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´╗┐Title: The Clock Strikes Thirteen
Author: Wirt, Mildred A. (Mildred Augustine), 1905-2002
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 "The Clock Strikes Thirteen" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE CLOCK STRIKES THIRTEEN

by

MILDRED A. WIRT

Author of
Mildred A. Wirt Mystery Stories
Trailer Stories for Girls

Illustrated



Cupples and Leon Company
Publishers
New York

      *      *      *      *      *

_PENNY PARKER_
MYSTERY STORIES

_Large 12 mo.       Cloth       Illustrated_


TALE OF THE WITCH DOLL
THE VANISHING HOUSEBOAT
DANGER AT THE DRAWBRIDGE
BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR
CLUE OF THE SILKEN LADDER
THE SECRET PACT
THE CLOCK STRIKES THIRTEEN
THE WISHING WELL
SABOTEURS ON THE RIVER
GHOST BEYOND THE GATE
HOOFBEATS ON THE TURNPIKE
VOICE FROM THE CAVE
GUILT OF THE BRASS THIEVES
SIGNAL IN THE DARK
WHISPERING WALLS
SWAMP ISLAND
THE CRY AT MIDNIGHT

      *      *      *      *      *

Copyright, 1942, by Cupples and Leon Co.
The Clock Strikes Thirteen

Printed in U. S. A.



_CONTENTS_


  CHAPTER                                                            PAGE
  1 SANDWICHES FOR TWO                                                _1_
  2 NIGHT RIDERS                                                     _11_
  3 A BLACK HOOD                                                     _20_
  4 A NEW CARETAKER                                                  _28_
  5 OLD SETH                                                         _38_
  6 TALL CORN                                                        _48_
  7 MR. BLAKE'S DONATION                                             _55_
  8 PUBLICITY BY PENNY                                               _63_
  9 JERRY'S PARTY                                                    _71_
  10 IN THE MELON PATCH                                              _78_
  11 PENNY'S CLUE                                                    _89_
  12 ADELLE'S DISAPPEARANCE                                          _97_
  13 AN EXTRA STROKE                                                _106_
  14 THROUGH THE WINDOW                                             _115_
  15 TRACING BEN BOWMAN                                             _123_
  16 A FAMILIAR NAME                                                _130_
  17 FALSE RECORDS                                                  _137_
  18 ADELLE'S ACCUSATION                                            _147_
  19 TRAILING A FUGITIVE                                            _155_
  20 CLEM DAVIS' DISCLOSURE                                         _163_
  21 A BROKEN PROMISE                                               _170_
  22 THE MAN IN GRAY                                                _178_
  23 A TRAP SET                                                     _185_
  24 TIMELY HELP                                                    _193_
  25 SPECIAL EDITION                                                _203_



                                CHAPTER
                                   1
                          _SANDWICHES FOR TWO_


Jauntily, Penny Parker walked through the dimly lighted newsroom of the
_Riverview Star_, her rubber heels making no sound on the bare, freshly
scrubbed floor. Desks were deserted, for the final night edition of the
paper had gone to press half an hour earlier, and only the cleaning women
were at work. One of the women arrested a long sweep of her mop just in
time to avoid splashing the girl with water.

"I sorry," she apologized in her best broken English. "I no look for
someone to come so very late."

"Oh, curfew never rings for me," Penny laughed, side stepping a puddle of
water. "I'm likely to be abroad at any hour."

At the far end of the long room a light glowed behind a frosted glass
door marked: "Anthony Parker--Editor." There the girl paused, and seeing
her father's grotesque shadow, opened the door a tiny crack, to rumble in
a deep voice:

"Hands up! I have you covered!"

Taken by surprise, Mr. Parker swung quickly around, his swivel chair
squeaking a loud protest.

"Penny, I wish you wouldn't do that!" he exclaimed. "You know it always
makes me jump."

"Sorry, Dad," Penny grinned, slumping into a leather chair beside her
father's desk. "A girl has to have some amusement, you know."

"Didn't three hours at the moving picture theatre satisfy you?"

"Oh, the show was worse than awful. By the way, here's something for
you."

Removing a sealed yellow envelope from her purse, Penny flipped it
carelessly across the desk.

"I met a Western Union boy downstairs," she explained. "He was looking
for you. I paid for the message and saved him a trip upstairs. Two
dollars and ten cents, if you don't mind."

Absently Mr. Parker took two crisp dollar bills from his pocket and
reached for the telegram.

"Don't forget the dime," Penny reminded him. "It may seem a trifle to
you, but not to a girl who has to live on a weekly allowance."

For lack of change, the editor tossed over a quarter, which his daughter
pocketed with deep satisfaction. Ripping open the envelope, he scanned
the telegram, but as he read, his face darkened.

"Why, Dad, what's wrong?" Penny asked in surprise.

Mr. Parker crumpled the sheet into a round ball and hurled it toward the
waste paper basket.

"Your aim gets worse every day," Penny chuckled, stooping to retrieve the
paper. Smoothing the corrugations, she read aloud:

  "YOUR EDITORIAL 'FREEDOM OF THE PRESS' IN THURSDAY'S STAR THOROUGHLY
  DISGUSTED THIS READER. WHAT YOUR CHEAP PAPER NEEDS IS A LITTLE LESS
  FREEDOM AND MORE DECENCY. IF OUR FOREFATHERS COULD HAVE FORESEEN THE
  YELLOW PRESS OF TODAY THEY WOULD HAVE REGULATED IT, NOT MADE IT FREE.
  WHY DON'T YOU TAKE THAT AMERICAN FLAG OFF YOUR MASTHEAD AND SUBSTITUTE
  A CASH REGISTER? FLY YOUR TRUE COLORS AND SOFT-PEDAL THE PARKER BRAND
  OF HYPOCRISY!"

"Stop it--don't read another line!" the editor commanded before Penny had
half finished.

"Why, Dad, you poor old wounded lion!" she chided, blue eyes dancing with
mischief. "I thought you prided yourself that uncomplimentary opinions
never disturbed you. Can't you take it any more?"

"I don't mind a few insults," Mr. Parker snapped, "but paying for them is
another matter."

"That's so, this little gem of literature did set you back two dollars
and ten cents. Lucky I collected before you opened the telegram."

Mr. Parker slammed his desk shut with a force which rattled the office
windows.

"This same crack-pot who signs himself 'Disgusted Reader' or 'Ben
Bowman,' or whatever name suits his fancy, has sent me six telegrams in
the past month! I'm getting fed up!"

"All of the messages collect?"

"Every one. The nit-wit has criticised everything from the _Star_'s comic
strips to the advertising columns. I've had enough of it!"

"Then why not do something about it?" Penny asked soothingly. "Refuse the
telegrams."

"It's not that easy," the editor growled. "Each day the _Star_ receives a
large number of 'collect' messages, hot news tips from out-of-town
correspondents and from reporters who try to sell free lance stories.
We're glad to pay for these telegrams. This fellow who keeps bombarding
us is just smart enough to use different names and send his wires from
various places. Sometimes he addresses the telegrams to me, and then
perhaps to City Editor DeWitt or one of the other staff members."

"In that case, I'm afraid you're out of luck," Penny said teasingly. "How
about drowning your troubles in a little sleep?"

"It is late," Mr. Parker admitted, glancing at his watch. "Almost
midnight. Time we're starting home."

Reaching for his hat, Mr. Parker switched off the light, locked the door,
and followed Penny down the stairway to the street. At the parking lot
opposite the _Star_ building, he tramped about restlessly while waiting
for an attendant to bring the car.

"I'll drive," Penny said, sliding behind the steering wheel. "In your
present mood you might inadvertently pick off a few pedestrians!"

"It makes my blood boil," Mr. Parker muttered, his thoughts reverting to
the telegram. "Call my paper yellow, eh? And that crack about the cash
register!"

"Oh, everyone knows the _Star_ is the best paper in the state," Penny
said, trying to coax him into a better mood. "You're a good editor too,
and a pretty fair father."

"Thanks," Mr. Parker responded with a mock bow. "Since we're passing out
compliments, you're not so bad yourself."

Suddenly relaxing, he reached out to touch Penny's hand in a rare
expression of affection. Tall and lean, a newspaper man with a reputation
for courage and fight, he had only two interests in life--his paper and
his daughter. Penny's mother had been dead many years, but at times he
saw his wife again in the girl's sparkling blue eyes, golden hair, and
especially in the way she smiled.

"Hungry, Dad?" Penny asked unexpectedly, intruding upon his thoughts. "I
know a dandy new hamburger place not far from here. Wonderful coffee
too."

"Well, all right," Mr. Parker consented. "It's pretty late though. The
big clock's striking midnight."

As the car halted for a traffic light, they both listened to the musical
chimes which preceded the regularly spaced strokes of the giant clock.
Penny turned her head to gaze at the Hubell Memorial Tower, a grim stone
building which rose to the height of seventy-five feet. Erected ten years
before as a monument to one of Riverview's wealthy citizens, its chimes
could be heard for nearly a mile on a still night. On one side, its high,
narrow windows overlooked the city, while on the other, the cultivated
lands of truck farmers.

"How strange!" Penny murmured as the last stroke of the clock died away.

"What is strange?" Mr. Parker asked gruffly.

"Why, that clock struck thirteen times instead of twelve!"

"Bunk and bosh!"

"Oh, but it did!" Penny earnestly insisted. "I counted each stroke
distinctly."

"And one of them twice," scoffed her father. "Or are you spoofing your
old Dad?"

"Oh, I'm not," Penny maintained. As the car moved ahead, she craned her
neck to stare up at the stone tower. "I know I counted thirteen. Why,
Dad, there's a green light burning in one of the windows! I never saw
that before. What can it mean?"

"It means we'll have a wreck unless you watch the road!" Mr. Parker
cried, giving the steering wheel a quick turn. "Where are you taking me
anyhow?"

"Out to Toni's." Reluctantly Penny centered her full attention upon the
highway. "It's only a mile into the country."

"We won't be home before one o'clock," Mr. Parker complained. "But since
we're this far, I suppose we may as well keep on."

"Dad, about that light," Penny said thoughtfully. "Did you ever notice it
before?"

Mr. Parker turned to gaze back toward the stone tower.

"There's no green light," he answered grimly. "Every window is dark."

"But I saw it only an instant ago! And I did hear the clock strike
thirteen. Cross my heart and hope to die--"

"Never mind the dramatics," Mr. Parker cut in. "If the clock struck an
extra time--which it didn't--something could have gone wrong with the
mechanism. Don't try to build up a mystery out of your imagination."

The car rattled over a bridge and passed a deserted farm house that
formerly had belonged to a queer old man named Peter Fenestra. Penny's
gaze fastened momentarily upon an old fashioned storm cellar which marred
the appearance of the front yard.

"I suppose I imagined all that too," she said, waving her hand toward the
disfiguring cement hump. "Old Peter never had any hidden gold, he never
had a SECRET PACT with tattooed sailors, and he never tried to burn your
newspaper plant!"

"I'll admit you did a nice piece of detective work when you uncovered
that story," her father acknowledged. "Likewise, you brought the _Star_
one of its best scoops by outwitting slippery Al Gepper and entangling
him in his own _Silken Ladder_."

"Don't forget the _Tale of the Witch Doll_ either," Penny reminded him.
"You laughed at me then, just as you're doing now."

"I'm not laughing," denied the editor. "I merely say that no light was
burning in the tower window, and I very much doubt that the clock struck
more than twelve times."

"Tomorrow I shall go to the tower and talk with the caretaker, Seth
McGuire. I'll prove to you that I was right!"

"If you do, I'll treat to a dish of ice cream decorated with nuts."

"Make it five gallons of gasoline and I'll be really interested," she
countered.

Due to an unusual set of circumstances, Penny had fallen heir to two
automobiles, one a second-hand contraption whose battered sides bore the
signature of nearly every young person in Riverview. The other, a
handsome maroon sedan, had been the gift of her father, presented in
gratitude because of her excellent reporting of a case known to many as
_Behind the Green Door_. Always hard pressed for funds, she found it all
but impossible to keep two automobiles in operation, and her financial
difficulties were a constant source of amusement to everyone but herself.

Soon, an electric sign proclaiming "Toni's" in huge block letters loomed
up. Penny swung into the parking area, tooting the horn for service.
Immediately a white-coated waiter brought out a menu.

"Coffee and two hamburgers," Penny ordered with a flourish. "Everything
on one, and everything but, on the other."

"No onions for the little lady?" the waiter grinned. "Okay. I'll have 'em
right out."

While waiting, Penny noticed that another car, a gray sedan, had drawn up
close to the building. Although the two men who occupied the front seat
had ordered food, they were not eating it. Instead they conversed in low
tones as they appeared to watch someone inside the cafe.

"Dad, notice those two men," she whispered, touching his arm.

"What about them?" he asked, but before she could reply, the waiter came
with a tray of sandwiches which he hooked over the car door.

"Not bad," Mr. Parker praised as he bit into a giant-size hamburger.
"First decent cup of coffee I've had in a week too."

"Dad, watch!" Penny reminded him.

The restaurant door had opened, and a man of early middle age came
outside. Immediately the couple in the gray sedan stiffened to alert
attention. As the man passed their car they lowered their heads, but the
instant he had gone on, they turned to peer after him.

The man who was being observed so closely seemed unaware of the scrutiny.
Crossing the parking lot, he chose a trail which led into a dense grove
of trees.

"Now's our chance!" cried one of the men in the gray sedan. "Come on,
we'll get him!" Both alighted and likewise disappeared into the woods.

"Dad, did you hear what they said?" asked Penny.

"I did," he answered grimly. "Tough looking customers too."

"I'm afraid they mean to rob that first man. Isn't there anything we can
do?"

Mr. Parker barely hesitated. "I may make a chump of myself," he said,
"but here goes! I'll tag along and try to be on hand if anything
happens."

"Dad, don't do it!" Penny pleaded, suddenly frightened lest her father
face danger. "You might get hurt!"

Mr. Parker paid no heed. Swinging open the car door, he strode across the
parking lot, and entered the dark woods.



                                CHAPTER
                                   2
                             _NIGHT RIDERS_


Not to be left behind, Penny quickly followed her father, overtaking him
before he had gone very far into the forest.

"Penny, you shouldn't have come," he said sternly. "There may be trouble,
and I'll not have you taking unnecessary risks."

"I don't want you to do it either," she insisted. "Which way did the men
go?"

"That's what I wonder," Mr. Parker responded, listening intently. "Hear
anything?"

"Not a sound."

"Queer that all three of them could disappear so quickly," the editor
muttered. "I'm sure there's been no attack. Listen! What was that?"

"It sounded like a car being started!" Penny exclaimed.

Hastening to the edge of the woods, she gazed toward the parking lot. The
Parker car stood where it had been abandoned, but the gray sedan was
missing. A moving tail light could be seen far down the road.

"There go our friends," Mr. Parker commented rather irritably. "Their
sudden departure probably saved me from making a chump of myself."

"How could we tell they didn't mean to rob that other man?" Penny asked
in an injured tone. "You thought yourself that they intended to harm
him."

"Oh, I'm not blaming you," the editor answered, starting toward the
parking lot. "I'm annoyed at myself. This is a graphic example of what we
were talking about awhile ago--imagination!"

Decidedly crestfallen, Penny followed her father to the car. They
finished their hamburgers, which had grown cold, and after the tray was
removed, started home.

"I could do with a little sleep," Mr. Parker yawned. "After a hard day at
the office, your brand of night life is a bit too strenuous for me."

Selecting a short-cut route to Riverview, Penny paid strict attention to
the road, for the narrow pavement had been patched in many places. On
either side of the highway stretched truck farms with row upon row of
neatly staked tomatoes and other crops.

Rounding a bend, Penny was startled to see tongues of flame brightening
the horizon. A large wooden barn, situated in plain view, on a slight
knoll, had caught fire and was burning rapidly. As she slammed on the
brake, Mr. Parker aroused from light slumber.

"Now what?" he mumbled drowsily.

"Dad, unless I'm imagining things again, that barn is on fire!"

"Let 'er burn," he mumbled, and then fully aroused, swung open the car
door.

There were no fire fighters on the scene, in fact the only person visible
was a woman in dark flannel night robe, who stood silhouetted in the red
glare. As Penny and Mr. Parker reached her side, she stared at them
almost stupidly.

"We'll lose everything," she said tonelessly. "Our entire crop of melons
is inside the barn, packed for shipment. And my husband's new truck!"

"Have you called a fire company?" the editor asked.

"I've called, but it won't do any good," she answered. "The barn will be
gone before they can get here."

With a high wind whipping the flames, Penny and her father knew that the
woman spoke the truth. Already the fire had such a start that even had
water been available, the barn could not have been saved.

"Maybe I can get out the truck for you!" Mr. Parker offered.

As he swung open the barn doors, a wave of heat rushed into his face.
Coughing and choking, he forced his way into the smoke filled interior,
unaware that Penny was at his side. Seeing her a moment later, he tried
to send her back.

"You can't get the truck out without me to help push," she replied,
refusing to retreat. "Come on, we can do it!"

The shiny red truck was a fairly light one and stood on an inclined
cement floor which sloped toward the exit. Nevertheless, although Penny
and her father exerted every iota of their combined strength, they could
not start it moving.

"Maybe the brake is on!" Mr. Parker gasped, running around to the cab.
"Yes, it is!"

Pushing once more, they were able to start the truck rolling. Once in
motion its own momentum carried it down the runway into the open, a safe
distance from the flames.

"How about the crated melons?" Penny asked, breathing hard from the
strenuous exertion.

"Not a chance to save them," Mr. Parker answered. "We were lucky to get
out the truck."

Driven back by the heat, Penny and her father went to stand beside the
woman in dark flannel. Thanking them for their efforts in her behalf, she
added that her name was Mrs. Preston and that her husband was absent.

"John went to Riverview and hasn't come back yet," she said brokenly.
"This is going to be a great shock to him. All our work gone up in
smoke!"

"Didn't you have the barn insured?" the editor questioned her.

"John has a small policy," Mrs. Preston replied. "It covers the barn, but
not the melons stored inside. Those men did it on purpose, too! I saw one
of 'em riding away."

"What's that?" Mr. Parker demanded, wondering if he had understood the
woman correctly. "You don't mean the fire deliberately was set?"

"Yes, it was," the woman affirmed angrily. "I was sound asleep, and then
I heard a horse galloping into the yard. I ran to the window and saw the
rider throw a lighted torch into the old hay loft. As soon as he saw it
blaze up, he rode off."

"Was the man anyone you knew?" Mr. Parker asked, amazed by the
disclosure. "Were you able to see his face?"

"Hardly," Mrs. Preston returned with a short laugh. "He wore a black
hood. It covered his head and shoulders."

"A black hood!" Penny exclaimed. "Why, Dad, that sounds like night
riders!"

"Mrs. Preston, do you know of any reason why you and your husband might
be made the target of such cowardly action?" the newspaper man inquired.

"It must have been done because John wouldn't join up with them."

"Join some organization, you mean?"

"Yes, they kept warning him something like this would happen, but John
wouldn't have anything to do with 'em."

"I don't blame your husband," said the editor, seeking to gather more
information. "Tell me, what is the name of this disreputable
organization? What is its purpose, and the names of the men who run it?"

"I don't know any more about it than what I've told you," Mrs. Preston
replied, suddenly becoming close-lipped. "John never said much about it
to me."

"Are you afraid to tell what you know?" Mr. Parker asked abruptly.

"It doesn't pay to do too much talking. You act real friendly and you did
me a good turn saving my truck--but I don't even know your name."

"Anthony Parker, owner of the _Riverview Star_."

The information was anything but reassuring to the woman.

"You're not aiming to write up anything I've told you for the paper?" she
asked anxiously.

"Not unless I believe that by doing so I can expose these night riders
who have destroyed your barn."

"Please don't print anything in the paper," Mrs. Preston pleaded. "It
will only do harm. Those men will turn on John harder than ever."

Before Mr. Parker could reply, the roof of the storage barn collapsed,
sending up a shower of sparks and burning brands. By this time the red
glare in the sky had attracted the attention of neighbors, and several
men came running into the yard. Realizing that he could not hope to gain
additional information from the woman, Mr. Parker began to examine the
ground in the vicinity of the barn.

"Looking for hoof tracks?" Penny asked, falling into step beside him.

"I thought we might find some, providing the woman told a straight
story."

"Dad, did you ever hear of an organization such as Mrs. Preston
mentioned?" Penny inquired, her gaze on the ground. "I mean around
Riverview, of course."

Mr. Parker shook his head. "I never did, Penny. But if what she says is
true, the _Star_ will launch an investigation. We'll have no night riders
in this community, not if it's in my power to blast them out!"

"Here's your first clue, Dad!"

Excitedly, Penny pointed to a series of hoof marks plainly visible in the
soft earth. The tracks led toward the main road.

"Apparently Mrs. Preston told the truth about the barn being fired by a
man on horseback," Mr. Parker declared as he followed the trail leading
out of the yard. "These prints haven't been made very long."

"Dad, you look like Sherlock Holmes scooting along with his nose to the
ground!" Penny giggled. "You should have a magnifying glass to make the
picture perfect."

"Never mind the comedy," her father retorted gruffly. "This may mean a
big story for the _Star_, not to mention a worthwhile service to the
community."

"Oh, I'm heartily in favor of your welfare work," Penny chuckled. "In
fact, I think it would be wonderfully exciting to capture a night rider.
Is that what you have in mind?"

"We may as well follow this trail as far as we can. Apparently, the
fellow rode his horse just off the main highway, heading toward
Riverview."

"Be sure you don't follow the trail backwards," Penny teased. "That would
absolutely ruin your reputation as a detective."

"Jump in the car and drive while I stand on the running board," Mr.
Parker ordered, ignoring his daughter's attempt at wit. "Keep close to
the edge of the pavement and go slowly."

Obeying instructions, Penny drove the car at an even speed. Due to a
recent rain which had made the ground very soft, it was possible to
follow the trail of hoof prints without difficulty.

"We turn left here," Mr. Parker called as they came to a dirt road.
"Speed up a bit or the tires may stick. And watch sharp for soft places."

"Aye, aye, captain," Penny laughed, thoroughly enjoying the adventure.

Soon the car came to the entrance of a narrow, muddy lane, and there Mr.
Parker called a halt.

"We've come to the end of the trail," he announced.

"Have the tracks ended?" Penny asked in disappointment as she applied
brakes.

"Quite the contrary. They turn into this lane."

Both Mr. Parker and his daughter gazed thoughtfully toward a small cabin
which could be seen far back among the trees. Despite the late hour, a
light still glowed in one of the windows.

"The man who set the fire must live there!" Penny exclaimed. "What's our
next move, Dad?"

As she spoke, the roar of a fast traveling automobile was heard far up
the road, approaching from the direction whence they had just come.

"Pull over," Mr. Parker instructed. "And flash the tail light. We don't
want to risk being struck."

Barely did Penny have time to obey before the head-beams of the oncoming
car illuminated the roadway. But as it approached, the automobile
suddenly slackened speed, finally skidding to a standstill beside the
Parker sedan.

"That you, Clem Davis?" boomed a loud voice. "Stand where you are, and
don't make any false moves!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   3
                             _A BLACK HOOD_


"Good Evening, Sheriff," Mr. Parker said evenly as he recognized the
heavy-set man who stepped from a county automobile. "I'm afraid you've
mistaken me for someone else this time."

Sheriff Daniels put away his revolver and moved into the beam of light.

"Sorry," he apologized. "Thought you might be Clem Davis, and I wasn't
taking any chances. You're Parker of the _Riverview Star_?"

"That's right," agreed the editor, "Looking for Clem Davis?"

"I'm here to question him. I'm investigating a fire which was set at the
Preston place."

"You're a fast worker, Sheriff," Mr. Parker remarked. "My daughter and I
just left the Preston farm, and we didn't see you there. What put you on
Davis' trail?"

"Our officer received an anonymous telephone call from a woman. She
reported the fire and said that I'd find my man here."

"Could it have been Mrs. Preston who notified you?" Mr. Parker inquired
thoughtfully.

"It wasn't Mrs. Preston," answered the sheriff. "I traced the call to the
Riverview exchange. Thought it must be the trick of a crank until our
office got a report that a fire actually had been set at the Preston
farm. By the way, what are you doing around here, Parker?"

"Oh, just prowling," the editor replied, and explained briefly how he and
Penny had chanced to be at the scene of the fire.

"If you followed a horseman to this lane there may be something to that
anonymous telephone call," the sheriff declared. "I'll look around, and
then have a talk with Davis."

"Mind if we accompany you?" inquired Mr. Parker.

"Come along," the sheriff invited.

Penny was hard pressed to keep step with the two men as they strode down
the muddy lane. A light glowed in the window of the cabin, and a woman
could be seen sitting at a table. The sheriff, however, circled the
house. Following the trail of hoof marks he went directly to the stable,
quietly opening the double doors.

Once inside, Sheriff Daniels switched on a flashlight. The bright beam
revealed six stalls, all empty save one, in which stood a handsome black
mare who tugged restlessly at her tether. Her body was covered with
sweat, and she shivered.

"This horse has been ridden hard," the sheriff observed, reaching to
throw a blanket over her.

"Here's something interesting," commented Mr. Parker. Stooping, he picked
up a dark piece of cloth lying in plain view on the cement floor. It had
been sewed in the shape of a headgear, with eye holes cut in the front
side.

"A black hood!" Penny shouted in awe.

Sheriff Daniels took the cloth from the editor, examining it closely but
saying very little.

"Ever hear of any night riders in this community?" Mr. Parker asked after
a moment, his tone casual.

"Never did," the sheriff replied emphatically. "And I sure hope such a
story doesn't get started."

Mr. Parker fingered the black mask. "All the same, Sheriff, you can't
just laugh off a thing like this. Even if the November elections aren't
far away--"

"I'm not worried about my job," the other broke in. "So far as I know
there's no underground organization in this county. All this mask proves
is that Clem Davis may be the man who set the Preston fire."

The officer turned to leave the stable. Before he could reach the exit,
the double doors slowly opened. A woman, who carried a lighted lantern,
peered inside.

"Who's there?" she called in a loud voice.

"Sheriff Daniels, ma'am," the officer answered. "You needn't be afraid."

"Who said anything about bein' afraid?" the woman belligerently retorted.

Coming into the stable, she gazed with undisguised suspicion from one
person to another. She was noticeably thin, slightly stooped and there
was a hard set to her jaw.

