A MIDNIGHT JOURNEY
Barney sat on the edge of the hole in the floor and tried to peer down to see how deep it was and what the ground was like. Diana switched on one of the lamps to give him a bit more light.
“It’s not a big drop,” Barney said, looking up at the others’ expectant faces. “It’s only about five or six feet.”
Snubby arrived with everyone’s torches. Barney shone his down into the hole to make sure there was nothing sharp that he would land on when he jumped, then put his torch between his teeth and leapt lightly down into the hole. He landed with a soft thud.
“It’s a passage all right!” he grinned up at the others, when he had shone his torch in front of him a little way to see what lay ahead. “Come on then! Di? You first?”
Diana sat on the edge of the hole and Barney helped her down. Loony was the next one down – he couldn’t wait any longer. He barked a little and Snubby shushed him at once.
“Shut up, silly dog!” he hissed into the hole. “Do you want to wake the whole house up?”
Loony looked reproachfully up at Snubby and wagged his tail. Snubby jumped down and gave him a little pat. He took his torch from Roger and shone it round. The passage was not a wide one; only about three feet wide, he thought. The walls were a queer mixture of roughly-hewn rock and soil, but the ground beneath their feet had been laid with large flat slabs of stone, to make a level pathway to walk on.
“Where’s Miranda?” asked Diana, looking round in the light of the torches, her face lit up queerly.
“In my shirt,” grinned Barney. “She was excited when we were above ground, but she’s scared now we’re actually down here.”
Roger dropped down with a bump.
“What shall we do about the stone and the rug?” he said. “Do we leave the hole open?”
Barney considered for a few seconds.
“Yes.” he said. “It’s an awfully heavy stone and I would hate it if we couldn’t lift it again for some reason, and it’s too much of a bother to try and arrange the rug back over it from down here. No-one will bother about it – I bet Mr King and Miss Pepper will sleep right through the night!”
“Let’s get going!” said Snubby impatiently, for he was longing to explore the passage. He felt very proud that he and Loony had discovered it, and tried to hurry on ahead. Barney pulled him back.
“I’m going first!” he said. “You keep behind me with Loony.”
“Why should you go first?” Snubby asked indignantly. “I found it!”
“Don’t be an ass down here, Snubby,” Roger said, from the back of the line. “Do as Barney says.”
The little procession set off along the dark passage. The roof became low in places and they had to stoop. It got no narrower though, for which they were thankful, as it already felt very enclosed with the low rocky roof brushing their heads every now and again.
The musty smell indicated that there were no airways in it anywhere. Loony didn’t like it much. He kept thinking that he could smell a faint whiff of rabbit and then it would go again. He was very puzzled. Were there rabbits here or not?
After about twenty minutes, the passage started to slope upwards slightly. The ground was still paved with the large slabs of stone, for which the children were grateful, as it was a lot easier than stumbling along on loose soil and tripping over bits of rock that they couldn’t see.
They began to feel very warm, and Roger took off his jumper.
“I wonder where we are?” Diana mused, as they went along. She shone her torch all around, but there was nothing out of the ordinary to indicate where they might be. The roof of the passage was higher now so that they did not have to stoop, and occasionally the roots of a tree would be hanging down casting an eerie torch lit shadow on the walls as they passed.
“Haven’t a clue,” Barney said. “I wish I’d have thought to bring a compass.”
Shortly after that, the passage began to slope a lot more steeply, and the children had to stop and have a little rest. They leaned against the walls of the passage to catch their breath. Miranda appeared from inside Barney’s shirt. She had become too hot in there and wanted to come out to see what was going on. Loony was sitting on Snubby’s feet.
“I wasn’t reckoning on going mountaineering!” said Snubby, also taking off his sweater. “I don’t like it down here much. There’s no air.”
“Let’s go on,” said Diana in a shaky voice. “I don’t want the air to give out!”
“It won’t, don’t worry.” Barney smiled, putting his arm round her shoulders. “Come on then – let’s carry on.”
The little party set off again. They kept going up the sloping passage for another ten minutes, until Barney stopped suddenly.
“Hey – look!” he said. “We’ve come to steps!”
The others crowded round him in excitement. In front of them the passage stopped, and a tiny flight of grey stone steps twisted up above them, to a wooden trapdoor.
“We’re here!” Roger said. “Wherever here is!”
