A Lucky Hunch

AT NANCY'S outcry, the attendant rushed forward, «What's the trouble, miss?» she asked.

«My eyes!» Nancy repeated. «Someone put acid in my bag. Oh, please do something!»

The frightened attendant said she would take Nancy to the first-aid station. Guiding the stricken girl through the waiting room with one hand and carrying her bag in the other, the woman led Nancy to the airport's infirmary. A nurse hurried forward to take charge.

Nancy quickly explained what had happened, and at once she and her bag were taken into the doctor's office.

The odor of the fumes was very evident and the physician recognized them at once. He took down a bottle of oily fluid and gauze sponges from a shelf. Soaking a sponge, he dabbed it on her eyes.

«Take that bag out in the fresh air!» he ordered.

The nurse hurriedly went off with it. The physician continued to work on Nancy. Presently she was able to see but only dimly.

«Will my sight be permanently impaired?» she asked fearfully.

«No, fortunately. If you had spilled the acid in your eyes, you would have been blinded. But the fumes merely affected them momentarily.»

The soothing medication did its work well, and in a few minutes Nancy was able to see distinctly again. She thanked the physician for his quick help.

«I'm glad I was handy,» he said, smiling. Then he sobered. «Would you mind telling me why you were carrying that deadly acid with you?»

Nancy told as much of the story as she felt was advisable. The physician's eyebrows raised in amazement.

«So you're a girl detective?» he said admiringly. «The man who tried to harm you ought to be jailed for maliciousness.»

Outside, Mr. Drew and his companions wondered what had happened to Nancy.

She had disappeared so suddenly while they were looking at the incoming plane that they had not noticed where she had gone.

«She probably went to telephone again,» Ned said.

«Well, I wish she'd get back,» Mr. Drew remarked. «We'll be taking off in a few minutes.»

Ned had been staring at a rather unusual sight a short distance away. A woman's overnight bag lay wide open, and a white uniformed nurse and a policeman were examining its contents.

Ned laughed and pointed out the scene to Miss Drew. «That has all the earmarks of a mystery,» he said. «Nancy ought to be here to solve it.»

But Aunt Eloise did not smile. She had recognized the pink-flowered dressing robe which she knew belonged to Nancy, and told the others.

«What could have happened?» Miss Drew said, worried.

The whole group hurried over to the policeman and inquired what the trouble was. He replied in an impatient tone of voice, «Oh, some fool girl was carrying a bottle of deadly acid in her bag. It got uncorked somehow. A doc in the first-aid station is taking care of her.»

«What!» Mr. Drew cried. Turning to the nurse, he said he was the girl's father. «Please take us to her at once.»

Reaching the infirmary, they burst into the doctor's office.

«Nancy! What happened?» Mr. Drew cried.

Quickly his daughter gave him the correct details.

«The fiend!» Pietro cried out. «I'll give up the trip and find that fellow if it's the last thing I do!»

«That won't be necessary,» said Mr. Drew. «The police can take care of him.»

The doctor declared that Nancy was all right to travel, so she hurried outside with the others. She could give the policeman only a hazy description of the man who had tampered with her bag, because she had seen little more than his back.

«I'm afraid that's not much identification to go on,» Nancy said. She smiled ruefully. «Anyway, he didn't succeed in keeping me from going to England as he probably hoped to do.»

Nancy stooped to the ground and looked in dismay at her suitcase. The acid had spilled on some of the articles and the robe was ruined. Luckily, it had not damaged the bag itself, and Nancy was able to retrieve some of her belongings.

Over the loud-speaker came the announcement: «Flight 1205. Passengers for Flight 1205 aboard!»

Mr. Drew turned to his daughter. «Nancy, are you sure you feel well enough to make the trip?»

«I'm perfectly all right, really I am,» she replied.

Pietro and the Drews said good-by and found their seats in the plane. A few minutes later the door was closed. The pilot taxied down the runway, then waited for clearance. Finally the overseas airliner roared along the ground and took off gracefully.

Nancy watched from the window as long as land was in sight. Then, as the plane went higher and higher into the clouds, she settled down to read the magazine Aunt Eloise had given her. But reading seemed to hurt her eyes and she decided not to take a chance of straining them. When evening came, Mr. Drew changed seats with Pietro. Nancy asked the clown how long it was since he had seen his father.

«Several years,» Pietro answered. «Not since Dad retired. You'll like him,» the young man went on. «My father is one of the kindest and most humorous men I have ever known.»

