only Cork and a small, gnarled old man in doth cap, tattered raincoat and muddy boots.
‘More troops have arrived.’ Cork hung up his shovel hat. ‘And more to come, I fancy. Paratroops in the main. I’ve been talking to that young lieutenant. Gifford his name is. Nice lad.’
He frowned in a kind of abstraction and Binnie said, ‘And what’s happening, for God’s sake ?*
‘They seem to think you’re down in the ravine in the wreckage of that car. They’re still searching. I think you’d better go up to the farm for the time being till I sort this thing out. Sean here will take you.’ He turned to me. ‘It’s only half a mile up the valley at the back of the church, Major. You’ll be safe there. There’s a hidey-hole for just this kind of occasion that they’ve never discovered yet.’
‘And Norah,’ Binnie demanded urgently. ‘What about her?’
‘All in good time, Binnie lad.’ Cork patted him on the shoulder. ‘Now be off with you,’
He took down his hat and went out again. The door clanged, the candles nickered, only this time most of them went out. I hoped it wasn’t an omen.
The old man, Sean, took us out through the graveyard and plunged into the trees at the back of the church, walking strongly in spite of his obvious age. What with the rain and the mist, visibility was reduced to a few yards, certainly excellent weather to turn and run in. Not that it was necessary for we didn’t see a soul and within fifteen minutes came out of the trees above a small farm in a quiet valley. It was a poor sort of place and badly in need of a coat
of whitewash. Broken fences everywhere and a yard that looked more like a ploughed field after heavy rain than anything else.
There didn’t seem to be anyone about and old Sean crossed to a large two-storeyed barn built of crumbling grey stone, opened one half of the double door and led the way in. There was the general air of decay I might have expected, a rusting threshing machine, a broken-down tractor, several holes in the roof where sktes were missing.
There was also a hayloft, a kdder leading up to it. At first I thought the old man intended climbing it, but instead he moved it to the other side of the barn and leaned it against the wall which was constructed of wooden planking. Then he stood back.
Binnie said, ‘Follow me, Major. The Black Hole of Calcutta we call it.’
He went up the ladder nimbly, paused half way, reached to one side, got a finger into a knot hole and pulled. The door which opened was about three feet square. He ducked inside and I followed him.
The old man was already moving the ladder back to its original position by the loft as Binnie closed the door. Light streamed in through various nooks and crannies, enough for me to see that we were in a small, narrow room barely large enough to stand up in.
He said, ‘Follow me and watch it. It’s thirty feet down and no place to find yourself with a broken leg.’
I could see the top of a kdder protruding through some sort of trapdoor, waited until he wis well on his way and went after him, dropping into the kind of darkness that was absolute.
Binnie said softly, “Easy does it, Major, you’re nearly there.’
My feet touched solid earth again a moment later. I turned cautiously, there was the scrape of a match, and as it flared I saw him reaching to an oil lamp that hung from a hook in the wall.
‘All the comforts of home,’ he said. Which was a fair enough description, for there was a rough wooden table, chairs, two old army cots and plenty of blankets, a shelf stocked with enough tinned food to feed half a dozen men for a week or more.
‘Where are we exactly ?’ I demanded, unbuttoning my trenchcoat.
‘Underneath the barn. This pkce has been used by our people since the nineteen-twenties and never discovered once.’