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In 1909, after spending several months back at the Lovell House Home for Orphaned and Abandoned Boys, eleven-year-old Gib returns to live on the Thornton ranch, where his natural way with horses helps to make him feel at home.
As Caesar and comet trotted down Lovell Avenue, Gib couldn't help turning to look back. Leaning out over the buggy's spinning wheels, he almost forgot to breathe as he watched time and distance shrink the Lovell House Home for Orphaned and Abandoned Boys down to size. All the way down from an evil fairytale castle, into a big old ugly mansion house, and finally to nothing more than a dwindling shadow. And then no more Lovell House. Never again, for good and always.
For good and always? Gib took a deep, shaky breath, thinking—well, maybe. Maybe, except for the fact that the whole thing had happened once before.
"What is it, boy?"
It wasn't until she spoke that Gib noticed that Miss Hooper was staring at him. And probably had been the whole time he'd been watching the orphanage fade away to nothing.
"What is it?" she asked again. "Not happy? Not happy to be leaving that dreadful place?"
Gib smiled. "Mighty happy," he said. "And I surely do thank you for ... His grin widened. "I surely do thank you and Hy for coming to get me." His eyes moved to where his saddle lay on the seat beside Miss Hooper. "And for saving my saddle too. For talking Miss Offenbacher out of selling it." He shook his head then in a kind of wondering surprise that Miss Hooper had managed to stand up to old Offenbacher and get her to back off.
He was happy. If he'd sighed it had only been because he was remembering how it had all happened before. How he'd left Lovell House that first time heading for a new life with the Thornton family on the Rocking M Ranch. But then it had come to an end, and he'd been sent back to the orphanage. And now the whole thing was happening all over again, just like before. Here he was in the Thorntons' stylish buggy behind the same matched pair of high-stepping bays. The big buggy looked as smart and shiny as it had back then, and Caesar and Comet were as high-stepping as ever, but outside of the team and the buggy there were some important differences.
Of course the biggest change was that when it had happened before, he hadn't known the man who'd come to get him. All he had known was that a man named Henry Thornton had come to the orphanage looking for a particular boy. A ten-year-old boy named Gibson Whittaker.
But this time Gib knew the people in the buggy well. Both of them. Right there beside him on the driver's seat was good old Hy Carter, who had once been foreman of the Rocking M Ranch, but who was now, at least to hear Hy tell it, nothing more than a bum-legged old handyman. Hy's wrinkle-gullied face and tumbleweed hair looked just about the same as when he and Gib had shared not only his rickety old cabin, but also all the farmyard chores at the Rocking M.
The other buggy passenger was, of course, Miss Agnes Hooper. Thin, sharp-edged Miss Hooper, who had been Mrs. Julia Thornton's friend and companion since she was a little girl—and who was, as of today, Gibson Whittaker's rescuing angel. Gib grinned and when Miss Hooper raised a questioning eyebrow, he said, "I was just thinking as how it was probably the first time anybody ever won an argument with Miss Offenbacher."
Miss Hooper's answering glare didn't scare Gib a whole lot. From long experience he knew that she wasn't nearly as fierce as she looked. Gib's smile widened as he remembered how Miss Hooper's fierce looks used to put him in mind of Bessie, the Thorntons' good-natured old milk cow, who liked to shake her horns at you when you came into the milking shed, seeing if she could spook you some by pretending she was a real dangerous animal.
The buggy was just turning onto Fairfax Street when Gib realized that, in spite of his having two old friends there in the buggy with him, there was a feeling in the pit of his stomach that wasn't entirely comfortable. A feeling that things were changing awfully fast and that he, Gibson Whittaker, had no idea what had caused the change or where it was taking him. It was a scary mixed-up sensation, half hope and the other half dread, and it was a lot like it had been on that other day so many months before. But that time Gib had not even known where he was heading and Mr. Thornton, closemouthed and frowning, surely hadn't been looking to answer any questions.
There had been a lot of questions that Gib had wanted to ask Mr. Thornton back then. And now, on a cold and windy November day in 1909, only a few weeks before Gib's twelfth birthday, there were once again a lot of things he really needed to know. The first question, the one he had to think about for quite a spell before he could make himself come right out and say the words, was about Mr. Thornton himself.
