Read an Excerpt
The Finders Keepers Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2001 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Haunted Shortcut
"It's almost time for dinner, Benny. We have to hurry," Jessie Alden told her six-year-old brother. They were walking home from the post office, where they had bought stamps for their grandfather, James Alden, and mailed a letter for their housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor.
Benny was picking something up off the sidewalk. "Look at this rock. It has sparkles in it," he said. "Maybe it has a diamond hidden inside."
"I'm pretty sure it doesn't," said Jessie, who was twelve. "Come on."
"How do you know?" Benny asked.
"Because diamonds come from diamond mines a long, long way from here," Jessie said, smiling.
"Oh," said Benny, disappointed. He slipped the rock in his pocket just in case Jessie was wrong. He fell into step beside his sister and walked quickly along with her for almost a block. His steps slowed, though, as she turned at the corner of the next street. "Hey!" he said. "This is the wrong way!"
"Not if we take the shortcut," Jessie told him.
Stopping, Benny said nervously, "The shortcut?"
"Through the backyard of the old Bidwell house and then along the path," said Jessie. "You know, it comes out right on our street."
"No!" cried Benny. "That old house is haunted!"
"It's not haunted, Benny. It's just an old house that no one lives in," Jessie said. "Hurry up."
Benny stayed where he was. "That house is haunted," he repeated stubbornly.
"There's no such thing as a haunted house, Benny. You know that. Besides, we're not going in the house, we're going around it," Jessie argued.
Benny didn't move.
"Henry and Violet and Watch are probably already home," Jessie said. "Maybe they're eating dinner. Or maybe they've finished and they're eating all the dessert."
"They're not home yet," Benny said. But he began to walk slowly after Jessie. "They went to the grocery store, and it takes lots longer to go to the grocery store than the post office. And Henry and Violet wouldn't eat all the dessert."
"Watch would," Jessie teased.
Henry was the oldest of the four Alden children. He was fourteen. Violet was ten. No one knew how old Watch was. He was a smart, brave little dog that the children had found when they lived alone in an old boxcar in the woods. The Aldens were orphans, and they didn't know that they had such a kind grandfather who was looking for them.
But Grandfather found them, and now they all lived together in his big white house in Greenfield. Grandfather had the old boxcar brought to the backyard so the four children and Watch could play in it whenever they wanted.
Benny smiled a little, picturing Watch eating everyone's dessert.
Jessie added, "Mrs. McGregor said something about brownies, I think. Maybe she put vanilla ice cream on her grocery list."
Benny walked a little faster. He liked dessert, especially Mrs. McGregor's special brownies. "Okay," he said. "We can take the shortcut. But we have to run fast."
"We will," Jessie promised.
The old Bidwell house was the last one on a dead-end street. Shutters with missing and broken slats were closed over all the downstairs windows. Vines and climbing roses grew everywhere. The house was surrounded by trees with low-hanging branches that made the old place look even gloomier.
Jessie stopped in front of the rusty fence. She took a deep breath, then stepped between two bent iron railings, into the yard. She reached back to help Benny through.
"I don't know if this is a good idea," said Benny.
"Come on, Benny," Jessie said. "It's just an empty old house, that's all."
"It's getting dark," said Benny.
"The longer we stand here, the darker it will get," Jessie said.
"I know," said Benny unhappily. He squeezed through the two iron railings. He stood up and moved very close to Jessie.
"I'll lead the way," Jessie said.
"Go fast," Benny told her.
"I will," she said. "Let's go!" Jessie sprinted forward. She jumped over a tree branch, and Benny jumped, too. She dodged around a big rock, and Benny dodged, too.
Weeds slapped their legs. Leaves scurried out from underfoot as if they were alive.
Benny wanted to close his eyes, but he was afraid he would fall. If he fell, something might come out of the house and get him.
Benny tried not to look at the house, but he couldn't help it. He kept glancing back at it as they ran. Was that a broom he saw in the corner of the porch? Did ghosts sweep porches?
"Jessie," Benny croaked breathlessly.
