Read an Excerpt
Mystery of the Lost Mine
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1993 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The New Boxcar
"Turn left," said Henry Alden. Leaning forward from the passenger seat, he pointed at a graveled road. "RV Haven should be about two miles down this road."
"Roger," said Grandfather as he steered the big mobile home off the main highway.
Benny looked up from the map Henry had given him to fold. He sat on the bench seat behind his big brother.
"Roger?" he repeated. "Henry's name isn't Roger."
Grandfather laughed. "That's navigator talk. Henry has been an excellent one since we left Greenfield."
"What's a nav—?" six-year-old Benny began.
"A direction finder," answered Jessie, who was twelve, from the opposite bench. She was used to her little brother's questions. She glanced around the kitchenette. "Since we're almost there, we'd better straighten up."
"I'll put my drawing things away," offered Violet. She packed up her tablet and pens and stowed them in the cubby beneath the kitchen table. Ten-year-old Violet Alden loved to draw.
"Are there any more sandwiches?" asked Benny. He was always hungry.
Jessie wiped crumbs from the counter. "Oh, Benny! I just cleaned the kitchen."
"We'll be there in ten minutes," Grandfather told Benny, glancing in the rearview mirror. "And then we can have dinner in the restaurant."
Violet joined Jessie on the bench behind the driver's seat. "The campground has a restaurant?" she asked.
Most of the campgrounds across the country had only trailer hookups for power. Violet, Jessie, and Henry had taken turns fixing light meals.
"This place is supposed to have everything," said Henry, who was fourteen. "A pool, a recreation center, riding stables nearby—"
"RV Haven is like a little town, right in the Arizona desert," Grandfather added.
"Eight minutes," called out Benny. "And then we'd better be there!" Everyone laughed.
Violet gazed out the big picture window at the passing scenery of cactus and rocks. She couldn't wait to take pictures with the camera Grandfather had given her. For a ten-year-old, she was a pretty good artist and photographer.
At last the RV lumbered under a tall wooden arch with "RV Haven" spelled out in horseshoes.
"We're here!" exclaimed Jessie. She clung to the back of Benny's seat.
Grandfather pulled the mobile home in front of a small wooden building marked "Office."
"I'll be right back," he said, opening the door. "I have to sign in and find out where we can park the RV."
"Five minutes!" Benny sang after him. But he didn't care if Grandfather took an extra minute or two. After more than a week on the road, they had finally reached their destination.
"I can't believe we're here," Henry said, echoing Benny's thought. "It seems like a month since we left Greenfield —"
"And started west in Mr. McCrae's RV," Jessie filled in.
Gerald McCrae and Grandfather had been friends forever. When Grandfather offered to help work on Mr. McCrae's cabin in Arizona, Mr. McCrae asked Mr. Alden to drive his RV out.
"Aren't you glad Grandfather thought we should come along on this trip?" Henry asked.
"I'm glad he did," said Violet. "We've seen practically the whole country!"
"The RV is neat," Benny put in. He jumped out of his seat and ran around the kitchenette, then he stopped for a moment. "What does RV stand for anyway?"
"It stands for recreational vehicle," said Jessie.
The RV was truly a miniature house on wheels. Benches behind the driver's and passengers' seats folded down into bunk beds. The dining table stood between the benches. The kitchenette was outfitted with a tiny sink, refrigerator, and stove.
Behind the kitchen was a sitting area with comfortable chairs. At the very back were the bathroom with a shower and a small, separate bedroom.
"It is neat," Henry agreed. "Like a brand-new boxcar."
The Alden children used to live alone in a boxcar after their parents had died. But then their grandfather found them and gave them a wonderful home in Greenfield.
"Well, our old boxcar is in Grandfather's back yard," Jessie reminded them. "The new boxcar is only ours until Grandfather helps Mr. McCrae finish building his cabin."
"And I hope that'll be a long, long time!" Benny declared.
At that moment, Grandfather returned with a packet of papers he placed on the dashboard.
"Block D, Number Two," he announced, starting the engine. "That's our parking spot. Should be just ahead."
