Read an Excerpt
The Haunted Cabin Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1991 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Outside in the woods, a cool breeze stirred. Inside the boxcar, the four Alden children were hot from their hard work. Finally twelve-year-old Jessie stood up.
"Now that is what I call clean," she said, smiling at her two brothers and her ten-year-old sister, Violet.
"And neat," her older brother, Henry, said. "I'm glad you thought of this," he added, turning to Violet as she gave the pillows a final pat.
"It'll be fun to come home from an adventure and find our wonderful boxcar so shiny and nice," Benny said. "Look, even Watch is hot and tired from our work."
"Watch is a lazybones," Jessie said fondly. "He didn't do anything but watch."
"That's his job, but he loved our boxcar from the first," Violet said, smiling down at him. "Remember how we found him when we came to live here after our mother and father died? Watch is really one of us."
"Then why can't we take him on this adventure with us?" Benny asked.
"Come on, Benny," Henry said, patting his little brother. "Who ever heard of a dog traveling on a paddle-wheel boat up the Mississippi River? Anyway, Watch has stayed home to guard Grandfather's house before."
"I know," Benny said, nodding. "But I'm going to miss him anyway."
Outside, the children stretched in the cool New England air. "Now we'd better go back to Grandfather's house and pack," Henry said. Then he laughed. "Can you believe that once we ran away and hid from our own grandfather because we thought he was mean? I don't know how we could have been more wrong."
"Maybe by taking lessons," Benny said soberly, who thought a lot about lessons and school now that he was six.
Violet laughed. "Who ever heard of taking lessons to be wrong? It's more fun to learn to be right!"
Jessie said, "Grandfather says his friend Cap Lambert was a riverboat pilot for years. He knows all sorts of wonderful stories about the Mississippi River."
"And his log cabin where we'll visit is a hundred years old," Henry added. "Staying there will be a real treat."
"Cap Lambert has to be a wonderful man," Violet said, "to invite us to visit him when he hasn't even met us. I like him already."
"And I like the trip up the river to his house, too," Benny said, breaking into a run. "Let's go pack!"
That next morning their grandfather glanced at the four brightly colored suitcases in the back of the car. "I wish I could go along on this trip with you," he told them. "But business is business, and I know you'll enjoy my friend Cap."
"I hope he'll enjoy us, too," Jessie said quietly. "Didn't you say he has a son of his own?"
Mr. Alden nodded. "A very nice boy named Jason. Of course he's a grown man by now. But he and his father had a big disagreement when Jason was quite young. They haven't even seen each other for many years."
"What did they disagree about?" Jessie asked.
"Cap wanted Jason to be a doctor or lawyer. Jason only wanted to be a sailor like Cap himself," Mr. Alden replied. "Jason ran away and did what he wanted and never came back."
Benny snuggled against his grandfather. "I'm never going to leave you," he told him.
"Except for adventures," Henry put in, grinning.
"At least you'll fly with us as far as St. Louis, Grandfather," Violet said. "Will you come right back home from there?"
Mr. Alden shook his head. "I have business in the SOUTH. But I'll be in touch with you by phone. Of course, Mrs. McGregor will be here taking care of the house and Watch. I'll call and check on them, too, as I always do."
The Mississippi River was only a quick taxi ride from the St. Louis airport. Benny, holding his bright-red suitcase, stared at the huge paddle-wheel steamer.
"Did you ever see so many flags?" Violet cried. "And listen to the music!"
Her grandfather laughed. "What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than on America's longest river?"
"And the third-longest river in the world," Jessie added. Then she smiled. "I only know that because I looked it up."
A stream of people were moving up the decorated ramp. At the top, a group of ship's officers stood waiting.
"Can you come aboard with us?" Jessie asked Mr. Alden. "Just for a while?"
"I wouldn't miss it," he said, smiling down at her. "I like being able to imagine where you are in my mind."
Henry, feeling very grown-up for fourteen, handed their tickets to the blond officer at the desk.
"Welcome aboard!" the man said, nodding at the children. Then he turned to their grandfather. "Greetings to you, too, sir. The captain's assistant asked to see you as soon as you came aboard. He has a message for you." He turned to lead the way. The children and their grandfather followed him.
A man in uniform met them as they neared his office. "This telegram arrived for you," he said. "I was asked to see that you got it before you left the ship."
The children watched their grandfather's face as he read the telegram. When he frowned, Benny slid his hand into Henry's.
Mr. Alden looked up and put his arm across Jessie's shoulders. "Thank you again," he told the ship's officer. "I need a quiet place to talk to my children for a moment."
"You're welcome to my office," the man said. "I'm needed on deck."
When the door closed behind him, Mr. Alden looked around at the children. "This is disappointing news," he said. "It's from Cap. Let me read it to you."
"Dear Friend. Stop," Mr. Alden read. "I can't tell you how unhappy I am to write this. Stop. I have looked forward very much to having your fine children here. Stop. But I have to ask you not to send them due to an injury to my ankle that makes me unable to get around. Stop. Regards always. Cap Lambert."
