The next morning Poppy and her mother were breaking their fast together when Poppy casually mentioned that she was thinking of hiring a new member of staff.
“Really?” her mother replied with an arched eyebrow. “And would this new staff member happen to be the young man that was found sleeping in the stables this morning.
Poppy swore and said “I should have known better than to try to hide something from you I suppose.”
“Yes dear, you should have done. Now, are you going to tell me what his story is or do I have to make up the sordid details for myself?”
“There are no sordid details,” Poppy attempted to reassure her.
“Oh there are in my head. And I’m sure there are in heads of those who found him today.”
Poppy winced; she could imagine the gossip that was flying around between the staff. It was a good job that she did not give a damn about her reputation as the rumours would no doubt be hitting the village before the day was out.
“He knew Uncle John, he was a pupil of his back in Mortlake.”
“You mean he’s come all the way from Surrey and you made him sleep in the stable? And a student of your Uncle no less! Really Poppy, I am beginning to wish that there were sordid details."
Abashed Poppy looked down at her food. She was vaguely aware of her mother giving instruction to one of the men servants to bring Mr Green up from the kitchen and set a place for him at the table.
“It’s not what it seems,” Poppy told her mother, desperately trying to explain before Mr Green joined them.
Hastily Poppy relayed the basics of the story that Mr Green had told her the night before. “I was hoping to sort this out without involving you,” she told her mother.
“You should have known better than to think that I would not have found out what was happening. Really Poppy, I thought you gave me credit with more intelligence than that.”
“Yes mother,” Poppy replied abashed. She didn’t know why it was but despite facing down men twice her size and being captain of her own ship she still could not stand to displease her mother.
Thomas was more than a little surprised by the sudden summoning he had received. He had been rudely awoken early in the morning by two of the stable lads - luckily Poppy had told them to expect to find him there or else he might have been run through without them even pausing for breath. He was sent to the servants quarters to break his fast and had been busily filling his belly when the message came that Mistress Hawkins and her mother desired his presence upstairs. A page quickly showed him the way and before too long he was nervously stood before them.
“Please, sit,” an older woman that he assumed to be Rebecca Hawkins said. “It is a pleasure to have someone who worked so closely with my uncle visiting.”
“Th-thank you my lady,” Thomas stuttered, shocked by the warm welcome he was receiving. He had assumed that he had been summoned for some awful reason but instead found himself being warmly greeted by the woman he had heard so much about.
“My daughter tells me that you are looking for something,” Rebecca said to him, picking at her breakfast one again.
“Yes,” Thomas replied nervously, wondering how much he should confide in her. Some instinct told him that it would be a bad idea to lie to her. “He told me that there was treasure hidden in the house.”
“And the two of you figured out that he meant some sort of information, how clever of you,” she said more than a little patronisingly.
“Mother,” Poppy muttered. “Play nice.”
“I always play nicely,” Rebecca told her sweetly. “I do believe that you are rather holding my daughter and I ransom with your demands for help though. How are we to know that the books that you claim to have in your possession are worth anything? They could be nothing more important than everyday prayer books.”
“I knew your uncle better than to pick just any old books to save,” Thomas said slightly reproachfully. “The manuscripts that I saved were far more personal than prayer books.”
Rebecca's eyes widened. “You mean…”
“Yes,” Thomas replied with a nod, “I saved his diaries.”
“What! You never mentioned that last night!” Poppy exclaimed.
“You never asked.”
Poppy swore but reluctantly had to admit that Thomas had a point. She looked over at her mother who had the biggest smile on her face that she had seen for a long time.
“I thought they were lost,” Rebecca said wonderingly. “How far back do they go?”
“All the way,” Thomas said with a smile. “They’re all there, his time in prison, his time in the service of Princess Elizabeth-”
“His trip to the New World?” Rebecca asked.
Rebecca could not believe what she was hearing. No matter how many times she begged Uncle John would not tell her what happened in the New World. He said that it was not something that he cared to remember and that he would tell her when the time was right. But too much time passed and they ended up on different sides of the border when Wales finally seceded from England. When that happened it became harder and harder to get messages across; it had taken months for news of Uncle Johns death to reach them. Now she finally had the chance to answer the thousands of questions that she had about his life.
“Poppy, we have to have those books,” she said turning to her daughter.
“I know mother, I know,” Poppy replied some what resigned. As soon as Green told them what the books were she knew that her mother would be desperate to find them.
“So we’ll help each other?” Thomas asked.
“Any help that we can give you is given freely,” Rebecca told him.
“Thank you. It means a lot to me that I will be able to give Professor Dee’s diary’s to the woman that he spoke of so often.”
“And that you’ll be able to get your hands on the treasure no doubt,” Poppy felt the need to point out.
“So tell me everything that you know about this treasure,” Rebecca told them, settling back into her chair. She listened with interest as they filled her in on what they have learnt.
“So Father and Uncle John must have planned this together,” she mused thoughtfully. “They always were thick as thieves those two, used to drive mother insane sometimes.”
Poppy nodded; she could barely remember her grandparents both of them having died when she was little.
“So, shall we go an examine this mysterious panel in the other room?” Rebecca suggested, pushing her chair away from the table and standing. “Maybe a fresh pair of eyes will help bring light to the subject.”
Poppy and Thomas both obediently followed Rebecca to the old study. Poppy hoped that her mother was right; she had been racking her brains over night to try and figure out how to get the panel off without risking destroying whatever it was that was behind it.
Rebecca examined the panel closely. “Hmmm, knowing father and Uncle John we can’t force it,” she mused aloud.
