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Rebecca opened her lips, baring yellowish teeth, and took it at one nod. Her lips felt warm and rough. See that? He held up a blunt forefinger. A pony took the tip off that going for a cube of sugar. He laughed again, louder. Her warm breath tickled.


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Her father was in the Coronation. Just the ponies, Dikkon and Piccolo. Dikkon is gray, and Piccolo black as night. He held it up again. He opens gates—and doors. Still talking, Charlie threw a blanket over the horse and attached a bag of steaming bran behind her ears. Rebecca settled down to steady munching. The whole stable had a comfortable smell, Becky thought, watching Charlie fork clean straw. She wondered what it was like to sleep here. From the other side of the wall came a songlike moan.

She has twin calves, Honey and Periwinkle.

Jessaloup's Song

Here, let me show you! He stuck the fork in a bale and led her through a shabby door. The golden Jerseys stared sleepily over three pink noses, sulky at being disturbed. Very respectable people, cows! Charlie touched his cap. Then he threw a switch and guided her out into the gray yard. Eleanor should have our mash ready by now. A man feeds his horse first, himself second. As they crossed the yard, she noticed the fog was thicker.

Arms and legs of it crept into the cobbled square between buildings. She shivered, glad when the house door swung open. Becky, come right on in! Her face was pretty, a healthy pink framed by tarnished silver hair. Charlie replied with a big horsey grin, patting Becky on the shoulder as they entered the warm kitchen. They sat down immediately. Tea with milk followed the soup, and oatmeal cookies. Charlie remained silent while his big jaws worked over the food.

Now and then he nodded to his guests to refill their plates or cups. At last, when all were satisfied and well into their second cups of tea, he shoved his dishes to one side, planted his elbows on the table and rested his chin in his hands. He sat motionless a long time while Eleanor asked Becky about this and that. Now then— he cleared his throat, looking earnestly at her father and her— I need both your brains for a while. But first, help yourselves to some more tea.

He pushed the pot toward them. I really should have written. Well, Findlay, the ranger who lives three farms down, asked me the other day if I was missing any horses. Seems he found evidence of horses loose in the forest, near the center. Is that right! Eleanor rose to clear away the dishes. Becky offered to help, but she motioned her back: You can help me later. She smiled, yet cast a worried glance at Charlie. The dishes rattled as she carried them to the sink.

Yes, a great trampling of hoofs in the pine needles—some droppings and such. I told him my horses never run loose. Charlie leaned forward. His eyes narrowed and his voice grew husky. Hang me for a horse thief, but none of them was shod!

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He pushed himself back, waiting for the surprise to register. He struck the table with the flat of his hands, as if the case were closed. Her father gave in, letting the smoke out in a rush. Reluctantly, he propped his head in his hands and humorously rolled his eyes, but Becky could tell he was more interested than he let on. I dunno, Charlie paused, working the pause for what it was worth and smiling mysteriously.

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I confess I need help with this one. I suspect. Wild horses! Charlie had been born and raised on a ranch in the American West. I know, I know. Charlie put up a hand. But so far, only the far-fetched helps. Findlay has been going out at night near the place, hoping to surprise whoever or whatever is making the tracks. He suggested we all take a look tomorrow—in the daylight. He picked up an enormous calabash pipe and lit it with a flourish of matches, which he tossed one by one into the glowing grate.

Eleanor made soft puncturing sounds in her needlepoint. Charlie took the pipe from his mouth and looked at her as if about to say something. Then he put it back and turned resolutely to the fire. The coals seethed and popped.


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  4. Suddenly Charlie stood up and took something from the mantel. He turned to them with a look of subtle triumph. He glanced nervously at Eleanor.

    R.V. Whale Song | Centre for Whale Research

    It was a long thin shaft of wood, feathered on one end, with a bit of barbed bone on the other. An arrow—what in the world?

    Becky got up too. Sent it to the British Museum. Got a letter back with it. Right here. Please tell us how you came by so exact a model of our find. Our tests of the arrowhead show it is made from the horn of no known animal. But how—? I found it sticking in a tree near the center of the forest. He ruffled the yellow feathers. Model indeed! The markings show it was carved by a flint knife.

    The Whale Song

    This is an original. Excuse me, Dear, he bowed. Gives her the creeps. He set it back in the shadows. Then he turned and stretched, yawning. He opened a door and whistled, adding, Anyone for a stroll before turning in? Two red shadows shot by the fire as twin Irish setters bounded to his feet and sat looking up expectantly.

    Becky, meet Riff and Raff, he said, with a mock bow. The dogs looked at her eagerly, their long pink tongues laughing. Out in the woods fog hugged the ground, which fell away behind the farm. From the valley below, the fog rose in weird shapes under a moon swelling toward the full.