But Jessie didn't hear him. She'd slowed down to pick her way through a tangle of briars.
Suddenly, one of the shutters banged open. Light flared in the window.
"Jessie!" shrieked Benny. "It's the ghost!"
He ran past his sister, barely noticing the briars that grabbed at his ankles. Jessie spun around and almost fell. "Benny, wait!"
Benny kept running. He ran as fast as he'd ever run in his life. He could hear Jessie's footsteps close behind him as he sprinted for home.
Benny reached the front path just as Henry and Violet were carrying the groceries into the house. Watch saw Benny first and bounded toward him, barking and wagging his tail.
Jessie was right behind Benny. "Benny, w-wait," she gasped.
"What's wrong?" asked Henry.
"Are you all right?" Violet asked.
Benny stopped running and bent over to catch his breath. He glanced up at the neatly painted shutters on the windows of their house and the warm glow of friendly light from the kitchen.
"Now I am," he said. He took a deep breath.
"You look as if you'd seen a ghost," Violet joked. She smiled, not so worried now that she saw Benny and Jessie were both unhurt.
Benny's answer made her smile disappear. "We did," he said. "We did see a ghost."CHAPTER 2
Treasure in the Attic
"What?" said Henry. He looked at Jessie. "You saw a ghost?"
Jessie shook her head. "I don't know what Benny saw," she said. "We took the shortcut past the old Bidwell house. I heard a shutter fall or something, and the next thing I knew, Benny was running so fast I could barely keep up."
The back door opened. Mrs. McGregor peered out. "Dinner is ready and your Grandfather is waiting," she said in her sternest voice—which wasn't very stern at all. In fact, Mrs. McGregor was, as usual, smiling.
For a moment, Benny forgot ghosts. "Brownies?" he asked.
"For dessert," said Mrs. McGregor. "Come in now and give me those groceries and wash your hands."
"And then you can tell us all about the ghost," Henry said.
By the time they'd gotten to dessert, Benny had told his family all about the broom on the porch, the shutter that had banged open, and the ghostly light at the window.
"I've never heard of ghosts who sweep porches," Grandfather said, his eyes twinkling. "But you are very smart to notice all those things, Benny."
Benny wasn't afraid now. He was safe at home and eating dessert with his family. He nodded. "I know," he said. "It's because I'm a good detective."
That made the others laugh.
"It does sound mysterious," Violet said thoughtfully. She looked at Jessie. "You didn't see anything suspicious or scary?"
Jessie shook her head. "No. I was too busy trying to keep up with Benny." She made a face at her younger brother. He grinned and made a face back.
"Let's go over to the old house tomorrow and take a look," said Henry.
"Go back?" said Benny. His smile disappeared.
"Sure. It'll be daylight, and we'll all go together. We'll take Watch, too," Henry said.
"Don't worry, Benny," Jessie added. "I'm sure there's a simple, logical explanation for what you saw."
"And no ghost," Violet said.
"Okay," Benny said reluctantly. "We'll go tomorrow—but I sure hope you're right."
The next morning, right after breakfast, the four children and Watch walked to the old Bidwell house. This time, they didn't use the shortcut. Benny was careful to let the others go first as they pushed open the rusty gate and headed up the front walk.
"Look," said Henry. He pointed to a battered green van parked in the shadows in the overgrown driveway.
"I guess we didn't notice that last night," Jessie said.
"I don't think a ghost would drive a van, do you?" Violet asked her little brother.
"Probably not," Benny admitted.
"And look," Violet said. "The geraniums in the pots on each side of the front door look as if they've just been planted."
"They have," said a voice.
All of the Aldens jumped, which surprised Watch into giving a quick bark.
"Hi there," said the voice. Henry turned and saw that it belonged to a young woman leaning out of an open window at one end of the porch. The woman's black hair was pulled into a long braid. She had brown eyes and she was smiling. "Are you my new neighbors?" she asked.
"Not exactly," Jessie said. "We live a couple of blocks away. But last night we noticed, well, that something about the house was different, so we came over this morning to check it out."