His voice wobbled some when he asked, but Miss Hooper's answer was no-nonsense quick and sharp. "Yes, Gibson, he certainly is. Been dead since the first of last month." She looked at Gib curiously. "But you surely knew, didn't you?" Her ordinary scowl, the one Gib had learned not to take too much to heart, changed into something a lot more serious. A glare that made Gib think of the tight-skinned, flat-eared look of a horse that was about to take a good hard kick at something.
"Do you mean that Offenbacher woman didn't even let you know about Mr. Thornton's death?" Miss Hooper shook her head in a disbelieving way. "Didn't she give you the letter Julia sent you?"
Gib shook his head. "No, ma'am, she didn't tell me. But I knew something had changed, all of a sudden. I heard tell it was maybe 'cause someone had died. And I recollected how Mr. Thornton had been so sickly last spring, so I kind of wondered. But I wasn't sure about—about anything—"
"Changed?" Miss Hooper broke in. "In what way did Mr. Thornton's death change things for you?"
Gib swallowed again and, trying not to make too much of it, he almost managed a smile as he said, "Well, things just got a little bit harder for me a couple of weeks ago. Like a paddling or two, and then my saddle ... He paused, struggling to keep the way he felt about his saddle from messing up his voice. "Miss Offenbacher said she was going to sell it." He could tell his voice wasn't cooperating but he went on anyway. "When Mr. Thornton brought me back he got Miss Offenbacher to promise that I could keep the saddle. And she did promise. I heard her promise him, but then all of a sudden she was going to sell it ...
He stopped then, noticing the strange way Miss Hooper was staring at him, and how Hy had turned and was looking too.
Miss Hooper muttered something almost under her breath and then went on more loudly. "My fault and Julia's, in a way. She'd been writing the checks and I'd been mailing them, but then when Henry died so suddenly things got neglected for a bit, and ... She shrugged angrily. "That evil woman must have decided that, with Mr. Thornton gone, no one would pay them off anymore, or check up on how you were being treated."
Miss Hooper made a fierce snorting noise and turned suddenly to look toward the orphanage as if she was considering going back to tell Miss Offenbacher a thing or two. Gib didn't say anything, but just thinking about a really angry Miss Hooper marching into Offenbacher's office helped him to swallow the lump in his throat and even grin a little.
"And Mrs. Thornton and Livy?" he asked, and then corrected himself. "Olivia, I mean. How's Miss Olivia?"
Miss Hooper huffed a couple more times before she answered, "Well, it's all been very hard on Julia, of course. And on Olivia too." She sighed. "Olivia felt quite close to her father when she was younger, in spite of—" She broke off, paused, and then went on, "But now that the funeral is over and things are getting back to normal, I expect they'll both be doing much better."
Gib nodded and said he surely hoped so, before he went on to the next question. The one that had been bumping against his teeth ever since he got into the buggy. Turning toward Hy, he asked, "And Black Silk? How's Black Silk?"
Hy grinned. "The mare's fine," he said. "Getting purty fat and sassy, though, with nobody on the spread who's up to givin' her a real good workout. I saddled her up once or twice since you ... He paused and cleared his throat before he went on, grinning, "since you got the boot, but cain't say I give her much of a ride." He sighed, patted his bad leg, and started going on about all the things he couldn't do a first-rate job of anymore without "really payin' fer it afterwards." He was still describing what a long ride on a live one like Silky did to his "aching old bones" when Miss Hooper interrupted.
"Hyram Carter," she said, "could you forget about your aching bones long enough to ask that lazy team to step it up a little? At this rate we'll all be frozen solid before we get back to the ranch."
