Read The Mystery Horse Online

Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Mystery Horse (3 page)

“Don't be scared, Daisy. Danny has Oliver tied good and tight. He's not going anywhere.”

Daisy relaxed then and began combing Oliver's thick, dark mane. She giggled and looked down at Violet. “You know something? This is fun!”

At lunchtime, Violet told Henry about the horse in the padlocked stall.

“It just doesn't make sense.” They were eating chicken-salad sandwiches under the shade of an oak tree near the main house. “I asked Danny about it, but he didn't have much to say.” She raised her eyebrows questioningly. “What do you think?”

“It's true, the horse might be sick,” Henry suggested. “Or maybe he's very difficult to handle.”

Violet forgot about the horse when Benny and Jessie plopped down on the grass next to them, talking excitedly.

“I rode on the tractor this morning,” Benny said proudly. “Three times.” He held up three fingers. “First we mowed the hay, just like it was a lawn. Then we raked it, and then we . . . ” He stopped and frowned. “I forgot what came next.”

Sarah hunkered down next to them. “We baled it, Benny. Remember? Now the hay is in nice square bundles.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said happily. “There must be enough hay for a million horses.”

“Not the way our horses eat,” Sarah said. “Oliver eats twelve pounds a day.”

“Twelve pounds?” Benny sputtered.

“Sometimes even more. Don't forget, he weighs almost a thousand pounds. That's half a ton.”

“Wow.” Benny was awed.

Then Jessie told about feeding a baby lamb with a bottle. Violet's mind went back to the horse in the locked stall. Somehow, she had to find out which horse was in there—and why.

After dinner and a Monopoly game at the main house that evening, Violet decided to walk by the stables on the way to the bunk-house.

“You're not going to see anything in the dark,” Henry told her. “Everything's closed up by now.”

“I just want to take a quick look,” Violet insisted. “You can go on, if you want.”

When they reached the stables, they spotted a single light on, way in the back.

“That's where the stall is,” Violet said quickly. “The one with the padlock on it.” She turned to Henry. “I'm going to go in there.” She carefully slid open the stable doors and stepped inside. Henry, Jessie, and Benny were right behind her. They walked softly over a thick carpeting of hay.

Suddenly Mrs. Morgan appeared from the depths of the barn.

“What are you kids doing in here?” she demanded.

“We're just—we came to see the horses,” Violet stammered. She peered over Mrs. Morgan's shoulder and noticed that the door to the last stall was open and light was streaming onto the stable floor. There was a scuffling noise, and suddenly Mr. Morgan emerged from the stall, leading a beautiful, chestnut-colored horse. The horse was tall and slender, and it pranced gracefully with its head held high.

Mr. Morgan stopped dead in his tracks and glanced nervously at his wife. “What are they doing here?”

“They came to take a look at the horses,” she said. Her words came out in a rush, and Violet knew that something was wrong.

“Well, this isn't a good time,” Mr. Morgan said slowly. “You'd best come back in the daytime, when they're all out in the pasture.”

“But this horse never goes to the pasture,” Violet said. She was surprised that she had the courage to speak up because she was usually very shy. “He never goes anywhere, does he? You keep him locked in the stall.

Mr. and Mrs. Morgan exchanged a long look. “That's because he's very high-strung,” Mr. Morgan said slowly. “He gets nervous when he's around other horses, so we keep him by himself as much as possible.”

“What's his name?” Henry asked.

“His name?” Mrs. Morgan repeated. She glanced at the horse, who was tossing his mane from side to side. He had gentle brown eyes and a white star on his forehead. “Star. His name is Star.”

“Wow! I'd sure like to ride him!” Benny said.

“I'm afraid this horse isn't for riding, son,” Mr. Morgan said gently. “I'll make sure Danny gives you a ride on Oliver tomorrow.” He glanced at his wife. “And now I think you had all better get on back to the bunk-house. Before you know it, the sun will be up and it'll be time for chores.”

An hour later, back at the bunkhouse, Violet was too restless to sleep. She kept thinking about Star. She poked Jessie, who was sleeping in the top bunk.

“Do you think the Morgans were telling the truth about that horse?” she whispered.

Jessie yawned. “I don't know. Why would they lie to us?” She propped her chin in her hand and stared down at her sister.

“I don't know,” Violet said thoughtfully. “But something just doesn't make sense. Star didn't seem high-strung at all, and it seems mean to keep him cooped up like that.”

Jessie shrugged. “The Morgans would never be mean to an animal.”

“That's true,” Violet admitted. She had seen how much they liked the farm animals and how carefully they tended them.

“So if they're keeping him by himself, it must be for his own good.” Jessie pulled the covers over her head. “Now go to sleep.”

CHAPTER 4

Chore Time!

T
he next morning after breakfast, everyone rushed over to check the “Chore List” that Mr. Morgan posted on the pantry door.

“We've got kitchen duty,” Jessie said to Benny.

“Sarah and I've got something called . . . mulching,” Violet said.

“Henry and I will be pitching hay this morning,” Danny said, bending down to pull on his heavy rubber boots.

“Do you and Henry get to ride in the tractor?” Benny asked.

“Afraid not.” Danny tossed Henry a pair of thick work gloves. “Here, put these on. You'll need them because the bales of hay are really scratchy.”

