Read an Excerpt
The Camp-Out Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
"Do we have everything?" Grandfather Alden asked.
The four Alden children looked inside the station wagon. They had gotten up before dawn to pack for their camping trip. Five backpacks, one for Grandfather and one for each of the children, lay side by side. Each contained a sleeping bag, extra clothes, and a flashlight. Next to the bags were two folded tents and a cooler.
Their dog, Watch, stood on his hind legs and put his front paws on the tailgate so he could see, too. Everyone laughed.
"Don't worry, Watch," Benny, the youngest Alden, said. "I packed your food dish."
The dog's food and dishes were packed in his own special backpack. Jessie had made it for him out of an old piece of canvas.
Jessie lifted the top of the cooler. An old frying pan, stew pot, tablecloths, and dishes were packed inside.
"Is my cup in there?" Benny asked. It was right on top. No matter where he went, he always took his cracked pink cup. It was special to him. He had found it in the dump back when the children lived in the boxcar.
Violet checked her list. "What about the lantern?" she asked.
"I packed it," fourteen-year-old Henry said. "Extra batteries, too."
"Do we need a camping stove, Grandfather?" Jessie asked.
"No," Grandfather answered. "The camp provides places to make fires for cooking."
"If they didn't, we could build one," Benny said. He was six years old and a good helper.
"I guess that's everything," Violet said.
"Okay, Watch," Jessie directed her dog. "Hop in."
Watch jumped into the wagon, turned around three times, and curled up on top of a tent.
Grandfather closed the station wagon's back door. "Well, then, we're on our way."
Henry and Violet climbed into the backseat. Jessie sat in the front and opened the map. Grandfather had marked the route for her.
Benny hung back. "Wait!" he said. "Where's our lunch?" Food was Benny's favorite thing.
Jessie glanced behind her. The picnic basket was not there. "And the trail mix," she said. "We forgot the trail mix." Benny and Violet had made the blend of nuts and dried fruit the day before.
Benny started running toward the house "I'll get it," he said.
Just then, Mrs. McGregor came toward them. She carried the basket and two paper bags.
"We almost forgot the most important thing," Benny said.
Mrs. McGregor laughed. "I couldn't let you do that." She handed Benny the bags.
"This bag feels warm," Benny said.
"Your favorite cookies—just out of the oven," Mrs. McGregor explained. She handed the picnic basket through the window to Henry.
Benny climbed in beside Violet.
Grandfather started the car. "I don't know what we'd do without you, Mrs. McGregor," he said.
Mrs. McGregor stepped back. "Have a good time," she said and waved.
The children waved to her. "See you next week," they all called.
Outside Silver City, they picked up speed. Watch nudged Benny over a bit and put his nose out the window.
Benny laughed. "Watch wants to see where we're going, too," he said.
"There's another reason a dog hangs its head out a car window," Violet said. She liked animals and was always reading about them. "A dog gets nervous in a moving car. When he's nervous, he sweats. But he doesn't sweat like we do; he salivates."
Benny was just about to ask what salivate meant when Violet explained.
"He gets lots of saliva in his mouth and then—"
"He drools," Benny said.
Violet nodded. "But with his head out the window, he gets better air circulation," she said. "He cools off, stops sweating, and feels better."
Benny liked his explanation better. Why wouldn't Watch want to see where he was going? It was fun to see the landscape change. In just a few miles, everything looked different. The houses got further and further apart. Instead of busy towns, small quiet farms dotted the hillsides.
Violet started to hum. Before long, everyone was singing: "A-camping we will go. A-camping we will go ..."
After a while, Benny stopped singing. "I'm hungry," he said. "Can we stop somewhere and have our picnic?"
The others agreed that might be a good idea. They were all getting hungry.
"There used to be a nice roadside picnic area along here somewhere," Mr. Alden said.
Jessie pointed to a sign. It said: Picnic Area ¼ Mile. "Is that the one?" she asked.
"It must be," Mr. Alden said as they approached the small picnic grove. He pulled off the road and parked the car. Everyone piled out. Watch ran around sniffing the ground.
The place was a mess. Empty cans and paper lay all around.
Mr. Alden shook his head. "It doesn't look like the same place," he said. "It was always so clean."
"Let's clean it up," Henry said. He began picking up cans and throwing them into the garbage can. Violet and Mr. Alden helped. Watch thought it was a game. He began bringing cans to them.
Benny found a small branch which he used like a broom to sweep off a picnic table. "That's the best I can do," he said.
"It's clean enough," Jessie said. "We have a tablecloth." She opened the picnic basket. Inside was the blue cloth Henry had bought when they lived in the boxcar.
Jessie spread the cloth over the table and laid out paper plates and cups. She placed a wrapped sandwich on each plate: peanut butter for Benny and Grandfather Alden; tuna for Henry and Violet; cheese for herself. Violet gave each some potato chips and an apple. Henry poured milk from the thermos into paper cups.
They all sat down on the picnic benches and began eating their lunches.
