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A Nancy Drew Christmas

"Merry Christmas, Nancy," Bess and George shouted together excitedly.

    The two cousins bounced into the hallway of the Drew household and embraced their chum Nancy Drew and they all exchanged individual greetings.

    Nancy, a tall, handsome bespectacled reddish-blonde girl of sixteen, was wearing a red and green frock adorned with bows front and back, seasonal finery that had been given her earlier that morning by her doting father, the respected and successful lawyer, Carson Drew. Drew was a widower, Nancy's mother having died when she was very young.

    "I adore your dress," said Bess diplomatically. Nancy's raiment was, truth to tell, in a style more suited to a much girl much younger than Nancy's mature sixteen. Pretty plump Bess Marvin was herself attired in the latest fashion for teens, sporting trendy items that ostentatiously defied adult nomenclature.

    "Well, I love your . . . whatever it is you are wearing," rejoined Nancy. Having spent too much of her time amongst adults, Nancy's juvenile sartorial vocabulary was plainly deficient.

    "It's a sarong, Nancy," George interjected. George Fayne was an attractive boyish girl dressed comfortably for the season in a sweater set and slacks. "Unlike modest mortals like you and I, Bess defies the winter and says to the glowering sky, 'I will put on raiment like unto Dorothy Lamour and the temperature shall raise itself up, and the craven sun shall appear, and I will walk the drizzling streets of River Heights as thought it were a South Pacific island paradise!"

    Georgiana Fayne, who never admitted that the name on her birth certificate was not plain "George," had a histrionic flair. A thespian renowned in the recent annals of River Heights High, she pursued a sense of high drama beyond the stage and into her quotidian life.

    "George, I said no such thing," Bess protested. "Besides it is over forty degrees. And I saw Nancy's boyfriend Ned Nickerson jogging down Appleton Street in shorts this morning. After the long frosty spell, everyone thinks it's sub-tropical."

    "The sarong is perfect," Nancy allowed. "But my alert detective eyes spot a few emerging goose-pimples."

    "The poor girl is shivering," stated the Drews' housekeeper Hannah Gruen matter-of-factly. "She needs a sweater."

    Hannah had just come into the hall to ask Nancy and her guests if they would like something warm to drink.

    "I have hot cider on the stove," she announced. "Go on into the living room and I will serve it there. There is a nice hot fire you can gather round," she added, pointedly looking at Bess's bare shoulder as she sped back to the kitchen.

    "Here, Bess, let me drape this cardigan over your back," Nancy offered helpfully. "Hannah won't let either of us alone until she thinks you look warm."

    "There are strange things done in the midnight sun," intoned George.

    Bess made speed to short circuit her cousin's incipient declamation.

    "Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee," she said in dulcet tones with a perfect Scarlett O'Hara accent, "it's the first time I've been warm."

    Nancy chuckled appreciatively as she guided her friends to seats in the snug Drew parlor. While the cousins settled in and surveyed the Drews' garish tree and the myriad greeting cards strewn over the mantle and on every level surface in the room, their hostess took a poker and prodded the flames into a show of exuberant life.

    "I feel like I'm stoking up old Sam McGee," commented Nancy.

    "B'rrrr, it's only now that I'm by the fire with a sweater on that I am beginning to feel cold," confided Bess.

    "What you were before was numb," offered George, ever ready with a lovingly supportive, if teasing, comment.

    Hannah entered the living room, resplendent in a snowy-white apron bordered with Swiss alpine designs, bearing a sturdy wooden tray that supported three steaming mugs and a plateful of freshly baked iced-gingerbread cookies. Bess's stomach, which had been as numb as the rest of her up until that moment, sprang to life at the delicious smells that came wafting her way.

    "Hannah, darling, you have outdone yourself," gushed Bess as her eyes beheld the spectacle of the treats on the platter. She reached out and had grabbed an ample gingerbread Santa before the tray touched the coffee table. Hannah, whose sense of propriety was somewhat offended by the hungry girl's eagerness, smiled indulgently, for she was more than compensated by Bess's manifold expressions of incoherent appreciation. George nibbed more demurely, but was in no wise less impressed than her sturdy cousin.

    "These are the best gingerbread cookies I have ever tasted." George then touched two fingers to her lips, kissed them, and lightly spread them apart--the gesture of an epicure.

    "The secret is . . ." Nancy began.

    "Too much spice," completed Hannah mock-sternly. "I let Miss Drew here put in the ginger and she practically emptied the whole tin!"

    Nancy took a bow.

    "Nothing exceeds like excess," she explained.

