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The Door Bangs
An exciting summer began for the four Alden children with the bang of a door.
The big house where they lived with their grandfather had been as quiet as a house can be with four children in it. Their cousin, Joe, had gone to Europe with his new wife, Alice. Everything seemed peaceful, until the afternoon when the door banged.
It was Mr. Alden.
Benny said, "Hi, Grandfather!"
"Hello," Mr. Alden answered.
That was all. He went straight to the front room and shut that door loudly too.
"Well!" thought Benny. "What in the world is the matter with Grandfather?"
He ran upstairs to the room where Jessie and Violet were reading.
"Listen!" Benny cried. "Something terrible must have happened to Grandfather. He banged the door, and all he said was 'Hello.' He always says, 'Well, hello, Benny, and how are you today?' "
Jessie shut her book quickly and sat up straight.
"Did you tell Henry?" she asked.
"No," answered Benny. "I just told you, and that's all the time I had."
"Hen-ry!" called Jessie.
"What's the matter?" asked Henry, coming down the hall. He knew by Jessie's voice that something had happened.
"Benny says that Grandfather came in and banged the door, and hardly spoke to him."
Henry stood still in the door. "Where is our grandfather now, old fellow?" he asked his little brother.
"In the front room with the door shut," Benny answered. "And a bang on that door, too."
"Oh dear!" said Henry.
"What can be the matter?" asked Violet. Her pretty little face was white.
"We should go talk to him," said Henry quietly.
The children looked at each other and started slowly down the stairs together. Henry took a deep breath and rapped on the door.
"Come in," Mr. Alden called. He sounded very tired. He was sitting with his head in his hands.
"Don't be afraid to talk to us, Grandfather!" cried Benny.
"That's right," said Henry. "We always tell you our troubles. Now you have a trouble, and we'll help you."
"I wish you could, my boy," said Mr. Alden sadly. "But I don't know what you can do."
The children sat down on the floor and waited quietly for him to go on.
"I got a letter about my sister. You didn't know I had a sister, did you?" "No, Grandfather," said Jessie. "But we're a funny family. Once we didn't know we had a nice grandfather. And we didn't know that Joe was our cousin."
"That is true, my dear," said Mr. Alden.
"Where does she live?" Benny asked.
"Out west on a ranch. The nearest town is Centerville," Mr. Alden said. He looked very sad. "Jane is old, and she is a very cross woman. The neighbor who stays with her is going to leave. Nobody will stay with Jane because she is so hard to get along with. She won't leave the ranch, and yet I can't let her stay there all alone."
"Why don't you go to see her, Grandfather?" Benny asked.
Mr. Alden gave a short laugh.
"Jane wouldn't let me in," he said. "She doesn't like me. I have not been very nice to her, either."
"Tell us about the ranch," said Jessie.
"Well, it's the old family ranch," said Grandfather. "I lived there when I was a little boy. When my parents and I came East, Jane stayed.
He stopped. He seemed to be thinking to himself, as if the children weren't there.
"For a while she did very well," he went on. "But later, she had to sell the cattle and the horses. She has only one old horse and some chickens now. She must be very poor, but she still won't take any money from me."
"Proud," said Benny.
"That's right, Benny. She's too proud to let me help her. Let me have time to think about this. You go eat your supper, and ask Mrs. McGregor to bring me a tray. I'll eat in here. You are kind children, but you can't help me now."
"But, Grandfather," began Benny.
"No," said Mr. Alden. "Go to supper like good children. I must think about this alone."
Nobody moved for a minute. At last Henry said, "Listen, Grandfather. We can't eat a thing if you stay here all alone. Do let us help you. At least tell us who wrote the letter."
Mr. Alden looked at each of his grandchildren. They were all watching him with loving eyes.
"Well," he said slowly, "have it your way. Maggie wrote the letter. She is the neighbor who stays with Jane. I have sent a nurse three times, but Jane always sends her back. She doesn't want anyone there, even to help her."
"Isn't it terrible to be like that?" asked Benny.
