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"Wake up, everyone. We're getting close!" James Alden said, as he drove along a winding highway. But his four sleepy grandchildren didn't stir.
Mr. Alden lowered the car windows. The fresh air awakened the children one by one. "Can you hear that sound?" he asked.
Six-year-old Benny Alden sat straight up. He never liked to miss a thing. "What is it, Grandfather?"
"That's millions of gallons of water thundering into the Niagara River," Grandfather Alden said. "We're still a few miles away, but you can already hear the falls. All that water is moving toward Niagara Falls, exactly where we're headed."
Benny could see the rushing river from the car window. "It's going so fast."
Jessie Alden, who was twelve, yawned and took a deep gulp of fresh air. "Niagara Falls sounds louder than the ocean."
Fourteen-year-old Henry Alden was awake, too. As he often did on family car trips, Henry was helping his grandfather with directions. "Just think what the falls must sound like up close!"
"We'll have to shout to hear each other," Benny yelled.
Benny's voice woke up his ten-year-old sister, Violet. She leaned toward the open window to enjoy the sunshine. "The river looks like a pretty ribbon cutting through the riverbanks. It reminds me of the stream that was near our old boxcar."
The four Alden children had once lived alone in a boxcar in the woods. Then their grandfather found them. He took them to live with him in his big house in Greenfield.
Jessie pushed her long brown hair behind her ears. She opened the guidebook on her lap. "It may look like a pretty ribbon, but it's awfully strong. This book says those tall electric towers over there carry electricity from the falls to places all over North America," she said.
"Wow!" Benny said, amazed. "That sounds neat, but most of all, I want to see those boats. You know, the ones that go right near the falls and everybody gets wet? What are they called?"
Violet smiled. "The Maid of the Mist boats, Benny."
Grandfather Alden slowed down to check a sign. "Well, children, it won't be long before you'll actually see those boats. There's the sign for the border between the United States and Canada. In just a few minutes, we'll be in another country."
"Canada, here we come!" Henry said.
Benny could hardly wait. "If we get out of the car, would we be able to put one foot in America and one foot in Canada, Grandfather?"
Mr. Alden chuckled. "Almost. I suppose when we pass through the customs booth, the front of the car will be in Canada, and the back will be in the United States. We could be in two different countries at the same time! Do you know what customs is, Benny?"
"It's where we have to show the people in Canada our birth certificates. What if they don't let us in?" Benny asked. He decided he'd better have something else to show the customs people, just in case.
"Well, let's find out," Grandfather said. He pulled behind a line of cars stopped on a bridge. "This is the Peace Bridge. That customs booth down at the other end of the bridge is on the Canadian side."
The Alden children looked around while they waited for the cars in front of them to pass through the booths.
Violet pointed to a car covered with streamers and trailing noisy soda cans. "I think that couple just got married."
Mr. Alden gave the couple in the car a friendly wave. His grandchildren did the same.
"'Niagara Falls has been a popular honeymoon spot for over a century,'" Jessie read from her guidebook. "'Many couples pose for pictures in front of the mists and rainbows that often appear in the falls.'"
Finally, it was the Aldens' turn. A friendly man in a booth looked into the car. "You folks here for business or vacation?"
Mr. Alden showed the man his driver's license and the children's birth certificates. "Business and vacation. I'm heading to Ottawa on business. My grandchildren here will be sightseeing and visiting Lasalle's Curiosity Shop. It's owned by an old friend of mine."
"Lasalle's is famous around here," the man said. "They sell all types of souvenirs. You kids will love it! My kids can spend hours in there. Now don't get me going, or we'll back up the cars behind you on the bridge. Okay. Drive through. Welcome to Canada."
Benny couldn't sit still. "I can show you where I live," he said to the customs man. He waved his library card. "In Greenfield."
The customs man smiled. "Well, now that you mention it, young fellow, I'd better check your papers. I need to make sure you're not a spy or anything." He winked at the older children. "Everything seems to be in order," he said. "You are officially in Canada."
Benny waved out the back window. "Good-bye, United States."
"Here's the visitors' center, Grandfather," Henry announced a few minutes later. "We could use some local maps."
Mr. Alden drove slowly through the crowded parking lot. The children took turns reading the names of states from license plates.
"Montana," Henry said.
"That's the third Montana plate we've seen," Violet reminded Henry. "But look. There's a car from Alaska — the first one we've seen. And it's a honeymoon car, too, with streamers and all."
Finally the children got out of the car and stretched their legs. It had been a long trip from their house in Greenfield all the way to Canada.
Benny skipped ahead into the visitors' center. Right away he saw what he was looking for — dozens of brochures for the travel scrapbook he and Violet kept. "Too bad we can't stay a long, long time." He scooped up ads for hotels, restaurants, horse-and-buggy rides and, of course, the famous Maid of the Mist boats.
Jessie showed Benny a brochure of a tower with a restaurant on top. "Here's a restaurant that spins around. You can look at the falls while you eat."
