A light snow was falling from the overcast February sky as Nancy Drew steered her Mustang expertly along the twisting Vermont road. More snow meant even better skiing! Nancy’s blue eyes sparkled at the thought.
Nancy, George Fayne, and Bess Marvin, her two best friends, were looking forward to a really fabulous ski trip. And having Ned Nickerson along would make the vacation just perfect.
“Sorry you decided to come along?” Nancy asked Ned. “The only guy with three girls?”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” George spoke up before Ned could answer. “Ned knows I’ll be hitting the slopes every minute I can, and Bess will have guys falling all over themselves to impress her. And there isn’t a mystery in sight!
You and Ned will have plenty of time for snuggling by the fire.”
“Really?” Nancy answered innocently. “I thought we were here for skiing.”
“How would you like some snow down your neck?” Ned teased.
“Hey,” interrupted Bess, “aren’t we looking for Webb Cove Road? You just passed it!”
Nancy slowed the blue Mustang and made a careful three-point turn, her reddish blond hair bouncing as she turned her head to check the side-view mirror. She pulled onto the narrow road Bess indicated and proceeded smoothly through the snow. Soon a rustic sign appeared on the left: Webb Cove Road. “Okay, everybody, watch for the sign to the lodge,” Nancy said.
Bess’s blue eyes met Nancy’s in the rearview mirror, and she shook her blond head. “I’ve heard about snow blindness, but it looks like Nancy’s got a bad case of Ned blindness. Pay attention, Nan, and you won’t miss any more turns.”
“Hah! Look who’s talking about boy blindness!” dark-haired George retorted. She and Bess were cousins, but they couldn’t have been more different. George, a top athlete, was shy with boys. Bess’s favorite sports were shopping and men, not necessarily in that order.
“Okay,” Ned exclaimed as Nancy steered around a curve and heavy stone gateposts loomed before them. “This is the place. Webb Cove Lodge!”
Nancy swung through the open gates and pulled up before a heavy, dark red door. The lodge was long and low, snuggled into a fold of the hill. Its peaked roof looked vaguely alpine, and the overcast skies made the weathered boards seem very dark — like something out of a ghost story, Nancy thought. Then she smiled to herself, realizing that she was automatically seeing things as mysterious!
She parked the car in a small lot and she and her friends piled out.
“All right! The sun’s out!” George cried happily. She and Nancy took their skis off the roof carrier and pulled boots out of the backseat. Bess and Ned would have to rent ski equipment. “Let’s get checked in and hit the slopes fast!” George said enthusiastically.
As Nancy and the others stepped into the lodge’s cozy office, lugging bags and skis, a sturdy, cheerful young woman in jeans and a plaid wool shirt looked up from behind the registration desk. “Welcome to Webb Cove,” she said. “You must be the group from River Heights. Come on in. Which one of you is Nancy Drew? Since you made the reservations, you might as well sign in for everybody.”
Bess read over Nancy’s shoulder as she filled in the registration form. “Name, address, phone and credit card numbers, license plate number…hey, you forgot to fill in the blank for occupation. Put down, ‘Nancy Drew, Notorious Girl Detective’!”
“Knock it off,” Nancy muttered. She hated it when Bess said things like that in front of people she didn’t know. Nancy was always modest, even though her detective work had earned her an international reputation.
Nancy left the occupation line blank. “Here you are,” she said, handing the registration form beck to the woman behind the desk. “Nancy Drew, George Fayne, Bess Marvin, and Ned Nickerson, all present and accounted for.”
“Thanks. I’m Liz Whitcomb. I run this place. Best way I know to make a living and still be a ski bum.” Liz grinned. “Leave your skis and boots in the entryway. I’ll show you to your bunks.
“I’m afraid we don’t have porters or the rest of the fancy trimmings you’d have if you stayed up the road at the Overlook — the big resort hotel. But then, most people don’t bring many clothes along,” she added dryly, watching Bess struggle with her two suitcases. “By the way, if any of you need to rent skis from us, you’d better do it quickly. We have a lot of guests this week so we’re short on rentals.”
Liz led Nancy and her friends through a large, wood-paneled sitting room. Comfortable sofas covered in red wool plaid were gathered around a big stone fireplace. Sheepskin rugs dotted the slate floors, and sports magazines were piled haphazardly on the tables. At one end of the room, swinging doors led to what sounded like the kitchen. Liz led them through a rustic door at the opposite end of the room that opened onto a corridor.
