What do you think the weather was like the next morning? Cloudy, cold and damp. Correct! Bartholomew thought it best if everyone but Branna stay out of sight for a while. So, everyone but Branna got to rest. After breakfast she left to search for an entrance to the tunnels. Based upon the slope of the land, there was only one logical hillside to search. It was on the west side of the well. She spent a couple of hours looking but with no success. Then, she had an idea. She would let the rats lead her to the entrance. She flew to a pine tree centrally located on the hill. From there she had a good view of the forest floor. Now, she just had to wait and wait and wait.
About three hours later, some movement caught her eye. A large brown mouse was skittering along the forest floor about fifty feet from her. It seemed that he had a purpose to his movement. She watched keenly. Where was he going? He moved in the general direction of the well, and she quietly followed. Eventually, he ran behind some rocks and disappeared. She flew to another tree to get a better view. There, behind the rocks, was a hole that led into the hillside. Yeah! She never could have found the entrance on her own. It was very well hidden. She flew back to the camp and reported her success. She also told them that she had followed a mouse, not a rat. Finn embarrassingly mumbled that he might have exaggerated a little in the excitement.
The team was impressed with Branna and congratulated her. She had certainly earned a good, warm dinner and rest.
That evening, Bartholomew noticed that the weasels looked a little depressed. He understood why. Wilde had made an error in judgement and thought that command had been taken away from them. That wasn’t true He would talk to them. They were sitting by the fire, and he joined them.
“Good evening, guys,” he began.
They both said hello.
“I would like to talk to you about how events have developed.”
The weasels looked at him. They were expecting the worst.
“Every mission requires a specific goal. As you know, our goal was and is to obtain the box and its contents. However, you made a moral error when you suggested that we smoke the mice out of their home. That is okay. No one is perfect. The key is to learn from our mistakes.
“The ends do not justify the means. By that I mean, we must respect everybody’s rights. We cannot violate those rights in order to achieve our ends. I hope you both appreciate the importance of that. You have done a great job for Ballymore, and nothing has changed. Please continue in your roles as leaders of this mission. We all need you.”
Wilde said quietly, “You’re right. I’m sorry. Thank you, Bartholomew.”
“See you in the morning,” said Bartholomew. He rose and went to the tent.
The next morning, the weasels got up early again and made breakfast for everyone. After breakfast Wilde asked Branna to return to the entrance of the tunnels and wait for a mouse to come along. The rest of them would go with her but hide nearby in the woods. It only took about twenty minutes for the group to reach the hillside and get in position.
This time, Branna didn’t have long to wait. Shortly, a young mouse crept out of the tunnel. Branna was perched on a nearby rock, preening her feathers.
She said, “Hello, I’m Branna Bluebird.”
The mouse responded, “Hi, I’m Clarence Mouse.”
“Could I talk with you a little while?” she asked. “I need some help.”
“Yes,” responded Clarence. “Are you new here?”
“Yes, I’m visiting. But, sadly, my visit isn’t going well, and it’s my fault. I’m from Ballymore, to the east. Do you know of it?”
“Yes, my father has mentioned Ballymore, but I’ve never been there. He said it’s a nice place,” answered the mouse. “What has gone wrong with your visit?”
“A few months ago we found a ninety-year-old letter that was addressed to us from the residents of Ballymore of 1801.”
“Wow!” said Clarence. “You can read! What did the letter say?”
“No, our councillor, Bartholomew, read it to us. It told us about a gift that they had left for us to find, but we had to solve a puzzle in order to find the gift. The clues are hidden in many different places. First we went to a cave in The Hills. Then, we went to a bell tower in Waterford hamlet. We are now on our third mission to find the next clues.”
“It sounds very exciting,” said Clarence.
“Yes, it is. Unfortunately, on this mission we’ve made a very bad mistake. We are trying to find the clues that used to be in a box at the bottom of your well. Two days ago, one of us, Finn Frog went down into your well. We truly believed that it was still abandoned. It had been abandoned for so long. We had no idea that your family was living there. I am very sorry. We are very sorry. Some of your family discovered Finn and thought he was trying to steal something from your home.”
“Yes, I saw him. He was a large frog,” said Clarence. “We chased him out of the well, and there was a fight. My family is very upset about it.”
“We never would have entered your home if we had known you were living there. We never behave like that in Ballymore. It was a terrible misunderstanding. Is there any way we could talk to the head of your family and apologise?”
Clarence said, “My father is the head of the family.” After thinking a while, he said, “I’ll go and tell him about you, but I don’t know what he’ll say.”
“Thank you. That’s all I can ask,” said Branna.
The mouse disappeared into the tunnel, and a long time passed. Finally, he reappeared, but he wasn’t alone. His father and whole family had come with him.
“Branna, this is my father, Gerald Mouse,” he said. “Father, this is Branna Bluebird from Ballymore.”
Branna said, “It’s very nice to meet you, sir. I am very sorry. We are very sorry to have entered your home uninvited two days ago.”
Gerald said, “Hello Branna. Clarence has told us your story. This well was abandoned until a few years ago when we moved in. I am sure that you thought the well was still abandoned. We found the box you seek and are using the wood pieces as furniture. I think I was too hasty to judge your Finn Frog. Mistakes were made by everyone.”
