The only thing Jenny wanted in the whole wide world was a horse of her very own. Mr. Bonner, whose backyard connected with her own, had a pair of Morgan horses, the very breed Jenny wanted. Jenny visited Mr. Bonner every chance she had, helping him feed and groom the two horses. Their bodies were smooth and glossy after they had been brushed and curried.
Jenny sat on the porch steps, her elbows on her knees, chin cupped in the palm of her hands as she gazed across the yard and fence at the Morgans lazily munching the grass.
The screen door snapped shut behind her, and her mother sat down beside her, still wiping her hands on a dish towel.
“Pretty, aren’t they?”
“Mom, can’t I have a horse? I promise I’ll take care of it.”
“Jenny, we’ve been over this a hundred times. You know why you can’t.”
Yes, Jenny knew the reasons. For one thing, they didn’t have a large yard, not to mention a barn or lean-to to shelter a horse against the harsh North Dakota winters. Nor did they have the extra money it would take to feed a horse and care for it.
“I wish you could have a horse, Jenny,” Mother said later, as she returned to the kitchen.
Knowing that it was close to feeding time, Jenny got up, brushed a hand across the seat of her jeans, climbed over the fence, and sauntered over to the Bonner barn.
Mr. Bonner was already at work, scooping grain out of the wooden bin into two separate pails. “I wondered if I was going to see my favorite girl today.”
Jenny grinned. Mr. Bonner always called her his favorite girl. She grabbed a pitchfork and started cleaning a stall.
“So what’s my girl been doing on this gorgeous summer day?”
Jenny shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing much.”
“Anxious for school to start? How many more days left?”
Jenny laughed out loud. It was a game he played with her every year. He knew exactly how many more days were left—he was the school’s principal.
“Is that all?” Mr. Bonner said, appearing shocked. “I guess I’ll have to get busy, or we won’t be able to open the school on time.”
Jenny knew better. She had seen workers at the school painting and cleaning whenever she accompanied her mother to town. School would start on time, as always.
In a more serious voice he said, “Jenny, I have a favor to ask. I’ve already talked to your mother about it, and she said that it was up to you.”
Jenny’s heart thudded wildly in her chest. For Mr. Bonner to get her mother’s permission, it must be something big.
“I have to go away for ten days on school business. I leave tomorrow. Would you take care of the Morgans while I’m gone?”
“Really? Honest? All by myself? With no one helping me? Wow! Oh yes! When do I start?”
Mr. Bonner laughed. “Tomorrow—if you’re sure you can handle the job.”
“Oh, I know I can. I’ve helped you feed them, brush them, clean the barn, put them out to pasture for … for … well, for years!”
Mr. Bonner nodded. “I know. That’s why I’m asking you now. I think that you love these two old horses as much as I do.”
“Oh, I do!”
“OK then. It’s a deal,” he said, sticking out his hand.
Early the next morning Jenny stood in Mr. Bonner’s driveway and waved as Mr. Bonner drove away. Then she turned toward the barn to start her first day of chores all by herself.
She had fun the first few days, spending much of her time tending the horses. By the fifth day, however, the charm had worn off. Taking care of these horses is hard work, Jenny decided. The hay was heavy to move and scratched her legs when she wore shorts. Cleaning the stalls was dirty, smelly work, especially on those two days when the temperature rose to ninety-five degrees.
The sixth day Jenny had to turn down an invitation to see a movie with her friend Rebecca because the outing interfered with her stable chores.
On the seventh day she overslept. One of the horses, unhappy with his late breakfast, stepped on her foot. Jenny was sure that he did it on purpose. Limping home, she wondered why she had agreed to do the work.
It rained on the eighth and ninth days, turning the barnyard into a thick, slimy sea of mud. As she was dumping the wheelbarrow after her chores were done, Jenny slipped and fell into the muck.
The tenth day finally arrived, the day Mr. Bonner was to return home. It was midday, and Jenny was sitting on the steps once again. The Morgans were in the pasture.
All they do is eat, Jenny thought, watching them. If I’m not feeding them, I’m cleaning up after them. And by the time I’m finished, I’m either too tired or too hungry to stop and play with them.
“They’re always pretty to look at, aren’t they?” Mom said, returning from the garden with a basketful of vegetables. “You’ve taken excellent care of them. Their coats look shiny and soft.”
“Yeah,” Jenny mumbled. Her arms ached all over again as she thought about their tall backs and even taller necks and about how difficult it was for her to brush their heads.
“They look well fed, too,” her mother added.
“They should,” Jenny said. “All they do is eat.”
Her mother laughed. “Animals have a way of doing that. So,” she said, a more serious look on her face. “I bet taking care of those two made you want a horse of your own even more.”
“Oh, I do. But not right now,” Jenny said, surprising both her mother and herself.
“I love horses, and I want to own one someday, but not right now. They take up so much time that I haven’t been able to enjoy them all week. What’s the use in having something if you can’t enjoy it?”
Jenny received a squeeze from her mother and a kiss on the forehead. “You know, I’m really proud of you. It takes courage and honesty to understand things like that.”
Jenny smiled back at her mother. She was proud of herself too. Someday she would have her very own Morgans—but not right now.