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The Stray

The Stray

Written by Dick King-SmithAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Dick King-Smith


· Yearling
· Trade Paperback · March 10, 1998 · $5.50 · 978-0-679-89101-7 (0-679-89101-3)


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Read an Excerpt
Henny had grown used to the occasional sounds of Saltmouth's late night traffic passing Ivy Cottage, but the sound that woke her later was an unusual one. It was a kind of scraping sound, of metal on metal, and it seemed to be coming from beneath her window.

Henny got out of bed, went quietly across the room, and looked out. Directly below was a man who seemed to be trying to open the garage door.

Her first thought was that it was George. But why would he want to get the car out at--she looked at her watch--two o'clock in the morning?

She leaned out a little farther and now could see by the light of the streetlight that it was certainly not George.

George was big. This man was smallish.

George was balding. This man had a lot of hair tied in a ponytail.

George had a key to his garage. This man, she could see, had some sort of crowbar in his hand with which he was trying, as quietly as he could, to force open the garage door.

Some old ladies in Henny's position would have screamed or shouted for help, but all Henny felt was anger, anger on behalf of the Good family, her family, as she already felt them to be.

This nasty thief was actually trying to break in and steal their car, their beautiful big shining eight-seater monster (she had had a ride in it and knew that it would take seven Goods and one Hickathrift).

What's more, he was trying to steal it right under her nose!

If I give a shout for George, she thought, the man will just run away. And I can't very well sneak down the stairs in my blue flannel nightgown with the pattern of red roses and grab him in a headlock. He may be small, but I'm smaller and a heck of a lot older. Besides, he'd most likely knock my teeth out--the ones that aren't in the tooth glass, I mean. What shall I do?

Then her eye fell on Barney's painting of the bomber and then on the money plant at her elbow.

Quickly she picked up the heavy pot and held it out past the window sill.

Carefully, though her arms began to ache with the weight of it, she moved the pot a fraction this way and that--just like a bombsight in an airplane--till it was, she judged, directly above the ponytailed head below.

Then she dropped it.

* * * * *

At breakfast the next morning the children were told all about the bombing of the burglar.

"I was woken up by the sound of Henny shouting my name," their father said, "and when I got outside, there was this chap knocked out cold. I recognized him straightaway, because he was lying on his back with his mouth open, and when I shone the flashlight on him I could see the repair work I'd done on his upper left four. It was young Freddie Hooper--Hooper the boatman's oldest boy."

"The one with the ponytail, Dad?" asked Barney.

"Yes. He's been in trouble with the police before now."

"Are you going to report him?" asked Angela.

"No. I don't think he'll try breaking into our garage again. He was so dazed he had no idea what had happened. I told him it was part of our security system. Anyway, there wasn't any damage to the door worth speaking of, only to his head. He had a bump on it the size of a hen's egg."

"Oh, dear!" said Henry. "And I broke your flowerpot too, Mary."

"Don't worry," said Mary. "I've got loads of pots and lots more money plants. I'll give you another one for your room, and then we won't ever need to worry about having the car stolen, thanks to the Patented Hickathrift Antiburglar Bomb."

"We're very grateful to Henny," George said to the rest. "Aren't we?" Everyone cried, "Yes!" and then they all clapped and then they sang "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow!"

Henny looked at the five red-haired children and their tall fair-haired mother and their big balding father and thought what jolly Good fellows they all were.

After breakfast, when the dentist had left for his office and the children for school--for the new term had started--Mary said, "Well, Henny, the month is up."

"What month?" said Henny.

"Your trial month. Remember, we agreed to give it a try to see how it worked out?"

"Oh, yes," said Henny.

Oh, no, she thought. Don't tell me she's going to say I've got to go! I couldn't bear to be a stray again.

"Well, what d'you think?" said Mary.

"Think?"

"I mean, is the work too much for you?"

"Oh, no!"

"Are you happy with us?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, it's all right, then," said Mary.