"Why does he keep telling you to stop?" Benny cried. "We don't want to stop. We want to go there."
His grandfather chuckled. "That's just the way telegrams are written. Stop is like a period. Poor Cap! I know he hates having to call off your visit. I'm sure that he's just as disappointed as you children are."
"Oh, but, Grandfather," Jessie said. "If he's having trouble getting around, that's an even better reason for us to go. We can take care of him and help him with his work. Remember what a good nurse Violet is? And we can see that he eats right so his ankle will heal. Didn't you say that he lives all alone?"
"Except for his pet rooster, Doodle," Benny put in.
"Jessie's right," Henry said. "Your friend doesn't know that we have the best time if we have real things to do."
Their grandfather listened thoughtfully.
"You see, Grandfather," Henry said, "your friend doesn't know us. He thinks he'll have to take care of us. Instead, we can take care of him. And we'd really like to do it."
Mr. Alden hesitated, still looking doubtful. "He won't be expecting you when the boat reaches Hannibal," he pointed out. "There'll be no one there to meet you and take you out to his place. His cabin is at least three miles from town."
"We've had worse problems than that," Henry reminded him. "Remember the time we got snowbound in a cabin? The store was almost that far away from us."
Violet took her grandfather's hand and looked up into his face. "Don't you know that we like doing things for people more than anything?" she asked. "Surely he won't mind our coming if he knows how much we want to help."
Mr. Alden smiled and caught the four of them against him in a big hug. "You win, and so does Cap. I'll call him from shore and let him know you're coming. And I'll depend on you, as always, to come through with flying colors."
Within minutes, they were waving from the deck to the tall, white-haired man who saluted them from shore.CHAPTER 2
The Double Celebration
The boys got their unpacking done before the girls had finished. "Now can we go and explore?" Benny asked, almost jumping up and down with excitement.
"Go on ahead," Violet told him. "We're almost through. We'll meet you up on deck."
The cabins were small and shining clean, with two bunk beds in each one. Violet and Jessie unpacked the clothes they would wear on the boat and hung them in a tiny metal closet. After they finished, they went up on deck to look for Henry and Benny.
One of the ship's officers was going up the narrow stairs in front of them. "Excuse me, sir," Jessie said. "Have you seen two boys—a tall one and a short one—come this way?"
The man only glanced at them before looking away so his face was half hidden. Then he nodded. "I believe you'll find the Alden boys on the top deck," he said with no warmth in his voice.
Violet looked back as she and Jessie climbed the narrow stairs. "How did he know our last name?" she wondered aloud.
"I saw him checking our names off a list when Henry handed in our tickets," Jessie said. "He looked at Grandfather and us very strangely then."
"That's the second strange thing about that Mr. Jay," Violet said thoughtfully.
Jessie looked at the man who was disappearing into the crowd. Then she laughed. "Now you are being mysterious. How did you know his name? And what was the second strange thing about him?"
In spite of Jessie's teasing, Violet didn't even smile. "His name is written on that gold-colored pin he's wearing," Violet said. "And didn't you notice how he wouldn't look us in the face? It was almost as if he didn't want us to see what he looked like."
Jessie nodded. "You're right. He's not at all friendly."
Then they were at the top of the stairs. The boys were at the rail looking up at a huge bridge spanning the river.
"I wonder when we're going to leave," Benny asked. "I want to see the paddle wheel turn."
One of the ship's officers turned and smiled down at him. "First we'll have dinner and let it get dark," he told Benny. "You want to see the fireworks, don't you?"
"Oh, yes," Benny said. Then he grinned at the man. "But I'm not sure which I like best, dinner or fireworks."
Their first meal on board was served on long tables where they all could take what they wanted. Violet's eyes widened at the huge table of beautiful food. She filled her plate with melon and strawberries, along with chicken, cheese and bread. Benny tried to take at least some of everything, but Jessie talked him into stopping when he started piling on the second layer.
When they went back up on deck, a tall man with a red mustache and glasses was standing by the rail. "Here," he said, stepping aside to make room for them. "Take my place. I can see over your heads."
Henry thanked him, then stared up at the bridge that crossed the river. "What a great bridge," he said.
The man nodded. "It's called the Eads Bridge," he said. "It was built back in the nineteenth century."
Jessie looked at him and smiled. "You must read a lot to know things like that."
He smiled. "I do," he said. "But it's my business, too. I write articles for newspapers. I'm always looking for interesting things to write about. I'm Paul Edwards. If you're the Alden children, we'll be having meals together. I saw your names on my table list."
"Look," Benny cried, pointing back toward the city. Fireworks had begun to explode above the tall buildings of St. Louis. Rockets and bright flashes rose into the sky on both sides of the river.
"I wish Grandfather could see this," Violet whispered.
Benny was leaning against Henry by the time the fireworks ended in a giant burst of color that filled the sky. The ship began to move. "I'm thirsty," Benny said, his voice suddenly sad. "And I just remembered that I forgot something important."
Jessie laughed and opened her bag. "It couldn't be this, could it?" she asked, handing him the pink cup he had kept ever since finding it in the dump when they lived in the boxcar.
