The Gift

Part II

The Final Hunt

The following day, Bartholomew flew to the pavilion a little after 10 bongs and was immediately set upon by a throng of residents with questions. Everyone would have to wait until the meeting began, he told them. There was much excitement and chattering over what he would say. At 11 bongs he began.

“Thank you so much for coming. I know you want to hear the news, so I won’t waste any time. Yesterday, we unearthed the fourth puzzle box. It was in the lower level of Grenby’s hut. This time, there were two notes in it instead of one. The notes said that we now had all of the puzzle pieces, and a code key was provided. Yesterday afternoon, I decoded the puzzle and this is what it says:

FIND THE SPRING THAT

FEEDS THE POND

FOLLOW THE GLOW

TO THE SECRET CAVE”

A roar went up. Bartholomew raised his wings to quiet everyone.

He continued. “We already know where the spring is. It was found about two years ago by one of our favourite residents. Because our gift is hidden underwater in the spring, there is only one resident best capable of retrieving it. He is the same one who found it, Sam Snapping Turtle.”

Another roar went up, and everyone turned to look at Sam. Sam had not been expecting to be the focus of attention today and immediately blushed.

“Sam, would you come up please,” requested Bartholomew. Sam slowly made his way to the front of the room as the animals clapped and cheered. He stood beside Bartholomew.

“Sam was the one who found the spring, and he will be the one to explore it and bring back the gift for Ballymore. However, he can’t do it alone.”

Everyone raised their paw or wing asking to help.

“Thank you. I know you all want to help, but would the following animals come up here please. We will need Devon and Dharma Duck to pull their raft. Stoddard and Sean Swan to assist in the water. Branna Bluebird for communications. Finally, Burton and Belva Beaver for assistance on the raft.”

The named animals walked forward and stood beside Bartholomew.

“Everybody, this is the team that will go on the final mission to bring back our special gift from the residents of Ballymore of 1801. We will begin preparations immediately.”

Everyone clapped appreciatively and then mingled about. They speculated about the gift and how it would be retrieved from the spring. Eventually, Bartholomew asked the team to join him in the Library where they sat down at a table.

“Sam, would you tell everybody what you know about the pond spring, please.”

“Two years ago, I was exploring near the west end of the island. As I was swimming near the bottom, I noticed a pile of rocks. It was the first time I had seen rocks grouped that way in the pond. I swam over to it and was immediately pushed upward. There was a flow of warm water coming from the spaces between the rocks. I approached an opening and looked in. It was pretty dark, and I saw only more rocks leading downward. I knew I had found a spring that fed the pond.”

“Where is the spring?” asked Burton.

“It’s just off of the west end of the island,” said Sam. “I think that’s the deepest part of the pond.”

Bartholomew said, “This could be an easy search or a difficult one. We won’t know until we begin. First, we should take the raft and anchor it near the spring. Sam can make exploratory trips to see what he can discover. The note said there was a glow to be followed. That should help with the low light problem. Let’s meet at the west end of the island at 8 bongs tomorrow.”

The following morning was cold and windy. A slate grey sky threatened snow, and the pond was choppy. Of course, underwater the weather made no difference. It would be very comfortable near the warm spring if you could hold your breath. How long do you think Sam could hold his breath? Bartholomew wondered about that, also. After everyone had arrived, the owl asked that very question.

“Sam, how long do you think you can hold your breath?”

“I’m not sure but I would guess about a half a bong.” (thirty minutes)

“That’s a long time. Still, I hope its enough,” said Bartholomew.

Everyone nodded, especially Sam.

The ducks towed the raft out to where Sam directed and anchored it securely. There was barely enough rope to reach the bottom. The raft bobbed up and down on the choppy water.

“Sam, please go down to the spring and look around, but don’t go into it.”

“Yes, sir,” Sam responded and dove quickly below the surface. The pond water was very clear, but at the bottom there was very little light. The turtle waited for his eyes to adjust.

After a minute he could see the rocks covering the spring fairly clearly. He swam around them a few times. There was nothing unusual. Then, he went to the edge of the largest opening and looked in. Just as before, warm water was coming from below. The path sloped downward and towards the island. He could only see in about ten feet, and there was no glow. He moved into the stream of rising water. Using a moderate amount of effort, he was able to hold his position. Based upon that brief test, Sam judged that he would be able to swim against the current. As he expected, the warm water felt very good especially when compared to the weather above. At the moment he was a lot more comfortable than those shivering on the raft. However, they could breathe and he couldn’t. There are plusses and minuses to every situation.

He swam up to the raft and reported what he had seen. Bartholomew was concerned about Sam being underwater for that long, but he said he had been fine.

The next step of the plan was for Sam to enter the spring and follow it. Within minutes he was back down at the entrance. He swam into the warm stream and entered a long, dark passageway. It was not much wider than he, and his claws frequently scraped the rock walls as he moved against the water. It was difficult to see, but he noticed that the walls had flecks of light here and there. As Bartholomew expected, there was some phosphorescence in them. He had gone as far as he thought he should on this trip when the passage split. One path turned down, and the other curved to the right. He stopped and held onto the wall to maintain his position. It was apparent that the warm water stream was coming from below. He returned to the raft and described what he had found.

