Letdown Mystery

Is it just me or does Violet have Kelly Osborne hair here?

Aunt Jane wants to move back to New England.  She calls Grandfather and demands that he buy her a farm.  I suppose she’s finally come to her senses vis-à-vis the danger of uranium poisoning on Mystery Ranch.  Grandfather is flying high on his blood pressure meds and is super jovial while he’s on the phone with his sister.  Benny and Violet are hanging around shamelessly eavesdropping on the whole conversation.  I suppose it’s better than if they’d gone to the library to pick up the extension, but for kids who make such a show of being obnoxiously polite all the time, this seems a bit out of character.  My guess is that they were holding an intoxicated Grandfather upright when the phone rang.  Violet is constantly worried about his well-being and I doubt she can let him walk around unsupervised in good conscience.

The rent-a-friends seem to have the night off because everyone is home, even Henry who is in college now and still living at home.  No frat house for him.  I don’t blame him.  The other guys would probably haze him for his obsessive organizing habits and his barbering skills.  It seems that Aunt Jane has been totally transformed after meeting her nieces and nephews, and now she likes to move fast like Grandfather instead of moving slow like she always did before.  Retaining your own personality is not an option if you’re going to live in Aldenland.  Everyone reminisces about how stubborn and stupid Aunt Jane used to be before the kids arrived and brought her into line.  “Quick like a fox” becomes Benny’s catchphrase in T-minus five, and he does not use it sparingly, so brace yourselves.

Jessie and Violet immediately start planning how they’ll furnish the house.  “OMG, we can buy sheets and towels and have the beds all made when Aunt Jane arrives!  Can you imagine anything more exciting?!?”  While it’s not explicitly stated, I’m sure that Benny is thinking about what kind of canned meat that they can stock the pantry with.  Even if he wanted to say something, it’s not like he could get a word in edgewise while his sisters are waxing poetic about linens.

Grandfather is quick like a fox, so naturally he has already formulated a plan.  He’s going to buy the house that he and Jane grew up in before they moved to Mystery Ranch.  Since Jane is the only Alden who stayed on the uranium-riddled farm, I’m thinking that she wasn’t so crazy about the old homeplace, preferring to risk starvation and ruin instead of returning with the rest of her family to the region of the country that hosts a house that scarred her for life.  This will show her what happens to people who make demands of James Henry Alden.  Be careful what you ask for.  As a little show of power for the benefit of his eavesdropping grandchildren, he dials up the town storekeeper to ask about the availability of the property.

“But, Grandfather, isn’t the store closed?  It’s after suppertime, after all.”

“Probably so, but the storekeeper used to live in the store, so someone will be there.  I’m sure that he won’t mind if a random stranger from his past calls him up demanding information about who owns a farm in town.  These are country folks.  They LOVE to help.”

Since the Alden children really do love to help, the swallow this baloney with no question.  Sidebar – Henry is in college now, and Jessie is a senior in high school, but they are still called “children” throughout the book.  It’s going to get awkward when Henry gets drafted.  At least we know that he has his driver’s license, so he’s not totally stunted.  It was probably by necessity – Joe and Alice seem to have dropped off the face of the Earth, and someone has to drive the station wagon.