"I can stay?" said Henny.

"Couldn't manage without you. Did I tell you I've signed up for a college course? In French. We go to France quite often on vacation, so it'll be useful. I hardly took any French when I was in school, and George took none--he just shouts at them slowly in English. Which reminds me, I must get myself a French dictionary. Oh, and I must go and find you another money plant."

"Speaking of money," Henny said. "I haven't given you any, you know. I must pay for my bed and board. We agreed I should."

"Don't worry about that," said Mary. "You more than earn your keep with all the work you do. By the way, could you do a bit of shopping for me this morning? Nothing heavy."

In the town Henny collected a few little things on Mary's list. One of them was a lottery ticket, and just for luck Henny got one for herself as well. Then she treated herself to a box of jujubes.

As she sucked one of these, held between her new teeth, she had a brainstorm. I've got quite a lot of money now, she thought, because Mary won't take any. But she can't stop me from buying her a present. And she made her way to a bookshop.


"Just look at this!" said Mary Good to her husband when he came home for lunch, and she put before him a very large new dictionary, on whose shiny cover was written:

FRENCH-ENGLISH
ANGLAIS-FRANCAIS

George picked it up, looked at the price on it, and gave a whistle.

"Twenty quid!" he said. "You've gone all out!"

"Look inside," said his wife.

On the flyleaf was written:

TO MARY GOOD
FROM HENRIETTA HICKATHRIFT

Henny came into the room.

"How very generous of you, Henny," said George, brandishing the heavy book.

"It's you two that are generous to me," said Henny. "I only wish there was some way I could repay you for your kindness."

Perhaps I could win some money with this thing, she thought later. She was sitting on a chair outside Ivy Cottage, her lottery ticket in her lap, watching the evening sun on the sea. I wonder what you have to do? The children will know.

The children were playing croquet on the lawn. It was a very special and difficult sort of croquet, because the slope meant that the croquet balls all tended to roll down toward the sea wall, and anyway, that's where the players tried to knock one another. It was also a dangerous game, as Henny had found out on the one and only occasion on which she had played, because everyone hit the croquet balls as hard as they could and your ankles were in great danger.

When the game was finished, four of them came up the lawn toward her, red heads bright in the evening sun.

Barney was grinning because he had won.

Angela was smiling because she didn't mind not having won.

Eleanor and Rosie were quite happy because they never won anyway.

Behind them Rowley was still playing all by himself. He placed the ball right in front of each hoop and then knocked it through, the only way he ever scored anything.

"Tell me," said Henny to the four older ones. "Do you know how to do this lottery thing?

"I do," said Angela. "I've seen Mom do it. You have to choose six numbers between one and forty-nine. That costs you a pound. Then when it comes to the draw, if you've got the first five numbers that they call out, you can win an awful lot of money."

Rowley arrived in time to hear this.

"Seventy million pounds," he said. "A man did."

"Seventeen million," the others said.

"I don't think I'd want to win that much," Henny said. "I wouldn't know what to do with it."

"Give it to us," said Rowley.

"I have to choose six, did you say?" asked Henny.

"Yes."

"Well, look, there's me and there's the five of you. Let's each pick a number. Start with the youngest. What number d'you want, Rowley?"

"Five," said Rowley. "Because that's what I'm going to be soon."

Then the rest made a choice, in turn, and each time Henny made against the chosen number a clean vertical line with a ballpoint pen, as the instructions said.

"There we are, then," she said at last. "Five, twenty-five, thirty-one, thirty-nine, forty-four."

"Six," said Angela. "You have to pick six numbers, Henny. What are you going to pick?"

"Oh, I don't know. Let's see, I'll say thirteen."

"That's unlucky," said Rowley.

"Which is what I shall be, Rowley, you can bet your bottom dollar," said Henny. "I never win these sorts of things. Waste of a pound, really."

Excerpted from The Stray by Dick King-Smith. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, 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.