Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
1 The Contest
2 Mysterious Lights
3 Jewels in the Dirt
4 The Mixed-up Backpacks
5 The Figure in White
6 Jessie’s Treasure
7 The Robbery
8 Buried Treasure
9 “This Is My Final Warning!”
10 A Thief Among Us
About the Author
“I wish we didn’t have to go back to Greenfield,” said six-year-old Benny Alden.
Violet turned from the front seat of the car. “Don’t you miss our house?” she asked her little brother.
“And our boxcar?” put in Henry, sitting next to Benny.
Jessie, who was twelve, knew how Benny felt.
“The boxcar is important,” she said. “It’s where we lived before Grandfather found us. Benny just doesn’t want this vacation to end.”
“We did have a great time camping in the mountains,” their grandfather, James Alden, agreed. “It seems a shame to leave the area so soon.”
Benny became excited. “Does that mean we can stay longer?”
Grandfather smiled at him in the rearview mirror.
The Alden children looked at one another. They knew “we’ll see” often meant “okay.”
As they drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Henry spotted a sign.
“‘Ruby Hollow Gem Mine and Resort,’” he read aloud. “‘Rock Hounds Welcome.’”
“A gem mine!” ten-year-old Violet exclaimed. “That sounds great! Can we go there?”
“It does sound interesting,” said Grandfather. “We’ll check it out.”
“Oh, boy!” Benny bounced in his seat. Then he asked, “What’s a rock hound? Is it a dog made of rocks?”
Henry laughed. “A rock hound is someone who collects rocks and minerals.” At fourteen, Henry was used to answering Benny’s questions.
They turned off the main highway, following signs that led them from one twisting road to another. Jessie worried they would never find the gem mine—or their way out again!
At last the thick woods parted to reveal a clearing. A large sign with a giant painted red jewel proclaimed they had arrived at Ruby Hollow.
Grandfather followed the driveway into a crowded parking lot. They got out of the car and walked up a flower-lined path to a series of wooden buildings. At the main building, a man in a cowboy hat opened the entrance door and waved them inside.
“Come in,” he said. “I’m Cecil Knight, the owner of Ruby Hollow. I hope you plan to stay because we have lots to do here. Besides the mine, we have hiking trails, a restaurant, a museum, and a gem-cutting shop. I’ve got two cabins and a room left in the main building.”
“I didn’t realize so many people would be here,” said James Alden.
Cecil Knight tapped a poster on the wall in the lobby. “They come for the annual gem contest. It lasts a week. The person who finds the largest ruby by the end of the week wins first place. You’re just in time to take part!”
The children were looking at the framed photographs and newspaper clippings that hung on the wall. The pictures showed people holding red or blue stones. Some of the stones were pretty big.
“What do you win in the contest?” asked Henry.
“First place is a cash prize of one thousand dollars,” Mr. Knight replied. “Winners get their picture in the local paper. And our on-site jeweler will set the stone in the mounting of their choice. Solid gold, of course.”
Benny pointed to a photograph of a boy holding what looked like a big blue marble.
“Violet, will you take a picture of me with my marbles?” he said.
Mr. Knight chuckled. “That’s not a marble, son. The boy in that photo was twelve years old. He found a 1,497-carat sapphire worth eleven thousand dollars.”
The children gasped.
“Grandfather, can we stay?” Benny asked eagerly. He wanted to start digging for gems right away.
“I guess we’ll need those cabins and that room,” Grandfather told Mr. Knight. “The children will take the cabins. I’ll stay in the main building.”
“Come back to my office.” Mr. Knight led the way down a short hall.
Knotty-pine paneled walls were crowded with more photographs. But these pictures were older, in black and white instead of color.
While Grandfather registered, Benny studied a photo of two boys standing by a big wooden wheel. One boy grinned into the camera, but the other slouched with his hands in his pockets, frowning.
Once they were checked in, Mr. Knight explained some of the procedures.
“There’s a five-dollar entry fee for each person, every day you work on the flume line,” he said. “Buckets range in price from five dollars each up to fifty dollars for a family-sized bucket. All our specialty buckets are guaranteed to produce gemstones.”
Violet didn’t understand. “Don’t we go dig in the mine?”
