Henry nodded and helped Annie up. He said, “Lean on me.”
“Her room is number seven hundred seventy-seven,” Violet said.
Annie looked at Violet and smiled. “Thank you, Violet. You’re a good friend.”
The Aldens helped Annie down the hallway and up the stairs to her compartment. When they got to her room, Annie said, “You might as well come in and see the posters.”
“I’d like to,” Benny said. “I want to see a Pickford.”
Annie smiled. “How did you know? I have two signed posters of Mary Pickford’s first movie. They are worth a great deal of money. And I have four signed posters of Charlie Chaplin.”
Henry and Jessie looked at each other. They were both wondering why Annie just happened to have the kinds of posters that Mr. Reeves hoped to add to his collection.
Annie led them into her compartment. She unzipped the portfolio and opened it. She stared down at the portfolio and then looked at the Aldens in amazement. Finally, she said, “It’s empty!”
“Yes,” Jessie agreed. “It’s empty.”
“But what can that mean?” Annie asked. “How can that be?”
“Is there something else you want to tell us?” Violet asked Annie gently.
“No! Honestly, I know it must be hard to believe me because I’ve told so many stories. But I don’t know what happened to the posters. It’s like a bad dream coming true. Where could they have gone?”
“Someone must have known you had the posters,” Henry said. “That person waited until you left your room and then took the posters out.”
“Without the portfolio,” Jessie noted. “That means they’ll be easier to hide.”
“If the posters are folded and damaged, they’ll lose most of their value,” Annie said. “I can’t believe this is happening. Maybe someone wanted to see them and borrowed them for a while.”
“I’m afraid the posters were really stolen this time,” Jessie said.
“Really stolen!” Annie began to laugh and then she began to cry again. She slumped into one of the chairs and asked, “What will I do? I don’t have anything without the posters. I won’t be able to pay for my room and board. I won’t be able to go to art school.”
“I thought you said you had insurance?” Violet asked.
Annie shook her head. “I made that up, too. There is no insurance.” She sobbed until Violet thought Annie’s heart would break.
It was Benny who patted Annie on the arm and said, “Don’t worry, Annie. We will find your posters for you.”
The Aldens called a porter and got him to make up Annie’s room early so she could rest. “Stay here,” Violet said. “Your ankle hurts you and you’re very upset. Rest will do you good.”
“But what if the person who has my posters gets off the train while I’m sleeping?” Annie asked.
“You really can’t move fast enough to be much help,” Jessie pointed out. “We can, though. We’ll watch for you.”
“Leave it to us,” Benny said. “We’ll catch the thief very soon.”
Annie smiled at him and Violet realized her friend was feeling better.
“We’ll watch very carefully. If anyone gets off with a large package, we’ll call for help,” Henry said.
“What time does the train stop again?” Annie asked. Her voice already sounded sleepy.
“I have my timetable,” Henry said. “It stops in Salt Lake City at eleven-thirty-six p.m.”
“You won’t be able to stay awake that late,” Annie protested.
“We’ll wake up and then go back to sleep. Just like we did when you called us to help you last night,” Violet said.
Annie made a face. “I used an alarm clock. Anyway, that was very wrong of me.”
“We’d like to borrow your alarm clock,” Henry said. “You can sleep through till morning.”
Annie nodded and smiled. “You are very grown-up children. I feel like the youngest one here tonight.”
“We learned to take care of ourselves when we lived in our boxcar,” Violet explained. “Before our Grandfather found us and took us to live in Greenfield, we did everything for ourselves.”
The children went to bed early and Jessie set the alarm clock for eleven o’clock. “That will give us time to get up and dressed so we can watch the platform when we stop in Salt Lake City at eleven-thirty-six,” Jessie said.
The alarm went off at exactly eleven o’clock. Jessie and Violet woke up easily and knocked on the door of the boys’ room. They all pulled their clothes over their pajamas and got ready to station themselves by the doors of the train for the second night in a row.
