The Kirrins and the Mystery
of the Sandy-haired Dwarf
by Robin Gordon



Auksford crest: a  great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2001  -

Chapter 5:
Six have a mystery to solve

©  Copyright Robin Gordon, 2001

Aunt George had been given the island when she was about ten by her mother, the children's Great Aunt Fanny, and the Five had discovered enough treasure on it to enable Great Aunt Fanny and Great Uncle Quentin to carry on living at the Cottage without having to sell any more property.Note 6 Great Aunt Fanny had been born a Kirrin as well, and had married a distant relative. In fact she was the last of the senior branch of the family that had owned most of the land around Kirrin Bay.Note 7 It had gradually been sold over the years, until all that was left was Kirrin Cottage and Kirrin farm, and, luckily, Kirrin Island, which no-one had thought worth buying.

Aunt George reacted to day trippers on her island with all the ferocity of Betsy Trotwood seeing donkeys on her green, and she had managed to keep it free. The only landing place, a little cove on the west side, invisible from the mainland, was guarded by dangerous rocks. No strangers would be able to get their boats through without an accident, and the local people had too much respect for Aunt George's temper to take anyone there. Just to make sure George had designated it a bird sanctuary so that tourists would not be tempted to try and picnic there, but she would probably agree to let her own nephews and nieces land.

Kirrin Island

She did, so the next day the six cousins set off in the rowing boat. They did not take the dogs, much to their disappointment, but Aunt George said she would give them another good run on the moor. Andrew and Gavin rowed, and soon the little boat was skimming out across the calm bay, rounding the island, and easing its way among the sharp rocks to the little sandy beach. The children leapt out and pulled the boat up onto the shore.

"What a lovely place!" said little Fran, her eyes shining.

"And look at the ruined castle!" shouted Harry.

Anne's brood hurried up to take a closer look, but Andrew was puzzled.

"Look at this," he said to Gavin. "There have been people here. Footprints, and not just footprints. Before those silly sausages went charging up there, there was a definite track. Quite a few people have been this way."

"Look," said Gavin. "Cigarette ends. Aunt George will be furious."

"Who could it be?" said Andrew. "Strangers couldn't get through the rocks, and none of the locals would bring them? Or would they. Let's not tell Aunt George yet. She'll fret and fume and make a great song and dance and warn them off. We'll keep a lookout ourselves and see if we can identify the culprit, then we'll deliver him right into her hands."

It was a lovely day. They had a picnic, and roamed round the island. The birds were quite tame and they got really close to some interesting specimens, and the rabbits were so fearless that they just sat and watched the children walk up to them. Before they went home Andrew and Gavin told the others that they suspected day trippers had been on the island.

"Don't mention it to Aunt George, will you," said Andrew. "Gavin and I want to do a bit of sleuthing in the village. Whoever they are they must be getting a local chap to help them. If it's just a boy you can help us deal with him and if it's a man, we'll tell Aunt George. She'll be so grateful she might let us go to the island whenever we like."

After tea at Kirrin Cottage Julian's boys returned to the village and decided to begin their sleuthing. They started hanging round corners trying to overhear conversations, but nothing did they hear about the island. Then Gavin spotted the dwarf, O'Shaughnessy, and the two boys decided to follow him, for, even though their cousins had been frightened off by the threat of publicity, all agreed that, journalist or not, there was something distinctly fishy about Liam O'Shaughnessy.

One of the Irish men from the building site came up to him, and the two of them began talking in low voices. Andrew and Gavin sauntered nearer and succeeded in overhearing some of what they said.

" ... kids on de island .... seen 'em .... "

" ... not possible ... rocks ... even wid' a chart we holed a boat ..."

"... if dhey find ..."

"... locals all afraid o' de ol' battle-axe dhat owns it ..."

Then, before they realised his intention,O'Shaughnessy had grabbed them!

"More o' dhe spalpeens!" he roared. "What did you hear? What did you hear, ye little buggers?"

"Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?" said Andrew.

"Ne sais pas," gabbled Gavin.

"French is it?" roared the dwarf. "Que avez vous ecouté, you little bastards?"

"Je ne comprends pas," said Andrew.

"About the island!" roared the dwarf.

"On cherche des cartes postales," Gavin explained.

"Est-ce que vous savez, monsieur, ou l'on peut acheter des cartes postales?" said Andrew.

"Dhey don't understand English," said the man from the site.

