Extracts from a diary:
A TALE OF TWO LIDOS
by Simon Barber
Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
fly from Newfoundland across the Atlantic to Europe - August 1937.
A Tale of Two Lidos
by Simon Barber
Tuesday 31st August, 1937
Dear Diary: it never pays to underestimate the opposition. Especially if one has very little idea of who they actually comprise. The day began very well, with bright sunshine and a stiff breeze that kept the temperature
down nicely. Looking out of the hotel window there was a sea of trees on the far side of the river, showing definite Autumnal tinges.
I had shared a room with Miss Cabot, who reminds me of Molly every day. It is still strange to look at her and expect her to do the things Molly would do. There was a copy of the latest ‘Film Frolics’ amongst the magazines in the guests’ upstairs parlour, that Molly would have seized and read avidly (main story, an in-depth interview with a pair of rising starlets, the sisters Ima and Sucha Dish.) Then, Molly would probably have taken the Punt Gun and twenty rounds into the bedroom, insisting on setting it up in the window on its bipod to cover the old stone bridge we can just see two hundred yards North through the trees. We could, too. The spread of half a pound of shot at that range would probably hit everything on the bridge.
Breakfast was a standard affair of grilled sausage, bacon, mushroom with fried eggs and bread – though we little thought how much we would need it. Miss Millwright arrived at nine as arranged, and we took a stroll into her home town. Her accent is a little hard to follow at times, being rather like Prudence’s – but I was careful not to mention being a pal of Prudence Akroyd, as she is from Lancashire and they have five hundred years of ‘border incidents’ with Yorkshire. Helen says she cannot tell Christiana’s accent apart from Prudence’s, which would please neither of them.
Maria has kept up to date on exploration equipment what with her nation’s ever-increasing prospecting in the Sahara, and before we headed into the hills suggested there were a few items we should get now the shops are open after Bank Holiday. So when Christiana arrived at nine, we took her advice and headed into the town shopping. There is a brand new hardware store (Mortens) that Christiana says just opened, where we picked up an entrenching tool, a sturdy shovel, some towing rope and some four-foot lengths of pierced steel planking. I recall as a kitten seeing them strapped on the side of Father’s official car, listed as ‘sand planking’ though mostly used for rescuing the vehicle from deep mud. We also picked up some general outdoor equipment such as one of those ingenious aluminium ‘Kelly Kettles’ that burn twigs or newspaper for hot water in any weather.
Then, back to the courtyard by the old manor house, to stow our purchases and Christiana’s luggage in the Bentley. She invited me up to her room to look at the local maps – we have the RAC national road atlas in the car but she is a keen hiker and has all the Ordnance Survey inch-to-a- mile sheets for the whole county – at least the hillier bits. There is one girl who will need little Songmark training in how to use a map and compass, I should think.
Her room is pretty much a shrine to aviation; there is a chipped wooden propeller mounted trophy-style on the wall that she salvaged from an aircraft that made a forced landing on Ilkley Moor a few years ago (she says the pilot was unhurt but the aircraft made a too-soft landing in a peat bog and was mostly unsalvageable. Nice-looking bright green flat bits as seen from the air may not be firm pasture, in this part of the world.) There are maps of the Nimitz Sea and surrounding islands, and film posters add a more home-like touch. Her “Accepted” telegram from Songmark is proudly framed behind glass as a prized possession. She is rather a keen admirer of ancient cultures, to look at the ancient Egyptian symbols around the walls – I mentioned that Spontoon has some interesting folklore that does not confine itself to the textbooks.
I suggested she take her local maps with her; we can always post them home for her when we are out of the area, and it will be another three years before she might need them again. Also, her hiking outfit was going with her, a sturdy waxed cotton cagoule, cord breeches and definitely heavyweight nailed boots. There will be times, I hinted, when outdoors on Spontoon she will want to wear something practical that does not have the school markings on it.