Anyway, Grandfather calls the store, and the manager answers, just as old JH knew he would.  As a country boy, he doesn’t have a real solid understanding of how all this new tech works, so he shouts down the phone.  Otherwise, how will they hear him when they’re so far away?  This is our first glimpse of the folksy charm of Elisha Morse, and it certainly won’t be our last.  Fortuitously, Elisha not only knows that the farm is for sale, but he is the owner, and he’s anxious to be rid of it, furniture and all.  CONVENIENT.  Grandfather buys it over the phone, sight unseen, and Jessie begins to make plans that second.  This dramatic chapter ending quickly becomes a letdown as we realize that Jessie’s plans consist of remembering that it is Friday and suggesting that they drive up to see the farm the next day and come back home on Sunday.  Just when I think I might pass out from the excitement of this plan, Jessie declares that they won’t take dresses and heels to tromp around on a rundown farm.  Henry points out that they always take flat shoes everywhere, and there’s a moment when I worry that we’re edging into an awkward incestuous flirtation sitch.  I am relieved to say that Jessie starts rhapsodizing about the wonders of John Carter again and then there’s a detailed description of breakfast, so the moment passes.  WHEW.  I don’t think I could handle it AT ALL if Henry and Jessie went all V.C. Andrews on us.  As it is, this is the BCC version of what it feels like when you’re watching The Empire Strikes Back and Leia kisses Luke to make Han jealous, and all you can think is OMG LEIA THAT IS YOUR LONG-LOST TWIN BROTHER GET YOUR TONGUE OUT OF HIS MOUTH STOP GLOATING LUKE SHE’S JUST USING YOU AND ALSO SHOULDN’T THE FORCE PROVIDE A DANGER WILL ROBINSON-TYPE ALARM BELL IN YOUR HEAD TO PREVENT INCEST??? So you can see my distress.  Thank goodness Gertie likes to describe breakfast in great detail.  It really calmed my nerves to read about the bacon and orange juice.  I had a glass of Bailey’s, too, for good measure.

After their early morning feast, Henry drives them up to see the farm.  I don’t know where Grandfather’s driver is.  Maybe they don’t want to flaunt their riches by showing up with the help, but I think that plan will go out the window when Grandfather hires all the men in town to drop whatever work they’re doing to refurbish the rundown farm he’s just purchased.  They determine that it’s so dirty that even a very strong woman couldn’t possibly get the place clean.  At first I thought that this would break Jessie’s housework-loving heart, but then I realized that it actually frees her up to buy out the local Linens’N’Things while the grunt work is done, and then she can swoop in, make beds, and gush to Aunt Jane about how much fun it was to prepare the house for her arrival.

Grandfather writes storekeeper Elisha Morse a check for the farm, Elisha telling him all the things that are wrong with the farm in the process.  At first I just thought he was the worst salesman ever, but then his agenda became clear.  “You’ll hate this house.  The roof leaks.  But fortunately my son is handy!”  Grandfather takes the hint and tells him to send the guy up to meet them at their BRAND NEW LEAKY FARMHOUSE.   On the way there, Grandfather reminisces about every single building that they pass.  While this seems like the usual inane play-by-play of everything that the family does, it actually has a point once they drive by the Bean farm (Benny automatically assumes that they raise beans.  That’s what he would have named a farm that raised beans.  I think we all remember Potato Camp) and Grandfather tells a delightful little anecdote about how Jane had a crush on one of the Bean boys, but he had some sort of kerfuffle with an old gun and started a forest fire.   He disappeared, leaving Jane behind to become a crotchety spinster  who manages to starve able-bodied helpers while confined to her bed.  “Don’t worry, though, kids.  He’s probably dead by now.”  At this point, you’re probably thinking that the mystery for the kids to solve here is what happened to Andy Bean or perhaps where he got the gun since they speculate on that at length.  You’d be wrong about that, though.  The mystery that they are going to solve is why everyone in town hates the house that they just bought.  And I bet you’re thinking that the answer to this dull puzzle is hidden in the woodshed, too, since it’s called The Woodshed Mystery.  *SPOILER ALERT*  Not at all.  There are a couple of mysterious happenings at the woodshed, but they only last about three pages.  They solve the mystery in the house itself.  But I am getting ahead of myself with my rant about how ineptly titled this book is, and we’re missing the fun of discussing the minutiae of the lives of the Alden family.

