Read an Excerpt
The Secret of the Mask
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2007 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
A bolt of lightning ripped across the night sky.
"One, one-thousand," whispered a frightened voice.
"Two, one-thousand," whispered another.
"Three, one-thousand, four, one-thousand," counted four soft voices together.
Thunder shook the house.
The four Alden children huddled on Henry's bed, staring out the window. The storm had awakened them in the middle of the night. Six-year-old Benny was the first to tiptoe to his big brother's room. Violet and Jessie soon followed, with Watch scampering close behind.
"Will this storm ruin everything?" asked Violet.
"We'll have to wait and see," Henry said.
"It can't rain tomorrow," said Benny. "It just can't."
Watch whimpered. Benny patted the dog and hugged him tight.
Downstairs in the kitchen, boxes and baskets and buckets of old things stood near the back door. On top of them lay bright green and pink posters the children had made:
Boxcar Backyard Sale
Saturday and Sunday 10–4:00.
Toys, books, clothes,
and much, MUCH more!
For one whole week, the children had cleaned out their closets, drawers, and shelves. Into boxes went clothes that didn't fit. Into baskets went toys no longer used. Into buckets went books no longer read. But there could be no yard sale if it was storming outside.
Another bolt of lightning turned the black sky bright. "One, one-thousand, two, one-thousand, three, one-thousand." They counted until the thunder boomed.
"The storm is coming closer," said Henry. "When it's right over our house, the lightning and thunder will come at the same time."
The children's hearts pounded as they watched and waited. Once, they had no home to protect them from storms. After their parents died, the children were supposed to live with their grandfather. But when they heard he was mean, they ran away.
It was during a storm like this that they found shelter in an old railroad car. The boxcar quickly became their home, and they lived in it until Grandfather found them. When they saw how nice he was, they came to live with him. Later, he surprised them by bringing the boxcar to the backyard so they could play in it whenever they liked.
Suddenly, a burst of lightning and clash of thunder came all at once. "Oh, no!" cried Benny, jumping under the covers with Watch. They made such a funny lump in the bed that everyone laughed.
After a while, the storm drifted so far away they could hardly hear it. Then, four tired children and one sleepy dog curled up on Henry's bed and fell fast asleep.
The next morning, the yard sparkled with sunshine. The children ate a quick breakfast of cereal with milk and bananas, then washed their dishes and went to work.
Twelve-year-old Jessie piled their yard-sale signs onto a red wagon and tossed in a ball of string and a pair of scissors. "See you later," she said, hurrying off to hang the signs around the neighborhood.
Violet set up a table with a sign that read, "Violet's Tasty Treat Table" in the shade of the large oak tree. The ten-year-old spread out a red-and-white tablecloth.
On this she put a tall pitcher of lemonade, plastic cups, napkins, and two plates of fresh-baked cookies.
Henry began making a cashier's table out of a board he'd found in the alley. The fourteen-year-old slipped the claw end of his hammer under a few old nails and pulled them out. Then he rubbed sandpaper over the board, making it smooth so no one would get a splinter.
As Benny emptied the boxes, baskets, and buckets of their old things onto tables, a familiar black truck rattled down the alley. Sticking up in the back were a three-legged chair, a kitchen sink, one snow ski, and a lamp with a torn shade.
Everyone in Greenfield knew Mr. Robbins's truck. Every morning, the retired carpenter drove up and down alleys collecting things people threw away. "Junking" he called it. He always came by early because, he said, "This old robin is the early bird that catches the worms." Back home in his workshop, he'd clean what needed cleaning and fix what needed fixing. Then he'd sell it all at Greenfield's flea market.
His truck creaked to a stop at the Aldens' fence. "Mornin'," he called.
The children waved. "Good morning, Mr. Robbins," said Violet.
"And why, may I ask, are the Alden children up and out so early in the day?"
"We're having a yard sale," said Benny. "Do you think people will buy our things?"
Mr. Robbins laughed. "Benny, my boy, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Just because you're done with a thing doesn't mean someone else can't make good use of it. Good luck," he said, his truck rattling off down the alley.
Henry finished sanding his cashier table and set it on top of two sawhorses he had found in the garage. Next, he set out their money box, which was really an old fishing-tackle box that Grandfather said they could use for the sale. Yesterday, Henry had cleaned out all of the rusty hooks, broken bobbers, and dried-up rubber worms, then gave the box a good scrubbing. Now he made a sign for his table:
$$ CASHIER, PLEASE PAY HERE $$
"I'm ready," he said.
"Me, too," said Violet.
"Me, three," said Benny.
What they needed now were customers.
Their yard-sale signs worked! All day long, people strolled through the Aldens' backyard. A few came just to see the famous old boxcar that stood next to the fountain in the garden. But nearly everyone bought at least one thing. And Violet's lemonade and cookies were selling fast!
By four o'clock, the last few shoppers had left the yard. Henry's tackle box was crammed with coins and bills. He looked at his watch. "Time to stop for today," he said.
Benny frowned at the nearly empty tables. "We hardly have anything left!"
