This is a sample of the second book I finished for the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum. It is a western. Hope you enjoy it and please take a look at it on Lulu.com!
(photography by Claire Koch)
I was three when it happened. My uncle didn’t tell me the truth until I was six. I had just thought that my parents had been away on a trip somewhere and had left me with the cousins. I didn’t realize that they weren’t coming back.
My family wasn’t the only one torn apart by the Indian raid, there were dozens of them. Brothers, sisters, papas and mamas, all gone in one night. I hadn’t had any brothers or sisters at the time mama and papa were taken, though.
I had been playing in Jeremiah’s store when he heard the Indians coming and hid me. Jeremiah usually traded with the Indians, so he knew they wouldn’t come into his place. They didn’t find me, but sometimes I wish that they had.
Now, I don’t want to talk bad about the cousins, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that they like me at all. They took me in when my parents were captured, and that was very nice of them, but that’s about it. They treat me like a ranch hand and have me work, sweating out in the fields while my cousins (Dorcas and Virginia) are inside, making sure that their skin stays nice and white.
Enough said about the cousins. One thing had been troubling me one particular week. Dustin (my friend) insisted that he had seen the notorious sneak thief, Roy Dalton, hanging around town. No one believed he actually had, except me. However, Dustin had only seen him on the outskirts of town and hadn’t seen him since, so I decided not to worry about it. Wrong choice.
“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!” the voices in the schoolyard chanted excitedly as Jeb Jensen and I took turns pummeling each other.
“Go on, admit it! Your pa was a cheat! And I know ‘cuz my pa told me so!” Jeb sneered. I let out an angry yell and smashed my fist into his chest in reply.
Jeb fought back with double the force he had before. I grabbed his hand as he tried to hit my face and punched him in the jaw. He stumbled backwards a few steps and looked as though he might fall over, but recovered quickly. A lot quicker than I thought he would.
I had chanced a look back at Dustin, but I only had time to hear him shout: “Look out, Robin!” before Jeb smashed both his fists on top of my head. My knees gave out and I crumpled to the ground as the rest of the schoolyard cheered. My head swam and I didn’t take the brain effort to make out what all the voices around me were saying. I heard someone say something very close to me and a hand put on my back. I tried to raise my head and open my eyes, but couldn’t. “What?” I mumbled into the ground.
“I said that you shouldn’t have turned around when you did.” Dustin’s voice commented.
“I got that. Thanks.” I replied. I had regained a little of my strength and pushed myself up a little on my elbow.
“Here, let me help you.” Dustin slipped his arm around my back and helped me to my feet. My legs felt like jelly and my head throbbed.
“Better luck next time, flamehead!” Jeb called out in a mocking voice. I broke away from Dustin, took a few staggering steps towards Jeb and swung my fist at him another time. Jeb grabbed my fist and threw me down onto the ground. I looked up and scowled at him.
“You just wait,” I promised, “you’ll regret this!” Jeb laughed and walked away with his crowd of admirers.
“Ignore him, Robin.” Dustin said, coming up next to me. “I mean, you get insults about your hair being red often enough…” I shrugged like it didn’t matter even though I was nearly shaking with rage.
“Let’s go to Jeremiah’s; I need my bow lessons anyway.” I suggested. Dustin nodded and we both started off in that direction.
“We can tell teacher tomorrow,” Dustin consoled, “He’ll get what’s coming to him once teacher finds out he was beating on a girl.” I smiled a little and gingerly touched the back of my head where a lump was beginning to form. “I guess. Hey, Dustin? Can you see the lump on the back of my head?” I questioned.
“No, your hair covers it up pretty well.” Dustin replied in his usual slow way of talking. “But there’s a bruise on your cheek that’s pretty obvious.”
“That’ll be fun to explain later.” I sighed, walking up the steps to the general store. Dustin pushed open the door and we both walked inside the small shop. “Jeremiah!” I called out. I heard a few noises from the back room and then Jeremiah came out. He started a little when he saw me.
“Oh, dang! I totally forgot about your bow lesson. Sorry about that. My cousin’s just come into town today and I told him that I’d meet him over at the saloon for a bit after supper…” I shrugged, realizing that it was way past suppertime.
