Read The Mystery Horse Online

Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Mystery Horse (2 page)

BOOK: The Mystery Horse
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Sarah laughed. “Don't worry, Benny, I've got something special for you to do, too.” “You do?” His face lit up.

She nodded. “We're going to weed the garden together.”

Benny liked gardening. He always helped Mrs. McGregor with the flower beds in Grandfather's yard. But still, it didn't sound like as much fun as riding a tractor.

“You'll like it,” Sarah promised. “Last year, I raised a giant squash that won a ribbon at the state fair.”

“Violet offered to help me with the milking,” Danny spoke up. He looked at Jessie. “If you help us, it will go twice as fast.”

“I'd love to,” Jessie said, pleased.

“And then maybe tomorrow we can all groom Oliver together,” Violet told her. She knew that her sister loved horses almost as much as she did.

The barn was big and airy and smelled like fresh straw. Several black-and-white dairy cows looked up from their stalls and mooed when they saw Danny approaching.

“They know it's milking time,” Danny explained. He picked up a wooden stool and reached for a strange-looking machine that had a lot of knobs and plastic tubing. “What's that?” Jessie asked.

“It's a milking unit. If you hand me that pail over there, I'll show you how it works.” He plunked himself down next to the nearest cow. “We hook it up like this,” he said, attaching a stainless steel cup to one of the cow's teats.

“Does that hurt her?” Violet asked worriedly.

Danny looked surprised. “No, it doesn't hurt her at all. The cup is lined with rubber and you just hook it up to each one of her teats. There's a vacuum pump in the machine that draws the milk right out.”

“Do you milk her every day?” Jessie spoke up.

“Twice a day.” He stopped to pat the cow on her flanks. “This is Dinah. She's the oldest cow we have, and she's my favorite.” Violet watched in amazement as a stream of white liquid flowed through the plastic tubing into the pail. The cow turned her head and rolled her brown eyes at Danny.

“She likes you,” Violet said softly.

A calico cat crawled out from behind a bale of hay and rubbed against Danny's leg. “Her name is Patches,” he said. “She loves milking time. Just watch what she does.” Suddenly Danny lifted the tubing and milk arced through the air. Patches stood on her hind legs to catch the warm milk in her mouth. “That's enough, now, Patches,” Danny said, replacing the tubing in the pail. Patches carefully licked the milk off her whiskers and curled up in a patch of sunlight.

“Can we try it now?” Jessie asked.

“It's all yours.” Danny handed her the stool.

Jessie was very nervous the first time she tried milking Dinah, but it was easier than she thought. Dinah turned around to stare at her, but then she quickly relaxed and went back to munching hay. “You're next, Violet,” she said to her sister.

Violet milked a cow named Jennifer, who tried to kick over the milk pail. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked in alarm.

“No, that's just one of Jennifer's tricks.” Danny shook his head. “She's been doing that since she was a calf and I've never been able to figure out why.”

Violet and Jessie milked eight more cows that morning. When the last one was finished, they looked at each other and smiled. “Well, I learned something new today,” Violet said.

Jessie laughed. “Me, too. I learned it's easier to get milk out of a bottle.”

At noontime, the Aldens gathered for lunch outdoors with the other farm guests. It was a bright, sunny day, and everyone settled down at long picnic tables in a leafy grove. Jessie and Benny helped Danny and Sarah pass out box lunches, and Benny couldn't resist taking a peek inside. Fried chicken, potato salad, biscuits, and peach pie! How did Mrs. Morgan know these were his favorite foods?

Sarah put pitchers of iced tea and ice-cold milk on the table, and Jessie made sure there were enough jelly-jar glasses to go around. One of the other guests was a thin, dark-haired woman named Ms. Jefferies. Henry tried to talk to her a couple of times, but she seemed bored by everyone and everything. When Henry asked her how long she had been at Sunny Oaks, she smiled tightly. “Two days. And it feels like two years,” she said coldly.

