Read an Excerpt
The Deserted Library Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1991 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Grandfather Alden sat in a lawn chair and poured a glass of lemonade. It was a hot August day with the sky a bright blue. When Violet went by, he said, "Violet, dear, call the others, will you?"
"Yes, Grandfather," she answered. Ten-year-old Violet was a lovely girl who was shy and sweet.
In a few minutes all four of the grandchildren sat on the grass before Mr. Alden. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny loved their grandfather. They remembered when their parents had died and they had run away to hide in a boxcar. They had heard their grandfather was a mean old man, and they had been afraid that he would find them. When Violet became ill and a doctor was needed, the doctor told her grandfather about the children. It was then they went to live with him, and discovered that Grandfather wasn't mean at all. He was kind and good. He always encouraged them to follow their own ideas.
Grandfather Alden poured each child a glass of cold lemonade, then leaned back in his chair. "I have some interesting news for you," he said, his warm smile widening.
Henry and Jessie leaned forward. What could his news be? Violet was quiet as usual, but her eyes were big with curiosity. Benny, the youngest, only six, couldn't stand it any longer. He jumped up and danced around his grandfather. "What is it?" he asked.
Grandfather laughed. He knew how much Benny loved an adventure. In fact, they all loved an adventure. Even Watch, their dog, who lay at Jessie's feet.
Grandfather became serious. "I've just talked to Pete Hanson."
"Doesn't he own the café and bait shop in Rock Falls near the bay?" Henry asked.
"Yes, he does," Grandfather answered. "Pete told me that the small village's old library is going to be torn down. You know it hasn't been used in many years."
"Why?" Benny asked.
"Well," Grandfather said, "not only were there not enough people in town, but when the librarian left several years ago, no one took her place."
"I remember seeing the boarded-up library once," twelve-year-old Jessie said.
"I don't remember!" Benny shouted. "I want to see it!"
"I think we're all about to see the library, Benny," Henry said. He looked at his grandfather. "Isn't that right?"
"That's right, Henry," Grandfather Alden replied. Henry was only fourteen, but he was wise and understanding. Grandfather finished his lemonade and said, "That library belongs to the town of Rock Falls, and it has shelves and shelves of old books that probably need to be sorted out. I remember that lovely library building when I was young. My family had a house in Rock Falls where we spent our summers."
"How young were you?" Benny asked.
"I was a little boy like you," Grandfather said. "And I was fond of the old library, and now I want to see the town council give it landmark status."
"What is landmark status, Grandfather?" This time Violet asked the question.
"When a building is saved by the public so that everyone can enjoy its history. Wouldn't you like to explore the place and see what's in the library? And neaten it up so it looks good enough to be a landmark?"
"Yes, yes!" Benny said. "An adventure! When can we go?"
"You can leave tomorrow," Grandfather said, a twinkle in his eyes. "I've received permission from Pete. You see, Pete owns a small house on the edge of the village. During the summer months he lives and works in his restaurant and in the winter he lives in his house, carving and painting fish lures."
Jessie stood up. Even though she was two years younger than Henry, she always knew what needed to be done. "How wonderful to be able to stay in Pete's house. We'll need bedding, food, and some cooking pots."
"No cooking pots or bedding." Grandfather laughed. "You'll find Pete's place is well equipped. You'll even find some canned and packaged goods on the shelf. All you'll need to bring is fresh food. Later, you can go to Pete's Café and buy what you need." He handed a key to Henry. "This will unlock Pete's house." Next he handed a key to Jessie. "And this is for the library. Pete sent both to me."
"Thanks, Grandfather," Jessie said.
Grandfather reached down and scratched Watch's ear. "You stay with me, Watch. Otherwise, I'll be lonesome."
"Let's start packing," Henry said. His dark blue eyes were sparkling with excitement.
They all ran into their house except Violet. She stooped down and kissed Grandfather's forehead. "Thank you," she said softly.
