Tuesday, August 2

“Moms, you have to say yes,” Trixie said as she ran into the kitchen.

Ten-year-old Bobby Belden was seated at the table, helping his mother snip beans to be canned later that night.

“I can’t say yes if you don’t tell me what it is I’m saying yes to,” his mother said calmly, not looking up from the sink where she was washing the canning jars she would use.

“Well, you know last week San Isidro was hit by Hurricane Maria and the library, along with a lot of other buildings, was destroyed,” Trixie continued.

“Yes,” Moms nodded patiently.

Bobby wanted to cover his ears. All he had heard about for the past few days was what a tragedy it was that the library and its books were destroyed, how unfortunate it was that Honey and Trixie’s pen pals, Lupe and Delores, had to suffer through another natural disaster, and then it was what could the Bob-Whites do to raise money to help rebuild the library?

“Here we go again,’ thought Bobby. “I wonder what kind of mystery Trixie will find. Whenever there’s a fundraiser there’s always some sort of mystery as well.”

Trixie continued to rattle on. “We’ve decided on a fundraiser. Since everyone will be scattered around the state at college we didn’t think we could do anything until Christmas break. You’ve just got to say yes.” Trixie stopped right next to her mother.

Patiently, Moms placed the last of the canning jars into the drain board and dried her hands, ready to give her daughter her full attention. “I still can’t say yes unless you tell me what it is you are planning.”

“We want to do a Tour of Homes along Glen Road,” Trixie said triumphantly. “Honey is asking her parents and Diana is asking hers as well. We thought people would love to see the homes decorated for the holidays.”

“A tour of homes?” Moms asked. She started to busy herself with rinsing the beans. “I can understand people wanting to see Manor House or the Lynch home but why would anyone want to see Crabapple Farm?”

“Just about everyone in the area would want to,” Trixie insisted. “With both Crabapple Farm and Manor House eligible for the National Historic Registry there will be lots of people who would like to see both homes. Besides, you know Manor House will be elegantly decorated with trees covered with blue and silver balls or gold balls with red ribbons. Our decorations are much homier and less commercial.”

Bobby stood up and brought a bowl of snipped beans over to his mother. “Yeah,” he said. “What she means is that our tree will have every homemade ornament anyone ever made for you on it.”

“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Trixie said. “Each of the three homes will be uniquely different. Please say yes.” She started to help put the green beans in the jars as her mother prepared the pressure cooker.

Moms thought for a few minutes. “I suppose if the Wheelers and the Lynches are willing to open their homes to the public, we could do the same. I’m going to need a lot of help though throughout the fall to get the house in order. It’s a good thing we just repainted the living room and kitchen or I don’t know what I would do.”

As the three worked together to get the beans canned before dinner, Trixie and Moms discussed the project and all that needed to be done.

“I can help,” said Bobby. “I can park cars or take money.”

Trixie tried not to chuckle. “I think Jim and Brian are going to be in charge of the money and Dan volunteered to take care of the parking. You’re too young.”

Bobby’s shoulders slumped. All of his life it seemed he was too young. Ever since the Bob-Whites had been formed he had sat back and watched as they went on vacation, did some service project or solved a mystery. He was always too young. About the only time he’d been able to help was when the Bob-Whites had an antique show to raise money for UNICEF. That was the only time he and his friends, Larry and Terry, had been able to help.

Moms noticed Bobby’s disappointment and whispered in his ear, “We’ll think of something for you to do.”

Thursday, December 15

“Grandma got run over by a reindeer walking home from our house Christmas Eve,” Bobby sang, off-key, at the top of his lungs as he paraded through the kitchen of Crabapple Farm. He started to drop his backpack in the middle of the kitchen floor.

“Don’t even think about it,” his mother said, as she pulled a cookie sheet full of gingerbread men out of the oven. “Take it up to your room. With the Tour of Homes in two days I don’t need any extra cleaning.”

As he walked by the kitchen table, Bobby reached over to grab a cookie. Moms swatted his hand with a spatula. “Stop right there. I don’t know if I’m going to have enough cookies for Saturday as it is. Brian said advanced ticket sales are doing better than expected and he thought they’d sell out.”

Bobby trudged up the stairs, grumbling under his breath about all of the work being done for the fundraiser and everyone forgetting about the family part of Christmas. He hung his backpack up in his bedroom, moped around for a few minutes and then decided to go back downstairs.

He was getting frustrated with all the Bob-Whites. They refused to believe that he was growing up and wasn’t still six years old. Every time one of his siblings came home this past semester, he had asked if he could help out with the fundraiser, and every time they had brushed him off saying he was too young. The Bob-Whites all talked about how much they had grown, but they failed to see that he, Larry, and Terry had grown up some, too. There must have been something they could do.

