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The Canoe Trip Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
One warm spring morning, the four Alden children were outside their home in Greenfield. They loaded two tents, four backpacks, and a first-aid kit into their grandfather's station wagon.
Their dog, Watch, woke up from his nap and ran to the car wagging his tail.
"No, Watch, I'm afraid you're staying here." Fourteen-year-old Henry Alden patted the dog's soft fur. "We have so much equipment to take. You wouldn't even have room to stretch."
"We're not going to have much room either," Henry's six-year-old brother, Benny, said as he raced Watch back to the house. Benny wanted to see what the housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor, was putting in the large waterproof pack. "Mmmm, fresh homemade bread." Benny sniffed the open bag with delight.
"Are you sure we'll have enough food to last a whole week?" Benny asked his two older sisters, Jessie and Violet. They were carrying a bag of cooking utensils between them.
"Don't worry, Benny," his oldest sister, Jessie, answered. Jessie was twelve and very responsible.
Ten-year-old Violet added a drawing pad and some pencils to her backpack, which was already in the back of the car. "I know we shouldn't take too many things on a canoe," Violet said apologetically to Henry.
"Don't worry, Violet. Your sketch pad hardly weighs anything, and we know how much you like to draw." Henry smiled at his sister.
"Are you almost ready?" the children's grandfather asked as he walked out of the house. "I told Aunt Jane we would meet her at Ernie's Sporting Goods Store in Silver Falls at nine o'clock. I don't want to keep her waiting."
"We're just checking to make sure we haven't forgotten anything," Jessie answered.
Grandfather smiled fondly at his four grandchildren. He would miss them while they went canoeing and backpacking for a week with their Aunt Jane. But he wouldn't worry about them.
His grandchildren were used to looking after themselves. After their parents died, they had lived on their own in a boxcar until he found them and gave them a home.
Mrs. McGregor helped Jessie and Violet put the last bag in the car. Then she waved good-bye. Watch ran from one child to another before he obediently followed Mrs. McGregor back to the house.
The Aldens arrived in Silver Falls in plenty of time to meet Aunt Jane. Grandfather parked the station wagon right on bustling Main Street. Silver Falls was an old New England town right next to Elmford, where Aunt Jane lived. Large maple and oak trees shaded the low storefront buildings.
"Look, isn't that Aunt Jane's car?" Jessie asked, pointing to a blue convertible.
"Yes," Grandfather answered. "She must already be in Ernie's store."
Ernie's Sporting Goods Store was in a big old sandstone building just off Main Street. The Aldens walked through a room filled with bicycles and fishing poles. They found Ernie setting up a sailboat display in the boat room.
"So, today's the big day." Ernie smiled at the children. "Just think, in a few hours, you'll all be paddling on Timberwolf Lake."
"Not me, I'm afraid," Grandfather answered his good friend. "I'm getting a little too old for long canoe trips. The children are going with their Aunt Jane."
"I know. She stopped in the store earlier this morning, but left to pick up something. She said it was a surprise." Ernie winked at the children. "She should be back soon."
Ernie had been helping Aunt Jane and the children plan their trip for more than a month now. He had also taken the children out for little canoe trips to give them some lessons. Henry and Jessie had learned very quickly. Aunt Jane was already an experienced canoeist.
Ernie advised the Aldens on the sleeping bags, lightweight canoes, life preservers, and paddles they would need to rent for their trip.
"Why do we need two canoes?" Benny asked.
"It's not safe for more than four people to be in a canoe," Violet answered.
"Whose canoe will I be in?" Benny wanted to know.
"Well, to start, I thought maybe you and Jessie could be in Aunt Jane's canoe," Henry answered. "I'll take Violet in mine. We can always change later in the trip."
"I'm sure any boat would be glad to have you as a passenger, Benny," Ernie said, rumpling Benny's hair.
"See, Benny, here's where we'll be going," Henry said, unfolding one of his many maps and holding it out to show his brother. "Grandfather will drive all of us to this park," Henry continued, pointing to Wolverine State Park. "We'll unload all the canoeing equipment there and get right on Timberwolf Lake."
"Timberwolf Lake," Benny repeated.
"Yes, and we're also going to canoe on Catfish Lake." Henry pointed on the map. "Then we'll meet Grandfather in a town called White Pine."
Henry and Benny were very busy looking at the map. They did not notice the tall blonde woman in her late twenties who was listening to every word they said. The woman wore turquoise designer jeans, jade earrings, and an expensive jacket. She seemed nervous when Ernie came up to ask her if she wanted to rent a canoe.
"No, I certainly do not need any canoeing equipment. I've been canoeing for years and have just bought myself a brand-new canoe." She sounded smug.
"Besides," the woman continued, "I don't believe in renting outdoor equipment." She looked pointedly at the rented canoes the Aldens had picked out. "You never know what you're getting when you rent."
"What a snob," Jessie whispered to Henry. Henry nodded.
"But there is something I do need." The tall blonde woman beckoned to Ernie. "I need a topographic map of Royal National Park."
"Topo ... what?" Benny whispered loudly to Jessie.
