THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS
Mr and Mrs Sullivan had just moved into the town of Waterloo on the edge of the city of Ashland. Mr Sullivan had just been transferred to the motor car factory which produced car bodies in this town. He had been promoted as the chief manager. He and Mrs Sullivan debated for a long time whether he should accept the rise, and move or just stay at his old position and salary. In the end they decided that since their two children were still young and in primary grades, it was better that they move now, accept the promotion and its perks. They needed to save money for their children’s future study. They had married when Mr Sullivan had just left high school, and had struggled while he worked and studied to be an engineer. With the result, they were both highly qualified but with an almost broken empty bank balance.
The town was a picturesque place, with wide avenues and shady old trees. The neighbourhood was quiet. It was only during the evenings when children returned from school, that there was the noise of children’s laughter, children whizzing past on roller blades, on cycles or just goofing about.
The Sullivan’s children, Rodney and Rachel, were as different from each other as apples and oranges. Rodney was a red haired freckle faced bundle of mischief. He was the older of the two. Rachel was a petite blonde with long curly tendrils and ready to cry at the slightest scolding. She was a dreamer, all six years old, and would often play by herself under the old oak tree, with her dolls, scolding and petting them in her imaginary role of a mother. Being new to the neighbourhood they still had to make friends, and approached other children with cautious shyness in the new school.
The term began on a quiet note, and the children had still to adjust to the serene and rather dull routine of the countryside, quite a contrast to the noisy car-filled bustling and jostling crowds of the city they had left behind. They did miss their old classmates, and found the country children in the school rather reserved in nature. One day, Rodney who was pecking at his food at the dinner table, screwed up his face, and said, “Aw jesus Mom, the children in this school are so dull. They hardly like to get into adventures.” “Well”, said his father, “it takes a while when you get to be chummy with some, you’ll find school here exciting.” “As exciting as a tadpole in stagnant water”, mumbled Rodney. “What’s that”, said Rachel, “are we going to get some tadpoles, will they turn into frogs… lets get some”, she said. “No you silly”, said Rodney, “the school is dull. Read my lips and he mouthed the word “dull.” “Rodney, stop teasing your sister, why don’t you wash up and get down to your home works”, said his mother. Rodney got up with a grimace, and bounded up the stairs two at a time whistling loudly. “He’s restless”, said Mr Sullivan, “but he’ll settle down quickly, he’s quick at that.” “I hope so”, replied Mrs Sullivan. “I must confess”, she continued, “that it’s hard for me also.” “The neighbours are so aloof.” “It happens in a small town”, said Mr Sullivan comfortingly. “Lets take it one day at a time… May be getting to know people on the Council committee might help.”
“Oh and speaking about the Council,.. there’s a circus coming to town next week .We should take the children, maybe they’ll brighten up, especially Rodney,” said Mrs Sullivan. “Good idea”, said Mr Sullivan with relief, feeling a little uneasy at his family’s adjustment problems. And so it came to pass that the excited children found themselves on the very first day of its appearance at the Walton’s Big Tent circus. It was nothing unusual for the Sullivan children. They had been to a couple of them in the city. This circus was not so large in area, but it seemed as if the children of the whole town were there, at the Walton’s Circus. The biggest attraction were the merry go round and the giant wheel. But the one most children crowded around was the chamber of horrors. Now Rodney had been to several and while the other children stood about in awe at the entrance, some afraid of going in, some being reluctantly persuaded by parents, others fearfully siddled alongside the owner who had a mouth horn and was speaking into it, in a frightening voice. He gave an exaggerated growl like that of an ape, and said in a hollow growling voice, “I am King Kong… would you like to put your hand in my big paw… I might take it away from you… Ho… Ho… Ho.. grr gnash. “Come and see me in my cave.” Then he imitated a ghost, and said in a screechy mournful voice, “They say I’m the ghost of Haloween’s night. My long nose will brush you, my long nails will tear at you, and I will howl into your ear, and take you away on my broomstick to never never land.” While the other children looked in awestruck wonder, because this was a new show for them, Rodney looked at them jeeringly and said, “Aw scoff and nothing… this is only to scare you all… it’s really make believe.” “I know it’s make believe”, said a boy of ten who was standing watching the owner curiously, “but it’s scary when its dark inside… and the boards are shifting, and the smoke and flames get near you” “Still make believe”, retorted Rodney. “Rodney come here,” said Rachel excitedly at the entrance to the merry go round. “Mom says you can take me on this roundabout, but you must be careful to hold me fast” “Nothing to it”, said Rodney, and soon he and Rachel astride a horse were going around and up and down. But what Rodney wanted to try after that was driving in dodgem cars. Mom said, “Lets wait a while. Shall we go and get some pop corn and candy tuft first?” “Lets”, said Mr Suillivan. “I’m dying of thirst”, and off they went to the mobile fast food stand. “I know what we should do, lets try the chamber of horrors”, said Rodney eagerly. “Its greater fun.” “Mom, I’m scared,” said little Rachel. “Well darling”, said Mrs Sullivan, above the blare of microphones and blowing pipes, and all kinds of music vying with each other all around among the thronging crowd. “I’d only let you go either with Dad or myself.” “Let’s go with Dad,” said Rodney. “Will you hold my hand?”, asked Rachel in a tremulous voice. “Of course, I will my pet”, said Mr Sullivan. And off they went.
At the entrance they had to wait in a long snake like queue. Rachel, holding tight to her Dad’s hand, grew more and more excited, all the time dancing up and down. Rodney stood behind with his hands in his pockets, casually whistling a tuneless ditty, as if to show that he was used to this kind of experience and it just didn’t bother him.
Finally they were in with many dads and moms holding onto their little ones’ hands whilst they guided them in. They had to stand firmly on a moving floor holding the rails as it urged forward slowly. At first it was dark, and as they moved further down, a growling sound came up to them closer and closer. Suddenly a big lion’s mouth appeared, with teeth gnashing and jaws dripping with make believe blood. Little children screamed. Rachel hid her face in her father’s jacket, and peeped out with one eye. When that finished, smoke billowed towards them and a huge monster, a dinosaur, appeared alongside, snapping and howlling as they went past. Then there was darkness, and a whale appeared on the other side opening and closing its wide jaws while the music in the background blared shrieks of horror, drowned by the shrieks of the children. Mirrors appeared in the light and they were looking at themselves in various shapes. Rachel looked grown up and her Dad looked like a little toddler. Then her face reflected a twisted distortion in the mirror. This made them all laugh, and there was delighted amusement all around. But soon it gave way to ominous shrieks. Lots of baboons appeared on trees all alongside while a huge gorilla’s face appeared and disappeared in front of them. Raising huge paws as if to grab the little ones, who shrieked further with excited fear. The ground suddenly slithered forward and backwards as if the travellers along the walkway did not know whether to go backwards or forwards. Banshee wailings appeared from the far corners, and ghosts lined up against the tunnel walls in all kinds of hideous forms. By the time they reached the end of the tunnel, where the sunlight was shining. The children were all excited with scary thoughts and exhausted with the different types of reactions they had to the different things they saw and heard in the chamber of horrors.
Mr Sullivan was smiling as he looked down at Rachel, but stopped as suddenly. This little girl holding his hand was not Rachel, but some other little girl. She looked up at the same time and realising that it was not her father started howling loudly. “Dad, Dad, where is my Dad, I want him… Mommy where are you?”, she sobbed, and immediately let go of the stranger’s hand.
Mr Sullivan looked back at Rodney whose face had already broken into concern and dismay. “Where is Rachel?”, Dad asked. “She was holding your hand Dad. Maybe she is with someone else’s father?” “Look for her quickly, she must be in this crowd,” but it was difficult, with the pushing and jostling of many children and their parents. Dad bent down to soothe the child. “We’ll find your dad soon, little girl” he said, “hush don’t cry… it will be alright.” But the little girl could not be consoled. They stood at the entrance hoping that Rachel who might have held onto some other parent in the excitement would be returned and they would be waiting to exchange this little one. But they waited and waited. The crowds thinned out and they were finally standing alone, the three of them, looking this way and that into the crowds milling around, hoping to recognise Rachel among the little children who were passing by. Rodney’s mom came up to them, smiling, hoping that the children had had a thrilling time, and to her horror she found that the little girl now clutching Dad’s hand was not Rachel, but a tear stained dishevelled little girl about Rachel’s age.