He headed for the kitchen to see if he could find something to snack on before supper. Walking down the stairs, he started to sing his best rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

As he entered the kitchen he noticed that Brian had come home. Brian had finished his finals earlier in the week and had been spending all of his free time helping out with the fundraiser. Bobby greeted him and then went to the refrigerator to find something to eat. Someone tapped his shoulder and as he turned his mother handed him a couple of gingerbread men. They all had a missing appendage of some sort.

“Thanks, Moms,” he said. “Don’t think that I don’t know I’m getting the rejects.” That didn’t stop him from eating them.

Brian sat down and joined Bobby eating the broken cookies. “How’s the baking going? I know the cookies and all of the rest of the desserts will be a big success.”

“This is the last of the cookies. I still have to finish decorating them, but Trixie and Honey will be here soon to help out,” Moms explained. “I’d much rather do the desserts than appetizers like the Wheelers are doing, or the soups the Lynches volunteered.”

During the planning of the fundraiser, the Bob-White parents suggested that the Tour of Homes be a mini-progressive meal. Simple appetizers would be served at the Manor House, followed by hearty wild rice soup and harvest corn chowder at the Lynches’. The tour would end with desserts at Crabapple Farm. Several businesses donated most of the food.

“I can help you decorate,” Bobby volunteered. “I don’t have any homework.”

Diplomatically, Moms said, “With Honey and Trixie helping, we’ll be fine. We’re going to do an assembly line. I’m going to pipe the icing, Honey’s going to put on the chocolate chips for eyes, and the red sprinkles for the mouths and Trixie is going to plate them.”

Brian stood up and stretched. “Studying for four hours every night in the library sure didn’t prepare me for hanging garland.” He and Jim had spent the day hanging lighted pine garland along the verandahs of all three houses.

“I can help you,” Bobby volunteered. “I don’t have any homework.”

“Thanks, Bobby,” Brian said. “It’s getting dark, so we’ll have to finish it tomorrow.” He headed up to stairs to clean up before dinner.

Bobby looked defeated. He figured Brian was just making an excuse for waiting until tomorrow. Then he wouldn’t have to be told no.

Bobby stood up and left the kitchen. He continued his Christmas serenade by singing “Barking Jingle Bells.” By the time he got through the first verse Reddy was howling.

Trixie and Honey entered the kitchen from the back door. They covered their ears with their hands and winced in pain.

“What is that awful noise?” Trixie asked. “It sounds like someone up and died.”

“That is your brother and Reddy serenading us with ‘Jingle Bells’,” Moms said.

“We’re ready to help decorate cookies, Mrs. Belden,” Honey announced.

“I’m glad I’m going to plate the cookies or help organize,” Trixie added. “Mart was right when he banned me from cookie decorating.”

It didn’t take long and the three had the assembly line going.

“We need some music,” Trixie said.

Just then Bobby made his way back into the kitchen. “I can take care of that,” he said and then proceeded to start to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, the Muppets’ version. He placed his empty plate into the sink.

He headed toward the refrigerator, but was stopped when he heard Moms say without even looking up, “Don’t even think about it. As soon as we finish with these cookies, we’re invited to the Lynches’ for dinner.”

“Five golden rings,” he continued as if his mother hadn’t interrupted. “Ba Da Bump Bump, Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a…” He turned around and ran into Trixie who carrying a large tray of cookies.

“Watch out!” Trixie said. Somehow she managed to save the tray. The only damage done was the cookies had slid around a bit. Carefully, she set the tray down next to the other completed ones. “Why don’t you go in and watch T.V. or something so you’re not under foot?”

He headed upstairs to his room. “I’ll show them that I’m a big kid,” he said, rummaging through a box of junk that was sitting on his desk. He pulled out a Star Wars figurine and a yo-yo. Shoving both of them in his pocket, he headed downstairs to the living room.

He turned on the T.V. and absentmindedly began playing with the yo-yo. He had gotten a book from the library that showed how to do different tricks. He decided to try to do around the world. Just as the yo-yo reached the end of the rope it slipped off his finger and landed in the center of his mother’s Christmas village.

Moms, Honey, and Trixie came rushing in. Scanning the room for damage, Moms gasped when she saw the yo-yo in the middle of her prized snow village. It looked like several figurines had been broken.

“I’m sorry, Moms,” Bobby said. “I was being really careful, but it just flew out of my hands.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” she said, trying hard not to show her dismay. “Pick up the pieces and put them on my dresser. I’ll have to try and fix them after the Tour of Homes.” She picked up the yo-yo and took it out to the kitchen with her.

After he had picked up the broken pieces and righted the few that had tipped over, Bobby came back into the kitchen.