Their farmhouse is better than the one on the Bean farm.  It’s also huge.  Natch.  What else would you select for a tiny old lady who is coming to (eventually) live by herself, even though Jessie thinks that she needs a man in the house?  As they drive up, Jessie tries to look on the bright side and notes that it doesn’t look too bad, but ray of sunshine Henry is still convinced that they’ll hate it because Mr. Morse told them so.  He’s impressed that the door works, if that gives you any idea of how low his expectations have sunk.  Jessie won’t be swayed, though.  They come in through the kitchen, and she immediately opens the ovens and sighs with happiness.  They’re so big that Benny wants to get inside, but Jessie’s not having anyone playing in her ovens.  While she’s considering ways to mark her territory that don’t involve peeing all around the ovens, Benny belatedly realizes that bread was baked in these ovens.  This is such an inane observation that I was sure it must harbor a clue to the mystery, but no.  It’s just part of Gertie’s obsession with all things food.  If I think you talk about food too much, you may want to tone it down.

Elisha Morse’s son finally shows up to save us all from a discussion of how dirty the house is.  His name is Sim, and Benny is THRILLED because when Sam comes out with Aunt Jane they will have Sim and Sam.  Sim is obviously a little perplexed at the excitement, but he rolls with it, especially after Grandfather drops a heavy-handed suggestion that the two of them will get along just fine.  And now that he has Sim’s full attention, Grandfather turns his attention to mystery-solving.  This is a bit of an obscure mystery, so the kids need some help to figure it out.  They’re not so good with the abstract.  Grandfather finally wheedles the same story out of Sim that he already told about Andy Bean finding an old gun and starting a conflagration.   Apparently after that fiery mishap, no one stays in the house very long.  Grandfather belittles Sim a bit for believing in bad luck, and then he gives him a stack of cash to hire the neighbors and whoever else he can round up to get started on fixing the house.  Sim perks right up after that, which is a good thing because Grandfather wants the work done quick like a fox.  Jane, too.  She wanted to move immediately to escape the uranium radiation, but Grandfather has purchased a broken-down house for her that needs serious work under the guise of it being sentimental, but I know passive-aggressive when I see it.  On the bright side, he’s hard at work purchasing the affections of everyone in town by showering them with cash, so she’ll have some ready-made friends when she arrives.  Sim is in such a good mood after all of the money has changed hands, he volunteers his wife to make sandwiches for the Alden family so that they don’t have to buy them at the motel.  I’m sure that the mother of six who is running their farm is delighted to have unexpected company to feed.  Seriously, though, of all the Stepford-creepy that we’ve seen so far in the series, this lady has the worst of it.  She’s SO EXCITED to make chicken sandwiches and egg sandwiches for some strangers who have shown up at her door, and she won’t take any money from them for it.  She seems to truly love making sandwiches, and I find it unnerving.  The good news is that they have forty cows, so the kids can have all the milk they want.  Grandfather will have coffee, of course.  I hope that someone told Sim’s wife how to make it his special way.  Surely Violet clued her in.  Violet is always on high alert for making Grandfather comfortable.

Men start to show up to work on the house as the picnic is winding down.  Grandfather continues to grill the natives about what is wrong with the house, and Benny drops “quick like a fox” a few more times for good measure.  After awkwardly standing around watching the men work for a while, they head down to the cellar to check out the potato pit.  Surprisingly, Benny did not name it, but I have a feeling that he’d approve, although with no potatoes in it, he’d probably call it the Cellar Pit or the Plastered Pit.  Even the Aldens soon get bored looking at an empty hole in the basement floor, so they go back upstairs to check the ovens for clues to the mystery.  HaHA, Jessie, Benny is standing up in your ovens.  Fortunately for Benny, she’s distracted by imagining how amazing it will be to put up curtains in the living room now that the floor is clean (?), and he is spared a scolding for now.

The next day we finally get to see the infamous gun back at Elisha Morse’s store.  “Come on in!  I’m all alone because my wife is dead” is his cheery greeting.  You probably think I’m exaggerating here, but this quote is almost verbatim.  Unfortunately, the kids don’t chime in with the story of how they came to be orphans, so we’re still speculating on how that came about.  Instead, they just want to see the old gun.  Honestly, everyone in town is so superstitious about it, I’m surprised that Elisha is willing to keep it in his house what with all of its bad karma.  Blah, blah, flintlock, blah, blah, Revolutionary War, blah blah, passive-aggressive guilt trip about the gun belonging in a museum.