"You're welcome, Violet." Grandfather's eyes softened. How lucky he was to have such loving grandchildren.
The next morning the Alden children set off on their bicycles. Their backpacks and baskets contained supplies and clothing. They pedaled for two hours. Henry was ahead. Jessie and Violet followed, and Benny was behind. Even though Benny pedaled as fast as his legs would go, he was last. "Wait for me," he yelled. "I'm hungry!" He stopped in the middle of the road.
Jessie laughed. "You're always hungry, Benny." But she slowed down and stopped.
"I know," Benny said, smiling.
"Look," Violet said, pointing to two large oak trees with a small stream beside them. "Wouldn't that be a perfect scene to paint?"
"That's a perfect place for a picnic," Henry said. He jumped off his bike and wheeled it off the road.
Benny parked his red bike by the roadside, too.
Jessie spread a checked tablecloth on the soft green grass. Violet poured milk into paper cups and they all drank from them, except Benny, of course. He had his pink cracked cup. He'd found it in a dump when they lived in the boxcar, and wouldn't part with it. Henry reached for the thermos and refilled the cups. Benny quickly took out four ham sandwiches from the picnic basket, and they began to eat.
An orange-and-black butterfly hovered over their food.
"That's a big butterfly!" Benny shouted. "It might eat my sandwich."
Henry chuckled. "No, it won't. You've already eaten most of it. The poor monarch butterfly won't even get a crumb."
After they'd eaten sweet purple grapes for dessert, they once again got on their bikes.
"Only a few more miles," Henry said. He studied his compass. "The library is straight east of here."
Jessie started to sing:
"Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream."
Soon everyone joined in.
After riding a couple of miles, and going through the tiny town of Rock Falls, Henry said, pointing, "There it is. Pete gave Grandfather perfect directions." Pete's house, surrounded by trees and bushes, looked neat and well kept. Off in the distance stood the library, a gray shingled building with windows boarded up and the roof sagging in the middle. Even farther away sparkled a green sea.
They pedaled faster.
When they reached Pete's house, they saw it had an upstairs window that looked out toward the water. They stopped.
"Oooh," Benny whispered. "The house looks so lonely. Maybe ghosts live there when Pete is gone for the summer."
"Nonsense," Henry replied. "Let's go inside." He sounded cheerful, but secretly he agreed with Benny. There was something scary about this place. Henry glanced about. No one was in sight. He looked over his shoulder. He was sure something would happen here. Their visit might not be as much fun as everyone thought.CHAPTER 2
The Old Library
Henry unlocked the deserted house and went in first. The sun streamed through the window.
He motioned the others to follow. Slowly they went in. The wooden floor creaked. The first large room had a table with five chairs. A stool sat in the corner by a stone fireplace, and a wood-burning stove was in the center of the room. A huge cobweb stretched across one corner.
"Look!" Jessie exclaimed. "A stove! We can have a fine hot supper."
Benny smiled. "That's good news. But it's broken."
"It will be easy to fix," Violet said. "Only the oven door is off its hinges."
"Don't worry," said Jessie. "I can push it back in place." She opened and closed the squeaking cast-iron door.
Next they went into a bedroom. Two bunk beds were against one wall. A sagging string held up a tattered curtain at the window. It was clear Pete had other things on his mind besides keeping house.
"Neat!" Benny shouted. He dashed to the beds' ladder and climbed up to the top bunk. He bounced up and down on the mattress, causing the dust to fly. "I want this bed!" he yelled.
"You're welcome to it," Henry said, sitting on the bottom bunk. He coughed. "Whew! Too much dust!" He glanced at Jessie. "Where shall we begin?"
Jessie nodded. She knew exactly what to do. She'd already run upstairs and found two more bunk beds up there. "First, we need to clean the two windows in this room and the two in the kitchen. That way we can see outside."
"Why?" Henry asked, rubbing off the window grime so that he had a small peephole. "There's nothing to see. No one is in this desolate area but us, and there isn't even a phone in the house."
