the girl's brave words, her
lips quivered when she spoke and her attractive face had taken on an
ashen hue. Yet, strangely, her interest centered not in her injury but in
the letter which she had nearly lost.

"Thank you for saving it," she told Penny gratefully. "I don't know what
I should have done if I'd lost that letter. It means everything to me."

Penny stared at the envelope a trifle curiously but she was too well bred
to ask personal questions. Before she could make any response store
officials hurried up to take charge of the situation. The girl's name was
Rosanna Winters, Penny learned, by listening. She lived at a rooming
house on Sixty-fifth Street, not a great distance from Penny's own home.

Rosanna firmly turned down the suggestion of store officials that she be
sent to a nearby hospital for first-aid treatment.

"It isn't necessary. I merely twisted my ankle. I'll soon be able to walk
on it."

"Let me take you home," Penny offered. "My roadster is parked just
outside the store. We live close to each other."

The girl hesitated, then smiled as she said: "That's very kind of you,
I'm sure. You don't really mind?"

"Of course not. Here, let me help you downstairs."

"Not by way of the escalator," Rosanna said hastily. "Hereafter I'll ride
on the elevator. It's safer."

Although the store's gong had announced the closing hour some minutes
previously, shoppers were slow to leave the building. As the girls
returned to the street floor they were embarrassed to find themselves the
target for many curious stares. Penny readily was recognized as the girl
who had observed the theft of the ring.

"What became of that man who knocked me down?" Rosanna questioned. "I
suppose he escaped."

"I'm afraid so," Penny admitted, looking about for Susan. "The last I saw
of him he was running toward the kitchenware department with the store
detective after him."

Sighting Susan near the outside door, Penny steered her new friend in
that direction. Quickly she introduced the girls, mentioning Rosanna's
unfortunate accident.

"I saw it all," Susan declared. "Penny, you certainly did stir up things
when you set the store detective on that thief."

"And the worst of it was that he escaped," Penny acknowledged. "Of
course, he may be caught here in the building but I doubt it."

In the excitement, she had completely forgotten her package at the
jewelry counter. The girls would have left the store without it had not
the clerk come running after them with the purchase.

"Thank you so much for calling out the alarm," she told Penny gratefully.
"If the thief isn't caught I may lose my job."

"Oh, I hope not."

"So do I, but I shouldn't have broken a store rule. I was completely
taken in by the man's appearance."

"I don't wonder at that," Penny said. "He certainly looked anything but a
crook. Was the ring a valuable one?"

"It was priced to sell at eight hundred dollars. I don't see how I could
have been so stupid."

Penny felt sorry for the salesgirl, particularly so when the floorwalker
came up and began to question her sharply.

"It really wasn't the clerk's fault," Penny insisted. "I feel certain
that man was a professional jewel thief."

"Did you notice his appearance?" the floorwalker asked.

"Yes, he was dressed in a gray tweed suit. I'd say he was approximately
six feet in height, dark hair and eyes. His face was long and angular."

The store official noted down the description and took Penny's address in
case she might be needed later on to identify the crook if he were
captured.

"We're watching all the lower floor exits," the floorwalker informed,
"but the chances are the man got away by means of one of the fire
escapes."

The store rapidly was clearing of shoppers. Penny and her companions
lingered a few minutes longer and then they too were politely requested
to leave.

"I'd like to know if the store detective caught that man," Penny declared
as they paused for an instant on the street. "I suppose now we'll have to
find out by reading our newspapers."

Rosanna Winters turned as if to leave the girls.

"Thank you again for saving my pocketbook," she said to Penny. "My ankle
is much better now so I'll just take a streetcar home."

Penny caught her by the elbow.

"You'll do no such thing. Why, I can see that it hurts you every step you
take. It isn't more than a block or two out of my way to drive you home."

Despite Rosanna's protests, she urged the girl into the roadster which
was parked at the curbing. Penny was very proud of her car. Although it
was not a new model it ran very well and she spent most of her spare time
keeping it washed and polished.

Since the Altman residence was close by, Penny dropped her chum off
before taking Rosanna home. During the ride to Sixty-fifth Street, the
Winters girl spoke scarcely a word. Several times Penny cast a curious
glance in her direction.

Rosanna was the quiet type, she decided. A striking brunette with a
thoughtful, almost sad face.

"I live at the next house," the girl said as they turned a corner. "The
one on the right."

It was a modest but not unattractive boarding house. The porch was clean
and the yard more orderly than the majority in the neighborhood.

"I'm only staying here a few days until I can find another place,"
Rosanna mentioned, feeling that some explanation was due her companion.

"You are a stranger in Belton City?" Penny guessed.

"Yes, I came here looking for work. But now that won't be necessary."
Rosanna hesitated, and then, because Penny had seemed so very friendly,
decided to offer additional information. "I am an orphan, Miss Nichols.
Until this week I had begun to think that fortune had turned against me."

"And now you've had a piece of good luck?"

"Yes," Rosanna's face glowed as she opened her purse and took out the
letter which Penny had picked up from the escalator. "If you hadn't saved
this for me, I should have lost everything."

"Then I'm glad I snatched it up in time," Penny smiled.

She could not imagine the contents of the mysterious letter. It was all
she could do to keep from asking questions.

"I'd like to have you read it if you care to," Rosanna said a trifle
timidly. "I'm anxious to learn the opinion of another person."

"Why, I'll be glad to look at it if you wish," Penny returned, a little
surprised at the request. "And as far as advice is concerned, I love to
offer it."

She accepted the envelope which Rosanna proffered. As she took out the
folded letter a key dropped out into her lap.

"What's this?" Penny demanded.

Rosanna laughed nervously. "If what the letter says is true, it seems to
be the key to my inheritance! But read the letter for yourself."



                               CHAPTER II
                            A Mysterious Key


Unfolding the paper, Penny noticed that the message had been written
under the letterhead: "J.C. Elfhedge, attorney, Brookport." The
communication stated briefly that Rosanna Winters was the sole heiress of
the late Jacob Winters, her uncle, and that she had inherited his
mountainside estate at Raven Ridge. A key to the property was enclosed.
She was urged to inspect the estate at her earliest convenience.

"Well, what do you think of it?" Rosanna questioned as Penny studied the
letter in silence.

"Why, it's fine," Penny returned after a slight hesitation. "Did you know
Jacob Winters well?"

"I didn't know him at all. In fact I never even met him."

"Oh! Then the inheritance must have come as a surprise."

"It did. Even now I can't help thinking there must be some mistake. Did
you ever hear of Raven Ridge?"

"Yes, indeed," Penny told her. "It is a lovely spot near Snow Mountain."

"I must go there as soon as I can," Rosanna said. "Will the car fare be
very much do you think?"

"Probably not more than ten dollars."

"That's a large sum for me," Rosanna smiled ruefully. "Of course, now
that I've actually inherited Uncle Jacob's estate, I suppose I shouldn't
worry about money."

"Well, I shouldn't spend lavishly until I was certain there would be no
slip-up about getting the property," Penny advised bluntly. "Perhaps I
shouldn't say it, but there's a certain tone to this letter that I don't
like."

"What do you mean?" Rosanna questioned.

Penny found it difficult to explain.

"Brookport is only a few miles from here and yet I've never heard of a
lawyer by the name of Elfhedge. It seems a trifle strange too that he
should enclose a key to the property."

"It struck me that way too at first," Rosanna admitted unwillingly. "Of
course, I do have an uncle named Jacob Winters--my mother often spoke of
him. He was always considered queer."

"It may be all right. No doubt you have inherited a fortune. Only I think
I'd be a trifle cautious until I was certain it wasn't a hoax."

"But what can I do except to obey the letter and visit the property?"

Penny glanced again at the letterhead. "Why not visit this lawyer and
have a talk with him? Brookport isn't far from here and it might save you
a trip to Raven Ridge."

"Can I reach Brookport by train or bus?"

"I'm afraid not," Penny said. "It's off the main line of travel. You
haven't a car of your own or one you could borrow?"

"No."

"I'll take you to Brookport if you like," Penny offered generously. "We
might go tomorrow."

"Oh, I shouldn't like to trouble you, Miss Nichols. I can probably rent a
car."

"There's no need of it for I would enjoy the ride. Besides, I am curious
to learn if there is an attorney by the name of Elfhedge living in
Brookport. Suppose I call here for you around ten o'clock tomorrow
morning."

"All right," Rosanna smiled. "It's good of you to offer. Perhaps I can
repay you someday."

The girls parted, Penny driving directly to her own home. Entering the
house by the back door she found Mrs. Gallup, the housekeeper, cooking
dinner. The kitchen was permeated with the delightful aroma of frying
chicken.

"Is Dad home yet?" Penny inquired, pausing to sniff the air.

"He's in the study," the housekeeper informed.

Penny found Christopher Nichols occupied at his desk. Sometimes it was
difficult for her to realize that she was the daughter of a detective who
had gained state-wide recognition for his ability in solving baffling
cases. Mr. Nichols had served an apprenticeship on the police force, had
risen from the ranks, and later had started his own private detective
agency. Yet, despite his success, he was quiet and unaffected.

Mr. Nichols had no real hobbies and only two absorbing interests in
life--his work and his daughter. Penny had been left motherless at an
early age. Because there had been only a slight feminine influence in her
life her outlook upon the world was somewhat different from that of the
average high school girl. She thought clearly and frankly spoke her mind.
Yet if she enjoyed an unusual amount of freedom for one so young, she
never abused the trust which her father placed in her.

Penny loved adventure. Recently, somewhat to her father's chagrin, she
had involved herself with a daring gang of automobile thieves. The story
of her exciting encounter with underworld characters has been recounted
in the first volume of the series, entitled, "Penny Nichols Finds A
Clue."

"Now what?" Mr. Nichols demanded gruffly as his daughter perched herself
on the corner of his desk. "Has that car of yours broken down again?"

Penny laughed as she shook her head.

"No, believe it or not, I still have a few dollars of my allowance left.
I'm after information this time."

"What sort of information?"

"Preferably accurate," Penny smiled. "Tell me, did you ever hear of a
lawyer by the name of Elfhedge with an office at Brookport?"

"No, I never did," Mr. Nichols returned instantly. "There is an attorney
in the Stover building by the name of Hedgel. Perhaps you're mixed up."

"I have the name right," Penny insisted. She then related the contents of
Rosanna Winters' letter.

"It sounds like someone's idea of a practical joke," Mr. Nichols
declared. "I'd advise the girl not to spend any money until she's done a
little investigating."

"That's what I did tell her."

"I'll look this man Elfhedge up in a day or two if you like," Mr. Nichols
promised. "It sounds like a fictitious name to me but of course the
letter may be _bona fide_."

Mrs. Gallup interrupted the discussion to announce that dinner was ready.
Immediately after the meal had been served, Mr. Nichols left for his
office and Penny saw him no more that evening. He left the house before
she was up the next morning so she had no opportunity to explain that she
was driving Rosanna Winters to Brookport that day.

At ten o'clock she rang the doorbell of the rooming house on Sixty-fifth
Street. Rosanna already was waiting.

"I thought you might have changed your mind about wishing to make the
trip," she declared, following Penny to the car.

"No, I'm more curious than ever to talk with your lawyer. It will be
wonderful, Rosanna, if the estate turns out to be a valuable one."

Rosanna smiled a trifle ruefully. "Yes, I will have plenty of use for the
money. I can't believe yet that Uncle Jacob left everything to me."

Penny refrained from saying anything which might disturb Rosanna.
Actually, she had not the slightest reason for doubting that the girl had
come into an inheritance, save that the letter from Mr. Elfhedge did not
have a genuine tone. It occurred to her that a scheme might be under way
to induce the orphan to part with her own savings.

During the ride to Brookport, Rosanna mentioned a few of the hard
experiences she had undergone in the past year. First her mother had
died, then an aunt with whom she made her home, likewise had been taken
from her. She found work of a sort in a grocery store, but long hours and
trying conditions had worn her down. She had taken sick. Hospital bills
claimed the greater part of the money which her mother had left her. She
could not secure her old job back, nor could she find a new one. In
desperation she had decided to come to Belton City, hoping that she might
secure a position there.

"You can imagine that I was pretty well discouraged when the letter
arrived from Mr. Elfhedge," Rosanna ended. "You don't know what a fright
you gave me by suggesting that it might be a hoax."

"I'm sorry if I caused you worry. I had no reason for thinking that
someone wrote the letter for a joke."

"Uncle Jacob was noted for doing queer things," Rosanna informed. "I
never met him but Mother often mentioned his name. He was quite a
traveler, I believe, and collecting was his hobby."

"What did he collect?"

"Oh, things from the Orient and antiques from all over the world."

"Then if you've come into his property, you may have inherited some real
treasures," Penny commented. "It would be fun to visit that house at
Raven Ridge."

"Yes, but I dread going there alone. Penny, I wish you could go with me."

"I wish I could too, but I guess I'll have to stay at Belton City this
summer."

It was only a little after eleven o'clock when the girls reached
Brookport. The town was less than a hundred thousand population and Penny
had no trouble in finding the main business section. After cruising about
for some minutes, they located the street where Mr. Elfhedge had his
office. The number which they sought brought them to an imposing
seven-story brick building.

Penny parked the roadster and they went inside, searching the directory
for Mr. Elfhedge's name. It was not listed.

"That's odd," Rosanna remarked with a troubled frown. "His office must be
here somewhere in the building."

Penny went over to make inquiry of the elevator boy.

"There's no one in this building by that name," he insisted.

Thinking that the boy might be misinformed, Penny and Rosanna sought the
building superintendent. To satisfy them, the man looked carefully
through his list of tenants. No one by the name of Elfhedge occupied an
office in the building.

"There is an attorney in Room 309 but his name is Rogers," the
superintendent told the girls. "You might talk with him. He may know this
man Elfhedge."

They went up to Room 309 and after a brief wait were ushered into the
lawyer's private office. Rosanna was too shy to state the purpose of her
visit, so Penny explained why they had come. The lawyer had never heard
of a colleague by the name of Elfhedge.

"He's never been in this building and I doubt that he's even located in
the city," they were told. "You must have made a mistake in the address."

The girls had made no mistake, that they knew. The address was plainly
written on the outside of the envelope which Rosanna had in her purse.
She showed it to the lawyer.

"Yes, that seems to be this building," he admitted. "It looks as if
someone used a fake address."

They left the office completely discouraged. Penny felt sorry for her
companion. Rosanna had counted so heavily upon the inheritance. Now it
appeared that someone had played a cruel joke upon her.

"You were right," Rosanna acknowledged as they walked slowly back to the
car. "You were suspicious of that letter from the first."

"It struck me as peculiar that it was written in longhand instead of on a
typewriter," Penny explained.

"I suppose it is nothing but a joke," Rosanna acknowledged, "and yet why
should a key be enclosed in the letter?"

"It's beyond me, Rosanna. Even if the trip is wasted, you might feel
better about it if you went to Raven Ridge and investigated."

"I'd go in an instant if I had the money to spare."

"I'll loan it to you."

Rosanna shook her head.

"No, I can't take it although it's kind of you to offer."

"I wish I could help you, Rosanna."

"You've helped me a great deal already. Perhaps a little later on I'll
find some way of getting to Raven Ridge."

Penny tried to urge the loan, but Rosanna, who was unusually proud, would
not hear of it. The girls parted at the latter's boarding house on
Sixty-fifth Street.

"I'll see you within a day or two," Penny promised as she drove away.
"Perhaps by that time Father will learn something about Mr. Elfhedge."

She did not really believe that Mr. Nichols could find anything to
report. Doubtless, the name had been a fictitious one. Yet who had played
the joke upon Rosanna and for what purpose?

"There's more to the affair than what appears on the surface," she
reflected. "If only I had the chance, I'd do a little investigating."

Penny smiled at the thought, little dreaming that such an opportunity was
to present itself very shortly.



                              CHAPTER III
                           An Arrogant Guest


That evening at the dinner table Penny told her father about the
unsuccessful trip to Brookport.

"It looks like someone played a practical joke on your friend," he
commented.

"But who could be so mean, Dad? Rosanna has had such a desperately hard
time to get along. Now if she wastes money going to Raven Ridge on a
fruitless visit, it won't seem fair."

"Well, it's likely to amount to just that," Mr. Nichols returned. "I
tried to locate that attorney, Elfhedge today."

"Any luck?"

"No, I doubt if such a person exists."

"So do I," Penny agreed. "By the way, what became of the newspaper today?
I wanted to read up about the department store theft."

"To see if your name was mentioned?" her father teased.

"No, I was just curious to learn if the thief was captured."

"I can set your mind at rest on that point," Mr. Nichols informed. "He
wasn't. If you're interested in the details, you'll find the paper on the
front porch."

Penny helped Mrs. Gallup clear the table of dishes, then went outside to
get the paper. The story appeared on the front page. It was a slightly
distorted version of what had happened and Penny was just as well pleased
that her name was not mentioned. According to the account, the thief had
escaped by means of a rear fire escape. The ring, valued at approximately
nine hundred dollars, was fully covered by insurance.

While Penny was reading the story, Mr. Nichols came out and sat on the
porch steps.

"How would you like to take a little trip?" he asked casually.

Penny dropped the newspaper. "With you?" she questioned eagerly.

"Yes, I've been working hard lately and I feel like taking a rest over
the week end."

"Where will we go?"

"I thought of Mt. Ashland. It will be cool in the mountains and at this
time of year the hotels will not be too crowded."

"Why, Mt. Ashland isn't very far from Snow Mountain, is it?" Penny
demanded with interest. "I'm going to look it up on the map."

She ran into the house for the big red atlas. A moment later she
returned, her eyes dancing with excitement.

"Mt. Ashland isn't more than a two hours' drive from Snow Mountain," she
told her father.

"And just what difference does it make?"

"Why, Raven Ridge is located on Snow Mountain, you know."

"Oh! So that's what you have in your mind!"

Penny perched herself on her father's knee, smiling her most beguiling
smile.

"Never mind, you little tease," he said hastily. "I give in."

"You don't even know what I want," she laughed.

"Yes, I do. You want to take this new friend of yours along with us."

"I think it would be nice, don't you?" Penny beamed. "Then while you're
having a good rest at Mt. Ashland we could drive on to Raven Ridge.
Rosanna could investigate her property there, if she has any, and it
wouldn't cost her much of anything to make the trip."

"You seem to have it well planned," the detective marveled.

"Well, what's wrong with the idea?"

"Nothing. We'll take her along if she wants to go. She may help keep you
out of mischief."

"When do we start?" Penny demanded gaily.

"Tomorrow afternoon as soon as I can get away from the office."

"Then I'll dash over to see Rosanna now and ask if she can go with us,"
Penny announced.

Without giving her father an opportunity to change his mind, she hurried
to the garage for her roadster. At the rooming house on Sixty-fifth
Street, the landlady, a stout woman with a tired, lined face, admitted
her.

"Miss Winters has the attic room," she informed. "Five flights up."

At the top of the last flight Penny paused to catch her breath before
rapping on Rosanna's door. The orphan was a trifle startled at seeing
her.

"Do come in," she said cordially.

The room was oppressive and warm, although the tiny windows were open
wide. A bed, a chest of drawers, two chairs and a cracked mirror composed
the entire furniture.

"I don't expect to stay here long," Rosanna said apologetically. "I
thought it would do until I found work."

"Why, of course," Penny agreed instantly. "Did you have any luck today?"

Rosanna shook her head and sank wearily down upon the bed.

"No, everywhere I went it was the same old story. I'm beginning to think
I'll never find employment."

"Perhaps you'll not need it if you come into an inheritance," Penny
smiled. "Rosanna, I've found a way for you to get to Raven Ridge."

The orphan's face brightened but for a full minute after Penny had
explained the plan, she sat silent.

"Don't you want to go?" Penny asked, perplexed.

"Yes, of course I do. It isn't that. You've been so good and kind to me.
I'll never be able to repay you for your trouble and expense."

"Nonsense! The trip will be more fun if you go along, Rosanna. Besides, I
have an overwhelming curiosity to see Raven Ridge and your uncle's
estate. Please say you'll go."

"All right, I will," Rosanna gave in.

"Good. Father and I will stop for you tomorrow. I must get back home now
and start packing."

Penny clattered down the creaking, narrow stairway and disappeared into
the night.

Although the trip was only a short one, and at the longest would occupy
less than a week's time, Penny spent many hours planning her wardrobe.
She packed an evening gown, several afternoon frocks, and sports clothes.
Then, reflecting that Rosanna would not be so well fixed, she hung the
garments back in the closet, substituting her plainest dresses.

"There, that will be much better," she decided. "A wise traveler goes
light anyway."

At three o'clock the following afternoon, Penny and her father stopped at
Rosanna's rooming house to pick up the orphan. She was waiting on the
porch, and as Penny had thought, confined her luggage to one overnight
bag.

At first the road to Mt. Ashland wound through fertile valleys and low
hills. Gradually, they climbed. The curves became more frequent. Tall
pines bordered the roadside.

Six o'clock found the party well into the mountains, although still some
miles from their destination. Noticing a pleasant little inn at the top
of a ridge, they stopped for dinner which was served on the veranda
overlooking a beautiful valley.

"I wonder if Raven Ridge will be as pretty as this?" Rosanna mused.

"It's even more beautiful," Mr. Nichols told her. "The scenery is very
impressive."

Before they arose from the table it was growing dusk for they had
lingered to watch the sunset.

"It's just as well that I wired ahead for hotel reservations," Mr.
Nichols remarked as they hurried to the parked car. "Getting in after
dark it wouldn't be so pleasant to find all the rooms taken."

At exactly nine o'clock the twinkling lights of the Mt. Ashland Hotel
were sighted, and a few minutes later the automobile drew up in front of
the large white rambling building. An attendant took the car and they all
went inside.

"I doubt if you'll get rooms here tonight, sir," a bellboy told the
detective as he carried the luggage to the main desk. "There's been a big
rush of guests this week-end."

Mr. Nichols was not disturbed. At the desk he merely gave the clerk his
name, claiming the two rooms which he had reserved by wire.

"We saved two very fine rooms for you," the clerk returned politely.
"Both overlook the valley."

While Mr. Nichols signed the register, Penny and Rosanna sat down nearby.
Their attention was drawn to the main entrance. A large touring car had
pulled up to the door. A pompous looking woman of middle age and a
younger woman, evidently her daughter, had alighted. Both were elegantly
if somewhat conspicuously dressed. Several suitcases, hat boxes and
miscellaneous packages were unloaded. The older woman carried a fat
lapdog in her arms.

