PRISONERS IN THE HILL
Philip too, was waiting quietly, for goodness knows who to come along. Beaky was now safely in his pocket so that he would not need to bother about him when the enemies arrived. He lay, unmoving under the canopy. A few moments later, there was a slight noise. If it hadn’t been so silent, Philip would never have heard it. He listened. There it came again. It was the sound of low voices, the same noise they had heard for a few nights now. It was ever so slight, and for a moment, Philip wondered if it was actually a noise. And then it got slightly louder, and Philip nodded. It was definitely voices.
He looked to see if he could see anyone, but there was no-one in sight yet. A few minutes later, Philip could see the figures quite clearly, clambering up the hill. It was strange for there was only two of them, now. As they came closer, Philip saw that one of them held a torch. By the light of this, he could see quite clearly the faces of the men. One of them was Mr Dickens, the inn handy man, and the other was the man with the scar down his cheek. Philip was all ready. He would slip quietly out of the canopy, and throw it into the willow tree, as soon as the men were by. The moment was close now. The men, talking in low, cautious voices walked past, shining their torches ahead of them. They didn’t even glance towards the canopy.
‘What a waste of hiding place,’ thought Philip, carefully taking off the canopy and shoving it the willow tree. ‘I might have just stood here, and waiting for them to pass and they wouldn’t have even noticed me.’
The men were walking rather quickly and Philip ran towards them, being as light on his feet as he could. He didn’t want to get too close and be caught, but he did rather want to hear a word or two. So, Philip quietly walked as close to the men as he dared, sticking to the shadows. The men were talking quite low and quickly, so Philip couldn’t make a thing out at first. They passed the camp, all silent and still, he caught a few words here.
“There’s them kids’ camp. Wonder when they’re going to budge? We can’t go and ask them, that would be too obvious. They’d think someit’ was up straight away. I know em’ kind of kids’. Right down meddlers’.”
‘I suppose we are,’ thought Philip, grinning. On they went, through the shadows and darkness, heading downhill now. He overhead a few more words, but not many, something to do with someone called Phil, it sounded. And then the marsh. Philip could hear them talking quite well about the marsh, because apparently the men had a disagreement over something and they began to talk, or rather argue, quite loudly.
Philip could only hear their muffled voices at first. “I wonder if Curtis has began his job yet, I’ve heard quite a few gurgles today,” said the first man who was presumably the one with the scar down his face.
Mr Dickens talked in a spiteful way, with a Scottish accent. The other man was American. “I still don’t think we’ll get much on this one. I tell you, the treasure is only a myth from years ago,” Mr Dickens said sulkily.
“Hey, you shut up. If we don’t find the long lost Forester treasure, my name is not Stanley Black,” said Stanley.
“Well, it probably isn’t. You’ve changed your name hundreds of times to disguise yourself, Stan. You hold your tongue!” Mr Dickens retorted.
“Don’t you tell me to hold my tongue!” said Stanley in a much louder voice now.
“Hush, you idiot!” said Mr Dickens, in a fierce whisper. “Do you want the whole village after us? Look, we’re here. Help we get this rock up.”
Philip slipped behind a bush quickly and put his thumbs to his mouth. “Twit… twit…twooo…” Philip watched the men, waiting for an answer from Jack.
Yes here it came: “Twit…twit…twooo!” Philip watched Mr Dickens stiffen. “Come on, Tom, it was only an owl. You should know what an owl sounds like by now.”
Jack, with Kiki sat firmly on his shoulder, and the others were now shinning up the rope and swinging onto the tree branches. ‘Thud’ they jumped down gently. Soon, they were all standing watching the men heave up the boulder which lay in front of the hole in the hill. Jack whispered for Kiki to keep quiet, and she obeyed like she understood every word.
Finally the rock gave way and it rolled onto its side uncovering the secret hole. The men jumped down, leaving the hole unguarded. Philip glanced towards the group of trees and the other trooped out, silent as mice. The men had completely disappeared now, and they could not be heard down the hole either, so the children climbed quietly down, the boys helping the girls. Down they went, slowly and silently. Down the iron foot grips and dropping to the cold bare ground. The children remembered the cool room they had explored, but it looked completely different now, as they shone their torches around. For one thing, boxes and crates stood around, piled high. Jack peeped into one, but it was completely empty. They looked into a few others and they too, were empty.
“Hear anything from the men, then?” whispered Jack to Philip.
“Yes!” said Philip hardly keeping quiet. “They’re planning to steal The Foresters treasure! Only that and a few names.”
