The Treasure Beneath the Hill

by Edward Picot

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When Dora went to stay with Grandpa Jack she was surprized to find the old school next to the church all boarded up. There was a yellow digger in the playground, next to a pile of earth and bricks. A deep trench had been dug through the tarmac, and the row of brick outhouses where the Pig Man kept his pig had been partly demolished.

'What are they doing, Grandpa?'

'They're knocking it all down,' said Grandpa Jack. 'They're going to build some flats.'

'But what about the Pig Man?'

'He's going to have to move out.'

'Where will he go? What's going to happen to his pig?'

'I don't know,' said Grandpa Jack. 'I don't even know what's going to happen to me.'

'You? You're not going to have to move out, are you, Grandpa?'

'Yes,' said Grandpa Jack, as he unlocked the front door.

'They're knocking this place down as well.'

Inside the house was the familiar mess: the smell of old paper; books everywhere; sheet music stacked on chairs and tables and all over the top of the piano; lots of empty teacups and plates with biscuit-crumbs on them. Grandpa Jack was the church organist and choir master, and he'd been living in the little house next to the church, attached to one side of the old school, since before Dora was born.

It was probably her favourite house in the world, partly because of Grandpa Jack, and partly because it had two staircases. You could go up a little twisty stair with red carpet on it, next to Grandpa Jack's study, then along the upstairs corridor past Grandpa Jack's bedroom, and come down another little twisty stair with a blue carpet on it, into a passage next to the pantry. When she was little she used to make that journey over and over again, and it always felt magical. She used to go up one stair as herself, and come down the other as a dog or a crocodile.

Sometimes, because she decided quite early in life that she'd really rather be a boy than a girl, she used to go up the red stairs dressed as a girl, and come down the blue ones dressed as a boy. Her full name was Pandora: so she used to go up as Dora, and come down as Pan. Grandpa Jack and her Dad, whichever happened to be around, took her magical transformations for granted and played along with them. It was only in later life that people tried to pin her down to being one particular thing.

Even better: in the upstairs corridor there was a door that was never opened. Grandpa Jack said it led into the upper floor of the old schoolhouse, but it was locked up years ago and nobody knew where the key was. Dora dreamed about finding the key and stepping through, not just into a different place but a different world, a different identity.

'It's that bugger Sylvia Pouncer,' said Grandpa Jack.

'Sylvia Pouncer?' said Dora. 'Who's she?'

'The new vicar.'

'But I thought Bill was the vicar!' protested Dora.

Bill the vicar was Grandpa Jack's oldest friend. He was a gigantic redfaced old man with a big nose and bushy eyebrows, and a dramatically wobbly voice like a broken-down opera singer. He and Grandpa Jack more or less decided everything about the running of the church between the two of them.

'Yes, of course he's the vicar,' agreed Grandpa Jack, 'but he's in hospital. They brought in this Sylvia Pouncer as a temporary replacement, and next thing you know, they've decided to knock everything down and build flats. Bloody church commissioners. They never would have tried it if Bill hadn't been out of action. But they've had all these meetings without him in attendance, and decided everything behind his back. Sneaky buggers. He's furious about it, but while he's stuck in hospital there's nothing he can do.'

'But why's he in hospital?' said Dora.

'Ah well,' said Grandpa Jack, 'I'm afraid we both got rather drunk.'

Grandpa Jack had called at the vicarage one night, for one of his usual chats, and found Bill with a guest, a man called Abner Brown.

'Jack my dear! I'm so glad you've come! You must meet Abner,' said Bill. 'Abner Brown. He's a church historian, and he's been telling me all sorts of things I didn't know about St Bridget's. He says we ought to have a festival.'

A tall dark suave man emerged into the hallway and enthusiastically shook Jack's hand. 'Aha! Good evening, good evening, good evening! You must be Jack the church organist!' he said. 'I'm very pleased to meet you, very pleased indeed. Bill has told me all about you. It's a pleasure, a really great pleasure.'

'What's all this about a festival?' said Grandpa Jack.

'Come in and have a drink,' said Abner Brown, as if he owned the house. 'We'll tell you all about it.'

'Abner introduced himself by turning up with a case of wine,' said Bill, who had obviously had a drink or two already.

'Superb idea! And a Stilton cheese. You know how I love Stilton. I must've eaten about half a pound. And excellent wine. First class wine. Wait till you taste it, Jack. I haven't had wine like it since I was at King's.'

The dining room table was covered in wine bottles, plates, cheese, grapes, crackers and biscuits, plus a litter of historical documents.

'Abner says the church is fifteen hundred years old, my dear!' said Bill. 'Imagine!'

'Not the existing church,' said Abner, pouring some wine.

'That's comparatively recent. But the foundations go back centuries. And the site itself, as a place of worship, goes back even further, into pre-Christian times. Many churches were built on pagan places of worship, of course. If we could dig beneath the floor of the existing building -'

'Which we never could, of course,' put in Bill.

'No, of course not,' said Abner Brown; 'but if we could, I'm convinced we would find all sorts of archaelogical treasure, evidence of previous worship on the site, going back to pagan times: the Saxons, the Celts, perhaps even further. I've discovered a written reference to what I believe is this site in Anglo-Saxon times, and that reference will be fifteen hundred years old this year.'

'That's why he thinks we should have a festival,' said Bill.

'Well, what I originally suggested was an exhibition,' said Abner Brown. 'I should like to get some people down from London to do some exploring in and around the church - nothing disruptive, mind you, just a little bit here and there - and then stage an exhibition about the history of the site. But then Bill said celebration. Then one of us, I can't remember who - '

'It was definitely you, my dear chap,' said Bill.

'One of us said festival. Perhaps it was me,' said Abner modestly. 'Have some more wine.'

'A festival, Jack,' said Bill. 'You know, with music. You could organize the music, couldn't you? We were thinking Hallowe'en.'

'That's not long,' said Jack.

'A very neglected festival from the church point of view,' said Abner Brown. 'It's been taken over by the Americans. Trick or treat, and so forth. But of course the tradition is much older.'

'But it's not long,' said Grandpa Jack cautiously, 'and that sort of thing takes a lot of planning.'

'Yes, yes, of course it does, of course it does, my dear boy,' said Bill. 'Lots of work, lots of work all round. But you're very good at organizing musical events. You're always organizing something or other. He organizes madrigals every year, you know,' he explained to Abner. 'Wonderful madrigals. The choir sing like angels. People come from far and wide.'

'He sounds like just the man for the job,' said Abner.

'Splendid fellow. Try some of this Stilton, and have some more wine.'

It didn't take long for Grandpa Jack to become just as enthusiastic as the other two. Abner Brown kept circulating the wine, and everything started to seem not only possible but easy, delightfully easy, bound to be a huge success. Abner Brown was a delightful fellow, Bill was his oldest and dearest friend, the wine was really excellent wine, the Stilton was really wonderful Stilton, everything was warming up and expanding, there was a sense of enlarging possibilities, and he found himself smiling an enormous smile and fondly offering half a biscuit to one of Bill's two fat Labradors - who he had previously always regarded as a bit of a nuisance, because they wouldn't leave you alone when you were eating - but who he now realised were actually the two nicest friendliest dogs in the world, even if they did keep pawing at your leg and putting their chins on your knee when you weren't expecting it, which sometimes made you spill your wine on the carpet. Eventually he found himself, still smiling the same enormous smile, fumbling his way into his coat and making what seemed like an extremely long and complicated journey to the front door, weaving around all sorts of furniture that seemed to loom up out of nowhere, and explaining loudly that he'd really got to be going, partly because there was a service early the next morning, which Bill seemed to have forgotten all about, and partly, although he didn't mention this, because he'd just been startled in his chair by a very abrupt snore, which he rather suspected might have come out of his own nose.

'Goodnight my dear chap!' hooted Bill, following him down the hallway with a glass of wine in one hand and a digestive biscuit in the other. 'Splendid evening! Inspirational! See you tomorrow! Take care in the dark! Mind the front step!'

