We're almost there," Nancy Drew announced. Her blue eyes sparkled with anticipation as she turned her Mustang onto the tree-lined street that led up to the Emerson College campus.
Her friend George Fayne, in the front passenger seat, said, "It was great of Ned to invite us to Winter Carnival. I love winter sports." As if to emphasize her words, George tugged on her navy ski hat, beneath which the curly ends of her dark brown hair peeked out.
From the back seat, George's cousin Bess Marvin gave a little laugh. "You like any sport, George," she said. "The thing that I'm looking forward to this weekend is the dance Saturday night. It's probably the only time all weekend that I'll be able to take off my down jacket and mittens. "
"Today's only Thursday," Nancy reminded her. "That means three days of outdoor torture until the dance."
Bess groaned. She wasn't athletic at all. Boys, not sports, would always be her priority.
Nancy glanced at Bess in the rearview mirror. She admired her friend's bright blue jacket, which complemented her long blond hair and bright blue eyes. Emerson boys, look out!
Nancy wheeled the Mustang through the elaborate wrought-iron gates and on to the campus. "Ned should be waiting for us at the student center," she announced. "His friends Rob and Jerry are supposed to be there, too."
"Rob and Jerry?" George questioned. "We haven't met them on any of our other visits here, have we?"
"Who cares?" Bess said, grinning. "As long as they're cute."
Nancy laughed. "Ned says they're great. And even if they're not, you're only dating them for the dance."
After parking the car, Nancy and her friends walked across the snow-covered campus to the student center, a large, old-fashioned stone building that had once been the university president's mansion. They pushed through the carved oak doors and paused inside to look around. The entrance hail was two stories high, with wood-paneled walls and a ribbed ceiling. Through an arched doorway, Nancy could see a fire crackling in the main room's stone fireplace. The delicious aroma of french fries and hamburgers drifted out from a small grill at the far end. A few tables were clustered in that area.
Nancy felt a warm tingle at the sound of the familiar voice. She turned, already smiling, to see Ned Nickerson, her longtime boyfriend, striding toward her, a huge grin lighting up his handsome face and dark eyes. An instant later he was giving Nancy a hug that lifted her off the floor.
"It's great to see you," he exclaimed into her reddish blond hair. "I've missed you."
Nancy smiled mischievously. "I suppose I've missed you, too," she teased. "Hey, Nickerson, do you think you could put me down?"
Ned gently lowered her to the floor, then greeted Bess and George. "I'm glad you could come. Winter Carnival is the number-one event of the year at Emerson."
"You mean it's the only thing that makes this time of the year bearable," Nancy said.
Ned ran a hand through his dark wavy hair. "Well -- let's say it helps. Come on. I want you to meet Rob and Jerry. Um, I figured that since Jerry is an enthusiastic skier, he and George would get along well. As for Rob -- " He paused for a moment, and Nancy saw a troubled look pass over his face. But all he said was, "He's a great guy, too, Bess."
Nancy was curious about the look that had passed over Ned's face. She wondered if there was something he wasn't telling them about Rob. Bess hadn't seemed to notice, so Nancy decided not to make a big deal of it.
"All right!" Bess said. "Let the festivities begin!"
The three girls followed Ned into the main room, toward the couches and chairs near the fireplace. Two guys got up from a window seat and came toward them.
"Wow," Bess whispered. "Not bad, Nan."
"Shh!" Nancy cautioned. "They'll hear you. She had to admit that Bess was right, though. One of the guys had big brown eyes, dark hair combed straight back, broad shoulders, and a muscular physique. The other was taller and slimmer, with green eyes and light brown hair that fell over his forehead. Nancy didn't think either guy was as handsome as Ned -- but almost.
Ned made the introductions. Jerry McEntee, the one with light brown hair, gave the girls a big smile that became warmer when he said hello to George. Rob Harper, the dark-haired guy, nodded and said hello, before looking away.
"How was your drive down?" Jerry asked George.
Bess jumped in. "It was great," she said enthusiastically. "I mean, the fresh snow made every thing look soft and pretty. No sharp edges anywhere."
Turning to George, Jerry said, "Ned tells me you like to ski. Did you bring your gear?"
"Only downhill," George said. "Is that all right?"
"Sure," Ned said. "There's a place in town that rents cross-country skis, if we decide to give that a try. Listen, we ought to get you guys settled in your dorm. Then we can head down to the lake while we still have lots of light."