Next up on the Alden’s quest for the truth is a visit with Grandpa Cole, the town’s oldest resident and by far the best character in this book.  I started off feeling sorry for Grandpa Cole since apparently no one visits him anymore because he likes to talk about the past, and the townsfolk here HATE the past.  I thought he was going to be this sad, lonely old man, but he definitely is not.  He is still sharp as a tack, so he probably feels sorry for the dull Alden kiddos.  My delight with Grandpa Cole waned a bit when he told them the same tired old story about someone hiding in the house giving Andy Bean the flintlock, though.  The only information we get from this whole episode is that Grandpa Cole’s younger brother – only 92! – will be coming for the summer, and he might be able to provide more information.  At this point, any new interviews are suspect.  Everyone tells the exact same story, and it is tiresome, especially since the kids don’t seem to realize that they’re not really learning anything new.  I’m concerned about their short-term memories.

Since Grandfather has hijacked all the workers in town, the house is done in just a few weeks.  I hope that all of the men who helped are prepared to hear “quick like a fox” a few hundred times since I’m pretty sure that Benny is going to be a broken record about it.  Thank goodness Gertie’s editor didn’t let her put every instance in or I’d still be reading this book because it would be 1000 pages long.  Jessie and Violet have been shopping up a storm, and they’ve purchased so many curtains and towels that Watch almost loses his place in the station wagon to linens.  They do manage to stuff him in, though, and I think it’s because Jessie wants to have some laundry to do as soon as they arrive, and what better way to make that happen than to get dog hair all over the clean sheets?

Aunt Jane is inexplicably ecstatic to be back on the farm where her boyfriend Andy Bean ran off and broke her heart.  Either that, or she sees what her brother is up to and decides to pretend enthusiasm to ruin his fun.  I hope this is true.  Some passive-aggressive sibling rivalry subtext would really liven this story up.  Jane shares her brother’s fondness for making sweeping decisions on behalf of everyone, and she declares that she LOVES it, and that Maggie WILL LOVE IT, and that they are going to have the best summer EVER with the kids in their new haunted  house so put that in your pipe and smoke it, baby brother.  HA.

The Aldens immediately set out to “befriend” everyone in town.  This seems to involve a lot of dropping in on people unexpectedly.  Benny, for instance, invites himself over to the Bean farm next door, and while he’s there, he takes it upon himself to check out their tally of how many eggs they’re collecting each day.  I’m sure his new “friends” love this invasion of their space and the privacy of their egg counts.  Sadly, I am writing this post without the assistance of our dear Rhymenocerous and her egg-production expertise, so I don’t know how unusual it is for the egg count to drop off a little bit, but Benny finds it HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS.  His siblings tease him about the Case of the Stolen Eggs, but this sounds like a legitimate Boxcar Children mystery to me.  Laugh it up, Henry, but you’re going to be solving the Mystery of the Missing Eggs in about 5 pages.

The kids have worn out their welcome with everyone in town, so they decide to go for a walk in the woods to check out the woodshed that afternoon.  Misery loves company, but I won’t bore you with the details about the purpose of a woodshed or the list of wildflowers that the Aldens recognize.  Their disappointment that the woodshed is just a woodshed quickly dissipates when they go inside to discover that someone is living in the woodshed! Aunt Jane has a serious problem with squatters in her woods no matter where she lives.  Henry uncharacteristically recognizes the danger of hanging around until this person returns to find that his cover is blown.  He hustles his siblings out of there before anyone can begin reminiscing about their own time as squatters in the dear old boxcar days.

Surprisingly, they report the incident to Sam (did I mention that Sam and his wife have been uprooted from their own ranch to come manage Aunt Jane’s new farm?  Because when a person has already failed to manage one farm, what you should do is buy them a new one to run into the ground.  I think that Grandfather just likes to see how many people he can bend to his will by throwing money around).  Sam is busy wrangling his new chickens, though, and he won’t come with them right that second, much to everyone’s dismay.  After lunch someone slips him a 20, and he finally agrees to go investigate the intruder the woodshed.  It’s totally empty when they arrive, natch, which convinces Sam that it’s not actually kids playing in the woods but a knife-wielding trespasser.

