Read an Excerpt
The Mystery of the Missing Cat
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Missing Cat
"What are you two doing, Benny?" asked ten-year-old Violet Alden. She stood on the front steps of the old white house, watching her five-year-old brother Benny and her seven-year-old cousin, Soo Lee Alden.
Benny laughed. "We're practicing walking backward," he explained.
Soo Lee nodded and added, "When we get good enough, we're going to have a walking-backward race!"
"Benny, look out!" cried Violet. But it was too late. Benny had walked backward right into a pile of leaves.
"Oh!" said Benny, falling down. Leaves flew up and scattered everywhere. Watch, the Aldens' dog, who had been lying on the grass, gave an excited bark and raced over to the pile of leaves. He jumped in, too.
"Look, Benny," said Soo Lee. "Watch thinks you're playing a game!" She picked up a handful of leaves and threw them in the air. Watch leaped up and tried to catch them, barking the whole time.
Violet smiled as she watched Benny and Soo Lee. Then Benny stopped. He looked down at the scattered leaves. "Uh-oh!" he said. "These are the leaves that Henry and Jessie raked up this morning." Henry, who was fourteen, and Jessie, who was twelve, were the oldest of the four Alden children.
"Don't worry," called Henry. A moment later he and Jessie came outside to join the others. "We can rake those up again in no time."
"Yes, if we all do it together," said Violet.
Benny jumped out of the leaves. "I'll get the rakes," he said.
Benny hurried away and soon returned with the rakes. The five children set to work and soon had all the leaves in a big pile again.
"Whew," said Benny. "Jumping in the leaves was fun. But raking them up is hard work!"
"Are you hungry, Benny?" Jessie teased her brother. The others all laughed when Benny nodded. Benny was always hungry.
Benny laughed, too. "Yes," he answered. "I'm very hungry."
"I think it's time for a snack," said Henry. "Come on!" He led the way through the house to the big kitchen in the back. Mrs. McGregor, the housekeeper, was sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea with a curly-haired woman wearing a dark blue dress with a white collar.
"Hello, children," said Mrs. McGregor, her cheerful face breaking into a broad smile. "This is a friend of mine, Mrs. Valentine. She's just come over to tell me the good news. Her niece, Whitney, is coming to visit!"
"She's a first-year student at college," said Mrs. Valentine. "I hope you'll all be able to meet her."
Mrs. McGregor introduced the Aldens.
"And Watch," added Benny quickly, pointing to the small terrier who was sitting at his feet.
"And, of course, Watch," agreed Mrs. McGregor.
Mrs. Valentine said hello to everyone and leaned over to pat the dog's head. "How do you do, Watch?" she asked. Watch wagged his tail happily.
"He's a wonderful dog," said Mrs. Valentine. "Does he belong to you, Benny?"
"No, we belong to him," said Benny.
Violet nodded shyly. "It's true. He found us."
As the Aldens got out cookies and milk, Soo Lee told how she had lived in Korea before Joe and Alice Alden, who were cousins of James Alden, had adopted her. Then Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny told the story of how the little dog had come limping into their lives when they first became orphans and were living in an old abandoned boxcar in the woods. Jessie had pulled the thorn from the little dog's paw, and Benny had named him Watch, and he had been a good friend and watchdog ever since.
Now the old boxcar was in the yard behind the big white house where the Aldens lived with their grandfather, James Alden. They hadn't known it when they were living in the boxcar, but he had been searching and searching for them. When he'd found them at last, he had brought them all to Greenfield to live with him. He'd even brought the boxcar, too, so they could visit it whenever they wanted.
"What an amazing story," said Mrs. Valentine. "You know, it's funny, but I know a cat who found someone, too, sort of the way Watch found you."
"Really?" said Violet, forgetting her shyness. "What happened?"
"I'm the housekeeper for Mr. Woods. He lives in the big stone house at the end of Tucker Lane. He lives all alone. He never visits friends. Friends never visit him. He never goes anywhere except for walks. He just doesn't seem to like anyone."
