Furious at herself because she had been so careless, Penny quickly tested the door. Finding it securely fastened as she had known it would be, she reached for her flashlight. It was missing from her pocket.

Though she groped about in the darkness, she could not find it. Giving up, she next turned her attention to Rhoda Hawthorne.

Thongs about the girl’s wrists and ankles had been loosely tied. In a minute, Penny had set her free.

“Now to find a way out of here!” she exclaimed. “Highland and Winkey probably are driving to the river dock by this time!”

“It’s no use trying to get out,” Rhoda said despairingly as she rubbed her bruised wrists. “I’m sure this door is the only exit. Look in the adjoining room and you’ll see what I mean.”

Even as Penny started for the inner doorway, she heard a low moan of pain from someone imprisoned there.

“Who is it?” she asked tensely.

“I don’t know,” Rhoda admitted, huddling close beside Penny. “Two men, one of them in frightful condition.”

“Can’t we set them free? Rhoda, try to find my flashlight. It fell somewhere near the stairway.”

While Rhoda groped for the flashlight, Penny entered the inner prison room. Not until she was very close could she see two men who were chained to a supporting pillar. Gags covered the mouths of both victims.

Penny untied the cloths. The first man she thus freed was someone she never before had seen. But as she jerked the gag from the lips of the second prisoner, she was startled to recognize Mr. Ayling.

“You!” she exclaimed.

“In the flesh, or what’s left of it,” the investigator attempted to banter. “Nice fix for an investigator, eh? The company probably will give me a merit award for this!”

“How were you enticed here?”

“It’s a long story,” sighed Mr. Ayling. “I’ve not been chained here long, fortunately. My companion, Joseph Merkill, is in much worse shape. He’s been here a couple of days.”

“I’ll set him free first,” Penny offered. She groped along the chains which fastened the man to the stone column. “Handcuffs? How can I get them off?”

“You can’t, without a key,” replied Mr. Ayling. “You’ll have to go for help, or if there’s no escape, wait until someone finds us here.”

“That may not be before morning! Even if police should come here tonight, they might not see the stairway to the crypt.”

“Any chance to break down the door?”

“I doubt it. Rhoda and I can try though.”

“Rhoda Hawthorne! So it was her voice I heard! She and her grandmother are imprisoned also?”

“Yes, Rhoda’s with me. Her grandmother, seriously ill, is locked in a bedroom upstairs. Who is Mr. Merkill?”

“His wife is an inmate here,” the investigator explained. “Jay Highland—I know now he’s a notorious jewel thief—induced Mrs. Merkill to come to the monastery. After he fleeced her of a diamond necklace, she smuggled a note out, telling how she was being mistreated. Her husband, from whom she had been estranged, decided to investigate. He came here alone. Discovering what was going on, he threatened to expose Highland to the police.”

“Highland tricked me,” Mr. Merkill added. “He promised I could take my former wife away and he would close the monastery. To show there were no hard feelings, he suggested we have coffee together. I drank it and became so sleepy I had to go to bed. That’s all I remember until I woke up here, chained to a post!”

“I should have been more suspicious of Highland the first time I met him,” Mr. Ayling blamed himself.

“Why did you go to Chicago?” Penny asked as she worked at the chains.

“I know now it was Highland who sent me the fake telegram. He wanted to get me away from here. While in Chicago, I contacted my home office and obtained information which convinced me Highland was a gem thief. So I came here, intending to demand a police investigation.”

“I met one train,” said Penny. “You weren’t on it.”

“I didn’t arrive until early tonight. When the train came in, Winkey and Mr. Highland were waiting at the station.”

“For you, obviously?”

“Yes, they told me Mrs. Hawthorne was at the monastery, seriously sick and wanted to see me at once. The story fitted with my own conclusion that despite Highland’s previous statements, Mrs. Hawthorne was here. So I foolishly agreed to accompany them.”

“Then what happened?”

“In the car, speeding out here, I realized I was being foolhardy to return to the monastery without police escort. At an intersection I tried to get out. Winkey slugged me. That’s the last I knew until I found myself in this crypt.”

Rhoda now groped her way to the door of the inner prison room.

“I found the flashlight but it’s broken,” she reported.

“With or without a light, we must get out of here and bring the police!” Penny exclaimed. “We haven’t a chance to free Mr. Ayling and Mr. Merkill ourselves.”

“And you haven’t a chance to get out of here either—not until someone breaks into the house,” Mr. Ayling added. “The only door is the one Highland locked.”

“There is another exit!” Penny recalled. “Mr. Eckenrod showed it to me on the map of this old building. If only we can find it!”

Filled with hope, she began to grope about the walls of the inner room. In the semi-darkness, she could find no break anywhere on the rough stone surface.

“According to the map, the opening should be along this wall,” she told Rhoda who joined her in the search. “But there’s nothing here.”

“Maybe the opening was sealed up years ago.”

Though half convinced Rhoda was right, Penny would not give up. Even after her friend had abandoned the search, she kept tapping the walls.

One section, adjoining a large stone tomb, gave off a hollow sound. But try as she would, Penny could not find a moveable section of wall.

“It’s no use,” she admitted, “unless—”

“Unless what?” Rhoda demanded as Penny’s voice trailed off.

“What a dud I am! I remember now, Mr. Eckenrod said the hidden passage comes out through a tomb in the churchyard! So the entrance to the tunnel may be through this tomb which stands against the wall!”

“The wall did give off a hollow sound when you tapped it,” Rhoda declared, hope reviving.

“See if you can open the door of the tomb!” Mr. Ayling urged, becoming excited. “I have a hunch you’re on the right track!”

Thus urged, Penny overcame her own reluctance. The latch on the big stone door appeared to be locked. She experimented with it for awhile, and was rewarded to hear a sharp click. As she pulled on the door with all her strength, it slowly swung backwards.