Aunt Jane is totally unconcerned about the whole incident.  Violet obviously didn’t inherit her terror of cannibals from her aunt.  Instead, she casually suggests that they visit Grandpa Cole again.  Why, Aunt Jane! I believe that old JH has invited you to join him in pulling the Puppetmaster strings in this story.  If we were in an episode of Law and Order, Sam Waterstone would be shouting Objection! Leading the witness! until he was blue in the face, but fortunately the kids are too dimwitted to notice and instead are all OOOOH SHINY and Henry and Jessie troop next door to badger Grandpa Cole about when his brother will arrive to answer questions.

Violet finds a book about the Revolutionary War that someone has thoughtfully left out in the parlor for her.  She reads that John Hancock and Sam Adams had to hide from the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War and that they hid guns and ammunition, as well.  This leads to some questionable conclusions.  So far, her mystery consists of 1) No one wants to live at their farm, 2) Andy Bean disappeared after setting the farm on fire with a rusty flintlock gun, 3) someone is stealing eggs from the Bean farm, and 4) someone is living in their woodshed, probably the egg thief since there was an egg on the shelf.  From this, she concludes that Revolutionary War soldiers must have hidden in the woodshed on their farm.  ….?  Call me crazy, but I’m having trouble seeing the connection here.  Maybe she assumes this is true because their farm was built in colonial days and there was a picture of a flintlock in the book?  None of the other kids question this chain of logic, though.  They’re all OMG, Violet, you are the smartest girl EVAR.  We never would have drawn such flimsy conclusions without you!  Sigh.  Benny is all gung-ho to take a flashlight and look around the woodshed for clues.  Aunt Jane, who was not afraid 3 pages ago but has since changed her mind, sends Sam with them.  Sam is in luck, too – all of the furnishings are back! The kids are all “See, Sam, we told you! We weren’t lying!  I know you said that you believed us, but here is the evidence that we weren’t lying because we aren’t lying liars!  Also, there is an egg on the shelf!”

Now everyone is in a frenzy of excitement to solve what seems to me to be the more urgent mystery of who the squatter is and where he’s been keeping his stuff rather than the less pressing question of why no one will stay in the house.  Let’s count ourselves lucky that Sam came with the kids since he is the one who pointed out that the entrance to a cellar would be hidden under the bed.  The Aldens would have shined their flashlights all over, remarked on the dirt floor (seriously, Violet mentions that it’s strange that a woodshed in the woods would have a dirt floor.  What does she expect? Marble tile?) without Sam to point out the obvious conclusion that anyone hiding newly moved dirt would have put the bed on top of it.  Later Jessie declares that Watch is being a bother when he’s unhappy about the kids going down into a dark hole in the floor, but Sam points out that it’s helpful to have a dog around to give you advance warning of squatters armed with knives returning to find you in their hidey-hole.  It’s like they’ve totally forgotten that time in the dear old boxcar days when Dr. Moore came sneaking through the woods at night to see where they lived and Watch had a conniption fit.  Benny doesn’t think that Watch is going to give them enough advance warning, though, and he starts to worry that someone will come and put the cover back over the hole, putting them in a very Nancy Drew-esque pickle. Naturally, everyone starts to panic and worry that Violet will be afraid so they haul some junk out of the hole and hightail it out of there to look at their treasures in the comfort of their possibly haunted house.