'Take one of these bottles!' cried Abner Brown, following along behind.

Grandpa Jack felt the cold air on his face and the gravel under his feet - he started to crunch his way towards the front gate - then he heard a yelp and a shout and a crash, and when he turned round there was Bill, lying across the front step like a fallen tree. One of the Labradors was nosing guiltily at his face, and Abner Brown was bending over him apologising, the unopened bottle of wine still in his hand.

'Don't try to move,' said Abner Brown, 'we'll call an ambulance. What a catastrophe! I was trying to reach past him to offer you this bottle, and the dog somehow got in his way...'

'Bloody dog,' groaned Bill. 'Tripped me up, the blasted animal.'

'Can you move your leg at all?' said Abner Brown, who suddenly seemed very efficient and not at all drunk. 'Where does it hurt? Is it your ankle?'

'Yes, my ankle,' said Bill between his teeth. 'I felt it snap.'

'Terribly bad luck,' said Abner. 'I'll call for the ambulance.'

Dora's first morning with Grandpa Jack was spoiled by the arrival of Sylvia Pouncer.

'I'm so sorry to disturb you,' Dora heard her saying in the hall, 'but I thought we should discuss the order of service for tomorrow. And I've got to pop up to London later. All sorts of paperwork to do with the redevelopment. You wouldn't believe the complications. Oh!' she said, looking into the dining room and seeing Dora at the breakfast table. 'Who's this?'

'Dora,' said Grandpa Jack. 'My granddaughter.'

'How delightful!' said Miss Pouncer. 'Aren't you pretty?' Dora mumbled an awkward hallo and took an instant dislike to her. She seemed much too well-groomed and businesslike for a vicar: tightly-pinned blond hair, smartly-plucked eyebrows, immaculate makeup, high heels and a well-tailored jacket and skirt. She looked more as if she was about to pitch a corporate takeover to a money-hungry boardroom than do anything remotely churchy. The only slightly unpredictable note was a gold cat-brooch on the lapel of her burgundy jacket.

'Are you another musical prodigy, like your grandfather?' she inquired.

'Not really.'

'She does pictures,' volunteered Grandpa Jack.

'Pictures!' exclaimed Sylvia Pouncer. 'Oh, I adore art! If there's one thing in life I regret, it's that I've never been able to draw. Do you think it's something one can learn, or does one have to be born with a gift for it?'

'Dunno,' said Dora.

'No - well, there you are - if you've got it, you don't have to worry about where it comes from! Perhaps I should buy one of your paintings now, and then when you become famous it'll be worth a fortune.'

'I don't expect she's got anything with her,' said Grandpa Jack.

'No,' agreed Dora, 'I haven't.'

'Just leave a thousand pounds on the table,' said Grandpa Jack, 'and we'll send you something later on.'

'Ha ha ha!' trilled Sylvia Pouncer. 'I wish I had a thousand pounds! There's nothing I'd rather spend it on!'

'Dora does most of her pictures on the computer,' said Grandpa Jack, 'and she sells them online.'

'Oh,' said Sylvia, 'isn't it wonderful what these young people can do with their technology?'

As a matter of fact, Dora had built up a considerable following on a social media site called Blackbirds, but she didn't feel like telling Sylvia Pouncer anything about it. She shovelled a big spoonful of porridge into her mouth as an excuse for not saying anything.

'I don't understand any of this computer stuff, personally,' said Grandpa Jack. 'It gives me a headache.'

'Me too!' agreed Sylvia. 'I've got a niece who's terribly good at all that sort of thing. Social media and what have you. I can't keep up with her at all. You should see her texting on her mobile phone! Her thumbs are just a blur!'

'I hate mobile phones,' said Grandpa Jack. 'I had one for about a fortnight, and it was the bane of my life. The bloody thing kept making all sorts of funny beeping noises, wanting me to do something or other. I dropped it down the toilet in the end, which was the best thing that could possibly have happened.'

'Oh, Jack, you're even more of a dinosaur than I am!' screamed Sylvia. 'Now, I must show you, Jack,' she added, producing a folder from under her arm, 'I've brought the brochure for that sheltered accommodation of yours.'

'Oh, lovely,' said Grandpa Jack, looking gloomy straight away.

'They're such beautiful places! So modern and warm after this draughty old pile! Central heating, double glazing, everything your heart could desire!'

'Sounds wonderful,' said Grandpa Jack, looking more fed up than before.

'I'm sure you'll adore them if you just give them a chance,' said Sylvia Pouncer, putting a persuasive hand on his arm. 'I do hope so. Nobody wants to feel that you're being forced out of your home against your will. But the Church Commissioners do desperately need to raise some money, and none of us can afford to stand in the way of progress.'

'No, no, of course not,' said Grandpa Jack. 'I expect it's all for the best. I'll soon get used to the idea.'

'That's the spirit,' said Sylvia Pouncer. 'This could be a new start for you, Jack! A new lease of life!'

'Yes, I'm sure it could,' said Grandpa Jack.

After Sylvia Pouncer was gone, Dora said 'Grandpa, why don't you just tell her you don't want to move?'

'I can't tell her,' said Grandpa Jack. 'You can't tell these people.'

'But she keeps saying she doesn't want to make you move if you don't want to. Why don't you just tell her?'

'No, it's all been decided,' said Grandpa Jack. 'They've had all these committee meetings and made all these decisions. There's lots of money involved, and lots of people have made their plans. I can't be the one person to throw a spanner in the works. It's probably all for the best anyway.'

'But you hate the idea!'

'Well, I don't want to end up in sheltered housing, cooped up with a lot of other miserable old buggers. But she's probably right in a way. A modern place would probably be better for me than a creaky old house like this.' He glumly started to turn the pages of the brochure Sylvia Pouncer had left on the table. 'It does look small, though,' he murmured. 'It's the size of a shoe box. I don't know what I'm going to do with all my sheet music.'

A bit later in the morning, Grandpa Jack was shuffling around in his study, 'sorting his sheet music out', as he described it - a process which seemed to involve shifting musical scores from one tottering dusty old pile to another, without ever actually making anything tidier or more organized. Dora couldn't offer to help him, because she'd done that before, and he always said 'No, no, I know where everything is'. So she went outside to see the pig instead.

Grandpa's house was built onto the side of the old school. The old school hadn't been used as a proper school for years, but up until her last visit it had still been used for play groups, dancing classes, yoga, bring-and-buy sales and so forth. Now, however, all the windows were boarded up with chipboard, which had the effect of suddenly making the school look not just old but derelict. On the far side of it was the playground, with the raw new trench dug through the middle, next to which were the pile of earth and bricks and the yellow digger she had seen when she first arrived. It was Saturday today, so there were no workmen around. And on the far side of the playground was the row of brick outhouses that were being demolished.

Most of these outhouses consisted of a slatted wooden door, a small window (sometimes with wire netting instead of glass) and a whitewashed oblong interior full of old stuff - school benches, flower-pots, spades, chairs, demi-johns, bags of cement powder, tins of paint, broken roof tiles, mouldy sheets of plywood splitting apart into layers, rusting wire baskets, balls of twine, mouldering copies of the Beano, plus innumerable spiders, woodlice and earwigs. Dora spent hours and hours exploring there when she was younger.

The outhouse closest to the Church, however, was in better order than the others. It had a metal stovepipe with a pointed cap sticking up through its roof, which signified that it had a wood- burning stove inside to keep the occupant warm. This was the work shed of the school and church caretaker, otherwise known as the Pig Man.

The outhouse next door to this had two half-doors instead of one whole door, meaning that you could swing the top half open 12while keeping the lower half shut. It also, unusually, had another door on the other side, the side that faced away from the playground, opening into a kind of little courtyard or paddock full of nettles and mud, with an elderberry bush growing in the corner. And this outhouse contained a special rich kind of gloom in the middle of which - when he wasn't nosing around in his courtyard - was the pig.

