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Title: The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North
Author: Hutchens, Paul
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 GOES NORTH_

    by
    PAUL HUTCHENS

    [Illustration]

    Published by
    _Scripture Press_
    BOOK DIVISION
    434 South Wabash Ave.
    Chicago 5, Ill.



  _The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North_

    Copyright, 1947, 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 guess I never did get tired thinking about all the interesting and
exciting things which had happened to the Sugar Creek Gang when we’d
gone camping far up in the North. One of the happiest memories was of
the time when Poetry, who is the barrel-shaped member of our gang,
and I were lost out in the forest, and while we were trying to get
unlost we met a very cute little brown-faced Indian boy whose name was
Snow-in-the-face, and his big Indian brother whose name was Eagle Eye.

Little Snow-in-the-face was really the cutest little Indian boy I had
ever seen; in fact, he was the first one I’d ever really seen up real
close. I kept thinking about him and wishing that the whole Sugar Creek
Gang could go again up into that wonderful country which everybody
calls the Paul Bunyan Playground and see how Little Snow-in-the-face
was getting along, and how his big brother’s Indian Sunday school was
growing, which, as you know, they were having every Sunday in an old
railroad coach, which they’d taken out into the forest and fixed up
into a church. Say, I never had any idea that we would get to go back
so soon, in fact, the very next summer after we’d been there the summer
before.

But here I go telling you about how we happened to get to go, and how
quick we started, and all the exciting things that happened on the way
and after we got there, and especially _after_ we got there. Boy oh
boy! it was real fun, and also very exciting--especially that night
when we ran kersmack into a kidnapper mystery, and some of us who were
mixed up in it were almost half scared half to death. Imagine a very
dark night with only moonlight enough to make things look spooky, and
queer screaming sounds echoing through the forest and over the lake,
and then finding the kidnapped girl all wrapped in an Indian blanket
with a handkerchief stuffed into her mouth and--but that’s getting
ahead of the story, and I’d better not tell you how it happened until
I get to it, ’cause it might spoil the story for you, and I hope you
won’t start turning the pages of this book real fast and read the
mystery first, ’cause that wouldn’t be fair.... Don’t you dare skip
even one page. You just keep reading along until you get there.

Anyway, this is how we were going to get to go. Some of the Sugar Creek
Gang of us were lying in the long mashed-down grass, in a level place
at the top of the steep incline not very far from where the hill goes
down real steep to the spring at the bottom where my pop is always
sending me to get a pail of real cold fresh water for us to drink at
our house. We were all of us lying in different directions, talking
and laughing and yawning and pretending to be sleepy, also some of us
were tumbling around a little and making a nuisance of ourselves to
each other. Most of us had long stems of blue grass in our mouths and
were chewing on the ends, and all of us were feeling swell. I had my
binoculars in my hand and up to my eyes looking around at different
things.

First, I watched a red squirrel, high up in a big sugar tree, lying
flat and lazy on the top of a gray branch like he was taking a
two-o’clock-in-the-afternoon sun bath, which was what time of day it
was that Saturday afternoon. I had been lying on my back, looking up
at the squirrel, then I rolled over and got onto my knees and focused
the binoculars on Sugar Creek. Sugar Creek’s face was very lazy, on
account of that being a wide part of the creek, and the water moved
very slowly, hardly moving, and was as quiet as Pass Lake had been up
in Minnesota in the Paul Bunyan country, on a very quiet day. There
were little whitish patches of different shaped specks of white foam
floating along on the kinda brownish blue water. While I was looking
at Sugar Creek with its big wide quiet face, and dreaming about a big
blue-watered lake up North, I saw some V-shaped waves coming out across
the creek from the opposite shore. The sharp-pointed end of the V was
coming straight toward the spring and bringing the rest of the V along
with it. I knew right away it was a muskrat and it was swimming right
straight toward our side of the creek. Looking at the brownish muskrat
with the binoculars made it seem like it was very close, and I could
see its pretty chestnut brown fur. Its head was broad and kinda blunt,
and I knew if I could have seen its tail it would have been about half
as long as the muskrat, and deeper than it was wide, and that it would
have scales on it, and only a few scattered hairs. I quick grabbed a
big rock and quick threw that rock as straight as I could and as hard,
right straight toward the acute angle of the long moving V which was
still coming across the creek toward us.

And would you believe it? I’m not always such a good shot with a rock,
but this time that rock went straight toward where the muskrat was
headed for, and by the time the rock and the muskrat got to the same
place at the same time, the rock went kerswishety-splash right on the
broad blunt head of the _musquash_, which is another and kinda fancy
name for a muskrat.

Circus, the acrobat in our gang, was the only one of the gang who saw
me do what I had done. He yelled out to me in a voice that sounded like
a circus-barker’s voice, “Atta boy, Bill! Boy oh boy, that was a swell
shot! I couldn’t have done any better myself!”

“Better than _what_?” nearly all the rest of the gang woke up and asked
him at the same time.

“Bill killed an _Ondatra zibethica_,” Circus said, which is the Latin
name for a muskrat,--Circus’ pop being a trapper, and Circus having a
good animal book in his library. “Socked it in the head with a rock.”

Everybody looked out toward Sugar Creek to the place where the rock had
socked the _Ondatra_ in the head, and where the two forks of the V were
getting wider and wider, almost disappearing into nothing like waves do
when they get old enough.

“Look at those waves!” Poetry said, meaning the new waves my big rock
had started. There was a widening circle going out from where it had
been struck.

“Reminds me of the waves of Pass Lake, where we spent our vacation last
summer,” Poetry said. “Remember the ones we had the tilt-a-whirl ride
on, when Eagle Eye’s boat upset, and we got separated from it, and if
we hadn’t had our life vests on we’d have been drowned ’cause it was
too far from the shore to swim!”

“Sure,” Dragonfly piped up and said, “and that’s the reason why every
boy in the world who is in a boat or a canoe on a lake or a river
ought to wear a life vest, or else there ought to be plenty of life
preservers in the boat or the canoe, just in case.”

“Hey!” Little Jim piped up and squeaked in his mouse-like voice. “Your
On-onda-something or other has come to life away down the creek!” And
sure enough, it had, for away down the creek, maybe fifty feet further,
there was another V moving along toward the Sugar Creek bridge, which
meant I hadn’t killed the _musquash_ at all, but only scared it, and
maybe my rock hadn’t even hit it at all, and it had ducked and swum
under water like _Ondatra zibethicas_ do in Sugar Creek and like loons
do in Pass Lake in northern Minnesota.

“I’m thirsty,” Circus said, and jumped up from where he had been lying
on his back with his feet propped up on a big hollow stump. That hollow
stump was the same one, I thought, where his pop had slipped down
inside once and had gotten bit by a black widow spider which had had
her web inside.

Right away we were all of us scurrying down the steep hill to the
spring and getting a drink apiece of water, either stooping down and
drinking like cows or else using the paper cups which we had in a
little container on the leaning tree that leaned over the spring and
which we’d put there, instead of the old tin cup which we’d battered
into a flat piece of tin and thrown into Sugar Creek.

All of a sudden, we heard a strange noise up at the top of the hill,
and it sounded like somebody moving along through last year’s dead
leaves and at the same time talking or mumbling to himself about
something.

“Sh!” Dragonfly said, shushing us, he being the one who nearly always
heard or saw something before any of the rest of us did.

We all hushed, and sure enough I heard it. It was a man’s voice, and he
was talking to himself or something up there at the top of the hill.

“Sh!” I said to different ones of us, and we all stopped whatever we
had been doing or saying, and didn’t move, all except Little Jim who
lost his balance, and to keep from falling the wrong direction which
was in a puddle of cold clean water on the other side of the spring,
he had to step awkwardly in several places, jumping from one rock to
another and using his pretty stick-candy-looking stick to help him.

We kept hushed for a jiffy and the sound up at the top of the hill
kept right on--leaves rasping and rustling, and a man’s voice mumbling
something like he was talking to himself.

All of us had our eyes on Big Jim, our leader. I was looking at his
fuzzy mustache, which was like the down on a baby pigeon, and was
wondering who was up at the top of the hill, and thinking about how
I wished I could get a little fuzz on my upper lip, and wondering if
I could make mine grow if I used some kind of cold cream on it, or
something like girls do when they want to look more like older girls
than they are.

Big Jim looked around at the irregular circle of us and nodded to
me and motioned with his thumb for me to follow him up the hill. He
stopped all the rest of the gang from following. In a jiffy, I was
creeping quietly up that steep incline behind Big Jim, and also Little
Jim came along, ’cause right at the last second Big Jim motioned to him
that he could, on account of he had a hurt look in his eyes like maybe
nobody thought he was important ’cause he was so little.

I had a trembling feeling all inside of me ’cause I just knew there was
going to be a surprise at the top of that hill, and maybe a mystery.
Also, I felt proud that Big Jim had picked me out to go up with him,
on account of he nearly always picks Circus who is next biggest in the
gang. I didn’t need to feel proud though, ’cause when I heard a little
slithering noise behind me while I was on the way up, I knew why Circus
didn’t get invited, and it was ’cause he was already half way up a
small sapling which grew near the spring. He was already almost high
enough to see what was going on at the top of the hill, Circus doing
like he is always doing anyway, which is climbing trees most any time
or all the time, he looking like a monkey even when he isn’t up a tree.
The only thing that kept him from hanging by his tail like a monkey was
that he didn’t have any tail, but he could hang by his legs anyway.

When we had almost reached the top, I felt Little Jim’s small hand take
hold of my arm tight, like he was scared, ’cause we could still hear
somebody walking around and talking to himself.

Big Jim stopped us, and we all very slowly half-crawled the rest of
the way up. My heart was pounding like everything, ’cause I just knew
there was going to be excitement at the top, and when you know there is
going to be excitement, you can’t wait for it, but get excited right
away.

“Listen!” Little Jim whispered to me beside me. “He’s pounding
something.”

“Sh!” Big Jim said to us, frowning fiercely, and we kept still. What
on earth was going on up there? I wondered, and wished I was a little
farther up, but Big Jim had stopped us again, so we could listen.

One, two, three--pound, pound, pound... There were about nine or ten
socks with something on something and then the pounding stopped and we
heard footsteps going away.

I looked back down the hill at the rest of the gang. Dragonfly’s
eyes were large and round, like they are when he is half scared or
excited; Poetry had a scowl on his fat face, he being one who has a
detective-like mind and was maybe disappointed that Big Jim had made
him stay at the bottom of the hill; little red-haired Tom Till’s very
freckled face looked very queer. He was stooped over trying to pry a
root loose out of the ground, so he’d be ready to throw it at somebody
or something, if he got a chance or if he had to, and his face looked
like he was ready for some kind of fight, and like he half hoped there
might be one. And if I had been down there at the bottom of the incline
at the spring, and somebody else had been looking down at me, he would
have seen another red-haired freckle-faced boy whose hair was trying to
stand up on end under his old straw hat, and who wasn’t much to look
at, but who had a fiery temper which had to be watched all the time or
it would explode on somebody or something.

Maybe in case you’ve never read anything about the Sugar Creek Gang
before, I’d better tell you that I _am_ red-haired and freckle-faced
and do have a fiery temper some of the time, and that my name is Bill
Collins. I have a swell mom and pop and a baby sister whose name is
Little Charlotte Ann, and I’m the only boy in the Collins family. Not
having any older sisters, I have to wash or wipe the dishes two or
three times a day and help with some of the other girls’ chores around
our house, which maybe is good for me, Pop says, on account of when I
wash dishes the hot sudsy water helps to keep my hands and fingernails
clean.

I whirled around quick from looking down the hill at the rest of the
gang and from seeing Circus who was up the elm sapling trying to see
over the crest of the hill, but probably couldn’t. Big Jim had his
finger up to his pursed lips for all of us to keep on keeping still,
which we did.

The pounding had stopped and we could hear footsteps moving along in
the woods, getting fainter and fainter, and just that second Big Jim
said to us, “He can’t hear us now. His shoes are making so much noise
in the leaves.”

We all got to the top in a jiffy, and looked, and Little Jim whispered
“It’s somebody wearing old overalls,” which it was, and he was
disappearing around the corner of the path that led from the spring
down the creek going toward the old sycamore tree and the swamp.

A few jiffies later, Big Jim gave us the signal and all of us broke
out of our very painful silence and were acting like ourselves again,
but wondering who on earth had been there and what he had been doing,
and why, when all of a sudden, Dragonfly who had been looking around
with Poetry, looking for shoe tracks, let out a yell and said, “Hey,
Gang, come here! Here’s a letter, nailed onto the old Black Widow
Stump!” which is the name we’d given the stump after Circus’ Pop had
been bitten there.

We all made a rush to where Dragonfly’s dragonfly-like eyes were
studying something on the stump, and in a jiffy I was reading the
envelope, and it said on it, in a very awkward old handwriting,

                URGENT
       To the Sugar Creek Gang
  (Personal. Please open at once.)



2


Well sir, I just stood there with all the rest of the members of the
Sugar Creek Gang, staring and staring at the envelope and the crazy old
handwriting on it that said, “Personal. Please Open at once.”

Big Jim, who, as you already know, is the leader of our gang, reached
out and tore the envelope off the nail which had been driven through
the envelope’s upper right-hand corner where the stamp would have been
if there had been one, and handed it to me. “Read it out loud to all of
us,” he said to me.

I couldn’t imagine what was on the inside. I didn’t recognize the
handwriting, and couldn’t even guess who had written it.

“Stand back, everybody,” Big Jim ordered. “And let him have plenty of
room.”

“Yeah, let him have plenty of room. It might explode,” Dragonfly said.
I tore open the envelope in a hurry, and this is what I read:

  “Members of the Sugar Creek Gang--Big Jim, Little Jim, Poetry,
  Circus, Dragonfly, Bill Collins, and Tom Till--as soon as you
  can, after reading this, make a beeline for Bumblebee Hill,
  climb through the barbed-wire fence at the top and stop at the
  tombstone of Sarah Paddler in the old abandoned cemetery. There
  you will find another letter giving you instructions what to do
  next. It is VERY IMPORTANT.
                Signed ... (Guess Who)”

I read the letter out loud in a sort of trembling voice on account of I
was a little bit scared, then I looked around at the different ones of
us to see what we were thinking, but couldn’t tell.

