The Prisoners Escape
Rockall had by now found all his seagull cousins and brought them back to the Mill to be briefed by Fastnet. Besides Rockall and Bailey, there were Biscay and Shannon, Viking and Malin, and Cromarty, Lundy, Portland and Wight, all eager to help again. (Heligoland was useless as usual, he was away fishing.) By the time Tom and Elisabeth were being rowed across the harbour the Gullnet was fully operational, circling high above them, and well aware of their situation.
A seagull was now tapping at the little street level window of the cellar. Tom and Elisabeth quickly pushed the table underneath, climbed up, opened it, and let him in through the bars.
‘Whatcha mates. I’m Malin, Flight Sergeant, me. Number Three in the Gullnet Team. That’s your message service, missus, set up by the Doc. He is a one, ain’t he ? – wise as an owl they say, well, some of them. Mind you, I ain’t too keen on taking orders from Fastnet all the time. I’m not your natural minion, me. Still, it takes all sorts, don’t it? Where was I?’
Tantamount was amazed at how easily the seagull and the children spoke with each other, exchanging information and discussing what should be done.
‘Not allowed! Parrot’s prerogative. Whence is thy learning? Hath thy toil over books consumed the midnight oil?”. Never known such times. Where the what, and whence the why and wherefore?’
‘It’s alright, Tantamount,’ said Elisabeth, stroking him gently. ‘Even though seagulls and humans can talk to each other in this region, none of them could possibly be as wise or as learned as you.’
Tantamount sniffed. “Rude am I in my speech and little blessed.”
‘Oh, no you’re not.’ said Tom. ‘You’re a brilliant parrot – I wish that you lived with us.’
‘Amazing, er, creature,’ squawked Malin helpfully. ‘King of the birds, no question.’
‘There’s so much that we could learn from you.’ said Elisabeth.
‘ “Her voice was ever soft, an excellent thing in a woman.” ‘ said Tantamount, more cheerfully.
‘The thing is,’ said Elisabeth, ‘We must escape somehow, and if you like, we’ll try and take you with us.’
‘How can we possibly escape?’ asked Tom.
‘I have a cunning plan, now that Malin and the Gullnet know where we are.’ said Elisabeth. ‘Are you with us, Tantamount?’
‘With you?. I’d be ahead of you if I wasn’t shackled. “Strike off the fetters, Finnegan.” Leave him behind?. Oh, yes, I’ll show him now. “How go you, wench?” ‘
‘Tom and I make ourselves invisible, get a pirate to open the door, then slip away, taking you with us if we can.’
‘Oh, well –“Mock on, mock on.” ’ sighed Tantamount. ‘ “Here I and sorrow sit together, hopes raised then dashed, and all is desolation still.” ‘
‘I’m serious.’ said Elisabeth. ‘Aren’t I Tom?’
Tom was grinning, but then looked doubtful. ‘But its got a lot of holes in it.’
‘It’s only got to cover us, not two full grown people.’
‘You’re full grown even if you are thin.’
‘I am not thin. I am slim, but not too tall, and in fact perfectly proportioned.’
‘Apart from the bumps in the front.’
‘Don’t be vulgar Tom. Anyway, if we wrap it around us twice we should be alright.’
Malin and Tantamount looked at each other and then shook their heads sadly.
‘Have your lot been feeding them properly?’ asked Malin. ‘No funny mushrooms or any such?’
‘On the contrary,’ said Tantamount. ‘Tender loving care all the way…I expect it’s being locked up – “Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy”, and girl as well in this case, of course.’
‘Be quiet, you two.’ said Elisabeth. ‘Malin, please ask the Professor if we can borrow the special cloak that he brought with him. It is very thin and I hope that we could get it between those bars. It is also very light and I would imagine that several seagulls could carry it together quite easily.’
‘Cloak? Carried by the Gullnet? Pushed through the bars?’ spluttered Malin ‘Need it to keep you warm, do you?’
‘It’s invisible.’ said Tom.
‘Best not drop it then.’ said Tantamount. ‘Never find it again. Perhaps they did have some mushrooms.’
‘Please, Malin,’ said Elisabeth. ‘Just ask the Professor, and tell him that if we do get away we will come to the water mill.’
‘Very well. I’ll tell him what you’ve told me. But perhaps you ought to have a lie down now. One of us will come and see you later – why not draw a nice picture of the parrot? Take slow, deep breaths if you feel a bit funny. They say that breathing in and out of a paper bag can help…’ He turned to Tantamount. ‘Pleased to make your aquaintance, comrade. You’ll keep an eye on them for us, won’t you?’
‘ “It is my opinion that this meeting is drunk” ‘ said Tantamount. ‘Yes, I will tend them as my own flock.’
* * *
Within half an hour an unusual flight of seagulls were heading towards Goldcaster. Flight Lieutenant Rockall was leading and they were flying in a tight square formation as though tied together. It was not a happy flight.
‘Can’t you fly in a straight line Malin?’
‘I can’t help it – I’m more your soarer, me – roaming around, having a butchers here, keeping an eye open there, on the old nose for the nosh. “I’m the type of gull, that likes to roam around, wherever takes my fancy, that’s where I’ll be found… ‘cos I’m a wanderer, yes, I’m a wanderer… I’m around around around around…” I haven’t done this sort of thing before.’
