Illustrated by Diana Sudyka
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The Mysterious Benedict Society is up against a new mission, significantly closer to home. After reuniting for a celebratory scavenger hunt, Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance are forced to go on an unexpected search–a search to find Mr. Benedict. It seems that while he was preparing the kids’ adventure, he stepped right into a trap orchestrated by his evil twin Mr. Curtain.
With only one week to find a captured Mr. Benedict, the gifted foursome faces their greatest challenge of all–a challenge that will reinforce the reasons they were brought together in the first place and will require them to fight for the very namesake that united them.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
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On a bright September morning, when most children his age were in school fretting over fractions and decimal points, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was walking down a dusty road. He was an average-looking boy—with average brown hair and eyes, legs of average length, nose an average distance from his ears, and so on—and he was entirely alone. Other than a falcon soaring high over the road and a few meadowlarks keeping a low profile in the fields on either side, Reynie was the only living creature around.
To an observer, Reynie might well have appeared lost and far from home, and in fact such an observer would have been half right. At least Reynie found it amusing to think so, for he had just determined that his present situation could be described entirely in terms of halves: he was half a day's drive from the suburbs of Stonetown, where he lived; half a mile from the nearest small town; and according to the man who had given him directions, he had another half mile to go before he reached his destination. The most important thing, however, was that it had been half a year since he had seen his three closest friends.
Reynie squinted against the sun. Not far ahead the dirt lane went up a steep hill, just as the man in town had said it would. Beyond the hill he should find the farm. And on that farm he would find Kate Wetherall.
Reynie walked faster, his shoes kicking up dust. To think he would see Kate any minute! And Sticky Washington—Sticky would be here by evening! And tomorrow they all would drive to Stonetown to see… well, to see Constance Contraire, but that was all right, too. Even the thought of Constance insulting him in rhyming couplets made Reynie happy. She might be an impudent little genius-in-the-rough, but Constance was one of the few people in the world Reynie could count as a true friend. Constance, Kate, and Sticky were like family to him. It didn't matter that he'd met them only a year ago. Their friendship had formed under extraordinary circumstances.
Reynie broke into a run.
A few minutes later he stood at the crest of the hill with his hands on his knees, panting like a puppy, his enthusiasm having gotten the better of him. He had to laugh at himself. After all, he wasn't Kate, who probably could have run the whole way from town without breaking a sweat. (In fact, she probably could have done it running on her hands.) Reynie's gifts were not of the physical variety—he was average in that respect, too—and he was left mopping his brow and gasping for breath as he surveyed the farm spread out before him.
So this was Kate's home: a modest farmhouse and barn, both freshly painted, with an old truck in the farmyard; a tiny white henhouse; a pen with sheep and goats milling about in it; and beyond the pen, an expanse of rolling pastures. Across the lane from the buildings was an orchard, a few of its trees studded with fat red apples, though most of the fruit was undeveloped and scarcely visible. The farm still needed a lot of work, Kate had said in one of her letters. And that was almost all she'd said. Her letters were never what you would call wordy, though they were always cheerful. Rather too cheerful, actually—they sometimes made Reynie feel as if he were the only one who missed his friends.
Just as Reynie started down the hill, a bell sounded among the farm buildings below. He scanned the area hopefully for Kate but saw only the goats and sheep filing out of their pen, which must have been left open so they could graze in the pastures. Reynie drew up short in surprise. He could have sworn the last goat to leave the pen had turned around and nudged the gate closed.
Reynie's brow wrinkled. That conscientious goat was not the first unusual thing he'd seen this morning. He was reminded of something else—something curious to which, in his excitement, he hadn't given much thought until now. Reynie shaded his eyes and searched the sky. There, circling quite low overhead, was the falcon he had noticed earlier. He could just make out its facial markings, which resembled a black cap and long black sideburns. Reynie didn't presume to know much about birds (though in fact he knew more than most people), but he felt sure that this was a peregrine falcon—and in this region, at this time of year, peregrine falcons were very rare indeed.
