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"That sounds wonderful," Grandfather said heartily. He paused long enough to smile at the four Alden children who were sprawled on the den floor playing Monopoly. "Oh, I'm sure they'll love it," he added, tucking the receiver under his chin. He reached for the scratch pad that Mrs. McGregor always kept by the telephone in the kitchen. "Let me get a few directions from you ..."
"Is Grandfather talking about us?" ten-year-old Violet whispered to her older sister, Jessie, who was twelve.
"I think something's up," six-year-old Benny said confidently. "Something big." He landed on Park Place and whooped with joy. "Yippee! I already own Broadway, so now I can buy a house!"
"I think Grandfather's planning a trip for us," Henry said thoughtfully. Henry was fourteen and the oldest of the children.
Violet looked up from her neat piles of play money. "You mean another adventure?" Ever since their grandfather had found them living in a boxcar and rescued them, their lives had been one wonderful adventure after another.
"You bet!" Jessie said enthusiastically. "Let's listen."
"Right at the Jefferson Memorial and left at the Reflecting Pool ..." Grandfather's voice drifted across the room.
"The Jefferson Memorial?" Benny said, wrinkling his nose. "We learned about that in school. But I can't remember where it is."
"I remember," Violet interrupted. "It's in Washington, DC."
"That's right. Washington, DC," Grandfather said as he hung up the phone. "That's the next place you're going to explore — the nation's capital."
"We're going to Washington!" Benny stood up so quickly, his play money fluttered around his feet. "Wow! When are we leaving?"
"My old friend Steve Bagley in Richmond, Virginia, is expecting me tomorrow evening," Grandfather said, settling into his favorite chair. "I figured while I was there it would be a nice chance for you to visit Washington. I've arranged for you to stay with my friend Mrs. Parsons at her B and B."
"What's a B and B?" Benny piped up.
"It stands for Bed and Breakfast," Grandfather explained. "It's not as formal as a hotel and this one's right in the middle of the city."
"I still think it's a funny name," Benny persisted.
"It makes a lot of sense," Henry said. "Because it tells you exactly what you get. It's not a hotel, it's a real house. You get your own room with a bed, and a nice hot breakfast every day."
"That's the best part," Benny said happily. He scrambled into Grandfather's lap.
Grandfather pushed Benny's hair out of his eyes affectionately. "Think you children can get packed in time?"
"I know we can," Jessie said. She immediately began folding the Monopoly board and putting away the pieces. Jessie was the most organized of the Aldens and always liked to keep things neat and orderly.
"How about an early dinner?" Mrs. McGregor, the family housekeeper, poked her head in from the kitchen. "I've heard you have a big trip planned."
"We sure do," Benny said happily. "We're going to Washington ... uh, DC." He paused. "What does DC stand for?"
"District of Columbia," Jessie told him. She scooped up the empty popcorn bowl and headed for the kitchen.
"Let's go set the table for dinner," Henry reminded Benny gently.
"Okay, but I'm too excited to eat," Benny retorted.
Jessie and Violet exchanged a look and burst out laughing. "I doubt that," Jessie said, ruffling his hair. Eating was one of Benny's favorite activities. "Mrs. McGregor is fixing one of your favorite meals — spaghetti and meatballs."
"Yum!" Benny said appreciatively. "Maybe I can manage a few bites, after all."
Henry chuckled. "I'll be surprised if you don't have seconds."
"Or thirds," Violet added teasingly.
It was early the next morning, when Grandfather and the children loaded their suitcases into the car. They were backing down the driveway, waving good-bye to Mrs. McGregor, when Watch, the family dog, came tearing around the front steps.
"Oh, look, there's Watch," Violet said sadly. "I think he wants to come with us." She loved all animals, but especially Watch.
"He'll be fine with Mrs. McGregor," Grandfather said. He reached over and squeezed Violet's hand. "Mrs. Parsons doesn't allow pets in the B and B."
