Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
Norah looked disappointed. “Well … I suppose that’s best if you’re tired. Oh, would you mind putting this back in the living room for me on your way, dear?” she added, holding the photograph album out to Pam.
“In the cabinet with the glass doors, right?”
With that, Pam gave her great-aunt a hug, then she said good-night and went inside. Norah looked worried.
“Pam just hasn’t been herself this summer,” she said. “She’s usually so cheery. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s bothering her.”
The Aldens looked at one another, wondering the same thing.
That night, all the Aldens fell asleep right away. Around midnight, Benny stirred. He thought he heard something—a rushing kind of sound. It seemed to be coming from outside. What was making that noise?
“Henry?” he whispered.
Henry didn’t answer. He was sound asleep.
Benny slid out of bed. He went over to the window. Leaning on the sill, he peered out through the window screen into the inky darkness.
The strange noise suddenly stopped.
“Benny?” Henry asked sleepily “What’s going on?”
“I … I heard something.”
“It’s just the crickets,” Henry said in the middle of a yawn. “Nothing to worry about.”
Benny nodded his head. “No, it was something else, Henry,” he insisted, trying to keep his voice low. “Something … weird.”
“You were probably dreaming,” Henry told him, in a sleepy voice.
“Maybe,” Benny said, as he climbed back into bed. But he knew he wasn’t dreaming.
“I’m telling you, your great-great-grandmother’s brooch was stolen,” Annette was telling Norah at breakfast the next morning. “If you ask me, it was taken by one of the workmen at the time.”
Benny frowned. “You don’t think there’s a secret hiding place?”
“I certainly don’t.” Annette tore a small piece of crust off her toast and popped it into her mouth. “I’ve done the research. I know what I’m talking about.”
Benny looked crushed.
Violet felt her little brother’s disappointment. “We won’t know for sure until we do some investigating, Benny.” She passed the platter of bacon to Pam.
Henry nodded. “We should at least check into it.”
“Maybe you missed something, Annette,” Benny said.
This was the wrong thing to say. Annette frowned. “Well, isn’t it lucky we have the Aldens around to keep us on track,” she said, though it was clear from her voice that she didn’t think it was lucky at all.
Jessie and Henry looked at each other. Why was Annette so unfriendly?
“According to all the old newspapers, there was no evidence of theft.” Norah took a bite of her toast and chewed thoughtfully. “And what about that little verse of Meg’s? What do you think it means, Annette?”
Norah lifted an eyebrow. “Nothing?”
“Nonsense verse,” Annette said, patting her mouth with a napkin. “That’s all it is.”
Pam tucked a loose strand of hair under her polka-dotted headband. “What’s nonsense verse?” she asked.
“A silly rhyme that has no meaning whatsoever,” Annette answered.
But Norah wasn’t convinced. “I think there’s more to Meg’s verse than meets the eye.”
Mrs. McGregor was quick to agree. “If anyone can figure it out, the Aldens can.”
Annette threw up her hands in a frustrated way. “Well, I have better things to do with my time,” she said, pushing back her chair. “I’ll be in the den if you need me.”
“Before you go, Annette,” Norah said, changing the subject. “I was wondering if you’ve seen my tape recorder. It seems to have disappeared from my desk.”
Jessie couldn’t help noticing that Pam was blushing.
“I’m afraid not,” said Annette. Then an amused smile curled her lips. “But I’m sure the Aldens can track it down—just like that!” she added, with a snap of her fingers. Then she hurried away.
“I don’t think Annette likes us,” Benny said in a small voice. He wasn’t used to anyone making fun of them.
“I’m sure she likes you just fine, Benny,” Norah assured him. “She puts in long hours and it makes her a bit grumpy. You mustn’t let it bother you.” She paused as she swallowed a mouthful of eggs. “This research seems to mean a great deal to Annette. I’m not really sure why.”
Mrs. McGregor, who was buttering her toast, suddenly looked up. “Your assistant seems sure the brooch was stolen.”
Benny nodded. “By one of the workmen. I wonder what she meant by that.”