"Two blocks over is still close enough to be neighbors," declared the woman. "Come on in." Her head disappeared from the window, and a moment later the front door swung open.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Lina Diaz."
"We're the Aldens," said Benny. "Is this your house?"
"It is," said Lina. "I inherited it from my cousin. But he didn't live here—the house has been empty for a long time."
"I know," said Benny.
"Oh," said Violet. She frowned. "But if you're Lina Diaz, why does everyone call this the Bidwell house?"
"Well, it used to be owned by a woman named Hope Bidwell. She was my great-great-aunt," explained Lina. "The house is still full of old-fashioned things. Would you like to come in and take a look?"
"It's not haunted?" asked Benny.
"No!" said Lina. "At least, I'm pretty sure it's not. I spent last night here and didn't see a single ghost." She gave Benny a reassuring smile.
The Aldens followed Lina inside. The open windows let in fresh air and sunshine, but it still looked as if no one had lived in the house for a long time. Everything was dusty. Watch sneezed as he trotted after them.
"It's going to take a lot of work to get this place back in shape," said Lina. "Fortunately that's one of the things I'm good at. I'm an architect, and it will be fun to work on my own house."
"It's a nice house," Violet said politely. She looked around shyly.
Lina laughed. "It was once," she said, "and it will be again. I've been going through it and labeling things I want to keep and things I don't want. I was just about to take a look in the attic and have some lemonade. Do you want to join me?"
"Yes, please," said Jessie.
"Which do you want to do first? Have lemonade, or look in the attic?" Lina asked.
"The attic," Jessie said at once. The others nodded eagerly.
So Lina led the way up a flight of stairs in the back of the house to a door on a dusty landing. She pushed the door open, and Watch sneezed again. So did Benny and Violet.
"Very dusty, isn't it?" said Lina. She pulled a flashlight from her pocket and used it to find a light switch. A dim light came on. "Oh, dear," Lina said in dismay.
The attic was fall of dust—and all kinds of boxes, chairs, tables, lamps, and mysterious, lumpy objects hidden by sheets and blankets. To walk, each of them had to turn sideways to squeeze between piles of furniture and boxes.
Henry said, "I'll go open the curtains on that window over there to let in some more light."
"Good idea," Lina said. "But be careful."
Henry wriggled between two boxes, his feet kicking up dust. A moment later, he'd opened the sagging, faded curtains. Sunlight poured into the attic, and dust swirled from the curtains, thick as smoke. It was Henry's turn to sneeze.
"No one's been in this room for hundreds of years, I think," said Benny. "Like in a fairy tale."
"I don't know about hundreds of years, but it's been a long time," agreed Lina. "There are probably all sorts of great treasures up here."
Benny's eyes lit up. "Pirate treasure?" he said excitedly.
Lina laughed. "I was thinking more of old junk that would be interesting to uncover. But, you know" She trailed off.
"What?" Benny asked.
"Well, people say my Great-great-aunt Hope had a hidden treasure," Lina said casually.
"What do you mean?" asked Violet.
"I mean, she hid something valuable in this house. Nobody knows what it was. It could have been the money she saved for her wedding or a silver tea set that she inherited. Whatever it was, nobody ever found it. The story probably isn't even true."
"A treasure! Let's start looking now!" Benny exclaimed.
"Hold on, Benny," Henry said. He smiled at his younger brother. "We can look for treasure, but we can also help clean the attic."
"That would be just as good as finding treasure, getting all this cleaned up. And then I could have a yard sale," Lina said.
Jessie's eyes sparkled. "A yard sale? We'd love to help!" she said.
"We can get started right away," Violet volunteered.
Lina was surprised. "Are you sure? It's a lot of work."
Henry smiled at her. "That's what neighbors are for."
"Well, okay then," said Lina. "And thanks." She paused and looked around. "Let's have some lemonade and cookies first." She glanced down. "And a bowl of water for Watch. Then we'll go to work on this attic."