They waited and waited desperately hoping that the mistake would be recognised and the parent of this little girl would also be looking for them at the entrance to the chamber of horrors. But nothing happened. At last Mr. Sullivan said, “Hold onto her… What’s your name Honey”, he bent down to speak to her? “Janrey”, she sobbed. “What’s your Dad’s name.” “Daddy”, she started crying again. “And your Mom’s name?” “Mommy”, she sobbed and the tears flowed faster.
Mom and Dad and Rodney were so perplexed and sad. Where was Rachel?
Where indeed was Rachel? Rachel was sitting happily between two strangers, a mom and a dad, happily licking a cone, given to her to stop her anxious whimpers of “where’s Rodney? Where’s my mom and my dad?” They were arguing among themselves as to where the little girl, their Janey had gone. “I’m going to the circus security to find out what they can do. After all children do get lost and are found.” The mother burst out crying, “But what if she’s kidnapped?” “Don’t think of anything so drastic”, said the father, “these things don’t happen at a circus.” “Yes they do,” argued the mother. In exasperation the father took out a map, studied it and pointed out to the mother the security location. “Wait right here”, he said, “Im going to ask them to use the public address system to enquire about her. Maybe someone has returned her to the lost and found place.” Said the mother, “Try there first.” “Alright, alright”, said the worried father, and went off.
Now exactly the same conversation took place between Mr and Mrs Sullivan. Only this time Rodney volunteered to go to the lost and found place and Dad to the security. Janey’s father was talking to the security people when Mr Sullivan arrived. “I’ve lost my girl”, said Janey’s father. “Where?, asked the police guard. “At the chamber hor… horrors.” With a start Mr Sullivan who had heard this conversation said, “Oh my God, you have my daughter and I have yours, I thinks so.” “Please take me to her so I can identify her quickly and let’s hope that neither of them have been kidnapped by scoundrels. I hear it happens in big cities but I hope it isn’t true here,” said Janey’s father.
Quickly Mr Sullivan took Janey’s father to where Janey was waiting with Mrs Sullivan still sobbing and crying, “I want my Mom, I want my Dad.” Janey’s father bounded towards her, picked her up kissing her all over, “My pet, thank God I have found you.” Janey gave shriek of joy and bound her arms around her father’s neck. Mrs Sullivan got up, her face working up and down in tremulous worry. She asked hopefully, “Do you have my baby?” Janey’s father looked at both of them and said, “If you are Rachel’s mother, then I do have her. He took them quickly to where his wife was trying to pacify her. Rachel turned her face when she saw her father. She leaped with joy and huddled up close to him saying, “Daddy, Daddy, I thought I will never see you again”, and rushed to Mrs Sullivan.
Apparently while standing together on the chambers the little ones had mistakenly taken the other dad’s hand thinking it was their dads! The security guard heaved a sigh of relief, “Wot a good thing, we did not have to go through the hassle of procedures.” He said, “It would have been very tough. It’s very rare that children are found so quickly. Take care and be close to your children, keep them in sight and better still hold their hands.” “The right hands, mind you,” he said with a smiling face and a wink! It really was a relief.
Rodney appeared soon. He had lost all his happy go lucky air and was very apologetic. “I should have kept an eye on her too Dad,” he said very guiltily.” “If anybody did I should have,” said Mr Sullivan more guiltily.
The parents arranged to meet at the round about. There were all seven of them. Together this time. Rachel with her parents and Janey with hers. Rodney gave the two girls candy tuft as if to say “I’m glad we found you.” There were excited embraces, quick laughter, hugs and smiles, while they introduced themselves to each other. Soon all seven of them were on the merry go round. The Sullivans sat in a dragon carriage going up and down. Rodney on a war horse and Janey, her mother and father, who had introduced themselves as the Garneys, were in another whale carriage, also going up and down to the music. The rest of the time the two families spent together at the circus. There were three very excited children and four very relieved parents.
And so, Garneys and Sullivans became close family friends. Sullivans, from this time onwards, did not feel so alone, and often on a Sunday you would find them all seven packed in two cars by the riverside enjoying a picnic, or at the seaside for a short weekend holiday, and yes can you guess even at the circus whenever it chanced to come around! Rachel and the little girl Janey became good friends. Rodney was introduced to several cousins of Janey’s family and soon had more friends than he thought he ever would have and so became a member of the popular team in school.
THE CLOCK THAT WOULDN’T TICK
Robin’s great grandmother had just died. She was ninety two years old, and had lived in a great huge house all by herself. That is to say she had no relatives staying with her. She was a very proud and grand old lady, and wanted to live independently. Of course she had to have help. So she had a companion who came to read to her every day, a nurse, as she was bed-ridden, and of course the faithful Agatha her maid, who had been with her for fifty five years, ever since she had married.
Robin had a sister, Angela who he thought was grown up although they were only three years apart as he was seven and she was ten. At times they would do things together as if they were of the same age. Take the case of the time, when they were both clambering up the apple tree to pluck some ripe apples, and she toppled over him and he over her. Ordinarily, she would have scolded him and told him it was all his fault. She was always finding fault with him, about his untidy room, his long use of the bathroom and what not. But this time she just laughed at him and they behaved like two conspirators sharing a secret. And she said, “It was really my fault.” “Really sisters were whimsical creatures!”, Robin thought. Most of the time sisters were supposed to scold and nag. One never knew when they would be nice and kind to their brothers, that is if they had any.
There were family meetings after the funeral at the old house all cluttered up with bric a brac and ancient furniture. Some of the rooms were still closed with sheets over furniture. It was a great big rambling house of three floors, a basement and an attic. Right at the top was a belfry tower, and a real bell, which had stopped through disuse. It seemed very much like an old church that was renovated as a residence, many decades ago. Pigeons lived in the rafters, and the small mullioned windows sent many slivers of diamond lights into the rooms when the sun shone through them. The stairs were creaky, and the tall windows were shrouded in heavy curtains with tassles and rope bells. Pictures of many departed relatives in antiquated costumes hung gloomily along the walls, with here and there an oil coloured painting. The doors were heavy and the floors groaned, where there were no heavy carpets. Angela and Robin sat on the back porch overlooking many acres of land grown to seed, with hardly a well tended corner, not even a vegetable patch. The place was full of bushes and old gnarled fruit trees which looked so weary, that they added a very sad air to the whole proceedings going on inside on this wintery Sunday evening.
“Gosh its spooky out here,” said Robin with a shudder, as if a bad angel had flown over him. “It’s what’s in your mind that matters,” retorted Angela quickly. “If you are inclined to like spooky things most things will appear that way”, she concluded irrationally. Robin looked at her with mild contempt. She often talked without any reference to the subject. “I wonder what’s going on inside?” he asked curiously.
What was going on inside was really gloomy. The fire had been lit in the large parlour, angled here and there by heavy oak panelling. The fire had not been lit for a long time, as the grandmother never came down. Only on sunny days was she wheeled out onto the balcony, and that was all the direct sunshine she ever got.
Consequently everybody was dressed up as warmly as they could, but some shivered inspite of themselves. There was aunty Elizabeth, a very big made woman, strong as a horse. In contrast, her husband, Ralph was puny and a mere shadow of his wife. There was Uncle Cecil and his wife and their two married daughters. There was their grand uncle Wallace, who was as deaf as a door post, who tottered when he walked and who now held up a sheet to his bleary eyes with a palsied hand. “What does it say?” asked Robin’s father, Joseph, who was the youngest son. “Well, I think I cannot read very well. We should hand it over to Mr Cavendish.” Mr Cavendish was the lawyer of the family, and a graceful thin gentleman who wore a picnez, and coughed gently every time he had to utter a sentence. He now stretched out a thin waving hand and took the paper. “This is a copy of the will of your late sister, God bless her soul,” said Wallace. I have the original and since we are gathered here to have it read I will proceed to do so,” said Cavendish. The contents of the will was the strangest that Mr Cavendish had ever read. But being a lawyer and noting down everything the dear lady had to say, strange or otherwise, he had learned not to be as astonished as the listeners, listening to the contents on that dreary winter evening.