"Yes, Benny. It's a very sad thing," said Mr. Alden. "Jane was always hard to get along with."
"But what does Maggie say?" asked Henry.
Mr. Alden looked at his oldest grandson and pulled a letter out of his pocket. "Well, you may as well know the whole story," he said. "Here is her letter." He handed it to Henry.
Benny cried, "Read it out loud! Then we'll all know what it says!"
Henry looked at his grandfather. Mr. Alden nodded. Henry began to read.
"Dear Mr. Alden,
"I am 'writing to tell you that I cannot stay any longer with your sister. I do not get enough to eat. Jane is very cross to me, and she has many strange ideas. Now she wants to see some of your grandchildren. She is not sick, but she stays in bed all the time. I won't leave her until you send someone else, but you must do something."
For a minute nobody said a word. Violet was leaning on the arm of her grandfather's chair. She looked at him and said, "I think I know a way to help, Grandfather."
Jessie began to laugh. "Violet! Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I guess so," said Violet, smiling at her older sister.
"I guess so, too," cried Jessie. "Grandfather, Violet and I would like to take care of Aunt Jane."
Mr. Alden was quiet.
"Please let us go, Grandfather," Violet begged.
"My dear girl," said Mr. Alden, "it isn't that I don't want you to go. I just wonder if Jane will be polite to you."
Violet said, "We're not worried about that. Jessie and I would be company for each other. And I like to take care of sick people."
"I know that well, my dear," said Mr. Alden. "Many times you have made me feel better when I was sick."
"Telephone, Grandfather!" shouted Benny. He could never bear to wait. "Tell Maggie that the girls are coming, and everything will be all right forever and ever."
"Jane doesn't have a telephone," said Mr. Alden. He smiled at Benny's surprised face. Benny thought that everyone had a telephone.
"However, I could send a telegram," said Mr. Alden. "They send telegrams from the train station in Centerville."
"Let me look up trains," said Henry, getting up from the floor. "I wish I could go, too. I have never seen a ranch."
"I wish you could, too, Henry," said Jessie. "But it is better for just girls, isn't it, Grandfather? Four strange children would frighten Aunt Jane."
Henry had found a timetable. "There is a train leaving at six o'clock tomorrow that would take you there. You'd have to sleep on the train."
"We would love that," said Jessie.
"Well," said Grandfather slowly, "if you are really going, I should tell you some more. Maggie's brother, Sam Weeks, lives next door with his wife. They are very kind people, and I am sure you can stay with them, if Jane isn't nice to you."
Mr. Alden already had another telegram in his mind, which he would send to Sam as soon as the children had gone to bed.
"There is just one thing you girls must promise me," said Mr. Alden. "Every day you must send me a telegram."
"Of course we promise," said Jessie.
"Come on, let's eat!" said Benny. "Can't you smell the ham and eggs, Grandfather? Don't you feel hungry now?"
"Why, yes, I think I do," said Mr. Alden, surprised. "I really think you two girls might do Jane more good than anyone else in the world."
Jessie looked at Violet with a smile, which said, "Won't we have fun?" Violet was already thinking of her aunt as her dear Aunt Jane.
But then, Violet had never seen many cross people.
A Cool Welcome
Such excitement! Mrs. McGregor, the housekeeper, packed a big lunch in a box. She handed it to Jessie with a motherly smile.
Benny peeked in the box and said, "If Aunt Jane doesn't give you enough to eat, that lunch will last you two or three days."
Mr. Alden took the girls to the train station. He watched them carefully as they took a seat together.
Jessie and Violet smiled and waved until they could not see their grandfather.
The hours passed quickly for the two girls, because everything was new and exciting. They noticed a young man who was reading a book. He was very tall. He had soft brown hair and brown eyes. Once he passed by them to get a drink of water and smiled at them.
The girls smiled back. When he took up his book again, Jessie whispered to Violet,
"He is very good looking, isn't he?"
They thought no more about the young man until they came to Centerville early the next morning. There the young man surprised them by saying, "I'm getting off here, too. May I take your bags?
"Why yes, thank you," said Jessie. "That blue one and the white one up there are ours."
