Read Island of Secrets Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

Island of Secrets

Chapter

One

N
ANCY
D
REW LEANED
against the rail of the ferryboat, shading her eyes as she gazed at the dark smudge on the horizon she knew was Block Island. When Hannah Gruen, the Drews' gray-haired housekeeper, came to her side, Nancy turned with a smile. “Isn't it great, Hannah? Two whole weeks of vacation!”

“It's about time, too,” Hannah replied, her hazel eyes twinkling. “You work too hard on your detective cases. You deserve a rest.”

“I'm so glad you came with me,” Nancy said, giving Hannah a hug. “We'll have a terrific time.”

Hannah nodded, then peeked back toward the mainland. The ferry had just cleared the Point Judith breakwater, leaving the little fishing town of Galilee behind. “I wish your father could have
come with us. He needs a vacation, too. Do you think he'll manage all right on his own?”

Nancy laughed. “You left enough food in the refrigerator to feed not only him, but the judge and jury, too. Besides, he's so involved in his trial he probably won't notice we're gone.”

To take Hannah's mind off her worries, Nancy pulled out a map of Block Island from her purse. “Can you believe how small the island is?”

Hannah put on the reading glasses that hung from a chain around her neck. “Why, it's only seven miles long.”

“And only about three and a half across at the widest point. This huge bay called Great Salt Pond on the west side almost cuts it in half.”

Hannah studied the map. “I'd say the island's shaped something like a pork chop.”

Nancy chuckled. “Our cottage is in Old Harbor, the only town on the east coast. But there are lots of things to see all over the island. Aunt Eloise said we should rent mopeds to get around easier.”

“Me? On a moped?” Hannah half-cried.

“It's easy,” Nancy replied. “I'll teach you.”

“We'll see.” Hannah shivered slightly and pulled her blue cotton cardigan closed across her chest. “This wind is rather strong. Let's go inside.”

“I'll join you in a moment,” Nancy said. She was enjoying the salt air and the sparkling blue sea.

As Hannah made her way across the crowded deck, Nancy looked around. Other passengers were happily chatting on this sunny Sunday morning in August.

Beside her, a pretty girl of about twelve leaned eagerly over the rail, her long dark hair blowing in the breeze. She saw Nancy looking at her and smiled.

“I love watching the waves,” the girl confided. “We don't have an ocean in Library, Pennsylvania.”

“We don't have one in River Heights, Illinois, either,” Nancy admitted, introducing herself.

“I'm Ashley Hanna,” the girl said. “My family and I come to the island every summer. My uncle runs a marina in Great Salt Pond. I get to help him on the docks and stuff. It's great.”

Just then a woman's voice called out, “Ashley!” and the girl turned to leave. “I've got to go,” she said over her shoulder. “Maybe I'll see you around.”

Nancy decided to find Hannah in the enclosed part of the ferry. Once inside, she looked around for her friend.

She smiled when she spotted Hannah headed for a white-haired woman sitting under one of the big windows. The woman had pieces of patchwork quilting spread over her lap. Hannah was an enthusiastic quilter, and the Drew home was full of her handiwork.

Nancy came up to the two women just as
Hannah was saying, “I couldn't help noticing your quilting. That's the Double Wedding Ring design, isn't it?”

The older woman raised her head. Her face was softly lined and her brown eyes were lively. “Why, yes, it is. Do you quilt, too?”

Hannah nodded. “I brought my Sunshine and Shadows pattern with me.” She opened her tote bag and took out one of the gaily colored quilt squares.

“Oh, how lovely,” the lady said, smoothing the fabric with gentle fingers. “I'm Sarah Windsor, and I own the Crazy for Crafts shop on Block. I'm making this for my daughter. She's getting married in the fall, so I had to make the Double Wedding Ring for her.”

Hannah introduced herself and Nancy, then sat down next to Sarah. Nancy knew Hannah would be happily involved for the rest of the trip, so she excused herself, saying she wanted to explore.

Out on deck she slowly made her way toward the stern where she could peer down on the ferry's lower level, full of cars and trucks parked bumper to bumper, and bikes and luggage squeezed in on the sides. Then she climbed the steps to the top deck and found a spot at the railing. For a while, she leaned into the warm breeze and watched the sailboats skim across the water. Then she noticed the tall, slender girl with honey-blond hair standing next to her. She wore
a T-shirt that said, Have You Hugged a Bug Lately?

The girl turned to Nancy. “Have you been to Block before?” she asked amiably.

Nancy smiled into her warm blue eyes. “No, but I'm really looking forward to it.”

“Are you traveling alone?” the girl asked.

“I'm with a friend,” Nancy answered. “Is this your first visit to Block, too?”

The girl shook her head. “No, I've been working there all summer with the Nature Conservancy. I'm in graduate school, working on my thesis.”

“What are you studying?” Nancy asked.

The girl made a face. “Promise you won't say ‘icky' or ‘yuck'?”

“Promise,” Nancy said, her curiosity aroused.

“I'm studying an extremely rare insect, the American burying beetle. It used to be found in thirty-two states, but now it's almost extinct. There are only a few hundred left in the world and Block Island has one of the two surviving colonies.”

“Really?” Nancy said, intrigued. “Why is the beetle so rare?”

The girl frowned. “That's what we're trying to pin down. We think it's partly because of pesticides.”

“So the work you're doing might save the beetles from extinction?” Nancy asked.

