that one girl and life is sweet
 

Chapter 1: Is It So Mysterious?

September 27, 1957

Dan climbed into the dark blue sedan waiting for him at the Croton-Harmon train station. He still felt awkward about having the Wheelers' chauffeur driving him, but his uncle had insisted it wasn't a problem. "Hi, Mr. Delanoy," Dan greeted, climbing into the back seat.

"Call me Tom, please. Everyone does, even the Bob-Whites." Tom smiled at him through the rear-view mirror.

"Okay, Tom." Dan smiled back. "Thanks for picking me up. I could've taken the bus into town."

"Really? You realize the bus only runs once every two hours and travels such a circuitous route that it would take you another two to be dropped off on Glen Road. And, then, you'd still have to walk." Tom shook his head as he pulled out of the parking lot. "It really is no trouble, Dan. And Mr. Wheeler doesn't mind at all, either."

Dan chuckled. "I do know the bus route is crazy. I've done it before."

"And how long did it take you, door-to-door, to get from your home to your uncle's?" Tom asked.

Dan snorted as he glanced out the window at the street sign on the corner. "Six and a half hours."

Tom laughed. "Please, any time you're coming up by train, just let me know."

"Okay." Dan saw that they were about to get on the freeway. "Say, why did you want me to come all the way up to the Croton station instead of the Sleepyside one?"

"The Wheelers are so far on the outskirts of town that the Croton station is actually closer by a good five minutes." Tom merged into the other lane of traffic. "I hope it didn't set you back too much more money, did it? I hadn't even thought of that until just now."

"No, don't worry. It's the exact same price." Dan leaned back in the seat. They were soon exiting the freeway and turning onto Albany Post Road. "I can't wait to get my driver's license. Then I can just drive myself. Well, if Pops lets me borrow the car."

"Have you learned how to drive, yet?" Tom flicked the turn-signal to turn onto Glen Road.

"Not yet. But Pops has shown me some of the basics and I paid a lot of attention when he taught Neil. I know I'll be ready by the time I turn sixteen." Dan watched the scenery as they drove past. The thick canopy of trees lining the road—a mixture of pines and cedars, as well as groves of oaks and maples, most of their leaves still green from the wet summer rains—were part of the Wheeler game preserve. At least, he was pretty sure they were, since he knew they'd soon be turning onto the Wheelers' long driveway. He couldn't wait to see Honey again, and his uncle, too, of course.

"Oh, look, that's the school bus just behind us. So, you must not have had any school today?" Tom glanced at the clock on the dashboard. "You're not usually here quite this early."

Dan shrugged his shoulders. "It was a half-day at school. There was some kind of teacher thing or something this afternoon."

Tom chuckled. "When school gets out early, does it really matter why?" He pulled into the Wheelers' driveway and stopped the car just outside the garage.

Dan opened the door and let himself out, dragging his bag up onto his shoulder. "Thanks, Mr. Del—I mean Tom!"

"No problem!" Tom tipped his hat to him and then wandered into the garage.

Dan climbed the stairs to the apartment so he could put his overnight bag in his room, and then immediately climbed back down and headed toward the stables to see his uncle. He was surprised to see that Honey and Jim were already there.

Dan stood in the wide doorway, his arms crossed. "I thought it was supposed to be homework first and then exercise the horses?"

"Dan!" Honey dropped Lady's reins in surprise and made a motion as if to run toward him. But then she stopped and quickly grabbed onto the reins again. Dan knew how upset Regan would be with her if she didn't, and she had probably realized the same. "You're here already? That's great!" Her face broke into a huge smile.

Dan smiled back. "I couldn't wait to get here. Left right after school let out."

"Hi, Dan. Good to see you. Want to come with us?" Jim's greeting was much less enthusiastic but still warm and friendly.

"I thought he was coming to visit me, not you two." Regan winked.

"Dan!" Brian walked into the stables. "You got here early. Can you ride with us?"

