PUPPIES in the
PANTRY

by Ben M. Baglio

A film crew arrives in town, and Many gets the chance to look after some of the animal stars. But the most important animal, Charley the Labrador, suddenly disappears. Can Mandy and her friend, James, find the dog before something terrible happens?

Sample Chapter


Chapter Four

The next morning Mandy jumped out of bed. The garden sparkled in the morning sun. There had been a storm in the night. Mandy had woken once to a tremendous crack of thunder.

She had a tight knot of excitement in her stomach. If she was lucky George Sims would call from Bleakfell Hall today to say the horses had arrived. She would get to see Charley and Mr. Baggins again!

But when the telephone rang, it was Grandpa.

"Will you be coming to see us during vacation, Mandy?" he asked as she picked up the receiver.

Mandy smiled. She loved visiting her grandparents at Lilac Cottage, just up the lane from Animal Ark.

"Yes, of course, Grandpa. I’m hoping to go out with Mom this morning, but James and I could come over later if you like."

"Oh, good. Your Grandma’s trying out this new recipe for chocolate orange cake and she thought you might like to try it," Grandpa said.

"Yum," said Mandy. "We’ll definitely be over later, Grandpa."

Mandy felt restless. She had her chores to do in the office but couldn’t seem to settle down to anything. Luckily, the call from Bleakfell Hall came just a few minutes later.

"The horses have arrived," Dr. Emily said, popping her head around the door.

"Great!" Mandy said excitedly, full of energy all of a sudden. "I’ll call James."

James arrived on his bike just as they were getting in the car. Mandy could see he had rushed. His sweatshirt was on backwards, but she figured she’d wait to tell him.

Jess climbed onto James’s lap, curled up, and fell asleep right away.

When they arrived at Bleakfell Hall they could hear a lot of shouting from inside.

They left Jess curled up in the back of the car, making sure to leave the windows open.

"Maybe we’d better go around to the yard," Dr. Emily suggested. "It sounds as if they’re pretty busy in there. I know where the stables are."

"Let’s go and find Charley," Mandy said to James.

There was no answer to their knock on the back door. Cautiously, Mandy opened it and poked her head around.

"Hello . . . anybody here?" She turned to James. "Come on, I’m sure they won’t mind if we go in."

The vast kitchen was empty. No Charley, no Mr. Baggins, no cats, no George Sims. Where on earth was everyone?

The sound of Mr. Curtis’s voice came echoing along the passage that led to the great hallway.

Mandy pulled James’s sleeve. "Come on, let’s take a look. Maybe all the animals are on the set."nn

They crept along the corridor and peered around the half-open door.

The place was in an uproar.

Mandy stifled a giggle. "I told you it was chaotic," she whispered to James.

Ben sat on top of a stepladder, waving his arms about. The ladder wobbled. Someone rushed forward to steady it. Mandy put her hand over her mouth to stop the laughter coming out.

"No!" Mr. Curtis was shouting. "Not there, for goodness sake, someone get hold of that parrot!"

A woman in an ankle-length white dress was sitting by the fireplace. There was a blanket over her head. The cats were asleep on the sofa as if nothing was going on.

"That must be Antonia Kent," Mandy whispered in James’s ear. "She’s the human star."

"I’m not acting with that horrible bird!" a voice came from under the blanket. "I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!"

"Look!" Mandy said, suddenly spying the parrot. "There’s Mr. Baggins!"

Sure enough, high up on the elegant crystal chandelier, Mr. Baggins preened his feathers. Beneath, an assistant held up a cup of sunflower seeds.

"Come down, Mr. Baggins," she was shouting. "Nice dinner."

"Two sugars!" the parrot screeched. "A cup of Baggins if you please."

Mandy was laughing so hard she felt sure someone would hear.

"Where’s George Sims?" Mr. Curtis yelled suddenly. "He’s supposed to be supervising these wretched creatures."

"What a mess," James whispered.

"We’d better get out of here before we get in trouble," Mandy said.

But it was too late. They had been spotted.

"Ah, young lady," Mr. Curtis called. "Come in, come in. Any hope of you getting that bird to come down?"

Mandy and James sidled into the hall. Mandy looked up. "I’ll try," she said. She felt a bit shy in front of all the crew. "But I can’t promise."

