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A Secret at the Museum
"Wow, look over there! Is that a T-rex?" Six-year-old Benny Alden was pointing toward a giant skull with long, pointed teeth.
"Yes, Benny, I think it is," said his twelve-year-old sister, Jessie.
"Cool," said their sister Violet, who was ten. She came over for a closer look.
"And look at this triceratops skull," said Henry, their fourteen-year-old brother. He pointed to another skull with horns coming out of the top.
The children were visiting the Dinosaur Room at the Greenfield Museum. "I always loved this room when I was a kid," said their grandfather, James Alden.
The children had lived with their grandfather ever since their parents died. At first, afraid that he would be mean to them, the children had run away. They had lived in an old boxcar they'd found in the woods. But once they met their grandfather, they found that he was a kind man, and they came to live in his large house. They had been happy there ever since. Grandfather had even moved the boxcar to their backyard, so the children could play in it. And today they were visiting the local museum.
When the Aldens had seen all the dinosaur bones, Grandfather asked what they would like to do next.
"Have lunch!" cried Benny.
"We should have guessed," said Jessie. "It's been at least an hour since breakfast."
Everyone laughed. They knew Benny was always hungry.
"Maybe soon, Benny," Grandfather said. "But first there's someone I'd like you to meet." He led them down the hall to a door that read, MUSEUM CURATOR.
"Come in," called a voice inside, after they knocked.
Grandfather pushed open the door to reveal a small office where a dark-haired man was sitting behind a desk. The man was tall and thin with a friendly smile on his face. He stood up when he saw the Aldens and came over to say hello.
"James Alden!" the man said, reaching out to shake Grandfather's hand. "My father told me you still lived in Greenfield."
"It's good to see you, Pete," Mr. Alden said. "Children, this is Peter Miller. I've known him since he was born. His father is an old friend of mine. When he told me Pete had come to the museum to work as the curator, I had to stop by and say hello."
"And these must be your grandchildren," said Mr. Miller. "Don't tell me—the tall one is Henry, Jessie is over here, Violet has the purple shirt on, and this must be Benny."
Benny grinned. "You got it!"
"Would you like to join us for some lunch, Mr. Miller?" Henry asked.
"That sounds great," Pete said. "But please don't call me 'Mr. Miller.' I'm Pete."
"When did you become the curator here?" Grandfather asked as they walked down the hallway to the museum cafe.
"And what is a cur—what's that word again?" Benny asked.
"A cu-ra-tor," Pete said slowly. "It's the person at the museum who puts together the exhibits."
"Which exhibits did you put together?" asked Jessie.
"I'm working on my first one," Pete said. "It's very exciting." "What's it about?" Violet asked.
Before Pete could answer, Benny called out, "Hey, look! A mummy!" Everyone turned to see where Benny was pointing. On the wall was a poster of an Egyptian mummy.
"That answers Violet's question," Pete said. "That poster is for our new exhibit about ancient Egypt. It's called 'Enter the Mummy's Tomb.'"
"Will there really be a mummy?" Benny wanted to know.
"You bet," Pete said as they reached the café. "Let's get some lunch and I'll tell you all about it."
A few minutes later, Pete and the Aldens sat down to eat. The children had chosen sandwiches and fruit, and the two men were having soup.
But for once, Benny wasn't interested in food. "Please tell us about the mummy," he begged Pete.
Pete began speaking in a low voice. "The director of the museum wants to keep the details of the exhibit a secret," he explained. "But I don't think anyone will hear me."
"Why are you keeping it a secret?" Jessie asked quietly.
"Well, it's not really a secret," Pete said. "We've announced the exhibit in the newspapers and put up posters around town. But this is the biggest exhibit ever to come to the Greenfield Museum. We want to make sure we've got it all set up perfectly before we let out any details."
"You must know a lot about Egypt if you made an exhibit about it," Benny said.
"Actually, the exhibit was put together by the Egyptian Museum," Pete said. "We're renting it from them. Museums often share exhibits. We've also hired an expert on Egypt to help set it up."
Pete paused to eat a spoonful of his soup. Henry looked around and noticed that a young woman sitting near them had stopped eating her lunch and was watching them closely. Henry wondered why.
"Do you know what a mummy is?" Pete asked Benny.
"It's a dead person wrapped in bandages, right?" Benny said.
"That's about right," Pete said. "In ancient Egypt, they believed that when a person died they would still need their body. So they figured out a way to preserve it. They did such a good job that some mummies have lasted for thousands of years."
"Wow, that's old!" Benny said in an awed voice.
"Some mummies, especially the mummies of kings, are decorated with beautiful masks and fancy painted coffins. Some have gold and jewels on them. But our mummy isn't quite that fancy. Our exhibit will also show lots of things Egyptian people made and used thousands of years ago."
