I dismounted my horse and tied him to the hitching post then made my way over to the boys. “I DID see it!” Freddie insisted.
“When I rode by there at midnight last night!”
“Now, what would you be doing there at midnight?” Skinny asked.
“Sometimes I sneak out when my folks are asleep and go riding,” Freddie answered, glaring at Skinny.
“Oh yeah right, Freddie!” I said.
Freddie turned and glared at me then. “Alright!” He folded his arms and lifted his chin way up in the air. “Then YOU ride out to the graveyard and see for yourself!”
I looked around at the other boys. “See WHAT?” I asked, folding my arms.
“The woman who walks among the gravestones!” Freddie declared with a loud sigh and a roll of his eyes. “She walks back and fourth for hours, I bet.” Freddie looked around then leaned his head forward. “She’s a ghost.”
We all hollered and jumped. Miss Adams jumped, startled at our reaction. “Are you going to join class today?”
I had been attending North Fork School for less then two months, but in that short time, I’d gotten to know these boys fairly well through church and going to town with my Pa. “Mark, we’re all in. Are you?” Jeff asked from behind me.
I turned around to look at him. “In for what?”
“To ride to the grave yard at midnight tonight.”
“Midnight?” I gasped. “Now, how do you expect me to come at midnight? Pa makes me go to bed at 8:30!”
“Ya chicken?” Jeff teased.
“Of my Pa or the graveyard?” I asked. Jeff just smiled at me. “I’m scared of my Pa, yes. He likes it that way. Says I get into less trouble. But I’m not scared of some dumb ol’ graveyard!”
“Mark McCain!” I suddenly heard. I whirled around and swallowed as I looked at Miss Adams with her hands on her hips. “Please get out your notepad and write ‘I will not talk in class without permission, and I will pay attention to my teacher’ 200 times.” Miss Adams walked back up to the front. “The rest of you start writing your addition facts twice. Mark, you may do your addition facts at home tonight along with your other homework.”
“Yes ‘em,” I answered.
At lunch, Freddie and I sat down on a bench and started eating our lunches. I looked inside and saw the tomato Pa always insisted on packing me. I couldn’t help letting out yet another groan as Freddie took it from me and handed me a hard-boiled egg. “Why don’t you tell your Pa you hate tomatoes?”
“I have,” I answered. “He said they’re good for me and my Ma would want me to eat them.”
“He thinks you eat them?” I nodded.
“Mark, you believe me about the ghost. Don’t ya?” Freddie asked as he took a bite of the juicy tomato and I started peeling my egg.
I stopped and looked up at him. “That there’s a ghost in the grave yard?” I asked. “Freddie, that story’s older then my Pa – and that’s old!”
“Well then, come with us to the grave yard tonight at midnight!”
“I can’t!” I declared.
Freddie rolled his eyes. “Have you ever disobeyed your Pa?”
I nodded. “That’s why I’m scared of him! Pa can get really mean when he’s mad!” I took a bite of the egg.
“Do it to prove to the boys you aren’t scared!” Freddie turned and looked at me. “Here’s what you do. You sneak some pants outside somewhere…and your boots if you can. Then you lay in bed and wait until your Pa falls asleep. When he’s asleep, you sneak out the door, put your pants and boots on, then run down over the bridge. I’ll be waiting for you there.”
I thought on that. I guess it would work “Well, as long as you promise we aren’t gone too long. Pa wakes up in the night and checks on me.” Freddie raised his eyebrows. “He’s awfully skittish since he lost my Ma.”
Freddie gave me a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, I suppose my Pa’d be too.” He stood up, throwing the rest of the tomato on the ground. “So we’ll do it tonight at midnight, right?”
I nodded. “Tonight at midnight.”
It was harder then Freddie said it would be. You see, after supper I sat down at the table to do my homework. My Pa seems to know EVERYTHING! When he saw me finish my math homework and start on writing my addition facts two times, he grew suspicious. After asking a couple questions, he found out that I’d gotten into trouble at school earlier.
Then when Pa went to the barn, I snuck my pants and boots out to the wood pile and hid them along some logs. Then I went and got ready for bed. That was easy enough, but when Pa came in to tuck me in and listen to my prayers, he didn’t see my boots at the end of my bed as usual. When he questioned me on them, I told him I’d find them first thing in the morning. He lifted an eyebrow, then bent over and kissed me on my forehead like he often did at bedtime. He stood and looked at me again, shaking his head. Then he blew out the lantern and left the room.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I sat up in bed so I wouldn’t fall asleep. But when you are in a dark, quiet room by yourself, it’s mighty hard to stay awake! I laid down and pretended to be asleep when Pa came into the room. Pa came over, tucked the blankets in nice and cozy around me, then planted another kiss on my forehead. I heard Pa get ready for bed. Then there was silence. “Amen,” I heard. Then he moved around like he was laying down in bed.
But I didn’t dare move a muscle or make one peep! I was afraid Pa’d figure out I was awake, then I’d be in trouble for sure!
I laid there for about two more hours – I figured it had to be close to midnight and I had drifted off a few times. Finally, I heard the steady breathing of my Pa and quietly got up and walked out the bedroom door. I did have to get up sometimes in the night and go out back – a task I didn’t much like doing since sometimes snakes liked to
slither into and curl up
in the outhouse
s and I wasn’t allowed to light a lantern to go out there.
I quietly snuck out the front door and grabbed my clothes. After putting my pants on, stuffing my nightshirt inside them, and pulling on my boots, I ran across the bridge to where the boys were waiting. There were only four of us. Besides me and Freddie, Matthew and Skinny were the only other two to get away.
I mounted Freddie’s horse and rode behind him in the saddle. We quickly made our way to the grave yard, which was only a mile from my house. When we arrived, the boys tied their horses to a nearby tree then we snuck to the edge of the graveyard. We kept ourselves hidden and waited.
“I don’t see anything,” I whispered.
“Shhhhh,” Freddie said. “Just wait! She’ll be here.”
We waited for a couple minutes. Then suddenly we saw her. I gasped, but Freddie put a hand over my mouth. We all stared as a woman dressed in a long white, flowing dress, walked among the gravestones. We heard laughter escape from her mouth and she really DID seem to float. Her long, blond (almost white) hair flowed behind her as she walked. “It’s a woman,” Skinny whispered.
I nodded. “More like a ghost!” The lantern she carried swayed back and fourth and made her light up – I was convinced she was a ghost!
“Boys!” We heard
from behind us.
I gasped and quickly turned around. Pa was standing there with his hands on his hips and a really, REALLY mean look on his face. “What’s going on here?”
“Pa, look!” I turned and pointed. We were in time to see
the figure walk behind a stone and disappear.
“She IS a ghost!” Matthew declared.
Pa walked up to the graveyard and walked around. “Well, whoever she is, she isn’t here anymore.”
“She’s a ghost!” I called.
“It was just a woman, son. She was probably visiting the grave of a loved one.” Pa was too practical sometimes!
“At midnight?” I asked doubtfully. “No sir, she-“ I started. Pa held up a hand to silence me. “She just disappeared – where’d she go?” I continued.
Pa reached out and grabbed me by the arm. “I don’t know, but you
boys are in a lot of trouble!” Pa declared, looking at my friends. “I’m sure you all know better then to sneak out at night.”
“But Pa, we-“ I started.
Pa planted a firm hand on my backside. It was enough to shut me up. “I’ll deal with you later, young man!” Pa turned to the other
three. “Alright Freddie, I’ll take you home first.” (Freddie, Matthew & Skinny)
I gasped. “Pa, please, I-“ I started to beg.
“I want their folks to know what they did, son. This is very serious!” The boys mounted their horses. Pa mounted his
then pulled me up behind him. I wrapped my arms around his waste and could feel the tension. Boy, was he ever mad!
