Archive for April, 2012

Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 12

April 28, 2012

 CHAPTER 12

 A Disappearing Trick

The Pontyrabad Secret Society met regularly in their secret underground room and kept up their watch rota with grim determination, but nothing did they see and no new evidence did they gather until the following Thursday when it was the turn of Titch and Gogs to go on watch. After their meeting that evening, Bunny, Smudgie and Miff decided to go for a swim so made their way, with their bathing kit, in the direction of the beach near the coastguard station. Titch and Gogs went in the other direction down the coast road to the common.

“We’ll hide near the end of the church tonight Gogs,” said Titch, “then if anyone goes near the old cellar or the warming room we’re bound to see them.”

“Cool idea Titch!” agreed Gogs. “There’s some long grass and weeds on that side, so we can move about on our hands and knees to avoid being seen.”

They took up their position a little way off from the church where they could see a good stretch of the Straight Mile. They sat down on a large stone, only their heads showing above the mixture of tall grass and weeds. They continued their patient watch chatting for nearly an hour until it was beginning to get dark.

“Looks as though we’re going to be unlucky again tonight Titch,” said Gogs disappointedly.

“I’m afraid you’re probably right,” replied Titch. Then he paused gazing intently in the direction of the Straight Mile. “Look there! Look!” His companion looked but seemed quite unimpressed.

“What am I s’posed to look at Titch? I can’t see anything.”

“Coming down the road there. See . . . a car. It looks like the one those men came in last Friday, unless I’m mistaken. Look! It’s slowing down.”

“It is slowing down Titch. Are you sure it’s the same car those men were in? It could be evening trippers.”

“It can’t be trippers at this time of night. It’ll be dark soon.”

Gogs became quite excited. “Titch! Titch! There’s someone getting out.” He would have jumped up to see, but Titch, knowing Gogs, held him firmly down.

“We’ll soon see who it is, Gogs. There’s five of them and they’re walking in this direction.”

“They’re carrying suitcases Titch.”

“You’re right! Who on earth would want to come to this place carrying suitcases?”

“It’s them Titch! It’s them!” gasped Gogs.

“Yep! There’s the man who gave Bunny the five pound note. And that rough man he called Mason is with them.”

“Those cases are pretty big!” exclaimed Gogs trying to stand up to get a better look.

“Get down you chump!” whispered Titch who grabbed his companion’s jacket and pulled him down unceremoniously into a crouching position. “They’re getting nearer now. I wish it wasn’t quite so dark so we could see them better.”

The suitcases the men were carrying were obviously quite heavy. When the group was some thirty or forty metres from the two boys they stopped and put their cases on the ground. The man they all seemed to treat as the one in charge was the only one not carrying a case. He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a packet of cigarettes. He handed cigarettes to all his companions while, at the same time, glancing all around him.

“What’s the idea, boss?” asked one of the men.

“Yeah. Why stop here?” added another.

“Just making sure there are no . . . er . . . observers,” replied the man. They all lit their cigarettes and started to walk in the direction of the old cellar.

Gogs moved slowly forward in the long grass straining his eyes to get a better look at the men. Suddenly his knee hit something hard and he rolled over sideways with a cry of pain.

“Ouch!”

“Sssh!” whispered Titch clapping his hand over Gogs’s mouth.

The boys froze in their positions as two of the men stopped. One looked in their direction. “What was that?” he hissed.

“What was what?” asked their chief stopping and following the gaze of the other man. “See something?”

“I didn’t see anything Guv,” the man replied, “but I thought I heard a noise over there somewhere.”

“I thought I heard something too,” added the second man.

“Wait here!” ordered the chief as he started to walk in the direction indicated by the other two, straight towards the crouching figures.

Titch and Gogs lay flat in the grass and weeds hardly daring to breathe. The man advanced slowly looking this way and that as he went. When he was only about five metres from the boys he stopped. He had a final look all around him and then walked back to join his companions. “Nothing there! Probably a rat or something. Come on, let’s get this stuff done up.”

The five men moved off towards the cellar. The boys, slightly scared, but still determined to find out something, watched the men above the top of the grass untill they were lost in the darkness.

“Come on Gogs!” cried Titch cautiously rising to his feet.

“Are we g . . .g . . . going home?” asked Gogs still lying in the grass, not having quite recovered from his fright.

“Home?” echoed Titch. “Of course not. We’ve come here to investigate, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll follow them and see what they do.”

“But wouldn’t it be better to wait here for a bit?” protested Gogs.

“Don’t be a nitwit,” said Titch. “How can we see what they do from here? It’s just about dark.”