Dan shrugged. "May I, Uncle Bill?"

"Of course." Regan tilted his head toward Spartan's stall. "Spartan would like that."

Trixie and Mart followed Brian inside the stables. "The more the merrier!" Trixie grinned. "Glad you could make it here so early today."

Regan's eyes suddenly narrowed. "Where are you all going this afternoon, anyway?"

Mart walked over to Strawberry's stall. "Believe it or not, we're off to look for a mislaid butler. I don't suppose you've got him hidden around here anywhere, have you?" He pretended to look in the horse's quarters.

"Harrison?" Regan scratched his head, looking surprised. "Are you serious? Why, I saw him just last night."

Trixie gasped. "You did? Oh, Regan, where? Please try to remember. It's very important."

"But I don't have to try to remember. I do remember, very clearly. I saw him along Glen Road, riding his bicycle." Regan grinned.

"I didn't know he had a bicycle." Mart started saddling his horse.

"Well, he had one last night. It was yellow, I think." Regan put a finger to his mouth as if trying to remember every little detail. "I was riding Jupe at the time. Harrison tipped his derby hat and said, 'Good evening, Mr. Regan. Good evening, Jupiter.'"

"And then what?" Dan was still trying to remember what Harrison looked like. He'd only met the butler once, and that was back in February when he had first visited Sleepyside.

Regan shrugged. "And then nothing. He turned off onto one of those side trails that lead into the woods and—" He broke off sharply. "Is that were you're planning on taking the horses?"

"We'll be careful," Trixie replied quickly. "We'll watch out for loose stones and trailing roots and stuff like that. Honest!"

Honey placed a hand on the groom's arm. "Did Harrison happen to say where he was going?"

"No, he didn't." Regan's face still held a worried frown. "Now, you just listen to me, all of you. If I find that you kids ever try to gallop the horses through those woods—"

It took another ten minutes and the combined efforts of all the teens to convince him that his precious horses would come to no harm. Dan could tell that his uncle was really worried about Mr. Harrison, though, and just diverting that to his concern for the horses.

By then, Di had joined them. She was wearing jodhpurs and riding her palomino Saddlebred, Sunny. Trixie quickly filled her in on the information they had just learned from Regan.

 

When they reached Glen Road, they decided to split up. Even though Dan had wanted to stay with Honey, he somehow got pulled along with Mart and Di.

Dan turned to the violet-eyed beauty. "So, how long has ... Harrison?"

Mart nodded, confirming he had the name right.

"How long has he been missing?" Dan finished his question.

"Since last night. He got a phone call late in the evening and then left shortly after that." Di frowned. "I'm really worried."

Dan could see that was true. "And he was supposed to chaperone the charity bazaar tomorrow. But that's not anywhere near as important as just making sure he's all right."

"Right." Mart was peering down as he rode, apparently searching for some kind of clue that the butler had gone through this section of wood.

Dan figured he should do the same and turned his attention to the ground. There didn't seem to be anything unusual or out of place. Some of the trees were just starting to change color, but most were still green, and the leaves hadn't dropped yet. That made it easier to tell if anyone had been along the path. The ground wasn't hard; foot prints or bicycle tracks—if there were any to be found—should have been clearly visible.

Di let out a sniff. "What are we going to do if we can't find him? I mean ... I know we'll go to the police tonight if he doesn't show up, but that's such a long time from now."

"We'll find him, Di." Mart glanced over at her and then returned his eyes to the ground ahead of him and Strawberry.

"How can you be so sure?" She wiped at her face with her hand.

Dan wondered the same thing. Anything could have happened. He was an old man, after all, although maybe not that old. But a heart attack could strike at any age. Or he could have had a pretty serious fall and be lying unconscious somewhere. He didn't voice his thoughts aloud. There was no reason to alarm Diana; she was stressed out enough as it was.

"Let's turn down this trail," Mart suggested, pointing to a path on their right. "It goes past Mr. Lytell's store and leads over to the Hartmans. Maybe he was going to visit them?"

