The Pretty Little Girl
Archie Ledbetter

The pretty little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, Mean old Daddy
Runned off from her farm.
The pretty little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, Mean old Daddy
Runned right into my arms.
The pretty little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, Mean old Daddy
Wanted to do some kissin.
The pretty little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, Mean old Daddy
Soon enough showed up misssin.
Then the mean old Daddy, he came lookin,
He came lookin, he came lookin
For his little baby.
And the pretty little girl, she done tole me,
She done tole me, she done tole me,
I ought to be goin, maybe.
So I left the little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, Mean old Daddy
Kissed her one last time.
I left the little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, Mean old Daddy
And made up one last rhyme.
Her Daddy comed up and seen her a sittin,
Seen her a sittin, seen her a sittin,
Right there by the tree.
He comed over and sat down beside her,
Sat down beside her, sat down beside her,
While I was up there needin to pee.
Well the pretty little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, mean old Daddy,
Told him she was wantin to go home.
And the pretty little girl with the mean old Daddy,
Mean old Daddy, mean old Daddy,
Never got to hear her pome.


     You never seen quite the fuss as happened when I was reading my poem assignment in front a the class. Actually, I didn’t read it, but sang it while I stomped my foot and clapped my hands so I could be my own band also. 
     Miss Martin, a course, was the first one up and demanding I stop this lewd and inappropriate demonstration. The louder she yelled at me to stop, the louder I singed and the harder I clapped and stomped. The boys was all hootin and hollerin along with me, standin on their desks and fillin the aisles, and the girls was all singin along while wishin and hopin it was about them. I seen two or three of them blushin to no end, tryin with all their might to hold their emotions in check and keep theirselves from runnin right up to the front a the room and throwing theirselves all over me and beggin me to kiss them too. When I got done, most a the whole class clapped loud for me, in spite of Miss Martin’s protesterations, which were to no avail. When I was done and she finally got order back in the class, she announced that I will of course receive an F for this outlandish behavior, and that anyone else who has thoughts of repeating something like this should sincerely think twice about it if they didn’t think she was serious. 
     Percy Larson raised his hand, and although she managed to avoid it for over five minutes, eventually she had to call on him because the rest of the class was keeping their hands to theirselves waiting to hear Percy’s question. 
     “Yes, Mr. Larson,” she finally said.
     Percy looked all around the room for Mr. Larson, who he thought was only his Father, and not seeing him, continued to hold up his hand until she finally called on “Percy.” 
     “He warn’t talkin about you, was he?” Percy asked, which caused all manner of snickers and giggles. 
     “Why, I never!” she claimed loudly.
      “You never kissed nobody?” he asked, genuinely in disbelief that such could be so, even someone like Miss Martin, who was not among the best looking of women.
     Well, Miss Martin went off on one a her famous rants about whatever she may or may not have done is none of anyone else’s business, especially children of all things, and that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for not plugging our ears early in the poem so that we would not be the recipients of such unadulterated trash into our poor, innocent minds, and that she was now forever going to wonder if her decision to allow such a rabble rouser as me to speak in front of the class was going to forever corrupt our poor, innocent minds for the rest a our lives. When she got done, and went into her contemplatering look, Emily Prater spoke for all of us.
     “Don’t worry, Miss Martin. You didn’t do anything wrong. And besides, we know about all that stuff already anyway.” She looked straight at me with a small smile on her face as she said it.
     Well, Miss Martin’s eyes rolled right up into her head, and she put her hand on her forehead just while her whole face was beginning to turn red and then she fainted dead away right there in front of us.

     Word got around town about it all, and it seemed to divide the town in two, at least for the issue of Miss Martin.       Although she would of like it to be about my poem, it was more about whether or not she was appropriately prudish, and whether or not she had sufficient control of the classroom to be an effective influence on our lives. The only person in town who wanted it to be about the poem was Father O’Shaunessey, who said that the mere fact that the poem had spread beyond the classroom proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the town was on a clear and slick path to hell, and we all needed to come to church, put our dollar in the pot, and have our sins washed away so we might— might— avoid the perils of hell which certainly accompanied such depravity.
     When I heard that, I felt a need to go to the Father’s church and do a confession. 
     He did some mumbling in Irish or some other language that I didn’t understand, and then asked me what it was that I needed to confess. 
     “I lied,” I said.
     “That can be a very serious thing,” he said seriously. “What in particular did you lie about?”
     “Well, it’s this. I wrote this poem for school, and I really meant for it to be honest as the day is long, but when I got to certain parts, I felt like it warn’t really anyone else’s business what me and a certain girl did, so I left them parts out. Now, because of the famosity of the poem, there is lots of speculation about whether or not it really happened and who or who isn’t the girl involved. Should I a just tole the whole story instead a just a part a it?”
     I heard him gasp when I got to my question. I knowed along that he was expecting me to come in and be all contrite and apologetic about writin such a depraved account a some private time, and when I asked only whether or not I should of been more explicit, it tossed him for a loop.
     “I mean, there’s the part that happened when my hands just happened to touch her right on the….” I began.
     “Enough!” he blurted. 
     “Enough of what? I come in here to get cleansed from my sins, although I ain’t the most certain I done anything to need cleansed from, and if I don’t tell you what it is that I done that might or might not need the cleansin, then how are you going to know if I need it or not?”
     “I am sorry for my outburst, my son. You may continue.”
     “Miraculously, I feel much better without tellin you more. I must of got cleansed without water or nothin. It’s a miracle. I’m going to go spread the good word that my sins is forgived for not telling what happened after I touched her right on the…, well, and to make it all right with every one, I’m goin to come straight and tell the whole story.”
     “I do not think that is a good idea, son.”
     “Don’t worry Mr. O’Shaunessey, I’ll give you all due credit for my change a heart, and be sure to tell them that you confidered me to do it.”
     I got up to leave without saying any more thank yous or good byes, and he come out a his little room like he was shot out with a cannon. “You have grossly misunderstood our conversation. I most certainly did not urge you to tell your story in more detail. In fact, I urged you to ask forgiveness for what you have already told, and hope for your own soul that it was all a lie, and the lie is what you need to be forgiven for and not the act itself.”
     “So I can’t tell nobody more a what happened?”
     “I would advise against it.”
     “I will give it considerable and serious thought, Mr. Reverend. But I’m leanin toward since I been cleaned from all my sins up to now regarding such an event, I might as well help all the other poor souls in town who’s spendin all their time speculaterin on what might a happened and with who, and relieve them of of their anxieties and all, by tellin the whole unadulteratered story, right down to the last totem. Helpin all them other people is the least I can do for me gettin cleansed myself. Yessir, I’m not thinkin about myself any more, no sir, not one bit. I’m going to help all them others who need it, right out a the goodness a my heart and for no other reason.”
He was still stutterin around when I left, having changed from regular talk to the Irish talk, holding his cross up to his face and kissing it as he held it out toward me. It felt good to receive his thankfulness that I had saw the light and was about to send the whole town to him with their dollars and confessions about what they had imagined.
     Yes, I felt real good.

