The Mystery of the Man in the Tall Black Hat (2 page)

BOOK: The Mystery of the Man in the Tall Black Hat
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“That’s what I’d like to know. Especially out here in the woods.”

The boys reached the brow of the hill and rejoined the path by which they had come earlier. They walked single file with Tod in the lead. The trail led through Oregon grape, salal bushes, wild currant, and other low-growing vegetation. Here and there the red bark of the madrona trees showed through shiny, dark green leaves. At the foot of the hill, while passing through a section of tall fir trees, they looked anxiously for signs of the man in the stovepipe hat.

“What was that!” Barney grabbed Tod’s shirt. There was a rustle in the leaves and a moment later the call of a bird.

“You’re really spooked, Barney. Haven’t you ever heard a quail call before?”

It was with a great deal of relief that they finally reached the cleared area at the back of the Mitchell property. Leaving the trail, they crossed the foot of the hill and emerged by the chicken house.

“Let’s keep what we saw a secret, Barney. At least until we find out more about it. People would think we were making it up.”

“You know something?” Barney asked seriously. “I think you’re right. I’m beginning to think maybe we were seeing things.”

It was time for Tod to go on his paper route when he reached home. Barney followed Tod about like a puppy as he placed the can of frog eggs and tadpoles on the windowsill of the woodshed and went to get his bicycle. He stopped by the kitchen long enough to call to his mother.

“I’m leaving for my papers now, Mom!”

Mrs. Mitchell acknowledged the call, and Tod pedaled slowly out of the driveway with Barney puffing alongside. They covered the short distance from Mitchell’s to Sebastian’s, and while Tod waited, Barney clumped onto the porch. As he turned the doorknob, Mrs. Sebastian, dark, curly-headed, and as round and well-padded as her son, opened the door.

“Can I go with Tod on his route? Please, Mom?” Without waiting for an answer Barney was back down the porch steps getting his bicycle.

“When will you be back, Barney?” she called, as the boys started down the road.

“Couple of hours,” Tod assured her.

The big blue and white bus was just pulling into the bus area by Lambert’s store as the boys reached the highway. There was a
whoosh
of air as the driver applied the brakes; the bus doors opened, and a bundle of papers was tossed out onto the gravel shoulder of the road. Tod and Barney left their bicycles as the bus pulled away with a popping roar.

“What do you do with the money from your paper route?” asked Barney as they settled down to the task of folding and stuffing papers into the bag for delivery.

“First, I take out my tithe. That’s ten percent of all I earn. It goes into the offering at Sunday school. I put some in the bank and spend whatever I have left.”

“How come you have to take part of it to Sunday school?”

“I don’t
have
to, Barney. I
want
to. Ever since I met Jesus Christ last summer at Bible camp, I try to do what I should.” He looked up from the paper he was folding and brushed his hair from his eyes. “One of the things God wants Christians to do is to give part of what they earn back to Him.”

“I don’t get it, Tod. You’d have a lot more to spend if you didn’t have to give ten cents out of every dollar to your church.”

“I know that. But when I think about Jesus dying on the cross and giving His life for me, I just want to do all I can to please Him.”

“If I had a paper route I’d spend all the money I made on things like hamburgers, ice cream cones, and—”

“I guess it’s all in what you think is important,” interrupted Tod. He sat back against his heels and looked at Barney. “I sure wish you’d go with me to Sunday school so you could find out what I’m talking about.”

“My dad says Sunday’s the only day he gets to sleep late, so why should he waste it going to church.”

Tod got to his feet and hoisted the canvas bag into place on his bicycle. “You’re not your dad, Barney. You could get up and go with me if you wanted to.”

“You didn’t used to bug me about going with you. How come you keep after me now?”

“Because, ever since I asked Jesus Christ to be my Saviour I know what you are missing. Before I was saved I was like you.” Tod swung his leg over the bar of his bicycle. “I went to church because that was what our family did every Sunday, but since last summer I want to go.”

