10 months ago
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Rich Girl, Poor Girl; Trixie Belden #1 The Secret of the Mansion
This is the very first Trixie book, written by Julie Campbell in 1948. Yes, it is SIXTY years old. And it's age kind of shows, though in my mind Trixie is kind of forever set in the 1960's or 70's. Anyway...
A lot happens in this book. More than I remembered. We are introduced to Trixie, working with her mother in the garden and bugging her for a horse. Throughout the book, Trixie goes back and forth between complaining and then reflecting on how she really does have it good after all. There is character backstory (Dad's a banker, older brothers Brian and Mart are working as camp counselors for the summer, little brother Bobby is a pest, but an adorable one). Trix is lonely and bored without her brothers around.
Dad comes home early from work and says that he found their reclusive and elderly neighbor, Mr. Frayne, unconscious at the end of his driveway that morning. Dad took him to the hospital, but it doesn't look good. We get backstory on the neighbor; how he and his wife were charming and neighborly, until she died suddenly after being bitten by a copperhead snake. Snakes are like a recurring theme in this book, as you will see. Mr. Frayne became mean and reclusive after her death. His run-down mansion sits somewhere behind the Belden's home.
As if this wasn't enough excitement for one day, Trixie then sees vans pulling up to the Manor House, the large mansion up the hill from Crabapple Farm (i.e. the Belden's cozy farmhouse). And, wonder of wonders, they brought horses, too! Dad says that the Wheeler family is moving in and that they have a daughter Trixie's age. Trix and Bobby go up to check this out.
They meet Madeline "Honey" Wheeler. Honey is tall, thin, and pale. Trixie's initial impression is that she must be stuck-up because she is wearing a "white linen dress and stockings and sandals." To be fair, I have to say if I were Honey, my initial impression of Trixie wouldn't be that great, either. She is kind of pushy, immediately asking about the horses and if she can ride. She and Honey make a deal; Honey will teach her to ride a horse if she will teach Honey to ride a bike. Yes, Honey has never ridden a bike. It is quickly revealed that she is the stereotypical "poor little rich girl." Shipped away to boarding schools and summer camps by her parents, never allowed to do anything dangerous, never allowed out on the streets "for fear of kidnappers." She's afraid of snakes, spiders, worms, dogs,... pretty much everything. She was also sick for a while. Now her parents have bought this place in the country, but Honey laments that it's no good if she can't have any fun.
Trixie tells Honey about crazy old Mr. Frayne, and that she wants to explore his house. Honey is appalled, but Trixie spins it by saying she just wants to make sure the place is locked up. Sure. Honey admits that she and her father walked up toward the mansion by mistake, and that she thought she saw a face at the window. That settles it for Trixie. They're going exploring.
But first, we meet Regan (the Wheeler's groom) and Miss Trask (Honey's governess). We get our first mention of Miss Trask's "sturdy brown-and-white oxfords." I should do a post about the clothing of the Trixie Belden series sometimes. Oxfords, jodhoppers, dungarees....Trixie has her first riding lesson. She does well, but Regan and Honey don't want her to overdo it. After the lesson the girls hike up to the Frayne Mansion. Julie Campbell does a pretty good job describing the place and setting the scene. It's dark, foreboding, weather-beaten, and really, REALLY dirty. Through the windows, the girls can see stacks and stacks of junk (old newspapers, dishes, cartons), and it's described as being "white with mold." Yuck. If Mr. Frayne lived there for so long, shouldn't he already be dead? My allergies hurt just thinking about it.
They climb in a window and sure enough, someone is inside. It's a red-headed boy, about 15, sleeping on an old mattress. He wakes up and points a shotgun at them. Honey is (understandably) scared, but Trixie is confrontational. She tells him this is Mr Frayne's house and that he was taken to the hospital. They boy looks sad and says Mr. Frayne is his great-uncle. They even have the same name: James Winthrop Frayne. Jim came from Albany to find his uncle. Both of his parents are dead. He's trying to escape his wicked step-father Jonesy. Jim: "I call him Simon Legree, myself." Heh. There are some pretty serious descriptions of child abuse in this book (beaten, tied to a bed for three days, etc) but Jim is surprisingly nonchalant about the whole thing. He does say he won't go back.