In the late afternoon, Violet spotted the signs for Washington. "I think we're getting close," she said, checking the map.
"We're going to head down North Capitol Street," Grandfather told her. "Let's see if you can pick out some of the landmarks I told you about."
"I see one!" Jessie shouted. She stared out the window and then flipped frantically through the guidebook. "It's a beautiful building, with a big white dome, and we're coming right up to it. It's ... oh, my gosh, it's the Capitol!"
"It's just like I imagined it would be," Violet said, with her nose pressed against the glass. "Can we go inside, Grandfather?"
"It's too late today," Grandfather said with a smile. "But you can go on a tour tomorrow morning, if you'd like. There's a lot to see, and right now, Congress is in session."
"Wow," Benny said softly. For a moment, everyone was silent as Grandfather slowed down for a better look at the Capitol.
"It's so pretty," Jessie said. "I think this is going to be my favorite building in Washington."
"It's certainly one of the most important," Grandfather said. "But wait till you see the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Does anybody recognize anything else? We're going to turn right at the Reflecting Pool."
"I see the Mall!" Violet said excitedly.
Benny looked puzzled. "What do you mean?" They were driving down a long boulevard flanked by museums.
"The Mall is where all the Smithsonian Museums are," Henry said. "See? There's Air and Space, and the Museum of Natural History ..."
"I think we should stop right here," Benny suggested. He could see airplanes hanging from the ceiling inside one of the museums and he wanted to take a closer look.
"I'm afraid all the museums are closing soon," Grandfather said. "Let's get you settled, and then you can start out fresh tomorrow morning."
They turned onto a narrow side street and pulled up in front of a cheerful-looking brick row house. A slender, red-haired woman hurried to the front door to welcome them into a small hallway filled with antiques.
"Come in, James," she said cheerfully. "You must be the grandchildren I've heard so much about. I'm Molly Parsons."
"It's good to see you, Molly," Grandfather said. He introduced everyone and helped the children bring their suitcases inside. After he and Mrs. Parsons had chatted briefly, Grandfather checked his watch. "I've got to get to Richmond before it's too late. Mrs. Parsons will give you dinner each night as well as breakfast in the morning."
"You mean B, B, and D?" Benny asked. "Bed, breakfast, and dinner?"
"That's right," Mrs. Parsons said. "A lot of my guests take all their meals here. And I have a fourteen-year-old girl staying with me. She'll enjoy the company."
"We'll be fine," Henry said as Grandfather hugged everyone.
"Have a good time!" Benny called out.
As soon as Grandfather left, Mrs. Parsons said, "I have your rooms all ready for you — boys in one room, girls in the other."
"And our dinner?" Benny said hopefully. "Do you have that ready, too?"
"Benny loves to eat," Violet explained.
Mrs. Parsons laughed. "Well, you're in luck. Dinner is ready right now." She looked at Benny very seriously. "Of course, you'll have to eat fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and corn on the cob. Then plenty of homemade apple pie. Do you think you can manage all that?"
Benny looked amazed. "How did you know those were my favorite foods?"
Mrs. Parsons put her arm around his shoulders and steered him toward the dining room. "I raised four boys of my own, and it was just a lucky guess."
A few moments later, they were seated at a long oak dining table with a shy young girl named Amira. She had deep brown eyes and black hair. Jessie noticed that she kept her hands in her lap and stared at her plate.
"Aren't you hungry?" Jessie said, trying to make conversation with her.
Amira shrugged. "I guess I'm a little tired. My father and I just got here today."
"Is your father upstairs?" Violet asked. She was shy sometimes, too, and wanted to put Amira at ease.
Amira looked even more unhappy at the question. "No, I wish he were. He's staying at a hotel because he has a lot of business appointments." She sighed and fiddled with her fork. "He thought it would be fun for me to stay at the B and B while he's at work."
"Why don't you come explore the city with us?" Jessie suggested, touching Amira's arm. "We're going to start bright and early tomorrow morning."