After the excitement of almost being trapped in the cellar by a murderous madman, the next bits are duuuuuuullllllllllllll.  The box that they brought back holds gunpowder, and they’ve also come away with a very tarnished candlestick.  Aunt Jane seems to be a Revolutionary War expert all of a sudden (she’s been reading Violet’s book and also possibly watching Antiques Roadshow) because she confirms all kinds of things for them.  Yes, this is definitely a Revolutionary War-era candlestick!  Yes, it’s gunpowder!  Yes, someone must have been storing ammunition in the tunnel under the woodshed and then when the war was over no one ever took it out and it’s been there for hundreds of years!  Everyone once again concludes that there is an important mystery to be solved here.  It’s a good thing that Gertie recaps what we know and what we’re looking for on a regular basis because this is not the easiest mystery to follow.  She’s spending so much time recapping that she’s forgotten to describe the last several meals.

Not to fear, though.  The next chapter opens with Maggie buying eggs from a man named Willie who the Bean family has been kind enough to hire despite his low IQ.  Maggie laughs at him while Violet and Benny eavesdrop in the next room.  Such a good example of appropriate behavior from everyone, really.  Fortunately, Henry has a new flashlight and he distracts everyone from discussing how dimwitted Willie is by proposing another trip to the woodshed.  Not to figure out who is trespassing, though.  Everyone seems to forget that they have no idea who is living in the woodshed and that said person might be dangerous until they are there and in the middle of snooping around.  Jessie probably trusts the squatter because he is such a good housekeeper.  She’s already remarked on how tidy the woodshed house is.

The squatter is conveniently out again, so the kids pile down into the hole under the bed.  Their new and improved flashlight reveals more boxes of gunpowder and rusty bullets littering the floor, but Henry doesn’t believe that it’s a storehouse for ammunition until Benny unearths another flintlock.  I’m not sure what Henry thinks that gunpowder and bullets are….I was under the impression that the bullets were the ammunition and the gun was the firearm, but what do I know?  Violet has of course brought along an enormous bag that no one noticed her carrying so that they can bring their treasures home.  These are some of the least observant detectives of all time.  As they’re filling Violet’s bag with candle boxes filled with gunpowder, an old gun and a bunch of rusty bullets, I bet she’s hoping that it will be so heavy that the bag will rip so that she can repair it, possibly with a purple patch.  Actually, the bag is probably already purple which is why it blended into her clothes so well that the other kids didn’t notice it, so the patch will have to be a violet and say “Flower Power.”  I’m willing to bet that she’s had the patch for months, just waiting on something to tear so that she can patch it up.  These kids are pretty literal, so she probably doesn’t realize that she can sew the patch on something without actually patching a hole.

When they drag all of their musty Revolutionary War reject junk back to the farmhouse, Aunt Jane tells them that Grandpa Cole’s brother has finally arrived for the summer.  They should go next door to pester him for information about their “mystery.”  They go right over, of course.  Ray of sunshine Jessie is all “we might not learn anything at all.  Isn’t it EXCITING to anticipate whether we’ll get everything our hearts desire or have our hopes dashed to smithereens?”

Mr. Cole rehashes the whole Andy Bean conflagration fiasco for them with tantalizing bits of new information.  1) Andy liked to do exciting things, unlike the rest of the people in town.  It’s all very Footloose except without the dancing.  2) Andy found the flintlock while rummaging around in the Aldens’ basement.  No one gave it to him.  I’m not sure that it makes it any better to find out that he’s a snoop, but none of the kids seem perturbed about it in the least.  3) Mr. Cole was uninterested in Andy’s cryptic comments about finding the whole story written out and “the other end is in the woodshed.”  Either Andy had a serious problem with explaining what he meant or Mr. Cole was barely tolerating him and wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of asking the question that Andy was dying to answer.  Now he’s sad he didn’t ask, of course, but it just didn’t seem important at the time.  Maybe he was afraid he’d be complicit in Andy’s theft of abandoned cellar guns.  Or maybe the thought of anything new was just too exciting and he had to get away quick like a fox.

