Read an Excerpt
Mystery in the Cave
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1995 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Alone in the Dragon's Mouth
The Alden family loved boats—houseboats, rowboats, ferry boats, and sailboats. But they had never been in a boat that went through a cave before.
Now they were floating along a stream under the earth!
"Aunt Jane was right," James Alden said to his four grandchildren. "She's told me many times that we shouldn't miss the Dragon's Mouth Cavern and this tour with her old friend, Nelly Stoner. I have to agree."
"Me too," fourteen-year-old Henry said, leaning back to enjoy the ride. "And you know what else? Now we won't have to hear Benny beg to visit here every time Aunt Jane mentions it. We finally made it."
"Finally," Benny agreed. "Good thing you found us living in our boxcar in the woods, Grandfather. Now that you have a big family, you get to take big family trips."
Mr. Alden grinned at his six-year-old grandson. "That's certainly true. It's much more fun to visit places with the four of you."
"And a lot more exciting," Henry said.
"Quite true," Mr. Alden agreed. "You children always seem to get into some kind of adventure."
"But we haven't had any kind of adventure on this trip," Benny complained.
Violet Alden, who was ten, pulled her sweater sleeves over her chilly hands. "Hunting for rocks and crystals for the next few days will be plenty of adventure for me."
The tour boat, with its many passengers, rounded a curve and glided under a limestone bridge. The Aldens sat back to listen to Nelly Stoner.
"Now we're right under the natural bridge we walked over at the beginning of the tour," the cheerful older woman said to the passengers. "Doesn't it look just like a man-made bridge?"
"It sure does," Benny said. He twisted his head this way and that. He wanted to get a good look at the amazing stone bridge. "How did this bridge get made, anyway?"
Nelly Stoner chuckled. "Our young passenger here just asked how this bridge was made," she said loudly so everyone on her tour could hear. "Can anyone tell us?"
When no one spoke up, Benny's twelve-year-old sister, Jessie, raised her hand. Mrs. Stoner nodded to Jessie.
"There was probably a very small hole in the limestone millions of years ago," Jessie began. "Then water started pushing through it and made the hole bigger and bigger until it was an arch. At least that's what my book about caves says."
"That's exactly right," Nelly Stoner said as she steered the boat to a small dock. "This brings us to the end of our tour. Please stay in your seats until the boat comes to a full stop. We'll meet by the elevator. Then I'll bring everyone up to the Cavern Gift Shop."
When the Aldens and the other passengers were out of the boat, Mrs. Stoner looked around and flashed a light toward the back of the cavern. "That's funny. I was sure there were twenty-two people on this tour. Now I count only twenty."
The passengers checked around to see if anyone was missing, but no one could tell.
Mrs. Stoner turned to Mr. Alden. "Perhaps I miscounted, James. If you don't mind, I'll bring everyone else up on the elevator. Then I'll return for you and your grandchildren. Now don't go getting lost down here."
"Don't worry about that, Nelly," Mr. Alden answered.
"Goody," Benny said after the elevator doors closed. "Now we can be down here by ourselves. Maybe we'll have an adventure after all. These lights could go out and we could get stuck down here."
Jessie held up a flashlight. "Not to worry. Henry and I brought along two of these, just in case. Not that we'd need flashlights. Mrs. Stoner said the Dragon's Mouth Cavern has had electricity ever since it opened to visitors a long time ago."
"I like visiting this cavern, but it's just a tour with lights and music and a boat," Henry said. "I'd like to do some real caving, where you crawl through skinny, dark spaces, and you don't always know where you're going."
"You children may well find some real caves while you're out rock hunting over the next few days," Mr. Alden said. "Nelly Stoner says that many nearby caves connect to this one."
Benny still couldn't get over all the strange forms in this underground world. "I'm sure glad we can't see that dragon shape we saw on the tour from here. The spotlight made its eyes glow when we went by it on the boat."
Violet and Benny took each other's hands. It was awfully quiet now that the other visitors were gone.
