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Title: The Sugar Creek Gang Digs for Treasure
Author: Hutchens, Paul
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_THE SUGAR CREEK GANG DIGS FOR TREASURE_

  by
  PAUL HUTCHENS

  [Illustration]

  _Van Kampen Press_
  WHEATON, ILLINOIS



  _The Sugar Creek Gang Digs for Treasure_
  Copyright, 1948, by
  Paul Hutchens

  All rights in this book are reserved. No part may be reproduced in
  any manner without the permission in writing from the author, except
  brief quotations used in connection with a review in a magazine or
  newspaper.

  Printed in the United States of America



1


I was sitting right that minute in a big white rowboat that was docked
at the end of the pier which ran far out into the water of the lake.
From where I was sitting, in the stern of the boat, I could see the
two brown tents where the rest of the Sugar Creek Gang was supposed to
be taking a short afternoon nap--which was one of the rules about camp
life none of us liked very well, but which was good for us on account
of we always had more pep for the rest of the day and didn’t get too
tired before night.

I’d already had my afternoon nap, and had sneaked out of the tent and
come to the dock where I was right that minute, to just sit there and
imagine things such as whether there would be anything very exciting
to see if some of the gang could explore that great big tree-covered
island away out across the water, about a mile away.

Whew! it certainly was hot out here close to the water with the
sunlight pouring itself on me from above and also shining up at me from
below, on account of the lake was like a great big blue mirror that
caught sunlight and reflected it right up under my straw hat, making
my hot freckled face even hotter than it was. Because it was the style
for the people to get tanned almost all over, I didn’t mind the heat as
much as I might have.

It seemed to be getting hotter every minute though--the kind of
day we sometimes had back home at Sugar Creek just before some big
thunderheads came sneaking up and surprised us with a fierce storm. It
was also a perfect day for a sunbath. What on earth made people want
to get brown all over for anyway? I thought. Then I looked down at
my freckled brownish arm, and was disgusted at myself, on account of
instead of getting a nice tan like Circus, the acrobatic member of our
gang, I always got sunburned and freckled and my upper arm looked like
a piece of raw steak instead of a nice piece of brown fried chicken....
Thinking that, reminded me that I was hungry and I wished it was
suppertime.

It certainly was a quiet camp, I thought, as I looked at the two tents,
where the rest of the gang was supposed to be sleeping. I just couldn’t
imagine anybody sleeping that long--anyway, not any boy--unless he was
at home and it was morning and time to get up and do the chores.

Just that second I heard a sound of footsteps from up the shore, and
looking up I saw a smallish boy with brownish curly hair coming toward
me along the path that runs all along the shore line. I knew right away
it was Little Jim, my almost best friend, and the grandest little guy
that ever lived. I knew it was Little Jim not only ’cause he carried
his ash stick with him, which was about as long as a man’s cane, but
because of the shuffling way he walked. I noticed he was stopping every
now and then to stoop over and look at some kind of wild flower, then
he’d write something down in a book he was carrying which I knew was a
wild flower Guide Book.

He certainly was an interesting little guy, I thought. I guess he
hadn’t seen me, ’cause I could hear him talking to himself which is
what he had a habit of doing when he was alone and there was something
kinda nice about it that made me like him even better than ever. I
think that little guy does more honest-to-goodness thinking than any
of the rest of the gang, certainly more than Dragonfly, the pop-eyed
member of our gang, who is spindle-legged and slim and whose nose turns
south at the end; or Poetry, the barrel-shaped member who reads all the
books he can get his hands on and who knows one hundred poems by heart
and is always quoting poems; and also more than Big Jim, the leader of
our gang who is the oldest and who has maybe seventeen smallish strands
of fuzz on his upper lip which one day will be a mustache.

I ducked my head down below the dock so Little Jim couldn’t see me, and
listened, still wondering “What on earth!”

Little Jim stopped right beside the path that leads from the dock to
the Indian kitchen which was close by the two brown tents, stooped down
and said, “Hm! Wild Strawberry....” He leafed through the book he was
carrying and with his eversharp pencil wrote something down. Then he
looked around him and, seeing a Balm of Gilead tree right close to the
dock with a five-leafed ivy on it, went straight to the tree and with
his magnifying glass, began to study the ivy.

I didn’t know I was going to call out to him and interrupt his
thoughts, which my mother had taught me not to do, when a person is
thinking hard, on account of anybody doesn’t like to have somebody
interrupt his thoughts.

“Hi, Little Jim!” I said from the stern of the boat where I was.

Say, that little guy acted as cool as a cucumber. He just looked slowly
around in different directions, including up and down, then his bluish
eyes looked absent-mindedly into mine, and for some reason I had the
kindest, warmest feeling toward him. His face wasn’t tanned like the
rest of the gang’s either, but was what people called “fair”; his
smallish nose was straight, his little chin was pear-shaped, and his
darkish eyebrows were straight across, his smallish ears were like they
sometimes were--lopped over a little on account of that is the way he
nearly always wears his straw hat.

When he saw me sitting there in the boat, he grinned and said, “I’ll
bet I’ll get a hundred in nature study in school next fall. I’ve found
forty-one different kinds of wild flowers.”

I wasn’t interested in the study of plants at all, right that minute,
but in some kind of an adventure instead, so I said to Little Jim, “I
wonder if there are any different kinds of flowers over there on that
island, where Robinson Crusoe had his adventures.”

Little Jim looked at me without seeing me, I thought, then he grinned
and said, “Robinson Crusoe never saw _that_ island.”

“Oh yes, he did! He’s looking at it right this very minute and wishing
he could explore it and find a treasure or something,” meaning I was
wishing I was Robinson Crusoe myself.

Just that second a strange voice piped up from behind some sumac on
the other side of the Balm of Gilead tree and said, “You can’t be
a Robinson Crusoe and land on a tropical island without having a
shipwreck first, and who wants to have a wreck?”

I knew right away it was Poetry, even before I saw his barrel-shaped
body shuffle out from behind the sumac and I saw his fat face, and his
pompadour hair and his heavy eye brows that grew straight across the
top of his nose, like he had just one big longish eyebrow instead of
two like most people have.

“You _are_ a wreck,” I called to him, and didn’t mean it, but we always
liked to have word fights, which we didn’t mean and always liked each
other better all the time.

“I’ll leave you guys to fight it out,” Little Jim said to us. “I’ve got
to find nine more kinds of wild flowers,” and with that, that little
chipmunk of a guy shuffled on up the shore swinging his stick around
and stooping over to study some new kind of flower he spied every now
and then.

And that’s how Poetry and I got our heads together to plan a game of
Robinson Crusoe, not knowing we were going to run into one of the
strangest adventures we’d had in our whole lives.

“See here,” Poetry said, grunting himself down and sliding down off the
side of the dock and into the boat where I was, “if we play Robinson
Crusoe, we’ll have to have one other person to go along with us.”

“But there were only _two_ of them,” I said, “--Robinson Crusoe himself
and his man Friday, the colored boy who became his slave, and whom
Crusoe saved from being eaten by the cannibals, and who, after he was
saved, did nearly all Crusoe’s work for him.”

“All right,” Poetry said, “I’ll be Crusoe, and _you_ be his Man Friday.”

“I _will_ not,” I said. “I’m already Crusoe. I thought of it first, and
I’m already _him_.”

Poetry and I frowned at each other, almost half mad for a minute until
his fat face brightened up and he said, “All right, you be Crusoe, and
I’ll be one of the cannibals getting ready to eat your man Friday, and
you come along and rescue him.”

“But if you’re going to be a cannibal, I’ll have to _shoot_ you, and
then you’ll be _dead_,” I said.

That spoiled that plan for a jiffy, until Poetry’s bright mind thought
of something else, which was, “didn’t Robinson Crusoe have a pet goat
on the island with him?”

“Sure,” I said, and Poetry said, “All right, after you shoot me, I’ll
be the goat.”

Well that settled that, but which one of the gang should be the colored
slave, whom Robinson Crusoe saved on a Friday and whom he named his Man
Friday, we couldn’t decide right that minute.

It was Poetry who thought of a way to help us decide which other one of
the gang to take along with us.

“Big Jim is _out_,” I said, “’cause he’s too big and would want to be
the leader himself, and Robinson Crusoe has to be _that_.”

“And _Circus_ is out, too,” Poetry said, on account of he’s almost as
big as Big Jim.

“Then there’s only Little Jim, Dragonfly and Little Tom Till left,” I
said, and Poetry said, “Maybe not a one of them’ll be willing to be
your Man Friday.”

We didn’t have time to talk about it any further, ’cause right
that second Dragonfly came moseying out toward us from his tent,
his spindling legs swinging awkwardly and his crooked nose and
dragonfly-like eyes making him look just like a ridiculous Friday
afternoon, I thought.

“He’s the man I want,” I said. “We three have had lots of exciting
adventures together, and he’ll be perfect.”

“But he can’t keep quiet when there’s a mystery. He always sneezes just
when we don’t want him to.”

Right that second, Dragonfly reached the pier and let the bottoms of
his bare feet go ker-plop, ker-plop, ker-plop on the smooth boards,
getting closer with every “ker-plop.”

When he spied Poetry and me in the boat at the end, he stopped like
he had been shot at, and looked down at us and said with an accusing
voice, “You guys going on a boat ride? I’m going along!”

I started to say, “Sure, we want you,” thinking how when we got over to
the island, we could make a slave out of him as easy as pie.

But Poetry beat me to it by saying, “There’s only one more of the gang
going with us, and it might not be you.”

Dragonfly plopped himself down on the edge of the dock, swung one foot
out to the gunwale of the boat, caught it with his toes, pulled it
toward him, swished himself in and sat down in the seat behind Poetry.
“If anybody goes, I go, or I’ll scream and tell the rest of the gang,
and nobody’ll get to go.”

I looked at Poetry and he looked at me and our eyes said to each other,
“Now what?”

“Are you willing to be eaten by a cannibal?” I asked, and he got a
puzzled look in his eyes. “There’re cannibals over there on that
island--one, anyway--a great big fat barrel-shaped one that--”

Poetry’s fist shot forward and socked me in my ribs, which didn’t
have any fat on them, and I grunted and stopped talking at the same
time. “We’re going to play Robinson Crusoe,” Poetry said, “and whoever
goes’ll have to be willing to do everything I say--I mean everything
_Bill_ says.”

“_Please_,” Dragonfly said. “I’ll do _anything_.”

Well that was a promise, but Poetry wasn’t satisfied. He pretended
he wanted Tom Till to go along, on account of he liked Tom a lot and
thought he’d make a better Man Friday than Dragonfly.

“We’ll try you out,” Poetry said, and caught hold of the dock with his
hands and climbed out of the boat, all of us following him.

“We’ll have to initiate you,” Poetry explained, as we all swished
along together. “We can’t take anybody on a treasure hunt who can’t
keep quiet when he’s told to, and who can’t take orders without saying
‘WHY?’”

“Why?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and grinned, but Poetry said with a
very serious face, “It isn’t funny,” and we went on.

“What’re you going to do?” Dragonfly wanted to know, as we started to
march him along with us up the shore to the place where we were going
to initiate him. I didn’t know myself where we were going to do it,
but Poetry seemed to know exactly what to do and where to go and why,
so I acted like I knew too, Poetry making me stop to pick up a great
big empty gallon can that had had prunes in it, the gang having to eat
prunes for breakfast nearly every morning on our camping trip.

“What’s _that_ for?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and Poetry said, “That’s
to cook our dinner in.”

“You mean--you mean--_me_!”

“You!” Poetry said, “Or you can’t be Bill’s Man Friday.”

“But I get saved, don’t I?” Dragonfly said with a worried voice.

“Sure, just as soon as I get shot,” Poetry explained.

“And then you turn into a goat,” I said to Poetry, as he panted along
beside us, “and right away you eat the prune can!”

With that, Poetry smacked his lips like he had just finished eating a
delicious tin can. Then he leaned over and groaned like it had given
him a stomach-ache.

Right that second, I decided to try Dragonfly’s obedience, so I said,
“All right, Friday, take the can you’re going to be cooked in and fill
it half full of lake water!”

There was a quick scowl on Dragonfly’s face, which said, “I don’t want
to do it.” He shrugged his scrawny shoulders lifted his eyebrows and
the palms of his hands at the same time, and said, “I’m a poor heathen;
I can’t even understand English; I don’t want to fill any old prune can
with water.”

With that, I scowled, and said to Poetry in a fierce voice, “That
settles _that_! He can’t take orders. Let’s send him home!”

Boy, did Dragonfly ever come to life in a hurry. “All right, all
right,” he whined, “give me the can!” He grabbed it out of my hand,
made a dive toward the lake which was still close by us, dipped the can
in and came back with it filled clear to the top with nice clean water.

“Here, Crusoe,” he puffed. “Your Man Friday is your humble slave.” He
extended the can toward me.

“Carry it yourself!” I said.

And then, all of a sudden, Dragonfly set it down on the ground where
some of it splashed over the top onto Poetry’s shoes, and Dragonfly got
a stubborn look on his face and said, “I think the cannibal ought to
carry it. I’m not even _Friday_ yet--not till the cannibal gets killed.”

Well, he was right, so Poetry looked at me, and I at him, and he picked
up the can, and we went on till we came to the boathouse, which if
you’ve read “The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North,” you already know about.

It was going to be fun initiating Dragonfly--just how much fun I didn’t
know--and I certainly didn’t know what a mystery we were going to run
into in less than fifteen minutes of the next half hour.

In only a little while we came to Santa’s boathouse, Santa as you
maybe know being the barrel-shaped owner of the property where we had
pitched our tents. He also owned a lot of other lakeshore property up
here in this part of the Paul Bunyan country. Everybody called him
Santa ’cause he was round like all the different Santa Clauses we’d
seen and was always laughing.

Santa himself with his big laughing voice called to us when he saw us
coming and said, “Well, well, if it isn’t Bill Collins, Dragonfly and
Poetry,” Santa being a smart man, knowing that if there’s anything a
boy likes to hear better than anything else, it’s somebody calling him
by his name.

“Hi,” we all answered him, Poetry setting the prune can of water down
with a savage sigh like it was too heavy to stand and hold.

Santa was standing beside his boathouse door, with a hammer in one hand
and a handsaw in the other.

“Where to, with that can of water?” he asked us, and Dragonfly said,
“We’re going to pour the water in a big hole up there on the hill and
make a new lake.”

Santa grinned at all of us with a mischievous twinkle in his bluish
eyes, knowing Dragonfly hadn’t told any lie but was only doing what
most boys do most all the time anyway--playing “Make-believe.”

“May we look inside your boathouse a minute?” Poetry asked, and Santa
said, “Certainly, go right in,” which we did, and looked around a
little.

Poetry acted very mysterious, like he was thinking about something
very important, while he frowned with his fat forehead, and looked
at different things such as the cot in the farther end, the shavings
and sawdust on the floor, and the carpenter’s tools above the work
bench--which were chisels, screwdrivers, saws, planes and also hammers
and nails; also Poetry examined the different kinds of boards made out
of beautifully grained wood.

“You boys like to hold this saw and hammer a minute?” Santa asked us,
and handed a hammer to me and a saw handle to Dragonfly, which we took,
not knowing why.

“That’s the hammer and that’s the saw the kidnapper used the night he
was building the gravehouse in the Indian cemetery,” Santa said, and I
looked and felt puzzled, till he explained, saying, “The police found
them the night you boys caught him.”

“But--how did they _get_ there?” I asked, but Poetry answered me by
saying, “Don’t you remember, Bill Collins, that we found this boathouse
door wide open that night, with the latch hanging? The kidnapper stole
’em.”

I looked at the hammer in my hand, and remembered, and tried to realize
that the hammer handle I had in my hand right that minute was the same
one that, one night last week, had been in the wicked hand of a very
fierce man who had used it in an Indian cemetery to help him build a
gravehouse. Also, the saw in Poetry’s hand was the one the man had used
to saw pieces of lumber into the right lengths.

“And _here_,” Santa said, lifting a piece of canvas from something in
the corner, “is the little, nearly-finished gravehouse. The lumber was
stolen from here also. The police brought it out this morning. They’ve
taken fingerprints from the saw and hammer.”

“Why on earth did he want to build an Indian gravehouse?” I asked,
looking at the pretty little house that looked like a longish chicken
coop, like we have at home at Sugar Creek, only twice as long, almost.
Dragonfly spoke up then and said, “He maybe was going to bury the
little Ostberg girl there.”

But Poetry shook his head, “_I_ think he was going to bury the ransom
money there, where nobody in the world would guess to look.”

Well, we had to get going with our game of Robinson Crusoe, which we
did, all of us feeling fine to think that last week we had had a chance
to catch the kidnapper, even though the ransom money was still missing.



2


But say, it was a queer feeling I had in my mind as we left the
boathouse and went up the narrow, hardly-ever-used road to the top of
the hill and followed that road through a forest of jack pine and along
the edge of the little clearing. I was remembering what exciting things
happened here the very first night we’d come up North on our camping
trip. Poetry was remembering it too, ’cause he said in a ghost-like
voice so as to try to make the atmosphere of Dragonfly’s initiation
seem even more mysterious to him, “Right here, at this sandy place in
the road, is where the car was stuck in the sand, and right over here
behind these bushes is where Bill and I were crouching half scared to
death, watching him.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and he had the little Ostberg girl he’d kidnapped
right in the back seat of the car all the time and we didn’t know it
for sure.”

