THE SECRET PASSAGES RE-VISITED
Parsons shimmered off to deliver his sandwich request to Mrs Fenner. It would
transpire that the small change of plan came as somewhat of a relief to her.
“Very good, Mr Parsons, that will be quite a mercy. The brisket isn’t as well-
hung as our usual cuts. It’ll need a long slow roast low in the oven if it’s to be
tender. Truth to tell, I had been wondering whether it might be possible for us
to serve the beef this evening and have a light sandwich luncheon for
everyone, this afternoon? I know it’s a change of plan, Mr Parsons……..”
“I’m sure that will be quite in order, Mrs Fenner…..”
“And his Lordship? Will he be happy with sandwiches, do you think, Mr
Parsons – he does get awfully disappointed when he’s been looking forward to
one thing and something else lands up on his plate?”
“Well, there’s no need to worry on that score today, Mrs Fenner. His Lordship
is not expecting the beef for today’s luncheon. There are times when I do not
see fit to discuss the menus with the main house, preferring to suit the repast
to the general mood of his Lordship’s moment."
“If you say so, Mr Parsons…..”
“With regard to today’s luncheon, Mrs Fenner, some of your smoked salmon
sandwiches will fit the bill perfectly, I’m sure. I shall now retire to place the
champagne on ice in order to guarantee His Lordship’s satisfaction with our
choice on his behalf.”
He glided in the direction of the the wine cellar stairs.
“Oh, Mr Parsons…..”
“Yes, Mrs Fenner?”
Interrogative tilting of the left eyebrow.
“Will Lady Constance be dining with us this evening?”
“I would imagine so, Mrs Fenner. Her trip with young Julian into the tunnels is
sure to generate both an appetite, and the need to discuss their findings with
Mrs F had no idea what Mr P was talking about, and such is the extreme
discretion of the Amblewick below-stairs tradition that it didn’t even occur to
her to ask for enlightenment.
"Very good, Mr. Parsons. Would you be kind enough to ask her Ladyship if she
would prefer Yorkshire Pudding, or my Suet Crust, to accompany the brisket?”
“Of course, Mrs Fenner – and now, if you will excuse me……”
He resumed his glide.
When Parsons returned to the library Julian and I were ready for the off – raring
to go, in fact. We’d armed ourselves with a couple of torches which we knew
we’d need, and hadn’t thought far beyond that.
Parsons supplied each of us with a Balaclava, me with the sandwiches, and
Jules with a ball of string.
“The dust can be a problem, Milady, if my memory serves me correctly - and
one never knows when a ball of string may come in handy.
“Now don’t get lost, Corrie dear – been ages since anyone’s been in there….”
Biffo wasn’t particularly worried about any real danger to us, I didn’t think –
probably more for Parson’s benefit, and to retain the ‘Wisdom of Solomon
before Asmodeus’ accolade!
“Come on, Corrie, let’s get on with it, then” Julian could brook no further delay.
With a quick wave to those remaining behind we ducked into the darkness.
“’Jacta alia est’ – that’s what Mouse always says when the gang’s goin’ into
action, innit, Corrie?”
“Clever of you to remember the Latin, Jules - always beyond me, foreign
languages.” I said vaguely as I struggled up the passage to our right.
“What’s Latin? Thought them words was just a sort of Gang code.”
Our torches were a real mercy - and the Balaclavas too. I’d forgotten about the
bats and the cobwebs!
“Cor, stinks in ‘ere!”
“Yes, that’s the bats, Jules, I think. A bit careless where they pee - bats.”
“What, yer mean they just piss down the walls? Yuk!”
“Well, it’s dark in here – and they probably have a different idea of what’s
disgusting than we do.…..”
I decided to change the subject before we got too deeply involved in bat
“Tell you what. Let’s try this passage on the left. Haven’t been down there
“What about getting’ lost and that – know the way, do yer?”
“We’ve got the string, haven’t we? Look, there’s a metal ring on the wall. Let’s
tie the end of the string to that – then we can unravel the string as we go, and
not get lost.”
“What’s this ring doin’ in a secret passage?”
“Probably for chaining peasants to the wall, in the old days….” I hazarded
before I’d thought it through.
“Cor! Die in ‘ere, did they?”
