"Will you look at this place?!" Trixie exclaimed as she jumped out of the minivan practically before it came to a stop in the circular drive in front of the rambling old Victorian house that used to be Aunt Helenís and Uncle Martís. Helen put the mini-van in park, the reproach dying on her lips because Trixie was long gone, already halfway toward the wide veranda that spanned the length of the house.
Inside the van, Mart muttered, "Honestly!" A surreptitious squeeze on the arm from Diana went a long way in calming the pique he felt at Trixieís impetuous exit. It wasnít long before Helen, Peter, Jim, Mart, and Di had all exited the minivan. Brian, Honey, Dan, and Bobby, who had received permission to ride with the big kids in the Bob-White station wagon, had spilled out of the tan car and were themselves headed toward the veranda on which Trixie stood, hopping back and forth from foot to foot with impatience.
"Trixie," Jim called. "Wait up!"
"I canít help it!" Trixie returned. "Ever since Aunt Helen thought I was Moms and told me about the diary and mentioned Frank andÖand everything else thatís happened, well, gleeps! I just want to get started!"
As the group approached the veranda, each person couldnít help but smile. Trixie was beingÖwell, Trixie. Honey lagged slightly behind the rest of the crowd, the smile on her face dying as she glanced up at the Victorian mansion looming before her. She was sure that she didnít imagine the shadow that passed in front of one of the upstairs windows. A subtle feeling of dťjŗ vu swept over her, as she remembered approaching another mansion and seeing something in the window. She paused a moment to gaze up at the second story, trying to determine exactly what it was that she had seen, but there was no further movement.
"Honey?" Brian called from the veranda. "Are you coming?"
Honey looked at the dark-haired man, and the smile returned to her face. "Yep! Coming. Iím justÖ" she paused for a moment, thinking of the most tactful words, "Ötaking in the house."
"It is a lot to take in," Brian agreed, holding the front door open as Honey joined him on the veranda. The two entered the mansion and saw what everyone else was already trying to take in. The front door opened into a large and majestic entry hall, complete with thickly carpeted floors, gilded wall panels, and stately old portraits adorning the walls on either side. A massive set of stairs stood before them, leading to the second floor. Doors on either side of the hall led to rooms just waiting to be explored. On each side of the stairway, there was a narrow hallway. The hallway on the left held another door on the left and a door straight ahead at the end of it. The hallway on the right led to a doorway on the right, a hallway beyond that, and yet another doorway straight ahead at the end of the hallway.
"Yikes!" Mart exclaimed softly.
"Iíll say," Dan said, in the same reverent tone of voice that Mart had used. "You could practically fit the entire apartment where my mom and I lived in this entry hall. Look at all the doorways and halls!"
"I say we explore!" Trixie exclaimed in a gleeful voice. "There must be a ton of rooms in this house!" Her tone changed to one of despair, "If we donít start now, weíll never find the diary!"
Moms cleared her throat. "I know that youíre eager to search for a diary, Trixie, but you have to remember a couple of things. One, weíre here to clean." She paused and then continued in a gentler voice. "I know youíre excited about the diary, honey, but you have to remember that Aunt Helen hadnít been well for a whileÖshe often rambled. Chances are, there is no diary to be found."
Mart looked at the stubborn but somewhat deflated expression on Trixieís face and couldnít help but speak up. "But if there is a diary, Trix, youíll find it. You know you have the Bob-Whites to help you."
Trixie gave him a grateful smile, and Peter hurriedly changed the subject before he had to witness his daughterís mystery-itis in action. "Alicia should be here in a little bit, so letís try to at least get some of our bags inside and assess the state of this place. Trixie and Honey, you take this door," Peter directed, motioning to the door to their immediate left. "Mart and Dan will take this door to the immediate right. Brian, you, Jim, and Di will follow that hallway over here to the right. Your mother, Bobby, and I will check out the rooms to the left of the staircase. Weíll all report back here as soon as weíve checked out each room, got it?" Everybody nodded and scurried to their assigned locations.
