The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (6 page)

BOOK: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
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Anthony hesitated. He bit his lip and rattled the change in his pocket. “Okay,” he said at last.

Miss Eells smiled happily and clapped her hands. “Good! That was what I hoped you’d say. Now, run on back to the main desk and see if anybody wants anything. I’ll see you later.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

The next day, right after lunch, Miss Eells picked Anthony up, and they drove out to Rolling Stone to the auction. It was a beautiful day—the last day of August, but chilly, with a hint of fall in the air. When they got to Rolling Stone, they found that a good-sized crowd had already gathered on the lawn of the house where the auction was to take place. It was the house of a lady named Bjornson, who had just died at the age of ninety-four. Mrs. Bjornson had been a widow for the last fifty years, and after her husband died, she had kept her house just the way it had been around the turn of the century. All the furniture was old-fashioned, and there were even gas lamps on the walls, though they no longer worked. In addition to all this, Mrs. Bjornson had been a great buyer of antiques. She had gone to a lot of auctions in her life, and she had bought a lot of things, some of them quite valuable. Now that she was dead, her own things were being auctioned off.

Anthony and Miss Eells walked through the old, stale-smelling house, and then poked around among the furniture and other odds and ends that were scattered on the lawn, waiting to be sold. There were bureaus and commodes, marble-topped tables, oil lamps, sets of dishes and boxes of old records and a crank-up phonograph, an Atwater Kent radio, and all sorts of weird-looking doodads and whatchamacallits. Miss Eells opened and closed drawers and peered into pitchers and almost dropped a heavy, old-fashioned flatiron on her foot. Anthony got a little worried watching her because every time she turned around she would bump into somebody or something. Finally, she broke a small vase. She took the pieces up front to the auctioneer, who was just getting ready to climb up onto his stand. His name was Mr. Gegenfurtner. He was a big, red-faced man who ran a clothing store in Hoosac and did auctioneering because he liked it. He and Miss Eells were old friends. When he saw her coming toward him with the broken vase in her hands, he grinned.

“Well, hello, Myra! Did you break that Ming vase? That’ll be forty-five thousand dollars, if you don’t mind. Come on, hurry up. Pay.”

“Oh, be quiet, Charley. How much is it worth, really?”

“I’d say about thirty-five cents. Give me a quarter, and I’ll let you go. Say, who’s your friend there?”

“This is Anthony Monday. He works at the library. Anthony, this is Mr. Gegenfurtner.”

“Hi,” said Anthony shyly.

A few moments later, Anthony and Miss Eells were back out on the lawn, milling around with the crowd. Mr. Gegenfurtner had started auctioning things off. Anthony loved to listen to him babble: “Three, three, who’ll gimmee three, threena quatta, threena quatta, quattava dollah, quattava dollah...” It was like a foreign language that Mr. Gegenfurtner was speaking. Anthony couldn’t figure out how anybody managed to follow the bidding, but they did. People held up their hands and yelled things, and items got sold—books and pictures and tables and chairs and vases. So far, Miss Eells hadn’t bid on anything. She was still inspecting the goods.

Anthony was beginning to get bored. He wandered off by himself and sat down on a glider—a kind of porch swing that looks like a sofa—that had been hauled down off the porch and left under a big elm tree. As he rocked back and forth, back and forth, he found that he was singing “Acorns
up
and
windows o
-ver” in time with the squeaks. It was no use, it was just no use. He couldn’t get the poem or the treasure out of his mind....

Suddenly he stopped swinging. He planted both feet on the ground and stared fixedly, as if he had been hypnotized. Not far away from him was Hugo Philpotts, holding what appeared to be a small picture in a wooden frame. Hugo Philpotts, the man who had changed his ten-dollar gold piece at the bank, the man who was related to Alpheus Winterborn.