“It’s okay.” I replied. “Hey, want me to close up shop for you? You wouldn’t want to keep your cousin waiting…”
Jeremiah grinned. “Thanks, Robin.” He started out the door, and then turned back for a second. “You two can help yourselves to a licorice whip after I leave if you want.” The door swung shut and Dustin gave me a strange look.
“You’ll already be in trouble with your uncle for being so late; why stay longer than you need to?” I smiled.
“Because now I have a excuse for being late.” Dustin pulled a licorice whip out of the jar on the counter.
“Alright then, good luck!” he said over his shoulder as he went out the door. I pulled my licorice out of the jar, stuck it in my mouth and began tidying up the shop. The picking up took longer than I expected and by the time I was finished, it was blacker than the coat of uncle’s horse outside. I grabbed Jeremiah’s key ring off of the peg he kept it on and stepped outside. I took a deep breath of the chilly, night air as I locked the door behind me.
As I jumped down the stairs and began my walk to where I had tied Stormcloud (my horse), it became painfully obvious to me that everyone else had already gone to bed a while ago. I wished that the moon was out; it would have lessened the creepiness by quite a bit. My heart beat faster and I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach as I walked past the Jensen house. I shook my head. What’s wrong with me? I thought. I heard a soft nicker and turned to see Stormcloud, still tied securely to her hitching post, but acting very agitated. I ran over, untied her, and then stroked her nose softly.
“Shh… you’re okay, Stormcloud. What is it?” this time, she let out a louder neigh and reared up. I took a few steps backward to avoid being trampled as she came down.
“Stormcloud! What…?” it was then that I heard the creak of an old door opening behind me. My heart almost felt like it had stopped. The next sound I heard was the sound of stealthy footsteps coming down wooden stairs. If my heart had stopped before, it was making up for lost time with how hard it was beating now.
I quickly patted my pockets to see if I had anything I could use as a weapon. Nothing. I slipped into the shed nearby to see if I could find something there. I had just picked up a shovel when I heard Stormcloud neigh again outside.
“Hey!” I heard a grating, man’s voice say quietly outside. “You’ll get me out of here, won’t you, me beauty?” it felt like a fire started in my chest. I glanced out the door to try and get a good look at the man. His hair was light brown, a scar ran across one cheek, he wore a black hat and a dirty, red kerchief; I couldn’t make out the rest of his clothes because there was no moon. “I hope I don’t run you lame,” he continued as he examined Stormcloud. My knuckles were getting white on the shovel handle,
“… Though that might be a distinct possibility.”
“AAAAAHHHH!!” I charged out of the shed and swinging the shovel at whoever it was that wanted to steal my horse. The man seemed taken aback at first and dropped the large sack he was holding with a clatter. But he had obviously regained his reflexes by the time I tried to bash in his head, because he grabbed the shovel. I gave it a yank but he held on. An amazing grip for the leather gloves he had on. “Get… away… from my horse!” I gave the shovel another vicious yank, but he yanked back and got the shovel away from me.
“I ain’t got time for your…” he swore and swung the shovel at my head. I ducked and ran over to Stormcloud. She neighed again and I stopped, trying to make a quick decision whether to ride a spooked horse or to stay and fight a thief in the night with a shovel. I chose the first one. I managed to swing myself up, even though I was on the wrong side of the horse.
“Giddyup!” I hollered. Stormcloud bolted down the main street of town. It took me a second to get my balance after the jolt of her taking off like that. Wind pounded my face and I was glad that I didn’t have my hat on. We were out of town in no time and I started to try and get her to slow down a bit. I pulled on the reins and said: “Whoa!” Stormcloud showed no sign of stopping. “WHOA!” I said a second time. She slowed to a canter, and then a trot and I took a deep breath of relief. “Good girl.” I crooned, patting her neck.
