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Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

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BOOK: Mystery of the Wild Ponies
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Officer Hyde shaded his eyes from the glare of the sun. “This is your lucky day. Once in a while the horses follow me to the gate.”

Violet held her breath as she waited for the herd to come into view.

At last several horses ambled over the dune. They were small, with shaggy manes and tails. Most were a reddish-brown color, though some were spotted with white. A couple were coal-black.

“How cute!” Jessie exclaimed. “They look like ponies!”

“Many people call them ponies,” said Officer Hyde. “But they are true descendants of Spanish mustangs. They aren’t that small, really. Most are thirteen to fourteen hands high.”

Benny frowned, holding out his palms. “Hands?”

Officer Hyde laughed. “It’s an old, easy way to measure things. A hand equals four inches. Horses are generally eighteen hands high.”

“Here, sweetie.” Violet tried to coax over a chestnut-brown horse with a white face. The horse had big brown eyes fringed with long lashes.

“Please remember these are not friendly animals,” Officer Hyde warned her. “They look cute, but they may bite and kick.”

They watched the horses nibble on grass. Officer Hyde told them there were actually two pony herds on the Outer Banks. The other herd was penned on Okracoke Island. When more people started coming to the Banks, the herd split and migrated to the northern and southern ends, he explained as he glanced at his watch.

Grandfather smiled. “You must have other duties. Thanks for talking to us.”

“Anytime,” said Officer Hyde, walking over to his Jeep. “Here’s a brochure about the sanctuary. You can reach me at the lighthouse if you have any more questions.”

The kids waved good-bye.

“He’s nice,” said Violet.

Benny agreed. “I want to be a pony policeman.”

“What about the Coast Guard?” Henry teased.

“That, too.” Benny planned to have lots of jobs when he grew up.

At the cottage, they unpacked the groceries. Henry picked up the newspaper.

“Here’s a story about the ponies,” he said.

The others gathered around the table. Henry held up the newspaper and read the story aloud. They learned that the horses were brought to the island in 1523 by Spanish explorers and that there were only nineteen horses in the Corolla herd.

“No wonder they are special,” Violet commented. “But it’s sad so many have been hit by cars.”

“That’s why the sanctuary was started,” said Jessie. “It seems mean to pen them up, but at least they’re safer.”

Benny was looking at the pictures in the newspaper as the others talked about wild ponies.
Wow,
he thought,
what is that?
It was a picture of some kids at summer camp, but one of the boys wore a necklace with one large, sharp, triangle-shaped tooth hanging from it. Benny wondered what kind of tooth it was and where he might find one, until his stomach started grumbling and his thoughts turned to food.

The kids fixed a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches, apple juice, and cookies. Then they changed into bathing suits and walked over the dune to the beach.

First they splashed in the waves. Then they wet some sand above the high-tide line and built a huge castle. Next they hunted for shells.

Jessie spied a familiar figure on the dune behind them. “There’s Winifred Gorman. She’s painting.”

“Oh, let’s go see!” said Benny.

He ran off before Jessie could stop him. Jessie knew some artists didn’t like other people peering at their work. Winifred Gorman did not seem happy to see the Aldens.

“I’m not on public display,” she said grumpily. “I’m working.” She tossed her brush down with a sigh.

Violet studied the seascape. “It’s very nice, only—”

“Only what?” Winifred said sharply.

“It’s just waves and beach,” Violet said nervously. “Maybe you could put in some people or animals. Like the wild horses.”

Winifred considered her suggestion. “Hmmm. I forgot about those wild ponies. My real estate agent mentioned them when I bought this house.”

“You live here?” Benny wanted to know.

“No, not year-round. I live in New York City. This is my first summer here.” She became impatient again. “Where are those ponies you mentioned? I must paint them while the light is good.”

Henry pointed north. “The sanctuary is that way. You can’t miss it.”

The artist snatched her canvas off the easel, grabbed her tackle box of paints and brushes, and hurried off.

The children were stretched out on their deck when they heard Winifred Gorman’s car pull into the driveway next door.

Benny ran to the railing. “Did you see the ponies?” he called.

Her car door slammed angrily. “No, I did not,” she said stiffly. “I drove all the way up there and stood outside that stupid gate for ages. But did any of them show up? No!”

“We saw them this morning,” said Violet. “They’re really cute.”

“Well, that makes me feel better,” Winifred said sharply. “How am I going to paint a horse I can’t see?” The artist stomped up the steps into her house.

“Boy, is she grouchy,” Benny commented.

“She just wants to paint a good picture,” Violet said. “Mmm! What’s that smell?”

Benny knew that smell. “Hamburgers!”

Grandfather was grilling hamburgers on the deck. Jessie added potato salad, applesauce, and a coconut cake from the store bakery.

Full and pleasantly tired from their day in the sun, the Aldens once again went to bed early.

Benny and Henry chatted awhile.

“What will happen to my sand castle?” Benny asked.

“The tide might wash it away,” Henry replied, yawning. “But we can build another one tomorrow.” Then he fell asleep.

Benny lay awake, thinking about his sand castle. He wondered if he could see it from the window. Was the moat filled with water?

Climbing down the ladder, he dropped softly to the floor. He didn’t want to wake Henry.

The window was open, letting in the sound of the surf. Benny leaned on the sill, straining to see in the darkness.

A silver-dollar moon had risen above the ocean, shining on the beach. Benny noticed a light still on in Winifred Gorman’s house.

Was she looking at the moon, too? he wondered.