Henry patted his stomach. "I'm not sure I want to spin while I eat. I wonder if there's a brochure for Lasalle's Curiosity Shop. Hey, there's a bunch," he said when he spotted some ads on display shelves in the lobby. "I'll pick one up so we can find out exactly where the shop is."
Just as Henry reached for one of the brochures, someone snatched all of them away.
"Hey," Henry said to the tall blond young man hurrying away. "Why don't you leave some for other people?"
The man rushed off without turning around.
"Let's follow him," Jessie said to Henry when she saw what had happened. "I'm sure he didn't mean to take all of them."
Jessie ran after the man, but he had disappeared into the crowd.
Henry scratched his head. "Why would anyone need a stack of ads from Lasalle's? Those are the only ones he took."
Jessie came back. "It is odd. Maybe he works for a hotel or a tour bus company and picked them up for the customers."
The children walked on. They stopped at the water fountain to refill their water bottles. Jessie noticed something in the trash basket nearby.
"Hey, look! That man didn't take the brochures for customers. He dumped them all in this trash basket."
Henry and Jessie scooped up the brochures. Jessie marched over to the display case. She restacked the brochures under L for Lasalle's. "I wonder why that man threw them out. Well, anyway, now they're back where visitors will see them."
When the children returned to the car, they told their grandfather about the tall man and the missing brochures.
"That is quite curious," Grandfather told the children after he started the car. "Come to think of it, a tall young fellow left the parking lot in a hurry about ten minutes ago. He drove a brown car, I believe. He was in such a hurry that he almost brushed against a parked car. We should mention the missing fliers to Will Lasalle. He's minding the shop while his grandfather is away in Toronto."
"Anyway, we did get a brochure, after all, and this free map, too, Grandfather," Henry said. "Now we've got exact directions to the shop from here."
Mr. Alden kept his eye on the traffic. "It's on Waterfall Street, not far from the Maid of the Mist docks."
Henry looked at the map, then up ahead. "Take a right turn here, Grandfather, onto the Niagara River Parkway for a couple miles. We'll be able to see the Canadian Falls."
"We're almost there!" Benny shouted, his eyes glued to the river running next to the highway. "The river is moving even faster now."
Grandfather Alden watched the road while Henry checked the map. "Look, there's Goat Island. It separates the American Falls from Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side," Henry told everyone.
The traffic slowed as the Aldens got closer to Horseshoe Falls. Mr. Alden signaled right. "There's a lookout here. You children are about to get your first view of the falls."
Everyone scrambled out of the car as soon as Mr. Alden pulled into the lookout and turned off the engine. The children couldn't wait to see what was making the huge roar.
The four children gasped when they stepped onto the lookout deck. Horseshoe Falls lay directly ahead, crashing down to the rocks and river below.
"The Canadian Falls really are curved like a horseshoe," Jessie shouted above the roar.
Violet tapped her brothers and sister when she noticed something special. She pointed to a perfect rainbow that appeared in the clouds of mist blowing off the falls.
"Amazing," Henry said when everyone got back in the car.
"We were so lucky to see a rainbow on our first day in Niagara Falls," Violet said. "You can only see a rainbow in the mist if it's sunny like today. Thank you for stopping, Grandfather."
"I knew you children would love it here," Grandfather Alden said.CHAPTER 2
A Mysterious Message
As the Aldens rode through the town of Niagara Falls, they saw colorful signs outside motels, hotels, and inns inviting honeymooners, families, and everyone else to come and stay awhile.
"There's Waterfall Street," Henry announced shortly after the Aldens passed the Maid of the Mist docks.
Grandfather searched for a parking place. "That's odd. Lasalle's should be right on this block. Do you see a sign for it, Henry?"
There were many shops on Waterfall Street, but Lasalle's Curiosity Shop was nowhere to be seen.
"Let's pull into this parking space," Grandfather said. "I know the shop is here somewhere."
Benny got out of the car and ran ahead. He finally stopped in front of a shop. The first person he saw was an older man with a long white beard sitting on a bench. On the sidewalk was a banged-up suitcase displaying small pieces of wood inside.
"What are those?" Benny asked the man.
The man didn't answer. Instead he handed Benny a piece of paper.
Benny showed Jessie the paper. "What does this say? The words are too long for me to read."
Jessie looked at the flier. On it was an old-fashioned photo of a woman standing next to a large wooden barrel. Jessie read the information to Benny.
"Hettie Drummond stands next to the barrel in which she went over the falls in 1905. These pieces of wood are part of the barrel that survived the falls along with Mrs. Drummond. The pieces can be purchased for a dollar apiece."
Benny, who loved collecting souvenirs, dug into his pocket for his cowboy wallet. "I have a dollar from our paper route. I'd like to buy one, Grandfather."
"Go right ahead, Benny," Mr. Alden said. "This will be a nice addition to your souvenir collection."
Benny handed the bearded man a dollar. "May I pick any piece?"
The man nodded but didn't speak.
Benny studied the small wooden souvenirs. Finally he found a curved piece that was a little bit worn down. "This piece sure looks like it went down Niagara Falls," he said. "I'll take it."
