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The Great Ethan Cape
"It's stuck!" cried six-year-old Benny. His round face was red from tugging at the zipper on his suitcase. "It won't budge an inch."
"Oh, Benny!" said twelve-year-old Jessie, coming into the room. She shook her head and laughed. "You're taking too much!"
Benny grinned at his older sister. "I think I packed too many socks."
As Jessie lifted the lid of the suitcase, several shiny red apples tumbled out onto the bed. "What on earth ...?"
Benny shrugged. "We might get hungry."
Jessie couldn't help smiling at this. Benny was famous for his appetite. The youngest Alden was always hungry.
"Don't worry Benny" Jessie said as she tossed more apples onto the bed. "There'll be plenty to eat at Kate's bed and breakfast."
"What's a bed and breakfast?" Benny wanted to know.
"It's like a hotel," Jessie explained. "Tourists get a cozy bed, then breakfast in the morning."
Grandfather was traveling to Kansas on business, and Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny were going along. Grandfather's good friend, Kate Crawford, had invited the children to stay with her. Kate owned a big Victorian house called Wiggin Place. She rented out rooms during the summer.
"You can't be sure we'll find a mystery on this trip, Benny."
"But, Jessie, mysteries are always coming our way," Benny reminded her. "Right, Violet?"
"That's for sure, Benny," said ten-year-old Violet, who had just come into the room with Watch, the family dog. "We seem to find them wherever we go."
Nobody could argue with that. The Alden children loved mysteries, and together they'd managed to solve quite a few.
"What are you hiding there, Violet?" Henry asked curiously.
Violet pulled her hand out from behind her back. "Ta-daah!" She held up Benny's cracked pink cup, the one he'd found when they lived in the boxcar.
"Thanks, Violet," said Benny. The youngest Alden almost always took his special cup with him on trips. "I thought I packed it already."
After their parents died, the four Alden children had run away. When they discovered an abandoned boxcar in the woods, they made it their home. Then their grandfather, James Alden, found them and brought them to live with him in his big white house in Greenfield. He even gave the boxcar a special place in the backyard. The Aldens often used the boxcar as a clubhouse.
As Jessie tucked Benny's cup into a corner of the suitcase, Watch gave a little whimper.
"Uh-oh," said Benny. "I think Watch wants to come with us."
"Sorry, Watch." Henry scratched the dog behind his ears. "Kate doesn't allow animals at Wiggin Place."
Violet gave Watch a hug. "Mrs. McGregor will take good care of you while we're gone." Mrs. McGregor was their housekeeper.
"We'll be back before you know it, Watch," Benny said in the middle of a yawn.
"I think we all need a good night's sleep," said Jessie, who often acted like a mother to her younger brother and sister.
"I'll second that!" Henry said, and the others nodded. They couldn't wait to set off on their next adventure.
"Wiggin Place is just outside the town of Chillwire," Grandfather told the children as he drove the rental car along the highway from the airport. "We should have you there in time for dinner, Benny." He smiled at his youngest grandson through the rear-view mirror.
"I'm all for that!" said Benny.
Violet, who had been gazing quietly out the window, suddenly spoke up. "I think I'm going to like Kansas," she said. "The countryside is so pretty."
"I was thinking the same thing," said Jessie.
"Kansas is a good place to visit," said Grandfather. "Of course, it's famous for its tall wheat and sunflowers, but it's also a great place to hunt for fossils."
"Fossils?" Henry, who was sitting up front beside Grandfather, raised an eyebrow.
Grandfather nodded. "They say this whole state was once covered by an inland sea. Folks are always finding the imprint of sea creatures on rocks," he said. "Sea creatures from long ago."
Benny put in, "I know something else about Kansas."
"What's that, Benny?" asked Henry.
Benny broke into a big grin. "This is where Dorothy lived!"
"Dorothy?" Grandfather looked puzzled.
Benny nodded. "Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz."
