“The pigeons puzzled over this. Consulting among themselves, they decided that they might’ve been better guardians of past towers if they hadn’t come to enjoy building them so much, and vowed to do everything they could to protect them in the future. So the man built it, a soaring cathedral with two towers and a dome. It was so grand, and both the man and the pigeons were so pleased with what they’d made that they became great friends; the man never went anywhere for the rest of his life without a pigeon close at hand to advise him. Even after he died at a ripe and happy old age, the birds still went to visit him, now and again, in the land below. And to this very day, you’ll find the cathedral they built standing on the tallest hill in London, the pigeons watching over it.” Millard closed the book. “The end.”
Emma made an exasperated noise. “Yes, but watching over it from where?”
“That could not have been less helpful to our present situation,” said Enoch, “were it a story about cats on the moon.”
“I can’t make heads or tails of it,” said Bronwyn. “Can anyone?”
I nearly could—felt close to something in that line about “the land below”—but all I could think was, The pigeons are in Hell?
Then another bomb fell, shaking the whole building, and from high overhead came a sudden flutter of wingbeats. We looked up to see three frightened pigeons shoot out of some hiding place in the rafters. Miss Peregrine squawked with excitement—as if to say, That’s them!—and Bronwyn scooped her up and we all went racing after the birds. They flew down the length of the nave, turned sharply, and disappeared through a doorway.
We reached the doorway a few seconds later. To my relief, it didn’t lead outside, where we’d never have a hope of catching them, but to a stairwell, down a set of spiral steps.
“Hah!” Enoch said, clapping his pudgy hands. “They’ve gone and done it now—trapped themselves in the basement!”
We sprinted down the stairs. At the bottom was a large, dimly lit room walled and floored with stone. It was cold and damp and almost completely dark, the electricity having been knocked out, so Emma sparked a flame in her hand and shone it around, until the nature of the space became apparent. Beneath our feet, stretching from wall to wall, were marble slabs chiseled with writing. The one below me read:
BISHOP ELDRIDGE THORNBRUSH, DYED ANNO 1721
“This is no basement,” Emma said. “It’s a crypt.”
A little chill came over me, and I stepped closer to the light and warmth of Emma’s flame.
“You mean, there are people buried in the floor?” said Olive, her voice quavering.
“What of it?” said Enoch. “Let’s catch a damned pigeon before one of those bombs buries us in the floor.”
Emma turned in a circle, throwing light on the walls. “They’ve got to be down here somewhere. There’s no way out but that staircase.”
Then we heard a wing flap. I tensed. Emma brightened her flame and aimed it toward the sound. Her flickering light fell on a flat-topped tomb that rose a few feet from the floor. Between the tomb and the wall was a gap we couldn’t see behind from where we stood; a perfect hiding spot for a bird.
Emma raised a finger to her lips and motioned for us to follow. We crept across the room. Nearing the tomb, we spread out, surrounding it on three sides.
Ready? Emma mouthed.
The others nodded. I gave a thumbs-up. Emma tiptoed forward to peek behind the tomb—and then her face fell. “Nothing!” she said, kicking the floor in frustration.
“I don’t understand!” said Enoch. “They were right here!”
We all came forward to look. Then Millard said, “Emma! Shine your light on top of the tomb, please!”
She did, and Millard read the tomb’s inscription aloud:
HERE LIETH SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN BUILDER OF THIS CATHEDRAL
“Wren!” Emma exclaimed. “What an odd coincidence!”
“I hardly think it’s a coincidence,” said Millard. “He must be related to Miss Wren. Perhaps he’s her father!”
“That’s very interesting,” said Enoch, “but how does that help us find her, or her pigeons?”
“That is what I am attempting to puzzle out.” Millard hummed to himself and paced a little and recited a line from the tale: “the birds still went to visit him, now and again, in the land below.”
Then I thought I heard a pigeon coo. “Shh!” I said, and made everyone listen. It came again a few seconds later, from the rear corner of the tomb. I circled around it and knelt down, and that’s when I noticed a small hole in the floor at the tomb’s base, no bigger than a fist—just large enough for a bird to wriggle through.
“Over here!” I said.
“Well, I’ll be stuffed!” said Emma, holding her flame up to the hole. “Perhaps that’s ‘the land below’?”
“But the hole is so small,” said Olive. “How are we supposed to get the birds out of there?”
“We could wait for them to leave,” said Horace, and then a bomb fell so close by that my eyes blurred and my teeth rattled.
“No need for that!” said Millard. “Bronwyn, would you please open Sir Wren’s tomb?”
“No!” cried Olive. “I don’t want to see his rotten old bones!”
“Don’t worry, love,” Bronwyn said, “Millard knows what he’s doing.” She planted her hands on the edge of the tomb lid and began to push, and it slid open with a slow, grating rumble.
The smell that came up wasn’t what I’d expected—not of death, but mold and old dirt. We gathered around to look inside.
“Well, I’ll be stuffed,” Emma said.
Where a coffin should’ve been, there was a ladder, leading down into darkness. We peered into the open tomb.
“There’s no way I’m climbing down there!” Horace said. But then a trio of bombs shook the building, raining chips of concrete on our heads, and suddenly Horace was pushing past me, grasping for the ladder. “Excuse me, out of my way, best-dressed go first!”
Emma caught him by the sleeve. “I have the light, so I’ll go first. Then Jacob will follow, in case there are … things down there.”
I flashed a weak smile, my knees going wobbly at the thought.
Enoch said, “You mean things other than rats and cholera and whatever sorts of mad trolls live beneath crypts?”