Then – all assembled in the front parlour, with her family giving last-minute advice and reassurances. Her young and somewhat brattish brother Michael was quoting gleefully from a Nature book about all the poisonous spiders, centipedes, snakes and scorpions she will surely encounter in the jungles as well as in her boots and sleeping bag. Much to Mrs. Millwright’s relief, Maria pointed out those are mostly in places like the Dutch East Indies and Pauper New Guinea (the neighbour of Papua without any gold deposits) and the only poisonous snakes around the Nimitz Sea are sea snakes, which are generally placid and only bite if furs try to capture them. Something Christiana vowed not to attempt, and just as well.
My ears dipped somewhat when Mr. Millwright proudly showed me the local paper – with us on the front cover. Well, the photograph was only of the wrecked car from flat Lincolnshire (looking somewhat flattened, or at least squashed) but apart from detailing the fatal accident there was a related column whose story started as: “Mystery Heiress is local Samaritan! The elusive dowager Lady Allworthy, last heard of on the South Coast, stopped and undoubtedly saved the life of Charles Rowles, who was severely injured in the accident. Lady Allworthy and her three companions, fellow Songmark graduates, gave timely rescue and first aid.” The ambulance driver and local doctors were very complementary about our first aid skills, and the survivor is expected to make a full recovery if somewhat scarred.
Well, there goes our quiet approach to Barrow-in-Furryness. We might as well have broadcast on radio. As the accident was a few miles from the nearest station folk can deduce we are driving, and will probably pull any watchers off the railway stations and tram depots, concentrating on road approaches.
A final family and group photograph (Mr. Millwright is a keen photographer) in the courtyard with the loaded Bentley, and we said our farewells to her family. I keep being reminded that of us four, only Maria has a full family, though she has little to say of them and even less that is positive.
Still, Christiana seems very close to hers and there were a few tears and drooping ears as we started up the engine and drove away. Last night we had told them we planned to drive direct Westward on the main road up the valley, but overnight I had second thoughts, having seen those autogiros who looked as if they were searching for someone. So rather than direct Westwards we turned round and crossed the river Northwards, passing the lido again. It looked inviting – if we had arrived here earlier and were less worried about pursuit, a last-day-of-summer swim would have been nice. There were far fewer folk about than yesterday, when the lido had been packed out for the last Bank Holiday till Christmas, and surprisingly good weather such as many smaller cubs had surely never seen on an August bank holiday. I recall a gaggle of pups and kittens pointing at our Bentley and chanting what sounded like a scrap of old music-hall song:
“We’re off, we’re off, we’re off in a motor-car
Fifty coppers are after us, and we don’t know where we are!”
At least we have a local guide, and the police would be if anything a comforting presence on this trip. Consulting with Christiana and her maps on the back seat (Helen drove, with Maria as co-pilot) I plotted a route over the higher ground, taking the minor roads. Of which there are a complete network, making any enemies’ intercepting us much harder rather than just watching the choke points of the main road straight from Ilkley (our known start point, thanks to that newspaper) to Barrow-in-Furriness. We started to climb steadily, leaving the settled farmlands of woods and hedges behind in the Wharfe valley, and came out onto a wide rolling plateau of boggy pastures divided by ancient dry-laid stone walls.
Talking with Christiana, my conscience troubled me somewhat. We are not a safe party to travel with – and I explained about our problems. Not the mysterious force being apparently fired from the far side of the world, but our more local threats. I offered to put her off at the next West-pointing railway (in Wensleydale, still a couple of hours away) and pay her ticket to Prestwick to meet her flight. She will get there sooner, and safer without us.
I should have expected better of a Songmark girl, even one who has not started yet! Christiana set her jaw firmly and said she would see it through – she was not going all the way around the world to the leading Adventuress academy to live a safe and peaceful life. At which we could only agree – though I had to make the offer first. So we headed North, on narrow winding roads with the high stone walls on each side of us and only the occasional farm cart to dodge, dipping past a valley full of reservoirs (the Washburn Valley, Christiana said) and seeing signs to the little town of Pateley Bridge appearing, evidently in the next valley.
At the top of a steep hill we halted to look down on that valley, and Maria got the binoculars out as we checked the maps. It was a splendid view, the Nidd valley stretching from the distant town of Harrogate in the South-East up towards its headsprings North-West, its river fed from the highest hills in the area. We were about to drive on when Maria checked back Southwards towards Ilkley and swore in Italian. Passing me the binoculars she pointed – and no doubt, two small dots resolved into autogiros, definitely heading this way.
