Dickey Postlethwaite was grooming Betsy in the stable when Mary called out to him.

"Good morning Dickey!"
"Mornin' Miss Mary. Are you not at your lesson today?"
Mary smiled. "Poor dear Miss Stewart is ill with a pain in her breast . She is obliged to wear a mustard plaster for some considerable time!"
Dickey gave her a knowing grin. "So you've got the day off miss?"
"Yes indeed."
"And what are your plans for this fine morning?"
"I've not decided yet. Actually Dickey, I came to ask you a question?"
"A question Miss Mary?"
"Yes. You know the area hereabouts. Do you know if there are any caves to be found near here?"
Dickey removed his sweat stained cap and stared into it thoughtfully, as if it were some kind of mystic crystal ball. "Caves Miss Mary? There i'n't any caves raahnd here. Leastways not that I know on. There's lots of 'em up 'dale in Craven, where t'white rock is. Me uncle Jonas is a lead miner up theer, at Girston. He says they find caves reglar away. But theres nowt in t'way o' caves dahn here in t' gritstone country, unless you discount man-made ones that is."
"Man made ones?"
"Well there's old Captain Thompson's grotto. Me feyther told me 'e 'ad it built when t'mills were slack, to provide relief work for t'laid off millhands. They got a lot of stone from t'local delfs and built a grotto by extending a natural fissure in t' rock bed up on t' Billing."
"Have you seen this grotto?"
"Certainly miss. Used to play in it wi' me mates when I were younger."
"Could you take me there?"
Dickey replaced his cap. "If you like miss. But why should a fine lady like yersen want to go theer? Its dark, dirty an' spidery. Tha'll need a lamp and old clooathes. An' if you get mucked up miss, your dad'll be vexed, an' he'll blame it all on me!"
Mary looked reproachfully at him, fixing his eyes firmly with her own.
"Are you my friend Dickey Postlethwaite?"
"Of course Miss Mary."
"Right then. Get Betsy into the shafts and show me this grotto. I'll meet you at the front gate in ten minutes."
"Very well Miss."

Soon they were heading up the lane towards the stand of trees atop Rawley Billing. Mary watched them all the way, as they rustled and swayed in the stiff upland breeze, hypnotised by their distinctive shape - humped like a great recumbent beast. The same outline she had seen through the pale stained glass in the centre of the great window. The alignment had to be intentional.

"I didn't see any grotto when I came up here with father Dickey. Are you certain there's a cave up here ?"
"Of course Miss Mary, but you'd never find it lessen you were lookin' for it. The entrance is very small and narrow. Tha'll see!"

Dickey hitched the pony to the field gate and together they strolled along the wallside towards the summit rocks at the far end of the Billing. As they approached, the trees gave way to bracken and knotty ling, and the wind now blew stronger. But things had changed since that bleak day when she had promenaded up here with her father. The brisk wind that threatened to blow off her bonnet no longer held the rawness of midwinter. Today there was blue in the sky and the trees were in bud. On reaching the black outcrop that marked the summit of Rawley Billing they clambered to the top to admire the view. There was no sign of any cave.
"Well Dickey Postlethwaite, where's your magic grotto then?"
"Down the other side of the rocks miss, where the trees start. Be careful Miss Mary, don't slip on them there boulders."

Mary impetuously scrambled down the far side of the outcrop before dropping the last four feet or so onto the springy turf. She gazed at the jumbled ampitheatre of boulders around her, eroded by the wind and blackened by the air borne soot and grime from the houses and mills of Bradford and Leeds. Many of the rocks were carved with initials, dates and names - Rawley Billing was a popular picnicking spot in high summer.A voice above her carried down on the wind. "Further round Miss Mary - if you look you'll see a small fissure in the rocks. Just you sit there until I get down to you."

Mary scrambled along the grassy terrace at the base of the rocks, until it disappeared around the corner, out of sight. Yes, there was a small fissure in the rocks to the left, a long, narrow cleft running to a small hole about three feet high festooned with crowberry and ling. It had the appearance of a badger's sett - or a foxs' lair.

Dickey Postlethwaite was now behind her. "That's it Miss Mary. Captain Thompson's grotto. If you look you'll see it's got his initials carved on the rock above. Mary craned her head to where Dickey pointed. Sure enough, on a stone lintel above the entrance were three letters and a date 'J.T.T. 1820'. But there was something more. Beneath the initials and date was carved a single word 'MAKKEDAH'. Mary felt a sudden thrill of excitement. This was the place she sought!

"So we have to climb down into that little hole then Dickey?"
Dickey Postlethwaite grinned. "Don't worry Miss. It oppens out inside. The entrance were nivver varry big an' down t'years its got choked wi growth. You sure you still want ta do this Miss Mary?"
"Of course Dickey. Do you think I'm afraid or something?"
A smile lit up his grimy impish face. "You Miss Mary? Never !"

copyright © Jim Jarratt 2007