This is the story of a young boy named Joseph Charnetski. When his farm in the Ukraine is burned in 1461 by Tartars or Cossacks he and his parents flee to Krakow, Poland. Joseph is puzzled when the only possession his father chooses to bring when they run from the invaders is a mere pumpkin. While on their way to Krakow, a man attacks them and tries to steal the pumpkin.
However, Joseph saves it and they make it safely to the city. But, when they arrive they find their family, that they had planned to live with, dead and they suddenly have no place to live. Wandering around Krakow, Joseph spots a Tartar dog biting at a beautiful girl and the old man she is with. He prevents the dog from injuring her, and he finds out that the man is an alchemist named Nicholas Kreutz and the girl is his niece, named Elzbietka. They offer him a place to stay on an empty floor beneath the one that they live on. Joseph's father gets a job as the night trumpeter in one of the churches that stands in Krakow. Every hour he has to sound the Heynal, a song played upon the trumpet.
Two hundred years before in 1241, he Tartars had attacked Krakow. Even though the city was under siege, the trumpeter fulfilled his oath, which stated that he would play the trumpet on the hour, every hour, no matter what. As the young man played the Heynal, he was shot through the heart with an arrow, and the note he was playing was left broken, unfinished. Even to Joseph's day in 1461, the Heynal was played this way, ending on the broken note, leaving the song unfinished in remembrance of the trumpeter of old.
Joseph learns to play the Heynal so that if his father is ever sick, he can fulfill his duty for him. Jokingly, he tells Elzbietka that if she ever hears him play the whole Heynal straight through to the end without stopping on the broken note, then it means that something is terribly wrong and that she needs to summon the night watch, which is essentially Krakow's form of police.
Then Joseph finds out that the mysterious pumpkin that his father rescued from their barn is not an ordinary pumpkin. Hidden within its rind is a treasure of some sort so great that his father doesn't even dare to tell Joseph what it is.
One night a band of men attack the house trying to steal the contents of the pumpkin. Joseph realizes that the man leading the attack is the same man who tried to steal the pumpkin from them on the road. His father, Andrew, identifies him as a Tartar man known as Peter of the Button-Face in the Ukraine and as Bogdan the Terrible by his own people. In the end, Peter gets away without the treasure, but it suddenly seems to have disappeared. One of the only significant losses was some of Peter's hair, which accidentally caught on fire.
A few night later Elzbietka hears Joseph miss the broken note and play all the way to the end of the song. She summons the watch, and they go to the tower. The find out that Peter had attacked agin, but he managed to get away once more.
Meanwhile, Elzbietka's uncle is beginning act abnormal. We find out that behind the scenes, one of Kreutz's students, Johann Tring, is seducing him and sending him into trances in which he begins to act more and more strange.
What on earth is the treasure concealed in the pumpkin? Why does Button-Faced Peter want it so much? And will the alchemist, Kreutz , return to normal before something terrible happens??
Author: Eric P. Kelly
Illustrator: Janina Domanska
Foreword By: Louise Seaman Bechtel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 1928/ Re-published 1992 ( Aladdin Paperback edition)
Awards: Newbery Medal (1929)
Publisher Website: Click here.
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