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The Mystery Horse
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1993 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Big Surprise
"Please, Grandfather, I don't think I can wait another minute," Violet pleaded.
"We've really been patient," Jessie said, her dark eyes wide with excitement. "Won't you tell us now?"
It was dinnertime at the Aldens'. Grandfather Alden turned to fourteen-year-old Henry, the oldest of the Alden children. "I won't keep you in suspense anymore," he said with a smile. "I have a wonderful surprise for you. Tomorrow all four of you are going on a two-week vacation."
"A vacation!" Twelve-year-old Jessie clapped her hands together and Watch, the family dog, jumped to attention.
"No, not you, Watch," Grandfather said, patting the dog's head. "You're going to stay here and keep me company."
"Why can't Watch go on vacation, too?" Violet asked. Ten-year-old Violet loved animals and hated to leave their pet behind.
"I'm afraid Watch would get in the way," Grandfather said patiently. "And he might frighten the other animals."
"The other animals?" Benny asked. "Are we going to a zoo?"
Grandfather Alden laughed. "No, but you're going to a place with a lot of animals. You're going to a farm."
"A farm?" Violet looked curious.
"What kind of a farm?" Henry asked. He and his sisters and brother were orphans. They had been living in a boxcar, when their kind Grandfather Alden found them and gave them a real home. Since then they had enjoyed lots of fun vacations in different places.
"It's called Sunny Oaks," Grandfather said, settling back in his chair. He poured a cup of tea and stirred it thoughtfully. "It's a working farm, and the owners are very nice people with two young children. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan need to earn some extra money, so they've opened their farm to visitors."
"What will we do there?" Jessie asked. "We don't know anything about farming."
"Oh, but you will," Grandfather said with a chuckle. "That's why this vacation will be so much fun. You'll learn new things, and you'll meet new people. You'll do everything the Morgan children do. You'll live in a bunkhouse and share in the chores."
"A bunkhouse. Yippee!" Benny shouted. "I'll be a cowboy and ride the range." He pulled the reins on an imaginary horse and galloped around the room.
Grandfather turned to Violet. "And I happen to know that the Morgans keep a few horses on the place."
Violet beamed. She loved horses. "Grandfather, thank you!" She jumped to her feet and threw her arms around his neck.
When the Alden children went upstairs to their rooms to pack that evening, they found another surprise. Grandfather, with the help of Mrs. McGregor, the housekeeper, had bought them new clothes for their vacation.
"Look what I found!" Benny said to Henry. He unwrapped a pair of bib overalls, and a pair of sturdy leather boots. He fished out a red bandana and tied it around his neck. "I'll look like a real farmer now."
"You certainly will," Henry agreed. "These will be our work clothes for the next two weeks. I wonder what the girls will wear?"
Jessie stuck her head in the doorway, dressed in an identical set of bib overalls and a cotton T-shirt. "Violet and I have the same outfits," she said proudly.
"Now don't stay up too late tonight," Mrs. McGregor went on. "You're supposed to be on the road bright and early tomorrow morning."
Violet nodded happily and raced back to her room to pack. She could hardly wait for it to be morning. She was going to spend two whole weeks on a real farm with horses. What a perfect vacation!
The sky was streaked with pink the next morning as Grandfather and the Alden children piled into the family station wagon. Watch poked his head out the rear window, yipping with excitement.
"He thinks he's going on vacation, too," Jessie said.
"Don't worry about Watch," Grandfather told her. "I'll make sure he gets plenty of treats while you're away."
"There's an extra box of dog biscuits in the pantry," Violet reminded him.
Grandfather smiled. "I'll remember that. And I'll play with him in the garden every night after dinner."
"Good," Benny said. "He'll like that."
The station wagon kicked up clouds of dust as they rolled along narrow country roads. A little while later, Henry said, "It's not much further now." He looked at the map. "You should turn left at the next junction, Grandfather."
"Look, there's a sign for the farm!" Jessie said, leaning forward.
"Oh, it's pretty," Violet said. The name Sunny Oaks was burned into a circle of polished wood ringed with bark.
"I bet we're going to wake up everybody," Benny said sleepily from the backseat. "No one gets up this early."
"Farmers do," Henry told him. "They get up at the crack of dawn to start their chores. I bet they've already had their breakfast and are feeding the animals."
"We're here!" Jessie sang out a few minutes later.
Grandfather turned slowly onto a dirt path bordered by towering oak trees. In the distance was a two-story white farmhouse, an enormous red barn, and a silo. There were several small sheds and a long, flat building that looked like a log cabin.
"That must be the bunkhouse," Henry said as they approached the main house.
"Look at all the animals!" Violet cried. "Pigs and cows and goats and chickens ... "
"Take a look at the pasture over there," Henry said. He pointed to a green field bordered by a split rail fence. "I can see five horses grazing."
"Can we ride them?" Benny said. He was practically jumping up and down on the seat in excitement.
