Monday, December 10, 2012

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew #1)

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew #1)
Carolyn Keene
Grosset & Dunlap, 1930

Genre: Mystery


Nancy Drew is a pretty young girl of 16 who lives with her father Carson Drew, a noted criminal case lawyer, and Hannah Gruen, their housekeeper. There is a big to do in town over the recent death of Josiah Crowley who, according to his will, left his entire estate to the Tophams, the richest and most stuck up family in town. While Josiah did not have many living relatives, he had lived with the family for a few years before his death. However, over the years he had stayed with some other people who treated him better and actually cared for him and to whom he promised to leave a legacy. Shortly before his death, many of these people were told by Josiah himself that he was changing his will to cut the Tophams out. However, a second will has not been found since his death and it seems likely that the Tophams will receive all of his money. Nancy is interested in this mystery.

One day, her father asks her if she can run out and take some papers to Judge Hartgrave in Masonville, a 15 mile drive away. Nancy is late returning home and foolishly takes a more scenic route when she gets caught in a horrible storm. She sees a very large open barn and drives towards it for shelter. She is shocked to meet a young girl named Allie Horner who invites her to come to their house where she lives with her sister, Grace. The girls have been living alone for a while as their father died two years ago and their mother before that. When they mention Uncle Josiah, Nancy realizes that these two girls are some of the people that Josiah said he would leave money to in his will.

Grace tells Nancy that Josiah said that he was going to make a new will and that he wasn't going to trust a lawyer with it; he was going to hide in a safe place. Unfortunately, since he was living with the Tophams at the time, it is likely to be hidden in their house and if it has been found they definitely would have destroyed it just to keep the inheritance. Nancy really wants to help the girls but is depressed that there seem to be no clues. Her father suggests that she go shopping and she runs into Ada and Isabel Topham. She overhears their conversation and hears them talking about a will and from the sound of things they appear to be worried that such a will exists and that it will be found. This gives Nancy some hope that she can find the second will in time.

Nancy decides that her best bet is to talk to the other people Josiah was going to leave money to. She is told to speak to a Matilda and Edna Turner, William and Fred Mathews, and Abigail Rowen. The Mathews tell Nancy pretty much the same story and say that they have filed a complaint with the courthouse. She next goes to visit Abigail and discovers that she had an accident falling down the stairs and is in extreme pain. Nancy goes to the store to get her some food and bandages and Abigail admits to actually seeing the second will in Josiah's possession. He told her that he just needed two witnesses and that he was going to put it somewhere where no one could get to it without legitimate legal authority. Unfortunately, Abigail has trouble remembering the details until her clock chimes and she remembers that he had said something about clock. She also remembers that he said he wrote the location of the will in a small little notebook that he hid somewhere. He did have a small mantel clock that now must reside in the Topham house. Nancy’s got to find that clock.

Nancy runs into her friend Helen who says that she is selling charity dance tickets and has six of them to get rid of or else she can't go on her trip to Moon Lake. Nancy, seeing a way to get into the Topham house, offers to sell the tickets for her. Nancy goes over to the house and is invited in by Mrs. Topham. She seems about ready to buy the tickets when Ada and Isabel show up and convince her not to. However, her husband shows up and hands Nancy a $20 bill for the tickets. As Nancy is leaving she asks what time it is and notices the mantel clock on the fireplace. She asks if it is a Crowley heirloom and Mrs. Topham says that all of Crowley's stuff was junk and looked out of place with their modern furnishings so all of it is being stored in their bungalow at Moon Lake.

Nancy is positively elated at the news that she's learned from her visit; however, she has no idea how she can get down to Moon Lake. Her father asks her if she is all right and suggests a possible vacation for because he realizes that it is hard for a girl her age to look after their big house. That is when Nancy remembers that Helen is going on a camping trip to Moon Lake. Her father tells Nancy she can go. On her way out, she stops to see Allie and Grace, only to discover Allie in tears because half of her chickens are dead. Nancy gives the girls money for a dress that Grace is going to make for her.