“We
hope
so.” After a moment the girl's frown
faded and she held out her hand to Nancy. “I'm Barb Sommers. It's nice to meet someone who isn't grossed out by bugs.”

“I'm Nancy Drew.” She shook Barb's hand. “I think the beetles sound fascinating. What do they look like?”

Barb's face lit up. “They're beautiful! Would you like to see for yourself? I'm going over to the Lewis-Dickens farm this afternoon—it's a nature preserve where the main colony is found. You could come with me if you'd like.”

“I'd love to,” Nancy said.

“Where are you staying?”

Nancy gave her the address of the cottage.

“We're just around the corner from you! My roommate and I share the second floor of a house.” She told Nancy how to find it. “How did you hear about Block? Are you from around here?”

“No, River Heights, near Chicago,” Nancy said. “We flew out yesterday and stayed with my aunt in New York, then drove up to Rhode Island this morning. My aunt Eloise had rented the cottage, but a big work assignment came up so she called and offered it to us.”

“You'll love Block,” Barb said. “I'll introduce you to the crowd I hang out with. Some of the guys are native Islanders.”

“I'd like to meet them,” Nancy said, her thoughts already turning to her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. She missed him and wished he'd been
able to come with her, but Ned had already made plans for a canoe trip when Nancy's aunt had called a few days ago. Fortunately, her best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, planned to join her and Hannah at the end of the week.

“The gang usually hangs out at a place called the Spotted Dog,” Barb continued. For the next hour she talked about beetles, her friends, and the island itself. By the time the ferry docked, Nancy felt as if she knew Block well.

When Nancy and Hannah arrived on the pier, they were met by the agent who'd rented the cottage to Nancy's aunt Eloise. Nancy waved goodbye to Barb as the man ushered them into the backseat of his jeep, then drove a short distance through streets filled with people, bicycles, mopeds, and cars. Their cottage turned out to be a charming Victorian with white gingerbread trim and rosebushes, set on a hill above the town. The rooms were bright with cheerful yellow curtains and comfortable furniture. Hannah was pleased with the spotless kitchen and Nancy loved the porch overlooking the town and ocean beyond.

As soon as they unpacked, they walked down the hill to a sandwich shop for a late lunch. Afterward, Hannah returned to the cottage for a nap and Nancy set out for Barb's. The small saltbox with red shutters proved easy to find. Nancy climbed up the outside wooden staircase to the second floor apartment and knocked on
the door. It was opened by a pretty, dark-haired girl in a waitress uniform.

“Hi, I'm Angelina Cassetti,” she said in a soft voice. “You must be Nancy. Barb will be ready in a sec. Come on in.”

Nancy stepped into a large room with gleaming oak floors. Futons and oversize pillows in soft hues took the place of furniture, and glossy green plants hung in the windows. A low table, like those Nancy had seen in Japanese restaurants, was placed opposite a tiny kitchenette.

“What a nice place,” Nancy said.

“Thank you.” Angelina scrutinized everything as if seeing it through a stranger's eyes. “The landlady reduced our rent after we refinished the floor and painted. And Barb has a friend whose father owns an import-export store so we got everything at a discount. I have to save most of what I make as a waitress for college expenses, and Barb's grant isn't very large—”

“So we put hard work together with Angie's decorating genius and ended up with this,” Barb interrupted, coming out of the bedroom.

“Well, it looks great,” Nancy said, smiling at Angie. “You're really talented.”

“Oh, well . . .” Angie blushed.

“Let's get going,” Barb said, grabbing a knapsack. “I can't wait to see how my bugs made out while I was off-island. Angie's letting you borrow her moped and helmet.”

“Thanks, Angie,” Nancy said.

“No problem. I can walk. The place I work—the Bell Buoy—is just down the hill from here.” Angie glanced at her watch. “Whoops, I'm late. Say hello to the little guys for me.”

In ten minutes Nancy was sitting on Angie's moped, following Barb along the hilly, winding roads toward the southwest corner of the island. The sea breeze caressed her face and lifted her strawberry blond hair off her shoulders. From somewhere nearby she caught sweet whiffs of honeysuckle. Soon Barb slowed down and turned into a side lane. A short while later they stopped at the edge of a field.

“See that rock wall over there?” Barb slung her knapsack on her back and pointed. “The Conservancy set up a trap line along it and I'm going to check it. The beetles are mainly nocturnal, so I can't
promise
we'll see one.”

Nancy followed Barb across the grassy field. “Why are they called burying beetles?”

“Because they bury their food, then lay eggs in a nest and feed the babies from the food they've stored. They're one of few insects that care for their young once they hatch—the way birds do.”

As they walked, Nancy noticed wild blackberry and bayberry bushes skirting the field. In the distance she could just make out the dark blue Atlantic Ocean.

They reached the rock wall and Barb stooped
down. “Here we are.” She removed a flat piece of wood propped up by a stick that formed a miniature roof over a hole in the ground.

Nancy knelt beside her. A large glass jar was buried up to its neck in the soil. Inside, on the bottom, was a small baby-food jar with a screen covering the opening. She caught a whiff of a strong odor and pulled back. “Wheee-oouu.”

“That's the bait in the little jar.” Barb grinned. “The beetles think it smells delicious. They're drawn to it and fall into the large jar. They can't climb back up the smooth sides, so they're caught for the night. In the morning we count them and let them go. Someone's done the morning count already, but once in a while we get a stray.”

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