Violet swallowed. "No one but us?" she asked in a low voice. "That gives me the creeps."
"We're safe as we can be," Henry said. "Pete's restaurant is only two miles away."
"I know," Violet said, but she didn't sound reassured.
"Next," Jessie said matter-of-factly to show she wasn't nervous and to help Violet, "we'll take the four mattresses outside and whale the daylights out of them."
"Right!" Henry grinned. "Unless Benny wants to bounce the dust out!"
"No, no," Violet said.
"Just teasing," Henry said. He rolled up his sleeves and lifted a mattress over his shoulder and headed for the door. "Come on, Benny," he called. "We'll do one at a time."
Eagerly Benny scrambled down the ladder.
"Violet," Jessie said, "let's tackle the floor. I saw an old broom and a mop by the stove. There was a pail, too."
"Right," Violet agreed. "This floor could use a scrubbing."
"It could use two scrubbings," Jessie said, tying a scarf over her hair. "Let's get started."
"Where's the water?" Violet questioned.
Jessie pointed out the window. "See that pump? We'll have plenty of fresh water, and there's a dry sink in the house."
Jessie fetched a pail of water, bubbling with soap suds because of the detergent she'd added.
First the girls scrubbed the kitchen, then the bedrooms. The floors began to shine.
The boys went in and out with first one mattress, then another. The four Aldens worked all afternoon. They washed the windows and cleaned the stove.
Benny came in and wiped his forehead, smudging a streak of dirt even further across his face. He dropped into a chair. "Whew! We pounded four mattresses. We washed four windows. I'm tired and ..."
"I know," Violet said with a laugh. "You're tired and hungry."
Benny cocked his head to one side. "How did you know what I was going to say?"
"We all know what you were about to say," Henry said. Playfully he poked Benny in the ribs. "Besides, I'm hungry, too."
"So am I," Violet said.
"Me, too," Jessie agreed.
Henry threw back his head and laughed. "Then it's a majority. Let's unload the supplies and eat."
Jessie went out to the pump to wash her face and hands.
Next Violet went out to the pump, then Henry, then Benny.
"We'll need wood for the stove," Jessie said.
"I'm way ahead of you," Henry replied with a smile. "There's a bundle of wood by the front door."
Jessie peeled potatoes and onions and scraped the carrots. Henry set a pot of water on the stove. When the water boiled, the girls dropped in a soup bone they had brought and the vegetables.
"A hot supper will taste good," Jessie said.
"I'll say it will." Benny rolled his eyes and patted his stomach. It didn't take too long for the soup to cook. With a crusty bread they had brought from home and fresh pears and cookies, they had a delicious meal.
After supper Violet sat on the window ledge. "There's the library," she said softly.
"Where?" Benny asked eagerly, craning his neck to see.
"On the hill over there." Violet gazed at the gray building. "How sad and lonely it looks."
"We'll cheer the old place up tomorrow," Jessie said. "We'll be chattering and going through its old books."
"Oh, yes," Benny said, clapping his hands. "We'll make the library happy. We're going to save it."
But that night before Violet got into bed, she stared out the window. She wondered if anything could save the old library.CHAPTER 3
The Squirrel That Wasn't There
The next morning, before anyone awakened, Henry quietly went outside and mounted his bicycle. He pedaled down the winding path and rode the two miles to Pete's Café. He must phone Grandfather and tell him they'd arrived safely.
The air smelled salty, and the sunny day warmed him. He felt good. They were off on another adventure.
Entering the café, Henry smiled at a plump man with a white beard behind the counter. He knew he must be Pete. "Hi, I'm Henry Alden. James Alden is my grandfather. My sisters and brother and I are living in your house for a few days," Henry said.
"Hi, Henry," the plump man said. "Good to meet you. How do you like my house?"
"Fine," Henry answered. He didn't want to tell him how much cleaning they'd had to do.
