THE MYSTERIOUS OLD MANOR
Neither Diana or Barney slept much that night. Diana couldn’t resist sitting at her window and watching to see if the light reappeared, and before she knew it, dawn was breaking and the sky started to get light. She hopped into bed to try and get a couple of hours’ sleep before breakfast.
Barney was in bed but was wide awake and lay wondering what was going on. He fell asleep about the same time as Diana, when the sky was getting light. Neither of them heard Roger and Snubby clattering about, and neither of them heard Miss Pepper getting up and going to start breakfast. Miranda wondered why Barney wasn’t getting up when the others were about, but she didn’t care, and snuggled back down into his pyjamas. If Barney wasn’t getting up, neither was she!
“Where on earth are Diana and Barney?” exclaimed Snubby, as he and Roger sat down at the breakfast table to tuck into hot bacon and eggs.
“I’ll go and wake them.” Roger got back up and ran upstairs. He burst into his sister’s room and jumped on the bed, yelling.
“Wake up, sleepyhead!”
Diana woke up with a jump and lashed out at Roger to stop him leaping on her.
“Don’t!” she said crossly. “I’m awake now, there’s no need to keep jumping on me!”
“Well somebody’s a grumpy sleepyhead this morning!” laughed Roger, jumping down and running out onto the landing to go and wake Barney. Diana rubber her eyes and got crossly out of bed to get dressed.
Barney was awake already, having heard the commotion next door. He grinned at Roger.
“What on earth is wrong with you two this morning?” Roger said. “Both fast asleep!”
“Ssh. Tell you after breakfast,” said Barney, getting out of bed. “Something happened last night. We’ll go into the summerhouse and we’ll tell you then.”
Roger and Snubby could hardly contain their excitement and wonder at breakfast. They watched Diana and Barney as they ate, infuriated by the secretive grins and winks that passed between the two of them.
“What on earth is wrong with all of you this morning?” said Miss Pepper, sensing that there was something afoot. “You two overslept, and now you’re looking mighty suspicious, and Roger and Snubby are sitting there staring expectantly like Loony does when he’s waiting for titbits!”
The four children laughed and tried to look normal. After breakfast they hurriedly helped Miss Pepper to clear away and wash up, then they all rushed out to the summerhouse.
“For goodness sakes tell us what’s going on!” said Roger impatiently.
“Well listen,” said Diana. “An owl woke me up by hooting last night, so I went to my window to see if he was there, and what do you think – there was a light flashing from a window up in the old manor house!”
“No!” Snubby sat up excitedly. “Really?”
“Yes!” said Diana, her eyes shining. “Flash flash flash it went – went on for quite a while too! I went to wake Barney and he came and looked too!”
“Why didn’t you come and wake us?” Snubby demanded. “I’d have loved to have seen it!”
“It stopped in the end,” said Barney. “We didn’t think there was any point. But look here – how about going up to the old house and having a look round?”
“Oh, wizard!” said Roger. “Yes, lets! We’ll go and see if there’s any way in, and if there is, we’ll get in and explore!”
The children set off not long after, calling goodbye to Miss Pepper, who was in the garden planting some new plants in the spaces where Barney had cleared the weeds out the day before. They had told her that they were going up to have a look at the old manor house, and she was quite happy for them to do this.
“There’s nothing much to see,” she said. “You can’t get into the house, and I don’t even know if you can get into the gardens, but feel free to wander up and have a look.”
They left the cottage and turned up the lane. It was a gentle slope of a hill most of the way, then slightly steeper as it neared the old brick walls surrounding the grounds of the manor house. There were two gates at the bottom of the winding driveway, but they weren’t tall gates, they were only about six feet high, and overgrown with tangled plants and creepers. The gateposts were huge stone things, with a large decorative stone ball on the top of each one.
Barney tried the gates. They were locked.
“I suppose the man who comes to do the gardens has the key,” he said. “We’ll have to try and climb over the wall. Should be easy enough.”
He jumped up and caught hold of the top of the old brick wall with both hands. Roger stepped forward and gave him a leg-up, and he scrambled to the top of the wall. He sat and looked at the view. The winding driveway curved round behind some overgrown bushes and trees, and directly below the wall on the inside was a proper thicket of rhododendron bushes, and a few brambles. Over the tops of the bushes he could just see the roof and topmost gables of the old house. It looked most exciting.
