The Christmas Bell (page 2)
The Christmas Bell
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
Find the clock?
Here, I have to explain something. In Estonian, the word for clock and the word for bell are the same. Having heard the word used in the former context much more often, this is what I took the old man to mean.
     “What clock?” I said and pulled back little bit. But the man held on and pushed his face closer to mine.
     “The church clock.” he hissed. “The church clock that they buried fifty years ago. You have to help me, we’re running out of time.”
     Now I was getting a little nervous. This guy was really worked up about something and it couldn’t be about some old clock. Why would anybody want an old rusty clock that had been buried in the ground for 50 years? It wouldn’t work anyway and what was the rush?
     “Where is it and what is it made of? ” I asked skeptically.
     The old man looked at me strangely and let go of my wrist.
     “Bronze, of course,” he said. “Solid bronze, and it is somewhere in the forest near the village of Emmaste. Please come, my car is outside.”
     “Is this a trap?” I thought to myself. But the old man was so earnest — and he had those intense blue eyes that bore right through you. This was obviously a man with a mission. So, against my better judgement, I agreed to go with what appeared to be a relatively unstable old man, to an unknown location in the forest, where the National Guard cronies might be waiting to “protect” the local culture from unsavory characters like me.

Am I in the middle of an adventure novel, or what?   
After picking up the detector at the armory, we drove toward the south side of the island and the man seemed to relax a little. He pushed back in his seat, took a deep breath and began to talk. I sat spellbound as he told a story that could have come from a best-selling adventure novel.

     It all started in the summer of 1943. The tide of the war had turned and the Germans were being pushed back from Russia. Raw materials were becoming scarce and both sides had taken to scrounging for metal in the countryside. Countless antiques and other objects of value went into the melting pot and particularly sought-after objects were solid brass church “clocks.”
         To the people of Emmaste, their “clock” in the church tower was the pride of the village. It was made in Tartu, in eastern Estonia, of solid brass and weighed about 400 pounds. It had been in the tower since 1925.
         One warm summer night in June, 1943, five young men, who had somehow managed so far to escape the ravages of war, gathered secretly to work out a plan to save this important part of the church’s heritage. They decided that they had to take the “clock” and hide it somewhere until the Nazis and the Soviets where gone. Once things had quieted down, they would dig up the “clock” and put it back in the tower. Late the next night, they went to the church and took down the pride of Emmaste Church, took it to the forest and buried it.

The five guys from Hiiumaa
Well, as you probably know, things didn’t quiet down. The war took its course and scattered the five young men . One was taken prisoner and sent to Siberia, where he died in a prison camp. Two escaped to Sweden ahead of the advancing Soviet army. The other two found their way to Canada after slipping away from Hiiumaa in a fishing boat.
     When the Soviets re-established their control over the island, it was immediately clear that this was not a religion-friendly regime, so the bell stayed put for over 40 years until Estonia began taking steps to re-establish its independence.
     By 1987, only two members of the group were still alive, one in Canada and one in Sweden. The man in Sweden decided it was time to take stock of the situation and see if something could be done about restoring the lost treasure of Emmaste Church to its proper place. Both men were quite old, so they sent my friend, the old man, from Sweden to find the “clock.”
     Well, on Hiiumaa, the people of the village had pretty much given up the “clock” for lost. The locals had looked around for it without success, and then decided that one of the group had sold it, taken the money and escaped. In fact they blamed the member of the group who was still alive in Sweden and had even “found out” the price that he had received. Well, for a loyal Estonian exile who was on his deathbed in Sweden, this was really too much. And this is what had brought the old man to Hiiumaa. His mission was to clear his friend’s name before this member of the group went to his grave.
      Well, clock or not, I am not a totally heartless person, and after I heard this, I agreed to go and look around in the forest. But there where complications: No one from the group had been back to Hiiumaa since the 40’s and time had fogged the memories of the two who were still alive. On top of that, a road had since been built in the area and a crop-drying facility had also been set up, further changing the landscape. It was in this questionable situation that we started our search.

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