Gogs started, very reluctantly, to get up when he cried out again. “Ouch! I put my knee on that . . . cor Titch, look! Look what I’ve found!”

Titch stopped and shone his torch on Gogs who was holding something in his hand.

“Good grief!” cried Titch. “Bunny’s cricket ball!”

“Now we’ve got the ball and the five pound note,” said Gogs getting to his feet in great triumph.

“Put it in your pocket for now,” said Titch. “We’ve got to find out where those men have gone. Come on! This way. And, whatever you do, don’t go treading on anything else or start making a noise.”

The two friends walked towards the passage leading to the old cellar. As they drew near they saw the flash of a torch in the passage way. Then they heard muffled voices echoing inside. Silence followed. The boys stopped, listening intently. Hearing nothing else they moved forward behind a pile of rough masonry only a few metres from the entrance to the passage.

“That’s funny!” whispered Titch. “They’re very quiet.”

“Perhaps they’re putting their equipment down there,” Gogs suggested.

“You don’t believe that old yarn now, do you?” asked Titch. “If they wanted to install equipment there’s no need to smuggle it here after dark in suitcases.”

“Cor! Do you think they’re smugglers then?” asked Gogs in amazement.

“I don’t know what they are, but I . . .sssh . . . Quiet Gogs! I think they’re coming out.” There was the sound of footsteps, then they heard someone walking along the passage.

“There’s only one of them,” whispered Titch close to Gogs’ ear. ‘Keep absolutely still, he’s coming up the passage.”

It was the chief. He walked quickly out looking all about him as he came. Without waiting he picked his way through the ruins and disappeared into the darkness across the common.

“He’s gone,” said Gogs.

“Yes, but there are four others still down there,” Titch replied.

“P’raps he’s gone to get something from their car,” suggested Gogs.

“Yes, you might be right. I can just see the car sidelights from here. Let’s watch.”

A few minutes elapsed before the man reached the car. The boys heard the door slam as he got in, and saw the lights flicker as he started up the engine. Then, to their utter amazement, he drove off.

“That’s jolly queer!” burst out Titch.

“He’s left all those others behind,” added Gogs.

“This business gets fishier every minute,” said Titch slowly. “It looks as though that man’s not coming back.”

“He might have just gone to fetch something,” suggested Gogs.

“Mmm Very doubtful. Anyway Gogs, to be on the safe side, you stay here. I’m going to go down the passage and look down the steps to see what the others are doing. If that car comes back, you come and warn me.”

“Y. . . Y . . .You’re not going to go down there?” asked Gogs in sheer amazement. “Those other four might hear you and . . .”

“Be quiet Gogs. Remember this is a job for the Society, so do as I say. They won’t hear me if I’m quiet.” Titch crept towards the passage on tip toe, while Gogs watched open-mouthed at the courage of his small companion.

The passage which ended at the flight of steps leading down into cellar was bounded on each side by a stone wall. Titch kept close to this and felt his way slowly along until he could feel the first step with his foot. He listened carefully trying to pick up the sound of voices. He heard nothing. He felt inside his jacket and pulled out his torch. If he were discovered he thought there might be a chance of dazzling his pursuers for a second or two to give him a start back up the steps.

The flight of stone steps was a long one, and although Titch had been down it several times before when he and his friends had been playing in the ruins, on this occasion the journey seemed endless. Eventually he came to the well-worn bottom step. To his left the wall ended abruptly and the cellar extended several metres behind it. The wall to his right carried on a few metres and joined the end of the cellar.

Titch cautiously peered round the wall to his left, every nerve tensed as he strained his ears to listen for the slightest sound. Although his eyes had now grown accustomed to the dark, as he looked into the deep recesses of the cellar all he could see was inky blackness. He began to wonder how four men could stay so absolutely quiet. Surely he should be able to hear them breathing. He briefly stopped breathing himself, but still could hear nothing. Doubts began to enter his mind. Were the men more used to the dark than he was? Could they see him? Perhaps they were preparing to pounce.

Titch withdrew his head behind the wall again and looked back up the steps. All he could see was a faint blue glow high above him which came through the entrance to the passage. He was tempted the rush back up the steps, but realised that, as Chief of the Pontyrabad Secret Society, he had to carry on with his investigation. He pause deep in thought for a moment and then decided on a desperate plan. He would crouch down and shine his torch into the room. If the men were there they would be dazzled long enough for him to make his escape.


Titch shone his torch into the dark cellar but could see no one.