Reynie grinned and hurried downhill to the farmyard. Something odd was going on, and he couldn't wait to find out what it was.
The barn lay closer than the house, so Reynie went and poked his head in through the open doors, just in case Kate was there. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust from the brilliant sunlight to the relative gloom inside the barn, but once they did they could not have fallen on a more welcome sight.
There was that familiar blond ponytail, those broad shoulders, that fire-engine red bucket. He'd found Kate, no doubt about it. She stood with her back to him, hands on her hips, staring toward the far wall. Reynie considered sneaking up on her, then quickly reconsidered. It was probably a very bad idea to sneak up on Kate. Anyway, he hated to disturb her. She was still staring straight ahead, apparently lost in concentration. Reynie, who could see nothing on the barn wall, suspected she was concentrating on something inward. Perhaps she was contemplating some useful new tool to carry in her bucket.
Suddenly Kate doubled over and began to cough. Then to splutter. And then to make truly horrific gagging sounds. Was she choking? Reynie was just about to rush forward and help her when Kate cried out in frustration and stomped her foot. "Not again!" she moaned, straightening up. Then she turned and saw Reynie watching from the barn entrance.
"I have no idea what that was all about," Reynie said, "but I have a feeling I'll think it's funny."
Kate dashed over to him, her bright blue eyes shining with delight. Reynie threw his arms out wide—and instantly regretted it. Kate's greeting, delivered at full tilt, was more of a football tackle than a hug, and as the two of them fell hard to the ground, Reynie felt his breath knocked clean away.
"Did you just get here?" Kate said excitedly, rising onto her knees. "Where's Miss Perumal and her mother? And what took you so long? You were supposed to be here yesterday. I double-checked the letter just to be sure."
Reynie, suffering from the panicky feeling that always accompanies having one's wind knocked out, was nonetheless trying to smile—indeed, to make any expression other than that of a stranded fish—but he could only move his lips, unable to utter a sound.
"Why, Reynie, you're speechless!" Kate said with a laugh. She hauled him to his feet and began dusting him off with sharp, painful swats. "I know, I'm excited, too. And not only about Mr. Benedict's big surprise. I'm thrilled just to see you boys again! You can't imagine how disappointed I was when you didn't show up last night."
Recovering his breath, Reynie stepped out of range of Kate's swats and said, "You aren't the only one. Our car broke down, and we had to have it towed into town. We spent the night in the motel."
"The motel in town?" Kate cried. "If only we'd known! We could have come for you in the truck."
"Sorry, I would have called, but since you don't have a telephone—"
Kate groaned. "Milligan and his rules! You know I love him, but honestly, some of the things he insists on…"
"Anyway," Reynie said, laughing, "I couldn't stand to wait for the car to be fixed, so I got permission from Amma"—Amma was what Reynie called Miss Perumal, his former tutor who had recently adopted him—"and directions from the mechanic, and here I am. Amma and Pati will be along as soon as the car's running."
Kate caught Reynie's arm, her face creased with worry (an unusual expression for Kate, who was not the worrying type). "Is the car big enough for all three of us to ride together? I mean along with Miss Perumal and her mother and all the luggage? Sticky's parents are coming, too, you know, and their car is tiny. I can't imagine one of us spending six hours separated from the other two—not after we've just spent six months apart!"
"We rented a station wagon. There'll be plenty of room. Now listen," Reynie said, holding up his hand to check Kate, who had begun to speak again, "before we stray too far from the subject, won't you tell me what you were doing just now? The last time I heard a sound like that was when the orphanage cat spit up a hairball."
"Oh, that?" Kate said with a shrug. "I'm training myself to regurgitate things, but it's a lot harder than you'd think." Seeing Reynie's horrified expression, she quickly explained, "It's an old escape artist's trick. Houdini and all those guys could do it. They'd swallow a lockpick or something, and later they'd use their throat muscles to bring it back up. You're supposed to train with a string tied to whatever it is you're swallowing, so you can help pull it back out. I did that at first, but then I thought I might manage it without the string. No luck yet, though."