"You're Mrs. Davis?" the sheriff inquired, and as she nodded, he asked:
"Clem around here?"

"No, he ain't," she answered defiantly. "What you wanting him for
anyhow?"

"Oh, just to ask a few questions. Where is your husband, Mrs. Davis?"

"He went to town early and ain't been back. What you aimin' to lay onto
him, Sheriff?"

"If your husband hasn't been here since early evening, who has ridden
this horse?" the sheriff demanded, ignoring the question.

Mrs. Davis' gaze roved to the stall where the black mare noisily crunched
an ear of corn.

"Why Sal _has_ been rid!" she exclaimed as if genuinely surprised. "But
not by Clem. He went to town in the flivver, and he ain't been back."

"Sorry, but I'll have to take a look in the house."

"Search it from cellar to attic!" the woman said angrily. "You won't find
Clem! What's he wanted for anyway?"

"The Preston barn was set afire tonight, and your husband is a suspect."

"Clem never did it! Why, the Prestons are good friends of ours!
Somebody's just tryin' to make a peck o' trouble for us."

"That may be," the sheriff admitted. "You say Clem hasn't been here
tonight. In that case, who rode the mare?"

"I don't know anything about it," the woman maintained sullenly.

"Didn't you hear a horse come into the yard?"

"I never heard a sound until your car stopped at the entrance to the
lane."

"I suppose you never saw this before either." The sheriff held up the
black hood which had been found in the barn.

Mrs. Davis stared blankly at the cloth. "I tell you, I don't know nothin'
about it, Sheriff. You ain't being fair if you try to hang that fire onto
Clem. And you won't find him hidin' in the house."

"If your husband isn't here, I'll wait until he comes."

"You may have a long wait, Sheriff," the woman retorted, her lips parting
in a twisted smile. "You can come in though and look around."

Not caring to follow the sheriff into the house, Penny and her father
bade him goodbye a moment later. Tramping down the lane to their parked
car, they both expressed the belief that Clem Davis would not be arrested
during the night.

"Obviously, the woman knows a lot more than she's willing to tell," Mr.
Parker remarked, sliding into the car seat beside Penny.

"Dad, do you think it was Clem who set fire to the Preston barn?"

"We have no reason to suspect anyone else," returned the editor. "All the
evidence points to his guilt."

Penny backed the car in the narrow road, heading toward Riverview.

"That was the point I wanted to make," she said thoughtfully. "Doesn't it
seem to you that the evidence was almost too plain?"

"What do you mean, Penny?"

"Well, I was just thinking, if I had been in Clem Davis' place, I never
would have left a black hood lying where the first person to enter the
barn would be sure to see it."

"That's so, it was a bit obvious," Mr. Parker admitted.

"The horse was left in the stable, and the hoof tracks leading to the
Davis place were easy to follow."

"All true," Mr. Parker nodded.

"Isn't it possible that someone could have tried to throw the blame on
Clem?" suggested Penny, anxiously awaiting her father's reply.

"There may be something to the theory," Mr. Parker responded. "Still,
Mrs. Davis didn't deny that the mare belonged to her husband. She claimed
that she hadn't heard the horse come into the stable, which obviously was
a lie. Furthermore, I gathered the impression that Clem knew the sheriff
was after him, and intends to hide out."

"It will be interesting to learn if Mr. Daniels makes an arrest. Do you
expect to print anything about it in the paper?"

"Only routine news of the fire," Mr. Parker replied. "There may be much
more to this little incident than appears on the surface, but until
something develops, we must wait."

"If you could gain proof that night riders are operating in this
community, what then?" Penny suggested eagerly.

"In that case, I should certainly launch a vigorous campaign. But why go
into all the details now? I'm sure I'll not assign you to the story."

"Why not?" Penny asked in an injured tone. "I think night riders would be
especially suited to my journalistic talents. I could gather information
about Clem Davis and the Prestons--"

"This is Sheriff Daniel's baby, and we'll let him take care of it for the
time being," Mr. Parker interrupted. "Why not devote yourself to the
great mystery of the Hubell clock? That should provide a safe outlook for
your energies."

The car was drawing close to Riverview. As it approached the tall stone
tower, Penny raised her eyes to the dark windows. Just then the big clock
struck twice.

"Two o'clock," Mr. Parker observed, taking a quick glance at his watch.
"Or would you say three?"

"There's no argument about it this time, Dad. All the same, I intend to
prove to you that I was right!"

"How?" her father asked, covering a wide yawn.

"I don't know," Penny admitted, favoring the grim tower with a dark
scowl. "But just you wait--I'll find a way!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   4
                           _A NEW CARETAKER_


"I declare, getting folks up becomes a harder task each morning,"
declared Mrs. Maud Weems, who had served as the Parker housekeeper for
eleven years, as she brought a platter of bacon and eggs to the breakfast
table. "I call and call until I'm fairly hoarse, and all I get in
response is a few sleepy mutters and mumbles. The food is stone cold."

"It's good all the same," praised Penny, pouring herself a large-size
glass of orange juice. "There's not a woman in Riverview who can equal
your cooking."

"I'm in no mood for blarney this morning," the housekeeper warned. "I
must say quite frankly that I don't approve of the irregular hours in
this house."

"Penny and I did get in a little late last night," Mr. Parker admitted,
winking at his daughter.

"A little late! It must have been at least four o'clock when you came in.
Oh, I heard you tiptoe up the stairs even if you did take off your
shoes!"

"It was only a few minutes after two," Penny corrected. "I'm sorry
though, that we awakened you."

"I hadn't been asleep," Mrs. Weems replied, somewhat mollified by the
apology. "I'm sure I heard every stroke of the clock last night."

"You did!" Penny exclaimed with sudden interest. "How many times would
you say it struck at midnight? I mean the Hubell Tower clock."

"Such a question!" Mrs. Weems protested, thoroughly exasperated.

"It's a very important one," Penny insisted. "My reputation and five
gallons of gas are at stake, so weigh well your words before you speak."

"The clock struck twelve, of course!"

"There, you see, Penny," Mr. Parker grinned triumphantly. "Does that
satisfy you?"

"Mrs. Weems," Penny persisted, "did you actually count the strokes?"

"Certainly not. Why should I? The clock always strikes twelve, therefore
it must have struck that number last night."

"I regret to say, you've just disqualified yourself as a witness in this
case," Penny said, helping herself to the last strip of bacon on the
platter. "I must search farther afield for proof."

"What are you talking about anyhow?" the housekeeper protested. "It
doesn't make sense to me."

As she finished breakfast, Penny explained to Mrs. Weems how the
disagreement with her father had arisen. The housekeeper displayed slight
interest in the tale of the clock, but asked many questions about the
fire at the Preston farm.

"That reminds me!" Mr. Parker suddenly exclaimed before Penny had
finished the story. "I want to 'phone Sheriff Daniels before I start for
the office. Excuse me, please."

Pushing aside his chair, he went hurriedly to the living room. Not
wishing to miss any news which might have a bearing on the affair of the
previous night, Penny trailed him, hovering close to the telephone.
However, her father's brief comments told her almost nothing.

"What did you learn?" she inquired eagerly as he hung up the receiver.
"Was Clem Davis arrested last night?"

"No, it turned out about as we expected. Apparently, Davis knew the
sheriff was looking for him. Anyway, he never returned home."

Jamming on his hat, Mr. Parker started for the front door. Penny pursued
him to the garage, carrying on a running conversation.

"This rather explodes my theory about Clem not being guilty," she
remarked ruefully. "If he were innocent, one would expect him to face the
sheriff and prove an alibi."

"Davis can't be far away," Mr. Parker responded, getting into the maroon
sedan. "The sheriff will nab him soon."

Penny held open the garage doors, watching as her father backed down the
driveway, scraping the bark of a tree whose gnarled trunk already bore
many scars. Before she could reenter the house, Louise Sidell, a
dark-haired, slightly plump girl, who was Penny's most loyal friend,
sauntered into the yard.

"Hi!" she greeted cheerily. "About ready?"

"Ready for what?" Penny asked, her face blank.

Louise regarded her indignantly. "If that isn't just like you, Penny
Parker! You make promises and then forget them. Don't you remember
telling Mrs. Van Cleve of the Woman's Club that we would help sell tags
today, for the Orphans' Home summer camp?"

"Now that you remind me, I have a vague recollection. How many are we to
sell?"

"Twenty-five at not less than a quarter each. I have the tags, but we'll
have to work fast or the other girls will sell all the easy customers."

"I'll be with you in two shakes," Penny promised, heading for the house.
"Wait until I tell Mrs. Weems where I am going."

Returning a moment later with the car ignition keys, she found Louise
staring disconsolately at the empty space in the garage.

"What became of your new car?" asked her chum.

"Dad's auto is in the garage for repairs," Penny explained briefly. "I
didn't have the heart to make him walk."

"I should think not!" laughed Louise. "Imagine having three cars in one
family--if you can call this mess of junk by such a flattering name."
Depreciatingly, she kicked the patched tire of a battered but brightly
painted flivver which had seen its heyday in the early thirties.

"Don't speak so disrespectfully of my property," Penny chided, sliding
into the high, uncomfortable seat. "Leaping Lena is a good car even if
she is a bit creaky in the joints. She still takes us places."

"And leaves us stranded," Louise added with a sniff. "Oh, well, let's
go--if we can."

Penny stepped on the starter and waited expectantly. The motor sputtered
and coughed, but true to form, would not start. Just as the girls were
convinced that they must walk, there was an explosive backfire, and then
the car began to quiver with its familiar motion.

"You should sell Lena to the government for a cannon," Louise teased as
they rattled down the street. "What do you burn in this smoke machine?
Kerosene?"

"Never mind the slurs. Where do we start our business operations?"

"We've been assigned to the corner of Madison and Clark streets," Louise
answered as she separated the yellow benefit tags into two evenly divided
piles. "It shouldn't take us long to get rid of these."

Neither of the girls regretted their promise to help with the tag-day
sale, for the cause was a worthy one. The campaign to raise sufficient
funds with which to purchase and equip an orphans' summer camp site, had
been underway many weeks, and was headed by Mrs. Van Cleve, a prominent
club woman.

Parking Leaping Lena at the designated street corner, the girls went to
work with a will. All their lives they had lived in Riverview, and Penny
in particular, had a wide acquaintance. Accosting nearly everyone who
passed, she soon disposed of all her tags, and then sold many for her
chum.

"They've gone fast," Louise declared as the morning wore on. "We have
only one left."

"Don't sell that tag!" Penny said impulsively. "I have it earmarked for a
certain person--Old Seth McGuire."

"The caretaker at the Hubell Clock Tower?" Louise asked in astonishment.

"Yes, he always liked children and I think he would be glad to help."

"But why drive so far?" protested Louise. "I'm sure we could dispose of
it right here, and much quicker."

"Oh, I have a special reason for going to see Seth," Penny answered
carelessly. "I'll tell you about it on the way there."

From her chum's manner, Louise deducted that something interesting lay
ahead. She had learned, frequently to her sorrow, that Penny enjoyed
interviewing unusual characters and engaging in amazing activities. Only
a few months earlier, the girls had operated their own newspaper in an
abandoned downtown building with results which were still the talk of
Riverview. Another time they had attended a society wedding on an island
guarded by a drawbridge, and had ended by using the drawbridge as a means
of capturing a boatload of crooks. In fact, Louise took delight in
remarking that if ever her chum chose to write an autobiography, a
suitable title would be: "Life with Penelope Parker: Never a Dull
Moment."

"What's up now, Penny?" she inquired, as they rattled toward the Hubell
Tower in Leaping Lena.

"Just a little argument I had with Dad last night. I maintain that the
big clock struck thirteen last night at midnight. He thinks I'm a wee bit
touched in the head."

"Which you must be," retorted Louise. "Who ever heard of such a thing?"

"What's so crazy about it?" Penny asked with a grimace. "Didn't you ever
hear a clock strike the wrong number?"

"Of course, but not the Hubell clock. Why, the works were purchased in
Europe, and it's supposed to be one of the best in the country."

"Even a good clock can make a mistake, I guess. Anyway, we'll see what
Seth McGuire has to say about it."

Penny brought Leaping Lena to a quivering halt opposite the tall Hubell
Tower. Glancing upward at the octagonical-shaped clock face, she saw that
the hands indicated twenty minutes to twelve.

"Rather an awkward time to call," she remarked, swinging open the car
door, "but Seth probably won't mind."

As the girls walked toward the tower entrance, they noticed that the
grounds surrounding the building were not as neat as when last they had
viewed them. The shrubs were untrimmed, the lawn choked with weeds, and
old newspapers had matted against the hedge.

"I wonder if Mr. McGuire has been well?" Penny commented, knocking on the
tower door. "He always took pride in looking after the yard."

"At least he seems to be up and around," Louise returned in a low tone.
"I can hear someone moving about inside."

The girls waited expectantly for the door to open. When there was no
response to their knock, Penny tried again.

"Who's there?" called a loud and not very friendly voice.

Penny knew that it was not Old Seth who spoke, for the caretaker's
high-pitched tones were unmistakable.

"We came to see Mr. McGuire," she called through the panel.

The door swung back and the girls found themselves facing a stout,
red-faced man of perhaps forty, who wore a soiled suede jacket and
unpressed corduroy trousers.

"McGuire's not here any more," he informed curtly. "You'll probably find
him at his farm."

Before the man could close the door, Penny quickly asked if Mr. McGuire
had given up his position as caretaker because of sickness.

"Oh, he was getting too old to do his work," the man answered with a
shrug. "I'm Charley Phelps, the new attendant. Visiting hours are from
two to four each afternoon."

"We didn't come to see the clock," persisted Penny.

"What did bring you here then?" the man demanded gruffly. "You a personal
friend of Seth's?"

"Not exactly." Penny peered beyond the caretaker into an untidy living
room clouded with tobacco smoke. "We thought we might sell him one of
these tags. Perhaps you would like to contribute to the orphans' camp
fund?"

She extended the bit of yellow cardboard, bestowing upon the attendant
one of her most dazzling smiles.

"No, thanks, Sister," he declined, refusing to take the tag. "You'll have
to peddle your wares somewhere else."

"Only twenty-five cents."

"I'm not interested. Now run along and give me a chance to eat my lunch
in peace."

"Sorry to have bothered you," Penny apologized woodenly. Without moving
from the door, she inquired: "Oh, by the way, what happened to the clock
last night?"

"Nothing happened to it," the caretaker retorted. "What d'you mean?"

"At midnight it struck thirteen times instead of twelve."

"You must have dreamed it!" the man declared. "Say, what are you trying
to do anyhow--start stories so I'll lose my job?"

"Why, I never thought of such a thing!" Penny gasped. "I truly believed
that the clock did strike thirteen--"

"Well, you were wrong, and I'll thank you not to go around telling folks
such bunk!" the man said angrily. "The clock hasn't struck a wrong hour
since the day it was installed. I take better care of the mechanism than
Seth McGuire ever did!"

"I didn't mean to intimate that you were careless--" Penny began.

She did not complete the sentence, for Charley Phelps slammed the door in
her face.



                                CHAPTER
                                   5
                               _OLD SETH_


"Well, Penny, you certainly drew lightning that time," Louise remarked
dryly as the girls retreated to Leaping Lena. "I thought Mr. Phelps was
going to throw the tower at you!"

"How could I know he was so touchy?" Penny asked in a grieved tone.

"You did talk as if you thought he had been careless in taking care of
the big clock."

"I never meant it that way, Lou. Anyway, he could have been more polite."

Jerking open the car door, Penny slid behind the steering wheel and
jammed her foot on the starter. Leaping Lena, apparently realizing that
her young mistress was in no mood for trifling, responded with
instantaneous action.

"I guess you're satisfied now that the clock never struck thirteen,"
Louise teased as the car fairly leaped forward.

"I should say not!" Penny retorted. "Why, I'm more convinced than ever
that something went wrong with the mechanism last night. Phelps knew it
too, and for that reason didn't want us asking questions!"

"You die hard, Penny," chuckled Louise. "From now on, I suppose you'll go
around asking everyone you meet: 'Where were you at midnight of the
thirteenth?'"

"It wouldn't do any good. Most folks just take things for granted in this
world. But there's one person who would pay attention to that clock!"

"Who?"

"Why, old Seth McGuire. We'll drive out to his farm and ask him about
it."

"It's lunch time and I'm hungry," Louise protested.

"Oh, you can spend the rest of your life eating," Penny overruled her.
"Business before pleasure, you know."

Seth McGuire, one of Riverview's best known and well loved characters,
had been caretaker at the Hubell Clock Tower from the day of its
erection, and the girls could not but wonder why he had been relieved of
his post. The old man had personally installed the complicated machinery,
caring for it faithfully over the years. In fact, his only other interest
in life was his farm, located a mile from the city limits, and it was
there that Penny hoped to find him.

"Watch for a sign, 'Sleepy Hollow,'" she instructed. "Mr. McGuire has
given his place a fancy name."

A moment later Louise, seeing the marker, cried: "There it is! Slow
down!"

Penny slammed on the brakes and Leaping Lena responded by shivering in
every one of her ancient joints. Louise was thrown forward, barely
catching herself in time to prevent a collision with the windshield.

"Why don't you join a stunt circus?" she said irritably. "You drive like
Demon Dan!"

"We're here," replied Penny cheerfully. "Nice looking place, isn't it?"

The car had pulled up near a small, neatly-kept cottage framed in
well-trimmed greenery. An even, rich green lawn was highlighted here and
there by beds of bright red and blue flowers.

After admiring the grounds, the girls rang the front bell. Receiving no
response, they went around to the rear, pounding on the kitchen screen
door.

"Mr. McGuire's not here," said Louise. "Just another wild goose chase."

"Let's try this out-building," Penny suggested, indicating a long, low
structure made of cement building blocks which was roofed with tin. A
sign dangling above the door proclaimed that it was the foundry and
machine shop of one Seth McGuire, maker of bells and clocks.

As the girls peered through the open door an arresting sight met their
gaze. Through clouds of smoke they saw a spry old man directing the
movements of a muscular youth who pulled a large pot-shaped crucible of
molten metal on an overhead pulley track.

"Are you Seth McGuire?" Penny shouted to make herself heard above the
noise of running machinery.

The old man, turning his head, waved them back.

"Don't come in here now!" he warned. "It's dangerous. Wait until we pour
the bell."

With deft, sure hands, the old fellow pulled control chains attached to
the crucible. The container twisted and finally overturned, allowing the
molten metal to pour into a bell-shaped mold. As the last drops ran out
of it, a great cloud of steam arose, enveloping both the old man and his
helper.

"Won't they be burned?" Louise murmured in alarm, moving hastily
backwards.

"Mr. McGuire seems to know what he's doing," Penny answered, watching
with interest.

In a moment the steam cleared away, and the old man motioned that the
girls might come inside.

"You'll have to excuse my manners," he apologized, his mild blue eyes
regarding them with a twinkle. "Pouring a bell is exacting work and you
can't stop until it's done."

"Is that what you were doing?" Penny inquired, staring at the steaming
mass which had been poured into the mold. "It's sort of like making a
gelatin pudding, isn't it?"

"Jake and me never thought of it that way," the old man replied. "I
learned from an old Swiss bell maker when I was a lad. And I apprenticed
under a master, you may be sure of that."

"How do you make a bell anyway?" Louise inquired curiously.

"You can't tell in five minutes what it takes a lifetime to learn," the
old man answered. "Now a bell like this one I'm making for the Methodist
Church at Blairstown takes a heap o' work. Jake and me have worked a
solid week getting the pattern and mold ready for that pouring job you
just saw."

"Do you ever have any failures?" Penny asked, seeking to draw him out.

"Not many, but once in awhile a bell cracks," the old fellow said
modestly. "That happens when the mold is damp, or not of proper
temperature. If gasses collect you may get a nice healthy explosion,
too!"

"Does it take a long while to finish a bell after it's been poured?"
Penny pursued the subject.

"A large one may require a week to cool, but I'll have this fellow out of
the mold by tomorrow night," Mr. McGuire returned. "Then we'll polish her
off, put in the clapper, and attach the bell to a sturdy mounting. If the
tone is right, she'll be ready to install."

"How do you tell about the tone?" Louise questioned in perplexity.

"This one should have a deep, low tone," the old man replied. "Other
things being equal, a large bell gives a deeper tone than a small one.
Pitch depends upon diameter, and timbre upon the shape and the alloy
used."

"I never realized there was much to a bell besides its ding-dong,"
commented Penny. "But tell me, Mr. McGuire, do you find this work more
interesting than taking care of the Clock Tower?"

"Looking after that place wasn't work. It was more like a rest cure. I
took the job because, twelve years ago when the tower went up, they
couldn't find a competent man to look after the clock."

"And now you've gone back to your old trade?"

"Oh, I liked it at the tower," Old Seth admitted truthfully. "I'm a bit
old to do heavy work such as this. More than likely I'd have gone on
putting in my time if Mr. Blake hadn't wanted the job for a friend of
his."

"Mr. Blake?" Penny inquired thoughtfully. "Do you mean Clyde Blake, the
real estate man?"

The old bell maker nodded as he gazed moodily out the window toward the
distant tower which could be seen outlined against the blue sky.

"Yes, it was Blake that eased me out of that job. He has a lot of
influence and he uses it in ways some might say isn't always proper. I
can make a fair living as long as I have my health, so I'm not
complaining."

"We met the new caretaker this morning," Penny said after a moment. "He
wasn't very polite to us, and the grounds have gone to wrack and ruin."

"Did you notice the flower beds?" Old Seth asked, feeling creeping into
his voice. "Half choked with weeds. Charley Phelps hasn't turned a hand
since he took over there six weeks ago."

"I suppose he spends most of his time looking after the big clock," Penny
remarked, deliberately leading the old man deeper.

"Charley Phelps spends most of his hours smoking that vile pipe of his
and entertaining his roustabout friends," Old Seth snapped. "He doesn't
know as much as a child about complicated clock machinery. What he can't
take care of with an oil can goes unrepaired!"

The conversation had moved in exactly the channel which Penny desired.

"No doubt that explains why the clock hasn't always been striking right
of late," she said in an offhand way. "Last night I was almost sure I
heard it strike thirteen instead of twelve times. In fact, I had a little
argument with my father about it."

"You were correct," the old man assured her. "I was working late here in
the shop and heard it myself."

"There! You see, Louise!" Penny cried triumphantly, turning to her chum.

"Mr. McGuire, what would cause the clock to strike wrong?" the other
asked.

"I was wondering myself," he admitted. "In all the ten years I was at the
tower, it never once struck an incorrect hour. I think that there must
have been something wrong with the striking train."

"Pardon my ignorance," laughed Penny, "but what in the world is the
striking train?"

"Oh, we apply that name to the center section of the mechanism which
operates the clock. The going train drives the hands, while the quarter
train chimes the quarter-hours, sounding four tuned bells."

"Just as clear as mud," sighed Louise who disliked all mechanical things.
"Does the clock strike wrong every night?"

"Last night was the first time I ever heard it add a stroke," Mr. McGuire
answered. "I'll be listening though, to see if Phelps gets it fixed."

Penny and Louise had accomplished the purpose of their trip, and so,
after looking about the shop for a few minutes, left without trying to
sell the old man a camp-benefit tag.

"Why didn't you ask him to take one?" Louise asked as she and her chum
climbed into the parked car.

"Oh, I don't know," Penny answered uncomfortably. "It just came over me
that Old Seth probably doesn't have much money now that he's out of
steady work."

"He must make quite a lot from his bells."

"But how often does he get an order?" Penny speculated. "I'd guess not
once in three months, if that often. It's a pity Mr. Blake had to push
Mr. McGuire out of the tower job."

Louise nodded agreement, and then with a quick change of subject,
reminded her chum that they had had no lunch.

"It's too late to go home," said Penny, who had other plans. "I'll treat
you to one of the biggest hamburger sandwiches you ever wrapped your
teeth around! How's that?"

"I'll take anything so long as you pay for it," Louise agreed with a
laugh.

Driving on to Toni's, the girls lunched there without incident, and then
started for Riverview by a different route.

"Say, where are you taking me anyway?" Louise demanded suspiciously.
"I've never been on this road before."

"Only out to the Davis farm," Penny responded with a grin. "We have a
little detective work to do."

During the bumpy ride, she gave her chum a vivid account of the adventure
she had shared with her father the previous night.

"And just what do you expect to learn?" Louise inquired at the conclusion
of the tale. "Are we expected to capture Clem Davis with our bare hands
and turn him over to the authorities?"

"Nothing quite so startling. I thought possibly Mrs. Davis might talk
with us. She seemed to know a lot more about the fire than she would
tell."

"I don't mind tagging along," Louise consented reluctantly. "It doesn't
seem likely, though, that the woman will break down and implicate her
husband just because you want a story for the _Riverview Star_."

Undisturbed by her chum's teasing, Penny parked Leaping Lena at the
entrance to the lane, and the girls walked to the cabin.

"It doesn't look as if anyone is here," Louise remarked, rapping for the
second time on the oaken door.

"I'm sure there is," Penny replied in a whisper. "As we came up the lane,
I saw the curtains move."

Louise knocked a third time, so hard that the door rattled.

"At any rate, no one is going to answer," she said. "We may as well go."

"All right," Penny agreed, although it was not her nature to give up so
easily.

The girls walked down the lane until a clump of bushes screened them from
the cabin.

"Let's wait here," Penny proposed, halting. "I have a hunch Mrs. Davis is
hiding from us."

"What's to be gained by waiting?" grumbled Louise.

Nevertheless, she crouched beside her chum, watching the house. Ten
minutes elapsed. Both Louise and Penny grew very weary. Then
unexpectedly, the cabin door opened and Mrs. Davis peered into the yard.
Seeing no one, she took a wooden water bucket and started with it to the
pump which was situated midway between cabin and stable.

"Now's our chance!" Penny whispered eagerly. "Come on, Louise, we'll cut
off her retreat and she can't avoid meeting us!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   6
                              _TALL CORN_


Hastening up the lane, Penny and Louise approached the pump in such a way
that Mrs. Davis could not return to the house without meeting them. Not
until the woman had filled the water bucket and was starting back did she
see the two girls.

"Well?" she demanded defiantly.

By daylight the woman appeared much younger than Penny had taken her to
be the previous night. Not more than thirty-two, she wore a shapeless,
faded blue dress which had seen many washings. Rather attractive brown
hair had been drawn back into a tight, unbecoming knot that made her face
seem grotesquely long.

