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Authors: Ann Turnbull

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BOOK: The Gunpowder Plot
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It's not a game – ” Eliza began. But her father's look silenced her.

The two of them retreated once again to their bedchamber.

“What can we
do
?” asked Eliza.

They sat on the bed, and Lucy took out her notebook and read through everything she had written down.

“Mouser…” she said at last.


Mouser?

“Mouser goes exploring in the coal store… And John Johnson is storing fuel in the big cellar under the House of Lords… And – do you remember? – Mistress Rowley said there used to be a way into that big cellar from this house…”

Eliza
understood – and felt excited. “So, if we follow Mouser, we might find the way in?”

  
6
  

On Mouser's Trail

They waited till night – when everyone had gone to bed, even Mistress Rowley and the maids.

“The servants work late,” said Eliza, “and Bessy – she's the youngest maid – she sleeps in the kitchen.”

They listened to the household sounds: doors closing, footsteps on the stairs, murmured “goodnights” from the family.

Outside, in the street, the watchman
passed
by with his lantern. “Ten o'clock, and all's well!” he called.

Still they waited, dressed in their nightgowns, and sitting up straight so as not to fall asleep.

At last the house fell silent except for creaking timbers and the scuttering of mice in the wainscot.

“Let's go,” whispered Eliza.

They crept downstairs.

The kitchen was dark, and they paused in the doorway until their eyes became accustomed to the gloom. The fire was banked up, and in front of it Bessy lay asleep on a pallet. They tiptoed past her.

Eliza
gasped as she felt the brush of a furry body on her legs and heard a faint “prrrow…”

Mouser trotted towards the open storeroom doorway.

“Quick!” whispered Lucy.

They followed the cat into the storeroom as he padded past shelves laden with cleaning materials and tools. Further in Eliza could see the coal store and, next to it, bundles of firewood piled up and stacked against the wall. Mouser disappeared behind the stack.

The girls crouched and followed him, crawling on hands and knees. Eliza's sleeve caught on a nail and she felt it tear.

Now I'll be in more trouble
, she thought.

“Look!” Lucy's voice was full of suppressed excitement.

Eliza peered, and saw a door. There was a big hole in it near the base, where the wood
had
rotted – and disappearing through the hole was Mouser's tail.

“It must be the door to the big cellar,” said Lucy. “The one Mistress Rowley said hadn't been used for years.”

They tried the handle. “It's locked,” said Eliza.

She knelt and pushed her head and shoulders through the hole.

“What can you see?” asked Lucy.

“Nothing. I can feel a stone floor – oh, and walls. It's a passage!”

She came back out, and they looked at each other. Eliza wondered if Lucy felt as scared as she did. She took a breath. “Shall we go in?”

They
crawled through – Eliza first, then Lucy – and stood up. The stone floor of the passage sent a chill up through their silk slippers and they shivered in the cold air. Eliza felt for Lucy's hand as they moved forward.

To their relief, the passage was short. Almost at once they became aware of a faint greyish light and reached another door.

There was no sound from Mouser, and they could not see him. He must have found a way in.

“He went underneath,” Eliza whispered. “Look! The whole bottom of the door has rotted away. But the gap's too small for us.”

She
wrenched at the damp, crumbly wood, and a big piece broke off, startling her.

Both girls froze. What if someone was there, on the other side, watching?

But Eliza heard nothing. Cautiously they enlarged the gap some more, and then Lucy, who was thinner than Eliza, began to squeeze herself through.

Eliza breathed in, and followed.

The other side of the door was blocked with heaps of wooden crates and boxes, scrap timber, and masonry. They began creeping forward, careful not to dislodge anything.

A small “prrp!” alerted them to Mouser, but almost at once he crept away under
the
debris to some secret place of his own.

Eliza, squirming further in, whispered, “There are barrels here.”

She saw now that they were in what must indeed be the big cellar under the House of Lords. It was huge, with rows of pillars and arched alcoves. Her father had told her it had once been the kitchens of the great hall, back in the olden days.

Some feeble light came from narrow windows high in the walls. It showed great stacks of firewood and coal down both sides of a central space. And behind the fuel, where she and Lucy had come in, were many barrels, stacked in rows.


It must be wine,” Eliza said. “Perhaps it's for the State Opening of Parliament, when the King comes, and all the lords.”

She moved forward to squeeze between the piles of firewood – and at the same moment there was the sound of a door opening on the far side of the cellar, and someone else came in, carrying a lantern that lit his face.

Eliza gasped and slid back into the shelter of the woodpile.

“It's him!” she whispered. “John Johnson!”

  
7
  

In the Cellar

Eliza and Lucy hardly dared breathe. They crouched low and hid behind the barrels as John Johnson walked up and down the length of the cellar, looking about him. His lantern cast looming shadows on the walls and ceiling.

Supposing he sees us?
thought Eliza. She pressed up against the barrels and peeped between them. The shadow of the man in his tall hat reared over her.

Then
a sudden scrabbling and a soft thump set Eliza's heart racing and made the lantern swing wildly in John Johnson's hand.

“Mouser…” breathed Lucy.

Eliza saw the black cat caught in the beam of light, with a mouse dangling from his jaws. He wailed eerily – and for an instant Johnson looked as frightened as Eliza felt. He took a step backwards and crossed himself.

Mouser trotted away – straight towards the girls.

John Johnson followed.

He'll see us!
thought Eliza, in terror.

The light from the lantern swung over and around them, and they shrank back into the
shadows
to hide among the piles of boxes.

Johnson frowned and moved the lantern about. He peered into the darkness.

“Nothing,” he muttered at last.

But he seemed disturbed, and they heard him pacing up and down again and saw the light swinging to and fro, making shadows leap along the walls. Then he became still, and Eliza heard only a faint murmuring. “What's he doing?” she whispered.

Lucy could see through a small gap. “He's kneeling down. I think he's praying.”

They stayed still for what felt like a long time, not daring to move an inch.

At last Lucy said, “He's getting up.”
They
heard a door open, the light disappeared, and there was the sound of a key turning in a lock. He was gone.

“Oh!” breathed Eliza and Lucy together.

Slowly, they crawled out, stood up, and held onto each other, trembling.

Now the cellar seemed huge and shadowy around them. Eliza heard creaks and patterings and a rustle of wings. Could it be bats? Or demons? She called softly to Mouser, but he didn't come.

“Let's go back,” she said. “I'm scared.”

They felt their way back to the door, squeezed under it, and hurried along the passage to Eliza's house. As she crawled
through
the hole in the door and then out from behind the woodstack, Eliza thought about what they had seen. What was John Johnson doing in the cellar? Was it something to do with those barrels of wine? She felt sure it was.

BOOK: The Gunpowder Plot
3.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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