Hy grinned at Gib and, as Hy shook the reins ever so slightly, Comet twitched his left ear and Caesar flicked his tail. Gib swallowed a laugh, noticing how the old bays were giving Hy notice that they were at least considering his request. Considering, maybe, but not doing anything much about it. On the buggy's backseat, Miss Hooper went on grumbling and tucking herself into her blankets, and Gib drifted back into silent amazement at the sudden new direction his life had taken, and to wondering what it would all mean in the long run.CHAPTER 2
At some point during the long ride from Lovell House to the Rocking M, Gib noticed that his brain was beginning to feel like a mouse in a grain barrel. Like a poor old mouse he'd seen once, spinning one way and then the other without a hope in the world that it'd ever find a way to get out. And it never would have, either, if Gib hadn't given it a little boost with a grain scoop. That had been one confused and scared little rodent, and there were times during that long ride when Gib felt pretty much the same way.
He'd been on some dark and worrisome spins that had to do with Mr. Thornton's death, and with wondering how anybody, especially a person as strong-minded and important as Mr. Henry Thornton, could be right there one day, and then suddenly gone forever. Could be sitting at the head of the dinner table every night reading his newspaper, and driving his new Model T into Longford to the bank each morning, wearing his spiffy gray suits, running the bank and all that was left of the Rocking M Ranch, and then—nothing. No one in his chair at the table, or behind the Model T's steering wheel. No more Mr. Thornton, not ever. Gib had never been able to settle the idea of death into a comfortable place in his mind, and when someone he knew just up and died so suddenly, it seemed especially hard to deal with.
But in between the dark, scary spins, there were some pretty cheerful ones. A lot more cheerful. Like suddenly realizing he might never see Miss Offenbacher again, or Mr. Harding and his paddle. And even better was the spin his mind kept coming back to—the almost certainty that he'd be seeing Black Silk again before the day was over. Over and over again Gib's mind circled around how he'd walk into her stall, watching to see how surprised she'd be, and listening for her welcoming nicker. That was the best spin of all, but there were some others that were almost as good. Ones that had to do with the other horses, and with Mrs. Perry's great cooking, and with seeing Mrs. Thornton again. Mrs. Julia Merrill Thornton, who had been his own mother's friend, and who, according to Miss Hooper, had wanted to really and truly adopt him, way back when he was only six years old and a brand-new orphan.
And then there was Olivia too. Actually he was only guessing that seeing Livy again was something to look forward to. With Olivia Thornton you never knew. He reached into his pocket and brought out the bookmark she'd sent him by way of Miss Hooper. Holding it close to his chest so Hy wouldn't notice, he stared at the picture, sure enough painted by Livy herself. A picture of someone riding a beautiful black horse. The horse was probably meant to be Black Silk, and the rider ...? Gib chuckled silently. Livy wasn't much of an artist and the person in the picture could have been almost anybody. Except that the mysterious rider did have long yellow-brown curls and long eyelashes. Gib couldn't help wondering what the picture meant, because nearly everything Livy Thornton did turned out to mean something. But even after a body had figured out the meaning, there were usually a lot of leftover questions that didn't get answered. Actually, thinking about seeing Livy again was one of the things that made Gib sympathize with that trapped mouse. With any poor critter who found himself running around in circles without knowing why he was doing it
And there were other confusing turns his mind kept taking. As when he asked himself what it would be like going back to live at the Rocking M, now that Mr. Thornton was gone. Would he still be living in Hy's old bunkhouse and working as an orphan farm-out? Or would things be different now without Mr. Thornton, who'd refused to adopt Gib way back when his mother died, and who wouldn't even have taken him on as a farm-out, if poor old Hy hadn't needed help because of his broken leg.
Two or three times as the long flat miles spun past, Gib got himself almost ready to ask Hy or Miss Hooper a few questions, but he never could find words that wouldn't seem pretty cheeky. Words like "Am I still going to be a farm-out, or am I going to be really adopted this time?" Just thinking about asking such an audacious question made Gib's face heat up, and probably turn red too, in spite of the cold prairie wind.
But at last, just as the river was coming into view, he came up with a question that didn't seem quite so cheeky. Turning toward Hy, he said, "Guess I'll be staying in your cabin, like before?"
"What's that?" Hy asked, and when Gib repeated what he'd said, Hy laughed his honking laugh before he turned to Miss Hooper. "Hear that?" he said. "Wants to know if he'll be sleepin' in the bunkhouse tonight. Thought you said he'd been told about the bunkhouse."