"I think you'll like the campgrounds," Mr. Alden said. "I certainly enjoyed camping there when I was your age."
"Did you camp there often?" Henry asked.
"Quite often," Grandfather answered. "Camping was my parents' favorite vacation. Of course, very few people camped then. Now, it's a big thing—everyone goes camping."
"Do you suppose it'll be crowded?" Violet asked.
Mr. Alden shrugged. "Might be. This is spring vacation."
"Maybe we won't get in," Benny said.
"We'll get in," Mr. Alden assured him. "I made a reservation. In the old days, we didn't have to do that. We'd just pack up and off we'd go."
Back in the car, Jessie studied the map. "I think we turn up ahead," she directed.
"Sure enough," Grandfather said. "There're the old cottonwood trees."
At the corner, four large trees grew side by side. A road sign stood across from them. It read:County B. Mr. Alden made a smooth turn onto the unpaved road.
"Hang onto your hats," he said. "This is a bumpy one."
The children bounced as the car hit a hole in the road. They drove along the curving road for several miles. Finally, they saw a big wooden sign.
"Blue Mound State Park," Benny read. "We're here!"
Grandfather Alden laughed. "And now, the adventure begins!"CHAPTER 2
A grocery store stood near the entrance to the forest preserve.
"There's no store inside the park," Mr. Alden said. "We'll do our shopping here."
His tail wagging, Watch followed them to the door.
"You can't come in," Benny told him.
"Sit," Jessie said.
Jessie put out her hand. "Stay," she said.
Watch cocked his head. He seemed to be saying, "I'll wait, but I don't like it."
The woman behind the counter greeted them. "Welcome," she said.
"Doris?" Grandfather asked.
The woman looked puzzled. "Yes, I'm Doris, but I don't—"
Mr. Alden put out his hand. "James Henry Alden," he said.
The woman smiled and shook his hand. "James! How nice to see you."
"It's been a long time," he replied.
"Too long," she said.
"These are my grandchildren," he said proudly. "This is Henry James. He's the oldest. He's in charge of food for the trip."
Henry smiled and held up his shopping list. "Grandfather told us we could get everything we needed here."
"Then there's Jessie," Grandfather continued. "She's twelve and in charge of the map for our camping trip."
Jessie said "Hello."
"Violet is our musician," Grandfather said. "She's only ten, but you should hear her play the violin."
Violet smiled shyly.
"It's always good to have a little music in the woods," Doris said.
"And I'm Benny," the littlest Alden said. "I'm six. I help with everything."
"I'm happy to know such good campers," Doris said.
"So, Doris, are the campgrounds crowded?" Mr. Alden asked.
"No. Things have been slow lately," Doris said. "Camping isn't what it used to be."
"How's your sister?" Mr. Alden asked. "Hildy—was that her name?"
"Yes, Hildy," Doris said. She glanced away. "She's—uh—fine."
"I remember the two of you—"
"I'd rather not talk about Hildy," Doris interrupted.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Mr. Alden said. "I hope she isn't ill."
Ignoring that, Doris came around the counter. "Let's see that shopping list," she said to Henry. "You probably want to get a move on."
They piled the groceries on the counter: bread, peanut butter, jam, milk, eggs, pancake mix, syrup, crackers, cheese, hot dogs, cooked chicken, fresh vegetables, and fruit — all the things they would need for a few days in the woods.
"The marshmallows," Benny reminded them.
"And the graham crackers and chocolate bars," Violet added.
"And the ice," Henry said.
"The ice machine is outside," Doris said.
Henry ran to get a bag. He brought it and the cooler back into the store.
They unpacked the cooler and put in the ice and the perishable items. The remaining groceries, along with the dishes and cooking things, went into two boxes.
Doris followed them to the door. "I hope nothing ... spoils the trip for you," she said.
"I'm sure we'll have a wonderful time," Mr. Alden said as he put the boxes into the wagon.
Driving away, they waved to Doris, who was still standing in the doorway.
"What did she mean she hoped nothing would spoil our trip?" Henry asked.
"And not wanting to talk about her sister—that was strange," Jessie said.
"She was so friendly at first," Violet put in. "And then, suddenly ..."
Mr. Alden nodded. "She did act strangely. Not at all the way I remember her."
"What was her sister like?" Violet asked.
"Hildy didn't like people very much," Mr. Alden replied. "She liked going off by herself. She lived in a cabin at the edge of the woods. The family owned it. They used it as a vacation hideaway until Hildy grew up. Then, she moved into it full time. Still, Doris and Hildy were always close." He shook his head. "It sure is a mystery," he said.
Benny sighed. "I hope not," he said.
The children laughed. They knew exactly what he meant. They liked mysteries. They were good at solving them. But they were looking forward to a peaceful camping trip with no mystery to think about.CHAPTER 3
Mr. Alden stopped the car just inside the park's entrance. "We have to sign in," he said.