"Are we taking a swim?" Nancy teased. "Don't tell me Emerson is starting a polar bear club!"
Ned answered, saying, "Remember I told you about the snow sculpture contest my fraternity is sponsoring? Well, it's taking place down by the lake. We have only three days to work on our sculpture. That's not a lot of time, since we plan on coming in first place."
"Don't tell me this is one of your frat's hallowed traditions," Bess groaned. "Forcing every one to suffer in the bitter cold."
"Not everyone's as much of a wimp about the cold as you are," George said. "Some of us actually enjoy being outside."
"Well, maybe the sculpting part will be fun, " Bess conceded. Turning to Ned, she said, "The judges won't make fun of the sculptures if they're not great, will they?"
Ned straightened up indignantly. "I beg your pardon -- this is serious business. We would never 'make fun' of any of it."
"We?" George repeated. "Are you a judge, Ned?"
"Not a judge. I'm the head judge," Ned told her.
A few minutes later, as they were carrying the bags to the dorm, Ned said, "It's pretty crowded on campus this weekend, but I managed to find a place for you to stay, with a girl whose roommate is away. There's only one free bed, though, so I guess two of you will have to make do with sleeping bags on the floor," he added apologetically.
"That's okay," George said. "Bess and I don't mind."
Bess looked at her cousin skeptically. "Hey, speak for yourself! Well, I guess I really don't mind," she said to Ned. "It's a good thing we brought our sleeping bags."
Nancy, Bess, and George found the room where they'd be staying and knocked on the door. It was opened by a girl with dark eyes and black hair cut straight just below her ears. She was wearing a bright orange oversize sweater and jeans. "Hi. You must be Ned's friends. I'm Susan Samuels. Come on in and park your things."
"Thanks," Nancy said. "I'm Nancy Drew. And this is Bess Marvin and George Fayne." She dropped her bag and skates on the bed Susan indicated and propped her skis up in the corner next to a pair of shiny slalom skis with high-tech bindings. "We really appreciate your putting us up," she told Susan.
"Yeah, I hope we won't be keeping you from studying or anything," added George as she and Bess put their stuff down next to Nancy's.
"Studying?" Susan said, arching one eyebrow. "It's practically a crime to mention that word during Winter Carnival. At Emerson, when carnival comes, everything else stops."
Crossing to the window, Nancy stared outside. The walks had been cleared, but the lawns and the roofs were deep in snow, and icicles hung from all the eaves. Snow glistened on the branches of the trees dotting the campus lawns.
At the foot of the hill, on the other side of a small wood of evergreens, was a white expanse that glinted in the sunlight. Nancy could see the colorful parkas of people who were already working on their snow sculptures. "You have a great view," she said. "Is that the lake?"
"That's right," Susan replied.
"Which reminds me," Nancy said. "We'd better get moving. We're supposed to be down there working right now."
As the girls turned to leave, Nancy and George paused to glance at a framed photo on Susan's dresser. It was of two men in business suits cutting a ribbon in front of a store whose sign read Samuels for Sports. Susan was next to them, a big smile on her face.
"Hey, I know that place," George commented. "It's the best sporting goods store in this area."
"My father owns it," Susan said proudly. "Built it up from nothing -- all on his own. In fact, it's now the largest independent sports store in the state." She turned and rummaged around on her dresser. "Let me give you a room key," she said. "I'll be in and out a lot."
"Thanks," Nancy said, zipping the key into the pocket of her parka. "I guess we'll see you later?"
"You bet," Susan replied. "I'll be down at the lake. You don't think I'm going to let you guys win the sculpture contest, do you?"
The girls said goodbye and went downstairs to meet Ned, Jerry, and Rob. They found the boys in the middle of a snowball fight, their clothes covered with the white powder.
"Ready?" Ned asked as Jerry threw a snowball that grazed his shoulder and sprayed snow over his face. "Hey!" he exclaimed. Bending over, he picked up a handful of snow and tossed it -- not at Jerry, but at Nancy.
"Wha -- !" Nancy sputtered, brushing the soft flakes off her face.
"Welcome to Winter Carnival," Ned said with a laugh, then ducked as Nancy fired a return snowball at him. Jerry threw a snowball at George, and for the next ten minutes the air was filled with flying snowballs and excited cries.
When they were red from the cold and dusted with snow from head to foot, the group headed down the hill to the lake. Some people were working in teams, and others on their own. Nancy admired a castle, a snowman, and what looked like an Indian village. With the other projects, it was too early to tell what they would represent.