Looking up, I saw the light of one of the ranch house windows. I swallowed, “Well,” I commented to Stormcloud, “…best get it over with now.” I urged her into a canter and brought her to the stalls. I thought about what I would say as I took off her tack and put her in her stall. Nothing spectacular came to mind other than what I had planned: the thing about helping Jeremiah close up shop. But that still didn’t explain the bruise on my cheek…
I walked to the house and opened the door, expecting to be bombarded with questions, but all I was met with was silence. I looked around and didn’t see anyone downstairs; it just looked like they’d left a lantern on for me. I breathed in deeply, unsure whether I was relieved or disappointed, and took the lantern upstairs to my room.
I got in my nightgown, washed my face and hopped into bed. I closed my eyes and tried to make sense of the day’s events, from the fight with Jeb to the mysterious thief who I had seen come out of the Jensen’s house. Something I had said that day kept coming back to mind. “You just wait, you’ll regret this!”
Something told me I shouldn’t have said that.
“Robin!” My eyes flew open at the sound of my aunt’s voice from downstairs. “Time to go to school!” I threw off my covers and shaded my eyes as I looked out the window. The sun was much higher than it is when I usually wake up. I dressed quickly and ran downstairs. My Aunt Tansy was waiting down by the stairs with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. I pretended not to notice.
“So… what’s for breakfast?” I asked.
“You don’t get any. You were too dadgum lazy to get up, so none for you. Ya don’t work, ya don’t eat!” I bit my tongue to keep from mentioning that I did plenty of work around here, but she seemed to read my mind. “Oh, I know you think that you work just as hard as the rest of us just. But where were you last night for the evenin’ chores, huh? You have to earn your keep, ya’ know. It ain’t easy keeping track of you since Kim and Jacob passed on.” Her look of triumph turned slowly into a look of curiosity. “Where were you any . . . ?” She began.
“Well, I guess you’re right.” I interrupted. “Oh, well. See you later!” I quickly grabbed my straw hat and dashed out the door, letting it slam shut behind me. I pulled my hat down on my head and ran out to the stables to get Stormcloud. I managed to get her tacked up without running into my uncle, but I did see him as I rode out of the yard. I was out of earshot by then, but he frowned at me when our gazes met. I pretended not to notice and dug my heels in a little deeper, urging Stormcloud to a gallop. We reached town soon and I slowed Stormy down to a trot as I rode into the schoolyard.
“…And I bet I know who did it, too!” I heard a familiar voice say as I slid to the ground and began to tie Stormcloud to the hitching post.
“Did what?” I asked, not turning around.
“None o’ yer stupid business!” replied the voice that I recognized as Jeb’s. I rolled my eyes and turned around to see a group of my classmates crowded around Jeb. They all stared at me like I had just grown horns.
“What?” I asked. The bell rang then, and they all rushed inside. I started to follow them, but Dustin’s voice stopped me.
“Robin!” he hissed.
“What? Do you want me to be late again?”
“No!” he ran up next to me. “Did you hear what they were talking about?”
“No.” I answered, “How could I? I showed up just in time to hear half a sentence!”
“Well, Jeb’s house got broken into last night and he’s saying that you did it!” My jaw dropped,
“Robin Rafferty and Dustin Becker!” the teacher’s voice called. We both stopped talking and went the rest of the way through the door. Our teacher, Miss Oak, gave us a disappointed look before telling us to take our seats. “Now, class, come to order.” All whispering stopped, except for a few smaller kids right across the room from me; it was a little hard not to eavesdrop.
“Guess what? Pa went hunting the other day and he found out that the Indians are camping in the woods!”
“No kidding? What tribe?”
“I think the Bearpaws. You know, the one that raided the town around twelve years ago.”
“Oh, yeah! My Pa told me about that! You know what I heard? If you can prove that you are part Bearpaw, they’ll let you into the tribe! I wish I was part Indian.”
“But my pa thinks that Indians are bad; he lost his best horse in that raid!”
Teacher rapped her ruler on her desk. “Cory and Tad! Please pay attention!”
The Bearpaws were back in the area? Maybe my parents were still with them! I felt a strange feeling of envy for my parents. I mean, who doesn’t want to go run off and join an Indian tribe at one time or another?
I leaned back in my chair and began thinking of all the things I would do if I were an Indian. I’d ride my horse all I wanted to, I thought. And explore the woods and climb trees… I closed my eyes and imagined I was sitting in a tree. Imagining that made my wooden chair a bit more bearable. And I could sit there all I wanted and no one would make me come down, I smiled.