"Doesn't he have a family?" asked Soo Lee.
"No, no one," said Mrs. Valentine. "But one day just a few months ago, he came home from one of his long walks carrying a tiny little calico kitten — white with orange and black spots. She was skinny and starving, with funny, crinkled, dirty spotted fur. Why, she was so young her eyes were still blue — kittens' eyes usually change to green or yellow when they're five or six weeks old."
"I didn't know that," said Benny.
"Poor kitten," said softhearted Violet.
"But she was a lucky kitten after all," Mrs. Valentine went on. "Because Mr. Woods kept her and fed her and nursed her back to health. He named her Spotzie, and now wherever he goes, she goes."
"That's a very nice story," said Mrs. McGregor.
Mrs. Valentine shook her head sadly. "It was a nice story. But a few days ago, Mr. Woods and Spotzie were sitting on the porch the way they always do in the afternoon. Mr. Woods went inside for a minute. And when he came back outside, Spotzie was gone!"
"Did she run away?" asked Jessie.
"I don't think so. Mr. Woods was only gone a minute. And he came back out and called and called for Spotzie. She always comes when she's called. But she didn't this time."
"Did Mr. Woods call the Greenfield Animal Shelter?" asked Jessie.
"He did. And he goes out every day, looking for her and calling for her. But she's just disappeared!" Mrs. Valentine frowned.
"Maybe we could help," said Henry. "Maybe we could find Spotzie for Mr. Woods."
Mrs. Valentine took a last sip of tea and stood up. "It would be a wonderful thing if you could," she told the five children. "It's upset Mr. Woods terribly. I feel sorry for that man."
"Could we come over tomorrow?" asked Jessie.
Mrs. Valentine thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Mr. Woods or I could show you where Spotzie was when she disappeared. My niece is coming tomorrow, so if she's arrived, you can meet her, too."
"We'd like that," said Henry. Everyone agreed that they would.
Mrs. Valentine thanked Mrs. McGregor for the tea, and left, telling the children she'd look forward to seeing them the following day.
Benny said, "Maybe Watch can use his nose and find Spotzie."
"Maybe," said Jessie.
"Oh, Benny," said Violet. "You have a milk mustache!"
Benny put his cup of milk down. Sure enough, he had milk across his upper lip.
Benny looked down at Watch, who had been drinking milk from his bowl on the floor beside the door.
"Look," he said, pointing. "Watch has a milk mustache, too!"CHAPTER 2
The Search Begins
The next day after breakfast, the Boxcar children went to get Soo Lee. She lived with cousins Joe and Alice in an old gray shingled house on the edge of Greenfield. When Joe and Alice had decided to move to Greenfield and had bought the old house, it hadn't been as nice as it was now. The Boxcar children had even thought it was haunted—by a singing ghost!
But the children had helped fix up the old house and had solved the ghost mystery. Now the house looked welcoming as the four children rode up on their bicycles.
Soo Lee was sitting on the steps when they arrived.
"You're right on time," she said, her eyes sparkling. She got on her bike, and soon the five of them were on their way to Mr. Woods's house to find out more about the missing cat and maybe to meet Mrs. Valentine's niece.
The day was bright and sunny. The Aldens rode their bicycles briskly through Greenfield, enjoying the feel of the air on their faces. They waved at the people they passed, who all seemed to be enjoying the day, too.
But when they reached Tucker Lane, Violet stopped her bike, a worried expression on her face.
Henry looked back. "What is it, Violet?" he asked, getting off his bicycle. The others got off their bicycles, too.
Violet bit her lip and looked down the street toward the big stone house. "Mrs. Valentine said Mr. Woods didn't like anybody. What if he's mean?"
The other children looked thoughtful. Then Soo Lee said, "She didn't say he was mean, did she?"
Jessie said, "No, she didn't. Maybe he's just nervous when he meets new people, Violet. Maybe he's shy."
Violet was shy herself, so she could understand how that felt. She nodded slowly and looked a little less worried. "Maybe he is shy," she said.
"We won't know until we get there," Henry pointed out.
