Read an Excerpt
The Mystery of the Haunted Boxcar
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2004 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
A Haunted Boxcar
"Watch your back!" Benny Alden called to his sister Violet, who was dribbling a soccer ball across their front yard. Their older brother, Henry, was hot on her trail, trying to get the ball.
Violet quickly passed the ball to Benny. Their sister, Jessie, lunged at Benny to steal the ball away. But just in time, Benny shot the ball between the two cones set up at the edge of the yard.
"Goal!" Benny cried.
"Nice play!" Violet said, giving Benny a high five. They were both grinning proudly. Even though Violet was ten years old and Benny only six, they'd just won the soccer game against twelve-year-old Jessie and fourteen-year-old Henry.
"Good job!" their grandfather, James Alden, called from the other side of the yard where he'd been playing goalie for Violet and Benny's team.
Jessie collapsed in a heap on the grass, out of breath. "Good game, you guys."
Watch, the family dog, ran over to Jessie and began licking her face. "Hey, Watch," Jessie said. "We needed you on our team."
"He could have been our goalie," suggested Henry with a laugh. He plopped down beside Jessie.
The Aldens were all sitting on the grass, catching their breath, when they heard a voice calling from the edge of the yard. "Hello!"
They looked over to see their neighbor, Florence Murray, walking toward them. She was a small woman with bright blue eyes and white hair. With her were a bearded man and a young girl whom the Aldens didn't recognize. The man was wearing a tweed jacket. The girl had big brown eyes and blond hair pulled up in a ponytail. She looked a little younger than Violet.
"Hello," the Aldens called back as they all got to their feet. Watch ran to greet the visitors.
"I want to introduce my brother and my niece," Ms. Murray said. "This is Arthur and his daughter, Claire. They'll be staying with me for a little while. These are the Aldens, whom I was telling you about."
"Nice to meet you," Mr. Alden said, shaking Arthur Murray's hand.
"Welcome to Greenfield," said Henry.
Watch barked and everyone laughed. "I guess Watch is saying 'welcome,' too!" said Jessie.
"My brother is a history professor. He's staying with me while he does some research at the Greenfield library," Ms. Murray explained.
"We saw you playing soccer," said Professor Murray. "Claire loves to play soccer. Don't you, honey?"
Claire ducked her head and turned away shyly.
"You should join us," said Violet. "My team could use another player."
Jessie laughed. "We're the ones who need another player!"
Claire gave a timid smile, but she remained partly hidden behind her father.
"What sort of research are you doing, Arthur?" Mr. Alden asked.
"I'm writing a book on the railroad and how it has affected our country's history," Professor Murray said.
"We've got a piece of railroad history right here in our yard," said Henry.
"You do?" Professor Murray said, raising his eyebrows.
"Wait till you see!" cried Benny, running around the house to the backyard. Watch chased after him. "Follow me!" Benny shouted.
Professor Murray stopped in his tracks when he saw where Benny was leading them. "Is that a real antique boxcar?" he asked, staring in disbelief at the bright red train car nestled among the trees at the back of the Aldens' yard.
"It sure is," said Jessie. "Come and see."
Professor Murray walked quickly across the yard. When he reached the boxcar, he placed his hand gently on the outside and ran his hand along the wooden panels. He turned to the Aldens. "Where did you find it? How did it end up here?"
The Aldens looked at one another and grinned. "It's kind of a long story," Jessie began. "You see, our parents died, and we were supposed to go live with our grandfather." She smiled at Mr. Alden.
"But we didn't know him," said Violet, "and we were afraid he wasn't nice."
"So we ran away!" Benny added.
Now Henry took up the story. "We found this old boxcar in the woods and made it our home."
"But when we finally met Grandfather, we realized he wasn't mean after all," Violet said. "So we came to live with him here in Greenfield."
"And Grandfather had the boxcar moved to the backyard for us!" said Benny.
"And they've been a happy family ever since," said Ms. Murray.
Benny jumped up onto the stump that was the boxcar's front step. "Come on in!" He rolled the door open and stepped inside, motioning for the others to join him.
Professor Murray and Claire stepped carefully into the boxcar. Henry, Violet, and Jessie followed. Grandfather and Ms. Murray remained outside, throwing a ball to Watch.
Professor Murray took a deep breath and looked around slowly. "This is amazing. I feel I've stepped back in time."
The Aldens smiled proudly. They loved their boxcar and were pleased to share it.
Professor Murray walked around, gently touching the wooden walls, the ceiling, even squatting down to look at the floor.
"Would you like to sit down?" Jessie asked, pulling out a chair for him.
The professor looked surprised. Apparently he had been so intent on studying the boxcar that he hadn't noticed the table and chairs inside. "What's all this for?" he asked.
"The boxcar is our playhouse!" Benny said.
"Your playhouse?" Claire repeated, her eyes lighting up. It was the first thing the Aldens had heard her say.