“Can I go over to Larry and Terry’s early?” he asked. There he could do something with his friends and not get into any trouble. They, at least, still wanted him around.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Moms said. “But you’d better get going. It’s getting dark soon and I don’t like you walking on the path in the dark all by yourself.”

“Moms,” Bobby protested. “I’m not a little boy. I’ve been taking that path for years.” He went to the coat closet and pulled on his boots and coat.

When he arrived at the Lynch house, he saw Larry and Terry sitting in chairs on their verandah, scowls on their faces.

“Whatcha doing out here?” Bobby asked as he climbed the stairs.

“We’ve been kicked out of the house,” Larry replied,“just because we almost tipped over the tree trying to get the ball that had rolled under it.”

Bobby plopped down on a chair next to his friends. “Me, too,” he said. “Only I sent a yo-yo into my mom’s snow village.”

“I’m so tired of hearing about the Bob-Whites and all of their wonderful activities and how wonderful they are, and what a wonderful thing they’re doing,” Terry complained. Dejectedly, he put his elbows to his knees and his chin in his hands.

“I’m tired of being told I’m too little to do anything,” Bobby said. “I might not be able to do everything but there’s got to be something that we can do.” He put his chin in his hands and elbows on his knees as well.

“Yeah,” was all Larry said as he, too, placed his elbows on his knees and chin in his hands.

For several minutes they sat in silence.

“I wish we had a club like the BWG’s,” Terry finally said. “I bet if we did, we’d get to go on fun trips and do fun things.”

“Maybe we could even solve a mystery,” said Larry.

Bobby sat up. “Let’s do it. We can have our own club, with our own secret signal, and our own name.”

For the next few minutes they discussed their new club. They decided that Bobby would be the president. Since Terry was the best in math, he would be the treasurer. Larry had the best handwriting, which really wasn’t saying much, so he would be the secretary.

“Now we need a name,” said Bobby. The three boys had been outside for almost an hour but they were so excited about their new adventure they hadn’t noticed how cold it was.

“How about the Owls of the Glen?” suggested Terry. “We could call ourselves the Og’s and our secret sound would be a hoot.” He made a pathetic “hoo” sound.

Larry and Bobby groaned.

“Okay,” Terry tried again. “What do you think of BWGJuniors?”

Larry shook his head. “Then we’d never be thought of as grown up.”

Terry jumped up. “I think I’ve got the perfect name, the BLT’s for Bobby, Larry and Terry.”

Bobby and Larry nodded in agreement. “I like it,” Bobby said. “When we talk about the BLT’s everyone will think we’re talking about a sandwich or something.”

“Hey, and since bacon comes from pork, our secret signal could be a hog snort,” suggested Larry.

They talked excitedly for several more minutes until Brian, Honey, Trixie and Bobby’s parents pulled into the driveway. Quickly, they changed the subject as they headed into the house for dinner.

Friday, December 16

The morning started out with a breakfast meeting of the Bob-Whites at Crabapple Farm. They were all sitting around the table eating pancakes Moms had made.

“You’d better hurry up, Bobby,” Moms said. “The bus is going to be here in a minute and I don’t have time to take you into town if you miss it.”

“Why do I have to go to school?” he said. “I want to help out.” As he carried his plate to the sink he dripped leftover syrup all over the floor.

“Bobby,” his mom admonished. “Watch what you’re doing. I don’t have time to re-wash the kitchen floor before tomorrow.”

He set the plate in the sink and grabbed a dishcloth to start wiping up the mess. After wetting the cloth, he dripped it across the kitchen floor until he got to the mess he had made.

Trixie grabbed the sopping towel from her brother and said, “Let me do that. You’re making more of a mess. Go on so you don’t miss the bus.” As she knelt to wipe up the syrup and water trail, she grumbled, “It’s your help like this that causes more work that isn’t needed.”

Bobby turned away from his family so they couldn’t see the crestfallen look on his face. Muttering something under his breath, he put on his coat, grabbed his backpack, and headed out the door.

That afternoon Bobby got off the bus with Larry and Terry at their house. The trio was determined to help out with the fundraiser, no matter what.

Mart and Brian were busy setting up a gift shop area in the gallery where the portraits of the Diana’s grandparents hung. The local woman’s club had volunteered to stock it with handmade articles.

“We’re here to help,” Bobby said as he followed the twins into the house. “What can we do, Brian?” He knew that of all his siblings, Brian would be the most tolerant and understanding. As he stepped up to a table, he tripped and fell into it, sending the money box in one direction and homemade Christmas decorations in another.

All three boys bent down to try and help pick up the mess that was made. The harder they tried, the worse the situation got.

