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Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Ghost Ship Mystery (6 page)

BOOK: The Ghost Ship Mystery
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“Let’s take a look at what’s here. Come in.”

The children carefully took the postbox and its wrapped objects inside. They spread them out on a large desk in Miss Coffin’s office.

The old woman put on her glasses and walked back and forth. “My, my,” she repeated several times. “This is quite a find, quite a find.”

The children could see how pleased she was, even with the old banged-up spoons. She showed the children a display case of old dishes and silverware. “Look,” she said, “the spoons have the same design.”

“I wish some coins had the same design as the one in here,” Benny said when he looked into a display case of old money.

“Tsk, tsk,” Miss Coffin said without looking up from what she was doing. “Everything here will be valuable to people who are interested in history. Now, I wonder what’s under this cloth.”

“Just a section of a rusty cannon barrel,” Henry said. “Captain Bob tried to get the top off, but it’s stuck.”

“Oh my! Part of a cannon barrel!” Miss Coffin said, as excited as if the children had brought her a sea chest filled with gold. “We must get it open in case there are any old papers or logbooks inside.”

“Yes, Captain Bob said sailors used the barrels to keep their papers dry,” Jessie said. “But I don’t know if we’ll have any luck with this one. Captain Bob tried to oil it up and even used some of his boat tools. It’s rusted shut.”

Miss Coffin couldn’t resist. She put the cannon barrel on its side and twisted the end. “Why, what do you mean? It comes right off!”

And so it did. In a single twist, the end of the barrel was off, as if someone had barely screwed it on.

“That’s strange,” Jessie said. “Captain Bob said he’d had no luck with it at all.”

Henry scratched his head. “I guess it’s the same as when a strong person tries to untwist a lid and then gives up. The next person hardly has to turn it at all.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” Jessie said. She was puzzled about the way Miss Coffin had managed to open the barrel on the first try.

“Oh, my!” Miss Coffin cried again. “There
are
a few things in here—an old book and some documents.” She pulled them out and began examining them.

Benny never gave up. He shook the barrel to see if anything else was inside. “It’s empty,” he said, disappointed. “Just those old papers.”

Miss Coffin gathered up the old, yellowed papers at one end of the table. “Yes, that’s all there was in there, just old papers, nothing you children would be interested in.”

Jessie stepped forward. “I would like to see some of them, Miss Coffin. May I?”

Miss Coffin seemed a bit nervous. “Well, yes . . . yes, of course. Perhaps tomorrow after I have a chance to look through them. They’re so old, they are extremely delicate.”

“We’ll be careful,” Violet said. “We’ve found old books and papers before, and nothing bad happened to them.”

This didn’t convince Miss Coffin. She pushed the papers and books down to the far end of the table, away from the Aldens. “If you want to help, why don’t you children make a list of all these other things you found? There are toys, scrimshaw clothespins, even these little whalebone pie cutters here. Now those are very special.”

“Oh,” Violet said, delighted with the delicate object with the little wheel. “Mrs. McGregor has one to cut pie dough. Only hers is wooden and not as pretty as these.”

“Yes, they are pretty,” said Miss Coffin. “The sailors carved many useful items for their families at home—all kinds of kitchen things, toys for their children. See if any of the pieces you found match what’s in those cabinets. Then maybe we can get some idea of who might have carved them. Here’s the key to unlock some of the display cases.”

Jessie didn’t feel right about taking the key. “Don’t you want to show us what to do?” she asked Miss Coffin. “Not that we won’t be careful. We just want to make sure we take things out properly and know what to look for.”

Miss Coffin seemed impatient. “Go. Just lay the pieces from the cabinet at one end of the table out there and the pieces you found at Howling Cliffs at the other end. Here’s a magnifying glass, so you can compare the pieces. Now go!”

The children stood there for a moment without moving. Why was Miss Coffin rushing them?

“Let’s go to the main room,” Henry said. “We might as well get started.”

Henry and Jessie unlocked the first scrimshaw cabinet and carefully took out a tray of carvings. Benny and Violet laid out the pieces they had found on a felt-covered table.

“I guess we should just do what she says,” Jessie whispered. “I did want to see what some of those papers were, though. I was hoping there might be some new information about what happened to Captain Coffin and the
Flying Cloud.

