Read Benny Uncovers a Mystery Online
Authors: Gertrude Warner
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Benny Uncovers a Mystery
GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER
Illustrated by David Cunningham
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company, Chicago, Illinois
Miss Warner wishes
to thank everyone
who helped in any way
on this book.
t was a hot, lazy morning, that last day of July. Not a leaf stirred in the huge maple tree in the Alden front yard. Even the birds were still.
Henry Alden sat on the grass with his back against a tree trunk. He was holding a book he was supposed to read for college in the fall. But he didn’t feel like reading.
His sister Jessie sat with her back against another tree, not moving. Violet was lying on the grass, propping her head up with her hands. She watched the big white clouds float slowly by in the bright blue sky.
“Well,” said Henry. “I don’t remember a day like this ever. I don’t feel like doing anything.”
“Neither do I,” said Jessie without stirring. “I don’t see how Benny can be playing ball.”
“I’ll tell you why we feel this way,” Violet said suddenly. “Usually Grandfather plans a trip in the summer. We’ve been at the lighthouse or on a houseboat or riding in a caboose.”
Just then Benny came through the hedge. He had been next door. He was wearing shorts and a shirt with short sleeves.
“See you later,” Jeff Beach called after him, and Benny waved.
“How’s the ballgame?” asked Jessie. “Quitting?”
“Whew! It’s just too hot for me,” Benny said. He sat down next to Jessie. He did not look very happy.
“Who won, Benny?” asked Henry.
“Nobody won,” answered Benny. “Jeff and I were just playing catch.”
Jessie laughed and said, “That isn’t exciting enough for you, Ben, is it?”
“No, it isn’t,” agreed Benny. “But it’s too lazy a day for much excitement.” Then he added, “I have one piece of news. Sammy Beach has a job.”
“He has!” exclaimed Jessie. “Where?”
“He’s an errand boy at the hospital. He likes it and he’s earning money. It sounded good when Jeff told me about it. Sammy’s so busy he forgets about the heat ...”
Just then the paperboy came into the driveway with the Greenfield paper.
“Catch!” he called as he tossed the paper into the circle where the Aldens sat.
After the paperboy had gone on his way, Henry slowly unfolded the newspaper. He said, “I suppose somebody ought to take the paper into Grandfather. I’m too lazy to move.”
“I’ll do it in a minute,” said Violet.
Benny looked at his brother and sisters. They were just sitting there, not talking, not moving. Aldens never acted this way! Benny had to do something. “You know what I think?” he asked. “I think we ought to go to work.”
“Work?” repeated Henry. “You mean get a summer job? Now?”
“Yes, that’s just what I mean,” replied Benny. “If Sammy Beach is working, we can, too. I want a real job, not just doing chores and mowing the lawn.” He sat up straight. “I want to go to work in the morning and come home at five.”
Jessie smiled at Benny. “Violet and I will be busy soon. We’re going to work at the park. Violet is going to teach painting, and I’m going to be a lifeguard at the pool.”
“I forgot,” Benny said. “That’s good for you. But I want to do something now.”
Henry looked at Benny. “You work in school, Ben. You’re busy after school and on Saturdays. Why work in the summer?”
“Oh, I work my fingers to the bone all the time,” Benny said without a smile, and he held up one arm to look at. It was a strong and healthy arm. And the hand had five perfectly good fingers.
The Aldens all laughed, for they knew Benny liked to be busy, playing or working. But Benny was serious about a summer job. “Hey, let’s look in the paper for ads. We can job hunt without making a move. How’s that, Henry?”
Benny opened the Greenfield paper and looked for the page which said “Help Wanted.”
“Here we are,” he said, folding back the paper. Then Benny laughed. “I wouldn’t be very good for this one. ‘Wanted, young person to sit two hours daily with invalid.’ I know I couldn’t be quiet that long.”
“You’re right about that,” Jessie agreed.
Benny ran his finger down the ads. “Say!” he exclaimed. “Here’s one for me after all. ‘Wanted, someone for errands, some yard work. No driving necessary. Phone 222-1212.’ ”
Before anyone could stop him, Benny was on his feet and headed for the house. “Easy number to remember, just 222-1212,” he called back.
“He really wants to work,” said Henry. “I wonder if anyone will be home on a day like this to answer the phone?”
Inside the house Benny propped the paper by the phone and dialed the number. The phone rang five times before someone answered.
“Hello,” said Benny. “Is this 222-1212? I’m calling about your ad in today’s paper. My name is Benny Alden and I'd like the job.”
A woman’s voice said, “Benny Alden? Mr. James Alden’s grandson? I’m sorry, but another boy just called and I promised him the job. Thank you for calling.” And the phone clicked in Benny’s ear.
Putting the phone down, Benny frowned. Who knew he was Mr. Alden’s grandson, but wouldn’t give a name or an address? Was it an older woman or had the voice just sounded that way? And had someone else really taken the job or didn’t this person want an Alden to do the work?
Still feeling puzzled, Benny reported back to the others. “No luck,” he said. “I guess you can’t always get a job the first time you try.”
Violet looked toward the porch and saw Grandfather Alden standing there, smiling at them. He loved to have his grandchildren make their own plans and carry them out. He only helped them if they needed him.
Now he put in a word. “Remember that Mrs. McGregor has a vacation. We’ll have to be our own housekeepers while she’s gone to Canada.”
