The Trail That Led to Greater Rewards

'HEY - look what I found!" Stewart exclaimed.

He'd found a quarter lying in the snow by the edge of the sidewalk. He showed it to his best friend Boggsy. It sat in the middle of his ski-gloved palm, shiny and wet with snow. There was snow everywhere, and more on the way. Good thing the sun was shining to make things warmer. The two boys were on their way home from school, taking a shortcut down an unfamiliar street.

"Was it heads up or down?" Boggsy asked.

Stewart screwed up his face in thought. "Heads up, I think," he said. "Why? What's the difference?"

"Heads up means luck," Boggsy told him. "Tails nothing."

For someone 10 years old, Boggsy knew a lot about things no one else knew, mostly because he read piles of books and used his imagination.

"What're you gonna do with it?" he asked.

"Save it," Stewart told him. It was just what Boggsy expected him to say. Stewart was as parsimonious as could be. Save, save, save. He took after his mother. So did his brothers and sisters. All 10 of them.

Boggsy was about to suggest that they use the quarter to buy something, maybe a candy bar they could share or a pack of "Major League Chew" chewing gum, when Stewart exclaimed, "Wow! Here's another one."

He bent down to pick it up.

Boggsy couldn't believe it.

"Heads or tails?" he was about to ask, thinking that maybe Stewart would give him one if he thought it unlucky, but something caught his eye instead - three dimes, all in a row.

"Hey, look!"

Stewart was looking, his eyes wide with wonder. For there, all along the snowy sidewalk and up the nearest driveway, was a trail of silver and gold. No, not gold. Copper. Quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies, even a 50-cent piece or two, no telling how much money in all - more than either boy could ever imagine finding. It was Christmas in January.

And no another person - kid or adult - in sight.

Both boys let out a whoop.

"Awesome!"

Gloves off, they were down on their knees in a flash, kicking around like a pair of one-year-olds in the snow, stuffing their winter coat pockets full of as many coins as they could hold.

Boggsy hadn't been this excited since his dad had surprised him with a brand new hockey stick on a day that wasn't even his birthday. He, too, had a lot of siblings, mostly older ones, and much of what he got were hand-me-downs.

Beneath his coat his sweaty shirt was sticking to his skin. The cold had numbed his fingers but he didn't care, nor did Stewart.

The trail of money didn't stop at the end of the driveway either. On it went, alongside the house - neither boy knew who lived there - next to a row of scraggly bushes, past an empty garage, all the way around back where someone'd shoveled a path in the snow, to the bottom of some steep steps that ended at a door. The door was closed.

Boggsy shoved the last coin, a bent penny, in his pocket.

Both boys stood up. There were no coins on the steps.

"Let's ... check to make sure ... we didn't ... miss any," Stewart suggested, out of breath. Walking this time, they retraced their steps. They had missed a few coins, but only a few.

Then without another word, they headed home.

Fifteen minutes later they let themselves in the back door that led down to Stewart's basement, figuring, if they were quiet, that no one would see them while they counted their loot and made plans. Upstairs the TV was on. Feet pounded on the ceiling. Voices - kids' voices - rang out.

"Let's hide behind the furnace, just in case," Stewart said.

"Good idea."

Out of sight, sitting cross-legged on the cement floor, they emptied their pockets - two jumbo piles of money. It took a few minutes for each boy to count his own.

"How much?" Boggsy asked his friend.

"$10.52," Stewart answered. "No, wait! I forgot about the first two quarters. Let's see. $11.02. Wow!"

Stewart's whole face was lit up, cheeks red, eyes as brown as chocolate. His hair stuck straight up.

"How about you?"

Boggsy's pile, which had more pennies, totaled just under $10. $9.80 to be exact.

Together they had found more than $20. Friends forever, they split the money evenly. Right away Boggsy started taking off one of his boots.

"What're you doing?" Stewart wanted to know.

"I'm gonna hide my money in my sock," Boggsy told him. ll stick it under my mattress, where none of my nosy brothers'll find it."

"Or your parents," Stewart reminded him. "What would they do if they found out?"

"Same as your mother," Boggsy said. "Make me take it back."

STEWART thought this over. He planned on putting most of his money in the metal piggy bank he kept in his room, the one that said "Feed Me" on its stomach and was hard to break into. He was saving up for a 10-speed bike, and the 10 or so extra dollars would help a lot.

"But it's ours," he finally said. "Finders keepers."

Boggsy had his sock off and was filling it with coins. The color of the sock, wet inside his boots, had turned his toes blue. More shouts and laughter came from upstairs.

"That's what I say," he said. "Finders keepers. But my parents wouldn't think so. If it was just a quarter ... or a dollar even, maybe. But $20? No way. They'd make me go back to that house and return it."

Stewart made a face. "Who says that person lost it?"

"Right," Boggsy said. "Maybe it was ... a delivery man. That's it! Someone delivered something to that house - maybe a pizza or a package - had a hole in his pocket, and all these coins fell out."

Both boys thought this over.

"You're prob'ly right," Stewart said. "So it's too late now. The delivery man is gone - long gone."

Boggsy agreed.

"Yeah," he said, "but if I know my parents, they'd come up with a way for me to give the money back. And whatever I buy with it I'll have to hide that, too, 'cause they'll wanna know where it came from."