"That's great," said Henry. "We want to sell our old stuff to make money to buy something new."
Benny still looked unhappy. "But our signs say the sale is Saturday and Sunday. What will we sell tomorrow?"
"Wait," said Violet, running into the house. She came back lugging a shopping bag filled with her Prairie Girls adventure books. "I've read these so many times, I know them by heart." Now that she'd turned ten, she was ready to read something new. Benny helped her put the books on a table.
"I'll go collect the signs," said Jessie, "so they won't be ruined if it rains tonight." She wheeled the wagon out of the yard.
Henry unstuffed the money from the box and made piles of one-, five-, and twenty-dollar bills. Next, he sorted the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters into the tackle box compartments.
"How much did we make?" asked Benny.
"I don't know yet," Henry said. "We'll count it together when Jessie comes home. Meanwhile, we can clean up."
A skinny woman wearing a floppy hat wandered into the yard. Her big sunglasses made her look like an owl. The cart she pushed overflowed with old silverware, teapots, dolls, and lace. Clearly, she had been to many other sales that day.
"Sorry," Henry said, "but we're closed. Please come back tomorrow."
"I'm just looking," she snapped, wheeling her cart from table to table. "Just looking."
Violet wiped the lemonade table with damp paper towels, then packed the leftover cookies into plastic bags to sell the next day.
"What can I do?" asked Benny.
"You can bring me the boxcar donations," said Henry.
Benny ran back to the old railroad car. A poster set against a tree stump said:
Tour a real boxcar, $1.
All tour money will be donated to the
Greenfield Homeless Shelter
A large metal Crispy Crackers can sat on the stump near the sign. When the Alden children lived in the boxcar, they heated their water in this can. Now, instead of water, the old green can was filled with dollar bills.
Benny brought it to Henry.
"Great," said Henry "We'll count this later, too." He pressed the lid on the can. It was so rusty he had to pound it with his fist to make it stay shut. He set the can under his table while he finished sorting the yard sale money.
The woman with the floppy hat wheeled her cart toward Henry. "Nothing here for me," she said. "I'm looking for old things, antiques." She peered over the tops of her glasses at the tackle box. "How much do you want for that?"
"This?" said Henry. "It's not for sale."
"Humph," she said. "Figures." She jutted her chin toward Violet's books. "How much?"
"Ah-um ..." What was the right price? She didn't know. "Ah-um, twenty-five cents each?" Had she asked too much for such old books? The woman grabbed all the Prairie Girl books from the table and shoved them into her cart. She threw down a few dollar bills and hurried off.
Jessie pulled the wagon full of signs into the yard. She shook her head at all the bare tables. "We're going to need a lot more things to sell tomorrow."
Violet sighed. All she had left were a few barrettes and two dolls with no clothes. "I brought out everything I could find."
"Me, too," said Jessie.
Henry put the bills into the tackle box and snapped the latches shut. "Well," he said, with a sly grin, "I guess I could sell my old hockey skates."
"You wouldn't!" said Benny, who was waiting to grow big enough to wear them.
"Henry," Violet said, "don't tease."
Henry smiled. "Oh, all right. Then I guess I don't have anything, either."
Violet picked up the pitcher of lemonade to take inside. "We should ask Grandfather if he has things we can sell."
A moving truck rumbled down the street and screeched to a stop at the Aldens' driveway. "Best Movers" was painted on the side. Violet thought the truck needed a good washing. She guessed someone else did, too, because Wash Me was written in the dust on the side of the truck.
"Hey," called the driver, waving a piece of paper, "any of you kids know where ..." he squinted at the paper, "... where ..." he squinted harder, "where I can find 332 Locust?"
"Sure," said Henry, pointing. "That's two blocks over and one block down."
"Thanks." The driver squinted at Violet's pitcher. "Is that lemonade?"
"Ice cold," said Henry. "Twenty-five cents a cup."
"I'll take two," said the driver. "Driving this rig is thirsty work. Can't wait to drive up to Minnesota where it's nice and cool."
Violet poured the lemonade. The driver chugged the first cupful without taking even one breath.
"Are new people moving in on Locust?" asked Jessie, hoping for another twelve-year-old girl to play with.
"Nope," said the driver, "moving out, to Minneapolis." He finished the second cup as quickly as the first. "Boy, that sure hit the spot. Thanks." He handed Violet a dollar. "Keep the change."
Benny watched the truck drive away. He seemed deep in thought. Suddenly, he turned to the others. "We've got to get over there," he said.
"Where?" asked Henry.
"Because, when people move, they throw out all kinds of great stuff. Stuff they don't want to take with them."
"So?" asked Violet.
"Maybe we'll find things to sell at our yard sale!"
"Good thinking," said Henry. "I'll come with you, but first we need to put all of our things inside the garage in case it rains again."
"I'll bring the wagon with us to Locust Street," said Jessie as she unloaded her signs.
The children quickly brought the few items they hadn't sold into the garage and began to walk towards Locust.
Violet lagged behind. Warning shivers tickled her spine. Some of those big old houses on Locust looked creepy.