“How’d he get his car _un_stuck?” Dragonfly wanted to know, even though
the whole Sugar Creek Gang had probably been told it a dozen times,
every time Poetry and I had told it to them. So I said to Dragonfly,
“Well, his wheels were spinning and spinning in the sand and he
couldn’t make his car go forward, but it would rock forth and back, so
he got out and let the air out of his back tires till they were almost
half flat. That made them wider and increased traction, and then when
he climbed back into his car and stepped on the gas, why he pulled out
of the sand and went lickety-sizzle right on up this road.”

“You going to initiate me _here_?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and I
started to say, “Yes,” but Poetry said, “No, a little farther up, where
we found the little girl herself.”

We walked along, in the terribly sultry afternoon weather. Pretty soon
we turned off to the side of the road and came out into a little
clearing that was surrounded by tall pine trees. I was remembering
how right here Poetry and I had heard the little girl gasping out
half-smothered cries and with our flashlights shining right on her,
we’d found her lying wrapped up in an Indian blanket.

“She was lying right here,” Poetry said, “--right here where we’re
going to initiate you.” Poetry’s ordinarily duck-like voice changed
to a sound like a growling bear’s voice as he talked and sounded very
fierce. There really wasn’t anything to worry about, though, ’cause we
knew the police had caught the kidnapper and he was in jail somewhere,
and the pretty little golden-haired Ostberg girl was safe and sound
with her parents again back in St. Paul.

“But they never did find the ransom money,” Poetry said, which was
the truth, “and nobody knows where it is. But whoever finds it gets a
thousand dollar reward--a whole thousand dollars!”

“You think maybe it’s buried somewhere?” Dragonfly asked with a serious
face.

“Sure,” Poetry said. “We’re going to play Robinson Crusoe and Treasure
Island both at once. First we save our Man Friday from the cannibals,
and then we quit playing Robinson Crusoe and change to Treasure Island.”

Well, it was good imagination and lots of fun, and I was already
imagining myself to be Robinson Crusoe on an island, living all by
myself. In fact, I sometimes have more fun when I imagine myself to
be somebody else than when I am just plain red-haired fiery-tempered,
freckled-faced Bill Collins, living back at Sugar Creek.

It was fun the way Poetry and I initiated Dragonfly into our secret
gang--anyway, fun for Poetry and me. This is the way we did it....

I hid myself out of sight behind some low fir trees with a stick in my
hand for a gun, and Poetry stood Dragonfly up against a tree and tied
him with a piece of string he carried in his pocket.

“Now, don’t you _dare_ break that string!” Poetry told him. “You’re
going to be cooked and eaten in a few minutes! You can pretend to _try_
to get loose, but don’t you dare do it!”

I stood there hiding behind my fir trees getting ready to shoot with
my imaginary gun, just in time to save Dragonfly from being cooked.
Dragonfly looked half crazy standing there tied to the tree and with a
grin on his face, watching Poetry stack a little stack of sticks in one
place for our imaginary fire. We wouldn’t start a real fire on account
of it would have been absolutely crazy to start one, nobody with any
sense starting a fire in a forest on account of there might be a
terrible forest fire and thousands of beautiful trees would be burned,
and lots of wild animals, and maybe homes and cottages of people, and
even people themselves.

A jiffy after the stack of sticks was ready, Poetry set the big prune
can on top, then he turned to Dragonfly and started to untie him.

“Groan!” Poetry said to him. “Act like you’re scared to death! Yell!
_Do_ omething!”

Dragonfly didn’t make a very scared black man. “There’s nothing to be
afraid of,” he said; and there wasn’t, I thought--but all of a sudden
there was, ’cause the very second Poetry had Dragonfly cut loose
and was dragging him toward the imaginary fire, Dragonfly making it
hard for him by struggling and hanging back and making his body limp
so Poetry had to almost carry him, and just as I peered through the
branches of my hideout and pointed my stick at Poetry and was getting
ready to yell, “BANG! BANG!” a couple of times, and then rush in and
rescue Dragonfly, there was a crashing noise in the underbrush behind
me, and footsteps running and then a terribly loud explosion that
sounded like the shot of a revolver or some kind of a gun which almost
scared the living daylights out of me, and also out of the poor black
boy and the cannibal that was getting ready to eat him.

Say, when I heard that shot behind me, I jumped almost out of my skin,
I was so startled and frightened. Poetry and poor little pop-eyed
Dragonfly acted like they were scared even worse than I was.

When you’re all of a sudden scared like that, you don’t know what to
say or think. Things sort of swim in your head and your heart beats
fiercely for a minute. Maybe we wouldn’t have been quite so frightened
if we hadn’t had so many important things happen to us already on our
camping trip, such as finding a little kidnapped girl in this very
spot the very first night we’d been up here, and then the next night
catching the kidnapper himself in a spooky Indian cemetery.

I was prepared to expect almost anything when I heard that explosion
and the crashing in the underbrush; and then I could hardly believe
my astonished eyes when I saw right behind and beside Dragonfly and
Poetry a little puff of bluish gray smoke and about seventeen pieces of
shredded paper, and knew that some body had thrown a firecracker right
into the middle of our excitement.

“It’s a firecracker!” Dragonfly yelled at us, and then I had an
entirely new kind of scare when I saw a little yellow flame of fire
where the explosion had been, and saw some of the dry pine needles leap
into flames and the flames start to spread fast.

I knew it must have been one of the gang who’d maybe had some
firecrackers left over from the fourth of July at Sugar Creek. Quicker
even than I can write it for you, I dashed into the center of things,
grabbed up our prune can and in less than a jiffy had the fire out, and
then a jiffy later, I heard a scuffling behind me and a grunting and
puffing; and looking around quick, the empty prune can in my hands, I
was just in time to see Circus, our acrobat, scramble out of Poetry’s
fat hands, and in less than another jiffy, go shinning up a tree,
where he perched himself on a limb and looked down at us, grinning like
a monkey.

I was mad at him for breaking up our game of make-believe, and for
shooting off a firecracker in the forest where it might start a
terrible fire. So I yelled up at him and said, “You crazy goof! Don’t
you know it’s terribly dry around here and you might burn up the whole
Chippewa forest!”

“I was trying to help you kill a fat cannibal,” Circus said. He had
a hurt expression in his voice and on his face, as he added, “Please
don’t tell Barry I was such a dumb-bell,”--Barry being our camp
director.

I forgave Circus right away when I saw he was really trying to join in
with our fun and just hadn’t used his head, not thinking of the danger
of forest fires at all.

“You shouldn’t even be _carrying_ matches, to light a firecracker
with,” Poetry said up at him.

“Every camper ought to have a waterproof matchbook with matches in it,”
Circus said. “I read it in a book, telling what to take along on a
camping trip. Besides,” Circus said down to us, “we can’t play Robinson
Crusoe without having to eat food, and how are we going to eat without
a fire?” I knew then that he’d guessed what game we were playing and
had decided to go along.

“We don’t need you,” I said. “We need only my Man Friday, and a
cannibal that gets killed--”

“And turns into a goat,” Poetry cut in and said.

“Only _one_ goat would be terribly lonesome,” Circus said. “I think I
ought to go along. I’d be willing to be another goat.”

Well, we had to get Dragonfly’s initiation finished, so I took charge
of things and said, “All right, Poetry, you’re dead! Lie down over
there by that tree. And you, Dragonfly, get down on your knees in front
of me and put your head clear down to the ground.”

“Why?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and I said, “Keep still. My Man Friday
doesn’t ask ‘Why?’”

Dragonfly looked worried a little, but did as I said, and bowed his
head low in front of me, with his face almost touching the ground.

“Now,” I said, “Take hold of my right foot and set it on the top of
your neck--NO” I yelled down at him, “Don’t ask ‘_why_!’ JUST DO IT!”
which Dragonfly did.

“And now, my left foot,” I ordered.

“That’s what the blackboy did in Robinson Crusoe, so Crusoe would
know he thanked him for saving his life from the terrible cannibals,
and that he would be willing to be his slave forever,” I said to
Dragonfly. “Do you solemnly promise to do everything I say, from now on
and forevermore?” I asked, and when Dragonfly started to say, “I do,”
but got only as far as “I--” when he started to make a funny little
sniffling noise. His right hand let loose of my foot, and he grabbed
his nose and went into a tailspin kind of a sneeze, as he ducked his
neck out of the way of my foot and rolled over and said, “I’m allergic
to your foot,” which the dead cannibal on the ground thought was funny
and snickered, but I saw a little bluish flower down there with pretty
yellowish stamens in its center, and I knew why Dragonfly had sneezed.

My Man Friday, in rolling over, tumbled ker-smack into the cannibal
and the two of them forgot they were in a game and started a friendly
scuffle, just as Circus slid down the tree, joined in with them, and
all of a sudden Dragonfly’s initiation was over. He was my Man Friday,
and from now on he had to do everything I said.

Up to now, it was only a game we’d been playing, but a jiffy later
Circus rolled over and over, clear out of reach of the rest of us, and
scrambled up into a sitting position and said to us excitedly, “Hey
Gang! Look! I’ve found something--here at the foot of the tree. _It’s a
letter of some kind!_”

I stared at an old envelope in Circus’s hands, and remembered that
right here where we were was exactly where we’d found the kidnapped
girl and that the police hadn’t been able to find the ransom money, and
that the captured kidnapper hadn’t told them where it was. In fact, he
had absolutely refused to tell them. We’d read it in the newspapers.

Boy oh boy, when I saw that envelope in Circus’s hands, I imagined all
kinds of things, such as it being a ransom note or maybe it had a map
in it and would tell us where we could find the money and everything!
Boy oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!...



3


Well, when you have a mysterious sealed envelope in your hand, which
you’ve just found under some pine needles at the base of a tree out in
the middle of a forest, and when you’re playing a game about finding
buried treasure, all of a sudden you sort of wake up and realize that
your game has come to life and that you’re in for an honest-to-goodness
mystery that will be a thousand times more interesting and exciting
than the imaginary game you’ve been playing.

We decided to keep our new names, though, which we did, although we had
an argument about it first. I was still Robinson Crusoe, and Dragonfly
was my Man Friday. Circus and Poetry wanted us to call them the
cannibals, but Dragonfly wouldn’t. “I don’t want to have to worry about
being eaten up every minute. You’ve got to turn into goats right away.
Besides, one cannibal’s already been shot and is supposed to be dead.”

“You’d make a good goat yourself,” Circus said to me,--“a _Billy_ goat,
’cause your name’s Bill.”

But it wasn’t any time to argue, when there was a mysterious envelope
right in the middle of our huddle where we were on the ground at the
base of the tree where Circus had found it, so Poetry said, “All right,
I’ll be the goat, if you let me open the envelope.”

“And I’ll be the other goat,” Circus said, “if you’ll let me read it.”

“Let _me_ read it,” Dragonfly said to me. “Goats can’t read anyway.”

“You can’t either,” I said. “You’re a black man that doesn’t know
anything about civilization and you don’t know how to read.”

So it was I who got to open the soiled brownish envelope, which I
did with excited fingers, and then we all let out four disappointed
groans, for would you believe it? there wasn’t a single thing written
on the folded white paper on the inside--not one single thing. It was
only a piece of typewriter paper.

Well that was that. We all sank down on the ground in different
directions and felt like the bottom had dropped out of our new mystery
world. I looked at Friday and he at me, and the fat goat started
chewing his cud, while our acrobatic goat rolled over on his back,
pulled his knees up to his chin, and groaned, then he rolled over on
his side and, my Man Friday lying right there right then, got _his_
side rolled onto, which started a scuffle, making my Man Friday angry.
All of a sudden he remembered something about the story of Robinson
Crusoe. He grunted and said, while he twisted and tried to get out from
under the goat, “Listen, you--when Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday
got hungry, they killed and ate one of the goats, and if you don’t
behave yourself like a good goat, we’ll--”

But Circus was as mischievous as anything and said, while he rolled
himself back toward Dragonfly again and laid his head on his side,
“Isn’t your name Friday?”

Dragonfly grunted and said, “Sure,” and Circus answered, “All right.
I’m sleepy, and there’s nothing better than taking a nap on Friday,”
which he pretended to do, shutting his eyes and started in snoring as
loud as he could, which sounded like a goat with the asthma.

That reminded Poetry of something funny he’d read somewhere, and it
was about two fleas who were supposed to have lived on the island
with Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday. Both of these fleas had been
chewing away on Crusoe and were getting tired of him and wanted a
change, so pretty soon one of them called to the other and said, “So
long, kid, I’ll be seeing you on Friday.”

I just barely giggled at Poetry’s story ’cause my mind was working hard
on the new mystery, thinking about the blank piece of paper and why
it was blank, and why was the envelope sealed, and who had dropped it
here, and when, and why?

So I stood up and walked like Robinson Crusoe might have walked, in a
little circle around the tree, looking up at the limb where Circus had
been perched, and then at the ground, and at Poetry, my fat goat, who
right then unscrambled himself from the rest of the inhabitants of our
imaginary island, and followed me around, sniffling at my hand, like a
hungry goat that wanted to eat the letter I had.

Abruptly Poetry stopped and said to me, “Sh!” which means to keep
still, which I did, and he said, “Look, here’s a sign of some kind.”

I looked, but didn’t see anything except a small twig about four or
five feet tall that was broken off, and had been left with the top
hanging.

My Man Friday and the acrobatic goat were still scuffling under the
tree, and didn’t seem interested in what we were doing. “What kind of a
sign?” I asked Poetry, knowing that he was one of our gang who was more
interested in woodcraft than most of the gang and was always looking
for signs and trails and things.

“See here,” he said to me, “this is a little birch twig, and somebody’s
broken it part way off and left it hanging.”

“What of it?” I said, remembering that back home at Sugar Creek I’d
done that myself to a chokecherry twig or a willow, and it hadn’t meant
a thing.

“But look which way the top points!” Poetry said mysteriously. “That
means it’s a signal on a trail. It means for us to go in the direction
the top of the broken twig points, and after awhile we’ll find another
broken twig, and whichever way it points we’re to go that way.”

Say, did my disappointed mind ever come to quick life! Although I still
doubted it might mean anything. Right away, we called the other goat
and my Man Friday and let them in on our secret, and we all swished
along, pretending to be scouts, going straight in the direction the
broken twig pointed, all of us looking for another twig farther on.

We walked about twenty yards through the dense growth before we found
another broken twig hanging, but sure enough we did find one, and this
time it was a broken oak twig, and was bent in the opposite direction
we’d come from, which meant the trail went straight on. Then we did get
excited, ’cause we _knew_ we were on somebody’s trail.

My Man Friday was awful dumb for one who was supposed to be used to
outdoor life, though, ’cause he wanted to finish breaking off the top
of the oak twig and also cut off the bottom and make a stick out of it
to carry, and to take home with us back to Sugar Creek when we finished
our vacation. “For a souvenir,” he whined complainingly, when we
wouldn’t let him and made him fold up his pocket knife and put it back
into his pocket again.

“That’s the sign post on our trail,” Poetry explained. “We have to
leave it there so we can follow the trail back to where we started
from, or might get lost,” which I thought was good sense and said so.

We scurried along, getting more and more interested and excited as
we found one broken twig after another. Sometimes they were pointing
straight ahead, and sometimes at an angle. Once we found a twig
broken clear off and lying flat on the ground, at a right angle from
the direction we’d been traveling, so we turned in the direction it
pointed, and hurried along.

Once when Poetry was studying very carefully the direction a new broken
twig was pointing, he gasped and said, “Hey, Gang! Look!”

We scrambled to him like a flock of little fluffy chickens making a
dive toward a mother hen when she clucks for them to hurry to her and
eat a bug or a fat worm or something.

“See here,” Poetry said, “--here’s where our trail branches off in two
directions--one to the right and the other to the left.” And sure
enough, he was right, for only a few feet apart were two broken twigs,
one an oak, and the other a chokecherry, the chokecherry pointing to
the right and the oak to the left.

“Which way do we go for the buried treasure?” Poetry asked me, and I
didn’t know what to answer.

Then Poetry let out a gasp and said, “Hey, this one pointing to the
right looks like it’s fresher than the other. We certainly are getting
the breaks.”

We all studied the two broken twigs, and I knew that Poetry was right.
The one pointing to the right looked a lot fresher break than the
one pointing to the left. Why, it might even have been made today! I
thought. And for some reason, not being able to tell for sure just how
long it had been since somebody had been right here making the trail, I
got a very peculiar and half-scared feeling all up and down my spine.

“I wish Big Jim was here,” my Man Friday said. I wished the same
thing, but instead of saying it, I said bravely, “Who wants Big J--”
and stopped like I had been shot at and hit, as I heard a sound from
somewhere that was like a high-pitched trembling woman’s voice calling
for help. It also sounded a little bit like a screech owl’s voice that
wails along Sugar Creek at night back home.

“’Tsa loon,” Circus said, and was crazy enough to let out a long, loud
wail that trembled and sounded more like a loon than a loon’s wail does.

I looked at my Man Friday and at my fat goat to see what they thought
it was. Right away before I could read their thoughts, there was
another trembling high-pitched voice which answered Circus. The second
I heard it, I thought it _didn’t_ sound like a loon but like an actual
person calling and crying and terribly scared.

