The Mystery of the Hidden Painting (The Boxcar Children Series #24)by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The discovery of a painting of the children's grandmother involves the Aldens in a search for a sapphire necklace.
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The Mystery of the Hidden Painting
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Alden children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, ran out of their grandfather's house, laughing. They raced each other to the nearby garden with a fountain in the middle near where their boxcar stood.
Henry, who was fourteen and the oldest, reached the boxcar first and pulled open the door. Jessie and Violet got there next, at the same time. They turned and watched six-year-old Benny, puffing in the hot August sun, catch up with them.
"It's not fair," Benny said. "I'm always going to be the youngest and never win a race with you."
"Someday you'll beat even Henry," Violet said reassuringly. Though she was only ten she often seemed more considerate than many older people.
The children climbed into the boxcar, followed by their dog, Watch, and looked around.
"Whew," Benny said, "it's so dirty."
Henry got the broom Jessie had made when they had all lived in the boxcar, and started sweeping the floor. "We haven't been in here for a while. That's why it's so dusty. But I like it anyway."
Jessie smiled and spoke in the voice she used when she wanted to sound older than twelve. "Remember when we ran away and lived here after mother and father died? I think I can remember every day. Remember how we hid from Grandfather?"
"Yes," Benny said, "because we thought he was mean and we wouldn't like living with him."
"And look how wonderful and kind he is," Violet said. "And how happy we are with him."
"That's why we're here," Henry said. "Because we love him and want to plan a wonderful party for his birthday next month. We have a lot of work to do."
"Let's get started then," Jessie said. "It's awfully hot in here."
"Wait," Benny interrupted. "First let's eat. I'm—"
"Hungry," Violet finished for him. She reached for the basket she had brought with her. "Mrs. McGregor packed a little snack for us."
Jessie went to the shelf that held the dishes they had found and used when they lived in the boxcar. She took four cups.
But Violet said, "We only need three. I brought Benny's cup from the house. I couldn't forget Benny's cup."
Benny took a cracked pink cup from the basket and held it out. Henry lifted out spice cookies and a carton of milk and filled Benny's cup. Jessie took peaches and plums and put them in a bowl. Then she piled bananas on top of the fresh fruit.
The boxcar was exactly the same as it had been when the children had lived in it, except that Mrs. McGregor had given the children four plump, brightly colored cushions so they could sit on them on the floor. Now they got comfortable and chewed on the delicious cookies.
"Well," Jessie asked, "what should we do for Grandfather's party?"
"We have to have a cake and ice cream," Benny said positively. "You can't have a birthday party without a cake."
"I'll help Mrs. McGregor bake the cake," Jessie said.
"No! I'll do that," Benny shouted.
Violet laughed. "I knew you'd say that. Well, I'll play the violin for Grandfather. I'll be glad to do that. I'll have to think about what to play."
"And I'll decorate the dining room," Jessie said.
"I think I'll write a poem," Henry said. "We were studying poetry in school at the end of the term. I'll be able to put what I learned to good use."
"We have to buy him a present, too," Violet said. "What should it be?"
"Model cars," Benny said.
The other children laughed. Henry said, "I saw Grandfather looking at a sweater in Barlow's Men's Shop last week. I think he liked it. We could all chip in, and I'll buy it."
"I don't have much money," Benny said, thoughtfully. "I won't be able to pay my share."
"We'll work all that out, Benny. Don't worry," Jessie said, patting his shoulder.
Violet suddenly jumped up. "I know. Let's dress up for the party."
"You mean I have to wear a tie?" Benny asked mournfully.
"No," Violet said. "I mean dress up in costume. There are all kinds of old clothes in the attic. We could use those. It will be like a masquerade. Grandfather would love it. I know it."
"That's a wonderful idea," Jessie said eagerly.
Henry made a face. "I don't know. Dressing up is sort of childish. Don't you think?"
