The Traveler's Tricks

Published in 2014; author Laurie Calkhoven; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Caroline has only just returned from helping Lydia with the fall harvest at her farm when she's off again. Her father needs her to deliver some important ship documents to a foundry in Albany and order some parts. He can't leave the shipyard long enough to do it himself--it's three days one way--but the Hathaways were planning to go to Albany. Mrs. Hathaway and Amelia left earlier, but Rhonda can go with Caroline on the stagecoach. Caroline's first stagecoach ride promises to be excited, and the excitement starts right away. Some sailors mill around before the stagecoach leaves, looking for a man they say stole from them. Not finding him, they leave...and a man named Mr. Herrick rushes in at the last moment. Hmm. At the first stop, Caroline notices a woman acting afraid of the stagecoach driver, Mr. Danforth. Mr. Herrick performs some magic tricks, delighting everyone. Two people join them: the woman was acted afraid, Miss Bullard, traveling to Albany to seek employment, and a Mr. Jencks, needing to deliver information to New York's governor (Albany is the capital of New York). They eat breakfast and then go back to the stagecoach, where Mr. Jencks finds his bags opened. Why he didn't keep things containing sensitive information vital to the war effort on her person at times is beyond me, but after a careful search, he finds nothing missing. Everyone checks their things too, just in case. Five-year-old Jackson notices that Caroline has a lot of money, to pay the foundry for some ship pieces, and asks loudly if he can count it for her. Great, now everyone knows. 

The stagecoach makes an unscheduled stop a bit later when it needs a brief repair. Caroline is glad to have stopped, because she and Rhonda saw a rider following them and want to see if they can figure out why. The go a short distance from the stagecoach but only end up startled by a bobcat. Or was it? There were no bobcat tracks. And why is Miss Bullard so insistent that there was no rider, when she was obviously looking at him? Just then, Rhonda realizes her bag is open and her gold locket is missing! A quick search reveals the pouch it was in, but no locket. Maybe the rider stole them. Or, Caroline thinks, maybe someone on the stagecoach. As a precaution, everyone puts their valuables--including the package Caroline is to deliver--in a mail lockbox the driver has. The stagecoach continues through several towns, and each time the driver opens the box to add mail to it, Caroline watches like a hawk to be sure the things are still safe. At the last stop of the day, the passengers are briefly amused by a servant girl who comes screaming from the barn stalls that the pigs were talking--ah, someone can throw voices. The bobcat scream was probably from the same person. 

But the amusement fades when the lockbox is discovered smashed. The valuables--including the top-secret document Mr. Jencks was carrying and Caroline's package--are gone. Whoever stole them smashed the box against the stagecoach wheel, damaging it enough that they'll have to stay two nights. Caroline notices that no one in the town showed up until after the lockbox was discovered. The thief has to be one of the passengers! She thinks it must be Mr. Herrick or Miss Bullard. Rhonda doesn't want to suspect the young woman, only three years older than herself (five than Caroline) and so nice, but Caroline notices her hiding food in cloak. Maybe for the mysterious rider? She stays awake in hopes of looking in Miss Bullard's cloak to see if it also holds the stolen goods, but instead Miss Bullard herself sneaks out. Caroline follows and watches her meet up with a young man who opens the cloak to reveal only food, which is hungrily devours. Miss Bullard returns to the room the women (and Jackson, traveling with his grandmother) are sharing and Caroline slips in later, undetected. And very cold from going out barefoot in November. 

At breakfast the next morning, Mr. Jencks convinces the inn owner to let Mr. Herrick perform a magic show. Oddly, he has to convince Mr. Herrick to perform as well. You'd think an entertainer would jump at the chance for extra income. A new passenger joins the group too. Caroline is shocked to see that he's the man Miss Bullard met last night. They look so much alike that they must be siblings, and Miss Bullard mentioned that the only living member of her immediate was her older brother. But he's supposed to be in the military, and the two act as if they've never met, and the man introduces himself as Mr. Sanborn. Caroline takes Rhonda back to their room to disclose her suspicions, but they see Jackson playing with the model boat Caroline's father had sent along for the foundry (kept separate from the rest of the package). Caroline scolds him mildly. His grandmother, maddeningly, blames Caroline for leaving things out to tempt him, when she didn't leave it out and he already knew he shouldn't be playing with, but does tell him to apologize. He also gives Caroline an odd doll he had, assuming it to be hers. He must have grabbed it when everyone emptied their bags to be searched after Rhonda's locket went missing. Rhonda recognizes the doll as a ventriloquist dummy. Caroline has an advertise from Mr. Herrick, which lists his talent for ventriloquism. 

