The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (7 page)

BOOK: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
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“Aaand
here,” said Mr. Gegenfurtner, holding up the mirror, “we have a gen-yoo-wine antique mirror, adorned with carved wooden acoms and a lovely little painting executed on glass. Now, how much am I bid?”

And so it started. Miss Eells bid five dollars. Hugo Philpotts upped it to ten. Miss Eells said ten-fifty. Hugo said eleven. Back and forth the seesaw went. Nobody else wanted the mirror. It was just the two of them, battling it out. Miss Eells glared across at Hugo, and he glared right back at her. They had never been friends, and at that moment they were bitter enemies. Miss Eells didn’t believe the mirror had anything to do with any treasure, but she was so mad at Hugo Philpotts for bidding against her that she would have bid a thousand dollars if she had had the money on her. “Pompous old clunk,” she muttered under her breath. “Thinks he can have anything he wants. Well, we’ll see.”

“I hear twenty-five dollars from the lady down in front,” bellowed Mr. Gegenfurtner, pointing with his gavel at Miss Eells. “Do I hear thirty?”

“Thirty!” called Hugo Philpotts. He looked across at Miss Eells and gave her the dirtiest look imaginable. She gave him an even dirtier one and said thirty-five. Then she leaned over and whispered to Anthony, “That’s as high as I can go. I hate to let that creep have his way, but there’s nothing I can do. We’re sunk.”

Anthony dug into his pocket. He pulled out a wadded and very wrinkled ten-dollar bill. “Here, Miss Eells,” he said in a shaky voice. “I brought this along, just in case. It’s the money from the gold coin. Take it, please!”

Hugo Philpotts raised his hand and said, “Forty!” in a loud, clear voice.

Miss Eells didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to take Anthony’s money, but it was very clear that Anthony wanted her to buy the mirror—at that moment he wanted it more than anything in the whole world. Miss Eells felt flustered and hurried. She wasn’t thinking very clearly. And she was angry at Hugo Philpotts—she wanted to beat him.

“Forty dollars I’m bid for this fine, old, an-teek mirrah! For-ty dollars! Do I hear forty-five? Going once...”

Miss Eells hesitated a second longer. Then she quickly whispered to Anthony to go up front and tell Mr. Gegenfurtner that she wanted the bidding to stop at forty-five. It was cheating, and she knew it, but she felt that it had to be done. “Going twice,” Mr. Gegenfurtner intoned. There was no other way.

Anthony was off like a shot. He raced up front and jumped onto the auctioneer’s stand, grabbed Mr. Gegenfurtner’s arm, and told him what Miss Eells wanted. Mr. Gegenfurtner smiled and nodded. Miss Eells was his friend, and for a friend he would do this.

Hugo Philpotts saw Anthony whispering to Mr. Gegenfurtner. He didn’t know what was going on, but he was suspicious. His eyes narrowed, and his mouth grew grim.

“Forty-five dollars for the mirror!” Miss Eells called out. Her voice was loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Fifty!” roared Hugo Philpotts.

“I’m bid forty-five, do I hear fifty?” said Mr. Gegenfurtner, speaking very rapidly. “Going once, twice, three times,
sold
to the lady in the funny hat!” He stabbed his gavel in the direction of Miss Eells, who was now grinning from ear to ear.

“I said
fifty!”
Hugo Philpotts roared, cupping his hands around his mouth. “Can’t you hear me, you old fool?”

Mr. Gegenfurtner paid no attention to Hugo. He tied a little yellow sold tag on the mirror and handed it down to Anthony. But as Anthony turned away and started carrying the mirror back to Miss Eells, Hugo Philpotts came elbowing through the crowd. He lunged forward and grabbed hold of the mirror. “Give me that, you little ragamuffin!” he snarled. “I bought it, fair and square!”

“No, you didn’t! It’s mine — I mean, it belongs to Miss Eells! She won it! Leggo! Help, somebody help!”