The children were all bundled up in the car, as they made their way home late that night. The children were very eager to know what had happened, but Joseph who was really very attached to his mother, only said a curt “later”, and lapsed into brooding silence as he drove the car, into the garage. Supper was eaten in silence. Joseph’s wife Daisy was also silent and morose. She hardly said a word as she laid supper on the table and called out to the children in a dead pan voice. “Come and get your supper.” They ate in silence. There was only the clatter of spoons and knives against the china, and some mild chomping noises from Robin which his mother stopped by a severe “Robin, mind your manners” and they all finished their meal in silence.
After supper, Joseph lit his pipe, while his wife sat knitting in continued silence. He looked at her and said, “It’s no use putting it off. We’d better tell them. They have been looking forward to getting some treasures from their grandma… Treasures hah,” he said bitterly.
The children were called in and their dad said slowly and with a heavy tone: “I guess we might as well tell you straight. Your grandma has left all her wealth to charities. The old house is to be sold and the proceeds to go to her beloved church in which she was married, and in which we all have been baptised.” The children gasped in amazement. They knew that Grandma had been very attached to her youngest son, Joseph, their father. This was very odd! And also very disappointing. Often they had heard the plans of their parents at night, when their grandma was critically ill, as to what they would do for the children with the money their father would have inherited. “Not one… not one of us have been bequeathed anything except Agatha, who is to have an annual sum for her upkeep till she dies, and some little token money to the nurse, the maids and the gardeners. But we, her own flesh and blood, nothing”, he expostulated. “This is not fair… not fair at all, she must have gone mad!” “Hush”, said their mother still knitting and not looking up, “that’s not the way to talk about your dead mother… its blasphemy.” Their mother was a strict Lutheran and was always sorting out what was right and what was wrong, and frowned upon immorality in word and deed. “She did what she wanted, after all it was her property,” she said. “Not even the old house, we could have sold it and invested the money,” mumbled Joseph. “Don’t talk like that before the children. They will think unkindly of her, let God rest her soul in peace,” admonished their mother. Joseph subsided into brooding silence.
“Anyway she left some so called mementos for the grandchildren, and some antique furniture for us her sons and only daughter… Pah,” he said in disgust and again lapsed into silence. Secretly, the children were in full admiration of their grandmother. She had the nerve! she really did, to leave her hoping children without a sou!
“Can we see the mementos that grandma left for us, we will cherish them.” “Cherish them for all you like. They are some old clocks, some music boxes and some old stuff like a carved ship model and other such rubbish. You will see them tomorrow. Now go to bed,” said their father abruptly and left the room. Their mother, as if to soften his words, said gently, “don’t forget to say your prayers and brush your teeth…, it’s late and you could get up late for school if you don’t sleep now.”
The next morning, there was a rush to catch the school bus, and all was forgotten about their grandmother’s gift to them, in their business at school. But when they returned in the bus, Angela got a place next to Robin and said in a hushed whisper, “wonder why grandma did that to her own children. She seemed to like us also, but now that she’s gone it’s strange she behaved in such a.. a..” “Niggardly fashion,” finished Robin. “Fancy leaving all that to charities. Well I never fancied that house. What if she had left it for Dad, we might have had to go and live in that broken down ramshackle ancient place. It gives me the creeps.. that’s what it does. Now we shall go on as if nothing has happened.” “Yes, but what a blow to Dad.” “I guess so,” said Robin sadly, and fell into deep thinking. When they came home, their mother was as tight-lipped as ever, although she managed to smile at them, and gave them an extra good array of snacks to eat. “Mom,” said Angela hesitatingly, “Could we have a look at the things grandma left for us?” “Not now,” replied their mother, “you’ll have to wait for Dad to get home.. He’s very sensitive about it… So let him handle it.”
“Did she leave anything for you and Dad?” “Well yes,” she said perplexed. “Again some old antique furniture, some paintings and some Belgian glass, quite useless for us. Where can we fit it all with this modern furniture and things?”, she asked vaguely. Again, like yesterday there was silence. When there was a crisis the brother and sister usually did not argue or fight. It was as if they were together in trying to make sense out of a puzzle, and this was no ordinary puzzle. It was sad and disheartening especially for their Dad. They wished now that grandma had left him something worthwhile so that he would not have bad memories of her. She was really a sweet old thing, quite eccentric but good at heart.
Their dad was late in getting home that night. He was still in a grumpy mood. There was hardly any talk at dinner. After that he pushed back his chair, and as if wishing to get over with some unpleasant task, he said gruffly to the children, “Come with me,” and he took them to his study.
There on his desk, put together in a higgedly piggedly fashion were some old clocks, a ship model, some small caskets, some old paste, old fashioned jewellery, a couple of old leather bound books, and an old compass. “That’s it,” said their father in disgust, “this is what your loving grandma left for you.. mementos.. she said in her will. Garbage I would say,” and he left them in his study. Robin moved the table lamp closer to the pile. It really was an odd assortment of things, as if someone had cleaned the old atttic and put this pile together. There were three music boxes curiously carved as if from some foreign land. Angela opened one. Out sprung a clown, turning and twisting to an old nursery rhyme ditty. Something about “over the hills and far away.. there I come fancying in May,” and then it stopped. She shut it down fast, and opened the other. It was a dainty spangled ballerina, turning and bowing and lifting her hands delicately on tiptoes, going round and round on her toes to an old fashioned waltz. “Ugh,” said Angela, “who wants that… I am not three years old. Shall have to keep it for my children or perhaps yours,” she said to Robin. And suddenly they giggled at the humour in the situation. The model ship was really very nice, intricately designed in detail down to the ropes and sails and the steering wheel of the captain. “Junk,” said Robin tersely. “Have to get a glass case if I wish to keep this as a souvenir, it needs a lot of cleaning from time to time, who has the time. My friends may admire it for a while and then it will just sit there as it did at grandma’s.” Meanwhile Angela put on all the old chunky big beaded jewellery she could, and stood before the mirror. “Oh, look,” she said, “Don’t I look like a fortune teller”, and she shook some huge dangling ear-rings. “Pray let me tell you your fortune dear sire,” she mimicked and stretched out her hand. Laughingly Robin slapped at it, and again they fell on the couch giggling at their comical nature of the situation.
Then they turned their attention to the clocks. They were really ancient old table clocks. One, the largest was really very interesting. It had a square face, and gold leafed Roman numerals, and shining quartz in the centre. The carvings around the clock’s edge were very tiny laced patterns, and it stood on two delicately carved snake’s heads. “A real conversation piece, I must say and of course it does not work,” said Robin amusedly, and turned it over. They both gasped as they saw a piece of paper pasted at the back. They knew their grandma’s writing. She made it a special point to write them cards at Christmas when she was lying in bed with nothing to do, and used to take a great deal of trouble in carefully scrawling their names. This was their grandma’s large spidery writing. It said: “It does work Try and find out.”
“Find out what?” said Angela breathlessly. “This is strange… what are we going to find out and how?” “Yes,” said Robin turning the clock around and upside down. “Is it the clock numberings that will tell us something. Here lets wind it up.” They turned the old fashioned key at the back. It was rusty and took a great deal of pressure to turn. It did very slowly. They waited to see if the hands would move. The hands of the clock were motionless. It just wouldn’t tick. “Shall we take it up to Dad? He might know,” asked Angela.” “No, I don’t think so.. This message was to us from grandma. She meant for us to discover something.. some secret maybe,” said Robin. “There you go with all your reading of those horrid detective stories, you think there is some strange directions…may be to a murder,” Angela commented. Robin grimaced, and said, “You do sound like a detective.. I only said that there may be a secret somewhere hidden on the face of the clock. Lets try.” They tried using the numbers as signs of the alphabets reading from one to twelve and substituting alphabets for the first twelve. They tried repeating the numbers for the rest of the alphabets. It made no sense. They tried scrambling the first twelve alphabets to make sentences. That wouldn’t work. They turned the clock over and tried to make sentences of the words that grandma had used. No luck. They placed the clock under a magnifying glass, but only the scratchings of an old clock appeared. No words, no signs, no clues.
