The Boxcar Children stumble across a 100-year-old time capsule with a mysterious journal inside. It contains clues that lead the children around Greenfield and through the history books in search of a lost treasure. But questions remain. Who wrote the journal? And after 100 years, will there be enough evidence to find the hidden treasure?
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Will There Be Ghosts?
Ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. Will there be ghosts? Six-year-old Benny Alden biked far behind his brother and sisters. Usually he pedaled the fastest, leading the way. Not today. Not where they were going.
Benny could see the others far ahead. Fourteen-year-old Henry was in front. Twelve-year-old Jessie and ten-year-old Violet biked close behind. The curvy bike path led away from Greenfield. The Aldens had never followed this path before. They never had a reason to go this way. Until now.
Will there be ghosts? Benny shivered. He fell farther and farther behind. Ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. That's all he'd thought about since breakfast — since what Grandfather had said.
* * *
This morning at breakfast, Benny had talked and talked and talked about his hundred-day project. Everyone at Benny's school needed to collect one hundred of something, or make one hundred of something, or do one hundred somethings. But Benny couldn't think of one hundred of anything that wasn't boring.
He'd tried a bunch of things. Gluing one hundred pennies on ping-pong paddles? Bor-ing. Stringing one hundred pieces of popcorn? Bor-ing. Bending one hundred pipe cleaners into animal shapes? Bor-ing. His best idea had been to collect one hundred worms. For two days he dug all around the backyard. But he only found ten worms. He set them free.
Then, at breakfast, Grandfather had asked, "How would the four of you like to take a tour of Wintham Manor?"
"Isn't that the giant gray house on the hill?" Jessie asked.
"That's Wintham Manor, all right," said Grandfather. "No one's lived there for a hundred years."
"Why not?" Benny asked.
Grandfather wiggled his eyebrows and said, "That is one of the many mysteries of Wintham Manor. My friend Ella leads tours there and said you're welcome to come. She told me the Manor will be one hundred years old next month." Grandfather smiled at Benny. "With all your talk of one hundred this and one hundred that, I think a hundred-year-old house is a perfect place to visit."
"But," Benny said, "I can't carry a whole house to school for my project."
Grandfather had laughed. "No, I expect not. But Wintham Manor might give you a helpful idea or two. Besides, the four of you have been wanting to bike to someplace you've never been before. Today seems a perfect day for a new adventure."
* * *
Henry, Jessie, and Violet had all liked Grandfather's suggestion. So now the children were biking to visit the mysterious old house. What bothered Benny was why no one had lived in Wintham Manor for a hundred years. He could think of only one good reason. Ghosts. People were afraid to live in Wintham Manor ... because it was haunted!
In the distance, Henry and the girls biked up a hill past a group of tall rocks. Benny shuddered. The rocks looked like giant fingers reaching up out of the ground. A few minutes later he got to the rocks and stopped. They didn't look as scary close up. Benny noticed something strange on the tallest finger. Someone had carved marks near the bottom. The markings were old and worn. They sort of looked like words, but different.
What if it's a warning? Benny wondered. What if it means "danger"? Benny jumped on his bike, pedaling as fast as he could until he caught up with the others.
As the sun moved higher in the sky, the bike path took a sharp curve along a creek. That's when the children saw the manor. The dirty stone building stood like a castle on the next hill. Henry stuck his right arm out and down. It was their signal to stop. The Aldens stared at the giant house. A dark cloud passed over it. Benny's heart thumped as the house fell into the shadow of the cloud.
One corner of Wintham Manor was a huge stone tower. Violet pointed to the top. "Look at that big window," she said. "It's like the tower where Rapunzel let down her hair."
"The whole house looks like something out of a fairy tale," said Jessie.
"Or a scary movie," said Benny, "with ghosts."
"Wintham Manor is not scary," said Jessie. "It's just old."
"How do you know?" Benny asked.
"Because," said Jessie, "Grandfather would never send us anyplace like that."
Henry smiled. "I wouldn't let anything hurt my favorite little brother. Not even some old ghost."