As Anthony watched, Mr. Philpotts carefully examined the picture, or whatever it was. He turned it over, and as he did so, something flashed in the sun. The thing he was looking at was a mirror. Suddenly there popped into Anthony’s mind the title of Alpheus Winterborn’s mysterious poem: “Mirror, Mirror.” The title didn’t seem to have anything to do with the poem, and once when Miss Eells was trying to help Anthony with the poem, she had guessed that the title might have something to do with an object that you were supposed to be hunting for instead.

Mr. Philpotts was really interested in this mirror. He examined the back of it and stared at one corner down at the bottom for a very long time. Finally, he set the mirror down.

When Mr. Philpotts left, Anthony slowly walked over to where the mirror lay. He knelt down and looked at it. Like Mr. Philpotts, he turned it over and examined the back, especially the lower part. Then he jumped up and ran off to get Miss Eells.

Miss Eells, however, was having her own problems— she had somehow managed to get her foot wedged into a small brown crockery jug. Two men were trying to get her out. Mr. Gegenfurtner held her down on a couch while the other man tugged at the crock. But the foot wouldn’t come out.

When Anthony arrived on the scene, he was out of breath and excited. “Hey, Miss Eells, I been looking all over for you! We got to—oh, my gosh! What happened?”

“Well you may ask,” groaned Miss Eells. “I was only climbing over a pile of stuff to get from one place to another, and I managed to do this to myself. Unh!” Miss Eells winced as the man tugged again. All of a sudden, the jug popped loose, and Mr. Rusk, the man who had been doing the tugging, careened off across the lawn and slammed into the back of a lady who was peering into an old chest. The lady fell forward over the chest, which snapped shut on one end of a long feather boa that she was wearing. When the lady got her wind back, she found that the trunk lid had chopped off one end of her boa. She started to rant at Mr. Rusk, who began to rant right back at her.

Miss Eells covered her face with her hands.

“Miss Eells,” said Anthony, tugging at her sleeve. “I want you to come over here and see something. It’s important. It really is.”

“Okay, okay! Keep your shirt on. I’ll be with you in a second.”

Miss Eells stopped long enough to tell Mr. Gegenfurtner that she hoped he could get through the rest of the auction without any more disasters. Then she followed Anthony across the lawn.

“Look!” said Anthony excitedly.

Miss Eells looked. What she saw was a small antique mirror. It was about two feet long and a foot wide. Mounted above the looking-glass part of the mirror was a small painting. It showed a house with a red roof and green shutters standing between two trees. The sky in the background was gray, except down near the horizon, where it was red. It looked the way the sky looks sometimes on a cloudy day just after the sun has gone down. The frame of the mirror was made of wood, and it was fairly elaborate. Across the top of the mirror ran a little ledge. It hung out over the front and sides like a canopy. The ledge had knobs on it. They were funny little knobs that looked like acorns.

“Well?” said Miss Eells. She was impatient to get back to the auction, and she was still pretty flustered.

“Look, Miss Eells, don’t you see? These’re the
acorns.
The ones in the poem. You said we might have to look for a mirror, and here it is!”

“I was only making a suggestion, Anthony. You can’t really think that—”

“And look at this!” said Anthony. He knelt down next to the mirror and tapped the painting. “Didja ever see windows like these? Lookit!”

Miss Eells bent over and looked closely at the painting. The house had five windows, and each one looked like this:

“My Lord!” she said. “This
is
odd. It looks like the old mansion. It used to have a red roof and green shutters. It still has these funny windows in the front with the five little panes in them.”

“And how about this?” exclaimed Anthony triumphantly. He took the mirror in his hands and turned it over. There was a slab of wood on the back, held in place by bent nails. In the lower left-hand corner of the slab three letters had been scratched into the wood: ATW.

“It’s him, it’s Alpheus T. Winterborn,” said Anthony. “Doncha see? This mirror is supposed to go with the poem! It tells how many acorns and windows there are. It all works out, like on a treasure map!” He looked hopefully at Miss Eells, who was scratching her chin and thinking.

