Tom and Elisabeth imprisoned
By Thursday morning the water mill by the Rowan River was becoming rather crowded. The Summerdale Resistance Force now included Will Nudd and his apprentice from the forge who were already at work building up the makeshift armour around the cab of the traction engine. Also amongst those present were a number of the brawniest Goldcaster citizens fresh from their forest hideaways, and a modest cavalry troop mounted on the brewer’s Suffolk punches, two Percherons, some ponies, and a rather ancient cantankerous Clydesdale mare. Mrs. Tupman, the stew expert, had also joined them as housekeeper for the battered building and more importantly as cook.
Amongst all the shifts and contrivances to combat the enemy Doctor Johnson proposed a development of the seagull service.
‘Now, Fastnet, ‘said Doctor Johnson. ‘We must have someone reliable in charge of our communications. We must ensure that we know exactly what is happening to Tom and Elisabeth so that we can rescue them at the earliest possible opportunity. And of course we must be kept absolutely up to date with all the pirates’ plans, so we need eyes and ears as widely available and as efficiently run as possible. Communications control will be an essential part of any success.’
‘Communications control?’ queried Fastnet.
‘Exactly.’ said the Professor. ‘That is going to be your responsibility.’
‘What? No fighting? Leaving me out of the important work are you?’ protested Fastnet.
‘Certainly no fighting for you, I hope.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘But as to leaving you out – quite the contrary. I rather think that without your contribution we could find ourselves in great difficulty.’
‘Ah…’ said Fastnet. somewhat mollified but puzzled. ‘But ‘communications’ means carrying messages, doesn’t it? I’ve been doing that already.’
‘No, no…’said Doctor Johnson. ‘We don’t want you just to carry the messages. We want you to organise the carrying.’
‘Oh.’ said Fastnet, very interested now and rather pleased. ‘Organise it, eh? Ummmm…’
Yes,’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘And to give instructions to the gulls and to ensure that everybody knows what is happening, and to decide who to contact if emergencies arise, and so on.’
‘And make decisions?’
‘Well, I’m your gull sir, I’m your gull.’
‘I knew that we could rely on you. You have already shown great initiative on everyone’s behalf.’ said Doctor Johnson, beaming at Fastnet. ‘We’ll try and give you a bit of a rest today. You can stay here with us at our headquarters while we establish the system.’
‘Perhaps Rockall could tell the other gulls what is happening and make certain that they understand that you are in charge?’ suggested Professor Paragon.
‘Well, yes, that would be helpful.’ said Fastnet.
‘We would like the gulls to fly to and fro between the mill and Goldcaster.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘Also we need them to keep watch on any pirates who go into Summerdale and to report their movements to you so that we can take appropriate action.’
‘Right Doctor J.’ said Fastnet briskly. ‘Wilco, as we professional flyers say’
‘And I think you should have a cousin or two here in reserve in case you need to make any tactical decisions.’ said Professor Paragon
‘Tactical decisions?’ mused Fastnet. ‘That would be, er…?’
‘Changes resultant upon some crisis or other for which we had not planned – if something unforeseen occurred. It’s always best to be prepared for the unexpected.’
‘Like if the pirates went towards the wood and we had to let the people there know?’
‘That the sort of thing.’
‘Or if they went up the valley and then split up and went different ways coming back?’
‘Ah, yes, that could happen.’
‘Or if there was an earthquake or the river burst its banks or there was a raging forest fire…?’
‘Well, yes,’ smiled Doctor Johnson. ‘Any little matter like that which several different parties would need to know about as soon as possible.’
‘Oh, leave it to me your worship,’ said Fastnet proudly. ‘I’ll look after your tacticals. With old Rockall to help me you can rely on your Communication Headquarters. We’ll have a seagull system – ‘The Gullnet’ we’ll call it. I’ll keep a thingy – branch.’
‘Record of everything that happens – all the messages and that.’
‘Oh, a log you mean.’
‘That’s the kiddy. And you needn’t worry – it’ll all be in gullish. No pirate would understand even if they came back here and captured it. And we will have an eye on each and everyone involved – nothing will escape us and you will be informed of everything. Oh, yes, the Mill House Operations Room will be run like a well oiled wotsit, I can promise you.’
‘Admirable, admirable.’ said the Professor. ‘In the short time that we have been acquainted it has become apparent to me that in addition to your undoubted courage, you have an instinctive grasp of priorities and a fine, fast mind, my dear Fastnet.’
‘Well, thank you, Professor.’ said Fastnet, glowing visibly. ‘But you’ve got to be fast if you fancy a fish, unless you’re content to survive on half rotten rubbish.’
Professor Professor smiled. ‘Of course you’re right.’ he said ‘But you have an enquiring mind, not just a surviving one. When this is all over perhaps you could come and stay with me for a while? Barney and Umbrage and I would be delighted to have you and I would value your views on certain research that I am conducting about animal relationships. You need not worry about my cats – I would ensure that they treated you with respect as a colleague. Ah, here is Mr Nudd. How are we getting on with boxing up Berengaria?’
While the Doctor Johnson and Fastnet were organising their communications network Tom and Elisabeth were being rowed across the harbour with Sir Jasper. Tom had successfully pleaded for Tantamount not to be left behind and so the parrot was with them as well.
‘I shall take you ashore.’ Jasper had said, whilst they were having breakfast. ‘It will be a most educational and a unique opportunity for you to learn the techniques of leadership and modern management. Also, quite frankly, it is far better for everybody for you to be with me. Anybody concerned about you who might just be spying in the vicinity will see that you are well and so can reassure your parents.
