A GREAT SURPRISE FOR THE CHILDREN
Before Lucy-Ann had any time to think this over she was pushed, roughly, by Stanley who was glowering over the two girls, his eyes twinkling with an evil glint in the torch light. Lucy-Ann was really afraid and walked on, hands tied firmly behind her back.
Kiki cackled loudly from behind and flew to her shoulder. She seemed to know Lucy-Ann was upset and whispered all kinds of comforting words into her ear! What a funny bird she was! Mr Dickens led the little company a way along the passage and then quite suddenly it forked in two. He took the left turning, the others following. This passage was a lot narrower and a lot lower and the children had to bend down for a little way. Then it widened out.
Then children walked on, thinking what a long way it was. The passage seemed to go on for miles. But of course they didn’t really. It was just that the children were tired and worried. The passage curved round and forked into three. This time the children were led down the middle passage which was lit all along with candles. The children wondered how Mr Dickens knew his way! They didn’t see the tiny chalk marks along the wall that were made at every fork. Finally the tunnel came to a dead end, and left or right there was an opening. The children were almost asleep! Mr Dickens took the right turning, and they walked down a passage of stout wooden doors. If the children had bothered to count, there was eight in total. Mr Dickens stopped outside the fifth one. There was a keyhole in it and four strong bolts which had been pulled across, firmly. A key hung on a nail, opposite the door.
Mr Dickens glanced behind to make sure all the children were there. There they were, all stood in a row, sleepy eyed and solemn. He nodded at them and took down the key from the nail. He pushed it in the lock and turned it round. He pulled all the children forward.
“We’ll bring you bread and water occasionally, but there’ll you stay until we’ve done our job, with our other prisoners. It will depend on if we’re in a good mood or not that we let you out. Even then you wont be able to find your way out. Serves you right for sticking your nose into other peoples business,” he said in a cruel voice. And with that, he pulled back the bolts and shoved the children into a stone cold room. They heard the bolts being driven back and the key being turned. They looked at each other in dismay.
There were candles lit in the room and the children looked behind themselves to see what it looked like and see who the other prisoners were. It was a rather like the cave they had dropped into a few days ago when they had discovered the second gap in the hill. In fact it was exactly the same, however this one had a few odd pieces of ‘furniture’ scattered about in it. It was quite large too, however the furniture was all set at the front. The end of the cave looked rather forbidding and the children firmly made up their minds that they would not be going there! The furniture was old and boring. For instance, there were three mattresses, and a small moth bitten table, and a few stools and cushions. The children shivered, for it was very cold inside the little cave room. One of the men stirred and sat up. “Who’s there?” a voice said, sleepily.
The children looked at each other in astonishment. Surely that was a voice they knew… A warm, kind, friendly voice with a stern tone.
“Why, it’s you, Bill!” cried Lucy-Ann in the greatest excitement.
“BILLL!” The children flung themselves onto Bill, who was now looking up in the greatest surprise.
“How did you get here?” he kept on asking, but the children were just so happy to see him, that they didn’t care about that! They had found Bill at last, just when things seemed bad. The other prisoners were stirring now and sat up at the great noise and looked at the children in surprise.
“Now these blankets wrapped round you,” said Bill, taking a rug off a bundle of blankets. The children wrapped themselves up warm and all squeezed into the spare double mattress. Bill introduced the other captives; “Children, you have not met many of my companions from my base before, but I would like you to meet a few now. This is Howard Wood, who I worked with when I went to South Africa a few summers ago.”
Mr Wood grinned at them. He had a nice smile and the children smiled back.
“Are you really Mr Wood?” asked Jack in surprise, “You look exactly like a man who we thought was up to no good called Mr Ferton.”
Mr Wood guffawed. He appeared to have a very good sense of humour. “I’ll explain that later, young lad.” said Mr Wood, slapping Jack on the back.
“This is Raymond Harris,” Bill went on. Mr Harris nodded to the children.
“It’s funny.” said Philip, “We met a man called Mr Kennedy who looked exactly like this man, too.” he said. “Oh! I see! Of course, you would all have to change your names because you wouldn’t want the rogues to know your real names. They would know you at once. So you are Mr Ferton and Mr Kennedy, but they’re just made up,” said Philip.
The two men nodded. Bill went on, “And finally, this is Sammy Thomas, who is new to my base, do you recognise him, too?” he said, twinkling at the children in the candlelight.
“As a matter of fact, we do,” said Philip importantly, “you are the scientist that was at Lowfell Inn for a little while. But you’re not from Bill’s base are you?”
The man looked at him, smiling, “No, I’m not the scientist, but I’m glad you thought I was! And I am Mr Cunningham’s companion. “Bill will want to tell you the whole story, but you are all dropping to sleep!”