You can’t hear a thing like that out in the middle of the Chippewa
Forest where there are Indians and different kinds of wild animals
and not feel like I felt, which was almost half scared to death for a
minute, although I knew there weren’t any bears or lions, but maybe
only deer and polecats and coons and possums and maybe mink.

“It’s NOT a loon,” I whispered huskily, and felt my knees get weak and
I wanted to plop down on the ground and rest. I also wanted to run.

Then the call came again not more than a hundred feet ahead of us, and
as quick as I had been scared, I wasn’t again, for this time it did
sound exactly like a loon.

In a jiffy we all felt better and said so to each other. The newest
broken twig right beside us was pointing in the direction the sound
came from, so we decided there was probably a lake right close by which
is where loons nearly always are--out on some lake somewhere swimming
along like ducks, and diving and also screaming bloody murder to their
mates.

We all swished along, being very careful to look at the broken twigs
so we’d remember what they looked like when we got ready to come back,
which we planned we’d do after awhile.

My fat goat and I were walking together ahead of my Man Friday and my
acrobatic goat. We dodged out way around fallen tree trunks and old
stumps and around wild rose bushes and also wild raspberry patches and
chokecherries, and still there wasn’t any lake anywhere.

It certainly was a queer feeling we had though, as we dodged along,
talking about our mystery and wondering where we were going, and how
soon we would get there.

“’Tsfunny how come Circus found that envelope back there with only a
blank piece of white paper in it,” I said. “Do you s’pose the kidnapper
dropped it when he left the little Ostberg girl there?”

“I suppose--why sure, he did,” Poetry said.

“How come the police didn’t find it there then, when they searched the
place last week for clues. If it’d been there then, wouldn’t they have
found it?” I asked those two questions as fast as I could ’cause that
envelope in my pocket seemed like it was hot and would burn a hole in
my shirt any minute.

Poetry’s fat forehead frowned. He was as struck as I was, over the
mystery.

All our minds were as blank as the blank letter and not a one of us
could think of anything that would make it make sense, so we went on,
following our trail of broken twigs. It was fun what we were doing, and
we didn’t feel very scared ’cause we knew the kidnapper was in jail. In
fact, we were all thrilled with the most interesting excitement we’d
had in a long time, ’cause for some reason we were sure we might find
something terribly interesting at the end of the trail--if we ever came
to it--not knowing that we’d not only find something very interesting
but would bump into an experience even more exciting and thrilling than
the ones we’d already had on our camping trip--and one that was just as
dangerous.

Right that second we came to a hill. I looked ahead and spied a wide
expanse of pretty blue water down below us. Between us and the lake,
on the hillside, was a log cabin with a chimney running up and down
the side next to us, and a big log door. We all had seen it at once I
guess, ’cause we all stopped and dropped down behind some underbrush or
something and most of us said, “Sh!” at the same time.

We lay there for what seemed like a terribly long time before any of us
did anything except listen to ourselves breathe. I was also listening
to my heart beat. But not a one of us was as scared as we would have
been if we hadn’t known that the kidnapper was all nicely locked up in
jail and nobody needed to be afraid of him at all. I guess I never had
such a wonderful feeling in my life for a long time as I did right that
minute, ’cause I realized we’d followed the trail like real scouts and
we’d actually run onto the kidnapper’s hideout, and we might find the
ransom money. Boy oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

Why all we’d have to do would be to go up to that crazy old-fashioned
looking old house, push open a door or climb in through a window and
look around until we found it, I thought. It was certainly the craziest
looking weathered old house, and it looked like nobody had lived in
it for years and years. The windows had old green blinds hanging at
crooked angles, some of the stones had fallen off the top of the
chimney, and the doorstep was broken down and looked rotten. I could
tell from where I was that there hadn’t been anybody going into that
door for a long time on account of there was a spider web spun from the
doorpost next to the old white knob, to one of the up-and-down logs in
the middle of the door.

“Let’s go in and investigate.”

“Let’s n-n-n-n-not,” my Man Friday said, and I scowled at him and said
fiercely, “Slave, we’re going in!”



4


Even though there was a spider web across the door, which meant that
nobody had gone in or out of the door for a long time, still that
didn’t mean there might not be anybody inside, ’cause there might be
another door on the side next to the lake.

Poetry and I made my Man Friday and the acrobatic goat stay where they
were while we circled the cabin, looking for any other door and any
signs of anybody living there. The only door we found was one that
led from the cabin out onto a screened front porch, but the porch was
closed-in with no doors going outside, on account of there was a big
ravine just below the front of the house and between it and the lake.
So we knew that if anybody wanted to go in and out of the house he
would have to use the one and only door or else go through a window.

We circled back to Dragonfly and Circus, where we all lay down on some
tall grass behind a row of shrubbery, which somebody years ago had
set out there, when maybe a family of people had lived there. It had
probably been someone’s summer cabin, I thought--somebody who lived in
St. Paul or Minneapolis, or somewhere, and had built the cabin up here.
I noticed that there was a cement pavement running all around the back
side of the cabin, which was set up against the almost cliff-like hill.
Also there was a very long stone stairway beginning about twenty feet
from the old spider-web-covered door and running around the edge of the
ravine, making a sort of semi-circle down to the lake to where there
was a very old dock, which the waves of the lake in stormy weather, or
else the ice in the winter, had broken down, and nobody had fixed it.

We waited in our hiding place for maybe about ten minutes, listening
and watching before we decided nobody was inside, and before we decided
to look in the windows and later go inside, ourselves. We didn’t think
about it being trespassing, on account of there was an old abandoned
house back at Sugar Creek which our gang always went into anytime we
wanted to, and nobody thought anything about it, because that old cabin
back home belonged to a very old long-whiskered old man whom everybody
knows as Old Man Paddler, and anything that belonged to him seemed to
belong to us, too, he being a very special friend of anybody who was
lucky enough to be a boy.

Anyway, we, all of us, were pretty soon peeking in through the windows,
trying to see what we could see, but it was pretty dark inside, so we
knew if we wanted to see more we had to find some way to get in.

Right that second I decided to see if my Man Friday was my Man Friday
or not, so I said, “O.K., Friday, go up and knock at that door.”

Say, Dragonfly got the scaredest look on his face. As you maybe know,
if you’ve read some of the other Sugar Creek Gang stories, Dragonfly’s
mother believed in ghosts, and good luck happening to you if you find
a four-leaf clover or a horseshoe, so Dragonfly believed it too, most
boys believing and doing what their parents believe and do.

Dragonfly not only had a scared look on his face but also a stubborn
one, when he said, “I _won’t_!”

He refused to budge an inch, and so in a very fierce voice I commanded
Poetry and Circus, “O.K., cannibals, eat him up!”

“They’re NOT cannibals!” Dragonfly whined. “They’re goats, and goats
only eat tin cans and shirts and ivies and things like that!”

“What’s the difference?” the fat goat said, and started head-first for
Dragonfly.

But we couldn’t afford to waste any time that way, so Poetry, being
maybe the bravest one of us, went up to the door, while we held our
breath, I knowing that there wasn’t anybody inside but wondering if
there was, and if there was, who was it, and was he dangerous, and
what would happen if there was a fierce man in there or something.

First Poetry brushed away the spider web, then he knocked on the door.

Nobody answered the knock so he knocked again and called, “Hello!
Anybody home?”

He waited and so did we, but there wasn’t any answer, so he turned
the knob, twisting it this way and that, and the door didn’t open. He
turned around to us and said, “It’s locked.”

Well, I had it in the back of my mind that the ransom money might be
in that cabin and that we ought to go in and look, as I told you,
not thinking that it was trespassing on somebody’s property to go in
without permission.

We found a window on one side of the cabin right next to the hill,
which on that side of the house was kinda like a cliff, and that
window, when we tried it, was unlocked.

“You go in through the window and unlock the door from the inside and
let us in,” I said to my acrobatic goat, and he said, “It’s private
property.”

Right that second I felt a drop of rain on my face and that’s what
saved the day and made it all right for us to go inside. We all must
have been so interested in following the trail of broken twigs and in
our game of Robinson Crusoe that we hadn’t noticed the lowering sky and
the big thunderheads that had been creeping up, for only about a few
jiffies after that first drop of rain splashed onto my freckled face,
there was a rumble of thunder, then another, and right away it started
to rain.

We could have ducked under some trees for protection, but it was that
kind of rain that sometimes comes when it seems like the sky has burst
open and water just drives down in blinding sheets, which it started to
do.

“It’s raining pitchforks and nigger babies!” Circus yelled above the
roar of the wind in the trees. He quick shoved up the window and
scrambled in, with all of us scrambling in after him and slamming the
window down behind us.

The rain was coming down so hard that it made a terrible roaring noise
on the shingled roof, reminding me of storms just like that back at
Sugar Creek when I was in the haymow of our barn. If there was anything
I liked to hear better than almost anything else, it was rain on a
shingled roof. Sometimes when I was in the upstairs of our house, I
would open the attic door on purpose just to hear the friendly noise
the rain made.

It was pretty dark inside the old cabin on account of the walls were
stained with a dark stain of some kind, maybe to protect the wood,
like some north woods cabins are. It was also dark on account of
the sky outside was almost black with terribly heavy rain clouds. I
noticed that the window we’d climbed in was the kitchen window and
that there was a table with an oil cloth, with a few soiled dishes on
one side next to the wall. Also there was a white enameled sink and an
old-fashioned pitcher pump like the one we have outdoors at our house
at Sugar Creek.

The main room where the fireplace was, was in the center of the cabin
and was so dark you could hardly see anything clearly, but I did see
two big colored pictures on the back wall of the porch at the front. I
hurried out there, just to get a look at the storm, storms being one of
the most interesting sights in the world, and they make a boy feel very
queer inside, like maybe he isn’t very important and also make him feel
like he needs the One Who made the world in the first place, to sort of
look after him, which is the way I felt right that minute.

I noticed that there was a sheer drop of maybe fifteen feet right
straight down into the ravine and remembered that if anybody wanted to
get out of the cabin by a door, he’d have to use the only one there was
which was the one that had been locked when Poetry had tried the knob.

On the front porch where I was, were two or three whiskey bottles, I
noticed, and one with the stopper still in it, was half full, standing
on a two-by-four ledge running across the front.

I could see better out here, although the terribly dark clouds in the
sky, and also the big pine trees all around with their branches shading
the cabin, made it almost dark even on the porch, but I did see two big
colored pictures on the back wall of the porch advertising whiskey,
and with important looking people drinking or getting ready to. Circus
was standing with me right then, and I looked at him out of the corner
of my eye, remembering how his pop used to be a drunkard before he
had become a Christian, but had been saved just by repenting of his
sins and trusting the Lord Jesus to save him. Say, Circus was looking
fiercely at those pictures, and I noticed he had his fists doubled up,
like he wished he could sock somebody or something terribly hard. I was
glad right that minute that Little Tom Till wasn’t there, on account of
his daddy was still a drunkard and a mean man.

I left Circus standing looking fiercely at those whiskey pictures, and
looked out at the lake which was one of the prettiest sights I ever
saw, with the waves being whipped into big white caps, and blowing and
making a noise which, mixed up with the noise on our roof, was very
pretty to my ears.

We didn’t even bother to look around inside the cabin for a
while--anyway, I didn’t. Away out on the farther side of the lake there
was a patch of sunlight and the water was all different shades of green
and yellow. Right away there was a terrific roar, as a blinding flash
of lightning lit up the whole porch, and then it _did_ rain, and the
wind blew harder and whipped the canvas curtains on the porch; and the
pine trees between us and the lake acted like they were going to bend
and break. Six white birch trees that grew in a cluster down beside the
old outdoor stone stairway that led in the semi-circle from the cabin
down to the broken-down dock, swayed and twisted and acted like they
were going wild and might be broken off and blown away any minute.

“Hey! _Look!_” Poetry said. “There are little moving mountains out
there on the lake!”

I looked, and sure enough that was what it did look like. The wind had
changed its direction and was blowing parallel with the shore, instead
of toward it, and other high waves were trying to go at right angles to
the ones that were coming toward the shore. It was a terribly pretty
sight.

All of a sudden while I was standing there, and feeling a little bit
scared on account of the noise and the wind and the rain, I got to
thinking about my folks back home, and was lonesome as well as scared;
and also I was thinking that my parents had taught me that all the
wonderful and terrible things in nature had been made and were being
taken care of by the same God that had made growing boys, and that He
loved everybody and was kind and had loved people so much that He had
sent His only Son into this very pretty world, to die for all of us and
to save us from our sins. My parents believed that, and had taught it
to me; and nearly every time I thought about God, it was with a kind of
friendly feeling in my heart, knowing that He loved not only all the
millions of people in the world but also me--all by myself--red-haired,
fiery-tempered, freckle-faced Bill Collins, who was always getting into
trouble, or a fight, or doing something impulsive and needing somebody
to help me to get _out_ of trouble. Without knowing I was thinking
outloud, I did what I sometimes do when I’m all by myself and have that
very friendly feeling toward God. I said, “Thank You, dear Saviour, for
dying for me.... You’re an awful wonderful God to make such a pretty
storm.”

I didn’t know Dragonfly was standing there beside me, until he spoke
up all of a sudden and said, “You oughtn’t to swear like that. It’s
wrong to swear,” which all the gang knew it was, and none of us did it,
Little Jim especially not being able to stand to even hear it without
getting a hurt heart.

“I didn’t swear,” I said to Dragonfly. “I was just talking to God.”

“You _what_?”

“I was just telling Him it was an awful pretty storm.”

“You mean--you mean you aren’t afraid to talk to Him?”

Imagine that little guy saying that! But then, he hadn’t been a
Christian very long and didn’t seem to understand that praying and
talking to God are the same thing, and everybody ought to do it, and if
your sins have been washed away, then there isn’t anything to be afraid
of.

I was aroused from what I’d been thinking, by my acrobatic goat calling
to us from back in the cabin saying, “Hey, Gang! Aren’t we going to
explore this old shell and see if we can find the ransom money?”

That sort of brought me back from where for a few minutes my mind had
been.

I took another quick look at the little moving mountains on the lake
and pretty soon we were all inside where Circus had been all the time
looking around to see what he could find. But it was too dark to see
anything very clearly, and we didn’t have any flashlight. I looked on a
high mantel above the fireplace to see if there was any kerosene lamp,
but there wasn’t. There wasn’t any furniture in the main room except
a table, three small chairs and one great big old-fashioned Morris
chair like one my pop always sat in at home in our living room. It had
a fierce-looking tiger head with a wide-open mouth on the end of each
arm, which gave me an eery feeling when I saw them, which I did right
away, when Circus lit one of the matches he had with him.

“Here’s a candle, out here on the kitchen table,” Dragonfly said, and
brought it in to where we were. It certainly was the darkest cabin on
the inside I ever saw. The walls were almost black, and the stone arch
at the top of the fireplace was black with smoke where the fireplace
had probably smoked when it had a fire in it. There was only about an
inch of the candle left.

Circus lit it while Poetry held it, and we followed Poetry all around
wherever he went. The noise of the storm and the dark cabin made it
seem like we were having a strange adventure in the middle of the night.

There were spider webs on nearly everything, and dust on the floor,
and it looked like nobody had lived here for an awful long time, maybe
years and years. Besides the front porch there were just the three
rooms--the kitchen with the sink and pitcher pump, the main room with
the fireplace and a smallish bedroom which had a curtain hanging
between it and the main room. In the bedroom was a rollaway bed all
folded up and rolled against a wall.

Even though the broken twig trail had led us here, still we couldn’t
find a thing that looked like anything the ransom money might have been
hidden in.

So since the rain was still pouring down, we decided to call a meeting
and talk things over. We pulled the three stiff-backed chairs up to the
table in the center of the main room, and also the big chair, which I
turned sidewise, and I sat on one of the wooden arms. Poetry set the
short flickering candle in a saucer in the center of the table, and
I, being supposed to be the leader, called the meeting to order, just
like Big Jim does when the gang is all present. It felt good to be
the leader, even though I knew I wasn’t--and Poetry would have made a
better one.

We talked all at once, and also one at a time part of the time, and not
one of us had any good ideas as to what to do, except when the storm
was over to follow our trail of broken twigs back to where the girl had
been found and from there to the road and back to camp.

I looked at Poetry’s fat face and at Dragonfly’s large eyes and his
crooked nose and at Circus’s monkey-looking face, and we all looked at
each other.

All of a sudden Poetry’s forehead puckered and he lifted his head and
sniffed two or three times like he was smelling something strange, and
said, “You guys smell anything funny, like--kinda like a dead chicken
or something?”

I sniffed a couple of times, and we all did, and as plain as the nose
on my face I _did_ smell something--something _dead_. I’d smell that
smell many a time back along Sugar Creek when there was a dead rabbit
or something that the buzzards were circling around up in the sky, or
had swooped down on it and were eating it.

Dragonfly’s dragonfly-like eyes looked startled, and I knew that if I
could have seen mine in a mirror, they’d have looked just as startled.

“It smells like a dead possum carcass that didn’t get buried,” Circus
said, he especially knowing what they smell like on account of his pop
catches many possums and sells the fur. Sometimes on a hunting trip
when he catches a possum, he skins it before going on, and leaves the
carcass in the woods or in a field.

It was probably a dead animal of some kind, we decided, and went right
on with our meeting, talking over everything from the beginning up to
where we were right that minute--the kidnapping, the found girl, the
police which had come that night and the plaster-of-Paris cast they’d
made of the kidnapper’s tire tracks, and the kidnapper himself which
we’d caught in the Indian cemetery, which you know all about maybe, if
you’ve read the other stories called “Sugar Creek Gang Goes North” and
“Adventure in an Indian Cemetery”....