    "That's Nancy all over. Too much of everything." Carson Drew strolled in from his downstairs study to greet the guests. "But as far as I'm concerned, too much Nancy is just enough for me."

    The girls all stood up and Bess intemperately swallowed her tasty mouthful. Lawyer Drew was a formidable, and formal, man. In his presence the girls instinctively demonstrated a certain measure of old-fashioned courtesy.

    Having kissed them all, Carson sat down in the overstuffed chair that was always reserved for him. The girls sat back down, but remained on the edge of their seats.

    "How has your Christmas been, girls? Did you get what you wanted under the tree?"

    "Yes sir," answered George, though in her unaccustomed shyness she had quite forgotten what it was she had been given earlier that day.

    "It has been a nice Christmas," conceded Bess.

    "Hannah tells me that you have braved the winter weather in quite a, er, summery garb, Bess," the lawyer pressed.

    "The sarong is a present Bess got this morning," explained George, acting as her cousin's counsel of defence. "It is relatively balmy today, so she thought this might be the only chance she would have to sport it until the spring."

    Carson Drew smiled gently. "I understand. But you wear that sweater home, now. I don't want your mother to sue me for allowing you to die of hypothermia."

    "Speaking of lawsuits, Daddy," asked Nancy, "why have you been spending so much time this Christmas morning holed up in your study?"

    "Now," the lawyer intimated confidentially, "there is a certain gentleman who does his work, well, seasonally. I only get a chance to see him this once a year. He dropped by last night and asked me to do a spot of work for him, updating his will and such. I just thought I would finish it up for him and get it filed away before I got back to work tomorrow."

    "Santa," laughed George. "Mr. Drew, you are Santa's attorney."

    "Don't tell anyone that Mr. Claus has me on retainer," said Nancy's father getting to his feet again, trying his best to look deadpan. "I don't want people to think the sainted gentleman litigious."

    He stretched his arms. "I am feeling a bit stiff after all that sedentary work, so I think I will take a long walk to work up an appetite for dinner. Besides I don't wish to spoil whatever fun that, I can tell, you have planned. Bess and George, wish your parents a Merry Christmas for me when you get home. I will probably see them in a few days for a few adult New Year's Eve shenanigans."

    With that the lawyer left his daughter and her two buddies to their own ample devices.

    Nancy decided to begin the holiday ceremonies without any further ado. She stood up, bounced toward the tree, and scooped up two large presents wrapped in fluorescent tartan. One, wide long and flat, she presented to Bess. George got one that was very long but tiny in every other dimension.

    Bess, who consumed packages in the same way she did cookies, was speedily unwrapping her gift, MacTavish-bedecked paper flying in every direction. George turned her more enigmatic parcel over and over in her agile hands, perusing it from many distances and directions.

    "Nancy, this is wonderful," Bess shrieked with pleasure. It was a twenties flapper dress covered with beads and long strands everywhere. The splendid present showed that Nancy's taste in feminine attire was not always wool-gathering and hinted that her current costume was in part a concession to misguided paternal generosity.

    Bess shed the sweater and pinned the new garment up against her front to adumbrate what it would look like when she wore it. Skimpy as it was, it completely covered her sarong.

    "The 'It' Girl," they all shouted at once. The three friends shared an interest in silent movies, Calvin Coolidge, and Scott Fitzgerald. They each put a small amount of their money in the stock market so that if their investment went down precipitously they could all jump out of a window together. Then, changing fantasies instantly, and landing on the Faynes' trampoline they would call out, "Bumbles bounce!" That is why they enjoyed each other so much--few outside their little circle experienced so much pleasure in the golden non sequitur.

    "Open yours, George," Bess commanded, all of a sudden impatient to see what her cousin had received.

    George slowly and deliberately pried open the giftwrap. "It looks professionally done," she observed. "Where did you have it wrapped? Aberdeen?"

    "Actually, it was Inverness," rejoined Nancy. Her special interest in Scotland was notorious. The cousins indulged it, though they did not understand it completely.

    The paper at last peeled away, George opened the end of the long, narrow box and extracted a thin, rakish walking stick with an ivory handle. She said nothing, but her long-lashed soft eyes spoke volumes of appreciation.

    "Ooooh," said Bess. "Stand up and see how it feels."

    George stood up and posed with it. She then flicked it straight ahead and carved a letter Z in the air above Nancy's head.

    "The handle feels very comfortable," George commented.

    "Look at the designs around the top," instructed Nancy. "It is an antique lady's cane from the highlands."