Barney followed on his bicycle as Tod led the way on the paper route. Sometimes Tod would hand a paper to Barney, and he would toss it onto a porch or put it into a mailbox. Most often Tod did it himself, for he had learned to hit the selected spot with unswerving accuracy. An hour later they stopped their bicycles in front of the Mitchells house.

“You could come with me to our kids’ club, Barney. That way you could still sleep in on Sunday morning,” Tod urged, as he sat astride his bicycle balancing himself with his long legs.

“No, thanks. I’m doing OK.”

Tod frowned as he turned to go. “If I don’t see you before, come over Monday and we’ll start the frog pond.”

“I’ll be there,” Barney assured him.

“And keep quiet about the other,” Tod cautioned.

“Don’t worry. I don’t want anybody thinking I’m some kind of nut!”

Tod grinned and pedaled into the driveway.

2
The Frog Pond

Tod was scraping the last of the cereal from the bottom of his bowl when Barney appeared at the kitchen door on Monday morning. As the screen slammed behind him, Tod looked up and brushed the hair from his eyes.

“How come you’re just eating breakfast?” asked Barney.

Tod reached for a piece of hot toast his mother handed him and spread it thickly with strawberry jam. “I didn’t wake up, that’s why.” He bit into the toast. “And anyway, it’s vacation.”

“Would you like something to eat, Barney?” Mrs. Mitchell asked.

“Never ask Barney that, Mom. He never knows when to
quit
eating!”

Barney looked at Tod and then at Mrs. Mitchell who was smiling. “Thanks, Mrs. Mitchell. I’d like that.” He pulled out a chair and sat down. While the toast was cooking, Mrs. Mitchell poured him a glass of cold milk.

Barney took a long drink and set his glass down. “How are you going to make the frog pond, Tod?”

“First we have to find an old metal drum or something we can use for a reservoir. We need a regular water supply, or we’ll be spending all of our time carrying water.” Tod licked strawberry jam from his fingers. “If we forget to fill it, the pond will dry up and the frog eggs won’t hatch. Worse yet, the polliwogs will die, and we’ll never see them turn into frogs.”

“What about frogs?” Tod’s sister, Tricia, stood in the kitchen doorway, her straight blond hair in disarray. She yawned loudly and plopped down on an empty chair. Without waiting for an answer to her first question, she put her next question to nobody in particular. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Dad and I had poached eggs,” answered her mother. “Tod had corn flakes.”

“Tod used all the milk!” Tricia complained.

“That was Barney,” Tod retorted.

“There’s plenty in the refrigerator. Just help yourself.” Mrs. Mitchell frowned at her daughter.

Tricia muttered under her breath as she headed for the refrigerator.

“What are we going to make the pond out of, then?” asked Barney as though there had been no interruption.

“I haven’t decided yet. Maybe we could make a framework if we can find some lumber.” He turned toward his mother.

“Is there a piece of plastic we can line it with?”

“Where do you plan to build your pond, Tod?” Mrs. Mitchell wrinkled her forehead slightly as she turned from the kitchen sink.

“Out back some place. It won’t be in anybody’s way,” Tod assured her, as he gathered up his dishes and put them on the counter. “What about the plastic?”

“I’ll see about it. Meanwhile, before you begin your big building project, Dad left some chores for you to do.”

“But, Mom, I’ve got company!”

“Barney isn’t company. He practically lives here, and he can help you.” She turned and smiled at Barney. “Can’t you, Barney?”

Tod split kindling from the cedar that was piled in the woodshed for that purpose, and then both boys carried fir logs to the woodbox. A fire in the fireplace was still pleasant during the cool June evenings. After the woodbox was filled, Tod led the way to the vegetable garden where Mr. Mitchell had planted enough seed to supply the family with fresh vegetables, and some for Mrs. Mitchell to can for winter use. Lettuce, radishes, and onions were already up, and Tod and Barney hoed between the long straight rows. When they had finished they turned their full attention to the project they had planned.

In back of the woodshed they located a metal barrel. It was partly filled with scraps of iron which Tod emptied into a wooden box. They dragged the barrel out into the sunshine and left it while they looked for a place to build the pond. After some debate they decided to build it behind the woodshed where it would get the morning sun and would be partly shaded from the afternoon heat.

