Much Ado About Grubstakeby Jean Ferris
Grubstake is a grubby down-on-its-luck mining town filled with grubby down-on-their-luck miners. So when a decidedly nongrubby city slicker shows up and offers to buy the tapped-out mines, the miners are sorely tempted. But not Arley, the brash sixteen-year-old girl who runs the boardinghouse. No, Arley smells a rat. What could some fancy-britches rascal want with
Grubstake is a grubby down-on-its-luck mining town filled with grubby down-on-their-luck miners. So when a decidedly nongrubby city slicker shows up and offers to buy the tapped-out mines, the miners are sorely tempted. But not Arley, the brash sixteen-year-old girl who runs the boardinghouse. No, Arley smells a rat. What could some fancy-britches rascal want with empty mines? Is there more in those desolate pits than the Grubs realize?
Like Jean Ferris’s popular Once Upon a Marigold, this lighthearted, endearingly goofy story is packed with quirky, lovable characters and piercing insights.
Read an Excerpt
Six elephants could have gotten off the monthly train and they wouldn’t have been as big a deal to Arley as her precious box of Penny Dreadfuls. Making them last until the next train brought more was one of the hardest things she didand that was saying something, considering how hard she worked every day at her boarding house.
In the Penny Dreadfuls things happened. Did they ever! People got kidnapped by pirates, or drunk on champagne, or married to the wrong people, or thrown in jail, or chased by bandits. It was wonderful.
Nothing ever happened in Grubstake. Big fat nothing. Gallons of nothing. Tons of nothing. Miles of nothing. The mines were played out, and the only people left in town were the ones who had no place else to go. The Opera House had shut down when Arley was little. The schoolmarm had married the fellow who mined the last of the silver, and they’d gone off to live in Denver, letting marmots (who were pretty good neighbors, but lousy housekeepers) move into the abandoned schoolhouse. The train had cut its schedule down to once a month, and most of the houses built during the bonanza days were gradually succumbing to time and weather.
Considering all that, Arley should have paid more attention to the stranger getting off the train, since a visitor was such a rare occurrence. She would have, too, if she hadn’t been so busy juggling her box of books while trying to pull her dogs, Wilbur and Orville, away from a couple of crates with heavy screens on the front. Restless, growly sounds came from the crates, along with the scratch and click of . . . could it be claws?
But if Arley wasn’t paying attention to the stranger, others were. Her boarders, mainly. Watching the train arrive was their entertainment for the month. They saw the fellow with the snappy plaid suit, the shiny city shoes, and the pomaded blond hair under the derby hat come down the steps. While the man waited for his baggagerather a lot of itto be unloaded, Prairie Martin wheedled from the conductor the facts that the fellow had gotten on in Denver, his luggage was brand new, and he’d flashed a wallet full of greenbacks when he paid for his dining car meal. But the biggest question remained unanswered: What was somebody like him doing in a place like Grubstake?
The conductor had only shrugged. As the train pulled away for the long descent off the mountain, the gossip and speculation began. The stranger was a salesman, selling something that would change their lives. Or he was running from the law, and what better place to hide out than remote, forgotten Grubstake? Or he had a fatal illness and had come there to die so none of his greedy family members would find his suitcases full of money. Or he had lost his memory and was trying to find a place that seemed familiar.
And what about those crates? They seemed to be his, too. Oh, this fellow could keep the Grubs occupied for days as their stories became more bizarre and tangly. Finding out too soon what he was really doing there, especially if it was something as ordinary as a mistake, could spoil all their fun.
Arley would get in on all of that later. For now, she just wanted to get her dogs away from those crates, take her box home, open it, and revel in the smell of new books and the promises hiding behind titles like Badgirl in the Badlands, The Danger of a Texas Ranger, and Rustler’s Rhapsody. Every page was heaven for a sixteen-year-old girl who believed with all her heart that her life was over. Oh, she might live to be 981/2, but her last day would be indistinguishable from any of the thousands that had come before: chores, tending to her boarders, and watching the high mountain seasons change (short spring, shorter summer, a couple of weeks of fall, and endless winter).
The last exciting thing to happen in Grubstake had been the one that had put her in this predicament. Two years before, Arley’s own father, never much good with dynamite, blew himself out of his mine and into Kingdom Comewith a few swell loop-the-loops as he went.
Since her mother had died when she was born, Arley was suddenly on her own in a big way. So by the age of fourteen, she’d already figured out there weren’t any happy endings in real life. Or any endings at all, really, except for that final one. Life just kept bumping along, up sometimes, down others, until it didn’t anymore. But Penny Dreadfuls always had happy endings, in spite of the dastardly villains, the earthquakes, the shootings, and the betrayals along the way. They were delicious company during the long, long winters.