    George looked closely at the handle, twisting it around in her hands.

    "Hey, it twists off!" she exclaimed.

    "Oh no! It must be broken!" Nancy wailed remorsefully.

    "It's not broken," said George. "It is meant to come apart. Here. Look!"

    George drew the ivory handle off the stick and revealed a fiendishly sharp stiletto blade.

    "My gosh!" crooned Bess.

    "Oh dear," lamented Nancy, "I didn't mean to present you with an assassin's weapon!"

    "It's all right, Nancy," smiled George as she screwed the lethal blade back into its hiding place. "I will use this cane for my dandyish walking pleasure and reserve the blade merely for self-defence against blackguards and villains."

    "This is a most exciting Christmas," proclaimed Bess.

    "But the real mystery has yet to begin," George intimated.

    Nancy had been speculating how it was that her chums had arrived on Christmas Day empty-handed, but had been too well-bred to mention it.

    "You are perhaps wondering where your present is and why there was nothing burdening our hands when we arrived," continued George.

    Nancy had to honestly allow that this was so.

    George proceeded. "It is because your present is already here, hidden by our collaborator, that most litigious Santa, in a place which you must find."

    "But the house is so big. I will need a clue," protested Nancy.

    "A clue. A clue. The girl needs a clue," George waved her hands magically.

    Bess drew an envelope out of her purse. "Here is your clue."

    Nancy, although still only a teenaged girl, had already quite a reputation for being a resourceful and clever sleuth. She had solved many a mystery, including the previous month's thrilling Clue in the Abominable Penguin. Bess and George had cause to shiver recalling the many perilous moments in that dangerous adventure. So able a detective was Nancy that her father often enlisted her as his aide in important cases. The previous summer she had helped recover a truckload of missing wicker furniture from a clique of cunning and impertinent rascals. Her friends, knowing how much Nancy enjoyed following clues, had designed a little mystery for her to solve. The effort she would be called upon to muster in order to locate her gift, would indeed be no little portion of the present itself. Her brow wrinkled in advance of much thought and her faced glowed with anticipation.

    The envelope contained a single sheet of paper, folded in four. Nancy spread it out on the coffee table and looked at it with puzzlement. The paper was densely covered with digits in a long string, with not a single gap. It didn't look like it could be a simple substitution cipher. And, in any case, her friends had too much respect for her intelligence to try anything so simple. The mysterious message started: "11235813213455890013051988007693137895230709050788459427661966731984670921840900448105567698234306700067151516990305176734620514185489150570"

    "My this is a tester," mused Nancy in pensive contentment.

    "Bess was going to make it harder, but I told her that you had to find your present this Christmas and not next," commented George. Bess was a whiz at math and belonged to the future National Security Agency encrypters of America club.

    "It starts like the Fibonacci series," said Nancy, who in her capacity as a general know-it-all, was no slouch herself in matters mathematical. "But then it zeroes out. The zeroes must be a divider, and the Fibonacci series the key. And the double zeroes tells me to look at the remaining digits in pairs."

    "Could be, but maybe not," prevaricated Bess.

    "It has to be," asserted Nancy. "And, with George's additional clue that it is not too difficult, I am going to guess that I only have to decode the pairs that correspond in position to the figures in the key series. Let's see. '12 05 19 00 13 09 19 05 18.' All those numbers are less than 26, so they may be letters."

    Nancy reached for her capacious purse, drew out a spiral pad and a well-sharpened number 2 pencil, and began to write furiously. It was evident that Nancy was racing through Bess's cipher at rocket speed. The sarong-clad mathematician looked crestfallen.

    "'Les Miser.' It looks French," Nancy clucked joyfully. "That's promising."

    A few minutes later the craftly detective had the entire message spelled out: "Les Miserables Tam O'Shanter Leaves of Grass Walden." The joy of having decoded the tricky cipher, however, quickly subsided. She looked ruefully up at her chums, and spotted a bit of smirk just as it departed from George's gamin face. Nancy smiled.

     "I love your present, Bess and George," she gushed. "Inside the mystery is an enigma. It is like one of those Russian dolls. You open one up and there is another inside!"

    Bess gave Nancy a voluptuous hug.

    "It was not too, too easy?" she asked Nancy as they disengaged.

    "Bess, you are the greatest friend and puzzler ever," granted the precocious detective. "You made it just right for Christmas day. You made my mind work, but without giving me aggravation. Now, George, over here . . ." Nancy gave her other chum a theatrically withering gaze. "George has perhaps gone too far."

    "Perhaps you will need to do some research," suggested Bess helpfully.