“Robin!” said a loud voice. I jumped and fell out of my chair. Laughter filled the classroom and my face turned red. Mrs. Oak was looking straight at me. I guessed that the voice was hers and stood up.
“Yes?” I replied, looked back at her.
“I was asking you a question about our lesson, but it appears that you weren’t paying attention. Now, please turn to page 208 of your reader. Can anyone else read me the last verse of our poem?” a blonde haired girl named Bridget raised her hand timidly and Mrs. Oak nodded at her. Bridget stood, squinted at her reader and began.
“’Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing save the waves and I
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swanlike, let me sing and die:
A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine-
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!’”
Her whispery voice stopped and she looked up at Mrs. Oak for approval. Mrs. Oak smiled at her and Bridget sat down.
I glanced around the classroom to see if anyone was still giving me disgusted looks. A few kids were looking at me, but quickly turned away as I looked at them. Jeb, however, was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and a blissful smile spread across his ugly face. I continued looking at him and he opened one eye to smirk at me. I clenched my teeth to keep in my angry words and turned my head back to the front of the classroom.
“We are now going to read one more reader lesson on page 209…” Mrs. Oak was saying as she flipped to the correct page. The rustling of my turning pages sounded awkward in the silent classroom. I found the page and nodded up at Mrs. Oak, who began nodded back, and then looked back to her page. “North American Indians.” She read. She paused a second a smiled at the excited whispers that filled the room, and then continued.
“Not many generations ago, where you now sit, encircled with all that exalts and embellishes civilized life, the rank thistle nodded and the wild fox dug his hole unscared. Here lived and loved another race of beings. Beneath the same sun that rolls over your head…”
I yawned and shook my head; this was obviously a book from back east. Not much had really changed here. The wild fox still, “digs his hole unscared”, or at least, last time I checked.
“Now they dipped their noble limbs in your sedgy lakes, and now they paddled the light canoe along your rocky shores…” Mrs. Oak continued.
Noble limbs? Oh, come on. Their limbs are no more “noble” than mine.
“… The bloody grapple, the death defying song, all were here; and when the tiger strife was over, here curled the smoke of peace.” Mrs. Oak paused,
“Robin, would you read from here?” She requested.
I shrugged and picked up where she left off. I read to the end of that page without too much feeling. It was about “the great spirit”, which was just a bunch of hooey. But still, it brought all my daydreaming back to mind. Then, a question popped into my mind. What if I was part Indian? I stopped reading. Mrs. Oak looked at me and raised her eyebrows.
“Robin, you may continue…”
My mind was brought back to the classroom and I continued reading. But I pondered that question through the rest of class.
I looked around all the kids just getting out of school, trying to spot Dustin. Dustin must have been looking for me too, because he saw me first and waved. I waved back and ran over to him.
“Hey, Dustin! I didn’t get to tell you what happened last night! So I was just leaving…” he put up his hand and backed up a step – his signal for “slow down.” I stopped and took a deep breath before continuing to tell him the events of last night. Dustin listened carefully, especially when I described the thief. I finished and Dustin nodded slowly.
“Well,” he began, “I believe you, but I highly doubt that anyone else will.”
“Why? I thought that the sheriff might have me as a witness or something…” I objected. Dustin shook his head and looked almost ashamed.
“I’m afraid I might have backed up their story by telling Jeb where you were last night. I had no idea that his house had been robbed and that he suspected you when he asked me. So I just said that you had stayed around here a little late, closin’ up shop for Jeremiah. Then Jeb told me something I didn’t know. Jeremiah delivers groceries to their house and he’s got a key to their front door.”
My eyes widened as I pieced together exactly how much evidence was against me. I groaned and put my head in my hands.
“Dustin!” I heard a man’s voice call. Dustin sat up,
“That’s my pa. I told him I would help with the chores early today.” He looked at me one more time, “Things’ll turn out. You’ll see. If things get really bad, maybe you could just hole up somewhere until you had enough evidence to…”
“Dustin!” the voice called again. Dustin ran off and I stayed sitting there. Hole up somewhere if things get bad? Not a bad idea… It would be good to have somewhere to go, I thought. I was still thinking of whether or not I had Indian blood, so the first place that came to mind was the Indian camp. But first I had to talk to someone who knew how to get into the tribe. I knew one person, but it was someone who had had a fight with Dustin awhile back, and he might not answer my question, considering that I was Dustin’s friend…. I decided to take the risk anyway.
