Terror at the Circus

MISS ELOISE DREW began pacing the floor. She was convinced that Lola Flanders had suffered another attack of amnesia and wandered off.

Nancy was even more alarmed than her aunt. She was fearful that one of her enemies had enticed Mrs. Flanders away.

Hastening to the street, she asked a group of children she saw playing there if they had seen a woman come from the apartment house.

«A thin, small woman with graying hair,» she added.

«Sure I saw her,» a little girl spoke up. «She got in a taxi and went off.»

«Was anybody with her?» Nancy asked.

The little girl said that a woman with curly blond hair and very red cheeks had come from the apartment house with the woman and they had gone off together.

«Did you happen to hear them say where they were going?»

«No, I didn't,» the child replied.

Nancy's first thought was the Hotel Coles. She wanted to go there at once, but recalling Captain Smith's advice, decided to phone him and ask the police to make the investigation.

A few moments later the police captain called and reported that the young dancer who called herself Lola Flanders had not been at the hotel since she had registered.

Suddenly an idea occurred to Nancy. Consulting the classified telephone directory, she made a series of calls to theater booking agents and restaurants that employed dancers. The list was long and she was kept busy for an hour and a half. At last she was rewarded, however. Millie Francine was employed at the Bon Ton Night Club.

Nancy wondered how she could get in touch with the dancer. Even if she knew nothing about Lolita's mother and her possible kidnaping, she might be able to give her a lead to the guilty party.

As the girl detective sat thinking, the bell rang. She ran to the door, hopeful that Lola Flanders had returned. Ned Nickerson stood there, grinning.

«I know you didn't expect me,» he said, stepping into the apartment. «I hadn't left New York yet, and when I telephoned earlier to find out if by any chance you were back, I was certainly delighted to hear that you had returned. So here I am!»

Nancy stared at him in surprise. The strange look on her face made Ned ask:

«Aren't you glad to see me?»

«Oh, yes, Ned,» Nancy said hurriedly. «But we're in the middle of a new mystery. Who answered the phone here when you called?»

«I don't know. Whoever she was told me that you and your aunt had gone out for a few hours.»

«Ned, that was Lolita Flanders' mother! At least, I think it was,» she said, upon second thought. «What else did she say?»

«That if I wanted to see you, not to come for a while, because nobody would be here.»



«She said that?» Nancy asked in surprise. «Go on, Ned,» she urged.

«There isn't any more to tell. Well, wait a minute,» he said suddenly. «It seems to me she did say that she was going out, too.»

«Did she say why?» Nancy asked quickly.

Ned said the woman had mumbled something. It could have been that she was going to meet her daughter.

«Oh, Ned,» said Nancy, «it's just as I feared. Lola Flanders has been kidnaped!»

«What do you mean?» he asked.

Nancy told him the whole story and then said, «Ned, you and I are going to the Bon Ton as fast as we can get there.»

«Well, I'm glad to have a date,» Ned said. «But would you mind telling me why you've picked out that second-rate place? Besides, it doesn't open until evening.»

Nancy was disappointed. Valuable hours would be lost in her search for Lola Flanders. Presently she said hopefully, «Ned, often the girls who perform in those places have afternoon rehearsals. Let's go over there, anyway.»

On the way, another idea came to Nancy. She told her companion that should it be difficult to get into the place at this hour she was going to ask for an interview as if she wished to obtain a job there. This seemed the most feasible way of getting in to talk to Millie Francine.

Ned scowled at this proposal. Nancy laughed and said, «Oh, Ned, do stop worrying!»

To Nancy's delight, there was no doorman on duty and the Bon Ton was open. As she had predicted, a rehearsal was going on. She sat down at a table in an obscure, dark corner and watched.

It was not difficult to identify Millie Francine because presently a director called out, «Millie, what's the matter with you? Your voice sounds as if you'd been eating gravel!»

Millie Francine proved to be a better dancer than singer, but she was nervous, and when her part in the show was over she sat down at a table not far from where Nancy and Ned were seated. They rose and went over to sit beside her. Looking straight into the dancer's eyes, Nancy asked in a low tone:

«Where have you hidden the real Lola Flanders?»

Millie Francine fell back as if someone had struck her. It was several seconds before she recovered her wits, then she asked who Nancy was.



«I'm a detective and I know all about you,» Nancy replied. She gave the girl enough of the story to convince her.

Millie Francine had begun to shake with fright. She declared she was an innocent party.

«I used to work for Sims' Circus,» she said. «Mr. Kroon knew I needed money. When he suggested that I could earn some extra cash by pretending my real name was Lola Flanders, I said I would.»

Millie Francine said she had been paid well by Kroon and Mr. Tristam, the owner of the agency.

«I didn't see any harm in the pretense,» the dancer said.

«But what about the mail that came to you in care of the agency?» Nancy asked.

Millie Francine's eyebrows went up. She said she had never received any mail there. Nancy now told her about the dividend checks and her suspicion that Kroon and possibly Tristam were stealing them.

The dancer began to weep. She insisted that she had done nothing wrong and did not want to go to jail.

«I don't think you'll have to go to jail,» said Nancy, «providing your story is true, and it will help a lot if you will tell us where Lola Flanders is right now.»

«I don't know, really I don't,» said Millie. «The agency busted up, you know.»

