Study Guide

A Long Way from Chicago Chapter 2

By Richard Peck

Chapter 2

The Mouse in the Milk (1930)

  • The next year, the kids are sent to stay with Grandma for a week again. Mary Alice is even more cheesed off this time because of what happened with Shotgun; she still has nightmares about his body sitting up in the casket.
  • To keep herself entertained, Mary Alice brings a jump rope along on the trip. Joey brings along a big puzzle to put together. (Fun times?)
  • Then one night, they hear the sound of a horse coming down the road, which isn't that rare. What's rare is the sound that comes after that—an explosion.
  • The kids and Grandma all run out to find that someone has blown up her mailbox. Grandma, true to form, just says "Cowgills" and goes to sleep, seemingly unconcerned by this strange turn of events.
  • The next morning, Effie Wilcox comes running to Grandma's house and asks to use the outdoor privy. She says that someone came to her house in the night and tore up her outhouse. How scandalous. And how smelly…
  • Then the next day, Joey comes down to breakfast and sees Grandma cleaning her rifle while complaining to this big kid that there was a mouse in her milk delivery. She also says that she won't need a delivery tomorrow because she's going away.
  • Now, Joey and Mary Alice both know that these are lies—there was no mouse in the milk, and Grandma has no intention of going away. Why's she telling this kid all sorts of whoppers?
  • She also introduces Joey to the kid, whose name is Ernie Cowgill. She says that Joey is from Chicago and is a real tough cookie; he's in a gang and everything. Joey is appalled by her lies.
  • After the kid leaves, Grandma tells them that Ernie is the youngest of the four Cowgill boys and that she had the rifle out when he came over as bait.
  • Joey is working in the garden when he hears Mary Alice scream. He runs in to find that Grandma has caught a mouse and is sticking it into a bottle of milk. He doesn't even want to know what she's up to.
  • That night, Joey is about to turn on the lamp to work on his puzzle, but Grandma stops him. She says that they're not going to use the lamp tonight; they're just going to sit in the dark and wait.
  • So, they sit there in the dark without making a sound. Time passes, until they hear a noise outside… and someone filing away at the door's screen.
  • Instead of freaking out or calling the police, Grandma simply reaches into her sewing basket and pulls something out. She lights a match and rolls something across the floor.
  • Then, something explodes.
  • It turns out that Grandma had lit some cherry bombs…and that the four Cowgill brothers are now standing in the kitchen, looking terrified.
  • Grandma points her rifle at all of them and tells Joey to run to the nearby church and get the Cowgills' parents.
  • He comes back to the house with Mr. and Mrs. Cowgill, plus Effie Wilcox (who just happened to be at the church, too).
  • Grandma tells Mr. and Mrs. Cowgill exactly what their boys have been up to—including breaking and entering, blowing up the mailbox, and even destroying poor Effie Wilcox's privy.
  • At first, Mr. Cowgill protests, but then Grandma shows him the bottle of milk from his business…and how it has a big, bloated mouse in it. She tells him that if he doesn't punish his boys, she'll tell the whole town about how unsanitary his milk is.
  • Mr. Cowgill grabs a leather strap and takes all his sons outside, telling them to line up by age. Then, he whups them all in the butt so they won't try anything stupid again.