Because their hearts are so big, Trixie and Honey immediately begin arguing about whose family will adopt Jim. Girls, this is the guy who was pointing a gun at you a few minutes ago. Just sayin'. They agree not to tell and that they will bring him something to eat. They come back later with a picnic lunch. They work out a signal with Jim; they will whistle like a Bob-White quail so he will know it's them. Bob, Bob-White! And with that, the bob-white signal is born.
Mr. Frayne is rumored to have a treasure somewhere, even though he lived like a miser. Jim would be the only living heir to the fortune, if there is one. It could even be as much as half a million dollars! Jim has a dream of using the money to go to college and to open a school for orphaned boys someday. At the very least, he should inherit the mansion and its grounds. The girls and Jim start searching through the house for the money, which they do several times throughout the book. This time, they find a brass key, but can't figure out what it opens.
I'm going to have to skip over a lot of the middle, or this will be way too long. It involves scary chickens, mad dogs, runaway horses, and copperhead snakes. Trixie's summer vacation is way more exciting than any of mine ever were. She even sucks the blood and venom out of Bobby's toe after he is bitten by a copperhead. Ew. The girls discover Jim is an excellent horseman when he rides Jupiter, the Wheelers' strongest horse. Regan figures out pretty quickly that the girls are sneaking off to see someone, but he says he will mind his own business. Apparently he knows what it's like to run away from a bad home. Regan is awesome. Nosey Mr. Lytell who owns a general store on Glen Road is also starting to catch on, after he sees them out riding. Mr. Lytell is not so awesome. He's kind of like Mr. Olsen from Little House On The Prairie. Actually, he's nosy and gossipy, so maybe more like Mrs. Olsen.
On another search of the house, Jim and the girls find a will. Jim is the sole heir! The executor of the estate is a Mr George Rainsford. They have no idea how to contact him. Jim is still worried about his stepfather showing up. He wants to leave to find a job somewhere else, but the girls convince him to stay longer. Then, the most unbelievable part of the book happens; a plane crashes just behind Ten Acres. No, seriously. No one is hurt, but the media is all over it. One of them even takes pictures of the inside of the Frayne Mansion. Also, Mr. Frayne has finally passed away, and the media connects the two stories. They even mention the missing heir. Jim knows his stepfather will make see it in the paper and come looking for him. The girls convince him to stay one more night. Of course, that's the night it hits the fan.
The girls do one more search and find a diamond engagement ring inside a vault hidden behind a painting (of course). They go for a moonlight horse ride and come back to find a man sneaking around the mansion. Jonesy! He leaves, and Jim says he will sleep in the summerhouse. The girls leave, but come back when Trixie sees smoke coming from the direction of Ten Acres. Jonesy dropped a cigarette and all the old papers and boxes have set the mansion on fire. The fire department is called. Trixie wakes Jim up in the summerhouse so he can escape the fire. Jonesy shows up again, screaming about how Jim and the money are all burning up inside the house. The fireman pay no attention to him (he is clearly more worried about the money than Jim). Finally Jonesy leaves. The girls go back home for the night.
In the morning they go up to the summerhouse, but Jim is gone. He leaves a note saying he finally found the money. It was in an old mattress that Trixie had dragged out of the house earlier for reasons I can't remember. The money will keep him going for a while. He says he wants Trixie to have the ring. That same day, Mr. George Rainsford shows up. The girls tell him what has been going on. He admonishes them for breaking into the house and confronting Jim when they didn't know who he was. Trixie says she has a habit of acting before she thinks. Mr. Rainsford says he's sure she meant well and she will never do anything like that again. Poor, naive Mr. Rainsford. He also says that there is a half-million dollar fortune, which had been set up in a trust fund for Jim. The girls hatch a plan to take Miss Trask and the Wheeler's trailer and go find him before he gets too far away. Cliffhanger! The story will pick back up in #2, The Red Trailer Mystery. And so will this blog.