Jessie stopped at the corner and looked back. "Violet," she called, waving, "hurry up."
"C-c-coming," said Violet, running after them, wondering just what sort of things they would find.CHAPTER 2
A Wooden Mask
Five minutes later, the children stood in front of 332 Locust. Faded blue paint chipped and peeled off the old house. Thick weeds choked the flowerbeds and grew up through cracks in the walk. Hot summers and freezing winters had turned the white picket fence a dirty gray. A few broken pickets poked jagged edges in all directions. Violet backed away. "Let's go home," she said.
"Wait," said Jessie. "I know this house. We trick-or-treated here. Remember? The housekeeper was that funny lady dressed as a mummy. She brought us into the living room—"
"To a nice old lady in a wheelchair," said Violet. "I do remember. She was dressed like Betsy Ross and was sewing an American flag."
"I don't remember," Benny said.
"Sure you do," said Jessie. "There was a big silver candleholder on the table next to her with five black-and-orange candles. Candle wax was dripping onto the table, and you picked up a glob and shaped it into a ball."
Benny's eyes grew wide. "And she let me ride up and down the staircase in her special elevator."
"This house was so cluttered with all of her things," Henry said, "that I wondered how her wheelchair got through. No wonder they need such a big moving truck."
Jessie remembered the stacks of books, piles of pictures, and shelves of figurines that were scattered through the big blue house.
The children looked around. A red car, as bright and shiny as a candy apple, was parked in front of 332 Locust, but no Best Movers truck. "Where is it?" asked Violet.
"Maybe the driver stopped for gas," said Jessie.
"Or dinner," said Benny, who was usually hungry. "Let's go see what they're throwing away."
The children ran around the block and looked down the alley. "Oh, no!" cried Benny.
Empty trash cans stood neatly next to garages. At the far end of the alley, a Greenfield garbage truck rattled away. Two workers walked behind the truck, picking up trash cans, bags, and boxes, emptying everything into the truck. One man pulled a lever. A loud whirring and grinding noise filled the air as the truck crushed everything inside.
"We're too late," said Violet.
Benny watched the garbage truck turn down the next alley. He felt sad as he thought about all of the treasures they could have found.
"That's too bad," said Jessie. "It was a great idea."
Henry put an arm around his brother. "Cheer up," he said. "Let's go home and open the tackle box, see how much we made today."
Usually, Benny liked counting money. But now he lagged behind the others, kicking pebbles as he walked. At the end of the alley, as he turned to kick one last stone, he saw a woman with long red hair wedge a large white box into a trash can behind the blue house. She leaned out into the alley, staring at the distant garbage truck, then hurried back inside the house.
Benny raced over and lifted the lid.
"What did you find?" asked Henry.
Benny pulled out the box and opened it. Popcorn spilled out. "Popcorn?" he said. "Why throw away popcorn?"
"Sometimes," said Violet, "people pack fragile things in popcorn."
"Fragile?" asked Benny.
"Fragile means things that can break easily. Like the glass snow globes Grandfather sent from New York. Those were packed in popcorn to keep them from breaking. Popcorn's cheaper than bubble wrap."
"And it tastes better," said Benny.
"You should never eat packing corn," warned Violet. "It can be months and months old and dirty."
The others bent over and looked into the box as Jessie slowly uncovered their new treasure. "It looks like some kind of mask or something," she said.
The children all stared at the wooden mask that lay neatly in the box. The colors were faded, and a crown of dusty feathers sprouted from the top and sides. The face was half faded yellow and half gray, and the bottom of the mask was painted in different colors, almost like a rainbow. On both sides of the face, rain clouds had been painted.
"Wow!" said Benny. "Look at how thick these feathers are!" He ran his fingers from the bottom to the top of each bunch of feathers.
Violet looked carefully at the mask before speaking. "I read about something like this in one of my Prairie Girls books," she said. "It looks like the face of one of the dolls that Katrina found in the book Katrina and the Kachina Doll."
"That's right," said Jessie. "My teacher talked about kachinas at school. Kachinas are Native American spirits. The tribes made dolls of the spirits to give to women and children as presents. But I've never heard of anything like this."
"I wonder what it was used for," Henry said.
"Do you think it's real?" asked Benny, very excited.
Henry began to close the box. "I'm sure this is just a copy of a Native American mask. Maybe the person who lives here bought it as a souvenir and didn't want it anymore."
"I'm going to sell it tomorrow," Benny decided. "I bet someone pays five dollars for it."
Violet looked at the mask carefully before Henry closed the lid all the way. "This must be a copy. But why would someone pack it so nicely just to throw it in the trash?"
Everyone nodded in agreement.
"Let's stop at the library on the way home. They might have some books on kachinas," said Henry.
As they wheeled the wagon out of the alley, an orange pickup truck pulled in. The children moved aside as it passed. The man driving was skinny with a scruffy black beard. He glanced at the children as he drove by, and seemed puzzled when he saw their wagon with the box inside. As he drove off down the alley, the children saw parts of an old swing set and a couple of broken bikes in the back of his truck.
Excerpted from The Secret of the Mask by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2007 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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