Fortunately we were already at the crest of the hill; in seconds we were heading down and the curve of the hillside blocked any view of us they might have had. Having done our share of ground survey from
aircraft, we know how difficult that job is. Helen drove slowly down through the woods, where we parked again at the edge of the little town, hidden under dense trees and being thankful this is not December. There is an old stone inn at the bottom of the hill, and as it is already open for teas and coffee we got out of sight under sunshades.
Christiana offered to walk out into the open and observe. I agreed; she is hopefully unknown to our trackers, and even if they see her she is just one in the crowd of holidaymakers looking up curiously at low-flying aircraft. She trotted away to the bridge a few hundred yards North, and was not the first to point and look up as the sound of aero engines got louder. From under our awning we could see little, but we heard them pass almost right over us with the distinct ‘whop-whop’ sound of their rotors.
A few minutes later she was back, handing over a notebook of her observations – the autogyro type, twin-seaters with rotary engines, their registration markings and what she could see of the pilots and observers. They were definitely looking for someone; moving fast over the open roads but slowing right down and circling over the town to look down all the streets from all angles. Bravo Christiana, a very nice piece of work! The encouraging thing is they flew off down the valley, still searching the roads. Had they seen us, they might be expected to zoom off directly to land and report. Unless of course they are carrying radios, or they are being careful not to let on they have seen us.
Leaving the car under the trees, we ventured into the town to buying supplies, and giving the pursuit plenty of time to get out of range before we get on the open road again. My plan was to head up the valley to the last (very minor) road exiting it North, although once we are up on the high ground again we will be very exposed, no woods or buildings for concealment, and no turnings for many miles. Spotting a lone vehicle moving up there in the open would be easier than picking us out of traffic. We can hope nobody saw us, in which case the circle to be searched starting in Ilkley will be getting bigger by the hour.
So: leaving the little market town behind, we drove on up the flattish valley bottom by the side of a long reservoir with the fresh scar of a railway running along the far side of it, the rails still there but the signals and water towers obviously being dismantled. A very strange sight in England, an abandoned railway! Certainly not a sight we ever expect to see again. I asked Christiana and she tapped the map, which at the river’s headsprings just shows dotted lines marked “reservoirs in construction.” Two of them have now been finished, the last one just this year, and the railway that fed the construction site in the remote valley has served its use and been pruned back to Pateley Bridge. She added that a whole town was built there, complete with shops, church, schools, cinema and everything – all in wooden huts, and for twenty years it was home to a couple of thousand builders and their families. But she has seen in the local newspapers that all that is gone now, the huts are being taken off elsewhere on the last trains down the valley before even the railway lines are pulled up for salvage.
Past the reservoir we halted in the cover of a small wood, switched off the engine and spent five minutes looking and listening. It was a very peaceful scene, the green valley floor pastures around that gradually turn into wilder moorland on the heights above, with rock outcrops of grey stone rising up on the horizon like edges of shelves sticking out of the hillsides; “scars” as Christiana says they are called locally. There was hardly the sound even of a tractor, with this remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales mostly relying on draught animals still. The occasional bark of a shotgun miles away showed us grouse-shooting parties are scattered over the high moorland. Right now I could sympathise with the hunted birds, even if the thought of game pie usually appeals.
Just as we were about to set off and start climbing out of the valley North over the long open hillside road, there was the distant sound we had been expecting – the mixed beat of rotary wings and a radial engine. And just where we least wanted to near it – to the North. Miss Cabot had the binoculars and saw one autogyro show itself just on the horizon – then descend vertically behind the skyline from us, and the engine note stopped. I doubt they saw us under the trees from that distance, and (not for the first time) was thankful Leon Allworthy, for all his crimes, refrained from ordering the car in bright banana yellow.
Five sets of ears drooped at that as we looked at Christiana’s large-scale map, my own included. It would be too much to hope for that our tracker had crashed – directly below where it was seen going down there is a rocky scar marked on the map, a perfect watchtower where a crew could land and cover the exits to Nidderdale without burning any more fuel. They can sit there all day with a perfect view of the roads North and back down the valley. They only have to know which way we went (and a few innocent-sounding enquiries in Pateley Bridge would tell them) that they have us trapped here. Of course it is not just a couple of autogyros we are worried about – though one bombing run would make a hash of us – but whoever they might be on the radio to and send heading this direction.