“What’ll we do?” Little Jim piped up and said, and Little Tom Till
swallowed real hard like he had taken too big a bite of something and
was trying to swallow it without having chewed it long enough, then he
sort of stuttered, “M-maybe a g-ghost wrote it.”

I looked quick at Dragonfly on account of he believes there is such a
thing as a ghost on account his mother thinks there is such a thing,
and right away he had a funny expression on his face. Dragonfly’s
dragonfly-like eyes looked like they were even larger than they were.
“My mother told me to stay out of that cemetery.”

“Aw, fraidy cat,” Poetry said, “there isn’t any such thing as a ghost.
Besides, ghosts can’t write.”

“Oh yes, they can!” Dragonfly said. “I saw it in the newspaper once
that a senator or something’s speech was written by a ghost writer
and--”

“It’s _crazy!_” Poetry said. “A ghost writer is somebody nobody knows
who writes something for somebody and nobody knows it, but it’s a real
person and not a ghost, which isn’t.”

It sounded crazy, but Poetry read an awful lot of the many books his
pop and mom were always buying for him, and he was as smart as anything.

Little Tom spoke up then and said, “A ghost wouldn’t know that
Bumblebee Hill had had its name changed from Strawberry Hill to
Bumblebee Hill, would it?” And right away I was remembering that hill,
where the gang had had a fierce fight with a town gang when Little Tom
had still belonged to that other gang, and we had all of us stirred
up a bumblebee’s nest on that hillside and gotten stung in different
places, which had hurt worse than each other’s fists had, and the fight
had broken up, and we’d given that hill a new name. In that fight as
you maybe know, two red-haired boys had had a terrible battle and one
of the red-haired freckled-faced boys had licked the other one all to
smithereens for awhile, until I had started fighting a little harder
and then I’d licked him even worse, all in the same fight.

Big Jim spoke up then and said, “A ghost probably couldn’t spell
our names. Anyway, let’s get going to the old cemetery and see what
happens.”

With that, Circus was already on his way, running like a deer, with all
of us right at his heels as fast as we could go. Talking about spelling
must have reminded Poetry of a poem, for, as you know, he was always
learning new poems by heart and quoting them to us, he knowing maybe a
hundred of them, and you never knew when he was going to start one of
them at the wrong time. He hardly ever got to finish one, though, on
account of the gang’s stopping him, or else it was too long to finish
it before we all thought of something we all’d rather do than listen to
his poem.

Anyway, while he and I were puffing along with the rest of the gang
toward Bumblebee Hill, he started in puffing out a new one I’d never
heard before, and this is the way it went:

  “The teacher has no E Z time
   To teach his A, B, C’s:
   It per C V rance takes sublime,
   And all his N R G’s.
   In K C doesn’t use the birch
   All kindness does S A,
   The scholars who X L at church,
   In school will ½ to pay ...”

“Don’t use the word _birch_,” I panted to Poetry, and he panted back at
me, “Why?”

“’Cause it reminds me of _beech_, and _beech_ reminds me of a beech
switch which reminds me of a schoolteacher and that reminds me of
school, and----”

Poetry cut in on my sentence and said, “_Birch_ reminds me of a birch
tree away up North where we were on our camping trip once, and where
I’d like to go again this year. In fact, it’s getting so hot that I
don’t see how we can stand not going up there again.”

I looked out of the corner of my right eye at him as we dashed along
behind and beside and in front of the gang toward Bumblebee Hill, and
said, “I don’t see why we have to stay where it is so hot ALL summer.”

That started him off on his poem again and he get another whole verse
in before we reached the bottom of Bumblebee Hill, and had to have
most of our wind for climbing and not much for talking. This is the
next verse which he puffed out to me, the poem still talking about a
schoolteacher and was:

  “They can’t C Y he makes them learn
   L S N and his rules,
   They C K chance to overturn,
   Preferring 2B fools.”

I found out later how to spell out the poem when he showed it to me in
his mother’s old scrapbook. It was a clever poem, I thought.

Puff, puff, puff, up the hill we went, and at the cemetery stopped. It
was a real spooky place, all overgrown with weeds, and choke-berry,
and blue vervain, and mullein stalks, the blue vervain being one of the
very prettiest wild flowers in all Sugar Creek territory, but which all
the farmers called a weed, and which maybe it was. But up real close
and under a magnifying glass its flowers are very pretty. Just as I
was climbing through the fence beside Little Jim, holding two strands
of barbed wire far enough apart for him to slither through and not get
his nice pretty new blue shirt caught, Little Jim, who is a sort of a
dreamer and is always imagining what something or other looks like,
said to me, “They look like upside down candelabrums, don’t they?”
Little Jim knew I liked flowers myself, on account of my mom liked them
so well, and always wanted me to pick some and set them in vases in
different parts of our house.

“What looks like what?” Dragonfly said, and sneezed, and I knew right
away that he was allergic to something in the cemetery, he being that
way about nearly everything in Sugar Creek in the summertime, and when
people are allergic to things like that, they nearly always sneeze a
lot.

Little Jim finished getting through without getting his shirt caught
and said, “The flower spikes which branch off from the stem of the
vervain look like upside down candelabrum,” and I remembered that his
mother, besides being the best pianist in all Sugar Creek territory,
and taught piano and was maybe the prettiest mom of all the Sugar
Creek’s Gang’s moms, also had all kinds of flowers in a special flower
garden at their home, and she talked flowers so much that Little Jim
probably knew all the different kinds of words that people use when
they talk flowers.

Little Jim broke off a stalk of vervain, and I noticed that there was
a little purplish ring of small flowers at the very bottom of every
one of the very slender flower spikes, which is the way vervain do
their flowering. They begin with a little purple ring of flowers at
the bottom of the spike about the first of July, and the flowers keep
on blooming all summer, the ring creeping up higher and higher until
school starts about the first of September, and pretty soon the flowers
get clear to the top; then kinda like blue rings slipping off the ends
of green fingers, they are all gone.

Well, in a jiffy, there we all were, standing around in a sort of half
circle, looking over each other’s shoulders and between each other’s
heads, right in front of Old Man Paddler’s dead wife’s tall tombstone.
Her name had been Sarah Paddler, and she had died a long time ago.
There were a couple of other tombstones there too, for the old man’s
two boys who had died about the same time many years ago, and that old
kind old man, whom the Sugar Creek Gang loved so well, had maybe been
using all the love which he had had left over, when his own boys died,
and, instead of wasting it on a dog or a lot of other things, he was
pouring it out on us live boys instead.

Carved or chiselled on the tombstone was the figure of a hand with the
forefinger pointing up toward the sky, and right below the hand were
the words:

  “There is Rest in Heaven.”

Standing on a little ledge, and fastened onto the tombstone with what
is called scotch tape, was another envelope like the one we had just
found and had read down at the Black Widow Stump, and on it it said,

            URGENT
   To the Sugar Creek Gang
  (Personal. Open at once.)

Well, this time Big Jim took the envelope, and handed it to Little Jim
who read it in his squeaky voice to all of us, and this is what it said
in rhyme:

  “The Sugar Creek Gang is on the right track
   Now turn right around and hurry right back--
   Go straight to the old hollow sycamore tree,
   And there if you look, you will see what you see.”

This time it didn’t say it was signed by “Guess Who,” but the poetry
sounded like Poetry’s poetry, and I looked at him and he was busy
studying the ground around there to see if he could find any shoe
tracks.

“Last one to the sycamore tree is a cow’s tail,” Circus said, and
started to make a dive for the cemetery fence just as Dragonfly got a
queer look on his face, like he was going to sneeze but wasn’t quite
sure whether he was or not. Dragonfly looked toward the sun, which hurt
his eyes a little, and that maybe made tears, which, with his face
raised like that, tickled his nose on the _inside_ and he let out one
of his favorite sneezes, which was half blocked like a football kick,
but went off to one side. Then he sneezed again three times, just as
fast as if he couldn’t help it, and said, “I’m allergic to something in
this old graveyard. I’m allergic to ghosts.”

Right away we were all dashing toward the barbed-wire fence, and all
of us got through without tearing our clothes and went zippety-zip-zip
dash, swerve, swish-swish-swish, toward the spring again, and down the
path that led along the top of the hill toward Sugar Creek Bridge, and
then across the old north road, and up a steep bank and down the path
again toward the old sycamore tree and the swamp, and also toward the
entrance to the cave which is a long cave, as you know, and the other
end comes out in the basement of Old Man Paddler’s log cabin back up in
the hills.

“I’m thirsty,” Poetry puffed beside me.

“So am I,” I said, and right that second I remembered that when I’d
gone to the spring in the first place, more than maybe an hour ago,
I’d taken a water pail from our milk house and was supposed to bring
back a pail of sparkling cool water, when I came home. “There isn’t any
hurry,” Pop had told me, “but when you do come back be _sure_ to bring
a pail of water.”

“I will,” I had said to him, and now as we whizzed past the spring, I
remembered that the water pail was on a flat stone down at the bottom
of the hill at the spring.

“Who do you suppose is writing all these notes?” I said to Poetry,
forgetting the water again.

“Yeah, who do you suppose?” Poetry said to me from behind me, he being
so fat he couldn’t keep up. “I know something I won’t tell,” he said to
me, and when I said, “What?” he said, “Two little ‘niggers’ in a peanut
shell.”

“Don’t call ’em niggers!” a voice behind us said, and it was Little
Jim’s voice.

“Why not?” Dragonfly wanted to know.

Say, Little Jim’s voice which most of the time was very mild and kind,
spoke up like it was angry and said, “’Cause negroes are real people,
and ’cause--”

Right that second Little Jim’s words got mixed up with a grunt which
came out of his throat at the same time, and sounded so queer I turned
around to see what happened, ’cause I knew something had, and my eyes
lit on him just in time to see him turn a lopsided flipflop on the
ground. He had stumbled over a root with his bare right big toe, or
else caught his bare right big toe in his overall leg and stumbled and
fell sprawling.

I stopped quick, got bumped into by Poetry, who was behind me, but
didn’t fall down myself, whirled around and went back to help Little
Jim get up.

Circus and Big Jim were far ahead of us. “Did you get hurt?” Little
Tom Till asked, and Little Jim sat up rubbing his elbow and grinning
and said, “You shouldn’t call em niggers, ’cause they’re human beings
and God made ’em. My mother and dad have adopted a little black boy in
Africa for a whole year. You can adopt one for only $52.00 a year.”

Say, that little guy had the most innocent lamb-like look on his face
you ever saw. He was always saying things like that, and not a one
of us thought he was too religious or anything. In fact, everyone of
us had already become Christians ourselves, only most of us weren’t
quite as brave as Little Jim was, just talking right out about what we
thought, without caring what anybody said, most of us thinking a lot
more than we said. Poetry especially was bashful, especially in his
Sunday school class, on account of his voice was changing and was more
like a duck’s with a bad cold, than a boy’s, and was half man’s and
half boy’s voice anyway.

“Come on! you guys!” Dragonfly yelled back to us from up ahead, and we
all swished on.

It was quite a long run to the sycamore tree, but we got there quick,
and found Circus and Big Jim looking inside the big long opening in its
side for the letter or whatever it was we were supposed to find. In a
jiffy Circus had it out and was waving it around in the air for us to
see, and when we gathered around, we saw that it was an envelope with
our names on it, only it was an actual honest-to-goodness letter with
a postmark on it which, when I got close enough to see, I saw was Pass
Lake, Minnesota.

Say, something in my heart went flippety-flop, and I just knew who the
letter was from. For some reason I knew, _knew_ what was going to be
inside. It was going to be a letter from the same great big fat man on
whose property on Pass Lake we’d had our camp last summer, and he was
inviting us to come up again for a week or two or maybe more.

Say, it certainly didn’t take us long to find out that I was right,
which I knew I was.

“It’s from Santa Claus!” Dragonfly said, Santa Claus being the name
we’d given to the man whom we’d all liked so well on our camping trip
and whose wife had made such good blackberry pies.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! We all read the letter, and felt so wonderful
inside we wanted to yell and scream.

There was one paragraph in the letter that bothered us, though, and it
was, “Be sure, of course, to get your parents’ consent, all of you, and
be sure to bring along your fishing tackle. Fishing is good. Little
Snow-in-the-face will be eager to see you all. He has been very sick
this past week, and has been taken to the government hospital. Be sure
to pray for him. His big brother, Eagle Eye, has a real Sunday school
going here, but his mother and father are not yet believers on the Lord
Jesus Christ, and that makes it hard for him. But Snow-in-the-face is a
very brave little Christian.”

Right that second, we heard footsteps coming in our direction, and
looking up I saw a dark brown smiling face, a row of shining white
teeth with one all-gold tooth right in front, and I knew it was Barry
Boyland, Old Man Paddler’s nephew, who had taken us to Pass Lake last
year.

“Hi, gang!” he called to us, and we called back to him, “Hello, Barry.”
And we all swarmed around him to tell him about the letter and to ask
questions, all of us knowing that he was the one who had written the
notes for us, just to make the last letter more mysterious and more of
a surprise.

Well, it was time to go home, and try to convince our parents that we
all needed a vacation very badly. For some reason I wasn’t sure my
folks would say I could go.



3


“How’ll we do it?” I asked Poetry, as he and Dragonfly and I stopped at
our gate to let Poetry and Dragonfly go on home, and to let me go on in.

“How’ll we do _what_?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and right away sneezed
at something or other, probably at some of the flowers in Mom’s little
flower bed around our mail box.