"They seem to have brought everything but the bird cage," Penny said in
an undertone.

The two women walked up to the desk.

"I am Mrs. Everett Leeds," the one with the dog announced a trifle too
loudly. "I have a reservation."

"Just a minute please," the clerk requested.

It seemed to Penny that he looked disturbed as he thumbed through his
cards.

"There is no occasion for delay," Mrs. Leeds declared blandly. "My
daughter and I always engage the same room--305."

"Why, that was the number of one of the rooms assigned to my party," Mr.
Nichols observed.

"There's been some mix-up," the clerk said in distress. He turned again
to the two women. "Your reservation isn't on file, Mrs. Leeds. When did
you send the wire?"

"I reserved the room by letter," the woman informed him coldly.

"It was never received here I am sure."

"No doubt the letter was lost."

"You are certain it was sent?"

"Of course I am," Mrs. Leeds declared icily. "My daughter mailed it.
Didn't you, Alicia, my dear?"

A queer expression passed over the girl's face. It struck Penny that she
probably had forgotten to post the letter. However, Alicia staunchly
maintained that she had.

"It's most provoking that you have misplaced the reservation," Mrs. Leeds
said irritably to the clerk. "But of course we can have the room?"

"I am afraid that is impossible, Mrs. Leeds. The room you wanted was
reserved for two young ladies." With a nod of his head the clerk
indicated Penny and Rosanna.

Mrs. Leeds and her daughter turned to stare somewhat haughtily.

"What other room can you give us then?" the woman demanded angrily.

The clerk cast Mr. Nichols a despairing glance. He knew he was in for
trouble.

"Practically everything is taken, Mrs. Leeds. In fact the only available
room is on the top floor."

"And you expect us to take that?" Mrs. Leeds cried, her voice rising
until everyone in the lobby could hear. "I never heard of such outrageous
treatment. Call the manager!"

Penny had risen to her feet. She moved quickly forward.

"There's no need to do that," she said pleasantly. "If Rosanna doesn't
mind, I am perfectly willing to exchange rooms with Mrs. Leeds."

"Why, of course," Rosanna agreed. "It doesn't matter to me where I
sleep."

Satisfied at having her own way, Mrs. Leeds quieted down. She even
thanked the girls graciously for the sacrifice they had made. The clerk
gave out the keys.

"Why did you do that?" Mr. Nichols asked gruffly as he and the girls
followed a bellboy to the elevator. "Your room up by the roof will be hot
as blazes."

"I know, but I didn't see any sense in making such a fuss over a room,
Dad. Besides, it's only for one night."

"I'd insist that you girls take my room if it had a double bed."

Penny shook her head.

"No, you came here for a rest. Rosanna and I really won't mind."

The three entered the elevator and a minute later Mrs. Leeds and her
daughter likewise stepped into the lift.

"I hope you girls will not find it uncomfortable on the top floor," Mrs.
Leeds remarked, trying to make pleasant conversation.

"It isn't very warm tonight," Penny returned politely. "Besides, it will
only be for one night. We're going on to Raven Ridge in the morning."

The elevator was whizzing them upward.

"Did you say Raven Ridge?" Mrs. Leeds questioned sharply.

"Yes."

A queer expression had come into Mrs. Leeds sharp, blue eyes. She seemed
on the verge of speaking, then apparently changed her mind.

The elevator stopped at the third floor. Without a word, the woman urged
her daughter out the door, following her down the hall.



                               CHAPTER IV
                          A Face at the Window


The little room on the top floor of the hotel was as hot and unpleasant
as Mr. Nichols had predicted. Even with all the windows open wide the air
still seemed close.

"Rosanna, I shouldn't have forced you into this," Penny said
apologetically.

"I've slept in far worse places than this," Rosanna laughed. "We have a
comfortable bed and a private bath. I didn't fare half so well at Mrs.
Bridges."

"You're a good sport anyway, Rosanna. That's more than could be said for
Mrs. Leeds or her daughter."

"I wonder how old the girl is? She looked about our age."

"I'd guess she was two or three years older," Penny returned. "She had so
much paint on it was hard to tell."

Both girls were tired from the long day's drive. Rosanna immediately
began to undress. Penny sat on the edge of the bed, thoughtfully staring
into space.

"Did it strike you as queer the way Mrs. Leeds acted when I mentioned we
were going to Raven Ridge tomorrow?" she questioned her companion.

Rosanna kicked off her slippers before replying.

"Well, come to think of it, she did look a little startled. She put on
such a scene downstairs that I didn't pay much attention."

"We'll probably never see her again." With a shrug of her slim shoulders
Penny arose and began to unpack her overnight bag.

According to the plan which they had worked out with Mr. Nichols, the
girls expected to leave for Raven Ridge the next morning directly after
breakfast. It was their intention to motor to the mountain resort,
inspect the Winters' property and see if they could learn anything
concerning Rosanna's uncle. They intended to return either the next night
or the one following.

Few guests were abroad when the detective joined the girls at breakfast.
It was only a little after seven o'clock.

"Sleep well?" he inquired, looking over the menu.

"Not very," Penny admitted truthfully. She might have added more had not
Mrs. Leeds and her daughter entered the dining room at that moment. The
two bowed slightly and selected a table in the opposite corner of the
room.

"Social climbers," Mr. Nichols said in an undertone. "I can tell their
type a mile away."

Breakfast finished, the girls prepared to leave for Raven Ridge. Their
bags were already packed and downstairs.

"Now drive cautiously over the mountain roads," the detective warned as
he accompanied the girls to the waiting car. "If you can't get back by
evening send me a wire."

As Penny took her place at the steering wheel she observed that Mrs.
Leeds' automobile had been brought to the hotel entrance by an attendant.
Apparently, she too was making an early morning departure.

"You're not listening to a word I am saying!" Mr. Nichols said severely.

"Yes, I am." Penny's attention came back to the conversation. "I'll drive
carefully and deliver your precious car back to you without a scratch."

"I wasn't exactly worried about the car."

"Well, there's no need to be uneasy about Rosanna or me. We'll have no
trouble."

With a laugh of careless confidence, Penny started the car and drove
slowly away. It was not the first time she had driven over mountainous
roads. She handled the wheel exceptionally well and used due caution on
all of the sharp curves. The brakes were good but she dared not apply
them too steadily on the steep inclines.

"We'll have to rush if we get back to Mt. Ashland this evening," Penny
announced, slowing down to read a signpost. "I declare, a mountain mile
seems to be three times the length of an ordinary mile."

They had gone only a short distance farther when a tire went down. Penny
knew it instantly by the feel of the steering wheel. She pulled off at
the side of the road.

"Now we are in it," she said in deep disgust. "At least ten miles from a
garage. I can change wheels on my own car, but I doubt if I can on Dad's
automobile."

The girls waited for a few minutes hoping that someone would come along
to help. When no one did, Penny dragged out the tools, and after
considerable trouble succeeded in jacking up the rear axle.

"I see a car coming," Rosanna reported hopefully.

"Let's flag it," Penny suggested. "I could do with a little masculine
help."

In response to her signal of distress, the approaching automobile slowed
down. The driver was a man and there were no passengers.

"He's stopping," Penny said in relief.

There was a screech of brakes as the automobile came almost to a
standstill. Then surprisingly, it speeded up again. But not before Penny
had caught a fleeting glimpse of the driver's face.

"Well, of all things!" Rosanna exclaimed indignantly. "I call that a mean
trick."

"I believe he was afraid to stop," Penny announced excitedly. "I think I
recognized him. It was the same man who stole the ring from Bresham's
Department Store!"

"Are you sure?" Rosanna demanded incredulously.

"I couldn't be absolutely certain, of course. He was traveling too fast
for me to catch more than a passing glimpse of his face. But if he didn't
recognize us, why did he slow down and then speed up?"

"He did act suspiciously. But what can we do about it?"

"Nothing, I'm afraid. We may as well devote our energies to this wheel."

Rosanna was more than eager to help but she had never even seen a tire
changed and had no idea how to go about it. After a little annoying
experimentation, Penny got the wheel in place and tightened the lugs.

"There, it's done," she said in relief, "but my dress is a mess. I'm
afraid we'll have to stop at the first garage and have the old wheel
fixed, for I don't carry another spare."

A signpost at the next bend in the road advised them that Simpson's
Garage was located only six miles away. They made it in a few minutes.
There was no town, only a post office, one general store, and the garage
which obviously was a remodeled blacksmith shop.

"I'm glad it's nothing more than a tire which needs repairing," Penny
commented as the garageman came to learn what they wanted.

He promised that the tire would be ready in half an hour. Glancing at her
wrist watch, Penny saw that it was already past lunch time. She inquired
if there was a cafe nearby.

"Not in Hamilton, there ain't," the garageman told her. "Ma Stevens,
across the street in the big white house, serves meals to tourists now
and then."

Rather than spend an unpleasant half hour in the garage, the girls walked
over to the rambling white house. They were reassured to see that the
yard was well kept and that everything appeared orderly and clean.

"Let's take a chance on the food," Penny decided. "I'm hungry enough to
eat a fried board!"

Mrs. Stevens, a motherly looking woman in a blue checked gingham dress,
opened the door. She looked slightly troubled at their request for food.

"It's later than I usually serve," she explained. Then noticing their
disappointed faces, she added hastily: "But if you're not too particular,
I can find you something."

The "something" consisted of a generous platter of mountain trout, fresh
from the stream and fried to a golden brown, French fried potatoes, a
salad, and cherry pie.

"Dear me, after such a meal, we may not be able to get to Raven Ridge,"
Penny remarked, finishing her second piece of pie. "I never ate so much
in my life."

"Did you say you were going to Raven Ridge?" Mrs. Stevens inquired.

"Yes, we're waiting now to have a tire patched."

"You're the second party through here today that's heading for Raven
Ridge," Mrs. Stevens informed. "A man stopped for lunch about an hour
ago. Only he thought it wasn't cooked well enough for him."

"He must have been particular," Penny commented. "What did he look like?"

"He was tall and dark and he had a sharp way of watching one."

"I wonder if it could have been that man who passed us on the road?"
Penny mused. "Was he driving a gray coupé?"

"Yes, I believe he was."

Penny was convinced that the man Mrs. Stevens described was the same
person who had declined to help her on the road. She wondered what
business took him to Raven Ridge. Could she have been mistaken in
believing him to be the thief who had stolen the diamond ring?

Paying for the luncheon, the girls went back to the garage. The tire was
ready for them. Soon they were on their way again.

They had driven for perhaps an hour when Penny observed that the road
seemed to be leading them out of the mountains. She began to wonder if
they had taken a wrong turn. She stopped at the next filling station to
inquire. To her dismay, she was told that she had traveled nearly twenty
miles out of her way.

"I thought this didn't seem like the right road," Penny declared ruefully
to her companion. "Now we'll be lucky to get to Raven Ridge by dinner
time, to say nothing of returning to Mt. Ashland tonight."

"I've put you to a great deal of trouble," Rosanna said regretfully.

"Not at all. This trip to Raven Ridge is an adventure, and I like it. It
will be more fun to stay over night anyway."

An occasional road marker reassured the girls that at last they were on
the right highway. The mountain curves were sharp, and Penny did not make
as good time as she had anticipated. She became a little alarmed to see
that storm clouds were rapidly gathering.

"It looks as if we may have rain," Rosanna commented.

"A great deal of it, I'd judge. Those clouds are black as ink."

In less than half an hour the storm struck them in full force. A great
gust of wind dashed huge drops of water against the windshield, there was
a vivid flash of lightning, then the rain came down in steady sheets.

Even with the wiper going Penny could see only a few feet ahead of the
windshield. She pulled up under a huge oak tree at the side of the road.
The girls waited a quarter of an hour and still the rain fell in
torrents. At length, however, it slackened slightly, and not wishing to
lose any more time, Penny cautiously drove on.

"It can't last much longer," Rosanna said optimistically.

Despite her hopeful words, the rain showed no sign of stopping. Penny
reconciled herself to a slow pace for the remainder of the journey. She
was beginning to grow tired. Her back and arms ached and it was a strain
to keep such close watch of the road.

With the sun hidden from view, night came on early. Nervous at the
thought of driving over unfamiliar mountain roads after dark, the girls
did not stop for dinner. Nine o'clock, in a pouring rain, found them
drawn up at a filling station to inquire how much farther it was to Raven
Ridge.

"Why, you're practically there now," the attendant informed. "What place
are you looking for?"

"The Jacob Winters' estate," Penny replied.

"Then keep on this road for about two miles more. When you come to the
top of the ridge, take the gravel road to the left. It will lead you to
the house. There's no one there though, unless maybe a caretaker."

"Oh," Penny murmured, "then perhaps you can direct us to a place where we
can spend the night."

"The nearest is at the town of Andover, five miles beyond the Winters'
place."

The girls thanked the man for his assistance, and once more followed the
winding road up the mountainside.

"Shall we go on to Andover or stop at the Winters' house?" Penny asked
her companion.

"I don't know what to do," Rosanna faltered. "We're both so tired."

"The place surely must have a caretaker, Rosanna. Let's take a chance and
stop."

At the top of the ridge they watched for the gravel road and were elated
to find it. The entrance was barred by a white gate. Rosanna stepped out
in the rain to open it.

"This may have been a foolish thing to do," Penny admitted as they drove
between tall rows of whispering pines. "We could have gone on to Andover
only I dreaded driving down the mountainside with slippery roads."

Rosanna huddled closer to her friend. The road was dark and the rustling
of the wind in the pine needles made her uneasy.

Soon they came within view of the house. It was built of native stone,
half hidden by the luxuriant growth of shrubbery and trees which
surrounded it. No lights gleamed in the windows.

"There's no one here," Rosanna declared.

"Let's knock anyway. The caretaker may be at the rear somewhere."

They parked the car as close to the front door as possible and made a
dash for the porch. Penny knocked several times on the massive door but
there was no response.

"We might try your key, Rosanna," she proposed. "If it fits I'll begin to
think there's something to that mysterious letter you received."

Rosanna groped in her pocketbook for the key. Impatient for action, Penny
turned the handle of the door. To her astonishment the latch clicked.

"Why, the door is already unlocked, Rosanna!"

"But of course we won't dare go in."

"Why not?"

"Well, it doesn't seem right. The people may not be at home."

"Someone must be around or the door wouldn't be unlocked. Besides, you
have a key, Rosanna. And according to the letter, this is your
inheritance."

Penny swung wide the door. She peered inside but could see nothing. Her
hand groped for the electric switch. She found the button by the door and
pressed it. Instantly everything was flooded with light.

The girls found themselves in a long, narrow living room. The ceiling was
beamed, the furniture was rustic, and a great fireplace occupied one end
of the wall.

Penny crossed over to the hearth. There was no fire but logs were in
readiness to make one.

"I don't feel right about coming in here," Rosanna said nervously.

"Nonsense, if it's your property you're not trespassing," Penny insisted.
"Besides, it looks to me as if you were expected, for everything seems in
readiness for guests. I'm going to build a fire and see if I can't thaw
out my chilled bones."

Reluctantly, Rosanna went to help her. Soon they had a roaring fire in
the hearth. As they grew more comfortable they took more interest in
their surroundings. The room was plainly but expensively furnished.
Curious objects from many lands occupied the tables and bric-a-brac
shelves.

"Your uncle must have lived an interesting life," Penny commented,
picking up a tiny ivory box from a nearby stand.

"Yes, Mother often told me----"

Rosanna's voice broke in the midst of the sentence. Turning, Penny saw
that her friend's eyes were fastened upon the window. All color had
drained from Rosanna's face. Her eyes were dilated with fear.

"What is it?" Penny demanded.

Rosanna clutched her hand.

"I saw someone just then," she whispered. "A man's face at the window!"



                               CHAPTER V
                              The Lost Key


Penny turned quickly toward the window. She saw nothing save the rain
trickling down the panes.

"You must have imagined it, Rosanna."

"No, I didn't. I know I saw a face."

Rosanna huddled close to Penny. She was afraid.

"I'll go and look out," Penny proposed daringly.

Before Rosanna could stop her she moved to the door and flung it open. A
man in oilskins confronted her. His face was half hidden by the felt hat
which he wore low over his eyes.

"What do you want?" Penny asked nervously.

Without answering, the man stepped into the room. Under the electric
light he did not look as terrifying as he had at first glance. Penny saw
when he swept off his dripping hat that he was an elderly man although
spry for his years. She felt slightly reassured.

"I came to find out what you mean by entering Mr. Winters' house when
he's away?" the man demanded curtly. "Don't stand there staring like a
blind owl! Answer."

Rosanna had completely lost her power of speech, so Penny tried to
explain the situation. She told how they had been caught by the storm and
mentioned Rosanna's key and letter which gave her right to investigate
the property.

"So you're old Jacob Winters' niece?" the man questioned gruffly, peering
intently at Rosanna. "At least that's what you say."

"Of course he's my uncle, although I never saw him," Rosanna defended. "I
can prove it by my letter."

"Probably wrote it yourself," the man snapped. "But let's see it anyway."

"Just a minute," Penny interposed, feeling that it was time the newcomer
answered a few questions of his own. "Are you the caretaker of this
house?"

"Yes, and no. I'm a neighbor of Mr. Winters and he asked me to keep an
eye on his house while he was away. I saw the light in the windows and
came to see what was wrong."

"My uncle is dead," Rosanna said quietly. "I have inherited the estate."

"Jacob Winters dead!" the man exploded. "Why, I had a card from him last
week. Mailed from some place down in Africa. Let me see that letter you
claim to have."

Rosanna opened her pocketbook and searched for it. A troubled look came
over her face. She was certain she had placed both the letter and the key
in the inside compartment. Now she could find neither.

"So you haven't got it?" the man said suspiciously.

"I must have it somewhere. I can't imagine how I misplaced it. You
remember the letter don't you, Penny?"

"Of course. You had it in your pocketbook the last time I saw it. We're
telling you the absolute truth Mr.----"

"Caleb Eckert," he supplied. "If you didn't have a key how did you get
into the house?"

"Why, the door was open--that is, it was unlocked," Penny explained.

Caleb Eckert peered at her sharply as if trying to make up his mind if
she were speaking the truth. Rosanna, who by this time had emptied her
purse out upon the table, was growing more upset every minute.

"Oh, let's leave this house, Penny," she burst out. "I've lost the letter
and the key and so we've no right to be here at all. I didn't mean to
trespass. I wish we'd never have come at all. That letter has caused me
so much grief."

Rosanna looked as if she might cry at any moment. Caleb Eckert softened.

"Now, I wouldn't want you to go out into this storm. As far as I'm
concerned you may stay here for the night."

"We don't care to intrude," Rosanna said stiffly.

"It isn't safe to go down the mountain in this rain," the man declared,
adopting a more friendly tone. "Now don't be offended by the way I acted.
My bark is worse than my bite."

"We can't blame you for being suspicious," Penny admitted. "It may be
that someone played a joke on Rosanna in sending her the letter and key.
We were afraid of that from the first."

Caleb Eckert's eyes roved to the crackling fire, then to the splattered
windows.

"Tell you what," he proposed gruffly. "You girls stay here for the night.
In the morning we'll see if we can't straighten things out."

"But if Mr. Winters is alive we have no right to use this house," Rosanna
protested weakly.

"You're his niece, aren't you?" Caleb demanded. "Jacob Winters wouldn't
turn anyone out in a storm, much less one of his own kin folks. Have you
had supper?"

The girls admitted that they had not had any food since lunch time. Caleb
led them to the kitchen, showing them where canned goods were stored.

"If you're handy with a can opener there's no need to starve," he
declared.

The girls thanked him for his trouble. Rosanna timidly ventured a few
questions concerning her uncle.

"Did you never see him?" Caleb asked.

"No, once I wrote him a letter but he never answered. I've heard Uncle
Jacob was very eccentric."

"Some might call him that. He liked to live alone and mind his own
business which is more than most folks do. He traveled a lot too. I guess
he must have visited every country in the world." He added slyly: "If
Jacob _is_ dead, you'll come into possession of some valuable things."

"I hope that nothing has happened to him," Rosanna said sincerely. "I
don't really care for riches. All I want is a home."

"Jacob Winters never liked girls."

"I know," Rosanna sighed. "I guess that's why he never answered my
letter."

"You counted a lot on the inheritance, didn't you?" Caleb questioned
shrewdly.

Rosanna flushed but did not deny the accusation.

"I thought that it might make my future more secure," she acknowledged.
"Since Mother died I've battered around from one rooming house to
another. But even if I don't come into the inheritance, I'll be glad that
my uncle is still alive."

"I don't know that he is," Caleb Eckert said hastily. "He was alive when
he sent that postcard from Africa. Since then we've had no word from him
here at Raven Ridge."

While the girls prepared food for themselves, Caleb sat by the kitchen
stove watching. He showed them how to start a fire in the range but would
not partake of supper when it was cooked.

"Had mine four hours ago. I'll show you where you can sleep and be
getting on home."

"Do you live near here?" Penny asked curiously.

"Not far. If the rain would let up you could see my cabin through the
dining room window. It's perched on the edge of the cliff, overlooking
Lake Chippewa."

Rosanna remarked that the scenery around Raven Ridge must be beautiful.

"'Tis," Caleb agreed enthusiastically. "You'll have to walk down to the
lake in the morning. There are some mighty pretty trails to follow too."

"If we have time before we go, we'll surely explore," Penny promised.

Caleb conducted them upstairs, opening the door of one of the bedrooms.
It was stuffy and dusty but otherwise ready for occupancy. Penny turned
back the coverlet of the bed and found that it was equipped with clean
sheets and blankets. The furniture was massive and all hand carved.

"I guess you can make out here for one night," Caleb said.

"We'll be very comfortable," Penny assured him.

Returning to the lower floor, Caleb lighted his lantern and prepared to
leave. With his hand on the door knob he turned to face the girls again.

"Oh, yes, there was something I forgot to mention. If you hear queer
noises in the night don't be upset."

"Queer noises?" Penny echoed.

Caleb nodded soberly.

"Folks around here claim the house is haunted but I never took stock in
such stories myself. I just thought I'd warn you."

And before the girls could recover from their astonishment, he firmly
closed the door, disappearing into the rain.



                               CHAPTER VI
                           Midnight Visitors


"I wish," Rosanna commented emphatically, "that I had never brought you
to this queer old house."

Penny laughed as she went over to the fireplace and dropped on another
stick of wood. She stood watching the sparks fly up the chimney.