“At least tonight we know a little bit more than we did,” Henry said. “I knew Annie wasn’t being quite truthful but I didn’t know she’d staged the whole thing.”
“You believe her now, don’t you?” Violet asked.
“Yes, I do,” Henry said. “Someone really stole the posters this time. I’m just not sure who that someone could be.”
“It could be Mr. Reeves,” Jessie said. “He is certainly interested in posters.”
“It could be Vincent,” Violet said. “He took money from Annie’s aunt and he . . . ”
“It could be that guy with the sunglasses and the beard,” Benny said. “He was talking to Vincent . . . ”
“It could be someone we don’t know at all,” Henry said. “But whoever it is would have a big package. Annie says folding the posters would lower their worth.”
“So we’ll keep a sharp eye out for large packages,” Jessie said.
The children nodded and stood waiting until the train pulled to a full halt.
They leaned out the door and looked up and down the platform. There were too many people moving around to be sure of seeing everything. “We’ll have to get out,” Henry said.
They jumped off the train and began moving up and down the platform, looking from one group of people to another. Suddenly, Jessie called, “I see the bearded man!”
“And he’s holding a big rolled package,” Violet said.
“Vincent is helping him,” Benny shouted. He began to run. At that moment, Vincent turned and went back into the train. The bearded man walked quickly away.
“Hurry, let’s catch him.” Jessie darted forward and caught hold of the man’s coat sleeve. She said, “Wait a minute, please. We want to talk to you.”
“Go away,” the man said.
Benny grabbed the back of his coat and Henry and Jessie tried to get hold of the rolled package.
The bearded man looked around at the crowd that was beginning to gather. He jerked the package away from the Alden children and threw it on the platform. Henry, Jessie, and Violet all ran for the package. Only Benny held onto the coattail and as the man pulled away from him, Benny was left holding a piece of the coat.
When the others came back with the package, Benny said, “He got away.”
“Never mind,” Jessie said. She bent down and untied the string around the rolled package. Unwrapping the paper carefully, she let the posters fall flat. “The important thing is we’ve got Annie’s posters back.”
“But the bearded man got away and we don’t know who he was or how he even knew the posters were on the train,” Benny said regretfully.
“Where is Vincent?” Jessie asked.
“He went back on the train,” Henry said. “I am not even sure he saw us.”
“We can talk about it in the morning,” Violet said. “Let’s get back to bed now before Aunt Jane misses us.”
But when they got back to their compartment, Aunt Jane was sitting up on the side of her bed waiting for them. She asked, “Where have you been? I was beginning to worry.”
“We caught the man who stole some posters,” Benny said. Then he corrected himself. “We caught the posters but the man got away.”
“What happened?” Aunt Jane asked.
“Annie has some valuable movie posters,” Viole
t answered. “She said they were stolen and they weren’t. Then later they were stolen and now we’ve recovered them.”
Aunt Jane smiled and said, “It sounds complicated. Maybe you can explain in the morning.”
“Tomorrow morning, we’ll tell you the whole story. It is complicated,” Henry said.
The next morning, the Alden children told Aunt Jane all about their adventures with Annie and the posters. When Henry got to the part about following Vincent, she nodded. “I knew something was going on but I thought it was some sort of a game you were playing.”
“No, it wasn’t a game,” Henry explained. Then he added, “But I still want to talk to Vincent. I think it is odd he talked so often to the bearded man. Maybe he knows more than he is telling.”
“I want to talk to Annie,” Aunt Jane said.
“Do you think we should wake her and tell her we’ve recovered the posters?” Violet asked.
“Let her sleep as long as she can,” Aunt Jane said. “Her ankle will heal faster if she is resting.”
They agreed that Annie would be very happy to have her posters back. Then Jessie said, “But there is still so much we don’t know.”
“Yes,” Violet said. “How could the bearded man know that she had the posters? Do you think Annie’s aunt could have anything to do with it?”
