Read an Excerpt
The Mystery of the Hot Air Balloon
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1995 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Benny sighed. "There's nothing to do," he said. Benny was six years old, and he liked to keep busy.
No one answered him. At the kitchen table, Violet was drawing, Jessie was reading a book on the history of flight, and Henry was looking through cookbooks.
"I wish we could go somewhere," Benny said. "Have an adventure."
The Aldens often took trips. They had adventures wherever they went.
"I can't go anywhere," Henry told him. "I'm too busy."
Mrs. McGregor, the Aldens' housekeeper, was away for the weekend. While she was gone, fourteen-year-old Henry was the cook.
"And I want to draw," Violet said. She was ten and a talented artist, but she never seemed to have enough time for her artwork.
"Reading this book is an adventure," twelve-year-old Jessie said. "It's all about flying."
Henry nodded. "I read that book," he said. "It was really interesting."
"Even if we weren't busy," Jessie said, "Grandfather said he wouldn't be home from the mill until late."
Benny had forgotten that. "Looks like everyone's busy but me," he said.
"Why don't you call some of your friends?" Violet suggested.
"Yes," Jessie agreed. "They could come here to play. I'll make popcorn."
"They're all busy, too," Benny told them.
Everyone was silent.
Finally, Violet said, "You could make another map."
Benny had made a map of the neighborhood. He liked drawing maps and he was good at it.
"No," Benny said. "I don't want to make a map today."
"Why don't you run your train?" Henry asked him.
Benny thought about that. He liked his electric train. When they first came to live with Grandfather Alden, he ran it every day. Lately, he'd been too busy with other things. "That's a good idea, Henry," Benny said.
Benny happily skipped out of the kitchen and went upstairs. He tiptoed down the long hall to his room. Outside the door, he paused to listen. Suddenly, he threw open the door. It was a game he played. He liked to pretend that the animals on his wallpaper — rabbits and dogs and bears — came to life when he left the room. He always hoped he would catch them at play. It never worked. The animals were always just as he had left them: wallpaper figures on a blue background.
"One of these days, I'll catch you," he told them.
He sat down on the floor beside his train engine. He turned it on, and the train began to move slowly along the track. He liked all the cars, but his favorite car was the boxcar. It looked just like the full-sized boxcar he and the other Aldens had lived in before coming to Grandfather's house, after their parents had died.
Benny quickly grew tired of the train. He turned it off and got on his rocking horse near the window. He liked to pretend it was a racehorse and he was a jockey. His feet touched the floor. He was growing too big for the rocking horse. A jockey could not be taller than his horse!
Benny walked to the window. From it he could see the whole yard. Near the fountain stood the old boxcar. Mr. Alden had had it moved here so the children could go out to see it anytime. They hadn't spent much time there lately. They were too busy.
"I haven't forgotten you, old boxcar," he said aloud.
Suddenly, a shadow fell across the lawn. An airplane, Benny thought. Too bad they couldn't go on a flight. That would be a good adventure.
The shadow couldn't belong to a plane; it was moving too slowly. And it was growing larger and larger!
Benny's mouth dropped open. Whatever was making the shadow was about to land on the lawn!
Benny raced out of his room and down the stairs.
"Something's landing on the lawn!" he shouted as he ran into the kitchen.
Watch, who had been sleeping at Jessie's feet, sat up and barked.
"Benny, don't be so noisy," Jessie scolded.
Henry looked up from his book. "Something's landing?" he said. "What? A pterodactyl?" he teased, but Benny didn't notice.
He ran to the window. "I don't know," Benny said. "Quick! Come look!"
Henry exchanged glances with Jessie and Violet. They all thought Benny was pretending he saw something to get their attention.
Just then, a shadow fell across the kitchen. The room grew dark. Watch's ears perked up. He whined and scooted under the table. The dog never acted like that without a reason.
Jessie pushed herself away from the table. "Maybe there is something out there," she said.
Violet put down her paintbrush.
Henry closed the cookbook and went to the door. He saw something hovering over the lawn. "It's an aerostat!" he said, his voice full of surprise and wonder.
