Authors: John Bellairs
So Anthony continued to worry, and his dreams of treasure continued to take up most of his time. He started haunting the old Winterborn place.
The Winterborn mansion was on Front Street. It faced a large square park known as Monument Square. The house had eight sides. Several octagonal houses were built in America in the 1890s, and this was one of them. It had a domed roof and a silly little cupola on top that looked like a saltshaker. A lot of wooden doodads that looked like giant acorns hung from the eaves. The house was solidly built of brick, and it had a large backyard with swings and slides and a sandbox. Once there had been an iron fence around the whole yard, but it had long since rusted to pieces. Now only bushes guarded the house from the kids who cut back and forth across the yard on their way to and from school.
You might have thought that Mr. Winterborn’s son, Alpheus Junior, would be living in the house, but he had never liked it, and as soon as his father was dead and buried, he sold it and auctioned off most of the furniture. That was how Mrs. Bjornson came to get the mirror with the acorns on it. The house had passed through a series of owners, but now it was owned by a dentist named Harold Tweedy, a friendly-looking man with glasses and curly red hair. Sometimes Anthony saw Dr. Tweedy going in or out of the house with one or two of his kids. The Tweedys had a big German shepherd dog. It lived in a doghouse that stood up against the side of the house next to the cellar door. The dog’s name, Prince, was painted over the door of the doghouse. Prince was friendly to the Tweedy kids, but he barked ferociously at anyone else who passed by the house.
Night after night, as he was returning home from his job at the library, Anthony would go out of his way so he could walk past the old house. It was October now, and the nights were chilly. Anthony, with his leather jacket zipped up and his red leather cap pulled down low over his face, would amble past, looking the place over like a burglar casing the joint before a break-in. Sometimes he would stand across the street for a while, under the trees of the park, before he moved in for a closer look. The house stood fairly close to the street, so when the lights were on at night, Anthony could see in. Sometimes he would see a girl with blond hair playing the piano in the parlor. The other room at the front of the house was the dining room. The Tweedys never pulled their draperies shut, so it was easy to see into the dining room at night. Sometimes the Tweedys had dinner by candlelight. Anthony would see the candles glowing and people laughing and talking and having a good time. It made him feel jealous. Dr. Tweedy was already rich, and what was worse, he was sitting on top of a fortune that he didn’t even know about. What if he found it some day by accident? Anthony didn’t like to think about that.
At night, sometimes, Anthony had dreams in which he sneaked in the old house through a cellar window and crept upstairs. Moonlight lay on the walls, and everyone was asleep. In the spare room upstairs on the right, Anthony walked twenty-five steps from the front window and there on the wallpaper was an “X.” But then it changed into five acorns and as Anthony watched, the five acorns changed into twenty-five “X” marks. The “X” marks turned into little windows shaped like the five-spots in a deck of playing cards. With his handy wallpaper cutter, Anthony the burglar noiselessly drew a circle. The paper fluttered away to the floor. Now he was hacking at the plaster with a noiseless electric chisel—his own invention. Bits of plaster flew in all directions. And then it was like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine. Coins—ten-dollar gold pieces, a whole stream of them—silently pouring out of the hole in the wall, glittering, bouncing, spinning into a pillowcase he had brought with him. Then he tiptoed down to the cellar, climbed out the window, and went home. But when he got back and dumped the sack out on the kitchen table in front of his mother, all that came out was a whole lot of acorns. That was when Anthony woke up.
One day when he was walking past the mansion on his way to work, he stopped because there was a truck in his way, a big truck that was backed in across the sidewalk. The truck was yellow, and on its side was a picture of an old-fashioned sailing ship. The big green letters said “Mayflower Van Lines.” A long ramp had been thrown down. It ran from the back of the truck to the front door of the house, and two burly men in gray uniforms were grunting and groaning as they shoved a big upright piano along it.
The Tweedys were moving!
Anthony could hardly believe it. Wild, uncontrollable joy leaped up inside him. Now the treasure was his, or would be, as soon as everyone had cleared out. He and Miss Eells would be able to sneak in and poke around till they found what they were looking for. Plans started racing through his mind. They would jimmy a door open or break a window. It wouldn’t take long to find the right room. The house would be empty. Nobody would know.