He was a black and white pig with flopping-forward ears and wise humorous eyes. He was one of Dora's favourite animals in the world. His nose, which came snuffling up at you if you leaned in over his half-door - especially if you offered him something to eat - always looked as if it was going to be wet and snotty but always turned out to be warm and clever and rubbery, and that nose was one of her favourite things to touch in the world. On top of which, there was one occasion when she was small and the Pig Man had held her on the pig's back and let her ride him while he trotted a circuit of his courtyard, which was one of her favourite memories in the world.

Dora gave the pig a wrinkled apple from Grandpa's fruit bowl, and then went to see the Pig Man.

'Henry,' she said - because that was his real name - 'they're knocking down your outhouses.'

'That's right,' said the Pig Man. 'That's right. So they are. They're knocking em down. They've knocked two down already. Those two at the end. They've knocked those two down already, they have, and then they're going to knock down the rest.'

The Pig Man was very easy to talk to, because he could turn an idea over and over and round and round, in the way of conversation, almost idefinitely. Also, you didn't have to say anything polite like 'Do you mind if I come in?' or 'I'm back' or 'How have you been?' You walked into his shed and said something to him, and he just looked at you and talked right back, as if you'd been there all the time. He wasn't surprised to see you or anything. It was almost a year since Dora had last come on a visit, but as far as the Pig Man was concerned, it might as well have been five minutes.

'And I'll tell you something,' said the Pig Man. 'The pig didn't like it. When they started all that banging and thumping, and the machinery going and that, he started grunting and squealing and going up and down like a mad thing. I never heard him do anything like it. He kept going up and down inside his shed and grunting and squealing, he did. He didn't like it one bit, he didn't.'

'I don't blame him,' said Dora. 'What's going to happen to him? Where's he going to live?'

'Don't know,' said the Pig Man. 'I ain't sure yet.'

'And what about you?' said Dora. 'Where are you going to live?'

'Well,' said the Pig Man, 'I'm going to live in my house, same as usual. I don't live here, you know. I don't live in this here shed.'

'Oh no,' said Dora. 'Of course you don't.'

The Pig Man sat back and folded his arms. 'You thought I lived in this shed, did you?' he said with a sly smile. 'This here's just a shed, you know. It ain't a house. You can't live in a shed. Even I can't live in a shed. It ain't got a bed in it, for a start.'

'No, I know that,' said Dora.

'Ah,' said the Pig Man. 'Not that I haven't slept in here once or twice, mind you. Anyway,' he added, 'it's worse for your Grandpa than it is for me.'

'He hates it,' said Dora.

'Course he does,' agreed the Pig Man. 'Course he hates it. Course he does. He's losing his home.'

'What's all that stuff on your desk?' said Dora.

'This here?' said the Pig Man. 'This is rescuings.'

The top of his desk was covered with a little collection of ancient looking glass and pottery.

'This is stuff they've dug up, and if I didn't come along and rescue it, they'd just throw it away. I went through their pile of earth, and this is what I found.'

'Is it valuable?'

'No, I shouldn't think so. But it's old stuff. It's worth taking a look at. Look here,' he said. 'That's an old clay pipe.' He held it up for her to see. 'That's how they used to smoke their tobacco in the old days. And that there is an ink bottle, that they used to do their writing out of, with ink pens. The old teacher probably smoked that pipe, and one of the old school children probably used that little ink bottle, about two hundred years ago.'

'And what's that key?' said Dora.

In amongst the other stuff was a big heavy-looking old key that looked as if it was made of iron.

'Ah,' said the Pig Man. 'That's a bit like the old key to the front door of the church, that is, but it's different. And it's a bit like the old key to the front door of the school, it is, but it's different from that too. It's probably the key to something round here, but I don't know what it's the key to. Would you like it?'

'What, me?'

'Yes, you have it, if it interests you. You might find out what it belongs to.'

'All right,' said Dora, and she took it.

That night she was woken by a thumping noise. She sat up in bed with her heart beating. What was it? Perhaps she'd dreamed it. But then she heard it again - a muffled thud. Something moving around on the far side of her bedroom wall. Her room was next door to the old school. That meant, if something was moving around on the other side, then it was in the old school, which was meant to be empty.

What was it? She listened, but it was quiet now.

Perhaps an animal was in there. It wasn't a scratchy scrabbling noise or a nibbling gnawing noise or a rapid scampering noise, like a squirrel or a rat would make. And it wasn't a flapping blundering noise like a trapped bird. It might be something larger and heavier, like a badger. Would a badger make a noise like that? She didn't know.

Anyway, it couldn't get through into her side of the house, or at least she didn't think it could, unless there was a hole somewhere. And it seemed to have gone quiet now. Perhaps it had gone away. Perhaps she should go back to sleep.

But then she heard something else - a low murmur - voices.

People! People in the old school! Who could be in there at this time of night? Burglars? Could it be burglars? If it was burglars, then she didn't feel safe any more. Her heart was beating faster than ever. There was that old door upstairs, just outside her own room, which was supposed to lead from Grandpa's house into the old school. What if they were planning to force that door open and come through?

Almost without realising what she was doing, she found herself getting out of bed and going onto the landing. Grandpa's bedroom was down the corridor to her left. In front of her, in a recess next to the airing cupboard, was the door to the old school.

She went to the door and listened. She couldn't hear anything.

She went back into her own room and listened. Silence - then the murmur of voices again, from beyond the wall. It was very soft, but she definitely wasn't imagining it.

She went back to the door again, and this time she took with her the key that the Pig Man had given her. She listened at the door, but couldn't hear anything. After a moment she put the key into the lock. It fitted. She turned it. It unlocked with what seemed like a loud click. She pulled the door handle and it opened towards her with a creak.

She stood in the doorway for a moment with her heart beating. Surely they must have heard those noises. But there was no sound. She stepped through into the old school.

And as soon as he stepped through he wasn't Dora the girl any more: he was Pan the boy.

The passage in which he found himself wasn't completely dark. Almost opposite him was a window, and through the window a bit of moonlight came in. Once his eyes adjusted, he could see by this light that the passage ended in a blank wall almost immediately to his left; but to his right it reached a corner, and on the far side of that corner was what looked like a railing. The railing was flat and black looking, because it was silhouetted. There was another light, different from moonlight, steadier and more artificial, coming from the far side. And the murmur of voices, the same murmur he had heard through his bedroom wall, was coming from the far side of the railing too.

He crept along to the right until he reached the corner. The passage opened onto a broad landing, or rather a balcony, railed off from a big open space. After a moment of trying to get his bearings he realised that he was standing on a balcony overlooking the school hall. He went cautiously to the railings and looked down. Below him, two people, a man and a woman, were sitting at a table lit by an anglepoise lamp, and they were sharing a cold chicken and a bottle of red wine.

'What I still don't understand, my darling,' said the woman,

'is why we have to meet after midnight, in a draughty old school hall, when you could perfectly well have come to see me in my nice cosy vicarage.'

'Because your vicarage, my dear,' replied the man in a deep suave voice, 'is too closely observed by the people of the town. Hardly a minute goes by when a dog-walker or some other kind of busybody doesn't go dawdling past your front gate. If I were to present myself at your residence, half the old biddies in the parish would be talking about it within fifteen minutes. In here, with the windows boarded up so nobody can see the light, once the Pig Man goes home and Jack the Organist starts to snore his nightly snore, we should be perfectly safe from prying eyes. And it's much better, for the time being, if the two of us seem to have nothing to do with each other.'

'Well, I defer to your strategy, of course, my dear clever Abner. You always plan things out so nicely. And it certainly seems to be working out well so far.'

'Yes indeed, my Pouncer,' said Abner Brown. 'Things are going smoothly, very smoothly. It was so sublimely easy to get those two old fools drunk, and then to push the old Vicar over his own dog - and so very obliging of him to break his ankle like that! I suppose one might have hoped for a broken neck, but the ankle will suffice. But there's still a great deal to be done. By the time he's up and about again we need to have cemented our position.'