“Ruby Hollow Mine closed fifty years ago,” Mr. Knight told her. “What we do is bulldoze ore from the creek and around the mine. There are plenty of stones in this region! If you look carefully, you can actually find rubies along the roads.”
“Wow!” said Benny. “Let’s go!”
“When you’re ready, go down to the flume,” said Cecil Knight. “Someone down there will get you started.”
“Let’s settle in first,” Grandfather said, taking the keys Mr. Knight handed him.
As they walked back to the car, Grandfather pointed out the two empty cabins. “There’s Garnet. And the one two doors down is Mica.”
“What funny names for cabins,” commented Jessie.
“A garnet is a semiprecious gem,” said Henry, reading from a brochure. “And mica is a mineral. Why don’t Benny and I take Mica, and you girls can stay in Garnet.”
After retrieving their luggage from the trunk, the children went to their cabins.
Benny liked the one he was sharing with Henry. It had pine bunk beds and old-fashioned mining lamps hanging on the walls.
“Top bunk is mine!” he claimed.
“Okay,” said Henry. “I hope the girls aren’t unpacking. I want to start looking for rubies.”
The girls did, too. They were waiting outside the boys’ cabin.
“Here comes Grandfather,” said Jessie. “Can we hunt for rubies now?”
James Alden glanced at the sun sinking behind the pines. “Well, it’s pretty late. But I’m just as eager as you are. Let’s go!”
They walked down a trail marked FLUME. At the end was a booth. Grandfather paid the entry fees to the girl inside.
“You get a complimentary bucket your first day,” she said, handing over a large bucket filled with dirt. “Good luck!”
The flume was directly ahead of them. A waterwheel turned wooden paddles, supplying a steady stream of fresh creek water that flowed through a long, V-shaped wooden trough. People lined both sides of the trough, sifting dirt in mesh-screened trays.
Near one end of the flume was a stack of mesh-bottomed trays.
Grandfather scanned the brochure. “We each take one of these trays. Then we’ll go work on the flume.”
“What’s a flume?” asked Benny.
“That long wooden thing with water going through it,” answered Grandfather. “The waterwheel keeps the water moving so you can rinse the dirt.”
Benny recognized the waterwheel as the wooden wheel in the photograph in Mr. Knight’s office.
The Aldens found places along the flume. People shifted to make room for them.
A young man with sandy hair and glasses smiled at Benny.
“Your first try at panning?” he asked.
Benny nodded, holding up his tray. “I want to find the biggest ruby in the world.”
The young man laughed. “Don’t we all. My name is Jonathan Merrill. I’ve been coming to Ruby Hollow every summer since I was in high school. I’m nearly out of college now, but I still like to come here.”
Grandfather introduced himself. “These are my grandchildren—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. I’m afraid we’re all beginners.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Jonathan. “I’ll give you some pointers. First, don’t put too much ore on your tray.” He scooped some dirt from the bucket and dumped it onto each tray.
Benny wrinkled his nose. “How am I going to find a ruby in that mess?”
“Here comes the fun part,” Jonathan told him. “Dip your tray into the water, then rinse. See? Some of the mud washes down the flume.”
“But my tray is still muddy,” said Jessie.
“You have to keep rinsing,” Jonathan instructed. “Rinse and then shift the rocks around. You have to do this until the water runs clear. Then you’ll be able to see the rocks that are left.”
The Aldens rinsed and tilted their trays, letting the muddy dirt wash away.
“Is this good enough?” Benny asked Jonathan.
“Not yet. Keep rinsing.”
After a while, Jonathan checked their trays. “Great! Now let’s see what you’ve got.” He sorted through the small stones in Violet’s tray first.
“I don’t see any rubies,” she said. “All I see are a bunch of rocks.”
“Rubies and sapphires don’t come out of the ground polished and cut like you see in jewelry stores,” Jonathan said. “They’re embedded in matrix, a rocky material. So they look like rocks at first.”
Jessie peered into her own tray. “If they look like rocks, how will we ever know we found a ruby?”
“There are clues to help you identify gems in the rough,” said Jonathan. “Visit the Ruby Hollow Gem Museum. There are displays to help you see what rubies and other gems look like with and without matrix.”
“I can see there’s more to this than we thought,” Grandfather said with a laugh.