“Bobby!” Mart exclaimed impatiently. “You’re not helping. Just stay out of the way and we’ll take care of it.”

The three young boys reluctantly put down the things they were picking up and went throughout the house to see if there was anything they could do. As they went from room to room, they found everything under control and they were politely told to go play somewhere but not make any mess.

“Let’s go down to Manor House,” Larry suggested. “I bet Jim and Dan will have something for us to do.”

The three boys headed out. They followed the path that was flanked with posts decorated with ribbon and evergreen swags to help guests find their way between the different homes. Garland was strung between the posts to prevent visitors from straying off of the path. As they approached Manor House, they noticed that several of the posts were tipped over.

“Look at this,” Bobby said. “It looks like someone has damaged these posts.”

Larry went over and tried to straighten them up. “Why would anyone want to do that?” he asked as he bent down to straighten one of the posts. The garland was ground into the snow.

“It’s a mystery,” declared Terry. “I bet it was Paul Trent. He doesn’t like the BWG’s.”

The three boys worked at straightening up the posts and were just starting to rehang the garland when Dan came upon them.

“What are you guys doing?” he demanded.

As he started to explain, Bobby accidentally broke one of the swags.

Dan didn’t say anything more but Bobby could see that he was not happy.

“We were just helping out,” Terry tried to explain. “The posts had been tipped over and we were trying to straighten them.” He pointed to the ones they had straightened. While they weren’t tipped over, they also weren’t very straight and the bows had gotten smashed when the boys had tried to fix them.

Dan started to fix the posts. “We don’t have time to be fixing things that you guys broke,” he said in frustration.

Without any other words, the trio quit what they were doing and headed down toward the stables.

“We’ll show them,” Bobby said. “We’ll figure out who is trying to sabotage the BWG’s fundraiser. They won’t think that we’re too little to help out.” They made their way down to the stables.

“We need to find some clues,” Larry said. “We should have looked for them while we were fixing the posts.”

Terry started to turn around and head back up the path to his house.

“Where are you going?” Bobby asked.

“To look for some clues,” Terry answered and continued to trudge back up the hill.

“We can’t do that now,” Larry said. “Dan’s probably still there fixing the garland. He’d just laugh at us or tell us to go find someplace where we’re not in the way.

“We need to have a plan,” Bobby said. “Let’s go to the stables and see if we can meet there.”

When they got to there, Regan was busy shining up a sleigh. He and Mr. Wheeler had found it in Saratoga earlier this year. That prompted Mr. Wheeler to purchase a pair of Percheron draft horses to pull it. Regan would be offering sleigh rides throughout the day.

“Wow, Regan,” Bobby said. “That looks really neat. I bet everyone’s going to want to ride in it.” He started to run his hands over the shiny hardware of the sleigh.

“Whoa,” Regan said as he gently pulled Bobby’s hands away. “I just got those polished.”

Without saying another word, the three boys turned around and walked away.

“I guess we can’t work on solving the Mystery of the Destroyed Decorations here,” Larry said as they headed away from the stables and toward a path that led into the preserve.

It was starting to get dark but the sky was clear and the moon was full, they could still see where they were going.

“Maybe we could use the BWG clubhouse. I’m sure no one’s down there,” Terry suggested.

As they walked, they kicked the snow in front of them. “We need to make a plan,” Larry said. “Tomorrow’s the fundraiser and if we don’t find the culprit, they’ll ruin the day.”

“What kind of plan do you need?” a voice came from off of the path. It was Mr. Maypenny. He was hauling sacks of corn to a deer feeder.

The boys sheepishly looked at one another. Bobby quickly tried to change the subject. “Do you need any help, Mr. Maypenny?” he asked. “No one else seems to need it.”

Hearing the dejection in Bobby’s voice, Mr. Maypenny correctly guessed that the trio had been more of a hindrance than a help with the preparations for the fundraiser.

“I’m just about finished here,” he said. “Then I was going to go put a pot of hunter’s stew on the fire. Would you like to join me?”

The boys’ eyes lit up. “Can we?” Bobby asked. “I love your hunter’s stew.”

Mr. Maypenny bent down to pick up some feed sacks. “Would you like to take these sacks to Regan? We recycle them by taking them back to the feed mill. It will save me the effort.”

The three boys puffed out their chests, excited they had some job to do. “We’ll do it and then meet you back here,” Terry said. They bent down to pick up the sacks.

“Why don’t you meet me back at my cabin?” Mr. Maypenny said. “Make sure your parents know where you are. I’m sure Regan will let you use the phone in the stable.”

Despite the excitement over the prospect of making hunter stew, the boys still had their mystery to solve. As they walked to the stables, they formulated a plan.