"What will you buy?" Stewart wanted to know.

Boggsy chewed on a fingernail. "Ummm ... maybe one of those solar calculators that're on sale at the department store. Or a whole bunch of superhero comics. Maybe both!" It was an exciting thought.

"Let's go after school tomorrow," Stewart suggested. "And don't forget to bring your money. OK?"

"OK."

The next day was even warmer than the day before. Warm for January, with the sun a pirate's gold and more snow still a day or two away. School got out early for some reason. Stewart and Boggsy, his sockful of money stuffed inside his parka, made a beeline for the nearby mall.

"Did you hide the sock under your mattress?" Stewart asked, slushing along in the melting snow.

"Yep. Did you fill up your piggy bank?"

Stewart had, all except a dollar.

"I wanna buy some french fries at Burger Buns," he said. "You can have some, too." Stewart could be generous when he wanted.

"And you can read my comic books," Boggsy said.

Both boys' mouths were watering.

The mall was crowded as usual, as was the department store.

GADGET SALE, a sign proclaimed above a long table piled high with gadgets of every kind and size: toasters, smoke detectors, irons, hot plates, electric can openers, ice-cube makers, transistor radios, computer stuff, and ... calculators.

"Here's the one I want!" Boggsy exclaimed, snatching it up - a wallet-sized rectangle inside a plastic case. He'd been worried all day that by the time he and Stewart got to the store all the solar calculators would be gone.

"How much?" Stewart asked him.

The cost was $7 plus tax.

"Good news!" Boggsy shouted. "I can get some comics after all. It's like a ... dream come true." Where had he heard that before?

Fifteen minutes later he and Stewart were sitting at the counter at Burger Buns, munching on french fries slimy with ketchup, reading up on their favorite superheroes and fiddling with Boggsy's calculator. Stewart thought it a little strange for Boggsy to have spent money on something that had to do with school, but he didn't say anything. He'd rarely seen his friend look happier. As for himself, if he kept saving his money, he'd have that 10-speed in no time.

Halfway home, Boggsy said, "Let's take the shortcut again and see if we can find anything else."

"Sure," was Stewart's answer. "Now that the snow's melting, maybe there'll be more coins. Ones we missed yesterday."

But instead of money, when they got to the house with the scraggly bushes they found an elderly man in a heavy coat shoveling snow and slush off his driveway. He was using a small plastic shovel and working very slowly. Little puffs of air came out of his mouth. His face was red.

Both boys stopped and stared.

The man looked up.

"Hard work," he said in a croaky voice, wiping his brow. "It's not so bad when the snow's dry, but when it gets wet...."

He leaned on his shovel and licked his lips.

Boggsy spoke up. "Er ... why don't you get someone to shovel it for you? I know plenty of kids...."

"No." The man slowly shook his head. "No money. Had the money saved up, just for shoveling, kept it in a paper bag, but the bag got a hole in it and the money's gone. Near $20. Can't think of where the money might be. Lost."

He gave them a puzzled look.

A lump formed in Boggsy's throat. Stewart's, too. Different throats, same lump. The bag with the calculator and comics felt heavy. As heavy as wet snow.

"Well, nice talking to you, boys," the man said. "Gotta go back to work."

"S'long," Boggsy said.

"S'long," Stewart said.

The two boys walked down the street.

"What're we gonna do?" Stewart asked his friend, who was good at ideas, especially on short notice. He felt terrible. The money had belonged to someone after all, not some delivery boy they didn't know but an elderly man who had a hard time shoveling his driveway.

Boggsy said, "We have to give the money back."

"But how?" Stewart wanted to know. "I already spent a dollar, and the money won't come out of my metal piggy bank unless I blow it up. The key's missing. Besides, you spent all your money. How're you gonna give that back?"

Boggsy bit his lip. m not," he said dejectedly. "They don't have refunds on sales and no one'd take back the comics, they're smeared with ketchup. The pages are all stuck together."

He hadn't slept well the night before and now he knew why.

"So," Stewart said, "what're we gonna...."

"Got it!" Boggsy interrupted. "How's this? We go back up the street and tell that old man we'll shovel his driveway for him. Every time it snows we'll come over and shovel, free of charge. By the end of the winter we'll be even. OK?"

Stewart thought this over.

"What if he says no? People have pride...."

"You're right," Boggsy said. "Besides, he'd want to know why. Maybe we should tell him the truth."

But Stewart couldn't do that, nor could his friend.

Boggsy said, "I don't think telling him would work either. He might just yell at us and not let us near his place again. Then where would we be?"

The solution to the problem came to Boggsy at bedtime that night. At once he was on the phone to Stewart.

"Simple. We don't need to tell the old man what we're doing or why. Old folks go to bed early. My grandparents do. Every time it snows we'll sneak back over there with our shovels after dark and do the job for him. Driveway. Walkways. The works. Won't he be surprised."

Stewart told Boggsy his plan sounded good.

"And if it snows during the night," he added, "we'll get up early and shovel before he even gets up."

"Perfect," Boggsy said.

It was perfect.

Exactly five times that winter the sound of shoveling could be heard outside the house with the scraggly bushes, while inside an elderly man thought he knew just who'd found his lost money and what they were up to. And it always brought a warm smile to his face.

KIDSPACE

Kidspace is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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