Dragonfly reached for and pulled out of his hip pocket his pop’s big
red bandana handkerchief and grabbed his nose just in time to stop most
of the next three sneezes, which came in one-two-three style as fast as
a boy pounding a nail with a hammer.

“How’ll we convince our parents that we need a vacation?” Poetry said,
and Dragonfly piped up and said, “People take vacations when they’re
worn out from too much work.”

“Overworking?” I said, and Dragonfly sneezed again, and looked down
at Mom’s very pretty happy-looking different-colored gladiolus in the
half-moon flower bed around the mail box.

“If you don’t quit planting gladioluses around here, I can’t come over
and play here anymore.”

“Or work, either,” Poetry said, and I said, “Well, you guys better beat
it, I’ve got to overwork a little.” I opened our gate, squeezed through
it and started on the run for our tool shed where I found a nice clean
hoe which I’d cleaned myself the last time I’d used it, and in a few
jiffies I was out in our garden hoeing potatoes as hard as I could,
getting hotter and hotter and sweating like everything. Sweat was
running off my face and I could feel it on my back, too. With a little
wind blowing across from the woods and Sugar Creek I felt fine even in
the hot sun. I certainly wasn’t getting tired as fast as I thought I
would on account of when a boy sweats at hard work and the wind blows a
little, he feels better than when he just kinda lazies around and tries
to keep cool.

I wished Pop, who had gone somewhere for something, would hurry home
and see me working hard. It was almost fun hoeing the potatoes, though
it was kinda hard not to stop at the end of each row and pick and eat a
few luscious blackberries which grew there. In fact, I did stop a few
times, which is maybe why I got to the end of each row quicker.

Once I got thirsty, and went into the house for a drink of water, and
Mom called out to the kitchen from the front room and said, “That you,
Theodore?” which is Pop’s first name.

“Nope, it’s just me,” I said to Mom.

“Come on in a minute, Bill. Somebody wants to see you.”

“Who?” I said, wondering who it was and hoping it wasn’t anybody I
didn’t know.

I peeked around the corner of the kitchen door and saw our lady Sunday
school teacher. All of a sudden I felt good, although kinda bashful, on
account of I was in my overalls and was probably very dusty and sweaty
and maybe had my hair mussed up.

We said a few bashful words to each other, and she said, “I brought you
that book of Indian stories,” and right away I was thinking of little
“Snow-in-the-face” up North and wishing I could go up and see him again.

I thanked her for the book, and said, “Well--thanks, that’s swell--I
mean, Thank you so very much,” which was what I thought Mom would want
me to say in the way I said it.

“Don’t overwork,” she said to me with a smile in her voice, and I said
“I will,” and was going out the kitchen door before I knew I’d said the
wrong thing. She certainly was a good Sunday school teacher, and knew
how to make a boy like her, and also want to come back to Sunday school
every Sunday.

Just as I was about to let the door shut behind me quietly like I
do when we have company, I heard the news on the radio in the front
room, and I knew that maybe Mom and my teacher had been listening to
the radio when I came in, and had turned it low for a jiffy. One of
the things I heard was about a little St. Paul, Minnesota girl named
Marie Ostberg having been kidnapped and a reward being offered by the
father... Then I heard the announcer mention something that I thought
was a wonderful idea and it was: “Duluth--the hayfever colony--will
have thousands of new visitors this year, because the heavy rains
throughout the nation have made it the worst for pollen in many years.
Thousands will be going north...”

That would give us _two_ reasons why some of the gang ought to get to
go--overwork and hayfever. Dragonfly had the hayfever, and if I worked
awful hard, I might overwork, although it’d be easier to have hayfever
if I could only get it.

Right that second, while I was picking up the hoe to go back to the
potatoes again, I heard our car horn and Pop was at the gate, waiting
for me to come and open it. Boy, was I ever glad I was hot and sweaty
and that there were four or five long rows of potatoes already hoed
which Pop could see himself.

“Hi,” I said to my reddish-brownish-mustached Pop. And he just lifted
one of his big farmer hands and saluted me like I was an officer in
the army and he only a private. I swung open the gate, and, seeing the
gladiolus by the mail box, stopped and took three or four quick deep
sniffs at them, just as Pop swung inside and stopped beside the big
plum tree in the gravelled driveway.

Then I looked quick at the sun, to see if I could sneeze, and I
actually did, three times in quick succession, just as Pop turned off
the motor and heard me do it.

“I hope you aren’t going to catch cold,” Pop said, and looked at me
suspiciously. “You boys go in swimming today?”

“The water was almost too hot,” I said. “I never felt better in my
life, only----” Right that second, something in my nose tickled again
and I sneezed and was glad of it. “Maybe I’m allergic to something down
here....”

“Down _where_?” Pop said, and looked at me from under his heavy
eyebrows, which I noticed weren’t up any more but were starting to
drop a little in the middle, like he was wondering “What on earth?”
and trying to figure me out, like I was a problem in arithmetic or
something.

“I mean----” I started to answer him, and then decided maybe it was the
wrong time to talk to Pop about what I wanted to talk to him about. So
I said, “Well, I better get back to those potatoes. There are only two
more rows.”

“_Back_ to them?” Pop said, astonished. “You mean----?” He slid out of
our long green car and looked toward the garden, and even from where we
were, you could see that somebody had been hoeing the potatoes. “Well,
what do you know about _that_? That’s wonderful! That’s unusual! That’s
astonishing,” which I knew was some of Pop’s friendly sarcasm which he
was always using on me, and I sort of liked it on account of Pop and
I were good friends as well as he being my pop and I his red-haired,
freckled-faced overworked boy, who didn’t have hayfever yet but was
trying to get it.

Right that second I sneezed again, and Pop looked at me and said,
“What’s that grin on your face for?” and I said, “Is there a grin on my
face?”

“There certainly is,” he said, and I sighed and wished I could sneeze
again, which for some reason I did, without even trying to, or looking
at the sun, or smelling the gladiolus or anything, and I got a quick
hope that maybe I was actually going to get hayfever.

Pop banged the car door shut, after taking out a paper bag which had
something in it he’d probably bought somewhere in town. Then he said,
“You’ve maybe been working too hard and been sweating, and with the
wind blowing, you need a dry shirt. Better come in the house and help
your mother and Charlotte Ann and me eat this ice cream,” which I did,
our Sunday school teacher helping also, she being the reason Pop had
hurried to town to get the ice cream in the first place.

Then Mom told me to go gather the eggs, which I started to do, and
ran ker-smack into something very interesting. I was up in our haymow
looking for old Bentcomb’s nest for her daily egg, which was always
there if she laid one, although sometimes she missed a day.

“Well, what do you know?” I said to myself when I climbed up over the
alfalfa to her corner. Old Bentcomb was still on the nest and her
pretty bent comb was hanging down over her left eye. She was sitting
there like she owned the whole haymow and who was I to be intruding?

“Hi, Old Bentcomb!” I said, “How’re you this afternoon? Got your egg
laid yet?”

She didn’t budge, but just squatted down lower with her wings all
spread out covering the whole nest.

“Where’s your egg?” I said, and reached out my hand toward her, and
“zip-zip-peck,” quick as lightning her sharp bill pecked me on the hand
and wrist. She wouldn’t let me get near her without pecking at me, and
when I tried to lift her off to see if she’d laid an egg today, she was
mad as anything, and complained like she was being mistreated, and gave
a saddish disgruntled string of cluck-cluck-clucks at me and at the
whole world.

I let her stay and scooted down the ladder and ran ker-whizz to the
house, stormed into our back door and said to Mom, “Hey, Mom, Old
Bentcomb wants to ‘set’! What’ll we do--break her up or let her set?”

“For land’s sakes,” Mom said to me, “don’t knock the world off its
hinges!--_What! Old Bentcomb!_”

“Actually!” I said, “--up in the haymow!”

“We’ll break her up,” Mom said. “We can’t have her hatching a nest of
chickens up there.”

“Couldn’t we make her a nest down here, out by the grape arbor?
Couldn’t we put her in the new coop Pop and I made?”

“Better break her up,” Mom said, “she’s one of our best laying hens and
if we set her, she’ll be busy all summer raising her family, and not an
egg will we get.”

“But we break her up every year, and she never has a family of her
own,” I said. “I think she’d look awfully proud and pretty strutting
around the barnyard with a whole flock of little white chickens
following her,”--which is one of the prettiest sights a boy ever sees
on a farm--a mother hen with a whole flock of fuzzy-wuzzy little
chickens behind and beside and in front of her, and running quick
whenever she clucks for them to come and they all gather around her and
eat the different things which she finds for them, such as small bugs,
pieces of barnyard food, small grains of this or that and just plain
stuff.

“Well, maybe you’re right,” Mom said, all of a sudden, “let’s set
her. First, let’s get her nest ready and select fifteen of the nicest
leghorn eggs we can find and have them all ready for her; then you go
get her and bring her down.”

“She won’t want to leave her nice warm nest up in the haymow,” I said
to Mom, looking up at her kinda pretty, warmish summer face under its
blue sunbonnet.

“No, she won’t,” Mom said back to me, “But she’ll do it if we work it
right. Hens are very particular about moving from one nest to another.
We’ll maybe have to shut her up in the coop.”

Well, it was one of the most interesting things I liked to do around
the farm. First, we took a nice brand new chicken coop which was
just about as high as halfway between my knees and my belt, then we
scooped a foot-in-diameter roundish hole in the ground close to our
grape arbor, making the hole about only a few inches deep. We lined
it with nice clean straw and then selected fifteen of the prettiest,
cleanest white eggs we could find which had been laid that very day
by the different leghorn other hens on our farm, and which would
probably be what were called “fertile eggs” and would hatch. Then I ran
lickety-sizzle as fast as I could to our barn, scooted up the ladder
into our haymow, and in spite of Old Bentcomb’s being very angry and
not wanting to leave her nest, I got her under one arm and brought her
down the ladder.

In less than a jiffy or two, I was with her up to where Mom and I were
going to coop her up in the coop. I stooped down first and looked into
the dark inside of the coop and there was the prettiest, nicest most
beautiful fifteen eggs you ever saw all side by each. The coop had a
roof on it but no floor, the floor being the ground with the straw nest
in it. I pushed Bentcomb very gently and in a friendly way up to the
hole in the front of the coop, and let her look in at the nest full of
eggs. She had been clucking like everything and whining and complaining
in a saddish sort of voice which meant she wanted to be a mother of a
whole flock of little chickens, but say! She was mad at me and didn’t
want to go in. She kept turning away from the hole in the coop not even
looking at the nice new nest. So I said to her, “O.K., Old Bentcomb,
I’ll take you out and show you what will happen to you if you _don’t_
sit on those eggs.”

I took her in my two hands, holding her tight so she wouldn’t squirm
loose and get away, and walked with her to our chicken house and around
behind it to where there was a peach tree under which we had a pen
with chickenyard wire all around and on top. Inside were about nine
or a dozen of our best laying hens who had wanted to set, but whom
we decided to “break up” instead of letting them have their stubborn
hen-ways and “set.” There they were, all shut up by themselves. Some of
them were walking around with their wings all spread out, and clucking
like they wanted a bunch of little chickens to come and crawl under
them, and they were cluck-cluck-clucking in a saddish whining tone of
voice. Over in one corner was a white egg which meant that one of the
hens had already given up wanting to “set” and was behaving herself
again like a good laying hen. And I thought that as soon as we could
decide which one of the hens it was, we’d take her out and let her have
her liberty again.

“See there,” I said to Bentcomb, “look at those lonesome old hens!
They’re clucking around just like you’ve been doing. Every one of them
wanted a family of her own, and not one of them is going to get it! If
you don’t be good, and go in that coop like we want you to, we’ll have
to shut you up in here and leave you for two whole weeks, which we do
to all hens who want to ‘set’ and we won’t let ’em.”

Say, Bentcomb wasn’t interested at all. She absolutely refused to look,
so I took her back again to the coop. “I’m going to give you one more
chance,” I said. “I want you to go in there carefully, not breaking any
of those eggs, and behave yourself.”

Once more I got down on my knees, holding her carefully like she was a
very good friend, which she was, and so she could look in and see for
herself what we wanted her to do.

Well sir, this time she must have decided to be good, ’cause all of a
sudden, she quit struggling and looked in like she’d made up her mind
it might be a good place for her to live for awhile. Without me doing
any pushing, or anything, she very slowly started to creep inside the
opening in the coop, toward the eggs. The next thing I knew she was on
the nest, turning around and scooting herself down and spreading her
wings out and settling down and covering every one of those fifteen
eggs with her wings.

I turned and yelled, “MOM! She’s gone in! She’s going to set!”

“Put the board over the hole for a while,” Mom said, “so she can’t get
out. Let her stay until she feels at home, and then she’ll go back
every time we let her out for exercise and water and food.”

I put the rectangular shaped board over the door of Bentcomb’s house,
and propped it shut with a brick, so she couldn’t get out.

And so we “set” my favorite hen, Old Bentcomb. In just three weeks
there’d be a whole nestful of cheeping chicks and a very proud mamma
hen. I sat down for a minute on the roof of her house to rest. I was
almost overworked, I started to think, when Pop yelled, “Hey, Bill!
Come on out! We’ve got to get the rest of the chores done!” So I
started to the barn to help him do them, still thinking about the
camping trip we’d all been invited to take, and wondering if I could
get to go.

“Don’t you feel well?” Pop asked me when I was moving slowly around in
the barn doing different things.

“Kinda worn out,” I said, and the dust which I’d been stirring up with
a pitchfork over our corn elevator made me sneeze twice. “Maybe I’ve
got hayfever,” I said.

“That’s that straw dust you’re stirring up there,” Pop answered.

“_Stirring_ up?” I asked, and knew Pop was right. You just couldn’t
fool Pop, I thought.

He stopped what he had been doing which was something or other way up
at the other end of the barn, and called to me, “Next week, we’ll take
you to the doctor and have him give you a test to see what makes you
sneeze so much.”

