Chapter 9: TRIALS
Penny's mind was full to bursting that night after such a lot of facts had been thrown at her from all directions. Even Priscilla had a story to tell as she regaled the sleepy blonde with how she had been made a member of the Clueless Society that evening.
"The what?" Penny said, raising her head from her pillow a moment.
"Tell you more tomorrow," Priscilla said, "you know, hush hush and everything," she added with surprising circumspection.
"Of course," Penny agreed and lay her head back down in a vain endeavour to lessen the buzzing in her skull, which felt like it was made of crystal.
"I think your brother's really cool," was the last thing Priscilla said as she closed her eyes and squirmed herself into a comfortable doze.
No, Penny thought, he's a complete idiot.
In the boys' dorm number four the three Willows felt burdened by thoughts of their own after the night's revelations but knew like Priscilla any whispered discussion in such a confined space would be overheard so they kept their silence until morning.
Yet at breakfast it was all early morning stares as no one seemed to have slept well and lessons pretty much went by in a daze. Only Priscilla had the energy to discuss all the strange goings on of the previous four days.
"It's Friday," she squealed suddenly as she walked with Penny along a gravel path that flanked one of the massive wings of the school. The view from this elevated position on Throstle Edge was beautiful, even with an overcast sky and mist oozing through the dips and valleys of the great rolling moor that heaved up out of the earth ahead of where they walked. It was just after lunch and the light level was already fading.
Priscilla had been explaining the origins of the Clueless Society and the failed investigation, voicing her worry the boys would throw her out for being closely related to a member of a rival organisation as she put it, when the sudden thought had stopped her in her tracks and she clapped her hands briefly.
"This is a good thing, I suppose?" Penny said, thinking of Edwina's description of the merciless teacher who liked to punish his pupils on a Friday.
"Party!" Priscilla simply said. This made Penny's ears prick up.
"Where, who, when?" she said rapidly.
"Fourth year common room, fourth years and guests, six o'clock till late," came the equally rapid answer.
"Oh," and Penny's excitement wilted. Fourth years. Not the lower school then. "Guests?" she added as an afterthought.
"Anyone they want to invite. One guest per pupil. Do you think Big Bell has a friend who could invite me?"
"You want to go, by yourself?" and Penny realised Priscilla Pickles was her friend, a friend she wanted to be with. The pleasing revelation was derailed a moment later as the beribboned girl revealed her true allegiance.
"Well that very large fourth year girl invited Peter, so I thought it would be nice for him to have someone there he knows and who could keep an eye on him."
As it turned out Peter had refused the invitation.
"Too tired, too tired," he said that evening as he lay boneless on the couch in the second year common room. The fire was burning with particular fierceness to fend off encroaching fog and several pupils in a similar plight to Peter Thurwell were slumped in heaps upon cushions and even on the thick carpet like victims of a sudden attack of sleeping sickness.
Wesley was crushing Sandy for once at chess and Mona Kidger was trying to lure another Willow girl into a game of cards.
"We need music," the mischievous girl said after a moment, conversation having lagged somewhat. This was the first week of term for the second years, the first week where the intensity of study had already taken its toll. Three pupils had quit, including the injured Eliza Humbly, victim of the chandelier incident.
"Not allowed," someone sighed.
"If the fourth years can have it on a Friday, so should we," and Mona abandoned her card game, which she was losing, and began prancing around the room like a demented ballerina while humming some unidentifiable tune. Her hair was tied in a high pony tail which she tossed around vigorously like some go go dancer she had seen on TV. She had also enhanced her school uniform with a sparkly scarf which was soon whipped off and flourished like a gymnastic ribbon. "And it's gold for Mona Kidger," she declared with olympic grandeur as she struck up a pose during the manic dance.
"Pewter more like," her card opponent shouted back.
"Whassat? Someone say my name?" Peter mumbled and everyone laughed, chanting 'Pewter Thurwell! Pewter Thurwell!' while throwing cushions at him as he languished upon the sofa.
Penny smiled. They were having a little party of their own, she realised. Although the different forms were somewhat at odds with each other there seemed no real animosity among them and she was grateful for that.