"It looks like a big balloon to me," Benny said.
"An aerostat is a balloon," Henry told him, but Benny didn't hear him. He was already running outside.
Henry, Jessie, and Violet dashed after him.
A large basket hung below the balloon. Two people were inside it. Ropes hung from its sides.
"Grab those ropes!" Henry called.
Jessie reached out and took hold of a dangling rope. Violet and Jessie each grabbed other lines.
"Hold on tight!" Henry instructed.
The basket thumped to the ground and bounced.
Henry ran toward the collapsing balloon. He caught hold of a line at its crown.
The basket stopped moving and tipped over.
Afraid someone was hurt, Jessie gasped and put her hands over her eyes.
Laughing, a young man and woman in their late twenties crawled out.
"Are you all right?" Jessie asked.
"We're fine," the young woman assured Jessie. "Thanks to you."
Henry stepped forward. "Glad to help," he said. He extended his hand. "I'm Henry James Alden."
The woman smiled as she shook Henry's hand. "I'm Sky Blair." She turned to the young man at her side. "And this is Matt Farber."
"Sky!" Benny blurted out. "Your name is Sky?"
"Benny, remember your manners," Violet warned.
"Oh, it's all right," Sky said. "Everybody reacts like that." She smiled at Benny. "My parents wanted an unusual name. They didn't know I'd end up as a balloon pilot."
Henry introduced his sisters and brother. "We're happy to meet you," he said.
Matt laughed. "I'll bet you've never met anyone who landed on your lawn before."
"Never!" the Aldens all said at once.
"We didn't intend to land here," Sky said. "A sudden gust of wind blew us off course."
"Don't you have a steering wheel or something?" Benny asked.
Sky rolled her blue eyes. "Don't I wish," she answered.
"An aerostat is pretty much at the mercy of the breezes," Jessie said.
"You seem to know a lot about ballooning," Matt said.
"I'm reading a book on the history of flight," Jessie explained. "I just finished the section on hot air balloons, and now a balloon lands on the lawn!"
"Where'd you come from?" Benny asked Sky.
"Lloyd's Landing," she told him.
The Aldens knew about that town. They often drove through it.
"That's a long way away," Benny said.
"Not in a balloon." Sky pointed upward. "There're no stoplights or traffic up there."
"How will you get back?" Violet asked.
"That's a problem," Matt answered. "We lost contact with our chase crew."
"Chase crew?" Benny repeated.
"Every flight is followed by a ground crew," Sky explained. "They meet us at the landing site."
"We use two-way radios to keep in touch," Matt said. "Something happened to ours. I think the batteries gave out."
Sky narrowed her blue eyes. "That shouldn't have happened," she said.
Matt held up his hands. "I know. I should've checked."
"Could you phone someone?" Henry asked.
"We could, yes," Sky said. "Would you mind if we used your phone? We'll call the balloon port. The chase crew probably returned there when we lost contact."
"What's a balloon port?" Benny asked.
"It is usually near an open field," Sky answered. "It's where we launch the balloon."
Henry invited them inside.
"Would you like a cold drink?" Jessie asked.
"We sure would," Matt said.
While they waited for the chase crew, Matt and Sky drank lemonade and talked about ballooning.
"We're going to start a ballooning business in Lloyd's Landing. We'll take people up for rides and also teach them how to balloon," Sky told them. "It's the perfect place to do this."
"And we're holding a rally this weekend to advertise the opening," Matt added.
"Will there be lots of people there?" Benny asked. He imagined the sky full of colorful balloons. What a sight that must be!
Matt laughed. "We hope so."
"How would you like to come to the rally?" Sky asked. "We could use your help."
"You're a good crew," Matt agreed. "And when the rally's over, we'll take you up in the balloon."
Benny's eyes grew big. This was the adventure he had hoped for. "We'll be there!"
"Wait a minute, Benny," Jessie said. "We have to ask Grandfather first."
The doorbell rang. They all went to answer. Henry opened the door. A tall, thin man stood outside.