“Yes,” Poetry said, “but what about the envelope with the blank piece
of typewriter paper in it?”

There wasn’t any sense in talking about that again, ’cause we’d already
decided it had maybe been left there by the kidnapper who had planned
to write a note on it and had gotten scared, and left it, planning to
come back later, maybe, or something. Anyway, anything we’d said about
it didn’t make sense, so why bring it up again? I thought.

“That’s OUT,” I said. “I’m keeping it for a souvenir.” I had it in my
shirt pocket and for fun pulled it out and opened it and turned it over
and over in my hands to show them that it was as white as a Sugar
Creek pasture field after a heavy snowfall.

But say, all of a sudden as I spread it out, Poetry let out an excited
gasp, and exclaimed, “Hey! Look! There’s something written on it!”

I could hardly believe my eyes, but there it was as plain as day,
something that looked like writing--scratches and longish straight and
crooked lines, and down at the bottom a crazy drawing of some kind.



5


You can imagine how we felt when we looked at that crazy, almost
illegible drawing on that paper, which, when we’d found it, had been
without even one pencil mark on it, and now as plain as day there _was_
something on it--only it wasn’t drawn with a pencil or ink or crayon
but looked kinda like what is called a “water mark” which you can see
on different kinds of expensive writing paper.

All of us leaned closer, and I held it as close to the smoking and
flickering candle as I could, so we could see it better, when Poetry
gasped again and said, “Hey! It’s getting plainer. Look!”

And Poetry was right. Right in front of our eyes as I held the crazy
looking lines close to the candle, the different lines began to be
clearer, although they still looked like water marks.

Dragonfly turned as white as a sheet, with his eyes almost bulging out
of his head. “There’s a-a-a- _ghost_ in here!” He whispered the words
in such a ghost-like voice that it seemed like there might be one.

For a jiffy I was as weak as a cat, and my hands holding the paper were
trembly so, I nearly dropped it. In fact, as quick as a flash, Poetry
grabbed my hand that had the paper in it and pulled it away from the
candle or it might have touched it and caught fire.

Whatever was going on, didn’t make sense. My brain sort of whirled and
I sniffed again and thought of something dead, and then of the writing
that was on the paper and hadn’t been before, and about Dragonfly’s
idea that there was a ghost in the old cabin, and I wished I was
outside in the rain running lickety-sizzle for camp, and getting there
right away.

But it was Poetry who solved the problem for us by saying, “It’s
_invisible ink_, I’ll bet you. Its being in Bill’s pocket next to his
body made it warm, and now the heat from the candle is bringing out
what was written on it.”

It took only a jiffy to decide Poetry was right, and as we all looked
at that crazy drawing, we knew we’d found a map of some kind, and that
if we could understand it, and follow it, we would find the kidnapper’s
ransom money.

Poetry took out his pencil and because the lines weren’t any too plain
in some places, he started to trace them, then he gasped and whistled
and said, “Hey, it’s a map of some kind!”

When he got through tracing it, we saw that it was a map of the
territory up here, with the different places named, such as the Indian
cemetery, the firewarden’s cabin, the boathouse, two summer resorts,
and the different roads and lanes running from one to another, also the
names of the different lakes on one of which we had our camp.

We all crowded around the table, looking over Poetry’s shoulders, and
feeling mysterious and also a little bit scared, but not much ’cause I
was remembering that the kidnapper was locked up in jail, and couldn’t
get out.

“What’s that ‘X’ there in the middle for?” my Man Friday wanted to
know, and Poetry said, “That’s where we initiated you,” and there was a
mischievous grin in his duck-like voice.

“WHAT?” I said, beginning to get a let-down feeling.

Dragonfly burst out with a savage sigh, and said, “I might have known
there wasn’t any mystery. You made that map yourself.” And was thinking
the same sad thing, and said so, but Poetry shushed us and said, “Don’t
be funny; that’s where Bill and I found the little Ostberg girl.”

“Yeah,” Dragonfly said, “but that’s also where Robinson Crusoe stepped
on my neck!”

“Oh, all right,” Poetry said, “That’s a dirty place on your neck which
needs washing.” But Dragonfly didn’t think it was funny, which maybe it
wasn’t very.

Just above the X a little distance, we noticed there was a big V, a
drawing of a broken twig, and a line pointing toward the cabin where
we were right that minute. Also there was a line running from the top
of the other arm of the V off in another direction and kept on going
until it came to a drawing that looked like a smallish mound; and lying
across it was a straight short line that made me think of a walking
stick or something.

It didn’t make sense until I noticed that Poetry’s pencil had missed
tracing part of it, so I said, “Here, give me your pencil. There’s a
little square on the end of this straight line.”

I made the square, and then noticed there was a small circle at the
opposite end of the straight line, so I traced that, and the whole map
was done.

It was Circus who guessed the meaning of the square and the circle I’d
just made at the opposite ends of the straight line. “Look!” he said,
“it’s a shovel or a spade! That circle is the top of the handle, and
the square is the blade,” and we knew he was right.

And that meant, as plain as the nose on Dragonfly’s face, that if we
left this house and went back to where our trail had branched off, and
followed the broken twigs in that other direction, we’d come to a place
where the money was buried.

Boy oh boy, oh boy! I felt so good I wanted to scream.

It was just like being in a dream, which you know isn’t a dream, and
are glad it isn’t--only in dreams you always wake up, which maybe I’d
do in just another excited minute.

“Is this a dream or not?” I asked my fat goat, and he said, “I don’t
know, but I know how I can find out for you,” and I said, “How?” and he
said, “I’ll pinch you to see if there is any pain, and if there _is_,
it _isn’t_, and if there _isn’t_, it _is_.” He was trying to be funny
and not being, ’cause right that second he pinched me and it hurt just
like it always does when he pinches me, only worse.

“Hey--ouch!” I said, and right away I pinched _him_ so _he_ could find
out for himself that the map wasn’t any dream, and neither was my hard
pinch on his fat arm.

The rain was still roaring on the roof, sounding like a fast train
roaring past the depot at Sugar Creek. We all sat looking at each other
with queer expressions on our faces and mixed-up thoughts in our
minds. I was smelling the dead something or other. The odor seemed to
come from the direction of the kitchen on account of it was on the side
of the cottage next to the steep hillside, which was as steep almost as
a cliff, and right above its one window I noticed there was a stubby
pine tree growing out of the hill, its branches extending over the roof.

Because the rain wasn’t falling on the window, I opened it and looked
out and noticed that water was streaming down the hill like there was a
little river up there and was pouring itself down onto the cement walk
and rippling around the outside of the cabin. I thought for a jiffy how
smart the owners of the cabin had been to put that cement walk there,
so the water that swished down the hillside could run away and not pour
into the cabin.

It was while I was at the window that I noticed there was an old rusty
wire stretched across from the stubby pine tree toward the cabin. I
yelled to the rest of the gang to come and look, which they did.

“’Tsa telephone wire,” Dragonfly said, and Poetry, squeezing in between
Dragonfly and me and looking up at the wire, said, “I’ll bet it’s a
radio aerial!” Poetry’s voice got excited right away and he turned
back into the kitchen and said, “There might be a radio around here
somewhere.”

With that he started looking for one, with all of us helping him, going
from the kitchen where we were, to the main room where the fireplace
was, and through the hanging curtains into the bedroom, which had the
rollaway bed in it, all folded up against the wall; then we hunted
through the screened porch, and looked under some old canvases on the
porch floor, but there wasn’t any radio anywhere.

“There’s got to be one,” Circus said. “That’s an aerial, I’m sure.”

Poetry spoke up and said, “If it is, let’s look for the place where
it comes into the cabin,” which we did, and which we found. It was
through the top of a window in the bedroom. But that didn’t clear up
our problem even a tiny bit, on account of there was only a piece of
twisted wire hanging down from the curtain pole and it wasn’t fastened
to anything.

Well that was that. Besides what’d we want to know whether there was a
radio for? “Who cares?” I said, feeling I was the leader, and wishing
Poetry wouldn’t insist on following out all his ideas.

“Goof!” he said to me, which was what he was always calling me, but
I shushed him, and said, “Keep still, Goat! Who’s the head of this
treasure hunt?”

He puckered his fat forehead at me, and half yelled above the roar of
the rain on the roof, “If there’s a radio, it means somebody’s been
living here just lately.”

“And if there _isn’t_, then what?”

It was Dragonfly who saw the edge of a newspaper sticking out of the
crack between the folded-up mattress of the rollaway bed which was
standing in the corner. He quick pulled it out and opened it, and we
looked at the date, and it was just a week old. In fact, it was dated
the day before we’d caught the kidnapper, so we were pretty sure he’d
been here at that same time.

Well, the rain on the roof was getting less noisy, and we knew that
pretty soon we’d have to be starting for camp. We wouldn’t dare try
to follow the trail of broken twigs to the place where we thought the
money was buried, because we had orders to be back at camp an hour
before supper time, to help with the camp chores. That night we were
all going to have a very special campfire service, with Eagle Eye, an
honest-to-goodness Chippewa Indian, telling us a blood curdling story
of some kind--a real live Indian story.

“Let’s get going,” I said to the rest of us--“just the minute it stops
raining.”

“Do we go out the door or the window?” my Man Friday wanted to know,
and I took a look at the only door, saw that it was nailed shut,
tighter than anything.

I grunted and groaned and pulled at the knob, and then gave up and
said, “Looks like we’ll use the window.”

It was still raining pretty hard, and I had the feeling I wanted to go
out and take a last look at the lake. I’d been thinking also if this
cabin was fixed up a little and the underbrush and stuff between it and
the lake and a battered down old clock, was cleared away, and if the
walls were painted a light color, it might make a pretty nice cabin for
anybody to rent and spend a summer vacation in, like a lot of people
in America do do. On the wall of the porch I noticed a smallish mirror
which was dusty and needed to be wiped off before I could see myself.
I stopped just a second to see what I looked like, like I sometimes do
at home, especially just before I make a dash to our dinner table--and
sometimes get stopped before I can sit down--and have to go back and
finish washing my face and combing my hair before I get to take even
one bite of Mom’s swell fried chicken.

I certainly didn’t look much like the pictures I’d seen of Robinson
Crusoe. Instead of looking like a shipwrecked person with home-made
clothes, I looked just like an ordinary “wreck” without any ship. My
red hair was mussed up like everything, my freckled face was dirty and
my two large front teeth still looked too big for my face, which would
have to grow a lot more before it was big enough to fit my teeth. I was
glad my teeth were already as big as they would ever get--which is why
lots of boys and girls look funny when they’re just my size, Mom says.
Our teeth grow in as large as they’ll ever be, and our faces just sorta
take their time.

“You’re an _ugly_ ‘mut,’” I said to myself, and then turned and looked
out over the lake again. Anyway, I was growing a _little_ bit, and I
had awfully good health and nearly always felt wonderful most of the
time.

While I was looking out at the pretty lake, some of the same feeling
I’d had before came bubbling up inside of me. For a minute I wished
Little Jim had been with us,--in fact, I wished he had been standing
right beside me with the stick in his hand which he always carries with
him wherever he goes, almost ... I was feeling good inside ’cause the
gang was still letting me be Robinson Crusoe and were taking most of
my orders. Sometimes, I said to myself, I’d like to be a leader of a
whole lot of people, who would do whatever I wanted them to. I might
be a general in an army, or a Governor or something--only I wanted to
be a doctor, too, and help people to get well. Also I wanted to help
save people from their troubles, and from being too poor, like Circus’s
folks, and I wished I could take all the whiskey there was in the
world and dump it out into a lake, only I wouldn’t want the perch and
northern pike or walleyes or the pretty blue gills or bass or sunfish
to have to drink any of it, but maybe I wouldn’t care if some of the
bullheads did.

While I was standing there, thinking about that pretty lake, and
knowing that Little Jim, the best Christian in the gang, would say
something about the Bible if he was there, I remembered part of a Bible
story that had happened out on a stormy, rolling lake just like this
one. Then I remembered that in the story of Robinson Crusoe there had
been a Bible and that he had taught his ignorant Man Friday a lot of
things out of it and Friday had become a Christian himself. My pop
used to read Robinson Crusoe to Mom and me at home many a night in the
winter--Pop reading good stories to us instead of whatever there was on
the radio that wouldn’t be good for a boy to hear, and my folks having
to make me turn it off. Pop always picked a story to read that was very
interesting to a red-haired boy and would be what Mom called “good
mental furniture”--whatever that was, or is.

All of the gang nearly always carried New Testaments in our pockets,
so, remembering Robinson Crusoe had had a Bible, I took out my New
Testament and stood with my back to the rest of the cabin, still
looking at the lake. I felt terribly good inside, with that little
brown leather Testament in my hands. I was glad the One Who is the main
character in it was a Friend of mine and that He liked boys.

“It was swell of You to help us find the little Ostberg girl,” I said
to Him, “and also to catch the kidnapper, and it’s an awful pretty lake
and sky and ...”

Right then I was interrupted by music coming from back in the cabin
somewhere, some people’s voices singing a song I knew and that we
sometimes sang in church back at Sugar Creek, and it was:

  “Rescue the perishing, care for dying,
    Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”

I guessed quick that one of my goats or else my Man Friday had actually
found a radio in the cabin and had turned it on. I swished around,
dashed back inside and through the hanging curtains into the bedroom
where I’d left them, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but
the rollaway bed opened out and there, sitting on the side of it, my
two goats and my Man Friday and a little portable radio, which I knew
was the kind that had its own battery and its own inbuilt aerial. It
was sitting on my fat goat’s lap, and was playing like a house afire
that very pretty church hymn:

  “Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
   Feelings lie buried that grace can restore.”

A jiffy after I got there, the music stopped and a voice broke in and
said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt this program to make a very
important announcement. There is a new angle regarding the ransom money
still missing in the Ostberg kidnapping case. Little Marie’s father, a
religious man, has just announced that the amount represented a sum he
had been saving for the past several years to build a memorial hospital
in the heart of the mission field of Cuba. In St. Paul, the suspect,
caught last week at Bemidji by a gang of boys on vacation, still denies
knowing anything about the ransom money; claims he never received it.
Police are now working on the supposition that there may have been
another party to the crime. Residents of northern Minnesota are warned
to be on the lookout for a man bearing the following description: He
is believed to be of German descent, a farmer by occupation, about
thirty-seven years of age, six feet two inches tall, weighs one hundred
eighty seven pounds, stoop-shouldered, dark complexion, red hair,
partly bald, bulgy steel-blue eyes, bushy eyebrows that meet in the
center, hook-nose....”

The description went on, telling about the man’s clothes, ears, and
mouth, but I didn’t need any more. My heart was already bursting
with the awfulest feeling I’d had in a long time, ’cause the person
they were describing was exactly like Old hook-nosed John Till, the
mean, liquor-drinking father of one of the Sugar Creek Gang, little
red-haired Tom Till himself, one of my very best friends and a swell
little guy that all of us liked and felt so terribly sorry for on
account of we knew that he had that kind of a father, who had been in
jail lots of times and who spent his money on whiskey and gambling and
Little Tom’s mother had to be sad most of the time. In fact, about the
only happiness Tom’s mom had was in her boy Tom, who was a really swell
little guy, and went to Sunday school with us. She also got a little
happiness out of a radio which my folks had bought for her, and she
listened to Christian programs which cheered her up a lot.

Even while I listened to the radio on my fat goat’s lap, I was thinking
about Little Tom’s mom and wondering if she had her radio turned on
too, back at Sugar Creek, and would hear this announcement, and if it
would be like somebody jabbing a knife into her heart and twisting it.

But we didn’t have time to think, or talk or anything, ’cause right
that second, I heard a noise coming from the direction of the kitchen
window, which we had climbed in, and when I took a quick peek through
the curtains, I saw the face of a fierce-looking man. It only took me
one second’s glance to see the bushy eyebrows that met in the center
just above the top of his hooked nose, and even though he had on a
battered old felt hat that was dripping wet with the rain, and his
clothes were sop soaking wet, I recognized him as Little red-haired
Tom’s father.

In that quick flash of a jiffy I remembered the first time I had seen
him when he had been hired by my pop to shock oats, and he had tried
to get Circus’s pop to take a drink of whiskey over by some elderberry
bushes that grew along the fence row. It had been a terribly hot day,
and Circus and I had been helping shock oats too. Circus’s pop hadn’t
been a Christian very long, and because I hated whiskey and didn’t want
Circus’s pop to do what is called “backslide,” I had made a terribly
fierce fast run across the field with Circus, to try to stop his pop
from taking the drink and had run kerwham with both of my fists flying
straight into Old hook-nosed John Till’s stomach, and a little later
had landed on my back under the elderberry bushes from a terribly
fierce wham from one of John Till’s hard fists. After that, the gang
had had a lot of other trouble with him, but we’d gotten Little Tom
saved, and Tom, being a pretty good Christian for a little guy, had
been praying for his pop every day of his life ever since. But up to
now it looked like it hadn’t done any good ’cause his pop still was a
bad man and caused his family a lot of heartache.

Talk about mystery and excitement. I knew Tom’s pop hated us boys and
also he was pretty mean to Tom for going to church with us, and on
top of that was mad at my folks for taking Tom’s mom to church; and
whenever he came into the house when she had a Christian program on the
radio, he would either make her turn it off or he would turn it off
himself.