Henry was very interested in the exhibit. But he couldn't help thinking that someone else seemed to be, too. The woman sitting nearby was still watching them. She had finished eating, but she continued to sit at her table looking toward the Aldens. Henry wondered if she could hear what they were saying.
Then Henry noticed something strange. The woman had her hands under the table. She seemed to be holding something in her lap. Henry couldn't see what it was. Why would she be hiding something under the table?
When they'd all finished their lunches, Pete said, "I'd better get back to my office."
"When did you say the exhibit opened?" Jessie asked.
"In two weeks," Pete said, standing up.
"I don't know if I can wait that long!" cried Benny.
Pete smiled and his eyes sparkled. In a hushed voice he said, "The mummy is being delivered this afternoon. Would you like to see it?"
Without a moment's pause, all four children cried, "Yes!"
Pete and Grandfather laughed. "I have to get back to my office," Grandfather said, "but the kids can walk home later without me."
"Then let's go," Pete said.
As the children said good-bye to Grandfather and left with Pete, Henry looked back at the young woman sitting near them. For the first time, she noticed Henry looking at her. She quickly stuffed whatever she was holding into a large, orange bag at her feet. Pete had said the details of the exhibit were supposed to be a secret. Had the woman overheard? Had she been listening to their conversation? And what had she put into her bag?
As Pete led the Aldens back down the hall, a voice called out, "Pete?"
Pete turned and stepped into the office next to his. "Yes, Reginald?" he said, motioning for the children to follow him.
Sitting behind a desk was a man about Grandfather's age. Behind him were a large Egyptian painting and a bookcase. Crowded in with the books were Egyptian pots and sculptures.
"Has the mummy arrived?" the man asked.
"I was just going to check now," Pete said. "These are the grandchildren of my father's good friend." Then he turned to the Aldens. "This is the director of the museum, Dr. Reginald Snood."
Pete turned back to Dr. Snood, who was putting papers into his briefcase. "I'm bringing the kids to see the mummy, if you'd like to join us ..."
Dr. Snood didn't seem to hear what Pete had said. He seemed to be deep in thought for a moment. Then he shook his head and seemed to see the Aldens for the first time. "I hope these children know not to touch anything," Dr. Snood said. "In my opinion, children don't belong in museums."
"They're very well behaved," Pete assured him.
"We're very excited to 'Enter the Mummy's Tomb,'" Jessie said.
"I just hope we haven't taken on more than we can handle with that exhibit," Dr. Snood said, snapping his briefcase shut and standing up.
"It looks like you're interested in Egypt," Henry said, motioning toward the artwork all around them.
"Dr. Snood is one of the world's leading Egyptologists," Pete told them. "That means he's an expert on ancient Egypt. He collects all kinds of—"
"That was years ago," Dr. Snood said, cutting Pete off, "before I became the director here. Now I have a museum to run. I have to make sure we don't waste all our time and money on one exhibit."
"This was expensive, but it will be such a hit," Pete insisted. "Sam Dickerson, the Egyptologist we've hired, will handle all the details."
"We're paying Dr. Dickerson too much," Dr. Snood said sharply. "We should have let the Carson City Museum have this exhibit."
Pete took a deep breath. "Well, anyway, as I mentioned before, we're expecting the mummy to be delivered soon. Would you like to come see it?"
A strange look passed over Dr. Snood's face again. Then he seemed to change his mind about something. "No, I can't ..." he said. "I have ...a meeting. This is a very busy week." And he quickly left the office.
The Aldens looked at each other. Why had Dr. Snood left so quickly?
After a moment, Benny said quietly, "I don't think he likes us."
Pete laughed. "He takes a little getting used to. He has a very big job, running the museum. He has to make sure the museum has enough money to pay for all the exhibits and the people who work here."
They walked slowly out of Dr. Snood's office and headed down the hall.
"What did he mean about the Carson City Museum?" Henry asked.
"When the Egyptian Museum offered to rent out this exhibit, the Carson City Museum wanted it," Pete told the children. "But the Egyptian Museum decided to send it here instead. The director of the Carson City Museum was very upset."
"I didn't know museums fight over their exhibits," said Jessie.
"Sometimes they do," Pete said. He looked at his watch. "Come on, we've got a mummy to meet."
Pete led the children upstairs and down a long hallway to a room filled with tables and cardboard boxes. There was a desk in one corner with a computer on it and several neat stacks of papers and notecards. "This is the prep or 'preparation' room," Pete said.
At the back of the room were two large crates. Next to the crates stood two women. One was tall with lots of curly red hair. The other woman was short and blond.
"Dr. Dickerson," Pete said, walking to the back of the room and putting out his hand to the tall, redheaded woman.
"But, but—I thought you said Sam Dickerson," Benny said.
Dr. Dickerson threw back her head and laughed loudly. "That happens all the time. My real name is Samantha. But people call me Sam."