"No!" Violet and Jessie said at the same time.
"Come on," Jessie grabbed Henry's hand. "Let's go up to the attic right now. I know you'll like dressing up."
They ran back to the house and into the front hall. Watch raced in after them. Mrs. McGregor came out of the kitchen with flour on her hands and nose. "What's all the excitement about? Where are you all off to in such a hurry?"
"We're going up to the attic so we can find dress up clothes for Grandfather's party," Violet said, catching her breath.
"What party? What's this all about?" Mrs. McGregor asked.
"We'll tell you later," Jessie shouted as they all ran for the stairs.
"Open the windows up there. It must be a hundred degrees in that attic," Mrs. McGregor called after them.
Upstairs, Jessie pulled open a window. "Whew! Mrs. McGregor was right. It's really hot in here."
Violet was already poking around. She found an old, big straw hat and tried it on. She ran to a standing mirror and giggled at her image.
"It's just right for you," Jessie cried. "It's lavender. Your favorite color."
Henry found a velvet coat and slipped into it. "How about this?"
Benny had opened a trunk and was pulling out old toys—blocks and balls and a jump rope and a jack-in-the-box. "I like it up here. I'm glad we came."
Jessie was now standing silently in a corner with her back to her brothers and sister. Violet looked at her. "What did you find, Jessie?"
Slowly, Jessie turned around. In her hands she had a small painting in a carved gold frame. "Look, how beautiful this is," she said.
Violet put down the hat and moved toward Jessie. "Ooh, you're right, she is beautiful," she gasped. "I don't think I'd ever get tired of looking at it."
The painting was of a lovely young woman in an evening gown. Around her throat was a necklace of sparkling blue sapphires that matched her eyes. The woman was staring out of the picture with wide eyes, and she had a small smile on her red lips. She looked very happy.
"Who do you suppose she is?" Benny asked.
Henry moved closer to the painting. "She looks like the pictures Grandfather has shown us of Grandmother."
"But those pictures were of an older lady," Jessie said.
"Well," Violet said thoughtfully, "this could have been painted when Grandmother was much younger."
"But if this is Grandmother, why is the picture hidden away up here?" Henry wondered.
Benny shrugged. "Why don't we ask Grandfather. He'll know. Grandfather always knows everything."
Jessie laughed. "Benny, you always get right to the point."CHAPTER 2
After dinner, when the whole family was settled in the big living room, Jessie ran up to her room and brought down the portrait. She took it over to her grandfather and held it out to him.
"Grandfather," she said softly. "We found this in the attic today. We're all wondering who this lovely lady is. Henry thinks it's Grandmother, but this lady looks so young."
Mr. Alden stared at the picture. He seemed to have drifted off into another world. Looking at her grandfather's sad face, Violet said immediately, "It doesn't matter, Grandfather. We'll take the picture right back to the attic."
She picked up the painting, but Mr. Alden held out a hand to her. "It's all right, Violet. You can leave it here."
"Is this our grandmother?" she asked.
Grandfather smiled. "Yes, it is. It was painted when she was a very young woman, and very beautiful. But then, she was beautiful until the day she died."
"Why was it up in the attic?" Benny asked. "Why isn't it hanging right here?" Benny pointed to the wall over the fireplace.
Grandfather sighed. "Well, children, it's a long story. All of you sit down and I'll tell you."
Benny and Violet sat at Mr. Alden's feet. Jessie and Henry sat on the sofa next to Grandfather's easy chair. They all looked at him, waiting for him to go on.
Grandfather cleared his throat. "I gave your grandmother—her name was Celia—the necklace she is wearing in the portrait as a wedding present. I had had it designed by a very talented jeweler. It was one of a kind. There was no other just like it anywhere. Your grandmother loved it so much she had this portrait painted of her wearing her precious wedding present. A year after our wedding, we had a big party to celebrate our first anniversary and, of course, she wore the necklace.