I’ll have to admit that I was afraid of Old hook-nosed John Till, and
right that minute I didn’t feel very much like being the leader of the
gang, which for some reason seemed to be made up of only four very
small boys, all of a sudden. The only thing I felt like leading in, was
a very fast foot race out through the woods and toward camp.

“Quick!” I hissed to the gang. “There’s somebody looking through
the window. What’ll we do?” Before I could think only half of those
thoughts and say only half of that sentence, I saw the man’s hand shove
up the window, and one of his wet long legs, which had a big wet shoe
on the end of it, swung over the window ledge, and he started squirming
his long-legged self in after it.



6


Well, what can you do, when there isn’t a thing you can think of, of
doing? When you are looking through an opening in a hanging curtain and
see a mean man coming into your cabin, and when you know there isn’t
any door you can dash through to get away? Poetry already had the radio
shut off and all of us were as still as scared mice, listening, and
also all of us were trying to peep through the opening in the curtain.

I noticed that John Till had a newish-looking fishing rod, which he
stood against the wall by a window, then he turned his back, reached
out of the window and bent his body over to pick up something that he
had left out there. A jiffy later I saw what it was--a stringer of
fish--what looked liked five or six big walleyed pike, and an extra
large northern pike, which he probably caught out in the lake.

He lifted the stringer and I heard the fish go kerflippety-flop-flop
into the sink, then I heard the iron pitcher pump squeaking like he was
pumping water on the fish, maybe to wash the dirt and slime off of them.

The curtain we were peeping through looked like it had been made out of
the same kind of material one of my mom’s chenille bedspreads is made
out of, and was kinda fuzzy on one side. Even before I heard Dragonfly
do what he did just then, I was afraid he would do it. He had his face
up close to the curtain not far from mine, and all of a sudden he got
a puzzled expression on his face, his eyes started to squint, and his
mouth to open, and he made a quick grab for his crooked nose with one
of his hands.

But it was too late. Out came the cuckooest-sounding sneezes you ever
heard, which he tried to smother and didn’t; and like it nearly always
sounds when he sneezes, it was like a fourth-of-July firecracker that
didn’t explode but just went “_hisssss-sh-sh-sh_” instead. At that
same instant John Till whirled around and looked through the main
room and at the curtain behind which we were hiding. If it had still
been raining terribly hard, he wouldn’t have heard us, maybe, but
Dragonfly’s sneeze seemed to have been timed with a lull in the rain,
’cause in spite of the fact that it was a smothered hissing noise, it
sounded like it was loud enough to be heard a long ways away.

John Till jumped like he had been shot at and hit, and I expected most
anything terribly exciting and dangerous to happen.

First I saw him take a wild look around like he wanted to make a dash
for a door or a window and disappear. He must have thought better of
it, though, ’cause he started pumping water again and doing something
to the fish he had caught, then he fumbled at his belt and in a second
I saw in his right hand a fierce-looking sheath knife, just like the
kind Barry carried. Its wicked-looking blade was about 5 inches long
and looked like it could either slice a fish into steaks in a jiffy
or do the same to a boy. Not a one of us had any weapons except our
pocket knives, and also not a one of us was going to be foolish enough
to start a fight. If only we could make a dash for the door and get
out--if the door wasn’t nailed shut, I thought. Then we could run like
scared deer and get away.

But there wasn’t a chance in the world--not with a fierce man with a
fierce-looking hunting knife in his hand.

Then Big John Till’s voice boomed into our room and said, “ALL
RIGHT--WHOEVER YOU ARE--COME OUT WITH YOUR ARMS UP!”

“What’ll we do?” Dragonfly’s trembling whisper asked me, but I already
had my arms up, and in a second he had his spindling arms pointed in
different directions toward the ceiling.

“Get ’em up!” I whispered to all of us, and I thought that, if we got a
chance, we’d make a dive for the open kitchen window and head for camp
terribly fast.

Poetry’s fat forehead was puckered with a very stubborn pucker, and
before I knew he was going to do what he did, he did it, which was--he
yelled into the other room, “Come on out onto the front porch and get
us!” only, of course, we weren’t on the front porch, and it didn’t make
sense at all until a little later.

As you know, Poetry’s voice was changing, and part of the time it was a
bass voice and the other part of the time, it was a soprano, on account
of he was old enough to be what my pop called “an adolescent,” which
is what a boy’s voice is like when adolescence happens to him. Part of
what Poetry said was in a man’s voice and sounded pretty fierce, but
right in the middle of the sentence his voice changed, and it was like
a scared woman’s voice, the kind that would have made Dragonfly think
it was a ghost’s voice, if he had heard it in the middle of a dark
night in an old abandoned house.

To make matters worse, Dragonfly sneezed again, and we knew we were
found out for sure. It must have been darker in the room where we were
than it was in the kitchen or something, or else John Till really
thought we were out on that front porch, ’cause all of a sudden he left
the sink where he’d been pumping water on his fish, and whirled around
with his big knife in his hand, straight out of the kitchen and through
the main room, dodging the table in the middle, and the Morris chair,
and made straight for the front porch.

It was our signal to make a dash for the kitchen and the open window,
which we did, Poetry letting the baby-sized radio plump down on the
rollaway bed, and even as I led the way to the kitchen window in a
mad dash, I noticed that the radio’s side panel which he had closed,
dropped down, which is what turns it on.

Most of us got to the window at the same time almost. My acrobatic
goat grabbed the kitchen table, and shoved it into the doorway between
the kitchen and the main room so as to block Hook-nose’s way if he
tried to come back quick and stop us. Poetry was out first, and then
Dragonfly, and then Circus, and last of all, I, Robinson Crusoe, who
in the split jiffy they were getting out first, got a glimpse of the
swell big stringer of fish John Till had caught, and which were, right
that second covered with water in the sink. The large northern pike was
especially very pretty and I thought that before I left the North this
summer, I’d want to catch a big fish, have it mounted by what is called
a taxidermist and put it on the wall of my room back at Sugar Creek.

I didn’t understand why John Till--as soon as he found out we weren’t
out on that porch but had tricked him--didn’t come dashing madly back
and jump over the table in the doorway and grab the last ones of us to
get through the window, but he didn’t and I was too scared to stop to
find out why.

So we swished around the corner of that cabin, made four dives in the
direction we knew the broken-twig trail went, and went dashing through
the still-sprinkling rain, through the wet shrubbery and under the
trees that were dripping water like a leaky roof, and headed for camp.

Boy, was I ever glad we had our trail of broken twigs to go by. When we
got to the first one, Dragonfly, whose feet were getting pretty wet,
like all of ours were, stopped and made a grab for his nose, and I knew
he was allergic to something--maybe to too wet feet. When he’d finished
his fancy sneeze, he said, sniffing at something he couldn’t see, but
which he knew was there, “I still smell something--_d-dead!_--something
in that direction over there!”

I sniffed in the direction he pointed, and sure enough, there was that
same deadish smell, like we’d smelled in the cabin, only this time it
was mixed up with the friendly odor of a woods after a rain.

My fat goat smelled in the same direction, and so did my acrobatic
goat, and we all smelled the same very unpleasant odor of something
dead.

“I wonder who it is,” Poetry said, and Dragonfly looked like he was
thinking about a ghost again.

And would you believe it? I heard music coming from somewhere--in fact,
from the direction of the cabin we’d come from, and I knew it was the
radio that had plopped open when my fat goat had left it in a hurry,
and though I couldn’t hear the words, I recognized the tune, and it
was, “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.”

Well, we hurried on, following our trail, tickled that we had managed
to get out so easy, but wondering to each other if Old hook-nosed John
Till had had anything to do with the kidnapping, and if maybe he knew
where the ransom money was, and why he hadn’t come dashing back into
the kitchen to catch us.

“I think I know why,” Circus said, “he’s just like my dad was before he
was saved. He couldn’t even stand to see a bottle of whiskey without
taking a drink, and I’ll bet when he saw that big half-empty bottle out
on the porch he just grabbed it up and started gulping it down.”

Then Circus, being a little bashful about talking about things like
that, like some boys sometimes are, looked up, and seeing the limb
of a tree extending out over where he was going to walk, leaped up
and caught hold of it with his hands and chinned himself two or
three times, while Dragonfly, who was beside him under the leaves of
that branch, let out a yell and said, “Hey, watch out! Quit making
it rain on me!” which is what Circus had done--the leaves of that
branch getting most of the water shaken off and a lot of it falling on
Dragonfly all over.

Well, we were in a pretty big hurry, so we all zipped on, talking and
asking questions and trying to figure out what on earth the deadish
smell was and also wishing we had all the gang with us, and a spade,
and had time to follow the other trail of broken twigs and actually
find the ransom money.

In a little while we came to the place where we’d first found the
envelop with the invisible-ink map in it. There we stopped for half a
jiffy, and looked all around to be sure we would remember the place
again when we came back.

About twenty minutes later, we came puffing into camp in clear sunshiny
weather, the sky having cleared off after the storm, but we were as wet
as drowned rats.

The very minute the gang saw us come sloshing up to our tents, Big Jim
called out, “Where on earth have you been?”

Well, we’d agreed to keep our secret a secret for awhile, anyway not
to tell Barry first, but to rest of the gang--all except Tom Till. We
might decide to tell John Till too, but we wouldn’t if Big Jim said not
to, on account of it might spoil Tom’s vacation and he wouldn’t have
any fun the rest of our camping trip.

Dragonfly answered Big Jim’s question in a mischievous voice by saying,
“Bill’s been walking on my neck, and Poetry and Circus have been making
soup out of me, and I am a Negro,” which wouldn’t make sense to anyone
who didn’t know about Crusoe, his black Man Friday and the cannibals.

As soon as we could, we changed to dry clothes, and Big Jim took
command of us by saying, “O.K., boys, I’m in charge of camp for the
rest of the day. Barry got a terribly important letter in the mail an
hour ago, and he’s had to go to Bemidji. He’ll be back in time for our
Campfire get-together.”

Well, that was that. If there was anything I liked better than anything
else, it was to be alone with only our gang, when it can be its own
boss, even though we all liked Barry a lot and would do anything he
said any time.

“Bill’s _my_ boss,” Dragonfly said.

I looked at Dragonfly and then at Big Jim, and winked.

Big Jim grinned back, and then said to all of us, “Let’s get the camp
chores done.” Then he gave commands to different ones of us to do
different things. Poetry and I had the job of burying the entrails
and heads of some fish which Barry’d caught, and which had just been
cleaned before he left,--that being the best thing to do with fish
heads and other parts of the fish that you aren’t going to eat.

“The spade’s in Barry’s tent,” Big Jim said, and a minute later Poetry
and I were on our way up along the shore to the burying place.

We hadn’t gone more than fifty yards when we heard somebody coming
behind us on the run, and it was Dragonfly, with an excited face, who
said, “You crazy goofs! You going to dig for the treasure without
letting me go along?”

“Why hello, my Man Friday!” I said pleasantly, and told him what we
were having to do. “Here--you carry the spade and do the digging.” And
Poetry said, “And you can carry these fish insides,” and with that he
handed him a smallish pail he’d been carrying.

But Dragonfly wouldn’t, so I let him disobey for once. When we got to
the place, we saw all kinds of little mounds of fresh dirt where other
fish entrails had been buried. And then all of a sudden Poetry said,
“Hey, here’s fish heads scattered all over the ground here!”

I looked, and sure enough, he was right. All around there were old
half-eaten bullheads, and the eyes and ugly noses of walleyed pike and
two or three spatulate-shaped snouts of big northern pike.

“Hey!” Dragonfly said. “Somebody’s been digging them up”--and
then he grabbed his nose just in time to stop most of what
might have been several very noisy sneezes, and said,
“I--_kerchew!_--I-smell--_kerchew!_--s-something _d-dead_.”

Well, that was that, and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, ’cause
right away I knew that what we’d smelled back in the mystery cabin, and
around the outside, was maybe something like this.

“It’s raccoons,” I heard a voice saying behind us, and recognized it as
Circus’s voice, his pop being a hunter as you know, and he would know
about coons’ habits.

“Big Jim sent me to tell you guys to bury’m deep, ’cause the chipmunks
and coons’ve been digging’m all up again.”

Well, we buried our stuff very deep, each one of us doing a little
bit, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling very happy. I seemed to feel
that all the mystery and excitement we’d been having and which had
been getting more exciting every minute, was all made out of our own
imagination.

“Do you suppose that map with invisible ink on it was only maybe
showing somebody where a fish cemetery is?” Poetry asked, and I felt
terribly saddish inside. We all looked at each other with saddish eyes,
and felt even sadder.

“Then Tom’s daddy is only up here on a fishing trip, and he’s maybe
rented the old cabin from somebody for a while,” I said.

We went back to camp feeling terribly blue.

Well, after supper and when it got almost dark, it was time for Eagle
Eye’s blood curdling Indian story. We knew that he being a Christian
Indian, would tell us a Bible story too, which is one reason why
our parents had wanted us to come on this camping trip in the first
place. Every night before we tumbled into bed, we would listen to a
short talk from the Bible, and then somebody would lead us in prayer.
Sometimes somebody gave us a talk about boys and what boys ought to
know about themselves and God, and how God expected everybody in the
world to behave themselves--things like that. Not a one of the gang was
sissified enough to be ashamed of being a Christian, and as you know,
every single one of us nearly always carried his New Testament with him
wherever he went.

We started our evening campfire, which was going to be what is called
an Indian fire. It was after Eagle Eye’s story that I found out about
Little Tom’s terribly sad heart, and I was even gladder than I was that
he hadn’t been with us in the afternoon. I’ll tell you about that in
the very next chapter.



7


I think I never felt so sorry for anybody in my life as I did for
Little red-haired Tom Till at the close of our camp fire that night.

It was fun having our big Indian guest, Eagle Eye, whom we all knew and
liked very much, take charge of our meeting. He showed us how to build
an Indian fire, which was like this: First he made a little wigwam of
some dry tinder and slender sticks, and also some larger sticks all
stacked up in the shape of an Indian tepee, with the top ends lapping
over each other a little. Then he had us boys drag five or six big long
poles from a little shelter nearby, where there was a place for keeping
wood dry.

It was interesting to watch him ’cause just for fun he was wearing real
Indian garb, with a headband filled with long pretty, different colored
feathers, and clothes that looked like the kind I’d seen in pictures of
Indians in our school library.

As soon as the little wigwam fire was laid, but not started yet, he
took his bow and arrow and a board which he called a fire board, and in
almost no time had a smallish fire started. It was a pretty sight to
watch that little wigwam of tinder and sticks leap into flame and the
long reddish-yellow tongues of fire go leaping up toward the sky. The
smoke rose slowly, and spread itself out over our camp and sort of hung
there like a big lazy bluish cloud.

Little Jim and I were sitting side by each, and Little red-haired Tom
Till was right across the fire from me. The ground was still wet, so
we were sitting on our camp chairs. It being a little chilly, I had a
blanket wrapped around me, and had it spread out to cover Little Jim
too, he being my favorite small guy of the whole gang. For some reason
whenever he was with me, I seemed to be a better boy--or anyway, I
wished I was. It was the easiest thing in the world to think about
the Bible and God and about everybody needing to be saved, and things
like that, when Little Jim was with us. And yet he was as much a
red-blooded, rough-and-tumble boy as any of the rest of us. I never
will forget the way he shot and killed a fierce old mad mother bear
once down along Sugar Creek--which story you maybe know about, if
you’ve read it in the book, “We Killed a Bear.”

“Here’s a good way to save labor,” Eagle Eye told us as soon as our
wigwam fire had burned down a little. He picked up one of the long
thick poles and dragged it to the fire and laid the end of it right
across the still burning wigwam. Then he dragged up another pole and
laid the end of it crosswise across the end of the first one. Pretty
soon he had the ends of all the poles criss-crossed on each other on
the fire with all the opposite ends stretching out in all directions
like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Say, almost right away the big hot
flames were leaping up like Circus’s pop’s hungry dogs leaping up
around a Sugar Creek tree where they’ve treed a coon. It was certainly
a pretty sight.

“Pretty soon, when the ends of the poles are burned up, we’ll push the
poles up a little further,” Eagle Eye said, “and you won’t have to chop
them in short pieces at all. When you want your fire to go out, at bed
time, you just pull the poles back from the fire and pour water on the
ends.”

I looked across at my Man Friday, and he grinned back at me and said,
“I’d rather have _him_ for my boss than--than Robinson Crusoe himself,”
which was maybe half funny, I thought.

“Tomorrow night, you use the same poles, and not have to chop,” Eagle
Eye explained.

Well, Eagle Eye wrapped his blanket around him and sat down on a log
and began his story, first taking out his Bible--he, as you know, being
a missionary to his own people.

Before he got started, though, Little Jim, who was cuddled up close
to me, under my blanket, whispered, “That pretty blue smoke hanging up
there, is like the pillar of cloud it tells about in the Bible. When it
hung above the camp of the people of Israel, it meant God wanted them
to stay there awhile, and when it lifted itself up higher, it meant
they were supposed to travel on.”

I’d heard that story many a time in Sunday school or church, and liked
it a lot. I didn’t understand it very well, though, not until that very
second when Little Jim, who had his eyes focused on Eagle Eye as he
opened his Bible and also at the blue cloud of smoke, said to me in my
ear, “I’ll bet the cloud was there to show the people that God loved
them and was right there to look after them and take care of them.”

