In the late afternoon, clouds began to build in the western sky. As we
know, Grenby had predicted the possibility of thundershowers this week.
Bartholomew hoped they would reach the cave before any rain reached
them. It was not to be.
The storm gathered quickly. As they walked, they watched the growing
thunderheads in the distance. Eventually, lightning appeared in the
clouds and occasionally made contact with the ground. Dark sheets of
rain appeared. The storm was headed towards them! The southwest wind
increased as clouds rolled overhead. Even though they were tired, they
walked faster and tried to reach the cave before the storm. They almost
made it. About two hundred yards short of the entrance, the rain came in
torrents. Most were thoroughly soaked in the remaining two minutes it
took to reach shelter. The bluebirds chose not to be martyrs and flew to
the cave ahead of the others. Bartholomew stayed with the group.
Once inside, they immediately noticed that the cave was very, very dark.
Bartholomew unpacked the torches and lighted three of them. Now, they
could settle down and dry off. Conveniently, there were many sticks and
small pieces of wood lying around. They gathered the fuel and soon had a
toasty, warm fire. What a difference that made! Everyone huddled around
it to dry off. Also, it was a good time to eat the berries they had
picked and packed in the morning. They were tired but exhilarated at
having reached their goal, the location of the puzzle.
Bartholomew observed that the smoke from their fire was not going out
the entrance but back into the cave. That could mean there was another
entrance. Curious, he thought.
He spotted the flat stone described in Cyrus’s letter. It would take
some effort to move that rock and dig down three feet. It was best done
after they were well rested. He suggested that the retrieval of the box
wait until morning. Most of the animals agreed. The weasels and Finn did
Once the stormy weather had begun, it stayed. The animals made their
beds as best they could on the hard dirt floor. The adventurers
eventually fell asleep as the fire threw dancing shadows on the rock
walls and ceiling.
Finn was the first to awake in the morning. He hardly knew it was
morning because so little light came through the cave entrance. He
hopped over and looked at the one-foot square stone. Obviously, it was
not there naturally. It had been placed by Cyrus and others to mark the
location of the box. Digging it up shouldn’t prove too difficult.
Nevertheless, it had been settling in for ninety years.
“How do you think we should proceed?” asked Bartholomew, who had come up
to stand behind him.
Finn had been thinking about that. “I think we should use a rock and
stick to wedge up the stone. Then, we can slide it over and start
“Right! That is exactly what we will do right after breakfast.”
Finn smiled. He was having a great time on the adventure. More
importantly, he appreciated the confidence Bartholomew was showing in
Shortly thereafter, everyone woke and ate breakfast so fast that they
probably didn’t even chew. After breakfast Bartholomew found a suitable
rock and a pointed stick. The squirrels dug the dirt from the edges of
the stone. Then, the weasels wedged it up a little with the stone and
stick. They slid the stone sideways. The dirt was softer underneath, but
it would still take some time to dig down the three feet. The squirrels
dug the first foot. Robbie and Birch went one foot deeper. The weasels
made the hole three feet deep. No box yet.
Bartholomew said, “A little deeper.”
Wilde yelled, “I hit something hard.” He had!
The top of an old wooden box began to appear after its ninety years of
darkness. They brushed the dirt away and dug around its sides. The wood
had decayed and its hinges were rusted, but it was still in one piece.
Wilde carefully lifted it from the hole and gave it to Wilder. He set
the old box on the cave floor.
No one said anything.
Bartholomew examined it, unlatched the rusted clasp, and opened the lid.
Everyone bent over, trying to see inside. They saw a small, yellowed
envelope resting on top of some pieces of wood. The unsealed envelope
was addressed to:
The Residents of Ballymore
He carefully picked it up, opened its flap, and slid out a piece of
thick, yellowed paper. The neat writing on it had faded but was still
In the bell tower of the church, at the south wall, at the floor,
behind the stone: a box.
Midsummer’s Eve, 1801
“What does it say?” asked Sofie.
“It is the directions to the location of the next box from Cyrus Owl,”
Before the next question was asked, he said, “I will not reveal its
location now but will wait until it’s time for the next expedition.”
Then, everyone’s attention returned to the wooden pieces in the box.