After hearing the report, Bartholomew said, “It is likely the gift is somewhere down the right path. Follow that path for while, and you will probably begin to see a glow.”

Bartholomew was exactly right. Sam returned to the split and crossed over. The water immediately became calm. He gazed down the new path and thought he saw a bluish glow in the distance. He swam slowly towards it. The tunnel became wider and began to rise. Except for the glow at the end, there was virtually no light to guide him. He moved carefully and used the rough walls to help.

As he continued, it seemed nothing was changing except that the path kept rising. Finally, the glow became brighter. He was getting closer. The tunnel was widening to reveal a small underwater cave. When he reached the cave, he was able to surface. Happily, he breathed in the fresh air. Curiously, it smelled like pine trees. The little cave was eerily illuminated in shades of purple and blue. This was similar to the underwater lake in The Hills but much smaller and less bright. On the opposite side was a rock ledge, and what do you think was sitting on that ledge? An old metal box! Sam stared at the box in amazement and then swam towards it. He tried to climb up onto the ledge, but it was too high above the water, and the rocks were slippery.

About three feet above the box, there appeared to be an opening in the cave ceiling. The air and light, which illuminated the cave, were obviously coming from there.

Sam searched for some way to climb onto the ledge but couldn’t find one. He was disappointed, but he had found the gift and had a lot to tell everyone. Reluctantly, he turned around and hurriedly made his way back down the tunnel. When he surfaced near the raft, he was still very excited.

“I found it,” he yelled. “I found the gift.”

That news excited them all.

“What did you find? Where?” asked everyone at the same time.

He told them everything he had seen.

After thinking for a while, Bartholomew said, “Since you were able to surface in the cave, you were probably under the island.”

“Yes, I think I was.”

“Let’s go there and look for that opening,” said Bartholomew.

The ducks towed the raft to the island, and the animals jumped off. Sam led the way in the direction he thought was most likely. About fifty feet into the forest, they spotted the remains of a large oak tree. Its trunk had broken off and was partially hollowed out. There was a hole in the side of the six-foot stump. Bartholomew stuck his head in but saw only darkness. He threw a small stone in and listened. The stone fell and hit something metallic. Then, they heard a small splash.

“I think we found it,” he said.

It was dark, when he looked in, because he was blocking the light from entering.

“Sean, would you please go and bring Sedgewick here.” Everyone knew he meant Sedgewick Squirrel. Sedgewick could climb down inside of the trunk, and he was small enough so that he wouldn’t block the light.

Sean flew off to his cottage. There, he put on the carrying basket in which the squirrel could ride. Then, it was only a short flight to Sedgewick’s treehouse. The squirrel was surprised to see Sean but immediately agreed to help. The two arrived back at the stump in thirty minutes. Bartholomew explained the situation, and Sedgewick quickly jumped up on the edge of the opening in the tree stump.

Bartholomew said, “For safety let’s tie a rope around your middle.”

With the rope attached, Sedgewick slowly began to descend. Soon, the water, the cave, and the box came into view.

“I see the box,” he yelled. “The cave is filled with water, and everything is blue. It’s beautiful! The box is only a few feet down on a rock ledge. I’m going down to it.”

From the ceiling of the cave, he jumped the remaining three feet and landed on top of the metal box.

“The box looks very old. It has a handle on top. There was a rope attached to it, but it has rotted. I’m going to attach our rope to the box, and you can pull us up.”

He unhooked himself from the rope and connected it to the handle. He stood on the box and held onto the rope.

“I’m ready,” he yelled.

The animals pulled on the rope, and the squirrel and box rose. Sedgewick guided the box upward, and before long, he appeared at the opening. Several paws reached in and lifted Sedgewick and the metal box out into the daylight and then down to the ground.

The box had a simple clasp on it, but it was stiff. Bartholomew used some force, and the lid creaked open.

They stared at a round, golden object nestled in purple, velvet cloth. Only Bartholomew knew what it was.

“Everybody,” he proclaimed. “Our gift is a beautiful, antique sundial.”

The animals stared in awe. The sundial was in remarkable condition. It was engraved with intricate designs and at the bottom were the words ‘Ballymore - 1801’. He lifted it from its box and admired it. It was gorgeous.

The animals wanted to know all about it, and he gave them a quick explanation. The sundial would tell the time of day based upon the position of the sun in the sky. Then, he returned the gift to its box and closed the lid.

“Stoddard and Sean, would you please take our gift to my home,” he requested.

“Everybody, we have successfully found the gift, and I thank you. I need to study how to properly mount it. I believe a good location for it is in front of the new pavilion building. I hope it will be ready for an unveiling ceremony in about a week. Thank you all, so much!”

The excited animals said goodbye to each other and rushed off. They would be telling everyone what they found.