"Are you sure?" Amira brightened. "Wouldn't I be in your way?"
"Of course you wouldn't be," Henry said firmly. "We'll all go sightseeing together. As soon as we unpack tonight, we'll show you our guidebooks. We can plan our first day together."
Amira gave a broad smile. "That would be fun. That would be wonderful," she said, clapping her hands together. "I can't believe I have four new friends."
"We'll have fun together, Amira," Violet said softly. "You'll see."CHAPTER 2
Welcome to Washington!
"Did you remember to bring the camera?" Violet asked Jessie the next morning. They had just finished a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs, and waffles, and were waiting in the front hallway for the rest of the group to join them.
Jessie patted her shoulder bag. "It's right here, but we need to pick up some film. And I think we'd better buy some stamps. Benny wants to send postcards to Mrs. McGregor, Aunt Jane and Uncle Andy, cousins Joe, Alice, and Soo Lee — everyone he knows."
"If you need stamps, I've got a brand-new roll," Mrs. Parsons said. She was sitting on a high stool behind the reception desk, working on her accounts. She opened her desk drawer and frowned. "Well, that's funny. I could have sworn it was here yesterday."
"We can buy some for you," Jessie offered.
"That would be a big help. I'll give you some money from petty cash." She pulled open another drawer and shook her head in dismay. "Now that's really strange. I know I put a ten-dollar bill in here yesterday. I'm beginning to think that I'm imagining things."
"What are you imagining, Mrs. Parsons?" a young man said good-naturedly. He was tall and thin, with sandy brown hair and glasses.
"Oh, I'm just missing a few things from the front desk. You haven't seen a roll of stamps and a ten-dollar bill, have you, Peter?"
"No, I haven't," he said. "But I was really busy yesterday. There were people coming and going all day long."
"Well, it's not important," Mrs. Parsons reassured him. "I want you to meet our new guests — the Aldens. Jessie and Violet, this is Peter Marshall, my assistant. He does everything for me."
"Mostly, I answer the phone and help out in the kitchen." Peter shook hands with them.
"Peter's a full-time student," Mrs. Parsons said proudly. "He's studying to be an engineer."
"Wow — like on a train?" Benny yelled from the stairwell. He thundered down the last few steps and smiled up at Peter.
"I'm afraid I won't be that kind of an engineer," Peter said as everyone laughed. He bent down so he was on eye level with Benny. "But I'm learning how to design airplanes. So if you want an extra-special tour of the Air and Space Museum, I'll be your guide."
"We're going there tomorrow," Henry said, appearing with Amira.
"Tell you what," Peter said, consulting an appointment book. "I'm free from twelve to two. Why don't we meet in the museum cafeteria at noon?"
Benny's eyes lit up. "The cafeteria sounds great."
Jessie grinned at Peter. "You couldn't have picked a better spot."
"Where shall we start?" Violet said twenty minutes later. "There are so many things to see." They had walked down a leafy side street to the Smithsonian, and had just arrived at the Reflecting Pool. There were four bronze lions surrounding them, and bright sunlight was bouncing off the water. A few people had stopped to feed the seagulls that swooped down, squawking for food.
"It looks like we're at the south end of the Mall," Henry said. "There's the Capitol right behind us, and you see that tall tower in the distance, Benny? That's the Washington Monument."
"Can we go up inside it?" Benny asked excitedly.
"Maybe this afternoon," Jessie said. "But right now, why don't we take a tour of the Capitol?"
"I want to go way up inside the dome." Benny pointed to the top of the gleaming white building.
"Let's go inside the Rotunda right now," Amira said suddenly. "I think they're starting a tour." She followed a group of tourists through a set of bronze doors and led the way into the Rotunda, a huge circular hall. "I'm afraid you can't go up into the dome, Benny, but look up at the very top. There's a fresco."
Benny arched his head back so far, he nearly toppled over.
