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Grandfather in the Lead
It was a fine warm day in early summer. The Aldens — Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny — and their grandfather were just eating lunch. They had come to dessert of apple pie and cheese.
Benny rested his head on his hand. After awhile he said, "Grandfather, do you remember a few summers ago we wanted to go mountain climbing?"
"Yes, I remember, my boy."
"Well, do you remember we got cheated out of it? Joe and Alice had to go abroad and we couldn't go alone."
Henry said, "Benny will never forget that. We went to see Aunt Jane at Mystery Ranch instead."
Benny said, "Well, I wondered where we were going that summer, if we had gone. What mountain were we going to climb?"
"Benny, does all this mean you want to go mountain climbing?" asked Mr. Alden. He couldn't help laughing.
"Yes, it does," said Benny. "Maybe not the same mountain."
"No, indeed, it won't be," said Mr. Alden. "That year I was going to take you up in the Rockies. No more of that. We'll have to choose Old Flat Top because I don't want Violet getting all tired out with a long climb. And I don't want me getting all tired out either. The rest of you are tough enough."
Grandfather looked up to see that every Alden was looking at him. The four shining faces answered him. There were four nods.
"You do have the strangest ideas, Benny," said Jessie. "What put that into your head?"
"Well," said Benny, "I've been reading about that place in school."
"About Flat Top?" asked Violet.
"Oh, you have, have you?" said Henry. "You chose Flat Top yourself?"
"Right," said Benny. "I don't want to climb too much myself. I get lame."
Mr. Alden said, "Well, my answer is yes. Old Flat Top is easy enough for all of us, and yet it is interesting all the way up. And we'll all be able to get a good rest on the smooth top."
"Just like airplanes landing on an airplane carrier," said Benny.
"That's exactly right, my boy," said Grandfather. "Only this flat top is twice as big as a carrier."
Benny finished his apple pie and put down his fork. "Then the only question is when. Let's go right away."
Everyone laughed. Benny and Grandfather were so much alike. When they wanted anything they wanted it right away.
"What do you mean by right away?" asked Grandfather, smiling. "You mean this minute? If you do, we could go this minute, very easily. It is only a day's trip. You climb up Flat Top, eat lunch, and climb down. There is just time in one day. Nobody spends the night there."
"How do you know all this, Grandfather?" asked Henry.
"Oh, I had a friend who made that trip last summer. He said it was exactly right for his wife, and they had a fine time. Near the foot of the mountain is a general store. The men give you poles and a lunch and directions. They always leave a lot of firewood all cut for a campfire to cook your lunch on the flat top. This place isn't for real mountain climbers. It's for old men and children."
Henry laughed. He knew that it was a real mountain. Grandfather was having a good time teasing them.
"Do you mean we can really go today?" asked Jessie.
"Well, no," Grandfather answered. "I should say tomorrow would be better because we must have a full day. We can drive to Old Flat Top in two hours. What time do you want to get up, Benny? You're the sleepy one."
"I'll get up at five," said Benny. "I did when we went to the lighthouse."
"So you did. Five it is. Lay out some sport clothes. Better take some extra clothes. We may want to go on somewhere else. And another thing, we can't take Watch. He'll just be in the way."
"That's right," said Henry. "He will do nothing but whine. He doesn't like to see us do anything dangerous."
Mr. Alden looked thoughtful and then said, "I believe that Dr. Percy Osgood is working somewhere in the range not too far from Old Flat Top. How about it, Benny, does that name mean something to you?"
Benny shook his head. But Henry said, "Osgood? It means something to me. He was the author of a book on geology I read for a college course last year."
"Right!" Grandfather said. "Percy is on a hunt for some fossils. If John Carter can find out where he is for me we might pay him a visit. I haven't seen Osgood for years, but I don't suppose he's changed much."
The Aldens went to pack and Grandfather made a phone call to. John Carter. It was too bad Benny wasn't around to hear some of the plans being made. But he and the others were busy packing.
There was not much sleep in the Alden house that night. At five o'clock everyone was wide awake and downstairs eating breakfast.