Across the hall, Antonia Kent peeped out from under her blanket. Mandy almost laughed again. The actress looked like a nun in a cocktail dress with the white blanket around her face. But when she took the blanket off, Mandy drew in her breath. She recognized her right away. Antonia Kent was the heroine of one of Mandy’s favorite soap operas! She just couldn’t help staring.

"Mandy . . ." James nudged her in the ribs.

"Oh!" Mandy shook herself. She stood under the chandelier. "Mr. Baggins," she called softly. "Come on down, Mr. Baggins. You’re being very naughty."

"She loves, you, yeah, yeah, yeah," Mr. Baggins said.

"Yes," Mandy couldn’t help grinning. "I know, but please come down, huh?"

Mandy heard laughter echoing around the set. She glanced at Mr. Curtis. He had a face like thunder. He definitely didn’t think it was funny, even if everyone else did.

Mandy pursed her lips. She pretended to frown. "Now come on, Mr. Baggins, stop fooling around." Someone passed her the cup of sunflowers seeds and she held them out. "Come on . . . please."

To Mandy’s relief, Mr. Baggins cocked his head on one side, spread his bright wings, and fluttered down toward her. He landed on her head. Mandy tottered. Then she caught sight of herself in a big, gold-framed wall mirror. She looked as if she was wearing a gaily colored hat in an Easter parade. She put her hand up. "Come on, you rotten thing. You’re holding everyone up."

Mr. Baggins stepped daintily onto her fingers. A sigh of relief washed around the room.

"Well done, darling." Antonia Kent swept toward Mandy in a wave of pale silk and strong perfume. She had black hair tied up in curls on top of her head, and a pale complexion with a dark beauty spot on her rouged cheek. The actress eyed the parrot warily as she put her arm around Mandy’s shoulders. "This girl has a magic touch." She turned to the crew. "Is she the new animal trainer? Has that hopeless man gone at last?"

Mr. Curtis walked over. "No," he said. "She’s the vet’s daughter. That was terrific, Mandy. Maybe you could stay and help out? We need Charley next. Could you get her?"

"Oh, yes." Mandy’s heart leaped with excitement. "I’d love to."

Just then the front door opened and George Sims came through into the hall. He looked upset. His green boots were covered with mud. His face was red, as if he had been running.

"Sims," Mr. Curtis said, "I was just sending Mandy to get the dog."

George Sims bit his lip. "The dog’s gone," he said gruffly, looking down at the toes of his boots. "She ran off."

"What!" Mr. Curtis groaned.

Mandy’s stomach turned icy with fear. "Oh, no!" she cried. "When?"

George Sims looked at her. His face was full of remorse. "I put her out last night and she didn’t come back in. The thunder – it must have scared her."

A tide of anger and fear washed over Mandy. How could anyone be so crazy? "You put her out during a storm? Don’t you know dogs hate thunder?" she exploded.

Mr. Sims pursed his lips. "I didn’t know. I told you I’m only the driver. Anyway, she seemed to have settled down. I thought she’d be okay."

Mandy whirled around. "Come on, James, we’d better go and look for her."

"If the dog’s been gone all night," Ben said, "she could be anywhere."

"I’ve been out there looking." George Sims took off his cap and scratched his head. "She’s gone, that’s for sure."

"Well, we’re going to look anyway." Mandy’s eyes blazed. She and James dashed from the hall.

"Where shall we start?" James panted behind her.

"We’ll get Jess. She’s good at sniffing scents."

"But she’s never met Charley."

Mandy was already opening the back of the car. "Come on, Jess." She clipped on the terrier’s leash. "We’ll let her sniff Charley’s blanket. That might do the trick."

They ran around the back and into the kitchen. "Look, Jess." Mandy thrust open the pantry door. Jess ran inside. She sniffed Charley’s blanket and made a little whine in her throat. She began scratching it up to make a bed.

"No, Jess!" Mandy pulled the leash gently. "No time to sleep now. Charley is missing and we have to find her!"

"We’d better tell your mom," James said.

They dashed out into the yard. In the stable, Dr. Emily was examining a beautiful bay gelding. "What on earth’s happened?" Dr. Emily asked in surprise.

"It’s Charley," Mandy blurted. "She’s run off."

"Run off . . . oh, dear. When?"

