Maggie & Oliver or A Bone of One's Own
By Valerie Hobbs, Jennifer Thermes
Henry Holt and Company Copyright © 2011 Valerie Hobbs
All rights reserved.
With his long, wet tongue, Oliver licked and licked Bertie's cheek. "Wake up," his tongue said. "It's time to get up!"
But Bertie would not wake up. Her eyelids did not flutter. She did not groan and swat her hand at him. She did not say, "Oh, Oliver, you pesky dog." She lay still beneath her quilt of many colors, and Oliver waited.
All night long, he had chased things in his dreams. Cats and trolley cars, snowflakes and tin cans. He had snored and snuffled, and his back legs ran and ran. Now he was hungry and wanted his breakfast. He poked his nose into Bertie's hand and waited, his tail wagging, but she did not move.
He padded out to the kitchen to check his bowl again. It was still empty, licked clean from the night before. It was a very sad, empty bowl.
There was something quite wrong here, but Oliver did not know what it was. The house was quiet, strangely quiet. The squirrels in the attic were not chattering. Even the mice, awake before the sun, were quiet. Did they know something he didn't?
Only the clock on the mantelpiece wagged its golden tongue, click-click, back and forth, back and forth, as if it knew what was wrong but didn't much care.
The ice wagon came creaking up the road. Gerd, the iceman, was Oliver's friend. Gerd would know what to do. Down the steps Oliver ran, two by two by two, and out into the yard. Leaping against the fence, he howled for Gerd.
"Oliver — there, boy! What's the matter?" Gerd's brown face crumpled up like a washrag. He took Oliver's head in both his hands and rubbed him hard, the way Oliver liked to be rubbed. His brown eyes were tender. "What's all the fuss?" he said.
"Come and see!" Oliver said with his eyes. Some humans could read dog eyes, but Gerd was not one of them.
Gerd went to the back of the ice wagon just as he always did. With his tongs, he pierced a block of ice and hauled it through the gate. He went up the stairs, the ice block dripping. Oliver ran alongside, dodging the drops.
At the door, Gerd called out to Bertie, but she did not answer him. That is when Oliver let out the most awful howl.
"There, boy," said Gerd. "Calm down, now."
Gerd went into the kitchen. He opened the icebox and slid the block of ice inside. "Bertie?"
Oliver sprinted across the kitchen. He waited for Gerd at the bedroom door. When Gerd came, Oliver raced to Bertie's bed and pushed his nose into her cold hand once more. She did not move.
Gerd leaned over Bertie. He laid his hand against her cheek. He shook his head. "Oh, dear," he said.
* * *
Bertie's family came. Bertie was old, they said. It was her time to go. "Where?" asked Oliver with his eyes. "Where is Bertie going?"
But Bertie's family could not read dog eyes either. They ignored the brown dog. They fought over who would get the dining room table. Who would get the dishes and the mantelpiece clock. The clock clicked away as if it didn't care, but Oliver knew it did.
Oliver was hungry. Very sad and very hungry. He pushed his bowl all over the kitchen with his nose, but no one noticed.
The movers came and took everything away. There went Bertie's chair, there went her quilt. There went Oliver's dish! Oliver whined and yipped and ran in circles.
One of the movers patted Oliver's head. "Hey!" he called. "Who's taking the dog?"
No one did.
Now the house was empty and the fireplace cold. No rocking chair sat before it, no little black book for Bertie to read, no reading glasses to see the words with, no Bertie.
Oliver lay down where his rug used to be. He put his nose on his paws and tried to think. Without Bertie, who would brush his coat? Who would trim his whiskers? Who would fill his bowl?
Who would love him for being the special dog that he was?
Oliver knew what he must do. He must find Bertie. She would wake up, wherever she was, and look for him. She would swat at him and say, "Oh, Oliver, you pesky dog. Where have you been?"
Why hadn't he followed the wagon that took her away? By now, the trail would be cold.
An Owl, a Duchess, and Dust
"Get up this minute, you silly, lazy girl!"
Far down the row of narrow beds stood Hannah, the head housekeeper. Her face was the color of a ripe tomato, and her fists sat on her wide hips like lumps of bread dough. "If Madame Dinglebush had found you before I did, out you would go. You foolish, lazy girl."
Maggie hopped into her knickers, pulled on her shift and gray dress. Tying her apron strings, she started to tell Hannah about the owl. How she had seen the big gray bird with bright red eyes that was perched on a branch of the oak tree right outside the window and —
Hannah had her by the arm and dragged her down the hall. "There" — she pointed — "under that bed. That's where you will find your owls. And lots of dust besides."
She shook a dust rag at Maggie's face. "You are living here only by the good graces of Madame, on whose doorstep you were found," she said. "Earn your keep, girl, or Madame will cast you out."
Maggie sneezed. With a sigh, she took the rag from Hannah's hand. She knew that Hannah was right. She was no longer a child. She was nearly eleven. She must perfect all the skills of keeping a fine house, or she would be out on the streets of Boston with nowhere to live.
