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Title: North Woods Manhunt - A Sugar Creek Gang Story
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "North Woods Manhunt - A Sugar Creek Gang Story" ***

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  _NORTH WOODS MANHUNT_

  (A Sugar Creek Gang Story)

  by
  PAUL HUTCHENS

  _Published by_

  SCRIPTURE PRESS
  SCRIPTURE PRESS PUBLICATIONS, INC.
  1825 College Avenue · Wheaton, Illinois



  _North Woods Manhunt_

  Copyright, 1948, by
  Paul Hutchens

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

  Printed in the United States of America



Contents

    Chapter    Page
          1       3
          2      10
          3      17
          4      25
          5      34
          6      45
          7      56
          8      66
          9      75
         10      83



1


I tell you, when you just _know_ there’s going to be some exciting
trouble in the next twelve minutes or less, you have to make your red
head do some quick clear thinking, if you can.

Not a one of the Sugar Creek Gang knew _what_ was going to happen, but
the very minute I heard that outboard motor roaring out on the lake,
the sound sounding like it was coming straight toward the shore and the
old icehouse we were all in, I said to us, “Quick, Gang! Let’s get out
of here and get this ransom money back to camp!”

Little Jim’s gunny sack had a lot of money in it right that minute,
which we’d dug up out of the sawdust in that abandoned old icehouse.
The gunny sack was nearly filled with stuffed fish,--the big and
middle-sized northern and wall-eyed pike with thousands and thousands
of dollars sewed up inside.

I won’t take time right now to tell you all you maybe ought to know
about how we happened to find that ransom money buried in the sawdust
of that old icehouse, ’cause that’d take too long, and besides you’ve
probably read all about it in the last story about the Sugar Creek
Gang, which is called, “Sugar Creek Gang Digs for Treasure.” I maybe
better tell you, though, that a little St. Paul girl named Marie
Ostberg had been kidnapped and the kidnapper had hidden up in the
Chippewa forest of northern Minnesota in what is called “The Paul
Bunyan Country,” where we were camping. Our gang had found the girl
in the middle of the night and captured the kidnapper in an old Indian
cemetery the next night, and then we had had a very mysterious and
exciting time hunting for the ransom money in one of cuckoo-est places
in all the world to find money, and at last had found it in this very
old icehouse, and, as I told you, the money had been sewed up inside of
these great big fish which we’d been digging up and stuffing into the
gunny sack.

In maybe another seven minutes we’d have had it all dug up and stuffed
into the gunny sack and would have been on our excited way back to
camp, but all of a startling sudden we heard that outboard motor
roaring in our direction from out on the lake and we knew that unless
we stepped on the gas, we wouldn’t even get all of us climbed out of
the opening and far enough away in the bushes not to be seen.

“What’s the sense of being scared?” Dragonfly, the pop-eyed member of
our gang, asked me right after I’d ordered us all to get going quick.
“The kidnapper’s caught and in jail, isn’t he?”

“Sure, but Old hook-nosed John Till’s running loose up here somewhere,”
I said--Old Hook-nose being a very fierce man who was the fierce
infidel daddy of one of the members of our gang. He had been in jail
a lot of times in his wicked life and was staying in a cabin not more
than a quarter of a mile up the shore from where we were right that
minute.

Poetry, the barrel-shaped member of the gang, who knew one hundred and
one or two poems by heart and was always quoting one, swished around
quick, scrambled back across the sawdust we’d been digging in, peeped
through a crack between the logs toward the lake.

“Who _is_ it?” I said, and he said in his duck-like squawky voice, “I
can’t tell, but he looks awful mad.”

Well, anybody knows anybody couldn’t see well enough that far to see
anybody’s face well enough to tell whether it had a mad look on it, but
if it was John Till who hated us boys anyway, he’d probably be mad and
would do savage things to all of us, if he caught us in that icehouse
getting the money.

So in another six or seven jiffies we were all scrambling as fast as
we could _out_ of that icehouse and out into the open, carrying Little
Jim’s gunny sack full of fish. We made a dive across an open space to a
clump of bushes, where we wouldn’t be seen by anybody on the lake.

Circus, the acrobatic member of our gang, was with us, too, and he
being the strongest one of us, grabbed up the sack, swung it over his
shoulder and loped on ahead of us. “Hurry!” we panted to each other,
and didn’t stop running until we reached the top of a hill, which we
did just as we heard the outboard motor stop. There we all dropped down
on the grass, gasping and panting, and tickled that we were safe, but I
was feeling pretty bad to think that there were probably a half dozen
other fish still buried in the sawdust in that old log icehouse.

“Quick, Poetry, give me your knife,” Circus ordered.

“What for?” Poetry said, and at the same time shoved his fat hand in
his pocket and pulled out his official boy-scout knife and handed it
over to Circus, who quick opened the heavy cutting blade and started
ripping open the sewed-up stomach of a big northern pike which he’d
just pulled out of the sack.

“There’s no sense in carrying home a six pound northern pike with only
a quarter of a pound of twenty dollar bills in it,” Circus said, and I
knew he was right, ’cause it was a long way back to our camp, and if
for any reason we had to run fast, we could do it better without having
to lug along those great big fish, especially the biggest one.

I didn’t bother to watch Circus though, ’cause right that second I
started peering through the foliage of some oak undergrowth back toward
the lake, just as I saw a man come swishing around the corner of the
icehouse and stop in front of the opened door.

“Hey _look!_” Dragonfly said to us, “he’s got a big string of big fish.”

And sure enough he had.

Little Jim, who was beside me, holding onto his stick which he always
carried with him when we were on a hike or out in the woods, whispered
close to my ear and said, “I’ll bet he’s got a lot more money sewed up
in a lot more fish, and is going to bury it in the sawdust where these
were.”

I happened to have my high-powered binoculars with me so I quick
unsnapped the carrying case they were in, zipped them out, raised them
to my eyes and right away it seemed like I was only about one-third as
far away as I was. I gasped so loud at what I saw--or rather _who_ I
saw--that my gasp was almost like a yell.

“SH!” Circus said to us, just like he was the leader of our gang, which
he wasn’t, but I was myself--that is, I was _supposed_ to be, ’cause
our real leader, Big Jim, wasn’t with us, but was back at camp with
Little Tom Till, the newest member of our gang.

“It’s Old Hook-nose, all right,” I said, and knew it was. I could see
his stoop-shoulders, dark complexion, red hair, bulgy eyes, bushy
eyebrows, and his hook nose.

“What if he finds we’ve dug up part of the fish and run away with
them?” Little Jim asked in a half-scared voice.

“Maybe he won’t,” I said, and hoped he wouldn’t.

While I was watching John Till toss his stringer of fish up into the
opening and clamber up after them, Circus was slashing open the fish
and taking out the ransom money which was folded in nice flat packets
of oiled paper like the kind my mom uses in our kitchen back home at
Sugar Creek.

We also all helped Circus do what he was doing, all of us maybe more
excited than we’d been in a long time, while different ones of us took
turns watching Hook-nose do what he was doing.

I knew that in only a few jiffies he would be out of that icehouse
again, and probably would go back to the big white boat he’d come to
shore in, shove off and row out a few feet, and then there would be a
roar of his motor and away he would go swishing out across the sunlit
water, his boat making a long widening V behind him. Then we would
sneak back and get the rest of the money.

Everything was pretty clear in my mind as to what had been going on the
last day or two, and it was that John Till had maybe been what police
call an “accomplice” of the real kidnapper and it had been his special
job to look after the ransom money. He’d decided that the best way in
the world to hide it where nobody would ever think of finding it would
be to catch some big fish, cut them open, clean out the entrails, fold
the money in packets of oil paper, stuff it inside the fish, and sew
it up, like my mother sews up a chicken she’s stuffed with dressing
just before she slides it into the oven for our dinner. Then he would
dig down deep in the sawdust of the icehouse till he came to some ice,
lay the fish on it, and cover it up. Nobody would ever think to look
inside a fish for money. Even if they accidentally dug up a fish, it’d
be covered with wettish sticky sawdust, and they wouldn’t see the
stitches in its stomach.

Say, while I was thinking that and also watching the shadow of John
Till through the door of the icehouse, all of a sudden there was a
quick gasp beside me, and I said to Circus, “What on earth?” thinking
maybe he’d found something terribly special, but he hadn’t. He dropped
his knife, leaped to his feet, and said, “You guys stay here! I’ll be
right back.”

“Stop!” I said. “Where you going?” I remembered I was supposed to be
the leader, but say, Circus had his own ideas about that. He squirmed
out of my grasp, almost tearing his shirt, on account of I had hold of
it and didn’t want to let go.

The next second there were only four of us left--barrel-shaped Poetry,
kind-faced, swell Little Jim, pop-eyed Dragonfly, and red-haired,
fiery-tempered, freckle-faced Bill Collins, which is me. Circus, our
acrobat, was streaking out through the bushes as fast as he could go
toward the lake and the icehouse, but not getting out in the open where
John could see him.

“What on earth?” I thought. I didn’t dare yell, or try to stop him by
whistling or something, or John Till would have heard me, and who knows
what might have happened? I didn’t have the slightest idea what Circus
was up to until a moment later, when I saw him dart like a scared
chipmunk out from some bushes not far from the icehouse and make a dive
for the open door.

“Why the crazy goof!” I thought. “He’s going to try to--What _was_ he
going to try to do?”

And the next thing I knew, I quick found out. It happened so fast, I
didn’t even have time to think. But the very minute I saw Circus start
to do what he was starting to do, I knew he was going to do it.

SWISH! Wham! A half-dozen fast flying movements, and it was all over.
Circus grabbed that icehouse door, swung it shut, lifted the big heavy
bar and threw it into place, and Old hook-nosed John Till was locked
inside!



2


Circus hadn’t any more than slammed that icehouse door shut and dropped
the heavy bar into place, locking Old Hook-nose in than there was a
loud pounding on the door and a yelling that sounded like there was a
madman inside.

What on earth to do next was the question. We were an awful long way
from camp, and we five kinda-smallish boys certainly weren’t big enough
to capture him ourselves. Besides yesterday when we’d first seen him,
he’d had a big hunting knife and who knows but he might have a gun
too. Anybody as fierce and as mad as John Till maybe was right that
minute--well, you couldn’t tell what he might do, if he got a chance.

Circus was coming in our direction now as fast as he could, and when
a few jiffies later he came puffing up to us, he exclaimed, “Come on,
Gang. Let’s run back to camp and get help.”

And right that minute I got a bright idea of my own. In fact it had
been swishing around in my mind ever since I’d seen Circus wham that
door shut, so I said, “Come on, Gang. Follow me and we’ll get help in a
hurry.”

I grabbed up the gunny sack which had the rest of the stuffed fish
in it and the packets of the ransom money, and it felt as light as a
feather as I started on a fast dash right straight toward the icehouse
again.

“Hey, where are you going?” Poetry hissed and yelled to me at the same
time.

“Back to camp,” I said. “Come on!”

“Camp’s in this other direction,” Dragonfly called after me.

“Do as I say,” I yelled back over my shoulder, and kept on running like
a deer straight for the icehouse.

It felt good to realize that all the gang was coming swishing along
after me, that I was actually the leader--for awhile anyway. I had what
I thought was a swell idea--which my pop told me once is what happens
to a person when he becomes a leader--first he gets an idea about
something which he thinks is wonderful, and that ought to be done, and
right away he starts getting a lot of people to help him do it.

Here’s what I’d planned to do:

You see, while Circus was slamming that door and shutting Old Hook-nose
inside, and I was watching him with my binoculars, I’d seen John’s
white boat which was beached there at the lake and had noticed that the
outboard motor, which was tilted forward in the stern, had a beautiful
black shroud, and was the same kind our camp director had, and which
I’d been learning how to run during the past week. It had a powerful
seven-horsepower motor and could go terribly fast on a lake. If there
was anything I’d rather do than anything else, it was to sit in the
stern of a boat, with one hand on the rubber grip of the steering
handle, and, facing the prow, go roaring out across the water with fast
wind blowing into my freckled face and also feeling the shoreline flash
past very fast.

I also knew that the water in many of the big blue-watered lakes up
here in the North was kept fresh because the Mississippi river flowed
through them, and also flowed from one lake to another. I’d studied
the map of the territory and knew that if we could use that boat and
motor, we could go roaring up the lake terribly fast, pass--in three or
four minutes--the old Indian cemetery, and a little later, come to a
place where the Mississippi flowed out of this lake into a long narrow
channel and into the other very large lake on which we had our tents
pitched. Once we got into that other lake we’d race up the shore, and
get back to camp in less than half the time it would take us to hike
through the woods, carrying a big heavy sack of fish.

We could leave John Till locked up in the icehouse while we were gone,
and hurry back with Big Jim and maybe some other help, and before
long we’d have John Till _really_ captured. After that, we’d tell the
police what we’d done and then we could claim the reward for finding
the thousands and thousands of dollars which the little Ostberg girl’s
daddy had paid to the kidnapper.

In a jiffy almost, I was hurrying past the icehouse with my gunny sack
of fish. I stopped for a split-jiffy to listen, but everything was
pretty quiet. I noticed that the heavy door was really strong and I
didn’t see any way John Till could get out. There also was only one
place where he could even _see_ out and that was through a crack on the
side next to the lake.

In a jiffy all of us were in the boat, and had shoved off and rowed out
to deep enough water to make it safe to start the motor without its
propeller striking on the bottom.

I was pretty nervous, and also scared and brave at the same time. It
wasn’t our boat or motor, but we weren’t stealing it, but were amateur
detectives using the criminal’s boat to help get some help to help
capture him.

It was a terribly pretty sunshiny day, with only a few scattered white
clouds in the sky. In another minute we’d be gone. Poetry was in the
middle, on a seat by himself, Dragonfly and Little Jim in one right in
front of me, and Circus had a narrow seat up in the prow.

“I don’t see why you don’t let _me_ run it,” Poetry complained. “After
all, I taught you how to run it in the first place.”

“SH!” I said, “can’t you co-operate?” which is a word my pop sometimes
uses back at Sugar Creek when he wants me to obey him. “You keep your
eye on the gunny sack there between your feet.”

I quick opened the gasoline shut-off valve as far as it would turn,
being sure first that the air vent on the tank was open, shoved the
speed control lever over to where it said “Start,” primed the motor,
and gave the starter knob a very fast sharp pull, and in a jiffy that
powerful motor roared itself to life and our boat went whizzing up the
lake. I made a couple of quick other adjustments like I knew how to do,
and away we went, the wind blowing hard in our faces or against our
backs, depending on which direction we were facing.

Right that second Circus yelled over the tops of the other kids’ heads
to me, and said, “Hey, Bill. He’s yelling and screaming for us to stop.”

“Let him yell,” I said. “We’ll give him something to yell about a
little later.” I shoved the speed control lever as far to the right as
it would go, and our boat really shot forward, Circus’s prow raised
itself up part way out of the water and we went flying up the shore at
a terrific rate of speed.

