Read an Excerpt
Trixie Belden awoke slowly, with the sound of a summer rain beating against her window. She half-opened her eyes, stretched her arms above her head, and then, catching sight of a large sign tied to the foot of her bed, yelled out, “Rabbit! Rabbit!” She bounced out of bed and ran out of her room and down the hall.
“I’ve finally done it!” she cried as she dashed into the large bedroom shared by two of her three brothers.
The oldest, Brian, responded by drawing the covers tightly over his head and turning thumpily toward the wall, but Mart, her almost-twin, sat up excitedly and demanded to know what she had done to cause all this rumpus at eight o’clock in the morning–enough rumpus, in fact, to wake up Bobby, who at this moment appeared in the doorway.
Trixie’s blue eyes were sparkling as she picked up her youngest brother and twirled him round and round. Then, plunking herself down on Brian’s bed, she said, “Well, ever since I was Bobby’s age I’ve been trying to remember to say ‘Rabbit! Rabbit!’ and make a wish just before going to sleep on the last night of the month. If you say it again in the morning, before you’ve said another word, your wish comes true.” Trixie laughed.
“But when I’d remember to say the magic words at night, I’d always say something else before I went to sleep, or forget them in the morning, or something. This time I put up a sign to remind me. Gleeps! I hope that doesn’t spoil the charm!”
“I must say you’re the luckiest of girls,” Mart said in his most sarcastic voice, extending his hand to congratulate his sister. “And what stupendous thing did you wish for, Trix? That you’d pass English next year?”
Brian, unable to sleep through all this talk, rolled over, poked his head out of the covers, and said, “I bet I know what she wished for–another mystery. You know she’s never happy unless she has some puzzle cooking.”
Trixie’s face sobered, and in a characteristic gesture she pushed back the short, sandy curls from her forehead. “As a matter of fact, I did sort of wish for some excitement.” She sighed. “After Cobbett’s Island, Sleepyside seems–well, a little pallid.”
“Wow! Look who’s getting sophisticated,” jeered Mart. “Watch out, old girl, or you’ll die of ennui.” He loved to use long or unusual words.
“What’s ‘ennui,’ Trixie? Is it sumpin’ like measles or chicken pox?” Bobby asked, his eyes wide as he scrambled up on the bed beside his sister. “I don’t want Trixie to die,” he cried. “She’s the only sister I got.”
“Of course she’s not going to die,” Brian assured him softly. “ ‘Ennui’ is just a fancy way of saying you’re tired of doing the same old thing all the time.”
The tears dried magically, a smile broke over Bobby’s face, and he said, “Oh! That’s what I get every morning when I have to eat my cereal!”
The call of “Breakfast, children” interrupted their laughter, and they dashed downstairs in their pajamas to the large, friendly kitchen where Mrs. Belden was frying bacon and eggs on the old-fashioned stove.
Their father, who worked in the Sleepyside bank, put aside his paper as they came in and, looking over the top of his glasses, greeted each of them. Trixie planted a quick kiss on top of his head as she went past him to her place at the table.
The Beldens lived in a comfortable old white farmhouse, a few miles outside the Hudson River town of Sleepyside. It was called Crabapple Farm and had been in the Belden family for six generations. Although larger and grander houses had been built around the ancient homestead over the years, they loved Crabapple Farm with its orchards and gardens. Mrs. Belden never found it a chore to care for and harvest the fruits and vegetables the place yielded, and in the fall, her pantry shelves were loaded with preserves, pickles, and jellies. Even though the boys sometimes grumbled about having to take care of the chickens, they freely admitted that the Belden eggs were the biggest and best they had ever seen. Trixie, who hated housework, sometimes complained, too, about having to help with the dishes or the dusting, but once when her mother, pretending to be serious, suggested they sell the house and move to an apartment where the housekeeping might be a little easier, Trixie nearly exploded. It was quite a long time after that before she was heard to say, “Do I have to? You mean right now?”
Trixie’s best friends, Honey Wheeler and her adopted brother, Jim, lived a little farther up Glen Road in an impressive mansion on a huge estate. The fact that the Wheelers’ wealth allowed them a staff of servants and every luxury never interfered with their close friendship. Honey and Trixie had met soon after Mr. Wheeler had bought the Manor House, with its stable of horses, game preserve, and swimming pool, hoping it would benefit his somewhat sickly daughter. Honey’s real name was Madeleine, but no one ever called her that now, and no one seemed to remember who first gave her the nickname. Everyone agreed, however, that it suited her perfectly, for Honey was always as cheerful and sweet as she was pretty.
