It was summer break. The scalding sun beat down on kids seeking refuge from the heat under lusciously green maple trees. Beneath the wide navy-blue umbrella, twelve-year-old Nita Feighton pushed copper-red hair out of her face as she and her family joyfully slurped away at their strawberry-banana milkshakes. She was a voracious bookworm who loved solving riddles and reading mystery novel series, especially Nancy Drew. Embellishing heavily, Grandma Feighton narrated the adventures of Nita’s ancestor from her father’s side, Marcellus Feighton, a wealthy European trader.
“One night, a thief silently slithered into Marcellus’s manor and stole £300,000.” Grandma continued. “When his trading partners, who were also his friends, ended business with him, the shock led to memory loss, and his eventual death. Luckily, Marcellus built a vault in which he hid his remaining wealth before his memory problems. He also wrote a riddle about its whereabouts. In his will, he handed Feighton Manor over to his children. After three generations had tried and failed to find the treasure, Marcellus’s great-grandchildren wrote a letter with the riddle on and gave it to their kids. They told their children not to open it until they came of age, and hoped they would be wise enough by then to find it. The parents died before their children reached maturity, so the riddle remained forgotten. I discovered it again in the manor’s archives a few years ago, mixed with a box of paintings which no one had checked for a long time.” (The manor had been turned into a museum).
“Try as I might, I could not get your dad to find it. He assumed I was playing a joke on him, and did not realize I was telling the truth until he was to busy to find time for treasure hunting.” Grandma explained. “You should find it!” she declared.
“What is the riddle?” Nita inquired.
“Behind wooden chambers filled with treasures of wisdom,
You will find bundles of riches of no other than mine.
The being that shall lead the way is a four-winged creature of no other kind.”
Grandma recited from memory.
While she pondered in bed that steamy night, Nita wondered whether or not she should look in the bedrooms of the manor. Did they read and study in their rooms back then? Would she find anything at all to begin with? Nita decided to find out.
Next afternoon, Dad dropped Nita off at Feighton Manor.
Nita decided to search the other rooms of the manor first. Because the manor belonged to Nita’s family, the Feightons were allowed access behind the ropes before and after hours as long as they wore gloves. Nita began scanning an intricately ornate parlor for any place where the treasure might be hidden.
After two hours, Nita was certain that she had unsuccessfully checked and rechecked every drawer, lock, shelf, frame, and floorboard of three rooms at least thrice. Suddenly, she remembered that Marcellus had also studied butterflies from around the world, and had a collection of butterflies inside a glass case.
Dashing to the Display Room that held the glass case, Nita began scavenging all over for clues or secret compartments. She looked inside the case for clues but found none. Spying a butterfly catalog display on a seperate table in the corner of the room, Nita opened it. She was hoping it was a secret book vault, but it was not.
Moving away from the display, Nita rummaged behind the picture frames, diagrams, tables, even the armchairs, but had no luck. Aggravatingly, Nita had not yet began searching the Reading Room before she heard her mom’s voice over the P.A. telling her to come to the main entrance.
After one week of searching the manor, Nita had fared no better.
“I’m going to the library this afternoon, sweetie!” Mom told Nita one morning. “Would you like to come?”
“Would I?!” Nita exclaimed. The town library was Nita’s favorite place to read--of course!
Nita recalled the riddle and realized that the “treasures of wisdom” could be referring to books, and the “four-winged creature” might be butterflies. Because the butterfly catalog had been the only book in the Display Room, it was probably a clue to look in the manor’s Reading Room.
“Will you drop me off at the manor first?” Nita requested.
“Of course, honey!” Before Mom could ask her why, Nita had disappeared into her room to get ready, quivering with anticipation. Staring in disbelief and amazement, Mom puzzled over the fact that something could excite Nita more than the library.
As soon as Nita entered the manor, she streaked up five flights of stairs faster than Usain Bolt, hoping her climb would be worthwhile. Finally, she reached the sixth floor. She was exhausted. As she reached for the Reading Room’s door, Nita wondered what lay inside, as she had never been inside before. Realizing that it was only twice as large as her bedroom, Nita began searching every shelf intently.
After an hour of fruitless labor, she began to despair. Although she knew better, Nita yelled in frustration as she kicked a shelf, ready to give up. She heard a clinking noise. Could it be? Galvanized out of her misery, she searched the shelf again. Finally, she found five, one inch wide wheels in the “Codes” section behind two books. One of the books was titled Codes Around the World. On the wheels were an array of dots and dashes. Quickly, Nita flipped to the page titled “Morse Code” in Codes Around the World and began brainstorming possible passwords. She entered crook, thief, books, shelf, coins, trade, paper, and code, but nothing worked. Maybe the password was Morse? Nita entered it, and the shelf began to creak deafeningly as it swung backwards.
Inside the Reading Room’s vault, Nita beheld overflowing piles of glittering gold sovereigns.
“YES!” Nita shouted victoriously. Instantly, the museum’s alarm bell began wailing clangorously. Nita filled with dread. Had unlocking this vault opened another vault? One that the museum knew about? Would she be accused of thievery?! Right when Nita was about to run, she stopped. Was it just her, or did the alarm bell sound exactly like her boisterous alarm clock? . . .