The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (3 page)

BOOK: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
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Anthony’s older brother, Keith, was nuts about cars. When he was little, he used to play endlessly with cars and trucks, and he had really never grown out of it. The side yard of the Mondays’ house was strewn with rusting radiators, dented fenders, and other car parts. At present, Keith was working on the family car. The hood was open, and from the ceiling of the garage hung a spotlight on a long cord. Keith was dressed in gray coveralls, and his hands and face were streaked with grease. Wrenches and rags lay draped on the fender. When he heard the side door of the garage open, he looked up and smiled. “Hi, kid! Hey, don’t listen to the things that Mom says. She doesn’t always know what she’s talkin’ about! I think it’s great that you got a job. When I was your age, I couldn’t even get a job as a crummy paper boy. Congratulations!”

Anthony beamed. He liked his brother a lot, and at times like this, he liked him more than he could say. Anthony hung around the garage for an hour, just watching Keith work and talking to him. Then he went in to do his homework. He felt a lot better.

The next day after school, Anthony started his new job. It turned out to be a lot of fun. He liked poking around in the stacks, climbing up on ladders, and fetching down books for people. He felt important when he sat at the main desk and looked around at all the people who were sitting and reading in armchairs or at tables. He even enjoyed answering the weird questions that people asked him over the phone, like “Who were the first three governors of Minnesota?” or “Could you find out for me the real name of the Minnesota novelist Frederick Manfred?” or “Where is the nearest state where you can get married without a blood test?”

Needless to say, Anthony couldn’t answer any of these questions off the top of his head. What he did was write them down and take them to Miss Eells, who would then tell him where to look up the answers. (In the case of the blood test, she suggested that Anthony say he didn’t know and hang up politely.) In a little while, Anthony got so good at the question-answering game that he could go directly from the phone to the right reference book without having to ask Miss Eells anything.

When he was off duty, or when there was nobody in the library but Miss Eells and him, Anthony would explore. It was a big old building, and only about half of it was really needed, or used, by the library. On the second floor was a little museum run by the Hoosac Historical Society. It was hardly ever open, but since Anthony had the keys to all the rooms and display cases when he was on duty, he would sometimes pop into the museum and try on Civil War helmets or play with the antique pistols and swords that were exhibited there. He was always very careful to put everything back where he had found it when he was through fooling around.

There were other rooms, too. Some were small and spooky. There was a little auditorium where lectures and slide shows were sometimes put on. There was a smoking room, equipped with easy chairs and ash trays for those who wanted to smoke while they were visiting the library. There was the Alpheus Winterborn Reading Room, a comfy little parlor full of sofas and overstuffed chairs. In this room were glass cases containing models of the perpetual-motion machines that Mr. Winterborn had tried to invent, and in the bookcases that lined the walls were all the books that had been in Alpheus Winterborn’s personal library. Some were books on archeology, such as
Interesting Tombs of the XIX Dynasty
Monuments of the Fayyum.
Some had to do with architecture, like the works of Vitruvius and Palladio. And of course there was Mr. Winterborn’s long and boring account, written out in longhand, of his archeological career.

At one end of the room was a marble fireplace, and over it was a portrait of Alpheus Winterborn in a heavy gilt frame. It showed him as he had been when he was young, in the 1870s, when beards were in fashion. Anthony thought he looked like one of the Smith Brothers on the cough-drop package. He often found himself staring at this portrait. The expression on the man’s face interested him. Maybe it was just Anthony’s imagination, but it seemed to him that Mr. Winterborn was amused. It was as if he were enjoying some wonderful secret joke, and Anthony couldn’t help wondering what it was.


Weeks and months passed. June came, and school let out. Miss Eells asked Anthony if he wanted to keep on working at the library during the summer. He said sure. He was even willing to work longer hours than before. Most of his friends had summer jobs, and Anthony really liked being at the library more than he liked being at home. If he sat around at home doing nothing, his mother found something for him to do, or else she made him feel so guilty that it wasn’t any fun sitting around. And of course he liked the money he was being paid. Every Friday he got a little brown envelope with his wages in it. He spent some of the money on movies and popcorn and comic books and things of that sort. The rest he put in the bank. One day Anthony went down to the First National Bank of Hoosac with his father and proudly opened up his own personal savings account. It made him feel good to have a savings account like the one his parents had. He felt that somehow he was contributing more to the family than he had been before. The bankbook made him feel that he was really worth something.