Violet sat next to a shy little girl named Daisy. Daisy had long blonde pigtails and looked about seven years old. At first, Daisy barely looked up from her lunch, but Violet tried to be friendly.

“Is this your first time on a farm?” Violet asked. Daisy nodded. She seemed very timid, and Violet wondered why she was so nervous. “It's fun, isn't it?” Violet went on.

“I guess so.” Daisy looked doubtful. “I wish my parents could have stayed with me, but they had to help Grandma. She's selling her house and moving into an apartment.” She stared at her plate. “I'm not used to being on my own.”

“What did you do today?” Violet asked, hoping to get her talking.

“I fed the chickens.” She managed a little smile. “The baby chicks are really cute. They live in their own little house until they're eight weeks old.”

“Maybe I'll see them tomorrow.” Violet paused. “We did a lot of fun things this morning. I milked some cows, and my brother Henry rode a tractor.”

“A tractor?” Daisy frowned. “That's very dangerous. You could get in a bad accident and get hurt.”

“He was with Mr. Morgan,” Violet explained. “And I don't think it was dangerous at all.”

“You never know what can happen,” Daisy insisted. “I went skiing last year and broke my leg in three places. I missed a whole six months of school.” Her eyes welled with tears, and she looked like she might start crying any minute.

“That's too bad,” Violet said sympathetically. “But there nothing to be afraid of here.”

“But I feel so lonely all by myself,” Daisy said.

“Not anymore,” Violet said gaily. “I'll make sure you meet my sister and brothers after lunch. Now you have four new friends!”

After an afternoon of hard work, the Aldens were hungry when dinnertime came. Dinner at Sunny Oaks was served family-style, and the farm guests gathered at two long tables set up in the Morgans' dining room. Benny was happy to see a big bowl of butter beans. “I helped pick those,” he said proudly.

“And the black-eyed peas and tomatoes,” Sarah reminded him. “You've had a hard day.”

Benny gave an enormous yawn. “I never thought a vacation could make me this tired,” he said, and everyone laughed.

Mr. Morgan passed a basket of biscuits before sitting down. “How did you like riding on the tractor, Henry?”

“It was great,” Henry said, reaching for a second helping of mashed potatoes. “You feel like you're up in the sky!”

“I'll teach you to drive it, before you leave,” Mr. Morgan promised. “Do you remember how many gears it has?”

“Eight forward gears,” Henry said promptly. “And three reverse ones.”

“It sounds scary,” Daisy said in a little voice.

“No, it's not. There's a kill button,” Henry told her. “You just press it if something goes wrong, and the tractor stops right away.”

It was early evening when the Aldens finally headed back to the bunkhouse, and Benny was half asleep. “Let's walk by the stables,” Violet suggested. “Maybe we'll see Oliver up close.”

“I think all the horses are already in their stalls for the night,” Henry said. “Sarah said her father was going to round them up while we were having dessert.”

“Well, we can at least try,” Violet said. She didn't want to go to sleep without getting a glimpse of Danny's horse.

When they swung by the stables, Mr. Morgan was unloading bales of hay from a flatbed truck into the stable. Violet heard some soft whinnying sounds from the half-open door, and she hurried over.

“Mr. Morgan, can we help you?” she pleaded. “We'd love to see the horses.”

For the first time, a frown flitted across Mr. Morgan's face. “I don't think so, Violet. You'd best go on to the bunkhouse for a good night's rest.”

“But we're not tired, and we could help you,” Jessie said. Benny gave a loud yawn and she nudged him in the shoulder.

“You've done enough work for one day,” Mr. Morgan said flatly. He seemed uneasy, and Jessie wondered if something was wrong. After they said good night, she turned to Violet.

“I wonder why Mr. Morgan wouldn't let us help him with the horses. Do you think we did something to annoy him?”

Violet shook her head. “I don't think so. I think he's just tired. Don't forget, he's already put in a fifteen-hour day.”

“And he has to do it all over again tomorrow,” Henry chimed in. “Starting bright and early.”