“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “It may all be just a coincidence. I’ve seen mirrors with acorn motifs like this before. They’re fairly common. As for windows, well, a house in a painting has to have windows, and I could be wrong about this being the old Winterborn house.”

“Yeah, but windows that look like the five on playing cards? Didja ever see any like that? Didja? Huh?”

Anthony was beginning to feel desperate. He had hoped that Miss Eells would feel excited, the way he did. Instead, she was skeptical. It made him mad.

Miss Eells looked at the mirror some more. She cocked her head over to the right side. Then she cocked it over to the left. “It
is
a very nice mirror,” she said slowly. “In fact, it’s one of the nicest of its kind that I’ve ever seen.”

“Somebody else thinks it’s nice, too,” Anthony muttered. “Old Hugo Philpotts thinks it’s nice. I betcha he buys it.”

Miss Eells turned and stared at Anthony. “Hugo Philpotts? Is
he
at this auction?”

Anthony nodded his head firmly. “Sure. Didn’t you see him? He’s over there somewheres right now.” Anthony pointed off toward the house. Sure enough, there was Hugo Philpotts, standing on the lawn near the front porch. He was opening and closing the doors of a large mahogany wardrobe.

Miss Eells’s eyes opened wide. “Hmph! Well now, isn’t that something!” She scratched her chin and pursed her lips. She seemed to be thinking. “Of course, it stands to reason,” she said at last. “He collects antiques. His house is full of them. And he has a lot of money to spend on such things. On top of all that, this is a mirror that used to belong to his uncle. He must’ve seen the initials scratched in the corner. I imagine he’ll bid on it.”

“No, don’t let him!” said Anthony suddenly. “I mean, don’t let him get it! He might find the treasure before we do!”

Miss Eells heaved a deep sigh and shook her head. She sat down on a rocking chair that stood nearby and began rocking back and forth.

There was silence for what seemed like a fairly long time. Finally Miss Eells spoke up. “Anthony?”

“Yeah?”

“Mr. Philpotts probably doesn’t want this mirror because it’s connected with any treasure. He wants it because it belonged to his uncle. That’s why.”

“Oh, yeah? How do you know?”

“I don’t know for sure. I’m just guessing, the same as you are. Anyway, if the mirror is what you say it is, he doesn’t need to buy it now that he’s seen it. He can just count up the acorns and the spots in the windows, can’t he?”

“Yeah, he could, but what if there’s something hidden
inside
the mirror that tells you where to do your counting? I mean, maybe you’re supposed to count up and over on a wall someplace, and the message inside tells you where to go. He would have to have the mirror to get the message, wouldn’t he?”

“Yes, assuming that there
is
a message. But you’re just guessing, Anthony. Don’t you see that?”

“Couldn’t you just buy it and take it home and see if there are any secret messages inside?”

Miss Eells heaved a very deep sigh. She stopped rocking and got up. “Tell you what I’ll do,” she said. “I’ll bid on it, and if the bidding doesn’t run higher than thirty-five dollars, I’ll take it. I’ve only got thirty-five dollars in my purse, and I left my checkbook at home on purpose, on account of I always spend too much money at these darned auctions. There now, will that satisfy you?”

Anthony beamed. “Sure, Miss Eells! Thanks a lot. Wait’ll we get it home. We’ll take it apart, and we’ll
find
something. I know we will.”

“Come on then,” said Miss Eells, laughing. “Let’s go up front and see how the bidding is going.”

Mr. Gegenfurtner was in great form. He rattled off the bids, machine-gun fashion, and one by one things disappeared from the lawn. Finally, a freckle-faced boy who worked for Mr. Gegenfurtner brought a mirror up to the auctioneer’s stand. Anthony could hardly contain his excitement. He looked around to see if Mr. Philpotts was still in the crowd. He was.

BOOK: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
10.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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