“Some people sneeze a lot because of the rainy weather making so many
different kinds of flowers and weeds grow so much and making so much
pollen, maybe,” I yelled back in a tired voice.

Pop ignored my educational remark, and sent me up in the haymow to
throw down some alfalfa for our Brindle cow. While I was up there, I
stirred up the dust in the hay and sneezed three or four times real
loud.

Just then Pop called up to me and said, “What’s the matter, Bill? Are
you hurt?”--which made me feel foolish.

The sun was shining in through a crack in the barn and I peeped out
like I nearly always do when I’m up there and looked around at the
different things such as three rows of newly hoed potatoes in the
garden. I could hardly believe my eyes, when I noticed that there were
only _three_ rows I’d hoed. It had seemed like seven.

Then my heart almost jumped into my mouth when I heard voices
downstairs and one of them was Barry Boyland’s laughing voice. He
and Pop were talking, and saying they were glad to see each other. I
stopped in my tracks, and listened for all I was worth, and this is
what I heard, “Well, Barry, we _have_ to do something for him--he’s
getting the hayfever so badly. Maybe the North would be good for him.”

And then Barry laughed the queerest sounding laugh I’d heard in a long
time and said, “Sure, I understand. It’s the same story wherever I
go--the boys of the Sugar Creek Gang are all sneezing pretty bad, all
except Dragonfly, who is better this year than last--but his parents
said he could go, too.” Then Pop and Barry laughed long and loud at
each other like it was funny or something. But I didn’t care at all. I
was so tickled inside.

Right away a terrible scream of happiness jumped up into my throat, and
if I hadn’t stopped it, I’d have yelled even worse than I do when I’m
yelling for our baseball team.... Oh boy, oh boy--another trip up North
this summer, with all the gang going along!



4


As I’ve already told you, when we were going to get to go North, we
didn’t have any idea we’d run into such an exciting and dangerous
mystery, but when a gang of boys get together on a camping trip in the
wild North, something is pretty nearly always bound to happen, which it
did.

On the way we went through a city which advertised itself as the
Capital of the Paul Bunyan Playground--Paul Bunyan being what is called
a mythical lumberman of the North, and was supposed to have been
terribly big like a giant in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, which
is a fairy story every boy ought to know--only instead of Paul Bunyan
being a _bad_ giant, he was a good one, and was always doing kind
things for people.

We stopped to get some gas for Barry Boyland’s station wagon--which is
what we were all riding in--right across from a tourist camp called
“Green Gables,” and Little Jim gasped and said, “LOOK! Who and what
_is_ that?”

I looked out at what Little Jim was looking at, and saw what he saw,
and it was a great statue of a man with a beard and mustache, standing
with one hand upraised and the other on a back of a statue of a great
big extra big blue cow which had horns. Poetry spoke up and said,
“That’s Paul and Babe.”

“Paul and Babe _Who_?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and Poetry, who, as
I’ve told you before, had a lot of books in his library, all of a
sudden reached down into a briefcase he had with him and pulled out a
book and said, “That’s Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, whose name is
Babe. It was the blue ox whose footprints were so large that when it
walked around they sank deep into the ground, and everywhere it went it
left big holes. Then when it rained, the rain water filled up the holes
and that made all the eleven thousand great big blue-watered lakes
which live in Minnesota.”

Little Jim, who likes fairy stories and legends, grinned and said,
“What made the water _blue_, then? How come?” You see, nearly all the
water in nearly all the great big hundreds of lakes we’d already seen
on our trip was as blue as the blue on the hair ribbon Circus’ sister
wore to school at Sugar Creek.

“What made the lakes blue?” asked Poetry with a question mark in his
voice. He puckered his fat forehead, and said, “Blue--oh _that!_” He
thumbed his way through the Paul Bunyan book quick, to see if there
was anything in the book to explain it, but there wasn’t. So he said,
“Old Babe, the ox, was blue, you know. One day when he was out swimming
in the headwaters of the Mississippi, the blue began to come off, and
pretty soon the Mississippi, which flows through a lot of lakes up
here, was all blue. The water flowed all around from lake to lake and
pretty soon the lakes’ waters were all blue, too!”

Well, it made as good an untrue story as any of the rest of the
exaggerated ones in the Paul Bunyan book so we added it to the list and
decided to tell it to our folks when we got back to Sugar Creek.

Pretty soon we drove on, right straight down through the pretty little
modern-looking city, where there were lots of people walking the
streets in vacation clothes.

Pretty soon we passed a Tourist Information place, on the right side
of the road where there was a very tall cement water tower, that was
shaped exactly like my pop’s big long six-battery flashlight back home,
being a lot larger at the top. Little Jim squinted his pretty blue eyes
up at it like he was thinking about something. Then we went on, and
Poetry read to us different crazy things the mythical Paul Bunyan was
supposed to have done, such as he had been such a big baby when he was
born that it took six large storks to carry him to his parents; and
Paul’s pet mosquitoes dug the wells up here where we were; his soup
bowl was so large it was like a lake and the cook had to use a boat to
get across it; also his pancake griddle was so large that they greased
it by tying greasy griddlecakes on the bottoms of some men’s shoes and
they skated around over its surface to grease it for Paul--things like
that.

Little Jim surprised us all of a sudden by saying, “Anybody want to
hear how all the people decided to move up into this country and stay
here?--How Paul Bunyan and I working together got them to come, when
nobody wanted to?”

“How?” Dragonfly wanted to know. “What do you mean YOU and Paul Bunyan
worked it? Paul used to live here long before you were born. You never
even saw him!”

“Oh I didn’t, didn’t I?” Little Jim asked and had a very mischievous
grin on his innocent face. “Want to hear the story?”

“Sure,” Poetry and I said, and Dragonfly said, “_No_.”

Little Jim said, “All right, I won’t--anyway, it’s too important a
story to tell to such a small unappreciative audience.” He sighed like
he was sleepy and curled up with his head on my lap and sighed again
and almost before I knew it he was actually asleep.

It felt good having Little Jim lying with his head in my lap, he being
my almost best friend except Poetry, and also being a really wonderful
little guy and was the best Christian in the whole Sugar Creek Gang.
He was always thinking and saying important things about the Bible and
heaven, and the One who had made the world, and also about His Son who
had come here to this pretty world once and died on a cross which was
made out of a tree, just to save anybody who would repent of his sins
and believe on Him.

I looked down at that pretty curly head, and thought of Sugar Creek
and my parents and little Charlotte Ann, and was lonesome for a
minute. Then pretty soon I was sleepy myself and the flying tires of
the station wagon sort of sang _me_ to sleep too. Once I half woke up
on account of Little Jim wiggled in my lap and I heard him mumbling
something. I was too sleepy to listen, but it sorta sounded like he
maybe thought he was at home getting ready to crawl into bed and go
to sleep. I kinda bent my ear down a little and listened close to his
perspiring face and say! I heard some of the prettiest words you ever
heard in your life and they were, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray
the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the
Lord my soul to take....” Little Jim was kinda mumbling the words. I’d
heard the poem before, in fact my folks had taught it to me, and when I
was littler I’d said it at night myself. But Little Jim said something
else I couldn’t quite make out, but it sounded like this: “Please
also--bless--Little Snow-in-the-face, and help him to get well...” Then
I felt Little Jim’s shoulder relax against my stomach and I knew he was
sound asleep. In another jiffy I was asleep myself.

When I woke up we were still flying along with Barry at the wheel, and
most of us sitting in lying-down positions, getting a swell afternoon
nap. It was wonderful to ride along that fast, and also wonderful to
see all the things we saw, as the road wound itself around and around
like the winding barefoot-boy paths through the Sugar Creek woods along
Sugar Creek itself. At the town of Pass Lake, most of us got out,
stretched ourselves and bought postcards at a drug store and sent them
to our folks. I sent a card that showed some men climbing a tree, and
some great big fish were at the bottom looking up like hungry bears
look up at boys.

I said to my folks, “Pretty soon we’ll be making camp,” which we did
about a quarter of a mile from the place we’d been the year before on
Santa’s lake front property--Santa, as you know, being the great big
laughing fat man who likes boys almost as much as Old Man Paddler does.

“Where’s _Mrs._ Santa?” Poetry asked that kind person, maybe
remembering the blackberry pie she’d given us, and maybe missing her
very friendly and extra special giggle, which we’d all liked to hear so
well. I had looked forward to seeing her laugh with her eyes as well
as hearing her laugh with her bird-like voice.

Santa, who was sitting in his big white boat which was beached near
where we were making camp, and was helping Tom Till get his fishing
pole and line ready for a fishing trip in the morning, said to Poetry,
“She’s gone to California, but will be back early next week, before you
boys have to go back to Sugar Creek.”

Well, it was almost time for the sun to go down, and we would have to
get busy pitching our tents. Barry called to us from the station wagon
which was parked close by, “Hey, Gang! Let’s get the tents up.... Hey,
you, BILL! POETRY! TOM!”

We all beat it and pretty soon were working like boy scouts, doing
what is called “making camp.” Barry’d picked a site not far from the
lake, and also not too far from a wood pile, so a gang of boys who were
lazy only when there was work to do, wouldn’t have to carry wood too
far. Also he picked a place where there wouldn’t be too much shade so
it wouldn’t be too damp, and yet there would be sunshine every day if
there was any.

“Why don’t we put the tents under this big tree right here?” Circus
asked, and Barry said, looking up at the tree, “See that great big half
dead limb there?”

Dragonfly looked up and saw it, and said, “Sure, what of it?” and
Little Jim spoke up and said, “The wind might blow some night,” and
then turned and ran to where Big Jim was, about fifty feet away and
who, with his jack-knife, was cutting green sticks of different sizes
to help us make what Barry called an outdoor kitchen, which he said
was going to be like the kind the Chippewa Indians used to use.

All of us were either giving or obeying orders, and in a few jiffies
our tents were up and the outdoor kitchen was nearly finished.

“O.K., you guys--you and Poetry,” Barry ordered Poetry and me, “roll up
a couple of those big round rocks over there, get a couple of forked
sticks, and push them right into the fire.” We already had a roaring
fire going in a place where it was safe to have one. No boy or anybody
ought to start a fire in any forest or woods any time unless it is in a
place where there is supposed to be one, and where it can’t spread, or
a whole forest might get burned up.

“What on earth?” I thought, as Poetry and I grunted a round rock apiece
up as close to the hot fire as we could, and then pushed them the rest
of the way with forked sticks so we wouldn’t get burned, ourselves.

“Wait and see,” Barry said, and we did, but kept wondering, “Why on
earth?” We got two other rocks also, while the rest of the gang helped
put up the tents and made things ready for our first night’s sleep. I
had a tingling feeling all inside of me, and just knew we were going to
have the most wonderful time of our lives.

It didn’t take us long to get supper over, which we cooked ourselves on
a little two-burner pressure gas stove which Barry had brought along,
he not wanting us to take time to cook in real Indian style, which we
would most of the time.

“Ouch!” different ones of us said to each other and all of a sudden
started slapping around at mosquitoes.

“Here--rub this on,” Barry said, “and be careful not to get any too
near your eyes and lips.” He handed us a couple of bottles of mosquito
lotion and we smeared our bare hands and ankles and necks and ears and
faces with the sickenishly-sweetish-smelling stuff, and right away it
was just like there wasn’t a mosquito in the world.

Santa came over and we all sat around the camp fire, with the pretty
sparks and flames playing above the beds of coal and the four large
roundish rocks in the middle of it.

After we’d all listened to Barry tell us an honest-to-goodness
Bible story about something that had happened on Galilee Lake once,
we all took turns telling made-up stories. It was Little Jim who
suggested we all make up Paul Bunyan stories and since it was a good
idea, we decided to try to see who could make up the best one, and
so we started. First, though, Barry told us the thrilling and very
interesting Bible story, which maybe I ought to tell you here myself,
’cause it was one of the best stories a real red-blooded gang of boys
ever heard.

All of us were in a sort of half circle around the camp fire, on
blankets and also on each other, some of us leaning up against each
other, like right that minute I was against Poetry.... “Get over,”
Poetry said to me. “Don’t crowd so close.”

“I’m trying to get warm,” I said. “It’s cold. I’m using you for a
windbreak.”

And Circus said to Poetry--“You’re a windbreak when it’s cold, and when
it’s hot we lie behind you in the shade,”--Poetry, as you know, being
fat as a small cow. Most of us giggled, except Poetry.

“It happened like this,” Barry began,--and I noticed Little Jim reach
into his vest pocket, and pull out his New Testament to look up the
place where Barry was getting the story from. I did the same, and so
did most of the gang, except Tom Till who had forgotten to bring his.
I looked at him and he swallowed like he was embarrassed, so I reached
out mine to him and he sort of looked on, although I knew he couldn’t
see very well, and wasn’t very good at reading the Bible anyway.
Besides it was more interesting to watch Barry’s brown face and his one
all-gold front tooth sparkling in the firelight when he talked.

It was one of my very favorite Bible stories and was about some
fishermen who lived near a great big blue-watered lake that was
thirteen miles long and seven miles wide and had thousands of fish in
it. Two brothers, named Peter and Andrew, were fishing, not with poles
but with nets, and two other brothers whose names were James and John,
whose Pop’s name was Zebedee and whose Mom’s name was Salome, were
using another boat. I was feeling sorry for the double brothers ’cause
they hadn’t caught any fish and I was wondering what their Moms would
say when they got home, when Barry started in to telling about a big
crowd of people coming along listening to Someone telling wonderful
stories and also telling them about the Father in Heaven and how to
live right and things like that; and the crowd got so close to the
Speaker that He might have been crowded into the water.

He turned and asked Peter to let Him borrow his boat, so He could get
into it and push out from shore a little, and then He could talk to the
crowd and not get trampled on and also the crowd’d be able to see Him.
It was a bright idea, I thought, and wished I had been there, ’cause if
it was wonderful to hear our minister at Sugar Creek tell about Him in
his very interesting sermons, it would have been even wonderfuller to
have been beside that pretty blue-watered lake that day and listened to
the Saviour right while He was talking....