‘We’ve none of us done this sort of thing before.’
‘Not going to do it again, neither.’
‘Why do you keep doing that Biscay?’
‘You know very well what – you lurch, we all lurch.’
‘And I’ve dropped me corner again.’
‘For heavens sake Portland – get a grip.’
‘I can’t. Me claws is cold.’
‘Well hold it in your beak then.’
‘I can’t see the corner.’
‘Of course you can’t see it – it’s an invisible cloak this way up – that’s the whole point. Just grope about until you find it. Not there! Ouch! It’ll be swept underneath now… and get your wing out of my ear…’
* * *
‘Excuse me, Mr Pirate…’ said Elisabeth sweetly through the pavement window.
‘Eh? What? Where are you?’
‘Down here. Behind these cruel bars. Locked away, dying from thirst. Well not actually dying, but my little brother has knocked over the water jug and we really are very thirsty. And the potty needs emptying because my poor little brother has also been, several times, (‘No I haven’t!’) (Yes, you have). Sir Jasper wouldn’t like to think that you refused to help us…’
‘Er, no, he wouldn’t I don’t suppose. But he’s got the key you see.’
‘I know. And of course he is terribly busy. But he does so appreciate initiative and enterprise. He has told me himself that he is on the look out all the time for bright members of the crew who might deserve promotion. I’m certain that if you went to him to borrow the key and suggested that you should attend to us assisted by as many of your strong, fierce, and formidable colleagues as you think necessary to make sure that a frightened child and a weak feeble woman do not escape, – I am absolutely sure that he would be very impressed indeed. ‘
‘You think so?’
‘Oh, I do. And I know I’m right about this. And how lucky we are that it was you – such a shrewd, handsome, and courageous person – who should be the one we called on for help.’
‘Oh, well, I don’t know about that. Still, my Nan says…’
‘I’m sure she does. Now I think we’d better have that potty emptied very soon – he looks as if he’s going to go again… (‘No I don’t!’) (Yes, you do.)’
Twenty minutes passed.
‘They’re not coming.’ said Tom.
‘They’ll come.’ said Elisabeth. ‘Sir Jasper wants to keep us as happy as possible – we’re more use to him that way, as bargaining tools. People will think he’s not quite so bad if we are alright. He will only harm us if he gets desperate. Look how well we’ve been treated so far – someone will come.’
Tantamount coughed. ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with “F” ‘ he squawked.
‘His foot is showing under the cloak.’ said Elisabeth. ‘Thank you, Tantamount. And I think his elbow is sticking through that torn bit. Don’t wriggle so much Tom.’
‘It’s not easy to keep still – huddled up with you under this table.’
‘Be quiet. I think someone is coming now.’
The key turned in the lock and the door slowly opened about an inch.
‘They’re only kids, you pillock.’
‘I don’t care. Them enemy. Enemy bashes you. Enemy out to get you. Don’t mind fair fight, but enemy hits you on nut with club when you not looking. Enemy make you go bonkers in the head.’
‘They certainly did with you. Alright, we’ll all go in together. Clarence, you empty the potty. Eustace, you fill their water jug, (steer clear of the parrot – he’s got a nasty nip, that varmint). I’ll keep an eye on them…’
‘Why is it me as has to empty the potty?’
‘Because Eustace would spill it.’
‘No I wouldn’t. I take pride in work. I take work home to show willing.’
‘You’re not taking that home, matey, we live in the same cabin.’
‘Er, don’t like to mention it….’
‘Mention what Clarence?’
‘Nice little lock up this, all mod cons, plenty to do. Fine view of pavement, rats passing through and that, plus parrot as cabaret, but…’
‘Bit light on prisoners ain’t it?’
‘Wow!’ said Tom. ‘They all three shouted at once! I’ve never heard some of those words before.
‘Never mind that.’ said Elisabeth. ‘They’ll be back soon when they have finished rushing about in desperation looking for us. Well, goodbye, Tantamount. I’m so sorry we couldn’t break your chain, but we’ll tell everybody how helpful you have been. Look out – I think that they are coming back already. We’ll just have to hide under the cloak outside until they’ve gone.’
Three very worried pirates stood looking into the cellar.
‘Not in here…’
‘Must have shrunk…’
‘Slipped under the door…’
‘Wriggled through the keyhole…’
‘S’gotta be that magic stuff.
Spud said they had a bookshop…’
‘That’s it then, ain’t it?’
‘Stuck indoors all day – noses in books…’
‘Learning magic and suchlike…’
‘Never get away with it in my day.’
‘Ought to be out vandalising something like normal kids.’
‘I blame the parents.’
‘First lot of prisoners escaped. Now these two…’
‘He’ll go apethingy…’
‘Best not tell him.’
‘Hows about: “Here are the keys Captain, sir. No problems. No worries. All well and tidy. My word, they’re a sparky pair and no mistake – little one tried to scarper, but there was no way he could get past us, no chance, that’ll be the day… and they’re all still banged up nice and tight in the cellar.” ?’
Even longer pause…
‘If we want to wake up tomorrow.’
‘Blame enemy. Them enemy. Them gone. Their fault.’
‘Oh, Shut up Eustace…’