"I think they're working horses," Grandfather said. He slowed down so everyone could take a closer look. "You see what broad shoulders and strong chests they have?"
"The two chestnut ones look like quarter horses," Violet said thoughtfully. She knew all about the different types and breeds from reading horse books in the library.
"Why are they called quarter horses?" Benny asked, puzzled.
"They got their name because people used to race them a quarter of a mile," Violet explained.
Grandfather pulled up in front of the main house, and a friendly-looking woman with two children hurried over to the car.
"You must be the Aldens," the woman said as Benny and Jessie tumbled out of the backseat. "I'm Cynthia Morgan, and these are my children, Danny and Sarah. Welcome to Sunny Oaks." She wiped her hands on her apron, and Violet noticed that she had a spot of flour on her nose. "You'll have to excuse me, I had to whip up an extra batch of biscuits this morning."
"We've missed breakfast. I knew it!" Benny said.
Danny, a red-haired boy of twelve, laughed. "Don't worry. I saved a couple of extra biscuits. They even have butter and strawberry jam on them." He reached into his pocket and pulled out two biscuits wrapped in napkins. "My mom makes the best biscuits in the whole world."
Benny munched happily on the biscuits while Grandfather helped Henry unload the suitcases. Violet said a shy hello to Sarah Morgan, who looked about ten years old.
"My husband wanted to greet you," Mrs. Morgan said, "but he's busy in the barn. One of our dairy cows, Sheba, had a fine calf last night."
"A newborn calf!" Violet cried. "Can we please see it?"
Mrs. Morgan smiled. "Maybe this afternoon," she promised. "But right now, I think Danny and Sarah should help get you settled in the bunkhouse."
"I think that's about it, Grandfather said, lifting a knapsack out of the backseat. Watch circled excitedly, sniffing the ground. "C'mon, boy," Grandfather said. "You and I are going to head back home and leave everyone to their chores." He hugged each of the children in turn. "Have fun, children."
"Thank you, Grandfather," Jessie and Violet chorused. Henry and Benny waved as Grandfather started up the station wagon. Watch was sitting proudly in the front seat next to him as they drove down the long winding road. Each of the children was thinking the same thing: How lucky we are to have such a wonderful grandfather!CHAPTER 2
"Have you ever been on a farm before?" Danny Morgan asked.
"Not really," Violet said shyly. "But all of us love animals. That's why our grandfather gave us this vacation." She stopped to look at a baby goat, wearing a bell around its neck.
"That's Jezebel," Danny said. "She gets along with all the animals, especially the horses. We let her sleep right in the stables with them because it calms them down. You can play with her later, if you want."
"But first we have to get you settled in the bunkhouse, and then we have to get back to our milking," Sarah said briskly. "The cows don't like to be kept waiting." She led the way across the yard to the long flat building they had spotted from the car.
"This looks just like something out of a cowboy movie," Benny said happily. The bunkhouse was made out of logs and had a narrow porch with wooden chairs.
Sarah laughed. "It's not fancy, but our guests seem to like it. The family in the room next to you brought four kids." She opened a rough oak door with black hinges and everyone trooped inside. The room was small, but cozy, with two sets of bunk beds, two wooden dressers, and a brown-and-orange braided rug. There were Indian blankets on the beds, and Violet noticed several horse prints on the paneled walls. There was a tiny bathroom with a Mexican tile floor connected to the bedroom.
"I love it," Jessie said, testing one of the beds.
"I get the top bunk," Benny said, scrambling up the ladder.
"Just don't fall out of bed in the middle of the night and wake us up," Henry teased him.
"After a day at Sunny Oaks, nothing will wake you up," Danny said with a laugh. "We keep our guests really busy, you know."
"Just come out when you're ready and Dad will give you your chores for the day," Sarah said. "We keep the list posted in the kitchen."
"Danny," Violet said hesitantly, "do you think I could see one of the horses up close?"
Danny beamed. "Sure. You can help me groom Oliver and clean his hooves."
After Danny and Sarah left, Benny bounced up and down a few times on his bed. This was going to be one of the best vacations ever!
"You kids look like you're ready for some hard work," Mr. Morgan said later that morning. He leaned against a pitchfork and mopped his face with a bandana. He was a tall man with a deep suntan, and he looked at the children carefully. "Now who wants to do what?"
"They've never been on a farm before, Dad," Sarah said quickly. "Maybe we better pick the chores for them."
Mr. Morgan rubbed his hands together and squinted at the sun. "Well, let me see. I'd like to finish the plowing before it gets too hot," he said. "Henry, would you like to ride in the tractor cab with me?"
"You bet!" Henry said eagerly.
Benny's face fell. Riding in a tractor didn't sound like a chore. It sounded like fun! "Aw, Henry, you have all the luck." He ducked his head and scuffed the dirt with the tip of his boot.
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."
Excerpted from The Mystery Horse by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1993 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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