'But surely, my darling Abner, the rest is a formality,' said Sylvia Pouncer. 'The Church Commissioners are in the palm of my hand. They're so desperate for money they can't think straight. I only had to wonder out loud about pulling down the school and building some flats in its place, and within a few minutes they were convinced that they'd come up with the idea themselves. And when I mentioned your lovely little property development company, they were only too pleased to discover that there was a business close at hand, ready and able to look after all the formalities for them. So, you take care of the demolition, you redevelop the site, you sell off the flats, then you give the Commissioners enough profit to gladden their greedy little hearts, but keep the lion's share for yourself - not neglecting to put a little bit in my direction, of course, my darling. What could be simpler?'

'Ah yes,' said Abner Brown, 'but you see the redevelopment is only half the story. And I shall soon have to bring it to a halt.'

'Bring it to a halt!' exclaimed Sylvia Pouncer. 'What can you possibly mean, my dear Abner?'

'I mean, my dear Pouncer, that in my capacity as a church historian, I am soon going to discover an invaluable relic of some description buried under the school playground, and bring the redevelopment to a halt so that we can have an achaeological dig instead.'

'Abner!' exclaimed Sylvia Pouncer. 'You never said anything about this before!'

'I have been playing a deeper game than you suspected, my dear,' he replied. 'And I prefer to keep my cards close to my chest until the right moment comes. Even now, my dear, I shan't tell you everything, if you will forgive me. Suffice it to say that the profit from the redevelopment is one thing, but I have something of far greater interest in view. It's what's beneath the church that really interests me.'

'What's beneath the church! Oh Abner, you must tell me! You know I can't abide secrets!'

'Not yet, my little Pouncer, not yet. We have a difficult game to play. The prize at which I aim is protected by certain powers, powers that must be circumvented with great care. I'm not talking about the town council or the planning authorities. I speak of the ancient powers of the earth. They are asleep at the moment, but we must tread carefully. I don't think we need worry too much about the Vicar or Jack the organist, but I do believe we should be careful of the Pig Man.'

'The Pig Man!' exclaimed Sylvia Pouncer.

'Yes indeed,' said Abner. 'And even more careful of his pig.'

On Monday, the noise of diggers at work in the playground woke Dora early - but after what seemed like a short time they fell quiet again, and she went back to sleep.

Later, waking again, she heard a knock at the door, Grandpa Jack answering, and Sylvia Pouncer's voice. Then the two of them going into the front room for a discussion.

Later still, when she was up and dressed, and in the kitchen making herself a sandwich, she heard Sylvia Pouncer leave, and then Grandpa Jack came in to fetch himself a cup of tea.

'Well, that's an unexpected development,' he said. 'Put the kettle on.'

'What's an unexpected development?' said Dora.

'They've suspended the demolition,' replied Grandpa. 'Apparently they've just dug up something hundreds of years old, so now they're going to have to get the archaeologists in, in case there's anything else buried there. They don't want to ruin it with the diggers.'

'What did they find?' said Dora. 'Was it gold?'

'No, no, nothing like that. Pottery. A pottery animal of some kind. She showed me a picture of it on her mobile phone. It was covered in dirt, so you couldn't tell what it was supposed to be: a dog or a bear or something.'

'Does that mean you're not going to have to move out?'

'Well,' said Grandpa Jack, 'I expect it means I've got a bit more time. But they're shutting up the church, the buggers,' he said.

'They're going to lock it up, and move all the services to St Margaret's. I can't see the point, personally. It's the playground they're digging up, not the church floor. But Sylvia says they can't afford to have people wandering around, not while there's an archaeological dig taking place. I can't see it myself. They could just fence off the playground, couldn't they? But you can't talk to her. She says the decision's out of her hands, which is what she always says, about everything. Bill wouldn't have let them shut up the church. I don't like St Margaret's,' he added grumpily. 'It's a poky little place, freezing cold, poor acoustics, and I don't like the organ.'

'What about the Pig Man?'

'The Pig Man? What about him?'

'Will he still have to move?'

'She never said anything about that,' said Grandpa Jack. 'But I expect so. If they don't want people coming and going, they won't want him pottering around in that little hut of his.'

'Grandpa says they've suspended the demolition,' said Dora, when she went to see the Pig Man later that day.

'Looks like it,' said the Pig Man. 'They started early this morning, but they stopped again almost straight away. They can't have been going more than twenty minutes. Half an hour at the most. Stopped again almost straight away, they did.'

The yellow digger had been loaded onto the back of a lorry and trundled off, and the workmen had all been packed off too.

'They found something historical,' said the Pig Man.

'Yes, like a clay animal or something,' said Dora.

'Ah,' said the Pig Man. 'I'm not surprised. If you start digging down around here, you're bound to find all sorts. It's as old as history round here, it is. Older than history. It goes right back, it does. So now they've got to bring in all these history experts to start poking and prying around. Poking and prying. Prying and poking. I don't expect any good to come of it.'

'But does it mean you can stay a bit longer?' said Dora. 'If they're not going to knock everything down straight away?'

'No, I've got to go. They're going to close it all off, and not let anybody near, while they do all their poking and prying. They want to do it in private. They don't want the likes of me hanging around. I'm to pack up and clear off, I am. I've had that Sylvia Pouncer here this morning, giving me my orders. Pack up and clear off, she said. She put plenty of sugar on it, but that's what it came down to: pack up and clear off.'

'And what about the Pig?' said Dora.

She had looked into his stall on the way past, intending to give him some stale digestive biscuits, but there was no sign of him.

'He's already gone,' said the Pig Man.

'Where have you moved him to?' said Dora.

'Me? Where have I moved him? I haven't moved him anywhere,' said the Pig Man. 'He's gone. He's gone of his own accord. I told you he didn't like that digging. He's taken himself off.'

'But where's he gone?' cried Dora, in distress. 'You can't let him just go wandering around! He might get run over or something! Somebody might steal him and sell him for sausages!'

'Now now now,' said the Pig Man, 'don't you worry about that old pig. He knows how to take care of himself.'

'But you're the one that takes care of him!' said Dora.

'No, I never took care of him,' said the Pig Man. 'He took care of me.'


'I fed him,' said the Pig Man. 'That's true. I did feed him. And I used to clean out his place, and bring him bedding and that. But I never took care of him. He took care of me.'

'But how could he?'

'He was here before I came,' said the Pig Man. 'Did you ever stop and think how old he might be?'

'Well, no,' admitted Dora. There had always been a Pig, just as there had always been a Pig Man, ever since she could remember.

'Ah, well,' said the Pig Man, 'he was here before I came. And I've been here a long while. I was here before your Grandpa came.'

'How long do pigs live?' said Dora. 'They don't live longer than people, do they?'

'I wouldn't know about pigs in general,' said the Pig Man. 'But that one's an old one. And he knows how to look after himself. It's my opinion he's gone into the hill.'

'Into the hill?' said Dora, in disbelief. 'How can he go into the hill?'

'What's this hill called?' demanded the Pig Man.

'What hill?' said Dora blankly.

'This hill. This here hill, that we're on top of right now. This hill that the church is builded on and the school's builded on.'

'I never even knew it was a hill,' said Dora.

'You have to walk up a slope to get to the church, don't you?'

'Yes, I suppose you do,' said Dora, 'but I never really thought about it before.'

'Well, the church and the school are builded on a hill, and the hill is the middle of the town, and all the rest of the town is builded around the hill. And this here hill, in case you didn't know, is called the Hog's Back. Hog being an old name for a pig.'

'I know that!'

'Ah. Well then, there you are then.'

'But I still don't see how the pig can have gone into the hill. It doesn't make sense.'

'Well that's what I think,' said the Pig Man: 'that's my opinion, that's the best of my belief, and that's all I'm saying.' He drained the last of his mug of tea. 'And now it's time for me to go home.'