“I know what”, said Angela, “let’s get to the library tomorrow and look up some books on numerology. May be something might turn up. They put away the things and carefully stowed the clock in Angela’s hidden drawer, afraid it would disappear by magic. It was there the next day, and the next evening when they returned, disheartened after spending many hours at the library, looking up all kinds of books, till they made the librarian so puzzled at their antics, she thought they were up to some pranks or planning some, since they delved into books of mysterious signs of the zodiac and what not.
The next day was Saturday. Their parents had gone to do their usual weekly grocery shopping and to visit some friends. So out came the clock and the examination began. This is Taurus… this is Leo, this is Capricorn, the sign of the goat.. Is there something in the pasture near grandma’s place where the goats are kept?” “Hah, what about Scorpio and scorpions in the barn..” “or fish in the sea,” said Robin and again they laughed in amusement at the comical situation they were in.
Finally, in sheer disgust, Robin banged the clock on the table. It made a thudding sound and flew open. The machine was all exposed. Robin took it up curiously and peered inside the machine. There wedged in between the machine and the frame of the clock was a tiny piece of paper. “That’s why the clock won’t tick,” exclaimed Angela. While Robin tried to pry it open. Suddenly Angela stopped his hand from bringing it out in bits. “Wait Robin,” she said breathlessly, “there might be something written on that paper. Maybe grandma meant for us to read it.” “Stuff and nonsense,” said Robin, “why would grandma want to do a childish thing like that.” “Let’s see,” insisted Angela. They slowly unfolded the tiny piece of paper. Scrawled in very tiny spidery writing was something they could hardly read. “Get a magnifying glass,” orderd Angela “quickly from your room, that’s the way grandma used to write at her bureau, with a magnifying glass. Quick.” Robin sped up to his room as fast as his legs could carry him and was back in a thrice. They carefully read the words: “I have a nice game for you. Look in my writing bureau in the sixth drawer from the right. You’ll find a treasure.” Who would have thought that grandma would use a treasure hunt game that kids do. “Remember she was tied to her bed and her wheel chair. How else could she amuse herself, but do odd things at her bureau. Where is it by the way?” Angela looked concerned. “Maybe Mom would know,” suggested Robin anxiously. But their parents were not there. It was Saturday and they had gone to the supermarket to do their weekly grocery shopping. The children waited anxiously. Hardly had Mom and Dad stepped out of the car that the children flew down the steps, and asked their bewildered parents: “Where is grandma’s bureau… her writing desk?” Their parents were surprised and aghast. “What’s this, what ‘s up?”, asked Dad. “Never mind tell us tell us quick.” Mom was calm, “if this is some game you two are playing like hide and seek, go and look in the basement, the workmen brought it in yesterday while you were at school.”
Down they ran as fast as their legs could carry them. There in one corner stood a shabby looking writing bureau, with lots of little drawers, cubby holes and many pieces of paper on the green base, covered with blotting paper and a pen holder with old fashioned pens stood at one end. They found the sixth drawer but could not get it open. They rushed to the garage and got a pair of pliers. “No, that won’t do,” said Robin. In the meantime, their parents had come down the stairs of the basement, and were looking puzzled at the bureau. Robin flew past them, so did Angela. “You’re ruining a perfectly good writing table,” said mother as Robin struggled with the drawer. It would not move. “These children are crazy we have left them for a little while and they are behaving like children at a treasure hunt.. More like they’ve got a touch of the sun,” the mother said thoughtfully. Suddenly the drawer flew open. Inside were large bundles of paper. “Aw rot,” said Robin, “all this trouble for some stupid old paper.. Didn’t think that grandma would lead us on a wild goose chase like this.” “What has grandma to do with this, she’s no longer with us you know?” “Yes, yes there was… that’s what she said in a piece of paper we found in one of the old clocks” “What clock,” asked Dad getting more and more puzzled. They watched as the children rummaged inside the drawer for some thing that was a real treasure, but the drawer was empty. Robin sat down with his head in his face, looking quite crestfallen. Their Dad gave a sigh, and said, “Told you, grandma has led you on a wild goose chase. That was not a nice thing to do. But then she was really getting senile… quite childish, I must say,” and he bent down to pick up the papers. He stopped quite suddenly with a sharp intake of breath. My God it’s a fortune, of fortunes,” he shouted, his glasses awry on his nose. “There are heaps of them. These are treasury bonds of some fifty years ago… they are now priceless.. cant get them anywhere.. they are out of stock and have sky rocketed in the last twenty years. My God!” his face was flushed with excitement. On one of them was a tiny piece of paper attached with a rubber band, and again in his mother’s scrawly writing it was written “To Joseph.” He carefully removed a sheet written in large black spidery letter. A note from mother, he said in awe.
The note read: “Son, yes I played a game I was so bored lying in bed all day all night. I thought of how you loved hide and seek games. I thought you would be too old when I died to go around seeking a hidden treasure. I left it to Robin and Angela to do that for you. I enjoyed this novel way of leaving a large portion of my wealth to you. Yes, maybe you may not have found it, but then life is a gamble and so is this. Hope you win and when you do, think kindly of me and forgive me the childish prank. But you’ve often said Joseph.. (oh, yes, my hearing is not that bad, sometimes I pretended to hear your secrets about me), I heard you saying, ‘Mom’s really getting senile’. No fears, I have all my wits about me, remember that. Think of this last prank I’ve played on you, even when I am not here. Can you beat that. My love and blessings on you. This time from the above, I hope.”
At dinner that night there were all smiles and happiness. In the bonds some were marked for the other two children, but they were mostly for Joseph. The children’s faces beamed. The parents looked upon them fondly. They deserved their own special rewards, something they had longed to possess for a long time. Robin his racing cycle, and Angela, a lovely Labrador dog, she had longed for, for a long long time!
THE GYPSY AND THE GRAVEYARD
Things couldn’t have been better, thought Ralph. The state fair was in town, and the holidays had begun. With glee, Ralph tossed his books helter skelter on his study table when he rushed into his room, on the last day of school. Fortunately, the state fair grounds were close to his house. His house was perched on the top of the hill, so all he had to do, was to scramble down and walk into the fair grounds. He thought that his mother would be relieved that he would get out of her hair, and she would not scold him for getting into scraps, for which he was well known. But this time he had to be careful and be on his best behaviour, and finish his chores around the house before he dared ask her to go to the state fare. They were dull and monotonous , these chores, especially having to keep an eye on his younger brother, Sunny who, all of five, was in that mysterious age where he was neither a child or a grown up boy, but could be whichever when he chose to be, which was very crafty for a boy of five.
Ralph did not mind sweeping off the autumn leaves, raking them into the compost pit, helping his mother in getting down the curtains, polishing the wood work, and cleaning the larder. But supervising his little brother’s antic and wily ways, was another kettle of fish entirely. He was so unpredictable. Sometimes wiser than he himself (he hated to admit that), and sometimes a whimpering baby of two. These chores were repeated every summer since he was ten. Now he was thirteen, but they were still a bore. All that charged him do these chores briskly, was the reward. This reward was five shillings for cleaning the lawn, ten shillings for mowing it. And, oh glory! three whole pounds for helping clean the larder and polishing the wood work.
He would, astonish his mother by his anxiety to help her, and make her wonder at this newly turned leaf of a son, by asking her for more house work. She sort of suspected that it was for the money, but like most mothers, she accepted the fact. These precious amounts were put away into his carefully hidden piggy bank, because he had to keep it away from the prying eyes of his ever curious little brother Sunny. This sum was kept away for his treats at the annual state fair that came about at this time of the year.