"It's a map that shows you the shape of the land—the hills, valleys—" Jessie began.
"You really can't go canoeing without one," the woman interrupted. "It also shows you where waterfalls and rapids are."
"I'll go find a sales clerk in our map department who can help you," Ernie told the woman politely.
As soon as Ernie had left, the woman turned to the Aldens. She extended her hand to Jessie. "I'm Angela Tripp," she said.
"I'm Jessie Alden." Jessie shook her hand. "And these are my brothers, Henry and Benny, and my sister, Violet."
"I couldn't help overhearing your canoeing plans," Angela said. "I'm surprised you would want to canoe on Timberwolf Lake this time of year. There are such bad thunderstorms up there now."
"Really? The late spring is supposed to be a very good time to go canoeing," Henry answered.
"If it does rain a lot, we have waterproof tents and rainwear with us," Jessie added. She was always very practical.
Angela sighed. "Well, I suppose you know that wolves live near Timberwolf Lake. That's how it got its name."
"Wolves," Benny repeated. His eyes grew rounder.
"Yes," Angela said. "And you know wolves hunt at night."
Henry cleared his throat. "I'm pretty sure there are no wolves in that part of New England," he said.
"Well, you'll be very far from people up there. No one will be able to help you if you are attacked by a wild animal," Angela snapped. She did not even try to look friendly anymore. When the salesman came to help her buy a map, she turned away from the Aldens and did not say another word to them.
"She's not very nice," Benny said, after Angela Tripp left the store.
"I don't understand why she was trying to scare you like that," Grandfather said, when the children told Ernie and him about their conversation with Angela.
"You certainly won't have to worry about wolves," Ernie said, shaking his head.
"There haven't been wild wolves in that part of New England for over a hundred years," Grandfather said firmly. "I used to canoe on Timberwolf Lake as a boy. The weather up there isn't any worse than it is down here," he added.
"I can't help thinking she might have had a reason for not wanting us to go on our canoe trip," Violet said quietly.
"Maybe we'll have a mystery to solve," Benny said just as Aunt Jane walked in the store with her husband, Andy Bean.
Uncle Andy and Aunt Jane gave each of the children a great big bear hug. "We did a little last-minute shopping for the trip," Aunt Jane said. She smiled at her nieces and nephews. She always enjoyed being with them. They would be good company while her husband was away on a business trip.
"Can we open them now?" Benny asked, looking at the wrapped presents Uncle Andy had handed each of the children.
"Certainly," Aunt Jane said. She led them to a shady courtyard outside the back of the store. The Aldens all sat at a large picnic table and opened their presents.
"Yum," Benny said happily. His gift was a bag of trail mix—nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate bits.
Henry received a Swiss army knife. It had a can opener, a bottle opener, and several other tools all folded up inside it.
Jessie received a compass.
Violet opened her present last. She pulled a tin camping cup out of its box. "Thank you, Aunt Jane," she said, smiling.
When all the excitement over the presents had died down, Aunt Jane turned to Jessie. "Now, what's all this I heard you saying about a mystery?" she asked.
As the children told their aunt all about Angela, Henry began to frown. He was worried about Angela. Who was she? he wondered. And why was she trying to scare them?CHAPTER 2
Ernie and Aunt Jane attached the two canoes and the paddles to the roof of the car. Henry and Jessie squeezed the sleeping bags and life preservers into the back.
Then Aunt Jane, Uncle Andy, and the Aldens stopped for an early lunch at Piccolos' Pizzeria. The Aldens had a large Pizza Supreme topped with cheese, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and Mrs. Piccolo's special tomato sauce.
At the next table, two men were talking very loudly. "I can't believe someone broke into the museum and then didn't take anything," one of the men said.
"It is strange," the other man answered. "The burglars only disturbed the coin collection. They didn't even bother with the jewelry or antique silver." Both men shook their heads.
"Did you hear that?" Benny asked Mrs. Piccolo. She was busy refilling Grandfather's cup of coffee.
"Yes," Mrs. Piccolo answered. "It's good nothing was taken this time. About a year ago, a large private coin collection was stolen from a local man named Orville Withington."
"I think I remember reading about that," Grandfather said. "They never caught the burglars."
"No." Mrs. Piccolo shook her head. "They never did."
"Maybe the same people broke into the museum," Violet said.
"Yes, but if they did, why didn't they take anything?" Jessie asked.
"I'm afraid you won't have time to solve this mystery," Grandfather said, knowing what they were thinking. "You'll be far away from any burglars on your canoe trail."
"Speaking of the canoe trail, I think we should be on our way," Aunt Jane reminded Grandfather gently. "We'd like to make a good start this afternoon and get to the first campsite before dark."
Uncle Andy looked at his watch. "From here, the drive to Wolverine State Park should only take about two hours. You should be on the lake by three in the afternoon," he told his wife.
"It stays light late now," Violet reminded her aunt. "We'll have time."
Grandfather paid the bill. Everyone except Uncle Andy piled into the station wagon. He stood and waved as they drove off.
On the outskirts of Silver Falls, they passed big red barns, potato fields, and small towns with low brick buildings. Farther and farther north, the children began to see pine forests. Timberwolf Lake shone in the distance.
