The Treasure Problem
I was woken early by a hammering on my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs, to find Alun in an excited mood.
"I've found treasure, Jed," Alun said.
"What treasure? Gold, silver, jewels?"
"An old map, Jed. I was going through the historic documents (Alun's name for all the old papers of his ancestors) and I found a this."
He passed me a faded, old sheet of paper.
"A badly drawn map of Happy Island. That's not treasure."
"It's a treasure map Jed. That 'X' must mark the spot where the treasure is buried."
"But how do you know it's treasure there, it could be anything. The 'X' could mark the spot where your ancestor buried their pet rabbit."
"People don't make maps of dead rabbit burial sites, Jed," Alun said. "They mark the graves with a stone, or cross, or something visible. They only resort to maps when what they've buried is secret, like treasure."
"Okay, where is this hoard of buried treasure?"
"Ah, there is one very slight problem there, Jed," Alun said. "You see the map isn't very detailed, there's no GPS co-ordinates, the map shows that the treasure is buried three paces to the south of 'The Very Tall Tree'.
"But there isn't a very tall tree on the island," in fact Happy Island lacks landmarks of any description.
"No Jed, there must have been at some point in the past, but it's gone now."
"So it could be buried anywhere."
"Exactly Jed, which is why I've bought a metal detector. We can search the whole island for buried treasure."
"We? But I don't have a metal detector."
"You can borrow one of mine, Jed," Alun said. "There was a two for the price of one deal."
Luckily it so happened that I had nothing better to do that day, so, after a breakfast we started combing the island for treasure.
"I've got something Jed," Alun said, after just a few minutes treasure-hunting.
"It's probably a can ring-pull," I said, "I've seen metal detectorists on the telly and that's all they ever find."
"Not on Happy Island, Jed," Alun said. "There's never been so much as one fizzy drink can on the island, it's one of the benefits of us never having visitors."
Alun had brought a trowel and dug a short distance before finding a muddy piece of metal. He lovingly removed the mud.
"Is it a ring pull?" I asked.
"No Jed, it's a metal button of some kind. This must have come off the clothes of one of our ancestors. Think of the history, every metal button has a story to tell."
"Marvelous, I can just imagine your great, great, great, great grandfather walking round the island with his trousers round his ankles because he's lost the button holding them up."
We searched on and it wasn't long before I too heard a ringing in my ear, informing me that I too had found something metal. Although I was cynical about the whole 'buried treasure' exercise, I couldn't help but be excited as I dug into the earth.
"What is it Jed?" Alun said.
"It's another button," I said.
We searched on, but we didn't get far in our search because every few minutes we were interrupted by the discovery of another metal button. "Why did our ancestors have so many buttons, it must've taken them ages to get dressed in the morning."
By the end of a hard days treasure hunting we had found not one single gold doubloon, just 123 different metal buttons.
Alun woke me early again the next day for more treasure hunting, and the next, but by the end of the week there was still no sign of the mythical treasure.
"I'm fed up with this," I said. "Even if there is treasure here we'll never find it, the whole island's festooned with old buttons."
Alun continued treasure hunting without me, every day I would see him slowly combing the island with his metal detector, stopping every few minutes for another button, but in all that time there was no sign of the mythical treasure.
Then, one morning, I was woken by an excited hammering on my back door.
I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs.
"We're rich, Jed," Alun said, "We're rich."
"You mean you've found the treasure after all," I said.
"No Jed, I sold the old metal buttons on e-bay. They're worth a fortune ."