THE DAVID LANE WEBSITE
Sandal, October 1999
William was playing in the garden, and he was feeling cross. He had been playing inside, in the sitting room, and he had been enjoying himself. He had been climbing over the back of the settee, on to the top and then jumping down. He was just in the middle of a big jump when he had been caught and told off.
William did not like being told off, but what was worse was that he knew he had been naughty, and that made him feel even worse. He would have felt better if he had been able to blame someone else, or make an excuse, but he was in mid air when he was caught, and there was no escape.
So he went out into the garden to have a bit of a sulk. To get away from the house, he went up the little rise in the back lawn and past a flower bed full of tall flowers - lupins and fox-gloves and hollyhocks - into a wild part of the garden. William went there when he wanted to play on his own, as he could not be seen out of the kitchen window.
He was passing a large sycamore tree when caught sight of something which seemed to be propped up against its roots, so he turned to see what it was. It looked like a small cupboard door, that someone had thrown away when they were refitting their kitchen. It was set in a frame, neatly made out of a light-coloured wood, with a small key sticking out of a key-hole.
William was fascinated by keys. They opened doors and started cars. Keys were objects of power, so he decided to have a look at this key . He dropped his teddy and turned the key in the lock. As he did so, he heard a distinct but low voice, saying, “Leave it alone.”
William looked round but there was nobody there, so he thought that he must be hearing things. He turned back to the little door. It didn’t open at first, as the key needed to be turned twice, and he didn’t know this, but William was not the sort of boy to give up.
He was still fiddling with the key when he heard the voice again. “I really do suggest that you leave that key alone. You will only get into more trouble.” He stood up and looked round, but there was no-one in sight, - just Hubert, his teddy, lying on the ground.
William turned back to the little door, and at last he managed to get it open. To his amazement, it was not a cupboard door. It opened onto some steps and a small tunnel, which sloped down under the sycamore tree and turned a corner, so that he could not see which way it went.
All sorts of ideas flashed through William’s head in a moment. Was it a badger’s sett? He knew that they dug big holes in the ground to live in, but who had ever heard of a badger with a front door and steps, except in the Wind in the Willows?
May be it was the home of some sort of dangerous monster. But then, he thought, all the stories of monsters were just stories. No-one behaved as if they were real. Mummy and Daddy had never told him to avoid this part of the garden because of the monster living there.
The little tunnel was definitely too small for a grown-up to go down, and the little door and the steps were not the sort of thing that William’s older brothers and sisters could have made. He did not know what to think.
The little tunnel looked quite welcoming. It did not look dangerous, and so William decided to explore. He pocketed the key, picked up his teddy and went down the steps, carefully closing the door behind him.
It was fairly dark at first, but some light was coming from round the corner, and so he groped his way along, feeling the walls as he went. William had to bend down a little, but it was not too uncomfortable.
As he got round the bend, he realised where the light was coming from. A little string of fairy lights had been hung along the roof. They were not very bright, but certainly enough to see by, especially as his eyes got used to the level of light.
The tunnel wound along, and once or twice he passed little alcoves and small side-tunnels. Some were empty, perhaps for use as passing-places in case people met, but there were things piled in others. To William the things looked like junk – the sort of stuff that his Grandad kept in the garden shed, or that Mummy put out for the dustbin. There were old things which had been kept in case they might be of use one day, such as plant pots, broken things for which the spare parts were no longer available, like old hoovers, and things which must have once had special memories for someone.
The tunnel was very neatly made. It was all lined with timber, that looked rather like garden fencing. The roof was well shored up, and the floor was paved.
After he had gone a little way, William thought he could hear noises. Off to one side was a small passage, and he noticed that the electric cables for the lights led to a box on the tunnel wall there. The noises sounded like people having an argument and seemed to be coming from the little side-tunnel. He looked carefully round the corner, as he did not want to be caught. There was no-one in the passage-way, but there were some steps at the end, so he went up them and found a little door at the end, rather like the one by which he had entered.
The voices got louder as he got near the door, and they sounded familiar. William tried the little key in the lock, and as he did so, he heard the low but firm voice again. “You really will get into trouble if you open that door.” William jumped, but when he looked round, there was no-one there, and so, being persistent and a bit obstinate, he decided to proceed.
The door opened quietly, and William found himself in a cupboard, rather like the one under the stairs at home. There was an ironing board, a box with a hammer and some screwdrivers in it, an old door mat, some light bulbs and a dusty set of bottles for home wine-making. Although the cupboard was like the one at home, it was not the one in his house.
Then he heard the voices again. First, there was a grown-up. “And I’m telling you that if you don’t tidy up your bedroom, you won’t be going out to play. It’s a mess. You’ve left your clothes lying everywhere, and it’s time you learnt how to sort them out. I’m not your slave.”
Then a boy’s voice, “Can’t I do it when I’m back from the park? The others’ll be waiting for me. Can’t I go now? Please.”
The way he said “Please” was obviously meant to winning over the grown-up. William suddenly recognised the voice. It was Mark’s. Mark was a friend of William’s older brother, and his Mummy was always telling them off when something went wrong. William did not want to get mixed up in this. He quickly closed the little door and locked it.
So this passage came up under Mark’s house! William wondered where else it would lead to, and he turned into the main corridor again.
His tunnel joined a larger one, which was wide enough for two small children to walk along, and had two strings of fairy lights, so that it was brighter. It was paved with kitchen tiles. They were all of different designs, which made it look like crazy paving, but they had been laid very neatly and they were quite level. At intervals there were pictures hanging on the walls of things such as elephants at dawn or the Hay Wain, and posters of pop groups.
Where corridors met, there were proper electric lights of the sort which looked as if they had been thrown out when a bedroom was being refitted.
William heard a distant noise, a sort of throbbing, a bit like traffic or the beat of a distant piece of pop music where the rhythm carried without the tune. It gradually got louder and William realised that it seemed to be getting closer. He could hear a sort of chant to the beat of drums.
“Get into that alcove and hide behind that old chair”. William was taken aback. It was that same low voice he had heard before, and it seemed to be coming from Hubert, his teddy. He looked at the teddy. “You haven’t got long to hide, and if you do get caught, you’ll be for it”, said Hubert.
William was so surprised that he did what Hubert said. There was a big old armchair, with a roll of carpet propped against it. William scrambled round behind it, as he heard the noise get louder. It was now a throbbing beat, and the drummers were obviously enjoying themselves.
“Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!”, went the chant. William peeped out and saw that Hubert was at the entrance to the alcove, bolt upright as if he were a soldier standing to attention. Then he ducked down again so that he would not be seen.
“Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Here we come! Here we come!
Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Bang the drum! Bang the drum!”
A group in uniform was marching along, two abreast, and they sounded very fierce. William hoped he would not be caught, and he began to wish he had been to the toilet before going out into the garden to play. Suddenly the garden and his home seemed a long way away. And he wished he was back there.
“Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Here we come! Here we come!
Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Bang the drum! Bang the drum!”
The troops carried in their chanting, when an officer called out, “Halt!” They all stopped. “And who are you?” The officer was addressing Hubert.
“I am Hubert, Sir”. Hubert sounded calm but respectful.
“And what are you doing here?” asked the officer. “You know it’s day-time, and you shouldn’t be down here.”
“Special duties”, said Hubert. “I shall be making my report later.”
“Right”, said the officer. “I will make a note and check up later. Good day. Forward, troops!”
And off they went, and as they went, the guard chanted,
“Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Here we come! Here we come!
Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Bang the drum! Bang the drum!”
The noise gradually went off into the distance until William could hear it no more. He got out from behind the chair.
“Well, I hope you are pleased with yourself,” said Hubert. “You have really dropped me in it, young William”, he said. Hubert was clearly shaken.
“Dropped you in what?” asked William.