“You’ll catch on fast.” Jonathan leaned over Grandfather’s tray and sorted swiftly through the stones. He held up a black rock. “This is obsidian.”
“What do I have?” Benny asked.
Jonathan examined the stones in Benny’s tray. He dropped a tiny stone into Benny’s palm.
“Here’s a sapphire,” he said. “Nice going!”
“A sapphire!” Benny cried.
Jessie’s and Violet’s trays contained pretty chunks of pink quartz. Henry’s tray yielded a nice-sized garnet.
“Not bad for your first day,” Jonathan pronounced.
Benny put his sapphire in his pocket. “Rock-hunting makes me hungry!”
Grandfather laughed. “Everything makes you hungry. But it
“I’ll walk with you up to the restaurant,” said Jonathan. They all turned in their trays and washed up at the old-fashioned outdoor pump.
The restaurant was inside the main building. Outside the entrance, the menu was written on a chalkboard. Guests dined family-style at the big pine tables.
Jonathan and the Aldens sat down.
They were soon joined by a woman around Grandfather’s age and a dark-haired man wearing sunglasses and a white cotton shirt.
“I’m Sybil Finley,” the elderly woman at the table said. She wore a white oversized man’s shirt and carried a straw hat. “I saw Jonathan helping you on the flume.”
“Is this your first day, too?” Benny wanted to know. He popped a hush puppy in his mouth, enjoying the crunchy sweetness of fried cornmeal and onion.
Sybil grinned at him. “Not hardly. I’ve been a rock hound my whole life. I’ve been to every gem mine around. But I keep coming back to Ruby Hollow.”
“What brings you back?” Grandfather asked.
“Well, it’s the only mine that has star rubies,” replied Sybil. “And I also enjoy the contest.”
“You might as well go home, Sybil,” the dark-haired man spoke up, pulling off his sunglasses. “
going to win that contest.”
“How come you’re going to win?” Benny asked the man, who’d said his name was Donald Hodge. “The contest doesn’t end till Saturday”
“Because I found a Papa Bear ruby” Donald said smugly “It’ll be a challenge for anyone to find a bigger stone.”
He pulled a black velvet bag from his pocket and opened the drawstring. A large pinkish rock with red glints tumbled onto his place mat.
Jonathan whistled. “Is that the stone you found in your last bucket today?”
As Jonathan reached for the rock, Donald deftly scooped it up and dropped it back into the velvet bag. “Can’t touch my contest winner,” he said jokingly.
“Like Benny said, the week’s not over,” Sybil reminded Donald. “Somebody could find a ruby in that class that’s bigger than yours, you know.”
Cecil Knight came around with the coffeepot. “Coffee, anyone?” he asked.
“I drink tea,” said Sybil. “But you know that, Cecil.”
“I’ll send the waitress over with hot water,” Mr. Knight said. “Coffee, Mr. Hodge?”
“Thanks,” said Donald. His napkin fell to the floor.
Henry bent down to pick it up, but Donald planted his foot on the red-checked cloth.
“I’ve got it,” he whispered hoarsely, bending down under the table.
While Mr. Knight poured coffee into his cup, Donald took a long time to retrieve his napkin.
, thought Henry.
“How did you all do on your first day?” Mr. Knight asked Grandfather.
“I found a sapphire!” Benny exclaimed, pulling the small stone from his pocket.
“Way to go!” said Mr. Knight. “A perfect Baby Bear.”
Benny stared at his stone. “I thought it was a rock.”
Mr. Knight laughed. “It is a rock, Benny. Let me explain the Ruby Hollow grading system. I use the Three Bears story to make it easy to remember. Any gem under fifteen carats is called a Baby Bear. A Mama Bear gem is fifteen to thirty carats, worth cutting for jewelry. And a Papa Bear is any gem over thirty carats.”
“I didn’t know bears ate carrots,” said Benny, making them all laugh.
“We’re not talking about the vegetable,” said Donald. “A carat is the unit used to measure gems. Just like your weight is measured in pounds.”
“Good luck tomorrow. Give Mr. Hodge some competition,” Mr. Knight said, moving on to the next table.
Violet had been thinking about the Three Bears story.
“What about Goldilocks? Is there a Goldilocks size of ruby?”
a Goldilocks category,” said Jonathan. “It’s not a size, though, but a special kind of ruby. It’s called a star ruby.”