“Oh, yes, I know that,” said Benny. “But that won’t be too much to do.”
Grandfather Alden laughed. Benny always wanted to be busy.
“Let’s get back to the newspaper ads,” said Benny. “Now where were we? Say, this may be it. ‘Wanted, for the month of August only, sales clerk. Inquire at Furman’s Department Store.’ That sounds like something for you, Henry. You could do that.”
“Well,” Henry said. “That might be interesting. But that’s just one job. What about you, Benny?”
“Nothing else here for me,” Benny said and ran over to give Grandfather Alden the paper. When he came back to the others he said, “Maybe if Mr. Furman sees how much I want a job, he’ll find something for me, too. Or maybe I can get a job at another store. I’ll ask. Come on, Henry, let’s go.”
Jessie and Violet smiled at each other.
Benny was always like that. If he planned to do anything, he wanted to start at once.
Grandfather laughed, but Henry said, “You can’t say a word, Grandfather. You are just like that yourself.” And Mr. Alden had to agree.
“Yes, yes,” he said, holding up his hand. “I think it’s a fine plan. You’ll both learn a lot, whatever you do. In fact, I’ll be interested in learning about what’s going on at Furman’s Department Store. I’ve heard there are some changes planned there. Not everyone is happy about them.”
Benny nodded. He didn’t think any changes would make a difference to him and Henry. He said, “Let’s go, Henry. Somebody else may get there ahead of us. I’d really like to work in a department store. I just hope I’m old enough. I’m sure you will be.”
“OK,” answered Henry, getting up and closing his book. “We’ll see which of us the manager wants. Maybe he won’t want either of us. Of course, Mr. Furman knows us—for years and years. But he may want somebody older.”
“Maybe he will, but I hope not,” Benny said, starting toward the house.
The boys raced upstairs. They moved quickly, changing their clothes, brushing their hair. They forgot about the lazy summer day.
As the boys got ready Mr. Alden thought to himself, “When people are interested in something special, they don’t notice how hot it is.”
The boys got out their bikes. Henry called to Grandfather and the girls, “We’ll probably be back soon. It would be pretty lucky to get a job on the first try.”
“I don’t think we’ll be back,” Benny put in. “I still feel lucky today. We may be working men in an hour or so. I’m ready to start right now.”
“Come back for lunch or not, it’s all right either way,” said Jessie. “I’ll be ready.”
“Good luck,” Violet called after them as the boys pedaled away.
s they rode along, Benny said, “The girls are lucky. They already have jobs. They each have their own, but so far we just know of one job and there are two of us.”
Henry asked, “What would you really like to do if you could do anything you wanted?”
“I like the idea of working in a store,” Benny said. “I’d like to wait on customers. Maybe a hardware store would be the best place to work. Lots of people come in for tools and garden hoses and rakes. I could sell eggbeaters and cupcake tins and hammers and saws.”
Benny smiled at the thought of all the interesting things there are in a hardware store.
“Well, why not go to the hardware store first, then?” asked Henry. “Maybe this will be your lucky day.”
But Benny saw Tucker’s Grocery Store. It was an old-fashioned store and Benny knew Mr. Tucker and his wife. “I’d like to work here, too,” he told Henry. “I could make those fancy piles of apples and oranges in the window.”
“What ideas you have, Ben,” Henry said. “It’s more likely you’d have to handle cartons of eggs. You would feel terrible if you broke any eggs.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t break any eggs,” said Benny. “Mr. Tucker has known us for a long time. He’d give us jobs if he could.”
So the boys parked their bikes in front of Tucker’s Grocery Store and went inside.
“Well, hello, boys,” said Mr. Tucker. “It’s a hot day to go grocery shopping.”
Henry looked around. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “we aren’t shopping for groceries at all. We’re shopping for jobs.”
Mr. Tucker sat down on a high stool. He exclaimed, “You’re just too late! I wish you had come yesterday. I just hired a young man to help me out. I needed a helper who’s strong to put things away. No matter how often I do it, there’s more to be done. So I hired Tad Decker.”
“Well, maybe he needs a job more than we do,” said Henry.
“He does,” said Mr. Tucker. “His father has lost his job, and Tad has to work. I’m sorry about you boys, though. I’d like to have a couple of Aldens work for me if I could. Try the hardware store. Maybe Mr. Green or Mr. Spencer has something.”
“Thanks,” said Henry and Benny together. “We’ll go there next.”
“Good luck,” Mr. Tucker called.
When the boys had locked their bikes in front of the hardware store, they swung open the heavy door. They found the store empty. There was not a single customer in sight. Mr. Spencer and Mr. Green were leaning against a counter, talking in low tones to each other.
The boys knew the answer to their question before they asked it. The men shook their heads.
Mr. Spencer said, “As you can see, boys, our business is slow in the mornings. I’m sorry we have nothing for you.”
“That’s OK,” said Benny. “Of course, we’ve had no experience.”
“That’s not the reason,” replied Mr. Green. “We just don’t need any more help now.”
The boys said goodbye and left the store.
“Let’s stop next door and see Mr. Shaw at the jewelry store,” Henry said.
Shaw’s Jewelry Store was a small shop with only one showroom. Mr. Shaw was in the back of the store, repairing a watch. As the boys opened the door, he pushed back the heavy blue curtain that hid his work table.