Henry pointed to a big wooden arrow on a post. The word Campers was carved into it. "The arrow says campers should go to the right," Henry told him.
"I know," Mr. Alden said, "but I'm sure the ranger's station was to the left last time I was here."
"Maybe they moved it?" Benny asked.
Mr. Alden turned the car to the right. "There's only one way to find out," he said.
They drove along the unpaved road slowly. Half a mile in, the road ended.
"I guess we should have turned left," Benny said.
"Right you are," Mr. Alden agreed. He drove around the circle and headed the car back the way they had come.
When they came to the arrow, Henry said, "Stop the car, Grandfather. I'll turn the sign around."
Mr. Alden slowed to a stop.
Henry got out. He had to stretch to reach the arrow.
"Who do you suppose pointed the sign the wrong way?" Jessie asked when Henry was back in the car.
"The nail that attaches it to the post is loose," Henry said. "Maybe it just slipped around the other way."
"Could it slip that far by itself?" Violet asked.
"Violet's right," Jessie said. "If it slipped, it would point down."
"Or up," Benny put in.
"Maybe a strong wind blew it all the way around," Henry offered.
"It was probably someone playing a joke," Mr. Alden said.
Just ahead, they saw a freshly painted, green guard house. Avoiding a stack of old boards near it, Mr. Alden pulled up to the window.
The man inside the house wore a brown uniform with a state park insignia on the pocket. He smiled broadly. "Welcome to Blue Mound State Park," he said.
"We're the Aldens," Grandfather said. "I called ahead to reserve a campsite."
The man checked their name off his list. Then he handed Mr. Alden a map of the grounds. "You can have your pick of sites," he said.
Mr. Alden gave the map to Jessie. "It's your trip," he said to the children. "You choose the place."
Jessie turned in her seat so that her sister and brothers could see the map. It clearly showed the numbered campsites. Several were clustered in a clearing. Others stood alone in different parts of the woods. They quickly agreed on a location near a stand of pine with a brook running alongside. It reminded them of the place where they had found their boxcar.
Jessie pointed to the spot on the map. "May we camp here?" she asked the ranger.
"It's yours," the man answered.
"We didn't expect a choice," Mr. Alden said to the ranger. "We thought the campgrounds would be crowded. This is usually a busy time, isn't it?"
The ranger's smile faded. He looked toward the woods. "It has been, yes," he said. "In the past."
"Maybe people are getting lost," Benny said. He told the ranger about the sign.
"I'll have to check that out," the man said. He smiled again. "Well, you're all set. I hope you enjoy your stay here."
The Aldens thanked him and drove on to the parking lot beyond the guard house.
"I'm glad we're finally here," Benny said. "I'm hungry."
Jessie laughed. "It'll be a while before we eat," she said.
"Yes," Violet agreed. "We have to take everything to our campsite first."
"And set it up," Henry added.
Benny hopped out of the car. "Well, let's hurry," he said. Mr. Alden opened the back of the station wagon and Watch jumped out. His tail wagged wildly. He was obviously happy to be out of the car.
Each of the Aldens slipped on a backpack.
Jessie knelt beside Watch. She put his pack on his back and wound the straps under and over him. He stood very still. When she had buckled the straps, he turned his head to look at the pack. Then, he glanced up at her.
She laughed. "If you're going to go camping," she told him, "you have to carry your own load."
"There's still a lot to carry," Henry said. "We might have to make two trips."
Mr. Alden studied the map. "It's a long hike to our campsite," he said. "If we have to make two trips, it might be dark before we're settled."
"We'll each carry something," Benny suggested.
"The groceries are heavy," Henry said. "I don't think it'll work."
"Come with me, Henry," Jessie directed. "I have an idea."
The others waited while the two oldest ran back to the ranger's house. Shortly, they returned carrying a board.
"The ranger said we could use this," Jessie said. "It's an old board from one of the park buildings. They've been making repairs."
Henry set a box near each end of the board. The tents and their other things went in between.
"That should work," Jessie said. "The weight is even."
"Who wants to help me carry the board?" Henry asked.
"I will," Mr. Alden said.
"Violet and I will carry the cooler," Jessie suggested.
"What about me?" Benny asked. "I can carry something."
"Would you carry my violin?" Violet asked.
Benny beamed and took the case from her. "I'll be very careful with it," he said.
Violet smiled at him. "I know you will, Benny," she said.
Single file, they started off down the path to their campsite. Watch took the lead. He ran ahead, his nose to the ground. Every so often, he would stop and look back to make sure the others were coming.
The air was clear and cool. High above them, birds sang. They passed through a stand of pine. The pine needles were soft underfoot. They could hear the murmur of rushing water.
"We're nearly there," Henry announced.
And sure enough, on the other side of the pine grove was a small clearing. A perfect setting except for the cans and paper bags and plastic cups and tableware.
"Somebody must have been camping here recently," Jessie said.
"And it looks like they left in a hurry," Benny said.
Excerpted from The Camp-Out Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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