Read Boxcar Children 64 - Black Pearl Mystery Online

Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

Boxcar Children 64 - Black Pearl Mystery (3 page)

Go ahead,” Joseph said at last. “The food is for everyone.”

Benny poured some yellow juice into his pink cup, then took a sip. “Hey, this isn’t orange juice!”

It’s papaya juice,” Joseph said.

Mmm, it’s pretty good,” Benny said. “What’s this?”

That’s banana bread made from our macadamia nuts and bananas,” Joseph said. “Everything on this table comes from this plantation. Those pineapples come from our plants, the papayas from our papaya trees, and the coconut milk from our palm trees.”

Did Cousin Mary’s coconut cake last night come from a coconut cake tree?” Benny said with a twinkle in his eye. “We saved you a piece. Did you get it?”

Instead of laughing, Joseph just stirred his coffee. “I was called away last night. I missed the luau and the coconut cake.”

Benny put down his cup. “It was fun. I liked eating, then dancing the hula and listening to scary Hawaiian stories.” Benny took another sip of papaya juice before he continued. “And we almost found out about the black pearl. Luke and Cousin Mary said you know that story. Can you tell it?”

Joseph Kahuna put down his coffee cup so quickly, some of the hot liquid spilled over. He wiped it with a napkin. “The black pearl story is just an old made-up Hawaiian tale. Nothing to tell. Now I have to get to work.”

But . . . but . . . Cousin Mary said you knew about it,” Benny said.

Joseph Kahuna stood up. “I know about pineapples. That’s what I know about.”

With that, Joseph Kahuna rose from his chair and left for the fields.

Benny loved to eat, but now he wasn’t too hungry. He went back to the cottage.

When Benny arrived there, Jessie was reading aloud from a small piece of paper:

Please call me. I have something to discuss with you. No need to mention anything to Mary Cook or anyone else.

Norma Kane

This was jumbled up with Jessie’s travel books in the van,” Henry explained to Benny. “We think something about this note upset Joseph after he dropped off Mrs. Kane.”

What do you think it means, Jessie?” Violet asked.

Jessie reread the note. “Do you suppose Joseph was at Mrs. Kane’s last night? Why would he go there?” Jessie asked Henry.

I don’t know,” Henry answered. “Let’s just put the note back in the van. He might be upset that we saw it. I’ll return it, then meet you at breakfast.”

After Henry left, the other children strolled to the main house for breakfast. Several volunteers and workers were seated on the porch when the Aldens met up with Henry and joined the buffet line.

Over here,” Luke said when he saw the Aldens. “We saved you some seats.

Last day of picking,” Luke told the children. “Then Mrs. Cook and a couple of our workers will drive the pineapples to the cannery. These pineapples are nearly ready now. We were lucky to save as many as we did. Too bad the pineapples in the back field aren’t ripe yet. They’ll be a loss because the plants’ roots will rot in the muddy fields.”

Henry put down his plate next to Luke. “Our grandfather had a good idea. He went back to Honolulu to help Cousin Mary get a loan. She’d like Pineapple Place to be a guest farm, too. That way she wouldn’t have to depend only on pineapples.”

Cousin Mary wants to turn some of the workers’ cottages into guest cottages like the one we’re staying in,” Jessie told Luke.

Luke took a sip of juice and thought about this. “Well, good luck to her. It’s hard for visitors to get out this way. The roads are bad. Even the taxis and buses don’t get out here much. And tourists don’t always want to drive out so far in their rented cars.”

Benny had an opinion about this. “My grandpa knows everybody, even Hawaiian people. I bet he can get the roads fixed.”

Luke laughed. “You seem very sure of that, Benny. Fixing roads is a pretty big job. The government does that.”

Grandfather has an old friend in the state capital. That’s where he is now,” Jessie explained.

Luke smiled at the Aldens. “If anybody can do it, the Aldens can, I guess. You folks were picking pineapples yesterday like old hands.”

Benny held up his hands. “But we have new hands! We’re kids!”

Everyone around the table laughed.

Luke and Hani pushed back their chairs. “Well, time for picking. Coming along?”