“Yes, we’ll leave it until the morning and I’ll tell you the whole thing and you can jolly well tell me why you’re here too, then! Then we’ll try and think of a way out of this cave,” Bill said, getting up and throwing the children a few more rugs.
“Will you all be alright sleeping on that double mattress?” But the children were asleep! They lay on the rather uncomfortable mattresses, rugs sprawled across themselves, with a cushion tucked under their heads. Only Kiki sat up awake, on Bill’s shoulder, speaking comforting words to him. There was a low little rocky shelf in the cave where she decided to perch for the night. She tucked her head firmly under her wing and fell fast asleep!
When the children did wake up in the morning, they couldn’t quite tell if it was morning or night still and they had to look at their watches. Goodness! It was half past eight! Bill and his men were sat up and were eating breakfast. They smiled at the children as they awoke. Kiki was sat on Bill‘s shoulder pecking at the lumps in his porridge bowl. “Anyone for lumpy porridge? Either that or stale bread!” The children pulled a face. What an awful breakfast!
“Will you tell us what happened now, Bill?” asked Lucy-Ann pulling up a stool as close to Bill as she could get. “You went to take mother to Aunt’s and we don’t know what happened since then!” Bill put his arm round her as she stirred her lumpy porridge.
“Well, it didn’t start just then, you know. This whole holiday has been based on a new case I’ve been offered. That message you were told to give me, at the very start of the holidays, Jack. I went to see my chief about it, or that was what the note instructed me to do. I might as well tell you, as I see you’re just as mixed up in this as I am. He told me to take my family on holiday, to Lowfell, for he had tracked down a man we have wanted for quite a few years now. I was to keep watch on him, as well as Raymond and Howard here. He is a very dangerous man, you see, so we couldn’t have just one of us here.” The children listened with much interest.
“So we arrived here and after a few days, we had heard nothing of the man we were after and we started to give up, thinking that perhaps he’d moved on to a different part. There was nothing going on here from what we could see. And then I overheard the inn handy man on the telephone, talking about a man called Wilfred Freeman. Do you recognise that name?”
“Why yes, he’s a famous scientist isn’t he?” Jack said at once.
“He certainly is, and I guessed at once that that Mr Dickens is part of all this. It seemed that they were wanting to steal one of his formulas. I got Howard and Raymond to have a word with old Wilfred, to persuade him to keep out the way of Lowfell so he wouldn’t be in danger. They drove him back to the base and told the chief all about our thoughts on the case, how we thought Mr Dickens and possibly a few others were trying to steal Wilfred’s formulas and secrets, and apparently he agreed with us! And so, we made a few plans.
“Wilfred could certainly not return without being put in incredible danger, so instead we disguised one of our men as the scientist hoping to learn a bit more about this case by doing so. The men keep pestering old Sammy here for a formula of how to drain a marsh or such like, so for some reason or other, they plan to drain this marshland. Obviously poor old Sammy doesn’t know a thing about this and wont tell them a thing. They try to force it out of him by hitting and kicking him, but Sammy’s clothes have been specially made and padded! The men thought it was Wilfred they were stealing from so they are determined that Sammy knows something. And so, to kidnap old Sammy, without us on their case, the men obviously needed us out the way, for somehow they caught wind that we were working on this case and they too made plans.
“When I took Allie away to her sisters, it was a great chance for them to kidnap me, without anyone really guessing I’d been kidnapped. First they took me to a house and locked me in the cellar. Meanwhile they must have discovered this place, and moved everything down here. They locked me in here and then found Raymond and Howard were in league with me, too and kidnapped them as well. They were brought here and put with me, and then of course Sammy was kidnapped,” Bill explained. As the children were listening to Bill’s tale, they looked round at the men. They were all rather tall, dark haired men, wise looking and kindly. They could all suddenly make their faces look quite different, which amused the children immensely. Mr Wood suddenly made his face look like Mr Ferton’s and the children laughed.
“But why did Mr Ferton and Mr Kennedy… I mean Mr Wood and Mr Harris try to stop us camping on the hill?” asked Lucy-Ann, feeling puzzled.
“Well, we knew there was something going on there and we didn’t want you getting mixed up in it all,” said Mr Harris rather awkwardly. The children nodded.
“So how are we going to get out here and find out what those men are doing?” asked Sammy.
“Oh, I know more or less what they’re doing,” said Philip airily. The men turned to him, immediately.
“What?” they snapped.
“They are after The Foresters treasure, the long lost gold in the old ship which sunk when the marshland turned into marsh,” he explained. The men pricked up their ears at once, rather like a pack of dogs! That explained things a bit then!