The Ghost Ship Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company Copyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Four shivering children stood next to a big black stove. They were all wrapped up in white towels.
"I think my hat blew a-w-w-w-a-y," six-year-old Benny Alden said through chattering teeth. "I hope it didn't land in the ocean!"
James Alden, the children's grandfather, gave Benny a hug. "Not to worry, Benny. Mr. Pease got all our things from the car nice and dry. See?"
Just then, a man with a jolly face stepped into the kitchen of the Black Dog Inn. He was carrying several suitcases and wearing a bright yellow rain slicker. On his head was Benny's missing sailor cap. "All hands on deck!" the man said with a smile.
Benny grinned and saluted. "That's my hat on your head," he told the man.
Everyone laughed. "Mr. Pease, these are my grandchildren," James Alden said. "The boy who belongs to that sailor cap is the youngest, Benny. And those three shivering children are Violet, Jessie, and Henry. You'll be able to tell them apart when they're not all dressed up in towels. Mrs. Pease thought they might like to dry themselves in your warm kitchen. Why, that wind and rain just soaked through us in no time at all."
"Indeed!" Mr. Pease said. "That's a gale blowing up. Yessir. First one of the season. Ragged Cove is about to be hit by a storm. A big one, too. You folks are in for an adventure."
"Adventures are what we like!" announced Henry, who was fourteen.
"Your grandfather told me you'd say that!" Mr. Pease said. He put the sailor cap on Benny's head. "And he said nobody's better in an emergency than his grandchildren. I don't know if you mind being guests who help instead of guests who get help. With this storm coming up so fast, I could use a few extra hands."
"I'm a good worker," Benny said.
"And a good eater," Mrs. Pease added as she came into the big cheery kitchen. "Benny has already eaten one of the johnnycakes I finished frying up on the griddle. I'll have to start calling them Bennycakes. How about another one, Benny?"
"Yum," Benny said.
"First I'll take you up to your room so you can put on some dry clothes," Mrs. Pease said. She led the children up the creaky stairs of the old whaling captain's house that was now an inn. The Aldens were staying there while Mr. Alden did business in the old seaport town of Ragged Cove, Massachusetts.
"I had to send the staff home early because of the storm," Mrs. Pease told the children. "I'm so glad you don't mind pitching in."
"We can be your junior staff," twelve-year-old Jessie said. "We like to help out."
"Mr. Pease and I are glad to have some young people at the Black Dog. Our own grandchildren live a long way off. We don't see nearly enough of them," Mrs. Pease said. "Now here's your room. It's called the Crow's Nest. It's taller than the rest of the inn and looks out over everything, just like the crow's nest on a ship."
Mrs. Pease opened a narrow wooden door to reveal a snug room with tidy bunk beds and chests built into the walls.
"Oh, look, a little porch right outside our room!" cried ten-year-old Violet. "I can go out there to paint seascapes when the weather gets better."
"That's called a widow's walk, Violet," Mrs. Pease explained. "Back in the whaling days of Ragged Cove, the wives of sailors could stand there and watch for their husbands' ships to return."
"Then why isn't it called a wife's walk?" Benny asked.
Jessie Alden, who loved history, answered. "Well, Benny, so many of the husbands died at sea, these lookouts got to be called widows' walks."
"That's so sad," Violet said in a quiet voice.
"I bet a lot of ships were lost on days like this," Henry added.
"Quite a lot," Mrs. Pease told the children. "My mind is at ease now that Mr. Pease has retired from his fishing boat. I don't have to come up here to look out for him on these stormy days. He's a lot safer helping me run the Black Dog Inn than piloting the Sea Dog."
Benny finished drying his hair with his towel, and put on his sailor cap. "We have a dog Watch, but he had to stay home. He's not a sea dog, though—he's a plain old house dog. But before we came to live with Grandfather, he was a watchdog in our boxcar in the woods. We fixed up the boxcar all by ourselves after our parents died. We lived there until Grandfather found us."