    "Yes," said Nancy. "Let us adjourn to the library!"

    The girls stood up and trooped across the Drews' spacious hallway and into the library. The personal library of Carson Drew was celebrated in River Heights, and had been mentioned in newspaper accounts as far away as Carbon City. The room was two stories high. Books lined every wall up to the distant ceiling. Most of them could only be reached by climbing the stairways in the corners of the chamber and walking around the galleries. An imposing site, it was modelled upon the library of the Canadian Parliament.

    Bess and George sat at one of the tables in the broad room. Nancy strode to the exact center of the library and spun herself around. George was convinced that Nancy was reading the spines of all the 40,000 books housed therein. Bess had no such thought. She admired the graceful movements that Nancy made, and speculated perhaps that a certain flickering of her friend's twirling skirt was evidence of the Coriolis force.

    "The books whose titles were in your message, George," said Nancy as her eyes continued to dart around, "are all in this room. The question is, I think, what do these books have in common?"

    "Why don't you look at each one and see?" asked George ingenuously. There was a devious tone in her voice that all of her thespian training could not completely expunge.

    "That, my dear George," explained Nancy abstractedly, "is just what I will not do. I have an idea that it is not the books themselves, but the authors that I must be thinking of. Let me think. The authors are Victor Hugo, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, and Henry Thoreau. So it is my guess that there is a book in this room that contains studies, or mentions, all four of these famous authors."

    Nancy turned to George. "Am I right, sir?"

    "Quite right," confirmed George in a clipped British accent.

    "So I just have to look at the 40,000 books in here, one by one, until I find the one that fits the bill," said Nancy with tongue in cheek.

    "Oh Nancy," drawled Bess, "I think you can eliminate your father's legal books right away."

    "And the travel books," said George at random.

    "Travel books!" announced Nancy triumphantly. George had, in fact, unwittingly given her friend a valuable hint, for Nancy had recently read Robert Louis Stevenson's The Amateur Emigrant. The sleuth spun on her heels--about 125 degrees, Bess judged--and marched to the middle of the north wall: the Scottish literature. With a decisive flourish she plucked off the shelf Stevenson's Familar Studies of Men and Books.

    "I should have known that you two would put my present in Scottish wrapping as well."

    Nancy opened the book to the table of contents. Sure enough, the first four chapters were devoted to the writers of the books listed in the cousins' code. She then shook the book and four little slips of cardboard dropped out. As she squatted down to pick them off the floor she noticed that they were tickets to an event at the swank River Heights Hippodrome theater.

    "Nicolas Nickleby!" squealed Nancy ecstatically. Nicolas Nickleby was a world-famous illusionist, whom Nancy had always wanted to see perform. She was determined to ferret out the secrets of his magical craft.

    "And you will have a front row seat. Four in fact," clarified George.

    Nancy hugged both her friends.

    "So there is a puzzle still inside your enigma! I will unravel this Nickleby magic if my eyes have to move so fast that they loosen themselves in their sockets. Thanks, Bess and George, thanks for the best Christmas treat ever!"

    "You're welcome," the cousins chimed in practiced unison.

    "And you will come with me next Saturday," Nancy invited. "Are you free that evening?"

    "Of course we are free," said Bess. "We would love to come with you."

    "And I will ask Ned as well," announced Nancy.

    "Just don't tell him too much about our code," quipped George. "He might object that we left Emerson out." Ned had been accepted to Emerson University.

    "It will be our little secret," Nancy assured her.

    Hannah stuck her head in the library doorway.

    "I have been wondering where you girls had gotten to," she said with loving sternness. "Ned Nickerson is here with what appears to be an undernourished glee-club and wishes to join with you in singing Christmas carols."

    Ned, a Unitarian, loved the Christmas story even more that the more orthodox Nancy. Nancy and he had attended both his own church's pageant and the Drews' Presbyterian ceremonies the night before. It was only a family commitment that prevented him from going to the midnight Eucharist with Bess and George's Episcopalian family.

    "Show them into the music room, Hannah," said Nancy. "We will be right there."

    "Yes, Nancy," said the motherly housekeeper. "But don't keep them waiting long. They fidget so, and might put the piano out of tune."

    After Hannah had departed Nancy asked her friends, "After last night are your voices up for yet another 'Ding-dong'?"

    "If you don't mind someone who sings like a drone," qualified George.

    "You forget how much I adore bagpipes," Nancy reassured her.

    "I should love to sing," said Bess. "I want to do the descants."

    "Well, then," invited Nancy, "shall we join the laddies?"