A New Envelope
“Marly Deaver, you’ve got mail!” Marly’s older brother Nick dropped a blue envelope with her name on it onto the kitchen table.
Marly was still half asleep. She yawned and rubbed her unpatched eye beneath her glasses. Though she was almost nine years old, she still had to wear a patch to train her bad eye to work as well as her good eye.
She reached for the envelope, but her other brother, Noah, grabbed it first.
“Hey!” Marly cried as Noah held the envelope out of her reach.
“This better not be another letter about a will,” Noah grumbled, trying to read it through the envelope.
A few weeks ago, Marly had received a letter inviting her to the reading of Harry Summerling’s will. Mr. Summerling was the Deavers’ next-door neighbor. Unfortunately, he had died earlier in the summer. Marly still couldn’t believe she was never going to see him again.
But he had left something in his will for Marly and two other kids in her grade—Isla Thomson and Sai Gupta. A treasure hunt! Hunting for treasure had been Mr. Summerling’s favorite thing in the world. In fact, he’d died while hunting for treasure off the coast of Washington State.
Marly, Isla, and Sai didn’t know each other very well before Mr. Summerling’s treasure hunt. But they had become good friends while working together on all the puzzles. The treasure turned out to be a secret tree house hidden in the woods behind Mr. Summerling’s and Marly’s houses.
Marly hopped up and snatched the envelope from Noah’s hands. “I hope you know it’s a crime to steal someone else’s mail,” she said. “Where’d you find this, anyway?” It just had her name on it. No address. So it couldn’t have come through the post office.
“Under the mat on the front porch,” Nick replied. He and Noah had been going out for early morning runs because they hoped to make the eighth-grade cross-country team when school started in a couple of weeks.
Marly tore open the envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper. It read:
me etm eat thetre ehou seat on eocl ockto day
weha vestu ffto tal kab out
yo urfri end
Marly felt a thrill of excitement. The letter was in code!
“Well?” Nick asked as he pulled out a chair beside Marly. “What is it? Who’s it from?”
Marly didn’t answer. But she was pretty sure SG was Sai Gupta.
Noah peered over Marly’s other shoulder. “Can’t tell. It’s in code.”
Marly clasped the paper to her chest and glared at her brothers.
“Marly must be involved in something pretty shady if she and her friends have to talk in code,” Nick said.
Noah nodded. “What are you involved in, little sister?”
“Boys!” Mom said in a warning voice.
“Stop teasing your sister,” Dad chimed in.
Nick held up his hands in surrender. Noah sat down between Nick and Dad. While the rest of the family got their breakfast and talked among themselves, Marly hunched over her letter.
Before Mr. Summerling’s treasure hunt, Marly had had no idea how much fun it was to solve puzzles and codes. Or that she was actually good at it. But she was.
Even with her eye patch on, it didn’t take her long to crack Sai’s code. The third line practically gave it away. All the spaces between the “words” were in the wrong places.
Feeling a sense of accomplishment, Marly mentally moved the spaces until she had the whole message decoded:
meet me at the tree house at one o clock today
we have stuff to talk about
“Mom?” She lifted her head. “Can I go to the tree house this afternoon at one o’clock?”
“We’ll go with her,” Noah offered.
“Yeah. We want to see this tree house,” Nick put in.
Marly ignored them. “I won’t be alone,” she said. “Isla and Sai will be there, too.”
“Yes, you can go,” Mom said.
“Yay!” Marly grinned. She wondered what Sai wanted to talk about.
Tall fences separated Marly’s and Mr. Summerling’s yards from the woods, so Marly entered the woods at the end of her street. She and her new friends had needed GPS coordinates to find the tree house the first time. But now they’d been there often enough that they all knew the way.
Dried sticks and leaves crunched beneath Marly’s feet. As she passed the tree with the two trunks braided together, she began scanning tree branches for the tiny wooden house. There it was!
She hurried around to the other side of the tree, climbed the rope ladder, and spun the dials on the lock to 1-5-3. The little half door swung open and she crawled inside the house.