"I have two flashlights," said Henry, "and some batteries and the binoculars. You can see the view better."
Grandfather said, "We'll get the lunch at the store and water and either coffee or cold drinks in bottles. We can buy anything we need."
The day was beautiful. It was warm even in the early morning. They all knew it would be cooler on Flat Top, and they each had a warm sweater.
When they reached the mountain range, Violet said, "Oh, isn't this lovely!"
"That's Old Flat Top," said Benny, pointing. It was the lowest mountain in the range. Other peaks went much higher into the sky. Some looked blue in the distance. Others looked violet. Others looked green. But Flat Top was so near it looked green almost all the way up. The top was all solid rock.
"Hey!" said Henry. "There is the store. It seems to be made of logs." He stopped the car at the door and they all went into the store. Old Flat Top towered right over them.
"Just right," said Benny. "Not too high. Not too steep. Just right, just a good healthy climb and a grand view at the top." Then he thought, "Isn't it queer that this store man seems to know Grandfather?"
The two men were shaking hands, and Grandfather just said, "Fit us out for Flat Top, won't you?"
The man said, "You each need a pack on your back to carry your lunch. You'll need five poles. I should think that would be enough. You'll find the path is well marked, but there's only one. And remember that there is no other path down."
"I'd like to go first," said Benny.
"I'm sorry to disagree with you, Benny," said Mr. Alden. "I should like to go first."
"Oh," said Benny, "of course, you should go first. That's OK."
"Thanks," said Mr. Alden.
Up they went. It was true that the path was well marked. The trees were marked with knotted strips of red cloth. It was a little hard in some places, but the poles were a great help. Each climber had a pack on his back.
Up and up they went. Violet was right behind Grandfather. Benny still wished he could be the leader, but he thought he had better mind his grandfather at this point.
It took the Aldens three hours to reach the first stop.
"See the sign?" said Henry. "Lunch Here. The man said we must eat just half of our lunch here."
"I have never been so hungry in my life," said Benny.
"Oh, yes, you have!" joked Henry. "Almost every meal you eat. And be careful how much water you drink. That's the thing we have to save."
Soon they were ready to go on. When they were almost at the top they noticed there were no more bushes, no more trees, no more grass. It was all gray rock.
Grandfather looked ahead. He could see the last two steps very well. He noticed that the last step was a big one, and he was glad he had gone first. With his pole, he reached the very top where it was flat. He turned around and gave a hand to Violet. Then he helped Jessie up, and reached way down to help Benny. With his pole, Henry climbed up by himself.
They all looked around. "This is as big as our own front yard," said Jessie.
"What a view," said Benny. "The town is over there, and nothing but woods there at the foot of the mountain."
Henry said, "Here is the woodpile for campfires and a fireplace. This is where we can cook the rest of our lunch."
It never entered anyone's head, even Grandfather's, that a fire might be needed to keep them warm.CHAPTER 2
Hold On, Benny!
"My, I'm glad we have sweaters," said Henry. "The wind blows harder up here." He pulled his brown sweater on over his head.
The others put on their sweaters and then they sat down in a row.
"What a view!" said Jessie. They looked out over the valley. They felt as if they were very high up.
Grandfather said, "Benny, you come over and sit by me. I want to talk to you. You know a boy ought to learn a thing the first time he is told. Of course he can learn it the second time and maybe the third time. But he will save a lot of time for himself by learning the first time. I am telling you not to go near the edge, and I shall say nothing more about it. Is that clear?"
Grandfather almost never spoke in that sort of voice.
"Oh, yes indeed!" cried Benny. "I learned that before you got through talking. I don't like the edge myself."
Henry looked around at Flat Top. There was a small hump in the middle. "Look at the wavy lines in the rocks," he said. "White and black and gray. Wouldn't a geologist find this interesting?"
Everyone looked around. Violet said, "It looks like the waves of the sea."
Grandfather said, "That is just what they look like, but they are waves of rock. Probably millions of years ago what we are standing on now was covered by the ocean."
