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The Mystery on the Train
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
A Special Surprise
"I can't wait until Aunt Jane gets here," ten-year-old Violet Alden said. Violet and her younger brother Benny, who was six, waited by the window. They looked out onto the street for their grandfather's car. He would be bringing Aunt Jane from the airport any minute now.
Aunt Jane was living in San Francisco for a few months so she could be with Uncle Andy, who had to be there on business. She had called a week ago and talked a long time with Grandfather. Then she asked to speak to each of the Alden children. But when she spoke to them, she said, "I won't talk long now. I'm flying from San Francisco to Boston next week and I will see you then. I'll visit you in Greenfield for two days. I have a very special surprise for you."
Since that telephone call, the children had spent a lot of time trying to guess what the surprise would be. Now the special day was here and soon they'd know.
As they waited, twelve-year-old Jessie asked, "I wonder why Aunt Jane would fly all the way across the country to visit for just two days."
"It must have something to do with the surprise," Violet said.
"Maybe the surprise will be cookies," Benny said. He rubbed his stomach. "Last time she brought some special chocolate chip cookies."
"Are you hungry again?" Henry, who was fourteen, and the oldest of the children, asked. "You just finished lunch."
Benny glanced at the clock in the hall and said, "Lunch was at noon. It's two o'clock now."
"I suppose two is the time for chocolate chip cookies," Jessie teased.
"Any time is time for chocolate chip cookies," Benny answered.
Henry and Jessie smiled at their younger brother. Benny was always hungry.
Violet left the window and sat down at the table, where she picked up her colored pencils and began to draw. She said, "I am going to keep busy until they get here. That way, I won't be so impatient."
"I really am hungry now," Benny said. "Let's go see if Mrs. McGregor has anything in the kitchen."
"There is an apple pie," Jessie said, "but it's for Aunt Jane's visit. We can't serve it until she gets here."
"I wish she would hurry." Benny sighed.
"Maybe you should find something to do," Henry said. "You need something to take your mind off waiting. You could become an artist like Violet."
The other children looked at Violet, who was working very hard on her drawing.
Benny went over to his sister and asked, "Is that Watch?"
"Yes," Violet said. "I've got the tail and legs right but he moved so much that I couldn't quite make his head look right."
"I think it looks like Watch," Jessie said.
"It looks like a dog all right," Violet agreed. "But I'm not certain it looks like Watch."
"Sure it does," Benny said. "And you've put our old house in the picture."
"Yes," Violet said, "I like to draw our old boxcar. It's easy because it has nice square corners and it never moves."
At one time, after their parents had died, the Alden children lived alone in a boxcar. Then their grandfather found them and brought them home to Greenfield to live with him.
"Here they come!" Jessie said. "There's Grandfather's car."
Violet and Benny rushed to the door. Jessie and Henry followed behind them. They watched as Aunt Jane and Grandfather got out of the car.
"She has just one suitcase," Jessie said. "I guess she really is staying only two days."
Aunt Jane hugged all four children. Then she stepped back and said, "Let me look at you. Yes, you are all growing taller."
Aunt Jane hugged everyone again. They all went into the living room and Henry and Jessie served milk, tea, and pie. After a cup of tea, Aunt Jane said, "About that surprise I promised." Her eyes twinkled.
"Is it here?" Benny asked.
"Yes," Aunt Jane smiled and patted her purse. "In a way, you might say the surprise is here. On the other hand, you might say it's in San Francisco."
"What is it?" Benny asked.
"Can you guess?" Aunt Jane asked. "Your grandfather says you are very good detectives."
"We are," Violet said, "but we can't guess how a surprise you brought us could be here and in San Francisco at the same time."
"What is it?" Benny asked eagerly again. "We've been waiting all week."
"You've been very patient," Aunt Jane said. She smiled and opened her purse. "Now, children, here is the special surprise."
Aunt Jane pulled out a brown envelope.
"I don't think there is anything good to eat in that envelope," Benny said.
Aunt Jane smiled at her youngest nephew and said, "You will like this surprise, Benny. And it includes good things to eat."
"I can't guess," Benny said. "It's a small envelope."
Aunt Jane opened the envelope and showed them five brightly colored tickets. "These are train tickets. How would you children like to take a train trip with me to San Francisco?"
"Ooh," the children said at the same time. Then they all began to ask questions at once.
"Are we going all the way to California on a train?" Jessie asked.
"Will we sleep in one of those little rooms?" Violet asked.
"Jessie and Violet will share a compartment and Henry and Benny will share another one. Your compartments are called double slumbercoaches. Each slumbercoach has two seats which change into beds at night. I'll sleep in a roomette. It has a nice easy chair for reading and one bed at night."
"Will we really be able to sleep in one of those little rooms?" Violet asked.
"Yes, you'll fit just fine. And those little rooms are called compartments. They are quite comfortable," Aunt Jane explained. "You'll have your own toilet and sink in your room. There are showers right down the hall."
"I've always wanted to see how they made those little beds," Henry said.
"The beds are bigger than you think," Aunt Jane said.
"Two beds in those small compartments." Henry shook his head. "I don't know how they do it."