“What’s so special about a star ruby?” Jessie wanted to know.
“Regular rubies look like this.” Sybil leaned forward and held out her hand. A brilliant red stone glittered in a ring on her left hand. “But a star ruby has six rays, like the rays of the sun.”
Jonathan pointed to Sybil’s ring. “See how the stone is cut so it catches the light? That’s called faceting. A star ruby is polished smooth so you can see the rays inside.”
“Has anybody ever found a star ruby here?” asked Henry.
“Only a few people,” Jonathan answered. “Ruby Hollow is the only mine in these mountains where you can find star rubies. I’ve been coming here for years and I’ve never found one.”
“Neither have I,” added Sybil. “A star ruby is the only stone I don’t have in my collection. I’d do
to find one.” She gave a big sigh.
“I’d love to pick up such an unusual gem, too,” said Jonathan. “For my fiancée’s engagement ring.”
“Maybe we’ll all be lucky this week,” said Henry.
“Mmmmm,” said Benny, waiting for Jessie to ladle gravy on his potatoes. “This is like eating at home.”
Grandfather passed around the platter of chicken. “I like the homey atmosphere, too.”
“That’s because it’s a family-run mine,” said Sybil. “Cecil’s family bought the mine about fifty years ago. I think the family had a falling-out sometime after that. Cecil’s uncle thought the mine should be his. But Cecil has been running this mine ever since I can remember.”
“Imagine owning a ruby mine!” Jessie said. “Wouldn’t that be neat?”
“Cecil has worked hard to make this place a success,” Sybil said. “I hope he can hang on to the mine and do well. He deserves it.”
Just then the waitress returned with plates of peach cobbler topped with melting vanilla ice cream.
At the same moment, Donald rose from his chair so abruptly he collided with her.
Henry jumped up in time to save the tray from crashing to the floor.
“I’m sorry!” Donald said to the waitress. “I didn’t see you.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “This young man saved the dessert!”
“Excuse me,” Donald said to the others at the table. “I’m not a big fan of peach cobbler.” He left the dining room.
a big fan of peach cobbler,” Benny said to the waitress. “You can give me his, too.”
Jessie was still thinking about the contest. “How can Mr. Knight afford to pay the prize money if his business isn’t doing so well?”
“A lot of people come here for the contest,” Sybil said. “They pay for entry fees, lodging, and meals in the restaurant, have their stones mounted in jewelry, and buy buckets of pre-spaded dirt.”
“Serious rock hounds don’t buy the five-dollar buckets,” Jonathan added. “They spring for the more expensive specialty buckets.”
After dinner, the grown-ups lingered in the rocking chairs on the wide front porch.
The Alden kids strolled down one of the trails behind the cabins. Crickets chirped their end-of-summer song. The mountains rose darkly around them. No moon or stars could be seen in the pitch-black sky.
“Boy,” murmured Henry. “When it’s night here, it’s really night!”
“I can’t wait to start looking for rubies tomorrow,” said Jessie.
“Me, too,” Benny agreed. “Maybe one of
will win the contest.”
“We’d have to find a Papa Bear ruby bigger than Mr. Hodge’s,” said Violet.
“We have as good a chance as anyone else here,” Jessie said confidently.
Henry spun around. “What was that?”
“It sounded like a twig breaking,” Violet said, her heart pounding. What would be in the woods after dark? A bear? A fox?
Suddenly Benny cried, “Look!”
Everyone looked up at the sky. It wasn’t pitch-black anymore.
A round, reddish light like a globe appeared over the peak of a distant mountain. The light hovered in the air a few seconds, then vanished. A moment later, the light reappeared, but in a different spot. Then it was gone again.
“Wow!” exclaimed Henry. “What was
Benny’s voice was low. “It could only be one thing.”
“What?” chorused Jessie and Violet.
“A flying saucer,” he replied solemnly.
“Benny, there are no flying saucers,” Jessie said.
“What else can it be?” he insisted.
The children watched for a few more minutes. But the reddish round light did not reappear.
“We’d better get back,” Henry said. “It’s pretty late.”
They walked to the cabins. Lamplight shone through the window of the cabin next to Garnet, the girls’ cabin.