Anthony stood watching the moving men at their work for a few minutes, delighted yet anxious. Were the Tweedys really going? He watched some more, as if he were trying to prove to himself that all this was really happening.
Finally he snapped out of his trance. If he didn’t hurry, he would be late. He started walking fast, and then he started to run. By the time he got to the library, he was out of breath. He had to see Miss Eells right away. This was important news. He pushed open the front door and raced up the little flight of inside steps that led to the main floor of the library. He pushed open the swinging glass doors, and then he stopped. Directly before him, sitting at the main desk, was Miss Eells. She looked pale and drawn, and there was a white bandage around her head.
“Oh, my gosh, Miss Eells! What happened?” shouted Anthony.
Miss Eells groaned and held out a copy of the
Hoosac Daily Sentinel.
“Here,” she said, “you can read about it yourself. I got broke in on. I mean, there was a burglar in my house last night.”
Anthony was thunderstruck. He took the paper from Miss Eells’s hand and opened it up. On the front page was a column with the headline “Break-in on Pine Street.” Anthony read what was written underneath.
Sometime last evening, a break-in took place at the home of Miss Myra Eells, at 611 Pine Street, Hoosac. Miss Eells, according to the statement she submitted to the Hoosac Police Department this morning, was returning to her home after attending a movie when she saw that her front door was ajar. Thinking perhaps that the wind had blown it open, she went in, and then, in her own words, she “got an almighty crack on the skull.” She was hit, Miss Eells opines, from behind. When she awoke a few minutes later, Miss Eells found the furnishings of her living room in great disarray. However, the only thing that seemed to be missing was an antique mirror that she had recently bought at an auction. When asked why she thought anyone would steal the mirror, Miss Eells said, “I guess they thought it was valuable.” She declined to speculate why nothing else in the house, including her jewel box and a cookie jar containing $32.12 in small change, had been touched. Officer Earl Swett, who answered Miss Eells’s call for help, ventured the opinion that the burglary was the work of an amateur. Miss Eells, who is well known as the head librarian at the Hoosac Public Library, was taken to Ferncrest Memorial Hospital. Her head, after being examined, showed nothing serious, and she was later released.
Anthony looked up. “My gosh! I bet it was that old—”
Miss Eells put her finger to her lips. “Sshh! Not out here in the open where people can hear you! Come on. Let’s go back to my office.”
Anthony followed Miss Eells to her office. When they got there, she closed the door and went into the bathroom. Anthony heard a door slam softly, and when Miss Eells came out, she had two bottles of Coke with her. “I’ve decided to go over to your side,” she explained as she opened the bottles. “I’ve had so much trouble making tea that I decided to try something a little easier. I had an icebox installed in here, and I’ve stocked it with soft drinks.”
Miss Eells shoved one of the bottles over to Anthony, but he didn’t take it. He just sat there on the edge of his chair, looking worried. “Miss Eells,” he said, “I betcha a hundred dollars it was old Philpotts that broke into your house.”
Miss Eells nodded sadly. “It kind of looks like it, doesn’t it?” She took a sip of Coke.
Anthony stared at her in amazement. Why was she taking this all so calmly? “How come you don’t tell the cops, then? They’d go over to his place and find the mirror and throw him in the clink, wouldn’t they?”
“They might,” said Miss Eells dryly. “
they thought he were guilty. That is, if they found evidence he was guilty. But what if they didn’t find the mirror, or any other evidence that would prove he was the culprit? There are laws against making false accusations, you know. You can get thrown in jail yourself if you accuse someone falsely. Besides, he’s one of the leading members of our community. How would it look if I accused him of being a burglar? It would be like accusing the mayor of being a chicken thief.”
“But he did it,” Anthony said angrily. “I know he did.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re right,” said Miss Eells. “But my feeling at the present time is, let him have the stupid mirror. He didn’t get the message that was inside it—that’s locked up in my desk, and he never went near my desk. Boy, will he be livid when he sees that glue spot on the inside of the mirror backing and figures out that he’s missed out on something. He’ll be fit to be tied!”