"Dhont dhey?" growled O'Shaughnessy. "Oi've been pesthered by bhoys for months. Quoi avez vous ecouthé?"

"On vous demande pardon de vous avoir dérangé," said Andrew. "Est-ce que vous voulez demander à notre mère ..."

"Weel you asking our muzzair?," said Gavin. "We not understand ...

"Nous sommes des Français," Andrew said.

The dwarf released his hold.

"Clear off! Clear off, before Oi beat dhe living daylights out o' yez!"

They cleared off.

They cleared off right out of the village, back to Kirrin Cottage, joined their cousins in the garden, and told them what they had overheard, and then they started putting together all the facts and drawing conclusions. O'Shaughnessy was a suspicious character. He had come to Kirrin, was associating with the Irishmen from the building site, and they had been up to illicit activities on Kirrin Island.

Andrew and Gavin had more information. There was some mystery about how the developers had got hold of the site. Aunt George was sure it was one of the few patches of land still belonging to her family, but she could not prove it. Some of the villagers thought it belonged to the village as a whole, but they couldn't prove it either. Not only that but Andrew and Gavin had seen from the top of the church tower that the hotel that was going up had very extensive cellars, far more extensive than they would expect. In fact they had even spotted what looked like the beginning of a tunnel going out towards the bay.

"Why didn't you keep watch on it then." Harry wanted to know.

"Someone must have seen us up the tower," said Andrew. "Next day a surveyor arrived from the County Council, demanded to inspect the church, and closed the whole tower during the building works in case of subsidence. No-one's allowed in, and the congregation have to go into church by the side door in the south aisle. Next time we looked they'd floored over the basements and we couldn't tell any more ..."

"Hang on! Hang on!" called Nick. What do you mean next time you looked?"

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Sorry. There's a secret passage from the cellar in the Rectory across to a crypt under the tower and then up past the bell-ringers' loft right up to the top of the tower."

"Probably so that smugglers could get up to keep watch on the bay without the revenue men spotting them," said Gavin.

"But why from the Rectory? asked Harry. "Surely the Rectors can't have been involved in the smuggling?"

"It's possible," said Andrew. "The duties were very high in those days, and lots of quite ordinary honest men thought nothing of bringing in a few barrels of brandy or packs of tobacco, or silk for their wives, without paying tax on it."

"And we've found other tunnels too," said Gavin. "We think one goes to the Kirrin arms."

"Gosh!" said Jonathan in great excitement. "I'd like to have a look at those tunnels!"

"And I'd like to have a look at the building site from the top of the tower," said Nick.

"Nothing easier," said Andrew. "Pop down to the Rectory after dinner ..."

"And bump straight into the dwarf!" said Nick in dismay.

"Not very likely," replied Andrew. "Come in by Moor Lane and straight into Church Street."

"Right," said Jonathan. "Listen, Fran, not a word to Mummy. You know what she's like about adventures ..."

"And she's in a real wax about Uncle Dick," added Nick. "She thinks it's his fault we ended up ... er ..."

" ... trouserless at the station," Harry continued, "but it wasn't. I don't know why Mummy is so down on Uncle Dick. I like him. I think he's exciting and mysterious."

Fran found the tunnels spooky. Jonathan had told her she could stay at home if she wanted, but, even though she was timid like her mother, like her mother she was ready to play her part when it came to adventures. There were perhaps too many cobwebs and spiders for her to feel really comfortable in the tunnel and the secret spiral staircase that led up to the top of the tower, but the top of the tower was lovely. None of the children had ever suffered from vertigo or fear of heights, and they all found it thrilling to be up on top of a tower, high above the village. The tower was even higher above the village than Fran expected, because the church stood on a ridge that came out from the low cliffs and the moorland, while most of the village was grouped around the quay and on the flat land below the church hill.

Below her to the side she could see the High Street with its three shops and two pubs, and Church Street running steeply up from it to the church. In front of them was the Rectory, and beyond that the building site with its horrible, modern-looking hotel, and, if you looked right across the Rectory and the hotel, there at the entrance to Kirrin Bay was Kirrin Island with its romantic ruined castle, looking deceptively close, though she knew it must be about two and a half miles away. With the binoculars Andrew had brought you could see the ruins quite well.

There at the entrance to the bay was Kirrin Island

Andrew and Gavin pointed out the place where they thought there was a tunnel from the hotel cellars. The only possible place it could go was Kirrin Island.

