The paving stone marked with an 'S' was located in the top left hand corner of the yard, close by the boundary wall with Millfield. As Mary was the 'hopscotch expert' it was decided that she should do the pacing out while the others gave her instructions. It was a cold, clear night with a full moon and twinkling stars, which illuminated the yard amply for their purpose.
"Right then Mary," her father whispered. "Take the lantern and pace five flagstones along that back wallside. Right. One....two... three.... four five. Now place the lantern on the stone. Can you see anything?"
"Yes, there is a letter on this one papa. It's a letter 'A'. That's no good."
"Alright then. Lets try going the other way. Retrace your steps to the 'S' and we'll start again, only this time, go down the side of Millfield's wall."
"Very well papa." Mary retraced her steps and began again. "One... two... three... four.... five."
"A letter 'P'. I think we're on the right trail now papa!"
"Excellent. Now we're up against the house in the corner. Take four paces towards the back door."
"Very well father. One.... two.... three... four. Oh dear. There is an 'A' but I've finished up on the flagstone beyond it."
"Hmm... Did you include the 'P' flag you started from in your count?"
"Then there's your answer. Take one back. Good. Now for the next number. Pace six flags towards the back wall and make sure to include the one you're standing on."
"Very well papa."
There were no further problems. The next paving stone on which they landed was an 'I' and then,after a couple of false starts, 9 flagstones to the right, they finally alighted on a large stone slab in the top right hand corner of the yard, close by the stable block. It was marked with an 'N'.
George Midgley spoke in a low voice, but could hardly mask his excitement."This has to be it. There's no other way we can spell out 'SPAIN' using these numbers. Right Mary. You keep an eye on the house while Dickey and I get this paving stone up."
The paving stone was thicker than its neighbours, and well set. It was difficult to get the crowbar into the closely sealed joint without making noise, but in the end Dickey managed to get a toehold and began working it loose. As Mary kept a close eye on the house, her father and her friend heaved and strained at the flagstone. Suddenly, almost unexpectedly it came clear and they manhandled it up onto its side, leaning it against the stable wall.
What lay beneath the flagstone was quite unexpected, a large marble slab. Only part of it was visible, the rest of it being buried beneath the adjacent paving stones. Ten minutes later six more paving stones had been removed to reveal a substantial structure with a central marble slab set with an iron ring. Incised on the it was an inscription:-
To The Memory Of
"Dear God! It's a burial vault! So what do we do do now?"
of Rawley Billing Cottage
Departed this life on the
21st June 1811.
Also, JOSEPH THOMPSON
Relict of the above,
Died 22nd June 1811
DEO GRATIAS VIcTORIA
Mary turned to her frowning father. "Do father? Why we take a look inside of course!"
"Don't be silly child. We can't disturb the dead!"
"But look at the date and the motto papa. The Battle of Vitoria. Did you ever hear of a Sebastian or a Joseph Thompson? Don't you see papa? The whole thing is calculated to stop you from going any further. Let's get this door raised and take a look inside."
"No child, we should not do this!"
"Papa. Let's say by way of analogy that these were your two brothers. Would you have them entombed in a vault in your back yard?"
"Of course not! But....."
"I rest my case papa! If there is anyone buried in there then I'll eat my petticoats for breakfast in the morning!"
"Well I suppose.... but if there is anyone's corpse inside then we seal this thing up at once. Agreed?"
"Right then Dickey give me a hand with this slab."
Together they grabbed the iron ring and pulled. It was a struggle at first, but when the marble slab finally gave way it was raised with relative ease. A damp, musty smell assailed their nostrils. Beneath their feet a flight of dusty marble steps could be seen disappearing into darkness.
"Right then Mary, you stay here and keep watch, while Dickey and I descend."
"No papa. I insist on going. If you recall I discovered the trail in the first place."
"It might be dangerous child."
"I don't care, I'm going with you."
"Very well then. Will you stay here and keep watch Dickey."
"Of course Sir."
"Right then Mary, grab the lantern and come with me."
Mary picked up the light and followed her father down the stairs into the darkness below.
copyright © Jim Jarratt 2007