Hugo Philpotts tugged at the mirror. Anthony tugged back. At this point, several people stepped in and broke up the fight. One of them was Mr. Rusk, the man who had helped Miss Eells with the pot. He pried Hugo Philpotts’s hands loose from the mirror and shoved him, rather rudely, back into the crowd. “The idea!” he said, glowering at Hugo. “Tryin’ to take somethin’ away from a little kid! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

Hugo said nothing. He just glared venomously at Mr. Rusk. Anthony bore the mirror back in triumph to Miss Eells. He was on cloud nine, and so, for the moment, was she. They had won.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

 

As they drove back to Hoosac, Anthony kept twisting around in his seat and looking at the mirror, which lay on the back seat “Boy, Miss Eells!” he said happily. “We did it, didn’t we? We really did it!”

Miss Eells said nothing. She didn’t look happy. As soon as the mirror was in their hands, she began having second thoughts about the whole business. It was a fine old mirror. It was probably worth forty or fifty dollars, maybe even more. And it was very satisfying to outwit the great Mr. Philpotts, who thought everything in the world ought to go his way. But she was deeply disturbed because she felt that she was leading Anthony on toward a huge disappointment. She was still pretty convinced that there wasn’t any treasure.

When they got back to Hoosac, it was a little after four o’clock. Miss Eells invited Anthony to come back to her house for tea. They could talk for a bit and look at the mirror before he went home.

Miss Eells pulled her car into the driveway. She got out and went inside, Anthony following with the mirror in his hands. Soon the little table in the kitchen was all laid out for tea. There was cheesecake with strawberries. There were blueberry muffins and toasted English muffins with butter and jam, or honey if you wanted it. There was a big brown pot of Darjeeling tea for Miss Eells, and a Coke for Anthony—who had finally admitted to Miss Eells that he didn’t care for tea—in a teacup.

For a while they both just ate and drank. Finally Miss Eells put down her teacup. She pushed back her chair and stood up. “All righty,” she said. “Let’s settle the whole thing now, once and for all! There’s a tool box down in the cellar. You know where it is. Get it and meet me in the living room.”

Anthony went to get the tool box. When he got back to the living room, he found Miss Eells standing next to the mirror, which was propped up on the sofa.

“Hammer,” she said solemnly, holding out her hand.

Anthony gave her the hammer. She turned the mirror over and with the claw part of the hammer began prying loose the nails that held the back of the mirror to the frame. Finally, the last nail was out, and Miss Eells carefully lifted the slab of wood. Then she gasped. There, glued to the inside of the slab, was an old, yellowed envelope.

“Oh, my Lord!” exclaimed Miss Eells.

“Wow!” said Anthony.

With trembling fingers, Miss Eells pried the envelope away from the wood. The glue was old, so it didn’t take too much work. She opened the envelope with her thumb, which was her usual method of opening letters. Inside was a note. It was written in the square, precise lettering that Anthony was very familiar with by now. It said:

 

If you have landed on the moon, the following may be of interest: Is five times five twenty-five? “X” marks the spot. Always drive on the right side. In my father’s house are many mansions.

Regards,

Alpheus T. Winterborn

 

Anthony was jubilant. He ran around the room waving the paper and yelling “Wheel” at the top of his voice. Miss Eells just sat on the sofa with a dazed look on her face. She hardly knew what to think.

“I told you, Miss Eells!” Anthony crowed. “Look at it! Wow! Yay! Whoopee!”

Miss Eells smiled faintly. If there was a treasure, she wanted Anthony to find it. And she had to admit that this discovery was encouraging. When Anthony had stopped yelling and stomping around, she said quietly, “Could I see the note?”

Anthony handed the paper to Miss Eells. She read it over several times, then put it down on the sofa.

“Anthony?” she said at last.

“Yeah, Miss Eells?”

“If you put this note together with the one you found in the little moon, and add the features on the outside of the mirror—the acorns and the windows, I mean— you get this, at least the way I read it; Winterborn is saying that in his house—the house his father built—in the upper right room, five, or maybe twenty-five paces along the right wall, there is an “X” on the wall, or maybe on the floor. And inside the wall there, or under the floor, there is something—”

“Yeah, a treasure,” said Anthony excitedly. His eyes shone as he thought of it.