Out on the streets. The cruel words trickled like ice water down her spine.
If only she could quiet her brain. What good was wondering about owls while the dust collected beneath Madame's bed? Maggie wriggled under the bedskirt. Sneezing, she began to dust.
It had been very late when she had heard the hooo-hoo ing of the owl. She had gotten up and hurried to the window of the room where she and all the other maids slept. High up in the branches of an oak tree was a huge dark shape against the moon.
"Woooo," called the owl, a deep trill.
Why was it calling? she wondered. Who was it calling? Was it seeking a mate? Did it live in this tree? Did owls live in the same tree all their lives? Was it a boy owl or a girl owl?
Maggie's head spun with so many questions, she could not sleep until the misty light of morning.
If only she didn't think so much, she would be a better housekeeper.
The Duchess of Landsaway was coming, and Madame was in a frenzy. Everything must be perfect for the evening meal — the long white tablecloth starched stiff as paper, every serving spoon polished as bright as the first evening star. When the duchess entered the grand salon, the maids were to stand in a straight line with their eyes forward. They were not to smile or curtsy. They were simply there for show. Madame would not have to brag about the number of maids she had. The duchess could see for herself and be very impressed.
It was the most important day of Madame's life. If all went well, the servants would be rewarded. Each would get a slice of pie, a small slice, perhaps with a drizzle of cream.
Maggie was excited. She had never seen a duchess. Would she look like Madame? Would her dress be grander? Did she live in a duchery? A dukery?
But Hannah was through with Maggie's questions. "I've told you all I know, child," she said. "Now get busy with your chores. And don't be late for the duchess's arrival!"
The Nose Knows
For once in his short life, Oliver was happy to be an ordinary mutt, with parts of many kinds of dogs all mixed together. The part of him that was bloodhound would help find Bertie. With one last sad look at the cozy house where he had been raised from a pup, Oliver headed into the wide open world.
Missy, the lady who liked him, and Blister, her cat who did not, sat side by side on their steps. "Where are you off to, Oliver?" said Missy. But Oliver had no time for chitchat. His mission had begun.
Bertie had taught him about streets, how to look both ways, when to cross and when to wait. She did not know that Oliver used his ears as much as his eyes, and his nose most of all. He always heard streetcars coming long before she saw them. He nudged her away from steaming piles of horse poop. He protected her from suspicious humans and stray cats, which, in Oliver's book, were smarter and meaner than dogs. Though he did not like the city much, he did not fear it. As Bertie often said, he was an intelligent beast with a good and kind heart.
The cobblestones were dirty and cold. But Oliver stuck his nose right down, the way you were supposed to when you were bloodhounding. He sniffed along, his good and kind heart brimming with hope. Was that her sitting alone on that porch? Alas, no. Was that her walking toward him with a bent head? No. The next street. She was bound to be on the next street, where she always went to buy food. He raced ahead.
"No dogs! No dogs!" cried the little stick man as Oliver raced around and around his food shop, sniffing the barrels of potatoes and flour and beans, and finding nothing. Not a whiff of Bertie anywhere.
On to the shop where Bertie bought their meat. More careful now, Oliver crept inside. He sniffed through the sawdust. But the sawdust made him sneeze and the big butcher came. "Out!" he thundered, and Oliver fled.
Growing ever more confused and downhearted, Oliver left the neighborhood he knew and crossed the big bridge into the place called Boston. This world was filled with a disharmony of smells, so many you could hardly tell one from another. Old men sleeping on benches, bottles spilled or broken, garbage wrapped in newspaper, dead animals crawling with flies.
He sniffed a wet shoe lying on its side in the gutter. It was not Bertie's. A lady smelling of soap passed. Not Bertie. Bertie smelled like applesauce and homemade bread. The world smelled mostly like horse poop. A cold wind moaned and, for a moment, stole the smells away. A trolley car clanged and clattered past. Filthy water and bits of trash ran in a river down the middle of the street.
As Oliver passed a tall brick building, a window on the third floor flew open. A pail filled with dirty water splattered and ran toward the gutter, narrowly missing Oliver's head.
Bloodhounding was dangerous work. How could you see what was aiming for your head if you had your nose always on the ground?
Then Oliver rounded a corner where the big bank stood, and the whole world changed. Now the air was filled with the tease of food, and he remembered that he'd had no breakfast. He threaded his way through women carrying shopping bags, not one of them Bertie, and loped past open stalls filled with apples, barrels of onions, potatoes, and turnips.
But such was not a dog's breakfast.
Inches above his head drifted the beguiling aroma of chicken grease. He followed it, growing hungrier with every step.
And there at last was breakfast, a dozen fat chickens roasting on a spit over a crackling fire. Oliver began to drool. His tail wagged for pure joy. He stood on his hind legs to get a better sniff.
"Out of here, you mangy cur!" A man, waving a broom, hurtled toward him. Oliver was too hungry to be proud. With little yapping sounds, he danced and begged for just a bite of breakfast.
But the man had angry, snapping eyes. He raised the broom over his head. Oliver bolted away as the broom came crashing down.
