Another Mansion, Another Secret.  Chapter 15:  Helen Johnson's Diary

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Despite the frivolity of the night before, a serious mood prevailed the next morning. There were still too many unexplained things to sit well with the determined group of young people. The old-fashioned and austere atmosphere of the old Victorian mansion that surrounded them would have been enough without the ghostly happenings and the discovery of Frank’s adoption papers—but these events just added to the feeling everyone had that something was not quite right.

An impromptu meeting had been held in the girls’ room that morning, and everyone had agreed that the attic needed to be explored again. A wealth of information could be just waiting to be discovered up there. At least, that was what Trixie had argued. It had been hard to disagree with her, given not only her enthusiasm, but the number of things that had already been discovered.

The gang, including Bobby, who insisted on being included in every step of the investigation, carefully climbed the steps to the third floor and waited for Jim to pull down the retractable stairs to the attic before they gingerly made their way to the space above. Once in the attic, they spread out and made their way to various corners.

Brian and Jim, convinced that looking for structural deficits were the way to go, began to examine the walls for irregularities and hollow spots. Their knocking could be heard throughout the attic. Mart and Dan began inspecting floorboards in much the same manner.

Trixie and Di headed straight for the room in the low-ceilinged attic that held the assortment of boxes and trunks they had begun to explore the day before. As they approached the trunks in the attic, Trixie remembered the evening they had spent in Mrs. Vanderpoel’s attic, exploring trunks and boxes looking for the perfect wedding gown for Juliana, formerly known as Janie. Trixie’s mind wandered as she remembered the pair of mysteries she had solved involving Juliana. They were two of her fondest adventures, one because it had brought Jim beloved family that he’d been so sorely lacking, and the other because it had brought Dan some peace after he finally seemed to realize that he was not like the members of his old gang. Before that, it was almost as if he had been worried that he would lapse into his old life.

Meanwhile, Honey took Bobby and went into the room that spanned the east side of the house. The long, narrow room was filled with shelves. There were so many objects and boxes sitting on the shelves that Honey wondered aloud how they’d ever be able to find anything. Bobby nodded in agreement, and the two started looking through the items on the shelves, Honey stationed at the north end of the room and Bobby at the south.

So intent were each of them on their various tasks that for a long while all that could be heard in the attic was the boys’ tapping, the sounds of trunks being opened and closed, and the sound of items being shifted around in boxes. The silence was broken with an exclamation from Honey.

"Oh, look!" she cried. "A box of old St. Nicholas magazines, just like when we put on our antique show."

Bobby, who had been in the process of climbing on a shelf to reach a box on one of the shelves above his head, turned suddenly at Honey’s exclamation. In doing so, the shelf he was standing on began to slide.

"Honey!" he cried as he tried to keep his balance on the moving shelf.

Honey looked up from the box of magazines and saw Bobby sliding toward her, his feet planted precariously on one of the lower shelves. "Bobby!" she shouted as she dropped the box of St. Nicholas magazines and rushed toward him. The commotion brought the rest of the Bob-Whites running from other parts of the attic into the storage room.

"Bobby!" Trixie echoed Honey’s cry, but while Honey’s had been full of concern, Trixie’s cry was full of excitement. "You found a secret room!"

The sliding shelf had stopped moving thanks to Honey’s intervention, and Bobby hopped off. "I did?"

"Yes, look!" Trixie said, pointing to the space that had appeared. Jim and Brian moved to examine the mechanism that made the shelf slide, while Trixie rushed forward to explore the space.

"Wait a minute," Dan cautioned. "There might be dead air in there."

"Like the tunnel we found at Green Trees," Mart concurred.

Trixie poked her head into the hidden room, but heeded the boys’ warnings and did not enter. It was too dark for her to see anything, and she didn’t bother to hide her impatience. Brian and Jim, knowing a losing battle when they saw one, turned their attention from the sliding mechanism to the quality of air in the hidden room. After the two declared that they thought it was safe to go in, Trixie again rushed forward.

"Umm, Trixie?" An almost timid voice halted the young sleuth’s forward progress, and she turned to look at her little brother. "Since I found the room, can I explore it? Please?"

The look on Bobby’s freckled face was so hopeful, and those round blue eyes so pleading, that Trixie swallowed her eagerness and smiled at the young boy. "Of course, Bobby. You were the real sleuth in this situation. You should go first."

Bobby beamed at her. Trixie blushed when Jim reached out to tug one of her curls while Honey sent her a warm glance. Bobby took the flashlight that Jim offered him and led the way into the room. The young boy had watched his siblings leave for vacations in exciting places like Arizona, the Ozarks, New York City, Virginia, Mississippi River country, Vermont, England, and Idaho, always feeling sad to be left behind. Now, here he was on one of their adventures, and he had actually done something important! He was leading the older kids into a secret room where they might find just about anything—even treasure!

The air in the room was not dangerous, but it was definitely stale. The musty air smelled of accumulated dust, and Honey and Di held their hands over their mouths. The room was long and narrow, with a rectangle alcove off to the left side. Brian and Jim surmised that the alcove was nestled between the two chimneys that were on the east side of the house. Exploration showed that the room was empty save for one small wooden box that sat on the floor in the corner of the alcove.

Bobby shone his light on it and immediately started for it. It looked too small to contain a lot of treasure, but even a few gold coins or jewels would be good enough for him. He gingerly picked up the box, which was made of mahogany, like so many of the furnishings in the house. The top and sides were ornately carved with intricate designs. It was easy to see that some long-ago craftsman had lovingly carved this piece of art. When Bobby tried to open it, he found that it was locked.

"Let’s take it into the rest of the attic where there’s more light," Di suggested, eager to get a better look at the beautiful carvings.

Bobby carried the box with an important air back to the narrow storage room and held it up to the light streaming in from the window.

"It takes a key," Jim noted. "The key hole is surrounded by a brass plate."

Trixie eagerly took the brass key that they had found earlier out of her pocket. She held her breath as she placed the key into the lock. She paused for a moment, afraid that it wouldn’t turn, and then she exhaled as she slowly turned the key. Success! The key turned completely in the lock, and a small clicking noise indicated that the box could now be opened.

"How about you open it, Bobby?" Trixie said with a fond glance at her little brother. "After all, you’re the one who found the box. You should be the one to find out what’s inside."

Bobby grinned and made a great show of opening the lid of the box, much to everyone’s amusement.

"Awww, there’s no treasure!" he said when the box was opened. "Just some paper!"

Knowing how important papers could be to solving a mystery, Trixie eagerly snatched the yellowed paper up and quickly read its contents.

Her large blue eyes grew round, and she stared at the document in disbelief.

"What? What is it, Trixie?" Honey said eagerly.

"It’s a birth certificate," Trixie said slowly.

"Go on," Dan urged. "Whose?"

"Frank’s. And it names Aunt Helen as his birth mother!"

A stunned silence followed Trixie’s revelation.

Finally, Trixie spoke. "Wow. I wonder how we can find out more about this little tidbit."

"By reading the diary," Mart said dryly.

Trixie sighed in frustration. "If only we knew where that was!"

"Uhhh, Trix?" Jim said, his eyes shifting toward the wooden box that Bobby still held.

"Our esteemed sibling, in her eagerness to peruse the document recording our relation’s nativity, seems to have overlooked something," Mart teased.

Ignoring the amused glances of her friends, Trixie’s gaze fell back onto the mahogany box.

"The diary!" she shrieked.

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