Nancy makes it to Moon Lake where Helen is very happy to see her. After dinner Nancy is dragged on a hike and then told that the girls are going for a ride in a launch. Nancy agrees to going in the hopes of discovering which bungalow belongs to the Tophams. When she asks about their bungalow she is told that they aren't there right now and that there is just a caretaker. Nancy plans to visit the bungalow the next day but Helen and the girls take up all her time with their various activities. The next day Helen announces they are going on all-day hike and Nancy says she needs a bit of her break. After they are gone, Nancy takes the launch out onto the lake to get to the bungalow. Unfortunately, the boat breaks down at her plans are foiled. Poor Nancy decides that she will have to leave camp the next day because Helen and her friends won't ever leave her alone. She will have to stop at the cottage on her way out.

The next day Nancy drives up the precarious road that leads to the cottage. Her journey is made all that harder by tire tracks that appear to have been made recently in the mud. As she gets out of her car by the cottage she notices that the tire tracks of the truck also appear to have stopped here. As she approaches the bungalow she discovers that the whole camp is in chaos. Clearly, a moving van had been here no more than an hour ago. She goes into the house to discover that the whole place has been ransacked except for one bedroom that was practically untouched with just a rolled up rug in the middle of the floor. Nancy is nervous as the robbers could still be in the vicinity.

She decides to leave and stop at the nearest town to report the robbery. As she passes a window, she sees a heavyset man start walking up the path towards the house. The bedroom closet is the only place that offers her a possible refuge and she slips in and not a moment too soon. Unfortunately, Nancy ends up sneezing and gives herself away. After an intense struggle, she finds herself locked in the closet. Nancy is overcome with panic at the thought that she is been left there to starve to death. Nancy tries everything to get out of the closet and finally pulls down the hanger rod to use it as leverage to pop the door out of its hinges. As the door is almost free, Nancy hears footsteps. It is Jeff Tucker.

Nancy and Jeff introduce themselves and Jeff tells Nancy that he was hanging around last night wishing he was somewhere else when a white man drove up in a big truck. The man told him that he knows how lonesome it is out there so he told Jeff to get in the car. The man offered him a little drink and before Jeff knew it he was blitzed. He woke up in a hotel feeling really sick. He discovered that his keys to the house had been stolen and he returned to the cottage as fast as he could. Nancy tells Jeff that they should go into town and report the robbery. He assures her that he would be able to recognize the man who got him drunk. On the way out, Nancy asks if he ever saw a clock and he says yes. Nancy is pretty sure that Crowley hid the notebook in the clock and that it was stolen by the robbers.

They make it to the police station and Nancy says that on her way there she saw the side road where the truck’s tire marks turned off on. She says that she will take the police there. They follow the trail until they reach a fork in the road and lose the tire tracks. Nancy decides to take the road to the major city while the police take the other road. Nancy drives for a while and thinks she might have been wrong. Luckily, she sees a man on the side of the road with a team of horses and decides to question him. He says he saw a moving truck about twenty minutes ago that nearly pushed him into a ditch.

Nancy sees a roadhouse and it occurs to her that they might have stopped there. There is a large barn and garage that the men could have parked the truck in. She peeks inside the restaurant and sees the three men sitting at table. Before she decides to notify the police she thinks that maybe she could look inside the truck and find the clock before the stolen goods are confiscated by them. She makes her way to the barn and finds the truck. Inside, after some hunting around, she sees the clock and grabs it just in time to hear heavy footsteps coming towards her. She proceeds to hide in a manger. In her car, Nancy can't resist looking inside the clock and is saddened to discover there is nothing there. Of course Abigail did not say that the notebook would be in the clock; Nancy had made that deduction. She turns it upside down and rattles it and hears something moving around. She removes the face of the clock and inside discovers a tiny blue notebook.

Nancy backtracks to find the police and they give chase on a moving van. They end up having to fire their gun and pop a tire to get the van to stop. Nancy gives a positive identification. Nancy gets worried when the Marshall wants to ride back in her car because the clock is sitting on the front seat of her roadster. Luckily, Nancy gets away with her little petty thievery. At home, Nancy begins to pour over the little notebook and discovers lots of information about Josiah's financial standing—the amount of his estate reached well over $300,000. After a while, Nancy finally finds a notation saying that his will can be found in a safety deposit box at the Masonville National Bank under the name Josiah Harkston.

