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A Mountain of Surprise
"Left. No! No, turn right," said fourteen-year-old Henry Alden. He held the map up and frowned. "Yes, that's it. We're supposed to turn right at the next stop sign."
James Alden nodded. He was Henry's grandfather, and he was driving his four grandchildren—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny—to visit the daughter of an old friend. Her name was Maris Greyson and she was a park ranger at Seven Mountains Wilderness Park.
"Are we lost?" Violet, who was ten years old, asked in a worried voice. "We've been driving for a long, long time."
"We're not lost," Henry said cheerfully. "We'll be there soon."
Six-year-old Benny, who had been looking out the window, said, "We haven't passed any houses for miles and miles."
"Oh—but look," twelve-year-old Jessie said. "There's a sign that says 'Greyson.'"
Grandfather turned down a very narrow, very bumpy dirt road. They rocked from one rut in the road to another.
Finally, Grandfather stopped the car in a small clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a small log cabin. The door opened and a big, furry dog came bounding out.
A woman followed the dog out into the clearing. "Shoe," she said, "heel!" The woman was small and strong-looking, with short jet-black hair. She wore jeans, hiking boots, and a red-and-black-checked wool shirt.
Grandfather got out of the car. "Maris Greyson, it's good to see you," he said. "It's been much too long."
"It has," she said with a quick smile. "But you haven't changed." She gave Grandfather Alden a hug. "It's so good to see you, James. Welcome to Seven Mountains Park."
"Is your dog nice?" Benny asked, almost tumbling out of the car. "We have a dog, but we didn't bring him. We found him when we were living in the boxcar. His name is Watch and he's a good watchdog."
"Whoa, Benny. Slow down," said Henry. He put his hand on his brother's shoulder.
"My dog's name is Snowshoe, Shoe for short, and she's friendly to people," Maris said.
"May we pet her?" Violet asked.
"Sure," said Maris. "Shoe, come!"
"Hey there, Shoe," said Henry, bending to stroke the dog's back. "She looks almost like a wolf."
"Husky, mostly, with a few other things thrown in," said Maris. "I found her wandering on one of the trails when she was still practically a puppy. She was a skinny little thing. You wouldn't know that now, would you, Shoe?"
The dog's ears flattened when she heard her name and she wagged her tail harder.
"These are my grandchildren," said Grandfather. "Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny."
"Pleased to meet you. Come on in," said Maris. "I'm making stew for dinner. I'll show you where to put your gear. By the time you unpack, it'll be time to eat."
"Henry and I can unload the car," Jessie volunteered. Jessie liked to take charge and organize things.
In a few minutes, Henry and Benny were climbing up a ladder to a sleeping loft at one end of the cabin, pulling their packs and suitcases behind them.
"Wow," said Henry. "This is cool." He looked around the loft, tucked under one end of the sloping roof. Two narrow beds were pushed against each wall. A skylight let in the last rays of the sun above them.
"I like it here," Benny said. He began to unpack.
"Me, too," agreed Henry, doing the same.
At the other end of the cabin, Violet and Jessie were unpacking in a loft that looked just like the boys'. Down below, they could hear Maris talking to Grandfather as he unpacked his things. The good smell of stew filled the cabin.
"I'm hungry," Benny said suddenly. He leaned over the railing that enclosed the loft and sniffed. "Very hungry."
"Me, too," called Jessie from the other loft.
"Come on down," Maris said, looking up at them. "As soon as the table is set, we can eat."
Benny scrambled down the ladder in a flash and soon all four Alden children had the table set.
They ate hungrily. Soon they'd cleaned their plates and started on second helpings. The mountain air had made them all hungry.
"I like this cabin," said Jessie. "It's sort of like living in the boxcar."
The Aldens told Maris the story of how they had become orphans and gone to live in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. They hadn't known that their grandfather was looking for them and wanted them to come live with him.
"Then he found us and we live in Greenfield now," Violet said. "Grandfather put the boxcar in the backyard and we can visit it whenever we want."
"An amazing story," said Maris. "And now I know what to do if I ever need more room in my cabin. I'll just get a boxcar!"
Benny suddenly yawned. He covered his mouth. "Excuse me," he said.
"We should all go to bed early tonight," Grandfather said.
"I'm not sleepy," Benny insisted. But his eyes drooped.
"Going to bed early is a good idea," said Maris. "Because when you get up in the morning, I'm going to have a surprise for you."
Benny sat up. His drooping eyelids opened wide. "What is it?" he asked. "Is it a mystery? We're good at solving mysteries."
"There are a few mysteries in these mountains, but that's not the surprise," said Maris.
"What kind of mysteries?" asked Henry. He and the others forgot about the surprise for a minute.
"Well, the most famous mystery is the mystery of Stagecoach George," Maris said.
"Who is Stagecoach George?" asked Jessie.
