Chapter One: A Ghostly Surprise
“I always feel as if my car is a time machine when I come here,” Nancy Drew said. She stepped out of her Mustang. Its shiny blue color matched her T-shirt and her eyes. “It’s as if I’ve traveled back in time.” Her reddish blond hair swung as she shook her head in amazement.
Ahead was Persimmon Woods Pioneer Village, a living-history museum located in the country twenty miles south of River Heights, Nancy’s hometown.
“I know,” Nancy’s friend Bess Marvin said, standing beside the passenger side door. Her blue eyes sparkled with excitement. “It’s really going to be fun working here for a week and pretending to be one of the villagers.”
“Just don’t forget,” Nancy said, “that our main job is to investigate and gather clues.” She remembered her conversation with Anita Valdez, her neighbor from across the street in River Heights. “Anita is sure that all the so-called accidents and thefts here have been caused to cover up the fact that money is being stolen.”
“Okay, Nancy, we’re ready to help. Aren’t we, George? George? Come on.”
George Fayne unwound her lanky frame from its curled-up position in the small backseat. “I’m coming,” she said. George had short, dark curly hair and brown eyes, and Bess had long blond hair and blue eyes. It would be hard to guess they were cousins.
They headed toward the large igloo-shaped Visitors Center, the only modern building in sight. Inside were a gift shop, theater, restaurant, and museum gallery. Nancy, Bess, George, and the fifteen other volunteers walked the dirt path from the Visitors Center to the one-room log schoolhouse in the village. They sat down on long log benches that ran the width of the room and faced the slateboard wall in front.
“Hi, I’m Cory Worth,” said the boy sitting next to Bess on the long bench. He was tall and very cute and looked as if he was about eighteen, Nancy and her friends’ age. Thick blond hair hung straight to the shoulders of his T-shirt. His green eyes shone with a friendly gaze. “This is my sister, Amy,” he said, nodding to the girl sitting on his other side. “Is this your first time as a volunteer?” he asked Bess.
“Yes,” Bess answered. She introduced herself, Nancy, and George. “How about you?”
“Our first time, too,” Amy answered. She looked enough like Cory to be his twin, except for her hair. It was long and wavy and a rich dark brown.
The schoolhouse door opened and a woman walked in and went to the slateboard. “My name is Mabel Tansy and I’ll be your trainer,” she said. “Welcome to your volunteer jobs as Persimmon Woods villagers during the Festival of the Golden Moon. We have two days during which the village will be closed before the festival begins.”
She smiled as she paced in front of the slateboard. “I play Mrs. Herman, the doctor’s wife,” she continued, “and you’ll call me by that name during the festival. That’s your first lesson and the most important one. While you work here, you will always stay in character. Always pretend to be the person you are assigned to be and treat the other villagers as if they are really the people they are playing.”
She looked around the group, as if to make sure they understood. Then she smiled. “The rest of the time, please call me Mabel,” she said. Nancy thought Mabel looked and sounded just like a woman from the past. She wore a long dress in dark green with a lighter green border and a white apron. Her face was framed with the heart-shaped brim of a bonnet the color of butter.
“We appreciate your help and don’t expect you to be experts,” Mabel continued. “You don’t have to memorize any exact lines. We just want you to act as if you live in 1830. There will always be regular villagers with you. When you’re stumped by a tourist’s question and you don’t know what to say, just let the villagers take over.”
Nancy remembered the times she had visited the site on school tours or with family and friends. It was going to be so different this time, living as one of the actual “villagers.”
“Many of you have probably visited us before,” Mabel said, as if reading Nancy’s mind. “You know that we villagers go about our pretend life in spite of the tourists. When it’s time to cook our noon meal, we cook it. When the food is cooked, we sit and eat. We treat the tourists as friendly strangers passing through. But we don’t let them keep us from our chores and activities.”
“When do we find out where we’ll be working?” Bess asked. “Do we get to pick the place?”
“We try to assign our regular employees in the areas where they have special skills,” Mabel answered. “For these special events, though, I’m afraid you’ll have to go where you’re needed.”
“Now,” Mabel continued, “from this moment on, let’s take a trip back to 1830s America. There are no cars, no telephones, or television — ”
“Yikes! No video games,” Cory said with a mock groan. “How did they survive in those days?”
“They made their own fun,” Mabel said with a grin. “It didn’t come in a box — unless they made the box, too, of course.” She motioned them to follow her. “Let’s start with a little tour.”
Mabel took them through all the buildings in the village. There were twelve log cabins. Most had two rooms. Handmade wood chairs and tables were placed around one room, which was used for living, cooking, and eating. The other room was for sleeping. A few cabins had two with a sleeping loft up above. All were with a fireplace and lit by candles. Water in buckets from the icehouse spring.
“Feel this mattress,” Mabel said.
It was lumpy and made a crackling noise when Nancy pushed on it.
“It’s stuffed with cornhusks,” Mabel pointed out. She lifted up the mattress, which rested on ropes threaded across the bed frame like laces on sneaker. “After a few nights, these ropes get loose and start to sag,” she said, picking up a tool that looked like a wrench made of wood. “You can tighten them with this,” she added, twisting the wrench. “Now they don’t sag.” She smiled, her eyes twinkling. “And that’s what the phrase ‘Sleep tight’ means.”
“So that’s where that saying came from,” George said. “I always wondered what it meant.”