"Why would you think that?" Di's eyes were wide with wonder.

"Well, you did say he'd gotten a phone call, right? And that he didn't seem stressed or nervous about it? I figure it had to be a friend of his, and I've seen him and Mr. Hartman together before." Mart turned Strawberry down the path.

Dan and Di followed him.

"You think they're friends?" Di nodded her head. "I guess that's possible."

"Sure. They were chatting together about something in Mr. Lytell's store last week, and they seemed friendly enough. Harrison does have a life outside his job, you know?" Mart grinned at her, appearing confident in his new theory.

"Well, yes, I know that." Di sounded a little upset at his words. "You don't happen to know what they were talking about, do you?"

Mart shook his head. "I wasn't really paying attention. I was just there getting the Sunday papers for my dad. But I heard them say the word 'museum', because it made me think of you, which is how I happened to even notice the two of them."

"Oh." Di gave him a half-hearted smile.

"So, who is Mr. Hartman?" Dan asked. "I've never met him before, have I?"

"No, probably not. I don't know much about him myself. I think he's some kind of retired police officer or something. Lives on Glen Road not far from here." Mart pointed vaguely through the woods, presumably toward the street.

The three of them continued to lead the horses along the trail. Dan hoped Mart knew where he was going. He was starting to feel lost.

"I'm glad you managed to get here early, Dan," Di said suddenly, probably to break the silence. "Didn't you have school today?"

Dan nodded. "Half day only, though. I finished up my chores at home quickly so I could try and catch the early train."

"Speaking of train, maybe you can help me out this weekend." Mart turned part-way around on Strawberry's back, facing Dan.

He peered at Mart curiously, not trusting the other boy's mischievous expression. "With what?"

"Training Reddy."

Di laughed. "You can't be serious."

"I am serious." Mart guided Strawberry to the left. "I just bet Trixie that I could get Reddy to do what we want, and I only have one week to train him. If I lose, I'll have to be her slave for an entire month."

"You are totally nuts. That dog always does just the opposite of what you guys tell him." Dan shook his head. He enjoyed Reddy's exuberance and somewhat wild nature whenever he visited the Beldens.

Di nodded in agreement. "I can't believe you made that bet. Trixie's as sure as won already."

"Wait. I think you just gave me an idea, Dan." Mart didn't elaborate on his idea though. The woods ended and they were back on Glen Road. Mart turned to the right. "The Hartmans live just down that driveway, there."

Dan could see the driveway just a few feet ahead of them, but no cars were parked in it. They were soon there. Di dismounted and quickly looped her reins through one of the slats in the neat wooden fence that surrounded the property. Mart and Dan quickly did the same, catching up with her at the Hartmans' door.

Di reached up to knock again. "I don't think they're home."

"Wait, did you hear that?" Mart turned to face the woods.

Dan listened carefully and then heard what Mart must have. "Sounded like a Bob-White whistle."

"I hope that means he's found!" Di hurried back to Sunny. "We can always check here later, if we need to."

The three of them were soon back on the trails in the preserve. Every once in a while, Mart would let out a whistle, and then an answering call would come back. It didn't take long for them to find their way to a small clearing in a shallow valley just outside the preserve. A small white frame house stood in the middle. The lush green yard was bordered by brightly colored flower beds. The branches of fruit trees peeked over the top of the house. It looked absolutely peaceful and serene. But the best part of the picture? A yellow bicycle was leaning on the porch of the house.

"Why, this is Sleepyside Hollow. I didn't know you could get here from that trail," Mart commented.

"Who lives here?" Dan asked.

"The Crandalls live here. Well, Mrs. Crandall anyway," Mart answered. "Her husband died last November."

"Oh, right. Mr. Crandall was the curator of our fine arts museum." Di frowned slightly. "I remember meeting him a few times last year."

"Sleepyside has an art museum?" Dan questioned as the three of them walked their horses toward the porch.