Sky said, "Are we glad to see you!" She introduced him to the Aldens. His name was Pete Moran, and he owned an old inn in Lloyd's Landing. "He's a volunteer crew member."
"Won't you come in?" Jessie asked politely.
"I could use something cold to drink," Pete answered. "Chasing balloons is hard work."
Jessie poured him a glass of lemonade.
"Alden?" he said as he set the glass on the tray. "Do you have a relative named James Henry Alden?"
"That's our grandfather," Henry answered. "I have the same names, only reversed."
Pete shook his head. "It certainly is a small world." He went on to explain that his father and Mr. Alden had been friends. "I haven't seen your grandfather in years."
"Maybe you'll have the chance to see him this weekend," Sky told him. "I've invited the Aldens to the rally."
"That'd be great," Pete said.
"We're not sure we can come," Jessie said.
"Grandfather is very busy," Violet added.
Henry said, "With all the people coming to the rally, there's probably nowhere to stay."
"There's always room for an Alden at The Landing's Inn," Pete said.
Benny grinned. "Grandfather'll let us go. He just has to!"CHAPTER 2
Once the basket and balloon were secured in a small trailer, Sky said to the Aldens, "Let's hope we'll meet again soon." Then she got into Pete Moran's station wagon. The Landing's Inn was written on its side. As it pulled out of the driveway, Pete, Sky, and Matt waved. The Aldens waved back. Then they went inside.
"Let's call Grandfather," Benny suggested. He was bursting to tell him all about the balloon rally.
"No, Benny," Jessie said. "We'll just have to wait to tell him about the rally until he comes home."
Benny groaned. Waiting always seemed to take longer than anything else.
"Look here," Henry said. He picked up a newspaper from a chair. It was called The Landing Times. "Pete must have left it."
"Does it say anything about the rally?" Violet asked.
Henry turned a page. "Here's an ad for the inn." He read, "'The Landing's Inn: Best Bed and Breakfast in the County.'"
"Breakfast?" Benny asked. "What about lunch and dinner?"
Jessie laughed. "I'm sure they wouldn't let you starve, Benny."
"Oh, here's something about the rally," Henry said. "It's an editorial." He read the article to himself.
"What does it say?" Violet asked.
"Mostly, it asks questions," Henry answered. "'Does Lloyd's Landing want this new business?'" he quoted. "'What will ballooning do to this peaceful community? Is it safe?' It goes on like that."
"Does it give any answers?" Jessie wanted to know.
"No answers," Henry responded. "It just says the townspeople should consider these questions."
"Why wouldn't the town want ballooning?" Benny wondered aloud. "It looks like so much fun."
"Is it safe?" Violet asked.
"If you're trained properly, it's safe," Jessie said.
"What could ballooning do to Lloyd's Landing?" Benny asked.
"It could bring lots of people to town," Violet suggested.
"That could be good for the other businesses," Jessie said.
Benny nodded. "People have to eat," he said. "That could be good for the restaurants."
"And they have to sleep," Henry said.
"So that could be good for the motels and inns," Violet concluded.
The Aldens couldn't think of a single reason why anyone would object to a hot air balloon business in their town.
"I suppose some people just don't like new things," Henry said.
The door flew open and Grandfather rushed in. "I have good news!" he announced.
Benny jumped up. "So do we!"
Violet poked him. "Grandfather first," she said.
Grandfather pulled out a chair and sat down. "Do you remember Lloyd's Landing?" he asked.
The children looked at each other. Could Grandfather's news have something to do with the balloon rally? Barely able to contain their excitement, they all said, "Yes!"
"I've just learned there will be a hot air balloon rally there this weekend," Mr. Alden continued. "I left work early to tell you about it."
The younger Aldens began to laugh.
Grandfather looked puzzled. "What's so funny?" he asked.
"We know all about the rally," Benny answered.
Henry told him about the hot air balloon landing in the yard.
Grandfather laughed. "I can never surprise you!" he said. "You're just too smart for me!" Then his tone grew serious. "I don't suppose you want to go to the rally. You're all so busy." But his eyes were twinkling.