"We like to play here and—" Jessie began, but Professor Murray interrupted her.
"Your playhouse?" he asked sharply. "You play in here?"
"Yes," said Benny. "It's really fun."
Professor Murray looked upset. "This boxcar is a treasure from the past, a valuable antique. It should be in a museum, where it could be taken care of properly. There shouldn't be children playing in it."
"But we love our boxcar," Benny said quietly.
"We take good care of it," Jessie added. "We clean it and make sure all the boards are in good shape."
"We've even repainted it when the paint was peeling," said Henry.
Professor Murray frowned but did not argue. Then he looked at his watch and sighed. "I wish I could stay to look around some more, but I have an appointment I can't miss." He stepped reluctantly out of the boxcar. "Come on, Claire."
Claire looked sad to leave the boxcar, too. As the others were talking, she'd been walking around, looking at the books and games the Aldens kept there.
Claire turned to Violet and opened her mouth as if she were about to ask her something. But then she seemed to change her mind. "Good-bye," she said softly, before following her father out.
Professor Murray turned around and took one more look at the boxcar. Suddenly, a strange look came over his face.
"What is it, Dad?" Claire asked.
"Oh, nothing," he said. "I was just thinking ..." His words trailed off. When he spoke again, his voice sounded mysterious. "I was just thinking about all the history a train car like this carries. All the people who worked or rode on this boxcar—each of them left a little bit of themselves behind."
Professor Murray shook his head slightly, then smiled down at Claire and took her hand. They walked briskly over to where Ms. Murray was saying good-bye to Grandfather.
"Wow," said Jessie, as she watched them go. "Professor Murray really didn't like it that we use the boxcar as our playhouse."
"No, he didn't," Henry agreed.
"I wish Claire could have stayed and played," said Violet. "She seemed lonely."
Henry nodded. "And shy."
Jessie looked thoughtful. "It was interesting what Professor Murray said, though, about the history of our boxcar and all the people who have used it. I never thought about that before."
Benny turned to her, his face aglow. "He said everyone who's been in our boxcar left a bit of themselves behind. Do you think he's talking about ghosts? It sounded like he thinks our boxcar is haunted."
The others laughed.
"Oh, Benny," said Jessie. "You know there's no such thing as a ghost."
But Benny didn't look so sure.CHAPTER 2
A Light in the Night
The next morning when the Alden children woke up, they smelled something delicious from the kitchen. They dressed quickly and ran downstairs. Mrs. McGregor, their housekeeper, was making scrambled eggs and sausage.
"That smells great!" said Henry, taking a stack of plates from the cabinet. As he began setting the table, Jessie and Violet got glasses and poured orange juice. Benny put out forks and napkins.
"Looks like a beautiful day," Mrs. McGregor said, bringing the steaming plate of eggs to the table.
"It sure does," Grandfather agreed, joining them. Sunlight streamed in the window and the sky was bright blue.
Breakfast tasted as good as it smelled. As the children ate, they talked about what they would do that day. They were just putting their dishes in the sink when the doorbell rang. Watch ran barking to the front hall.
"Who could that be so early?" Mrs. McGregor said.
"I'll go see!" Benny cried, hurrying to the door.
When Benny pulled open the front door, he was surprised to see Professor Murray and Claire. With them was a woman he'd never seen before. She was tall, with freckles and curly reddish-brown hair.
"Hello!" Benny said in his friendly way.
"Good morning," said Professor Murray.
Claire smiled shyly.
The other Aldens joined Benny at the front door.
"Won't you come in?" Grandfather asked.
"Thank you," Professor Murray said, stepping into the front hall. He motioned to the woman beside him. "Please allow me to introduce Amelia, a fellow railroad fan. We met at the library and I mentioned your boxcar."
Amelia smiled and jumped in. "I just had to see it. I hope you don't mind that I came."
"Not at all," said Henry.
"We'd love to show you our boxcar," Jessie added.
"Thank you," Professor Murray said.
"Yes, thanks," Amelia added.
"Please excuse me for not joining you," Grandfather said. "I need to finish packing for my business trip."
As they walked out of the house, Violet noticed a purple car parked at the curb in front of their house. She nudged Claire. "Is that Amelia's car?"
"Yes," Claire replied.
"Wow—nice color," Violet said softly. Purple was her favorite.
Once again, Benny led the way to the backyard, with Watch at his heels.
As the boxcar came into view, Amelia's face lit up. "It's just like I imagined!" she said.
"May we go in?" Professor Murray asked, stepping up on the stump in front of the door.
"Of course," said Jessie.
Professor Murray rolled open the door, and Amelia followed him inside. The children stayed outside with Watch.
"I have a dog at home," Claire said, stroking Watch's furry back. "Her name's Charlotte. We couldn't bring her with us, though—my Aunt Flo's allergic."
"You can come play with Watch whenever you're missing Charlotte," Benny said.