He smiled, taking it from her with both hands. "Thank you, Jessie," he said softly, his voice happy again.
She hugged him. "Now what do you say we go to bed so we'll all be perky tomorrow?"
"If you say so," he said. "But I'm not at all sleepy." He grinned at himself when a wide yawn caught him right in the middle of his words.
Mr. Edwards was right. He was assigned to their table along with some other friendly people. They all agreed that bacon and eggs had never tasted better than that morning.
Up on deck, they watched a tiny tugboat moving upstream, pushing a huge barge of lumber past them. The sailors on the tug shouted and waved their caps at the children as they passed. Jessie looked down and saw Mr. Jay watching them from the deck below. The minute he saw her looking at him, he turned on his heel and walked away.
"We have a mystery man," Jessie whispered to Henry.
"What's the mystery about him?" Henry asked.
"His name is Mr. Jay, and no matter where we are, I see him staring at us," she said. "But the minute I look at him, he gets away as fast as he can. It's almost as if he were spying on us but didn't want us to know it." "He never smiles," Violet added. "And he's the only man on the ship who isn't really polite to us."
Henry frowned. "That is mysterious," he said. "Be sure to point him out to me the next time you see him."
That night after sunset, Mr. Edwards led them to the very top of the boat where the pilots worked. "See how they play those beams of light across the water in front of us?" he asked.
"What would happen without them?" Jessie asked.
"The boat could get stuck on a sandbar," he said, "and have to be pushed off. In the old days, outlaws often lurked along the river. Sometimes they came aboard and robbed people."
"Like pirates?" Benny asked. "I know about pirates."
Mr. Edwards nodded. "About the same," he said. "Wolf Island up ahead was well known for the bad men who hid there to attack passing boats."
"Do you write about things like this in your articles?" Jessie asked.
He nodded. "I just published a story about a half a million dollars in gold coins that's supposed to be buried up there south of Hannibal in one of those valleys."
"That's where we're going," Benny told him, practically bouncing out of his chair.
Mr. Edwards laughed. "Stories of buried treasure never seem to die away, but nobody ever finds any gold, either."
There was so much to see and do that the day passed quickly.
After Jessie and Violet pointed out Mr. Jay to the boys, Henry agreed that he seemed to be everywhere.
"Like outlaws along the river," Benny said.
"Well, not exactly," Henry laughed, but he wondered. Why would a stranger like that be spying on them and then act as if he were afraid they would recognize him?
"Have any of you ever seen this Mr. Jay anywhere before we got on board?" Henry asked.
"Never," they agreed, shaking their heads.
Before they knew it, the ship was being towed to shore at Hannibal. Jessie sighed. "This was such fun that I hate to see it end."
They said good-bye to Mr. Edwards and thanked him for his wonderful stories. Then, their suitcases in hand, they streamed off the boat with the other passengers.CHAPTER 3
Cap and Doodle
After they left the ship, the children decided that they needed to call Cap Lambert the very first thing.
"Can I just sit some place and wait?" Benny asked. "My legs feel funny when I walk."
"Mine do, too," Jessie said. "Those are our 'sea legs.' We'll get our land legs back right away."
The girls and Benny sat on a bench while Henry went to use a public phone. They were barely settled before he was back. "Cap Lambert's phone has been disconnected," he said, frowning thoughtfully.
"Oh, that's not good at all," Violet said. "If he's been injured, he needs a phone."
"And it means that Grandfather wasn't able to call him to say we were on the boat. He must not even know we're coming," Henry said. "It's not very nice just to surprise him."
"I know he'll be glad when he sees us," Benny said. "Grandfather said it was only three miles to his house. That's not very far for us to walk."
"You're right, Benny," Jessie said. "But remember, Cap Lambert has been hurt. If he isn't expecting us, he may not be prepared. I think we should take some groceries."
Benny jumped up. "That's a great idea," he said. "They had everything I liked on the ship except peanut butter."
"Do you have your land legs back?" Jessie asked.
Benny nodded and raced into the store to prove it. The grocer watched them with interest as they picked out things they all liked. Along with the regular groceries, like dried milk, cocoa, spaghetti, and tomato sauce, they bought some treats — cinnamon candy, marshmallows, and, of course, peanut butter, a large jar. While the grocer added up their bill, Henry picked up a lamp and looked at it. It had a funny smell.
"That's a kerosene lamp," the grocer told him. "They come in mighty handy where there isn't any electricity." He looked at the bags of groceries and frowned. "Surely you're not aiming to carry all this clear out to Lambert's?"
"There are four of us," Henry reminded him.
"No matter," he said. "I might find you a ride with somebody going that way."
The children looked at each other, then Jessie smiled at him. "That's very nice of you," she said. "But we like walking. But we need to know the way to find Owl's Glen."
A little later, as they set off with a suitcase in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other, Henry spoke quietly. "Look back," he said. "Isn't that Mr. Jay watching us there by the post office?"
Excerpted from The Haunted Cabin Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1991 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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