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The Mystery of the Spider's Clue
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2002 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Sam the Window Man
"Don't forget about the ladder," said Benny Alden, "You didn't forget it, did you, Violet?"
Violet, who was ten, smiled at her six-year-old brother. "No, I didn't, Benny," she said. She looked down at her drawing of a man on a bike. There was a ladder lashed to the top of the bike, and there were pails hanging over the handlebars. "How could I forget Sam's ladder?"
"You're doing a great job, Violet," said twelve-year-old Jessie. "That looks just like Sam Snow, with his silver hair and his droopy mustache."
"And that's exactly the way Sam's bike looks, too," Henry pointed out. "Violet even remembered Sam's old rags tied to the ladder." At fourteen, Henry was the oldest of the Aldens.
"You really are a wonderful artist, Violet," Jessie said with pride.
Violet smiled gratefully at her older sister. "I think I am getting better," she said in her soft voice. "But I still have a lot to learn." Violet enjoyed drawing. And she was good at it, too.
It was a sunny afternoon, and the four Aldens—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny—were sitting under a shady tree on the back lawn. They were making a special get-well card for their friend Sam the Window Man. Violet was drawing a picture to go on the front. The other Aldens were making up a poem to go inside. The Aldens' dog, Watch, was dozing in the sun nearby.
Benny took a close look at Violet's picture. "Purple?" His eyebrows suddenly shot up. "Does Sam use purple rags for washing windows?" he asked.
Violet laughed a little. "Probably not." Purple was Violet's favorite color, and she almost always wore something purple or violet. "But I wanted to make everything very colorful," she explained.
"That was a good idea," said Jessie. "Bright colors are very cheery."
Benny looked over at their boxcar, with its coat of bright red paint. "Our old home always makes me feel cheery."
Jessie brushed her hand across Benny's hair. "It always makes me feel cheery, too," she said.
After their parents had died, the Aldens had found an old abandoned boxcar in the woods. The boxcar was their home for a while until their grandfather found them. That's when James Alden brought his grandchildren to live with him in his big white house in Greenfield. And the boxcar had come along, too. Now it had a special place in the backyard. The Aldens often used their old home as a clubhouse.
"I'm almost done." Violet was adding a rainbow to her picture. "It should only take me another minute or two to finish."
"I wish we could say the same thing," said Jessie, sighing. "Making up poems isn't easy. The important thing is to let Sam know that the whole town misses him."
"And that we want him to get better soon," added Benny.
For a moment, no one said a word. They were all too busy thinking. Jessie finally spoke up. "Maybe we could start out like this: With ladder and bucket, you ride through the town—"
After a pause, Benny put in, "Washing our windows—"
"Upstairs and down!" finished Henry.
Violet clapped her hands. "That sounds great!"
"Do you really think so?" Benny asked, and Violet nodded.
"I'll jot it down in my notebook," Jessie said. "Then we won't forget how it goes."
"Good thinking," said Henry. They could always count on Jessie to be organized.
Benny was grinning from ear to ear. "I told you we could do it! Making up poems is easy once you get the hang of it."
Sure enough, it didn't take the children long to finish. After Jessie copied their poem onto the get-well card, she read it out loud.
With ladder and bucket,
You ride through the town,
Washing our windows,
Upstairs and down.
You make everything sparkle,
Wherever you go,
So get well very soon,
We miss you, Sam Snow!
The children each signed their names to the card.
"I hope Sam does get better soon," said Benny.
Jessie nodded. "We all hope so, Benny. It won't be the same without Sam the Window Man riding all over town."
"That's for sure," said Henry. "Grandfather says Sam's been washing windows in Greenfield for almost forty years."
Benny looked over at Henry. "Did Sam get hurt falling off a ladder?"
Henry shook his head. "He got hurt falling off his bike. A dog ran out into the street right in front of him," he explained. "When Sam swerved away, he ran into a tree."
Benny frowned. "Sam will get better, won't he?"
"Don't worry, Benny." Henry put his arm around his younger brother. "Sam hurt his hip when he fell. He's supposed to take it easy for a few weeks. But the doctor says he'll be fine."
"Oh, I hope so!" said Benny. Then he added, "I can't wait to give Sam our get-well card."
"We'll walk over there a bit later," Jessie told him. "Just as soon as Mrs. McGregor's cookies are out of the oven." Mrs. McGregor was the Aldens' housekeeper and a wonderful cook.
Benny sniffed the air. "I can smell chocolate chips."
"Oh, Benny!" Violet teased. "I think you could smell food a mile away."
"Ten miles away," said Benny.
They all laughed. The youngest Alden was always hungry.
They laughed even harder when Benny added, "Maybe I should sample one of those cookies for Mrs. McGregor." He jumped to his feet. "Just to be sure they turned out okay."
"Mrs. McGregor's cookies always turn out okay," Henry reminded him. "In fact, they always turn out great."
But Benny wasn't listening. He was already racing full speed across the lawn, with Watch close behind.