"I don't suppose you recognize me," Penny began diffidently. "My father
and I were here last night with Sheriff Daniels."

"I remember you very well," the woman retorted. "What do you want?"

"Why, I should like to buy some melons," Penny replied, the idea only
that instant occurring to her. "Have you any for sale?"

"Melons," the woman repeated, and the hard line of her mouth relaxed. "I
thought you came to pester me with questions. Sure, we've got some good
Heart o' Gold out in the patch. How many do you want?"

"About three, I guess."

"You can pick 'em out yourself if you want to," Mrs. Davis offered.
Setting down the water bucket, she led the way through a gate to a melon
patch behind the cabin. Her suspicions not entirely allayed, she
demanded: "Sheriff Daniels didn't send you out here?"

"Indeed not," Penny assured her. "I haven't seen him since last night."

"It's all right then," Mrs. Davis said in a more friendly tone. She
stooped to examine a ripe melon. "I figured maybe he sent you to find out
what became of my husband."

"Oh, no! Didn't Mr. Davis return home last night?"

"Not on your life!" the woman answered grimly. "And he won't be back
either--not while Sheriff Daniels is looking for him."

From Mrs. Davis' manner of speaking, Penny was convinced that she had
been in communication with her husband since the sheriff's visit. Trying
to keep her voice casual, she observed:

"Don't you think it would be wise for your husband to give himself up? By
hiding, he makes it appear as though he actually did set fire to the
Preston barn."

"Clem would be a fool to give himself up now! Why, they'd be sure to hang
the fire onto him, even though he wasn't within a mile of the Preston
place."

"Then couldn't he prove it?"

"Not a chance," the woman said with a short, hard laugh. "Clem was
framed. He never rode the horse last night, and that black hood was
planted in the stable."

"Does your husband have any enemies?"

"Sure, he's got plenty of 'em."

"Then perhaps you can name a person who might have tried to throw blame
on your husband."

"I could tell plenty if I was a mind to," the woman said significantly.
"I'd do it in a minute, only it would make things worse for Clem."

Penny started to reply, then remained silent as she saw that Mrs. Davis'
gaze had focused upon a section of cornfield which fringed the melon
patch. The tall stalks were waving in an agitated manner, suggesting that
someone might be moving among them.

"Here are your melons," Mrs. Davis said nervously, thrusting three large
ones into Penny's hands. "That will be a quarter."

As the girl paid her, she abruptly turned and hurried toward the house.

"Just a minute, Mrs. Davis," Penny called. "If you'll only talk to me I
may be able to help your husband."

The woman heard but paid no heed. Picking up the water bucket, she
entered the cabin, closing the door behind her.

"Well, we gained three melons, and that's all," Louise shrugged. "What's
our next move?"

"I think Mrs. Davis was on the verge of telling us something important,"
Penny declared, her voice low. "Then she saw someone out there in the
corn field and changed her mind."

"I don't see anyone now," Louise said, staring in the direction her chum
had indicated. "The stalks aren't even moving."

"They were a moment ago. Clem Davis may be hiding out there, Lou! Or it
could be some of Sheriff Davis' men watching the cabin."

"Or an Indian waiting to scalp us," teased Louise. "Let's go back to the
car."

Penny shook her head and started toward the corn patch. Reluctantly,
Louise followed, overtaking her at the edge of the field.

"Sheriff Daniels!" Penny called through cupped hands.

There was no answer, only a gentle rippling of the corn stalks some
distance from them.

"Whoever the person is, he's sneaking away," Penny whispered. "Come on,
let's stop him!"

"Don't be foolish--" Louise protested, but her chum had vanished into the
forest of tall corn.

After a moment of indecision she, too, entered the field. By that time
there was no sign of Penny, no sound to guide her. Wandering aimlessly
first in one direction, then another, she soon became hopelessly lost.

"Penny!" she shouted frantically.

"Here!" called a voice not far away.

Tracing the sound, and making repeated calls, Louise finally came face to
face with her chum.

"Such a commotion as you've been making," chided Penny. "Not a chance to
catch that fellow now!"

"I don't care," Louise retorted crossly. Her hair was disarranged,
stockings matted with burs. "If we can get out of this dreadful maze I
want to go to the car."

"We're at the edge of the field. Follow me and I'll pilot you to safety."

Emerging a minute later at the end of the corn row, Penny saw the stable
only a few yards away. Impulsively, she proposed to Louise that they
investigate it for possible clues.

"I've had enough detective work for one day," her chum complained.
"Anyway, what do you hope to discover in an old barn?"

"Maybe I can induce the horse to talk," Penny chuckled. "Sal must know
all the answers, if only she could speak."

"You'll have to give her the third degree by yourself," Louise decided
with finality. "I shall go to the car."

Taking the melons with her, she marched stiffly down the lane and climbed
into Leaping Lena. Carefully she rearranged her hair, plucked burs, and
then grew impatient because her chum did not come. Fully twenty minutes
elapsed before Penny emerged from the stable.

"Sorry to keep you waiting so long, Lou," she apologized as she reached
the car. "See what I found!"

Penny held up a bright silver object which resembled a locket, save that
it was smaller.

"What is it?" Louise inquired with interest.

"A man's watch charm! It has a picture inside too!"

With her fingernail, Penny pried open the lid. Flat against the cover had
been fastened the photograph of a boy who might have been ten or twelve
years of age.

"Where did you get it, Penny?"

"I found it lying on the barn floor, not far from the place where we
picked up the black hood last night."

"Then it must belong to Clem Davis!"

"It may," Penny admitted, sliding into the seat beside her chum. "Still,
I don't believe the Davis' have any children."

"What will you do with the charm? Turn it over to the sheriff?"

"I suppose I should, after I've shown it to Dad," Penny replied,
carefully tying the trinket into the corner of a handkerchief. "You know,
Lou, since finding this, I wonder if Mrs. Davis may not have told the
truth."

"About what, Penny?"

"She said that her husband had been framed."

"Then you think this watch charm was left in the barn to throw suspicion
upon Clem Davis!"

Penny shook her head. "No, this is my theory, Louise. Perhaps someone hid
the black hood there, and rode Clem's horse to make it appear he was the
guilty person. Inadvertently, that same person lost this watch charm."

"In that case, you would have a clue which might solve the case."

"Exactly," Penny grinned in triumph. "Get ready for a fast ride into
town. I'm going to rush this evidence straight to the _Star_ office and
get Dad's opinion."



                                CHAPTER
                                   7
                         _MR. BLAKE'S DONATION_


Not wishing to ride to the _Star_ building, Louise asked her chum to drop
her off at the Sidell home. Accordingly, Penny left her there, and then
drove on alone to her father's office. The news room hummed with activity
as she sauntered through to the private office.

"Just a minute, please," her father requested, waving her into a chair.

He completed a letter he was dictating, dismissed his secretary, and then
was ready to listen. Without preliminary ado, Penny laid the watch charm
on the desk, explaining where she had found it.

"Dad, this may belong to Clem Davis, but I don't think so!" she announced
in an excited voice. "It's my theory that the person who planted the
black hood in the stable must have lost it!"

Mr. Parker examined the charm carefully, gazing at the picture of the
little boy contained within it.

"Very interesting," he commented. "However, I fear you are allowing your
imagination to take you for a ride. There isn't much question of Clem
Davis' guilt according to the findings of the sheriff."

"Has any new evidence come to light, Dad?"

"Yes, Penny, the sheriff's office has gained possession of a document
showing beyond question that Clem Davis is a member of a renegade band
known as the Black Hoods."

"Where did they get their proof?"

"Sheriff Davis won't disclose the source of his information. However, our
star reporter, Jerry Livingston, is working on the case, and something
may develop any hour."

"Then you're intending to make it into a big story?" Penny asked
thoughtfully.

"I am. An underground, subversive organization, no matter what its
purpose, has no right to an existence. The _Star_ will expose the
leaders, if possible, and break up the group."

"Since the Hoods apparently burned the Preston storage barn, their
purpose can't be a very noble one," Penny commented. "Nor are their
leaders especially clever. The trail led as plain as day to Clem
Davis--so straight, in fact, that I couldn't help doubting his guilt."

"Penny, I'll keep this watch charm, if you don't mind," Mr. Parker said,
locking the trinket into a drawer. "I'll put Jerry to work on it and he
may be able to learn the identity of the little boy in the picture."

Abruptly changing the subject, the editor inquired regarding his
daughter's success in selling Camp-Benefit tags.

"I have only one left," Penny replied, presenting it with a flourish.
"Twenty-five cents, please."

"The cause is a worthy one. I'll double the amount." Amiably, Mr. Parker
flipped a half dollar across the desk.

"While you're in a giving mood I might mention that my allowance is due,"
Penny said with a grin. "Also, you owe me five gallons of gasoline. I saw
old Seth McGuire this morning and he agreed with me that the Hubell clock
struck thirteen last night."

Mr. Parker had no opportunity to reply, for just then his secretary
re-entered the office to say that Mr. Clyde Blake wished to see him.

"I suppose that means you want me to evaporate," Penny remarked, gazing
questioningly at her father.

"No, stay if you like. It's probably nothing of consequence."

Penny welcomed an invitation to remain. After her talk with Seth McGuire
she was curious to see the man who had caused the old bell maker to lose
his position at the Hubell Tower.

"Blake probably wants to ask me to do him a personal favor," Mr. Parker
confided in a low tone. "He's a pest!"

In a moment the door opened again to admit the real estate man. He was
heavy-set, immaculately dressed, and the only defect in his appearance
was caused by a right arm which was somewhat shorter than the left.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Parker," he said expansively. "And is this your
charming daughter?"

The editor introduced Penny, who bowed politely and retreated to a chair
by the window. Prejudiced against Mr. Blake, she had no desire to talk to
him.

"What may I do for you?" Mr. Parker asked the caller.

"Ah, this time it is I who shall bestow the favor," Mr. Blake responded,
taking a cheque book from his pocket. "Your paper has been campaigning
for a very worthy cause, namely the Orphans' Summer Camp Fund. It wrings
my heart that those unfortunate kiddies have been denied the benefit of
fresh air and sunshine."

"If you wish to make a donation, you should give your money to Mrs. Van
Cleve," the editor cut him short.

"I much prefer to present my cheque to you," the caller insisted. "Shall
I make it out for a hundred and fifty dollars?"

"That's a very handsome donation," said Mr. Parker, unable to hide his
surprise. "But why give it to me?"

Mr. Blake coughed in embarrassment. "I thought you might deem the
offering worthy of a brief mention in your paper."

"Oh, I see," the editor responded dryly.

"I don't wish publicity for myself, you understand, but only for the real
estate company which bears my name."

"I quite understand, Mr. Blake. If we should use your picture--"

"That will be very acceptable," the real estate man responded, smiling
with satisfaction. "I'll be happy to oblige you by posing."

Helping himself to a pen, he wrote out the cheque and presented it to the
editor.

"Penny, how would you like to write the story?" inquired her father.
"You've been helping Miss Norton with the publicity, I believe."

"I'm rather bogged down with work," Penny demurred. "I think Mrs. Weems
wants me to clean the attic when I get home."

"Never mind the attic. Please conduct Mr. Blake to the photography room
and ask one of the boys to take his picture."

Penny arose obediently, but as the real estate man left the office ahead
of her, she shot her father a black look. She considered a publicity
story very trivial indeed, and it particularly displeased her that she
must write honeyed words about a man she did not admire.

"You have a very nice building here, very nice," Mr. Blake patronizingly
remarked as he was escorted toward the photographic department. Noticing
a pile of freshly printed newspapers lying on one of the desks, he helped
himself to a copy.

"I see the sheriff hasn't captured Clem Davis yet," he commented,
scanning the front page. "I hope they get him! It's a disgrace to
Riverview that such a crime could be perpetrated, and the scoundrel go
unpunished."

"He'll probably be caught," Penny replied absently. "But I wonder if he's
the guilty person."

"What's that?" Mr. Blake demanded, regarding her with shrewd interest.
"You think Davis didn't burn the Preston barn?"

"I was only speculating upon it."

"Reflecting your father's opinion, no doubt."

"No, not anyone's thought but my own."

"Your father seems to be making quite a story of it," Mr. Blake resumed.
"It will be most unfortunate for the community if he stirs up talk about
underground organizations."

"Why unfortunate?" Penny asked.

"Because it will give the city a bad reputation. I doubt there is
anything to this Black Hood talk, but if there should be, any publicity
might lead to an investigation by state authorities."

"A very good thing, I should think."

"You do not understand," Mr. Blake said patiently. "Depredation would
increase, innocent persons surely would suffer. With Riverview known
unfavorably throughout the country, we would gain no new residents."

Penny did not reply, but opened the door of the photographic room. While
Mr. Blake wandered about, inspecting the various equipment, she relayed
her father's instructions to Salt Sommers, one of the staff
photographers.

"Better get a good picture of Blake," she warned him. "He'll be irritated
if you don't."

"I'll do my best," Salt promised, "but I can't make over a man's face."

Mr. Blake proved to be a trying subject. Posed on a stool in front of a
screen, he immediately "froze" into a stiff position.

"Be sure to make it only a head and shoulders picture, if you please," he
ordered Salt.

"Can't you relax?" the photographer asked wearily. "Unloosen your face.
Think of all those little orphans you're going to make happy."

Mr. Blake responded with a smirk which was painful to behold. Nothing
that Salt could say or do caused him to become natural, and at length the
photographer took two shots which he knew would not be satisfactory.

"That'll be all," he announced.

Mr. Blake arose, drawing a deep sigh. "Posing is a great ordeal for me,"
he confessed. "I seldom consent to having my picture taken, but this is a
very special occasion."

Completely at ease again, the real estate man began to converse with
Penny. In sudden inspiration, Salt seized a candid camera from a glass
case, and before Mr. Blake was aware of his act, snapped a picture.

"There, that's more like it," he said. "I caught you just right, Mr.
Blake."

The real estate man turned swiftly, his eyes blazing anger.

"You dared to take a picture without my permission?" he demanded. "I'll
not have it! Destroy the film at once or I shall protest to Mr. Parker!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   8
                          _PUBLICITY BY PENNY_


The real estate man's outburst was so unexpected that Penny and Salt
could only stare at him in astonishment.

"It's a good full length picture," the photographer argued. "Much better
than those other shots I took."

"I can't allow it," Blake answered in a calmer tone. He touched his right
arm. "You see, I am sensitive about this deformity. Unreasonable of me,
perhaps, but I must insist that you destroy the film."

"Just as you say," Salt shrugged. "We'll use one of the other pictures."

"No, I've changed my mind," Blake said shortly. "I don't care for any
picture. Kindly destroy all the films--now, in my presence."

"Why, Mr. Blake!" Penny protested. "I thought you wanted a picture to
accompany the story I am to write."

"You may write the article, but I'll have no picture. The films must be
destroyed."

"Okay," responded Salt. Removing two plates from a holder he exposed them
to the light. He started to take the film from the candid camera, but did
not complete the operation. Mr. Blake, however, failed to notice.

"Thank you, young man," he said, bowing. "I am sorry to have taken so
much of your valuable time, and I appreciate your efforts."

Nodding in Penny's direction, Mr. Blake left the studio, closing the door
behind him.

"Queer duck," commented Salt. "His picture on the front page would be no
break for our readers!"

"I can't understand why Mr. Blake became so provoked," Penny said
thoughtfully. "That excuse about his arm seemed a flimsy one."

"Let's develop the film and see what it looks like," Salt suggested,
starting for the darkroom. "It was just an ordinary shot though."

Penny followed the young photographer into the developing room, watching
as he ran the film through the various trays. In exactly six minutes the
picture was ready, and he held it beneath the ruby light for her to see.

"Nothing unusual about it," he repeated. "Blake's right arm looks a bit
shorter than the left, but we could have blocked that off."

Salt tossed the damp picture into a wastepaper basket, only to have Penny
promptly rescue it.

"I wish you would save this," she requested. "Put it in an envelope and
file it away somewhere in the office."

"What's the big idea, Penny?"

"Oh, just a hunch, I guess. Someday the paper may want a picture of Blake
in a hurry, and this one would serve very nicely."

Aware that time was fast slipping away, Penny returned to her father's
office to report Mr. Blake's strange action. Mr. Parker, well versed in
the peculiarities of newspaper patrons, shrugged indifferently.

"Blake always was a queer fellow," he commented, fingering the cheque
which still lay on his desk. "I never trusted him, and I wish I hadn't
accepted this money."

"How could you have refused, Dad?"

"I couldn't very well. All the same, I have a feeling I'll regret it."

"Why do you say that?" Penny asked curiously.

"No reason perhaps. Only Blake isn't the man to give something for
nothing. He aims to profit by this affair, or I'm no judge of human
nature."

"He craves publicity, that's certain."

"Yes, but there's more to it than that," Mr. Parker declared. "Oh,
well"--he dismissed the subject, "I'll turn the cheque over to the camp
committee and let someone else do the worrying."

"I'll tell you why I dislike Mr. Blake," Penny said with feeling. "He
caused Seth McGuire to lose his job at the Hubell Tower."

"That so?" the editor asked in surprise. "I hadn't heard about it."

"Blake gave the position to a special friend of his. Can't you do
something about it, Dad?"

"I don't know any of the basic facts, Penny. Why should I interfere in a
matter which is none of my affair?"

"At least let's not give Mr. Blake a big build-up because of his
donation."

"The story must be written," Mr. Parker said with finality. "I always
keep a bargain, even a bad one."

"Then you might write the story," Penny proposed mischievously. "I can't
spell such a big word as hypocrite!"

"Never mind," Mr. Parker reproved. "Just get busy and see that you handle
the article in a way favorable to Blake."

With a deep sigh, Penny took herself to the adjoining newsroom. Selecting
a typewriter, she pecked listlessly at the keys. Presently Jerry
Livingston, one of the reporters, fired a paper ball at her.

"Your story must be a masterpiece," he teased. "It's taken you long
enough to write it."

Penny jerked the sheet of copy from the typewriter roller. "It's not
fair," she complained. "I have to dish out soft soap while you handle all
the interesting stories. There should be a law against it."

"Learn to take the bitter along with the whipped cream," chuckled Jerry.
"I've also just been handed an assignment that's not to my liking."

"Covering the Preston fire, I suppose."

"Nothing that spectacular. DeWitt's sending me out to the Riverview
Orphans' Home to dig up human interest material in connection with the
camp-fund campaign. Want to ride along as ballast?"

"Well, I don't know?" Penny debated. "I've had almost enough of publicity
stories for one day."

"Oh, come on," Jerry coaxed, taking her by the arm. "You can talk to the
orphans and maybe turn up a lot of interesting facts."

"For you to write," she added ruefully. "Just a Sister Friday--that's my
fate in this office."

Actually Penny welcomed an opportunity to accompany Jerry, for she liked
him better than any young man of her acquaintance. Spearing the story she
had just written on the copy desk spindle, she followed the reporter to
the parking lot. Jerry helped her into one of the press cars, and they
expertly drove through heavy downtown traffic.

"What's the latest on the Preston case?" Penny inquired, clutching her
hat to keep it from blowing out the window.

"No latest," Jerry answered briefly. "The Prestons won't talk, Mrs. Davis
won't talk, the sheriff won't talk. So far it totals up to one little
story about a fire."

"Dad said the sheriff had learned Clem Davis was a member of a secret
organization, probably known as the Black Hoods."

"Sheriff Daniels claims he has documentary proof," Jerry admitted. "He
won't produce it though, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he may be
bluffing."

"Then you think he wants to convict Clem Davis whether or not he's
guilty?"

"He wants to end the case just as quickly as he can, Penny. The November
elections aren't far away. If this night rider story gets a start, the
dear public might turn on him, demanding action or his job."

"Do you think there actually is such an organization as the Black Hoods,
Jerry?"

"I do," he returned soberly. "After talking with the Prestons and Mrs.
Davis, I'm convinced they could tell quite a bit about it if they were
willing to furnish evidence."

It pleased Penny that Jerry's opinion so nearly coincided with her own.
Eagerly she told him of her own talk with Mrs. Davis, mentioning that
someone had been hiding in the cornfield near the cabin.

"What time was that?" Jerry asked, stopping the car at a traffic light.

"Shortly after twelve o'clock."

"Then it couldn't have been Sheriff Daniels or his deputies," the
reporter declared. "I was at the county office talking to them about that
same time."

"It might have been Clem Davis," Penny suggested. "I'm sure his wife
knows where he is hiding."

As the car sped over the country road, she kept the discussion alive by
mentioning the watch charm which she had picked up at the Davis stable.
Jerry had not seen the picture of the little boy, but promised to inspect
it just as soon as he returned to the _Star_ offices.

"Clem Davis has no children," he assured Penny, "so it's unlikely the
charm ever belonged to him. You may have found an important clue."

"I only wish Dad would officially assign me to the story," she grumbled.
"He never will, though."

Presently the car approached the Riverview Orphans' Home, a large brick
building set back some distance from the road. Children in drab blue
uniforms could be seen playing in the front yard, supervised by a woman
official.

"Poor kids," Jerry said with honest feeling, "you can't help feeling
sorry for 'em. They deserve the best summer camp this town can provide."

"The project is certain to be possible now," Penny replied. "Mr. Blake's
cheque put the campaign over the top."

Jerry gave the steering wheel an expert flip, turning the car into the
private road.

"Don't tell me that old bird actually parted with any money!"

"Oh, he did, Jerry. He donated a cheque for a hundred and fifty dollars."

"And no strings attached?"

"Well, he hinted that he wanted a nice write-up about himself. I was
torturing myself with the story when you interrupted."

"It's mighty queer," the reporter muttered. "Leopards don't change their
spots. Blake must expect something more tangible than publicity out of
the deal."

His mind centering on what Penny had just told him, Jerry gave no thought
to his driving. Handling the steering wheel skillfully, but
automatically, he whirled the car into the play area of the institution,
drawing up with a loud screeching of brakes.

Uncertain that the reporter could stop, the children scattered in all
directions. One little girl remained squarely in front of the car.
Covering her face with her hands, she began to scream.

"Gosh all fish hooks!" Jerry exclaimed in dismay. "I didn't mean to
frighten the kid."

Jumping from the coupe, he and Penny ran to the child.

"You're all right," Jerry said, stooping beside the little girl. "The car
didn't come within a mile of you. I'm mighty sorry."

Nothing that either he nor Penny could say seemed to quiet the child. Her
screams did not subside until a matron appeared and took her by the hand.

"Come Adelle," she said gently. "We'll go into the house."

"I'm as sorry as I can be," Jerry apologized, doffing his hat. "I didn't
intend to drive into the yard so fast. It's all my fault."

The attendant smiled to set him at ease. "Don't mind," she said quietly.
"Adelle is very easily upset. I'll explain to you later."



                                CHAPTER
                                   9
                            _JERRY'S PARTY_


Both Penny and Jerry regretted the incident, feeling that they had been
at fault because they had driven into the play area at such high speed.

"Maybe I can send the kid a box of candy or make it up to her in some
way," the reporter remarked.

Roving about the yard, he and Penny talked to many of the orphans. Nearly
all of the children answered questions self-consciously and had little to
say.

"We'll not get much of a story here," Jerry commented in an undertone.
"These youngsters are as much alike as if they had been cut from one
pattern."

"Adelle was different," Penny returned with a smile. "Almost too much
so."

In a short while, Miss Anderson, the young woman who had taken the child
away, returned to the play yard. Penny and Jerry immediately inquired
about the little girl.

"Oh, she is quite herself again," the young woman responded. "The upset
was only a temporary one."

"Is Adelle easily frightened?" Penny inquired curiously.

"Unfortunately, she is terrified of automobiles," responded Miss
Anderson. "I am afraid it is becoming a complex. You see, about a year
ago both of her parents were killed in a motor accident."

"How dreadful!" Penny gasped.

"Adelle was in the car but escaped with a broken leg," the young woman
resumed. "The incident made a very deep impression upon her."

"I should think so!" exclaimed Jerry. "How did the accident occur?"

"We don't know exactly, for Adelle was the only witness. According to her
story, the Hanover automobile was crowded off the road by another
motorist who drove at reckless speed, without lights. The car upset,
pinning the occupants beneath it."

"It seems to me I remember that story," Jerry said thoughtfully. "The
hit-run driver never was caught."

"No, according to Adelle he stopped, only to drive on again when he saw
that her parents were beyond help."

"The man must have been heartless!" Penny declared indignantly. "How
could he run away?"

"Because he feared the consequences," Miss Anderson answered. "Had he
been apprehended he would have faced charges for manslaughter, and
undoubtedly would have been assessed heavy damages."

"I take it the child has no property or she wouldn't be at this
institution," Jerry said soberly.

"Adelle is penniless. Her parents were her only relatives, so she was
brought to us."

"It's a shame!" Penny declared feelingly. "Wasn't there any clue as to
the identity of the man who caused the fatal accident?"

"No worthwhile ones. Adelle insists that she saw the driver's face
plainly and could recognize him again. However, she never was able to
give a very good description, nor to make an identification."

Having heard the story, Jerry was more than ever annoyed at himself
because he had caused the child needless suffering.

"Miss Anderson, isn't there something I can do to make amends?" he asked
earnestly. "What would the little girl like? Candy, toys?"

"It isn't necessary that you give her anything."

"I want to do it," Jerry insisted.

"In that case, why not make some small bequest to the institution, or
send something which may be enjoyed by all the children."

"Jerry, I have an idea!" cried Penny impulsively. "Why not give a party?
Would that be permissible, Miss Anderson?"

"Indeed, yes. The children love them, and outings away from the
institution are their special delight."

"Let's give a watermelon party!" Penny proposed, immediately considering
herself Jerry's partner in the affair. "We could take the children to a
nearby farm and let them gorge themselves!"

"The children would enjoy it, I'm sure," Miss Anderson smiled. "Can
transportation be arranged? We have sixty boys and girls."

"I'll take care of everything," Jerry promised. "Suppose we set tomorrow
afternoon as the date."

"Oh, can't we have the party at night?" Penny pleaded. "There will be a
full moon. A watermelon feast wouldn't be much fun by daylight."

Miss Anderson replied that she thought the children might be allowed to
attend such a party, providing it were held early in the evening. Penny
and Jerry talked with her about various details of the plan, and then
drove away from the institution.

