“Sure it is,” Poetry said. “It’s got to be!”
“But it’s not!” I said, more wide awake than I usually am when I am
wide awake. I must have made a lot of excited noise ’cause right away
Dragonfly stopped snoring, sneezed a couple of times, and wanted to
know what was going on, and why.
“Nothing,” my fat goat said to him. “We’re just looking for something.”
“Well, for–! Look with your _eyes_ instead of your _voices_,”
Dragonfly said, “I’m allergic to–_kerchew!_–to–_kerchew!_–to NOISE!”
“It’s your own snoring that woke you up,” Poetry said to my Man Friday.
“Now go back to sleep.”
I certainly felt queer. “Somebody’s _stolen_ it,” I said to Poetry. I
was running my hands frantically through all the pockets of my trousers
and my shirt and all the other clothes I’d had on during the day.
We flashed the flashlight all around the tent and into every corner,
where the envelope might have fallen out of one of my pockets. “We’ve
_got_ to find it,” Poetry said. “Where do you suppose you lost it?”
“_Lost_ it? Somebody’s sneaked in here and stolen it.”
“Hey!” Poetry said, like he had thought of a bright idea. “When did you
remember looking at it last?”
My thoughts galloped back over the evening, and the afternoon, and I
“What pocket did you have it in last?” Poetry asked, and I thought a
jiffy, and said, “Why, my shirt pocket where I keep my New Testament. I
put it there when I–”
And then I stopped talking, gasped out loud. I’d thought of something.
“Maybe we–maybe it dropped out of my pocket back there in the cabin
when we were climbing out of the window.”
Then Poetry said, “Yeah, or maybe you left it out on the front porch,
and that’s why John Till didn’t come back to try to stop us. Maybe he
found it on the floor out there and picked it up–if it was what he’d
been looking for–”
My acrobatic goat came to life then, and groaned and turned over and
tried to go back to sleep. But Poetry was more excited than I was. He
said, “Bill Collins, we’ve GOT to find that map, and I don’t think we
lost it around here anywhere.”
“Let’s all go back to sleep,” my Man Friday said.
“Go ahead–who’s stopping you?” I said. In a jiffy I was scrambling
into my clothes, while Poetry was doing the same thing, each one of us
knowing what the other one of us wanted to do.
In less than a little while we had on our clothes so we wouldn’t get
cold while we stepped outside into the kinda chilly night, like nights
are up North even in the summertime. We had our two flashlights and
were soon looking around the outside of our tent, sneaking along as
quietly as we could so as not to wake up any of the rest of the gang in
the other tent.
We flashed our flashlights on and off all around the circle where we
had been sitting at the campfire service, but there wasn’t a sign of
any envelope there. Then we looked all around the lean-to where we had
gotten the dry logs for Eagle Eye’s Indian fire, but still didn’t find
anything, so Poetry and I followed the path up the shore to the fish
cemetery and looked all around where we had been digging to bury the
fish heads and entrails.
“Maybe it fell out of your pocket when you were digging here,” Poetry
said, but there wasn’t a sign of what we were looking for there
anywhere either. It was just like looking for a needle in a haystack
when there isn’t any needle to look for.
“Will you _ever_!” Poetry exclaimed, tossing his light all around in a
circle at the newly-made fish graves. “The coons’ve already been here,”
which I could see they had. I flashed my flashlight from place to place
and off into the woods in a big circle and up into the trees but
didn’t see a thing that looked like bright shining eyes or pretty gray
fur or a furry tail with black furry rings around it, which is the kind
of tails ring-tailed coons have.
From the fish cemetery we went out to the end of the dock and back,
then to our tent again. When we stopped in front of the closed flap
we listened, but my Man Friday and my acrobatic goat were as quiet as
mice, so we decided they were asleep.
“Do you know what?” Poetry said, and I said, “What?” and he said,
“I think we’d better go back up along the trail where we were this
afternoon to see if maybe we dropped it along there somewhere.”