"I think Caleb Eckert was only trying to be funny when he warned us of
ghosts," she declared. "At any rate, I'm too tired and sleepy to care
much whether the place is haunted or not."

"It's a good night to sleep," Rosanna admitted, going to the window. "I
believe the storm is getting worse."

Rain pounded steadily upon the roof and the wind was rising. It whistled
weirdly around the corners of the house. The tall maple trees which
shaded the front porch bent and twisted and snapped.

For a time the girls sat before the fire. Presently Penny suggested that
they retire.

"I don't believe I can sleep a wink tonight," Rosanna protested. "Even
though Caleb Eckert said it was all right for us to stay here, I don't
feel entirely easy about it."

"I don't see why not," Penny protested as they mounted the creaking
stairs to their bedroom. "According to the letter, you've inherited the
house. And you have a key."

"I had a key you mean. I can't understand how or where I lost it."

In thinking back over the activities of the day, Rosanna could not recall
taking either the key or the letter from her purse. However, several
times for one purpose or another she had opened her pocketbook, and it
was quite likely that the articles had fallen out unobserved. She thought
possibly she might find them on the floor of Penny's car. She intended to
search in the morning.

The upstairs room was damp and chilly. The girls hurriedly prepared to
retire. Penny put up the window, snapped out the light and made a great
running leap which landed her in bed.

"Listen to the wind howl," she murmured, snuggling drowsily into her
pillow. "Just the night for ghosts to be abroad."

"Don't!" Rosanna shivered, gripping her friend's hand. "I can almost
imagine that someone is coming up the stairway now! I'm afraid of this
lonely old house."

"I won't let any mean old ghost get you," Penny chuckled teasingly. "I
love stormy nights."

Rosanna lay awake long after her companion had fallen asleep. She
listened restlessly to the crash of the tree branches against the roof,
the creaking of old timbers and boards. But the steady beat of rain on
the windowpanes had a soothing effect upon tense nerves. Presently she
dozed.

Suddenly she found herself wide awake. She sat upright in bed, straining
to hear. She was convinced that some unusual sound had aroused her.

Then she heard it again. A peculiar pounding noise downstairs.

She clutched Penny by the arm.

"What is it?" the latter muttered drowsily.

"Wake up! I think someone is trying to break into the house!"

As the words penetrated Penny's consciousness, she became instantly
alert. She too sat up, listening. Someone was pounding on the front door.

"What shall we do?" Rosanna whispered in terror.

Penny sprang from bed and snapped on the light. "I'm going to dress and
go down. It may be Caleb Eckert."

"Or a ghost," Rosanna chattered. "If you're going down, so am I."

With the appearance of a light in the bedroom, the clanging on the door
increased in violence. Penny, who was dressing as rapidly as she could,
began to grow irritated.

"Are they trying to break down the door?" she grumbled. "I should think
whoever it is would know we're hurrying."

Without delaying to lace up her shoes, she ran down the stairs, Rosanna
close at her elbow. Before snapping on the living room lights the girls
peered out the window.

Slightly reassured by the appearance of the midnight visitors, they
cautiously unbolted the front door.

Mrs. Everett Leeds and her daughter Alicia, swept into the room. Both
were bedraggled and obviously out of sorts.

Mrs. Leeds shook the rain from her cape, flung her wet hat into the
nearest chair, and then coldly surveyed the two girls.

"What are you doing here, may I ask?" she inquired.

"We _were_ sleeping," Penny smiled.

"I mean, what are you doing in this house?"

"It seems to belong to Rosanna," Penny said evenly. "She inherited it
from her uncle, Jacob Winters."

Mrs. Leeds' expression was difficult to interpret. For an instant she
looked stunned. But she quickly recovered her poise.

"Nonsense!" she said shortly. "This house belongs to me. Jacob Winters
was my cousin. He died recently, leaving me everything. I have a letter
and key to prove it. Naturally I couldn't use my key to get into the
house for you had it bolted from the inside."

Mrs. Leeds looked accusingly at the girls as she offered the letter to
Penny. A casual glance assured the girls that it was identical with the
one Rosanna had received and lost.

"It's too late to go into this tonight," Penny protested. "Let's discuss
it in the morning."

"Very well," Mrs. Leeds agreed coldly. "Where are we to sleep?"

Penny informed her that there were several empty bedrooms upstairs. She
led the way to the upper floor. Opening the door of one of the rooms, she
was surprised to see that it was not as well furnished as the bedroom
which she and Rosanna shared. Mrs. Leeds uttered an exclamation of
disgust.

"Surely you don't expect me to sleep here, Miss Nichols. The room is
dirty. Positively filthy."

"Look at that long cobweb hanging from the ceiling!" Alicia added
indignantly. "I'd have hysterics if I slept here."

"Perhaps the adjoining room is better," Penny commented.

An inspection revealed that if anything it was even more neglected.

"I'm afraid you'll just have to make the best of it for tonight," Penny
declared, "unless you care to drive on to the next town."

"We'll stay," Mrs. Leeds decided instantly. "I'd prefer to sit up all
night, rather than brave those horrible mountain roads again."

"We slipped into a ditch coming here," Alicia informed. "That's what made
us so late. We've had a terrible time."

In a closet at the end of the hall, Penny and Rosanna found blankets and
linen. As they made up the beds, neither Mrs. Leeds nor her daughter
offered to assist. It was after one o'clock when the girls went back to
their own room.

"Mrs. Leeds means to make trouble about the inheritance," Penny remarked
in an undertone as they snapped out the light once more. "I wonder if by
any chance she could have picked up your letter and key?"

"Oh, I doubt it," Rosanna returned. "I remember when we were at Mt.
Ashland she dropped the hint that she was going to Raven Ridge. At least,
she acted strangely when we mentioned the place."

"Yes, she did. I had forgotten for the moment. Oh well, in the morning
we'll learn exactly what she intends to do."

Penny rolled over and soon was sleeping soundly. Toward morning she awoke
to hear a clock somewhere in the house chiming four. At first she thought
nothing of it, then it occurred to her that no one had wound any of the
timepieces the previous evening. While she was musing over such an odd
happening her keen ears detected the sound of soft footsteps in the long
hall outside.

"It's probably Mrs. Leeds or her daughter," she reasoned.

The sounds persisted. At length Penny quietly arose and tiptoed to the
door. She looked out into the dark hall. No one was within sight. Mrs.
Leeds' door was closed.

Penny went back to bed, taking care not to awaken Rosanna. Scarcely had
she pulled the blankets up than the soft pad of footsteps could be heard
again.

"I hope it isn't that ghost Caleb warned us about," she thought uneasily.
"Oh, bother! I know there aren't any ghosts!"

Penny closed her eyes and tried to sleep but found it quite impossible.
Even after the noise in the hall ceased she caught herself listening for
the footsteps. At a quarter to seven she dressed and stole downstairs to
see what she could find for breakfast.

At eight o'clock when Rosanna came into the kitchen, Penny had coffee,
cereal and crisp bacon ready.

"The larder seems very well supplied," she informed cheerfully. "Someone
left milk on our doorstep too. I imagine it must have been Caleb."

"I'm hungry enough to eat anything," Rosanna declared. "Shall I call Mrs.
Leeds and Alicia?"

"Yes, do, although I don't know how they'll take to my cooking."

Rosanna went upstairs to rap on Mrs. Leeds' door. She returned a minute
later, reporting that neither of the guests would be down for breakfast.

"They were quite put out at being disturbed so early," she told Penny
ruefully.

"We'll let them get their own breakfasts then. Come on, we'll have ours
anyway."

Penny had learned to cook very well under the tutelage of Mrs. Gallup.
She had done remarkably well with the meager supplies at her disposal and
Rosanna declared that the breakfast was excellent.

The girls had finished the dishes and were stacking them away when Alicia
came down the stairs.

"Mother and I will take our breakfast now," she informed.

Rosanna started toward the kitchen, but Penny neatly blocked the way.

"Sorry," she said cheerfully, "but we've just finished ours. You'll find
supplies in the kitchen."

Alicia started to reply but without waiting to hear what she might have
to say, Penny and Rosanna went out the back door.

"While she cools off we may as well look over the grounds," Penny
laughed. "If Mrs. Leeds and Alicia expect to get along with me, they'll
have to learn that this household is going to operate on a cafeteria
basis."

From the rear door a sandstone path led down a steep incline to the brow
of a high cliff. A river wound its way directly below, emptying into a
crystal blue lake. Deep in the pine woods, some distance from the path, a
cabin could be seen. The girls decided that it must belong to Caleb
Eckert.

While they were admiring the rugged scenery, someone came up behind them.
They wheeled about to face Caleb himself.

"Well, well, you both look bright and gay this morning," he greeted
heartily. "Sleep well?"

"Quite well," Rosanna told him shyly. "That is, we did until the visitors
arrived."

"Visitors?"

Rosanna explained about Mrs. Leeds and her daughter while Penny added
omitted details. For some reason they both were beginning to feel that
Caleb was their ally.

"All this talk about letters and keys and inheritances certainly has me
puzzled," he proclaimed, shaking his head. "It's hard to believe that
Jacob Winters is dead. I think I'll walk back to the house with you and
have a little talk with Mrs. Leeds."

"Did you leave milk at our doorstep this morning?" Penny questioned as
they returned together.

Caleb admitted that he had placed it there.

"You've been very kind," Rosanna said gratefully. "I want to thank you
before we leave."

"You're not aiming to leave today?" Caleb asked quickly.

"Well, yes, I imagine we will. I don't feel right about staying here."

Caleb lowered his voice. "Take my advice, Miss Winters, and don't leave
while that other woman and her daughter are here. From what you've told
me, I think they mean to grab the property."

"But what can I do?" Rosanna asked helplessly. "I've lost my letter and
the key. I haven't any proof that the property was left to me."

"Maybe this Leeds woman hasn't any proof that it was left to her either,"
Caleb said sagely. "Anyway, we'll find out what she has to say."

At first, Mrs. Leeds, accosted in the living room of the old house, had
little comment to make. She was out of sorts from lack of sleep the
previous night, and the breakfast which she and Alicia had endeavored to
cook had not been a success. Nor was she impressed with Caleb who wore
high boots, an old pair of dirty trousers and a crumpled felt hat.

"I don't see why I should discuss my business affairs with you," she said
aloofly. "I have inherited this property from my cousin and I mean to
remain here in possession of it indefinitely if necessary."

"May I see the letter which you say you received?" Caleb inquired.

Mrs. Leeds hesitated, then reluctantly handed it over. Caleb studied it
briefly and returned it.

"You will require more than this as evidence of Mr. Winters' death," he
said quietly. "For all I know, you may have forged this letter."

"Preposterous!" Mrs. Leeds snapped. "I refuse to discuss the matter with
you further. I shall send for my attorney and he will straighten out
everything."

"Not without the will, he can't," Caleb returned grimly. "And there's no
telling what became of it."

"The will?" Mrs. Leeds caught him up. "Are you sure there was a will?"

"Mr. Winters told me once that he had made one and hidden it somewhere in
the house."

"Then of course it can be found."

"Mr. Winters wouldn't want anyone prying around in his private papers,"
Caleb insisted. "Until I have definite word that he is dead, I can't let
anyone hunt for it."

"I shouldn't call searching for the will exactly prying!" Mrs. Leeds
retorted indignantly. "What right have you to say what is to be done
here? Are you the caretaker?"

"Well, not exactly, but Mr. Winters asked me to look after things until
he got back."

"That will must be found."

Caleb's face tightened. "Mrs. Leeds," he said severely, "I repeat, things
in this house must not be disturbed."

Mrs. Leeds drew herself up proudly. "Unquestionably, the will leaves
everything to me."

"That may be," Caleb acknowledged, "but this girl here has a claim too."
He indicated Rosanna.

Mrs. Leeds froze her with a glance. Her eyes snapped like brands of fire
as she listened to Rosanna's account of the letter and key. But a look of
relief, which was not lost upon either of the girls, came over her face
as she learned that they had been misplaced.

"The story sounds ridiculous to me," Mrs. Leeds declared coldly. "If you
can't produce the letter or the key, what proof have you that you
actually are Jacob Winters' niece?"

"I could get evidence within a few days," Rosanna declared. "The letter
and key may show up too."

"I think perhaps you dropped them in the car," Penny interrupted. "Let's
look now."

Leaving Mrs. Leeds and Caleb embroiled in another argument, they went
outside where the automobile had been parked near the house. A careful
search of the flooring and pockets of the car did not reveal the missing
letter or key. Rosanna was completely discouraged.

"Do you think Mrs. Leeds could have picked it up?" she asked gloomily.

"I don't see how," Penny returned thoughtfully. "But there's one thing
certain. She intends to make trouble. You surely don't intend to go away
from here while she and her daughter are camped in the house?"

"What else can we do?"

"Send a wire to Dad that we're staying on a day or two," Penny answered
instantly.

"But won't that inconvenience both of you?"

"No, I suspect Dad will be grateful for the rest and as for myself, I'd
enjoy seeing this thing through."

It required little urging to convince Rosanna of the wisdom of remaining
on the scene. She had taken an immediate dislike to Mrs. Leeds and her
daughter, and agreed with Penny that they were determined to claim more
than a rightful share of the inheritance.

Once the girls arrived at a decision they lost no time in driving to the
nearest town where Penny dispatched a message to her father. Noticing an
inviting looking restaurant, they ate lunch before motoring back to the
Winters' mansion. It was nearly two o'clock when they reached the Ridge
again.

An unfamiliar car stood on the driveway. Penny was certain it did not
belong to Mrs. Leeds for her mud-splattered sedan was parked some
distance away.

"It looks like more visitors," she commented as they crossed the veranda
together.

At the doorway both girls involuntarily paused. Mrs. Leeds was engaged in
conversation with a stranger.

For an instant Penny and Rosanna stood and stared. It was the same man
who had refused them help on the road.



                              CHAPTER VII
                             "Ghost" Music


As Penny and Rosanna entered the living room, the stranger turned to face
them. For a long moment Penny was convinced that he was the shoplifter
who had stolen the diamond ring from the Belton City department store.
His build was the same and the general lines of his face were similar.
Then the man spoke and she was not certain at all. The tone of his voice
was entirely different as was his abrupt manner of speaking.

A trifle nervously, or so it seemed to Penny, Caleb Eckert introduced the
stranger.

"Max Laponi," he said. "He represents himself as a nephew of Jacob
Winters."

"Not only do I represent myself as such, but I have proof that I am Uncle
Jacob's nephew," the stranger retorted. "You'll find my credentials in
order. I've come to take over the estate."

The girls were not greatly surprised when he took from his pocket a
letter similar to the one which Mrs. Leeds had produced. They were more
impressed with the other papers which he offered for Caleb's
inspection--a birth certificate, a letter of identification from a well
known Chicago banker and various legal documents.

"It looks to me as if someone has played a joke on all you folks," Caleb
said slowly. "We don't know that Mr. Winters is even dead."

"Oh, yes, we do," Max Laponi insisted, producing another letter. "This
came from my attorney this morning. It definitely states that Mr.
Winters--Uncle Jacob--was buried at sea."

Caleb sank down in a chair. He scarcely read the letter although his face
had turned an ashen hue.

"I can't believe it even now," he murmured. "There must be some mistake."

"There's no mistake," Max cut in sharply. "It's clear enough that I am
the heir too. By the way, didn't the old man have a valuable collection
of ivories?"

Caleb stiffened visibly. "Ivories?" he asked blankly.

"Sure, some pieces he collected years ago on his tours. Read about it in
the paper."

"Oh, so you read about it?" Caleb echoed significantly.

"Uncle Jacob told me about the collection too. He always intended me to
have it."

"Then you should know where to find it," Caleb retorted bluntly. "I'm
sure I don't."

With that he turned and walked to the door. There he paused to fling over
his shoulder:

"I wash my hands of the whole matter. You folks will have to fight it out
among you."

Mrs. Leeds had managed to hold her tongue very well, but the moment that
the door closed behind Caleb, she began an angry attack upon Rosanna and
the newcomer, accusing both of being impostors. Unwilling to listen to
such an unreasonable tirade, Penny and Rosanna fled out of doors.

"Such a mad house!" Penny exclaimed, taking a deep breath. "I have to
keep pinching myself to believe it's real!"

"I never saw such a hopeless muddle," Rosanna added. "Everyone is so
eager for the property no one gives the slightest thought to the tragedy
which befell poor Mr. Winters."

"Perhaps he isn't dead," Penny suggested.

Rosanna stared. "What makes you think that? Didn't Mr. Laponi have proof
of it?"

"He seemed to have proof of everything," Penny admitted with a rueful
laugh. "That's what makes me suspicious. There's something strange about
this entire affair."

"I agree with you there."

"I'm convinced of one thing, Rosanna. Either Mrs. Leeds or this man
Laponi is an impostor. At first I thought Laponi was the same person who
stole the ring. Now I can't be sure."

Rosanna did not believe that the two were identical although she admitted
there was a close resemblance. However, she was quite willing to agree
that the man seemed like an impostor despite his credentials.

"He may have picked up that letter and key you lost," Penny went on,
thinking aloud. "And there was something rather sinister in the way he
mentioned the collection of ivories."

"I noticed that. Caleb seemed disturbed."

"It wouldn't surprise me if he knows where Mr. Winters kept the
collection," Penny continued. "At any rate, he's wise to pretend
ignorance. With such a mad lot of people in the house, anything might
happen."

Noticing a nearby path which led to a spring house, the girls followed
it, drinking of the cool mountain water. They sat down on a bench which
afforded a view of the tall chalk-like cliffs. After a time they felt
soothed and tranquil again. They presently walked back to the house.

Max Laponi was nowhere to be seen although Alicia told them that he was
busy moving his things into one of the upstairs bedrooms.

"Mother's worried since he came," the girl confided, growing more
friendly. "They had a dreadful quarrel. Now she's hunting for the will."

"But Caleb Eckert warned her not to do that," Penny protested.

"That old meddler has nothing to do with this place," Alicia declared
with a toss of her head. "I hope he minds his own business and stays
away."

The girls found Mrs. Leeds in the library. She was going through the
drawers of the desk in systematic fashion, tossing papers carelessly on
the floor. One drawer was locked. She shook it viciously.

"Like as not Jacob Winters' will is locked up in there," she said
irritably. "I'm half a notion to break into it."

"Oh, you mustn't do that," Rosanna cried indignantly, before she could
check herself.

"And why shouldn't I?" Mrs. Leeds demanded tartly. "Jacob Winters is dead
isn't he? And his will must be found. I suppose you're afraid to have the
document come to light for fear you'll be cut off completely."

Rosanna's cheeks flushed.

"I never thought of such a thing, Mrs. Leeds. I think it's disgraceful
the way everyone is acting about the property!"

Before Mrs. Leeds could reply, she ran from the room. Penny loyally
followed, joining Rosanna in the bedroom which they shared. She found the
orphan in tears.

"Forget it," Penny advised kindly. "Mrs. Leeds is so intent on getting
the money that she doesn't realize what she says."

"I'm sorry I ever came here. I want no part in this disgraceful grab for
Uncle Jacob's money."

"I know how you feel," Penny agreed, "but let's stay a day or two. I'm
curious to learn just what is going on here."

In truth, she was completely baffled. It was difficult for her to make up
her mind whether or not the entire arrangement was a hoax. Somehow she
had distrusted Laponi's credentials. She distrusted him too.

"I don't believe he could be a nephew of Jacob Winters," she thought. "I
wish there was some way to trace down his past."

It was clear to Penny that Rosanna would never defend her claim to the
inheritance. Unless she personally took a hand in the affair, Mrs. Leeds
and Max Laponi would ignore the orphan completely.

"I'll let them make the first move," she decided shrewdly. "For the time
being I'll play a waiting game."

For the greater part of the afternoon, Penny and Rosanna remained in
their own room. Toward nightfall they walked about the grounds and later
motored to a nearby inn for dinner. At nine o'clock when they returned to
the big empty house, the downstairs was dark. They judged that Mrs. Leeds
and Max Laponi had already gone to their rooms.

"We may as well turn in too," Penny suggested. "The mountain air makes
one drowsy."

Both girls were soon sound asleep. However, sometime later Penny was
awakened by the sound of footsteps in the hall. She thought little of it,
and rolling over, tried to go to sleep again. Suddenly she heard soft
music from above.

She sat up in bed, listening. A strain of a famous opera resounded
through the room, rising in volume, then falling away. Penny knew that
she was not imagining it. She nudged her companion who quickly awakened.

"Do you hear the same thing I do?"

Rosanna clutched the sheets more tightly about her.

"Ghost music," she whispered in awe.

"It sounds like pipe organ music coming from a long distance away," Penny
whispered. "I'm going to find out!"

Before Rosanna could prevent it, she stole from bed and swiftly tiptoed
to the door.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                          The Ivory Collection


Penny quietly opened the bedroom door, peering out into the long dark
hall. She could hear the music distinctly. It seemed to be coming from
almost directly overhead.

By this time, Rosanna, overcoming her fear, crept beside her friend. They
huddled together, listening.

"It's an organ. I'm sure of it," Penny whispered. "But where can it be
hidden?"

"I'm afraid of this place," Rosanna chattered. "Let's lock the bedroom
door and leave in the morning."

Penny made no response. For that matter she did not even hear for she was
intent upon trying to localize the sound of the music. Never inclined to
be superstitious, she had no thought that the old house was haunted. She
felt certain that the ghost-like music was man made.

"This house must have a third floor or an attic," she declared softly.
"Let's see if we can find our way up."

"Never!"

"Then I'm going alone."

Penny started off down the hall. Rosanna hesitated, and then, unable to
watch her friend walk into danger alone, hurriedly followed. Halfway down
the hall she reached for the electric switch but Penny caught her hand
before she could turn on the light.

"Don't! It would give warning that we're coming."

Groping about in the dark the girls went past Mrs. Leeds' bedroom and the
one occupied by the stranger. Penny noted that the doors of both were
tightly closed. At the end of the hall she found still another door.
Gently she turned the handle and opened it. A steep flight of stairs led
upward.

"Oh, please, let's not go up," Rosanna pleaded, trembling.

"You stay here," Penny said in a whisper. "If anything goes wrong, let
out a cry for help."

The mysterious music had ceased for the moment. Penny waited until it
began again, and then, following the sound, crept noiselessly up the
stairs leaving Rosanna on guard below.