"So I was right," Reynie said. "It is funny. But isn't it dangerous?"
Kate pursed her lips, considering. Evidently this had never occurred to her. She wasn't one to worry about danger much. "I suppose it isn't the safest thing in the world," she admitted, and with a serious look she said, "You'd better not try it."
Reynie laughed (for nothing could possibly induce him to try such a thing himself), then affected an equally serious look and said, "All right, Kate, I promise never to swallow—well, what was it you swallowed, anyway?"
Kate rolled her eyes and waved off the question. "I don't want to talk about it."
"And, hey, what happens to it now?" Reynie persisted, looking horrified again. "I mean, since you couldn't—?"
"I don't," Kate said firmly, "want to talk about it."
They had plenty of other things to talk about, anyway. Not only did Kate want to show Reynie around the farm, she desperately wanted to know his thoughts about the big surprise Mr. Benedict had planned for them. Exactly one year had passed since Mr. Benedict had recruited the four of them for an urgent mission—a mission that only the most remarkable children could have accomplished—and now, on the anniversary of their first meeting, he had arranged for a reunion at his home in Stonetown. In one of his letters he had explained, "Here you will be met with a surprise that I hope will please all of you—a surprise that, while it inadequately expresses my gratitude, not to mention my great and lasting affection for you, nevertheless strikes me as an appropriate…" And he had gone on like this for a while, elaborating upon his appreciation for the children's unique qualities and his eagerness to see them all again. Kate had skimmed the letter happily and put it away. Reynie had read the letter several times and learned it by heart.
"You memorized the whole thing?" Kate said, leading Reynie up a ladder to show him the hayloft. "You're starting to sound like Sticky."
"Sticky would only have needed to read it once," said Reynie, which was perfectly true, but Reynie mentioned Sticky mostly to draw attention away from himself. The fact was that he'd memorized every letter he'd received these past six months—not just from Mr. Benedict, but also the breezy notes Kate had sent, the slightly boring but faithfully detailed reports from Sticky, and even the quirky poetry Constance had mailed him along with whatever curious button, dust bunny, or paper scrap had struck her fancy on the way to find a stamp. Reynie felt more than a little sheepish about how tightly he'd clung to every word from the others, none of whom had ever said anything about missing him.
"Speaking of Sticky," Kate said, hauling Reynie through the trapdoor into the loft, "have you heard much from him lately? He says you two write more often than he and I do. Says that you actually take the trouble to answer his questions, unlike some friends he knows. I don't think he quite understands my situation. This is the loft, by the way."
Reynie looked around. The hayloft resembled every other hayloft he'd seen—though admittedly he'd seen them only in pictures and movies—but Kate seemed immensely proud of it, so he nodded approvingly before he said, "What doesn't Sticky understand? About your situation, I mean."
"Well, for one thing," Kate said, swinging open the loft's exterior door, which overlooked the animal pen, "I've been awfully busy, what with going to school and trying to get the farm up and running again. Milligan's often away on missions, you know, and I have to help out."
Reynie did know this. Milligan was Kate's father. He was also a secret agent. Neither of these facts had been known until recently, though—not even by Kate. She'd been just a toddler when Milligan was captured on a mission, lost his memory, and failed to return. Since her mother was dead and her father had abandoned her (or so everyone believed), Kate had been sent to an orphanage, which she eventually left for the circus. Milligan, for his part, had escaped his captors and gone to work for Mr. Benedict. Not until Mr. Benedict brought them together, exactly a year ago this month, had Kate and Milligan discovered the truth.
"The farm really fell to pieces over the years," Kate was saying. "There's been enough work to keep me busy around the clock. Not that I mind work, of course. What I find most difficult is sitting still long enough to write a good letter. Sticky should know that, shouldn't he?"