    He crouched down with his thumb placed on the switch of his torch. He quickly pressed it and the powerful beam lit up the whole interior of the cellar, but, to his astonishment, all he could see were a few large lumps of old masonry. He wheeled quickly around and shone his torch behind him thinking that the men might be there, but all he could see was a blank stone wall. Very puzzled he walked further into the cellar shining the beam into every corner, but the place was absolutely empty. He turned around and bolted back up the steps as fast as he could go.

Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 11

April 21, 2012

CHAPTER 11

FUNGUS EXPLAINS

“Yes,” said Bunny. “I’ve been thinking. We don’t really know a lot about the old abbey do we? It might help us if we knew a bit more.”

“Old Benny told us there was a ghost,” said Gogs referring to one of the local coastguard team who was an old friend of the boys.

“Yes, I know that,” returned Bunny. “But all that might be a lot of nonsense. As we have to go back to school the day after tomorrow, why don’t we ask old ‘Fungus’ about it in our history lesson? He seems to know a lot about Pontyrabad and he’s always willing to answer questions.” The others agreed that this was a good idea so Titch was appointed to ask ‘Fungus’ about the abbey during their history lesson.

Seeing his opportunity, Gogs quickly asked: “What’s in your book you want to tell us about Titch?”

“Well, there are a few ideas in this book about being prepared, especially in case of emergencies. For instance it says that when engaged in any activity it’s a good idea to have some useful equipment handy.”

“Equipment? What sort?” pursued Smudgie.

“There’s quite a long list here,” Titch continued.   “But it suggests that, instead of carrying around a parcel of items, each member of the society keeps a few in his pocket. It says it’s better to keep a mobile phone in a separate pocket. It says a screwdriver often comes in useful and things like a penknife, a few paper clips, elastic bands, a pen or pencil and a couple of sheets of paper, a length of electric cable . . .”

“I’ve got a Swiss Army knife,” blurted out Bunny. “That’s got all sorts of things on it. I could keep that in my pocket.”

This idea led to all sorts of offers by all five to carry in their pockets an assortment of paper clips, wire ties, elastic bands, drawing pins, nails and many other items, some of which didn’t seem particularly useful.

“O.K! O.K!” said Titch, raising his hands eventually to quell the barrage of offers. We can all have a look around at home and write down a list of what we can carry in our pockets. Then at the next meeting we can decide who is going to carry what.” They all agreed that this was an excellent idea and would avoid everyone carrying around the same things.

After this decision, Titch declared the meeting closed.

*     *     *     *     *

   For the first time since they’d been attending secondary school, Gogs and Miff were glad when the time came round for history. ‘Fungus’ entered the room carrying a large pile of exercise books under his arm and stroking his wide handlebar moustache with his free hand. He put the pile of exercise books down on his desk with a loud thump. This was a trick he often used to gain the instant attention of the class.

He spent the first quarter of an hour giving out the exercise books and criticising some of the essays on William the Conqueror. After this the exercise books were put away and ‘Fungus’ leaned forward on his desk, stroked his moustache in opposite directions with his forefinger and thumb, which always indicated that he was thinking, and then launched into his lesson.

“Now then, this morning we’re going to move on from the Battle of Hastings to see what was happening in England when everyone started to settle down more or less in peace. The Normans who came over here were fine builders and it was about this time that many beautiful buildings, churches and the like were put up.”


Titch saw his opportunity and, like a flash, his hand shot up.

    At this point Titch saw his opportunity and, like a flash, his hand shot up. “Yes, Roger. What is it?” asked ‘Fungus’ slightly annoyed at being interrupted just as he started his story.

“Did they build abbeys too sir?” asked Titch innocently.

“Er . . . yes, as a matter of fact they did,” replied ‘Fungus’ seeming rather puzzled at the question. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, sir, I wondered whether it was the Normans who build Pontyrabad Abbey on the common.”

‘Fungus’ gave Titch a strange sort of look and then said, “Pontyrabad Abbey . . . mmm . . . well, I believe work was started on the Abbey somewhere about 1100 or so. As a matter of fact it’s quite an interesting ruin. There’s not much left of the church itself I know, but the bottom of the refectory walls are still in good condition. That was where the monks used to eat of course, and the warming room is still almost intact. That’s the place where the monks used to warm themselves on cold winter days. The rooms at the bottom of the steps near the cloisters are the cellars where the food was stored.”

Here, ‘Fungus’ paused for a moment as though in thought, and then asked, “Do any of you ever go near the abbey?”

Gogs, who was sitting next to Titch, put up his hand. “Yes sir, we were there on Friday evening.” ‘Fungus’ showed signs of interest.

“Oh yes, I remember seeing you having your picnic there. Er . . . I take it you had a look round the abbey later on. Did you see anything of . . . er . . . interest?”