"Oh, it was a wonderful party, with food made by the best caterer in town and an orchestra and beautiful flowers. When the party was over, Celia put the necklace in its velvet box and placed the box in her dressing table drawer. She intended to put it in the safe the next day."
"What happened then?" Benny asked breathlessly.
"Well," Mr. Alden continued, "she was so busy the next day helping the caterers gather together all the dishes and glasses and pots they had brought to the house that she forgot about the necklace. Until that night. She opened her drawer and took out the velvet jewelry box ... but it was empty. The necklace was gone."
"Oh, no!" Jessie cried out.
"Where was it?" Benny asked, his eyes wide with surprise.
Grandfather shrugged. "We never found it. We looked all over. The police came the next day and questioned everyone who had been in the house the day before. Everyone—all the people who worked for the caterer, every delivery person, everyone. They even questioned me! But no one knew anything or had seen anything. The necklace was gone forever."
"But the picture," Violet asked softly, "why is it in the attic?"
Grandfather sighed again. "I had hung the painting right over the mantelpiece after it was painted. I loved looking at it. But once the necklace disappeared, your grandmother couldn't bear to look at the painting. It always reminded her of the wedding present she had so loved that was gone. So we took the painting down and put it up in the attic. After all these years, I had forgotten it was still there."
"That is such a sad story, Grandfather," Jessie said.
Grandfather smiled. The sadness was gone from his face. "Well, Jessie, that was a long time ago. But I will tell you, that as the oldest granddaughter the necklace would have been yours."
"Oh, Jessie, look what you might have had," Benny said.
The children laughed and Grandfather stood up. "Why don't we all go into the kitchen and see if there is any of Mrs. McGregor's chocolate cake left."
"And some milk," Benny added.
Grandfather laughed and put his arm around Benny's shoulders. "And some milk," he agreed.
They all sat around the big table in the cheerful kitchen. Grandfather poured milk for each of them and Jessie cut slices of cake.
"That's the end of this chocolate cake," she said, rinsing the empty plate under hot water.
"Maybe Mrs. McGregor will make another one tomorrow," Benny said hopefully.
"Or a lemon meringue pie," Henry said, just as hopefully.
As they ate their snack, Jessie said, "Grandfather, it's so sad that Grandmother's necklace just disappeared. Grandmother looked so lovely wearing it, too."
Grandfather smiled. "Yes, she did. I'm glad that she had it to enjoy for a little while anyway."
"Are you sure the police really talked to everyone who might have known anything about it?" Henry asked.
"Absolutely," Mr. Alden said. "I was surprised at how many people they thought of to question. It was embarrassing, because they insisted on talking to all of our guests, too. And some of them weren't very happy about that. They felt it was insulting. But the detective in charge of the case insisted."
Mr. Alden smiled. "You can't imagine where they looked for the necklace, too. As upset as we were at the time, your grandmother and I laughed."
"Where?" Violet asked with interest.
"Would you believe even in the refrigerator?"
The children laughed. "Why the refrigerator?" Jessie asked.
"Well," Mr. Alden said, "they said it wasn't impossible that the thief might have put it there just for a little while ... until he or she could get it out of the house."
"That seems sort of silly," Henry said.
"It did to me, too," Mr. Alden said. "And it wasn't in the refrigerator, anyway. But it did make a good story for a couple of years. It did make your grandmother laugh."
"Grandfather," Jessie said thoughtfully, "you said that Grandmother opened the jewelry box and it was empty."
"That's right, Jessie," Mr. Alden said.
"What did you do with the box?" Jessie asked. "It must have always reminded Grandmother of the theft."
"You're right," Grandfather said. "So I took the empty box and put it in a drawer in the desk in my den. That way your grandmother wouldn't keep seeing it."
"And then did you throw it away?" Benny asked.
"No, children, believe it or not, I still have that empty box," Mr. Alden said.
Violet's eyes widened. "Could we see it?" she asked.