"Okay," said Violet. "Let's go!" She got on her bicycle and began to pedal determinedly toward the big stone house. The others quickly followed.
As they got closer, they could see that the house didn't look so scary. The wide front porch had big wicker chairs on it. Brightly colored pillows made the chairs look even more comfortable. A table with a pot of flowers on it stood at one end of the porch, and there were hanging baskets with ferns in them all around.
"Mr. Woods may not like people, but he likes plants," Jessie observed.
They walked up the stairs and Henry knocked on the door, using the heavy old brass knocker.
No one answered. Henry knocked a second time. But still no one answered.
"Maybe no one's home," said Benny.
"Mrs. Valentine's niece is arriving today. Maybe she went to meet her," said Henry.
"But Mrs. Valentine said Mr. Woods never goes anywhere or talks to anybody," said Violet softly. "He must be here."
"He goes on walks," Benny reminded them. "That's how he found Spotzie."
"True," said Henry. "Maybe that's what he's doing now."
"Even if he is here, I don't think he's going to answer the door," said Soo Lee.
"Yes, we've knocked long enough," agreed Henry. "I guess we'd better go."
Suddenly, Violet said, "Did you see that?"
Everyone looked at Violet, then in the direction she was staring.
"What, Violet?" Jessie asked.
"I thought I saw someone behind the curtain at the front window," Violet said.
They all watched the window. But they couldn't see anything.
"Maybe it was a draft inside," said Henry.
"Or maybe Mr. Woods is home, like Soo Lee said, and he just won't answer the door," said Jessie.
"Do you think he has been watching us the whole time?" asked Benny.
"I don't know, Benny," said Jessie.
"That's sad, if he's too shy to answer the door," said Violet. "He must miss Spotzie a lot."
"We can find Spotzie," declared Henry.
"Yes," said Violet. "Let's get started right now."
"Mrs. Valentine said Mr. Woods goes out and looks for Spotzie every day. But if he doesn't like people, I bet he hasn't asked the neighbors," said Jessie. "We can ask."
"Yes, let's do that," said Violet.
Jessie looked down the street. "There are eleven other houses on this street," said Jessie. "Soo Lee and Benny and I will go to those six houses over there. Violet, you and Henry can go to the other five houses. Then we can meet at the corner."
"Good idea, Jessie," said Henry. "Come on, Violet, let's go."
Jessie, Soo Lee, and Benny headed to the first house on their side of the street. A man in a straw hat was standing in the small rose garden in front. They asked if he'd seen a little calico cat.
"I don't like cats," he replied. "They're always digging in my garden."
"She's a nice cat," said Soo Lee. "I don't think she would do that."
The man looked down at Soo Lee, and the frown left his face. "Well ... spotted, you say? I'll keep an eye out for her. But I haven't seen her."
No one was home at the next house. At the third house, a big dog came running down to the gate, barking loudly.
"Uh-oh," said Benny, backing up. "It's a good thing Watch isn't with us!"
As if he knew who Watch was, the dog barked even more loudly.
"I don't think any cats would go there !" exclaimed Jessie. "Come on."
No one at the last three houses that Jessie, Benny, and Soo Lee visited had seen a little lost cat, either.
Henry and Violet didn't have any better luck. At the first house, a man holding a crying baby opened the door.
"Cats?" he said. "Who has time for cats? Besides, I'm allergic to them. So is my son." He nodded at the baby he was holding. The baby cried and cried.
"Thank you," said Violet politely.
At the next house, a young woman wearing glasses and holding a book in one hand came to the door. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose with one finger and peered out at them. "Yes?"
A moment later, a big fat orange cat stuck its head out the door, too.
"Lost cat?" she said when Henry told her why they were there. "Oh, no. No cat would dare come around this house." She bent to pat the orange cat's head. "Malcolm here is a very tough watch cat. He wouldn't allow another cat on his property. But I'll keep my eyes open."
No one at the next three houses had seen Spotzie either, but everyone the children spoke to promised to stay on the lookout for the little calico cat.
The five children met on the corner at the end of the street.
