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Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

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BOOK: Mystery of the Wild Ponies
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As Henry turned on the water, he noticed a shiny black car in Winifred’s driveway.

“Winifred’s company is here,” he commented.

He handed the hose to Violet and looked at the car. “From New York,” he remarked. “The license plate has the Empire State Building on it. Expensive car.”

“There he is!” Jessie whispered.

Winifred’s guest, a man wearing dark slacks and a white shirt, had just come out on her deck. He sat in a chair at the umbrella table, facing away from the Aldens. Seconds later, Winifred came out, too. She carried two glasses.

“Thanks,” said the man. He had a loud voice the Aldens could easily hear. “It’s nice here.”

“It’s different,” Winifred said with a shrug. She sat next to him, with her back to the Aldens.

“We should go in,” whispered Violet. “They’re talking so loud I can hear them without even trying. Is that eavesdropping?”

“We’re not eavesdropping,” said Jessie. “They’re talking extra loud.” She and the others began to pick up their belongings.

Just then they heard Winifred ask the man, “What do you think?”

“Well, I could get a good price for the horse in New York,” he replied.

Winifred nodded. “The black horse is definitely the best. The others are worthless.”

“I’ll start lining up a buyer as soon as I get back,” the man promised.

The kids stared at one another. They were talking about a black horse! It could only be Midnight.

With his finger to his lips, Henry motioned to them to head inside. They crept down the boardwalk and into the front entrance of Gullwing Cottage.

Once inside, everyone spoke at once.

“She’s trying to sell Midnight!” Benny cried.

“We don’t know that for sure,” said Henry. “But it does sound suspicious. They were definitely talking about a black horse.”

“If she took Midnight, where is she keeping him?” asked Violet.

“Even more important,” said Jessie direly, “if she somehow managed to capture Midnight, why is she selling him? She could just return him to the herd.”

Henry shook his head. “I think Winifred Gorman may have committed a crime.”

“Yeah,” said Benny. “Horsenapping!”

CHAPTER 6
A Stranger at the Clambake

The children gathered in the living room to discuss what they should do next.

“But how can we prove that Winifred took Midnight?” Violet asked.

“We can’t,” said Henry. “Not yet, at least. We’ll need to look for evidence that Midnight was stolen.”

“But we can’t let Winifred know that we’re suspicious,” Jessie pointed out. “We need to act ordinary, like we’re on vacation.”

“Well, we
are
on vacation!” Benny said with a laugh.

Grandfather came into the room just then.

“We’re going to have a clambake for dinner tonight,” he said. “Would you like to come with me to the seafood market?”

“Oh, boy!” said Benny, jumping up and down. “A clambake!” Then he stopped hopping. “What’s a clambake?”

Everyone laughed.

“You’ll see,” said Grandfather with a mysterious wink.

The kids changed quickly. Grandfather had promised they could eat lunch out.

The seafood market was located in a group of little stores. The stores were connected by a series of boardwalks along the Sound.

“Can we do some shopping first?” asked Jessie. She had some money saved from her allowance.

“Of course. I’d like to wander around myself,” Grandfather said. “Let’s meet here in half an hour. Then we can eat at that sandwich place over there.”

The four children hurried down the wooden ramp. Henry and Benny went into a shop that sold only games. Jessie and Violet browsed in a jewelry store next door.

“That ring looks good on you,” Violet told Jessie, who was trying on a silver dolphin band.

“I think I’ll get it,” Jessie said, pleased. “What are you buying?”

After much deliberation, Violet chose a dainty chain of silver links.

As the girls were leaving with their purchases, Jessie spotted some odd necklaces on a rack. Dark gray pointed objects dangled from chains.

“These look like teeth!” she remarked.

Violet read the sign. “They are. Ancient sharks’ teeth.” She shivered. “I don’t think I’d want a shark’s tooth around my neck!”

Outside, Benny showed them the trick deck of cards he had bought.

Henry had gotten a pocket chess set.

“I’m going to teach myself how to play,” he said.

