Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
THE GHOST TOWN MYSTERY
Ten-year-old Violet Alden clung to the edge of the Jeep’s open window. “This is the bumpiest car we’ve ever been in,” she exclaimed.
“It’s the bumpiest
we’ve ever been on,” Jessie said, pushing her bangs out of her eyes.
“It’s both,” agreed Henry, squeezed between his sisters in the backseat. “These four-wheel-drive Jeeps are made to go over rough roads.” The oldest at fourteen, Henry knew a lot about automobiles.
Sitting next to Grandfather in the front seat, six-year-old Benny twisted around to talk to his brother and sisters.
“I think it’s like a ride at the carnival,” he said.
“It’s a ride, all right,” said Grandfather, laughing. “I forgot my property was located on top of such a high mountain!”
“The Rocky Mountains,” Violet said. “They sure are rocky!”
Just that morning the Aldens had left their home in Greenfield, Connecticut. They flew to Denver, Colorado. There Grandfather rented a car at the airport and they drove west into the Rockies. They checked into their motel, Eagles Nest, then set off to find the property Grandfather had recently purchased.
Mrs. Harrington, owner of Eagles Nest, told Grandfather his rental car would never make it up the mountain but her trusty old Jeep would. So Grandfather borrowed the tough little car from her.
Jessie tried to read the survey map, but the fine lines kept blurring. “I hope we’re on the right road,” she said, concerned.
“Just think if we’d lived in the olden days,” commented Grandfather. “Back when there was a gold rush in these parts.”
“Gold rush?” Benny asked. “Was that like when we went to Alaska?”
The Aldens had visited Alaska and learned about the gold rush in the Yukon Territory.
“In our nation’s history gold has been discovered more than once,” said Grandfather. “The first big gold rush was in California in 1849. Later, gold was found east of here near a mountain called Pikes Peak.”
“I read about that,” Henry put in. “All these people came out here in covered wagons with banners on the sides that said, ‘Pikes Peak or Bust.’ ”
“We could have come in our boxcar,” said Benny. “We would have beaten everybody else.”
The others laughed.
When their parents died, the Alden children had no place to live. They found an empty boxcar in the woods that became their home. They knew they had a grandfather, but believed he was mean and hid from him.
Luckily, Grandfather found his grandchildren and took them to live in his big house in Greenfield. Kindhearted James Alden knew the boxcar meant a lot to the children and had it moved to their backyard. The kids never forgot the abandoned train car that kept them together. Now they used it as sort of a clubhouse.
Life with Grandfather was one big adventure, they quickly learned. And now they were beginning a new one.
It started when Grandfather received a call from his old business friend Jay Murphy. Mr. Murphy owned some property in Colorado that he wanted to sell. He offered the land to Grandfather, briefly describing the acreage along Tincup Creek.
Grandfather visited the property when he signed the final papers. When he came back, he was eager to show his grandchildren the land. So he arranged a second trip to Colorado, this time with the children.
James Alden was still chuckling at Benny’s idea of traveling west in the red boxcar. “I suppose our banner would say ‘Tincup Creek or Bust!’ ”
“Tincup Creek is one side of our property,” reported Jessie. She pressed the map against her knees so the wind wouldn’t blow it away.
Violet nodded. “We saw Tincup Creek at Eagles Nest, too.”
“The stream is supposed to be great for fishing,” Henry said. “I think the guys staying at Eagles Nest are fishermen. At least, they had poles and stuff.”
“What a funny name, Tincup,” remarked Violet. “I wonder how it got that name.” She was trying to glimpse the scenery as the Jeep joggled over a deep rut.
The trees were mostly evergreens, tall and sweet-smelling. Colorful summer wildflowers brushed the sides of the car. Violet had brought her camera, but she’d have to wait until they stopped before she could take any pictures.
Suddenly Grandfather braked hard. They had run out of road.
“Is this it?” asked Benny. “Is this the land you bought?”
Grandfather leaned out of the Jeep’s open door. “Not yet. There should be a trail beyond this road. Is that right, Jessie?”
Now she could read the map. “Yes, that’s right. The trail doesn’t look very long.”
“At the end of that trail, the property starts.” James Alden grabbed a water bottle in a mesh holder and slung the strap across his shoulder. “Okay, everybody. Let’s go!”
Where the rutted, potholed road ended, a narrow trail continued through the trees.
It was a beautiful day for a walk up the mountain. The sun shone brightly in the blue midsummer sky.
“We’re at a higher altitude than we were in Connecticut,” Henry informed them. “Walking is harder here.”
“The altitude doesn’t seem to bother Benny,” Violet said with a giggle.
“Nothing does,” added Jessie. “Except being late for a meal!” Their younger brother was always hungry.
She was a little hungry herself. Upon their arrival at Eagles Nest, Mrs. Harrington had served them a rather skimpy lunch. From reading the brochure, Jessie knew that Eagles Nest called itself a resort. It was supposed to offer all kinds of activities. The pictures in the glossy pamphlet showed people riding horses and eating delicious-looking meals in the family-style dining room. Eagles Nest even served an afternoon snack.