It had been a wonderful vacation for all of us, I thought, and yet we
still had a half-dozen days before we would get into the station wagon
and drive the long day and a half back to Sugar Creek. We’d had a lot
of fun fishing and swimming and solving mysteries, such as finding the
kidnapped little girl, capturing the kidnapper, and digging up the
ransom money, a lot of which was right there in the boat with us in the
stomachs of the fish we had in the gunny sack. The rest of the money
was probably all sewed in the other fish which John Till had with him
right that minute while he was locked up in that icehouse jail. Of
course we still had to actually capture him.

Thinking that, I said to Poetry as he sat grinning in front of me--one
of his fat hands holding onto the gunwale on one side and the other
on the other--, “I’ll bet Big Jim’ll want to call the police and let
_them_ capture John.”

Not a one of us liked the idea very well, and we all said so, although
we’d all had enough dangerous experiences for one vacation.

It was Little Jim’s newest hobby which helped make this last story of
our northern camping trip one we’d never forget as long as we lived.

This is the way his hobby got mixed up with our mystery. Our boat had
just rounded a bend and was about to swish past the old Indian cemetery
where we’d had so many exciting experiences, and as you maybe know,
where we’d caught the kidnapper himself one spooky night, when all of
a sudden Little Jim yelled out to us, “Hey, Gang, there’s a whiskey
bottle floating out there in the water. Let’s stop and get it.”

He pointed toward the shore where the cemetery was, and sure enough,
there in the water was what looked like an upside-down whiskey bottle
on the surface of the water.

“We don’t have time to stop,” I yelled to Little Jim, and didn’t even
bother to throttle the motor even a little bit. But say, when I saw
that little guy’s happy face suddenly get a sad expression on it and
saw him kinda drop his head, like a friendly little dog does when
you scold it, I felt sorry for him, and decided that maybe seventeen
seconds lost time wouldn’t make any difference. So I shoved the speed
control lever of the motor back to “Slow,” and shoved the steering
handle around so we’d cut a wide circle, and in a jiffy we were
putt-putting slowly back toward the floating bottle.

You see, all of the members of the Sugar Creek Gang were almost as
interested in Little Jim’s new hobby as he was. For about a week he’d
been getting all the old empty whiskey bottles he could find, and
he--being an honest-to-goodness Christian boy who hated whiskey on
account of it was a terrible enemy of mankind and made so many people
in the world so sad and caused so much murder and stuff--had been
putting what is called “a gospel tract” in them and a little note which
he scribbled in his own handwriting. A gospel tract, just in case you
might never have heard what one is, is a little folder with a printed
message on it telling whoever reads it, something important out of the
Bible, especially how to be saved and become a Christian. The kinda
awkward scribble which Little Jim always tucked into each bottle along
with the tract, always said the same thing, which was: “Whoever finds
this, please believe that God loves you, and if you’re not saved,
remember Jesus died on the cross for you, and hurry up and pray to Him
and thank Him for doing it, and give your heart to Him _quick_. If you
don’t know how to do it, send me your name and address and I’ll send
you a free book telling you how.” Then Little Jim would sign his name
which was _Jim Foote_, and he also gave his Sugar Creek address.

Then he’d cork up the bottle good and tight and toss it out into the
lake for somebody to find and read. We’d all been having fun helping
him, and we could hardly wait till we got back home to Sugar Creek to
see if Little Jim had any mail from anybody who had found one of his
notes.

You see, Little Jim had his mind made up that some time maybe when he
was grown-up, he was going to be a missionary, but he couldn’t wait
that long to be one so he was trying to be one _now_. He being that
kind of a swell little guy and also being one of my best friends, I had
decided I wasn’t going to wait till I was any grown-upper than I was,
before doing it, too.

In a jiffy our boat was gliding slowly up alongside the bobbing bottle,
and Circus, who was closer to it than Little Jim, reached out his hand
and caught hold of it and started to hand it over to Little Jim. Then
he let out a yell and said, “Hey, it’s got something tied to it!”

And sure enough, it had. I could see there was a piece of heavy fishing
line, tied around the bottle’s neck, and that something was fastened to
the other end away down in the water somewhere.



3


Say, the very second I realized there was something tied to the other
end of that fishing line I was afraid it might be some heavy object,
and at the rate our boat was traveling, if Circus held onto the bottle,
the line might break, so I yelled to him, “Hey, let go! The line might
break!” At the same time, I quick shut off the gas to almost nothing
and swung the boat around in a half circle, so, in case Circus _didn’t_
let go, the line wouldn’t have too much strain on it and break, ’cause
I was wondering what on earth might be on the other end.

My motor made a couple of smoky coughs right that minute and stopped,
which was maybe a good thing on account of we _might_ have broken the
line, if it hadn’t.

You could have knocked me over with a pine needle when we found out
what kind of a message was in that bottle. There wasn’t anything on
the other end of the very strong fishing line except a great big
old-fashioned horseshoe. It was covered with weeds and lake bottom
dirt, which meant it had been used as a weight so the waves wouldn’t
wash the bottle away.

It only took us a few jiffies to read what was in the bottle, because
we didn’t even have to take out the cork, on account of a piece of
paper with black printing on it was rolled up inside, with the words
as plain as anything visible right through the glass. Poetry read them
out loud to us in his squawky voice and they were:

  “Dear Fisherman Friend: This is one of the best places on the
  lake for Crappie fishing. Try it here Monday through Saturday
  an hour before and after sundown.... But on Sunday mornings at
  eleven and Sunday nights at 7:30, come to THE CHURCH OF THE
  CROSS, Bemidji, Minnesota, where we are fishing for men. We will
  be pleased to welcome you. Please leave this marker here for
  others to read, and remember that Christ Jesus came into the
  world to save sinners, which means ‘you, me and anybody else.’”

                                                  The Pastor.

  “P.S. Tune in the CHURCH OF THE CROSS radio broadcast every
  afternoon at 4:00 o’clock.”

Well, our boat was maybe only a few yards from where we’d first seen
the bottle floating, which, as I told you, was not far from the shore,
just straight out from the old Indian cemetery, so we took the oars
which every motor boat ought to have in it, and rowed a few strokes
back to where we thought the bottle had been floating before. Poetry
was about to put it carefully back into the water when Dragonfly,
whose mother, as you maybe know, believes it’s bad luck if a black cat
crosses your path or if you break a mirror or walk under a ladder, and
also that it is _good_ luck if you find a horseshoe, piped up and said,
“Let’s tie some _other_ weight on it. I’d like to keep that horseshoe
for good luck.”

“You’re crazy,” Poetry squawked. “That’d be stealing, and stealing
would mean _bad_ luck.”

Just that second there was a long-voiced high-pitched quavering cry of
a loon from somewhere on the lake, and Dragonfly who’d been having a
hard time getting used to a loon’s lonely cry, looked up quick like he
had heard a ghost, while at the same time Circus let the horseshoe sink
into the lake. A second later, there was the bottle floating on the
surface of the water again, lying flat, which meant that the horseshoe
was really on the bottom and the line was loose.

Right away, I adjusted the motor for starting, gave a quick sharp pull
on the starter knob and away we all went again, racing up the shore
toward the Narrows where we knew the river flowed from this lake into
the one our camp site was on. In another ten minutes, we’d be there and
Big Jim would help us decide what to do about John Till.

It was a wonderful ride and if we hadn’t been so excited, we would have
enjoyed the scenery like we’d done once before when we were riding
through the Narrows. The Narrows was almost a half mile long, and there
was a little current but the river was flowing in the same direction we
were going, so in only a few minutes we were on our own lake, and the
pretty black-shrouded motor was carrying us fast straight for camp.

Poetry yelled something to all of us then, and it was, “You guys
remember yesterday afternoon when it rained and we were in Old John’s
cabin and found that little portable radio and when we turned it on, we
heard a Christian program? I’ll bet that was the Church of the Cross
program.”

Then Little Jim, who was sitting beside Dragonfly with one hand holding
onto his stick and the other onto the side of the boat and with a
tickled grin on his face, piped up and said, “Radio’s a good way to
fish for men. It’s like casting with a terribly long line clear out
where the fish really are.”

“Old John Till’s a _fish_, all right,” Dragonfly said, “only he drinks
whiskey instead of water. I hope when we get him captured, he’ll have
to go to jail the rest of his life.”

I noticed that Circus’s monkey-looking face had a very serious
expression on it for a minute, like what Dragonfly had said had been
like a pin sticking him somewhere, and all of a sudden I remembered
that Circus’s dad had once been a drunkard himself. Even while we were
racing along with the oak and white birch and Balm of Gilead and pine
trees whizzing past, and our boat cutting a fierce fast V through
the water, I was remembering one summer night back at Sugar Creek
when there had been a big tent filled with people and a big choir and
an evangelist preaching, and nearly all of the members of the Sugar
Creek Gang had been saved; and when Circus himself had walked down the
grassy aisle to the front to confess the Saviour, all of a sudden Old
Dan Browne, Circus’s drinking daddy, who had been outside of the tent
listening, had come swishing in and running down the aisle with tears
in his eyes and voice, crying out loud, “That’s my boy! That’s my boy!”
And that very night God had saved Old Dan Browne clear through, so that
he hadn’t taken a drop of whiskey or beer since; and from then on he
was a good worker and his family had had enough to eat.

Circus must have been thinking the same thing, ’cause when Dragonfly
said that about Old hook-nosed John Till’s going to jail, he looked
across the top of all the heads of the rest of the gang and straight
into my eyes. I could see the muscles of his jaw working like he was
thinking hard. I also noticed that his fists were doubled up terribly
tight, and remembered that he hated whiskey worse than anything else
in the world, on account of it had made his mother very unhappy for a
long time.

Little Jim called out to all of us then and said, “What about _Tom_?
What’ll we tell _him_?”

“And what _would_ we tell him?” I thought--that swell little
red-haired, grandest little newest member of our gang, who was Old
Hook-nose’s boy.

Not a one of us knew, but in a little while now, at the rate we were
flying, we’d be back in camp where Big Jim and Little Tom Till were,
and we’d have to tell them that we had Tom’s pop locked up in the old
icehouse, and he was probably what police called an accomplice of the
actual kidnapper we’d caught last week.

I was terribly disappointed at what Big Jim decided to do as soon as
we’d told him, which we did, all by himself, so Tom wouldn’t hear it
and start feeling terribly sad and have all the rest of his vacation
spoiled--although of course he’d _have_ to find it out sooner or later.

Big Jim had heard our motor and come out to the end of the long dock
where the mailbox was, to meet us, wondering maybe who on earth we were
at first, coming in with a highpowered motor and a different boat.
Little Tom wasn’t in camp right then, but was up the shore visiting at
a cabin owned by a man named Santa, who especially liked him, and Tom
was watching him build a utility boat in his work shop, so we had a
chance to tell Big Jim the whole exciting story without Little Tom Till
hearing it.

“Let’s leave Tom where he is and all of us go back with a rope and tie
him up,” Dragonfly suggested.

“You’re crazy,” Circus said. “He might have a gun and might shoot us,
and get away, and take all the rest of the ransom money with him.”

“What ransom money?” Big Jim wanted to know, and then I remembered
that Big Jim didn’t know a thing about our having dug in the old
icehouse for the money and had found it sewed up inside a lot of fish’s
stomachs. So, quick we told him, and he frowned at first, then his
bright mind started to work and he just took charge of things in a
jiffy.

“This is a job for the police,” Big Jim told us. “You boys’ve done your
part, and you’ll get credit, but there isn’t any sense in running any
unnecessary risks. Let’s get to a phone quick.”

We all knew there wasn’t any sense in trying to argue Big Jim out of
that idea, and it did make good sense, although it’s hard on a boy to
use good sense all the time, on account of his not being used to it.

The first good sense we used was to quick carry the money down to
Santa’s cabin and lock it up in his boathouse. The nearest telephone
being farther on up the lake at a resort, Santa and Big Jim took
Santa’s boat and motored terribly fast in that direction, leaving
Poetry and Circus and Little Jim and Dragonfly and Tom Till and me
standing there by the boathouse to wait till they came back from
phoning the police.

I looked into Poetry’s bluish eyes and he into mine--we both feeling
pretty sad. It was going to be a _little_ fun watching the police
surround the icehouse though, and seeing them capture our criminal.
“It’ll be fun to watch him come out of that icehouse with his long
hairy arms up in the air,” Dragonfly said, and Little Tom Till looked
up from what he’d been doing, which was tucking the stem of an oxeye
daisy through the button hole of his shirt--that little guy always
liking to wear a wild flower of some kind,--and asked, “Watch _who_
come out of an icehouse--_what_ icehouse?”

And Dragonfly, being not thinking, but letting the very first thought
that came into his head just splash right out of his mouth, said, “Why
Old hook-nosed John--”

But that was as far as his dumb sentence got, for Circus who was
quicker than a cat, whirled around and clapped his hand over his mouth
just in time to stop him at the word “John.”

But it was too late to save Little Tom’s feelings. I saw a sad look
come into his bluish eyes and both fists double up quick, and I knew
he was both sad and mad. He looked like he knew Dragonfly meant his
daddy, on account of he had called him “Old hook-nose John--,” but the
part about coming out of an icehouse with his hairy arms up in the
air, puzzled him. I saw him swallow hard like there was a lump in his
throat, and he said, “You mean my daddy’s locked up somewhere? What
for? What’s he done?”

I’d been calling John Till “Old Hook-nose” myself, when I’d been
talking to the rest of the gang and when I thought about him, but
somehow right that second, it sort of seemed like we ought to get a
more respectable, better name for him.

I knew we had to tell Tom the truth, he having heard Dragonfly say
that, but I was mad at Dragonfly for a minute, so I said, “Listen you,
Dragonfly Gilbert (which is his last name), you can stop calling him
‘Old Hook-nose,’ when you’ve got a nose that turns south at the end,
yourself!”

Then because Tom would have to know the truth some time, all of us
helped each other tell him the whole story, which you already know.
While we were doing it, Tom wouldn’t look us in the eye, but was
picking blue flowers and tucking them into a little bouquet in his
hand. Then he straightened up and looked all around in a quick circle
like he was expecting to see the police coming. Also he looked out
toward the lake like he was listening for the motor of Santa and Big
Jim coming back.

There wasn’t any motor sound though, but at that very second, I heard
the very saddish sound of a mourning dove from up in a tree somewhere
above us, saying, “_Coo, coo, coo, coo_.” Then almost the second the
last “coo” was finished, there was a sort of vibrating musical sound
about thirty feet above us, and I knew it was the wings of the dove as
it flew away or maybe from one tree to another.

Little Jim, who had my binoculars, swished them up to his eyes and
looked, just as little red-haired Tom Till said, “If my daddy gets
caught, he’ll have to go to jail for a terribly long time, and we won’t
have any daddy, and it’ll break my mother’s--”

He suddenly broke off what he was saying, got a tearful expression on
his freckled face, and then because maybe he couldn’t stand to have
any of us see him cry, he turned like a flash and started running
back toward camp as fast as he could go, kinda stumbling along though
like he had a lot of tears in his eyes that were blinding him and he
couldn’t see where he was going.