Pretty soon, the Speaker’s sermon was over, Barry said, and then He,
just as if He wanted to pay Peter for being so courteous as to let Him
make a pulpit out of his boat, told Peter to shove the boat into the
deep water and let down the nets for some fish.... Say, Peter didn’t
want to do it, ’cause he had been fishing around there all night, and
hadn’t caught anything, and he might have wondered, “Why do it again
and make a fool of myself?”

“But,” said Barry,--and I could see his all-gold tooth shining as he
talked, and even though he was smiling, his face was very sober--“it
is better to obey the Lord, boys, even if it does seem foolish to the
world for you to do it, than it is to _disobey_ Him. Besides, He has a
right to give us orders, since He is the Son of God....”

He kept on talking, but for a minute, I looked at Circus, who I noticed
had his fists doubled up, and was lying on his stomach and his elbows,
looking up and across the fire at Barry. Also he had his chin resting
on his doubled-up fists and the muscles of his jaw were working and I
knew he was maybe imagining himself to be Peter and his thoughts were
right out in that pretty lake, and he was seeing the whole thing with
his mind’s eye like I was....

When my thoughts got back to Barry again, he was farther along in the
story to where the net was suddenly jammed full of great big bouncing,
swishing, lunging, splashing fish, and Peter and Andrew had to have
help to pull the net in. Also right that second, the big strong net
began to break in places and some of the fish were getting away, so
Peter let out a yell for James and John to make a dive for their
boat--in fact, to bring their boat with them which they did quick, and
both of the boats were so jammed full of fish that both of them started
to sink. That scared Peter, and also all of a sudden Peter realized
that the Man he’d been listening to was more than a man, but was also
the Lord. He all of another sudden realized what a terrible sinner he
was, and he forgot all about the bouncing, swishing, lunging, splashing
fish and dropped down on his knees and cried out to the Lord, “Go away,
Lord, leave me. I’m a sinful man!”--on account of he was so ashamed of
himself for being a sinful man, he didn’t think he was good enough to
be anywhere near the Lord....

But say, Jesus had done all this on purpose to get Peter to believe in
Him, and He told him not to be afraid any longer, but said, “Fear not;
henceforth thou shalt catch men...”

When Barry said that, Circus’ bright eyes lit up and he interrupted
the story to say, “What’d he mean by that?” Before Barry could answer,
Little Tim Till surprised us all by cutting in and saying across the
crackling fire to Circus, “He meant, ‘Don’t be scared; from now on
you’ll be what our Sugar Creek minister calls a _soul winner_.’”

Well, it was a wonderful true story, and for some reason I had the
happiest feeling all inside of me. I not only wished all of a quick
sudden that I had been there and had maybe been Peter or Andrew or
one of Mother Salome’s two boys, but I felt also that maybe the most
important thing in the world was to be a soul winner, or a fisher of
men...

Well, the story was done and the sky above the lake toward where the
sun had gone down, reminded me of the reddish, purplish and also
yellowish spread-out feathers of a terribly big fantail pigeon.



5


I was sitting there on a small log, looking at the extra beautiful
sky, looking at it over the top of our camp fire, thinking about how
the rays of the sun shooting up looked like a lady’s many colored
unfolded fan or the tail of a fantailed pigeon, when Barry said, “One
of the Sporting Clubs up here is offering a prize for the best original
Paul Bunyan story... Here’s a chance for you boys to stretch your
imaginations a little...”

Pretty soon we were all racking our brains to see if we could think of
something about Paul Bunyan that nobody had ever thought of before,
which Barry might decide was good enough to write about and send in
to the contest... Different ones of us made up different things,
such as: One time Paul Bunyan gave a wintertime party in a terribly
big recreational center in Bemidji, and so many people answered his
invitation and came that there wasn’t any place to hang their fur
coats and other heavy coats, so Paul went out and blew on his horn
and hundreds of great big huge antlered deer came running in from all
directions, and Paul stood them up all around the outer wall of the
building, each one of them facing the center, and the fancy ladies
hung their fur coats and other kinds of different colored coats on the
antlers, using them for what is called “costumers.” Those deer stood
there patiently, without moving, with their kind eyes watching the
skaters.

Everything was going fine, until somebody opened all the doors all
around to let in some fresh air, and then all of a sudden, Old Babe,
the blue ox came in and started lumbering around looking for Paul,
and stamped his hoofs and snorted like a mad bull, and the people got
scared and excited and the women started to screaming, and that scared
the hundreds of deer, and they bolted for the doors in a terribly mad
and wild scramble, and, there being doors all around that were open,
they took all the coats with them...

That was Big Jim’s story, and when he told it, I remembered that he
always got very good grades in English in the Sugar Creek School.

Dragonfly told his story, and it was that Paul Bunyan got hay fever so
bad and sneezed so hard and so many times in succession that it blew
a whole forest over; Poetry said Paul Bunyan ate so many blackberry
pies and got so fat that when he went in swimming in Leech Lake and
splashed around a lot, so much water splashed _out_ of the lake for
hundreds of miles around that it made a thousand _new_ lakes so that
the ten thousand lakes that Minnesota had at first were changed to
eleven thousand; Circus said the day Paul ate Poetry’s blackberry pies
he had to have toothpicks to pick the seeds out from between his teeth,
so he cut down some Norway pines with his jack-knife which was seven
feet long, and used them for toothpicks; Dragonfly looked at me and my
red hair, with a mischievous grin in his dragonfly-like eyes, and told
another story real quick which was: Paul’s long hair was so red that
when he was asleep one windy day, the Indians saw it blowing in the
wind and thought it was a forest fire. They threw water all over him,
and ever since then, all red-haired people have been all wet.

Well, that was supposed to be funny, and most everybody around the
camp fire thought it was and laughed hard, but it wasn’t funny, maybe.
For a minute I was almost mad, but decided it would be a waste of good
temper to spoil what the others thought funny; besides my pop says any
boy who wants to get along with people can’t afford to always be taking
offense. I couldn’t think of anything about Paul Bunyan that would help
me get even with Dragonfly, so I let Little Jim tell his story, and we
didn’t have time for mine, on account of it was time to go to bed.

I watched Little Jim’s small friendly face in the firelight and in the
light of the afterglow of the sun which had already gone to bed, and
he looked so innocent, that you couldn’t tell whether he was thinking
or not, but it was fun to listen to him, ’cause his mouse-like voice
squeaked out the strangest story, which really sounded good, and it
was: “Well, when Paul and I were up here in this pretty country of many
lakes, we got awful lonesome and wished there were some people living
here. We stayed down where Brainerd is now, and Paul would carry me
around in his vest pocket and tell me stories, and complain about how
lonesome he was...”

Well, it sounded like Little Jim was going to have a real good story,
so I listened and sure enough it was. That little innocent-faced guy
said that Paul Bunyan got so lonesome finally that he took his big
long brown flashlight and some different colored cellophane and stood
the flashlight, which was two hundred feet long, up on the ground,
and built a wooden platform around it right at the place where the
switch was, and every night Little Jim sat on that platform of the
two-hundred-foot-tall flashlight and turned that light on and off
and on and off; and Paul would stand beside the flashlight and slide
different colored pieces of cellophane paper across the top of the
flashlight, and the whole sky was all lit up in many different colors
every night, changing just like the beautiful northern lights do--(and
I thought that maybe the sky above the lake had made little Jim think
about the different colors)--and pretty soon in a week or so, people
from Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and all the southern states, began to
come up North to see what they thought were beautiful northern lights,
and they liked the country so well they decided to stay and build their
homes, which they did, and so the town of Brainerd was founded, and
then Paul left his flashlight standing and the people took the big
batteries out and used it for a water tower, where it still stands in
downtown Brainerd.

Well, it was a cute idea, and I wished I could think of something good,
but couldn’t, so we broke up our campfire circle, with Santa standing
and yawning his fat self into a straightened up posture. He looked
straight at Tom Till and said, “How about a spin on the lake, with my
new outboard motor, Tom?”

I remembered that Santa and Mrs. Santa didn’t have any children of
their own, and that last year he had liked Tom so well, and had also
been the one who had showed Tom how to become a Christian. I knew that
Tom’s pop was an infidel, and was hardly ever kind to him, and Tom was
maybe hungry for some grown-up person to like him, so I felt happy
inside that Tom was going to get a fast boat ride, although I wanted to
go along worse than anything.

“You, too, Bill--and Poetry, if you like,” Santa said--“if you can
spare them awhile, Barry. I’ll take the rest of the gang tomorrow. This
new motor needs breaking in, you know.”

Well, it was all right with Barry, and it certainly was all right with
me, so away we four went toward the sandy shore to where Santa’s big
white boat was beached, each one of us taking our life preserver vests,
and putting them on before getting into the boat... Boy oh boy, that
lake looked wonderful, having as many colors as the sky itself, which
meant that a lake got its color from the sky, I thought, and said to
Poetry, “Looks like Old Babe, the Ox, must have changed his colors like
a chameleon and taken a swim out here, while we were telling stories.”

And Poetry surprised me by yelling, “SWELL, BILL, that’s wonderful!
Hey, you guys back there! Bill’s got a good story!”

Well, it made me feel half proud of myself to have Poetry yell that to
the gang like that, and I liked Poetry a lot for a minute, that being
one of the reasons why I liked him anyway--he was always making a
person feel like he was worth something.

It certainly felt fine to sit in the prow of Santa’s big boat, with
Tom Till and Poetry in the middle and Santa himself in the stern, and
go roaring out across the lake. Boy oh boy, in the afterglow of the
sunset, the lake was pretty, and without much wind was as smooth as
Mom’s mirror in our front room at home. I was wishing Pop and Mom were
there, to see things, but wouldn’t want them to stay on account of I
wanted to have some real exciting adventures to tell them about when we
got home...

Pretty soon, our boat cut a wide circle around the end of a neck of
land, and we went roaring down the other side about fifty or maybe a
hundred feet from shore. It was still a little light on the lake, but
the pine trees on the shore looked darkish and it was getting dark
fast. All the time I was wondering if we could run into any exciting
adventures up here in the North when Poetry said, “Look Bill! right
there’s where our boat upset last year and tossed us out, and right
there’s where I hooked that big Northern Pike.”

I remembered and yelled back to him and said so, and went on
thinking--wishing we’d have some kinda scary excitement as well as a
lot of fun camping.

I watched the widening waves that spread out behind us like a great V,
and felt fine and happy, and for some reason I liked everybody. Also
I was remembering the Bible story Barry had told, and how Peter was
afraid to have the Lord anywhere near him, because he was a sinner, and
I began to feel that God was real close to all of us and I wasn’t a bit
scared of Him ’cause I knew that He had washed all my sins away, which
our Sugar Creek minister and Little Jim say is what He does to a boy or
anybody who will really let Him--washing them away in His own blood.

Just then Poetry yelled to me, “Penny for your thoughts, Bill!” I
started, and looked at him and said, “Look at that reddish sky, will
you?” and Poetry looked and said, “Kinda pretty, isn’t it?”



6


We docked at Santa’s dock, and went into his log cabin with him. It was
cozy inside. First he lit two old-fashioned kerosene lamps, then ’cause
it might get cold pretty soon, we helped him start a fire in his small
wood stove in a corner; Tom pumped a pail of water from the pitcher
pump inside the cabin. Santa even had an icebox with ice in it, and in
another small room, twin beds; and back in a tiny room away back in the
back, there was a bathtub and beside it a very old-fashioned trunk that
for some reason made me think of Robinson Crusoe and buried treasure.
I wished harder than ever that we would run into a mystery up here in
the North.... I was all tingling inside, wanting one so bad. But, of
course, I wouldn’t want the kind that would half scare a boy half to
death, like the ones that sometimes happened to the Sugar Creek Gang,
but I wanted an ordinary mystery anyway.

Pretty soon it would be time to go back to camp and get to sleep. I was
wondering how we could keep warm in our cold wall tents--which was the
kind ours were--when there wouldn’t be any fires inside and we didn’t
have any heaters. Of course I knew I’d be pretty warm myself, after
I’d crawled into my sleeping bag, which is a waterproof bed made out
of khaki drill. It had a soft kapoc filled mattress, and I would just
crawl into it, zip up the zipper slide fastener on the side, and there
I’d be, but it’d be cold to get undressed and before getting into my
pajamas.

Santa showed us different things in his cottage, such as a large
mounted fish on the wall which Mrs. Santa had caught, and also a great
big bearskin rug which was on the floor and had a fierce bear’s head
with wide open red mouth on one end of it; also there was a snake skin
on the wall, which a missionary in Africa had sent him.

Well, it was soon time to go home. Poetry looked at Santa’s wood box
and said all of a sudden, “You need a load of wood--better let Bill
carry one in for you.”

“Fine,” I said, “I’ll hold the flashlight for you.” I took a flashlight
off the table, and started toward the door with Poetry right after me.

Outside, we looked back through the window at the pretty little cabin
and at Santa and Tom standing by the fire warming themselves, and all
of a sudden Poetry said, “I wish Tom had a pop like--I wish Santa was
Tom’s daddy.”

I thought of old hook-nosed John Till at Sugar Creek and knew that
maybe right that very minute he was probably standing at the bar in a
beer joint sousing his fat stomach with beer, and that Tom’s mother
was maybe not even going to have enough money to buy groceries for the
family the rest of that week.

At the long wood rick, Poetry and I stopped and he said, “Sh! Turn off
the light. I heard something.” I snapped off the flashlight, peered out
into the dark and listened. “It’s a crazy loon,” I said, when one of
those diving birds away out on the dark lake somewhere had let out a
long-tailed quavering cry, which came echoing across to where we were.
Also right that second another loon, closer to the shore, answered him.

And then my hair started to stand up on end, ’cause I heard another
sound almost like that of a loon, but it wasn’t coming from that
lake. It sounded like a little girl crying and came from over in the
direction of the boathouse where Santa kept his boat in the winter and
his tools and oars and things in the summer.

