I spent part of the fall and winter trying to figure out what we had missed in the old rock carvings. I tried to remove from my drawing everything that I knew was recent. John loves Mary, lots of dates like June 1955, names and anything else that did not seem as old as the 1800's. I left all the old code we had found and finally realized that it kind of ended with these symbols. I thought the middle one was a deer since there are several carved in the rock. That spring it occured to me that it might be some other animal and the answer struck me that it was a mule.
Then the three symbols made sense, box, mule, barn. The barn had the main beam through it strangely marked.
The next week, without anyone knowing, I took the wooden key and a flashlight and went into the old mulebarn to look. I had to fight wasps and be careful of snakes but I managed to study the rafters and main beams carefully.
The main beam across the structure was 6 inches by at least 10 inches hand hewn white oak and seemed in great condition after all these years. It was in two sections that met in the middle of the building and had a 3 foot gap between the two end pieces secured by two braces of equal size than ran down the 12 feet to the floor. I worked a ladder into this space, tried not to get bitten by a brown recluse and shined my light in the space. I ended up using a hammer to clear away the dirt dobber nest and finally found what I was looking for.
A small keyhole in the end of one of the beams. All of this took the whole day, plus I could not get the key to turn and ended up getting a can of oil to squirt in the hole. I tapped on the end, eased the key and it finally turned. More banging and the plug in the end of the beam came out. I shined the light in and saw something wrapped in canvas. I started pulling it out, got down to the floor and opened the long bundle. Inside was the rusted old rifle that Julian Christmas had used as a crutch all those years ago.
I rubbed the old rifle clean, rewrapped it and headed back to the camp. I knew what was hidden in the stock.