Nonetheless, in spite of the fun and friendly atmosphere in the room, she still felt the urge to wander by herself among the cool dark tunnels that weaved magically through St Spiritus, taking her to strange places and different worlds.
She remembered the warning about third years so kept her walks close to where a fourth year monitor was at hand. With one notable exception, the dead end room across the limestone bridge. She felt she had to go back there at least one more time.
Edwina had said it was a curious place with secrets of its own she felt, secrets connected with Penelope. The files were of no significance, merely accounting sheets from about fifty years ago. Some of the furniture would have been valuable at one time but age and damp had destroyed their worth to collectors beyond redemption. It was just that the place had something, an essence, a trace, peculiar and indescribable.
"You don't think it's where those Lux people raised the demon, do you?" Penny asked when she met Edwina at lunch earlier that day, thinking that perhaps this was all that was left of the secret room where forbidden experiments had taken place.
"No, the club room of the Lux Phasmatis Society was gutted, refurbished and is now the French room. An appropriate place for Velours to flutter about like a caged butterfly," and she sniggered at her description.
"I quite like her," Penny confessed. "Adds a brightness to the school, sorely needed. My brother sadly, is in love with her. He tried to write a poem to her on our first lesson but she caught him out with her x-ray eyes and confiscated the scrap of paper there and then. Peter only admitted to me what he had written after I pinched him three times where he does not like to be pinched."
"Mam'selle Velours is a sensitive," Edwina said.
"Like Tinglewood's dogs?"
"Yes," and the redhead's response was deadpan in its seriousness.
"The boys want to investigate her," Penny added. "You know, the Clueless Society."
"I want to as well," came the surprising answer. "She's only been here a year and it's been said she can interpret ghostly writings."
"There are books in the library that seem pretty ordinary. Yet some of the pages, along with visible print, have hidden meanings within the lines. Poetry usually, as they have often been inspired by the most intense emotions."
Penny thought back to Priscilla's complaints about the scariness of an unopened book and wondered if she was somehow a sensitive too. She put this thought to Edwina.
"She's only sensitive to an empty stomach," she giggled, indicating the very girl in the act of shovelling a mass of boiled cabbage in her capacious mouth several seats down on their table.
"How are you going to investigate the French mistress?" Penny asked once she had stopped laughing.
"Not investigate exactly. Ask for help. Those lines on Penelope may have greater significance which only a sensitive can interpret. I'm wondering if she might discover clues to her true fate."
"I suppose I could ask her myself, Penelope I mean," Penny said and shuddered at her own suggestion.
"That's right," Edwina said warmly. "She's your familiar now and you're her mundane."
"Thank you, I think." Of course Penny had not encountered the so-called spirit of St Spiritus since that fateful evening a seeming lifetime ago. Part of her was terrified at the thought, but another braver part wished to encounter this unearthly phenomenon again, just to see, to understand, and if possible to help. For it seemed from Edwina's words the girl suffered an injustice of incalculable proportions and sought peace somehow. If she could help, she would.
Thus she sat in the gloom of the dead end space that Friday evening while everyone else, third years too probably, were having a party of sorts. Poised on the steps that faced the decorative arch leading to the dusty room, Penny remained still for some time, composing her thoughts and listening for sounds. The light from the grilles above slowly faded and she switched on her torch, took a sip of survival sugar water and tried to feel this essence Edwina mentioned.
Of course it was not Edwina who had felt the strangeness of the place. It was Timothy, the boy ghost, she had explained somewhat guardedly. Apparently, even ghosts knew fear. Fear of Penelope and her hunger for vengeance, raw and unstoppable. Only it was a vengeance held in check at present. Some magical ward of sorts created a barrier between her threatening claws and those whom she sought to destroy. Until perhaps that moment when, as Edwina had put it as they finished up lunch, she had reached out to her namesake.
"Penelope," the girl whispered to herself in the lonely place. "If you can hear me, let me know. I want to help you. I want to end your pain and give you release." She said this like a prayer and gestured expansively on the last word. The silence that followed was embarrassing and after waiting in the eerie silence, broken by occasional faint mutterings from distant places, she returned frustrated to the noisy, busy common room. As soon as she entered she was confronted by the horrified stare of her brother.