4


Well, when you see one of your best friends running and stumbling along
like that, and know there are tears in his eyes and that he has a
great big heavy ache in his heart, you sort of get tears in your eyes
yourself. All in a quick flash while his red hair was bobbing down that
weed-grown path toward camp, I was remembering that the first time
I’d ever seen him was when he and his bad big brother Bob belonged to
a bunch of barbarian town boys that had come out in the country one
afternoon and had been eating up all the strawberries that grew on
Strawberry Hill. Our gang had happened onto them while they were doing
it, and for some reason we’d gotten into a fierce fist fight. Tom’s
hard-knuckled fist had whammed me on the nose; and for a dozen fierce
fist-flying minutes he and I had been enemies.

But a lot of things had happened after that. Tom and I had made up and
he was now one of the best friends I had. The whole gang liked him a
lot, and we didn’t hold it against him that his big brother Bob was
what people called a “juvenile delinquent,” and his daddy was a beer-
and whiskey-drinking infidel that acted like he hated God and the
church and also was too lazy to work for a living.

So when I saw Tom go stumbling away like that, I got a big lump in
my throat, and started off after him, not too fast though, ’cause I
didn’t think he wanted anybody to follow him.

When I got to camp, I heard Tom inside our director’s tent moving
around doing something I couldn’t guess what. It seemed like I was
sort of spying on him, and I hated to make him feel worse by looking
at his tears, if he was still crying, so I slipped into the other tent
and peeped through the nearly closed flaps, and then all of a sudden I
saw Tom thrust open the flap of his tent real quick and dive out, and
around it, and start on the run up the lake in the other direction,
carrying his smallish oldish looking brown suitcase, and I wondered,
“What on earth!”

I was so surprised for a minute that I couldn’t even move, and it
wasn’t until after Tom disappeared on the path running as fast as he
could with that suitcase flopping along beside him that I realized he
was probably so ashamed he was going to try to run away and go back
home.

I came to quick life, dived out of my tent, and started after him,
yelling, “Hey! Tom! Wait for me. I want to tell you something.”

I didn’t know what I wanted to tell him, but if he would only wait till
I got there I could probably think of something. I certainly didn’t
want him to go home.

Behind me I could hear the sound of Santa’s motor on the lake,
and--well, I darted after Tom Till as fast as my excited legs could
carry me.

I was a little longer legged than Tom, and caught up with him in only
a short run and grabbed him, and said, “You’re a swell guy, Tom. The
whole gang likes you.”

He dropped his suitcase, pulled loose, and darted around behind the
big bole of a Norway pine tree, where he stopped. I could see part of
him, and could tell by the way one of his elbows was moving that he was
wiping tears out of his eyes, maybe with the back of his hand.

I tried to coax him to go back to camp with me, but he wouldn’t.
“Everybody hates me,” he sobbed, but since he knew _I_ really _liked_
him, I having proved it to him at different times before, he slumped
down in the grass and let himself sort of sob and talk at the same
time, and also sniffle. He wasn’t looking at me but straight ahead in
the direction of a little cluster of bright yellow mustard flowers like
the kind that grow along the edge of our garden back at Sugar Creek if
you let them--they being very pretty but are pests, and if you give
them a chance they will spread in a few years all over a field or fence
row.

Seeing those pretty mustard flowers and knowing that Tom was crying on
account of his pop, and also on account of his mother, made me think of
my own parents and how when I catch a cold, my brown-haired mom makes a
mustard plaster and puts it on my chest.

“You’re a swell guy,” I said to Tom, and felt awful warm inside my
heart toward him and wished he was my brother and that I could do
something to make him happy.

Tom seemed to remember then that he had a handkerchief in his pocket.
He pulled it out and blew his freckled nose and then he just sort of
straightened up quick like he’d thought of something important. “Where
IS the icehouse?” he asked me, and scrambled to his feet.

I wondered what he had on his mind, on account of his face looked like
he’d made up his mind to do something terribly important which he was
afraid to do but was going to do anyway. But he wouldn’t tell me until
I told him I wouldn’t tell him where the icehouse was if he _didn’t_
tell me, and so he told me, and would you believe it? This is what he
said. “I want to get there before the cops do and talk to him about
something. I want to _tell_ him something.”

I looked at his tearful eyes and his sniffling nose and his freckled
face and liked him even better than ever. I thought I ought to ask Big
Jim what he thought, he having a lot of bright ideas about things like
that.

Right away we found Big Jim who had just come back with Santa from
phoning the police, and I was surprised when he said, “Nothing doing.
It’s up to the police now.”

But Tom got a stubborn expression on his face and said, “I’ve GOT to
talk to him. You’ve GOT to take me there, ’cause after the cops get him
I won’t have any chance.”

We were standing down on the beach at the time. Tom’s bare toes were
digging themselves into the sand, and he was still sniffling a little
and swallowing. “I want to ask him to give up when the police come for
him,” he said.

“You won’t _need_ to ask him _that_,” Dragonfly who had come up just
that second, said, “He’ll _have_ to give up.”

“He might _not_,” Tom said. “He might kill some of the police--he might
even kill himself--if he’s--if he’s been drinking. My daddy’s pretty
fierce when he’s half drunk and mad at the same time.”

I looked at Big Jim’s face. He was looking down at the boat with the
pretty black-shrouded outboard motor attached to the stern, and the
muscles of his jaw were working like they do when he’s thinking. Barry,
our camp director, hadn’t come back yet, he having had to be away all
night, so Big Jim was still our boss.

“Is that your dad’s motor?” Big Jim asked Tom Till, pointing toward
it, and Tom said, “I don’t know. He always wanted one like that, but I
don’t think he had enough--(sniff--sniff)--money to buy one.”

Just that second we heard a horn blowing out on the lake and knew it
was the mail boat coming, which it was; and besides there being a
letter for most of the rest of us, there was one in Little Tom Till’s
mother’s handwriting which was addressed to him.

Tom held it in his hands, studying it, then he opened it and read it,
while different ones of us read our own letters, only I kept watching
him out of the corner of my eyes. Then I saw him quick shuffle over to
Big Jim and shove the letter into his hand and say, “Read _that!_”

Big Jim, who had been reading a letter in a very smooth, pretty
handwriting in green ink which I knew was from Sylvia, whose pop was
our Sugar Creek minister and who Big Jim thought was extra nice on
account of she was, tucked Sylvia’s letter inside his shirt pocket and
read Tom’s mom’s letter, and--well, that was what decided us.

“All right, Gang,” Big Jim said to us in a quick authoritative voice,
when he’d finished Tom’s letter. “Let’s get going. We’ve got to get
this letter to John Till before the police get there. Circus, you and
Dragonfly run down to the boathouse and wait with Santa. That icehouse
is on some new lake-front property he bought two weeks ago, and he’ll
show the police how to get there.”

“I want to go with you,” Dragonfly whined.

“You can come with the police, if they’ll let you,” Big Jim said.
“They’ll be here as quick as they can.”

And so Big Jim, Little Tom Till, Little Jim and Poetry and I got into
the big boat, and I let Big Jim run the motor on account of he was
going to, anyway. First, we checked to see if we had enough gas, and
also we tossed in enough life-preserver pillows for each of us, Little
Jim putting on his lifesaver vest just to be still safer, and in a
few jiffies we were off, Big Jim running the boat almost as well as I
could, and I only had to tell him once what to do, but he had already
done it.

I won’t take time to tell you much about that fast ride, but we almost
flew up the lake, and through the Narrows, swishing under the bridge
and into the other lake in only what seemed like a few minutes.

Just after we’d swished _under_ the bridge and out into that other lake
the icehouse was on, Little Jim yelled, “Hey! There’s a long black car
just going across now. I’ll bet that’s the cops.”

I couldn’t hear the boards of the bridge or the car’s motor, on account
of our own motor was making so much noise. It felt good though to be
working with the police, and it also felt good to feel that there was
really a lot of big strong men in our country who were interested in
doing what Pop calls “protecting society from wicked men”--only with
Little Tom there in the boat beside me, being such a swell little guy,
it seemed too bad to think of his daddy as a real criminal, but he
was anyway! Even while we raced up that other shore past the Indian
cemetery and the whiskey bottle which I noticed was still there--the
one that had the printed gospel message in it--I couldn’t help but
wonder if maybe nearly every criminal in the world had some relatives
such as a brother or a sister or maybe a wife or a boy or girl in his
family who felt like Little Tom was feeling right that minute, which
was awfully saddish, and for some reason it seemed that maybe it was
also a big crime to hurt people’s hearts like Tom’s was being hurt
right that second.

I sort of let my mind fly away like a balloon in the sky for a minute,
and was thinking, “What if John Till was my daddy, and I was on my way
to an old icehouse where he was locked up, to give him a letter from
my swell brown-haired mom, and what if in twenty minutes maybe, he
would be arrested for being an accomplice in a kidnapping and might not
only have to go to jail for life, but might even have to have what is
called ‘capital punishment’ done to him--which is being electrocuted
or hung.” My mind even imagined I could see my swell daddy hanging by
his neck on a gallows like I’d seen pictures of, in a newspaper. Then
I stopped thinking that, ’cause it was so ridiculous, on account of
my pop was always reading the Bible and was kind to Mom and my baby
sister, Charlotte Ann, and to everybody, and worked hard and went to
church every Sunday; and anybody couldn’t be that kind of a daddy and
be a criminal at the same time.

Little Jim piped up with a question then that burst my balloon and
brought me down to earth, and it was, “How’ll we get the letter to your
daddy? We don’t dare open the door.”

Poetry’s bright mind thought of a way and it was, “We’ll make a ladder
out of ourselves and push Tom up, so he can poke the letter through
the crack between the logs,” which was a good idea.

A little later, we rounded a bend in the lake and Big Jim steered
straight toward the beach in front of the old log icehouse, where we’d
left John Till only a little less than an hour before. My heart was
pounding fast and hard. I was feeling tense inside on account of Tom,
wondering what was in the letter and also what Tom wanted to tell his
pop.

Big Jim shut off the motor at just the right speed, and we glided up
to the shore. After beaching the boat, and tossing the anchor onto the
shore, we scrambled out, and right away were sneaking up close to the
icehouse.

We moved quietly so we wouldn’t be heard, although John Till could have
heard our motor when we were coming in, I supposed.

“Sh!” Big Jim said to us, he and Tom leading the way as we crept up
closer. I didn’t know what would happen next, but in a jiffy I found
out, ’cause Big Jim stopped the rest of us and sent Tom on toward the
icehouse alone. I peered through the leaves of some wild chokecherry
shrubs we were crouching behind. Then I heard Tom’s pathetic voice that
had a kind of a quaver in it like he was scared, calling out, “DADDY.”

We listened to see if there was any answer, but couldn’t hear any, then
Tom’s voice called again, a little louder, real close to the side of
the old log house. I had both hands up to my ears, but there wasn’t
a sound, except right that second I heard a very pretty wren’s song
that sounded half like a fast mixed-up whistling tune and half like
the spring water that trickles out of the rocks not far from the old
swimming hole back at Sugar Creek.

Then Tom called still louder, “_DADDY!_ It’s ME--TOM! _I’ve got a
letter for you from Mother!_”

But say, that icehouse was as quiet as if it had been an extra large
gravehouse in an Indian cemetery.

Tom turned around then and looked in our direction with a question mark
on his face.

All of us came out into the open and went toward him, not knowing what
to think. In a little while the police would be here, and it’d be too
late for Tom to tell his daddy what he wanted to tell him or to give
him the letter or anything. Right that very second, I heard a fast
motor coming on the lake somewhere and wondered if it might be Santa’s
big boat, bringing the police and Circus and Dragonfly.

Poetry, who had been with me the night before in the middle of the
night, when we’d seen John Till wide awake, taking a string of fish
down to the lake from his cottage, whispered to us and said, “Maybe
he was so tired he went to sleep. Let’s all go up and surround the
icehouse and yell him awake,” which we decided might be a good idea,
and right away, we hurried toward where Tom Till was. Poetry and I
hurried around to the side where the door was and--

Well, you could knocked me over with a puff of wind. There in front of
my astonished eyes was that old great big icehouse door, wide open, on
its rusty hinges. _Our prisoner had escaped!_



5


Well, that was that and a terribly disappointing that at that. Poetry
and I stood staring at that open icehouse door, wondering what on
earth--and who had opened it and let John Till out and where had he
gone, and also was he hiding somewhere close by and might spring out
from behind something any minute and knock the living daylights out of
one of us?

Big Jim and the rest of the gang came running around right away to
where we were, and as soon as we found that our prisoner was _really_
gone, we looked at each other with sad and disappointed eyes.

I looked at Tom who had his mom’s letter in his hands, and noticed it
was kinda crinkled, like letters get when you squish them up tight in
your hands.

“What’ll we do?” different ones of us asked the rest of us, and waited
for Big Jim to decide what. He looked at Tom, who looked sad and
surprised and disappointed, and for a second it seemed like he didn’t
belong to our gang at all but was a strange boy--like a little lost
duckling that gets hatched out with a nestful of fluffy little chickens
in our chicken yard and follows the mother hen around with the chickens
but doesn’t do what they do or look like they look.

“We’ve got to find my daddy!” Tom said, and stooped down and picked a
small white five-petalled flower which I noticed was growing beside the
icehouse on a little plant about five or six inches high. The flower
plant had shining green three-parted leaves with little notches in
them. Little Jim saw him pick it and stooped down quick and picked one
himself, and said, “’Tsa goldthread flower. _Goody!_”--which goes to
show that even in an exciting time that little guy can be interested
in something else. I remembered that he had a flower guide book, and
besides having a hobby of putting a gospel message in whiskey bottles,
he was also trying, while we were on our vacation, to find as many wild
flowers as he could, and write their names in a notebook to show to our
teacher that fall when school started at Sugar Creek.

Tom seemed to be thinking. He didn’t answer Big Jim at all, but looked
down at his goldthread and at the crinkled up letter in his hand, and
then began to try to push the goldthread stem through the button in his
shirt beside the oxeye daisy that was still there.

I won’t have room right at this part of the story to tell you what
happened when the police came, which they did pretty quick, except to
say that as soon as they believed that we hadn’t let John Till out
ourselves, they dug around in the icehouse and found a lot of other
fish with part of the ransom money in them--enough, when they added up
what _we_ had locked up in Santa’s boathouse, to make over $20,000.

But where was the rest of the money? Nobody knew, and nobody knew where
John Till had disappeared to. He wasn’t in the old cabin which we found
out he’d rented from Santa, and was the same cabin we’d seen him in
once, and which you know about if you’ve read the story, “The Sugar
Creek Gang Digs for Treasure.” Both the cabin and the icehouse belonged
to Santa who had bought them from a real-estate man only a few weeks
ago.

