The Secret in the Compost Bin by Margaret Pearce
What do you do when you desperately want a pet of your own but your parents put their foot down, insisting pets cost too much to feed and they’re messy?
Jeremy solves his dilemma by getting a secret pet, hatched from a very odd, large egg. His pet isn’t messy and doesn’t cost anything to feed. His is also a most unusually nice and helpful pet. Jeremy’s very happy to have his new companion, although he’s still not ready to tell his parents about it…
GENRE: Mid-Grade Reader Word Count: 14, 208
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The Mystery Egg
Jeremy and his parents had shifted into the nicest house in the street, and he hated it!
He was glad it was right beside his aunt and uncle’s home, which was the untidiest house in the street, so at least he could play with his cousin Kate. Otherwise, he just wished and wished they were back in their inner suburban flat.
No one understood why he hated the new house so much. Everyone thought he should be glad to have moved into his own home at last, after being cooped up in a high-rise building surrounded by busy roads and the roar of heavy traffic day and night.
His mother and father had fallen in love with the house as soon as they had seen it. It was only a little house, but so nicely painted and so spotlessly clean and pretty that strangers used to stop to exclaim over it.
“Just like a doll’s house!”
“What a darling!”
Of course they didn’t know how much trouble it took to keep it so spotlessly clean. His father spent all his spare time in the garden, raking and weeding and cutting the lawn with a pair of hand clippers, as they couldn’t afford to buy a lawn mower yet.
When he ran out of things to paint, he kept washing down the weather boards to make the paint last longer. Jeremy was sure he would have liked to paint the flowers too, if they dared blossom in the wrong colours.
“Nicest garden in the district,” his father bragged with his beaming smile.
“So why can’t my friends come in and play with me?” Jeremy demanded.
“I can’t afford to replace anything they might knock over or break,” his father explained. “Maybe when we get more settled in.”
“Couldn’t we just play in the driveway?” Jeremy pleaded, but his father looked embarrassed.
“It will get scuff marks all over it,” he said firmly as he walked off to fetch his secateurs.
Jeremy went in to see his mother. She spent every evening and weekend endlessly polishing the floors, cleaning the windows until they shone, and washing the curtains until their white brightness dazzled onlookers. During the day she took in ironing and cleaned other people’s houses.
Jeremy was sure she should have been sick of cleaning houses by the time she got home, but she never seemed to be. She was polishing the kitchen floor.
“Can I invite some people home?” he begged his mother. “I’ve made some really great friends at school, and it’s about my turn to have everyone around here.”
His mother didn’t like that idea at all. “I don’t want your friends tracking mud in the house. I just haven’t the time to do any extra cleaning. Invite them around when it’s warmer and you can play in the park.”
“Can I go down to the park and play now?”
“It’s almost dinnertime,” his mother objected. “And you might put another hole in your pants! We can’t afford to buy you any new clothes just now.”
Jeremy gave a big sigh. Life was so sad! These days all his parents seemed to talk about was their lack of money. It was bad enough when they lived in the flat, and were saving up for a new house, but now they had actually moved into their new house, with its new furniture and floor coverings, they still carried on about how they needed every cent.
He suddenly had an inspiration. What he needed, he decided, was a pet of his own so that it didn’t matter if his friends couldn’t come and play with him.
He went back outside to his father, who was carefully plucking dead leaves off a small rose bush.
“Can I have a puppy?” he asked. “Kate’s dog has just had a litter, so it wouldn’t cost anything!”
“Of course not,” his father said. “It would cost too much to feed.”
Jeremy went inside again. His mother was setting the table, polishing each knife and fork as she got them out.
“Kate’s cat has just had kittens,” he told her. “Can I keep one of them?”
“Kittens are cute,” his mother agreed. “But no.”
Jeremy was upset. She patted him on the shoulder. “Kittens need to be immunized and that means Vet fees. We just can’t afford it right now.”
“What about a canary?” Jeremy pleaded. “Kate’s birds have all had babies and they live in cages.”
“We would have to get a proper cage for it,” said his father who had just come in. “Maybe next year.”‘
“Well, what about a goldfish? I could keep it in my bedroom,” Jeremy persisted.