I was ordered to stay in the saddle while he took each of my friends by the arm and dragged them to the front door of their homes. Each time I heard Pa knock on the door and slowly a lantern lit in the front rooms. Each time, I heard Pa’s low murmuring as he explained what had happened; followed by each father’s sharp tone.
I watched as each one of my friends was pulled into their home and each front door was slammed shut.
I knew they’d each be getting a lickin’.
It was a silent ride back to the ranch. As I rode with my arms around Pa’s waist, I felt no comfort, he was still upset. When we got into the yard, Pa grabbed me and lifted me down. “Get in the house and get in bed, Mark,” Pa’s gruff voice ordered as he swatted my backside again. I felt the hurt in my Pa’s voice.
I went inside and laid down. Before I knew it, I fell asleep.
The next morning, Pa began shaking me, and it wasn’t the gentle, loving shake he usually used to start to wake me. When I woke up, the sun hadn’t come up yet. “What time is it?” I asked, groaning at how tired I felt.
“It’s five o’clock. School’s about to be in session, boy!” Pa answered. He threw my clothes on the bed then ordered, “Get dressed.” I rubbed my eyes. “NOW!”
I was dressed and in the kitchen in record time. Pa was sitting at the table. I stood in the doorway of the bedroom and looked at him. “Sit down, Mark.”
I always hated it when Pa was angry. I sat down. Pa stared at me in silence for some time. Then he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I’m just trying to figure out what…in the world…got into your head.”
I didn’t say anything, but looked down at the table. Pa sucked in his breath. “Start talking, Mark!”
“Freddie told u-us at sc-school yesterday about s-seeing a ghost…sir…and we just wanted to see it.”
Pa closed his eyes. He looked like he was trying really hard to keep from loosing his temper. “Mark,” he said in a very low voice. “You broke so many rules last night.” He started listing them off as his voice got louder with each one. “You are not supposed to go anywhere without telling me, you are supposed to go to bed and sleep at 8:30. Common sense tells you not to sneak out of the house at night. You are not allowed to go anywhere at night but out back.” By this time, his voice was booming. “Shall I go on?”
“No sir,” I whispered. There was silence and I lifted my head. “But…” I swallowed, needing to muster up the courage to speak. “I DID see a ghost!” Pa shook his head in disbelief. “You saw it too, Pa!” I stood then as the excitement in me mounted. “Pa, we HAVE to go solve the mystery! You just have to!”
“Mark,” Pa stated as he stood up. “Right now, you have a lesson to learn about sneaking out at night. There is no such things as ghosts. If a woman wants to go into a grave yard in the middle of the night, she has the right to – and to do so in private. I can’t believe the four of you…” I stared at Pa in disbelief! I couldn’t
understand why he didn’t
believe what was right in front of him last night.
“But Pa, I-“ I started. “Pa, you ratted on my friends!” I was upset. I knew the lickin’ each one of them probably received last night and boy, how much trouble I was going to be in with them, come school Monday morning.
“Friends, Mark? Did you tell them that you have a bed time and that you aren’t allowed out of the house unless I know where it is you’re going? Did you tell them why I have rules in place for you?”
“And what did they say?”
“They said that I was too chicken to go to the graveyard.”
“So you just went along with the crowd? And it was only the four of you in on this?”
“No sir. Jeff was supposed to come, too.”
“I see. And why do you think he didn’t show up?”
“Because he was too chicken.” I said with a little more attitude in my voice than I should have, but I did see a ghost!
Pa stood and walked to the window. His arms were folded in front of him. My attitude hadn’t helped my situation any. I think he was trying to stay calm. “Mark, do you realize that you could have been hurt? Or killed?” Pa said as he had his back to me. “I had no idea you weren’t asleep in bed. – If I hadn’t heard you sneak out, I-“ Pa’s voice suddenly stopped. It almost sounded like Pa was trying to keep from crying.
I walked up behind him then and touched his arm. “Pa, you remember after our house burned down and you went after Mr. Jackford’s men? You left me out in the woods by myself then.”
Pa turned around, looked down and glared at me. A small smile played at the corner of his lips. I saw it, but it disappeared quickly. Pa bent down in front of me. “That’s a very good argument, son. I’m impressed,” Pa stated. “But, there’s one reason that argument won’t work.” Pa put a hand on my shoulder and looked down, straight into my eyes – I mean…STRAIGHT into my eyes! “You snuck out, so you KNEW it was wrong.” Boy was Pa’s temper starting to come through.
I looked down at the floor. Then I lifted my eyes. “Pa, we’ve just got to solve the mystery! We just gotta!”
“Mark!” Pa interrupted sharply and loudly. I closed my mouth. “I don’t want to hear anymore on this mystery, boy! I have rules for you, to protect you. And for each broken rule, there is a consequence. Now for your punishment.”
I sighed. “Yes, Pa.”
“Since this is evidently what you were discussing at school yesterday that got you in trouble with Ms. Adams, I want you to think about how I would have felt had I not heard you leave the house. Mark, if something had happened to you…” Pa’s voice was becoming louder again. That’s why he suddenly stopped and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. He turned and tapped his fingers on the wall as he looked up toward the ceiling. I think he was seeking guidance. Then he turned back toward me. His face was covered in disappointment and his voice was strained. I hung my head in shame. “Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do. I think you should write a five page essay on what it’s like to be the father of a boy who doesn’t follow the rules and what the consequences could have been, had the father not found out the truth. I want you to think about someone else, besides yourself, Mark. This is in addition to your regular chores this weekend. You’ll have plenty of time to work on your ‘essay’ while we’re in town later today. Micah asked me to come in and talk to him this afternoon.”
“If you ‘but Pa’ me one more time, I’ll add more pages to your essay. Oh, and it will be done by the time you leave for school, Monday. And once I’m satisfied with your essay, you will read it in front of the class. You will admit what you did and that it was wrong and why it was wrong.
“Yes sir,” I sighed. I knew better then to move from my chair. Pa walked over to me. “I’m very disappointed in you, son. You know that.” I nodded. “Do you have any questions?”
“Alright, son. Go get started on your morning chores while I fix breakfast. It’s six o’clock.”
Breakfast that morning was quiet. Pa left me to my thoughts and I allowed him to his. Pa stood and told me to wash up the breakfast dishes while he saddled my horse. I did as he told. Pa came back in and fixed my lunch. “Okay son, time to go.”
I walked towards him and grabbed my books and lunch from his hands. Then I turned to go. My hand was on the door when I suddenly heard a deep sigh escape Pa. I saw Pa walk to his desk and pick up Ma’s picture.
I turned. Tears were on my cheeks. “Pa?” I called. As he turned, I saw tears in his own eyes.
Pa walked me out the door, picked me up and plopped me on Blue Boy. “Get to school, son.” I still saw the disappointment in his eyes and it broke my heart. But I still felt disappointed that Pa wouldn’t take the ghostly woman we saw more seriously either.
I got to school and tied Blue Boy up to the hitching post. I saw Freddie, Matthew and Skinny coming towards me, but I ignored them. I grabbed my books and lunch and headed inside. “Mark, we want to talk to you!”
“I don’t feel like talking,” I answered. Freddie grabbed my arm. I shook it off and whirled around. “Look-“ I started as I stared at Freddie. “Whatever trouble you got into last night was your own making – and it couldn’t possibly compare to the trouble I got into!”
“Our Pa’s gave us licking’s!” Freddie declared. “I can hardly sit cause it still hurts!”
“Oh yeah?” I started to tell them my punishment, but then shook my head. They’d find out Monday anyhow – no use causing myself more pain before I needed to! “Trust me, that’s nothing compared to what I got.”
I walked inside and sat down. I sighed as I opened my pad and wrote at the top:
My Childish Crime, By Mark McCain.
