Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 14


 Old Benny’s Story

Excitement and wonder were high in the boys’ secret underground headquarters the following morning. Gogs, Bunny, Miff and Smudgie were already in the room discussing what they had seen the previous evening, when, suddenly Titch arrived. He gave the secret knock followed by the password and was duly admitted by Gogs.

Titch sat on the camp stool and got down to business immediately. “First of all we must record all the evidence. Are you ready Bunny?” He was.

“Put down the place where you three were hiding and then write what you saw,” said Titch. Bunny wrote as fast as he could go. When he’d finished, Titch and Smudgie once more told the other three what they had seen. The written evidence was then handed to Titch who, as Chief, read it out to the meeting. He closed the book, handed it back to Bunny and then looked around at his companions.

Titch read out the evidence and then handed the book back to Bunny

    “It’s still mighty mysterious but we seem to be getting somewhere at last.”

“Yes,” agreed Bunny. “I was reading all the other evidence in bed last night. On Thursday five men arrived, went down into the cellar, and one went away again. Last night one man arrived, went down the cellar and five went away.”

“You’’e thinking the same as I am I expect,” hastily added Titch. “Those four men must have stayed  in the abbey all Thursday night and all day yesterday and left last night.”

“Cor! Fancy staying all night in an old ruin,” exclaimed Miff.

“D’you really think that’s what happened?” asked Gogs in amazement, gaping at Titch and Bunny in turn.

“Well, I know it might sound a bit odd,” admitted Bunny, “and I can’t think where they could have stayed but it is some sort of an explanation.”

“And, if your explanation is true, I think I know how they managed it,” added Titch.

“How?” chorused the other four.

“Well, as you know, Gogs and I saw the five men go down into the cellar. Only one came out, so, if my arithmetic is correct that left four in the cellar, but when I went down to look there was no one there. That can only mean one thing: there must be a secret passage leading out from the cellar.”

“Cool idea! A secret passage!” burst out Miff.

“But how is it you didn’t notice it?” asked Bunny.

“Well, I was looking for four men at the time. The thought of a secret passage didn’t occur to me then.”

“You’re right though Chief,” said Gogs. “That’s the only way they could have disappeared like that.”

“Anyway there’s always one way to find out,” resumed Titch. “We’ll all go and have a look at the cellar when those men aren’t there.”

At this Gogs stood up and flapped his hands in great excitement. “Now Titch? Now?” he cried.

“Sit down!” yelled Smudgie and Miff in unison.

“We’ve got things to do first,” stated Titch calmly. I’m wondering whether those ghostly shapes we saw on the sea, and those flashing lights, are connected with those men.”

“Don’t forget they said they were investigating the ghost,” said Smudgie.

“I certainly don’t believe that story now,” said Bunny in a contemptuous voice. “Do you think they might be pretending to be ghosts to keep people away?” he asked Titch.

‘Mmmm . . . Shouldn’t think so. Not many people would have seen anything last night. We wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been perched right up on the wall near the sea end of the ruins.”

“Yes, that’s right” agreed Bunny. “I hadn’t thought of . . .”

“I’ve got an idea,” interrupted Titch. “There is one person who might have seen something.”

“Who?” asked Gogs.

“Old Benny at the coastguard station.”

“Of course,” agreed Smudgie. “He always a keeps a sharp lookout.”

Old Benny, one of the coastguard team, was a friend of the boys. The coastguard station was situated on a short peninsular which jutted into the sea near the coast road. This overlooked the sea in every direction and the boys often waved their greetings to Benny as they bathed in the sea immediately below the station.

“He’s often down there late at night,” stated Gogs. “My father sometimes goes down to have a chat with him about boats and things.”

“Well, I think we ought to go and have a chat now,” said Titch. “There’s nothing much we can do here. We’ve written down all the evidence we’ve collected. Come on, let’s go and see if he’s at the station.”