"No luck," Jessie told Henry as he and Violet walked up.
"We didn't have any luck, either," Henry answered. "We'd better be getting home. It's almost lunch, and we've got chores to do."
The five children got on their bikes and pedaled slowly back to the big old house.
"Where could that cat have gone?" wondered Jessie.
Henry shook his head. "It's a mystery, that's for sure."
Violet, who was riding next to Soo Lee, said softly, "Poor Spotzie. She's lost and all alone."
"We'll find her soon," Soo Lee said.
"I hope so," Violet answered. "I hope so."CHAPTER 3
A Trip to the Animal Shelter
"If I were a cat," said Jessie, passing the mashed potatoes to Benny, "and I got lost, I wonder what I would do."
Jessie, Violet, Benny, and Henry were having dinner that night with their grandfather, sitting around the table in the dining room. They'd been telling him about the mystery of the missing cat.
"I'm surprised at how quickly Spotzie disappeared from the porch," said Grandfather Alden.
"Maybe she started chasing something," said Benny. "When Watch chases squirrels, he doesn't even listen when you say his name."
From his place by the door, Watch heard his name. He pricked up his ears and tipped his head to one side as if he were thinking about what Benny had said.
"That's true, Benny," said Grandfather. "More green peas?"
"Yes, thank you," said Benny.
"What we need is a picture of Spotzie," said Jessie.
"That's a good idea, Jessie," Henry said. "Do you suppose Mr. Woods has a photograph of her?"
"If he did and we could get it, we could show it to people," said Jessie.
"Yes," said Violet. "And we could even make signs to put up. We could put them up at the animal shelter."
"And at Dr. Scott's office," said Benny. Dr. Scott was a Greenfield veterinarian who was Watch's doctor. She also helped take care of the animals at the Greenfield Animal Shelter and she had helped the Aldens with two mysteries they'd solved, one involving the animal shelter and the other a dog show that had come to Greenfield.
"That's a good idea, too, Benny. She might be able to give us some suggestions. And we need to talk to Mr. Woods," said Henry.
"We can make some signs in the morning," said Benny. "We have posterboard and markers out in the boxcar."
"We'll do that first," agreed Jessie. "Then we can put them up at the shelter and at Dr. Scott's and talk to her."
"And to Mr. Woods," Henry reminded her.
Grandfather Alden smiled at their enthusiasm. "Sounds like you have a busy day planned for tomorrow."
"Yes," said Benny. He smiled back at his grandfather. "What's for dessert?"
The four Aldens went out to their boxcar right after breakfast the next morning and began working on the signs about the missing cat.
"I don't know what Spotzie looks like, so I'm just drawing a cat with spots on her," said Violet. "Someone should be able to recognize her from that."
"That's good, Violet." Jessie looked at her sister's picture. "The important thing is to let people know to look for a lost cat."
"And who to call about her," added Henry, writing their phone number on his poster.
The Aldens were good at making signs and posters. They soon had enough for the animal shelter and the veterinarian's office and for the neighborhood where Spotzie was lost.
They put the signs in their backpacks and got ready to go look for Spotzie.
"You stay here, Watch," said Violet. "I don't think you want to go to Dr. Scott's office."
"Watch can keep me company in the kitchen," said Mrs. McGregor. "I may even have a dog biscuit for him."
Hearing the word "biscuit," Watch trotted happily after Mrs. McGregor to the kitchen, wagging his tail.
The Aldens set off on their bicycles to put the signs up around Greenfield, heading first for the Greenfield Animal Shelter.
"Has anyone brought in a calico cat?" asked Henry when they got to the animal shelter.
The shelter attendant behind the desk looked surprised. "A calico cat? That's funny," she said. "There was a man just here, describing a cat that he'd lost that sounded a lot like yours." The attendant leaned over the counter and looked around, as if she expected the man to still be there. But the Aldens were the only ones in the waiting room.
"I wonder if that was Mr. Woods," Jessie said.
"He didn't tell me his name," the attendant said.
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Missing Cat by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1994 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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