Snufkin was late coming home. He hadn't come back on the first day of spring, which was okay really! He didn't come back the very first day every year. Only he didn't come back the second day either, or the third day, or any day after that. Every day Moomin checked Snufkin's regular campsite and every day he was disappointed. When two weeks passed, Moomin stopped checking.
He thought, perhaps, Snufkin simply no longer wanted to return to Moomin Valley. Snufkin was a free spirited vagabond, after all, tied down to nothing and nobody. Not at all tied to Moomin. If anybody asked him, he would have told them that he barely even noticed Snufkin was missing at all. Nobody bothered asking him. They all knew that was a lie.
Moominmamma caught him staring at Snufkin's campsite one day and gave him a reassuring hug. "Don't worry, dear, you know Snufkin always comes out on top."
Moomin wasn't at all reassured, but patted her hand as though he was anyway. Something had happened to Snufkin or he just didn't want to return. Either option made Moomin feel as though he wanted to cry.
That night, Moomin overheard Moominmamma and Moominpappa talking in hushed voices about Snufkin.
"I'm so worried about where he could be!"
"Don't panic, dear. Snufkin knows what he's doing. He's an adventurer just like me!"
"That's what worries me."
Moomin was taking part in his new hobby of sitting folornly on the bridge and staring wistfully at the river when he saw something unusual floating down the river. Something green.
A tattered green hat that looked ever so familiar.
Moomin snatched it quickly out of the water and inspected it closer. The tears and tatters were in exactly the same place, although it looked even more worn than usual because of the river. Moomin traced some stitches he himself had sewn last autumn as a leaving present. His eyes filled with tears.
Moomin took the hat back to Moominhouse and, unable to speak, held it up to show Moominmamma. Moominmamma saw how Moomin held the hat and the tears streaming down his face. She covered her mouth, horrified.
Moomin, Mamma, Pappa, Little My, Sniff, Snork and Snorkmaiden gather at Snufkin's campsite, solemn and serious. They decided, without talking, that Snufkin would have preferred a small, quiet funeral without too many people.
There was no body, but there was a hat.
Moominpappa performed a sweet eulogy, remembering all the adventures Snufkin had in the valley and a few outside of it. Mamma and Snorkmaiden cried. Little My curled up inside Snufkin's hat and refused to get out, as Moomin held it close to his chest. Moomin stared sadly at the river Snufkin loved so much.
Then, a voice.
"Oh, you found my hat. I thought I'd lost it."
Snufkin? Snufkin! Snufkin.
Moomin spun on his heel to stare at his best friend, who was still alive alive alive. Snufkin had a black eye and a split lip, he was limping and blood was smeared over one of his sleeves. He looked rather embarrassed. He looked alive.
"Sorry I'm late, I ran into a bit of trouble on the way."
Moomin let out a sob and wrapped Snufkin up in his arms. The rest of their friends followed suit, causing Snufkin to look overwhelmingly confused.
"Now, now, what on earth is the matter with you all?"
Snufkin found the entire thing funnier than it was. Moomin wished he could be upset with him, but he was just so relieved that Snufkin wasn't dead that he couldn't help but bask in the other's howling laughter. Moomin ducked his head when he told Snufkin that he'd jumped to the thought that Snufkin must be dead because he couldn't think of any other reason for him to be separated from his hat.
Snufkin stopped laughing when Moomin asked what had happened to him to make him late. Apparently, police in the west weren't as friendly as Moomin Valley's own Inspector. The story had a happy ending - a daring escape, a dramatic chase and a triumphant return home. That was all Moomin could ask for, as he had always loved happy endings.