The Aldens headed to the kitchen to drop off their plates.

See you in a few minutes,” Henry said to Luke. “Maybe we can have a race to see who picks more pineapples.”

Henry was wrong. When the Aldens arrived at the fields, there was no work for the children.

Joseph Kahuna avoided the Aldens. “I don’t need you for picking today,” he told them after they followed him into the fields. With that, Joseph walked to the back of a row of bushes, leaving the Aldens behind.

What was that about?” Jessie asked.

Violet watched the other pickers working hard. “Didn’t we do a good job?” she asked.

Jessie put her arm around Violet. “I think we did. Let’s check with Cousin Mary.”

The children found her in the parking area. She was supervising several workers who were loading pineapples into a pickup truck.

Why, hello, Aldens!” she said. “What brings you here? I bet you needed a break. I’ve been feeling so guilty. You young people should not be picking pineapples in the hot sun.”

Benny answered first. “But we weren’t picking pineapples. Joseph wouldn’t let us.”

Now it was Mary Cook’s turn to be puzzled. “Really? You know, Joseph isn’t himself these days. Last night he missed the luau and didn’t even tell me. I wonder what’s going on. I wish he wouldn’t worry so much about the plantation. Well, never mind. I have an even better idea.”

What’s that?” Violet wanted to know.

Cousin Mary said, “We’re dropping off most of our crop at the cannery. After that, there’s a good time ahead. We’ll set aside some of our pineapples to sell at the farmers’ market in town. It’s great fun. There are lots of food booths. I know you’ll like that, right, Benny?”

Food booths? I know I’ll like that!” Benny answered.

Cousin Mary went on, “You can help me set up our booth, then you can take turns selling fresh pineapples to the tourists who visit the farmers’ market. There are crafts, hula dancing, music, storytelling — all kinds of fun activities for children. You’ll love it.”

We love it already,” Jessie said. “As long as we’re here, why don’t we help you load this truck. The sooner we do, the sooner we can leave for the farmers’ market.”

So the Aldens set to work. They formed a line to pass the pineapples from the carts to the truck. They were very careful with the pineapples and held them as if they were babies. With five Aldens at work, the truck was soon filled.

Done!” Cousin Mary said an hour later before she went into her house to change. “I’m glad Joseph didn’t use you in the fields after all. This was a much better plan.”

After Cousin Mary left, the children returned to their cottage to change from their work clothes, too.

What I can’t figure out is why Joseph didn’t want us in the fields today,” Jessie said. “He told us what a good job we did yesterday.”

Benny pushed his straw hat back from his head. He was thinking. “Do you think I said something wrong?”

What do you mean?” Jessie asked.

Benny swallowed hard. “At breakfast I asked him to tell me about the black pearl. He didn’t like that. He turned away from me and everything. He wouldn’t talk much. Was I being too snoopy?”

Jessie patted Benny’s head. “Not to worry. You’re just curious and not too snoopy. You can’t help it.”

You know,” Henry said, “this black pearl legend is a sore subject, that’s for sure. Even Cousin Mary won’t talk about it. Maybe Joseph didn’t want us asking about the black pearl with Luke or any of the other workers around, so he kept us away from them.”

Or maybe he’s just not himself these days, like Cousin Mary said,” added Violet.

I wish we could ask him,” Jessie said.

But when Joseph Kahuna came by to drop off one more pineapple cart, he didn’t give the Aldens a chance to ask him anything. He helped unload the last cart into the truck, then went back to the fields without even speaking to the children.

CHAPTER 4
Pineapples for Sale

A
fter Joseph left, Cousin Mary slid behind the wheel of the plantation van. She called over to the Aldens, “Time to go. First stop is the cannery. Then on to the farmers’ market in town. Hop in.”

The Aldens crowded into the van. Cousin Mary followed the Pineapple Place fruit truck out of the plantation.

My teeth are ch-ch-ch-chattering,” Soo Lee said when the van hit one bump after another along the country road ahead.