I found Rusty just as he was climbing on his horse.
“Rusty!” I hollered, running as fast as I could towards him. Rusty turned and looked at me as I skidded to a stop next to him.
“Yeah?” he asked hesitantly. I caught my breath and looked at him.
“I hear you know how to get into the Bearpaw tribe.” Rusty’s eyebrows shot up.
He glanced around, then said: “Meet me in the alley behind the inn in an hour.” I did some quick calculating and figured that would be right after my bow lesson. I nodded.
“I’ll be there.”
My arrow came out of the hay bale target with a jerk and I stumbled backwards a few steps.
“That’s the last one,” said Jeremiah, “you did a good job today.” I stuck my arrow in the quiver on my back.
“Thanks. I’ve gotta go now. Bye!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa there!” Jeremiah ran his fingers through his blonde-ish hair. “What’s this I hear about a robbery at the Jensen house?” I wanted to tell him all the happenings of last night, but that would make me late, so I just shrugged.
“Some things got pinched last night and they can’t find the robber.” I replied. Jeremiah squinted at me and twisted his mouth at a strange angle.
“Jeb stopped in here earlier and he says that it was you.” My heart skipped a beat and I could almost feel the blood drain from my face. Jeremiah noticed, “Don’t worry. I don’t believe him,” he assured. “But now I know why you wanted to close up shop for me; you needed an excuse for being home late.”
I swallowed and nodded, “Yeah, sorry. That wasn’t the most honest thing to do.”
“And if you want to have a better chance at disproving Jeb’s story, you’ve got to work on that. That’s all.” I nodded again,
“Thanks, sorry and bye.” I smiled a little and hurried out the door, leaping down the four front steps.
I reached the inn without a problem and ran down the side of the building. A musty smell hit me as I stepped into the back alley. I heard something scraping on wood and I turned to the back door of the inn to see Rusty there, whittling a stick.
“Took ya’ long enough.” He commented as he saw me, laying down the miniature spear. “So, I hear you want to get into the tribe?”
“Well, I at least want to know how, so I can if…”
“If things get rotten? I understand. I heard Jeb talking. So…”
I leaned forward and Rusty began.
“First, you have to prove that you have Indian blood in you. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Most of the time, when someone leaves the tribe, they give him or her some tribal symbol on a clay tablet. That person then keeps that tablet so that, if they want to get back in the tribe sometime, they have the tablet and that is basically their ticket back in. Other than that, it can only be proven that you’re Indian if one of the tribe members recognizes you and knows that you’re Indian. Then, the chief sees if you’re trustworthy and a decent enough person to come back in, and last there’s some big ceremony to let you in. And that’s that.” He stood, “I have to go; hope I was some sort of help to you.”
“You were! Thanks!” I replied. Rusty gave a little smile, and then hurried down the alley in the opposite direction. I made my way back to Stormcloud, who was tied in front of Jeremiah’s store, got on her, and started back home.
I got a lot of angry looks and curled lips directed at me on my way through town, so it didn’t take a genius to see that Jeb’s rumor was spreading. I made Stormcloud go faster.
“Late again!” Uncle Sid scowled down on me as I ate my sandwich. “You don’t deserve to eat if you keep skipping all the chores like this!” he made a snatch for my lunch and I quickly shoved the last bite in my already crammed mouth.
“Eww…” Dorcas wrinkled her nose as I tried to chew the gargantuan glob in my mouth. Virginia pushed her chair back from the table and stood up.
“I’m not hungry anymore, Mama,” she complained, annoyingly accenting the second a. I managed to swallow the bite without choking myself, so I stood too.
“I’m done too. Hey, do you mind if I look for something in the attic really quick before chores?”
Aunt Tansy’s jaw dropped, “Of all the disrespectful, impudent…”
“Thanks!” I dashed upstairs before either of them could say that I couldn’t.