"I didn't like the dragon shape either," Violet said. "Too scary."
Suddenly, everyone jumped.
"Did you see shadows move over there?" Benny whispered, squeezing Violet's hand.
Mr. Alden walked ahead a few steps. "I thought perhaps all these lights were playing tricks on my eyes."
The Aldens jumped again a minute later when the elevator door opened.
"Whew. Glad it's you, Nelly," Mr. Alden said. "We thought somebody else might be down here."
Nelly Stoner looked puzzled, too. "You know, something odd may be going on. I thought I had two more people on this tour, but I'm not sure which two. We've had so many visitors today, one face started to look like another. I went back to the ticket booth to count the stubs for this tour. There were twenty-two, but only twenty people came off the boat. I'll take you up to the gift shop and then come back to check around."
"Can we check, too?" Benny begged. "We're good at finding missing things, especially if they're people."
Mrs. Stoner gave Benny a friendly pat on his head. "Now, now. We won't need that. Just go have fun in the gift shop. I know from your Aunt Jane that you collect rocks and crystals. Our shop is full of wonderful things. Enjoy yourselves. I'll join you later."
With that, the Aldens stepped into the oversized elevator. When the doors reopened, the Aldens found themselves in a large gift shop. Its shelves were filled with souvenirs, rocks, crystals, and fossils.
"Have a good time," Grandfather said. "I'll drive over to the Dragon's Mouth Motor Court to reserve a cabin. By the time you finish shopping, I'll have you all checked in. See you in half an hour or so."
The children hardly knew where to look first. Benny headed to the glass shelves crammed with fantastic purple, green, and gray crystals.
Violet picked up a small polished stone with the tiny skeleton of a snail in it. "I'd like to buy one of these snail fossils."
"What I need are batteries for my headlamp," Henry said to Jessie. "I haven't used it since my caving trip last year. If we do find a cave, I want to make sure we have plenty of fresh batteries for my lamp and our flashlights."
Jessie nodded. "I'll get a couple small candles, too. I read someplace that cavers should always have two kinds of lights."
"Good thinking." Henry turned to Violet. "We'll meet you and Benny by the elevator."
For the next half hour, Benny and Violet walked slowly up and down the aisles. After browsing for a while, they went over to the elevator to wait for Henry and Jessie. That's when they noticed the elevator panel light up.
Violet said, "Mrs. Stoner must be bringing the elevator up again."
The next thing Benny knew, he heard the whoosh of the doors and felt someone bump hard into him. "Whoa!" he said, trying to keep his balance.
Violet steadied her brother. "You okay? Those two people raced out of there without looking."
Benny tried to catch his breath. "Was Mrs. Stoner one of the people?"
Before Violet could answer, Nelly Stoner was right there. "I hope you children had a good time in the shop. Maybe you can come down to the cavern with me, after all."
Benny's mouth opened wide. "But—but," he sputtered. "Didn't you just get off the elevator?"
"I've been meeting with my staff the way we do every day after the final tour. We've been counting ticket stubs and money for the last twenty minutes. I came up a few minutes ago," Mrs. Stoner said. "I didn't see any sign of those missing tourists."
Violet's blue eyes grew wide. "Two people just got off the elevator. Maybe they work here."
Mrs. Stoner shook her head. "That can't be. The staff's all been with me. Maybe those were the two people who got lost. I suppose we'll never know."
Benny pointed to the elevator panel. "But we saw the numbers light up. Then somebody almost made me fall."
"Now tell me, what did these people look like?" asked Mrs. Stoner.
Violet and Benny didn't answer right away.
Finally Violet spoke up. "We didn't get a good look. Everything happened so fast. We just saw two blurs go by."
Violet and Benny were still talking when Jessie and Henry returned.
"Hi, you two," Henry said, wearing his headlamp. "How do I look? Want to try it on, Benny?"
But Benny and Violet weren't paying any attention to Henry's headlamp. They had their hands cupped against the shop window so they could see out to the parking lot.