At the top of the last step Penny paused to listen again. Actually, she
was not as courageous as she had pretended. She could hear her own heart
pounding.

It was so dark on the third floor that at first she could distinguish
nothing. The music had increased in volume and Penny was more sure than
ever that it came from a hidden pipe organ.

As her eyes focused better she found herself standing upon a small
landing from which branched two closed doors. After a slight hesitation
she tiptoed to the nearest one and opened it a tiny crack.

Although no sound had betrayed her, the music from within ended with a
discordant crash. Startled, Penny allowed the door to swing wide. She
started forward, and suddenly tripped. Until that moment her nerve had
held steady. But as she stumbled and fell she uttered a shrill cry of
terror.

Rosanna, fearing the worst, came running up the stairs.

"Penny! Penny! Are you hurt?"

Reassured by her friend's voice, Penny scrambled to her feet and met
Rosanna at the door.

"I'm all right," she said shakily. "But I've done enough investigating
for one night!"

"What frightened you so?"

"I'll tell you later."

They lost no time in returning to the lower floor. Down the hall, Mrs.
Leeds' door had opened. A light flashed on.

"What is going on here?" Mrs. Leeds demanded, emerging into the hallway.
"Such a house I never saw! First it's music--then a scream! It's enough
to send one into hysterics."

Penny and Rosanna could not refrain from smiling, for Mrs. Leeds looked
ridiculous in her curlers which were sticking out from her head at all
angles. Before they could answer, Alicia joined her mother.

"I should think you could go to your room and let folks sleep!" she said
irritably. "You've been running up and down the hall all night."

"You're wrong there," Penny returned. "This is the first time Rosanna or
I have stirred from our room. We got up to investigate the mysterious
music."

"Then you heard it too?" Mrs. Leeds breathed in awe. "I thought perhaps I
had imagined that part of it."

"No, you heard music all right," Penny told her grimly.

"It isn't--you don't think the house is haunted?" Alicia stammered
nervously. "That old man--what's his name--was trying to tell us about
someone having died in a room on the upper floor!"

"Well, the music seemed to come from the third floor," Penny informed,
relishing the effect which her words produced. "As for the scream, I can
account for that. I tripped and fell. Now I think we may as well all go
back to bed. There's been so much commotion that I rather judge our
'ghost' has been frightened away for the time being."

"I can't sleep a wink after all this has happened," Mrs. Leeds declared.
"I shall sit up until morning."

"As you wish," Penny said indifferently. "I'm going to bed."

As she walked down the hall to her own room she glanced rather sharply at
the door of Max Laponi's room. It was still tightly closed.

"Our friend appears to be a sound sleeper," she remarked to Rosanna.

In the privacy of their bedroom, Rosanna demanded to know exactly what
had happened.

"Well, I didn't see much," Penny admitted. "But I did learn one
interesting thing. There's a pipe organ installed in this house. I might
have discovered who was playing it too only I tripped over a rope which
had been strung up in front of the door."

"Placed there deliberately, you think?"

"Of course. It startled me so that I let out that wild yell. I don't care
to do any more investigating tonight, but in the morning I mean to have a
good look at that room upstairs."

"You have more nerve than I," Rosanna declared admiringly.

Penny carefully locked the outside door before turning out the light. It
was twenty minutes after twelve by her wrist watch.

"I shouldn't call it nerve exactly," she replied thoughtfully, climbing
into bed. "The truth is, I'm a little afraid, Rosanna."

"Then why do you go up there again?"

"Oh, I don't mean that. It isn't the music that has me frightened."

"But what else is there to be afraid of?" Rosanna persisted.

"It's just a feeling, I guess," Penny admitted. "I can't explain--only it
seems to me that some sinister plot is brewing in this old house."

"I have the same sensation," Rosanna confessed. "Let's leave in the
morning."

Penny laughed softly and settled herself more comfortably in the pillows.

"Never!" she retorted. "I'm the daughter of a detective you know! This is
our own special mystery case, and unless that ghost gets me first, I
intend to get him!"

With that threat, Penny rolled over and lost herself in sleep.

The warm sun was streaming in at the windows when the girls aroused
themselves. They dressed and went downstairs, finding the house quite
deserted. Apparently Mrs. Leeds, her daughter and Max Laponi had gone to
the village for breakfast.

"I wish they had vanished for good but there's no use hoping that," Penny
commented. "I doubt if even a ghost could keep Mrs. Leeds from remaining
until the estate is settled."

The girls cooked their own breakfast, utilizing supplies which they had
purchased at the nearby town. As they washed the dishes and stacked them
away, Rosanna mentioned again that she did not feel comfortable about
making such free use of her unknown uncle's property.

"Perhaps it isn't just the thing to do," Penny acknowledged, "but the
situation isn't a normal one either. If Mr. Eckert says it is all right
for us to stay on, I don't think we should worry."

"Will it do us any good to remain?" Rosanna pondered in a troubled tone.
"If Mr. Eckert can't tell us what became of my uncle, who could?"

"That's just the point, Rosanna. I believe he knows more than he lets
on."

Penny's gaze wandered to the tiny log cabin set back in the pine woods.
Wisps of thin smoke curled from the chimney. That meant that Caleb must
be at home.

"Let's walk down there and talk with him," she proposed impulsively.
"It's time he answers a few of our questions."

Caleb did not come to the door to answer their timid knock. Instead he
called out a hearty, "Come in," which they instantly obeyed.

Caleb was the picture of comfort, sitting propped back in his chair by
the window, puffing at an old pipe. He arose reluctantly and dusted off
two camp stools for the visitors.

"We thought perhaps you might furnish us with a little information,"
Penny began pleasantly.

Her eyes roved swiftly about the room. She noticed the open bookcase with
four rows of well-thumbed volumes. The titles were impressive. Caleb
Eckert, despite his rough appearance, seemingly had a liking for
intellectual books.

"Well, what is it you want to know?" Caleb demanded, not unkindly. "I've
told you before that I'll have nothing to do with this muddle over Mr.
Winters' property."

"I've given up all hope of inheriting any of the estate," Rosanna said.
"But I should like to hear about my uncle. What was he like?"

"Some folks said he was the queerest man on Snow Mountain. I liked him
because he attended to his own business. He was considered a remarkable
sportsman by some."

Penny's eyes traveled to a huge bear skin which hung on the cabin wall.
Caleb followed her gaze.

"Mr. Winters gave me that skin last year when he came back from his trip
north. A mighty nice specimen."

"Do you have a picture of Mr. Winters?" Penny asked, abruptly changing
the subject.

Caleb shook his head. He began to talk about the bear skin again. Rosanna
listened eagerly, but Penny sensed that the old man was trying to
monopolize the conversation and thus keep her from asking questions which
he did not care to answer.

When she succeeded in breaking in it was to bring up the subject of Mr.
Winters' ivory collection. Caleb seemed reluctant to offer definite
information.

"All I know is that Mr. Winters was supposed to have one," he answered.
"Folks said it was worth a fortune and that he had spent years gathering
it."

"What became of the collection?" Penny inquired curiously.

"How should I know?" Caleb retorted crossly. "Seems to me you girls ask a
lot of silly questions."

"We didn't mean to be inquisitive," Penny apologized. "Only it struck me
that Max Laponi has an unusual interest in that collection of ivory."

Caleb eyed her strangely. "So you noticed it too?" he asked.

Penny nodded. "Perhaps I shouldn't say it, but I don't trust that man,
Mr. Eckert. If Mr. Winters' collection of ivory is still in the house,
don't you think it should be removed to a safer place?"

"That's what I'd like to do," Caleb muttered, looking out the window.

"Then you do know where the ivory collection is," Penny tripped him.

Caleb glared at her. "I didn't say so, did I? Why should Mr. Winters tell
me where he kept his valuables? Bosh! I tell you I won't be mixed up in
the muddle. Now go away and let me sleep!"

Caleb stretched himself out on the couch and closed his eyes. Thus
dismissed, the girls hastily departed.

"Such a cross old man!" Rosanna exclaimed when they were out of earshot.
"But even though he is irritable, I rather like him."

"So do I," Penny admitted with a laugh. "You know, I think our questions
about the ivory collection disturbed him more than he cared to show."

"He did seem reluctant to tell us anything about it."

"We'll nail him down yet," Penny declared grimly as they walked slowly
toward the house on the cliff. "Unless I'm sadly mistaken, that ivory
collection is hidden somewhere on the premises and he's scared silly for
fear someone will find it!"



                               CHAPTER IX
                            A Scrap of Paper


Penny and Rosanna entered the house by the side door. Hearing a murmur of
voices from the direction of the library, they involuntarily paused to
listen.

"If we go into this thing as partners we're both bound to profit," they
heard a man say in an insistent tone. "Think it over and I know you'll
see how easily it can be accomplished. Those two girls are nit-wits.
They'll make no trouble."

Penny and Rosanna exchanged a startled glance. They recognized Max
Laponi's voice. So he was plotting against them! Undoubtedly, planning to
secure complete control of the Winters' estate.

"I'm going to find out with whom he is talking," Penny whispered.

Before Rosanna could protest, she walked to the library door and opened
it. Mrs. Leeds and Max Laponi were sitting at the desk, examining some
document which was spread out before them. As Penny came in, Laponi
whisked it into his pocket.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," Penny said casually. "I didn't mean to
interrupt."

"You aren't at all, my dear," Mrs. Leeds said more graciously than was
her custom. "Mr. Laponi was just showing me a letter from his sister."

"Yes, from my sister," Laponi echoed with a slight smirk. "She lives in
Naples and writes such interesting letters."

Penny found it difficult to refrain from smiling. She pretended to search
in the bookcase for a volume.

"I thought possibly you had discovered the will," she remarked
mischievously.

"The will! Oh, no!" Mrs. Leeds assured her.

"That is a good joke," Laponi echoed. "Ha! Ha! Even a ferret couldn't
find old Jacob Winters' will in this house!"

Penny was aware that both Mrs. Leeds and Max Laponi were watching her
shrewdly, trying to make up their minds if she had overheard anything.
She dared say no more lest she betray herself. Picking up a book she
quietly withdrew.

"It's just as I thought," she told Rosanna when they were together in
their bedroom. "Laponi is trying to get Mrs. Leeds involved in some
scheme to steal the property. Unless we watch out, Rosanna, they'll get
everything away from you."

"I don't much care," Rosanna returned in disgust. "I never saw such
disgraceful actions in all my life. As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather
leave this place tomorrow and let the lawyers settle everything."

"There will be nothing left to settle when Mrs. Leeds and Laponi get
through. It's pretty evident that one or the other is an impostor."

"But we can't prove that, Penny. If only I hadn't lost my key and the
credentials!"

"We're only starting to work on this case," Penny said cheerfully. "Let's
keep our eyes and ears open. We may discover something of value."

Since their arrival at the old house, the girls had awaited an
opportunity to inspect the third floor, hoping to discover the cause of
the mysterious music which had disturbed the household. Penny suggested
that while Mrs. Leeds and Laponi were occupied in the library they might
make their tour of investigation. Rosanna agreed but without enthusiasm.
She was not as venturesome as her companion.

Penny led the way to the third floor landing. The hall was dark and
dusty; cobwebs hung from the corners of the ceiling.

Penny cast an appraising glance about her. The doors leading from the
hall were all closed. She was certain that upon her previous visit one
had been slightly ajar.

She reached for the knob and turned it. The door did not give. It was
locked.

"That's funny," Penny murmured.

"What is?"

"I'm sure this door was unlocked before."

"Perhaps it was the other one," Rosanna suggested.

They moved on down the hall to try the second door. It too was securely
fastened.

"I distinctly recall opening that other door," Penny maintained. "I
started to go in and tripped over something. I suspect it was a rope
stretched just inside the door."

"Well, if we can't get in I guess we can't learn anything," Rosanna said,
somewhat in relief.

Penny made no response. She bent down to peer through the keyhole.

"See anything?" Rosanna asked.

"Just a big empty room. But there is something up against the far wall!
Rosanna, it's a pipe organ!"

After a minute she stepped away that her friend might see for herself.
Rosanna agreed that the shadowy outline was an organ and a magnificent
one.

"The music came from this room all right," Penny said excitedly. "I wish
we could get in."

After trying the door again, the girls returned to the second floor. As
Penny closed the stairway door she noticed that it had a key. Upon
impulse she turned it in the lock and pocketed the key with a smile of
satisfaction.

"That should put a stop to the music for a few nights," she remarked.
"I'll show that ghost I can lock a few doors myself!"

As they reached their own bedroom, Rosanna said that she believed she
would lie down for a half hour. The events of the past few days had worn
her down, both physically and mentally.

"Do," Penny urged: "A sleep will refresh you. I think I'll go downstairs
and see if I can discover what plot is brewing."

She descended the spiral stairway and paused at the library. It was
empty. The house was strangely silent. Penny crossed the hall to the
living room. Heavy draperies screened the arched doorway. As Penny pulled
them aside to enter, she saw Mrs. Leeds standing at the fireplace, her
back to the door. Something about her manner aroused Penny's suspicions.
She waited and watched.

Mrs. Leeds had built up a roaring fire on the hearth. She held a paper in
her hand. Deliberately, she tore it into a dozen pieces and dropped them
into the flames.

Penny hastily entered the room.

Mrs. Leeds wheeled, her cheeks flushing. "How you startled me, Miss
Nichols! You surely have a way of coming in quietly."

"Sorry," Penny said, walking over to the hearth. "How nice to have a
fire, although it is a little warm today."

"The room seemed damp," Mrs. Leeds said nervously. "I was cold. I think
I'll go to my room and get a sweater."

The instant Mrs. Leeds had disappeared, Penny snatched a charred piece of
paper from the hearth. It was the only scrap which had not been
completely consumed by the flames.

Only a few scattered lines with many words missing were visible. The
others were blackened or torn away.

Penny distinguished a part of the writing: "Last will and testam-- --do
bequeath to my niece, Ro--"

"This must be a portion of Jacob Winters' will!" she thought. "Mrs. Leeds
probably found it somewhere in the house and decided to destroy it
because she or her daughter weren't mentioned!"

She stared at the word which began Ro----. The remaining letters had been
torn away. Had Mr. Winters written Rosanna's name? If only she had
entered the living room a minute earlier she might have prevented the
document from being destroyed!

In reviewing Mrs. Leeds' actions during the past two days, Penny could
not doubt that the woman had actually found the missing will. Since her
arrival at Raven Ridge she had spent most of her time poking about into
odd corners of the house. The locked drawer of the desk had annoyed her
exceedingly.

"I'll just take a look and see if it's still locked," Penny thought.

She opened the desk and tried the drawer. It readily opened.

"Empty," Penny commented grimly. "Just as I suspected."

She examined the lock. It was evident at a glance that it had been broken
by a sharp instrument and not unlocked with a key.

"The will was hidden in this drawer," she mused. "I feel confident of it.
And it must have been drawn up in Rosanna's favor or Mrs. Leeds never
would have destroyed it."

Penny closed the desk and carefully placed the charred bit of paper in
her dress pocket. She was deeply disturbed over the discovery, realizing
that Mrs. Leeds, by destroying the document, had gained a great
advantage. However, she had no intention of abandoning the fight.

"I'll keep this strictly to myself," she decided. "For the present I'll
not even tell Rosanna. It would only disappoint her to learn that the
will has been burned."

Since Mrs. Leeds' arrival at Raven Ridge, Penny had done everything in
her power to avoid a break with the arrogant society woman. She had
ignored snubs and many unkind remarks. Now she felt that if Rosanna's
interests were to be safeguarded, she no longer could afford to play a
waiting game.

"Mrs. Leeds and Max Laponi have shown their hand," she reflected. "They
mean to gain their ends by any possible means. But since they're stooping
to underhanded tricks, I may have a few little schemes of my own!"

Penny was unusually silent that evening. Rosanna noticed it at once but
thinking that her friend was absorbed in her own thoughts, refrained from
questioning her.

At six o'clock the girls motored to Andover for dinner. To their chagrin,
Mrs. Leeds and her daughter Alicia chanced to select the same cafe. All
during the meal, Penny noticed the woman's eyes upon her. As she and
Rosanna arose to leave, Mrs. Leeds hastily followed them.

"Miss Winters, may I speak with you a moment?" she began coldly.

"Why, yes, of course," Rosanna responded.

"I mean alone."

Rosanna hesitated and glanced at Penny. The latter started to move away.

"No, don't go," Rosanna said quickly. "I am sure that anything Mrs. Leeds
may wish to say to me can be said in front of you."

"Very well," Mrs. Leeds returned icily. "Evidence has reached me today
which proves conclusively that I am Jacob Winters' sole heir."

Rosanna took the blow without the quiver of an eyelash.

"What evidence, may I ask, Mrs. Leeds?"

"I don't feel compelled to go into that, Miss Winters. Certainly not in
the presence of strangers or on the street."

"Penny isn't exactly a stranger," Rosanna smiled.

"From the first I have been very tolerant, I think," Mrs. Leeds went on,
ignoring the orphan's remark. "By your own admission you have no
credentials--we have only your word that you are even related to Jacob
Winters."

"I had a letter and key--the same as you," Rosanna faltered. "Either I
lost them or they were stolen."

"And Rosanna happens to be a niece of Mr. Winters," Penny added
significantly. "I believe you are only a cousin, Mrs. Leeds?"

The woman eyed her furiously.

"Just what is it that you want me to do?" Rosanna asked.

"I think you both should leave immediately."

"And allow you to have everything your way," Penny interposed sweetly.
"Now wouldn't that be nice--for you!"

She took Rosanna by the arm and urged her toward the car.

"Don't allow Miss Nichols to poison your mind!" Mrs. Leeds pleaded,
following Rosanna to the curbing. "Unless you leave immediately you will
receive no part of the fortune. If you go without making any further
trouble, I might agree to some small settlement. After all, I mean to be
generous."

"Thanks for telling us," Penny smiled.

She closed the car door and they drove away.

"Perhaps we shouldn't have been so short with her," Rosanna said uneasily
as they returned to the house on Snow Mountain. "If it's true that the
property has been left to her, then she was being generous to offer to
give me anything."

"Don't worry, she'd forget her promise soon enough if she succeeded in
getting you away from here, Rosanna. I detest that woman. She thinks she
is so subtle and she's as transparent as glass!"

"I wonder what evidence she referred to?" Rosanna mused.

Penny started to speak, then changed her mind. Although Mrs. Leeds had no
suspicion that she guessed the truth, she was well aware of the nature of
the new evidence. However, she refrained from mentioning the burned will,
realizing that Rosanna, in her present depressed state of mind, would be
greatly disturbed by the information. If the orphan believed that she no
longer had a definite claim to the fortune, she would insist upon leaving
Raven Ridge without further delay.

Penny did not intend to quit the scene until she had answered several
questions to her satisfaction.

The entire case seemed a trifle fantastic as she reviewed it. First,
Rosanna had received the strange letter signed by a fictitious name.
Then, although the orphan had lost the key, they had found the door of
the Winters' mansion unlocked. Close upon the heels of their arrival,
Mrs. Leeds, her daughter, and Max Laponi appeared. Since then, the house
had been disturbed by haunting organ music and one baffling event had
crowded upon another.

"It's all very bewildering," Penny reflected. "But I believe that
everything can be fitted together if only I am able to learn the identity
of the mysterious ghost."

The night closed in dark and windy. Penny and Rosanna sat by the fire,
trying to read. They were relieved when Mrs. Leeds and her daughter
retired to their rooms shortly after eight o'clock for it gave them an
opportunity to talk. At ten o'clock the girls went to their own room. Max
Laponi had not yet returned from Andover where he took his meals.

Penny was tired and fell asleep almost as soon as her head touched the
pillow. Hours later she was awakened by Rosanna who was sitting upright
in bed.

"What is it?" Penny mumbled drowsily.

Then she knew. The house reverberated with the soft chords of a pipe
organ.

Without switching on the electric lights, Penny drew on her dressing
gown. She started toward the door, then returned to grope in the drawer
of the dresser where she found the key which locked the door leading to
the attic floor.

"What are you going to do?" Rosanna asked anxiously, drawing the
bedclothes closer about her.

Penny already had gone. Stealing quietly down the dark hall she reached
the end of it and stood listening. The door leading to the third floor
was closed. She could hear the music more distinctly than before and knew
for a certainty that it came from above.

She gently tried the door. It was still locked.

Penny was momentarily baffled. She had half expected to find the door
unlocked. She had been so confident that by taking the key she could put
a stop to the ghost music.

"How did the organist reach the third floor if he didn't pass through
this door?" she debated. "That ghost must be quite a clever fellow if he
can enter without keys."

The entire house had been carefully locked up for the night. Penny and
Rosanna had attended to it the last thing before retiring, knowing that
Max Laponi could come in later by using his own pass key. They had
secured every door and window.

"Well, I won't learn anything by standing here," Penny thought
uncomfortably. "I'll have to go up there." Her usual courage was at low
ebb. She dreaded the ordeal.

However, before she could open the stairway door, a shrill scream echoed
down the hall.

Terrified, Penny crouched back against the wall and waited.



                               CHAPTER X
                             The Wall Safe


Recovering from her fright, Penny reached up and snapped on the light.
She heard a door open down the hall. Mrs. Leeds, a dressing gown clutched
about her unshapely figure, stumbled toward the girl.

"There's something in my room! It struck my face while I was sleeping!
Oh, oh, such a horrible house!"

"Control yourself," Penny advised, taking her by the arm. "We'll see what
it is."

Mrs. Leeds jerked away, assuming an attitude of tense listening. For the
first time she had paid heed to the organ music from above.

"There it is again!" she whispered in awe. "This house is haunted."

Rosanna came down the hall, joining the two at Mrs. Leeds' door. Alicia
huddled nearby, too frightened to speak a word.

Penny opened the door and groped for the electric switch. As the room was
flooded with light, she looked quickly about. Everything was in disorder
but that was because Mrs. Leeds had done no straightening or cleaning
since her arrival.

Suddenly Penny began to laugh.

"Pray what do you find that is so humorous?" Mrs. Leeds demanded
indignantly.

"Bats!" Penny answered, laughing again.

There were four of them blinded by the light, cowering in the corners of
the room. Penny opened a window and with Rosanna's help drove them out
into the night.

"They must have come in through an open window," she said to Mrs. Leeds.

"I didn't have a window open," the woman retorted. "I can't bear to sleep
in this room again. Tomorrow I shall move into another. Come Alicia,
we'll sit up until morning in the living room."