The attic was dark and cold and it was hard to see anything. I made my way to the back, where my parents’ old things were kept and began rummaging through them. I didn’t recognize most of the things, but I stopped when I found the old quilt that my mama had made to wrap me in. I thought that had been burned in the raid, I thought. I looked over it and found the square on the quilt I remembered was my favorite, the one with an embroidered bear paw. I smiled and stroked the blanket, trying to remember mama’s loving face and dark hair, before folding it and setting it aside.
Just then, something caught my eye. I pushed back papa’s old pair of work boots and revealed a small clay tablet. A bear paw that matched the one on my blanket was painted on the surface of it. I gasped and held it up. This tablet confirmed my suspicions. My mama had been Bearpaw.
“Ro-o-o-bin!” the insistent voice of my aunt called from far away.
“Coming!” I wrapped the tablet in the quilt and hurried down the first flight of steps, dropped the bundle off in my room, then ran the rest of the way downstairs.
The chores didn’t seem so bad after that because I was too busy planning what I would do once I got into the tribe. One nagging doubt remained, however; the chief would have to see if I was a decent enough person to come into the tribe, and I didn’t think that my running from the accusation of robbery made me a decent enough person to get in. Also, running away would give them more evidence against me; could I risk leaving? But staying seemed just as bad, so I remained undecided until the next day at school.
Things Get Bad
The events of the day before had made me forget to think up a good argument for why I was out late, so when Uncle Sid asked me the next morning, I was unprepared. He asked me when I was just about to go to the barn to get Stormcloud.
“Robin.” His voice stopped me mid-stride. I turned to look at him and he motioned with his finger for me to come to him. Slinking back the way I did, I must have looked like Digger (the ranch dog) when he’s done something he shouldn’t have. I’m guessing that expression wasn’t a strong argument for my side.
Uncle looked me up and down and then frowned. “Robin, I’d like to hear your side of the story on where you were the other night before believing what Jensen told me yesterday. Mind telling?” I swallowed and my heart beat a little faster as I began to tell him.
“Well, I agreed to close up Jeremiah’s store for him, and it just took a while.”
“Anything happen on your way out?”
“Yeah, I saw someone robbing the Jensen place.” Uncle Sid raised and eyebrow and looked unconvinced. I held his gaze for a few more seconds, and then began to turn towards the barn.
“Liar!” came his voice from behind me.
I whirled around, my face flaming, “I am not! I’m telling the truth!”
“Jensen also told me what you did with the rest of your day. I know why you stayed to close up shop; you wanted an excuse for being late. Do you really expect me to believe you now when you’ve been dishonest so many times before?”
I clenched my fists, turned around and marched off to the barn, slamming the door behind me as soon as I got inside. My cousins had been making me the scapegoat for so long, why did I think my uncle would believe me this time?
Stormcloud whinnied her surprise as I grabbed the saddle off of its shelf and stomped into her stall. She backed a few steps away from me as I tried to get a hold on my temper.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a second, and then held my hand out to Stormcloud. “It’ s okay, girl,” I assured her, even though my temper wasn’t anywhere close to being cooled down.
Stormcloud nickered softly and came back over to me for her saddle. I threw it over her back, buckled it under her belly and then went about putting on the bridle. I finished, then led her out of the barn, swung up onto her back and trotted out of the yard.
The sky was cloudy and looked like it might rain, so I dug my heels in and urged her into a canter so I could get to school before it let loose. Stormy seemed happy for the opportunity to go fast and decided to go into the gallop. My hair flew out behind me violently as she sped up.
“Whoa, girl. Slow down!” I tugged back on the reins and she slowed as we rode into town. It was beginning to get annoying hearing murmurs of disapproval erupt from every corner whenever I rode past, and it was worse than ever today.
“… And Freddie, you stay away from that red haired girl at school today. She was the one who ransacked the Jensen’s house the other night!” I heard a mother say to her child as I rode past. I sighed and turned in that direction.