Isla sat perched on a tree stump stool with a game of solitaire spread out on the table in front of her. Sai was nowhere in sight.
“I was wondering when you guys would get here,” Isla said, adjusting her headband. Isla always wore a headband with cat ears on it. Today’s was turquoise.
“Where’s Sai?” Marly asked, rising to her feet.
Isla shrugged. “Haven’t seen him yet.”
Weird, Marly thought, considering he was the one who’d called this meeting. She went to the window and peered out over the forest. Unfortunately, everything looked blurry. She tried sliding her patch onto the temple of her glasses, but that didn’t help.
Marly turned to Isla. “Do you know what he wants to talk about?”
Isla shook her head. “Wanna play a game while we wait?”
“Sure.” Marly slid her patch back where it belonged and joined Isla at the table.
“How about crazy eights?” Isla gathered up her solitaire game, reshuffled the cards, and dealt them out.
A few minutes later, Marly heard a noise at the door. She turned as it swung open.
Sai crawled into the tree house. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “I had to stay after summer school.”
“How come?” Isla asked.
Sai wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He reached into his front pocket and pulled out a mini flashlight. “Let’s talk about this instead!”
“A flashlight?” Marly said.
“No. Not a flashlight.” Sai turned it on with his thumb and the light cast a bluish glow onto the table. “It’s a black light. My dad uses it to make sure the money in our cash register isn’t counterfeit.”
Sai’s family owned a convenience store a few blocks away.
“Why did you bring it here?” Isla asked.
Sai grinned. “I’m glad you asked. Remember that box we found under there?” He aimed his light at the red rug in the middle of the floor.
“Yeah,” Marly said slowly. How could any of them forget the metal box they’d found hidden beneath the floorboards under that rug? There wasn’t much in it, though. Just a note inviting them to use it to hide their own treasures, and a few unused pieces of paper From the Desk of Harry P. Summerling.
“Did you ever wonder why there were blank papers in that box?” Sai asked.
Marly hadn’t. And she could tell by the look on Isla’s face that she hadn’t, either.
“I figured they’re just leftover papers from when Mr. Summerling made up all those codes for our treasure hunt,” Isla said.
“Maybe,” Sai said mysteriously. “But what if those papers aren’t really blank? What if there’s something written on them in invisible ink?”Chapter 2
“Really, Sai?” Marly resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Invisible ink?”
Isla adjusted her headband. “Why would you think there’d be another message tucked away in that box?”
“I don’t know,” Sai said, avoiding their gaze. “It doesn’t hurt to look, does it?” He started rolling up the red carpet in the middle of the room.
Marly and Isla exchanged doubtful looks. “I guess not,” Isla said.
The girls helped Sai finish rolling. But secretly, Marly thought Sai probably just wanted an excuse to play with his dad’s black light.
“All right,” Marly said. “Where’s the T?”
That was how they’d discovered the secret compartment to begin with. The letter they’d found at the end of the treasure hunt contained a secret message that told them to make a T, which meant they had to figure out where imaginary lines between the pictures on the tree house walls would meet. The secret compartment was right below that spot.
Sai stretched his arms out to the sides and lined up pictures of the flowers and the teddy bear. Then he turned sideways, took a few steps to the left, and lined up pictures of the globe and the telephone. “Right here,” he said, stomping his foot.
They all crouched down and worked together to pry the loose boards from the floor. As soon as they uncovered the blue metal box, Sai pulled it up. He opened the lid and shined his black light on the top paper From the Desk of Harry P. Summerling.
“It’s blank,” Isla said.
“Big surprise,” Marly muttered under her breath.
Sai set that paper aside and shined his light on the next one. That one was blank, too. So was the third paper. But when he shined his light on the fourth paper, letters appeared.
They all leaned in and gasped. There, on what used to be a blank page, was a word search puzzle.
“I knew it!” Sai raised his fist in the air.
