The Mystery at Snowflake Innby Gertrude Chandler Warner
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Grandfather is taking everyone on a special holiday trip to an old-fashioned New England inn. The Aldens have fun playing in the snow, ice skating, and working puzzles. Then suddenly they become part of a very special puzzle when mysterious things start to happen.
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The Mystery at Snowflake Inn
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Old Inn in the Woods
"This is it, Grandfather!" Henry Alden said, examining a map. "Turn left on White Pine Road."
"You're a good guide!" James Alden said.
Being fourteen, Henry knew he should be able to read a map. Still, he was pleased at Grandfather's praise.
Behind Henry were Jessie and Violet, his sisters, and in the back seat, his brother, six-year-old Benny. Next to Benny sat Soo Lee. The little Korean girl was just a year older than Benny and always liked to be with him.
"Soo Lee," Benny said, "I'm glad you could come with us on our winter holiday."
"Yes, indeed," said Grandfather. He knew how much Joe and Alice Alden, their cousins, loved their adopted daughter, and how they hated to be parted from her. But they also wanted Soo Lee to have an old-fashioned New England holiday.
Benny gazed out the back window, his eyes widening as James Alden steered the van onto a narrow road lined with trees on both sides. A sparkling snow blanket covered the hilly land. "I like Vermont!" Benny said, his round face breaking into a smile. "I've never stayed at an old inn before."
Violet, who was ten, returned his smile. "And it's very old, Benny. The inn was built when George Washington lived!"
"Wow," Benny whispered. "That's really old!"
"Won't it be fun to spend the holidays here?" Jessie asked.
James Alden laughed as the van bumped over a rut. "I thought you children might like to ride in a sleigh pulled by horses, ice skate on a pond, and ..."
"And hike through the woods," Henry added, folding the map and slipping it into the glove compartment.
They drove past a frozen pond with snow geese clustered nearby.
As they rounded a curve, Jessie gasped at the sight before her eyes. "The inn! How beautiful!" Nestled among the fir trees, the colonial inn looked as white as the snow. White ruffled curtains decorated the many windows and a white sign swung from a post. It read:
"Snowflake Inn," Violet said. "How pretty."
Jessie glanced at Violet. "I hope you brought your paints."
Violet nodded, pleased that her older sister thought she could paint this old inn. Her sketch pad would be the first thing she'd unpack.
Benny pointed to gray smoke drifting up to the blue sky. "Look! Smoke is coming out of the chimney. Do you think there's a fireplace?"
"I'm sure of it!" Grandfather said with a chuckle, as he drove up the circular drive. He stopped before a wide door with a huge wreath tied with a red ribbon.
A patch of color showed through the snow-covered roof. "That red roof reminds me of our red boxcar," Benny said.
"I like the story about where you once lived," Soo Lee said. "You thought your grandfather was mean and you ran away from him." She gave James Alden an impish look.
"We were very wrong," Violet said.
"I'll tell you, though," Henry said, opening the door, "this inn sure looks a lot more comfortable than our boxcar."
"We did make our boxcar cozy, though," Violet said.
"We cooked and cleaned and made it our home," agreed Jessie.
"Yes, you did a good job of living on your own," Mr. Alden said. "But I'm glad I found you."
"I'm glad, too," Benny said, hopping out of the car. His boots made a crunching sound on the snow.
Soo Lee jumped lightly to the ground behind him.
Benny moved to his grandfather's side. "You're the best grandfather in the whole world."
"Yes, you are," twelve-year-old Jessie said, carrying her suitcase up the brick walk.
"I agree, too," Violet said shyly, following Jessie.
"That makes four of us," Henry said, grabbing two suitcases.
"I like you, also, Mr...." Soo Lee echoed softly.
James threw back his head and laughed. "Please, Soo Lee, call me Grandfather, won't you?"
Soo Lee nodded, giving Mr. Alden a big smile.
Benny took Grandfather's hand, skipping beside the tall, straight-shouldered gentleman. "This is going to be fun!"
Suddenly the door opened and a gray-haired man greeted them. He leaned on a cane, and, although he appeared frail, his voice was steady and strong. "Welcome to Snowflake Inn. You must be the Aldens. I've been waiting for you. I'm Ralph Winston, the owner. Just come this way." His walk was slow because of a slight limp. "After you put your suitcases in the rooms with your names on the doors, I want to show you my inn." He turned and a smile lit his wrinkled face.