"Well, you certainly got me into something," Jerry chuckled as the car
turned into the main road. "Where are we going to throw this party?"

"Oh, any melon farmer will be glad to let the children invade his patch,
providing we pay for the privilege," Penny answered carelessly. "You
might turn in at the next farm."

Her confidence proved to be ill-founded, for Mr. Kahler, the farmer whom
they accosted, would not consider the proposition.

"The children will trample the vines, and do a lot of damage," he
declined. "Why don't you try the Wentover place?"

At the Wentover farm, Jerry and Penny likewise were turned down.

"No one wants sixty orphans running rampant over his place," the reporter
observed in discouragement. "We may as well give up the idea."

"It's possible Mrs. Davis would allow us to hold a muskmelon party at her
farm," Penny replied thoughtfully. "Now that her husband has skipped, she
must be in need of money."

The chance of success seemed unlikely. However, to please Penny, Jerry
drove to the Davis property. To their surprise they found the place
humming with activity. Professional melon pickers were at work in the
patch, and Mrs. Davis, dressed in overalls, was personally supervising
the laborers.

"I have no time to answer questions!" she announced to Jerry before he
could speak. "Please go away and leave me alone!"

"Oh, I'm not here in an official capacity this time," the reporter
grinned. "We want to make you a business proposition."

He then explained what he had in mind. Mrs. Davis listened attentively
but with suspicion.

"It's likely some trick!" she declared. "I'll have nothing to do with
it!"

"Mrs. Davis, we're not trying to deceive you," Penny interposed
earnestly. "We've tried several other farms before we came here. No one
is willing to let the children trample the vines."

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt mine," the woman admitted. "By tomorrow night
we'll have all the best melons picked and sorted. I reckon the youngsters
can have what's left in the patch."

"We'll pay you well for the privilege," Jerry promised, taking out his
wallet.

"I don't want your money," the woman answered shortly. "Just see to it
that the youngsters don't tear up the place."

Neither Penny nor Jerry wished to accept such a favor, but Mrs. Davis
firmly refused to take pay.

"You know, I think the old girl has a tender heart beneath a hard
exterior," the reporter remarked after the woman had gone back to the
patch. "Down under she's a pretty decent sort."

For a time Penny and Jerry watched the laborers at their work. Heaping
baskets of melons were brought from the patch to the barn. There they
were sorted, stamped, and packed into crates which were loaded into a
truck.

"Nice looking melons," the reporter remarked. "Mrs. Davis should make a
pretty fair profit."

An elderly workman, who was sorting melons, glanced sideways at Jerry,
grinning in a knowing way.

"Maybe," he said.

"What do you mean by that?" Jerry questioned him.

"Sellin' melons is a speculative business," the old fellow shrugged. "You
ain't sure o' anything until your harvest is sold and you get the money
in your fist."

Penny and Jerry watched the sorting work for a few minutes longer and
then returned to the car.

"You know, for a minute I thought that old duffer was hinting at
something," the reporter remarked. "He acted as if it would give him real
pleasure to see something happen to Mrs. Davis' melons."

"Oh, I didn't take it that way," Penny responded. "He was only waxing
philosophical."

The hour was late. Knowing that he might be wanted at the _Star_ office,
Jerry drove rather fast over the bumpy road.

As the press car sped around a bend, a man who stood leaning against a
fence post, quickly retreated into the woods. His act, however, had drawn
Penny's attention.

"Stop the car, Jerry!" she cried. "There he is again!"

"Who?" demanded the reporter, slamming on brakes.

"I think it's the same man who hid in the cornfield!" Penny exclaimed
excitedly. "It must be Clem Davis!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   10
                          _IN THE MELON PATCH_


"Which way did the fellow go?" Jerry demanded, bringing the car to a
standstill.

"Into the woods," Penny answered tersely.

Leaping from the automobile, they climbed a fence, and reached the edge
of the woods. Pausing there, they listened intently. No sound could be
heard, not even the crackling of a stick.

"This timber land extends for miles," said Jerry. "We'd only waste time
playing hide and seek in there. Our best bet is to notify Sheriff Daniels
and let him throw a net around the entire section."

"I guess you're right," Penny acknowledged regretfully.

Making all haste to Riverview, they stopped briefly at the sheriff's
office to make their report. Penny then said goodbye to Jerry and went to
the newspaper building where she had parked Leaping Lena. The car would
not start. Experienced in such matters, Penny raised the hood and posed
beside it, a picture of a young lady in deep distress. Soon a taxi-cab
cruised along.

"Having trouble, sister?" the driver asked.

Penny slammed down the hood, and scrambled into Leaping Lena.

"Just give me a little push," she instructed briskly.

Obligingly, the taxi driver backed into position behind Leaping Lena.
After the two cars had gathered speed, Penny shifted gears. Lena
responded with an ailing cough and then a steady chug.

"Thanks!" Penny shouted, waving farewell to her benefactor. "I'll return
the favor someday."

"Not with that mess of junk!" the taxi man laughed.

By keeping the motor running at high speed, Penny reached home without
mishap. Her father had arrived ahead of her, she noted, for the maroon
car had been put away for the night.

Locking the garage doors, Penny entered the house by way of the kitchen.

"Where's Dad?" she asked the housekeeper, absently helping herself to a
freshly baked cookie.

"Listen, and I think you can tell," Mrs. Weems answered.

A loud hammering noise came from the basement. Inspired by an
advertisement of Waldon's Oak Paneling, Mr. Parker had decided to wall up
the recreation room without the services of a carpenter. Much of his
spare time was spent carrying on a personal feud with boards which
refused to fit into the right places.

"Poor Dad," Penny grinned as she heard a particularly loud exclamation of
wrath. "I'll go down and drip a few consoling words."

Descending the stairs, she stood watching her father from the doorway of
the recreation room.

"Hello, Penny," he said, looking over his shoulder. "You may as well make
yourself useful. Hold this board while I nail it in place."

"All right, but be careful where you pound. Remember, I have only two
hands and I prize them both."

With Penny holding the board, Mr. Parker nailed it to the underpinning.

"Well, what do you think of the job?" he asked, standing back to admire
his work.

"As a carpenter you're a very good editor," Penny answered with
exaggerated politeness. "Aren't walls supposed to come together at the
corners?"

"I made a little mistake in my calculations. Later on I may build a
corner cupboard to cover up the slight gap."

"Slight!" Penny chuckled. "Dad, if I were you I wouldn't get tangled up
in any more carpenter jobs. It's too hard on your disposition."

"I never was in a better mood in my life," Mr. Parker insisted. "Good
reason, too. At last I've got the best of Mr. Ben Bowman!"

"Bowman?" Penny inquired in a puzzled tone.

"That crank who keeps sending me collect messages."

"Oh, to be sure! I'd forgotten about him."

"He sent another telegram today," Mr. Parker declared, smiling grimly. "I
suspected it came from him and refused to pay for it."

"Bravo," Penny approved. "I knew you could get the best of that fellow if
you just put your mind to it."

On the floor above a telephone rang, but neither of them paid any heed,
knowing that Mrs. Weems would answer. In a moment the housekeeper called
down the stairway, telling Mr. Parker he was wanted on the 'phone.

"It's Mr. DeWitt from the office," she informed him.

Putting aside his hammer, Mr. Parker went upstairs. Soon he returned to
the basement, his manner noticeably subdued.

"What's the matter, Dad?" Penny inquired curiously. "You look as if you
had just received a stunning blow."

"DeWitt telephoned to tell me the _Star_ lost an important story today."

"How did that happen, Dad?"

"Well, a correspondent wired in the news, but by accident the message
never reached DeWitt's desk."

Penny regarded her father shrewdly. "Ben Bowman's telegram?"

"I'm afraid it was," Mr. Parker admitted. "The message came to two
dollars. I didn't know DeWitt had hired a correspondent at the town of
Altona. Naturally I jumped to conclusions."

"So you lost a news story because you refused a bona fide telegram,"
Penny said, shaking her head. "Ben Bowman scores again."

"You see what I'm up against," the editor growled. "I'd give a hundred
dollars to be rid of that pest."

"You really mean it?" Penny demanded with interest.

"My peace of mind would be well worth the price."

"In that case, I may apply my own brain to the task. I could use a
hundred dollars."

The discussion was interrupted by Mrs. Weems who called that dinner was
ready. As Mr. Parker went to his usual place at the dining room table, he
saw a yellow envelope lying on his plate.

"What's this?" he demanded sharply.

"A telegram," explained Mrs. Weems. "It came only a moment ago. I paid
the boy."

"How much was the message?" the editor asked, his face grim.

"A dollar and a half." Mrs. Weems regarded her employer anxiously. "Did I
do anything I shouldn't have? I supposed of course you would want me to
accept the message."

"This is just too, too good!" Penny chuckled, thoroughly enjoying the
situation. "Everything so perfectly timed, almost as if it were a play!"

"I don't understand," Mrs. Weems murmured. "I've done something I
shouldn't--"

"It was not your fault," Mr. Parker assured her. "In the future, however,
refuse to accept any collect message."

As her father did not open the telegram, Penny seized upon it.

"This is from a man who calls himself Isaac Fulterton," she disclosed,
glancing at the bottom of the typed page.

"Merely one of Ben Bowman's many names," Mr. Parker sighed.

"Ah, this is a gem!" Penny chuckled, and read aloud: "'Here is a
suggestion for your rotten rag. Why not print it on yellow paper? I know
you will not use it because editors think they know everything. I once
knew a reader who got a little good out of your paper. He used it to
clean the garbage can.'"

"How dreadful!" Mrs. Weems exclaimed, genuinely shocked.

"Penny, if you insist upon reading another line, I shall leave the
table," Mr. Parker snapped. "I've had quite enough of Ben Bowman."

"I'm sorry, Dad," Penny apologized, slipping the message into her pocket.
"I can appreciate that this doesn't seem very funny to you."

The telegram was not mentioned again. Nevertheless, Mr. Parker's good
humor had given way to moody silence, contributing no cheer to the
evening meal. Mrs. Weems kept glancing uneasily at her employer,
wondering if she had offended him. Only Penny, whose appetite never
failed, seemed thoroughly at ease.

"Dad," she said suddenly. "I have an idea how Ben Bowman might be
trailed!"

"Never mind telling me," her father answered. "I prefer not to hear his
name mentioned."

"As you like," she shrugged. "I'll shroud myself in mystery and silence
as I work. But when the case is ended, I'll present my bill!"

Actually, Penny held slight hope that ever she would be able to turn the
elusive Ben Bowman over to the police. The wily fellow was far too clever
ever to file two messages from the same telegraph office, and very seldom
from the same city. However, the town of Claymore, from which the last
message had been sent, was only fifty-five miles away. It had occurred to
her that by going there she might obtain from telegraph officials the
original message filed.

"In that way I'd at least have Ben Bowman's signature," she reflected.
"While it wouldn't be much, it represents a start."

Always, Penny's greatest problem was insufficient time. Greatly as she
desired to drive to Claymore, she knew it would be out of the question
for several days. Not only must arrangements for the orphans' melon party
be completed, but other interests demanded attention.

Temporarily dismissing Ben Bowman from her mind, Penny devoted herself to
plans for the outing. Cars easily were obtained, and the following night,
sixty excited orphans were transported to the Davis farm. With shrieks of
laughter, the boys and girls took possession of the melon patch.

"Pick all you like from the vines," Penny called, "but don't touch any of
the crated ones."

In the yard not far from the storage barn stood a truck loaded with
melons which were ready for the market.

"This must represent the cream of Mrs. Preston's crop," Jerry remarked,
lifting the canvas which covered the load. "Maybe she'll be luckier than
her neighbors, the Doolittles."

"What happened to them?" Penny asked, surprised by the remark.

"Don't you ever read the _Star_?"

"I didn't today. Too busy. Tell me about the Doolittles, Jerry."

"Mr. Doolittle was taking a load of melons to market. Another truck
brushed him on the River road. The melon truck upset, and the entire
shipment was lost."

"Can't he get damages?"

"Doolittle didn't learn who was responsible."

"Was it an accident or done deliberately?" Penny asked thoughtfully.

"Sheriff Daniels thinks it was an accident. I'm inclined to believe the
Black Hoods may have had something to do with it."

"Why should anyone wish to make trouble for Mr. Doolittle, Jerry? All his
life he has stayed on his little truck farm, and strictly attended to his
own affairs."

"There's only one possible reason so far as I know," the reporter
answered. "Not long ago Doolittle refused to join the Holloway County
Cooperative, an organization that markets crops for the truck farmers."

"And you believe the Hoods may be connected with the Cooperative?"

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," Jerry replied hastily. "Fact is,
the Holloway Cooperative always has had a good reputation."

"There's no question the Preston barn was destroyed by the Hoods," Penny
said reflectively. "Although the evidence pointed to Clem Davis, I've
never felt satisfied he was guilty."

"Same here," agreed Jerry. "Another thing, I keep mulling over what that
melon sorter said yesterday."

"You mean his hint that something might happen to Mrs. Davis' crop?"

"Yeah. Maybe he knew more than he let on."

"The Hoods will have to work fast if they destroy the Davis melons,"
Penny rejoined. "Besides, didn't the sheriff uncover proof that Clem
Davis is a member of the organization?"

"That's what he says. I wonder about that too."

Not far from the truck was a small pile of discarded melons, culls which
were misshapen or over-ripe. Selecting one, Jerry tossed it into the air
and caught it.

"Just the right size for a hand grenade," he remarked. "Watch!"

He threw the melon hard against the barn. It burst against the siding,
breaking into a dozen fragments and leaving an unsightly blotch of oozing
seeds.

"Jerry, you shouldn't do that," Penny chided. "Mrs. Davis won't like it."

"Okay, I'll be good," the reporter promised. "The temptation was just too
strong to resist."

By this time, the hubbub in the melon patch had slightly subsided as the
youngsters gained their fill of cantaloupe. Soon institution officials
began to pilot the children to the waiting cars. Several lads protested
at the early termination of the party.

"Do let the boys stay awhile longer," Penny pleaded. "Jerry and I will
bring them back in a few minutes."

"Very well," the matron consented. "But don't allow them to eat so many
melons that they will be sick."

The responsibility of looking after six orphans weighed heavily upon
Penny. After the cars had driven away, she and Jerry patrolled the patch,
trying vainly to maintain order. With institution authorities no longer
present, the boys proceeded to enjoy themselves. They ran races down the
furrows, lassoed one another with vines, and pelted ripe melons against
the fence posts.

"Hey, you little hoodlums!" Jerry shouted. "Cut it out or you'll go back
to the Home pronto!"

"Says who?" mocked one saucy little fellow in a piping voice.

"Quiet everyone!" commanded Penny suddenly. "Listen!"

In the silent night could be heard the clatter of horses' hoofs. Jerry
whirled around, gazing toward the entrance to the lane. Two horsemen,
black hoods covering their faces, rode at a hard gallop toward the
storage barn.



                                CHAPTER
                                   11
                             _PENNY'S CLUE_


"The nightshirt riders!" Jerry exclaimed. "Duck down, everyone!"

Penny and the six lads from the Riverview Home crouched low, watching the
approach of the two riders.

"One of those men may be Clem Davis, but I doubt it!" muttered Jerry.
"They're here to destroy the crated cantaloupes!"

"Jerry, we can't let them get away with it!" Penny exclaimed. "Why not
pelt them with melons when they get closer?"

"Okay," he agreed grimly, "we'll give 'em a spoiled cantaloupe blitz.
Gather your ammunition, gang, and get ready!"

Screened from the approaching horsemen by trees and bushes, the young
people hastily collected a few over-ripe cantaloupes which were small
enough to throw with accuracy.

Unaware of the barrage awaiting them, the two hooded men rode into the
yard.

"Now!" Jerry gave the signal. "Let 'em have it!"

Taking careful aim, he hurled his own melon with all his strength. It
found its mark, striking one of the men with stunning force, nearly
causing him to fall from the saddle.

Penny and the boys from the orphans' home concentrated their efforts on
the other horseman. While many of their shots were wild, a few went true.
One struck the horse which reared suddenly on her hind legs, unseating
the rider.

"Give it to him!" Jerry shouted, observing that the fallen man was
unhurt.

Handicapped by lack of ammunition, there followed a brief lull in the
battle, as the young people sought to replenish their stock. Seizing the
opportunity, one of the night riders galloped away. The other man, who
had lost his horse, scrambled into the cab of the loaded melon truck.

"He's going to drive off!" Penny cried. "Let's stop him!"

She and Jerry ran toward the truck, but they were too late. The giant
motor started with a roar, and the heavy vehicle rolled out of the yard.

Just then, Mrs. Davis came running from the cabin.

"My melons!" she screamed. "They've taken my melons! Oh, I was afraid
something like this would happen!"

"Maybe I can overtake that fellow," Jerry called to her. "Ride herd on
these kids until I get back!"

As he ran toward his own car, Penny was close at his heels. She slid into
the seat beside him and they raced down the lane.

"Which way did the truck go?" Jerry demanded. "I was so excited I forgot
to notice."

"It turned right. No sign of it now, though."

"The fellow is running without lights to make it harder for us to follow
him."

Jerry and Penny both were hopeful that they could overtake the truck,
which carried a heavy load. However, they had been delayed several
minutes in getting started, and as the miles fell behind them, they
caught no glimpse of the man they pursued.

"He must have turned off on that little side road we passed a quarter of
a mile back," Penny declared in discouragement. "Switch off the engine a
minute."

Bringing the car to a standstill, Jerry did as instructed. Both listened
intently. From far over the hills they thought they could hear the
muffled roar of a powerful motor.

"You're right, Penny! He turned off at that side road!" Jerry exclaimed,
backing the coupe around. "We'll get him yet!"

Retracing their route, they started down the narrow rutty highway. Five
minutes later, rounding a sharp bend, they caught their first glimpse of
the truck, a dark object silhouetted in the moonlight. Only for a moment
did it remain visible, and then, descending a hill, was lost to view.

"We're gaining fast," Jerry said in satisfaction. "It won't be long now."

The coupe rattled over a bridge. For no reason at all it began to bump, a
loud pounding noise coming from the rear of the car.

"Gracious! What now?" Penny exclaimed.

"A flat," Jerry answered tersely. "Just our luck."

Pulling up at the side of the road, he jumped out to peer at the tires.
As he had feared, the left rear one was down.

"We'll probably lose that fellow now," he said irritably.

With Penny holding a flashlight, the reporter worked as fast as he could
to change the tire. However, nearly fifteen minutes elapsed before the
task had been accomplished.

"We may as well turn back," he said, tossing tools into the back of the
car. "How about it?"

"Oh, let's keep on a little farther," Penny pleaded. "If we drive fast we
might still overtake him."

Without much hope, they resumed the pursuit. Tires whined a protest as
they swung around sharp corners, and the motor began to heat.

"This old bus can't take it any more," Jerry declared, slackening speed
again. "No sense in ruining the car."

Penny had been watching the road carefully. They had passed no bisecting
highways, so she felt certain that the truck could not have turned off.
On either side of the unpaved thoroughfare were lonely stretches of swamp
and woods.

"Let's not turn back yet," she pleaded. "We still have a chance."

"Okay," Jerry consented, "but don't forget we have six orphans waiting
for us at the Davis place."

The car went on for another eight miles. Then came a welcome stretch of
pavement.

"We must be getting near the state line," Jerry remarked. "Yeah, there it
is."

Directly ahead was a tiny brick building with an official waiting to
inspect cars which passed beyond that point. A series of markers warned
the motorist to halt at the designated place.

As Jerry drew up, a man came from the little building.

"Carrying any shrubs, plants or fruit?" he began but the reporter cut him
short.

"We're following a stolen truck!" he exclaimed. "Has a red truck loaded
with cantaloupes gone through here tonight?"

"I checked one about fifteen minutes ago."

"Fifteen minutes!" Jerry groaned. "That finishes us."

"The trucker could have reached Claymore by this time," the inspector
responded. "Once in the city you wouldn't have much chance to pick him
up. I have the truck license number though. If you'll give me all the
facts, I'll make a report to Claymore police."

There was no point in pursuing the thief farther. Accordingly, Penny and
Jerry provided the requested information, and then drove to the Davis
farm. Regretfully, they told Mrs. Davis of their failure to trace the
melon thief.

"I've lost my crop, the truck--everything," she said in a crushed voice.
"What's the use trying anyhow? A body would be smarter to go along with
'em than to try to fight."

"I take it you have a pretty fair idea who it was that came here
tonight?" Jerry said shrewdly. "Who are these Hoods?"

"I don't dare tell you," the woman answered fearfully. "You saw what they
did tonight. They threw the blame of the Preston fire on Clem. They'll do
worse things if I don't keep mum."

"You want to help your husband, don't you?" Penny inquired.

"Of course I do! But I know better than to talk."

"You've been warned?" Jerry pursued the subject.

"Yes, I have. Now don't ask me any more questions. I've told you too much
already."

"I just want to know one thing," Jerry said relentlessly. "Did your
trouble start because you and your husband refused to join the Holloway
Cooperative?"

"Maybe it did," the woman answered, her voice barely above a whisper. "I
ain't saying."

It was apparent to Jerry and Penny that they could expect no assistance
from Mrs. Davis. Although the events of the night had convinced them that
Clem Davis was innocent, others would not share their opinion. They felt
that by shielding the guilty parties, Mrs. Davis was adopting a very
stupid attitude.

"Come along, Penny," Jerry said with a shrug. "Let's be moving."

Six reluctant orphans were rounded up from the hay loft where a
boisterous game of hide and seek was in progress.

"I can jam four into my coupe if you can handle the other two in your
car," Jerry remarked to Penny. "If they make you any trouble, just toot
the horn twice, and I'll come back and settle with 'em!"

"Oh, we'll get along fine," she smiled. "Come along, boys."

"Here's a souvenir to remember the night by," Jerry said. From the ground
he picked up two melons which he handed to the orphans. "Just don't sock
the matron with them when you get back to the Home!"

"Jerry, let me see one of those melons!" Penny exclaimed suddenly. "They
fell from the truck, didn't they?"

"I guess so," Jerry responded, surprised by her display of interest.
"What about 'em?"

"I'll show you."

Turning on the dash light of the car, Penny held the melon in its warm
glow. Slowly, she turned it in her hands.

"There!" she said, pointing to a tiny triangle shaped marking on the
cantaloupe. "This may prove a clue which will lead to the capture of the
thief!"

"I don't get it," answered Jerry. "What clue?"

"Why, this stamping on the melon!" she replied excitedly. "The Hoods must
intend to sell that load of cantaloupes. If they do, we may be able to
trace the shipment."



                                CHAPTER
                                   12
                        _ADELLE'S DISAPPEARANCE_


Jerry took the melon from Penny's hand to examine it.

"This stamp may be helpful," he said dubiously, "but I doubt it. The
Hoods never would be so stupid as to sell melons which could be traced.
No, I think our investigation will have to center close at home."

"You're referring to the Holloway Cooperative, Jerry?"

"That outfit certainly merits an investigation. In the morning I'll jog
out to their packing plant and talk to the manager, Hank Holloway."

"What time will you be going, Jerry?"

"About nine o'clock probably."

"Perhaps I'll meet you there," Penny said thoughtfully. "That is, if you
don't mind."

"Glad to have you," the reporter responded in a hearty voice.

The two cars soon started for the Riverview Orphans' Home, arriving there
without mishap. After unloading the boys entrusted to their care, Jerry
and Penny then went to their respective residences.

"I'm glad you came at last," Mrs. Weems remarked as the girl entered the
house. "You're to telephone Miss Anderson at the Riverview Orphans'
Home."

"But I just left there," Penny protested. "When did the call come?"

"About fifteen minutes ago."

Wondering what could be amiss, Penny went to the telephone. In a moment
she was in communication with Miss Anderson, who assisted the matron of
the institution. The young woman's voice betrayed agitation as she
disclosed that following the night's outing, an orphan had been
discovered missing.

"Oh, goodness!" Penny exclaimed, aghast. "One of those six boys?"

Miss Anderson's reply slightly reassured her.

"No, the missing child is a little girl who was not permitted to attend
the party because of a severe cold. You may remember her--Adelle."

"Indeed I do, Miss Anderson. Tell me how I may help."

"We've already organized searching parties," the young woman returned.
"Adelle surely will be found within a few hours. However, if the story
gets out it will do the institution no good--particularly at this time
when our drive for funds is on."

"I see," Penny murmured, "you would like the news kept out of the
_Star_?"

"Can it be arranged?" Miss Anderson asked eagerly. "If you will talk to
your father about it we'll be very grateful."

"I'll ask him not to print the story," Penny promised, none too pleased
by the request. "I do hope Adelle is found soon."

She could not help feeling that the institution officials seemed far more
worried about the prospect of unfavorable publicity than over the missing
child's welfare. Saying goodbye to Miss Anderson, she sought her father
who was reading in the library.

"Penny, you know I don't like to grant such favors," Mr. Parker frowned
when the conversation was repeated to him. "As a matter of principle, it
never pays to withhold information unless the telling will harm innocent
persons."

"In this case, it will damage the institution," Penny argued quietly.
"Besides, I feel more or less responsible. What started out as a nice
little party for the orphans, ended in a regular brawl. It was planned
primarily for Adelle and then she ran away because she wasn't permitted
to attend."

Starting at the very beginning, Penny told her father everything that had
happened during the night. The tale was one of absorbing interest to Mr.
Parker. When she had finished, he said:

"Don't worry about the affair, Penny. I am as interested in the Riverview
Camp fund as you are. We'll give the institution no unfavorable
publicity."

"Oh, thanks, Dad!" she cried gratefully, wrapping her arms about his
neck. "You're just grand!"

"Weak as water, you mean," he corrected with a chuckle. "By the way, I
suppose you know that your friend Blake has been named to the Camp Fund
board."

"No!" Penny exclaimed. "How did that happen?"

"He hinted to Mrs. Van Cleve that he would like to serve. Naturally,
after his handsome donation, she couldn't refuse."

"Why do you suppose Mr. Blake has taken such a sudden interest in the
Home?"

"I wonder myself. I've thought from the first that he's up to something.
So far I've not been able to figure out his little game."

"Well, you're on the board too," Penny declared, undisturbed. "If he
starts any monkey business you can put a quick stop to it."

"I fear you overestimate my talents," Mr. Parker responded. "However, I
do intend to see that Blake doesn't profit too much by his donation."