Mabel showed the volunteers other buildings besides the residence cabins. They walked through the general store, also made of logs. Its walls were lined with shelves holding fabric and thread, tools and nails, teapots and raw sugar. A large cast-iron stove sat in the middle of the room. The stove was surrounded by rockers and benches, where customers could “sit a spell, store up some heat, and catch up on village gossip,” according to Mabel.
The tour continued for the rest of the morning. Mabel walked the volunteers through the barns, which were filled with horses, cows, oxen, and goats. They toured the potter’s studio, which had a kiln in the back, and a doctor’s wood frame house.
“Now, this is where I’d like to work,” Cory said as they entered the blacksmith’s workshop.
“The hinges, door pulls, and tools used in the village are made here by our smithy,” Mabel said. They all watched as the blacksmith walked over to where he was making a fireplace poker. His fire pit almost looked like a barbecue pit. It was made of bricks and was about waist high. A bellows hung above it. With one strong arm, he pulled on the bellows, forcing air down to fan the flames. His other arm turned the long iron rod that was resting in the flames. The end of the rod glowed yellow-white in the fire.
The blacksmith pulled the rod from flames and placed it on an iron block called an anvil. The end of the rod was so hot that it had become soft. As Nancy and the others watched, he pounded the rod with a huge hammer to flatten and shape it. Each stroke filled the air echoing ring and a shower of sparks.
“This is definitely where I want to work,” Cory murmured.
Finally Mabel took the group to Windbreak, a house that sat on a small hill next to the village. It had been the original home in the area built by Brandon Parrish, who had settled there in 1825.
“The windows look a little blurry,” Amy said. The glass has waves in it.”
“They are the original windows,” Mabel pointed out. “All windows looked like that back then.” Windbreak was quite fancy compared to the cabins they had seen so far. It had woven rugs, wallpaper, and upholstered furniture. There were two rooms plus a large kitchen downstairs. A central staircase led to two large sleeping rooms upstairs. One bedroom was for the parents. There was also a cradle for a baby in that room.
The other bedroom was for the children. Several beds lined one wall, surrounded by old dolls, wagons, and other toys. Clothes were hung on hooks along all four walls. In one corner was a single bed with a little chest and a rocker. “That was for the children’s nanny,” Mabel explained.
“All right, everyone,” Mabel said as they left Windbreak, “let’s go outside. We have a small picnic waiting.”
Some of the volunteers sat at picnic tables, but Nancy, Bess, George, Cory, and Amy joined others on the soft grass. As they dug into their sandwiches and sodas, they gazed at the village. “Again I feel like I’m drifting back in time,” Bess said dreamily.
“Then you should make a great volunteer,” Cory said.
“We come here all the time,” his sister commented. “I love it here. In fact, I plan to major in history in college, and then I’d like to work full-time in a place like this.”
“We’ve heard there have been some pretty strange things happening around here,” Nancy said.
“Yeah, there was a bomb scare phoned in recently,” Cory said. “It caused a minor panic.” And how about the time someone threw all the quilts from the weaver’s cabin and the pottery from the kiln into the river,” Amy said. “There’s been a lot of weird stuff going on.”
“That must have been some sight,” Cory said. “All those things flaoting downstream.”
“It must have been terrible,” Bess said, frowning. All those beautiful handmade things ruined.”
“I think the worst was the musket accident,” said. “We were here when it happened, and it was pretty bad.”
“Tell us about it,” Nancy prompted as she finished her soda.
“Well,” Amy answered, “it was during one of the target-shooting competitions they hold here occasionally. One of the muskets misfired and the shooter’s hand was burned pretty badly.”
“And he was lucky at that,” Cory said. “He could have lost an eye. Or worse!”
“But that might have been an accident,” George pointed out.
“Not according to the man who was hurt,” Amy said. “He swore his musket was tampered with. There was even an investigation, but they just chalked it up to another of the ‘unexplained incidents.'”
“What about the Lantern Lady?” Cory asked. “Maybe she did it. Oooooeeeeeooooo. The village ghost strikes again.”
“The Lantern Lady?” George repeated. “Who’s that?”
“Now, never mind about her,” Amy said, glancing around quickly. “She’s just an old legend. I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a village ghost. The people who run this place probably thought her up to bring in the tourists.” She smiled, but Nancy could see she was a little nervous.
They finished their lunch, went back to their training until six, and then were ushered back to the barn. “We thought you’d enjoy an evening hayride through the orchard,” Mabel said. “Then you’ll come back for an authentic pioneer meal by the campfire.”
The volunteers piled into a wagon filled with hay that was pulled by a large reddish brown horse. The sun was going down and a breeze rustled the leaves, filling the orchard with dancing shadows.
It got darker and darker as the horse pulled them deeper into the dense orchard. The chattering voices of the volunteers softened to a rustle of whispers. Nancy took a deep breath. The sweet smell of hay on the cool evening breeze filled her nose. She leaned back against the edge of the wagon and looked around.
At first all she saw were dark shadows. But then something through the trees caught her eye. It was flickering and bobbing like a huge firefly. She squinted to watch it as the others noticed it and began pointing and murmuring. As Nancy watched, she felt her nerves dancing just under her skin.
Suddenly Bess grasped Nancy’s arm tightly. Out from behind a tree floated a figure draped in greenish cloak with billowing sleeves. The of the figure was concealed by a hood cascading down over the shoulders. Hanging at the end of a long sleeve was a tin lantern