Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
“Got to be,” said Jessie. “That’s the one Spence Morton wants to buy. I’m sure of it.”
Benny nodded. “I bet it’s the haunted bridge Darlene was talking about. We’re not supposed to go fishing from it, remember?”
“Of course we can go fishing from it, Benny,” Henry insisted. “The bridge isn’t haunted.”
“No one goes fishing from that bridge,” said a voice behind them. “No one does. Ever.”
Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny turned around quickly in surprise. A young girl about Violet’s age was standing at the opened door, watching them. She was wearing jeans and a green T-shirt. Her blond curls were held back from her face with a beaded headband.
“You must be Pam,” Jessie said with a friendly smile.
“That’s right. And you must be the Aldens.”
“Yes. I’m Jessie, and this is Henry, Benny, and Violet.” Jessie motioned to her brothers and sister in turn.
“I don’t get it,” said Henry. “Why doesn’t anyone go fishing from—”
Before Henry could finish his thought, Pam wheeled around and walked off.
The Aldens looked at one another in confusion. “Pam sure seemed in a hurry to get away,” Violet said with a puzzled frown.
“I guess she didn’t want to talk about the bridge,” said Jessie. “I wonder why.”
Henry shrugged. “Beats me.”
“I bet it
haunted,” Benny said in a hushed voice. “I just bet!”
“Help yourself to more meatballs, Benny,” Norah urged at dinner.
The youngest Alden didn’t need to be coaxed. “Thanks,” he said, eagerly adding a few more to his plate of spaghetti.
Mrs. McGregor turned to Norah’s great-niece. “You’ve really grown since I saw you last, Pam,” she said with a warm smile.
“Time sure flies, doesn’t it?” Norah took the basket of garlic bread that Violet handed her. “Pam was only a toddler when she spent her first summer with me.” Norah reached out and gave her niece an affectionate pat on the arm.
Violet looked over at Pam. “You must miss your parents.”
Pam’s face turned red and she lowered her eyes.
“We miss Grandfather whenever he goes away on business,” Benny chimed in as he wiped tomato sauce from his chin.
Pam looked glumly at her plate. “Who needs parents around all the time?”
The Aldens were surprised by her words, but they didn’t say anything.
Just then, a young woman in a yellow halter top and matching shorts came into the room. She was very tall with lots of curly brown hair. “Sorry I’m late, Norah,” she said, slipping into an empty chair beside Jessie. “I lose all track of time when I’m working.”
“Not to worry,” Norah said with a cheery smile. “Everything’s still piping hot.” Then she introduced Mrs. McGregor and the Aldens to Annette Tanning. “Annette’s helping me research the Eton family. She’s from out-of-state, so she’ll be staying here until school starts again in the fall.”
“You’re in college, Annette?” Jessie asked, passing the salad along.
“Yes, I’m studying history.” Annette placed a napkin over her lap. “When I saw Norah’s ad for a research assistant, I jumped at it.”
Norah smiled. “I was lucky to get such a hard worker.”
“I really love looking through old things,” Annette went on. “You never know what treasures you’ll find.”
That got Benny’s attention. “You found a treasure?”
“Not a real treasure.” Annette laughed nervously. “Nothing like that. Just interesting facts. That’s all I meant about—” She stopped suddenly as if she knew she’d said too much.
Benny polished off his milk. “We’re good at finding real treasures,” he said proudly. “Right, Henry?”
“We have found a few,” Henry admitted.
Seeing Annette’s puzzled face, Mrs. McGregor explained, “These children are first-class detectives.”
“Detectives?” Pam looked over in surprise.
“We solve mysteries,” Benny told her with a grin. “That’s our specialty.”
Norah turned to her assistant. “I think we have just the mystery for them. Right, Annette?”
“What …?” Annette held her fork in mid-air. “What are you talking about?” She sounded upset.
“Why, Meg Plum’s mystery, of course,” answered Norah. “What else?”
Suddenly Annette’s whole manner changed. “If you don’t think
doing a good job, Norah, just say so!” She stabbed at a meatball with her fork.