“I say after we drop off the feed sacks and call our parents, we go back to the scene of the crime,” Larry suggested. “Dan should be done fixing it.”

“I don’t know,” Bobby said. “I know we need to go look at the area but we don’t want to keep Mr. Maypenny waiting. I say we check things out on our way home.”

In no time at all, the boys had delivered the feed sacks, called their parents, and were on their way into the woods. They had borrowed flashlights from Regan to guide their way.

As they walked out of the stables, Bobby pointed over to the garland and posts that ran between Manor House and Crabapple Farm. “It looks like we’ve been hit again.” There were several posts tipped over and garland strewn along the pathway.

The boys hurried toward the damage. “Be careful,” Larry said. “We don’t want to destroy any evidence.”

“Don’t touch anything either,” Terry reminded, “or we’ll get our fingerprints all over.”

“Not if we have gloves on,” said Bobby.

The trio had just started to survey the damage when they heard Jim yell at them. “What are you guys up to?” he asked. “Brian and I worked all day trying to set up the paths, and you guys have completely ruined this section.”

“But, Jim,” Bobby started. He idolized Jim and would never intentionally do anything to look bad in his eyes. He was interrupted by Jim’s rant.

“Do you know what it will take to fix this? I hope we have enough roping left to repair this,” Jim continued as he bent down to try and fix the broken posts.

“But,Jim,we didn’t do anything,” Larry tried to get in.

Jim was not listening. As he started to walk away, he said, “Just go find somewhere that you won’t get into any more trouble.”

“Come on,” Terry said. “Jim’s so upset right now he won’t listen to anything we say. If he doesn’t want our help, let him fix it himself.”

Bobby took one last look at the area. “There isn’t much here anyway. There are all kinds of different footprints around here, as well as the dog’s. They could be Brian’s or Jim’s or just about anyone else who has helped out over the past week.”

“We probably should head over to Mr. Maypenny’s,” Larry said. “At least there we will be appreciated.”

Each boy carried a flashlight as they made their way through the woods. Truthfully, they had explored the preserve so often they could get there with a blindfold on, but having grown up around Brian and Jim, they had learned to use caution.

As they walked they discussed their mystery. “We know that someone tore down the decorations,” Terry said. “We just have figure out the who, when, and why.”

Bobby kicked the snow in front of him. “Well I can tell you the who and why. I say it’s Paul Trent and he did it to get back at the Bob-Whites.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” reminded Larry. “You can’t just go jumping to conclusions like that.”

Bobby nodded his head. “You’re right, but I bet it is Paul. He can’t stand the Bob-Whites.”

As they arrived at Mr. Maypenny’s, Terry whispered, “Let’s not talk about this now. This is our secret and mystery.”

They tromped up the steps and entered the cabin when Mr. Maypenny invited them in. The fire was started and he had begun chopping vegetables. “You guys are a great help,” he said. “I wanted to get this made and let it simmer some this evening. Then we’ll finish simmering it all day tomorrow.”

The three boys looked a little dejected. “So we won’t get to eat this tonight,” Larry said.

Mr. Maypenny chuckled. “Well, I thought we’d make the stew for everyone to eat tomorrow night after the big shindig. I don’t want to go anywhere near all of the chaos tomorrow but I do want to do my part.”

Bobby paused for a minute, and then said, “Hey, that sounds like fun. We can show those BWG’s that we’re big enough to help out.”

“We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed,” Mr. Maypenny said. “I’ve got lots of vegetables to clean and chop.”

“We can do it,” Terry insisted.

Mr. Maypenny dug through his utensils until he found a potato peeler. It was as shiny as a brand new one. He handed it to Terry along with a 20-pound bag of potatoes. “Do you know how to use one of these things?” he asked, “because I don’t. I usually use a knife but I think the peeler will be safer for you.”

Terry looked at the utensil with dismay. “What is it?” he asked.

“It’s a potato peeler,” Bobby replied. “Moms let me help her peel potatoes last week. I can do that.” He took the peeler and started on the bag of potatoes. It took him a few minutes to get the hang of it and sometimes there seemed like there were more potatoes on the peel than what was left.

While Bobby was peeling potatoes, Mr. Maypenny put Larry and Terry to work scrubbing the carrots and cleaning the celery. “We won’t peel the carrots. They’re much more nutritious if you don’t and they have better flavor.”

While the three boys were working on their jobs, Mr. Maypenny made quick work of chopping all of the vegetables as well as the meat. For several minutes they worked in silence. Then Bobby, Larry and Terry began telling tales.

“Guess what I saw yesterday on the Hudson River,” Larry bragged. His eyes were wide with excitement.

“A shark,” Bobby answered, remembering the time his sister had sworn she had seen one.

