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The Old House
The Alden children and their cousins Joe and Alice Alden stood in front of an old house on the edge of Greenfield. They looked up and down at the three-story, gray-shingled home. It needed painting. The porch steps were broken and the windows on each of the three floors were a different shape.
Six-year-old Benny shook his head. "This sure is a funny-looking house," he said.
Joe laughed. "I guess it is. But this house was built in 1900 and in those days houses didn't look like they do now."
Joe's wife, Alice, walked up the four steps that led to the wide porch. "The real estate agent gave me the key," she said. "Let's go in."
The children followed Alice inside. They all walked through the dusty living room and dining room. Ten-year-old Violet ran her fingers over an old table that was in the living room. "This place could use a good dusting," she said.
Henry, who was fourteen, said, "Well, I heard the agent tell Joe and Alice that no one has lived in the house for years."
They all walked into a small room with walls covered with empty bookshelves. A huge desk that took up half the room was against one wall. A dead plant was on the floor.
Jessie said seriously, "In all my twelve years I've never seen a place as strange as this one."
Alice moved toward the door. "We haven't even been upstairs yet. Come on, let's look."
As they walked up the stairs, every step creaked. "Are you really going to buy this house?" Benny asked.
They went through all four bedrooms. Two of them still held some furniture. Alice peered out of a window onto an overgrown garden. "You know, Joe," she said, "with some work this might be just right for us."
"I don't think this house is right for anyone," Benny said. "It's dirty and creaky and it smells funny, too."
Joe looked around again. "We'll have to think about this, Alice. I'm just not sure."
They all left the house, and the door squeaked loudly as Alice closed it. "I don't think I'd like to live here," Violet said. "It's creepy."
When Henry's foot went through the wood of one of the porch steps, they all laughed. "I said it needed some work," Alice said.
When the Alden family reached the front walk, they noticed an old, white-haired man cutting the hedges that separated his house from the one they'd just been in.
The old man sniffed and said, "Looking at the old Roth house?"
"What's a Roth house?" Benny asked.
The old man snorted. "Roth! Roth! That's the name of the man who built the house you just came out of."
"Oh!" Benny said.
"I'm Charles Farley," the white-haired man said. "I live here. Who are you?"
The Aldens introduced themselves one by one. "We're thinking of buying the Roth house," Alice said.
"Are you really?" Violet asked.
"Now, Alice," Joe said, nervously, "we have to talk about that."
"If I were you young people, I'd never buy that old place. Never! Take my word for it," Mr. Farley said, firmly.
"I wouldn't buy it either," Benny said.
Alice walked closer to Mr. Farley. "Why would you never buy it. Do you think it's overpriced?"
Mr. Farley snorted again. "Who cares about the price? I wouldn't buy it because it's haunted."
"Haunted!" the Alden children all said at the same time.
Alice Alden laughed. "That's silly. Haunted by what?"
Mr. Farley narrowed his eyes. "By a ghost, of course."
Henry didn't believe in ghosts, but he wanted to be polite. "Whose ghost is it?"
Benny was wide-eyed. "Yes. Whose ghost is it?"
Mr. Farley started trimming the hedge again. "It's the ghost of young Celia Roth. She lived in that house with her father until 1917. Her mother had died when Celia was a baby. Then Celia just disappeared. No one ever did find out what happened to her. Her father never spoke of her again."
"How old was she when she ... disappeared?" Violet asked timidly.
"Seventeen," Mr. Farley said. "Just seventeen. And no one ever found her —"
Alice looked at Benny and Violet's faces and interrupted Mr. Farley. "We have to go now. Children, come along."
They all piled into Joe and Alice's station wagon and headed home. Alice silently drove the car for a while and then said, "Kids, you know there are no such things as ghosts, don't you?"
Joe agreed. "You all know that, of course."
"Of course we do," Jessie said.
"Of course," Henry said.
But Benny and Violet were silent.
Joe and Alice dropped the children at their home. Joe said, "We're going on to Pine Grove. We have some big decisions to make. But first we'll stop by and give the key to the Roth house back to Mrs. Thaler, the real estate agent."