     I left the church and the first person I seen was Emily Prater’s daddy, who when he seen me got a red face and clenched his fists and come up to me like he was going to beat me to ashes, but bein freshly cleansed I figured I could stand there and maybe get him to go in and confess his intents for me instead a carryin them out right here on First Street. 
He stopped right in front of me, no more than a breath away, less than a breath, actually, as I could smell the whiskey pouring out of him. 
     “Well hello, Mr. Prater. How are you this fine morning?”
     “You low down, no good scum, I’m going to tear your hide off and feed it to the dogs, and then feed the rest of you to the catfish for what you done to my daughter.”
     I acted surprised by his statements, maybe a little too surprised. “And exactly what did I done that makes you so upset, Mr. Prater?” A little too contrite.
     “You know what you done, and so does the rest of the town. Her reputation been ruined. Our good name has been soiled. All because you and your deviant desires.”
     “Why would you think any of that?” I asked as calmly as could be expected.
     “Don’t play no innocent game with me you little skunk. I heard that song you sung, and I know what you did.”
     “There must be some mistake. That poem was all fictitional. It was as made up as Mrs. Grimes is on Sunday morning.     There warn’t a bit of truth to it, and even if there was, it wouldn’t a been about your daughter, who would never do nothing to soil your family name. And the song had a mean old daddy in it. How could it of been about her if it had a mean old daddy? Tell me that, Mr. Prater. Why, every one knows you’re the kindest, most upstanding daddy in the whole county.”
He was as much taken aback as the Reverend had been just a few minutes prior. I could tell my words was turnin in his mind, him wantin both to whip me good and to accept the notion that he was kind and upstanding.
     “And you should know that your daughter would never have nothin to do with the likes of a boy like me,” I added, outright lyin for the first time since I been cleansed. 
     “Are you lying to me, boy?” he asked seriously.
     “No, sir, I ain’t lyin. On my grandmother Lucille’s grave, I ain’t lyin,” I said, lyin for the second time. So much for being cleansed and reformed.
     “I’m a gonna be watching you,” he said, his finger wagging at me and even touching the end of my nose. “I’m a gonna be watching you close. You come near my daughter, I’ll kill you dead.”

     The next person I run into was Percy Larson, who was my best friend because he was my only friend. He was agitated too, but not so much as Mr. Prater had been.
     “Why’s you so red, Percy?” I asked.
     “I’m red because I’m mad,” he replied, stating the obvious like he always did.
     “Bout what?”
     “Bout all the stuff you done with Emily Prater and every other girl in town. They’s all argumenting about who done what, but it’s all who done what with you. I’m suppose to be your friend and you ain’t told me one thing about kissin girls and all that other stuff. No sir, not one word about it.”
     “I ain’t kissed no girls,” I assured him, the lies now piling up faster than I could count. “Don’t you think I would a tole you if I had? The first thing a guy does when he kisses a girl it run all over town and spread it around like salt on a ham. You ever knowed a guy not to brag about a kiss?”
     He pondered that question for nearly two minutes before answering, “Now that you mention it, no.”
     “There you have it.”
     “Have what?”
     “What’s ‘it?’”
     “I can’t explainerate it all to you now, but at least you know I ain’t kissed a girl and not tole you.”
     “As the day is long,” I lied.

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In a rare appearance in school, Archie Ledbetter sings a song he wrote about a girl with "a mean old daddy." A day later, the daddy threatens Archie with harm if he comes near the daughter again. A day after that, while skipping school with his friend Percy, the two witness the father's body being dumped into the river at their favorite fishing spot. 

As the most obvious suspects, the two are tossed into jail and tried for the murder. In a surprise, someone else confesses to the crime, and then another. From then on, Archie and Percy are dedicated to finding out what really happened and who actually did it. The two amateurs follow lead after not so good lead, into trouble and away from it, until finally all of it comes together in what Archie says can only be considered Serendiptery