Imagine that little guy thinking that, but it seemed like maybe he was
right.

Then Eagle Eye told his story, which was a different kind of story than
we had expected. It was all about how his father had been such a good
father until he learned to drink whiskey, and then one night he had
gotten drunk and had driven his car into a telephone pole away up at
the place where the highway and the sandy road meet--“You boys notice
next time you’re there. There’s a cross which the Highway Commission
put there, to remind people that somebody met his death there by a car
accident.”

Eagle Eye stopped talking a minute, and I saw him fumble under his
blanket for something, and it was a handkerchief, which he used to wipe
a couple of quick tears from his eyes. It was the first time I ever saw
an Indian with tears in his eyes, and it gave me the queerest feeling,
’cause I realized that Indians were real people after all, and could
feel sad inside, and love their parents, the same as anybody else God
had made.

Then my eyes swished across the circle to where Tom Till was sitting
beside Big Jim, and I saw him swallow hard like there was a big lump
in his throat. He was just staring into the fire like he wasn’t seeing
it at all, but was seeing something or somebody very far away. I knew
that if he was imagining anything about Old hook-nosed John Till, his
thoughts wouldn’t have to travel very far, but only to an abandoned old
cabin on a lake--only he didn’t know that.

Then Eagle Eye brought something else out from under his blanket, and
the minute I saw it I realized it was going to be hard for Tom to sit
still and listen, but there it was--a great big whiskey bottle with
pretty flowers on its very pretty label. Eagle Eye held the bottle up
in the light of the fire for us all to see, and said, “This is the
enemy that killed my father. I found it half empty in the car where
he died. This bottle is responsible for my father’s broken neck, his
crushed head, and the broken windshield that cut his face and neck
beyond recognition.”

Eagle Eye stopped then, and took the bottle in both of his hands, held
it out and looked at it, and shook his head sadly.

While everything was quiet for a jiffy, with only the sound of the
crackling fire, and Little Jim’s irregular breathing beside me, I
noticed that Little Tom Till over there had both of his smallish kinda
dirty fists doubled up tight like he was terribly mad at something or
somebody.

Then Eagle Eye talked again and said, “The Evil Spirit, the Devil,
paints all sin pretty, boys, but sin is bad. All sin is bad, and only
Jesus can save from sin. You boys pray for my people. Too many of them
are learning to drink the white man’s whiskey.”

Well, the story was finished, and Barry wasn’t back yet, to take charge
of the last part of our campfire meeting, so I knew Big Jim would
have to do it. It was what we called Prayer Time, and just before
somebody was supposed to lead us in an outloud prayer, the leader asked
questions around the circle, if any of us had anything or anybody we
wanted prayer for.

So Big Jim took charge and started by saying he wanted us to pray for
Big Jim himself, ’cause some day he might want to be a missionary;
Circus was next in the circle, so he spoke up and said, “Everybody
thank the Lord for saving my dad from being a drunkard.” The very
minute he said it, I was both sad and glad, and looked quick at Tom
Till who was still staring into the fire, with his fists doubled up.
Dragonfly was next, and he said, “Pray for my mother.”

Poetry frowned, trying to think, then said, “For new mission hospitals
to be built in foreign countries, like Africa and Cuba and other
places,” and when he said Cuba, his and my eyes met and I knew what
else he was thinking about.

It was Tom Till’s turn next, but he sat with his head down and was
looking at his doubled-up fists. I could see he was afraid to say a
word for fear his voice would break and he’d cry, so Big Jim skipped
him and it was Little Jim’s turn. He piped up from beside me and said
in his mouse-like voice, “Everybody pray for Shorty Long back home.” I
certainly was surprised, ’cause Shorty Long was the new tough guy who
had moved into Sugar Creek territory last winter and had started coming
to our school and had caused a terrible lot of trouble for the gang.
But that was like Little Jim, praying for something like that.

Next it was my turn. I’d been thinking all the time while the
different requests were being made, and hadn’t decided yet just what
to ask for, but all of a sudden I remembered something my red-haired
bushy-eyebrowed, reddish-brown-mustashed pop prays for, when he asks
the blessing at our table at the house, and so I said, “Pray for
all the broken-hearted people in the world,” only when Pop prays he
always adds, “For a broken and a contrite heart, O Lord, thou wilt not
despise.”

For a while after I said that, and thought that, I was lonesome for my
folks--for my grayish-brown-haired mother and my swell baby sister,
Charlotte Ann, and our black and white cat and our kind of oldish house
and our big gray barn, and Pop’s beehives and our potato patch, and
also I wished, for just a second, that I could stand and take just one
big happy look at Sugar Creek itself, with the weedy riffle just below
the old swimming hole and the old leaning linden tree above the spring,
and Bumblebee Hill, where we’d first met Little red-haired Tom Till and
his big brother, Bob, and had had a fight and I licked Tom, and at the
bottom of that hill we had run kersmack into the fierce old mad old
mother bear and her cub, and to save himself and all of us Little Jim
had shot her.

Well, that was all our prayer requests, except Little Tom’s, and Big
Jim was going to be courteous enough not to ask him again, so he
wouldn’t be embarrassed, but right away Little Tom spoke up and said,
“Pray for my daddy, that he’ll come home again, and will get a good
job.”

Then that little guy picked up a stick that was in front of him and
reached out and shoved the end of it into the fire, where it sent up a
lot of pretty yellow sparks toward the blue smoke cloud up there; and
for some reason there was a thought flashed into my mind like somebody
had turned on a light in my head, and it was that Little Tom’s request
was already on its way up to God, just like the sparks had shot up
toward the sky, and I felt that sometime God was going to answer and
give him a swell daddy just like Circus’s daddy was, after he was
saved, and his mother would be happy and the whole family could go to
church together. They would have enough to eat, and better clothes to
wear, and everything.

But it certainly didn’t look like the answer was going to come very
soon, though--what with John Till being described by a radio announcer
as maybe the one who had helped the kidnapper, and right now maybe John
Till knew where the ransom money was buried, if it was--and if he got
caught, I thought, he’d have to go to jail and this time maybe he’d
have to stay a terribly long time--years and years.

Well, Eagle Eye gathered up all our requests like a boy gathering up
an armload of wood, and took them to God in some very nice friendly
words, and handed them to Him to look over and to answer as soon as He
could and in the best way.

I felt good inside watching Eagle Eye pray--although I shut my eyes
almost right away. First he took off his big Indian hat and I noticed
he had a haircut like ordinary white men. He left his blanket wrapped
around him and shut his eyes, and just stood there with his brownish
face kinda lit up by the fire, and he talked to the heavenly Father
like they were good friends....

Then the meeting broke up, and pretty soon it was time for us to go
to bed. I had a chance to talk with Tom alone a minute, though, just
before we went to our separate tents. All of us were as noisy as usual
at bedtime, except Tom, and I noticed he still had a sad expression on
his face, so when I got a chance, I walked with him to the end of the
dock where we stood looking out over the pretty shimmering waves of the
lake under the half moon that was shining on it, and I said, “’Smatter,
Tom? Something the matter?”

He just stood there, not saying a word for a minute until I said,
“You’re one of my best friends, Tom.” Then he answered me very sadly,
saying, “The mail boat brought a letter from Mother, and she’s worried
about Dad. He’s gone again and nobody knows where he is.”

I didn’t know what to say for a jiffy, so I just stood beside him
thinking and feeling sorry for him, wishing his pop could be saved like
Circus’s pop and that the Till family would all be Christians and go
to church. I don’t know why I thought what else I thought just then,
but this is what I thought--something I’d heard Old Man Paddler, back
at Sugar Creek, say once, and it was, “A lot of husbands are murdering
their wives a little at a time. Some day a lot of mean husbands are
going to look down into the coffins at their wives’ funerals and
realize that by making them sorry and not being kind to them, their
wives died ten years sooner than they should have--and that’s the same
as murder.”

Old hook-nosed John Till was a murderer, too, I thought, as well
as a drunkard, and it made me feel more sorry for the grand little
red-haired freckle-faced guy who stood beside me.

Tom had put his back to me. Both of his hands were clasped around the
flag pole at the end of the dock, and he was just weaving his body
backward and forward and sidewise like he was nervous. “Don’t worry,
Tom,” I said, “you’ve got a lot of friends, and my mother thinks your
mother is swell.” Right then I got the surprise of my life, when he
said what he said. I hadn’t realized that this little guy liked his
wicked daddy a lot, too. This is what he said, “There are a lot of
crosses all over the country like the one Eagle Eye told us about--just
like the one they put up for his Indian daddy--” Then Little Tom
stopped talking and I heard him sniffle and I knew it wasn’t on account
of the breeze from the lake or because he was allergic to anything.
He liked his daddy and didn’t want him to get drunk and have a car
accident and get killed.

I felt terribly saddish, and at the same time a sort of wonderful,
feeling came bubbling up inside of me. Say, I liked that little guy so
much it actually hurt inside my heart. I reached out like my pop does
to me sometimes, and put my arm halfway around him, and before I knew
I was going to do it I’d given him the same kind of a half a hug Pop
gives me and said, “Listen, Tom. I think God’s going to answer Eagle
Eye’s prayer for you.”

Then I left bashful as anything, and just stood there beside him while
he kept weaving back and forth with his hands still on the flag pole,
neither one of us saying a word; and the waves of the lake made a
friendly sound, lapping against the dock posts and washing against the
sandy shore.

Well, the gang was yelling from the tents for us to hurry and come on
and go to bed, so Tom and I started to walk back to shore and toward
the Indian fire. The fire was still alive although the flames were
kinda lazy, and the big blue cloud of smoke that had been hanging
above our camp was mixed up with the night sky seemed to be gone. Tom
and I stopped beside the fire a minute and looked down into it. Then
just like he’d done before, he picked up a stick and shoved it into
the coals, and a whole lot of sparks came out and shot in different
directions of up, toward the sky.

“Hey you--Bill,” Big Jim called to me from his tent, “it’s your turn to
put out the fire--the water pail is here in Barry’s tent--” which is
what we had to do every night with our camp fires, pour water on them,
so there wouldn’t be any danger of them suddenly coming to life in a
wind and starting a forest fire.

It didn’t take me long to get the water pail, dip up some water from
the lake and pour it on that fire till there wasn’t even one tiny spark
visible.

Little Jim came out and went along with me as I made two or three trips
from the fire to the lake and back carrying water. As you know, Little
Jim had been sleeping in Big Jim’s tent, with Tom Till, and also Barry
Boyland. The rest of us--in fact, our whole Robinson Crusoe gang--slept
in the other tent--my two goats and my Man Friday and me.

“There’s something I want to ask you,” Little Jim said to me just as I
was about to leave him at his tent.

“What?” I said.

“Can I play Robinson Crusoe with you tomorrow?”

I was dumbfounded, “What?” I said. “Who told you about--our game?”

“I just guessed it,” he said, “when Dragonfly said you walked on his
neck and he was a Negro, and that they’d been trying to make soup out
of him.”

I wouldn’t promise him, ’cause I wasn’t sure what my Man Friday and my
two goats would think of the idea, but later when my goats and my Man
Friday and I were alone in our tent, we talked it over and Friday said,
“Let’s let him--and he can be _my_ slave.”

Poetry spoke up from his sleeping bag beside me and said, “Let’s let
’im ’cause he didn’t get to help us find the little Ostberg girl, and
he wasn’t even with us when we caught the kidnapper himself in the
Indian cemetery!”

So that was that. We wouldn’t take Tom Till along, though, on account
of we didn’t want him to know his daddy was up here, and might be mixed
up with the kidnapping mystery. Also for some reason it didn’t seem
right to me to have Big Jim come along and be our leader, when Robinson
Crusoe had to be the leader himself.

Boy oh boy! I could hardly wait till tomorrow!

For a long time I lay awake, in our dark tent, smelling the smell of
mosquito lotion and hearing the noise of Dragonfly’s snoring and the
regular breathing of Poetry and Circus, and thinking a lot of things.
I hadn’t said my prayers yet, and I was already in my sleeping bag,
with the zipper zipped up--although I’d prayed with the rest of the
gang around the fire when Eagle Eye prayed outloud for all of us. But
it kinda seemed like it had been a dangerous day, as well as a very
wonderful one, and God had taken good care of all of us boys and that
I ought to tell Him so. Of course, I could just talk to Him without
kneeling, like I sometimes do, but this seemed like it was extra
important, so very quietly I zipped open my sleeping bag, squirmed
myself into a kneeling position, and while a mosquito sang on my right
ear without stinging me, on account of the ear had mosquito lotion on
it, I said a few extra special words to God, and wound up by saying,
“And please don’t let John Till murder Little Tom’s mother. Please save
him as quick as You can, and if there is anything I can do to help You,
let me know, and I’ll try to do it.”

A little later, while I was lying warm and cozy in my bag, listening to
Dragonfly’s crooked nose snoring away like a handsaw cutting through
a board, it seemed like there was kind of a warm secret between God
and me, and that it might not be very long until Tom would have a new
daddy.... Then I dozed off into sleep, and right away, it seemed, I was
mixed up in the craziest dream I ever was mixed up in. My dream was
about hook-nosed John Till, Little Tom’s pop, and it seemed he was all
tangled up in the kidnapping mystery. In the last part of the dream,
John had a bottle of whiskey in one hand and was standing beside the
sink in the old cabin, pouring the whiskey over a stringer of fish. He
kept on pouring and pouring--in fact, the whiskey bottle sort of faded
out of the dream and John was pumping the old iron pitcher pump, which,
quick as an eye-wink, was standing at the end of the board walk in our
back yard at Sugar Creek, and whiskey instead of water was coming in
big belches out of the pitcher pump’s mouth, and was splashing down
over the fish which were in our water tank, where our cows and horses
drank....

All of a sudden I noticed that the stringer of fish had all changed and
that there wasn’t a walleye or a northern pike among them, but only big
dark brown ugly bullheads, and they weren’t on the stringer any more,
but were swimming around and playing and acting lively in our water
tank filled with whiskey. Poetry who has standing beside me in my dream
said to me in my ear, “Look, Bill--the whiskey’s changed all the fish
into bullheads.”

It was a silly dream, and right that second I felt something touching
me in the ribs. I forced my stubborn eyes open a little but couldn’t
see anything on account of it was very dark in our tent, but I did see
a shadow of someone leaning over me, and after such a crazy dream I was
scared of who it might be. Then I heard Poetry’s husky whisper right
close to my face saying, “Hey, Bill!”

“What?” I whispered up at him. My mind was all tangled up with mixed-up
ideas.

Poetry’s whisper back in my car was, “Let’s take a look at the
invisible-ink map. I just dreamed there was another line running off in
a different direction. Let’s hold a hot flashlight down real close to
it and see if there is.”

I didn’t want to wake up--or rather, I did want to go back to sleep
again, but Poetry kept on whispering excitedly about his dream, so I
reached over to my shirt which I had hung on my camp chair close by,
and ran my hand into the pocket where I had had the map. Say, I hadn’t
any sooner got my hand inside than a very scared feeling woke me up
quicker’n anything, on account of the map wasn’t in the pocket. “Hey!”
I whispered to Poetry, “it’s not in my pocket!”



8


“Sure it is,” Poetry said. “It’s got to be!”

“But it’s not!” I said, more wide awake than I usually am when I am
wide awake. I must have made a lot of excited noise ’cause right away
Dragonfly stopped snoring, sneezed a couple of times, and wanted to
know what was going on, and why.

“Nothing,” my fat goat said to him. “We’re just looking for something.”

“Well, for--! Look with your _eyes_ instead of your _voices_,”
Dragonfly said, “I’m allergic to--_kerchew!_--to--_kerchew!_--to NOISE!”

“It’s your own snoring that woke you up,” Poetry said to my Man Friday.
“Now go back to sleep.”

I certainly felt queer. “Somebody’s _stolen_ it,” I said to Poetry. I
was running my hands frantically through all the pockets of my trousers
and my shirt and all the other clothes I’d had on during the day.

We flashed the flashlight all around the tent and into every corner,
where the envelope might have fallen out of one of my pockets. “We’ve
_got_ to find it,” Poetry said. “Where do you suppose you lost it?”

“_Lost_ it? Somebody’s sneaked in here and stolen it.”

“Hey!” Poetry said, like he had thought of a bright idea. “When did you
remember looking at it last?”

My thoughts galloped back over the evening, and the afternoon, and I
couldn’t remember.

“What pocket did you have it in last?” Poetry asked, and I thought a
jiffy, and said, “Why, my shirt pocket where I keep my New Testament. I
put it there when I--”

And then I stopped talking, gasped out loud. I’d thought of something.
“Maybe we--maybe it dropped out of my pocket back there in the cabin
when we were climbing out of the window.”

Then Poetry said, “Yeah, or maybe you left it out on the front porch,
and that’s why John Till didn’t come back to try to stop us. Maybe he
found it on the floor out there and picked it up--if it was what he’d
been looking for--”

My acrobatic goat came to life then, and groaned and turned over and
tried to go back to sleep. But Poetry was more excited than I was. He
said, “Bill Collins, we’ve GOT to find that map, and I don’t think we
lost it around here anywhere.”

“Let’s all go back to sleep,” my Man Friday said.