When her father returns home she anxiously tells him the news and he says that the discovery of the second will will be unfortunate for the Tophams as Richard has been losing heavily in the stock market over the past month and it seems that he is depending upon the Crowley money to pull the family out of a tight spot. The next morning, Nancy and her father get court order to open up the safety deposit box and then head towards the bank. Nancy and her father are allowed to view the safety deposit box when they discover that they don't have a key. Luckily, the bank manager remembers that Josiah had entrusted him with a spare key. Inside the box is a will that both Carson and the bank manager initial just in case they have to prove its authenticity later on. They discover that one of the witnesses is Dr. Nesbitt who unfortunately died a few days after Crowley. The other witness is a Thomas Wackley no one has ever heard of.

A few days later Carson invites everyone involved in the will to his house for the big, as Nancy called it, coup de grace. Of course, the Topham family thinks that it is utterly preposterous that there is a second will and that there is some type of conspiracy going on. Carson reads the will. Allie and Grace receive $75,000 each. Abigail receive $75,000. Fred and William receive $20,000 each and Edna and Matilda also receive $20,000 each. Mrs. Topham asks if they are mentioned at all and Carson replies that they are and reads aloud, “to Grace and Allie Horner, my household furniture now in the possession of Mrs. Richard Topham.” Grace and Allie say that they now have enough without the furniture so they won't take the household goods from Mrs. Topham.

A number of months later, Nancy learns that the Tophams have filed for bankruptcy and have been forced to give up their fancy home. They had put up a fight but they ultimately lost. She goes to visit Grace and Allie and sees all the new things that they've done to improve their farm. All of the relatives wanted to give her a reward but Nancy says that she doesn't want anything. They keep insisting so she finally says that there is one thing that she would like. She would like the Crowley clock. She's attached to it because of its suggestion of her recent adventure.

“I'll always prize this clock as a trophy of my first venture as a detective. It will serve as a pleasant reminder of a thrilling adventure—and, who knows? perhaps as a promise for the future!”

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Most people today when they think of series books think of the two reigning champions—the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. However, what most readers don't know is that the books they grew up reading were not the originals. The first Hardy Boys book was published in 1927 while the first Nancy Drew book was published in 1930. The original books are a far cry from what most readers read in the 1950s and onward when Grosset & Dunlap told the Stratemeyer Syndicate president, Harriet Adams, to revise the books to remove primarily old-fashioned racial and cultural stereotypes. Most readers today grew up with what collectors call the “matte” covers—either the “flat matte” blue covers for the Hardy Boys or yellow covers for Nancy Drew or the “glossy matte”  blue covers for the Hardy Boys or yellow covers for Nancy Drew. These covers were done in hardcover but did not contain dust jackets and all of them where the revisions published beginning in the 1950s.

Since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are the best known of the many series characters to exist since 1899, their books tend to be the most valuable for collectors. However, collectors to have to deal with the lots of ignorant eBay sellers who try to get $400 for a glossy matte Nancy Drew that just because it is it is the first book in the series they think it's the first edition. They fail to take into account a copyright year of 1962 on the title page, the fact that the book doesn't even have a dust jacket or endpaper illustrations, or the fact that the book has only twenty chapters when any serious collector will know that besides revising for racial and cultural stereotypes when the books were edited they also went from twenty-five chapters down to twenty and also from about 200 pages to, on average, 160 to 180 pages.

I was lucky with my Nancy Drew acquisitions as I got a nearly complete first edition set of the core volumes from my fiancée's mother. However, in this collection her number one was not a first edition as it was actually a revised first edition. I was able to come across a lot on eBay of original Nancy Drew books where the starting price was only $10. The only downside, and the reason why probably no one else bid on it, was the fact that (a) nowhere in the listing did it say that the books were first editions and (b) the books, sadly, had no dust jackets and were in pretty disgusting condition (lots of browning and bits of binding falling off) but still in readable condition. For the purposes of my research, I knew that I wanted to get my hands on first edition of number one so that I could compare it to its 1950s revision. So I bid on the lot and won 23 first edition Nancy Drew books for only $10.