The five boys blinked as their eyes, accustomed to the darkness of their underground room, now met the bright morning sunlight. They walked quickly along the coast road in the direction of the coastguard station.

“He’s there boys!” shouted Gogs, seeing the portly figure of their jovial friend moving about just outside the door to the station. Old Benny pushed back his peaked cap and scratched his very thin crop of hair as he regarded his approching visitors.

“Ahoy there!” he shouted. The boys chorused their greetings and were soon standing with their friend who beamed around at them.

“And to what do I owe the honour of this visit by you five young gentlemen?” he asked.

Titch, true to character, came straight to the point. “Well,” he began, “you believe in the story of the old abbey being haunted don’t you?”

“Haunted?” replied Benny. “Perhaps I do . . . I don’t really know that I’ve made up my mind about it. But one thing I’m certain of . . . there’s queer happenings takes place there.”

“Have you ever seen anything?” asked Titch.

“Seen anything?” echoed Benny. “I should just think I have. Many’s the time I’ve seen flashing lights. Why, only last night . . .”

“Last night!” gasped Gogs.

“Did you see anything last night?” asked Titch as the others gazed expectantly at the old coastguard.

“I certainly did. Not long after it got dark I saw a flash over by the cliff, just below the abbey there. Then I saw another one out at sea. Later on there were several flashes all in one place.”

“What did you think it was, Benny?” asked Smudgie.

The old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’s a very difficult question you know. There was a time, a year or so ago, when I’d have said they were smugglers’ signals. Now . . . well, I’m just not sure. I’m just not sure.”

“Why do you say there was a time when you would have said they were smugglers’ signals?” pursued Titch.

Benny chuckled at this. “You really are interested in all this business I must say. I suppose I might as well tell you. You see, about a year ago I noticed some lights out on the water one night. At first I took no notice thinking they might possibly have been fishermen, but, after three or four times, I began to get suspicious. I informed the customs men, and for some nights they kept watch. They saw lights too, so one night they decided to investigate. They went out in a launch and found a yacht anchored right out the other side of the sandbank. They searched it but found nothing on board except a French man and his wife. About a month later they waited longer and intercepted a small launch. Another search was made, but once again nothing was found. The men told them that they had had engine trouble and only succeeded in getting the motor going after they’d drifted round the headland. The customs men were suspicious so they searched further out to sea and came upon the same yacht occupied by the same two French people. Again their search was in vain. As they could prove nothing they’ve since let the matter rest.”

Benny sighed and looked wistfully out towards the sea. “Myself . . . I’m still a bit suspicious. Whenever I see those lights they set me wondering. I often put my telescope on them, but I haven’t seen anything.”

“We saw those lights last night. Benny,” said Titch. “We . . . er . . . we just happened to be walking along the top of the cliff and we saw the flashes out at sea. The moon was shining at the time and we could see some silvery shapes kind of shining.”

“Oh!” said Benny. “Silvery shapes eh? Can’t say I’ve seen anything like that myself. What were they like?”

Titch and Smudgie looked at each other. “Er . . . well, it’s difficult to say,” Titch said hesitantly not knowing quite how to describe them.

“Do you think they were ghosts?” burst our Gogs.

Benny chuckled. “I very much doubt it young sir. Ghosts don’t usually carry lights with them. Could have been the moon shining on a few breakers I suppose.”

Titch looked doubtful. “Mmmm . . . I suppose it could have been. Anyway, we won’t waste any more of your time Benny. Thanks for telling us about the lights and so on. Cheerio!”

They all wished Benny goodbye and made their way back in the direction of the coast road. “What do you make of all that, Titch?” asked Smudgie.

Titch was deep in thought. “I don’t know exactly. But we definitely saw those shapes. They certainly weren’t breakers. We might find out more tonight. We’ll all grab some early tea and go straight down to the cellar. Now, we might need some equipment. Let’s go back to our headquarters and plan our search properly.

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