“A mermaid,” Terry guessed. He had a secret crush on Ariel from The Little Mermaid ever since his family had gone to Disney World last year and he had gotten his picture taken with her.

“No,” Larry said in disgust, pausing for affect. “I saw a pirate ship on the horizon.”

Terry shook his head in disgust. “There are no pirate ships on the Hudson River.”

Mr. Maypenny chuckled as he listened to the boys’ discussion.

“Actually, in the 1860’s there was a female pirate named Sadie the Goat who sailed the Hudson River,” he said. “She was a terror of the seas and feared by many.”

The trio stopped what they were doing and stared open-mouthed at Mr. Maypenny.

“You’re kidding,” said Bobby. “What would a pirate do on the Hudson River?”

“Well, that was back during the Civil War,” he explained. “Many of the sea captains and even pirates had chosen up sides and were fighting in the war. Sadie had been ridiculed for being a female pirate and set off to prove everyone wrong. She attacked supply ships for the Confederacy and sold her bounty to the Union.Then she turned around and attacked the Union supply ships and sold her bounty to the Confederacy. Rumor has it that she died when her ship was sunk in the Hudson River after a late season hurricane grounded her ship on rocks and it sank before anyone could get off the ship.”

By now the boys had stopped what they were doing and sat and listened to Mr. Maypenny’s tale. Mr. Maypenny continued to prepare the stew as he spun his tale.

“Do you think there were gold and diamond treasures on the ship?” Terry asked. “We could go and look for it and the sunken ship when the weather is warmer.”

For several more minutes the boys made plans about how they would search for the treasure and what they would do if they found it.

When Mr. Maypenny had finished the chopping, he directed the boys to help him put the food into the pot that was hanging over the outdoor fire, hoping to distract them from the pirate talk. “First, we’ll put the meat in the pot with onions and a little butter. We’ll stir it until the meat is browned.”

With a very watchful eye, Mr. Maypenny allowed the boys to take turns stirring the pot. When that was completed, they put the rest of the chopped vegetables in the pot, along with several jars of canned tomatoes that Mrs. Belden had given Mr. Maypenny earlier in the fall.

“We’ll let the stew simmer for a while,” he said. “Then we’ll take it inside for the night. I don’t want any stray animals to come and eat up our stew.”

To the boys’ surprise, Mr. Maypenny made homemade grilled pizza for their supper. He had bread rising for tomorrow’s supper and there was enough to make pizza crusts for dinner as well. The boys were excited that they each were able to make their own personal pizza with the toppings they liked.

When the pizzas were assembled, they carried them out to the fire and cooked them over the open flame.

“This is the best pizza ever,” proclaimed Terry. “I wonder if our cook would let us make pizza like this. We could do it in one of the fireplaces.”

Larry thought for a moment. “I don’t think it would be as good as this. The cook would probably try to use something gross like tofu on it. You know how she’s on that health food kick.”

When they were done with their dinner, they helped clean up the dishes while Mr. Maypenny brought in the stew pot.

“I’ll need your help tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve got to patrol the preserve and the stew needs to be tended to. Do you think you can watch it without getting burned?”

“We’ll be extra careful,” Bobby promised. “We won’t do anything that we’re not supposed to do.”

“I’ll also need a cookie tester,” he said. “Mrs. Vanderpoel is going to bake some windmill cookies for tomorrow night and I wouldn’t want to serve something that hadn’t been tested.”

They finished up and then Mr. Maypenny walked the kids back to the Manor House where the finishing touches were being completed.

“You don’t have to walk us any farther,” Bobby said as they approached the stables. “It’s well lit and there are people all around.” It didn’t take much convincing. Mr. Maypenny didn’t want to be drawn into the chaos.

As soon Mr. Maypenny turned back into the woods, the boys raced over to where the most recent decorations had been damaged. With their flashlights, they explored the area thoroughly.

“This is impossible,” Larry declared. “You can’t tell what prints were made when. There must be at least four different types of footprints including two types of dog prints.” He started to head up to the Manor House when he heard Bobby yell.

“Look,” Bobby said as he pointed down the path to Crabapple Farm. More of the decorations had been knocked down.

Once again the boys made their way down to the damaged garland. “Don’t go too close,” warned Terry.

“How can we find any clues if we don’t get close?” Larry asked. He bent down to look at the footprints surrounding the damage.

Terry pulled his brother back. “Every time we come up on the damaged decorations, one of the Bob-Whites always comes along and accuses us of being the ones doing the damage.”

While the two brothers fought, Bobby scanned his flashlight over the area. He spotted something shiny and bent down to pick it up. From behind him he heard several people approaching. As he stood up he placed it in his pocket.