Until Miss Adams started class, I worked on the essay. I’d write a word, then erase…write a word, then erase…Boy, this was harder then I thought!
At recess, the boys asked me to play with them – I reckon they saw how pitiful I looked and wanted to make it up to me. I just shook my head. “I can’t,” I answered sadly. I started writing in my tablet again.
Freddie sat down beside me. “Mark, I’m awful sorry we got you in trouble. I can’t speak for the others, but I know your Pa’s awful sore at you. Is that why you’re so sad?”
I nodded. “That’s mostly it, I reckon. But it’s more then that. I lost something today and it’s gonna take a while to get it back.” I pounded my pencil on the table and shook my head. “Pa said respect and disappointment are earned. “ I sighed. “I earned disappointment – now I have to
earn his respect back.”
“Why won’t you come play? You aren’t in trouble at school, are ya?”
I shook my head. “I have to write an essay by Monday morning – Pa’s orders.”
“Oh.” Freddie sighed. “The whipping doesn’t sound so bad anymore.”
“That’s not all.” I sighed. “I have to stand in front of the class and explain what I did, then read this essay.” I shook my head. “It’s unfair.”
Freddie stood. “Maybe I should let you get back to your work then, Mark.” I watched him walk out.
At lunch, I sat at the desk to work on my essay. Miss Adams reminded me I should eat lunch, but I really wasn’t hungry. The more I thought on this essay, the more I realized how stupid I had acted to put myself in danger. Until I started thinking on it, I didn’t realize everything that could have gone wrong.
After school, I slowly walked into town. Jeff stood just outside his Pa’s barber shop. I walked up to him. “What happened to you last night?”
Jeff turned around and looked towards his Pa. “Well…I just decided not to go.”
“Mark!” I turned and saw Pa standing just outside Micah’s office. “Come along, son.”
I came inside and sat down. Micah sat on the edge of his desk, crossed his ankles and his arms and looked at me. “Your father told me…what you did last night, son.” Micah narrowed his eyes at me. “That wasn’t too smart.”
I knew I shouldn’t have, but it was boiling inside of me all day. “Pa yelled at me for an hour this morning!” I said in a loud voice. “I don’t need it from you too!”
Pa just stood there with a shocked look on his face. “Mark!” He finally said. “Mark…” But he could think of nothing else to day.
I turned to Micah. “I’m…sorry…Micah. Guess I’m feeling a little guilty.”
Pa snapped his fingers and pointed to Micah’s chair. I sat down. Micah turned and looked at me. “I was just telling your father that a group of bank robbers had just escaped from Yuma Prison. They were seen headed this way two days ago. These men waste no time in getting what they want – including killing children.” Micah put his hands on the desk and bent down to look into my eyes. “A graveyard would be a perfect hideout for a group of outlaws.”
Pa turned and looked at me. “Get started on your essay, son.” Then he turned back to Micah. “Micah, how many are in this group?”
I started thinking on what to write as I listened to Micah and Pa talk. “Well, there were three men. But from what I hear, there was a woman killed oh…five…ten years ago. She’s buried in North Fork cemetery and she was the only one who knew where the money was hidden. Anyway, they say she drowned just after her man was convicted of bank robbery.”
I was all ears now! Maybe it was her ghost looking for the money. “Gee!” I declared. I didn’t realize I had said it aloud until Pa and Micah both turned and gave me the evil eye. I went back to my essay.
Pa and Micah walked outside. I sat and worked on my essay for a good hour. Pa came in and announced we’d go home. I had just gotten a good, solid start on my essay. I had chores to do when I got home, then we had supper. Since it was Friday night, I didn’t have to do homework. Pa told me to go to bed.
“It’s only 7:30!” I said.
Pa turned and looked at me. “Night, Pa.”
The next morning, Pa got me up bright and early. On Saturdays, I can sometimes sleep until 7:00, but not THIS Saturday!
No sir, Pa woke me up at 6 AM and told me to get started on my chores. After breakfast, he announced he was going into town. He told me to stay in my room and work on my essay. I knew that was an order.
That afternoon, Pa sent me out to finish up my chores. I had four pages done, but Pa read it while I was doing my chores and shook his head. He told me I could come up with something better then that. He wanted me to really think hard about it. I was in my room mid-afternoon when I heard tapping on my window. I ran across the room to see Freddie there. Pa was out on the range tending to the cattle. I raised the window. “What?”
“Can you come out and play soon?” Freddie asked.
“I can’t do anything until I get this essay written!” I grumbled. “I have to have it done Monday morning or else.”
“Or else what?” Freddie asked.
“I don’t know – and I don’t aim to find out!” I started to close my window. “Oh Freddie, I found something out.” I looked around to make sure Pa wasn’t back yet. “I’m going to try to finish my essay today. Then I’ll tell you about it after church tomorrow.” Maybe Pa’ll let us play tomorrow afternoon. We got some work to do.”
“What-“ Freddie started.
“Goodbye, Freddie!” Pa’s voice boomed. Freddie turned and ran out of the yard as fast as he could. I quickly closed the window and went back to my essay. I heard the front door open and close, then I heard Pa’s voice. “Come out here, son.”
I stood with a sigh and carried my essay with me. Pa had one foot in the chair and his elbows rested on his knee. “As I was returning from town,
ended up chasing a cow down the road. He’d wondered far away and I had to go clear to the cemetery to get him. Do you want to know what I found?”
“The ghost?” I asked with a smile.
Pa raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “No, son.” Pa sighed. “Cougar tracks all around where you boys sat last night. I’d say they were there shortly after you were.”
Pa nodded. “There were at least two, son.” I couldn’t say anything. My face had gone white. I hung my head. “Sit down here at the table and work on the essay while I start supper.”
I looked at the words on my essay. Because now the truth felt real to me, I realized I needed to think harder about my essay. I thought about that cougar jumping out at us. We had no weapons to fend him off. We had no fire to keep him away. We didn’t even have a stick. I suddenly felt so stupid for what I had done. “Pa?” Pa turned and looked at me. I stared at my tablet. “If you hadn’t come…”
“I know,” Pa stated. “Now you know.”
“Yeah,” I swallowed. “Now I know.”
I wadded up the papers my essay had been written on and threw them into the flames of fireplace. I pulled out several fresh sheets of paper and I started writing again. This time, I knew the truth.
“Yeah, once he got started, it went fast!” Pa stated to Micah after church the next day. He was talking about how easily I had gotten my essay finished last night. “Any news on the outlaws?”
I turned and looked toward Freddie. He was asking me to come over to him. I held up a finger, indicating he should be quiet. “None.” Micah answered.
“Oh, I talked to Jackford this morning. A…cougar…attacked his heard last night. Killed two cows.”
“Two?” Pa asked as he turned and looked at me, with that “you see” look.
I hurried over to Freddie before I had to feel even more guilt then I already felt. I told Freddie everything I had heard Micah say. “I want to go to that grave yard!” I declared. “I want to take a look at the stone she went behind.”
“Your father would skin you for sure!” Freddie declared.
I turned and looked at Pa. “He didn’t say I couldn’t go to the graveyard.”
“So…” Freddie said. “You’re gonna ask him?”
I wasn’t sure Pa would say yes if I asked him, and I HAD to solve this mystery! “I’ll ask him if I can play with you this afternoon,” I answered.
Pa said yes, but only for
after we have lunch at the restaurant. After we ate, I thanked Pa and Freddie and I ran off. Freddie called an emergency meeting and we gathered up as many of the boys from school as we could. We filled them in on what was known. It was decided that Jeff would go to the graveyard with Skinny so they could check out the name that was on the gravestone. “No use in Mark getting into anymore trouble!” Jeff declared.