It is a good thing we have Christiana with us. According to the national road atlas, there are no other ways out of this valley. But she has hiked these hills extensively, she says, and the hills were once home to thriving lead mines. That left a network of tracks, now grass-covered but originally heavily engineered with cuttings and bridges to take ore carts down to the valley. The Ordnance Survey map shows them as footpaths still but does not hint they might take the Bentley. Christiana has been there and says that in many places, there is a chance they still might.
A quick “Chinese Parliament” had us all agreed to try it. If nothing else, we will be evading over hills and fields, something we have long practice in. If we can get over into the next valley unsuspected, hopefully the way ahead will be clear – as the only officially marked roads around the main hill ridge take about forty miles to get to where we might arrive in four, and we may be long gone by then. It could take days to comb this valley thoroughly, and investigate every barn and mine tunnel we might have hidden in.
Even on the map, it looks tricky. But there was little choice, and the sooner we started the better. So back onto the road, heading up the valley on narrowing lanes, thankful of the cover high stone walls and shady trees gave us. Not all the way though – looking back, I could sometimes spot an innocent-looking crag where we thought the autogyro had landed – even with the binoculars I could not see the aircraft. Which does not mean the crew could not see us.
We passed the last village in the valley floor, and the only road was the one leading to the dam site. Definitely committing ourselves; if the way over the top turns out to be impossible for the car we would be either trapped or forced to abandon it and carry on afoot. Not something we want. Just as we were hoping we had gone round the curve of the hill out of sight of the landed autogyro – Maria pointed and the second one appeared, going right over us an about a hundred feet! We were definitely spotted. The craft flew off back down the valley, and in two minutes its companion was in the air again holding position over the valley exit. That settles it; they are definitely carrying radios.
In five minutes the great brown stone wall of the lower dam, Scar House Reservoir, came into view above us. It is built in the grand style like a castle wall with towers – rather impressive considering there are so few folk around here to look at it. Up on the hillside above we could see a rock-cut shelf with wooden huts, some of which were half dismantled. Definitely the abandoned town Christiana had told us about. And the only cover on the hillside; once past there we would be out in the open. The autogyros can definitely see us going over the top.
The road was getting rougher, and just as we were deciding whether to ‘hole up’ circumstances took a turn for the worse – Helen announced the front starboard wheel was feeling strange, as if we had a puncture. Not what we wanted, especially now!
The tyre held up as far as the abandoned town, and we tucked the Bentley in behind the empty windowless hospital out of sight. While Maria and Christiana climbed a mound of quarry rubble with the binoculars and found a vantage point looking back down the valley, the rest of us got out the tool kit and the spare wheel from the back. Miss Cabot also broke out the ammunition; she has all Molly’s skills and experience with all sorts of artillery, but her tail does not flag at the prospect of using it.
Even before we got the old wheel off, Christiana came scrambling back down the hillside and announced two large vans were heading up from the last road junction. They could be just part of the demolition team, but mid-day is an odd time to start work. There seems to be nobody around on the site right now, and no farmhouses in sight. Imagining the valley before the dams, the most likely places for them would now be underwater, and it looks as if they were never rebuilt afterwards.
In ten minutes the vans had vanished around the curve in the hill about half a mile away, and did not reappear. This might have been encouraging – until Maria spotted a line of a dozen folk on the hillside above the last place we saw them, twenty yards apart and heading this way. They are all definitely armed she says, though with rifles or shotguns she could not make out at that range.
A tricky ‘tactical problem’ – with twelve of them they can spread out and surround us regardless of how good our cover is. And with only one weapon, something we never got the chance to test, we can only face one of them at a time. Miss Cabot was up to the task though – she pointed further up the valley, to where it narrows against the water’s edge. Once there, one of our sides would be covered by the lake and at the point she indicated there is a great open scree of loose rock that nobody is going to get across quietly or in a hurry.