Suddenly Benny heard a strange cry. It sounded like it came from the dune! As he turned his head, he caught a glimpse of something on the beach.

It was a horse, its shiny coat gleaming in the pale moonlight. The animal pawed the sand, nodding its proud head. Then it cantered out of sight down the beach.

Benny swallowed. “Magic,” he whispered. “The famous ghost horse.”

CHAPTER 4
“Don’t Tell Grandfather!”

“I saw Magic,” Benny declared the next morning.

The other children stopped fixing breakfast and stared at him. Grandfather had left for an early-morning exercise class at the Seagull Resort.

“You saw what?” asked Henry.

“Magic, the ghost horse. He was on the beach. And I heard a cry.”

“The horse cried?” Violet set bowls of granola and sliced peaches on the table.

“No,” said Benny. “It sounded like a person. But I didn’t see anybody. Only the horse.”

Jessie frowned as she brought over a pitcher of cold milk. “Benny, are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”

“I got up to look at my sand castle. I saw a horse. It has to be the ghost horse Shad told us about,” he insisted.

“There’s one way to solve this,” said Henry. “After breakfast, we’ll go down to the beach and check for prints in the sand. If the tide’s right, they won’t have been washed away.”

Benny had never eaten so fast. He wanted to prove he had really seen the ghost horse.

When the bowls and glasses were rinsed, the kids headed outside.

It was a great morning. The sun was shining brightly over the slate-blue ocean. A man with a metal detector swept the beach, looking for coins and jewelry. Benny’s sand castle was still there, untouched.

Nearby, where Benny had wet the sand to build his castle, the kids saw the fresh shoe prints of a jogger.

Benny’s heart dropped. Suppose the jogger messed up the horse’s prints.

Then Violet exclaimed, “Look!” She pointed to a small, scooped impression in the sand.

Henry let out a low whistle. “Here’s another one. Benny was right. A horse was definitely on our beach.”

“I think we should call Officer Hyde,” said Jessie. “He’ll know for certain.”

They ran back to the cottage and phoned the lighthouse. Officer Hyde answered and said he would be there shortly.

Violet remembered Grandfather would be having a late breakfast at the Seagull Resort with the rest of his class.

“Let’s not mention it to Grandfather,” she said. “He said he wanted a vacation from mysteries anyway.”

“We didn’t go looking for this mystery,” Henry put in. “It found us!”

When Thomas Hyde arrived, he was eager to see the hoofprints. The children led him to the beach and the trail of prints.

The sanctuary officer knelt down to study the impressions. “These are definitely the tracks of a horse, maybe even a stallion,” he said. “And you said you saw the horse?”

“Last night,” Benny replied. “Maybe it was the ghost of that horse that was killed.”

Thomas straightened up with a sigh and a smile. “So you’ve heard the legend of Magic. Benny, I believe you saw a horse. But ghost horses wouldn’t leave tracks.”

“Benny heard someone cry, too,” added Violet. “But he didn’t see anyone.”

“Horses don’t cry,” said Officer Hyde. “I think one of the horses got out of the pen and came down here. He’s probably back in the herd.”

When Officer Hyde left, the children discussed what they had learned.

“Our vacation won’t be mystery-free,” said Violet.

Benny squinted in the sun. He saw a man with a fishing pole standing knee-deep in water farther down the beach. “Isn’t that Shad?”

“Just the person we want to see,” said Henry. “Maybe he’ll tell us more about this ghost horse.”

They walked down the beach to meet Shad.

“Hey,” he said, giving the traditional island greeting. “How are y’all this mornin’?”

“Fine,” answered Jessie. “Catch anything yet?”

“Naw. Blues are runnin’, but they don’t like me today!” He gave his gruff laugh.

“Guess what,” said Benny. “I saw a horse last night.”

Shad’s eyes widened. “You don’t say. On the beach? It must have been Magic.”

“We found hoofprints in the sand,” added Henry. “The sanctuary officer saw them, too.”

“That young horse fella?” Shad frowned. “He’s okay. But I wish they’d forget about that fence nonsense and let the horses roam free like they used to.”

“But they get hit by cars,” said Violet. “That’s what happened to Magic.”

“Get rid of the cars,” Shad said simply.

“Make people take a ferry here and walk or ride a bicycle anyplace they want to go.”

“Benny also heard a cry, like a person,” Henry said.

“That bridge connecting us to the mainland has ruined this island,” Shad said. He shook his head. “It brings in too many people, too many cars.”

Henry realized they weren’t going to find out more from the fisherman. Shad was only interested in talking about the island. “We’ve got to go,” he said.

“See you around,” Shad said with a wave. “Come visit me on the dock anytime. If I’m not there, I’ll be on the beach.”

As the Aldens crossed over the dune, Jessie made a suggestion.

“Let’s talk to our neighbors. Maybe Winifred Gorman or the college boys saw Benny’s horse,” she said.

“Ms. Gorman’s light was on last night!” said Benny, remembering.

Winifred Gorman was sitting on her deck, having a cup of tea. She didn’t seem pleased to see them.

“May we come up?” Henry asked.

“Might as well,” the artist replied.

The children climbed the deck steps. Winifred didn’t offer them a seat at her umbrella table, so they stood by the rail.

“We wanted to ask you a question,” said Jessie.

“Ask away.” The woman seemed irritated.

“Did you see a horse last night?” said Benny. “On the beach?”

Winifred stared at him from under her hat brim. “A horse on the beach? How could I see that? I was in bed.”

“I saw your light on,” Benny said.

BOOK: Mystery of the Wild Ponies
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