I couldn’t imagine us being able to find it at night, like that, even
if it was there. Besides, I still had the notion–in fact, a very
creepy feeling inside of me–that somebody must’ve sneaked into our
tent while we were asleep and stolen it out of my pocket.
“Well,” Poetry said, “when did you last _look_ at it? When did you last
have it _out_ of your pocket? Where were you when you _last_ saw it?”
and I must confess that the last time I had seen the envelope was when
we were still in the cabin. I had shoved it into my shirt pocket right
beside where I kept my New Testament.
When I told Poetry that, he said, “O.K., then, when did you last have
your New Testament out of your pocket?”
Say, I gasped out loud when he said that like that, for I remembered
that I’d had my New Testament out of my pocket when I was on the porch
of the old cabin John Till was in, and had been holding it in my hand
while I was looking out across the very pretty terribly stormy lake.
“You mean you haven’t looked at it since then?” Poetry asked me,
astonished, and I said, “No.” I was astonished even at myself, but then
of course we’d all decided not to tell the rest of the gang but to keep
it secret for a while, so that explained why I hadn’t taken it out of
my pocket. Eagle Eye hadn’t asked us to read any verses out of the
Bible, so I hadn’t even thought of opening my New Testament. If I had,
I would no doubt have noticed that the envelope was missing.
“O.K., come on,” Poetry said. “Let’s get going,” which we did, swishing
as fast as we could through the wet grass and along the path that was
bordered by the still wettish bushes, although the late afternoon sun
had dried things off quite a bit.
Down the shore we went, past the boathouse, up the steep hill and
along the sandy road, shining our flashlights on and off as we went.
I carried with me a stout stick, just in case we ran onto anything
or anybody that might need to be socked in order to save our lives.
As we swished along in the moonlight, using our flashlights, I was
glad there weren’t supposed to be any bears up here, and that where
we were camping there weren’t supposed to be any wild animals except
deer, polecats, raccoons, chipmunks and maybe a few other more or less
friendly wild animals, all of which would be half scared to death if
they saw us hurrying past carrying flashlights.
When we came to the place where we had found the little Ostberg girl,
we flashed our lights all around and on the tree Circus had climbed,
and all around where my acrobatic goat’s fire-cracker had started the
little fire which we had put out in a hurry. I even went over and
picked up the empty prune can which the cannibals had left, and which
the goats hadn’t eaten, and looked inside, knowing, of course, that the
envelope wasn’t there.
“We’d better follow the trail of broken twigs down to John Till’s
cabin,” Poetry said. “Maybe it fell out of your pocket down there some
Say, I was scared to get anywhere near John Till, remembering his
big hunting knife, but I kept thinking all the time what I had been
thinking before, which was, “What if John Till has found the map, and
has gone to dig for the treasure? If the police find him, with it in
his possession, the newspapers’ll print all the story, and the Sugar
Creek Gang will get a black eye all over the country. On top of that,
Little Tom Till will be ashamed to come to Sunday school or even to
school; besides, if we can save Old hook-nosed John Till from having
to go to jail, he might not ever have to go again.” But I knew that
IF he had to go once more, having been in jail a good many times in
his life, he’d maybe have to stay in ten or fifteen years this time.
So if we could stop him from finding the ransom money, it’d be a good
idea. Besides, the money was supposed to be used for a hospital on a
foreign missionary field, which made it seem important that we find it
When we came to the first broken twig, even as scared as Poetry and I
were we zipped on, using our flashlights till we came to the next, and
the next. In a little while, we were at the top of the hill looking
down at the moonlight on the lake. Between us and the lake was the
cabin where we had had all our excitement in the afternoon.