Barney climbed the steps and pushed at the trapdoor. He half expected it to be locked or bolted but it wasn’t. It lifted easily and he grabbed at it to stop it crashing open and causing a terrible noise. He climbed right up and peeped through the crack of the open trapdoor. It was all in darkness above, wherever it was. He pushed the trapdoor open, expecting it to fall flat to the ground, but something stopped it halfway, so that it was standing up vertically. Barney climbed up a little further.
“What’s there? What can you see?” hissed Snubby.
“It’s just more stone steps.” said Barney. “The trapdoor won’t open fully, it’s resting against a stone wall, the steps go up between two stone walls.”
Barney climbed right out of the hole and up onto the next flight of steps. They were the same as the steps they had just climbed from the passage; soft grey stone. They went up in a straight line for a few yards and then turned out of sight sharply to the left.
The others followed him out of the trapdoor and shone their torches round. There was nothing to see, just the two stone walls on either side, and the steps ahead.
“Where in the world are we?” wondered Roger, closing the trapdoor quietly in case it decided to fall shut and make a row.
“I’m wondering if we’re at Rosewood Manor,” said Barney suddenly. “Look at the walls – they’re made of the same stone as the house is.”
“And we’ve just come up a slope in the passage!” said Diana, her eyes shining in the torchlight. “I think Barney’s right! Rosewood Manor is on top of the hill! Why shouldn’t it be joined to Rosewood Cottage by a passage? They both have the same name so perhaps they were owned by the same family in the past!”
“Yes! Of course!” Roger said. “Perhaps it was an escape passage or somewhere to hide!”
“How thrilling!” said Diana. “Just think of what might have happened here hundreds of years ago!”
“Come on!” said Snubby impatiently, shoving at Diana. “Never mind the past – let’s see where this goes!”
They climbed the steps and turned the corner, where the steps continued upwards, going straight for a little way and then turning another corner.
“Are we behind the walls of the house, do you think?” Diana said in a whisper.
“Quite possibly.” Barney replied. “These lengths of passage look about right for the length of a wall, and then it turns at right angles as if we’re following the wall of another room.”
“Sshh!” Snubby suddenly hissed. “What’s that?”
They all stopped.
“I can’t hear anything.” Roger said. “I…”
“Ssssshhhh!” Snubby hissed again. “I can hear something!”
Snubby was right. There was a slight noise coming from somewhere, a strange noise, almost a light pattering.
“It’s footsteps!” Diana said, clutching at Barney in fright. “Footsteps – hurrying – running!”
“Are they in the house, do you think?” Roger said.
“Yes – they’re not in this passage, they’re too faint.” Barney said, listening. “Come on – let’s keep going. We may find something ahead.”
Diana was now feeling too frightened to carry on. It was frightening enough exploring an old dark house in the middle of the night, but even more frightening when you could hear footsteps!
“Go on, Di!” Roger gave her a shove.
“Don’t!” she said crossly, but carried on all the same, keeping very close to Barney. Loony was silent, his tail well down. He didn’t like this at all. The smell of rabbits had disappeared, the children felt frightened, and he could hear strange noises. Miranda had disappeared back inside Barney’s shirt, giving a little whimper now and again. She was frightened too. Barney put his hand inside his shirt and stroked her gently.
Eventually the steps ended and the passage became level, still winding its way from left to right, obviously still between walls. The children couldn’t hear any noises any more. All was silent, but they still felt frightened.
Barney stopped. “The passage stops here!” he said, shining his torch on a blank stone wall a few feet ahead. They shone their torches around and above them and on the ground, but there was no trapdoor, no door, and no visible exit.
“What now?” Snubby said. “It can’t just be a dead end, surely?”
“No – look!” Diana pointed to a small length of thick, frayed rope, attached to a metal ring set in one of the stones on the wall to the right of them. “A rope! Do we pull it?”
“Only one way to find out!” grinned Barney in the torchlight. He took hold of the rope and pulled on it firmly. It gave beneath his hand and the wall in front of him, with a slight click, swung silently open!
The four children gasped in amazement. Snubby darted forward and grabbed Loony’s collar to prevent him from rushing through the opening into the room beyond. They all switched off their torches at once. There was silence. They stood and listened for a moment to make sure there was no-one there.
Barney motioned for them all to stay where they were, and he tiptoed forward and peeped out of the hole. He whistled in amazement.
“What is it?” whispered Roger, making them all jump.
“Come and look!” Barney whispered back. “It’s ok, there’s no-one here. Look at this!”
The other three children stepped forward and out of the hole into the dark room. A little moonlight filtered in through the window, enough to show them where they were and make them gasp in astonishment. They were in a magnificent library, with oak-panelled walls, dark old furniture, and thousands of books lining the walls!