Chapter 1: Total Darkness
"All aboard!" the train conductor shouted. "Chicago to New York City -- and all stops in between!"
Nancy Drew and her father, Carson, stepped up their pace as Carson pushed a trolley laden with luggage along the crowded platform of the cavernous station. Nancy's best friends, George Fayne and Bess Marvin, hurried to keep up.
"Will we make it?" Bess asked Nancy as the train whistle shrilled through the humid air.
"I think so, Bess," Nancy said, "though I can't predict whether all four of your suitcases will get on before the doors close."
"Don't say that!" Bess moaned. "I need them. We'll be in New York a whole week, and the party that Delphinia's planning sounds awesome."
"This is all I brought," George declared as she stepped up to her friends. She patted the straps of a large backpack slung over her shoulders.
"Don't tell me your dress for Delphinia's big dinner event is crumpled up in there," Bess said, looking horrified.
"Not crumpled -- rolled," George countered. "It's made out of some nonwrinkling material -- ideal for travel-by-backpack," she quipped, in the tone of a commercial. "Though I probably should have packed an extra pair of sneakers for sightseeing."
"Sightseeing? As in checking out cool shops and restaurants?" Bess asked mischievously.
"No way. Sightseeing, as in visiting the Museum of Natural History and hiking across the Brooklyn Bridge," George retorted with a toss of her short dark hair.
Bess made a face. "Sounds like torture. All the sights I'm interested in seeing can be found in Bloomingdale's. And you don't need sneakers for that."
Eighteen-year-old Nancy grinned at her friends' remarks. Bess and George were first cousins and devoted friends, but they were also total opposites. Blond-haired Bess loved clothes, high-calorie desserts, and boy watching, while George's interests ran more to athletics. Nancy knew that planning activities in the Big Apple to interest both girls would be complicated.
"Is this a sleeping car?" Nancy's father asked a conductor standing next to a car with high, wide windows.
"Indeed it is," the conductor declared. "May I see your tickets, please?"
"I've got them, Dad," Nancy said, reaching into her purse. She handed three tickets to the conductor.
"Miss Drew, Miss Fayne, and Miss Marvin," the conductor said as he examined the tickets. "You've come to the right car, ladies. Compartment Twenty-three B. Step lively, please. The train leaves in exactly three minutes."
"Why don't I help you girls load this stuff into your compartment?" Carson offered, sweeping suitcases from the trolley onto the metal platform inside the car door. "I can do that in less than three minutes."
"Just keep an ear out for the conductor's last call, Dad," Nancy warned, "unless you want a surprise trip to New York."
Carson chuckled. "If I didn't have to be in court tomorrow in River Heights, a trip to New York would be great," he said, hefting three suitcases. "I could tour the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- the list is endless. New York is like one gigantic grab bag full of things to do."
"Not to mention visiting Delphinia Van Hoogstraten's mansion with its famous collection of glass birds," Nancy reminded him. "Here, Dad, let me give you a hand with the bags." She hoisted two suitcases, followed her father down the narrow aisle of the sleeping car, and stopped outside the door marked 23B.
Sliding it open, she found two blue velour sofas facing each other with a window in the wall beside them. Large cabinets ran the length of the walls over the sofas.
"The conductor will convert one of these sofas into a bed later on," Carson explained as he entered the compartment behind Nancy. "Those overhead cabinets will open to make two more beds."
"There's room for the luggage under the sofas," Nancy commented, pushing her suitcase under the sofa on her right.
"Last call!" the conductor shouted into the car. "All those without tickets please exit immediately."
"Goodbye, girls, and take good care of Eloise," Carson said, referring to his sister, who lived in New York. "I'm glad you'll be staying with her instead of at some hotel. And, Nancy -- try not to get involved in a mystery," he added with a wink. "Every good professional needs time off, and detectives are no exception."
"I'll try my best, Dad," Nancy promised, smiling. After giving her father a hug, she watched him hurry down the aisle and off the train. The instant he stepped on to the platform, the conductor slammed the car door shut, and the train inched forward.
"I agree with your dad -- no mysteries!" Bess exclaimed. "I have this feeling that just bringing up the subject will jinx us. With your track record, Nan, there's sure to be a mystery lurking somewhere on this train."
George propped her backpack in a niche by the door and said, "I hope not. Your dad's right, Nancy. Even ace detectives need time off."
