The Green Tent Mystery at Sugar Creek
THE GREEN TENT MYSTERY
AT SUGAR CREEK
THE GREEN TENT MYSTERY
AT SUGAR CREEK
SCRIPTURE PRESS PUBLICATIONS, INC.
1825 College Avenue · Wheaton, Illinois
The Green Tent Mystery at Sugar Creek
Copyright, 1950, by
All rights in this book are reserved. No part may be reproduced in any mannerwithout the permission in writing from the author, except brief quotations usedin connection with a review in a magazine or newspaper.
Printed in the United States of America
IT was the darkest summer night I ever saw—the night we accidentallystumbled onto a brand new mystery at Sugar Creek.
Imagine coming happily home with two of your best pals, carrying astring of seven fish, and feeling wonderful and proud and then, halfwayhome, when you are passing an old, abandoned cemetery, seeing a lightout there and somebody digging! All of a sudden you get a creepingsensation in your spine and your red hair under your straw hat startsto try to stand up—!
Well, that’s the way it started. Nobody in Sugar Creek had died andbeen buried in that old cemetery for years and years, and it was onlygood for wild strawberries to grow in and bumblebees to make theirnests in and barefoot boys to have their gang meetings in—and also totell ghost stories to each other in.
And yet, there it was, as plain as the crooked nose on Dragonfly’s thinface, or the short, wide nose on Poetry’s fat face, or the frecklednose on mine—an honest-to-goodness man or something, digging in thelight of a kerosene lantern. The lantern itself was standing besidethe tall tombstone of Sarah Paddler, Old Man Paddler’s dead wife, andwas shedding a spooky light on the man and his nervous movements as hescooped the yellowish-brown dirt out of the hole and piled it onto afast-growing pile beside him.
I knew he couldn’t see us because we were crouched behind some elderbushes that grew along the rail fence just outside the cemetery, but Ialso knew that if we made the slightest noise he might hear us; and ifhe heard us—well, what would he do?
I kept hoping Dragonfly’s nose, which as everybody knows is almostalways allergic to almost everything, wouldn’t smell10 something thatwould make him sneeze, because Dragonfly had the cuckooest sneeze ofanybody in the world—like a small squeal with a whistling tail on it.If Dragonfly would sneeze, it would be like the fairy story every childshould know, of Peter Rabbit running away from Mr. McGregor. As you mayremember, Peter Rabbit was running lickety-sizzle trying to get awayfrom Mr. McGregor, the gardener. Spying a large sprinkler can, Peterjumped into it to hide himself. The can happened to have water in thebottom and that was too terribly bad for poor Peter Rabbit’s nose.
Right away Peter sneezed and also right away Mr. McGregor heard it, andPeter had to jump his wet-footed, wet-furred self out of the can andgo racing furiously in some direction or other to get away from Mr.McGregor and his mad garden rake.
“Listen,” Poetry beside me hissed.
I listened but couldn’t hear a thing except the scooping sounds theshovel was making.
Then Poetry, who had his hand on my arm, squeezed my arm so tight Ialmost said “Ouch” just as I heard a new sound like the shovel hadstruck something hard.
“He’s struck a rock,” I said.
“Rock nothing,” Poetry answered. “I’d know that sound anywhere. Thatwas metal scraping on metal or maybe somebody’s old coffin.”
Poetry’s nearly-always-squawking voice broke when he said that and hesounded like a frog with the laryngitis.
As you know, Dragonfly was the only one of us who was a little moreafraid of a cemetery than the rest of us. So when Poetry said that likethat, Dragonfly said, “Let’s get out of here! Let’s go home!”
Well, I had read different stories in my half-long life about buriedtreasure. In fact, our own gang had stumbled onto a buried treasuremystery when we were on a camping trip up North and which you canread about in some of the other Sugar Creek Gang books. So when I waspeeking through the foliage of the elder bush and also between therails of that tumble-down old rail fence, watching the strange thingsin a graveyard at a strange hour of the night, say—! I was all of asudden all set to11 get myself tangled up in another mystery just asquick as I could—that is, if I could without getting into too muchdanger at the same time, for, as Pop says, “It is better to have goodsense and try to use it than it is to be brave.”
Just that second I heard a bobwhite whistling, “Bob-white! Bob-white!Poor-Bob-white!” It was a very cheery bird call—the kind I wouldalmost rather hear around Sugar Creek than any other.
As fast as a firefly’s fleeting flash, my mind’s eye was seeing aten-inch-long, burnished-brown-beaked bird with a white stomach and awhite forehead with feathers on the crown of its head shaped like thetopknot on a topknotted chicken.
The man kept on shovelling, not paying attention to anything exceptwhat he was doing. He seemed to be working faster though. Then all ofanother sudden he stopped while he was in a stooped-over position andfor a jiffy didn’t make a move.
“He’s looking at something in the hole,” Poetry whispered. “He seessomething.”
“Maybe he’s listening,” I said, which it seemed like he was—like arobin does on our front lawn with its head cocked to one side, waitingto see or hear—or both—a night crawler push part of itself out of itshole. Then she makes a headfirst dive for the worm, holds on for dearlife while she yanks and pulls till she gets its slimy body out andthen she eats it or else pecks it to death and into small pieces andflies with it to her nest to feed it to her babies.