The Aldens were surprised. They stared at Annette with their mouths open.
“Of course I think you’re doing a good job.” Norah looked shocked. “What’s gotten into you, Annette?”
“Well, for starters, I can’t work with a bunch of kids in the way.”
Benny put down his fork. “But we never get in the way.”
Mrs. McGregor was quick to agree. “The Aldens are very self-reliant.”
“Of course they are,” agreed Norah. “No reason for anyone to be upset.” But it was clear that Annette was upset.
“We’ll do our best to help,” Henry promised.
“Thank you, Henry,” said Norah.
Annette looked as if she wanted to argue. But she didn’t. She finished her dinner in silence, not looking too pleased. Then she excused herself and left the room.
Norah apologized for her assistant’s behavior. “Annette has many good qualities, but she can be a bit moody sometimes.”
When the Aldens were clearing the table, Henry let out a low whistle. “Annette sure doesn’t want us helping out,” he said.
Benny added, “She wasn’t very friendly.”
“I guess we’d better keep out of her way,” said Jessie, filling the sink with hot, soapy water. The children agreed.
After leaving the kitchen spic-and-span, the four Alden children hurried out to the front porch. Norah and Mrs. McGregor were sipping iced tea and chatting. Pam was bent over a jigsaw puzzle nearby. Annette was nowhere in sight.
The Aldens made themselves comfortable. Then Benny looked at Norah—was she ready to tell them about the mystery?
Norah was ready. She took a last sip of her iced tea, then placed the empty glass on the table beside her. In the soft glow of the porch light, with the crickets singing in the dark, she began telling them an odd tale.
“A long time ago, my great-great-grandfather, Jon Eton, decided to see a bit of the world. His travels took him to England, and to the little village of Stone Pool. That’s where he met and fell in love with the beautiful Meg Plum.”
“That’s why your house is purple, right?” put in Violet. “Because of Meg Plum, I mean.”
Norah looked surprised that Violet knew that. “Right you are, Violet,” she said.
“Meg left the village of Stone Pool behind to start a new life with Jon right here at Eton Place. But I’m afraid my great-great-grandmother didn’t have an easy time of it.”
Jessie looked questioningly at Norah. “You mean, she didn’t like it here?”
“Oh, she liked it well enough, Jessie. But she was terribly homesick. Apparently, she would sit for hours, just staring at a photograph of Stone Pool.” Norah shook her head sadly. “They say Jon often found his young wife in tears.”
“Poor Meg!” Violet was shy, and meeting new people often made her nervous. “Did Jon try to help her?”
“Yes, but I’ll tell you about that another time, Violet.” Norah was reaching for a photograph album from the table beside her. “Right now, I have something to show you. It just so happens Annette came across a photograph the other day.” She pointed at a page in the album. “Here it is—Meg’s photograph of the village of Stone Pool.”
Although it was cracked and badly faded with age, the photograph showed shoppers in old-fashioned clothes strolling along the walkways and in and out of the little stores. Benny pointed to the fancy script at the bottom of the photo.
“What does that say, Norah?” he wanted to know. The youngest Alden was just learning to read.
Norah put on her glasses and read the words aloud: “The village of Stone Pool as it appeared on a summer afternoon in 1810.”
Mrs. McGregor peered over Norah’s shoulder. “Looks like a charming village. No wonder Meg was homesick.”
Norah continued her story. “One day a special gift arrived for Meg from her grandmother.”
The Aldens were instantly curious. “What was it?” said Henry.
“A heart-shaped brooch,” Norah told them. “It was a family heirloom made from precious gems. The rubies were particularly beautiful and rare.”
“What’s a brooch?” asked Benny.
“It’s a pin, Benny,” Mrs. McGregor answered. “Just like the one I have on my blouse. Only Meg’s brooch sounds much fancier than mine.”
“Meg loved the brooch. She wore it whenever she was feeling homesick.” Norah started flipping through the pages of her album again. She stopped and pulled out an old photograph. “Here’s a picture of my great-great-grandmother wearing her brooch.” She passed it along.
