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A Summer SecretBook One: The Mysteries of Middlefield Series
By Kathleen Fuller
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Kathleen Fuller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJune 2
It's not fair. Nothing in my life is fair.
Mary Beth Mullet stared at the words in her journal. She took a deep breath, inhaled the faint scent of pig on her skin, and let out a long sigh. She'd probably have to take two baths tonight. Maybe after that the stench would go away. Mary Beth had never realized how bad the pigs smelled until she had fallen into that gross mud in their pen. She wasn't even supposed to feed them this morning. That was usually her twin brother Johnny's job, but he had been helping hitch up Crackerjack to the buggy. She flipped over a couple of pages until she found a clean sheet of paper and began to draw, an activity that always settled her down. There were still a few parts of the barn that she hadn't sketched in her journal over the past several weeks.
Hearing the tweeting of a swallow, she looked up in the corner of the barn, noticing for the first time the nest tucked in the rafters. Applying pencil to paper, she quickly outlined the corner of the barn before adding the swallow and the nest. Were there eggs in the nest? She didn't know and couldn't find out since the ceiling of the barn was so high. She added three tiny eggs to her drawing anyway, carefully coloring little bitty dots on each one. She had no idea if swallows had speckled eggs, but she liked the extra detail.
When she finished her drawing, she closed her journal, placed it on the matted straw beside her, and stood up. She had started coming here when school let out in April, mostly as an escape from Johnny and her younger brothers, Caleb and Micah. Now it was the second week in June, and she hated to think this might be the last summer she spent here. After finishing eighth grade next year, she would probably be expected to get a job outside the house. But she didn't want to think about that right now. She was thirteen and still had one more year to enjoy her freedom. She planned to spend as much time here as she possibly could.
But right now she needed to get home before she was missed. As she always did before she left, she picked up her blanket, shook out the strands of straw clinging to it, then neatly folded it. Tucking her journal underneath the blanket, she checked her stash of supplies-several small boxes of juice, a few granola bars, a packet of graham crackers, and one apple in a plastic baggie. Glancing around, she remembered what her father had said about the barn: he had told her not to go near it. "That old thing is on its last legs," her daed had said. If her parents knew she was here, she would be in big trouble.
Still, Mary Beth didn't think it was so bad. Sure, the wood was black with rot, and the entire barn leaned to the left. Huge gaps were in the wall where slats used to be, and the whole place smelled kind of musty, especially on really hot days. But there were enough holes in the walls to let in plenty of light, yet keep her dry when it rained. Anyone could see this barn had character-and it was her place. The one spot where she could be alone to read, to draw, to dream. Here she didn't have to worry about her brothers bugging her or her parents asking her to do something she didn't want to do. She snuck away to her special place whenever she had a chance.
The sunbeams had shifted from the east side of the barn to the west, and she knew her mother would be calling for her to help with supper. After making one last check of her supplies, she started to head for home when she noticed something glinting on the dirt floor. She knelt down and brushed away the dirt. A button. She picked it up. It was small and round, had four holes, and was made of a brass-colored metal.
Mary Beth frowned. The Amish didn't wear buttons. They used straight pins to fasten their clothes. Buttons were considered too fancy. How did this get here?
Mary Beth tucked the button in her fist and left the barn running. She ran across the field of thick grass that reached almost to her waist. The blades tickled her legs and bare feet as she made her way through them. The long strings of her black prayer kapp trailing behind her, she made it home in record time. But as she got close to the door, she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. Turning, she saw a black-and-white dog sitting near the back step, looking at her with big brown eyes.
"Where did you come from?" The dog was cute, but she didn't approach it. Stray dogs could be dangerous, and she had never seen this one before. The animal looked well kept, though. Its fur shone in the early evening sunlight, and it had a stout body, as if it hadn't missed a meal.
The dog didn't move, just wagged its tail and continued to look at her. Mary Beth grinned and then went inside. Soon enough the dog would get bored and move on, probably back to its owner.
"There you are, Mary Beth," Mami said as Mary Beth burst into the kitchen. Her mother shut off the sink and shook the water from her hands. "I was just about to call you. The potatoes need peeling."
"What's for nachtesse?" she asked, walking toward the stove.
Mary Beth made a face. She hated shepherd's pie. Plus this was the third time in two weeks they'd had it. Why couldn't they have pizza every once in a while? Or McDonald's? But she didn't dare ask her mother for take-out food. More than once she had overheard her parents talking about money, their voices worried and hushed. Mary Beth didn't understand, because both her parents worked. Her mother made jackets and coats and sold them to a woman who owned a small shop in Parkman. Just last week she had started on a quilt she said she hoped would bring a good price. Yet one glance at her mami's worn work dress, with the hole in the frayed bottom hem, told her that money was tight, despite her mother and father working hard every day.