Recreational vehicles, Jessie noticed, came in all shapes and sizes. Theirs was one of the biggest on the road.
"Here's Two-D," Henry said, as Grandfather maneuvered the mobile home onto the paved pad. "I'll help hook up."
"Me, too!" Benny leaped out after them. At every campground stop, he proudly helped connect the RV to water, sewer, and electricity lines. Jessie and Violet stayed in the RV.
Each RV site held four vehicles. Block D contained three trailers. The Alden RV filled the last slot.
The other three units were occupied by a shiny, oblong trailer; a fair-size RV with stickers all over the rear bumper; and an RV that was even bigger and sleeker than the Aldens'.
"Wow!" Jessie exclaimed softly as she and Violet looked out their RV's window. "I wonder who lives in that one."
Just then, the RV's door burst open and Benny thundered up the steps.
"Come on!" he called. "Time to eat!"
Grandfather smiled. "That boy will never be late to a meal," he told the girls as he locked the door behind them.
Henry waited for them at the entrance to the restaurant. "The Chuck Wagon," he said, indicating the branded sign. "Neat name, huh? There's also a store in the back."
A cowbell clanged cheerfully as they entered.
"Let's sit there," Benny said, pointing to a red leather booth.
"Order anything you like," Grandfather told them. "I'm going back to the office to call Gerald McCrae and let him know we're here and ready to get to work on his cabin."
When he left, a dark-haired woman with hard eyes came over with menus.
"Are you the campers in Two-D?" the woman asked without even saying hello first.
"Yes," Jessie replied. "We're the Aldens. I'm Jessie."
"Janine Crawford," the waitress replied shortly. "I run the restaurant and the store in back."
The woman shifted her weight impatiently. "If you all know what you want—"
Since they were all hungry, they ordered quickly: grilled cheese and fries for Violet, hamburgers for Henry, Benny, and Grandfather, and a taco salad for Jessie.
As Janine barked the order to the cook in the back, a thin, blond man came in. Henry admired his cowboy boots and engraved silver belt buckle.
The young man tipped his gray cowboy hat and walked over to their table. "Howdy, pardners. I'm Tom Parker."
"I'm Henry Alden and this is my brother, Benny, and my sisters, Jessie and Violet."
"You're the folks in Two-D," Tom guessed. "Your first time to Arizona?"
The children nodded.
"It's so pretty," Violet said. "In a different sort of way."
"The territory is pretty rugged all right." Tom brought over a water pitcher and four glasses.
"Do you work here?" Benny wanted to know. He was thinking about becoming a cowboy.
Turning a chair around backward, Tom sat down. "Yeah, I'm jack-of-all-trades around here."
"And master of none," Janine snapped as she set down a loaded tray. "Did you check the pool filter? And rake the gravel by the rec center?"
"Not yet." When Janine left, Tom said with a broad wink, "Well, I guess I better hit the trail. According to her, I have a lot of work to do. See you around."
The Aldens dug into their food.
"I wonder why Janine is so grouchy," Jessie said.
"If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn't be grouchy," said Benny.
Just then the door opened and several people came in. A man, woman, and a boy about Henry's age sat in the booth across from the Aldens. The boy smiled.
"Hi," he said. "I'm Luis Garcia. You're the people—"
"—in Two-D," Henry finished with a laugh. He introduced his sisters and brother. "I guess everyone is known around here by their RV."
Luis's father smiled. "Ours is the well-traveled one."
Violet remembered all the stickers on the back bumper of the trailer parked directly in front of theirs.
"Would you like to sit with us?" Henry offered.
"Luis, why don't you join the young people?" Luis's mother urged. "You haven't met many children on this trip."
Luis scooted into the Aldens' booth. "How long are you staying?"
Henry explained about Grandfather's working on Mr. McCrae's cabin. "We could be here a week or so."
Luis nodded. "We've been here a week already. My parents are geologists. We are on vacation, but a vacation for my parents means rocks, rocks, and more rocks!"
"Do you collect rocks, too?" Jessie wondered.
"I'm a rock hound, yes. It's in the blood, I think."
"Who are in the other trailers?" Henry asked. "Are they in here now?"