Violet defended the old woman. “Maybe since the papers might have something to do with her great-grandfather, she just wants to look at them by herself first.”

The children sat down to work. Violet especially enjoyed handling the delicate little whalebone pictures, tools, and toys. “Look,” she cried, holding up a small whalebone picture carved with a parrot. “I bet this is another picture of Gabby. These pieces must be from the
Flying Cloud
!”

Jessie studied the small, flat carving they had found in the postbox. She compared it to the museum’s whale tooth carving of the parrot. “The parrot has the same markings. Let’s go show this to Miss Coffin.”

The Aldens raced into Miss Coffin’s office without even bothering to knock. The old woman jumped up when the children burst in all excited.

“We found a picture of Gabby, look!” Violet cried. “See they’re the same.”

If the children were expecting Miss Coffin to be thrilled, they were disappointed. Miss Coffin didn’t seem at all curious about the carvings. She hardly seemed to realize the Aldens had all crowded into her office.

“Yes, I see,” she said. She barely looked at what Violet was showing her.

Jessie stared at Miss Coffin’s desk then checked under it. “Is something missing here, Miss Coffin?” she asked the old woman. “Wasn’t there an old leather book with all these other papers?”

Miss Coffin looked away from the children. After taking a deep breath she finally answered Jessie’s question. “This is everything. There wasn’t any book, just these letters and such.”

“But, but—” Jessie began until Miss Coffin shushed her.

“Now come out to the front room and show me what you children have found,” Miss Coffin said, rushing the children from her office.

The Aldens could hardly keep up with the old woman. Jessie turned around to make sure there wasn’t a small book somewhere in all the papers. She didn’t see a thing.

Miss Coffin looked over the pieces on the table. The children hoped she would be happy to see how closely the pieces matched. But the old woman barely seemed interested.

“Put everything away now,” she told the children.

At that moment, everyone felt a draft of sea air blow through the museum. The door to the delivery area banged.

“Hey, I think you got a delivery, Miss Coffin,” Henry said. “I just saw someone in a blue sailor hat go by.”

Miss Coffin went to the back office again. The old documents and papers were scattered on the table along with some of the other pieces from the postbox.

“Did the wind blow these things around?” Jessie asked. “Is anything missing?”

Miss Coffin looked terribly upset. “You see, there’s too much confusion with everyone here. I simply must ask you to leave so I can organize these things without distraction.”

Benny swallowed hard. “We’ll be quiet.”

“Yes, we will,” Jessie said. “We would just like to get a closer look at all the things Benny found, that’s all.”

“Well, you’ll have to come back tomorrow, then,” Miss Coffin said. “I don’t feel up to the job right now. I need some peace and quiet. Now please go back to the inn.”

The Aldens could see Miss Coffin had made up her mind. They were almost sorry they had brought the postbox to her at all. They left without another word.

“All I wanted to do was spread everything out like we always do when we find things,” Benny said as they walked down the alley next to the museum. “That’s all. Hey, who’s that?”

A man in a blue sailor cap stepped from a doorway and ran down the alleyway, ahead of the children.

“He’s got a hat just like Captain Bob’s,” Henry noticed. “But I’m not sure he’s that tall. I can’t tell.”

The Aldens quickly raced to the street. Whoever had been in the alleyway had melted in to the crowd of tourists. Many of them were wearing the same blue sailor hats sold in all the souvenir shops in Ragged Cove.

CHAPTER 8
A Friend Disappears

The next morning, in the dining room, Mrs. Pease bustled around the Aldens’ table like a mother hen. “Now today I want you children to eat well and not run off with just a few muffins. Especially you, Benny.”

“I won’t,” said Benny who was on his second helping of scrambled eggs.

“And I can’t have my guests just making do with a few sandwiches like yesterday, either,” Mrs. Pease told the children. “With all your adventures, you need a proper lunch. Today it’s my special clam chowder with apple pie for dessert.”

Mr. Alden put down his coffee cup. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Pease. We’ll all be here for lunch today, that I promise. My grandchildren are going to show me all the treasures they found and took to the Sailors’ Museum. Then we’re going to see whether we can go out on Captain Bob’s boat.”