"Oh, that's right!" said Jessie. "In the story, Dorothy's a little girl from Kansas and one day she—"
"Gets swept away to the land of Oz in a tornado," continued Violet.
"With her little dog, Toto," Henry added.
"And they follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City," Benny finished, with a smile on his face.
"Right you are!" said Grandfather. "As a matter of fact, the playhouse in Chillwire puts on a performance of The Wizard of Oz every summer. It draws a lot of tourists into town."
"That must be good for local business," guessed Henry.
Grandfather nodded. "Kate's bed and breakfast is usually booked solid right through the summer. But then," he added, turning off the highway, "Wiggin Place has always been popular with tourists. You see, it has its own claim to fame."
They all looked at their grandfather in surprise.
"Claim to fame?" echoed Henry.
"What do you mean?" Jessie asked.
"Ethan Cape once stayed there."
"Oh!" Violet put one hand over her mouth in surprise. "Are you serious, Grandfather? Did the great Ethan Cape really stay at Wiggin Place?" Grandfather nodded.
Benny wrinkled his forehead. "Who's Ethan Cape?"
"He was a famous photographer, Benny," explained Henry.
"Didn't he take pictures of movie stars?" Jessie asked.
Violet nodded, her eyes shining. "And kings and queens!"
As they entered the little town of Chillwire, Grandfather slowed to a stop to wait for a light to change. "Ethan Cape pretty much photographed all the prominent people of his day," he told them. "He left behind a wonderful record of the past."
"They say he was the best photographer who ever lived—a genius!" Violet knew a lot about photography. She always took her camera along when they went on vacations. "I was just reading about Ethan Cape. He was born in 1870. Nobody knows much about his childhood. His early life is a real mystery. But they do know he started taking pictures when he was a teenager. In fact, he wasn't much older than Henry at the time."
"Ethan Cape's photographs are worth a fortune these days," said Grandfather, pulling away as the light turned green. "I know Kate's turned down many offers for the photograph of her grandmother."
Violet blinked in disbelief. "You mean—"
"Yes, Kate has an original photograph taken by Ethan Cape." Grandfather grinned.
"Wow!" Violet's eyes were huge.
"I don't get it," said Benny. "Was Kate's grandmother famous?"
"I was just wondering about that, too," added Henry.
"That's the strange thing. Kate's grandmother, Sally Crawford, lived her whole life in Kansas. From what I've been told, she was loved by family and friends, but she certainly wasn't famous." Grandfather shook his head in bewilderment. "And yet ..."
"And yet what, Grandfather?" asked Violet.
"And yet Ethan Cape traveled all the way from New York just to photograph her."
"That's kind of strange, don't you think?" said Jessie.
"It sure is," agreed Grandfather. "And you know what else?"
They all looked at their grandfather expectantly. "What?"
"They say Ethan Cape had never even met Sally Crawford."
"But ... why would a famous photographer travel all the way to Kansas to take a picture of an ordinary person he'd never even met?" Jessie wanted to know.
"That's a good question, Jessie," said Grandfather. "And it's a mystery to this very day."
Benny sat up straight and clapped his hands. "See, I told you we'd find a mystery in Kansas!"
Grandfather smiled at his youngest grandson. "I'm afraid that's one that may never be solved, Benny. Ethan Cape died many years ago."
Benny didn't seem a bit bothered by this. "We're very good detectives, Grandfather."
"True enough, Benny." Grandfather chuckled. "True enough."CHAPTER 2
"Has Kate ever tried solving the mystery, Grandfather?" Jessie wondered as they left the little town of Chillwire behind.
"Oh, she's tried to figure it out, Jessie, but I think she gave up on it a long time ago. Kate puts all her energy—and her money—into restoring the old house. You see, she wants it to look the way it did in the olden days, when her grandmother grew up there. Actually, that's the reason Kate started the bed and breakfast," Grandfather told them as he turned onto a quiet country road. "She needed the extra money to fund her project."
"It must be a lot of work," Violet said thoughtfully, "taking care of a big house filled with guests."