That night at dinner, the children told Grandfather about their visit to the Roth house. Henry was helping Mrs. McGregor carry a platter of chicken and bowls of little potatoes and peas in from the kitchen.
He took his seat at the table and said, "Can you imagine anything sillier than thinking a house is haunted?"
Grandfather laughed. "Well, of course it's silly, but I hope you were polite to Mr. Farley."
Benny looked at his grandfather. "You mean it? There really are no ghosts anywhere?"
Mr. Alden reached over and patted Benny's hand. "I really mean it," he said. "I hope you're not frightened."
"Not me!" Benny said firmly.
"Not me," Violet agreed.
The children all felt safe with Grandfather. They could hardly believe they had once run away from him. After their parents had died, they had heard that their grandfather was a mean man who wouldn't be nice to them. They had lived in a boxcar, until Mr. Alden had found them and took them and their boxcar back to his estate. Now the children couldn't be happier, and they loved their grandfather dearly.
When Mrs. McGregor brought in a big chocolate cake for dessert, Benny said, "I feel sorry for the ghosts. They'll never get to eat one of Mrs. McGregor's cakes. I think I'll eat an extra piece for them."
Mrs. McGregor sliced the cake and put two pieces on Benny's plate. "There you are, Benny," she said.
Just as they were all eating the cake, the phone rang. I'll get it," Mr. Alden said and he walked into his study. He was on the phone for about five minutes before he returned to the dining room.
"Well, that was Joe. They've decided to buy that old house and move to Greenfield. They've already spoken to Mrs. Thaler, the agent," Grandfather said.
"The haunted one?" Benny asked.
"Come on, Benny. You know it isn't haunted," Mr. Alden said. "Aren't you happy Alice and Joe will be living here?"
Benny thought for a minute. "Yes, I am, but I'll miss going to the amusement park that's near where they live now."
"Well," Mr. Alden said, "I'll certainly be glad to have them here."
"When will they move in?" Jessie asked.
"Soon," Grandfather said. "I'm going to ask my lawyer to move things along quickly. They'd like to be settled in a couple of weeks."
"That place certainly needs a lot of work," Mrs. McGregor said as she brought in a bowl of fruit.
Jessie said, "Maybe we can fix it up a little."
Violet jumped up from the table. "What a wonderful idea! We could dust and clean out the closets and drawers. I noticed there were still things in some of them."
"We can oil the doors and windows," Henry said.
"And weed the garden," Benny added.
"And touch up some of the paint," Jessie said.
"I think Joe and Alice will be very happy to have you do all that," Grandfather said. "I'll pay for whatever supplies you need, of course."
"We'll need the key to get into the house," Henry said.
Mr. Alden nodded. "I'll call Mrs. Thaler in the morning and tell her to give you children the key."
"Can we take Watch?" Benny asked, looking at the Aldens' dog, who was dozing in a corner.
Everybody laughed. "I don't think Watch would be much help," Grandfather said. "You'd better leave him at home."
"We'll take Watch some other time, Benny," Henry added, seeing Benny's disappointment.
Benny sighed. "I guess he'd have more fun at home anyway."
Work! Work! Work!
The next morning, the Aldens got up and fixed a breakfast of orange juice, cold cereal, toast with strawberry jam, and milk. When they had eaten and cleaned up the kitchen, they ran down to the boxcar.
It was almost the same as when they had lived in it. The only new things were the plump cushions Mrs. McGregor had made for the children to sit on. Now they made themselves comfortable on the pillows. Benny pulled an apple out of his pocket and bit into it.
"Benny," Henry asked, "don't you ever stop eating?"
Benny grinned. "Yes—when I sleep."
"Okay," Jessie said, "let's make a list of everything we need to take to the old house."
"Well," Violet said, thoughtfully, "we need soap and rags and a mop ..."
"And oil and paint and a paintbrush," Henry added.
"And, work gloves, and a broom and paper to line the drawers," Jessie said.
"And food," Benny said. "For us!"