Jessie knew how to move Benny's mind away from ghosts. "I could use some water and a snack before we bike up that hill," she said.
"Me too!" said Benny, opening his backpack. He still wasn't sure about ghosts, but he was sure he was hungry. Benny unwrapped a fig bar and started talking about his hundred-day project ... again.
Jessie sighed. "Benny, you're really going to have to choose a project soon." She tore open a small bag of pretzels. "Maybe it won't be perfect, but it has to be something."
Benny stuck out his jaw. "It's not my fault I was sick when the hundred-day project started," he said. "By the time I got back to school, all the good ideas were taken." Benny folded the entire cookie into his mouth.
"I tried to give you one hundred buttons," said Jessie, "and Violet offered a hundred colored pencils, and Henry said you could pick out a hundred nails."
"Mgshwidlfhst." Benny tried to speak, but his mouth was too full.
Henry laughed. "What did you say?"
"Benny," whispered Violet, "you should finish chewing before you talk."
Benny chewed and chewed. Then he swallowed. "I want my project to be something really, really different," he said finally.
The children ate their snacks in silence. This was going to be one project Benny would have to figure out for himself. When they finished, Jessie collected their garbage into a bag to throw away later. She looked around at the blue creek and the green trees and the big manor on the next hill. It gave her an idea. "If we have time," she said, "I'd like Violet to take a few photos for my blog."
Jessie's blog was called Where in Greenfield? Every week she posted a photo of something around town — a tree house, a playground, a statue. Her readers sent in guesses about where in Greenfield the photo was taken. The next week, Jessie blogged the answer and posted a new photo. She thought the creek would be the perfect place for this week's entry.
Henry checked his watch and said, "Okay, let's meet back here in fifteen minutes."
Violet pulled her camera from her bike basket. Jessie took out the notebook and pen she always carried in her pocket. As the girls went exploring, the boys took off their shoes and socks and waded into the creek. A swarm of tadpoles darted away. "I could bring one hundred tadpoles for my project," said Benny.
Henry laughed. "You would have to catch them first." He picked up a flat stone and skipped it across the water. The stone skipped five times. He found another stone for Benny. "Hold it sideways, like this," said Henry. He moved Benny's fingers around the edges. Benny's first stone sank. But after a few tries, Benny could skip a stone two and three times.
For a while, Benny forgot about the project. But when they stopped skipping stones, the thoughts came back. "I'll never have a good idea," he said. "Never, ever, ever."
"Sometimes," said Henry, "when I have a problem I can't solve, I just stop thinking about it."
"Huh?" said Benny.
"I know it sounds strange," Henry said. "But when I ignore my problem, I get busy doing other things."
"Like what?" asked Benny.
"Like building that new doghouse for Watch or fixing Grandfather's record player or going for a long run. Pretty soon the answer to my problem sneaks up on me. The more I ignore it, the closer it comes. Then, one day, the answer jumps in front of me and shouts, 'Here I am!'"
Benny thought about this. "So, I should stop worrying about the project?" he asked.
"That's right," said Henry. "Let's go to Wintham Manor to see what a hundred-year-old house looks like. I bet watching out for ghosts makes you forget all about your problem."
Henry lay back on the bank of the creek and closed his eyes. Benny lay back and watched puffy clouds change into different shapes: a dog, a bear, a shoe, a snowman. He liked listening to the sound of water in the creek. He liked feeling the cool ground under him. This place reminded him of when the children lived in the woods.
After their parents died, the Alden children had run away from home. They had been afraid to go and live with their grandfather because they thought he would be mean. The children searched and searched for a place to live. Then one night, they took shelter in an old railroad car in the woods. They decided to make that boxcar their home. They even found a dog named Watch and kept him as their pet. The children had many adventures in the boxcar. They even played in a creek just like this one. Then they met Grandfather, who had been searching for them. He wasn't mean at all! Now the children lived with Grandfather in Greenfield. They used the boxcar as their clubhouse.
Just as Benny was starting to relax, Violet and Jessie came back.
"Time to hit the road," said Henry.