Returning to her own room, Penny listened for the organ music. It had
ceased as mysteriously as it had begun. She glanced curiously toward the
room occupied by Max Laponi. The door was closed. He alone of the entire
household seemed undisturbed by the strange things which went on about
him.

"I'd like to know if he really is in his room," Penny thought.

She hesitated by the door but did not have the courage to try the knob.
After a moment she followed Rosanna to their bedroom at the other end of
the hall.

Morning found Mrs. Leeds even more upset than upon the previous night.
Her eyes were bloodshot, her face sallow, her clothes unpressed. She
quarreled with her daughter and ignored Penny and Rosanna. However, when
Max Laponi came down the stairs looking as dapper as ever, her attitude
instantly changed. She spoke to him in a softer tone.

"We were beginning to wonder if the ghost made off with you last night,"
she said archly.

"What ghost?"

"You mean to say you didn't hear the music?"

"Not a sound," Laponi told her. "I am a very hard sleeper."

He seemed disinclined to listen to Mrs. Leeds' account of all that had
transpired, and very shortly drove away in his automobile, ostensibly to
have breakfast in a nearby town.

After straightening their room and making the bed, Rosanna and Penny went
for a short walk. They sat down by the cliff where they could see the
river below, discussing the situation.

"I don't see that it's doing a particle of good to stay here," Rosanna
insisted. "I don't feel right about letting you waste so much time and
money."

Rosanna was thinking of the expensive meals which they bought at Andover.
Because her own supply of cash had run so low, Penny paid for everything.
Rosanna meant to settle the debt and it steadily grew larger.

"Now don't worry," Penny advised kindly. "I'm staying on here largely
because I've determined to discover the identity of our ghost. Then, too,
I can't bear to see Mrs. Leeds gain what doesn't belong to her."

"I'd be glad to stay if I thought it would do the slightest good--"

"I think it will Rosanna. I have a scheme which I intend to try. It will
take a few days before we can work things out."

Penny then explained a part of what was in her mind. She was not certain
as to all the details of her plan, but little by little it was taking
shape.

After a time the girls walked down to Caleb Eckert's cabin. He was not at
home. They sauntered leisurely back to the house on the cliff.

Neither Mrs. Leeds' car nor the one belonging to Max Laponi was on the
driveway.

"I guess we're the only ones here this morning," Penny commented.

They entered by the front door. From the direction of the living room
they heard a muffled exclamation of impatience. Signaling for silence,
Penny tiptoed toward the velvet curtains which hid the living room from
view. She parted them.

Caleb Eckert was working at the dials of a wall safe which had been
concealed in a secret panel behind a large oil painting.

Although the girls had made no sound, Caleb sensed their presence. He
turned and faced them.

"Why, Mr. Eckert, doesn't this call for some explanation?" Penny asked in
bewilderment. "Surely you have no right to tamper with Mr. Winters'
safe."

The old man plainly was embarrassed. He moistened his lips, looked away,
then said gruffly:

"I didn't come here to steal. I came because I wanted to protect Mr.
Winters' valuables. There's folks in this house that I don't trust."

"But how does it happen you know the combination of the safe?" Rosanna
inquired.

"Mr. Winters gave it to me before he left. You see, he was my best
friend. Jacob trusted me."

"He must have," cut in a sneering voice from directly behind.

Everyone turned to see Max Laponi standing in the doorway. His sharp
little eyes moved swiftly about the room taking in everything. They came
to rest upon the wall safe.

Caleb spun the dials. He hastily pressed a concealed button and the
picture swung back into place, hiding the safe.

"Neat little device," Laponi commented dryly. His eyes narrowed. "Trying
to steal the Winters' booty, were you?"

"Certainly not," Caleb retorted angrily.

Laponi caught him roughly by the shoulder, forcing him back against the
wall.

"You know a lot more than you let on," he accused. "Tell me, is that
where old Winters hid his ivory collection?"

"I'll tell you nothing," Caleb snapped.

"You'll tell or I'll--"

"Mr. Laponi, you're hurting him!" Rosanna cried.

"Perhaps we should call the police if there's to be trouble," Penny added
cunningly.

At the mention of police, Laponi instantly released his grip on Caleb. He
laughed harshly.

"We'll let it go this time," he said, "but I'm warning you, Eckert, stay
away from this house and this safe if you know what's good for you."

"You might take that advice to yourself, too," the old man retorted,
edging toward the door.

From the window the girls watched him hurry down the path to his own
cabin. His departure was almost flight. Obviously, Caleb was afraid.

Penny did not know what to believe. An hour before she would have taken
oath that he was strictly honest, devoted to the interests of Jacob
Winters. Now she could not be sure.

Max Laponi lingered in the living room. Suspecting that he intended to
investigate the wall safe the instant he was alone, Penny and Rosanna
settled themselves for a long stay. They pretended to read.

After an hour, Laponi grew tired of the game, and went off, grumbling to
himself.

"We outlasted him that time," Penny chuckled. "However, we'll have to be
on the lookout or he'll sneak back sometime when we're gone. I wonder if
Mr. Winters did leave his ivory collection in the safe?"

"Laponi seems to think so," Rosanna commented. "I'm glad he doesn't know
the combination. I distrust him even more than I do Caleb."

"So do I, but I intend to watch them both," Penny responded thoughtfully.
"I'm convinced there's a deep plot brewing--something far more sinister
than we've suspected."



                               CHAPTER XI
                           A Night Adventure


Since taking leave of Mr. Nichols at Mt. Ashland, Penny had received no
word from her father. She did not worry actively, yet it was a great
relief when later in the afternoon a uniformed messenger boy delivered a
telegram into her hand.

"Remain as long as you wish," her father wired. "Am enjoying good rest
here."

From an upstairs window Mrs. Leeds had noted the arrival of the messenger
boy. She came hurrying down to see if the message was for her. While
Penny read the communication, the woman eyed her suspiciously.

At last her curiosity could no longer be restrained. She asked
carelessly: "I don't suppose your wire has anything to do with Jacob
Winters or the estate?"

"Only indirectly," Penny responded mischievously.

To avoid further questioning, the girls went outdoors.

"Let's see if Caleb is at home," Penny proposed.

They rapped several times upon the door of the cabin and were about to
turn away, when the old man opened it.

"Sorry to bother you," Penny apologized. "I wanted to ask a few more
questions about Mr. Winters."

Caleb looked ill at ease. "Questions!" he fumed. "Well, what is it you
want to know this time?"

"Tell me, isn't there a pipe organ on the third floor of Mr. Winters'
house?"

"Certainly. Jacob was a talented musician. He installed the organ nearly
fifteen years ago. But what of it may I ask?"

"We'd like very much to see the organ."

"Well, why don't you look at it then?"

"We can't because the door is locked."

"Locked?" Caleb seemed surprised. "That's funny. I didn't know Mr.
Winters ever locked up his conservatory."

"Then you haven't a key?" Penny asked.

"Why should I have a key?" Caleb snorted. "You act as if I'm the
caretaker of that house. It's nothing to me what goes on there, except
that I don't like to see folks overrun the place and steal Mr. Winters'
fine things."

"You needn't look at us so accusingly," Rosanna said with surprising
spirit. "We wouldn't take or damage one single thing in that house."

Caleb's face softened.

"I didn't mean to suggest that you would. I believe you two girls aren't
like those others. But you were speaking of the organ. Why are you so
interested in it?"

"Because we've been hearing music at night," Penny informed. "It seems to
come from that room on the third floor."

Caleb regarded her in awe. "Then it's true, the things they say."

"What things?" Rosanna asked impatiently.

"That the house is haunted. If Mr. Winters really is dead it may be----"

"Nonsense!" Penny cut in. "Rosanna and I don't believe in ghosts. And
what's more, I doubt if you do, Caleb Eckert! That so-called ghost is a
very live one. If you won't help me, I'll solve the mystery alone!"

And with this declaration, Penny stalked from the cabin, followed by the
faithful Rosanna.

"Perhaps you've antagonized him now," the latter said as they went back
to the house on the cliff.

"I don't care if I have! Caleb knows a great deal more than he pretends.
He could help us if he wanted to!"

No one was stirring on the lower floor of the Winters' house when the
girls entered. To Penny it seemed an admirable time to institute a search
of the premises.

"We'll let Mrs. Leeds hunt for the will," Penny declared, "but we'll look
for something which may prove equally valuable."

"What?" Rosanna asked curiously.

"A picture of Jacob Winters."

"I can't see what good it will do to find one except that I'd like to
have a photo of my uncle as a keepsake."

"If my plans work out I'll have a more important use for it," Penny
smiled mysteriously.

"I should think we could find one somewhere in the house," Rosanna
declared. "Most people have old photographs stuck around in odd places."

For nearly an hour the girls poked about in drawers and clothes closets
until Rosanna protested that she felt as prying and sneaking as Mrs.
Leeds.

"This is in a better cause," Penny laughed.

"It looks that way to us because it's my cause," Rosanna smiled. "Still,
I'd never examine private papers or locked drawers."

Penny made no response for in a lower table drawer she had come upon an
old album. She displayed her discovery and page by page the girls went
through it, laughing a little at the strange old-fashioned costumes and
the stiff poses of the subjects. Names were written under a few of the
photographs but Rosanna recognized only one or two as relatives.

"I never knew many of my relation," she admitted. "If Mrs. Leeds and her
daughter are samples, perhaps it's just as well."

"The people in this album look nice, Rosanna. I suppose most of them are
dead by this time."

Penny turned a page and stared blankly down at an empty folder.

"Why, here is your uncle's name," she cried, indicating a signature at
the bottom of the page. "But the photo is gone!"

"Oh, how disappointing."

"Someone removed the photo, Rosanna. Perhaps deliberately too."

"What makes you think that?"

"I only said it. I have no evidence of course. Oh, all my plans will be
upset if I don't find the photograph!"

The arrival of Mrs. Leeds cut short the conversation. The girls hastily
returned the album to the table drawer but not quickly enough to avoid
being detected. Mrs. Leeds triumphantly pounced on the leather bound
book.

"Only an old-fashioned album," she said in disappointment, tossing it
aside.

"Did you think it was the will?" Penny chuckled as she and Rosanna
departed.

The girls impatiently awaited the coming of night. Penny had determined
to make a supreme effort to discover the cause of the mysterious organ
music. At first Rosanna had been enthusiastic over the plan but as
nightfall approached she tried to dissuade her friend.

"It's too dangerous," she insisted. "Please give up the scheme."

Penny shook her head. She had made up her mind to spend the night on the
third floor. Soon after the household retired she intended to steal
upstairs and establish herself by the door of the conservatory.

Evening came. At nine Mrs. Leeds and her daughter shut themselves into
the bedroom which they had selected since their upsetting experience with
bats. At eleven Penny heard Max Laponi's door close.

She looked out into the hall. It was dark and deserted.

"Please don't attempt it," Rosanna shivered. "What if something should
happen?"

"I hope it does," Penny said grimly. "It won't be any fun to sit up half
the night without any purpose. I'll be disappointed if our ghost fails to
provide his usual midnight concert."

"If anything goes wrong scream for help," Rosanna urged. "I'll run for
assistance."

Penny promised. While Rosanna stood at the bedroom door watching, she
tiptoed down the hall, past Mrs. Leeds' room, past Laponi's chamber to
the third floor stairs.

There she hesitated. Without a light the region above looked even more
dark and awe-inspiring than she had remembered it.

"Coward!" she accused herself, and quietly went up, leaving the door
unlocked behind her.

All was quiet on the third floor. Penny tried the door to the
conservatory expecting to find it locked. To her astonishment it opened.
The discovery disconcerted her for an instant. A minute later she
mustered her courage and stepped inside the room.

In the darkness she could make out objects only vaguely. The organ with
its huge pipes occupied one end of the room. Sheet-draped chairs gave
everything a ghostly atmosphere not at all conducive to a peaceful state
of mind.

After making a brief inspection of her quarters Penny sat down on the
floor with her back against the outside door. She riveted her eyes upon
the organ.

Time dragged slowly. When it seemed to Penny that several hours must have
passed, she heard a clock downstairs striking eleven-thirty.

"At least another half hour to wait," Penny thought, shifting into a more
comfortable position.

She grew drowsy. Several times she caught herself on the verge of
napping. She aroused herself only to find her eyes growing heavy again.
It became increasingly difficult to watch the organ.

"I wish that ghost would hurry up and come," she mused impatiently.
"Perhaps after all my trouble this won't be one of his working nights!"

That was the last thought of which she was aware. Suddenly she heard soft
organ music rolling and swelling about her. With a start she aroused
herself. She had been sleeping.

It took an instant for Penny to gather her wits. She was still sitting
with her back to the conservatory door. Yet at the far end of the great
room, she distinctly could see a shadowy figure seated at the organ.

Penny scrambled to her feet, starting forward. The floor creaked
alarmingly.

Penny halted, but too late. She had given warning of her presence.

The shadowy figure at the organ jerked into alert attention. There was a
discordant crash of chords, then silence.

Penny blinked. She thought she had heard a sharp click as if a secret
panel had opened and closed. That was all.

And the organist had disappeared.



                              CHAPTER XII
                            A Suspicious Act


Penny caught herself shivering. She decided that she had seen quite
enough for one night.

She turned toward the door, but with her hand on the brass knob, stood
tensely listening. Someone was tiptoeing along the hall. It occurred to
her that the mysterious organist might have escaped from the music room
by means of a secret panel which opened directly into the adjoining
corridor. Even now he could be effecting his escape to the lower floor.

Crouching against the wall, Penny waited. She was startled to hear the
footsteps coming closer. Then the door opened a tiny crack and the beam
of a flashlight slowly circled the room.

"Penny!" an anxious voice whispered. "Where are you?"

Penny laughed in relief as she reached out to grip Rosanna's hand.

"Oh! How you startled me!" the girl gasped. "I'm so glad you're safe,
Penny. You stayed up here so long that I was frightened."

"I had to wait for the ghost."

"I heard the music," Rosanna said in awe. "It broke off so suddenly."

"That was because I frightened the ghost away. At first I thought perhaps
I had dreamed it all, but if you heard the music too then it must have
been real."

"It was real enough. But it lasted only a minute or two."

"When the organist saw me I suspect he slipped out of the room by means
of a secret panel," Penny reported. "But where he went is a mystery. You
didn't see anyone as you came up the stairs to find me?"

"No, I'm sure no one was in the hall, Penny."

"I'm as certain as anything that this room has a secret entrance. Give me
your flashlight and we'll see what we can discover."

"Not tonight," Rosanna shivered, pulling her friend toward the door. "We
can come back in the morning."

"The room may be locked again then."

"That's so."

"Let's take advantage of the opportunity while we have it."

Rosanna handed over the flashlight and together they crossed the room to
the big organ. They inspected it with interest and Penny ran her fingers
lightly over the keys. However, no sound came forth.

"That's queer," Rosanna whispered.

"I think someone has to pump air," Penny said. "It's probably shut off."

She next turned her attention to the walls in the immediate vicinity of
the organ. She could locate no hidden panel although in one place it
seemed to her that when she rapped on a certain sector it emitted a
hollow sound.

"It's too dark to see anything tonight," Rosanna protested nervously.

"I guess we may as well give it up until morning," Penny agreed.

The girls stole quietly down the stairs to the lower floor. However, an
unpleasant surprise awaited them. As they opened the door into the main
passageway they found themselves face to face with Mrs. Leeds and Alicia.

"So I find you here again!" the woman exclaimed. "I suspected before that
you girls were at the bottom of these nightly disturbances. Now I have
the proof."

Penny was too annoyed to even try to explain why she had visited the
third floor. She would have ignored the woman and passed on to her own
room had not Rosanna been so distressed by the ridiculous accusation.

"We've had absolutely nothing to do with the queer things which have been
going on in this house," the orphan maintained indignantly.

"Then why were you upstairs at this time of night? Only a minute or two
ago Alicia and I heard music."

"We were trying to learn what caused it, Mrs. Leeds."

"A likely story!" Alicia said with a toss of her head.

"You may believe it or not, just as you wish," Penny returned coldly.

"It seems to me, Miss Nichols, that you are taking it upon yourself to do
entirely too much investigating," Mrs. Leeds said cuttingly. "This isn't
your home and you're not a relative of Jacob Winters."

"And unless I'm sadly mistaken there are others here who are similarly
situated!" Penny retorted.

"Do you mean to suggest that Alicia and I are not related to Jacob
Winters?"

"I'm not suggesting anything," Penny replied evenly. "However, since you
brought up the matter of an investigation, I might ask you about that
paper which I saw you burn in the living room fireplace."

Mrs. Leeds' face changed color and she grew confused.

"Why, I don't know what you're talking about."

"You know well enough, but we'll let it pass for the time being. Come on,
Rosanna."

The two girls walked down the hall and entered their own room, closing
the door firmly behind them.

"You held your own with her that time," Rosanna chuckled. "My, I wish I
could talk up to people the way you can."

"I talk entirely too much. But she made me provoked when she accused us
of causing all the disturbance in this house."

"What did you mean by asking about a paper she had burned?" Rosanna asked
curiously.

"Oh, I just wanted to throw a scare into her," Penny responded evasively
as she snapped out the light and crept into bed. "I really have no proof
of anything."

Long after Rosanna had fallen asleep she lay awake thinking. Proof! The
word seared itself into her brain. If only she could secure some evidence
which would aid Rosanna!

"The entire affair seems unreal," she mused. "Almost like a movie. It's
obvious that someone is playing at being a ghost, trying to frighten the
occupants of this house. But what can be the purpose behind it all?"

Although Penny had been careful to make no such admission to Rosanna, she
was becoming increasingly troubled. Nor were her worries confined solely
to the hide-and-seek organist. She feared that the time was fast
approaching when Mrs. Leeds or Max Laponi would make a legal claim to the
Winters' property.

"The chances are that Mrs. Leeds destroyed the will," she reasoned. "In
that event, Rosanna may lose everything."

Penny felt baffled, yet she was unwilling to admit defeat. Certainly not
until Mrs. Leeds had thrown all her cards on the table. Events were fast
approaching a crisis. Penny sensed that from the woman's attitude of
increasing hostility and assurance.

"I'm not defeated yet," she thought grimly as she closed her eyes and
tried to sleep. "I still have a few tricks up my sleeve!"

When Rosanna and Penny descended the stairs the next morning they heard a
murmur of voices in the library. The door was closed.

"I imagine Laponi and Mrs. Leeds are having another one of their secret
conferences," Penny commented. "They're up to some mischief."

"Why not leave this place today?" Rosanna demanded, "I don't care about
the fortune any more. I'm so tired of all this plotting and scheming. I'd
rather just go away and let them have it."

"Now don't look so distressed," Penny smiled. "The battle of wits has
only begun."

"But I don't like to battle. It isn't my nature."

"I'm your appointed gladiator, Rosanna. You have no idea how much
pleasure it would give me to see these grasping imposters exposed."

"We haven't any proof they're imposters," Rosanna said soberly. "After
all, they had letters and keys to the house. I haven't even that much."

"It's too bad they were lost, but you mustn't let it worry you," Penny
chided. "Right now I'm more concerned over another matter."

"The mysterious ghost?"

"Yes, although I wasn't thinking of that at the moment. It's Mr. Winters'
photograph. Who tore it out of the album?"

"For all we know it may have been removed years ago."

"Yes, that's so, but somehow I have a hunch it disappeared at a far more
recent date. If I don't find a picture of Jacob Winters, I'm afraid my
little plan will fall through."

"You haven't told me much about this secret plan of yours, Penny."

"That's because I haven't worked it out clearly in my own mind yet. But
unless I find the photograph there simply won't be any."

"We might search the house again."

"I intend to do that if we can ever find a time when Mrs. Leeds and Max
Laponi are both gone. Just now I'm eager to make another inspection of
the organ room upstairs. This is our chance while those two are closeted
in the library."

Rosanna was not especially anxious to visit the third floor again, but
she offered no objection to the suggestion. Penny led the way up the
creaking stairs.

The door of the music room was unlocked as they had left it the previous
evening. However, the window shades were all drawn and the room was dark.
Penny raised the blinds to admit light.

Curiously, the girls gazed about them. Everything was covered with a
thick coating of dust and cobwebs hung in misty veils from the corners of
the room. Penny crossed over to the organ. She indicated the bench in
front of it.

"I guess that proves whether or not our ghost was real."

"You mean the imprint on the dusty surface of the organ bench?" Rosanna
asked doubtfully.

"Yes, you can see where the organist sat."

"Perhaps one of us brushed off the dust without realizing it. You tried
to play a few notes on the organ, you know."

"Yes, but I didn't sit down on the bench, Rosanna."

Losing interest in the organ, Penny began to search for the secret panel
through which she was firmly convinced that the "ghost" had disappeared.
As her eyes moved swiftly over the smooth wall, she suddenly uttered a
low exclamation.

"See, Rosanna! The imprint of a man's hand!"

The marking upon the wall was so faint that at first the other girl did
not see it. But she too became excited as Penny pointed it out.

"How do you suppose it came to be there?" she asked in awe.

"I suspect our friend the organist was groping about in the dark
searching for the secret panel. No doubt his hand was dusty and when he
pressed it against the wall it left a faint imprint."

"If you're right, we have a valuable clue as to the location of the
panel!"

Penny nodded eagerly. Already she was exploring the wall with her hand.

"It's funny," she murmured impatiently. "I'm as sure as anything that the
panel is here----"

She broke off suddenly as her fingers touched a tiny round object which
was hidden under the wall paper.

"I believe I've found it!" she exclaimed gleefully pressing the button.

The girls heard a faint click. But the panel did not open.

"The stubborn thing!" Penny cried impatiently. "Why doesn't it open?"

She pushed with both hands against the section of wall where she felt
convinced the panel was located. To her own surprise and the horror of
her companion, it suddenly gave way.

Penny plunged headlong through the opening. And before Rosanna could
recover from the shock of seeing her friend disappear, the panel fell
back into place.

"Penny, Penny," she cried anxiously, pounding upon the wall. "Are you
hurt?"

For several minutes there was no answer. Then Rosanna heard a smothered
little giggle.

"All my bones are still together I guess. But I seem to have tumbled down
a flight of stairs. Come on in."

"I don't know how to get in. The panel slammed shut when you fell
through."

"It's hinged at the top I think. Find the little button and press on it.
Then when you hear a click push on the panel. Only push easy or you'll
take a tumble the way I did."

