Authors: Carolyn Keene
“Oh, I must go to him at once!” Margaret cried. “What hospital is he in?”
“Mr. Haley is at his cabin in the woods,” Nancy explained. “The doctor did not think it necessary to move him.”
“Then I shall go there!” the young woman exclaimed. Suddenly a startled expression came over her face. “No, I can’t go after all,” she murmured.
“I’m sorry,” Nancy said. “Mr. Haley really needs you.”
“I want to go—you don’t understand. I’m just afraid I might meet a certain person there.”
“Mark Wardell?” Nancy questioned.
Margaret Judson buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
“Yes, yes, he’s the one. How can I face him while I am regarded as a thief!”
Nancy crossed the room and put an arm around the young woman. “Please don’t cry,” she said soothingly.
Meanwhile, Bess and George were enjoying the dance at Deer Mountain Hotel with Burt and Dave.
“The dancing will soon be over,” Bess declared anxiously as she gazed about the ballroom. “What can be keeping Nancy and Ned?”
Before anyone could hazard a guess, a boy came through the ballroom, calling George Fayne’s name. The girls motioned to him, hoping that Nancy had sent a note to explain her absence.
“You’re wanted on the telephone, Miss Fayne,” the boy told her.
“I can’t imagine who would call me here,” she murmured. “I don’t believe it’s from Nancy. It might be from home.”
Her guess was right. Mrs. Fayne in River Heights, lonesome for the sound of her daughter’s voice, had telephoned merely to inquire if George was all right.
“Oh, yes, Mother, and we’re having a fantastic time here. I wrote to you today.”
At this point George lost the thread of conversation completely, because in the adjoining booth she heard the excited voice of a man saying:
“So the guy is a forger! He skipped out!”
“Did you hear what I said?” Mrs. Fayne questioned her daughter anxiously. “Your—”
“Oh, yes, that’s nice,” George replied hastily, her mind on the conversation in the other booth.
“Those two B-A-R’s look alike?” she heard the man ask. “And you say the M and the T are similar? ... Yes, I agree that ought to be enough to convict him.”
George’s mind worked with lightning-like speed. B-A-R were the first three letters of Martin Bartescue’s last name and there was an M and a T in his first name. The man was a forger just as Nancy had suspected! The person in the next booth very likely was a hotel official who was being told of the discovery.
“George,” came her mother’s voice in exasperation, “what is the matter with you?”
“I—I can’t talk now,” George stammered. “Something important has come up. I’ll call back a little later.”
She hung up and darted from the phone booth. The adjoining one was now empty. Since Nancy was not available, George hurried to tell Bess, Burt, and Dave what had happened.
“I’ve just made an important discovery,” she revealed. “Bartescue definitely is a forger and apparently the hotel people are on to him!”
“No wonder he skipped out!” Bess exclaimed. “That explains the note he left Nancy. He’s probably miles away by now.”
“But he’s supposed to play his final golf match tomorrow,” said George. “Let’s walk down to the caddy house and find out if his clubs are gone.”
“I’ll bet,” Dave spoke up, “that he won’t show up for the golf match if he’s facing arrest.”
“Let’s find out anyway.”
The two couples walked across the grounds toward the caddy house, clearly outlined in the moonlight. The shack had been locked for the night. Disappointed, they turned toward the hotel.
Suddenly Burt noticed an object gleaming in the grass and stooped to pick it up. “Someone’s keys.”
“One of the golfers, I suppose,” said George. “We can turn the keys in at the office.”
Burt dropped them into his pocket, and the four friends walked on toward the hotel. As they came within view of the garden, George abruptly halted, clutching Burt’s arm.
“Look! Over toward that statue by the fountain! It’s Barty! Bess, let’s you and I sneak up there.”
While the boys waited, the girls crept forward, taking care to keep themselves hidden by bushes and trees. They saw him reach across the basin of the fountain and remove a white object from the hand of the statue.