“Yes, that’s what we thought,” Poppy replied standing next to her mother. “Uncle John wasn’t the brute force type.”
“Too true. I have the feeling that we’re missing something, some tiny detail…”
Thomas stared at the panel. Seeing it in the day bought to light details on it that he had missed the night before. “Maybe not,” he said slowly.
“Oh?” Poppy queried, tilting her head to one side questioningly.
“Maybe the problem is that we’re trying to find something small when we should be concentrating on the big picture.”
“How do you mean Mr Green?” Rebecca questioned.
“I thought the panel was plain last night but it’s not. Come over here, if you stand in just the right light then you can see very faintly that there’s a pattern on it.”
Rebecca peered at it closely and noticed that he was right. “I can’t make out what it is,” she said, straining to see it. She hated to admit it, even if only to herself, but the older she got the harder it became for her to see small details.
Poppy thought for a moment. “Hmm, there might be a way. Mother, do you have any spare cloth that I can use?”
“It’s a trick Uncle John showed me once, a way to make an image of something.”
Rebecca snapped her fingers and said “The cloth and charcoal trick!”
“Yep,” Poppy replied with a grin.
Rebecca hurried out of the room and headed towards her sewing room. She could have called one the maids to go for her but she wanted to keep this as private as possible. Quickly she found a length of thin white clothe that she had intended to use to make clothes for Poppy.
“Found it!” she exclaimed triumphantly when she re-entered the old study.
Thomas watched as Rebecca and Poppy took an old piece of white cloth and a stick of charcoal from the fire. “What are you doing?” he asked, mystified by what they were trying to achieve.
“My Uncle was brilliant,” Rebecca told him as she held the piece of cloth over the panel. “But I’m sure that you knew that.”
“One of the many, many things that he was interested in was botany. He used to study plants and use them in his alchemical work.”
“Yes, there was many a muddy afternoon spent scrabbling around in woods looking for plants.”
“One thing that he used to do was try to identify as many different plants as he could and try to find out what their properties were. He went through a phase of taking rubbings of tree barks, thinking that the pattern on them might some how be significant.”
“Were they?” Thomas asked, intrigued by the thought.
“I have no idea. Uncle John was some times not very forth coming on his work. All I know was that he did it for a while and then moved on to something else. Uncle John could be very easily distracted sometimes.”
Poppy made a start on taking the rubbing. “Hold the cloth at the bottom,” she told Thomas. “Make sure that the clothes taut.”
Thomas nodded and did as she bid him. He could see the concentration written large on the faces of both Rebecca and Poppy. He was pleased to see that they were taking his observation of the pattern seriously but failed to see how this could help in anyway. His scepticisms soon waned when he watched as the pattern emerged on the cloth.
After several minutes they were done. Carefully they took down the cloth and moved it over to the desk where they could examine it more comfortably.
“It’s a map,” Rebecca said in wonder.
Poppy nodded. She could clearly make out the house and the grounds around it. “What’s that?” she said pointing to a circle on the cliff face.
“I’m not sure,” Rebecca said. “It looks…could it be a cave?”
“But there aren’t any caves there,” Poppy reminded her. “I’ve been sailing these coasts since I was tiny and I can’t remember ever seeing a cave in the cliff.”
“Maybe you weren’t meant to see it,” Thomas said excitedly. “Think about it, we’re looking for treasure, yes? We have a map that might lead us to it, do you really think that it would have been placed in plain sight?”
“No, no you’re right Mr Green!” Rebecca exclaimed.
“But how do we get there?” Poppy asked. “Like I said I’ve never seen it from the sea.”
“Maybe you don’t have to get there from the sea,” Thomas said, his mind racing. “Your grandfather built this place, he and your uncle must have hidden this thing together, what if there’s a way to get there from here.”
All three of them looked at the panel. “We have to get that thing off,” Poppy said flatly.
Rebecca was torn; on the one hand she did not want to destroy the panel - it was part of the house and part of her Uncles work - but on the other she was just as eager as the two youngsters to see what lay behind it.
“Do it,” she said eventually. “Just try not to damage it.”
Poppy nodded and said “I’ll ask the gardener if he has any tools that I can borrow,” before leaving the room.
Thomas turned to Rebecca and said “Won’t the staff think that it’s odd one of the lady’s of the house asking for tools?”
Rebecca snorted in a most unladylike way and said “Hardly, they’ve been with the family forever and most of them have known Poppy since she was born. We’ve never been what you could call a ‘normal’ household.”
Poppy was back within a few minutes, now armed with a spade and a gardener.
“I’m really not sure about this Lady Hawkins,” Geoffrey said somewhat nervously. “I mean, defacing your grandfathers property…”
“It’s fine Geoffrey,” Rebecca reassured him with a smile. “My father really wouldn’t have minded.”
“Maybe not, but it’s still not right,” Geoffrey grumbled. He did not try to stop them though, merely stood back and watched as Poppy and Mr Green worked together. They placed the edge of the spade underneath the bottom of the panel, between it and the wall. Together they pressed down, attempting to leaver the panel out of place.
“It’s moving!” Poppy said and it started pulling away from the wall.
Rebecca exhaled a breath that she had not even realised she was holding. She could see the panel lifting, it seemed to be moving away far easier than she had expected. This confirmed for her that they were doing the right thing; there was no way that the panel would be moving as easily if it was if her father and uncle had not meant for them to do what they were doing.
“Grab the top!” Poppy called out to Geoffrey who quickly moved to do as instructed. The panel was moving freely now; the three of them were able to pick it up and move it to one side.
“Well, that’s not what I was expecting,” Poppy said, hands on hips as she starred into the blackness of the tunnel they had just revealed.