In a minute Rosanna had located the button. She pressed upon it as she
had seen Penny do. Then as the lock clicked, she cautiously pushed
against the panel. Light as was her touch the sector of wall swung
instantly back and she stepped through the opening. So concerned was she
over Penny that she failed to hear the panel close behind her.

At first Rosanna could see nothing. Then as her eyes became accustomed to
the gloomy interior she made out a long flight of stone steps leading
downward into inky blackness.

She felt reassured when Penny grasped her hand.

"Come on, Rosanna! Isn't it exciting? Let's explore!"

"Oh, it's too dark!" Rosanna whispered nervously. "What if we should run
into that dreadful man--the organist?"

"Well, perhaps it would be wiser to go back for a flashlight," Penny
conceded. "Only we mustn't let Mrs. Leeds or Max Laponi suspect what
we're up to. We must keep this discovery strictly to ourselves."

She returned to the head of the stairs but although she groped her hand
carefully along the wall she could find no hidden button or spring which
controlled the panel. By this time Rosanna had grown frightened.

"Don't tell me we're locked in!"

Penny forced herself to speak calmly. She knew that it would never do to
let Rosanna realize that she too was alarmed.

"For the moment I'm afraid we are," she admitted quietly. "But don't give
up hope. We'll get out of here somehow."



                              CHAPTER XIII
                           The Secret Stairs


Ten minutes of unrewarded search convinced Penny that they were only
wasting their time in attempting to locate the hidden spring without a
light.

"Let's follow the steps down and see where they lead," she suggested.
"Surely there must be another exit."

Rosanna permitted Penny to lead her down the steep flight of stairs. They
presently reached the bottom. It was too dark to see very much but by
feeling along the damp stone wall they discovered that they were in a
narrow passageway. As they moved cautiously forward a breath of cold air
struck Penny's face.

"This must be the way to the exit," she declared cheerfully. "We'll soon
be out of here now."

"It can't be too soon for me," Rosanna chattered.

Hand in hand they groped their way along the subterranean passage. Soon
they came to the end of it but instead of an exit they found another
flight of steps leading downward at a steep angle.

"Careful or you'll fall," Penny warned as they began the treacherous
descent. "Some of the stones are loose."

"I wish we had a light," Rosanna complained. "Where do you suppose we're
going anyway?"

"Maybe to the center of the earth," Penny chuckled. "It seems like it
anyway."

"Unless I'm mixed up in my directions we're moving toward the lake."

"It seems that way to me too," Penny readily agreed. "But we've twisted
and turned so many times I couldn't be sure of anything."

By this time the girls were convinced that they were underground for they
had made a long, straight descent. The walls were moist and damp; the air
chilly. Yet one thing puzzled them. If they actually were traveling
toward the lake that meant that the tunnel had been bored into the side
of the cliff. But such a feat obviously was nothing less than an
engineering enterprise.

At length the girls reached the bottom of the second flight of stairs
only to find themselves in another passageway. It was much larger than
the other and lighter.

"Do you think we could be in an abandoned ore mine?" Penny suddenly
demanded, pausing to inspect the walls.

"It does look a little like it. Only I never heard of stone steps in a
mine."

"No, they have shafts. But it strikes me that the steps may have been
added later, if you noticed, the upper passage was much smaller than this
one."

"As if it had been dug out to join with this one," Rosanna added eagerly.

"Exactly. It's my theory that some person knew about this old mine and
decided to connect it with a smaller tunnel which would lead up into the
house."

"But who do you suppose conceived such a plan?"

"I can't answer that one," Penny laughed. "But come on, let's see if we
aren't approaching the exit."

Eagerly they moved forward, guided by the streak of light. A minute later
Penny who was in the lead, gave a joyous shout.

"We've come to the end of it! I can see trees!"

"Thank goodness," Rosanna sighed in relief. "I was afraid we'd never get
out alive."

Penny parted the bushes which barred the exit and they peered out.

"You were right, Rosanna. We did travel toward the lake. We're almost in
it for that matter!"

The water came within a few yards of the entrance and during a storm the
girls imagined that it must flood the lower passageway. Penny noticed a
rowboat tied up in a clump of bushes.

"I suppose that's how our ghost makes his quick get-away," Penny remarked
dryly.

"We might take a ride on the lake," Rosanna proposed.

"Don't you think it might advertise that we've discovered this tunnel?
Especially if the ghost should happen to see us using his boat."

"Of course, I didn't stop to think. Oh, Penny if only we knew the
identity of this person who annoys the household!"

"It shouldn't be so hard to learn it now," Penny declared in
satisfaction. "At night we'll station ourselves here by the mouth of the
tunnel and watch."

"It wouldn't surprise me if it should turn out to be Max Laponi," Rosanna
remarked. "He never seems to be in his room at night."

Penny offered no response.

Fearing that their long absence from the house might have aroused
suspicion, the girls hurriedly left the scene. They found a trail which
wound along the base of the cliff and which presently took them toward
the house on the hill.

As they passed the Eckert cabin they saw the old man cleaning fish by the
back door. They greeted him perfunctorily and would have walked on had he
not seemed in a mood to talk.

"Out early this morning, aren't you?" he questioned.

"Yes, we were down by the lake," Penny answered.

"You must have crawled out of bed before the sun was up. I've been
cleaning fish here all morning and I didn't see you go past."

"We went around a different way," Penny answered, and then before he
could ask another question, interposed one of her own. "By the way, do
you know where I could get a picture of Jacob Winters?"

Old Caleb dropped his fish knife. It took him a long time to recover it
from the ground.

"What do you want of a picture?" he questioned gruffly.

"Oh, I just need it," Penny said evasively.

"I'd like to have one myself," Rosanna added sincerely. "I never had a
photo of my uncle."

"If you find he's cut you out of all his property I guess you probably
won't be so anxious to have a picture of the old cod," Caleb observed.

Rosanna drew herself up proudly.

"It wouldn't make the slightest difference, Mr. Eckert. After all, my
uncle never saw me so why should he have left me any of his money? You
say such disagreeable things!"

"I'm a disagreeable old man," Caleb admitted cheerfully, "but my bark is
worse than my bite."

"Well, please don't call my uncle names," Rosanna went on with spirit.

"Names?"

"You spoke of Uncle Jacob as an old cod. I don't like it a bit."

Old Caleb was startled by the outburst. But his eyes twinkled as he
replied soberly:

"Well, now, Miss Rosanna, I didn't mean to offend you or to speak
disrespectfully of Jacob either. It was just my way of talking."

"Then I'll forgive you," Rosanna smiled.

The girls were on the verge of moving off when Caleb checked them with a
question.

"You haven't heard Mrs. Leeds or that Laponi fellow say anything about
leaving have you?"

"I don't believe they intend to go unless they're put out," Penny
responded. "I heard Mrs. Leeds say the other day that she had sent for
her lawyer."

"They stick tighter than cockle burs," Caleb commented. "If only I had
the right, I would send them both packing. Especially that Max Laponi. I
don't trust him."

"Neither do I," Penny agreed promptly. "That's why I think you should try
to help me clear up this dreadful muddle."

"What can I do? I have no authority."

"It will help if you can find me a photograph of Mr. Winters."

Caleb's face puckered into troubled wrinkles.

"It's too late," he muttered under his breath. "It wouldn't do any good."

"What was that you said?" Penny questioned sharply.

"Nothing. I was just talking to myself. About the picture. I'll see what
I can do. Don't count much on getting it though because I doubt if I can
locate one for you."

The girls chatted a few minutes longer but Caleb was not very good
company. He responded briefly if at all to their conversational sallies
and for the most part seemed lost in thought. They soon left him to his
fish cleaning and went on toward the house.

"I wonder what got into him all at once?" Rosanna mused. "Perhaps he was
offended at the way I spoke to him."

"I don't think he gave it a second thought," Penny responded. "I suspect
Caleb rather likes to have folks talk up to him. No, I'm sure it wasn't
anything you said that annoyed him. Likely enough it was my request for
Mr. Winters' photograph."

"Why should that bother him?"

"That's what I'd like to know. Caleb is a queer one to say the least."

"Do you think he'll ever produce the photo?"

Penny laughed shortly.

"It would be a great surprise to me if he did. And yet from the way he
acted, I'm convinced he could get me one if he chose. Like as not he has
one in his cabin now."

Penny lapsed into a moody silence. From the day of her arrival at Raven
Ridge she had sensed old Caleb's reluctance to help her. While she could
not say that he was exactly unfriendly he had made no positive move of
assistance. She had believed for a long time that he knew a great deal
more than he would tell regarding Jacob Winters' absence.

The girls entered the house by a side door. They noticed that Mrs. Leeds'
car no longer stood on the driveway and took it for granted that she and
her daughter had driven to Andover as was their daily custom.

They glanced casually into the library and noticed that it was empty.
However, Penny's keen eyes traveled to the desk. She observed that the
ink bottle had been left uncorked and that a pen had been removed from
its holder.

"I wonder what Mrs. Leeds and Laponi were up to?" she speculated. "Oh,
well, I'll probably find out soon enough."

"I believe I'll go upstairs for a few minutes," Rosanna excused herself.
"I haven't straightened my things yet this morning."

Left alone, Penny crossed over to the desk and examined the paper in the
wastebasket. She looked closely at the blotter, even holding it to the
mirror, but it had been used so many times that the words which appeared
upon it could not be read. There was not a scrap of evidence to show what
Mrs. Leeds and Max Laponi had been writing.

In disappointment Penny picked up a book and sat down to read. Presently
she heard soft steps in the hallway but paid slight attention thinking
that it was Rosanna.

She was on the verge of calling her friend's name when she thought better
of it. The sound of the footsteps told her that the person had gone into
the living room. And by this time she was convinced that it was not
Rosanna.

She waited, listening. She heard a faint metallic click which caused her
to lay aside her book and quietly steal to the doorway of the living
room.

Max Laponi stood with his back toward her, so absorbed in what he was
about that he had not the slightest suspicion that he was being observed.

Penny saw him carefully remove the oil painting from the wall. He deftly
opened the panel, exposing the safe. Then, with a sureness of touch which
amazed Penny, he began to spin the dials.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                             A Diamond Ring


"Mr. Laponi, kindly move away from that safe!"

Penny spoke sharply as she quietly stepped into the living room. The man
whirled and saw her. Taken by surprise, his hand fell away from the dials
and he looked confused.

"You seem to be very much interested in Mr. Winters' valuables," Penny
said sternly.

By this time Max Laponi had recovered his composure.

"Why shouldn't I be?" he retorted. "After all, I am Mr. Winters' heir."

"That remains to be seen, Mr. Laponi. You appear to be very handy at
opening safes, I notice." Penny crossed the room and after turning the
handle to make certain that Laponi had not succeeded in his purpose,
closed the panel and returned the oil painting to its former position.

"I suppose you think I was trying to steal," Laponi began after a minute
of dead silence. "Nothing was further from my intention."

"No?"

"Ever since I caught Caleb Eckert trying to break into this safe I've
been worried. Last night I saw him prowling around the house after dark
and it made me uneasy. I was afraid he would make another attempt to
steal Mr. Winters' valuables."

"So you thought you would just beat him to it!" Penny retorted
sarcastically.

"Certainly not. When you entered the room I was merely inspecting the
safe to make certain that it was securely locked."

Penny could not refrain from smiling. She did not believe a word of what
Max Laponi was telling her.

"That safe seems to be the real attraction of this house," she remarked.
"I've suspected for some time that it contains Mr. Winters' ivory
collection."

If Max Laponi were taken aback he did not disclose it. But he eyed Penny
shrewdly.

"You're a smart little girl. Too smart to go around making trouble for
yourself. Now if you're wise you'll team up with me and I'll promise you
that you'll come out at the top of the heap."

"Just what is your proposition?" Penny asked quickly.

Max Laponi was too alert to place himself in any trap.

"If you're willing to follow my orders I'll promise you that when I come
into my fortune you'll be well paid."

"And what are your orders?"

"I'll tell you after you give me your promise."

Penny regarded him coldly.

"I'll promise nothing, Mr. Laponi, except that I intend to see justice
done to Rosanna Winters! You and Mrs. Leeds are trying to cheat her out
of her rightful inheritance."

"She'll never get a cent. If you had an ounce of sense you'd ditch her
and come in with us. It's all fixed--"

"Fixed!" Penny tripped him. "And by 'us' I imagine you mean Mrs. Leeds.
You're both hatching some scheme to defraud Rosanna."

Laponi smiled impudently.

"Well, don't say I didn't give you your choice, Miss Nichols. It is your
decision to have no share in the spoils?"

"It is."

Laponi's face darkened slightly. "As you wish, Miss Nichols. But let me
give you a little warning. Keep your nose out of my affairs or it will be
the worse for you!"

He turned and walked from the room. A minute later Penny saw him leave
the house by the side door.

"If he thinks he can frighten me with a threat he has another guess
coming!" she thought indignantly. "For two cents I'd call in the police."

Upon second consideration she decided that such a move would not be wise.
After all she had no real evidence against Laponi. While she was
convinced in her own mind that his motives were dishonest the police
might take a more conservative attitude. Then too, she would be forced to
offer a satisfactory explanation for her own presence in the house.

"Laponi is after something more valuable than a will," Penny mused as she
stood at the window watching his car vanish down the driveway.

Her eye wandered to the oil painting on the wall. She felt certain that
the safe which was screened beneath it guarded Mr. Winters' collection of
ivory. And from the expression of Laponi's face when she had mentioned
her belief, she was sure that he shared the same conviction.

"He practically admitted he was involved in some scheme to defraud
Rosanna," she thought. "I can't help feeling he's a crook even if he is a
relative of Mr. Winters. I wish I dared search his room for evidence!"

The more she considered the idea, the greater became its appeal. Probably
Laponi would not return to the house for at least an hour. She would have
ample time. Still, the undertaking would be a risky one and not at all to
her liking.

"I suppose a professional detective wouldn't feel squeamish about
entering another person's room if the case demanded it," she encouraged
herself. "Laponi practically admitted his guilt--that was because he
thought I couldn't do anything about it. Maybe I'll show him!"

By this time Penny's mind was made up. Quietly she stole up the stairway.
In the upper corridor she paused to listen for a minute. Everything was
still.

Penny tiptoed down the hall to Max Laponi's room. She tried the door. It
was locked.

"That's funny," she thought. "He must keep something inside that he's
afraid to have folks see."

She was more eager than before to search the room. But with the key gone
it seemed out of the question. Then Penny's face lighted as she recalled
the empty bedroom adjoining the one occupied by Laponi. It was possible
that they might have a connecting door.

Looking carefully about to make certain that she was not under
observation, she moved on down the hall and tried the next door. To her
delight it opened. She entered the dusty chamber, gazing quickly about.
She was disappointed to see that the two bedrooms had no connecting door.

However, when she walked to the window and raised it, she noted a wide
ledge which ran the length of the building.

"If only I dared lower myself to it I could reach Max Laponi's room, for
the ledge is only a few feet below from his window!" she reasoned.

Penny decided that the chance was worth taking. She naturally was
athletic and had confidence that she could maintain a foothold. Lowering
herself to the ledge she flattened herself to the wall of the house and
moved an inch at a time toward the next window. It was a long fall to the
ground. Penny did not dare glance downward. Although the distance between
the two windows was not more than twelve feet it seemed an age until her
hands clutched the sill.

As she pried at the window a sudden fear assailed her. What if it too
were locked?

The window had only stuck a little. A quick jerk brought it up. By sheer
strength of muscle, Penny raised herself to the level of the sill,
swinging her feet through the opening.

"I must work fast," she told herself, glancing appraisingly about. "I'd
not care to be caught here."

Her attention was drawn to Max Laponi's open suitcase which had been left
carelessly on the bed. Crossing over to it she began to explore the
contents systematically.

"My hunch about Laponi may have been wrong," she thought uncomfortably as
the search revealed nothing of interest.

Just then her hand touched something hard and cold. Penny knew instantly
that it was a revolver. She was not afraid of firearms for her father had
taught her to shoot. Carefully she inspected the weapon.

"All this heavy artillery must have been brought here for a purpose," she
reflected grimly. "It's clear Laponi is out to get what he wants by one
means or another."

After an instant's hesitation Penny placed the revolver on the table. She
had decided to take it with her when she left.

"Things in this house are fast approaching a crisis," she reasoned.
"Before I get through I may need that weapon myself."

Save for an inner pocket in the suitcase, Penny had completed her
inspection. She ran her hand into the cloth pouch and brought to light
several papers. Rapidly she went through them.

Suddenly she uttered a cry of delight. She had discovered the letter
which Max Laponi claimed had been sent him by the same lawyer who had
notified Rosanna of her newly inherited fortune.

Although Laponi, upon his arrival at Raven Ridge, had flourished the
document, he had permitted no one to inspect it closely.

Now as Penny read the letter carefully she recalled that the wording was
identical with the message which Rosanna had received. Closely she
studied the salutation, holding the paper to the light.

"I believe the name has been changed!" she exclaimed. "Max Laponi has
cleverly removed Rosanna's name and substituted his own. This must be the
letter which Rosanna lost!"

It occurred to her that the man doubtlessly had found the missing key as
well. She again ran her hand into the cloth pocket and triumphantly
brought it forth.

"He's nothing but a rank impostor!" she told herself. "I'll keep this
letter as evidence against him and the key will come in handy too!"

Penny hastily rearranged the suitcase as she had found it and prepared to
depart. The search had well repaid her for her efforts, but it had taken
longer than she had intended.

However, as she crossed the room toward the window she noticed a number
of small objects spread out over the dresser and could not resist pausing
to inspect them. They held her interest only briefly.

She turned away again but as she moved off a button on her sleeve caught
in the lace work of the runner which covered the dresser top. It pulled
awry and Penny paused to straighten it.

As she rearranged the piece, her fingers touched a small hard object on
the under side. Her curiosity aroused she turned back the runner and
looked beneath it.

There lay a diamond ring.

"A diamond!" she exclaimed. "As big as a house too. It's evidently been
hidden here by Max Laponi!"

She picked it up and examined it, reflecting that somewhere she had seen
a similar piece of jewelry. She was certain the diamond was not an
imitation for it sparkled brightly. However, she had no opportunity to
give it more than a hasty glance for she was startled to hear footsteps
coming down the hall.

"Max Laponi may be coming back," she thought nervously.

Leaving the diamond ring where she had discovered it she hastily
rearranged the dresser cover. With her newly acquired evidence, she
darted to the window and lowered herself to the outside ledge.



                               CHAPTER XV
                            Penny's Evidence


The bedroom door opened and Max Laponi entered.

Penny Nichols had lowered herself to the narrow ledge not an instant too
soon. There had been no time to pull the window down after her.

As she heard the man walk across the room she huddled fearfully against
the wall, feeling certain that he would notice the open window
immediately. Her position was a precarious one. She dared not move lest
even a slight sound betray her to the man inside. On the other hand, it
was doubtful how long she could remain where she was without losing her
footing. She knew that if she once glanced downward her courage would
fail her.

Penny could hear Laponi muttering to himself.

"I thought I left that window down," she heard him say. "If anyone has
been in here--"

He crossed to the bed and ran his hand under the pillow. Penny peeped
through the window just as he removed a shiny object.

"Another revolver!" she gasped. "That's one I missed."

The sight of the weapon seemed to reassure Laponi for he appeared
relieved. He next crossed over to the bureau and searched for the diamond
ring. Penny was very glad that she had not touched it.

"I guess everything is the same as I left it," the man muttered to
himself. "Still, I'd have sworn I left that window down."

As Penny huddled flat against the wall, he moved over toward it. She held
her breath, waiting. Would he look out? If he did, then all was lost.

Laponi stood for some minutes at the open window, seemingly absorbed in
his thoughts. Then he abruptly slammed it down and turned away.

"That was a narrow escape!" Penny congratulated herself. "If I ever get
out of this mess I'll take care not to get myself into another position
like it!"

She cautiously crept along the ledge until at last she was able to
stretch out her hand and grasp the sill of the next window. After pulling
herself through she quietly closed it behind her. Then she tiptoed to the
bedroom door and looked out. No one was in sight.

Carefully secreting the articles which she had taken from Laponi's room,
she darted past his door and safely on to the bedroom which she shared
with Rosanna. The latter arose as she burst in upon her.

"How you startled me, Penny."

She was due for another shock as Penny dropped the revolver upon the
dresser.

"Penny, where did you get that thing?" she demanded nervously.

"Not so loud or someone may hear you," Penny warned. "It came from
Laponi's room, and that's not all I found either."

She drew forth the letter and the missing key. Rosanna stared
incredulously.

"Surely they can't be mine, Penny."

"I suspect they are. Take a look at this letter and tell me if you notice
anything wrong."

Rosanna studied the letter briefly, then shook her head.

"It reads just like the one I received."

"That's the point. Notice the name at the top."

"Why, it looks as if it might have been changed!" Rosanna cried.

"And I think it has been. It's my opinion that Max Laponi found your
letter and the missing key. He's a rank impostor."

"Then you believe he is the one who has been frightening the household by
playing on the pipe organ?"

"I haven't made up my mind about that yet," Penny returned thoughtfully.
"But one thing I'm certain about. Laponi is a dangerous man."

"Let's get away from here right away."

Penny laughed shortly. "I should say not! This mystery is growing more
exciting every minute. I mean to discover Max Laponi's little game!"

"But he may harm us," Rosanna protested. "Especially if he suspects
you've searched his room."

"Laponi is armed," Penny admitted with a frown. "But for that matter so
are we."

"You wouldn't dare to carry that revolver!"

"I most certainly would. Not that I'd care to use it, but it might serve
as protection."

"It seems to me we should call in the police."

Penny shook her head. "Not yet. But I do intend to wire my father. I'm
going to ask him to learn all he can about Laponi. It may turn out that
the man has a prison record."

"You suspect that because you found the revolver in his room?"

"Well, honest citizens don't carry weapons without permits."

"You're thinking of doing it," Rosanna challenged.

Penny laughed. "This is an extra special emergency. But I have another
reason for believing that Laponi is a crook. I suspect he has a stolen
ring in his possession."

She then told of finding the diamond ring under the dresser scarf.

"All diamonds look somewhat alike," she acknowledged, "but I'm sure I've
seen that ring before."

"Where?"

"In Bresham's Department Store. I think it's the same ring that was
stolen the afternoon I met you there."

"Laponi does bear a slight resemblance to the shoplifter," Rosanna
admitted thoughtfully. "Only the store thief was a much older man."

"Disguised perhaps. Oh, I may be wrong, but at least it will do no harm
to have Father look into the matter."