Then I heard the sound again, plain as day, a faint cry like a loon
that somebody was trying to smother, and maybe had his fingers on its
throat...

Poetry’s hand was tightening on my shoulder, and his face was close to
my neck, and I could hear and feel him breathing. “Over _there_,” he
whispered huskily, “close to the boathouse. _Down!_” he hissed, and
drew me down beside him, both of us hiding behind the wood rick.

Before I ducked, though, I’d looked in the direction of the boathouse
which was up against the edge of a steep hill, and I saw a tiny glow
like somebody had drawn on a cigarette or cigar and it had made it glow
in the dark.

I knew it couldn’t be any of our camping party ’cause not a one of us
smoked, not even Barry.

Then we heard the boathouse door creaking on its hinges and I knew I
was beginning to be scared.

“It’s a man smoking,” Poetry hissed in my ear, but I didn’t want to
believe it. “Maybe it was a lightning bug,” I said. There were several
of them flashing their spooky little lamps on and off out near Santa’s
boat.

“Lightning bugs’ lights are a yellowish green,” Poetry said, “and that
was a reddish glow.”

I knew he was right but wished in spite of wanting a mystery that
whatever it was, it wasn’t some criminal. Then I heard what sounded
like a stifled cry again and knew it _wasn’t_ any loon, but said to
Poetry, “It’s a loon’s echo, maybe.”

I had the flashlight in my hand and without thinking, but just doing
what I wanted to, shot its long white beam right straight toward the
boathouse, up against the hill. Before I could even think Poetry had
reached out a hand and grabbed my arm and smothered the light against
his fat side, but not before I saw what I saw, which was a dark shadow
of something dart behind the boathouse.

“Don’t scare whatever it is,” Poetry said. “Give me time to think what
to do,” Poetry, as you know, being the one of our gang which wanted to
be a detective and knew more about being one than any of the rest of us.

We were both ducked behind the wood rick again and our knees were on
a pile of sawdust, which maybe had been left there when somebody had
maybe cut the wood with a buzz-saw. Even with a scary mystery just
around the corner, Poetry quoted something he had memorized, which was.

  “If a wood-saw would saw wood,
   How much wood would the wood-saw saw
   If the wood-saw would saw wood?”

“I thought you wanted to think,” I said to him.

“I am,” he said. “I think best when I have what books call a ‘poetic
muse.’ Did you notice what I noticed?” he asked me.

“What?” I said, and he said, “That the boathouse has had a new coat of
paint since we were here, last year.”

“I saw a shadow move,” I answered him. I was trembling inside and
listening toward the boathouse.

We kept on listening but didn’t hear a thing, so we decided to turn the
flashlight on the boathouse again, which we did, and sure enough it had
been painted, a nice pretty green color. It even looked like it had
_just_ been painted.

“Smell the paint?” Poetry said, and I did--for the first time.

That green boathouse had its door closed and looked as innocent as
Little Jim’s face looks when it is, and there wasn’t a sound of any
kind. A lonely loon let out a wavering wail from across the lake and
another one answered him from close to the shore, not far from the dock
where we had just left Santa’s boat, but there wasn’t another sound
anywhere.

“What about the door creaking on its hinges?” I said.

“Just remember it, when we start to questioning the suspect later
on,” Poetry said, and his voice was as calm as if he was actually a
detective. But his hand was on my arm, and I could feel it trembling
a little. We loaded up our arms with wood as quick as we could and
started toward the cottage.

We were both trembling when we got inside, but we’d made up our minds
to keep quiet so as not to scare Tom Till. Also if we were only
imagining things on account of wanting a mystery so bad, and if there
really wasn’t any, we didn’t want to seem silly to anybody except
ourselves, which wouldn’t be so bad.

We unloaded our two armloads of wood into the big wood box in the
corner beside the stove, and then looked around and saw on the table
in the corner a copy of a Minneapolis newspaper, and on the very front
page, a big headline which said, “FEAR OSTBERG KIDNAPPER HIDING IN
CHIPPEWA FOREST.”

I stared and stared at the heading and sidled quickly over to the
table, and in the light of the flashlight, on account of the kerosene
lamp not being bright enough, I read the whole story.

I was remembering the radio program I’d heard back in our house at
Sugar Creek, about a little girl being kidnapped at St. Paul... Poetry
sidled over to me and we read the newspaper together while Santa and
Tom Till were opening the icebox and getting out some bottles of pop.
Poetry’s hand was gripping my arm so tight that it hurt, but I didn’t
say a word. I was concentrating on the news story of the little girl
who had been taken from her home in St. Paul, and hadn’t been found
yet, and I was making up my mind that the kidnapper or whoever he was,
was maybe right that minute right out there in Santa’s boathouse, and
the Ostberg girl was there, too. The father of the little golden haired
girl had already paid the ransom money of $25,000 but the kidnapper
hadn’t left the girl where he’d promised to.



7


It was hard to keep still while we were drinking our pop from Santa’s
icebox; in fact, I couldn’t, so I said, “You been doing some painting
around here, Santa? I smell fresh paint outdoors.”

Santa set his bottle of orange pop down on the table and swallowed,
and said, “The boathouse? Yes, I gave it a new coat yesterday--I’ve
been doing a little work inside, too--doing it up in green and white.
I plan to use it for a den for my fishing tackle and guns, and a place
to write, and when I have company, it’ll do for a guest house--or a
sleeping room, anyway--”

Say, right that second, Santa got a queer look on his face,
straightened up and said, “What do you know? I just remembered I forgot
to lock the boathouse door.”

Tom Till spoke up and asked, “Do the Indians steal things up here when
you leave the doors unlocked?” and Santa answered and said something
everybody ought to know, which was: “There are _white_ people up here
who do. We have very little trouble with the Indians themselves. They
like to be trusted, and if they think you’ve locked the door especially
because of them, they resent it. Of course, there are Indians and
Indians, as there are white men and white men. A man isn’t a thief
because he’s an Indian or of any other race, but because he has a
sinful nature, which all men do have. You know a man decides for
himself whether he is going to steal or not. It doesn’t matter what the
color of his face is, if he has a black heart.”

Santa stretched himself and started toward the door.

I was wondering about Little Snow-in-the-face, and when we’d get to see
him, and said so, and Santa said, “He’s still in the hospital. He’ll be
thrilled to death to see you boys. He’s a great little boy.”

Santa opened his cabin door to go out and lock the boathouse door.

I looked at Poetry, and he looked at me, and we stared at each other.
“Let’s all go,” Santa said.

In a jiffy, we were all outside, following Santa, walking in and along
beside the white path his flashlight made.

“Well, what do you know!” Santa said all of a sudden, stopping and
holding the light on the door. “I must have locked it after all, and
forgotten I did it.”

At the door we stopped while he shone the light on the Yale padlock on
the door, and sure enough it was locked.

Santa laughed and said, “Must be getting forgetful in my old age.” He
turned, shot the flashlight all around, focusing it on stumps, out
between us and the dock, also on the cottage and the chimney, and on a
hole in a hollow tree just above the boathouse, and would you believe
it? There sitting in the hole was a rust-red blinking longish-eared
screech owl like an olderish woman sitting on the front porch of her
house.

Quick as a flash, the owl spread its wings and flew like a shadow out
into the night.

Poetry and I looked toward each other and sighed, and knew we’d been
fooled by our own imaginations, ’cause if there’s anything a girl
sounds like when she is half crying in a high-pitched voice around the
Sugar Creek school, it is a screech owl, which makes a sort of moaning,
wavering wail....

Well, that was that, and I felt very foolish, as all of us went back to
Santa’s dock, climbed into his boat, holding his flashlight and also a
bright electric lantern which you are supposed to do when you are out
on a lake in a boat, so you won’t run into some other boat and some
other boat won’t run into you.

In a little while we were roaring out across the darkish water, around
the neck of land and back toward camp.

Pretty soon, Poetry and Dragonfly and Circus and I were in our own
tent, with a small candle for a light on a folding table in one corner.
It was as warm as toast in the tent in spite of it being really chilly
outside, like it is most every night in the Paul Bunyan country.

“What on earth is that water pail doing in the center of the tent?” I
asked, ’cause it was right where I wanted to set my suitcase and open
it.

“That’s our stove,” Circus said.

“Stove?... That’s a water pail!” Poetry exclaimed.

“That’s where I want my suitcase,” I said, and started to move it, but
Circus yelled, “Don’t touch it. You’ll get burned. It’s a stove!”

In the flickering light his monkey face looked ridiculous, and I,
knowing how mischievous he was, said, “You’re crazy,” and started to
take hold of the handle of the pail, and did, and let go in a fierce
hurry. The handle was hot, and there was a lot of heat coming from the
outside of the pail and a whole lot coming from the inside. It was
pretty dark in the tent so I carried the candle from the corner, and
looked in, and--would you believe it?--Well, I wouldn’t have, if I
hadn’t seen it, but there it was--one of the big round rocks Poetry and
I had rolled into the fire a couple hours ago. It was still as hot as
anything, and would maybe stay hot nearly all night.

Pretty soon, I had crawled into my sleeping bag, and with Poetry in
his, right beside me, and Dragonfly and Circus on the other side of the
tent in theirs, we were ready to try to stop talking and go to sleep.
Circus snuffed out the candle, and we all were quiet as we could be
for awhile, which wasn’t quiet. We could also hear the rest of the
gang--which was Big Jim and Tom Till and Little Jim and also Barry
Boyland--still talking over in their tent maybe fifty feet away on the
other side of the camp fire.

In spite of having been scared by my own imagination, I was awful
sleepy and in a few jiffies was so sleepy I knew that in a minute I’d
be gone. I was so sleepy I knew I wouldn’t be able to say a very good
good-night prayer to the Heavenly Father. It was better for a boy to do
most of his praying when he is wider awake anyway, but I managed to say
a few words which I meant from the bottom of my heart, and they were
that the little girl’s parents wouldn’t go crazy on account of their
little girl being stolen. I also prayed for little Snow-in-the-face and
maybe a few other things.

Our gang hardly ever prayed together, on account of boys being bashful
about doing it, but each one of us nearly always prayed by himself.
Once in a while, though, we did when it was something extra important,
and we thought maybe God wanted us to ask Him about it.

It certainly was a wonderful feeling--lying there in my cozy sleeping
bag, warm as toast, listening to mosquitos buzzing around my face
but not getting bit even once on account of I had mosquito lotion on
my face and even on my ears, all of us being very careful, like the
directions on the bottle said, not to get any on our lips or too near
our eyes. Besides, there weren’t any mosquitos in the tent on account
of the window in our tent had mosquito netting built into it and it was
mosquito proof.

I certainly was glad I hadn’t told anybody I thought anybody had been
kidnapped and was maybe in Santa’s boathouse. I didn’t want to seem
ridiculous to anybody except to Poetry and myself; for some reason,
though, I wished I had been right, on account of, as my pop once said,
anybody doesn’t like to believe he is wrong, even when he is.

I drifted away into a half dream, and it seemed like I could hear the
washing of the lake wavelets on the shore, and they were mixed up with
Dragonfly’s snoring. Also it seemed like somebody was near me with a
saw and was sawing wood, and the pile of sawdust was getting higher
and higher, and Poetry and I were standing ankle deep in it. Then, I
took off my shoes to get the sawdust out of them, and they were filled
with green and white paint. Then somebody started pounding and making
a slapping noise beside me, and I woke up, and it was Dragonfly’s
twisting and turning in his sleep and slapping at his face and ears. So
I said to him, “’Smatter?” He answered back to me in a whining whisper
and said, “These crazy mosquitoes are driving me wild. They are the
biggest mosquitoes in the world!”

“Didn’t you put on any lotion?” I hissed back to him, and he said, “No,
I’m allergic to it. It makes me sneeze!” Right that second he sneezed
twice, so I said, “You’re probably allergic to mosquitoes, too.”

That woke Poetry up and he groaned a couple times and then really woke
up and said, “Talk about big mosquitoes. Did you ever hear the story
about the two big mosquitoes who had a noisy argument?”

“It sounds like we are on the midway of a mosquito circus right now,”
Dragonfly said.

“I mean it,” Poetry began, “--there was a real argument between two big
mosquitoes who lived up here in the Chippewa Forest. One night two of
them were flying around, looking for somebody to eat, and they found
Dragonfly lying asleep out on the beach. So one of them said, ‘Let’s
pick him up and fly him home and eat him _there_.’”

“‘Naw,’ the other one said, ‘let’s don’t. Let’s eat him right here,
’cause if we _do_ take him home, the big ones will just take him away
from us.’”

We made Dragonfly put on some lotion and pretty soon he was asleep
again, but I was wide awake, thinking about the kidnapper. Right that
second Poetry nudged me and said, “Bill--Sh!”

I rolled over close to his face, and he said, “I’ve got an idea.”

Right away I was wide awake, and he said, “Remember the time I had a
hunch back at Sugar Creek, and you and I got up and went out in the
night and the gang captured a robber, digging for buried treasure down
by the old sycamore tree.”

“Well?” I said, and he said, “I’ve got that same kind of a hunch
tonight. I still think that screech owl wasn’t what we heard. Why
didn’t we open the boathouse and look in?”

I wondered that myself, now that he had mentioned it.

I heard Poetry’s zipper on his sleeping bag zip a long zip. All of a
sudden my heart began to beat faster, and I knew he and I were going to
get up and go down to that boathouse and investigate. There wouldn’t be
any real danger, but if there _was_ any little girl in there, we could
probably hear her, and we could wake up Santa, or Barry and the whole
gang. And if there wasn’t anything to our idea, then we still wouldn’t
seem ridiculous to anyone except ourselves.



8


I was glad there was a little wind blowing so that the waves of the
lake were washing against the shore, and also that Dragonfly snored so
we wouldn’t be heard if we kept real quiet.