“Just a figure of speech”, said Hubert. “I mean that I’m in a mess. I will have to report back to the Guard Office tonight and make up some sort of reason about why I was in the North Corridor. And, it was all because you insisted on coming down here, where you are not meant to be.” He said the last bit very slowly to make it sink in on William.
“I want to go home”, said William, who now realised that he had no idea which way to go. He had gone down this corridor and that, and if he had to find his way out, he would probably starve before he got home. He wanted his dinner. He wanted to go to the toilet, and he wanted his Mummy. But he didn’t cry.
“Come on”, said Hubert. “This way”, and he led off. It was not long before William saw the familiar steps, and he was out in the garden once more.
He went back into the house. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere”, said Mummy as he went in. “Dinner’s ready, and you’re late.”
William dashed for the toilet. “And where have you been?” asked Mummy when he came back to the table. “I looked everywhere for you.”
“Just playing in the garden”, said William, as he put Hubert on the settee in a comfortable position. “What’s for dinner?”
William awoke. He did not know the time, because he had not yet learnt to read a clock face. He knew it was the middle of the night, and everything was very quiet. Something had woken him, and he was not sure what it was, but he did know that he was wide awake, alert and listening. What was more, he knew that until he was satisfied what had woken him, he would not be able to settle down again.
He lay in his bed, listening. A car went past in the distance, along the motorway – perhaps somebody going to the airport for an early charter flight on holiday, or someone returning late from a club. Suddenly, William knew what was wrong. When he had gone to bed, Hubert, his teddy, had been sitting in the corner at the top of his bed. Now he was nowhere to be seen.
William sat up in bed and looked around. The light came in through his open bedroom door from the landing, and he could see that Hubert was not on his bed. He got out and looked underneath, in case Hubert had slipped down the back. Hubert was nowhere to be seen.
It was possible that William’s sister, who liked Hubert’s soft fur, had borrowed him, but in his heart, William knew that the reason for his bear’s absence was more serious than that. He remembered that Hubert had been told to report to the Guard-house, and he was worried in case he had got him into trouble.
William put his trousers and sweat-shirt on, and slipped on some canvas shoes, which were light and soft. Making sure that he had the little key for the door in his pocket, he crept downstairs, stood on a chair to reach the backdoor key, and let himself out, hoping that he had not woken anyone when he had trodden on a couple of creaky stairs.
It was a bit scary outside. William was not afraid of monsters, because he knew that they were not real, but he had seen bats at night and he thought that they might swoop down and brush him with their wings, or he might trip up over a hedgehog, or even meet a fox. But thinking of Hubert made him press on.
He walked across the garden, up the little rise, round the back of the tall flowers, and found the door under the sycamore tree. Luckily, there was a thin moon and no clouds, so William could see enough to get the key in the lock, and this time, it was easier to open.
“You’re going to get into trouble again”, came a small voice. Not again? It obviously wasn’t Hubert’s voice, and he hadn’t brought a teddy with him, so who was speaking? William looked round.
“I said, ‘You’re going to get into trouble again’ “ came the voice. It was a bit muffled, and it came from nearby. William felt something move in his trouser pocket. He put his hand in and found that he had made contact with something furry. He pulled it out and found it was Tiny Bear.
“I don’t remember putting you in my pocket”, said William to himself.
“You didn’t”, said Tiny Bear. “I could see you were up to no good, so I climbed in. I thought you’d need a bear for company, especially after what happened yesterday.”
“What do you know about what happened yesterday?” asked William.
“Oh, it’s gone all round the house. Every one of your bears knows where you went”, said Tiny Bear. “But we’re all sworn to keep it secret”, he said, and he tapped his nose, and, it seemed to William, winked at him.
William was amazed. He had been surprised enough when Hubert had spoken to him, but to find that all the bears had been chatting away! – he didn’t know what to expect next.
The door was open, and the faint light from the fairy lights round the corner showed William which way to go. He held Tiny Bear carefully in his hand and went down the steps, shutting the door behind him.
William followed the route he had taken before, but he soon realised that he had no idea where the Guard Room was, and he hadn’t a clue what he’d do if he found it. He’d probably blunder in and make things worse.
At one point he heard some bears approaching, and so he doubled back and hid in a side passage. There was another little door at the top of the passage, and William could hear noises coming from the house above – someone must have had a late-night film on the television.
He passed one or two more side passages, a couple of places where passages crossed, and some wider places where meetings could take place. He thought he saw a painting which he had seen before, but maybe they just liked pictures of blue Siamese girls.
“You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” came a small voice.
It was true. William did not know which way he was heading. He had been walking for some time, and was beginning to feel a bit lost. The more he thought about it, the more he wished he was back in bed.
“I said, ‘You don’t know where you’re going, do you?’” It was Tiny Bear again, and he was right, though William did not want to admit it, so he walked on in silence for a while.
Then he said, “Do you know where the Guard Room is?”
“Of course”, said Tiny Bear. “You might have asked earlier, because you are going the long way round.”
“Well, which way is it then?” asked William, a bit crossly. It didn’t seem right that a very small bear should know more than him.
“If I’m going to tell you, I’ll only do so on one condition”, said Tiny Bear. “You must tell me what you intend to do when you get there”.
“I want to make sure that Hubert doesn’t get into trouble”, said William.
“Fat chance!” said Tiny. “You’re not meant to be here in the first place. No human beings are meant to be down here. So if you’re caught, Hubert will just get into worse trouble. In any case, he’s a clever bear, and I’m sure he can look after himself.”
William was now getting quite angry, being told off by this smug little bear, and so he held Tiny up in front of his nose and spoke firmly to him. “Hubert is my bear, and I’m meant to look after him. That’s what I’m going to do, and I’m going to tell those guards what’s what.”
“Okay, okay”, said Tiny Bear. “Don’t squeeze so hard. You’ve compressed my stuffing and I can hardly breathe. I’ll tell you what. Let’s go down the Curtain Passage, and see if we can find out what is happening without being seen. But you must be very quiet. No coughing or sneezing.”
“No coughing or sneezing”, said William, and they entered a very narrow passage which William could only just squeeze down.
It was dark in this passage, with only a few lights, but by now William had learnt to walk like a hunter, with very light steps, treading carefully so as not to trip on uneven tiles.
After a little while, they came to a spot where there were curtains at one side, and light was coming through a chink. What was more, there were voices, speaking seriously, coming from the other side of the curtains.
William placed Tiny Bear on the back of a chair just behind the curtain, and the two of them peeped through the chink. They could see three bears with their backs to the curtain, standing behind a table and facing Hubert, who was standing to attention in front of them. William noticed that the room was bigger than any other he had seen. It was well lit, and there was a notice-board on the wall, with all sorts of important-looking papers pinned on it, such as money-off tokens and used scratch-cards.
The three bears were all bigger than Hubert and they wore a sort of uniform. They were chanting, with the middle bear giving the lead and the other two repeating the chant after him.
“Bears are just.
Bears are fair.
Bears all must
Show they care.”
The three bears shuffled around a bit and sat down, leaving Hubert standing.
“Hearing in session”, said the middle bear. “I call on Captain Hispid to open the questioning.”
“So, you say you were on active duty?” said the left-hand bear.
“Yes, sir”, said Hubert.
“And what were you actually doing, hanging around in the North Corridor?” Captain Hispid was a bit sarcastic, and rather fancied himself as an interrogator.
“Observing”, said Hubert quietly.
“Speak up”, said the middle bear.
“Come on, tell us all about it”, said the Captain. “We need to know. Wandering around down here is a punishable offence for bears who are on active duty above. You’re for the high jump if you don’t speak up.”
“Yes, sir”, said Hubert.
Suddenly William realised that the reason why Hubert was saying so little was that he was frozen speechless. He had seen William through the gap in the curtains and was terrified that the officer bears might see him too.