Violet began to gather up her colored pencils. "I hope our card makes Sam smile," she said.
"I'm sure it will," Henry told her. "And if it doesn't do the trick, Mrs. McGregor's cookies will."
"That's true," agreed Jessie. She helped Violet slip her colored pencils into a pencil case. "I hope so, anyway," she added. "Sam hasn't been very cheery lately."
"I know," said Henry. "He says he's turning into an old grouch."
Jessie laughed. She knew Sam Snow could never be an old grouch. He had a smile and a kind word for everyone. He always said he didn't have customers—he had friends. "Sam enjoys working," she said. "It must be hard for him to take it easy."
Violet nodded. "He really loves his job. He even washes windows for free sometimes. Especially for older people on tight budgets."
Henry, Jessie, and Violet were still talking about Sam when Benny came racing back across the lawn. He slid to a stop, staring wide-eyed at his brother and sisters.
"That was fast, Benny," observed Henry. "Did Mrs. McGregor's cookies pass the test?" he added with a twinkle in his eye.
Benny blinked. "Oops! I forgot all about the cookies."
The other Aldens looked at one another in surprise. It wasn't like Benny to forget about food.
Jessie looked worried. "What is it, Benny?" She often acted like a mother to her younger brother and sister.
Benny's big eyes grew even rounder. "Mrs. McGregor just told me something," he said. "Something very strange!"
"What was it?" Henry wanted to know.
Benny knelt down on the grass. "Mrs. McGregor told me Sam got an invitation in the mail today!"
Violet looked puzzled. "What's strange about that, Benny?"
Benny leaned closer. "It was an invitation to a mystery!"
Henry gave a low whistle. "I've never heard of being invited to a mystery."
"It is odd," Violet said.
"Sam's hoping we'll help him," Benny went on. "He knows we like mysteries."
Henry spoke for them all. "Of course we'll help!"
"Did Mrs. McGregor say anything else?" Jessie wanted to know.
Benny shook his head. "She was talking to Sam on the phone when I went inside. She only stopped long enough to tell me about the invitation."
Jessie wondered out loud, "Who in the world would send out an invitation to a mystery?"
"I'm sure Sam will tell us all about it when we see him today," answered Henry.
"Let's go over there right now!" Benny suggested. The youngest Alden never liked to be kept in suspense. "What are we waiting for?"
"Mrs. McGregor," Henry reminded him. "She's going with us, remember?"
"Then let's go see if Mrs. McGregor's ready to—"
Before Benny could finish the thought, Jessie was on her feet and sprinting across the lawn, Violet at her heels.
Henry raced after them, saying, "Come on, Benny!"
The children found Mrs. McGregor in the kitchen.
"Something sure smells good in here!" said Henry.
Mrs. McGregor smiled over at them. "The cookies are still warm from the oven," she said as she tied a red ribbon around a bag of cookies. "Just the way Sam likes them."
"Just the way I like them, too," put in Benny.
Mrs. McGregor took a quick glance at the clock. "Are you almost ready to walk over?"
Jessie laughed. "That's just what we were going to ask you."
Before they left, Benny showed Mrs. McGregor their get-well card. "We made it ourselves," he told her proudly.
Mrs. McGregor caught her breath when she saw Violet's drawing. "What a fine picture of Sam, Violet." She opened the card and read the poem. "Goodness, I had no idea the Aldens were such wonderful poets!"
"Oh, we are!" said Benny. "We're poets and we didn't even know it."
They all laughed at Benny's funny rhyme.
They said good-bye to Watch. Then Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny filed out the door behind Mrs. McGregor.
Sam's little yellow house was just a short walk from the Aldens'. As they got closer, the children noticed a car parked in Sam's driveway.
Violet hesitated. "It looks like Sam already has company," she said. "Maybe we should come back another time."
Benny looked disappointed. "But we're almost at Sam's house," he pointed out. "And we brought a card—and cookies!"
"That's true," said Mrs. McGregor. "We really should stop in for a moment."
Just then, something caught Jessie's eye. Across the street, a heavyset man was standing on the curb, his eyes fixed on the little yellow house. The man had silver hair—just like Sam's. When he noticed Jessie watching him, he ducked behind the trees.
"Did you see that?" Jessie whispered to Henry.
"Somebody was standing over there," she told him in a low voice. "When he saw us, he disappeared."
"He was probably a friend of Sam's," guessed Henry. "Maybe he decided to come back later, when Sam doesn't have so much company."
"Maybe so," said Jessie. But she didn't sound very sure. The man had disappeared too quickly—almost as though he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't. Jessie couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right.CHAPTER 2
The Strange Invitation
Benny rang Sam's bell. A moment later, the door opened. A man in a business suit greeted them. He was very tall, with gray hair that circled a bald spot.
"You must be Mrs. McGregor," the man said with a friendly smile. "And I bet these are the famous Alden children." He held out his hand. "I'm Thomas Paintner. An old friend of Sam's."