"They got away," Benny said in a disappointed voice.
"Who got away?" Jessie asked. "What's going on?"
Nelly Stoner tried to explain.
"We're trying to figure out who rushed off the elevator."
"May be it was the two people who got lost on the tour," Jessie said.
Mrs. Stoner nodded. "That could be. But this is the first time any visitors came up by themselves. I suppose I shouldn't worry about it. Oh, here comes your grandfather."
"Sorry I took so long, everyone. I nearly had an accident," Mr. Alden explained. "Just as I was pulling out of the motor court to get back here, a motorist raced into the exit instead of the entrance. Good thing I pulled to the side, or we would have hit each other."
"Did you see the driver?" Mrs. Stoner asked.
"No," Mr. Alden answered. "The car was green, but it went by so fast I didn't see much more than that."
"Are you all right, Grandfather?" Jessie asked.
"I'm fine," Mr. Alden said. "Anyway, I reserved the cabin. The manager told me there are some excellent crystal formations nearby where you can collect all the rocks you want. What do you think of that?"
"I think I'm ready to go rock hunting," Benny said with a smile.CHAPTER 2
The Sky Is Falling
The Aldens spotted the Dragon's Mouth Motor Court right away. A huge green dragon was outlined in lights from the top of its head to the tip of its tail. Instead of breathing fire and smoke, this dragon flashed the words: COZY CABINS HERE.
"How are we going to sleep with that big flashing sign?" Benny asked.
Mr. Alden laughed. "Don't worry about that. The owner, Mr. Howe, gave you a cabin in back. Wait until you see it."
Mr. Alden drove through the motor court. Small cabins encircled a swimming pool and playground. "Our cabin is up on Little Nose Cliff. Someone wanted to rent it, but Nelly Stoner made sure Mr. Howe set it aside for us."
Mr. Alden pulled up next to an old green car in the parking lot at the bottom of the cliff. In a flash, Benny was out of the station wagon and up the steps leading to the cabin. At the top, he shouted down to everyone. "Hey! This cabin is built right into the rock!"
After the long climb up, Violet joined Benny. "We'll be just like a bear family living in a cozy den," she said when she looked around.
Benny ran to the back room where two beds were set against a stone wall. "Neat! I never slept inside a rock before."
Jessie put down her suitcase. "You and Henry take this room. Violet and I will sleep on the fold-out couch in the front room."
"I knew you children would find this cabin very snug," Grandfather said. "You know I have to be away to do some business for the next few days. Mrs. Stoner and Mr. Howe will be right in the motor court if you need anything. She said she'll keep an eye on you."
Henry carried his suitcase and Benny's into the bedroom. "We won't need a thing, Grandfather. There's a stove, a refrigerator, and a sink, too."
Violet hugged her grandfather. "I'm glad we're staying here and not in a fancy hotel. It's like being in our own house."
"This is almost as much fun as our boxcar," Benny said.
After Mr. Alden left, Jessie unpacked the picnic basket and the cooler the family brought on all their car trips.
"Mmm," Benny said, watching every bit of food Jessie put away in the refrigerator. "What's for supper tonight?"
"Looks like ham and eggs," Henry said, helping Jessie. "And I'll make some fried potatoes, too."
Soon everyone was busy cracking eggs, peeling potatoes, and cutting up the leftover dinner ham Mrs. McGregor, their housekeeper, had sent from home.
"Let's eat out on the little porch," Violet suggested. "There are four chairs and a table out there."
Though it was dark outside, the Aldens didn't mind eating outdoors at all. Jessie found a length of string and tied one end to a hook on the porch ceiling and the other end to her flashlight. "There. Now we have an overhead lamp. I'll light one of the candles I bought and put it in the middle of the table. That way we can see our food."
"Nothing is nicer than eating outside," Violet said when she sat down. "This reminds me of living in our boxcar."
"Only now we get to sleep on real beds instead of straw," Henry said.
After supper, the sounds of singing crickets outside and clinking silverware inside filled the air. The children dried the dishes together. It had been a long day. They were ready for bed.