In a few jiffies, Poetry and I had our shoes on, and our trousers and
sweaters, and had worked our way out through the tent opening in the
front, and with our flashlights we were sneaking up along the beach
toward Santa’s cabin and his boathouse.

Suddenly I stopped. The whole idea seemed absolutely crazy to me. I
said, “You don’t think for a minute that any kidnapper would be dumb
enough to hide out in a boathouse that wasn’t any more than fifty yards
from where somebody actually lived, do you?”

“Who said anything about any kidnapper hiding out?” Poetry said. “He’s
maybe a hundred miles away from here by now. But he could have left the
Ostberg girl there, couldn’t he?”

“Why?” I said, and he stopped and hissed in my ear, “Not so loud!” We’d
been following a little footpath we knew about, from having been there
the year before.

I was trembling inside, maybe being a little cold, and at the same time
couldn’t see any sense to Poetry’s thinking maybe the kidnapper was in
that boathouse with the Ostberg girl. It didn’t make sense.

“You’re scared!” Poetry accused me, and I said I wasn’t, but only
thought the idea was crazy.

“It _can’t_ be,” Poetry said. “Listen--” Then he told me what he’d been
thinking, and it was, “What if the kidnapper, who, as the paper said,
is supposed to be a lumberman, was looking for an empty cabin up here
somewhere to hide out in, and suppose he drove off onto a side road,
to dodge the police who were maybe looking for his car, and suppose he
got off on the little half-obliterated road that leads to Santa’s cabin
which nobody hardly ever uses and suppose he found the boathouse with
the door open, and then just suppose that he put the girl in there,
gagged and tied up, like kidnappers do, and then suppose that while he
was there, Santa with us boys with him came roaring up to the dock in
his boat. Wouldn’t the kidnapper be scared, and maybe lock the girl in,
and beat it himself, and--”

Well, it made a little sense, so I hurried along behind Poetry, my
heart beating faster because we were hurrying so fast. Pretty soon we
were almost there, when Poetry stopped all of a sudden and said, “Sh!”

I shushed quick, ’cause I’d heard it as plain as day myself. There was
the sound of a car motor running, somewhere. It sounded like it was at
the top of the hill away up above the boathouse. We knew there was a
sandy road up there, ’cause we’d been on it once ourselves.

“Somebody’s stuck in the sand,” Poetry said, and it sure sounded like
it. The motor was whirring and whirring. I’d seen cars stuck in sand
and snow before, and I could imagine the driver, whoever he was, doing
what is called “rocking” the car, and starting and shifting from first
gear to reverse and back and forth, and the wheels spinning, and still
the car not getting out of the sand...

We were real close to the boathouse now. Poetry shoved the beam of his
light toward the door, and we both let out an excited gasp. I couldn’t
believe my eyes, and yet I had to, ’cause the boathouse _door was wide
open, and the hinge of the lock was hanging like somebody had forced it
open with a crowbar or something_.

We flashed our lights around inside, and there wasn’t anybody there,
but a cot in the other end was mussed up like somebody had been
lying down on it. A pile of shavings were on the floor and were also
scattered around under a carpenter’s work bench. On the wall above the
work bench were a lot of tools such as screwdrivers, saws, planes, and
other carpenter’s tools. Santa had maybe been working there, making
something during the day.

“Quick!” Poetry ordered. “Let’s go up the hill and get his license
number.”

I wanted to tell Santa or Barry or somebody, and get a lot of noisy
action around there, but I knew Poetry was right. We were maybe already
too late, and we maybe couldn’t do anything helpful. We’d probably be
shot if we were seen by the man, whoever he was. But if we could get
the car license number, it might help the police to trail him, if he
really was the kidnapper.

Up that hill we went, following that hardly-ever-used road. At the
top of the hill, we turned right and zipped along the edge of Santa’s
woods, where you could hardly see the road at all, but we knew it
would come out at the sandy road a little later, which it did. We
could see, even with our flashlights off, which they had to be, that it
was a newish car, as we sneaked up behind it. It had its tail light on
and only its parking lights, and the driver was “rocking” it, starting
slowly, going forward a few feet, then backwards, then forward, but not
getting anywhere.

Already I was close enough to see the license, but didn’t dare turn on
my flashlight, or the guy would find out we were there. “Wait,” Poetry
said, “I’ll sneak up behind that tree.” Right away he started to start.
Then he hissed to me, “DOWN, BILL! QUICK!”

Down we ducked and didn’t dare make a sound, ’cause the motor had
stopped and the guy was opening his car door and getting out. Right
there in front of our eyes not more than fifty feet away, we saw him
make a dive for the back left wheel, and heard him mumbling something
that sounded like mad swear words, and for a second I was glad that
Little Jim wasn’t there, ’cause it always hurts him terribly to hear
anybody swear, on account of the One whose Name is used in such a
terrible way when a person swears is Little Jim’s best Friend. I was
glad he wasn’t there for another reason, too, and that was that when he
hears somebody using filthy rotten words like that, he can’t stand it
and sometimes calls right out and says, “STOP SWEARING!”

We certainly didn’t want anybody to call out to that guy in the
automobile.

“What’s he doing?” I whispered in Poetry’s ear, and didn’t need to have
asked, on account of I heard a hissing noise coming from that left back
tire.

“The crazy goof!” I said to Poetry, “He’s letting air out of his tire!”

And he was... “Sssssss!” It made me feel creepy, ’cause if a man who
wanted to get away quick was foolish enough to let air out of his
tires, he must be insane.

In another jiffy, the tire had stopped hissing and the guy, still
grunting and mumbling to himself, like he was terribly mad, and also
maybe a little scared, was down on his knees beside the other back tire
and right away there was another hissing noise.

And right that second, the man stood up, and made a dive for the front
seat again, zipped in and stepped on the starter, and started to rock
the car again, then he backed up, and started forward again, and the
wheels started spinning and--

“Hey!” Poetry and I hissed to each other at the same time, “The car is
moving! He’s getting away!”

Poetry flashed his flashlight on the back of the car to get the license
number, and it was 324-179, and was a Minnesota license. My mind took a
picture of it quick, and I knew I’d never forget it, but just to make
sure, I kept saying it to myself “324-179, 324-179, 324-179...”

Say, the second that car which was a black newish car was out of that
sandy place, it shot down that road like a bullet.

There wasn’t a thing we could do, not a thing, I thought, and wondered
if the girl was maybe in the back seat and why on earth didn’t we try
to rescue her, if she was there?

We made a dive for the place where the car had been stuck, and studied
the road. Poetry let out a gasp and said, “He’s awfully smart, that
guy. Look at these wide tire tracks, will you?”

I looked, and Poetry was right. First I looked at how narrow they had
been before they got stuck in the sand, and then I looked at them
_after_ they’d gone on up the road, and they were almost half again as
wide.

“Letting out that air, increased _traction_,” Poetry said, “but he
can’t run on them half flat very far or very fast. He’ll have to stop
at the first gas station that’s open, and get some air. Come on! Let’s
get to a telephone quick, and call the Bemidji and the Pass Lake police
and have all the gas stations watch for him. Give them the license
number, and I’ll bet the police will catch him!”

With that, Poetry whirled around, his flashlight in his hand and we
were starting to run up the sandy lane to where the fire warden lived,
when I noticed something shining in the grass at the side of the lane.

“Look!” I said, “Shine your light over here a minute.”

I stooped over to pick up whatever it was, thinking it might be a scarf
pin or something the kidnapped girl might have had, but shucks, it was
only a piece of glass. I picked it up, though, and was going to throw
it away when Poetry grabbed my arm and stopped me and said, “Hey, wait!
Let me see it!”

“It’s a piece of broken glass,” I said, but let him look at it up close
with his flashlight. “Sure,” he said, “it’s a clue.”

“How could a piece of broken glass be a clue?” I asked.

“’Cause it isn’t stained with weather or anything, which means it
hasn’t been lying out here very long,” Poetry said, and tucked it in
his pocket.

It wasn’t any time to argue, but I thought his detective ideas were
nearly all imagination.

He was running awful fast for a barrel-shaped boy, and I was having a
hard time keeping up with him as we swished along down that sandy lane.
We knew the firewarden didn’t live very far up that lane on account
of we had been here the year before and knew that his house was the
nearest one that had a telephone--Santa not having one in his cabin, on
account of not wanting his vacation spoiled by people calling him up.
If he needed a telephone, he could always go to where there was one.

“Wait,” I said to Poetry all of a sudden. “Maybe we’re on a wild goose
chase, maybe we’re crazy to waste a lot of good sleeping time chasing
an imaginary kidnapper. How do we know that was a kidnapper’s car?
What if it was just _anybody_ who got stuck in the sand? He wouldn’t
appreciate having policemen stop him and ask a lot of questions!”

“It wasn’t just _anybody!_” Poetry said. “That guy was down there in
the boathouse less than a half hour ago, and there was a girl there,
too, see?”

Poetry stopped long enough to pull out of his pocket and show me
something he had picked up back there where the car had been, and it
was a girl’s yellow scarf!

“But that could be any woman’s or any girl’s scarf,” I said.

“It _could_ not,” Poetry disagreed with me with a very sure voice, and
also an excited one, “--see that green paint on it--and look! Here’s
some white paint also.” Well, I remembered Santa had been using green
and white paint in that boathouse that very afternoon, and remembering
that put wings on my feet, and I ran like a deer up that winding sandy
road toward the firewarden’s house and the telephone.



9


If anybody had seen Poetry and me swishing along down that narrow
winding road, following along in the bobbing path of our flashlights,
our breath coming in quick short pants, they might have thought we were
crazy. It was one of the crookedest roads I’d ever seen in my life, and
would you believe it, Poetry couldn’t resist puffing a part of a poem
as we raced along toward the firewarden’s cabin. The poem started out
like this:

  “There was a crooked man, he walked a crooked mile;
   He found a crooked six-pence beside a crooked style--”

Only we didn’t find any six-pence, but we did find something else, and
in a fast jiffy I’ll tell you what it was. In a half minute more we
knew we would be ready to turn the last bend in the road just before
we got to the firewarden’s house. All of a sudden Poetry stopped and
flashed his light about fifty yards down the road ahead of us, and as
plain as day I saw a great big beautiful reddish-brown deer standing
right in the center of the road. Its head was up and his big antlers
looked very pretty. His ears were large and were spread out like our
old Brindle cow back home spreads hers out when she is interested in
something, or scared. Say, that deer was _really_ scared. It turned and
like a reddish-brown flash it was gone, leaping away and disappearing
into the trees and bushes at the side of the road. It’s a good thing
we saw the deer, though, ’cause if we hadn’t maybe we wouldn’t have
stopped and wouldn’t have heard what we heard right that second. We
both heard it at the same time, and it sounded exactly like what we’d
heard before when we were standing out by the wood rick.

“It’s another screech owl,” Poetry said, and started on, but I stopped
him, and said, “Maybe it’s a loon.”

“It’s coming from out there in the trees,” he said. “Loons don’t stay
up here in the woods. They’re out on the lake or else right close to it
all the time.”

We both listened, my heart thumping like Pop’s hammer driving a
terribly big nail into a log in our barn at Sugar Creek. It was a worse
scare than I’d had in a long time. It certainly sounded exactly like
what we’d heard at the boathouse. I remembered the simpish looking owl
we’d seen standing in the hole of the hollow tree behind the boathouse
and how it had flown away, but this time I just _knew_ it wasn’t any
owl or any loon.

“Let’s go see,” Poetry said, and I said, “What if it _is_ the girl?
What’ll we do? What’ll--”

“Let’s decide later,” Poetry interrupted me by saying. We flashed our
lights out toward the trees and couldn’t see a thing, but we heard that
eery cry that was like a loon being choked, and then we started toward
it, our lights shoving the dark back as we went along, and we walked in
their yellowish bobbing paths.

We crept up slowly. I had a big stick in my hands, ready to use it as a
club if I had to. For some reason we didn’t stop to think that maybe we
ought to get to the firewarden’s house first, and tell him, but instead
we just kept right on going, the pine needles on the ground making
a spooky noise under our shoes and, then, all of a sudden, Poetry
stopped, and I, who had been following him, bumped into him.

“Look! There’s an Indian blanket with somebody wrapped up in it,”
meaning a blanket of many colors like most all families in Sugar Creek
have in their homes.

Then I heard it again, a low half-muffled half cry, and we knew we’d
found the kidnapped Ostberg girl.

Say, when I looked down at that blanket with the little five-year-old
girl wrapped in it, and saw the great big handkerchief the kidnapper
had stuffed into her mouth as a gag to keep her from talking or
screaming, and as we unwrapped her and saw that her hands were tied
together and also her feet so she couldn’t walk, and when I saw the
pretty yellowish all-tangled-up hair around her face and shoulders, I
forgot all about having been half scared to death a while ago, and got
a terribly angry feeling inside that made me want to find the kidnapper
and for just about three minutes turn loose both of my fiery-tempered
fists on his chin and nose and stomach and literally knock the living
daylights out of him.

My pop had told me true stories about how there are wicked men in
the world who don’t have any respect for God or girls or women, and
how every one of them ought to be locked up somewhere until a doctor
can get them cured, or else they should stay in jail for life or be
executed for their awful crimes, which means they ought to be put to
death in the electric chair or hung, Pop says. Anyway, there ought not
to be even one of them allowed to run free in this world, and if they
are allowed to, it’s the law’s or the people’s fault.

Well, we couldn’t stand there just staring and wasting good temper on
something we couldn’t help, but ought to get the firewarden quick and
he would know what to do.

Poetry certainly had presence of mind. “Take my flashlight,” he ordered
me, and almost before I could get it into my hand, he was stooped over
and taking the gag out of the girl’s mouth, and with his pocket-knife
was cutting the cords that were around her wrists and hands.

It was pitiful the way that pretty little girl, who was about three
or four years younger than Little Jim, sobbed and cried when we got
the gag out of her mouth. She had a terribly scared look in her face.
“H-E-L-P!” she half cried, but in a very muffled hoarse voice, like she
had been crying for a terribly long time and had worn her vocal cords
out.