Gogs, in his enthusiasm started to blurt out the whole story. “Yes sir, Roger knocked Bernard’s cricket ball for six right into the abbey ruins . . . oh!” A sharp kick on the shins from Titch  stopped him short. Realising that he had almost given the game away he finished lamely. “and  . . . and we never found it sir.”

‘Fungus’ smiled. “Well, I shouldn’t think that would have been very interesting my boy. Rather annoying I should say. What?”

Titch, wishing to divert attention away from Gogs put up his hand once more.

“Is it true that the abbey’s haunted sir?”

‘Fungus’ smiled broadly. “That’s rather a tricky question Roger, I must say. Er . . . what ghost stories have you heard about it?”

“Well sir, my sister told me that some people say that on moonlight nights they’ve seen ghostly shapes walking around the abbey grounds. And others say they’ve seen ghostly shapes sailing on the sea just a short way from the abbey cliff.”

“Ye.. .es,” said ‘Fungus’ slowly stroking his moustache and gazing intently at the whole class. “You see, it’s all based on an old story about the place. Can’t say whether or not it’s true, of course. Anyway the story is this: the abbot in charge of the abbey was an ambitious sort of chap in some ways – full of big ideas and so on – and apparently he borrowed rather a lot of money from a certain important and powerful man. We don’t know who he was, but the abbot wanted to carry out some new project or other that he was rather keen on.

Later on the lender wanted the money back in a hurry. Unfortunately the abbot couldn’t repay it at that time. In the year 1177 the man who loaned the money was himself having to borrow from friends. This, he thought, made him look rather foolish, so he threatened the abbot that if the money was not returned by the full moon in a certain month he would take drastic action.

“Well, as the poor old abbot had no money at the time he still was unable to repay the loan even after such a threat. And so the story goes that, one moonlight night, a party of armed men came silently sailing up the coast in a small boat. They landed on the sands, climbed the cliffs and made their way into the abbey. There they grabbed a monk and made the poor fellow take them to the abbot’s room. They burst in and confronted the startled man demanding repayment of the money on the spot, otherwise they said they would kill him. The abbot pleaded with them saying that, if given a little time, he would pay back all he had borrowed. But the men refused to give him any more time. They murdered both the abbot and the monk, and, quickly grabbing anything which they thought might be of value, they hurriedly left.

“As they were climbing the abbey wall near the coast another monk, who had been walking in the cloisters, saw them and raised the alarm. The dead bodies of the abbot and their fellow monk were discovered and the enraged monks rushed in pursuit of the murderers. But by that time they were safely in their boat, or so they thought, and once more sailing along the coast.

“The monks ran up to the top of the cliff where the coastguard station now is, and when the boat sailed along underneath they hurled down large rocks and boulders. The boat below was smashed to pieces, and all the occupants were drowned.

“And that is why, so we are told, ghostly figures of the abbot and the monk are seen on moonlit nights walking in the abbey grounds, and also why, sometimes, also on moonlit nights, ghostly shapes can be seen sailing on the water.

“And it was in memory of their abbot that the monks named the bridge at the end of the common ‘Pontyrabad’ which in English means ‘Abbot’s Bridge’. In those days of course it was just a wooden bridge. And when the town was established here it took on the name of Pontyrabad.”

The whole class had listened enthralled and in absolute silence as ‘Fungus’ had related his story. The silence was broken by Smudgie’s question: “Please sir, have you ever seen the ghosts?”

‘Fungus’ laughed aloud at this. “No Philip, I must confess I never have, but whenever I pass the ruins on a moonlit night I always keep a careful watch out for them.”

Some close shaves in Pontypool

April 15, 2012

SOME FORTUNATE ESCAPES

Bus jumps a ditch

On Saturday 18th October 1930 there was another bus accident in Pontypool. It happened at night near Croesyceiliog. The bus was crowded as it travelled along the Straight Mile. As the driver passed a car, the bus swerved, jumped a three foot ditch and crashed into a telegraph pole which tore the side out of the bus. Fortunately no one was killed but some of the passengers were injured: 22-year-old Clarice Dickson of Pontypool sustained a fractured leg, the bus conductor, twenty-eight-year-old Edwin Williams of Blaina suffered from shock, Arthur Thomas Jenkins, twenty-two, of Ponypool suffered lacerations, Stanley Jones, thirty, of Pontnewynydd suffered lacerations and shock. An unidentified girl of about twenty, suffered head injuries but remained conscious and two other girls were detained in hospital.