Marly stared in amazement. Sai had been right about the invisible ink.
Isla’s eyebrows scrunched together. “I don’t get it.”
“What don’t you get?” Sai sat back on his heels. “It’s a word search. That means there are words hidden—”
Isla raised her hand in protest. “I know what a word search is,” she said. “What I don’t know is why is there a word search puzzle written in invisible ink and hidden in that box?”
Marly nodded. “We finished the treasure hunt,” she said as she stood up. “The last letter we found said so.” She went to get her old third-grade science notebook, which was lying on top of the shelf of board games. They had used leftover pages from that notebook to solve Mr. Summerling’s puzzles. And all the papers with the original puzzles were still tucked inside that notebook.
Marly riffled through the papers until she found the one she was looking for. “Aha!” she said, pulling it out. “Let me read it to you. ‘Congratulations to my treasure troop! You’ve worked hard, and now you’ve come to the end of this treasure hunt—’ ”
“This treasure hunt,” Sai interrupted, changing the emphasis. “That means there’s another treasure hunt. And this”—he waved the paper with the word search in the air—“must be our first puzzle!”
“What?” Isla said. “Why would there be another treasure hunt?”
“Duh. Probably because there’s more treasure,” Sai said.
More treasure? Marly thought. Is that possible?
Though Mr. Summerling had traveled the world searching for buried treasure, no one knew whether he had ever found any. His son, Jay, said he hadn’t. Jay had been there for the reading of Mr. Summerling’s will, too. Marly remembered how awkward that had felt. In his will, Mr. Summerling said Jay had been a terrible son who didn’t deserve any treasure. That’s why he left it all to Marly, Isla, and Sai. They had treated him much kinder than his own son had. But Jay didn’t really care about that because he didn’t think there was any treasure. That’s why no one was surprised when the “treasure” turned out to be a tree house.
But what if there is more treasure?
“Well, why don’t we do the puzzle and see if that gives us any new clues?” Marly suggested.
“Okay,” Isla said, flipping her hair behind her shoulder.
They all sat down at the table and Sai shined his black light onto the paper to make the word search puzzle appear again.
“Maybe we should copy it into our notebook so you don’t wear down the battery in your light,” Marly suggested.
“Good idea,” Sai said.
Marly dug a pencil out of her tote bag. Then Isla and Sai read lines from the puzzle out loud while Marly copied them into her notebook. When she finished, they all crowded together.
“Okay, what words do you guys see?” Marly asked. “I see new.” She circled it.
“Lash,” Isla said. Marly circled that word, too.
“Sup!” Sai pointed at the S U P.
Isla laughed. “That’s not a word.”
“It is, too,” Sai argued. “It means ‘what’s up?’ ”
“It could also mean supper,” Marly said. “I say it counts.”
Isla didn’t look convinced, but Marly circled it anyway. “Here’s another.” Marly circled R I N G.
“And bring.” Isla touched the B below the R.
Marly circled them both, but as her pencil followed the I-N-G, she noticed something else. “Wait a minute . . .” She continued her line up along the right-hand edge of the puzzle, then backward along the top.
“Oh, I see,” Isla said, twisting her hair around her finger.
“What?” Sai leaned in. “What do you see?”
“It’s not a word search. It’s a message written in a puzzle that looks like a word search.” Marly brought her pencil back to the B at the bottom right corner and traced the words as she read them out loud. “Bring . . . This . . . Paper . . .”
Now Sai saw it, too. He read along with Marly. “To . . . Stella . . . She . . . Will . . . Give . . . You . . . A . . . New . . . Envelope!”
Stella was Stella Lovelace, Mr. Summerling’s attorney. She was the one who had sent them letters inviting them to the reading of Mr. Summerling’s will.
“It is a whole new treasure hunt,” Isla cried.
“Told you!” Sai said, hopping to his feet. “Time to pay Ms. Lovelace a visit!”
Copyright © 2021 by Dori Hillestad Butler; Illustrated by Tim Budgen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.