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The Mystery Cruise
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The West Wind
On the plane, Benny Alden, for the tenth time, looked through the brochure filled with pictures of the West Wind. They were really on their way to the cruise ship waiting for them in Miami. All the Aldens were going to sail to the Caribbean Sea.
Benny tugged at his sister's sleeve, pointing to a picture of a pool. "Look at this, Jessie. We can go swimming every day." He flipped over the page. "And we can play volleyball, too."
Jessie smiled. "Yes, and we can play badminton and basketball and all kinds of games, Benny. You'll see."
Yawning, she stretched. They had awakened very early to travel from Greenfield, Massachusetts, to Boston. There they had caught a plane going to Miami, Florida.
At last they were ready to land. Jessie was sure her heart was beating just as fast as Benny's. But he had an excuse. He was only six. Being twelve, Jessie thought she should act more grown up. But today she didn't care. She felt like jumping up and down.
She glanced at her sister and brother across the aisle, but ten-year-old Violet and fourteen-year-old Henry had their eyes glued to the window. She knew they were excited, too.
The pilot's voice came over the intercom, interrupting her thoughts. "Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be landing at the Miami airport in fifteen minutes. Please fasten your seat belts."
Fascinated, Benny stared down at the tall white buildings lining the coast and the ships dotting the harbor. "I wonder which ship is ours," he said.
Grandfather, sitting in front of Benny, turned around. "The West Wind will be waiting for us at the wharf, Benny."
Benny bounced up and down. "I wish we were on board right now! This is going to be the best trip you've ever taken us on, Grandfather."
"I think so, too," Violet added.
James Alden chuckled. His grandchildren always appreciated whatever he did for them. It was a pleasure to take them places. And a cruise would be a most enjoyable vacation for him, too.
Contentedly, Mr. Alden leaned back in his seat. How fortunate he was to have found his four grandchildren. To think they'd once hidden from him in an old boxcar, believing he was a mean old man. When they came to live with him, though, it wasn't long before they loved and trusted him.
The plane dropped, and Benny squeezed his eyes shut, anticipating the cruise. Would there be a mystery on board the ship? It seemed that wherever they went something mysterious happened.
When the plane had landed and taxied to a stop, the Aldens walked down the steps. In the distance a small bus with the words "American Cruise Lines" on it was waiting for them.
After boarding the bus, Violet sat next to Jessie. Suddenly her hand flew to her cheek. "Oh, I think I forgot to pack my sneakers."
Jessie shook her head. "No, Violet. I saw you put them in your bag."
Violet sighed with relief. "Good. I know I packed my best dress, shorts, pants, two bathing suits, and four tops."
"That's plenty," Jessie replied. "There's a laundry room on board, so we can do at least one washing."
The bus rumbled down to the docks and stopped with a jerk. "Here we are, folks," the driver said, opening the door. "All out for a cruise of a lifetime."
Benny leaped up and hurried down the aisle. "Thanks for the ride, mister."
Once outside, he stopped dead still, his mouth dropping open. "The West Wind is beautiful!" He bent his head back to look up at the huge ship, his eyes scanning the gleaming white hull from stem to stern. A red smokestack loomed above the three main decks, and toward the bow the American flag fluttered smartly in the breeze. People on board leaned over the railing and waved. Enthusiastically, Benny waved back.
Henry stood beside Benny, his hand resting lightly on his brother's shoulder. "Isn't it something, Benny? We're going to have a great time!"
"You said it!" Benny answered.
A man in a white uniform smiled at them and motioned them to come aboard.
Grandfather went first, followed by Jessie, Henry, Benny, and Violet.
"Do you have a table reserved for dinner?" the man asked.
"Yes, our travel agent arranged for a table for six. I suppose one more guest will be seated with us," Grandfather said, "in order to fill the table."
"I see," the man said. "Then the steward will show you to your cabins."
Another young man in a uniform greeted them. "Follow me," he said politely. "A fire drill is scheduled at eleven. Please don't forget."
He led them to their cabins. Violet and Jessie were pleased at their large cabin with twin beds, a dressing table, and a small bathroom. Henry and Benny's cabin had bunk beds while Grandfather had a single cabin only a few doors away.
Benny ran to the ladder and climbed to the top bed. "Can I have the top bunk, Henry?" he asked, plumping up the pillow.
"That's fine by me," Henry answered, opening the closet and hanging up his new navy blazer.
After unpacking, the children met outside on the deck. Their cabins were on B deck.
Benny looked about at the deck chairs, the shiny floors, and the portholes of the staterooms. "Wow! It's so big," he said. "I wish I'd brought my roller skates."
Henry laughed. "And what if a wind tilted the ship? You'd go sliding right off the deck into the ocean."
"Not me!" Benny protested. "I'm a good skater. I'd be able to stay on my feet."
"Come on," Henry urged. "Let's look around. The ship sails at ten o'clock and it's nine o'clock now."
"We have an hour to explore the ship," Jessie said, walking over to the stairs.