"He probably should," Reynie admitted. He stepped over to the door, where Kate was taking something from her bucket (the bucket had a flip-top now, Reynie noticed) and placing it between her lips. It was some kind of a whistle. She reached into her bucket again.
"But the real problem with writing letters," Kate continued, speaking around the whistle as she tugged a thick leather glove onto her hand, "is that the government reads all my mail. Daughter of a top agent, you know. They have to be sure I'm not revealing any secrets. It's bad enough that everything about our mission was made hush-hush—by all rights we ought to be famous for what we did—but I can't even send private letters to my best friends? It's outrageous!"
As if to demonstrate her outrage, Kate puffed her cheeks and blew mightily on the whistle, which emitted a thin squeal like that of a teakettle.
"Is that what I think it's for?" Reynie asked.
"Probably," said Kate, "since you're usually right about everything. Honestly, though, don't you think it's unfair that Sticky blames me for writing so little?"
Reynie decided to come out with it. "I have to admit I felt kind of the same way, and not just about your letters, but about everyone's. No one has ever really said much about… about… Well, I was starting to think I was the only one, you know, who…"
Kate looked at him askance. "Reynard Muldoon! I would never have thought you, of all people—" She shook her head. "Not everyone has your gift for expressing things, Reynie. You have no idea how much I've missed all of you. I even miss Constance, for crying out loud!"
Reynie grinned. It was just as he'd hoped. He'd been here only five minutes and already felt a hundred times better.
"Ah, here she is!" Kate said, holding her arm aloft. An instant later the air in front of them burst into a flurry of talons and wings. Reynie leaped back. The falcon had swooped down to perch upon Kate's thick leather glove, which extended well past her wrist, and was now flicking its head from side to side, regarding them. "Reynie, meet Madge."
"Short for Majesty. Actually, her full name is Her Majesty the Queen. Because, you know, she's queen of the birds."
"I see," said Reynie. "Naturally. Queen of the birds."
"Don't give me that look! It's an excellent name whether you like it or not. Isn't it an excellent name, Madge?" Kate gave the falcon a strip of meat from a sealed pouch inside her bucket. She urged Reynie to stroke the bird's feathers (Reynie nervously obliged) and then sent her off again. "Milligan gave her to me for my birthday—it only took a dozen hints and a month of begging—and I've been training her. She's very smart." Kate lowered her voice, as if Madge, already a hundred yards away, might overhear. "Which, between you and me, is kind of rare for a bird of prey. Of course I'd never tell her that."
Reynie was watching the falcon sail away over the farm. It was just like Kate Wetherall to show you something so dramatic and then act as if you shouldn't be surprised. "I thought you needed a license to own a falcon," he said, "and go through years of special training."
"Oh, you do," said Kate, slipping the leather glove back into her bucket. "I did all that when I was in the circus. One of the animal trainers was a falconer, and he let me be his apprentice. I learned all sorts of things from that guy… but we can talk about that later," she said, dismissing the subject with an impatient wave of her hand. "You were going to tell me about Sticky. Have you heard from him lately?"
Reynie produced a folded sheaf of papers from his pocket. "Actually, he sent me this a few days ago. It's an account of our mission—for posterity, he says, assuming the mission's ever declassified. He said I could show it to you. He wants our opinion."
"You mean he wrote about everything that happened? Like a story?"
"Well… something like that." Reynie unfolded the papers and handed them to Kate, who immediately sat down in the hay to read. There were five pages, covered front and back with tiny, cramped print, and the title alone was almost as long as one of Kate's letters. It read:
The Mysterious Benedict Society's Defeat of the Terrible Brainsweeping Machine Called the Whisperer (along with its inventor, Ledroptha Curtain, who was revealed to be the long-lost identical twin of Mr. Nicholas Benedict, for whom the Society is named): A Personal Account
"Holy smokes!" Kate said.
Kate nodded and continued to read:
In the event that you, the reader, are unaware of Mr. Curtain's foiled plan to become a powerful world ruler using the mind-altering effects of his Whisperer, this account will inform you of it.