"Last night." Mandy’s voice broke. The thought of the beautiful Labrador lost in the fields was awful.

"Mr. Sims let her out during the storm," James explained. "She must have been really scared. He’s been looking for her all morning."

"We’re taking Jess to look for her," Mandy said.

"It might be a good idea to search the outbuildings," Dr. Emily said. "She could be hiding."

"Good thinking," Mandy said. "Come on, James. Let’s go."

"Mandy, don’t go far. I have to get back to the office and don’t forget you promised to visit Grandma and Grandpa."

"But we can’t just leave . . ."

"I’m sorry, Mandy. Look, there’s all the crew to look for her." Dr. Emily put her arm around Mandy’s shoulders. "I’m sure they’ll find her. Just do what you can while you’re here. Okay?"

Mandy sniffed, then nodded. "Okay, Mom. Come on, James. Let’s go."

*    *    *

By the time Dr. Emily was ready to leave, the outbuildings had been thoroughly combed for signs of the missing dog.

"Charley! Charley!" They had looked all over. The stables, the hayloft, the old dairy. Mandy and James and Jess had run around the grounds, peering in the shrubbery, the old walled kitchen garden, the toolshed. They had even gone up into the attic of Bleakfell Hall. But Charley was nowhere to be seen. Eventually it was time to get back.

As they drove down the road, Mandy felt miserable. What had promised to be such a great day had turned out to be just rotten.

"Cheer up, Mandy." Her mother put a reassuring hand on Mandy’s knee. "You’ve done all you can to find Charley. The dog is really the film company’s responsibility, not ours."

"I know," said Mandy. "But I told Charley I’d look after her. I can’t let her down."

In the back of the car James sat silently hugging the tired terrier. It seemed as if they had run for miles in their hunt for the missing dog, and they were both exhausted.

"We haven’t really done anything." Mandy suddenly felt angry. She looked at her mother. "All we’ve done is searched some silly old buildings and the garden. Charley could be miles away by now, and we’re doing nothing to help."

"You’ll have to be content with that for now, Mandy," Dr. Emily said firmly. "We’re going up to Syke Farm. I called Jean from Bleakfell Hall to see if there were any messages. Mr. Janeki wants me to look at a ewe that’s been injured. If you keep a lookout, you might see Charley."

Mandy sighed. She gazed out of the window. She just wished they hadn’t had to leave when they did.

Ahead, the hills and valleys seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance. The thought of Charley out there somewhere, lonely and lost, was almost too much to bear. Charley could be lying injured at the bottom of a ditch, shivering with wet and cold . . . hungry. Mandy couldn’t stop the rush of terrible thoughts.

"We could ask around the village when we get back," James said in a small voice. "Someone might have seen Charley."

"Yes, you’re right, James," Mandy said, her head clearing. She realized there was lots they could do. "We could put posters up," she said, brightening.

"You see," Dr. Emily said, changing gears to turn into Syke Farm. "You’ve only just begun to help."

Mandy felt a lot better as the car pulled into the farmyard. It was certainly no use moping. She had to think positive. And thinking positive meant doing everything they could to find Charley!

In the farmyard, Mr. Janeki stood in the doorway of the barn. He wore brown overalls and black, muddy rubber boots. His round face looked grim.

"Better stay in the car, you two," Dr. Emily said, getting out, "I won’t be long."

Mandy saw the farmer greet Dr. Emily. They stood talking. Mr. Janeki pointed his finger toward the field that bordered the farmyard. Then he and Dr. Emily disappeared into the barn.

Mandy turned to James. "We’ll tell Grandma and Grandpa about Charley," she said. "They’ll have some ideas. Grandma’s always helpful if you’re in trouble. And Grandpa might take us out in his camper to search the valleys."

"Great idea." James brightened up. "And I’ll do all I can to help."

"Thanks, James," Mandy said with a sigh. It was great to have such a good friend, she thought.

Dr. Emily came out of the barn with Mr. Janeki. Her face was grave as she came toward the car and got in.

"What’s up, Mom?" Mandy asked.

"One of Mr. Janeki’s sheep has been attacked by a dog," Dr. Emily said with a worried frown.

Mandy’s hand flew to her mouth. "You don’t think . . ."

Her mother’s face was serious. "Yes, I’m afraid so, Mandy. It could well have been Charley!"

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