"Well, Kate hires someone to help out during the summer months," explained Grandfather. "I don't think she could do it alone."
As they came to a white house with honey-colored trim around the windows and a peaked roof, Grandfather pulled into the driveway. A large sign on the front lawn read, "Wiggin Place—Bed and Breakfast."
"We're here!" cried Benny. "And look, there's even a pond in the front yard!"
"What a great place to cool off." Henry sounded just as excited as his little brother.
As they piled out of the car, Jessie looked around and said, "That must be Kate."
A woman with gray streaks in her dark hair was waving a hand high in the air as she hurried down the porch steps. Grandfather gave his good friend a hug.
"Kate, how do you manage to look younger every time I see you?" he asked.
"Never mind your flattery, James," said Kate, with a twinkle in her eye. Then she turned her attention to the children. "I can't believe I finally get to meet your wonderful family."
Grandfather smiled proudly as he introduced Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny to Kate Crawford.
"It's very nice to meet you," Jessie said politely, speaking for them all.
"I feel as if I know you already," Kate told them, as she slipped her hands into the pockets of a dress splashed with sunflowers. "Your grandfather has told me all about your wonderful adventures. And just between us," she added, "this place could use a little excitement."
At that, Grandfather had to laugh. "Kate, there's never a dull moment with my grandchildren around."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that!" Kate's laughter was warm and bubbly.
Grandfather lifted the suitcases from the trunk of the car. Then he looked at his watch. "I don't like rushing away, but I do have a business dinner to attend."
Kate smiled. "Plenty of time to visit when you get back, James."
Grandfather gave each of his grandchildren a hug. "I shouldn't be more than a few days," he told them. Then with a cheery honk of the horn, he drove away.
The children waved good-bye, then followed Kate up the porch steps.
"You can unpack before dinner," Kate said.
"Oh, we can eat first if you want," offered Benny. "If dinner's ready, I mean."
"Benny loves to eat," Henry explained.
Kate laughed. "Then we'll make a good team, Benny. It just so happens, I love to cook!"
"Oh, look!" Something had suddenly caught Violet's eye. The others followed her gaze to a bronze plaque hanging beside the front door. The inscription on the plaque read: ETHAN CAPE ONCE STAYED HERE.
"We're very proud of our famous visitor," said Kate, a smile in her voice. "Of course, I was just a young girl when Ethan Cape photographed my grandmother."
Violet's eyes widened. "Oh! You mean—"
Kate nodded as they went inside. "Yes, I met the great Ethan Cape just a few months before he died. Of course, at the time I was pretty young," she added. "I didn't know he was famous until I'd grown up."
Jessie knew Violet was too shy to say anything, so she spoke up for her. "Violet's a photographer, too," she informed Kate as they headed for the staircase.
"Topnotch," Henry added. And Benny nodded.
"Oh?" Kate's eyebrows rose. Violet's face got pink. "I still have a lot to learn," she said. "But ... I would love to see the photograph."
Kate looked puzzled, but only for a moment. "Oh, you mean my grandmother's photograph," she said with a slow smile. "I'll be happy to show it to you after dinner, Violet."
Upstairs, Kate opened the door to a pretty room with rose-covered wallpaper and a four-poster bed that was just right for Jessie and Violet. Across the hall, a room with twin beds and blue-striped wallpaper was waiting for Henry and Benny.
"If you need anything at all, don't hesitate to speak up," Kate was saying. Then she turned her attention to a middle-aged man coming along the hallway. "Oh, Professor Brewer! Come and meet our new arrivals."
The professor, who had a newspaper tucked under one arm, was very tall, with a little gray hair around a bald spot. As Kate introduced the Aldens, Henry reached out to shake hands. But the man looked away, turning to Kate.
"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded. "There was nothing in your brochure about a pack of noisy kids running all over the place."
Henry and Jessie exchanged a look. Why was the professor so unfriendly?