"And I plan to take it," Nancy said firmly, settling herself on a sofa and peering out the window as the train slid into a tunnel. "Our week in New York will be total vacation, I promise. We'll explore the city, see Aunt Eloise, and meet her friend Delphinia Van Hoogstraten -- Dell for short."
"Tell me more about Dell," Bess said as she and George sat down on the sofa across from Nancy. "Why is she turning her mansion into a museum?"
As the train rattled out of the tunnel and into the sunshine, Nancy thought back to her conversation with her aunt Eloise about the eccentric Van Hoogstraten family. She'd told Bess and George only a few details about them.
"According to Aunt Eloise," Nancy explained, "Dell's getting married and moving to Boston, where her fiancé lives. The mansion is owned by a Van Hoogstraten family partnership, and they've decided to turn it into a museum."
George's dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "But if a bunch of Van Hoogstratens own the mansion, how come Dell ended up living in it by herself?"
"Dell's an only child, and she grew up in the house, so the place means a lot to her," Nancy replied as she looked out the window. Green fields and leafy trees flashed by like a movie on fast-forward. Turning her eyes from the afternoon sunlight that flooded into the compartment, she added, "I think Dell pays rent to the partnership. For some reason, none of Julius's other descendants is interested in living there."
"Julius?" Bess cut in. "Who's he?"
"Dell's great-grandfather Julius Van Hoogstraten, who built the house," Nancy replied. "He died in 1915."
"The Van Hoogstratens must be mega rich in order to afford the taxes and upkeep on a huge place like that in New York City," George commented.
"You said it, George," Nancy declared. "Julius Van Hoogstraten was one of the richest men in New York during the Gilded Age. He made this unbelievable fortune in railroads."
"The Gilded Age?" Bess echoed, puzzled.
Pulling her reddish blond hair into a quick ponytail, Nancy explained, "That's a nickname for the late 1800s when all these people became millionaires. They lived incredibly fancy lives -- people like Cornelius Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, who made money from shipping and banking and oil. They built these huge mansions and had tons of servants."
"Those guys must have really raked in the dough," George commented, "especially because they didn't have income taxes in those days."
"The amount of money they had was mind-boggling," Nancy went on, "and they loved to flaunt it. Balls and dinner parties for hundreds of guests, humongous summer homes, and honeymoons around the world were typical."
"But what's so special about Julius's mansion? Why would it rate as a museum?" George asked. "Did he have a big art collection or something?"
"Julius had this awesome collection of blown-glass birds," Nancy told her. "He'd made them himself in Holland before moving to America, when he was twenty-five. They were so beautiful that he couldn't stand the thought of leaving them behind. Now his collection is priceless."
"Who would have thought that a talent for making glass birds would have led him to a fortune in railroads?" Bess remarked.
"Aunt Eloise said that he came to America with his glass bird collection and a few pennies in his pocket," Nancy went on, kicking off her shoes and folding her legs under herself. "He started working as a train mechanic, saved money, and when an opportunity came to buy a struggling railroad, he seized it. But apparently his newfound money went to his head. He threw fancy parties -- even for his pets' birthdays -- smoked cigars and drank expensive brandy, and was known for being bossy and rude. He fired servants right and left, except for his pastry chef, who could do no wrong."
Bess perked up. "Hmm. I wonder if the chef left any of his recipes somewhere in the house -- maybe in old letters or cookbooks? That's the kind of mystery I'd be up for solving, Nan. Nothing dangerous -- but with a definite payoff."
"Speaking of food," George said, checking her watch, "it's five o'clock. Why don't we explore the train before dinner?"
Nancy's blue eyes sparkled excitedly. "I forgot to tell you guys -- Julius's private railroad car has been totally restored. It's attached to this train, and we can tour it."
"What a coincidence!" Bess exclaimed.
"Not exactly," Nancy admitted. "The Van Hoogstratens arranged to have it attached to certain routes in the Northeast to promote the opening of their musuem. So when I called to make our reservations, I learned that the car would be on this particular train. That's why we're traveling today."
The girls stepped out of their compartment and headed down the corridor toward the rear of the train. The next car they entered was the dining car. Nancy was surprised to see how crowded it was already. People were sitting at tables covered with white cloths and set with gleaming cutlery. Most of the diners were studying menus while white-coated waiters looked on attentively, ready with pads to take orders.
The maître d' approached the girls. "Would you like to have a table, ladies?" he asked in a friendly m...