For me, the summer season ends too quickly each year. Just as the leaves begin changing, we pack up and winterize the cottage in Clayton, NY, pull the boat, and head south to Pennsylvania. This Thousand Islands story, however, begins on Halloween.
When I was a kid, a television commercial for a popular candy, often handed out for Trick-or-Treat, boasted that it featured two great tastes (chocolate and peanut butter) that taste great together. That's what I'm aiming for here; a somewhat scary (but fast-paced and fun) mystery set in the heart of the Thousand Islands.
And what better setting? The St. Lawrence's scenic beauty is an excellent backdrop, along with charming river towns, ancient forests, granite cliffs, castles with towers and secret passageways, ghost stories, and legends of all sorts!
However, I do have an admission to make. As I write this introduction, I'm not entirely sure where this story is going. My 9-year-old son, Lee, and I talk about it. He has contributed some pretty good ideas. During this strange COVID-19 year, I have made writing this story and enjoying Halloween a priority, as traveling along this road seems to make everything else seem a little less weird by comparison!
So please join us on this journey and together we will find out where it leads! . . . By Patrick Metcalf
The Witch of Wellesley Island, Chapter 9: Uncertain Enemies
Sarah sat straight up in bed. She had been awakened that morning by brilliant sunshine that streamed in through the windows of the castle bedchamber. She could hear a few seagulls outside, as well as the sound of the November breeze pressing on slightly blurry panes of glass. The curtains shuffled slightly, evidence that the aging windows were not particularly weather-tight. Despite feeling a sense of dread at bedtime, she had slept remarkably well, and as a result she was a little slow to regain her senses. She and Pete had not intended to be overnight guests at the castle. Sarah glanced around the room to make certain that nothing had changed. She remembered that Pete was in the room across the hall. Still dressed in yesterday's clothes, she quickly hopped out of bed, opened the door, and stepped into the vacant hallway.
Sarah thought about knocking on the door to Pete's room, but changed her mind at the last minute and reached for the doorknob. Just as she did, she was startled by a voice from inside.
"I'm not a parrot!" she heard Pete joyfully exclaim on the other side of the door. It was apparent that he had also just awoken. He had gone to sleep believing such a transformation might be imminent.
"Would you please get out here?" she said through the door, in her usual irritated tone.
"Sarah . . .?" asked Pete cautiously. "Would you like a cracker?"
"I'm not a parrot either, you nitwit! Get out here!" She could hear Pete snickering inside just as the door popped open. He stood there with his hands clasped behind his back and his head slightly bowed. He grinned like a sheepish child.
"Each and every day . . ." said Pete in an overly sincere tone, "I try to find one small thing to be grateful for."
"I'd be grateful if you'd put some duct tape over your mouth," said Sarah. It came across as a bit mean-spirited, but then she couldn't help but smile a little. "C'mon," she said, realizing that she was actually pretty hungry. "Maybe Edwin will have some breakfast for us."
"If it's a bowl of bird seed," said Pete, "I think I'll save my appetite for lunch."
Pete and Sarah searched most of the castle, but Edwin was nowhere to be found. As they passed through the library, they noticed that Ichabod was missing from his cage.
"This can't be good . . ." said Pete.
When they entered the breakfast room, they noticed at one table there were three place settings. There was a bagel along with some butter and jam with each, as well as a pitcher of orange juice.
"I am absolutely famished," said Sarah. "Do you think Edwin would be offended if we started without him?"
"I don't think so," said Pete, who already had a butter knife in his hand. He sat down and moved decisively to grab a bagel.
"I guess we haven't eaten in a while," said Sarah, who sat down across from Pete and poured herself some orange juice.
"I was too excited last evening when Edwin offered," said Pete. "And then I was too tired."
Sarah put down her glass and took a moment to glance around. Sunshine poured in from the many windows, and she remembered what a tour guide had said many years ago when they had walked through this very room.
"Look Pete, you can look out that window and see Canada, and this one over here and see the U.S."
Pete looked left and then right, and continued stuffing the bagel into his mouth. "So this is what it feels like to be a turn of the century billionaire at breakfast, huh?" He kept chewing for a bit and then said, "I always assumed there would be more food. All that money, you'd think maybe they could spring for some bacon and eggs."
"That reminds me of something," said Sarah as she put down her knife and pointed at Pete. "Don't you think it's strange that with all the conversations we had last night about the Confederate on Maple Island, that at some point the treasure would have come up?"
"Well, it's not like it's buried pirate treasure with rubies and pearls and Spanish doubloons," said Pete reaching for the orange juice. "It was just British coins that the Confederate was rumored to have been spending in town."
"And those British coins would have been made of . . ." asked Sarah.
"Gold or silver," answered Pete.
"And the amount he would have possessed . . ."
"Enough to fund the conspiracy to assassinate a President," conceded Pete. "Alright, I see your point."
"Edwin sure did have a lot of questions about our situation. And he certainly seems to know something about coins from the Civil War period," added Sarah.
"Yeah, maybe you're onto something," said Pete as he stuffed the last of the bagel into his mouth. The more intently Pete thought, the slower he chewed.
"And he never really did explain what he's even doing here at the castle," said Sarah.
"Sure he did. He said he was standing in for a friend," said Pete. "He's a nice guy. Helping out, that sort of thing."
"I guess so," said Sarah. "He seems harmless enough."
After breakfast, Pete and Sarah spent some more time searching the castle and the surrounding buildings on the island looking for Edwin, but with no luck. Eventually, they decided to give up, and to head back to Fishers Landing.
"I guess we should leave him a note," said Pete.
"Yes, that would be the polite thing to do," said Sarah. "Just don't say too much."