He put the empty mug into his old ruck-sack, he closed the air-vents on the front of his stove, within which the last embers of the fire were still just about glowing cherry-red, and he pulled on his donkey jacket. Then he led Dora outside into the playground, and padlocked the door behind them.

There was an air of finality and completion about his actions. Instead of putting the key in his pocket when he'd locked up, he left it on the window sill.

'Is this your last day?' said Dora.

'Grandpa,' said Dora, 'it was the Pig Man's last day today.'

'The miserable buggers,' said Grandpa Jack sympathetically. 'It wouldn't have killed them to let him stay in his hut a bit longer, now that they've stopped the demolition.'

'Shh!' said Dora. 'Look!'

Grandpa had just come back from St Margaret's, where he'd been rehearsing with the choir. Dora had come out of the house to meet him, and they were standing next to his car in the front drive. At the top of the hill, beyond the old school and the playground, the church was steeped in shadow, except for the spire, which was still bathed in a golden glow from the setting sun. In the shadows, Sylvia Pouncer was just entering the church through the side door, accompanied by a tall dark man.

'It's the vicar,' said Grandpa. 'Who's that with her? I recognise him, don't I? It looks like that chap Abner Brown, the one that was there when Bill broke his ankle.'

'It is him,' said Dora.

'How would you know?' said Grandpa Jack. 'You've never seen him, have you?'

'I had a dream about him.'

'Did you? That's odd. Don't tell me he's the historical expert they've brought in to supervise the diggings.'

'Yes,' said Dora, 'he is.'

'Well I'm damned. Perhaps I should go and say hallo,' said Grandpa Jack.

'No, don't,' said Dora.

'Well, it wouldn't do any harm to be friendly. It doesn't hurt to get the right side of these people. And that was very good wine and cheese he brought with him that evening,' said Grandpa Jack. He hesitated. 'But on the other hand, bugger it, I can't be bothered,' he said. 'Life's too short to waste it sucking up to these smarmy types. And that Pouncer woman wouldn't fancy me sticking my nose in, if they're supposed to be having a private conference. She'd be as nice as pie if I turned up, and make me feel like a complete idiot in no time. She does that every time I speak to her. I wouldn't mind knowing what they're talking about, though.'

'Look at those bats, Grandpa,' said Dora.

The little shapes of bats were flickering rapidly round the outside of the church. You saw them momentarily outlined against the sky, then lost them again as they dived back into the church's silhouette.

'Yes, there's always lots of bats around here.'

'Do they live in the church tower?'

'Some of them do. They make a mess at times, but Bill always says it's lucky to have bats.'

'If I was one of those bats,' said Dora, 'I could fly into the church, and hear what Sylvia Pouncer and Abner Brown were saying.'

'Well,' said Grandpa, 'if you want to be a bat, be a bat. When you were little, you used to go up the red stairs as a girl, and come down the blue stairs as a lion or a crocodile or a hippo or something. I remember you spent the whole day as a dog once, and we had to serve your supper in a dog dish. You could change into anything you liked in those days. I bet you could still do it now, if you gave it a try.'

'Silly old Grandpa,' said Dora.

That night she woke up with an odd excited feeling. It was a bright night. She looked out of her window, and saw a bat go flitting across the moon. It was still quite early: Grandpa Jack hadn't gone to bed yet: the lights were still on downstairs. She went out into the upstairs corridor, and walked all the way along it, past Grandpa's bedroom, until she came to the blue stairs at the other end. Pan went down them, and before he reached the bottom he was a bat.

The front door opened, and Grandpa Jack came in wearing his black coat and furry Russian hat. He'd obviously been on one of his evening expeditions to the shop, because he had a bottle of red wine in one hand and a carrier bag full of snacks in the other. When Pan flew up the hallway towards him he jumped back against the wall and knocked his Russian hat sideways.

'Bloody hell! Bats in the house now!'

In half a second Pan flew out of the front door and into the night air. The moonlight was like honey. He opened his mouth and out poured a torrent of rapid squeaks, and immediately he got an incredibly vivid sense of where everything was. There was the big breezy vault of air, and then there were the solid shapes of the ground: the church, the slope of the hill, the stones in the graveyard and the old school. He could feel them all through his ears, mapped out as a pattern of resonance. He looped over the church and round the tower in a rapid figure of eight.

'You're new,' said a girl bat as she whizzed past.

Pan instinctively turned sharp right towards a furry dot in the night air, and snapped it up. It was a moth. He felt the burr of its wings and a quick crunch, then it was gone. Very satisfying.

'How do you get into the church?' he said to the girl bat as she passed him again.

'Follow me,' she said.

She seemed to be flying straight towards the stonework of the church tower, but at the last moment she pulled in her wings and popped through an empty black gap at the top of a lancet window. Pan followed and found himself in the bell tower. The spire narrowed to a point above his head. The bells hung up there amongst the wooden beams, almost as if they were huge bats themselves.

The girl bat had adopted a roosting position upside down in a corner, hanging from a ledge of stone with her clever little feet, with her wings wrapped around herself like a blanket. Pan went and hung upside down next to her.

'Is this where you live?' he said.

'I live in the church,' she replied, 'but not here next to the bells. Bats can't live here. The noise is horrendous when they start to ring. It makes the blood come out of your ears. I live in the roof above the middle part of the church.'

'Good,' said Pan. 'That's where I want to go.'

'Why's that?' she said. 'You're not moving in, are you? You can't just come in here and take up residence without asking anyone. We're a tight-knit community, you know. We'd have to have a meeting and vote. Someone would have to speak up in your favour.'

'No, don't worry, I'm not moving in,' said Pan.

'I could speak up for you, though,' said the girl bat. 'You seem nice. I've been looking for a husband.'

'I'm not ready for that,' said Pan

'Why not? What's the matter with me? Don't you like me?

'You're very pretty,' said Pan, 'but I came here to do a bit of spying.'

'Spying? Spying on who? Were you sent here from another clan?'

'No, nothing like that. Take me into the middle of the church, and I'll show you.'

'All right,' she said.

There was a round window that led from the tower into the main body of the church. They had to swoop down to go through it, then up again into the top of the triangular roof over the nave. They crawled along the central roofbeam until they were right in the middle of the church.

'There's nobody here to spy on,' said the girl bat. 'They're all out catching moths.'

'Not up here in the roof,' said Pan. 'Down there on the floor.'

In the central aisle were Sylvia Pouncer and Abner Brown. Abner was stooping over one of the flagstones and sweeping its surface with the tips of his fingers.

'What, those humans?' said the girl bat. 'What do you want to spy on them for? If it wasn't bats, I thought you must at least mean a rat or an owl or something. Not humans. What's interesting about humans? I can't see the point of them myself.'

'They made this church,' said Pan.

'No they didn't!' she retorted indignantly. 'It's always been here! If anybody made it I should think the old bats must have done, the ancestral bats, in the olden days when bats were the size of eagles - they probably made it to give themselves somewhere to live. Humans don't make things! They dig them up or knock them down. They spoil things and poison them, they don't make them.'

'Well, that's true a lot of the time,' admitted Pan, 'but they do make things as well.'

'Huh, I'll believe it when I see it,' said the girl bat. 'I thought you were nice, but I'm starting to think you're a bit wrong in the head. You've certainly got some funny ideas.'

'Shush!' said Pan. 'I want to hear what they're saying.'

'I don't know how you can make sense of it,' said the girl bat. 'They don't even talk properly. They never make any proper squeaking noises, it's more like cows mooing or dogs barking.'

'Shush!' said Pan again.

'Oh, shush yourself,' she muttered, wrapping herself tightly in her wings and adopting a sulky expression. But at least she kept quiet after that, and Pan could listen to what Sylvia Pouncer and Abner Brown were saying.

'This stone,' said Abner, 'is the oldest in the entire church. And you see this shape carved at the top.'

'Is that a carving?' said Sylvia. 'I thought it was just an indentation. You know, caused by wear and tear.'