The hour was late and Penny soon went to bed. Disturbed by Adelle's
disappearance, she did not sleep well. Arising early, she telephoned the
Orphans' Home, hoping to learn that the child had been found. No such
good news awaited her.

"Searchers have looked everywhere between here and the Davis farm," Miss
Anderson revealed. "Unless the child is found by noon, it will be
necessary to broadcast a general alarm. And that's certain to bring
unfavorable attention to the Home."

"Is there any chance she could have been kidnaped?" Penny asked
thoughtfully.

"Not the slightest," was the prompt reply. "Adelle took most of her
clothes with her. It's a plain case of a runaway, but most annoying at
this time."

Penny ate a hasty breakfast, and then remembering her appointment with
Jerry, drove to the Holloway Cooperative. The buildings were of modern
concrete construction, located three and a half miles from Riverview in
the heart of the truck farming district.

Jerry Livingston had not yet arrived, so Penny waited in the car. Soon
his coupe swung into the drive and pulled up alongside Leaping Lena.

"Sorry to be late," he apologized. "I was held up at the office."

Knowing that her father would have told Jerry about Adelle's
disappearance, Penny inquired regarding the latest news.

"So far there's not a trace of the child," the reporter answered. "Your
father's sore at himself for promising not to carry the story. It may
develop into something big."

Penny walked beside Jerry to the entrance of the cooperative plant.

"No one seems to worry much about Adelle," she remarked. "The institution
people are afraid of unfavorable publicity, Dad's alarmed about his
story, while you and I are just plain indifferent."

"I'm not indifferent," Jerry denied. "In a way I feel responsible for
that kid. But what can we do?"

"Nothing, I guess," acknowledged Penny unwillingly. "Miss Anderson said
they had enough searchers."

Opening the door of the building, they stepped into a huge room which
hummed with activity. Girls in uniforms stood at long tables inspecting
melons which moved on an endless belt arrangement before them. Sorted as
to quality and size, each cantaloupe was stamped and packed in a crate
which was then borne away.

"Hank Holloway around here?" Jerry asked one of the workers.

"Over there," the girl responded, pointing to a burly, red-faced man who
stood at the opposite end of the room.

Jerry and Penny approached the manager of the cooperative.

"Good morning," the man said gruffly, gazing at them critically. "What
can I do for you?"

"We're from the _Star_," Jerry informed. "Do you mind answering a few
questions?"

"I'm pretty busy," Hank Holloway responded, frowning. "What do you want
to know?"

"There's a rumor going the rounds that this cooperative has been forcing
farmers to market their melons through your organization."

"It's a lie!" the manager retorted. "Why they come here begging us to
take their stuff! We get better prices than anyone in this section of the
state, and we pass the profit right back to the farmers."

"How do you account for the depredation that's been going on around here
lately? Who would you say is behind it?"

"What d'you mean, depredation?" Hank Holloway demanded.

"The destruction of the Preston barn just as their melons were ready for
market. Then last night a truck of cantaloupes was stolen from the Davis
place."

"That so?" the manager asked. "Hadn't heard about it. Clem Davis always
was a worthless, no-good. It wouldn't surprise me that he covered his
harvest with plenty of insurance, and then arranged the snatch so he
could collect."

"That hardly seems reasonable," Jerry said dryly.

"You asked for my opinion and I'm giving it to you. The Davis melons were
so inferior we wouldn't handle them at the cooperative."

"Why, I thought their cantaloupes were particularly fine ones!" Penny
protested.

"I don't know what you two are trying to get at!" Hank Holloway said with
sudden anger. "The Cooperative does business in a fair and square way.
Our books are open for inspection at any time. Now you'll have to excuse
me, for I've got work to do."

With a curt nod, he turned away.

Penny and Jerry wandered about the room for a few minutes, watching the
packers. They did not much blame Hank Holloway for showing irritation.
Their questions had been very pointed and the man had immediately guessed
that their purpose was to uncover facts detrimental to the Cooperative.

"We learned about as much as I expected to," Jerry said with a shrug, as
he and Penny finally left the building. "Naturally one couldn't hope he'd
break down and confess all."

"What did you really think of him, Jerry?"

"Hard to say," the reporter answered. "He's a rough and ready sort, but
that's not against him. There's no real reason to believe he's
crooked--just a hunch of mine."

Having been assigned to cover a board meeting, Jerry hurriedly said
goodbye to Penny. Left to herself, she drove slowly toward Riverview.

"Since I am so near Seth McGuire's place, I may as well stop for a minute
or two," she thought impulsively.

Despite many exciting events, Penny had not lost interest in the Hubell
clock. Although it seemed reasonable that a faulty mechanism had caused
it to strike thirteen, such an explanation did not completely satisfy
her. She was eager to learn from the former caretaker if the difficulty
had been corrected.

Leaving her car by the main road, Penny went directly to the shop. The
door was closed and locked. However, as she turned away, she distinctly
heard a voice inside the building. Although she could not make out the
words, she was certain that a child had called.

"Who is it?" she shouted.

"Help! Let me out!" came the plaintive cry from inside the shop.

Penny ran to the window and peered into the dark interior. She scarcely
was able to believe what she saw. A little girl, her face streaked with
tears and dirt, pounded fiercely on the heavy door, seeking release.

"It's Adelle!" she gasped. "How in the world did she get locked in Mr.
McGuire's shop?"



                                CHAPTER
                                   13
                           _AN EXTRA STROKE_


With all the windows and the door of the shop locked, Penny did not know
how to free the imprisoned child. However, as she considered the problem,
Seth McGuire appeared on the porch of the cottage.

"Good morning," he greeted her pleasantly.

"Oh, Mr. McGuire!" Penny exclaimed. "Did you know there is a child locked
inside your shop?"

"A child!" the old man exclaimed, coming quickly down the steps. "Why
bless me! How can that be?"

"I don't understand how she got inside, but she's there! Officials of the
Riverview Orphans' Home have been searching for Adelle Hanover since last
night."

"Wait until I get my key," the old man said in an agitated voice. "I hope
you don't think I locked the child into the shop!"

Knowing Mr. McGuire as she did, Penny entertained no such thought. Waving
encouragingly to Adelle through the window, she waited for the old man to
return.

"I locked the door about eleven o'clock last night," he explained,
fumbling nervously with the key. "The little girl must have stolen in
there sometime between six o'clock and that hour."

The old man's hand shook so that he could not unlock the door. Taking the
key, Penny did it for him. Adelle, her hair flying wildly about her face,
stumbled out of the shop.

"I'm hungry," she sobbed. "It was cold in there, and a big rat kept
running around. Why did you lock me inside?"

"Why, bless you," Mr. McGuire murmured, "I never dreamed anyone was
inside the shop! How did you get in there?"

"I went inside last night and hid," Adelle explained in a calmer voice.
"It was cold outside and I had to have some place to sleep."

"You never should have run away from the Home," Penny reproved. "Why did
you do it?"

"Because I don't like it there," the child answered defiantly. "I'll
never be adopted like the other children."

"Why, how silly!" Penny answered. "Of course someone will adopt you."

Adelle shook her head. "Miss Anderson says I won't be--I heard her tell
the matron. It's on account of a nervous 'fliction. I'm afraid of things,
'specially cars."

"That's very natural, everything considered," Penny replied, thinking of
the story Miss Anderson had told her. "Now I'll take you to the Home."

Adelle drew away, and as if seeking protection, crowded close beside Mr.
McGuire.

"I'm never going back, even if I freeze and starve!" she announced. "I'll
find me a cave and live on berries. It would be more fun than being an
orphan."

Penny gazed despairingly at the old bell maker. With a chuckle, he took
the child by the hand and led her toward the cottage.

"We'll have lunch and talk things over," he proposed. "How will that be?"

"I'm awful hungry," Adelle admitted, smiling up at him. "But you won't
give me any old boiled potatoes, will you? We have 'em every single day
at the Home."

"No potatoes," he laughed. "We'll have the very nicest things I can find
in the icebox, and maybe a stick of candy to top it off."

While Mr. McGuire pottered about the kitchen preparing a warm meal, Penny
washed Adelle and combed her tangled hair. Afterwards, she telephoned
officials of the Home, telling them that the child had been found.

"I'll bring her there within an hour," she promised. "Just as soon as she
has had her lunch."

Adelle was ravenous. She was not a pretty child, but her face had an
elfin quality when she smiled. Her brown eyes, roving about the spick and
span little dinette, took in every detail.

"This is almost as nice as it was at our home," she remarked. "I mean my
real home, when Daddy and Mother were alive."

"You'll have a nice place again when you are adopted," Penny assured her
kindly.

"I'd like to stay here," Adelle said, looking thoughtfully at the old
man. "Would your wife let me?"

"Why, bless you, I haven't a wife," he answered in embarrassment. "I'm a
bachelor."

"Wouldn't you like a little girl?" Adelle persisted. "I could do your
dishes for you and sweep the floor. I'd be real good."

"Well, now I've often thought I would like a nice little girl," he
replied, smiling.

"Then you can have me!" Adelle cried, jumping up from her chair. "You can
tell the Home I won't be back!"

"Not so fast, not so fast," Mr. McGuire said hastily. "I'd like a little
girl, but I am afraid I can't afford one. You see, I don't make much
money any more and there are other reasons--"

"Oh, I won't eat much," Adelle promised. "Please keep me, Mr. McGuire."

The old man was so distressed that Penny tried to come to his rescue.
However, despite repeated explanations, Adelle refused to understand why
she could not immediately become Mr. McGuire's little girl.

"If I had my old job back, I'd be tempted, sorely tempted," the old man
said to Penny. "I've always wanted someone that was near and dear to me."
He drew a deep sigh. "As things are, I don't see how it could be worked
out."

"Won't you keep thinking about it?" Adelle pleaded. "Anytime you want me,
I'll come right away."

"Yes, I'll think about it," Mr. McGuire promised soberly. "I really
will."

An hour later Penny took a very depressed Adelle back to the Riverview
Orphans' Home. Leaving her there, she drove on into town, chancing to see
her chum, Louise Sidell on the street. Signalling her with a toot of the
horn, Penny swung wide the door.

"On your way home, Lou?" she inquired.

"No, just wandering around in a daze trying to do a bit of shopping,"
Louise answered, sharing the seat. "The stores here never have anything I
want."

"Then why not go to Claymore?" Penny proposed suddenly.

"I would if I could get there."

"I'll take you," Penny offered. "I need to go to Claymore on special
business, and I'd like to have someone ride along."

"Well, I don't know," Louise replied dubiously. "I doubt Leaping Lena
would stand such a long trip."

"Oh, I'll take the other car."

"In that case the answer is 'yes,'" Louise replied instantly.

Penny drove directly home to exchange cars and tell Mrs. Weems where she
was going.

"Louise and I may not be back until very late," she warned. "It's barely
possible we'll attend the theatre while we're at Claymore. There's a new
play on, and everyone says it's grand."

"If you drive after night, be very careful," the housekeeper responded
uneasily. "There are so many accidents these days."

A brief stop was made at the Sidell residence, and then the girls took to
the road. Deliberately, Penny selected the same route which she and Jerry
had followed the previous night.

"Is that why we're going to Claymore?" Louise inquired curiously, as she
heard the story of what had happened to the Davis truck. "You intend to
trace those stolen melons?"

"I haven't much hope of doing that," Penny answered. "I want to visit the
telegraph office and get an original message which was sent to Dad. His
life has been made miserable by a pest who keeps sending him telegrams,
and I'm out to catch the rascal."

"You jump around from one thing to another so fast I can't keep track of
your enterprises," Louise sighed.

"I concentrate on the ones which offer a prospect of ready cash," Penny
rejoined with a laugh. "If I catch Mr. Ben Bowman it means exactly one
hundred dollars to me!"

Upon reaching Claymore, the girls spent two hours shopping at the large
department stores. Penny then made a tour of the telegraph offices,
finally locating the one from which Mr. Bowman's message had been sent.
After explaining why she wished it, she was allowed to inspect and keep
the original copy which bore the sender's signature.

"I'll turn this handwriting over to the police," she explained to Louise.
"They may be able to trace Ben Bowman by means of it."

"Providing the man ever comes to Riverview," Louise said skeptically. "It
seems like a forlorn hope to me."

Before leaving the office, Penny inquired of the clerk who had handled
the message if a description of Ben Bowman could be provided.

"I really don't remember him," the young woman answered. "In general I
should say he was well-dressed--probably about thirty-five years of age."

"Not much to go on," Penny said regretfully. "Thanks anyhow."

"Where now?" Louise asked in a weary voice as they finally left the
telegraph office. "Shall we buy tickets to the play?"

"Not yet," said Penny. "I'd like to wander around the market district a
bit."

For the next hour they did exactly that, selecting a section of the city
where farmers brought their produce to sell in open stalls. Penny went
from one counter to another, inspecting cantaloupes, hoping to find one
which bore the Davis stamp.

"I'm getting tired of pawing vegetables!" Louise presently complained.
"When do we eat?"

"All right, we may as well call it a day," Penny replied reluctantly.

In the downtown section of the city, the girls found a small cafe which
advertised a deluxe dinner for one dollar. Treating themselves to the
best, they enjoyed a leisurely meal, and then bought theatre tickets.

"Penny, do you realize what all this is costing us?" Louise began to
worry belatedly.

"Oh, I'll soon make it up," Penny joked. "Wait until I capture Ben
Bowman! With my profit from him we'll paint the town red!"

"You're nothing if not optimistic," Louise said pityingly.

The play was an excellent one and when the curtain fell at eleven,
neither girl begrudged the money paid for tickets.

"It's been a grand day," Louise sighed contentedly as they left the
theatre. "Let's get home now as quickly as we can."

The drive to Riverview consumed nearly an hour. As the girls approached
the Hubell Tower, they noted by the illuminated clock face that the hands
pointed to twelve o'clock.

"The witching hour of midnight," Louise remarked. "Do you still think
that mechanical creature has supernatural powers?"

"Quiet!" Penny commanded, idling the car as the big clock began to
strike. "I'm going to count the strokes."

"I'll do it too, just so you can't pull a fast one on me. That's two
now."

As each slow note sounded, Louise counted it aloud. Reaching twelve, she
paused, but the clock did not. There was a slight break, then another
stroke.

"Why, it did strike thirteen!" she gasped. "Or perhaps I became mixed
up!"

"You made no mistake," Penny declared, easing the car to a standstill by
the curb. "It struck thirteen, and that last stroke wasn't like the
others!"

"It did seem to have a slightly different tone. I wonder why?"

"Someone may have struck the bell an extra tap!" Penny answered with
conviction. "Louise, don't you see! It must be a signal!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   14
                          _THROUGH THE WINDOW_


"You have the craziest ideas, Penny," Louise scoffed. "I'll admit the
clock struck an extra time, but it must have been because something is
wrong with the mechanism. A signal, my eye!"

Lowering the car window, Penny peered curiously up at the tower which was
shrouded in fog and mist.

"Lou, there's someone up there in the cupola! It may be Charley Phelps!"

"You can't make a mystery out of Charley," yawned Louise. "Probably he's
trying to repair the clock. Come on, let's get home."

Reluctantly, Penny raised the window glass. Before she could drive on,
another car pulled up not far from the tower. The driver, a man in an
overcoat, swung open the door as if to alight. However, observing Penny's
car parked close by, he seemed to change his mind. Keeping his head
lowered so that his face was shadowed, he drove away.

"Who was that man?" Penny demanded suspiciously.

"I'm afraid I neglected to inquire," Louise retorted. "So careless of
me!"

"Whoever he was, he intended to enter the tower! When he saw us here, he
became nervous and drove away!"

"Oh, Penny, you're the limit."

"Maybe I am, but I know what I think. The striking of the clock was a
signal for some sort of meeting at the tower!"

"A board of directors confab perhaps?" teased Louise.

"Listen!" said Penny, ignoring the jibes. "I want to park the car on a
side street, and then come back here afoot. Something is up and I mean to
find out about it!"

"Oh, Penny," Louise sighed. "If I don't get home Mother never will allow
me to go anywhere with you again. Don't you realize what time it is?"

"Thirteen o'clock!" Penny chuckled. "It may never be that again, so I
must strike while the clock strikes, so to speak. How about it?"

"Well, it's your car," Louise replied with a shrug. "I'm powerless in
your hands."

Penny drove around a block, parking on a well-lighted street. She and
Louise then approached the tower afoot. Not wishing to be seen, they took
care to keep close to a high hedge which edged the grounds.

"I never felt more silly in my life," Louise complained. "What are we
supposed to do now?"

"Windows were made to look through," Penny responded coolly. "Let's see
what Charley Phelps is doing inside the tower."

Circling the building, the girls placed a rock beneath one of the rear
windows. From that unstable perch, Penny was able to peer into the living
quarters of the tower.

"Well, what do you see, Sherlock?" Louise demanded impatiently.

"Nothing."

"How perfectly amazing!" Louise taunted mischievously. "What do you make
of it?"

"Charley Phelps seems to be reading a newspaper."

"Baffling! It must have some deep, dark significance."

With a sigh, Penny stepped down from the rock. "Want to look?" she
invited.

"I do not!"

"Then I guess we may as well go home," Penny said reluctantly.

As she spoke, both girls heard an automobile pull up in front of the
tower. With reviving hope, Penny placed a restraining hand on Louise's
arm, forcing her to wait in the shadow of the building. A minute elapsed
and then the front door of the tower slammed shut. Without the slightest
hesitation, Penny once more moved to her previous position beneath the
window.

"Charley has some visitors," she reported in a whisper. "Four men I never
saw before. I wish I could hear what they are saying."

"Why not smash the window, or saw a hole through the wall?" Louise
proposed sarcastically.

Penny stepped from the rock, offering the place to her chum.

"Do look inside," she urged. "Maybe you'll recognize those men. It's
really important."

Louise unwillingly did as requested, but after a moment moved away from
the window.

"I never saw any of them either," she said. "They must be friends of
Charley Phelps."

"It's a special meeting," Penny insisted. "I suspect other men may come
along within a few minutes."

"I know one thing," Louise announced flatly. "I'll not be here to see
them. If you're not ready to go home, then I shall walk!"

"Oh, all right, I'll go," Penny grumbled. "It seems a pity though, just
when we might have learned something important."

Taking care to remove the stone from beneath the tower window, she
hastened after her chum. In silence they drove to the Sidell home where
Louise alighted.

"Sorry to have spoiled your fun, Penny," she apologized as she said
goodnight. "If you'll only arrange to conduct your explorations by
daylight I'll try to cooperate."

Arriving at her own home a few minutes later, Penny found her father
waiting up for her. Mr. Parker had attended a meeting of the Camp Fund
board, and upon returning at eleven-thirty, had been disturbed to find
his daughter absent.

"Hold it! Hold it!" Penny greeted him before he could speak. "I know it's
late, but I can explain everything."

"You're always able to explain--too well," the editor responded dryly.
"Mrs. Weems expected that you would be home not later than eleven
o'clock."

"Well, one thing just seemed to lead to another, Dad. Louise and I saw a
wonderful show, I obtained a copy of Ben Bowman's signature, and then to
top it off, the Hubell clock struck thirteen again!"

"Which in your estimation explains everything?"

"I wish it did," Penny said, neatly changing the subject. "Dad, Louise
and I saw a number of men going into the tower tonight. Obviously, they
were summoned there by the striking of the clock."

"Tommyrot!"

"Oh, Dad, you haven't a scrap of imagination," Penny sighed. "Has it
never occurred to you that Charley Phelps may be connected with the
Hoods?"

"Never," replied Mr. Parker. "And if I were you I shouldn't go around
making such wild suggestions. You _might_ find yourself involved in
serious trouble."

"You're the only one to whom I've confided my theory, Dad. In fact, it
only this minute occurred to me."

"So I thought, Penny. If I were you I would forget the Hubell clock. Why
not devote yourself to something worthwhile?"

"For instance?"

"I'll provide an interesting job. I've been asked to select play
equipment for the new orphans' camp. I'll be happy to turn the task over
to you."

"Do you think I could do it?" Penny asked dubiously.

"Why not? You can learn from the matron of the Home what is needed, and
then make your selection."

"I'll be glad to do it, Dad. When is the camp to open?"

"The actual date hasn't been set, but it will be soon. That is, unless a
serious disagreement arises about the camp site."

"A disagreement?" Penny inquired curiously.

"Yes, Mr. Blake is trying to influence the board to buy a track of land
which he controls."

"At a very high price?"

"The price seems to be fair enough. I personally don't care for the site,
however. It's located on the river, but too close to the swamp."

"Then why does the board consider it?"

"Mr. Blake gave a very generous donation, you remember. I figured at the
time he would expect something in return."

"He'll profit by the sale?"

"Obviously. I don't know who owns the land, but Blake will receive a
commission on the sale. The board also is considering a wooded property
closer to Riverview, and I favor that site."

"Will the board listen to you, Dad?"

"I rather doubt it. My objections weren't especially vigorous. Either
property will be satisfactory, and Blake's price is a trifle more
attractive."

With a yawn, Mr. Parker arose and locked the front door.

"It's after one," he said. "Let's get to bed."

Penny started up the stairway, only to pause as the telephone rang. While
her father answered it, she waited, curiously to learn who would be
calling at such a late hour. In a moment he replaced the receiver on its
hook.

"That was the night editor of the _Star_," he explained briefly.

"Has a big story broken, Dad?"

"Another storage barn was burned to the ground about ten minutes ago. The
night editor called to ask how I wanted the story handled."

"Then the depredation was done by the Hoods!"

"It looks that way."

Penny came slowly down the stairway to face her father.

"Dad, if the fire was set only a few minutes ago, doesn't that support my
theory?"

"Which theory? You have so many."

"I mean about the Hubell Tower," Penny said soberly. "The clock struck
thirteen on the night the Preston barn was destroyed! Don't you see, Dad?
The Hoods hold their meetings and then ride forth to accomplish their
underhanded work!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   15
                          _TRACING BEN BOWMAN_


"Penny, let's postpone this animated discussion until morning," Mr.
Parker said wearily, reaching to switch out the bridge lamp.

"Then you don't agree with me that the caretaker of the Tower may have
some connection with the Hoods, Dad?" she asked in an injured tone.

"I certainly do not," he answered firmly. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm
going to bed."

Decidedly crestfallen, Penny followed her father upstairs. For several
minutes she stood by the window of her room, gazing toward the Hubell
Tower whose lights could be dimly seen across the city. Then, with a
shrug, she too dismissed the subject from her mind and gave herself to
slumber.

Mr. Parker had gone to the office by the time Penny arose the next
morning. Finding a discarded newspaper by his plate, she eagerly scanned
it for an account of the midnight fire. To her disappointment, only a
brief item appeared on the front page. The story merely said that the
barn of John Hancock, truck farmer, had been destroyed by a blaze of
unknown origin. In the right hand column was another news item to the
effect that Sheriff Daniels had made no progress in tracing the missing
Clem Davis.

Tossing aside the paper, Penny helped with the breakfast dishes. As
gently as possible she broke the news to Mrs. Weems that she might make
another trip to Claymore.

"Why bother to remain home even for meals?" the housekeeper said
severely. "I declare, I don't know what your father is thinking about to
allow you such liberties! When I was a girl--"

"It was considered very daring to go for a buggy ride without a
chaperon," Penny completed mischievously. "Now, I'm very sorry about last
night. Louise and I didn't intend to remain out so late."

"It was after one o'clock when you came in," Mrs. Weems replied, her
voice stern. "You know I don't approve of such hours for a girl of your
age."

"I promise it won't happen again. Please let me go to Claymore though.
I'm expected to buy playground equipment for the Riverview Orphans' new
camp."

Exerting all her charm, Penny explained the necessity for the trip.
Finally convincing Mrs. Weems that the excuse had not been "thought up"
on the spur of the moment, she was granted the requested permission.

Penny's next move was to induce Louise Sidell to accompany her on the
excursion. Both girls laid siege to Mrs. Sidell who somewhat dubiously
said that her daughter might go, providing she would be home by
nightfall.

Recalling her father's instructions, Penny called at the Riverview
Orphans' Home to talk with the matron. There she obtained a list of
playground equipment to be purchased, with suggested prices for each
item.

As the girls were leaving the institution they met Miss Anderson and
paused to inquire about Adelle.

"The child seems to be nervous and unhappy," the young woman told them.
"Especially so since she ran away. We sincerely hope she will presently
become adjusted."

Penny asked if there was any prospect the little girl would be adopted.

"Not very soon," Miss Anderson answered regretfully. "In fact, her name
is not on the list of eligibles. We never allow a child to leave the Home
until we feel that he or she is capable of adapting himself to new
conditions."

The drive to Claymore was an enjoyable one, and by eleven o'clock, the
girls had purchased many of the items on their list. To the amusement of
the department store salesman, they insisted upon testing teeter-totters,
swings, and even the slides.

"All this equipment is for the Riverview Orphans' Home--not for
ourselves," Penny explained. "The committee will pay for it."

"Very well, we'll send the merchandise just as soon as a cheque is
received," the salesman promised, giving her an itemized bill.

Feeling very well satisfied with their purchases, Penny and Louise
wandered into another department of the store. The delightful aroma of
food drew them to a lunch counter, and from there they went to the main
floor.

The store was very crowded. As Penny was inspecting a pair of gloves on a
counter, a man pushed past her, and ran toward the nearest exit. In
surprise she turned around, unintentionally blocking the way of a store
detective. Shoving past her, he pursued the first man only to lose him in
the milling crowd near the front door.

"That fellow must have been a shoplifter!" Penny remarked to Louise. "I
think he got away too!"

The unexpected commotion had drawn the interest of many shoppers.
Mingling with the crowd, the girls heard a woman tell a companion that
the man who had escaped was wanted for attempting to pass a forged
cheque.

A moment later, the store detective came striding down the aisle. Pausing
at the jewelry counter he spoke to the floorman, confirming the report.

"Well, the fellow escaped! He tried to pass a bum cheque for fifty
dollars."

"What name did he use?" the floorman inquired.

"Ben Bowman. It will be something else next time."

Penny had heard the words. Startled by the name, she moved hastily to the
detective's side.

"Excuse me," she addressed him, "did I understand you to say that a man
by the name of Ben Bowman forged a cheque?"

"That's correct, Miss," the detective answered, staring at her curiously.
"Know anything about the man?"

"I think I may. Would it be possible for me to see the cheque?"

The detective removed it from a vest pocket, offering the signature for
inspection. One glance satisfied Penny that the cheque had been signed by
the same man who had been sending her father "crank" messages.