Mart grinned. "A small one, but yes, we do."

"When you consider all the wealthy residents in town, it shouldn't surprise you." Di's cheeks pinked slightly. "A lot of the local families lend pieces to the museum. They also have connections to the more well-known establishments like MoMA and the Met, so our Sleepyside Museum of Fine Arts gets a turn at a lot of the traveling exhibitions, too."

Dan smiled at the dark-haired girl as they reached the porch. "I'm impressed. That's pretty neat."

"Finally!" Trixie called out. "What took the three of you so long? Where were you?"

"Never mind that," Mart answered, dismounting his horse. "Is Harrison here?"

"Is he okay?" Di asked anxiously. She swung her leg over the back of the horse and carefully stepped down. Even as she was listening to Trixie, she was tethering Sunny's reins to a bush near the other horses.

Trixie nodded her head, her curls bouncing in disarray with the movement. "He's here and he's okay. Well, at least I think he's okay. Brian's in there taking a look at him, and he's already called for Dr. Ferris."

"Dr. Ferris?!" Di gasped. "So he's not okay, then, if he needs a doctor."

Mart put a hand on her arm to calm her. "Knowing Brian, it's probably just a precaution."

"Let's just get inside and see for ourselves," Dan suggested as he looped Spartan's reins around a sturdy branch of the same bush.

Once inside the cozy home, Dan saw the older gentleman sitting on the couch with a blanket wrapped around him. He had a nasty-looking cut on his forehead and his skin was pale, but Harrison managed a smile at the trio as they approached him.

"Oh, Harrison! Are you hurt?" Di rushed over to him. When he nodded in response, she turned to Brian. "Is that cut serious?"

"It's hard to say," Brian informed her. "I think he'll need stitches, but we'll have to wait for Dr. Ferris to get here to be sure. And it doesn't help that he spent the night in a cold cellar."

"What? What happened?" Di turned back to the butler.

"I'm fine, Miss Lynch. Nothing to worry about." Harrison motioned them away. "Let me just rest a bit and we can be on our way."

"Nothing doing, Harrison, sir." Brian shook his head. "I've already called for the doctor. We'll wait here with you until he comes."

Dan watched the whole scene from the edge of the room, feeling like an outsider. He'd only met the butler once before and had barely said two words to him.

Honey approached him shyly. "Hi."

He smiled at her, wishing he could hug her, and he wasn't the hugging type, usually. The last time he'd seen her was in Manhattan the previous month, and the last time he'd been alone with her, he'd almost blown it by kissing her. "Hi. I missed you."

"I ... Oh—" She was about to say more, but the sound of someone else shouting interrupted her.

"Trixie!" It had been Di who had yelled. "I really don't think we ought to bother Harrison with questions now."

"I'm sorry," Trixie replied, sounding startled. "I only thought—"

Dan reached out for Honey's hand, and she focused her gaze back on him momentarily. He tried to tune out Trixie and Di. "Eight more months." He sighed.

"What?" She looked up at him. "Eight more months for what?"

But Di had raised her voice again and the two of them turned back to the conversation taking place in the center of the room.

"I'm sure Harrison had reasons for coming here last night. Those reasons are definitely his own business, and he certainly doesn't have to tell us anything." Di was clearly upset with Trixie.

"Why, Di," Mart smiled at the dark-haired girl. "There's no need to sound so defensive. Harrison doesn't have to let out one little peep if he doesn't want to. What made you think we were about to give him the third degree?"

"There really is nothing to give me the 'third degree' about." Harrison sounded amused by the small spat.

Trixie giggled, and Di flung an annoyed glance in her direction. "Of course, Harrison. There really isn't. Right, Trixie?"

"And Miss Diana, I want to assure you that you may count on me for tomorrow's festivities." The older man bowed his head ever so slightly.

Behind him, Brian raised his hand and opened his mouth, but then shut it again.