 

Brave instructor saved member of the Home Guard from grenade explosion

On 5th October 1943, during the war, Private J.Driscoll, a member of the Home Guard was receiving instruction from Sergeant John Bird, a regular army instructor from Blackburn, on how to throw a hand grenade. Live ammunition was being used. Unfortunately with one of the throws a hand grenade fell back into the instruction pit and bounced between the two men. It would explode in four seconds.

Sergeant Bird shouted, dived over the grenade and pushed Driscoll away. Then he flung himself down on the ground. Driscoll ended up a fair distance away from the grenade when it exploded so he was unharmed. Unfortunately Sergeant Bird was burned and was taken to Pontypool Hospital with injuries to his leg and groin.

 

Pontypool boy injured at Bristol Zoo

On 13th July 1945, eleven-year-old Malcolm Bond of 11 Hayden Street, fell from the wall of the ape house at Clifton Zoological Gardens. He had to be taken to the Bristol Royal Infirmary with an injured back.

It’s possible that visitors to this blog might know some of the victims of these accidents. Young Malcolm Bond would now be 78 but it’s an event he would not have forgotten.

Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 10

April 14, 2012

   CHAPTER 10

 KEEPING WATCH

On the day Mr Francis’s shed was to be erected, Bunny was told not to bring his friends around as they might get in the way of the workers. They had no objection to this arrangement as it meant that the roof of their new headquarters was being put in place. They therefore decided to go up to the old tower where there was always room to kick a ball around.

One of their favourite games was scoring goals through the doorway of the tower while one of them acted as goalie standing just outside the door. Much to their disappointment, as they arrived at the door they saw Louis sitting inside, painting at his easel.

“Sorry Louis!” they chorused as they were about to enter. “Didn’t know you were painting in here.”

“Is all right,” muttered the artist. “I finish soon, then I go home.”

“We can’t kick for goals with him in there,” muttered Miff as they walked further along the ridge.

“Let’s go down to the shell house,” suggested Smudgie. “We can put our coats down as the goal and kick against one of the walls.”

The others agreed that this was a good idea so they walked down the path along the side of the hill. As the shell house was only open to the public at weekends there was no one there to interrupt their play. They each took it in turn to be goalie and kept a score of who kept out the most goals. After well over an hour, feeling slightly tired, they sat down on the grass to chat. Titch looked idly up towards the tower.

“No sign of Louis finishing his painting yet,” he said wearily.

“I finish soon, he told us,” said Gogs trying to imitate the French accent of the artist.

“Perhaps ‘soon’ to old Louis means a couple of hours,” laughed Miff.

“Tell you what,” suggested Titch, “let’s go back up to the ridge and have some races across the top.”

“Good idea!” they all agreed.

When they were on their feet Titch said: “O.K. now get in line. Last one to touch the old tower is in goal when Louis is gone. Right! Go!”

They all dashed up the hill arriving at the tower in quick succession but with Gogs slightly ahead. After slapping his hand against the tower he peered inside and then turned to look around.

“Where’s Louis gone?”

The others peered through the doorway. “Strange!” said Titch. “He said he was going home. We didn’t see him walking down the hill and he certainly didn’t come down the path past the shell house.”

“Doesn’t matter,” added Bunny. “We can use the door of the tower as goal now.”

After another session each as goalkeeper, they decided they’d had enough and sauntered down the hill back home. As they neared the bottom, Miff, who was in the lead, stopped in his tracks.

“Look! There’s old Louis coming from the abbey,” he cried.

The others stopped in surprise. “P’raps he’s been doing a painting of the old abbey ruins,” suggested Gogs.

“He really does flit about,” added Miff.

“Anyway,” said Titch, changing the subject. “How about a game of cricket on the common after dinner?”

“Great!” enthused Gogs.

“Two o’clock on the common?” suggested Titch.

“Right!” they all agreed.

*     *     *     *     *

Bunny was last to arrive for their cricket practice but was smiling broadly as he approached the others. “Hey boys! Good news! The men erecting Dad’s shed say they will have it finished by 4-o-clock, so if we cut our practice short we can go to my place before we go home to tea and see our new secret room.”

The others shouted their approval of this news and Gogs clapped his hands excitedly. “Great!” he yelled.

It was not uncommon for the boys to arrive home late for tea after their cricket matches, but today was an exception. Just after half-past three, Bunny suggested that they finish and go along to his house to see whether the new shed was in place. When they arrived they walked around the house into the garden at the rear. They were delighted to see the bright new shed entirely covering the large hole they had dug. All that was visible of it was just over a metre of the passage showing at the side of the shed.

“Come on in boys,” said Bunny leading them into the new building. “I’ve got something to show you.” He led the way to a corner at the back of the shed and held up a rectangle of wood made of two planks battened together underneath.