'My dear Pouncer,' said Abner. 'Look at the shape of it. What does it remind you of?'

'I'm completely at a loss, my sweetheart,' trilled Sylvia Pouncer. 'I'm sure you must think me terribly stupid, Abner dear. Are you absolutely sure it's really a carving, and not a natural part of the stone?'

'Look at the shape,' insisted Abner, tracing it with his forefinger. 'Look! Doesn't it remind you of that artefact we discovered in the ditch earlier today?'

'That lumpish thing?' Sylvia Pouncer twisted her neck round to look at the flagstone from a different angle. 'Ye-es. I do see what you mean, my darling. But then one shapeless thing does tend to resemble another.'

Abner Brown gave an impatient sigh. 'Come come, my dear Pouncer -'

'But Abner darling!' cried Sylvia Pouncer. 'You said we discovered that artefact in the ditch - I thought you planted it there, as a means of getting rid of the builders, and starting an archaeological dig instead.'

'So I did,' said Abner. 'I planted it there, and then I arranged for it to be discovered. But I also found it here on this site, many years ago, when I was here for another reason. It's one of the things that brought me back. It's a clue to what lies hidden here. And this flagstone, with its obscure carving - which very few men living, other than myself, would ever be able to interpret - is another clue.'

'You clever old thing, Abner,' said Sylvia Pouncer, putting her delicate fingers to her mouth and stifling a tiny yawn. 'But what's it a clue to? What on earth does it all mean?'

'It means that this flagstone is going to have to come up.'

'Oh but darling!' cried Sylvia. 'You wild impossible man! Have you lost your mind? Of course you can't be serious! We can't start pulling up flagstones right in the middle of the church floor! The very thought! I'd be defrocked! The church commissioners would have a fit! Do be reasonable, my dear Abner!'

'There's an inscription below the carving,' said Abner, feeling the surface of the flagstone with his fingertips again. 'Of much lesser antiquity, but very old all the same - old enough to be almost completely worn away, and almost entirely illegible. But this word here, I believe, is "hoard".'

'Hoard!' exclaimed Sylvia. 'You mean, as in hoard of treasure?'

'Ah,' said Abner, 'I seem to have caught your attention at last.' He stood up straight, and as he did so he suddenly looked up, and shot a suspicious glare into the roof-space. 'And perhaps you're not the only one whose attention I've caught. Are there bats in this church, my dear?'

'I believe so,' said Sylvia Pouncer. 'Horrid dirty things. They fly down low, and tangle their feet in one's hair.'

'That's an old wives' tale,' said Abner tersely. 'But I share your distaste. The bat is a listening creature, a creature with very sensitive ears. We'd certainly be better off without them.'

'But they're protected,' said Sylvia Pouncer. 'I mean they're a protected species. We're not allowed to touch them. Jack the church organist told me so.'

'Rubbish,' said Abner Brown. 'We have the place entirely to ourselves, my dear Syvlia. We can do exactly as we like. I'll bring some camphor candles: that'll drive the little vermin out. No one will ever know.'

A couple of days later, the Pig Man came round the back of the house and knocked on Grandpa Jack's kitchen window. When they opened the door for him he held out in his cupped hands what looked like a little bundle of brown fur and soft leather.

'What on earth's that?' said Grandpa Jack.

Dora craned her neck round from behind him. 'It isn't a bat, is it?' she exclaimed.

'It is a bat,' said the Pig Man.

'It isn't dead, is it?' said Dora.

'It is dead,' said the Pig Man. 'I found it dead on the path. And I'll tell you something else,' he said, 'there's four or five others lying dead out there. Lying dead, they are. One here and one there. There's one on the roof of your car.'

'On my car!' said Grandpa Jack. 'Bloody cheek!'

'Well I don't expect as it really meant to drop down dead on the roof of your car. I don't expect as it was really intending to drop down dead anywhere.'

'No, I don't expect it was, poor thing,' said Grandpa Jack. 'But I don't fancy having to pick it off.'

'I'll pick it off for you, if it comes to that,' said the Pig Man.

'Oh, thanks. That's very helpful of you.'

'But what are they dying of?' said Dora.

'Ah,' said the Pig Man, 'that's the question, that is. That there is the question. What are they dying of? That's what we'd like to know, and we don't know it, do we?'

'No, we don't,' said Grandpa Jack.

'That's what we'd like to find out, but we don't know how to find it out, do we?'

'No, we don't,' said Grandpa Jack. 'At least, I certainly don't.'

'But I'll tell you my opinion and belief,' said the Pig Man. 'It's my opinion, and my belief, that they've been poisoned.'

'Poisoned!' said Dora.

'That's my opinion and my belief,' said the Pig Man. 'You might think they've died of natural causes. Maybe a bat disease or a bat viral or something of the sort. I expect bats do catch diseases and virals the same as other creatures. But I've been working in and around that there church for more than thirty years, and in all them years I've never seen more than one dead bat at a time, maybe once every few months. We've had plenty of bats living in the roof of that church for years and years, as you perfectly well know, but in all that time I've never seen more than one dead bat at a time. And now all of a sudden, along comes somebody new and shuts the church up and won't let anybody in there, and the next thing you know it's raining dead bats. Four or five I've seen this morning just on my walk over here. I bet there's a whole load more lying dead in that there church yard, if we was to go in there and look, except that we're not allowed to go in that church yard no more. So if you want my opinion and my belief, it's my opinion and my belief that those there bats have been poisoned.'

'The miserable buggers,' said Jack. 'When Bill hears about this he'll be furious. He always says that the bats are good luck.'

'I know he does,' said the Pig Man. 'I've heard him.'

'They can't all be dead, can they?' said Dora. 'They can't have killed all of them, can they?'

'I don't know,' said the Pig Man. 'I hope not, but I don't know.'

The school playground, the outhouses, the churchyard and the church itself were all taped off with yellow-and-black plastic tape, and there were notices up here and there to warn people off. When Grandpa Jack mentioned to Sylvia Pouncer that he'd left some of his sheet music inside the church on the seat of the organ, she said don't worry, she'd already noticed it and collected it all together, and it was at her house, and she'd bring it round in the morning. When he mentioned to her about all the dead bats she said Oh yes! Wasn't it terrible! The poor little creatures! There must be some new virus going around - in fact she thought she might have seen something about it on the news - she was sure it was something to do with global warming or pollution or one of those horrible things. It was such a shame!

There was no more sound of heavy machinery from the school playground; instead there were the clinking noises of trowels. Archaeologists in big woolly jumpers with beards and wild hair - or girls in dungarees, also wearing big woolly jumpers - were the only ones allowed beyond the yellow-and-black tape. They worked out of sight behind the corner of the old school. Sometimes you could hear the suave voice of Abner Brown giving them their instructions. Sometimes you might catch a glimpse of him, striding across the churchyard in his cashmere overcoat with the collar turned up.

Dora was woken that night by a scurrying noise in the corner of the room, and opened her eyes in time to see a little dark shape slipping along the base of the skirting-board, and out through the gap under the door. She hopped out of bed and followed it. On the landing it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust, but then she heard another movement and thought she saw the little dark shape again, this time at the base of the door into the old school. She went back into her room and fetched the key from the drawer of her bedside cabinet.

The old school looked startlingly different when he got there - much larger and more cavernous. After a second Pan realized, with a slight shock and a change of perspective, that this was because he was now much smaller and closer to the floor. In fact - he looked at his small agile front paws, then glanced round and admired the snaky shape of his tail - he was a mouse. The school was darker by far than it had been last time he visited, but he could see everything in the darkness perfectly plainly. His hearing was incredibly sharp too - not with the same sense of three-dimensional mapping as when he was a bat; but he could hear the spiders moving on their webs in the dusty corners of the school, and woodlice trundling through the darkness beneath the floor.