“Come on”, said the middle bear. ”We haven’t got all night”. He was obviously a very important bear. He had the rank of Colonel and he had decorations on the shoulders of his uniform, though to William they looked a bit like old Christmas decorations.
Hubert thought hard, and remembered the argument that he and William had overheard during the day.
“I was checking on the house of a friend of my boy’s brother”, he said. “When we were there, visiting, his mother had been very unpleasant to him, and so I was trying to gather information, so that I could report back, and plans could be made for the bear from that house to take action.”
“Can you help us by letting us know which house it was?” asked the right-hand bear. His name was Major Alopex, and he was clearly trying to be a bit more sympathetic and helpful to Hubert, but Hubert had no idea which house it was, and stood in silence.
“Come on. What was the house number?” asked the left-hand bear.
William thought hard. If he lived at number twelve, and there were three houses in between, it must be number four. He quietly put his hand through the curtain and held up four fingers.
“Number four, sir”, said Hubert.
“And how many children have they got in that house?” asked Captain Hispid.
William held up three fingers. “Three, sir” said Hubert.
“How many boys?” William signaled two.
“Two, sir”, said Hubert. William hoped that Hubert could work out how many girls there were for himself, and he pulled his hand back.
“Now, tell us what their mother does that is wrong”, said the middle bear.
Hubert started to answer, but William did not listen. He had noticed that Tiny Bear had disappeared. He looked around to see if he had fallen off the back of the chair, but there was no sign of him.
William looked back through the curtains, and to his surprise saw that Tiny Bear was marching round from the other side and taking his place alongside Hubert.
“Who are you?” asked the Colonel.
“I am Tiny Bear”, said Tiny Bear, “ and I have come to accompany my colleague here. He is a very worthy bear, but he needs a friend to support him at times like this.”
“This is most irregular”, said the left-hand bear. “It’s against the rules.”
“Bother the rules”, said Tiny Bear. “Bears are for justice. I could hear the way you were questioning him as I came down the passage, and it sounded like a kangaroo court to me. We don’t want those down here. You are bringing disgrace on the uniform.”
William was amazed to see Tiny Bear in full flow, defending Hubert, but the three bears were even more surprised. They had never been told off before when holding an inquiry, and here was this scrap of a bear with a squeaky voice telling them where to get off.
The middle bear spluttered, but before he could get any words out, Tiny Bear said, “It’ll be time to get up soon, and Hubert has to be back on duty, so I’ll take him now, back to the house.”
With that he pushed Hubert out of the room, and William wondered whether the bears would now come through the curtain and find him.
“Spirited little bear, that”, said Major Alopex.. “We could do with him in the special services branch.”
“More stuffing than the other one”, said the Colonel.
“I still don’t believe Hubert’s story. There’s something fishy going on”, said Captain Hispid... We’d better keep our eyes and ears open.”
“Ready for a glass of mead?” asked the Colonel.
“Yes, just a couple of jars, and then time for a nap”, said the Captain, and the three of them walked off.
William had not been found out, but he now faced the problem of getting back home and to bed. To his great relief, Tiny Bear turned up, and said, “Come on, we’ll have to hurry, to get back before dawn. This way.”
Hubert was waiting round the corner and the three of them hurried back to the entrance, across the lawn, into the house, up the stairs, and into bed. William fell fast asleep, tired out, but the two bears cleaned the mud off his shoes before they settled down. Getting caught once in twenty-four hours was quite enough.
Rumpus at Number Four
Mummy had a job waking William up. “You’re a sleepy-head this morning”, she said. As he came round, he had a mixture of memories from the previous night, and he was about to blurt something out about it, when he saw two pairs of eyes staring hard at him and he kept quiet.
It all seemed like an odd dream, but William knew that when he dreamed, he usually forgot what he had been dreaming about as soon as he woke up, and he was left with vague feelings about what sort of dream it had been. As for last night, he remembered it all too clearly, and the thought of the other world down below, with the platoons of bears patrolling the passages, fascinated him and made him decide that he would have to take another trip before long.
For the present, it was breakfast, and he was ready for his weetabix.
After lunch, Alex, William’s older brother, decided to go and play with his friend, Joe, and William asked if he could come too.
“As long as you stay with Alex, and don’t wander off”, said Mummy.
“As long as you aren’t a nuisance”, said Alex.
“Great”, said William, who always liked playing with the bigger boys, whom he looked up to and often copied.
When they went round to Alex’s friend, they got the play station out, and the two older boys played while William watched. Then they decided that they would like to go out in the garden.
Joe’s mother said, “Before you go out, make sure that you do all the washing up”.
“Please”, said Joe, “We want to go and play football with my new ball”.
“No. I’m going out, and I want the washing up done, or there’ll be trouble. I’m going into town, and when I’m back, you’re for it if the kitchen isn’t clean and tidy, with all those pots finished and put away”.
When she had gone, the boys decided they would risk it and play outside for a bit, then do the washing up before Joe’s mother got back.
After playing for half an hour, William decided to go to the toilet, so he left Alex and Joe outside and went into the house. The first thing he heard on opening the door was the clattering of plates, and he thought there might be burglars stealing them. Then he thought that Joe’s mother had come back early, and was doing the washing up herself. If so, Joe was in for a rough time when he came inside.
William peeped into the kitchen, and to his amazement saw it was full of bears.
“Hurry along there! We haven’t got long, and we can’t afford to be caught above ground”. The bear turned slightly and William saw that it was Major Alopex.
“You two, give a hand with the drying, and you, put those cups away.”
“Yes, sir”, they replied, and dashed round at high speed, while being very careful not to drop anything.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry”, said the Major. “We’ve got to help this boy out”.
In just a few minutes, the bears had the washing up done, dried and put away.
“Guard, form up”, ordered Captain Alopex.
The bears lined up in pairs and stood to attention.
“Forward”, said the Captain, and the bears, in unison, chanted :
“Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Here we come! Here we come!
Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!
Bang the drum! Bang the drum!” and they marched off into the cupboard under the stairs.
When they had gone, William went to look, but the little door was tight shut and looked just like a piece of paneling.
He went out to play again.
“Where have you been? You’ve been a long while”, said Alex.
“Just to the toilet”, lied William.
“I suppose we’d better go and do the washing up”, said Joe, and he turned towards the house.
At the door, he was met by his mother, and he was scared of what she would say, because he hadn’t washed up, and she was very clever at saying nasty things which made him feel small.
“You are a good boy”, said Joe’s mother. “The kitchen’s beautifully tidy. I’m very pleased with you. Here, all of you, take this money and go and get yourself some ice creams”.
Joe looked into the kitchen, and she was right. It was spotless.
So Joe’s mother thought he and Alex had washed up. Joe and Alex knew they hadn’t washed up, but didn’t like to admit it, and they thought William must have done it while he was so long in the toilet. But William knew he hadn’t done the washing up either, but he wasn’t going to let on.
The scout, left behind at the little door by the Guard, listened to the conversation, and went back to report that they were all getting on well together. “Bravo!” said Major Alopex, “Another job well done”.
The Guard all chanted,
“Bears are just.
Bears are fair.
Bears all must
And then they went off duty, but William was already plotting his next trip.
Bears at Work
William was playing in the front garden, kicking a ball around and pretending that he played for Manchester United. He wasn’t really too sure what Manchester United was, but Alex thought they were the greatest, and so William did too. Every time he managed to hit the front door-step, he shouted, “Goal”, but the game was a bit one-sided, and after a while he was trying to think of something else more interesting to do.
Even his spectators did not look all that interested. Hubert and Tiny Bear had been put on the top step to watch him, and although they sat there, unmoving and polite, he got the impression that they would rather be somewhere else and were there only out of duty.
There was nothing much going on. The lady who lived two doors up the road was walking up and down in a funny way and sticking her nose in the air to sniff, but she was a bit strange anyway, so he took little notice of her. Actually, William did not like her very much, as she was a bit bossy.