Jessie glanced up at the sky once more. No strange light. She knew it wasn’t a flying saucer. But what else could it have been?
Loud caws in the pine trees woke Jessie the next morning.
“Those crows are a good alarm clock,” she told Violet as they got dressed. “Who could sleep through that racket?”
The boys were waiting for them outside their cabin. The door to the cabin next to Violet’s and Jessie’s opened and Sybil Finley stepped out. Her cabin was called Sapphire.
“Good morning,” she greeted them. “I didn’t know you girls were in Garnet. We’re neighbors!”
They all walked to the restaurant. The day’s forecast—hot and sunny—was printed on the chalkboard, along with the breakfast specials, “Gold Nuggets and Potato Pebbles.”
Jonathan was sitting at their table, scribbling in a notebook.
“I saw an eastern kingbird on my morning walk,” he said. “I’ve never seen one before. I’m adding it to my bird list.”
“You keep a bird list?” Violet asked.
“I keep lists for everything,” Jonathan said, holding up a small black notebook. “I write down the mileage on my car, the weather, even what I eat for breakfast.”
“I should start a food list,” Benny said.
Henry laughed. “You’d need a pretty big notebook just for one day!”
Grandfather and Donald Hodge joined them. Donald wore a white button-down shirt. Violet thought it was strange he was so dressed up to hunt for rubies.
“Grandfather!” Benny exclaimed. “We saw a flying saucer last night!”
“A flying saucer in North Carolina!” Sybil laughed.
“We did see strange lights over the mountain,” Henry said. “They were round and kind of red.”
“You don’t really believe in that stuff, do you?” Donald scoffed. When he picked up his cup, he spilled coffee on the front of his shirt.
“You should dab water on that,” Jessie advised. “Coffee stains are hard to get out.”
“It’s okay,” Donald said. “There’s a Laundromat here.” He looked up just as Cecil came over. “In fact,” Donald said, “I’d better go there now.” He hurried away.
“Did you kids see the Brown Mountain Lights last night?” Cecil asked.
“Is that what they’re called?” asked Henry. “What causes them?”
“No one knows for sure, but scientists believe the lights are formed from a combination of gases in the rocks in Brown Mountain. People have seen those lights over the mountain for a hundred years,” Cecil said.
“I didn’t see any lights last night,” Sybil said. “Did you, Jonathan?”
“No, I was working on my lists last night,” he said.
“Not everybody is lucky enough to see them,” said Cecil. “But they are more common this time of year on moonless nights.”
Their waitress arrived with breakfast—“Gold Nugget” scrambled eggs, “Potato Pebble” fries, ham, and juice.
Benny ate quickly. The mysterious lights were neat, but the idea of finding a Papa Bear ruby was even more exciting. He couldn’t wait to start!
After breakfast, the children changed into old clothes and shoes and shouldered their backpacks. They met Grandfather in the Ruby Hollow Gem Museum.
The glass cases displayed hundreds of gems and minerals.
“I never knew there were so many different rocks.” Henry read the names aloud. “Hiddenite, epodite, obsidian, blue calcite, emerald, sapphire, garnet, quartz—”
“Look at this.” Jessie pointed to a showcase of rubies. “This is how rubies look when they come out of the ground, with rock around them. And these rubies over here are cut out of the rock.”
Brilliant red stones lay on white velvet, some faceted to catch the sun, some polished smooth as glass. One sparkling gem caught Violet’s eye.
“A star ruby!” she exclaimed. “See the six rays? It does look like a star.”
Benny was eager to find his own rubies. “Can we go now?” he asked.
“Let’s hit the flume line!” Grandfather agreed.
Outside, they took the path to the flume. Grandfather paid their entry fees and bought them each a five-dollar bucket and plastic containers for their findings.
Jonathan and Sybil were already working on the flume. The kids found places between them.
A few minutes later, Donald Hodge came down the path, pushing a wheelbarrow with six buckets. He squeezed between Grandfather and Violet, making everyone on the line adjust.
Violet wondered why he just didn’t go to the end of the line. She noticed the dirt in his buckets was finer and darker than hers.
“Your dirt looks different from mine,” she remarked.
“I got enriched ore,” Donald said. “I don’t like messing with those native stone buckets. Mine are guaranteed to have some gems.”
