Read Mystery of the Orphan Train Online
Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
THE MYSTERY OF THE ORPHAN TRAIN
“It’s stuck!” cried six-year-old Benny. His round face was red from tugging at the zipper on his suitcase. “It won’t budge an inch.”
“Oh, Benny!” said twelve-year-old Jessie, coming into the room. She shook her head and laughed. “You’re taking too much!”
Benny grinned at his older sister. “I think I packed too many socks.”
As Jessie lifted the lid of the suitcase, several shiny red apples tumbled out onto the bed. “What on earth …?”
Benny shrugged. “We might get hungry.”
Jessie couldn’t help smiling at this. Benny was famous for his appetite. The youngest Alden was always hungry.
“Don’t worry Benny” Jessie said as she tossed more apples onto the bed. “There’ll be plenty to eat at Kate’s bed and breakfast.”
“What’s a bed and breakfast?” Benny wanted to know.
“It’s like a hotel,” Jessie explained. “Tourists get a cozy bed, then breakfast in the morning.”
Grandfather was traveling to Kansas on business, and Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny were going along. Grandfather’s good friend, Kate Crawford, had invited the children to stay with her. Kate owned a big Victorian house called Wiggin Place. She rented out rooms during the summer.
“You can’t be sure we’ll find a mystery on this trip, Benny.”
“But, Jessie, mysteries are always coming our way,” Benny reminded her. “Right, Violet?”
“That’s for sure, Benny,” said ten-year-old Violet, who had just come into the room with Watch, the family dog. “We seem to find them wherever we go.”
Nobody could argue with that. The Alden children loved mysteries, and together they’d managed to solve quite a few.
“What are you hiding there, Violet?” Henry asked curiously.
Violet pulled her hand out from behind her back. “Ta-daah!” She held up Benny’s cracked pink cup, the one he’d found when they lived in the boxcar.
“Thanks, Violet,” said Benny. The youngest Alden almost always took his special cup with him on trips. “I thought I packed it already.”
After their parents died, the four Alden children had run away. When they discovered an abandoned boxcar in the woods, they made it their home. Then their grandfather, James Alden, found them and brought them to live with him in his big white house in Greenfield. He even gave the boxcar a special place in the backyard. The Aldens often used the boxcar as a clubhouse.
As Jessie tucked Benny’s cup into a corner of the suitcase, Watch gave a little whimper.
“Uh-oh,” said Benny. “I think Watch wants to come with us.”
“Sorry, Watch.” Henry scratched the dog behind his ears. “Kate doesn’t allow animals at Wiggin Place.”
Violet gave Watch a hug. “Mrs. McGregor will take good care of you while we’re gone.” Mrs. McGregor was their housekeeper.
“We’ll be back before you know it, Watch,” Benny said in the middle of a yawn.
“I think we all need a good night’s sleep,” said Jessie, who often acted like a mother to her younger brother and sister.
“I’ll second that!” Henry said, and the others nodded. They couldn’t wait to set off on their next adventure.
“Wiggin Place is just outside the town of Chillwire,” Grandfather told the children as he drove the rental car along the highway from the airport. “We should have you there in time for dinner, Benny.” He smiled at his youngest grandson through the rear-view mirror.
“I’m all for that!” said Benny.
Violet, who had been gazing quietly out the window, suddenly spoke up. “I think I’m going to like Kansas,” she said. “The countryside is so pretty.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” said Jessie.
“Kansas is a good place to visit,” said Grandfather. “Of course, it’s famous for its tall wheat and sunflowers, but it’s also a great place to hunt for fossils.”
“Fossils?” Henry, who was sitting up front beside Grandfather, raised an eyebrow.
Grandfather nodded. “They say this whole state was once covered by an inland sea. Folks are always finding the imprint of sea creatures on rocks,” he said. “Sea creatures from long ago.”
Benny put in, “I know something else about Kansas.”
“What’s that, Benny?” asked Henry.
Benny broke into a big grin. “This is where Dorothy lived!”
“Dorothy?” Grandfather looked puzzled.
Benny nodded. “Dorothy in
The Wizard of Oz.
“Oh, that’s right!” said Jessie. “In the story, Dorothy’s a little girl from Kansas and one day she—”
“Gets swept away to the land of Oz in a tornado,” continued Violet.
“With her little dog, Toto,” Henry added.
“And they follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City,” Benny finished, with a smile on his face.
“Right you are!” said Grandfather. “As a matter of fact, the playhouse in Chillwire puts on a performance of
The Wizard of Oz
every summer. It draws a lot of tourists into town.”
“That must be good for local business,” guessed Henry.
Grandfather nodded. “Kate’s bed and breakfast is usually booked solid right through the summer. But then,” he added, turning off the highway, “Wiggin Place has always been popular with tourists. You see, it has its own claim to fame.”
They all looked at their grandfather in surprise.
“Claim to fame?” echoed Henry.
“What do you mean?” Jessie asked.
“Ethan Cape once stayed there.”
“Oh!” Violet put one hand over her mouth in surprise. “Are you serious, Grandfather? Did the great Ethan Cape really stay at Wiggin Place?” Grandfather nodded.
Benny wrinkled his forehead. “Who’s Ethan Cape?”
