Read an Excerpt
The Mystery at the Fair
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Grandfather's Birthday Present
"Look at that!" Violet Alden said as she pointed to a beautiful book on the shelf of the Greenfield Bookshop. The shelf was high above her head. "I'll bet Grandfather would love to have that book for his birthday. I want to look at it more closely, but I can't reach it."
Jessie, who was twelve and a little taller than her ten-year-old sister, tried to take the book down for a closer look.
"I can't reach it either," Jessie said.
"Maybe Henry can," Violet suggested. "He's pretty tall for a fourteen-year-old."
"Henry, can you help us?" Jessie said. "I think Violet's found the perfect birthday gift for Grandfather."
"Where is it?" Henry asked.
"It's that book up there about the history of Greenfield," Violet said, pointing to the shelf. "You know how much Grandfather loves to collect old books. Will you get it down for us?"
"Sure," Henry said. He stretched as far as he could but the book was still out of reach.
"I can help," said Benny, their six-year-old brother.
"I'm afraid you're not tall enough yet," Jessie said, smiling down at her little brother.
"I'm tall enough if Henry picks me up," Benny said.
"That's a great idea," Violet said.
Henry picked up Benny. Benny grabbed the leather-bound book and handed it to Jessie.
"See," Benny said happily. "I told you I could help."
"Let me see the book, Jessie," Violet said. The children gathered around Violet as she turned page after page of the beautiful book.
"You're right, Violet," Henry said. "Out of all the things we've looked at in Greenfield, this is the perfect present."
"I know Grandfather will love this book," Jessie said. "He'll be so surprised."
Grandfather Alden's birthday was on Sunday, just a few days away. The children had been shopping all morning hoping to find the right gift for their wonderful grandfather.
"How much does it cost, Violet?" Henry asked.
"I'm not sure," Violet said. "There's no price tag on it."
"Let's ask Mr. Owens," Benny said. The children took the book to the counter. Mr. Owens, the owner of the Greenfield Bookshop, greeted them with a smile.
"Well, children," Mr. Owens said. "Have you finished your shopping?"
"Yes!" Benny said. "We want to buy The History of Greenfield for our grandfather. It's a birthday present."
Mr. Owens took the book and looked at it closely.
"That's the same book your grandfather was admiring the other day. He was in a hurry and said he'd be back to buy it later."
"Really?" Violet said. "Then we must buy it for him and surprise him."
"We couldn't find a price tag," Henry said. "Can you tell us how much it costs?"
"This book costs $50," Mr. Owens said.
"That's a lot of money," Benny said.
"Yes," Mr. Owens said. "But this book is leather and very old."
"It is beautiful," Jessie agreed. "But it costs more money than we have right now."
"Well," Mr. Owens said. "I can hold this book for you until Saturday. Maybe you'll have more money by then."
"That would be wonderful," Henry said. "I know we can think of a way to earn some extra money by then."
"I'm sure we can if we try hard enough," Jessie said.
"Thank you, Mr. Owens," Violet said. "We'll be back on Saturday."
The children left the bookshop and started to walk home. They tried to think of ways they could earn the money they needed to buy Grandfather's birthday present.
"Maybe I can cut grass or work in a garden the way I did when we lived in the boxcar," Henry said.
"That's a good idea, Henry," Jessie said.
After their parents died, the four Alden children lived in an old abandoned boxcar in the woods. They knew their grandfather was looking for them, but they thought he was mean. But when their grandfather found them, the children realized how kind he was. Now the Boxcar Children lived in their Grandfather's lovely old house in Greenfield. Mr. Alden had even moved their boxcar home into his backyard as a surprise.
"I'm hungry," Benny said. "I think better when my stomach is full."
"That's true," Violet said, laughing. "It is almost lunchtime."
"I'll race you to that lamppost in front of our house, Benny," Henry said. "The faster we run, the sooner you can eat lunch."
"Okay," Benny said. He raced down the street. His brother and sisters ran after him.
"I beat all of you," Benny said as he swung around the light pole in front of their house.
