“Now what became of that old man?” Penny asked herself in perplexity. “I didn’t hear him steal away. He couldn’t have vanished into thin air! Or did he?”

Thinking that Mr. Malcom might have gone back to the want-ad department, she hastily returned there. To her anxious inquiry, the clerk responded with a grin:

“No, Old Whiskers hasn’t been here. If you find him, ask for his address. He forgot to leave it.”

Decidedly disturbed, Penny ran down the hall which gave exit to the street. Breathlessly she asked the elevator attendant if he had seen an old man leave the building.

“A fellow with a long white beard?”

“Yes, and a cane. Which way did he go?”

“Can’t tell you that.”

“But you did see him?” Penny demanded impatiently.

“Sure, he went out the door a minute or two ago. He was talking to himself like he was a bit cracked in the head. He was chuckling as if he knew a great joke.”

“And I’m it,” Penny muttered.

She darted through the revolving doors to the street. With the noon hour close at hand throngs of persons poured from the various offices. Amid the bustling, hurrying crowd she saw no one who remotely resembled the old man of the hills.

“He slipped away on purpose!” she thought half-resentfully. “He gave me the newspaper clipping just to stir my interest, and then left without explaining a thing!”

Abandoning the search as hopeless, Penny again reread the clipping. Five hundred dollars offered for information leading to the capture of a Headless Horseman! Why, it sounded fantastic. But the advertisement actually had appeared in a country newspaper. Therefore, it must have some basis of fact.

Still mulling the matter over in her mind, Penny climbed a long flight of stairs to the Star news room. Near the door stood an empty desk. For many years that desk had been occupied by Jerry Livingston, crack reporter, now absent on military leave. It gave Penny a tight feeling to see the covered typewriter, for she and Jerry had shared many grand times together.

She went quickly on, past a long row of desks where other reporters tapped out their stories. She nodded to Mr. DeWitt, the city editor, waved at Salt Sommers, photographer, and entered her father’s private office.

“Hello, Dad,” she greeted him cheerfully. “Busy?”

“I was.”

Anthony Parker put aside the mouthpiece of a dictaphone machine to smile fondly at his one and only child. He was a tall, lean man and a recent illness had left him even thinner than before.

Penny sank into an upholstered chair in front of her father’s desk.

“If it’s money you want,” began Mr. Parker, “the answer is no! Not one cent until your allowance is due. And no sob story please.”

“Why, Dad.” Penny shot him an injured look. “I wasn’t even thinking of money—at least not such a trivial amount as exchanges hands on my allowance day. Nothing less than five hundred dollars interests me.”

“Five hundred dollars!”

“Oh, I aim to earn it myself,” Penny assured him hastily.

“How may I ask?”

“Maybe by catching a Headless Horseman,” Penny grinned mischievously. “It seems that one is galloping wild out Red Valley way.”

“Red Valley? Never heard of the place.” Mr. Parker began to show irritation. “Penny, what are you talking about anyway?”

“This,” explained Penny, spreading the clipping on the desk. “An old fellow who looked like Rip Van Winkle gave it to me. Then he disappeared before I could ask any questions. What do you think, Dad?”

Mr. Parker read the advertisement at a glance. “Bunk!” he exploded. “Pure bunk!”

“But Dad,” protested Penny hotly. “It was printed in the Hobostein Weekly.”

“I don’t care who published it or where. I still say ‘bunk!’”

“Wasn’t that the same word you used not so long ago when I tried to tell you about a certain Witch Doll?” teased Penny. “I started off on what looked like a foolish chase, but I came back dragging one of the best news stories the Star ever published. Remember?”

“No chance you’ll ever let me forget!”

“Dad, I have a hunch,” Penny went on, ignoring the jibe. “There’s a big story in this Headless Horseman business! I just feel it.”

“I suppose you’d like to have me assign you the task of tracking down your Front Page gem?”

“Now you’re talking my language!”

“Penny, can’t you see it’s only a joke?” Mr. Parker asked in exasperation. “The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow! That story was written years ago by a man named Washington Irving. Or didn’t you know?”

“Oh, I’ve read the ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’” Penny retorted loftily. “I remember one of the characters was Ichabod Crane. He was chased by the Headless Horseman and nearly died of fright.”

“A nice bit of fiction,” commented Mr. Parker. He tapped the newspaper clipping. “And so is this. The best place for it is in the scrap basket.”

“Oh, no, it isn’t!” Penny leaped forward to rescue the precious clipping. Carefully she folded it into her purse. “Dad, I’m convinced Sleepy Hollow must be a real place. Why can’t I go there to interview Mr. Burmaster?”

“Did you say Burmaster?”

“Yes, the person who offers the reward. He signed himself J. Burmaster.”