Going upstairs, Violet felt the banister wobble under her hand and heard the stairs creak under her boots. The inn looked as if nothing had been done to it for 200 years!
Violet, Jessie, and Soo Lee entered their large room and unpacked. Next door, Henry and Benny hung up their clothes, while down the hall, in his own room, James Alden placed shirts and pants in a drawer.
When everyone was ready, they met Mr. Winston downstairs in the parlor.
"We'll begin our tour of this fine inn right here," Mr. Winston said. "I've tried to keep it just as it was in 1767."
"I believe it," Jessie murmured, staring up at the beamed ceiling and the peeling wallpaper.
"Dad!" a man of about thirty burst into the room. "The kitchen is a disaster! I've fixed the leaky faucets, but Greta is complaining. She's a good cook and deserves a new stove!" His black eyes flashed, fastening on the older man's face. "Now the sink is cracked. We need a new one!"
"No!" Mr. Winston said firmly. "Leave the sink as it is!"
The young man glared. "This whole place is falling apart!" His black curly hair and short black beard fairly bristled. "I hope it falls down around your ears!"
Benny bit his lip, not daring to breathe. Maybe this vacation wasn't going to be as much fun as he'd thought.CHAPTER 2
For a moment the only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner. Then Mr. Winston said, "This is my son, Larry."
Larry's features softened and he smiled.
"Meet the Aldens," Ralph Winston said. "Jessie, Violet, Henry, James Alden, Soo Lee, and Benny."
Benny stuck out his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Larry Winston."
Larry Winston bent down and graciously shook Benny's hand. "Call me Larry. Please." He straightened. "You'll have to forgive Dad and me. We're having a constant battle about this inn. I want to modernize it and Dad insists it's fine just the way it is." Larry sighed, looking about. "No television, no phones. I don't mind the TV, but we should have a phone. Snowflake Inn is uncomfortable."
Mr. Winston frowned. "It's not uncomfortable!"
Larry shrugged, holding up his hands. "It's your inn, Dad. I give up." He turned to leave. "I'll see you all later." With his fist, he lightly hit Benny's shoulder. "Maybe we can put together a jigsaw puzzle."
"Yes," Benny said. "I'd like that."
"Well, that's another argument over with," Mr. Winston said, shaking his head and watching as Larry closed the door. "Now, let me tell you about this fireplace." With his cane he pointed out the black marble fireplace, surrounded by white wood and a wooden mantel. The worn colonial sofas, placed on each side of the roaring fire, held needlepoint pillows.
Benny yawned. He hoped Mr. Winston wasn't going to tell them about every antique chair, every lamp, and every table.
They all followed Mr. Winston back to Grandfather's room. Ralph Winston pointed to the large bed. "George Washington stayed overnight at this inn," he paused dramatically, "and he slept in this very bed."
Benny touched a square on the quilt, gazing in awe at the footstool needed to climb into the high bed. "George Washington slept here?"
"It's hard to believe, isn't it?" Henry said. "I want to take a picture of this four-poster bed before we leave. If that's okay, Mr. Winston?"
"Call me Ralph." Mr. Winston chuckled, pleased. "Take all the pictures you want."
On the tour, they went through each small, low-ceilinged room with their different shapes. Some were long and narrow. Some were square. As they moved from room to room, the wooden floors creaked.
Benny liked the fireplaces in each bedroom. Violet admired the old portraits. Henry could have spent the rest of the afternoon in the library. In the dining room, Grandfather examined an antique china cabinet, filled with blue-and-white dishes. Jessie was impressed with the crystal chandelier and the small shade on every electric candle. In the sunny kitchen, Soo Lee pointed to a porcelain rooster. Of everything she'd seen, this was her favorite.
"Hello!" boomed a voice behind them. A woman came bustling in, carrying a bag of onions. "I'm Greta Erickson, the cook."
"And a mighty fine one she is, too!" Ralph Winston said. "She's known for her delicious desserts. Wait until you taste her chocolate cake." He introduced everyone.
Greta winked at the children. "It's a wonder I can cook anything on that ancient stove! It's a wood-burning one!" She shook her head. Soo Lee looked up at Greta. She'd never seen such a tall woman. Thick braids on top of her head made her look even taller.
