THE GROTTO

    Wanda did not take too well to being trapped in the grotto, either. In fact, she took it even worse than she'd taken going around in circles. I told her that it was no good jumping up and down and yelling; we had to try and get out. First we tried to lift up the portcullis, but it weighed a ton. It didn't budge one little bit. We kept on trying, but I could tell there was no way we could move it in a million years. "And there's no point shouting `One, two, three . . . Heave' in my ear over and over again, " I told Wanda.

    "It's not going to help if I go deaf as well. " After that we tried to dig down below the portcullis. The sand was soft, and I thought that maybe we could squeeze out under- neath, but it was no good. There was rock below the sand, and also a thick metal plate, which I guessed was part of the portcullis trap. "Come on, Wanda, " I said. "We've got to lift up that portcullis. " But it wouldn't shift. Then we tried stupid things that we knew wouldn't work, but we had to do them just in case.

    We tried to squeeze underneath, but we couldn't fit. Wanda tried wriggling through the gaps between the bars, as she is smaller than I am, but she nearly got her head stuck. We even used the sword to try to lever up the metal plate under the sand. But the portcullis stayed right where it was, blocking our way home. Wanda acted a bit strange after that. She started shaking the bars and yelling for help. I didn't see the point, so I went and sat down beside the sword and tried to think. But how- ever hard I tried, I couldn't think of anything. And soon all I could think was, "I wish Wanda would stop yelling. " "Shut up, Wanda, " I said. "Shut up yourself, " said Wanda. She sounded really annoyed, but underneath I could tell -90- she was as scared as I was. When I'm scared I get very quiet, but when Wanda is scared she just goes bananas. "Do you want a cheese and onion chip?" I asked. "No. I'm not hungry, " she said. But she stopped yelling and came and sat down beside me. I felt much better after I had eaten my potato chips. I decided I might as well have a look at the sword, seeing as we had come all this way to find it. You could tell that it had once been a really great sword. The handle had some nice patterns on it, and there were some lumpy bits under all the dirt and rust flakes that looked like they might be jewels. But I had to admit that my first impression of it had been better, because in fact it now looked like a piece of old junk.

    It was the kind of thing that Aunt Tabby would bring back from a garage sale and Uncle Drac would sigh and ask why on earth did we need more garbage. But I still knew it was the per- fect birthday present for Sir Horace. "It's great, isn't it?" I said. "Sir Horace is going to love this; I know he will. " "If he ever gets to see it, " muttered Wanda, "which he won't. Because tomorrow on his birthday, we'll still be stuck here. And the next day. And the day after that. We're always going to be stuck here. I'm never going to see Mom and Dad again, and you're never going to see your aunt Tabby or uncle Drac again-- never mind Sir Stupid Horace. " "Stop it, Wanda, " I said. "Just stop it right now. We are going to get out of here. There is always more than one way out of a secret tun- nel. " "There used to be, " said Wanda, pointing to the pile of rocks that blocked off the grotto from the cave outside, "but there isn't any- more. " We went over to the rock pile anyway. I shone the flashlight everywhere, hoping to see a gap that we could squeeze through, but there was nothing.

    Nothing but horrible, heavy rocks. Wanda peered through a tiny gap between two rocks. "This is where I looked through from the other side, " she said. "Maybe if we shine the flashlight through here, some peo- ple on the beach might see it. Or there might be someone in the cave exploring. " Well, it was worth a try. I didn't mention the fact that you can't see the end of the cave from the beach, or that it must be getting late by now and everyone would be going home. I just gave Wanda the flashlight. She shone it through the gap. "Coo-eee, " she called out, sounding just like Brenda does when she calls her cat. "Is anybody there?" Wanda put her ear to the gap and listened hard. "Can you hear something?" I whispered.

    "Shh . . . Yes . . . Yes I can. " I felt really excited. How lucky was that, someone being in the cave just at that moment? "What-- what can you hear, Wanda?" I asked. "Tell me!" Wanda stood up and gave me back the flashlight. She had a really weird look on her face. "I can hear the sea, " she said. "It's inside the cave. " I didn't believe Wanda at first. I thought she was just doing another Wanda windup. But this time she was dead calm. "What do you mean, it's inside the cave?" I asked. "The sea doesn't come inside the cave. You saw where it was this morning. It was miles away. I've never seen it so far away. " "Then it was low tide, " muttered Wanda. "Now it's high tide. " "So?" I asked. I wasn't really sure what Wanda meant, as I hadn't been to the beach very much. Aunt Tabby doesn't like the way the sand gets inside her shoes, and Uncle Drac won't go out in the sun. In fact, until Wanda came to live with us I had never been to the beach.

    "So--the sea was really far out this morn- ing, wasn't it?" said Wanda. I nodded. "And when it goes far out, that means it's a really low tide. Okay? But it also means that when it comes in, like it's doing now, it will be a really high tide. " I didn't like the sound of this. "How high?" Q I asked. "I don't know, " said Wanda. "But it's not high tide until seven o'clock.

    That's when Mom was going down for her swim. " I looked at my watch. It said half past five. One and a half hours still to go. "Give me the flashlight, " I said. "I want to see the water inside the cave. " I found the gap in the rocks and shone the flashlight through. At first I couldn't see any- thing at all, but I kept the flashlight very still and stared until my eyes got used to it.

    "Can you see anything?" Wanda asked in a hoarse whisper. "There's something moving . . . The light . . . It's reflecting off something. . . . " "Water, " said Wanda glumly. "Yes, " I said. "Waves. " "Waves, " Wanda repeated in a flat voice. "Only little waves, " I said, trying to cheer her up. Wanda didn't say anything. I didn't see the point of just staring at the water, waiting for it to come closer. It was still quite a few feet away, and I didn't totally believe what Wanda had said about high tide--Wanda can get a bit worked up about things. So I sat down on the sand to think.

    "That's why the sand is damp, " Wanda said, throwing herself down beside me. "What's why the sand is damp?" Wanda laughed in a funny way that I didn't like. "Because at the last high tide, the sea came in here. " "You don't know that, " I told her. She grabbed the flashlight and shone it around the walls of the grotto like she was looking for something. And then she found it. "Seaweed, " she said, waving the light over a piece of shiny green stuff stuck on the ceil- ing. "And it's still wet. " I tried to remember what Uncle Drac always says about not panicking, but I couldn't. Even Uncle Drac might panic a bit just now.

    I didn't say anything for a while, and then Wanda--being her usual cheery self--said, "Araminta . . . " "What?" "Can you swim?" "No. Can you?" "Yes . . . With arm floats. " "Don't suppose you brought them with you?" "No . . . " There didn't seem much else to talk about after that.

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