“That name is rather familiar,” Mr. Parker said thoughtfully. “Wonder if it could be John Burmaster, the millionaire? Probably not. But I recall that a man by that name built an estate called Sleepy Hollow somewhere in the hill country.”

“There!” cried Penny triumphantly. “You see the story does have substance after all! May I make the trip?”

“How would you find Burmaster?”

“A big estate shouldn’t be hard to locate. I can trace him through the Hobostein Weekly. What do you say, Dad?”

“The matter is for Mrs. Weems to decide. Now scram out of here! I have work to do.”

“Thanks for letting me go,” laughed Penny, giving him a big hug. “Now about finances—but we’ll discuss that angle later.”

Blowing her father an airy kiss, she pranced out of the office.

Penny fairly trod on clouds as she raced toward the home of her chum, Louise Sidell. Her dark-haired chum sat listlessly on the porch reading a book, but she jumped to her feet as she saw her friend. From the way Penny took the steps at one leap she knew there was important news to divulge.

“What’s up?” she demanded alertly.

“Hop, skip and count three!” laughed Penny. “We’re about to launch forth into a grand and glorious adventure. How would you like to go in search of a Headless Horseman?”

“Any kind of a creature suits me,” chuckled Louise. “When do we start and where?”

“Lead me to a map and I’ll try to answer your questions. Our first problem is to find a place called Red Valley.”

For a half hour the two girls poured over a state map. Hobostein County was an area close by, while Red Valley proved to be an isolated little locality less than a day’s journey from Riverview. Penny was further encouraged to learn that the valley she proposed to visit had been settled by Dutch pioneers and that many of the original families still had descendants living there.

“It will be an interesting trip even if we don’t run into any mystery,” Louise said philosophically. “Are you sure you can go, Penny?”

“Well, pretty sure. Dad said it was up to Mrs. Weems to decide.”

Louise gave her chum a sideways glance. “That seems like a mighty big ‘if’ to me.”

“Oh, I’ll bring her around somehow. Pack your suitcase, Lou. We’ll start tomorrow morning bright and early.”

Though Penny spoke with confidence, she was less certain of her powers as she entered her own home a few minutes later. She found Mrs. Weems, the stout, middle-aged housekeeper in the kitchen making cookies.

“Now please don’t gobble any of that raw dough!” Mrs. Weems remonstrated as the girl reached for one of the freshly cut circles. “Can’t you wait until they’re baked?”

Penny perched herself on the sink counter. Reminded that her heels were making marks on the cabinet door, she drew them up beneath her and balanced like an acrobat. Forthwith she launched into a glowing tale of her morning’s activities. The story failed to bring a responsive warmth from the housekeeper.

“I declare, I can’t make sense out of what you’re saying!” she protested. “Headless Horsemen, my word! I’m afraid you’re the one who’s lost your head. The ideas you do get!”

Mrs. Weems sadly heaved a deep sigh. Since the death of Mrs. Parker many years before, she had assumed complete charge of the household. However, the task of raising Penny had been almost too much for the patient woman. Though she loved the girl as her own, there were times when she felt that running a three-ring circus would be much easier.

“Louise and I plan to start for Red Valley by train early tomorrow,” said Penny briskly. “We’ll probably catch the 9:25 if I can get up in time.”

“And has your father said you may go?”

“He said it was up to you.”

Mrs. Weems smiled grimly. “Then the matter is settled. I shall put my foot down.”

“Oh, Mrs. Weems,” Penny wailed. “Please don’t ruin all our plans. The trip means so much to me!”

“I’ve heard that argument before,” replied Mrs. Weems, unmoved. “I see no reason why I should allow you to start off on such a wild chase.”

“But I expect to get a dandy story for Dad’s paper!”

“That’s only an excuse,” sighed the housekeeper. “The truth is that you crave adventure and excitement. It’s a trait which unfortunately you inherited from your father.”

Penny decided to play her trump card.

“Mrs. Weems, Red Valley is one of those picturesque hidden localities where families have gone on for generation after generation. The place must fairly swim with antiques. Wouldn’t you like to have me buy a few for you while I’m there?”

Despite her intentions, Mrs. Weems displayed interest. As Penny very well knew, collecting antiques had become an absorbing hobby with her.

“Silas Malcom has a spinning wheel for sale,” Penny went on, pressing home the advantage she had gained. “I’ll find him if I can and buy it for you.”

“Your schemes are as transparent as glass.”

“But you will let me go?”

“I probably will,” sighed Mrs. Weems. “I’ve learned to my sorrow that in any event you usually get your way.”

Penny danced out of the kitchen to a telephone.

“It’s all set,” she gleefully told Louise. “We leave early tomorrow morning for Red Valley. And if I don’t earn that five hundred dollar reward then my name isn’t Penny Gumshoe Parker!”

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