"What's happened?" she said, in a surge of concern.
"Wesley's just told me," he gasped. "Tomorrow is Saturday."
"I know. It usually follows Friday," Penny said, perplexed at these repeated mentions of days of the week. Peter gripped her by the shoulders with continued horror.
"Saturday," he wailed. "Sports trials!" and he wandered up the stairs to bed like a boy in despair.
Penny, nonplussed, looked to Sandy for an explanation.
"First Saturday of the new year. Try outs for the school team," he said, rubbing his hands in a gesture reminiscent of Skypole. "Merciless."
"I see. Girls too?"
~ ~ ~
The twins being new to the school, their assessment for potential glory in sporting prowess would begin that Saturday and as they lounged after a seriously heavy breakfast in the common room they found themselves honoured by a visit from the heads of year, Anvil Collins and Michaela Anzabada.
Collins patted Peter on the shoulder familiarly as he sat beside him, ejecting another pupil in the process.
"You know why I'm here?" he said.
"Need help with your homework?" Peter shot back, glancing at the boy's Oak badge. He did not fancy this officious friendly style of the embryonic politician.
"Ha ha," came the slightly forced amused reply. "No my lad, I'm here on a mission to find the best of the best in the old St Spiritus tradition."
"You're twelve, same as me," Peter snuck in this jibe in response to old traditions. The head boy decided to ignore the comment, taking it for spiritedness, and forged on.
"You're pretty tall. Can you run?" he asked.
"Yeah," he shrugged. "Okay, I guess."
"No, I mean run, like really fast."
"Sprint? The hundred metres?"
"Sprint, uh yeah. Sprint, that's what I mean. And can you jump too, like over obstacles and things?"
"Is that what you call it? Yeah, hurdling, over things, really fast."
"I suppose so," Peter concluded uncertainly.
"Excellent!" The boy clapped his hands with evident satisfaction. "Have a big hearty lunch, rest up a bit and we'll see you at three o'clock in sports gear, including boots, on the north field." He explained where this was, a cleared area of the moor just north of Throstle Edge. Peter liked the idea of getting out of the school grounds again and onto the moor, but he dreaded what the try out would entail.
Penny's interview was much shorter for the gold-encrusted head girl simply asked her if she was into games at all, examining her polished nails all the while.
"Not so much," Penny replied and that was that. She was out of the school trials, much to her relief. Her one and only double period of physical education had been on the previous Friday morning. A bit of rope climbing, vaulting and a very scary moment or two on a demonically bouncy trampoline. Clearly her performance had been passed onto the sports club as the exact opposite of a recommendation.
Peter was a complete wreck when he turned up for the evening meal. A bruised arm, cut knee and a gleam of shock in his eye told of hard battles fought and lost on the playing fields of St Spiritus.
"How did it go?" Penny asked unnecessarily as she twirled some spaghetti on her fork with a flourish.
"You know how to play rugby, don't you?" Peter mumbled as he gingerly settled in his seat with a tray of food and drink, lots of drink.
"Oh, intimately," Penny replied. "Want me to open those for you?" A row of lime and cola cartons were refusing to cooperate with Peter's shaky fingers.
"Thanks," he said and downed the first before continuing. "Well, they threw me into a team of kids, all bigger than me, and then Grumbler Grumman held up an odd shaped ball. Not a rugger ball, but more like a rubberised leg bone."
"Really?" Penny choked on her meal. "Did he throw it and shout 'Go fetch!'"
Peter winced at the memory of it. The pale rubber thing bouncing madly down the grassy slope towards the stream and a host of screaming boys chasing after it, hell bent on being the first to retrieve the stupid looking ball and return it to the evil sports teacher.
Peter gave it a go but was quickly flattened. He had no idea who actually won that round. Wesley was among the leading group.
As soon as the teacher had been handed the slightly muddied thing and the pupils were assembled before him than he tossed it in another direction. It bounced high and caught among some brambles. One shrill whistle blast and the race was on again.
