Read Ghost of the Chattering Bones Online

Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

Ghost of the Chattering Bones (6 page)

“You sure did.” Jessie nodded. “You gave me the idea when you switched the letters around in Pam’s name.”

“What I can’t understand,” said Violet, “is what the village of Stone Pool has to do with the mystery.”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” stated Henry.

Benny licked some frosting from a corner of his mouth. “How will we find out?” he wanted to know.

Henry thought about this. “Maybe the answer’s in that photograph of Stone Pool. The one that Norah showed us.”

Violet’s eyebrows rose. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Let’s keep a lid on this for now,” Jessie suggested. “If it turns out we’re on the wrong track, Norah’s bound to be disappointed.”

Just then, Annette poked her head into the kitchen, a pencil stuck behind her ear. “Hey, there!” she said, smiling as if glad to see them. “Do you mind if I join you?”

The children stared at Annette, wondering why she was suddenly so cheery and friendly.

Without waiting for an answer, Annette stepped into the kitchen, shutting the door behind her. “So … how are you making out with the old mystery?” she asked, giving them a big smile.

“Well, we figured out that …” Benny stopped talking in mid-sentence. He suddenly remembered not to talk about the mystery.

Annette was instantly curious. “Go on,” she urged, as she pulled up a chair and set her coffee cup down on the table.

The children looked at one another. They didn’t want to lie, but they also knew it was best not to discuss the mystery just yet.

“We have a lot of questions,” said Jessie, “but not many answers.”

Annette began to tap her pencil on the table. “Surely you’ve figured out a clue by now.”

“A clue?” asked Jessie.

Annette sat back in her chair, looking at Jessie. Then, without another word, she got to her feet, grabbed her coffee cup, and marched out of the room.

When the door had closed behind her, the Aldens breathed a sigh of relief. “Can you believe it?” said Jessie. “One day she’s making fun of us for being detectives, and the next she’s—”

“Pumping us for information,” finished Henry. “How weird is that?”

“Maybe we should forget about Annette for now,” advised Violet. “We have a mystery to solve, remember?”

“You’re right, Violet,” said Jessie. “Time to check out the photograph of Stone Pool. I’m sure Norah won’t mind.”

“The album’s in a cabinet somewhere in the living room,” Benny recalled. “At least, that’s where Pam was supposed to put it.”

Sure enough, the Aldens found the album on the bottom shelf of an old pine cabinet with frosted glass doors. They made themselves comfortable on the sofa, then leafed through the album until they came to the old photograph. Jessie read the words at the bottom aloud one more time. “The village of Stone Pool as it appeared on a summer afternoon in 1810.”

“That’s funny,” Violet said, looking over Jessie’s shoulder. “The date’s been underlined three times.” She wasn’t sure but she thought it might be some kind of clue.

But Jessie had a feeling the photograph itself contained a clue. She held it at arm’s length, tilting her head to one side and then the other. “I don’t get it,” she said at last. “I can’t spot anything unusual, can you?” She passed the photograph to Henry.

Henry bent over to examine it. “It’s just a picture of a village in the olden days. Nothing strange about it.” He passed the photograph to Benny.

“I can see lots of people going in and out of stores,” observed Benny. “Nothing strange about that, either.”

Violet took the photograph that Benny handed her and studied it closely. “There’s something wrong here,” she said. “But I can’t figure out what it is.”

“There must be something we’re not seeing,” said Jessie.

But Henry was having second thoughts. “Maybe we’re on the wrong track.”

Without taking her gaze off the photograph, Violet said, “I think we’re on the right track, Henry. I’ve got a strong hunch about it.”

“Well, right now we’re going nowhere fast,” Henry pointed out.

“And I think better on a full stomach,” added Benny.

Henry grinned. “We get the hint, Benny. Let’s get some lunch.”

“We’d better not take the photograph into the kitchen with us,” Jessie said. “We might get food on it.”

As Jessie placed the photograph on the coffee table, she thought she heard something—a slight shuffling sound in the hall. Was it just her imagination? Or was someone listening to them?