Bartholomew picked up one of them. It was beautifully polished in a rich
mahogany finish. It was in the shape of a piece of a puzzle and about
two inches square. Bartholomew turned it over. Engraved in the wood were
three gold letters: QUV. He placed the wooden piece on a blanket. The
remaining six pieces of the puzzle were placed next to the first. Their
condition was excellent, considering that they had been buried for so
After moving them around, Bartholomew found that they interlocked with
each other to form a line of writing:
MLSE QUV ZAILSD QUFQ
He looked at the letters and said, “It is part of a coded message that
will tell us where the gift is. The decode key will be given later, I
assume. Congratulations, everybody! We have completed the first step in
solving the puzzle.”
All of the animals applauded.
Bartholomew carefully wrapped the wooden pieces and note in a cloth and
put them in his pack. He then asked Sedgewick to see that the box was
reburied, the hole closed, and the stone replaced.
Then, Robbie yelled, “Hey, where’s Finn?”
After the box was opened, Finn had quietly slipped away to explore the
back of the cave. He took a candle with him. His curiosity had gotten
the best of him, and he couldn’t resist.
Finn found a small tunnel at the back of the cave and followed it a
short distance. After about ten feet the tunnel turned to the right. He
went another ten feet and thought he saw some kind of opening in the
rock wall. He hopped over to it and leaned in closer with the candle.
Suddenly, he started to slip and slide downwards. He let out a brief
yelp, but no one heard him. There was nothing to grab onto, even though
he tried. After about twenty seconds the curvy ride ended, and he found
himself on a ledge, facing a wall. He had dropped his candle on the
ledge but, somehow, was still able to see. The rock wall was smooth and
seemed to be reflecting light. He slowly turned around and was
He was in a large luminous cavern. The walls were bathed in a thousand
hues of violet and blue radiance. In many places they sparkled. Hundreds
of slender long fingers of rock hung from the ceiling. Some of them were
dripping blue velvet water. The translucent drops fell about thirty feet
into a large, blue pool and rippled its surface. Each drop, when it hit,
created an echo. In one place swirling columns of bubbles came from
below and seemed to jump out of the water. The bubbles fizzed as they
broke. The slow movement of the water was reflected on the walls and
ceiling of the cavern and animated everything.
This magical atmosphere was made visible by diffuse light that was,
somehow, filtering in from above.
Finn was bedazzled. He had never even dreamed of an adventure this
extraordinary. The ledge he was on was ten feet above the pool. To his
left, were rock steps that led down to the water. To his right, the
steps rose about twenty feet and then disappeared from view. He picked
up his candle and carefully edged his way down the steps.
Luminous Underground Lake
The crystal-clear, blue water seemed to have no bottom. The walls under
the water also glowed but much less bright than above. He dipped one leg
in the water. Oh, my! It was warm! That was as far as he dared go. He
stood there amazed.
“Finn, Finn, where are you?”
Bartholomew had sent the weasels to locate Finn and bring him back. At
first the sound from above startled him, but he soon recognised Wilder’s
“I’m down here,” he yelled. “I found an underground lake!”
A minute later, Wilde and Wilder crept down the stone steps and saw the
amazing sight, also. For a while they said nothing.
Eventually, Wilder said, “Are we dreaming?”
“No, this is real,” answered Wilde. “Everybody should see this. I’m
going to tell them about it. Stay here, and don’t go in the water.”
He climbed back up the steps and returned to the main cave. The animals
were waiting for the weasels’ return with Finn. They hadn’t expected the
incredible story Wilde brought back with him. Upon hearing it, everyone
started to run towards the tunnel that led to the steps.
Bartholomew yelled, “Stop! Wait!”
“I would like to see this cavern as much as anyone, but let us not rush.
I will lead the way, slowly.”
The animals agreed and let Bartholomew and Wilde go first.
Wilde led them to the steps, which they carefully descended. Each of
them gasped as the underground lake came into view. They stood on the
ledge and steps in silent awe. Branna and Brie briefly flew out over the
“Bartholomew, what this is?” asked Sedgewick.
“I believe it is an underground cavern with phosphorescent rock. When
the light hits the minerals in the rock, it creates the colors. I have
read about this but this is the first time I have seen it. The pool may
be very deep and, probably, is not safe. The water could be warm.”
“Yes, it is warm! I dipped my foot in,” said Finn.
“It is incredibly beautiful, isn’t it,” said Bartholomew. “This alone
makes our trip worthwhile.”
All continued to gaze at something they’d never seen before and probably
Finally, Bartholomew said, “I’m sorry, but we must be going. This is
something we will never forget, but we have to take the puzzle pieces
back to everyone in Ballymore.”