“Go ahead--who’s stopping you?” I said. In a jiffy I was scrambling
into my clothes, while Poetry was doing the same thing, each one of us
knowing what the other one of us wanted to do.

In less than a little while we had on our clothes so we wouldn’t get
cold while we stepped outside into the kinda chilly night, like nights
are up North even in the summertime. We had our two flashlights and
were soon looking around the outside of our tent, sneaking along as
quietly as we could so as not to wake up any of the rest of the gang in
the other tent.

We flashed our flashlights on and off all around the circle where we
had been sitting at the campfire service, but there wasn’t a sign of
any envelope there. Then we looked all around the lean-to where we had
gotten the dry logs for Eagle Eye’s Indian fire, but still didn’t find
anything, so Poetry and I followed the path up the shore to the fish
cemetery and looked all around where we had been digging to bury the
fish heads and entrails.

“Maybe it fell out of your pocket when you were digging here,” Poetry
said, but there wasn’t a sign of what we were looking for there
anywhere either. It was just like looking for a needle in a haystack
when there isn’t any needle to look for.

“Will you _ever_!” Poetry exclaimed, tossing his light all around in a
circle at the newly-made fish graves. “The coons’ve already been here,”
which I could see they had. I flashed my flashlight from place to place
and off into the woods in a big circle and up into the trees but
didn’t see a thing that looked like bright shining eyes or pretty gray
fur or a furry tail with black furry rings around it, which is the kind
of tails ring-tailed coons have.

From the fish cemetery we went out to the end of the dock and back,
then to our tent again. When we stopped in front of the closed flap
we listened, but my Man Friday and my acrobatic goat were as quiet as
mice, so we decided they were asleep.

“Do you know what?” Poetry said, and I said, “What?” and he said,
“I think we’d better go back up along the trail where we were this
afternoon to see if maybe we dropped it along there somewhere.”

I couldn’t imagine us being able to find it at night, like that, even
if it was there. Besides, I still had the notion--in fact, a very
creepy feeling inside of me--that somebody must’ve sneaked into our
tent while we were asleep and stolen it out of my pocket.

“Well,” Poetry said, “when did you last _look_ at it? When did you last
have it _out_ of your pocket? Where were you when you _last_ saw it?”
and I must confess that the last time I had seen the envelope was when
we were still in the cabin. I had shoved it into my shirt pocket right
beside where I kept my New Testament.

When I told Poetry that, he said, “O.K., then, when did you last have
your New Testament out of your pocket?”

Say, I gasped out loud when he said that like that, for I remembered
that I’d had my New Testament out of my pocket when I was on the porch
of the old cabin John Till was in, and had been holding it in my hand
while I was looking out across the very pretty terribly stormy lake.

“You mean you haven’t looked at it since then?” Poetry asked me,
astonished, and I said, “No.” I was astonished even at myself, but then
of course we’d all decided not to tell the rest of the gang but to keep
it secret for a while, so that explained why I hadn’t taken it out of
my pocket. Eagle Eye hadn’t asked us to read any verses out of the
Bible, so I hadn’t even thought of opening my New Testament. If I had,
I would no doubt have noticed that the envelope was missing.

“O.K., come on,” Poetry said. “Let’s get going,” which we did, swishing
as fast as we could through the wet grass and along the path that was
bordered by the still wettish bushes, although the late afternoon sun
had dried things off quite a bit.

Down the shore we went, past the boathouse, up the steep hill and
along the sandy road, shining our flashlights on and off as we went.
I carried with me a stout stick, just in case we ran onto anything
or anybody that might need to be socked in order to save our lives.
As we swished along in the moonlight, using our flashlights, I was
glad there weren’t supposed to be any bears up here, and that where
we were camping there weren’t supposed to be any wild animals except
deer, polecats, raccoons, chipmunks and maybe a few other more or less
friendly wild animals, all of which would be half scared to death if
they saw us hurrying past carrying flashlights.

When we came to the place where we had found the little Ostberg girl,
we flashed our lights all around and on the tree Circus had climbed,
and all around where my acrobatic goat’s fire-cracker had started the
little fire which we had put out in a hurry. I even went over and
picked up the empty prune can which the cannibals had left, and which
the goats hadn’t eaten, and looked inside, knowing, of course, that the
envelope wasn’t there.

“We’d better follow the trail of broken twigs down to John Till’s
cabin,” Poetry said. “Maybe it fell out of your pocket down there some
place.”

Say, I was scared to get anywhere near John Till, remembering his
big hunting knife, but I kept thinking all the time what I had been
thinking before, which was, “What if John Till has found the map, and
has gone to dig for the treasure? If the police find him, with it in
his possession, the newspapers’ll print all the story, and the Sugar
Creek Gang will get a black eye all over the country. On top of that,
Little Tom Till will be ashamed to come to Sunday school or even to
school; besides, if we can save Old hook-nosed John Till from having
to go to jail, he might not ever have to go again.” But I knew that
IF he had to go once more, having been in jail a good many times in
his life, he’d maybe have to stay in ten or fifteen years this time.
So if we could stop him from finding the ransom money, it’d be a good
idea. Besides, the money was supposed to be used for a hospital on a
foreign missionary field, which made it seem important that we find it
ourselves.

When we came to the first broken twig, even as scared as Poetry and I
were we zipped on, using our flashlights till we came to the next, and
the next. In a little while, we were at the top of the hill looking
down at the moonlight on the lake. Between us and the lake was the
cabin where we had had all our excitement in the afternoon.

“Hey, look!” Poetry said to me. “There’s smoke coming out of the
chimney!” And sure enough there was. We could see it in the moonlight,
rising slowly from the brick chimney top and spreading itself out into
a large lazy cloud just like the one Little Jim had whispered to me
about, that was hanging above our heads and that had reminded him of
the one that had been above the camp of the people in the Bible, which
meant that God was right there looking after them and loving them and
protecting them.

For a minute, right in the middle of all that excitement I got a warm
feeling in my heart that God was right there with Poetry and me and
that He loved us and was looking after us, and also we were doing the
right thing.

“Look!” I whispered to Poetry, holding onto his arm so tight he said,
“Hey, not so tight--I _am_ looking!”

Through one of the windows, we could see a flickering fire in the
fireplace. From where we were, we could see past the kitchen window,
but couldn’t see into it. Then I felt my hair rising right up under my
hat, for there was the shadow of a man just like he’d climbed out that
window. Then a flashlight went on and off real quick.

“SH!” Poetry said to me, ’cause I had gasped outloud. “He’s coming this
way.” Which he was, but only for a few feet till he got to the corner
of the cabin, then he turned and followed the cement walk which led
along the side of the house and down the slope to the dock.

I could hardly believe my ears, but I had to, ’cause the man was
whistling a tune and it was “Old Black Joe,” which we sometimes sang
out of a song book at Sugar Creek school, and also used different words
to in our church, which were:

  “Once I was lost and way down deep in sin,
  Once was a slave to passions fierce within.
  Once was afraid to trust a loving God,
  But now my sins are washed away in Jesus’ blood.”

Only I knew John Till wouldn’t be thinking of those words when he
whistled, but would be thinking of the Old Black Joe ones.

At the corner of the cabin, he came out in the moonlight where we saw
as clear as anything. He had a pair of rubber boots on, a fishing pole
in one hand and a big stringer of fish, which looked like the very same
stringer he had in the sink in the afternoon.

“He’s going out to clean his fish,” Poetry said.

“And he’s got a spade, to bury the insides with,” I said, noticing it
for the first time.

We stood there glued to our tracks and holding onto each other,
wondering “What on earth!” We hardly dared move or breathe ’cause the
cement walk came in our direction first before it turned to make its
long half circle down to the dock and the lake.

“Maybe he’s going down to put his fish in a live box,” Poetry said,
which is what fishermen sometimes do with their live fish which they’ve
caught, especially if you don’t want to clean and eat them right away.
They keep them alive in what is called a “live box” down at the lake
near their docks.

“But they would have been dead by now,” I said. “They wouldn’t stay
alive in that sink all this time--not with all that whiskey all over
them,” and Poetry said, “What whiskey all over what, where?”

Then I remembered that I had only dreamed about the whiskey coming out
of the pump and filling the sink, and I felt foolish, but say, that
dream had seemed so real that it was just like it had actually happened.

John Till’s whistle sounded farther and farther away as he went down
the hill, and pretty soon we saw him coming out in the moonlight on the
dock away down at the lake.

“Hey!” Poetry whispered to me. “There’s a boat! He’s getting into a
boat,” which is what John was doing. In the next minute and a half,
with us standing up there with our teeth chattering, partly because it
was a cold and damp night and partly because we were half scared half
to death, we saw a flash of an oar blade in the moonlight, and a little
later the boat was shoved out from the dock and we saw John Till rowing
in the moonlight, going up the shore.

Well, we didn’t know what was going to happen next, or whether anything
would, because it seemed like everything that could possibly happen had
already happened. But say, Poetry was as brave as anything. Certainly
he was braver than I was right at that minute, or else we decided to do
what we decided to do in spite of being afraid. “Let’s go in the cabin
and look around and see if we can find the map,” Poetry said.

The very minute John Till’s boat disappeared around the bend of the
shore, we sneaked down the side of the hill, to the kitchen window. We
could see the flames leaping up in the fireplace. In a jiffy Poetry had
the window up and we had climbed in. We could smell fish and also a
sort of a deadish smell in the cabin, but it was warm and cozy with the
fire going in the fireplace. We took a quick look in the bedroom and
there was the rollaway bed all nicely opened out with blankets on it
and ready for somebody to use.

We shined our lights in quick circles all over the floor, thinking
maybe John Till might not have known there was an envelope which we
might have dropped here. Then we went out onto the front porch and
looked very carefully in the direction his boat had gone to be sure he
was really around the bend and couldn’t see our lights.

“Look!” Poetry said. “Here’s the whiskey bottle, standing just where it
was, and it’s still just as half full as it was!”

I looked and could hardly believe my eyes, but it was true. “It must
have had water in it instead of whiskey,” Poetry said, “or John Till
would have drunk it up the very minute he laid his eyes on it.”

I put my nose close to the top of the bottle and smelled, and sure
enough it smelled just like whiskey, which is an even worse smell than
something that has been dead for a week.

I looked down at the place where I had been standing in the afternoon
when I had pulled the New Testament out of my pocket to see if the
envelope with the map in it was there, and it wasn’t.

Then we turned and walked back toward the door which led into the main
room.

When I got to the place where the mirror was on the wall, I looked
in it just to have a look at myself. I looked past my face and away
out onto the very pretty lake which was shimmering like silver in the
moonlight. Even though I didn’t have time to think about how pretty
it was, I remembered the happy feeling I had had in my heart in the
afternoon; and while Poetry and I were going through the main room,
past the fireplace and into the kitchen and were climbing out of the
window to go back to camp, I thought that God could make just as pretty
a moonlight night as He could a thunderstorm. In spite of the fact that
I was all tangled up in a very interesting and exciting adventure, I
couldn’t help but be glad that I was on God’s side and that He could
count on me to be a friend of His anytime He needed me.

We didn’t have any trouble following our broken twig trail to the place
where it turned off in another direction. There we stopped and Poetry
said, “I wish we could follow this trail of broken twigs tonight, and
not wait till tomorrow. It might be too late tomorrow. Do you know that
it goes in the same direction John Till’s boat was going?”

“What of it?” I said. My teeth were still chattering and I was pretty
cold and wet and also tired, and wished I was back in camp, snuggled
down in my nice warm cozy sleeping bag.

“We’d get lost in less than three minutes,” I said to Poetry, “and then
what would we do?”

“It’s as easy as pie not to get lost,” he said. “You stay right here
with your flashlight, and I’ll go in the direction the broken twigs
point until I find the next one; then you come to where I am and stand
there with your flashlight while I swish on to the next one, and we can
keep doing that from one to another until we get there.”

“Get where?” I asked.

“Where the treasure is buried,” he said with an impatient voice.

“But we haven’t anything to dig with,” I said, in a voice just as
impatient.

We stood for a little while arguing with each other as to what to do
and whether to do it. “Let’s try it anyway!” Poetry said. “You stay
here till I go and see if I can find the next one. Keep your flashlight
turned off as much as you can, to save the battery,” he ordered, and
for some reason, I, Robinson Crusoe, gave up and let my fat goat be the
leader....

Away he went in a sort of a zig--zag style in the general direction the
broken twigs pointed.

I could hear him swishing around, up ahead of me. It felt awful spooky
here in this dark woods with my light turned off, and only little
patches of moonlight around me, coming through the leaves and pine
needles of the trees overhead.

After about four minutes, Poetry’s half bass and half soprano voice
called to me saying, “Hey, turn on your flashlight, so I can find out
where I am!”

I turned on my light, and shot its long beam in the direction from
which I had heard his voice, and he shined his toward me. Then his half
worried voice called and said, “Is your broken twig pointing toward me?”

“No!” I said. “You’re off in a different direction. Why don’t we get
out of here and go home? I don’t think we can follow any trail tonight.”

I knew it would have been easy if we had followed the trail before in
the daytime and had known what kind of broken twigs to look for and how
far apart they were.

Poetry didn’t like to give up, so when he got back to where I was, he
wanted to start out again, but I said, “What if we would get lost out
there somewhere?”

“We’d just follow the trail back again,” he said, but his voice sounded
like he had already given up. We decided to go back to camp and get
some sleep, and tomorrow we would come back in broad daylight and be
able to see where we were going.



9


We hurried back to camp as quickly as we could, sneaked up to our own
tent where my acrobatic goat and my Man Friday were sleeping, and
started undressing and getting into our pajamas. I felt pretty saddish
on account of the map being gone, but there wasn’t anything we could do
till morning.

We kept our flashlights turned off so as not to wake up the other
two guys. We could see a little on account of the moonlight that was
pouring down on the top of our tent.

“Where you guys been?” my Man Friday said to me from behind me.

His voice scared me ’cause I’d thought he was asleep. “We’ve been
out looking for the invisible-ink map,” my fat goat answered for
me--“either somebody stole it out of Robinson Crusoe’s shirt pocket, or
we lost it back on the trail somewhere this afternoon.”

“Oh, is _that_ where you’ve been?” my Man Friday said. “Why didn’t you
tell me? I’ve got it here under my pillow. I was afraid somebody would
steal it, so I took it out of Crusoe’s pocket and hid it here.”

“WHAT!” I said fiercely, more disgusted with him than I had been for a
long time. I made a dive for him, so half mad I could have beat him up.

“Don’t hurt me!” he cried, turning his face and burying it in his
pillow, which, the minute he did it, his nose objected to it by making
him sneeze. “Your Man Friday--_kerchew!_--has to look after you,
doesn’t he?”

Well, that was that. Poetry and I were so tired and so sleepy that we
didn’t feel like telling Dragonfly and Circus what we had seen going on
up at the old cabin.

I got the map away from Dragonfly and put it down inside my sleeping
bag with me, next to my chest, happy that it wasn’t lost, and feeling
cozy and warm and glad to have a warm bed to sleep in, and the next
thing I knew it was morning. Our mystery was still unsolved, but it was
a very pretty wonderful sunshiny day, with a pretty blue sky, and the
lake was as smooth as a pane of blue glass.

Little Tom Till was our main problem. Barry still hadn’t come back, so
Big Jim was in charge of us till noon. I’d promised to let Little Jim
play Robinson Crusoe with us today--but what to do about Tom Till? I
hated to tell him his daddy was up here in the North Woods and that the
police were looking for him.

“How’ll we get away without taking Big Jim and Little Tom Till and
without having them ask all kinds of questions?” I asked Poetry who
grinned and said, “’Tsas easy as pie. The rest of you just sneak away
without anyone noticing you, and I’ll leave this note on Big Jim’s tent
pole.”

Poetry had a note already written. It was in poetry and was:

  “Please,--Big Jim and Little Tom Till--
   Do not worry, for we will
   All be back in time for lunch--
   We are following a hunch.”
                    (Signed) Robinson Crusoe, his Man
                          Friday and his Three Goats.

It was an easy way for us to get away without having to explain where
we were going and why.

In only a little while we were gone, following the sandy road toward
the place where the week before Poetry and I had found the little
Ostberg girl, all of us explaining some of the mystery to Little Jim as
we went along, my Man Friday carrying the spade we were going to dig up
the money with, and Little Jim carrying his stick and an empty gunny
sack he’d found.

“What’s the gunny sack for?” Dragonfly asked him, and Little Jim said,
“We’re going after buried treasure, aren’t we?”--which we were.

When we came to the place where we had built the imaginary fire with
which to cook Dragonfly, Little Jim got the cutest grin on his face
and said, “Here’s where I come in.... Somebody shoot me quick, so I can
turn into a goat.”

“BANG!” I said to him, pointing my finger at him. “Now you’re _dead_.”

Little Jim plopped himself down on the ground, then jumped up and said,
“Now I’m a goat.” He began to sniff at my hand like a good goat. He
surely was a swell guy and had a good imagination, I thought--only for
some reason our game had turned from innocent fun to a very serious and
maybe a dangerous game.

We followed our broken twig trail to where it branched off in two
directions, one of the trails going toward the cabin where we’d seen
John Till twice, and the other one going toward where the ransom money
was buried, we hoped.

“Which way first?” my Man Friday asked me, then got a screwed up
expression on his face, sniffed, and said, “Hey! there’s that deadish
smell again!”

Sure enough it was. I turned my nose in different directions to see
which way it was coming from, but couldn’t tell for sure.