Bess was in awe of the sculptures. "I don't know what to do," she said with a sigh.
"I'm a judge," Ned reminded her, "so I'm sorry, but I can't give you any help."
"Why don't you start by piling up a mound of snow and seeing what comes to you?" George suggested to Bess.
Nancy glanced around her. "Maybe I'll do a model of one of the campus buildings," she said, pointing at an ultramodern structure on the bluff just above them. "Like the Emerson Museum."
"Too easy," Ned scoffed. "Five or six cubes piled on top of one another. That reminds me, I have to go to the opening of an exhibit of jewelry at the museum tonight. It should just take a few minutes, but I have to show up because of my art history course. You guys can skip it if you want."
Bess's pale blue eyes lit up. "Sounds like it might be interesting. What kind of jewelry is it?"
"A collection of rare pieces that were crafted during the seventeen and eighteen hundreds for famous celebrities, royalty, and heads of state."
"Ooh!" Bess sighed dramatically. "I can't wait to see them!"
Nancy shrugged. "I guess that settles it. We'll go with you, Ned."
Pointing a mittened thumb at her cousin, George joked, "Any excuse to get out of the cold, right, Bess?" Turning to Ned, she asked, "What else is on for the weekend?"
"Tomorrow they're dedicating the new rowing tank," Ned told her.
"What's a rowing tank?" Nancy asked.
"It lets the crew practice rowing during the winter, when the lake is frozen. That's it over there, at the back of the boat house."
Nancy glanced over her shoulder at an old-fashioned wooden building on the far side of the lake. She remembered the boat house from earlier visits to Emerson College. Its green paint really stood out now against the snowy whiteness surrounding it, and the row of big double doors across the front were striking. The cement-walled addition at the far end of the building looked dull and lifeless by comparison.
"The addition's not very attractive," Nancy remarked. "I liked the boat house better before."
"I agree," Ned said. "But I wouldn't say that around any of the guys on the rowing team if I were you. That includes Rob. He and the other guys raised the money to build it."
"Sorry. I hope he didn't hear me." She didn't see Rob nearby. She finally spotted him standing at the edge of the lake, staring moodily across the lake toward the boat house. Good, Nancy thought. He hadn't heard her.
"Hey, Nancy," Bess called. "You're falling behind on the job. Get to work!"
Bess had already scooped a big pile of snow together and was starting to mold it. A little farther along, George and Jerry were working on the walls of a fortress.
Nancy knelt down and began to pack some of the fluffy snow. By the time the sun set, she and the others were so cold their fingers and toes were starting to get numb, but they'd all gotten a good start on their sculptures.
"Why don't we head over to the student center and warm up," Ned suggested. "They're going to have different bands playing all weekend long. "
Ten minutes later they had made their way back to the stone student center.
"Pretty good crowd," Ned said, unzipping his ski jacket. He and Nancy were warming themselves in front of the fireplace. Across the room, a piano and guitar duo was getting ready to play, but Nancy doubted that anyone would be able to hear them over the buzz of conversation.
"I'll go get us some hot cocoa," Ned said.
Nancy nodded, and Ned threaded his way through the crowd.
"Hi," came a voice from behind her. "How's your snow sculpture coming along?"
"Oh, hi, Susan," Nancy replied, turning to face her roommate. "Fine, I guess. I'm doing a snowman. Pretty basic. I didn't see you down at the lake."
Susan grimaced. "Tell me about it. I work part-time at the museum, and some things came up." She brushed a hand through her black hair. "I guess I'll get up early tomorrow to work on my sculpture. "
"Brrr," Nancy said with a laugh. "That's what I call dedication. Oh, there's Bess."
She waved to Bess, who came over to join them. After saying hi to Susan, Bess said, "I seem to have lost my date. Maybe I should put you on the case, Nancy." Turning to Susan, she added, "Nancy's a detective, you know."
"An efficient one, too," Nancy teased, glancing over Bess's shoulder. "I've already solved your case! Here comes Rob now, with Ned."
Susan followed Nancy's gaze, and the smile disappeared from her face. Nancy was about to ask her what was wrong when Susan muttered darkly, "He's your date? Rob Harper?"
She continued to glare angrily. "If I were you, Bess, I'd watch out for that guy. He's not what he seems!" With that, she turned and walked away.