The lie fourteen-year-old Henry tells that ""made a lot of things happen"" in 1848 concerns rumors of a red-haired girl living with a tribe of Indians, and because of it his older brother Clayton takes him on a quest by riverboat, mule, horse and foot in search of a cousin who disappeared nine years previously when she was six. Clayton is a windbag given to pious posturing and heroics and it is not surprising that he decides in the end to study French and divinity and then go to Paris, France, to confront the devil on his own territory; Henry himself is a sort of Huck Finn in that he acts from generosity and natural goodness but believes that Clayton's hypocrisy represents real virtue. Their trip puts them in contact with a fifty-year-old bride-to-be, a gambler and con man, a riverboat captain who won't admit that his craft has sunk (it was ""only the bottom half"" that sank), and a good natured smattering of others before the boys do track down a red-haired girl (and she might indeed be Hannah) living contentedly in an Indian camp, and Clayton ends up shooting Henry in the aborted rescue attempt because he was damn well keyed up to shoot somebody and the Indians were moving. (""He looked somewhat surprised over what he had done, but naturally he was proud too, because he had hit me right in the spot he had aimed at."") As told by likeable, open-minded Henry, a funnier than usual picaresque of eager rubes on the Missis sippi.