“As you probably know, this place is dormitory-style,” she explained. “Most of our guests are college students and hostelers from overseas. The guys’ room is on the left, gals’ on the right.
“The ski area, Big Birch, is on the other side of the mountain. An old chair lift will take you to the top. You can connect into the main trails easily there. The schedules for meals and ski classes with our resident instructor are posted in the dorms.”
Ned nodded. “The lodge has its own ski instructor?” he asked.
“Not always. Instructors come and go. But we have a good one right now — Luke Ericsen. He showed up a few weeks ago, looking for work. He’s a ski bum like me,” Liz said, laughing, “and a fantastic athlete and teacher.”
She opened the door to the women’s bunk room. “Here you are, girls. You’ll be able to tell which bunks aren’t taken. Let me know if there’s anything you need.”
Ned caught the sleeve of Nancy’s down jacket. “See you on the slopes in a little while, okay? I have to see about renting skis.” He waved to the others and followed Liz toward the men’s bunk room.
The girls’ room was simple but attractive, even if it wasn’t, as George remarked, fancy enough to suit Bess’s taste. The bunks were built of dark-stained wood and covered with comforters in bright patchwork patterns.
Nancy dropped her suitcase onto the bunk by the back window and sat down beside it, yawning. “Whew! Driving in that snow really tired me out.”
“I could go for a nap by the fire in the lounge. If only I had somebody cute to curl up with,” Bess added wistfully.
Her friends grinned. “Bess, a couple of days from now you’ll have boys falling at your feet, just as George said,” Nancy reassured her.
“Who wants to wait?” Bess said with a sigh. “It’s easy for you to talk, Nancy. Your tall-dark-and-handsome’s here with you.”
“Face it, Bess, you have a one-track mind,” George told her bluntly. “Nancy’d have a good time even if Ned weren’t here. Nancy,” she added significantly, “likes skiing. A little exercise wouldn’t hurt you any.”
“Don’t remind me,” Bess groaned. “I went on a pizza binge last week. I’ll probably look like a blimp in my new stretch pants!”
Nancy and George exchanged amused glances. “Maybe you should hunt up that ski instructor,” Nancy suggested. “What was his name? Luke something?”
“Ericsen,” Bess said promptly.
“Did you take notes, Bess?” George asked, giggling.
Bess grinned. “No, but a handsome ski instructor isn’t such a bad idea.” She began brushing her long blond hair. “Although he’d probably be more interested in a skiing ace like George.”
“For all we know, the guy’s middle-aged and has a wife and sixteen kids,” George returned, blushing.
Bess gestured for quiet, and they heard a deep voice in the next room.
“Hear that?” Bess’s eyes sparkled. “Boys. Hmmm…I think I’ll wear my new blue ski sweater.”
“Happy hunting!” Nancy exclaimed. “I’m going skiing!” She zipped up her jacket, grabbed her mittens, and tramped out the door.
Liz was sitting behind the registration desk as Nancy passed the open door to the office. She rose so quickly that Nancy realized Liz had been waiting for her. “May I speak to you a minute?” she asked quietly. “In private.”
“Of course,” Nancy said. She stepped into Liz’s office. To her surprise, Liz closed the door, then locked it. She turned to Nancy, her face serious.
“Is it true, what your friend said? You’re a detective?”
Nancy nodded. “Yes. Why?”
Liz didn’t answer at once. A draft of cold air sliced through the cracks around the windows. Something — a tree branch, probably — scratched against the windowpane. It was a faint sound, but Liz jumped as if it were a thunderclap. She whirled around, her face drained of color.
“Liz,” Nancy cried, “what is it? There’s nothing there.”
“I know,” Liz answered shakily. “I guess it was just a tree branch.”
“But that’s not what frightened you, is it? Please tell me,” Nancy urged gently.
Liz swallowed and forced a smile. “Look at me, jumping out of my skin like that! A week ago, I’d have said I was never afraid of any thing.”
“But now you are afraid. Has something happened?”
Liz looked nervously at Nancy. “It started last week,” she began. “I came down here to get something in the middle of the night, and I saw a face staring through that window. It was a monster’s face — no body, no nose or mouth — a face that could scare you to death!”