INSIDE THE OLD MANOR
“A library!” breathed Roger. “And old, old library!”
“And just look at all the books!” exclaimed Diana, in wonder, forgetting for a moment that she was afraid of the strange noises they had heard through the walls. “There must be hundreds – no, thousands! I wonder if anyone has ever read them?”
Snubby turned to look at the door through which they had stepped. He gave an exclamation.
“I say – look at this!”
They all turned. Snubby was standing next to the opening, and they could see that the door, which was attached to the wall with hinges, was in fact made to look like part of the bookshelves, with the spines of false books attached to it! In fact that whole part of the wall, about eight feet wide and six feet tall, was false, decorated with false books and shelves!
“It’s a secret door disguised to look like the bookshelves!” Snubby’s eyes gleamed. “I say – how super! I’ve read about these in books and they always sound so mysterious and exciting!”
He pushed the door gently with his hand, but the hinges were so well-oiled that the door actually swung completely shut with a click.
“Ass!” Barney said, striding over. “What did you do that for? What if we can’t open it again?”
Snubby looked rather anxious and embarrassed, and tried to pull the door open, but it had closed itself properly and was such an exact fit in with the rest of the wall that he couldn’t even find a join to try and get his fingers in. He looked round at Barney.
“We’ll open it somehow,” he said, trying to sound more cheerful than he felt.
“Why do you always have to cause trouble?” Diana scolded her cousin. “We’ve only just got here and there is obviously something strange going on, and we need to be able to get away down that passage! Why did you have to shut it?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose!” protested Snubby. “I…”
“Shh!” Roger, who was over by the large window, suddenly shushed them. “Shut up! I can hear something!”
The window was a few feet from the big panelled door of the library, and Roger crept over to the door and listened. Diana crept to his side and put her ear against the door. She clutched at Roger.
“Feet!” she whispered. “Feet again! I don’t like this!”
Barney left the secret door and went to stand beside them. Snubby remained where he was, rather sheepish, with Loony silently by his feet. Loony was frightened too. He didn’t like this strange dark room, where the children were obviously scared.
There was the distinct sound of feet hurrying about. Sometimes they sounded fairly close, sometimes further away.
“Running footsteps again!” said Barney quietly.
“This is horrible!” Diana said, still clutching Roger. “Why are they running? Why would anyone be running about? It’s creepy!”
“Let’s go and have a look round,” Barney whispered. “Keep your torches off, there will be enough moonlight coming in through the windows. And for goodness’ sake keep quiet. Snubby, tell Loony to be quiet.”
Loony didn’t need telling! The little spaniel was scared and forlorn, his tail between his legs, and hadn’t a word to say!
Barney quietly opened the door and peered out. There was no-one there and he couldn’t hear any noise, so he tiptoed out and beckoned to the others. They found themselves in a long, wide passage, with thick carpet on the stone floor, panelling along the lower half of the walls, various paintings, and a small wooden table halfway along, on which was some kind of ornament. There were several windows along the length of the passage, all hung with dark, thick curtains, which were drawn back and held with golden rope. Despite being old and uninhabited, it had a very sumptuous look.
“Which way?” Roger whispered.
Barney considered. At one end of the passage he could see a door, which suggested a dead end. The other end turned a corner, so he pointed that way, and they all set silently off, padding in their rubber shoes on the thick old carpet.
They turned the corner and the passage widened out a huge hallway. A big staircase with thick oak bannisters led up to the first floor, and over on the other side of the hall, a passage like the one they had just come along led away round another corner, to more rooms.
They crept across the hall and down the opposite passage. There were more doors along this passage, and on peeping round them, the children saw a beautiful old drawing room, a billiard room with the huge old billiard table still there, and, at the end of the passage, they found the sitting room with the French windows that they had peeped into from outside, on the day that they had climbed the wall to explore.
“I wonder if there is a key in those windows,” Barney said, going quietly over. “Seeing as Snubby has closed our only exit.”
Snubby rolled his eyes at Barney.
“It wasn’t my fault!” he said.
There was no key.
“Well I must say this is mighty strange,” Roger said, looking round the room. “Usually in old places there is thick dust everywhere so you can see if anyone has been about, because they leave footprints in the dust, but this place is so beautifully clean, and everything looks rich and expensive. There’s no dust anywhere.”
“You’re right.” said Diana. “And the place doesn’t feel huge and cold and empty, like Rockingdown Manor did, do you remember? And Robbers’ Grange? It feels almost cosy – although that’s the wrong word because I don’t feel cosy here at all, I’m terrified.”