“Ralph, Ralph” called the tiresome five year old. Ralph swore under his breath. The only fly in his ointment was this tiresome pesky little brat, who wanted to go every where, and do everything with him during the holidays. “Now what”, he said, impatiently poking his head around the corner of his door. There was Sunny standing with his face all smirched with jam at the foot of the staircase, looking very sorry for himself indeed. He had jam trickling down all over the front of his shirt and hands, with which he was holding stickly onto the staircase rail. Ralph took one look at him, and groaned inwardly. One of the rules of the house was that while their mother was away on her errands, he, Ralph was expected to keep an eye on his little brother. Sunny may have been little, but he was like a dozen imps rolled in one, and no sooner was their mother out, that he was into mischief. This time it was the jam jar.
“Look Sunny” said Ralph, trying to sponge him down and not doing a good job of it. “I know what’s going to happen for the rest of the summer. You’ll be getting into one scrape after another, and I’ll have to keep looking after you, all the time. This is it. You are five years old aren’t you. Most children of your age do things for themselves and don’t get into scrapes,” he said irrationally, forgetting his pranks when he was five.
Sunny looked at him through large brown doleful eyes, brimming with tears, as he was being roughly handled by an exasperated Ralph. “Yes I am, you know I am. I blew out the five candles only last week on my birthday, and you counted them, they were five, were they not”, he asked defiantly. “Alright, alright. That was the wrong question. What I meant, aren’t you big enough to look after yourself? Why do you behave like a sissy, when you are so grown up. You don’t need to have a brother, or for the matter of that anyone, to look after you as if you were a baby.” Sunny thought for a while and said hesitatingly. “I guess you are right… but what’s wrong if I wanted to help myself to jam. It’s not my fault that it slipped. I was looking after myself by trying to pick up the jam and put it back into the bottle. It’s not my fault that the jam just ran out of the bottle. And I don’t like your calling me a sissy. I’ll tell mummy you called me that, just you wait”. He sat on the staircase step and began to whimper.
Now Ralph did not want his mother to be displeased with him in anyway. She would definitely cut down on his outings, of that he was sure. “Ok, Ok, I’ll clean you up, and Ok, you’re not a sissy. But you must promise not to tittle tattle to mummy, grown up boys don’t do that, do they?” he said cajoling. Sunny nodded and stopped his whimpering, but a cunning gleam came into his eyes. “I wont, but what will you give me for that?” Talk about five year olds not being sly little wretches, thought Ralph, while he stood up and surveyed his clean up job of the jam, the bottle slivers and the floor. “Now what, you little rat.” “I’ll tell mummy you called me a rat also”, jumped Sunny up and down. “Ow… shut up you… just tell me what is it you want, you scroung”, he stopped his saying “scrounger” just in time. It would certainly not look good in the list of complaints that Sunny would regale his mother with. “What do you want from me.” “I want to go to the fair with you” snivelled the five year old.
That does it, thought Ralph in despair. He had planned with his gang: Dundy, Josh and Mack during their school lunch breaks what they would do, where they would go, what adventures they would seek while at the fair grounds, and here was this nit wit blackmailing him into having him dragged along. None of his friends were burdened with a little brother, and none could have had a more pestering sneak like Sunny as a little brother. Well he’d just have to think of something else.
“OK, just one day, only one day, and only for four hours, that’s it. Provided you promise to stay close by me, and not wander around. Just think”, he added gleefully, “if you wandered around and a gipsy picked you, then you’ll have to say goodbye to mummy, daddy and all this. You’ll live in a wretched hovel, and eat boiled snakes and cabbages for lunch, and…. “Stop” said Sunny, as crafty as he was in wheedling, he knew he has reached his limit. “Ok”, he said sullenly, “but mind you, all of four hours..no less.”And with that uneasy pact, they waited for the fair to be set up, with its merry go round, the ferris wheel, the colourful tents, the animal rides and what not.
“Aw.. stop holding my hand so tightly”, grumbled Sunny, as he tried to keep up with his grim looking brother. Ralph sighed thinking of his bible classes and someone known as Job who had had so much patience, but no Job, he vowed, had his kind of patience. The fair ground this bright Saturday morning had a gay festive look, with festoons, balloons, streamers, music blaring from stalls, people wandering in and out in a carefree manner. The sun shone on many splendid colours , like a rainbow. Children and parents and old foggies, wandered here there and every where, guzzling sodas, stuffing their mouths with cotton candy, popcorn, and roasted peanuts, the fine odour of which wafted towards Sunny, as he stood with his mouth in a round OO, ogling at everything and everybody. “How are you my fine young man”, said a capering red capped blue nosed clown, who came up to him, and gave an exaggerated bow. Sunny, ecstatic clung closer to the hand which he had previously chaffed at, while Ralph looked down upon him wondering how to get through the four hours, at the end of which he had promised his gang that he would meet them at the roller coaster entrance. Ralph spoke up, “He’s fine, he’s just making up his mind to know what he should try first.” “Take a tip from me, young fellow”, winked the clown. “Put him on the roller coaster. He will either have a queasy stomach, or a queasy head, and that’s the time to take him to a shrink.” He pointed to a tent, where written in large flowery letters were the words “Want to know your fortune and how to become a millionaire? .Step right inside”. “ha ha ha”, laughed the clown and winking again, he danced off, to find another victim for his pranks.
Music of all sorts blared around, shooting galleries were chocker block with young and old trying to practice their skills. Sunny tugged at Ralph’s hand. “I want to try the shooting gallery over there”. There were toy cars, bunny rabbits, bears, dolls and all kinds of fancy candy wrapped up attractively. “I want one of those”. “Fat chance”, grumbled Ralph. “Oh well, OK. Where’s your pocket money”. Sunny carefully took out a handful of coins from his trouser pocket, and trotted off to the owner of the stall. “How much” asked Ralph. “One shilling me boy” said the jocular fat red faced owner. Sunny carefully counted two six pences and handed it over. “Doesn’t trust you, this young man, does he, wants to keep his money where he can see it wot? Here you are my young man”, and he gave Sunny a peashooter. Sunny shot six of the ten little plastic balls. They landed every where, but on the target. He bit his lip and handed the peashooter to Ralph, saying grumpily. “You try for me.” Much to his chagrin, Ralph got a little toy car on the first shot, and a box of candies on the last. There, that should please this pest, he thought, and they walked off with Sunny popping toffees as fast as he could into his eager mouth. After a weary round of the dodgem cars, the ferris wheel, listening to the organ grinder, and yes an elephant ride, Sunny began to show signs of weariness.” “One more”, begged Sunny, when Ralph protested that they had to be getting home. They had stopped outside the flap of a tent. Inside, it was all lit with glowing candles which also let out a strong fragrance of eastern incense. “Let’s go in here”, said Ralph. Sunny held back with a curious reluctance. “It’s dark and spooky inside”. “What nonsense”, retorted Ralph.” See it only says, Your fortune told today and good for all morrows”. “It would be fun, not that we’d believe it.” Truth to tell, Ralph was also getting tired of lugging this little tail around for a long time, and playing mother to him. He wanted to rest his weary feet awhile. So in they went.
It really was eerie inside. The candle on the table lit up a dark dangling earringed and bejewelled old craggy face with bushy eyebrows and jingling bangles on every turn of the withered hand that pointed them to the chairs in front. The face revealed itself from all its coverings ,of an old hag with a beaky nose and piercing eyes, looking every bit the ogress in the books that were read to sunny at bedtime. He shivered, and wanted to say even before they could get to sit, “Let’s get out”. But Ralph held his hand firmly and they both sat down gingerly on the edge of their seats. A begrimed hand shot out, palm upwards. “Grease my hand, you unknown phantoms”, said a creaky voice. “How much?” quavered Ralph, regretting he had ever stepped in “Sixpence and rice”, and everything nice in a pool of mice. “Ha ha ha”, She closed her palm over the money, and brought out some shabby cards.