My ears pricked up at the sound of gunfire above us – but it was over a mile away, high on the top of the ridge, and nobody could see us let alone be shooting at us from there. Evidently a game hunting party.
We got back into the Bentley, clipping the Punt gun onto its Scarff Ring, and bumped along the rough quarry track for a mile further up the valley. Which left our pursuers another mile away, now having to pick their way over the rough heather and boulders, a slow business that bought us some time. Miss Cabot had grabbed a length of scaffolding pole from a mound of demolition rubble, but till we stopped again I had no time to ask her why.
First, with twine and some old sacks she had picked up, she wrapped the barrel of our punt gun to break up its outline, sniper style. Then she did the same to the scaffolding pole – providing a twin, a ‘Quaker cannon’ one can hardly tell apart from a hundred yards. Definitely Molly’s knowledge coming to the fore, with a trick I would not have thought of! Doubling our apparent weaponry made the task of surrounding us look an awful lot harder. We tucked the Bentley in behind a barn, restricting the angle we are visible from to about forty degrees – all of which are in traverse of a Scarff ring.
Ten minutes later, Maria’s binoculars picked up one of the vans heading across the dam and parking at the junction a mile away. That blocks our way out rather thoroughly; I had thought of charging back at full speed leaving most of our pursuers stranded on the hillside trying to aim at a moving target. Someone with field experience is evidently in charge of the other side.
It was a nerve-racking ten minutes, watching a dozen figures keep their distance apart as they got nearer. The only escape route was the possible track over the steep ridge behind us, something not marked on the motoring guides. Once we were out in the open we would be committed to that, and the autogyros would be all over us. First, we had to discourage pursuit.
I helped Maria lug the sacking-wrapped scaffolding pole upstairs into the hay-loft of the little stone barn, where a foot or so of its length poked out menacingly from the one window propped up on hay filled sacks that look like sandbags from a distance. That can hopefully attract some incoming fire, and there will be nobody upstairs to get in its way.
While we waited downstairs, Christiana quietly asked if this kind of thing often happens at Songmark. I could have given a safe answer that matched the Prospectus – but then I recalled our encounter with the Moro Pirates aboard the Parsifal, the Casino Island rooftop chase with the slavers in the thunderstorm, the various events on Krupmark Island and our experiences on Kuo Han. Plus many more. So I told her the truth – nothing like this is on the timetable, but the course prepares you for it when it happens. Which it does, especially to me.
She nodded determinedly, and simply said she was standing with us. A sturdy girl, our Tutors really knew how to read an application form when they accepted hers.
Just then, a ranging shot chipped the wall outside the barn. Rifles, Helen said laconically. So much for declaring war! At least it simplified matters; we could now shoot back. Miss Cabot loaded up a solid shot – basically a one inch lead sphere like a classic musket ball, but fired from a far better machined barrel with a heroic charge of smokeless powder at about four times the velocity of any musket. The breech is semi-automatic, worked by a rocker arm that swings forward and unlocks it – firing as fast as Christiana can throw a shell in the breech and Miss Cabot work the lever.
At two hundred yards range she engaged the largest target, a grey-furred bear carrying an ‘over and under’ big game rifle. She missed, but not by much; the noise was shattering at this end and it must have sounded like an express train going past the bear. He threw himself flat and Miss Cabot aimed at the next in line – or not quite. A stoat in brown dungarees was just edging past a large boulder, which (she told us later) Miss Cabot aimed at as a far bigger target. And more than that; Molly used to look avidly at those high-speed photographs of shells bouncing off armour plate (or otherwise) and knew if a soft lead round hits a hard target fast enough it will – splash, with fragments everywhere and far more chance of hitting the stoat than aiming directly. Which it evidently did, as he dropped yelping.
That left us with two dozen solid shot and the fifty canister, Two assailants had stopped to fire and we heard the shots hit upstairs, splintering wood around the Quaker Cannon emplacement. Miss Cabot worked the rocker arm again, Christiana slapped in a shell and the rest of us clapped paws over our ringing ears as we braced the somewhat rocking Bentley. The car shakes on its suspension after each shot like the ‘Paris Cannon’ Molly used to go into raptures over, which took minutes for the barrel to stop vibrating.