You can see the problems we’re having,” Cousin Mary said to Henry and Jessie, who were in the front seat. “It gets harder and harder to get my pineapples out and to get tourists to travel in this far.”

A bumpy old road doesn’t stop us!” Benny cried.

Several empty trucks pulled away from the cannery parking lot when the Pineapple Place truck and Cousin Mary’s van arrived. A worker with a clipboard waved the truck toward the warehouse in back. Cousin Mary followed the truck.

Then something strange happened. When the manager saw the van, he motioned it to stop.

Why is he stopping us?” Jessie asked.

When Henry and Jessie took a second look, they noticed a familiar face. Norma Kane was in the loading area, too. She marched over to the van. “We’re not taking any more pineapples, Mary. I bought the last load from the truck that just left here. You’ll have to unload your pineapples elsewhere.”

Cousin Mary took a deep breath before she spoke. “I’m a bit confused, Norma. I understood from the previous owner that the cannery would buy the same number of pineapples as last year. In fact, I called your manager yesterday. He told me to have our truck arrive at ten o’clock. We even came a little earlier.”

The cannery manager looked at Mrs. Kane. “It’s true. I told her —”

Mrs. Kane broke in before the man could finish. “And I just told Mary no more pineapples today. We already brought in a truckload from my own farm, not to mention several truckloads from the large plantations down the road. How many pineapples do you think I can take, anyway? These small farms are hardly worth the bother.”

Cousin Mary took another deep breath. “I had hoped you would buy the amount your manager agreed to over the phone. I know Pineapple Place is small, but our pineapples are very special. We counted on your word, Norma.”

This didn’t seem to bother Mrs. Kane a bit. “My word is that I have quite enough pineapples for now.”

Cousin Mary paused. “Someone’s word and handshake used to be as good as money in the bank out this way. In the long run, that will turn out to be the best way to do business.”

I really don’t have time to discuss these old-fashioned ways of doing things, Mary,” Norma Kane said. “My manager will call you if we need your crop. No need to call us.”

Cousin Mary looked as if she’d already put in a full day’s work. “Well, I guess that’s that. All we can do now is try to sell these at the farmers’ market over the next couple of days. Everyone knows Pineapple Place pineapples are the best.”

After Norma Kane closed the warehouse door, Cousin Mary’s truck driver spoke up. “We can sell some of our crop at the farmers’ market, Mrs. Cook, but a whole truck? That’s not too likely. And these pineapples are nearly ripe, too.”

The Aldens didn’t know too much about pineapples, but they weren’t giving up so fast.

We like to sell things,” Jessie told Cousin Mary. “We’ve sold lots of things before. I know we can sell your pineapples. There are five of us.”

People like buying from kids,” Benny added. “We sold lemonade in Greenfield. We made lots of money. Almost five whole dollars!”

For the first time that day, Cousin Mary smiled. “You know, I have a feeling if anyone can sell pineapples, it’ll be you Aldens. Let’s get going.”

The Aldens wasted no time setting up a colorful booth at the farmers’ market in the middle of town. Violet quickly made up some posters. Jessie and Henry learned how to use the juice machine. Soo Lee and Benny poured fresh pineapple juice into small cups. They handed out free cups of juice to the many tourists and shoppers who passed by.

Fresh, juicy pineapple juice here!” Benny said when people went by. “Fresh, juicy pineapples, too!”

At first the Pineapple Place booth was a big success. But, awhile later, the crowd seemed to disappear.

Where did everybody go?” Benny wanted to know.

Mary Cook soon had an answer. “Norma Kane’s workers set up a booth down the block,” she told the Aldens. “They’re selling pineapples at half the price I have to charge. If I lower my prices, I might as well dump my pineapples into the ocean.”

Oh, no,” Jessie said. “Is there anything we can do?”

Cousin Mary took off her straw hat. “I wish. But I had my driver make several calls to canneries on the other side of Maui — even on some of the other islands. It’s the same story everywhere. All the rain forced growers to pick their crops at the same time and sell to the places they used in the past. There are too many ripe pineapples and not enough canneries. No one is interested in a whole truckload of pineapples.”

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