The rest of us waited…and waited…and waited for them to get back. I stood and slapped my hands together. Finally, the two came running back. “Boy oh boy…just knowing there’s a ghost there makes it scary even in the daytime!” Skinny declared.
“Did you…see her?” I asked.
“Of course not!” Jeff rolled his eyes. “Everyone knows that ghosts only come out at night!”
“Oh?” Matthew asked. “Who told you?”
“Nobody…told me…exactly. It’s just one of those things that you…well, that you know!” Jeff declared.
“So, what was her name?” We all leaned forward and waited anxiously for Jeff to announce the name of the ghost.
“Hi Eddie!” All six of us boys ran into the hotel and hollered. Eddie let out a yell and the papers in his hand went flying everywhere!”
I bent over and helped him pick them up. “Oh now, sorry!” I declared. “But we have an important question.”
Eddie straightened up and whipped off his glasses. “It better be important after you scared me to death.”
“Have you ever hear of a woman by the name of Abigail Montgomery?” I asked.
“Abi-“ Eddie started. He smiled really big and leaned on the counter. “I haven’t heard that name in a long time!” Eddie sighed. “Yes, I knew her. She was very sweet.”
“What’d she look like?” Freddie asked.
“Let’s see now…” Eddie scratched his chin. “She had the blondest hair you’d ever see. Her face was like ivory. She was so beautiful – like a china doll – and just as fragile. Oh…and her laugh…” Eddie smiled. “Why, she had a laugh that made your insides curl!” Eddie was on the ball. “She always wore a beautiful white dress. It was a full dress that flowed behind her when she walked. And her steps were so light that it looked like…”
Freddie and I looked at each other. “Looked like what?” We asked.
Eddie shook his head. “Oh, nevermind. She died…a long time ago.”
“Drowned?” Jeff asked.
Eddie turned and stared at Jeff as if he had two heads. “Why…yes…Yes she did.” Eddie pointed at him. “How did you know?”
“We heard a story,” I stated. “Was she…married?”
“No,” Eddie answered. Then he straightened up and started writing on his papers. “But she had a boyfriend. He was no good, I tell ya!”
A customer came in then. We all walked outside. “Wow!” Matthew said.
“He described her-“ Skinny started.
“-to a T!” I finished.
“Let’s get back to the club house!” We all ran back there. Freddie called the meeting to order.
“Okay,” I stood in front of the boys and cleared my throat. “We only have two
more hours before I have to get started home. We have confirmed that it IS indeed a ghost. Freddie?” I turned toward him. “How often do you take these rides at night?”
Freddie shrugged. “Not any more…My Pa made me confess everything the other night. But I’ve done it a few times.”
“Last Wednesday night?” I asked.
Freddie nodded. “Last Tuesday night, but I didn’t see a ghost.”
“Okay…so, she appeared for the first time last Wednesday night. And we saw her again on Thursday night.”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Jeff snapped his fingers. “The Marshal said those outlaws escaped from jail two days ago, right?” We all nodded. “Then the ghost appeared the day these outlaws escaped from jail.
We all stared at each other as a shiver suddenly ran up my spine.
“They’re connected!” Jeff declared. “The Marshal told Mr. McCain that she was one of the Outlaw’s girlfriend.”
“Okay!” I stood up. “Jeff and Skinny, why don’t you two go see if you can find out just who these three outlaws are?”
“Why us?” Jeff asked.
“Because if I ask, Micah will know something’s amiss! I’m already in enough trouble with Pa!”
I turned to Matthew. “You and Willie go to the graveyard and see if you can pick up any clues.”
I turned to Freddie. “There’s someone we need to talk to. Now!”
We casually walked over to the house where Hattie lived. She was sitting on the front porch sewing up a shirt. “Oh, hello boys,” she smiled at us.
We sat down on the porch. “Got some lemonade inside. Want some?”
“Oh yes!” We both declared. Hattie smiled and disappeared into the house. She soon returned with a tray. We each took a cup and politely thanked her. “Miss Hattie,” Freddie swirled the lemonade around in his cup as he spoke casually. “We’ve been hearing about a lady named Abigail Montgomery who drowned some years back. Ever hear of her?”
Hattie stopped rocking in her chair. “Where you boys hear about her at?”
“Oh…around town,” I answered.
“Oh,” Hattie started rocking again. “Abby…That’s what I always called her. She was a bit different but really sweet…that is until she started running with Peter.”
Freddie and I looked at each other. “Peter?” We said in unison.
“Yes. Peter…Peter…” Hattie shook her head. “Oh foot, what was his last name? Ah yes…Peter Drake!”
“He an outlaw or somethin’?” Freddie asked.
“A bank robber!” Hattie declared. He and his brother, Scotty, robbed the bank over in Santa Fe some years back. She wasn’t seen round these parts for quite sometime. Then she arrives back in town with a carpet bag…uh…black with brown spots on it. Some say it was the money – it was never found.”
“Rumor is…she drowned.” Freddie stated.
Hattie stopped rocking then. “On purpose!” She declared. She clucked her tongue. “What a shame it was! How a person can ever think living without a man like that is worth dying over…”
“You mean she…” I swallowed hard. I couldn’t say the word.
Hattie nodded. “Suicide…yes.” She shook her head then as she thought on it. “Her man got fifty years. Fifty years! She told everyone
she couldn’t live without him. I guess she decided she’d rather be dead. But before she died…I heard her tell a friend that…” Hattie shook her head.
“What?” We both said at the same time. Freddie glared at me as he moved forward. “What?” He asked again.
Hattie shook her head. “No, no, no! I shouldn’t tell you children!”
I jumped up and hurried over to her. “Oh Hattie, please!” I begged.
Hattie laughed. “She was asked if she had the money and she said yes. Then she was asked where it was.” Hattie shook her head. “She said…it’s somewhere that the sun can’t touch and only those asleep can see.”
Freddie and I looked at each other. “The sun can’t touch?” Freddie asked.
“And only those asleep can see?” I finished.
We looked at each other then we jumped up. “We gotta go, Hattie!” Freddie declared.
“Yeah! Thanks for the lemonade!” We ran back to the clubhouse as fast as we could.
“It’s somewhere that the sun can’t touch and only those asleep can see.”
I watched as everyone stared at me and Freddie. “That was her answer?”
I nodded. “That’s her answer. Now, as Jeff and Skinny just reported, the brothers’ names were Peter and Scotty Drake. The third outlaw was a man by the name of Pepper. Nobody knows his real name or where he’s from.”
I looked toward the sun. “I have to go soon! Pa’ll lick me for sure if I’m late.” I stood up. “Let’s say we meet here at noon tomorrow.”
“It’s a school day!” Skinny declared.
“He means during our hour lunch recess, stupid!” Matthew declared.
“Wait a minute!” Jeff stood up. “Mark ain’t a member, but he sure is giving the orders!”
“Oh, now give him a break, Jeff!” Freddie stood up and got right in Jeff’s face. “I’m making him a temporary member.”
“Well…” Jeff shrugged. “Okay. But only temporary!”
I hurried home as fast as I could. Pa shook his head as I jumped off my horse. “Oh boy!” I muttered to myself as I watched Pa walk toward me with his hands on his hips. “Oh boy, oh boy!”
“Mark, you’re thirty minutes last, young man!”
“Yes sir.” I looked up into his angry eyes. Now I don’t usually get assigned chores on Sunday, but I made an exception today! “I reckon I’ll go clean the barn.” I smiled at him then hurried to the barn.
You mean, you’re really gonna make me go through with this?” I asked as I combed my hair the next morning.
“That’s part of your punishment, son,” Pa answered. “You started this in
class, so you’ll finish it in class.”
“Pa, it’s so embarrassing! I-“ I saw Pa’s expression in the mirror and shut up.