So shepherd's pie it would be, made with potatoes, green beans, and tomato sauce canned from their garden, plus hamburger from the cow they raised last year. Since there were no pockets in her dress, Mary Beth ran upstairs and put the button under her pillow, then dashed down to the basement to get the ingredients for supper.
She emerged a few moments later to chaos.
"Caleb, halt!" Her mother put her hand up in front of Mary Beth's ten-year-old brother. "How many times have I told you to leave your muddy shoes by the back door? You're tracking dirt all over my kitchen floor!"
Caleb shrugged. "Sorry, Mami."
But Mary Beth didn't think he looked sorry at all. She caught the smirk on his face as he passed by her on his way out of the kitchen.
"Micah, nee!" Mami rushed over to eighteen-month-old Micah, who was climbing on the kitchen cabinet nearest to the stove. She grabbed him around the waist and pulled him down. "You know you're not allowed to climb on the counters!"
"Dink." He held out his hands and repeatedly opened and closed them.
"Then you ask for a drink. Mary Beth, will you get your brother some water?"
Her hands were still filled with dinner ingredients, so she set the canned goods down, then went to the sink. After filling a cup with water from the tap, she turned to Micah.
Caleb entered the kitchen again, this time in his bare feet. "When are we gonna eat?" he asked.
"Caleb, get a broom and sweep the dirt you tracked in," Mami ordered.
"Why can't Mary Beth do it?"
"Because I told you to!" Mami leaned against the counter and wiped her shiny forehead. "Lord, give me strength," she whispered.
At that moment Johnny burst into the kitchen. "The pigs are loose!"
Mary Beth surveyed the scene in front of her-Micah shaking his sippy cup upside down and fussing, Caleb standing behind their mother and making faces, Johnny yelling one more time that the pigs had escaped their pen. The racket echoed in Mary Beth's ears.
Mami looked at Mary Beth and at the water dripping down the sides of the cabinet. "Don't just stand there-go help your brother find the pigs! I have to clean up this mess."
Mary Beth wanted to protest, but she remained silent. She knew better than to sass her mother. Although Caleb was a faster runner and had more experience chasing stray animals, she kept her mouth shut. Instead she whirled around and joined Johnny outside. After today, she never wanted to see another pig again.
She rushed outside to see one of the fat, white pigs amble over to the back of the yard, covered in stinky pig mud, its snout scraping against the ground as it snuffled for food. Any appetite she'd had for dinner disappeared as her nostrils filled with the smell.
"Mary Beth!" Johnny shouted as he appeared from the back of the barn. "I got all of them but this ornery one. Help me get him."
"What do you want me to do?"
"You get on one side, I'll get on the other. When he tries to get away, one of us will run in front of him and guide him toward the barn." He waved his arms at the hog. "C'mon, Hambone."
"Hambone? Since when did you start naming the pigs?"
"I've always named the pigs." He held his finger up to his lips. "Shh. Let him get gut and comfortable before we sneak up on him."
As Johnny took his position near the snorting pig, Mary Beth came up behind and walked slowly toward it. She knew from experience chasing a pig was useless. They were fat, but they were also fast. The best way was to sneak up behind them. Carefully she crept toward him. Hambone kept his head down, not suspecting a thing. But when she came within three feet of him, his head shot up and he bolted off toward the field.
"What did you do that for?" Johnny shouted, running past her.
"I did what you told me to do!"
"Well, next time, don't listen to me!" he called over his shoulder.
Mary Beth ran after Johnny and Hambone, but she couldn't keep up. Just as Johnny got close, the pig ran farther and faster, squealing and snorting into the open field toward the old abandoned barn. Johnny fell farther behind as Mary Beth came to a stop, her chest heaving. If Johnny couldn't catch up to Hambone, how would they ever get him back home?
Suddenly she heard a dog bark. The black-and-white dog she'd seen by the house appeared from the nearby grove of trees and started chasing the pig. Terrified, Hambone squealed and skidded to a stop before doing a one-eighty and running back toward his pen. Unlike Johnny and Mary Beth, the dog had no problem keeping up with Hambone, and each time the pig tried to change direction, the dog was there to herd him.
As the animals neared, Johnny whistled at the dog. "C'mon, boy! Bring Hambone over here." He waved his arm in the air, then rushed over to the back of the barn where the pig pen was.
Mary Beth watched as the dog herded Hambone right back in the pen. She saw Johnny latch the gate in place and take off his hat, leaning over the gate and gasping for breath. He glanced down at the dog sitting next to his feet, panting, its pink tongue hanging out of its mouth.
"Well, whaddya know?" Johnny sounded breathless. "A dog that herds pigs. Didn't know they could do that." He looked up at Mary Beth. "Whose dog is this, anyway?"