With nothing in his belly, Oliver got back on the trail. He began to think that finding food might be harder than finding Bertie.
He passed three skinny dogs snuffling through a garbage can that was lying on its side. They eyed Oliver with suspicion. But Oliver scampered past, his nose in the air. They had nothing to fear from him. He was not so hungry that he would eat trash. He had more pride than that. But he drank from puddles along the way because Bertie always let him.
Late in the day, when his feet were sore and his stomach aching, Oliver came upon Bertie's trail at last. It was just a hint of a smell at first, but as he ran, it grew stronger.
Baking bread! He pictured Bertie with flour up to her elbows. He felt the touch of her floury hand.
Scampering down a narrow street where the smell was strongest, he came to a shop where fat loaves of bread lay piled in a window. Oliver stuck his nose inside the door. He barked once, sharply, his signal for Bertie to come.
"Hey, pal." The human who was not Bertie knelt and patted Oliver's head. "You look like you've lost your best friend."
Oliver felt like weeping, but dogs seldom cry in the presence of strangers. Then he had his first really sad thought.
What if he never found Bertie? What then?
A Dress as Blue as the Sky
Maggie had thought she'd finished her dusting hours before, but here she was under Madame's bed, dusting again. Pushing up a corner of the satin bedskirt, she peered out. To her great surprise, what did she see but two skinny ankles. The ankles were connected to a pair of bare feet with crooked toes and long yellow toenails.
Madame shrieked as Maggie slithered out from under the bed. Madame's scrawny arms went up over her head. "Get out! Get out of here!" She grabbed a pillow and began pummeling Maggie's head as she raced for the door. "Out! Get out!" she shrieked.
Maggie raced along the corrider, down the stairs, and into the serving hall before stopping to catch a breath. She had seen Madame in her underclothes! With bare feet and bare arms! Maggie had never before seen Madame in anything but full dress. The wonder of it!
Madame's underskirts were made of something shiny and soft looking. Maggie thought it must be silk. How many silkworms, she wondered, did it take to make one underskirt? How many to make a whole dress? How did you get the silk from silkworms anyway? Could worms be milked like cows?
"You are not ready!" cried Hannah. Lifting the skirts of her best gray dress, she swiftly crossed the stone floor. On her head was the little white maid's cap Maggie hated because it looked just like a muffin. "Quickly, now! The musicians have taken their place. The duchess will be here any minute."
She pushed Maggie in the direction of the maids' quarters. "And remember, girl, not a word. Keep your eyes straight ahead and your tongue in your mouth."
Maggie went to the closet where the good dresses hung, washed and ironed and gray as the dust clinging to her hair. She wished just once in her life for a dress that was not brown or gray. A blue dress, the color of the sky on a summer's afternoon.
She washed her face and combed her unruly hair. She put on her gray dress and tied on a clean white apron. Last, without looking into the glass, she plunked the muffin cap onto her curly brown hair.
She raced downstairs and into the grand salon. As the musicians played a merry tune, she took her place next to Hannah in the long line of maids standing with hands clasped.
Not one said a word, not one sniffed or sneezed or breathed. Tall windows looked on with glazed indifference, and the drapery sulked. They had seen it all and cared for none of it.
At last, there came the sound of carriage wheels and a driver's "Ho, now!"
A horse snorted. A man spoke in a low tone, a woman answered. Madame said, "Your Highness," her voice an octave higher than usual. The duchess was coming!
Maggie could not contain her excitement, or her curiosity. She sneaked a peek down the line.
Madame led the way into the room. She was dressed in green, her hair piled up like a raisin bun. She held her chin high, and Maggie could see that it wobbled the tiniest bit. For all her riches, Madame Dinglebush was as nervous as a house maid.
There came another delicious rustle of skirts, and in stepped the Duchess of Landsaway. Maggie remembered to avert her eyes, but not before she had seen three amazing things.
First, the duchess was very old and very short, not much taller than a child of ten-going-on-eleven.
The second most amazing thing was the color of her dress. It was as blue as a summer sky.
Maggie longed to look again, but she could hear Madame coming, chattering like a magpie. She was leading the duchess and her entourage past the maids and straight toward Maggie.
Maggie held her breath and bit her tongue to keep it still.
Madame passed, the skirt of her green dress rustling grandly. And there, before Maggie's wide eyes, was the duchess and the third most amazing thing: she had the sweetest, saddest face. It was as if something terrible had once happened that she could never forget.
Could terrible things happen to rich people? Could rich people feel sad, just the way poor people did? Did they cry, just as poor people sometimes cried? How she longed to ask the duchess.
Then the duchess did the most extraordinary thing: she turned her head and smiled straight at Maggie.
"Oh, Duchess!" said Maggie, unable to stop herself. "You have the most beautiful dress!"
Madame whipped around so fast that her ruffles nearly tripped her. "Who said that?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Maggie & Oliver or A Bone of One's Own by Valerie Hobbs, Jennifer Thermes. Copyright © 2011 Valerie Hobbs. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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