Talk about mystery and excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And if there _isn’t_, then what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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