Before they can figure it that means anything (throwing voices!) they see Miss Bullard and Mr. Sanborn slipping into a private room. Miss Bullard hands Mr. Sanborn something that could be the money from Caroline's package, and Caroline and Rhonda confront them. It turns to be letters. The two are indeed siblings, and the letters are the last ones "Mr. Sanborn" got from his father before the elder Mr. Bullard died. The younger Mr. Bullard had been gotten leave from his post to visit his desperately ill father, but didn't reach home in time. He overstayed his leave to helped his sister, the only one left alive on their farm, bring in the harvest. He's a deserter now, and was planning to meet his sister in Albany under an assumed name to start a new life. He'd been following the stagecoach on horseback--so he was the mysterious rider and his sister pretended not to see him. But he decided that morning that once his sister is safely in Albany, he will turn himself in, hoping that his superiors will be understanding of his reasons. Neither sibling has any idea where the stolen items might be.

Caroline and Rhonda go to Mr. Danforth with their suspicions. He's hesitant to finger Mr. Herrick, who is a long-time friend. Besides, the ad is for The Great Nicholas, and Mr. Herrick doesn't perform under that name. When Mr. Danforth shows the ad and the ventriloquist dummy to Mr. Herrick, he says neither are his, but he suspect they belong to Mr. Jencks. After all, they have only his word that he's collecting information for the governor, and isn't that the perfect cover for asking intrusive questions of everyone? Questions that can inform him who is worth stealing from? Mr. Herrick thinks that Mr. Jencks plans to use sleight of hand to steal from the audience during the magic performance he insisted Mr. Herrick give. But there's no real proof yet. No one can be arrested on mere speculation. Figuring Mr. Jencks must have a secret pocket in his overcoat (that he never takes off), Mr. Herrick devises a plan to catch the man red-handed during his performance.

While Mr. Herrick delights the crowd, Caroline tries to watch Mr. Jencks. She can't see him do anything wrong, no pick-pocketing or anything. Mr. Herrick calls all the stagecoach passengers to the front row for his grand finale. Mr. Jencks objects at first, saying that he's too tall and the women in the audience won't be able to see over him, but finally acquiesces. A clever series of distractions follow, ending with the reveal that the bag Mr. Jencks always keeps close has a false bottom, containing the stolen goods. Mr. Jencks is arrested, and when the constable looks through the coat, he finds various good stolen from the audience. 

So everything is returned to its proper place. Rhonda also realizes she can help Mr. Bullard by writing to her father, an officer where Mr. Bullard had been stationed. He did do something wrong, but his heart was in the right place, so the hope is that his punishment won't be too severe. Caroline is happy to hear that, and very relieved to have her father's things back. Now she can deliver the package safely!

Looking Back

The historical section is about stagecoach travel in the early 1800s, and how taverns were welcome respites along the bumpy, uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous way. They weren't just bars but also had lodging and family-friendly entertainment (although there weren't private rooms, and sometimes not even private beds). 


This book is dedicated to "Josanne with love and thanks."

I thought Caroline would be the first character with all her books written by the same author, but this last mystery proved me wrong.

Caroline gets bored during part of her travels, having no embroidery to work on (she has a rope to practice knot-tying, but gives it to Jackson sometimes to keep him occupied). I would be out of my mind if I didn't have a book to read or some knitting to do.

The next two months will be a little different: in November I'll do the History Mystery and Girls of Many Lands books, and December will be the Girls of the Year. There will be a post almost every day, since there are so many of those books. The posts will slow up significantly after that, until the new Girl of the Year and the new historical character mysteries are out. I'll probably try to get my hands on the Baby-sitters Club graphic novels, too.

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