Vermont, Early Spring 1850
Excerpted from Horse Diaries #2: Bell's Star by Alison Hart; illustrated by Ruth Sanderson Copyright © 2009 by Alison Hart; illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. Excerpted by permission of Random House Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
I was born in a rocky paddock on a cloudy night. Light snow fell from the sky, covering my brown fur with white. My mother’s tongue washed over me and warmed my skin. Soon she nudged me, urging me to stand.
Rise, she told me. Danger can hide in the dark woods.
I scrambled to my feet. My long legs were sturdy, my body stout. I nursed, and my mother’s milk gave me strength. I hopped in the snow, trying out my legs. Mother smiled proudly as I trotted and leaped. Soon I grew weary. Mother led me into the shed, and sinking onto a soft pile of hay, I slept.
Morning came, and the rising sun broke through the clouds. As soon as it was light, my mother began to teach me.
There is so much to learn, she told me. I followed her around the paddock. She touched her nose to all the new things: fence, tree, water trough, hay, mud.
Mud I learned quickly. As the snow melted, my tiny hooves sank into the sloppy brown mess. I was scrambling onto a dry stump when a fluttering sound startled me.
A bright blue creature landed on the fence. I tensed. Is this danger? I asked my mother.
Her muzzle twitched in laughter. No, my son. That is a blue jay. They are pesky and steal my corn, but they are not danger.
Jumping off the stump, I whinnied to the blue jay. It flew into the trees.
Blue jays have wings, my mother explained. They are free to fly to wherever they want.
I peered between the fence rails. I wanted to race after the blue jay to the place called wherever they want. The blue jay had disappeared, but outside the paddock were many more new things to explore!
I touched my nose to the railing, but the fence circled my mother and me, penning us in. I checked my back. Did I have wings? All I saw was brown hair.
If only I had wings, I thought. I could fly free, too.
Suddenly a shriek filled the air. I fled behind my mother. I flicked my fuzzy ears.
Danger? Turning, I peeked from beneath her thick black tail.
A creature leaped over the top railing, landing with a splash in the mud. It was as colorful and noisy as the blue jay, only bigger!
Wings spread wide, it hurtled toward me. Terrified, I turned to run, but my long legs tangled. I fell in a heap. Mud splattered my white star. The giant blue jay plopped on the ground next to me. Its wings wrapped tightly around my neck, and I was trapped!
Mother, I neighed. Danger!
But my mother’s eyes were twinkling.
“Papa! Bell had her foal!” the blue jay cried out.
“I see, Miss Katie,” an even taller blue jay answered. “But, daughter, your joy is scaring him. Let him go so we can see how fine he is.”
The wings released me. I scrambled to my hooves and rushed to the far side of the paddock. My mother hurried after me and blew into my nostrils.
Do not be afraid. Those are humans. The large one is Papa. The small one is Katie. They feed and care for us. In return, we work for them.
Work. I did not know that word yet. My mother pushed me forward. My legs splayed, refusing to move. The human called Papa set a wooden bucket in the paddock.
“Come, Bell,” he called. My mother trotted over. Dipping her head, she ate hungrily.
“You have given us a fine fellow, Bell,” Papa said, patting her neck.
Wide-eyed and trembling, I stared at the human called Katie. She stood in the middle of the paddock, her eyes as curious as mine.
Then she held out one wing. This time she walked quietly to me. Her wings were soft when they stole around my neck. Then her cheek pressed against mine, and my trembling stopped.
“He has a white star, just like Bell,” Katie said. “And look, two white legs.”
“He’s a fine-looking Morgan horse. Strong like his dam. Handsome like his sire,” Papa said. “Soon he’ll be able to pull the plow and the carriage.”
“Papa, may I name him?” Katie asked. He nodded.
“I name him Bell’s Star.”
“That’s a grand name for such a small foal,” Papa said.
“One day he will be grand, I know,” Katie said, scratching my fuzzy mane. “He’ll lead the St. Albans parade like Mr. Jones’s Morgan horse.”
“Let’s hope he grows up to be as grand a worker as Bell,” Papa said. “Our farm needs a Morgan that can pull a plow, not lead a parade.”
I nuzzled Katie’s arm. I didn’t know grand or parade, but I wanted to show her I no longer thought she was danger.
“Oh, Papa,” Katie sighed, her breath tickling my whiskers. “I love him already.”
“We’ll give Bell a day of rest,” Papa said. “Then it’s back to work tomorrow.”
Work. There was that word again. That morning, with Katie’s arms around my neck, I thought nothing more of it.
But soon I would know what it meant.