They found scraps of lumber piled where Mr. Mitchell had stored them after assorted building projects. They chose several pieces of two-by-two and two-by-four. Hammers, a saw, and nails were on Mr. Mitchell’s workbench.

Then began the measuring and cutting of the wood into the proper lengths. Finally the framework was nailed together and attached firmly to the outside woodshed wall.

Mrs. Mitchell helped them locate a piece of heavy plastic that she had used for a drop cloth when painting the kitchen. By doubling it they decided it was heavy enough for a lining for their pool. They fastened the plastic to the framework with large-headed roofing nails.

Barney stood back, crossed his arms across his chest, and grinned his approval. “I’ll run and get the can of polliwogs,” he volunteered. He was around the corner of the woodshed before Tod could stop him.

“Don’t dump them in yet,” he ordered when Barney returned. “We’ve got to carry water to fill up the pond first.”

Tod got his mother’s mop pail in which to carry water from the faucet at the edge of the garden. He and Barney took turns filling and carrying the pail and emptying the water into the plastic liner. Barney puffed loudly as he bounced back and forth across the yard between the garden and the woodshed. When they decided they had enough water, Tod allowed Barney to empty the polliwogs and frog eggs into the pool. The tiny black creatures hit the water with a plop and began to dart rapidly about. The boys pushed the mass of frog eggs into a corner of the pool.

“We can put the barrel in place tomorrow and then fill it with water,” suggested Tod. “The pool won’t dry out in just one day.”

The boys were watching the darting of the polliwogs when Tricia appeared from around the corner of the woodshed. Behind her was Donna Craig. They had been friends since first grade, and now they were entering junior high together in September.

“Hey, neat!” exclaimed Tricia as she dropped to her knees to get a closer look at the polliwogs.

“Don’t mess around with them!” Tod ordered.

“We won’t hurt your old fish!” Donna dropped down beside Tricia.

“Don’t pay any attention to him. He just likes to be bossy.”

“Besides, they aren’t fish,” scoffed Tod. “They’re polliwogs. Some people call them tadpoles.”

“Are those eggs supposed to hatch?” asked Tricia.

“Sure. That’s the whole idea. I found some pictures in the encyclopedia. See those little black things in the eggs?” Four heads bent over the pool as Tod explained. “When they get bigger they’ll come out of the eggs and start swimming around. As they grow, they get legs on the back—close to their tails. Later on they’ll develop front legs. Before you know it their tails will disappear and you’ve got frogs.”

“What happens to their tails?” asked Barney. “Do they just drop off?”

“I don’t think so, Barney. I think they absorb their tails.”

“Look! Look!” Tricia shouted. “The little black things in the eggs are wiggling!”

Four pairs of eyes peered into the pool.

“Just like evolution!” exclaimed Barney.

“Evolution?” Tricia glared at Barney. “How could it make you think of evolution?”

“You know—how they start out as little fish and then turn into frogs,” Barney explained.

“Life didn’t just happen, Barn. God planned it that way,” Tod said quietly.

“Did you ever hear of dolphins?” Donna broke in.

When the others agreed they had, Donna continued. “I have a book that says their ancestors used to live on land like animals. They had four legs and hair. With their snouts and little ears, they probably looked something like pigs.”

“That’s just somebody’s goofy idea,” scoffed Tricia. “How do they know? Were they there?”

“Were
you
there, Tricia, when God made dolphins?” asked Barney.

“Of course she wasn’t,” interrupted Tod. “But God says in the Bible that He made all things. That includes dolphins, frogs, and everything else.”

“And I’d rather believe the Bible than somebody who’s just guessing what happened,” added Tricia.

“I’m not taking sides,” Donna said, laughing. “I just think it’s going to be lots of fun watching those eggs turn into frogs. It’s sort of hard to believe! How long until they’re supposed to hatch, Tod?”

BOOK: The Mystery of the Man in the Tall Black Hat
9.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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