"Wesley got it once," Peter remembered the Scot's hail of triumph. "That was about the eighth of ninth throw, I'm not sure, but the whole game was evil. Yet we all did it, without question. As soon as the whistle blew I knew I just had to seize the horrible bouncing bone and return it to Grumbler without question and receive a nod of approval as my reward."
"And did you?"
The look on Peter's face was answer enough.
Wesley McShane appeared just then, hair still wet from a long shower, cheeks still glowing from the sheer physical exertion of the afternoon.
"You'll ache tomorrow, laddie," he said to Peter as he sat at table. "I was very impressed with your efforts. Showed a wee bit of guts, this brother of yours Miss Thurwell," he added, looking at Penny.
"It sounds hardly a team game," Penny observed.
"It's all about endurance, and the hunger," Wesley replied, emphasising his point by shovelling mashed potato into his mouth with a dessert spoon.
"The desire to win, I suppose," Peter explained, a little uncertain.
"To win what? There are no trophies or tournaments are there?" Penny declared. She had spent a bit of the quiet Saturday afternoon reading some of the school literature. One of the things she liked about the place when her parents were explaining their decision to send her and her brother to the out of the way school was the lack of emphasis on traditional games, that it was an institution to train the mind more than the body. The only organised competition was the end of year Sports Night, as it was curiously called. Someone had explained to her that it took place on Mid-summer Night, torch lit somewhere high up on the moors.
"You'll not have listened to the Tingler's inspirational speech at the start of term about competition among the pupils for the right to run the races on Sports Night then?" Wesley replied.
They all laughed at this rejoinder and continued their meal in mirthful silence.
~ ~ ~
Wesley's prediction about how Peter would feel the next day after such gruelling physical exertion hit home with a vengeance.
Wesley and Sandy both had to carry him to the showers on Sunday morning and let him soak for a good quarter of an hour before his limbs unlocked and muscles softened enough to allow him to sit upright at the breakfast table.
Being Sunday there were no lessons to attend, although two periods of prep were scheduled in the afternoon and evening. Morning religious services were undertaken for those who practised them but the majority of pupils lounged in the common rooms or wandered the playgrounds. Trips to the village were allowed for all but the hard put upon first years who had to remain within school grounds, for their own safety it was said.
The Clueless Society were eagerly anticipating passes for the afternoon to scout around where the mysterious Pulp liked to hang out. Priscilla was up for the trip, eager to show willing and put a stop to doubts on any possible divided loyalty, although in describing her past experiences of the village a particular wool shop seemed her chief interest.
Sandy and Peter both pressured Penny into joining them but a glance out of the window followed by an impressive shiver, was all the excuse she needed to decline.
"I think I'll stay cosy by the fire and write a letter," she said.
"Just, you know, keep safe," Peter advised, his eyes reminding her of the third year threat. Oddly, Penny responded silently with the puzzling declaration she had a degree of special protection, thinking of Penelope, but Peter of course knew nothing of this. He could only imagine the mad Bunce girl and her special school knowledge was meant. He shook his head and left her with a snort.
"Ha," Penny said softly as the Clueless Society members gathered in another part of the common room to plan their afternoon without her.
The weather was unseasonably misty for early September and the boys, having wolfed down their lunch, picked up their passes from Skypole with a jovial warning not to lose themselves or be late, soon found themselves at the gateway, peering down into a gloomy greyness where the village was said to be.
Priscilla had joined them, donning a most extraordinary hat and cloak ensemble last seen in a Dickensian novel, or so Sandy suggested.
"I made these," Priscilla pouted. "They keep off the clinging wetness and express a style that should dazzle the locals."
"So long as they don't stone the lass," Wesley added helpfully.
"Don't cry about it if you come back full of sniffs and snuffles," the girl declared. Then she looked at Peter. "Is your scarf tucked in snugly?" she added with kindly concern.
To offset the dampness Peter Thurwell had wisely donned a thick woollen scarf which he had wrapped so many times around his neck it looked like a collapsed turban.
"I'm fine," he said, dodging the helpful hands of Priscilla amid the laughter of the others.