"At home I have a telegram which I'm sure bears this identical
signature!" she revealed. "I've never seen the man though--except as he
ran through the store."

The store detective questioned Penny at length about her knowledge of
Bowman. Realizing that a description of the man might be of great value
to her, he showed her a small card which bore a mounted photograph.

"This is Ben Bowman," he assured her. "He's an expert forger, and uses
any number of names. Think you can remember the face?"

"I'll try to," Penny replied. "He doesn't seem to have any distinguishing
features though."

"His angular jaw is rather noticeable," the detective pointed out. "Brown
eyes are set fairly close together. He's about six feet two and dresses
well."

Penny was highly elated to have gained a description of Bowman, and
especially pleased that the man had been traced to Claymore. The fact
that he was a known forger, encouraged her to hope that police soon would
apprehend him.

"That one hundred dollars Dad offered for Bowman's capture is as good as
mine already," she boasted gleefully to Louise as they left the store.
"All I need to do is wait."

"No doubt you'll collect," Louise admitted grudgingly. "I never met
anyone with your brand of luck."

"I feel especially lucky today too," Penny said with a gay laugh. "Tell
you what! Let's make another tour of the vegetable markets."

"It will make us late in getting home. The time is sure to be wasted
too."

"Oh, come along," Penny urged, seizing her by the arm. "I promise to have
you in Riverview no later than three o'clock."

In driving into Claymore that morning the girls had noticed a large
outdoor market near the outskirts of the city. Returning to it, Penny
parked the car, and with her chum wandered about the sales area.

"A nice fat chicken?" a farm woman asked persuasively, holding up an
uninviting specimen. "Fresh eggs?"

"We're looking for melons," Penny replied.

"Mr. Breldway has some nice cantaloupes," the woman returned. "He got a
truck load of 'em in from Riverview just the other day."

Locating Mr. Breldway's place of business, Louise and Penny began to
inspect the melons offered for sale. Almost at once they came upon a
basket of cantaloupes which bore a blurred stamp.

"Louise, these look like the Davis crop!" Penny cried excitedly.
"Wouldn't you say someone deliberately had blocked out the old marking?"

"It does appear that way."

"Maybe we can find just one melon with the original stamp!"

Penny dug into the basket with both hands, tossing up cantaloupes for
Louise to place on the ground. Their activities immediately drew the
attention and displeasure of Mr. Breldway.

"If you're looking for a good melon let me help you," he said, hurrying
toward them.

Penny straightened, holding up a cantaloupe for him to see.

"I don't need any help," she said distinctly. "I've found the melon I
want. It bears the Davis stamp."



                                CHAPTER
                                   16
                           _A FAMILIAR NAME_


"The melon you have selected is a very good one," the market man
declared, not understanding the significance of Penny's remark. "Shall I
put it in a sack for you?"

"I'm not interested in the melon--only in the stamp," Penny replied. "Do
you realize that you may be liable to arrest?"

"What d'you mean, liable to arrest?" the man demanded. "I'm an honest
dealer and I have a license."

"Look at these melons." Penny held up one which bore the blurred stamp.
"The trade name has been altered."

The dealer took the cantaloupe from her, examining it briefly. She then
offered him the single melon bearing the Davis stamp.

"Well, what about it?" he asked.

"Just this. A few nights ago a truck load of melons similar to these, was
stolen from the Davis farm near Riverview. The thief was trailed right to
this city."

"You're trying to say that I sell stolen melons!"

"I'm not making any direct accusations," Penny replied evenly. "No doubt
you can explain where you got the melons."

"Certainly I can. I bought a truck load of them from a farmer named John
Toby. The melons were good, the price cheap, and I didn't pay any
attention to the stamp."

"Is Mr. Toby a regular dealer?"

"I buy from him now and then, when his prices are right. I never bothered
to ask any questions."

"Where does the man live?"

"I can't tell you that. He's a large, heavy-set fellow with brown hair
and eyes."

The description was too meagre to be of value to Penny.

"Does Mr. Toby drive a red truck?" she inquired thoughtfully.

"He did this last time."

"It was a red truck which was stolen from the Davis farm," Penny said
quietly. "I'm sure these melons came from there too."

"I paid good money for them," the dealer retorted in a defiant tone. "So
far as I knew, they belonged to this fellow Toby. I can't investigate
every farmer who offers me produce."

"All the same, you could get into serious trouble for selling stolen
melons," Penny replied. "Of course, I have no intention of going to the
police, providing you are willing to cooperate."

"What d'you mean, cooperate?" the dealer inquired suspiciously.

"Only this. Will you see John Toby again?"

"That's hard to tell. He said he might bring in another load of melons
within the next few days."

"When you receive the next shipment, will you notify me?"

"Yes, I'm willing to do that," the dealer promised. "If Toby is crooked,
I want to know it myself."

Penny gave the man her name, address, and telephone number. Knowing that
he might not be able to reach her quickly enough, she instructed him to
detain the farmer by force if necessary.

"If I can't get in touch with you, I may have the fellow questioned by
police," the dealer offered. "I don't want to put myself into a hole."

Penny was not entirely satisfied that the market man would keep his
promise. However, she hesitated to make a report to the police without
first consulting her father. Everything considered, it seemed best to let
the situation work out as it would.

"Well, your luck is still running true to form," Louise said jokingly, as
the girls drove toward Riverview. "Do you have any idea who John Toby may
be?"

"Not the slightest," Penny confessed. "The description would fit Hank
Holloway, or for that matter, any one of a dozen men I know."

The girls arrived in Riverview by mid-afternoon after an uneventful trip.
Penny dropped Louise at the Sidell home and then went to the _Star_
office to talk with her father. Mr. Parker was absent from his desk, but
his secretary who was typing letters, explained that he would return in a
moment.

Penny sat down in her father's chair to wait. A bulky, unsealed envelope
lay on the desk. Peering at it curiously she noted that it bore the
marking: "Property Deed: Lots 456, 457, and 458."

"What's this?" she asked aloud. "Is Dad buying property?"

"Oh, no," the secretary replied, glancing up from her typewriter. "That
is the deed and abstract for the Orphans' Camp site."

"I wonder which property it is?"

"The land Mr. Blake controls, I believe. At least he brought the papers
into the office this morning for your father's inspection. I heard him
say that if the forms are satisfactory, the deal will be completed at
once."

Penny unfolded one of the lengthy documents, shaking her head as she
scanned the legal terms.

"I don't see how Dad makes anything of this," she said. "Such a mess of
words and names!"

"I imagine Mr. Parker intends to turn it over to his lawyer," the
secretary smiled.

The editor entered the office at that moment, and Penny directed her next
question to him.

"Dad, is it all settled that the camp board will purchase Mr. Blake's
land?"

"Practically so," he answered. "If my lawyer, Mr. Adams, approves the
abstract, the deal will be completed. Against my advice Mrs. Van Cleve
already has given Blake five hundred dollars to hold an option."

"Why did she do that, Dad?"

"Well, Blake convinced her he had another buyer for the property. It's
the old story. Competition stimulates interest."

"Do the papers seem to be all right?"

"Oh, I've not looked at them," Mr. Parker replied. "Blake is a good real
estate man though, so there's not likely to be any flaw."

"Who actually owns the property, Dad?"

"It's there on the abstract," he answered. "Why not look it up for
yourself?"

"Too much like doing home-work," Penny grinned, but she spread the
document on the desk and began to read various names aloud. "'Anna and
Harry Clark to Lydia Goldwein, Lydia Goldwein to Benjamin Bowman--'"

"What was that name?" Mr. Parker demanded sharply.

"Benjamin Bowman." Penny peered at the document a second time to make
certain she had made no mistake. "That's the truth, Dad. Who knows, maybe
it's your old pal, Ben!"

"Are you making up that name?" Mr. Parker asked skeptically.

Penny thrust the abstract into his hand. "Here, read it for yourself,
Dad. Bowman seems to be the present owner of the land."

Mr. Parker rapidly scanned the document.

"The land is held by a Benjamin Bowman," he admitted, frowning. "A
strange coincidence."

"I never heard of a Bowman family living near Riverview," Penny remarked,
reaching for a telephone book. "Did you?"

"No, but Bowman is a fairly common name."

Turning to the "B" section Penny went through the telephone list.

"There's only one Bowman here," she said, penciling a circle around the
name. "A Mrs. Maud Bowman."

"The name Maud Bowman doesn't appear on the abstract," Mr. Parker
declared, as he studied the document once more. "There's something funny
about this."

"Mr. Blake seemed rather eager to dispose of the land, didn't he?"

"His price was a bit low, which surprised me," Mr. Parker said, thinking
aloud. "Probably everything can be explained satisfactorily."

"Then why not ask Mr. Blake to do it?" Penny proposed. "He should be able
to tell you something about his client."

"That's really a first-class idea," Mr. Parker agreed and he reached for
a telephone. "I'll ask Mr. Blake to come here at once."



                                CHAPTER
                                   17
                            _FALSE RECORDS_


Mr. Blake, suave, completely at ease, sat opposite Mr. Parker and Penny
in the editor's private office.

"I came as soon as I could after receiving your telephone message, Mr.
Parker," he said pleasantly. "Now what seems to be the trouble?"

"Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered you," the editor apologized. "However,
in glancing over the abstract for the Orphans' Camp property I noticed
that the land is owned by a man named Benjamin Bowman."

"Quite true. I am acting as his agent."

"It happens that I have had dealings with a man by that same name,"
resumed Mr. Parker. "Rather unpleasant dealings, I might add. I'm curious
to learn if this property owner is the same fellow."

"Very unlikely, I think," Mr. Blake shrugged. "My client does not reside
in Riverview."

"Nor does the man I have in mind."

"Can you tell us what he looks like?" Penny interposed eagerly.

"I am very sorry, but I can't," Mr. Blake returned. "I've never met Mr.
Bowman."

"Yet you act as his agent?" Mr. Parker inquired in astonishment.

"All our dealings have been by mail or telephone."

"I see," the editor commented reflectively. "Well, at least you can
provide me with the man's address."

"I can't do that either," Mr. Blake declined. "Benjamin Bowman is a
salesman with no permanent address. He communicates with me at fairly
regular intervals, but until I hear from him, I have no idea where he
will be the following week."

"Your description seems to fit the man of my acquaintance," Mr. Parker
said dryly. "But tell me, how do you expect to complete this deal? Will
Bowman come here to sign the necessary papers?"

"Oh, that won't be required. He's already made out the sales documents,
and also given me a power of attorney."

"Mr. Bowman seems to think of everything," Mr. Parker remarked grimly. "I
was hoping for the pleasure of meeting him."

"I really don't see what all this has to do with the sale of the
property," Mr. Blake reproved in a mild voice. "You feel that the site is
a suitable one, and the price right?"

"I have no serious objections to it."

"Then why allow your personal feelings to interfere with the deal?"

"I have no intention of doing so," Mr. Parker answered.

"Then if you'll give your approval, we'll sign the final papers tomorrow
at my office. The dedication of the new camp has been set for the tenth
of the month, and that means no time can be lost."

"Everything seems to have been settled without my approval," Mr. Parker
said, smiling. "However, if you don't mind, I'll keep this abstract a
little longer."

"As you like," the real estate man shrugged. "Have your lawyer go over
the records with a fine tooth comb. He'll find no flaws anywhere."

Arising, Mr. Blake bowed politely and left the office. Penny waited until
she knew that he was a considerable distance from the door before seeking
her father's opinion of the interview.

"Everything may be on the level," he conceded, frowning. "I've no reason
to distrust Blake, and yet I can't help feeling that there's something
peculiar about this land deal."

"Blake has been rushing things through at such a furious rate," Penny
nodded. "Another thing, Ben Bowman is a well-known forger."

"What makes you think that?" the editor asked alertly. "Any real
information?"

Penny revealed everything she had learned that day at Claymore. Mr.
Parker listened attentively, making few comments until she had finished.

"I am more than ever convinced there is something phoney about Bowman's
connection with this affair," he declared grimly. "We'll see what my
lawyer has to say."

Having made up his mind that the transaction merited a thorough
investigation, Mr. Parker personally carried the questionable abstract to
a reliable law firm, Adams and McPherson. The report came back late in
the afternoon, and was relayed to Penny at the dinner table.

"Mr. Adams says that the abstract seems to be drawn up correctly," the
editor disclosed. "He could find no flaw in it or in any of the records
at the court house."

"Then apparently we jumped too hasty to conclusions," Penny remarked in
disappointment.

"I'm not so sure. Mr. Adams tells me that the ownership of the property
is a very muddled affair."

"Muddled?"

"Yes, it has changed hands many times in the past year, and oddly, none
of the buyers or sellers seem to be known in Riverview."

"What does Mr. Adams think about that, Dad?"

"He advises that the records be inspected very carefully. It will take
weeks though, for they are quite involved."

"I suppose that will hold up the opening of the camp."

"It may," Mr. Parker acknowledged. "However, it seems wise to take every
precaution even if the camp isn't opened this year. Too much money is
involved to risk paying for land which may have a faulty title."

The following day, the editor conferred with members of the Camp Fund
board, telling of his findings. To his chagrin, Mrs. Van Cleve did not
share his views.

"I trust Mr. Blake's judgment implicitly," she insisted. "I am sure the
property will be satisfactory in every way. If there should by chance be
any flaw in the title, he would make it good."

"We can't possibly delay the dedication another week," added another
feminine member of the board. "The summer is nearly over now."

"At least postpone making the final payment until after I have had
another report from my lawyers," Mr. Parker pleaded.

"Very well, we'll do that," Mrs. Van Cleve agreed. "Mr. Blake is so
obliging I am sure he will allow us to set up equipment on the land, even
though we don't actually possess title."

The entire transaction seemed very unbusinesslike to Mr. Parker, but he
did not attempt to force his opinion upon the board members. Accordingly,
plans went forward for the grand opening of the camp. Stories appeared
regularly in the _Star_, playground equipment and floored tents were set
up on the camp site, and the actual dedication program was announced.

"You might know Mr. Blake would be invited to make the main speech,"
Penny remarked disapprovingly as she scanned the latest story of the
coming affair. "Every day, in every way, he gives me a bigger and bigger
pain!"

Throughout the week both she and Louise had been very active, helping out
at the new camp site. The land had been cleared of underbrush, trails had
been constructed, and a well dug. While supervising the setting-up of
slides, merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters, Penny upon several occasions
had had disagreements with Mr. Blake. The man remained at the site almost
constantly, imposing his wishes upon everyone.

"A great deal of time and money has been spent getting that place ready
for the dedication," Penny commented to her father. "If anything should
happen that the final papers aren't signed, it would be a pity."

"I've had no report as yet," Mr. Parker answered. "My lawyers tell me
they never delved into a more involved case."

"What does Mr. Blake think about the investigation?"

"He seems to be agreeable. However, I suspect he's been working on the
various board members, trying to get them to conclude the deal without
waiting."

"How long will it be before you'll have a final report, Dad?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "I expected to get it long before this."

In the flurry of preparing for the camp dedication, Penny had no
opportunity to give much thought to other affairs. She did not see Seth
McGuire, the sheriff had nothing to disclose concerning Clem Davis'
disappearance, and the Black Hoods seemed to have become an extinct
organization.

On the morning of the designated date, Penny was abroad early. She and
Louise planned to drive to the dedication exercises together, and wished
to arrive before the grounds were congested. Eating breakfast hurriedly,
Penny scarcely noticed when her father was called to the telephone. He
absented himself from the dining room nearly fifteen minutes. As he
returned to the table, Penny pushed back her chair, ready to leave.

"Well, I'll see you at the camp grounds, Dad," she said lightly.

"I don't know what to do about the dedication," responded Mr. Parker in a
sober tone. "By rights there should be none."

Penny stared at him.

"I've just heard from my lawyers," Mr. Parker explained.

"Then, there is a flaw in the title as you suspected!"

"Decidedly. It's a very mixed-up mess, and as yet we're not sure what it
may mean."

"Tell me about it, Dad," Penny pleaded, sliding back into her chair.

"Benjamin Bowman--whoever he may be--doesn't own the camp property."

"Then in whose name is it?"

"The property doesn't belong to anyone."

"Why, how ridiculous!" Penny exclaimed. "Doesn't every piece of land in
the world belong to someone?"

"Actually the heirs of Rosanna and Joseph Schulta own this particular
property. But there are no heirs."

"What you say doesn't make sense to me, Dad."

"The whole affair is very involved," Mr. Parker explained. "In tracing
back the history of the land, my lawyers found that originally it was
owned by Rosanna and Joseph Schulta, an elderly couple, who had no known
relatives. They sailed for Germany more than fifty years ago. The ship
sank, and presumably they were lost. Their land was never claimed, and
somehow the state overlooked the case."

"But I thought the property had changed hands many times in recent
years!"

"Only theoretically. All those records have been falsified."

"By whom, Dad? Ben Bowman?"

"My lawyers are inclined to think Blake may be at the bottom of it. He is
a very shrewd real estate man, and in examining records at the court
house, he may have learned about this floating property."

"Then he deliberately tried to cheat the Camp Fund board!"

"It looks that way. Neither Ben Bowman nor anyone else owns the property.
Had you not noticed his name on the abstract, it's unlikely the fraud
would have been uncovered for quite a few years to come."

"What will you do, Dad?" Penny inquired, deeply distressed. "The
dedication is scheduled to start within an hour."

"I don't see how it can be postponed," Mr. Parker said soberly. "It will
have to go on according to schedule."

"Afterwards you'll ask for Blake's arrest?"

"There's no real evidence against him."

"No evidence!"

"He claims to be a mere agent of Ben Bowman. All of the deeds and legal
papers were drawn up by some other person. If any accusation is made
against him, he can escape by maintaining that he knew nothing of the
back records."

"There's one person who might be able to implicate him!" Penny exclaimed.
"Ben Bowman!"

"Bowman should have it in his power to clear up some of the mystery," Mr.
Parker agreed. "But how are we to find him?"

"I don't know," Penny admitted. "It looks rather hopeless unless the
police just present him to us wrapped in pink ribbon."

The clock struck nine. Daring not to linger any longer, Penny hastily
bade her father goodbye and left the house.

Driving to the camp site with Louise Sidell, she told her chum of the
latest complications.

"Mr. Blake is one of the worst hypocrites in the world," she declared
feelingly. "He pretends he wants to help the orphans, and all the while
he intends to trick the Board and make a nice profit for himself."

"Your father won't let him get away with it," Louise returned
confidently. "So long as the money hasn't been paid over there's no need
to worry."

Arriving at the camp site, the girls went at once to the official tent.
To their surprise, Mr. Blake, Mrs. Van Cleve, and all members of the
Board save Mr. Parker, were there. On the table lay various legal papers
which bore signatures still moist with ink.

Penny gazed from one person to another, slowly comprehending the scene.

"You're not buying this property!" she exclaimed in protest.

Mrs. Van Cleve's reply stunned her.

"It seemed unreasonable to keep Mr. Blake waiting," the woman said
quietly. "The transaction has just been completed."



                                CHAPTER
                                   18
                         _ADELLE'S ACCUSATION_


"Oh, Mrs. Van Cleve! You've been cheated!"

The signing of the papers had taken Penny so by surprise that she did not
weigh her words before speaking. Too late, she realized that her father
never would approve of revealing the facts in such blunt fashion.
However, having said so much, she was determined to go on.

"My dear, what do you mean?" inquired Mrs. Van Cleve, troubled by the
unexpected accusation.

"Any money paid for this land will be lost! My father has just learned--"

"I resent such loose talk!" Mr. Blake broke in irritably. "Mr. Bowman,
whom I represent, has taken a substantial loss on the property."

"And who is Ben Bowman?" Penny challenged. "You can't produce him, nor
prove that he owns the land. The title is faulty. Neither you nor Ben
Bowman has any right to sell it!"

"This isn't true?" Mrs. Van Cleve asked the real estate man.

"Certainly not! You may be sure that if there is the slightest flaw in
the title, I shall return your cheque."

"Perhaps, considering the uncertainty, it might be wise to postpone
payment until I have talked again with Mr. Parker," Mrs. Van Cleve said
diffidently.

The real estate man made no attempt to hide his annoyance. "My dear Mrs.
Van Cleve," he said, "the deal already has been completed. I have tried
to remain patient, but really this is too much."

On the table lay several typewritten papers. Clipped neatly to the
uppermost one, was the cheque endorsed by Mrs. Van Cleve. Mr. Blake
reached to take possession of it, but his move was deliberate. Acting
impulsively, Penny darted forward and seized the bit of paper. To the
horror of everyone in the tent, she tore the cheque into a dozen pieces
and tossed them into the air.

"There!" she announced, a trifle stunned by her own act.

"Penelope, you shouldn't have done that," Mrs. Van Cleve reproved, but
she smiled faintly.

"You are an outrageous child!" Mr. Blake exclaimed, losing his temper.
"What do you expect to accomplish by such a stupid trick? Mrs. Van Cleve
will merely write out another cheque."

"Well, under the circumstance, it might be better to wait," the club
woman demurred. "I really shouldn't have acted without consulting Mr.
Parker."

"Unless the transaction is completed now I shall have nothing to do with
the dedication," Mr. Blake declared. "I shall decline to make my speech."

Penny's broad grin made it clear that she thought the loss would not be a
great one.

"Furthermore, I shall ask that my recent donation be returned," Mr. Blake
resumed severely. "I shall withdraw this property for sale--"

"_You_ will withdraw it!" Penny caught him up. "I thought you merely were
acting as the agent for Benjamin Bowman!"

"I mean I shall make such a suggestion to him," the real estate man
amended.

Penny waited anxiously for Mrs. Van Cleve's decision. To her relief, the
society woman seemed annoyed by the attitude Mr. Blake had taken.

"I am sorry," she said coldly. "If you don't wish to make the dedication
speech, we will manage to do without your services. As for the cheque, I
cannot make out another until I have discussed the situation with Mr.
Parker."

The argument went on, but Penny did not remain to hear it. Louise took
her forcibly by the arm, fairly pulling her outside the tent.

"Haven't you caused enough trouble?" she demanded disapprovingly. "Such a
mess as everything is in now!"

"I don't care," Penny replied. "I saved the Camp Fund money. Mrs. Van
Cleve was glad I tore up the cheque too! She just didn't dare say so."

"There will be no dedication. What will everyone think?"

Disconsolately, Louise gazed toward the area which had been roped off for
cars. Although it was half an hour before the formal program was to
start, hundreds of persons had arrived. On a platform, built especially
for the occasion, an orchestra played spritely selections. There were
picnic tables and a stone fireplace for outdoor cooking.

As the girls wandered slowly toward the river, a bus loaded with orphans
arrived from the Riverview Home. With shrieks of laughter, the children
swarmed over the grounds, taking possession of swings, sand pile, and
slides.

"It seems a pity," Louise remarked again.

By ten o'clock the grounds were jammed with visitors. Penny knew that her
father must have arrived for the exercises, but although she searched
everywhere, she could not find him. In roving about, she did meet Mr.
Blake, who pretended not to see her.

How matters had been arranged, the girls did not know. However, promptly
at ten-thirty, the dedication exercises began, exactly as scheduled. Mr.
Blake occupied the platform with other members of the board, and at the
proper time made a brief and rather curt speech.

"Everything seems to have turned out rather well," Louise remarked in
relief. "Mr. Blake may not be such a bad sort after all."

"Don't you believe it," Penny returned. "He's just clever enough never to
put himself in a bad light if he can help it. I only hope Mrs. Van Cleve
didn't give in to him and sign another cheque."

Following the dedication exercises, a portion of the crowd dispersed, but
many persons remained to enjoy picnic lunches. Penny and Louise ate their
own sandwiches, and then watched the orphans at play.

"The new camp director seems very efficient," Louise remarked, her gaze
upon a young man who supervised the children.

Presently, as the girls watched, the camp supervisor announced that he
would take several boys and girls for a sail on the river. The boat, a
twelve-foot dinghy, had been the gift of a well-to-do Riverview
department store owner.

Immediately there was a great clamor from the children, for everyone
wanted to take the first ride.

"Only six may go," the director said, and called off the names.

Penny and Louise wandered down to the water's edge to watch the loading
of the boat. Adelle had been one of the orphans chosen, and they waved
reassuringly to her.

The camp director shoved off, and quickly raised the sail. There were
squeals of delight from the children as it filled, causing the craft to
heel over slightly.

"The breeze is quite uncertain today," Penny remarked anxiously. "I hope
that young man knows what he is about."

The boat sailed a diagonal course across the river, turned, and came back
on another tack. Then as the breeze died, it seemed to make no progress
at all. Losing interest, Penny and Louise started to walk on down the
shore.

Scarcely had they turned away than they were startled to hear screams
from the river. Whirling around, they saw that the camp director was in
serious trouble. A sudden puff of wind had caught the boat when it did
not have steerage way. Unable to drive ahead, it slowly tilted sideways.

"It's going over!" Louise screamed.

Already Penny had kicked off her shoes. Without waiting for the
inevitable result, she plunged into the river. When her head emerged from
the water, she saw the boat on its side. Two children were clinging to
it, the camp director was frantically trying to support two others, while
another girl and boy struggled wildly to keep from sinking.

Swimming as rapidly as she could, Penny reached the overturned boat. Her
first act was to help the camp director who was being strangled by the
two children who clung to him. Drawing the trio to the craft, she then
seized a struggling boy by the hair, and pulled him to safety.

"Adelle!" the camp director gasped. "Get her!"

The little girl had been carried a considerable distance from the boat.
Penny started to swim toward her, but she saw that it would not be
necessary. From the forest close by had emerged an unshaven man in rough,
soiled clothing. Diving into the water, he seized Adelle, and swam with
her to shore.

Penny did not return to the overturned boat for several men had waded out
to tow it to land. Concerned regarding Adelle, she followed the child's
rescuer.

The man bore the orphan in his arms to a grassy spot on shore. Stretching
her out there, he hesitated an instant, and then before the crowd could
surround him, darted quickly away toward the woods.

"Wait!" Penny shouted, wading through the shallow water.

The man heard, but paid no heed. He entered the forest and was lost to
view.

"That was Clem Davis!" Penny thought tensely. "I'm sure of it!"

Before she could reach Adelle, other persons had gathered around the
child. Clyde Blake pushed through the crowd.

"What is this?" he inquired. "What has happened?"

