The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey 15

  Kate, meanwhile, was tossing the shovel like a spear into the middle of the thicket. Reynie glanced ahead at the gate — almost there — and when he glanced back, Kate was disappearing around the castle’s farthest corner. Jackson and Jillson came around the other corner just as Reynie darted out through the gate.

  “I don’t think they saw us,” said Constance, who also had been looking back, “but what if they ask around? A lot of people saw us running to the gate.” Indeed, some people were looking at them even now. A few were glancing about as if they wondered where the children’s parents were.

  “I can’t imagine either of them speaks Portuguese,” said Sticky. “We’ll have to hope they don’t find someone who speaks English. Maybe they won’t even think to ask. They aren’t very clever, you know.”

  As if to prove Sticky’s point, a thwacking sound came from the direction of the thicket, followed by a loud oath. Jackson had stumbled upon the shovel Kate had put there for that very purpose. It sounded as if he’d stepped on the blade, causing the handle to fly up and strike him. The thought would have been amusing were Jackson’s angry grumbling not growing louder and more distinct by the moment.

  “Clever or not, they’re coming this way,” said Reynie, staring anxiously at the gate. “We need to get out of here. But Kate —”

  “What about me?”

  Everyone jumped and turned to see Kate grinning at them.

  “Where did you come from?” Constance asked.

  “I went over the far wall,” said Kate. She handed Sticky his spectacles. “Listen, I heard them talking. They weren’t sure who I was, but they’re coming out to look around. Here, Reynie, you’d better let me carry Constance.”

  The children took off, hurrying away from the castle. Down, down along the twisting cobbled street, weaving through pedestrians, crossing tiled plazas, down and down to where the street grew still more narrow and began to branch off into other streets and alleyways. They had come into the fishery district. The children stopped to catch their breath and get their bearings. Around them the odor of fish mingled with the more delicate scent of flowering bougainvillea, which draped the old stone walls. Locals and tourists brushed shoulders passing up and down the narrow street, and crowded in the doorways of little shops.

  Reynie and Sticky were panting and clutching their sides. Sticky had dropped to one knee and was mopping his brow with his shirt.

  “You guys are in awful shape,” observed Constance from her perch on Kate’s back.

  Kate was looking back up the way they’d come. The spyglass was of no use; the streets were too winding to allow her to see more than a block in any direction. But at least Jackson and Jillson weren’t right behind them, which they all had half-feared.

  “We don’t even know where we’re going yet,” Reynie gasped. “We need to read the clue.”

  They moved into an alley, huddling together behind a stall in which rows of huge fish were stacked like logs. They would not be easily seen from the street. The fish vendor — a burly man wielding a cleaver — glanced at them, saw that they were only children, and returned to his task of lopping off fish heads. Kate slit the envelope open with her Army knife. Inside was a note and a key.

  She glanced at the note. “I can’t make heads or tails of this,” she said, handing the note to Sticky and directing her attention to the key. It was an ordinary metal key, smallish, with the number 37 engraved upon it. Kate took out her farm keys to compare with it, thinking she might deduce what sort of thing it unlocked. She suspected a cabinet, or no, a locker — this key was much like the one for the grain locker in the barn, and lockers, after all, were usually numbered.

  Sticky, meanwhile, was reading the note aloud: “This station word will train you to send the puzzle.”

  “What’s a station word, anyway?” asked Kate.

  “I’ve never heard of any such thing,” said Sticky. “Maybe it’s a —”

  “The train station,” said Constance. “Right, Reynie? This word puzzle will send you to the train station. That’s the only possible answer!”

  Startled, Sticky looked back and forth between Constance and the note in his hand. This new Constance — the one who could detect patterns and sense things others couldn’t — took some getting used to.

  “Looks right to me,” Reynie said.

  “I’ll bet this key opens a rental locker there!” said Kate. “Quick, Sticky! Ask this man how to get to the train station!” She tapped the shoulder of the fish vendor.