"The beds come down from the walls," Aunt Jane said.
"Where will we eat?" Benny asked.
"In the dining car. It's a restaurant with a cook and good food," Aunt Jane said. "And there's a club car which has a snack bar, too. You'll find plenty of good things to eat."
"Do I get the top bunk?" Benny asked.
"You can take turns." Then Aunt Jane added, "I know you used to live in a boxcar. That's why I was surprised when your grandfather mentioned the last time I was here that you'd never been on a train trip."
"That's right," Henry said. "We lived all those months in a train that never moved."
"Well, these trains move." Aunt Jane laughed.
"It is a wonderful present," Jessie said. "How long will the trip take?"
"We'll cross the whole country in just three days and nights. We're going to go all the way to the Pacific Ocean. That's about three thousand miles. Then you'll visit with Uncle Andy and me for a few days in San Francisco and you can fly home."
Henry asked, "Will the train make stops?"
"Several," Aunt Jane answered. "We actually will travel on two trains. One goes from Boston to Chicago and then we'll change to a second train which takes us to San Francisco. I have a map," Aunt Jane said. She pulled out a large map and put it on the table.
All the children watched as Aunt Jane traced her finger along the map. "We'll travel through cities and farmland, through deserts and two ranges of mountains. This red line shows the route we'll take. We leave Boston tomorrow night and when we wake up, we'll be in Indiana. We have a two-hour stop in Chicago in between trains, so I'll take you to a wonderful German restaurant I know."
Aunt Jane smiled at Benny and brushed her hand across his hair. "Do you like German food? Knockwurst and sauerkraut? Apple strudel?"
Benny looked doubtful as he said, "I think so."
"Aunt Jane?" Violet asked quietly. "Did you say we leave tomorrow?"
"Yes. Your grandfather will drive us to Boston and we'll catch the train at exactly four-thirty."
"Then we'd better start packing," Violet said.
"Pack light," Aunt Jane said. "Remember, those train compartments aren't very large. You may each take one suitcase."
"I'll take all purple clothes," Violet decided. "That way, everything will match. And I'll have plenty of room for my colored pencils and sketching pad. Will there be pretty scenery?"
"Gorgeous," Aunt Jane promised them. "There will be a lot to see."
"Should I pack a lunch?" Benny asked.
"Don't worry, the food is wonderful," Aunt Jane promised him.
"Then I'll only pack a box of crackers and a bag of cookies. Just for emergencies," Benny said with a smile.CHAPTER 2
Trouble on the Platform
The next day, Grandfather drove them to the train station in Boston. The train station was very large and confusing. People rushed about in all directions and many announcements came over the loudspeakers at the same time. The Aldens stayed close to Aunt Jane as they walked through the crowded station.
Violet said, "I'll bet there are people from all over the world in this train station. I didn't know so many people took trains."
"Yes," Aunt Jane answered. "Some of them live in places where it is easier to take a train than to fly. Others don't like to fly. Some people make train riding their hobby. They travel on every railroad in the United States at least once."
"That sounds like a good hobby," Benny said. "Maybe I'll do that."
"This is a long walk," Violet said. "I'm glad my suitcase is small."
"I'm getting tired, too," Benny agreed. Then he looked at the sign on the platform. "Uh-oh! We have to go all the way back inside the station."
"Did you forget something?" Aunt Jane asked.
"No," Benny answered. "But the sign says Chicago. We're going to San Francisco."
"We change trains in Chicago," Aunt Jane reminded him. "This is the right train. The Lake Shore Limited. It's a single-level train. In Chicago we change to a double-decker train called the California Zephyr."
Benny laughed. "I'm glad we're in the right place. My suitcase is too heavy to go all the way back and try again."
"Let's wait right here until the conductor tells us we can board. These are the sleeping cars," Aunt Jane said.
"How do you know?" Henry asked.
"See if you can guess," Aunt Jane answered.
Henry studied the train for a few minutes and then he said, "These cars have smaller windows, don't they?"
"Exactly," Aunt Jane said.
Suddenly the children heard a loud voice shouting, "You can't have it!" They turned and saw a young woman with bright red hair. A taller, older woman was pulling at something large and black that the girl was holding. They were pulling very hard in opposite directions.
The older woman said, "Let go! I will not permit you to take them."
"They're mine!" the younger red-haired woman answered in a very loud voice.
Just then, the conductor called, "All aboard. All aboard."
"I wonder what they're fighting over?" Violet asked.
Jessie said, "They sound really angry. It looks like they're fighting over that suitcase."
"It's not a suitcase," Violet said. "It's an artist's portfolio. It's built especially so artists can carry big drawings and paintings."
"Do you think the young woman is the artist?" Jessie asked.
"Maybe she's trying to take the older woman's paintings?" Henry suggested.
Benny turned to Aunt Jane and said, "See, we aren't even on the train and we've found a mystery."
"But we must get on the train now," Aunt Jane said. "The conductor has called twice."
"Look!" Henry said. Just then the younger woman gave the portfolio a big tug. She pulled so hard that the older woman fell down. The younger woman looked frightened and started to walk toward the older one. Then she seemed to change her mind. She quickly grabbed her suitcase and the portfolio and jumped onto the train.