“What’s that for?” asked the puzzled Gogs

“Trap door to fit over our passage entrance,” replied Bunny triumphantly. “One of the men who put the shed up made it for me dinner time.”

“Good old Bunny!” exclaimed Titch. “Will it fit?”

“Yep! Come outside and I’ll show you.” He led the way to the side of the shed and placed the square of wood over the entrance to the passage. The workman had recessed the edges of the hole a few centimetres so that the wood was a perfect fit. The top was exactly level with the ground.

“Wow! That’s smashing!” gasped Miff as Bunny walked to and fro over the wood to demonstrate its strength.

“Great work!” agreed Smudgie.

“Come on boys. Let’s go down inside our new headquarters,” suggested Titch. The others needed no second bidding and a minute or two later all five members of the Pontyrabad Secret Society were standing in the semi-darkness of their underground room, blinking as their eyes grew accustomed to the dim light.

“The only trouble with it,” stated Bunny, “is that it’s a bit dark. The only light is coming from the gap at the side of the shed.” Although their eyes were by now becoming a little more accustomed to the gloom, the others were forced to agree.

“Yes, and we’ll need a few things to sit on,” added Smudgie.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” said Bunny, “I’ve collected a few boxes and things and a camp stool from the house and my Dad says we can keep them down here. If a few of us go and get them we can hand them down now.”

While collecting their crude furniture, Bunny asked his father whether there was any way they could put some light in the room. His father took him into the garage and they emerged with an old paraffin lamp. It was dirty but in good condition and there was still some paraffin in it. They took some time lighting it but eventually got it going and took it  down to their headquarters. They were all delighted with this despite the rather unpleasant smell it gave off.

The boys sitting in the lamp light

    “I expect a good many secret societies have smelly lamps like this if they meet in caves and things,” stated Miff.

“Come on then boys. Let’s all sit down and start our meeting,” said Titch in a voice of authority. seating himself on the camp stool. Miff and Gogs sat on a plank resting between two bricks and Bunny and Smudgie were mounted  on an old apple box. In the centre of the room they arranged a long orange box, not strong enough to sit on but which served admirably as a table. Bunny produced his secretary’s notebook and a pencil which he placed on the improvised table.

“I’m ready, Chief,” he said. “Let’s start.”

“Me too Chief,” added Gogs quickly feeling rather disappointed that he hadn’t been the first member to address Titch by his proper title.

Titch glanced around at the other four. “First of all,” he began, “we must remember that the main aim of our society is to investigate those men. I think we should draw up a plan of campaign now.”

“What’s that?” enquired the enthusiastic Gogs with some relish.

“What I mean is, we must think of a way of getting more evidence about what those men are doing,” resumed Titch. “I don’t know what you others think about it, but, as far as I can see, there’s only one way to do it.”

“How?” asked Gogs eagerly jumping up excitedly, only to duck very quickly when he realised how near his head was to the floor of the shed above.

“We must keep watch on the old abbey every night,” stated Titch.

“Wow! Every night?” exploded Bunny.

“That’s a tall order Chief,” cried Smudgie. That means we won’t be able to play any more cricket, or go bathing or . . .”

“Course we will,” interrupted Titch. I’m talking about evening time. Remember, those men didn’t come until it was pretty nearly dark. Stands to reason they won’t do anything in the light when everyone can see ‘em. It doesn’t get dark until just after eight o’clock, so we’ll only have to watch for an hour or two, and if we work in twos we’ll still have plenty of spare time. And in the day time, when we’re not in school, we can carry on as usual.”

“Yes, I hadn’t thought of it like that,” said Bunny.

“And remember, we did say that one of the things our secret society would do was play cricket,” blurted out Gogs with some urgency. The others muttered their agreement on this.

“Right!” said Titch in a very business-like manner. “We’ll vote on it. All those in favour of my plan put their hands up.” They all raised their hands in approval.

“Good.” said Titch.

“Do I write that down in my book, Chief?” asked Bunny who was anxious to perform his secretarial duties.

“Yes. Put that voting was unanimous.”

“I thought that’s what they put at the end of a poem when they didn’t know who wrote it,” put in Miff with a puzzled frown.

“That’s ‘anonymous’ nitwit!” laughed Titch. The other three also laughed to try to convey the idea that they also knew the meaning of the word.

“How do you spell it?” asked Bunny.

Titch obliged and then resumed: “We’ll start tomorrow night. We don’t want to waste any more time.”

“Shall I write a list of all those on watch?” asked Bunny.

“Yes, good idea,” said Miff.