Sure enough, the fair-haired woman in the high-necked blouse and long skirt was wearing a heart-shaped brooch at her throat. The Aldens took turns studying it—first Violet, then Benny, then Henry, and finally Jessie.
“I wish I could show you the brooch itself,” said Norah, taking the photograph that Jessie handed her. “But I’m afraid that’s impossible.”
“Impossible?” Jessie looked puzzled.
Norah let out a sigh. “Sadly, the brooch disappeared long ago.”
“Oh, no!” cried Violet.
“Apparently, Meg left the heart-shaped brooch on her dresser one evening,” Norah explained. “In the morning, it was gone.”
Benny’s mouth dropped open. “You mean … somebody stole it?”
“That’s what everybody figured,” said Norah. “But the strange thing is, they say there was no sign that someone had broken into the house.”
“There’s something I don’t understand,” Henry remarked. “Why would Meg leave a valuable heirloom out on her dresser in the first place?”
Jessie had been wondering the same thing. “If the brooch meant so much to her, why didn’t Meg put it away in a safe place?”
“Exactly—yes!” said Norah, who seemed delighted by their questions. “It doesn’t make sense, does it?”
Henry raised an eyebrow. “What are you saying, Norah?”
“I’m saying that I don’t think the brooch was stolen.” Norah closed the album and placed it on the table beside her. “I’ve always believed Meg found a secret hiding place for it.”
Jessie blinked in surprise. “Why would she do something like that?”
“It’s not as strange as you might think, Jessie.” Norah settled back against a cushion. “I’m just guessing, but it’s possible she hid that brooch to keep it safe—and out of her husband’s reach.”
“What do you mean?” asked Violet.
“Now, don’t get me wrong,” Norah said, holding up a hand. “Jon Eton was a kind man, but he liked to gamble. He was a bit too interested in money for his own good.”
“Interested enough to sell Meg’s brooch?” Jessie asked in surprise.
“It’s hard to say, Jessie. But I don’t think Meg was taking any chances. I’m convinced she found a hiding place for it.”
“How can you be so sure, Norah?” Henry wondered.
“Because in her later years, Meg made a wall-hanging with a verse hand-stitched on it.” Norah leaned forward. “I believe that verse holds a secret.”
“What kind of secret, Norah?” asked Henry, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice.
“The secret of where the brooch is hidden.” Norah reached down for the framed verse propped against her chair.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” Violet cried as Norah held it up for everyone to see.
Jessie moved closer to get a better look. “Meg used a different-colored thread for every letter,” she said admiringly.
Norah smiled proudly. “Meg was known for her fancy stitching.”
Benny could hardly stand the suspense. “What does it say, Norah?” he asked, bouncing up and down. “The verse, I mean.”
Norah smiled at Benny’s enthusiasm. Then she read the words on it aloud:
When last goes first,
and first goes last,
Eton’s Loop will show you
a clue from the past.
Confused, the Aldens looked at one another. After hearing the verse one more time, Henry said, “That’s a tough one to figure out!”
Benny agreed. “It’s not much to go on.”
Jessie tugged her small notebook and pencil from her pocket. As she copied the verse, Henry and Violet looked at each other and smiled. They could always count on Jessie to be organized.
“I don’t get it.” Benny was thinking hard. “What exactly is Eton’s Loop?”
“I wish I knew, Benny,” Norah told him.
“When we were your age,” put in Mrs. McGregor, “we drove ourselves crazy trying to figure it out. Every time we thought we were on to something—”
“We’d end up going around in circles!” finished Norah.
Violet had a sudden thought. “Would you like to work on the mystery with us, Pam?” she asked, looking over at her.
“We can use all the help we can get,” added Henry.
Pam shook her head. “I don’t like mysteries,” she said, barely looking up from her puzzle.
Benny could hardly believe his ears. “But they’re just like jigsaw puzzles,” he was quick to point out. “You fit all the pieces together and—”
Before he had a chance to finish, Pam suddenly got to her feet. “I think I’ll go up to bed.”