“Can we take some of these rocks back with us to show everybody?” asked
“No. This is a spectacular example of the universe at its most
magnificent. We should not alter the perfection of the Creator,”
Reluctantly, everyone climbed the stone steps and returned to the cave
entrance. They packed up their belongings and left the cave much as they
had found it. As they walked from the cave, everyone looked back. Once
again, it cloaked its magnificent secrets in darkness.
The first part of their journey home was downhill. It was a nice day for
the hike to the second campground. The cave remained on everyone’s mind
and there was much discussion. Finn finally changed the subject.
“Do you think the bear will bother us again?” he asked Bartholomew.
“I don’t believe so. However, if he does, we have two very good weapons
to protect us,” answered the owl. Of course, he was referring to Wilde
“No need to worry.”
After a while they reached a point where berry bushes lined their path.
Wilder got an idea for a game. He was near the front of the line and
began throwing berries backward over his head. The game was to see who
could catch one in their mouth. Most missed. Then, someone began
throwing berries back at Wilder. That was fun until two berries plunked
Bartholomew right between the ears. He stopped and turned around.
He had a fake scowl on his face. The animals put a sheepish grin on
theirs. Satisfied, the owl resumed the hike. No more berries were
Around midday, they approached a creek they would have to cross.
Bartholomew said, “This is a good place to stop for lunch.”
It was another pretty location with birch trees and berry bushes
everywhere. They had lunch and rested for an hour.
After lunch they began crossing the creek. Unfortunately, the rocks in
the creek were covered with moss and slippery. Robbie fell and cried out
in pain. The weasels immediately lifted him from the creek and lay him
on the grass. Bartholomew examined his leg.
“Your leg does not appear broken, but your paw is badly sprained,” he
Swelling had already begun.
“You won’t be able to walk, and you are too heavy to carry all of the
way back. I think we should get the ambulance to pick you up and take
you to Dr. Brigit’s.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Robbie as he winced.
Bartholomew put his wing around him and said, “No, no. It’s all right.
Accidents happen. This is not your fault. Let’s just get you better.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Robbie.
Bartholomew called Branna over and said, “Please go to the swans, and
tell them what has happened. Ask them to bring the medium ambulance
here. Before you lead them back, go to Dr. Brigit, and let her know that
Robbie will be flown in within the hour.”
The swan ambulance was a specially fitted stretcher for air transport of
patients. It had harnesses front and back for the swans. It was also
equipped with belts to keep the patient safe. There were three different
sizes from which to choose, depending upon the patient.
“Yes, sir. I’ll leave now.”
Branna had instantly switched to her professional mode. She flew
directly to the swans’ cottage on the island. It was only a one-half
hour flight. Both swans were home. She told them of the situation, and
they went into action immediately. The ambulances were kept in the spare
room. The swans carried the medium one outside and hooked up to it. The
three birds took off and landed next to Dr. Brigit’s cottage. Branna
informed Dr. Brigit about Robbie and asked her to let Robbie’s family
know of the accident.
Then, Branna led the swans to the group. Everyone at the creek had been
watching the sky and easily spotted the ambulance coming. It was not
something you saw everyday.
The swans chose a landing path that was parallel to the creek and landed
within ten feet of Robbie. Bartholomew welcomed them and again,
explained the situation. The weasels loaded Robbie onto the ambulance,
and the swans made sure he was secure. Bartholomew gave Stoddard the
cloth containing the puzzle pieces and note. He asked him to keep it
safe until his return. Only ten minutes later, the swans were back in
the air with their patient.
They were at Dr. Brigit’s in less than one-half hour. Robbie’s family
was already there, and they carried Robbie inside. Dr. Brigit did a
quick examination and confirmed a sprained paw. She wrapped a cold water
bandage around it and gave him some herbs to minimize the pain and
swelling. She advised him not to walk on it for one week and predicted a
The swans then placed Robbie back on the ambulance and flew him to his
cottage. They waited for his family who had to use the slow raft. There
was no special service for them.
Back in The Hills, the remaining eleven adventurers resumed their hike
homeward. There were no more falls or thrown berries or storms or bears.
They emerged from the woods at Bartholomew’s treehouse late on the sixth
day of their trek. The group was happy but tired and eager to return to
their own homes.
The following day, they assembled again to present their “treasure” to
the residents and tell of their adventure. Everyone wanted to see and
touch the wooden puzzle pieces. Of course, the luminous cave was the
most popular subject. It had been a fantastic trip. They didn’t see any
fire breathing dragons, but what they did see and experience was almost