"Okay," Jessie said. "We'll bike into town, buy all the stuff at the hardware store, and then we'll go to the market and get food for lunch. And then we can go to the 'Roth house,' as Mr. Farley calls it."
Henry said, "That's fine! Let's get our bikes and go."
Five minutes later the Aldens were biking down a tree-lined country road to the town of Greenfield. Once they reached the small town, they stopped at Mrs. Thaler's for the keys to the house. She handed Jessie two keys on a ring. "The larger one is for the front door and the smaller one is for the back door," she told them.
Then they rode over to Harmon's Hardware store. Mr. Harmon greeted them when they walked in. "Hi, Aldens. Can I help you?"
"We need a lot of cleaning things to take to the Roth house, which our cousins Joe and Alice are buying. We're going to help fix it up for them," Benny said all in one breath.
Mr. Harmon laughed. "It will take an army to fix that place up ... and get rid of the ghosts."
Benny and Violet exchanged looks. "Ghosts?" they said together.
"Come on, Mr. Harmon," Jessie said. "Don't joke like that."
Mr. Harmon glanced at Benny's pale face. "Sure! Sure! I'm just joking. Now what can I get you?"
Henry handed Mr. Harmon the list. Mr. Harmon looked at it and said, "That's quite a load. Tell you what—I have a delivery out that way this afternoon. I'll drop all this stuff off at the Roth place for you ... around one o'clock."
"Great!" Jessie said. "Thanks a lot."
"I'll just put it all on your grandfather's account," Mr. Harmon said.
Benny said, "Now we can go to the store for our lunch food."
The Aldens walked across the street to a small market. Henry took a shopping cart, and the four children walked through the aisles. Into the cart they put a loaf of whole wheat bread, a large package of cheese slices, juicy tomatoes, peaches, chocolate cookies, and two quarts of milk. Benny added potato chips, and Violet ran back for paper plates, cups, and plastic tableware.
After they had paid, they divided the food into two bags. Henry and Jessie each put one in their bike baskets. Then they all rode the couple of miles to the old house. As they got off their bikes, a middle-aged man and woman were getting into a car parked in the street. The dark-haired woman stared at the Aldens and then walked over to them.
"We're the Aldens," Benny said quickly. "Our cousins Joe and Alice are buying this house." He carefully pointed to the Roth house.
"I'm Gloria Carter," the woman said. "I live next door to the Roth house."
The man came over to her and she introduced him. "This is my husband, David." She turned to Mr. Carter. "Dave, the Roth house has been sold to the children's cousins."
Mr. Carter slowly narrowed his eyes. "I don't need any neighbors," he said gruffly.
Gloria Carter put her hand on her husband's arm and said, "Now, David, it will be lovely to have new young neighbors. I'm delighted!" She smiled. "We're driving into Greenfield to shop now. Will you be here long?"
"We're going to start cleaning up," Jessie said. "We'll be here a lot in the next few weeks."
"How nice," Mrs. Carter said. "Then I'll see you again." The Carters got into their car and drove off.
The Aldens took the bundles from the bike baskets and carried them up to the porch. Jessie unlocked the door and they went into the house. "She was a nice lady," Benny said.
"Yes," Violet said. "But he wasn't very friendly."
Henry laughed. "Oh, well, one friendly neighbor out of two is okay."
Inside the house Benny wrinkled his nose. "Like I said before, it smells."
Henry went to a window and pulled it up. "It's just a little stuffy. Let's open all the windows. Upstairs, too. That will help."
"I'll go upstairs with you, Violet," Jessie said. "Benny, you stay down here and help Henry."
Upstairs, the girls went into each room and pulled the windows up. Jessie looked into the largest bedroom. "Look, Violet, there are still shades on these windows."
Violet shook her head. "Yes, and look at them. They're torn and dirty and faded. I wonder if these are the Roths' shades, or if anyone lived in this house after they moved out."
"We can ask someone," Jessie said. "Let's go downstairs and see where we should begin to clean."
The girls ran lightly down the stairs and joined their brothers, who were in the living room. "Where should we start?" Jessie asked.
"We can't start anywhere," Benny said. "We have no cleaning things."