“We’ll have a rota,” said Titch. “We’ll all make a copy of it like we did of the rules, so that we’ll all know when we’re on watch. If any of the watchers see anything of the men they must tell me and I’ll call a meeting here so that we can write it all down. Now Bunny can write down our rota.”

“Who’s on tomorrow night?” asked Bunny with his pencil poised at the ready.

“Any volunteers?” asked Titch. Instantly four hands shot up.

“Right then, Smudgie and Miff, you go on tomorrow and Gogs and me’ll go on the day after and Bunny and Smudgie can go on the day after that.”

They waited until the Secretary had written down all the names and dates and then Titch asked: “Anything else we’ve got to do now about our investigation, because I’ve got something interesting to tell you about my book on organising a secret society?”

Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 9

April 7, 2012

CHAPTER 9

 The Secret Room

  “Where?” asked Gogs eagerly.

“If Bunny’s father is willing, we can put it underneath his new shed.”

The others looked momentarily mystified. Smudgie broke the silence: “Underneath?”

“But we can’t Titch,” said Bunny. “There’ll only be a space of one or two inches underneath. We couldn’t possibly get under there.”

“No, not with the earth there,” answered Titch. “But we could dig a room underneath . . . that is if your Dad will let us.”

The frowns on the faces of the other four changed to smiles of delight as they finally understood Titch’s plan.

“Wick . . .ed!” shouted Miff.

“Brilliant idea!” yelled Gogs as he jumped up and waved his fist in circles above his head now that his curiosity had finally been satisfied.

“Sit down Gogs!” ordered Titch as he turned to a page in his volume marked with a slip of paper. “Look, it tells you exactly how to do it in this book.”

The others gathered round eagerly as Titch pointed to a series of sketches and diagrams, and read out the instructions.

“Excellent idea Titch,” said Bunny. “It says the underground room must be dug before the shed is put up. Mmmmmm, I wonder whether my Dad would let us do it. We’ll have to get moving pretty fast because the shed is being put up on Monday.”

“Is your father in now?” asked Titch.

“Yes, he hadn’t finished his coffee when I came out,” Bunny replied.

“Go and ask him now,” urged Gogs.

“OK,” agreed Bunny. “Oh, there’s just one thing though, suppose he asks why we want a room underneath the shed? What’ll I say Titch?”

“Er. . . tell him we have a kind of club or something. After all it is a kind of club.”

“Right, I’ll see what he says,” and with that Bunny disappeared along the path and up the drive to the house.

The other three examined the instructions in Titch’s book.

“How are we going to get down into the room with a shed on top of it Titch?” asked Smudgie.

“It tells you here,” Titch replied indicating one of the diagrams. “We must have a small passage which ends outside the side of the shed. On top of this you put a trap door sunk an inch or two into the ground. It’s kept up by being a bit bigger than the passage.”

“Oh, I see,” said Smudgie. “Yes . . . it says you can even walk on it.”

“Look out!” cried Miff who had looked through the greenhouse doorway. “Here’s Bunny and his Dad’s with him.”

The others stood up to see.

“Oh dear!” groaned Smudgie. “I bet Bunny’s put his foot in it.”

“I hope he hasn’t spoilt everything,” said Titch apprehensively.

“Well, at any rate he’s smiling,” said Gogs hopefully.

Mr Francis and Bunny came along the path to the greenhouse. The four boys went outside to meet them.

“Hello lads!” said Mr Francis smiling. What’s all this about? Bernard’s just been telling me you want to dig a hole under my new shed.”

“Well, you see Mr Francis,” began Titch, “we have a sort of club . . . just the five of us . . . and we thought it would be nice to have a room to meet in; one of our own I mean.”

Mr Francis looked at the vacant ground prepared for the shed. “Er . . . tell me,” he asked, “how do you propose to get into this hole when the shed is on top of it?”

Titch explained about the trap door. At this Mr Francis looked doubtful.

“Mmmm . . . doesn’t sound very safe to me. Can’t say I like that part,” he said.

The five boys looked glum, and Gogs’ face wore the expression of someone who’s just been sentenced to death.

“It’’l be all right, honest Dad,” pleaded Bunny.

“Oh, you might think so,” returned his father, but if it wasn’t safe and one of you should get hurt, I’d feel responsible.”

“But it says in the book that it’s quite safe,” put in Titch.

At this Mr Francis seemed more interested. “Book? What book’s that Roger?”

Titch, seeing a ray of hope, handed his book to Mr Francis and indicated the diagrams and instructions. At length he said, “Oh . . . so this is where the idea came from. Well, I must say it seems safe enough in here. Do you think you could manage to do it properly?”

