Read Ghost of the Chattering Bones Online

Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

Ghost of the Chattering Bones (7 page)

“What do you see?” Jessie asked, looking over his shoulder.

Henry didn’t answer.

“Henry?” Jessie asked again.

“This is getting weirder and weirder.” He ran his finger under the words in white ink. “It says the photograph was taken in the afternoon.”

“What’s weird about that, Henry?” asked Violet

“The clock tower in the background says ten o’clock. The photograph couldn’t have been taken in the afternoon. It was taken in the morning!”

“You’re right, Henry,” Violet cried.

“I just noticed something else.” Jessie looked up from the photograph. “There’s no way this picture was taken in the summer.”

“What makes you say that, Jessie?” asked Violet.

“Look at the trees.”

With their heads close together, the others took another look.

“No leaves!” Benny exclaimed in amazement. “The trees are bare.”

“And there’s smoke coming from the chimneys,” added Henry. “Did you notice?”

Violet bent closer. “Now that you mention it …”

“Let’s go over everything.” Henry ticked off what they knew on one hand. “This picture wasn’t taken in the afternoon. It wasn’t in the summer. And it wasn’t 1810.”

The children looked at one another. How did Meg get so much wrong?

“I guess Jon Eton wasn’t the only one who made mistakes,” Benny pointed out.

“Jon Eton?” Henry gave his little brother a questioning look.

“He made a mistake about the bridge,” Benny explained. “Remember?”

The Aldens suddenly stared at each other. “Jon’s Blunder!” they all cried out in unison.

“I can’t believe it!” said Violet. “Meg made all these mistakes on purpose. Her blunders were supposed to point the way to the bridge!”

“It all adds up,” said Jessie. “Norah said the brooch disappeared around the time the men were working on the bridge. We’re lucky Benny mentioned Jon’s Blunder.”

“Do you think …” Henry paused for a moment to sort out his thoughts. “Do you think Meg’s brooch is hidden behind one of the stones?”

Jessie bit her lip. “If so, we have a big problem on our hands.”

“What do you mean?” asked Henry.

“Remember what else Annette said on the phone?” Jessie looked around at them. “She said, ‘We’ll leave no stone unturned’.”

Benny nodded. “And then she laughed.”

Violet caught her breath in sudden understanding. “She knows!”

“Knows what?” Benny looked confused.

“Annette might have meant that the brooch could be hidden somewhere in Jon’s Blunder,” Henry informed his little brother.

Benny’s jaw dropped. “Uh-oh.”

“That would explain Spence’s interest in the bridge,” Violet realized.

Jessie said, “There’s only one thing to do.”

The others looked at her. “What’s that, Jessie?” Benny said.

“Find the hiding place first!” she said.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” The youngest Alden was already heading for the door.

CHAPTER 9
Thief!

As they stepped outside, Henry was about to say something when Benny grabbed his arm. “What’s that?”

Everyone turned to see where Benny was pointing. At the top of the bridge, a light flickered and vanished. There wasn’t time to decide what to do. On the spur of the moment, Henry clicked off the flashlight and they made a dash for the nearby bushes.

The children crouched in the long grass, their eyes fixed on the shadowy figures standing in the middle of the bridge.

The muffled sounds of conversation reached their ears, but they were too far away to make out what was being said.

Benny whispered, “Maybe it’s Annette and Spence! They might be looking for the secret hiding place.”

Before anyone had a chance to comment, they heard a noise—it sounded as if someone were hacking away at the bridge!

“Oh, no!” Violet’s eyes were huge.

Benny jumped up to peer over the bushes, but Jessie stopped him in time. “Stay down, Benny.”

“But … somebody’s tearing the bridge apart!” he cried, almost shouting. “What should we do?”

Henry said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I think it’s time to find out.”

“Let’s get closer,” Jessie suggested. “Maybe we can hear what they’re saying.”

Keeping down, they crept cautiously forward. Then in a sudden burst of speed, they raced for another cluster of shrubs.

“Can’t you work faster?” someone was saying. It was Annette!

“Give me a break!” came a grumbling male voice. It was clear the man was jabbing at the mortar that held the stones together. “I’m doing the best I can.”

“The mortar’s old and crumbling,” Annette was saying. “Should be easy enough to get that stone out.”

The Aldens looked at each other in alarm.