"Sweet shop's open!" someone shouted as a number of other second years raced down the slippery path into the narrow lanes of Throstledale village. This seemed a good enough excuse to begin their explorations so the secret society swiftly descended from the great limestone cliff, lost in the mist, and entered the tiny settlement that had lived off the great institution since the days of its foundation.
Although Peter's brief sojourn with Widow Cathcart gave him an earlier look at the village, it was Wesley who was most familiar with the layout of the place.
"Being a member of the Green Shooters," he explained like a tour guide in anecdote mode, "I was allowed as a first year to visit the allotments at the back of the piggery."
"Bones," Peter said. "That's where he gets all those bones from," remembering the strange sight at Widow Cathcart's.
"He grows them?" Priscilla said, peering doubtfully at the blond boy as they made a turning into a wider road fronted by a number of slate-roofed buildings.
"No. He breeds pigs, obviously, in the piggery." Peter shook his head. "Does he grow turnips?" he then asked Wesley.
"Aye, and carrots, potatoes and those small red things, radishes. It's a poor soil but he's a master gardener and no mistake. The piggery supplies fertilizer to feed the crops and the crops feed the pigs."
"Self-sustaining," Sandy nodded.
"Where are we going?" Priscilla decided to ask, bored with the agricultural topics.
"There's something I want to show you," Wesley said. "It's a bit of a detour but very important for us to know. A secret Pulp confided to me last year."
"Over a beer at the Green Dragon," Sandy quipped.
"Aye," and the Scot gave him a severe glance a moment before laughing softly. "We were deep in our cups, maudlin like, and he confessed everything except where he buried the bodies."
"Really!" Priscilla squealed, totally taken in. "He got you drunk! That's scandalous. Anyway we know he buries the bodies on the moor."
"The slaughterhouse comes in handy I suppose," Peter said slightly distracted, thinking of what he had seen that first night. "I say, he only buries turnips on the moor," he confessed in a moment of honesty, "not human heads."
"Och, I'm not daft," Wesley responded with a snort of laughter. "I could never believe such a thing of him. After all, why would anyone bury just a head?"
"Ritual," Peter said sullenly, smarting a little at this rebuff.
"What are you lot talking about?" Priscilla finally cut into what was to her a mystifying discussion. "It all sounds very sinister and a little unpleasant. Has Eliza Humbly been murdered, had her head chopped off and buried on the moor, and her body left for the crows to feed on? I do not like those frightful dark birds. They stare at you with their eyes and make strange noises that always sound like criticism. One bit off a ribbon in my hair once. I complained but nothing was done." She sniffed at the memory of it and tightened the chin strap around her wide-brimmed hat before standing stock still in fright. "What's that!" and she pointed in terror at a great shape looming up ahead. "It's going to attack us! Everybody run!"
"It's a tree, Priscilla," Sandy observed. "I refuse to run from a tree," he added drily.
"Don't get too close," she admonished and made a wide circuit of the leafless black shape which to give her imagination credit looked a little in the mist like a giant ogre with extended claws.
"We're not going that way," Wesley called Priscilla back from the lane she had retreated down towards the village to avoid the menacing tree. He indicated a break in a stone wall that bounded some empty fields and the foursome passed through, climbing a steep and rocky path that took them around the outskirts of the village and back towards St Spiritus.
"Are we returning?" Peter asked.
"Sort of. See, there's the piggery." He indicated some roofs below them and the pungent smell of animals and decay rose up briefly as they edged along the narrow path that overlooked this part of the village. "Up here lie the allotments belonging to Amos Pulp. There are five parcels of land granted to the growers in the village, formerly monastic gardens that kept the kitchens supplied with edibles. Now the school takes the stuff in of course."
In spite of the heavy mists, it was possible to make out the dark furrowed soil, crop sticks marching off into the distance and some modest greenery, all that was left of harvested vegetables. They walked between these prepared patches of land and the rich odour of the soil filled their nostrils. Wesley paused occasionally to grab a fistful of the dark stuff and rub it between finger and thumb thoughtfully. No one said anything, although Priscilla coughed and kept looking back to see if the sinister tree was following them. All was silent in the mists until a bell tolled from a tower and it was as if they had been transported back to medieval times.