The Aldens and Lina worked hard all afternoon. They dusted and swept. They opened and organized boxes full of books and shoes and even old hats. Lina decided that she could use lots of the old furniture, so Henry and Jessie helped her clear out one corner of the attic where she would store it until she needed it.
After just a few hours, they had used up all of Lina's soap and polish. Violet helped make a list of cleaning supplies they would need for the next day. "I'll get poster paper and paint, too, for the yard sale signs," Lina said, making a note on the list.
As he worked, Benny kept an eye out for hidden treasure.
But of all the things they found, nothing seemed to be of much value. Benny was very disappointed.
Just when he was about to give up hope, they uncovered an old cedar trunk in the back corner of the attic.
"A treasure chest!" Benny cried. Lina unhooked the latch and lifted the trunk's heavy lid. A faint odor of cedar reached Benny's nose. He caught a glimpse of faded green silk lining the curved top of the trunk.
"Yes," said Lina. "You could say that."
They all crowded around and peered inside. There in the trunk, as ornate and colorful as a necklace of jewels, was a carefully folded quilt.
"Oh," said Violet in awe. "It's perfect."
Carefully Lina lifted out the quilt. It was folded in layers of tissue paper, and Violet gathered these up while Jessie and Henry helped Lina spread the quilt over a nearby chair.
"What a beautiful quilt!" said Lina. "It's like something from a museum!"
"Look! More quilts," Benny said, leaning over the trunk's edge.
Lina and the Aldens unfolded five more quilts from the old trunk, each more amazing than the one before. They admired the splashes of color and the tiny, even stitches that held the quilts together.
"Who could have made all these?" Violet wondered aloud.
"My great-great-aunt, Hope Bidwell," said Lina.
"How do you know?" asked Benny.
"Well, my grandfather had a quilt she made, and he always told us about how talented Aunt Hope was at quilting. She sold some of her quilts to make a little extra money when this house was still a farmhouse. The rest she made for the family as gifts for weddings or christenings or birthdays," Lina explained.
"Look at this!" exclaimed Jessie, pointing. In the corner of one of the quilts, the letters HB were embroidered in green. "HB—Hope Bidwell! She signed it with her initials."
"Green was her favorite color, my grandfather said." Lina smiled. "It's mine, too. Apparently, Hope's wedding quilt had lots of green in it."
"Wedding quilt?" said Violet.
"The quilt she made for her marriage. It's sort of a legend in our family, even more than her hidden treasure. Hope was going to marry her true love, you see," Lina explained. "Robert, his name was. After their engagement, Robert went on a trip. While he was gone, Hope sewed a beautiful quilt that they would use when he came home to marry her."
"But he didn't come home," Jessie guessed.
Lina nodded. "Very good, Jessie. No, he didn't come home. The very day Hope finished her wedding quilt, word came that Robert had died of a sudden illness. Hope was overcome with grief. All she had left of him were the letters he'd sent. And nobody ever saw that wedding quilt again."
Violet clasped her hands together. "Oh, what a sad story," she said.
"I know," said Lina. "I was sort of hoping Robert's letters might turn up in the attic. That and her wedding quilt would mean so much to me." She sighed. "But these other quilts are pretty wonderful, too."
"Hey, wait!" Benny said, his voice muffled as he leaned down into the chest. "There's one more quilt in here!"
Lina rushed over and lifted the last quilt from the trunk. This quilt wasn't beautiful like the others. It was made of rough gray wool, and it didn't have careful, perfect stitching or embroidery on it as the other quilts did. It looked as if someone had just wanted to finish it in a hurry.
"Oh," said Benny disappointed. "That's not the wedding quilt. It's not pretty at all. It doesn't belong with these other quilts." He dropped his end of the old quilt on a chair. Lina smoothed the rough fabric and set the quilt aside.
"Maybe it was just an everyday quilt and these were special quilts for company," said Lina. She reached out to touch a velvet patch on the nearest quilt. "I know these are special. I wish I could learn more about them."
Excerpted from The Finders Keepers Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2001 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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