“I think it’s all the thick carpets and curtains and panelled walls that make it feel like that.” Barney said. “It’s not a huge old empty cold stone house.”
Miranda, who had been silent for a long time, suddenly leapt out of Barney’s shirt onto his shoulder and pulled at his hair, chattering. Something had scared her. Barney at once looked round and went to the door.
He heard a bump somewhere in the house, perhaps upstairs, and then more footsteps. Not running ones this time, slow, walking ones. Then there was the sound of a door clicking shut, then some more footsteps, but this time they were quicker ones again.
Diana was absolutely terrified.
“Barney, let’s go,” she said. “This is absolutely horrible. It must be haunted. That can’t be real people running about up there.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Roger. “It’s not haunted! Ghosts don’t exist! It’s people up there doing something.”
Snubby went out of the sitting room and over to the foot of the stairs. All was quiet. He advanced up the stairs a little way, holding onto the old wooden bannisters. The others crept forward to watch him. Diana was clutching at Barney in horror. How could Snubby possibly have the courage to actually go up the stairs?
Roger, seeing that Snubby was fine, crept forward and followed him.
“Come on,” Barney whispered to Diana. “It’s all right. Let’s go with them.”
“Barney – no!” Diana was still clutching at him. “Let’s just find a way out of here!”
“We will,” Barney promised reassuringly. “Let’s just have a peep at the top of the stairs.”
The four children crept up the huge old staircase. Loony was pressed against Snubby’s heels, and Miranda had disappeared back into Barney’s shirt. At the top of the stairs, the landing swept round at both sides, carpeted with a rich dark carpet, and passages led off several different ways.
Snubby looked round enquiringly at Barney, and Barney, after considering for a few seconds, pointed silently to a passage on the left. The children crept across the landing and started down the passage. On their right was a half-open door, which showed a richly-decorated bedroom beyond. Next to the bedroom was a small bathroom, done out in blue and white.
Suddenly a loud thump made all four children almost jump out of their skins. It sounded very close by. Loony gave a yelp of terror and raced back down the passage to the top of the huge staircase, and promptly shot down the stairs. Diana followed him. Even the boys were frightened by the noise. What could it be? They didn’t wait to find out!
“Come on – let’s get out of here,” Barney said, pulling Snubby with him, and the three of them followed Diana and Loony back down to the ground floor.
“What shall we do?” Diana asked. “How can we get out? The false bookshelf is shut!”
“We must try and open it.” said Barney. “There must be a way. We have to go back that way – Rosewood Cottage will be locked and none of us has a key to any of the doors.”
“Blow!” said Roger, as they crept back across to the library. “Why didn’t any of us think to bring a key with us just in case?”
They crept back into the library and closed the door. Snubby darted over to the bookshelf and started to tap and press here and there, trying to find a way of opening it again. Now that they were safely in the room, with the door closed, Diana switched on her torch and shone it onto the false books. She was looking for a handle or perhaps another rope hanging like there was on the other side, to open the false bookshelf from in the passage.
Roger did the same, flashing his torch everywhere. Barney was over by the window, examining it to see if they could open it somehow. Not that that would help much, because they were still locked out of Rosewood Cottage! But at least they would be away from the manor.
Snubby had pressed and tapped just about everywhere and turned away from the bookshelf in disgust. He knew the others blamed him for closing their only way of exit, and he had really wanted to open it again. Suddenly, Diana gave a quiet exclamation. Her torchlight had shone onto one of the false books, which had a thick red spine, and a large gold seal of some sort on the spine.
“Look!” she hissed. “That seal sticks out from the false book! Do you suppose…” she stepped forward and pressed the seal, and, with a sudden click, the bookshelf opened again!
Everyone exclaimed in delight. Loony dashed through the opening at once, back into the passage. Diana was next through, and the boys hurried after her. Back in the passage, Barney pulled the door back towards them, and, the same as before, it swung closed with a click. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. They felt safe now.
“Well done, Di!” Barney said, patting Diana’s shoulder. “Now come on, for goodness sake! Let’s get home!”
The four children and Loony hurried back along the passage to Rosewood Cottage. Miranda had come out from Barney’s shirt now that she felt that the fear and danger had passed, and she scampered along the passage next to Loony, sometimes leaping up onto Barney’s shoulder for a ride.
When they got back to the cottage, they found the stone still moved to one side, and silence in the cottage. Barney hauled himself up into the living room, then helped the others up one by one. They all felt exhausted. What with hurrying about in passages and feeling terrified in the old house, tiredness suddenly hit them and it was all they could do to creep quietly upstairs to their rooms. They fell into bed and were asleep in seconds! What an adventurous night!