Midsummer's Eve

Part I

The Letter

The next morning, Petunia went to her porch again to check on the ants. This was becoming a habit. The dish was right-side up, as usual, but there was something in it. She bent down and picked up a small, dirty envelope. There was obviously a letter in it. The envelope looked very old and had faded lettering on it:

To: Residents of Ballymore

Petunia couldn’t read, but she knew the lettering meant something and felt that the letter was important. She forgot about breakfast and cleaning and water and ants. She rushed off to Bartholomew’s as fast as she could go.

When Petunia got to his treehouse, she was out of breath and needed to rest briefly. Then, she walked up the narrow steps that circled the large tree trunk. Bartholomew heard her coming and opened his door.

“Petunia, what a surprise! I did not expect to see you again so soon,” he said. “Come in, please.”

“Hello Bartholomew. I’ve just found something that I think is important.”

She gave him the letter and told him the story. They sat down at the dining table, and he examined it. The envelope seemed to be sealed with wax.

“When did you find this?” he asked.

“Only about thirty minutes ago.”

He got a stick from the wood basket and pushed it into the fireplace. The end of it ignited immediately. He blew out the flame and placed the hot end very close to the wax. In a few seconds the wax began to drip onto the table. Using a knife, he gently lifted the flap of the envelope. He carefully removed the letter, unfolded it, and placed it on the table. It was obviously very old but still readable. He began to read aloud,

My Dear Ballymore Residents,

I am writing this brief letter in the year 1801. My intent is that it not be found for many years. I have had the privilege of serving the residents of Ballymore for over thirty years as their councillor and advisor. I am old now, and will soon be called home by the Creator to my final resting place.

Before I leave, I feel a need to communicate with you, the future residents of Ballymore. Thus this letter. Ballymore is a special and rare place. We have learned the value of caring for each other as a family, but those traditions are always threatened by change. I fear that the values that we share may be lost in the future. I beseech you to understand and cherish what we have.

There is an ancient Biblical Law that, if followed, ensures a more worthwhile life for each of us.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

That is the essence of Ballymore. Do not forsake it.

So, I leave you with this letter and a puzzle. Many of us contributed to the creation of it, and it is my hope that all of the current residents will participate in solving it. The solution to the puzzle will lead you to a gift from all of us.

In the highest cave in The Hills, three feet below a flat rock, ten feet from the entrance: a box.

Your Humble Servant,

Cyrus Owl

Midsummer’s Eve, 1801

Bartholomew stared at the letter.

“What does it mean, Bartholomew?”

“You have found something very important. Cyrus Owl and the residents who lived here in 1801 have left this letter and a gift for us to find. This is amazing! However, I need some time to think it over. I would appreciate it if you do not mention the letter to anyone else.”

“I won’t,” she answered. “Do you think we’ll be able to find the gift?”

“Yes, I think we will, but The Hills are a long way away. Also, it is likely that this is only the first step in finding the gift. Amazing!” he said again.

He paused.

“You still look a little out of breath. Can I offer you some tea?”

“I’m just so excited. Yes, thank you. That would be nice. This is quite unbelievable isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes, it is, and I think it will be very important for Ballymore,” he replied.

“Well, I’ll leave everything for you to decide. I know you’ll do what’s right.”

“Thank you, Petunia.”

After the tea she returned to her garden, and Bartholomew continued to ponder the letter. He knew Ballymore had existed for a long time but didn’t know how long. He was impressed with the caring and foresight that Cyrus Owl had shown. It felt good to make this connection with the distant past. It also felt mysterious. He decided to tell everyone about the letter at the Midsummer’s Eve celebration. Shortly thereafter, he would begin to organise the puzzle hunt. There is never a dull moment, he thought.