The couple discussed the history of the circus at great length—in fact, until Mr. Drew came to invite them to take a stroll with him. They toured the great plane, had dinner, and then decided to have a long night's sleep. The next morning Nancy watched excitedly as they approached the London airport. It amazed her that so little fuss was being made in connection with their arrival. To her the trip had been wonderful and unusual. She realized that to those at the airport the arrival of an overseas plane was an hourly occurrence.

When they landed, Nancy and her companions were among the first to leave the ship. After going through the customs, they walked toward the exit gate. Pietro looked eagerly for his father. Suddenly he saw him and started to run.

Nancy enjoyed watching the joyful reunion as the two men clasped each other in their arms. When the Drews walked up, Pietro introduced his father.

«This is the young lady I wrote you about,» the down said, «the one who is trying to straighten out everything so that Lolita and I can be married.»

«Then I am doubly glad to meet you, Miss Drew,» the older man said, smiling. He shook her hand warmly.

«I'm very glad to meet you,» Nancy said. «And you know you're involved in this mystery, too. It was because you thought you saw Lola Flanders in Tewkesbury that we're here.»

«But I didn't turn out to be a very good sleuth,» Pietro's father said. «Well, let us be on our way. I have made reservations at a quiet hotel.»

They took a taxi and soon were riding through the narrow, busy streets of the city.

Pietro told his father what had happened to Nancy just before they took off. A frightened look came over the older man's face and he remarked that he hoped Nancy would be perfectly safe in England.

«Oh, I'll be all right,» Nancy insisted. «But you men will have to be patient with me while I do some shopping. That awful man and his acid ruined some rather vital parts of my wardrobe.»

After breakfast, the group set off for the shopping trip and a visit to the pawnshop from which Nancy's bracelet had come. When they reached the door of Liberty's Department Store, Mr. Drew suggested that Nancy be given half an hour for her shopping.

«We men will look around and meet you here,» he suggested, as he handed her some English currency.

Hurrying from one counter to another, Nancy not only bought the necessary articles for which she had come but several others as well.

«And I ought to pick up a few souvenirs while I'm here,» she told herself. «I must get something for Hannah. And George and Bess, too. They were certainly wonderful, helping me on the mystery.»

Nancy actually forgot the time, and when she rejoined her companions was profuse in her apology for having kept them waiting twenty minutes.

«You did pretty well at that,» her father teased. «Most girls would have taken half a day to do what you did,» he said, looking at her many packages.

The pawnshop was not far away. The owner proved to be very helpful. Though it had been three years since the woman who had signed her name as Laura Flynn had visited his shop, he remembered her well.

«I felt so sorry for her,» he said. «She seemed frightened and ill at ease. Apparently it was very hard for her to decide to part with the bracelet.» When he described her, Nancy was at once reminded of Lolita. Apparently mother and daughter strongly resembled each other.

«She's the one I saw in Tewkesbury, all right!» Mr. Pietro cried.

Nancy wanted to set off at once to look for Lola Flanders. But the others insisted that she should do some sight-seeing in London. And Mr. Drew wanted to call on the lawyer with whom he had communicated. The following morning they set off, however.

Mr. Drew had hired a comfortable car to use during their stay in England. Since it would be a little confusing at first to drive on the left side of the road, Pietro's father offered to take the wheel.

Nancy was charmed with the countryside as they came nearer and nearer to the town of Tewkesbury. Presently Mr. Pietro asked her where she intended to search. He had already made inquiries in every place he could think of.

«I have an idea that Lola Flanders may be in some nursing home,» said Nancy.

«That's a good hunch,» her father remarked, «Mr. Pietro, how can we go about finding out where the nursing homes are?»

The retired clown suggested that they go to the medical registry. He was sure they could find out there. He drove to the building and went inside with Nancy. They learned that there were two large and eight small nursing homes in the area.

As they went from one to another, Nancy asked if they had a patient by either the name of Lola Flanders or Laura Flynn. After they had inquired at six of them and received a negative reply, everyone in the group except Nancy became discouraged.

«Why, we have four more to investigate,» she said cheerfully.

The last home they came to was a very shabby place. The house was in disrepair and in need of painting. Unlike others in the neighborhood, it had a weedy, run-down garden.

The woman who answered Nancy's knock proved to be the owner of the home. Her name was Mrs. Ayres and she was as shabby looking as her place. But in a moment, Nancy forgot all this. One of her patients was named Lola Flanders!

«I've come all the way from the United States to see her,» said Nancy excitedly.

Mrs. Ayres stared at the visitor. «Well, it's too bad you went to all that trouble, miss,» she said. «You can't see Lola Flanders. She's a victim of amnesia!»