The rest of June passed, and July began with a heat wave. The temperature rose to one hundred and stayed there. Everything was sticky or hot to touch. The pavement burned under the soles of your feet as you walked along, and it took great effort just to move.

On one of these broiling hot days—a Wednesday it was—Anthony was in the West Reading Room, changing the magazines in the magazine rack. All the windows were open, and the curtains on the long windows hung limp. In the corner, a girl in shorts was reading a copy of
, and an old lady was browsing along one shelf. A fly buzzed past Anthony and sailed up toward the ceiling. As Anthony followed it with his eye, he happened to glance at the carvings over the fireplace. He had noticed them before because they were so strange-looking.

There was a wide, square panel covered with three- dimensional carved objects that stood far out from the wall. There were oranges and lemons and sheaves of grain and bunches of grapes and clambering monkeys and, here and there, odd little faces peeping out through the carved shrubbery. At the top of the panel was a pointed cornice; on the point was a half-moon just like the stone half-moon and banner over the front door. On the banner was the same motto: BELIEVE ONLY HALF OF WHAT YOU READ.

As Anthony stood looking up at this wilderness of carved wood, it occurred to him that the panel needed dusting. Big cobwebs festooned the monkeys and grapes and grain, and gray dust lay thick in all the crevices.

Anthony suddenly felt like giving that panel a good, hard dusting. It was a hot day, and his clothes were soaked with sweat, but he didn’t care. He felt energetic, and besides, it would be a nice thing to do for Miss Eells. Down to the basement he went. He got out the step-ladder and the feather duster from the broom closet. Back upstairs, he set up the shaky ladder in front of the fireplace. With the duster in his hand, he climbed to the top and then stepped off onto the marble mantel. He started to dust, whisking the feather broom back and forth over the carvings. It was a tall panel, and in order to reach the top, he had to stand on tiptoe. Whisk, whisk! Cobwebs flew in all directions. If only he could reach the top of that silly half-moon and knock off the cobweb that was trailing from one of its horns. Anthony lunged with the duster, and then something happened. There was a sharp crack, like a pistol shot. The half-moon flew off the cornice, whizzed across the room, and landed in a corner.

Anthony’s face turned red. He didn’t dare look at the people who were in the library. Slowly, carefully, he set the duster down on the mantel and clambered down from his perch. With his head down, he walked quickly across the floor and knelt to pick up the ornament. To his very great surprise, he saw that it had broken in two. One moon face lay staring up, and the other lay propped against a chair leg. Inside the piece that was standing up, Anthony could see something glittering. It looked like a gold coin. And between the two pieces of wood, on the floor, lay a tightly rolled piece of paper.







Anthony knelt there, lost in wonder. The wooden moon had been like a fortune cookie, with a message inside. But what was the message? The paper lay before him. All he had to do was unroll it and read. But Anthony was a cautious sort. If the paper turned out to be anything important—a treasure map, for instance—he wanted to examine it in private. And if that really was a gold coin there... well, he’d better scoop it up quick before somebody else decided that it was theirs.

With trembling fingers, Anthony gathered up the two wooden fragments and the piece of paper. He glanced nervously around and then made a dash for the door. In the hall, he almost ran into Miss Eells, who had a big paper bag in her hand.

“Watch out, Anthony,” she said, laughing, “or you’ll knock over the chocolate malt I brought you! Good grief! What do you have there?”

“It’s—it’s... I had an accident,” Anthony stammered. “Can we go to your office f-for a minute?”

Miss Eells gave Anthony a wondering look. “Sure. Of course. It’s snack time, anyway. Come on.”

Anthony followed Miss Eells to her office. As soon as they were inside, he dumped the pieces of the ornament and the paper on her desk. Then he rushed to the door, closed it, and turned the key in the lock.