"What's going on between Trixie and Di?" Dan whispered to Honey, his hand still holding hers.

She shrugged slightly. "I don't know. I've never heard Di yell at anyone before. She's not usually like this." She moved closer to the other people in the room.

Dan let go of her hand, but stood next to her. He listened quietly as everyone took turns talking to the man to keep him from falling asleep. Brian seemed pretty worried that he had a concussion.

Trixie had gotten him to start talking to her about the cat, a dark, fluffy Persian. She speculated that he had come to feed the cat while the owner was out of town. Di didn't seem happy about it, and he wondered just what was bothering her.

Harrison told her about hearing a noise in the cellar and going downstairs to check it out. "I shut the door behind me and accidentally locked myself in," he concluded.

"And your cranium?" Mart asked, standing near the man seated on the couch. "How did you come to smite your pate?"

"Ah, that was very foolish of me," Harrison explained. He touched around the wound gingerly and then glanced down at his fingers. "Very foolish. I was trying hard to reopen the door, and I slipped and fell down the stairs." He gazed at Trixie rather blandly. "That's really all there is to tell, miss—except, of course, to thank you for rescuing me. By the way, how did you know I was here?"

Trixie and Honey started to explain how they had noticed the bicycle tracks. In the middle of their retelling of the search party, sirens wailed outside.

Jim went to open the front door and direct the attendants to the scene.

Dan quietly stepped back and wandered into the kitchen, softly closing the door behind him. Memories of the past flitted through his mind, but he was surprised they didn't overwhelm him like they once would have.

The door opened and Honey entered. She gave him a small half-smile. "Dan?"

"I ... the ambulance ...." He tried to smile back. "I'm fine," he finally said in answer to the question in her eyes.

She nodded. "Okay." She took a few steps over to one of the counters. Dan watched as she gingerly sniffed the contents of an open can of cat food and then threw it in a garbage bin under the sink. Then she took a dishrag and wiped the counter down.

He went to where the cat's food dish was left on the floor, the leftover morsels drying and sticking to the bowl. The water in the bowl next to it looked a little dingy. He picked them both up and brought them to the sink.

She took them from him and quickly washed them. He dried the food dish while she refilled the water bowl and set it back on the mat from which the cat ate.

Now that there wasn't anything to do, Dan felt like the silence was starting to get strained. "So, what's going on out there? Why was Di so upset with Trixie earlier?"

Honey gazed back at him, her eyes wide with worry. "I think she was upset that Trixie is already turning this incident into a mystery. She didn't want Trixie questioning Harrison."

"Seems reasonable. It's not like anything mysterious happened, did it? He fed the cat, accidentally locked himself in the cellar, and then you guys found him." He regarded her curiously, studying her expression as he recounted the simple story.

And she obviously had different thoughts. She shook her head, her brow wrinkling slightly as she concentrated. "I don't buy it for one second that nothing happened. When we got here, Trixie and I struggled to unbolt that cellar door. And it was bolted from the outside. There's no way that he locked himself in there on accident."

Dan's brows raised in surprise. "He lied?"

Honey gave a half shrug but nodded. "I think so. But I can't imagine why."

The sound of the sirens started up again, and Dan looked out the window, even though it wasn't facing the street. "He's going to be fine though, right?"

"He will." She reached for his hand. "Come on. Let's go back out there."

He planted his feet, making her stop walking. "Wait."

She turned around and her cheeks flushed slightly. "The last time you asked me to wait ...."

He grinned at the memory of the two of them on the Whitneys' terrace. He knew he shouldn't have kissed her then, but he definitely didn't regret it either. "I just wanted to say thank you."

"Oh. You're welcome." Her look changed to one of puzzlement. "For what?"

"Just for coming in here, keeping me company." One side of his mouth turned down in a frown. "I didn't want to see the ambulance or the attendants."

She spoke quietly, barely above a whisper. "I know. I didn't, either."


chapter 2: yet you knew I was sorry