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The Long Trip
"Watch, let go! I have to take these boots with me to Michigan," said sixyear-old Benny as he tugged one end of his red snow boot.
Watch wagged his tail and obediently dropped the boot before scampering down the hallway to Jessie's room. There he began to sniff her open suitcase. "Watch, what are you doing?" said Jessie, laughing. She packed her thick white sweater and gently nudged her dog away.
"I think he wants to go with us," said Violet as she came into Jessie's room carrying her purple ski jacket. Purple was Violet's favorite color, and she liked most of her clothes to be purple or lavender. "Do you think I will need this jacket and my wool coat, too?" Violet asked her older sister.
"No, probably just the jacket and one wool sweater," answered Jessie. "And don't forget your boots. Grandfather says it snows a lot in that part of Michigan."
Jessie, who was twelve years old, sometimes acted like a mother to her ten-year-old sister, Violet, and their two brothers, Henry, age fourteen, and Benny.
The children's parents had died when the children were younger, and Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny now had a home with their grandfather, James Alden, and his housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor. Even so, the Aldens were used to taking care of themselves. Just after their parents died, the children had lived all by themselves in a boxcar in the woods. Now the boxcar had a home, too — in Grandfather's backyard. The children often used the boxcar as a playhouse.
"Jessie, I can't wait to play in all that snow," said Benny as he ran into Jessie's room carrying his pink cup and a wool scarf. "I don't have room for these things in my suitcase. Can you take them?" he asked his sister.
"Sure, Benny," answered Jessie. Benny had had that pink cup ever since his boxcar days. He liked to take it with him wherever he went. Jessie carefully wrapped the scarf around the cup and put it in her suitcase. "Come on, Benny, I'll help you pack."
The next day the four Alden children and their grandfather were going to board a plane bound for Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Grandfather's aunt Sophie had died recently, and Grandfather had inherited her big old house, which he planned to sell. The children were traveling with him to help him clear it out.
"Jessie, did you know that Great-aunt Sophie's house is more than one hundred years old?" Benny asked.
Jessie nodded as she took a pair of roller skates out of Benny's suitcase to make room for his sweaters. "Yes, I know. And it's so big, it even has a ballroom in it."
Benny gulped. "That means we're going to have a lot of rooms to clean," he said.
The next morning, Watch ran around the car as the Aldens loaded all their suitcases into the trunk.
"Oh, Watch, I wish you could come, too," said Benny as he wrapped his arms around his dog's neck.
"He wouldn't like the long plane trip," Grandfather said gently.
Henry nodded. "It's true, Watch. Do you know we have to take two planes? One from Boston to Detroit. Then another from Detroit to Brockton, where Great-aunt Sophie's house is. And you would not even be allowed to ride with us."
Watch licked Henry's hands. Then Benny, Jessie, and Violet all took turns hugging their dog. Only then did Watch follow Mrs. McGregor up the steps to the front door.
"Good-bye," the Aldens called as Grandfather backed the car out of the driveway. "We'll write!" Jessie promised.
"Don't forget to wear your boots," Mrs. McGregor called.
"Boy, airports sure are crowded," said Benny as he followed his family to the waiting area at the gate. All the chairs were taken, so the Aldens went over to the window, where they could see the planes take off and land.
"Look, Benny, we'll probably be on a big jet like that," said Henry. He pointed to the Boeing 737 that was speeding down the runway. "But when we change in Detroit, we'll be on a puddle jumper."
"A what?" asked Benny.
"He means a very small plane that only carries about twenty or thirty people," Jessie explained.
"Oh," said Benny.
"Flight 131 is ready for boarding," an announcer spoke into a microphone.
"That's us. That's our flight." Henry sounded very excited.
* * *
Benny had a seat next to the window right near Grandfather. Violet, Jessie, and Henry were on the other side of the aisle. When the plane was high in the air, the flight attendant announced it would be all right to move around the cabin.
"Thank goodness. I need to stretch my legs," said Jessie.
"When is lunch?" asked Benny as he crossed the aisle to stand by Henry's seat.
Grandfather said, "You may have to be patient, Benny. The flight attendants have a lot of people to serve on this flight."
"Here, Benny, I'll show you where we're going," said Henry as he unfolded one of the many maps he carried in his jacket. "We're flying over these states," he continued as he traced a line with his finger over Massachusetts and New York. "Here is Detroit." Henry pointed to the city in the southern part of Michigan. "From there we'll catch a small plane and fly over the rest of Michigan and Wisconsin."
"We're going to the part of Michigan that looks like a shoe," said Benny.
"Right," said Henry.
Benny sat down and tried to concentrate on the map Henry had given him. But his stomach was rumbling. "Grandfather," he said, poking James Alden in the arm. "Can you tell me again about Great-aunt Sophie and her big house in Michigan?"
"Of course, Benny." Grandfather liked telling the story almost as much as his grandchildren liked hearing it. "When I was a boy about your age, my parents would take me to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan almost every summer. We would always stay with Aunt Sophie in her big house near the lake."
"You mean Lake Superior," said Benny. He noticed that Grandfather had changed part of one of his favorite stories.