Trixie and Honey in the Living Room
The door that Trixie and Honey were assigned led to an austere living room, meant for formal entertaining. The wall facing them as they entered held a large window and a fireplace. The wall to their left held two windows and a French door that led out onto the veranda. To their right was an archway that led into another room. The two girls eagerly crossed the room and peered through the opening. A formal dining room, complete with a long mahogany table and intricate sideboard met their eyes. They also noted that Moms, Dad, and Bobby were peering into the room from a door to their left.
"This is a living room," Trixie called helpfully and waving her hand toward the direction of where she and Honey had just come. "I bet that door goes to the kitchen," she surmised as she then waved her hand toward a swinging door in the wall in front of her. Another fireplace also stood on that wall.
The two girls returned to the living room and looked around. As each wall was taken up with windows, doors, and a fireplace, the well-appointed and imposing furniture grouping sat in the middle of the room, facing the fireplace on the west wall. A few paintings of seascapes dotted the room. The room was stately and sedate, and nothing of particular note stood out to the two would-be sleuths.
"The diary could be hidden anywhere in this house," Trixie said with a groan as she thought of the monumental task before her. "How will we ever find it?"
Honey smiled at Trixieís dramatics. "I donít know, Trix. You seem to have a knack for finding needles in haystacks. Remember when we were staying at the Moorings and you happened to find the very book that contained a letter that led to treasure?"
Trixie blushed. "It wasnít me," she said hastily. "Jim is the one who picked the sea story book."
"Well, it was you who suggested we read a book," Honey said easily. "Of course, it led to a mystery. Just like Iím sure youíre going to find the diary and lead us on another mystery."
"Thanks for being so swell, Honey," Trixie said, her blush deepening. "But Moms is rightó"
Trixie left her sentenced unfinished as a crashing sound came from the second floor.
"What was that?" the two girls cried together.
Mart and Dan in the Den
As the rest of the group headed in their separate directions, Mart and Dan headed through the doorway to the immediate right of the hall. The two young men immediately decided that they were standing in a classic Victorian den. The two windows to their right, which faced out onto the veranda, were covered by filmy, translucent ivory-colored drapes with a dark, brocade valances that tapered into several points beneath ornate cornices. The walls in front of them and to their right each held more doors. A roll-top mahogany desk sat along one wall, with an equally dark mahogany slat-backed office chair in front of it. A severe-looking, leather chair sat next to an upholstered love seat that didnít look any too comfortable. Mahogany bookcases filled with books lined the walls from floor to ceiling.
Dan whistled at the sight of all of the books. "If Trix wants to find a diary, it may take a while."
Mart was noticing something else. "The furniture is covered with an inch of dust. Moms is a stickler about dust," he said in a chagrined voice.
Dan looked at his friend and grinned. "Spoken like a true Belden child."
Mart snorted. "Shall we check out these other doors, Daniel?"
Dan nodded, and the two investigated the door to their left first. They found a small square area that led to two hallways, one in front of them and one to the left, and a small door to their right. Brian, Jim, and Diís voices could be heard to their left, and soon their compatriots appeared.
"Well, fancy meeting you here," Di said, her smile directed at Mart.
"Looks like we have a choice on where to go," Brian said, indicating the door to other room off the square, which Mart and Dan had not yet explored, and the other hallway. "You guys want to take that room while we explore down here?" he asked with a nod of his head toward the other hallway.
"Sure," Mart agreed. "That room we were just in was a den. Thereís another door in the den along the same wall as this one," he said with a nod toward the door to the right. "Both of these doors probably lead to the same room. Weíll check it out."
The two groups parted, and Dan and Mart entered a richly paneled billiard room. "Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with the lead pipe," Dan said softly. "I donít think Iíve ever actually been in a billiard room." He considered for a moment and then snorted. "I donít think the pool halls in Hellís Kitchen count. None of them had a fireplace, thatís for sure."
Mart gave him a smirk, but did not comment. He knew that the best way to make Dan uncomfortable after the unexpected sharing of some tidbit of his past was to acknowledge it. What could have been an awkward moment was interrupted by a loud crashing from above.
"What was that?" Dan and Mart asked in unison.