"Once upon a time, about a hundred years ago, or maybe more, a very unlucky bandit named Stagecoach George robbed the local stagecoach. It was carrying a big strongbox full of gold to the bank. He got the loot, made his escape, and headed for what is now Blizzard Gap. He knew no one could catch him in these wild mountains.
"But Stagecoach George never had any luck that wasn't bad," Maris went on. "He got halfway up Blizzard Mountain—that's the tallest and wildest of these mountains—and the snow started falling. His horse was getting tired, too. So George decided to bury the loot and come back for it later.
"He'd just finished hiding the loot when his horse went crazy on him. The horse snorted and reared and then it jerked the reins free from George's hand and tore off down the mountain."
"Oh, no," breathed softhearted Violet. "Poor Stagecoach George!"
"That's when he heard an awful roar up the mountain above him, like a thousand trains thundering down the track with a thousand tornadoes right behind them."
"Uh-oh," Benny said. "I bet I know what that was!"
"Right," Maris said. "And George knew just what it was, too. It was an avalanche. He jumped just like his horse had done—for it had known something was wrong, the way animals do. Anyway, George jumped and tried to run, but it was too late."
"And that was the end of Stagecoach George?" asked Henry.
"Yep," Maris said. She leaned back. "Except some people claim they've seen his ghost. They say it's guarding his treasure, trying to figure out a way to dig it up and take it off the mountain."
"Wow," said Jessie. "That's a great story. Maybe we can find the treasure!"
"Or the ghost," said Benny.
"No such thing as a ghost," Grandfather reminded them. "But it is a good story."
"And there might be such a thing as treasure buried by the avalanche," Maris said. She shook her head. "At least, some people still think so."
"Can we go look for the treasure on Blizzard Mountain?" Benny asked.
"Hmmm. We might be able to arrange a trip to the mountain," Maris said. "Now who wants dessert?"
"Just a little," said Benny.
Everyone laughed and Benny grinned. He never said no to dessert.
Benny went to bed with his head full of stagecoach robbers and surprises. He was sure he would never be able to fall asleep.
But the minute he closed his eyes, he fell into such a deep sleep that he didn't even notice his brother climbing up into the loft or hear Henry say softly, "Night, Benny," before he, too, got into bed and fell asleep. Jessie fell asleep right away, too. But Violet lay awake for a little while longer. She thought about stagecoach robbers and avalanches and ghosts. Once, she thought she heard a sound outside the cabin. She peered through the narrow window by her bed, but she couldn't see anything except how very, very dark it was.CHAPTER 2
"What's the surprise?" Benny demanded first thing the next morning.
Maris slid a plate of pancakes in front of Benny and said, "It's a camping trip."
"A camping trip! I like camping," said Benny.
"I need to do a little trail scouting on Blizzard Mountain for a couple of days and I wondered if you would like to come along," Maris said.
"Blizzard Mountain? That's where the treasure is!" Benny cried.
"Yes!" said Jessie. "We'd love to come along!"
But Violet had a question. "What's trail scouting?" she asked.
"Well, here in Seven Mountains Park, we try to close trails that are getting worn out by too many hikers and climbers," Maris explained. "They're not as safe, and it's hard on the land around the trails, too. So we give the trails and the land a rest, and work on rebuilding the trails and making them safe again."
"That's a good idea," said Henry.
Maris nodded and smiled and went on, "We're closing the Annie Oakley Trail on the east side of Giant Mountain at the end of this season, and we're going to open a new trail on Blizzard Mountain. Part of my job is to hike Blizzard Mountain and mark the best way for the trail to go. We've already started work on it, but we have lots more work to do."
"Trailblazing," said Henry. "We'll be trailblazers."
"Let's go," said Benny. "I'm done with breakfast."
Maris laughed. "Not so fast, Benny," she said. "We've got a few things we need to do first to get ready. We need to pack. And well have to stop in Blizzard Gap to get some gear and supplies," Maris said.
"Are you coming with us, Grandfather?" asked Violet.
But Grandfather shook his head. "No. I'll stay here with Shoe. We can do a little hiking around the cabin."
"Wouldn't you rather be an explorer?" Benny asked.
"You go explore, Benny," Grandfather said. He laughed. "Who knows? Maybe you'll even find the treasure."
"Yes, we will," said Benny confidently. He didn't mind when Maris laughed. He was sure that a mystery was waiting for the Aldens up on Blizzard Mountain.
A little while later, Henry had tossed the last backpack into the back of Maris's truck, on top of all the other camping gear he and Jessie had loaded. "That's the last of it," he said.
"We're ready to go, then," said Maris.
The children climbed into the truck. It was a tight fit. They waved good-bye to Grandfather and Snowshoe.
Then Maris turned the key in the ignition.
Nothing happened. She tried again. Click, click went the key. But the truck wouldn't start. Maris frowned. "What is wrong with this truck? I just did some work on it." She got out and opened the hood of the truck and peered inside. Grandfather came to join her.