“Please ma’am. I wasn’t the one who…” The woman scowled at me and hugged her son to her as if to protect him. The first school bell rang across the street; I slid off Stormcloud, tied her to the hitching post and ran into school. Mrs. Oak smiled her approval at me and waited until the rest of the class had filed in before picking up the McGuffey’s Reader. She didn’t need to rap her ruler on the desk for quiet; everyone was too busy casting suspicious and angry glances at me.
“Dirty, rotten thief!” hissed Jeb’s friend, Don, from across the room. I clenched my fists and felt my face grow red. I would have punched that snake at recess if Mrs. Oak hadn’t heard him.
“Donald…” Don looked up and Mrs. Oak raised her eyebrows at him. “Why did you call Robin a thief?” Don stuck out his lower lip and narrowed his eyes,
“Because she is. She stole all the silver from Jeb’s house!” he replied.
“Has the sheriff proven that?”
“Naw. But who cares what those…?”
“I do. If Robin says that she didn’t, then I believe her.” Mrs. Oak glanced over at me with a small smile on her lips before tuning back to Don, who slunk down in his seat and muttered something bad about me under his breath. I nodded thankfully at our teacher as she once again picked up the reader.
“Today,” began Mrs. Oak, “we are celebrating a fairly new holiday called ‘Flag Day’. You may have noticed the little flag poking out of the jar on my desk in honor of that.” She smiled, “And also, in honor of today, we are straying a little from our regular lesson plan and reading a special poem about the flag on page 119. Donald?” Don looked up with an ugly scowl on his face. “Would you like to start out the poem for us?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered in a voice that said that he would rather eat a bucket of snails. He stood, re-fired his scowl in my direction for a split second and then began reading.
“When freedom from her mountain height,
Unfurled her standard to the air,
She tore the azure robe of night,
And set the stars of glory there:
She mingled with its gorgeous dyes
The milky baldric of the skies,
And striped its pure, celestial white
With streakings of the morning light:
Then, from his…” Don hesitated.
“Go on,” encouraged Mrs. Oak, “Sound it out.” Don squinted at his book, frowning.
“Man-see-un?” he finally attempted.
“Man-shun,” teacher corrected with a nod. Don shrugged and continued.
“Then, from his mansion in the sun,
She called her eagle bearer down,
And gave into his mighty hand,
The symbol of her chosen land.” Don finished the last sentence and plopped back down in his seat.
“We have four more verses left,” commented Mrs. Oak, scanning her reader. “Do we have any volunteers?”
Everyone thundered out of the doors before the word “recess” was completely out of teacher’s mouth. Mrs. Oak just laughed and followed them outside. I stayed a little longer to straighten up my desk (I’d been doodling in class, and it was a mess). I finished and started to go outside, but when I reached the door I almost ran into Jeb.
“Oh, uh… Hi, Robber.” I tightened my lips and resisted the urge to smack his nasty face.
“It’s Robin and you know that as well as I do.”
“Well, maybe I don’t.” He began trying to edge past me. “Oh, and… uh… Rusty said that teacher wanted you.”
“I don’t know. Why do you keep askin’ me all this dumb stuff? Just go to teacher!”
“Fine.” I pushed past him and half ran over to the rock Mrs. Oak was sitting on.
“Oh, there you are, Robin. I was wondering where you were.” She smiled up at me.
“I just had some stuff to do inside. What did you need me for?” She looked confused.
“I didn’t need you for anything. Just wondering where you were, that’s all.” I frowned, shrugged and walked away in the direction of the little pond in the corner of the schoolyard to think.
All my classmates screeched and hollered as they played their game of tag. I tried my best to keep out of the game, but I had no idea who was It, and that was a bit of a problem. Don went careening into me and we both fell over. He grinned at me as he stood up.
“You’re it now,” he informed me. I got up as well and resumed my walk to the pond.
“No I’m not. I’m not even playing,” I replied. “And since when am I welcome back into recess games? I thought that you guys wouldn’t want to play with someone you think is a robber.”
“You can’t quit when you’re it,” Don grinned even bigger. “HEY, EVERYBODY! ROBIN’S IT!” he hollered. I lunged for him. His eyes got wide, “No tagbacks,” he managed to say, a split second before I touched him.