“Before my time, I’m afraid…. But I imagine some of them may have done – the
world was a very different place three or four hundred years ago – human
rights hadn’t been invented, then, I’m afraid……”
I was beginning to slide a bit too deeply into the atmosphere of this unholy
labyrinth – at risk of frightenIng myself. Jules was just getting into the mood,
“D’yer think we’ll find a skellington, Corrie? Cor! That’d be a laugh - never seen
a real one.”
This was getting a little ‘de trop’ - but Jules was in full flood.
“And the ghosts – what about the ghosts - pretty spooky in ‘ere, innit?”
I’m a fairly common-sensical person for the most part, but this conversation
was getting a bit disturbing. I found myself glancing behind me and my eyes
seeing odd shadows looming in the rather unsteady torch-light. There were
stories - and those stories came to taunt me as we groped our way along this
dank and unfamiliar tunnel.
“The Guv’nor said there were stories about ghosts at Amblewwick, Corrie.
D’you think they could be true?”
Julian’s voice was bright enough, but I picked up just a tiny quaver lingering
behind the cheeriness. At that moment I was very sure the stories could be
true and had to summon all my natural practicality and grown-up cynicism to
“Stuff and nonsense, dear! Utter Ballz! Biffo’s an ass – filling you up with silly
fairy tales – ‘course they’re not true….."
But my childhood memories of these passages told me otherwise – footsteps
just behind us when the house had been empty except for Biffo and me………
The passage was getting narrower and darker and damper – the air foetid and
stale. We were approaching a narrow archway and what I imagined might be a
slight softening of the thick darkness – perhaps a wider space?
Jules was sticking very close to me – and no longer chirruping. A hand
clutched at the strap of my dungarees.
“Don’t like this place, Corrie – it’s weird,” he whispered hoarsely.
“Me neither, Jules, but we’ve got to find our way out – got hold of the string OK
“Oh, Cripes! I must have dropped it back there – can’t see it anywhere….”.
Now what the hell were we going to do?
There was a distant, graunching, sliding sound in the deep shadow ahead –
and a blast of warm air rushed past us. We were at the archway by then,
straining our eyes into the gloom. This new space was like a tall haii-way
stretching metres in front of us. At its far end, another dark archway and a dim
light – a slowly swinging light – behind it, a dark figure approached us slowly,
Jules grasped my hand – and I was happy for it. We were in this mess very
much together – no hiding place!
As the figure came closer we froze like pillars of salt. I was about to scream
with horror, and Jules was paralyzed beside me.
A moment later, the lamp came to a halt about five yards in front of us – and
the shadowy figure spoke.
“Forgive my intrusion into your expedition, Lady Constance. Regrettably, I
neglected to deliver a crucial message before you departed hence from the
library - an enquiry from Mrs Fenner about this evening’s dinner menu.”
Julian and I were speechless with shock.
The noble Parsons cruised on.
“Milady, Mrs Fenner wished me to ascertain whether you would prefer
Yorkshire Pudding, or her personal Suet Crust, to accompany the roast brisket
of beef she has planned for dinner this evening?”
“Suet Crust, please, Parsons….”
I whimpered breathlessly - and Julian got the giggles.
As we followed Parsons from the ghastly scene, I found my voice at last.
“What interests me most, Parsons, old dear, is how on earth you tracked us
down in this maze of tunnels?”
“When you have looked after a family and its young for as long as I have been
privileged to serve at Amblewick, Lady Constance, one makes it one’s
business to acquaint oneself comprehensively with all aspects of that family
and its environment. I have made the secret passages at the Castle a
particularly detailed study – as has been, Milady, my unofficial, but bounden,
“But how did you know where we were – could have been anywhere – pretty
tangled old nightmare these tunnels.”
“Indeed, Milady – but having followed you into the tunnels from the library, it
was but moments before I observed the string attached to a metal loop in the
main passage, and the direction it indicated that you had taken. I was aware
that the passage you had chosen connected to a passage leading from the
wine cellars. I decided to meet you from that direction to avoid any danger of
giving you a start by approaching from behind you in the darkness. As Mr
Holmes was wont to say, Lady Constance - ‘Elementary, my dear Watson…..’”
“Never a dull moment wiv Mr P abaht, eh, Corrie? Flippin’ ‘eck!” piped Juies,
and surrendered once more to helpless giggles.