Asides from comparing and contrasting the 1930s version the 1950s version for cultural and racial stereotypes, there is another reason why it is important to have access to the original Nancy Drew books. The original Nancy Drew was quite the feminist for her time period. She was young and independent, drove around in her own sports car, appeared to have unlimited access to money, didn't really care much for frivolous boys and romance, had no qualms about going up against criminals, and had no trouble telling the police that they weren't very good at their job. When Harriet Adams went about revising the Nancy Drew books not only did people for many years believe that she was Carolyn Keene (a fact that she never denied and actively propagated) but she also decided that Nancy was too unladylike and thus had to have her independent streak curbed. Most readers have actually grown up with an even less feminist and individual Nancy Drew than she originally was. In fact, the real author of most of the original 30 Nancy Drew volumes, Mildred Wirt Benson, commented nearly 60 years later that because she didn't have full creative control over Nancy she ended up writing her own Penny Parker mystery series in which Penny was effectively how Benson would have written the character of Nancy Drew if she didn't have to follow a bunch of rules. We can probably thank Benson for giving young female readers of the 1930s and 1940s a very strong female role model as Benson herself was very independent and went on to become a well-known journalist. Without her, many young female readers might have been stuck with more stories of passive girls who had nothing more to hope for than marrying rich, being a housewife, and raising a bunch of kids.

First, let’s talk descriptions of people and families. Nancy and her father have a very close relationship. Nancy is described as having a “curly golden bob” and he father thinks to himself, “not at all the sort of head which one expected to indulge in serious thoughts” (p. 2) which is very telling of the time period—girls weren’t expected to do much but look pretty. The fact that Nancy was a smart, intelligent girl who could handle her own was unheard of at the time. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, is described as “a widower, [who] showered a great deal of attention upon his daughter; it was his secret boast that he had taught her to think for herself and think logically. Since he knew that Nancy could be trusted with confidential information, he frequently discussed his interesting cases with her” (p. 6). Once again, excellent comments that weren’t usually bestowed on girls in the 1930s.

Although only sixteen, Nancy was “unusually capable and under her skillful direction everything ran smoothly in the Drew household.” On the death of her mother six years before, the Drews employed, Hannah Gruen, an elderly maid. Nancy is further described as being the “type of girl who is capable of accomplishing a great many things in a comparatively short length of time. She enjoyed sports of all kinds and she found time for clubs and parties. In school Nancy had been very popular and she boasted many friends. People declared that she had a way of taking life very seriously without impressing one as being the least bit serious herself” (p. 12-13). (It should be interesting to note that the 1994 Nancy Drew Notebooks states that Nancy’s mother died when she was three years old and the original 1930 Nancy Drew Mystery puts Nancy’s age at ten years old.)

When Nancy and Carson discuss the case of Crowley leaving all his money to the Tophams, Nancy isn’t shy about her feelings toward the family (p. 2-3):

“They wanted to work him into leaving all his money to them. And it seems that their scheme worked, too! They treated him like a prince until he made his will in their favor and then acted as though he were dirt under their feet. Folks said he died just to be rid of their everlasting nagging. . . . Richard Topham is an old skinflint who made his money by gambling on the stock exchange. And Cora, his wife, is nothing but a vapid social climber. The two girls, Isabella and Ada, are even worse. I went to school with them, and I never saw such stuck up creatures in all my life. If they fall heir to any more money, this town won't be big enough to hold them!”

Nearly everyone in River Heights shares the opinion that the Tophams are snobbish and arrogant and that they treated poor Josiah Crowley horribly. Nancy had never known Josiah, but had often seen him on the street and thought he was a rather nice but extremely odd individual. His wife died during the influenza epidemic following the end of the World War, and since that time he had made his home with various relatives.

When Nancy goes shopping she runs into the vapid and rude Topham sisters—Ada and Isabel. Both are described as older than Nancy and Nancy personally finds them “stupid, as well as arrogant. They had never been popular with her classmates and had boasted few friends.” The narration reads, “In spite of the expensive clothes she [Ada] wore, she was nothing but attractive, for she was tall and slender to the point of being termed ‘skinny.’ Now that her face was distorted with anger, she was positively ugly. Isabel, who was the pride of the Topham family, was rather pretty in a vapid sort of way, but Nancy Drew thought that her face lacked character. She acquired an artificial manner of speaking which was both irritating and amusing. It was her mother's ambition that someday she marry into a wealthy family, and every opportunity was given her for her brilliant match” (p. 15-16).