“Hey, look!” Poetry said to me. “There’s smoke coming out of the
chimney!” And sure enough there was. We could see it in the moonlight,
rising slowly from the brick chimney top and spreading itself out into
a large lazy cloud just like the one Little Jim had whispered to me
about, that was hanging above our heads and that had reminded him of
the one that had been above the camp of the people in the Bible, which
meant that God was right there looking after them and loving them and
For a minute, right in the middle of all that excitement I got a warm
feeling in my heart that God was right there with Poetry and me and
that He loved us and was looking after us, and also we were doing the
“Look!” I whispered to Poetry, holding onto his arm so tight he said,
“Hey, not so tight–I _am_ looking!”
Through one of the windows, we could see a flickering fire in the
fireplace. From where we were, we could see past the kitchen window,
but couldn’t see into it. Then I felt my hair rising right up under my
hat, for there was the shadow of a man just like he’d climbed out that
window. Then a flashlight went on and off real quick.
“SH!” Poetry said to me, ’cause I had gasped outloud. “He’s coming this
way.” Which he was, but only for a few feet till he got to the corner
of the cabin, then he turned and followed the cement walk which led
along the side of the house and down the slope to the dock.
I could hardly believe my ears, but I had to, ’cause the man was
whistling a tune and it was “Old Black Joe,” which we sometimes sang
out of a song book at Sugar Creek school, and also used different words
to in our church, which were:
“Once I was lost and way down deep in sin,
Once was a slave to passions fierce within.
Once was afraid to trust a loving God,
But now my sins are washed away in Jesus’ blood.”
Only I knew John Till wouldn’t be thinking of those words when he
whistled, but would be thinking of the Old Black Joe ones.
At the corner of the cabin, he came out in the moonlight where we saw
as clear as anything. He had a pair of rubber boots on, a fishing pole
in one hand and a big stringer of fish, which looked like the very same
stringer he had in the sink in the afternoon.
“He’s going out to clean his fish,” Poetry said.
“And he’s got a spade, to bury the insides with,” I said, noticing it
for the first time.
We stood there glued to our tracks and holding onto each other,
wondering “What on earth!” We hardly dared move or breathe ’cause the
cement walk came in our direction first before it turned to make its
long half circle down to the dock and the lake.
“Maybe he’s going down to put his fish in a live box,” Poetry said,
which is what fishermen sometimes do with their live fish which they’ve
caught, especially if you don’t want to clean and eat them right away.
They keep them alive in what is called a “live box” down at the lake
near their docks.
“But they would have been dead by now,” I said. “They wouldn’t stay
alive in that sink all this time–not with all that whiskey all over
them,” and Poetry said, “What whiskey all over what, where?”
Then I remembered that I had only dreamed about the whiskey coming out
of the pump and filling the sink, and I felt foolish, but say, that
dream had seemed so real that it was just like it had actually happened.
John Till’s whistle sounded farther and farther away as he went down
the hill, and pretty soon we saw him coming out in the moonlight on the
dock away down at the lake.
“Hey!” Poetry whispered to me. “There’s a boat! He’s getting into a
boat,” which is what John was doing. In the next minute and a half,
with us standing up there with our teeth chattering, partly because it
was a cold and damp night and partly because we were half scared half
to death, we saw a flash of an oar blade in the moonlight, and a little
later the boat was shoved out from the dock and we saw John Till rowing
in the moonlight, going up the shore.
Well, we didn’t know what was going to happen next, or whether anything
would, because it seemed like everything that could possibly happen had
already happened. But say, Poetry was as brave as anything. Certainly
he was braver than I was right at that minute, or else we decided to do
what we decided to do in spite of being afraid. “Let’s go in the cabin
and look around and see if we can find the map,” Poetry said.
The very minute John Till’s boat disappeared around the bend of the
shore, we sneaked down the side of the hill, to the kitchen window. We
could see the flames leaping up in the fireplace. In a jiffy Poetry had
the window up and we had climbed in. We could smell fish and also a
sort of a deadish smell in the cabin, but it was warm and cozy with the
fire going in the fireplace. We took a quick look in the bedroom and
there was the rollaway bed all nicely opened out with blankets on it
and ready for somebody to use.
