Read The Mystery Horse Online

Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Mystery Horse (5 page)

BOOK: The Mystery Horse

“We'll have to be more careful than ever, now that there's been a second attempt,” Mrs. Morgan pointed out.

“We'll do whatever we can to help you,” Henry offered.

“You can count on us!” Violet piped up.

“I'm glad that you know the truth,” Mrs. Morgan said. “And thank you for what you did today. That took some quick thinking.”

“Yes, you kids did a great job,” Mr. Morgan added. “Wind Dancer is safe, thanks to you.”


The Barn Raising

few days later, Benny was working with Sarah in the vegetable patch when he had a great idea. Why couldn't
try for a prize at the Cooperstown Fair? Jessie and Violet had already decided to make a blueberry pie for the baking division, and Henry had offered to help Danny with his apple cider project. Unless Benny thought of something fast, he'd be left out!

“Sarah,” he said, looking up from his weeding, “what do you have to do to win a prize at the fair?”

Sarah picked a ripe green pepper and tossed it into her basket before answering. “Well, you have to make something or grow something. But whatever you do has to be the biggest or the best.” She peered at him from under her straw hat. “Why?”

“I wanted to enter something,” he said firmly. “But I haven't figured out what.”

“Well, just look around you,” she told him. “You could make a sweet potato pie . . . ” She laughed when she saw his expression. “It's good. It tastes just like pumpkin pie.”

Benny shook his head.

“Hmmm, let me see. You could make a batch of pickled watermelon rind,” Sarah suggested. “Mom would help you.”

“Ugh. That sounds even worse!” Benny said.

“It's delicious,” Sarah told him. “You cut up the rind in little pieces and cook it. When you're finished, it tastes so sweet, you'll think it's candy. We make it every year.”

Benny sighed. This was going to be much harder than he had thought. “Maybe I could grow something,” he suggested.

“You don't have much time. The fair is only three days away,” Sarah reminded him. “Well, maybe you could find something that's ready to harvest. If it looks really big and healthy, you could pick it and give it a try.”

“I could? Are you sure nobody would mind?” Benny was beaming. He had spotted a giant cantaloupe the day before that would be perfect.

“I'm sure,” Sarah said. “If you can find it, you can enter it.”

Later that afternoon, Benny was weeding chives in the herb garden with Daisy. She didn't seem to know anything about herbs, and he had to point out the chive plants from the rows of basil and parsley.

“I'm entering corn dolls in the fair,” Daisy said proudly. “I'm using a clothespin for their body and corn leaves for their skirts. They look just like hula dancers. What are you going to enter?”

“I've got a big cantaloupe,” he said. “I bet it will win a blue ribbon for me.”

“Really? How big is it?” Daisy asked.

“Big,” Benny said. “And it's growing bigger by the second.” He squinted at the sky like a real farmer. “All I need is a couple of more sunny days.”

Daisy shook her head. “You don't need the sun. Someone told me cantaloupes grow twice as fast in the moonlight.”

“They do?” Benny asked

“I think that's what they said,” Daisy replied.

“Wow. I hope there's a full moon tonight,” Benny said. He went back to the chive plants but he couldn't stop thinking about that cantaloupe. Would it grow twice as big on a moonlit night? There was only one way to find out.

Benny waited until everyone was asleep in the bunkhouse that night before tiptoeing to the window. A big silver moon hung in the sky, spilling beams of light across the yard.

“Bingo,” he said softly. Still in his pajamas, he quietly pulled on his boots and went out onto the porch. He was heading toward the cantaloupe patch when he saw someone crossing the yard toward the stable. Who would be out at this time of night? he wondered.

He crept past the main house and crouched down behind a wheelbarrow as the figure came into view. It was Ms. Jefferies, the snooty woman who didn't like being on a farm! What was she up to?

Benny waited until she had passed him, and then he followed her, being careful to stay out of sight. He barely had time to duck behind a maple tree when she stopped suddenly in front of the stable. To his amazement, she pulled out a camera and began taking pictures! After a few minutes she looked over her shoulder nervously, and then darted around the side of the barn.

Benny was stumped. What should he do next? If he followed her, she might spot him, but he had to find out what she was up to! Maybe she was heading to the back stall to steal Wind Dancer!

As Benny rounded the barn, Ms. Jefferies turned around, but he quickly scrunched down behind a bale of hay so she didn't see him. He heard the camera clicking again and again, and he couldn't resist taking a quick peek. Now she was taking pictures of the padlocked stall door! She
be after Wind Dancer, he thought in alarm. He was so shocked, he lost his balance. When he grabbed the bale of hay to steady himself, a bundle of fur flew through the air and landed on his shoulder. Patches, the barn cat, had been sleeping in the hay!

There was a loud meow, and Benny heard Ms. Jefferies gasp in surprise. Holding his breath, he took a chance and peered around the corner of the hay bale. It was too late. Ms. Jefferies was already running through the yard, back to the bunkhouse.

Benny got up and dusted himself off as Patches wound around his legs. He reached down and patted her on the head as she purred. “You'll never make a detective, Patches,” he told her.

A few minutes later, Benny was tiptoeing across the bunkhouse porch, when Jessie opened the door. She was clutching her robe around her, and looked worried.

“Where were you?” she asked. She pulled him inside where Henry and Violet were waiting.

“You're not going to believe this,” he began, and told them about Ms. Jefferies. When he finished, everyone was quiet for a minute.

“Maybe it's not what we think,” Jessie said.

“But she was up to something!” Benny scooted up the ladder to his bunk and sat down on it. “I know it!”

“We're not sure of that,” Henry said slowly. “All she did was take a few pictures. She might be an amateur photographer.”

“So what are we going to do?” Violet shivered a little and pulled her comforter around her.