Mrs. Pease helped Benny straighten out his cap so it looked like a real sailor's hat. "Well, you'll have to meet Blackie, our watchdog. You can't run an inn called the Black Dog and not have a black dog, right?"
"Right!" the children agreed.
The Aldens changed into dry clothes in the tiny boat-sized bathroom just off their room. It felt good to put on dry shirts and pants.
Mr. Pease knocked on the door of the Crow's Nest. "I'm needing a first mate and some cabin boys and girls," he announced. "Even green hands will do!"
Benny raised both hands. "What about these? They're not green, but they're clean."
Mr. Pease laughed. "So they are. 'Green hands' are what we sailors like to call newcomers."
The Aldens lined up to hear what Mr. Pease wanted them to do.
"Now," Mr. Pease began, "I just heard on the radio that the worst of the gale is going to hit in a few hours. They'll be needing me down at the docks to secure the boats. If you mates can help my wife pull in all the shutters and deliver emergency supplies to the guests, that would make everything shipshape."
"Let's get started," Henry said.
Mr. Pease showed the children how to pull in the shutters. The Aldens went around to all the windows and did the same. Henry was about to pull down the last latch when Benny said, "Hey, look out that way!" He pointed toward the ocean. "There are lights flashing over there."
The other children raced to the window and looked out. Sure enough, they could see wavy fingers of light shining on and off in the distance.
"What are those lights, Mr. Pease?" Henry asked. "A lighthouse? It couldn't be a fire since it's raining so hard."
Mr. Pease seemed to know right away what the boys were talking about. "Well, it might be lightning. But some folks around here believe those are the lights from a ghost ship, the Flying Cloud. Sank in 1869, less than a mile from here, out by Howling Cliffs. Yessir, that's what folks believe."
For once Benny Alden didn't have anything to say. His mouth formed a little circle of surprise, but no words came out.
Violet couldn't take her eyes off the swirling lights. "A gh—ghost ship?" she said in a small voice.
"Now, now, it's probably just lightning," Mr. Pease told Violet when he saw how scared she looked. "The only time we see the lights is when there's a big storm like this. Probably just our mixed-up weather. Who knows?"
Violet clicked down the shutter latch. She didn't want to see those strange lights anymore. The room was dim now.
"Your grandfather told me you children always have flashlights handy," Mr. Pease said. "Well, bring 'em along. Never know when the power might go out in a gale like this."
Benny liked this thought almost as much as the idea of a ghost ship. He found his nice yellow flashlight and stuck it in his pocket.
There were twelve guest rooms in the Black Dog Inn, so the Aldens were very busy for the next few hours. They delivered emergency flashlights and bottled water to every room and helped Grandfather build a roaring fire in the sitting room downstairs.
Soon the storm was howling against the building.
"It's nice to be inside on a day like this," Mr. Alden said. He looked around the cozy sitting room. The Black Dog Inn was snug as could be.
Also snug as could be was Blackie, the Peases' black Labrador. He thumped his tail a few times when the Aldens patted him. Then he went right back to his afternoon nap by the fireplace.
"Blackie spent the last couple of hours with Mr. Pease down at the docks," Mrs. Pease explained. "Everybody with a boat is bringing it in or anchoring it extra tight. The poor dog is tired from all the excitement."
"We're not!" Benny said. "We're having fun!"
"That's good," said Mrs. Pease. "I'm getting all my evening cooking underway now, in case the electricity goes out later. Why don't you children relax and curl up by the fire like Blackie?"
Now curling up by a fire wasn't Benny Alden's idea of excitement. Instead he followed Mrs. Pease into the kitchen.
"May I help make something?" Benny asked. "Mrs. McGregor, our housekeeper, likes us to help her cook."
"I certainly like a good helper myself," Mrs. Pease said. She handed Benny a long wooden spoon. "You can stir this cornmeal batter until you don't see any dry spots."
Benny boosted himself up on a stool and stood over a big bowl of yellow batter. He stirred and stirred. "What is this anyway?" he asked Mrs. Pease.
