The Trail of Gemma Caulfield (Akre Island 2)

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Chapter 9

They lingered in the graveyard a little longer, to take pictures of the three important stones and to see if there were any other Caulfield stones hidden by the snow. When they walked back to the shop, Hallie was chatting to an older man while he paid for some things. They slipped past the pair, with a smile at Hallie, and went into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Hallie joined them. “Did you find anything?”

“We found Gemma’s tombstone,” Cassidy explained, pulling up the photo on her phone to show Hallie. “And then we found her brother’s, which mentioned that he had a daughter named Harriet Rose—”

“—Rose Caulfield,” Hallie read off of the photo. She flipped to the next picture, the one of the Page tombstone. “Yeah. So that’s my grandma. Some people used to call her Hattie so I’m sort of named after her. So she’s related to Gemma. Her niece.”

“Making you her great-great-niece,” Cassidy added.

“Wow.” Hallie put down the phone. “Now that I’m thinking about it, I did know that grandma had an aunt who died pretty young, but I always just assumed she was a teenager or something. Not an eight-year-old.”

“Does your grandma still live in East?” Cassidy asked.

“No, she’s in town with my parents,” Hallie said. “You know what?” she said suddenly, “We should go visit her. She always loved telling me stories about growing up on the farm and helping take care of the animals. I don’t know if she knows anything about Gemma, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask, right?”

Cassidy glanced at Simon. “Well, we don’t want to bother her if it’ll be too hard to think about.”

“I’ll call her right now,” Hallie said, getting to her feet. “Are you guys hungry? I’m starving. Can you just whip together a sandwich for me? I’ll be right back.” she rushed into the hallway.

Cassidy glanced at Simon again, this time more shocked than before. “She moves fast when she’s interested in something.”

“Yeah. I like her,” he agreed, and he headed for the fridge. “What kind of sandwich would you like?”

Hallie ate her sandwich as she drove them into town. She asked them more questions about Gemma, but they had already told her everything they knew. At least everything that didn’t come from watching a ghost mime a fight. She asked about the other ghost stories they had researched, and Cassidy brought out her notebook and read out the different names and notes she had made, carefully avoiding any that specifically mentioned Simon. Hallie listened intently, making comments whenever she had an idea or noticed a connection.

Cassidy was so caught up while talking to her that when they pulled up outside a cute little bungalow, she had almost forgotten what their trip was even for. Hallie led them into the house and introduced them quickly to her father, an energetic man who was nearly exactly like Hallie. They heard Hallie’s mother’s voice from somewhere off in another room, and Hallie popped into the room quickly to reply. When she came back she was carrying a tray of tea and cookies, and she motioned with her head for Cassidy and Simon to follow her down the hall.

“Hi Grandma,” she said, stepping through an open doorway into a cozy room overlooking the backyard. Hallie put down the tray and went to give her grandmother a hug, chatting quickly the whole time. Cassidy looked around the room, and realized that it was filled with paintings. Canvases were stacked up against the wall, and watercolours lay in piles on a long table against the wall. Hallie’s grandmother was sitting in front of an easel, painting a beautiful snowy scene. She put aside her paints to return Hallie’s hug.

In a moment they were all sitting down, Hallie and her grandmother on the couch, Cassidy in an armchair, and Simon had been directed to pull over the stool in front of the easel. Hallie had pretty much explained everything already, but Cassidy did it again, more slowly, and with more details. When they were done, Hallie’s grandmother, who insisted they call her Harriet, nodded.

“My father didn’t talk about his sister much,” she said. “So I didn’t talk about her very much, either. He loved her a lot. I could tell, because the few times she did come up he would get quiet. He blamed himself, and he told me why once. He and Gemma had a fight, about something very small. He was angry at her for not doing a chore, I think. He told me that Gemma ran away because of that fight. He tried to find her. He and my grandfather almost froze to death trying to find her. It was really hard on the family, of course. He told me that I used to look like her. Hallie, honey, can you get that album for me.”

Hallie sprung to her feet and pulled down a huge photo album, which she gently put on the table. It opened with a creak, and Harriet started flipping through pages and pages of black and white photos. Finally she found one and slipped it out of the little paper corners which had been holding it in place, and held it out to Cassidy.

In the photo Harriet did look a lot like Gemma. It was a summer picture; she was wearing a pretty dress and instead of braids her hair hung loose and wavy around her shoulders. But Harriet looked so similar to Gemma that Cassidy would have believed it was a picture of the ghost. She offered it to Simon so he could take a look.

“Grandma,” Hallie spoke up again. “Did you ever hear anything about the ghost story? Mysterious footprints showing up in the snow?”

“I never heard other people talking about it,” Harriet said. “But we certainly had footprints appear around the house, when we still lived on the farm. We never talked about them. It was just something that happened that we all acknowledged. My parents lost the farm in a tornado, a few years after I married grandpa and moved into that lovely little shop. I used to think father was relieved to see it go.”

“So…” Hallie started again, and Cassidy was glad she was the one to broach the weird questions. “Do you think those footprints were Gemma?”

“I haven’t thought about it in years,” Harriet admitted. “But yes, they might have been. I like the idea of Gemma visiting the farm.”

Cassidy wrote down Harriet’s story while Hallie put away the photo album. “Thank you so much for talking to us. This was really helpful.”

“You’re very welcome, my dear. In fact, I’m not surprised you’re here asking about ghosts.”

Cassidy glanced up from her notebook, and must have looked as puzzled as she felt, because Harriet laughed.

“I met your uncle Charles two or three times. He was also interested in ghosts. But I never thought to tell him about Gemma. I’m glad someone’s heard the story now. Maybe it’ll give the poor girl some peace.”

“I hope so,” Cassidy agreed, with a smile.

They stayed a little longer, just chatting with Harriet. And then Hallie’s parents invited them to stay for an early dinner, so they did. Cassidy took advantage of their phone to give her own parents a call. It was dark by the time they started driving back to East, and much quieter in the car. Simon was sitting up front, and Cassidy stared out the window in the back, her mind flooded with everything they had learned about Gemma, and wondering how to fit all those pieces into some way to help her.

Even though it was dark, it wasn’t late, and they decided to spend some time helping Hallie scan some more newspapers before going to bed. Then Hallie went up early, and said they could keep working if they wanted to.

So they did, and between switching out the papers in the scanner, they talked about Gemma.

“She asked us to find her brother Jerold,” Simon said. “And we have, to the best of our abilities. Maybe if we tell her about his family, Harriet, Hallie and her dad, she’ll be comforted.”

Cassidy had been thinking something similar. “I don’t think just telling her will be enough,” she admitted. “If she was haunting the farmhouse, she must know about Harriet. But maybe—Oh, do you think that tornado happened around the same time Charles wrote about footprints in town?” Then she shook her head, because it wasn’t the line of thought she was trying to follow. “What if we bring Hallie with us?”

“To talk to Gemma?”

Cassidy nodded.


“I know,” Cassidy said. “I know it’s a lot. But she’s so interested in this story, I think she’ll take it in stride, don’t you? I think we need to tell Hallie the whole story, and we need to take her out with us.”

Simon nodded after a moment. “OK. Yes. But tonight?”

“No, let’s tell her tomorrow,” Cassidy said. “We have to figure out exactly how we’re going to tell her. Maybe we could take her out to the place the farm used to be, as well.”

“All right,” Simon agreed. “Tomorrow.”

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