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Text - "The Clock Strikes Thirteen" Mildred A. Wirt


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."

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