Newly orphaned Jenny travels from China to live with a grandfather she has never met only to be condemned to a dark cellar room and a cruel servant's life. Why?
"Guaranteed chills and thrills," says Horn Book of Ghosts in the Gallery, nominated by Mystery Writers of America for its EDGAR Award.
"Descriptions draw the reader a picture of time and place and atmosphere that is nearly perfect. Sure to be a hit," says School Library Journal.
Washington Parent calls this book a "real page turner."
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.34(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Jenny The coach lantern cast an eerie glow through the thick fog swirling past the carriage as it lumbered along the dirt road in the fast-fading light of evening. The drumming of the horses' hooves had a curiously muffled sound inside the carriage, where four travelers sat in silence. Two of them, an elderly couple wrapped in heavy woolen blankets, had their eyes closed. Their heads were nodding. The third was a heavyset man with a round, fleshy face. Every time the carriage hit a rut, his face shook like a rich pudding. Staring stonily out the window, he reached every so often inside his mink-collared cape to pull out a massive gold pocket watch. After holding it up to the window to catch the coach lantern light, he would shake his head in annoyance, impatiently jam the watch back in his pocket, and continue staring moodily out the window.
The fourth traveler in the carriage was a young girl, who knew none of the others. To her, they were all strangers. But was that not all she had in her life now, strangers?
Seated across from the dozing elderly couple, the girl, Jenny, stared at the pale face reflected in the window beside her. Was that unearthly reflection really hers, or did it belong to yet another stranger, a different young girl? But Jenny knew that everything she saw was hers, the pink velveteen bonnet, now travel stained, the white ostrich feather adorning it, now sadly drooping. And those were her golden ringlets, now lank and lifeless. What were definitely not hers, however, were the tears rolling down the face looking back at her. They came simply from the rain that had begun to lace through the fog, and was nowdrizzling down the window.
In truth, Jenny had not shed any tears now for days. No, it had become weeks. The last had been when she stood at the ship's railing, watching the China coastline fade away in the distance. That was where she had spent all but the first few weeks of her eleven years. But it was not the land itself she cried for. Her tears had been for two people that it held -- her beloved papa and her dear, sweet mama, now no more.
From that time on, Jenny's life had been in the hands of strangers. And she had quickly learned that tears soon became tiresome, and sympathy could thin in a hurry. The dried-up woman with whom she had had to share her cabin on the ship, having seen Jenny's tears at the railing, told her that she must be "a brave little girl," and made it clear that she expected Jenny to make herself as little noticed as possible.
The ship's captain and the stewards in whose care she had been placed were all kind to her, but were taken up with their own concerns and could give her little time.
When at last the ocean voyage ended, Jenny's travels were still not over, for she had to take yet another journey, this one by train to the eastern shore of America. It was not so long or so fearsome as the one by sea, but again she was with strangers. And again this was true of the carriage in which she was now traveling. Strangers! Always strangers! Why, Jenny asked herself, could her mama not have managed better and tried to find someone who really cared about her to take her on this long journey, and not just have her passed from the hands of one stranger to another?
But Jenny had no sooner asked herself the question than she was struck with horror at having had such a wicked, ungrateful thought about her darling mama. Mama, who had been left frightened and alone -- probably far more than Jenny now was -- in a strange, foreign country, with almost no means, when her young husband had been suddenly and cruelly carried off by a terrible illness soon after they had arrived there. Mercifully, being a dancer, Mama had found employment at a small dance studio, where foreigners came for dance lessons and to bring their children for dance lessons as well. In the end, she had married the owner, Felix Bekins.
Felix Bekins had loved Jenny, always wearing a smile on his face as he watched her flitting about the studio, a great pink bow perched like a trembling butterfly on her golden ringlets, and on her cherubic, pink-cheeked face a winning smile that enchanted all who saw her.
And, of course, he had adored Jenny's mama, with her own golden curls, rosy cheeks, and radiant smile, and her twinkling, light-as-a-fairy's toes that barely touched the dance studio floor as she whirled across it in her grand, bright, frilly dresses.