The comparison of wealth and excess versus poverty shows well in the story. Clearly, it helps reflect America at that time. While there were some families that horded all the wealth there were many families living in poverty. Most of the people that Josiah said he’s leave money to in his will are families that need money. Two of them are Allie and Grace Horner. Nancy wishes she could help them (since the Drews are pretty well off—not rich like the Tophams but they live in comfortable means) but she knows that they “were proud” and would refuse charity (p. 38).

When Carson discovers that Nancy is going to actively search for the missing second will, he warns her about detective work: “Detective work isn't always the safest occupation in which to engage. I happen to know that Richard Topham is an unpleasant man when crossed. If you actually succeed in learning anything which may help the Horner girls, you are certain to have the Tophams in your wool” (p. 40).

The Tophams excess continues to be explored when Nancy goes to visit Mrs. Topham to try and sell her the charity tickets and find out about the Crowley clock. When she arrives she is “forced to wait until the Butler returned with permission for her to enter. As she was finally ushered into the living room, she could not help but smile at the elaborate formality, for in spite of Mrs. Topham's lofty ambitions, the woman had never achieved the commanding position in society that she strove for” (p. 96). Although the Tophams were well-to-do, it was common knowledge that Mrs. Topham was decidedly stingy with her money where other persons were concerned. Needless to say, it is Richard who buys all the tickets—letting Nancy “keep the change” left over as he sees attending a charity event to be helpful in maintaining their social standings.

There is one great moment that really spoke to me as showing how independent Nancy is. She is driving to Moon Lake when a common occurrence happens—something that a lot of girls even today don’t know how to fix—she gets a flat tire. The scene reads in part (p. 106-107):

“Presently, she noticed that the roadster had taken a strange notion to turn to the left of the road in spite of her efforts to keep it in the middle. Not without foreboding of trouble, she stopped the car and got out to make a tour of inspection. As she suspected, the rear tire was flat. . . . It was not the first time Nancy Drew had changed a tire, but she never relished the task. Rummaging under the seat, she pulled out the tools and quickly jacked up the rear axle. She loosened the lugs which held the tire in place, and tugged at it. Again and again she pulled, but the huge balloon tire could not be budged. Then, she gave one mighty tug, it came off and Nancy Drew fell backwards into a sitting posture in the road.”

Her mechanical skills come in handy again when she attempts to take the launch out to the cottage. Half way across the lake the engine sputters and dies. We see Nancy go to work again (p. 114-115):

“She discovered a pin stuck in the rim of a flywheel, and after adjusting other parts, pulled it out rather timidly. She gave the wheel a vigorous turn to the right. She tried again, swinging it further and stepping back hard. To her delight the engine began to roar. Cutting down the motor, Nancy steered out into deep water. At first she followed the shore, but as she became more familiar with the wheel and as the engine appeared to work perfectly, she headed out into the lake. Nancy experienced a real thrill as the little launch responded to her hand. The lake was as smooth as glass, and there was scarcely a cloud in the sky. . . . Nancy studied the engine doubtfully. Like most girls, she had never interested herself in the mechanics of what made wheels go around.”

Nancy also isn’t shy when it comes to fighting criminals head on. The scene of her attempt to get away from the movers is pretty violent for the 1930s, especially with a girl as the main character. When Nancy is caught by the criminals and even though their ringleader threatens her, “the hopelessness of her situation gave her the courage to defy him.” She tells the man that he is a common thief and she will turn his gang over to the police. “The man held Nancy's wrists in a vicelike grip. Her efforts to free herself were of no avail.” Nancy is desperate so “suddenly, utilizing every ounce of her strength, she gave her imprisoned wrists a quick upward jerk. As the action tore her hands free, she darted for the door. With a cry of rage, the robber was after her. Almost in one long leap he overtook her, caught her roughly by the arm, and forced her against the wall. Nancy Drew struggled this way and that. She twisted and squirmed. She kicked and clawed. But she was powerless in the grip of the man” (p. 130-131).