And he could smell with exquisite precision - the damp crumbling plaster on the walls, a distant faint tincture of bread and fried egg from the kitchen in Grandpa Jack's house - and something else, a tangy wild smell of droppings, like mouse droppings but different. Was it rat? No, it wasn't quite rat.

He was expecting the mouse he had followed through the door to be a long way off by this time, but she was waiting for him on the balcony above the school hall.

'There you are,' she said. 'Come along, we've got to get a move on. We've got a long away to go.'

'Why,' said Pan, 'where are we going?'

'The church, of course,' said the mouse. 'You'll be quite worn out by the time you get there. Yards and yards and yards of tunnels. But that's where you want to go, isn't it?'

'Well, yes,' said Pan. 'But how did you know that?'

'I was sent to fetch you, of course. You needn't think I would have bothered coming into your room otherwise. I would have found my way to that nice kitchen instead, with that lovely foody smell.'

'Who sent you to fetch me?'

'The pig! Who else?'

'The pig?'

'Yes, yes! Now come along!'

But Pan had noticed a rustling and fidgeting in the ceiling of the school hall.

'What's that up there?'

'The bats. The ones that have been forced out of the church. They've all had to come in here instead.'

Hanging upside down from the ceiling, like a collection of diminutive broken umbrellas, was a small disconsolate crowd of refugee bats. The smell of droppings was coming from the floor beneath them. But in addition to that smell they also gave off an atmosphere of intense wretchedness. They were displaced, homeless, ill at ease. As he followed the girl mouse along the balcony, they popped their heads out from under their wings to stare at him with gleaming eyes. He stared back, to see if he could recognise his friend the girl bat from a couple of nights ago, but there was no sign of her. He hoped she wasn't lying dead in the churchyard.

'How were they forced out of the church?' he said.

'Some kind of poisonous smoke,' the girl mouse replied. 'Made by those new people. The old people were bad enough: they used to clump around and talk in loud voices, and play the organ and ring the bells, but they never poisoned us. The new people don't seem to care about anything but themselves. They're pulling up the church floor! And they made this poisonous smoke. It was unpleasant for us mice, but it went up into the roof and made the bats sick. It made their heads ache, and they couldn't fly properly. I think some of them died.'

'Yes,' said Pan, 'some of them did.'

'Well,' said the girl mouse, 'we're only little creatures. We know we die easily. We're used to the idea: we don't make a big fuss about it, like people do. But when they start poisoning us and driving us out of our homes, it doesn't seem right.'

'I agree,' said Pan.

'You seem nice,' said the girl mouse. 'I've been thinking about getting a husband and starting a family. I'd like to have lots of little mouselings, perhaps about forty. Would you like that?'

'I haven't really thought about it,' said Pan awkwardly. 'I don't think I could really get married at the moment.'

'Why not? What's the matter - don't you like me?'

'I do like you,' said Pan. 'You're a very pretty mouse. But I'm not really a boy. I'm a girl.'

'You're not!' said the girl mouse. 'You're definitely a boy. I can tell.'

'Well, I'm a boy at the moment, that's true. But most of the time I'm a girl. And I'm not usually a mouse, either.'

'Oh, all right,' said the girl mouse carelessly. 'I thought there was something a bit unusual about you. But I don't mind that, personally: I'm not turned off by it: in fact I quite like it.'

Is this going to keep on happening to me? thought Pan.

They went down the steps from the balcony to the floor of the hall, and across the floor to the far side. Even though she kept insisting that they had to get a move on, the girl mouse stopped under the table to pick up a crumb of stale bread that had fallen on the floor from Abner and Sylvia's midnight feast.

'Do you want half of this?' she said to Pan.

'No, that's all right,' said Pan. 'I thought you were in a hurry.'

'Well, waste not want not,' she said, tucking the crumb into her cheek. 'I never like to miss out on a nice bit of food.'

On the far side of the floor, at the base of the wall, she guided Pan to a hole in the bottom of the skirting-board. He followed her through, and found himself inside the wall-cavity. The smell was quite different: mustier, dirtier and earthier.

They hurried on. The girl mouse had been quite right earlier, when she warned him that there were yards and yards of tunnels to get through. After a bit they weren't within the walls of the school any more: the tunnels wound and undulated through compacted earth, with the occasional root or fragment of broken crockery for decoration.

Then at one point they suddenly came out into an open space, which felt enormous after the snug tunnels. It was a mild and windy night. They seemed to be at the bottom of some kind of chasm or canyon. After a moment, Pan realised they must be in the ditch that had been dug across the playground - only now it was wider, less geometric, and there were signs of a less mechanised excavation. Areas were marked off with string and pegs. There was a trowel sticking out of a pile of earth.

'We had a perfectly good tunnel that went right through here,' complained the girl mouse, 'and they've chopped it in half. I don't like coming out into the open when I don't have to, especially when there's no food around.'

She scurried across to the other side of the ditch, but then she had to spend a minute or so running up and down, looking for the way back into the tunnel.

'Where is it? Drat those people! Always spoiling everything. It must be here somewhere. Ah! Here it is!'

After that the tunnels started to slope noticeably upwards, and before too long they were between two layers of masonry again. They ran along a narrow passage as straight as a rail, until a bright gap appeared on their right, and slipping through it they emerged into the church: a whitewashed wall behind them, and in front of them a towering structure of wood with a huge array of metal pipes at the top.

'Where are we?' said Pan

'Behind the organ,' said the girl mouse. 'Can you smell that?' There was a smell of wood, stone, and incense - but also the remnant of something heavy, chemical and super-pungent, which made Pan feel slightly nauseous and headachey as soon as he sniffed it.

'That's the poison that got rid of all the bats,' said the girl mouse.

'It's horrible,' said Pan.

'I don't think it's strong enough to do us any harm now,' she said. 'Hallo! Somebody's left some food.'

At the corner of the organ was an upturned jam-jar lid with some blueish pellets in it.

'I'm hungry after that long journey,' she said, hurrying forward to sniff the pellets. 'Do you want to go shares this time?'

'Don't touch it!' said Pan.

'What? Why not? It's a shame to waste good food.'

'It's not good food,' said Pan. 'It's another poison. The people have left it here on purpose.'

'Are you sure?'

He pushed himself between her and the upturned lid. He'd seen the pellets before, in somebody else's house.

'Yes, I really am. Don't touch it, whatever you do.'

'All right then. Come on, follow me.'

They crept round the side of the organ and into the choir. The floor was made of worn masonry slabs, some of them inscribed with the names and dates of dead people.

The church was dimly lit, and it all looked different. The first thing Pan noticed was a carving on the wall at the far end, of an angel with wings like a swan, bending forward to write something with a quill pen into an open book. The carving had always been there: Pan remembered it from when he was little: but tonight in the half-light it looked more alive than he remembered, and it seemed to be leaning forward more urgently.

Then he saw that the middle of the church had been transformed. Once he took it in, he couldn't understand why he hadn't noticed it immediately. All the pews had been moved right back against the walls and piled up on top of one another, to leave a bare paved space in the middle. In the centre of this bare space one particular flagstone seemed to be sharply separated from all the others by a black outline. The mortar and dust and dirt of the ages had been scraped and chiselled and pried out down all four of its sides to a depth of about an inch. Abner Brown was standing next to this flagstone with a crowbar in his hand. Sylvia Pouncer was sitting a little distance away, on the end of one of the shifted-back pews.

'Abner darling,' said Sylvia Pouncer, 'I still feel terribly uneasy about this. The church floor's never going to look the same again. People are bound to notice. There's going to be a tremendous scandal about it.'

'Now now, my Pouncer,' said Abner Brown, 'you leave all of that to your clever old Abner. Don't you trust me, my dear?'

'Of course I trust you, my darling!' she cried. 'And I do know how clever you are! But all the same...'

'We're going to distract them with that little archaeological dig in the playground,' said Abner, 'while the real business takes place in here. We'll give them some pieces to find, a mixture of historical interest and monetary value, a gleam of pottery here and and glint of gold and silver there, and they won't spare so much as a thought for what's going on inside the church. By the time they notice anything, we shall have the real treasure in our hands, and of course they won't care about the silly old church and a few flagstones once they know about the real treasure.'