They went up to A deck and were amazed at how many shops there were.
"Need a haircut, Benny?" Henry asked, pointing to a barber shop.
"No way. I don't want to waste a minute." Benny touched his hair. "I look fine," he pronounced.
They laughed, going past a beauty shop, a jewelry store, a drug store, a perfume shop, and a theater. They went down to C Deck where a gym was located. A nearby room contained the latest exercise equipment.
Back to B Deck, close to their rooms, they explored the laundry room, the game room, and the library. They didn't have time to go up to the sun deck to see the swimming pool, for a large blast from the ship's horn warned them that it was almost sailing time.
They hurried to meet Grandfather at the railing. Passengers were waving and shouting to friends below.
Red, white, and blue streamers and confetti floated in the air. A Dixieland band, playing a lively tune, was on the deck in back of them. There was a mighty horn blast and the ship moved slowly away from the wharf.
Benny danced a few steps in time to the music, then came back to the railing to wave and yell, "Good-bye, everybody!"
The white buildings on shore slowly receded into the distance.
Jessie squeezed Violet's hand. "Isn't this beautiful?"
"Yes, oh, yes," Violet answered.
The Aldens stood on the deck until Miami was only a dot.
Grandfather tapped Benny on the shoulder. "How about a glass of milk and a pastry?"
Benny nodded, always ready to eat. He went over to a long table with doughnuts, sweet rolls, fresh fruit, and beverages. He helped himself to a chocolate doughnut and milk. Jessie, Violet, and Henry had a snack, too, even though they'd had a small breakfast on the plane. But that seemed like days ago instead of just hours.
"I found out who will be at the table in the dining room with us," Grandfather said, sipping a cup of steaming coffee.
"Who?" Jessie asked, giving a waiter her empty plate and glass. "I hope he's nice."
"Where is he?" Benny asked, finishing his milk.
"He's over there," Grandfather said, with a nod of his head. "I've already talked to him. His name is Max Greene and he seems like a nice fellow. Would you like to meet him?"
"Could we?" Violet asked.
Henry looked at the man leaning over the rail. He had a black beard and wore a cap to shade his eyes.
"Max," Grandfather said, moving to his side. "I'd like you to meet my grandchildren — Violet, Benny, Henry, and Jessie." He tapped each one on the shoulder as he said their names. "Children, this is Mr. Greene."
"Please," Max said with a soft chuckle, "call me Max. And," he added in a gentle voice, "I'm delighted to have such fine dinner companions."
Violet liked Max. He seemed a little shy, just like herself.
"Happy to meet you, Max," Benny piped up, shaking his hand. He thought Max looked handsome in his white pants and shirt, but what he liked best about him were his bright blue eyes.
Suddenly, three whistles blew, signaling it was time for the fire drill. Grandfather and the children hurried to their cabins, and from the closet shelves pulled down bright orange life jackets. Then they all reported to A Deck.
When the passengers were lined up, they were divided into small groups, and a sailor instructed each group on how to put on their bulky life jackets.
Henry helped Benny tie the cord. Jessie laughed. "You look like a small orange pumpkin, Benny," she teased.
Benny grinned. "And you look like a big orange pumpkin, Jessie."
The sailor blew a whistle for quiet. He motioned with his hand, and a lifeboat was lowered mechanically. It seated seventy-five passengers, but there were many other lifeboats for all the eight hundred passengers. In a real emergency, everyone would get into a boat and row away.
After the drill the children returned to their cabins and slipped into their swimsuits.
The children didn't see Max until dinnertime, for after lunch they spent the day at the swimming pool and then each chose a book from the library.
Grandfather had decided on the early sitting for dinner. Passengers could eat dinner at either 6:45 or 8:30.
The huge dining room gleamed with white linen, crystal chandeliers, fine china, and candlelight. The Aldens were led to table number thirty-eight.
Max stood up when he saw them. "Hello," he said. "Did you have a pleasant day?"
"You bet!" Benny said. "We swam and ate hamburgers by the pool. This afternoon we went to the library and got some books." He stopped to catch his breath. "What did you do?"
Max's thick eyebrows lifted, and he smiled. "Well, I strolled about the deck, played some shuffleboard on the forward deck, and talked to an elderly gentleman about World War Two. You see, I'm a history professor at Newton College."
All at once a waiter appeared, handing each a menu. "I'm your waiter, Ramos," he said.
"Hi, Ramos," Benny said. The menu was so big it slipped from his fingers. Ramos was quick to retrieve it.
"Shall I order for you?" Grandfather asked, a twinkle in his eyes. The menu listed many appetizers, entrees, salads, and desserts. It was hard to know just what to order.
But soon decisions were made, and when Ramos brought the dinners they looked and smelled delicious.
All the Aldens had ordered the same meal. They had cold cucumber soup, thick roast beef, buttered potatoes, peas, and a tossed salad.