"Oh, it's so beautiful up here," Violet said.
"The air smells so fresh," Henry added.
"Grandfather, we have to turn at the next junction," Jessie said, looking at the map. Grandfather turned onto a wide dirt road and followed the signs to Wolverine State Park. He stopped the car in front of a dock on Timberwolf Lake and helped his grandchildren and Aunt Jane unload all their equipment.
Everyone was busy. First Henry and Aunt Jane took the canoes off the top of the car and carried them to the water. Grandfather put the paddles and tents inside them. Benny carefully carried the waterproof bags of food from the car. Jessie and Violet packed the sleeping bags, life preservers, food bags, backpacks, and first-aid kit into the canoes. They were careful to put an equal load in each one.
Henry tied a long piece of rope to the front of each canoe. Jessie and Violet pushed both canoes into the water, while Henry and Aunt Jane held the ropes and walked the canoes toward the dock.
Benny took off his sneakers and socks and dipped his toes in the water. "Ooh, it's cold!" he cried.
"The water hasn't had time to warm up yet. It's only spring," Violet said gently. She felt sorry for her brother. She knew how much he wanted to go swimming.
"Benny, you won't have to get your feet wet if you get into the canoe from the dock," Jessie said as she tied the canoe lines to the dock.
Henry and Aunt Jane got into the canoes first and tried to hold them steady. With Grandfather's help, Violet carefully climbed into Henry's canoe. Jessie and Benny joined Aunt Jane.
Grandfather untied the canoes and threw the ropes to Henry and Aunt Jane. "Goodbye," he waved. "I'll meet you at the dock in White Pine in a week."
"Good-bye, Grandfather," his grandchildren called loudly. Benny waved. He was the only one not paddling. But he sat very still in the middle of the canoe, watching Jessie paddle in front of him. Aunt Jane sat behind Benny, steering with her paddle.
Aunt Jane took the lead and the two canoes moved slowly across the lake.
Pine and birch trees lined both sides of the rocky shore. Canadian geese flew overhead. The still, blue lake stretched ahead of the canoeists for miles.
"Look," Jessie said, pointing to a family of ducks. "The mother is leading her ducklings out on the lake to look for food."
"How old are they?" Benny asked.
"They may not be more than a day old," Aunt Jane answered. "Ducks can swim as soon as they are born."
"Really?" Benny said. He looked very impressed.
"Look at all those islands," Jessie said, pointing with her chin toward the small rocky islands in the middle of the lake.
"We won't go too much farther today," Henry called to the other canoe, when the group had been paddling for more than an hour.
"That's good," Benny cried. "I'm hungry!"
The forests began to thin into a clearing. In the distance, the Aldens could see the remains of an old wooden house. In front of the house was a field filled with blue, pink, and purple wildflowers.
"This might be a good campsite," Henry called to the others. "We could explore."
The Aldens and Aunt Jane paddled ashore and pulled the canoes out of the water. They tied the ropes around a trunk of a large pine tree and took out their backpacks, sleeping bags, and a small bag of food for dinner and breakfast.
A dirt road wound through the field and into a small pine forest. Aunt Jane suggested they set up camp near a stream under the pine trees.
"Somebody else also thought this would be a good campsite," Jessie said. She pointed to a heap of ashes on the ground.
"Henry and I will go back and get the tents out of the canoes," Aunt Jane said, putting her pack and sleeping bag on the ground.
"Benny, Violet, and I can gather wood for a campfire," Jessie suggested. "By the way, where is Benny?" she asked, as she turned around to look for her brother.
"He went to explore the old house in the clearing," Violet said. Both girls found Benny poking a pile of stones with a stick.
"This might have been a chimney once," Jessie said. The walls of the house had been made of wood, but now they lay in a pile of rubble.
"There's lots of wood here for a fire," Violet pointed out.
"Yes, let's gather some," Jessie said, stooping to pick up some wooden planks. "Watch out for the poison ivy," she warned her brother and sister. A thick patch grew alongside the house.
"I saw it. Henry showed me what it looked like in a book," Benny said proudly. "I didn't go near it."
Violet went into the forest near the house to gather smaller sticks and twigs.
She came running back to her brother and sister with a pile of sticks in her arms. "Come see what I've found!" she called to them.
Jessie and Benny followed her into the woods and stopped before a very large rock. Someone had painted a message on it.
"Look, there's writing on it!" Benny leaned forward to see better.
"Yes," Jessie agreed. "It looks like a riddle."
In a clear voice, Violet read:
"Silver and gold coins, so well hidden
To seek and find them, you are bidden.
A cat with whiskers but no feet
Guards them near his silver sheet."
"What does 'bidden' mean?" Benny looked at his sisters.
"It means telling someone to do something," Jessie answered.
"Oh," Benny said. "So, whoever wrote this message is telling us how to find a hidden treasure." Benny beamed.
His sisters smiled back at him.
"You know, Grandfather was wrong," Benny said. "We have found a mystery on the canoe trail."
Excerpted from The Canoe Trip Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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