  Sticky blinked, opened his mouth, closed it again. The vendor looked at Kate, then at Sticky. He waved his cleaver impatiently and said something in Portuguese.

  “I . . . I don’t speak Portuguese,” Sticky said, and Kate cocked her head in surprise.

  Constance looked positively disgusted. “But on the ship,” she said, “when Captain Noland asked you —”

  “I can write it, though!” Sticky said, digging in his pocket for a pen. As the vendor watched — and the others exchanged troubled glances — Sticky turned Mr. Benedict’s note over and began to write. The vendor said something else in Portuguese. He made a writing motion with his hand, then shrugged and shook his head.

  “He can’t read,” Reynie said.

  “Let me get this straight,” Kate said. “Sticky can write Portuguese but can’t speak it, and this fellow can speak it but can’t read it.” She seemed uncertain whether to be frustrated or amused.

  Sticky, meanwhile, seemed ready to cry.

  Reynie stepped forward. “Do you speak English?”

  The man shrugged apologetically and turned away.

  “Español?” asked Reynie. He had studied Spanish for a couple of years at the orphanage academy. Portugal bordered Spain, so just maybe . . .

  “Sí,” the man said, turning back to him. “Un poquito.”

  “What’s he saying?” Kate asked.

  “He speaks a little Spanish,” said Reynie, and he quickly asked the man where the train station was located. After a brief, difficult exchange (they both spoke rather clumsy Spanish), Reynie deduced that the station was only a short walk away. The man even agreed to draw them a map, and with a few proficient strokes of the pen he rendered quite an excellent one on the back of Mr. Benedict’s note. He couldn’t write the street names, but these he spoke aloud to Reynie, who thanked him heartily and turned back to the others.

  The girls were already set to go, with Constance riding piggyback and Kate looking up and down the busy street to be sure Jackson and Jillson weren’t around. Sticky was avoiding Reynie’s gaze, but if he expected a complaint, he certainly wouldn’t get it from Reynie. Now was hardly the time.

  The train station was a bustling, crowded place, with several loading platforms all swarming with people. There was a constant babble of conversation and a barrage of rattling and clacking and hissing as trains pulled in and out of the station, and on top of all that were loudspeaker announcements that echoed everywhere. It was very difficult to hear anything clearly.

  “Try again,” said Constance.

  Kate again tried to contact Captain Noland on Cannonball’s radio. But the squawk that came through its speaker was unintelligible, and for all she knew her own voice on the other end had sounded every bit as squawkish. Even if not, the noisy station might have made her words impossible to comprehend. There was no way to tell if the captain had understood her — or even if it was the captain who had responded. Kate turned the radio off to preserve its battery. They would have to try again later.

  Constance scowled. “You should have radioed from the castle, Kate.”

  “If you’ll recall,” Kate said lightly, “I was a little busy helping us escape.”

  Reynie said nothing. He had observed Kate’s efforts to contact the captain with a strange mixture of hope and misgiving, and he thought it best to keep quiet until he figured out how he really felt.

  Sticky came hurrying over from the ticket counter. “I got directions,” he said, waving a piece of p
aper. “The rental lockers are that way.”

  The others followed Sticky through a door and down a short corridor. If the key didn’t open a locker, the children had no idea how they were to decide where to go next, so it was with considerable anxiety that they watched Kate insert the key into Locker 37. She turned the key. The lock sprang.

  Inside the locker was an envelope and a stack of paper money. The bills were very colorful, nothing at all like the money the children were used to, and Constance regarded them skeptically. “Fake money? Why would he give us fake money?”

  “Those are euro banknotes,” Sticky said. “They’re common currency in Europe.”

  “Okay, so it’s real money,” said Constance. “What are we supposed to buy with it?”

  “Train tickets, I imagine,” said Reynie, opening the letter and reading it aloud:

  You’ve used your gifts to come this far

  (And done so most terrifically),

  The next step also calls for gifts —

  Constance’s specifically.

  “Me?” Constance said. “What am I supposed to do? Predict the stupid weather?”