Five minutes later, things had started to turn in our favour. At Maria’s suggestion Miss Cabot shot at the outer edge of the group, discouraging them from spreading out up the hill. If this was properly sighted and calibrated for the ammunition we would be cutting the attackers down like wheat – there is only so much you can do with sighting down the barrel and Maria calling the “fall of shot” corrections like an artillery piece. But what can be done, Miss Cabot is amazingly well qualified to do! Two attackers were down but still moving having been hit by the splash, and indeed anyone taking a direct hit in any part would not be getting up again. I recall the fight aboard the Parsifal, seeing what a direct hit with the ‘pom-pom’ did to a pirate. Messy.
Then – someone must have called them back. We saw the ten figures who were still advancing stop and crouch low, before turning tail. A minute later Helen called that there are folk coming down the hill from behind us. Not what we wanted to hear. But a moment’s reflection had me thinking- why would our definite attackers be turning round, if it was their allies coming in behind us? In another two minutes Helen had the binoculars and called out the new arrivals were tweed clad, had four-legger dogs with them, and looked like the other game shooting parties we had passed on the road. Evidently more witnesses are what our assailants do not need, especially armed ones.
We had a few minutes before they arrived, so a little tidying seemed a good idea. The Quaker Cannon and its emplacement were soon reduced to an innocent pole and sacks tucked away in the corner. We unwrapped the sniper-style sacking from the Punt Gun, and unpacked the picnic basket to give the impression of an innocent luncheon rudely interrupted. Having our ordinance mounted on a Scarff Ring seemed a little pre-meditated, Maria suggested, so we dismounted it and propped it with the butt against the wall using the bipod – explaining how else we might have fired it without causing more injuries to ourselves than the enemy. Fortunately the new arrivals could not have seen us using it from the direction they were coming from.
Putting on my most respectable Harris Tweed cap, I took a peek at our rescuers. Striding ahead was a stout and furious-looking terrier in tweed, with two grizzled greyhounds flanking in him with well-worn outfits and attitudes that just shout ‘gamekeeper’. A dozen younger furs of assorted species followed in train, evidently the rest of the shooting party. They had heard the firing, and the gamekeepers keep a precise note of all the legal hunting parties, where and when they are expected to be. A single unauthorised shot miles away would have them investigating immediately, let alone the distinctive sounds of rifles and punt guns.
Fortunately the introductions were eased by the opposition, one of whom turned and sent a parting shot our direction before running back to the van. The bullet hit the wall of the barn a yard above our ears, chipping stone splinters. “Poachers, by God! With rifles! In broad daylight!” came the blast of the choleric Squire, who clapped a stalking telescope to his eye and watched the van drive away downhill taking its wounded and unhurt passengers with it.
Today seemed a good time to take a deep breath and announce myself as Lady Allworthy, in the circumstances. The Squire-type proved indeed to be a squire, Sir Hubert Parsall, of Parsall Hall on the far side of the ridge, up with his friends for a day’s rough shooting. It was easier to let him jump to conclusions – apparently since the dams were finished there had been trouble with a new style of poacher – “not honest local lads – commercial gangs from Leeds and Bradford” come up from the city to hunt for the money rather than the family stew pot. When he sympathised with me for being ‘a plucky get, must have bumped into them and spoiled their game’ – I just bowed shyly and admitted I managed to hold them off. The Punt Gun, I explained, I had just inherited and had been looking for an empty spot to test it out, not having a firing range nearby. Which is all true enough as far as it goes and explains why we were in Scar Houses, but I felt my conscience twinge as I imagined Coral and Pearl coming out with a tale just like it.
As we made general introduction, I noticed one of the party looking at the setup rather less credulously. A younger fur than the squire, a wiry badger in perhaps his early thirties, I noticed him eyeing up angles and distances, and looking at the gleaming brass cartridge cases littering the ground around the Bentley – I had forgotten to move those to where we had braced the gun against the wall. He was introduced to us as Captain Smythe, currently on leave from his regiment. Whatever he does in the Army, I doubt it is flagpole painting or parade drill. He looked extremely sharp, and his ears had pricked up considerably when he heard the name Lady Allworthy.
