Chapter Eight


    THE PORTCULLIS

    Wanda was not good at going around in circles. She did not take it well. "All right, Wanda, " I said. "If we haven't found the sword in five minutes' time, we'll go home. " "Promise?" asked Wanda. "Promise, " I said. I knew we'd have to go home soon anyway, since our string was nearly finished.

    Wanda spent the next four minutes and forty seconds staring at her watch and count- ing the seconds in a loud voice. It was very annoying, especially as I still really wanted to find the sword and give it to Sir Horace for his birthday. We were walking down a steep slope. The mushrooms had disappeared, and I knew we had not been here before. Wanda was so busy staring at her watch that she did not notice when suddenly we turned a corner and there it was--the little round grotto with the sandy floor and the sword lying there in the middle of it, just waiting for us, like I had known it would be. Incredible! "Wanda, " I said, "look!" But Wanda was still droning on, "Two hundred and seventy-eight seconds . . . Two hundred and seventy-nine seconds . . . Two hundred and--" "Wan-da, " I yelled.

    "We've found it!" At last Wanda stopped counting and looked up. "Wow . . . " She whistled under her breath. Wanda was about to rush in when suddenly I remembered what it said in my Secret Tunnel Handy Hint Handbook.

    Handy Hint #3: Watch out for traps, particularly at the beginning and end of a tunnel. How often has an intrepid tunneler battled through the most secret of tunnels only to come to grief in a cunning trap at the end of her journey? Alas, far too often, as we at the Secret Tunnel Handy Hint Handbook know to our cost.

    "Stop!" I yelled to Wanda--and just in time. Because right above our heads, where the secret tunnel went into the cave, I could see five horrible metal spikes pointing down at us. Wanda stopped dead in her tracks. "What are you shouting about now?" she asked grumpily. "I thought you wanted to get the sword. It's stupid to stop now when all we have to do is just--" "Wan-daaa. " I sighed very patiently. "Just look up, will you?" Wanda looked up. "Oh, " she said. "What is it?" "It's a trap, " I told her. "A horrible trap. " Wanda stared at the spikes for a bit, then she said, "No it's not. It's a portcullis.

    " Miss Know-it-all Wanda Wizzard folded her arms and looked smug. "I know that, " I said. "I didn't say it wasn't a portcullis. I just said it was a trap. Obviously it is a portcullis trap. " "Obviously, " said Miss Smug Pants. "What we have to do, " I told her, "is make sure there aren't any trip wires. " Wanda looked worried. "Why?" she asked. "Because if there is a trip wire and we trip over it, then the portcullis will come crashing down on top of our heads, that's why. " Wanda shuddered. "That's horrible, " she said. I shrugged. "Stuff like that happens all the time in secret tunnels. " "Well, you never told me that when you were trying to get me to come with you, " said Wanda, staring up at the sharp spikes.

    "You never asked, " I told her. I crouched down and shone my flashlight along the ground, which was covered in thick sand. "It's okay, " I said. "I can't see a trip wire or anything, so I guess we're safe. " I don't think Wanda believed me. She got down on her hands and knees and had a real good look too. "I guess it's okay. . . . " she mut- tered. "Do you want to go first?" I offered. I was being polite, as Aunt Tabby is always telling me not to rush in front of people. Wanda gave me a funny look and said, "No thank you, Araminta. We'll go together. " She grabbed hold of my hand and yelled, "One . . . Two . . . Three . . . Go!"

    So we went. We shot under the portcullis like a couple of bats out of a sack and nothing happened. The horrible spikes stayed just where they were, and there we were--in the grotto at last. "Yes!" I grinned at Wanda. "We did it!" Wanda ran around the cave, kicking up the sand and jumping about, yelling, "We did it, we did it. Yaay!" I think she was pleased too. And then there was a horrible clang and a huge thud. The grotto shook like an earth- quake had struck. But it was a whole heap worse than an earthquake. It was the portcullis trap--it had come crashing down. Now a massive iron grille barred our way home. Wanda and I stared at it. Even Wanda didn't say anything for a while. And then, when she did say something, her voice sounded all squeaky and trem- bling. "We're trapped, " she said. Wanda was right. Again.

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