“What are you guys up to now?” Trixie asked. She, Mart and Brian were heading toward the path to Crabapple Farm.

“Did you guys wreck some more garland?” Mart accused. “Dan and Jim told us you guys had been fooling around with the decorations.”

Bobby stood up tall. “We didn’t do anything. It was this way when we got here. We haven’t been around all evening.”

The three older Beldens looked at the boys skeptically. “Don’t lie to us,” Trixie insisted. “I know you guys are upset because we don’t have anything for you to do, but you don’t have to make more work for us.”

“But we didn’t do anything,” Bobby persisted. “We didn’t do anything but try to fix what someone else ruined. This time we decided we wouldn’t even try that because no one liked the job we did trying to fix them before.” He turned to the twins and said, “I’m heading home. I’ll meet you at the stables at eight tomorrow morning.” He headed down the path ahead of his siblings without saying another word to them. Larry and Terry made their way up to the Manor House where they met Diana, who would drive them back to their house.

Bobby stomped all the way to their house. He never looked back and he never said a word. He marched up the steps to the house, opened the door, carefully closed it in Trixie’s face, hung up his coat and made his way to his bedroom.

When he had calmed down, he stuck his hands in his pants pockets and pulled out the shiny object he had found. “It looks like Reddy lost his collar again,” he mumbled rubbing his fingers over the rabies tag that was attached to it. Reddy seemed to lose his collar about once a month. “Not much of a clue here.”

He placed the collar on his dresser and then got ready for bed.

Saturday, December 17

“Moms,” Bobby heard Trixie complain. “What are we going to do with Bobby today? Every time I turn around, he’s tripping over something, breaking something, or just getting in the way.” She didn’t mention anything about the damaged decorations.

Trixie was in the kitchen getting ready to head up to Manor House. The Bob-Whites were going to have breakfast and go over last minute plans. Bobby crept down the stairs. He paused to see what his mother would say.

“You don’t worry about Bobby. It’s all been taken care of,” Moms replied. “You’d better get moving. Brian and Mart left ten minutes ago.”

“You’re right, Moms,” Trixie said. “I’d better get going or Mart will have eaten everything. I have a feeling I’d better eat well now because I don’t think I’ll have a chance until the last guest leaves at six o’clock.”

Trixie headed out the door, slamming it behind her as she left.

Slowly, Bobby entered the kitchen and pulled a cereal bowl out of the cupboard. He managed to pour himself the cereal with milk on it and eat it without so much as a drop landing on the kitchen table. Why couldn’t he manage to do that when Trixie was around? He sat in silence as he ate.

“Something bothering you?” Moms asked. She sat down across the table from her youngest son, a cup of coffee in her hands.

He set down his spoon and looked his mother directly in the eye. “When is everyone going to realize I’m not a little boy anymore? Larry, Terry, and I wanted to help out with the fundraiser and no one could find anything for us to do. Then when we see that the outdoor decorations have been ruined, we get accused of doing it.”

Moms paused to choose her words wisely. “You’re right. You aren’t a little boy anymore, but you aren’t a grown up either. I’m sure we can find something for you to do today.”

He puffed out his chest and proudly said, “You don’t need to. We’re helping Mr. Maypenny today watch his hunter’s stew. He’s made a huge pot for dinner tonight. He figured after working all day no one would want to look at any more of the food that was prepared for the tour. His contribution is dinner for the families tonight.”

“That’s great,” she said, looking at her watch. “Well, I’d better get going. Do you need anything?”

“No, I’m meeting Larry and Terry at the stables and we’re going to head over to Mr. Maypenny’s.” He grabbed his coat and headed out the door. Before he could stop him, Reddy bounded past him and up the path to Manor House.

“Great,” Bobby thought. “Just what we need is Reddy running around bothering all of the guests. I wonder what they’re going to do with Reddy today.” Still stinging from the way the Bob-Whites had treated the BLT’s he thought, “It’s not my problem.”

As he made his way up the path, he noticed that once again several posts had been tipped over and the garland was on the ground. He decided he was not going to try and fix it this time because someone would once again accuse him of ruining them. He could hear both Patch and Reddy farther up the path.

As he rounded the corner, he was shocked to see both dogs attacking the garland like it was some offensive rodent. “Patch, Reddy,” he yelled. “What are you doing?” He reached for their collars and started to drag them away from the decorations.

Just then Jim came down the path whistling “Winter Wonderland”. He saw the damage and then Bobby. “I can’t believe it,” he declared. “You’re bound and determined to ruin the decorations.”

Bobby gritted his teeth and kept a firm hold on the two dogs. “I didn’t do it,” he insisted for what seemed the thousandth time. “These two are the culprits. I caught them in the act when I walked up the path.”