Max wanted the same meal, but he also ordered horseradish sauce. "Roast beef with horseradish sauce always reminds me of my great-aunt Edith," he said. "She loves horseradish and used to grow it in her garden. It was so strong I could hardly stand to take a bite."
"Can I try yours?" Benny asked. "I've never eaten horseradish sauce."
"Sure," Max said. "But just take a little bit."
Benny swallowed a small spoonful. His eyes grew big and he grabbed a glass of water.
"Wow!" he said. "That's the hottest stuff I ever ate!"
"Do horses eat horseradish?" Benny wanted to know.
"Hmmm," Max said. "That's a good question."
Just then Ramos brought chocolate sundaes for dessert. When he had given everyone a sundae, he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and gave it to Max.
Henry saw that it was a telegram.
After reading it, Max's face paled, and he pushed his dinner aside. He excused himself and left.
What could have upset Max so much that he couldn't eat his dessert? Jessie wondered. They were having such a good time until the telegram came. What was wrong?CHAPTER 2
On Monday morning Violet awakened early. She hadn't slept well. It was her first night ever on a ship and she kept thinking of the deep water below her. What hid in those dark waters? Sharks? Old shipwrecks?
Jessie, sitting at the dressing table, brushed her long brown hair. She wore a white T-shirt and red shorts. She put down her brush and half turned. "Good morning, Violet. Are you finally getting up?"
Violet nodded. "I didn't sleep too well." Quickly she jumped out of bed. "But I feel okay now." From the chest of drawers she took out a pair of jeans and a top. "I'll only be a jiffy in the shower."
Jessie waved a piece of paper. "Here's a list of today's activities. It was under the door when I got up. At ten o'clock there's a tour of the ship."
"That sounds like fun," Violet said.
It wasn't long before the girls joined Henry and Benny for breakfast. Grandfather had eaten earlier and was skipping the tour to play chess with Max.
The children went through the cafeteria line. Benny's eyes grew big at the mountain of fruit, the mounds of fresh pastry, cereals, eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, and fruit juices.
Benny's plate was piled high, but he ate every single bite.
After breakfast they hurried to join the tour. They went from deck to deck with the group.
"This is the kitchen," the tour guide said, moving into a huge room.
Henry gazed about the gigantic room. Lining the walls on one side were huge refrigerators with glass doors so you could see the food inside. On the other side of the kitchen were row after row of stoves.
Benny stood before a refrigerator staring at the luscious desserts.
"Would you like a taste?" a voice behind him asked.
Benny jumped but immediately answered, "Yes!"
A short plump man chuckled and came forward to open a refrigerator door. He pulled out a strawberry tart and handed it to Benny.
"Thanks!" Benny said, taking a bite.
"I'm Isaac," the chef said, adjusting his tall white hat.
"I'm Benny Alden, and over there are my brother and two sisters. This is certainly a big kitchen. I think I'd like to be a cook. I like to eat!"
"Well, Benny," Isaac said, smiling, "you can come to the kitchen again." He put his finger to his lips. "This is our secret. Every time you come I'll give you a treat."
"Oh, I wouldn't take it unless I could help you," Benny said.
Isaac winked. "You would be a grand helper, I'm sure. And so would your brother and sisters." Isaac's white apron almost touched the floor as he reached for a bowl of blueberries.
"I'll be back," Benny promised.
"This way," the guide said.
They climbed the stairs to the navigation deck, which jutted above the sun deck. It was glass on all sides. The officer set Benny on a high stool where he could see for miles. Jessie studied the complicated instrument panel and the elaborate compass. Then they visited the engine room and radio room. After the tour they returned to B deck to play shuffleboard.
Grandfather, seated in a deck chair, put down his book. "Hello, children. How was the tour?"
Surprised, Violet turned around. "Fine, Grandfather," she said. "But I thought you and Max were playing chess."
"We were." Grandfather's face grew grave. "But Max suddenly said he didn't feel well and he left." He shook his head. "I'm afraid something is wrong, but Max won't talk about it."
Benny took the shuffleboard stick that Jessie handed him. "Why don't we just ask him?" he questioned, shoving the disk toward number ten, but it fell short of its goal.
Grandfather smiled. "Maybe he'll tell us when he's ready, Benny. We don't want to pry."
Benny thought this over. "No, I wouldn't want to do that."
After Henry won the game, the children ate lunch, then went out on deck. As they were leaning over the railing looking at the blue, shimmering sea, they heard someone on the ship-to-shore telephone.
"That's the radio room," Henry said, pointing at an open porthole.
"That's Max's voice," Violet whispered. The children couldn't help overhearing his words.
"Well," Max said, "I will, but only because you think I should. Yes, I'll do everything you told me." A few more words and he hung up.
Henry put his hands on his hips. "What do you make of that?"
Puzzled, Jessie wrinkled her forehead. "It sounds like he's doing something he really doesn't want to do."
"Who would make him do something he doesn't want to?" Violet questioned.
Henry looked at Violet and shook his head.
Excerpted from The Mystery Cruise by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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