Henry ran over to the older woman and helped her up on her feet. He asked, "Are you all right?"
"Yes, of course," the older woman said. "I just lost my balance."
"Are you sure you're not hurt?" Henry asked. "Do you want us to call the conductor or someone?"
"I'm fine," the older woman said sharply.
"Did that girl take your portfolio?" Henry asked.
"No!" The older woman shook her head. "It was her portfolio. And I don't need any help!" She turned her back on Henry and walked quickly away.
When Henry returned to his family, he said, "She's all right. She says the portfolio belongs to the girl."
"It was nice of you to help," Aunt Jane said. "But we must get on the train now."
"The red-headed girl won the tug of war," Jessie said thoughtfully. "I hope the portfolio really is hers."
The Aldens boarded the train and the conductor directed them to their sleeping car. The girls were in room 102 and the boys were across the hall in room 105. Benny opened the door and said, "Wow! This really is a small room! Where do we put our suitcases?"
Then he saw a doorknob beside the sink and opened it. "This is a closet," he said. "We can put our suitcases in here." They stowed their suitcases in the little closet and tried out the sink.
Then Benny went across the hall to visit his sisters. The girls were looking out the window at the platform. Jessie pointed. "The woman who fell down is still standing on the platform."
"What's she doing?" Benny asked. He looked out the window. Then he answered his own question. "She's talking to one of the conductors."
Henry joined them. He couldn't quite fit into the compartment, but he stood in the corridor and scrunched down so he could see out the window. "He's a porter," Henry said. "The conductor is the one who says when to get on and off the train. The porters carry bags and help you."
"She's giving him money," Jessie reported to the others. "It looks like a lot of money."
"Maybe she's buying a ticket," Violet suggested.
"No," Jessie said. "She can only buy a ticket at the ticket booth."
The children watched as the porter boarded the train and the older woman stood alone on the platform.
"Why would she give the porter money when she's not even getting on the train?" Violet wondered.
"She looks sad," Jessie said. "I wonder what the argument was all about."
"When I offered to call for help, she looked sort of strange," Henry said.
I wonder why they were fighting over the port ... port ..." Benny couldn't say the new word.
"Portfolio," Violet said. "The red-headed girl looked young. Maybe she's an art student."
"Maybe," Henry said. "But let's not waste our time talking about that. Let's explore the train."
"Good idea," Benny agreed.
"We can all take a look around," Violet agreed. "Maybe we'll meet the art student somewhere."
"Maybe in the snack bar," Benny suggested.
The Alden children went out into the corridor and found Aunt Jane's compartment. "We're going to explore," Benny said. "Do you want to come along?"
Aunt Jane shook her head and said, "You children can look around while I read. But be sure to save some room for dinner."
"Don't worry, I would never miss dinner," Benny promised her.CHAPTER 3
As the Aldens explored the train, they found out it was very long. The children counted twenty cars. On one end were the sleeping cars and on the other there were many coach cars with big, comfortable seats. The porters were handing out pillows. "A lot of people sleep all night sitting up in the seats," Jessie said. "We're lucky we have beds."
"I'll bet those big seats are pretty comfortable," Benny said. "But I like our slumbercoaches."
They loved walking from car to car and feeling the way the floor rolled beneath them. Benny said, "It's a little like sailing, isn't it?"
"Not really," Henry said thoughtfully. "It's more like flying in an airplane, I think."
"I think it's exactly like riding in a train," Jessie said, laughing.
They walked all the way to the end of the train and turned around. On their way back, they stopped to look at the club car. The club car had tables and chairs and, at one end, there was a snack bar where a woman was selling drinks and snacks. "Let's sit here," Henry said. He pointed to an empty table with four chairs.
"I think I'll have a snack," Benny said.
"Just get a drink for now," Jessie said. "It's almost time for dinner."
Benny smiled at the thought of dinner and looked out the window of the club car. He said, "I know we're moving and the trees are standing still. But when I look out the window, it seems as if the trees are running away."
Benny got a drink and they sat and watched the people parade through the train. The train was filled with people of many ages and some were quite dressed up. Others wore jeans and T-shirts or sweaters. There were four women who were playing cards at a table next to them. Other people were talking or reading. Some stared out the window at the darkening sky. Everyone looked very relaxed.
A woman in uniform came through ringing a bell and singing out, "First call for dinner."
"We'd better go," Henry said. "Aunt Jane is waiting for us."
"I wonder what dinner will be like," Jessie said.
"Let's get Aunt Jane and go and see," Benny said.
When they returned, Aunt Jane was sitting in her little compartment reading. She asked, "Well, did you see everything?"
"Not everything," Jessie admitted. "It is a very long train."
"We saw a lot," Benny added. "We saw the coach cars and the snack bar in the club car." Then he added, "Is it time for dinner yet? I'm hungry."
Aunt Jane laughed and said, "I suppose we can go to the early seating. Then you might want to watch the sunset from the dome coach."
Excerpted from The Mystery on the Train by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1996 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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