Chapter One: Squishy Mud
"One minute of school left," eight-year-old Nancy Drew whispered. It was Thursday afternoon.
"That's only sixty seconds," Bess Marvin whispered back. Bess was one of Nancy's two best friends. Her blue eyes were bright with excitement.
George Fayne was Nancy's other best friend. George sat at the front of the row. Nancy could tell George was excited, too. Her shiny dark curls bounced as she moved around in her seat.
"Fifty-five seconds," Nancy whispered. "Fifty-four, fifty-three..."
Nancy tried to sit still, but she was too excited. She and Bess and George were taking their first riding lesson after school.
"May I have your attention, please?" Mrs. Reynolds asked. She was the girls' third-grade teacher at Carl Sandburg Elementary School.
"Tomorrow morning is our classroom spelling bee," Mrs. Reynolds said. "I want everyone to get plenty of sleep tonight -- "
Brring! The final bell rang.
"And come to school tomorrow with your spelling caps on," Mrs. Reynolds finished. "Class dismissed!"
Nancy, Bess, and George jumped up from' their seats. They put on their jackets and gathered their things. Then they hurried out of the classroom. They walked as quickly as they could down the hallway.
"See you at the stables!" Katie Zaleski called as they opened the front door to the school and stepped outside. She was starting riding lessons that afternoon, too.
Katie hurried toward her mother's car. Nancy, Bess, and George sat on the front steps of the school.
"I hope Hannah comes soon," Nancy said. "I don't want us to be late getting to the stable."
Hannah Gruen was the Drew family's housekeeper. She had lived with Nancy and her father ever since Nancy's mother had died, five years earlier. The girls piled into the car as soon as Hannah pulled up. As Hannah drove, the girls chattered about their new after-school activity.
"What did you girls have for lunch today?" Hannah asked.
"Jumping beans," George said with a giggle.
Hannah looked at them through the rearview mirror. Nancy could see that Hannah was smiling.
Nancy, Bess, and George settled down and looked out the window for the turnoff.
Soon the car reached the part of town where the houses were spread far apart. Hannah slowed the car. Then she turned into a drive marked with a sign that said River Heights Riding Academy. She parked in front of the stable.
Inside, ponies and horses stood in stalls. Nancy heard them snorting and stomping.
A tall, red-haired man came out of the office. He was followed by a woman with blond hair. "May I help you folks?" the man asked.
"We're here for our first riding lesson," Nancy told him.
"Great!" the man said. "My name is Red. I'll be your instructor." He turned to the blond woman. "And this is Sue, my assistant. She'll show you around the stable. "
"You can keep your school things in the tack room," Sue told the girls. "I'll show you where it is."
Nancy and her friends followed Sue into the stable and into a tiny room. The room was filled with brooms, buckets, brushes, and saddles. The floor was muddy. Cubbies lined one wall.
Bess and George put their jackets and knapsacks away. Nancy didn't have to. Her things were still in Hannah's car.
The girls hurried to the riding ring. A few boys and girls were already waiting to begin their lesson.
Katie was standing with Mandy Trout. Mandy was a girl Nancy knew from iceskating. Katie and Mandy were talking to Jackie Taylor. Jackie lived near George. They sometimes played basketball together in George's driveway.
George, Bess, and Nancy walked over to join the other girls.
"Are you excited about your first riding lesson?" Bess asked Mandy.
"This isn't my first lesson," Mandy said. "I've been riding for two months already."
"It's my first," Jackie said.
"I knew that the minute you walked in," Mandy told Jackie.
Mandy pointed to Jackie's white pants. "Nobody wears white pants forriding," she said. "Those are going to get good and dirty."
Jackie looked down at her pants. Her face turned pink. Nancy knew Jackie felt embarrassed.
"I didn't know what to wear, either," Nancy said. She wanted to make Jackie feel better.
"All you have to do is look at me," Mandy announced. She spun around so that everyone could see what she was wearing. "This is the perfect riding outfit."
"What's so perfect about it?" George asked.
"First of all, I always wear riding boots because of the mud," Mandy said.
"My shoes are already dirty," Bess said unhappily.
Mud was oozing up around the sides of Nancy's gym shoes, too. But Nancy was too excited to think about it.
"You should wear jeans because they're easy to wash," Mandy went on. "But the most important thing of all is my special sweatshirt with a horseshoe sewn on it."
"I have a sweatshirt like that," Katie said. "Only mine has a parrot on it."
"A horseshoe is better than a parrot," Mandy said. "Parrots aren't lucky. Horseshoes are."
"Hi, everyone!" Just then Red and Sue came into the ring. They were each leading a line of ponies. And they were each carrying round, black hats that looked like helmets.
Bess opened her eyes wide. "I didn't know ponies were so big!"
"Don't be scared," Nancy said.
"I'm...not," Bess said. But she stayed close to her friends as Sue gave everyone a riding hat that fit just right.
"These hats are to be worn at all times when we ride," Sue said. "Just like when you go Rollerblading or bicycle riding."
Then Red explained how to get up on the ponies.
"Wait until an adult is holding the pony's head," Red said. "Then take the reins with your left hand. Put your left foot into the stirrup. Pull yourself up, and swing your right leg over the pony's back."
"It's easy," Mandy whispered to the others.
"Sue and I are going to help each of you mount," Red announced. "Please wait your turn."
Sue started to help Jackie.
Red smiled at Bess. "Ready?"
"I'm not sure," Bess said. "I feel a little scared."
"Don't worry," Red said. "Some of the best riders were nervous when they first began. I think we'll put you on Butterscotch."
"Butterscotch is my pony!" Mandy said.
Red smiled at Mandy. "You're the most experienced rider in the class. I was counting on you to ride Rebel. He's a little friskier, but I know you can handle him."
"Okay, Red. If you think I'm such a good rider, then I'll do it," Mandy said.Nancy watched Bess mount Butterscotch.
"Take the reins in your left hand," Red was saying to Bess. "Good!"
Nancy hardly noticed when Mandy walked over to a glossy black pony.
"What's Mandy doing?" George asked. "She's not supposed to get on the horse by herself."
Nancy turned in time to see Mandy climbing up on Rebel's back. The pony let out a low whinny and pranced sideways.
Nancy saw Mandy try to pull herself up, but she was slipping as Rebel moved! Nancy had to do something fast, or Mandy was going to fall off.
Copyright © 1998 by Simon and Schuster Inc.