In the silence, they could hear her loud snorty breathing, and the horrible jingle of bells every time she hemmed and hawed over each one of the upturned cards. Ralph quaked in his shoes, and Sunny had to stifle his hard pressed sobs rising to his throat. The witch, for that was what she looked like in the flickering light, stared up with one hawk eye and stopped at the sixth card. “Aha aha, I see a journey.. to a pit on the edge of never never land. In the light of the late moon , you shall see all manner of stones” She rolled her eyes, “A darkly night with lashes and flashes, and tadpoles and cockroaches. There will be buried in the fifteenth step of the fifteenth cauldron, an unexpected thing which willy-nilly, your fortune bring. Ha ha ha” This was too much, quaking and shivering Ralph took Sunny by the hand and they ran out of the flap, as fast as their legs could carry them, into the bright reassuring sunshine. “Phew that was something”, said Ralph. “Yea, that was something. I didn’t want to and you made me go”, echoed Sunny who could not keep back his tears, and began sobbing loudly. A kindly policeman came up” “Are you lost, young men,” he asked. “No”, said Ralph huriedly “He’s just tired”. “Its best you find his parents, and get back home. Little ones, like this here chappie, can’t take this for too long”. Somehow they got back straggling and dragging, and soon with scorching words of scolding from his mother, Sunny was tucked into bed, exhausted with his mind full of goblins and geese which took the shape, funnily enough of the old witch as he dropped off to sleep.
Ralph and cronies sat by the edge of the stream, trousers pulled up and legs dangling in the water. They were happily tired, but not as exhausted as Ralph who had to run back to meet his cronies, at the ferris wheel gate after he dropped off Sunny. Now they sat around languidly. Some chewing grass, some with heir eyes open wide onto the clear blue clear sky, others drowsy with sleep. “Hey”, said Ralph “I almost forgot”, and he recounted the tale of the witch inside the magician’s tent. He tried to repeat what she said word for word, but all he could remember was “roaches and tadpoles, and a pit and an unexpected thing by the moonlight shining on stones”. “Hey”, said Josh, who suddenly sat up wide-eyed. “Do you think there’s some truth in what the old hag said. What if its true?” “Stuff and nonsense,” scoffed Ralph. “She was only trying to frighten us, seeing that we were children she was roking us out of our money, with all that gobbedly gook about “stones with moonlight shining!” I bet that’s a grave yard, said Dundy, catching up with the spirit of excitement that Josh had unleashed. What’s the fifteenth cauldron, why it’s a pit… it’s a grave… the fifteenth grave”. “O my ghosh”, said Mack, also dancing up and down with eagerness. “What if there is a treasure there instead of a skeleton….., cockroaches and mice only gnaw at old flesh and bones, don’t they? “Awgh,” said Ralph. “You are all looney and gruesome. What if there’s a treasure there”, he mimicked” Don’t you know that there are only bodies in graves.”But what if that’s true, what if there is something other than a dead body.. fifteenth line of the fifteenth grave” exclaimed Dundy.”Fifteenth line from the fifteenth grave.. from where, you old idiot”, said Ralph trying to simmer down his three cronies, who always had vivid imaginations and an uncontrolled spirit of adventure. “Why, from the gate of the cemetery, its logical, don’t you see”, replied Mack. “You are all as spooky as that old witch, I give up. Anyway don’t you know it’s criminal to go digging up in graveyards. Like to be in the lock up, do you? What will our parents say? We shall be the laughing stock of not only the neighbourhood, but of all our other school mates. Give it up. Hey what say you, shall we have a dip in the river”, said Ralph, trying to change the topic. Swim they did, but give up their newly intriguing topic of mystery and adventure, they did not.
In all their free time, back and forth they went in their analysis of the gipsy’s words. Many a time, they came very near to going into the fortune teller’s tent, when they went to the fair, to find out for themselves, whether she really existed but at the last moment, they had cold feet and bunked. But the thought that had sparked a spirit of adventure never left them: Mack, Josh and Dundy. They tried their best to get Ralph involved in their discussions. They even persuaded him to go for a casual stroll around the cemetery, which looked harmless enough, quiet and serene in the bright daylight. But Ralph wouldn’t budge.
However, the trio never ceased to make Ralph repeat every word that the gipsy had said, till Ralph got tired ,and one day upped and left their back and forth talk about the intrigue, saying he had nothing more to do with their macabre intentions. Were they macabre intentions? The trio reasoned not. They were not comtemplating digging up the spot. They were not thinking of excavating dead bodies. They only felt it was reasonable to poke around, especially since the fifteenth grave which they had marked out in their explorations, was hidden away at the edge of the cemetery, and all they had to do was to take fifteen steps away from it..The mound which they discreetly explored, was also shrouded by profuse branches of the willow tree, which made it hard to see from the gate of the cemetery. Ralph felt very uneasy, The trio on the other hand, felt he was a spoilt sport whenever their meetings veered around to the topic. Finally Ralph gave in, but just about. He would not, he repeated not, take part in their diggings. He would only stand at the cemetery gate and keep watch and warn them if someone was coming near. But since it was to be a night-time adventure, he would have to be very alert, to see in the dark, to keep his ears perked up for the sound of footsteps. He decided that he would also take a powerful torch, so that he could see in the distance, while the trio decided to take with them tiny battery bulbs, so that they could keep the light to a minimum, while they went about their digging.
“How deep should we dig, and how long will it take?” ,they asked themselves. So for practice they used the wooded lot of a farm where there was a clearing space, far from observant eyes, and practiced. It was hard work. They timed themselves. Six feet, three diggers as fast as they could and it would take two whole hours?”Phew, that’s a long time” said Ralph hesistantly. But once set on the adventure, dig they would. They waited for a bright clear moon night. They were methodical, these three. They consulted an almanac, read the newspapers for the times the moon would rise and wane, and a weekday , when weary workers would be grateful to get into their homes and have a good dinner snug by the fireplace, for this was a nippy autumn season. Thus they reasoned, there would be no onlookers or passers by.
The night they waited for anxiously and about which they spoke in conspiratorial tines, had at last arrived. All four of them to the surprise of their parents, said they were tired after dinner and were going to bed. But when the lights were out and all was silent, with everyone in bed, the trio fully dressed, rose from their beds, crept out in huge overcoats, and collected their gear by the woodshed near Josh’s house. It was understood that Ralph would go with them to keep guard. But when Ralph got up as carefully as he could, from his bed, his hand accidently banged into the nighlamp and it fell with a crash. “What’s that?” called his father sleepily from his parents’ bedroom. “Nothing, just a lamp fallen over”, “OK”, a grunt, and there was silence. But as ususal, Sunny was awake.
But, Ralph did not bargain for Sunny’s curiosity, who was wide awake. Since they both shared the same room, Sunny quickly awoke, put on his night light and to his astonishment saw Ralph fully dressed trying to get over the window sill. “Ralphie”, whispered Sunny in a fierce undertone, “where are you going?” “Oh! darn it”, thought Ralph, quickly slithering down into the room from the sill where already one foot was out. “Keep quiet you’ll wake up Mom and Dad” “But where are you going all dressed up, shouldn’t you be in your jamas in bed. Is it an adventure you are going on?” The pesky little twirp has too good a nose for divining the real thing. Ralph tiptoed and went as close to his ear as he could, whispering, “I’m going to watch an owl.” “Why is it different at night. Does its eyes change colour? Can I also see?” “No you can’t”, hissed Ralph.” “Yes, I can, if you can and if you won’t let me, I’ll call for mother and then you’ll be punished”. Ralph quickly put his hand over Sunny’s mouth which threatened to open again. “Ok, you pest… I’ll show you the owl and bring you back.” “Then what will you do”, persisted the pest.” will you come back too. Oh that would be exciting. I shall telll my friends you showed me an owl that had different eyes at night, won’t they be excited.” All this was said in whispers.
Ralph was getting jittery, the others would be waiting for him, he couldn’t disappoint them. He quickly dressed Sunny anyway at all in his outdoor clothes, and dragged him over the sill, muttering to himself that God should not give any boy, a brother as bratty as Sunny. Not that he did not love him, except he got under his feet and skin all the time, and wanted to be on everything, and could not understand why he could not play with grown up boys or do the things they did.