They found Grandfather at the sandwich shop. It was crowded, so the Aldens took a number. They sat on high stools along one counter to wait.

Benny twirled on his stool. When it stopped, he was facing a poster on the wall. It showed a picture of a black horse.

“Look,” he said, tugging on Jessie’s sleeve. “Is that Midnight?”

Jessie scanned the poster. “Yes, it says Midnight is missing.”

“I bet these posters are all over the place,” said Violet. “Officer Hyde probably had them made.”

When their club sandwiches and sodas came, the children filled Grandfather in on the missing stallion.

“I hope Officer Hyde finds him soon,” James Alden said.

The children looked at one another. Grandfather didn’t know anything about their suspicions. Better to keep it a secret, since Grandfather was hoping for a mystery-free vacation.

After eating, they walked to the seafood market. Grandfather bought a big bucket of clams. Jessie picked out fresh corn, potatoes, and tomatoes.

They returned to the cottage and took the food down to the beach.

Benny was puzzled when he saw the pit Grandfather had dug in the sand earlier in the day.

“Are we going to eat in that hole?” he asked.

Grandfather laughed. “No, the food will steam in this pit. Now I need rocks and wood for a fire.”

The girls collected stones and driftwood, while the boys wrapped the potatoes in foil. Then Grandfather laid the rocks in the bottom of the pit. Henry added the driftwood and lit a fire.

“The trick is to let the rocks get hot,” said James Alden. “Then we will cover them with wet seaweed.”

Henry nodded. “Which makes steam.”

“What about the food?” Benny wanted to know. This was certainly a strange way to cook!

“You’ll see when the fire burns down and heats the rocks,” said Grandfather.

While the fire burned with Grandfather watching over it, Henry, Jessie, Benny, and Violet took a long walk down the beach to collect seaweed. When they returned, the firewood had burned down to a fine ash and the rocks were good and hot. Grandfather carefully laid the weed on the rocks. Then he set the foil-wrapped potatoes on top of the seaweed, then the corn, still in the husk. The clams in their thick shells went on last.

Henry covered the pit with a sheet of heavy canvas and shoveled sand over it to weigh it down.

“Now we can have fun while our dinner cooks,” said Grandfather. “It’ll be ready in a while.”

The afternoon passed quickly. Everyone swam in the ocean, then stretched out under the umbrella to read or nap. Violet drew in her sketchbook.

Jessie was reaching for the sunblock when she saw a figure on the dune. It was a boy with hair so blond it was nearly white. The boy was staring at them. When he saw Jessie sit up, he ducked behind the dune.

Jessie frowned. People here were usually very friendly. And she had the feeling she’d seen him before, but where?

“Food’s ready!” Benny called. He and Grandfather were checking under the tarp without lifting it all the way off the steaming mound.

“Not quite yet, Benny,” said Grandfather. “But we can bring down plates and drinks.”

Jessie and Henry went back to the cottage. She told him about the mysterious boy.

“He was right there,” she said, looking up and down the empty dune.

“Well, he’s gone now,” said Henry.

“I wish I could remember where I’d seen him before,” she said.

“It’s probably not important,” Henry told her. Inside the cottage, he sliced tomatoes while Jessie put silverware, plates, glasses, and napkins into a big basket.

Henry carried the basket down to their blanket on the beach. Jessie followed with a huge thermos of iced tea, a box of chocolate cookies, and a container of butter.

Opening the clambake was exciting. First Henry shoveled off all the sand. Then Grandfather peeled back the heavy canvas. Underneath were sweet, steamed clams, then a layer of juicy corn on the cob, and then the potatoes. The delicious smell of the cooked food filled the air.

They sat cross-legged on the blanket to eat. Jessie finished an ear of corn and as she reached for another she saw the mysterious blond boy peering at them from over the dune’s edge again. And again he ducked out of sight when he saw Jessie looking his way.

“This is
delicious!
” Benny exclaimed, licking butter off his fingers.

“It
is
good,” agreed Violet with a contented sigh, and they all ate in silence for a while.

Jessie was thinking about the mysterious boy. Suppose he was still nearby, hiding somewhere. It seemed sad, the boy alone while they were all together, happily eating.

While the others were cleaning up, Jessie fixed a plate of leftover clams, corn, tomatoes, and a baked potato. She set the plate on the upturned plastic clam bucket and covered it with another plate. She put a rock on top to hold the plate down.

Then everyone went back to the cottage to take a much-needed shower.

“You should see how much butter and sand you have on you,” Violet said to Benny with a giggle.

After they showered, it was still too early to go to bed, so the children asked if they could walk on the beach. Grandfather stayed behind to read the paper.

On the boardwalk, Jessie told the others that she had put out a plate of food just behind the dune for the mysterious boy.

“There’s something about that boy,” she said. “I know I’ve seen him somewhere before. I thought he might be hungry, the way he was staring at our clambake.”

“He might have been just curious,” said Henry. “But it was a good idea, Jessie.”

Thick gray mist rolled in from the ocean. Tatters of fog blew across the dune like ghostly flags.

Through the mist Jessie spied a figure walking down the beach ahead of them. The person was carrying a bucket.

“I bet that’s him!” she exclaimed. “He’s carrying the bucket I put the plate on.”

Violet stared into the fog. “I can’t tell if it’s a boy or not. And the bucket looks heavy, the way he’s carrying it. What could be in it?”

Beside her, Benny froze.

“What is it?” she asked him.

A break in the wispy clouds unveiled a silvery moon. Bathed in moonlight, a horse galloped across the sand. Puffs of sand shot up from its hoofs.

The horse pelted down the beach, well beyond the figure with the bucket.

“It’s Magic, the ghost horse!” Benny cried.

And then the horse was gone, vanished like a breath in the mist.

“I just had a glimpse,” said Henry. “Too foggy to tell what color it was.”

“Let’s follow him,” Benny suggested. “Maybe we can catch him!”

Ragged clouds closed over the moon, shutting out the light. Like ghostly smoke, fog blanketed the beach.

“The fog is even heavier now,” Henry said. “It’s too dangerous. We have to go back.”

Jessie shivered. What had they just seen?

The next morning was clear, with no sign of fog. After a quick breakfast, the Alden children hurried to the beach.

“I put the bucket right here,” said Jessie. “It’s gone! So is my plate of food.”

“The person we saw last night was walking up here,” said Henry. Soon he found a line of prints. He put his own foot next to one. “A little bigger than mine.”

“It could be an older boy,” said Jessie. “Like Jeremy or one of his friends.”

“Those prints could also belong to a woman,” Violet pointed out. “Like Winifred. We’re in front of her house.”

“Shad’s feet aren’t very big, either,” Benny added. “Let’s see if we can find hoofprints.”

But last night’s tide had washed the shoreline clean.

“We definitely saw a horse,” said Jessie. “We couldn’t have
all
been dreaming.”

“But who was the person?” Violet asked.

“Let’s go visit Winifred,” suggested Henry. “We can ask her if she was out walking last night. And we can look at the size of her shoe at the same time.”

For once, Winifred Gorman seemed to be waiting for the Aldens. She was standing in her carport, hands on her hips.

“There you are!” she said, her face angry under the straw hat. “I have a bone to pick with you kids!”

CHAPTER 7
The Shark’s Tooth Necklace

“What are you talking about?” Jessie asked.

Winifred glared at them. “I left a bowl of apples here yesterday. I’d just bought them so I could paint a still life today. Now they’re gone!”

“You think we took your apples?” said Henry. “Why would we do that?”

“I don’t know,” said Winifred, holding up the empty bowl. “Things keep disappearing around here.”

“Well, we’re not doing it,” Benny said defensively. Then he added, “But we saw somebody on the beach last night. He was carrying a bucket—”

“—and the bucket looked heavy,” Violet broke in. “Like it could have had apples in it.”

BOOK: Mystery of the Wild Ponies
2.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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