“Enriched buckets are also called ‘salted,’” Jonathan explained. “That means each bucket definitely has gems in it. They could have been spaded from any mine. The dirt is looser and easier to rinse. But native buckets only come from Ruby Hollow. The ore hasn’t been disturbed for thousands of years. That’s why we have to rinse so much.”
“Some of the finest gems can be found in the native mine,” Sybil added. “But the buckets aren’t guaranteed. That’s what makes it fun—you never know what you’re going to find!”
Benny had finished rinsing. He began sorting through his stones.
“Is this a ruby?” he asked Jonathan, holding up a tiny pinkish stone.
“Definitely. Put it in your plastic box so you don’t lose it.”
“Oh, boy! I found a ruby!” Benny dumped more dirt into his tray and began rinsing.
Jessie watched how fast Jonathan and Sybil worked, rinsing, sorting, and selecting stones before emptying the rest of the tray into the dumping pile behind the flume.
Donald Hodge worked even faster, but he dumped half a bucket of dirt into his tray at a time and didn’t rinse properly.
“All I’ve found are a couple of puny sapphires!” he grumbled. “Cecil Knight ripped me off!”
“Cecil is as honest as the day is long,” Sybil said loyally. “Maybe you should put a little less dirt into your tray.”
“I don’t have all day” Donald said. “And it’s hot out here.”
hot. Although the flume was shaded, panning was hot work.
Finally, Donald threw his empty buckets into the wheelbarrow and left, disgusted that he hadn’t found a big stone.
Jessie watched him leave.
he really takes mining seriously
“I guess Donald expects to find a Papa Bear ruby every day,” Sybil said. She eyed the dumping pile behind Donald’s place on the flume. “I bet there are good stones in his dirt that he missed.”
Jonathan ruefully shook his plastic container. “I only found three Baby Bear rubies and a sapphire. Not even worth taking to the grading window.”
After three hours, the Aldens had finished going through their buckets. Everyone trooped to the grading window at the jewelry shop to have their stones weighed and inspected. Several people fell in line behind them, including Sybil Finley.
“Let’s see what you have,” the man at the counter told Benny, taking Benny’s plastic container. “Not bad—two Baby Bear rubies. Pretty good for a beginner.”
Grandfather had some nice hiddenite. Henry and Jessie each had a couple of small sapphires and garnets.
When it was Violet’s turn, she handed her plastic container across the counter.
“I only found one,” she said. “I don’t think I’m a very good rock-finder.”
The gem inspector peered at her stone through a special lens on his glasses.
Then he smiled at Violet.
“You’re a better rock-finder than you think!” he said.
“What did I find?” Violet asked anxiously.
The man at the grading counter held up her stone between his thumb and forefinger.
“A very nice Mama Bear ruby,” he proclaimed. “I’d say it’s easily twenty carats.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Benny.
The gem inspector put the stone in the plastic container and returned it to Violet. “Congratulations, young lady. Let me know if you decide to have the stone cut and mounted in a ring.”
“I will. Thanks.” Violet slipped the plastic container into her pink backpack. As she headed for the door, she noticed Sybil Finley standing in line behind her.
Sybil stared at Violet’s backpack with a frown. Then, without speaking to Violet or the other Aldens, she pushed her way out of the jewelry shop and headed toward the cabins.
“What’s with her?” Henry wondered.
Jessie shrugged, adjusting her own backpack. “Maybe she remembered she had to do something in her cabin. The line back there was pretty long.”
“Is it time for lunch yet?” Grandfather asked.
Benny stopped in surprise. “Grandfather! That’s what I always say!”
“Just thought I’d beat you to it!” said Grandfather.
Everyone laughed as they walked up the path to the main building.
Jonathan and Donald Hodge were sitting at their table in the dining room.
“I hear you had a pretty productive morning,” Jonathan said to Violet. “May I see the stone you found?”
Violet slipped her backpack off and hooked it on the back of her chair. Then she unzipped the outside pocket and handed Jonathan the plastic container.
Jonathan gave a low whistle of admiration. “This would make a nice ring.” He showed the stone to Donald. “See? If you’d stayed on the line longer, you might have found something.”
“Beginner’s luck,” Donald said. “But it is a nice stone.”