But when the Aldens had pulled up by the tilted wagon-wheel gate, the run-down cabins didn’t look like the ones pictured in the brochure. The three cabins they had reserved weren’t ready. Mrs. Harrington’s pretty daughter, Marianne, hurried to make up the beds.
Lunch was also late. Instead of the hearty “rancher’s” meals the pamphlet promised, they had tuna salad with crackers. There were several cabins, but only two other men were eating in the dining room. Mrs. Harrington had said she was expecting another party later that day.
When Jessie questioned Grandfather about the place, he had replied, “Perhaps Mrs. Harrington has fallen on hard times. Eagles Nest was built back in the fifties. It was probably popular back then. But now it’s off the beaten path. Since she became a widow, Mrs. Harrington hasn’t kept up the place.”
“There aren’t any horses or hot-air balloon rides,” Jessie had stated, showing him the brochure.
Grandfather shook his head. “Mrs. Harrington told me while you children were unloading the car that she sold the horses years ago. The balloon rides were on another mountain, but that company went out of business, too.”
“Well, we’re only going to be here a week,” Jessie had said.
How bad could it be?
Grandfather had nodded in agreement. “With this cool air and these majestic mountains, we’ll feel like pioneers living in those rustic cabins!”
Jessie was pulled out of her thoughts when Benny ran back to her.
“How much farther?” he asked. “It seems like we’ve been walking
Grandfather wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “I sure wish my land wasn’t on the highest mountain in the Rockies.”
“Is it?” asked Violet.
“No,” said Grandfather. “I was just joking. But when I was out here earlier, I thought this was the highest mountain!”
Jessie consulted the survey map one last time. “The trail should be ending right about — ” She broke off when the path they had been climbing sloped away at their feet.
Everyone stared at the astonishing sight down below, set squarely like a child’s blocks.
At the bottom of the canyon were old wooden buildings. Weathered signs were still readable: a barbershop, a dry goods shop, Anderson’s Hotel. A wide road split the two rows of buildings.
Grandfather owned a little town!
No one spoke for a moment as they gazed into the canyon. Dust blew down the dirt road that divided the buildings.
“That looks like a Wild West town,” said Violet in awe.
a Wild West town,” Grandfather said with a grin. “And it’s ours!”
“You knew about this?” asked Henry.
“I wanted to surprise you,” said Grandfather, his grin broadening.
Jessie still couldn’t believe it. “Well, you sure did that!” She tapped the map. “How come the town doesn’t show up on this map?”
“It’s a topological map,” Grandfather answered. “It only shows roads and land formations, like mountains and rivers.”
“What’s the name of our town?” asked Violet.
“Tincup, after the creek,” said Grandfather. He checked his watch. “Well, we’d better head back to Eagles Nest for that afternoon snack. We’ll have plenty of time to explore the town this week.”
Back at the motel, they went into the dining hall, a large room made of logs. Sofas and a fireplace were at one end, while a long table and chairs were arranged at the other.
A lanky young man with carrot-colored hair stood by the fireplace. He stared at Marianne Harrington as she arranged pitchers on the sideboard by the table.
Mrs. Harrington came in when she heard the Aldens enter.
“This is Corey Browne, our new guest,” she told James Alden. “He’s a student at Colorado State.”
“Hey,” said the green-eyed young man, still watching Marianne.
Jessie stifled a giggle. It was obvious Corey had a crush on pretty Marianne.
“Ready for snack time?” announced Mrs. Harrington.
“Mmm,” said Benny appreciatively. “I’m starving!”
But the “snack” turned out to be a few limp celery and carrot sticks with water to drink. Disappointed, Benny gnawed on a piece of celery.
He was so hungry, he forgot about the town until Grandfather said, “Mrs. Harrington, I showed my grandchildren the town. What do you know about it?”
The motel owner sat down at the table.
“It’s quite a story,” she began. “Tincup,” she said, “is a ghost town!”
For some reason, Violet shivered. “A ghost town! That’s neat,” she said.
“It’s been that way for over a hundred years,” said Mrs. Harrington. “Way back, a forty-niner going home camped at Tincup Creek.” Then she explained, “A forty-niner was somebody who went to California for the 1849 gold rush. His name was Duncan Payne. One morning he washed his face in the stream and saw something yellow, like gold.”
Everyone at the table became still.
“Duncan had sold his mining stuff before leaving California,” said Mrs. Harrington. “All he had was a knife and a tin cup. He dipped the cup in the stream and caught the gold. Duncan dug and dug, but he didn’t find much gold. He
find a lot of black sand along the creek. He took samples of the sand back to Denver. It turned out to be silver ore.”
Corey nodded. “Silver is an important part of Colorado’s history. But it’s hard to find. No one had ever paid any attention to the black sand along the creeks,” he said loudly.
Corey seemed nice, thought Violet, but she didn’t like the way he practically yelled when he spoke.