“It doesn’t seem like that could happen,” Jessie said. “On the other hand, how did Mr. Reeves know about the old posters coming into San Francisco?”
“We can probably find out more when Annie wakes up,” Benny said.
Meeting Uncle Bob
Annie found them in the observation lounge when she woke up. Benny said, “I told you we’d get your posters back!”
The Aldens told her all about the bearded man and recovering the posters. Annie listened carefully and then she shook her head. “I still don’t know how he knew what I had in my portfolio.”
“Someone must have told him,” Henry said. “Maybe you told a friend and you’ve forgotten.”
Annie shook her head. “I didn’t tell anyone.”
“Aunt Jane would like to talk to you,” Jessie said. “She asked us to let her know when you were up.”
Annie looked a little frightened as she stood up.
“I’ll go get her,” Benny said. “She doesn’t want you to walk on that ankle.”
Very soon, Aunt Jane and Benny came back. Annie and Aunt Jane went to a small table in a corner to talk. The Aldens sat a long way from them. They talked about their trip and about their adventure in Salt Lake City. From time to time, one of them glanced over at the table where Aunt Jane and Annie sat alone.
Jessie said, “Annie looks pretty upset and she isn’t saying much.”
“I hope they don’t quarrel,” Violet said. “I want Annie to be my friend for always.”
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Jessie said. “Where are we?”
“We’re in Nevada,” Henry answered. “We’re on our way to Reno.”
“Nevada is beautiful,” Violet answered. “Look over there at those purple hills. And see those mountains in the distance? They are all reds and purples and blues.”
“I’ll be glad to see San Francisco,” Benny said. “But I wish the train ride was even longer.”
“Three nights and three days went fast, didn’t they?” Jessie said.
“The day is early,” Henry said. “We’re still in Nevada and we have a whole day of California coming up.”
The children looked out the window at the beautiful landscape and hoped that Aunt Jane and Annie would be finished talking soon. Then Annie stood up and walked out of the dining room.
Finally, Violet could stand no more suspense. She went to Aunt Jane’s table and asked, “Where’s Annie?”
Aunt Jane smiled. “She’s gone to rest. She’s decided to telephone her aunt at the next stop. She doesn’t want to wait until we get to San Francisco to make her apology. She is also going to see if she can find out who her aunt talked to about her trip. We just can’t understand how anyone knew she would be on the train with her posters.”
The other Alden children came over to Aunt Jane’s table and she said, “Annie is very grateful for your help. And I want you to know how proud I am of you. You are very kind and brave children—and smart, too. I’m proud of my nieces and nephews.”
“I still want to know who that man with the beard is,” Benny said. “The mystery won’t be solved until we figure that out.”
“Don’t forget about Vincent and Mr. Reeves,” Jessie said.
Annie came back to the dining room. She was smiling and she seemed quite happy. “I had a nice talk with my aunt and she’s not angry anymore. But she says she didn’t tell anyone I was taking this trip. She says she kept thinking I would change my mind. I don’t understand how, but that bearded man must have learned about the posters some other way.” Annie shrugged. “The important thing is that I have the posters back. Thanks to you.” She hugged each of the Boxcar Children.
“Are we going to sit in the dining room until lunch?” Aunt Jane teased. “Don’t you want to go up to the observation lounge this morning? Most people think this is the best scenery of our trip.”
“The Sierra Nevadas,” Benny said proudly. “Mile-high mountains.”
“Let’s go,” Violet said. “I want to see everything I can on this trip.”
They left the dining car and went to the observation lounge. Aunt Jane found a group of bridge players and joined their game. The Aldens sat watching the Sierra Nevada mountains roll by their window. Violet tried to sketch the tall pine trees but soon gave up. “I’ll have to learn to draw faster before I can sketch landscapes from a train window.”
“You can use my photographs when we get home,” Jessie offered. “With my snapshots and your memory, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
They enjoyed the scenery so much that they stopped talking about the bearded man and the posters until Vincent came into the observation lounge.