After the two girls became friends, Honey somehow forgot her ill health. There just wasn’t time to be sick with all they found to do. Their first adventure had been helping Jim Frayne, a wonderful boy, who was running away from a cruel stepfather. It had ended by Jim’s inheriting a half-million dollars from an uncle, his only relative, and being adopted by Mr. Wheeler.
“What are you all going to do this rainy day?” Mr. Belden inquired as he put on his raincoat and prepared to leave for work.
“Don’t you worry about them not having anything to do,” Mrs. Belden answered. “I’ve been waiting for just such a day as this to clean out the attic and the top of the barn.”
“Oh, Moms! Not again,” groaned Brian. “Why, we just cleaned the barn–let’s see, when was it?”
“Tempus fugit, dear brother,” Mart said cheerily. “It was at least four years ago, because I remember what a fuss I made when Moms wanted to throw out my magnificent collection of rocks.”
“Will it take all day?” Trixie asked a bit impatiently. “We’re supposed to have a meeting of the Bob-Whites this afternoon up at the clubhouse. The president of the Heart Association wrote and asked if we’d help with their White Elephant Sale, and we have to talk it over and see what we can do.”
“Well, that’s a coincidence,” Mrs. Belden said, “because I thought if we cleaned out the attic and barn we might find some things to donate to the sale.”
Trixie was suddenly all smiles. “Gleeps, Moms,” she cried, “what a perfectly spiffy idea! You can count on all the Bob-Whites to help!”
The Bob-Whites of the Glen was a secret club which Jim had organized soon after he came to live with the Wheelers. Although they were forever getting involved in some mystery, they also found time to be of help to others. There were now seven regular members in the club–the three Beldens, Honey and Jim, Dan Mangan, and Diana Lynch. Dan’s part-time jobs and a heavy school program prevented him from joining in all of the Bob-Whites’ adventures, but he was with the club whenever he could be. Di, as she was called, lived close by in another large house. Her twin brothers and sisters were much younger than she, so she welcomed membership in the club because it gave her a chance to be with people her own age. Di had always been considered the prettiest girl in the group, with her shoulder-length black hair, fair skin, and large violet eyes.
“I think I’ll phone Honey and Di and tell them to check what they can collect at their houses and then we’ll all meet late this afternoon to see what needs mending or repairing,” Trixie said, her enthusiasm for the project growing all the time.
“Come on, Mart,” she continued, “you and Brian get dressed and do the barn, and Moms and I will tackle the attic.”
“I was planning to fix the muffler on my car,” Brian said. He was always fussing with his old jalopy, usually quite successfully, because he was a superb mechanic. “But the co-president of the Bob-Whites is issuing orders, so I guess the Queen of the Highways will have to wait. All set, Mart?”
“All set,” Mart growled, “but let me tell you, Trixie Belden, one day is all I’m going to give up for any elephant, white or purple. So don’t try to inveigle me into working all week on some old wrecked piece of furniture or something.”
Mart and Trixie frequently appeared to be in some kind of feud, but underneath they were very fond of each other. Their birthdays were less than a year apart, and although Mart was taller than Trixie, they looked enough alike to be twins.
Trixie met her brother’s statement with a chilly silence as she went off to telephone.
“This promises to be a productive day,” Mrs. Belden commented as she walked with her husband to the door and bade him good-by. She didn’t know, as she said it, just how productive it would turn out to be. She gathered up several cartons from the porch and headed for the back stairs that led to the attic. She was soon joined by Trixie and Bobby who volunteered, “I wanna hunt for the elephant, too.”
“Where do you want me to start?” Trixie asked her mother as she pushed aside an enormous cobweb which some enterprising spider had hung between an old chest and a Victorian umbrella stand.
“Why don’t you begin with that chest, dear? I haven’t the faintest idea what’s in it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever used it. It’s probably full of your great-grandmother’s things. Take a look.” And Mrs. Belden went on to sort out some discarded picture frames on the other side of the attic.
Trixie opened the top drawer and took out two little bonnets. The feathers were no longer perky and the ribbons were faded, but they were still pretty. Trixie put one on and tied the ribbon under her chin. She brushed the dust from the mirror over the chest and surveyed herself critically. She was a bit surprised to find the image rather pleasing. Her face, outlined by the soft lines of the bonnet, took on an unaccustomed sweetness and Trixie resolved to try harder to curb her tomboy impulses. And forgot the resolve a moment later.