"Yes. Lake Superior," said Grandfather. "When my other cousins visited, they would stay in the big house, too. We would try to spend as much time outside as we could: fishing, camping, and visiting the copper mines."
"Copper mines?" Benny interrupted.
"Yes, the Upper Peninsula used to be filled with working copper mines. Most of them have been shut down now."
"Oh." Benny sounded disappointed.
"Anyway," Grandfather continued, "when it rained and we had to stay indoors, we would explore the old house. One summer we found a hidden passageway that connected the library to the attic, and another time we found a secret closet off the kitchen."
"What was in the secret closet?" asked Benny, even though he knew the answer.
"Oh, old snowshoes — and some very old toys that had belonged to my father. We found an old model sailboat and a beautiful rocking horse that my uncle had carved out of wood for his children."
Benny smiled. "I can't wait to explore the old house. I'm sure we'll find something exciting there."
Grandfather chuckled. "You probably will, Benny."
"Grandfather?" asked Violet from across the narrow aisle. "How come you never visited Aunt Sophie's house after you were eighteen?"
"Well," answered Grandfather, "Aunt Sophie started coming down to visit my family more often. And at eighteen, I started college and worked during the summers, so I did not have as much time to make that long trip anymore."
Violet was quiet. She knew how much Grandfather had enjoyed his summers in Michigan.
"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to showing you the Upper Peninsula," Grandfather said as he reached across the aisle to pat Violet on the arm. "There is no place as pretty, except for maybe Greenfield."
"Oh, lunch is here," said Benny happily as the flight attendant put a tray of chicken salad, bread, cheese, and a cookie in front of him.
"Mmm," said Benny.CHAPTER 2
The Old House
Four hours later, the Aldens were in the little plane headed for Brockton's airport. Benny and Jessie could not stop looking out the window. All they could see were pine trees that stretched for miles before ending at the shores of a big blue body of water.
"That must be Lake Superior," said Benny.
Grandfather nodded. He was looking out the window, too, over Benny's shoulder. "It's just the way I remember it. Trees, trees, and more trees," he said, sounding very pleased.
"How come it's not snowing?" asked Benny.
Grandfather chuckled. "Don't worry, Benny. It will. There is usually snow on the ground five months of the year up here — from November to April."
It was late afternoon when Grandfather's rental car pulled into the circular driveway in front of Aunt Sophie's mansion. Sagging steps led up to a wide porch that went all around the mansion. Painted a mustard yellow with white trim, the house had big dormer windows, two towers, eight chimneys, and a big brass knocker on the front door.
"Wow," said Benny, bounding up the steps. "I've never seen a house like this. Can I have one of the tower rooms?"
Grandfather shook his head. "The top floor of the house is rented. When Aunt Sophie grew older, the house became too much for her, so she converted the top floor into apartments."
"Oh," said Benny. "The renters have the tower rooms?"
Grandfather nodded. "But you will have your choice of bedrooms. As I remember, there are at least five on the second floor."
"How many renters are there, Grandfather?" Jessie wanted to know.
"Two. One in each little apartment."
"Nothing about this house looks little," said Henry, shaking his head. "Look at those big trees in back." He pointed to some massive oaks.
Grandfather turned his key in the lock. "Let's go inside now."
The wooden door creaked open. The Aldens walked through a large parlor, then into the biggest living room the children had ever seen. A large crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. Oriental rugs covered the parquet floors. A grand piano stood near the bay window, and scattered around the room were overstuffed armchairs, comfortable couches, and antique tables and chairs.
"Look at that fireplace," said Benny. "It's big enough for me to sit in."
"I would not try that," said a strange voice.
The Aldens whirled around to face a middle-aged, balding man with a mustache and glasses. The man introduced himself to Grandfather. "Hello, I am Professor Francis Schmidt. I live upstairs on the third floor."
"Oh, yes," said Grandfather, shaking the man's hand. "You teach history at the local college. Aunt Sophie told me about you."
The professor nodded a little sadly. "Your aunt was a lovely woman," he said. He turned to look at Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny but did not say anything to them. He looked only at Grandfather when he spoke. "So, how long will you be staying?" he asked.
"Long enough to clean up the house a bit in order to sell it," answered Grandfather.
"I was afraid you might sell this old house, but I don't blame you. It would be a lot to take care of, especially when you don't live here."
"Yes," agreed Grandfather. "I do hate to sell it, though. I have so many fond memories of all the times I spent here as a boy. The house is very much the way I remember it."
The professor chuckled. "Your aunt was not one to change much. In all the years I've been renting, I've never even seen her move a stick of furniture from its usual place."
"No, that was not Aunt Sophie's way," said Grandfather. "She wanted the house to stay the same. After all, it was the house she had lived in most of her life."
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I must go back to grading papers," the professor said. "I have my own entrance to the house, so I will not be disturbing you. I just came in to introduce myself when I heard your voices."
"It was good to meet you," said Grandfather.
The professor turned to look pointedly at Benny. He cleared his throat before speaking. "I often work at home." The professor paused for effect. "So I do hope you children will not be too noisy. I do not wish to be disturbed when I am doing my research. Good day."