"We want to go!" Benny exclaimed. "We want to go!"
"There is one problem," Mr. Alden said. "I'm not sure there'll be a place to stay and driving back and forth every day would not be practical."
Jessie told him about Pete Moran and his invitation to stay at The Landing's Inn for the weekend.
"That settles it. It will be so good to see Pete after all these years," Grandfather said.
"May Soo Lee come with us?" Violet asked.
Seven-year-old Soo Lee was the Aldens' cousin. She had been adopted by Cousins Joe and Alice.
"Of course," Mr. Alden said. "And we'll ask Joe and Alice to take care of Watch." He went to the phone. "I'll call the inn to tell them we'll be there bright and early tomorrow morning."
"You see?" Benny said. "I knew Grandfather would let us go."
Late the next morning, Mr. Alden swung the station wagon into The Landing's Inn brick driveway. "You go on ahead," he told the others. "Henry and I will bring in the luggage."
Benny hopped out of the car. Soo Lee, Violet, and Jessie followed. They paraded up the wide stairs and across the open porch to carved wood double doors. One of them was ajar.
"Should we knock?" Benny asked.
"I think we just go in," Jessie answered. She pushed open the door and stepped aside to let the others enter.
No one was in the large entry hall.
"What do we do now?" Benny whispered.
"Shhh," Jessie said. She pointed toward a set of closed doors across the hall. Behind them, the sound of voices rose and fell. Someone was arguing.
"Mary, you're wrong!" one voice said. "I've made up my mind."
Another voice said, "I'll never understand you, Barbara!"
"Sometimes we just have to do what we have to do," the first voice said.
Then Grandfather and Henry came in.
"Anyone here?" Mr. Alden called.
The voices hushed. Then, silence. Suddenly the doors to the closed room slid open, and an older woman came out, rushed down the hall and out the side door.
She had stopped for a moment to adjust her clothes. Her hair, her clothes — everything about her was neat and clean.
Shortly after, another woman came out to greet them.
Grandfather Alden giant-stepped across the room. "Barbara!" he said and gave her a big hug. "It is so nice to see you!"
The woman smiled, but her eyes were sad. "It's good to see you, too," she said.
Mr. Alden introduced the children. "This is Barbara Moran, Pete's wife," he said. "She and Pete own the inn."
"Welcome," Barbara said. "Your rooms are ready." She did not look at them. Instead, she stared out the window and watched the woman with the perfect hair get into her car.
"Is there something wrong, Barbara?" Mr. Alden asked. "Where's Pete?"
Barbara's face reddened. "Oh, no, nothing," she answered. "I'm just a little upset about something. Pete will be back soon. He just ran out to take care of an errand. I thought he'd be back before you arrived." She smiled. "Let me show you your rooms."
She led them up the curved staircase and down a narrow hall. "I've given you adjoining rooms and bath," she said and opened two doors.
Henry, Benny, and Mr. Alden went into one room; Jessie, Violet, and Soo Lee into the other. The rooms were large with high ceilings and tall, narrow windows. They were furnished with antiques. Between the two rooms was a big bathroom.
Barbara said, "If there's anything you need, just ask."
"It looks as if you've thought of everything," Mr. Alden responded.
"When you're settled, come downstairs. I'll make tea," Barbara said.
"I hope there's going to be something else besides tea," Benny said when Barbara left. "I'm —"
"— hungry," the others chimed in.
Mr. Alden was the first one ready. "I'll meet you downstairs," he told Soo Lee and his grandchildren. "I'd like to visit with Barbara."
After he had gone, Henry said, "Barbara seemed ... strange."
"Because of the argument," Violet said.
Henry looked puzzled. "What argument?"
"We heard her arguing with another woman," Soo Lee explained.
"Before you and Grandfather came in," Jessie added.
"The other woman — her name was Mary," Benny put in. "I saw her leave. She was all dressed up."
"I wonder what they were arguing about?" Jessie said.
"Probably nothing to do with us," Henry said.
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Hot Air Balloon by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1995 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.
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