“She was talking about the men who were working on the bridge,” explained Norah, as she poured syrup on her pancakes. “They were hired around the time the brooch disappeared.”
Henry asked, “Are you talking about the bridge out back?”
“That’s right, Henry,” said Norah. “It came all the way from Stone Pool.”
“Stone Pool?” Violet looked at Norah in surprise.
“It was the bridge where Jon proposed to Meg,” put in Mrs. McGregor, as she helped herself to more bacon. “Right, Norah?”
Norah smiled at her friend. “Yes, indeed, Margaret! And Jon was determined to bring that bridge across the ocean for his bride.”
Violet nodded in understanding. Jon wanted to bring a part of Stone Pool to Eton Place to keep Meg from feeling homesick.
“They say he made an offer that the village of Stone Pool just couldn’t refuse. In no time at all, the bridge was taken apart, stone by stone, and shipped to America.” Norah smiled a little. “There was only one problem.”
“What was that, Norah?” Jessie asked.
“Jon was positive the bridge would span the stream in the woods,” she said. “But he was sadly mistaken. You see, the bridge wasn’t nearly long enough.”
“At least the bridge was the right size for the stream behind the house,” Violet pointed out.
“There’s no stream running through the backyard, Violet.” Norah said. “The bridge doesn’t cross over water—only a large bed of pansies.”
“No wonder nobody ever goes fishing from it,” Henry realized.
“Not a drop of water under it,” Norah said with a nod. “Never has been.” She handed the syrup to Benny. “But Meg didn’t mind,” she added. “It made her happy to look out and see that old stone bridge in the backyard.”
Benny was wondering about something. “Is the bridge haunted, Norah?”
“Darlene spilled the beans, I’m afraid,” said Mrs. McGregor.
Norah rolled her eyes. “Darlene never did know how to hold her tongue.”
The Aldens looked at one another in astonishment. Had Darlene been right after all?
“Does Jon haunt the bridge?” Violet wanted to know. “Or is it Meg?”
Benny suddenly remembered what Mrs. McGregor had said. “I bet it’s the ghost of the chattering bones!”
Norah smiled over at the youngest Alden. “You hit the nail on the head, Benny!”
Jessie was curious. “Will you tell us more about it, Norah?”
Norah said, “Over the years strange noises have sometimes been heard in the middle of the night.”
Benny’s eyes widened. “What kind of noises?”
“I’ve never heard the noises myself, Benny,” Norah said, as she padded her mouth with a napkin. “But they say it sounds just like water flowing over rocks.”
The Aldens were so surprised all they could do was stare. Before they could ask any questions, Norah spoke again.
“You see, ‘Chattering Bones’ was the name of a little stream near Stone Pool. For many years it flowed under an old stone bridge on the edge of town.”
Violet gasped. “The bridge Jon bought for Meg?”
Norah nodded her head. “The very same one that was taken apart and shipped across the ocean.”
Pam, who had been quietly peeling an orange, suddenly looked up. “Just after that, the Chattering Bones disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” the Aldens echoed in unison.
Pam nodded. “It vanished into thin air.”
Henry was baffled. “But it couldn’t just … vanish!”
“Apparently it did, Henry. They say the stream dried up shortly after the bridge was torn down. It was almost as if the creek needed the bridge.” Norah spoke slowly as if uncertain about what she was saying.
Violet shivered. Everything was becoming more and more mysterious. Benny’s eyes were round. “You mean, the sound at night is the ghost of the Chattering Bones?”
Pam was the first to answer. “Yes, the ghostly stream flows under the bridge when it’s dark,” Her voice was quiet, almost a whisper.
Benny’s eyes grew even rounder. He hurried over to the window and peeked outside.
“That’s a strange ghost story,” Jessie remarked, as she got up to clear the table.
“Eton Place has its share of mysteries,” Mrs. McGregor agreed. “No doubt about that.”
Benny suddenly looked over at Norah. “That man’s out there again.”
“What man?” asked Henry, coming up behind his brother.
“The one who wants to buy the bridge.”