"You really do love this inn, don't you, Mr. Winston?" Henry asked.
"I sure do. But I'm getting too old to handle it. I'm going to have to retire soon," Ralph Winston said, with an air of regret.
Benny hoped the kitchen was the last room on the tour. He wanted to explore on his own. Ralph, however, held up his hand and said in a low tone, "I have one more place to show you. It's a mysterious nook and has quite a history."
"What is it?" Benny asked in an eager voice.
Ralph, a finger to his lips, hobbled quietly out of the kitchen toward the back stairs. There he stopped.
Puzzled, Benny stared at the brick wall beneath the stairs. "Is this it?" he asked in a disappointed voice.
Ralph Winston chuckled. "That's right, James." And with his cane he pressed against a brick. Slowly, a door opened.
"Wow! A hidden door!" Henry said, peering into the darkness.
"There's no light here, but I've hung a lantern inside." Ralph struck a match and lit the wick, revealing a tiny room.
Jessie edged forward. "A secret room," she marveled, gazing about. She couldn't stand upright because of the slanting stairway overhead.
"What is it for?" Violet questioned, ducking her head and looking inside.
Ralph answered, "During the Revolutionary War, when we fought the British for our freedom, Mr. Whitley, the owner of Snowflake Inn hid Colonial spies in this very nook."
"Wow," Benny said.
"Yessirree," Ralph went on. "He hid Americans who were sneaking secret messages through British lines. The coded messages told the Colonial forces about British troop movements and the size of their regiments. Sometimes, though, these spies were betrayed and had to flee from the Redcoats. If they had been caught, they would have been shot as traitors."
"Redcoats?" Soo Lee asked.
"The British were nicknamed 'Redcoats,'" Henry explained, "because their uniforms had bright red jackets."
"Was George Washington in the war?" Soo Lee asked, her small oval face, framed by short black hair, tilted to one side.
"He was the leading general for the Americans," Violet replied.
Benny stepped inside the tiny niche. "This is a neat hiding place," he said.
Ralph, pleased with himself, smiled. "I thought you might like it. Someday I'll tell you the story of Madge Carson and her daughter." He nodded. "Her daughter, Penelope, was just about your age, Benny."
"Was Madge a spy?" Benny asked, coming out in the open.
"She was one of the best," Ralph responded, "but I'll save that tale for a snowy day. Right now, Greta is serving cake in the dining room." He pressed a brick, and the door swung shut.
Just then, a young woman, dressed in jeans and a jacket, hurried past them.
"Betsy!" Ralph said, "I want you to meet our new guests."
Impatiently, the woman pulled on her gloves. "I'm Betsy Calvert," she said.
"My niece," Ralph said, introducing the Aldens and Soo Lee. "Isn't Betsy a perfect name for someone staying in this old inn?"
"Betsy?" Soo Lee asked.
"Betsy Ross," Ralph said. "She sewed the first American flag."
"Oh, I see," Soo Lee replied. "Thank you."
"I'm pleased to meet you," Betsy said with a frown. She turned to her uncle. "Uncle Ralph, the window in my room is stuck. I can't budge it up or down."
"I'll fix it," Ralph said.
Benny wrinkled his nose, sniffing. He leaned toward Betsy. "You smell good!" he announced.
Violet caught the jasmine scent also, but it was too sweet for her taste.
Betsy stopped and stared at Benny. When she spoke, she said stiffly, "Thank you." Then she brushed by him, and was gone.
Ralph has a very unfriendly niece, thought Jessie. She hoped they wouldn't run into Betsy often.
No sooner had Betsy left when the back door burst open and a boy and girl about Violet's age dashed through the kitchen and rudely past them.
"That's Davey and Hannah Miller," Ralph said after they'd gone. "They've only been here two days and all they do is complain, or get into trouble. They can't find anything to do, except make mischief, and they want to go home." He smiled at the children. "Maybe now that you've arrived, you can cheer them up."
Violet had her doubts. Poor Mr. Winston. His niece was unfriendly, his son angry and argumentative, and two of his guests wanted to leave. She glanced at Henry. Was he thinking what she was? With some people, no matter how hard you tried, nothing made them happy.CHAPTER 3
Almost a Sleigh Ride
Before their first dinner at Snowflake Inn, Violet dressed with care, in a striped lavender shirt and purple pants.