“Mama! Mama!” she cried. “I want my M-M-Mama!” Then she would just go
into a kinda hysterical sobbing and we couldn’t hear a word she was
saying.

“We’re your friends,” we tried to tell her, “we’ve come to rescue you.
We’ll help you get to the firewarden’s house, and----”

But the poor little thing was so scared that she couldn’t say a word we
could understand, except she wanted her mama. She was also so weak she
couldn’t stand up and wouldn’t be able to walk the rest of the way to
the firewarden’s house, and we didn’t think we ought to try to carry
her.

We had to do something quick, though ’cause she probably needed a
doctor, too, so Poetry made me go on the run for the firewarden, while
he stayed with the helpless girl. He would yell to us when we came
back and flash his light so we could know where he and the girl were.

I tell you I _ran_, but I was trembling so much that it was hard for me
to keep going.

In a few jiffies I came in sight of some white birch saplings which
criss-crossed each other, making a homemade gate. I could see the house
just beyond and an old unpainted barn. Also, there was a light in the
window of what looked like an ordinary bungalow which meant that maybe
the firewarden was still up, not having gone to bed yet.

I lay down and squished myself under that gate, and in a hurried jiffy
was knocking at the door of the bungalow.

“Quick!” I panted as soon as the door opened. “We’ve found the
kidnapped Ostberg girl! She’s out there in the trees wrapped up in
an Indian blanket and----” and for some reason, right that second, I
remembered about the automobile and its license number. I half yelled
the things I wanted to say. The firewarden looked ridiculous in his
green-striped pajamas as he stood in the doorway of his kitchen, with a
flashlight in his hand.

“What _is_ it?” a woman’s voice called from somewhere back in the
house. It was the voice of a sleepy woman who had just woke up and
wanted to know what was going on.

“_Quick!_” I said. “The auto license number is Minnesota 324-179, and
he’s got two half-flat tires and will have to stop somewhere at an oil
station and get some air.”

I guess maybe the firewarden must have known all about the Ostberg
girl having been kidnapped ’cause it only took me a little while to
explain enough to him so he was ready for action. He was a kind of an
oldish man but he was very spry and could think fast. While his wife
was dressing somewhere in the house, he made two quick phone calls, and
almost right away he got his powerful electric lantern and the three
of us were on our way to his home-made gate. There we stopped while he
flashed his flashlight around a little and said, “Well, what do you
know--he must have thought our driveway was another bend in the road.
He started to turn in, then swung out again. See?”

I used my own flashlight on the tire tracks, and, as plain as day, I
saw that some car had made a sharp turn there, and as sure as the nose
on Dragonfly’s face, which, as you maybe know, turns south at the end,
I noticed that the back tires had wider patterns than the front.

We zipped up to where Poetry was waiting for us with the kidnapped
girl. That pretty little girl was still so scared that she couldn’t
talk without great sobs getting mixed up with her words, and you
couldn’t understand her very well. Say, the firewarden’s wife just
knelt down on the ground beside that tangled-up-golden-haired little
pretty-faced girl and gathered her into her arms and crooned to her
like she was her very own little girl, then stood up with her, and,
being a very strong woman, wouldn’t let her husband carry her but
carried her herself, and crooned to her all the way back to their cabin.

When we had first got to where Poetry was, though, I noticed he was
standing beside the crying little girl, with a little book in one hand
and was shining his flashlight on its pages and was reading something.
“What on earth?” I thought, and waited for a chance to ask him what he
was doing and why.

On the way to the cabin, while I was wishing the rest of the gang was
there, and thinking that we’d have some wonderful stories to tell that
would be even better than Paul Bunyan stories, and also could tell
our folks the same ones, I said to Poetry, “What were you doing back
there--reading stories to her to keep her quiet?”

“It’s a secret,” he said. “I’ll tell you tomorrow,--or anyway later...”

Well, I’ve got to step on the gas with this story. Almost right away,
we came to the birch-sapling gate. There we stood while I showed Poetry
where the kidnapper had started to turn in and then made a sharp turn
and gone on. Poetry flashed his flashlight down real close to the
ground and studied the patterns of the tracks and said, “He must have
slowed down a lot right here, or the tire patterns wouldn’t be so
plain.”

Right that second there were the headlight and also a spotlight of a
car swinging down the road coming toward us real fast. “It’s the police
already,” the firewarden said, and sure enough it was.

Say, there was certainly some excitement around there and also on the
inside of me for awhile.

First, they made sure the girl was all right. In fact, Mrs. Firewarden
was in the back seat of their car with the girl in her arms and the
girl was asleep. In another few minutes an ambulance was coming to take
her to a hospital.

“How’d you get here so quick?” Poetry asked one of the big blue-suited
policemen, and he answered in a pleasant voice, like he thought a boy’s
questions were as important as a grown-up’s, and this is what he said,
“We have a radio in our car. We were only a few miles up the highway
when the order came through, and so, here we are!”

Even before he had finished saying what he was saying, I was thinking
how absolutely silly it is for anybody to think he can commit a crime
and not get caught and punished, even though they hadn’t maybe caught
the kidnapper yet.

In the next seventeen minutes I saw one of the most interesting things
I’d ever seen in my life, and it made me even more sure than I was that
anybody--man or boy or even a woman or girl--was just plumb crazy to
try to be smarter than the law is and get by with any kind of a crime
or sin.

I whispered it to Poetry when I saw what the policemen were doing right
that minute, saying, “Anybody can’t get by with any kind of crime,” and
Poetry, who is almost as good a Christian as Little Jim is, and who not
only has a lot of poems on the tip of his tongue ready to be quoted
any second, but also knows many Bible verses, quoted one of them to me
right that minute instead of a poem, and it was, “Be not deceived; God
is not mocked: for whatsoever man soweth, that shall he also reap,” and
he added to it another which was, “It is appointed unto men once to
die, and after this the judgment.”

One of the cops heard him and looked up from what he was doing and
said, “That’s right, son; that’s what my mother used to say.”

Then we quit talking, almost, and in the light of his spotlight from
his car, watched what was going on. “What in the world?” I thought when
I saw the policeman take what looked like a fishing-tackle box out of
his car, carry it to the gate and set it down. Then he went back to the
car and brought out something else. “What’s that?” Poetry wanted to
know, and the friendly cop said, “A flash-bulb camera with a reversible
tripod. We’re going to snap a picture of these tire tracks.”

“Why?” I thought, but didn’t want to seem dumb enough to say so, ’cause
I supposed Poetry knew.

First, the cop laid a black cardboard down alongside of the tire track,
the edge of the cardboard looking like a ruler with little white inch
marks on it. Then he set up his camera with its lens focused right
straight down on the track. As quick as a wink, there was a blinding
flash of light which showed me that it was a flashlight picture they
were taking.

Right away, he opened the fishing-tackle-box-looking kit and took out
what looked like a Flit can, like the kind Mom uses on flies and also
on bugs and stuff in our garden, and began to spray something very
carefully all over the track for about two feet of it, holding the
spray gun about three feet high.

“It’s shellac,” the policeman said, and I said, “Why?” and he said,
“Wait and see,” which I had to do.

Pretty soon, he stopped spraying, screwed off the container at the
bottom of the spraying device and screwed on another can of something
else and started in doing the same thing, pumping away very carefully,
not letting the spray strike very hard on the sandy tracks, so as not
to make any of the sand move.

I looked at the other things in the kit which was spread wide open in
front of us, and saw what looked like a large salt shaker like the one
Mom uses when she is cooking raw fried potatoes, also there was a cup
made out of rubber, two other containers, a spoon and what is called a
spatula, which looked like a long flat stick our doctor uses when he
looks into my throat and makes me say “Ah,” and also looks at my tongue
and the place where my tonsils used to be.

“The dry shellac makes the tire impression firm enough to stand the
weight of the plaster of Paris without crumbling it,” the policeman
said, and even though I didn’t understand what it was all about or why,
it was very interesting to watch. Right away he started getting the
plaster of Paris ready.

It was certainly an interesting sight. They mixed some of the plaster
of Paris in the rubber cup, doing it almost exactly like I had seen
our Sugar Creek dentist do it, and also like we do it in school when
we make an art plaque or something. The only difference was, they
sprinkled in a little salt to make it harden quicker. The plaster of
Paris was poured on the top of the water, and allowed to sink to the
bottom of the rubber cup until the water couldn’t take any more, then
it was stirred with a spoon, and very carefully dipped out with the
spoon into the tire impressions. First, though, they made a little
cardboard wall along the side of the track so the plaster of Paris
wouldn’t run over the edges.

“What’s he doing now?” I said to Poetry, when some sticks and twigs and
little pieces of string were laid on top of the first layer of plaster
of Paris.

“I don’t know,” Poetry said, “reinforcing it, maybe,” which, it turned
out, he was. Right away another thicker layer of plaster of Paris was
put on, and then it was ready to let harden.

After awhile, when they were sure it was solid, they would just lift it
up and there would be a perfect plaster cast, a foot and a half long,
of the tire marks, which, whenever they found the kidnapper’s car,
would help them prove that he was really guilty.

We couldn’t stay there all night, though, ’cause tomorrow the gang had
a lot of things to do and see, and besides when a boy wants to be in
good health, he has to have plenty of sleep at night, so the firewarden
decided to drive us back to camp, while the police looked all around
the place where we’d found the little girl, and also in Santa’s
boathouse for other clues. We gave them the yellow scarf with the paint
on it, and went with the firewarden back to our camp to try to get some
excited sleep.

Boy oh boy, it had been a great experience! About an hour later, after
waking up all the gang and telling them the news, we were in our tents
again ready to sleep. The big hot round rock in the pail in the center
of the tent certainly had helped keep the tent warm, and when I was in
my sleeping bag again, as warm as toast, I felt that I had really done
something important in life... Before I went to sleep again, I got to
thinking about that little kidnapped girl, knowing how glad her parents
would feel when they got the news which they maybe already had, and
were maybe already on their way up here to see her. Of course, if she
was really sick, and had been mistreated terribly by the kidnapper,
she would maybe have to be in the hospital quite a while.

For a few minutes just before I dropped off to sleep, I was listening
to the waves lapping against our sandy shore, and was thinking and
thinking and thinking. I knew that if I had been up and was standing
by the shore looking out on the moonlit water, the rolling waves would
maybe look just like our oats field does down along Sugar Creek when
the wind is blowing ... waving and waving and rolling and rolling and
rolling and looking very wonderful; and for a minute I could see my pop
sitting up on our big binder, driving along, and maybe singing a song
which nearly always, when Pop sang or whistled, was a hymn we used in
our church.... It might be the one that goes:

  “Bringing in the sheaves,
   Bringing in the sheaves,
   We shall come rejoicing
   Bringing in the sheaves ...”

Then I remembered Poetry’s Bible verse and it was, “Whatsoever a man
soweth, that shall he also reap”.... It was absolutely silly, I thought
again, for anybody to sow a lot of sin in his life and not expect to
reap a harvest of the same kind, and the verse also said God couldn’t
be mocked, which maybe meant that every man would be punished for
living a sinful life. Then I imagined different things, such as Pop
saying to Mom, “I wonder how Bill is getting along up North,” and Mom
would say, “Oh fine--I hope. I wonder if he is warm enough. It gets so
cold up there at night, and you know how he is--he kicks the covers off
in his sleep, and lies there and half freezes without even waking up.”
And Pop would remember that I had my sleeping bag, and Mom would sigh
and they’d go to sleep. They really were wonderful parents, I thought
... and the waves of the blue water lake rolled and rolled and tossed
around some, and then a great big pair of horns stuck themselves up out
of the lake, and then a cow’s face, and then a whole cow splashed and
splashed, and the water turned all blue all around the big blue cow and
Mom tried to stop him from swishing around so much on account of he was
splashing around in her washing machine and getting too much bluing on
her clothes...

And then I guess I must have dropped off to sleep, ’cause the next
thing I knew it was morning and the gang was making a lot of boys’
noise and we had another wonderful day in which to live and have new
adventures.

Ho hum, here I am, with all the pages filled up and not even room to
tell you about how the kidnapper got away from the police and how the
Sugar Creek Gang ran kersmack onto his trail all by themselves the very
next day, and what a fierce fight we had and everything. But just as
quick as I can, I’ll get going on that exciting story, which was maybe
the most exciting experience that ever happened to us. Maybe I’ll get
started writing tomorrow.


The End



[Illustration]

With the passing of summer many of the Sugar Creek creatures disappear.
Gone are the birds, the snakes and the toads--like Bill’s old friend,
Warty. But a new member of the gang arrives and before winter is past
some very interesting and exciting things happen to him, as well as to
other members of the Gang.

_Be sure to read all the books in the SCRIPTURE PRESS series:_

  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
  WATERMELON MYSTERY AT SUGAR CREEK

Other thrilling stories about the Sugar Creek Gang may be ordered from
your Christian bookstore

5542

[Illustration]

_Published and Distributed Exclusively by_

  _SCRIPTURE PRESS_
  BOOK DIVISION
  434 S. Wabash Ave. © Chicago 5, Ill.



Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuation has been standardised, otherwise the text has been retained
as in the original publication except as follows:

  Page 4
    handerchief stuffed into her mouth _changed to_
    handkerchief stuffed into her mouth

  Page 11
    some of the other girl’s chores _changed to_
    some of the other girls’ chores

  Page 18
    one of the very slendor flower spikes _changed to_
    one of the very slender flower spikes

  Page 19
    sounded like Poetrys’ poetry _changed to_
    sounded like Poetry’s poetry

  Page 36
    Oh boy, or boy _changed to_
    Oh boy, oh boy

  Page 41
    like the windink barefoot-boy paths _changed to_
    like the winding barefoot-boy paths

  Page 78
    can got them cured _changed to_
    can get them cured

  Page 81
    then stood up with here _changed to_
    then stood up with her





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