In a flash, Norah was on her feet. “That fellow needs to be told a thing or two!”
Everyone followed as she led the way outside. Sure enough, they found Spence Morton standing on the bridge. He waved over to them. Spence was all smiles when they hurried over. “Just checking on my bridge,” he told them.
“Now just what does that mean?” Norah had an angry frown on her face.
But Spence didn’t seem to hear Norah. He just stared down at the stones and smiled.
“This bridge is mine,” Norah said sharply. “And I won’t be selling it to you or anyone else!”
Spence suddenly laughed, but not in a funny way. “I’ve got a hunch you’ll change your mind,” he said. Then he turned and strode away.
The Aldens exchanged worried looks. What was Spence Morton planning to do?
As Spence walked off, Benny edged closer to the rough stone ledge and peered over the side. Down below, purple pansies rippled in the breeze. He looked relieved.
As if reading his thoughts, Henry put a comforting arm around his brother. “Not a drop of water in sight.”
“The Chattering Bones haunts the bridge at night,” said Pam, who was standing within earshot. “Remember?”
Henry turned to look at her. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
Before Pam had a chance to answer, Jessie called out, “Look at this.” She pointed to a small bronze plaque bolted to one of the stones. Engraved on the plaque were the words JON’S BLUNDER.
“One of the men working on the bridge had it made as a joke,” Norah told them. “It wasn’t long before everyone started calling the bridge Jon’s Blunder.”
Benny frowned. “What’s a blunder?”
“A blunder’s a mistake, Benny,” Henry told him. “A big mistake.”
“Oh!” said Benny, catching on. “And Jon made a big mistake—the bridge wasn’t long enough for the stream.”
Norah laughed. “I’m afraid my great-great-grandfather never heard the end of it.”
Just then, Violet noticed something, too. The shape of a heart had been chiseled into one of the stones nearby. In the middle of the heart was Meg’s name.
They all moved closer for a better look. “Jon carved that heart for Meg on the day he proposed to her,” said Mrs. McGregor. “Right, Norah?”
“That’s right, Margaret.”
“It’s so romantic,” said Violet. She had a dreamy smile on her face as she traced the letters MEG with a finger.
But Benny was more interested in the mystery. “Let’s get started looking for clues,” he suggested.
“Any idea where you’ll begin?” Norah asked as they headed back to the house.
“We thought we’d hike around the property,” said Jessie. “Maybe keep an eye out for Eton’s Loop.”
“Whatever that is,” added Benny.
Mrs. McGregor looked up at the blue sky. “Why not pack a lunch?” she suggested.
“Oh, yes!” put in Norah. “What could be better than a picnic?”
“Nothing!” cried Benny, who loved picnics.
Mrs. McGregor smiled. “There’s a great spot to eat by the stream in the woods.”
“Sounds good,” said Henry.
“Come with us, Pam,” Jessie offered.
Pam put on a little smile. “Thanks, but I never hike that far. Not all the way to the woods.”
The Aldens looked at each other, puzzled. How could anyone turn down a picnic?
As they went inside, Norah said, “By the way, there’s a potluck dinner at the community center tonight, so watch the time.”
“What’s a—” Benny began to say, but Jessie knew the question before he asked it.
“A potluck’s where everybody brings something, Benny,” she explained. “That way, you get to sample different dishes.”
Benny broke into a big grin. “Sounds like fun!”
“A picnic and a potluck dinner in the same day,” said Henry. “That’s a dream come true for you, Benny!”
The Aldens washed and dried the breakfast dishes, then made sandwiches on the counter. Violet buttered the bread. Henry added cold cuts, pickles, and lettuce. Benny slapped on the mustard. And Jessie cut and wrapped the sandwiches that Benny passed to her.
“I wonder why Pam never wants to do anything with us,” said Benny, licking some mustard from the back of his hand.
“I’m not sure,” Jessie said after a moment’s thought. “She’s hard to figure out.”
“You’ve got that right,” said Henry.
“She didn’t even want to help us solve a mystery,” added Benny, who still couldn’t get over it.