“He was a famous photographer, Benny,” explained Henry.
“Didn’t he take pictures of movie stars?” Jessie asked.
Violet nodded, her eyes shining. “And kings and queens!”
As they entered the little town of Chillwire, Grandfather slowed to a stop to wait for a light to change. “Ethan Cape pretty much photographed all the prominent people of his day,” he told them. “He left behind a wonderful record of the past.”
“They say he was the best photographer who ever lived—a genius!” Violet knew a lot about photography. She always took her camera along when they went on vacations. “I was just reading about Ethan Cape. He was born in 1870. Nobody knows much about his childhood. His early life is a real mystery. But they do know he started taking pictures when he was a teenager. In fact, he wasn’t much older than Henry at the time.”
“Ethan Cape’s photographs are worth a fortune these days,” said Grandfather, pulling away as the light turned green. “I know Kate’s turned down many offers for the photograph of her grandmother.”
Violet blinked in disbelief. “You mean—”
“Yes, Kate has an original photograph taken by Ethan Cape.” Grandfather grinned.
“Wow!” Violet’s eyes were huge.
“I don’t get it,” said Benny. “Was Kate’s grandmother famous?”
“I was just wondering about that, too,” added Henry.
“That’s the strange thing. Kate’s grandmother, Sally Crawford, lived her whole life in Kansas. From what I’ve been told, she was loved by family and friends, but she certainly wasn’t famous.” Grandfather shook his head in bewilderment. “And yet …”
“And yet what, Grandfather?” asked Violet.
“And yet Ethan Cape traveled all the way from New York just to photograph her.”
“That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?” said Jessie.
“It sure is,” agreed Grandfather. “And you know what else?”
They all looked at their grandfather expectantly. “What?”
“They say Ethan Cape had never even met Sally Crawford.”
“But … why would a famous photographer travel all the way to Kansas to take a picture of an ordinary person he’d never even met?” Jessie wanted to know.
“That’s a good question, Jessie,” said Grandfather. “And it’s a mystery to this very day.”
Benny sat up straight and clapped his hands. “See, I told you we’d find a mystery in Kansas!”
Grandfather smiled at his youngest grandson. “I’m afraid that’s one that may never be solved, Benny. Ethan Cape died many years ago.”
Benny didn’t seem a bit bothered by this. “We’re very good detectives, Grandfather.”
“True enough, Benny.” Grandfather chuckled. “True enough.”
“Has Kate ever tried solving the mystery, Grandfather?” Jessie wondered as they left the little town of Chillwire behind.
“Oh, she’s tried to figure it out, Jessie, but I think she gave up on it a long time ago. Kate puts all her energy—and her money—into restoring the old house. You see, she wants it to look the way it did in the olden days, when her grandmother grew up there. Actually, that’s the reason Kate started the bed and breakfast,” Grandfather told them as he turned onto a quiet country road. “She needed the extra money to fund her project.”
“It must be a lot of work,” Violet said thoughtfully, “taking care of a big house filled with guests.”
“Well, Kate hires someone to help out during the summer months,” explained Grandfather. “I don’t think she could do it alone.”
As they came to a white house with honey-colored trim around the windows and a peaked roof, Grandfather pulled into the driveway. A large sign on the front lawn read, “Wiggin Place—Bed and Breakfast.”
“We’re here!” cried Benny. “And look, there’s even a pond in the front yard!”
“What a great place to cool off.” Henry sounded just as excited as his little brother.
As they piled out of the car, Jessie looked around and said, “That must be Kate.”
A woman with gray streaks in her dark hair was waving a hand high in the air as she hurried down the porch steps. Grandfather gave his good friend a hug.
“Kate, how do you manage to look younger every time I see you?” he asked.
“Never mind your flattery, James,” said Kate, with a twinkle in her eye. Then she turned her attention to the children. “I can’t believe I finally get to meet your wonderful family.”
Grandfather smiled proudly as he introduced Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny to Kate Crawford.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Jessie said politely, speaking for them all.
“I feel as if I know you already,” Kate told them, as she slipped her hands into the pockets of a dress splashed with sunflowers. “Your grandfather has told me all about your wonderful adventures. And just between us,” she added, “this place could use a little excitement.”
At that, Grandfather had to laugh. “Kate, there’s never a dull moment with my grandchildren around.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that!” Kate’s laughter was warm and bubbly.
Grandfather lifted the suitcases from the trunk of the car. Then he looked at his watch. “I don’t like rushing away, but I do have a business dinner to attend.”
Kate smiled. “Plenty of time to visit when you get back, James.”
Grandfather gave each of his grandchildren a hug. “I shouldn’t be more than a few days,” he told them. Then with a cheery honk of the horn, he drove away.
The children waved good-bye, then followed Kate up the porch steps.
“You can unpack before dinner,” Kate said.
“Oh, we can eat first if you want,” offered Benny. “If dinner’s ready, I mean.”
“Benny loves to eat,” Henry explained.
Kate laughed. “Then we’ll make a good team, Benny. It just so happens, I love to cook!”
“Oh, look!” Something had suddenly caught Violet’s eye. The others followed her gaze to a bronze plaque hanging beside the front door. The inscription on the plaque read: ETHAN CAPE ONCE STAYED HERE.