  The others looked at one another, stymied.

  “Maybe you should look around,” Reynie suggested. “Maybe the answer will come to you.”

  “Give me a break!” said Constance, feeling very much on the spot. She glanced up and down the corridor. “I see lockers. That’s it.”

  “No patterns?” Sticky asked.

  “Hmm. The lockers do seem to be arranged in numerical order,” Constance said sarcastically. “I wonder if that’s important.”

  Kate had begun transferring the money from the locker to her bucket. “You’re joking,” she said, “but maybe the numbers are significant.” She tapped the number on the locker door. “Maybe ‘37’ means something.”

  “It probably means the first thirty-six lockers were taken when Mr. Benedict rented this one,” said Constance.

  “It isn’t a bad idea,” said Reynie. “Let’s think about it.”

  But no matter how hard they all thought about it, they couldn’t find any significance in the number. Constance, meanwhile, began to pace back and forth. For Constance this was unusual behavior (it was more like Reynie), and Reynie watched her closely, trying to imagine how Mr. Benedict expected them to figure out this clue. If anyone was sensitive to Constance’s volatile moods, Mr. Benedict was. It seemed unlike him to put such pressure on her. True, he hadn’t predicted so much would be riding on this clue, but even so, he probably hadn’t intended for Constance to figure it out all by herself.

  Constance had stopped pacing now, and Reynie suddenly realized she was staring hard at him.

  “What’s the matter?” he said.

  “You’re figuring this out,” Constance said. “I can tell.”

  “I am?” Reynie said. “You can?”

  Sticky and Kate exchanged glances. They could tell something important was happening.

  “Maybe it’s a look in your eye,” Constance said, “or maybe it’s your expression, or the way you breathe, or . . . I don’t know. I can tell, though. You’re about to come up with the answer.” She continued to stare at Reynie, her eyes searching now, half hopeful and half afraid.

  Reynie tried to keep his composure. He knew Constance needed him to remain calm, but in fact his heart was racing. It was very strange indeed to have his thoughts revealed like that. For his thoughts on the matter had just shifted a little, had they not? He’d begun to broaden his perspective on the clue, to consider how he might look at it in a different way . . .

  “There!” said Constance, just as Reynie’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak. “You figured it out!”

  Reynie’s mouth snapped shut. He took a deep breath. “Okay, that’s pretty unsettling, Constance.”

  “Tell me about it,” said Constance. “Think how it is for me.”

  Kate couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “What is it, then? What’s the answer? Tell us, for crying out loud!”

  “It’s the pendant,” said Reynie, pointing to Constance’s new necklace. “Mr. Benedict didn’t mean ‘gift’ as in ‘talent,’ he meant ‘gift’ as in ‘present’!”

  Kate laughed. “Well, what do you know? Your present was a clue in disguise! Come on, Constance, let’s have a look!”

  Constance unclasped the necklace and held the pendant in front of her, turning the miniature globe over and over in her fingers. She gazed at it sadly, admiring anew its rich greens and blues and its brilliant little crystal. “The world is your oyster,” Mr. Benedict had written in her birthday card, and now they all understood that he’d had more in mind than it first appeared. He’d been planning this exciting trip around the world, unaware of the danger into which he was about to fall — and into which Constance and the others would follow him.

  Constance thrust the pendant toward Kate. “Here,” she said in a choked voice. “Look at it all you want.” She turned and walked a few paces down the corridor, visibly upset.

  The others looked after her with concern, but there was little they could do to comfort Constance right now. They still had to figure out where to go next, and it wasn’t proving as easy as any of them hoped. The continents and oceans on the globe pendant were clearly depicted, but there were no markings anywhere to indicate a destination, and the crystal was set in the middle of the Pacific — no apparent help.

  “Any thoughts?” Kate asked.

  Reynie was scratching his head. “Mr. Benedict wrote that the world was her oyster, right? I think this oyster must have a pearl inside. The question is how we get to it. Maybe there’s some kind of internal mechanism. Try pressing on the crystal.”