Pete chuckled. "I imagine the cobwebs and dust were pretty thick after my house had been sitting there for all these months. I guess you and your sisters and brother took care of things."
"We did a little cleaning," Henry said with a smile.
"Did you find the extra pillows in the closet by the back door?"
"Yes, we've found everything we need," Henry assured him.
"And the pump worked okay?"
"Yes, and so did the stove and refrigerator," Henry said. "I need to use the phone to tell Grandfather we're all right."
"Go right ahead," Pete said. "And tell him hello for me."
As Henry dialed, he overheard two men who were sitting at a nearby table.
The first man leaned forward. "Did you hear Mrs. Tate was robbed of her diamond ring last week?"
"You're kidding!" the second man said in surprise. "That's the third robbery in two months. Some antique maps were taken from Tom Davis's map and coin shop, and Mike Johnson's jewelry store was robbed, too. Who do you suppose is doing it?"
"Beats me," the first man said. "But we'd all better keep things under lock and key."
Henry promised himself that they'd better be careful and lock Pete's door.
After talking to Grandfather, Henry said good-bye to Pete and biked back to the house.
He arrived just in time for breakfast, and then they all biked to the library, which was about a quarter of a mile away. Because the narrow winding lane was steep, Benny had to stop several times.
When they reached the library, they stopped to stare at the gray shingled building. It tilted to one side, and the ground floor windows were boarded up. The front concrete steps were chipped and broken, and the roof had lost half its shingles.
The second floor had a large window looking to the sea. Because no one had boarded it up, a few glass panes were missing. It was as if the library had one big eye watching the water. Watching and waiting. What was it that Violet had said? Jessie thought. The library looked sad and lonely.
"Wow!" Benny uttered, a light breeze rumpling his dark shiny hair. "It's scary!"
Jessie pushed her strange thoughts away. "Let's see for ourselves," she said brightly. She moved to the first step.
"Okay," Benny said. "I'm right behind you."
Henry laughed, taking Violet's hand. "This is going to be fun."
Jessie unlocked the door.
After they entered the dark and silent library, they halted. Surprise was written on their faces. Shelves of books lined the room, but many more books were scattered on the floor, some face down. Others were thrown in a corner. In the center of the room was a large desk that had been the circulation desk.
They walked further into the room. Henry bravely went upstairs. "Come on," he urged. His brother and sisters followed. They went into a room that also had books, but there was a large reading area by the big window. Under the window was a long seat covered in faded and worn material.
"This velvet seat was once red," Jessie said, brushing her fingertips over the cushion.
"It looks pink to me!" Benny said. His voice echoed through the whole room.
"All right," Henry said, "before we go through the books, I'll remove the boards from the downstairs windows." He was dressed for work, too, in his jeans, and a shirt with a red stripe and short sleeves. "If we make the library look good, it may be given the landmark status Grandfather wants so much."
"It would be wonderful to be able to do that for him," Violet said.
"I'll help you, Henry," Benny said, running downstairs.
"Careful," Jessie cautioned. "Some of those wooden steps might be broken."
"I'm okay," Benny said. "See?" He stood at the bottom of the steps, looking up. His hands were behind his back, and he wore a big grin.
"Good, Benny," Henry said. "Here we come." They hurried down after Benny.
They all pitched in. The boards were removed from the windows, letting the sunlight stream in. They dusted and cleaned until Benny said, "Isn't it time for lunch yet?"
Violet halted, wiping her forehead. "Yes, I'm ready for a sandwich, too." She sat down, straightening the collar on her violet T-shirt. Violet was her favorite color. She even had wallpaper in her room at home with violets on it.
"Lunch will be later," Jessie said. "It's only eleven o'clock."
Willingly, they straightened more books.
"Look," Benny said, holding up a volume of fairy tales. It was an old book with no cover, but the pages were still in good condition. "Read me this story, Jessie," he said, pointing to one.
Excerpted from The Deserted Library Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1991 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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