Luis lowered his voice. "Yes. The silver Airstream is owned by that man." He nodded toward a tall, thin man who slouched over a cup of coffee. "His name is Mr. Tobias. He's been here the longest, about a month. He stays in his trailer most of the time."
"Why would anyone stay inside all day in a great place like this?" asked Violet.
Luis shrugged. "The couple in the booth over there own the big, fancy mobile home parked next to you. They are Mr. and Mrs. Clark."
Jessie had noticed that couple. They were very young and flashily dressed. Right now they were both laughing and joking with Tom Parker, who had come back inside.
"You two ought to book an evening hike with me," Tom was telling them. "The desert is a mighty fine sight at night."
"We'd love to, wouldn't we, Jim?" Mrs. Clark said to her husband.
Mr. Clark smiled at his wife. "If Caitie wants to hike in the desert, we'll go."
"Good! We'll set a date." Tom slapped their table in parting and came over to the Aldens. "Hey, I see you met my buddy Luis. Luis here can swap almost as many tall tales as I can."
Luis gave a tight smile. "Not quite, Mr. Parker."
Jessie wondered why Luis didn't seem to like the young cowboy. Tom seemed very friendly.
Tom splashed water into their glasses, his mood suddenly changing.
"Listen, you kids. Water is a serious business in Arizona. Don't ever be without it. The desert can be a dangerous place, you know."
"Dangerous?" Benny asked, looking a little frightened.
"How do you mean, Mr. Parker?" Henry asked.
"Just be careful," Tom said, and stalked off without another word.CHAPTER 2
A New Adventure
"Boy, it sure gets dark out here," Benny commented as he reached for a handful of popcorn.
"Quiet, too," said Jessie. Then she added with a laugh, "Except for Benny's chewing!"
The Aldens had just finished taking turns showering in the RV's tiny bathroom. Now they were sitting around, munching popcorn. Outside the big picture windows, they could see a few lights from the campground. Beyond, the desert was inky black.
"What do you suppose Tom meant?" Henry asked. "About the desert's being a dangerous place."
"It sounded like a warning to me," Violet said.
"What sounded like a warning?" Grandfather came out of the bathroom wearing his robe.
Jessie answered, "Tom Parker told us never to go out without water, that the desert is dangerous."
"He's right," Grandfather said. "The desert is dangerous if you're not prepared. Always carry a canteen, and wear a hat and sunscreen lotion. The sun is very hot."
"Hotter than Florida?" Violet asked, remembering the trip to Camp Coral.
"Much hotter. The desert is dry, so you must be careful not to become dehydrated." He yawned. "It's late. Gerald McCrae is picking me up early tomorrow. And you children have a lot of exploring to do."
After saying good night, the girls went into their tiny bedroom. Grandfather rolled the stepladder into position and climbed into the double bed built over the cab. Henry and Benny flipped the table against the wall and unfolded their bunks.
"I can see Mr. Tobias's trailer," said Benny, after the lights were out. "He's still up."
"Mmmm," Henry mumbled.
Benny was still wondering if they would have an adventure in Arizona when he fell asleep.
The next morning, a beat-up orange Jeep pulled up to the Aldens' RV.
Grandfather opened the door to greet a tanned, older man.
"I see my RV is still in one piece," the man said, his blue eyes teasing.
"Of course it's in one piece, Gerald," Grandfather said, laughing. "I had an excellent crew helping me." Then he turned to the children. "I'll be off now helping Mr. McCrae for the day. You kids have fun. See you later."
The Jeep pulled away in a swirl of gravel.
"Let's go eat breakfast!" Benny cried. "I'm starving!"
"So what else is new?" Jessie said, ruffling his hair.
They walked over to the Chuck Wagon. The restaurant was crowded.
Luis was already seated at a large, center table. He waved the Aldens over.
"My parents will be here later," he said. "They say they can't face food too early."
"It's never too early for me to face food!" Benny declared.
Janine brought them menus and a sloshing pitcher of water. The Aldens and Luis ordered bacon, eggs, toast, and juice all around.
"I see the Clarks over there," Jessie commented. "But not Mr. Tobias."