"Cornmeal batter for Bennycakes!" she answered with a laugh. "At breakfast we have them with sausages and maple syrup. At tea-time, we eat them with jam or good, sweet butter. The Black Dog Inn is famous for them."
When the other children came into the kitchen to check on Benny they found him watching Mrs. Pease drop spoonfuls of the yellow batter onto a sizzling griddle on the big black stove.
"Violet and I can flip them," Jessie said. "Henry and Grandfather are outside tying down the lawn and porch furniture."
Soon, the three Aldens had a golden pile of warm cakes stacked and ready to take out to the sitting room. The guests had just gathered around the tea table when a huge gust of wind rattled the windows and shutters. The lights dimmed a few times, went back on, then went dark for good.
Everyone gasped, but the firelight and the Aldens' flashlights made everyone feel safe. Mrs. Pease brought in some battery-powered lights so their guests could go on reading and playing games.
Mrs. Pease opened a big wooden chest. "Here are some nice thick blankets if anyone feels chilly," she said. "We'll be losing heat soon, so anyone who wants to sleep down here should feel free. Henry Alden has volunteered to keep the fires roaring until we get power back."
"Let's get our sleeping bags," Jessie whispered to Violet. "We can snuggle by the fire with Blackie. Then it won't matter a bit that the heat is off."
A few minutes later the girls had laid out all the sleeping bags in the sitting room.
Benny was the first one to get inside his. "It's time for stories," he announced.
"Here! Here!" several guests who were also in the sitting room agreed.
An older man held up a green book. "How about a story from this collection of sea tales? I just started to read a ghost story called 'Watery Grave: The Wreck of the Flying Cloud.' It's about a ship that went down right near Ragged Cove."
"Oooh," Violet and Benny said. They pulled their sleeping bags up to their chins.
The man with the book turned to Jessie. "My old eyes aren't the best in this dim light. Now young lady, I've noticed you have a nice clear voice and sharp eyes. How about reading us the tale?"
Benny looked up at Jessie with hopeful eyes. "Would you, Jessie? Please? Read us something scary."
Jessie opened the faded old book and began to read.
A Fire at Sea
Jessie had been reading for fifteen minutes. Her throat was dry, but she couldn't stop. There were only a few pages left:
"In November 1869, there was still no sign of the Flying Cloud. Every day for two years, Emily Coffin climbed the stairs of her house overlooking the sea. Each day she looked for her husband's ship. Nothing appeared.
"Still, Emily Coffin kept her watch. On the sixth of November 1869, a great gale roared in from the northeast. It pushed a ship straight toward the safety of Ragged Cove.
"Emily Coffin was the first to spot the Flying Cloud on the horizon. She and the other townspeople ran out to the beach. Everyone watched nervously. Then, right before their eyes, the horror began. A huge gust of wind broke the mast like a matchstick. In a few seconds, it toppled into the open sea."
Jessie paused in her reading to look around the sitting room. Even the grown-ups sat on the edge of their seats. Violet and Benny sat up in their sleeping bags. They hugged their knees to their chests as tightly as they could.
"My goodness, girl!" a guest cried out from a corner of the sitting room. "Get on with the story before we die of suspense."
Jessie went on. "Everyone on shore watched as the tall mast sank beneath the waves. Only its sail floated across the water like a sheet.
"One voice cried above the others: 'To the ship! To the ship! We must row to the ship.'"
Jessie stopped to catch her breath as if she were one of the very people in the story.
"Keep reading, Jessie," Benny begged. "What happened next?"
"The Flying Cloud tilted sideways. Each gust of wind blew it toward the deadly rocks nearby. Someone on board sent flares into the air, but the blinding rain blew them out.
"Eight of the strongest rowers in Ragged Cove jumped into a rowboat. With Emily Coffin shouting from shore, 'Hurry! Hurry!' the rowers tried to beat back the waves. The rain had stopped, but the wind was still strong. Alas, for every inch they gained, they were blown back onto the shore a few feet.
"It was hopeless," Jessie read, her voice sad. "And nearly deadly. For one huge wave swamped the bobbing rowboat. All the men went overboard, and the rowboat sank."