Jonathan and Nick both thought O'Shaughnessy and his gang must be smugglers. Now that they had found the safe passage through the rocks they would be able to use a small boat to bring contraband from a ship onto the island late at night, then bring it through the tunnels to the leisure centre, and then it would be easy to distribute it. O'Shaughnessy himself could take it back to Hadbury, and, under cover of collecting news stories, he could travel all around the county, perhaps all around the country, passing the smuggled goods to his confederates.

The question was: what was the gang smuggling? Harry thought it was probably drugs.

"Remember what the scrawny girl from Brunton said? Old Shitpants makes friends with the boys and then sells them drugs." she said.

"You don't need such a huge set-up with all those cellars for drugs," said Andrew. "Even a little package is worth thousands of pounds."

"We need to get in there and find out," said Gavin.

"How," Nick asked.

"The only way in is from the island," said Andrew. "We'll have to row out there, explore the ruins until we find the entrance to the tunnel ..."

"It'll be in the dungeons!" Gavin interrupted.

"Are there dungeons?" asked Harry. "How exciting."

"Lots of them," said Gavin. "We've explored them all, but we had to take chalk with us when we first went, or we'd have got lost."

"How did chalk help?" asked Fran.

"We made marks on the wall to help us find our way back to the entrance," Andrew explained.

"Who's going to go?" Harry asked excitedly.

"Gavin and I," said Andrew decisively. It can't be Jonathan or Nick, cos Old Shitpants knows them, but he thinks we're French, so if we're caught we'll just do our helpless froggies act."

"I'll come too," said Harry. "Old Shitpants doesn't know me, and I'm as good as any boy."

"Et qu'est-ce que tu feras si l'on nous attrape?" said Andrew in rapid French. "Tu parles bien le français? Sinon ... pouf! On est foutu!"

"What?" said Harry.

"Not good enough," said Andrew. "You'd land us all in the soup if you can't speak French like a native."

"So we go alone," said Gavin.

"You four come up here," said Andrew and keep watch on the island. Give us half an hour to get through the tunnels, half an hour to explore, and half an hour to get back. If we're not out on the island again in an hour and a half, go and tell Dad. Don't tell Mum, or your mother."

"And don't tell Uncle Dick," said Gavin.

"Why not," said Harry. "Uncle Dick would probably have more ideas about rescuing you than anybody, even Uncle Julian."

"We don't like him much," said Gavin.

"He's a bit of a ... well you know ... these film people ..." said Andrew.

"No he's not!" said Harry, " He's my favourite uncle."

"Hey, look!" called little Fran. There's Mr Stubbs. I think he's drunk.

They looked over the parapet at the street below. Stubbs had just come out of the Kirrin Arms, walking with the exaggerated care of a man who knew he was drunk but wasn't to drunk enough not to care about falling over.

"And there's Old Shitpants," said Nick.

The two men walked towards each other along the deserted street. O'Shaughnessy was probably heading for the Kirrin arms, where he had a room. Stubbs was heading for the corner of Church Street. Just as Stubbs came up to O'Shaughnessy he stopped, grabbed a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, clasped it over his mouth and nose, and sneezed.

"He's dropped something," said Gavin.

It was true. As Stubbs pulled out his handkerchief he also pulled out an envelope, which fell on the ground beside him. Stubbs walked on, apparently not noticing, but O'Shaughnessy paused and put his foot on the envelope. He stood where he was and began to light a cigarette, obviously waiting till Stubbs had turned the corner, then he picked it up.

"The dirty beast!" muttered Andrew. "He's deliberately kept Stubb's letter."

"He's a thief!" snarled Nick.

"I don't think so," said Harry. "I think Stubbs deliberately dropped that envelope. He must have had it wrapped up in his handkerchief, then, when he saw O'Shaughnessy. he pulled it out and dropped the letter. He wanted O'Shaughnessy to pick it up."

"He passed him a message!" said Jonathan. "Stubbs must be in the same gang as Old Shitpants!"

"I don't believe it!" said Andrew. "Stubbs has been with us for years. He was Dad's batman."

"Dad saved his life!" said Gavin. "That's why he's always stayed with us. He can't be a crook!"

"Did your Dad tell you he saved Stubbs's life," said Harry.

"No," said Gavin. "He won't talk about it and neither will Stubbsy. Aunt George told us."