Brian, Jim, and Di in the Hallway
The trio headed toward the hallway, pausing long enough to stop at a small door that stood in the entry hall just to the right of the hallway. Brian opened the door and found a small closet littered with moth-eaten coats and old-fashioned hats.
"Just a coat closet," he said as he shut the raised-panel, oak door. The three decided to investigate the door at the end of the hallway next to the stairs before they turned the corner to explore the other hallway. That door led to a small storage area.
When they entered the perpendicular hallway, they found another door to their left and to their right.
Di opened the door to the left. "Bathroom," she reported.
Jim opened the door to the left. "Itís a closet," he said. "But itís not the coat closet, even though the two are both situated around the same corner." This closet was filled with brooms, mops, and other cleaning accoutrements.
"Why would someone make two separate closets right around the corner from each other?" Brian wondered aloud. "Plus that storage room right there. Thatís a lot of storage space in one little area of the house. It doesnít make sense."
"Maybe to keep the cleaning supplies separate from the coats?" Di asked. "After all, you wouldnít want your guests to see their coats being hung next to cleaning junk."
"MaybeÖexcept a house this size would have had a staff back in the day. The guests would give their coats to the butler and be in the parlor before they could ever see where they went," Brian surmised.
Jim shrugged. "Who knows? Letís keep exploring."
Brian snorted. "Now you sound like Trixie."
The group continued down the hall a few feet and found themselves in a square area just off the hallway that led to two rooms. Mart and Dan stood there. After conversing with the duo for a few moments, the three headed down yet another hallway toward the back of the house.
"This place is a maze," Brian muttered. He opened a door to his right and found a sewing room. The trio then entered the room at the end of the hallway. It was a morning room, or ladiesí parlor, complete with several tall windows and French door that opened onto the back porch. Another door in the wall to their left led to a pantry. The ivory walls were adorned with raised gilded accents and a tall mirror with a matching gilded frame. A large portrait of Aunt Helen graced one wall. Di was about to comment on the ornateness of the room when a loud crash was heard above.
"What was that?" the three asked as they stared at each other with wide eyes.
Helen, Peter, and Bobby in the Kitchen
After the Belden trio left the dining room, they continued through the doorway at the back of the hallway, which led to the kitchen. Further exploration revealed two additional doors, one that led to the pantry and another that led to the back porch. The kitchen had not been renovated, and the appliances were absolutely antiquated. The kitchen walls were lined with shelves that Helen remembered had once held cookbooks, jars of spices and other cooking essentials, and pots and pans. Three windows at the back of the room faced north, toward the back of the property. Helen crossed the room and stared out of one of the windows. Years ago, the view had been lovely, but the formal gardens and fountain had obviously been neglected for many years.
Bobby crossed the room in the other direction to the eating area that sat in front of a west-facing window. The view from this window was an abandoned orchard full of gnarled old trees. Bobby thought of the crabapple trees that were his motherís pride and joy and felt a little sorry for the neglected fruit trees in their little copse.
Peter had approached the ornate stove, marveling at the wrought iron detailsóand the fact that his wifeís aunt had actually continued to cook with such a relic long after modern conveniences had been inventedówhen, suddenly, there was a loud crashing noise above.
"What was that?" the three startled Beldens exclaimed.
Soon, the mansion was filled with the sounds of ten pairs of footsteps converging back in the stately entry hall.
"Did any of you go upstairs?" Peter demanded. Everyone either responded "no" or shook his or her head.
"Maybe Alicia got here earlier?" Helen suggested.
"Why didnít we see her car?" Trixie asked.
"Thereís a garage off to the side of the house," Helen responded. "Maybe she parked back there instead of in front of the house like we did."
"Weíd better investigate," Trixie said. "If it was Aunt Alicia, she could have fallen and hurt herself."
As if on cue, the front door opened and Aunt Alicia herself walked in. "Hi, everyone. Have you been here long? Iím sorry I was late, but I experienced the most horrible trafficÖ" Her voice trailed off as she stared at the startled faces in front of her. "Whatís the matter? You all look as if youíve seen a ghost."