"I could guess that," laughed the young man.
He lifted the bags down. He took both of them in one hand and his own heavy one in the other. The girls looked around the station platform for Maggie.
"Thank you for carrying the bags," said Violet. "It was very kind of you."
"Not at all," said the stranger, politely.
A voice behind them asked, "Are you Miss Alden?"
"Miss Alden?" said Jessie, turning around. "Oh, yes, I'm Jessie Alden. And this is Violet. Are you Maggie?"
"Yes, I'm Maggie. I'm very glad to see you."
The girls picked up their bags. This made them think of the young man. He had disappeared!
"Where did that man go?" Jessie asked. "The one who carried our bags?"
"I don't know," said Maggie. "Who was he?"
"I had never seen him before," said Jessie. "He was very polite, anyway."
"Not many people get off here," said Maggie. "I wonder why he came to Centerville."
"Well, as Benny would say, 'A Mystery Man,'" said Violet, smiling.
Maggie led the way around the station to a very thin black horse which stood in front of an old wagon.
"Get in," Maggie said. "There is only one seat, but we can all sit on it."
Maggie took the reins. The old horse raised his head and walked slowly down the road.
"He'll walk all the way home," said Maggie. "He's not like the horses we used to have. We had riding horses and a herd of cattle, and we raised wheat. It was a fine ranch in the old days. But now your aunt can't run the ranch any more. Did you know she is in bed?"
"Yes, Grandfather told us."
"Did he tell you that she doesn't want to eat, and she won't let me eat, either?"
"Yes. That seems terrible!" said Violet.
The horse stopped at the back door of an old brown house. The girls got out of the wagon. Maggie opened the back door and let them into the kitchen.
"Your Aunt Jane is in there," Maggie said. "Put your bags down. I'll go into her room and tell her."
"The girls are here," Maggie said to someone out of sight.
The two sisters went quietly into the bedroom. They saw a tiny woman half sitting up in a big, high bed. She was very thin, and she did not smile, even when she saw the two girls.
"So you're James Alden's grandchildren!" a sharp voice said.
Jessie went nearer the bed. "He is very worried about you, Aunt Jane," she said.
"Worried? Pooh!" said the little old lady. But she couldn't help liking that friendly voice saying "Aunt Jane." No one had talked so kindly to her in years.
She raised her head and asked, "What's the matter with the other girl? Can't she talk?"
"Yes," said Violet, smiling. "I shall talk so much you'll be tired of hearing me."
Miss Alden said nothing. But she found herself thinking, "I'll never be tired of hearing that soft voice."
"I'll put them in the big bedroom," Maggie said. "Is that all right?"
"Put them anywhere," said Aunt Jane. She turned her face to the wall.
Maggie went out and nodded at the girls to come, too.
"Ever see anyone as cross as that?" she asked.
"No," said Jessie. "We feel sorry for her."
Maggie led the way upstairs.
They went into a big room with many windows and a big high bed.
"What is really the matter with Aunt Jane?" asked Violet. "Is she very sick?"
Maggie looked at the little girl. "Well," she said, "I don't think there's a thing the matter with her."
"But why does she stay in bed, then?"
"She isn't strong enough to get up now," Maggie answered. "There's nothing for her to live for. So she doesn't care about living. I suppose that's why she won't eat."
"Well, we are going to eat," said Jessie.
"I'm hungry now," said Violet.
"Let's go down to the kitchen, then," said Jessie.
As they went downstairs, Maggie said kindly, "You girls make yourselves right at home."
When they came to the kitchen, Maggie took one look out the window. She saw the horse still standing by the back door.
"Mercy! I forgot the horse!" she cried. And she rushed out of the door, leaving the girls alone.
It was then that Violet turned to look at her aunt's door. It was shut.
"Look, Jessie," she whispered. "Aunt Jane must have shut that door. It means that she can get out of bed if she really wants to."
Aunt Jane's First Meal
"Let's not wait for Maggie," Jessie said, in her businesslike way. "Let's get dinner."