"Yes, you did," Violet said. "There's nothing like thinking about lunch to make you move quickly."
The children all laughed. Benny was always ready to eat.
"Look at this," Violet said, pointing to a sign on the lamppost.
COME ONE AND ALL TO THE
GREENFIELD COUNTY FAIR!
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY!
RIDES! RIDES! RIDES!
GREAT EVENTS FOR ADULTS
$25 CASH PRIZES FOR THE BEST
FILL OUT THE FORM BELOW
TO ENTER. ALL ENTRIES MUST
BE ACCOMPANIED BY AN
"Maybe we can make something to enter in the fair," Henry said. "If we win, we can use the money to buy Grandfather's birthday present."
"That's a wonderful idea," Jessie said.
Violet looked at the brightly colored poster and began to smile. "I know what I am going to do! I'll paint a picture."
"Mrs. McGregor helped Benny and me make a blueberry pie once," Henry said. "Maybe we could bake another one and enter it in the fair."
"That's a good idea," Jessie said. "The blueberries are ripe now. We could pick some this afternoon after lunch."
"Why don't we take a picnic lunch with us and go to the blueberry patch now," Violet said. "The sooner we get started the better."
"Maybe I can make something to enter in the contest, too," Jessie said. "Surely one of us will win something."
Henry began tearing off entry blanks. One for Violet, one for Jessie, and one for himself and Benny.
A slender man, who was wearing a baseball cap, crossed the street and quickly approached the children.
"Hello," the man said. "Are you children going to use those forms or are you just playing around?"
"We're going to enter the fair competition," Henry said.
"We're hoping that we win so we can buy a birthday present for our grandfather," Jessie explained.
"Winning that money won't be easy," the man said. "I can tell you that for a fact."
"Well, we can try," Violet said. "As long as we try we have a chance of winning."
"Maybe," said the man. "If you're very, very lucky. What are your names and what kinds of projects were you going to enter?"
"Well," Jessie said a little uneasily, "my name is Jessie Alden. I'm entering the crafts competition. This is my sister, Violet. She's entering some artwork." Why was this man asking so many questions?
"Henry and I are going to bake a blueberry pie," Benny said. "My name is Benny. What's yours?"
"I've got to go now," the man said quickly. "See you later." He crossed the street and hurried away.
"How mysterious," Jessie said. "I wonder why he was so interested in our fair projects?"
"Did you notice that he didn't answer when Benny asked him his name?" Henry said.
"Maybe he's a little shy," said Violet. She was also shy about meeting new people. "Or maybe he was just in a hurry."
"I'm in a hurry, too," Benny said as he tugged on Henry's arm. "I'm ready to eat lunch."
"So am I," Violet said. "Let's go inside."CHAPTER 2
"Well, now," Mr. Alden said with a chuckle when the children entered the house. "My early birds have returned."
"We had a lot of things to do," Henry said.
"Are you going away on a business trip, Grandfather?" Violet said when she saw his garment bag.
"Yes," Mr. Alden said. "But only for a few days. I have a meeting to attend in New York."
"Will you be away on your birthday?" Henry asked.
"No," Mr. Alden said. "I'll be back by noon on Sunday. I'd almost forgotten that's my birthday."
"We didn't forget," Benny said.
Mr. Alden's eyes twinkled as he looked from one grandchild to the next. He knew they were up to something.
"Let's go eat lunch now," Jessie said quickly. She didn't want Benny to accidentally tell their Grandfather about the surprise party they were planning.
"Good idea," Violet said. "I think I smell cookies."
"Cookies!" Benny said. "See you later, Grandfather. Have a nice trip." He began to run down the hall that led to the kitchen.
"You children better hurry," Grandfather said, laughing. "Or there won't be anything left. Take care and I'll see you all Sunday afternoon."
The children said goodbye to their grandfather. Then they quickly ran down the hall after Benny. The delicious smell of freshly baked cookies greeted them as they entered the kitchen.