"Three o'clock," Sandy muttered, breaking the magical moment. "What's that sound?"
As they descended through the allotments an increasing hiss could be heard, chuckling and spluttering now and then. It grew louder with each step they took.
"Running water," Peter identified the noise.
"Aye," Wesley confirmed and made everyone halt. The pathway seemed to drop abruptly and in the mist a careless walker could easily step off into space. "It's a stream that comes out of Throstle Edge, from right underneath the school, eventually joining the Throstle lower down in the village. Nether Beck by name."
"Why bring us here?" Sandy felt obliged to ask. For answer the Scot grunted and made his careful way down the stepped descent and out of sight.
"You know," Priscilla said in a slightly wobbly, high-pitched voice, "there's a really interesting wool shop in the market square. They have local colour shades, unique to the area."
No one took any notice at her alternative suggestion to climbing down into a damp, mist-filled crevice and the other boys disappeared from sight, leaving her alone. She took one look back at the tree that so alarmed her, now a dark, leering shape in the distance and shuddered, ribbons rustling in dismay.
"I'm coming, Peter," she declared hesitantly, hoping that if she fell he would at least be there to catch her, and then she too made a careful descent down what turned out to be a set of steps, slippery but quite safe. What met her sight when she reached the bottom was a picturesque stream tumbling noisily over limestone ledges and the three boys standing before an extraordinary cliff face surmounted by a freestone wall, the familiar boundary of the school. In the middle of this rocky barrier a dark cave gaped ominously. The arched opening was sealed with an iron grate through which water seeped in noisy streamlets.
"That's not the sewer is it?" Sandy asked.
"No, the water's pure enough to drink," Wesley assured them. He washed his dirt-stained hands in a pool a moment and then approached the grate. "This is the favourite entrance and exit of Amos when he wants to go about the school unseen and unheeded," he explained.
"It's locked," Peter said, grasping the cold wet iron and rattling it vigorously. He was excited by this discovery, a secret entrance into the bowels of the school with no end of tunnels and hidden corridors to explore where no pupil had gone before.
"To the untrained eye," Wesley said knowingly and grasping a part of the grate he heaved with all his strength. The grate lifted a bit and with the combined help of Sandy and Peter they were able to raise the bar over its fastening and free, allowing the great mass of metal to swing slightly to one side. Just enough for a twelve year old boy to squeeze through.
"I am not, under any circumstances, entering there," Priscilla said tearfully. "My hat is too wide," she added as an excuse. "Are you going to expel me?" she then added rapidly.
"No, you daft loon," Sandy said softly with a smile. "We are not. Whatever would give you that idea?"
"Well, it's difficult, some of the things I have to do to be in the Clueless Society. I can't do all of them," she whimpered.
"You're a valued member of the society Priscilla." Peter added. "We don't expect you to do everything we do, because you're a girl of course, but you've already shown how useful you can be. Scrambling around in dark and dingy tunnels is not your thing and we accept that." He smiled reassuringly at her and the girl was quite enchanted by this seeming mature speech. She was about to throw her arms around him when Sandy stepped forward.
"Grubbing in dirty passages is not really my thing either," he said. "My mater did not pay my school fees in order for me to indulge in spelunking."
"Just us two, then," Wesley said as he went back up the slippery steps and stood at the narrow gap in the grate.
"We'll go back, keep an eye out for Pulp, and meet up in the common room at four," Sandy said. Priscilla looked terribly relieved at knowing she would not have to pass the evil tree creature alone so nodded vigorously in agreement at this plan.
"See you then," Peter said and the two of them, torches flickering, disappeared into the cave beneath the school, perhaps, as Priscilla thought with worry, never to be seen again.
"Do you like knitting?" she asked her companion as they retraced their steps to the main thoroughfare of the village.
"It has its uses," Sandy conceded and allowed himself to be led to the great wool emporium of Throstledale village, a quaint little shop full of softness and colour where Priscilla Pickles looked totally at home for half an hour. Finally she left in high spirits with a bundle of multicoloured wool in her arms. As one half of the Clueless Society returned to St Spiritus, the other half for all they knew were fighting for their lives amid flooded caves, fierce bats and other denizens of darkness untold fathoms beneath their feet.