Pete found a tablet and a pen, and scribbled a note to be left in the library. It simply said: "Hi Edwin, Thanks for the advice and the hospitality. Sorry we missed you this morning. Talk to you soon." He signed it Pete and Sarah.
As they walked down the hill to the boathouse and dock, they noticed a small boat headed their way.
"Oh look," said Pete. "Maybe that's Edwin now." But it was not Edwin. It was a man in a heavy sweater with a grizzled, gray beard. Once he docked and tied up the boat, he looked at Pete and Sarah suspiciously.
"Hello," said Pete. "We're guests of Edwin. Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"
The man gave them a puzzled look and said, "I am the caretaker of Dark Island. And who is Edwin?"
Pete and Sarah looked at one another in a state of shock and confusion. And then it dawned on Sarah.
"Pete, we have to go. Right now!" exclaimed Sarah.
"Why?" asked Pete.
"Edwin got a head start on us," she said. The words hit Pete like a ton of bricks. Everything else had been subterfuge. If Edwin was behind this, if he had misled them, if he had stalled them, and now was racing off to finish what he started, then this whole situation could only be about the treasure.
"Ummm . . . Sorry!" said Pete to the caretaker. "We'll explain later . . . Nice meeting you!" he exclaimed as they ran over and began to untie their boat. The caretaker, to whom they had never even introduced themselves, stood and scratched his head in bewilderment as Pete and Sarah frantically untied their boat and jumped in. As Pete fired up the boat and roared off, he turned to Sarah.
"Where are we going anyway?"
"Grindstone," said Sarah. "I only hope Edwin hasn't seen what I have."
"What have you seen?" asked Pete. He knew something was up but hadn't had the opportunity to ask.
"Somehow I just know where it is," said Sarah. "Call it a dream, call it a premonition . . . I honestly don't know what to call it exactly. But I am positive I know where that stone is."
"Ok," said Pete. "Your gut feeling is better than anything else we have to go on at this point. Might as well follow it to wherever it takes us." He smiled. "Lead the way, Sis!"
It was a long, choppy boat ride from Singer Castle. As they drew closer to Grindstone Island, the skies began to darken, and Sarah began to doubt herself. She was certain that the gravestone of the murdered Confederate was there. But Grindstone was a massive island, nearly seven miles long and three miles wide. If the stone were in a graveyard, everyone would know where it was. It would be common knowledge. It had to be somewhere else, somehow hidden. How could she know which part of Grindstone to search?
Sarah sat back in her seat and closed her eyes. She tried her best to recollect all the details of that very vivid dream. Just then something obvious occurred to her. She imagined that she was at her family's cottage near Grandview Park. She imagined herself walking downhill to the river. She could see a map of the area in her mind. She was standing on the shore, looking straight down their dock. Their cottage was on the northwest end of Wellesley Island, and in her mind's eye she was standing very close to the spot where she had stood in the dream. She was facing due north. When she turned left, to the west, the only part of Grindstone Island that she could possibly see was the northeastern corner. That was where the witch in her dream had pointed.
"Pete, when we get past T.I. Park, swing through the Narrows, and straight up to Canoe Point."
"Oh great," said Pete sarcastically. "Can't wait to go through the Narrows again . . ."
Sarah looked over at Pete. He was clearly amused. He never seemed to take anything seriously. That worried her a bit. "We shouldn't forget that this is an active missing person's case," said Sarah.
"Do you think Edwin is dangerous?" asked Pete. "He's an odd guy, but I can't imagine him hurting anyone."
"I'm just saying we need to be very careful," said Sarah. "We can't be certain of what we are dealing with."
Sarah picked a spot on the forested shoreline a few hundred yards south of Canoe Point State Park. The campground there, which could only be reached by boat, had long since been vacated for the season. In the middle of the summer, it was normal to see the docks lined with boats, and the open lawn areas covered with people, camp chairs, and tents of every color. The large and stately oak trees, whose massive limbs and treetops supported mountains of dark green leaves, provided shade to the campers, giving protection from a hot sun blazing under cheerful blue skies. But on this chilly November morning the sky was gray, the trees were barren and leafless, and the campground was void of any human presence. The concession stand was boarded up, and its appearance was far from welcoming.
"Let's go in right there," said Sarah, pointing to a small break in the trees. As they approached, Pete pulled back the throttle. The outboard purred softly and the boat slowed to a quiet, steady pace. He cut the motor completely at about 20 yards from shore, and they silently coasted the rest of the way in. The boat gently came to rest on a pebbly beach made of the same granite that gave the island its name.
The wind had died down, and the forest was unnaturally calm. Pete was about to ask Sarah where they should start when they heard the sound of metal on stones.
"Is that a shovel?" asked Pete quietly. "I think someone is digging."
"Let's go see," whispered Sarah as she hopped over the side of the boat and onto the beach.
"Never a dull moment!" said Pete. He was grinning from ear to ear.
By Patrick Metcalf [All rights reserved ©2020]
Patrick Metcalf began vacationing in the Thousand Islands, more than 20 years ago, when his grandmother and her two sisters rented three houses for a week, each summer in Fine View on Wellesley Island, she invited their families from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Patrick spends as much time as he can each summer, on the River, near Clayton, NY. He began writing to entertain his son Lee, who is now nine years old. Patrick resides in Shippensburg, PA, holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and is a Marine Corps veteran. See all of Patrick Metcalf's TI Life works here..
Illustration for The Witch of Wellesley Island: Chapter 9, Uncertain Enemies is by Marie-Anne Erki ©2021, Kingston, ON.
Chapter 1: The Scream
Chapter 2: A Brush with Evil
Chapter 3: A Narrow Escape
Chapter 4: What Pete Forgot
Chapter 5: Unlucky Penny
Chapter 6: No Turning Back
Chapter 7: What Lies Within
Chapter 8: Edwin's Insights
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