"There you are," Mrs. McGregor, the Alden's housekeeper, said with a smile. "I've just finished taking the last pan of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven."
"I love chocolate chip cookies," Benny said as he helped Mrs. McGregor remove the cookies from the pan. He picked one up, but before he could eat it, Jessie stopped him.
"You can have some cookies after you eat your lunch," Jessie said. "May we pack a picnic lunch, Mrs. McGregor? We're going to pick blueberries."
"Of course," Mrs. McGregor said. "It's a lovely day for a picnic. I've already made some sandwiches for you."
"Two sandwiches for me please," Benny said. "Let's pack some doggie biscuits for Watch, too. He'll want to come with us."
"Good idea," Mrs. McGregor said.
With everyone helping, it didn't take long to pack the picnic basket. Benny whistled for Watch, and the dog ran happily ahead of the children as they walked down the road to the woods. The older children took turns carrying the picnic basket. Benny carried the blueberry buckets.
"Let's sit under that tree," Jessie suggested. "It will be nice and cool there."
"I don't care where we eat as long as we eat soon," Benny said.
"Help me spread this blanket and then we'll eat," Henry said.
The two boys spread the blanket. Before they could unpack their lunch, the children heard a strange sound.
"What was that?" Jessie asked.
Watch leapt to his feet and began to bark. Then he ran into the woods. Henry chased after him.
"Wait, Henry," Jessie called out. "We'll all go with you."
"This reminds me of the time we heard that strange noise in the woods near our boxcar," Violet said as they hurried after Henry.
"Violet! Jessie! Over here," Henry called.
They found Henry talking with a girl about Jessie's age. She was wearing a purple top and matching shorts. She looked very worried and there were tears in her eyes.
"This is Courtney Jenkins," Henry said. "Courtney, I want you to meet my sisters, Jessie and Violet, and my little brother, Benny."
"Hello," Courtney said softly. She wiped the tears away from her smooth brown cheeks and tried to smile.
"Hi," Benny said.
"Nice meeting you," Violet said.
"Hello, there," Jessie said. "What's wrong, Courtney?"
"My brother Michael is lost somewhere in these woods," Courtney said. "We moved into a house on Murray Street a few days ago. Today, we decided to do a little exploring. Michael wandered off while I was picking some flowers."
"Don't worry," Violet said. "We'll help you find him."
The children began searching for Michael. They'd only been looking for a short time when they heard Benny calling them.
"Here he is!" Benny said excitedly. "I found him!"
A small boy sat in the center of a large patch of blueberries. His hands and mouth were full of the ripe fruit.
"Michael," Courtney said. "Why didn't you answer me? I've been calling you for more than an hour!"
The little boy slowly chewed and swallowed the mouthful of berries.
"I heard you, Courtney," Michael said. "But every time you called me my mouth was full. You told me don't ever talk with food in your mouth!"
The children all laughed. Courtney pulled her brother to his feet. She wiped a blue smudge off his small brown chin.
"I guess I can't be too mad at you," Courtney said. "These blueberries do look delicious."
"They sure do," Benny said, "but I'm just not hungry anymore."
"You're not?" cried Violet.
"No," Benny said. "Now I'm starving!"CHAPTER 3
Henry brought the picnic basket over to where Benny had found Michael. The girls spread the blanket near a tree. The Aldens shared their delicious lunch with Courtney and Michael.
"It's a good thing we packed some extra goodies for lunch," Jessie said as she watched Benny and Michael divide the last few chocolate chip cookies.
"This is the first time I've ever met anyone who loves to eat as much as Michael does," Courtney said, smiling.
"It looks like Benny's found a friend in more ways than one," Violet said.
After they finished eating, the children began to pick the blueberries.
"These blueberries are going to make a prize-winning pie for the county fair," Henry said.
"What fair?" Courtney asked.
"Every year, Greenfield has a county fair," Jessie explained. "This year they have a $25 cash prize for the best baked goods, the best art project, and the best craft project."
"Henry and I are going to bake a blueberry pie," Benny told Michael.