  Kate pressed the crystal. Nothing happened. She tried moving it up and down like a switch, then twisting it like a dial. The crystal was firmly set, however, and wouldn’t budge. She turned the globe, inspecting it carefully. There were no discernible seams, no secret hinges. Kate glanced down the corridor at Constance and whispered, “Do you think we have to crack it open?”

  Sticky grimaced. “I hope not. She’s upset enough as it is.”

  “Mr. Benedict wouldn’t do that to Constance,” said Reynie. “There must be some other way.”

  “I could pry the crystal off with my knife,” Kate said. “Maybe there’s a hidden catch or something beneath it. We can have the crystal reset later.” She shrugged. “Assuming, you know, that we survive long enough.”

  Sticky covered his face. “I hate it when you say things like that.”

  “Can you do it without breaking the pendant or scratching it up?” Reynie asked.

  “I think so,” Kate said. She peered closely at the edges of the crystal to see exactly how it had been set. “Wait a minute, there seems to be something . . .” She held the crystal right up to one eye and closed the other. “Whoa!”

  Constance hurried back to them. “What? What is it?”

  Grinning, Kate handed her the pendant. “That crystal’s not exactly what it seems. Don’t just look at it. Try looking through it.”

  Constance covered one eye and held the pendant very close to the other. She started. “Whoa!” She jerked the pendant away, looked at it as if she’d never seen it before, then brought it close to peer into the crystal again.

  The crystal, as the boys soon discovered for themselves, was a magnifying glass. Looking through it revealed a map of Holland hidden inside the pendant. The map was smaller than a postage stamp but perfectly legible when seen through the crystal. A bright red X marked a city called Thernbaakagen, and at the bottom of the map was the name of a hotel and a street address.

  “I saw that city on the schedule board!” Sticky said. “There’s a train leaving for there in ten minutes!”

  “Then it’s time to catch a train,” Reynie said.

  As the members of the Mysterious Benedict Society hurried to catch their train, Jackson and Jillson — less hurried but every bit as purposeful — entered the station. With frowning faces they s
canned the crowd. Neither was especially methodical by nature, and their search, at first, was haphazard. After a few minutes of fruitless looking, however, Jackson had the idea of starting at one platform and walking slowly along all the platforms until they reached the other side of the station. He told Jillson that this was what they would do.

  “I don’t like being told what to do,” said Jillson.

  “Maybe not,” said Jackson. “But you don’t like making decisions, either.”

  “That’s true,” Jillson said, and she started walking, shoving aside a young businessman who dropped his newspaper and almost fell. “So you tell me what to do, Jackson, but you don’t tell me why. For the last time, why are we at the train station?”

  Jackson ignored her. They had just come to the first platform. “You look that way, into the station,” he said, pleased with himself for having devised a system, “and I’ll look this way, toward the platforms.”

  Jillson grunted and did as Jackson said, but after passing the first two platforms she still hadn’t sighted the wild-haired bespectacled girl they’d seen at the castle, the one who’d behaved so curiously and looked so familiar. Then she remembered that Jackson had never answered her question. “Hey,” she said, “tell me why we’re here or I’m going to club you.”

  This time Jackson deigned to answer. “Because Benedict came here, Jillson. Don’t you remember? He and that nervous-looking woman came here on the same morning they went to the castle.”

  “Of course I remember. But so what?”

  “So they came and left without catching a train. And they never did catch a train. They left on a plane. Which means they were up to something at this station, Jillson, something other than catching a train.”

  Jillson stared blankly at him. “That’s it?”

  “Yes, that’s it,” Jackson said irritably. “Besides the castle, this is the only place in the city that we know is connected to Benedict. If we saw someone suspicious hurrying away from the first place, and we didn’t find her on the street, don’t you think we ought to look around the —”

  As Jackson was talking they came to the next platform, where a train was about to pull away. The platform was empty now — all the passengers had boarded — except for one girl who leaped aboard the last car just as the train began to move.