A jiffy later I heard another bird call and it was another whistlingsound—a very mournful cry that sounded like, “Coo-o, Coo-o,Coo-o”—and it was a turtledove.
Say—! it was just like that sad, plaintive turtledove call had scaredthe living daylights out of the man. He straightened up, looked allaround and came to quick life, picked up the lantern and startedwalking toward the old maple tree on the opposite side of the cemetery.
“He’s got a limp,” Poetry said, “look how he drags one foot after him.”
I didn’t have time to wrack my brain to see if I could remember ifI knew anybody who had that kind of limp because12 no sooner had theman reached the maple tree, than he lifted the lantern up to his faceand blew out the light. Then I heard a car door slam, the sound of amotor starting and then two headlights lit up the whole cemetery fora second and two long blinding beams made a wide sweep across the topof Strawberry Hill, lit up the tombstones and the lonely old pinetree above Sarah Paddler’s grave and the chokecherry shrubs and eventhe elder bush we were hiding behind. Then the car went racing downthe abandoned lane that led to the road not more than the distance ofthree blocks away, leaving us three boys wondering “What on earth?” and“Why?” and “Who?” and “Where?”
It seemed like I couldn’t move—I had been crouched in such a crampedposition for so long a time.
It was Dragonfly who thought of something that added to the mysterywhen he said, “First time I ever heard a bobwhite whistling in thenight like that.”
The very second he said it I wished I had thought of it first, but Idid think of something else first—anyway I said it first—and itwas, “Yeah, and whoever heard of a turtledove cooing in the night?”
“It’s just plain cuckoo,” Poetry said. “I’ll bet there was somebodyover there in that car waiting for him and maybe watching and thosewhistles meant something special. They probably meant ‘Danger.... Lookout!... Get away, quick!’”
Then Poetry said in an authoritative voice like he was the leader ofour gang instead of Big Jim who is when he is with us—and I am when heisn’t—“Let’s go take a look at what he was doing.”
“Let’s go home,” Dragonfly said.
“Why, Dragonfly Gilbert!” I said. “Go on home yourself if you arescared! Poetry and I have got to investigate!”
“I’m not s-s-s-scared,” Dragonfly said—and was.
As quick as we were sure the car was really gone, I turned on my Pop’sbig, long, three-batteried flashlight—I having had it with me—andPoetry, Dragonfly and I started to climb through the rail fence togo toward the mound of yellowish-brown earth beside Sarah Paddler’stombstone.
AS I said, the three of us started to climb through the rail fence togo to the hole in the ground and investigate what had been going onthere. It took us only a jiffy or two to get through the fence—Poetrysqueezing his fat self through first, he being almost twice as bigaround as either Dragonfly or I. If he could get through, we knew wecould too.
I carried the flashlight, Dragonfly the string of seven fish, andPoetry carried himself. To get to the mound of earth we had to windour way around, among chokecherry shrubs, wild rosebushes with reddishroses on them, mullein stalks and different kinds of wild flowers, suchas blue vervain, and especially ground ivy, which I noticed had a lotof dark purple flowers on it—the same color as the vervain. The groundivy flower clusters were scattered among the notched heart-shapedleaves of the vine.
In a jiffy we were there and the three of us were standing around thehole in the form of a right-angled triangle. An imaginary line runningfrom Poetry to me made the hypotenuse of the right-angled triangle, Ithought, and another imaginary line running from Dragonfly to me wouldmake the base of the triangle.
There wasn’t a thing to see in the hole except a lot of fresh dirt—infact, there wasn’t a thing of any interest whatever to a guy likePoetry who was the kind of boy that was always looking for a clueof some kind—and especially a mystery—to jump out at him like ajack-in-the-box does in a toy store when you press a spring.
The only thing that happened, while we were standing there in thathalf-scared silence looking down into the hole and also at themound of yellowish-brown earth, was that, all of a sudden, a big,brown beetle came zooming out of the darkness and landed14 with awhamety-sizzle-kerplop against the side of my freckled face, bouncedoff and landed upside down on the top of the yellowish-brown earthwhere it began wriggling and twisting and trying to get off its backand onto its six spiney-looking legs.
Anybody who knows anything about bugs and beetles knows that a Junebug isn’t a bug but is a beetle, and has two different names—oneof them being a June beetle and the other a May beetle, dependingupon whichever month of the year it flies around in the country whereyou live.
I was searching every corner of my mind to see if I could even imaginethat anything I was seeing was a clue to help us solve the new mystery,which we had just discovered. Who in the world was the man and why hadhe been here? Why had he gotten scared when he heard the bobwhite andthe turtledove?
I was remembering that June beetles get awful hungry at night and theyeat the foliage of oak and willow and poplar trees. In the daytime theyhide themselves in the soil of anybody’s pasture or in the grass in thewoods. June beetles are crazy about lights at night and the very minutethey see one they make a beetle-line for it just like the one whichright that second was struggling on its back on