"We may have," Trixie blurted out. "At least, we may have heard one."
"Whatever are you talking about, Trixie dear?" Aunt Alicia inquired.
"There was a loud crash from upstairs, and we were all down here," Peter explained before his impetuous daughter could respond in her usual exuberant manner.
Honey timidly spoke up then. "I think I may have seen someone upstairs when we first got here."
A chorus of questions echoed throughout the massive hall, creating a cacophonous din: "What?" "Where?" "When?" "And you didnít tell me?"
Honey involuntarily cringed at the commotion. "Iím sorry that I didnít mention anything. It was just a sort of shadow that passed in front of one of the windows."
"Thatís why you stopped and were staring up at the mansion when we first got here." Brianís words were a statement, not a question, but Honey nodded.
"Why didnít you say something?" Trixie wanted to know.
Honey shrugged. "I donít know. Even though Iím sure of what I saw, it didnít seem possible, so I just kinda kept it to myself."
Peter took charge of the situation. "Well, in case there is someone in here, we should go investigate. I hate to think thereís been a tramp living here, but it has been empty for quite some time. I want everyone in groups. Brian, youíll be in charge of Mart, Trixie, and Honey. Jim, youíll be with Dan and Di. Helen, Alicia, and Bobby, youíll come with me. If you do see a tramp or someone, use your whistle. I donít want anyone confronting him. And no one is to wander off alone. Understood?"
Everyone immediately nodded their assent, except Trixie, who was bristling over the fact that her father had put Brian "in charge of" her. When her father looked straight at her, she squirmed and finally gave a reluctant nod.
The group ascended the staircase, turning right and following the staircase further up after reaching a large landing halfway up. Like the downstairs, there were doors in all directions. The assigned groups went in three different directions. Brianís group approached a door straight ahead from the stairs, which turned out to be a small cloak room. Jimís group went to the right and found an elaborate ballroom, complete with a fireplace and large bay window. Peterís group went to the left and found a sitting room, the furniture covered with plastic. Finding no tramp in any of the rooms searched thus far, two of the groups headed down the hallway to the left of the stairs, and Jimís group headed down the right. Two more doorways off the right hallway also opened into the ballroom. Two doorways off of the left hallway opened into a bathroom and an austere library. Trixie groaned when she saw the sheer amount of books in the library, which was covered in floor-to-ceiling bookcases.
Why did Uncle Mart and Aunt Helen have to have so many books? she thought. How will I ever find the diary?
The two hallways converged into another hallway running perpendicular to the two. There were also two more rooms to explore. One was an office, and the other a music room. Neither held any sign of a tramp or any other human activity. Each of the second-floor rooms had been covered in dust and cobwebs, none of which seemed to have been disturbed.
"Nothing seems amiss up here," Jim noted. "Everything is in place. I donít see what could have made that crash."
Dan nodded. "Maybe what we heard came from the third floor," he said, motioning toward another staircase just across the hall from the office that led up to yet another story.
Jim shook his head. "It seemed too loud to be on the third floor. It sounded like it was right above our heads."
"It did?" Trixie asked, swiveling her head toward him. "Well, thatís a clue. From where we were in the living room, it definitely sounded loud enough to come from the second floor, but it didnít sound like it was over our heads. Where were you when you heard it?"
"We were in the morning room," Di responded for Jim. She waved an elegant hand toward the northeast corner of the house.
"The room above the morning room is the sitting room," Peter said. "All of the furniture in that room was covered in plastic, unlike the other rooms."
"Maybe thatís significant," Trixie said excitedly, already hurrying down the hall toward the sitting room. The rest of the group was right behind her. A further exploration of the sitting room, however, yielded much dustóbut no obvious clues.
"I guess we should look on the third floor," Mart said. He and Trixie led the way back down the hallway toward the stairs to the third floor. As they approached, the library door, which had been left open, suddenly slammed shut. Mart and Trixie broke into a run and flew into the room.
The empty room. Nothing but bookcases, regal-looking leather chairs, a long table with many drawers, and hundreds of books greeted them.