Benny had opened his mouth to yawn when something—a noisy, rumbling something—hit the porch roof.
"What's that?" Henry yelled over the rattling sound. He ran to the front door but didn't open it. "It sounds like rocks falling on the roof. Let's stay inside so we don't get knocked on the head."
Jessie put her arms around Benny and Violet. The children stared out the front window as small rocks tumbled down. No one moved. Finally the noises stopped.
Henry slowly opened the door and the children tiptoed out to the porch. "Maybe there was an animal climbing overhead," he said, trying to see in the dark, "and that sent a bunch of rocks down."
Everything was quiet now except for the sound of a very loud motor down below in the parking lot.
"Look, there's a car driving away," Jessie said to Henry. "Do you suppose there were rock climbers on this cliff?"
Henry shook his head. "Pretty foolish ones if they were out at this hour. Rock climbing is dangerous enough in daylight, let alone at night. Let's tell Mr. Howe what happened."
When the Aldens went to the registration desk, they found Mr. Howe snoring in his easy chair. His reading glasses were still perched on his nose, but his newspaper had fallen to the floor.
"Mr. Howe, Mr. Howe," Henry called.
Mr. Howe kept right on snoring.
Violet read a small sign on the counter. "It says 'Ring bell for service.'"
When he heard the bell, Mr. Howe's blue eyes flew open so fast that his reading glasses fell off his nose. He shook himself awake, then brushed back the few strands of hair on his head.
"Can I help you, folks?" he said. "Need a cabin?"
Jessie stepped up to the desk. "Our grandfather rented us a nice cabin, Mr. Howe. He said to see you if we needed anything."
Mr. Howe stared at the Aldens. It took him a while to figure out who these children were. "Of course, of course. Your grandfather told me you'd be arriving. Hope you like Little Nose Cabin. I usually don't rent it out to families. Don't want children getting hurt up on Little Nose Cliff or throwing rocks down. But Nelly Stoner told me you all were careful."
Jessie wished she didn't have to tell Mr. Howe about the falling rocks. "Um, we just—um— we just came down to tell you—uh ..."
"... how much we like our cabin," Henry said, stepping up to the counter. "Thanks for letting us have it. We just wanted to say hi." With that, Henry signaled the others to go outside.
"But I thought we were going to tell Mr. Howe about the falling rocks," Jessie said on the way back to the cabin.
"We were," Henry whispered. "Then he mentioned he doesn't usually rent the cabin to families. I don't want him to think we were throwing rocks or anything. Let's see if we can figure out by ourselves what happened."
"It's too dark to do anything tonight. Let's go to sleep," Jessie said, leading the way back with her flashlight. "Tomorrow is our rock hunting day."
"These steps feel as if they got steeper while we were gone," Benny said in a tired voice. "I wish this cabin had an elevator."
"Whew. Finally," Henry said when they opened the front door.
"Hey!" Benny yelled, suddenly a lot more awake. "How did my suitcase get out here? I put it away in the closet."
"I put mine there, too," Violet said, spying her blue duffel bag in the middle of the room.
Henry opened all the drawers of the bedroom dresser. Then he checked his suitcase, which was also in the middle of the bedroom. "That's strange. Nothing's missing—not money, not our camera. Hey, wait! Where's my headlamp? I'm pretty sure I left it right on the dresser."
The children checked the whole cabin. Henry's headlamp was nowhere to be found.
Henry shrugged. "As far as I can tell, somebody moved all our luggage from the closet. Unless I left my headlamp in Grandfather's car, I think somebody took it. The question is, why would anybody want it?"
"I don't know," Jessie said, "but I'm double locking this door right now."
Everyone decided it was too late to figure anything out tonight and got ready for bed. Benny crawled under his covers and said to Henry, "I'm sleeping with my suitcase right under this bed." But before Henry could say anything, Benny had drifted off to sleep.
Excerpted from Mystery in the Cave by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1995 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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