This time Benny kept up with the others. He still wasn't sure he wanted to meet ghosts. But, together, he knew the four of them could face whatever was waiting for them at Wintham Manor.CHAPTER 2
Curiouser and Curiouser
The Aldens climbed the stone steps and stared at the manor door.
"This is strange," said Henry. The doorway was so low that anyone taller than him would have to bend to enter. Henry gripped the heavy door knocker and banged it once. The sound echoed through the old house.
"Nobody's home," said Benny. "Let's go."
"Hang on," said Henry. "Grandfather's friend is supposed to be here." Henry knocked again. Still no answer. He knocked a third time.
"Coming, COME-ing," called a singsong voice. "Hold your horses. Hoooold your horses."
A key rattled in the giant lock. Slowly, the door creaked open. But no one was there.
"Ghost!" cried Benny.
"Where?" A smiling face peeked around the door. "Oh. You mean me?"
A small woman stepped out. She was barely as tall as Violet. Silky black hair flowed down her back. She wore a long, old-fashioned dress. A pair of bright purple sneakers peeked out from under her skirt. "You must be James's grandchildren. I've been expecting you. I'm Ella Nakamol. Come in, come in. Welcome to Wintham Manor."
The children stepped into a large hall. Violet gasped. "That's beautiful." A giant mural of Greenfield covered one of the walls. It showed the town before there were wide streets or tall buildings.
Ella grunted as she pushed the door closed behind them. "I think this is the heaviest door in the world," she said.
"Why is the doorway so low?" asked Violet.
"Low?" Ella said. "Why, it seems just right to me. Now, how can I help you? James mentioned something about a hundred something-something."
"A hundred-day project," said Benny.
"What's that?" asked Ella.
"It's for school," Benny said. "I have to bring in a hundred of something or make a hundred of something. It's so I can learn what a hundred looks like."
"Why," said Ella, "one hundred looks exactly like this. Everything in this house is at least a hundred years old ... except me, of course."
Ella laughed as she led the children through another low doorway into a grand living room. Violet followed slowly. This was such a beautiful old house — polished wood floors, beautiful rugs, carved furniture — everything delighted her artist's eye. Although, it did seem strange that all the doorways were built so low.
"We're usually closed today," said Ella. "Wintham Manor is an historic home people can visit. Like George Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, or Abraham Lincoln's in Springfield, Illinois. But, seeing as how you're my dear friend James's grandchildren, I'm planning to give you my Super-Duper Deeee-luxe Tour." She whispered, "Not many have seen what I'm going to show you today."
Benny stepped back. "Are there ghosts?" he asked.
Ella sighed. "I keep hoping," she said. "But so far I haven't met a one."
* * *
Bor-ing, Benny thought as he wandered around the living room. Jessie and Violet oohed and aahed over plumpy sofas and lumpy chairs. Violet took pictures for Jessie's Where in Greenfield? blog.
"We've kept the manor exactly the way Mr. Wintham left it one hundred years ago," Ella said. "People used to rent this first floor for parties — birthdays, weddings, holidays, and such." She fluffed a pillow. A cloud of dust poofed up. "But lately, it seems folks prefer the newer, fancier party places in town."
"Wow, check this out," called Henry from under an old table. Benny crawled under to look. "They don't build tables like this anymore," said Henry, excited. "See these nails? Each one is a little different because they were all made by hand."
The nails looked like ordinary nails to Benny. He climbed back out. Bor-ing.
There wasn't one single fun thing here for Benny's hundred-day project. After a while, he almost hoped for a ghost — or one hundred of them. Benny walked through another small doorway that led to a big stairway. Wow! Paintings and drawings and photos covered the huge wall all the way up the stairs. There were wacky cartoon characters, planets with square moons, bicycles with twenty wheels.
Benny climbed the stairs slowly, looking at every single thing. Even the old photos were fun to look at. Women wore old-fashioned dresses like Ella's. Boys wore short pants with suspenders. Benny stopped in front of a large photo of a tall man. The man was planting a baby tree. Benny looked closer. The man had the biggest mustache Benny had ever seen.