"What happened?" Brian, who had not seen the door slam but had heard it, demanded as the rest of the group entered the library behind Trixie and Mart.
"Someone slammed the library door shut as we approached," Mart said.
"Or something," Trixie added.
"You donít think this place is haunted, do you?" Brian scoffed.
"You donít see anyone in here, do you?" Trixie retorted. "What could have caused the door to slam?"
"Wind?" Diana suggested, crossing the room to examine one of the three windows on the north side of the house, which faced the remnants of the formal garden and the fountain that Helen had gazed at earlier. "We should check the windows and make sure theyíre secure."
The three windows on the north side and the one window on the west side of the room were inspected. All of them were closed and secureóno cracks, no opening, nothing that could explain how a door could have slammed in a windless room.
"Do you think this place is haunted?" Di whispered to Trixie.
"I donít know. In the past, most of the times we experienced something supernatural, thereís usually a greedy human behind it, like Swishers dressing up as a sasquatch to get Tankís gold or Lewis Gregory pretending to be Sarah Sligo to commit insurance fraud."
"Or Alfred Dunham pretending to be the Headless Horseman to steal valuable art," Di added, thinking of the time her own butler was under suspicion.
"Or when Nicholas Morgan used the ghostly galleon to hide Frank Trask to try to take the inn away from him," Honey, overhearing their conversation, chimed in, alluding to a mystery that had involved her former governessí brother and childhood home.
Suddenly, Trixie snapped her fingers. "Iíve got it!" she exclaimed. "There must be a secret passage behind one of these bookcases! Thereís always a secret passage behind bookcases in Victorian mansions in mystery books!"
Brian snorted. "We donít live in a mystery book, do we?"
Mart sniggered. "Sometimes it feels like we do."
Jim grinned, reaching out to tug a curl on Trixieís forehead. "I think Trixieís adventures would make a great book series. Imagine a bunch of little girls and boys out there reading about the adventures of Trixie Belden and the Bob-Whites of the Glen."
Trixie smiled up at Jim. "Thatís a scary thought," she said, but she was pleased with the idea. "Anyway, I think we should check out the bookcases for hidden levers or something. I think the most obvious place would be over here," she said with a gesture, but before she could head toward her intended target, her motherís voice stopped her.
"Trixie, I know that youíre always looking for a mystery, but weíre here to clean Aunt Helenís house. There will be plenty of time for investigating later, but we really need to start getting organized for cleaning."
"But, Moms," Trixie protested. "What if thereís someone in the house with us? We need to make sure thereís not, donít we?"
Helen bit her lip, conceding that her daughter had a very good point.
"Weíll look around on the third floor," Peter declared. "And then, assuming we donít find anyone, weíll get to work on the house. There will be time for investigating later, as your mother said. As for the sounds and thingsÖ" Instead of finishing his sentence, he shrugged.
Trixie knew when not to argue, and the company set off for the third floor. The third floor was another maze of rooms. At the front of the house was a huge master suite, elegantly and tastefully decorated, even if the old-fashioned furnishings werenít to Trixieís taste. The giant room held a fireplace, a dressing room, and a separate sitting area. Another door led to the master bath. There were four additional bedrooms and a bathroom elsewhere on the third story of the gigantic old Victorian, but again, there were no signs that anyone had disturbed the area recently. The amount of dust had Trixie cringing at the work the Bob-Whites and her family had before them.
It was a silent group that returned to the first floor to begin the hard work that lay ahead of them. Trixieís mind, however, was not on cleaning. She was eager to start searching for the diary as well as find the source of the mysterious happenings. Whoóor whatóhad Honey seen at the window? What had caused a loud crash that left no traces? How had the door to the library slammed shut? Was a ghost haunting the house? Or was there a more earthly and sinister motive afoot? Trixie was determined to find out.
Many thanks to the committee that cooked this up, especially Susan who went above and beyond organizing the project and writing the outline and Carol for sketching us a fantastic (and lifesaving!) floor plan of the house. Also many thanks to Kris and Steph for generously volunteering their time to edit all of the chapters and thank you to the wonderful graphic artists!† Happy Jixanny!
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