Jonathan passed the container back to Violet. “Donald has such a good eye, he never takes his stones to the grading window.”
Donald flagged down their waitress. “Miss? When is lunch?”
“Coming right out, sir,” she said.
Henry wondered why Donald was always bugging the waitress. Everyone was hungry, but they’d learned to wait, since meals were served family-style. Why was he so impatient?
Sybil Finley hurried into the dining room. She had changed into a white blouse and denim skirt. When she saw an empty chair next to Violet, she smiled.
“I thought I was late,” she said. She pulled out the empty chair, bumping Violet’s bulky backpack.
“Let me move that,” said Violet.
“I’ll just put it over here.” Sybil shifted the backpack to the floor, on the side away from Violet.
After a lunch of barbecue sandwiches, potato chips, pickles, and brownies, the Alden kids decided to spend the afternoon hiking.
“May I have my backpack?” Violet asked Sybil.
“I’m sorry I forgot all about it.” Sybil handed over the pink backpack. “Have fun.”
The kids took a trail on the other side of the flume. The path followed the stream that fueled the waterwheel. The sun blazed overhead, but a breeze stirred the treetops.
“That water looks really good,” Benny murmured. “Can we go wading?”
“Great idea,” Henry said, unhooking the straps of his pack.
The Aldens sat down on the rocks and took off their shoes and socks. Leaving packs and water bottles on a big rock, they stepped out on a sandbar.
Jessie dipped her toes into the clear water, then yanked her foot back with a shriek. “Oooo, that’s cold!”
Giggling, the kids waded into the chilly, shallow water. Olive-green minnows darted around their ankles as they picked up interesting stones.
Henry straightened up. “What was that?”
Violet pointed into the woods on the far side of the creek. “It sounded like it came from over there.”
“Let’s check it out,” said Benny, already halfway across the stream.
On the opposite side, the kids clambered up the bank. They stared into the thick woods.
“We can’t investigate without our shoes,” Jessie said sensibly.
Henry shielded his eyes from the sun. “I don’t see anything anyway. It was probably an animal.”
“It must have been a
animal,” Benny commented.
“Not necessarily,” said Henry. “Everything is louder in the woods. I’ve heard chipmunks that sound like bears!”
They recrossed the stream. On the other side, they put on their shoes and socks, then sorted out their packs.
“Wait a minute!” Jessie exclaimed. “My pack is gone!”
Violet sat back on her heels. “You’re right! What could have happened to it?”
“That cracking sound we heard must have been a person,” Henry figured. “And he—or she—took Jessie’s pack. But why?”
“Let’s look around for clues,” Violet suggested.
Benny found something right away, a scrap of white cloth caught on a tree branch.
Jessie plucked the material off the branch. “Good job, Benny. This could have been here all along—but maybe not.” She examined the fabric. “The cloth is stained.”
“So all we have to do is find a ripped shirt or blouse with a stain on it,” said Henry. “And that could belong to the person who took Jessie’s pack.”
Jessie gave her brother a dubious look. “Sounds like we’re looking for a needle in a haystack!”
That evening at dinner, a thunderstorm broke over the mountains. Everyone marveled at the echoing thunder and bold streaks of lightning.
Looking at the rain pelting against the windows, Jonathan said ruefully, “And I changed my shirt before dinner.”
The Aldens glanced at one another.
Henry whispered to Violet, “I wonder if Jonathan changed out of a ripped, stained, white shirt?”
Violet frowned. She didn’t like to think of Jonathan doing something so dishonest.
Dinner arrived and soon everyone was busy eating turkey with dressing and mashed potatoes. While the waitress served slices of coconut cake, Cecil Knight filled coffee cups.
Jonathan turned to Benny. “Do you know where horses go when they are sick?”
Benny thought hard. “No. Where?”
Benny collapsed with laughter. “That’s funny! Tell another one!”
“Okay, what do gorillas eat for lunch?”
“Bananas?” Benny guessed.
“Go-rilla cheese sandwiches!” Jonathan said.
Benny giggled. “I get it!”
At the front of the room, Mr. Knight clapped his hands. “Who wants to play charades?”
“What kind of a game is that?” Benny asked.
“You know, Benny. It’s where you act out a word or a name and other people guess what it is,” Jessie replied.