Armed with their new information about a munitions storage facility in their cellar, the kids head home to follow up on this plan immediately.  They don’t even stop for a snack, which is quite unusual for them.  Jessie can whip up a tasty orange juice-raw egg concoction in no time, so they must be really excited if they’re going to skip such a delicious meal.  Remembering Benny’s coup back in The Yellow House Mystery when he found the hidden letters in the  chimney, Henry lets Benny decide where they should start looking.  Obviously he chooses the potato pit.  Once again, they remark on the dirt floor, but this time it’s just an inane comment instead of useful information.  Still thinking of the game-changing chimney, I’m sure, Henry taps the stone walls with his axe, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW IT’S WOOD DISGUISED AS STONE.  Benny immediately assumes that it’s a little concealed wooden door, and obviously that’s what they find.  The suspicious part of the whole episode is that Henry has to chop bit chunks of plaster off of the door before they can get to it and open it.  My question is how Andy Bean discreetly got into this hidden door when 1) we already know that the pit was filled with potatoes during Alden Stay #1, so he wouldn’t have been able to get to it readily, and 2)  he would have had to dig through all that plaster to get in.  Where did he put the plaster he ripped off?  How did he replaster the potato pit without anyone who lived in the house noticing?  Everything about this scenario smells.  I’m going to go ahead and call it.  MOST IMPLAUSIBLE BOXCAR CHILDREN MYSTERY YET.

Jessie and Violet obviously want to come down and breathe some Revolutionary War dust themselves, but Henry declares it too dirty for them.  It’s all under the guise of caring older brother, of course, but I’m sure he’s thinking DIBS.  Benny has already crawled into the dark hole while Henry is busy keeping the girls out, so dibs are actually his.  Sneaky.  I’d be afraid of rats, but since he hasn’t seen Temple of Doom, he might not share my horror of discovering a rodent in my hair.  He finds the same old milking stool and ammo zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz and also some dishes that have apparently been there since colonial times.  It’s going to be a bitch to get the dried food off.  I don’t know that Palmolive makes dish soap strong enough, but you know that Jessie won’t pass up the opportunity to try.  It’s the ultimate dishwashing challenge.  I hope that Henry is boiling some water for her.

Aunt Jane starts to get the HANGER, so the girls help Maggie fix supper quick like a fox.  A hangry Aunt Jane is the sullen, snippy Aunt Jane of yore.  (Before the kids showed up and transformed her life in about a week with their egg/orange juice meals.  You remember Mystery Ranch, right?)  They serve asparagus, and Aunt Jane is still cranky after supper.  I would be, too, if I had asparagus for supper and no dessert.  A nice sleeve of Thin Mints will put you well on your way to happiness.  Benny is insensitive to Aunt Jane’s delicate emotional state, and he brings up her runaway lover Andy Bean yet again, causing Aunt Jane to declare that she’d like to shoot Andy Bean for causing so much trouble.  It seems that her temper is also quick like a fox these days.  Henry is up and hauling her off to bed in an instant.  QUICK LIKE A FOX ALL AROUND.  Maggie decides that Aunt Jane’s bad behavior has earned her a night in her best lacy nightgown, which seems like the worst idea yet since Jane is all upset over her jilted lover.  Yes, dress up for bed so that you’ll be pretty while you’re sleeping alone and dreaming about what life would have been like if you’d married Andy when he asked you.  That seems like a STELLAR idea.  Come on, Maggie.  Get your head in the game.

The next day the kids and Sam run into Willie at the woodshed, and Willie drops the bomb that it’s ANDY BEAN who has been living in the woodshed, but Andy has just caught the bus to go back to sea because Jane wants to shoot him.  The kids all come climbing down from the tree they’ve been hiding in (I don’t even want to go into it), and they are all SAM WE HAVE TO GO RIGHT NOW TO CATCH HIM COME ON MAN WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, but Sam points out that the bus left 15 minutes ago, which is apparently an insurmountable head start.  Obviously he has never seen The Fast and the Furious.  He’s only convinced that they can catch Andy when Benny points out that the bus has to stop to let people get on and off.  “Oh, okay.  Maybe we’ll make it.  I suppose we could try.”  This is a CAR CHASE, Sam.  Muster up a little enthusiasm!  It’s the most exciting thing that has happened in this entire book.