"When he gets your wire, Penny, he'll probably be so alarmed that he'll
send word for you to start back to Mt. Ashland at once."

"Not Dad. He'd rather catch a crook than eat. I'm sure he'll help me."

"When will you send the wire?"

"Right away. I'd like to leave the house before Laponi sees me."

However, as the girls stepped out into the hall a few minutes later they
heard loud voices coming up from the living room. Penny instantly
recognized Laponi's sharp tones and paused at the top of the stairs to
peer down.

"It's Max and Caleb Eckert," she reported in a whisper. "My, what a
quarrel they're having!"

The girls listened for a minute but the voices of the two men died to a
low murmur and they could distinguish only an occasional word.

"Unless you want Laponi to see you we'd better slip down the back way,"
Rosanna suggested.

Using the rear stairs the girls were able to leave the house without
being observed. They drove directly to Andover where Penny dispatched a
lengthy wire to her father. She requested him to learn all he could
concerning Max Laponi and if possible to send her a complete description
of the diamond ring which had been stolen from the department store.

"I wonder why Caleb and Max Laponi were going at each other in such
dreadful fashion?" Rosanna mused as they drove back toward the Winters'
mansion.

Penny had been pondering over the same question.

"I suppose Caleb may be suspicious of him," Rosanna went on when Penny
did not answer.

"Possibly. Old Caleb hasn't acted too honestly himself, Rosanna."

"I know he hasn't. He doesn't like to answer questions and his interest
in Mr. Winters' safe is rather puzzling. It seems to me that everyone at
Raven Ridge acts queerly."

"Including me?" Penny teased.

Rosanna laughed and squeezed her arm affectionately. "Of course I don't
mean you. You've been wonderful and I'll never never be able to repay you
for all you've done."

"Nonsense, so far I've accomplished exactly nothing. But I have a feeling
that before another twenty-four hours elapse things are going to start
breaking for us."

"I hope so," Rosanna sighed.

Neither Max Laponi nor Caleb Eckert were in the living room when the
girls returned to the house. Alicia was reading a book by the fireplace
but at sight of Penny and Rosanna she coldly withdrew.

"I'm glad she's gone," Penny smiled. "It clears the atmosphere."

"Must we stay here tonight?" Rosanna asked. "Couldn't we go to a hotel
and come back in the morning? Since I know that Max Laponi----"

She broke off as Penny shot her a warning glance.

"Even the walls seem to have ears in this house, Rosanna. Come outside
and we'll do our planning there."

They went out into the yard and sat down on a stone bench.

"I know I'm a dreadful coward," Rosanna acknowledged. "Only I'm so afraid
something terrible is about to happen."

"Now don't let your nerves get the best of you," Penny advised kindly. "I
shouldn't have shown you that revolver I found in Laponi's room. You
haven't been the same since."

"It wasn't just the revolver. It's everything."

Penny was silent for a moment. Then she said quietly:

"I don't blame you for feeling the way you do. Perhaps we are taking a
chance to remain here tonight. I shouldn't do it only I feel that it will
give me an opportunity to clear up the mystery."

"But if you suspect Max----"

"I do suspect him of a great many things, but I'm not certain of his game
yet, Rosanna. Besides, I must have absolute proof before I dare notify
the police. Tonight I intend to watch the mouth of the tunnel."

"I can't permit you to do it by yourself. If you insist on taking such a
chance I'll go with you!"

Penny remonstrated but at length it was agreed that shortly after
nightfall the two would steal down to the lake's edge and lie in wait at
the mouth of the tunnel for the mysterious ghost to appear.

For a long time the two girls sat staring out across the lake, each
absorbed with her own thoughts. What would the night bring forth?

"I believe I'll walk down to Caleb Eckert's cabin and chat with him for a
few minutes," Penny remarked a little later as her companion arose from
the bench. "Want to come along?"

"No, I think I'll go inside. The air is growing chilly and my sweater is
upstairs."

"I'll be glad to wait for you."

"If you don't mind, I believe I'll just rest. You go on alone."

"You really don't mind?"

"Of course not. But I doubt if you'll find Caleb at home. He usually goes
fishing about this time of day."

"Well, I may as well see anyhow. I want to ask him about that picture of
Jacob Winters. I intend to keep annoying him until he gives me a
satisfactory answer."

As Rosanna returned to the house, Penny walked swiftly in the direction
of the cabin.

"I'm only wasting my time," she thought. "Caleb has no intention of ever
producing that photograph."

Penny rapped on the door, noticing that it was partly ajar. There was no
response. She knocked a second time.

Far out on the lake she could see a small rowboat with one lone
fisherman. No doubt it was Caleb, she decided.

She started away from the cabin, then abruptly halted as she was struck
with a sudden thought. With Caleb out on the lake she would have an
excellent opportunity to search his shack for the photograph of Jacob
Winters. She felt convinced she would find it there.

"Entering people's private quarters seems to be a bad habit of mine," she
chuckled. "Still, it's all in a good cause."

Penny surveyed the lake again. The rowboat was nearly out of sight.

After a moment of indecision, she pushed open the cabin door and entered.
Caleb had left everything in a clutter and she scarcely knew where to
begin her search.

She looked in the desk and in several table drawers. She searched in the
magazine rack and even in the kitchen cupboard. She was growing
discouraged when she finally opened a closet and peered up at the high
shelves. Far above her head was a stack of old papers.

Although Penny had given up hope of finding the picture, she brought a
chair and climbing up on it, took down the papers.

As she lifted the stack, an object which had been lying on the shelf was
brushed to the floor. She bent down to pick it up. To her amazement and
delight it was a photograph.

She stared in disbelief at the man's face and then turned the photo over
to read what had been written on the back.

"_Jacob Winters._"

"And Caleb told me he didn't know where he could get a photograph!" Penny
thought indignantly. "All the time he had this one hidden here on the
shelf. Why, I'm positive this picture came out of the album Rosanna and I
found. Very likely Caleb tore it out himself!"

Hastily replacing the papers on the shelf, Penny tucked the photograph
into her pocket and prepared to leave the cabin. She was highly elated
over her discovery.

"This will prove quite a valuable addition to my collection of evidence,"
she chuckled. "No wonder Caleb was afraid to have me see it."



                              CHAPTER XVI
                          Mrs. Leeds' Strategy


Penny was highly jubilant as she walked rapidly toward the house on the
hill. The day had been an unusually successful one for her and with the
photograph of Jacob Winters in her possession she felt that it would only
be a matter of time until the mystery was solved.

"But I must act quickly or it may be too late," she thought.

Drawing near the house she saw Rosanna hurrying to meet her. Penny
quickened her step as she observed that the girl appeared greatly
agitated.

"Oh, Penny," Rosanna gasped, "Mrs. Leeds has locked me out of the house!"

"What?"

"When I tried to get in after leaving you a few minutes ago she met me at
the front door. She said I couldn't come in because the house and
everything surrounding it belongs to her now."

Penny laughed shortly. "She's been saying that ever since she came here."

"I know, but this is different, Penny. She has the will to prove it."

"The will?"

"Yes, she showed it to me. And it's true. My uncle left all his property
to her."

"And where did she claim to have found this document?" Penny asked.

"Why, somewhere in the house. I was so upset I didn't think to inquire.
Now that I know Uncle Jacob left everything to her, I shall leave at
once."

Penny caught Rosanna by the arm. "Don't be in too much of a hurry to get
away," she advised. "It may be that Mrs. Leeds' claims are false."

"But I saw the will for myself."

"Perhaps it was forged."

"I never thought of that," Rosanna gasped. "Do you think she would resort
to such a trick?"

"I believe she'd do almost anything to gain a fortune."

Penny had been thinking swiftly. She recalled the secretive actions of
Mrs. Leeds and Max Laponi when they were closeted together in the
library. They had been engrossed in writing a document of some sort.
Doubtless it was the will which Mrs. Leeds now claimed to have found.

Penny's face puckered into a worried frown. Mrs. Leeds' unexpected action
might complicate the entire situation and ruin her own plans. She feared
too that the woman actually had destroyed Jacob Winters' true will.

"She was burning it in the fireplace that day when I came upon her,"
Penny thought. "That's why she feels so safe about forging another one in
her own favor."

"What were you saying?" Rosanna inquired.

Penny had not realized that she was speaking aloud.

"Only thinking," she responded. "We'll go in and talk with Mrs. Leeds."

"But we can't get in for she has locked all the doors. Our luggage is
sitting out on the porch."

"Very considerate of her I must say," Penny grinned. "But we can get in
all right." She produced the key which she had found in Max Laponi's
room.

"Weren't you smart to keep it!" Rosanna cried.

"That remains to be seen. But come on, let's beard Mrs. Leeds in her
den."

Penny boldly walked up to the front door. It was locked as Rosanna had
said, so inserting her key she opened it.

As the girls entered, they heard Alicia calling shrilly to her mother and
an instant later Mrs. Leeds came storming into the hall.

"What is the meaning of this outrage?" she demanded furiously.

"That is what we should like to know," Penny retorted. "Why did you lock
us out?"

"Because this is my house. Jacob Winters left everything to me and I have
the will to prove it."

"May I ask where you found it?" Penny inquired.

The question confused Mrs. Leeds. She began to stammer.

"Why, I--that is, it's none of your affair, Miss Nichols!"

"I disagree with you there. I am interested in seeing Rosanna treated
fairly. May I examine the will?"

Mrs. Leeds hesitated and the girls thought that she would refuse the
request. However, the woman said:

"I will permit you to read it if you promise not to destroy it."

"Destroying wills isn't in my line," Penny returned pointedly.

Mrs. Leeds tossed her head angrily. An expression of bitter hatred which
she made no attempt to hide, came into her eyes. She went to the living
room desk and from a pigeon hole removed a document which she offered
Penny.

"There, read it for yourself."

Penny inspected the will briefly. Since neither she nor Rosanna had ever
seen Jacob Winters' handwriting it was impossible to tell if the document
had been forged.

To Rosanna's astonishment, she suddenly seemed to experience a change of
attitude regarding Mrs. Leeds' claim to the property.

"I may have made a mistake," Penny acknowledged. "This paper seems to
give everything to you, Mrs. Leeds."

"I am glad you are coming to your senses at last, Miss Nichols."

"I suppose Rosanna and I may as well take our things and leave," she went
on.

"Your luggage is ready," the woman said with satisfaction. "Alicia and I
packed for you."

"Very thoughtful," Penny murmured ironically. "However, I think I'll just
run upstairs and see if anything was missed."

"Why, yes, you may do that if you like." Now that she was assured of
victory, Mrs. Leeds felt that she could afford to make slight
concessions.

No sooner had the bedroom door closed behind the two girls than Rosanna
faced Penny with a puzzled look.

"Did you really think the will was genuine, Penny?"

"No, of course not, but I decided that probably we could gain our ends
best by appearing to give in to Mrs. Leeds."

As she spoke, Penny ran her hand under the pillow of the bed and brought
forth the revolver which she had taken from Max Laponi's room.

"Penny, what do you intend to do with that weapon?" Rosanna demanded
anxiously.

"Don't worry, I'm not planning on committing any murders. But it may come
in handy tonight."

"You just told Mrs. Leeds that we would leave the house immediately,"
Rosanna reminded her in bewilderment.

"I know, but that doesn't mean we'll leave the grounds. We'll appear to
go away, but after dark we'll sneak back to the entrance of the tunnel."

"To watch for the ghost?"

"Yes, that's my plan. You'll not be afraid to go with me, will you?"

"No," Rosanna returned quietly. "Only I can't see what good it will do
now. Mrs. Leeds definitely has the property and anything we learn about
the ghost can't alter the situation."

"I'm not so sure of that," Penny smiled.

She was so jubilant as they prepared to take their luggage and leave the
house that Mrs. Leeds regarded her slightly with suspicion. However, the
woman was reassured to see the girls drive away in their car.

Rosanna and Penny dined early at Andover but the former ate little.
Although she made every effort to carry on a cheerful conversation it was
obvious to her companion that she was completely discouraged.

"Cheer up," Penny advised optimistically. "I tell you everything will
come out right yet. Even if my own plan fails, there are still lawyers to
be hired. Mrs. Leeds can't take over the property legally until the court
approves."

"She'll have things fixed up her way," Rosanna maintained gloomily. "I'll
have no money to hire a lawyer. I must try to find myself a job."

"Father will help you get one if you need it."

"I've accepted so many favors from you already," Rosanna protested.

"You have not!" Penny cut in. "This trip to Raven Ridge has been sheer
fun for me. And unless I'm mistaken tonight will prove the most exciting
of all."

"I'm afraid so," Rosanna shuddered.

She glanced curiously at her companion. She could not understand Penny's
eagerness to return to the mouth of the tunnel. In her own opinion the
mysterious ghost was none other than Max Laponi and she had no desire to
encounter him again.

"Do you still want to go through with the plan?" she inquired doubtfully.

"I certainly do. I'd never feel satisfied if I left Raven Ridge without
solving the mystery. It's about time we start for the tunnel too."

They left the restaurant, returning to Penny's car which had been parked
outside.

"Probably our friend the ghost won't put in an appearance much before
midnight," Penny remarked as they drove slowly toward Raven Ridge, "but
it will be wise I think to allow ourselves plenty of time to find a good
hiding place."

It had grown dark and the girls were pleased to note that heavy clouds
would hide the moon and stars.

Some distance from the Winters' house they parked in a dense thicket near
the road. Before alighting, Penny removed a small package from the side
pocket of the car.

"What's that?" Rosanna asked curiously.

"Dynamite," Penny chuckled.

"Dynamite!"

"In the form of evidence. Unless I'm mistaken, this little package will
produce some startling results!"

"You're talking in absolute riddles."

"Just be patient and you'll soon know what I mean," Penny declared
teasingly. "I'd tell you now only it would ruin the surprise."

She locked the automobile and afoot they quietly stole down a steep
winding trail which led to the entrance of the old mine.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                          The Man in the Boat


Penny and Rosanna approached the mine entrance cautiously, fearing that
someone in the vicinity might observe their movements. However, the place
seemed deserted.

"The rowboat is gone," Penny commented as she pulled aside a clump of
bushes to survey the spot where it had been hidden.

"Why, it is! Perhaps the ghost has come and left."

"I certainly hope not. That would ruin everything. Anyway, we'll wait and
see. It's early yet."

After investigating the shore line thoroughly, they found an excellent
hiding place in a dense thicket not far from the entrance to the mine.
Then they settled themselves to wait.

"What time is it?" Rosanna yawned.

"Only a little after nine. We'll have a long siege of it."

The night was cold and damp. Although both girls had worn sweaters they
soon grew uncomfortable and huddled close together for warmth. Rosanna
tried not to show her nervousness but even the screech of an owl startled
her. She was aware of every sound and any unusual movement caused her to
grow tense.

"You'll be a wreck long before midnight," Penny declared. "We're armed
and there's nothing to fear."

Rosanna made a supreme effort to relax but it was not until several hours
had elapsed that she began to grow accustomed to her surroundings. Penny,
on the other hand, found it difficult to remain awake.

At first she riveted her attention upon the lake but as there was no
evidence of a boat, soon lost interest. For a time she watched the
twinkling lights at Raven Ridge but one by one they disappeared until the
old mansion on the hill was cloaked in darkness.

"Now that the household has gone to bed our ghost should be starting in
on his night's work," she remarked hopefully to Rosanna.

Another half hour dragged by. Still no one came. Even Rosanna found it
increasingly difficult to fight off drowsiness.

"I don't believe the ghost is coming tonight," she declared.

"It begins to look that way. But perhaps it's still too early. Surely it
can't be any more than midnight."

"It seems later than that," Rosanna sighed. "My back is nearly broken."

A few minutes later, from far over the hills, the girls heard the faint
chiming of a town clock. They counted twelve strokes.

Minutes passed and still there was no sign of any visitor. At length,
Penny arose to stretch her cramped limbs.

"I thought I heard something just then!" Rosanna whispered tensely.

Penny stood listening.

"You're right. I can hear oars dipping in and out of the water. It must
be a boat coming this way."

Peering out through the bushes, the girls surveyed the lake. It was too
dark to distinguish objects but they distinctly could hear the rhythmical
splash made by the moving oars.

"See anything?" Penny demanded.

"Not yet--oh, yes, now I do. It is a boat, Penny."

"And it's heading right for this spot! Let's creep a little closer to the
opening of the tunnel."

Stealthily they changed positions but remained well hidden by a screen of
bushes.

The boat by this time had drawn into the tiny cove. However, the night
was so dark that neither of the girls was able to distinguish the
features of the man who crouched in the stern.

He beached the boat and carefully drew it up into the bushes. Next he
lighted a lantern, but his back was toward the girls and they did not see
his face.

"Who can it be?" Rosanna whispered.

Penny gripped her companion's hand as a warning to remain silent.

The man with the lantern looked quickly about and then moved swiftly into
the mouth of the tunnel.

"We must follow him," Penny urged.

They waited a minute, then noiselessly stole from their hiding place. As
they peered into the dark mine tunnel they could see a moving light far
ahead.

Fearing that they might lose sight of the man, the girls hastened their
steps. They did not walk as quietly as they imagined, for soon the man
ahead paused.

With one accord Penny and Rosanna froze against the tunnel wall.

As the man turned to look back, the light from the lantern shone full
upon his face.

It was Caleb Eckert.

Rosanna and Penny remained flat against the wall scarcely daring to
breathe. Would they be seen?

Apparently satisfied that no one was behind him in the tunnel, Caleb
turned and walked slowly on.

"That was a narrow escape," Penny whispered. "He nearly saw us."

Rosanna was a trifle shaken. She had not expected to see Caleb Eckert.

"I suspected it several days ago but I wasn't absolutely certain," Penny
told her.

"But what purpose can he have in playing such pranks?" Rosanna asked in
bewilderment. "Caleb seemed rather nice even if he was gruff and
outspoken. I never dreamed he'd resort to anything like this."

"Don't take it so hard," Penny advised. "He may have a reason for what he
is doing."

The light had disappeared. The girls hurriedly moved on, fearing that
they might lose sight of the old man entirely. With nothing to guide them
it was difficult to find their way.

"It's lucky we explored in the daytime or we'd have trouble following,"
Rosanna declared. "The ground is so rough."

Even as she spoke she stubbed her toe on a rock and would have fallen had
not Penny caught her by the arm.

They came presently to the first flight of stairs and were relieved to
glimpse the lantern far above them. Taking care to keep out of range of
the beam, they followed through the narrower passage to the second flight
of steps.

By this time the girls were positive that Caleb intended to enter the
house by means of the secret panel. At the risk of detection they drew a
little closer.

Caleb paused at the head of the stairs to listen for a moment. Then he
blew out his lantern.

Sensing that the old man would unlock the panel, Penny stole forward. She
was just in time to see a section of the wall drop down. Caleb passed
through the opening and with a click the panel closed behind him.

"Now what shall we do?" Rosanna demanded. "We're locked in here the same
as we were before."

"I think I saw the place where he pressed the wall," Penny whispered. "I
was watching closely."

For several minutes she groped about in the dark. At last her fingers
touched a small knob.

"I believe I've found it," she proclaimed triumphantly.

As she was on the verge of turning the knob, she stayed her hand. With
Caleb in the organ room he would be certain to see the panel open. There
was danger too that he might return at any instant to find them crouching
at the head of the stairs.

"Shouldn't we turn back?" Rosanna whispered nervously.

"Let's wait until he begins to play the organ."

They listened expectantly. Minutes passed but not a strain of music did
they hear.

"That's queer," Penny murmured. "I'm sure Caleb is the one who has been
disturbing the household with his ghost music. Why doesn't he play as
he's always done before?"

They both knew that the wall was not soundproof. For that matter they
could hear old Caleb walking about in the room.

"He must be up to new tricks tonight," Penny whispered.

"He'll be coming back here any minute. Let's get away before he catches
us."

Penny was reluctant to leave, for it struck her that Caleb Eckert had
come to the Winters' house for a different purpose than that of his usual
nightly visit. She was curious to learn what it was.

"Listen!" she warned, as they heard a strange noise from within.

"It sounded like a door closing," Rosanna declared.

"That's exactly what I think it was. Caleb must have gone out of the
room. We'll be safe in entering now."

To make certain she listened for a few minutes but there was no sound of
movement from within. Convinced that the coast was clear, she groped
about for the knob which opened the panel.

It turned in her hand. She heard a sharp metallic click, and almost
before she was prepared for it, the panel swung open. It closed again
before either of the girls could recover from their surprise.

However, Penny turned the knob a second time and as the section of wall
swung back, both girls stepped through into the room.

As they had expected, it was deserted.

"Where do you suppose he went?" Rosanna murmured.

They tiptoed to the outside door and softly opened it. The hall was dark.
At first they could distinguish nothing. Then Penny noticed that the door
opening upon the second floor corridor was ajar.

"He went downstairs," she whispered. "Let's find out what he's up to."

The stairs creaked alarmingly as they crept down to the second floor. On
the landing they hesitated an instant and were relieved to hear no
unusual sound.

They peered into the long corridor and saw that it was empty. Caleb was
nowhere to be seen.

"Perhaps he brought another bat for Mrs. Leeds' room," Rosanna suggested,
glancing toward the chamber which the woman shared with her daughter.

The door, however, was tightly closed. The one at the other end of the
hall which opened into Max Laponi's room was slightly ajar. Rosanna and
Penny failed to notice.

Somewhere on the lower floor a board creaked. The two girls moved
noiselessly to the stairway and looked down over the banister.

Even Penny was unprepared for the sight which greeted her eyes. Caleb
Eckert was working at the dials of the living room safe!



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                             A Daring Theft


Old Caleb had relighted his lantern and in its dim yellow glow the girls
could make out every detail of the center hall and living room. In
astonishment they watched the man spin the tiny dials of the safe. He
manipulated them with a speed and skill which was amazing.

"Why, I do believe the scoundrel intends to steal Mr. Winters'
valuables," Rosanna whispered with growing anger. "We can't let him do
that."

With one accord they tiptoed down the long spiral stairway to the center
hall. For a minute they were exposed to view but Caleb was so absorbed in
what he was doing that he did not even glance up.

Hiding behind a heavy velvet curtain which partially screened the arched
door of the living room, the girls watched.

Twice Caleb tried without success to open the safe. Although his
movements were deft and sure it was obvious that he had made some slight
mistake in the combination. Each time he failed he grew more impatient.
They could see his hand shake.