Kate's smile disappeared for a second. "Now, Professor, you're getting all worked up about nothing. The Aldens are wonderful children and I expect—"
"I expect peace and quiet!" the professor broke in sharply. Then he hurried away leaving the Aldens to stare after him.
Henry let out a low whistle. "What was that all about?"
"I don't think the professor likes us very much," Benny said in a small voice.
"I'm sure he likes you just fine, Benny," Kate assured the youngest Alden. "The professor's a bit of a loner, that's all. I tried asking him a few questions when he first arrived. But he got very uncomfortable. He doesn't seem to like talking about himself." With a little shrug, she headed for the stairs. "Come down as soon as you finish unpacking," she called back to them.
The children couldn't help wondering if the professor would be any friendlier at dinner.CHAPTER 3
It didn't take the Aldens long to unpack. In no time at all, they were following the wonderful cooking smells down the stairs to the kitchen.
As they stood in the doorway they noticed a young woman standing by the stove with her back to them. Her blond hair hung in one long braid. She must have felt someone was behind her because she suddenly whirled around to face the children. A piece of paper fluttered to the floor. In a flash, she snatched it up and shoved it into her apron pocket. She looked as though they'd caught her in the middle of something she wanted to keep secret.
"I didn't realize anyone was here," she said. "I was, um, just checking out a ... a grocery list."
Jessie couldn't help wondering if there was more to it than that. But she said only, "I'm sorry if we startled you."
Pulling herself together quickly, the attractive young woman smiled. "You must be the Aldens."
"Yes. I'm Jessie, and here are Henry, Benny, and Violet." Jessie motioned to her brothers and sister.
"And I'm Lindsay Lowe."
"Hi, Lindsay," said Benny. "Do you work here?"
"Kate hired me to help out for the summer," Lindsay told him, nodding as she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"Can we give you a hand with anything?" offered Henry.
"Thanks, Henry, but everything's ready. Why don't we head for the dining room?"
A few minutes later, the children were sitting at a long table with Lindsay, Kate, and the professor. Jessie was just wondering about the two empty places when a young couple came into the room.
Kate quickly introduced the Aldens to her guests, Josh and Vanessa Mavin. Josh was a slight young man with curly dark hair and brown eyes. Vanessa was tall and slim, with reddish-brown hair and a splash of freckles on her nose.
"Have you seen any of the sights yet, kids?" Josh asked, after everyone had said hello.
Henry passed the mashed potatoes to Violet. "No, but we're hoping to get over to Dodge City."
"Grandfather said he'd take us," added Benny. He helped himself to a pork chop.
Kate nodded. "Yes, that's something you must see. Dodge City was once the Cowboy Capital of the World, you know."
Josh turned to his wife. "Now, that might be fun to check out."
Vanessa was pulling a biscuit apart. "I'm not all that interested in cowboys," she said in a bored voice. "I'd much rather browse through antique stores."
Josh shrugged a little as he lifted green beans onto his plate.
"Kate knows all there is to know about antiques," Lindsay put in, looking fondly at her employer. "She's a real expert on the subject."
"Oh?" Vanessa looked over at Kate.
Kate shook her head. "I'm not really an expert, but I have—"
"What an interesting piece of jewelry!" Vanessa broke in. "Is that necklace an antique? It certainly looks old." Everyone followed Vanessa's gaze to the bluebird charm that hung from a gold chain around Kate's neck.
"Depends on what you call old," said Kate. "This necklace belonged to my grandmother. The funny thing is, she could never remember how she came by it. But she loved it all the same."
"It really is beautiful," Jessie said admiringly.
Violet nodded. "I've never seen anything like it."
"Neither have I." Vanessa carefully buttered each half of her biscuit, then ate two mouthfuls. "About how old do you think it is?"
Kate lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I really have no idea."
"But it must be an antique," insisted Vanessa.
"Yes—I suppose," Kate said.
"Do you think it was passed down through the family?" pursued Vanessa.
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Orphan Train by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2005 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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Posted December 1, 2012