Sir Hubert offered us the hospitality of his hall, which as the autogyro flies is only about twelve miles away – right on the far side of the mountain. But the trackway over the top is the route we were planning to escape along anyway, if we can get the Bentley over it – and now there are a few more willing paws to help push.
It took us most of an hour to get the mile or so on top of the ridge; the ground is soft and peaty once we left the reservoir track, and it was a painstaking job driving along the steel “sand channels”, picking them up them moving them round again in front of the wheels. Decidedly not something we could have done while being pursued. There was no sign of the autogyros, and quite possibly the shooting party had not seen them, or at least not connected them to our assailants. Not the kind of thing one expects poachers to be using, after all.
Captain Smythe helped us push, while the Squire and most of the rest returned the direct way over the highest peak (Great Whernside, Christiana called it.) He was very complementary about our thorough preparations, and noted not just any party would have thought of carrying the spade, sand channels and entrenching tool – which were in constant use before we got over the ridge. I noticed him examining the Scarff Ring; it is evident when looking at the welds securing it to the bodywork that the Bentley factory did not offer this as an official option. The Lewes garage did a fine job of retouching, but the new paint does not quite match when examined closely. He also looked over the punt gun, and carefully ran a fingertip over the wooden butt, at which he nodded and smiled.
My ears went down as I spotted what he had seen. If we had really fired a dozen rounds with the gun braced against the rough limestone wall of the barn, such a level of recoil would certainly have left scars or dents on the wood – which is still highly polished. No, Captain Smythe is certainly not in any unit that runs entirely on the rulebook and regimental tradition. At least, he is really wasted there if he is. I could see him putting bigger and more complex numbers than two and two together, in record time.
When we had reached the far side heading downhill with a decent surface that we could see connected with the road in the valley below us, he said farewell and turned back to follow the rest of his party, moving at a fast pace. Looking at his retreating back, Helen murmured that one fur in the party did not believe a word of our story. It was a good thing he mentioned hearing the rifles firing first – any jury would agree we were only replying in self-defence. I hope.
Although we scanned the skies, the autogyros did not reappear to hunt us. We might have lost them – if nobody saw us heading over the top, they could assume we are still in the Nidd valley and will be trying to get away downhill, perhaps waiting for the cover of darkness. The idea of our pursuers being camped out in ambush in the wrong place indefinitely is a heartening one.
We drove up a steep pass and were soon dropping through steep limestone terrain, cliffs and rock edges on all side, a land of short green grass and rushing streams that vanished into the rock only to burst out a mile or so downstream. Christiana says the whole hill range is riddled with caves, and caving around here is a growing sport as well as a scientific endeavour.
There was a minor disagreement when Helen said in Texas they have major caves, but exploring them is called “Spelunking.” A silly word, Christiana said, and an ugly one at that. If there is a ski slope one goes skiing, a mountain has mountaineering, and with caves one goes caving. I had to side with Christiana on that one, even if the scientific discipline is speleology. With Geology one does not go out ‘geogging’ after all.
By five o’clock we were pulling into the drive of Parsall Hall, Maria checking the map and noting wryly that we have come very laboriously in three quarters of a circle and are still only fifteen miles from Ilkley as the autogyro flies! The good thing is our pursuers, whatever maps they may be looking at, should think this an equally unlikely place to search.
Parsall Hall is a fine old place, seventeenth century or earlier, built and roofed with the grey limestone of the hills around. It stands right next to a fifty-foot limestone cliff, the whole landscape being narrow gorges and scars topped with bright green sheep-grazed turf. A peaceful spot. Sir Hubert has not arrived yet (having had a long hike across the heather with the game-bag, before his party reached their vehicles) but the staff were expecting us, as someone had telephoned them from the first village.
Fourends Hall on the South coast is one style of manor house, but this is quite another – a rugged establishment at the foot of the hills. Maria was rather sniffy at calling them mountains at two thousand feet (she knows the Alps, after all), but after today’s efforts she conceded they are big enough to be hard work, and steep enough to fall off!
So, tonight we shall see what the hospitality of a Yorkshire Hall has to offer us!