“Hello, William. Is your mother in?” the lady asked.
A silly question, thought William; Mummy wouldn’t have gone out and left him playing on his own in the front garden. "“Yes, Mrs. Brown”, he said, stopping himself from saying “Mrs. Brown Cow”, which is what Daddy called her.
Mrs. Brown rang the doorbell and Mummy came out.
“There’s a smell”, said Mrs. Brown.
“Oh, yes?” said Mummy, not sure if Mrs. Brown was complaining about the contents of her dustbin.
“Yes, I think it’s gas”, said Mrs. Brown. “I could smell it when I got out of my car, and so I have walked up and down the road, and it seems strongest here. So I thought I should come and tell you.”
Mummy and Mrs. Brown walked up and down once or twice. “Definitely gas”, said Mrs. Brown, but Mummy had a bad cold, and wouldn’t have known if there had been a dead skunk lying in the middle of the road, so she just said,” Well, if so, someone needs to ring the Gas Board”.
Other neighbours gathered. First, there was the man from across the road who had just come home from work, then a couple of builders who were parked nearby walked over to ask where a house was and joined. Next, two old sisters from three doors away saw the group talking and couldn’t keep away as they wanted to know what it was all about.
William thought that this was more interesting than playing himself at football, but he couldn’t really make out what it was all about. The grown-ups were getting more and more animated, but there was general agreement that something needed to be done. The builders drove off, having decided that it would be dangerous to start up their burner to do the roofing while there was gas about. Mrs. Brown went off up the road, saying something about “doing something about it”.
After about half an hour, people started to say that the Gas Board was being a bit slow coming, and so Mummy went inside to telephone and find out when they were coming. After all, if someone lit a cigarette, there might be an explosion, as leaks were always treated as a high priority.
“We’ve not been notified, madam,” said the Gas Board, when Mummy rang. “Can you give us details?” Mummy told him, and he promised action right away.
Mummy went outside to tell the little crowd what had happened.
“I thought Mrs. Brown was ringing for them”, said one of the old sisters.
“Oh, no”, said the other. “The builders were going to ring on their mobile telephone”.
“But Mrs. Brown said that action was needed, as if she meant no-one else was going to, so she would have to.”
“Mrs. Brown’s always like that. It doesn’t mean she’ll actually do anything about it”, said the second.
“Is that what you think?” asked Mrs. Brown, who had joined the crowd again. “And what have you done about it then?” Mrs. Brown glared at the little old sister, who decided that silence was the best response.
“The gas men are on the way”, said Mummy, trying to soothe the atmosphere.
It was only then that William noticed that Hubert was not sitting on the top step. Had one of his neighbours stolen him? Or was Hubert up to something? He looked at Tiny Bear, but Tiny gave nothing away.
Then the gas men arrived, and got out their machinery to test for gas. “We’re going to have to clear the area”, they said. “It’s dangerous.”
Mrs. Brown was in the middle of cooking something which was going to spoil, but she got no sympathy from the gasmen or anybody else when she grumbled. “Turn everything off, and shut your doors and windows, and go and stay with friends or at the pub for a bit”, said the gasmen.
Mummy took William and William took Tiny Bear, and they went to see his Aunty Angela. It was some hours before they returned. They found that the gasmen had dug a big hole in their front lawn, and had filled it in again. The smell of gas had gone and it was safe to go back home again.
“The funny thing”, said Mrs. Brown, when they were chatting about it later, “was that the gasmen said that when they dug down to where the gas was coming from, they found that the pipe had just been mended, and it was quite safe. They had never seen anything like it.”
When William went up to his bedroom, Hubert was sitting on his bed as if nothing had happened. Then William remembered that Hubert had last been seen sitting on the door-step, so something must have happened.
“Hubert”, he said. “What have you been up to?” Hubert said nothing, as Mummy was on the landing, sorting out some clothes. Later that night, though, he told William that he had gone inside and telephoned the Engineer Bears, who had dug through from a nearby corridor and mended the pipe. “Mind you,” he said, “they only backfilled the hole in time before the gas men came. We wouldn’t have wanted them breaking into Teddies World.”
William was now fascinated by the idea of another world which people up above did not know of. Only he knew the secret that Teddies World existed. Or at least, he had never heard any one talk about it. Perhaps other people did know the secret, but kept it to themselves. It was difficult keeping secrets for William, because he was a friendly boy and he liked talking.
Now, he found himself thinking of the bears and what they might be doing, but he couldn’t say anything to his brothers or sisters in case they told their friends, and the story would get everywhere.
“You’re a real day-dreamer”, his mother said. “I told you to get ready for dinner, and you’ve just been standing there, looking at the flowers, and you’ve not done a thing to tidy up or get your hands washed.”
William suddenly realised that he had been miles away – or perhaps a few hundred yards, anyway. He hurried to get ready for dinner.
After dinner, he went to play outside, and when he thought it was safe, he went straight to the little door and got his key out. The key turned quietly in the lock, the door opened smoothly, and William was inside in a moment.
He now felt more confident, and he moved quickly along the little passage, trying to keep quiet as if he were a hunter. He was beginning to recognise some of the features of the passage – the corners and the alcoves with the piles of old junk in them.
William stopped short at one point when he saw, neatly stacked in a cupboard at one side, an old pair of his father’s boots, a tennis racquet with some strings missing, which had belonged to his brother, and a broken saw. Surely he remembered seeing Daddy throw them in the dustbin the week before?
He had been walking for some time, and had gone further than he had been before when he heard a noise ahead of him. Somewhere in one of the corridors there were bears running along and shouting to each other. William could not make out what they were shouting, but the tone was urgent, excited and carried a sense of alarm.
Then he heard the guards coming. They were chanting their usual “Ho! Hum”! Ho! Hum! Here we come. Here we come.” But it was rather faster than usual and getting close very quickly.
William dived into an alcove just in time, as eight or ten bears went running past, keeping in time. Actually, running was perhaps not the right word. Being bears, and being a little overweight, they lumbered along with a rolling gait, but they gave the impression of speed and purpose. Obviously, they were going to deal with something serious. They weren’t running like that just to get into training or lose a bit of weight.
He was just about to climb out from behind a baby buggy with three wheels and a pile of plant pots which had been his screen when he heard more bears coming. This annoyed William, as he had wanted to follow the guards to see where they were going.
Two bears were coming along the passage. One was clearly a very old bear who could not hurry along very fast. The other was questioning him.
“What’s happened? What’s all the noise about? Why are the guards so worried?”
The old bear stopped and looked at the other one. “Don’t fluster me, young bear”, said the old one. “I can’t go any faster, and if you ask me too many questions I’ll get confused as well. Now, what was your first question?”
“What’s going on?” asked the young bear.
“It’s the rats”, said the old bear. “They’ve seen rats. And you know what that means.” He fell silent.
“No”, said the young bear. “I’ve never seen a rat, and I don’t know what it means at all.” He expected an explanation, but the old bear was still getting his puff back.
“Well, what does it mean?” asked the young bear, who was getting a bit impatient.
“Rats are not nice”, said the old bear. ”Not nice at all. Oh no. Oh no. Not at all nice. They’re not gentlemen, rats aren’t”.
“Why not?” asked the young bear. ”Do you mean they’ve got bad manners? Are they rude?”
“Bad manners?” said the older bear. “Bad everything. Bad language. Bad breath. Nasty sharp claws. They steal things. They gnaw at our stores. They take our food. They eat our mushrooms. Bad lot. Yes, they’re a bad lot.”
“So are the guards going to fight them?” asked the younger bear excitedly.
“They’ll try to get them out of the passages, but it’s dangerous work. There’s bears who’ve been shredded in the course of active duty against rats in the past.”
“I’m going to join the guard”, said the younger bear.
“They’ll need recruits”, said the older bear. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you. The rats are dangerous. They’re a peril to bears. A real peril.”