"Oh, no. It might be the battery," Maris said. She got back in the truck again and turned the key. Still nothing.
"You're right, Maris," Grandfather said. "It must be the battery."
With a sigh, Maris got out of the truck. "That's the second time in two weeks!" she said. She put her hands on her hips and frowned at the battered red pickup truck. "I don't believe this! I'll go call Carola Gallo for help. She's my closest neighbor."
Soon an old blue van came bouncing down the dirt road that led to Maris's cabin.
A tall woman with a wiry build and thick blond and gray hair got out.
"Thanks for coming," Maris said. "Sorry to call so early."
"I'm always up early," Carola said crisply. "And I have an appointment over in the county seat today anyway. You're right on the way."
Maris introduced all the Aldens. Carola gave them a quick nod. She said to Maris, "Battery again? Maybe it's time for a new truck."
"Ha," said Maris. Carola got some jumper cables and attached them to her truck's battery and the battery of Maris's truck.
Maris got in her red truck and turned the key. Her truck started.
"It's fixed! Now we can go to Blizzard Mountain!" said Benny.
"Blizzard Mountain?" Carola asked.
"We're going to help Maris start work on a new trail," Jessie explained.
"I told you, remember?" Maris reminded her.
Carola raised her eyebrows. "So soon after those bear sightings, Maris? Do you think that's safe?" she asked.
"Carola, you're the only person who's reported bear sightings," Maris reminded her. "And we all know you don't want any people on Blizzard Mountain."
"No people? Why not?" Henry asked.
Carola shook her head, frowning fiercely. "That's not true! I just think we need to limit the number of people who use it every year. That protects the animals and where they live. Too many people tear up a park. In fact, too many people make it more like, well, a city."
"Every time we open a new trail, it's only because we've closed another one. You know that," Maris said.
"We should be closing more trails and not opening new trails at all. There are too many trails as it is," Carola argued.
Maris started to speak, but Carola kept talking. "If people want to go off the trails, they can hire guides to show them the way. Guides will make sure that they take care of the forest. And that they don't get lost!"
"If we put a real trail on Blizzard Mountain, at least we won't have to rescue lost hikers up there so much," said Maris with a smile.
"Hmmph," said Carola. "If you're hiking on Blizzard Mountain, I'd watch out for bears."
Carola climbed back into her van, slammed the door, leaned out the window, and added, "And just for the record—I'm more worried about the bears than I am about you." She drove away in a cloud of dust.
"Wow," said Benny. "I don't think she likes us."
"She's got a quick temper," Maris admitted. "And she loves these mountains more than she likes most people."
"Did she really see bears on Blizzard Mountain?" asked Violet.
"If she did, she's the only one. The bears avoid the people around here. If you see a bear, it's usually because it didn't see you first and have a chance to run away," Maris said. "I know I haven't seen any fresh sign of a bear near the trail. No tree markings."
"Tree markings? What are those?" asked Benny.
"Those are places where bears sharpened their claws or pulled dead trees and logs apart looking for insects. Insects and berries are a big part of a bear's diet," Maris told him.
"Insects. Yuck," said Violet, wrinkling her nose.
"It's funny that Carola forgot I was headed up to Blizzard Mountain today," Maris said. "We talked about it just a couple of days ago, when she reported the bear sightings. Oh, well, let's get started."
Once more, the Aldens and Maris piled into the truck.
"Is Blizzard Gap far?" asked Benny as they drove away.
"Not too far," Maris answered. "But we have to make another stop first."
"Where?" Violet wanted to know.
"To get Bobcat," Maris said.
"A bobcat!" Violet gasped.CHAPTER 3
No Such Thing as Ghosts
"Not a real bobcat, Violet," Maris reassured her. "Bobcat. Bob Leeds. Everyone calls him Bobcat. He's a park ranger and an expert on bobcats, too. That's why he's called Bobcat," Maris said.
She turned down a long, bumpy road, which led to a stone house not much bigger than Maris's cabin. A round man with round glasses came out. He waved, closed the door of his cabin, and lifted a large backpack from the porch. He walked to the back of Maris's truck and tossed the pack in.
Then he came around to join the Aldens and Maris.
"Hi there. I heard you were coming," said Bobcat with a grin.
"I like your hat," Jessie said. It had a paw-print design on the front.
"Is that a bobcat track on it?"
"Yep," he said. "Not actual size, of course."
"How big is a bobcat?" asked Violet.
"Oh, the average is about the size of a medium-to-small dog," he told them.
"And they don't eat people?" Violet asked, just to make sure.
"Nope. Too small. They're also very shy. My job is to gather more information on them so we'll be able to do a better job of protecting them."
"Protecting them? From bears?" asked Benny.
"People, mostly," Bobcat answered.
"Don't you want trails in the park, either?" asked Jessie. "Are you like Carola?"
Excerpted from The Mystery on Blizzard Mountain by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2002 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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