"Bingo!" cried Ella. Benny jumped. He hadn't heard the others come up the stairs. Ella pointed at the photo of the man with the mustache. "You're looking at the one, the only Mr. Alfred Wintham," she said. "This is the only photo we have of him. We think it was taken a hundred years ago, just before he ... before he ..." Ella sniffed. "Poor Mr. Wintham barely got the chance to live here. He'd just finished building the manor and planting some trees and hanging up his artwork when a terrible flu epidemic swept through town."
"What's an epi ... epi ..." Benny couldn't remember the word.
"Epidemic," said Ella. "It's when many, many people become sick at the same time with the same illness."
"Mr. Wintham died?" whispered Violet. Ella nodded. Violet looked at the wall of paintings and drawings. "And he was the artist of all these?"
"He had quite the imagination," said Ella. "Come on, there are more surprises upstairs."
Whirrrr. Bzzzzzz. Whirrr. A noise made the children stop on the landing. It was coming from outside. They looked out the window into the backyard. A big man with a chain saw stood on a tall ladder. He was cutting limbs off an old tree. A yellow truck in the driveway had the words Levi's Lumber — Cut and Carried on the door. The man sawed off the last branch and climbed down the ladder. Then he began sawing the trunk. Whirrrr. Bzzzzzz.
"That's the tree Mr. Wintham planted the day he moved in," said Ella. "Sadly, it's sick and must be cut down."
Suddenly, the tree cutter yelled, "Timbeeeerrrrrr!"
The Aldens held their breaths as the tree tilted slowly, slowly, slowly away from the house. KABOOM! It crashed to the ground in an explosion of bark and twigs and leaves.
The tree cutter happened to look up at the window and see the Aldens. Ella opened the window. "Hi, Levi, there's a big plate of warm snickerdoodles in the kitchen and cold milk in the fridge."
The man smiled and waved.
"That's my brother, Levi," said Ella. "He helps keep the manor shipshape. Now, I'm going to show you the second floor. Only VIPs — Very Important People — have ever seen what you're about to see."
The children followed her up the wide staircase and around a corner, to ... a brick wall.
"Where do we go now?" asked Jessie.
"Benny," said Ella, "would you grab that chipped bottom brick and give it a tug?"
Benny found the brick and pulled. He jumped back as the wall slid open.
"A secret passageway!" said Henry.
Ella laughed. "Oh, this is just the beginning."
The children entered a long hallway. More of Alfred Wintham's artwork covered the walls. Mobiles hung from the ceiling. "But ... but where are the rooms?" asked Violet.
"Oh, dear, did I lose those rooms again?" asked Ella. "No, wait, I do believe they're here." She pointed to a painting of a clown with a large red nose. "Henry, would you be so kind as to push the clown's nose?"
Henry pushed, and another hidden door swung open. The children followed Ella into a large room. Funny, bright-colored creatures were painted on the walls. There were blue, red, green, and yellow tables and chairs of all sizes. "It looks like study hall at school," said Jessie, "except way more fun."
The children returned to the main hallway. Every room had a secret way of opening its door — a floorboard you jumped on, a lever you pulled. One room had a staircase that led nowhere. Another had shelves filled with colorful blocks and wood puzzles. In the Art Room, Violet sat at a big drawing table. She imagined all the wonderful art she could create using the boxes of colorful pencils, old ink pens, bits of charcoal, and tubes of paint.
When the children finished exploring all of the rooms, they gathered in the hallway. "I've never seen a house built like this," Henry told Ella. "Hidden rooms, secret passageways, fun ways to open doors. Who designed this?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Boxcar Children: The Hundred-Year Mystery"
Copyright © 2019 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. Will There Be Ghosts?,
2. Curiouser and Curiouser,
3. Cold Clues and Warm Cookies,
4. A Dangerous Climb,
5. The Only,
6. MOO-ving Day,
7. Secrets in the Attic,
8. The Paperboy's Clue,
9. AJ's Treasure,
10. The Fight for the Manor,