“Poor Mr. Morgan,” Jessie said.

Benny gave another giant yawn and stumbled into the bunkhouse. “Poor us!” he mumbled. “Now I know why they call it a
working
farm!”

CHAPTER 3

The Mystery Horse

“T
hat's right, Jessie,” Danny said encouragingly the next morning. “Use short strokes with the dandy brush, and don't be afraid to press hard.” Jessie and Violet were helping Danny groom a horse named Oliver. He was a large Appaloosa with colorful markings and striped hooves. They were working in the north pasture, and Jessie suddenly noticed Daisy watching from a few yards away. “Are you sure you don't want to help?” Jessie offered. “It's a lot of fun.”

Daisy shook her head. “He might kick me.”

“Oliver's a gentle horse,” Jessie told her. She paused, resting her arm on Oliver's gleaming flank. “I have an idea, Daisy. How would you like to comb his mane when we're finished? You can even braid it if you like.”

Daisy's eyes lit up. “Maybe,” she said slowly. “If you promise to hold him still.”

They had been working for over half an hour when Danny realized he had forgotten Oliver's hoof pick. “I'll run back and get it,” Violet said.

The stable was cool and dark as Violet hurried past rows of empty stalls to the tack room. All the horses were supposed to be outside grazing, and she was surprised to hear a soft whinnying sound inside. Puzzled, she retraced her steps and found that one stall was closed and padlocked. She put her ear to the sturdy wooden panel and heard more whinnying. Why was one horse left all alone? And why was there a padlock on the door? She quickly grabbed the hoof pick and headed back to the pasture. She was very curious.

When Violet returned to the pasture, she found Danny and Jessie using a soft brush to clean Oliver's legs. “The area below the knees and hock is very tender,” Danny was explaining. “Always use a brush with soft bristles or a towel.”

Violet was happy to see that Daisy had edged a little closer and was watching them intently. She handed Danny the hoof pick and said, “There's one horse left all by himself in the barn. Do you have any idea why?”

Danny shrugged. “Maybe he just felt like staying in his stall today,” he said vaguely.

“On a nice sunny morning?” Jessie asked in surprise. “But you said that horses love to be out in the field!”

Danny ducked his head, working on Oliver's leg. “I didn't mean—” he began, and then he stopped. “It could be that he's sick. Or something.”

“Shouldn't someone check on him?” Violet asked.

“I think Dad will,” Danny told her.

“But you can't even see him,” Violet said. “The stall is closed and padlocked.”

“I'm sure he's okay,” Danny said. “I think we should get back to work now.” He looked very uncomfortable, and the girls knew that he wanted to change the subject.

“Okay,” Violet said. “What should we do next?”

“Oliver's feet, but I'll give you a tip first. Never just grab a horse's hoof and try to pick it up.” He slid his hand slowly down Oliver's shoulder to his fetlock. “Run your hand over him first, like this. This gives him a little warning, and he'll know what to expect.”

Violet noticed that Oliver seemed to get the message because he shifted his weight to his other three legs. Danny picked up Oliver's hoof and motioned to Violet. “Use the hoof pick, but be really gentle.”

“I'll do my best,” Violet said. Oliver didn't seem to mind at all, and she cleaned away clumps of mud and several large pebbles that were lodged in his hoof.

When they had finished, Jessie turned to Daisy. “He won't look really pretty until you comb his mane,” she said.

Daisy hesitated. “How will I reach it?”

“You could sit on his back,” Danny offered.

“No!” Daisy backed away.

“Wait, I have a better idea.” Jessie reached out her hand. “I'll sit on Oliver and hold you in my lap. You'll be the one who combs him. Okay?”

Danny squatted down. “Just step on my shoulder, Jessie, and swing yourself up on his back. Then I'll hand Daisy up to you.”

A moment later, Jessie found herself high above the ground on Oliver's back. Oliver stood very still, and Jessie patted him on the neck. When Danny handed Daisy to her, she found that the little girl was trembling.

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