It was awful hard on Tom to know that even though his daddy was free,
the police were still after him, and nobody knew when he’d be caught,
or whether he’d try to resist arrest and be shot and maybe killed.

Another thing that made it hard for Tom was the letter from his mother
which he let me see, and when I read it I couldn’t blame Tom for
feeling sad. Part of it said, “I think maybe your father is up in the
North Woods somewhere where you boys are camping, Tom. I don’t know
for sure, but we got a notice from the bank that the interest on our
loan is past due, and it _has_ to be paid. If he stops in to visit you,
please give him this letter. As you know, I gave him the egg money I’d
saved up all winter and summer, and he was going to take it to the bank
just before he left. I’m sure he went fishing, because his tackle is
gone. But don’t worry Tommy boy, we’ll make out somehow. The Lord is
on our side. You just keep on having good boyish fun and learning all
you can in the evening campfire Bible lessons. You and I will keep on
praying for your daddy and your brother Bob, that some day they’ll both
be saved. Our minister called this morning, and he’s praying too. And
he says God can do things nobody thinks He can....”

There was more in the letter such as that Tom’s white rabbit had
carrots for breakfast and seemed quite content but was probably
lonesome for Tom, and the new potatoes in the garden would make awful
good raw-fried potatoes for supper when Tom came home.... It really was
a swell letter, the same kind I get from my mom, with scribbling all
around the edges, of stuff for a boy to remember not to do and why, and
not to catch cold, and be careful not to fall out of the boats--things
like that which always worry a mother, who can’t help it on account of
she is a mother.

We kept on the lookout for John Till every minute of that day and the
next when we took a trip to the headwaters of the Mississippi. Little
Jim took notes on that trip so he could show them to our teacher that
fall when we got back to Sugar Creek, and one of his notes was:

“The Mississippi river is 2406 miles long from the place where it
starts at Itasca Lake, Minnesota, to where it stops at the Gulf of
Mexico.”

We started out early in the morning in our station wagon to Itasca
State Park, where there was a great big blue-watered lake that is 8
miles in circumference, and there, in a pretty shady park, we parked
and all of us scrambled out and swished along following each other in a
little winding path till we came to the lake, where there was a small
stream of water about twelve feet across and about a foot or less deep
flowing out of it, making a very pretty noise which sounded like it was
half a sigh and the other half a ripple. The sound was also mixed up
with the voices of different birds which were singing all around and
above us in the bushes and trees.

We all were quiet for awhile, not seeing what we had expected to see
when we saw the source of the Mississippi, but it was very interesting
anyway.

Little Jim got a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and then he quick
stooped down and in a jiffy had both his shoes and socks off and I knew
he was going to wade across, it being shallow and narrow anyway. Right
away we all had our shoes and socks off and every single one of us
waded clear across the Mississippi river.

“Here we are,” I said to us, as most of us stopped out in the middle of
the Mississippi river and gathered ourselves into a half-circle with
our faces looking toward one of the shores where our camp director had
a camera waiting to take our picture.

Standing there, squinting my eyes in the direction of the camera and
also in the direction of the sun, I happened to remember a brand new
Paul Bunyan story which Poetry had made up once and which you maybe
know about if you’ve read “The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North,” and it
was, that Old Babe, which is Paul Bunyan’s blue Ox, was swimming in
the headwaters of the Mississippi river and the blue began to come off
in the water, and to make the water blue; and because the Mississippi
flows through a lot of the lakes in Minnesota, pretty soon all the
lakes became what is called “blue-watered lakes.”

Of course it was only a legend--Paul Bunyan, as you know, being a
legendary lumberman who was extra large; and Babe, the blue Ox, being
his best friend and went everywhere he went, just like a boy’s dog
follows a boy around.

Anyway, while we were having our picture taken, I remembered the
story Poetry’d told about how the lakes got their blue water, so
I looked down quick at Poetry’s large feet and at all the seventy
different-shaped and different-lengthed toes on the fourteen feet of
all seven of us, and tried to think of something funny to say which I
did, but which wasn’t very, and this is what it was--“If all the fish
in the lakes up here get terribly sick and die before long, it’ll be
because the barrel-shaped boy in our gang didn’t wash his feet before
he waded across the Mississippi river.”

And that’s how it happened that I wished I had brought along a change
of clothes, on account of for some reason what I said made Poetry
peeved. He quick shoved his shoulder against me, and because I was
standing in fast-flowing water half way up to my knees anyway, when I
stepped sideways to try to get my balance I stepped on a slippery rock
in the river bed, lost my whole balance and the next thing I knew I was
sitting down on the bottom of the Mississippi river, the water coming
clear up to my stomach.

Right away Barry pointed his camera in our direction and took another
picture.

That reminded Poetry of a riddle which he quick asked and was: “Say,
gang, what is it that stays in bed all day, spends all its time at the
bank and never stops running?”

“A _river_,” Dragonfly said and sneezed twice on account of he is
not only allergic to different pollens but to sudden changes of
temperature--the water in that little narrow babbling stream being
almost cold.

Well, that was all that happened on that trip, except one thing, and
it was that one thing that helped make our next adventure, which was a
fishing trip for walleyes, extraordinarily interesting and exciting.

Not having brought along any extra clothes, I had to walk in my wet
trousers back to our station wagon, which wasn’t any too much fun for
me. There they made me undress and lie down where I wouldn’t be seen
while some of the gang wrung the water out of my trousers and also out
of the tail of my shirt. I would have to wait till they dried enough
for me to put them on, which meant I had to let the rest of the gang
visit a very special curio shop without me, while my clothes were
hanging on a limb in the sun. Poetry who was my almost best friend was
already sorry I was all wet, and we made up as soon as I found out he
was going to stay with me to keep me company.

I gave Little Jim some money out of my bill-fold and told him to pick
out something he especially thought my little sister, Charlotte Ann,
would like, on account of in a few days we were all going to break camp
and drive back to Sugar Creek, and I wanted to take home a few things
made by the Indians.

Poetry and I being alone awhile, with me lying under a blanket on
the back seat of the station wagon, we talked over all the wonderful
experiences of our vacation, and decided it had been the best camping
trip we’d had in our lives.

“Only one thing would make it the best we ever could have,” he said,
and when I said, “What?” he didn’t answer for a minute. He was sitting
in the open door not far from me and I was lying on my back, wishing
the hot sun and the breeze would hurry up and get my clothes a little
drier so I could put them on. He had his back to me and I couldn’t see
his fat face, but his squawky voice had a sort of a far away sound in
it like he was thinking of something extra serious.

When he still didn’t answer me, I asked him again and he said quietly,
“I feel sorry for Tom.” Then his voice sort of choked and I guessed
that he liked that little red-haired guy just as well as I did. Right
that second if anybody had asked me anything, I wouldn’t have answered
either, ’cause I felt my eyes stinging, and there would have been a
tear in my voice, and boys don’t like to have anybody see tears in
their eyes or hear them in their voices.

Pretty soon though, Poetry spoke again with his back still toward me,
“Did you ever read this verse in the Bible?”

If I hadn’t been already down, you could have knocked me over with a
fish scale when I realized what he was doing. Say, he had taken his
little leather New Testament out of his shirt pocket and, looking
through it, had found a verse he thought was extra good.

As you maybe know, an official part of the equipment of anybody who
belongs to the Sugar Creek Gang, is a small pocket New Testament. We
carry one with us nearly all the time, and not only every one of us
reads it every day but we aren’t ashamed to let anybody know we do
it either; but on account of being boys and feeling like nearly all
boys do, we didn’t talk about the Bible very much except in camp-fire
meetings or at Sunday school, and only once in a while when two or
three of us were together--Little Jim and I doing maybe more of it than
any of the rest of us, on account of he--well, he had a keen little
mind and thought more about it, I guess, and was always getting such
good ideas. Also Little Jim was glad he was alive, which not a boy in
the world _would_ be if God hadn’t made him, and also if God didn’t
_keep_ him alive. And there isn’t a boy in the world that’s dumb
enough to want to be dead, which is why a boy ought to be glad to love
God and to be kind to Him, which Little Jim always was.

Anyway, when Poetry asked me if I had ever read “this verse,” I said,
“What verse?” and he read it to me, with his back still turned. It was
out of the book of Matthew, chapter 18, and was the nineteenth verse,
and said, “_If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing
that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in
heaven_.”

It made me feel good inside to even think about the Bible, especially
since I knew both of us believed what we were talking about. I just
lay there, looking through the station wagon window up at the pretty
branches of a pine tree that grew not very far away. I was also
listening to the gurgling of the water close by and felt something
kinda warm in my heart, like Poetry and God and I had a secret of some
kind. When we finished telling each other what we thought the verse
meant, we had made up our minds that we were going to stick together
until Little Tom’s daddy was saved.

“Let’s shake on it,” Poetry said, and swung around, and shoved his fat
hand in my direction. I grabbed it quick, and said, “Shake.”

“Shake,” he said again, then we let go, and I felt wonderful inside.

I noticed the branches of the pine tree above me were swaying in the
wind, and I knew my clothes were drying pretty fast--I hoped.

A little later we heard the gang coming. I knew it was the gang because
it sounded like a flock of blackbirds gathering in the woods in a
Sugar Creek autumn getting ready for migrating to a warmer country; it
also sounded like a flock of crows with a few scolding blue jays mixed
in with them and maybe a harsh-voiced shrieking kingfisher joining
in--Dragonfly being the rattling-voiced kingfisher, and Circus, the
scolding blue jay.

My clothes were dry enough for me to put them on, if while we drove
along, I’d sit on the leather seat of the station wagon, which I did,
and away we went, back to camp and to the next day’s fishing trip.

“Look what I got for Charlotte Ann,” Little Jim said to me, and shoved
over to me a couple of small rubber balloons. “They cost only ten cents
apiece,” he said proudly, and handed me my change.

I was a little disappointed, but didn’t want to say so, ’cause Little
Jim had such a happy grin on his face to think he had saved me money,
and also being sure Charlotte Ann would be tickled to see the balloons
blown up nice and big, which most babies do, and reach out their hands
for them the very minute they see them.

I tucked the two balloons in my shirt pocket beside my New Testament
and buttoned the flap, and forgot about them, until the next day when
we were on a very special fishing trip for walleyed pike.

Boy oh boy, it was going to be a wonderful trip, I thought, and we were
going to fish, not for small fish like blue gills and crappies, which
people call “pan” fish, but for big walleyes, to pack and ship home
to our folks at Sugar Creek. Also, we were going to keep our eyes open
every second to see if we could find any trace of John Till.



6


I was certainly glad our little Indian friend, Snow-in-the-face, was
well enough to be our guide on our fishing trip for walleyed pike. As
you maybe know, he’d been very sick but almost right away after our
gang had called to see him, which we did the very next day after we
had come up north, he had started to get better, and now, today, he
was coming to our camp to visit us and to guide us to the best fishing
waters for walleyed pike, so we could all catch our “limit,” which is
eight walleyes apiece. Multiplying eight fish by seven boys, which any
teacher will tell you you can’t do, we’d have fifty-six fish to pack in
ice and ship back to Sugar Creek for our parents to see and to help us
eat. Boy oh boy, it was going to be fun!

About three o’clock that afternoon, after the gang had all had our rest
hour, little Snow-in-the-face and his big Indian brother, Eagle Eye,
came putt-putting in a canoe, straight to our shore.

There was a lot of excitement around camp for a while, while all of us
finished getting our equipment ready. Our two big fishing boats were
equipped with life-preserver pillows, which everybody oughtn’t to go on
a fishing trip without.

It had been a terribly hot day and the sun up in the sky, as our boats
plowed their wet way out across the waves toward an island, poured its
yellowish heat down on us something fierce. It also reflected back up
into our faces from the water and made me glad I had on a pair of dark
glasses to protect my eyes from the extra bright light.

Snow-in-the-face was in the boat I was in, along with Little Jim,
Poetry and Dragonfly, and we were following the other boat which had
Eagle Eye and Big Jim and Circus and Little Tom Till. Barry had stayed
home to write letters and to look after camp.

In a little while our boats neared the pretty pine and spruce-covered
island, circled around it to the other side where we anchored in a
little cove, not more than thirty yards from each other, in some quiet
water.

That swell little reddish-brown-faced Indian boy with his bright black
eyes and straight black hair didn’t even use a pole, but had a big
heavy line which he dropped down over the side of our boat. I was
sitting beside him in the middle seat, with Poetry sitting in the stern
close to the outboard motor. Dragonfly was in the prow, and Little Jim
in front of me in a seat by himself, with his life vest on, which meant
he was even safer than the rest of us, on account of if we had our boat
upset or fell out, he would be ready to float to shore without having
to hold onto a pillow.

In only a few jiffies we all had our hooks baited with live chubs and
were waiting for somebody--either in our boat or in the other one--to
catch the first fish. The very second one of us would get a walleye,
we’d know we’d found a school of them, and in a little while we’d all
get bites and catch fish at the same time, on account of walleyes stick
together like a gang of boys.

“Eagle Eye found this place last year,” Snow-in-the-face said. “Fish
bite here when they don’t any place else on the lake.”

But say, after we all had sat there and waited and waited and pulled
our lines in and out of the water for an hour and not a one of us had
caught a single fish, or even had a nibble, it looked as if having a
good guide wasn’t any good.

Snow-in-the-face had a pucker on his brown forehead and looked worried.

“Ho hum,” I thought, and shifted myself to another uncomfortable
position on the hot boat seat I was on--any position being
uncomfortable when the fish don’t bite, and the deer flies are swarming
around your legs and hands and biting fiercely just like you wish the
fish would.

Pretty soon, I looked over at the pretty pine-covered island and wished
I could go over there and sit down in the shade for awhile. I was also
remembering that that was the very island I’d wanted to explore when
I’d first gotten the idea of playing Robinson Crusoe and Treasure
Island, and which had got us tangled up in the mystery of the buried
treasure, most of which we’d finally found. The rest of it Old John
Till probably had somewhere, wherever he was, which nobody knew.

“I’m terribly hot,” I said to the rest of us in our boat. “Let’s go
over to that island and lie down in the shade awhile.” The rest of us
thought it was a good idea, and so we pulled in our lazy lines and also
pulled anchor and rowed over, and in a little while, Poetry and I were
strolling along following the shore around to the side where we could
look across and see our camp away out across the lake. It was one of
the prettiest islands I’d ever seen, and had great big Norway pines
and spruce and Tamarack and also ferns and all kinds of wild flowers
such as red-flowered wild columbine and white goldthread and, in a
boggy place, some pitcher plants, which had queer-looking green leaves
that looked like one of the green pitchers Mom has on our sideboard at
home--also the leaves looked like the lips of a French horn that one of
the men at Sugar Creek plays in the band on Saturday night....

We’d left Snow-in-the-face and Little Jim and Dragonfly back at the
shore in the boat, ’cause Snow-in-the-face had acted like he didn’t
want to come with us, and Dragonfly had been so lazy and also afraid of
smelling wild flowers and having to sneeze a lot--that being one of the
reasons he’d come on this vacation with us, so he could get away from
Sugar Creek flowers and timothy hay and ragweed and everything else
which would make him sneeze.