Benny handed the man his dollar, then tucked the souvenir into the pocket of his jeans.
"Sir, I wonder if you could point us to Lasalle's Curiosity Shop," Mr. Alden said to the bearded man.
The bearded man still didn't speak. Finally he turned around. He pointed to the store right behind him.
Grandfather Alden tapped his forehead. "It was right in front of us the whole time! I wonder why there's no sign."
Before entering the shop, Benny turned around to speak to the bearded man. "Thanks for the souvenir."
The bearded man smiled. "You're welcome, sonny. This is the first one I've sold in quite a while."
Lasalle's Curiosity Shop was even better than Mr. Alden had told his grandchildren. It was crowded with souvenirs and goodies. Banners, posters, postcards, T-shirts, Maid of the Mist model boats, Native American crafts, and guidebooks filled the store. And the treats! Benny could hardly take his eyes off the fudge, taffy, and peppermint sticks that filled the old- fashioned jars.
But despite all the wonderful things in the shop, there wasn't a customer in sight.
"Hello, hello," Mr. Alden called out when he didn't see anyone minding the store.
Finally someone appeared from the back of the shop.
"Hello, there," a friendly dark-haired young man said when he saw the Aldens. "May I help you with something?"
Mr. Alden put out his hand. "I bet you don't recognize me, do you, Will?"
At first the young man looked puzzled. Then he broke into a grin. "Are you James Alden? Granddad told me you and your grandchildren would be arriving today. Now I recognize you from some family photos taken when my cousin Michel and I were six years old."
Mr. Alden smiled at the young man. "Exactly right! Why, when I was here fifteen years ago you were the same age as my grandson Benny is now. You're the image of your father and grandfather."
The young man grinned again. "That's what everyone says. Michel takes after my grandmother's side. Do you remember him?"
Mr. Alden nodded. "I certainly do. You boys were more like brothers than cousins. Is Michel helping you out with the shop while your grandfather is away?"
Will Lasalle's smile faded. "No ... not anymore."
Mr. Alden could see the young man was upset about his cousin. He changed the subject. "Let me introduce you to my grandchildren. Meet Benny, Violet, Jessie, and Henry. Children, meet Will Lasalle. He was the same size as you, Benny, the last time I visited Niagara Falls."
"I'm a little taller now," Will joked when the children held out their hands for handshakes. "I haven't had this many customers for a few days. Our sign blew off a couple of nights ago and got damaged. That has slowed down business quite a bit. Did you have trouble finding the shop?"
"A little, since we didn't see a sign," Henry began. "And the other thing. Somebody took all the Lasalle's brochures from the visitors' center, then threw them out. But Jessie put them back."
Will Lasalle looked troubled. "I just dropped off piles of brochures all around Niagara Falls yesterday. Ever since my grandfather left, the brochures keep disappearing. We depend on those ads to get new customers in here."
Jessie had one of her good ideas. "We'll be sightseeing all over Niagara Falls. If you give us some brochures, we'll be sure to leave plenty of them wherever we go."
"I'll take you up on that," Will said. "I've been pretty busy with the shop. I also work part-time on the Maid of the Mist boats."
Benny was thrilled by this piece of news. "You work on those boats? Is it scary?" he asked.
Will Lasalle chuckled. "It's an exciting ride, Benny, but not too scary. The Maid of the Mist boats have been carrying tourists safely for a long time. We even give passengers rain slickers. The passengers get so close to the falls, they often get wet."
"I know," Benny said, barely containing his enthusiasm. "We heard lots of stories about people going over the falls other ways. And know what?"
"What?" Will Lasalle had no idea what would pop out of Benny's mouth next.
Benny reached into his pocket. He pulled out the scrap of wood he'd bought from the bearded man. "Guess what this is."
Will scratched his head. "I have to confess. It just looks like an old piece of wood."
Benny shook his head. "Not any old piece of wood. It's part of a barrel that a lady rode inside of when she went over the falls a long, long time ago. I bought it from a man with a white beard."
Will walked over to the store window. He knocked on the glass. The Aldens saw the bearded man outside, but he didn't turn around.
"That's Angus Drummond," Will explained. "He sets up outside the different shops and tries to sell people bits and pieces of the old barrel one of his ancestors went down the falls in. He's full of stories."
"He didn't say much to us at all," Jessie said.
"Angus can sometimes be shy around strangers," Will told the Aldens. "But he knows everything there is to know about Niagara Falls. My grandfather often invites Angus in for advice about his collection of antique souvenirs. We keep them in the display room that connects to the shop. It's closed now. I haven't had enough help to fix it up and keep it open to visitors."
Will Lasalle stopped talking to answer the phone. "Yes, they just got here, Granddad," the Aldens overheard him say. "And I finally hired some people to cover for me when I'm working on the Maid of the Mist. A young couple passing through Niagara Falls on their honeymoon needed some money to continue their wedding trip. They're going to help out for the next few weeks. Don't worry about a thing."
Excerpted from The Niagara Falls Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1997 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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