Henry said, "This low mountain may once have been near the ocean floor. It was pushed up to where it is now."
Benny threw his head back and laughed. He said, "I'll bet the old dinosaurs paddled around here."
"Maybe dinosaurs were here when this was a swamp," said Jessie.
"I wish I had brought my camera," said Henry.
"Oh, I wish you had," said Violet.
Mr. Alden was looking at the great stretch of woods below. He said, "I don't think anyone has ever cut those trees. I'd hate to get lost there."
Benny looked at his wristwatch. "I hope someone besides me will say it's time to eat," he said.
Violet said, "I am willing to be the one." She patted Benny's shoulder.
Jessie said, "Let's sit here and plan what we will do."
"That's the housekeeper in you, Jess," said Henry. "If we are going to cook that hamburger we'll have to get a fire started. Let's find the wood."
Mr. Alden sat still and watched them.
"Well, there are certainly all kinds of wood," said Benny. "Big and little. And look, there is a kettle and a frying pan."
"That kettle is for hot water, I think," said Violet. "Just throw a little coffee in, and there will be Grandfather's coffee."
"Freshly made," said Grandfather.
"Those men at the store thought of everything," said Benny. "Here's the fireplace with a back rock to keep off the wind." He was beyond the little hump.
"Well, I guess we're all set," said Henry.
Everybody had a job. The two boys built the fire, for even Benny knew how to start a good fire. The girls made cakes of the hamburger and took out the bacon.
"I think we had better fry the bacon first," said Jessie, and the girls soon had the crisp slices lying on a paper napkin.
"Where shall we put the grease, Grandfather, when we get through?"
"Give it to me," said Mr. Alden, "and I will show you. Wait till I get all set."
Grandfather, without a smile, got down flat on his stomach and crawled slowly to the edge. "Now I'll take the pan," he said. Everyone tried not to laugh — Mr. Alden looked so funny. With a straight face, Mr. Alden took the pan and poured the hot fat down the rocky mountainside. He backed slowly until he was far from the edge. Then he said, "That grease went almost straight down for half a mile. That's why you can't go down or up except on our trail."
"Oh, you did look funny," said Benny. "I could hardly help laughing."
"Neither could I," said Mr. Alden. "Now we can laugh all we want."
Indeed when anyone thought of Grandfather pouring grease straight down the mountain, it was hard to stop laughing at all.
"Now the hamburger," said Henry. "Just about room for six in this pan."
Jessie passed him the hamburger cakes. They started at once to give out a delicious smell.
Soon Henry gave the orders, "Get a plate and a bun and a piece of cheese and a paper napkin, and be all ready for your hamburger."
"We'll get a bottle of Coke, too," said Benny.
"Right," said Henry. "And I will put Grandfather's black coffee in one of these cups."
Never did food taste better. They made it last a long time.
"I think this is the first time," said Jessie, "that we ever had anything left over from a picnic. I couldn't eat all my hamburger, and neither could Violet. We have five buns and one hamburger left."
"You will see that I didn't quite finish my big hamburger either," said Grandfather.
Benny's loud voice was heard saying, "Save it — save every crust and every crumb. I have a feeling I might use it later in the day."
The Alden family picked up all their papers and cups and burned them in the fire. Grandfather said, "Save my coffee, too. I have a feeling I might like it just before we go. We go at exactly four o'clock."
Violet shook every drop out of an empty Coke bottle. She filled the bottle with coffee.
Henry saw what she was doing. He said, "Just dump the coffee grounds on the rocks. The wind will blow them away."
"When we go down," said Benny, "how about letting me go first?"
"All right," Grandfather agreed, "you lead the way."
They put the scraps of food in a paper bag and at exactly four o'clock Benny got ready to back down.
Benny said, "The first step will hold both my feet."
"So will the second one," said Henry.
Benny reached down carefully with one foot for the first step. He held onto the edge tightly. It was a long way down to the step and he almost wished he had let Grandfather or Henry go first.
"Let me take one of your hands," Henry said. "Take your time and you'll be all right."