The young bear wasn’t sure what a peril was, but he decided he couldn’t afford to wait, and he ran off down the passage. The older bear took a different route, and so William slipped out of the alcove and ran to follow the younger bear, who gave the impression that he knew the way.
As he was running along, William realised that he didn’t know what a peril was, but he had understood that the rats were not at all friendly to the bears, and there was no reason to think that they would be nice to him. He decided he ought to help the bears deal with the rats, but what would he do? Could you catch the rats and put them in a box? If they had nasty claws and could bite, he would need to be careful.
The young bear ahead of him stopped. William did not want to be seen, so he stopped as well, just out of sight round a sharp bend in the passage. Perhaps the bear had heard him following. They stood for a few seconds in silence – only a few yards apart. William noticed that he was next to a store cupboard full of toys and games. There was a jigsaw, on which someone had written “Three pieces missing”. There was an Action Man who had lost an arm, and a plastic dinosaur that had been trodden on. There was also a rusty spade that had been well used at the sea-side. William picked it up.
After a short while the bear carried on. After a pause, William followed. At least, he thought he was following the younger bear, but after a short while he realised that he must have taken a different route. It was confusing, because there were passages in all directions, some large and well-lit and some dark and narrow, just the width of a large bear or a small boy.
William was wondering what to do next. He had come a long way from the front door, and he had no idea of the way back. He stood, trying to decide which way to go.
Just then, there was the pattering of feet, feet running lightly, lots of them, and out of one of the dark tunnels there leapt a dozen rats, charging along and making squealing noises as they went. Whether they meant to attack William or whether he was just in their way, he never knew, but they came straight at him.
William was terrified, and in his panic he slashed out at the rats with his sea-side spade. He caught one with a good hook and it flew a few yards off down one of the side passages. He thought he had hit one or two more as well, but it all happened so quickly that he couldn’t remember properly afterwards.
As quickly as they had come, the rats had turned round and run off down the passage they had come by. William dropped the spade and ran to get out. He had had enough. He wanted to get home. He didn’t know which way to go, and he ran this way and that.
Amazingly he met no bears at all. This was lucky because William was making no attempt to keep quiet. Eventually, he came across an iron grid in which a small door had been set. He opened it, and was surprised to find that he was in a gully with a small stream in it. He walked along the edge of the stream and tried to find a way up the bank, but there were tall weeds. At last he found a spot where he could scramble up, but there were railings at the top which stopped people from getting into danger in the stream. The trouble was that they kept William in.
It was getting on towards evening, and William was getting frightened. How could he get out? He didn’t want to go back into the tunnels, and he didn’t know where he was. Then he saw a man, and to his delight, he saw that it was Daddy.
“There you are,” said his father, and he reached over the railings, pulled William out, picked him up and cuddled him. “We thought you were lost. We couldn’t find you anywhere. What have been doing? You’re filthy, and you’ve scratched yourself. Your mother’s really upset. We didn’t know where you’d gone.”
He carried on like this for quite a long while. William didn’t like it, and he felt very guilty at having upset his parents, but he was glad to be safe again, and put up with the questions for the sake of the cuddle.
When he got back home, he had a bath and some tea, and he was so tired that he went to bed early.
His mother said,” I don’t know what to make of it. These clothes are in tatters. We’ll have to throw them away. It’s as if you’ve been fighting with a dozen rats.”
William decided that it was best to say nothing and he closed his eyes as if he were going to sleep straight away. He certainly was tired with all the running and fighting, but he wasn’t sleepy, but he felt he needed to be left alone, now he was safely tucked up in bed.
His mummy kissed William good-night, turned the light out and went downstairs.
William had been lying in the dark for a few minutes when a low voice came from nearby.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” came the voice.
William sat up in bed. “Who’s that?” he whispered.
“Hubert”, said the bear. “It was you down in the passages this afternoon, wasn’t it?”
“Shh!” said William. “They’ll hear you.”
“Just what I thought”, said Hubert. “Well, you might like to know that you caused a lot of consternation.”
“What’s consternation?” asked William.
“You set the cat among the pigeons”, said Hubert.
“I didn’t see any cats or pigeons, just rats”, said William.
“Quite so”, said Hubert. “And you did a fine job. You finished off five big ones, and the rest ran away as fast as their legs would carry them. Yes, five big ones.”
“Did I really?” asked William.
“The rats’ll be no more trouble to Teddies World for a while”, said Hubert. “But you’ve left a problem for the bears. They know that the Guard didn’t kill the rats, and they’ve found a battered spade near the bodies. The Grand Council of Bears has given out a decree that when they find out who did it, he – or she – whosoever it is, will be granted the title of Great Slayer of the Rats. Now they’re scratching their heads, wondering who did it.”
William didn’t quite understand what Hubert had just told him, but he was impressed. “Are you going to tell them?” he asked.
“Me? No. It’d be a lot more trouble than it would be worth. I’d have to explain what you were doing there, and why I hadn’t reported you. My job’s to be looking after you and keeping an eye on you. Explaining it all would be big trouble for me. In fact it’s been nothing but trouble since you went in through the little door, if you ask me.”
William thought for a while. “I’m sorry”, he said. “I didn’t mean to get you into trouble. But it’s so exciting.”
“And you were very brave”, said Hubert. “I saw what the rats did to your clothes, and you’ve had a few nasty scratches too. You were in great peril, and you acted bravely.”
“What does peril mean?” asked William. But before Hubert could answer, he had dropped fast asleep.
A few days later William was one more disturbed in his sleep. Once again, Hubert was missing, though William did not feel too worried at his absence, as matters had been cleared up at the Tribunal. Nonetheless, he did wonder where Hubert had got to, and he looked around in case he had fallen off his bed. There was no sign of the bear.
William decided to creep downstairs to see if anything was going on. After his other adventures, he didn’t know what to expect next. He put his trainers on, and quietly tiptoed down. A light was on in the sitting room - not the main light, but still bright enough to see by.
Looking round the door, William saw Hubert sitting at a little plastic table, with his back to him. He had one of William’s books in front of him and was working away at it. William moved closer to see what Hubert was up to, and managed to look over his shoulder.
“I know you’re there”, said Hubert in a low voice.
William thought that he had crept up very quietly and he was going to say “Boo!” into Hubert’s ear to make him jump. As it was, it was William who jumped.
“What are you doing?” asked William.
“You may well ask”, said Hubert. “You see this book here?”
“Yes,” said William. “It’s my Winnie the Pooh book.”
“And you know who’s been scribbling in it?”
“Um, yes, me”, said William. He wasn’t sure that he liked this line of questioning.
“And you remember who gave you the book?” asked Hubert.
“Grandma”, said William.
“And you know what she’ll say if she finds that Winnie the Pooh has got a moustache?”
William did not need to answer.
“Well,” said Hubert. “I thought it might help if I removed the moustache, and the black spectacles off Piglet, and the union jack on Eeyore’s house.”
“Grandma might like the union jack”, suggested William.
“Well, if you think so, you can put it back on, but I’ve rubbed it off”, said Hubert.
William realised that Hubert was really being very helpful, so, being a polite boy, he said, “Thankyou, Hubert, you’re a friend.”
There was a strange noise outside, and William went over to the bay window and climbed onto the easy chair there to look out.
“Come here,” he said to Hubert. “There’s a funny man out there, and I can’t see what he’s doing.”
Hubert joined him. William was right. There was a man out there standing under the street light and fiddling around with something in his hands. He swayed a little, and trying to steady himself, he tripped over a garden gnome, did a neat pirouette, and fell over backwards into a flower bed, banging his head on the gnome.
The man lay flat on the ground and did not move.
“We’d better go and help him”, said William. “There may be something wrong with him.”