“Do you think he knows?” asked Anthony anxiously. “About the treasure, I mean.”
“It’s beginning to look that way,” mused Miss Eells. She took another sip of Coke. “Hmm, I wonder how he found out? Oh, well. No matter. Like I say, let him have the mirror. It won’t do him any more good than it’s done us. He may have guessed by now that the treasure is in his uncle’s house—if, of course, it really
a treasure, and not a box of Cracker Jack.” Miss Eells suddenly laughed. “Hmph! Wouldn’t it be funny if Hugo got so worked up over that treasure that he bought his uncle’s place so he could poke around inside it? Wouldn’t that be something!” She threw back her head and laughed but then she winced. The laughter had made her head hurt.
“What if there
a treasure, and old Philpotts gets his hands on it?” Anthony asked nervously.
“Then he’d be even richer than he is now, and not a bit happier, I’ll bet. Isn’t it odd that a man who already has a fair-sized pile of money should want an even bigger pile? Yet all over the world people who have enough money to live comfortably are grasping for more. Wearing themselves out, fretting, worrying, ruining their health, and for what?”
Anthony wasn’t listening to Miss Eells. “I—I came over here to tell you that the Tweedys are moving out,” he said, “and—”
“Yes, I know,” said Miss Eells placidly. “I’ve known it for some time. It seems that a dentist up in Minneapolis died suddenly, and Dr. Tweedy has been invited to move up there and take over his practice. It’s a nice neighborhood, and he’d be a fool to pass up the chance.”
Anthony looked hurt. “If you knew they were moving, how come you didn’t tell me, huh?”
Miss Eells looked straight at Anthony over the top of her glasses. “Because, my friend, I knew that once you heard the Tweedys were moving, you’d be in here pestering me to help you burglarize the place. Am I right?”
Anthony blushed and stared at the floor. “Yeah, I guess so,” he said in a low voice.
Miss Eells took another sip of Coke and pushed her chair back. “I’m sorry, Anthony,” she said gently. “I know you want to get at that treasure. But even with the Tweedys gone, how will you be able to do it? There’s Mrs. Speece, old Eagle Eye, the lady who lives next door. She’s still there. And there are the people who walk by the house all the time.
the house will be locked up tighter than a drum. What do you know about jimmying a window? Can you use a glass cutter? No way at all.”
Anthony sat sullenly listening as Miss Eells spoke. Finally he finished his Coke and went back out front to mind the circulation desk. Half an hour later Miss Eells came out and told him that she had a splitting headache —the goose egg on her head was throbbing like anything—and that she had decided to go home and lie down. She had called Miss Pratt, the woman from the branch library, who had promised to come right over. Miss Pratt showed up fifteen minutes later, and Miss Eells went home. Anthony told Miss Pratt that he was going down to the storage room to straighten up the piles of magazines. This was a fib. He was going downstairs so he could climb upstairs to the secret room—in the tower.
The four-story tower that stood at the northwest corner of the library had fascinated Anthony ever since he had started working there. It was mysterious. In fact, it was like one of Alpheus Winterborn’s riddles. Although it was built onto the corner of the building, you couldn’t get into it from any of the rooms, upstairs or down, that were in the part of the library that touched the tower. There were no doors on the outside of the tower, either. At first, Anthony thought that the whole silly thing was sealed off from the outside world, like a tomb. But when he asked Miss Eells if there was any way to get into the tower, she merely smiled mysteriously and said, “Keep looking. You’ll find a way.”
Finally, about two weeks after he had started his job, he found a way to get in. In the furnace room, behind the furnace, he had found a door with a cardboard sign tacked on it. The sign said broom closet. But he thought this was a funny place for a broom closet, so on a hunch he took down the sign, and underneath he saw peeling gilt letters that simply said stairs. Nearby, on a rusty nail, hung a key. It fit the lock on the door. Behind the door was a flight of stone steps that corkscrewed up four stories to a small, round room at the top. Ever since that day, the tower room had become one of Anthony’s favorite places. He went there a lot when business in the library was slow or when he just wanted to sit and think.