Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jewel Quest: Trixie Belden #14- "The Mystery of the Emeralds

This is the type of story that seems to appear in every children's mystery series. It involves cleaning out the attic on a rainy day, old letters, the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and the Old South. It's an interesting mystery, but the plot does hinge on one really HUGE coincidence that I find a bit hard to swallow.

The books opens with Trixie doing some kind of wish ritual that I had never heard of before. It involves saying "Rabbit, Rabbit" right before going to sleep and just after waking up. I don't know if it's real or if the author made this up. Of course, our girl wishes for another mystery.

It's summertime at Crabapple Farm. It is also raining, which makes it a perfect day to clean out the attic. Trixie and her mother are going through the mountains of old stuff that seem to multiply in every attic, looking for stuff for a White Elephant Sale, which is like a yard sale, I guess. Trix loses her balance and crashes through a wall, opening up a long-closed crawl space. She finds a old canteen that looks Civil War-Era, and they wonder if they could get anything for it at the White Elephant Sale. ?! 88Keys cringes at the thought of a real Civil War artifact being sold at a yard sale. Trixie also finds a letter in the pocket of some old clothes.

Trixie, Honey, and Jim read the letter before the Bob-White meeting that afternoon. I won't quote the whole thing, but it is from someone named Ruth and is written to her sister. Mrs. John Sunderland, Croton-on-Hudson. Ruth is in Virginia, at a place called "Rosewood Hall." Ruth writes of tensions between the North and South. She is sending one of their (freed) slaves north along the Underground Railroad with this letter. The letter also mentions an emerald necklace (still hidden at Rosewood Hall). There are instructions on how to find it hidden "in the place where we spent the last afternoon you were here."

The Bob-Whites mull over the letter during the meeting. Trixie is determined to try and find the necklace, even though it is apparently in another state. The others really defer to her in this book, and try to make sure she gets her way and shield her from all disappointment. Trix and Honey bike ride to Croton the next day, and find the only Sunderland listed in the phone book, a Miss Julie. She is very nice, but elderly and scatter-brained. Apparently Ruth was her aunt, and she did indeed go south to get married and never came back to New York. The girls tell her about the letter, and she gives them some old diaries of her father's to look through. She encourages them to try and find the necklace.

At Miss Julie's, the girls also meet Neil, a boy about their age who helps Miss Julie out. Trixie takes an instant dislike to him, just like she did to Dan. Neil seems suspicious of the girls as well. He has dropped out of school because he loves horses and wants to get a job on a ranch. He goes inside, and Trixie and Honey take the diaries and leave.

The diaries are pretty dull reading, but they do reveal that Rosewood is in Clivenden, Virginia. Trix is bummed, until Diana asks if Clivenden is anywhere near Williamsburg. Why yes, yes it is! In an amazing coincidence, Di says her parents are leaving the next day for Williamsburg and had wanted her to go with them, but she begged out of it. She says she will ask her parents if they will take all the Bob-Whites on the trip. Of course, they say yes, and that the trip will be her birthday present. And of course, the Beldens let their kids out of their chores, again. (Chronologically, this is their seventh trip in, like, a year, which you will see in future recaps.)

The group takes a quick tour of Washington and Williamsburg, but of course their minds are on getting to Clivenden. Trixie thinks she sees Neil on the way down, but isn't sure. Mr. Lynch lets Jim drive the group around while he and Mrs. Lynch are doing their business-type stuff. They meet Lizzie James at the post office, who directs them to Rosewood Hall. Unfortunately, all that's left is a ruin and some horses. An unfriendly man who says he owns the place makes them leave.

Just down the road they find another old plantation, and this one is intact. It's called "Green Trees," and is owned by Edgar Carver. Green Trees is set up like a little museum, with tours every Thursday. The Bob-Whites tell Mr. Carver about the letter, and he says Ruth was his grandmother. He did sell Rosewood Hall to Jenkins (the nasty man who ran them off), but he still owns Green Trees and the family burial ground. He gives the Bob-Whites permission to hunt for the necklace.

Jim and Trixie search the burial vault and find a locket with a picture of Ruth and a little piece of paper with further instructions. This is the place Ruth and her sister spent their last afternoon together? Creepy! Neil catches them and thinks they're robbing the grave. He and Jim fight, Jim wins, and Neil runs off. Trixie has a change of heart about him and thinks he might not be such a bad guy. I have no idea what brought this about; this is the guy she took an "instant dislike" to a few pages ago. She thinks he must have a gentle side, the way he took care of Miss Julie. But also that he is probably trying to find the emeralds, because why else would he have ended up in Virginia?

The instructions in the locket say to look in the secret passageway between the two homes, behind the brick marked with an "X." Is it a rule of fiction that every old home has to have a secret passageway? Mr. Carver isn't aware of any passage, but he lets the Bob-Whites look around.

The next day, the Bob-Whites find Mr. Carver out of his wheelchair, and with a nasty knock on his head. He doesn't remember what happened and thinks he just fell out of the chair. The Bob-Whites think someone (maybe Jenkins) attacked him. While future doctor Brian hones his bedside manner, Neil shows up and wants to talk to Trixie alone. He has been working for Jenkins on his horse farm, but he says Jenkins is cruel both to him and to the horses. He did tell Jenkins about the necklace, and they have been looking for it together. But now Neil wants to get away from him. Trixie says that the Bob-Whites will help him.

Mr. Carver is OK by the next day. His friend Ms. Bates brings by a copy of the plans for the house. Ms. Bates is kind of mouthy and jerky, so I won't talk about her much. Trixie notices that there is some extra space between two of the rooms. It's very clear on the blueprint, but apparently no one has noticed it for the last hundred years. Of course, it's a stairway to the secret tunnel connecting the two houses.

They don't find the brick right away, and Jenkins shows up on the final day to say that he has found the necklace. He brings it over to show them and offers to sell it to Mr. Carver, since it's in the family and all. The girls can tell right away that it's just junk jewelry, but they play along. Mr. Carver says he will think about it and Jenkins leaves.

Finally, Trixie and Jim find the marked brick in the tunnel. They can hear someone (Jenkins) digging on the other side of the wall. They get the brick out, and there is an old box behind it. The necklace! The group confronts Jenkins, who scrams. Mr. Carver says he will use the money from the necklace to have an operation that should allow him to walk again. Mr. Lynch is going to buy Rosewood Hall and restore it, and Neil will get the job of taking care of the horses. In the end, Trixie helps another poor orphan, makes the lame walk, and continues her jewel-finding streak. Not bad for a few days' work. Still, wasn't this supposed to be Diana's birthday trip, not Trixie's?

I'm really sorry for the delay on this. Summer is a busy time around here. I've even been canning tomatoes (just like Trixie!). We are going on vacation at the beginning of September, and I hope to have at least one more recap up before then.