“What’s it like?” Snubby asked, most impatient to get over the wall and have a look. “Can you see anything?”
“I can just about see the house,” said Barney. “We’ll follow the driveway up to it. Come on – Diana, you come up next.”
Roger gave his sister a leg-up and Barney hauled her up to the top. Snubby was then shoved up, and Roger was about to pick Loony up to hand up to Snubby, when Loony tore off through the bars of the gate, followed by Miranda, and they both stood below Barney and Diana, chattering and barking excitedly for them to jump down. Roger jumped up as Barney had done, and scrambled against the wall to get a foothold, as there was no-one to give him a leg-up. Soon all four children were perched on the wall, gazing at the top of the manor house.
“Come on then!” Barney jumped down and reached up to help Diana. The two boys jumped down by themselves.
“Look at Snubby – he’s already filthy!” giggled Diana, pointing at the dirty scuffs and dust-marks from the bricks all over Snubby’s shorts and socks. He shrugged.
They all made their way across behind the bushes to the old driveway. It was flanked either side by rhododendrons, trees and bushes of all kinds, and felt very atmospheric and forgotten as they all wandered slowly along, looking at everything in awe. Barney kept his eyes open for footprints, cigarette ends or any kind of clue that might prove someone had been there. But there was nothing.
The driveway widened out into an oval-shaped area in front of the house, surrounded by surprisingly neat green lawns. The house was beautiful. The walls, as the children had seen from quite far off, were made of some kind of smooth grey-brown stones. The windows looked so pretty with their leaded diamond-patterned panes, and the upper floors had romantic gables and timbers. Many chimneys adorned the roof, and as the children wandered round to the sides of the house, they saw that it extended back quite a way, with lots of different wings and rooms.
To the sides of the house and behind it were more beautiful green lawns. A fountain stood silently in the middle of a landscaped garden with paths and neat flowerbeds, and far over to the right, they could see some large green shapes – the topiary garden, Diana assumed. The very back of the gardens rose in very large step shapes like an amphitheatre, all covered in smooth grass with the exception of two paths cut in the middle, and on the very top step, grey stone balustrades fringed the garden, separating it from the trees of a wood beyond.
It was certainly very beautiful, but had a definite mournful air about it. Diana was entranced by it, but also felt rather uneasy, and she kept close to Barney. Miranda seemed to sense her unease and jumped to her shoulder. Diana was glad to feel her there.
They wandered all round the outside of the manor, but all the doors were locked. There were some beautiful big French windows at the back, with a little patio in front of them. The children peered in and saw what must have been a beautiful large sitting room or drawing room.
“Why – it’s all still furnished!” exclaimed Roger. “Look at the huge old sofas and chairs! And look at that massive fireplace there!”
The children gazed at the strange furnished room. They had expected the old house to be empty and dusty. It felt very peculiar to look in and see furniture and ornaments – almost as if someone would walk in and sit down at that very minute. They wandered back round, looking in all the other windows. All the rooms were furnished. It was very strange.
“Well it’s definitely all locked.” said Barney, trying the last door. “Whoever comes here must have the keys. Surely it can’t be the chap who does the garden? Why would he be flashing a light?”
“Why would anyone – even if it’s the owners?” wondered Diana. “It’s a strange thing to do – someone must be up to no good.”
“Well – why don’t we come up here at night and see who it is?” said Snubby suddenly, his eyes gleaming. “There are plenty of trees and bushes to hide in, and we could watch who comes here, and what they do!”
“That’s an idea.” said Barney, considering. He looked round at the sweep of driveway. “Look – those big trees over there look as if they’d be fairly easy to climb, and we’d be well hidden in all the leaves. They have a good view of the house.”
The children went over to the large trees to have a look. Barney climbed up the knobbly trunk a little way and found that it was easy to climb, and that there were lots of fairly strong, straight branches where they could perch.
“That’s what we’ll do then.” Roger said decidedly. “We’ll creep up here late at night and get up this tree and watch!”
“Goodness knows what we’ll see!” Diana shivered a little.