The account commences with the forming of the Mysterious Benedict Society. Through a series of tests it was determined that George "Sticky" Washington (the author of this account), Reynard Muldoon (whose full name is now Reynard Muldoon Perumal, as he has been adopted), Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire were sufficiently skilled to enter Mr. Curtain's Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (the acronym being L.I.V.E.) and act as secret agents for Mr. Benedict. At the aforementioned Institute these children discovered many disturbing things. Then they disabled the Whisperer, although Mr. Curtain and his closest assistants (his Executives, as they were called) unfortunately avoided capture. But I see I have already come to the end. Allow me to back up and make a proper introduction to the course of events…
The account went on like this, backtracking and sidetracking and circling around as Sticky labored to produce an accurate summary of their adventures. An entire paragraph, for instance, was devoted to the origin of the word "terrified," another to the curious sense of isolation that can occur on islands (as opposed to peninsulas), and still another to a consideration of cruel punishment in schools. By the time Kate reached the second page, her shoulders were sagging. With a sigh, she flipped to the last page and read the final sentence: "And that is the end of the account." She looked up at Reynie. "Is it… um, all like this?"
"I'm afraid so."
"But how could he make the most exciting, the most dangerous, the most important event in his life—in anyone's life—so… so…"
"So dull?" Reynie offered.
Kate flopped back onto the hay and started giggling. "Oh, I can't wait to see him!"
"Don't give him too hard a time. He may be coming out of his shell, but he's still sensitive, you know."
"I'll be sure to hug him before I tease him," Kate said.
Reynie cringed. Kate's hug would probably hurt Sticky much worse than her teasing.
"Well, enough lying around," said Kate, who had been lying around for perhaps three seconds. She sprang to her feet. "Aren't you going to say anything about my bucket?"
"I was about to," Reynie said. "I see you've made some modifications."
Kate hurried over to show it to him. The bucket's clever new lid opened easily but closed securely, which kept her things from spilling out as they sometimes had done in the past. What was more, inside the bucket Kate had attached several pouches that closed with snaps, straps, and zippers, so that everything could be snugged into a designated place. Her rope lay coiled in the bottom as always, tucked neatly beneath the pouches.
"Impressive," Reynie said, examining the hidden catch that made the lid spring open.
Kate beamed. "Milligan designed the lid. He pointed out that a utility belt would be less cumbersome than a bucket, but I reminded him that you can't stand on a utility belt to reach things—"
"Or fill it with water and drop it on pursuers," said Reynie, remembering how Kate had done just that to escape Jackson and Jillson, Mr. Curtain's most thuggish Executives, who had menaced the children at the Institute.
"Exactly! And Milligan saw my point, so he offered to help me improve the bucket instead of replacing it. Look," she said, stepping up onto its closed lid. "No more emptying it and flipping it over. That saves time, you know."
It was hard to imagine Kate doing anything more quickly than she already did, but Reynie acknowledged the improvement. "And what are you keeping in it these days? I mean other than falcon snacks and whistles."
Pouch by pouch, Kate showed Reynie the bucket's contents. Luckily, she said, Milligan had recovered some of the things she'd been compelled to leave behind at the Institute—her spyglass (which she disguised as a kaleidoscope), her Swiss Army knife, her horseshoe magnet, and her flashlight—and she also had replaced some of the items that had been lost or ruined, such as her slingshot and marbles, her spool of clear fishing twine, her extra-strength glue, and her penlight. In addition, she'd recently added a pencil-sized paintbrush and a bottle of lemon juice.
"I had to wait to tell you in person," Kate said with a mischievous look. "You know the lemon-juice trick, don't you? From now on I'll brush secret notes onto my letters, and those government snoops won't be able to see them. All you have to do is hold the paper over a candle and the words will appear."
Reynie chuckled. He was familiar with the lemon-juice trick but had never had an opportunity to use it. "And what's in the last pouch?" he asked, pointing to one that remained unopened.