She shrugged, staring at the pooch. He-or she-had big brown eyes, black ears that stood up like two triangles on top of its head, and a long white muzzle. "I don't know. It must belong to someone."
"Probably." Johnny put his hat on his head, leaned down, and stroked the dog's head. "Glad he was here."
Johnny glanced up and gave her a pointed look. "Definitely a he." He patted the dog a few more times, which caused the dog's tail to thump against the ground. "Maybe if you're around after supper, bu, I'll sneak you a bone."
Mary Beth smirked. "We don't have any bones."
"Okay, maybe a piece of bread. He deserves a reward, ya?"
"Ya. He sure does."
As they walked to the house, the dog continued to follow them, stopping just short of the bottom step of the back deck. Instead of trying to get inside, he sat down and looked at them.
"Wish he could come inside," Johnny said, squatting in front of the dog.
"Ya, but you know what Mami said about animals in the house."
"But look at him, Mary Beth. He wants to come in."
She looked at the dog. He was still panting, but didn't look distressed. "I don't think so. He hasn't moved. Or whined. I think he's happy being right here."
"Maybe. But I'd still like him to come in. I'll ask Daed after supper. He likes dogs. I'll have a better chance with him than with Mami."
"I think he belongs to someone, Johnny."
"He doesn't have a collar." Johnny rose. "And if he did have an owner, what's he doing over here?"
"Visiting? I don't know." She opened the screen door. "We better get inside."
Johnny nodded. "Bye, bu," he said, then walked into the house behind her.
* * *
At last the shepherd's pie was out of the oven. Mary Beth washed up Micah and settled him in his high chair. Then she took her place and Johnny slid in beside her at the table. Everyone bowed their heads in silent prayer for a few moments, then started eating.
Daed picked up his fork with his left hand and shoved it into a pile of potatoes and meat, the movement still slightly awkward. It had been a year since his buggy had been clipped by a car on Nauvoo Road and his right hand had been crushed beneath one of the wheels. The healing process had been long, and he didn't have complete use of his hand yet. Still, he managed fine and only needed help with a few things, like hitching up Crackerjack when he was in a hurry to get to work in the morning. She'd overheard him say more than once that he was lucky to still have a job, and that he'd lost a good amount of earnings when he had to stay home and heal from the accident.
"Pass the salt," Caleb said, elbowing Mary Beth in the side. She glared at him. He arched his eyebrows in return, his chocolate brown eyes daring her to tattle on him. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction and handed him the salt without a word. Johnny slurped down his milk, which made Micah laugh. Grinning, Johnny took another drink, slurping even louder. Mary Beth frowned, annoyed.
"That's enough, Johnny." Daed took another forkful of food and shoved it in his mouth. "Mind your manners." "Ya, Daed."
But when Johnny stopped slurping, Micah started banging his cup against his chair, wanting him to continue. Finally their mother snatched the cup from him, putting it out of reach. Micah started to whimper.
Just a typical evening meal.
Mary Beth picked at her food. She was tired of her brothers always making a racket and causing trouble, tired of shepherd's pie, and tired of seeing the strain on her mami's face and the worried frown on her daed's. But there was nothing she could do about any of it. After supper Mary Beth helped her mother wash and dry the dishes. When she was finished, she peeked out the back door to see if the dog was still there. He wasn't. She sighed and walked back to the kitchen.
"We're going to sit outside for a little while, Mary Beth." Her mother put the last dish away in the cabinet by the sink. "It's a beautiful evening. Don't you want to join us?"
"Nee." Mary Beth shook her head. She didn't really feel like being outside tonight.
"All right, but if you change your mind, come on out. It's too beautiful an evening to be cooped up in the house." She smiled and touched Mary Beth's cheek.
While her family was outside, she ran upstairs to her room and flopped on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. She heard Caleb and Johnny shouting at each other while they played in the backyard. Suddenly remembering the button, she pulled it out from underneath her pillow. She stared at it again, her fingers sliding over the tiny holes. Maybe the button was old and had been left by the people who had owned the barn. Her daed said Yankees owned the property next door, but they hadn't taken care of it, and that's why the barn was in such bad shape. Perhaps the button had fallen off a Yankee's shirt a long time ago.
Mary Beth turned onto her side and closed her eyes, the barn's image forming in her mind. Only instead of a rotting shell of a building, it was a brand-new structure-freshly coated in white paint on the outside and filled with hay and animals on the inside. She could practically hear the nickering of a horse in a stall and smell the scent of clean hay. Her imagination journeyed on as she saw a man walk into the barn, wearing Yankee clothes and heading to the back corner of the barn where the cows were kept.
Excerpted from A Summer Secret by Kathleen Fuller Copyright © 2010 by Kathleen Fuller. Excerpted by permission.
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