“My aunt Cathy was great at charades,” said Mr. Knight. “I didn’t know her very well—she and my uncle Josh and my cousin only visited the mine once when I was a kid. But I liked her a lot.”
“Count me out,” said Donald. “I’ve got a good book to read.” He stood up to leave.
“It’s still raining,” said Violet. “You’ll get wet.”
“I won’t melt.” Donald disappeared into the stormy night.
“Well, I’m a charade-player from way back,” said Sybil. “Let’s pick a theme. How about animals?”
They all had fun guessing which animal each player acted out. When it finally stopped raining, it was time for bed.
Since it was dark outside, Henry and Benny walked the girls to their cabin.
Violet spotted something pink lying against the door.
“Jessie!” she cried. “It’s your pack!”
Jessie picked up her pack.
“It’s not even wet!” she exclaimed in amazement. “How did it get here?” Quickly, she unzipped the compartments. “Nothing is missing.”
“That’s weird,” Henry said. “Why would someone take your pack in the first place?”
“It’s a mystery!” Benny said eagerly.
strange,” agreed Henry. “The Case of the Disappearing and Returning Backpack. But now, we’d better turn in. We have another day of hunting rubies tomorrow.”
Later, after she and Jessie were in bed, Violet wondered about Jessie’s missing backpack. Who could have taken it? What had the thief been after?
Then she thought of something. She sat up and switched on the lamp.
“What is it?” Jessie asked sleepily.
“I just realized something,” said Violet. “Your pack looks just like mine! They are identical.”
Now Jessie sat up. “Do you think the thief got our packs mixed up? That he took mine by mistake?”
“I don’t know,” Violet said. “But I think Benny’s right. We definitely have a mystery here!”
The next morning, the kids met outside Violet and Jessie’s cabin to discuss the mystery.
“My backpack is the same as Jessie’s,” Violet said. “Suppose the person took Jessie’s
Henry nodded. “That makes sense. The person could have been after yours. What was in your backpack that wasn’t in Jessie’s?”
“The ruby!” Benny said instantly.
Violet’s eyes widened. “They must have been after the Mama Bear ruby I found. But why? It’s not that big—Donald Hodge has a Papa Bear ruby that’s much bigger than mine.”
“We don’t know
yet,” said Jessie. “But we might be able to figure out
.Let’s look for footprints.”
Although the ground around the girls’ cabin was muddy, it had rained again early that morning. If there had been footprints, they had washed away.
“Oh, well,” Henry said practically. “We’ve never solved a mystery before breakfast.”
The kids found Grandfather in the lobby of the main building, talking to Donald. They all went into the dining room.
Jonathan and Sybil were already seated and had the local newspaper spread out on their table.
“What’s in the news?” Grandfather asked, sitting down.
“Last night’s storm did a lot of damage to the town near here,” Jonathan replied. “High winds blew a tree over on the public library.”
Henry was reading over Jonathan’s shoulder. “The tree hit the roof of the children’s room. The rain soaked all the books.”
“That’s terrible,” said Jessie, who loved to read. If the books in the library back home in Greenfield were ruined, she would feel awful.
Everyone discussed the storm over a breakfast of French toast, sausage, and scrambled eggs.
Rolling up the sleeves of her men’s work shirt, Sybil declared, “It’s going to be hot today. We’d better hit the flume early.”
“How about if we go creekin’, instead?” Jonathan suggested.
“What’s that?” Benny asked.
“Instead of buying buckets of pre-spaded dirt, you can dig at a special place right in the stream,” Jonathan explained. “It’s fun. Want to come?”
“Yeah!” the Alden kids chorused.
“I think I’ll stay on the flume line,” Grandfather decided.
“Me, too,” said Donald. “I stand a better chance of finding good stones by panning. Though so far nobody has challenged my Papa Bear ruby. If no one does, I’ll be driving that new convertible sports car, after all.”
“You’re selling your ruby to buy a sports car?” asked Henry.
“The contest prize money will be the down payment.” He stood, jamming his hands in his pockets. “Coming, Sybil?”
“I believe I’ll go with Jonathan and the kids,” said Sybil. “Maybe I’ll find a star ruby in the creek. It’ll be cooler there, anyway.”