There is another factor, of course. The prospect of any harm coming to you will reduce any resistance to the minimum. I can’t help but feel that things are far too quiet. People may have fled the town but those who fought cannot surely be idle? Somewhere someone could, heaven forfend, be even considering opposing me? Seeking help? Perhaps making plans?… You wouldn’t know anything about something like that, would you? It would be best to tell me if you did in order to prevent unnecessary tears, bloodshed, even. No? Oh, well, I didn’t expect you to tell me even if you do know something. You seem to be a fine, brave pair of young people – of course, perhaps not totally tested as yet. Normally, of course, we can apply, how shall I put it – physical pressure – to extract the truth, but I really do try and confine that sort of thing to those of more mature years.’
Tom had been rather worried by all this but after they had said goodbye to Spud and thanked him for his hospitality, and whilst they were being put aboard the rowing boat Elisabeth managed to whisper to him ‘Look on the bright side. Sir Jasper is taking us back to the town, nearer the others, and I expect all sorts of things are being done to help. And we are no longer on parole. We only promised Spud we wouldn’t escape from him…’
Once ashore, and with the black pirates Tembo and Twiga as their personal guards they followed Jasper to the Town Hall.
‘The key to successful employee effectiveness is motivation.’ he said as they went up the steps.
‘This can take various forms, some pleasant, some less so, but I always advocate the prospect of the tasty carrot before the flourishing of the threatening stick. Ah, here we are.’
In the Council Chamber two dozen of the crew were waiting, some with bandages or bruises, one even leaning on a makeshift crutch, and all looking decidedly apprehensive.
‘Now my brave lads,’ said Jasper, clapping his hands together, ‘Let us put the problems of the past few days behind us, and today go forward together and secure our prosperous future and well earned rewards. I know that things have been a little difficult… (Grunts and groans and vehement nodding of heads) …but I am reliably informed that we have all the tools and resources we need, and by process of painful experiment… (‘Not ‘alf…’ ‘Too bloody right.’) …we have determined the best method of tackling the tasks. We are going to get the final great bell down, we are going to truss it and bind it and bring it to the forge, and we are going to carefully, professionally, inch by inch and sliver by sliver, melt off the gold from all the bells, cast it into ingots, and stow it all aboard. And when that is done, from my own treasure chest, as upon occasion I have before, I shall reward all involved with an extra gold doubloon each, in addition, not as an advance on, the share due to all.’
The atmosphere in the Chamber became noticeably more enthusiastic.
‘Well that’s more like it…’
‘Fair enough – let’s get stuck in…’
‘Where did I put those leather gauntlets?’
‘I think I saw a welding mask somewhere…’
‘Permission to speak Cap’n?’
‘Certainly, Able Seaman Trunnion’
‘I think we’d take it kindly if you was to come up the church with us, just to see we get it right and start us off.’
‘But Mr Speke is in charge of operations. You know I don’t interfere when I delegate, unless things go wrong.’
‘Of course not Cap’n. But you might feel able to congratulate him on the thoroughness of ‘is doings, and thus put him in a favourable cast of mind towards us lot, if you take my meaning?’
‘Yesss…’ pondered Jasper. ‘Yes, I take your point.’ He smiled. ‘And I expect you would also like me to see for myself that all possible measures are properly in place, and that all conceivable precautions have been taken so that if anything should go amiss again I will not unfairly put the blame on you?’
‘Er, well, that had crossed our minds, certainly Cap’n.’
‘Very well. I will accompany you. Clarence, be so good as to saddle up my horse while I just file my charming captives away for the moment.’ He turned to Elisabeth. ‘I’m sorry about this Miss Trundle, but one must be fair, and I shall not be long gone, an hour, perhaps two at the most I expect.’
He took them down to a rather drier cellar than the one in which Rowley and his companions had been confined before.
‘I do apologise that I have to lock you up my dears, but I must supervise the business of those dratted bells. But never mind, tomorrow you will accompany me up into the valley on a major expedition. My men who captured you yesterday were only on a minor mission, testing the water, so to speak, probing here, prying there, seeing what resistance we might encounter. I have to say that it appears there is none to speak of.’
‘Are you just going to lock us up in this ghastly dungeon for hours on end?’ asked Elisabeth angrily.
‘Please, Miss Trundle, do be reasonable. It is not a dungeon – it is a perfectly dry and spacious cellar. You shall have something to eat and drink, paper, pencils, anything useful from the offices above, crayons if they have any, my own dice!… I’ll even leave Tantamount with you to keep you entertained. And I shall return to see you as soon as possible. This time I shall hold on to the key myself. I really do think that I have thought of everything.’
‘I want to go to the lavatory.’ said Tom.
‘Oh dear.’ sighed Jasper. ‘One sometimes wonders if it’s all worth the effort. Come with me then – there’s one along this corridor.’ and he took Tom by the hand, leaving Elisabeth locked in up on her own.
‘What happens if we need to go before you come back?’ she demanded when they returned.
‘I’ll see you have a screen and a potty!’ snapped Jasper.
True to his word, he left them as comfortable as possible with adequate furniture, cushions, food, water, things to keep them occupied, and Tantamount chained to a chair back.
Tom looked up at the small window set at street level. They could stand on the table to open it, but the gaps between the bars were too small even for Tom to squeeze through.
‘We can never escape from here.’ said Tom sadly.
‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains’ said Tantamount. ‘Tantamount shackled – again. I’ll have him….’
‘We can’t even tell anyone where we are.’ sighed Elisabeth. But she was wrong.
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.