"Thanks. I'd like that," said Claire.
Amelia stepped out of the boxcar, a big smile on her face. "This is truly a special place," she said.
"Are you a train professor, too?" Benny asked.
"Me? Oh, no," Amelia laughed. "No,
I ... well, I just like old trains. That's all." She laughed again, but this time it sounded a little forced. "So has the boxcar always been here?" she asked.
"No, our grandfather moved it to the backyard for us when we came to live with him," Henry explained. "But we found it not so far from here."
"Really?" Amelia asked, sounding quite interested. "In Silver City?"
Jessie's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Actually, yes," she said. "How did you know that?"
"Oh, just a lucky guess," Amelia said. "Is it true that you used to live in it?"
"I know that sounds strange," Jessie said, nodding.
Amelia smiled mysteriously. "I've heard stranger stories." She ran her hand over the outside of the boxcar. Her face had a distant look, as if she was deep in thought.
"Is something wrong?" Benny asked.
Benny's question seemed to shake Amelia out of her thoughts. "No, nothing's wrong. I was just trying to picture a family living in here."
"It was a good home," Jessie said.
Just then, Professor Murray emerged from the boxcar. "Thanks for letting us see this again," he said. "I do wish you'd consider giving it to a museum. They could put it on display and make sure it isn't damaged. Talk it over with your grandfather, will you?"
The Aldens were stunned. They didn't think they could ever give their boxcar away. But they didn't want to be rude, so Jessie said, "We'll think about it."
Professor Murray gave a satisfied nod. "Well, come along, Claire," he called as he and Amelia walked away.
Claire looked up from patting Watch. Watch was wagging his tail, enjoying all the attention. Claire gave him one last pat, then stood up reluctantly and ran to catch up with her father.
When the Aldens returned to the house, Grandfather was coming down the stairs with a large suitcase. He was leaving soon for a business trip.
"Do you have to go away already?" Benny asked.
"Don't worry, Benny," Grandfather said. "I'll be back before you know it. While I'm gone, I know you'll all help Mrs. McGregor take care of things."
"Of course we will," Jessie said.
"Did Professor Murray's friend like the boxcar?" Grandfather asked.
"Yes ... but Professor Murray wants us to give our boxcar away," said Benny, setting his face in a frown.
"He does?" Mr. Alden said, surprised. "To whom?"
"To a museum. He said it's too valuable for kids to use as a playhouse," Jessie explained.
"Hmm," said Grandfather. "I'm sure the boxcar is valuable—but you four take good care of it, and I know it means a lot to you. I'm sure it's perfectly safe here."
The children smiled. They'd known Grandfather would understand.
Mr. Alden checked his watch. "I'd better get going or I'll miss my flight." He set down his suitcase and gave each of the children a hug.
"We'll miss you," Violet said.
"Yeah, who will be our goalie?" asked Benny.
"Try Mrs. McGregor," said Mr. Alden over his shoulder as he headed out to the garage.
The children smiled. Somehow they couldn't quite picture Mrs. McGregor out in the yard playing soccer.
The children spent the afternoon in the boxcar playing board games. When Mrs. McGregor called them in for dinner, they put the games away neatly and tucked the chairs under the table.
As they stepped out of the boxcar, Benny felt some raindrops on his face. "It's starting to rain," he said. "Make sure the door is shut tightly."
Violet slid the door shut and gave it a pat. Then they all ran to the house to eat.
It rained all through dinner, and while the Aldens washed the dishes, and when they were getting ready for bed, too. It was still raining when Jessie read Benny two chapters in his book before tucking him into bed. The book was a mystery story, Benny's favorite kind. Jessie and Benny talked about the suspects in the book and who the bad guy might be.
"Maybe it's the man who lives next door," Benny said.
"Could be," said Jessie mysteriously. "Or maybe not—you'll have to wait and see." Jessie had read the book when she was Benny's age, and she remembered the ending. "We'll read more tomorrow. Now it's bedtime."
"Just one more chapter?" Benny begged.
"No. It's definitely time for bed." Jessie's voice was firm.
"All right," said Benny, snuggling down under his covers.
Jessie smoothed Benny's blanket and turned off the light. "Good night," she called, closing his door behind her.
Benny lay on his side, listening to the rain falling outside. He thought about his book and wondered whether the man next door really was the bad guy. He thought about all the characters, wishing Jessie had read just a little bit more. He wondered what would happen in the next chapter.
Benny shifted onto his other side and thought about Professor Murray and what he had said about the boxcar. Did Professor Murray really think the boxcar was haunted? Was that why he didn't think the Aldens should play in it?
Just then, Benny heard a noise outside. He sat up in bed. What was that? He went quickly to the window and looked out. The backyard was dark. But then Benny spotted something that made him gasp.
"I don't believe it!" he said out loud. "The boxcar really is haunted!"
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Haunted Boxcar by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2004 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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