"Of course," Mr. Alden said. "I still have it in the den."
They all walked into the little room that Grandfather had set up as an office at home. It was here that he did any work he brought home from his office. It was a comfortable room with a leather couch and an easy chair and a big desk. Mr. Alden opened a drawer in the mahogany desk and took out a square blue velvet box. He gently handed it to Violet.
Violet opened the box and looked at the inside, which was lined with ivory-colored satin. There was a soft hollow that had once held the sapphire necklace. "I can almost see it," Violet said.
"Me too" Benny agreed.
"Well, now," Grandfather said cheerfully, "I don't want you children to be upset about this. So let's just forget about it. It's bedtime, anyway."
Later Jessie sat in Violet's bedroom and watched Violet brushing her hair. Anyone looking at the room would have immediately known it was Violet's. The wallpaper, the bedspread, and the curtains all had violets on them.
Violet stopped brushing and turned to Jessie. "What do you suppose happened to the necklace?"
"I don't know," Jessie answered, lying on her back on Violet's bed. "Grandfather said they questioned everybody and there were no clues at all."
Violet sighed. "What a shame. It looked like such a beautiful necklace. It would have been gorgeous around your neck, too."
They both laughed at the very idea of it and then forgot about the missing necklace when Watch came in and tried to jump up on the bed.
It rained for the next three days, and the Aldens were becoming more and more bored. One afternoon they were all in the boxcar. Henry was trying to write his poem for Grandfather's birthday. Violet and Benny were playing jacks, and Jessie was reading the Greenfield newspaper. Suddenly she let out a cry.
"Look," she shouted. She held out the paper with one hand and pointed to a picture with the other.
Henry, Violet, and Benny ran over and all stared at the paper. "Look at what?" Benny asked. "It's just a picture of a lady we don't know."
"Look at what she's wearing!" Jessie insisted.
Violet took the paper. "She's wearing an evening dress. It's very pretty. And the caption under the picture says: Mrs. Elizabeth Harkins, who was the chairperson of the Elmford Hospital Dance."
"What else is she wearing?" Jessie asked impatiently.
Henry looked closer. "A necklace," he said.
"It looks just like the necklace in the painting," Jessie said.
Violet looked at the paper again. "Jessie, the necklace in this picture is so small and the picture is black and white. How can you tell anything from this?"
"I know they look alike," Jessie said. "Let's go back to the house and look at the painting again."
They all ran back and into the living room, where Grandfather had left the painting leaning against a bookcase. Jessie put the portrait down on the sofa and placed the newspaper picture right next to it. The children leaned over and looked at them both very closely.
"See!" Jessie said. "They do look alike!"
"I think she's right," Violet said.
Henry frowned. "I can't really tell."
Benny hopped on one foot with excitement. "Maybe we have another mystery. But how are we going to solve it? We don't even know that Mrs. Harkins."
Henry looked at the newspaper again. "Look! She lives in Elmford ... where Aunt Jane lives. Maybe we could go to visit Aunt Jane and—"
"And talk to Mrs. Harkins," Jessie finished for him.
"We'll have to ask Grandfather if we can go," Violet said.
"He likes us to visit Aunt Jane," Benny assured her.
Henry looked thoughtful. "I don't think we should tell Grandfather about Mrs. Harkins. If it turns out her necklace is a different one from our grandmother's, he'd be so disappointed."
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Hidden Painting by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1992 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
The Boxcar Children Series was created by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a teacher, when she realized that there were few, if any, books for children that were both easy and fun to read. She drew on her own experiences in writing the mysteries. As a child, she had spent hours watching trains near her home, and often dreamed about what it would be like to live in a caboose or freight car. In each story, she chose a special setting and introduced unpredictable, unusual or eccentric characters, to help highlight the Aldens’ independence and resourcefulness. Miss Warner lived in Putnam, Massachusetts until her death in 1979.
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