We rode into town together. Pa had talked to Miss Adams about what I was to do while we were at church yesterday. I had watched her nod her head in approval. The closer we got to school, the harder my heart pounded.
We rode into the school yard, but I couldn’t get down. Pa turned from tying his horse up and picked me up and plopped me on the ground. “Let’s go, boy.”
I walked slowly toward the building then stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I swallowed. “Oh Pa, I think I’m
I was getting absolutely no sympathy from my father! I walked up the steps after I again felt a firm hand on my backside – I knew that was a warning of what would come if I didn’t get inside, immediately.
I walked inside and slowly made my way to my seat. Freddie turned and saw Pa. He was standing in the back of the room with his arms crossed looking like a judge at an execution. “You mean…he came along?”
I turned and looked at Pa. I nodded. “He wants to make sure I read the whole thing,” I answered. “And that I tell why I had to do this.”
Miss Adams cleared her throat. “Okay class, before we get started this morning, I believe Mark McCain has an essay to share with us.”
I just sat there and stared down at my paper. Suddenly, I didn’t feel I could stand. I felt as if I was about to throw up!
But then a throat cleared loudly in the back of the room. I stood up on wobbly legs, knowing I had to go through with this. I slowly made my way up front and turned to the class. I opened my essay and looked up at Miss Adams. She smiled at me and gave me a look of encouragement.
I cleared my throat and read:
My Childish Crime…
By Mark McCain
Every child sits in awe and terror as they hear stories of ghosts and ghouls and other happenings at midnight in a graveyard. I had heard a story of a ghost walking the tombstones of the cemetery in North Fork and wanted to prove to my friends that I was brave enough to visit a graveyard after midnight.
Though I knew my Pa had strict rules about knowing where I was at all times, and I even told my friends of my Pa’s rules, I let my friends tease me into going, against my own knowing that it was wrong. Though I did see, what I thought was a ghost; my Pa came up behind us just then. He had heard me sneak out of the house and followed us to the graveyard.
On our way home, as I sat behind Pa in the saddle, I didn’t feel the loving bond Pa and I usually share. When he got me home, I was sent straight to bed, again. But without a ‘goodnight‘ and without a kiss on my forehead, like he had done the first time he put me to bed that night. He woke me before sunrise the next morning. I could tell he was still mad; there wasn’t a gentle, loving shake to wake me. As I sat at the table, Pa counted off each one of his rules I had broken, from the night before.
As I listened to him, I was upset that he had followed us and upset that he insisted in taking each one of my friends home and woke their Pa’s
and told of finding us in the cemetery. I was upset that he had snitched on my friends and that because of my
Pa; they were going to get punished, probably a sound tanning of their back sides. Honestly, I really should have been upset with me, because I knew that I did wrong.
Pa asked me many questions that morning, but one question stuck with me. “What could have happened had I been hurt or killed?” Pa told me I had to face my punishment for disobeying his rules, but first I needed to think about what it felt like to be the father of a boy who knowingly disobeyed.
As I sat in my room, I began to think, ‘What if something bad had happened to one of us?’ No adult knew where we were. They all thought we were asleep, safe, in our beds. I guess that’s what Pa meant when he said I should think of someone else, someone other than myself. Then I got to thinking of my friends’ families, if something had happened to one of them.
Later, Pa told me of how he chased a stray cow, up past the cemetery and while he was there, he found cougar tracks. Later I heard Marshal Torrance and my Pa talking of how two of Mr. Jackford’s
I continued to think about what I had done wrong and a cold thought entered my head. It numbed me to the core. If something really terrible had happened to me…. I couldn’t continue that thought. And it would have been because of something so childish as to prove I wasn’t scared of a ghost in a graveyard. My Pa has rules in place to protect me from dangers that my young mind can’t imagine and believe me; I have a very active imagination.
I’m sorry for disobeying my Pa’s rules and making him mad, but more importantly, I’m sorry for scaring my Pa. My sneaking out of the house scared him more than any ghost could ever scare me. See, I know what it is like to lose a Ma. And Pa knows what it’s like to lose a wife. I remember how much it hurt both of us and how long it took us to get past that hurt. But as I sat in
the front room thinking about those cougars, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child. And that’s what I am, a child, my father’s child. A child for my Pa to protect.
I know that while riding to school Monday morning, Pa will probably still be upset at my actions. I want to say to my Pa, ‘I am sorry and I know that it will take some time for you forgive me. I hope that someday soon, I’ll feel your loving arms around me, hear your loving voice saying ‘goodnight’, and feel a gentle kiss on my forehead as you put me to bed’.
Maybe this is my punishment, because I chose to ignore Pa’s rules. I must lose something so very dear to my heart, my Pa’s love and trust. But I guess it is better for me to lose his love and trust for a short time, than for him to lose me forever.
I couldn’t read the
last words from my essay as tears were blurring my vision, but I did speak the words from my heart.
I folded my essay and held it in my hands as I stared down at the floor.
I looked up
as I heard boot steps approaching and saw
Pa was slowly making his way up front.
Pa stepped behind me and placed both his hands on my shoulders as
he turned and addressed the class. “I know it seems that this has nothing to do with school – but it does. Because here a plan was discussed and planned – a plan that involved not four, but five or six boys.” Pa paused for a moment. “You know who you are.”
I continued to hang my head in shame.
me around and lifted my chin
him, as he continued addressing the class, but his eyes were looking straight into mine. “I read the entire essay before he read it to you this morning. It was with a heavy heart that I allowed him to read it as it stands. I allowed it because I knew that these were from his heart and how he truly felt. He wrote this three times before he was finally able to admit to himself – and unfortunately to me – what his true feelings were.” Pa then looked up and his eyes were focusing on each student as he looked around the room.
“You see, boys…and girls…when you disobey your parents, you aren’t only hurting yourself, but you are hurting your parents as well as others. No matter what…we do LOVE you. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t make rules to keep you safe.”
toward me again. “Son, you said in your essay that you’ve lost my love and trust. You’ve lost neither, though you may feel you have. A father doesn’t stop loving his son because he disobeys. He may be angry and not show his love in an affectionate way,
but that’s because something is missing…TRUST.
“The affection will come back in time. But let me tell you kids something. A good word…or a good deed is easily earned – but one hurtful word or one hurtful deed tears down a thousand good deeds you’ve done. To replace that one bad thing you do, you must do a thousand good ones in its place. I think it’s a lesson you all should learn.”
Pa put an arm on my shoulder
and started moving me towards my seat,
together. In his touch I felt something that I had been missing for the past few days, was it possible? “Mr. McCain?” We stopped and turned. Freddie stood up. “I admit to the class that I was one of the boys that went with Mark to the graveyard the other night. It was my idea. I was wrong in pressuring Mark to go.”
Freddie looked around the room. Skinny and Matthew stood up. Willie stood up then. We all turned and looked at Jeff. His face reddened, but he slowly stood up, looking down at the floor. Miss Adams folded her arms and walked among the boys. “This…plan…was planned here at school?” Miss Adams asked.
The boys nodded. “Well!” She walked down the isle, staring at each boy. “Was this done at recess?”
“Yes ma’am,” I heard a couple of the boys answer.
Miss Adams nodded. “Very well. You will stay inside and sit quietly in your seats every morning recess for the next week. Is that clear?”
“Yes ma’am,” I heard some of the boys answer.
“That includes Mark,” Pa stated as he put a hand on my shoulder and patted it. I turned to protest, but saw the finality in his eyes.
Then we walked outside. Pa untied his horse from the hitching post. “I want to put this behind us, son. Can we do that?”
“I’d like that, Pa.”
“Alright.” Pa stood by his horse with a foot in the stirrup. “If you want my trust and that closeness back, you have to work to get it, son.”