“I’m counting on your hunch being right,” the man said. “Everything depends on it.”

“I’m telling you, that plaque’s the final clue,” said Annette. “The hiding place is right behind that stone.”

Jessie looked at Henry. It hadn’t occurred to them before, but it made sense. After all, didn’t the clues lead to Jon’s Blunder? Wasn’t that the name on the bronze plaque bolted to one of the stones?

All of a sudden, the battering noise stopped. “I think the stone’s ready to come out,” the man said. “Keep your fingers crossed.”

“Thief!” Benny shouted. In a flash, he had scooted out from behind the shrubbery. There was no stopping him.

The time for action had come. Henry and Benny raced onto the bridge from one side, Violet and Jessie from the other. Annette whirled around so suddenly, she dropped her flashlight. It rolled along the bridge.

“Who’s there?” she shouted, blinded by Henry’s flashlight.

“The Aldens,” Jessie answered.

“I should’ve known!” Annette said. “This has nothing to do with you.” She made a shooing motion with her hand.

Henry looked her straight in the eye. “We’re not going anywhere.” Then he shone the flashlight’s beam on the man nearby.

The Aldens could hardly believe their eyes! It wasn’t Spence Morton. It was Bob Ferber!

“You’re the man from the potluck dinner,” Violet said in surprise.

But Bob Ferber paid no attention to the Aldens. Instead, he plunged his hand into the dark space where the stone had been.

“Nothing!” He turned around, empty-handed. “Absolutely nothing.”

Annette’s jaw dropped. “How can that be?”

“You tell me!” Bob shot back. “You always seem to know so much.”

“This is all your fault!” Now Annette was almost shouting. “You and your crazy ideas.”

Just then, the bare bulb over the back door flicked on. Norah and Mrs. McGregor rushed out, pulling their robes around them. Half-walking and half-running, they hurried over to the bridge.

“Well, what’s all the fuss … oh, my …” Norah stopped and stared at the gaping hole where the stone had been.

“What in heaven’s name is going on?” Mrs. McGregor demanded.

“They’re trying to steal Meg’s brooch!” Benny said accusingly.

Norah looked from Annette to Bob and back again. “You two know each other?”

Bob struggled to find something to say. “Uh, well … I, er …” Suddenly, he stopped talking. His shoulders slumped and he leaned against the bridge, looking defeated. “Annette Tanning is my cousin.” He could hardly look at Norah.

“What …?” Norah was too shocked to speak.

For a moment, Norah and her assistant just looked at each other. Then Annette suddenly wheeled around to face Bob. “The whole thing was his idea,” she shrieked, pointing a finger of blame.

Norah threw a sharp glance at Bob Ferber. “What do you have to say for yourself, Bob?”

Bob opened his mouth several times as if about to speak, then closed it again. Finally he let out a sigh and said, “All right, it’s true. I was after your great-great-grandmother’s brooch.”

Norah stared at him, open-mouthed.

“The truth is, I happened to come across an old letter,” Bob confessed, “when I was working on your house, Norah. I guess it slipped through a crack in the floorboards a long time ago.”

“Oh?” Norah raised an eyebrow.

“It was a letter from Meg Eton’s grandmother.” Bob hesitated a moment, then plunged in. “The letter made it clear that Meg was planning to find a safe hiding place for her family heirloom—a brooch made from valuable gems.”

“No wonder you knew it was an old mystery,” said Jessie, nodding.

Bob gave a little half-hearted smile. “I guess I gave myself away, didn’t I?” Then he continued with his story. “I figured it was just the answer I was looking for. I knew, somehow or other, I had to get my hands on that brooch. The only problem was—” He stopped talking.

“You couldn’t pull it off alone, right?” Henry said, urging him on.

“Right,” said Bob.

Jessie guessed what was coming next. “You saw Norah’s ad in the paper for a research assistant, didn’t you?”

Bob didn’t deny it. “It started me thinking,” he said. “Annette was in the history program at college. If she got a job here, I’d have someone working on the inside. It all seemed simple enough.”

“I’m shocked at you, Bob.” Norah looked grim. “How could you think of stealing from me?”

“I never meant to hurt you, Norah.” He let out a weary sigh. “I was desperate. I ran out of money and I had bills piling up. My plan was to sell the brooch and make some quick cash. What could I do? My business was about to fold.”