Miss Hooper's ferocious scowl was back again. "Are you telling me you never got that letter either?" she snapped. "I declare, that Offenbacher woman ought to be arrested for interfering with the U.S. mails."
"You sent me a letter about Hy's cabin?" Gib asked.
"Yes, in part," Miss Hooper said. "About a number of things, actually. But I distinctly remember mentioning in one of my letters that the cabin's roof had pretty much disappeared during that high wind we had last summer. Hy's been living upstairs in the big house since then, and you will be too. Perry and I have a room all made up for you." The pretend frown was back again as she said, "Nothing fancy, mind you, so don't be expecting too much, but at least it will be all yours."
All yours. That was another thought that had Gib's mind spinning during the last few miles before the turnoff. As Caesar and Comet picked up the pace without even being asked to, now that they were close to home, Gib turned over the thought of having a whole room all to himself. How would it feel to go in a room all by yourself and close the door and know that no one else was going to open it unless you told them they could? Gib was still exploring the idea when right there above the road was the wooden sign showing the Rocking M brand. And a couple of minutes later the tall shade trees, the shingled roof, and then the wide porches of the ranch house came into view.
While Hy was still pulling the team to a stop in front of the veranda, Gib jumped down to help Miss Hooper. First of all she had to unwrap herself very carefully from all her robes and blankets. When that was done she started to climb very slowly down the buggy's steep steps, stopping now and then to mutter something under her breath about the long, cold ride and her aching back. By the time she finally was on the ground, the team was stomping and fretting, eager to get to the barn, and Gib was feeling pretty much the same way. Eager to get to the barn, and to Black Silk. He was hurrying as he folded Miss Hooper's lap robes, tucked them over her arm, and handed down her pocketbook. But when he started to climb back up beside Hy, Miss Hooper grabbed him by the back of his coat.
"Where do you think you're going, Gibson Whittaker?" she asked. When Gib said he was going to help Hy put the team away, she went on, "Oh, no, you're not. Not until you come in and say hello. Come in and see the family first. Human beings come before horses, boy, at least for civilized people."
Excerpted from Gib and the Gray Ghost by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Copyright © 2000 Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted September 6, 2013
Posted February 2, 2009
This book is awsome. I recommend this book to anyone who loves horses.I like this book because it is thrilling and absorbing in some parts. When I was reading the book I could not put the book down.I love horses so you think that this is going to be all about horses but it is not becaues it has other things in it like just having fun. This book is about a boy named gib, who was an orphan and got adopted to the Thornton family a second time. He is now going to school with Livy(a person in the book.)Then one day in a snowstorm a dapple gray shows up. Gib has never seen this horse. Gib sees that the dapple gray has been severely whipped and starved to death. Gib finds out later that its their neighbor's horse. Then Gib finds out where he really belongs and that is with horses.I encourage you to read it because it is the kind of book that gets people on their feet and keep on reading.I don't want to give away the story but there is a lot of suspense. And there is a little bit of mystrey in the story too.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2004
Zilpha Keatley Snyder wrote Gib and the Gray Ghost, a western fictional novel about an orphaned boy who finds a mistreated horse. A gray horse appears from a blizzard and Gib rescues it. Gib becomes the horse¿s friend and it changes both of their lives forever. The horse is happy since Gib takes care of him. Gib is happy because he makes friends with Livy and a whole bunch of other people because at the end the gray runs free from the bad guys and goes to Gib¿s school where the other kids were playing baseball and Gib saves them from being trampled. Livy is Gib¿s friend because he taught her how to ride horses. She is Mrs. Thorton¿s daughter. Gib is a farmhand for Mrs. Thorton. Gib hopes that someone will adopt him so he is part of a family. He continues to search for a family. I recommend this book to people who like to read about horses and mysteries. I would rate this book as a 9 because it is a great story about horses.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 29, 2004
GIB AND THE GRAY GHOST was actually quite a fine book, I believe. Most young persons should find it to their liking, though I would recomend the reading of its prequel, GIB RIDES HOME, first, or you may be a trifle confused. While it is not quite as exciting as some books out there, it is up there with other greats in horse story-telling. Please read this; I virtually guarentee your enjoyment. Thank you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2009
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