With that, the professor turned and walked out of the room. The children could hear his heavy footsteps on the stairs.
Benny frowned. "I am not noisy," he whispered.
Grandfather shrugged. "He probably isn't used to children," he said. "Anyhow, he won't be able to hear much of anything from the third floor. This house has very strong floors and walls. There's no need to whisper. In fact, he probably would not even hear the piano if we started playing." The children laughed.
"Come on. Let's explore some more," said Benny. He forgot how tired he was after the long plane trip. "I want to see the secret closet."
"Yes," said Jessie. "But don't forget, we have to shop for groceries and make the beds so we can sleep here tonight."
"I know," said Benny as he rushed across the room. The others followed him into a long dining room. A table with twelve chairs around it took up most of the room.
"Who are those portraits of?" asked Henry, pointing to the oil paintings of a man and a woman that hung above the long table.
"The Taylors," Grandfather said. "They are distant relatives of ours. In fact, they lived in the house before Aunt Sophie."
"Mrs. Taylor sure is pretty," said Violet. The young woman in the painting sat under a tree on a plaid blanket. She wore a long, white lace dress with a high collar. Her blond hair was tucked under a wide-brimmed straw hat.
"Yes, she was," Grandfather agreed. "She died young, not long after that portrait was painted."
"Oh, how sad," said Violet.
"Let's not think about that," said Henry. "There's a lot more to explore."
Indeed there was. The house had a ballroom, an enormous kitchen with a pantry, a library, and six bedrooms on the second floor.
"Why do all the bedrooms have fireplaces?" Benny wanted to know.
"This house was built in the days before central heating," answered Grandfather. "They needed fireplaces to heat the rooms."
Benny and Henry decided to share a big bedroom with a window seat. Jessie and Violet picked the one with the big four-poster bed in it. Grandfather chose the little bedroom he had slept in as a boy.
The Aldens were very busy. Henry and Benny unloaded the car and brought in all the bags. Jessie and Violet found sheets and towels in the big closet near the kitchen and began to make the beds.
When all the beds were made, Grandfather took his grandchildren out to eat at a local diner. "We can shop for groceries tomorrow," he told Jessie.
"Yes, I'm starving," said Benny as the Aldens all piled into the car. "You know, I didn't have much lunch."
Jessie laughed. "Yes, Benny. I know."
"Look how dark it is," said Violet as Grandfather started the car. She looked at her watch. "It's only six o'clock."
"It gets dark early here in the fall and winter," Grandfather explained. "We're farther north than in Greenfield, so the sun sets earlier."
"Oh," said Violet.
The moon was rising as Grandfather drove down Aunt Sophie's long, winding driveway. None of them noticed the blond girl in the tower window who was watching everything they did.CHAPTER 3
A Nosy Waitress
Violet was the first one awake the next morning. She put on her fuzzy slippers and tiptoed out of the room she shared with Jessie. It was so quiet in the hallway, Violet could hear the floorboards creak. She walked toward the ballroom and stepped inside. As she looked around the large, airy room, she imagined couples from long ago dancing in the night.
"Boo!" someone shouted behind her. Violet jumped.
"I didn't mean to scare you." Benny was laughing. He walked over to Violet in his fuzzy slippers. "Isn't this room huge?"
Violet nodded. "I wonder what it was like to live here when people used this room for dances," said Violet, looking up at the high chandeliers that each held twelve candles. Folding chairs and small tables were stacked in one corner of the room. In another were some old chairs covered with a sheet.
"Do you think Great-aunt Sophie gave balls in here?" asked Benny.
"Well, yes," answered Violet. "But this room does not seem as if it's been used in a while. Look how dusty everything is. We've got some work to do."
"Oh, Violet, Benny, there you are," said Jessie, who stood by the door. "Grandfather is taking us all out to breakfast."
"Oh, goody," said Benny.
Half an hour later, the Aldens were seated at a booth in the Jarvi Bakery in downtown Brockton.
"Boy, these pancakes are delicious," said Benny as he poured more raspberry syrup over them.
"They're called pan-nu-kak-ku," said Grandfather. He pronounced each syllable slowly. "They're Finnish pancakes."
"They taste better than regular pancakes," said Henry. "They're like a combination of a pancake, an omelet, and custard."
Benny nodded. His mouth was full.
"I couldn't help overhearing how much you like the pannukakku," said the waitress when she came over to refill Grandfather's coffee. "You know, there is a Finnish special on the menu every day."
"Are all the specials as good as these pancakes?" asked Benny after he had swallowed his food.
"Oh, yes," answered the waitress, who was young and blond. "At least I think so. You're staying in the old Taylor mansion, aren't you?"
"How did you know that?" Benny looked very surprised.
"I saw you from my window," the waitress answered. "I rent an apartment on the third floor."
"For heaven's sake," said Grandfather. "So you're the other tenant. I am James Alden, and these are my grandchildren: Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny."
Excerpted from The Mystery in the Old Attic by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1997 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.
Posted May 27, 2006
It was a great book that detailed some of the UP's great things. Such as pastys and pannukaku. The plot was great and you must read it!
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