Peering in, she saw that the tomb was empty. Also, the back wall was missing.

“The entrance to the passageway!” she cried. “We’ve found it!”

As Rhoda sprang to her feet, Penny hesitated. She felt it would be cruel to abandon the two men who remained chained to the column.

“Go as fast as you can!” Mr. Ayling urged. “It’s our only hope! If you get out safely, send the police after Highland and Winkey! Then bring help.”

“We’ll hurry!” Penny promised.

She grasped Rhoda’s trembling hand and started through the opening into a narrow, low passageway vaulted over with brick.

“You say we’ll come out in the churchyard?” Rhoda gasped, huddling close behind her friend.

“I imagine so. This passage can’t be very long. I only hope it isn’t blocked by a cave-in.”

Their anxiety increased as they inched their way along. Frequently they were forced to climb over piles of brick which had fallen from the ceiling.

Once they were certain the passage was completely blocked. However, Penny pulled aside a mass of debris, enabling them to climb through and go on.

Then at last the tunnel began to ascend over wet, slippery ground.

“We’re coming out!” Penny announced jubilantly. “I can see a crack of light ahead!”

A few feet farther and the passageway was blocked by a small stone door. However, dim light shone beneath it and the girls could feel cold night air on their cheeks.

Penny tugged at the door and it opened readily. The pair emerged into another empty tomb. Closing the stone door carefully behind them, they made their way out into the night.

“We’re still on the grounds!” Penny observed in a hushed voice as she looked alertly about. “In the old graveyard.”

“Any sign of Father Benedict or the dogs?” Rhoda whispered nervously.

“Nary a trace. The car at the rear of the monastery is gone! We must get to a telephone as quickly as we can!”

Alternately stumbling over fragments of stone and mounds of earth, the girls raced for the front gate. Even as they reached it, a car skidded to a standstill close beside the fence.

“It’s someone from the Star office!” Penny cried, recognizing one of the newspaper-owned automobiles.

As she struggled with the latch of the big gate, her father, Jerry Livingston, and Salt Sommers leaped from the car.

“That you, Penny?” called Mr. Parker anxiously. “We were getting mighty worried about you. What kept you here so long?”

“This and that,” replied Penny, opening the gate. “It will take too long to tell. We need help and need it fast!”

As rapidly as she could, she related the essential facts of Jay Highland’s flight, apparently to the river docks.

“Salt, streak for the nearest phone and turn in a police alarm!” Mr. Parker ordered.

“It may be too late to overtake Highland,” Penny said anxiously. “But if we don’t catch him, the Hawthorne sapphire will be lost!”

“Don’t bother about the suitcase under the dock,” Rhoda interposed. “Just get Mr. Ayling, my grandmother and all those poor folks out of the monastery. That’s the important thing.”

“Salt can come back here and wait until police open up the monastery,” Mr. Parker said, thinking fast. “Jerry and I will try to pick up Highland’s trail!”

“I’ll send another squad to the river,” Salt promised, starting off at a run toward Vernon Eckenrod’s cabin across the fields.

“Highland and Winkey are heading for Dock Fourteen,” Penny said. “Dad, I’ll go with you to point it out.”

“The suitcase really doesn’t matter,” Rhoda interrupted again. “You see, the sapphire—”

Jerry, Mr. Parker and Penny were not listening. Already they were running to the press car. The publisher started the engine with a roar, and the automobile raced off to make a quick turn and speed toward the city.

Disregarding the icy road, Mr. Parker drove at high speed. Once the car skidded dangerously and barely missed a ditch.

Soon they approached the outskirts of the city. Penny watched the riverfront intently. She was the first to glimpse the familiar long, black automobile parked close to the dock where Rhoda had hidden her suitcase.

“There’s Highland’s car!” she cried. “He and Winkey must be here! Probably they’re under the dock now! Highland is armed, Dad.”

“Then our best bet is to try to keep the men in sight until police catch up with us,” Mr. Parker said, pulling up beside the other car. “We’re unarmed and can put up no fight.”

“If those birds are under the dock on the ice, they’re taking their lives in hand,” observed Jerry quietly. “All day, the river’s been on the verge of breaking up. When she goes, it will be with a bang!”

Penny opened the car door and leaped out. “I can’t see anyone down there,” she said anxiously. “Do you suppose they abandoned the car after getting the suitcase?”

Fearful that they had arrived too late, the trio ran down a boardwalk to the docks.

Suddenly, Mr. Parker caught Penny by the arm, restraining her.

“There they are!” he whispered. “See! Just coming out from under the dock!”

Two men, easily recognized as Jay Highland and Winkey, climbed from beneath the long dock. The hunchback was burdened with a suitcase.

“What will we do?” Penny whispered. “We can’t let them escape with the sapphire!”

“Listen!” commanded Jerry. “I have a hunch we won’t need to do anything except wait!”

Even as he spoke, a loud crack not unlike the report of a gun, sounded along the riverfront. The ice was breaking up!

Jay Highland and his companion, well aware of their danger, began to run. Frantically, they sought a place at which to climb up over the high docks. But too late. Already the river ice was clearing away. A great crack appeared directly in front of the two men.

In panic, they started the other way, only to see water on all sides. Then the block on which they stood, began to drift slowly off.

“Help!” shouted Winkey hoarsely. “Help!”

In panic, the hunchback turned his eyes shoreward. Seeing Penny, her father and Jerry on the planking above, he realized that only arrest faced him if he were rescued. Fear gave way to blind rage.

“You’ll never get the sapphire!” he shouted. “I’ll see it in the bottom of the river first!”

Raising the case high over his head, he hurled it into the churning water. The next instant the ice beneath his feet gave way, and both he and his master plunged into the river!

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