“Come on!” my acrobatic goat said, “Let’s get going!” and he and my fat
goat started off on the trail we hadn’t followed yet. There wasn’t any
use for me to get peeved that they didn’t wait for my orders before
going ahead, so I said, “Sure, that’s what _I_ say,” and away we all
went, Little Jim carrying his stick, with a grin and also a very
serious expression on his smallish face. He held his stick like he was
ready to sock anything that might need socking and swished on up ahead
of me so the three goats could be together.

It was fun following the trail, and yet as we moved along from one
broken twig to another and to another, I was remembering what a
dangerous surprise we had found yesterday when we had come to the end
of that other trail.

It certainly wasn’t a straight trail, but kept zig-zagging in different
directions, but it seemed from the direction of the sun that it was
working around toward the lake again. Pretty soon we came to a hill
and looked down and sure enough there was the lake ahead of us, and
away down at the foot of the hill we could see through the heavyish
undergrowth there was a building of some kind. The broken wild plum
twig where we were standing pointed right straight toward the oldish
building.

We stopped, surprised. I had expected to find a little mound of some
kind, or some markings on a tree or something, but certainly not an
oldish building.

In a jiffy we had out the invisible-ink map and were studying it.
There wasn’t anything on it that looked like a house.... “It’s an old
icehouse,” Poetry said, and it was--a dilapidated oldish unpainted log
icehouse--an icehouse being a building of some kind that people up in
the lake country build to store ice in it in the winter-time, so that
in the hot summer they can have plenty of ice for their iceboxes.

“Our hot trail suddenly turned cold,” my fat goat said, trying to be
funny and not being very. It certainly wasn’t what I’d expected to find.

“O.K.,” Little Jim said, “let’s go down and start digging.”

“In an icehouse?” my Man Friday said, astonished. “You wouldn’t expect
to find any buried treasure in a thousand blocks of ice!”

“Why not?” Poetry said. “Most icehouses have as much sawdust in them as
they do ice. The money’s maybe buried in there in the sawdust.”

Well that seemed to make sense, so we circled around and came up to the
icehouse on the side where there was the most shrubbery and where we’d
be the least likely to be seen by anybody in case anybody was watching.

We stopped about twenty feet from the place and listened, but didn’t
hear a thing, and then I got a sort of a feverish feeling in my
mind. I felt like maybe we were actually going to find the ransom
money--a whole twenty-five thousand dollars in 10 and 20 and 50 dollar
bills. Say, the mystery of playing Robinson Crusoe seemed like an
honest-to-goodness reality. I felt mysterious and afraid and brave at
the same time.

“All right, come on, you three goats. Come on, Friday,” I said, all of
a sudden waking up to the fact that I was supposed to be the leader.
“Let’s go in and dig.”

The entrance was on the side opposite to the lake. The very old heavy
barn door was wide open on its rusty hinges, but there were short
boards stretched across the entrance like the kind some people use to
board up the entrance to the coal bin in their basement.

I looked over the top of the highest board which was just about as high
as my chin, and didn’t see a thing inside except sawdust. In a jiffy we
had all scrambled up and were inside in the dark icehouse, which didn’t
have any windows and was only one big room maybe 20 feet square. It
seemed kinda like the haymow in our barn at Sugar Creek, only instead
of having nice alfalfa hay in it, it had sawdust. Down underneath we
knew there were scores of big blocks of ice which somebody had cut out
of the lake in the winter-time and had stored away here for summer use.

The old icehouse was also about the same shape as the woodshed beside
our red-brick schoolhouse back at Sugar Creek, where we had had many
a gang meeting. I noticed that the only light that came in was from
the door which, as I told you, was boarded up to as high as my chin,
although there was a smallish crack between two logs on the side next
to the lake.

It only took a jiffy for our eyes to get accustomed to the darkness. I
looked around but couldn’t see anything but sawdust.

“Hey,” Poetry said all of a sudden from the other side where he had
gone to look around. “It looks like the sawdust has been disturbed over
here--like somebody had been digging here lately.”

Say, you can imagine how we felt. I could just see in my mind’s eye
Little Jim’s gunny sack stuffed with money and all of us coming
grinning happily back into camp, with Big Jim and Little Tom Till and
maybe Barry Boyland, looking at us with astonished eyes. Also I could
imagine what “The Sugar Creek Times” would print about us, and also how
happy the Ostberg girl’s daddy would be, so I said, “O.K., Friday, give
me the spade.”

“Me dig,” Dragonfly said, “--me white man’s slave.” With that he
scrambled across to where Poetry was; but Poetry hadn’t waited for him
but was already down on his knees digging with his bare hands, which is
a good way to dig in sawdust.

Almost right away all of us were down on our knees digging as fast
as we could with our bare hands, only Little Jim was using his stick
to help him, and I was using the spade which I’d taken away from
Dragonfly, to shovel aside the pile of sawdust that I was digging out
of my hole.

My fat goat spoke up then, and said, “D’you guys know that Minnesota is
called the Gopher State?”

Pretty soon my spade struck something hard, and I felt a thrill go
through me. “Hey,” I said, “I’ve struck something! I’ve found it!”
expecting it to be a box or a smallish trunk or maybe a fishing tackle
box, like the kind the kidnapper had had the night we caught him,
which you know about if you’ve read the book, “Adventure in an Indian
Cemetery.”

Almost before I had the words out of my excited mouth, there was a
mad scramble of boys’ feet swishing across the sawdust from different
directions, and in a jiffy most of the rest of us were all around me
looking down into my hole to see what I had found. I shoved my spade in
and out a few times, but it didn’t sound like it was striking a tin box
or a trunk or anything.

“Listen!” I said, which we all did, but I couldn’t tell what it sounded
like.

“Let me get it out for you!” my acrobatic goat said.

I let him run his long right arm down into the hole. He scooped out
several handfuls of sawdust and then let out a disappointed sniff and
said, “You’ve struck ice, Robinson Crusoe! This is an _ice_house!”

I put my own hand down in the hole and my fingers touched something
cold. I also pulled out a smallish piece of ice which my spade had
chipped off.

“Anybody else strike ice?” I asked, and right that second I noticed
Little Jim over in a corner, prying at something with his stick, with
his tongue between his teeth like he has it sometimes when he’s working
at something or other. He had a happy grin on his face also, which I
could see on account of he was facing the opening where the light was
coming in.

“What you got there, Little Jim?” I asked my blue-eyed goat, and he
said, “I don’t know. It’s all covered with sawdust.” Almost before
he’d said it, I saw two great big round glassy eyes, a very large
spatulate-shaped snout and a longish body that looked like a small log
of fireplace wood.

Poetry saw it at the same time I did, but thought quicker, and
exclaimed, “Hey, Gang! Little Jim’s dug up a terribly big northern
pike!”

Quick, we started to help him get it out of the hole, although what we
wanted to get it out for, I didn’t know. That buried fish could mean
only one thing and that was that somebody had caught it in the lake and
had dug down here in the sawdust till he had reached the ice, and had
laid the fish down on it, and covered it up so it would keep cold and
wouldn’t spoil like fish do almost right away in warm weather, unless
you put them on ice.

“Hey!” Dragonfly said. “I’ve found _another_ fish over _here_!” And he
had.

We all stopped and looked at each other and I felt like the bottom of
my life had fallen out. Almost before I had thought the next saddish
disappointed thought, I’d said it to the rest of the gang and it was,
“So this’s what our mysterious map brought us to. We should have known
anybody wouldn’t be dumb enough to leave a map right out in plain sight
for anybody to find, if it showed where to dig for any buried treasure!”

There certainly wasn’t anything unusual about digging up fish in an
icehouse anyway. We’d buried some in the icehouse at our camp last year
when we’d been up here, and then, a week later, when we’d been ready to
go home we’d dug them up and packed them with sawdust and ice in a keg
and taken them back to Sugar Creek.

So that was that. We might as well go home, I thought, and said so.
“Let’s get out of here and go home, and keep still to everybody about
what fools we’ve all been and--”

But Poetry interrupted me by saying, “We’ll have to bury them again, or
they’ll spoil, and John Till’ll be madder than a hornet!”

“WHAT?” I said, and then remembered that we weren’t very far from John
Till’s cabin, and that we’d seen him coming right this very direction
last night in a boat, and that one of the fish had been about the size
of the one Little Jim had just dug up.

Thinking about John Till again made me decide it was time for us all
to get out of here in a hurry, so I started to dig with the spade real
quick to make Little Jim’s hole deep enough and long enough all the way
down so we could lay the big northern pike’s whole length on the ice
before covering it up.

“You bury yours again, too,” I said to Dragonfly, and he started to dig
his hole again, working as fast of he could.

Right that second Poetry, who was on his knees beside me, said, “D’you
ever see such a _fat_-stomached northern pike in your life?”

I stopped digging a half jiffy and looked at it, and never had, except
one I’d seen dead lying on a sandy beach once, and the flies had been
on it and it was bloated, but this one wasn’t bloated but was like it
had been caught only maybe yesterday.

In a little while I had the longish sawdust grave ready to lay the
fish corpse in it, when Poetry said to me in a hissing whisper, “SH!
BILL--feel here, will you? There’s something queer about this fish’s
stomach!”

The very excited sound of his whisper went clear through me and made
me feel like maybe he’d discovered something terribly important. I
reached out my hands and felt where he was feeling on the sides and
stomach of the extra large northern pike, which, even while I was doing
it, I thought was about the same size as the one I’d seen in the sink
in the old cabin where John Till had been pumping water yesterday.

Say, I could tell by my sense of touch that were _was_ something inside
that fish that wasn’t a part of him.

“Look!” Poetry whispered to me again, using his fat right hand to wipe
off the sawdust from the bottom of the pike’s stomach. “Here’s a place
where it’s been sliced open, and sewed up again. What do you s’pose
it’s got in it?”

Well, you can guess what I was supposing, ’cause I was remembering
that yesterday in the old cabin I’d seen a big northern the same size
as this one, and that John Till had a big hunting knife in his hand
like the kind Barry uses to clean fish, and also I remembered that
last night in the middle of the moonlit night, we’d seen John Till get
into a boat with a stringer of big fish and row up the lake in this
direction.

Dragonfly must have been listening to Poetry and me, instead of burying
his fish like I’d ordered him, ’cause he spoke up and said, “This one’s
been cut open and sewed up again, too.”

Well, you can guess that we were an excited gang of treasure hunters.
Of course we didn’t know we’d found anything for sure, but it certainly
looked like we had. It wouldn’t take any more than a jiffy and
three-fourths to find out. Poetry took his knife which was an official
boy scout knife, and had a stag handle, a heavy cutting blade, a screw
driver, a bottle and can-opener and a punch blade. He opened the sharp
cutting blade and carefully sliced through the heavy string the fish
was sewed up with, and right in front of our eyes--all the rest of the
gang gathering around to see what in the world--Poetry pulled out a big
package of something wrapped in oil paper, the same kind of oil paper
my mother has in our kitchen at home, which was waterproof.

In another second we had unwrapped the package and what to my wondering
eyes should appear but a packet of paper money that looked like dozens
and dozens of twenty dollar bills.

If I could have been somebody else standing close by and looking down
at me, I’ll bet I’d have seen my eyes almost bulging out of their
sockets with surprise and wonder and excitement.

“We’ve found it, Gang!” I said to us, and I knew we had.

Dragonfly piped up and said, “I’ll bet there’s a dozen other big fish
buried here with money in ’em.”

It was a wonderful feeling. First we’d found the invisible-ink map, and
then the trail of broken twigs, which we’d followed in two different
directions, and now we’d found the money itself. Boy oh boy, oh boy! It
was too good to be true!

“Now we know what the deadish smell was,” Dragonfly said, but Little
Jim said, “What deadish smell?”

Dragonfly answered, saying, “John Till took the fish’s insides out
while he was in the cabin, and maybe instead of burying them, just
threw them outside somewhere,” which I thought was pretty sensible for
Dragonfly to figure out.

But we couldn’t just stay here, and be like King Midas in the fairy
story every child ought to know, and count our money. We ought to get
back to camp and tell the gang and Barry and let the whole world know
what we’d found.

“Let’s get all of it dug up and take it away before John Till finds out
we discovered his hiding place,” Poetry said.

“But there might be a _dozen_ other fish with money in them,” I said,
“and it won’t be safe to stay that long. It might take a half hour to
find all of ’em. We’ve got to get out of here quick and get some help.”

Well, it certainly wasn’t any time to argue, with maybe the whole 25
thousand dollars buried in the sawdust all around us. But we did have
to decide whether to take what we’d found and beat it to camp, and come
back with help, or to dig up all the fish we could find right now,
take the money out, shove it all into Little Jim’s gunny sack and come
happily back into camp with every dollar of it.

Little Jim piped up with a bright idea which was, “Let’s dig up all the
fish real quick, stuff ’em in my gunny sack and beat it home to camp,
and take the money out on the way maybe--or else take the fish home for
dinner.” I looked at his excited bluish eyes, and forgot that he was a
goat, and thought how much I liked him. “Boy!” he said, with a swell
grin on his mouse-like face. “Won’t Mr. Ostberg be tickled to have his
money back for the mission hospital!”

Here I’d been thinking about what a BIG reward I, Bill Collins, was
going to get for finding the money, and Little Jim wasn’t thinking of
himself at all, but of the folks in another land who needed the gospel
for their souls and a doctor’s help for their bodies. What a swell guy,
I thought.

But say, this story is long enough--and that’s really all of it,
anyway, that is, all about how we actually found the ransom money, so
I’ll have to wind up the whole thing in another paragraph or two. That
wasn’t all the exciting adventures we had on our Northern camping trip,
though, ’cause a new and very dangerous adventure began to happen to us
even before we got out of that old icehouse that day.

While we were digging and finding fish with sewed-up stomachs and
stuffing them into Little Jim’s gunny sack, to take home to camp, all
of a sudden I thought I heard a noise outside.

“Sh!” I said to us. “Somebody’s coming!”

We all stopped stock still and listened, and sure enough I _had_ heard
a noise. Out on the lake there was the sound of a high-powered outboard
motor that sounded like it wasn’t any more than a hundred yards from
shore.

I could imagine that somebody on the other side of the lake had seen us
and was coming roarety-sizzle across to stop whatever we were doing.

Little Jim grabbed up his stick and Poetry’s grip tightened on his
scout knife handle till the knuckles on his hand turned white, he was
holding it so tight.

“Quick!” I said to all of us, “let’s get out of here with what we’ve
got, or it’ll be too late!”

I grabbed up the gunny sack, lugged it toward the exit, all of us
getting there at about the same time. Boy oh boy, if only we could get
out and make a dive for the woods and start to camp without being seen.

But as I said, this story is already finished--and what happened next
is the beginning of another exciting adventure.

Even while we were climbing out of that icehouse I just knew that long
before we got home with our ransom money, there’d be some dangerous
excitement that would take not only a lot of quick thinking on the
part of every one of us, but some quick _acting_ as well. ’Cause the
outboard motor was roaring toward our shore like whoever was driving it
was in a terrible hurry to stop us from doing whatever we were doing.

I hope I’ll have time right away, to tell you this last story of our
adventures in the North Woods.


THE END



When the Gang decided to play Robinson Crusoe up in the North Woods
they had no idea that they would run into such exciting adventures.
They discovered honest-to-goodness treasure and, of all places, in ...
but read the story, =The Sugar creek Gang Digs for Treasure=.

[Illustration]


Be sure to read all the books in the VKP Series. They are:

  The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North
  Adventure in an Indian Cemetery
  The Sugar Creek Gang Digs for Treasure
  North Woods Manhunt
  The Haunted House at Sugar Creek
  Lost in a Sugar Creek Blizzard
  The Sugar Creek Gang on the Mexican Border
  The Green Tent Mystery at Sugar Creek
  10,000 Minutes at Sugar Creek
  The Trap Line Thief at Sugar Creek
  Blue Cow at Sugar Creek

$1.00 each

[Illustration]

  Published and Distributed exclusively by
  _Van Kampen Press_
  222 E. Willow Ave.      Wheaton, Illinois



Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuation has been standardised. Spelling and hyphenation have been
retained as published in the original publication except as follows:

  Page 8
    to the gunwhale of the boat _changed to_
    to the gunwale of the boat

  Page 12
    The kidnapped stole ’em _changed to_
    The kidnapper stole ’em

  Page 15
    Act like your scared to death _changed to_
    Act like you’re scared to death

  Page 16
    heard a scufflling behind _changed to_
    heard a scuffling behind

  Page 18
    I said to dragonfly _changed to_
    I said to Dragonfly

  Page 29
    belived it too _changed to_
    believed it too

  Page 36
    looked startled, antd I knew _changed to_
    looked startled, and I knew

  Page 53
    he’s just like may dad was _changed to_
    he’s just like my dad was

  Page 56
    and I was even gladded _changed to_
    and I was even gladder

  Page 59
    and it was a handerchief _changed to_
    and it was a handkerchief

  Page 60
    to lead us in an outloud prayed _changed to_
    to lead us in an outloud prayer

  Page 62
    he wouldn’t be embarassed _changed to_
    he wouldn’t be embarrassed

  Page 64
    so much it acutally hurt _changed to_
    so much it actually hurt

  Page 85
    that somebdy had caught _changed to_
    that somebody had caught

  Page 90
    of us geting there at about _changed to_
    of us getting there at about





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