Soon, Violet was busy beating eggs in a bowl. Jessie put butter in a big pan and set it on the stove. The girls put pieces of dry bread in the eggs and milk, and Jessie began to brown them in the pan.
"My, that smells good!" cried Maggie, coming into the kitchen. "She going to eat this?"
"No," said Jessie. "I'm just going to give her something to drink. But we'll eat first."
Violet had found a pretty blue cloth and some white flowers. She had set three places with fine old blue plates. A knife and fork were at each place, and a glass of milk.
"All ready!" Jessie said, with a smile. "Come on, Maggie, and sit down. I hope you'll have enough to eat tonight."
"It's the most I have had for two weeks, anyway," said Maggie. "You are a good cook for a young girl."
They did not hear a sound from the bedroom. At last, even Maggie couldn't eat any more.
"Now for Aunt Jane," said Violet, getting up. She opened the lunch box and took out an orange.
"I could drink that myself!" Violet said, watching Jessie mix the orange juice with a beaten egg.
Jessie knocked gently on the bedroom door.
"Well, come in!" said Aunt Jane. "Don't stand there knocking!"
Her voice was cross, but Jessie thought she had been lying there waiting for something to happen. She put the glass on the table. Then she went over to the bed, and bent over the tiny little lady.
"Aunt Jane, this is delicious," she said. "Violet and I made it just for you."
Jessie went on, "Now I'm going to lift you up higher in the bed, so you can drink better."
To the old lady's surprise, Jessie lifted her in her strong arms as if she were a child. Then she took the glass and sat down by the bed.
"Drink it slowly," she said. "As Benny would say, 'Don't rush it.'"
"Who is this Benny?"
"Well," began Jessie. "Benny is —" she stopped. "It's so hard to tell you about our brother Benny.
Violet came in, folding up the blue tablecloth. She acted as if she had always lived there.
She said, "Benny is the funniest boy you ever saw, Aunt Jane, and he is good, too. He can always make people laugh. He loves our dog, Watch. Benny and Watch almost talk to each other. Benny always looks for Watch if things go wrong."
Jessie noticed that her aunt was drinking the egg and orange; and not very slowly, either. She seemed to be very hungry.
"Who else is in your family?" asked Aunt Jane.
"Well, there's Henry," said Jessie. "He's our oldest brother. He is very clever, and very kind and thoughtful. He can make Benny mind, too, without being cross."
"If your brothers are like you, I'd like to see them, too. Take the glass now, and go. I'm tired."
Jessie bent down again and lowered the little lady from her high pillows.
"Call Maggie now," said Aunt Jane.
The girls went out quietly and called Maggie. They finished washing the dishes. Then they waited in the front room for Maggie.
"You see how she is," said the tired woman. "First she wants me, and then she doesn't. I think she is finally settled for the night. You might as well go to bed, too."
"A fine idea," said Jessie. "Where do you sleep?"
"In this room off the kitchen," said Maggie. "If you want anything in the night, you can come down."
"Thanks, Maggie," said Jessie. "We won't feel so strange here, knowing that."
"Well, thank you both," she answered. "It's wonderful to have someone nice to talk to."
The girls went up to their big room. They climbed into bed and talked awhile.
"How beautiful the stars are!" Violet said. "They seem so near."
"I have never seen stars so bright before," said Jessie. "It's because there are no other lights at all."
Just as they were going to sleep, Jessie laughed and said, "Violet, where do you suppose that young man went? The one on the train."
"I can't think," answered Violet. "He just disappeared in the air!"
"A Mystery Man really," said Jessie.
And so they fell asleep.
Excerpted from "The Boxcar Children Mystery Ranch"
Copyright © 1986 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
1 The Door Bangs,
2 The Letter,
3 A Cool Welcome,
4 Aunt Jane's First Meal,
5 A Day at the Ranch,
6 Golden Chimney,
7 The Boys Come,
8 Aunt Jane's Nurse,
9 The Yellow Stones,
10 A Big Present,
11 A Strange Offer,
12 The Mystery Man,
13 Fast Work,
14 The Boss,
15 The Party,