They track down the bus and convince it to stop even though it’s not at a bus stop.  I’m assuming that they mention that they are filthy rich and will pay the fine.  Instead of being all “Andy, you rat bastard, why the hell did you run away after burning our woods down 50-odd years ago?  There’s probably an outstanding warrant for your arrest, and I plan to collect the reward money, statute of limitations be damned,” they act like they are long-lost BFFs and wheedle him into coming back to the farm to surprise Aunt Jane.  They are constantly worried that too much excitement will give her a stroke or a heart attack or something, but they seem to think that the sudden reappearance of the one that got away will be GREAT for her health.  Violet even tells Andy that Aunt Jane sent them to find him, which is an outright lie, but when Andy questions her about it, Sam assures him that he can believe anything these kids say.  What a good little soldier.  Henry must have slipped him another 20.

Everyone seems to forget Violet’s lie about Mission Bring Andy Home almost immediately, and instead they start worrying that she’s going to drop dead from the shock of seeing her ex.  They shouldn’t have worried, though.  Aunt Jane invites Andy to stay immediately.  They’ve been waiting to shack up for 50 odd years, so she’s not wasting any more time.  Andy accepts by telling her that when she rejected him he had nothing to live for so he ran away to sea (not because of the whole flintlock fire incident) and while he was at sea he bought her an uncut jewel at every port.  This kind of obsession with your ex-girlfriend seems like a healthy way to move on with your life and accept rejection.  Fortunately, it’s all working out just fine for Andy since Jane has changed her mind.  As usual, Aunt Jane wants to share everything with the kids so Benny assigns gemstones to everyone based on their color code.  And just when Andy is about to whip out the evidence that explains the whole haunted house mystery, Jessie declares that they should eat lunch first.  Gertie just can’t miss the opportunity to describe one last meal (cold meat and mac & cheese).  At long last, we get to read a letter that Andy found back in the day that explains everything!  It’s a giant letdown.  As everyone suspected, the farmers were hiding ammunition and soldiers in the cellar and woodshed hidey-holes.  They lost all of their friends but they helped secure our freedom, so they think it’s a good trade.  If only they’d known about the Aldens’ rent-a-friend program, they could have supplemented their sad, lonely existence.  There isn’t an explanation about why the Cooper family didn’t rekindle their lapsed acquaintances after the war was won.  Surely they weren’t the only patriots in town, but they were too skittish to figure it out.  Apparently everyone avoided the Cooper place forever afterward because they were so antisocial and then the house got the stigma and no one has stayed in it for very long since.  Andy says not to worry, though.  Since he’s back, the story will make the Sunday papers.  …..??  I would have thought that his upcoming arson trial would be the newsmaker.  This is not the kinds of intuitive leap that the Jeffersonian hired Cam Saroyan to help the squints learn to make.

Unsurprisingly, Andy & Jane announce their engagement at supper that night.  Maggie and Sam are happy that they’re free to go back home to their own farm in uranium country.  There’s no telling what state it’s in since they’ve been in New England tending to Aunt Jane.  Perhaps Grandfather provided them with a stipend to hire some help while they were away (cue Gypsies in the Palace), but it seems more likely that they had to abandon it to tend to Aunt Jane’s every whim.  Benny suggests that Andy poach Willie from his brother as hired help on the new farm, and they all live happily ever after for the rest of the summer.  EXCEPT THAT NO ONE KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN BEFORE THE SUMMER IS OUT EVEN JOHN CARTER AND HE USED TO WORK FOR THE FBI BUT THIS IS SUCH A BIG DEAL THAT EVEN HE WON’T EXPECT IT.  Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

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About Princess Consuela

Princess Consuela dropped the Bananahammock after her husband Crap Bag defined that word for her. She has excellent insight about Wuthering Heights, and she'll embarrass you in front of everyone if you pass said insight off as your own. She also lent her name as a good luck charm to Susanne Sugarbaker in an Atlantic City casino when Susanne needed money to get revenge on swindler Reggie Mac Dawson. View all posts by Princess Consuela

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