In the common room Priscilla tumbled her purchases into a chair and examined one ball of wool reflectively a moment. She turned to Sandy, holding it up before his distracted gaze, for he was looking out for Penny Thurwell, spotting her in a corner with a book on her lap, she having completed her letter home and posted it while they were out.
"Do you know the legend of Ariadne?" Priscilla said, ignoring the fact the boy did not appear to be listening.
"Can't say I do," he replied and seeing her presence was surplus to requirements she shrugged her shoulders and made to deposit her wool collection upstairs in her dorm locker.
When she came back down she found to her astonishment the remaining members of the society sat around a table with Penny, looking pretty much as she had last seen them.
"How did you get here so quickly?" she felt obliged to ask. "Did you get scared and turn back?"
Wesley smiled at this.
"Take a seat Miss Pickles, for you are a party to this of course," he said significantly, knowing the insecurity of the nervous girl.
"As I was saying," Peter continued his story that had been temporarily interrupted by the arrival of Priscilla. "Pulp keeps the place spotlessly clean, except for the bloody trough of course. Beyond the entrance were a steep set of steps that led off to various empty rooms."
"Weren't you worried about bumping into Pulp wielding his deadly shovel?" Penny asked with a smirk. Peter glared and then smiled back.
"Not really. The place was so echoey there was no way he could have snuck up on us. Besides there were a million places we could have hidden if we wished. Some tunnels even went deeper beneath the school but there was no obvious way down. We chose to climb the steps to see where they led to."
"Aye, after a hundred or more of the blessed things we hit upon a trapdoor that sprang open and led to a lumber room full of tools and heavy furniture. Dust free, so stuff he regularly uses," Wesley added with glee, delighted at discovering an accessible cache of digging implements.
"A large wooden door, locked by a lever on the inside, seemed the only exit from the room. It opened easily enough," Peter pursued.
"With a fearful grinding noise, it must be said," Wesley remembered with a laugh. "And can you guess where it led us?"
"The Tinger's shower cubicle?" Sandy quipped, impatient for answers. He was pleased to see Penny laugh at this.
"No, to the Carved Gallery, the terror of all first years," Wesley declared proudly.
"Oh," Sandy replied and fell silent.
"I think I know the place you mean," Penny jumped up. "The one with all the scary monster carvings? I came across it in my wanderings a while ago."
"You went into the Carved Gallery alone?" Sandy said, impressed.
"Well, uh, no. Just took a peek," Penny confessed.
"Will you just stop all of this Carved Gallery nonsense," Priscilla interrupted with a squeak, waving an unopened packet of crisps at the lads sat in front of her as if it were a grenade primed to go off if she were to let it fall. "What was that about a bloody trough? I missed that bit."
"Is that the time?" Peter said, looking at Priscilla's glittering little watch. "Off to prep I think," and everyone but Priscilla prepared to leave for the library.
"I have none," she sniffed and remained in solitary frustration in the common room, still toying with the crisp packet uncertainly. "That nasty Gallery should be sealed off," she shouted after her departing friends. "I for one would never want to see it ever again."
Priscilla's protests were little heeded of course and later that night as everyone tried to get as much sleep as possible before the beginning of the second week of term, silent shadows gathered at the entrance to the second year common room.
The first Peter Thurwell reaslised he was in mortal danger was when he heard a very rude curse in a Scottish accent near his bed. Wesley McShane mouthing off about something for some reason. There was a dull thud and then a smarmy voice.
"You deserved that. It'll remind you to keep your mouth shut. We have no interest in you."
Then hands seized the sleepy blond boy before he realised he was not dreaming and dragged him bodily out of bed.
Peter opened his eyes.
"Whassamatter?" he said, head wobbling as he gathered his thoughts. A group of beefy looking boys dressed in dark silks stood around his bed and one slapped his face.
"Wakey wakey Thurwell. Time for your initiation," the smarmy voice announced.
To be continued...