Miss Eells watched him in amazement. She glanced at the things on her desk. “Great Godfrey! Anthony, what are you up to? I shouldn’t have taught you that Civil War spy code. It’s gone to your head.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Eells. I know it looks dumb, but I found something inside a piece of wood that I knocked off of the top of the fireplace.” Anthony stopped talking when he saw the way Miss Eells was looking at him. Suddenly he was seized by the fear that he had damaged something valuable. Would Miss Eells get made at him because he had smashed the little wooden moon? “It—it was an accident,” Anthony stammered, pointing to the wooden fragments on the desk. “I’m sorry, I really am, I was dusting and... I’m clumsy, I know I am...”

“Anthony, Anthony, you idiot! Did you think I would be mad at you for something like that? Good lord, you know how clumsy I am. Did you
think I would fire you for such a thing? Now, what’s all this?”

“I don’t know,” said Anthony. “The little wooden doojiggy came apart when I knocked it down, and these things were inside it.”

Miss Eells’s eyes opened wide. “Were they now? Well, just sit down and make yourself homely, as my father used to say, and we’ll see what’s what.”

Miss Eells sat down behind her desk. Anthony pulled up a chair. He watched with growing excitement and curiosity as she turned over the two wooden fragments. She shook the piece that had the coin in it, but the coin was wedged tight. Miss Eells reached into her desk drawer and took out a penknife. She pried at the coin, and it came clattering out onto her desk top. She picked it up and examined it.

“What is it?” Anthony asked. “It looks like it’s gold.”

gold. It’s a ten-dollar gold piece. Back in the old days, they used gold coins the way we use paper money today. This one’s rather worn, but I would imagine it’s still worth at least ten bucks at your local bank.” Again, Miss Eells smiled warmly at Anthony. She was thinking,
Here is a boy whose mother has brought him up to be selfish and suspicious. She talks money money money to him, day and night. You’d think he would have stuffed this coin into his pocket the instant he saw it. Instead, he brings it to me.

Anthony eyed the coin hungrily. “I’ll take it and put it in the library fine box if you want me to,” he said in a forlorn voice.

“Fine box, my eye!” said Miss Eells, laughing. “Here, Anthony, take it! Finders keepers is what I say. It’s yours.”

Anthony could hardly believe his ears. “R-really? Honest to God?”

Miss Eells nodded. “Honest to God. I wouldn’t try to spend it at the five-and ten-cent store, but if you take it to the bank, I’m sure they’ll cash it for you. If they have any questions about how you got it, tell them to call me.”

“Gee, thanks,” said Anthony, beaming. He stuffed the coin into his pocket.

“Now then, what
have we here?” said Miss Eells as she picked up the scroll of paper and carefully unrolled it. The paper turned out to be three small sheets of onionskin paper all rolled up together. The sheets were covered with square, precise lettering.

“What is it?” asked Anthony eagerly.

Miss Eells squinted at the writing. Then she opened the middle drawer of her desk and took out a magnifying glass. “Ah, that’s better. Hm... hmmm... it seems to be a message from good old Alpheus Winterborn. Want to hear what it says?”


“Okay. Here goes: ‘I, Alpheus Winterborn, swear that the following is a true statement. It is generally thought that I found nothing of any value during my visits to Egypt and the Holy Land. This is not true. On one trip, and under highly unusual circumstances, I discovered an object of great antiquity, an object that was at one time very sacred to one of the ancient peoples of the earth. It is an object that was thought to have perished utterly, without a trace. I returned to America with a part of that object—a part that, I daresay, is quite valuable, worth many thousands of dollars.

“ ‘At first I thought that I would present my discovery to a museum. But I considered further, and at length concluded that I would not. The world has rejected my efforts in the field of archeology. Well, I reject the world, and I challenge it to match wits with me. I have hidden the object I found, but I have left clues that, when read properly, will lead to its discovery. The person who finds this message is well on his way to finding the treasure I speak of. But I warn him, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

BOOK: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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