"Drat it all!" they heard him mutter to himself. "That's the right
combination. It ought to open."

At length the old man's efforts were rewarded. As he manipulated the
dials for the third time there was a significant click from within the
safe.

Chuckling to himself, Caleb turned the handle and swung open the steel
door.

Save for a long metal box, the safe was empty. In the act of reaching for
the container, Caleb suddenly wheeled.

The girls were startled at the action for they had heard nothing.

After looking searchingly about the room the old man apparently was
satisfied that he was alone. With an uneasy laugh he again turned his
attention to the safe.

"Guess I'm getting a mite jittery," he muttered. "I was positive I heard
someone behind me just then."

He thrust his hand into the safe and drew out the box. With fumbling
fingers he unfastened the lid. A smile illuminated his wrinkled face as
he regarded the contents.

"Still here, safe and sound. I was a little afraid----"

Without finishing, he lifted an object from the box and held it in the
light. It was a tiny figure made of purest ivory.

Penny and Rosanna exchanged a swift glance. They knew now that the box
contained Jacob Winters' priceless collection of ivory pieces!

After staring at the little figure for a minute Caleb carefully replaced
it and closed the box. He then locked the safe and returned the oil
painting to its former position on the wall.

"Stop him now or it will be too late," Rosanna whispered tensely.

Before Penny could act, there was a slight movement at the opposite end
of the living room. The girls were horrified to see a closet door slowly
open.

Caleb's back was turned. Oblivious of danger he bent down to pick up his
lantern.

From within the closet a man was regarding Caleb with cold intensity. He
held a revolver in his hand.

Rosanna, terrified at the sight, would have cried out a warning, had not
Penny suddenly placed her hand over the girl's mouth.

Max Laponi, a cynical, cruel smile upon his angular face, stepped out
into the living room, his revolver trained upon Caleb.

"Much obliged to you for opening the safe, Mr. Eckert," he said coolly.
"You saved me the trouble."

Caleb wheeled and instinctively thrust the metal box behind his back. The
gesture amused Laponi. He laughed harshly.

"I guess you weren't quite as clever as you thought you were, Caleb! Hand
over the ivories and be quick about it."

"You're nothing but a crook!" the old man cried furiously.

"Hand over the ivories if you value your life."

Instead of obeying the order, Caleb slowly retreated toward the door. Max
Laponi's eyes narrowed dangerously.

"I don't want to shoot an old man but if you force me----"

"Don't shoot," Caleb quavered. "I'll give up the ivory."

"Good. Now you're acting sensibly. Drop the box on the table and raise
your hands above your head."

Slowly, Caleb complied with the order.

Laponi moved with cat-like tread across the floor and snatched up the
box. With his revolver still trained on the old man, he backed toward the
door.

"Thank you for a very profitable evening," he smirked. "And when you
locate your friend Mr. Winters----"

His words ended in a surprised gasp. Something had struck his right hand
a stunning blow. The weapon fell from his bruised fingers, clattering to
the floor. He felt a cold, hard object in the small of his back.

"It's your turn now," said Penny Nichols. "I'll trouble you to hand over
the little box!"



                              CHAPTER XIX
                            The Tables Turn


Max Laponi whirled about and looked directly into the muzzle of Penny's
revolver.

"Drop that box and put up your hands," she ordered crisply.

Laponi gazed at her jeeringly.

"The gun isn't loaded," he sneered.

"You should know," Penny retorted. "It's your own revolver. I took it
from your room."

The expression of the crook's face altered for he well remembered that
the weapon had been left in readiness for instant use.

While keeping Laponi covered, Penny kicked the other revolver across the
floor in Caleb Eckert's direction. The old man hastily snatched it up.

Laponi knew then that he did not have a chance. With a shrug of his
shoulders he admitted defeat. He dropped the metal box on the table.
Rosanna darted forward and snatched it up.

"I might have known you'd be the one to ruin things," Laponi said
bitterly to Penny. "I was afraid of you from the first."

"Thank you for the compliment," Penny smiled. "Kindly keep your hands up,
Mr. Laponi--if that's your true name."

"He's nothing but an impostor," Caleb Eckert broke in angrily. "I knew
from the moment I set eyes on him that he was no relative of Jacob
Winters."

"I can imagine that," Penny returned quietly. "But when explanations are
in order, I think you'll need to clear up a few points yourself."

The old man looked confused. However, before he could answer, footsteps
were heard on the stairs. Mrs. Leeds, wrapped in her bath-robe, came
hurrying into the room. She had been disturbed by the sound of voices.

"Penny Nichols!" she cried furiously. "What are you doing in my house?"

Then she noticed the revolver and recoiled a step.

"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded. "Mr. Laponi, has this girl
lost her senses?"

"Apparently, she has," the man sneered. "She claims I came here to steal
that box while I was only trying to keep Caleb from making off with it."

"Release Mr. Laponi at once," Mrs. Leeds ordered haughtily. She glared at
Caleb. "I always did distrust that man."

"Our dislike was mutual," Caleb retorted. "You are a grasping, selfish
woman and your daughter is a chip of the old block!"

"How dare you!" Mrs. Leeds choked in fury. "Get out of this house, you
meddlesome old man, or I'll have you arrested!"

Penny was actually enjoying the scene but now she decided to put an end
to it.

"This little farce has gone far enough," she announced, turning to Caleb.
"Tell them who you are, Mr. Eckert."

The old man nodded. Eyeing Mrs. Leeds with keen satisfaction, he exploded
his bomb shell.

"I am Jacob Winters!"

Mrs. Leeds gasped in astonishment and even Max Laponi looked dazed. Of
the entire group only Rosanna appeared pleased. Yet she too recalled that
at times she had spoken with embarrassing frankness to the old man.

"I don't believe it!" Mrs. Leeds snapped when she had recovered from the
first shock. "It's another one of your trumped up stories."

"He has no proof," Max Laponi added.

"If he hasn't, I have," Penny interposed. She took the small package from
her dress pocket, giving it to Rosanna to unwrap for her.

"Why, it's a photograph!" the girl exclaimed. "It's of you, Mr. Eckert,
taken many years ago."

"Look on the back," Penny directed.

Rosanna turned the picture over and read the bold scrawl:

"Jacob Winters--on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday."

"That's all the proof I need," Rosanna cried, her eyes shining. "You are
my uncle, aren't you, Mr. Eckert? This isn't another of your jokes?"

"No, it isn't a joke this time, Rosanna, although for a time it looked as
if the joke would be on me. And if it hadn't been for Penny Nichols this
scoundrel certainly would have made off with my ivory collection."

"I didn't mean to pry into your private affairs," Penny apologized. "I
shouldn't have taken the photograph only I suspected the truth and needed
proof of it."

"It's just as well that you did take matters into your own hands. I guess
I botched things up."

The little package of evidence which Penny had produced contained not
only the photograph but the letter and key which she had found in Max
Laponi's room.

Penny now directed attention to the signature appearing at the bottom of
the letter.

"Compare it with the writing on the back of the photograph."

"They're identical," Rosanna declared.

"Then Caleb Eckert wrote those letters himself!" Mrs. Leeds cried
furiously.

"Guilty," Caleb acknowledged with a grin.

"You ought to be arrested!" Mrs. Leeds fairly screamed. "It was a cruel
joke to play. You led us all to believe that we had inherited a fortune."

"Tell me, why did you write the letters?" Penny inquired. "That's one
thing I've not been able to figure out although I think I might make an
excellent guess."

Caleb sank down in the nearest chair.

"I may as well tell the entire story," he said. "Since my wife died some
years ago I have been a very lonely man. I longed for an agreeable
companion in my old age, someone who would enjoy traveling with me. My
friends were few for I had spent most of my time abroad. My only living
relatives were unknown to me. I felt ashamed because I had never looked
them up."

"So you decided to become better acquainted," Penny prompted as Caleb
hesitated.

"Yes, but I wanted to be liked for myself and not my fortune. I conceived
the plan of sending out letters inviting my relatives here. I thought I
would subject them to a series of tests and all the while I could be
studying their characters."

"An insane plan!" Mrs. Leeds interposed.

"The idea didn't work the way I expected," Caleb continued ruefully. "I
sent out four letters but two of them were returned unopened as the
individuals to whom they were addressed were no longer living. However,
as you know, three persons came to Raven Ridge claiming to have received
one of the communications."

"Max Laponi must have found the letter and key which Rosanna lost," Penny
declared. "He was the impostor."

"You have it all figured out very nicely," the crook sneered.

"I suspected right off that he was the one," Caleb went on with his
story. "I knew I had no relative answering to his name."

"Why didn't you send him away at once?" Rosanna questioned.

"I couldn't very well do that without exposing my hand. If I admitted my
identity then my little plan would be ruined."

"You were caught in an awkward position," Penny smiled.

"It kept getting worse all the time. I soon suspected that Laponi was
nothing less than a crook. When I discovered that he knew the ivory
collection was in the house I decided to remove it from the safe."

"That was the day I came upon you when you were trying to open it," Penny
recalled.

"Yes, but Laponi was prowling about the house and it was my bad luck that
he happened in upon me at exactly the wrong time. Of course he guessed
instantly that the ivories were locked in the safe.

"After that, I decided to get rid of him at any cost. I had a talk with
him but even threats did no good."

"Why didn't you call in the police?" Penny asked. "Surely they would have
provided you with protection."

"I thought I would make one more effort to get the ivories from the safe.
Then if I failed I intended to admit my identity and send for help. I
might have done it sooner only the police commissioner and I once had a
little trouble--nothing serious. It was an argument over a tract of land.
Still, I knew he'd enjoy making me look ridiculous if ever he learned
what I had done."

"Your pride very nearly cost you a fortune," Penny commented. She
directed her gaze upon Max Laponi as she questioned: "How did you learn
that Mr. Winters kept the ivory collection in this house?"

"That's for you to find out," the man jeered. "You'll have a hard time
proving anything against me."

"This letter will be evidence enough," Penny retorted. "It's a plain case
of forgery with intent to defraud. And then there's the matter of the
will."

"The will wasn't forged," Mrs. Leeds cut in although Penny had not made
such a claim.

"There never was a will," Caleb informed.

Mrs. Leeds stared at him. "What of the document I found in the drawer of
the desk?" she demanded.

"You mean the one you discovered in the _locked_ drawer," Caleb corrected
with a chuckle. "The one that was made out in Rosanna's favor. That was
just another of my little jokes. If you had examined the will closely you
would have noticed that the signature was never witnessed. It was a
fake."

"That was the document which I saw you burn in the fireplace," Penny
accused.

Mrs. Leeds flushed angrily. She realized that she had trapped herself.

"By the way, how do you explain the will made out in your favor?" Penny
probed maliciously.

Mrs. Leeds turned her gaze upon Laponi for an instant. Then she said
glibly:

"I found the will just as I said."

"You didn't find one made out in your favor," Caleb contradicted.
"Because I never wrote such a document."

"Let's take a look at it," Penny suggested. "Where is the will, Mrs.
Leeds?"

"I don't know what became of it. I misplaced it."

"You're afraid to produce it," Penny challenged.

Rosanna had been looking through the desk. She now triumphantly brought
to light the paper which Mrs. Leeds had claimed to be Jacob Winters' last
will and testament.

"I never wrote a line of it," Caleb declared as he examined the document.
"It's a forgery."

"Forgery is a serious offense, Mrs. Leeds," Penny remarked significantly.

"I didn't do it!" the woman cried nervously.

"I expect we'll have to send you to jail along with Laponi here," Caleb
cackled.

Mrs. Leeds did not realize that he was only baiting her. She began to
tremble with fright.

"Don't send me to jail," she pleaded. "I'll tell everything."

"Hold your tongue," Laponi cut in sharply.

Mrs. Leeds whirled upon him.

"You say that because you want me to take all the blame! Well, I won't do
it. You forged that will yourself."

"At your suggestion, Mrs. Leeds."

"It wasn't my suggestion. I'd never have considered such a thing if you
hadn't put the idea into my head."

"You burned the first will which you believed to be genuine."

"Perhaps I did. But I never forged anything in my life."

"That was because you were afraid you'd be caught," Laponi sneered. "You
wanted someone else to take the rap for you."

"You tricked me," Mrs. Leeds accused. "If I had known you intended to rob
Mr. Winters of his ivories I should have had nothing to do with you."

"I suppose you thought it wasn't robbery when you decided to cheat
Rosanna Winters out of her inheritance?"

"She had no inheritance."

"But you thought she did. No, Mrs. Leeds you paid me well to forge the
will in your favor. You're involved every bit as deeply as I."

Mrs. Leeds collapsed into a chair and burying her face in her hands began
to sob.

Penny felt a little sorry for her, realizing that at heart the woman was
not a criminal. She had been goaded on by an overpowering ambition to
improve her social position by gaining Jacob Winters' fortune.

"We may as well call the police," Penny said after a slight hesitation.
She had noticed that Laponi was casting cunning glances about the room
and guessed that he was hoping for an opportunity to escape.

Mrs. Leeds sprang to her feet. She darted over to Jacob Winters, grasping
him by the arm.

"Oh, please, please don't have me arrested. I didn't mean to do wrong.
For the sake of my daughter let me go free. After all, we are relatives."

"Unfortunately, we are," he agreed. Turning to Rosanna, he said quietly:
"It is for you to decide, my dear."

"Let her go free," Rosanna urged instantly.

"I think that is best," he nodded. "But as far as Max Laponi is concerned
we can't get him to the lock-up soon enough to please me."

"If you'll guard him I'll telephone for the police," Penny offered.

Leaving the old man with both revolvers she went into an adjoining room
to place the call.

No sooner had she disappeared than Max Laponi saw his opportunity to
escape. For an instant Jacob Winters' attention wavered.

That instant was enough for Laponi. Seizing the metal box which Rosanna
had replaced upon the table, he darted out through the doorway.



                               CHAPTER XX
                          A Break for Freedom


Max Laponi bolted across the center hall, flinging open the outside door.
He looked directly into the face of Christopher Nichols.

"Hello, what's the big hurry?" the detective demanded, grasping him
firmly by the arm.

Laponi tried to jerk free but he was no match for the detective.

By this time Penny and the others had come streaming into the hall.

"Don't let him get away!" Penny cried.

As the crook struggled to escape, Mr. Nichols slipped a pair of handcuffs
over the man's wrists. Recovering the metal box he handed it to his
daughter.

"Dad, how did you get here?" she asked eagerly.

The detective did not hear for he was regarding Laponi with keen
interest.

"Well, well, if it isn't my old friend Leo Corley. Or possibly you have a
new alias by this time."

"He calls himself Max Laponi," Penny informed. "Is he a known criminal?"

"Very well known, Penny. He's wanted in three states for forgery,
blackmail and robbery. His latest escapade was to steal a diamond ring
from the Bresham Department Store."

"Then you did get my wire?" Penny cried.

"Yes, that's what brought me here. After I received it I got busy right
off and with the information you furnished it was easy to look up this
man's record. The police have been after him for months."

"You didn't waste any time coming here," Penny smiled.

"I was afraid you girls might be in more danger than you realized. Max
here isn't such a nice companion. By the way what's in the box?"

Penny opened it to reveal Mr. Winters' fine collection of ivory. The
detective whistled in awe.

"That would have been a nice haul, Max," he said. "Too bad we had to
spoil your little game."

"If it hadn't been for that kid of yours I'd have gotten away with it,"
the crook growled. "I was dumb not to suspect she was the daughter of a
detective."

"You may as well cough up the diamond ring," Mr. Nichols advised. "It
will save an unpleasant search."

With a shrug of his shoulders, Laponi took the gem from an inner pocket
and gave it to the detective.

"When do we start for the station?" he asked. "We may as well get going."

"I've already called the police," Penny told her father.

"Then we won't have long to wait." He shoved Laponi toward a chair. "May
as well make yourself comfortable until the wagon gets here."

"Your kindness overwhelms me," the crook returned with exaggerated
politeness.

"How did you get wind that Mr. Winters' ivories were kept in the house?"
the detective inquired curiously.

Although the crook had refused to answer the same questions a few minutes
before, he was now willing to talk, knowing that his last chance for
escape had been cut off.

"I read an item in the paper some months ago," he confessed. "It was a
little news story to the effect that Jacob Winters had recently purchased
several new pieces for his collection and that he intended to build
special exhibit cases in his house as a means of displaying them. I
clipped the item and forgot about it.

"Then one day I chanced to pick up a letter which someone had dropped. It
contained a key to this house. I decided it was too good an opportunity
to miss. Posing as Jacob Winters' nephew I came here to look over the
situation."

"I never had a nephew," Mr. Winters declared.

"That was the first mistake I made. The second was in underestimating the
ability of Penny Nichols. I thought she was only a school girl."

Penny smiled broadly as she inquired: "Didn't you enter into an agreement
with Mrs. Leeds to defraud Rosanna?"

"I forged the will for her if that's what you mean. I wasn't interested
in getting any of the money myself."

"That was because you knew it couldn't be done," the detective
interposed. "You considered the ivory collection more profitable."

"Of course you forged the letter stating that Jacob Winters had been
buried at sea," Penny mentioned.

With a nod of his head, the man acknowledged the charge. It was
Christopher Nichols' turn to ask a question. Penny's letters had
mentioned the mysterious mansion ghost and he was deeply interested in
the subject.

"I suppose you were the ghost, Max?"

Jacob Winters answered for him.

"I was the ghost. It was part of my joke to frighten the occupants of
this house. Not a very good joke, I'll admit."

"And you were the one who put bats in my room," Mrs. Leeds accused.

"Yes, and a garter snake in your bed which you never found."

"Oh!"

"Of course, Mr. Eckert, your ghostly pranks included playing the organ,"
Penny smiled. "I suspected it when I learned Jacob Winters had been a
talented musician."

"I built the pipe organ into the house before my wife died," Mr. Winters
explained. "I haven't used it a great deal in recent years."

"You haven't told us about the tunnel," Rosanna reminded him. "How did
you happen to construct it?"

"I didn't. The lower branch of the passage was an old mine tunnel. The
mine closed down forty years or so ago. The upper passage which connects
with the house was built by my grandfather. This house, you know, has
been in the Winters' family for generations. And I hope, upon my death,
that it will pass on to another by the same name."

He looked significantly at Rosanna as he spoke.

Before the conversation could be continued, the police car drove up to
the door. Max Laponi was loaded in and taken away. Mr. Nichols went with
the police, promising to return to the Winters' house as soon as he
could.

After the commotion had subsided, Jacob Winters turned severely to Mrs.
Leeds.

"As for you, madam, kindly pack your things and leave this house at once.
I never want to see you again."

"But it isn't even daylight yet. Alicia, poor child, is sleeping----"

"Wake her up. I'll give you just an hour to get out of the house."

"You're a hard, cruel, old man!" Mrs. Leeds cried bitterly, but she
hurried up the stairs to obey his command.

After the woman had disappeared, Rosanna picked up her sweater which she
had dropped on a chair. She turned toward the door.

"Hold on there," Jacob called. "Where are you going?"

"I was just leaving. You told Mrs. Leeds----"

"Well, you're not Mrs. Leeds, are you?" the old man snapped. "If you're
willing, I want you to stay here."

"You mean--indefinitely?"

"Yes, if you think you could stand to live with me. I'm cross and I like
things done my own way, but if you could put up with me----"

"If I could put up with you!" Rosanna ran to him and flung her arms about
him. "Why, I think you're a darling! I was afraid to tell you so for fear
you'd believe I was after your money."

"Money! Fiddlesticks!" Jacob sniffed. He wiped a tear from his eye. "I'm
going to try to make up to you for all that you've missed."

The two had a great deal to say to each other, but presently they
remembered Penny. She had been watching the little scene with eager
delight.

"I'll never be able to thank you," Rosanna declared happily. "You're
responsible for everything, Penny."

"I wish you'd permit me to reward you in a substantial way," Mr. Winters
added.

Penny smilingly shook her head. "It was fun coming here to Raven Ridge.
But it would ruin everything if I accepted pay for it."

"At least you'll stay a few days longer," Mr. Winters urged.

"If Father will agree to it."

When Mr. Nichols returned from police headquarters another pleasant
surprise was in store for Penny.

"It looks as if you've won the reward which the Bresham Store offered for
the capture of Laponi," he told her. "Five hundred dollars."

"Don't turn it down," Rosanna urged.

"I won't," Penny laughed. "In fact, I know just how I'll use that money
when I get it."

"How?" her father inquired.

"I'll buy myself a new car."

"I thought perhaps you'd use it to go into business in competition with
me," he teased.

"Some day I'll solve a mystery which will be so big and important that
you'll not be able to twit me about it," Penny announced.

"I wasn't really teasing, my dear. I think you did a fine bit of work
this time and I'm proud of you."

"Honestly?"

"Honestly," Mr. Nichols repeated, smiling broadly. "And I predict that
you're only starting on this career of crime detection which you find so
very thrilling."

"I wish I could be sure of that," Penny sighed.

With all her heart she longed for another adventure as exciting as the
one she had experienced. Although she had no way of knowing what the
future held, she was destined soon to have her wish gratified. In the
third volume of the Penny Nichols' series, entitled, "The Secret of the
Black Imp," she encounters a mystery more baffling than any she has
previously solved.

After Mrs. Leeds and her daughter left the house, the others took Mr.
Nichols for a tour of the secret passageway. Jacob Winters explained in
detail how the panel operated and entertained them by playing several
selections on the pipe organ.

"I love music," Rosanna remarked wistfully. "I've never even had an
opportunity to learn to play the piano."

"You'll have it now," he assured her.

Mr. Nichols remained during the day but late in the afternoon he was
forced to start for home as his work had been neglected. He was very
willing, however, that Penny should remain as long as she wished at the
old mansion.

The days were all too short for the two girls who enjoyed rambling
through the woods, rowing and swimming in the lake, and exploring every
nook and cranny of the interesting old house. But at length the time came
when Penny too was obliged to depart.

"Come back and see us often, won't you?" Rosanna urged as they parted.

"Whenever I can," Penny promised. "I've had a glorious time."

She drove away, but at the bend in the road halted the car to glance
back. The house, cloaked in the shadows of evening, looked nearly as
mysterious as upon the occasion of her first visit. However, to her it
would never again have a fearful aspect.

Jacob Winters and his niece stood framed in the doorway. They waved.

Penny returned the salute. Then regretfully she turned her back upon
Raven Ridge and drove slowly down the mountain road which led home.

                                                               M. W.

                                THE END





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