“Hey Luke, what’s that bobbing in the water over there?”
The identical twin turned in the direction his brother was pointing in time to see something floating within reach of the small pier where they spent most of their summer at Uncle Dan’s. Luke grabbed the net they used to snare fish and easily scooped up the glass object.
“It looks like a bottle of some kind, Duke.”
Most ten-year-old boys are ready and waiting for an unexpected adventure during a long hot summer. This one fell right at their feet.
“ I think there’s a note inside. How do we get it out?”
As usual, Luke had a plan. “We just break it, goofus.”
Fishing was forgotten as they ran to the shed for a hammer. Duke was proud to have an older-by four-minutes-brother who seemed to think of everything.
The paper was perfectly dry. Luke unrolled the mysterious document with great care and smoothed it out on the old picnic table where they had taken the new treasure for a better inspection.
Duke could hardly contain his excitement. “Hurry Luke. What does it say?”
His brother raised one hand to command silence while his eyes quickly scanned the page. In a few seconds he handed it to Duke who couldn’t keep the disappointment out of his voice when he tried to read it. “Hey! It’s written in some foreign language.”
“No, maybe not,” mused Luke as he paced around the table, “the letters are the regular ones. I think it's some kind of code.”
They decided to share their find with Uncle Dan. He stared at it as if he could magically decipher the words by intense scrutiny. “Well boys…for one thing, this looks to me like real honest to goodness ink; the kind they used in fountain pens.” Before either boy could ask the obvious question, their Uncle explained,” Those were before ballpoints. That means this note is old.”
Aunt Lilly sat in the rocking chair mending a sock. She nodded her head in agreement. ”And another thing,” Dan continued, “This is some kind of heavy stationery like my grandmother used to have.”
“Esaelp pleh em,” he read with exaggerated phonetic sounds. ” Wait! I’ve got it! This is spelled backwards. It says Please help me.” Three wide-eyed faces stared back at him, waiting for more.
It was Aunt Lilly who suggested it would be a whole lot easier just to hold it up to a mirror. They nearly fell over each other running to the old sideboard and to what Great-Auntie Mariah Dickens had called the looking glass. Luke was elected to read the message. He climbed on a chair to get a closer view, and then cleared his throat with no little importance.
“ I am trying to escape in Cousin Charlie’s boat with all my worldly goods including a few pieces of furniture and the notes inside Grandma Dickens’s old Bible. I can still see the beach house from here. Hopefully some good soul will read this and seek my remains and the only treasures I have. The metal box is secreted well inside a hollow place in the oak sideboard. I hear them coming… ”
Luke looked up and whispered, “It is signed with the initials M-D.”
Dan whistled low. “Well, you can’t say she wasn’t dramatic.” He remembered stories about his crazy Great Aunt Mariah and her involvement in a strange, thwarted elopement adventure that had left her rather addled. She must have forgotten about the note, but how in the world did she and her furniture survive? Who was after her? Where had the bottle been?
Dan motioned for the twins to open the ornate doors on the oak sideboard. When they finally found the button that unlocked the secret compartment, the old Bible fell out. They also found a thick and dusty journal full of exquisite handwriting extolling unbelievable events.
“Just think,” Duke remarked, years later after he became a famous author,” If Auntie M. had not known how to write, she couldn’t have sent that clue before she lost all memory. If we hadn’t read it the right way, we would never have found the incredible treasure…the ultimate one. It sure pays to think outside the box …huh Brother?”
Luke Chuckled, “Having your curiosity ignited by the contents of her journal didn’t hurt either.”
The wealthy, much-published Duke grinned like a smug old cat, “And neither did finding out we are related to good ole Cousin Charles.”
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