Everyone trooped outside to start their chores, and the kitchen was quiet as Benny and Jessie began clearing away the breakfast dishes. Suddenly Mrs. Morgan appeared carrying a giant black cooking pot. She set it carefully on the stove and smiled at the children. “You'll find some clean aprons at the bottom of the pantry,” she said, tying an apron around her waist. “You'd better put them on, so we can get started right away.”

“Started with what?” Benny asked. He wasn't sure he wanted to put on an apron.

Mrs. Morgan looked surprised. “Didn't anyone tell you? This is a very special day. We're making jams and jellies for the Cooperstown Fair.”

Benny grinned. Jams and jellies? Things were looking up.

“Sunny Oaks always wins ribbons for its preserves,” Mrs. Morgan said proudly. She thumbed through her recipe book. “I think we'll start with ginger-peach jam,” she said thoughtfully. “If you'll get me a dozen or so peaches from that bushel basket by the door, we'll get started.”

“I helped pick these!” Benny exclaimed. He filled his arms with peaches and dumped them on the counter.

“That's right, you did,” Mrs. Morgan said. “Everything we enter in the fair is grown right here at Sunny Oaks.”

Benny was thrilled. It seemed amazing that “his” peaches could end up in a jar of jam!

“How do we get started?” Jessie asked.

“We need to peel about three pounds of peaches,” Mrs. Morgan said. She filled the cooking pan with water and turned on the stove. “If we put the peaches in boiling water for a minute, the skins come right off.”

They worked steadily for the next half hour. The kitchen was bright and sunny, and they hummed as they worked.

After the peaches were peeled and crushed, Benny added lots of sugar, a little lemon juice, and some candied ginger. Jessie added a package of pectin to make the jam thicken and stirred the big pot on the stove.

“I'll show you how to melt the paraffin, Jessie, but you have to be very careful,” Mrs. Morgan warned. “The trick is to do it slowly, and watch it every second.”

Jessie picked up a sheet of hard, waxy material. “It smells like a candle,” she said, surprised.

Mrs. Morgan nodded. “That's how we're going to seal the jars of jam,” she explained. Jessie plunked the sheet of paraffin into a pan and watched as it slowly turned to liquid.

“I think the jam is ready,” Benny spoke up.

Mrs. Morgan peered into the cooking pot and nodded. “It looks perfect, Benny. I'll pour the jam into these glass jars, and then we'll seal them with melted paraffin.”

With Mrs. Morgan's help, Jessie poured hot paraffin on top of each of the jars of jam. The liquid paraffin immediately hardened into a thick white crust, like ice on a lake.

“Wow! It's like magic,” Benny exclaimed.

Mrs. Morgan lifted up one of the jars. “Looks like a winner to me. You and Jessie did a great job.”

A little while later, Jessie was surprised to hear a soft tapping on the door.

“That's Lamby,” Mrs. Morgan said. “If you want to feed her, Jessie, Benny and I will start making sandwiches for lunch.”

“I'd love to,” Jessie said eagerly. She hurried to the refrigerator where Danny kept Lamby's bottles. Since her mother had died, the baby goat had to be fed with milk supplement four times a day. Jessie warmed Lamby's bottle under hot water from the tap, and rushed to the back door. Lamby was waiting impatiently. The moment Jessie sat on the steps, Lamby nuzzled her hand, eager to start on her bottle. Jessie patted her downy fur, while Lamby guzzled contentedly. Jessie was happy, too.

Meanwhile, Violet was learning all about mulching.


Mulch
is such a funny word,” she said to Sarah. “I thought it would be a lot messier than this.”

“Maybe you were thinking of
muck.
Mucking out the stalls is a
really
messy job,” Sarah told her. “Mulching isn't so bad. And it keeps the weeds away.” She and Violet were spreading mulch around rows of yellow wax beans and black-eyed peas. They had just finished three rows of blueberry bushes and five dozen pepper plants.

“You mean it keeps the weeds from growing?” Violet asked.

“That's right,” Sarah said. “On big farms, they have mechanical mulchers. They lay strips of black plastic along the ground between the plants. But Dad likes the old-fashioned way. He thinks that there's nothing better than a mixture of grass clippings, leaves, and wood chips.”

Violet thought about the scene in the barn the night before, and wondered if she should mention it to Sarah. Would Sarah tell her the truth about Star? She was positive that there was more to the story than Mr. and Mrs. Morgan had told her. She was wondering how to bring it up, when Sarah interrupted her thoughts.

“It's noontime,” she said, glancing at the blazing sun that was high in the sky. “I'm ready for lunch, how about you?”

Violet nodded as her stomach rumbled. “I'm more than ready!”

In the meantime, Henry and Danny had been pitching bales of hay from a flatbed onto a conveyer belt that carried them to the barn loft. The square bales were much heavier than they looked, and Danny pitched one every five seconds. Henry found it hard work.

“I think we've done enough for the morning,” Danny said. He didn't even seem tired, and Henry wondered if he was quitting early on his account.

“Are you sure?” Henry asked.

“I'm sure,” Danny said, jumping down from the truck. “We could pitch hay all day and still not finish the job.”

“Why do you need so much of it?” Henry asked. As far as he could tell, there was enough hay in the loft to last forever!

“It goes a lot quicker than you think,” Danny explained. “The cows eat twenty pounds of hay every single day during the cold months, and the horses eat hay, too.” He gestured to the fields behind the barn. “It takes a whole acre of hay just to feed two of our cows for the winter.”

“I understand,” Henry said, wiping his face with his bandana. He was glad that he had worn gloves. The bales of hay were spiky and had scratched his upper arms.

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