'But you're not going to give them the real treasure, my darling. We're going to keep the real treasure for ourselves.'

'We'll give them enough,' said Abner Brown. 'Enough to satisfy their greedy hearts and shut their sanctimonious mouths. In any case, society will benefit. Once we unearth these treasures, and thereby enrich society, then society as a whole is bound to benefit. What's the point of leaving them buried underground where they count for nothing? Bring them into the light! Enrich the church! Enrich the town! If you and I happen to be the ones that benefit the most, what of it? We're the ones that will be doing most of the work.'

'And are you absolutely sure, my darling, about what you'll find when you go digging beneath that slab?'

'Trust me, my dear Sylvia, trust me.' Abner Brown stooped to run his fingers over the surface of the flagstone again. 'The words on this flagstone are almost completely worn away, but look here - this word is definitely "hoard", as I told you before - and this other word at the end unmistakeably begins with an "h" and ends with a double "l" - and this word in the middle starts with a "b" and ends with what looks like another "h". I've spent hours deciphering this. The top line reads "Here lies the hoard beneath the hill", or something very like it.'

Sylvia Pouncer was sufficiently fascinated to get up off the end of the pew and stand next to him. 'Yes, I can see it,' she said. 'But what about those other lines?'

'Ah,' said Abner Brown, getting down on one knee, and running his fingers over the stone again. 'There you have me. It's a rhyme, I believe, so the last word of each line must rhyme with "hill" - you see the double "l" at the end of each line?'

'Oh yes! How clever you are! It's almost invisible, but once you start to look for it -'

'Precisely, my dear Pouncer. Now, in this old script an "s" and an "f" look very like each other - so this could be "fill" or "sill". They're all one-syllable words, I think. How many one-syllable words rhyme with "hill"? Fill, sill, quill, still, pill...'


'Yes, well done. This one could be "ill" - it looks shorter than the others. But what's this in front of it? Walk? Work? Walk it ill? Work it ill?' He got up again with a sigh of exasperation. 'It defeats me. The surest way to find out what it means is to pull up the stone.'

With those words, he inserted the point of his crowbar into the deep crack that ran down one side of the stone slab, and began to apply his weight. There was a dry grating noise, and simultaneously a roaring, booming, rushing sound from the roof of the church. The stone fabric of the walls seemed to groan and tremble in the darkness.

'Abner!' cried Sylvia Pouncer, clutching his arm. 'What's that noise? What's happening?'

'It's just the wind,' he replied tersely, between his teeth, still levering the crowbar with all his might.

The sound from the roof and the walls grew louder and louder, the church seemed to shudder and founder like a stricken ship in a storm, and the lights flickered and dimmed as if they were about to go out.

'Abner! Abner! Stop! Stop!'

Abner Brown let go of the crowbar and it fell onto the stone floor of the church with a loud clatter. He stood up straight and mopped his face with a large white handkerchief. Slowly the roaring noises died down and the lights came back to full strength.

'Oh, Abner!' wailed Sylvia. 'I thought the roof was going to fall on us!'

'Rubbish, my dear. You surprize me. I never thought you'd take fright so easily.'

'But my darling -'

'Now now now,' he muttered. 'It's simply the weather turning a bit stormy. I'm going to have to knock some wedges into these cracks, it seems. A crowbar on its own isn't going to do it.'

'Oh, Abner -'

'Sh!' he said sharply, putting his finger to his lips and staring up the church in the direction of the altar. 'What's there?'

'What is it?' said Sylvia Pouncer, staring in the same direction. 'What have you seen?'

Abner Brown was staring up the church towards the choir. He was neurotically sensitive to any intrusion, like a spider sensing hostile vibrations in its web; and he also must have had eyes like a lynx.

'Spies,' he said. 'First it was the bats, and now this. I put down poison, but it hasn't done the trick.'

'Quick,' whispered the girl mouse to Pan. 'He's seen us!'

The two of them turned tail, and started to run back up the choir as fast as their legs would carry them.

'What we need around here,' cried Abner Brown, his voice suddenly rising to a shout, 'is a CAT!'

And as he spoke the words they heard the rising wailing throaty snarling growl of an angry cat, as if it had just materialised out of thin air at his summons. The sound of it was enough to make the hairs stand up on end on both their backs.

They flattened back their ears and ran for their lives. They could hear the cat coming after them, up the steps from the nave and then up the length of the choir, in a series of lightning-fast leaps on soft deadly paws. By the time they got round the corner of the organ it was almost upon them. They shot through the gap in the wall just as it came hurtling through the air towards them in a deadly pounce. Pan caught a glimpse of black fur, white teeth, blazing green eyes, claws - and then they were safe in the darkness.

'Gah,' said Grandpa Jack, 'you can't even open the local paper without seeing those buggers smirking at you from every page. Look at this.'

He threw the paper across the breakfast table for Dora to see. 'The Treasure of St Bridget's', ran the headline. There was a big picture of Abner Brown and Sylvia Pouncer standing next to each other with the church in the background. Church Historian Professor Abner Brown, said the paper, was holding up an earthenware mead cup, possibly Anglo-Saxon in origin, while next to him Vicar Sylvia Pouncer displayed in the palms of her hands a gold ring decorated with Celtic knotwork, and a silver brooch in the shape of a wild boar. These discoveries, according to the Professor, showed that although the current church was a relatively recent building, dating from the eighteenth century, there must have been worship of some kind on this site since before the Norman conquest, and possibly even earlier. Sylvia and Abner certainly did look extremely pleased with themselves.

'She never even comes to the church any more,' complained Grandpa. 'She's got herself a little curate called George, who does all her running around for her. She's far too important to actually take any church services nowadays. She's like a cat that's got all the cream. If she gets any more pleased with herself she'll eat herself up.'

Dora and Grandpa Jack went to see Bill at the cottage hospital. He was out of bed, sitting up in an armchair with a zimmer frame next to him, wearing a red dressing-gown and blue and white striped pyjamas. He looked pale and old: his nose and eyebrows seemed to have got bigger, but his neck and wrists were thin.

'I wish you'd get well and come back,' said Grandpa, 'so we can get things back to normal.'

'Will they even have me back, my dear?' said Bill. 'Things seem to have moved on so much while I've been in hospital. The new vicar's bringing fame and glamour to the old place, getting it in the newspapers and so forth, whereas I'm just a rather dull old chap who used to plod along never achieving anything much. I daresay the powers that be would rather keep me out of the picture. I think they'll probably try to pension me off rather than welcome me back with open arms.'

'Don't say that, you miserable old bugger,' said Grandpa Jack.

'Henry the pig man came to see me,' said Bill. 'He tells me they've got rid of all the bats and the mice from the church.' He shook his head sadly. 'It's not the church I know any more. I'd probably hardly even recognise it if I did come back. Perhaps I really should retire.'

Grandpa Jack moodily helped himself to a humbug from the half-pound he'd brought with him in a paper bag. 'Well this is turning into a right bloody cheerful visit,' he mumbled.

'Perhaps the old place really does need somebody new,' ruminated Bill. 'I hate the thought of them messing around with it, but it could certainly do with some repairs. That roof's been falling to bits for years. I expect it's leaking like a sieve in this weather.'

The weather had turned extremely wet and windy in the course of the last few days. Henry the pig man reported that he could see gaps in the church roof where a number of tiles had come off, and several more tiles had been dislodged from the old school and Grandpa Jack's house. There was a damp patch on the ceiling of Grandpa Jack's spare room, the one Dora's dad slept in when he came to stay. Out of doors, there were rivulets of rainwater flowing along all the paths, and the archaeological dig in the school playground had sprouted a jumble of green and grey canvas roofs, which flapped and shuddered in the wind, as if they were about to leave their moorings and whirl up into the sky above the church.