“You know what?” Poetry said to me all of a sudden, and when I said,
“No, what?” he said, “This would be a good island for John Till to hide
on. Maybe when he got out of the icehouse, he came over here.”

“But how could he get here? We had his boat.”

“He might swim,” Poetry said, but it wasn’t a good idea because it was
pretty far from any other shore over here, so I said, “Of course, he
could rent a boat from almost any resort up here,”--which he could.

We were standing right that minute close to a sandy beach and the waves
were washing up in a very lazy friendly way, when all of a sudden,
Poetry said, “Hey, look, somebody’s been here. Somebody’s had a boat
beached here on the sand,” which he had, but it was gone now.

“Boy oh boy!” I said, all of a sudden getting excited, “and here’re
shoe tracks, going back into the island somewhere.”

We decided to follow the tracks, which we did, but didn’t find anything
interesting. There might be a broken twig trail, though, like the
one we’d followed before, and which you know about, maybe, but we
couldn’t find a thing, so we gave up and went back to Dragonfly and
Snow-in-the-face and Little Jim.

“Where you guys been?” Dragonfly wanted to know, and I said, “Oh,
looking for buried treasure.”

Little Snow-in-the-face got a queer far-away expression on his face,
squinted his eyes and said, “Sometimes we see lights out here at night.”

And then it was Dragonfly’s turn to get a queer far-away expression on
his face, which made it seem like he wished he was as far away as his
thoughts were, he, as you know, believing in ghosts.

Well, we decided to try fishing some more like the rest of the guys in
the other boat were, but who still hadn’t caught anything. We rowed out
to another place and baited our hooks and tried again.

Another hour passed during which we pulled anchor and tried a half
dozen different locations and still not a one of us caught a single
fish and we were terribly discouraged.

“You _can_ have one if you _want_ one,” Little Jim said.

“How?” I said, and he said, “One of those balloons I bought for you
yesterday is a _rubber_ fish. You can blow _it_ up--maybe it’s a
walleye.”

Well, I still had those two rubber balloons in my shirt pocket, so
because I was terribly bored and didn’t know what else to do, I pulled
out the one that looked like it would be shaped like a fish when it was
blown up, and, like the old wolf that ate up the little pigs, I huffed
and I puffed and I blew the balloon up into a nice great big long fish
that looked like a walleyed pike. For awhile I had something to keep my
mind off being bored, on account of if there is anything that is harder
to do than anything else, it is to sit on the seat of a boat on a hot
day when the fish won’t bite.

“If we get _one_, we’ll get _twenty_,” Poetry said. “Walleyes go in
schools, you know.”

“Yeah,” Little Jim piped up and said, “but fish maybe don’t _have_
school in _August_,” which reminded me that right after August came
September, and generally in the first week of September, the Sugar
Creek School started and--

I let out a fierce long sigh when I thought of that, not because I
didn’t need an education but I hated to have to sit down to get one,
which is what you have to do in school most of the time--and the boat
seat was getting harder and harder every minute.

The yellowish rubber fish I’d just blown up looked cute though, and was
as fat as a butterball. For a jiffy I let it float on the water clear
out to the end of the fishing line I had it tied on. “Here, Poetry,” I
said to the fish, “get out there and float. You’re so fat you _can’t_
sink,” which made the real Poetry in the boat with us pretend to be
peeved, and he said to me, “Oh, you go jump in the lake!”

And then--all of an excited sudden--Poetry got a big strike. He waited
until he was sure it was time to set the hook, which he did at exactly
the right time and in a jiffy he landed a very excited walleye; only it
wasn’t much bigger than a big yellow perch--hardly big enough to keep.

“O.K., Bill--hand me the stringer,” he ordered me, panting with
happiness. Talk about a proud grin on a boy’s face--Poetry really had
one.

“_What_ stringer?” I said, and looked all around on the bottom of the
boat for one. And--would you believe it?--not a one of us had brought
along a fish stringer! The other boat was too far away for them to
throw one into our boat, so Poetry just sat there with his fish in his
fat hand, wondering what to do with it.

“It’s too little to keep,” Little Jim said. “Let him go back to his
mama.”

“I wish I knew where his mama is hiding,” Dragonfly said, “I’d like to
catch her.”

“Let him go and he’ll _find_ his mama,” Snow-in-the-face said, and had
the cutest grin on his smallish face, and that tickled me all over
’cause I could see he was as mischievous as any white-faced boy.

“It’s probably a little lost child-fish,” Little Jim said. “We aren’t
going to catch any more anyway. Let’s let him go home to his parents.”

Well, as you know, I had the end of my fish balloon tied air-tight
shut, with a piece of old fishing line I’d had in my pocket, and it was
still in the water on the opposite side of the boat. It was really
cute, that little yellowish rubber fish bobbing along out there on the
surface of the water.

And then Poetry yelled across to the other boat, saying, “HEY, YOU
GUYS, OVER THERE! WE GOT A FISH BUT DON’T HAVE ANY STRINGER TO PUT HIM
ON. WHAT’LL WE DO WITH HIM?”

Circus, being mischievous and having lots of bright ideas anyway,
yelled back to us, “IF YOU’LL PUT HIM BACK IN THE WATER AND TELL HIM TO
SWIM OVER HERE, WE’LL PUT HIM ON _OUR_ STRINGER!”

And that was what gave Poetry another idea which wasn’t so dumb and
which turned our discouraged fishing trip into a real one that was
wonderful. Poetry yelled back to Circus, “SWELL IDEA, WE’LL SEND HIM
OVER, RIGHT AWAY!” Then he got a command in his voice and said to me,
“Here, Bill, give me that line,” and reached out and took it before I
could make up my mind not to let him have it.

“What on earth crazy thing you going to do?” Dragonfly asked, when
Poetry held the fish between his knees a minute while with his two
fat hands he made a double slip-knot around the walleye’s tail; and
then almost before anybody could have stopped him if he had wanted to,
Poetry released that frisky little walleye into the water sort of like
my mother does when she carefully holds an old setting hen and eases
her into a coop where there is a nestful of eggs for her to sit on.
Poetry said to the fish, as he let go, “Here, Wally, my friend, you go
swimming straight for the other boat away over there!”

Boy, that fish certainly had lots of pep. Being out of the water for
that smallish jiffy hadn’t hurt him a bit, although if you are going
to let a fish go free after catching him, you are supposed to be very
careful to handle him with wet hands, and release him under the water
rather than throw him back, and he’ll be more likely to live.

Say, that frisky little walleye made a fierce fast dive straight
down into the water, and in a few fast seconds, the yellowish rubber
balloon was bobbing up and down like it was a boy’s bobber on a fishing
line.... And--would you believe it?--it started to move right in the
direction of that other boat--kinda slow though, but actually toward it.

Poetry sighed proudly, leaned back, stuck his thumbs in his arm
pits and said, “See there, fish understand my language,” which made
Dragonfly say, “That’s ’cause you talk like a fish,” which, for
Dragonfly, was almost a bright remark.

I could see, though, that the balloon fish was changing its course. It
began working its way a little toward the left and out toward deeper
water and farther from shore. We all watched it, having fun, and Poetry
kept yelling to it to “Turn to the right!” and to “Hurry up!” but
pretty soon when it was maybe fifty yards from us it stopped going in
one direction and began to move slowly around in a small circle.

“I’ll bet he’s caught on a snag,” Little Snow-in-the-face said in his
cute Indian voice, and it seemed like he might be right, because, even
though the balloon bobbed around a little, it didn’t move any farther
away, but just seemed to stay more or less in the same place.

Well, we fished on, all of us hoping for another fish, but not a one
of us caught one, so pretty soon we got discouraged again and pulled
up anchor. Then Poetry said, “Whyn’t we go get him and go home, and
everybody go swimming?” which sounded like a good idea. It’d be a lot
more fun to do that than to sit on a hard boat seat watching a rubber
balloon bobbing on the surface of a lake that didn’t have any hungry
fish in it.

“Let’s _troll_ over,” Snow-in-the-face said. “Sometimes when you can’t
catch fish any other way, they’ll bite when you do that.”

Dragonfly said it was a good idea too, ’cause there might be a “lost,
strayed or stolen” fish all by itself between here and that balloon, so
we all left our lines in the water while Snow-in-the-face and Little
Jim took the oars and rowed us kinda splashily out toward that nice
yellowish balloon which I was going to get and take home to Charlotte
Ann.

In a little while we were almost there, and I was getting ready
to reach out my hand and get the balloon when quick as a flash I
saw Little Jim’s line go taut, and his pole bend down clear to the
water, while he dropped his oar and quick grabbed his pole and yelled
excitedly, “Hey, I’ve got a fish!” Just as Dragonfly’s line did the
same thing, and then WHAM!--my own line went tight and the next thing
we knew most of us in our boat found ourselves in the middle of one of
the most exciting fishing experiences of our whole lives. We yelled and
pulled, and our lines went singing out as our reels unwound; and almost
at the same time, Dragonfly and Little Jim and Poetry and I all landed
a walleye apiece, and laid them, flopping and splashing water in every
direction, in the bottom of the boat.

“WE’VE STRUCK A SCHOOL!” Poetry cried. “MY FISH TOOK US RIGHT TO THEM!
HE KNEW EXACTLY WHERE THEY WERE!”



7


Well you aren’t supposed to yell like a lot of wild Indians on a
warpath when you start catching a lot of fish, on account of you might
scare the fish away; so almost right away we all shushed each other,
and only made a noise when we caught a fish, which was just about as
fast as we could bait our hooks and get our lines into the water again.

We quick anchored right close to where the balloon was, and the other
boatful of the rest of the gang came rowing over as quietly as they
could, and anchored close by.

Talk about excitement. We’d never had so much fishing fun in our whole
lives as we were having right that minute. And then, just like Sugar
Creek school getting out and the kids tumbling out the door and all
going away from the red brick schoolhouse, our school of walleyes moved
on and we stopped getting bites. I knew something was going to happen
the minute I saw the yellowish balloon start moving fast out toward
deeper water.

“Hey, look!” Dragonfly, who saw it first, said. “Wally acts like he’s
scared. Look at him go!”

We looked, and sure enough the balloon was bobbing up and down, and
even diving clear under. Then it plunked clear under for a _long_ jiffy
before bouncing back up and shooting almost a foot into the air, then
landed with a kersmack on the water again.

Nobody had had any bites for awhile before that, but we had enough
fish for one day, and so Big Jim said, “Let’s go back to camp and get
supper,” which was a good idea. We would come back tomorrow.

“What’ll we do with Wally?” Poetry said.

“He’s been a swell friend,” Dragonfly said. “He ought to have some kind
of appreciation.”

Then Little Jim piped up good and loud and said, “Let’s give him his
liberty!”

Well, we had enough larger fish, and Wally really deserved some kind
of a reward for helping us catch so many fish to take home to Sugar
Creek, so we pulled anchor and rowed out toward where Wally was making
the balloon fish bob around in such a lively style. As soon as the boat
had eased along side, I, who was closest to it, reached down my hand,
caught hold of the balloon, and started to haul Wally in toward the
boat, but right away my line went tight like it was fastened onto a
log or snag down on the bottom of the lake. I gave a tug, but not too
hard ’cause I didn’t want the line to scale off any scales from Wally’s
tail, it being as hard on a fish to lose some of its scales as on a
barefoot boy to stump his toe and knock the skin off.

“He’s tangled up on something,” I said, and gave another small pull
and then--WHAM! There was a fierce wild lunge down there somewhere,
and I felt a scared feeling racing up and down my spine. I knew Wally
didn’t have _that_ much strength. Say, it felt as big as an excited pig
running in our barnyard back at Sugar Creek--or a dog or something.

I had hold of the line as well as the balloon, and the line was cutting
into my hands. I couldn’t think straight, but didn’t dare let loose.

Snow-in-the-face, for the very first time, got excited and yelled
something to Eagle Eye in the Indian language, and then to us in
English, which was, “SOME GREAT BIG FISH HAS SWALLOWED HIM....”--which
made sense.

I held on, in spite of the line’s hurting my hand a little, and then,
out there about ten feet, something with a big long ugly snout and with
fierce eyes shot up through the waves and almost two feet in the air,
and dive-splashed back in again.

There was a fierce, mad boiling of the surface like a bomb had exploded
down there in the water somewhere. I was trembling inside like any
fisherman trembles when a fierce fast-fighting fish gets away after
it’s been hooked--only this one hadn’t been hooked with a real hook. He
had probably come swimming along down there under the water, looking
for an early supper, like a robin hops around in our lawn at Sugar
Creek looking for night crawlers, and, seeing Wally swimming lazily
around, had decided to eat him, which is what some big fish do to
little other fish when they’re hungry.

He had probably slowly nosed his fierce ugly long snout up to Wally,
and then all of a sudden made a savage rush at him with his mouth open,
and had swallowed him whole, and started to swim away with him. That
had scared all the other fish, which was why we’d all stopped getting
bites at the same time.

Anyway, right after that fierce old fighting fish lunged up out of the
water and down in again, he made a dive straight for our boat, shot
under it, and pulled so hard that I had to hold on for dear life. If
I’d had a long line on a fishing rod with a reel on it, I could have
let the reel spin, and like fishermen do when they have a wild walleye
or an enormous northern pike on their lines, I could have “played” him
until he was tired out, then hauled him in, but with my line only a
dozen or more feet long, I was pretty sure I didn’t have a chance in
the world to land him,--and the next thing I knew I found out I was
right. In a second it seemed, after he dived under our boat, I felt my
line go sickeningly slack, and I knew I’d lost him. I couldn’t tell
though whether he’d broken my line, or whether he’d swallowed backwards
and Wally was free again.

While the gang was groaning with disappointment, ’cause they’d seen
what had happened, and while I was pulling in the lifeless line to see
what was on the other end, I had a sickish feeling in the pit of my
stomach like a fisherman gets when he loses a big fish.

In another jiffy I was holding up the end of the line for us to look
at. Dragonfly, seeing it, said, “Poetry’s slip-knot slipped.”

We would have been a terribly sad gang if we hadn’t already caught a
lot of middle-sized walleyes.

Circus called to us from the other boat and said, “We could have put a
lot of kidnapper’s ransom money in a fish that big, if we’d caught him.”

“There wouldn’t have been much room left with Wally already inside of
him,” Poetry said.

For some reason I was looking at Little Jim when Poetry said that and
I noticed a sad expression come on his smallish mouse-like face, and I
thought it looked like he had a couple of tears in his eyes.

It had been a wonderful fishing trip and we couldn’t afford to cry over
a lost northern pike, which is what we all decided the big fish was. So
after the other boat had pulled anchor, we started our motors, steered
around the island and toward camp, with our caught fish lying in the
bottom of the boat.

Little Jim was sitting in the seat in front of me, facing me as we
roared along with Poetry running the motor. Different ones of us were
talking and yelling to each other about all the different things that
had happened,--all except Little Jim who, I noticed, was extra quiet
and his eyes still had that saddish look in them.

