It was nearly midnight by the time Penny reached home. Mrs. Weems had gone to bed, but a light still burned in the study where Mr. Parker was working on a speech he expected to deliver the following day before the Chamber of Commerce.

“Well, I’m glad you finally decided to come home,” he remarked severely. “Since my little daughter became Tillie the Toiler, she seems to have developed independent hours.”

“Wait until you hear where I’ve been,” Penny said, sinking into an easy chair beside his desk. “Dad, you won’t blame me for staying out late when I tell you what I saw and heard.”

Eagerly she related all that had occurred, and was pleased to note that the story interested her father.

“Tell me more about Professor Bettenridge,” he urged. “Describe him.”

“He looks very scholarly, but his language doesn’t fit the part,” Penny recalled. “He’s tall and thin and his nose is very pointed. Middle aged, which might mean forty-five or maybe fifty. That’s about all I noticed except that he has a quick way of darting his eyes about. And he wears glasses.”

“From your description, he sounds like the same person I heard about this afternoon,” Mr. Parker commented.

“Someone told you of his experiments at the lake?”

“Quite the contrary. An Army officer, Major Alfred Bryan called at my office this afternoon, seeking information about a man who may be Professor Bettenridge.”

“Was he interested in buying the machine for the Army, Dad?”

Mr. Parker dipped his pen in ink, wrote a few lines, and then looked up again. “No, Major Bryan was sent here to trace a man who has several charges against him. At one time he impersonated an officer and in recent months has been swindling persons by various schemes. He pretends to sell Army or Navy surplus war goods.”

“That doesn’t sound like Professor Bettenridge, Dad.”

“Perhaps not, but from your description it could be the same man. This secret ray machine business sounds phoney to me. Most crooks try more than one game—the mine exploding trick may be his latest scheme to fleece gullible victims.”

“Do you think we should report the professor to the police, Dad?”

“It might be a better idea to send Major Bryan to see him,” Mr. Parker returned thoughtfully. “If the professor should prove to be the man he’s after, then the Army would take over.”

“Where is Major Bryan now, Dad?”

“He didn’t mention the name of his hotel, because at the time he called at my office, I had no thought I could assist him in any way. However, he expected to stay in Riverview several days. It shouldn’t be so hard to trace him. I’ll get busy tomorrow.”

Tired from her adventures of the night, Penny soon went to bed. The next day Mr. DeWitt gave her several interesting assignments, and when one of the stories appeared in the final edition of the Star, it bore a neat little “By Penny Parker,” under the headline.

“Getting on in the world, I see,” Elda Hunt observed sarcastically.

Not even the unkind remark could dull Penny’s pleasure. She had earned her way on the newspaper by hard, routine work. The by-line meant that she had turned in an excellent well-written story. Elda, whose writing lacked crispness and originality, only once had seen her own name appear in the Star. Penny felt a trifle sorry for her.

“There’s no fairness around here,” Elda complained in a whine. “I’ve worked over a year. What do I have to show for it? Not even a raise.”

Penny did not try to tell the girl it was her own fault, that her attitude toward her work was entirely wrong. Elda must learn for herself.

Not until Wednesday did Penny have a chance to ask her father if he had traced Major Bryan.

“To tell you the truth, the matter slipped my mind,” he confessed ruefully. “I’ve had one conference after another all day long. Tomorrow I’ll certainly try to find him.”

Penny reminded him of his promise on the following day. Mr. Parker, after telephoning several places, found the major registered at the St. Regis Hotel, not far from the Parker home. However, the army officer had left for the day, and was not expected to return before nightfall.

“Oh, dear,” fretted Penny, “that may be too late. If Professor Bettenridge is successful in his demonstration tonight, he may rake in Mr. Johnson’s money and skip town before the major even sees him.”

“It’s unlikely the professor will leave without cashing the check, Penny. And banks will not be open until nine o’clock tomorrow.”

“I’d feel safer to have police take over,” Penny sighed. “If only we could prove charges against Bettenridge!”

“He hasn’t swindled anyone yet,” her father reminded her. “Learn what you can tonight, and if the sale goes through, we’ll then turn him over to the police.”

“It may be too late then.”

“I think not,” smiled her father. “You always were a little impatient, Penny.”

Eagerly Penny awaited the arrival of evening and another adventure at Blue Hole Lake. She and Salt arranged to leave the office at four o’clock, hoping to reach the farmhouse early enough to observe what preparations Webb made for exploding Mr. Johnson’s mine.

But at three, Salt was sent on an important assignment.

“I’ll get back as soon as I can,” he promised Penny, pausing beside her desk. “I may be a little late, but we’ll still make it.”

“I’ll be right here waiting,” Penny grinned.

At ten minutes past four Salt returned. Thinking he might have pictures to develop before he would be free to leave, Penny did not rush him by going back to the photography room right away. When she had typed her last story of the day and brought it to the editor’s desk for inspection, she gathered up her purse and hat.

“Leaving early, aren’t you?” Elda inquired in a loud voice so that everyone would notice.

“That’s right,” Penny replied, without explaining her special mission.

Not wishing to leave the city without ample funds, she first went downstairs to cash a pay check at the company treasurer’s window. He gave her the crisp five dollar bills, joking with her about skipping town with so much money.

Penny tucked the bills into her purse and was turning to go back upstairs again, when through the window she saw a man coming down the alley from the rear of the Star building. Recognizing him as Mr. McClusky, the deep sea diver she had assisted, she darted to the window and rapped to attract his attention.

Not hearing her, he walked hurriedly on, and was lost in the crowd of the street.

“Wonder what he was doing here?” she thought as she slowly climbed the stairs. “Perhaps he came to see me. But in that case, he probably would have come up the front way.”

Dismissing the matter from her mind, she sought Salt in the photography room. The outside gallery was empty, though the photographer’s hat and coat hung on a hook by the window.

“Salt!” she called, thinking he must be in the darkroom.

No one answered. Nevertheless, a strange feeling Penny could not have explained, took possession of her. She sensed a presence somewhere near as if she were being watched.

Nervously Penny stepped to the door of the darkroom. She tapped lightly on it, but there was no answer.

Suddenly fearful, she jerked open the door and groped for a light. As the tiny room blazed with illumination, she uttered a startled gasp.

Almost at her feet, cheek against the floor, lay Salt Sommers.

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