They trudged for a while, all the time Sunny tugging his coat and saying plaintively, “Where is the owl, where is the owl.” “Near the graveyard”, said Ralph sternly. Sunny cowed down, not knowing whether to be frightened or excited. The trio had already gone ahead, as they had calculated the amount of time they would have bright moonlight, and there was already a little scurry of clouds on the edge of the horizon. Sunny dug his hands into Ralph’s coat pocket and asked, “but where is the owl”. “Shut up, and keep quiet, otherwise I’ll call up the old gypsy to come and devour you”. “But I only asked”, quivered Sunny. “Shut up again, once and for all and just follow me”, grunted Ralph.
So off they trotted for well over a mile, till they came to the edge of the cemetery. Sunny could not resist saying. “But this is a cemetery, where is the owl, on which grave? Its spooky out here”, and he held onto Ralph’s coat tail. Ralph gave a low whistle, there was a low double tone whistle in response. This was the signal from the trio, that they were hard at work. Sunny was right, it was spooky. The moonlight flitted in and out of the grave stones, there was an eerie silence, except for the subdued swish swish noises of the stealthy digging. Somewhere a rat scurried by Ralph’s feet, he suppressed a yelp. In the distance, a fox let out a howl, and every branch that waved in the slight breeze seemed like a wing of Dracula fluttering in the breeze. From somewhere near, came a fluttering noise of bats settling down in the oak trees, and the rustling of autumn leaves by scurrying rabbits, afraid of the human beings near, which in turn made the humans more nervous. Josh worked away by light of the wan bulb perched on the edge. Mack was breathing hard shovelling the dirt aside. It seemed an interminably long time, when Dandy gave a little grunt as his spade touched something metallic. There was a little tringing noise. All three faces begrimed and sweaty looked down into the pit. It was hardly four feet down. Now they were shivering with fear, what was a dare turned out to be something more dreadful than they had imagined. “Was there gold and treasure in the metallic box? Was there a dead body? Was there nothing but old shoes and scrap?” Josh used a lever to pry it open. It was hard. They all tried by turns. At last the lid moved, and slowly and cautiously the lid opened up fully. Even God would have turned in his heavens, at their pandemonium. There was a loud chorus of shrieks, a stumbling and a crawling and sobbing and swearing by the three, as they flung down their tools, torches and all, and scampered as fast as their legs would to the cemetery gate. Both Ralph and Sunny were dumbfounded. The sudden shrieks, the caterwauling the dashing around from the hanging willow tree in the dark shadows, seemed as if banshees and vampires were floating around devouring josh, Mack and Dundy, with glee. They quavered in their boots.
Suddenly all three of the diggers came tumbling out of the gate helter skelter, breathing hard, with frightened eyes, and hollow gasps. “What’s up”, asked Ralph urgently as he and Sunny followed them hurriedly. The trio were speeding away, as fast as their wobbly legs would carry them, while Ralph and Sunny trailed behind, trying to catch up with them. “There’s a, there’s a….”, gulped josh without stopping in his tracks. “What’s there?”, asked Ralph, dragging Sunny with him who could hardly keep up. “There’s a body…, a body”, screamed Mack.. “fully dressed .. oh Jesus what did we do.” Finally, their breath catching up, they all collapsed behind the chicken shed in Mack’s father’s farm, causing the chickens to protest, cackling loudly and swirling their feathers around. “Hush”, said Mack, “we’ll wake up my parents”. They sat still in glum breathlessness, till Mack said slowly and unbelievingly. “A treasure! what dumb fools, what did we think we’d find in a stinking old graveyard.” It was on the tip of Ralph’s tongue to say, “I told you so,” but the better part of wisdom forbade him. These chaps were beaten, mentally and physically, already.
Josh who had first manoeuvred this adventure, or so they had called it, caught his breath, and said slowly and in measured tones, as if he were willing himself not to get up and run for his life.” We had dug only four feet, and were prepared to go the whole hog.. but.. but…”. “But what?”, prompted Ralph, who seemed to be the only sane one while Mack and Dandy sat dumbly looking into space..” “There was Mr Macintosh, with his picnez and goatee looking as if he were asleep, lying dressed in his best togs.. Bah no cockroaches and tadpoles and mice… but a Mr Macintosh, as if he had just lain down there to have a good sleep.” “And him a treasure” added Dandy bitterly, speaking for the first time.
“Aw my ghosh”, said Josh as an after thought, “we have to go back there, we’ve left our torches and shovels, and all that splatter of gravel around. Oh God we’ll surely be found out and be put into the pound” “Not pound”, piped up Sunny who was unperturbed but intrigued with all these going ons, with the older boys looking so frightened now. Not he, although he was also out of breath for running so fast to catch up with these so called brave older boys. “Not a pound… a jail you mean”, “Aw shut up”, said Dandy irritably, and as an after thought said, “Hey Ralph where and why did you drag this midget along?” “I couldn’t help it” said Ralph shamefacedly. He awoke while I was getting out so I thought it best to quieten him and drag this pest along” “Yes, what a pest and what good can he be for us.” “I know what”, said Sunny all bright and excited. I can go back and get you the shovels and the torches. “See I can be useful, even though you call me a midget. There’s not much I can do for Mr Mcintosh. He’s asleep already, isn’t he?…, though why he should choose a hole to lie in, I don’t know.” In the moonlight glimmer, the four exchanged glances. Certainly the diggers would never go back for the life of them. Now here were Ralph and Sunny who did not have to even glimpse at Mr Macintosh, so it would not be too much for them to bring away the shovels and torches, which would otherwise incriminate all of them. Now this naive stupid brat who thought that Mr Mactonish had chosen to sleep in the pit, hadn’t the slightest idea that he was indeed as dead as a doornail. They shuddered. Nobody said anything, although each thought it was a good idea, but were ashamed to suggest that a little mite should go out into the dark, that too into a lonely cemetery and retrieve their tools. Ralph cleared his throat, and said “Well we are all in this, in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. Sunny and I have our torch still so we will go back, and get the equipment and try to wipe out traces”, he said this with a quiver in his voice, but up spoke the squib, “Oh! that would be fun, like thieves and robbers, lets do it, after all this Mr Mcin, whatever, wouldn’t mind, we won’t disturb him, after all he is asleep.”
Again the guarded glances among the four. There was silent consent. So reluctantly Ralph and the enthusiastic Sunny set off, Ralph with trepidation, but Sunny carefree and chattering all the way, till Ralph had to tell him to shut up.
How they managed the nightmare of getting to the willow tree, quickly collecting the torches and shovels, without daring to glance into the pit, was something that Ralph would never forget to his dying day. Needless to say, he never once turned towards the pit to look at the dead Mr Macintosh, though Sunny, as inquisitive as a magpie, wanted to peer over with a torch and look at him, sleeping, fully clothed as the older boys had said? “Now why should a grown up man go to bed fully dressed”, he asked. Ralph dragged him away as quickly as he could. He did not have the courage to shovel back the gravel, and so leaving behind an opened grave, with Mr Mcintosh beaming a beautific smile on his face, they made their way back in a haphazard stumbling fashion.
The trio was waiting anxiously. “Are you sure you got all the torches and shovels?” “Yes…, yes” said Ralph, “but we couldn’t for the life of us shovel back the earth. Sorry…, its open.” “Oh my ghosh”, said Mack. “Never mind, at least we’ve left no traces behind”. And so stealthily, but much shaken, they made their way to their respective homes, and quietly slipped in through the windows they had left open, and even more stealthily, like frightened mice, they slipped into their bed covers, fully clothed. Each one of them had dreadful nightmarish dreams, as they recounted them to each other when they met in a sombre fashion the next morning. Mack dreamed that Mr Mcintosh with white gleaming eyes and a vampire cloak was coming at him with a gleaming knife. Ralph dreamed that Mr Macintosh had leapt at him while he was gathering the shovels. Dundy had no idea what he dreamt of, except a vague recollection of spiders, cockroaches and worms crawling over him. Nobody asked Sunny. He was now a forgotten entity, though, if they had asked him, he would have told them that curiously the gipsy in the fairground, could have been Mr Macintosh himself. But then nobody asked him for his opinion.