“It must have been a note from someone,” George said in an undertone. “Bess, we must capture him!”
“We can’t do that alone.”
“No, we must get Burt and Dave!”
Quietly the girls hurried back. The boys were eager to help.
“Tell us what to do.”
“Capture that man,” Bess whispered.
The four quietly approached the fountain. Bartescue was standing there, studying a sheet of paper in his hand. They heard him mutter something, then he crumpled the paper and hurled it angrily into the pool.
“Now’s our chance!” Burt whispered.
Stealthily the boys moved forward. There was bright moonlight. Suddenly Bartescue turned his head. Sensing the boys’ intent, he gave a cry of alarm and fled toward the caddy house.
“Don’t let him get away!” Dave cried as the young people gave chase.
Burt, who was a champion sprinter on the Emerson College track team, soon overtook the man and threw him to the ground. The others closed in so the prisoner could not escape.
“What’s the meaning of this outrage?” Barty demanded, furious. “Let me up.”
“We’ll release you when the police come,” Dave retorted grimly. “You low-down forger!”
“I’ve never forged anything in my life,” Bartescue denied in a rasping tone. Burt and Dave soon discovered that it was not easy to keep the strong and agile man pinned to the ground.
George glanced quickly toward the caddy house. Inspired by a sudden thought, she asked Burt for the keys he had found and ran to the locked door to try them. One fit perfectly and she was able to unlock the door.
Bartescue was thrust inside and the door securely locked again. Burt and Dave said they would stand guard while the girls ran back to the hotel to notify the officials.
“Don’t let him get away!” Dave cried
“Let me out of here!” Barty yelled at the top of his lungs, pounding savagely on the door. “You have no right to do this!”
In the meantime Bess and George had reached the hotel. Greatly excited, they hurried to the manager’s office and burst in upon him.
“Come quickly!” George cried. “We’ve captured your forger!”
“What!” the manager demanded incredulously. “You’ve caught the man?”
“Yes, we have him—in the caddy house! Follow us.”
Bess and George were glowing with pride by the time they came to it. There was not a sound within. Apparently Bartescue had decided that it was useless to try convincing the boys of his innocence. Bess unlocked the door and the manager cautiously peered inside.
“Come out of there, you!” he ordered sharply.
Disheveled, Bartescue haughtily emerged from the building. He glared at Bess and George, then cast an accusing glance at the hotel manager.
“Sir, I demand an explanation for this outrageous treatment. Never before in my life have I been so abused and insulted!”
The manager had not spoken a word. He could only stare.
“Oh, Mr. Bartescue, this is all a mistake,” he said finally.
“A mistake!” George exclaimed indignantly. “This man is a forger. I heard you say so yourself when you were talking in a telephone booth. Or at least I thought it was you.”
“It’s not Martin Bartescue who is wanted for forgery,” the manager said.
“But the letters B-A-R—”
“They stand for Barney. One of our newly employed cooks, a man by the name of Jennings, forged a hundred-dollar check. He used the signature of Barney Milton, who is our caddy master. Mr. Bartescue had nothing whatever to do with the matter.”
George murmured in confusion, “I shouldn’t have acted so impulsively, only I thought Mr. Bartescue was under suspicion even before this. He has written his name so many different ways.”
“I can explain that,” Barty said coldly.
“Then please do,” Bess insisted.
“I shall explain nothing to you,” the man retorted. “When Miss Drew comes I will tell her—in private!”
He turned and walked toward the hotel. The manager hastened after him, continuing to offer apologies for the mistake.
“I seem to have achieved the prize boo-boo,” George said contritely.
“But the fact remains,” Bess agreed soberly, “that Bartescue still has a lot to explain.”
“We must find Nancy immediately,” George declared urgently. “Barty may slip away, and then we’ll never learn the reason for his strange actions.”
FOLLOWING Margaret Judson’s plaintive announcement that she could not face her former fiancé, Nancy tried to draw the full story from the young woman. Margaret said again that it was because she had been accused of being a thief.