"Oh, no!" several listeners cried when Jessie got to this part.
"The men, strong swimmers all, made it back to shore. But there was no cheering. Everyone could see that the Flying Cloud was now in great danger. A minute later, a glow came from the broken ship as it drifted ever nearer to the deadly rocks.
"'Look, they're trying to signal us!' someone onshore screamed. 'But what can we do while these winds blow against us?'
"What could they do? The Flying Cloud was out of reach and listing badly. People talked about the danger of using fire with so much whale oil on board.
"Another roar went up in the crowd as a huge bonfire appeared over the water. The Flying Cloud was in flames!
"Someone cried: 'It's going down! It's sinking!'
"'Are they lowering the lifeboats?' someone else asked.
"'It's impossible to see with all the smoke,' another voice answered. 'Let us hope and pray.'
"But their hopes and prayers did not help. The Flying Cloud disappeared beneath the waves. The horizon was empty again.
"The townspeople returned to their homes in grief. Only a few people were still at the beach when a young cabin boy named Caleb Plummer made it to shore hours later. He was in shock. He mumbled about the ship being taken over by a sailor named Eli Hull. He died without finishing his story. No one knew what had happened to Captain Coffin or if there had been a mutiny."
Benny tapped Jessie's arm. "Jessie, what's a mutiny?"
"That's when the crew fights against the captain to take over the ship."
"Oh, okay," Benny whispered. "Now you can keep reading."
So Jessie did.
"On stormy days and nights, some people claim to see lights flickering, out where the Flying Cloud went to its watery grave. Some even say they see a rower on the waves who never reaches the shore. Others hear voices crying along the rocky coast, now called Howling Cliffs. But others say there are no lights, no rowers, no voices, only the sound of the dangerous sea."
Jessie closed the book.
"Wasn't anyone else found besides the young sailor?" Violet asked.
"No one," answered Mr. Pease, who had just come in. "The ship burned too quickly."
"Did wreckage turn up?" Henry asked.
Mr. Pease shook his head. "A few months after the shipwreck a sealed bottle washed up on the beach. Inside were some pages from Captain Coffin's diary recording all but his last few days. It's a mystery that no one has ever figured out. There are stories about the captain forcing the ship to stay out at sea when it should have returned. And, of course, the sailor's words about a mutiny. But no one really knows what happened."
"What was in those diary pages?" Jessie asked.
Mr. Pease pushed back his own captain's hat and shook his head. "No one knows for sure. You see, out of respect for the captain's widow, Emily Coffin, the pages were turned over to her. She burned them before anyone got to read them. The rest of the diary was never found."
Mrs. Pease, who had been listening from the doorway, spoke to everyone in a soft voice. "Perhaps. Emily Coffin told her children her husband died a hero at sea."
Jessie shivered when a blast of wind hit the Black Dog Inn. "It must have been so dangerous to be at sea if it was anything like tonight. How terrible that so little was saved from the ship."
"Well," Mr. Pease began, "there were a few things besides those pages that washed up—some carvings on whalebone or whale ivory called scrimshaw."
Violet's face brightened. "Oh, yes, we've seen them in museums. Sailors used to carve them with pretty pictures during their long trips away."
Mrs. Pease smiled. "You'll see no prettier scrimshaw than the collection right here in Ragged Cove at the Sailors' Museum. Perhaps you—"
Before Mrs. Pease could finish, Mr. Pease said to his wife, "Now, now. You know how Prudence is." Turning to the children he explained, "She's the curator of the museum. Lately she only allows organized school groups to visit. She wouldn't even let our own grandchildren stop in the last time they came to Ragged Cove."
One of the guests nodded. "That woman doesn't even want adult tourists. Thinks she owns the place, she does!" the woman complained. "Why I have a mind to complain to the town Visitors' Bureau."
Mr. Pease threw up his hands. "I know. I've tried to reason with Prudence. Told her more than once she's going to lose funding for the museum one of these days if she keeps being so stingy with her hours." (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Ghost Ship Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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