"I've often heard Sam speak of you," Mrs. McGregor said warmly. "And you're quite right. I'm Mrs. McGregor and these are the Aldens—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny."
They all shook hands. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Paintner," the children said politely
"None of that formal stuff," Sam's old friend told them. "Please call me Thomas."
"We'll only be staying a moment," said Mrs. McGregor. "We don't want to intrude."
Thomas shook his head as he ushered them inside. "You won't be intruding," he said. "Besides, I can only stay a little while longer myself."
The well-dressed man led them into the living room, where the afternoon sun shone through sparkling clean windows. Sam was resting on the couch, a faded old quilt thrown over him, his shirtsleeves rolled up and a cane nearby.
"I was hoping you could make it!" he said cheerfully as they came into the room.
Mrs. McGregor held up her paper bag. "I remembered your favorite cookies, Sam."
Benny's mouth dropped open as he looked around. Every square inch of every table was covered with get-well cards!
When she saw the look of surprise on Benny's face, Mrs. McGregor smiled and said, "Sam's been flooded with cards and phone calls since his accident."
"Oh, yes!" put in Sam as he propped himself up higher on the pillows. "Folks have been real good to me. Even Thomas dropped everything and came right over. I called him the minute I saw his name on that invitation."
Jessie and Henry exchanged glances. What did Thomas Paintner have to do with the strange invitation?
Mrs. McGregor said, "Why don't I make a pot of tea. Then we can sit down and have a nice visit."
Sam smoothed his droopy mustache and grinned a little. "Do you think we could have some cookies with that tea?"
Mrs. McGregor was already halfway to the kitchen. "Of course!" she called back over her shoulder.
The Aldens went along to help. While Mrs. McGregor put water on to boil, Benny arranged the cookies on a plate, Jessie poured four glasses of milk, Henry reached into the cupboard for the napkins and the teacups, and Violet filled the sugar bowl.
They made their way back to the living room. Henry helped clear a space on the coffee table for the tea tray.
Benny perched on a wooden footstool. "Will you tell us about the invitation now, Sam?" He couldn't wait to hear all about the mystery.
"Sure thing." With a nod of his head, Sam pulled an engraved invitation from his shirt pocket. He held it up for everyone to see. "This is it," he said. "I got it in the mail today."
Henry, Jessie, and Violet sat down together on the quilt-draped love seat, while Mrs. McGregor settled into one of the rocking chairs by the window. They waited expectantly for Sam to continue.
"My first thought," Sam went on, "was that it was some kind of practical joke. That's why I asked Thomas to stop by."
"It's definitely not a practical joke," Thomas said firmly. "There's a lot of money waiting for the first person to solve the mystery."
The Aldens looked at one another in surprise.
"Money?" echoed Benny.
Thomas nodded as Mrs. McGregor poured his tea. "I'm a lawyer, and one of my clients was a very wealthy businessman. Before he died, he came up with the idea for a mystery. Whoever solved the mystery would inherit a portion of his estate—that means a good chunk of his money."
"Who was he?" Benny wanted to know. "The businessman, I mean."
Thomas stirred cream into his tea. "My client wanted that to be kept a secret, Benny."
"You mean, until after the mystery's solved?" Mrs. McGregor looked puzzled.
"Before and after, Mrs. McGregor," answered Thomas. "The millionaire's name will never be revealed."
Henry scratched his head. "Why did he want to keep it a secret?"
Thomas said only, "I'm sure my client had his reasons."
Sam looked around at everyone. "The whole thing sounded kind of fishy to me. But Thomas swears that the invitation is for real." Sam was patting his shirt pockets. "Now, where did I put my glasses?" He glanced over at the Aldens. "Could someone read the invitation out loud for me?"
Jessie stood up. "Of course." She took the invitation from Sam, then began to read it aloud:
To Samuel Snow,
You are cordially invited to solve the mystery of the Spider's Clue.
In a separate envelope, you will find a series of clues that will lead you through Greenfield to a secret code word.
If you are the first to solve the mystery of the Spider's Clue and discover the secret code word, you will be the winner of an inheritance.
This code word must he given to Thomas Paintner, at the law firm of Paintner and Bradley, by July 12.
Good luck to one and all!
When she was finished, Jessie sank back against a cushion. She had never seen such a strange invitation before.
"There isn't much time to find the code word," Violet pointed out. "The twelfth of July is only one week away."
Thomas took a sip of his tea. "That's true," he said. "And there'll be others trying to solve the mystery too."
"It seems odd," Henry said thoughtfully. "Why would the millionaire make a game out of giving away his money?"
Jessie was curious, too. "Why didn't he just name somebody in his will?"
"I bet the millionaire liked mysteries," Benny guessed, his eyes shining. "Maybe he wanted everyone to have some fun trying to solve one."
"You're a smart young man, Benny," said Thomas with a slow smile. "Not many people would've figured that out."
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Spider's Clue by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2002 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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