I watched Pa ride off. Then I went back inside.
At lunch, all six of us ran into town to hold a fast meeting at the clubhouse. “Did anyone get a chance to think on the riddle?” Freddie asked.
I raised my hand. “Sleep is another word for dead.”
“Only the dead can see…fire? Hell?” Jeff tried.
We all gasped and stared at Jeff. “What?”
“No eye can see…” I tried to think.
“I saw her again last night,” Matthew suddenly announced.
“You did? How?” I asked.
“I snuck out and went back there.”
We all turned and stared at Matthew. He shrugged. “She was walking around and laughing. Then I saw her do something else.” We all stared at him waiting to hear. “She…She…” Matthew stopped.
“She what?” I asked.
“She…She started lifting a headstone!”
Our eyes grew big! “She IS a ghost!” Freddie declared. “She…She’s just gotta be!
“Of course she is!” I declared. “She drowned in the lake seven years ago!”
“Does anyone know how much money was actually taken from the bank?”
“Oh yeah,” Skinny answered. “50,000.00!”
“Fifty-“ I gasped. “We’ve got to go check out that headstone!”
“What do you mean?” Freddie asked.
“Well…” I turned to Matthew. “Do you know if it was her headstone?”
Matthew shook his head. “The one in front of it.”
“We’ve got to get a look under that headstone!” I declared as I snapped my fingers. The boys looked at me like I was crazy. “Just listen! The sun can’t touch – and only those asleep (or dead) can see??????
Freddie stood up. “Hey! Wait a minute! The money’s hidden under a gravestone?” Freddie shook his head. “How could that be? There must be some other cause – you can’t bury $50,000.00 under somebody’s headstone!”
“What if it’s a fake?” Willie asked. We turned and stared at Willie as he spoke for the first time. “I mean…what if it was put there as a…what’s it called? Diversion?
“I make a motion that we tell our folks,” I suddenly declared.
“I second that motion!” Freddie declared.
“Okay, but wait! We tell our folks and they won’t go to the graveyard! We’ve got to get them there somehow!”
“We all meet at the graveyard five o’clock tonight with our Pa’s!” Freddie stated. “Now, we have to get back to school!
I hurried home after school. Pa had left a note that he was in the back pasture tending the cattle and I was to get right onto my chores. I did as told, knowing that I was going to confess everything to him when he got home. I wanted that trust back, and I wasn’t going to do anything to stand in the way of earning it as quickly as I could.
It was nearly 4:30 when Pa finally got home. I hurried up to him and told him I had to talk to him. “What about, Mark?” Pa asked as he got a nice cool drink of water from the well and then poured some on his head to cool himself off. I knew we didn’t have much time.
“Can we sit?”
Pa nodded as we made our way inside. Pa sat down at the table and I scurried over the check the coffee pot. It wasn’t warm. “Never mind that now, son. I’m still too hot for coffee.”
“Yes sir,” I stated. I walked over and sat down next to Pa. “Pa, I’m…I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to let me finish as I tell you. Then when I’m done, you can yell at me if you like.”
Pa squinted his eyes at me as he studied me, but said nothing, he just nodded his head. I cleared my throat. “Well you see…” I lowered my head and closed my eyes. “Okay…it’s like this…” I stopped again.
“Mark, just spit it out, boy!” Pa declared impatiently.
“Yes sir.” I lifted my head. “When we were in Micah’s office the other day, I overheard you and Micah talking about those bank robbers.”
“Overheard?” Pa raised an eyebrow.
“Okay…I listened. And you agreed to listen to the whole story before interrupting me!” I reminded him. Pa nodded with a grin. “Anyhow, Micah was talking about one of the bank robbers having a girlfriend. I couldn’t help thinking about…” I closed my eyes and said “…Abigail.”
“Abigail?” Pa asked. “Who’s Abigail?”
“Oh! I mean that woman in the graveyard.” I looked up and sure enough saw a look of anger in Pa’s eyes. But he stayed silent and allowed me to go on. “Well, Sunday after church, I stayed in town if you remember.” Pa nodded. “I guess now’s a good time to confess that I told Freddie Saturday about what Micah said and he agreed that it was mighty suspicious.” Pa sighed angrily but again kept silent. “And I guess I should also confess that’s why I wanted to stay in town Sunday afternoon – because we had some investigating to do.”
I paused. Pa looked might upset, but he said nothing. He was keeping his side of the bargain. “Go on,” he said.
“Well, one of the boys – whom shall remain nameless – and don’t try to figure out here because there were six of us in all! Anyway, one of the boys went back to the graveyard to get the name on the gravestone. The name was Abigail Montgomery. When they came back to report to us boys her name, we got to thinking on who would have been around at the time of that bank robbery. Of course we thought of Eddie…er…Mr. Halstead. So we went over and asked him about her.”
I stood up and practically jumped in Pa’s lap. “Pa – he described HER! The woman in the graveyard! She even had something odd about the way she walked, but he didn’t finish the sentence…But Pa, he said she always wore a white, flowing dress and had a beautiful laugh…just like the woman in the
My face was getting closer and closer to Pa’s. He finally pointed to my seat and I sat back down. “Well, then we went to talk to Hattie. You know how old women are…” I saw Pa’s expression change and corrected myself. “I mean…how old-er women are…they like to talk about people and stuff…So we just casually asked her about Abigail. Eddie told us she drowned, but Hattie told us she drowned ON PURPOSE…” Pa again narrowed his eyes at me and studied me intently. “She committed suicide!” Then I looked up at the ceiling and shook my head. “Just like in William Shakespeare!”
Pa cocked his head to one side. “YOU read Shakespeare?”
“Of course not!” I declared. “I’d rather read the Bible, what with all those “Thee’s and Thou’s and all…” I saw Pa’s eyebrows pop up higher onto his forehead. I guess he meant I was saying that I wasn’t too thrilled to read the Bible. “I mean…I think I should go on.”
“Good idea,” Pa nodded.
was in love with one of the bank robbers – Peter Drake and-“
“Wait a second!” Pa held up his hand. “Excuse the interruption, but HOW did you find out their names?”
“Oh,” I raised my eyebrows then. “Did I…leave out that part?”
Pa nodded. “You sure did.”
“Oh…well…I sent a couple of the boys to talk to Micah and see what information they could pump…er…get from him.” Pa rolled his eyes at me. “They found out that their names were Peter and Scotty Drake, and the third man was ‘Pepper.’” Pa nodded. “Oh and they also found out that they had taken $50,000.00!”
Pa motioned for me to go on. I nodded. “Well anyhow, Miss Hattie said that
was in love with Peter and when he was convicted and sent to prison, she couldn’t go on without him. They found her dead in the lake here in North Fork the next day. Because so many people liked her in spite of her being in love with an outlaw, they paid for her burial plot in the cemetery.”
“Anything else?” Pa asked.
“Well…Yes sir. It’s believed that she’s the only one who knows where the money is because she took it and hid it. When she was asked, she said ““It’s somewhere that the sun can’t touch and only those asleep can see.”
Pa wrinkled up his face as he thought on that. “I figured that “asleep” was another word for dead.” Then one of the boys saw her again last night.”
“Last night?” Pa asked.
“Well yeah…he went back there at midnight.” Pa opened his mouth to say something, but I held up my hand to stop him. “Now Pa, I had absolutely NOTHING to do with it! I swear! I didn’t even know he was planning to sneak out of his house last night!” Pa sighed but still gave me a disapproving look. “He said, she walked around laughing for awhile, then she lifted up one of the headstones!” I jumped up and leapt towards Pa’s chair again. “Pa, the headstone COULD be where the loot is hidden!”
“The loot?” Pa chuckled. “Mark, it’s a bank robbery – not a pirate ship!”