The two quietly opened the side door and went round to the front. The man was still lying there. William saw that the thing he had had in his hands was a mobile phone. Perhaps he had been trying to phone for a taxi to take him home. Or perhaps he had been wanting to explain to his wife where he was.
William thought the man looked uncomfortable with his head propped against the garden gnome, so he carefully lowered the man’s head onto the lawn, so that he was lying flat on the ground. In the yellow street light, William could see that there was something brown and oily on his fingers, so he rubbed them clean on his pyjama top.
“That’s blood from his head. You’d better telephone for help”, said Hubert.
“I don’t know how to do it”, said William. “Why don’t you do it?”
“I can’t dial with my paws”, said Hubert. “Just do what I tell you. You see that number 9 there? Press it three times.”
William did as he was told.
A voice came, “What service do you require?” William wasn’t sure what to say, but Hubert nudged him and whispered in his ear to ask for an ambulance.
“We need an ambulance. There’s a poorly man who’s hit his head,” said William, “and he’s bleeding from his head”.
“Where are you?” asked the voice.
“In Ayckbourn Avenue”, said William. Then before the voice could ask anything else, he accidentally pressed the off button.
He put the mobile phone back into the man’s hand, and turned to go back into the house. “Come on”, he said to Hubert, “or we’ll get caught when they come to get him.”
Hubert waited a moment to loosen the man’s collar. The man opened his eyes briefly and looked at Hubert with horror in his eyes. Was that a bear at his throat? He fainted again.
Hubert and William got back into the house and then scuttled upstairs again. They had just got into the bedroom when they saw the signs of a blue flashing light through the curtains. They got up onto the bed and looked out. An ambulance had turned up, and the crew were having a good look at the man. Then a police car turned up as well, and there were blue lights everywhere.
William heard sounds in the next bedroom. The blue lights must have woken up Mummy and Daddy. “Quick, get down”, he said to Hubert, and by the time Daddy looked in, the two to all intents appeared sound asleep.
Once he had gone, Hubert looked out again, to see what was going on.
The man had come round again, and was waving his arms around.
“Where was the child?” asked the policeman. He had his notebook in his hand to make sure he got all the details.
“What child?” asked the man.
“The one that rang us up to get the ambulance”, said the policeman.
“It wasn’t a child”, said the man. “It was a bear”.
“A bit touched, if you ask me”, said one of the ambulance men. “You know he hit his head?”
“It was a bear”, said the man. “And look he’s there now!”
The man pointed at Hubert, looking out of the bedroom window, but Hubert had had the presence of mind to duck down, and when the policeman and the ambulance crew looked up, there was just a bedroom window with curtains closed.
“He’s having hallucinations”, said the policeman. He clicked his ball-point pen, thought for a moment, then wrote down, “Seeing things”.
The next morning, when William woke up, he found to his horror that his pyjama top was covered in dried blood. No-one was up yet, so he took his pyjamas into the bathroom and washed them in the sink.
“What are you doing, standing there with nothing on?” asked Mummy.
“Just helping you with the washing”, said William.
“And you’ve got water everywhere”, said Mummy. Secretly, she thought that he must have not quite got to the toilet in time, but she was pleased to see him do something about it, and so kept quiet, in order not to embarrass him.
“A close thing”, thought William.
Later, at breakfast, Daddy told William all about what had happened during the night. “It was very exciting. There was a police car and an ambulance, with their lights flashing. I wondered whether to wake you up to show you, but you were sleeping so peacefully that I decided to leave you alone.”
It was raining. It had been raining all day. In fact it had rained all the night before as well, and the ground was now saturated. There were puddles in the street. There were puddles in the lawn. Gutters which had not been properly cleaned out were overflowing. It all looked very depressing outside.
William felt cooped up inside the house. He would have liked to play in the garden, but he didn’t really like the idea of getting soaked, so he stood on the armchair, looking out of the front bay window, watching people go past in cars with steamy windows or struggling along on foot, hoping that their umbrellas would not blow inside out and pushing push-chairs with little children surrounded by clear plastic covers.
When it came to lunch-time, Mummy took William down to the family pub where he played in the ball pool, climbed up the rope ladders and slid down the slides. It was wet going there and back, but it was good fun while he was there, and he had a coke and some beans and sausages.
On the way back home, they walked past the spot where Daddy had helped him out over the fencing round the little brook. To his horror, William noticed that the brook was very full, and that it was beginning to flow up the little entrance where he had escaped from Teddies World.
With all this water around, what would it be like under ground? Would the tunnels leak? Would the bears’ possessions be ruined by the water? Would they get trapped? What if they could not escape and got drowned? The more he thought about it, the more William worried.
Not long after lunch Mummy went into town to do some shopping. She left William’s big brother Alex in charge, and told him to speak with the neighbours if there were any problems. As soon as Alex was settled in front of Star Wars on the television, William put his coat and wellies on and went out in the rain.
He made his way back to the brook and, after checking that no-one was looking, he found a hole in the fence and squeezed through. He knew it was dangerous and that he should not be there. After the previous time, he knew that Daddy would be very angry if he found out that he had been there.
But William was really worried about the flooding and how the Teddies would be dealing with it. It had been nagging at him all the time since lunch, and he could not have left the teddies to face the flooding without helping them.
He climbed down the bank, slipping in the mud, and made his way along by the flooded stream to the entrance of the drain which led to Teddies World. The water was getting higher all the time. He walked up the drain, and got through the little gate.
Once inside, William decided that he needed to make a dam. Remembering the way that the sea washed away sand castles and walls at the sea-side, he decided that an earth wall would be useless on its own. In one of the little store rooms nearby he found a large spike, and with this he prised some of the planks off the wall and wedged them across the passages. He also found an old bucket and used it to scoop up earth and stones to place between the planks. After half an hour’s work, William had built a neat little dam that would, he hoped, hold the water out for some time.
It was all he could do, and he hoped it would make the bears safe. Now he had better be getting back home.
He then realised that he was on the inside of the dam, and he could only just see over the top of it. He piled a stool on top of a three-legged coffee table, climbed up and squeezed over the top of the dam. The water had got even higher, and as he got out of the little gate, he had to wade through water that went over the top of his wellingtons. Walking along by the stream was even more dangerous. Once he lost his footing and only avoided falling in by grabbing at a bush.
By the time William had got back home, he was wet and muddy, and tired as well. Alex was still watching the telly and hadn’t even noticed that William had been outside. William tipped the water out of his wellies and left them to dry in the utility room. Then he went upstairs, changed his trousers and put the wet ones on a radiator to dry out.
Then he went back to join Alex and when William spoke to him, he just grunted. Star Wars was very absorbing.
That evening, William was just dropping off when he heard a low voice in his ear.
“You got your trousers wet this afternoon”. William was tired and took no notice.
“And muddy”, said the voice. William dozed.
“And your wellingtons were full of water.” William continued to drop off.
“And I think I know where you were.” William sat up suddenly and looked round. It was Hubert.
“Where do you think I was, then?” asked William.
“Well, I heard”, said Hubert, “that someone had been in through the Water Gate and blocked up the entrance.”
“Is that what it’s called?” said Hubert, and it suddenly struck him that he had admitted that he knew what Hubert was talking about.
“Did I help?” asked William.
“Oh yes”, said Hubert. “The Engineer Bears were under great pressure, dealing with leaks, and blocking up doors. It was only in the evening that they thought of the Water Gate, and when they got there, they were amazed to find that it had been dealt with.”
“Did my dam keep the water out?” asked William.
“Yes. The water got right to the top, but it didn’t come over the top, and it didn’t get through either.”
William thought that his Daddy would be really proud of him, but then realised that he could never tell him about the dam.
“If you hadn’t built the dam”, said Hubert, “the mushroom fields would all have been flooded, together with all the Lower Town. You did a good job. But you left the Engineer Bears with a problem. There’s talk all round Teddies World now that the Lady Bears must have built the dam, and that they’re keeping it a secret because it’s a better job than the Engineers would have done, and they don’t want to show them up.”