The boys assured him in unison of their undoubted ability in this direction. Mr Francis, once again, looked at the plot of ground and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Yes, all right. You go ahead and dig the hole, but, remember, I want to inspect it before the shed goes on top of it. I want to be absolutely certain.”

“Oh, thanks Dad!” cried Bunny amidst a chorus of gratitude from his friends. Mr Francis turned to go.

“That’s all right lads. Come to think of it, it’s the sort of thing I’d have liked when I was a boy. By the way, you’ll have to work jolly hard. I want the shed up on Monday.”

“We’ll manage it,” answered Titch. Then, turning to his friends he said, “We’ve only got today to do it. Come on boys, let’s start now.

Never before in their lives had the five members of the Pontyrabad Secret society moved so fast and worked so hard in one day. Ordered by their Chief, Titch, the boys had run quickly home to their various houses to bring back any tools which they thought might be useful for digging their underground room.

Twenty minutes after dispersing, they were reassembled in front of the shed plot regarding the weapons with which they were going to make their assault. Altogether they had assembled between them two shovels, one spade, an old pick, a large stone hammer, three small ones, two iron bars and one garden fork. Titch had also brought a tape measure. He took this out of his pocket and spoke to Bunny.

“Do you know how big the shed is going to be Bunny?”

“Yes, my Dad said it will be five metres long and three metres wide.”

“Doesn’t look that big,” said Gogs doubtfully, looking at the pegged out rectangle of earth.

“Foundations never do look as big as the building,” said Titch. “Five by three,” he mused looking at the diagrams in his book. “Mmm . . . let’s see . . . yes. . . mmm. I think we can dig a hole about two and a half metres long and one and a half metres wide. That means the passage leading to the room will be about one and a half metres by a bit over half a metre.”

“Can we start now Titch?” asked Gogs who was becoming rather impatient with Titch’s preliminary calculations.

“Yes, as soon as we’ve marked it out,” Titch replied.

With the aid of some long bamboo canes, a piece of string and Titch’s tape measure, they marked out the rectangle.

“Right boys,” said Titch taking off his coat. “We can’t all dig at the same time, so we’ll have to relieve one another in turns. One of us will have to carry the earth away in buckets or the wheelbarrow and scatter it over other parts of the garden.”

“Oh, where’d we better put it I wonder?” queried Bunny. “I’ll ask my Dad before he goes out.”

“Bags me first to dig,” shouted Gogs.

“And me!” echoed Miff and Smudgie together.

“All right,” said Titch. “You start with the shovels and spade. When Bunny comes back he can help me to mark out the passage.”

Luckily the boys were able to dig down a good way before coming to clay. From then on it was harder going and the pick was in constant use. But despite this they had soon dug a hole half a metre deep, and Titch and Bunny were kept busy distributing earth over certain obscure parts of the garden as instructed by Bunny’s Dad. From time to time they all changed jobs.

They worked on and on gamely, all perspiring freely in the warm sun, until stopped by Titch.

The boys worked on gamely digging their hole

    “O.K. boys. Let’s knock off now,” he panted throwing up a final shovelful of earth.

The others, although game, welcomed this rest.

“How’s the time Bunny?” asked Titch.

“Quarter past five.”

“Teatime!” cried Miff. “Come to think of it, I’m feeling pretty hungry.”

“Me too!” agreed Smudgie wiping a grubby forehead with the back of an even grubbier hand.

“Yes, we’d better go home for tea now,” agreed Titch. “We’ll measure the depth and then go,” he said jumping into the hole with his tape measure. “That’s a fair bit over a metre he announced. That’s good. Well done boys.”

“That’s good going,” added Bunny.

They all hurried home for tea and rushed through that meal as never before. Their haste invited many enquiries from older brothers and sisters and even grownups, but all these were casually evaded.

Gogs’ mother looked rather worriedly after him as he dashed down the garden path after refusing a second cream puff. Her son had never been known to do such a thing before, and she wondered whether he was sickening for something.

Forty-five minutes after leaving Bunny’s garden the four were re-entering the gate and, on looking in the direction of the hole, they noticed that Bunny was already at work with the pick. The others joined in and worked hard for well over two hours until stopped again by Titch.

“Hang on a bit boys. I think we might have gone down deep enough in that one corner.” He took out his tape measure to check. “Not far short of two metres. That should be plenty deep enough. We’ll level off the bottom and smooth the walls and passage and we’ll be finished.”

By the time they had finished doing that, darkness was closing in fast. Titch put the finishing touches to the four steps he had cut in the clay at the entrance to the passage, then called on the others to walk up them to try them out.

This they did, then the five diggers stood around the edge of their newly dug headquarters, perspiring, tired, but very proud of their day’s work.