“So, all us boys are meeting at the graveyard at 5:00 tonight to look under the headstone. We’re bringing our Pa’s with us so we don’t get into more trouble. There’s nothing wrong with us going into a graveyard, but I figured for good-measure, we best not step foot in there until you’re with us.”
Pa stood from the table. “We’re going to go tell Micah, son.”
“No Pa!” I grabbed his arm and drug along side him as he walked around the house. “Pa, we started working on this mystery! Please let us finish it! Please, Pa!”
“Mark, you have all done enough – MORE then enough! Micah and I will check it out.”
“Pa, I-“ I started.
Pa turned and grabbed me. “Mark!”
I looked into his eyes. “Pa, can’t you trust me? Is there a reason we can’t do this our way?”
Pa’s eyes were staring angrily into mine. I held contact with him to show the sincerity. I watched Pa’s eyes lighten up as a grin slowly spread across his face. “Alright, son. Let’s go.”
When we got there, the other boys were patiently waiting. Mr. Toomey had his arm around Freddie as we walked in. The other boys followed behind. Their Pa’s weren’t with them, but they assured my Pa they could go with us as long as my Pa was here. We slowly made our way to the gravestone Abigail had turned over the day before.
We all looked at each other. Pa cleared his throat. He held his rifle downward in his hand and put his hand on my shoulder. “Freddie, would you like to do the honors?” Pa asked.
Freddie took a step forward and placed his hand on the gravestone with no name on it. Slowly, he began lifting. There was a piece of paper under it. It was old and worn. He lifted it out. “SH,” he read.
Pa took the paper and opened it. He held it low enough so we could all gather around him and look at it. That’s all that was on there. “SH.”
“Maybe,” I said holding up my finger. “Maybe that’s the first two letters of the name on the gravestone!”
The cemetery was quite big, as far as graveyards go back in these days. Pa told us all to spread out and look for a stone with SH on it. Logic told me to go to the back of the graveyard. Sure enough, hidden under a tree was an old stone that said “Shelby” on it. The stone was marked the same year Abigail had died. All six of us boys gathered around it. We looked at each other wondering what we would find under there.
Pa looked around at the boys. I looked at Willie – the quietest one – and smiled at him. “You lift it,” I said quietly.
There was complete silence in the graveyard as Willie bent and lifted the headstone. It had recently been lifted, so he got it up without a hitch. Willie gasped and stood back as we all slowly made our way up to the hole. “It’s a…a box!”
Pa bent down, balancing himself on one knee as he peered into the whole himself. He looked up at me and I smiled as I put my arm around his shoulders. “It’s the loot!” I shouted.
Pa and Mr. Toomey worked together to lift the heavy box out of the hole. They had to work at opening it, but when it opened, we all gasped with shock.
Inside was a bunch of gold coins and a few bills. “It’s the $50,000.00!” Pa declared with a gasp.
We all kneeled down beside the box breathing heavily as we stared at the gold coins. “I didn’t know it was…gold!” I shouted.
Pa nodded. “Micah told me it was mostly gold coins. It was being held in the Santa Fe bank to be transported.”
“So you’ve been holding out on me!” I protested suddenly.
Pa raised an eyebrow and patted my back lovingly. “So were you boys, son!” Pa exclaimed with a wink.
Suddenly, Jeff gasped. “What was that?” He was pointing towards Abigail’s grave.
My heart started pounding because suddenly you couldn’t even hear a bird singing. “What?” Mr. Toomey asked. “What’d you see, Jeff?”
“Something…a flash of white…behind that grave.”
“Oh now Jeff! I think your imagination’s running away with you!” Pa declared impatiently.
But I shook my head and slowly began walking toward the grave. Because I had seen something move from the corner of my eye just before Jeff called out. I slowly walked over to the grave and peered down. “Pa, come quick!”
My heart was pounding a mile a minute. I held a shaky finger out and pointed to the ground just behind Abigail’s grave. “Is this the head or the foot, Pa?”
Pa patted my back. “Calm down, son. She’s buried on the other side of the stone.” But Pa’s voice was shaky too.
We were all suddenly shaky because all eight of us were gathered around a trap door.
“Boys, get-“ Pa started to say, but suddenly a noise was heard beyond the trees behind us. Pa cocked his rifle and turned around. “Boys, get back!” Pa ordered.
We began backing away as Mr. Toomey and Pa, both with rifles cocked, made their way towards the trees. “Alright, come on out!” Pa shouted. When there was no response, Pa fired three rapid shots through the trees. “Come on!”
Suddenly, three men emerged walking out backwards. “You can’t shoot us in the back!” One of the men exclaimed.
“It’s the gang!” I declared in disbelief. “They HAVE been hiding here the entire time!”
“Unbuckle your gun belts! One handed!” Pa ordered.
But suddenly, one of the men turned with a gun in his hand. Pa fired and the man dropped to the ground. Mr. Toomey ran up and grabbed one of the men, unbuckling his gun belt with one hand. “Alright, sit down and put your hands behind your head!” Pa ordered. They did as told. “Toomey, I have rope on my horse.”
We watched with smiles as Pa tied the two men’s hands and feet securely. “I’m assuming Abigail’s in here,” Pa stated as he slowly lifted the trapdoor. Again he cocked his rifle. “Alright…ghost! Come on out!” Pa ordered.
Our eyes grew wide as we watched the woman in white climb from the cellar behind her grave. “Then she IS a ghost!” Freddie exclaimed.
The woman suddenly screamed when she saw the dead man. She ran to him before Pa could grab her. She kneeled beside him and took the man’s head in her lap. “Nooooooooo!!!!!” She screamed as she hugged his head to her and began rocking back and fourth. “Oh God, NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” She had tears streaming down his face. As she mourned the loss of her lover.
“No boys, she’s not a ghost,” Pa stated sadly as we all watched the heart-breaking scene. “That is Abigail Montgomery. I must have killed her lover, Peter.”
“But Pa!” I turned and pointed to the grave. “Does that mean the grave’s empty?”
“Oh no, son. Someone’s buried there.” Pa turned and walked towards Abigail. “It’s just not Abigail!”
Micah came galloping up then. We all ran toward him, all talking at once. Micah climbed off his horse and held up his hands. “Alright, boys! One at a time!”
“We caught the bank robbers!” Freddie declared.
“Yeah, and we found Abigail. She’s not dead – she’s alive!’ I declared.
“We found the gold buried under a fake headstone!” Jeff declared.
Suddenly, Pa rushed over to us. “Alright boys, everyone of you sit down!” He demanded. Some of us sat down, but others stayed standing – one of them was me. Pa snapped his fingers. “I said sit!”
We all sat immediately. Pa shook his head. “Now, let’s get the old man a break! He can’t stand so much excitement!”
“Now Lucas, I ain’t exactly ready to be put out to pasture!” Micah declared.
Pa put his arm around his friend and they walked off a ways together. The six of us sat quietly and watched Pa talk softly to Micah His hands moved to illustrate what he was saying.
Then we watched as Micah went over to Peter and Abigail. “He’s dead alright,” we heard Micah declared. Then he looked up at Abigail. “Ma’am, you’ve got some explaining to do.”
Pa walked over to Abigail and lifted her by the arm. He walked her away as Mr. Sweeny covered the body with a blanket. “I’ll go get my wagon,” he stated.
Micah stood in front of the grave. “It says Abigail’s buried here,” Micah said.
“Yes it does,” Pa answered with a nod.
Micah went to stand right in front of Abigail. “Well ma’am…You aren’t dead. What’s your story?”
She suddenly looked up as if seeing Micah and Pa for the first time. “$50,000.00 to share with the man I love! That’s my story!” She buried her face in her hands.
“You hid the money? Here?” Abigail nodded. “Seven years ago.”