The rats had been terrifying, but William was not the sort of boy to be put off by something like that. After all, as Hubert had told him, he had beaten the whole pack of them single-handed and sent them scampering away, leaving Teddies World in peace once more. If anything, his success made William bolder. He knew that the title “Great Slayer of the Rats” was waiting for him when he chose to claim it.
So it was not long before he planned another visit. This time he wanted to see more of the passage system, and he decided that he was going to make a map so that he could find his way back out again. He didn’t fancy being stuck behind the railings by the brook again.
A couple of nights later, when the house had settled down and everyone was asleep, William crept downstairs in a track suit and trainers and slipped out of the garden door, across the garden, round the back of the lupin bed and in through the little door as usual. He had a small notebook and a biro to make a note of the route he had taken.
All went well for some time. He recognised the alcoves and corners he had been past before and drew them on his plan. Twice he heard bears walking along and found places to hide in case they came his way.
He passed a pile of old furniture he had not seen before – tables with uneven legs and chairs with ripped cushions or arms falling off. A settee placed as if the teddies used it reminded him of one that he had seen in a friend’s house, which they had been intending to throw out after his friend had jumped on it a bit too hard.
Next William came across a wider area with some plastic garden chairs and a small bar, but it was closed for the night. Several passages led into this area, and he was undecided which one to take. He was getting a bit cocksure by now. He had visited the underground world of the bears several times now and had never been caught, and William was beginning to think that teddies were a bit simple and stupid. So he set off down a wider corridor, which was big enough for the bears to walk three or four abreast, or to push wheelbarrows along with the scrap furniture.
William could hear the Guards in the distance, with their usual “Ho! Hum!” chant, but they did not seem to be coming his way, so he pressed on, making a note on his plan of where he had turned and what he had seen. In fact, he was busy writing when he was almost taken by surprise as two bears came out of a side room nearby.
He dived into the nearest hiding-place, which was stacked up with old gardening tools such as forks, rakes and spades, together with a couple of pick-axes, a chopper and a sledge hammer. He was well hidden and he could hear their conversation. The attack by the rats was still the main topic of conversation, it seemed.
“You know how it started?” said the first bear.
“I heard it was all an accident” said the other.
“Yes, there was some building work going on. They were putting up some offices near the pub and a bull-dozer was putting drains in when it smashed into the South Passage – a terrible mess. The Engineer Bears couldn’t do anything about it in case they got caught, and it was still open when the rats got in.”
“We’ve seen the back of them for a bit, I reckon”, said the second bear.
“But who killed them?” asked the first. “I’ve heard that there were a dozen dead rats lying around where the fight took place. Maybe they fought each other.”
“Not with that spade”, said the second. “No, there’s some other animal around, and if it can do that to rats, what might it do to bears, I ask myself.”
“Let’s hope we don’t come across it, whatever it is”, said the first. “I’m more of a home-loving bear, myself, not much of a fighter”.
At that moment, William felt a tickly sensation on his neck. He wasn’t sure what it was but it made him want to wriggle and scratch. He looked round and saw that loose earth was coming from between the planks over his head. He wondered whether the roof was going to fall in, but didn’t like to move as it would give him away.
A lump of earth fell on his face as he looked up, and the dust made him sneeze. The two bears looked round.
“What’s that?” asked the first. William sat silently behind the pile of tools.
“Oh. Look, it’s a mole”, said the second, and, sure enough, a mole poked its head between the planks above William’s head.
“Just what I needed,” thought William.
“We’ll have to report that to the Engineers”, said the first bear. William sneezed again.
“That’s a funny noise for a mole,” said the second bear, and he stopped forward to take a closer look. To his surprise and horror, he saw the top of William’s head behind the pile of tools.
“It’s a boy!” he shouted.
“You’ve been at the raspberry wine,” said the second. “There’s no boys down here.”
“Just have a look!” He was terrified.
The second bear did have a look. “Call the Guard!” he shouted, but they did not need calling. They had already heard the noise, and were yomping down the corridor at a pace.
"Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum! Here we come! Here we come!” they chanted.
“Out you come!” said the Captain of the Guard. Obediently, William climbed out from behind the pile of rubbish. Then there was chaos, with the bears all arguing what they should do about him.
“Tie him up,” said one.
“Lock him up”, said another.
“Take him to the Grand Council”, said a third.
William was left out of the discussion altogether for some minutes, till the Captain turned to him and said, “Will you come quietly?”
“Yes”, said William, who was as unsure as the bears as to what should happen next.
“Let’s go the Grand Council then”, said the Captain. “They’ll know what to do with him.”
They all marched off in a procession, with the Captain strutting at the front, feeling very important at being in charge at such a momentous occasion. Then came four Guards, then William, then four more Guards, and then a growing gang of bears headed by the two who had found him.
“We found him first”, they kept telling the other bears as the procession got bigger.
“Way hey! Way hey!
Make way! Make way!
Come what may,
Crime won’t pay!
Way hey! Way hey!
Make way! Make way!” chanted the Guard as they marched along.
William noticed that the corridor was getting steadily bigger and wider, with grander rooms on either side. There were counters piled with goods which the bears appeared to be buying and selling, and there were a couple more bars, one of which was open.
By the time they reached the Great Hall where the Grand Council was in session, there must have been fifty or sixty bears in the procession, and as word spread about William, the Hall filled up and there was an uneasy buzz of excited conversation.
“First, rats, then a boy!” one said. “Whatever next?”
“Where’s he come from?” asked another.
“And how did he get in?” asked a third.
At one end of the Great Hall, there was a raised platform, and on it there were about a dozen bears, mostly fairly old, bald or with rather tatty fur, but they were treated with respect by the others and were obviously confident in their own importance.
“Bring the prisoner here”, said the Paramount Bear, “and give us your report, Captain”.
The Captain explained what had happened and the two bears who had found William were brought forward to give their evidence. They gave a long account about the way that a mole had given a funny sneeze which left some of the older Council members rather confused, as they could see it was a boy and not a mole standing in front of them.
“What’s that in his pocket?” asked the Paramount Chief. The captain stepped forward and removed the piece of paper sticking out of William’s trouser pocket.
“It’s a plan of Teddies World”, said the Captain. “Perhaps he’s a spy. We found him standing in the weapons store where we keep the axes in case of invasion.”
“Have you got anything to say for yourself, boy?” asked the Paramount Bear. William didn’t know what to say. So he stood on the spot, shifting uneasily from foot to foot.
“Well, er, well,” he started.
“Have you got a name?” asked the Paramount Bear.
“William, sir”, said William, as he felt he ought to be polite.
“And where do you come from, William?” asked the Paramount Bear.
“Up above”, was the best answer William could give.
“That’s pretty obvious”, said the Paramount Bear. “All humans come from above, and”, he added with a deep growl, ”they are not allowed to come down here. This is Teddies World. You’ve got your own world up there. This is very serious. We may need to keep you here for ever, so that you do not tell tales about us.”
This alarmed William, who found his visits exciting but did not like the idea of living underground for ever. He might never see his family again.
“Oh, please, sir, I won’t say a thing if you let me go”, and he was on the verge of crying.
“While the Grand Council deliberates and decides on your fate, you will be locked up”, said the Paramount Bear.
Then a voice came from the back of the Great Hall. “This is a shameful way to treat a guest, especially when you do not know who the guest really is.”
There was a shocked silence. The Hall was by now packed with several hundred bears, but there was not a word from them. No teddy had ever spoken to the Paramount Bear like that before.
“I cannot see you at the back there”, said the Paramount Bear. “Who is it that speaks?”
Hubert stepped forward. “Usually I am a very quiet and humble bear”, he said, “but I know this boy. He is from my house”.