"What's a fresco?" He peered upward in amazement. The dome was much bigger than he had realized.
"It's a painting they do on wet plaster," Henry said. "We learned about it in school."
"That's George Washington up at the very top," Amira said, keeping her voice low. The tour guide was explaining that the dome was as high as an eighteen-story building.
"It's beautiful," Violet said in awe. There were intricate carvings and paintings all the way up to the top of the dome. How did someone paint all that? she wondered.
"The artist had to rig up scaffolding and lie on his back," Amira said, as if reading her thoughts. "His name was Constantino Brumidi."
"You really know a lot," Jessie said admiringly.
Amira gave a shy smile. "I'm interested in history, that's all."
After they looked at the Rotunda, Henry and Benny headed for the floors of the House and Senate, while the girls took a look at the Old Senate Chamber.
"It's so little," Violet said in a hushed voice. "It's hard to believe that all the senators could fit in one little room. I guess Congress was much smaller in the old days."
"A lot of important things happened here," Jessie reminded her. "The chamber was a beautiful room, with red velvet carpeting and soft gaslights."
After a while the boys joined them. "We saw the House floor and the Senate floor, but nobody was there," Benny said. "I thought there would be lots of speeches going on."
"Congress isn't in session today," Amira spoke up. "That's why the flags weren't up outside." When everyone turned to look at her, she explained, "When either the House or the Senate meets, it flies its own flag outside."
"You know the part I liked the best about the Senate?" Benny said as they headed back to the Rotunda. "They had wooden desks, just like you see in school. And I noticed something else," he added, "some of the senators had even carved their initials in them!"
Violet and Jessie laughed. Sometimes Benny had a way of noticing things that no one else did.
Later, on the way to lunch, Violet asked a question and Amira surprised them again by her knowledge. "What's e pluribus unum mean?" she asked.
"E pluribus unum," Amira said quickly. "That's Latin, Violet. It means 'one out of many'."
"They sure use it on a lot of plaques and decorations."
Amira nodded. "It's what America stands for."
"One out of many?"
"One country out of many states."
"Oh, I get it," Benny said. "That's a good slogan."
"We'll have to take Soo Lee here one day so she can learn about the United States government," said Henry. Soo Lee was a little girl from Korea that cousins Joe and Alice had adopted.
When they were standing in line at the Capitol cafeteria, Violet noticed that Amira seemed a little uneasy. "What's the matter?" Violet joked. "Don't you see anything you like on the menu?"
"Oh, it's not that. It's all looks delicious." Amira pushed her tray next to Violet's, and chose exactly the same lunch — macaroni and cheese.
"Could you hand me those fish sticks, Amira?" Benny asked. He was standing on tiptoe but the plate was just out of reach.
"Sure, but I ... what did you ask for?"
"Fish sticks," he repeated. "Right there." He tapped the glass window in front of her.
Amira hesitated. "Now I see them. Fish sticks." She reached for a plate of french fries and plunked it on his tray.
Benny looked up at her, puzzled. "I love french fries, but you forgot the fish sticks."
"I'll get them," Jessie said quickly. "Here you go, Benny."
They moved quickly to the cashier, and Amira looked embarrassed. Jessie looked at her new friend thoughtfully. It seemed that Amira had never seen or heard of fish sticks before.
"What does your father do, Amira?" Henry asked when they were settled at a table.
"He's ... in business." Amira ducked her head and began eating quickly.
"Really?" Henry persisted. "What kind?"
"It's hard to explain," she said slowly. She sounded uncomfortable, and looked nervously at the group. "He's in ... foreign business. International business."
"He must travel a lot," Jessie said. "It must be fun going with him."
"Oh, I usually don't travel at all," Amira told her.
"What kind of music do you like?" Jessie asked.
"I ... I don't listen to music," Amira said quickly.
"You don't listen to music?" Benny was amazed.
Excerpted from The Mystery in Washington, DC by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1994 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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