We shined our lights in quick circles all over the floor, thinking
maybe John Till might not have known there was an envelope which we
might have dropped here. Then we went out onto the front porch and
looked very carefully in the direction his boat had gone to be sure he
was really around the bend and couldn’t see our lights.
“Look!” Poetry said. “Here’s the whiskey bottle, standing just where it
was, and it’s still just as half full as it was!”
I looked and could hardly believe my eyes, but it was true. “It must
have had water in it instead of whiskey,” Poetry said, “or John Till
would have drunk it up the very minute he laid his eyes on it.”
I put my nose close to the top of the bottle and smelled, and sure
enough it smelled just like whiskey, which is an even worse smell than
something that has been dead for a week.
I looked down at the place where I had been standing in the afternoon
when I had pulled the New Testament out of my pocket to see if the
envelope with the map in it was there, and it wasn’t.
Then we turned and walked back toward the door which led into the main
When I got to the place where the mirror was on the wall, I looked
in it just to have a look at myself. I looked past my face and away
out onto the very pretty lake which was shimmering like silver in the
moonlight. Even though I didn’t have time to think about how pretty
it was, I remembered the happy feeling I had had in my heart in the
afternoon; and while Poetry and I were going through the main room,
past the fireplace and into the kitchen and were climbing out of the
window to go back to camp, I thought that God could make just as pretty
a moonlight night as He could a thunderstorm. In spite of the fact that
I was all tangled up in a very interesting and exciting adventure, I
couldn’t help but be glad that I was on God’s side and that He could
count on me to be a friend of His anytime He needed me.
We didn’t have any trouble following our broken twig trail to the place
where it turned off in another direction. There we stopped and Poetry
said, “I wish we could follow this trail of broken twigs tonight, and
not wait till tomorrow. It might be too late tomorrow. Do you know that
it goes in the same direction John Till’s boat was going?”
“What of it?” I said. My teeth were still chattering and I was pretty
cold and wet and also tired, and wished I was back in camp, snuggled
down in my nice warm cozy sleeping bag.
“We’d get lost in less than three minutes,” I said to Poetry, “and then
what would we do?”
“It’s as easy as pie not to get lost,” he said. “You stay right here
with your flashlight, and I’ll go in the direction the broken twigs
point until I find the next one; then you come to where I am and stand
there with your flashlight while I swish on to the next one, and we can
keep doing that from one to another until we get there.”
“Get where?” I asked.
“Where the treasure is buried,” he said with an impatient voice.
“But we haven’t anything to dig with,” I said, in a voice just as
We stood for a little while arguing with each other as to what to do
and whether to do it. “Let’s try it anyway!” Poetry said. “You stay
here till I go and see if I can find the next one. Keep your flashlight
turned off as much as you can, to save the battery,” he ordered, and
for some reason, I, Robinson Crusoe, gave up and let my fat goat be the
Away he went in a sort of a zig–zag style in the general direction the
broken twigs pointed.
I could hear him swishing around, up ahead of me. It felt awful spooky
here in this dark woods with my light turned off, and only little
patches of moonlight around me, coming through the leaves and pine
needles of the trees overhead.
After about four minutes, Poetry’s half bass and half soprano voice
called to me saying, “Hey, turn on your flashlight, so I can find out
where I am!”
I turned on my light, and shot its long beam in the direction from
which I had heard his voice, and he shined his toward me. Then his half
worried voice called and said, “Is your broken twig pointing toward me?”
“No!” I said. “You’re off in a different direction. Why don’t we get
out of here and go home? I don’t think we can follow any trail tonight.”
I knew it would have been easy if we had followed the trail before in
the daytime and had known what kind of broken twigs to look for and how
far apart they were.
Poetry didn’t like to give up, so when he got back to where I was, he
wanted to start out again, but I said, “What if we would get lost out
“We’d just follow the trail back again,” he said, but his voice sounded
like he had already given up. We decided to go back to camp and get
some sleep, and tomorrow we would come back in broad daylight and be
able to see where we were going.