As the man bent over Adelle, the little girl opened her eyes, gazing
directly into his face. For a moment she stared at him in a bewildered
way. Then, struggling to a sitting position, she pointed an accusing
finger.

"You are the one!" she whispered shakily. "You're the man whose car
killed my Mother and Daddy!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   19
                         _TRAILING A FUGITIVE_


Adelle's accusation brought a murmur of consternation and shocked
surprise from the crowd. Mr. Blake, however, seemed undisturbed. Dropping
on his knees, he supported Adelle and wrapped his coat about her
trembling shoulders.

"There, there, my poor child," he said soothingly. "You are quite upset,
and for good reason."

"Don't touch me," Adelle shivered, cringing away. "You're mean and
cruel!"

By this time, Miss Anderson and other officials of the Riverview Home had
reached the scene. Somewhat sternly they tried to silence the child.

"She doesn't know what she is saying," Miss Anderson apologized to Mr.
Blake. "Adelle has been very nervous since she was in an automobile
accident."

"I quite understand," the real estate man responded. "The child must have
a change of clothing, and no doubt, medical care. May I send her to the
Home in my car?"

"Why, that is very kind of you, I am sure," Miss Anderson said
gratefully.

With every appearance of concern, Mr. Blake picked Adelle up in his arms
and carried her away. Penny was kept busy helping bundle up the other
children who had been rescued from the water. None the worse for the
misadventure, they too were taken to Mr. Blake's car.

"Here, put on my coat before you freeze," Louise said anxiously to Penny
after the automobile had sped away. "We must start home at once."

"I don't want to go now!" Penny protested. "Did you notice that man who
pulled Adelle from the water?"

"He looked like a tramp. I wonder what made him run away?"

"Lou, I think that man was Clem Davis. By rights I should tell the
sheriff, but I can't bring myself to do it--not after the way he saved
Adelle."

"Never mind all that now," Louise said, forcing Penny toward the car.
"You must go home and change your wet clothes."

"But I want to find Clem Davis and talk with him!"

"That will have to wait. You're going home!" Taking her chum firmly by
the arm, Louise pushed her into the car.

At the Parker home, Penny changed her clothes, discussing the day's
events as she dried her hair. Adelle's accusation had not escaped her,
and she had taken it more seriously than did others in the crowd.

"Perhaps that child knew what she was talking about!" she declared to
Louise. "Blake's car may have been the one which killed her parents!"

"Oh, Penny, you're so hopelessly prejudiced against the man," her chum
replied.

"Maybe I am, but Adelle is the only person who can identify the hit-run
motorist."

"Even so, you know she probably is not a reliable witness."

"I'll grant that her accident today may have upset her emotionally,"
Penny conceded. "After she recovers, I'm curious to learn what she'll
have to say."

The hour was so late that the girls did not return to the camp site.
Louise soon went to her own home and Penny was left alone. She restlessly
wandered about, polished the car, and fretted because neither her father
nor Mrs. Weems came home. At length, for want of another occupation, she
motored to the Riverview Home on the pretext of inquiring about the
condition of the children rescued from the water.

"They're doing just fine," Miss Anderson assured her. "That is, all
except Adelle. The child is very upset."

"Has she said anything more about Mr. Blake?" Penny inquired.

"She doesn't know his name, but she keeps insisting he was the man whose
car killed her parents. I never was so mortified in my life as when she
made the accusation. Fortunately, Mr. Blake did not take offense."

Penny was eager to talk with Adelle, and Miss Anderson said that she
might do so for a few minutes. The little girl had been put to bed but
seemed quite content as she played with a new doll.

"Mr. McGuire sent me this," she said, holding it up for Penny to see.
"I've named her Imogene."

Miss Anderson was called to the telephone. During the young woman's
absence, Penny discreetly questioned Adelle about the motor accident in
which her parents had lost their lives. She was worried lest the child be
upset again, but to her relief Adelle answered in a matter-of-fact tone.

"No one will believe me," the little girl said. "Just the same, that man
I saw today was the one who ran into my Daddy's car. He had a big, gray
automobile with a horn on it that played a tune."

"A gray car?" Penny repeated thoughtfully. "I'm quite sure Mr. Blake's
sedan is dark blue. Why, you were taken home in his automobile this
afternoon, Adelle."

"It wasn't that car," the child answered. "He must have another one."

Miss Anderson re-entered the room, so Penny did not ask additional
questions. Soon leaving the Home, she motored slowly toward the camp site
by the river. Although she readily understood that Adelle might be
mistaken, a conviction was growing upon her that Clyde Blake could have
been the hit-run driver.

"Even if he doesn't drive a gray car, that proves nothing," she mused.
"He easily could have changed it during the past year."

Penny thought that she might find her father or some of the Camp Board
officials still at the river. However, as she drove into the parking
area, she observed that the grounds were entirely deserted. Paper plates,
napkins and newspapers had been blown helter-skelter by the wind. Picnic
tables still held the unsightly remains of lunches. The speakers'
platform had been torn down, even the tents were gone, for it was not
planned to make practical use of the grounds until more work had been
done.

As Penny was starting to drive away, she noticed a lone man near one of
the picnic tables. He was dressed in rough, unpressed garments, and
seemed to be scavenging food which had been left behind.

"That's the same man who pulled Adelle from the water!" she thought
alertly.

Leaping from the car, Penny ran toward him.

Hearing footsteps, the man turned and saw her. Almost in panic he started
for the woods.

"Wait!" Penny shouted. "I won't turn you over to the police! Please
wait!"

The man hesitated, and then apparently deciding that he had nothing to
fear from a girl, paused.

"I want to thank you for saving Adelle," Penny said breathlessly. "Why
did you run away?"

"Well, I don't know," the man answered, avoiding her gaze. "I never liked
crowds."

Penny decided to risk a direct accusation. "You are Clem Davis," she
said, eyeing him steadily.

"That's a laugh," the man retorted, starting to edge away. "My name is
Thomas Ryan."

"Now please don't run away again," Penny pleaded, sensing his intention.
"If you are Clem Davis, and I'm sure you are, I want to help you."

"How could you help me?"

"By exposing the men who framed you. I never believed that you set fire
to the Preston barn."

"I never did."

"Please tell me about it," Penny urged, seating herself at one of the
picnic benches.

"Who are you anyhow?" the man asked suspiciously. "Why are you so willing
to help me, as you say?"

"I'm Penelope Parker, and my father publishes the _Star_."

"Oh, I see, you're after a story!"

"No, that part is only incidental," Penny said hurriedly. "What my father
really wants to do is to expose the Black Hoods and drive them out of
existence. You're the one person who might be able to provide evidence
which would convict the guilty parties."

"I could tell plenty if I was a mind to do it. No one would believe me
though."

"I will, Mr. Davis."

"I was in the notion of going to the Grand Jury at one time," the man
said slowly. "That's what brought on all my trouble. If I'd had sense
enough to have kept my mouth shut, I wouldn't be a fugitive now."

"What connection did you have with the Hoods? Were you a member of the
organization?"

"Yes, I was," the man admitted reluctantly. "I didn't know much about the
Hoods when I joined 'em. Then I tried to drop out, and that's what turned
'em against me."

"Suppose you tell me all about it. What is the real purpose of the
organization?"

"Well, right now the Hoods are trying to force every truck farmer in this
district to join the County Cooperative."

"Then Hank Holloway must be the ring leader!" Penny exclaimed, startled
by the information.

"No, he's not at the head of the Hoods," Clem Davis corrected.

"Who is the man?" Penny questioned eagerly.

Clem Davis started to speak, then hesitated. An automobile had driven
into the parking area only a few rods away. Several workmen who had been
assigned to clean up the grounds, alighted.

"They're coming this way," Clem Davis said uneasily. "I can't risk being
seen."

Abruptly, he started toward the sheltering trees.

"Wait!" Penny pleaded, pursuing him. "You haven't told me half enough.
Please wait!"

"I'm not going to risk arrest," the man returned over his shoulder.

"At least meet me here again!"

"Okay, I'll do that," Clem Davis agreed.

"Tomorrow night just at dusk," Penny said quickly. "And please don't fail
me. I promise. I'll help you."



                                CHAPTER
                                   20
                        _CLEM DAVIS' DISCLOSURE_


After Clem Davis had disappeared into the woods, Penny wasted no more
time in the vicinity. Jumping into her car, she drove home in a daze of
excitement, to tell her father the amazing story.

"Meeting that man was wonderful luck!" she assured him exultantly. "Why,
if only he reveals what he knows, we will get an exclusive story for the
_Star_! We'll expose the Hoods and put an end to the organization!"

"As easy as that?" laughed Mr. Parker. "Seriously though, I think we are
on the verge of cracking the story. In going over the books of the County
Cooperative, Jerry has discovered any number of discrepancies."

"I've always thought that Hank Holloway might be connected with the
Hoods, Dad! I believe he was the night rider who made off with Mrs.
Davis' melons."

"Any idea who the other members of the outfit may be?"

"Not yet, but I expect to find out when I meet Clem Davis tomorrow."

"I'll go with you," Mr. Parker declared. "Maybe I should take Sheriff
Daniels along too."

"Oh, Dad," Penny protested indignantly. "I promised to help Clem, not
turn him over to an officer. I am afraid that unless I go alone, he'll
not even show himself."

"Perhaps it would be best for you to go by yourself," the editor
admitted. "Learn what you can from Davis, and make an appointment for him
to see me."

Another matter weighed heavily on Penny's mind. In her encounter with
Clyde Blake that morning, she had acted in a high-handed manner, and
sooner or later her father must hear about the cheque episode.

"Dad, I have a confession to make," she began awkwardly. "When I reached
the camp this morning I found that Mr. Blake had induced the board
members to buy the property--"

"Never mind," Mr. Parker interrupted. "I've already heard the details of
your disgraceful actions from Mrs. Van Cleve."

"I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself," Penny said contritely. "I tore up the
cheque on the spur of the moment."

"It was a foolish, rather dramatic thing to do. However, I must
acknowledge the result was highly pleasing to everyone save Clyde Blake."

"What does he have to say, Dad?"

"He claims that he acted in good faith for Benjamin Bowman. Likewise,
that he had no suspicion the title was faulty."

"Naturally he would take such an attitude."

"I've asked Blake to produce Ben Bowman," Mr. Parker resumed. "Unless he
can do so and prove that the property actually is owned by him, the deal
is off."

"Do you think Blake will bring the man to Riverview?"

"I doubt it very much," the editor answered. "I suspect he'll bluff, and
finally let the deal go by default. It will be an easy way out for him."

"Blake always seems to escape his misdeeds. I wish we could find Ben
Bowman ourselves, and bring the two men together. That would be
interesting!"

"Finding Ben Bowman would serve many useful purposes," Mr. Parker said
grimly. "But now that I would actually welcome a communication from him,
he no longer pesters me!"

Eagerly Penny awaited the hour appointed for her meeting with Clem Davis.
Knowing that the man did not obtain enough to eat, she spent considerable
time the next afternoon preparing a lunch basket of substantial food.
Taking it with her, she waited at the camp site for nearly a half hour.
Finally, just as she began to think that the man had failed her, he
appeared.

"I've brought you some hot coffee," Penny said, taking the plug from a
thermos bottle. "A little food too."

"Say, that's swell!" the man murmured gratefully. "My wife slips me a
handout whenever she can, but lately the house has been watched so
closely, she can't get away."

Seating himself at the picnic table, Clem Davis drained the cup of coffee
in a few swallows, and greedily devoured a sandwich.

"Now what do you want to know?" he asked gruffly.

Mr. Parker had told Penny exactly what questions to ask. She began with
the most important one.

"Mr. Davis, tell me, who is the head man of the Hoods?"

"I don't know myself," he answered promptly. "At the meetings, the Master
always wore a robe and a black hood. None of the members ever were
permitted to see his face."

"You have no idea who the man may be?"

Clem Davis shook his head as he bit into another sandwich. "I doubt there
are more than one or two members of the order who know his identity. Hank
Holloway might, or maybe Charley Phelps."

"Is Phelps a member?" Penny asked quickly.

"One of the chief ones. Most of the meetings are held at his place."

"You don't mean at the Hubell Tower?"

Penny's pulse had stepped up to a faster pace, for the information was of
the greatest value. Furthermore, it thrilled her that her own theory
regarding Charley Phelps was receiving support.

"Sure, the Hoods meet at the Tower about once a month," Clem Davis
disclosed. "Usually they get together on the thirteenth, but sometimes
they have extra sessions. When special meetings are held, a green light
burns on the tower, or the clock strikes thirteen times just at
midnight."

"I thought so!" Penny exclaimed, highly elated. "Tell me, why did you
decide to break your connection with the Hoods?"

"I joined the organization before I knew what I was letting myself in
for. When they made plans to burn the Preston barn, I wanted to quit. The
Hoods threatened me, and to get even, planted evidence that made it look
as if I had set the fire."

Penny was inclined to believe that Clem Davis had told a straight story
for it coincided with her own theories. Always it had seemed to her that
evidence pointing to his guilt had been entirely too plain. To
corroborate her conclusions, she had brought from home the watch fob
found at the Davis stable, hoping that he might identify it.

"That's not mine," he said promptly when she showed the article to him.
"I never saw it before."

Penny opened the tiny case, displaying the child's picture. However, the
man had no idea who the little boy might be.

"Mr. Davis," she said quietly, replacing the watch fob in her pocket. "I
believe in your innocence, and I want to help you. I am sure I can,
providing you are willing to cooperate."

"I've already told you about everything I know."

"You've given me splendid information," Penny praised. "What I want you
to do is to talk with my father. He'll probably ask you to repeat your
story to the Grand Jury."

"I'd be a fool to do that," Clem Davis responded. "I can't prove any of
my statements. The Preston fire would be pinned on me, and the Hoods
might try to harm my wife. Why, they ran off with a truck load of our
melons the other night."

"I know. But unless someone has the courage to speak out against the
Hoods they'll become bolder and do even more harm. Supposing you were
promised absolute protection. Then would you go before the Grand Jury?"

"Nothing would give me more pleasure. But who can guarantee I'll not be
made to pay?"

"I think my father can," Penny assured him. "Will you meet him here
tomorrow night at this same hour?"

"Okay," the man agreed, getting up from the table. "You seem to be on the
level."

"I'll bring more food tomorrow," Penny said as an extra inducement. "You
must have had a hard time since you've been hiding out in the woods."

"Oh, it's not so bad once you get used to it," the man shrugged. "I've
got a pretty good place to sleep now."

"Inside a building?" Penny asked curiously.

"An automobile," the man grinned. "Someone abandoned it in the swamp and
I've taken possession."

"An old one, I suppose."

"Not so old," Clem Davis answered. "Funny thing, it's a 1941 Deluxe model
with good upholstery. The only thing I can see wrong with it is that the
front grill and fenders have been smashed."

"The car isn't by chance a gray one?"

"Yes, it is," the man admitted. "How did you guess?"

"I didn't guess," Penny returned soberly. "I have a suspicion that car is
the one which killed two people about a year ago. Mr. Davis, you must
take me to it at once!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   21
                           _A BROKEN PROMISE_


"You want me to take you to the abandoned car now?" Clem Davis echoed in
surprise. "It's located deep in the swamp, just off a side road."

"Would it require long to get there?" Penny asked thoughtfully.

"A half hour at least. With night coming on you wouldn't be able to see a
thing."

"It is getting dark," Penny admitted regretfully. "Everything considered,
I guess it would be better to wait until tomorrow. But in the meantime, I
wish you would search the car carefully. Get the engine number--anything
which might help to identify the owner."

"The engine number has been filed off," Clem answered. "I'll give the car
a good going over though to see what I can learn. Thanks for the food."

Raising his hand in a semi salute, the man started into the woods.

"Don't forget to meet Dad and me tomorrow night," Penny called after him.
"We'll be waiting here about this same time."

The interview with the fugitive had more than fulfilled Penny's
expectations. Driving straight home, she made a full report of the talk
to her father. Breathlessly, she revealed that the Hoods held monthly
meetings at the Hubell Tower, and that both Hank Holloway and Charley
Phelps were members of the order.

"You weren't able to learn the name of the head man?" Mr. Parker
questioned.

"No, Clem didn't know it himself. He says the Master never shows himself
to anyone, but always appears in mask."

Mr. Parker began to pace the floor, a habit of his when under mental
stress. The information Penny had acquired was of utmost importance. He
believed it to be authentic, but he dared not overlook the possibility
that Clem Davis had deliberately lied.

"We must move cautiously on this story," he said aloud. "Should we make
false accusations against innocent persons, the _Star_ would face
disastrous lawsuits."

"You're not going to withhold the information from the public?" Penny
demanded in disappointment.

"For the present, I must. The thing for us to do is to try to learn the
identity of the head man. Any news published in the _Star_ would only
serve as a tip-off to him."

"You're right, of course," Penny agreed after a moment of silence.

"Now that we have such a splendid start, it should be easy to gain
additional information," the editor resumed. "You say the meetings
usually are held on the thirteenth of the month?"

"That's what Clem Davis told me."

"Then we'll arrange to have the Tower watched on that night. In the
meantime, I'll see Davis and learn what I can from him. Jerry is working
on the County Cooperative angle of the story, and should have some
interesting facts soon."

Penny knew that her father was adopting a wise policy, but she could not
help feeling slightly disappointed. Always eager for action, she had
hoped that Clem Davis' disclosures would lead to the immediate arrest of
both Hank Holloway and Charley Phelps. However, she brightened at the
thought that at least additional revelations might follow her father's
meeting with the fugitive.

The following night, shortly after six-thirty, Penny and Mr. Parker
presented themselves at the Orphans' Camp site. They had brought a basket
of food, coffee, and a generous supply of cigarettes.

"What time did Davis promise to meet you?" Mr. Parker asked impatiently.

"He should be here now," Penny returned. "I can't imagine why he's late."

Another half hour elapsed, and still the fugitive did not appear. Mr.
Parker paced restlessly beside the picnic table, becoming increasingly
impatient.

"He's probably waiting until after dark," Penny declared optimistically.

Another hour elapsed. The shadows deepened and a chill wind blew from the
river. Hungry mosquitoes kept Mr. Parker more than occupied as he sought
to protect himself.

"Well, I've had enough of this!" he announced at last. "The man isn't
coming."

"Oh, Dad, let's wait just a little longer," Penny coaxed. "I'm sure he
meant to keep his promise."

"Perhaps he did, although I'm inclined to think otherwise. At any rate, I
am going home!"

Penny had no choice but to follow her father to the car. She could not
understand Clem Davis' failure to appear unless he had feared that he
would be placed under arrest. While it was quite possible that the man
might come to the picnic grounds the following night, she was afraid she
would never see him again.

"I half expected this to happen," Mr. Parker remarked as he drove toward
Riverview. "Unless we can get Davis to swear to his story, we haven't a
scrap of real evidence against the Hoods."

"We may learn something on the night of the thirteenth," Penny said
hopefully.

"Possibly, but I'm beginning to wonder if everything Davis told you may
not have been for the purpose of deception."

"He seemed sincere. I can't believe he deliberately lied to me."

Submerged in gloom, Penny had little to say during the swift ride into
Riverview. She could not blame her father for feeling annoyed, because
the trip had cost him two hours of valuable time. Clem Davis' failure to
appear undoubtedly might deprive the _Star_ of a spectacular scoop.

"Never mind," Mr. Parker said to comfort her. "It wasn't your fault.
We'll find another way to get our information."

The car proceeded slowly through the downtown section of Riverview.
Turning her head to read an electric sign, Penny's attention was drawn to
a man in a gray suit who was walking close to the curb.

"Dad, stop the car!" she cried, seizing his arm. "There he is now!"

"Clem Davis?" Mr. Parker demanded, swerving the automobile toward a
vacant space near the sidewalk.

"No! No! Ben Bowman! I'm sure it is he!"

Springing from the car, Penny glanced up the street. She had alighted
just in time to see the man in gray enter a telegraph office.

"What nonsense is this?" Mr. Parker inquired impatiently. "Why do you
think the fellow is Bowman?"

"I'm sure he's the same man I saw at Claymore. The one who tried to pass
a forged cheque! Oh, please Dad, we can't let him get away!"

Switching off the car ignition, Mr. Parker stepped to the curb.

"If it should prove to be Ben Bowman, nothing would please me better than
to nab him," he announced grimly. "But if you've made a mistake--"

"Come on," Penny urged, seizing his hand. "We can talk about it later."

Through the huge plate glass window of the telegraph office, the man in
gray could be seen standing at one of the counters. His back was to the
street and he appeared to be writing a message.

"I'm sure it's Ben Bowman," Penny said again. "Why not go inside and ask
him if that's his name?"

"I shall. But I'm warning you again, if you've made one of your little
mistakes--"

"Go ahead, faint heart!" Penny chuckled, giving him a tiny push. "I'll
stay here by the door ready to stop him if he gets by you."

With no appearance of haste, Mr. Parker sauntered into the telegraph
office. Deliberately taking a place at the counter close beside the man
in gray, he pretended to write a message. Actually, he studied his
companion, and attempted to read the lengthy telegram which the other had
composed. Before he could do so, the man handed the paper to a girl
clerk.

"Get this off right away," he instructed. "Send it collect."

The clerk examined the message, having difficulty in reading the writing.

"This night letter is to be sent to Anthony Parker?" she inquired.

"That's right," the man agreed.

Mr. Parker waited for no more. Touching the man on the arm, he said
distinctly:

"I'll save you the trouble of sending that message. I am Anthony Parker."

The man whirled around, his face plainly showing consternation.

"You are Ben Bowman I assume," Mr. Parker said coolly. "I've long looked
forward to meeting you."

"You've got me mixed up with someone else," the man mumbled, edging away.
"My name's Clark Edgewater. See, I signed it to this telegram."

As proof of his contention, he pointed to the lengthy communication which
lay on the counter. One glance satisfied Mr. Parker that it was another
"crank" message.

"I don't care how you sign your name," he retorted. "You are Ben Bowman.
We have a few matters to talk over."

The man gazed uncertainly at Mr. Parker. He started to speak, then
changed his mind. Turning, he made a sudden break for the exit.

"Stop him!" Mr. Parker shouted. "Don't let him get away!"

Penny stood close to the door. As the man rushed toward her, she shot a
bolt into place.

"Not quite so fast, Mr. Bowman," she said, smiling. "We really must have
a chat with you."



                                CHAPTER
                                   22
                           _THE MAN IN GRAY_


With the door locked, the man saw that he could not hope to escape.
Accepting the situation, he regarded Mr. Parker and Penny with cold
disdain.

"All right, my name is Ben Bowman," he acknowledged, shrugging. "So
what?"

"You're the man who has been sending me collect messages for the past
three months!" Mr. Parker accused.

"And what if I have? Is there any law against it? You run a lousy paper,
and as a reader I have a right to complain!"

"But not at my expense. Another thing, I want to know what connection
you've had with Clyde Blake."

"Never heard of him."

"Then you don't own property in this city?"

"Nor anywhere else. Now if you're through giving me the third degree,
I'll move on."

"Not so fast," interposed Penny, refusing to unbar the door, "if I'm not
mistaken you're the same man who is wanted at Claymore for forging a
cheque."

"Really, this is too much!" Ben Bowman exclaimed angrily. "Unless you
permit me to pass, I shall protest to the police."

"I see an officer just across the street," Mr. Parker declared. "Penny,
will you call him over?"

"Just a minute," Ben Bowman interposed in an altered tone. "We can settle
this ourselves. I'll admit I was hasty in sending those messages--just a
way to let off steam, I guess. If you're willing to forget about it I'll
repay you for every dollar you spent."

"I'm afraid I can't forget that easily," Mr. Parker retorted. "No, unless
you're willing to come clean about your connection with Clyde Blake I'll
have to call the police."

"What do you want to know about him?"

"Is he acting as your real estate agent?"

"Certainly not."

"You do know the man?"

"I've done a little work for him."

"Didn't he pay you to allow him to use your name on a deed?"

"He gave me twenty-five dollars to make out some papers for him. I only
copied what he told me to write."

"That's all I want to know," Mr. Parker said grimly. "Penny, call the
policeman!"

"See here," Bowman protested furiously, "you intimated that if I told
what I knew about Blake you'd let me off. Why, you're as yellow as that
paper you run!"

"I make no deals with men of your stamp!" Mr. Parker retorted.

As Penny unlocked the door, Ben Bowman made a break for freedom. However,
the editor was entirely prepared. Seizing the man, he held him until
Penny could summon the policeman. Still struggling, Bowman was loaded
into a patrol wagon and taken to police headquarters.

"I guess that earns me a nice little one hundred dollars!" Penny remarked
as she and her father went to their own car. "Thanks, Dad."

"You're entirely welcome," Mr. Parker grinned. "I never took greater
pleasure in acknowledging a debt."

"What's your next move, Dad? Will you expose Clyde Blake in tomorrow's
_Star_?"

"I'm tempted to do it, Penny. The evidence still is rather flimsy, but
even if Ben Bowman denies his story, I think we can prove our charges."

"It's a pity you can't break the Hood yarn in the same edition," Penny
said musingly. "What a front page that would make!"

"It certainly would be a good three pennies worth," Mr. Parker agreed.
"Unfortunately, it will be many days before the Hoods are supposed to
hold their meeting at the Tower."

"But why wait? We could call that gathering ourselves!"

"Just how?"

"Simple as pie. All we would need to do would be to have the clock strike
thirteen instead of twelve." Penny glanced at her wrist watch and added
persuasively: "We have several hours in which to work!"

"You're completely crazy!" accused Mr. Parker. "Just how would you
arrange to have the clock strike thirteen?"

"I'll take care of that part, Dad. All I'll need is a hammer."

"To use on the caretaker, Charley Phelps, I suppose," Mr. Parker remarked
ironically.

"Oh, no," Penny corrected, "I propose to turn all the strong-arm work
over to you and your gang of reporters. Naturally, Phelps will have to be
removed from the scene."

"What you propose is absolutely impossible," the editor declared. "Even
so, I'll admit that I find your idea rather fascinating."

"This is no time for being conservative, Dad. Why, the Hoods must know
you are out to break up their organization. Every day you wait lessens
your chance of getting the story."

"I realize that only too well, Penny. I pinned quite a bit of hope on
Clem Davis. His failure to appear puts everything in a different light."

"Why not test what he told us?" Penny argued. "It will be easy to learn
if the striking of the clock is a signal to call the Hood meeting. If the
men should come, we'll have them arrested, and run a big story tomorrow
morning!"