"Oh, just these," Kate said, somewhat drearily, producing a ring of at least two dozen keys of all different sizes and varieties. "Keys for the house. Keys for the truck. Keys for the barn padlock, the henhouse padlock, all the gates and cupboards and sheds, you name it. Milligan believes in keeping things secure." She sighed and stuffed the keys back into their pouch.
"What's the matter?" Reynie asked.
"Nothing, really," Kate said. "Nothing important, at least—and I think that's the trouble. I love the farm, you know, and I'm glad to be here. It's just that sometimes it feels a little dull. After all the exciting things we went through, the important things we accomplished—well, everything since then has seemed a bit ordinary. We were secret agents, Reynie!" Even as she spoke the words, Kate's eyes lit up in a very familiar way. Then she laughed at herself. "It's kind of hard to get excited about having the key to the root cellar. That's all I mean."
"Well, you're not alone," Reynie said. "Since Miss Perumal adopted me, things have been great, but I still feel restless all the time—like I should be doing something urgent and can't say what."
"Really?" Kate said, and for a moment the two friends regarded each other in silence. It was a look that communicated everything they shared: the dangers, hardships, and triumphs of their mission, of course, but also the knowledge—as isolating when they were alone as it was thrilling when they were together—that they understood things about the world that no one else did, things they might never speak of except to each other.
"I suppose it's just a normal letdown," Kate said at last. She walked over to the corner of the hayloft. "Anyway, it's not that bad. And I do what I can to keep things interesting."
With that, she leaped high into the air and pulled a cord hanging from the rafter above her. A trapdoor fell open beneath her, and with a playful wave Kate fell through the hole and disappeared. Reynie heard her land with a thud on the earthen floor below. "Come on!" she called up. "Let's go pick some apples."
Reynie shook his head and went to use the ladder. Kate did keep things interesting, after all, and there was no point pining for bygone adventures. If anything, Reynie should be grateful—he was grateful—that being with his friends no longer meant being in danger. Who needed danger, anyway? Certainly not Reynie!
But whether Reynie needed it or not—and though he had no way of predicting it—danger most certainly awaited him and his friends.
And it would not be waiting long.
Kate and Reynie spent the rest of the morning doing chores. It was enjoyable work, especially since they were engaged the whole time in conversation. As they picked apples from the few trees giving fruit, Kate told Reynie about her last school year (classes were easy enough, but there was far too much sitting in desks). As they filled the water troughs, she described what a terrible state of disrepair the old farm had been in when she and Milligan had returned to it. And as they oiled the gate to the animal pen, she related how Milligan would sometimes come home from a mission in the middle of the night, wake her up, and talk with her for hours.
"Which is fine by me," Kate said, working the gate hinge to be sure it was entirely smooth and squeakless. She cast Reynie a sly look. "He tells me all sorts of top-secret things."
Reynie raised his eyebrows. "Like what?"
"I'd better wait and tell you and Sticky at the same time," Kate said. "He'll want to hear it, too, you know." She considered a moment, then added reluctantly, "For that matter, I suppose we should wait until Constance is with us, too."
"Then at least tell me about that,
Praise for The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey:
* "...this is not just a rip-roaring adventure with plenty of clever twists and hair's-breadth escapes, but also a warm and satisfying tale about friendship." - School Library Journal (*STARRED review*)
"Stewart keeps interest high throughout the journey with first-rate brainteasers, interludes of physical danger, and the children's own complex dynamics... [readers] will find this sequel a worthy successor." - Horn Book
"Trust, friendship, human nature, pride, and courage underlie the story and add depth... This classic struggle of good versus evil also includes the many layers in between." - VOYA
"...entertainingly quirky..." - Kirkus
"Crafty and involving for readers as they figure out clues alongside the [characters]... every bit as chunky and satisfying as the first, this adventure will delight fans." - The Bulletin
- On Sale
- May 1, 2009
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers