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Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner

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BOOK: Mystery of the Wild Ponies
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“We came to help Austin,” Henry answered. “It sounds like someone else needs help, too. And I bet I know who—or should I say what?—it is.”

Violet caught on instantly. “Midnight! You have Midnight!”

“You’re the horsenapper!” Benny accused Austin.

“It’s a long story and I don’t have time to tell it now,” said Austin. “Midnight is in danger. The storm must be making him wild with fear.”

Shad turned to the Aldens. “Remember when I told you about the ravine?” he said. “Years ago a big storm cut a channel through my land. When we have a lot of rain, the ravine fills with water.”

“Midnight is stranded on a small rise between the water-filled ravine and the sea,” said Winifred. “He might be a good swimmer, but the storm frightened him. Also, his leg isn’t that strong. If he is panicked by the lightning and tries to swim, he may drown.”

“Midnight is hurt?” queried Benny.

Austin nodded. “He can walk and run, but I don’t think he can jump over the ravine. He might fall in. We’ve got to calm him down and walk him the long way around. I can’t manage it alone.”

Jessie looked at Henry. “We’re wasting time talking,” she said. “We need to get help, fast.”

“No phone,” Shad reminded her. “Car doesn’t run and we’re way off the road. How are we going to get help in a hurry?”

Jessie remembered that night at the restaurant. Seeing Shad waving his flashlight gave her an idea.

“Your flashlight! We can use it to signal SOS.” Then she bit her lip. “Only I don’t know what the signal
is!”

“I do,” said Henry, taking the flashlight. “It’s Morse code. You can use the same code with light.”

Everyone rushed outside. Winifred stayed on the porch and the rest ran to a clearing well away from trees.

“Which way is the road?” Henry yelled above the thrashing storm.

Shad pointed. “Over there. Will the beam be strong enough to shine through this rain?”

“All we can do is try. The storm clouds have darkened the sky so much, it’s almost like night.” Henry aimed the flashlight and pressed the button. He sent three short flashes of light, followed by three long flashes, then three more short flashes.

“Do it again,” instructed Jessie. “We’ll probably have to signal several times to get anyone’s attention.”

Henry flashed the light over and over, three shorts, three longs, three shorts.

“Uh-oh,” he said, shaking the flashlight. “The battery must be getting weak.”

The beam was growing dimmer. How long before the flashlight would be dead? Henry wondered.

Just then, a bolt of lightning cut the sky.

Benny gulped. The white-hot lightning was in the shape of a horse’s head!

Was it Magic come back to help them?

Seconds later, a car horn blared.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

Then a figure swathed in rain gear strode into the clearing.

CHAPTER 10
Benny’s Promise

Benny recognized the figure instantly.

“Officer Hyde!” he exclaimed, running to meet him. “Midnight is in trouble!”

Thomas Hyde looked sternly at everyone. “What’s going on? Where is Midnight?”

“On the other side of the ravine,” said Jessie. “It’s filled with water. Midnight is too scared to jump across.”

“Who knows where he is?” Officer Hyde demanded.

“I do,” replied Austin.

“How deep is this ravine?” asked Officer Hyde.

“Pretty deep,” Shad replied. “The horse could jump across, but he’s got a hurt leg, and we’re afraid he’d drown.”

“Take me to him now,” Officer Hyde ordered Austin. “And I’ll need someone else to help.” His eye fell on Henry. “Henry, you come with us.”

From his Jeep, Officer Hyde retrieved extra flashlights, ponchos for the boys, and a sturdy rope.

“Can we come, too?” asked Violet.

Officer Hyde shook his head. “Too many people will make Midnight skittish. We will get as close as we can with the Jeep. Midnight is wild, but he knows me. I think if the three of us stay calm and move slowly, he will let me put a rope around his neck and we can lead him to safety. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

Everyone was too anxious to go back inside, so they waited on Shad’s porch.

“I hope Midnight is okay,” said Benny.