"I want to help," Michael said. "Blueberry pie with ice cream on top tastes good."
"This pie is for the fair contest, Michael," Henry said.
"That's okay," Michael said. "We can make two pies. One for the fair and one for us."
"That's a great idea," said Benny.
"Well, then," Jessie said. "If you're going to make two pies, you and Benny will have to stop eating the blueberries as fast as we put them in the bucket!"
"Let's have a blueberry picking race," Violet suggested.
"Yes," Henry said. "Let's see who fills their bucket first."
"Ready, set, go!" Courtney said.
The children began to pick the berries as fast as they could. Soon their buckets were filled with the sweet fruit.
"We won! We won!" Michael and Benny said, holding up their bucket.
"There's nothing like teamwork," Henry said. "Now we have plenty of blueberries to make into a pie!"
"Two pies!" Michael and Benny said together.
"I think I'd like to enter something in the fair, too," Courtney said.
"We can show you where the entry forms are," Violet said. "The poster is on a lamppost near our house. Your new house on Murray Street is only three blocks away from where we live. You can walk home with us."
As they headed home, the girls tried to decide what they would make to enter in the fair.
"I love to make jewelry," Jessie said. "Maybe I can make something that will win a prize."
"I love making jewelry, too," Courtney said, smiling at her new friend.
"I think I'm going to paint a picture," Violet said.
"Let me guess," Henry said. "I'll bet you're going to paint a picture of some violets."
"Yes," Violet said, laughing. "But there will be some other pretty flowers in the picture, too."
The children continued to walk and talk until suddenly Henry stopped.
"Look!" Henry said, pointing to the lamppost where the entry forms had been. "Someone's torn up the poster!"
The children gathered around the post. Scraps of paper littered the ground.
"Who would do something like this?" Henry said as he picked up the bits of paper.
"I'll bet it was the man in the baseball cap," Benny said.
"What man?" Courtney asked.
"There was a man who was here earlier," Jessie explained. "He was asking us a lot of questions about our entries."
"But why would he tear up all the entry forms?" Michael asked. "That's mean."
"It's a mystery to me," Henry said. He looked at his sister and grinned.
"We love mysteries," Jessie explained to Courtney.
"Well, this looks like a good one," Courtney said. "I really want to enter that craft contest. I wonder where I can get another entry form?"
"We can make something together," Jessie suggested. "That way we can use the same form."
"Thank you," Courtney said. "If we work together it won't take very long to make something."
"And working together makes the project more fun," Jessie said. "Why don't you come over tomorrow morning so we can get started."
"That will be fine," Courtney said. "See you then."
"We can bake our pies tomorrow, too," Benny said.
"Yes," Michael said. "One for the contest and one to eat."
"I can hardly wait until tomorrow," Benny said as he waved good-bye to their new neighbors. "I love blueberry pie."
The next morning, Violet and Jessie got up early and went out to the boxcar. They had just opened the boxes that held their art supplies when they heard someone calling their names.
"Jessie! Violet!" Courtney called out. "Where are you?"
"We're in the boxcar," Violet said.
"Here we are, Courtney," Jessie said, waving to her new friend from the doorway. "Where's Michael?"
"He's in the kitchen with Henry and Benny," Courtney replied. "Mrs. McGregor is showing them how to make pie crust."
"I can't wait to see how their pies turn out," Violet said.
"I can't wait to taste one," Jessie said.
"You're starting to sound like Michael and Benny," Courtney said as she climbed inside.
Jessie and Violet showed Courtney their boxcar treasures. Courtney smiled when she saw Benny's pink cup with the crack in it.
"This is a great place to play," Courtney said.
"It sure is," Jessie agreed. "We love it out here."
"You're just in time," Violet said. "We're about to get started on our fair projects."
"Good!" Courtney said. "I've bought something special to show you two." She placed a small wooden box on the table. Jessie smiled when she saw what was inside.
"Look at all the beautiful beads," Jessie said as she scooped up a handful.
Excerpted from The Mystery at the Fair by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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