"What happened?" demanded Jonathan and Nick together.

"It was when they were in Kenya," said Andrew, at the time the Mau-Mau were murdering white people. Dad was taking a church service when there was a bit of noise outside. So Stubbs went out to see what was going on, and next thing there was a wild scream of agony from Stubbs. Dad grabbed the nearest weapon he could find - the processional cross - and he yelled, "Come on, chaps!" and rushed outside, followed by the soldiers from his congregation.

"Well the Mau-Mau were attacking poor old Stubbsy with machetes, but they got quite a shock when Dad came rushing out in cassock and surplice, with his stole and robes flying, swinging the cross like some sort of avenging angel. They took one look at him and gave a great squeal of terror and rushed off into the bush, leaving poor old Stubbsy lying on the ground, bleeding.

"Anyway, Dad ripped up his surplice and staunched Stubbsy's wounds, and they got him into hospital, where he lay hovering between life and death for weeks. And when he recovered he swore he'd always stay with Dad as long as he lived. I don't see how he can possibly have joined Old Shitpant's gang. He just dropped his letter, and Old Shitpants saw his chance and grabbed it. We know he's a crook, so why not?"

"Because I think Stubbs dropped it deliberately," Harry insisted. "Didn't you see him stop at the corner and look back? He wanted to make sure Old Shitpants had got the message."

"Yes, that's right," said little Fran. "He did look back. I think Harry's right. I think Stubbs deliberately dropped a message for that nasty little man to pick up."

"Well, whoever's right," said Jonathan, "I think we'd better be careful of Stubbs. Not let him know what we're up to. It might have been an accident, but, we don't want to run the risk of Old Shitpants finding out we're still on his trail."

Andrew and Gavin decided to go out to the island on Sunday morning.

"It's the best time," said Andrew. "The Irish labourers are all taken into town on a bus to go to Mass, so if we do find a tunnel and get into the hotel cellars there'll be less chance of anyone catching us."

"We'll tell Dad we're taking you lot for a tramp up on the moors," said Gavin, "and that we'll be back for evensong. He won't mind."

"Let's leave the binoculars in the secret cupboard," said Andrew.

He went into the little turret where the stairs were, ran his fingers deftly over a carving and pressed a knob. Immediately a stone in the wall swung aside revealing a secret recess.

"It's where the old smugglers used to keep a lantern for signalling out to ships at sea," Andrew explained. "Pass me the binoculars."

He pushed them into the hole then gave a grunt of surprise.

"There's something in here already." he said, fishing it out, then he gave a long whistle.

"It's another pair of binoculars," he said. "Really good ones too."

He put them up to his eyes and trained them on Kirrin Island. I can even see the rabbits hopping around. These are really very powerful!" he said.

The others all had a turn.

"Who can have left them here?" Harry asked.

"It's obvious," said Gavin. "The smugglers. The surveyor must be one of the gang. He closed the tower so that they could get up here undisturbed and watch out for the arrival of their ships."

"But how do they get up here?" Jonathan asked.

"Stubbs!" said Harry. "Stubbs comes up from the Rectory and signals to the smugglers' ships."

"No!" said Andrew. "It can't be Stubbs. There's another passage that goes to the Kirrin Arms. They could get in from there."

"And who's staying at the Kirrin Arms?" Nick demanded.

"Old Shitpants!" they chorussed, except for little Fran, who piped out "O'Shaughnessy."

"We'll put them back and close the cupboard" said Andrew. "Look, Jon, I'll show you what to press. When you come up here on Sunday bring our binoculars just in case, but use these if they're still here. You'll be able to see us as clear as anything."

"But watch out for Old Shitpants," Gavin warned.

"You bet!" said Nick.

"He probably won't come up during the day," said Andrew. "These are night-sight field-glasses. I bet they come up at night. They wouldn't dare bring in their ships by day. There aren't as many fishing boats now as there used to be, but someone would be sure to see them."


LINKS

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Title page and Contents

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Auksford index

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NOTES

NOTE 6
In Five on a treasure island. The treasure belonged to George's ancestor, Henry John Kirrin, whose ship had sunk off Kirrin Island. A great storm washed it up onto the rocks, and in the cabin the children discovered Captain Kirrin's treasure map which led them to the treasure hidden in the dungeons of the ruined castle.
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NOTE 7
For information on relationships in the Kirrin family see Appendix I
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