Violet swallowed a mouthful of soup. “It’s so strange.”

“What’s strange, Violet?” Henry asked, helping himself to a grilled cheese sandwich.

“I can’t put it into words, but there’s something about that photograph of Stone Pool that bothers me.”

“It’s a really old photograph, Violet,” Benny pointed out. “It’s kind of faded.”

“That’s true, Benny.” Violet poured more lemonade. “It’s more than that, though. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something’s not right.”

“When it comes to mysteries,” Jessie said, “your hunches are seldom wrong, Violet. We’ll check it out again after lunch.”

After the delicious cookies had been sampled, and the dishes done, the Aldens made a beeline for the living room.

“Where’s the photograph of Stone Pool?” Benny demanded.

“It’s gone!” Jessie said. “It ought to be right here on the coffee table.”

Violet nodded. “I remember seeing you put it there.”

“Then … what happened to it?” asked Henry, glancing around in bewilderment.

Violet had a thought. “Maybe somebody put it back in the album.”

“I sure hope that’s the explanation,” said Jessie. She quickly checked it out, but it was no use. The photograph of Stone Pool wasn’t there.

“I can’t believe it,” said Violet. “Who could have taken it?”

“A thief—that’s who!” declared Benny. “And it looks like an inside job. I don’t see any broken windows.”

This made Henry smile a little. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions, Sherlock.”

“I bet Annette stole it,” said Benny, who wasn’t about to let go of his idea.

Jessie looked over at her little brother. “We shouldn’t suspect people, Benny, until we’re certain it was stolen.”

With that, they walked slowly around the room, checking behind cushions and under chairs. But the photograph of Stone Pool had disappeared.

CHAPTER 8
What’s Wrong with This Picture?

The moment Nora and Mrs. McGregor came through the door, Jessie told them about the missing photograph. “I’m so sorry, Norah,” she said. “I know how much it meant to you. I just don’t understand what happened.”

“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. McGregor, in a concerned voice. “First the tape recorder, and now the photograph. What more can happen?”

“Don’t you worry,” Norah said kindly, patting Jessie’s arm. “It just so happens I made copies to give out to relatives.”

“Oh!” The frown left Jessie’s face.

“Besides,” Norah added as she started up the stairs behind Mrs. McGregor, “it’s bound to show up. After all, it has no value to anyone but the family.”

The Aldens exchanged a look. Norah didn’t realize the photograph could be an important piece of the puzzle. It had value to anyone who was after the brooch.

“There’s at least a dozen copies in my desk drawer,” she called down to them. “The den’s at the end of the hall, kids. Go in and help yourself.”

“Let’s check it out,” said Jessie, who was back to her usual cheery self.

With that, the four children headed along the hall. As they got closer to the den, they noticed the door was open a few inches. They heard a familiar voice.

“I’m telling you, it’s a foolproof plan.” This was Annette speaking. “Nobody suspects a thing.”

The Aldens didn’t like the sound of this. They knew it wasn’t right to eavesdrop, but in this case, they felt they were doing it for a good cause.

“No … they won’t be a problem anymore,” Annette was saying. “What’s that? … We’ll leave no stone unturned?” She was laughing loudly now. “That’s a good one!”

“Did you hear that?” Jessie asked the others, as they walked back along the hall.

Henry nodded. “It sounds like Annette’s up to something.”

“And she was asking about the mystery today, too,” added Jessie. “That’s kind of fishy, don’t you think?”

“It was suspicious,” admitted Violet.

Benny looked over at his brother and sisters. “Shouldn’t we warn Norah?”

“It is a pretty strong case against Annette,” admitted Violet. “But we can’t be sure what she was talking about on the phone.”

Henry agreed. “And Norah would never believe she was up to anything—not without hard evidence.”

“You’re right, Henry,” Jessie said. “It’s one thing to suspect someone. It’s another thing to have proof.”