“I told Austin it was a fool thing to keep that animal,” Shad muttered. “And I’d made him promise to call the sanctuary tomorrow, to let them know he’d found him.”

Jessie stared at Shad. “You knew about the horse?”

“Not until the other day,” Shad replied. “I found tracks by my old barn. Austin told me he had found the horse loose and hurt. He decided to befriend him.”

“Where was Austin going to keep him?” asked Benny. “It’s kind of hard to hide a horse.”

“It sure is!” Shad agreed. “But I’ve got a fair piece of property and it’s all fenced in. Nobody comes snooping around here. Well, not most people, anyway,” he added, and he shot Winifred a glance.

They stood and waited on the porch, watching the rain for what seemed like a long time. No one had the heart to go on talking. They were all worried about Midnight. Then they saw movement in the weeds of Shad’s yard.

“Here they come!” Winifred exclaimed.

Henry, Austin, and Thomas Hyde came into view. Soaked to the skin, they tromped up onto the porch.

“We got him around,” Thomas reported. “Midnight is in your old barn, Shad.”

“He’ll be safe there,” Shad said. “Till you move him up to the sanctuary.”

“I’ll drive you Aldens back to your cottage so you can get out of those wet things,” said Officer Hyde. “Ms. Gorman, too.”

Shad nodded. “Austin’s folks ought to arrive sometime tomorrow, unless they are delayed by the storm.”

“Shad!” Austin exclaimed. “You called my parents?”

“Yes,” said Shad. “I just didn’t feel right about them not knowing where you really were. I called them from the public phone at the docks. I planned to tell you before they arrived.”

“Bring Austin back to my place for now,” Winifred offered. “The phones might still be working there. And I have a coffeemaker that works without electricity.”

Everyone but Shad climbed into Officer Hyde’s Jeep. When they arrived at Gullwing Cottage, Grandfather met them at the door. He looked anxious.

“I’ve been worried,” he said. “You got caught in the storm. The power went off for a while—”

“They’re all fine,” Officer Hyde reassured him. “Just very wet.”

“We found Midnight!” Benny crowed. “He’s been hiding at Shad’s! Austin took him.”

Grandfather looked puzzled.

“It’s a long story,” said Officer Hyde. “Go change, kids, and we’ll meet at Ms. Gorman’s house.”

The children quickly put on dry clothes. By the time they left the cottage, it had stopped raining and the sun was setting behind the receding storm clouds.

Winifred cheerfully introduced herself to Grandfather as she invited them all inside.

Violet loved Winifred’s house. The walls were decorated with colorful paintings. Funny sculptures sat on the white wicker tables. And the painting of a black horse—obviously Midnight—was prominently displayed on an easel.

Winifred had changed and was wearing a long, loose, silky blue dress. Green pottery mugs waited on a round wooden tray, along with a plate of butter cookies.

“The coffee will be just a minute,” she said. “I have juice for you young people.”

“Do Austin’s parents know where he is?” asked Grandfather.

“Yes, Shad called them earlier today.” She scooped coffee grounds into a glass beaker, then poured in boiling water. “It seems they’re still on the mainland because of the storm. But Officer Hyde says they’ve talked to the sheriff’s office here and the search for Austin has been called off.”

When everyone had been served, they sat around the large glass table.

“Austin, you know running away and taking Midnight are both serious offenses,” said Officer Hyde.

Austin nodded, swallowing. “I knew it was wrong. But I wasn’t going to keep him. And I know I shouldn’t have run away in the first place.”

“But why didn’t you go to Shad’s right away?” said Henry.

“I was afraid he’d make me tell my folks and I’d have to go back to camp,” Austin replied.

“I did, finally!” Shad said emphatically.

“So that’s why I hid out,” Austin continued. “It was okay at first. I walked all over the island. One evening I found Midnight. He was limping. He had a scrape on his front leg. So I took him back to Shad’s barn.”