Pretty soon I leaned over and half whispered to him, “’Smatter?” and he
swallowed, then said, “Nothing.”

“There is too,” I said, just as he turned his head, gave it a quick
shake, and when he looked back in my direction the tears that’d been
in his eyes a second before, were gone, which is the way Little Jim
gets tears out of his eyes--he just turns his head away, jerks it real
quick, and that shakes the tears out.

Dragonfly, who knew Little Jim had that cute little way of getting
tears out without using a handkerchief, so nobody would know he had had
tears in the first place, saw Little Jim do that and said to him from
behind me, “Don’t you know tears are salty? Fresh water fish that live
in lakes don’t _like_ salt water.”

“That’s _not_ funny,” I said to Dragonfly over my shoulder, and was mad
at him for not having more respect for Little Jim’s hurt heart. I knew
Little Jim’s heart was hurt, when he said to me, “That wasn’t much of a
reward for Wally, after all he did for us.”

Then just like it sometimes happens to my mother back at Sugar
Creek, when she says something that has a sad thought mixed up with
it, Little Jim’s eyes got a couple of _new_ tears in them, which he
quickly shook out into the lake, and then he said, as he reached his
smallish cute hands toward me, “Let me hold the balloon fish a while.”

I pushed the yellowish rubber balloon toward him, and the way he took
it, made me think of the way my little two-year-old baby sister,
Charlotte Ann, would reach out her chubby little hands for it when I
got home and showed it to her.

For a minute, while our two boats plowed along through the water,
which, with the sunlight shining on the moving waves, looked like a
great big lakeful of live silver, my thoughts took a hop, skip and a
jump out across the lake to the shore, leaped over the Chippewa forest,
and high up over a lot of other lakes, like I was Paul Bunyan himself;
and all of a sudden I landed right inside our kitchen at Sugar Creek,
where I knew I’d be in just a few days. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mom
standing by our kitchen stove near the east window which has a green
ivy vine trailing across the top of the outside of it. I could smell
the smell of raw-fried potatoes frying, and see the steam puffing up
from the hooked spout of our kinda oldish teakettle. If, when I came
in, I accidently carried in a little mud on my shoes or bare feet,
Mom would say like she nearly always does, “Would you like to get the
broom, Bill, and sweep out that mud which, a little while ago, came
walking in on two feet?” I would know whose two feet she meant, and
grin, and right away I’d step to the place where we kept our broom,
which is behind the east kitchen door which also has our roller towel
rack on it, and I wouldn’t any more than get started with the dust pan
and broom when Mom would say, “Be careful not to sweep _hard_, or we’ll
have dust in our fried potatoes.”

While I was doing that, all of a sudden, I’d get tangled up and,
turning around, I’d see my swell little sister Charlotte Ann, with her
tiny toy broom, sweeping it around awkwardly like girls do when they’re
just learning how to sweep, which is what Charlotte Ann does at our
house. Now that she’s learned to walk, she tries to do everything any
of the rest of us do. She follows Mom around sweeping when Mom does,
washing her hands when Mom does, and when my grayish-brown-haired
mom or my reddish-brown-mustached pop sits down to read a book or a
magazine she actually gets a book or a magazine and tries to read,
nearly always getting the magazine upside down when she does it. In
fact, she wants to do everything we do while we are doing it, and
sometimes when Mom is getting supper and Charlotte Ann can’t see high
enough to see what Mom is doing, she gets cross and whines and fusses
and pulls at Mom’s dress or apron and makes a nuisance out of herself,
only she doesn’t know she’s a nuisance but maybe thinks Mom is making a
nuisance of _herself_, instead, for not letting her help get supper.

Yes sir, I was getting homesick for my folks, and could hardly wait
till I got home next week to tell all the exciting adventures we’d
had. Also, it’d be fun to watch the mail every day to see if maybe
Little Jim would get any letters from anybody who would find his gospel
messages which he’d been tossing out into the lake in whiskey bottles.

Thinking that, I remembered John Till and wondered where he was and
what he was doing, and all of a sudden I remembered what Poetry and
I had been thinking and talking about in the station wagon when we’d
been at the source of the Mississippi river, and he had found a Bible
verse which said if any two of the Lord’s disciples were agreed about
something they wanted to pray for, they could pray for it, and the
heavenly Father would do it.

Thinking that, I turned around to Poetry who, as you know, was running
the motor, and looked at him, and he looked at me. I pointed to my
shirt pocket, which had its flap buttoned to keep my New Testament
from falling out. His eyes looked where my finger was pointing, and
the expression on his mischievous happy-looking face changed to a
very sober one. He kinda squinted his eyes like a boy does when he’s
thinking about something or somebody some place else. He lifted his
free hand (the other being on the rubber grip of the motor’s handle)
and, with his forefinger, pointed to his own shirt pocket. We just
looked into each other’s eyes a minute, and for some reason I felt fine
inside.

Then I swung my eyes around over the lake and in the direction of where
the sun was going to set after awhile, and was glad I was alive--for
the same reason Little Jim is glad he is alive.

In a little while, we’d be to shore. There was only one thing about a
fishing trip I didn’t like and that was having to help clean the fish
afterward, but boy oh boy, when you start sinking your teeth into the
nice snow-white fish steaks, which restaurants’ menus call _fillet_,
you don’t mind having had to clean them at all. Yum, yum, crunch,
crunch ... boy oh boy! I certainly was hungry, as our boat cut a wide
circle and swung up beside the dock in front of our big brown tents.
I could see that a fire was already started in the Indian kitchen
we’d made and that meant that just the minute we had our fish cleaned
Barry’d have them sizzling in the skillet for us.

Tom and I were alone a minute at the end of the dock that night just
before we went to bed, and he had both hands clasped around the slender
flagpole and was swaying his body forward and backward and sidewise not
saying anything for a minute, and neither was I. Then he said, “I wish
I could find my daddy.”

There was a tear in his voice and I knew he felt pretty terribly awful
inside, and because I liked him, I felt the same way for a minute.

“Nobody knows where he is,” I said, and Tom surprised me by saying,
“Only _one_ Person,” and as quick as I realized what he meant, I said,
“Yes, that’s right. He knows everything in the world at the same time.”

The moon shining on the water looked like it nearly always does in the
moonlight--like silver--also like a field of oats on Pop’s farm would
look if somebody had painted it white and the wind was blowing.

Santa, who, as you know, had his cabin not very far up the lake from
where we were camped, had gone away for the night, and so Big Jim and
Circus had been selected to stay all night in his cabin to sort of look
after things for him--they being the biggest members of our gang and
Barry giving them permission.

All the rest of the gang were in the tents, maybe undressing, and Tom
and I were really alone, when all of a sudden I heard a movement on
the shore and a voice calling in a low husky whisper, saying, “Tom!
Hey--Tom!” and I was sure I’d heard the voice before.

I saw the bushes part and a dark form move out in the moonlight, and
at the same time Tom let go of the flagpole, and made a dive for the
shore, beating it up the dock as fast as he could.

I was so surprised I couldn’t move, but felt weak in the knees and
sick at the stomach. Tom was there in a flash, and I watched him and
somebody, standing side by side, talking in whispers, and then the dark
form I’d seen come out of the bushes, dived back again, and a second
later I heard footsteps going lickety-sizzle up the lake shore; then
Tom started back to me and I met him in the middle of the dock.

“Who _was_ it?” I said, thinking I knew. “Was it your daddy?”

“No,” Tom said, “it was my brother Bob. I gave him the letter from
Mother, and he’s going to give it to Daddy.”



8


Can you imagine that! Big Bob Till, Big Jim’s worst enemy, and, except
for Big Jim, the fiercest fighter in the whole country anywhere maybe!
He was what people called a “juvenile delinquent,” which means he was a
bad boy who didn’t like to behave himself and had done things that were
against the law.

Maybe I’d better tell you right now, in case you don’t know it, that
Mr. Foote, Little Jim’s daddy, had used his influence back at Sugar
Creek to keep Bob from having to go to reform school, and Bob had been
what is called “paroled” to him, and Little Jim himself had been glad
’cause he’d rather anybody would be _good_ than to have him be _bad_
and have to be punished for it. But Bob was still not behaving himself,
on account of he hadn’t been trained at home like most of the rest of
us. Even we were having a hard enough time to be even half as good as
we thought we were, and we had had training all our boy lives.

When Tom said to me there in the moonlight in the middle of the dock,
that he’d given his mom’s letter to his brother Bob, and I realized
that Bob was up here in the North Woods--in fact had been standing
right over there behind those bushes only a second ago--you could have
knocked me over with a moonbeam, I was so surprised. Of course, he was
gone now--somewhere or other--but where?

I asked Tom a question that was trying to get out of my mind, and it
was, “Where IS your daddy?” and he said, “I don’t know, but Bob does,
and he’ll take Mother’s letter to him.”

It seemed like the rest of the gang ought to know Bob was up here,
and yet for some reason it seemed like Poetry ought to know it first,
so the very second I had a chance after I got into my tent a little
later, and the lights were out, and Dragonfly had been quieted down
from talking and laughing--in fact, his noisy nose sounded like he
was asleep--I reached out my hand and touched Poetry and said, “You
asleep?” and he whispered quietly, “Yes,” which meant he wasn’t. So I
told him about Bob and he said, “That explains a lot of things.”

“What, for instance?” I asked, and he said, “It explains who opened the
icehouse door and let John Till out.” Then Poetry and I decided to get
up and go outside where we could talk without being heard.

I was surprised we were able to get up and out without being stopped by
Dragonfly’s waking up and asking questions or insisting on going along,
he not being able to let anybody have any secrets without wanting him
to divide them up with _him_.

A good place to talk without being heard would be down at the dock, we
decided, so away we went toward the lake where the waves were sighing
and lapping against the shore and dock posts and making the boats rock
a little--one of the boats making a little scraping noise against the
dock.

“Where was Bob standing?” Poetry asked, and when I pointed to the
bushes he started straight toward them. As you maybe know he wanted to
be a detective some day and was always looking for what detectives and
the police and the FBI call “clues”; and also Poetry was always finding
one, or something he thought was one.

As soon as we were both behind the bushes, where anybody at camp
couldn’t see us, he turned on his flashlight and shined it all around
where Bob and Tom had been standing.

“What’re we looking for?” I asked, and he answered like he always does,
“A clue.”

“What kind of a clue?” I asked, and he replied, “I’ll tell you just as
soon as I find it.”

Well, I certainly didn’t expect we’d find anything, but all of a sudden
I heard a sound from up the shore like footsteps coming toward us,
so I said in a husky whisper, “I think I _heard_ a clue coming from
somewhere”--and then I _knew_ I had heard one for up the path not very
far away I saw a flashlight flash on and off in a very fast fleeting
flash like a firefly’s flash flashing on and off down at Sugar Creek.

We crouched low, hardly daring to breathe, knowing that somebody was
coming for sure, and wondering who it was, and what did he want, and
was it Bob Till or maybe Old hook-nosed John Till himself, or who?

Right that second, I saw something white lying where my feet had been a
jiffy before. It looked like a folded white handkerchief or something,
so I stooped down, reached out my hand to touch it, and it was an
envelope of some kind.

“Little Tom’s mom’s letter,” I thought. “Bob dropped it, and is coming
back to look for it.”

Poetry and I kept even quieter than we had been, he not knowing of
course, what I’d just found and had tucked into my pajama pocket--he
and I not taking time to dress but were in our pajamas--I in my green
and white striped ones and Poetry in his purple ones.

It was a queer feeling we had, right that second. For some reason we
decided to get ourselves out of there, which we did, sneaking back
maybe fifteen feet before we decided to stop and wait to see who it was
and what he was looking for and why, if we could.

In only a few excited jiffies, whoever it was was right where we
ourselves had been, and was flashing his flashlight on and off, all
around, right where a little while before I’d picked up the envelope.
I could see he wasn’t very tall--not as tall as Big John Till, so I
decided it might be Bob again. Poetry had hold of my arm so tight it
actually hurt, which showed, even though he was usually calm in a time
of excitement, while I was the one that always got all nervous inside,
this time he was pretty tense himself.

I certainly didn’t know what to do, and would have been afraid to do it
even if I had. Besides I wouldn’t have had time to do much of anything,
for right that jiffy whoever it was, stopped looking for whatever he
was looking for, which was maybe the envelope I had in my striped
pajama pocket, and I heard his footsteps going on past, and in the
direction of Santa’s dock, which was several hundred yards farther on.

For a worried jiffy, I remembered the envelope in my pocket and thought
that it wasn’t mine, which it wasn’t, and thought I ought to call out
to whoever it was, and say, “Hey, there, mister, whatever you’re
looking for, I’ve got it, whatever it is!” but I didn’t. A little
later, Poetry and I were alone with ourselves, and the only sound there
was, was the friendly lapping of the waves against the dock posts and
the washing of other waves against the sandy shore. Away out on the
lake there was a great big shimmering silver spot of moonlight which
was very pretty. Still farther was the shadow of the trees on the
little island on the other side of which we had caught our walleye that
afternoon and where Wally had lost his life, and right that minute was
maybe half digested in the stomach of a great big ugly-snouted northern
pike.

I could feel my heart beating with excitement, but there was something
else I was feeling too, and it was the envelope I had in my pocket,
which I quick took out, and whispered for Poetry to turn on his light,
which he did, and this is what we saw on the envelope written in
pencil, that was kinda smeared like pencil marks on a letter are when a
boy has carried it around in his pocket or in his hands awhile. We saw
written in a big awkward scrawl, the name _Bob Till_, but there wasn’t
anything else, not even an address--and no postage stamp.

Quick as anything, not stopping to think that that letter was private
property and he had no right to open it, Poetry had the inside out
of the outside and was unfolding it, and I was holding his trembling
flashlight on it to see what it said, and--would you believe it?--it
was a sheet of white typewriter paper and there wasn’t a thing on it,
not even a pencil mark.

“’Tsanother invisible-ink map,” Poetry said to me, and I remembered
quick the other one we’d found which I told you about in another story,
and which when we’d warmed it up had turned out to be a map of the
territory up here, showing where the little kidnapped girl had been
found, and which way the broken twig trails led and we had followed
them and finally found the ransom money in the old icehouse.

“And here’s a _note_,” Poetry whispered, as a little folded piece of
paper with writing on it tumbled out.

That note, which was printed in pencil, said,

  “Dear Bob:

  Santa’s away tonight. Get my boat which is tied to his dock and
  pick me up at the Indian cemetery at 10 o’clock and we’ll get the
  rest of the ransom money.... If I’m not there, wait till I come.

                                                  Your Dad.”

Well, when I saw what Poetry’s trembling flashlight showed us was
written on that unfolded piece of paper, you could have knocked me over
with a question mark, I was so surprised. Our mystery had come to life
again and we were going to have another exciting adventure before our
vacation was over.... Hurrah!... Boy oh boy!