Pushing the little bonnet back on her head, she tried to open the drawer below, but it was stuck fast. She braced her foot against the bottom of the chest and gave a mighty tug. It worked all too well! The drawer came out completely, cascading its contents all over Trixie who, losing her balance, was thrown against the wall behind her.
“Trixie, are you hurt?” cried her mother, running over to help her up.
There was a smudge of dust on the end of Trixie’s nose, but she wasn’t hurt. “I’m fine, but I’ve broken this board to smithereens,” she said, looking curiously at the splintered wall behind her. “What’s back there, anyway?” she asked, pushing the board to one side.
“It’s just a crawl space over the wing of the house where the kitchen is,” her mother answered. “It’s too small to be of any use, so I guess it was just boarded up when the attic was finished off. It doesn’t even have a window.”
Trixie thought no more about it as she picked up the scattered clothing from the chest. The attic was getting very warm, and her forehead was beaded with perspiration. “Speaking of windows, why don’t we open this one and get a little air in here?” she suggested. “The rain won’t blow in. It’s coming straight down.” As she made her way to the dormer, she looked out and saw that the rain was actually letting up and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. She opened the window and as she turned to go back to her work, a streak of sunlight fell across the room and lanced through the broken board. Trixie caught a glimpse of something through the crack–a kind of dull metallic gleam. There was more than just an empty space back there, but what? She pushed and pulled the board impatiently until it came loose.
“Hey, Bobby, run and get the flashlight in my room, will you? There’s something in there, but I can’t make out what it is,” she said, her voice suddenly tense with excitement.
“Sure, Trix, but wait for me. I wanna go in, too,” begged Bobby as he good-naturedly went to get the light she wanted.
Mrs. Belden, who had come over to see what was going on, laughingly asked, “What have you unearthed this time, dear?” She was no longer surprised when Trixie uncovered a new mystery. It had happened so often before. In fact, she even began to believe that
Trixie’s dream of starting a detective agency with Honey wasn’t as far-fetched as it might seem.
Before Trixie had time to answer, Bobby came padding up the stairs. “Here’s the light, Trixie. You go first. I’m skeered!” he cried, fear crowding out his curiosity. “There may be a ghost in there or sumpin’.” His eyes were wide and he edged up to his mother’s side for reassurance.
Trixie squeezed through the opening into the room, which was, indeed, little more than a crawl space. On the floor was a pile of old clothing, which she gingerly nudged with the toe of her sneaker. A mouse scurried out from a coat sleeve and ran away into the darkness. Trixie shivered, despite the stifling heat, but since Bobby by now had got up nerve enough to join her, she concealed her momentary fright. Stooping, she picked up a round object which lay on top of the old clothes.
“Gleeps, Bobby, this looks like Brian’s old Boy Scout canteen. How could it ever have got in here–and where do you suppose these old clothes came from?”
“I dunno, Trixie, but I don’t like it in here. It’s spooky. Let’s go back to Moms.” Bobby caught Trixie’s hand and started pulling her toward the opening in the wall.
“Okay, Bobby, you’re a brave boy to come with me,” Trixie said gently, permitting the little boy to lead her back to the main part of the attic.
Mrs. Belden hadn’t the faintest idea where the old clothes and the canteen had come from. “That part of the house has been closed as long as I’ve lived here,” she said. “Maybe your father will know something about it.”
“This couldn’t be Brian’s canteen, then,” mused Trixie as she examined it more closely. “No, this one is much heavier and older-looking.”
“You know, it looks like the kind the soldiers carried during the Civil War,” Mrs. Belden said. “I remember my grandfather had one. He’d bring it out and let us children play with it.”
“Do you think it would be worth any money at the White Elephant Sale?” Trixie asked. “It’s nothing we can use.”
“Well, someone might be interested in it as a collector’s item. Personally, I’d rather have a nice clean Thermos bottle,” Mrs. Belden laughed. “And we might as well get rid of those old clothes, too. Hand them out to me, Trixie. I’ll put them in this box, and we can burn them later.”
“Jeepers, I hate to touch those dirty old things,” Trixie said as she glanced around the attic. Her eye finally lighted on an old pair of tongs. “I know what! I’ll use these and spare my lily-white hands.”
She slipped back through the narrow opening into the crawl space. Out came an ancient overcoat, followed by a worn blanket. As Trixie was picking up a mothriddled pair of pants, an envelope dropped out of one of the pockets. She put it in her own pocket, quickly deciding to read it later in private. It was probably of no importance, but she had had enough teasing about her playing detective lately.
On the other hand, she thought to herself, it just could be the beginning of something interesting.
From the Hardcover edition.