"Coming from your lips it sounds so very simple," Mr. Parker smiled. "Has
it occurred to you that if we fail, we'll probably breakfast at the
police station?"

"Why worry about that?" grinned Penny. "You have influence."

Mr. Parker sat for several minutes lost in thought.

"You know, I've ALWAYS been lucky," Penny coaxed. "I feel a double dose
of it coming on tonight!"

"I believe in hunches myself," Mr. Parker chuckled. "No doubt I'm making
the biggest mistake of my life, but I'm going to try your wild scheme.
Crazy as it is, it may work!"

"Then let's go!" laughed Penny.

At the _Star_ office, Mr. Parker hastily summoned a special staff of
newspaper men, warning them to hold themselves in readiness to get out a
special edition on short notice. From the group he chose Salt Sommers,
Jerry Livingston, and two reporters known for their pugilistic prowess.

"Now this is the line up, boys," he revealed. "We're going to kidnap
Charley Phelps from the Tower. It's risky business unless things break
right for us, so if any of you want to drop out now, this is your
chance."

"We're with you, chief!" declared Salt Sommers, tossing a pack of
photographic supplies over his shoulder.

"Sure, what are we waiting for?" chimed in Jerry.

It was well after eleven o'clock by the time the over-loaded press car
drew up not far from the Hubell Tower. Penny parked on a dark side
street, and Jerry was sent to look over the situation. Soon he returned
with his report.

"Charley Phelps is alone in the Tower," he assured the editor. "We
shouldn't have any trouble handling him."

"Okay, then let's do the job," Mr. Parker returned. "Remember, if we muff
it, we'll do our explaining to a judge."

Separating into groups so that they would not attract attention, Penny
and the five men approached the Tower. A light glowed from within, and
the caretaker could be seen moving about in the tiny living room.

Tying handkerchiefs over their faces, Salt and Jerry rapped on the back
door. Charley Phelps opened it to find himself gazing into the blinding
light of two flashlights.

"Say, what--" he began but did not finish.

Jerry and Salt had seized his arms. Before he could make another sound,
they shoved a gag into his mouth, and dragging him into the Tower, closed
the door. Working swiftly, they trussed his hands and feet and pushed him
into a machinery room.

"Nice work, boys," Mr. Parker praised.

"Listen!" whispered Penny, who had followed the men into the Tower.

The clock had begun to strike the hour of midnight.

"Get up there quickly and do your stuff!" her father commanded. "You've
not much time!"

Two steps at a time, Penny raced up the steep iron stairway which led to
the belfry of the Tower. Anxiously, she counted the strokes as they
pealed forth loud and clearly. Eight--nine--ten. The clock had never
seemed to strike so fast before. Desperately she wondered if she could
reach the belfry in time.

The stairway was dark, the footing uncertain. In her nervousness, Penny
stumbled. Clutching the handrail, she clung to it a moment until she had
recovered balance. But in that interval the clock had kept striking, and
she was no longer sure of the count.

"It must be eleven," she thought, running up the remaining steps. "The
next stroke will be the last."

Penny reached the great bell just as the clapper struck against the
metal. The sound was deafening.

"Now!" she thought excitedly. "This is the moment, and I dare not fail!"

Balancing herself precariously, Penny raised a hammer high above her
head. With all her strength she brought it down hard against the bell.



                                CHAPTER
                                   23
                              _A TRAP SET_


To Penny's sensitive ears, the sound which resulted from the hammer blow,
seemed weak and lacking in resonance. She sagged back against the iron
railing, feeling that she had failed.

"That was swell!" a low voice said in her ear. "A perfect thirteenth
stroke!"

Turning around, Penny saw that Jerry Livingston had followed her into the
belfry.

"Did it really sound all right?" she inquired anxiously.

"It was good enough to fool anyone. But the question is, will it bring
the Hoods here?"

In the room far below, Mr. Parker had lowered the blinds of the circular
windows. Making certain that Charley Phelps was securely bound and gagged
so that he could make no sound, he opened the front door a tiny crack and
left it that way.

"How about the lights?" Salt Sommers asked.

"Leave them on. Shove that sound apparatus under the daybed. Now I guess
everything's set. Upstairs, everyone."

Mr. Parker, Salt, and the two reporters, joined Penny and Jerry on the
iron stairway.

"We may have a long vigil," the editor warned. "In fact, this whole
scheme is likely to turn out a bust."

Few words were spoken during the next twenty minutes. Penny stirred
restlessly, and finally went to join Jerry who was maintaining a watch
from the belfry.

"See anyone?" she whispered, scanning the street below.

"No sign of anyone yet."

At intervals automobiles whizzed past the tower, and presently one drew
up not far from the building. Immediately, Jerry and Penny focused their
attention upon it. The headlights were turned to parking, then a man
alighted and came toward the Hubell Tower.

"Who is he?" Jerry whispered. "Can you tell?"

"I'm not sure," Penny said uncertainly. "It may be Hank Holloway."

As the man stepped into the light, they both saw that her identification
had been correct. The man rapped on the door several times. Receiving no
answer, he finally entered.

"Charley!" those on the iron stairway heard him call. "Where are you?"

The brilliantly lighted living room combined with the absence of the
caretaker, seemed to mystify the newcomer. Muttering to himself, he moved
restlessly about for a few minutes. Finally seating himself, he picked up
a newspaper and began to read.

From their post in the belfry, Penny and Jerry soon observed two other
men approaching the tower. One they recognized as a workman who had
sorted melons at the Davis farm, but his companion was unknown to them.
Without rapping, they too entered the building.

"Where's Charley?" inquired one of the men.

"That's what I was wondering," Hank Holloway replied, tossing aside his
paper. "For that matter, I can't figure out why this special meeting was
called. Something important must have come up."

Within ten minutes, three other men had arrived. Jerry was able to
identify two of them by name, but he dared not risk whispering the
information to Mr. Parker who crouched on the stairway.

"There's something mighty queer about this meeting," Hank Holloway
growled. "Where is the Master? And what's become of Charley?"

From the machinery room in which the caretaker had been imprisoned came a
slight thumping sound.

"What was that?" Hank demanded suspiciously.

"I didn't hear anything," answered one of the other men. "Maybe it was
someone at the door."

Hank tramped across the room to peer out into the night. As the door
swung back, a dark figure moved swiftly along the hedge, crouching low.

"Who's there?" Hank called sharply.

"Quiet, you fool!" was the harsh response.

A man wearing a dark robe and a black hood which completely hid his face,
brushed past Holloway, and entered the Tower living room.

"Close the door!" he ordered.

Holloway hastened to obey. An expectant and rather tense silence had
fallen upon the men gathered in the room.

"Now what is the meaning of this?" the Master demanded, facing the group.
"Who called this meeting?"

"Why, didn't you?" Holloway asked blankly.

"I did not."

"All I know is that I heard the clock strike an extra stroke," Holloway
explained. "I thought it was queer to be having another meeting so soon.
Then I found Charley wasn't here--"

"Charley not here!" the Master exclaimed.

"He must have stepped out somewhere. The lights were on, and the door
partly open."

"I don't like this," the Master said, his voice harsh. "Charley has no
right to call a meeting without a special order from me. It is becoming
increasingly dangerous for us to gather here."

"Now you're talking!" Holloway nodded. "Anthony Parker of the _Star_ is
on the warpath again. One of his reporters has been prying into the books
of the County Cooperative."

"He'll learn nothing from that source, I trust."

"Not enough to do any harm."

"You act as though you had a grievance, Holloway. Any complaints?"

"Why, no, the Cooperative has made a lot of money since you've taken
over. We want to go along with you, if your flare for the dramatic
doesn't get us in too deep."

"What do you mean by that, Holloway?"

"This night riding business is getting risky. Why, if Clem Davis should
talk--"

"We're not through with him yet."

"Another thing, most of us never did approve of holding meetings here at
the Tower," Hank Holloway went on. "It's too public a place, and sooner
or later someone will start asking questions about what goes on."

"Anything else?"

"Well, we think you ought to show yourself--let us know who you are.
We're all in this together, and we ought to take the same risks. I've
been carrying the heavy end."

"That settles it!" the masked man said with finality. "We're through."

"How do you mean?" Holloway asked.

"We're breaking up the organization--now--tonight."

"There's no call to do that."

"Holloway, you do a lot of talking and not much thinking," the other
snapped. "This will be our last meeting. We'll divide the profits, and
for a time at least, remain inactive."

"That's all very well for you," Holloway complained. "You step out of it
without anyone even knowing who you are. But some of us are tied up with
the County Cooperative. If there's any investigation, we'll take the
rap."

"There will be no investigation."

"That's easy to say," Holloway argued. "I don't like the way things have
been going lately. If we're breaking up, we have a right to know who you
are."

"Sure," chimed in another. "Remove your mask, and let's have a look. We
think we have your number but we ain't positive."

"You never will be," the masked man returned coolly, backing toward the
door. "And now, goodnight."

"Oh, no, you don't!" Holloway cried, trying to head him off.

"Stand back!" ordered the Master harshly.

From beneath his robe he whipped a revolver.

"All right," Holloway sneered. "I never argue when I'm looking into a
muzzle."

Before the Master could retreat, there was another disturbance from
inside the machinery room. Unmistakably, the door rattled.

"Someone is in there!" Holloway exclaimed.

Startled, the Master postponed his flight. Still holding the revolver, he
tried to open the door, but found it locked.

For those hiding on the stairway, the situation had become a tense one.
In another moment, the members of the Black Hoods unquestionably would
break the door lock and find Charley Phelps.

"Let's take 'em, Chief!" whispered Jerry, who was eager for action. "Now
is our only chance."

"All set!" Mr. Parker gave the signal.

With a concerted rush, the four young men leaped down the stairway,
hurling themselves on Holloway and the masked man. Catching the latter
unaware, Jerry knocked the revolver from his hand and it went spinning
over the floor.

Penny started down the stairway, but Mr. Parker pushed her back.

"Stay where you are!" he ordered as he too joined the fray.

Penny huddled against the wall, watching fearfully. Her father and the
reporters outnumbered their opponents by one man, but the Hoods were all
strong, powerful fellows who fought desperately. A chair crashed against
the lamp, shattering it. In the resulting darkness, she no longer could
see what was happening.

Suddenly a figure broke away from the general tangle of bodies and darted
toward the circular stairway. For a moment Penny believed that he must be
one of the reporters, then she saw that the man wore a hood over his
face.

"The Master!" she thought, chills racing down her spine. "He's trying to
get away, and I've got to stop him!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   24
                             _TIMELY HELP_


As the black-robed man started up the stairway, Penny attempted to block
his path. Failing to trip him, she seized his arms and held fast.

"Out of my way!" the man cried, giving her a hard push.

Penny clung tightly and struggled to reach the hood which covered his
face.

Suddenly, the man jerked free and darted on up the steep, circular
stairway. Pursuing him, Penny was able to seize the long flowing black
robe, only to have it tear loose in her hands.

Gaining the first landing, midway to the belfry, the man did not
hesitate. Swinging his legs through an open window, he leaped to the
ground twenty feet below.

"He'll be killed!" Penny thought.

Reaching the window she saw the man lying in a heap at the base of the
tower. For a moment he remained motionless, but as she watched, he slowly
scrambled to his feet and staggered off.

Until the man ducked behind the high hedge, Penny saw him plainly
silhouetted in the moonlight. Although his black hood remained in place,
his body no longer was covered by the dark robe.

"I know him!" she thought. "Even with his mask on, I'm sure I can't be
wrong!"

Fearing to attempt the hazardous leap, Penny ran down the iron stairway,
shouting that the Master of the Hoods had escaped. By this time, Mr.
Parker's crew of reporters had gained the upperhand of the remaining
members of the organization.

"Which way did the fellow go?" the editor demanded, running to the door.

"Along the hedge toward the street!" Penny directed.

Leaving Jerry, Salt, and the others to guard the prisoners, Mr. Parker
and his daughter hastened outdoors. There was no sign of anyone in the
vicinity of the Tower.

"He can't be far away," Penny maintained. "Anyway, I know his identity!"

"You saw his face?"

"No, but as he ran across the yard I noticed that one arm was much
shorter than the other."

"Clyde Blake!"

"That's what I think. Maybe we can catch him at his home!"

"If Blake is our man, we'll get him!" Mr. Parker said tersely. "We may
need help though."

Reentering the Tower building, he telephoned police headquarters, asking
that a patrol wagon be sent for Hank Holloway, Charley Phelps, and the
other prisoners.

"Send a squad to Clyde Blake's home," he added crisply. "I'll meet your
men there and provide all the evidence they'll need to make the arrests."

Jerry, Salt, and the two reporters were instructed to remain at the Tower
pending the arrival of the patrol wagon. There was slight danger that any
of the prisoners could escape for all the captives had been locked into
the machinery room.

Delaying only long enough to obtain the case of sound equipment hidden
beneath the daybed, Mr. Parker and Penny hastened to the waiting press
car.

"Dad," she marveled as they passed near a street light, "you should see
your eye! It's turning black. Someone must have pasted you hard."

"Never mind that now," he returned indifferently. "We're out for a big
story, and we're going to get it too!"

The police cruiser which had been summoned was not in sight by the time
Mr. Parker and Penny reached the Blake home. At first glance, the house
seemed to be dark. However, a dim light glowed from the windows of one of
the upstairs, rear bedrooms.

"We'll not wait for the police," Mr. Parker said, starting up the walk.

His knock at the door went unanswered. Even when the editor pounded with
his fist, no one came to admit him.

"Someone is inside," Penny declared, peering up at the lighted window.
"It must be Blake."

Mr. Parker tried the door and finding it unlocked, stepped boldly into
the living room.

"Blake!" he shouted.

On the floor above Mr. Parker and Penny heard the soft pad of slippered
feet. The real estate man, garbed in a black silk dressing gown, gazed
down over the balustrade.

"Who is there?" he called.

"Anthony Parker from the _Star_. I want to talk with you."

Slowly Clyde Blake descended the stairway. His gait was stiff and
deliberate.

"You seem to have injured your leg," Mr. Parker said significantly.

"I stumbled on the stairway not fifteen minutes ago," Blake answered.
"Twisted my ankle. May I ask why I am honored with a visit at this hour?"

"You know why I am here!" Mr. Parker retorted, reaching to switch on a
living room light.

"Indeed, I don't." Deliberately Blake moved away from the bridge lamp
into the shadow, but not before both Penny and her father had noted a
long, ugly scratch across his cheek.

"It's no use to pretend," Mr. Parker said sharply. "I have all the
evidence I need to convict you of being a ringleader of the Hoods."

"You are quite mad," the real estate man sneered. "Parker, I've put up
with you and your methods quite long enough. You queered my deal with the
Orphans' Camp Board. Now you accuse me of being a member of a
disreputable organization. You must be out of your mind."

"You've always been a good talker, Blake, but this time it will get you
nowhere. My reporters were at the Hubell Tower. I have a complete sound
record of what transpired there. Either give yourself up, or the police
will take you by force."

"So you've notified the police?"

"I have."

"In that case--" Blake's smile was tight. With a dextrousness which
caught Penny and her father completely off guard, he whipped a revolver
from beneath his dressing robe. "In that case," he completed, "we'll
handle it this way. Raise your hands, if you please."

"Your politeness quite overpowers me," the editor said sarcastically, as
he obeyed.

"Now turn your back and walk to the telephone," Blake went on. "Call the
police station and tell the chief that you made a mistake in asking for
my arrest."

"This will get you nowhere, Blake."

"Do as I say!"

Mr. Parker went to the telephone, stalling for time by pretending that he
did not know the police station number.

"Garfield 4508," Blake supplied. "Say exactly what I tell you or you'll
taste one of my little bullets!"

The real estate man stood with his back to the darkened dining room, in
such position that he could cover both Mr. Parker and Penny. As the
editor began to dial the phone, he backed a step nearer the archway.
Behind him, the dark velvet curtains moved slightly.

Penny noted the movement but gave no indication of it. The next instant a
muscular arm reached through the velvet folds, seizing Blake from the
rear. The revolver was torn from his hand.

Dropping the telephone, Mr. Parker snatched up the weapon and covered
Blake.

"All right, it's your turn to reach," he said.

As Blake slowly raised his hands, another man stepped into the circle of
light. He wore rough garments and had not shaved in many days.

"Clem Davis!" Penny exclaimed.

"I came here to get Blake," the man said briefly. "I've thought for a
long time he was the person responsible for all my trouble. Tonight when
the clock struck thirteen, I watched the Hubell Tower. I saw Blake put on
his hood and robe and then enter the building, so I knew he was the
Master."

"You're willing to testify to that?" Mr. Parker asked.

"Yes," Clem Davis nodded, "I've been thinking things over. I'm ready to
give myself up and tell what I know."

"You'll have a very difficult time of it proving your absurd charges,"
Blake said scathingly.

"I think not," Mr. Parker corrected. "Ben Bowman was captured tonight,
and he's already confessed his part in the real estate swindle. Even if
you weren't mixed up with the Hoods, you'd go to jail for that."

Blake sagged into a chair, for the first time looking shaken.

"I'll make a deal with you, Parker," he began, but the editor cut him
short.

"You'll face the music! No, Blake, you can't squeeze out of it this
time."

A car had drawn up in front of the house. Running to the window, Penny
saw three policemen crossing the street. She hurried to the door to open
it for them.

"Here's your man," Mr. Parker said as the policemen tramped into the
living room.

Turning the revolver over to one of the officers, he disclosed exactly
what had occurred. Blake was immediately placed under arrest. He was
granted ten minutes to change into street clothing and prepare for his
long sojourn in jail.

"I am being persecuted," he whined as he was led away. "This is all a
trick to build up circulation for the _Star_. If there is such an
organization as the Black Hoods, Clem Davis is the man who heads it!"

Penny and Mr. Parker felt very grateful to the fugitive who had come to
their aid at such a timely moment. They wished to help him if they could,
but they knew he could not escape arrest. Clem Davis realized it too, for
he made no protest when told that Sheriff Daniels must be called.

"I'm ready to give myself up," he repeated. "I was a member of the Hoods,
but I never went along with them once I learned that they meant to
defraud the truck farmers. I hope I can prove my innocence."

Within a few minutes Sheriff Daniels arrived to assume charge of his
prisoner. Entertaining no sympathy for the man, he told Penny and her
father that in all likelihood Davis must serve a long sentence.

"He's wanted for setting fire to the Preston barn," the sheriff insisted.
"Unless he can prove an alibi for himself, he hasn't a chance."

"Can't you tell where you were at the time of the fire?" Mr. Parker asked
the man.

"I was at a place called Toni's."

"Why, that's right, Dad!" Penny cried. "Don't you remember? We saw Davis
leave the place, and he was followed by two men--probably members of the
Hood organization."

"We saw a man leave there shortly after midnight," Mr. Parker agreed.

"You wouldn't swear he was Clem Davis?" the sheriff asked.

"I'm not sure," Mr. Parker admitted truthfully. "However, it's obvious
that a man scarcely could have gone from Toni's at that time and still
set fire to the barn. My daughter and I drove directly there, and when we
arrived the building had been burning for some time."

"All of which proves nothing unless you can show that Clem Davis actually
was at Toni's after midnight."

"Could the owner of the place identify you?" Penny thoughtfully inquired.

"I doubt it," Davis answered. "It might be worth a try, though."

"Perhaps I can prove that you weren't near the Preston farm at midnight!"
Penny exclaimed as a sudden idea came to her. "Clem, you heard the Hubell
clock strike the hour?"

"Yes, I did."

"How many strokes were there?"

"Thirteen," Davis answered without hesitation. "I counted them and
figured the Hoods were having one of their get-togethers."

"What is this?" the sheriff demanded in bewilderment.

"We can prove that the Hubell clock did strike thirteen on that
particular night," Penny resumed. "It was a signal used by the Hoods, but
that's not the point."

"What are you getting at?"

"Just this. The Hubell clock can't be heard at the Preston farm."

"True."

"One can still hear the clock at Toni's but not a quarter of a mile
beyond it. You see, if Mr. Davis heard the thirteenth stroke, he couldn't
have had time to reach the Preston farm and set the fire."

"That's an interesting argument," the sheriff said, smiling. "And you
plead Clem's case very earnestly. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll
investigate all these angles you've brought up, and if the evidence
supports your theory, I promise he'll go free."

"That's fair enough," declared Mr. Parker.

The sheriff did not handcuff his prisoner. As they were leaving the
house, Clem Davis turned to thank Penny for her interest in his behalf.

"Oh, I almost forgot," he said, taking a rectangular metal object from
beneath his baggy coat. "Here's something for you."

"A rusty automobile license plate!" Penny exclaimed, staring at it.

"Found it in the swamp not far from that abandoned car I told you about."

"Then it must have been thrown away by the driver of the hit-skip car!"

"That's how I figure," Clem Davis drawled. "If you can learn the owner of
this license plate, you'll know who killed that orphan's folks!"



                                CHAPTER
                                   25
                           _SPECIAL EDITION_


Lights blazed on every floor of the _Riverview Star_ building,
proclaiming to all who passed that another special edition was in the
process of birth. Pressmen industriously oiled the big rotaries ready for
a big run of papers; linotype men, compositors, reporters, all were at
their posts, having been hastily summoned from comfortable beds.

In the editor's office, Penny sat at a typewriter hammering out copy.
Jerking a long sheet of paper from beneath the roller, she offered it to
her father.

"My contribution on the Hubell Clock angle," she said with a flourish.

Mr. Parker rapidly scanned the story, making a number of corrections with
a blue pencil.

"I should slug this 'editorial material,'" he remarked with a grin.
"Quite a plug you've put in for Seth McGuire--suggesting that he be given
back his old job as caretaker of the Tower."

"Well, don't you think it's a good idea?"

"The old man will get his job back--I'll see to that," Mr. Parker
promised. "But the front page of the _Star_ is not the place to express
wishful thinking. We'll reserve it for news if you don't mind."

Crossing out several lines, Mr. Parker placed the copy in a pneumatic
tube, and shot it directly to the composing room. He glanced at his
watch, noting aloud that in exactly seven minutes the giant presses would
start rolling.

"Everything certainly has turned out grand," Penny sighed happily. "Hank
Holloway and Clyde Blake are sure to be given long prison sentences for
their Black Hood activities. You've promised to see that Old Seth gets
his job back, so that part will end beautifully. He'll adopt Adelle and I
won't need to worry about her any more."

"What makes you think Seth will adopt the orphan?" Mr. Parker asked
curiously.

"Why, he's wanted to do it from the first. He hesitated because he had no
steady work, and not enough money. By the way, Dad, how long will it take
to learn the owner of that automobile license plate that Clem Davis gave
us?"

"Jerry is trying to get the information now, Penny. All the registry
offices are closed, but if he can pull some official out of bed, there's
a chance he may obtain the data tonight. I'm not counting on it,
however."

The door of the office swung back and City Editor DeWitt hurried into the
room.

"Everything set?" Mr. Parker inquired.

"We need a picture of Clyde Blake. There's nothing in the morgue."

"Salt Sommers has one you might use!" Penny cried. "It was taken when
Blake came here the other day. He objected to it because it showed that
one arm was shorter than the other."

"Just what we need!" DeWitt approved. "I'll rush it right out. Except for
the picture, the front page is all made up."

The door closed behind the city editor, but before Mr. Parker could
settle comfortably into his chair, it burst open again. Jerry Livingston,
breathless from running up several flights of stairs, faced his chief.

"I've got all the dope!" he announced.

"You learned who drove the hit-run car?" Penny demanded eagerly.

"The license was issued in Clyde Blake's name!"

"Then Adelle's identification at the picnic was correct!" Penny
exclaimed.

"Write your story, Jerry, but make it brief," Mr. Parker said tersely.
"We'll make over the front page."

Calling DeWitt, he gave the new order. In the composing room, headlines
were jerked and a story of minor importance was pulled from the form to
make room for the new material.

"We'll roll three minutes late," Mr. Parker said, glancing at his watch
again. "Even so, our papers will make all the trains, and we'll scoop
every other sheet in town."

Jerry wrote his story which was sent paragraph by paragraph to the
composing room. Barely had he typed "30," signifying the end, when the
lights of the room dimmed for an instant.

"There go the presses!" Mr. Parker declared, ceasing his restless pacing.

Within a few minutes, the first paper, still fresh with ink, was laid
upon the editor's desk. Penny peered over his shoulder to read the
headlines announcing the arrest of Blake and his followers.

"There's not much here about Ben Bowman," she commented after a moment.
"What do you think will happen to him, Dad?"

"That remains to be seen," answered the editor. "He's already wanted for
forgery, so it should be fairly easy to prove that he worked with Blake
to defraud the Camp Board."

"I'm worried about the orphans' camp. So much money has been spent
clearing the land and setting up equipment."

"Probably everything can be settled satisfactorily in the end," Mr.
Parker returned. "It may take time and litigation, but there's no reason
why a perfect title can't be obtained to the land."

Penny felt very well pleased at the way everything had turned out. Only
one small matter remained unexplained. She had been unable to learn the
significance of the watch fob found in Clem Davis' stable.

"Why, I can tell you about that," Jerry Livingston assured her. "The fob
belonged to Hank Holloway. He admitted it at the police station. The
little boy in the picture is his nephew."

Both Penny and her father were tired for it was very late. With the
_Star_ ready for early morning street sales, they thought longingly of
home and bed. Yet as their car sped down a dimly lighted street, Penny
revived sufficiently to say:

"How about a steak at Toni's, Dad?"

"Oh, I don't feel like eating at this late hour," Mr. Parker declined.

"That's not the idea, Dad. I'm suggesting a raw steak for that left eye
of yours. By morning it will be swollen shut."

"It is quite a shiner," the editor agreed, gazing at his reflection in
the car mirror. "But the story was well worth the cost."

"Thanks to whom?" Penny asked mischievously.

"If I say thanks to you, Penny, you will be expecting an increase in your
allowance or something of the sort."

"Maybe I'll ask for it anyhow," Penny chuckled. "And don't forget that
you owe me a hundred dollars for getting that crack-pot, Ben Bowman, out
of your hair!"

"So I do," Mr. Parker conceded with a laugh. "That also will be worth the
price."



      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:


Typographical errors were corrected without comment.

Replaced the list of books in the series by the complete list, as in
  the final book, _The Cry at Midnight_.





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