Knowing they were in trouble, the two dogs had sense enough to look remorseful and hung their heads.

“Bobby, I owe you an apology,” Jim said sincerely. “Thanks for solving that mystery. Now we just have to figure out what to do with these two for the day.”

Just then Larry and Terry came up the pathway. “Oh, no,” Terry said. “The decorations have been hit again.”

Larry stopped in front of Jim. “Well, you can’t blame us this time. We weren’t here.”

Jim looked embarrassed. “I know. Bobby solved the mystery. These two are the guilty ones.” He pointed to the dogs.

“We were just trying to decide what to do with them today before they do anymore damage,” Bobby explained. “Patch could go in his kennel, but Reddy would just make a lot of noise if he was put in one.”

For several minutes, the four discussed what to do. “Do you think they would stay with us at Mr. Maypenny’s?” Terry asked.

“They might,” Bobby said. “They know Mr. Maypenny. I just hope they don’t go running through the preserve.”

They planned for a few more minutes. Jim helped get the dogs to Mr. Maypenny’s. He grabbed two large bones for them to chew on. “Maybe this will keep them occupied for a while,” he said, enticing the dogs with the treat.

Then they headed off through the woods. Patch obeyed Jim’s commands and Reddy followed wherever Patch went.

Mr. Maypenny was stoking the fire when the group arrived. After explaining the trouble the dogs had gotten in, Jim left.

Throughout the day, BLT watched the fire and stirred the stew. They helped bake the bread and kept an eye on the dogs. The dogs were on their best behavior. Later in the day, Mr. Maypenny showed them how to whittle a face on a stick. Their results needed some work but they all had a good time and more importantly at the end of the day the three boys still had all ten of their fingers intact.

At six o’clock, they loaded up Mr. Maypenny’s ancient car with the stew and bread. They headed to Crabapple Farm where everyone was going to meet at the end of the fundraiser. The boys loaded the dogs in the car and held them so they wouldn’t get into the food.

They left Patch at the stables and then headed to the Belden home. Reddy bounded out of the car and headed straight up the path to attack the offensive decorations. Bobby decided that since the fundraiser was over he wasn’t going to stop the dog.

Carrying the food, they entered the kitchen.

“We’ve come with supper,” Terry announced. The Bob-Whites and their parents were sitting around the kitchen and living room. They looked exhausted but satisfied with the outcome of the day.

“What did you bring us?” Mart asked as he made his way over to where Mr. Maypenny was holding the pot of stew. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”

Trixie came in and joined the conversation. “I bet it’s cereal and milk.”

BLT sputtered a little and before they could make an appropriate response, Mr. Maypenny said, “Wrong on both parts. The boys helped me make a huge pot of hunter’s stew and bake bread.”

“Really?” Trixie asked. “You guys helped out?”

“We sure did,” Bobby bragged. “We helped peel the potatoes and scrubbed the vegetables. Then today Mr. Maypenny put us in charge of keeping an eye on the stew. He even showed us how to stoke the fire so it wouldn’t overheat the stew.”

The parents smiled with pride that their little boys were growing up. The Bob-Whites looked shocked. Then Jim said, “I guess while we were growing up we forgot that you guys were growing up as well. You solved the mystery around the decorations and helped with dinner. Maybe we’ll have to make you Bob-Whites one of these days.”

The three younger boys looked at each other and smiled among themselves. “No thanks,” Bobby said. “You’re just too old for us.” Everyone laughed.

As they all sat around the table eating the hunter stew, Brian clinked his empty milk glass. “We have preliminary results from today,” he said. “There are still a few outstanding bills but it looks like we made over $10,000. We should be able to buy quite a few books with that money.”

Everyone let out a loud cheer. BLT winked at each other. They knew they would have many more adventures to come.


Author Notes

Merry Christmas, Trish!!! I hope you enjoy this little mystery. It just goes to show you that you should never say never. When I finished Unfinished Business this year I swore off writing mysteries but since they are one of your favorite types of stories to read I just had to have one. You didn’t get me much to work with but I wanted to include a couple of things from WWW. So we have pirates on the horizon. Also hidden in the text is a WWW (whistling Winter Wonderland). I hope you enjoy it.

A huge Thank you to Bonnie H, Jenny, and Jo (JJsgirl) for editing at the last minute. You guys rock. Your suggestions made this so much better.

I also have to thank Joycey, (Bundybaby) for her research on Sadie the Goat. When one of the Lynch twins spotted a pirate on the horizon a discussion about it just seemed so appropriate.

I hope you liked the songs Bobby serenaded us with. I tried to pick out ones that were ones that were unique to say the least.

And Mal, thanks for your awesome graphics.

Word Count, 7,591

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