“Maybe,” said Miss Eells, pursing her lips. “Maybe. But there are still some things that worry me. There’s more to that poem, isn’t there? How does it go?”

Anthony had read the poem over so many times that he knew it by heart. “You mean the end part?

 

“ ‘How high is up?

The top of the roof.

Mind the prancing and the pawing

of each little hoof.’ “

 

“Well, how does what you just recited fit in with the rest? It doesn’t, does it?”

“Gee, I guess not,” said Anthony. He thought a minute. “Maybe that part was just there to throw us off. You said Mr. Winterborn liked to play jokes.”

Miss Eells looked worried. She bit her nails. “Yes, he did. That’s why I’m still not sure we’re on the right track. There’s something we’re not getting. In that other note you found, he warns us that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. I wonder...”

Anthony was beginning to feel irritated. Here they had just made this big discovery, and what was Miss Eells doing? Throwing on cold water, like always.

“Aw, come on, Miss Eells! Don’t be such a party- pooper! We’re gonna be rich!” That old dreamy, hungry look came back into Anthony’s eyes. “Gosh, I wonder what it is?” he mused. “Maybe it’s a gold crown, or a diamond ring that some old king used to wear. Wahoo! We’re gonna be rolling in dough!” He started to dance around the room again with the piece of paper in his hand, but he stopped when he saw how gloomy Miss Eells looked. “What’s wrong now?” he asked.

“Come over here and sit down, Anthony.” She patted the seat of the couch beside her.

Anthony sat down.

“Now, then. There are several things in this whole deal that you don’t seem to be aware of. In the first place, if there really is a treasure, and if it’s hidden in Alpheus Winterborn’s old house, then you may have a bit of a problem getting it out.”

“How come?”

“Well, it so happens that there are people living in that house. There’s a dentist and his wife and eight kids. Now, what are you going to do, Anthony? Go up to the front door and knock and say, ‘Excuse me, folks, but would you mind if I came in and tapped on your walls for a bit? I’m looking for a hidden treasure’? Is that what you’d do?”

“I guess not,” Anthony said sheepishly.

“You’re darned right you wouldn’t. They’d either think you were crazy, or start hunting themselves. Either way, you wouldn’t get in.”

“We could break in at night, like burglars,” Anthony suggested.

“Oh, sure. It works great in the movies, but in real life... well, aside from it’s being
illegal
, can you imagine creeping around a house that has ten people sleeping in it? Sneaking and trying not to wake them up? And with
me
as an assistant? Can you imagine what a great burglar’s assistant I would make?” Miss Eells had to laugh. She couldn’t help it. The idea of her as a burglar seemed very funny.

Anthony wasn’t amused. He was getting angrier and angrier as Miss Eells shot down all his great ideas one by one. “Well, maybe they’ll go on vacation sometime,” he said at last, in a faint but stubborn voice. His lower lip started to quiver. He was struggling now to keep from crying.

Miss Eells looked up at him, and
her
eyes filled with tears. She leaped up from the couch and started toward him. “Oh Anthony, I’m sorry, I—”

“Heck with you!” Anthony shouted. He turned away and rushed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

 

Labor Day came, and school began again. Anthony was in the eighth grade now, and he had a new teacher, Miss Johansen. She was okay as far as Anthony was concerned, and it looked as if they would get along fine. But after the first month of school had passed, she told Anthony that she felt he just wasn’t applying himself. Anthony knew that this was true. He had never been a top student, but now he was going completely down the tubes. During work periods, he doodled acorns and windows on his paper, or else he would make imaginary floor plans of the Winterborn mansion and dream up break-ins and burglaries. He saw less and less of his friends.

At the Monday home, things had gone from bad to worse. After a month and a half of idleness, Mr. Monday decided that he was going back to work. Doc Luescher argued with him, telling him that he wasn’t ready to go back yet. But Mr. Monday stubbornly insisted that he was fit and raring to go. The very first day he opened the saloon, he had another heart attack. It was a minor one, but it was enough to send him to the hospital and then back home to bed. Gloom deepened at the Monday house. Now it looked as if Anthony’s dad would never get back on the job.

BOOK: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
4.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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