Arley put the box of books in the little wagon she used for errands and began pulling it home through the muddy streets. In the center of Grubstake, a wooden sidewalk ran alongside the hotel and saloon, Mickey’s livery, the newspaper office, the bakery, the pathetic excuse for a restaurant, and the general store. Arley clattered along the wooden slats, glad to be out of the mud for a minute. Once she’d tried hitching Orville and Wilbur to the wagon, but their reputation as the worst-behaved dogs in town held true and they’d run off with it, spilling the contents and knocking Mrs. Bernaise, the doctor’s wife, into a puddle.
When Grubstake was a boomtown, there had been restaurants, saloons, and shops, a tailor, a milliner, a blacksmith, and a laundry. But that heyday had been briefas long as the silver and gold came easilyand then it was over. Those who could do so moved on to richer places. Those who couldn’t, stayedand some of them lived at Arley’s.
Everdene Hannigan, the owner of the hotel and saloon, was standing in the doorway of the Spittoon as Arley and the dogs went by. Everdene’s mop of red curls was piled artfully on her head; her black-and-blue striped dress was amply filled by her curves. Arley sighed and unconsciously ran one hand down her own slim torso. It was hopeless. She ate like a lumberjack, but something as sumptuous as Everdene apparently grew from more than ordinary food.
“Hey, Lemon Drop,” Everdene greeted her. “How you doing this gray morning? Got your books, I see.” Everdene had called her Lemon Drop since she was a baby. Lemon drops were Everdene’s favorite candy because they were pretty, sweet, and sharp all at the same time.
“Hey, Everdene. I’ll pass them on to you as soon as I read them.”
“Not the romancey ones. Just the blood-and-thunder ones.”
“Some of the romantic ones are good.” “Not a subject that interests me. No way. Not in the slightest. But blood and thunder, that’s good. Say, I hear some city slicker got off the train just now.” “I think so. I couldn’t pay much attention. There were these crates that got unloaded from the train. They had something in them that made the dogs go nuts. But you ought to be seeing the stranger pretty soon. After all, it’s not as though there are a bunch of hotels in town.”
Everdene hugged herself and shivered. “I sure wish it would warm up. Doesn’t it seem like this winter’s gone on forever? I want to put my swinging doors up on the Spittoon. A saloon needs swinging doors. But I can’t until it gets warm.”
“I’m pretty sick of all the rain myself. Makes it hard to get my boarders’ laundry done.”
Everdene peered down the street toward the station. “That must be him coming, the guy from the train. It’s been so long since we had a guest here, I’m not sure I can remember how it works.”
“You will,” Arley said, moving on. “You always know what to do. See you later.”
Arley used to wish her father would marry Everdene and then Everdene would be her real mother instead of just the person who took care of her at the Spittoon every day while her father was at the Never Mine. But Everdene was opposed to men, at least in a romantic way. She said she’d been burned by love early and knew all she cared to know about it forever. Arley was pea-green with envy at the drama suggested by that statement, but Everdene never would say any more. Every miner in Grubstake was in some degree of love with her, but she wasn’t interested. Considering the selection, Arley couldn’t be surprised.
Arley passed the newspaper office, hurrying to keep up with the dogs, who always went faster when they got close to home and food. She looked in through the glass front window at Duncan McKenzie, the editor of The Expositor. He knew all the big words in the dictionary, and used them every day. He was only three years older than Arley, yet she thought he seemed much more grown-up. Maybe because he was so tall and handsome, so smart and serious. Sort of like Jesse, the hero in Gunfire on the Pecos. But Jesse fell for the doctor’s daughter, something Arley was afraid Duncan was going to do, too.
Copyright © 2006 by Jean Ferris
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Meet the Author
JEAN FERRIS has written more than a dozen popular books for teens, including the award-winning Once Upon a Marigold. Honors for her books include several ALA Best Books for Young Adults distinctions and a YALSA Teens' Top Ten Best Books award. She lives in San Diego, California.
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My 8 yr old daughter could not wait to get ready for bed (bath and pajamas) and crawl into our spot to get to reading this well written book .... I haven't found one of my daughters books as fun as this one was to read. I looked forward to our reading time too !! She also got much better at her reading while involved with this book ~ the words were bigger than her but she was able to figure them out and understand them as well. We were not looking forward to the book ending because it was such a fun story ~ we are hoping Jean Ferris will come out with a Grubstake comparable book. Gonna try the Once upon a Marigold book in hopes of it being as gripping as this one. Sue from Hampshire