"I hope you don't mind my bringing some mummy hunters along," Pete said.
"Not at all," Dr. Dickerson said. The children were glad to see that she was much friendlier than Dr. Snood. "This is my assistant, Tina," she said, motioning to the blond woman beside her. Then she turned back to Pete. "It's here!" she said with a big smile on her face. She looked as excited as the children.
"Are there two mummies?" Benny asked.
"No—one crate holds the mummy, and the other holds its coffin," Dr. Dickerson said. "They're packed very carefully and shipped separately so they won't get damaged. Later, we'll unpack the mummy and put it into its coffin. For now, we've just removed the tops of the crates so we could make sure everything is in one piece." She turned to Pete. "Do you have a stepladder so we can get a look inside?"
Pete went out to a closet in the hall and came back a moment later with a stepladder, which he placed beside one of the crates. Dr. Dickerson climbed up and carefully removed several large pieces of foam rubber that had fit snugly into place over the top of the mummy. At last, she peered down into the crate, and a broad smile spread across her face.
"There he is," Dr. Dickerson said. "Our mummy."
After a moment, she stepped down and Pete climbed up to take a look. "Come on over and see," he said to the Aldens.
Pete stepped down. One at a time, the Aldens climbed up the stepladder and peered into the crate. Inside, they saw what looked like a person lying down, completely covered in cloth bandages. But the person had no face. Where the face should have been, there were just bandages, giving it a strange, creepy look.
"Wow!" said Benny. He couldn't believe there was really a dead body inside. He felt a chill run up his spine.
Henry was the last of the children to look into the crate. He stepped down and Tina stepped up in his place. "Oh, look at that," she said, peering into the crate. But as she shifted her feet on the top of the stepladder, she suddenly fell. "Ow!" she cried out as she landed on the floor.
Everyone rushed over. Dr. Dickerson knelt on the floor beside Tina. "What happened?" she asked, helping Tina to sit up. "Are you hurt?"
Tina grimaced in pain. "My ankle," she said, gritting her teeth. "I think I twisted it."
Dr. Dickerson and Pete looked at Tina's ankle. It was turning pink and beginning to swell. As Pete gently touched her ankle, Tina winced in pain.
"We'd better put ice on that to stop the swelling," Jessie suggested.
"I'll run down to the café and get some."
"That would be great," Dr. Dickerson said.
"Yes, thank you," Tina said, her voice filled with pain.
Jessie came back a moment later with the ice. Tina held it on her ankle for several minutes. But her pain did not let up.
"I think we'd better take Tina over to the hospital," Dr. Dickerson said. "We should get some X rays and see if anything's broken."
Dr. Dickerson drove Tina to the hospital, promising to call as soon as they knew how bad Tina's ankle was.
Pete and the Aldens waited in the prep room. "How would you guys like to see some of the other pieces in the exhibit?" Pete asked, trying to cheer everyone up.
"That would be great," Jessie said, speaking for all of them.
Pete led them over to one of the tables where some things had been unpacked from their boxes and arranged in neat rows. Next to each item was a small card with information printed on it. "These statues show what life was like in ancient Egypt." There was a woman carrying a basket on her head, and a man holding a pitcher. Some of the statues were part human and part animal. "That's how the ancient Egyptians portrayed their gods," Pete explained.
On another table were statues carved from gray limestone, white alabaster, and yellow jasper. Some were made of clay or wood and were painted in bright colors. There were animal sculptures in gold and silver and bronze. There were also cups and pots, necklaces and bracelets.
"The Egyptians thought that after you died, in the 'afterlife,' you'd need everything you used when you were alive," Pete said. "So they buried their dead with plates, clothes, jewelry, and sometimes even chariots.
"Those two gold cats are beautiful," Violet said.
"I like the funny monkey," said Benny, pointing to a statue of a baboon.
"Over here we have instruments," Pete said, pointing to a wooden flute decorated with gold. "The Egyptians loved to sing, dance, and make music."
"What did children play back then?" Benny asked.
"Well, they didn't have video games or TV," said Pete. "But I think some of their toys will look familiar to you."
"Really?" asked Benny.
Pete pointed to the end of the table.
"Those look like balls," Henry said.
"That's right," said Pete. "Balls, marbles, spinning tops. Imagine—these toys were used thousands of years ago."
"Here's a doll that belonged to a little girl in ancient Egypt," Pete continued. The doll's body was made from a flat board decorated with patterns, and her hair was strung with clay beads. "It looks different from dolls today, but I'm sure the girl who owned it loved it just as much."
Just then the phone rang.
Pete picked up the receiver. "Hello? Yes, Sam. How is she?"
The Aldens watched as Pete's face darkened. "Oh, that's terrible," he said. "I'll see you when you get back."
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Mummy's Curse by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2002 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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Posted August 28, 2011
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