“That doesn’t make it okay to steal,” Mrs. McGregor said sternly.

“I know it was wrong, but I really couldn’t see the harm.” Bob shrugged a little, trying to make light of it. “After all, folks seemed to think the brooch had been stolen anyway. I figured nobody would be the wiser if I—”

“Really
did
steal it,” finished Violet.

Bob nodded. “Turns out the joke’s on me,” he said with a hard laugh. “It seems the brooch
was
stolen—probably before Meg had a chance to hide it.”

Norah shook her head sadly. “You’re a bright young man, Bob,” she said in a quiet voice. “Why steal? That’s never the answer.”

Bob didn’t have a reply to that. He just walked away, his arms hanging limp at his sides.

Norah turned to her assistant. “You were really a part of this? I thought you were someone I could trust.” She sounded more hurt than angry. “You tried to convince me the brooch was long gone. And all the time you wanted it for yourself.”

Annette looked around. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on her. “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not very proud of,” she said, swallowing hard. “I actually wanted nothing to do with Bob’s plan at first.”

“But then you changed your mind,” put in Jessie.

“I needed the cash. Besides, the research job sounded perfect. I figured I might as well try to find the brooch, too. Bob was going to split the money with me.”

“That’s why you were pumping us for information, wasn’t it?” said Violet.

Annette nodded. “I had a hunch you might have figured out a clue.”

“What about the photograph of Stone Pool?” asked Henry. “Did you take that?”

Annette nodded again. “I was standing out in the hall and I heard you talking about the photo. I couldn’t believe you’d pieced together so much. You’re smarter than I thought,” she added, looking around at them. “I was afraid you’d beat me to the hiding place.”

“What you don’t know,” said Jessie, “is that Norah had already made copies of the photograph.”

Annette looked surprised. “Well, I guess our plan wasn’t really—”

Violet jumped in. “Foolproof?”

“Oh, you heard me on the phone, did you?” Annette sighed.

“Your plan almost worked,” said Benny.

“Yes,” said Annette. “Things were going nicely until you kids arrived. You don’t give up, do you?”

“No,” said Henry. “Not until we fit all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Jessie had a question. “There’s one part of this mystery I still don’t get,” she said. “How did you make it sound like the Chattering Bones was flowing under the bridge?”

Annette stared at Jessie, a blank look on her face. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Norah had heard enough. “I won’t be needing your services anymore, Annette,” she told her. “Please pack your bags.”

“I’m sorry I betrayed your trust, Norah,” Annette said quietly. Then she hung her head and walked away.

CHAPTER 10
The Secret Hiding Place

“I just can’t believe Bob and Annette would do such a thing,” Norah was saying, as they sat around the kitchen table having a late-night snack.

“Some people!” exclaimed Mrs. McGregor, who was pouring milk for everyone.

Pam came over with a plate of cookies. She set them down on the table. As it turned out, she had alerted her great-aunt after hearing noises outside.

“I have a question,” said Violet. “If it wasn’t Spence who was trying to scare us

… and it wasn’t Annette … then who was it?”

“It was me,” Pam said in a small voice.

All eyes turned to her.

“You tried to scare us?” Violet asked in surprise.

“You’re the one we were chasing the other night?” Jessie said at the same time.

Nodding, Pam sank down into a chair. “I … I’m really sorry.”

“What on earth is this all about?” Norah looked at Pam in bewilderment.

Pam buried her head in her hands. “I thought my parents would come and get me if they heard about a ghost,” she said, sniffling. Jessie quietly handed her some tissues.

“But how could …” Benny’s eyebrows furrowed.

Pam lifted her head and looked at the youngest Alden. “You’re wondering how I did it?”

Benny nodded. “It sounded just like water rushing over rocks.”

“Wait a minute!” Henry snapped his fingers in sudden understanding. “You recorded the sound of the stream in the woods, didn’t you? That’s why we found your headband by the water.”

Pam glanced sheepishly at her great-aunt. “I know it was wrong to take your tape recorder, Aunt Norah.” Her voice wavered. “I’m really sorry.”

Norah was too stunned to speak.

“You went outside in the middle of the night, didn’t you?” Henry went on, watching Pam closely. “Then you played the tape back.”

Pam didn’t deny it. “I had it all planned before you got here.” She could hardly look the Aldens in the eye. “But I hadn’t counted on you being so nice.”

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