She hugged herself as she walked around her grave. “It was a sure-fire plan.” She turned and looked at the covered body. “He said we’d be married – I just had to hide the gold long enough for him to get free.”
She turned and pointed at Pa. “You!” She said softly the first time. “You!” She yelled. “You killed all my dreams – just like all the others!”
“What others?” Micah asked.
Abigail put her hands to her temples as if her head ached. “The judges and police…They are also to blame for this!” She began walking around the graveyard as if she were floating on a cloud. She dramatically spread out her arms as she spoke. “All this was going to be mine!” She laughed evilly. “When they were convicted, we had a plan to keep the money safe. I would pretend to die tragically – then I would run and hide until he sent me the right signal. A few weeks ago, I got a letter from him that told me their plans. We thought haunting the grave yard would keep people away. Until they came to recover the money.”
“Who’s in the grave?” Pa asked. I shuddered as I heard her laugh evilly again. But her laugh was half-way between a laugh and a cry. Then it turned into a cry as she fell down to the ground and sobbed. “Who’s grave?” Pa asked louder as he bent down next to her. “Who’s buried there, Abigail?”
She lifted her head from her hands and stared straight into Pa’s eyes, but she didn’t say anything. Then she stood up and stood right in his face. “Camilla Evans.”
The sun was starting to go down as we sat in the restaurant talking. Pa and Micah sent us kids into the restaurant for supper. Pa joined us a few minutes later, but we had to wait for Micah before the last part of the mystery was solved. There was a sobering chat going on as we thought on Abigail. “What’ll happen to her, Pa?” I asked.
Pa sat down his coffee as twelve pairs of eyes stared at him waiting for the answer. “She’ll stay locked up in Micah’s jail until she can be tried. Then she’ll go to a woman’s prison.”
“Prison?” I declared.
Pa nodded. “She killed a woman, Mark. Woman or not, she has to be punished.”
I was just about to question Pa on how all this was possible when Micah walked in. He plopped a poster in the center of the table and said, “Well, here’s the last piece to the mystery. Camilla Evans – daughter of Todd and Annie Evans. She went missing seven years ago – never came home from shopping in town. I just talked to Eddie. He remembers when she went missing. They had the funeral for Abigail then gathered a search part to go looking for Camilla.”
“I don’t understand!” I stated then. “How…How could people not know that was Camilla and not Abigail.”
Micah turned and looked at my Pa. Pa sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay boys, we’ll try to explain this. Abigail was a beautiful woman and very pleasant. The town loved her – her smile and laugh. But they knew she was in love with Peter Drake. When he went off to prison, she became distraught and threatened to commit suicide. So when a body was pulled from the lake, it was automatically assumed that it was Abigail since both women were missing. Abigail had, after all, threatened to do just that. It was all part of the plan.”
“Yeah. But Pa, They would’ve know from looking at her that-“ I started.
Pa shook her head. He looked around at us. “She was under the water for a long time, son. This isn’t something I want to go into with young boys, but it wasn’t easy to recognize her.”
Micah picked up the poster and read. “Wears her long, blond hair down her back, has brown eyes and a birthmark on the right side of her neck.” Micah handed us the poster to look at. “The sad thing is that that description can fit Abigail also. That’s how she got away with it. She planned this whole thing – which makes it worse.”
We didn’t say anything else. The reality of solving the mystery wasn’t nearly as rewarding as the imagination of it had felt. Micah turned to Pa. “I’ve met Camilla’s folks. They have really struggled these last seven years. Loosing their daughter aged them considerably. He’s had a stroke and can’t hardly walk on one side. She has a bad heart and sits in her chair. They are dirt poor – can hardly keep themselves alive. Camilla came later in life and was very special for them since they had tried and prayed for a baby for many, many years.”
We all looked at each other. None of us said a thing. Micah cleared his throat. “There’s a…two thousand dollar award on those bank robbers. I guess it now belongs two six little boys.”
Micah and Pa looked at us. We all looked at each other. We couldn’t help smiling, just thinking of having two thousand dollars! “Well boys,” Pa said as he stood up. “I’m sure you are all mature enough to figure out for yourselves how to divide up this money.”
I watched Micah and Pa stand from the table and walk outside. “It sure is sad,” I said as I shook my head.
“Yeah,” Freddie agreed. Just imagine how it would feel to loose our Pa and Ma and have…nothing.”
We looked down at the poster. “Two thousand dollars divided among us…How much would that be?” Willie asked as he started counting in his head.
“Over $300,” Jeff answered.
We all fell silent as we sighed. “I know what Pa wants me to do,” I stated.
“Same thing my Pa would want me to do,” Skinny answered.
“Yeah.” I heard several of the boys say. “Reckon we HAVE to do the right thing?
I shook my head. I must admit that at the age of ten, I was selfishly wanting to take my part of the money. I reckon every boy at that table felt the same way. But I also knew how disappointed my father would be if I did that. I’d disappointed him enough lately. I lifted my eyes and we all stared at each other. “Well,” I said with a heavy heart. Because honestly, it was hard for a boy to do. “Let’s go tell our folks.”
Just then, pie came. That made us feel a little better and we all started eating before we went to give Micah and Pa the news. “Hey, you know in spite of how sad it is, we DID do a pretty good job in solving this case!”
“Yeah!” I agreed. “Maybe we should form our own detective agency!”
Freddie looked up toward the ceiling. He lifted his hand as he imagined the name. “The North Fork Six!”
“Yeah!” We all smiled. “The North Fork Six!” I popped the last bit of pie in my mouth. “We’ll be famous!”
We all stood, grabbed our hats and walked out the door. Pa and Micah were leaning up against a hitching post. We paused just outside the hotel door. Then we sobered up and walked slowly across the street. “Well?” Pa asked as he studied our somber expressions.
“Well,” I swallowed hard as I looked at the other boys. “We decided to give Camilla’s folks the money.” I had been thinking on something else too. “And I for one will help fix up their place how ever I can.”
“Yeah,” I heard the other boys say. “It’ll be part of our new business. We’ll try to help those hurt by the criminals!”
Pa turned and looked at Micah. “New…business?” He asked.
“Well yeah! We’re gonna form our own detective agency and start solving all the crimes,” Jeff announced.
“We’re called ‘The North Fork Six!’”
Pa pushed himself off the hitching post. “Son, haven’t you found yourself in enough trouble solving this crime? I think you should forget this idea. Right now.” Pa walked toward his horse. “Let’s go home.”
But we all started talking. “Robbery!”
“Yeah…and even finding lost people!”
“Mark!” Pa called sharply.
“Well,” I shrugged. “Maybe you should just call it the North Fork Five!” I stated as Pa grabbed my arm and dragged me toward our horses.
“Freddie!” We heard Mr. Toomey call. “Or the North Fork Four!”
“Maybe it was a bad idea after all,” Jeff announced as I got on my horse and rode away.
That night, after I got ready for bed, I walked into the main room and stood behind Pa at the table. I read a note he was writing.
Please excuse Mark from not completing his homework. He was busy solving they mystery of the Ghost in the Graveyard. We assure you this was his one and only mystery and he will have all his homework completed tomorrow night.
Pa folded the note up and stuck it in my book. Then he turned, picked me up, and plopped me on his lap. “Well boy, this will be your only mystery, right?”
I just smiled at Pa. I didn’t reckon it would be my only mystery. After all, I was only ten years old! Pa tried to remain stern, but as he studied my face, he broke out into a big smile. “Let’s get you to bed, Mark.”
Like I used do when I was younger, I wrapped my arms around his neck and laid my head on his shoulder as he carried me into the bedroom. I knew that tonight I would get that kiss on the forehead and he’d whisper “I love you.”
I smiled, content in my Pa’s arms.
This story is based on the TV series “The Rifleman”
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