“Nothing,” Henry said. “At least not yet. Until we have something definite to go on, let's not say a word to the Morgans.”

“We wouldn't want to worry them for nothing,” Jessie said.

The next morning at breakfast, Mr. Morgan surprised everyone by making an announcement. “We've been invited to a barn raising at the Tyndall farm. Anyone who wants to help, is welcome to come along. We can use the extra hands.”

The Aldens immediately raised their hands. “Count us in!” Jessie said. She had never heard of a barn raising, but she knew it would be an adventure.

An hour later, after the cows were milked and the chickens fed, the Alden children piled into the back of a pickup truck for the short drive to the Tyndall farm. There was a steady stream of cars rolling along the country road.

“Looks like everyone in Cooperstown is here,” Mr. Morgan said to Henry when he got out of the truck. Dozens of men and women were already hard at work sawing lumber and nailing together sturdy wooden beams.

“What's going on?” Henry asked. The Aldens followed Mr. Morgan past a man using a radial saw to trim a plank of knotty pine.

“Whenever anyone needs a new barn, everyone pitches in to help,” Mr. Morgan explained. “That's the way it is in the country. We all depend on each other.”

“Can we build a whole barn in one day?” Benny asked.

“We'll just get the frame done today,” Mr. Morgan told him. “All the boards will be nailed together, and by sundown, we'll raise all four sides.”

“So that's why you call it a barn raising,” Violet said.

Mr. Morgan nodded. “Exactly. Bob and his sons can put on the roof later.” He pointed to a man in jeans and a tattered cowboy hat. “That's Bob. If you kids head over that way, he'll give you each a job to do.”

“Wow,” Benny said softly. “He's wearing a holster, like a real cowboy.”

Mr. Morgan laughed. “That's not a holster, it's a pouch to hold roofing nails.”

They split up as soon as Bob gave them their assignments. Benny and Jessie found themselves working side by side. Bob had given them a tape measure and they were marking lumber and sorting it into neat piles to be sawed. It was hot, dusty work, and Jessie was glad she had worn shorts and a T-shirt.

Henry and Violet were assigned to the “kitchen brigade” along with six other Sunny Oaks guests. “We need a lot of help because Mom serves sandwiches at lunch and a big dinner at six,” Joe explained. Within minutes Henry found himself peeling a mountain of potatoes and carrots while Violet rolled out pastry dough for apple pies.

The morning passed quickly, and the Aldens were happy to take a break for lunch with Mr. Morgan. They were eating ham-and-cheese sandwiches at a picnic table when they were joined by a friendly man in his late twenties.

“Are you Mr. Morgan?” he asked. “I've been hoping to catch up with you all morning. I'm Jed Owens.” He sat down next to Violet.

“Ed's the name,” Mr. Morgan said, extending his hand. “Are you from Cooperstown?”

“No, I'm just visiting from up north. I'm Bob's cousin.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“I'm sure I will. Cooperstown is a nice place.” He hesitated. “You know, I'm hoping to get a few days' work before heading back home. Could you use an extra hand at Sunny Oaks?”

Mr. Morgan looked him over carefully. “I can always use help around the place. What kind of farming do you do?”

“Well, a little of everything. Dairy, poultry, vegetable . . . and I'm good with horses.”

“Sounds good to me,” Mr. Morgan said, getting up. “You can start tomorrow morning. Check in with me around five-thirty.”

“I'll be there,” Jed said. “And thanks.”

It was barely sunset when Mr. Morgan nudged Benny on the shoulder.

“It's time to raise the sides, so you'd best stand clear.”

“Raise the sides?” Benny looked up, puzzled. He had been squatting in the dust, pulling bent nails out of a pine board.

Mr. Morgan laughed. “This is the moment we've all been working for. Look around you, boy. You're standing right smack in the middle of where the new barn will be!”

“I am?” Benny gulped. He took a slow look around, and realized that the four walls had been assembled on the grass, and men were attaching guide ropes. In just a few minutes the barn would be standing by itself!

“Wait on the sidelines,” Mr. Morgan cautioned as he went to lend a hand. “We don't want any accidents to happen.”

“No sir!” Benny agreed, and he scampered over to join Jessie and Violet. They watched in amazement as Mr. Tyndall shouted to the workers, and right on cue, all four sides suddenly started to rise from the ground.

“Steady now!” Mr. Tyndall yelled. Everyone started clapping and laughing as the sides stood straight up, pointing skyward.

“Look at that!” Benny said. “It's a real barn, now, except for the roof.”

Jessie and Violet hugged each other. It felt like a real celebration!

At the end of the day, all four Aldens, tired but happy, piled into the back of the Morgans' pickup truck. Violet craned her neck for a last look at the barn frame, which stood out against the darkening sky.

“Just think,” she said, “we helped build a real barn today.”

“We sure did,” Benny said sleepily. He nestled his head against her shoulder and was about to drift off when Bob Tyndall hurried over to the truck.

“Hey, little guy,” he said, nudging Benny's shoulder. “I've got something for you. A little souvenir to remember us by.”

Benny sat up straight and watched in amazement as Bob took off the tan leather pouch that looked like a holster and handed it to him.

“You're giving it to me to keep?” Benny said, thrilled.

“It's all yours. It's even got some roofing nails inside.”

“Wow!” Benny immediately fastened the pouch to his belt. “I'm going to wear it every day,” he said. As the truck rolled down the road to Sunny Oaks, Benny ran his hand over the smooth leather pouch. This was a day he would never forget!


A Day at the Fair

he following afternoon, the Aldens finished their chores early and rode into town with Mr. Morgan and Sarah.

“I always stop at the post office for the mail while Dad goes to the hardware store,” Sarah said. “Then we both head straight to Hilary's for chocolate ice cream sodas.”

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