“Then are you not ashamed to have allowed him to come down here?” asked the Paramount Bear. “You have committed a serious dereliction of duty”.
William didn’t understand all the long words that the Paramount Bear used, but it all sounded very important, and if it affected his freedom, it was serious too.
Hubert stood in front of the platform and said, “This, Lord Bear, is the Great Slayer of the Rats”.
A ripple of whispering went round the Great Hall. Was it really this small boy who had driven off the rats and killed fifty in the process? (As the rumours went round, the numbers of rats grew, and the Annals of Teddies World eventually recorded that William had dispatched a hundred and twenty-two single-handed in a four-hour battle.)
“Is this so?” asked the Paramount Bear, facing William.
“In that case, we are indebted to you”, said the Paramount Bear. “It would be wrong to lock you up. Until the Grand Council reaches its decision, you have the freedom of Teddies World. You can travel wherever you wish, as long as you do not leave. We reconvene in two hours’ time.”
With that, the Grand Council went into a separate council chamber, where William could see that the tables had food and drink piled on them to help them in their deliberations.
William turned to Hubert. “Thankyou”, he said. “It was very brave of you to speak up for me”.
“It’s my job”, said Hubert. “In any case, you deserve to be treated better than being locked up. Would you like to have a look round?”
William was delighted at the idea of looking round, but by now there was a huge crowd of bears round them, wanting to ask questions, begging to shake the hand of the Great Slayer of the Rats and even asking for his autograph.
The Captain of the Guard and his bears came up, and he coughed politely to get William’s attention. “Excuse me, Mr William, but would you like my bears to escort you on the VIP tour of our city?”
William accepted the offer, and the Guards cleared a way for him, with the Captain and William in the middle. The Captain had escorted important bears from other parts on state visits before and he knew all the sights to show off.
“This here is the market, where we sell things”, said the Captain.
William looked at the goods on display, and they all looked rather old or broken. The food had old sell-by dates or was over-ripe.
“I can see that you have an eye for a bargain”, said the Captain. “None of this costs us anything. We only take what humans throw out. And we make good use of it. Would you care for an apple?” William declined, as politely as he could.
They went on down the corridor. “On your left here,” said the Captain, “is the library”. They went inside, and there was an odd array of old tables and chairs and a lot of book-shelves with dog-eared books on the shelves, carefully arranged and obviously treasured.
“Do you read books, Mr William?” asked the Captain.
“I like stories”, said William, trying to avoid having to answer the question.
“My personal favourite is the Borrowers”, said the Captain, “because they’re a bit like us. Some of the others like Winnie the Pooh, and Paddington’s very popular. There’s also a cult following for Fungus the Bogeyman among the younger bears, but if you ask me, Mr William, I think that it’s a sign that our moral standards are slipping.”
Next they went on to the power house, where the Engineer Bears had maps on the wall showing where they attached their cables to the mains electricity kindly supplied by the humans.
Further on there were the Community Baths. Because so many bears had been in the Great Hall, there were not many teddies in the Baths, but the size of the Baths showed that having a dip must have been a popular pastime.
“I read in a piece of newspaper that the humans’ water board had been criticised for losing water through leaks in the pipes”, said the Captain, and he laughed. “There aren’t any leaks”, he said. “It’s just us, taking the water we need”.
Next they came to the Mushroom Factory, where the Gardening Gang were hard at work picking the latest crop. “It’s the only thing that grows well down here,” said the Captain.
Last of all, they came to the Teddy Hospital. “We get some sad cases in here, Mr William,” said the Captain. “Once the bears join us, they are safe for a long, long time, but you should see their state when new recruits join us. You see, we’re mostly the bears who have finished active service up above, and when we are, you might say, thrown out, Hospital Bands seek out the unwanted teddies and we come here to retire. The state some are in! Just last week, a poor bear arrived who had spent three months tied to the front of a dust-cart. Whatever the weather, whatever the traffic, there he was on the front of the wagon. What a terrible retirement!"
The Captain was overcome with his feelings and he shook his head in disbelief at the way that humans treated their best friends.
As they were going along, the Guard cleared the way, but there were still teddies who managed to get close enough to pat William on the back, while others shouted, “Hurrah for the Great Slayer of the Rats!” or “Good on you, Mr William!” One ran up and handed him a bunch of wilting flowers, while another offered him some old sweets.
At last they came back to the Great Hall. William hoped that they would let him go as the night must be nearly over and he would be missed if he did not get back into his bed.
When the bears were all assembled in the Great Hall, the Paramount Bear led the Grand Council out of the Council Chamber onto the platform where they took their seats.
“We have decided,” he said, “that in view of the momentousness of the occasion and the complexities of the situation, we must make a compact with you, William”.
William hadn’t a clue what the Paramount Bear was saying. “What does he mean?” he asked Hubert.
“He wants to do a deal”, said Hubert.
“Oh”, said William.
“On the condition that you promise in the first place not to tell any person about Teddies World and in the second place never to return again, we will offer to let you return to the Upper World.”, said the Paramount Bear. “How say you, William?”
William wanted to get back to his bed. “Okay”, he said.
“And in that case”, said the Paramount Bear, “taking account of the aforementioned compact, the Grand Council proposes not only to grant you the title of Great Slayer of the Rats, but also to declare you a Friend of Bears, First Class.”
“That’s a real honour”, whispered Hubert. “I’ve never heard of anyone being given a First Class before.”
“It is an honour”, said William, “and thankyou very much, sir”.
The Paramount Bear handed William a medal with a broken pin on the back. It had a picture of Pooh on it and the motto “I like Honey.”
All the bears in the Hall gave a great cheer, which William thought would have woken up all his street up above. Then they all had a few drinks of raspberry wine to celebrate the occasion.
William said his farewells to the Paramount Chief and the Grand Council, and escorted by Hubert, the Guards and their Captain, they made their way through the passages.
“Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!” chanted the Guards quietly, as if to themselves.
Eventually they reached the little door under the tree, and William said goodbye to the Captain, thanking him for the tour of Teddies World, and he and Hubert crossed the lawn, went in through the French window and upstairs to bed, where the raspberry wine took effect and they fell sound asleep.
The following day, William was feeling very upset. His mummy had told him off because there was soil all over his clothes and he had apparently trodden it into the carpet as well, though she was surprised that she had not noticed it the day before.
William had enjoyed his adventures below ground, and he didn’t like the thought of losing all his friends. He wandered out into the garden to have a last look at the door. Maybe someone would have left the key in it again, and he could creep in.
On the other hand, if he was able to get in, he knew that he would have no friends below ground after the Grand Council’s decision. Besides, he did not want to have to explain to Mummy and the others where he had been. William did not like having to lie. He knew that people didn’t believe it when he told stories. He could see the look in their eyes. But he knew that he could not say anything about where he had actually been. He thought that it must be a bit like being a spy. You had to be two people at the same time.
He went up the bank, round the back of the flower bed where the lupins and foxgloves grew and up to the tree where the door was. But was this the right tree? There was no door. William looked round and checked the way he had come and the other trees around. Yes, of course it was the right tree, but there was no sign at all of the neat little door.
He looked more closely and noticed that there were signs that the earth had been moved. He noticed that the grass looked as if it had been newly planted, though it had been very carefully done, and it was hard to see the join. In one spot the earth looked a bit peaty, and he saw to his delight that a few little button mushrooms were beginning to push through the surface. Perhaps it was a farewell present from the Gardening Gang, he thought.
William picked one or two and was turning to go back into the house when his mother came round the corner. “I was beginning to worry that you were going to get lost again”, she said.
“Look what I’ve found”, said William.
“Mushrooms”, said his mother. “You can have them for tea.”
They went back into the house, and as William passed the cupboard under the stairs, he could swear that he heard a distant rhythmic sound going, “Ho! Hum! Ho! Hum!” but it faded off into the distance.