Jessie laughed. "Oh, I forgot. You are smart, Benny."
Benny grinned. "Well, then, I'm smart enough to know since we can't clean, we can at least eat. Let's fix lunch."
Henry shrugged and began to laugh. "We might as well."
Suddenly there was a loud bang from upstairs. The Aldens all jumped. "What was that?" Benny asked, his eyes wide.
Violet moved closer to Jessie. "There's nobody here but us—is there?" she asked, her voice shaking.
"I don't know, but I'll go look," Jessie said bravely.
"I'll go with you," Henry said.
Henry and Jessie walked up the stairs slowly. "What do you suppose it was?" Henry whispered to Jessie. He took her hand and they went from room to room.
In the large bedroom a shade was lying on the floor. Jessie laughed. "That's what it was. That shade fell off the window. The wind must have done it."
Henry sighed with relief. "All this ghost talk. You know it gets to you."
"Are you all right?" Violet called from downstairs.
"We're fine," Henry called back. "A window shade fell on the floor. That's all."
"Good," Benny called out. "Let's eat."
The Aldens went into the kitchen and unpacked their food. "How come there are lights and water, if no one lives here?" Benny asked.
"Real estate agents often turn them on when they know they are going to be showing a house," Henry said. "Joe told me that."
The children made sandwiches of cheese and tomatoes and put them on the paper plates. Benny opened the chips and Violet passed around the fruit and cookies. After Henry poured the milk they sat on the floor in the kitchen and ate.
While they were eating there was a knock at the back door. "Harmon's," a voice called out. The delivery boy from the hardware store brought the boxes of cleaning things into the kitchen and put them on the floor. He glanced around the grimy room and said, "Boy, you sure have a lot of work to do." Then he left.
When the Aldens had finished eating, they put all the garbage into a paper bag. "I wonder if there's a garbage can around here," Jessie asked. She looked around the kitchen.
"What's behind that door?" Benny asked, pointing to a heavy wooden door next to the sink.
"I don't know—I didn't even notice it until now," Jessie said.
She pulled open the door and peered into the darkness. "No garbage can. But there's a staircase going up. Who wants to come with me?"
First there was silence, then Benny said, "I'll go," but his voice was just a little shaky.
Slowly Benny and Jessie walked up the flight of stairs. It was very dark, and Benny hung onto Jessie's hand tightly. They came to another door at the top of the stairs and Jessie opened it. They were in one of the bedrooms. She laughed. "It just leads up to the second floor."
"I thought so," Benny said.
Jessie lightly poked his arm. "I'll bet," she said.
The Aldens spent the afternoon working. Henry and Jessie scrubbed the kitchen. Violet dusted the living room and dining room, and Benny weeded the garden. After a couple of hours, they all admitted they were tired.
"Let's go home," Benny said.
"Yes, let's," Violet agreed.
They neatened up the cleaning supplies, carefully locked the back door, and went out the front door. They locked that, too.
Mr. Farley was in his yard mowing the lawn. He stopped when he saw the Aldens come out. "What have you been doing?" he asked.
"Cleaning and weeding," Benny answered. "So when our cousins move in, they won't have as much work to do."
"So, they are buying it," Mr. Farley said. "Foolish people. There is never enough room in one house for real live people and a ghost."
"We don't believe in ghosts," Jessie said.
"You will," the old man answered. "When you hear Celia Roth singing, you'll believe in ghosts."
"Did you know her ... Celia?" Violet asked timidly.
"I did," Mr. Farley replied. "I was just a boy when she lived here, but I remember her well. She was a beautiful, sweet girl. Maybe you'll see her someday, when you're in the house."
"Mr. Farley," Henry said, "I don't think we will."
Mr. Farley laughed. "We'll see," he said.
Excerpted from "The Boxcar Children Halloween Special"
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2. The Walking Skeleton,
4. The Aldens Have a Dog Day,
5. A Forbidden Island,
6. The Hidden Trail,
7. The Secret in the Library,
8. Locked Out!,
9. Skeleton Keys,
10. Alive in Dead Man's Cave,