Benny swung his other foot down but still kept Henry's hand. The next step was not quite so steep.
With one foot on the second step Benny was just about to let Henry go. Then with no warning it happened — one moment Benny's foot was on the step, the next he was reaching wildly for a foothold.
With a noise like thunder the stone step went crashing down the mountain side. As it rolled, it knocked loose stones and boulders in a regular mountain slide.
"Help!" Benny shouted, hanging on to Henry and trying to catch at anything that would not crumble and break loose.
Grandfather threw himself down and grabbed Benny by his free arm. Henry got a better grasp. Jessie took the back of his sweater and the three pulled Benny to the top and safety.
Benny lay perfectly still on his side, breathing hard. "Gramps," he said, "it will take me three days to get over this."
Benny had never called his grandfather "Gramps" before, and nobody had ever seen him quite so still. Mr. Alden knelt down to comfort him. He said, "Benny, you put your mind on this. Forget the step. Just think that your life was saved for something special and try to wonder what it is."
Benny sat up at once. "I was saved, wasn't I?" he cried. "Maybe I'll be a mountain climber. Or a scientist."
Jessie and Violet both looked pale. They knew what a narrow escape Benny had had. The noise of the rocks crashing down, Benny's shout, the rescue — it had all happened so quickly.
Henry looked around the rocky top of the mountain. He did not want to frighten the girls, but he knew that the only way down was gone. The rocky sides of Old Flat Top gave no spot to get a foothold.
Mr. Alden said, "Now let's plan what we'll do. We are safe here, but we'll be cold. We certainly can't get down now."
Henry said, "Won't the ranger and the man in the store notice when we don't come down?"
Mr. Alden gave Henry a look. Then he said, "There are a lot of things that they may do. One thing seems sure. We'll have to spend the night up here. This is the end of the summer and it will be dark soon."
Henry said, "Perhaps they heard those rocks coming down."
"Yes," said Violet. "They crashed like thunder."
"They probably did hear the noise," said Mr. Alden. "I don't think we need to worry, but perhaps we'd better build a fire. They will see it when it gets dark."
Henry had a feeling that Mr. Alden knew something that the children did not, but he went right to work and everyone helped to build a roaring fire.
Violet's teeth were chattering. She said, "The f-f-fire f-f-feels good. I didn't know I was so c-c-cold."
"That's because you nearly lost me, Violet," said Benny. "Haven't you ever heard of shivering from fright?"
It soon began to get quite dark. Still Grandfather did not seem to be worried. Suddenly they all heard a strange whirring noise.
"It sounds like an airplane," said Benny. "I'll bet it's a helicopter."
Henry cried, "That's Grandfather for you! I'll bet he planned that in case of trouble." Grandfather smiled.
It was indeed a helicopter. First it went high over the flat top, winked its lights, and then hovered over the family. The pilot had a megaphone.
He called down, "Are you all right?"
Five voices shouted, "Yes!"
"We can't take you off in the dark," the pilot called. "We'll have to wait until morning. But I am going to drop five sleeping bags. Keep your fire going, and we'll be around in the morning. Now all of you stand behind the hump."
The whole family did so. Down came five sleeping bags, one by one. The helicopter whirred away.
Jessie said, "I guess they didn't know that we are short on food. It's lucky we saved everything from lunch that we did not eat. I wonder if we should eat the leftovers for supper."
"Maybe we should save our food for the morning," Violet said. "We might have to wait for quite awhile."
"Good idea," agreed Grandfather. "As long as we are warm we can stand being a little hungry."
Benny added, "I guess I got being hungry scared right out of me — at least for now."
Grandfather said, "You know the old saying about an ill wind that blows no good."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Boxcar Children Books 9-12"
Copyright © 2018 Albert Whitman & Company.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Yellow Sands,
2 An Old Friend,
4 At the Big Table,
5 The Empty Room,
6 Mike's Mother's Place,
7 The Blue Hat,
9 Quick Work,
10 Mike's Idea,
11 Pie Day,
12 An Empty Can,
13 The Party,
14 Ben or Mike?,