An Unexpected Adventure
NANCY awoke the next morning to the fragrant odor of pines. Eager to start out for the Topham bungalow, she dressed quickly.
But in her plans she had reckoned without Helen Corning and her friends. From the moment breakfast was over, Nancy was swept into another whirlwind of activity by the campers of Avondale. The entire day passed without a chance for her to break away.
"Oh, Helen!" Nancy groaned as she tumbled into bed that night. "Tennis matches, canoe races, swimming, water skiing—it's been fun. But tomorrow I think I'll stay out of the activities."
Helen laughed gaily. "You'll change your mind after a sound sleep, Nancy. Wait and see."
For answer, Nancy murmured a sleepy good night. But even as she slipped into slumber, she vowed that in the morning she would not be deterred again from visiting the Tophams' summer place!
After breakfast the next day, Nancy stood firm in her resolve. When Helen urged her to accompany the girls on an all-day hike, Nancy shook her head.
"Thanks a lot, but please excuse me today, Helen."
Normally Nancy would have loved going on such a hike. But she had to achieve her plan of sleuthing. Helen, though disappointed, heeded her friend's plea and trudged off with the other campers into the woods.
As soon as they were out of sight, Nancy leaped into action. After obtaining Aunt Martha's permission to use the launch, she hurried down to the dock. Nancy had frequently handled motorboats and was confident she could manage this one.
"Now. Full speed ahead for the Tophams'!"
To her delight the motor started immediately, and Nancy steered out into the lake. As the launch cut through the water, a cool spray blew into her face. The young sleuth felt a thrill of excitement as she guided the craft toward her destination which might hold a solution to the mystery.
"If only the Tophams' caretaker will let me in when I get there!" she thought.
Nancy's heart beat somewhat faster as she neared her goal. But all of a sudden there was a sputter from the engine. The next instant, to Nancy's utter dismay, the motor gave one long wheeze and died.
"Oh!" she cried aloud.
Nancy knew that the tank held plenty of fuel, for she had checked this before departing. A moment later she recalled Helen's remark about the engine becoming balky at times.
With a sigh of impatience at the unexpected delay, Nancy examined the motor. For over an hour she worked on it, trying every adjustment she could think of. But her efforts were useless. There was not a sound of response from the motor.
"What miserable luck!" she said aloud. "Of all days for the motor to conk out! This means I won't get to the Topham cottage after all!"
For a moment Nancy was tempted to swim ashore. To be so close to the bungalow and not be able to reach it was tantalizing. But she resisted the impulse; she could not leave the boat stranded—it would drift off and she would be responsible.
"I'll just have to wait for a passing boat to rescue me," Nancy decided.
But fate was against her. The hours dragged by and not another craft appeared in sight. Nancy became increasingly uncomfortable as the hot sun beat down on her. Also, she was growing weak from hunger.
"And worst of all," Nancy thought gloomily, "another whole day is being wasted. I want to get to the bottom of this mystery!"
To occupy her mind, Nancy concentrated once more on the motor. Determinedly she bent over the engine. It was not until the sun sank low in. the sky that she sat up and drew a long breath.
"There!" she declared. "I've done everything. If it doesn't start now, it never will."
To her relief and astonishment, it responded with a steady roar as if nothing had ever gone wrong!
Nancy lost no time in heading back toward camp. She dared not attempt to visit the bungalow, since it would be dark very soon.
When finally she eased up to the dock, Nancy saw Helen and her friends awaiting her. They greeted her with delight.
"We were just going to send out a search party for you!" Helen exclaimed. She stopped abruptly and stared at her friend. "You're sunburned and covered with grease! What happened?"
Nancy laughed. "I had an extended sun bath." Then she gave a lighthearted account of her mishap as the campers trooped back to their cabins. When Helen learned that Nancy had had nothing to eat since breakfast, she went to the kitchen and brought back some food.
The following morning the young sleuth decided on her next move. Directly after breakfast she began packing.
When Helen entered the cabin she exclaimed in amazement, "Why, Nancy Drew! You're not leaving camp already!"
"I'm afraid I'll have to, Helen. Right after lunch. I may be back but I'm not sure, so I'd better take my bag with me."
"Don't you like it here?"
"Of course!" Nancy assured her. "I've had a wonderful time. It's just that there's something very important I must attend to at once."
Helen looked at her friend searchingly, then grinned. "Nancy Drew, you're working on some mystery with your father!"
"Well, sort of," Nancy admitted. "But I'll try to get back. Okay?"
"Oh, please do," Helen begged.
Nancy went to the office to pay Aunt Martha and explain her hasty departure. After lunch she set off in her car to a chorus of farewells from the campers, who sadly watched her depart.
She headed the car toward the end of the lake, then took the dirt road leading to the Topham cottage. Soon she came to a fork in the woods.
"Now, which way shall I turn for the bungalow?" she wondered. After a moment's hesitation, Nancy calculated that she should turn left toward the water and did so.
The going was rather rough due to ruts in the road. Two of them, deeper than the others, apparently had been made by a heavy truck.
"The tracks appear fresh," Nancy mused.
As she drove along, the young sleuth noticed a number of summer cottages. Most of them were still boarded up, since it was early in the season. As she gazed at one of them, the steering wheel was nearly wrenched from her hand by a crooked rut. As Nancy turned the