"I see you're wearing your favorite colors," Jessie said, as she brushed her long brown hair until it shone.
Violet nodded. "What's your favorite color, Soo Lee?"
"Red," the girl answered instantly.
"Then I think you should have something red," Jessie said, taking a crimson ribbon and tying a bow in Soo Lee's hair.
Pleased, Soo Lee studied herself in the mirror. "Thank you, Jessie."
"We'd better go downstairs," Violet said. "We don't want to be late for dinner."
Mr. Alden met his grandchildren at the head of the stairs and nodded approvingly at their appearance. Benny had slicked back his hair and Henry wore a navy sweater and tan trousers.
Grandfather looked pleased as they entered the dining room.
A pewter tea service, crystal goblets, tall candles, and a blazing fire in the fireplace made the blue room gleam in the soft light.
Larry Winston and Betsy Calvert were seated side by side, and a couple with their two children sat together.
Ralph Winston made certain everyone knew each other. Steven and Rose Miller were the parents of Davey, eight, and Hannah, ten. Henry remembered the Millers' son and daughter by their red hair, which he'd seen earlier. The two had inherited their hair color from Mr. Miller who had an orange fringe around his bald head.
Jessie smiled at the Miller children, and hoped they'd join in the fun at the inn. But by their angry expressions, she wasn't sure they'd want to.
Mr. Winston rang a small silver bell, and Greta entered with a covered bowl.
With a flourish the cook lifted off the lid. "Beef stew!" she crowed. "The meat finally got done. No thanks to that old stove!"
"It smells delicious," Violet said, placing her napkin in her lap.
"And looks yummy," Benny added, rubbing his stomach. "I'm hungry!"
"When aren't you hungry?" Henry said with a chuckle.
Soo Lee passed a platter to Betsy. "Would you like some carrots, Betsy Ross?" she asked.
Davey's freckled face broke into a wide grin, and Hannah stifled a giggle.
"It's not Betsy Ross!" Betsy corrected irritably. "It's Betsy Calvert!"
"I'm sorry," Soo Lee apologized. Her lower lip trembled.
"It's all right," Jessie said. "Look, here are some pickled apples." She put one on Soo Lee's plate. "You'll like them."
Soo Lee returned her smile. Jessie made everything all right again.
Mr. Miller put down his fork and said in a cheerful voice, "Tomorrow you'll have a good time, Davey. Do you know the surprise that's planned?"
Davey shrugged. "I don't care. I just wish we weren't here!"
Rose Miller put on a smile. "Wouldn't you like to ride in a horse-drawn sleigh?"
Davey shrugged. "I guess so."
Hannah played with her potatoes. "Maybe a sleigh ride would be okay, but it's just so boring here."
"You can say that again!" Davey said. "Why couldn't we have gone to an amusement park instead?"
"We thought you'd like an old-fashioned holiday," her mother said.
"Snowflake Inn is such an historic place!" Steven Miller said. "Isn't it exciting that George Washington stayed here?"
Unimpressed, Davey took a deep breath, gazing at the ceiling.
"I think a sleigh ride will be fun," Benny piped up. "We can sing as we go."
Throwing down his napkin, Davey said, "I'm going to my room."
Rose bit her lip. "All right, dear, but don't you want a piece of Greta's chocolate cake?"
"No," Davey said, standing.
It was too bad Davey was so unhappy, Violet thought. She wondered how they could cheer him up. She wished Hannah would be her friend. She was just her age. But how could you make friends with someone so grouchy?
When dinner was finished, Ralph Winston challenged Grandfather to a chess game.
Excerpted from The Mystery at Snowflake Inn by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1994 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Gertrude Chandler Warner (1890–1979) was an American author of children’s books, most notably the nineteen original titles in the Boxcar Children Mysteries series. Warner was raised in Putnam, Connecticut, across the street from a railroad station, which later inspired her to write about children living in a boxcar. In 1918, she began what would become a thirty-two-year career teaching first and third grade at the Israel Putnam School. She died in Putnam on August 30, 1979, when she was eighty-nine years old. But the Boxcar Children live on: To this day, talented authors contribute new stories to the series, which now includes over one hundred twenty books.
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She ran in, paused, and scented squirrel. She tracked the squirrel until she was a few feet off. Then she pounced and killed the squirrel.