Poetry spoke first, saying excitedly, “I’ll bet Bob’s going down to get
the boat _right now!_ We’ve got to stop him!”

“Why?” I said, and he said, “Stop him and make him tell us where his
dad is. Then we or the police can capture him.”

“Bob wouldn’t tell us,” I said, being sure he wouldn’t.

“Well, for goodness’ sake, let’s do _something!_” Poetry exclaimed
to me, and when I said “What?” he said, “Get the gang and beat Bob
to the cemetery!” which made as good sense as anything I could have
thought of, especially since right that minute I heard an outboard
motor somewhere and guessed that Bob had already started the powerful
black-shrouded motor that was on the boat John Till had had, and which
the police had left at Santa’s dock.

We didn’t have time to decide anything right then, though, ’cause
almost as quick as a lightning bug can flash his flash on and off, we
heard somebody running toward us from the direction of Santa’s cottage
and, a second later, two forms came puffing out into the moonlight and
into our camp--and it was Big Jim and Circus, who, as you already know,
were staying all night in Santa’s cabin, just to sort of look after
things for him.

I thought of Tom Till, and hated to have him know what was going on,
which he would if there was a lot of boy noise and the whole camp
should wake up and come scrambling over each other down to the dock in
crazy-looking pajamas, talking and wondering “What on earth?”

So Poetry and I shushed Big Jim and Circus and the four of us started
to tell each other what we knew.

“Somebody took John Till’s boat!” Circus puffed. “Hear him?--there he
goes now!”

About two hundred yards from shore I saw a shadow of a boat out in the
moonlight and heard the roar of a powerful motor, and knew we’d have to
hurry if we got to the Indian cemetery first.

“Let’s step on the gas and get going,” Circus said as soon as we’d
told them about the note we had found, and Poetry said, “What kind of
gas--outboard motor, or station wagon?”

Big Jim, knowing that most of the Sugar Creek Gang had more bravery
than good sense and that we sometimes did things that were dangerous,
without thinking first, said, “This is another job for the police,”
but Poetry spoke up and said, “Let’s be policemen ourselves. By the
time we could phone them and they could get there, it’d be too late,”
which it would be, I thought, so we decided we ought to try to get to
the cemetery first by driving there as fast as we could in the station
wagon.

What to do about Tom, was our first problem, but we wouldn’t have much
time to try to solve it--some of us simply had to get going to the
cemetery to be there before Bob could get to the Narrows, zip through
it, and into that other lake where the cemetery was. It was half past
nine right that second, and Bob was supposed to meet his dad there at
ten. If only we could get there before either one of them did, and hide
somewhere in the bushes. Then maybe we could sneak up on them, and get
both of them at once--’cause it looked like Bob was in on the business
of being a helper to the kidnapper too.

Barry and Little Jim and Tom Till were the only ones left in Barry’s
tent. Barry must have heard our excited talk, ’cause in a jiffy his
tent flap plopped open and out he came and wanted to know what on earth
all the excitement was all about. We told him and showed him the note
and he also heard Bob’s motor on the lake at the same time. We didn’t
stop to try to figure out why John Till had _written_ to Bob instead of
just _telling_ him where to meet him, or came tumbling out of Barry’s
tent and in our direction, and anything. Right that minute almost,
Little Jim and Tom Dragonfly came out of the other tent, and there we
all were--too many--and some of us too little--to go on a kidnapper
hunt.

I guess I never was so disappointed in my life as I was right that
minute, though, ’cause Barry took charge of things quick, and said,
“You boys all stay right here, and look after camp. I’ve a phone call
to make--and I want to see the firewarden a minute.”

“Is there a fire somewhere?” Tom Till asked quick, sniffing to see if
anything smelled like smoke, and Dragonfly did the same thing, and
sneezed just like he had actually smelled something he was allergic to,
which he is to nearly everything in the world anyway.

A jiffy later, Barry in the station wagon was riding down the lane
toward Santa’s boathouse and I knew that in a few jiffies more he’d be
pulling in low up a steep hill, swishing along a sandy trail at the
top, and driving like mad down a winding road through the forest to
the firewarden’s house, which you know about if you’ve read “The Sugar
Creek Gang Goes North.” There he’d make a terribly fast phone call to
the police--or else let the firewarden’s wife do it while he and the
firewarden would beat it on to the Indian cemetery. They’d probably
stop before they got there though, and sneak carefully up along the
lake shore to where Bob’s boat would be coming in, and, if they could,
they’d capture both Bob and John. I felt terribly disappointed inside,
like I’d just blown up a very pretty great big colored balloon, and
somebody had stuck a pin into it and it had burst--not knowing there
was going to be more excitement where we were than where Barry and the
firewarden would be.



9


The station wagon hadn’t any sooner disappeared and the whirring sound
of its motor faded away, leaving us all with Barry’s orders to go
back to bed ringing in our ears, than I remembered the blank sheet of
typewriter paper I had in my pocket and which we hadn’t bothered to
show to Barry but only John Till’s note to his boy, Bob.

Little Jim and Tom Till didn’t know anything about what was going
on, and they, being sleepy anyway, seemed glad to get back to their
tent and make a dive back into the sleep from which they had dragged
themselves a little while before.

Dragonfly was suspicious, though, and when he noticed Poetry and Big
Jim and Circus and me talking together, he got a stubborn expression in
his voice and whined a question at us which was, “You guys got a secret
of some kind?”

We didn’t want him to start any fuss; besides sometimes he wasn’t such
a dumb person to let in on a secret, so for a little while we left
Little Jim and Tom Till alone in their tent and the five of us went
into the other tent, lit a lantern, unfolded the piece of typewriter
paper and heated it over the hot top of the lantern, and in only a few
minutes we were looking at a map of the territory up here--showing the
camp where we were and the place where the little Ostberg girl had been
lying, just like the other map we’d found. Also different other places
were identified, such as Santa’s boathouse, the firewarden’s cabin, and
the broken twig trail which led off in different directions....

“Both maps are alike,” Circus said, and it looked like they were.
Poetry traced the faint markings of the new one with his pencil so we
could study it better.

“What do you suppose Bob had two maps for?” Dragonfly asked, and Poetry
answered by saying, “He maybe had only one at first, but when he lost
it,--the one we found last week--he or Hook-nose made him another one.”

“Yeah,” I said, with a questionmark in my voice, “but why draw them in
invisible ink?”

“Maybe so nobody would think they were maps.”

“But how could Bob _himself_ know the different places if he couldn’t
see the lines and different marks?” I asked, wondering how.

It was Dragonfly who answered my doubt by saying, “Oh he probably had
what they call an ‘original’--and as soon as he’d memorized it, he drew
another one in invisible ink and tore the first one up!” His idea made
sense, I thought, and said so, and so did Poetry.

Well, we weren’t getting anywhere--and weren’t supposed to anyway. It
certainly didn’t seem fair to us that Barry hadn’t let us go with him,
but he was camp boss and that was that, and we were supposed to crawl
back into our sleeping bags and go to sleep. Imagine that! Right while
Barry and the firewarden, and maybe the police, were capturing Old
hook-nosed John Till and his son Bob! _Imagine_ it! It was terribly
disappointing.

And then all of a sudden Dragonfly gasped and said, “Hey, Gang! Look!”
He had the newest map and was holding it up between his dragonfly-like
eyes and the light. His voice had contagious excitement in it, so we
all looked quick to see what he saw. But it wasn’t anything--only two
crude-looking fish away off on the part of the map which was supposed
to represent a lake.

“A couple of fish,” I said, disgusted with him for getting us excited
over nothing. “That’s to show you there is a lake there.”

“Yeah,” he said, still excited, “but look where they _are!_ They’re
right over there where that island is where we caught our walleye
today.”

Big Jim answered that by saying, “Maybe they’re supposed to locate a
good fishing place.”

And then Dragonfly got another idea which sent our minds whirling like
summer cyclones at Sugar Creek, when he said, “You know what that
is? That’s where the island is, and that’s where John Till has been
catching the big fish to put the ransom money in, and that island’s
where maybe the rest of the money is right this very minute. I’ll bet
that’s where they’ll go to get the rest of it, if Barry or the police
don’t catch ’em first!”

Well, sir, you could have knocked me over with an invisible ink map,
when Dragonfly gave us that wonderful idea. It seemed like he was
exactly right, and it seemed a shame that I hadn’t thought of it
first--in fact, for a minute it almost seemed like I had, because all
of a sudden I was remembering what I’d thought in the afternoon when
Poetry and I had been exploring that island looking for clues. Also I
remembered that that island is where I’d wanted to go to start hunting
for the treasure in the first place when I’d thought of playing
Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday and also Treasure Island. I just
knew that Dragonfly and I were right, so as quick as a flash I said,
“If we really want to capture Bob and Old Hook-nose, we’d better beat
it over to that little island, and be hiding there somewhere when they
get there, and capture them ourselves.”

Big Jim answered me in a tone of voice that sounded like he thought I
was only about half bright when he said, “Who wants to get the living
daylights knocked out of him in the middle of the night? When you saw
him the _first_ time, didn’t he have a big hunting knife?”

I remembered he had--in fact, in my mind’s eye, I could still see that
wicked looking knife with its five-inch-long blade that looked like it
could not only make a quick slice into the stomach of a fish but could
do the same thing to a boy. When Big Jim said that to me like that, it
seemed like maybe he was right and I was very ignorant for wanting to
be brave without using good sense.

“Besides,” Big Jim said, “those two silly looking fish out there on the
map don’t mean a thing. We’d better all get some sleep or we’ll be as
tired as wrung-out dishrags tomorrow.”

Well, that was orders, and a boy is supposed to obey anybody who has
a right to be his boss--such as a schoolteacher or a camp leader or
either one of his parents, or somebody he is working for. Big Jim
didn’t always get obeyed, though, on account of our gang nearly always
voted on important things to decide what to do, so right away Poetry,
who thought my idea wasn’t so bad after all, spoke up and said, “I move
we all get into Barry’s big boat and go roaring over to that island,
beach the boat on the sandy shore of the cove behind some willows and
be there waiting when Bob and Hook-nose come--if they do.”

“Second the motion,” I said quick, but Big Jim exploded our idea by
saying, “It’s _Barry’s_ orders to go to bed.”

It certainly wasn’t easy to go to bed when there was so much excitement
we’d rather be mixed up in, but orders were orders, so pretty soon I
was in my sleeping bag in the same tent with Dragonfly and Poetry--Big
Jim and Circus having decided to go back to Santa’s cabin to spend the
rest of the night like they’d planned to in the first place.

Pretty soon, in spite of feeling excited and wondering whether anybody
would catch Old John Till and his son Bob, I dropped off to sleep--not
even knowing I was going to do it--as a certain poem says, “No boy
knows when he goes to sleep.” It seemed like even in my sleep I could
hear an outboard motor roaring out on the lake, first coming close to
us, then fading away and then a little later coming back again.

Once when I was half awake and half asleep, I heard Poetry turn over
beside me and then I heard him whisper, “Bill--listen, will you?
Somebody’s out there in a motor boat going back and forth in front of
our dock.”

It took a jiffy for me to realize where I was, and why, and then I
was actually listening to an outboard motor away out on our lake like
somebody was doing what Poetry said he was.

A second later, Poetry sat up, scrambled over to the tent flap, worked
it open, and in another jiffy I had my red head beside his, and we
were both looking out across the moonlit water, and seeing a dark
fast-moving boat out there.

“The crazy goof!” Poetry said to me in my left ear, and I said to
him in his right one, “He’s cutting big wide circles,” which is what
whoever it was was doing.

It seemed silly for anybody to do what he was doing; so, because it
was a crazy night anyway, and so many crazy things had happened on our
fishing trip, Poetry and I squeezed our crazy way through the tent flap
and went down to the dock to see what on earth anybody was doing out
there going round and round like that. And then all of a sudden, Poetry
gasped breathily and said, “Hey, _there isn’t anybody in that boat.
It’s empty!_”

Just that second the boat came out into the middle of a big wide silver
path which lakes have on moonlight nights, when you look out across
them in the direction of the moon. And sure enough, Poetry was right. I
could hardly believe my surprised eyes, but in that silver path was a
row boat about the size of the one Bob Till had gone away in, cutting
big, terribly fast wide circles, going round and round and round. The
motor sounded exactly like the big black shrouded two-cylinder one I
knew how to run so well and which Bob had taken from Santa’s dock.

It didn’t make sense--a boat out there without anybody in it.

And then, Poetry said something else, which was, “Hey, it’s getting
_closer!_ The wind is blowing it toward the shore. It gets closer every
time it makes a circle!”--which I noticed it was.

What to do or whether to do anything, was the question. Poetry and I
stood there on the dock in our pajamas, not slapping at the mosquitoes,
on account of when the wind blows, like it was right that second,
mosquitoes’ smallish wings can’t control their flight, and they stop
looking for boys to bite.

_Whirr! ... Roar! ... Whizzz! ..._ and also _Plop! ... plop! ... plop!
..._--the motor doing the whirring and the whizzing, and the bottom of
the boat doing the plop-plop-plopping on the waves.

“It’s empty!” we said to each other, and it looked like it was, for
sure.

“Maybe whoever was in it fell out. Maybe it was John Till and he was
drunk and fell out and the boat just keeps on running,” I said. I knew
a motor could do that, and if the steering handle was set, it would
maybe stay set, and the motor would keep on going until it ran out
of gas, or until it rammed into an island or a shore somewhere....
Then, almost before anything could happen if there had been anything
to, that boat straightened out a little, like the motor’s steering
handle had swung around--which they do sometimes when nobody holds
onto them--and the boat came roaring straight toward our dock at a
terrific rate of speed.... In another half minute maybe it would crash
ker-wham-splinter-smash into the end of the dock where we were--right
there by the flagpole. It was coming toward us as straight as a torpedo
and almost as fast, I thought, just like this was a war and somebody
had shot a torpedo straight for where we were.

And then, a second later while my mind was whirling, not believing it
could or would happen, the sharp prow of that big white boat with the
fierce racing motor on the other end of it, struck with a crash that
jarred and shook the dock, glanced sidewise, swerved up along its edge
and ran ker-squash-jam into the sandy shore, while at the same time or
just before, the propeller, down in the water, struck the shallow sandy
bottom, which made the motor tilt forward.

The motor made a couple of ridiculous-sounding discouraged sneezes and
coughs, and stopped. Then almost before the sound of the crash had
stopped splitting my ear-drums, I was over near the boat, looking down
into it and shining my flashlight into it. There lying in the bottom
was a great big quart-sized whiskey bottle, and my imagination told me
that maybe John Till had been in the boat and that he had gotten drunk
and had fallen out and was out there in the lake somewhere already
drowned. My heart sank as I thought of what a hurt heart Little Tom
Till would have when he found it out.