She also clearly has no problems defying authority when she discovers the moving van with the stolen furniture and instead of calling the police right away she decides, “If only I could get my hands on the clock before I notify the police! Once the Marshall takes charge of the stolen goods, I'll have no opportunity” (p. 155). Nancy just grabs the stolen goods that she needs to solve her case. She does eventually give the clock back to Grace and Allie but the police never know about her little side adventure into thievery herself.

Lastly, the biggest aspect of the book that is historically and culturally relevant is the scenes that take place between Nancy and the caretaker of the Topham’s bungalow, Jeff Tucker—scenes that were completely changed in the revised edition. On numerous occasions, Jeff Tucker is refered to by one major characteristic (italics mine):

“Oh, no, the cottage is closed. There is a negro caretaker who looks after it—they call him Jeff Tucker” (p. 110).

“There was no sign of Jeff Tucker, the colored caretaker in whose care the bungalow had been entrusted” (p. 122).

“What had become of Jeff Tucker, the colored man who'd been left in charge of the Topham bungalow” (p. 124).

Clearly, in 1930, it is very important for the young readers to understand that the caretaker, Jeff Tucker, is an African American. However, the even sadder story is how Jeff is represented. First, is the horrible use of vernacular (p. 138) that occurs throughout the scenes, such as when Jeff rescues Nancy from the closet:

“Oh, you is a caged lion, dis time,” a rather unsteady voice remarked. “You is one o' dese tough robber boys, is you? Well, you won't do no no' pilferrin', 'cause I done got you surrounded.”

“Let me out!” Nancy pleaded. “I'm not a robber!”

“Say, robber boy, is you imitatin' a lady's voice to th'o' me off de scent? If you is, it won't do no good 'cause I's a natural-born two-legged blood houn'.”

Nancy thought of a way to convince him. She let go her longest and loudest feminine scream.

“Dat's enough! Hold yo' siren! I'll let yo' out. Dar ain't a man in de world could make a racket like dat! Dis way out, lady!”

Expectantly, Nancy waited, but the door did not open.

“My Lawdy!” she she heard to her horror. “I's done gone and misplaced de key!”

When Nancy is released the first thing she notices about Jeff is that he “plainly had had a bit too much to drink. Jeff still knew very well what was going on about him, but a certain alcoholic glitter in his eyes and his somewhat unsteady stance informed Nancy that he was not just as sober as the proverbial judge” (p. 139-141). She suspects that while he was off getting drunk, the robbers had made off with the Topham furniture, for even in his condition of semi-inebriety he realizes that something was wrong: “Say, white gu'l, you tell me wheah all dis heah fu'niture is at!”

He continues to talk in such phonetically heavy words that one has to read very slowly to tell what he is saying:

“'At's right! 'At's right! Blame me! I ain't s'posed to be no standin' ahmy—I's just a plain culled man with a wife and seven chillun a-dependin' on me. No mom! I ain't havun' no truck wit' dem machine-gun boys!”

“You was in dat duh closet all dat time! You po'h chile! Suppose you had p' stahved to death in dah, or da house had burned down, or you was scared to fits, or—”

Jeff explains that he was taken away by a white man who gave him a lot to drink and then dumped him at a hotel. When he woke up he noticed his keys to the house were gone and ran back to the cottage to find Nancy locked in the closet. When Nancy and Jeff go to the police station he tells them a slightly different story: “First thing dey kidnaps me so I won't be around to raise no ruckus. Den dey gives me some kind of a sleppin' powdah and pahks me in a ho-tel. But I comes to and goes back, and dar I find dis gu'l cooped up in a closet just as she told you” (p. 148).

Jeff seems eager to help, possibly to make up for his lack of dedication to his job. When they make it to the police station and Nancy says that on her way there she saw the side road where the truck’s tire marks turned off on, she tells the police that she will take them there. She gets in her car and waits for the officers to get in their car and follow her. As Jeff tries to get into the police car, “he was forced gently but firmly back up on the sidewalk.” As Nancy looks back in her rearview mirror to make sure that the police are following her she catches a glimpse “of Jeff Tucker who stood gazing mournfully after the departing automobiles” (p. 150).

The character of Jeff is the biggest change in the revision which will be seen in another post shortly.

No comments:

Post a Comment