“But you’re innocent, aren’t you?” Ned asked.
“Oh, yes, yes. I have never done anything dishonest in my life. And please forgive my tears,” Margaret Judson replied in embarrassment.
Finding Nancy and Ned sympathetic, the young woman began to explain the situation.
“It happened a little over two years ago,” she said. “On the way home from a trip abroad I met a charming woman named Mrs. Brownell and we became good friends. I finally invited her to spend a weekend at my home.”
“Your house near Deer Mountain Hotel?” Nancy asked.
“Yes. I was living there at the time. Mrs. Brownell accepted my invitation. One evening before dinner I learned that my guest loved beautiful jewelry. I opened the safe and showed her a small chest containing my family heirlooms. Instead of returning it to the safe, as I should have done, I placed the chest in my bureau drawer,
“That night as I was preparing for bed, Mrs. Brownell came to my room to show me a jeweled compact. It was exquisite. We chatted for a time, then she went back to her room. Later I noticed she had left the compact on my dresser.”
“You didn’t attempt to return it to her?” Nancy asked in surprise.
“Mrs. Brownell had retired before I realized she’d left it, so I put the compact in the chest. I meant to give it to her early in the morning. Fire broke out during the night.
“It seemed to be everywhere at once. When I awoke, my bedroom was filled with smoke, and flames were shooting up the stairway. I ran to Mrs. Brownell’s room and awakened her. By then it was too late to save very much, and we were forced to escape down a porch trellis.”
“Did you forget the box of jewelry?” Nancy asked.
“No, I wrapped it in some of my clothing. Then I snatched up my pocketbook and managed to escape just an instant before the floor of my room crashed. In terror, I ran toward Joe Haley’s cabin.
“Somehow I got lost. I remember stumbling across the ravine bridge, but my memory about what happened after that isn’t very clear. Apparently I wandered through the woods until I blacked out. In any event, hours elapsed before I recovered consciousness. I was chilled to the bone.
“When I looked about, the bundle of clothing and my pocketbook were still beside me. The little chest of jewelry with Mrs. Brownell’s compact was gone.”
“Where was Mrs. Brownell?” Ned put in.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if she followed me across the bridge.”
“Did you notice footprints when you woke up? Which way did they go?” Nancy queried.
Margaret Judson shook her head. “I was too excited to notice anything. I wandered about in a semi-dazed condition, hoping I’d find the jewelry. It seemed certain I must have dropped it somewhere in the woods.
“When dawn came I knew that the search was useless and I was exhausted. I staggered to Mr. Haley’s cabin and told him about the fire and that I’d lost the chest. I begged him to try to find it. He promised he would.”
“Was the jewelry extremely valuable?” Ned asked.
“Yes, several of the pieces were priceless. Among them was my diamond engagement ring. I valued it more than anything else. And, of course, Mrs. Brownell’s jeweled compact was worth a small fortune.”
“According to her estimate,” Nancy remarked. “Did you agree?”
“She came to see me later and said it was valued at six thousand dollars. I wouldn’t know its worth,” Margaret answered. “She blamed me entirely for the loss.”
“How could she do that when she left the compact on your dresser?” Ned spoke up.
Margaret shrugged. “Mrs. Brownell demanded that I return it immediately or pay her the amount. She threatened to turn me over to the police. I would have paid the money gladly but I couldn’t afford to. I had only a small bank account. Nearly everything I owned except a few acres of land was destroyed in the fire. Unfortunately the insurance policy on the property had lapsed.”
Nancy said thoughtfully, “I doubt that she could have proved any claim against you.”
“You mean she couldn’t have had me arrested?”
“I don’t think so.”
“She would have said that I had hidden the jewel case deliberately.”
“Even so, Mrs. Brownell couldn’t have won her case without proof,” Ned told her. “You should have consulted a lawyer.”