He complained constantly that he wished he could do more for his "little charmers," and that they were not so very poor. For although the handsomely dressed American, British, French, and German ladies and gentlemen who patronized the studio were wealthy, very little of that wealth found its way into dance lessons. So while they all, as was the custom of foreigners in China then, had large households of many servants, Felix Bekins could only provide for his family a small apartment run by but two servants, Ling and his wife, Cho Mei.
But Jenny herself did not care a bit that they did not have half a dozen or more servants, for Cho Mei was her amah, the nursemaid who cared as tenderly for Jenny as did her own mama. Nor did it matter to her that earnings from the studio were so meager she could not attend expensive private schools, the only English-speaking schools available. For after carefree days spent at the studio, she was given reading and writing lessons every night by her Papa Felix. So her life was a full and happy one despite Papa's complaints.
Then another tragedy befell Mama, and Jenny as well, for Felix Bekins had been struck down with a failing heart, so he, too, was taken from them. Mama had struggled valiantly to keep the studio going, but at last, weakened by all she had endured, she had fallen prey to a deadly illness of the lungs. Before long, the rosy cheeks so loved by Felix Bekins became wan and sunken.
At last it had become clear to her that she might have little time left in this world, and some provision must be made for Jenny when that time had run out. So she went to her desk to write a letter, and from the anguished look on her face, it was clearly a letter she had a great deal of difficulty in writing.
At the time the letter was being written, Jenny was not told the real reason it had to be written at all. Mama had continued to say that she was feeling better day by day, and that the letter was only because she thought it high time she wrote to Jenny's grandfather.
"Grandfather? What grandfather?" Jenny had asked. Was this Papa's father? If so, why was he never mentioned? Why had she never even heard of him before?
But it turned out that it was not Papa Felix's father who was to receive the letter, but the father of her "real" papa, the one who had died when she was an infant. It had been such a very long time since Mama had spoken of him, Jenny had come to think that the papa she had recently lost was the real one. Now, here was this "real" grandfather being written to because Mama thought it was "high time" she did. Why? Why after all this time write to someone of so little importance in their lives that Jenny had never even been told about him?
Then, finally, Mama knew she could no longer put off telling Jenny the true reason for the letter, and how when Mama was no longer there, Jenny must travel to America to live with this "real" grandfather, the only person left in the world to take care of her. With the meager funds remaining to her, Mama had, it appeared, already arranged for Jenny's passage.
It seemed that, other than that he was very rich, she could tell Jenny almost nothing about this grandfather, for she had met him but once, and had seen his great house built on a cliff overlooking the ocean but once. Why only once? Jenny had wanted to know. But Mama could not, or perhaps would not, give her any explanation for this. So this grandfather was as much a stranger as all the others Jenny had encountered on her journey.
Would this suddenly discovered grandfather, this stranger, care for Jenny? She must give him her most winning smiles, the ones that so captivated all who had come to the dance studio, and in truth, even those many strangers she had encountered on her journey. If only her golden ringlets did not look so bedraggled. She had tried very hard, but not very successfully, to keep them looking as they had when Amah Cho Mei so lovingly cared for them.
But Jenny's grandfather, being so very rich, would have servants as well, would he not? And he would certainly wish to provide Jenny with someone to take care of her beautiful ringlets.
These thoughts did not bring her much comfort at the moment as the horses' hooves drummed relentlessly, and the carriage rolled on and on, bringing her ever closer to her final destination. She had begun to hear waves pounding on the rocks, faintly and from far in the distance, which told her she was nearly there. That was the one thing, the only thing, Mama had told her about the house: hearing the waves pounding and pounding far below it. Suddenly she drew her arms tightly around herself and shuddered. For golden ringlets and winning smiles aside, she realized that at last she was to meet this "real" grandfather she had never known she had, the father of the "real" papa she did not even remember.
Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brooks Wallace
Table of Contents
|III||A Dangerous Mistake||12|
|VI||A Puzzling Late-Night Conversation||35|
|VII||Lilly's Lessons in What's What||40|
|VIII||Ghosts in the Gallery||46|
|X||A Forbidden Visit||61|
|XII||A Surprise in the Stable||75|
|XIV||A Theft in the Library||89|
|XV||A Good and Kind Child||95|
|XVI||A Terrifying Encounter||100|
|XVII||A Mysterious Journey||106|
|XIX||A Joyful Welcome||123|