Nancy asked if Millie knew where the Tristams lived. She gave them an apartment-house address and said that perhaps Lola Flanders was there. But Nancy had already thought of this.

«How soon will the rehearsal be over?» Nancy asked the dancer abruptly.

«I'm all through now,» the girl replied.

«In that case, I'll go to your dressing room and wait while you change.

Then you're going with us to the apartment.»

At first Millie Francine demurred, but Nancy was fearful the dancer might telephone the apartment and spoil everything.

«The easiest way to prove you're innocent,» said Nancy, «is to face those people.»

«I never thought of that,» the dancer said, and willingly let Nancy accompany her to the dressing room.

Twenty minutes later the three set off in a cab. Unbeknown to Nancy, Ned had telephoned Captain Smith and asked that a policeman meet them at the apartment house. Upon their arrival, they found him waiting.

Nancy suggested that Millie Francine call up to She apartment that she was there, but not to mention that she had other visitors with her. The dancer did her part and the front door was opened to them.

They rode up in the elevator to the third floor and made their way to the Tristam apartment. Millie rang the bell. The door was opened by a woman with curly blond hair whom the dancer called Mrs. Tristam. The four callers burst in.

«What does this mean?» Mrs. Tristam cried.

While the policeman stood guard at the door, Nancy and Ned hurried inside to look for Lola Flanders. They found her in the living room, talking to Mr. Tristam.

«Oh, Nancy!» Lolita's mother cried out. «It was dreadful of me not to have left a note. These kind people got in touch with me and we were going to leave in a few minutes to see my daughter.»

«Mrs. Flanders,» said Nancy, «these people are not kind. They have practically kidnaped you. They have been stealing your money for years. They never intended to take you to Lolita.»

As Lola Flanders fell back, stunned, Mr. Tristam walked forward. He demanded to know what this outrageous story was all about and who Nancy was.

«I'm quite sure you know who I am,» she said. «Possibly you do not know my escort, Ned Nickerson. And in case you do not know the policeman at the door, I suggest that you meet him quietly.»

Suddenly Tristam's eyes blazed and he became virtually a madman. He shoved Nancy aside and punched Ned. Then he started for the door to the hall. Before he could even reach the policeman, Millie Francine planted herself in his path.

«Oh, no, you don't, Mr. Tristam,» she cried. «You don't go another step without telling these people I'm innocent!»

At that moment there was a tap on the door. The policeman recognized it as a signal from more of Captain Smith's men. He opened the door. The officer and two other men walked in.

Tristam, seeing that the game was up, quietly surrendered. He told the story much as Nancy had pieced it together from time to time. He added that it was Kroon's idea when Lola Flanders, then a widow, was discharged from the hospital, to keep her under the influence of drugs so that she would appear to be an amnesia victim, and to place her in a cheap nursing home. It was Mrs. Kroon who had literally abducted Lolita, partly because she had loved the little girl and partly because she knew that the aerialist had great talent and would bring a small fortune to them.

Nancy was fearful that the excitement might prove disastrous to Lola Flanders' mind, but she seemed to have recovered completely. When she reached Aunt Eloise's apartment, she asked how soon they might start for Melville and see Lolita.

«If you feel well enough, we'll take the first plane,» Nancy promised her.

«I'm ready to go now,» she insisted.

Ned obtained the reservations and within two hours they were all saying good-by to Aunt Eloise and setting off for the town of Melville.

As they climbed into the plane, the first person they saw was young Pietro! He explained that he had just arrived from England.

«I just couldn't stay away,» he said. «Nancy, I had a hunch you would fix everything up, and that it won't be long before Lolita and I will be married.»

«I think you're right,» Nancy said, smiling at Ned, «and Lolita will have her wish—that her mother will be present at the wedding.»

The plane reached Melville just before midnight. The group went to the hotel. Nancy suggested that Lola Flanders remain there until Lolita could be brought to her.

«I don't know whether Mr. Kroon has been apprehended yet or not,» Nancy said. Turning to Ned and Pietro, she added, «Suppose we three go over to the circus at five o'clock tomorrow morning and mingle with the crowd that will be watching the workmen set up the tents. In that way, we won't be noticed by Mr. or Mrs. Kroon or any of their spies. We'll get Lolita and bring her back here.»

This plan was agreed upon. Nancy was up at four thirty the next morning, and at five set off with the young men. Upon reaching the circus grounds, the three separated, Nancy going ahead. She made her way carefully to Lolita's trailer and knocked.

«Lolita, wake up!»

Sleepily the young aerialist tumbled out of bed and opened the door. Seeing Nancy, she started to cry out.

«Sh-h-h!» Nancy warned her. «Your mother is in a hotel downtown. Dress quietly and follow me.»

Lolita dressed quickly, and throwing caution to the winds, stepped out of her trailer.

«Oh, Nancy, this is marvelous! Let's hurry.»

The two girls made their way along, hurrying past the wild-animal cages to avoid detection by Kroon, should he happen to be around. But they did not see him, and hastened on happily.

They had just reached King Kat's cage when a strong hand was suddenly laid on Nancy's shoulder. The person gripped her tightly and swung her about.

Kroon!

«So you're still trying to thwart me!» the man cried. «Well, this is the last time!»

With his free hand, he unfastened the lion's cage and thrust Nancy forward!


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