“You’ve done well,” said Jack in admiration. “But how on earth are they going to do that? It would be impossible to try and wade through the marshland…”
“Look!” said Dinah, suddenly. She was round the other side of a few crates, piled high. “There’s a ladder and a gap in the ceiling. It must be where the men got through.”
The others looked at the ladder in interest and then towards the ceiling. “I knew there must be a kind of hole in here which was letting in fresh air, remember we hunted round for it, for ages last time we came here.” said Jack, running his hand up the ladder. “Come on, lets go up. All behind me, please!”
And just as they were about to begin climbing the ladder, a voice came from above, “Who’s down there?”
Philip recognised it at once. “It’s the American man, Stanley Black,” he hissed “Come on, lets hide!”
“Where?” asked Lucy-Ann in despair.
“In a crate!” said Jack. “Everyone get into a crate and don’t make a sound.”
Each of them hurried inside a crate and slammed the lid snapping off their torches as soon as the lid was down. Kiki flew in with Jack, and Philip was careful not to squash Beaky when he lay down, pulling down the crate lid gently.
The ladder creaked. Evidently, the American man was climbing down it to have a look around. Unfortunately, he looked first in the crates, for it was the only hiding place! After looking in a few, he found Lucy-Ann, lay flat in her crate, crying bitterly. He shone his torch on poor her and whistled. At once, his whistle echoed all around in the cave, sounding eerie and spooky.
“Please don’t take me away!” she said, wiping her eyes. The man called Stanley stared at her in astonishment. As soon as the others heard poor Lucy-Ann had been found and was crying, they came out at once. Stanley was even more surprised. “Kids?” he said, staring round. “And a bird.” he added, glancing at Kiki. “Is there any more of you here?”
“No, there isn’t.” said Jack, climbing out of his crate. “Now just you tell me what you’re doing here?” he said boldly.
“I’ll do no such thing.” said the man, “Hey, Tom, you just come down here and see what I’ve found!”
Mr Dickens came down the ladder, and scowled at the children. “It’s those kids that are campin’,” he said, looking at the children with dislike. “What do you think you’re doing, meddling around here in business that does not concern you?” he said, grabbing Jack by his shirt and Philip by his arm. Kiki flew off Jack’s shoulder in alarm. She retired to a rocky ledge a little way up the wall, however she meant to follow Jack and the others, wherever the men might lead them. “Get the other two Stan. We’ll take them where the others are. Keep ‘em out the way.” Stanley grabbed the girls rather roughly back the arms and led them towards the ladder.
“You be careful with them,” Jack warned in a threatening voice. They’re only girls, you know.” Dinah looked at him with a scornful expression on her face, but all the same, she was rather afraid now.
Stanley scowled at him, but didn’t take any notice of what he said. Mr Dickens made the boys get up the ladder first, climbing up behind them, as close as he could. Stanley pushed the girls up, and they followed Mr Dickens. Lucy-Ann was crying all the more now. She really was scared. Jack wanted to comfort her, but he was made to walk in front of Mr Dickens.
“Come ‘ere, now you two,” said Mr Dickens, when they reached the top of the ladder. Kiki came sailing up and landed neatly on another rocky ledge. “Don’t want any trouble from you now.” he said, pulling the boys arms back roughly, and producing some thick rope, which he tied tightly round each boy’s arms.
Stanley did the same to the girls and Lucy-Ann cried out in pain, as he tied the knots, “Ow!” she cried, “It’s too tight!” she wailed.
Jack glared at Stanley. “Make them looser, or else,” he growled. But Stanley, again didn’t take any notice.
“Don’t bother him,” Mr Dickens said, checking the knots he had tied. “He only speaks a little bit of English.”
“He seemed to be talking good English when you were walking over the hill, earlier,” said Philip, cheerfully.
The American man, Stanley, turned towards Philip sharply. “You were following us?” he snapped.
“See?” said Philip turning to Mr Dickens, “Speaks English perfectly well, just as well as you and me!” Mr Dickens scowled and pushed the poor boys on.
“Now you follow me,” he said, pushing in front of them. The children looked around. They were in a low roofed passage which stretched out ahead of them, it seemed, forever. Lucy-Ann glanced behind. She saw the hole in the floor, which they had come through, and the ladder peeping through. Behind that, there was a dead end, just a wall. Poor Lucy-Ann began to cry again. ‘Where were the men taking them? And who were ‘the others’ who they spoke of?