Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 11

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.”

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