The waves of the lake were washing against the dock post and lapping at
the shore and the boat, and I knew it was a terribly tense minute. And
then Poetry, who was beside me, grabbed my arm like he had just heard
something terribly important, and said, “Listen ... SH! ... _Listen!_”

I listened, and didn’t hear anything at first, and then all of a sudden
I did, and it was a scared voice calling from somewhere saying, “HELP
... HELP ... HELP...!”



10


I certainly didn’t dream that things were going to turn out the way
they did when that mad boat came racing toward us and whammed itself
into our dock and up onto the shore and turned part way over on its
side, and when I heard a voice calling from somewhere, “HELP ... HELP
... HELP!” The first thing I thought of was that somebody, I didn’t
know who, was out there somewhere drowning and had to have help right
away quick. Santa’s house was several hundred yards up the shore and
any yelling I or any of us could have done for Big Jim and Circus to
come and help us, couldn’t have been heard by them, and by the time any
of us could have run up there and waked them up, it would maybe be too
late to save whoever’s life needed to be saved.

Quick as anything, I said to Poetry, “We’ve got to do something or
maybe somebody will drown out there!”

But say, I didn’t have to tell Poetry to step on the gas to get going.
He was the fastest acting barrel-shaped boy you ever saw. In less time
than it takes me to write it for you, Poetry had quick picked up two
oars that were lying there and tossed them into a row boat that was
on the opposite side of the dock, and a jiffy later was unwinding the
anchor rope from around the dock post. Then he yelled to me, “Hurry up
and get in quick, and get the oars into the oarlocks, and let’s row out
quick and save him.”

Even while we were making a lot of noise, it seemed I could still hear
that voice out there calling, “HELP ... HELP ... H-E-L-P!...”

We got the boat’s prow headed into the waves, which is what you have
to do when you row on a lake--keep the prow headed toward the oncoming
waves, or you’ll maybe get your boat filled with water.

Right that minute I heard another yell coming from the direction of
the tents, and it was Dragonfly racing toward us in flapping pajamas
wanting to know what on earth was going on and why.

I yelled back to him from the boat I was already in, and said, “Hey,
you--Dragonfly! Beat it down to Santa’s cabin and tell Big Jim and
Circus to step on the gas and get Santa’s motor boat and come out to
help us! There’s somebody drowning out there in the moonlight!”

As quick as anything, Poetry and I were on our way. Our boat had three
life-preserver cushions in it--enough for Poetry and me and whoever was
out there, which of course had to be John Till, I thought, on account
of the whiskey bottle in the bottom of the boat that had just roared
its way up onto our shore.

If our own boat should upset or something, and we were tossed out into
the water, we could swim to our cushions and by keeping our bodies down
under the water and holding onto the cushions for dear life, we could
manage to keep our faces above water, and the cushions would hold us up.

Poetry and I sat in the middle seat, side by side, with Poetry sitting
nearer the center than I so our boat would be well balanced, on
account of he was almost a whole lot heavier than I was. Each one of us
used an oar and we rowed as fast as we could in the direction the call
for HELP had come from.

Our oars made a squeaking noise in the locks and the blades made a
little splashing sound in the water, and also the waves plopping
against the prow of the boat, made it hard for us to hear the call for
help, and also hard to tell just which direction to go, but we kept
on rowing hard, and I could see the shore getting farther and farther
away. For a jiffy I was glad that my parents had taught me how to work
on the farm and that I had muscles that sometimes felt as strong as
the muscles of the man in a poem Poetry is always quoting, the Village
Blacksmith, which goes,

  “Under the spreading chestnut tree
      The village smithy stands,
   The smith--a mighty man is he,
      With large and sinewy hands,
   And the muscles of his brawny arms
      Are strong as iron bands.”

But even though my arm muscles felt that strong, my knees felt sort
of weak as I realized that a man’s life was depending on us.... We
kept on rowing as hard and as fast as we could, grunting and sweating
and hoping, and also doing what any boy with good sense, or even
without it, would do at a time like that--we were _praying_ as hard as
anything, too. Anyway I was, and I was asking God to please help us
get there quick--for when a boy is in the middle of such a dangerous
excitement as I was in, he will ask God to help him even though he
hasn’t been a very good boy and isn’t sure God will have anything to do
with him. I tell you, all of a sudden, I was thinking of Little Tom
and his swell mother and it just seemed like it would be terrible for
them to lose their daddy, even if he was maybe the meanest man that
ever lived at Sugar Creek.

Another reason I was praying with every grunt, was that I knew John
Till wasn’t a Christian and if he didn’t become one before he died,
he’d never get to go to heaven, on account of my parents had told me
the Bible says that, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the
kingdom of God.” Anybody who knows what Pop calls the “ABC’s of the
Gospel,” knows that you can be born again just by letting the Saviour
into your heart, but John Till had never done that.

I guess maybe I didn’t use any words with my prayer, though, but only
some worried thoughts, which I sort of shot up to heaven as quick as I
could like I shoot arrows with my bow when I’m back home around Sugar
Creek. In fact, for a jiffy it seemed like I was sort of shooting
prayer-arrows up to God, and that on the end of each one, instead of a
little feather, I had written a note on a strip of paper, and on each
note it said, “Please, God--Heavenly Father, Old John Till’s soul is
lost, and if he drowns without being saved, it’ll be terrible. Help us
get to him quick.”

Then Poetry interrupted my thoughts saying, “Stop a minute--LISTEN!”

I let my oar rest a fourth of a jiffy and right away the waves made
our boat swerve a little, like it would swing around if we didn’t keep
on rowing, but I heard a voice not more than fifty feet farther on,
and looking quick, I saw something dark in the water, struggling, and
the voice with a desperate gasp, said, “Hurry--I--HELP....” Then it
stopped.

I tell you we hurried and I kept on sending up arrows--grunting and
pulling and wishing. Then without knowing I was going to say it, I
said, “O please don’t let him drown. ’Cause Poetry and I have got a
secret about one of Your Bible verses, that says if two of us agree on
something we ask for, You will answer us.”

It just seemed like maybe John Till had to be saved, on account of it
seemed like that promise in the Bible was especially about him. Then
without knowing I was going to say it aloud, I said, “And here comes
another arrow with the same thing written on it,” and Poetry beside me
said, “What arrow? What are you talking about?”

I explained it to him, while we rowed harder, and even though he didn’t
say much, I knew he was doing the same thing I was--like my parents had
taught me to, when I was little, and which I still liked to do, even
though my folks sometimes might wonder if I ever did or not, on account
of I was sometimes too mischievous. Also sometimes I wasn’t always what
they called a “good boy,” which is an expression they use when they
mean I ought to behave myself.

In another jiffy, we were close to John Till, and I noticed it was
really him, and he didn’t have any life preserver pillow. He had
probably been drunk and had just tumbled out of his boat while it was
racing terribly fast, and had been swimming ever since.

I quick grabbed up a cushion in front of my feet and with a wide sweep
of my arm tossed it out toward him. My aim was as good as David’s had
been when he had used his sling shot on the giant that time in the
Bible. The pillow landed with a ker-plop right in front of Old John
and I saw him make a fierce desperate lunge toward it and grab hold of
it with both arms and heard him yell in a sputtering voice something I
never dreamed I’d hear from Old John Till’s voice that night, and it
was, “_Thank God, I’m saved!_”

Then he quit trying to swim and just lay back on his back, and held
onto the cushion and let himself float, with only his face above water
with the cushion in front of his chin, which is the way to float, if
you ever have to hold onto a life-preserver cushion.

In another jiffy we had our boat there, and Old John was crying and
gasping and saying, “Thank God--Oh thank you, boys, thank you!”

How to get him into the boat was the question, though, for the minute
he would try to get in, his heavy weight might tip us over.

But say, in spite of being exhausted and gasping for breath, Old John
Till still had good sense, and didn’t try to climb in right away, but
got his breath first--besides, in a minute Circus and Big Jim with
Dragonfly holding a flashlight to help them see us, came motoring out
and in a little while we had John in the boat, and we were all on our
way to shore, with John so tired out he just lay his terribly wet self
down and sort of shook and sniffled and half cried while we moved along.

I tell you it’s a wonderful feeling when you’ve done something like
that. You’re glad not only ’cause you helped do it, but if you believe
what Poetry and I believed, you feel like you and the Heavenly Father
are very good friends--which is maybe the best feeling a boy ever has.

But say, I’ll have to wind up this story quicker than anything, for if
it gets very much longer the people who make it into a book for you
will want me to cut off the end of it so it won’t make too many pages.

Anyway that is the last part of the last story that happened to us on
our camping trip, and it was the best vacation we’d had in our whole
lives, although I suppose there will be a few more camping adventures
before the gang grows up, and if there are and if anything especially
interesting happens, I’ll see how quick I can write it for you.

As we rowed along toward shore, Old John just lay in the bottom of
the boat like a terribly big wet fish that had just been caught, and
was so tired out he couldn’t move. Pretty soon, Poetry whispered,
“D’you s’pose he’s pretending to be good--and that he just said those
religious words back there, to fool us, and is maybe playing possum?
D’you s’pose when we get to shore, he’ll quick make a dive for the
bushes and run away?”

I’d seen possums act like that back home--be terribly lively until they
were caught, and then they would do what is called “play possum”--just
roll over on their sides and curl up into a half circle and shut their
eyes and act dead until we or the dogs went away a few yards and then
they would come to quick life, scramble to their ridiculous looking
hands-like feet and run possum-ety sizzle to a tree and climb up it or
to a hole in the ground and dive into it.

“I don’t know,” I said to Poetry, “but he sounded like he meant what he
said when he said what he said back there.” I wanted to believe it,
’cause I wanted Tom Till to have a brand new daddy like Circus had got
when his pop had been saved a couple of years before.

Well, it turned out that I was right. That whiskey bottle we’d seen in
the bottom of his boat hadn’t had whiskey in it at all, but was one
Little Jim had put a gospel tract in, and Old John had found it and
read it, and the Lord Himself had used it to do what our Sugar Creek
minister calls, “convict him of his sins.” On top of that, he had also
stopped to read the message in the other whiskey bottle which had been
used as a marker for a good crappie-fishing place out in front of the
Indian cemetery. Also he had been listening on his portable radio
to the radio program of the Church of the Cross. So, after he had
accidentally tumbled out of the boat tonight, he’d gotten half scared
to death, and all the verses of the Bible and the sermons he had read
and listened to, came splashing into his mind; and without stopping to
think that he didn’t even believe in God, he had prayed to Him to not
only save his body from drowning, but to save his _soul_ from being
lost.

When we’d rescued him, he had had the other $5,000 of the ransom money
in his trousers pocket. It was pretty wet, but as good as gold. And--do
you know what?--he told us he hadn’t been helping the real kidnapper at
all, but had only wanted to get the $1,000 reward!

“And now, boys,” John’s gruff, trembling voice said, as we listened to
him explain things, “you’ll have to start praying for Bob--we had a
quarrel tonight, and he’s gone away somewhere.”

“Where?” Tom Till spoke up and asked. All of us were sitting around a
camp fire which we’d started quick, to get John warmed up after we’d
got some of Barry’s dry clothes on him, and a blanket wrapped around
him--most of the rest of us being wrapped in blankets too.

John looked down at his red-haired, freckled-faced, trembling-voiced
boy, and said, “I don’t know. I--he thought we ought to keep the $5,000
instead of turning it in. I--I’m afraid I was too hard on him, maybe.
But when we couldn’t agree about this $5,000, I took the boat and left
him there at the Indian cemetery.”

We asked Old John different questions, one of them being, “How’d
you know where the ransom money was?” and he said, “I studied
the newspapers and the pictures, and found the kidnapper’s map
in the grave-house of an old Indian chief. I made two copies in
invisible ink--one for myself and the other for Bob, but I lost mine
somewhere--and you boys found it.”

“But why, if you only wanted the $1,000 reward, did you bury the money
in the fish in the icehouse?” we asked him.

“I didn’t,” he said, just as Little Tom Till shoved a stick into the
fire and about a thousand yellow sparks shot in different directions of
up toward the sky. “Old Brains Powers, the kidnapper, buried it there.
I’d been digging it up.... I had five thousand dollars already dug up,
and was coming back to get the rest of it, but you boys beat me to it.
Then when I went into the icehouse, you slammed the door on me and
barred it, and I would have stayed there until the police came, but
Bob, who had just gotten up here, heard me hollering and let me out.”

Poetry spoke up and said, with a doubt in his voice, “If you were only
after the money so you could get the reward for finding it, why did you
run away?”

“I was afraid the police wouldn’t believe my story.”

Well, there is the whole mystery untangled for you, and a wonderful
camping trip all over for another year.... Boy oh boy! I hope I get
to go again next year--if not to the same place, then up to Canada or
somewhere where there will be even more exciting adventures than there
were this year.

But before that happens there’ll be a whole year full of different
things that will happen back at home at Sugar Creek. I just know that
something terribly interesting _will_ happen to us before another
summer rolls around. In fact, there was a letter from my folks in our
mail box at the dock the very day we left camp, saying, “We’ll be
looking for you, Bill--and do we ever have interesting news for you!
Don’t try to guess what it is--’cause you can’t.”

And--well, all the way home in our station wagon, I did just what my
parents told me not to--I kept trying to guess what the interesting
news would be....


THE END



The GANG’S thrilling experiences in the North Woods come to an exciting
climax in NORTH WOODS MANHUNT. Two of the boys become first-rate
sleuths and do a night solution to the entire mystery. This is the
fourth book in the new Sugar Creek Gang Series by Paul Hutchens, the
happy friend of all Young America.

[Illustration]

  Be sure to read all the books in the SCRIPTURE PRESS series:

    THE SUGAR CREEK GANG GOES NORTH
    ADVENTURES IN AN INDIAN CEMETERY
    THE SUGAR CREEK GANG DIGS FOR TREASURE
    NORTH WOODS MANHUNT
    LOST IN A SUGAR CREEK BLIZZARD
    SUGAR CREEK GANG ON THE MEXICAN BORDER
    GREEN TENT MYSTERY AT SUGAR CREEK
    10,000 MINUTES AT SUGAR CREEK
    BLUE COW AT SUGAR CREEK
    OLD STRANGER’S SECRET AT SUGAR CREEK
    THE SUGAR CREEK GANG AT SNOW GOOSE LODGE
    THE SUGAR CREEK GANG GOES WESTERN
    WE KILLED A WILDCAT AT SUGAR CREEK
    THE HAUNTED HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK
    TRAP LINE THIEF AT SUGAR CREEK
    WATERMELON MYSTERY AT SUGAR CREEK
    DOWN A SUGAR CREEK CHIMNEY
    WILD HORSE CANYON MYSTERY

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

  _Published and Distributed Exclusively by_

SCRIPTURE PRESS
SCRIPTURE PRESS PUBLICATIONS, INC.
1825 College Avenue   ·   Wheaton, Illinois



Transcriber’s Note:

The Contents has been added by the transcriber.

Punctuation has been standardised. Variations in hyphenation have been
retained as they appear in the original publication. Changes have been
made as follows:

  Page 61
    which he quick shook _changed to_
    which he quickly shook





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