“You’re it,” I told him. He shook his head,
“Nope. I said ‘no tagbacks’, so you’re still it.” I sighed and tagged little Cory, who happened to be nearby. Cory threw himself back at me.
“You’re it. No tagbacks. I’m not playing.” The words tumbled out of my mouth so fast it sounded like one word, but Cory got the message and ran after Bridget instead.
I walked another minute before reaching my destination of the pond. The sounds of the tag game behind me were now a lot quieter and I tuned them out and began to think. Hardly anyone in town trusts me anymore, I thought glumly as I threw a rock through the greenish skin growing in one corner of the pond. I’d say things don’t look like they’re clearing up, judging by this morning. The Indian camp is looking pretty good right about now.
I mentally ran through a list of people who trusted me. There were only four names on that list. Jeremiah, Dustin, Rusty and Mrs. Oak. I smiled, happy to add Mrs. Oak’s name to the list. To have the teacher on my side pretty much meant the end of teasing at school. Well, except for maybe a few “teacher’s pet” accusations. But, heck – “Teacher’s pet” beats “sneak thief“ any day.
“Rrrrr…bit.” I raised my head and glanced around the pond.
“Rrrrr…bi-i-i-it!” I spotted the source of the noise; a fat toad, sitting on a rock right across from me. I stood slowly, trying not to frighten the toad. He just blinked. I edged slowly around the pond and he still didn’t move. I swooped down and caught him.
“Gotcha!” The toad blinked in surprise and glanced down at the rock he had just been on,
“Yeah, right.” I squeezed the toad even tighter and turned towards the schoolyard, intending to show him to Dustin, but the yard was empty. Oh, dang, I missed the bell! I ran as fast as I could back to the schoolhouse, covering the distance in the longest strides I could manage. I put one foot in the door of the classroom, and then remembered I was still holding the toad. I sighed dumped him onto the ground before I finished going in the door.
Everyone turned to face me as I closed the door. The way they were looking at me, you’d think I had just killed some little kid. I bit my lip and glanced around the classroom; everything seemed relatively normal. Dustin coughed and I noticed that he was grimacing. The rest of the class remained as silent as a dead mouse.
“She did it.” I jumped at the sound of Jeb’s voice.
“Did what?” I snapped back.
“Don’t play stupid!” he sneered, “Not that you have to do much pretending…” I took a menacing step forward and clenched my fists.
“Robin,” Mrs. Oak’s voice broke in, “I just got my month’s pay this morning, and I put it in my desk just before class. It is now gone. Jeb tells me that you were in here a few minutes later than everyone else, doing something – I don’t know what. But we looked in all of the students’ desks and found this…” she held up a small leather pouch, “…in yours.”
I swallowed and stared at the purse in my teacher’s hand. I put together the pieces immediately; Jeb had set me up, but when I thought it over, he had overlooked one detail.
“I don’t have the key to your desk, though. I don’t even know where you keep it,” I replied. Don raised his hand,
“Miss teacher? I saw something shiny on the inside pocket of her vest while we were playing tag. Do you think you could check? That might have been the key…”
I quickly shoved my hand inside my beat-up, leather vest to show that my pocket was empty. But instead of my hand coming out with nothing, a small, metal key came out into my hand. I looked so shocked when I saw it, almost the whole class burst out laughing.
Mrs. Oak rapped her ruler on the desk and frowned, “Children! This is serious!” She then turned back to me, “Miss Rafferty, I will have to consult with your Aunt and Uncle about this serious violation of the rules. Until then…”
“But Teacher, I didn’t do it! I swear!” I took a big gulp of air and tried to slow my breathing, “Please…”
Mrs. Oak looked angry for a second, then sighed and shook her head, “I should have known better than to trust you.” She couldn’t have hurt me more if she’d jabbed a knife into my gut. I took a few steps backward towards the door, then turned and bolted.
“Robin!” Teacher’s sharp voice called after me, “Get back in this room, young lady!” I had already unhitched Stormcloud and had swung myself into the saddle by the time she called.
I dug my heels in and Stormcloud broke into a gallop towards home. The choice was pretty easy now, either hang around and see how much they’d offer for me on the “Wanted – Reward” posters, or go to the Indian camp. I chose the Indians.
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