When Gerald said those words, Branna felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Gerald then introduced his family to Branna. There were seven mice.
“It is very nice to meet all of you,” she said. “Would you like to meet the rest of my group? There are only four others, and they are nearby in the woods.”
Gerald said, “Yes, that will be fine.”
Branna called to the others to join them. Led by Bartholomew, they walked from behind some bushes and approached. Finn was last. Gerald recognised Finn and also recognised Wilder who had hit him in the head with the nut. Finn and Wilder stood with their heads down.
Bartholomew walked up to Gerald and said, “I am Bartholomew Owl from Ballymore. Thank you for agreeing to talk to us. We are very sorry to have caused you trouble. I can assure you it was completely unintentional.”
He extended his wing in friendship. Gerald responded and shook it.
Gerald said, “Yes, I believe you. Welcome to our home. This time you are invited.”
Bartholomew then introduced the others.
“Finn, I’m sorry,” said Gerald. “I was too quick to judge when we found you. Wilder, you’re a pretty good shot.”
Wilder smiled weakly and said, “Yes, sir. I’m sorry.”
Gerald laughed and continued, “Branna told us your story, and perhaps we can help.”
Wilde spoke, “The wooden pieces, which were in the box, have an important message written on them. There is also an important note. All we need is the information from them.”
Gerald said, “We have the note, and we are using the wood pieces for furniture.”
Bartholomew said, “If it is acceptable to you, we could replace the wood pieces with anything you would like. We have an excellent furniture maker in Ballymore.”
“I’ll talk with my family about your offer. Thank you. What information is on the wood pieces?”
“They contain part of a coded message, and the note gives the location of the next puzzle pieces.”
“If you would wait here a few minutes, we’ll bring the pieces out for you to examine,” offered Gerald.
“Thank you so much. We appreciate that,” responded Bartholomew.
The mice disappeared into the tunnel. In a few minutes they came back with the puzzle pieces and placed them on the ground in front of Bartholomew. He moved them around until they were properly connected. Everyone watched with fascination. He then took a pencil and paper from his backpack and copied the code:
MJKKJP QUV DKJP
Their mission was almost accomplished. Gerald stepped forward and gave Bartholomew the old letter. The owl thanked him and removed the note from the previously opened envelope.
The old hut on the southwest shore, Lower level, Southwest corner, Under the floor: a box.
Midsummer’s Eve, 1801
Bartholomew smiled as he read the note. He knew it was Grenby Groundhog’s hut to which the note was referring. Grenby would not appreciate the coming intrusion.
They now had the information for which they had come. The mission was accomplished.
Gerald said, “You may keep the pieces of wood if you could replace them with something similar.”
Bartholomew answered, “That is very generous of you. Thank you. We will make the new pieces as close to these as possible. It should take no more than a week. Stoddard Swan and Branna will probably deliver them.
“We hope that you will visit Ballymore someday. You are more than welcome.”
Gerald responded, “We would like to do that. Perhaps we’ll come in the spring when the weather improves.”
“That would be wonderful. We look forward to it,” said Bartholomew. “Now, we need to be getting back to our camp, so we thank you again and hope to see you in the spring.”
The animals said goodbye to each other. Our successful and pleased team walked back to the camp. They would spend one more night there before returning to Ballymore with the new puzzle pieces. It took Morris Muskrat a few days to duplicate the wood pieces, and they were delivered to the mice as promised.
There is an old saying: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It means that you can accomplish more by being nice than by being unkind. That was the key to success on this mission.
One week later, after returning from lunch with Dr. Brigit, Bartholomew found Oliver sitting at his dining table. He didn’t know whether he should be surprised, delighted, or amused. He was all three.
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” he said.
“Hello, uncle Bart. I came to tell you that we are ready to have our belongings moved.”
“Very good. The swans are on another procurement trip and won’t be back until later in the afternoon. How about some soup, and then we can relax for a while.”
“Thank you. I would like that,” responded Oliver.
Bartholomew made some soup, and they enjoyed it by the hearth. Afterwards, they each settled down with a good book. Bartholomew felt very comfortable having Oliver with him. He smiled as he noticed his nephew had chosen a book on the weather. Perhaps he might become his apprentice someday, he thought. Time will tell. No need to rush.
Later in the day, they visited the swans and arranged a delivery schedule. Over the next week, almost everything was picked up and moved to Ballymore. Jonathan’s books came to Bartholomew’s. Some furniture and personal belongings went to the ducks’ shed.
The many wood and metal pieces of “Pride and Joy” went to a room in the swans’ cottage. Stoddard and Sean tried to figure out what they were and how they went together. They had no luck and received no hints. Much of what was moved to Ballymore, including “Pride and Joy”, would go in the new school room/library.
Jonathan and Oliver would stay in Caldwell until their new treehouse was built. They kept enough furniture and belongings to be comfortable.
Since it took only an hour to fly to Ballymore, they visited frequently and began to establish relationships that would eventually grow into friendships. Over the next month, Jonathan met with Burton Beaver several times and provided suggestions regarding the construction. His plans and dreams were slowly becoming a reality.