“Oh, I hope you’re not counting on that,” Mrs. Pease said. “Captain Bob told Mr. Pease he won’t be starting up for awhile. I must say that puzzles me on these fine days. Still, that’s always the way with him after a big storm.”

“We’ll go check anyway, after we visit with Miss Coffin, that is,” Mr. Alden said.

Mrs. Pease refilled Mr. Alden’s cup with steaming coffee. “I am so glad your grandchildren have made friends with Prudence. And to think they found such treasures! Why it’s just the thing Prudence needs. She spends too much time locked up in that museum and worrying about things that happened a long time ago that can’t be changed. It’s good for her to have some young people around.”

Jessie took a sip of her juice and looked up at Mrs. Pease. “I’m not so sure about that, Mrs. Pease. She didn’t seem too happy with us yesterday afternoon.”

“She practically shooed us out of the museum,” Benny said, still hurt about that.

“Museum? Are you talking about the theft at the Sailors’ Museum?” a guest at the next table asked, when he heard what the Aldens were talking about. He held up his morning newspaper. A headline in large letters said: S
CRIMSHAW
T
HEFT AT
S
AILORS’
M
USEUM
.

“May we look at that?” Jessie asked the guest. “We were just at the museum yesterday. We didn’t know anything was stolen.”

“Happened last night,” the guest told Jessie. “Whoever took the carvings knew what was valuable. Two of the oldest, rarest pieces were taken.”

The Aldens, with Mrs. Pease looking over their shoulders, read the article.

“Oh, no!” Violet cried. “It says the whale tooth with the parrot carving was taken. Oh, I wonder if the parrot picture we found was taken, too!”

Henry grabbed a piece of toast. “Come on. Let’s get over there!”

In no time the children were at the front door of the Sailors’ Museum. One of the Ragged Cove police officers was there, knocking on the door and looking in the windows.

“Sorry kids, it’s closed,” the officer said. “You’ll have to come back another time. Early this morning, Miss Coffin reported a robbery, so we’re sealing off the scene of the crime. I was just trying to get Miss Coffin to open up, but she doesn’t seem to be around.”

“She’s not?” Henry said. “She told us to come back to help out with some of the old things we found at Howling Cliffs. Did you try the delivery entrance?”

“I did,” the officer answered. “She’s gone, though her car is here. Did you happen to see anything unusual at the museum yesterday?”

“Everything was fine when we left yesterday afternoon,” Henry said.

“Except for the man in the blue sailor hat,” Benny broke in. “The one who passed us in the alleyway, right there.”

The officer bent down to talk to Benny. “Tell me something. Did you ever see the man before?”

“Maybe we did,” Benny said, trying to think. “The hat anyway. See, I have one just like it, only smaller.”

“Well, I wish that hat was more of a clue. It seems anybody around here who ever set foot on a boat wears a blue sailor hat like that.

“Maybe later when my partner comes back you can help identify what else might be missing,” the police officer said. “Miss Coffin was so upset when she called. She wasn’t able to give us much information about what was gone—just said some scrimshaw. We don’t really know about anything else. It doesn’t help that she isn’t here to let us in. We have to get a spare key from the town hall.”

While the officer was talking, Benny spotted a familiar face looking down from a building across the street. He waved, but the face disappeared from the window.

“Who’s that, Benny?” Jessie asked. She looked up at the deserted building.

“Captain Bob. At least it looked like Captain Bob,” Benny answered. “He was looking at us. If it was him, I mean.”

“Bob Hull?” the officer said. “Oh, I don’t think so. He’s busy getting the
Jonah
ready for a whale watch this afternoon. I ran into him down at the docks. He’s got a big tourist group scheduled.”

Violet looked a bit upset. “I wonder why he didn’t tell the Peases. In fact, he told them he wasn’t going out for a few days.”

“Well, all I can think is that he’s got a busload down from Bassville,” the officer said. “Maybe he’s only taking groups today.”

“But we’re a group,” Violet said. “We wanted to go out with our grandfather before we leave Ragged Cove in a couple days. Grandfather was looking forward to it.”

“There’s something else we can do, Violet. Follow me,” Jessie said all of a sudden. “See you later, officer.”

Jessie pulled away her brothers and sister and began walking toward the street with all the shops.

BOOK: The Ghost Ship Mystery
9.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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