“There’s Vincent,” said Benny. “He’s a suspect—we should talk to him. He was helping the bearded man.”
But Vincent went right over to the Alden children, asking, “Are you having a good time?”
“Wonderful,” Jessie replied. “We’re sorry this is the last day.”
Vincent nodded and looked down at Violet’s sketchbook. He asked, “Mind if I look at your drawings?”
Violet gave him the sketchbook and he turned the pages slowly, saying, “You’re a good artist, young lady.”
He stopped and looked a long time at the sketch of the bearded man. “Do you know that man?” Henry asked.
“Funny guy,” Vincent answered. “Had a ticket to San Francisco but he got off in Salt Lake City.”
“Is he a friend of yours?” Jessie asked.
Vincent closed the sketchbook and handed it back to Violet. “No, just a guy on a train. I helped him with his luggage, that’s all. He gave me a good tip.”
“You helped him carry a rolled package,” Benny said. “The package had stolen posters in it.”
“How do you know that?” Vincent asked. He was smiling as though he thought they were joking. “Were they your posters?”
“These were very valuable posters,” Henry added. “They weren’t ours, they belonged to our friend, Annie.”
“Annie,” Vincent said. “She’s the one I was supposed to watch over.” Then Vincent’s face fell. “I guess I didn’t do a very good job. If she really lost the posters she needs to report it to the railroad police.”
Vincent left them then and the Alden children talked it over. “He certainly seemed to be telling the truth,” Jessie said.
“But you never know,” Benny added. “Sometimes things look one way and they turn out another way.”
“He looked a long time at my sketch of the bearded man,” Violet pointed out.
“What do you think we should do next?” Jessie asked.
“If Vincent is telling the tru
th and Annie’s aunt says no one knew about the posters, there isn’t much to go on,” Henry said.
“Let’s talk to Mr. Reeves,” Jessie suggested. “He seems to be rushing to buy exactly the kind of old movie posters that Annie wants to sell. It seems like more than a coincidence.”
Henry looked at his watch. “We are having lunch with Mr. Reeves in an hour. Maybe we will learn something then.”
“I think I’ll go visit Annie,” Violet said. “She must be lonely in her compartment.”
“Maybe she will have lunch with us,” Jessie suggested.
“I’m sure she’d like that,” Violet answered. “She and Benny and I can sit together and you and Henry can sit with Aunt Jane and Mr. Reeves.”
At lunchtime, Mr. Reeves was waiting for Aunt Jane and Jessie and Henry. He was in a very good mood and he talked and talked about his life and his interests. As lunch was served, Henry asked, “Do you mind if I ask how you found out about the posters you are planning to buy?”
Mr. Reeves smiled and said, “Collectors like to keep their sources confidential. Are you planning to snatch them out from under my nose?” Then he looked suspiciously at Henry and asked, “Why do you want to know?”
“We’re just curious,” Jessie answered promptly.
“I’m curious why you would be curious,” Mr. Reeves said and then he laughed at his own joke. He looked straight at Henry and asked directly, “Why do you want to know?”
“It’s kind of a mystery,” Henry said. “A friend has some posters and we’re trying to help her.”
“A mystery?” Mr. Reeves said. “Delightful. I love a mystery. Many of my favorite movie posters are about mysteries.”
“So how did you hear about the posters you are going to San Francisco to buy?” Jessie prompted.
“A collector never tells his sources,” Mr. Reeves said. “Especially if you have a friend in the business.”
“She’s not actually in the business,” Henry said. He looked at Jessie and Aunt Jane and they both nodded that he should go on and tell the story. “We met a young woman on this train and she has some valuable posters. Someone tried to rob her.” He cleared his voice and said, “The fact is, the posters sound like the same ones you were describing. She has signed posters of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin and some other silent screen stars.”
The Mystery on the Train Page 5