HAMSTER in a
HANDBASKET

When James is chosen to look after the school hamster during the summer, he and Mandy are thrilled! But then someone vandalizes James's garden and steals the poor hamster. Who is to blame? The city kids visiting their town — or someone closer to home?

Sample Chapter


Chapter Two

"James!" Mandy cried. The corridor was crowded with kids, all making their way outside for morning recess. She'd spotted her friend's serious face with its mop of straight brown hair and round glasses. "Wait a second!" She squeezed through the crowd toward him.

He turned and gave her a shy grin. "Hi, Mandy." Then he whispered to a couple of friends to go ahead without him. "Where's the fire?" he asked as Mandy caught up with him at last.

"No fire. But listen to this!" she gasped. Her blue eyes were sparkling. "You know Henry?"

"Henry who?"

"Henry the Eighth."

"Yes, sure. He was the one with six wives, wasn't he? He kept killing them off for some reason." James's eyes, twinkling behind his glasses, showed that he was teasing.

"No, not that Henry the Eighth. Our Henry, the school Henry! Henry the hamster!"

"Oh, that Henry." James folded his arms. "I might have guessed it was an animal you were so worked up about."

Mandy felt people swarm by, knocking against her with their schoolbags, barging down the corridor, heading for the sunny playground. "I'm not worked up!" she protested. Then she grinned at James. "Okay then, I am. But listen, I've just had this terrific idea!"

James's brown eyes widened. "Uh-oh!"

She grabbed hold of his elbow. "Miss Temple needs someone to take care of Henry during the school vacation," she said. "Well, of course I'd love to do it, but I can't, as you know, because Mom and Dad have this strict rule about pets, but I thought it would be terrific if you could take Henry home! Wouldn't it be great if you had him? I could pop in every now and then to help you look after him. Not that you couldn't manage perfectly well by yourself, I realize, but it would be terrific if we both took care of him; if your mom and dad say yes, and if you think it's a good idea, too!"

"Whoa!" James put up both hands to fend Mandy off. "Slow down."

Mandy had only paused for breath. "What's the matter? Don't you want to look after Henry? He's gorgeous! He's really, really friendly, and he's got a very interesting personality. Hamsters need company, and I'd be able to come nearly every day to help. It's not as if you'd have to do everything..." Mandy began to slow down. She felt herself go hot and red. Here she was, gushing on, and James was standing calmly in the emptying corridor, arms folded, a smile spread across his face.

"Just hang on a minute," he said slowly.

"Why? James, you have to make your mind up pretty quickly. Miss Temple is in the lab right this minute asking for volunteers. She's going to mix up the names in a hat and draw one out. She'll have finished and gone off to the staff room if we don't hurry up!" Mandy's enthusiasm seemed to be falling on deaf ears. "Don't you want to put your name on the list?"

James sprang his answer on her. "I already have!"

"What?"

"We had biology first period. Miss Temple asked our class the same thing. I was the first to volunteer."

"To look after Henry?"

James nodded, watching her puzzled face.

Mandy blushed even more furiously.

"Great minds think alike," he told her. "When Miss Temple said that Henry needed a home for the summer, I thought, me and Mandy, quick as a flash!"

They began to walk down the steps toward the playground. "Do you think we'll be lucky?" she wondered. "Henry seems pretty popular." She glanced up and through the window at the line of pupils still waiting to give their names to Miss Temple.

James shrugged. "Think positive. There's always a chance that my name will be the one!"

"Okay." She smiled. "So you'll go straight home tonight and ask your mom and dad if it would be all right?" The sun in the sheltered playground was almost hot enough to melt the tarmac. Mandy felt the heat and fanned her face.

James nodded. "Do you want to play a game of tennis after school?"

"If it's not too hot," she agreed.

They made their arrangements to go down to the courts by riverside. "Do you think they'll say yes?" she asked.

"About Henry?" He nodded. "We already have Blackie and Eric to look after. What's one little extra hamster?"

Mandy smiled. Henry wasn't just any old hamster. She suspected he would be quite a handful. But Mr. and Mrs. Hunter didn't know that. And anyway, there was no point counting your chickens before they were hatched; or your hamster before your name had been drawn out of the hat, she thought.

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