“It wouldn’t last long in a jam jar,” his mother said crossly, as she dished up their dinner. “Do you know how much fish tanks cost? Really, Jeremy! I don’t know what’s got into you lately.”
Jeremy ate his dinner slowly. What was the use of having a house of your own with its own back yard if you weren’t allowed to play in it or keep pets? After dinner, he went next door to see his cousin Kate.
He cheered up as soon as he pushed open the broken front gate. Jeremy was glad she was his neighbour. He wished he lived in their house. The front yard was overgrown with trees and shrubs, and dogs and even goats played in the long grass.
Inside the house, the carpet was worn and shabby. Kittens, puppies and sometimes chickens nestled on all the torn chairs. Apart from the baby lamb, there was only his aunt and his cousin Kate in the kitchen.
The table was piled high with dirty dishes and his aunt was taking out a tray of golden biscuits from her blackened stove.
“Have some fresh biscuits, Jeremy,” she invited.
Jeremy ate three biscuits. Gradually the lump in his throat disappeared, and he started to feel better. He went outside with Kate. They fed her guinea pigs and the goats.
Afterwards he climbed into the tree house, and Kate swung on the old tyre swing. He told her all about his parent’s refusal to let him have any sort of pet.
“Keep a secret pet,” she advised.
“How?” Jeremy grumbled. “I couldn’t sneak a pet flea into that place.”
“You can have one of my kittens,” Kate offered.
“I told you. It’s not allowed.”
“What about one of our dear little chickens?”
“You know Dad won’t let me have a chicken, or any other sort of bird.”
Kate was quiet for a while, thinking, as she swung backwards and forwards.
Then she tossed her straight brown hair off her face, and her blue eyes blazed with triumph as she thought of a solution.
“A tortoise wouldn’t trample your father’s garden, and it would keep down insects.”
“Do you have a spare tortoise?”‘ Jeremy asked hopefully.
“No,” Kate admitted. “But our tortoise has been laying eggs lately. You can have one of the eggs.”
She jumped off the swing and headed down the backyard, past the fowl shed, the duck pen, and the rabbit hutch. Jeremy scrambled down the tree and followed her.
“What use is a tortoise egg?” Jeremy demanded. “I couldn’t hatch it!”
“Nonsense!” Kate replied. She got on her hands and knees and crept through the heavy shrubbery against the fence, looking for something. “You just stick it in some rubbish and keep it covered up. It hatches itself.”
“I could put it in the compost bin,” Jeremy said thoughtfully, as he crawled through the bushes after her. “It’s always warm in there, and it wouldn’t be disturbed.”
Kate halted by a piled-up litter of rubbish and leaves, and started burrowing.
“I’m sure she laid some eggs here last week,” she muttered.
Jeremy delved into the warm, damp pile. At last his hands closed around something warm and smooth and definitely egg shaped.
“I’ve found one,” he exclaimed.
“Good,” Kate said happily. “Dig it out. Be careful not to damage it.”
“How big should it be?” Jeremy asked as he burrowed deeper and deeper, trying to get his hands beneath it. There seemed to be a lot of smooth warm surface to dig around.
“Only small,” Kate explained. “And a whitish colour.”
At last Jeremy managed to work the egg to the surface. They sat looking at it. It wasn’t small and whitish. It looked almost as large as an Emu egg, and was mottled brown and green.
“I don’t think that is a tortoise egg,” Kate said doubtfully. “It’s much too big and the wrong colour.”
“I don’t care,” Jeremy said, as he stuffed the egg up the front of his new school jumper. “I’ll take it home and put it in the compost bin to hatch. It can be my secret pet, whatever it hatches into.”
Kate looked over the fence. His father was trimming the side lawn in neat, straight lines, and his mother was on her hands and knees scrubbing the front veranda. Kate signaled when it was safe to sneak back home with the egg.
Neither of his parents noticed him go into the back yard.
The compost bin was right down the end of the yard, behind the ornamental bamboo. Jeremy buried the egg among the warm, damp grass clippings inside, put the lid back on, and went into the house to wash his hands.
He couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit excited. Kate couldn’t identify the egg, and he wasn’t sure what it could be either, so it was going to be his mystery pet.
The important thing, however, was that when it hatched, he was at last going to have a pet of his very own.