That evening, Norah, Mrs. McGregor, Pam, and the Aldens went to a baseball game and cheered for the hometown team. Even Pam couldn’t help getting into the spirit of things. The game went into extra innings, and it was late by the time they finally returned to Eton Place.

After getting ready for bed, the Aldens got together for another late-night meeting. “I wonder who she was talking to on the phone,” said Benny, still thinking about Annette.

Henry answered first. “Spence Morton comes to mind.”

“You think Annette and Spence are working together, Henry?” Jessie asked in surprise.

“Could be,” he said.

“Annette and Spence?” Benny repeated, not understanding. “But Spence left town, remember?”

“Maybe that’s just what he wants us to believe,” suggested Henry.

Violet thought about this for a moment, then she nodded. “I guess it’s possible he was trying to throw us off the track.”

“Exactly,” said Henry. “So nobody would suspect him.”

Violet tucked her brown hair behind her ears. “Maybe it isn’t the bridge he really wants.”

“What do you mean, Violet?” Benny wondered.

“It’s possible Spence is after Meg’s brooch.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that!” said Benny.

Just then, Jessie remembered something. She quickly told her sister and brothers about hearing someone in the hall outside the living room.

“Do you think somebody was spying on us?” Benny said.

Jessie had to admit it was possible.

“I wonder how much he—or she—overheard,” said Violet, sounding a little uneasy.

“Enough to know the photograph was an important part of the mystery,” Jessie responded.

The others nodded. No one would go to the trouble of stealing the photograph unless they knew it would help them find the brooch.

Henry had something to add. “Remember Annette saying on the phone, ‘They won’t be a problem anymore’?”

Benny nodded. So did Jessie and Violet.

“You think Annette was talking about us, Henry?” Violet asked.

“Yes,” said Henry. “I have a hunch she was.”

“I guess she thinks we can’t solve the mystery without the photograph,” added Jessie.

Henry nodded. “It’s possible she took it without realizing there were copies.”

“There’s something I don’t understand,” Benny said thoughtfully. “Annette was the one who found the picture in the attic, right? If she wanted to steal it, why didn’t she just take it then?”

“Maybe she didn’t think it was important at the time,” offered Violet.

“First thing tomorrow we’ll get hold of one of the copies.” Henry stretched and yawned. “Right now I’m too tired to think straight.” With that, they decided to call it a day.

When Violet climbed into bed, her thoughts turned once again to the photograph of Stone Pool. She still had the nagging feeling that something was wrong. But what was it? She tucked the thought in the back of her mind as she drifted off to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Violet cried out, “That’s it!” She sat bolt upright in bed as the answer suddenly came to her. “That’s why it was underlined three times!”

“Hmm …?” Jessie looked over at her sister.

“I just figured out what’s wrong with the photograph!” Violet threw back her covers and jumped out of bed. “Come on, Jessie. This can’t wait until morning.”

After rousing Henry and Benny, Jessie and Violet led the way down to the den. Sure enough, they found copies of the Stone Pool photograph tucked into Norah’s desk drawer.

“So, what’s going on, Violet?” Henry wanted to know.

“Think about this,” Violet said, as they sat down on a little sofa. “The photograph’s supposed to be from 1810. Right?”

Jessie, who was sitting in a circle of light from the lamp, glanced at the words in the old-fashioned script. “That’s what it says.”

“The problem is,” Violet told them, “photography didn’t come into use until the 1820s!”

Jessie blinked in surprise. “Then the photograph couldn’t have been taken in 1810.”

Violet nodded. “Meg got the date wrong.”

“That’s kind of weird.” Benny wrinkled his forehead. “Do you think we found another clue?”

“I sure do!” Henry slapped Violet a high-five. So did Jessie and Benny.

“But … what does it mean?” put in Benny.

Nobody said anything for a while. They were all lost in thought. Finally Henry spoke up. “Are there any other mistakes?”

“I’m not sure,” Violet said. “That was the only thing I noticed.”

Bending over the photograph, Henry said ‘hmmm’ several times.

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