“Didn’t you know it’s against the law to touch the wild horses, much less
take
one?” asked Thomas Hyde.

“I didn’t really
take
him. I
found
him. I don’t know much about those rules, but I could see the horse was like me: lonely. I wanted to help him. So I washed his leg and tore up my T-shirt to make a bandage.”

“I discovered the horse,” Shad admitted. “I knew Austin had done wrong, but I felt sorry for both of them: the horse shut away, the boy sent away. So I put some medicine on Midnight’s leg, bandaged it right. I knew we couldn’t keep that horse hidden for long. Austin promised he’d call the sanctuary tomorrow.”

“You told us about Magic to confuse us,” accused Jessie. “In case we ever saw a horse, we’d think it was the ghost horse.”

“So you
wanted
me to think the horse I saw was a ghost?” Benny asked.

“I’m not proud of that story I told you,” said Shad. “I did have a reason. One night Midnight got out. Austin went after him. The horse was loose on the beach. Austin called, trying to get him back.”

“That was the cry I heard,” Benny concluded. “But the horse wasn’t Magic?”

Henry shook his head. “No, Benny.”

“I finally caught him way down the beach,” Austin said. “And got him back in Shad’s barn. The next day, Shad found him.”

Henry nodded. “That explains why we couldn’t find your footprints. We didn’t walk far enough.”

Grandfather had been studying the horse painting. “You painted Midnight,” he said to Winifred. “You knew about the missing horse, too.”

“Not at first,” said Winifred. “I actually saw Midnight before I knew anything about a missing horse. I could hardly believe my eyes. I’d been having trouble sleeping and got up to look out the back door and there he was, looking glorious on the dunes. He was gone in a moment. I almost thought I’d dreamed him. I sketched him immediately. In the morning, before the sun was up, I’d finished the painting. I know I told you I hadn’t seen a horse, but I never like to talk about my paintings and I almost wanted to believe he had been a dream.
My
dream.” Winifred looked at the children. “I’m sorry I lied to you.”

Austin spoke up. “Winnie’s cool. I took some apples from her carport one night. Midnight likes apples.” He turned to Jessie. “I found the plate of food you put out from your clambake. Thanks.”

Jessie nodded. “I saw you earlier. I thought you might be hungry.”

“We saw someone carrying a heavy bucket,” Violet said to Austin. “That was you, taking Winifred’s apples.”

“The foggy night,” Henry remembered. “We saw a phantom horse, like Magic.”

“It was Midnight,” Austin said. “He got out again. I lured him back to Shad’s with the apples.”

“How do you fit in?” Grandfather asked Winifred.

She spread her hands, indicating her paintings on the walls. “My art had not been going well. I came here to see if my work would improve. Violet saw one of my paintings and suggested I add animals. After I saw and painted Midnight, I was thrilled. I wanted to paint him again.”

“We thought
you
had taken Midnight,” said Benny. “And you were going to sell him to that New York man.”

Winifred laughed. “That New York man is my agent! He sells my paintings!”

“We heard you say the black horse was the best,” Violet explained. “And that the others were worthless. Then the man said he’d get a good price for the horse in New York. We thought you were talking about the island’s horses.”

“You only heard part of it,” Winifred said. “I meant the horse painting was the best—the rest of my
work
was worthless. My agent said he’d get a good price for the horse painting in New York.”

“I met Winnie yesterday,” said Austin. “I was out looking for my necklace when I saw her on her deck sketching. I couldn’t help but notice that the horse she was drawing looked like Midnight. Then she took her charcoal and darkened the horse and I was sure it was Midnight. It was so beautiful I had to say something—even though I didn’t want anyone to know about Midnight—or me. Winnie told me she’d glimpsed the horse only once—that she wasn’t even sure he was real and that she’d been to the sanctuary several times hoping to see him again. She seemed to care for him as much as I did, and after she promised she would keep my secret, I took her to see him.”

BOOK: Mystery of the Wild Ponies
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