"Oh, he never comes in until dinnertime," Luis said.
"He stays up late," Benny put in. "I saw his lights on last night."
Luis nodded. "I sometimes see his lights on at dawn."
"Maybe he sleeps all day and stays up all night," Henry suggested.
Tom came in then, tipping his hat in greeting.
"Howdy, pardners!" he called when he saw the children.
"Howdy!" Benny called back. He liked talking cowboy lingo. "Thanks a heap, ma'am," he said to Janine, who brought their food, but Janine didn't even smile.
Violet watched the Clarks as she ate. Mrs. Clark was very pretty, with long, brown hair and a sparkling smile. Mr. Clark beckoned for Tom to sit with them. They seemed like a talkative couple.
"I bet they're on their honeymoon," Jessie said. "They look so happy."
"The Clarks are newlyweds," Luis said. "They're traveling all over the country in that fancy RV."
"I thought people who were just married didn't have very much money," Jessie said.
Just then the door opened, and a grizzled old man with a straggly gray beard stepped inside. He wore dirt-stained khaki pants and a sun-bleached denim shirt. A crumpled felt hat nearly hid his eyes.
"Boy, he's a real old cowboy," Benny said.
Luis lowered his voice. "That's Jake. He's a prospector. He lives up in the hills. He comes in here every morning for a cup of coffee and some supplies."
Henry noticed Tom Parker slip out the back door. Tom always seemed so friendly. Why didn't he greet Jake the way he did everyone else?
Janine spoke sharply to the prospector. "I'm not giving you any more credit, Jake. Pay up your bill."
"I'll pay you back with interest," said the old man. "I promise."
She snorted. "Your promises are like dust in the desert! I mean it, Jake. No food or supplies until you pay at least part of your bill."
"He doesn't have any money!" Violet said, concerned. "And he's hungry!"
Henry looked at Jessie. "What do you think?" Since Grandfather was out all day, Henry and Jessie were in charge of the Aldens' money.
"Let's give him five dollars," Jessie said. She couldn't bear to see that old man go away hungry.
Henry went over to Jake. "I see you're a little short," he said, handing him a five-dollar bill.
"Many thanks," the old man said. "You won't be sorry. I'll pay you back soon. With interest!"
"What does he mean, 'with interest'?" Benny asked.
"It means he'll pay back our five dollars, plus some extra," Henry replied.
Janine took the money Jake paid her and stuffed it in her apron pocket. He shuffled back to the camping goods section.
"Next time, don't pay any attention to the old coot," she told the Aldens as she cleared their places. "He's got gold fever."
"What is gold fever?" Violet wondered when the woman left, clattering plates.
"Have you ever heard of the Lost Dutchman's mine in the Superstition Mountains?" Luis asked.
The Aldens shook their heads.
"Over a hundred years ago," Luis began, "a prospector claimed he found a fantastic gold mine somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. On his deathbed, he told his nurse how to find the mine. The nurse and two friends tried to locate the mine, but they never did. They told other people about the mine, and the story spread."
"And Jake is searching for the Lost Dutchman's mine?" Henry asked.
Just then Mr. and Mrs. Garcia came in. Overhearing Henry's question, they sat down and picked up the story.
"A lot of people have looked for the Dutchman's mine," said Mr. Garcia. "Jake is not alone. Gold fever is highly contagious. People get excited at the mention of gold."
Mrs. Garcia added, "People can look all they want, but no one can dig for gold in the Superstition Mountains. It's the law."
"Then why is old Jake still looking?" Jessie asked. "If no one has found it in a hundred years, why does he believe he can find it?"
Mr. Garcia answered. "Not too long ago, some tourists found some small stone slabs with pictures carved on them. The stones were supposed to be maps, with clues to the location of the gold mine. If a person figured out the clues, they would find the mine. Like a treasure hunt."
"Where are the stones?" Benny asked. He liked the idea of a treasure hunt!
"They're in a museum in Mesa," said Luis. "I've seen them and have pictures of the stones in our RV."
"Can we see the pictures?" Henry asked eagerly.
Excerpted from Mystery of the Lost Mine by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1993 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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