In return for his complicity (help they called it), he was promised rides everyday, for as long as the fair lasted, at their expense, on the ferris wheel and the merry go round by each one of the boys in turn. “What have we let ourselves into”, groaned Mack. “That’s nothing else to buy Sunny’s silence. What’s more concerning is when Mr Macintosh’s body is discovered, and somehow the sleuths, find we had something to do with it.”
“The body is sure to be discovered.” “Naw…”, said Josh confidently. “How can they? We’ve left no traces behind.” “What about our shoe prints,” asked Ralph. “Remember we dug up the earth and Sunny and I were all over the damp earth gathering up the tools.” “Shush”, scoffed Dandy. “How many thousands of shoe prints will they need to match up to you two…, no way.” “Aw my gosh,” said Josh suddenly, scrummaging in his pocket. “I left my swiss knife there… it must have fallen out of my pocket!” He got up and hurriedly turned his pockets inside out. There was no knife.
An awful silence fell on them at this disaster. If the police got around to it, they would surely be able to identify that the knife belonged to a boy. What if the number was tallied at the hardware store… could they not trace it back to Josh. “Quick, did you get a receipt for it?” asked Ralph hurriedly. “No I don’t think so, you know we don’t usually ask for receipts you know that.” “Suppose Mr Gander wrote it down in his receipt book. You know how careful he is, that little miser”, said Mack. Mr Gander, who owned the hardware store, was indeed a little wizened meany, who shuffled and pattered about muttering to himself, always particular to see what he had given to his customers and writing down their prices and all in his inventory book. “What’s the use of supposing? We have to wait and see what happens. We don’t even know how Mr Macintosh got there”, remarked Josh.
Yes indeed! How had Mr Macintosh got to be lying fully dressed in a shallow grave hastily uncovered for all to see. And all who were curious indeed had gotten to the graveyard as soon as the grapevine was spread by the garrulous cemetery supervisor. The next morning people came into the cemetery, and were gaping into the pit. They gaped and gossiped, till the police came and cordoned off the area. The police went about pompously peering here and there, looking for telltale clues, and writing earnestly in their little notebooks, till the chief constable came around and barked out orders to them. They busied themselves all the more scrupulously, till one of them gave an excited exclamation and held up a much used Swiss knife! Now the mystery was, who did the Swiss knife belong to! And who indeed had done Mr Macintosh in?
The crime was the event of the century for the little town of Hadshire. Never had they had such a mystery, and a curious one at that. For Mr Macintosh was a well known public figure. He was the owner of the Forgery, and the Intish industries on the outskirts of town, which offered a livelihood to many of the townsfolk. He was also a well known philanthropist and many charitable institutions were named after him. Who would have wanted him dead?
All was quiet on the part of Josh, Ralph, Dundy and Mack. Sunny who bubbled to open his mouth, shut it quiet, in promise of his treats at the fair. It was only the grown ups, and the boys at school who talked and wondered and gawked at this mysterious crime. The adults talked in hushed tones, and the children in loud voices. But stilled were the voices of the foursome. A fearful boding shadowed them. Till one day, Ralph’s father at breakfast, gulping down his coffee and reading the newspaper at the same time, gave a loud explosive, “Oh God, it seems that Mr Gander has identified the person to whom he sold the incriminating Swiss knife. He says it’s somebody from this town, but he cannot remember the name. Sunny, with his mouthful of cereal, and innocently unaware of the implications said cheerfully, “I know who’s… Its…” Just in time, he caught Ralph’s warning glance. But the cat was out of the bag.
Many many things were out of the bag after that! Ralph’s father got the story out of Ralph. Josh’s father got the story out of Josh. Dandy and Mack’s fathers also got their versions. The fathers had a close circuit discussion, as to what to do. All four boys were grounded, and deprived of their pocket money for three whole months. What was worse and so embarrassing were the questions asked endlessly by the chief constable and his men, which made them feel shamefaced not only in their own families, but also in the neighbourhood.
The only relief was that, strangely enough they were considered heroes by their classmates. “Coor”, said one. “Imagine you discovering the body. How did you know? Did you follow the criminals when they buried the old man… How did you know. Who was the murderer? Did you see the murder being done?” said another with open admiration: “Splendid. What nerve… I say you are sleuths following this case. But how did you get as far as seeing the burying of the old man?” “Did you think you’d solve this case on your own… Cool man” “What nerve… What did you tell the chief… have you given him clues.” The foursome only smiled and made light of the whole thing. Josh had the nerve to shrug his shoulders and say, “We would have caught the murderer red-handed… only thing he got away… in the dark.” “What a cool liar”, commented Ralph. “How else are we going to get them off our backs”, retorted Josh.
It was days and weeks, of reporting in the newspapers. The Chief Constable was after all a human being, and while he strongly admonished the children for their foolhardiness, he said to the parents: “Boys will be up to pranks.” “Did we not do such foolish things when we were young?” “Foolish” snorted Dundy’s father. “Stupidity and brazenness, I would say. Yes we were up to pranks in our schooldays, but did we ever dig up graveyards.” “Ho ho”, chortled the Chief Constable, “given half a chance we would have” and he winked broadly at Josh’s father. “But we are getting there, mind you, if the boys had not come upon that spot, how would we have found the body, and without the body, there is no evidence, you should know that. I think those rascals in fact have done us a good deed.” “Good deed indeed”, said Mack’s father who was red in the face, since he was the parson of the village, and it wouldn’t do for the parson’s son to set such an example. Mack’s father was terribly mortified, and for several Sundays after that, he would preach about fire and damnation on criminals, and stare glaringly at his son’s downcast face from time to time, as he sat in the pew on Sundays.
One Sunday afternoon, the Chief Constable came bursting into the family room while Ralph’s father was having a snooze behind the Sunday paper. “Mr Lytton, ah Joseph… I mean,” he said “We’ve found the criminal… guess what, he had left clear finger prints on Mr Mac’s shoes, while shoving him in. Apparently he was a Union leader, and was asking for some benefits… bribe… you might say, to keep the men quiet from asking for more wages. Mr Mac refused and not only ordered him out, but also called a meeting and told the men what kind of a man their leader was. That man, you know him, James Leder, a first class scoundrel, had it in for Mr Mac, because he lost face in front of his followers. So that night, after a charity meeting he knifed old Mr Mac in the back while he was walking up the steps into his home from the car, dragged him into his truck and hastily put him in the pit, hoping none would discover him.” The chief constable was beaming, “Thanks to your boys, inspite of their misplaced adventure, we would have never thought to have found Mr Mac there, the place was too obscure.” He beamed again, “In fact we are thinking of giving a citation to the boys.” He coughed, “Of course we won’t say anything about their intention. All that we will say is that they accidently saw this burial while they were moonlighting… shall we say?” “Moonlighting, my foot” said Josh’s father gruffily, “Mooney calves, I would say”, and at the ridiculousness of it, they both burst out laughing and thought over the whole story over a glass of beer.
To this day, the gang never went out in the dark, nor did they even begin to think about treasures. As for the state fair, they studiously avoided the magician’s tent, any magician’s tent, for that matter, when the fair came around annually. As for Sunny, do you know, he still holds them to ransom. Not for the reason that he was with them that fateful night, not for the reason that he was a sort of accomplice, not for the reason that he extracted a yearly ransom from them of rides at the fair. Guess? he was mum… quite mum… that it was he who had brought back the shovels and torches from the pit, in which Mr Macintosh slept. For if he did tell… then the Chief Constable would have to scratch his balding head again, and find out why, why at all did these boys intend to dig up Mr Macintosh from his grave? According to his records, the boys had said that they had discovered someone burying Mr Macintosh… so what would be the outcome of this new puzzling story about shovels and torches.! Nobody talks, but Sunny beams mischievously when he looks at the uncomfortable faces of the foursome gang!
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